Four years ago, the Free People determined that too many of their children were coming of age, deciding that they were missing out on the incredibly popular, exotic and taboo practice of simming, and leaving to see what they were missing. The government, still young and unpracticed at governing the Free Peoples States all over the world, saw this ‘Save the Children’ campaign as something that they could throw money at in order to win a popular support that transcended cultural barriers.
Katie-Anne’s mother was the president of the Free Peoples at the time and had suffered politically for not being a strong enough supporter of the campaign. With the election right around the corner, Regina Jo Normal decided to enroll her daughter in the most rigorous and experimental prevention program she could find. For two and half months, Katie-Anne was part of a test group that was continuously flooded with SIM culture. They spent every afternoon and evening in the sims and every morning enduring lessons and religious services that were to “give them perspective” on what they were experiencing. The program also involved extensive psychological evaluations monitoring the progress of each of its participants.
The program was ultimately a failure. The participants it regarded successful ended up with such an all-encompassing hatred of simming that even the most conservative Free People labeled them fanatics that took doctrine too far. The failures got far more publicity, however, as almost a third of the participants were, following the program, classified as SIM addicts.
Katie-Anne Normal, the president’s daughter, was the program’s greatest failure. The family turmoil that resulted from the program cost Katie-Anne’s mother the election and ushered in five years of conservative rule that asserted pretending sims didn’t exist was the best way to keep children from wanting to use them.
Five years later, Katie-Anne’s mother was already campaigning under a banner of ‘A return to Normalcy’ for the election next fall. Early ads spoke of Regina Jo guiding her daughter back from ‘debilitating SIM addiction,’ forcing the issue of SIM addiction into the spotlight of the election. With the conservatives still reluctant to even speak of the SIMs, the campaign was earning Regina Jo a lot of positive attention. Katie-Anne’s mother was relying on her daughter’s apparent recovery to fuel an Anti-SIM-Addiction crusade that she could ride all the way to re-election.
This was the long explanation for why I found myself picking Katie-Anne up from her dorm, at one o’clock on the following Monday morning, headed toward the crappiest all-night pancake house that the city of Forth Worth had to offer.
It did not, however, explain why Katie-Anne was dressed like she was ready for a night on the town. When she first appeared in the lobby, she caught me staring.
“You… look nice.” And she did. Her dress was black and form fitting, yet cut modestly with a coat to cover her shoulders. She toted a small, matching purse. The outfit relied on the body wearing it to attract attention, and it turned out that underneath all her usual baggy clothing and plainness, Katie-Anne had that kind of body. She wore heels and she was surprisingly graceful in them. She’d pulled back her hair, but it had already begun to free itself, a few black strands in the front falling down to frame a face that was still very pale in spite of her lightly applied make-up. She wasn’t stunning or vulnerable or full of a room-commanding confidence. She was none of the things that would normally catch my interest in a girl.
Yet she had my interest. And as she caught me eyeing her, staring right back at me, I realized what it was. Dressed as she was, she was fierce. Katie-Anne had the look of a predator—an intelligence, sleekness and cunning that made me feel like I should be cowering for just looking at her.
She looked like a lioness. She looked like an action-vid spy. She looked like her mother. She didn’t look like the Katie-Anne I had been spending my lunches with at all. It made me nervous.
“Thanks,” she said, and we headed out to the car.
“What brought about the change,” I asked cautiously.
“Are you thinking about sex?”
That one came far enough out of left field that I could honestly answer, “No.” Though, in truth, I might indeed have been thinking about sex if I had gotten beyond my initial terror that she was finally going to get back at me for embarrassing her our first day in SIM seminar with Dr. Jenkins.
“Too bad,” she said, “Mom always told me to make them think about sex, but not to let them know that’s what you’re trying to make them think about. Distract them and you’ve got the advantage.”
“Distract who? What advantage? What are we talking about?” I fumbled with my keys in the parking lot, wondering why my car’s light weren’t doing their little unlocking flash when I pushed the button.
“Why I’m wearing this,” Katie-Anne answered. “And that’s not your car,” she pointed to my car in the next row over, its lights flashing in time with my attempts to unlock it. “I guess it’s working after all,” she smiled at me and got in the car.
“So you’re wearing that in order to distract me?”
“Of course not. I don’t care about you.” Her eyes widened, her cheeks reddened and suddenly she didn’t look quite so predatory. “I… that’s not what I meant. I’m sorry.”
I grunted an acceptance. I was confused and it was the best I could muster. I put the car in gear and focused on driving.
Once we were on the road, Katie-Anne said, “I haven’t changed my look in the four years since the last election. All the vids of me, all the reports, stories and releases are of the girl you see at lunch. If anyone’s looking for Katie-Anne Normal, then that’s what they’ll be looking for.”
“A change is one thing, but if you want to lay low, why would you wear something so conspicuous?”
“You should know from school that when you most look like you want to hide is when you get the most attention. Dressed like this, sure they’ll look at me, but they won’t want to be caught looking, so they won’t be scrutinizing.”
“Katie-Anne, you sound like a spy from a bad action vid. Who do you expect to be at this pancake place at two-thirty AM?”
Save for the occasional streetlight, it was dark enough that I couldn’t see Katie-Anne while I drove. I did hear her sigh. “I know I’m being paranoid, but I spent years with a constant tail. News vid crews followed me everywhere I went. They took my love of the sims and they wallowed in it. They used it to take the election away from my mom, but then they just kept on using afterwards because it was good entertainment. I learned to hide, to pretend and to be as uninteresting as possible so that they’d leave me alone. If I mess that up because of the people we’re meeting tonight, then I cost Mom another election and I have to go through all of it again,” she paused and took a few breaths. “I just don’t think I have it in me. I didn’t ask for any of this.”