Robert Appleton

Adventures in Science Fiction

Cyber Sparks Excerpt #1

Chapter One


A Rain Cloud Just For Me

 

Washington, D.C.

Earth

The Twenty-Third Century

 


My strange fall from fame and rise to notoriety began on the day I forgot to take my umbrella to work. Funny really, in a world where tech constantly nipped at Mother Nature’s heels, in terms of ingenuity, how something as simple as keeping my head dry would be my undoing.

 

Call it vanity. All twenty-eight of us Semprica models were arrayed several feet apart around the central podium on the roof of Semprica Tower, and damn it, I didn’t want to be the only drowned rat on live TV. It was the most important press event of the year for the world’s number one cosmetics company, as its founder, Oliver Semprica himself, was being awarded the prestigious Freedom of the Inner Colonies, for his lifetime of philanthropic endeavors (a.k.a. strategic political palm-greasing). The ’razzi bots were out in force, buzzing about the rooftop like metal mosquitoes you wanted to swat with a squash racquet. The rain sheeted down and the emcee shouted up—he wasn’t happy with the master camera angle covering the ceremony, so the technicians had to adjust it from their hover ship above.

 

Lenore Reichert, my first and best friend at Semprica, waved to me from the opposite side of the podium. An over-excited girly wave. Just about everything to do with Lenore was high school and sunny and addictive, including her unbelievable physique packed into a too-tight yellow ensemble that left precious little to the imagination. Precious because I’d dreamed about it for years, and about her, and about how I might finally pluck up the courage to tell her how I felt. Um, that would be the bittersweet—mostly sweet—churning sensation in my calorie-deprived stomach.

 

I grinned in reply, then hugged myself, demonstrating how wet I was getting. She rolled her eyes and shook her head slowly. The production assistant I’d asked to fetch me a spare umbrella was a no-show, and the show was ready to begin. Hopefully the back-slapping wouldn’t last too long.

 

Umpteen corporate bigwigs from the inner colonies were among the VIP guests seated under a small awning in front of the podium. Earth’s Interstellar Planetary Administration representatives were also in attendance, as well as select showbiz types and some very pale-looking hombres from the outer colonies. A clawed hand lightly squeezing my shoulder identified the other VIP on the roof, the one I’d plumb forgotten about…

 

Tandy Semprica. The one I’d rather forget.

 

Allegra, my moon bird, how are you? It’s been forever. Much too long, sweet thing. Much, much too long.” Her claws caressing my shoulder blades and the line of my back I could handle, but not her sickly treacle twang oozing into my earhole. Imagine a billion-dollar Barbie with zero class, the shallowest cronies ever hatched, and the keys to the cosmos—now imagine her ravenously trying to get into your pants and share you with said cronies, in private, zero-g orgies in Earth orbit, where money and taste were no object.

 

Not now, Tandy. We’re live.”

 

Ah yes, so we are. In that case, we can huddle together under my umbrella. Daddy would hate for you to get soaked on his big day. And this is such a big day for Semprica, isn’t it?” She yawned. “And we’re such…close friends, you and I.”

 

That would be a no—to the close friends part, at least. Even the thought of her filled my throat with bile, and I’d managed to rebuff her advances for over a year. But this was different. I had nowhere to go—I was contractually obligated to stay in this spot—and she had the solution to keeping me dry. Being under the dragon’s wing for half an hour or so wouldn’t be too bad. We were, after all, on live TV. She’d have to be on her best behavior.

 

Yeah, okay. Thanks for that.”

 

My pleasure, hotness. Ah, here we go.”

 

The emcee began his long-winded introduction, waxing on the various commercial and so-called charitable exploits of Old Man Semprica, whom everyone clearly revered. He’d been a kind of benign uncle figure to us models over the years, and he’d personally given me my big break in the industry, hiring me as the Face of Semprica three years in a row. Decent enough guy, ruthless at business, fond of imparting folksy morals, liked to grandstand at holiday banquets. Not someone you’d want to make an enemy of, and he wouldn’t give away a single clip without it benefiting him in some other way.

 

Partway through a speech by the mayor of D.C., Tandy slid her hand inside the back of my cocktail dress. I elbowed her arm. She desisted. When I noticed Lenore frowning at us from across the roof, equal parts shame and anger burned my cheeks. Sunlight flickered down through the spinning spokes of the giant horizontal commuter wheel above, signaling an end to the rain. But not an end to Tandy’s seduction.

 

Quick as you like, she leaned in close and slid her hand inside my dress again, this time reaching around the side—all the way around—copping a feel. “I knew you’d be all natural, moon bird. Just like your girlfriend over there?” Lenore’s umbrella visibly shook in her grip as she watched us. “I’ve seen the way you two look at each other.” Tandy moved her talon down below my navel. “Let’s see if you’re moist for me as well…like she is.”

 

Disgusted, I lunged forward out of her grasp and spun round. She stuffed a fist between her teeth to stop herself from laughing maniacally. On live camera. In front of billions of viewers.

 

Something snapped inside me. One second I was reeling in shock, the next I’d landed a stinging slap on Barbie’s kisser. To me it was louder than a rifle’s report, but I didn’t care if it stopped the ceremony in its tracks. I followed it with another slap, for me, for Lenore, for a world that hated Tandy Semprica but daren’t say it publicly. Not when her daddy was master of the universe.

 

I didn’t care. There may have been gasps and spotlights and ’razzi bots aimed at me but I saw only red, heard only the thrilling smacks of righteous and long-overdue retribution.

 

While she staggered to maintain balance, one of her high heels snapped. A glance down at that thousand-credit shoe, then up at Daddy fuming on the podium, then into my victorious gaze, forced a bloodcurdling scream from her that made everyone cover their ears. She wrenched the broken shoe off her foot—“You’re dead, you little slut. You’re both dead!”—and swung it at me with all her might.

 

I ducked, grabbed hold of the nearest object on the floor and hit her a third time, not bothering to see which weapon I’d used.

 

By the time security personnel dragged me off her, I’d sprained my wrist, bloodied her nose, and left her in a wailing heap.

 

I was the Face of Semprica.

 

The last time I saw Tandy, moments before I was manhandled away, her umbrella lay broken next to her, its spines twisted and glinting in the sun.

 

I’d gotten to use one after all.

 

 

Against everyone’s advice, I made no apology, public or private, and neither did Tandy. The next morning, I received hundreds of messages from viewers who hated the heiress bitch as much as I did. Unfortunately, I also got my contract termination alongside a court summons. Rudy Moncada, my old-timer agent, managed to quash the latter, and after a few days no one seemed to remember my little outburst. No one except those who really mattered—the modeling companies.

 

But I wasn’t about to let that little moneyed Medusa take away everything that, unlike her, I’d worked long and hard to achieve.

 

Back on my home world, Ireton Four, if I’d had a bad morning I’d have simply taken the glider up for a soar, ridden the convection winds over the thermal glades and then maybe had a cup of McCormick’s with Mum at her chalet. We’d have talked until my stress subsided or I at least had a plan of action to phase it out. Mum was like that—the eye of any storm—because she’d lived through her share and learned how to see through them to the fair weather on the other side. Mum had been a deep-space scout flier for Kuiper Wells; she knew how to prioritize, how to assess the world from different vantages.

 

Me? I’d taken the catwalk to my destiny. Slinked into fame and fortune across the legendary brass bridge in the Selene lunar pageant seven years ago. I’d made the final five, too, not to mention landed this real clip-spinner of a contract at Semprica. Women all across the colonies would gladly donate vital organs to have half of what I’d had. Everywhere I went, everyone kinda recognized my face. And about zero-point-one percent knew my name.

 

It hit me on DuPont Circle during my sky cab ride home, when my latest holographic Semprica ad flickered to nothingness over the skyway bollard and was replaced by one for animatronic mythical creatures as household pets. A baby dragon, of all things. All of a sudden, that particular ladder to fame and fortune was rungless and standing only by the strength of my denial. How could my dream, my place at the top of my profession, be off-limits to me? So I made a solemn pledge, there and then, to reinvent myself, to become more than just a face, more than billboard déjà vu to passing sky cabs.

 

I vowed to make my name the most famous in the galaxy.

 

It’s Allegra Mondebay, by the way, in case you’re wondering. And this is the unusual story of my reinvention.