After a few minutes of comforting Quin, the other three were able to calm him down enough to get to their quarters without drawing too much attention. Quin went straight to his room and locked it. He didn’t even open it for Blair, who sat out in the common area with Jordan and Timothy.
It killed Blair not to be with him, but she also respected that he wanted to be alone. She wished that she at least knew what caused him to react like this. After about an hour, Quin slowly opened the bedroom door. He didn’t come out; he’d just opened it to invite Blair in.
Her feet moved without her thinking. She rushed into the bedroom and found Quin sitting on the edge of the bed, naked. His feet were pulled up, his arms wrapped loosely around himself and his head tucked between his knees. Blair gently lowered herself beside him and placed a hand tenderly on his back.
“What happened in there?” she whispered.
Quin looked up at her. His eyes were red and puffy. Blair wiped her thumb over his dried tears. He lowered his legs and revealed his chest. Blair noticed immediately that his scars were missing. Both of her hands instantly covered her mouth in surprise.
“Oh, Quin.” She wrapped her arms around him. “It’s okay.”
“I thought this was what I wanted. I thought I wanted to be irrefutably male.” Quin said. His chin rested on her shoulder. He pulled himself back so he could face her. He was wearing a half-smile, attempting to not cry. “I did want that. But I wanted it in my own way. The whole process has been a nightmare, and all it took was some immoral corporate agency to do it like it was nothing, as if all the suffering and pain and financial burden we went through was unnecessary. And now every time I look at myself, at my body, I have to thank,” he waved a hand in the air, “them! It’s just not fair.” Quin bit his lower lip to prevent any more tears.
“You don’t have to thank them for anything, Quin. Look at me.” She reached over and pulled his chin towards her. “They didn’t do this for your sake. They did this for theirs. Don’t forget you have a couple dozen plates that could kill you all sewn up inside you. It wasn’t just nothing .”
Quin wiped his face and smiled at her. He nodded, got up and put on some clothes. Once he was dressed, they went out into the living room. Jordan and Timothy were still on the couch.
“Sorry about all that,” Quin said. “They took something from me that wasn’t theirs to take.”
“You have no need to apologize, Quin. We’re just glad you’re all right.” Timothy said genuinely. They didn’t press him for details, which Quin appreciated. “While you guys were in your room, Jordan grabbed the next schedule off the door.”
Jordan handed the paper to them and said, “We have two days to recover, then we get fitted for our suits. But tomorrow we have a class on how to use The Shell at 3 o’clock.”
“Yeah, I don’t think they’re allowing us to use them yet. I can’t seem to activate it no matter how hard I try to find the right muscle.” Timothy tried to get The Shell to activate. He went back and forth between squinting really hard and opening his eyes really wide.
“You look like an idiot,” Blair said. She laughed, and everyone else joined her, even Timothy.
After a late lunch, the group went to the auditorium for their class. Only about a small fraction of the people from the other meeting were there. PYKSEL must have either not wanted another riot, or not everyone had gotten their plates installed yet. The four of them took a seat together near the center of one of the sides of the triangular stage.
At 3 P.M. sharp, a tall man walked out from the corner of the stage. His dark hair was long and messy with a touch of gray. He was very thin, and his short, messy beard made him appear older than he probably was. Quin’s father stood front and center on the stage. Quin and Blair sunk into their seats as he began to speak.
“Welcome, everybody.” His voice was very light and outgoing. It did not match his appearance. “My name is Harold Adams. I am typically not the person who gives these lectures, but our resident Shell expert is busy overseeing some of the final surgeries. I am one of the lead directors of our history department. I am responsible for collecting various data on war which include the average death tolls, cost analyses and all that good stuff. You won’t be seeing much of me after this. Before we start, I’m going to run down a list of names to make sure everyone is here.” A Shell encased his left eye, and then his right eye suddenly darted around the room. He said the first name. “Adams?” He swallowed hard. “Quincy Adams.”
Quin didn’t move. He didn’t want his father to know who he was or what he looked like.
“Quincy Adams!” he said again, frantically.
Again, Quin did nothing. Blair nudged him and whispered, “Quin, do something. You have to.”
“Here!” Quin shouted as he stood up and raised his hand. He looked around self-consciously as everyone stared at him with confused expressions. Quin took a deep breath and said much more calmly, “I’m here.” He slowly sank back into his seat. Quin was unsure if he truly recognized him.
His father paused for a moment. He looked a bit confused, as if the name he just read may just have been a huge coincidence. Or was that… man, really his daughter? He snapped out of his daze and continued down the list of names.
“Now that I know everyone is here, I’m going to activate your Shells,” he said. He took glances in Quin’s direction every opportunity he could. “From here on out, you can activate your Shells at any time. To do so, you just have to treat it like a muscle and you’ll be able to bring it out and retract it at will. It takes time and practice to do it efficiently. It takes some practice to do just one at a time as well, but eventually that too will become second nature.” Above him, the screens show a diagram of the eye with a Shell around it. “Pretend like you’re trying to wiggle your ears. The same muscle group is what should be used to activate and retract your Shell. Give it a try.”
There were a few screams around the auditorium as people’s Shells encased their eye, and Jordan was one of them. A few seconds passed and more people gasped. Quin was the last one to get his to come out, and it made him jump in his seat. It felt like his eye flew out of his face. There was a bit of pressure as The Shell slid around his eye. He could see through it perfectly, but words and numbers jumped in front of his face as he looked around.
“You’ll get used to the feeling. You should see a menu in front of you. This can be used to access notes and settings and to record what you’re seeing. However, you must start recording beforehand if you want to capture it; you can’t record what has already happened. If you’re having difficulty seeing the interface, you can add an opaque background to your Shell, but I suggest finding a safe place to sit while doing so because you won’t be able to see anything else.” He laughed as if he’d made a joke, but nobody picked up on it nor entertained his ego. “Anyway, there are plenty of cool features of The Shell that you can utilize.” He continued on about everything that could be done with The Shell outside of The Prism simulation and then instructed on how to pair it to the simulation room in the arcade for entertainment purposes.
Most people weren’t really paying attention. Most people were laughing and giggling while they played with their Shell, activating it and retracting it. A few people were taking notes or otherwise paying close attention such as Quin, Blair, Jordan and Timothy. The structure of The Prism was so institutionalized that many had already let their guards down. Not Quin though, he knew the place was dangerous. He wasn’t going to let his guard down for anything.
His father finished up the lecture by saying, “This technology is not a toy. It’s very advanced stuff, and we hope you will all treat it with the upmost respect.” He looked straight at Quin as he spoke. “I wish you all the best of luck. Farewell.” He turned and walked back through the hallway he’d come from.