As teen cyberpsychic Jaden Emory entered the Tamlando Detention Center, he pulled hiscrocheted cap down over his dreadlocks so that it covered hisgleamingcybernetic implants. A sea of police officers and addicts stood between him and the addiction cells on the far sideof the complex.Time to get to work,” Jaden muttered, blowing air out of his mouth and stepping into thegray maze of corridors. A slim redhead in a lemon-colored jogging suit with her hands cuffedtogether in front of her slipped him a shy smile.Instinctively he smiled back, flashing her his trademark insouciantgrin. Jaden’s tall, lanky frame, huge, white-boy dreads, and big, glossy brown eyes tended to get him noticed.By girls in particular.Jaden wiped the cocky smile off his face,abashed. What had he been thinking? This girlmight just be “noticing” him, but she might also be smiling because she remembered himfrom his past. His somewhat shady past. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, his one-more-strike-and-we’re-locking-you-up-and-throwing-away-the-key past.He picked up his pace, ambling forward a little faster and letting his breath out. As his team leader, Kim could make him come to the T.D.C., but she couldn’t make himlinger. He’d pop in, do his job, and leave. He’d only stay long enough to split away theaddict’s vice,then he was out of there. When he finally paused outside addiction cell #642,trepidationgave way to anticipation. Hisfingers tingled as he removed his cap and stuffed it into the back pocket of his jeans. Who would be waiting for him behind that door?Back at the Splitter Center, where he lived and handled his run-of-the-mill assignments, he’dprobably be facing forty-five minutes with some mom addicted to Twinkies who’d beenturned in by a caring family member concerned about her carbohydrate obsession. Here atthe Tamlando Detention Center, he was probably facing a violent offender. An alcoholic,perhaps, or a drug addict. He rubbed his palms on his jeans. Kim knew heabhorredcomingdown to the T.D.C., so it had to be a tough case, something she only trusted to him. If he werelucky, maybe he’d get to split a sex addict, or even a psychopath who killed for his addiction.Just beyond that door, guards were probably poised to strike with blast-cannons at theoffender’s first false move.God, the year 2157 was stupid. Well, time to find out.Jaden exhaledaudibly and passed his hand over the security lock. The door whooshed open.Jaden frowned. No burly guards. No state-of-the-art firepower. Just a blue-haired teenagegirl and her parents.The girl broodedover the pink laces on her bright orange shoes, carefully avoiding the sterngazes of the scowling couple that flanked her like skyscrapers.Her scraggly blueberry-colored pigtails bounced when she looked up. Jaden saw a spark of recognition in her eyes, then a flash of dread. As soon as he saw her face, he felt just asdistressedhimself. But he had acompellingreasonto be upset by her presence here—why should she care about seeing him again?Jaden ambled forward and extended his hand. “Hey, good to see you again, Ally,” he lied. Ithadn’t even been three weeks ago that he’d cured the vivaciousraver of her music addiction. Any splitter who was at alladroit would only require a single session to cure a patient. Sincehe was thirteen, none of Jaden’s patients had required second treatments. Five perfect years,and now this. Ally furrowedher brow in mock confusion. “Um, have we met or something?” she asked,shaking his hand without getting up. Jaden sensed that if she had tried to get up, hermother’s well-manicured claw would have come down on her shoulder.“Uh, whoa, I think—,” Jaden began.
Ally’s aqua eyes beseechedhim tocorroborateher pretense of ignorance. Jaden had no idea why she didn’t want him to talk about their previous session, but this was fine by him. Thelast thing he needed right now was The Corporation giving him static about arecidivistshowing up.“Oh, sorry. I thought so at first, but you just look a lot like someone I used to know,” saidJaden. Ally perked up. “Was she cute?” Ally’s fatherinterceded.“Alan Fayre,” he said. He shook Jaden’s handperfunctorily ,looking with disapproval at Jaden’s mammoth mane of dreadlocks, then wiped his hand on hisexpensive suit. Ally’s mother looked on, a pained expression of exasperationpressed into herdelicate features. Mr. Fayre didn’t introduce her.“Can we just get on with this? I’d like to have her fixed before the press catches wind of herarrest. We’re from Upper Management, you know.”“Oh, yeah, no problem, bro,” Jaden said, noting how Ally’s father talked about her as if she wasn’t even in the room. “Let me justperuse
your file a moment, Miss . . . Ally.” He brushedhis hand across one of the empty white walls and the wall turned into a computer terminalthat allowed him to pull up Ally’s record. “Got busted at a rave last night, huh? Was it killer?”“Uh, yeah?” Ally said, her tone implying that it was a stupid question. Ally’s mother cleared her throat. Ally’s gaze darted toward the sound. “I mean yes, Splitter—”“Emory,” Jaden finished for her. “You can just call me Jaden if you want, though,” he said,smiling. At eighteen, he was only older than Ally by a year, tops, and it didn’t feel right for herto call him by his formal title, especially not on their second meeting.Mr. Fayre sighed. “Well, ‘just Jaden,’ or ‘dude,’ or whatever you call yourself according to thestuntedargot you teenagers speak, can you fix her or not?”“Uh, your daughter’s not broken, Mr. Fayre. She just needs a little extra help in the willpowerdepartment.” Jaden was beginning to seriously dislike Mr. Fayre. “Uh, so if you’ll both beleaving, I can get started right away.” He presented the door with aflourish. Ally’s parents took one last disapproving look at his hair and huffed out.The second the door slid shut, Ally boltedfrom her chair and started pacing the roomnervously. “Man, you’re good. They totally bought that. Thanks for not narcing on me.Though I guess that’s pretty ironic, considering that you actually are a cybernarc.” Her bluepigtails bounced in time with herfreneticmotions.“Um, I beg your pardon, Miss,” Jaden began. The Corporation frequently monitored thesplitting rooms, and the last thing he needed was for some auditor to overhear theirconversation and show up on his doorstep.“I mean, thanks for telling them we hadn’t met before, you goofball,” Ally said.“But we haven’t.” Jaden winked at her from under his mop of dreads. Ally rolled her eyes. “Trying to teach me a lesson, I see. What else should I expect from acybernarc?”“Um, I think if we could just focus on the reason you’re here, which I believe is to help youleave behind this time-wasting, unproductive addiction you have to music?” Jaden rolled hiseyes at the sound of his own voice. He tried to soundingenuous,spouting the corporatescript he’d been trained to use, but he’d never been especially adeptat reciting Corporationpolicy. He tried to improve, but no matter what he did, his real personality always colored the words the wrong way and made them soundasinine.“I’ve got a better idea,” she said. “Why don’t you leave my mind alone and just tell my parents you ‘fixed’ me? I promise I’ll be good from now on.” She batted her eyelashes.Jaden glanced around the room suspiciously, then took a chance and blurted out, almostunder his breath, “Wait a minute, bro. When you came to me three weeks ago, all you wanted was to be cured of your addiction. You saw it as aliability . Which it is. What’s your problemnow?”“I am. The world is. I need—” Ally twirled in a circle, her arms outstretched, herazureminiskirt whipping up “—my music.”
Jaden summoned all theforbearancehe couldmuster. He’d never heard music himself, of course, but all addicts tended to beg to keep their vices when they werecoercedinto asplitting session. He knew he should beinuredto thesupplicationandrationalizationby now, but it stilltriedhis patience.“You know you can’t go on like this, bro,” Jaden said, pushing his dreads out of his eyes. “If you could, you, like, wouldn’t be here.”“I’ve just got to get better at not getting caught,” she said.“Well, you’d better be flippin’ outstanding at not getting caught,” Jaden said, “’cause the nexttime you are, they’re going to pink-slip you for sure. Trust me, bro—you don’t want to end upin the Unemployed Zone.” Ally shuddered and wrapped her arms around her waist. “Fine,” she said,capitulating. “Let’s just get this over with.”Jaden nodded as he took off his braided poncho and slung it on the back of the chair. Addictstended to come around when he talked about the Unemployed Zone. Okay, so he didn’t know firsthand how bad the Unemployed Zone was, but he’d read the corporate briefing. Once he’deven been to Fort Miami, the gateway to the U.Z. Beyond that well-fortified barrier,civilization ended and addiction began. As he skimmed his fingertips across the wall console again, the splitting chair in the corner whirred to life, its low rumble almost a purr. Ally sat in the chair. Jaden strapped her in, and with a few more swipes at the console, thechair adjusted to fit Ally’s body. The three-pronged splitterprobeascendedfrom the chair torest along the back of her neck.“This won’t hurt,” Jaden said, touching a button on the console. “You may feel a slight . . .pressure.” A long thin needle slid out of the device andembeddeditself into her spinalcolumn. Ally’s mind burst into colors and shapes in front of him, a visual representation of what wasgoing on inside of her head. Jaden was asynesthete, and his senses got all mixed up fromtime to time, but he could sense things others couldn’t. When he received his first cyberneticimplants at thirteen, he could jack into other people’s minds and see their personalities asshapes and flashes of color. When he was jacked in, he could see people’s addictions as if they had a solid mass. He could even manipulate these shapes and split off the bad parts of anaddict’s personality. This was the essence of his work as a splitter. He was a drug dealer whohad been turned into a drug counselor. Ally didn’t know it, but in Jaden’s eyes her inner world swirled neon green, awash with pink and gold spheres and cubes. He guided his mind through the images, through her mind, untilhe found the place where he had constructed a wall around her vice the last time. Instead of the thick brick wall, he found her music addiction, which glowed aniridescent blue. Only afew crumbled bricks remained at the bottom. But something didn’t seem right. The wallhadn’t crumbled; it was as if it had exploded from within. He’d heard about vice walls built by incompetentsplitters occasionally springing leaks, but this was no leak. The entire wallhad beenannihilated.He’d have toponderthe whys and wherefores of this problem later. The task at hand was toreconstructthe wall. Jaden moved his arms around through the air as if conducting, and in asense, he was. He was guiding the shapes and sounds of Ally’s mind through the paths hedesired. It was tricky work, but after about half an hour’s effort, Ally was good as new. Better,even. She’d no longer have the distraction of an all-consuming addiction to mess up her life.She could return to her upscale house andelitehigh school and prepare for her own uniquerole within The Corporation. Jaden rolled his eyes at the thought of it.Jaden slid theimplement back out of her neck. “You’re all set.” Ally blinked.Jaden undid the straps and stepped back. Sometimes it took them a minute to adjust.Phlegmatic, Ally rose from her chair with measured,precisemovements.