Kiana learns the value of humanity in a world ruled by technology.
Kiana Thomas knows there are things that the government doesn’t believe the general public should be aware of, but the avatar for her technology assures her that her government knows what’s best for her. Her tech was implanted inside of her as a child, and it keeps her safe. She might not be able to do everything she wants to do, but that’s okay, because she’s protected. Everything is just as it should be until the day her tech malfunctions. Kiana soon finds herself in the world of Naturals without any guiding force except human consciousness. That malfunction gave her information that puts her life in danger.
Jace Ellison has lived his life in a community of outcasts. His parents’ beliefs aren’t his. He just wants to live in a world that offers him the opportunity to do more than merely survive. Every year things get worse for his community of people who refuse to be implanted with biotech upgrades and join the Peoplescape universe. He’s planning to leave the only life he knows, and then he meets Kiana. Her newfound wonder over the simplest things about being human makes Jace rethink his decision.
But powerful people want Kiana dead. Can they keep her alive as she evolves and learns to become human?
“Let me go!”
Kiana jerked awake as a woman’s scream echoed in her room. The terrified cry came from the hallway—just outside the door.
With a snick, the deadbolt slammed home. “Lockdown enabled. Suspect in custody. No immediate danger. Sleep cycle discontinued until further notice,” stated Kiana’s system’s bland, automated tone.
Kiana’s feet touched the cool floor as she got out of bed. A rattle followed the heat kicking on. Steel shutters slammed down on the windows. Momentary claustrophobia stole her breath.
“Lockdown fully completed,” her system stated.
A primal fear her antiquated tech couldn’t overcome left her standing frozen in place.
“Don’t take my child. This is wrong,” the woman outside said, followed by louder scuffling and crashing.
Kiana cringed. Her apprehension began to rekindle.
“They can’t do this!” Something hit the wall so hard the picture nearest the door crashed to the floor. Glass shattered.
Kiana couldn’t remember the woman’s name, but she wanted her to stop.
“Mallory Allen,” supplied Kiana’s avatar, and a picture of Mallory along with her profile appeared. The entire record of education, residences, and her rare criminal activity opened for perusal.
There was something deviant about Mallory.
Kiana’s avatar focused sharper instead of loitering as a background app. “The government and Peoplescape Corporation are here to keep you safe. Your vital signs are all perfect. The police have this under control.”
The horrible screams coming from the hall focused her thoughts on her neighbor. She stood by the door, listening. Unable to abate her curiosity.
“Turn your frown upside down,” said her avatar. “Do not think about the troubles of others. It is rude.”
Newer implants would have autocorrected Kiana’s response to this, but she still had a spark of something rebellious.
“You need to be a better person and step away from the door,” scolded Gram, her avatar.
As shameful as noncompliance was, Kiana couldn’t ignore the need to listen. A loud clatter shook Kiana’s door. Gasping, she pulled back a bit.
“He’s a good boy!” Mallory pleaded. “Please don’t change him. He’s kind. He’s smart. Please!”
A dull thud made Kiana cringe. Mallory yelped as if she were in pain. The sound of a scuffle was followed by the ear-splitting wail of a child. This shriek moved down the hall, and Kiana stood in stunned horror. Some memory tried to take shape but couldn’t. She started to feel sick. Her head hurt—a lot. Fear. What was happening to her?
“It’s okay. The pain will go away if you stop thinking about the child.” Gram put her non-corporeal hand on Kiana’s shoulder.
Kiana let go of the breath she was holding. That nibble of rebellion inside completely gave in to Gram’s request in order to make the pain stop. Kiana’s mind went blank.
A tiny tingle at the base of Kiana’s skull helped pull her out of the trance-like focus. She wanted to help, even if the woman had brought this on herself by rejecting enhancements that would only benefit the child. Kiana’s fingers lingered as she decided if she’d open the door or not. This woman needed some support, even if she’d made terrible decisions.
“Ma’am, you need to calm down,” a male said.
His tone sent a shiver down Kiana’s spine and kept her from leaving the safety of her home. The heat kicked on again.
“Or we’ll use force. You don’t want to make this worse than it is.”
“Your son is five,” scolded a different, sterner man. “Did you really think no one would notice he hasn’t had his implant? What if he has some genetic disease? You should comply for the good of the collective.”
“I’m his mother. I should—”
“You should have known better,” interrupted the first man, not hiding his frustration.
“Why would you abuse your child like this? Aren’t you worried about his future?” queried the second man.
“He’s my son. I don’t want this for him,” Mallory pleaded.
“Then go live in a Natural community. It’s a free country, no one is forcing you to remain in the city. This is in social services’ hands now. You can’t have it both ways. Choose to live as an objector or upgrade your child.”
Kiana’s heart broke for her neighbors. She’d seen them but had never noticed the child was Natural. Mustering courage, she decided to go out and see if she could at least offer a kind word.
“Action denied.” Her system’s emergency voice returned. “One hour and fifty-three minutes of sleep required before scheduled waking occurs. Altercation with law enforcement probable. Remain inside.”
Kiana tried to open the door, but her hand was frozen in place where she gripped the knob.
“Emergency shutdown in three…two…”
“No!” Kiana pleaded as she collapsed on the frayed, discolored carpet next to the door.