When I wake, I find myself sprawled on Matthew's bed. I bolt upright, initially confused about where I am. And then I remember. Last night, Matthew had quietly offered that I could sleep in his room when I confessed that I would rather dodge any more of Leah's questioning. For a moment I lie still and breathe in the sweet, weighty scent lingering on his pillow.
After Matthew told me about his experience being plugged in, we talked and kissed for several more hours. In the space of that time, I told him everything. About my brother, about my mother's job and my long treks to my grandmother's apartment and my fear of the cameras that watched my every movement at school. About how I never knew my father. It became so easy speak with him about these heavy subjects that the power they held over me started to melt. It felt good to share my fears with someone. Sighing, I scan the tidy room around me. There's nothing in here besides the bed, and the small digital clock on the drawer adjacent to it. It hooks my attention, and I stare at it until my drowsy eyes can register the time: 6:50.
Ten minutes until training!
I throw the warm quilt off of my body and rush into the living room, where Matthew sleeps soundly on the couch. His arm is bent awkwardly over his head, his dark hair disheveled. I don't waste time wondering if I should wake him or not.
"Matthew," I hiss. Nothing. "Matthew!" He opens his eyes lazily and looks up at me, eyebrows drawn inward in a confused expression.
"Training starts in ten minutes!" Realization dawns on his features.
"Crap!" Instantly, he jumps off of the couch and dashes into his room. I hear the sink start running in the small bathroom connected to the bedroom, and I find a small mirror hanging on the wall in the kitchen for myself. Standing in front of it, I do my best to tame my wild hair. I hear a door close and Matthew steps into the kitchen. His hair no longer sticks out in odd places.
"Sorry 'bout that. I'm not exactly used to waking up this early."
"It's fine," I laugh. "You'll get used to it. Are you ready?" I approach him slowly and he carefully drapes his arms around the small of my back, pulling me towards him. A mischievous light twinkles in his eyes.
"You know, I haven't properly thanked you for helping me out," he mutters. I stand on my tiptoes so we are on the same level and lift the corner of my mouth in a slight grin.
"Don't mention it." I lean in to kiss him when I hear Sam yell from the Training Facility.
"Everyone ready? Good." We both jump as if shocked and rush to the door, sparing no time in exiting the apartment. Outside, all of the Trainees stand gathered around Sam in the middle of the Training Facility, and we join the back of the crowd. Leah rushes over to me and pulls me aside as Sam begins speaking, glancing warily at Matthew.
"What the hell were you doing in his dorm?" She demands. At first my mind becomes numb with anxiety, but a newfound courage grants me intelligence for a moment. Leah gets to have her fun with Luke, so why can't I have mine?
"He doesn't have a dorm. I spent the night at his apartment," I reply smoothly, holding my head high.
"What are you talking about?" It's hard not to laugh at the incredulous expression on her face. Not eager to miss any more of Sam's speech, I swivel to face him.
"Like always, I want you to continue fighting the battle droids to the best of your ability. Always try to come up with different strategies. I need you in top shape for what's to come." With that, we are dismissed with the lazy wave of a hand. I bite my lip. For what's to come? By the way he said that, it indicates he has an idea of what that might be. Could Sam be hiding something? Shaking my head to dispel the annoying curiosity, I drag my droid over to the corner of the room as usual. Neither Leah nor Matthew follow me. Shaking off my slight annoyance, I fight the droid over and over and over and over and over...
* * *
My feet make loud thumping noises on the concrete underfoot. The Straight is empty this morning. It's the day before the all-important mock mission, and I'd decided to check in on my mother. It's also the fourth day of Matthew's training, and he's a natural. More than that, even. He's grown so confident and steady in his skills that the less gifted Trainees go out of their way to see him for guidance each day, usually an hour before training begins. Just by his easy smiles and even gait, I can tell that he is much happier without a drill in his hand.
Or an RScreen on his head.
"Enna!" My mother looks up from her task and her face lights up. I jog over to her and hug her. I'm finding that, with each passing day, I'm becoming better and better at gestures of affection. My mother's thin face and piercing green eyes comfort me, even though I have a few bones to pick with her. "What are you doing here? Don't you have a mission to be on?"
"That's tomorrow," I reply, leaning against the brick wall. "You look great, mom!"
"You too, Enna! You've really thinned out." My face blushes a little when I look at the huge tree dominating most of the space here. My eyes automatically shift to the lowest branch...
"Enna, are you okay?"
I snap out of my stupor.
"Oh yeah, yeah, I'm fine."
"Here, tell me how you've been!" My mom leads me to a small, wooden bench under the shade of some large fruit-bearing trees. "Have you gotten better at training?"
"Yes. Actually, a friend has been helping me practice."
"How nice!" She smiles and tiny wrinkles turn up at the ends of her mouth. "Who is it?"
"His name is Matthew." I reply, and I find myself feeling giddy. My mom raises an eyebrow and smiles a little.
"Ah... I see."
"Anyways," I say quickly, eager to change the subject. "I didn't come to make small talk. I have some things to ask you."
"Alright, but can you make it quick? I don't want to be caught idle during work time." I nod.
"Did dad ever... talk to you about what he did on his missions?" My hands begin to shake in apprehension.
"Well..." My mom lowers her eyebrows and frowns. "Of course not: he was sworn to secrecy. Why would you ask?"
Here it is, the moment I came here for. I blurt out the words before my courage disappears.
"I think I know why we're fighting the government." She raises her eyebrows and widens her eyes. "John Elliot and his cronies... They want total world domination, and they will do whatever it takes to eradicate those who stand in their way. Mom... They know about the Depot. They're planning an attack, and they just finished building a hidden tunnel that they will use to ambush us."
For a while I stare at her intensely, and then she starts laughing. My heart pounds in anger.
"I know this sounds crazy, but you have to believe me! You must believe me!"
"You've got it all wrong, honey! We're perfectly safe here." She speaks with conviction, but I can detect a small hint of terror in her voice. I stand up from the bench.
"No, we're not. And if you really cared about my safety, you wouldn't have signed me up to work at the Training Facility." Flustered, I begin to walk out of the Atrium.
"Would you rather I had let you be plugged in?" She calls after me. I pause, but just before I speak my thoughts--This never would have happened had I chosen to be plugged in--I force myself to leave, feeling significantly worse than I did before speaking to my mother.
YOU ARE READING
Unplugged: The New World (#1, Unplugged Trilogy)Science Fiction
Choose to Rebel. RScreens (Reality Screens) are all the rage in America's future, just a few years after the climax of World War III. They were invented for sport, convenience, and -- most importantly -- surveillance. Enna Price, an 18-year...