GROND: The Raven High
Publication date: February 28th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
In the year 2086, Earth is exhausted. The seas have been emptied, the bedrock and soil stripped of their resources, and the superheated atmosphere churns with terrible storms. Those who can afford to do so live in the limbo of virtual reality, and the billions who suffer in poverty have no work, no clean water, and no security from the chaos.
The only hope for those trapped on a dying Earth are the Changed—the seven bioengineered post-humans who work in their separate manufacturing facilities orbiting high above the planet. Raised from birth for their work and fully matured at ten years old, their genius provides the nanomaterials that have begun to cleanse Earth of the pollutants that have wiped out almost the entire ecosphere.
But for Olga Voronov, youngest of the Changed, the isolation and endless toil are not the greatest of her challenges. Down on Earth there are those who resent and fear her talents—and would prefer that humanity not be given the second chance that only she could make possible …
CHAPTER NINE: ROCK ’N ROLL
…The stage under Olga’s feet disappeared. Now she was balancing on thin steel rope stretched between the two skyscrapers. The girl kept her balance, clasping the guitar. Somewhere not far her rivals balanced on similar ropes, but she didn’t think about them. She fully concentrated on the music. It was an old and familiar standard—Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower.” Olga struck the first chords and trotted over the rope toward the roof of the far skyscraper.
Thousands of eyes in the auditorium watched the contestants swaying on their tightropes with guitars in their hands. The audience commented on the proceedings, made bets, and enjoyed themselves. However, Olga didn’t see or hear that. The all-important thing for her now was to move forward, step by step, and to play with the proper cadence and precision.
Hendrix was followed by Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.” And that was when a drawn-out howl broke loose. The Mohawk had bungled a chord, received several strong electric shocks, and fallen screaming from the tightrope.
Olga had made it halfway across her tightrope when Metallica was replaced by ZZ-Top. She missed a note at the beginning of “Concrete and Steel” and the pain very nearly sent her down. Bending backward at her waist to shift her center of gravity and regain her, Olga cursed herself. How could she mess up such a simple riff?
In five minutes she reached the end of the rope and stood on the roof of the skyscraper. The black man in the military uniform and the cyborg with a striped torso were waiting for her there. The last to come across was the Japanese girl. On the final portion of the rope she came close to falling as she butchered the guitar solo from the Beatles’ “Let It Be.”
After a second’s pause, the skyscraper disappeared. Now they stood on an emerald green lawn dotted with purple wildflowers. In the distance a large stop road sign with a finish inscription stuck up from the grass. What was the catch? Olga’s eyes magnified by tenfold. Ah, there it was! Thin steel wires stretched here and there fifteen centimeters above the grass.
Olga advanced across the grass, now playing Pink Floyd’s “Сomfortably Numb.” She spotted small clumps of raised turf here and there. Obviously the grass had been dug up with a spade and put back again, though not very neatly. More mines. Olga clenched her teeth and walked on. Her intense search for mines partially distracted her from Gilmore’s solo and cost her several shocks, but she continued her progress.
The Japanese girl in front of her vanished in a flash and clouds of gray smoke. The shockwave tore at Olga’s internal organs; she lost her balance and fell to the grass. Electric shocks pierced her body, but she didn’t hurry to recover her guitar. It was vital not to trip a wire—the shock of the exploding mine could kill her in real life as well as the Matrix.
The electric shops intensified, but she stoically withstood them. The guitar’s neck was entangled in a wire. Olga kneeled and with utter caution lowered the guitar just a little to free the neck out. The striped cyborg stood at the finish line, hoping to see another blast.
“You won’t get it from me!” Olga said through her teeth.
But her rival got her wish when a mine erupted on her left. Olga didn’t look back. Slowly and cautiously, stepping over suspicious places, she advanced until her hand touched the finish sign, the mined meadow disappeared, and she was again in the club arena. Olga and the striped girl sized up each other with incinerating stares.
“The two strongest remain!” the master of ceremonies said. “Now our beautiful winners are ready for the final round!”…