The familiar sound of her identifier signaled entrance into the school.
Stupid machine. It was always misreading her chip.
She passed her arm over the scanner again.
"Clear." The light on the door changed from red to green. She was allowed inside.
Blue walls. Blue floor. Light blue ceiling. Blue stimulated learning. Everyone knew that.
Everyone like Janet. Janet told her all the secrets, all the good stuff. Janet was the one who showed Cameron how to skip school.
Just go to class. For once, a voice inside her pleaded.
After a few days in a row of missing her lessons, skipping again would be unwise. On her way to class, Cameron passed the inter room. Briefly, she noticed the dozen or so travelers hooked to the machines. They could have been sleeping.
"So peaceful, huh?" Janet nudged her. "What do you think they're dreaming about?"
Cameron smiled. Janet always knew what she was thinking.
"They're not dreaming anything," she said.
Her best friend hooked her arm in Cameron's, leading her down the hall. "They're certainly not travelling, either. To do that, you actually need to go somewhere!"
Mostly being dragged along, Cameron said, "But they do go somewhere."
Janet shook her head. She stopped Cameron, putting her face so close they were nearly nose to nose.
Over-emotes, Cameron thought.
"The Commons only want you to think that." Janet still had morning respite breath, the sweet smell of fruit puree coming from her mouth.
"Yeah, yeah." Cameron moved away.
They'd had the conversation before. What concerned Cameron was their route to class. She had no plans on attending. By now, she usually hid in the relief room, waiting until class began and the halls emptied. Then, she snuck out of school and further into obscurity. Just like Janet had taught her to do.
Going to class ruined her non-plans.
Non-plans were important. If Cameron varied from her routine, what would she have? Who would she be?
They reached a door marked "Private". Before she could ask what they were doing, Janet waved her arm, disabling the particle shield. A dark space beckoned, made even more intriguing by a small light source shining from within.
"C'mon." Once again, Janet grabbed Cameron and tried to pull her into the room.
This time, her eyes rested on the words above the door,[Private]
and a fear of authority compelled her to lose hold of Janet.
"We're not allowed inside." She checked the hallway, making sure they were alone. They were.
Janet wrinkled her nose, a grin highlighting the sparkle in her brown eyes. "We shouldn't skip class, but we do. Let's go." She pointed at the open doorway.
"Can't." Cameron backed away from her friend, away from real trouble.
Janet rolled her eyes. "Fine. See ya later, fear-madon."
Then, she stepped into the dark room.
"Over-emoter!" Cameron threw the whisper out as loudly as she dared. "And I'm no fear-madon."
Curious, she peeked inside. Little was visible. She couldn't make out the size of the room, or even where Janet was
Miniscule pinpoints of light appeared, seeming to originate from the air. The globes of light floated in the middle of the room, dancing, playing.
Louder, but not much louder, she called for Janet once more. Only the lights answered, tinkling beautifully as they drifted about the darkness.
"What are these?" Cameron hoped Janet might respond.
When no one told her what the lights were, Cameron reached out to touch one. Her hand went through the orb, but she felt increased warmth when connecting with it. The warmth wasn't unpleasant.
Kind of inviting.
Forgetting about trouble, fear, or class, Cameron moved closer to the lights. She inspected them, trying to find their source. One light went by her eyes, and she looked through it.
What she saw shocked her.
A wide expanse of water, so clear, like glass. She had never seen so much water, with nothing else around it except for more water. Looking into the light was like watching a scene through a window. Cameron stepped nearer to the orb, and the ground became unstable.
Everything rocked back and forth. As Cameron struggled for a footing, she glanced about the room.
Instead of dark, she saw brightness. Extreme brightness. Sunlight poured down from the sky, reflecting on the water.
Only one sun?
That was her first thought.Then:
Water? I'm standing on water!
Cameron almost fell over.
Improbable. I can't stand on water.
At her feet, shining objects were woven together, creating a haphazard platform. The raft went on for miles, composed of more objects which varied in shape. She wasn't standing on water at all. A small confirmation, but with it came relief. At least this world had some rules.
Besides the island expanse of junk, water was the only constant. No land mass in sight. No people in sight.
No school in sight.
"What is this?" Cameron stamped a foot, aware of how stupid her action was when the shiny mass threatened to break apart.
"Dreaming, that's all," she said.
Just like the inter room dreamers.
She closed her eyes, reached out an arm, and imagined being back in the dark room. When she opened her eyes, that's exactly where she was.
The ocean glob of light floated in front of her, mocking her.
"Wasn't real," she scoffed.
Stuck to her leg like a bad joke was a rope of glistening plastique. Plastique, or as one teacher described it, an ancient technology formed by underdeveloped planets. The use of plastique was banned by the League of Worlds due to its harsh environmental effects.
One student had laughed at the teacher’s pronunciation, insisting it was “plastic”, and not “plastique”, but no one knew for sure, as all the worlds who had used it were long dormant.
Hands shaking, Cameron reached down to take the trash from her foot.No, she wasn’t just like the dreamers. They never brought back souvenirs.
She did next what she should've done from the start.
All concern for Janet vanished. Cameron's fear guided her out of the room, into the hallway and into the relief room.
This is where I shoulda been straight off.
She tried to ease her erratic breathing, convinced Janet must've slipped her a hallugin. Wouldn't have been the first time.
Where is she? The interim bell sounded and students began filling the relief room. On his way to the urinal, one boy gestured to her foot.
"What's that thing?"
Cameron looked down, ready to flip out if she was still trailing the shining piece, but she laughed at the string of toilet paper.
The boy laughed too. "Janet's looking for you."
He peed and left without elaborating.
She exited the relief room, straining to find the boy in the hallway full of students. After a few moments, Cameron gave up. The commotion of students going to and from class made for great cover. She could slip out of the back door, and no one would notice she was gone. Her day had gotten too weird to continue it at school.
A nod from Instructor Galley disrupted her getaway.
Shoulders slumped, Cameron went to class. Three hours later, classes were over, and she still hadn't seen Janet. She thought back to the dark room, remembering no openings in the eerie space.
No openings besides the floating lights.
However, three hours of class convinced Cameron the water trip had been part of a hallugin-trip. What a crap-head Janet was for tricking her like that.Cameron shuffled down the hallway. Her earlier encounter, and subsequent hours spent learning had drained her. She felt ready to sleep for a couple rotations.
Maybe even dream. The thought came to her as she went by the inter-room, seeing the travelers with new eyes. They lay in reclined supporters, eyes and heads covered with particle shields. Occasionally, their faces twitched, and sometimes their fingers moved. They seemed to be experiencing something, but now Cameron believed as Janet suggested: they weren't going anywhere.
Not like the Commons promised.
She had gone somewhere.
Janet would know where.
Cameron rushed from the inter window. If she hurried, she wouldn't be stopped, and she might remember where Janet had led her. Several wrong turns, a spill on the floor later, and she found the door marked "Private".She waved her arm in front of it, but the particle shield didn't come down as it had for Janet. She willed the door to open, to let her in. In her desperation, she laid her head against the shield.
Suddenly, the shield came down, and Cameron tumbled through the doorway and onto the floor. Darkness surrounded her, soon dispelling when the lights came moving in front of her face. Through the light, she saw more window-scenes: mountaintops, dense jungle, odd structures made of wood and filled with people. All different places, and she could go to everyone of them and more. She reached out.
Another hand grabbed her, hauled her up.
The hand dragged her out into the hallway.
"Janet!" Cameron slapped her friend away. "You gave me a hallugin!"
A lie, and not a very good one, but it was all she could think of to say. Certainly, she couldn't say, how was your inter-trip through the ball of light?
Janet's bright smile appeared again. "You have a hard time accepting things. I like you anyway."
"Gee, thanks." Cameron yawned, suddenly exhausted.
"Let's go, please," Janet said.
They held hands on their way to the exit. Janet picked leaves from her hair with her other hand, and Cameron didn’t ask why or how they got there.
Before scanning her arm to open the exit, Janet said, "Maybe next time you and I will inter-travel together."
Trying hard to mimic Janet's smile and failing, Cameron shrugged her shoulders. "Could be fun."