I’ve been getting deep into Upgrade’s sequel. It’s hard to return to a world five years on, but it’s also hard to put on pants and I do that most days.
Here’s a scene I’m working on. I’m not sure if I’ll keep it for the final. Here is the first time in the new book we see Harry and Lace. You probably shouldn’t read this if you haven’t read Upgrade, because it will quite probably cock up a bunch of the emotional pull of a subplot. You’ve been warned.
Harry leaned close to Lace, smelling the back of her neck. She wore her hair up, a hint of a smile on her face at his touch. “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
“I own this place,” she said. “It’s my place.”
Harry slung himself onto the bench beside her. It was a composite fiber, textured like wood, but probably made from recycled baby seals. Her yard was like it should be, grass clipped, fence upright, sporting new paint. Inside her house, a TV murmured, waiting for them to return.
It was movie night.
“I’m not sure that’s the right term, Lace.”
“Don’t be a dick.” She kissed him, long and deep. “You’re spoiling the moment.”
He sighed, a happy, contended sound. “Medium rare?”
“Is the Pope a pedophile?”
Harry thought that through. “I’m confused. Is that a yes or a—”
“Yes, Harry. It’s a yes.” She grinned, curling her feet underneath her, uncomfortable bench be damned. “I could use another beer, while you’re up.”
Harry nodded, lurching to his feet. He gave the sky a cautious glance, the setting sun making way for the bravest stars. He walked up Lace’s steps, into her house, down the hall, and into the kitchen. An old refrigerator hummed to itself. He joined it, contemplating the contents. Every kind of goddamn wine, but where’s the beer? Ah. Harry found the beers lurking behind a value bucket of expired cottage cheese. He hefted the cottage cheese, eying it suspiciously. “Like I thought. Textured soy.”
“What was that?” Lace’s voice carried from outside.
“Nothing.” Harry put the cottage cheese back. If he ‘helped’ by throwing it out, there’d be hell to pay. The beers started to sweat straight away, droplets racing each other to his fingers. He popped the caps, returning to Lace. He handed one to her, taking a pull of his own. Cold, wet, and beer-like. Perfect. “I don’t mind a good Becks.”
“Might be hard to get now, after Amsterdam.”
“Amsterdam’s not in in Germany, Lace.” Harry made to sit, pausing at the look she shot him.
It was a withering glare, reserved for idiots and slackers. “Becks don’t make their beer in Germany anymore. Also, it’s,” she waved a hand, as if the universe was a general location, “Europe.”
“You never studied.”
“Not useless shit, no.” She sipped beer. “I’m going to miss Amsterdam. Do not sit down, Harry Fuentes.” Her glare amped up. “The grill won’t get any hotter.”
“You’ve never been to Amsterdam.” Harry carried his beer to the barbecue. The steaks were good and thick. Only take a minute or two a side.
“I don’t need to go there to miss a place.” Lace pulled her knees to her chest, watching him. “Still. It’d suck to live in a place full of radiation.”
“I don’t think they’re living anymore.” The steak sizzled on the grill, the aroma mouth-watering. Harry’s hand trembled at the memory of fire, but he clamped down on it. No need to spoil a good moment. While Harry flipped steaks, he and Lace shared the silence like old friends. Plenty of room for both of them to have their thoughts.
“Don’t fuck up the steak,” she offered.
“You want to do this?”
“I offered, but oh no, the great Harry Fuentes needed to ‘man the barbecue.’” He caught her air quotes. “C’mon. Let’s go inside.”
“Let’s.” Harry settled the steaks on a plate, following Lace inside. A few steaks. A little corn. A fresh, green salad. Two beers, a movie, and the rest of the night. It was paradise.
Lace patted her stomach. “The mark of a good man is a good steak. That was a fine steak.”
“Thanks.” He worked on his third beer. Neither of them talked about the expired cottage cheese. Candles burned on the table, a puddle of warm light between them.
“You want to have sex?”
She gave him an impish grin, and headed for the door. Harry watched her go for about two seconds, then gave chase.
A half-hour later, the movie played in front of them. Lace wasn’t watching, and neither was Harry. The heat of her skin felt like sunlight. She sighed. “I’ve got to get back.”
“It’s movie night, Lace.”
“Always on the clock, Harry.” She kissed his cheek, lips rasping on stubble. He smelled her scent, rich, and heady. “You know that.”
“I know it.” He sighed. “We’re always on the clock. I thought this Metatech thing would make a difference.”
“It makes a difference.” She leaned away, sighing. “You’re still alive. The company’s laying off so many people, Harry. What if you’re next?”
“They can’t lay me off.” Harry got off the couch, looking for his pants. “I mean, they could, I guess.”
“We’re on the clock because we don’t need pink slips in our life.” Lace raised an arm to the ceiling. “This is Metatech, Harry. This is stolen dreams from Reed. We’d never have this out there.” A little spite crept into her voice.
Harry forgot the search for pants, sidling next to her. He pulled her close, kissing her neck. “It’ll be okay.”
“No. It won’t. Not really.” Lace gave him a smile to take the sting away. “I love you, Harry.”
Harry sighed. He keyed the link. END SIMULATION. Sound ceased, the hum of bees falling away long with the gentle hush of wind. The walls of Lace’s rumpus turned white, then opaque, wireframes reeling into the vanishing, far distance. His body spun to gossamer, then nothing. The last thing to leave was Lace’s smell, and it made his heart ache.
His optics kicked in, Metatech’s hangar falling into place around him. The real world entered, all its sharp noises and harsh lights. Harry’s chassis hummed, ready for his next mission.
“Harry.” Lace’s voice was soft on the link.
“Harry, we’ve got a job to do.”
Harry fired the chassis into motion, heading for the hangar exit. Metatech’s layout wasn’t so different to Apsel’s. People, going about company business. Techs, running from place to place. And always, some asshole telling you you can’t smoke in here.
The chassis was new, though. Harry’s last one was good for spare parts only. The new was stronger in many ways. But it still wasn’t a body. “What’s the job, Lace?”
“Recon. You’ll love it. We get to see Sadie and Mike again.”
“What have those clowns done this time?” Harry exited the hangar, cityscape bright with neon. Cannons guarded Metatech’s tower. Aircraft roared above. The syndicate was readying for war.
“I’m not sure. The mission brief is … vague.”
“I don’t like vague, Lace.”
“I don’t like it either. But we’ll do it anyway.”
“Yes.” Because if they didn’t, no one would pay for his expensive upgrades, and there would be no more virtuality. No place where Harry had a body, and Lace had her legs. “I’m on my way.”