THE STARLING


CHAPTER ONE

Malika sits with her feet dangling off the edge of a wooden platform, perched high in the canopy of the Forest in the Sky.

She is beginning to grow accustomed to the ominous mood of the Forest at dusk, the smell of pine and the creaking moans of the towering Redwood trees that comprise the eastern border of the Starling Territory.

Her new home.

It’s beautiful in its way she supposes.

The sunset casts a melancholy glow over the vast metropolis sprawling across the Valley floor a mile below, intensified by the chill mist floating down from the mountains that loom above the horizon.

Or perhaps it just seems melancholy to her.

It all looks so small and insignificant from up here, she thinks. The Advanced Metropolis and its tall phallic buildings poking up above the clouds, buzzing with their supposedly advanced technologies.

Her father used to always say that the technologies used in the Federation were primitive compared to what was truly possible.

He would pluck a flower off a tree, waive it in her face and exclaim, “Look how marvelous it is! The beauty of it — the patterns — it’s mindblowing. Think of the power of nature. We will never be able to match such complexity with our man-made inventions. Life is the greatest of all technologies.”

“It’s as if he always knew I belonged up here,” says Malika softly. “He knew so much, predicted so much. Why couldn’t he have predicted his own disappearance?”

Water wells up suddenly in her eyes, and she clenches her fists and grinds her teeth, but she can’t stop them from coming. The tears pour down her cheeks.

Her chest tightens and her breathing grows strained, telltale signs of an impending panic attack. She sighs and whispers, “launch Bionic App Store.”

A transparent screen materializes in the air in front of her. Dancing on the screen is a holographic menu featuring the week’s Most Popular bionic apps. At the top of the list is an app called Commune.

“Search store,” she says, ignoring the featured product. She knows what she needs. “Find Fockitall.”

A moving hologram of a beefy leather-clad man on an air-bike pops onto her screen. The man jeers and makes a lewd gesture with his left hand, while the words Fockitall, developed by MegaCorp float beneath him.

Malika hesitates, wondering whether she really needs the app again. Her mom told her to stop app-doping so much.

The beefy man revs his engine, as if goading her on.

Malika blinks the tears out of her eyes. “If Mom really cared,” she says softly, “she would have come to visit by now. She has no room to talk anyway — she just sits around all day, doping herself into oblivion.”

“Install!” says Malika all of a sudden, and in that instant, her tears dry up, her breathing clears and the aching in her chest fades away.