art by Billy Sagulo
Highest Possible Setting
by Em Dupre
Keep me safe, keep me safe, keep me safe, you say over and over and over again. It races through your mind on a single track, like a runaway train of fear, gathering momentum while careening on an ever-downward slope. It is not as if you want to be here, thrust into the controlled chaos of the Big Bad City with its noisy cars and mobs of temporary people. Dislikes aside, you need to eat, need to work, need to survive all on your meager single girl budget. This is a far cry from Grover's Corners indeed, where heliotrope perfumes the air and not the dried urine of bums.
Even your Sentinel is an expense you scrimp to afford. And the clean-shaven salesman with the borrowed suit was so earnest about the tragic tales of a friend of a friend who, parroting the recycled stories that never lead back to anyone real. He recommended the Sentinel and you pretended to consider the option. Fantasy or otherwise, the singular threat lives and breathes, skulking around corners and lurking just out of reach of the feeble light from the mocking streetlamps.
Truly though, buying the software was not a hard decision. The most difficult part was sitting very still as its biometric installation intricately webbed its way through your brain with an eerie crawling sensation. The pain would be worth it, you thought, biting your lip in silent anguish.
The unforgiving media was saturated with feeds and reenactment vids about those girls that are either too trusting or too cheap. The ones without bioware protection; slashed or dirtied, who will never again be quite right. They are found, bloodied and stammering, in a part of town they didn't know existed. The kind of place where stagnant crowds of no ones witness absolutely nothing, and help is a bad word. Where dozens of windows close in spite of the suffocating heat, if only to dampen futile screams currently interrupting their reality shows. Head bowed in submission, the not so pretty anymore girls attempt to hide under a rumpled coat, failing to conceal their anguished faces.