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read by
Mathieu Allard

Published November 2002

Dux Campbell blinked on the time display as he slowly stretched the sleep from his body.

8:47:12… 8:47:13… 8:47:14

He was going to be late again.

Chewing on toast while he pulled on his trousers Dux stumbled through his room looking for a clean shirt. Buckled and shirted he began
retrieving the scattered contents of his school bag while calling for his lift. “Mom! I’m gonna be late – you ready to go?”

No response.

“MOM! I need to go now!” screeched Dux as he skidded to his shoes. Quite reasonably he expected his mother, Mira Campbell, to be ready to go
for work with a smart suit, trendy (but understated) sleeve for her datapad and keys in hand for her sporty (but understated) electric car.

But she wasn’t there. Mrs Fitzgerald was going to kill him if he missed the whole first class. Dux went back upstairs to check the bedrooms to
find nothing but an unmade bed and his dad’s pyjamas. Where could she be? He descended the stairs calling before sticking his head round the door
to the basement and asking his dad, Wilt.

“Dad, where is mom?”

Wilt blinked several times, twitched and then turned, “I’m not sure son, have you checked the kitchen?”

“Yes. Of course I have.”

“Well I’m very busy with my work here, why don’t you take the van, maybe she’s already gone to work. You are late you know.”

Damn those intra-ocular time displays, even a parent as distracted as Wilt Campbell couldn’t miss their children’s tardiness with every second of
the day burned into their optic nerve.

“Ok, dad.”

Dashing out the back door Dux climbed into the van his dad used to move the larger tools he occasionally bought from fellow engineers. With
thoughts of the potential range of expressions on Mrs Fitzgerald’s face, Dux scarcely noticed that his mother’s car was still in the drive as he
accelerated off to school and his stern tutor.

“At eighteen you should know better… university is vital to your future… exams aren’t far off… detention… tonight… understood?”

“Yes, I’m very sorry,” Dux muttered.

“Sorry isn’t good enough. Especially when you were lucky enough to get a complete biochip implantation for your seventeenth birthday. I
thought the intra-ocular displays would help but they haven’t at all. I’m disappointed and embarrassed – I recommended the time module to your
parents myself.”

“Well, ah, I can’t see it when I’m asleep can I?” Dux nearly said before recovering his sanity and merely dropped his eyes waiting for the session
to end.

“Now go do some work.”

Detention! So unfair, Dux had only been a little late.


As the eternity of evening detention ended Dux slipped his datapad back into his bag and blinked off his clock before stumbling out of the stale
classroom air towards his father’s van.

Clicking on the fuel cells the radio blared into life with some awful CUHP spiritual export. The Eastern Agnostic Republic may have had little
organised religion left, but it didn’t stop Catholic Union of Hispanic Peoples missionaries from trying to educate the masses. He switched off the
radio and flicked on the sidelights while reversing out of his space.

As the sun dropped below the mash of cityscape Dux rolled out of the car park in hydrogen-fuelled silence and swung onto a back road for a
change of scenery. As he rumbled across a track behind the sports fields an odd rattling from the back of the van began to irritate. It didn’t sound
mechanical and it certainly didn’t sound normal, even for a van as meddled with as his father’s.

Dux pulled onto a dusty verge and tumbled out of the van to take a better look. Pulling open the van doors he began to scan for the source of
the noise. It had been behind him on the left wall of the main compartment, maybe the wheel arch? Nothing there, he stepped out to check the wheel
itself to no avail. Climbing back into the rear of the van he began to check the insulating panels covering the walls. Maybe one had come loose. On
hands and knees he began testing each one in the area he thought the noise had come from, how he hated rattling noises while he drove.

Push, shake, wiggle. Push, shake, wiggle. Push, pop!

A panel fell into his hand, a datapad and bio-bracelet tumbling after it onto the grimy floor of the van. Dux quickly glanced around before
replacing the panel and moved behind the passenger seat to examine his discovery.

The datapad was locked with the usual security matrix but an ownership readout could be called up if the right contacts were held long enough.
Dux pressed and waited for some activity. After a long 7.5 seconds the backlight flicked on and the details appeared.

Mira Campbell
Sales Executive (L2)
International Telemetrics and Data Corp.

PID: 1763.5628.0324.7356

Serial No. C234 IE 78839278 ZX 1034

Sony-Apple Inc. © 2183

What was mom’s datapad doing here? He released the contacts to examine the bracelet, its simple readouts designed to help biochip recipients
monitor their systems. The design was feminine, it could well have been mom’s but guiltily Dux realised that he couldn’t remember what her bio-
bracelet actually looked like.

What did this mean? Why was the datapad hidden? Where was mom? Without her datapad it would be hard to call her and find out. Reaching over
the passenger seat Dux pulled his own worn datapad out and input his mother’s 16-digit personal identification number. No connections found.
Nothing, no phone, no email, no messenger or car AI. Weird. He entered his own just to check the system was working and sure enough several
communications channels were shown as available to him.

This looked serious, he better tell dad. Packing the gear into his bag, Dux climbed into the drivers seat and powered back onto the track just as
the sun’s iridescent furnance winked goodnight.


Dux pulled into the back entrance to the house, shutting down the van before entering the house. Somehow he still expected to see his mother
in the kitchen making a spicy jelly noodle soup for the family, but there was no one there, only dimmed lights and a view onto the front drive. From
the glimmer of a few autonomous lights Dux could see an empty spot where his mom’s car should be by now. His head jerked back as he realised it
had been there that morning. Did she leave after him? But where had she been? It didn’t make sense. It just didn’t.

Continued thoughts of jelly noodle soup forced him to grab a VitaSmash drink from the fridge which he began to gulp as he wandered the house
thinking. His dad didn’t seem to be around either, in spite of his strict assurances to always be out of the workshop by 19:30. Dux scouted upstairs
to make sure he wasn’t about to make a fuss out of nothing before slowly walking to the basement door while carefully planning what he would tell
his father. He grasped the anodised metal of his father’s industrial door, it’s cool rough surface calmly returned his grip. Pushing out a calming
breath he pulled on the door.

The door was locked. That NEVER happened.

Something bad was going down. Dropping the empty drink pod Dux began to struggle frantically with the door, he desperately had to find out
what was going on, but the door didn’t budge. Deciding to change tactics Dux ran out to the van and retrieved its toolkit. With a hefty screwdriver
and his young muscles he pried the lock out of place with an agonising scrunch and hefted the door open.

Preparing profuse apologies he descended the metal staircase, giant fuel-cell screwdriver in hand. Most of the lights were on, the computers
were active and several tones of hum indicated functioning machinery. Wilt Campbell was a prolific man and his lifework stood around his only son,
magnificent and expectant in all its technological finery.

Dux ground to a halt as he realised nobody was hidden between the hunks of engineering feats. It would be rare for his dad to go out at night,
but not unreasonable. He hammered his father’s PID into a nearby primary monitor, hoping for some clue to his whereabouts. However instead of the
usual readout a small blip announced the scrolling appearance of a short email, of sorts.

SENDER: W. Campbell, 2987.0474.1563.9042


It was an accident. I couldn’t bring her back, so I’ve joined her.

I’m sorry.

Your father.