Read Disruption Online

Authors: Jessica Shirvington

Disruption

Dedication

For Selwa

Thank you for helping turn dreams into reality.

Epigraph

I made myself a promise.

I would do whatever it took. I’d see this through to the end.

Make it right.

Three weeks ago …

I
’d been tracking
him
for most of the day. I had other things to do, but it had been over a month since I’d monitored his weekend activity. And sloppiness wasn’t an option. Not now.

We were in DC, waiting in Dupont Circle Metro. He’d opted for a rare driver-free day, making it easier than usual to tail him, and I wondered why. Perhaps because he’d spent the morning touring Georgetown University and wanted to appear normal – not that everyone didn’t recognise him and point. I suspected it had more to do with not wanting to explain to Daddy why he’d explored a university other than Princeton. His family hailed from a long line of Princeton graduates and I knew it was assumed he would attend, like his brothers, after graduation. He probably already had a wing named after him.

Hidden beneath my faded blue baseball cap, I fidgeted with the edge of my sweater as I studied his movements carefully, with calculated interest. Carrying out my plans wasn’t going to keep me up at night. Not after all the things I’d already done.

He never noticed me anyway. Not once. Not even when the large lady with the foghorn voice asked me if she was on the right platform for Chinatown. It wasn’t because I was particularly stealthy. It was just that, standing there in his waist-hugging suit pants and waywardly untucked white shirt, he simply had no need to see me.

A commotion erupted at the other end of the platform. All eyes turned to watch as five M-Corp security guards stormed down the escalators, closing in on a short, balding man wearing wire glasses. I had barely registered the man before he was blocked from my view.

My attention returned to
him
. He had only just turned eighteen, but his obvious wealth combined with the way he projected confidence made him look older. I heard one of the M-Corp guards demand the man with the glasses activate his Phera-tech. The command was followed by a number of feeble attempts at refusal. Of course, the balding man knew it was futile. You could already hear the whispers of the nearby commuters.

‘Is he?’

‘He must be.’

‘A neg.’

‘I hope they take him away.’

It wasn’t that I was immune to the situation. I’d just seen it a whole lot worse. A whole lot more personal.

He
on the other hand …

My interest heightened as I watched his reaction. Oddly, he observed the situation with a kind of reluctant curiosity, even taking steps towards the scene others were quickly distancing themselves from. His eyes widened as the guards restrained the man, fixing plastic ties to his wrists. One guard plugged in a portable link-up system to the man’s M-Band so that they could hack into his personal data while another recited the Negative Removal Act.

My view to the man cleared briefly. He was visibly shaking. He attempted to drop to his knees, though the guards held him up. He begged them to let him go, crying out in broken sobs for a chance to make right whatever it was he’d done – or was going to do – wrong.

No one made a move to help him, even though I heard one or two heart-rate monitors sound an alert. People’s hearts weren’t racing for him; it was fear for themselves that caused the spikes.

The man’s pleas fell on deaf ears.

I knew my expression gave away nothing but detachment.
He
, conversely, watched everything with a look of revulsion, and I felt a sick sense of justification that he should see this now. Nothing could better prepare him.

The spotlights that lined the platform began to pulse red, indicating a train on approach. I glanced one more time at
him
and noticed he was moving towards the guards. I straightened, suddenly intrigued. Was he going to step in? Surely not.

I never found out.

The sounds of struggle intensified and I turned my attention back to the balding man in time to see him break free of the guards and leap straight off the platform.

The man – the neg – collided instantly with the oncoming train.

Nine years ago …

United States of America Individual Identification Act

Part I

In the interest of public and individual safety the government of the United States has approved the compulsory use of microchips for GPS, identification and potential medicinal purposes.

As of October 1, all residents and permanent or temporary visitors of the United States of America are required to be fitted with a current M-Corp issued microchip.

Failure to do so is viewed as a criminal offence and is punishable by law.

For further information on the Individual Identification Act please got to:

http://www.m-corp-systems.com/mchip

One

C
rouched in the shadows, I scoped the underground parking garage again – one of Arlington’s inner-city lots. I kept my focus on my surroundings, even as I took the time to pull my hoodie over my head. I wouldn’t need it for long. Soon, I’d be sweating. Running for my life does that.

I glanced down at my sleek M-Band, missing the days when a simple wristwatch sat in its place. When life wasn’t dictated by whatever data it spewed out. But those days are gone. It had only taken nine years for the world to change completely. And forever. You’d have thought we were better than that. You’d have thought we’d fight harder and stronger. But it turns out being able to rate ourselves against one another, being able to scientifically map the way our pheromones interacted with every individual we crossed paths with, was more important than any of the other values we’d once held so dear. Like honour. Time. Family.

Like falling in love.

I had no desire to be told by a factory setting who was and wasn’t compatible with me. If anything I despised the technology, but that didn’t make me Pre-Evo. The Preference Evolution supporters might have felt like they had safety and power in numbers, but being a team player got you nowhere in this world.

I stood up and took a series of deep breaths to calm myself, watching as my M-Band instructed me my pulse was dropping to an acceptable level. I hated that I still got anxious, but even raw determination doesn’t dampen nerves. I’d never bothered with the mute zips that concealed heart rate and pulse beep-offs – it was cheating. I prided myself on my ability to control the M-Band readings that seemed to control everyone else. I wasn’t going to let a glass bracelet control me. It was a sign of how far I’d come these past two years that I could master the discipline.

Especially at moments like this.

I stubbed my booted toe into the concrete pylon I was hiding behind and reminded myself it would all be worth it when I had him back. A sound to my left caused me to flinch and spin defensively. I let out a breath. It was just the digital advertisement on a far wall shifting. My shoulders began to ease only to tense again when the new 3D ad came into view.

Rehabilitation leads to reintegration.

Bullshit. The rehabilitation farms for negs looked idyllic; images of sprawling hills, meditation rooms and team sports. The last image showed some loser with a cheesy smile on his face as he waved goodbye to the other negs before apparently heading back out into the world. All propaganda.

My eyes fixed on the words at the bottom of each image –
An M-Corp Initiative 
– and my hand itched to rip the digital panels off the wall and replace them with the real pictures I kept stored away. Instead, I clamped my fingers closed and looked back towards the parked cars.

Pulling out my old-fashioned handheld, I called the only number I used the phone for.

‘You set?’ Gus answered in a flat voice. I could hear the sounds of his engine in the background as he shifted gears.

‘Not quite. Two to go and one of them is an unknown,’ I explained, my tone hushed as I glanced back at the mystery cherry-red convertible. It could only be a woman’s car. ‘I need you to run the plates.’

I heard him blow out a breath. ‘Have I mentioned I hate your guts lately?’

‘Every day.’ I grinned.

Silence met me at the other end. I waited. Gus needed these few moments. They made him feel like he actually had a choice. I could give him that, even if it wasn’t true.

‘It might take a bit of time,’ he said, sounding defeated.

I rattled off the convertible’s plate details and Gus hung up without another word. It didn’t bother me. The terms of my relationship with Gus were clear. He worked for me until I said otherwise. No warm fuzzies. A friend was the last thing I needed.

When I started down this path two years ago, I knew there was no point unless I was willing to give it everything. I might’ve only been sixteen at the beginning of all this, but watching my family fall apart little by little, hearing the gossip escalate until we were forced to change over to Mom’s maiden name and eventually leave our home – it was devastating. What choice did I really have?

And I had given
everything
.

My M-Band sent out a low beep. I glanced around before looking down and sighing at the message that scrolled across the screen.

Mom.

She’d picked up another shift and would be home even later than planned. I leaned my head back against the pylon and swallowed past the tightness in my throat. The message was no surprise. Mom worked crazy hours at the hospital for barely anything, and what she did get all went towards paying off debts we never should’ve had.

I’ll leave you some dinner in the oven.

I sent off the message to her, wishing, yet again, that the world hadn’t changed. The ad to my right taunted me again and my jaw flexed. Things would only get tighter now that the government was introducing the Poverty Tax.

All because of a microchip that was smaller than a grain of rice.

It had been up for debate for years, the public protesting the invasion of privacy vehemently at first. But once the Identification Laws were passed nine years ago and every man, woman and child was implanted with an M-Chip at the tip of their spine, people swiftly forgot to argue. Instead they became obsessed with,
addicted
to M-Bands and their must-have accessories. And soon enough, M-Bands became law too.

Of course, all of this paled in comparison to the biggest discovery.

Phera-tech.

A stumbled-upon tech that changed the way everyone interacted. Even me. Now, every relationship was a definitive statistic.

Taking another deep breath, I shook the jitters from my hands and waited. It was all about timing. I had enough experience to know it was foolish to waste time looking over my shoulder when the real danger was usually straight ahead.

The elevator doors at the far wall chimed. Without thinking, my tranq gun was in hand. My finger on the trigger just in case.

A middle-aged man stepped out of the elevator. The tread of his polished brogues echoed through the parking garage as he tapped his M-Band to open his Mercedes.

‘Wanker,’ I whispered.

I waited for him to slip into his car, worth more than the shack we rented on the outskirts of west Arlington, and watched as he reached over to open the glove compartment and pulled something out.

I was already smirking.

I stuffed my tranq gun in the front pocket of my hoodie, shuffled into a better position, and opened the camera zip on my M-Band. I may have only been eighteen, but the last two years of my life had given me a solid education. I’d learned to see these things for what they really were. This guy was seriously funded and worked late. Add the wanker component and likelihood he had some lowbrow connections …

Sure enough, he pulled out another M-Band and began switching it with the one on his right wrist.

‘Tsk, tsk,’ I admonished, taking a few photos as he made the changeover. By law, people were only permitted to own one M-Band. If you bought a new or upgraded M-Band, you
had
to hand in your old one on delivery.

Mr Polished Brogues had a black-market M-Band, which meant he was up to no good.

My guess: he was cheating on his wife. By wearing the black-market band he was creating a kind of alias, covering his tracks so his unsuspecting wife would never know if he spent the night trawling bars. No matter what people claimed M-Chips and Phera-tech could do, no matter how many long-term matches they created, or how many negative relationships they supposedly protected people from, you can’t stop a bastard being a bastard.

Storing away the photos in my hidden cyber drawer, I closed down my camera zip. You never know when such evidence can come in handy. Information is power, and I’d made compiling and exploiting it an art form.

‘One down,’ I muttered as Polished Brogues started his engine and screeched out of the parking garage. I turned my attention back to the six cars remaining on this level. Thanks to the last few weeks of surveillance, and some expensive intel, I knew five of them weren’t a concern. The owners of those cars always worked late and it wasn’t uncommon for them to stay overnight – hell, half of them had pull-out beds and bathrooms in their offices.

The convertible however … I gnawed on the inside of my cheek, knowing Gus wouldn’t have had time to complete the plate search yet.

Decision time.

It wasn’t simply getting into the elevator unnoticed that mattered. I had to be able to get back out too. I let go of a deep breath. I didn’t like unknowns. What I
liked
was a sure thing. A scientifically proven fact. I got that trait from my father. He was also the one who’d taught me that information was power.

Then again … ‘Chance favours the bold,’ I mumbled. I got
that
from myself.

It was nearly 10 p.m. I’d waited long enough. I pulled out my phone again and made the call.

‘The search isn’t done yet,’ Gus answered.

‘Don’t worry about it. I’m ready.’

I could hear Gus tapping away on his laptop, but that wasn’t all I registered. There was music and the distinct sound of chatter in the background.

‘Where are you?’ I asked, suddenly suspicious.

‘Drinking my way into oblivion. I’m hoping when I get there, you aren’t.’

‘You’d better not be drunk,’ I warned.

‘You know, Maggie, there are places for people like you,’ he said, and I noted with a sense of relief that he wasn’t slurring his words the way he did when he’d had a few drinks. It was more likely he’d opted for a crowded place in case his transmissions were traced. ‘They bring you food and little round pills and you get to lie in bed all day and talk about your feelings. I think you’d like it.’

I bristled. ‘There are already enough people locked away who shouldn’t be,’ I said, my words clipped.

‘Whatever,’ he grumbled.

After one of his trademark pauses, Gus made a grunting sound. ‘You’re good to go in thirty seconds and you’ll have a thirty-minute window. Hope you get lost down there.’

He hung up and I kept count, unfazed by his moodiness. Gus hated me. So he should. But catching him red-handed ten months ago had felt like Christmas. And regardless of what he thought of me, I owned him.

‘Thirty,’ I counted. I adjusted my grey hood and took off across the dark parking garage, knowing, without question, that the security cameras would show nothing but an empty lot for the next thirty minutes. He might hate my guts, but Gus had mad skills.

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