In a lot of ways, iD was very hard to write. vN was far more successful than I could reasonably hope for, and I felt a lot of pressure to make lightning strike twice. On the other hand, I felt as though I had taken Amy as far as she could go, in terms of perspective. She had always been more interesting to me as a conversation between two people, and now that her duality was resolved I wanted to give someone else a turn.
When I made the choice to write from Javier’s perspective, I knew I would be writing a darker, sadder, weirder book. When Amy sees something unjust, she reacts with righteous indignation. When Javier sees it, he shrugs and moves on. He’s a different guy, with a different history. So his approach is a bit more jaded. On the other hand, Javier’s failsafe is intact. He loves humans even when they don’t deserve it — even when he knows they don’t deserve it. So while he’s cynical about them, he’s easily taken in by them. I’m sure you’ve felt this way about at least one person you’ve slept with.
Javier’s journey through the book takes him from Amy’s island (which he refers to as the Great Elder Bot) to his birthplace of Costa Rica, to a patented winter wonderland, to Las Vegas, and to Mecha, the only “safe” place for vN to live. But before all that happens, this happens first:
Together, they closed the distance between his garden and the nearest arterial in a single leap. They didn’t even bother running. They bounded. Three feet, five feet, until the dark trees became one black blur. As they ran, the trees grew. Javier heard their leaves rustle as they expanded, thinning, creating cover. They jumped, and Javier saw the diamond tree straight ahead, far at the other end of the thoroughfare. They were running straight for home. All over the island, a mist began to rise.
“Hey, is this shit explosive, too?”
Amy didn’t answer. She pounded down the thoroughfare, running faster and faster, her hands like blades, her knees at a perfect right angle to her hips. She tucked her them into her stomach as they sailed over the heads of the other vN. As they cleared the canopy of mist, two other figures joined them.
“Go back to your treehouse, Xavier,” Amy said.
“Sorry, lady,” his oldest, Ignacio, said, “but you’re not our mother and you don’t tell us what to do.”
They dropped into the mist. They jumped again, and Ricci was there, with Gabriel and Léon.
“Hi, Dad,” Léon said.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he said. “You’re iterating.”
“Never stopped you, did it?”
Léon took to the air. Javier followed. Beneath his feet, beneath the mist, the island was changing shape. The arteries folded down onto each other, forming a single black arrowhead. It was the basic defensive posture the island assumed whenever it or Amy perceived a possible threat. The diamond tree loomed large in his vision. Amy sprinted forward. He and the boys stopped short at the beach, but she ran straight across the water. Her feet barely disturbed its surface. She leapt into the tree and landed in its fork, arms raised. Her skin was full of rainbows.
Beneath his feet, the island shuddered.
“You sure know how to pick ‘em,” Ignacio said.
Javier bolted for home. He jumped from the beach and landed awkwardly in the water. The membrane caught him and he waded the rest of the way. The water was frustratingly heavy; he felt more tired than he should have by the time he made it to their little island. Amy had slid down the tree by then, and she stood with her back to him. Her fingers twitched angrily at her sides. She and the island were deep in damage control mode.
“What’s going on?” Javier asked.
She answered him with a question: “Above or below?”
“Above, or below. Pick one. We can go down, or we can bring it up. Where would you like to go?”
His mind simulated several outcomes to both choices. He thought of a hole opening in the island’s flesh and himself sliding down into it. He thought of the weakness of human flesh, and the pressure, and the bends. “How far below was it?”
“Not that far.”
He insinuated himself into her field of vision. “Are there humans on that sub?”
She blinked. “I’m not sure.”
“You could kill them, if you bring them up too fast. If they’ve been too deep for too long. The p-pressure c-could-”
Now it was her turn to kiss him. It was very light and very quick, but it shut him and the failsafe down completely. When his eyes opened, Amy’s smile was all too bright. Her eyes were all too sad. He recognized the expression. She wore it when all the other vN on the island manifested their failsafe. It was pity.
“It’s probably automated,” she was saying. “It’s navigating by algorithm. That’s why I didn’t catch it, sooner.”
He couldn’t help himself. He had to ask. “You’re sure?”
He watched her pity turn to frustration. It displayed as a slight crinkling at corners of her eyes, an almost imperceptible line between her brows that, unlike those of human women, would never become permanent.
“I would never show you something that might trigger you. You know that.”
Beyond them, the ocean bubbled and foamed. Her expression changed again: anticipation. Whatever Amy had trapped down there, it was coming up. She raised one hand, waved slightly, and a murmuration of botflies swarmed above them.
“I’ll prove it,” she said. “I’m hacking the flies. That way, everybody can watch.”
She hopped out of the tree, and he followed. The flies shadowed them high above as they crossed the island. The bubbling had turned to an active churn. Whatever was coming was big. Big enough, he suspected, to sustain human life.
“Put it back,” he said.
“I know what I’m doing.” She looked over her shoulder at him. Then she looked up at the botflies. Her gaze rested on him again, and she spoke loudly and clearly enough for the flies to hear. “It came here, not the other way around. It’s an intruder. We have every right to investigate.”
“There are people in there-”
“You don’t know that, Javier.” She turned back to the sea, and the thing she’d raised from its depths.
It had a shape: long and tubular, but not rigid, not a perfect cylinder. Jointed. Serpentine. Organic. And as Amy raised her hands and lifted it from the water, it twitched and thrashed like a living thing. Something pallid and glistening dimpled and puckered across its surface as it writhed. Skin. Maybe even vN skin, Javier thought. They could use it like leather, these days. Rigid lines of scaffold beneath its surface popped into relief at it twisted, creating a series of random triangles under the skin. A dazzle pattern, Javier realized. Anti-sonar.
“Oh, that’s brilliant,” Amy murmured.
“What in the fucking fuck?”
Javier turned. Ignacio and his brothers were there, lips pulled back in identical expressions of disgust.
“Que bicho feo,” Xavier said, and jumped five feet high to get a better view. His brothers followed, and Javier joined them. From the air, the thing did look a bit like an uncut dick, or maybe like a fifty-foot dick-shaped toy from some enterprising silicone fabber. The dazzle pattern reminded him of something else, though. Old wireframe animation, he realized, upon landing. How quaint.
Then one of its frames popped open. A wet, stale smell permeated the beach. vN started pouring out. He could tell by the way they moved: smooth and perfect and uniform. They wore wetsuits. They carried guns. Javier smelled puke rounds.
“¡Levántate!” His boys followed him into the air at maximum leap. Amy stood her ground, head cocked, staring at the invaders.
She leapt, but her gaze never left the other vN. They were an Asian-styled male model, probably all clademates, a pretty bishounen-type with long hands and long hair and the same full lips most all vN had no matter their other characteristics. DSL, a prison warden had once told Javier. Dick Sucking Lips.
Those same lips squished back pleasantly when Javier’s feet landed on them from ten feet up. It was satisfying, being able to hit back for once.
The vN dropped his gun, covered his ruined face, and crumpled to the ground. Javier grabbed the gun, primed it, and shot him between the shoulder blades. Glittering black smoke rose from the widening hole in his back. His hands left his face and he rushed Javier. Javier swung the gun like a baton, but the other vN caught it and then they were wrestling for it, pushing and pulling across the cool, wet sand. Javier dug his toes in and jumped. He slammed the other vN up against the bicho. Behind him, he heard Xavier yelp with surprise. He wanted to turn and look, but didn’t.
“Who sent you?” Javier asked.
The other vN tried baring his teeth, but some of them were gone. He pushed hard against the gun like an old guy struggling with a chest press. The hole inside him was growing. Stinging smoke rose between them.
“Aw, fuck it,” the other vN spat, and dropped his grip on the gun. Javier fell forward, landing square on the other guy’s fist. He slumped into the sea monster, briefly tasting iron and fat as he slid down its warm, twitching surface. Jesus. It really was organic.
Then he heard a click behind his head. Then there was nothing.