Welcome to the Isulum Empire. Inflation is high, trust in the government is low, and unrest is growing. Here, oligarchs live offshore on superyachts with their pleasure androids, far from tax obligations and the crumbling, crime-ridden city center. The rest of the population retreats into the digital world of Parallel, a sanctuary that offers daily respite from the real world.
Many of Parallel’s users have rallied around the speaker Rita Shor, who challenges the empire’s class division and the injustices faced by women. Shor and her followers adamantly oppose the radical ideologies of another charismatic speaker, Doctor Gagarin Sokolo, who promotes extreme misogyny in an effort to address the empire’s declining birth rate.
Neither Shor nor Sokolo realizes that in the depths of Parallel, a team of hackers is working hard to unite their disparate followers under a singular purpose: to dismantle the Isulum Empire.
As Shor and Sokolo’s lives become further intertwined, the empire’s fate rests in their hands. But the price of victory may prove far greater than they ever imagined.
The stars look like dull old diamonds now, not like when we were young and would lie on the high desert dunes, feeling the chilly northern winds sweep the day’s heat away.
We could trace the swirling ribbon of the universe across the sky, asking each other why God would care about this hot little world on the edge of the Milky Way. How easy it used to be to find the star that, even in total darkness, could guide us back to the Ishti capital, far across the barren sand.
Since the forced migration, since entering the walled, foreign Empire of Isulum, I’ve lost sight of the stars we used to know. All I can see when I look up is an odd, murky hue, darkness saturated with artificial light, arid dust, and smog.
But on nights like this one, when the rolling blackouts sweep through the Diegan Blocks ghetto and the buzz of the neon ads outside of my grimy windows temporarily click off, I can climb to the roof of my apartment to escape the oppressive heat. If I’m lucky, I can catch a glimpse of a dim, winking star or two.
On nights like those, I look up at the stars and wonder, wherever you are, if your soul gazes at the stars too, surprised by how far we’ve gone from heaven.
Tonight, the rolling blackout silenced my rumbling air conditioning unit, allowing the stale hot air to smother my home.
A Waseda android waits with me in the darkness. She waits for the dark to pass and for the police to take me away. The purple Bors mark below her left eye that marks her as inhuman glows dimly, illuminating shadows about the room. Tonight, blood covers my body, adding a regretfully soothing, sticky sensation to my fingers.
It is a strange time to atone, my dear friend Auria, but I know that if my prayers have never before reached the ears of God, you’ll happily receive them. You see, I’ve been staring at my husband’s dead body for an hour now, his Waseda here beside me. And I’ve been too terrified to move.
Q. Turner is a marketing professional for sustainable and renewable energy companies during the day and writes in the evenings.
Specializing in science fiction and short stories inspired by her global travels, Turner has recently penned her debut full-length science fiction novel, "Blood Sacrifice."
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