“It is a rare and wonderful occasion that I am blessed to find myself in a room that contains no less than four interesting people.” She was an old woman, probably in her mid or late seventies. Though she may have been close to six feet tall once, age had shrunk her and bent her forward so that she hobbled and could only walk with the aid of a cane.
She was alert, though, more so than most of the older people I knew. She struggled to stand straight and to walk like she didn’t accept the body that age had given her. She moved around a lot while she talked, not trying to conserve energy that ought to have been in limited supply. And her eyes—her eyes were quick, alert and piercing. Her eyes gave her a look of fierce intelligence that was much younger than her appearance. Her eyes were clever.
She was our teacher for the last five weeks of SIM seminar. She hadn’t yet introduced herself, but instead just started speaking the moment she entered the room.
“What I wish to impress upon you today is not only the ability to spot interesting people, but the importance of doing so. Children today go through so much of life with their heads down not noticing the rest of the world in hopes that the world will return the favor. I’m here to tell you that this is the worst possible way to live your life. Happiness is born from paying attention.
“Now, who can point out these people that I claim are interesting?” She had hobbled her way to the desk at the front of the room and leaned against it for a breather while she searched for a response from us.
Our time with Dr. Jenkins had got us talking. We had learned to share ideas and to speak up when we had something to say. Of course, we had never been asked to single each other out before, either.
Landon, in typical fashion, was the first to have an offering. He addressed our new teacher and said, “You.”
“Very good, Mr. Landon. You get the first bonus point of the day.” She didn’t look at a chart when named him. “And why am I interesting?”
Landon paused. “Because you’re old?”
“You held onto that bonus point as long as you could. Anyone else?” She looked around. “Mr. Kurenski?”
“It seems that you have our names memorized,” I said.
“A good observation. And that’s part of the answer. I’ll save us all some time and give you the rest of it. I know who you are. I am demanding your attention. I am asking you to do something uncomfortable. And here’s the kicker: You don’t know who I am. Demands, discomfort, and mystery are all important for generating interest. Controlling information and manipulating people are things that we label heinous acts in this world. For sim writers, however, they are the tools that we use to create a memorable, interesting and worthwhile experience.”
She still, of course, hadn’t told us who she was. She went on to ask who else was interesting and someone pointed out the new kid, sitting alone in the back corner of the room opposite Katie-Anne. The kid was Kaj. I had seen him come in, but he neither acknowledged Katie-Anne nor me. Katie-Anne gaped at him, wide-eyed and nervous. He just sat down, and even now continued to sit passively after he had been acknowledged. The teacher shrugged him off, saying “Yes, of course, but let’s save him for last.”
Then someone pointed out Katie-Anne.
“Wonderful!” the old woman said, awarding Angela a bonus point. “Miss Normal, who has been anything but. The teenaged girl upon whose shoulders the fate of two worlds rested. She buckled under the pressure, of course, but it was marvelously entertaining.”
At this point, Katie-Anne did last thing I would have expected. She smiled. “I did what I could.”
The class tried to react then, their old outrages at Katie-Anne rekindled by her apparent nonchalance. The teacher interrupted, though.
“Always full of surprises, Miss Normal is. That is why she continues to be an interesting person. We can never be sure what she’ll do next.” The knowing look on the old woman’s face was unsettling. “Who’s last?”
My classmates looked around, occasionally pausing to glare at Katie-Anne, but generally unsure of to whom among us the old woman referred. Politically, Peter Landon was the largest name in the room after Katie-Anne. The old woman just scoffed when he suggested himself, though. Of course, it wasn’t politics specifically that this woman was speaking of. She seemed to like intrigue and mystery… and knowing things that most people did not.
I cursed to myself, being careful to ensure that it actually was to myself, as I recognized the likelihood that, for some reason, this old woman thought me interesting. Worse, I could only think of two reasons why I might be ‘interesting,’ and I wasn’t particularly inclined to offer either of them up for class discussion.
The first was in my apparent befriending of Katie-Anne. I wasn’t sure if someone could become interesting through association, but after the events of the previous night, I wasn’t in much of a mood to be tossed to the wolves of public scrutiny.
I considered the second reason more likely because it was something that this woman ought not to have been able to know. It struck me that the more difficult information about a person was to come by, the more interested in it she would be. The short version was that I stood to inherit a rather exorbitant amount of money if I agreed to spend a year living in the SIMs.
The circumstances surrounding that inheritance were private and several years past. For this woman to have come across anything about it would have required extraordinary time and effort and maybe even access to secure files that shouldn’t have been available to anyone outside my family. Unless…
I raised my hand, “You’re Ryndi Hallis, aren’t you?”
She smiled a warm, knowing smile, “Of course I am, dear. I’m very sorry about your mother.”
The rest of the room was shocked into silence. Ryndi Hallis was the mastermind behind Terrasend and almost all of the world’s most popular sims for the last thirty years. She was a legend and, as far as a lot of people were concerned, a myth. Hallis had been working with the SIMs and with sensory immersion technology since she and my grandmother designed the early protocol that governed the networking of sensory immersed minds. She had been present when an early test of the protocol had caused my grandmother and another test subject permanent brain damage. Many years later, Ryndi Hallis had been my mother’s sim design teacher when my mother accidentally remained in SIM working on a project for almost five days until her body began to shut down from exhaustion.
And she had consoled my mother when my father and I left for the Free People, convincing my mother to remain with the SIMs that had crippled and would eventually kill her.
Ryndi Hallis had played audience to the breaking and dismantling of my family over two generations. She claimed the friendship of those people who I wished were still in my life, but who chose the SIMs over their own family.
She had no right to talk about my mother. I got up, stuffed my notebook into my bag and walked out of the room.