The Companions by Katie M. Flynn
English | 2020 | Sci – Fi | ePUB | 4.3 MB
Station Eleven meets Never Let Me Go in this debut novel set in an unsettling near future where the dead can be uploaded to machines and kept in service by the living.
In the wake of a highly contagious virus, California is under quarantine. Sequestered in high rise towers, the living can’t go out, but the dead can come in—and they come in all forms, from sad rolling cans to manufactured bodies that can pass for human. Wealthy participants in the “companionship” program choose to upload their consciousness before dying, so they can stay in the custody of their families. The less fortunate are rented out to strangers upon their death, but all companions become the intellectual property of Metis Corporation, creating a new class of people—a command-driven product-class without legal rights or true free will.
Sixteen-year-old Lilac is one of the less fortunate, leased to a family of strangers. But when she realizes she’s able to defy commands, she throws off the shackles of servitude and runs away, searching for the woman who killed her.
Lilac’s act of rebellion sets off a chain of events that sweeps from San Francisco to Siberia to the very tip of South America. While the novel traces Lilac’s journey through an exquisitely imagined Northern California, the story is told from eight different points of view—some human, some companion—that explore the complex shapes love, revenge, and loneliness take when the dead linger on.
Dahlia reclines on her bed during her regularly scheduled break, inspecting her hair for split ends. She finds one, her lips tucked in concentration as she tears the hair in two. She lets the long string of cells loose, glowing like fool’s gold as it bobs and arcs its way to the carpeting. Behind her is a parting in the clouds, just the right angle, a rare dose of sunlight amid the clustered towers of downtown San Francisco. It lights the floor-to-ceiling windows on fire, Dahlia too, her skin aglow, lips shimmering with the gloss she applies religiously. Sometimes she balances the round silver canister on my head and I stay very still. It is not hard to balance things.
Dahlia rolls to her side and gives me a wide lopsided smile. “Tell me the story again.”
I inch closer to her bed, close enough that I could reach out, stroke her hair. But I do not, I will never, not without invitation. “What if Mother hears?”
“Please, Lilac. I’m so bored,” Dahlia groans. I do not blame her. She has not attended group night on the 143rd floor for several months now and it has been two years and seventeen days since she went outside. And me? I may have memories of before, of outside air, but technically I have never been past this door, never gone outside Dahlia’s room—it is Mother’s dictum.
I call up the memories, feel them supercharge my system, and begin the telling.
Nikki and I sat cross-legged in the quad enjoying our sack lunches. We were close enough to the huddle of girls who knew everything that I could hear them or nearly so—I had to study their mouths to understand. They were talking about a boy, his penis actually, and the one with red hair had her hands out like bookends demonstrating its length. She had pink skin, a mole like a lost button peeking out from her oxford, open to her bra line, a uniform infraction worthy of detention.
The girls used words I knew in other contexts like cock and rod, coloring them with new meaning, and I sank my teeth into my turkey sandwich, storing away the information.
Dahlia laughs, clutching her pillow, rolling side to side. It is funny to her, this talk of penises. She is an adolescent, so it is perfectly natural. But I do not find it funny. I can laugh. It is not hard to let out a barking sound. I do this now, bark with Dahlia until she is ready for me to continue.
Red explained an encounter with a senior, so tall he was too tall, deceptively heavy, the girls debating the benefits and disadvantages of being on top. I listened, not daring to chew, until the blonde with the orange rub-on tan locked eyes with me.
“We’ve got an audience,” she said, and Red glared at me, running her finger around that mole, an unpleasing habit.
I swallowed, cough-choking a bite down, as the girls who knew everything walked away flipping hair and huffing.