Active memory, p.1
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       Active Memory, p.1

           Dan Wells
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Active Memory


  This book is dedicated to the OG: Ada Lovelace.

  She wrote the world’s first computer program, so long

  ago that computers were only theoretical and computer

  languages didn’t even exist. Our entire world is built on

  the dreams of a young woman who had a cool idea and

  invented the future. Don’t let anyone tell you

  that you can’t be just as great.





























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  About the Author

  Books by Dan Wells



  About the Publisher


  Mario Fortino Alfonso Moreno Reyes High School was lit with a swarm of beautiful floating lanterns: solar-powered LED lights attached to large Mylar balloons, neutrally buoyant so they hung in the air, and just barely smart enough to maneuver back to their designated spot if an errant gust of wind came by and blew them out of position. Or, Marisa supposed, if an errant high school boy came by and jerked them out of position on purpose. Which was probably more likely. She was seventeen herself, and prided herself on knowing everything she possibly could, but if there was one thing she’d never understand, it was high school boys.

  “How much do you think those cost?” asked Marisa’s father, looking at the lights through the window of their autocab.

  “It’s a special night,” said Marisa. “It’s the science fair.”

  “It’s called STEAM Power,” said Pati, Marisa’s twelve-year-old sister. You could hear the capitalization in the way she said it. “Science, technology, engineering, art, and math. It’s everything.”

  Gabi snorted. “It’s just a science fair.” She was two years older than Pati, and much harder to impress. “Why are we even here?”

  “Your brother has a nuli in this science fair,” said their father. “None of you have ever built a nuli.”

  Marisa rolled her eyes. “It’s not a competition, Papi.”

  “Of course it’s a competition,” he said. “There’s a prize and everything.”

  “I mean between your children.”

  “It’s not a science fair,” Pati insisted. “It’s a robotics show and a hack-off and Gama said there was going to be a nuli fight—”

  “It’s not a hack-off,” said Gabi. “The school’s not going to let people just hack into stuff on school property.”

  “Mari does it all the time,” said Pati.

  “She’d better not,” said their father.

  “Ay, que niña,” said Marisa, “cállate.”

  “Apologize to your sister,” said their father.

  “Yeah,” said Marisa, “apologize.”

  He scowled. “I meant you, morena!”

  Pati looked at Marisa smugly. “We don’t say ‘cállate,’ remember?”

  “Fine,” said Marisa, “I’m sorry. In Spanish: lo siento. In Chinese: bi zui.”

  Marisa’s father gave her a suspicious look from the corner of his eye. He didn’t speak Chinese, so he didn’t know she’d told her sister to shut up, but she could tell from his eyes that he suspected.

  “There’s not going to be nuli fights, either,” said Gabi. “It’s just going to be, como, fifty boys standing next to some dumb little robots they made.”

  “And fifty girls,” said Marisa.

  “Who cares about them?” asked Gabi. “I’m only related to one of the boys, which leaves forty-nine who want to tell me all about their projects.”

  “High school boys,” said Marisa with disgust. “You can have ’em.”

  “I intend to.”

  “My ears!” shouted their father. “Can you at least wait until you’re out of the car?”

  The autocab pulled to a stop by the curb, and slid its doors open with a rickety clatter. Normally they wouldn’t have bothered with a cab at all, but their father was still recovering from surgery—a liver replacement—and while he could walk well enough, the doctors didn’t want him doing so very often. So, the cheapest possible autocab it was. Marisa climbed out, adjusted her T-shirt—the Intruders, her favorite new Nigerian metal band—and looked at the school. Her school, though she studied from home more often than not. She braced her metal arm against the doorframe, and reached back in with her flesh one. Her father took it, and she hauled him to his feet with a grunt. The joints and servos in her metal arm—a slim, elegant prosthetic—handled the exertion with perfection but left a row of tiny divots in the cab’s flimsy roof. Whatever. She shook her head and helped Gabi pull the medical nuli out as well.

  “Triste Chango,” said her father. “I hate that thing.”

  The phrase meant “stupid monkey,” more or less, but it had become the family’s name for the medical nuli. Marisa smiled and patted its top. “It’s keeping you alive, Papi. You don’t want to pop a stitch or get infected, do you?”

  He shook out a foldable cane and started walking slowly toward the high school doors. “I don’t need a babysitter.” Triste Chango followed eagerly after him, emergency equipment at the ready.

  Pati and Gabi climbed out of the cab, and Marisa blinked on the payment link in her djinni UI, a soft glow the computer implant displayed around the edges of her vision. She didn’t have much in her own account, but their mom had given her enough to cover the autocab fare. It asked for a tip, which she gleefully declined, and drove itself away with a high-pitched squeal somewhere in the engine.

  “That’s why teenagers don’t care about anything,” said Marisa, taking Pati’s hand as they followed their father into the school. Pati, like Marisa, was dressed in black jeans and a black T-shirt. “Like, a hundred people just saw us get out of that thing, and if I cared what they thought I would literally die. Not caring about things is the best.”

  “Ugh, you’re so stupid,” said Gabi.

  Marisa smiled at Pati. “See?”

  The LED sign over the big front doors had been modified for the fair, and announced the name “STEAM Power” in bright yellow letters. The hallway inside was lined with trophies and news articles—most of them about sports rather than science—and several people waved at them as they made their way to the cafeteria where the projects were on display. Los Angeles was huge—the largest city in the world, in surface area if not in population—but Mirador was a tight-knit community, and most people were at least passingly acquainted with everyone else. Thanks to their restaurant, the Carnesecas were even better known than most.

  “Buenas tardes, Carlo Magno!” An older man waved jovially at Marisa’s father, and put his hands on his hips as if appraising a cut of beef in a butcher shop. “You look good. Recovering well.”

  “Thank you, Beto.” Carlo Magno smiled, and Marisa saw the genuine gratitude on his face as he stopped to talk. He liked to pretend he was a picture of health, but tonight was going to put him flat on his back.

  “Come on,” said Pati, and pulled on Marisa’s hand. “Let’s find Sandro! Have you seen his nuli? It’s amazing!”

  “I’ve seen it,” said Marisa, “Our bedrooms are right next to each other.” Still, she let herself be pulled forward.
Gabi had already disappeared.

  “Wait!” said Carlo Magno. “Don’t leave me here alone!”

  “You’re not alone,” said Marisa, “you have Triste Chango.”

  “Excuse me?” asked Beto.

  “It’s the nuli,” said Marisa, “not you!” But Pati was already pulling her through the doors into the cafeteria. The tables had been rearranged from long lines into a network of triangles, though Marisa couldn’t immediately see how that made the drab room any nicer to look at or easier to navigate. Each triangular island was covered with STEAM projects, some with posters—the obvious overachievers—but most with simply a nuli or a robot or a monitor showing off some fancy new software. The wall screens had been set to display generic footage of animals and wilderness: the Serengeti, or the Amazon, or the ruins of Old Detroit. The theme of this year’s fair was “City in the Wild,” and most of the projects focused on some aspect of nature, or of LA’s unique symbiosis with it.

  Gabi was standing at a nearby table, wearing her best vest and pleated miniskirt, listening raptly while Jordan Brown explained the new garbage collection algorithm he’d developed for a groundskeeper nuli:

  “It can identify not just more kinds of waste, but it can sort them more efficiently into recyclable categories: food and organics, paper, and even metallic material such as one-sided foil. . . .”

  Marisa left them alone and wandered deeper into the room. Jordan was cute enough, she supposed, but he was also a senior with a handful of incredible scholarship offers. Gabi didn’t stand a chance, but why ruin her dreams?

  A message popped up in her djinni, a little picture of her friend Bao bouncing cheerfully in her field of vision. She blinked on it, and read the text message:

  Three minutes.

  “Chamuco,” she murmured.

  “What?” asked Pati.

  “Apparently Bao’s here,” said Marisa, looking around. Bao was one of her best friends in the world, and one of her most frequent partners in crime. Sometimes literally.

  “Omigosh,” said Pati, her eyes going wide. She’d had a crush on Bao for years. “Do I look good? I didn’t even try to look good—Gabi looks good but I look like I slept under a bridge, what do I do?”

  “You look fine.”

  “I’m wearing a training bra,” said Pati. “Can you tell? Do you think he’ll notice?”

  Marisa laughed. “Bao is way too much of a gentleman to notice a twelve-year-old’s boobs.”

  “But that’s what they’re for!”

  “Ay, Pati, cálmate. Bao loves you—like a sister.”

  “I won’t be twelve forever.”

  “You’ll be five years younger than him forever.”

  “And when I’m twenty that won’t matter anymore.”

  “Fine,” said Marisa, looking back at the crowd. “When you’re twenty and he’s twenty-five, you have my permission to marry him.”

  Pati frowned. “Why do you keep looking all around?”

  “It’s a game Bao and I play,” said Marisa. “He gave me three minutes to find him.”

  “Split up,” said Pati, suddenly laser focused. “We can cover more ground. Go!” She turned and raced into the crowd.

  Another message popped up: No fair using your sister to help look.

  Marisa scanned the crowd again—wherever he was, he was watching her.

  Did you hear what she said? she sent back.


  Thank goodness.

  So he was close enough to see but not hear. Where was he? The ceiling was low, with no balconies or other elevated positions to give him a long-range sight line. Give me a clue.

  I just did, he sent, followed by a picture of a cartoon cat sticking its tongue out.

  Bao was unique among Marisa’s friends in that he didn’t have a djinni—the supercomputer installed directly into your brain, wired seamlessly into your senses and nervous system, and through which you interfaced with almost everything in the world. If he’d had one, she could have simply fed her GPS app his ID and let it lead her straight to him, but without one he was practically a ghost. And that’s the way he wanted it, because he supported his family picking tourists’ pockets.

  She walked as casually as she could past all the nearest tables, but found no smirking Chinese boys hiding under any of them. Where, then?

  She checked her clock: one minute left.

  He could have already moved deeper into the crowd, staying hidden by staying ahead of her—

  Don’t just stand there, he sent.

  He was still watching. He had to be nearby. . . .

  Or maybe not. What better way to stay hidden than to stay out of the room altogether? She looked up again, running her eyes along the edge of the ceiling, and found it: a little black security camera. She made a gun shape with her fingers and pretended to shoot it. Found you.

  With thirteen seconds to spare.

  You broke into the principal’s office?

  You make it sound so criminal, sent Bao. I didn’t break in, I let myself in. It’s different.

  That’s not a difference most cops would be willing to consider.

  I prefer that cops don’t consider me at all.

  Then maybe you should stop letting yourself into places.

  And leave all this incriminating footage of me just sitting on the server? I don’t think you’ve thought this through.

  What footage?

  Footage of me breaking in to delete the footage.

  Marisa laughed. Your logic is unassailable.

  I agree, sent Bao. I’m done, though, so I’ll meet you in a minute. Sandro’s table?

  Sounds great. And one more thing.


  Please say something nice about Pati when you see her. She sent the message, started walking, and then almost tripped herself sending a sudden, urgent follow-up: But not about her . . . shirt! Don’t mention her shirt.

  Is something wrong with it?

  Don’t say anything either way. I’d die of embarrassment.

  You’re the boss. A pause, then another message: A weird boss who I don’t understand, but a boss nonetheless. See you soon.

  Marisa looked at the crowd; it seemed like everyone in Mirador was there, but finding Sandro would be easy—he had a djinni. She blinked on her guidance app, and a blue line appeared in front of her, leading her through the crowd. She followed it with a smile. Other kids on every side were hawking their projects like vendors in a street market: this girl had a nuli that cleaned pollution from solar trees, improving their energy transfer rate; that boy had a small-scale factory robot with a new kind of joint that required less maintenance. Marisa stopped by one of the tables and read through her friend Rosa’s new code for a ranger nuli—the kind that followed endangered species around and protected them from poachers. Rosa Sanchez, eighteen years old and living in the barrio, had modified the AI to start actively hunting the poachers instead of just passively shocking them anytime they got too close. It had the potential to change the entire balance of power between poachers and rangers.

  Everything in the room was amazing, and Marisa felt a swell of pride for her friends and neighbors. This was the future, right here and now. A hundred kids with big ideas, and a room full of people telling them yes instead of no. It was the greatest thing Marisa had ever seen.

  She found her brother Sandro by the back wall, telling the crowd about his forestry nuli. He had a poster, because of course he did.

  “Just like animals, plants can get sick,” Sandro was saying, “and when they do, it can spread through an ecosystem like wildfire. A single parasite, like the blight you see in this image, can destroy an entire orchard or forest in weeks.” He held up a screen with a picture of a tree; massive patches of the leaves were shriveled and black, almost like they’d been burned. “This is called Fire Blight, and it’s caused by a bacterium called Erwinia amylovora, which targets fruit trees. We can spray for it, but the spray is poisonous and gets on everything—the sick leaves, the health
y leaves, and even the fruit. My nuli can sense this bacteria and dozens of other plagues and parasites, and spray for them precisely—with no collateral damage. It patrols its area 24/7, and the precision also means it uses fewer chemicals than traditional methods, so it’s cheaper.”

  The small crowd applauded, and Marisa whooped more loudly than anyone: “Ándale, Sandro! Lechuga!”

  “You know he hates that nickname,” said Bao, suddenly standing next to her. Marisa hadn’t even seen him approach.

  “Why do you think I use it?” she asked, and then started chanting the name loudly: “Le-chu-ga! Le-chu-ga!”

  Sandro looked at her as the crowd moved on to another project. She wanted him to sneer or roll his eyes, but instead he simply raised his eyebrow; he was one year her junior, but always treated her like the younger one.

  “Thanks for coming,” he said.

  “Claro que sí, hermanito. Your presentation was perfect.”

  “You think?”

  “It was great,” said Bao. “Do you have a video to show it in action?”

  “It’s on the tablet,” he said, gesturing with the screen in his hands. “I’m keeping the presentation short for now, but I’ll show it to the judges.”

  “Pop quiz,” said Bao, glancing at Marisa. “What do you call a reptilian ferret with wings?”

  “Those are called MyDragons,” said Marisa. “There’s ads for them all over the city. Why do you ask?”

  “Correct,” said Bao. “If you’ve ever wanted to see one in person, La Princesa has one right over there.” He pointed, and Marisa’s mouth fell open as she looked. There she was: Francisca Maldonado, La Princesa de Mirador, with a bright purple MyDragon perched on her shoulder.

  “They’re here?” asked Marisa. It wasn’t just La Princesa, it was the whole Maldonado family: Omar, Sergio, and in the middle of the group was Don Maldonado himself. The richest man in Mirador; the head of a massive crime family that ran the neighborhood like a personal kingdom. Don Maldonado and Marisa’s father hated each other with an old but ever-burning passion, and that feud had shaped much of Marisa’s life. Worst of all, they refused to even tell her how the feud began.

  Hey, Mari. It was a new message, bouncing at the edge of Marisa’s vision in a window she never closed: a private conversation with her best friend, Sahara. Don’t look now, but your favorite people are here.

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