I wish I had been born with built in wifi. Or rather, when my mom rebuilt the entirety of my decaying right side with top of the line, experimental cyborg tech, I wish she had also included unlimited data.
I suppose I shouldn't complain. While I was unlucky to be born with half my organs nonfunctioning, I was conveniently born into a rich family with the world's leading Doctor in organic/AI hybridization and former CEO of Carbon Copy, Gita Reyes.
Even so…the flight from Stayer to Delmoun is long. I wish I had wifi.
Delmoun sends the ship to pick us up right at our residence. We wait as the sleek aircraft hovers, then lands in our driveway.
“The first of many hospitality tips and tricks,” my father assures me.
Dwayne Reyes has a square jaw, wide nose, dark skin, and a dimple on his right cheek when he smiles. His hair is braided back, like mine, and his dark eyes shine with intelligence, and what he considers humor.
People say we look alike. Additionally, neither of us grew past 5’2”, though my curvy, augmented frame is much stronger than his slim, runners build. I might have a dimple too, if my nanoskin wasn't made to mirror my left side exactly. My round face is the only visible characteristic I inherited from my mom.
Dad and I are dressed in our casual uniforms, trousers with knee high boots, laced professionally to the top, tunics belted at the waist. All in green, black, and gold, of course, the colors of the Stayer flag. I wear my diplomatic seal ring on a gold braided cord hanging from my belt. It's an old tradition, and no longer enforced, but… I think it looks really cool.
Dad wears his on a chain around his neck, hidden beneath the layers of the uniform. A minor elevation in his pulse informs me that he is nervous about traveling to Delmoun again. Nervous but excited.
Before the Glitch, caused by a malfunction in the Carbon Copy patented age-ware, and the subsequent Overflow of '40, Delmoun and Stayer were political besties. Dwayne Reyes, Stayer's Secretary of State, frequently visited to oversee transport of Mech replacements. But seeing as my mom sold the tech that killed millions, and my father was the one who brought it over, it’s understandable that tensions between our countries are high. This trade deal is a big deal, to say the least.
I begged and begged my dad to let me join him on this neo-maiden voyage, as they call it, to reconnect with our former trading partner.
"What's my job?" Dad tests me, hands fidgeting.
"The deal," I recite, "is for Stayer to purchase the recyclables and metal scraps from Delmoun's landfill."
Stayer takes pride in our recycling plants, the largest in the world. A nifty shift in our international economic contribution since our main export was banned in most countries. If we can seal this contract, it could not only reopen the Stayer borders, but offer certain freedoms as well for…well…for people like me. To be honest, I also just really, really needed to get out of the house.
Three years ago, when the Glitch killed thousands of hybrid’s using Carbon Copy tech, and anti-cyborg tensions were at an all time high, my parents pulled me from school and began my lessons at home. I have some of the smartest teachers in the world, but it doesn’t make up for a class size of one.
"And what's your job?" Dad cuts into my thoughts.
It takes all of my super strength to refrain from rolling my eyes. "My job is to speak Deilic like a native, and not get into trouble."
I don't foresee any personal danger on this international field trip. But even so, I downloaded a few instructionals on self defense into my head before takeoff.
When the Delmounian ship door hisses open, Dad boards first, then I follow. The rest of our team is already on board.
I wave at the gangly brunette glued to the window, Sam Henson, a family friend, and my linguistics tutor. She’s also the only person on board this ship, besides my father, that knows I’m a cyborg.
These days not many people in Stayer learn Deilic, the native language of Delmoun. My father had to coerce Sam to come out of her four year retirement and act as our Lead Translator. She waves back at me nervously, fiddling with the polka dotted ribbon at the end of her braid, then returns to the window. I look around.
The shiny ship looks clean and white and expensive. The seats are all individuals and come with a prewarmed blanket and a cool gel pack for our eyes. Two attendants appear on either side of me, one with a tray of small cakes and the other with a mimosa.
“No thank you,” I refuse in formal Deilic. “I am only twenty years old.”
Constance Kerry, former investigative journalist, turned lawyer, turned Head of Negotiations, snags the mimosa from the attendant and offers it to me with a sly grin.
“Drinking age in Delmoun is sixteen.” Constance holds the glass out to me. The honey orange of the drink matches her painted nails.
I take the glass and immediately feel my dad’s gaze on my neck. A slight strain on Constance’s temple tells me she feels it too.
“Oh wow, look at the nice view of this wall over here.” Constance’s voice trails as she ditches me, taking the drink with her. I laugh.
The pretty interior looks so different from the sturdy build of everything back home. Everything is white, like it’s specifically designed to look like a spaceship. There’s a wide open space in the center for commingling, and a few window seats along the walls for when anyone tires. The ride is so smooth, I barely noticed it moving. I thought I’d be bored, but I'm getting excited.
And yet, one can only stare out a window for so many hours. I shut the blinds and sit in a meditative pose. I review the saved, but unprocessed information in my head.
Accessing a file is very similar to remembering something. I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to recreate the grammar page on gerunds in Deilic.
A rattle of turbulence on the airship distracts me, and a paragraph on the budding ACMOD organization pops into my head. I ignore it and open the window shutter to look outside.
The floating country of Delmoun is a sight to behold, a stunning display of earth hovering miles above the dusty leftovers of Lower Delmoun; the locals call it the Mantle. My records indicate few living organisms still live on the Mantle.
After the Glitch, Delmoun outlawed cyborg and mech replacements on any organism. The Delmounian government shut down their borders and transferred massive funds into growing organic parts and organs as well as research on healthy, reliable transplants. Citizens with pre existing mech were granted exception, but those who could afford to replace their parts with organics, did.
The defective and discarded parts were sent to the Landfill, the crater carved out of the Mantle when they raised the Upper Crust. While any kindergartener could tell you the landfill was an unsustainable means of waste management, though maybe not in those exact words, it should have lasted a lot longer than it did. The crater met its limit and the junk poured out, crushing homes, ending lives, and disrupting the delicate order of life below.
… At least that’s what I read. There isn't much written about the Mantle since all the main ongoings and innovations happen above.
We are less than a hundred kilometers away now. In the middle of the capital province, I can make out the round, navy blue landing pad on top of the Stayer Embassy building.
The Stayer Embassy building is the fourth tallest liveable structure in Delmoun, my brain reminds me. The tiny green dots must be our welcoming party.
My eyes drift past the embassy to the edge of their world. Trees line the precarious cliffs of Delmoun like a manicured fence. From there, moving inwards, Delmoun grows more industrial.
The city builds upward, like it’s reaching for something. Every home, every store, every corporate facility rises higher and higher as though worshiping the capital, stationed in the center of it all. The spires and spindly buttresses make Delmoun look like one great castle.
"Aubrey," my dad interrupts in broken Deilic, "shouldn’t you be studying?"
I press my red resin headband down, and offer my dad a cute smile.
"I am studying architecture." I respond, my accent heavy, but my grammar on point. "I could have studied more if you didn’t block the wifi."
I repeat myself in Staykar and my dad laughs.
“Ah but now everyone is forced to talk to each other.” Dwayne smiles. “Except for you. You should be studying.”
Dad winks and holds his hand up for our signature handshake.
My fake smile actualizes as I fist bump dad's palm and zig-zag my hand away like an electric shock.
The loudspeaker encourages us to take our seats for a prompt grounding. I hear boosters and stabilizers working in unison to ensure a soft landing.
The doors hiss and slide open. Retractable stairs roll out from their cubby and hit the ground. Red carpet layers on top of the steps and continues to roll out, stopping in front of the high heeled Head of Hospitality and the other four members of the Reception Committee.
From my position aboard the ship, I can just make out the leader’s nameplate, Mx. Ho.
Dad's security exits first, then dad, then his entourage, myself included. Mx. Ho greets us. That warm smile and those anime eyes disarm me, a face meant for hospitality. Their shiny black hair ties into a long ponytail that reaches their waist.
When formally greeting another, it is Delmounian custom to place one's right hand over their heart, then move the same hand behind their back and bow. Mx. Ho chooses to follow the Stayer custom of shaking each of our hands. They start with my father, the most senior of the group, and make their way back to me.
Mx. Ho and I exchange our greetings.
In perfect Deilic, I say, "thank you for your kind greetings. I am Aubrey, the junior translator for this delegation."
Their soft expression snaps to excitement.
"A junior!" They clap their hands together, "is this your first trip?"
Mx. Ho's excitement infects me.
I nod vigorously, "Yes, I have vacationed in other countries prior to this, however this is my first, um, my first international job. To be a part of the first Delmoun-Stayer Trade Agreement in three years is a great honor."
The Reception Committee guides our group inside. Mx. Ho offers me a skinny arm to take. We link arms and walk. I take mental snapshots of everything to review and ruminate in my downtime.
"So, Junior, tell me what you're most looking forward to." Their perfume smells like the hyacinths lining our path to the embassy.
Hyacinth, the national flower of Delmoun, my brain reminds me.
"Well, Mx. Ho-"
They wave me off. "Please. Call me Tally. Consider me your elder sibling and mentor."
Someone holds the door for us. The lobby hurts my eyes. Sparkles in the white marble floors glitter everytime I move. The silver sconces and diamond chandelier throw light in every crevice that the natural lighting from the windows miss. Glare from the polished silver frames vye for my attention. The oil paintings inside look dark in comparison, as though absorbing the excess of light.
Inside the frames, paintings depicting great moments between Delmoun and Stayer hang dauntingly, like a challenge. A fresh tarp covers the penultimate portrait, and an empty frame awaits the new Trade Agreement.
"I enjoy traveling a lot.” I continue, lowering the brightness on my right side vision. “On my travels, I like to visit the local shops. I hope to bring home a souvenir unique to Delmoun.”
“How romantic!” Tally replies. “I’ll have to show you a few of my favorite shops when you have some free time to explore.”
The Stayer group splits up as attendants take us to our rooms. Tally takes me to the fifth level out of seven.
Tally hands me my room key and makes sure I am able to open my door, and find the facilities, and work the tv remote, and so on and so forth until I could confidently give a tour to the next team of international delegates.
When Tally finally leaves me to my own devices, I fall onto the bed, burrito myself in the comforter, and promptly fall asleep.