65 Flashbacks and Flashbangs
|| Still Two-and-a-Half Years Ago ||
The World Tech Expo feels more like a music festival or an epic carnival than the techy geek heaven it really is. In fact, the Expo takes place in the same downtown Seattle location as an actual music festival, Bumbershoot.
This particular Expo is an especially big deal, since it's being held the same year as the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the One World Federation. Only countries who have stayed true to the One World treaty, dissolved their national governments, and sent representatives to the Federation Governmental Council are allowed to participate.
As such, the organizers spared no expense making the event extravagant and awe-inspiring. This is partially to highlight the amazing innovations made possible by inter-country knowledge-sharing, but it's mostly to metaphorically flip off every country that hasn't kept up their end of the deal.
Pretty much the equivalent of: "Na nana na na! Look at all the cool shit you can't have!"
In their petty defense, it IS kinda hard to have a One World Federation and unite all humanity on Earth under one flag, if some countries still consider themselves outside the One World...
Under the towering Space Needle and surrounded by gorgeous gardens and colorful Chihuly glass scultpures, inventors and tech companies from around the world display innovative science and technology. Many of the displays are housed inside the area buildings, but the most amazing reveals are made on the huge outdoor stages, where crowds in the thousands gather to see the future of tech.
Eric's vintage Iron Man t-shirt seems especially appropriate, Xiuying thinks. Tony Stark would absolutely get his rocks off at a place like this.
In fact, one of the first big reveals on the Main Stage is a company unveiling a prototype that looks like a extra large Iron Man-esque suit. It's about 2% as cool as the real Iron Man and doesn't even fly, but it's near indestructible and makes lifting heavy things and construction way easier and safer.
There's also a panel on cold fusion breakthroughs, and the Federation aerospace program reveals the world's first Tractor Beam. The presentation for that one is pretty badass, and they end it by Beaming people from the crowd onstage to get a closer look.
As expected, however, robotics and drone tech shines brightest and draws the largest crowds throughout the day.
One of the more realistic androids gives Xiuying the absolute creeps, since its eyes move to follow anyone it locks onto, like a giant porcelain doll. When it jerkily waves and says, "I seeeee you," in a creepy kid playing hide-and-seek voice, she almost decks the damn thing.
Eric has to grab her fist and promise to buy her copious amounts of chocolate and booze to help her forget the horrifying ordeal.
Not an hour later, Xiuying's dragged them both back to the robot arena, and she's staring starry-eyed at a robot composing music. "Robots are too fucking awesome, no getting around that."
"Even if they're probably going to kill us all one day," Eric agrees matter-of-factly.
Xiuying touches a shiny chrome robotic hand that specifically has a sign saying "DO NOT TOUCH." She probably wouldn't have thought about touching it, except she really hates signs that unnecessarily yell at passerby in all caps.
"Honestly, a significant portion of what makes them awesome in the first place is that they're probably going to kill us all one day," she muses.
Eric nods and pokes another robot. "You right. Humans are fucked up like that."
"Facts," Xiuying agrees.
Eric pulls out his map/event list and casually asks, "What's the name of your company again? I don't want us to miss their big moment."
Xiuying bonks him on the head. "Good try, dude. But I'm still not telling you. You'll find out when I get called onstage, and not a moment sooner."
Eric pouts and rubs his head. "Damnit, sis, you've worked for this startup ever since you graduated two years ago, and yet you still refuse to tell me the name of the company. You know that's sketchy as hell, right?"
Xiuying grins and skips ahead like a carefree kid. Sometimes Eric finds it hard to believe she's really four years older.
Of course, at other times, when she gets in full-on Mothering Mode, he finds it hard to believe she's only four years older.
He speeds up, caught up in her pace, as usual.
"You know it's only partially the NDA, right?" she says in a teasing voice. "I know I could trust you to keep the secret. But admit it; you only care this much because I won't tell you. You'd probably forget where I worked if you actually knew."
"I would not!" he denies hotly.
Xiuying gives him a skeptical look, and he frowns.
"Just because I forgot the name of your university ONE TME..." he mutters.
"You'd visited me on campus like ten times!"
"So I knew the name of your lab building! That's where we always met up. That should count, right?"
Xiuying bonks him again. Even though he always knows it's coming, he can never seem to avoid the damn head bonks.
"It definitely doesn't," she replies, but then her voice softens. "But it's all good anyway. You have your hands and head full with that team of yours. Even if I don't think they're good enough for my baby brother and his prodigious talent."
Eric can't help but smirk and look stupidly proud of himself for a second, but then he shakes it off and makes his face all scowly and stern. "Hush, woman," he admonishes. "You know I love Digital Discord, and they got my back, same as I have theirs."
Xiuying glances down at his agile hands, where he's fiddling with a small button-covered device he invented to work on improving hand speed even on his (very few) days off from gaming.
She scoffs, "Tch. You work twice as hard as everyone else and carry that team on your back. That's not the same thing."
"Yeah yeah," Eric says, rolling his eyes. He's heard this before. He chooses to change the subject before his sister can really get going. "Can you at least give me a hint as to what your company is unveiling today? It must be pretty big, if you still haven't presented yet. The after-dinner slots are always the biggest reveals, and the event sheet doesn't even have minimal descriptions."
"It's to add to the mystery and excitement," Xiuying explains. "The scientists themselves may be too wrapped up in their own work to be good at marketing and presentation, but the event organizers worked closely with the companies' public relations departments to help increase hype."
"Is that also why you're being called up to present for your company?" Eric asks. "Because you're one of those rare computer programmers who also knows how to talk Human?"
Xiuying flips her long black hair and throws a cutesy handsign popular among Asian teens. "I fake it well."
"Ugh," Eric grunts. "Gross. Never do that again."
His sister's smile sours, and she spin-kicks Eric in his skinny ass. She's pleased by how well her mint green skirt flares out as she twirls, and she makes a mental note to drop a line of praise to Arachne.
Her friend had already requested a check-in later this week anyway, curious to hear how Eric handles the news of Xiuying's big secret. If Xiuying can record him squee-ing like a tween fangirl, Arachne's buying the bottomless mimosas next time they meet up for brunch.
While Eric gripes about his sister's unnecessary violence, Xiuying reaches up to feel the edges of the ID badge hidden under her shirt, and grins in gleeful anticipation.
It's been a bitch-and-a-half keeping this secret for so long. She's ready to bring her brother into the loop.
The rest of the afternoon passes uneventfully, unless you count an impromptu debate popping up during a Teleportation panel that devolves into a food fight when the panelists start throwing the donut holes and grapes set out as snacks for the presenters. It ends quickly, though, when one particle physicist busts out a lightsaber and Security intervenes.
Finally, it's time for the Main Events of the World Tech Expo, and the crowds start milling around near the Main Stage outdoor amphitheater. Xiuying's company isn't up for another couple hours, so she sticks with Eric, maneuvering them close enough to the front she should be able to record his reactions even when she's onstage. They find an open spot next to the staircase that leads backstage. An invisible force barrier blocks the stairs from anyone without an authorized ID, so there are no security guards around yet.
Suddenly, about half of the festival lights go out at once, and triumphant music blares. Eric immediately stands closer to Xiuying and lowers into a defensive stance.
Xiuying almost dies from how cute that is.
"Chillax, baby bro. Look up."
"Huh?" he asks, confusion lining his face as he lifts his head. And then the first bright bursts of fireworks light up the Seattle sky, and his mouth splits into a wide smile.
"All about that hype," she says, grinning as well.
And then her grin is fading, because something dark zooms overhead that, for a moment, blocks out her view of the fireworks display.
Anyone else might have mistaken it for a simple hoverdrone or maybe an unlicensed flying car, but Xiuying is not just anyone.
She's seen that pitch-black design before.
She helped program it.
"ERIC, DOWN!" she screams, but it's too late.
The first explosive drops onto the far side of the stage, away from them, but a piece of metal shrapnel hurtles through the air, straight through her brother's upper arm.
Xiuying can't even hear the sound of the explosion or the screams from the thousands of innocent lives about to be destroyed.
All she can hear is the small, surprised cry from her brother.
All she can see is the confusion morphing into shock morphing into horror on her brother's precious pale face, lit up by the flames behind her.
All she can feel is rage, as the first bloody streak drips down her brother's arm and the first warm tear slides down her brother's face.
When he starts convulsing from shock, she spurs into action. She knows all too well this first explosion is only the beginning.
No way they can escape through this panicking crowd. The only way to keep her brother safe is to make a make a mad gamble, Lunatic Lieu-style.
"Come with me. NOW." She grabs his unhurt arm and drags him up the stairs, fumbling under her shirt for her ID. She practically rips it from its flimsy lanyard and swipes it to enter. As they rush backstage, another explosion, this time from the center of the crowd behind them, rocks the siblings to the ground and sends her badge flying.
"Come on, Eric, get up, we have to keep moving," she urges him.
"Xiuying, my arm, I can't—" Eric cries, voice broken, as he struggles to push himself up.
Dread fills the pit of Xiuying's stomach, but she doesn't have time to dwell on the implications of her brother's lifeless limb. Tamping down on her terror, she hauls Eric to his feet and pulls them both through a side door she'd seen earlier this week during the presentation run-throughs.
There it is. Right where she'd hoped.
The fake Iron Man prototype.
"Let's go, baby brother. We don't have much time."
Luckily, he's still completely out of it in shock, so she's able to coax him up the step-ladder and push him into the suit before he notices she's not clambering in after him.
It's not as roomy inside as it looks from the outside.
"Get your ass in here!" he half-pleads, half-demands, once he's snapped out of it enough to realize what she's done.
"No can do," she lightly shakes her head.
Another booming explosion hits the stage and knocks her off the loading platform. She lands, hard, on the metal floor. Black smoke licked by orange flame billows into the room.
There's nowhere left to run.
She smiles up at her brother anyway, even though her pale gray eyes are tight with fear.
"Gods damnit," he gasps.
He knows it'll be too difficult to pull himself out of the suit, not to mention impossible for him to lift his sister to put her inside. Especially with her fighting him, which she absolutely will, because she is a fucking stubborn woman, and when they survive this, he is so going to kick her fucking ass.
Angrily, he swipes away the tears threatening to blur his vision, and stares at the controls at his hands.
"Don't you dare give up," he warns his sister. "I'm going to figure out how this metal bastard works, and then I'm going to haul your ass out of here, understand?"
Her smile deepens and she pushes herself up to give him a jaunty two-finger salute. "Aye aye, Brother Man."
More explosions rock the night, punctuating the constant screams. Eric forces himself to shut it all out and focus on the unfamiliar controls and buttons all around him.
"Come on come on come on," he mutters to himself, as his fingers fly across the control panel, trying combinations of inputs.
When one of the Iron Man's arms move and she hears her brother's muffled, broken cheer, Xiuying's heart squeezes. She's always been proud of her genius kid brother, and this moment is no different.
He's going to change the world, one day.
"I love you, baby brother," she whispers.
"XIUYING!" Eric yells, and then the next blast comes, flinging his sister back into his metal torso with a sickening crunch.
It's not the metal body that's broken, though.
Moving half on conscious thought and half on instinct, Eric manuevers the one suited arm he can operate to gently catch her body, then makes the fake Iron Man suit crouch down and cover his precious sister.
"I love you, too," he whispers.
And then the final bomb falls directly on top of him, and everything is drowned in fire, and metal, and blood.