By Jason Ou
Unfortunately, it was a beautiful day.
Peyton frowned, glancing up at the bright midday sky through the tinted car window as she flew through the old country road. The summer sun hung high in the crystal blue sky above the sea of tall green trees. Its light tickled her face, yet her frown only deepened. This was not what she wanted. Peyton had hoped for a heavy storm as it was the only thing that could save her from the dreadfully boring weekend her family had planned.
A camping trip wasn’t exactly how Peyton wanted to spend her first weekend of summer break. If she had a choice, she’d be hanging out by the pool with her friends and a cold glass of iced tea. Spending the next couple of days in an insect-infested campsite with her dad who probably had some lectures for her. After two hellish weeks of finals, lecturing and learning were the last things Peyton wanted to do.
It’s like I never left class, Peyton declared turning away from the window. The sounds of beating drums and fast-playing electric guitar echoed through her earbuds as her favorite song played. Usually, it put her in a better mood, but not today. The sting of disappointment killed any good vibe brought. Then suddenly the song stopped.
Peyton glanced down at her comm-watch and scanned the small slim screen as it displayed her music playlist. She had at least ten thousand songs downloaded into the wristwatch device. All from different genres and artists. She quickly noticed her song had been put on pause. Peyton tapped the play button, but the music didn’t return. She checked the setting and other songs, but the device remained silent.
Then it hit her.
Peyton looked up at the seat across from her. “You know I hated when you do that.”
“Sorry, honey, but your father wants to talk to you.” Her mom’s voice echoed through her earbuds although her mom’s mouth barely moved. Her mom didn’t have a comm-watch or ears. She didn’t need them thanks to the Infolink implant.
It was one of few neural implants her mom when she became a cyborg. Although her mom barely looked it except for the data-jack implant on the back of her neck. Otherwise, she looked like an ordinary middle-aged Chinese American woman with naturally tanned skin, shoulder-length reddish-brown hair, and warm brown eyes. She wore a red graphic tee, some jeans, and hiking boots.
Peyton sighed and turned to her dad. “You wanted to do something, Dad?”
“Yes, kiddo.” Her dad cleared his throat. “Listen I know you’re not thrilled about this camping trip, but look on the bright side. This is your chance to reconnect with nature and get away from all that tech.”
Peyton resisted the urge in her eyes as she figured her dad would say something like that. Unlike her mom, he was an ordinary man with a fairer complexion, short buzz-cut hair, and brown eyes. He chose not to get any implants even though their family could afford them. He hated the idea of having machines in his body like many others.
She looked over his shoulder and noticed he was actually driving the car. His hands were on the wheel and his eyes on the road. Peyton snorted. Most people put the car on autopilot, but not her dad. He insisted on doing things the old-fashioned way.
“What your father trying to say is,” her mom used her actual voice, breaking the silence. “We only want to spend some time with you. You just finished your first year of high school and it won’t be long before you’re off to college.”
Peyton understood but still. “Why do we have to go camping? Why couldn’t we go sightseeing in the city or go on a cruise.”
“Because,” her dad snapped but fell silent. “Well, I didn’t really think of that. They do sound like fun. How about next year you get to decide what we do.”
“Yeah, but I want to at least try to have a good time, huh?”
Peyton sighed. “Fine.” Better said than done, but at least I won’t be alone.
Her thoughts turned to Ashley, her cousin, best friend, and only other teenager who going to be at the campsite. She expected Ashley to be her saving grace this weekend. However, Ashley was actually expected about the camping trip. It was all she talked about for the past three weeks, leaving Peyton to be the black sheep. Nonetheless, she knew they would find something to do; hiking, swimming and swapping stories at night.
Peyton found herself smiling, Maybe this weekend won’t be so bad.
The sound filled the air as the car came to a screeching stop. Peyton flew forward nearly hitting her dad’s chair when her seatbelt caught her. It pulled her back into her chair. Peyton blinked. Her heart pounded against her chest. Her head spun. She looked up at her parents and found them still moving around, still very much alive—thank god.
“Is everyone okay?” Her dad asked.
Peyton and her mom answered. “Yes.”
“What did we hit?” Her mom added.
That was a good question. Peyton looked over her dad’s shoulder and down the road, She expected to find a dead or wound animal lying on the ground. Animal crossings were common in this area and there were bound to be accidents, although the car’s sensors should’ve warned them. She wondered why it didn’t, but then melted from her mind as she saw what lies before them. It wasn’t an animal.
Her jaw dropped. Her eyes enlarged as they fell upon a boy inside of a casket.
The casket was like nothing she had ever seen before. It is a metal box with sleek black metal and cracked glass yet its design practically screamed high tech. The boy however didn’t look like much. He looked around her age; fourteen or fifteen with dark brown skin and a wide nose, wearing the gray skintight suit, black breathing mask, and strange helmet that looked like her VR helmet.
Peyton asked. “Do you guys see what I seeing?”
“I seeing it but I’m not believing it, “ her dad exited the car, “How the hell did that get out here?”
Another good question. Peyton scanned her surroundings. The road was clear. The forest to the side was undisturbed and quiet. She looked up in the sky, hoping to see a mech or hovercraft flying over their head. The sky was also clear. Far as she could tell the casket just appeared out of thin air.
Peyton bit her lip. That can’t be right.
She turned to her mom, hoping for an explanation. Her mom grabbed her police badge and sonic handgun from the glove compartment. Peyton knew what they meant. Sheriff Deputy Julia Chu was officially on the case. She watched her mom quietly and quickly exited the car. The woman marched toward the boy with a purpose.
Not wanting to be left behind, Peyton quickly unfastened her seatbelt and joined her parent outside. She followed the faint trail of destruction. To her surprise, the casket took some damage but was mostly intact. Whoever designed the casket, made it tough. With each step she took, Peyton’s curiosity grew. Her mind buzzed with questions. Who created the casket? Why did they put the boy in it? What happened to them? Where were they now? How did it get out here? No answer came to her. It bothered her.
She joined her parents, looking at the boy. “So what do we do now? Are we going to wake him up?”
“No!” Her dad replied. “We don’t know the change in environment might affect him. It kills him.”
“Is he even alive?” Peyton moved a little closer but suddenly felt a pull on her shirt.
“Let your mom handle this!”
Peyton turned her, wondering what her mom was doing. The woman was strangely quiet, staring at the boy with her cold eyes. Peyton figured she was using her implants but didn’t know what. Was she scanning the boy? Was she connecting to the casket mainframe? Was she simply calling for backup? All was possible for her mom and neural implants? Peyton snorted. She wished her parents allowed her to get some implants. At least then she could do something, instead of standing there, being useless.
Her mom blinked. “**** it! I cannot be connected to the hardware wirelessly. I have to connect directly.” She pulled her hair away from her neck and pulled her datajack cord out.
“Are you sure that safe?” Peyton asked. She had never seen her mom hacked into the computer. But she had heard stories about other hackers. They were called net-runners. They were infamous for connecting into computer systems, breaking through firewalls, and manipulating them. Most corporations and government agencies hated them. They were considered a pain in the ass yet all their stories were always the same. Net-runner’s mind is fried by viruses, malware programs, or worst of all other net-runners.
Peyton didn’t want her mom to end up the same way. Her mom plugged her datajack into the access point along with the side panel of the casket.
“I’ll be fine.” Her mom assured her and then turned to her dad. “Watch over me?”
He nodded. “Always!”
Her mom sat down and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, entering a meditation state.
Peyton crossed her arms and waited not so patiently. The feeling of being useless was killing her. Her mom was taking so much risk for the boy and she couldn’t do anything. Suddenly she felt an arm reached around her and gave her a confident squeeze.
“Your mom will be fine. It’s not like this is her first time.”
Peyton mumbled. “I hope so.”
She sighed when her mom screamed. Peyton grasped finding her mom shaking as sparking shot out her datajack. Her instinct kicked as she and her dad raced toward her mom’s side.
“Unplug her datajack.” Her dad commanded.
Peyton turned around, grabbed the cord, and yanked it free. She turned to her parents. Her dad held her mom in his arms, his face looked pale as he tried waking her up. He called out her name and stroked her cheek. Peyton felt her heart starting to break. Did she lose her mom? Suddenly her mom gasped for breath. Her eyes opened yet looked very weak.
“The boy,” her mom mumbled. “You have to get him out of there or he’ll die.”
Then her eyes rolled back and fell silent. Her dad immediately checked for a pulse, placing his finger on her neck.
“She’s fine.” Then he pulled out his phone. “I’m getting us a **** ambulance.”
Peyton turned around to the boy. She knew what to do, but how. She checked the control, looking for a button to open the glass lid, but everything was dark and dead. It looked like the casket used up its last remaining juice, trying to kill her mom. Fine if that how you want to play it. We can play that way.
Peyton walked to her mom and grabbed her sonic handgun. She couldn’t use it as her mom as the weapon would activate through her mom’s biometrics. But there was another way to use it. Peyton flipped the handgun over, grabbing the muzzle. She returned to the casket, swung the weapon at the large crack in the glass, shattering it. Peyton hit it repeatedly, taking all her aggression on it until there was a big hole. Then she grabbed the boy and pulled him out.
Peyton placed him onto the ground, trying to avoid some of the glass shards. She took his breathing mask. The boy didn’t react to anything. He remained asleep, dead to world. She checks his pulse. It was weak, but still there. Peyton titled his head back and listening for a second. The boy wasn’t breathing. Luckily she knew what to do.
Peyton quickly put her hands together, one top of the other. Then she pressed down hard and fast onto the middle of the boy’s chest. She put her body weight into it. She did it at least a hundred times. Then she delivered two rescue breaths by breathing into the boy’s mouth while pinching his nose. His chest rose. Then she continued the compression.
She repeated the action as doubt formed in her mind. What if he’s already dead? What if I had failed. I should’ve been faster. I should’ve been stronger. If I had implants, I might have been able to save him. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Please don’t die. Please don’t die. Please don’t die!
Suddenly the boy grasped. His eyes opened as he looked upon her. His face displayed a sense of confusion. He whispered “Peyton?”
Peyton stood there shocked. Before her brain could form a single thought, the boy closed his eyes and fell silent again, Peyton checked his pulse. It was stronger now. He was breathing normally. He was alive. Peyton had never been so happy yet so confused.
The sounds of sirens echoed around her yet Peyton ignored them as she stared down at the sleeping boy. She wondered how he had known his name. Have they met before? She searched her mind while scanning his face, trying to pull out a memory. She drew blank. She had never met this boy before. So how do you know my name?
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