by Baylee Anne Shlichtman (@paradonic89)
Editor: Tyler Zeoli (@TylerZeoli)
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Everest isn’t supposed to ask questions. As a first of her kind android grief aid, she serves one purpose: to help her loved ones move on by filling the void of the previous Everest, the one whose murder is unsolved. Unfortunately, being accepted as the new Everest isn’t easy when she fails at most social interactions or can’t recall key details from her former life. But when failure comes with the promise of termination, Everest doesn’t have time to waste wondering about the short-comings of her design.
That all changes the day she finds a bird with cameras for eyes spying on her through her bedroom window. The day she’s introduced to Urie.
Seventeen year-old Urie has spent the past four years feeling trapped. That’s how long it’s been since his parents’ dream to revolutionize Infudara died with them. Now he’s the ward of the man responsible, and he attends a high school catering to the prominent families his parents tried to bring down. With their legacy and his own guilt weighing on him, Urie manages by shutting himself off from the rest of the student body—including Everest, the dead-girl turned android.
Then Urie receives a warning: Everest is being spied on. His head tells him not to get involved, but his conscience compels him to act.
The two of them decide to team up to find out who’s watching Everest and why. What starts as a clear-cut investigation quickly muddies as it points toward Everest’s missing memories, the ones surrounding her muder. Then two more girls are killed, and suddenly getting to the truth becomes a matter of life or death. They’ll have to take on the ghosts of Urie’s past and the corporate cover-up at the heart of Everest’s design to find the killer—before they strike again.
AN UNCANNY WIRING is a dual-POV YA sci-fi complete at 92,000 words. It will appeal to readers who love the characterization of Crier in Crier’s War as well as the themes and contemporary feel of The Sound of Stars but in a secondary world setting.
I am a graduate of the University of Southern California with a B.A. in Journalism. My plays have been read or produced by AlterTheatre, the Long Beach Playhouse, The Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, and the Playground Experiment. I am also a #RevPit 2021 winner with this manuscript.
First Five Pages
That black bird from last night was still there. Everest knew for sure because it hadn’t even bothered to move. Actually, it hadn’t done much of anything in the exactly four and three quarter minutes since she’d begun observing it. The bird didn’t cock its head to the side or peck at the branches of the tree it sat in. It didn’t even seem to be breathing.
The only motion was the rhythmic dilation of its too-bright yellow eyes—the fake pupils expanding and contracting like the lenses of a camera.
As a rule, Everest hated being stared at. Unfortunately for her, this bird was staring about as hard as an animatronic could. It made her self-conscious. Under its sterile gaze, her body felt too big and too small at once.
She swallowed past a lump in her throat, willing herself to remain calm. She was being ridiculous. This was probably just the new security measure Father mentioned installing, even if the thing was pointing the wrong way. It was on brand for him, the exact kind of AI he’d been bringing into the home lately: invasive, ineffective, unwanted.
Just like her.
As soon as the thought surfaced, she banished it. That line of thinking wasn’t helping anyone. Not Father, who’d been enthusiastic about her arrival. Not the Limpia Lab engineers, who’d wanted to see their brand new grief aid be a success. Not Mother, who was having a hard time acclimating to her presence enough as it was. Not Everest herself, who needed to prove she was the exact opposite of those things before the end of the trial period.
Everest filed the bad thought away to some place it couldn’t give her trouble, sighing. She’d just managed that, when she heard a noise that made her gears go stiff. Footsteps—and they were headed for her room. Despite some of the tech installed, the Perdita house itself was old, and the floorboards creaked if you weren’t trying hard to be quiet. Quickly, Everest unpressed her face from the oval-shaped window, leaving a smudge where her broad nose had squished against it.
She glanced back at the bird, its metal eyes attentive as ever. Maybe it was a warning. Maybe it meant that someone was coming for her right now.
A knock at her bedroom door made her jump.
“Everest, the driver’s here.” It was just Mother, thank the maker. Not that it could’ve been anyone else after Father had all the live-in staff automated. Still, it wasn’t like Mother to come to her room.
Everest picked up the bag from next to her bed and slung it over one shoulder. She smoothed down her black polo as she made her way to the entryway, all the while telling herself she needed to stop freaking out. When she opened the door, Mother was standing perfectly straight, her posture stiffer than usual with that mauve high-necked dress she’d put on. That was something Everest admired; even though Mother rarely left the house these days, she was always presentable.
It was why Everest didn’t comment on the bags under her eyes.
“It’s alright. I’m ready to go, see?” Everest said, taking a step back to give her mother some room.
Mother put on a thin, strained smile. She hadn’t given a full one once since Everest arrived, but any smile at all was progress. “You’re usually downstairs by now. That’s all. I was a little….” Mother’s voice trailed off as she lowered her black eyes to the floor. She gripped the door frame so hard her knuckles turned white.
Seeing her like this made Everest’s chest ache. She had to try and fix it. She grabbed her mother’s free hand and squeezed. “I’m sorry.” She tried to make the words sound extra-sincere.
It seemed to do the trick. Mother straightened to her full height again, using the doorframe as support. “I’m fine. I don’t know what got into me.”
Even if she didn’t say it, Everest knew that it had to do with her, the android Father had brought home two weeks ago. The android that was designed to replace the other Everest—the one whose murder still went unsolved. Everest knew that was a lot for a person to take in, especially someone who had loved as much as Mother had. Everest had been doing everything she could to make the adjustment smoother, but it wasn’t enough yet. Maybe it never would be.
No, not that again. She couldn’t afford to think that way. This was just a phase, Everest reminded herself. One day Mother would be past this, and they’d be a family again. One day Mother would love her exactly like she used to, and everything would be okay.
The alternative was...well Everest didn’t like to think about that. The engineers made it quite clear the day she arrived that the next two months were a trial period. If Everest’s parents felt she hadn’t done a good enough job as their daughter’s replacement, she’d be decommissioned—a nicer way to say destroyed.
Everest’s thoughts were interrupted as Mother drew in a shaky breath. “Come here.”
For a brief, hopeful second Everest thought her mother might actually give her a hug. Instead, the woman placed a hand under her chin. “I wanted to remind you about dinner tonight with your father’s friends.”
“The Emersons, right?”
“Among others,” Mother said. “Who knows? You might get to see Clarisse.”
The looming threat of decommissioning vanished for the time being as Everest’s insides hummed with warmth. Clarisse Emerson was her best friend. She had a laugh that made you join in and a smile that could make you brave. Sure Everest hadn’t exactly met Clarisse, not outside her memories at least. That didn’t mean she wasn’t her all-time favorite person.
“That would be great,” Everest said.
Mother nodded. “Make sure you’re on your best behavior.” She gestured then to Everest’s entire body. “You don’t want to frighten the guests.”
The momentary blip of excitement collapsed. Everest threaded her hands together. Her mother didn’t mean it, she knew that. That didn’t make it hurt less.
The thin, strained smile returned. “Have a good day at school,” Mother said.
Everest forced herself to smile back. It was the least she could do. “I’ll do my best.” She stepped around her mother and into the long, wooden hall. Oblong painted faces of prominent Perditas past glowered down from their frames as she hurried on, her bag lightly bumping against her thigh. When she made it to the angular staircase, she turned around to give her mother one last wave goodbye.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Everest said as she stepped onto the topmost stair. “We have to tell Father to uninstall the bird-cameras.”
Everest squeezed the corner of the bannister hard. “You know, the new security system. Like the one in the tree outside my window,” Everest explained. She really didn’t have time for this now. She had to get going. “We’ll have to tell him they’re uncomfortable,” she said, flipping the switch beside the flight. That made the whole staircase hum with electricity, like it was coming alive.
Everest stood in place as the stairs carried her to the first floor. As Mother grew farther away, her face was impossible to read. “Honey, we don’t have anything like that,” Mother said. There was something in her eyes. Something that made Everest’s processors rev with anxiety.
Everest frowned. She wasn’t imagining the bird. Her system wasn’t capable of that.
As she stepped into the foggy morning, a chill spread through her that wasn’t from the cold. She glanced back at the tree, hoping the bird wasn’t still staring. If Father wasn’t responsible for it, someone else was.
Someone else was watching.