“Don’t be so naïve—nog rot’s just a spook story, Tig. It’s a silly myth perpetuated by the establishment to keep you from playing with yourself.” She shook her head. “You’ve got about as much chance of getting the rot as you do seeing the Easter bunny.”
I wanted to argue, but what could I say? I didn’t know anything about anything, it seemed, and Cheza was an insider. How was I ever going to impress this femmy?
“Ah yes, the Easter bunny,” I said. “What do we really know about him?”
That made her smile. “You’re a funny kid,” she said.
Kid? NOOOOOOOOO! I’m not a KID! I shave for godsakes! I’m dangerous and enigmatically cool. Kids CAN NOT be dangerous and enigmatically cool—they need help buttoning their clothes. Kids are one step above babies. Babies are sweet. Puppy dogs are sweet. Overalls are sweet. Babies in overalls holding puppy dogs are sweet. ANYONE can be sweet! I’m dark and complex, like Batman or string theory. But I absolutely CAN’T be a kid.
At least that’s what I was saying on the inside. On the outside I was quiet . . . like a damn kid.
She leaned over and ran her hand over my scalp, shorting out my holo for a few microseconds before it flickered back to life. My whole body stiffened. I brought a hand to my head as if to capture some residual heat her fingertips may have left behind just to prove to myself that it really happened.
Cheza Gregory touched me.
“Come eat with me,” she said. “I’m at sixes-and-five now.”
“O-kee-dee,” I said. “Let’s eat.”
It felt more like a dream at first when we walked hand-in-hand through the halls to the nosh house. She held her head up so high, refusing to even look down at the peasants staring at us. I couldn’t do it though; I wanted to feel their stares. It made all this seem so much more real to me.
“So how’d you bump your tongue so high?” I asked.
“I’ve been pouring all this cycle’s marks into my mouth,” she said. “You think that’s manic, don’t you?”
I shook my head vigorously. “If you’ve got the numbers, they’re yours. You earned them. I say put them anywhere you want.” We were shuffling through the line with the other studs. I caught a few gawking at me so I gave them a nod. They nodded back in disbelief and then just looked at each other. “I’ve never met anyone in such a hurry to come to their senses.”
“Aren’t you?” she asked.
“Sure I am, I just don’t pull the marks you do. I’m not that smart.”
“Maybe you are, maybe you’re not.” She leaned in close to me. “And maybe you shouldn’t have to be so smart to get your senses. That’s what they’re saying on the outside.”
“Lots of people. They’re saying it’s wrong to withhold the full senses we were born with just so Fairchild and every other school can keep us in line and have a carrot to dangle in front of us. The Resistance is going on out there, Tig, even if we’re never allowed the know about it in here. That’s just what they want.”
I shook my head. “How do you know these things?”
“Like you said, I’m a smart girl.” She grabbed a fruity-knot-fruit from the line and popped it in her mouth with a resounding moan. “God, I love this new tongue! You won’t believe how good sixes-and-five taste,” she said.
“Right now I can’t even imagine it.”
She shrugged. “Someday you won’t have to imagine.” She swallowed the knot-fruit and leaned into my ear. “Some people say that not everyone in The Resistance is on the outside. There may be some sensory sympathizers right here among us.”
“You mean some of the sensors?”
She smiled that crooked smile at me. “I have my suspicions,” she said. “We have a right to our own bodies, Tig. I’m not the only one who believes it.”
“But you’re already so high, why do you even care? You’ll be fully-sensed way before any of us.”
“That’s exactly right,” she said. “An understudy blanket like yourself should care about being held down even more than I do . . . so why don’t you?”
Cheza Gregory is so cool. So smart. So different from anyone I’ve ever met. She’s right—I should care! I should care more than she does. Me and all the blankets like me being held down from experiencing life simply because we’re less-than-extraordinary seems hardly fair. And it takes someone like Cheza, who’s barely held down at all, to make me see it. So to answer her question, ‘Why don’t I care?’ is pretty simple: No one ever opened my eyes to it until now. I’ve never known a stud like Cheza that would actually ask these questions. The real question—the question I was afraid to find out the answer to was this: What does someone like Cheza Gregory want with me?