Diya turned to the door, but it hissed open and a tall man with an enormous shock of brown hair, unruly in the low gravity, came bounding through. "New girl," he said. "Walk with me."
She fell into step beside him, moving awkwardly in the low gravity of Challenger Planetoid. She knew he'd been through rejuve, but the low gravity, his easy bounding steps, and his energy made him seem young.
"Earth is behind us, new girl," he said. "It's the past. We're moving towards the future." And then he came to an instant halt. Diya stopped beside him, wobbling. He caught her under the elbow, bracing both of them easily. "You understand what I mean? I'm talking in metaphor here."
"I think so, sir," she said, reclaiming her arm. "You've always been interested in advancing our potential as a species. The Beanstalk alone–"
"Are they still calling it that?" He barked a laugh, huge and bitter, and turned away again. "The Space Elevator was a start. Opened up the stars. Mostly, it opened eyes and minds. It proved that space is within reach."
They came to the end of the corridor. There was a lounge with tall chairs, a little green plant in a hydroponic bulb, and large transplas windows opening to the blackness of space. "Why do you want to be my secretary?"
"You have a secretary, sir. I'm applying for the job of administrative assistant. I'm not some AI or an android that only fetches coffee."
"Huh," he said, and turned to study her. Diya drew herself up to her full height. She came up, maybe, to Weyland's shoulder. "That was the spunky answer," he said. "Now give me the real one."
"You're Jack Weyland. You built the– Space Elevator. But you weren't satisfied, so you resigned as CEO and founded Gagarin."
"That's a flattering take. But I don't hear an answer, new girl." He turned to the window.
"I want to learn," she said. "I'm 24. When I'm 50, I want people to say my name the same way they say yours. Which is Diya, by the way." She came up beside him and looked out the window. There was the faint outline of a spaceship out there. Under construction, she guessed.
"I would've liked to hear about our mission," he said. "But that'll do."
"What is the mission, exactly?" she asked.
"We're going to save the human race, Diya." He smiled grimly, staring out past the spaceship, past the stars.
"Does it need saving?" she asked. "Earth is still here, after all."
"For now," he said. "For now."
Cube. Dull gray walls, dull gray co-workers, dull gray boss.
"Hello welcome to MegaBuy I'm carol how can I help you?" Endless stream of lusers, people so inept the tech AIs can't even handle them. This one cannot grasp the intricacies of a three-week return policy.
"Hello thank you for vidding MegaBuy I'm Susan how can I help you." Someone is ranting. Blah. Blah blah blah. Blah. They always have a massive sense of entitlement and no education to speak of.
Lunch time. Eat crap out of a can. Put crap in a can. Back to work.
"Hello thank you for vidding MegaBuy I'm Screwing Your Mom how can I help you?" Half-hearted chewing-out from dull gray boss. Smile. Pretend to listen.
"Hello thank you for vidding MegaBuy I'm Kate how can I–" Shift over. Transfer luser.
Back on the skyway, tie clutched in one hand. Caffeine. Off the shoes. Off the shirt. Pants will have to wait until home. Music, something brain-melting, finally waking up. Streetbanger creep on the skyway leering. Flick off. He doesn't want a fight. Pity. Been practicing.
Seven flights of stairs. Finally home. Caffeine. Rig. Pants off. Plugged in. Online. Music up.
Should log in to class. Should attend virtual lecture. Should submit code project. Instead, music at MAXIMUM VOLUME. It is time to shred some poor bastard's server. Whose? Doesn't matter. Wait. It's obvious. "Hello thank you for vidding MageBuy I'm MaxX how can I help you?"
The sound of ten million guitars rocking out as cyberspace burns.
The bioroid's visage crumpled in on itself. Kim raised the sledgehammer to admire his handiwork. Blue fluid oozed out of what was left of the eyes, and mouth, and nose. The synthskin scraped away, and something half-human leered back at him.
The illusion of humanity shattered along with its optical nanonetwork. A puddle of ooze spread slowly across the floor, and the limbs of the machine jerked and spasmed.
Kim knelt down and ejected the backup chip from the brainstem, then stood up and dragged the empty husk behind a dumpster. He slung his hammer over his right shoulder and brushed some of the bioroid's fluid off of his bare torso using his left stump.
He looked left and right as he exited the alley. The few disenfancistos who glanced his way quickened their steps. 14k ruled the streets from New Chinatown to just south of the Vegas Towers, meaning no NAPD interference most days. The bioroid's emergency protocol would have sent out a distress signal, but by the time a salvage crew came to investigate, Kim would be long gone. It was the perfect hunting ground.
The crowd seemed to part in front of Kim. He walked two blocks before stopping in front of a derelict 'scraper with a couple of tramps dozing in front of the door. Kim stepped over them and entered the large lobby. The reception desk was ghosted and cobwebbed; trash littered the ground like leaves in autumn. A pair of mag-lifts stood against the far wall, doors hanging ajar. He walked toward them, déjà vu making his phantom hand itch.
It seemed like just yesterday they were together, here in this place. But that was another life, before the machines. She was as dead as the lifts. He cut left and barged through a door with no knob, taking the plascrete stairwell behind it three flights down.
He knocked his stump against another door with no knob. A muffled voice called out from the other side. "Mmmmf mmm mm?"
Kim had no time for passwords and smashed his hammer against the door. The whole frame shook and shuddered. Then the lock clicked and the door opened, and a rat-faced man with a half-eaten sandwhich gave Kim a sour grin. "Sorry, my mouth was full. You want a bit?"
"No," he grunted, handing over the brain chip. "Extract the data."
He took the stairs back up two at a time, the familiar weight of Bertha on his shoulder. She was hungry, and there were many krill left in the sea. But soon there would be one less.
Here in the shadow of Volcán Cayambe and the Beanstalk, Valencia lived among some of the most desperately impoverished people in New Angeles. Further into Base de Cayambe, the crime lords and slum lords reigned, serving the baser instincts of human nature. But here on the slopes, event the crime lords couldn't be bothered. She went down into the basement and lifted her console from her bag. It did not take long for the first petitioner to arrive. He was young, maybe 19, a local. She read his e-ID and pulled his file. His life story looked a lot like her own.
"I got into trouble a few years back," he said. His Spanish was low-class, spiced with English and a little Mandarin. "Armed robbery. Stupid. I was a juvie, though, so when I got out my record was sealed, yeah?" She nodded. She knew how the story was going to end. "But I can't find no work anyway. I got training in the joint, I can strip and rebuild a hopper. There's jobs for me, but I never even get to the interview. My cousin, he says there's a corp list–"
"Globalsec," Valencia said. "The Globalsec Employee Skills Registry. They made a note of your incarceration. You've been blacklisted."
"But that's not fair!" he said. "I was a stupid kid! I never hurt no one. I'm straight now!"
"I know," she said. She donned the gold-colored ring of her brain-machine interface like a circlet, closing her eyes.
"I need a job," he said. His voice was rising, the pain breaking through. "It's hard, you know, staying straight? It'd be so easy to go back to it, I got friends, they tell me they can get me a piece, find me space on a crew–"
"It's done." Her eyes fluttered back open. "You're off the blacklist. You have an interview at Gonzalez Cielo tomorrow, 10 AM. Padre Miguel can loan you a suit and tie."
"For real?" he asked. She lifted the ring of her BMI above her head and nodded. The light coming in through the stained glass window against the west wall illuminated it like a halo.
"Thank you, señorita," he said, clasping his hands as if in worship. "You are tuluy sent from God!" As he left, a young woman holding a child entered the basement. Two more lost souls, entering the sanctuary.