I balanced on my surfboard, right thigh burning and salt water stinging my eyes, while the best wave of the early morning carried me like a goddess on a pedestal to shore. My older brother Liam and I shared a friendly competition, and it gave me a certain, blissful satisfaction to catch the same wave and to get to shore first.
“Oh yeah!” I shouted over the noise of the crashing surf.
Seagulls flocked and circled over us, squawking loudly, adding to the cacophony.
The sun glistened off Liam’s damp blond curls as he shook them out. His eyes sparkled as his lips tugged up into a grin. “I let you win.”
“Did not!” I smacked him playfully on the arm. “One more ride?”
Liam unzipped his wetsuit letting the top half fall down past his waist. He was in fine form, and I I understood why all the girls raved about him. He was responsible for a long list of broken hearts.
“I gotta get going,” he said, lifting his board.
I fell into step beside him, my feet sinking into the cold, wet sand. “So soon?”
He nodded, the glint leaving his eyes. My lips tightened into a frown “You’re taking off with Jackson again?”
Jackson was my boyfriend but lately he’d been spending more time with my brother than he had with me. It was starting to tick me off.
Liam stared straight ahead. “Lab stuff.” “What are you working on?” I rushed to keep up with my brother’s long, strong strides. He flicked his head, tossing the hair out of his eyes but didn’t answer.
“Come on,” I knocked into him sideways. “Tell me!”
“It’s just stuff.”
“Just stuff? Like what? Top CIA stuff? I know you’re smart but I think the government has been doing a good job without your help.”
I meant it as a joke, but Liam huffed. “It’s just stuff, okay? So leave it.”
I stopped short, shocked that he’d snapped at me.
He turned around and exhaled, “Zoe, I’m sorry.
“Fine. If you can’t tell me, you can’t tell me.”
We resumed our trek along the beach, and I pushed back my frustration. Liam used to include me in everything. It was always him and me against everyone else. Him and me against Alison and Paul, aka our mom and dad. Him and me against the surf. We were a team. When did we start keeping secrets from each other? Rather, when did he start keeping secrets from me?
I re-adjusted my board under my arm. Maybe I could get Jackson to unzip his lips. He could be easily persuaded if I poured on the charm. I hated to go behind my brother’s back for information, but something about all this–this, whatever it was that Liam was doing–made me uneasy. I couldn’t pinpoint why, it just did.
We reached our home, a massive glass box with two floors of windows facing the Pacific Ocean. It was built after the San Andreas Fault shifted and triggered the Big Quake that, along with the subsequent tsunami, wiped out ten miles of shoreline.
A nearby white-stucco storage shed housed all our water toys. We stopped there to hang up our wetsuits to dry.
“Thanks for surfing with me today.” Liam smiled at me, back to his jovial self. “I know it was a sacrifice for you to get up so early.”
I smiled in return. “No problem. It was fun.” Surfing with Liam was one of my most favorite things to do.
“You’re back for dinner?” I asked.
Liam didn’t know it, but once he left, I’d be spending the rest of the day preparing for his surprise birthday party. He’d turned twenty-one yesterday and had celebrated at a bar with his friends. I couldn’t go because I was underage, and it irked me that Jackson went and that he and Liam had once again shared a significant moment without me. I took consolation in the fact that Alison and Paul gave me free reign to plan this party. My heart beat with excitement, and I couldn’t wait to see his face when he got home and found the house full of his friends.
“Yeah, I’ll be there,” he answered.
I bit my cheek to keep my voice even. “Good. We’ll see you, then.”
Our property tiered twice before connecting to the sandy beach. Three glass doors slid open disappearing into the corner and creating a wall-less view of the stone patio that encased an eternity pool. Its waters slipped over the far edge into a waterfall that was collected again on the second tier.
Liam strode into the house, through the living room and down the hall to his bedroom at the back, his wet shorts dripping on the glossy white tiles.
I tightened the towel around my waist and climbed the open-slat staircase to my room.
As I passed the maid, Saundra something, her brown face blanched. She stumbled slightly before grabbing the rail and catching herself.
“Excuse me,” she said softly at my astonished expression.
The woman really didn’t look well, and I was thankful for my enhanced immunization. I was glad I didn’t have to worry about diseases brought in from the outside.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She nodded weakly, and proceeded to clean the rails.
A thrill of anticipation reclaimed my thoughts. I couldn’t wait for tonight.
The door beside my bathroom opened into a second room, a walk-in closet big enough to house another bedroom set. Racks of clothes and shoes lined the walls, a well-lit mirror station was located near the skylight and a cushioned leather bench was placed in the middle for sitting. I stood in my closet and stared at the rows of sundresses, blouses and shorts.
What to wear?
I settled on a lace blouse and cotton shorts, then went to take a luxurious shower, rinsing the sea water out of my long, blond hair. I leaned into the built-in seat that was designed specifically for my body height and shape. Laser lights mapped my head and twenty-eight silicon fingers reached out to massage my scalp while shampooing and conditioning my hair. Most days I had to watch or I’d doze off, but today I was excited. I commanded the water to turn off as soon as the rinse was done.
When I was dressed and my hair combed out and tied back, I slipped my platinum Communication Ring onto my left middle finger. I tapped it which produced a holographic image of my phone apps on my palm. I touched the clock icon and holographic digital numbers appeared in the air.
Ten already? Where did the time go? That was the thing with summer holidays; every hour ran languidly into the next.
I imagined the cook and her crew were busy preparing for the party in the kitchen. I’d requested fresh seafood and simulated roast, fresh fruit and vegetables, an assortment of fancy chocolates and baked items, plus a three-tiered, surfer-themed birthday cake.
I skipped down the stairs to check on the progress, but in my hurry to the kitchen, I slammed into a body.
“Sorry,” a male voice said.
I stepped back, agitated. I recognized the dark-haired boy wearing the white tunic my mother made the male staff wear. He was the maid’s son. He held a wet mop in his hand, and I figured he’d been cleaning up Liam’s spotty water trail.
He stepped politely out of the way, but the expression on his face was stoic. Even though he was clearly from the outside and the help, I still expected some small sign that what he saw when he viewed me was pleasing. A twinkle in the eye, a slight upturning of the lips. These were the responses I got from all the boys. The straight ones, anyway.
He wasn’t especially attractive but I didn’t see people with his appearance very often. He had eyes the color of imported coffee beans and skin like caramel candy. His nose was wide and his jaw-line sharp. I was suddenly intrigued by him and surprised myself by thinking he looked exotic.
“Excuse me, what was your name again?” I asked.
“Noah.” Right. I remembered now. I waited for him to say something, but he stayed quiet.
Footsteps echoed from the hall above. My parents spoke together, their muffled voices floating across the high ceilings.
“Do other maids send their sons to do their work?” Alison’s voice had a brassy tone that carried through the cavernous space.
I felt a flare of red creep up my neck when I realized Alison was talking about Noah. My eyes darted to his, but he kept his averted.
“He does a good job,” Paul responded. “That’s the main thing. Besides you know they need the money.”
“So we’re charity now?”
“What’s wrong with a little charity? Besides, they’re not just anybody.”
“I don’t care. I still don’t trust him.”
I was mortified. My feet felt cemented to the floor and I didn’t know what to say. Anything would come off as trite since nothing I could say could undo what Noah had heard.
“Did you know the Pikes have a household robot now?” Alison, again. “Apparently it’s very efficient, and at least Mary doesn’t have to worry about things going missing.”
Noah’s jaw tightened and he turned his back to me. He attacked Liam’s dried and dusty water spots aggressively and soon had disappeared around the corner.
“Zoe?” Alison click-clacked down the wooden stairs. She wore a pale yellow pantsuit and high heels even though it was Saturday. She was in-between careers now, having spent the last fifteen years in law. She barely looked thirty years old and with lots of time ahead of her, she could do anything. Probably several things.
“Mom! You have to keep your voice down. How many times do I have to tell you your voice travels in this glass box?
“Oh.” She looked mildly shaken. “No matter. Is everything coming together to your satisfaction?”
“I’m just checking in on things now.”
“Your father and I are meeting people for lunch. What time is the party again?”
I blew a frustrated breath. She could at least pretend she cared enough to remember details I’d told her a dozen times already.
“Right. We’ll see you at seven.”
Things proceeded throughout the day as planned and I was pleased with my ability to pull off an event like this on my own.
The decorators showed up at 1:00 as promised.
The band arrived to set up at 3:00.
I got dressed at 4:30, having bought a thigh-length mini-dress that sparkled with tiny crystals just for the occasion.
My hair and makeup girl arrived at 5:00.
I tapped my ring and called Jackson at 5:30.
“Where are you?” I said to the three-inch holographic image of him that popped up above my palm. “You said you’d help.”
“Sorry, Zo. Got tied up at home.”
“Are you okay? You don’t sound so good.”
It was odd. No one in Sol City ever got really sick, but it wasn’t unheard of to get run down if you pushed yourself too hard. Jackson had been working a lot lately.
“I didn’t sleep well last night. Uh, spent most of the day in bed.”
I felt a little panicky. “You’re still coming, aren’t you?”
“Of course. I’ll be there soon.”
Alison and Paul arrived at 6:30 along with all of mine and Liam’s friends.
I hushed everyone at 6:55, giving instructions on when to shout “Surprise!”
It was all a wasted effort.Liam never showed.
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I called Liam’s ComRing compulsively as I made apologies to our friends knowing he’d probably turned it off so he could work undisturbed.
This was so humiliating! I imagined him hunched over his lab desk, sleeping on his glass text-reader, drool leaking out of the side of his mouth. I knew he’d been working too hard.
Oh, why this day of all days did he have to go and be so irresponsible?
I instructed the band to play anyway and told everyone to start in on the food. No reason why we shouldn’t still have fun, even if Liam had to spoil things.
“Let’s dance,” I said to Jackson, who’d arrived late.
I needed a diversion to help me calm the anger boiling right under the disappointment bubbling right under the embarrassment I was feeling.
“Actually, I think I’m going to go,” Jackson said.
“You’re still feeling sick?” He did look pale. “Okay, fine.” I tried to keep the annoyance out of my voice. He couldn’t help it if he didn’t sleep last night. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He gave me a quick, very un-romantic kiss and left.
At least I still had Charlotte. Her stilettos clicked on the tile as she walked toward me with an apologetic look.
“Hey, I fully expect Ryder to jerk around with me when he gets older, too.”
Her brother was only twelve, but at that moment, I was convinced it was true.
“We can still have fun,” she continued, raising her blond eyebrows in encouragement and smiling. “Let’s go talk to Serena and Isabella.”
I joined Paul and Alison for breakfast the next morning just as Alison went off again about Liam.
“Maybe he should get a summer job. Learn what it means to work, to stick to a schedule.”
“It’s not like he’s into drugs, Alison.” Paul rested his elbows on the table with the casual confidence of someone who worried little. He had a fit body from surfing and playing tennis daily, a chiseled handsome face and shaggy blond surfer hair that better suited a swim model than the company executive he was. Alison sat on the opposite end, the two of them looking like attractive, world-conquering bookends.
“He’s been experimenting at the lab. Maybe he’s on the brink of a new breakthrough—something you might actually be proud of.”
Liam probably fell asleep at the lab. The students kept a cot there so they could take naps instead of coming home.
“Have you called the lab?” I asked. Paul took a bite of scrambled eggs and swallowed. “Yeah, no one’s seen him, but that doesn’t mean anything. The university’s a big place.”
I left my dishes on the table and started toward the steps to my room, but I paused before going up. I changed direction and moved quietly to the back of the hall and pushed Liam’s door open. Would be just like him to have sneaked in and be snoring in his bed while we wondered and worried.
No such luck.
Liam had a photo wall comprised of digital, one-foot square tiles that flipped randomly through his favorite pictures. They cast luminous blue and green shimmers throughout the room and across my body as I stepped closer. Most depicted Liam and his friends up to their antics, and there were a few gentler ones of our family. Of those, most were of Liam and me together, taken by one of our parents. I focused on one with the two of us lying on surfboards at the beach, both with sun-kissed skin and bright-white, straight teeth. I pressed the image, pausing it.
I was ten years old when Liam taught me to surf. I’d felt so clumsy, and couldn’t find my center of gravity. He’d insisted I keep trying until I caught my first small wave even though I was on the verge of tears and wanting to quit the whole time. I’d hated him for not letting me give up and then, when I’d accomplished the feat, I loved him because he hadn’t.
So far I’d successfully pushed away the nagging thought that something bad might have happened to him. This time the thought hit me like a wall and struck me with cool fear. A lump formed in my throat.
Get a grip, Zoe!
Of course Liam was fine. I grabbed a bed sheet off the floor and snapped it in the air in an effort to shake off the crazy fear.
The sheet straightened mid air and floated flat along his bed. A small white piece of paper drifted to the ground, so I picked it up. One word was printed in full caps: DEXTER.
I tapped my ring and spoke Jackson’s name. It buzzed un-answered. Weird. Jackson always answered my calls. In fact, I was surprised he hadn’t dropped by for breakfast, assuming he slept last night. Jackson tended to spend more time at our house than he did at his own, though I didn’t blame him. His parents were never home. As an only child, Jackson had practically raised himself.
I decided if he wasn’t going to answer his ComRing, I’d just go to his house and wake him up.
I stuffed the note in my pocket and went to the garage. Then I belted myself into my two-seater MagLev, my magnetic levitating pod-car. It was a gift from Paul on my seventeenth birthday and although it resembled a huge dinosaur egg, I loved it.
It was great to have my own transportation, finally. It only carried two people, which caused some dissension among my friends, especially Isabella and Serena since I almost always took Charlotte, but it was better than public transit or having to get Alison to drive me around.
I spoke Jackson’s name into the dashboard computer. My pod car followed the magnetic grid through the city—down wide boulevards lined with tall palm trees and artificial energy capturing “trees” that looked more like over-sized kitchen utensils—miraculously skirting pedestrians and a maze of other electro magnetic vehicles.
Jackson’s house was nestled into a rocky cove further south of our place. I pulled up to the gate and extended my hand out the window. A quick scan allowed me entrance. My pod continued up the long curvy drive. Unlike our sleek, sparse house, the Pike home was patterned after an ancient Roman village. Tall pillars marked a solar-lighted walkway to the heavy, wooden front doors.
Jackson opened it. His sandy hair stuck out in every direction, and his T-shirt was wrinkled and creased like he’d slept in it. Dark circles ringed his blue eyes. Normally, he was quite swoon-worthy, but at the moment he looked like crap.
“Still didn’t sleep?” I asked.
“Maybe you should take something.”
I passed through the front doors into a sweeping foyer floored with black and white tiles that led to broad windows on the back side of the house. Gigantic waves crashed up against black rocks beyond. An impressive chandelier hung over our heads.
We were joined by a short humanoid robot about three and a half feet tall. Though its footsteps were stiff, it still somehow managed to glide across the floor.
I’d seen them advertised on TV but had never seen one up close before.
“It’s my mother’s new toy,” Jackson said. “She calls it Mimi.”
The robot stopped and stared at the mention of its name. Lips like red licorice turned upwards in a smile. Its table tennis eyeballs opened in question.
“Continue on,” Jackson said to it.
The robot had a duster and proceeded to tend to a large vase on a side table.
I watched with amazement and thought how envious Alison would feel knowing these units were making waves in the neighborhood.
I thought the thing was kind of creepy.
“Have you heard from Liam?” I said. “He hasn’t shown up at home yet and he’s not answering his ComRing. I’m starting to get worried.”
“I haven’t seen him since yesterday morning at the university. I came home early to sleep.”
“But, why isn’t he answering his phone?”
Jackson shook his head. “Maybe he turned it off.”
“Maybe. He did seem pretty excited about whatever it is you guys are working on, and probably didn’t want to be interrupted.” I pushed my annoyance away. Their secret project wasn’t the issue now, finding Liam was. “Who else might know where he is?”
“I don’t know.”
The scrap piece of paper was in my pocket, so I showed it to Jackson. “I found this in Liam’s room.”
He blinked and shook his head. “Uh, sorry, Zo, I don’t know what that means.”
“But, Liam told you everything!”
At some point in the last year Liam had shifted his confidences to Jackson, though I couldn’t remember if it was before or after Jackson had become my boyfriend; before or after Alison had a fit that I was dating a boy four years older than me.
Paul had reasoned with her: They’d known Jackson since he was a kid, hadn’t they? He was like a second son. If there was anyone they could trust with their daughter, it was Jackson.
I’d never questioned that trust before now, but something about the way he squirmed slightly under my gaze made me doubtful. Jackson was keeping something from me.
“Liam didn’t tell me everything,” he finally said. “I’m not his only friend.”
“Okay, then who else?”
Jackson ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know. All the guys at the lab.”
He hummed. “Mitchell.”
“Mitchell Redding. He’s one of the lab geeks. Look, Zoe,” he pulled me into a hug. “I’m sure Liam’s fine. He’s a big boy. He can take care of himself.”
Jackson was right, of course. I let out a breath and allowed myself to sink into his strong body. He stroked my hair and kissed the top of my head, and I suddenly felt ashamed for doubting him.
But Liam wasn’t home when I returned, and he didn’t come home overnight either.By morning Alison had filed a missing person’s report.
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The doorbell resounded like church bells throughout the house. We’d been expecting the authorities, and Alison applied a quick layer of lipstick before heading for the front door, her heels, as always, clicking on the tiles.
The doors were steel-plated and engraved with an artistic, interlocking-block design, and yet, surprisingly light to open. I heard Alison invite the authorities inside. They passed the indoor wall garden and the waterfall lining a sizable foyer and entered our sunken living room. Skylights cast sunrays that bounced off the white walls. On days like this, I felt like I needed to wear sunglasses in the house to fight off the glare.
The two uniformed men introduced themselves as Officers Grant and Diaz. Grant had deep-set, steely-blue eyes that I found unsettling. Each took a seat in our white leather and chrome director-style chairs. I could tell by Paul’s expression that he was as uncertain as I was about what they would ask.
Both men had feather-light glass e-tablets on their laps, and Officer Grant busily took notes as Alison talked. She sat straight, her hands folded in her lap like she was interviewing for a new position at the firm. I hovered near the dining room
“He doesn’t usually take off like this without letting anyone know. I mean, I can see him not telling me,” Alison paused, shifting on the sofa uncomfortably, “not telling us, but not even his best friend or lab partners know where he is.”
“How old is your son, ma’am?” Diaz asked.
“And he’s a student at the university?”
“Yes,” Alison said, agitation creeping into her voice. “I’ve already told you that.”
Grant’s eyes darted to his partner. I was sure it was code for we’re wasting our time. Then he said, “Does he have a girlfriend?”
Alison was quick to answer, “No.” She glanced sideways at Paul. “I mean, he’s had lots of girlfriends, but he doesn’t have one now. As far as I know.”
“Happens all the time,” Diaz said. “Young men getting swept away with young love.”
“But Liam’s not like that,” Alison said.
Grant’s sly eyes scanned the room until they landed on me. I couldn’t stop a shiver from creeping up my back. “Can you join us?” he asked.
I reluctantly drew closer. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t like this guy.
“Are you close to your brother?”
I thought about his question. Liam was the only person in my life I’d ever been completely free around. Even though I was four years younger, he’d never treated me like the annoying little sister. We’d rallied together against our mother’s over-bearing tendencies and covered for each other when our personal relationships went awry.
Yes, we were close, but I wasn’t about to tip off this jerk.
I offered a slight shrug in response.
“Where do you think he is?”
My eyes flickered to my parents who were watching me closely. “I don’t know. I thought he was asleep in his room.”
His eyes narrowed. “What was he working on at the lab?”
I let out a frustrated puff. “I don’t know.”
“So,” Grant said, disbelief on his face. “You’re close to your brother, but you don’t know where he is or what he was working on?”
“I’m his sister, not his wife. He didn’t confide in me about everything.” I crossed my arms and forced myself to return Grant’s arrogant gaze.
Grant glanced back at his tablet, his expression hardening even more if that were possible. “I’ve just received new information. There is surveillance evidence at the East Gate recording Liam leaving the city three days ago, but nothing since. No transmission documenting his return.”
This news made my blood run cold. Where are you Liam? “We’d like to talk with your staff members, too,” he continued.
“Certainly,” Alison said. “I’ll give you a list of their names.”
Grant studied me again. “Are you sure there isn’t anything you want to tell us?”
After that awkward inquisition and the following shakedown with Alison and Paul, who were both convinced I was withholding information, I called Jackson to demand answers.
His three-inch hologram popped up from my ComRing.
“The authorities just left. Alison and Paul are squirrelly. If you know anything, you have to tell me,” I said.
“I wish I did. I’m worried, too. I’m sure the authorities will figure things out. You just need to be patient.”
“I can’t be patient. Liam is missing.” I paced around the space at the foot of my bed. The DigiWall image was set on psychedelic, and the random images were starting to irritate me. I told it to turn off.
“What about that other guy you work with, Mitchell?”
“He doesn’t know anything.”
“How do you know that? I have to talk to him at least. Do you want to come with me?”
Jackson hesitated before answering. “I can’t right now. Promised my dad I’d help him with something. Besides, I need to shower. How about tomorrow?”
I didn’t believe a word of that, and I couldn’t keep the agitation from my voice.
“Fine.” If he didn’t want to come with me, I’d go by myself.
It took twenty minutes to get to Sol City University, and I used the time to review what I knew, which wasn’t much. Liam had been leaving the city, but no one knew why, not even his best friend or his sister. Liam was in possession of a hand-written note with one word on it, the significance of which remained unknown. I sighed. Not much to go on here.
The university was like a city within a city. Whitewashed buildings sprawled out from a central park. Students gathered in small clusters or kept solo, studying or taking study breaks, congregating in the shade of Bacopa trees. Gold nanoparticles embedded in their leaves cast a reddish, luminous glow over the park without the need for electricity.
I made my way by foot, winding through blocks of square buildings with front door signage indicating humanities, technology, environmental studies, nanotechnology, biotech research, or other work going on inside. A round-domed building in the distance housed a planetarium and space science research.
I found the entrance of the tech lab where my brother did his research and went in. The lab was a vast, rectangular room covered in stainless steel from floor to ceiling. A row of windows facing southeast allowed natural light to fill the space. Microscopes and lab equipment dotted the countertops. Computer equipment lined a large table in the middle of the room, with oversize 3D monitors displaying colorful holographic images that hovered in mid air.
A guy around the same age as Liam was there. His hair stood on end, and half his shirt was untucked. A cot in the corner was unmade with sheets rumpled on top. Obviously, this guy didn’t spend much time at home.
“I’m Zoe Vanderveen.”
The guy nodded. “I know who you are.”
“And you are…?”
“Are you a friend of my brother’s? Were you researching together? When was the last time you saw him?”
“Whoa, enough with the hundred questions.”
I blew air through my nose, and forced myself to calm down. “I’m just trying to find him.”
“Yeah, I figured that. I already told the authorities everything I know.”
“Did they take his computer?”
“It’s a shared computer, so they just downloaded the hard drive.”
“Can I check it out?”
Mitchell shot me a look like I’d asked him to drop his drawers. “It’s university property.”
“But he’s my brother. Maybe I’ll notice something that they missed.”
The guy still wasn’t giving in. “I’m sure he’ll show up.”
“How can you be sure?”
Finally, Mitchell dropped his hands in defeat and commanded the computer to log on. “Here you go.” My heart jumped as I sat in front of the screen. Then it sunk. I tapped on all of Liam’s files.
They were empty.
“There’s nothing here,” I said.
“I tried to tell you.”
“But how could there be nothing in Liam’s files?”
Mitchell shrugged again. “I don’t know. Someone wiped it clean.”
“But who would do that?”
I waited for the shrug and got it. I wondered had Mitchell wiped it clean, and if so, why? Why were he and Jackson being so elusive? I pulled the paper out of my pocket and presented it to him.
“Do you know what this means?”
I expected no reply, and I was right. Mitchell just gave me another helpless shrug. Some detective I’d turned out to be.
I went back to the parking stall and instructed my pod to take me home. Maybe my parents had heard something by now.
When I entered the living room, Saundra was there washing the windows. Even though we had spider-like robotic cleaners for the higher ones, Alison still wanted the lower windows done by hand because the machines occasionally left streaks. I wondered if Alison had thought of that on her quest for humanoid help.
With a house like this, there was never a shortage of things to clean. At least for now the maid’s job was secure.
The glass 3D monitor was on, but muted. Even though it was more than eight feet long and five feet tall, taking up a large portion of the southern wall, the high ceiling made it look smaller than it was. I could hear my parents arguing again.
“How could they not have found any leads by now?” Alison’s voice cracked with worry.
“I’m sure they’re working as hard as they can,” Paul said in the exact laid back tone that drove Alison nuts when she was stressed. A door slammed, and I guessed Paul was standing on the hallway side of it.
So they hadn’t heard anything, either. I turned the TV up to keep Saundra from overhearing Alison and Paul discuss our family’s personal problems. I had to admit that if we had robotic humanoid help we wouldn’t have to worry about outsiders knowing all our dirty laundry.
Just as I commanded the volume to go to ten, a news story flashed on the screen. A group of teens was demonstrating in front of Sleiman Center Three, an imposing high-rise on the outside that was sheeted with glass. In the distance I noticed a brick and stucco clock tower. It had an ancient kind of face with numbers posted in an outdated circular fashion. Its ornate small and large rusted-iron hands were stuck at an incorrect time.
I could tell the kids were from the outside by the variety of their appearances. They had every kind of hair and skin color, varied heights and weights, and most carried archaic, hand-written placard signs denouncing GAP governing policies with slogans like “Transhumanism is un-natural, Science is not a true religion, and one with an angry red circle and an X over the word GAPS.
The camera zoomed in on a face I recognized—it was Noah, the maid’s son. The 3D monitor thrusts his image into the living room and his dark eyes blazed with an anger I hadn’t seen in anyone before. The other day I’d thought him exotic; now I found him frightening.
“Genetically Altered Persons have unfair social advantages,” Noah told the reporter. “They have the wealth and opportunity allowing them to leap ahead of poorer naturals. They have the best of the best of all things, including real estate. Look at Sol City. It was built on land that once housed lower income citizens. GAP status allowed them to push the poor off their land after the quake so they could build their walled, GAP-only, utopian city.
“They fund the government and shape unfair policies. And most importantly, they have time. They have artificially expanded lifelines. They have no right to play God in this way. The alteration of human genetics must be stopped!”
The ticker that ran under the scene said, NOAH BRODY, GRANDSON OF LESSER-KNOWN GENETIC SCIENTIST MATTHEW BRODY, CODEVELOPER OF THE PROCESS OF HUMAN GENETIC ALTERATION.
A lesser-known genetic scientist who developed Human Alteration? But it was my own grandfather, Dr. William Vanderveen who developed the procedure. The now-Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Vanderveen. He was the one everyone credited with the extension of the human life span.
Why hadn’t I heard of Matthew Brody before? And if he’d played a part in the discovery of human genetic alteration, why was his grandson protesting against it?
I caught Saundra staring at the news story. The woman quickly looked away. She was thin, with toasted skin and dark hair streaked with gray. Wrinkles fanned away from her green eyes and I guessed for a natural, she was probably around forty-five years old. Alison wouldn’t begin to look that way until she was closer to ninety.
Saundra was married to the son of the man this report credited with sharing the spotlight with my grandfather. How was it possible that she and her son weren’t GAP? How did she end up working as our domestic staff?
I turned back to the newscast in time to see a still photo of a well-dressed man on the screen. I recognized him as Ronald K. Smythe, CEO of Sleiman Enterprises and my father’s boss. If Liam hadn’t gone missing, my parents would be attending the black tie event taking place there tonight. The reporter stated that Mr. Smythe was not available for comment.
The story flipped back to Noah Brody. Beside him stood a teen with flaming red hair like nothing I’d ever seen. The newscaster thrusts the mic in his face, and he went off on a similar rant against genetic alteration.
Under his face, the ticker flashed, ZACK DEXTER, PROTESTER.
My heart skipped. Dexter? Could Liam’s note be referring to a person? This guy, maybe? Was that why Liam went to the outside? What would my brother have in common with a guy like that?Suddenly, I knew what I needed to do.