“Fumie…wake up. It is time for you to get out of bed,” Mirai says, deactivating the smartglass and turning my bedroom windows fully transparent. Even with the pillow over my head, I can feel the morning sun beating down upon me.
“What time is it?” I groan at her.
“It’s too early. Go away.”
“Should I tell Kyle you are not attending school today?” she asks.
I’m tempted to say yes, but that won’t change anything. Squinting from the bright sunlight, I sit up in bed and toss my pillow aside. “I’m up, but could you at least darken the windows?”
“Why, Fumie? It is a beautiful day outside.”
“Maybe I don’t want anyone to see me naked,” I say flippantly.
“But you are not naked. You are wearing pyjamas.”
Argh…She takes everything so literally. It’s not like I’m actually worried about being spied upon. I’m on the top floor of a house in the middle of a forest. To see me, a peeping tom would have to climb eighty feet up a tree.
Mirai darkens the windows—slightly. I throw back the sheets and roll out of bed. By the time I reach the bathroom, she’s already turned on the shower. I close my eyes, letting the warm water cascade over me while I slowly wake up. I’m almost finished washing my hair when the water turns cold. I reach for the controls but stop. There’s no way Kyle’s house has a shortage of hot water.
“Mirai, you witch! Turn the hot water back on.”
“I am sorry, Fumie,” Mirai says through a speaker in the ceiling. “Breakfast is ready, and Kyle is waiting for you downstairs.”
“Two more minutes, please! I’m almost done.”
“I will do as you ask, but Kyle is—“
“Waiting downstairs. I know. I heard you the first time.”
Mirai turns the hot water back on. A bright red two-minute timer appears on the shower wall. That’s one thing about her; she’s anything but subtle.
After I finish showering, I put on the school uniform. Kyle has filled my closet with pastel blouses and peasant skirts that Mirai says are the latest style, but Guerneville Prep has a dress code, and I have to wear stretchy dark blue bell-bottom dress pants with a white button-up shirt and gray jacket. Standing in front of the mirror, I can’t decide if I look like a proper school girl or an entitled brat.
Maybe a bit of both.
For breakfast there are different kinds of fruit and cheese—and pastries like you’d find at a fancy restaurant buffet. It seems the food shortages we had in the group home don’t apply in Kyle’s world. I’m more nervous than hungry and help myself to a banana as Kyle zips into the room.
“Fumie, we’re going to be late,” he says. “Hurry and get your school bag and learning glasses. I’ll meet you on the roof in five minutes.”
“We’re taking a DuoCopter.”
I drop the banana back in the bowl I took it from and dash upstairs to grab my things. This will be my first time in a DuoCopter—second time actually because the first time doesn’t count since I was unconscious. By the time I reach the roof, Kyle and Chang are waiting for me next to something resembling a giant dragonfly. It’s about the size of a bobsled and has rotors at the end of two vertical wings.
I jog over and glance inside. There are only two seats and three of us. “How are we all going to fit?”
“Fumie, there’s no we,” Kyle says. “It’s just you and me.”
“But who’s going to fly it? You’re paralyzed, and I don’t know how.”
Kyle chuckles. “The autopilot.”
“Of course. AIs are much better at it than humans. Hop in and you’ll see what I mean.”
I walk around to the other side and climb into the DuoCopter. The seatbelt is weird and has five straps that all come together and attach to a buckle near my belly button. While I’m figuring out how to fasten them, Chang lifts Kyle out of the wheelchair and places him in the other seat. Then he snaps Kyle’s seatbelt in place and moves safely out of the way.
“Ready?” Kyle asks me.
I nod, and a second later there’s a humming sound as the engine starts. The wings fold down, and the rotors start to spin. Lift off is so gentle I don’t even realize we’re moving until I see the trees zipping by. In just a few seconds we’re surrounded by blue sky. Down below, the giant tree I named Kyojin is barely a green speck.
“What do you think?” Kyle asks me.
I grin like an idiot and give him a thumbs-up. I’ve been in plenty of planes, even a helicopter once, but the DuoCopter is amazing. Flying in it is like canoeing through the sky.
“Do you want to go faster?” Kyle asks.
Suddenly, we’re pointed straight up. I feel myself pressed back against the seat as the DuoCopter accelerates like a rocketship.
“How about a Lomcovak?” Kyle asks.
My stomach turns over as we tumble sideways and drop out of the sky and plummet towards the ground like a rock. The seatbelt which seemed like overkill a few minutes ago suddenly makes sense. At the exact moment I’m sure we’re going to crash, the DuoCopter levels off a few feet above the treetops.
“That was crazy, Kyle! I thought we were going to die.”
“With an AI in control there’s nothing to worry about,” he says.
“Don’t they make mistakes?”
“Occasionally, but unlike a human, once an AI learns that it has made a mistake, it doesn’t make the same mistake again.”
“Well, that’s just peachy,” I reply sarcastically. “because by then we’d be dead and splattered all over the ground.”
Kyle laughs, “It doesn’t work that way, Fumie. The DuoCopter’s autopilot flew millions of simulated flights before it was placed into service. It made every possible mistake that could be made before a single human life was ever placed in its care. Nothing is perfect—not even us—but the AIs are as close to perfection as it gets.”
I have no reason to doubt Kyle, but I remember Noah joking about the AI at the group home constantly burning his toast. Maybe they aren’t as perfect as Kyle thinks.
The remainder of the flight is uneventful, and I sit silently staring out the window at the landscape below. Kyle is quiet too, and now seems like a good time to ask him about my father.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it, but what was the medical procedure that my father helped you get?”
"You know about that?”
“A little. Mirai showed me a newspaper clipping when I asked her to tell me about my parents.”
“If it weren't for your father, I might not be alive,” Kyle says in a subdued voice, “and I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
“When I was a few years younger than you, a drunk driver hit me while I was on my bicycle. The impact severed my spinal cord and damaged my frontal cortex. The doctors told my parents I would never recover. About a year later, my father was flying back to San Francisco to attend a court hearing to determine whether or not I should be taken off life support. My parents were divorced by then, and my mother was vehemently against it, but Dad thought it was for the best. When he didn’t appear at the hearing, the judge ruled in my mother’s favour.”
“Why didn’t Darren appear at the hearing?” I ask.
“Because it was the day you and he and your plane disappeared,” Kyle says.
“Is that when my father became involved?”
“No, that was almost ten years later,” Kyle says. “By then a Japanese company called Camtopia had developed an experimental neural implant to treat brain injuries. It was a technological marvel, a man-machine interface that didn’t so much as unscramble a scrambled brain but worked around the broken parts. Mom learned about it and convinced them to implant the device in my head, but when the Federal Drug Administration wouldn’t approve the procedure, she sued the government. That’s when your father became involved. The case made its way to the Supreme Court. Your father was Chief Justice by then. In his ruling, he wrote how losing you, his only child, had changed his view of the world and that no parent should ever have the hope their child might have a better life taken away by any government, entity, or person.”
“Is that why you’re helping me?” I ask.
Kyle is silent for a moment, then he says, “It’s ironic but because everyone believed that you and my father were dead, I was given a second chance. Now, I’m a rich old man, and the two of you are stuck in an unfamiliar world. I can’t give you back what you’ve lost, but I can help you build a new life.”
Numb inside, I don’t know what else to say except, “Thank you.”
“There’s no need,” Kyle says. “It’s the least I can do.”
“Arriving at your destination in two minutes,” the autopilot announces.
“There’s the school,” Kyle says.
I glance out the window as we zoom over the top of a small mountain. In the valley below there’s a large building in the shape of the letter ‘G’. It’s on the outskirts of a tiny little town next to a slow-moving river. The streets are empty, and there’s no sign of life.
“Where is everyone?”
“When the school was built, the town’s residents were relocated,” Kyle says.
I’m pretty sure relocated is code for ‘get rid of the poor people’.
A few seconds later, we land in a parking lot filled with DuoCopters. Most are similar to Kyle’s, but some have four seats and exotic-looking paint jobs. It reminds me of the parking lot at my old high school. You could always tell who was rich and who wasn’t from the car they drove.
An older-looking woman comes out of the school and walks towards us. She’s dressed in the same uniform as me and has her hair swept up in a top knot.
“That’s Mrs. Volchov, the head of Guerneville Prep,” Kyle says. Somehow his window opens on its own. Before I have time to wonder how he managed to pull that off, she goes around to his side of the DuoCopter and greets him.
“Mr. Reid, it’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” Kyle says.
Mrs. Volchov turns toward me. She smiling, but it’s painted on, and the corners of her eyes crinkle like she’s grimacing in pain. “And you must be Fumie,” she says. “Welcome to Guerneville Prep. We’re so very pleased to have you join us.”
Who is she kidding? The only reason I’m here is because of Kyle.
“Now that the introductions are out of the way, I’ll leave the two of you to it,” Kyle says. “Fumie, Chang will pick you up after school. Have a good first day.”
“I will, thanks.”
I get out of the DuoCopter and walk over to stand next to Mrs. Volchov. As Kyle lifts off and flies away, it feels like I’ve been left behind on a deserted island, and I’m watching the last boat leave.
“Come along,” Mrs. Volchov snaps at me. “You’re already late for class.”
I turn and follow her into the school. At least she didn’t tell me I was getting a demerit.