Chapter 31: The Switch

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(Back to Kim's POV)

Kim stared at the poster and opened her mouth but no sounds came out.

It was Zayn. It was Zayn, standing next to Willow. In the ad for the phone in the world inside the game where he SHOULD NOT BE. It was Zayn.

Kim's brain was like: I'm freaking out. Are you freaking out?

"I'm totally freakin out man," Kim whispered.

Kim felt light-headed and overwhelmed and confused and like she might pass out, which is a common feeling when confronted with Zayn's image. But this wasn't that. This was her heart and mind twisting in opposite directions so forcefully that her entire reality threatened to come apart at the seams around her.

Maybe, OK. Wait.

Maybe it wasn't actually him? That was the easiest explanation. Kim examined the picture more closely. Was there something more drawn about his face, something slightly hunched or stooped about how he carried himself? It was just one picture and probably photoshopped in places but was there somehow less of the ineffable magic that made him Zayn.

But it was him. The way he was stared longingly at Willow in the picture. That thing his eyes did, where there was a surface layer of beatific, doe-eyed innocence, and then the darker thing beneath that, the look that said: I am bad for you and we both know it.

It was so Zayn. It was Zayn for days.

And under any normal circumstances seeing a picture of Zayn would be the best thing ever. But seeing him now, deep underground in The Foundation's secret lab beneath Cassio's villa--it sent 10 different alarms ringing in Kim's mind. But the top note, the alarm that sang higher and louder than all the other alarms, was: No way does this mean anything good.

"Here's your new phone, babe," Brandon said.

"Wahhh!" Kim yelped, jumping back. She'd been so entranced by the the picture she hadn't noticed Brandon coming towards and then he was RIGHT THERE and his cheery voice and vibe were suddenly way too much for her to handle.

"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you," Brandon said. "You like our new ad campaign, I take it?"

Kim eyes buzzed between from Brandon to the poster and back.

"I find it engaging," Kim said.

"Here," Brandon said, one hand held out for her non-working phone, one hand offering her a new Foundation Fone. Kim made the trade and smiled at Brandon and then looked at the poster again. She knew she was being weird and should be focusing her attention on Brandon, but: ZAYN. Zayn was going to star in an ad campaign that would be all over KKHollywood? What did it mean?

"So listen carefully and I'll walk you through some of the great new features of the Foundation Fone," Brandon said. "Firstly, hold it in one hand and touch the Home button--that's the button on the front of the phone--to access its many different features. The Foundation Fone features a revolutionary touch-sensor screen, which means you can actually touch the screen with your finger to access those features. Next I'll walk you through the steps for making a phone call. A phone call is an exciting way for people to communicate despite geographic--

"Hey, Brandon," Kim said, cutting Brandon off. "I'm sure I can figure it out. But look, I'm super tired from my flight and the tour, do you mind if I go back to my room for a bit? Get a little disco nap action?"

"Oh. Yes. Of course. How rude of me. I'll take you back up, come on."

They rode the elevator back up to Kim's suite. Brandon kept trying to explain very basic things about the Fone to her--at one point she caught him saying something about how she would need to plug it in if it was running low on batteries??? But she was too preoccupied to even pay attention. She hoped Brandon interpreted her inattention as fatigue but the truth was she had never felt more alert and awake in her life. There was too many things happening inside her brain for her to even pretend to devote any energy to Brandon.

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