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I took a deep breath and destroyed what remaining pride I had as I walked into the gamespace. I was so used to being elite, to being the one others looked up to. Now that I had been hacked, was a noob again, a noob with a brand-new account.
That didn’t sit well with me.
All the noob quests were popping up on my screen. I logged out from pure shame and took off the headset. I blinked a bit in the bright lights of the room. The harsh lighting reminded me of just how much my hobby had begun to cost me.
Clothes were strewn about on the floor. There was a path to the door and my gameset, but that was it.
The wallscreen behind me dinged. I turned around to see it was a message from one of my friends.
ALICAT16: Omg Lenna they’ve made the subscription prices even higher! There goes my plan of being a member :/
LENNAH: Seriously? When did that happen?
ALICAT16: last week apparently.
“Lenna! Get over here!” Mom yelled from the living room.
I walked out of my room, carefully treading along my goat path, and saw Mom hunched over her ancient laptop, looking years older than I remembered.
“It says here that your subscription to Evo just got more expensive,” she said, her voice taking on what I called the ‘I’m talking about money’ tone.
“I just found that out, too,” I said, trying to soothe her. “I swear, I didn’t not tell you on purpose.”
“You do know we’re having a hard time right now?”
Really? I never would have guessed, between the secondhand clothes and no money for anything extra.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Look, I can’t help it.”
She closed the lid of the laptop with a sigh. “You’re just going to have to cancel your subscription. There’s no money for it.”
“Cancel my subscription?” I could already imagine the taunts that would come at school; they barely tolerated me as it was, and that was because I was elite in Evo. If Mom took that opportunity away from me…
“Would you rather a subscription or food?” she asked, her voice a whip. Her brown curls sagged around her face. Everything about her looked tired. “The factory doesn’t pay much, and without your father-”
Now the tired look was replaced by a pained one. I hated to see her like this. It’d been a year since the accident, and she wasn’t over it.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I- I’ll cancel it now.” I knew it was necessary, but it still hurt. Evo wasn’t just a hobby; when I played it, I was in a different world. Literally. No factories, no secondhand things, no teasing at school. I was popular. I was somebody, the person you wanted to be.
Not the girl with the dirty blonde hair that hung in her face, limp. Not the girl who barely said anything in class.
I walked back into my room and looked at the headset that sat on my desk. Maybe it was my imagination, but it looked lonely. I set that thought aside and wondered what Evo would be like without a subscription. Lonely, for one; the chat feature was disabled. I wouldn’t be able to get higher in rank than Officer, either.
ALICAT16: u there yet?
I logged out of the chat. I wasn’t in the mood for talking.
“Oh, hey, Lenna!” Ali greeted me, charm written all over her face. “Why’d you sign out of the chat?” I leaned against the wall and watched the other students pass by, getting to their classes. Ali and I had study hall- or as we called it, free period. It was usually just full of Evo talk and other non-school related things.
“Mom made me go,” I lied.
“Oh, alright. Anyway, are you going to keep being a member on Evo now? I can’t afford it on babysitter pay,” she said, making a face.
“No,” I said. “Mom’s cutting it off.”
“That sucks,” she said. She pushed a strand of her gleaming blonde bob out of her face. I noticed that she had gotten a blue highlight in it. “She’ll let you back on later, though.”
I doubted it, but I kept this to myself.
“Maybe,” I said. I said something I’d been thinking ever since Mom cut me off. “I don’t know, though. I feel like they’re taking advantage of us.”
“How do you mean?” she asked, looking alarmed. I was quickly wading into ‘You- don’t- say- that- about- Evo’ territory.
“I mean…” I hesitated. “They keep driving the price up, but people still subscribe.” And I was one of them.
“Well, yeah,” she said. “It’s worth it.”
“But…” I came to my actual question. It was said in a much less impressive voice than I’d hoped for. “Why?”
The question came to her like a slap in the face. She took a step back.
“It just is,” she said, giving me a weird look. “Look, I’d better go study for Raoul, I’m not ready for the quiz today.”
And with that she walked off. I wondered if I had just set a new world record in the fastest way to end a friendship.
Was Evo worth it, though? Even just spending a night and day without it was making me question it. I still missed it, but I thought about what I had gained from it. Tolerance? It’s not like I’d said anything much at school anyway. I had gained Ali, but that evaporated as soon as I questioned Evo.
I knew what I had gained, and it was a sense of belonging. I liked feeling like I belonged on Evo, belonged to a guild, fit in with the elites. Then the hacker came along. There were plenty out there, I just didn’t think any would go after me.
I zipped open by backpack and took out my Geometry binder. My eyes glazed over as I reviewed the notes. My mind was still on Evo, on Ali, on everything.
Lauren walked up to me and flicked her perfectly curled black hair behind her.
“Hey, I didn’t see you on Evo last night,” she said, by way of greeting. “I thought we were gonna do that quest together?”
“Mom’s making me quit my subscription,” I said. Lauren looked horrified, her eyes wide and her eyebrows near her hairline.
“Damn, that sucks,” she said. “Why?” I shrugged.
“Just too expensive.”
“Call me when you get it back, all right?” she said, starting to walk off. I went after her. She turned around to face me.
“I had a question for you,” I said.
“Yeah?” she asked. I could smell mint gum on her breath.
“Why do you do Evo?” I asked. Her brow crinkled along folds that you wouldn’t think would be in her forehead.
“Because it’s fun and everyone does it,” she said. “That’s a weird question. Why?”
“Oh… just curious,” I said, walking back. She stared at me, giving me the same odd stare that Ali had, before walking off to squeal and reunite with her twenty best friends. The scene made me feel hollow. I didn’t really have friends to do that with.
Get over yourself, the irritable part of me said. Go make some friends. Get over your shyness already and stop using Evo as a crutch.
Sometimes I could hate myself for being so right.
Somehow, over lunch, the news that I had quite being a member on Evo spread. I was soon subject to curious looks or disgusted glances.
I realized that just a week ago, just a day ago, I’d have been one of the ones staring.
One girl had marched up to me between classes. I vaguely recognized her as Marlie, a girl in my French class.
“I, for one, think you’re one of the first people to unsubscribe over here,” she said. She pushed her glasses up her nose. “I can respect that.” She stuck out her hand. I didn’t correct her but shook it, smiling. It was the first warm response I’d gotten all day.
“Thanks,” I said. “Marlie, right?”
“Yeah,” she said with a smile. “Talk to you later.”
And with that she marched off again. I could hear whispers flurrying around me. I walked into my class and was met by stares and vague muttered “What the hell’s wrong with her” from people in the room.
I sat down. To be honest, it was nice to be recognized beyond the gamespace, even if it was mostly negative. There’s no such thing as bad press.
I was starting to see Evo in a new light… and not a favorable one. I remembered how I had used to make fun of noobs, used to whisper about non-subscribers behind their backs. Now that it was happening to me I could see how much Evo had taken over our lives.
And the cost is a bit much, I admitted to myself, filled with mixed emotions about the whole thing. On one hand, it felt nice to not have to worry about my Evo status. On the other… well, at least before I was respected as an elite.
Now I was no one.
Maybe that could change.
The idea was dizzying.
Maybe it could change. How could I convince them that Evo was taking them over?
Gameset match, I thought to myself, smiling a bit.
I felt a pencil eraser digging into my back. I turned around in my seat, breaking off a steady stream of boring French grammar notes.
Marlie was wide-eyed.
“You said you wanted to change their minds earlier,” she said. I remembered mentioning it to her before class, buzzing with excitement with the idea of rebellion; Marlie had been the only one I could turn to.
“Yeah,” I said. She held up a purple sheet and stabbed it with her finger. I noticed that her nails were bitten down.
“So?” I asked.
“There’s going to be an assembly,” she prompted. “They’re calling for any original student oratory to be approved now before tomorrow’s assembly.”
Our school had monthly assemblies where the Speech preps showed off their skills. I usually snored through it. An idea came to me, though, clearly shared by Marlie.
“You want me to speak at it?” I asked. She nodded.
“You could totally do it!” she said. “Besides, wouldn’t it be fun?”
I felt the excitement like electricity flow through us. I imagined myself onstage, speaking to everyone about why what they were doing was wrong.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not much of a public speaker.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “You’ll have your papers there with you.”
“Faites tranquille là-bas!” the French teacher said. A few giggled. I turned back to my notes and went to a new sheet, this time writing out notes for my speech.
This would either crash and burn or do well. I hoped it was the latter.
I shuffled up to the podium, sweating. My hands shook as I picked up the pages and straightened them.
“And in a departure from the normal,” I said, “this will not be a presentation by a Speechie.”
There were some cheers in the audience. I smiled. I felt too big, and my heart was pounding. This wasn’t going to work. They wouldn’t listen. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die.
“Instead,” I said, “I have a bit of a speech to give.” I paused, collecting my racing thoughts. “About Evo.”
“I’m sure most of you have heard that I’ve unsubscribed from it. Actually, my mother made me, but that’s not the point. The point is that I was an instant pariah.”
I stared at Ali in the audience. I couldn’t see Lauren, but from what I saw Ali looked humiliated.
“That made me ask myself why Evo was such a big deal, anyway? It’s certainly not because it’s free.” That got some laughs. I smiled weakly and continued. “It’s because everyone else is doing it, right?”
“I think… no, I know, that it’s changing us. The way we behave. I know just a week ago I’d have been making fun of any person in the situation I’m in now.”
There was no laughing, no cheering. Just dead silence. “I just think that… we should take a good long look at ourselves and Evo. I mean, the main reason we’re on it is because everyone else is doing it. If you’re not doing it, you’re a pariah. What if we all stopped?”
There were a few whistles this time, probably from the football jerks. I pushed by hair out of my face and stared down some random kid.
“I just wanted to ask if Evo’s really worth the price. I know a lot of you can barely afford it, yet you keep it. Why? What’s the point? I just want you all to think, at least a little.”
I walked off the stage quickly. There were no claps, not even halfhearted ones. Just as I was halfway across, someone started a slow clap. I glanced in the direction, surprised. It was Marlie. Like a ripple in a pond, soon other people were clapping. The sound got louder and faster. I smiled and gave everyone a thumbs up before walking off again.
Maybe it could work.
I walked off the stage. The assembly was dismissed, and a few students came up to me. I didn’t recognize most of them. I smiled and answered their questions, aching to get away.
I passed the flyer in the hallway then paused and backtracked. I hadn’t seen it there yesterday. It was probably just something about the yearbook, though.
I skimmed it, my eyes widening with each sentence I read. I probably looked like a gap-mouthed idiot, but I was too busy staring at it.
“DON’T LET THEM TAKE ADVANTAGE OF US. LEAVE EVO NOW.”
I read the rest of it; it was all about the things I had said yesterday.
I did do something, then.
I felt a surge of pride at the thought that I might have changed the situation.
“Awesome, isn’t it?” someone asked behind me. I turned around to see it was Marlie.
“Very,” I said. “Who put these up?”
“Partly me,” she said. “I saw some other kids making other ones, though.”
“This is amazing,” I said, awed. I realized I didn’t need Evo to feel good about myself anymore. It felt nice.
“As you can imagine, the blogs are blowing up,” she said, walking with me down the hall.
“So, this might be going somewhere?”
“It’s definitely going somewhere.”
I walked into the classroom, head buzzing. This is definitely going somewhere.