“From the stage that brought you Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre,” Allyn-a-Dale proclaims before the curtain, “here’s Ever On Word’s original talk show, Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell.”
The curtain rises, the studio audience applauds, and Will Scarlet himself walks smiling and waving onto the bright, cozy set.
“Hullo, everyone! Let’s jump right into it, shall we?” Leading by example, he hops into his armchair. “Allyn, who is our guest character today?”
As the guest enters from the other side of the stage, Allyn says, “Author Rachel Pattinson describes her creation thus:
Just your standard genetically enhanced seventeen-year-old, Anais Finch is a girl who dreams of going above and beyond the limited expectations of her society. But when a mysterious entity known only as ‘the Hacker’ attacks the Imperial City, her hopes are dashed and her best friend is placed in mortal peril. Anais must try and figure out who she can trust, and fast. Time is running out before the Hacker strikes again and this time, Anais might not be able to save everyone she loves.
“Welcome, Anais!” Will greets the girl seated in the chair across from his own. “So glad you could join me. First things first – you look absolutely fabulous. Beyond your wowsome looks, though, have your genetic enhancements provided you with any other cool advantages?”
Anais flashes Will a perfect smile and flicks back her candy floss pink hair. “Thanks for the compliments, Will. Unfortunately, scientists in my city have a pretty one track mind. They’re all into how something looks on the outside, not the inside. So while I don’t have any superpowers or mind reading abilities,” she says, “I can, however, change my looks on a whim. I can change my hair colour, eye colour, get a tattoo, remove a tattoo, add freckles, change my cheekbones, my whole facial structure – even my body mass if I had the money – all at the touch of a button. Ever wondered why people in my city all look pretty much the same, despite their hair and eyes? It’s because everyone wants to look the same.” Anais shakes her head, her pink curls bouncing around her shoulders. “People are weird.”
“Seriously? They can look like anything, and they all basically pick the same thing? I don’t get it! Unless they all want to look like me,” Will reflects. “That, I’d totally get. So, hey – what’s day-to-day life like, in the Imperial City?”
“It’s pretty mundane, to be honest. I get up and have my food delivered via the Food Dispensation Unit, which sounds great but it actually monitors all your vitals and tracks what meals you’ve had, so I can’t binge on chocolate or anything else sweet that you 21st Century people like to eat.”
“Well, that sucks. How do they do that?”
“It’s linked to our ID picochips. Everyone’s every move is monitored by this.” Anais sweeps her long hair back to reveal the tiny picochip that’s been transplanted behind her right ear. “The theory is, there’s not a lot you can get anyway with without someone finding out.” She flashes Will a dangerous smile. “But I’m aiming to test that theory.”
“YEAH, test it!” Will approves. “Start with the chocolate. Stick it to The Man. And then after breakfast—!”
“After breakfast, we have to go to our designated jobs. I’ve just graduated high school and I was placed in the picochip factory.” Anais’ eyes darken. “I wanted to be an architect, and they put me in the picochip factory. Can you believe it?”
“La-a-ame,” Will sympathizes.
She sighs and rolls her eyes. “After a hard day slogging away for barely any money, I’ll take the magnetic train or an auto-cab back home. I might go and see my best friend or something, but that’s about it. You’re not allowed to stay out too late, as the city has a 10pm curfew. If I’m completely honest…”
Anais stops, looking guilty. She bites her lip as though unsure of what to say. Finally she swallows hard and continues. “If I’m completely honest, it’s been…interesting… having this Hacker guy come onto the scene. It’s not a good thing,” she adds quickly. “I don’t endorse what he’s done at all, it’s just that…well, life can be pretty monotonous when everything’s pre-planned for you, so in a way…I think it’s a good thing that things are being shaken up a little bit. People need to wake up and think for themselves, instead of expecting technology to do everything for them. The Hacker has already proved how unreliable our way of life can be – what’s to stop him from going even further? And how can we stop him if he already knows everything about us?”
“Yeah,” Will says thoughtfully. “Yeah, I think I get what you mean. But hey, going back to best friends, since they are one of my favorite things – tell me about yours? (Who I certainly hope survives this Hacker mess I’m hearing about, ‘cause yikes.)”
“Oh gosh, where do I begin?! Dalla is just…amazing. We grew up together, so she’s really more like a sister to me than a best friend – which is strange considering the Imperial City has a strict one-child policy.”
“Meaning I guess they want to be the only Big Brother in town…” Will mutters, chafing at the Imperial City’s long list of restrictions.
“But if I was allowed to have a sister,” Anais continues, “I’d want someone exactly like Dalla. She’s so much fun and so full of life – you know those people that just draw you too them because they’re so loud and cheerful and friendly?”
A fond off-camera chuckle from Allyn. “The Will Scarlets of the world? Yes, we know the sort.”
Anais grins. “That’s Dalla. I genuinely don’t know what I’d do without her. But I have a horrible feeling…” Her voice fades away as she gazes at a point over Will’s shoulder, not really focusing. After a moment, she blinks, but the light has gone out of her eyes. “But I have a horrible feeling,” she says quietly. “That I’m going to find out.”
Will blanches. “Hell. Your author wouldn’t—? Dah, but she’s an author. She totally might. Ah!” He brightens. “But maybe we’ve got the chance for a little persuasion of the blackmail variety. Tell me, Anais, what is your author Rachel’s biggest, deepest, darkest, most mortifying and/or hilarious secret?” He shoots her his best smile. “Unless you’d rather kiss me?”
“Well, Will.” Anais crosses her legs and sits forward, a small smile on her perfect pink lips. Her green eyes glow slightly under the studio lights. “As handsome as you are, normally I wouldn’t hesitate to say yes…”
She reaches forward and lightly caresses his cheek, erasing all thoughts of best friends and blackmail from his mind. She’s inches away from Will’s face, and his breath stirs her pink hair. “However, I do have to admit I have a boyfriend—”
“Aw, doggone it!” Will explodes, thwarted.
“And although we’re going through some…issues…at the moment, I don’t think it would be very fair on him. Maybe another day. Ask me again after Rachel’s written the second book.”
“Noted,” Will says vehemently. “Allyn, note it down!”
Anais sits back in her chair, her eyes alight with mischief. “What was the other option? Oh right, Rachel’s darkest secret. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you all, but my author is unfortunately rather boring. All the exciting stuff happens in her head, but she always plays by the rules in real life. You know that she’s so paranoid about being late for anything, she turns up to work 15 minutes early every day ‘just in case’? She’s mental. However, there is one thing that I know she is completely embarrassed about…she’ll probably kill me off for telling you this, but…” Anais glances furtively around before leaning forward to whisper in Will’s ear, her breath tickling his neck. “She’s got really hairy big toes.”
“No!” says Will, and turns to the camera. “Welp, you heard it here, folks: Rachel Pattinson’s a monkey.”
“Will!” Allyn rebukes.
“I’ll take it back with apologies when I’m assured nobody’s best friends are in danger,” Will says petulantly. “Now Allyn, how ‘bout a quick word from our sponsor?”
“Of all the rude, immature…” Allyn grumbles, then carries on. “Today’s Kiss & Tell segment was brought to you by Rachel Pattinson’s ‘Synthetica’.
Seventeen-year-old Anais Finch lives in a world where everyone is born beautiful, where every dream is a possibility – and where their every move and every piece of personal information is recorded by an ID picochip inserted behind their right ear. When technology giant, Civitas, finally announces the launch of their highly anticipated Scholarly Learning Programs, which allow people to download and learn any subject instantly, Anais can hardly wait.
But not everyone is pleased with society’s progress and not everyone wants to fit in. When Anais witnesses a brutal murder on an innocent citizen and is implicated in the crime, she becomes determined to uncover the truth, especially when others like it begin to occur all over the city. But it may already be too late for Anais to stop the man who calls himself ‘the Hacker’ before he commits his most appalling crime yet.
“Thank you, Allyn,” says Will. “Thanks to you as well, Anais. And thank you, my beautiful audience. Remember, authors – if your characters would like to appear on the show, simply follow the guidelines provided here, and we’ll get them on the schedule. ‘Til next time, lovelies: Scarlet out!”