It wasn’t the first time Kade had hacked the Venusian maintenance system, but it was one of the best. If he had to put a number on it–and there was very little he didn’t put a number on–he’d give it a 9.7. He checked the cable leading from his tablet to the blocky computer box embedded in the burnt orange mountainside. Connection: serviceable.
Tamika leaned over to inspect his work. “Hey,” she said. “What do you think our real bodies are like?”
Kade tightened his grip on the cable, causing a nearby rock to flicker. The dust around it swirled to match. “I… imagine you look the same, and I look like a person instead of a gargoyle,” he said. “But, hey, no complaints. I hear Mercury’s princess designed her social companion to be a purple unicorn.”
Tamika blushed, and Kade’s gaze dropped to his tablet. He knew his human body didn’t look anything like his current one–no stony skin, no clawed hands. But he’d been controlling this robotic body all day every day since he was five. Telling him he had a flesh-and-blood body on Earth was like telling him he had a distant cousin on Pluto. A fun but ultimately useless fact.
He flicked his right wing, bringing an overlay of glowing text into view. Ninety-eight more seconds for the code to run. Current time: 17:03:34. He’d checked the time twenty-three seconds ago, but whenever he wasn’t reading data, he felt lost. The overseeing adults called it unhealthy. Healthy people could watch a sunset without calculating its luminosity every thirty seconds.
Healthy people sounded boring.
“Kade,” Tamika whispered. “Something’s coming.”
Kade froze and scanned the area. His sensors detected a deep clunk-clunk echoing across Venus’s stone-hard surface. Low volume, maybe twenty to thirty decibels. He hoped it was only a patrol robot, but it was coming too quickly, its steps too out of sync for an AI-controlled machine.
Kade rushed through the last of his commands, and a thick metal door appeared in the center of mountainside. They had to do this fast.
Tamika examined the rocky pillars around them while Kade disconnected his tablet and gathered up his gear. The computerized robots would merely escort them home. The adults would question why they were hiding in the middle of nowhere. If he couldn’t think of a good excuse–
“It can’t be an adult,” he muttered. “It can’t be. They’re already off Venus for the night.”
Tamika glanced nervously over her shoulder. “Technically, I think Mr. Johnson had his curfew extended by an hour.”
“Seriously?” Kade asked, almost spilling the tablet and cables. “Why didn’t you bring this up earlier?”
“You just said to come meet you here! I didn’t know you were plotting something!”
“I’m always plotting something!”
Tamika groaned, grabbed him by the arm, and bolted for the mountainside door. With a grunt, she yanked it open, dragging him inside with her. “Close it!” she ordered.
Kade nodded. Now that his program was healthily installed in the local hardware, getting it to do what he wanted was easy. With a few pre-programmed hand gestures, the augmented reality (or AR) he’d worked his butt off to disable came back into place. The door’s color changed, looking more and more like the orange rock around it until it blended in completely. The illusion was so perfect, in fact, that even when he stroked it, he couldn’t feel the door’s edge. Tamika stepped up and ran her brown human-looking hand alongside his clawed gray one. The room’s dim lights behind them made long, vague shadows of their arms along the wall.
Beyond the door, the footsteps picked up speed and decibel level until they came to a stop right outside Kade and Tamika’s hiding place. They shuffled around a bit, no doubt in complete confusion. Then a man’s voice gave a loud huff. There was a thud and a pattering of tiny pebbles against the now-invisible door before the footsteps stomped away again.
Oh, right. Kick the dirt. That’s the mature thing to do. Kade threw his hands over his mouth to hold in his laughter. Like any adult could outsmart him. He’d lived his whole life through his bot. Controlling its robotic limbs, even from his sleeping body on Earth, came naturally. Reading its code was like reading a picture book.
To adults, the avatar-bots would never be their “real” bodies. Plugging in to control them would always feel foreign. They’d gotten too used to Earth life.
In other words, they were invaders in Kade’s territory. And no matter how much they tried to keep him and Tamika in line, they were always going to lose.
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