MarkedMature

A girl named Michaela makes a desparate decision to salvage her future, and a woman named Caroline discovers that she is being stalked - and cannot trust anyone to help.
Meanwhile, Jeremy is just looking for his own brand of fun - but to his fascination and delight, he stumbles onto something much, much better: a secret that should have stayed buried in the neural interface where he found it.
What does the mind of a murderer, flayed of all its delusions about humanity and morality, look like a

Prologue

"You what?" Michaela burst out. She’d stood so abruptly the table had jolted out of position, rattling the plates and cutlery, but she barely noticed.

Beside her, her sister echoed the sentiment; softer voice, but far sharper tone: "You did what to us?"

"Girls," their father said in a warning tone.

Michaela’s grey eyes were riveted on him; her father, the head of the family – a tall, thin man with still-black hair who did not get to ruin her future just like that. She had plans, perfectly good ones. Things that would rise her up above this measly beginning. "Well change it back!"

"Can’t be done," Georgia murmured beside her, sour now. "When you’re on the Luddite List, you’re on it for life. Complete blacklisting for all newtech. Even i-tats."

A shudder of irritation passed through Michaela, and she glared across at her sister, real heat in her expression. "Then we’re as good as dead anyway."

"Us or him." It was muttered in an undertone, but Michaela heard it anyway, and her scowl lessened with astonishment. Georgia was not the kind –

"That’s enough!" This time their father’s voice thundered across to them. It was too loud for the tiny, two-bedroom apartment, and too angry for the cramped little table they sat at.

Their mother hesitated in the act of cutting up her chicken and glanced over at him, but chose not to say anything. Michaela could see the wariness in her blue eyes.

"Michaela, sit down. Start acting your age."

The two sisters exchanged glances and, reluctantly, Michaela forced herself to sit. The hard wooden seat of her chair only served to remind her of scarcity, and then opportunity lost. Even the chicken was hard to come by here. So why had he –

Following her mother’s cue, she bent her head and concentrated on eating her roast. But the bitterness welled up inside, and the vegetables didn’t taste as good as they should have. The sweet potato tasted like dirt in her mouth, with the same soft, squishy texture as mashed potato. She pushed it to one side, the corners of her mouth turning downwards.

But she couldn’t just leave it alone. It was her future, for fuck’s sake!

"What about Lydia?" She asked, staring hard at a roasted potato as she jabbed at it with her fork. The cutlery glinted silver. "Did you put her on the List too?"

"Your sister made her own decision –"

No, of course not. She stabbed her fork through a potato, lifted it up and pretended to inspect it for edibility, feeling the anger bubbling up inside, twisting her gut. Lydia was their darling. Her older sister had never been subjected to the same pressures to succeed and take on the family business – if it could even be called that – as she had. It had been something of a relief when she’d moved out, to pursue her own path in big business. Lydia already had an NI. Probably all the latest upgrades. They wouldn’t subject Lydia

"So you decided we couldn’t make our own, and made the decision you knew we’d hate."

That was Georgia. Surprised, Michaela set her fork down and looked over at her. Her breath was taken away to find a look blacker than pitch directed at their father. She’d never seen such malice, had never expected to see it on her placid baby sister.

She didn’t even know she’d had her own plans.

"Georgia, we must remain pure –"

"Oh, right!" Georgia snapped. Michaela watched as she threw her knife and fork down on her plate, visibly winced at the ringing clatter they made against the chipped old ceramic. "Pure. Stripped of the future, stuck in the past! You leave us fossils with no choice!"

It was their own private mini-drama, unfolding before her. Michaela could see it before it happened; Georgia’s glare boring straight through their father, nailing him to the opposite wall, his pianist’s hands clenched into white-knuckled fists under the table, a contrast to the red flooding his face now. Maybe it was petty, but she couldn’t help feeling a hint of vindictive satisfaction through her uneasiness.

"Georgia, leave the room," their mother instructed quietly. "You too, Mikey."

Rebelliousness washed over her, but Michaela did as she was asked, emotions curling around inside of her. Unconsciously following Georgia’s cue, she left her plate where it was, and slipped out the front door, slamming it as she went.

Numbly, she followed her sister into the flat’s sole elevator and was about to press for the first level – for Sam – when Georgia made a cutting gesture with one hand. Questioningly, realising the absurdity of following her younger sister in anything, she looked at her.

"Follow me." Georgia said tersely, anger still in her voice. "I know someone who can help. If you don’t mind doing something illegal."

"Wh –" Michaela started, staring at her. A strand of rogue hair escaped her plait and fell against her neck. She flinched, melodramatically imagining it an icy touch, then brushed the brunette threads away. "Illegal?"

Georgia smiled, a razor-sharp thing that seemed as carved from flint as her eyes. "You want the future too, right?"

Michaela thought briefly, and her plans poured in: the NI surgery, the latest upgrades, networking. Opportunities she could seize, not just working in a small dingy shop. Real success. Getting something – money, respect, she didn’t care. Just to get away from it all, and make it on her own. Keep up with the latest trends, and she could smooth her path easily. You want the future too, right? Did it even need asking?

Then it was there again, that heavy, sick feeling of apathy coiled in her stomach. She pressed a white-gloved hand to it, but it made no difference. It never did.

"I’m sick of it all." She said without meaning it, suddenly so tired, and so old. "I just want out."

Georgia seemed not to notice or care about her sister’s state. She stood there, arms crossed over her baby-blue jacket, that smile like a razor gracing her lips, and Michaela knew then – she knew her sister not at all. Maybe this was the real her. And she wanted to run, and hide, from that smile that seemed to engulf everything in the dimly humming elevator around them.

Shock. It had to be shock. She’d just had her entire future taken away from her. At best, she’d only ever be a second-class citizen now. Without the NI. People already looked down on her, pitied her – pitied them, her entire family, for refusing to advantage of the vast opportunities the world contained within that one little brain implant offered. She could always see it in their faces, when they found out.

The memory of shame brought her back to reality, her grey eyes staring into Georgia’s blue. Consciously aware of the sudden difference between them.

There was something feral in Georgia’s gaze. Michaela was sure that couldn’t be shock.

"If you want it, then trust me." The words came too easily to her sister’s lips, sounded too easy. "Like I said, all you have to do is something illegal."

And there was laughter, and mockery, in that soft voice.

The End

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