Arin stepped quietly into her mother’s lab that often doubled as a kitchen. Clara’s experiments often used kitchen ingredients, so it was a perfect match. Arin knew her mother would be looking for her, but she didn’t care. Her mother was so wrapped up in her work, and what she thought was best for Arin, that her mother didn’t even see who she really was. How could a seventeen-year-old be expected to be responsible, independent, and practically on her own; then be told what to do whenever her mother happened to drop into her life? Mmm, her mother did make delicious Crisps. She would definitely need to take some with her. Lowering her backpack from her shoulder, Arin quickly dumped a few handfuls of Crisps into an inside pocket where they wouldn’t get crushed.
A warm tingle traveled up her spine as Arin anxiously thought about how little time she might have in The City––the only world she had ever known. She would need to escape soon. Arin relaxed a little when she saw the all too familiar NutriDots. She could fit enough of the nutrition-packed dot meals in the side pocket of her pack to last for a month or two if she carefully rationed them. The self-sealed tiny meals would be perfect for her emergency exit and travel. First created for the long-abandoned practices of military tours, camping, and vacations, the dots were perfect for Agents who lived in the world of Intertainments and they were an excellent stash for her quick escape.
Arin’s thoughts drifted to Asher. What kind of Intertainments did he enjoy? She had heard about some pretty wicked games and erotic scenes that Agents could engage in, especially as they gained experience managing the machines and Irrelevants (whatever they were). Would Asher indulge in provocative pleasures if he had a chance? Would she? No. She couldn’t even think about what she would do. She wasn’t one of them. Her mother had denied her the chip when she was a baby, and it was too late to completely integrate the Enhanced Computer Chip into her brain now. She was stuck with the enhanced Exosuit that was a poor substitute for the implanted chip. She would never be able to work as an Agent like Asher and her friends.
The more Arin thought about how different she was, the angrier she got. She would never fit in. She would never be like her friends, and their differences would be obvious when she turned 18 in just a few months. All her friends would soon start their jobs and she never would. Without the chip she was nothing. Maybe she would become an Irrelevant, someone no one ever saw or cared about. She didn’t know who or what they were, but she feared that she might somehow be one of them.
During their training years, Arin and Asher spent hours playing games, having fun, and making friends. No one believed things would ever really change. In a way, they hadn’t. Arin’s mother had given her an idea of what to expect. In the Work Room, everyone would sit at their terminals and interface with the master AI to troubleshoot and manage the machines. Apparently, the job took too little effort most of the time, so the Agents would play games and enjoy pleasurable sensations while they monitored the machines. It was the perfect arrangement. Why did her mother not want her to enjoy the perfect job in the perfect world? But for Arin, it wasn’t perfect.
For some reason when she was born her mother prevented her from getting the chip implanted in her brain that would allow her to function at maximum productivity. Without it, what was she? What kind of future could she have? Fear clawed at her gut as thoughts came swarming into her mind. What was her mother thinking? Clara talked about having a plan, but never said or did anything about it. Arin didn’t even believe there was a plan for her uncertain future. Arin would need to take action, and the only thing she could think to do was to get out. She had seen beautiful vids from the past, and she heard stories about how dangerous the outside became, but there were rumors of something very different. She always felt like there was something out there she needed to see.
Arin stepped out of her mother’s lab, picked up her pace, and started running. She didn’t know where she was going, she just needed to go. She stopped suddenly as she felt something swoosh past her arm. Startled, she looked up to see Asher.
From the author: Intertainments - are integrated entertainment connecting AI to the Enhanced Computer Chip creating sensations in the human body.
Irrelevants - people rejected from The City who live underground and provide the action for integrated Intertainments Agents enjoy or they maintain the machines.