Cass Armstrong picked up the last stack of T-shirts from the suitcase and placed them in the dresser beside her bed. She put the new one she’d received upon arrival on top of the others. The words “Class of 2054” framed the university logo on the front of the new shirt. Cass slid the drawer shut and flipped the suitcase closed.
“All finished, honey?” Cass’s mother Faye asked.“Yeah, that’s the last of it.”
“Good, we just have to wait for Daddy to bring up the last box from the car.”
Cass’s thirteen-year-old sister, Elena, burst into the room from the dormitory hallway. “This place is so supe, Cass. There are so many kinds of people here. They’re all so different from us. I can’t believe you’re going to live here.”
“Different’s one way to put it,” Faye said.
Cass cringed and looked toward the door, scanning to see if any of her new dorm mates overheard the narrow-minded comments from her sister and mother.
Faye continued, unaware of her eldest daughter’s pained expression. “I still don’t understand why you didn’t choose to attend one of the Sapiens-recommended college programs. They’re fully accredited and all your friends from home are going to one of them. You know the risks you run when you choose a regular university attended by all these others, Cassie. The people here aren’t like us.”
“Mom, keep your voice down, please. You know I can’t get a degree in political science worth a damn at one of the Sapiens’ so-called colleges. I need to go to school here if I’m going to help Daddy with his work.”
Faye started to interrupt Cass, but her daughter kept going.
“You don’t have to worry about me, Mom. I’m not going to go away to college and come home with all sorts of cyber-enhancements like Maggie did.”
“We don’t talk about her anymore, Cass. You know that.” Her mother shuddered at the mention of her niece.
The tone of her mother’s voice stopped Cass. She turned away and straightened her makeup containers on top of the dresser. It was an awkward subject for all of them.
Cass missed Maggie, who was only two years older than herself. The family had disowned both her aunt and her cousin after Maggie returned from college with some embedded electronics and cybernetic skin enhancements. They were relatively minor compared to some, just a few v-tats. They were enhancements nonetheless and Cass’s family’s leadership position in the Sapiens movement required them to shun that branch of her mother’s family.
“I’ll be fine, Mom. Promise.”
“Promise what?” James Armstrong said, entering the dorm room behind Cass.
She turned and smiled at her father. “Hi, Daddy. It’s nothing.” She pointed at the box he carried. “Is that the last thing?”
“Yes, finally.” He set the plastic bin down on the bed.
It contained all of Cass’s newly purchased desk supplies as well as the special-order tablet computer her father bought her for school.
James shook his head and pushed the door closed. He made sure it was latched and scowled as he turned around. “I can’t believe all the damned subs there are in this place, Cassie.”
“Dad, you can’t talk like that,” Cass admonished him. “We’re not in the middle of the compound. You of all people know better than that. You’re the politician after all.”
“Yeah, well, that’s why I shut the door. I can be as politically correct as the next guy when necessary but I’m still a little pissed off that my daughter is going to be living near so many people pretending they’re still human instead of machines.”
“I’ll be fine, Daddy. I told Mom, I have to learn what they’re like if I’m going to help you with your work when I graduate.”
“I know, Cassie, but I don’t have to like it.” James sat down on the bed and checked the old-fashioned analog watch on his wrist. “When did you say your roommate was getting here?”
Cass stammered an answer after an awkward pause. “Uh, she said sometime late this afternoon or this evening. She’s traveling in from visiting relatives out of town I think.”
“It’s such a shame we won’t be able to meet Shelby,” Faye said. “It would be nice to get to know your new roommate. I’d like to know she’s the right kind of person to be sharing a room with you.”
“It’s fine, Mom. I’ve talked to her by face chat several times. I promise she’s not an ax murderer. She’s a really nice girl.”
Elena giggled. “Does that mean you two are going to be girlfriends?” Her sister wrapped her arms around her shoulders and made kissing noises.
Cass started to say something but her mother beat her to it.
“Elena, leave your sister alone. She’ll find someone new when the time is right.” Faye turned to Cass. “I still don’t know why you broke up with Susan. She was such a nice girl and you two could have kept things going. Your father and I liked her and she comes from such a good family.”
Cass groaned. The last thing she wanted was a discussion with her parents about her love life. “Susan and I parted on good terms, Mom. We both decided we didn’t want a long-distance relationship.”
“It’s only long distance because you didn’t choose to go to the same college as Susan,” James said. “You could still change your mind, you know. It’s not too late. You know enrollment in a Sapiens school is guaranteed to children of members. I had a difficult time explaining to our friends why you didn’t choose to go to an approved educational institution.”
“If I’m going to be a politician and lawyer like you, Dad, I need to go to a good school with a program that affords me the opportunities you had. I thought you would’ve understood that by now.”
“I do,” James said. He glanced towards the closed door again. “I just don’t like you being around all these people who aren’t like us. Things were different, safer when I went to school. We didn’t have the opportunities offered to us now.”
“That’s why I’m here, Daddy. I need to see how things are in the world if I’m going to help you bring about change for people like us.”
Cass resisted the urge to bite her lip. She didn’t want her father to see through her lie. While she held some of her parents’ technophobic views about body enhancements using cybernetics, she wasn’t quite as rabid about it. She believed in most of the Sapiens movement’s core values guarding against artificial intelligence’s intrusion into the world. Some of their views were a bit too extreme, though.
The Sapiens movement stood against all uses of artificial intelligence, seeing it as the eventual doom of humanity. Because of that, anyone who received any sort of electronic addition to their bodies, whether medically necessary or merely cosmetic, was considered less than fully human anymore. Most add-ons included cybernetic implants connecting to the Mantle.
The Mantle was an overarching artificial intelligence network that offered connectivity to all robots and cybernetic devices. It allowed autonomous robots to operate and navigate in a complex three-dimensional human world. For connected humans, it was an exponential leap beyond the simpler internet of the early twenty-first century.
That was why James and many members of conservative organizations like the Sapiens movement referred to all people with such connected enhancements as “subs,” short for sub-human. It was considered a derogatory term by most, but in Sapiens’ circles and especially in their sheltered and gated enclaves, it was accepted as normal.
Cass glanced at the watch her father gave her on her twelfth birthday, a battery-operated analog model from a different age. It was later than she thought and things were going to be cut a little too close with Shelby’s arrival if she didn’t hurry things along.
“Hey, I’ve got an orientation thing to go to this afternoon. Is it all right if I finish putting away the rest of my things myself? I can unpack the remaining boxes. You all can go ahead and head on home.”
“Are you sure?” her mom asked. She crossed the room and put an arm around Cass’s shoulders. “We don’t mind staying here and finishing up while you go to your thing. Maybe we’ll get a chance to meet Shelby, if she gets here before we leave—”
“Um, no, really, that’s all right,” Cass interrupted her mom. “Like I said, I’m pretty sure Shelby will be here much later. She’s coming from quite a distance. You guys should get on the road. You’ll all want to get home in good time.”
“Cassie’s right,” her father said. “It’s time for our girl to step out on her own, Faye. We need to let her do her own thing.”
“Thanks, Dad. Really, I’ll make sure to call all of you tonight and tell you about everything I learned at orientation. We can face chat when I get back to my room later or maybe tomorrow if it’s too late.”
Cass’s mom looked disappointed and didn’t hide it well. She smiled and gave Cass a big hug. Her father did the same.
Elena came over and hugged her big sister, too. As she leaned in, Elena whispered in her ear. “If you find a hot, new girlfriend, make sure you let me know first.”
“Don’t worry, Elena. You’ll be the first person I tell.”
Cass smiled as her mom, sister, and father all turned to leave. She remembered at the last minute to grab her new room key from the desktop. The plastic card was her pass not only to get into the building and her room, it also was used to access the other facilities and buildings on campus. If she forgot it, or lost it, the dorm monitor would charge her account to let her back into the room.
She slid the card into the back pocket of her shorts and pulled the door closed as she followed her parents out into the hallway.
Outside, in front of the dorm, lines of cars waited behind those unloading all the incoming freshmen’s luggage and personal items. Seeing the backup, Cass was glad she’d convinced her parents to get here early, for several reasons.
Cass stopped at the curb beside their car. Elena jumped in the back of her dad’s official company sedan, already slipping on her headphones and pulling up something on her tablet to watch.
“Goodbye, pumpkin,” James said as he hugged her. “I’m proud of you for stepping out like this. Risk-takers are just the kind of people our movement needs right now. When you graduate, the company will be proud to hire you.”
James Armstrong’s company provided consulting and lobbying support to Sapiens’ political candidates around the country.
Cass nodded and smiled at her father’s words. “Thanks, Dad. I’ll do my best.”
She waved as her mom and dad got in the car and drove from the parking lot. Cass followed the car with her eyes until it was out of sight, leaving her alone and on her own for the first time in her life.
She smiled and looked around at her new classmates. Her father was right. It was a bit of a shock to see the few people with cyber enhancements all mixing with normal people like herself. All of the add-ons she saw were voluntary and mostly cosmetic. It had become quite the fashion statement for some people, although they were still very much in the minority, even here on a progressive university campus full of young people.
Cass went back into the dorm and returned to her room to finish unpacking. She thought her parents would never leave. They seemed to be dragging out the whole move-in process on purpose despite her best efforts to hurry them along.
She accomplished the mission of the day, though. She got them on the road home several hours before Shelby’s scheduled arrival. That was important. Cass didn’t really have an orientation meeting that afternoon. It was scheduled for much later that evening after dinner. The real reason her parents needed to leave had to do with her new roommate, Shelby Moore.
Cass knew from the first time she saw her prospective roommate via a private face chat that her father and mother definitely wouldn’t approve of Shelby.