An excerpt from the book, Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse by S.B. Divya.
The wall behind Marmeg thrummed with the muffled impact of bass beats. A line of girls in heels mixed with boys in lacy shirts, both interspersed with androgynous moots wearing whatever they wanted. Blue light spilled from the club’s doorway on to cuffs and bracelets but mostly on bare skin.
The host was a moot with minimal curves of breast and hip, draped in a sheath of satin grey. Candy-coloured red hair in two long curls framed zir face. This host wanted to be seen, and Marmeg had a hard time not looking.
Her own body tended toward her mother’s build – no hiding the mammary glands and rounded buttocks. She mitigated it with the torso shell and a neutral haircut while dreaming of moot surgery.
Marmeg glanced at her cuff. Another twenty minutes until the end of her shift. The line drifted forward and two new people came into view. A nat male with waves of silky brown hair and a translucent suit stood near Marmeg, his gaze fixed on the screen in his hands.
‘Unbelievable,’ he crowed. ‘Last round. Canter’s winning!’
His friend was a moot with a rainbow ’hawk and a bored expression.
‘Fights? Last century much?’ Zir red lips curled.
‘Races be where’s at.’
Zir friend looked up from his screen. ‘Minerva starts tomorrow.’
Marmeg’s heart pounded. The Minerva Sierra Challenge would be the first race of her life. She was a long shot with her outdated, refurbished embed gear, but one dark horse usually made it to the top five. She planned to be this year’s surprise element.
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‘Be following that, sure,’ said Rainbow Hair. ‘Minerva’s winner trumps the BP International.’
‘Not always. Two years ago, remember that? Topsy-turvy all over,’ the friend countered.
Their voices faded as the host let them in. Marmeg checked her cuff – fifteen more minutes and shifted her weight. The host shot her a dirty look. Be invisible: that was Marmeg’s role. Here at the club or out in the world, nobody wanted to see the likes of her, but she would be worth noticing soon.
The second-shift bouncers came out on time. Marmeg walked to the bus stop in full gear, drawing surprised glances from the small crowd waiting at the signpost. A faint star forced its light past the competing glow of Los Angeles.
Tomorrow night, she would be out in the middle of nothing and nowhere, and then she’d see more than one twinkle. Star light, star bright, first and only star I see in this concrete clusterf–
The bus arrived.
She climbed in last and sat on a hard plastic chair. The screen above her displayed a white-haired Congressman next to a blonde talk-show host. Their voices blared through tinny speakers.
‘US citizenship is a birthright. Voting is a birthright,’ the Congressman said. ‘But social services – public education, health care, retirement benefits – those need to be earned. Unlicensed families haven’t paid into the system.’
The blonde nodded. ‘Do you think we should repeal the Postnatal License Act?’
‘The problem with postnatal licensing is the barrier to entry: it’s too low. The unlicensed pay a small fee – that doesn’t scale with age – and then they’re like us.’
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‘Bull,’ Marmeg muttered. She’d spent three years saving for her ‘small fee’.
Her cuff zapped the skin on the inside of her wrist. She flicked it. The screen lit up and displayed a message from Jeffy.
SORRY TO BUG. SHIT’S GOING DOWN. HELP?
So much for getting a few hours of rest before catching the midnight bus to Fresno. Her brother needed rescuing more often than Marmeg cared to tally, especially right after a club shift. She hopped off the bus at the next stop and used Jeffy’s cuff GPS to locate him: Long Beach.
She took the train to the station closest to her brother’s location. From there, she ran in long, loping strides. Leg muscles encased by exoskeletons flexed and relaxed in a stronger, more graceful counterpoint than she could have achieved naturally. As she moved, she downloaded new code into the chips controlling her gear. She had developed the software to bypass the legal limits for her embeds. When it came to Jeffy’s ‘friends’, legal wasn’t always good enough.
The fight house was a narrow single-storey with a sagging wood porch that had been white at some point. Puddles of stale beer and vomit soaked into the weedy lawn. A cheerful roar rose from the backyard.
Marmeg ran along the right side of the house. A ring of people – mostly nats – blocked her view of the action. She crouched and sprang on to the roof, landing on all fours.
Jeffy reeled in the centre of the crowd. Blood dripped from his nose and left ear. His black curls were plastered to his head by dripping sweat, one hank covering part of a swollen eye. His left leg had an obvious limp. Cords of muscle rippled under his torn shirt. Chestnut skin peeked through the hole.
Her brother hadn’t done much after leaving the army, but he maintained a soldier’s body. Not that it did him much good in these fights. His lithe opponent, clad in deteriorating exos, kicked him hard in the bad leg. It flew out from under him. He collapsed and lay unmoving.
Image Credit: S.B. Divya/ Hachette India
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Excerpted with permission from Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse by S.B. Divya, Hachette India.