Chapter 3 - 18th Floor
The man from Child Services leaves, and I follow the woman through the second set of doors and down a corridor ending at a bank of elevators.
While we wait, she looks me up and down and gives me a disapproving stare. “You need to change as soon as you get to your room,” she says. “We don’t dress like that here.”
I’m wearing the same outfit I wore on the plane: red fishnet stockings, a black petticoat, and a leather jacket I bought from a small shop in the Harajuku district of Tokyo. I wonder why it bothers her. Maybe it’s just too different from the boring, pastel-colored clothing people seem to wear in 2115. Whatever the reason, I should probably change to avoid drawing attention to myself. I tell her I will and she seems satisfied.
The elevator arrives and we get on. She tells it to take us to the eighteenth floor. As we zoom upward, the floors we pass are highlighted on the control panel in blue, green or red. I ask her what the colors mean.
“Blue floors are the pre-school children,” she says. “Green is primary and middle-school. Older kids like you are on the red floors.”
I ask, “How many kids live here?”
“Nearly six hundred,” she says.
We jolt to a stop. The elevator opens, and I follow her down a narrow hallway with dirty off-white walls and dark blue carpet that’s worn thin in the middle from people walking on it. She stops in front of room 1815 and opens the door. It’s a good thing I’m not claustrophobic because the room is literally no bigger than a jail cell. There’s a small closet, a set of drawers, a single-sized bed, and a desk with a video display mounted on the wall above it.
“Towels are in your closet,” she says. “The washrooms are at the end of the corridor next to Kamila’s apartment.”
“Who’s Kamila?” I ask.
“The floor monitor. It’s dinner time now, so she’s probably in the cafeteria. Do you want me to take you down there?”
After everything that’s happened in the last twenty-four hours the thought of being in a room with a bunch of kids who don’t know that I’m from the past terrifies me.
I shake my head.
“Suit yourself,” she says. “Kamila and the others should be back from dinner soon. Do you want the door open or closed?”
She leaves, and I plop down on the bed. The room is even more dreary with the door shut. Kyle said I wouldn’t be here for very long, but does that mean an hour, or a day, or year? For now, this is home. I might as well unpack.
I open my suitcase and dump the contents on the bed. My eyes well up with tears when I see the gifts I bought in Japan for my parents. There’s a small wooden box full of green tea for my mother and a heavy Kabuki face mask for my father. The mask is ugly but neat looking in a primitive kind of way. I bought it for Dad thinking he’d get a kick out of it, but now I’ll never know.
There’s a knock on the door. I get up and answer it. The young woman in the hallway stares at me for a second. I can tell she’s checking out what I’m wearing and wait for her to give me grief about my clothes. She doesn’t. She beams a smile and says, “Hi, I’m Kamila. I’m the floor monitor. They told me during dinner a new resident had arrived. I thought I would leave early and come back to welcome you.”
Kamila isn’t at all what I expected. I thought the floor monitor would be a stern old biddy in a uniform like the woman who brought me to my room. Kamila is wearing a light green pant-skirt with an over-sized white blouse. If her hair was longer, she’d look like a hippy from the sixties. I take a guess at her age and figure she’s only a few years older than me. Even more surprising is how pleasant she is. After the warnings from Kyle and the man from Child Services, I assumed everyone in the group home would be criminals—or something like that, I guess.
“Is there anything you need?” Kamila asks, still smiling
I point to the clothing on my bed and say, “Any chance you have a washing machine? I need to do laundry.”
Kamila looks puzzled. “Do you mean the old mechanical kind that use water?” She scrunches up her face while she thinks about it. “There aren’t any here,” she says after a minute. “In fact, I don’t even remember the last time I saw one. Maybe when I was a kid.” She glances at the clothing on the bed. “Are your clothes vintage? Is that why you need a washing machine?”
I can’t help but smile. It’s ironic, but after a nearly hundred year jump into the future, everything about me is vintage.
“I think you’ll have to hand wash them,” Kamila says. “There’s Nano-Clean in the supply closet, but it only works on Synthcloth. What’s your clothing made of?”
I don’t actually know. I take a guess and say, “Cotton and polyester…Maybe wool too.”
Her eyes widen. “Wow, you weren’t kidding. It really is vintage. What about your jacket?”
“I think so.”
“Take it off and put it in your closet right now…Don’t let anyone see it.”
She stares at me like she can’t believe I’m asking. “Because it’s made from the skin of a dead animal. It’s barbaric.” The sound of the elevator door opening comes from further down the hallway. She hisses, “Quick, get rid of it!”
I take off the jacket and throw it into the closet just in time. A boy with thick, long black hair appears in the hallway behind Kamila. He slows his pace to a crawl and looks at me with the deepest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. To say he is handsome would be an understatement. He’s perfect, and when he looks at me, my cheeks burn.
“Noah, stop gawking and go get ready for class,” Kamila says. “You’re acting like you’ve never seen a girl before.”
He smiles and gives me one final penetrating gaze and walks away. Seconds later, the elevator door opens again. A girl with a teardrop tattoo on her cheek and blonde hair cut so short I can see her scalp appears. She stops and stares at me.
“Who are you?”
“This is Fumie Nakamura,” Kamila says. “She’s new.”
“Few-Me Whack-A-Mural,” the girl repeats, making fun of my name. She runs her eyes up and down my body inspecting my clothing like I’m an alien insect. “Just what we need on the floor, a loser trying to be different.”
“It’s vintage,” I say lamely.
“It’s ugly,” she says back and turns to Kamila. “Where’s Noah?”
“In his room,” Kamila says, “and if that’s where you’re going, you know the rules.”
The girl scowls and says, “Rules are for fools.” Then she spins on her heels and walks away. Seconds later, a door slams shut.
“Who is that?” I ask Kamila.
“That is a nothing,” Kamila grunts. “Stay away from her. Madison is trouble.”
“What about him?”
“He’s trouble too,” Kamila says. “A different kind if you know what I mean.”
“Are they sprawl-rats?”
Kamila laughs out loud. “Those two? They’re anything but. They grew up on this side of the bay. ” She fixes her eyes on me and says, “What about you? You definitely aren’t a sprawl-rat.”
After Kyle’s warning to keep to myself, I’m not about to tell her I’m a time-traveller from the past. I decide a half-truth is easier than a complicated lie.
“My parents died while I was on my way home from visiting my grandmother in Japan.”
Kamila’s expression softens. “I’m sorry. That must have been awful. Can’t you go back to Japan and live with your grandmother?”
“She’s dead too,” I say. “My entire family is dead.” Speaking the words is harder than thinking them. Tears well up in my eyes.
“I know what that’s like,” Kamila says sympathetically. “My parents died when I was seven years old. I’ve been here ever since.”
“I thought you just worked here.”
“I do,” she says, “but I used to be a resident like you. When I turned eighteen last year, they asked me if I wanted to stay. Who better to do the job of a floor monitor than someone who has spent most of their life here? Speaking of jobs, I should do mine and fill you in on the rules. The most important one is you can’t have anyone in your room while the door is closed.”
She grins and says, “You need to ask?”
I feel my face flush.
Kamila points to the ceiling and says, “If you ever have the urge to test that rule, don’t because I’ll know right away.”
I look up at the small round object that she’s pointing at and ask, “Is that a camera?”
“No, of course not,” she says. “It’s just a heat detector monitored by the building AI. If the AI detects more than one person in a room with a closed door, it alerts the floor monitors. If you’re caught, you’ll get a one-year EE ban.”
“What’s an EE?”
A chime sounds. I glance over my shoulder and see a message on the wall display above the desk:
Evening classes begin in five minutes
“Don’t be late,” Kamila says. “Residents are required to participate in two hours of educational activity each day.”
She turns to leave and I call out, “Wait, where do I go?”
“There,” Kamila says, pointing at the learning glasses on my desk. “We use them for everything here.”