“All the aspens on the grounds are engineered to grow to about forty feet, so they set the fence at fifty.” She reached her hand over the border. “You see? No fence up here. By the time they notice this fellow poking out of the grove we’ll have already had our good fun.”
“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you for tonight, thank you for the last few weeks, thanks for all of it. I’ve had a lot of good fun with you already.”
“Why stop now?” she asked.
“Cheza, we don’t have the full sense to enjoy what’s in the city. You might be close, but I’m not. And it’s not set up for us like at school—it’s dangerous.”
“Answer me one question,” she said. “Do you trust me?”
“Of course I trust you.”
“Then stop thinking so much.” She poked her finger into my forehead, “and just trust me.” She placed her hand against my heart.
“O-kee-dee,” was all I could say. I couldn’t tell if this was the first time in my life I was deciding to blindly do something truly courageous or if I was just a wuss who couldn’t say no to his femmy. It’s a pretty fine line. And speaking of fine lines…
She pulled a thin, knotted rope from her pack and tied it to the branch. She gave it a tug, dropped it over the far side of the fence, and climbed down. I followed her, my feet landing firmly in the tall grass.
This is your last chance to turn around. After this night, everything changes.
We crossed that field and picked up a road that led us straight to the glow of the city’s brights and the promise of adventure.
Our feet padded the concrete just outside the city when Cheza grabbed my hand and squeezed.
“Listen to me this time, do exactly as I say, understand? I’m going to make this a special night for you, but you were right before, the city is dangerous for blankets like you. Promise me you’ll follow my every word.”
She spooked me, I’ll admit it, but I’d come too far now to let my fear stop me. “I’ll do whatever you want,” I told her.
We entered the city.
The first thing I noticed was that there were no kiddies around and no one here had a holo—all the fullgrowns had fuzzy tops. Some of them covered their heads, but the hair would still spill out the sides of their caps. I guess there’s no need to keep your head shaved and sanitary if you never have to get cracked open and have your nogbox twiddled. Still, it was such an odd thing to see up close—fulls with real hair—and their nonchalance about it. Up until then I always thought our holos looked essentially the same as genuine fuzz, but the lightfield of sim implants embedded in my scalp would never be able to duplicate the texture and richness of what I was seeing now. The sensors at Fairchild were required to keep themselves bald and hooded at all times so we never got to see their real locks, which was probably a good thing because it was already starting to make me feel inadequate somehow. I patted my black stretchcap then looked at Cheza’s thin-lipped grimace and realized she noticed it as well. I never understood how much of the school was tailored to studs like me with dulled senses.
Everything around me was a mishmash of hard and soft experiences: the sounds, the sniffs, the sights. I couldn’t focus in on any one thing. There was a newness in the blurred minutiae all around me, but it was always once removed. This was a shadow world I couldn’t fully perceive, as if I was visiting a museum, but only allowed to peek at the exhibits through dirty back windows. All this beauty, and I couldn’t really touch any of it. And so it never really touched me either. Cheza didn’t waste any time on the minutiae though. She tugged me along the sidewalk like a toddler; a clear destination in mind. After a while, she began to hop with excitement.
“We’re here, we’re here!” She was positively giddy.
“This?” I said. “This is what we escaped to see?”
It was a small, brick-and-mortar building that reminded me of the gardener’s shed back at Fairchild. No windows. A large metal door, dented and badly in need of paint, with a single naked light bulb radiating above it and humming loudly. What paint there was, along the frame, was a pale blue, and peeling. Cheza dragged me into the alleyway and we wended our way around the back to another metal door with an eyeslot.
“How do you know this place?”
“No more talking now,” she said. “I need to concentrate.”