This is the story of Ashely Marie Thomas (year 2075)
The air tasted bitter and she felt the burning in her chest as her heart pounded and echoed with the beat of her footfalls. The world passed by her in a blur through the warm tears that flowed down her cheeks. She felt herself bump into someone but she didn’t pause to look back, she had to get away from all the pain that clawed its way to the surface. How dare her parents betray her this way. Why her? She repeated over and over in her head.
“I hate them both,“ she cried as she rounded the corner and realized that she had come to the shipyards.
Clenched hands trembled at her side in pure hatred and anger before she found a small corner next to some crates. It was there that she buried her face and let the pain take over wracking her in sobs. The image of the hidden email, that she had intercepted, tormented her.
Re: Project Ozma 3082061
This letter constitutes notice under section 31(b) of the Aztechnology Ozma project to inform you that you have reached the end of your maintenance agreement with Aztechnology and that we will no longer be able to provide support or maintenance to you in any form with project Ozma. It has been brought our attention that the subject in project Ozma has been outside of set boundaries and restrictions placed for controls. Due to the contamination of the project, control is no longer viable. All access to company services, personnel or equipment as per our service agreement will be suspended.
The termination of project Ozma will occur on November 27, 2074 at 0900. All of the property of Aztechnology and associated data will be returned at the above time and date for termination.
After what seemed like an eternity, she took a deep breath letting disbelief and anger slowly fade. Now everything was beginning to make sense to her. She was the project called Ozma and she had been nothing more than a lab rat. Even her own parents, or whom she thought were her parents, had been involved. All the dots were starting to connect in her head. The distancing of her parents, her isolated life, mandatory matrix schooling and the refusal to let her do something outside of the pyramid made more sense now. She always knew she was special since she could do things that others seemed to require technology to do. Her whole life as she knew it had been shattered into a thousand fragments when she read that communication. She had been living a life of a lie. Her final act of defiance was to leave her known life behind. She was not going to be someone’s lab rat.
Reaching up she pulled her on her jacket, squared her small pack with a gentle tug and turned to walk into the shipyard. It was here she was going to start her new life. She glanced back over her shoulder, making sure that no one had followed her, then whispered to the air “goodbye…”
Her sapphire gaze flickered over the expanse of cargo crates that lined the docks. Small electronic images blazed in a heads up display that was part of her gaze. It showed her the time, current temperature, and a small miniaturized map of the docks. She lazily let her mind wander for a moment allowing it to dance over the various lines of electronic jabber, until she found what she was looking for. Mentally she pushed with her thoughts and linked with the cargo crates manifest listings, which then added the contents of the cargo crates to her display. She located what she needed and her feet mapped a path into the depths of the docks warehouses to a small cargo crate.. It was empty and this is where she would stay until tomorrow.
One day turned into a another and soon a month had passed. The cargo crate had become more of a permanent home for her. Her life of easy meals and having a soft pillow to sleep on was a thing of the past. Now it was scrambling to find the next meal and try not to become a victim of violence or sexual crime. Her clothes had holes where they had worn out, baths became a thing of luxury. She had become a little bird lost in the forest of buildings and was one of the city’s many homeless vagrants. Her talents stayed quiet and unused for fear that the corporation would find her.
The wintery rain sleet mix was cold as it drizzled down her back and soaked her to the bone. The dirt washed from her skin and she shivered from the frigid kiss of the moisture and biting wind. She watched the building from the evening shadows while she mentally steeled herself to return to the place she had been running from for the past several months. Her fingers curled around her soaked curls and drew them back into a tight braid hoping to keep the ragged edges of her look to a minimum. She pulled her jacket snugly over her wet frame and moved toward the dreaded building swiftly.
The door to the Pyramid shopping center swung open as the well dressed business man exited and she darted in before it could close. She was hungry and she knew the food court would have something she could get that was warm. Walking up to an electronic station she pulled in and lowered her head attempting to hide her actions. She sat on the bench next to two other people that appeared to be jacked in currently to the net. A smile curled her lips briefly, as she knew they were too busy in their own augmented reality to pay any attention to her. Earlier she had obtained a small credstick and she knew she was going to have to use her abilities in order to load it with a few credits to eat. She hoped that it wasn’t what was called a screamer, which meant that she would have to run if it was. Her fingers moved to the console interface of her small sony emperor and she tried to make it look like she was actually using it.
Closing her eyes she could feel herself slip into the world of numbers drifting on the lines with her mind and melding with the wireless surroundings. She traveled the trail slowly and carefully, knowing that the Grid Overwatch Division may spot her in weave of code. After slow manipulation she was standing in a virtual world with an avatar that reflected where she she was currently sitting in the physical world. She would run her fingers over her strands causing their red hue to shift to a golden blonde and her body altered slightly enhancing herself in areas that was still developing, hoping that no one would recognize her in this virtual paradise. It was camouflage to the net that many referred to as static veiling and as long as she didn’t jump from grid to grid, she knew she was pretty hidden from the Grid Overwatch Division. It felt so good to be connected and she found herself feeling at ease.
Standing in the matrix she smiled and would move to find her way to get some swift cash for her meal today. A little bump here and a little bump there on certain money transfers and she would siphon off a minute amount of creds that would not be missed. What would seem like an hour in this augmented reality was only a few minutes in the real world. She snapped back along the edgy lines of code and slowly opened her eyes. Smirking, she rose from her seat and tossed the credstick lightly into the air catching it again in the palm of her hand. The credstick now had some credits on it, which was going to be enough to get something to eat with and to shop for a few things needed to make her life more comfortable in her makeshift container home. Taking the stick, she made her way to the center of the food court to order something warm for the day.
“Ashley?” she heard her name called out curiously.
A moment of pure panic welled up within her and she pivoted swiftly prepared to bolt and run. She knew that this was a risky thing to do, but the lure of a hot meal had been too tempting. It had been over a month since she had left home, but knew that no one would suspect her being back under their very noses to get something.
The voice was from Emma. The one person that she had regretted losing contact with when she ran. She had been afraid to reach out and contact her all this time. She knew the corporation would be watching and monitoring, hoping for that one little nibble to lead them to her. She turned to face her she and lifted a finger up to her lips to indicate to Emma to become quiet. Her head tilted in a silent gesture toward the doors hoping that she would take her up on the motion. Grabbing the bag of food that was placed on the counter, she moved swiftly through the crowd and out the door, hoping that Emma would follow.
“I don’t understand” Emma stated as she exited the building and rounded the corner following her.
“It’s a long story, but I promise you I am not crazy. I need you to promise me you won’t tell anyone about this. “ Ashley stated while squarely looking Emma in the eyes. “It could mean life or death for me.”
She waited to see what Emma would say.
“I promise, but surely it’s not that bad.” Emma shifted to stand underneath an eave to keep the cold drizzle off of her while they spoke.
Ashley smiled at the confirmation of the promise and then took a deep slow breath.
“I don’t want anyone to know where I am anymore. My parents, you see, they “ she paused briefly as she pondered on what part of the truth she would tell “They .. weren’t really my parents and things got ugly between us. I had to leave and I don’t want them to know where I am.. okay?” she finally finished her statement.
Of course that was not the full story. She had left out the fact that they probably were not even her real parents to begin with and planned to turn her over to the Aztechology’s science lab to be dissected. The more she thought on this the more ridiculous it sounded even to her. She knew that she needed to just keep that all under wraps. Better to let people think there was something else going on and to keep her secret. Emma nodded slowly and pushed back her own tousled strands
“Well at least we can go to my place. Perhaps you can spend the night and we can talk it out. I will ask my brother and see if you could. I sure it won’t be a problem.”
She then took notice of how rough looking Ashley was around the edges.
“But first, we have to get you something else to wear and go eat something besides that.” she pointed to the greasy burger bag in Ashley’s hand and laughed. “That stuff will kill you.”
With that, the both of them spent the afternoon shopping and just being teens. It was a nice change for Ashley and she longed to just be normal like this once again.