Chapter 12 - After Effects
I wake in my own bed, disoriented and groggy from Sombulant. The memories of what happened after I passed out in the full-sim chamber sit on the edge of my consciousness and come in fleeting fragments.
I remember Noah looking down at me, Rachel brushing the hair from my face, the security guard from downstairs carrying me through a crowd of kids.
And then nothing.
I lift the bedsheets, half-expecting to see cuts and bruises all over my body, but everything looks normal. The date and time on the wall display shows—Saturday, August 31st, 2115 8:20 a.m. I’ve been unconscious for almost twenty-four hours.
There’s a cautious knock on my door. I try to get up, but my muscles ache, and I’m as stiff as if I were Rip Van Wrinkle awakening from twenty years of sleep. I flop back down on the bed and shout, “Come in.”
“Fumie, I’m sorry.”
“Leave me alone,” I yell through the door. “If you hadn’t told Madison I was tutoring you, this never would have happened.”
“I feel horrible,” Noah says, sounding genuinely sorry. “I knew Madison would be mad, but I never expected her to do what she did."
I want to be angry at him, but I can’t. It’s not his fault. It’s mine. I’m such an idiot for falling for Madison’s trick. I sniffle as tears of frustration form in the corners of my eyes.
“Rachel is here with me,” Noah says. “Can we please come in?”
“Because we want to make sure you’re okay.”
“Do I sound okay?”
Noah sighs. “No, not really. Please let us in.”
“I’m not dressed.”
That’s okay. Rachel says she won’t look, and I promise only to look a little.”
“Noah, what’s wrong with you!” Rachel shouts at him. “Can’t you tell she’s upset.”
“It was just a joke,” Noah protests.
“Well, it wasn’t funny,” Rachel says. “You’re all the same.”
“No, we’re not.”
“Yes, you are. You’re all idiots.”
Listening to them argue makes me forget for a minute what a loser I am. I sit up in bed and pull the sheets up to my chin. My learning glasses are sitting on the desk next to the Kabuki mask. I tell the glasses to unlock the door.
“You can come in now.”
Noah opens the door and stands awkwardly in the doorway. Rachel brushes past him and runs to the side of my bed. “What happened during the sim?” she asks me breathlessly.
“It was real,” I say, unsure how else to explain it. “I don’t just mean what I saw and heard, but the pain too. Every time they hit me, it hurt so much I thought I would die.”
“I’ve played a lot of sims, and never had that happen to me,” Rachel says, almost sounding impressed.
“That’s because you’ve never played one with the safety controls disabled,” Kamila says. We all turn our heads to see her standing in the doorway. She smiles sympathetically at me. “How are you doing?”
“I’m sore everywhere.”
“You’ll be that way for a few more days,” she says. “Your nerves and muscles were over-stimulated by the sim suit.”
“How is that even possible?” Noah asks and comes over to stand beside my bed. “Aren’t there safeguards in the suits?”
“There are,” Kamila says, “but Madison used the Creator’s administrator privileges to disable them. She’ll be in a lot of trouble when I report it to Child Services. Until then, she’s banned from the full-sim chambers.”
Kamila presses her lips together and looks me in the eye. “Fumie, I promise to do everything in my power to ensure Madison is held accountable for what she did.”
“And just how exactly are you going to do that?” Madison asks. She’s standing in my doorway with her lip curled in a snarl.
“Get out,” I hiss at her.
She smirks at me and says, “Or what? You’ll make me? I don’t think so. You won’t be doing anything for a while except lying in bed, wishing you were dead.”
“That’s enough, Madison,” Kamila says.
Madison ignores Kamila and saunters across the room to my desk. She picks up the Kabuki face mask and holds it out at arm’s length while she looks at me. “I see the resemblance,” she says. “Was it made specially for you?”
Kamila’s expression hardens. “Stop it Madison. Don’t make it worse. You’re already in a lot of trouble.”
“Oh, give me a break,” Madison says. “You and I both know I’m not in any trouble at all. It’s your word against mine, and we both know who they’ll believe.”
“I’m not the one you need to worry about,” Kamila says.
Madison narrows her eyes. “Are you talking about Charlotte? She won’t say anything. Call her right now and ask her.”
“Because she’s packing,” Kamila says. “Charlotte is being moved to another home. After your little stunt, I confronted her and explained what would happen if she didn’t tell me the truth.”
“Child Services will still believe me,” Madison says defiantly. “My parents will make sure of it.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Kamila says. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a pair of learning glasses and holds them up to show Madison. “These belong to Charlotte. She was afraid you would pin the blame on her, so she used them to record what you were planning. It seems no one trusts you, not me, not even your closest friend. You think you’re better than all of us, but you’re not. You’re just an entitled brat.” Kamila shakes her head in disgust. “No wonder your family arranged to have you sent here. Even they don’t want you around.”
Madison shrieks with rage. She grabs the Kabuki mask from my desk and strikes Kamila on the side of her head. Kamila crumples to the floor, still and lifeless.
Noah is the first to react. He yanks the mask out of Madison’s hands and pushes her aside. Ignoring the pain coursing through my body, I scramble out of bed and kneel down beside Kamila. I place my head on her chest, listening for a heartbeat. Nothing. She’s not breathing. Stunned, I look up at Madison.
“You killed her.”
Madison stares blankly back at me for a moment, then she becomes defiant and points a finger at Noah. “It was him. He’s the one who did it. His fingerprints and DNA are on the mask—not mine.”
At first I don’t know what she’s talking about, then I realize she’s wearing sim gloves and must have been on her way to the Simatorium.
“There’s three of us,” I shout at her. “We all saw what you did.”
“It doesn’t matter what you saw,” Madison says. “It’s your word against mine, and no one is going to believe a couple of sprawl-rats and a loser like him.” She quickly bends down and snatches the learning glasses from Kamila’s lifeless hand.
Panic-stricken, I watch Madison drop the glasses on the floor and stomp down hard, crushing them under the heel of her shoe. “And now there’s no proof,” she says with a satisfied smile.
She turns to leave, stopping in the doorway long enough to point at Noah. “You better watch yourself around him. He really is a murderer.”
“You won’t get away with this,” I shout at her as she disappears into the hallway. Frantic, I turn to Noah. “What should we do? Should we call the police or tell one of the floor monitors?”
Still holding the mask, Noah sits down heavily on the edge of my bed. His body sags as he leans forward and stares silently at the floor. I don’t understand why he isn’t reacting.
“Noah, we can’t let her get away with this.”
“She already has,” he says.
“But we know what she did. The three of us saw it.” I look at Rachel. “Right?”
Pale as a ghost, Rachel nods.
Noah finally lifts his head. “It doesn’t matter,” he says. “My fingerprints and DNA are on the mask.”
“Then we’ll clean them off.” I start to reach for the mask, but Noah grabs my arm and stops me. “Don’t bother. That only works in the sims.”
“Nothing. It’s over,” he says, his voice as lifeless as Kamila’s body.
I stare at him, dumbfounded. “I can’t believe you’re just going to give up and let Madison get away with this.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” he says.
“Then help me understand.”
“Madison is right. I’m a murderer.”
“No, you aren’t. It was Madison who—”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.”
My stomach knots as I remember the last thing Madison said before she left the room: You better watch yourself around him. He really is a murderer. I don’t want to ask, but I force myself to. “Noah, what did you do to end up in the group home?”
He chokes up. “I killed my baby sister.”
Horrified, I stare at him while he continues to talk. “I was babysitting and she started crying while I was playing a sim. When she wouldn’t stop, I gave her Sombulant. I thought it would be okay because my parents used it all the time, but I got the dose wrong. She went to sleep and never woke up.”
“But you couldn’t have known that would happen.” I say. “Is that why you won’t play sims anymore?”
Noah looks at me and nods.
I open and close my mouth, unsure what else to say. What Noah did was wrong, awful even, but he didn’t kill Kamila. Madison did. I get up and walk to the door.
“Where are you going?” Rachel asks.
“Downstairs to tell the security guard what happened.”
“He’ll believe you because everyone hates Madison,” Rachel says, “but it won’t matter. She’ll get away with it and Noah will be blamed.”
I clench my fist in anger. Everything about Madison is infuriating. “What makes her so special?” I ask Rachel.
Rachel narrows her eyes. “You really don’t know?”
“She’s Creator Delta’s daughter. Delta is the one who designed Journey to Thisavros and Flavian Dynasty. She’s the most famous sim designer alive. That’s probably how Madison got administrator privileges to your sim-suit.”
I glance at Noah. He’s staring off into space like a zombie. If no one is going to believe us, he needs to get out of the group home before we report Kamila’s death and he gets in trouble. I walk over and shake him by the shoulders. “You have to leave.”
Noah blinks and looks up at me. “How am I going to do that, Fumie? I can’t just walk out the door. You’ve seen the security downstairs. What am I supposed to do, grow wings and fly away?”
“You won’t have to,” I say, getting an idea. “There’s an EE to the planetarium today. Hundreds of kids will be going. You’ll blend right in.”
“I can’t go,” he says.
“Because I don’t have a bracelet. I felt horrible about the way I treated you, and then when Madison confronted me about the blanket, we got into a huge fight and I skipped the trig test.”
I jump up from the bed and run to my desk and grab the bracelet Kamila gave me.
Noah pushes my hand away. “I can’t use it.”
“Yes, you can. Kamila told me she couldn’t link it to my DNA and that I should take care of it because anyone could use it.”
The wall display chimes and a message appears:
Buses to the planetarium
leave in five minutes
I yank Noah up from the bed and push him towards the door. He plants his feet in the doorway and gazes at me. “Fumie, why are you doing this for me after the way I treated you?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do.”
“Is that the only reason?”
“Don’t be an idiot. Of course, it’s not the only reason.”
Noah smiles for what seems like the first time in a very long while.
“Where will you go?” I ask him.
“I don’t know,” he says. “The sprawl, I guess. They say if you want to disappear, that’s the place to go.”
I wrap my arms around Noah and hold him tight. He leans down and kisses me on the top of my head. I don’t want our hug to end, but if he doesn’t leave now, he’ll miss his chance. I close my eyes and push him away.