Chapter 5 - The Morning After
Music wakes me. No, not music, something else; a melodic blend of different sounds: rain falling on a tin roof, waves washing up on the beach, wind chimes like the ones in my grandmother’s garden.
I lift my head to see where the sound is coming from. There’s a video of the sun rising over the Golden Gate Bridge playing on the wall monitor above my desk. The time—6:55 a.m.—is displayed at the bottom of the screen along with a message.
Rise and shine, Fumie.
A new day awaits you.
I watch the video for a few seconds longer before collapsing back onto my pillow. My brain feels foggy, like when the doctor gave me a general anesthetic before I had my wisdom teeth removed. I wonder if my tiredness is jet lag from the time travel. As I close my eyes to go back to sleep, the soft music changes. The rain becomes a pounding drum; the chimes a pair of crashing cymbals. I bury my head beneath the pillow, but the volume grows louder and the sounds more obnoxious.
I give up trying to sleep, climb out of bed and look for a way to turn off the video. Unable to find a switch, I remember Kamila telling me the learning glasses are used for everything. I grab them from the desk and shout, “Alarm off.”
The room goes quiet. I’m still tired, but I doubt I’ll be able to fall asleep again. Hoping I won’t bump into Madison—or Noah, I grab a towel, put on the robe I took from the hotel, and scurry down the hallway to the bathroom.
Kamila comes out as I’m going in. She beams a bright smile at me. I don’t know how anyone can be happy this early in the day. “Good morning, Fumie. Did you sleep well?”
“Like a log.”
It’s true. I was dead to the world; no dreams, no tossing and turning, no nothing.
“I’m not surprised,” she says. “The building AI turned on the Sombulant in your room. We use it here all the time. It’s mixed in the air at night to keep the anxiety index from becoming too high.”
I assume Sombulant is some kind of drug, like the pills my friend Julie’s mom use to take to help her sleep when she was stressed. The thought of breathing in something like that while I’m sleeping worries me. I wonder if that’s why I was so dopey when I woke up.
Have you eaten yet?” Kamila asks. “You must be famished.”
For a moment, I think about making a joke about having not eaten in ninety-six years, but that definitely wouldn’t classify as staying under the radar. I settle for shaking my head.
“I’ll take you to the cafeteria after you’ve washed up,” Kamila says.
She turns to leave, and I stop her and ask, “Is there any where I can get new clothes?”
Kamila smiles sympathetically. “Of course. I’ll place an order with Child Services, but it will take a week or two. In the meantime do you want me to see if I can find something else for you to wear? I think there are single-use suits in the floor supply closet.”
I’m not sure I like the idea of wearing whatever a single-use suit is, but Kamila doesn’t wait for an answer. She grabs me by the hand and leads me down the hallway to a room labelled Supplies where she presses her bracelet against the handle to unlock the door.
“This should fit you,” she says, reaching inside and retrieving something from the bottom shelf. The package she hands me is shrink-wrapped and contains what looks to be a pale blue shirt and matching pants. They won’t win any style awards but at least they’re not one hundred years old and won’t draw attention like my own clothing.
“What do you think?” she asks. “Are these okay?”
“Great. I’ll meet you at the elevators in fifteen minutes.”
Kamila goes to her room, and I return to the bathroom. There’s no sign on the door, but it must be for both boys and girls because I hear a boy in one of the shower stalls talking to a girl in another stall about something called Thisavros. I think Thisavros must be a video game because the boy tells the girl to look out for the Majmun. He says the Majmun are a big pain in the butt and will stop her from finishing her journey. I want to keep listening, but it sounds like they’re almost done showering.
I dash into an empty stall and close the door before they come out and catch me eavesdropping. While I’m waiting for them to leave, I take off my robe and try to figure out how the shower works. There aren’t any knobs, just buttons with pictures to set the temperature and pressure. When I finally get the shower working, I stand in place with my eyes closed, soaking up the warmth for a few minutes before I start washing my hair with shampoo from a dispenser on the wall.
Suddenly, the water turns off, leaving me covered in shampoo. No matter what I try, I can’t get the water to turn back on. After checking there is no one else around, I sneak into the next stall and rinse off before returning to dress.
I open the package Kamila gave me and cringe when I see what’s inside. There’s a small toiletries kit, which is perfectly fine, but what I had thought were a shirt and pants is actually a one-piece jumpsuit. I put on the jumpsuit and die a little inside when I see myself in the mirror. The jumpsuit is ugly as sin and makes me look like a character from an old science fiction movie. I start to take it off but stop halfway. If I want to fit in, I can’t wear my so-called vintage clothing. Groaning, I put the jumpsuit back on and open the toiletries kit to look for a hairbrush.
The kit has a bunch of things, most of which I recognize. There’s a small black hairbrush, and equally small comb, a container of deodorant, and a tube of something that looks like toothpaste but no toothbrush. I pick up the tube and read the label on the side :
Apply using fingertips.
Curious, I squeeze a small amount of toothpaste on my index finger and smear it over my teeth. The ticklish sensation makes it feel like there are a million tiny brushes scrubbing away inside my mouth. I laugh out loud. Of everything I’ve experienced in 2115, this is the best thing so far.
There’s a knock on the bathroom door and Kamila shouts, “Hurry, Fumie, or we’ll miss breakfast.”
I spit the toothpaste into the sink and rinse my mouth three times just in case the nanonites, whatever they are, are dangerous.
Kamila is waiting for me by the elevators. She grins when she sees me. Self-conscious, I ask her how I look, and she diplomatically says, “Clean.” Then she tells the elevator to take us to the cafeteria.
As we descend, I remember the woman who escorted me to my room yesterday said there were nearly six hundred kids living in the group home, and during the car ride the man from Child Services told me there were another eighty-two homes just like this one. I do the math in my head and can’t believe the number I come up with. How can there be more than fifty thousands kids in foster care?
I ask Kamila and she says, “A lot of the older kids were orphaned during the riots, and the rest have parents who are Simatope addicts.”
When Kamila frowns, it dawns on me I’ve asked a question that no one in 2115 would ask. “I’m just not sure how it works,” I say quickly, hoping she doesn’t see through the lie.
“I’m not sure either,” Kamila says. “It has something to do with dopamine pathways and the signal in the sim broadcast.”
I nod like I understand what she just said. After the near miss, I don’t dare ask her about the riots, but whatever happened sounds like it was a big deal if fifty thousand kids were orphaned. Maybe Escalante knows. If I see her again, I’ll ask.
Kamila sighs and says, “And of course there are a handful of kids here in the group home who are like Madison and Noah.”
“What about them?” I ask, intrigued.
“I don’t know all the details,” Kamila says, “but Madison’s parents made some kind of deal with the courts to keep her out of youth detention.”
“His parents too.”
I’m not shocked to hear Madison got in trouble with the law, but Noah is a surprise. He seems too good-natured to be a delinquent.
Kamila looks at me and says, “Noah isn’t a bad kid, but you need to remember he and Madison aren’t like us. We’re in the home because we didn’t have anywhere else to go. The only reason they’re here is because they have rich parents who were able to keep them out of detention.”
The elevator slows suddenly and comes to a stop. The door opens and we step out into an empty cafeteria. I ask where everyone is, and Kamila tells me most of the kids skip breakfast and go straight to the Simatorium. From the way she describes it, the Simatorium sounds like an amusement arcade with games and movies. She says we can take a look after breakfast if I want.
Kamila leads me to a row of serving tables. I’m surprised how little of the food I recognize. There’s bread and something resembling microwaved eggs, but everything else is brightly colored and perfectly formed. It might be edible, but it sure doesn’t look natural. Ignoring the rumble in my stomach, I fill my plate with bread and ask her where the fruit is.
“We only get it on Saturdays,” she says. “There’s a shortage because of the drought.” She raises her eyes when she sees all the bread I’ve taken but doesn’t say anything.
While we eat, I pick her brain, taking care not to ask anything that would make my ignorance about 2115 too obvious.
Kamila tells me the water shortage has been getting worse for years, and that’s why my shower cut off after five minutes. She says the underground reservoirs in California have almost completely dried up. Most of their water comes from desalination plants on the coast, but the plants can’t convert enough seawater to drinking water to keep up with demand.
I realize as she talks this is one of the reasons why she freaked out when she saw my leather jacket. They haven’t used animals for food in more than fifty years, and most of their clothing is made from something called Synthcloth which doesn’t need to be washed.
We’re almost finished eating when the elevator opens and Noah steps out. He spots us and waves, then he hurries across the cafeteria to where we’re sitting.
“Is now a good time?” he asks me.
“Good time for what?”
He looks away like he’s embarrassed. “You know…what we talked about last night. Can we do it now…please?”
Kamila presses her lips together and frowns. I know what she’s thinking, but it’s not like that, and I’m about to tell her when he opens his mouth and says, “Fumie is going to tutor me.”
Kamila stares at me in disbelief. “You’re going to what?”
“Tutor me,” Noah says. “She’s smart.”
I feel my face flush. “I am not smart.”
“Yes, you are,” Noah insists. “Even the teacher thinks so. You’re the only person I know who ever got merit points for answering a question in class.”
I don’t believe him, but Kamila grins at me and says, “Seems like you’ve already made an impression. Just remember what I told you. No closed doors. And that goes for you too,” she adds, pointing her finger at Noah.
I nod obediently, but Noah has probably heard Kamila’s warning a thousand times before and ignores her.
There’s a chime from a speaker in the ceiling. Kamila glances at her bracelet. I hadn’t noticed earlier, but the bracelet, which is about three inches long and as thin as a piece of paper, has a small display that’s only visible when she turns over her arm. “We need to go,” she says, getting up from the table. “The scrubbers are about to start cleaning.”
I hear the same angry buzz I heard when Darren and I got off the plane.
Six of them drop from hidden enclosures in the ceiling. One of the smaller drones flies to an unoccupied table where it lands, and then zooms back and forth vacuuming up crumbs. When it finishes, it flies to another table, and a larger drone takes its place. The larger drone resembles a miniaturized version of the floor cleaner at my old school. I watch in awe as it mops the table clean before moving on to the next one.
“Come on, Fumie,” Kamila says. She and Noah are standing a few feet away. “You can’t be in here while the scrubbers are working or the building AI will give you a demerit.”
“Why? Are they dangerous?”
“Only if you’re dirt,” Noah says laughing.
Kamila cracks a smile. Despite her warnings about Noah, I think she likes him. I don’t mean in a romantic way, but as an all-around good guy. I can understand why. He seems nice and has a sense of humour. I wonder if Madison is his girlfriend. There’s definitely something going on between the two of them.
When we get on the elevator, Kamila asks, “Where do you two want to go? Back to our floor or down to the Simatorium?”
I’m super curious about the Simatorium, but Noah says, “I really need your help, Fumie. Please, can we study now?”
He’s so earnest, I can’t help but nod. Kamila tells the elevator to take us back to our floor.