Of course Crux had let Harrow ride in the front seat, even though Gideon had totally called shotgun when they picked up the rental limo at the airport. Harrow had shot her an ice-cold I don’t fucking think so look and moved with the unstoppable force of the glaciers that had no doubt spawned her and gotten in the front seat anyway. Crux had taken the time to cuss Gideon out in his gargling-rocks way, which had been kind of funny for once. The worst he could do to her now was leave her at the airport, but since she didn’t want to run around the five-terminal mess looking for the right bullet train to take her to Canaan’s main campus she just stared at him and grinned until he wound down and slouched his way over to the driver’s seat with ill grace.
Gideon flipped him off behind his back, then took a last look around the airport. As Mainland buildings go it looked too much like the Antarctic research facility she’d grown up in to hold much interest. Long, blue-lit rooms with low ceilings and aluminum furniture, people walking around with Things to Do and Places to Go that were important and interesting. Even the servitors were the same brand, though most of the robots working in the airport were bipedal, which was stupid. The four- and six-legged variety they owned down at the south pole had been way more practical. Not that Gideon had owned much, really. Even the trust fund in her name was inaccessible to her until she turned twenty-one. Which was in three fuckin’ days, hallelujah and praise the Merciful World Leader whose banking system hadn’t collapsed yet.
Gideon felt a gentle tug on the strap of her grey canvas duffel bag and turned, surprised to find a servitor offering to take it for her. These biped models moved quietly, damn. “I got this, homeboy,” she told it, shooing the pseudo person away. It had a creepy blank face painted on it that was no doubt supposed to make it look more professional or friendly but just gave you the impression that it was two twitches away from drawing a knife and pursuing you (quietly) down the hall as you ran screaming. “You just load up Harrow’s shit in the trunk. My bag’s riding with me.”
Harrow, of course, had a full set of matched luggage. Black. With matte black clasps and only the silver H. N. monograms on the handles to tell it apart from all the other fancy bland boring-ass suitcases in this place. Gideon’s bag had been one of the few things that she was sure her parents had owned before they died in a freak blizzard, and she’d crawl through a blizzard of her own before she let anyone take it away. Harrow, on the other hand, had bought all-new everything when they enrolled. Probably because she had no soul or feelings, Gideon figured. It would explain her chosen ‘look’ for university. Harrow had sneered at her and called it ‘gothic lolita’ and said it was in fashion with the robotics crew. Gideon had replied that that made sense since it made her look like a freaky animatronic doll.
“Nav,” came the soulless being’s voice from behind her.
Gideon did a smooth pirouette and smiled at the barely-cracked window that concealed her nemesis. “Yes, Dark Princess of the South?”
“Get in the car,” Harrow’s voice answered, low and menacing, “or we will run over your foot as we leave.”
“Harsh.” Gideon shifted her bag and pulled open her door, though. Crux would no doubt love to run over her foot as a final punishment, justified in his mind by her constant tendency to do things like exist and breathe his air . She shoved the heavy, lumpy canvas sack into the seat and climbed in next to it. Perversely, the seat restraints decided to recognize her bag as a person too because the soft belts that snaked out to secure her to the seat were matched by another pair that criss-crossed her bag, holding it in place with a safe mechanical hug.
She adjusted her jacket under her own seatbelts. Her shades were in the inner pocket and the belt was squishing them against her boob. Harrow had gone all in black for the aesthetic, but Gideon had ordered all black clothes because what even was fashion? She had black jeans, black track shoes, black T-shirts and a black leather jacket. Everything matched, laundry day would be easy. The only thing that wasn’t black was her socks. She had gone a bit crazy, there. But people couldn’t see her socks under the long pants so the only colour she was showing off was her short red hair, slicked back to keep it out of her eyes.
“Just think,” Gideon said brightly, stretching out her legs to let her feet rest on the bottom of Harrow’s seat back, “one last duty, Crux, and I’ll be out of your life forever!”
“What do you know of duty,” Crux grouched, peering myopically at the navigation panel on the car’s dash. His gnarled finger hovered above the glass as he pecked out the address for the campus. “You’ve been nothing but a burden your entire life, when you could have been useful. This is your last chance to make something of yourself, but you’ll doubtless piss it away…”
Gideon stopped listening, instead slowly flexing her legs to make Harrow’s chair rock. Just enough that Crux wouldn’t notice. Harrow pretended to ignore her. Gideon dug her toes into the back of Harrow’s seat, a bit higher, and off-center, trying to prod her back through the thick synthetic foam. As the car hummed to life and pulled away from the curb, though, she planted her feet on the floor and leaned forward to peer eagerly through the window.
Her first impression of Mainland as they cleared the terminal’s parking lineup was one of distance, and the kind of perspective you only saw in the 3d vids. The facility she had grown up in had very few windows, since there was nothing worth looking at outside in the antarctic. On the few occasions she had gone outside, perspective was impossible. Was a chunk of ice a distant boulder? A small but close-up rock? Impossible to know and even harder to care. But here there were things like lampposts and cars and more cars, holy shit. A fat freight dirigible blocked half the sky to her right and behind her the air was split with a low, resentful scream as a jet took off down a runway. The limo merged into traffic like a pebble in a landslide, heading for the highway. The airport was a hive of activity and she had never seen such a crowd outside of shows, which gave the whole scene a surreal feel, like none of it was really happening. She pinched her own leg, hard, to make sure she wasn’t just dreaming again.
The view was cut off as they took the ramp up onto the highway and the high grey walls blocked her view of the world. She was about to sit back and poke Harrow again when the walls suddenly lit up, projecting a huge face that filled her vision and made her yell in surprise like an idiot.
“It’s an advertisement, Griddle,” Harrow’s voice came, long-suffering, from the front seat.
“It’s on the wall ,” Gideon protested. She craned her neck and saw that as people drove, adds flickered to life on the walls of the highway, keeping pace with the cars. The initial image that had freaked her out - the close up of the Leader’s benign face with the words WELCOME TO MAINLAND and YOU WILL OBEY LAWS AND REGULATIONS - was soon replaced with what could only be an add for some kind of recreational drug, because a bunch of unfairly attractive young women were laughing and eating salads while wearing yoga gear in some kind of garden. One of them hugged another one. “God, I wish that was me,” she muttered.
The next add made her heart pound for a different reason. She grinned, pressing her nose to the window as the wall flashed through a series of short cuts showing athletic young men and women kicking ass at their various sports: jousting, climbing, shooting, wrestling, fencing. The last closeup was of a wicked cool babe in a sensuit locked in virtual combat, her light sword piercing a target a millisecond before the logo of the Canaan Cavaliers burst onto the screen.
Gideon was intensely aware of the tightly-rolled nanosword shoved into a boot at the bottom of her pack. Her hands itched to hold it again, to flick the power on and watch it snap erect so fast the tip broke the sound barrier. The whip-crack on , the hum of deadly, the feel of the molecule-thick edge biting into the air, sending up wafts of ozone that glowed lightning blue as she swung it. It was her most prized possession in the world.
The fact that the nanosword was super illegal was just a bonus.
“I bet the fitness room is sick,” she said absently, staring through an add about radiation cream as her mind wandered back to the little pamphlet the school had sent them. There had been tons of paperwork, too, but the pamphlet had pictures so she had actually read it. “I can’t wait to be a Cavalier.”
“It will be a tragic mistake,” Crux grated, “for the distinguished halls of Canaan University to be represented at the meets by a miserable failure like you.”
“Blow it out your ass, Crux,” Gideon said, but without heat. She was still savouring the mental image. It was so close now. She took a deep breath, steadying her pulse, forcing her fists to unclench the way Crux’s goddamn sphincter never would. “I’m already guaranteed a shot at it. My dad was a Cav back in his day.”
Harrow grunted acknowledgement, which was weird. Gideon had thought she was trying to ignore her during their last moments together. “He was,” she said again, always poking for a reaction. Pissing off Harrow was the only benefit of living near her. She may as well get her last few licks in before parting ways forever, blessed be, hallelujah. “A super awesome one. And I’m gonna be even better. All the hot bitches’ll be lining up to check me out.”
“That is the most -” Crux began, but stilled immediately as a pale hand appeared from in front of the shotgun seat to touch his arm.
“Leave it, Crux,” Harrow said quietly.
“Yeah, Crux,” Gideon agreed, drunk with the power of no longer giving a fuck. “For once in your life let me enjoy a thought. You’re not gonna be able to piss all over my parades in another eight minutes,” she added, noting the ETA on the dash screen.
She leaned back in her seat again, flexing her legs against Harrow’s seat back to vent her nervous energy. “You excited, Harrowhark? Imagining life without me around? Already planning out how to win at school?”
From the front seat came a quiet voice, calm and dry as the grave. “Yes.”
Gideon rolled her eyes and looked back out the window. Robot Harrow confirmed. Abandoning the attempt at conversation, she began to sing 99 bottles of beer on the wall, just loud enough for them to hear.
She got to 45 bottles before they finally took the exit to Canaan U’s main campus.