Excerpt for Amaranth: A Short Story by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Amaranth

A Short Story



By Zachariah Wahrer

Copyright 2018 Zachariah Wahrer

All Rights Reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.



Wahrer of the Worlds Publishing

www.wahreroftheworlds.com

publishing@wahreroftheworlds.com



Liam died six months ago. I've never been that close to anyone, not even my sisters. He was such a special guy: warm, sensitive, and generous. Our wedding would have been the day after tomorrow. He'd even purchased us the honeymoon suite on the new Moon hotel.

When they told me Liam was in a transport accident on the way to work, I felt numb. It didn't seem real, didn't have the impact it should. After seeing his body, the agony hit me so hard I became physically ill. I haven't been the same since. What makes it worse was I would have been on the same transport, but happened to be sick that day. Adding survivors guilt to loss makes for a caustic cocktail.

My neural implant pinged and I pulled out my Adjunct, trying to move with the flow of traffic. Unlocking the device's holographic display, I saw the blue Prima Social logo and a PM: “hlo @AvaThaCodarGarl”. The sender's name—@1337LostBoy—scrolled by and my eyes narrowed. Some sick bugger had hashed Liam's account. My mind instantly thought of the creepers at work, the ones who were harassing me for dates and worse. They'd upped the pressure since Liam's death. You'd think, after decades of female involvement in STEM fields, some misogynistic tendencies would have lessened. Guess not. And, if you happen to be a woman who stands up to that type of man, they find ways to hurt you.

Before I could do anything further, another PM hit: “this isnt work creepers, its real.” What the—I thought, ready to swipe the red block icon. Another message flashed up on the holographic display: “this is liam.”

Rage filled me and I almost dropped the smooth white device. Not only had someone hashed Liam's account, but now they were impersonating him? I'd tried to deactivate Liam's Prima account, but the company required a relative or spouse to make the change. So it sat there, a pale ghost of his old self: photos, links, birthday greetings, and memes.

Growling, I poked the block icon and returned my focus to the walk home. The sky path was busy, people jostling for space on the wide suspended walkway. I tried to lose myself in the bustle of the crowd. You just blocked Liam, a traitorous part of my mind declared. It wasn't accurate, but still guilt flooded in. Overhead, the sky was choked with public and private air transports. The cars looked improbably heavy and unwieldy. It was a wonder more of them didn't crash into the towering buildings.

Once I made it home, I ran a bath. Normally, I try to keep to the ration program even though my income level exempts me, but now I needed to relax. Immediately, the warm water began easing my tense muscles. I closed my eyes. Blissful calm filled me.

Ping. I'd forgotten to silence my Adjunct. I cursed, not wanting to leave the warm water to find the stupid device. My company was currently working on a new neural implant that would allow mental adjustment of Adjunct functions as well as have it read messages. Our project manager told us we'd begin writing its software soon. That would be perfect for this situation.

Ping. Another moment, Ping. Maybe it was work or maybe the sick prankster had found a way past my block. Ping. I cursed again, rising out of the water. After drying and wrapping up in a towel, I found my Adjunct lying on the floor, deep in my pants pocket.

Unlocking the screen, I expected Prima messages, but discovered direct texts instead. The sender was unknown, and there were no headers to trace. “i need you to do something for me.” “get out of the bath.” “get dressed.” “i need your help.” Dread coursed through my veins. I'm being watched. Since I create valuable, confidential software, I'm at risk. Haute Tech, the firm I code for, claims to keep my residence secure, but someone was watching me, so they obviously weren't doing their job.

Then, something even more disturbing popped up on the holographic display. “Ava, I didnt die transport.” What was this person saying? Was it really Liam? I had seen his body. There was no life in it, no pulse, no breathing. He'd been maimed, his beautiful body crushed. “look up amaranthine project. will take all hashing skills to find, but u can do.”

Amaranthine Project sounded familiar, but I couldn't remember anything about it. It's just a prank, my mind argued, so why are you giving it further thought? Liam is dead. But what if he wasn't? What if something else was going on? I slid behind my home terminal screen and began selecting options. I searched for the Amaranthine Project, but, as expected, nothing came up. Just as I was about to quit, a memory jolted back. One of my fellow coders, a woman I had been friends with, mentioned she'd been interviewed for something called the Amaranthine Project. That had been several years ago. Aubry had abruptly disappeared shortly after, and despite my best efforts, I'd never been able to find out where she'd gone. Maybe there really was something to this.

With all resources available to me at home exhausted, I decided it was time to go back to Haute Tech and see what I could find. Part of my mind still screamed this was a prank—or worse—but I didn't know what else to do. There was no way I could sleep until I figured out what was going on. If there is a chance Liam is still alive—Can't let yourself go there, I thought, grabbing a coat on my way out the door.

Night had descended over Tokyo, making its bright lights even more spectacular. I walked along the sky path, my body heavy, wondering why it was headed to work so soon after having left. The path takes far longer than transports, but ever since the accident, I haven't been able to make myself use one.

My Adjunct was silent, and I guessed Liam—whoever was pretending to be him—knew I was heading for Haute Tech. A shiver coursed through me and I looked around. There were just a few people left on the path, and none seemed to pay attention to me. With rush period over, even the sky above was empty. I'd never seen it this way. Without the bustle of people, it looked sad and run down. Imagine what it looks like on the lower levels, I thought, peering over the barrier to the glowing smog below. I've never been down, but those who have say it is dangerous, that even the air will kill you.


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-4 show above.)