My http://nanowrimo.org contribution for 2015. Please provide constructive feedback.
Evelyn stepped out of her car with the aid of Matheson, her head of security. She frowned at the explosion of flashes that lit up the night and blinded her as she emerged. The paparazzi were drawn to her tall, thin form and regal demeanor, but she never allowed herself to be photographed. She touched the diamond brooch on her neck subconsciously. Its paparazzi countermeasures had always proven effective, disabling the cameras with infrared flashes, but she often found herself wishing that she could use a more visceral deterrent. It would have satisfied her to see lasers erupting from her throat and destroying the cameras hovering all around, but she tried to quell that emotion. Delighting in the destruction of other people’s property was a low emotion that was beneath her. Something must be bothering her. She made a mental note to examine it later during meditation, and her personal assistant detected the thought and chimed demurely in her ear to let her know it was recorded.
She made a subtle motion to Matheson as she strode up the pathway leading to the entrance of the estate, and he widened the area denial fields, pushing the camera drones back and catching a few off guard. They fell unceremoniously to the ground, their control signals jammed. It was gauche, Evelyn knew, but she allowed herself a tight little smile of satisfaction nonetheless. Her staff could wipe the drones from the sky for miles in every direction, and trace down their owners and sue them into bankruptcy within a month, but it wouldn’t do to take such draconian measures, as she was attending a charity ball for the poor and needy. The social media gadflies would feast long and well on the irony of such an outburst.
Evelyn eyed the the park bordering the Kulkarni estate. Next to a lake stood a dramatic, tall dome, supported by faux marble columns. It had been built to look like a Roman ruin and was lit from below by golden light that was reflected in the dark and serene lake. The park was ostensibly public, but no member of the great unwashed sat on the empty benches or huddled beneath the colonnades that extended to either side. No gates or guards were necessary to keep them away, gentrification had pushed them to the outskirts of the Bay Area years ago.
The columns had been restored many times over the years, and she had to admit that they did look dramatic lit from below, as they were on this mild summer evening. But their beauty was poisoned for her by the knowledge that they were merely new world replicas aspiring to old world grandeur, assembled for some world fair in the distant past.
She ascended the wide stone steps, flanked by towering palms. The columns were as false and inauthentic as the Spanish looking estate she was about to enter, a giant, tan stucco structure with rows of single paned windows and an orange tile roof, erected by South Indian tech money. More bitterness within her, she sighed. Amrita Kulkarni had been a rival of Evelyn’s back in their ivy league days; Amrita always stealing away the boys that Evelyn fancied and then casting them aside with disdain. And now, though her mansion lacked taste in Evelyn’s view, Amrita was outflanking her again by funding this American Refugee Project.
What a chuckle her brahim family must be having at the idea of a nonprofit to help these pathetic, unemployed Americans, displaced within their own country by economic upheaval. How high it must make them feel, while billions starved back on the subcontinent, thought Evelyn. She paused to draw a deep breath. She wasn’t going to allow herself to be like this. She was going to be gracious and loving. She was going to feel those emotions within herself because she wasn’t a low and common creature.
She smiled warmly at the greeter, whose glasses authenticated her admittance via facial recognition and cryptographic key exchange with Matheson’s portable system. The bulk of Matheson’s ballistic armor was effectively a lightweight computer that was housed inside of his jacket. That night he had dressed in his typical uniform, a black suit with a white shirt and a black tie, a striking outfit on his giant frame. He’d worked for her father for years and had solved some particularly sensitive matters for her when her husband had divorced her, and Evelyn felt comforted by his presence.
She entered the echoing foyer, a vast floor of beige tile interspersed with stone pillars and arches. Other guests were loitering, chatting amicably with drinks in hand.
A preposterously huge tapestry depicted Amrita’s grandfather with a white beard and a lotus flower in his hands. It was displayed in the hall, along with other Hindu influenced hangings, which served to dampen the noise from the hard, echoey surfaces. She noticed that everyone had chosen extremely conservative attire, black dresses and tuxedos were everywhere, and she felt a bit self-conscious in her bias cut, more avante-garde gown. Matheson deployed whatever host approved, tiny floating eyes he normally used at events such as this, and then melted into the crowd as Evelyn forged deeper into the palace in search of a drink.
The American Refugee Project was trying to attack the burgeoning problem of American poverty from multiple angles. They contributed to the Social Stability Fund, which produced the free food rations available at the ubiquitous temporary housing barracks across the nation.They also contributed to the Internet Everywhere consortium, which made the free disposable visors, so the poor weren’t cut off from internet access. But their crowning accomplishment was a scholarship program that used a surveillance algorithm to identify high IQ individuals by passively monitoring their online activity. Interspersed in this crowd was the latest class of poverty stricken geniuses, selected as they slumped down in their cardboard visors, the bright, infinite online world blocking out the slovenly reality of their circumstances.
Evelyn could spot them immediately, freshly scrubbed, wearing unfamiliar clothes, plucked from whatever filthy hovels they’d been languishing in. They’d been transported to a special campus prepared by the ARP, so they could study the only field that seemed to have any prospects for future employment: software development. Her heart went out to these brilliant peasants, raised without any manners or refinement. They formed little groups, cowed by the ferocious opulence of Amrita’s San Francisco estate. Evelyn understood that the Kulkarni’s owned dozens of such palaces throughout the world, all equally magnificent, but she made a note to not bring this up to the scholarship winners.
She approached one group, finally feeling the generous warmth of compassion growing in her, driving out the bitterness. Her assistant whispered names and short introductions for each youngster, overlaying subtle captions on her sensorium. They stared at her like animals about to be run over, their own glasses no doubt telling them just how much the Ardenwoods were worth, as she favored them with an indulgent smile.
“Ah, some scholars, I see,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “Manuel, Tucker, Sheila, Maglalang,” she nodded at each teenager in turn. “Please call me Evelyn. This must be so surreal for all of you. How are you holding up?”
“I’m so afraid of saying the wrong thing,” said Maglalang, a lanky Filipino boy, maybe 16 or 17, with pimples and a horrid scar that slashed across his cheek and down his neck, plunging below his collar. Evelyn had to hand it to Amrita. She couldn’t be accused of choosing scholars for their looks.
“I keep thinking that I’m going to break something expensive,” added Manuel, a chubby Hispanic boy with a stubborn cowlick.
“And then they’ll send us back out on the streets,” said Sheila, a freckled Appalachian with greasy blond hair and a weak chin.
“Oh no, no, my dears, please don’t worry about such things,” scolded Evelyn. “The AFP knows that everyone makes mistakes. They wouldn’t hold that against you.”
“Err, it’s in the contract,” blurted Tucker, obviously deep in the autism spectrum. “We’ll be billed for any damages.”
Evelyn listened to her assistant murmuring for a moment. “The AFP will be extending credit against your future earnings, which I’m sure will be quite sizable. You would have to work very hard to break enough valuables to deplete that.”
“We won’t make anything compared to what YOU have,” said Tucker, completely unaware of how rude he was being.
His friends tried to shush him, but Evelyn just smiled. “No, perhaps not, darling, but my father got his start in software. Maybe you’ll have what it takes as well.”
“Can I get you a drink, Evelyn?” asked Maglalang suddenly, clearly receiving a cue from his social media peanut gallery. “The bar’s right over there.”
“That would be wonderful, Maglalang,” said Evelyn, offering him her arm. “Please lead the way.”
The brash teenager gulped, but gamely took Evelyn’s arm, then jerked it away as though burned by her gown’s hydrolipophobic material, specially designed to repel stains.
“Whoa, that feels weird,” he gasped.
“Nevermind then, we can just walk together,” said Evelyn, as she and the gawky youngster threaded through the crowd.
Her own father would have approved of this scholarship program. He’d struggled between his conflicting desires to help the poor directly, or to push innovation forward so that world economies could flourish and the poor could have the opportunity to help themselves. Here the dilemma was solved nicely in one fell swoop.
When they reached the bar, Maglalang turned to Evelyn, glancing at her shyly. “What do you drink?”
“Ask for a dry martini, thank you, dear,” said Evelyn.
The bartender indulgently waited for Maglalang to repeat her order and then whipped up the drink, raising the shaker above his head with a flourish that captivated the unsophisticated teen.
“Are you making many new friends, dear?” asked Evelyn.
The bartender handed the drink to Maglalang, who carefully took it by the stem and relayed it to Evelyn. It all seemed perfectly harmless. She had no idea why her assistant was whispering warnings in her ear.
“Yeah, I have some new friends now,” said Maglalang, watching Evelyn carefully as she took a sip of the drink. “But it’s my OLD friends that have a message for you, bitch. You’re going down! All of you motherfucking plutocrats are going DOWN!” The young man was shouting and waving his arms, and Evelyn was so shocked that she nearly dropped her drink.
Her assistant was chattering instructions madly in her ear, rudely superimposing an exit route onto her vision, which was against her standing protocol. Evelyn had a strict rule about what sort of visual overlays were allowed. The crowd parted as Matheson came pounding toward them in full combat mode. Maglalang turned to run, but was dropped almost instantly, paralyzed by the neurotoxins delivered by one of Matheson’s darting, insect sized drones.
“My god, Matheson,” exclaimed Evelyn, utterly shocked. “That’s a bit much, isn’t it? Must you make such a scene?” But before he could answer, the entire world changed before her eyes. Matheson’s face transformed into a white mask with a broad grin flanked by a black handlebar mustache, and a pointy black beard. Her assistant’s voice faded away and a computerized voice buzzed in her ears.
“Enjoy your drink, Evelyn?” asked the voice. “I’m so glad you did. Let’s introduces ourselves. We are legion.”
That was the last thing Evelyn heard before the world went dark and she descended into madness.