Adrienne listened patiently while her friend, Heather Thompson, ranted about her long-time boyfriend Corey Emerson. In the four years that the two had dated, no argument had ever began before the first period on the first day of the new school year. However, since this was their senior year, it was the last opportunity for this to happen. So, it was probably inevitable, Adrienne realized.
She’d listened to Heather complain all morning and had only contributed an occasional, “I know,” or “You’re right,” and little else. Her stomach turned when she thought about ending up in the middle of another one of Corey and Heather’s fights.
“There he is,” Heather said. She turned and stormed off down the hall.
Corey weaved through the hallway crowd, calling, “Wait up.” Adrienne almost didn’t recognize him. He was usually so neat and polished. Today, he looked grungy. His blonde, uncombed hair stuck up in cowlicks. He wore a stained tee shirt and wrinkled Dockers. She couldn’t decide whether he looked like he hadn’t slept in days or if he’d slept in his clothes.
She turned, caught up to Heather, and said, “Oh my God, is he okay? He looks awful.”
Heather ducked into the nearest classroom with a curt, “In here.” Adrienne followed, and the door slid closed behind them.
Heather grunted. “Can you believe it? He doesn’t bother to chirp me for two weeks. Two whole weeks! He doesn’t answer any of my V- or E-mail. And now that school’s in, he wants his girlfriend back.” It was a repeat of what she’d complained about just minutes before.
“He looks like hell,” Adrienne said. “Maybe he has a good reason. He looks sick or something.”
Heather’s visor chirped. She pulled it out of her purse, and snapped the contact into the socket behind her ear. She quickly removed it, and groaned, “Guess who?”
Heather and Corey would make up, eventually, and the sooner, the better. Adrienne tried to nudge that process along. “I guess he really wants to talk to you.”
“He should have thought of that two weeks ago.”
Adrienne’s own visor chirped. She put it on and sighed. “Great, now he’s calling me.”
Heather put her hands on her hips. “I am not talking to him!”
“Well, I’m not going to have him bugging me all day.” She said, “Call—”
“No!” Heather grabbed her arm.
Adrienne unplugged. The scrunched up face Heather made was the closest she ever got to using the word please. “What are you going to do? We’ve got to get to homeroom. We can’t hide in here all day.”
Before Heather could say anything, the door slid open. William Brewster, the fourth member of their clique, stood in the doorway smiling proudly. He removed his visor and said, “I told you I could find them. This tracking program is tack.”
“Thanks William,” Corey said shoving into the room. “Heather, what’s going on?”
“Yeah. Thanks, William,” Heather said and ducked into the hall. Corey rushed after her, asking, “Heather, what’s wrong?” They both disappeared down the corridor.
Adrienne rolled her eyes. “Welcome to senior year.”
William smiled at her sarcasm. “Yep, only two hundred more days of this. Is she oojing about his Bravo Tunnel?”
“He got an upgrade?” A bit of jealousy settled into Adrienne’s stomach. The Bravo Tunnel was the latest biometric upgrade to the old F-series visors that everyone wore. Her mom said she’d heard on the news that a couple of people had issues with the B.T., but it was pretty rare. It was safer than the wetwear products that made some people blind. A few lucky classmates had gotten the upgrade, and all of those had to have their parents’ signed permission.
“Yeah, about two weeks ago.” William looked out the door where Heather and Corey had stepped out. “The bastard is so lucky.”
“I’m going to have to wait until I’m eighteen. My parents would never let me upgrade.”
“His parents don’t even know. His brother arranged it. It isn’t noticeable, unless you look really close. Just a dozen more contacts in his existing implant. His new visor looks just like the old one, too, but it has all the tack B.T. features.”
She slapped William on the stomach with the back of her hand. “You’re the ’ling of the group. I figured you’d be the first to upgrade.”
He bowed deeply. “Sorry to disappoint, ma’am. As of now, William Brewster relinquishes his title of nerdling to Corey Emerson. The ’ling is dead; long live the ’ling.”
Adrienne groaned at the pun. He always said the silliest things, and although he presented an irreverent exterior, he took the things he cared about passionately. It was one of the things she liked most about him. “Wait,” she said, “Corey got upgraded two weeks ago?”
“That explains it. Heather said he’s been ignoring her for that long.”
“Ouch. I wouldn’t want to be Corey right now.”
Adrienne agreed. Heather was going to make his life Hell until they made up.
In the school cafeteria, Adrienne, Heather, and William sat at their usual table for lunch; Heather on one side, William and Adrienne on the other. The three of them sat and drank their sodas in silence. Since Corey wasn’t here, it made sense that he and Heather hadn’t made up, yet. Adrienne wondered if they’d spoken at all since that morning. By the ticked-off look on Heather’s face, she doubted it.
William finally said, “Wow, first day of school, huh?”
“Yeah,” Heather said, her voice dripping with sarcasm, “I want to thank you—so much—for leading Corey straight to me.”
“Hey! How was I supposed to know you two were fighting?” Heather and Adrienne stared at him. “I mean, already. It’s the first day of school!”
Adrienne mustered up her courage and asked, “So, how long are you going to do this?”
“You know. Every time Corey makes a mistake, it takes you forever to forgive him.”
Heather frowned and looked at the empty seat next to her. “It appears he doesn’t want to spend any time with me.”
William took a bite of the spaghetti he’d brought for lunch. “Maybe he doesn’t want to make up this time.”
Dread flooded over Adrienne. Why did William have to say that?
Heather stared at him. “Why do you say that?”
“Well, usually he’d be kissing up to you so hard you’d have to fight him off. But where is he this time?”
Adrienne elbowed him in the ribs. “As if you know anything!” She reached across the table and took Heather’s hand. “The two of you just need to talk. You still love each other. We both know it, right William?” Hopefully, he’d noticed her emphasis.
William took another bite. “Yeah.”
Adrienne rolled her eyes. Thanks, William. She told Heather, “You can’t ooj on him for days at a time whenever he’s a little insensitive, or forgets something, or whatever he does wrong. He’s going to get sick of it.”
“Right,” William added.
Heather’s visor chirped. She put it on, then snatched it off again. She looked angry.
Adrienne sqeezed her hand. “Go ahead. Talk to him. We’ll give you some privacy.” She nudged William, who shoved the last bite of his meal into his mouth.
“There’s no need,” Heather said. “It wasn’t Corey.”
The next day after school, Adrienne moved over for William when he arrived at the Tack-Tock Diner booth where she and Heather sat. “Hi, ladies,” he said as he slid in. “Where’s Corey?”
Adrienne refused to say anything, demurring to Heather. Heather remained silent.
William said, “Uh oh.”
“We were just talking about what an asshole he is,” Heather said.
Adrienne rolled her eyes.
Heather said, “He is!”
“What’s he done now?” William asked.
Adrienne recognized the careful tone of his question, and whispered, “Bravo Tunnel.”
“That thing is ruining his life!” Heather said.
“You should cut him some slack,” William said. “The Bravo Tunnel’s a breakthrough. You shouldn’t ooj on him.”
“Did you see him in school yesterday after homeroom?” Heather asked. “Have you seen him today? I haven’t. We’re supposed to be in three classes together, and I didn’t see him in Geometry, didn’t see him in History, didn’t see him in English. I didn’t even see him at lunch.”
William said, “It’s only been two days, so he’s well within his cut quota. It’s a phase. He’ll snap out of it.”
“He’s ruining senior year.” Heather lowered her head. “He’s ruining everything.”
“You act like his B.T. is the end of the world,” William said.
“What’s so great about the Bravo Tunnel?” Adrienne asked. “I thought it just bypassed all the parental controls that—” Her stomach sank. Why did she mention parental controls? Everyone at school knew Bravo Tunnels could access pornography, unlike their F-series models. Adrienne suspected Corey was using online porn to cheat on Heather, but never mentioned it directly.
Heather cringed, and Adrienne felt as if she’d just betrayed her best friend. It seemed as though Heather already had the same suspicions about Corey.
“That’s only part of it,” William continued, oblivious to the icy feeling that had settled over the table. “Just bypassing them gives it a higher priority over our F-series implants. It has a wider bandwidth too. It can handle a lot bigger stream. That means less waiting for data.”
“Never mind,” Adrienne said, hoping William would shut up.
William kept talking. “No. Remember when we went to that old movie marathon? You all walked out after the first film. Why?”
Heather said, “It sucked. It wasn’t realistic.”
“Exactly. Because the technology back then was primitive. Those were actually some of the best movies of their time.”
Heather leaned back in her booth. “Please. They were only in two-D.”
“Right. Three-D is much more engrossing. Even the sound was in two-D. You never heard anything above or below you. It all sounded flat.”
Adrienne noticed Heather was paying attention and distracted from the whole Corey situation. Maybe William talking about the technology was a good thing. His ramblings seemed to get Heather out of her funk. At least temporarily. Adrienne’s affection for him grew, but she couldn’t concentrate on that warmth in her heart right now. Heather needed her.
Adrienne said, “That’s why it sounded so weird.”
William continued, “Yeah. But people back then loved them, because they didn’t have anything better. Your implant is like that. You just don’t realize what a difference the B.T. is.”
“Our visors already show three-D.”
“It’s just an analogy. It’s the extra bandwidth that makes the difference.” He gestured to her visor. “Imagine twice as much data feeding straight into your brain. Plus, the censoring algorithms aren’t slowing the data down, so it’s, like, eight times faster. That’s tack with a capital T.”
Heather said, “How’d Corey get it? His mom wouldn’t sign off, and he’s not eighteen.”
“His brother set him up when he was visiting from L.A. two weeks ago. He took Corey to a friend of his who would do the upgrade, no questions asked.”
Heather flashed an evil looking smile. “Can you find out who this friend is?”
Adrienne’s stomach turned over. Heather planned either to drop the news to Corey’s parents, or to turn the upgrader in to the cops. With a measured voice, Adrienne said, “Heather, what are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking we should upgrade, too.”
William smiled. “Tack!”