An Honorable Mention in the 2017 Spring Shock Trigger Warning Writing Contest




Riverside, Iowa

July 4, 2025

1000 hours



In the kitchen, brown-haired Beatrice Wainwright scooped another heaping dollop from the mayo jar. With a flick of her wrist, she dropped it on top of the mound of cubed potatoes. The front door complained as it was forced open.

“Hel-lo,” Jill, her younger sister, yelled down the hall.

“You made it. Be sure to close the door so Josh doesn’t sneak out,” Beatrice replied with the customary warning. Josh was always trying to get next door to visit their neighbor’s playset.

Jill closed the front door with an exaggerated grunt. “Done,” she announced when she burst into the open living area, keys rattling in her hand. She deposited three ripe tomatoes on the counter in front of Beatrice. At her raised eyebrow, Jill said, “They were in the front flower bed, ripe, and ready to pick. They’ll make the perfect side dish.” Jill put her hands on her hips. “Ready to go?”

“In a minute,” Beatrice answered, winking at Jill and thinking again how much they looked like one another. “Finishing up.”

In the corner of the room, a small television droned on.


“In an unfortunate case of doomsday-scenarios-come-true, our reporters unearthed video footage from a 2013 presentation originally conducted by Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, warning that by 2025, one in two boys would be diagnosed with an Autism spectrum disorder.

Indeed, earlier this week, in a statement released by the CDC, parents are cautioned that the occurrence and diagnosis of Autism has raised to one in every two boys, or fifty percent of the male population. Medical professionals have committed to increase their efforts to enforce yearly screening and tracking measures…”


Beatrice half-listened, wishing for a life-changing revelation, but the whole report re-hashed everything she already knew. She stirred the potato salad with more vigor than necessary.

“Why are you watching the news?” Jill asked, dropping her arms. “It’s depressing.” Her footsteps muffled in the thick shag, she crossed the room, bending down to turn off the dismal future predictions.

“Habit, I guess,” Beatrice responded. “Fills up the quiet,” she lied. She was interested in the latest medical advances, particularly when it came to her non-verbal son. “It’s just me and Josh all the time. How was the drive?”

“Went well.” Jill turned slowly in the room. “Where’s my nephew?” Jill grinned, and the afternoon light splashed over her hair, making her eyes sparkle. “I bought a package of sparklers at a roadside stand on the way in. Do you think he’ll tolerate them this year?”

Beatrice shrugged. “He’s probably on his handheld. Check his room.” Last year, Jill tried to get eleven-year-old Josh to hold a sparkler. Overwhelmed by the fireworks, he had bolted, and it had taken an hour to find him hiding under the bottom of the tube slide.

Jill bounded around the corner and down the hall, calling Josh’s name as she went. Jill tried to connect with Josh, despite his lack of eye contact, despite his inability to cope with sensory overload, despite the rocking. Her tries were more than most attempted. Beatrice pulled a strip of plastic wrap from the roll and laid it over the glass dish, tracing the edge to create the seal.

Josh’s birthday had been happy for him, but trying for her. He’d spent the day with Jill at a hands-on science museum. By the end of it, Jill had been exhausted, declaring she didn’t know how Beatrice managed to keep track of him all on her own. The offhand, half-teasing comment inspired hours of late-night crying.

Even so, Beatrice hadn’t given up on the idea of a normal life for her son, but the odds weren’t stacked in Josh’s favor. Time marched on without hope of relief. He’d escaped twice in the last month. They were trying to dodge a bullet from a sniper she couldn’t locate; always searching for some way to keep him safer.

“I can’t find Josh.” Jill appeared with a frown on her face. “I’ve looked all over back there, but I can’t find him.” And then her eyes widened and she pressed her hands over her mouth.

The spoon fell from Beatrice’s hand to clatter on the countertop. She hurried out of the kitchen to see what Jill saw. Beatrice swallowed, ignoring the sudden churning of her stomach.

“You call 9-1-1. I’m going out—” Beatrice stopped speaking long enough to snap her fingers in front of Jill’s face. She waited for Jill to re-focus on her. “You call 9-1-1. I’m going to search the neighborhood.”

Jill reached in her back pocket and pulled out a smartphone.

Beatrice ran down the hall and through the heavy front door that was standing wide, a handheld resting where Josh had dropped it on the threshold.

Josh was hers. She couldn’t let this happen. Not on her watch.



Chapter One



Riverside, Iowa

March 22, 2046

1700 hours






Seated on a low couch in the hallway, red-haired Florence Earhart shifted her thumb screen, studying the grandmotherly woman on the screen. “So,” Mayor Beatrice Wainwright continued, “This is why I am pleased to announce a successful merger between the agencies that will benefit all.”

From the adjoining emerald room, Florence heard the applause roll through the press conference. The entire city trusted Beatrice Wainwright, and when she said the Micro-Farm Initiative needed to merge with the Civic Liaison Department, they believed her. It was a successful press conference, explaining the oversight necessary to determine on-going safety and health for all residents. Florence relished the thought of her new position as head of the Civic Liaison Department – newly dubbed the CLD. She hadn’t graduated that long ago, and it was an accomplishment. It paid to know the right people.

Later, inside the governmental office building, Florence tapped the tiny red blip displayed on the desk screen, tsking over a new batch of freckles on the back of her hand. As the head of the CLD, it was her job to facilitate smooth interaction for all members of Riverside and the Riverside Township. And Mr. Braun was wandering off his assigned portion of the grid.

She tapped a button on the interactive desk. A double beep sounded.

“Yes, Ms. Earhart?” Zaki’s disembodied voice answered.

“Please log Mr. Bayo as work completed.” Florence moved Mr. Bayo’s virtual file to the filing cabinet icon at the top edge of the desk. “And please register Mr. Braun as errant and issue a corrective measure as soon as possible. Please send his caseworker to medicate.” Mr. Braun would be the last of the assisted votes and only his thumbprint would activate his voting card.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, and Florence could hear the smile in his voice. Zaki would soon take his harvest vacation. He was allowed three weeks of vacation. As an employee of the city, two weeks were to be spent on harvesting. The third week was his own.

She watched the sleek cars in the downtown street below. Her office was the top floor of a high-rise. From the floor-to-ceiling window behind her desk, she could see her penthouse balcony. It was modern, filled with a dozen new gadgets, and promised incredible upgrades in the years to come. If she kept dotting those i’s and crossing those t’s, she would have her pick of opportunities.

For Riverside, the previous ten years had been more than exciting with the Micro-Farm Initiative imposed on all government housing. Later, they added an interactive app, designed to create and utilize beyond-organic, local permaculture micro-farms to feed Riverside’s needy citizenry and reestablish a sense of food responsibility. The app worked in conjunction with thumb screens, scanning garden spaces, identifying problems or insect infestations, and giving simple step-by-step instructions to fix any issues. When a citizen ran into trouble, they could contact the appropriate department for assistance. There was even a game version for kids.

This increased world-awareness had swept through Riverside and inspired an attention to all pieces of the local permaculture society, utilizing a closed loop system inspired by natural relationships already in place. This mindset led to a shift in the city morale and created a familial-like community for all members of Riverside society. Nothing happened out of order. Anything that wasn’t planned got reported.

Mr. Salatin was the most skilled chicken farmer. His few acres kept the whole corner of their world in eggs. Mr. Rhodes kept turkeys. At Thanksgiving, he was everyone’s favorite. Mrs. Taylor grew the best strawberries. Friends, families, and neighbors farmed together. It had been an incredible, fast-paced change to witness.

Eight years ago, on the heels of the Micro-Farm Initiative, Riverside had been among the first cities in Iowa to create a CLD, dedicated to overcoming obstacles and fostering political and social involvement at the local level for those citizens with more challenges than most. With the advent of digital and virtual everything, it had been easier and easier to keep track of and reach out to their citizens.

As mayor, Beatrice Wainwright had spent the last year lobbying hard for the unification of two agencies, placing the Micro-Farm Initiative, its app, and the city-issued thumb screens under Florence’s jurisdiction, as well as implementing the trackers as a way to help those that needed it.

At first, the trackers for the CLD were voluntary, used most often for mentally-challenged individuals. But, as time went on, Florence found a new way to utilize them: as a requirement to participate in the Micro-Farm Initiative. Riverside had to have a way to keep track of those that benefited from the farms, to govern input, output, and cost. After all, the only ones that were against it were doomsday-ers—constantly whining about governmental overreach. Audits and investigations always revealed they were less-than-stellar citizens; the whiners were always the ones with skeletons to hide.

Despite the minority view, the unification made government smaller, creating one agency from two without losing any jobs. This was all expressed in the press release concerning the unification of the departments. She turned back to her screen. She’d done her homework before moving here at the behest of her benefactor.

At the interactive desk again, Florence straightened her blouse and then tapped the Manu-Media icon. Three dots scrolled across the desk as the interface connected to the only news source. Manu-Media had snagged the only contract available to broadcast through the city-provided thumb screens.

“Hello, hello? Is it done?” Sammi Thrain, the peppy reporter, grinned into the camera.

Florence chuckled. “The final announcement has been made, and the interview can proceed within the hour.”

“Fantastic. We’ll get set up for Mayor Wainwright,” Sammi said. “We’ll schedule it to broadcast in the next hourly. Thanks for the heads up.” The blonde woman lifted an old-fashioned pad of paper and scowled. “Oh, one more question…”

“Yes?” Florence offered a tight smile. She didn’t have all day.

“What was the name of the woman that oversees the tech department? We want to do a look back on the transition from old to new.”

Florence forced a smile. “Gabriella Trujillo,” she said.

“Great.” She grinned. “It’s been an amazing ten years in Riverside.”

“Yes, it has.”


“No problem. Have a great day,” Florence said. As the interface winked out, her desk surface changed from her touch screen to a wood grain. Her day was done. She slipped a small screen attached to a partial sleeve over her index finger and thumb. She fastened the Velcro at the wrist. She set it to alarm when Manu-Media issued their next newscast and transferred calls from her desktop computer interface to her thumb screen.

Florence grabbed her purse from beneath her chair and strolled out the door. Another day finished. Another one she could call a job well done. The Mayor would be proud.





1800 hours






In the basement of the Riverside IT building, Gabriella Trujillo tapped the red dot on her thumb screen. It was odd, sure, but she dismissed the notification without another thought. They didn’t happen often, but aberrant phantoms were a byproduct of the slight feedback between the old Riverside city systems and the newer ones constantly being installed. Riverside’s infrastructure was impressive. And an imposing responsibility to maintain.

She twisted her dark hair up into a bun and shoved a stylus through it. She was the last one on-duty tonight, but that was nothing new. Her job was her life and mission. She scooped up a fidget cube and started working the buttons and levers. As the head of the tech department, Gabriella received all the warnings and notifications. She was on-call twenty-four hours a day. She tucked the handheld in her rear pocket and leaned over the plans for a new CLD neighborhood extension, complete with one-acre front-lawn gardens and smart-houses.

Gabriella didn’t keep an office, instead floating from open desk to open desk. The interactives recognized her fingerprints and made all her information easy to access. She worked hard for the agency, marrying old tech with new. She scrubbed her hand over her eyes, careful to keep hold of the toy. She’d been bent over the digital designs for hours. The cube made it bearable.

“Print,” she said, and the schematics virtually folded into a paper airplane, swooped off her deck, and toward the printer. Twitch. Twitch. Twitch. Her meds usually kept the ticks at bay. Maybe she shouldn’t drink so much caffeine.

Incoming message flashed on her smart-desk, and she tapped the rectangle. “Yes?”

“Ms. Trujillo?” Gabriella’s name always sounded stretched through Yi’s accent. “We’ve detected an anomaly in the information grid.”

Gabriella frowned. “The phantom?”

Yi pursed his lips. “No, this is more complicated. Can you come upstairs? We’d like to get your take on the issue.”

Gabriella nodded. “Be right there.” The image disappeared, and she pushed back from her desk. She placed the cube on a stack of archaic circuit diagrams and hurried down the hall toward the elevators.

Upstairs, Gabriella leaned over Yi’s old-school computer screen. On his floor, there were a few stragglers, slowly closing out their work day and leaving their cubicles. Yi was the best and ran the floor. He had his own office to the side, including a black leather couch up against one wall.

“What are we looking at?” she asked.

“We think someone is trying to access the system by disguising their trespass as a phantom.” Yi said, biting his nails. He wore his favorite vintage gamer t-shirt and corduroy slacks that looked like they could be almost a hundred years old. Everyone else on the server floor had modern, interactive desks and thumb screen. Yi loved old tech, but had graduated with a degree in the new. He had been the perfect candidate for Riverside.

Gabriella scowled and leaned closer to the computer monitor. “I got the ping on my handheld.”

Yi nodded. “When I researched it, the data didn’t make sense. The frequencies were too organized. When I ran a trace, it led somewhere off grid.”

Gabriella leaned back. “Where?”

“I can’t tell,” Yi said. “But they were trying to access information about trackers.”

“The trackers?” Gabriella half-sat on the corner of Yi’s desk.

“Why would they do that? The trackers only help the CLD keep track of their charges.”

Yi shrugged. “The inquiry was seeking information that shouldn’t be available. Not if the trackers do what they’re supposed to.” He toggled to another screen. “I can tell they downloaded something. And it wasn’t locations.” He pointed at lines of code on his screen. “I mean, the information included locations, but that’s not it.”

Gabriella crossed her arms, rubbing a hand over her chin. “Keep an eye on it?” When Yi nodded, she added, “I’ll let Florence know.”

Yi mumbled something and scooted forward in his chair, already lost in data.



2100 hours






Seated at the bar, just off her monochromatic kitchen, Florence massaged the back of her neck as she leaned over her old-fashioned paper novel. An empty plate sat next to her on the granite countertops. With the vaulted ceilings and luxurious appointments, her ultramodern living quarters were a perk of having the top job in her department. She owned a nice car, afforded the best security, and most up-to-date technology.

A notification interrupted her nightly before-bedtime ritual. She scowled at the name that populated on the display. It wasn’t like Gabriella to email her outside of business hours. She set the paperback on the seat next to her, retrieving the message on her thumb screen. Someone had tried to access the CLD’s tracker information in the protected system. Florence read over Gabriella’s memo. She cringed at the words she used.

Breach. Concern. Malicious intent.

The information was secure. They’d had the best people build it. The city was more secure than any other organization. Gabriella’s worry was unfounded, of course, but the attempted breach should remain quiet. No one needed to get ideas and go hunting for conspiracies and phantoms. Public relations governed everything. In politics, the façade was often more important than reality.

To be safe, she addressed an untraceable invisi-message to Beatrice Wainwright. Once the mayor read it, it would self-delete and disappear from their servers. She probably wouldn’t hear back until the following morning.

She closed her book, placed her thumb screen on top of it, and wandered to bed, but it was some hours before sleep claimed her. Ramifications must always be considered.





Chapter Two



Riverside, Iowa

March 23, 2046

0200 hours






Yi was frantic. Japanese swear words mixed in with his English. He was harder to understand when he was excited about anything.

“Say that again,” Gabriella soothed. Yi was panting hard, like he’d been running. Gabriella ignored the increase in her heartrate and focused on keeping her tone measured. Sometimes Yi’s rages were nothing.

“It happened again, but this time, the hacker left a trail.” Gabriella’s eyes widened and the office around her disappeared. “What?”

Yi took a deep breath. “The intruder got what he wanted this time.”

Gabriella paused, trying to get a handle on the heavily accented words. The city was hacker-proof. It should have been impossible. It had been proven time and again. How had they managed it?

She had to see what Yi was looking at. That meant she couldn’t do anything from the basement. Screen-sharing was off-limits until they could plug the hole. “I’ll be right there.” She leapt to her feet and bolted to the stairwell. She didn’t have time to wait on the elevator.

Upstairs for the second time since her long shift began, she panted as she dragged a desk chair next to Yi. “Show me,” Gabriella said. Yi dropped his finger on a button, and information popped up on the screen. Gabriella squinted at the information. She turned to Yi. “Those are bio readings. It looks like before and after something…”

“I can’t tell what, though,” Yi blew air through his mouth.

“I’ve seen that before…” Gabriella fell silent while she studied the screen. She’d seen readings similar to the ones outlined on the screen. She tapped her chin, resisting the urge to fidget. The data was a copy of something she’d seen. Recently… She just couldn’t remember where. “Can you trace the breach?”

Yi tapped the screen. “It goes to a building in a different town.”

Gabriella stood. She had to be sure this was the only time. “Explore the other phantoms.” Gabriella didn’t know what this intruder wanted or what information they had been after, but the Mayor needed to know as soon as possible.




0500 hours




Florence covered a yawn. The instant boost of the caffeine shot hadn’t kicked in yet, and she needed it. She’d tossed and turned all night. Gabriella Trujillo was a problem. She was too bright, too inquisitive. If Florence could find a way to entice her… Maybe offer her a higher paying position in the system….

A blue light flashed on her desk. She’d just received an invisi-message. She tapped the starburst icon. It was another message from Gabriella Trujillo, detailing the information breach. Florence sighed as she read the screen, rolling her eyes.

Gabriella had become hysterical, implying that the feedback noise between the old systems and the new systems might not only be phantoms. She’d put her best man on the case. Yi Adachi was on the mission to hunt down all the phantoms of the last year. Gabriella was confident that he could trace them.

Florence read the last line again. That could be a problem. The number twenty-five flashed on her screen. Twenty-five seconds until it erased.

She knew what Wainwright wanted.

She typed only one word into the reply bar.






0530 hours






Nightmares about responsibility weren’t the most pleasant way to wake up from a nap. Gabriella rolled over in the cot and squinted. Sunlight filled the room, warming her bare shoulders. At least she’d layered with a tank top underneath today. Yi was still hunched over his desk, staring at the screen, scrolling through phantom ping to phantom ping.

Without turning, he said, “You made a lot of noise.”

Gabriella blushed. “Sorry.” She climbed to her feet, blinking repeatedly. She needed coffee.

“Black, six sugars,” Yin said as she opened her mouth.

She grinned, covering another yawn and then pulling herself into a stretch. She smoothed her tongue around her mouth. She needed a toothbrush and then she’d fetch coffee.

“Spares in the bathroom down the hall,” Yin said.

“Spare what?”

“Toothbrushes. I overnight a lot.”

Gabriella did a double take. “Wait… How did you…?”

Yin shrugged. “In the zone.”

Gabriella pushed her arm back into her work shirt, but left it unbuttoned, stumbling toward the bathroom. “Found anything?”

“Yes,” Yin said. “I already emailed you the bulk of what I found.” And then he spun slowly in his chair to face her, his gaze meeting hers. His obsidian irises were accentuated by bloodshot whites. “I have to warn you, though,” he said.

Gabriella spun on her heel. “Warn me?”

“It’s illegal. Everything I found. Doesn’t look good for a bunch of the higher-ups. They’ve been gathering information, doing things with trackers, putting them in people without their knowledge. It’s very old-school government.” His mouth twisted. “Could be dangerous to know.”

“Old school government?” Gabriella tilted her head to the side. He wasn’t making any sense. The screen buzzed against the fleshy part of her thumb. Yi’s message.

“Tuskegee in the 1930s. Syphilis and gonorrhea in the 1940s and ‘50s.” Yi sighed. “That’s just a few. The in-powers spend the lesser-thans like currency. Nobody thinks it will happen until it does. It always happens. Voluntary test subjects are one thing, but this…” His voice died away.

Gabriella crossed her arms against a chill. The cooler must have switched on. She’d give her twitchy right hand for a fidget cube. “Understood.” The country’s past was so checkered. Yi described a medical version of imminent domain.

“I’m still digging. I’m trying to figure out who is responsible for the latest breach,” he said.

“Okay. Let me know when you find something. I’m going to get freshened up, and then head down to my office. Everyone’ll be in before long.”

Yi mumbled something as she headed toward the single-room bathroom.

Gabriella stared at the handle and shivered again. She trusted Yi, but if Yi was right about the higher-ups… She locked the door.

Ten minutes later, she emerged from the room. “Hey. What was that you said earlier?”

Yi didn’t answer. As she approached him, he was slumped with his head down on the desk. He really did need the caffeine if he was already passed out. But his head was pressed into his keyboard, twisted at a funny angle, eyes staring past her.

Gabriella stretched trembling fingers toward Yi. He was dead, she just knew it. And all because of her. All because of what he found out. But when she touched his cheek, he moaned, and she swiped her finger across her thumb screen. “Medical Emergency,” she said, and the interactive handheld fluoresced blue.

An avatar appeared on the screen. “Contacting authorities,” the avatar said in a soothing voice. “Please direct the camera-scanner at the patient.”

Gabriella pointed her thumb at Yi, waiting as the mandatory medical app scanned Yi.

“I can’t move,” Yi whispered.

“Don’t worry. I’ve sent for help.” She patted his back with her other hand.

“Scan complete. The patient,” the avatar said, “has a neuro-toxin in his blood stream, emanating from a devise in his upper back. Updating information for the incoming EMT. Arrival within ninety seconds. Please gently move the patient to the floor, keeping his airways clear. Prepare for CPR.”

Gabriella eased Yi to the floor, positioning his neck and face so that his airways were not restricted. “Show me how to do it.” Gabriella watched the video and read the instructions.

The thub-thub-thub of the air ambulance relieved her. She’d never done CPR before, and even with the medical avatar walking her through it from her thumb screen, she didn’t want to hurt Yi more than help him.

Two EMTs rushed in, clothed in blue reflective uniforms. They carried a backboard between them. The taller one asked as he positioned himself by Yi’s head, “Miss, what is your name?” He shined a pen light in Yi’s eyes. The shorter one set a case on the floor and took a position at Yi’s feet.

“Gabriella,” she answered, wringing her hands. She could feel a rush of tears coming as the adrenaline ebbed.

“This is Robert, and my name is Tom. What’s his name?” They lifted him to the board, each passing scanning devices over him. “And can you tell me what happened?”

“I went to the bathroom, and I came back…” Gabriella sniffed. “Yi was like this.” She paused to compose herself, trying to swallow the brick in her throat. “Yi, his name is Yi Adachi.”

“Okay,” said Tom. “I’m going to cut his shirt off him. There’s something in him that’s leaching poison. We think it’s in the middle of his back.” Tom pulled scissors from his cargo pants and began snipping as Robert pulled a small towel and a packet from the case next to him.

Robert shook the bag and the liquid in it turned white. At Gabriella’s look, he said, “Sanitizing. I’ll do the same with the forceps.” Then he opened it by peeling back one side and pulled a scalpel from inside and laid it on the towel.

“Let’s roll him over,” Tom said to Robert, discarding Yi’s shirt. Robert helped turn him over. There was a smear of blood on Yi’s back and a small puncture wound, like someone had shot him with a tiny bullet.

“Here it is,” Tom said. He passed his scanner over the injury, made two quick cuts, and took the sanitized forceps from Robert. Tom pulled a pill-sized metallic piece from Yi’s back. He held it up. “Here it is.” Tom tilted his head. “You know what that is?”

Robert scowled at the tiny cylinder.

“A tracker,” Gabriella breathed. She pressed her hands over her mouth. Those weren’t supposed to do anything other than transmit location.

A siren warbled outside and two uniformed officers rushed in. Gabriella tapped out a message on her handheld and hit send.




Chapter Three



Riverside, Iowa

March 23, 2046

1000 hours





Rubbing her wrists, Gabriella exited the precinct, enjoying the morning breeze and bright blue sky. For a minute or two, she’d wondered if she’d make it out at all. They’d questioned her for hours, advised her not to go anywhere, implied she couldn’t, and tossed her in a room as a person of interest.

Then Sammi Thrain from Manu-Media had shown up with a lawyer and Gabriella’s email. Suddenly, nobody was interested in Gabriella anymore. They asked Gabriella to sign some paperwork and dismissed her.

A disheveled, overwhelmed Mayor Wainwright was on her way in, wrists in handcuffs as Gabriella stepped out onto the pavement. The muttering woman swayed on her feet, nearly tripping into Gabriella on the stoop. Then the officers set her upright and helped her into the municipal building.

Gabriella heard footsteps running behind her. Great. Gabriella just thought she was free.

“Gabriella,” Sammi said, breathless. “Thanks for the email. I was able to put an exclusive on the hourly that’s broadcasting right now.” She laid her hand on Gabriella’s arm. “Will you be able to get home?”

“Sure, I should be fine,” she said, but Sammi was already looking back inside. “I can get a cab or something.” That close to downtown meant lots of cabbies coming and going.

“That’s great, that’s great,” the reporter patted Gabriella. “Listen,” Sammi pointed back to the precinct. “I have a feeling that we’ll have breaking news soon. I’ve got to try to get an exclusive. Yi’s at United Community Hospital. They say he’ll make a full recovery. We’ll talk soon, okay?”

Gabriella watched Sammi rush away, not even waiting for a response. News didn’t wait. And definitely not an exclusive.

She stopped at curb and flagged down the next cab that sped by. The driver locked up the rear wheels, and she yanked open the rear door. She climbed into the ripped up back seat.

“Where to, lady?”

“U.C. Hospital. I have to visit a friend.”







The suitcase wouldn’t be big enough for everything. She moved the pile of clothes, pushing them into the corners and rearranging them until she could close the lid. She had to be able to take her books and journals. Maybe she had another bag under her bed. She dropped to the floor, dragging boxes and file folders out from beneath her bed, not caring where they landed.

Florence had awoken to one invisi-message that morning. “1984.” For long moments, Florence could only stare. She didn’t recognize the return email address, but that was the code word. She wasn’t going to ask any questions.

The digits glared up at Florence until the erasure countdown ended. It had been waiting in her inbox when she woke up. This morning of all mornings, she’d slept late. She had already lost hours.

Four numbers held the power to change her life. Maybe she should have never gotten mixed up in this mess.

There was a pounding on her door. “Florence Earhart? Open up. We have a warrant for your arrest.”

She didn’t wait to ask. She knew what it was. She knew why they were there.

She peeled her thumb screen from her hand, threw it at the door, and bolted downstairs.



Three weeks later





“Welcome back to Story Behind the Story. I’m Sammi Thrain,” the peppy blonde grinned into the camera. “I’m with ex-mayor Beatrice Wainwright.”

“Hello.” Behind the glass partition, Beatrice grimaced and tucked a strand of gray hair behind her ear.

“Ms. Wainwright, your assistant, Florence Earhart, has disappeared, leaving you to face the attempted murder charges alone.”

Beatrice studied her fingers and shifted in her folding metal chair.

“Why did you encourage this?” Sammi, the Manu-Media reporter, asked during the prime time hourly.

She shrugged and stared at her cuffed hands. The orange coveralls didn’t flatter her or go with her coloring. That color never suited anyone, especially not in super HD.

“For Josh,” she answered, finally. “He should have had a safe world. He should have never been lost. I was creating that for Riverside. We had to know about everyone. I couldn’t let them end up like Josh. I just needed them to be healthy and compliant. It’s all for their good. To keep them safe.”

The reporter made an empathetic face, checked her notes, and then leaned forward. She placed her hand on the window between them. “Tell me about your son, Josh…”



Gabriella brushed her hand across her thumb screen to turn off the broadcast. She couldn’t watch it anymore. Sammi had another thirty minutes to question the poor woman before Beatrice would be locked in a cell, waiting for trial.

Florence had vanished—probably harbored by whoever was collecting the information, and Beatrice was only being charged with attempted murder. Beatrice was mentally unstable. As more and more information was exposed, it was clear she had been for some time.  Beatrice was the patsy. Someone had exploited her to get what they wanted, playing on her unresolved guilt about her son, Josh.

She’d confessed without prompting, but much of the transcript had been redacted. Nobody would talk about the trackers and what one had done to Yi. Nobody wanted to ask about the giant pink elephant in the room or find out who was responsible.

Gabriella would always feel guilty for her part in the farce. At the time, it all seemed so innocent. Insertion was as simple as an injection. But she never connected the dots. She should have.

Gabriella stared at the starlit sky, considering the events of those few days.

When everyone had the exact same goals, drank all the same Kool-Aid, it went wrong in a hurry. She supposed that was the trouble with government management. No matter how safe or well-intentioned it was, it’s always one misguided politician from being unjustly invasive and encroaching on personal rights. All participants had the right to Choice of Tech – digital or bio.

No form of government should be able to mandate what citizens must put in their bodies. They shouldn’t be able to withhold participation in social or civic involvement based on that. It made so much sense now. That’s what Florence Earhart and Beatrice Wainwright had begun. Or someone else had started for them. Gabriella was certain they still didn’t—couldn’t—understand the public outrage.

Maybe the responsibility was too large, too enticing for power-mongers. Tech shouldn’t be used against a city’s own citizens. It should have never been an option. At least this mess had been limited to Riverside and the surrounding rural area. It could have been world-changing on a large scale. At least she hoped it was. There was still the matter of the outside interference.

They still didn’t know which private corporation outside of Riverside had been helping Wainwright. Yi hadn’t been able to find the answer before everything disappeared. All they had was the information he’d sent in the email before he was poisoned.

But, in Gabriella’s mind, there were only two organizations big enough to fund that sort of tech and experimentation: the government and the medical industry. It was one of them or both of them. Maybe when Yi got out of the hospital, he could help her prove it.

Interim Mayor Marion “The Duke” Mitchell had already passed a law limiting mayoral terms and had pushed a plan through the Riverside council to take out the trackers from those that came in and made a formal request to have them removed. It was called the “Choice of Tech Law.” Additionally, Mayor Mitchell had instructed Gabriella and Yi to disconnect the city from all trackers, terminate the links, and the information gathering.

There were private companies with wristlets and anklets that parents could purchase for those that made a habit of wandering. The local government would never again be tempted to take everyone else’s matters into their own hands without regard to full disclosure. It was the best solution they had for the time being. Maybe it was the only long-term solution.

The CLD would still operate as normal, only with more papers and pens than in-body tech. The great citizen interaction would continue. They had to see to that.

The community gardens would still thrive, and people still had access to the permaculture micro-farms. That agricultural skill gave freedom to their inhabitants in ways they’d never had before. People shared with other people, and the data supported the idea that the partakers in gardening were much healthier mentally and physically. This was the best of the changes in the last ten years.

Gabriella unpinned her new nametag from her shirt. It had been a challenging week as the new head of the CLD. She’d issued countless statements to the public through Manu-Media.

She picked a tomato from her bio-illuminated, tabletop garden and deposited it on the cutting board in front of her—the perfect side dish for a job well done.



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Photo by telepathicparanoia