Chapter 9 - Blanket of Invisibility
The wall display wakes me at the same time as it did yesterday morning. I stumble out of bed and turn off the alarm before it switches to obnoxious mode. Still groggy and wondering if I was dosed with Sombulant again, I wrap the hotel robe around me like a protective blanket and trudge down the hallway.
Kamila and the girl who saw me and Noah talking last night are standing by the bathroom door. Kamila greets me with a broad smile and says, “Morning, Fumie. This is Charlotte. Have you two met?”
“Not formally,” Charlotte says, smirking.
I recognize her voice. She’s Madison’s friend from the elevator, the one who Madison yelled at yesterday. I already don’t like her and put on a fake smile and nod hello.
“Oh, Fumie, I have a package for you,” Kamila says. “I think it’s the clothing I requested. Usually it takes a week or two to get here, but it was waiting downstairs with security this morning. First time that’s ever happened.”
Charlotte sneers at me and says, “Madison told me your old clothes stunk so badly you had to air out your room. Now you’ll have something decent to wear on the EE.”
“Fumie may not be going on the EE,” Kamila says.
“Why not?” I ask.
“You have two demerits,” she says. “One for being late to your first class, and the second for interrupting the teacher last night.”
“But I didn’t interrupt him,” I protest.
“Yes, you did,” Charlotte says. “I was there. You made a noise like a grunting animal.”
I shoot her a dirty look. “What are you talking about? I did not.”
She glares back at me and says, “It sure sounded like it. I’m actually surprised you only got one demerit.”
“It doesn’t matter one way or the other,” Kamila says, getting between us before a real argument breaks out. “Fumie, if you want to go on the EE, I have discretion over minor demerits and can void yours.”
“I’d like to go,” I tell Kamila.
“I figured you would,” she says. “I’ll leave the package of clothing in your room. Oh, by the way, I couldn’t find any laundry soap. I don’t know what you’re going to do with your old clothes.”
“If they smell anything like what Madison described, you should burn everything,” Charlotte says. “The entire group home will thank you.”
I ignore her and tell Kamila I’ll decide later. Then I go into the bathroom and hope Charlotte doesn’t follow me. She’s just like Madison, and there’s only so much ugliness I can take this early in the morning.
* * *
During breakfast, Kamila places a small plastic bracelet on the table in front of me.
“What’s that for?” I ask.
“The EE,” she says. “You’ll need it to leave the building.”
I pick up the bracelet and turn it over in my hand, inspecting it from every angle. It’s smooth, light-gray, and unlike the bracelet Kamila wears on her wrist, this one doesn’t have an LCD screen or linked earpiece.
“How does it work?” I ask.
“It authorizes the building AI to allow you in and out of the group home,” Kamila says. “Don’t lose it, and whatever you do, don’t give it to anyone else. Access bracelets are supposed to be genetically linked to specific residents, but I couldn’t locate your DNA record. Any idea why you aren’t in the system?”
“No clue,” I lie. “Must be a glitch.”
Kamila nods, but she seems extra worried—like she’s breaking the rules by giving me the bracelet. I tuck it away in my pocket before she has a chance to change her mind.
After we finish eating, Kamila goes to the Simatorium, and I return to my room. I place the bracelet behind the Kabuki face mask where I won’t lose it. I’m almost done making the bed when there’s a knock on the door.
“Just a minute.”
When I open the door, Noah is standing in the hallway with a mischievous grin on his face. He’s holding his Memoro in one hand and what looks like a large piece of folded aluminum foil in the other.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“Just a little something that means we won’t have to worry about Madison anymore,” he says and hands the foil sheet to me. It’s feather-light and looks like one of the thin metallic blankets marathon runners use to keep warm after a race.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” I ask.
Noah steps into my room. He takes the foil sheet back. “This is what you do with it,” he says, unfolding it and draping it over his shoulders like a cape. He pantomimes a movement that looks like something from a magic act and I laugh out loud,
“Let me guess, you found Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility. Will I disappear if I put it on?”
“Who is Harry Potter?” Noah asks, ruining my perfectly crafted joke.
“A character from a book but never mind.”
“Okay,” he says. “But you’re right. The blanket is special. It uses thermophotovoltaic energy conversion to absorb body heat and convert it into electricity.”
I give him a blank stare, and Noah says, “Don’t you get it? When we’re under the blanket, the building AI can’t detect our heat signature. We can study with the door closed and no one will know. We don’t have to worry about Madison catching us.”
I can’t decide whether to be impressed or dismayed. Kamila was crystal clear what would happen if we were caught with the door closed.
“Where did you get it?” I ask.
“It’s not mine,” Noah says. “It’s Madison’s.”
I fold my arms across my chest and scowl at him. “So, let me get this straight. You want to use something that belongs to Madison to hide from Madison?”
“It’s brilliant, don’t you think?”
“More like insane.”
Noah stiffens. “I thought you’d be happy not having to hide from her anymore.”
“Technically, we’re still hiding,” I say sarcastically. “And what happens if the building AI figures out there’s two of us in the room with the door closed? We’ll never get out of demerit jail. This is a stupid idea.”
Noah stares at me with a stony expression. I realize I’ve hurt his feelings. Maybe I was a little harsh and shouldn’t have called his plan stupid.
“Are you sure it will work?”
“One hundred percent sure?”
“I suppose we could try it.”
Noah cracks a smile. “You won’t regret it. Come on, get underneath.”
“Like we’re sharing a rain poncho. Trust me, it will work. I’ve done it lots of times before.”
“Not lots…a few times with Madison,” he says and glances at me out of the corner of his eye—checking my reaction, I think. I keep a blank face but wonder what they were doing under the blanket. Studying, or something else?
“Stay close,” he says. “We need the blanket over both of us.”
“What about our heads?” I ask. “Isn’t that the part of the body that gives off the most heat?”
“No, that’s a myth,” Noah says. “Loss of body heat is proportional to surface area, and the head is less than ten percent of the body’s total surface area.”
I gawk at him and ask, “How could you possibly know that?”
“I read it somewhere.”
“Of course I read, Fumie. I’m not an imbecile.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it in a bad way. I’m just surprised. Bex told me she couldn’t remember the last time she read a book.”
“Who is Bex?” Noah asks.
“The girl I was sitting beside in class last night.”
“That’s because she’s a sprawl-rat,” he says. “All they do is play sims. I told you I’m not like that.”
I apologize again, and we make our way to the bed and sit. I hold my breath, waiting for a sign the building AI has detected us. Noah must be doing the same because he’s quiet and unmoving too. After a while, I let out a nervous giggle.
“I guess we made it.”
“I guess we did,” Noah says, smiling. Without any warning, he leans over and kisses me on the cheek. I turn my head and our lips meet. Noah shifts his weight and places his hand on the small of my back, pulling me closer. I like him, but he’s moving too fast. I pull away.
“We should study,” I say.
“I thought you liked me.”
Noah takes that as an invitation to kiss me again. When he leans in, I put up my hands, pushing him back.
“Maybe I should go,” he pouts, sounding like a petulant child.
“Maybe you should,” I snap back at him. When he doesn’t even offer a half-hearted apology, I throw off the blanket and jump up from the bed. “Never mind. If you won’t go, I will.”
“What are you doing?” Noah cries out. He pulls the blanket tight around his body. “Quick, get back under here, or the alarm will go off.”
I start to panic until I realize we’re safe. The AI is only going to detect my body heat plus a little from Noah’s head—not enough to count as two people, I hope.
“Fumie, please get back under here,” Noah pleads. “You’ll get us both in trouble.”
“You need to leave,” I say. When he doesn’t, I stare at him, getting angrier by the second. If this is a contest to see who outlasts who, I’ll win. I’m the queen of stubbornness.
“I can’t leave,” he says, stone-faced. “The door is closed in case you haven’t noticed.”
Noah’s tone is so superior and condescending that I want to yank the blanket off just to spite him. Instead, I walk over and calmly open the door. “It isn’t closed anymore. You can leave now.”
“I don’t know why you’re so upset,” he says, throwing off the blanket and getting up from my bed.
“I asked you to stop.
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did. ”
“Well, I’m sorry,” he says, not sounding sorry at all.
Noah opens his mouth like he’s about to argue with me, then he spins on his heels and leaves in a huff. I slam the door shut. When I turn around, the blanket is lying on the bed where he left it. Just great. The last thing I need is Madison pounding on my door asking why I have it. I grab the blanket and step into the hallway. Noah is gone, but Kamila is just getting off the elevator.
She sees me and waves. “Is that what I think it is?” she asks, her eyes drawn to the blanket I’m hiding behind my back.
“What this?” I reply, innocently showing it to her.
“Yes, that. What are you doing with Madison’s charging blanket?”
There is no way on earth I can come up with a believable lie. I take a deep breath and tell Kamila the truth. “Noah said if we used it, the building AI wouldn’t be able to tell we were in my room with the door closed.”
Kamila doesn’t seem surprised. “I warned you about him,” she says, shaking her head. “He’s going to get you in trouble. Give me the blanket, and I’ll put it back in Madison’s room before she notices it’s missing.”
I hand Kamila the blanket and ask, “Did you already know Madison and Noah use it to hide from the AI?”
“Why do you let her keep it if she uses it to break the rules?”
Kamila sighs. “Fumie, I hate letting Madison get away with anything, but her family is powerful. They can make my life uncomfortable if she asks them to. Sometimes, it’s easier to look the other way. Do you understand?”
I nod and she walks away with the blanket. I wonder if that’s what the rest of my stay in the group home will be like—tiptoeing around a psychopath while I wait for Kyle and Darren to get me out of here.
* * *
After dinner, the warning chime announcing the start of class sounds. When I put on my learning glasses, Bex is already waiting for me.
“Are you ready for the test?” she asks.
“I think so. How about you?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she says. “I could study trigonometry for a million years, but it wouldn’t make any difference.”
“You’ll do fine,” I tell her. “Good luck.”
The class goes quiet as Sinclair walks across the stage. I look around and see a lot of anxious faces. Madison is in her regular spot, but I’m surprised to see Charlotte beside her and not Noah. Ignoring their glares, I search the auditorium for Noah. I can’t find him anywhere, but he must be here somewhere. The test is too important for him to miss.
“You have one hour,” Sinclair says. “Starting now.”
I push Noah from my mind and open the Memoro. The quiz appears with a small ticking clock in the upper-right corner of the first page. Ugh…Nothing like constantly seeing how little time you have left.
* * *
I’m in the middle of the last question when Sinclair tells us time is up. A second later, the test disappears. Frustrated, I close my Memoro.
“How did you do?” Bex asks me.
“Okay, but I never got to finish the last question.”
“Poor you,” she says with an exaggerated eye-roll.
“It wasn’t that bad, was it?” I ask her.
Bex grins at me and says, “You know the saying quality over quantity?”
“Well, I’m hoping there are points for quantity because some of my answers could have filled a book and I’m still not sure if they were right.”
We share a smile, but my eyes dart about as I try to find Noah. Bex notices and asks, “Who are you looking for?”
“A guy on my floor. He needed to pass this test, and I don’t see him anywhere.”
“It’s a big class,” she says. “Most likely he finished and left already. Speaking of leaving, I’d better go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Bex blinks out of existence, and I take off the learning glasses. I stay in my chair, hoping Noah will knock on the door. When he doesn’t, I go to bed wondering if I over-reacted to the way he behaved in my room. I don’t think so. He could have at least apologized for being a jerk.