Chapter 7 - Journey to Thisavros
I’m lying on my bed a few hours later when there’s a knock on the door. Figuring it’s Noah back to apologize, I ignore him, but he’s persistent and won’t go away. I get up, throw open the door and bark, “What?”
Kamila blinks and takes a step back. I immediately apologize. “Sorry, I thought you were someone else.”
“What happened?” she asks, frowning. “Did Noah do something?”
My silence is the only answer Kamila needs. She sighs and says, “What did Madison do?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Kamila cracks a smile. “Are you going to answer all my questions with one-word answers?”
We both laugh. I know I’m being ridiculous letting Madison get under my skin, but how is it possible I can hate someone so much after only knowing them for less than a day?
“She’s not worth it,” Kamila says, “and it’s time for you to have some fun. I’ll take you down to the Simatorium and show you around.”
I think about telling her no, but hiding in my room isn’t going to solve anything. “Do I need to bring anything with me?”
“Just your wits and reflexes,” she says, smiling.
* * *
The Simatorium takes up the two floors directly below the cafeteria. It’s dimly lit like a movie theatre and incredibly quiet considering there are hundreds of kids sitting or standing in small cubicles. Most of the kids are wearing skin-tight metallic gloves and black full-face helmets. I try to figure out what they’re doing, but it’s like watching a weird one-sided game of charades.
“This is the half-sim section,” Kamila says. “The full-sim chambers are over there.” She points to the far side of the Simatorium where there’s a row of rooms with glass walls. The kids in those rooms are dressed head-to-toe in what appear to be white fencing outfits. “If you want to use a full-sim room, you have to make a reservation and wait for a room to become available,” Kamila says. “But don’t get your hopes up.”
“Because the rooms are constantly in use. A lot of sims are tested in the group homes before they’re released to the public. Being the first to play a new sim is a big deal for the kids here,” she says. “As soon as one is announced, everyone applies to be a beta-tester.”
There’s a burst of laughter from a nearby cubicle. Two boys are standing behind a girl in a chair. All three of them are wearing helmets, but the girl is the only one with gloves on. I watch as she moves her arms and makes a motion like she’s shooting a gun.
One of the boys shouts, “Rachel, you missed again! Are you blind?”
“It’s not my fault,” Rachel complains. “It keeps jumping around and spraying me. I can’t get a good shot.”
“Let me try,” the boy says. “I’ll show you how it’s done.”
“No, wait your turn.”
“What are they playing?” I ask Kamila.
She watches for a moment and says, “A sim, but I don’t know which one.” She walks over and taps the girl on the shoulder. “Rachel, it’s me, Kamila. Take the headset off. I want to ask you a question.”
“Ask me later. I just started playing.”
“Now, please,” Kamila says firmly. “It won’t take long.”
Rachel takes off her helmet and glowers at Kamila. “What’s so important?”
“What sim are you playing?”
“Journey to Thisavros,” Rachel says. “They just put out a new update.”
“Is it hard?” Kamila asks.
“Only for Rachel,” the two boys say together. They look at each other and roar with laughter. Rachel scowls at them.
“It’s not hard, but it takes practice,” she tells Kamila.
“Would you let Fumie try? She’s new.”
“Can’t she play after I’m finished?”
I start to open my mouth to tell them I’ll play later, but Kamila frowns at Rachel and says, “It won’t hurt you to let her play for a few minutes.”
Rachel gets up in a huff. She takes off the gloves and throws them onto the chair. “Knock yourself out,” she says, crossing her arms and glaring at me.
Great, one more enemy.
I shrug an apology and take Rachel’s seat. When I slip on the gloves, they mold automatically to my hands. There’s a faint electrical tingle in my fingers and palms that lasts for a second and then disappears.
Rachel gives me the helmet. It’s surprisingly light and has a mirrored visor that glitters with different colors depending on how I hold it. I put it on and a voice says, “Please state your name.”
“Profile not found. Creating one. Get ready to play.”
The visor darkens and it becomes pitch black inside the helmet. Eerie electronic music begins to play and what I see starts to change. There are two blood-red moons in the sky. I’m standing on a river shoreline. To my right, bluish-green water glowing with bioluminescence cascades over a waterfall. A screeching sound comes from high in the trees. I look up through the mist and glimpse a monkey with two heads jumping from branch to branch. There’s something in its hands.
“What do you see?” Rachel asks. I can barely hear her voice over the thundering waterfall.
“Something that looks like a monkey,” I say.
“That’s a Majmun,” she tells me. They’re harmless, but if you threaten them, they’ll throw things at you and make a lot of noise.
I glance down and see a high-tech pistol in a holster around my waist. I reach for it with my right hand. Somehow, the glove makes it feel like I’m holding the gun. The Majmun bares its teeth and screeches. I duck as it throws a rock at me.
“Should I shoot it?”
“No!” Rachel says, sounding horrified. “It’s a harmless animal. You’ll be kicked out of the game and lose skill points.”
“Then what am I supposed to do?” I ask
“Find a Framandi and follow it to its cave.”
“What’s a Framandi?”
“You’ll know when you see one,” she says mysteriously.
I look around. The path I’m on goes in two directions. I decide to go left. But how? There’s no keyboard or game controller.
“Uh, how do I walk?”
“Seriously, you don’t know how to walk?” Rachel sounds incredulous.
“She grew up in Japan,” Kamila says as if that explains everything odd about me. “Fumie, just tell it what you want to do.”
“Not out loud,” Rachel says in an exasperated voice. “You need to mouth the words. The sim helmet operates with subvocal commands.”
To my amazement, I start moving through the jungle. The sensation is so realistic I flinch as branches brush against my face.
“You better get going or time will run out,” Rachel says. “And don’t make any noise,” she adds ominously.
With each step, I move deeper and deeper into the jungle. The path I’m following narrows until I have to use my hands to push my way through thick brush. The air inside the helmet becomes humid and smells of mud and rotten vegetation. I find myself breathing hard.
“Why do I feel out of breath?” I ask Rachel.
“That’s part of the new update,” she says. “The air-management subroutines reduce the amount of oxygen in the helmet when you’re doing any kind of strenuous physical activity in the sim.”
I start walking again after I catch my breath. It begins to rain, and the ground becomes soggy. There’s a squishy sucking sound every time I take a step.I look down, amazed to see water seeping into my footprints. With just gloves and a helmet, the sim is amazing. Every little detail has been taken into account. I can’t even begin to imagine what the full-sim suits are like.
Something whizzes by my head and strikes the ground by my feet. I can’t see the Majmun anymore, but it’s jumping from branch to branch high in the forest canopy. Raindrops fall from the wet leaves, splashing against my face. When I raise my hand to wipe the water from my eyes, my vision clears and I spot a fallen tree up ahead blocking the path.
“What’s happening now?” Rachel asks.
“There’s a big tree across the path.”
“Go around it,” she says.
The tree trunk is twice my height and too big to climb over. It’s easily a hundred feet long and extends into the jungle on either side of the path. Even if I wanted to go around, the thick vegetation forms an impenetrable wall. I look down and spot a small gap between the tree trunk and the ground. There’s only one way to find out if I’ll fit.
The simulation suddenly changes. I’m on my hands and knees now. Rocks and tree roots cover the ground. I can feel them against my palms, just like I felt the gun in my hand. I’m almost at the other side of the log when a bug with large black pinchers scrambles out from beneath a leaf and bites my finger. The pain is short-lasting, but sharp like a doctor’s needle.
I cry out. “Ouch!”
“What is it?” Rachel asks.
“Something bit me.”
I describe the bug to her. She tells me not to move and to quietly look around. I raise my eyes. In front of me are eight hairy legs attached to a gigantic bulbous body.
“Do you see anything?” Rachel asks.
“A spider, I think. A really big one.”
“That’s a Framandi,” the boys say together.
“Don’t let it see you!” Rachel shouts.
“Shoot it!” the boys cry out.
The Framandi gapes its mouth and roars. The smell of its breath is horrific, like rotten meat but worse. When it lunges towards me, I feel like I’m on a train heading into a pitch-black tunnel. A sound from deep inside my head fills me with inescapable panic.
And then nothing.
I sit motionless for a moment before I take off the headset. I must be as pale as a ghost because both Rachel and Kamila ask me if I’m okay.
The boys grin like a pair of Cheshire cats. “That was a record for sure,” one of them says.
“For the shortest game ever in the history of Thisavros.” He roars with laughter. Even Rachel and Kamila smile. I’m too stunned to be embarrassed.
“It was so realistic,” I tell them. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“If you thought that was realistic, try a full-sim,” Rachel says. “It will blow your mind.”
Kamila nods in agreement. “Do you want to go and see if anyone will let you take a turn?” she asks.
I shake my head and try to stand. Kamila steadies me as I wobble. I’m even dizzier than the first time I used the learning glasses.
Samantha, the adaption counsellor at the hotel, said it would take my brain time to become use to virtual reality. She said most people acclimatize to VR by the age of six, but the doctors and scientists didn’t know how long it would take me and the other time travellers because our brains were already fully developed
“Are you all right?” Kamila asks, a worried look on her face.
“I’m just tired,” I tell her. “I’m going to go back to my room and rest for a bit.”
“Do you want me to come with you?”
I shake my head and turn to Rachel. “Thanks for letting me play.”
She smiles, then she spins on her heels and pushes one of the boys out of the way. “No you don’t,” she shouts at him as he tries to take her spot. “It’s still my turn. I never got to finish.”
I can still hear them arguing as I get on the elevator to go back upstairs.