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The Final Orchard, Crystal Johnson - New Adult Sci-Fi


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OPENING SCENE - Introduces the setting, tone, first protagonist of the manuscript’s parallel storylines, and sets up the inciting incident.

CHAPTER 1

RO

THEN

And it was there, stuck behind an elderly driver inching towards the intersection of Third and Lake – my hand leaning on the car horn, patience depleted, the windshield projecting an aggressive LATE reminder – that life as I knew it ended.

I had been trailing this woman for several single-laned blocks, and for someone in a new model, autonomous car she was moving impossibly slowly. Either she refused to engage the self-drive mode or was too proud to admit she didn’t know how to. That tended to be the case with a lot of these “Second Lifers.” Extended lifespans just meant they had more time to horde wealth and spend money on shiny new status symbols that they didn’t know how to use.

I caught a glimpse of her in the reflection of a storefront on Maine Street; she didn’t look a day over 40, though most people didn’t these days if they could afford it. Considering the sheer number of metallic casings she wore on her hands, forearms, and around her neck and ears, she was most likely pushing 135.  Of course, it was hard to know that for sure. More Adornments, those enhanced parts that so many relied on these days, meant more age or more illness. Or more vanity. Sometimes all three.

This woman touted a glimmering gold-plated neck cuff engraved with floral vines, growing towards a blossom of emerald jewels over her entire left ear. One of the most extravagant and ostentatious customizations on the market, so I think it was safe to say that her Adornments were elective and not essential. She elected to continue living on way past her time and to display that privilege lavishly. Just another entitled old lady worthy of my stewing resentment, which grew closer to boiling over with every flash of her break lights.

I don't know what infuriated me more, the fact of her continued existence, or the reality that my own parents never had the opportunity to reach their full age potential.  As they matured, their bodies grew weaker, less capable, frail. When physicians finally signed off on their Adornments for emergency medical intervention, our insurance company wouldn’t cover the installation. What little my parents had was gained through hard work and sacrifice, crossing the Outlands and spending tireless years laboring in the factories of the Refinery lands, all to build a better future for their family here in the Burg, “The City of Burgeoning Industry”.  They spent their lives off grid, with no synthetic aid, to spare their children from crippling debt.

They never had the chance to fully enjoy the fruits of their labor, and worst of all, they’d never know how it would all pay off.  In mere moments, their daughter was going to pitch her life’s work to the founders of NuBioTechnologies, a formality given their open interest in my work with Rapid Maturity Gene manipulation protocols. The idea was that by splicing an RMG, specifically a reprogramed GATA6 protein, which plays an important role in organ development, into suggestible stem cells and upregulating its expression, one could assign the cell’s specialization and grow any tissue or organ in record speed to be viable for transplant sooner. 

A fully organic alternative to Adornments.

Tissue could be generated from just a single cell and was inexpensive to scale, making it an ideal therapy for the sick and elderly members of the underserved communities ignored by larger Adornment providers. These products would level the playing field and give people a chance to perform to the utmost of their abilities and compete with the enhanced.  It was going to be a game changer.

If I could only get there in time for the meeting.

“Come on lady! Move it!” I shouted and slammed the horn a few more times.

The bridge to Ingenuity Row was right across the intersection, and it opened to two lanes.  My windshield projection flashed another appointment reminder and started a five-minute countdown, while the console display silently mocked me with an advertisement for some newfangled Adornment.  You, only better, the caption read as an ageless model caressed her platinum chest. Book your appointment today at BodyMOD.  The commercial was followed by a short news bulletin of yet another protest from radical groups opposing second-lifers and their strain on remaining resources. I agreed with their message but knew better than to think simply protesting would change anything.

“You have the right of way!” My head and arm were now completely outside of my vehicle as I shouted, skin sizzling in the rising sunlight. The woman’s windows were retracted all the way up and I could hear her radio blasting.

“Another smog warning is in effect. Increasing temperatures and atmospheric conditions are expected to be favorable for producing high levels of ozone pollution in the Bridgewater, Bunker and surrounding areas this afternoon.”

Was she deaf? Maybe if she hadn’t engulfed her ears in jewels, she could hear the abrasive medley of her radio and the honking horns of the cars lined up behind us.

The woman didn’t budge, and the other cars at the intersection ahead continued to pass.

“Move your damn car!”

“Mommy, what are you doing?”

The small voice from behind startled me. I almost forgot she was there. Rune had been quietly engrossed in her new Index since we got into the car.  I was never one to buy the latest gadgets, especially not for a four-year-old, but we were on the precipice of immeasurable success, it was about time we celebrated our efforts. The long nights spent in the lab, the hours focused on research rather than family. Rune never complained, she was my rock, my North Star, and I wanted her with me for the most important meeting of my life. I wanted to her to see that with hard work and determination comes success. An Index wouldn't make up for the moments lost, but she deserved something for her patience.

Rune had been so excited unwrapping it, she pulled out the device the size of an adult index finger and rapidly unfolded it over and over into a seamless expanding screen. As it powered on with neon lights flying across the display, she looked up at me gleefully.

“Mommy!” she squealed with joy. “Now I’ll be as smart as you.”

She was already 10 times brighter than I was at her age; she knew the device wasn’t just a game, but what she held in her hands was access to all the indexed information the world had to offer. With all that knowledge at her fingertips, this kid would be unstoppable.

The car behind us honked its horn.

“What’s going on?” Rune asked, pausing briefly from her exploration to look out the window.

“Nothing baby, just another Second-Lifer who can’t drive.”

I slid my head back into the car and the seat belt suddenly hugged me tightly into the chair. The safety sensor was severely overdue for repair, it was always deploying at the wrong times.

Could I drive around her? I craned to look over at each side of the woman’s car, there were no pedestrians on the narrow sidewalk; it was entirely possible to pass her.  In the rearview mirror I could see a few cars in the distance behind us attempting the same thing.

I carefully turned towards the right and for a moment considered hitting the back of her car but decided the cost to me would far outweigh the satisfaction of sticking it to this woman. I continued to drive up onto the sidewalk and slowly pulled around her, my car settling into a steep slant. Half of it was on a flat cement walkway, the other half was on a hill that led up to the corner building. I never did spring for those upgraded boosters; they would have come in handy now at leveling out my car.

“Mommy we’re sliding,” Rune assessed accurately.

“Mhmm.”

As I approached the woman’s passenger side, I arranged my face into the most disdainful look I could muster.  Seeing the full interior of her car up close enraged me even more, the pure excess of it all; The rotating cushy white pod seats each enclosed in a chrome shell matching the car’s sloping exterior, the retractable coffee table, and 6-ft console display extending the length of the dashboard for entertainment viewing pleasure. Ad-free, I noted. It was too much.

And there sat the owner, with full femoral and tibial Adornments down her legs, plated in gold to match the top half of her body. Airconditioning fanning her short curtain bangs. She was stoic, with both hands on the wheel, staring straight ahead, missing the full glory that was my look of absolute contempt.

I should spit on her car. But this new model car would self-clean and piss me off even more.

“Mommy, I dropped my Index! It slipped.” Rune kicked the back of my seat. “Get it for me.”

“Hang on, mommy’s driving, I’ll pick it up when we park.”

I proceeded to gradually move forward towards the intersection, glaring at the driver of the car next to me.

“Mommy, please!” She kicked again, beginning to wind herself up.

“Just a minute,” I said in a perky tone belied to the expression on my face.

“Mommy!”

If I had looked back at Rune, even just for a moment, then maybe I wouldn’t have noticed the woman’s eyes. Maybe I wouldn't have seen her petrified irises shifting furiously in every possible direction, as if locked inside her own head.

If I had only looked back, I wouldn’t have glimpsed the woman’s parted lips, frozen, indiscernible guttural noises surely coming from within.

If I had just looked back instead of staring bewildered at the woman’s state, then maybe I would have seen the car coming up full speed behind us.

---

I didn’t feel the crumpling metal as the car crashed into us.  The shards of glass digging into my skin as the windows shattered. The crack of my skull when my head slammed against the door frame. The burns of the airbag as it pounded me into my seat.  I didn’t hear the squealing of tires. The honking horns of oncoming traffic.  Or Rune’s screams from the back seat.

We were suspended, all sense of direction simply vanished, we seemingly rotated in place, and all I could hear was the sound of that woman’s radio. “You can help prevent ozone pollution by sharing a ride, driving a covered transporter, taking your lunch to work, conserving energy, and keeping your vehicle properly tuned. Thank you, this has been an Air Quality Alert.”

Then we broke the surface of the lake.  The weight of the car pulling us deeper into the water, the seat belts clutching us in tighter, bracing for impact.

 

 

 

 

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