Unfortunately, it was a beautiful day.
Peyton frowned, glancing up at the bright midday sky through the tinted car window as the vehicle flew down an old country road. The summer sun hung high above a sea of tall, green trees in the clear blue sky. Its light beamed down and tickled her face. Yet her frown only deepened. This was not what she wanted. Peyton had hoped for a storm as it was the only thing that could save her from the dreadfully boring weekend her family had planned.
A camping trip wasn’t exactly how Peyton wanted to start her summer break. If she had a choice, she’d be hanging out by the pool with her friends and a cold glass of lemonade. Not spend the next couple of days in an insect-infested campsite with her dad who probably had a few lectures ready for her. The man loved his lectures. But after two hellish weeks of finals, the last thing Peyton wanted to do was listen to another lecture.
It’s like I never left school, Peyton told herself. She closed her eyes and continued listening to her music. It was her all-favorite band playing in her ears: The Burning Beauties. Usually, the sounds of their drums and fast-playing electric guitars were enough to put her in a good mood., But not today, the sting of her disappointment killed any good vibe the music might have brought.
This weekend is going to suck, she thought with a sigh. Then her music suddenly stopped. And now there’s that. I just can’t win today.
Peyton opened her eyes and looked down at the commlink on her wrist. The wristband device displayed her music playlist. She scanned the device interface and found the problem. Somehow, her music had been paused. She didn’t do it. Maybe there was a glitch in the system. Peyton pressed the play button, but her music didn’t return. Ah, come on! She pressed it again, but still nothing. Suddenly it hit her. She knew exactly what was going on.
Peyton glanced over at the seat across from her. “You know I hate it when you do that.”
“Sorry honey, but your father wants to talk to you,” her mom’s voice hissed through the comm channel even though the woman’s mouth didn’t move. Unlike Peyton, her mom didn’t use a commlink or earbuds. She didn’t need them. With her smart-link implant, she was practically a human commlink. Although she looked like an ordinary middle-aged Chinese American woman. At least until someone noticed her data-jack implant on the back of her neck.
Peyton deactivated an earbud and turned to her father. “Do you need something, Dad?”
“Yes,” her dad replied, clearing his throat, “I know you’re not thrilled about this camping trip, but this could be good for you. You’ll get to reconnect with nature and get away from all that tech.”
Peyton chuckled. She expected her dad to say something like that. Unlike her mom, her dad was an ordinary human, a baseline. He rejected the idea of having cybernetic implants even though they could afford it. Her mom only got them because of her job. But Peyton’s dad wanted her to remain a baseline. It was something Peyton didn’t want. How could she, when everyone else was becoming more, superhuman. There was no way she wasn’t going to be augmented. She just had to wait till her eighteenth birthday.
Using her real voice, her mom explained. “What your father is trying to say is that we just want to spend time with you. You just finished your first year of high school and it won’t be long before you’re off to college.”
Peyton sighed. It made sense, but still. “Why camping? Why couldn’t we do something fun like going on a cruise or to an amusement park?”
“Because,” her dad snapped but fell silent. “I didn’t think of that. They do sound like fun. Fine, next year you can choose what we do.”
He replied. “Yes, but I want you to at least try to have some fun this weekend.”
That was a tall order but Peyton knew she could do it. She sighed. “Fine.”
“Well think of it this way,” her mom added, looking at her. “At least you’ll have Ashley with you.”
Peyton nodded. She had nearly forgotten about her cousin, Ashley. She was going to be the only other teenager at the campsite. Unlike Peyton, Ashley was actually thrilled about camping. It was all she talked about for the past month, leaving Peyton to be the black sheep as usual. Nonetheless, Peyton knew they would find something fun to do. Maybe they’ll go hiking, swim the river, or tell some ghost stories by the campfire.
Peyton found herself grinning. Maybe this weekend won’t be so after all.
BAM! The sound echoed into the air as the car came to a screeching stop. Peyton flew forward when her seatbelt caught. Her body froze. Her heart pounded against her chest. Peyton took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. Then she looked up at her parents, finding them still moving around. They were still alive.
“Is everyone alright?” Her dad asked, sounding concerned.
Peyton and her mom replied at once, “Yes! I’m fine.”
“What did we hit?” Peyton asked, looking over her dad’s shoulder. She expected to find a dead or wounded animal laying on the road. Animal crossings were common in this area. Accidents were bound to happen. Although the car sensors should have warned them of anything approaching them. Peyton got her answer. Her jaw dropped slightly. Her eyes widened as they looked up at a sleeping boy inside of a metal box. “What the..?”
The boy looked around her; maybe fifteen or fourteen years old. He had dark brown skin and short black hair. His eyes closed. He wore a skintight wetsuit with wires and tubes attached everywhere on his body. A strange-looking helmet was on his head while a breathing mask covered his nose and mouth. The box was more impressive than the boy. It resembled a coffin with a sleek black shell that screamed high tech. Yet the design was like nothing she had ever seen before. It was almost alien.
Don’t think like that. She told herself. This was not some kind of Sci-fi vid.
Her train of thought abruptly ended when she heard the doors. She turned to her parents only to find empty seats. They left without her. Peyton growled, unfastened her seatbelt, and exited the car. The summer heat tickled her skin harshly. She turned toward the boy, finding her parents heading in that direction. She followed them. What if the boy died? No, why would someone give him a breathing mask if he was dead? Something is going on? Also, how didn’t he get here?”
Peyton scanned their surroundings. There were no trucks and vans the boy could have fallen out of. The forest remained quiet and undisturbed. Even the sky was still clear; no aircraft, drones, or even a single hover mech. Peyton turned her gaze, looking at the sleeping boy. It was like the boy appeared out of thin air. But that’s impossible. A lot of impossible things are happening today.
“So…um, is he alive?” She asked her parents who were already examining the machine.
Her dad approached the machine slowly, looking at the sleeping boy. Meanwhile, her mom moved around the machine, scanning its side. Peyton didn’t know why, but it looked like she was looking for something important.
Her dad replied, “I don’t know yet.” He touched the glass lid of the machine. Suddenly a wave of static moved across the glass lid followed by bright red warning signs. “Oh, that’s not good!”
“Find me an access port, and I’ll see what’s going on.”
Peyton followed her mom, scanning the machine’s sleek metal shell. She caught a hatch layout hidden alongside the machine. She grabbed and pulled it back. Her eyes widened. “Mom, I found a control panel.”
“Thanks! Now move!”
Peyton moved aside. Her mom quickly joined her, pulling the data-jack cord from behind her neck, and jacked into the control panel. Peyton bit her lip. She had never actually seen her mom use her data jack before. Her mom usually just connected to devices wirelessly. But Peyton had heard stories about those who use their implants to link with machines. Most of the time, the users are fine. They were able to complete their task and come back to reality. Other times, the user’s brain is fried from viruses, firewalls, or worst of all hackers.
Peyton asked. “Is this safe?”
“I’ll be alright.” Her mom replied firmly.
That’s not what I asked.
Her mom ignored her gaze and turned to her father. “Watch over me.”
“Always!” He nodded.
Her mom sat down and closed her eyes. Her breathing became slow and focused. It was like her mom was in some kind of trance. Her eyes started blinking rapidly behind her eyelids. Peyton shifted her vision from her mom to the boy and back again. Nothing appeared to be happening when all of sudden the warning signs faded. The red light stopped flashing. Her mom had done it. Peyton looked at her. Her sense of pride filled her mind. Of course, her mom and her implants would get the job done. Then she heard a static sound coming from the machine. She turned back to it only to find a jolt of electricity surging through her moms’ cord. It hit her mom’s body. Her mom shook violently and screamed.
“Mom!” Peyton said, pulling the cord out of the machine. Then she raced toward her parents. “Is she going to be okay?”
Mom fell into her dad’s arms. He placed his finger under his throat and fell silent.
After a few seconds, he informed her. “She still has a pulse. Peyton, call Miranda. We need an ambulance here now!”
Peyton nodded and accessed her commlink. “Miranda, I need an ambulance right away.”
“An ambulance is heading to your location as we speak. ETA will be fifteen minutes.” A cold, emotionless voice answered. “However the boy will not survive without respiratory action.”
“What? Peyton turned toward the boy. The glass lid suddenly opened releasing a gust of cold air.
Miranda explained. “Please, provide the boy with CPR until the emergency technicians arrive at your location in thirteen minutes.”
Peyton nodded, getting up from the ground. She rushed over to the boy, looking inside of the machine. The boy looked somewhat peaceful. His eyes remained closed as if he was still sleeping or dead. Peyton placed her head onto his chest. His skin was so cold. Most importantly, his chest wasn’t moving. He wasn’t breathing. The machine wasn’t breathing for him either. His heart was still beating yet very slowly. Nonetheless, Miranda was right. He needed CPR.
She took off his helmet and mask. Then Peyton titled his head back a little. She quickly put her hands together, one top of the other. Then she pressed down hard and fast onto the middle of the boy’s chest. She put her body weight into it. She did it at least a hundred times. Then she delivered two rescue breaths by breathing into the boy’s mouth while pinching his nose. His chest rose. Then she continued the compression. Peyton repeated the action. With each breath she gave, more doubt grew in her mind. What if the boy was already dead?
No! Peyton couldn’t believe it. She could still save him. She pressed a little harder as tears streamed down her cheeks. Stop it! This is no time for tears. I can still save him.
The boy suddenly gasped, taking in a huge gulp of air. His brown eyes opened, looking up at her. He looked confused. “Peyton?”
What? How do you know my name? Why are you speaking Mandarin?” Peyton asked furiously but the boy’s eyes rolled back of his head. He fell out of consciousness. Peyton quickly placed her finger underneath his throat. She felt he felt the slow tap-tap-tap of his pulse. Good, the boy is still alive.In the distance, sirens were approaching, but Peyton ignored them. She continued staring at the boy, trying to think of his name. Her mind drew a blank. She didn’t know him. One lingering question into her mind. Who the hell are you?