“UPGRADE” by Anna L. Davis
Winner of the DFWCon “Fire & Ash” Short Story Contest.
RYKER MORRIS sat on the bus and studied cyborgs. It was research for the big story. It had also become his obsession. Chips in the brain, the veins, the cartilage. Involuntary cyborgs.
But not him. Not ever.
Ryker hopped off when the guy in front of him exited. Timothy Randall Wade, cyborg interview number twelve. The last one. Ryker exhaled in relief.
Another paycheck. Another month of delayed eviction. Not homeless yet.
“Yeah, who’s asking?” Wade the Cyborg wore pleated khakis and a navy Polo shirt. His hair was cut short and styled clean.
“Ryker Morris. Reporter for TwentyFourSeven. Working a story about those new lofts in Uptown.” Not a total lie. Just not the story he was writing now. “You know ’em?”
Wade’s eyes flickered with guarded recognition. “Yeah, man. Moved there last month. Nice place. What’s the story?”
“Complaints about connectivity. Noticed any issues? Sync slow? That sort of thing?”
“Nah. Smooth sailing. Fast, too. Best NeuroChip sync around here, in my opinion.”
Ryker nodded. “Okay. Thanks. Can I put you on record?”
“No prob.” Wade relaxed and offered his inner wrist for ID scanning.
Ryker had already scanned him back on the bus. He pretended to register the data.
“Oh, forgot to ask…” Ryker smiled. “Why’d you get NeuroChip?”
Wade stepped back in surprise. “Had to. For work. Insurance. You know the drill.”
“Yeah. Any regrets?” Ryker made direct eye contact. This was the most important part.
Wade shook his head for emphasis. “No way. Always connected. Memory back-up. Smart. Safe. Wireless and loving it.”
Chills ran down Ryker’s arms. Twelve for twelve. He thanked Wade and got out of there.
Camille met him at the newsroom door. “Where’s that story? Needed it yesterday.”
“Within an hour. Just finished the last interview. Had to scan the ID chips. Verbal cues did the rest.”
She smiled, tempering her news-hardened demeanor, and motioned toward the awards on the wall. “It’s why I keep you around, Ryke. Anyone can sync a NeuroChip these days. You have a gift. Real journalism.”
“Don’t get too excited, Camille. Wait ‘til you see the story at least.”
“Alright, then. One hour.”
Ryker logged in. He clicked into his files – expert statements from psychiatrists, drawings of NeuroChip and how it interacts with existing neural pathways, safety reports. And interviews from twelve cyborgs who all said the same thing. Like a marketing brochure.
Always connected. Memory back-up. Smart. Safe. Wireless and loving it.
It took a few minutes to write the final section. He attached it to an email and hit send.
Camille’s reply appeared in his inbox five minutes later. “Got it. Great job. Seriously, Pulitzer stuff. Going live in thirty.”
Enough time to sort messages. Ryker had finished with the unread ones when a new message appeared from his apartment manager. Eviction notice. Pay today. Last warning.
He suppressed a surge of anxiety. It was a dump. Ryker hated it. But his lease didn’t require the ID chip, so he stayed. Hard to find offline apartments.
A couple hours later Ryker realized the story hadn’t posted. He hit refresh on the browser. Nothing. He sent Camille a message. Nothing.
Ten minutes later she replied. Be in her office ASAP.
“What’s the problem?” The day was almost over and Ryker needed a paycheck.
Camille wouldn’t look him in the eye. Her smile was gone. So was her bravado. “Corporate denied your story. HR has a notice out for your file.”
“Alright, so I missed a training class or something. I’ll make it up.”
She sat down and invited him to do the same. Ryker didn’t move.
“It’s not a training class. You need to upgrade your file. Show compliance. The chipping station is just downstairs, it doesn’t even leave a mark.”
Ryker felt like he’d been slapped. He didn’t need Camille to tell him what the injection site would look like. He’d seen dozens of pictures. Like a staple in the skin, some blood but not much. Fades over time.
“You know how I feel, Camille. These people… they’ve been programmed. Something else controls them. No way.”
“You can’t work here anymore, Ryke. Not without compliance. I mean, you won’t even do the ID chip. Just the simple tag would work. You’re way behind. Insurance already dropped you. NeuroChip is a necessary evil. Part of the tech requirements.”
“You’re railroading me. You, of all people.”
“I know. I’m sorry. Sometimes you just have to play the game, Ryke.”
Ryker looked around Camille’s office, at the framed headlines on the wall, relics of print news. Freedom of the press. What a joke.
Ryker left the newsroom, walked to one of the few remaining ATMs, and tried to withdraw enough cash to pay rent. The machine denied his card. He leaned against the cold metal and took a deep breath.
Shock. Complete shock. Ryker let a wave of panic pass. He checked his wallet. Two dollars. Enough for a one-way pass.
The bus was packed, but he found a spot near the front.
“How’s the story?” Wade the Cyborg sat a row behind. He wore the same business casual clothes from earlier. Headed home, probably. To his nice loft.
“Fine,” Ryker lied. “Almost done. Tell me something, Wade. You happy?”
Wade stood when the bus reached the Uptown exit. “Sure. Wireless and loving it. Hey man, where you headed?”
“Don’t know, really. Just got evicted.”
Wade’s face softened. “I have an extra room, if you need a place to crash.”
It sounded ridiculous. And yet…
“I’d appreciate that. You sure?”
“Yeah. Anytime, man.”
Ryker got off the bus with Wade the Cyborg. He’d stay one night. Maybe two. Then he’d find a way to get his big story out there for people to read. The whole thing, uncensored.
Even if he had to post it from the streets.
Find out what happens next.
OPEN SOURCE (Enhancement Series #1)