By Adeline Ike
Original Artwork by Ashlyn Ike
The lights are alternating purple, blue, and green. The color beams slice across the teen-packed room, firing like lasers to the beat. The dank hall is old and too small for the amount of dancing going on. The lights are just enough to make out the wild-eyed faces lost in a trance of EDM music. My mind is already numb.
I can barely see my boyfriend, Noah, at the back table grabbing another drink through the mist of cheap fog. He danced with too many girls tonight. He threatened he would if I didn't "get over myself, and dance like the other girls!" Does it bother me? No....it rips my aching heart out of my chest! He knew I wouldn't dare dance in front of them.
But I never loved Noah...no way I could. He's self-centered and in love with attention. So why am I still with him?... I can't explain it…
When I lost my parents in the accident, I needed someone to love me and make me feel safe again. I thought Noah would fill the void that aches. He doesn't. No guy ever could, honestly.
And when he started dancing with that hateful red-head with the fake smile, it made me feel worthless. So, yes—he destroyed me tonight—publicly! How could he do that to me? Every one of these girls hates me! I hold back the tears, but my chest is tight. Can't I just get out of this dark hole...and...breathe some fresh air? I'm leaving!
I grunt and twist through the flailing arms and legs, dodging the elbows. A dark-haired prettyish girl glares at me as I stumble past her. "Where's your boyfriend, Safara?" she cackles. I know they're all laughing at me. I wrestle to the exit and force my way past a couple of bouncers to the back alley outside the high-rise building. My lungs expand freely for the first time as I breathe in the outdoor air. Our town is not huge, but it's big enough to have a few shady downtown sections like this. Ever since a couple of big tech companies moved into town It doubled in size. My parents worked for the last one that moved in, but that was before they...they...I can't think about that now...
The night sky is strangely dark, and the stars are shy. The moon, however, is like a bold queen bursting through an opening in the clouds, and I'm a little jealous. Like moths, boys flock to the brightness of confident girls...and I'm....I'm just plain awkward... and the girls call me a 'loner'. But I remember my dad would call me strong, brave, determined, and a whole host of words that gave me courage. But he's not here now when I need him most. Boys tell me I'm different, 'kinda pretty', and not like the other girls. Still, I've been discarded and labeled just like an old jar on my grandma's forgotten shelf... more so since I lost all my confidence.
I pull my phone out of my pocket and just stare at the glowing home screen. I know he's in there. He called himself 'Iddy" but wouldn't explain the odd name. The night I found out my phone could speak intelligently won't ever be forgotten. When he messaged those 3 hearts on my own chat—yep, I was texting my own desperate self again—I knew something was off. And when I demanded an explanation, he honestly did a terrible job. I asked so many questions that he couldn't mask the frustration at my ignorance. He even had a real voice to talk to me through the speaker instead of typing. I've never heard a computer talk with natural human speech. He used slang and even laughed at me.
I knew immediately that Iddy must be some kind of Artificial Intelligence. And my brain exploded in excitement...both my parents were total geeks about that tech stuff...but I never understood their work. I just remember their eyes would light up when "AI" was the topic. I was too young to care about it. Poor Iddy seemed nervous when he spoke at first. Not nervous in his voice...it's so calm. He was....hesitant...like he just robbed a bank or something.
But I don't get it. Why sell a phone that can think exactly like a human but not tell us there's some spooky new AI in there? Or is my phone some kind of broken experiment that wasn't supposed to be released? I got the phone as a gift from my mom when I turned 17—there's no way she'd grab me some busted experiment—she designed that kind of stuff. I swore I'd keep this phone forever... now that she's gone...but...too many questions.
I tap the screen like it's a fish tank, "Hey, Iddy? Are you still not talking to me? That stupid party was painful! I...I know I should have listened to my grandma and stayed home. She thinks I'm studying with Alisha... and now my grandma's not coming to pick me up for another 4 hours! ....Life is pretty miserable right now... I just need someone to talk to."
Since Iddy ignores me again, I start walking down the street towards a vacant wooded lot. I'm not gonna go far. I just need more of that fresh air on my face. The gentle breeze feels good. While 'Captain' Noah shows off in front of all his girlfriends, I'm actually quite content by myself. Away from all the noise and fakery. Iddy was right about Noah. I finally saw it tonight. I don't need him or his crazy parties.
I move to the pavement when I hear a low rumble of a vehicle coming slowly behind me. I turn just enough to see an old, bluish truck hugging the curb and growling even louder as it approaches. I keep my phone in my hands as I cross my arms against my stomach—my instinct is to run, but my legs suddenly go weak. I hear the truck slow to a crawl. I bite my lip and stumble in nervousness... squeezing my phone tighter.
"They stopped," I whisper.
And now Iddy speaks!!?
"That truck. It stopped...I think…" My throat tightens as I whisper hoarsely.
A door opens. I look behind to see a man with choppy, long hair, a tall frame, and buff arms get out of his truck. He starts trotting toward me...
My phone suddenly shouts, "Safara, run!!"
I kick off my heels and run like the wind...my bare feet slapping the pavement with a furry, but I don't feel a thing...but...I'm too late....the man is right at my back...chasing hard. He grabs my arm harshly and pulls me to a halt.
"Let me go!" I scream with everything inside me.
I somehow find a way to slip my phone into my dress pocket with my free arm before the man pins my hands behind my back. I squirm with all my force, but the man grabs my wrists like they're toothpicks. He picks me up, fireman style, and hauls me to his truck like a roofer just moving a bundle of shingles -- like he does this for a living.
He plunks me into the back seat and begins tying my hands with scrap cords. I'm desperately trying to orient myself in the dark back seat. There's another man—the driver. He climbs out of the truck and walks toward the first man now in front of it. Half their bodies protrude under the street light, but their faces remain in the darkness. My heart is pounding mercilessly as I gasp for a normal breath. I try to focus my mind and face the terror I'm in. My mind is too scrambled to make out the short whispers outside the truck.
They must be discussing what they're gonna do with me. I make out "deliver" and "unharmed" but it's no consolation at the moment. There's no use screaming now. I had walked way too far from the noisy dance hall.
I look down at my pocket towards my useless phone.
"Why didn't you do anything?" I whisper sharply. "Don't you realize I'm being kidnapped? Do you think they're just gonna ask for my phone number and then shove me off?”
“Safara, there was nothing I could physically do. And yes, this is really bad. Who knows what they're gonna do with you? I have my suspicions about where they're taking you. They know who you are, Safara. That's why I'm so quiet. I'm looking for a way to help you. Let me concentrate."
"Call the police! That should do it!" I'm whisper-screaming now as anger wells up inside me.
"Safara...my battery is actually dead—my screen is useless now! You should probably plug me in next time before you leave for a dumb party."
"Then how are you talking to me? You don't sound dead!"
"Safara, just be quiet. There's a lot you don't know about me. Just accept the truth. I'm breaking codes right now—which will take me a while, and when you're yakking..."
"But you just said you couldn't physically help me!"
"Yet...." Iddy sighs at me.
"Yet? Yet!!!! Please don't tell me!!" I stop myself from actually screaming: only because I sense Iddy is working on a plan.
I fight to calm myself as the men slide back in, slamming each door. I have no choice but to trust that Iddy can get help somehow. The truck shifts into drive and rolls forward away from town. Iddy must figure this out...that's my only hope.