The black letters scrawled across JT’s hand read “Service unavailable,” just as they had since the moment he left the Ralan Underhill. Sarah Parker laughed. “Core worlders. Most of your nanotats are incompatible with the local nets. Fortunately, John picked up something for you to use while you’re with us.” She handed JT a…
Tablet? What was this? The World War Era? Was he supposed to play pixel games and watch videos of cats with it? How did this thing work?
“Just tap it,” said Sarah, “fingerprint it, and tell it who you are. You’ll be on our access account.”
He sat at the Parkers’ kitchen table and played with the tablet, giving it his fingerprints and telling it his name. Once the device realized JT was, at least temporarily, a part of the Parker family, it automatically connected to Amargosa’s internet.
And what a pathetic excuse for an internet it was. The rugby scores were two days old. The news feeds had just now caught up with the rest of the Compact. Even then, there were gaps. He wondered if people here thought the Polygamy Wars still raged between Deseret and her colonies. As he spotted John Parker’s primitive runabout pulling into the yard outside, he thought it was likely.
“Hi, Earth Man.” The girl appeared almost out of thin air, probably sneaking up behind him before dropping into the seat next to him. Those ice blue eyes proceeded to devour him. “I’m Lizzy.”
JT looked up from his tablet with its stale news and balky interface. “JT Austin. Apparently, I live here now.”
“Bet you’re glad to get away from that dump.”
Since his arrival, JT had spent almost all his time decoupled from a working internet, doing work best handled by robots prowling converted skyscrapers, and riding around in cars that could not drive themselves. Granted, his mother owned manual-drive cars, but they were status symbols, ones JT had been all too happy to pilfer for his own use. Here, people actually got around in these things. And electric? Manually driven? It was a wonder no one died in crashes here. Then again, he’d only been on the planet for a day. For all he knew, death by vehicle crash happened all the time. It would certainly explain the sparse population. “I was trying to get to Tian.”
“Oooh, I’d love to go there someday.” The look in Lizzy’s eyes told him she wouldn’t mind if she went there with him.
He shook away the thought. “Well, I may still get there. Just not the way I planned.”
“And how did you plan to get there?”
“Illegally.” John Parker stepped around JT and kissed his daughter on the head. “I see you’re getting to know our guest pretty well. JT, how was your first day of farm work?”
“Painful,” said JT, studying his tablet. It wanted him to setup accounts for mail, voice and image communication, and preferred data streaming services. He ignored these requests in favor of skimming the stale news feeds. Riots had broken out on Jefivah. Apparently, the Compact wanted to shut down a colony recently set aside for the local sex goddess cult, and the faithful were not having it. JT decided he would look these zealots up if they resided on Tian. He looked up at Lizzy, met her gaze. Her eyes had grown large, and she seemed to glow. Normally, JT would respond by saying all the right things to lure her away someplace quiet while he convinced her he was at least three years older than he was. With Lizzy’s parents in the room, he decided instead to move on to the sports feeds.
“Sorry we don’t have up-to-the-minute news from the rest of the Compact,” said Mr. Parker. “Then again, you already know we’re too busy to watch it constantly anyway.”
“How do you do work like that day in and day out?”
“You get used to it. Builds muscle. Builds character.”
Some of the hands JT had worked with were characters all right. As for muscle, he found out today just how many he actually had. Even his eyelids were stiff.
“The governor’s office told me you’re quite the hacker,” said Parker. “I may have need for that. Ever have to deal with wayward AI equipment?”
Did he? Well, if that meant convincing artificially intelligent security systems and transports to do his bidding, then he supposed that could be called “wayward.” After all, it was a matter of convincing a machine with rudimentary consciousness to do what he wanted. “I’m usually the wayward part of the equation.”
“Good.” Parker’s lips pressed into a flat smile. “Some of these tractbots get a bit ornery and stubborn. If they were smarter, they could figure out on their own what we want from them. But if they were smarter…”
“Boom.” JT made the shape of a large explosion by spreading his hands apart as he spoke. “I know all about the end of the World Wars, sir.”
Parker flashed a toothy grin. “No wonder you wanted to leave.”
JT still had no idea what everyone was talking about. The presence of running water and hot showers out here on the plains surprised him, and yet they seemed to think he was from a developing world like Jefivah, a backwater that had been “developing” since the day the first surveyors landed centuries ago.