Author : Priya Chand, Featured Writer
Sam looked at the tickets and crumpled paper, already softening under the onslaught of summer heat and Mei’s palms. “I never been to some classics concert before,” he said, holding his fists tight against his sides.
“You never sat in the nootropic section, either.”
They’d been to two other concerts—inside the walls, anyway—in their seventeen years. Sam licked grit off his upper lip and said, “How you get those tickets, anyway?”
“Same way you got cake for my birthday. See, the waiver.” Mei waggled the crumpled paper in his face. “I already signed, but your ticket not gonna activate until you do, too.”
Sam smoothed out the waiver and nodded when he saw the Tuskegee Convention seal in the corner. Certified ethical. “Fine.” When he pressed his finger down, the nanofibers winked and both of Mei’s tickets turned pink. “When is it, anyway?”
“Six hours, but it’s in Shivnagar.”
“Shit.” Sam tugged his shirt off with the deliberation of someone who owned two outfits, both threadbare.
“Yeah, I got a dress this morning at Hydracity. All they wanted was skin.” Mei raised her thumb, which barely looked raw. She’d once scraped her palm sneaking into a kitchen. Sam could see the scar from the infection.
“Coulda warned me,” Sam muttered, but by then Mei was halfway down the street, sandals slapping around the oily puddles that littered the road. Awnings flapped in her wake, droplets scattered. Sam hoped the acid wouldn’t wreck his clothes. Scoring goods was harder for boys than girls—after centuries of gender imbalance, there wasn’t a huge demand for male data.
There was a whole line of teenagers outside the stadium. Most of them had decent clothes and shining hair, but when Sam looked at their feet, he saw mud and ragged toenails. There were other lines of people in heat-wick salwars or jeans—the kind of people you’d expect at a classics concert. He bet none of them had ever sold data, or if they had, it was the kind used to make new cures or enhancements. Sam had a friend who’d gotten out of the slums that way.
The ticketwalla didn’t make eye contact with Sam, just slapped a patch on his hand and shooed him through. “Come on,” Mei said, dragging him past the signs to their section.
The seats were disappointing. Plastic, small, same as the movie theater in their own neighborhood. At least the setup below looked fancy. Backup dancers were going through their paces as techs guided speakers and screens into place. “How long?”
Before Mei could answer, they were blasted with noise.
Sam couldn’t figure out what was going on—the crowd roared along to lyrics in some near-dead language, one he’d missed in nine years of school—and then the patch activated.
Bliss, he was riding a dolphin leaping through a sea of sound, tears of joy. The strings slipped into mourning, and a moment later he was sobbing like he hadn’t known he could sob. Sam caught Mei’s face out the side of his eyes and saw it glistening. She hadn’t cried when she first showed up, a six-year-old from the hydroponics, but it was lit in neon tonight.
After it was over, Sam and Mei agreed that the classics were pretty good. When the under-thirties job market reopened and they got placed in a factory, maybe they’d put a little aside and learn Telugu.
Mei traded her fingerprints for train tickets, and as the silver bullet dove under the swamps, terabytes of data streamed through the skyscrapers floating above.