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Zoey Is Too Drunk for This Dystopia

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Zoey Is Too Drunk for This Dystopia

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Author: Jason Pargin
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, 2023
Series: Zoey Ashe: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Zoey Ashe wakes up every day feeling like she's trying to steer a battleship while tied to the propeller. The twenty-three-year-old heiress to a criminal empire is navigating a futuristic world of high-tech liars and cutthroats, forced to learn the rules of a devious game she never asked to play. Now she's facing a crisis that is both bigger and stranger than all that came before:

The gleaming new city of Tabula Ra$a is hosting its massive annual music festival, which every year precedes the equally massive annual drunken riot. This is all organized by Zoey's people, including the riot. As her advisors explain, the citizens need a little controlled chaos now and then. Zoey, however, fears the chaos will not stay controlled for long.

When a horrific crime is broadcast live on an all-seeing social network, Zoey and her team suspect a carefully-stage hoax arranged by one of the Tabula Ra$a's shadowy power players. But in a city in which lies are always served in layers, even that explanation will prove far too simple.


Chapter 1

EXACTLY FORTY-FOUR HOURS BEFORE a building would collapse on top of her, Zoey Ashe was shuffling drunkenly around her mansion in a bathrobe, munching Doritos.

She'd actually gotten lost in her own home, dully convinced that someone had switched around all the rooms as a prank. She'd gotten up in search of her favorite drunken-night food (the Doritos in the heated bag that makes them taste like they'd been pulled fresh from a deep fryer) but when she arrived back at the guest bedroom, she'd opened the door to find a chemical-stinking storage room packed with housekeeping equipment, including the pair of floor-cleaner robots plugged into their chargers like a couple of sleeping tortoises. Zoey had gotten distracted for a while, giggling and trying to feed them Doritos, until she'd lost interest in that and stumbled back into the hall. That's when she heard the alarm.

It sounded like it was coming from outside, a robotic woman's voice sternly warning an intruder that terrible consequences were coming their way unless they turned back. Zoey shuffled back toward the main stairwell leading down to the front entrance, only to instead find herself in the foyer at ground level--ah, that's why she'd gotten lost, she was on the wrong floor. She pulled open one of the obscenely heavy, twelve-foot-tall etched-bronze doors, paused to wipe Doritos dust off the knob with her robe, then stepped out into the night, only remembering she was barefoot when she felt the cold cobblestones under her toes.

"You are on a course to violate restricted airspace over private property," stated the alarm voice with chilling robotic indifference. "You have five seconds to turn back or automated countermeasures will be used, up to and including lethal force." Zoey thought it was funny that this kind of computerized warning voice was always coded as female. She had brought it up with the person who'd installed the alarm system and was told that for the type of guy you're trying to deter, a stern woman was the last voice they'd ever obeyed: a schoolteacher, a mother, or whatever female family member had gotten stuck with raising them.

Zoey surveyed the area and saw nothing out of the ordinary, unless she counted the pair of white trucks belonging to the company that was about to install a pool out back, which she had apparently ordered at some point. But they'd been there for days and surely the estate's ingenious threat detection knew that. Then, her sluggish brain finally processed what the robotic schoolmarm was saying about "violating restricted airspace" and she squinted up into the night sky, scanning it for hovering lights.

The last few times she'd heard this alarm it had turned out to be paparazzi--usually drones, once a helicopter--hoping to catch some kind of crime or other depravity occurring at the estate, as if Zoey's people would do that kind of thing out on the lawn. Then she looked down at herself and remembered why the March night felt so much colder than she'd expected: she was wearing a fluffy white bathrobe, but that was it. Her underwear had been discarded in the hallway, the dress she'd worn to the evening's awards ceremony had been left in the car (she actually wasn't certain it was an awards ceremony, it could have been a charity banquet or possibly a wedding reception--she just remembered a lot of tuxedos and mandatory clapping).

The intruder apparently hadn't turned back. The AI dominatrix voiced a new message, stating that they were now officially flying over private property and that countermeasures were being readied. Though, if they were here for photos, they probably had everything they wanted from Zoey's appearance alone. The tabloid media outlets loved to simultaneously describe Zoey as fat and disgusting while also publishing as much of her bare skin as they could steal. One drone had caught her sunbathing on a private beach in an extremely conservative two-piece, then ran the photos under a headline saying she was "flaunting" her chunky horror of a body. The next day, a progressive women's publication pushed back by describing Zoey's choice of public attire as "brave," which hardly made the situation better. The point being, if this was just a flying camera, the operator now had pics/video of Zoey in her rumpled bathrobe, standing on her driveway among the marble statues while holding a Doritos bag, her hair looking like it had spent the last couple of hours being pawed and pulled by a sweaty line cook. She briefly considered pulling open her robe and flashing them but figured tabloid readers probably wouldn't be impressed by that a third time.

The robotic schoolmarm gave a final warning that projectiles were on their way and that if they hadn't yet turned around their aircraft, it was probably too late, so why bother. Zoey still couldn't see the airborne intruder but thought she could hear it, that weird pulsing rush of little drone engines. Then a couple of spotlights kicked on from the yard and there it was: not a drone or a helicopter, but something in between, a personal flying device carrying some idiot over the wrought-iron main gate, then soaring above the hedges and statues along the winding driveway.

A moment later, two of the statues inside the gate--men in armor, on horseback--pivoted and from their eyes flew angry swarms of projectiles that streaked up into the darkness like sparks from a poked campfire. The arms and legs of the flyer were ripped off, whirling to the ground before the torso and flying device tumbled down after them.

Zoey gasped and dropped her Doritos. Had she just watched someone die?

She pulled the lapel of her robe closed, as if worried she was now dressed inappropriately for such a somber occasion. She looked down at the Doritos bag, the animated flaming-triangle logo dancing above a heap of dusted chips, as if looking to it for advice. Receiving none, she started running. She moved as quickly as her current physical state would allow, bare feet slapping the cobblestones. It seemed improbable that someone could survive both a dismemberment and a subsequent fall but, hey, modern medicine could do almost anything. Hadn't she just seen a story about robotic surgeons reattaching a severed head? Or had she seen that in a movie? Either way, there was no one else around to help, so she ran toward the fallen intruder with no idea what she'd actually do once she reached them.

The estate and its defenses had been built by Zoey's biological father, Arthur Livingston, whom the press described as a "flamboyant real estate developer" or "ruthless organized-crime kingpin," depending on the publication (specifically, on whether or not it was a publication that Arthur Livingston had owned). The system was not designed only to deter burglars, but to thwart a full-on armed assault from some cartel's hit squad. Anyone attempting a breach like this had either done zero research or was just delegating their suicide.

And still, Zoey ran.

A new alarm was sounding now, this one from back in the house, alerting staff to go out and investigate whatever had landed on the front lawn. Somewhere back there was a naked dude in a guest bedroom who was probably squinting drunkenly into the darkness, wondering where he was and if the alarm meant the place was on fire.

Zoey arrived at the approximate landing spot of the flying intruder's various parts. She felt around her robe pockets for her phone--nope, not there. Her bodyguard had gone home; she'd dismissed him after leaving the banquet (birthday party? Funeral?) with the tattooed member of the kitchen staff she'd picked up, the guy having made some slurred comment about how he could protect her if assassins appeared. The only human on-site right now was Carlton the Butler, whom she'd inherited along with the property. And Carlton was, by Zoey's estimate, between seventy and two hundred years old. The wailing alarm was giving her a headache, so she shouted, "WOULD YOU PLEASE SHUT UP?!?" and was amused to find that actually worked. Then she remembered that everything in the house had been set to respond to her voice commands. That's why a misheard phrase shouted in an argument had once resulted in the HVAC system shutting up several ducts.

She first found a severed arm in a bright yellow sleeve, smoldering where it had been detached from its body. She felt an urge to get sick and stifled it. There was no blood, which seemed strange. Then Zoey noted that, where the wrist was revealed between glove and cuff, there was a plastic joint instead of skin. Either the flyer had a prosthetic arm, or his entire body was prosthetic (Zoey's drunken mind needed a few seconds to remember there was a word for that: "mannequin"). She did, in fact, then find a plastic head and torso still strapped to the flying rig a little farther up, next to a fountain made to look like a woman pointing her pelvis into the air, spraying forth liquid (Zoey had replaced much of her father's old decor, but hadn't gotten to the front lawn's water features yet). The flying rig was an oversized backpack, sprouting fins and wraparound arms that ended in control sticks. The whole apparatus was a garish yellow, so eye-wateringly bright that Zoey thought it looked like an angel had pissed on it. The mannequin pilot had been wearing an equally yellow jumpsuit and helmet. She felt relief that was quickly swamped by confusion.

"May I be of assistance?" asked a raspy but dignified voice from behind her. She had never seen Carlton move at a speed quicker than "very old man doing his best," yet she frequently saw him appear in spots that would have required a brisk jog at the very least, if not a dead run. She speculated that Carlton could actually move very quickly when he needed to, but perhaps thought it was unbecoming to be seen sprinting from place to place in formal butler garb.

Zoey said, "It's a dummy."

"I would still advise caution. The system has not detected any dangerous devices, but some dangers are difficult to detect. Previous experience has taught us a hard lesson on that subject."

Some part of Zoey's brain knew this was correct, but what was the point of drinking if you were just going to cling to your inhibitions? The limbless torso was lying chest-down in the grass, so she rolled it over. The front of the yellow jumpsuit was emblazoned with a logo backlit by animated fireworks. Tall block letters spelled out,


Zoey pointed at it. "Do we know what that means?"

"No, but if one were to divine the meaning via context, one would guess that Mr. Aviv is a stunt performer, and perhaps something of a prankster."

"He had us shoot down a mannequin as a prank? It's not very funny, he should have filled it with poop or something."

"Perhaps this was not the prank. Perhaps this was a dry run, to see what happens to intruders who attempt to gain access to the grounds via the air."

"Ah. Well, now he knows."

"Should I call Wu?"

"He's almost certainly already on his way, any alarm from the house goes directly to his phone. If anything, we should message him to not bother. In fact, please do that. I'm going back to bed."

"Very good. And should I notify Mr. Blackwater?"

"I guarantee you he also already knows, and that's assuming he didn't know about it before it happened. I have to try to get some sleep, I have to be up in . . ." she tried to do the math, "four hours?"

She wasn't sleepy; she and the guy whose name she hadn't retained had spent the evening downing what he'd called Dragon Shots: smoldering liquid that, if she blew across the glass, would unleash a puff of flame. It was obvious now that one of the ingredients was some kind of stimulant designed to keep the party going until sunrise.

"Oh, and, uh, in the third guest bedroom, there's a guy up there. Got a lot of tattoos. Wake him up and tell him you've called a car to pick him up. And, you know, actually do that before you tell him." She turned to head back to the house. "What do I have tomorrow? Or later today, I mean? I know I have to get up but can't remember what for."

"First, I believe, is a tour of the new factory with Mr. Blackwater, a journalist, and a number of schoolchildren. It begins . . ." he consulted his watch, "five and a half hours from now."

"Oh, god. Can I get out of it?"

"I, of course, cannot answer that question. I suppose one must weigh the consequences of leaving said children, as well as the public image of the company, in the hands of Will Blackwater."

"Ugh. I have to get my life together. Start going to bed at a reasonable hour, the whole thing. All right. I just have to get through that factory tour, then I can come back here and collapse on a sofa for the rest of the day."

"I believe there are a series of meetings and obligations after, including tonight's debate."

"Oh, right. And then the next night is the thing."

You know how sometimes your life gets into a holding pattern because you're just killing time until a dreaded scheduled event? For Zoey, that event was coming Sunday evening and for weeks she'd been filling her life with distractions, trying to fast-forward through the timeline until the blessed day when it would all be over and done with.

"As for today, it sounds like the biggest challenge will be staying awake for it all," said Zoey in what would turn out to be the most inaccurate prediction of her lifetime.

From Zoey Is Too Drunk for This Dystopia by Jason Pargin. Copyright © 2023 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Publishing Group.

Copyright © 2023 by Jason Pargin


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