I’m still feeling jittery and cautious when I reach school and chain up my bike. Dad drives Mason to the middle school a few blocks away but I prefer to transport myself. Using the cool morning air and physical exertion to wake me up and clear my mind before classes. It’s nice to be able to think when you are truly, completely alone, something that doesn’t happen a lot around my house, since my dad works at home.
Reaching around to my pack my fingers fish around for one of my snacks as I walk through the Hacker Bay High archway. I barely notice the small whirring of my ANI. Sensors at the school’s entrance trigger everyone’s ANI’s to have restricted access. Only public databases are allowed to be utilized during school. Public databases are all government regulated. Any private subscription services are prohibited on the school campus but if you really want to watch a vid or something you just have to make sure to download it to your internal memory beforehand.
Personally I’ve never felt a need to break that particular rule but, whatever. I don’t care what other people do with their lives. Passing through the high ceilinged walls I pry open the little bag of crackers I had packed. I’m disappointed to find that their primarily crumbs. A fine, sand colored dust clings to the foil container in the bottom right corner.
Knowing it’s my fault for scrunching them up in my fist I don’t worry about the inconvenience. I tilt my head back to pour the salty carbohydrate powder into my mouth. It leaves my tongue feeling dry and I turn left in search of a water fountain. Most kids wouldn’t dare stoop to drink from a public fountain but whatever, I don’t want to carry a bottle around with me and I need to stay hydrated.
I’m still hungry so I grope around my bag without looking for another snack. “Hey, Maddie!” I hate that nick name and there’s only one person on this earth who calls me that. My hand emerges victoriously from the pack with an artificial fruit flavored thing as my eyes find Logan at the other end of the hall.
Logan and I play Verge together online. We play other video games together too sometimes but mostly Verge. I guess he’s the closest thing I have to a friend. I tilt up my chin in his direction and wave by way of greeting. There’s no further need for niceties. We might have a class together otherwise we’ll see each other at lunch.
The kid can be kind of clingy, which is exactly the last thing I need. He isn’t the most popular guy in school. His family is polygamist, which isn’t a crime or anything but most people still can’t wrap their heads around a non-monogamous family structure. He’s online pretty much all the time and if I’m not he’s bugging me to get on so we can play together.
Logan’s a nice guy and he knows not to pry because he hates it when people want to know the details of his home life. He doesn’t know anything about my neural condition; about the fact that my brain and ANI are just barely compatible and one day might not be anymore. I duck into my homeroom class before he can catch up and chat my ear off about my summer which was pretty uneventful. I played a lot of Verge with Logan and Mason. It’s not so much that I don’t want to talk to him as that I don’t want him to get too attached.
It’s bad enough that my parents and brother will be at risk when my brain goes haywire and turns my implants into weapons. Or whatever is going to happen. I don’t want to put anyone else at risk. Despite years of wondering and secretive research I still have no idea what my inevitable demise will be like. That makes it all the more frightening.
A buzzing clangor fills the air signaling the start of classes. It’s nearly as annoying as my alarum bell in the mornings. Mr. Planecky calls attention to the front of the class, pushes a button somewhere within his mind and personalized syllabi for this semester’s courses are transferred to all the students ANI. I start browsing mine as soon as it’s readable while he drones on with welcomes and announcements popping a chewy morsel of fake fruit into my mouth.
Piaget, that was the name of the dude who came up with the developmental stages of the mind. It’s listed as the second unit in my Life Skills class. I make sure to input that information into my permanent memory. It’ll get put there eventually once we cover the unit in class but it doesn’t hurt to get an early start. Job fair on the 25th is listed on each class’s document. Mr. Planecky is probably telling us all of this stuff but I prefer to just read it at my own pace.
“Now if you don’t know there was a new patch that dropped last night. If you haven’t updated yet, you need to. The schools made 80% of the networks bandwidth available this period so all of you could update at the same time if you wanted. It’s not very large but go ahead and take this time to get yourself prepared for your new classes and welcome back eleventh graders.” The homeroom teacher claps his hands together as he finishes the obligatory speech.
I’m glad that my mom made me update back at home. Still not convinced that that recent patch isn’t going to turn me into a monster the last place I want to look nervous and vulnerable is at school. A handful of blinking red lights show up around the room as those that hadn’t done so already update. Everyone’s milling about. Leaning over tables and sitting backwards on chairs the clatter of trite conversation burbles up as Mr. Planecky busies himself behind an austere desk.
All my classmates are preoccupied with news of who’s dating who and the latest movies except for me. No one pays me any mind and it’s more of a relief than an annoyance. I’m the only one aside from Mr. Planecky not talking; busy with the documents and spreadsheets I’m sorting through in my ANI. Mr. Planecky, me and some other girl I notice from the corner of my eye.
Sitting off to the left and back one row from me there’s someone I don’t recognize which is weird because I’ve been going to this school since grade nine. Even if I don’t know them personally, I know everyone that goes here. I can’t help but notice that she’s attractive. Her long sandy colored hair falls loose around her shoulders, not up in the intricate knots that all the other girls seem to be wearing their hair in these days.
I think it’s nice. Her eyes are large and lost in thought. The outer points abruptly curving into an almond flare that gives off a spunky vibe. There’s something strange about her appearance though I can’t quite pin point. It makes me keep wanting to glance back at her. That would just draw attention to myself though so I try to piece together her appearance from memory while forcibly staring towards the front of the class.
It’s not her hair, or facial features that make her seem strange. All that checks out as pretty conventional when I think back on it. Perhaps it’s the way they all come together, like trying to squish in a nose and a mouth onto a drawing you’ve already put the perimeter of a face on and the hair and eyes took up more room than you expected. I don’t know she was still nice looking though.
Unable to shake the vague sense of oddness I give up trying to go over my syllabi. Literature, Advanced Calculus, History, Advanced Physics, Calisthenics, and Life skills; I could probably guess what the curriculum would entail for each. Instead I look up the class roster for Mr. Planecky’s eleventh grade home room period. Scrolling down each feminine name for an unfamiliar one, the bold face type wavers in my mind’s eye before giving way to the next entry.
There, a name stands out as one I haven’t heard before. I place it beneath my mental picture of the strange girl sitting behind me like a caption. I decide it suits her. Lindsay, Oribel Jean. Too bad I’ll probably never get to really know you.