Author Topic: Chapter 12  (Read 9776 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 12
« on: July 21, 2022, 03:02:15 AM »
Chapter 12

It was about a week before the final presentations were set to happen. Diana came to her room later at night, to find her console already unpacked and waiting for her!

She froze, obviously concerned. If anyone knew what she'd been up to, she could get in huge trouble. But flashing on the screen was a message: 'Whatever you do, don't scream.'

Simon waited until he was sure she'd read it, and then stepped out from behind the door, closing it in the process. "Hi," he said softly. He wasn't sure how much sound traveled through these walls, but she'd been speaking into that thing for months now, so presumably not very much.

She gasped, spinning around, and her eyes got as wide as dinner plates. "Simon??"

He spread his hands with a grin. "In the flesh. Surprise!"

Her face split into a smile and she rushed over to him, grabbing him in a big hug. He chuckled quietly as he returned it, lifting her off the ground for a second and then putting her back down. Diana let go and stared up at him, her mouth still open. "Why are you here? How are you here?? With your tracker, Noah should be raising hell over this!"

"I've got it covered, don't worry," he assured her. He actually hadn't thought about his tracker in a long long time, until he stumbled across the subroutines Noah used to monitor them. Then he remembered the injections he'd seen in the medlab back in the original settlement. A tiny pellet injected into the soft tissue of the ankle, harmless and unnoticed.

Noah had said it was to keep them safe, but Simon knew the truth by now. It was so he could keep the boys and girls apart. If either side wandered anywhere they weren't supposed to be, like through the door he'd just used, Noah would know, and do something about it. The others all knew by now, too, but Noah kept everyone so busy they probably didn't have much time to complain.

"You remember how I told you Noah let me take a look at his source code?"

Diana nodded, and gestured to the chair by the bed. She sat down on the bed herself, and removed the message he'd left for her. Not that it made much difference. If any of her sisters stepped in on her, finding him here would be just as bad as finding that message. It was a pity none of these doors had locks.

"Well, I can't make any changes to him, but I can schedule some of the things he does automatically. I found the system he uses to keep an eye on our trackers. I can hide a tracker from him for a while. Well, hide isn't the right word. More like make it so he doesn't care where it goes for a few hours. Basically, I can make a few of the trackers low priority, so even if they go somewhere they shouldn't, like me being here, it doesn't raise any red flags with Noah."

"That so badass!"

Despite himself, Simon laughed again. She'd picked up that word from him—it wasn't the kind of thing the girls were supposed to say, normally.

Diana looked around nervously. "You said you can do that to any tracker. Could you get me out of here?"

"Yeah, that's why I did all of this. It's a late birthday present. Or an early one, if we're using the New Eden calendar. I can never figure out which to use."

"You're the best," she said, grinning again. "Thank you so much!"

He shook his head, a little embarrassed, but held up a hand anyway. "Hold on. I didn't know for sure when you'd be in your room tonight, so I hid here until you got back. You can't just leave right now. But if you use that," he gestured to the console, "to let me know a day in advance, I can make it so you can go anywhere, even to the boys' side or outside the domes, without Noah knowing. Only for a few hours at a time, but it's a start."

"What about the drones? Can you make them ignore me, too?"

Simon grimaced. "Not yet. Noah would definitely notice that. I had to sneak in here without them seeing me, and you'll have to sneak out the same way. I have their patrol patterns, though. It's risky, but you should be able to get out without too much hassle. Unless you're going outside. I can't predict the flyers. They're always on some different task than before—it's not a patrol for them."

She sat back on the bed, looking happier than he'd ever seen her before. Their social gatherings were fun, sure, but it was their nightly conversations that he really liked. It seemed she felt the same way. That console had been used a lot. "But why are you taking the risk at all? I'm grateful, don't get me wrong, but why did you risk coming here at all? Why not just tell me about it using the console?"

He slowly smiled. "Because my being here is just part of the surprise. I wanted to give you this." He pulled a book out of the bag he'd put on the floor, and handed it to her.

Her eyes went all wide again as she took a look at it. "How did you get this?" She immediately opened it, and started flipping through the pages. It was a piloting manual, complete with pictures and diagrams. Everything she needed to know about how to handle the controls. "What plane is this? F-16? No, this doesn't have any weapons controls."

Again, she was jumping ahead. She just loved flying so much it was understandable. She'd mentioned it again and again since they'd started talking regularly. "It's a little hard to send you pictures through the console, so I figured I should deliver it personally. Also, I don't know if you have a printer on this side of the dome, but something tells me Noah would have a problem with you printing this. As for the plane, it's... kinda new. It’s the one parked outside right now, actually." He cocked his head at the edge of the dome.

Comprehension dawned on Diana's face, and her eyes went all wide again. "The cargo shuttle? No way. But Noah designed that plane himself, after he got here to New Eden." Her eyes strayed down to the book again. "Are you saying he wrote this manual?"

Simon nodded. "I asked him to print it out, for my own 'intellectual curiosity'. None of the boys have said anything about being a pilot yet, so he was happy to do it. Or as happy as Noah gets. He knows none of us will be old enough to fly that thing for years, but he wants to get people started early."

Her expression soured, and Simon winced. He knew what that was about. He and all of his friends were getting started early. Each was pressured to get better at their chosen field, and each made to study intensely at all sorts of topics. From what he'd read, it was much more intense than most kids on Earth went through, but they were building a new society here. The first generation had to be highly educated, motivated, and skilled, or all the next generations would suffer because of it.

But for girls, it was a different story. There was no pressure to study, or to achieve anything strenuous. For them it was how to live humble, quiet lives in preparation for eventual marriage and children. That was it.

"Simon..." She said slowly as if reading his mind. "I can't read this. I shouldn't even have it. No woman would ever be allowed to become a pilot—you know that!"

He paused, and then reached out to take her hands. "I don't think that's true, actually, and I don't think you really believe it either. I mean, I don't think Noah lied to us. America probably was going down the drain when he left, but I don't think it's because women didn't know their place or anything stupid like that. I love Noah, I really do, but he's still just a machine. He'd never wonder if what he was teaching might be wrong."

Simon took a deep breath. "I've known you my whole life, Di. You told me yourself—you chose your name not after some British princess, but after Diana, the Roman goddess of the wilderness and the hunt! You're braver than I could ever be. You're smart, and kind, and brilliant. You deserve to be happy. And if flying a loud, terrifying metal deathtrap through the sky for hours on end makes you happy, then you should do it."

She let out a short laugh, looking away for a second, but didn't respond.

It was probably time for him to go anyway. "Listen, just think about it, ok? Keep the book. Read it, or burn it if you want. I just want you to have the option."

Diana nodded, and wiped at her eyes a bit. Checking his watch, Simon stepped back to the door. He was good for a few more minutes before the next caretaker drone would be in sight. "Goodnight, Di. Sleep well."

"You, too."

Simon's trip back to his own bed was uneventful, if unnerving. He hadn't expected Diana to be so hesitant. She talked about flying like it was the most wonderful thing in the world!

That was why he hadn't told her about the past part of his surprise. A few weeks back, Noah had offered some of the boys a trip up to the old agro dome in the north to collect seeds and soil samples. Despite his terror of flying, Simon had volunteered.

He and Bez had figured out how to hide a camera lens inside a breather. He had wanted to do it for some kind of prank on Rhys, but Simon had a better use for his hidden camera. He'd worn it on the plane, during the trips north and then back south again. During the flight, he'd asked Noah if he could go into the cockpit and see all the controls. Wanting to encourage him to become a pilot, Noah had done even better, and given a few demonstrations of the flight controls. It seemed he still didn't know he'd been recorded.

After dry heaving a few times upon landing, Simon had gotten the recording back to his room, and gotten to work on building a simulator. If Diana wanted to fly, by God he would make that possible.

It was still a few weeks away from being ready, delayed even further by their school projects coming up, but Simon hoped it would be adequate. And now he hoped Diana would actually want to use it. He still couldn't really believe it, even after he was back in bed, looking up at the ceiling.

To Simon, the differences in education between boys and girls had just been the way things were. Women weren't suited for the sciences, any more than men were suited for childcare. That was just one of many examples, of course. Diana had railed against those restrictions during their tap messages, but somewhere along the line she'd gotten less angry.

It was his fault, Simon was sure. He'd been so busy with schoolwork and his programming that he hadn't noticed. She was becoming resigned to her fate, and that was making her less happy. For a second, he was tempted to open up his own console and try to reach her right then. He could tell her about the simulator. Maybe it would pique her interest, and she'd jump at the chance.

No... it was too soon. He'd already surprised her twice tonight. Maybe that was enough of a shock to her to reignite her interest, but he didn't want to overdo it.

Blinking up at the ceiling, Simon tried to relax and get some sleep. Somehow he doubted he'd make much progress there, either.

-.-

A knocking noise woke him, not much later. Squinting, Simon groaned and sat up in bed. Between his excursion last night and his worries, he hadn't gotten much sleep. "Come in."

His door swung open and in walked Argent, dressed for the day already. Simon glanced at his watch on the bedside table. It had an alarm, but it wasn't set to go off for another half hour. "Argent? What's going on?"

His friend sat next to the bed, smiling down on him. "Sorry to get you up so early, but I wanted to talk before breakfast. See, I've had something on my mind all night, and it kept me up. Looks like I'm not the only one," he put in wryly.

Simon sighed. Argent wasn't the most serious of people, but at least he wasn't a prankster of Bez's caliber. He wouldn't be here if it wasn't something important. Pulling on a warmer shirt over his sleepwear, he yawned. "What is it?"

"See, I was up last night around ten, checking some of the figures for the commissary on the common room computer, when I saw you, Simon. Sneaking around near the wall. I figured it was one of Bez's pranks, but then I saw you go through the door in the middle! Imagine my surprise."

Simon felt a cold hand grip his stomach. Still, he forced a laugh. "No wonder you weren't sleeping well, with dreams like that. Even your dreams are boring. You know I couldn't go through that door without Noah doing something about it. You were dreaming, 'Gent."

Argent chuckled. "I would have said the same, so I asked Noah for permission to stay up late in the common room. He okayed it, just this once, so I could finish the commissary's ledger. That's how I saw you come back in, about an hour later. Even more surprising."

So he knew. Simon grimaced, and then leaned forward. "What do you want from me? Money? I've got some allowance saved up. I can 'spend' it at the commissary if you want, without actually taking anything." It wasn't much of a loss, really. Simon didn't really spend money on anything else, although he had needed some to buy the parts from Bez to build the simulator.

"No, no, nothing like that. I'm not going to tell anyone, Simon," he responded quickly. "What you did wasn't wrong, it was bold! Sneaking into the girls' side like that. I just want to know how you did it. I could double the commissary's potential customers!"

Of course. That was why Argent hadn't told anyone. Well, if he wanted to make money off this, Simon supposed he should be able to. That was what America had been built on after all.

Slowly, he told 'Gent about the loophole in Noah's programming. He edited the story heavily, implying that he went over there for some romantic reason. It didn't matter, though. 'Gent already knew he and Diana were close, and assumed they were together. His grin took on epic proportions, though, as the story completed.

"Simon, my friend, you and I are in for one wild ride."
« Last Edit: July 21, 2022, 03:09:09 AM by Daen »