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Stuck in the Past
“Zoanna Teele! Zoanna Teele! Zoanna Teele!” Zoe groaned in irritation and pulled the covers over her head. The incessant squawking of her surround sound alarm system only grew louder.
“Zoanna Teele, are you awake? Voice activation please.” Zoanna mumbled the five-digit password into her pillow, not quite loud enough for the system to process.
“ZOANNA TEELE!! ZOANNA TEELE!!” The computer resorted to its highest volume setting. Zoanna let out a short screech in shock and covered her ears.
“2 2 0 6 3!” She hollered over the systems’ wake up call. The robotic voice immediately seized its crowing.
“Good morning, Zoanna.” The lights around her turned out automatically. Zoe stumbled out of bed, mumbling unintelligibly. She cursed at the computer for depriving her of an extra 5 minutes’ sleep. Zoe slumped into the chair of her chrome colored vanity, a bright and shiny contrast to her mood. She stared at her reflection through bleary eyes and grimaced. Her hair was a tangled mess on top of her head, and red splotches from her new face cream were spread across her cheekbones. A new, bright red zit had appeared on her chin. Zoe’s reflection frowned back at her through the glass as she thought and finally spoke through a yawn.
“Computer, activate Gadgets 612 and 318.” Zoe stretched sleepily as she awaited a reply.
“Activating Gadgets.” Zoanna smiled faintly as Gadget 612 went to work on her hair. She thought back to when the GADGET series of robots had first come out about a year ago. She had begged her father to buy them for her.
“Please, daddy? Just a few!”
“I said no, Zoanna!” His voice had rung with finality. Zoe had pursed her lips in anger, but they soon thawed as a new course of action came to mind. She rearranged her features to form a flawless forlorn expression and sighed heavily- the sound filled with longing and reluctant surrender.
“Okay. I’m sorry, daddy. Really, really sorry. It’s just...” She paused to peek up at him, to make sure he was listening. He was. “I just...well, I was looking through the pictures of mom the other day...and she had such beautiful hair. It was so pretty! And I...well, I just wanted to look like her. That’s all.” She had walked away sulkily and her wait did not last long.
The next day, both complete HAIRSTYLIST-GADGET600 and COSMETICIAN-GADGET300 collections were laid out on her bed, next to a note saying ‘Your mother would have wanted you to feel beautiful.’
Zoe could not remember ever feeling guilty after playing the dead-mom card. She supposed she should have felt something, but it was hard to feel bad about getting everything you ever wanted.
The HAIRSTYLIST set came with 99 silver spheres, each with a tiny red button on the top and a number across the middle. Push the button and a holographic image of the hairstyle it created lit up the room.
Today, Zoe used Gadget 612- a curling sphere. It waved her long blonde hair and swooped half-back with a sophisticated, crystalized clip. The 300 Collection worked the same way, only with cosmetics. Sphere 318 was called “Pretty in Pink”, adding a rosy glow to the lips and cheeks of anyone who used it. Zoe did not sit in her chair longer than two minutes. The spheres worked much faster than any human could. Zoanna stared at her reflection from a multitude of angles, admiring her look. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and smiled at the two floating orbs, buzzing as they awaited her next command.
“Gadget use complete.” Zoe spoke in a loud, clear tone and the Gadgets were sucked back into their storage compartments. Zoe stood, careful not to mess up her hair. She walked over to her outfit transmitter, the newest addition to her robots. The machine was tall, a cylindrical shaped chamber made entirely of chrome and glass. It was Zoe’s most prized possession. On the front of the technological dressing room was an average sized touch screen tablet. She pressed her pointer finger on the center of the pad and waited impatiently for the identification scan to complete. The chamber beeped three times, switching to awake mode. The floor lit up in bright, flashing colors. The touch screen blinked on and the machine greeted her in the common, robotic, British female voice.
“Hello, Zoanna.” An image of herself popped up on the screen, along with an array of six buttons, each with a label: Tops, Pants, Skirts, Dresses, Jackets and Accessories. Every article of clothing Zoe owned had been scanned into this computer. She was able to go through and see exactly how an outfit would look on her before she put it on. Zoe spent no less than 15 minutes at the screen, remembering it was the first day of her sophomore year. Every piece of the ensemble had to be perfect.
Zoe never worried about the weather when choosing her clothes. The computer immediately eliminated anything unsuitable for the weather and even recommended items she might need because of the conditions. Zoe was wise enough to take the advice. She chose an umbrella the computer suggested, frowning as she remembered last weeks’ sudden downpour. It had not been a good day for her to ignore the umbrella option.
Once she was satisfied with her clothing selection, Zoe walked inside the chamber, pressed the glowing green button and was dressed within 10 seconds. Zoe grabbed her bag and ran to the kitchen, noticing how late the time was. Her dad was there, receiving a trim from his HAIR+B.O.T.2000.
“Daddy, did you get it?” She asked as she typed her breakfast order into the small keypad near the kitchen countertop and pressed enter. The AutoChefDD3 whirled and spun as it worked to make Zoe’s egg white omelet and fruit smoothie.
“Honey, I don’t understand why Louiz can’t drive you.” Zoe frowned. Louiz was their automated car.
“Dad,” Zoe whined. “Cars are so old!”
“They still work.” Her dad pointed out, sighing to himself. He and Zoanna both knew he was fighting a losing battle. Zoe felt the anger beginning to burn through her and she went with it with everything she had. Zoanna glared at her father.
“I don’t CARE dad! I can’t be seen in something OLD. Especially around my friends!! God, you just don’t get how hard it is for me, do you?” Zoe ranted. “I thought we went over this, daddy. Cars are STUPID, and they’re done. They’re finished. If I’m seen in one, I’LL be finished. Got it? ALL my friends got Hovercrafts this year. I want one! I NEED one! You never get me anything!!” Zoe screeched, storming out of the house angrily. She came suddenly to a halt. There, floating directly over the transportal, was a brand new Jupiter model 227 First-Class Hovercraft, with super turbo-charge rocket engines installed at the back; with all the available options and accessories on the market- complete with a hi-gloss red paint job.
“Daddy...” Zoe looked up at her father, who was staring excitedly down at her. “Why is it red?” Her dad’s face fell noticeably.
“I asked for pink.” There was a very long silence between the two of them. “I WANTED pink.” Her father flushed with chagrin as he looked at his daughter. Zoe laughed and smiled understandingly at her dad. “Oh, don’t worry daddy. I’ll just trade it in on the way to school and get the color I really wanted. Bye-bye!!” Zoe shouted as she ran to the machine. She dumped her stuff in the backseat and headed off to the TeknoTransport Center. She could afford to be late to school.
Zoe smiled to herself at the unintentional pun. In fact, she could probably afford to buy time itself.
“Zoanna, it’s so pretty!”
“Zoe, you’re so lucky...”
“Wow, Zo. I wish my dad could afford to buy me presents like that.” The bright pink hovercraft now parked in the student lot was the center of attention. Compliments and envious eyes followed Zoe wherever she went that first day back to school. And she thrived off of them. She flipped her hair in false gratitude at the wistful comments of the girls, and flashed wide smiles at the envy of the guys. The school was the electricity, and she was the light bulb. The shining beacon of popularity, the 31st century superstar. And she didn’t waste a single moment of it.
Her Popularity Points had doubled by the end of the week, and Zoe was ecstatic- practically oozing satisfaction. The Points system was used by the Gossips and the Blog Squad to rate everything at school from the teachers to the food and the Rek-Tecks, infamously known as the Technerds. Zoe jumped to the top of the hot charts almost overnight. Now, she really did have everything- looks, money and fame.
At least, everything that mattered to Zoe.
Zoanna’s life quickly turned into a game of follow the leader. She was the head, and anyone who was anyone followed her with more loyalty than pet dogs. Her Clique had grown from the five most popular girls in school to include the Gossips, Jocks, Drama Club, Filmmakers Society, Cheer Team, Photographers and most of the Blog Squad. Of course, there had been many more than willing to join the group, but only the troupes whose criteria had been deemed cool enough by the original Clique were permitted. Everyone else watched from a jealous distance as Zoanna’s father continued to buy her every new item that appeared on the market.
The general idea around the school was that Mr. Teele was a negligent father and bought Zoe these things because it was easier than having to listen to her complain about not having them. More than a general idea, it was the unspoken truth. One that no one in school cared enough to actually ask him about.
In truth, Zoanna’s father bought her these things out of guilt. He knew Zoe did not have a proper mother figure to look up to, and he felt that it was his fault she didn’t because her mother had died under his care. He bought her these things, foolishly hoping they would act in place of a mother. He knew this was an unwise thing to believe, but he could not help it. Josiah Teele was a broken man and could see how spoiling his daughter was changing her, making her greedy and insensitive to others. He simply did not know how to- or want to- say no to his motherless child. Between the SPAtrons and ManiPedi623’s, nothing seemed to make her want to be grateful.
Of course, none of the students at the school were insightful enough to think Zoe may not have everything. They were all blinded by jealousy, even her friends. Especially since her father had just finished building a new mini mall in her name.
Zoe’s status grew, as did her desire for more. More things. More adoration. And, most importantly, more respect. This was her most recent ambition, as it proved to be difficult to receive.
“Zoanna Teele.” Jewels, Zoe’s Science of Technology teacher called.
“Hm?” Zoe glanced up from her 3D Edition TXTR. The most popular and expensive cellular device out there, of course. Jewels sighed. It was easy to see she thought the same as the rest of the student body- that Zoe was a spoiled, good for nothing child.
“Didn’t you hear the question, Zoe?” She asked condescendingly, disapproval ringing in her tone. Zoe raised her eyebrows incredulously.
“If I had, I would’ve answered.” She spoke, thinking that was quite obvious. A few snickers came from the back of the class, while Jewels’ expression clearly stated she was not amused.
“Zoanna, we all know your father buys you anything you want, anywhere you want and at anytime you want- no matter the cost or impracticality of it. But daddy isn’t here right now. You are in my classroom under my instruction and I expect you to listen to me when I talk to you. I am your superior, and when you start considering me as such, then maybe I can treat you with some more value.” Zoanna rolled her eyes, though her cheeks burned from the reprimand. “You can’t buy peoples’ respect, Zoanna.” Jewels stared at Zoe, who smiled faintly.
“I can try.”
“She had no right to treat you that way, Z.” Clara Thibaut, leader of the Gossips, sputtered angrily when class ended. She had been a first hand witness to the scene. Zoe rolled her eyes, determined to play it off, even though Clara and her groupies probably had the story all over school by now.
“Whatever.” Zoe spoke calmly, though she was steaming on the inside. “She’s just some stupid teacher who’s going absolutely nowhere in life. Why should I care what she thinks?” Zoanna couldn’t explain it, but for some odd reason, she did care. She was especially irritated by Jewels’ comment on respect. Zoe heard the two already familiar squeaky giggles of Stefani and Cottia Floquet going off behind her. Zoe resisted the grimace that wanted to flash across her face. The Floquet cousins were the top two on the Blog Squad- and there was no doubt in Zoe’s mind that her offhand quote about Jewels would appear in a “Breaking News” Blog within the next hour. Anastasia Davy was twittering along with Stefani about the fantastic shots she got of Zoanna and Jewels’ dispute with her new blink-lens; a pair of contacts with cameras directly embedded in them. Cottia promised Staci they would put them up in an album on their blog page, crediting her with the “firsthand” shots. Zoe chewed on her lower lip, irritated with Jewels’ nagging comment and her friends’ eagerness with the scandal. A few of them began to notice Zoe’s expression, and moved on to another topic. Clara was starting to talk about the newest rumor weaving its way through the school halls. She had heard from another of her “reliable sources” that the school was planning an Urgent Call Program. Everyone around her gasped in shock. Zoanna listened with disinterest as Clara fed off her peers’ need for gossip, barely noticing Clara go on about the legends. Zoe waved goodbye to them and turned the corner. She was glad to get on to her next class, History through the Ages. Zoe could not concentrate at all through the lecture, though she had never actually tried. She had a team of nerds who did her homework and school projects for her, so there was never a reason for her to listen to the teachers. Zoanna was stumped.
She had the awe of everybody and the entire school at her fingertips. Her wish was literally their command. They were like puppets on a string to Zoe.
'Jewels must have been wrong', she thought the whole day long and the rest of the week.
'Isn’t buying peoples’ respect...exactly what I’ve done?'
The only thing more important to Zoe than getting things was giving things- and it was not from the goodness of her heart. No, Zoe gave for a much more practical reason than that.
To keep her popularity.
Zoanna may have been rich, pigheaded and spoiled, but she was not dumb. She knew she would never stay number one by bragging alone. She needed to share the wealth, show people they had a reason for keeping her at the top. Popularity was like a presidential campaign, and Zoe was the top ballot. The people needed a motive to want her to stay right where she was.
And birthdays were the perfect incentive. Even if you did not like someone, how can you resist inviting them when they are the richest, most generous person you know?
And so Zoe’s new philosophy was born. Keep people happy with the things they want and you will stay on top. The school quickly caught on and followed her lead with contagious enthusiasm.
Zoe was invited to party after party, and in the interest of staying unpredictable—
exciting--; Zoe had members of the Gossips do a little research on each party host before either accepting or declining an invitation. After all, she could not be seen just anywhere. Clara, Zoe’s unspoken sidekick, always accompanied her to any event she attended. Zoanna was always sure to memorize the name and a few facts about each host before attending the party to show her “sincerity.” Just like a Presidential race. Every gift Zoanna provided had to be hand-delivered due to its extraordinary size, or flown in from some exotic location. When she had hosts background-checked by the Gossips, Zoe also had them compile the most accurate of wish lists; filled with items the host desperately wanted. She would choose the most elaborate, or bizarre gift on the list- and buy it. Her life was consumed with the NOW. The most trendy, the newest “In”- and of course, the opinions of her peers.
Life at home was almost nonexistent. Zoe rarely came home before the early hours of the morning, and her father was always gone to work before she was up. In a way, it was like living by herself. Zoe did not mind, as long as her daddy left his shiny black credit card laying on the kitchen counter. Zoanna smiled one Wednesday morning as she picked up the stylish piece of plastic and headed off to school in her gleaming Jupiter Hovercraft. She parked in the student lot, snorting condescendingly as Vena Richards pulled up in her used tank of a car, scratched all over with mirrors hanging on by a thread. Vena lived in a different world than Zoe. A lowly, poorer one. She lived on the Eastern side of town- not that Zoe had ever been there. She had never had a reason to visit the tragic place. Zoanna laughed as the bottom of Vena’s bag gave out and all of her books- yes. Vena was still using books- fell onto the wet gravel. She took a precious moment to send a very nasty text about Vena to Clara, which was immediately returned by a just as mean response. Zoe, in fact, only knew Vena’s name for one reason.
Vena was the only person in the entire school who had not sent Zoe an invitation to her birthday party. Not that Zoe would have accepted. But it was very curious that one of the poorest students would not want the most generous, rich girl to attend. The only solution for Vena’s strange behavior, Zoe concluded, was Vena did not think Zoe would ever accept, so she decided not to bother and waste her time sending an invitation in the first place. Smart of her.
The day was quiet, for which Zoanna was grateful. It was a day she could spend checking up on the hottest new robots for fifteen year olds like herself. She also needed the extra time to plan her 16th birthday party. The school was already buzzing with excitement, and rumors about what Zoanna had in store were already floating through the school halls. She had already been interviewed- twice- by the Bloggers, even though the party would not happen for at least another month. She had given only vague, mysterious hints as to what the party would have in store for the students at TechBurrow High, mostly because Zoanna honestly had no idea herself. The party would have to be huge. Epic. The biggest in years... Zoe’s thought process was interrupted by Ivana McNeil, a Gossip with a list of parties Zoe had been invited to, their hosts’ names and wish lists. Skylar Emerson and Angel Wiik, members of both the Gossips and the Blog Squad, stood eagerly behind Ivana with giddy excitement and Blog Pads in their hands, small hand-held multifunctional computers, designed specifically for the avid blogger. They were exploding with questions before Ivana had the chance to walk away.
“Where will your party be held?”
“Any news for your fans??”
“What will you be wearing?!” Zoe smiled calmly at the freshmen.
“I’m working on every perfect detail of the party right now. It will be held somewhere chic and exotic. And I will be wearing something...new.” Zoe’s smile grew even larger as Angel and Skye typed the information furiously in the quotes section of their new blogging devices with shocked expressions. They clearly had not been expecting an answer from Zoe, who rarely spoke to new publicity reporters. They took what they got with sincere gratitude and hurried off to find their editor, Ashleigh Roth. Ash was a very diligent member of the school, heading two committees and attending at least three others. She was very partial, and would be highly impressed with the work of her two youngest bloggers. Their careers would just have begun. And in this school of ten thousand students, it was most definitely a career.
School was uneventful for the rest of the week. Zoe spent her time planning- endlessly planning- for her party and going through the lists of parties she had been invited to, for both response purposes and inspiration. Zoanna looked up from her work in the library to check the clock when she came across Vena sitting at the table directly across from her. Strange, Zoe thought as she tilted her head to the side. How is it that I’m always noticing Vena now? She glanced at the piles of books on the table Vena was sitting at. She was taking nine classes. Zoe was shocked at how many of those classes they both were in. She had almost never even noticed Vena before. How can somebody be so…invisible? Vena looked up to meet Zoe’s eyes. Zoe stared right back, remembering randomly from Clara that you should never be the first one to look away from a stare down. Then Vena rolled her eyes and went back to her books. Zoe felt like she had been slapped across the face. How dare this girl treat Zoanna that way? This poor, tiny, invisible girl? Furious, Zoe picked up her party planner tablet and walked straight over to Vena’s table. Zoe purposely whacked her hand against the piles of books, sending them flying down to the floor. Papers and pencils scattered everywhere. People throughout the library turned to look at them. Some were taking videos with their phones, hoping it would turn into a fight. Zoe faked a concerned expression.
“Oops,” Zoanna shrugged daintily. “Sorry about that.” Vena looked up angrily at Zoe, then bent down to retrieve her things. Zoe smirked and was about to turn away when she heard Vena’s tiny, clear voice come from beneath the table.
“I hope you didn’t break a nail.” Zoanna’s smile was wiped clean from her face and she squatted down to Vena’s level and looked straight at her.
“Watch yourself, Vena. I am the last person you want as an enemy.” Zoe stared unblinking at her for another minute, just to prove her point. Then she stood, fixed her dress and flipped her hair, and walked away with every ounce of her dignity, unknowing of Vena’s hurt eyes watching her walk away.
Vena Richards watched through fast blinking eyelids as Zoanna Teele walked powerfully away. She had the confidence of a hard-core politician. Vena swept the room around her, very aware of all the eyes and video cameras still watching her every move. She pretended like she did not see them and went back to her book on Futuristic Philosophy. About twenty minutes later, Vena gathered all of her things and walked quickly back to her ever faithful car, still running after countless years. She threw her stuff in the backseat and got in on the driver side, switching the car on and speeding away from the school as quickly as she could. Vena drove into the lot of an old diner, one of the few that still had waitresses and busboys instead of WAIT*STAFF990 bots. Vena walked through the door and smiled at her favorite waitress. Dianna Bleak had been working there for nearly fifteen years.
“Vena, baby girl! How are you?” Dianna squealed with a slight southern accent. Vena didn’t bother smiling back. Dianna would see right through her if she faked a smile. Di’s eyebrows came down with concern.
“That bad, huh?”
“You could say that.” Vena made a sound that was neither a laugh nor a cry. “The most popular girl in school hates me.” Dianna moved to hug Vena with one arm.
“Oh sweetheart, don’t you worry about that. She’ll come around, you’ll see.” Vena rolled her eyes at Dianna’s reaction.
“Oh, Di; I don’t care about that. She’s filthy rich and so far gone she probably doesn’t even remember how to make real friends.” Dianna tilted her head.
“Then what’s the problem, honey?” Vena took a deep breath, thinking through her words before speaking them. She always had a difficult time explaining this to people.
“I don’t want to be noticed at school. It’s actually not that hard. If you’re not a billionaire you don’t matter in the first place,” Vena sighed. “Anyway, this is school. I am taking nine classes a day at one of the best high schools in the country on a full scholarship. I’m not there to make friends. I’m there to make a better life for myself and my family. I don’t want to worry about drama. But now, it’s pretty much assumed that the absolutely most powerful girl in that school hates my guts. I won’t ever be left alone again.”
“People are cruel,” Dianna sympathized. Vena bit her lower lip.
“I worked so hard for this scholarship, Di. I love going to this school. The teachers are phenomenal, and I’m getting so much experience with the paid internship I was accepted for,” Vena whispered. “I’m finally able to give my family some stability, some sense of normality. Dianna, this is everything I have right now. And the girl who has the entire world at her fingertips is taking it away from me and she doesn’t even know it.” Vena’s eyes filled and tears spilled out onto her cheeks. Dianna pulled her into a long hug.
“You have to fight for it, Vena. You have to fight for you. Not for your family, not for me, but for you. You deserve this, sweetheart.” Vena pulled out of the hug and wiped her eyes.
“How do I do that, Di? How do I fight the meanest person ever to walk the planet?” Dianna smiled at her and spoke to Vena with wise eyes.
“You fight hate with love. You become her friend.”
Zoe was in love with life. Everything was working out perfectly, and nothing was slowing her down. Even her little spat with Vena had turned in her favor, making her mark as someone no one wanted to mess with.
The party she was planning was currently the center of all her attention. The details on Zoanna’s highly confidential birthday celebration were stored securely behind fingerprint locks and encrypted voice controls. The only bit of information she had given about the party was the date. She was sure the whole school had cleared the entire Saturday Zoanna had chosen for the extravaganza. It was to be held the first day school let out. Zoe never talked to anyone about it, not even Clara- who was a bit put off by Zoe’s lack of details. It was not only Clara’s job to know everything about everyone, but a need. A desire. Ten thousand students and she was the head of every piece of information that ever squeezed its way in to the school corridors. She was starting to get on Zoe’s last nerve.
“But, Z -”
“Clara.” Zoe turned to her friend. “You are the leader of the Gossips. It’s nothing personal, but our interests clash a little here. I need this to be kept secret. You know how you are with secrets.” Clara pursed her cherry red lips. As much as she wanted to argue back, they both knew the truth and it would be completely useless to carry on about the subject.
“I’ll see you later, okay?” Clara didn’t answer as she turned down the moving walkway to her next class. Zoe knew Clara was sulking, but she would get over it. She always did.
School ended as usual, with the hall televisions alit with their overly enthusiastic Principal Jay giving the final daily announcements.
“On a final, unusual note,” The Principal stated in a serious voice that was very uncharacteristic for her. “The following students must head to room 101B for an Urgent Call Program immediately.” The moving walkways jerked off and all activity in the hall was silenced. Short gasps and hushed whispers erupted throughout the corridor. Students fixed their eyes on the TVs tensely as Principal Jay shuffled her papers anxiously. Zoe stopped in shock, remembering the day Clara had told them the school was planning an Urgent Call Program. Zoanna was more shocked that Clara had been right than she was about there actually being an Urgent Call. Zoe tried to remember what Clara had said so many weeks ago.
An Urgent Call Program was said to happen at the school once every decade. The students Called were enlisted in a top secret, highly confidential class. No one was sure what it was, or what it meant. Rumors had gone by that some students were never heard from again after the class. Others say it was a cult. Most students at TechBurrow High, however, believed it was a publicity stunt or a scam. It’s what they wanted to think, anyway.
That had been Zoanna’s unspoken belief. She really just didn’t give it that much attention. What was so special about a secret class? So you get some extra work. Whoopee. Once the shock of Clara being right had worn off, Zoanna became irritated. Principal Jay was taking much too long with her list of names. Zoe pulled a nail file from her purse, determined to make the most of this inconvenient delay. She sighed uninterestedly as the Principal read off her directory, repeating each name twice or three times. It was all so tedious.
Principal Jay finally came to the last name on her list. She read it just as slowly as she had all the others, but Zoanna had a different reaction to this name. Her hand froze with the nail file it held. She felt cold with shock and disbelief. She slowly looked up, and noticed a second late that the entire hallway was staring at her. Zoe whirled to the closest screen, squeezing her eyes shut and thinking no, no, no, no, no, oh, God please, no… Principal Jay read the name a second time, confirming Zoe’s panic.
“Once more, the final student needed is Zoanna Blaine Teele.”
“Again, all students called must report immediately to room 101B in the Sci-Fi section of the Science lab. Thank you.” Zoe was already on her way, plowing through halls of confused and shocked students. She was furious and determined to find whoever was responsible for this. Zoe burst through the double doors of 101B and stormed in.
“What is going on, here?” Zoanna ranted, throwing her hands on her hips and waited angrily for an answer. Her eyes swept the room and she realized that there were only a few recognizable faces. Her other classmates whose names had also been Called.
“They won’t tell us anything.” Leah Ross, cheer captain looked even angrier than Zoe was.
“Who are you people?” More silence. Zoanna was beginning to feel uncomfortable. Finally, Zoe’s science and psych teacher came in with Principal Jay. Her teacher looked excited. Principal Jay was as confused and angry as Zoe and Leah.
“Leroy, I demand you tell me what is going on this instant. I have never had so much disorder in my school and I refuse to begin allowing it now.”
“Now, Jay, calm down. We only have to wait for Doctor Zaltone and her associates. We contacted the parents who weren’t already aware earlier this afternoon. Most of them had heard already and were onboard.”
“Oh, really? I’m sure my parents know I’m being held prisoner by a bunch of lunatic scientists I have never seen or heard of before in my life.” Leah seethed. Zoanna liked her way of thinking.
“My dad will sue you for everything you have if you don’t tell us why we are here,” Zoanna threatened in complete seriousness. To her surprise and anger, Mr. Leroy laughed.
“Zoanna, your father is our largest benefactor. I’m sure he won’t sue the project he practically started himself.”
“Well why won’t anyone tell us what the heck is going on here?” Zoe exploded.
“Project BTP: VVS14630,” Josiah Teele walked in with a long black lab coat, followed by at least one parent of each called student. Zoe frowned. Leah rolled her eyes.
“Uh, translation please?”
“It’s a time travel project that has been in progress for nearly fifteen years,” Josiah explained. “It has been officially approved for testing with a certain age group.” Zoanna looked at her father with horrified disbelief.
“You mean, we are guinea pigs for some experimental scientific Program?” The students in the classroom had mixed emotions. Some of them had excited expressions, Technerds, Zoe noticed. Others were looking around the room, as though searching for hidden cameras or a sign of this being a joke. Most, however, had the same horrified expressions that were now frozen onto the faces of Zoanna and Leah. Mr. Leroy laughed lightly.
“Oh, no of course not. We would never put young people through this Program without first making absolutely certain it was safe.”
“But you said it was approved for testing. Not for actual use,” Zoe reminded him, her eyebrows raised. Mr. Leroy looked indignant.
“Young lady, I-”
“Leroy, perhaps I should explain.” A tall, Russian woman in the same black lab coat as Zoe’s father walked in, flanked by the history of the future professor and a large group of interns and researchers. Zoanna guessed the woman was Professor Zaltone by the way she headed the group.
“Cynthia.” Leroy nodded in approval, and gestured to the students. She smiled at him and then turned to the room.
“I am Doctor Cynthia Zaltone, head researcher and one of the inventors of this project.” She paused, as though she expected applause or some form of greeting at the very least. She received only cold glares and confused looks. Cynthia continued as though she didn’t notice. “I have spent nearly fifteen years on this Project, and I can assure you that you will not be bodily harmed in any way.”
“What Project, exactly?” One of the Technerds…Crewe, asked.
“I’m glad you asked. This is one of the first time travel Projects to ever be put into motion. Now, what you have to understand is this isn’t necessarily a scientific Program. It focuses more on the psychological aspect, because for one thing, you don’t actually get placed back into time. That would unravel all kinds of natural laws and one that attempted such a feat might cease to exist. No, the Project we will be attempting to complete is much different than that. We have taken every bit of knowledge we gathered through memories-” She stopped as she read the confusion in the eyes of the students. “Now, I don’t exactly have time to explain to you how we got our information. But we have it, from the most reliable sources we know of. The people who experienced the past events.” Some looks of disgust passed over the faces of the researchers and interns. Zoanna had the feeling that Doctor Zaltone had not been the one to retrieve this information.
“Now, we can go back to about 1400 A.D., and then some 300 B.C. to about the time of Christ. We have a gap because we haven’t achieved the amount of information it would take for us to return to that era.” Cynthia paused for a breath. “However, we have plenty of information for the time periods you have each been assigned.”
“So what?” Zoanna asked, and everyone in the room turned to look at her.
“Excuse me?” Doctor Zaltone seemed baffled by the fact that this was Professor Josiah Teele’s daughter. Zoe rolled her eyes.
“So you have all this information that allows you to travel back into an… illusion of time.” Zoe shrugged. “What do you want us to do? It’s not like we can go back and talk to people that are gone or stop things from happening. It’s just an illusion.” Zoanna surprised herself with the amount of regret she heard in her voice. The rest of the room noticed and seemed shocked by it as well. Zoe shook off the moment of vulnerability. She waited impatiently while no one answered. “Well?” Zoanna asked, back to her hard self. Cynthia nodded.
“I see what you’re asking. Truthfully, this project is supposed to be more for the benefit of you than it is for us.” The room was silent as she explained. “Going back into the time frame you have been assigned is supposed to give you another perspective on life. Every one of you today is so privileged, you probably do not even realize it hadn’t always been the way it is today. People were much different back then. Being put through a Program like this brings out the humanity that this day and age seems to have forgotten about.” Doctor Zaltone looked pleased with herself. Zoe pursed her lips. She didn’t like this at all.
“So you’re trying to fix our issues by sending us away for God knows how long into a machine that will create an illusion of time travel?”
“Yes,” Cynthia answered, taking Zoe by surprise. “Though I wouldn’t put it the same harsh way you have.”
“But we don’t have to do this.” Leah stated, glancing at her mom. “Do we?” She whispered, seeing the expressions of her parents. Everyone in the class turned to look at their moms and dads, including Zoanna. Each of the parents in the room had the same resigned, no-nonsense look to their eyes. They had each decided months ago to put their kids through this Program, and they weren’t going to turn back now. There were whines and groans as each high school student realized they would be doing this whether they liked it or not. Zoe, who sat across the room from her father, stared at him with wide, innocent eyes. Everyone in the room looked at her expectantly.
'If anyone can get out of this, it’s Zoanna,' was the communal thought sweeping the room.
“Daddy?” She asked, her voice an octave higher than usual. “Daddy, please don’t make me do this.” Her eyes filled without her permission, for a different reason than everyone thought. The people in the room believed she was crying because she was being forced to do something she didn’t want to do, but Zoanna was crying because her father thought she was messed up. Enough to force her to go through with this Program. Zoe walked over to her father with tears beginning to overflow and spill onto her face. “Daddy?” She whispered, not recognizing the look in his eyes.
“Zoanna, this is enough. You are too spoiled, greedy, and uncaring. I did this to you and now I have to fix you.” Shock exploded in Zoe and spread from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. She rocked back onto her heels and blinked furiously.
“Fix me?” She whispered brokenly. “I’m not a toy, daddy.” For once, Zoe wasn’t acting. Real pain shot down her body and paralyzed her. “You can’t fix me.” Zoe’s voice rose. The two of them were completely unaware of their silent observers.
“No!” She screeched, throwing the nearest desk on its side. “You want to fix me, daddy? Bring mom back. At least she cared what happened to me. At least SHE loved me!” Zoe stopped, breathing heavily as she watched her comment sink into her father’s face.
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Zoanna,” Mr. Teele said with hard eyes. Then he left the room. Tense silence surrounded Zoe’s shaking frame. Her angry eyes flashed toward Doctor Zaltone.
“Hm,” She scoffed. “Your father warned me you were a troublemaker, Zoanna. Though I wasn’t quite sure just how badly he meant it.” Zoe had a brewing hatred for this woman growing deep inside her.
“I refuse to participate in this little Project of yours.” Zoanna seethed.
“It really is too bad you don’t have a choice.” Cynthia nodded at two men standing by the door. Without a word, they dragged a flailing Zoe away.
Zoanna sat in a corner of the room she had been condemned to. Her phone, sitting on a small table on the opposite wall buzzed every half a minute. She must have gotten a thousand texts in the last hour, all people wondering where she was, what she was doing and what the Urgent Call Program was really all about. Not one of them asked if she was okay. Not that she cared. The phone buzzed yet again and Zoanna covered her ears. She didn’t want to listen to the constant noise of it. She was in too much shock and confusion to remember she could just turn the thing off.
Zoanna was trapped. She didn’t do well in a cage, as anyone who knew her could you tell easily. She couldn't handle being forced into things. This whole ordeal felt like a betrayal, though Zoe wasn’t exactly sure why. Maybe it was just because she didn’t have a choice. Whatever the reason, Zoanna hated it. Locking Zoe up to make her do something she didn’t want to was the ultimate way to make her rebellious. Zoanna ground her teeth together in frustration, hating that she couldn’t rebel even if she wanted to. She heard the door to her cell unlock. Her father stepped into the room, taking in Zoe’s balled up figure and dead eyes. His eyes widened, and he was obviously unsure of what to say. Zoe took advantage of the moment.
“Hi, daddy,” Zoe murmured in a feeble, rough voice. She could see the resolve in his eyes waver for a half second, only to be built up stronger than before.
“Zoanna, I’m only doing this because I love you.”
“Don’t spew crap, dad.” Zoanna said loudly, in a tone she never used on her father. It dripped with angry sarcasm. She didn’t try to be the sweet, innocent daughter she always made a show of being for him. He was certainly not worth the effort right now. “Betrayal is enough for one day. You can lie to me all you want tomorrow.” His eyes narrowed at her tone, but softened again at the hurt in her eyes.
“This is why I’m doing this, Zoe. You never think of anyone but yourself.” He stared at her for a long time, but she didn’t respond. Finally he turned and went out the cold iron door, the sound of it shutting behind him echoed loudly long after he left. Zoe pursed her lips and angrily resumed her self-pitying. She glanced at a reflection of herself in the cracked mirror across the room. She looked terrible, her hair a matted down, tangled mess, her eyes sallow and raw with both old and fresh tears. She looked toward the nightstand beside her bed, noticing her cellphone had stopped buzzing hours ago. Zoanna took a deep breath in panic. She was no longer beautiful. She was no longer popular. By the sound of it, her father was planning on cutting her off for the rest of her life. She had no money.
Looks, fame and money are all that had ever made Zoanna who she was. She no longer had any of those things. Zoe continued to stare at herself in the dirty mirror.
'If I don’t have any of that now…' her eyes widened in panic.
'Then…who am I?' The thought kept Zoanna company through the long hours of the night. Finally, exhausted, she sank into a deep and dreamless sleep.
Zoe woke with a hazy memory and a congested headache. Her nose was stuffed and her eyes dry from her excessive tears. She noticed the dead-bolt door keeping her in this cell of a room was propped open, wide enough so Zoe could hear the conversation filtering in from down the hall. It was a group of people, happily talking over breakfast. Zoe froze in shock at the roar of laughter that came from the room, her shock quickly dissolving into anger.
'How could they be laughing?' She thought furiously. Zoanna stormed out of the room, for once not caring how she looked.
“Sounds like you’re all having a jolly old time in here.” Zoe dominated the room, standing in the center of the doorway with head held high and her arms folded angrily across her chest.
“Yes,” Doctor Cynthia Zaltone smiled at Zoe. “We were waiting for you to get up.” Cynthia’s tone made Zoe feel like a pouting child.
“Well, here I am.” Zoe said sourly, her eyes darting around the room.
“Great,” Cynthia continued smiling, as if oblivious to Zoe’s mood. It only made Zoanna more irritated. “We can begin the Program now.” Zoe stared, shocked, at the doctor. Had she not heard a word Zoanna had said?
“Uh, excuse me. I already said I’m not doing that.” Her words penetrated Cynthia’s oblivion. Doctor Zaltone stared at her with a very serious expression.
“Zoe, accept it. You are enrolled into the Back to the Past Program. Nothing you say is going to get you out of it.” Clearly. Every one of the twenty-plus faces in the room held the same expression as Cynthia’s. Zoanna’s rebellious side flared and she snapped.
“You’ll have kill me before I participate in any putrid, experimental mind games with you,” she spat. “You people make me sick.”
“Zoanna Blaine Teele.” Her father walked in with his lab coat on and a clipboard in hand. His expression was one of shock, horror, and embarrassment. Zoe read the embarrassment in his face the loudest and scoffed.
“Oh, I’m sorry, did I say something wrong? Well, maybe you can throw me into another machine to fix how I speak too.”
“Zoe, enough is enough.” Her father roared. “I will not have you talk to me or to these people that way, do you understand me?” Zoanna rolled her eyes.
“Oh, absolutely daddy. I understand completely,” Zoe’s tone sarcastically sweet. Doctor Zaltone obviously thought she had heard enough of the conversation and stepped in.
“I think was should begin.” The rest of the room rose with her. “Bring Zoanna,” she spoke to the guard nearest her. She was towed to the machine, as unfamiliar as it was terrifying to Zoe. She could not do this. She would fall to pieces, something she had never let anyone see her do. She certainly was not going to start with these monsters. The guard held her arm tightly, in a hold Zoe would not be able to break to save her life. He stopped with her, waiting for the door to the machine rise up slowly. Zoanna looked up into the eyes of her father and their gaze locked. She let every ounce of pain, terror and betrayal she felt flood up her eyes. Zoe could only stared at him for a moment before she spoke.
“I will never forgive you for this, daddy.” The pain in her words registered in her father, and he opened his mouth to speak.
“NEVER,” was Zoe’s last word before she was pushed into the machine. The door of the metal beast shut, trapping her inside with no one but the shell of who she used to be. Zoe whirled in the dark, her mind spinning with terror and grief. Her breathing turned to gasps, and the nothingness around her only grew louder and darker. Zoanna could not take anymore. She collapsed on the ground, her hands clutching her hair.
She could do nothing but scream.
Josiah watched alongside Doctor Zaltone as his daughter physically fell apart on the screen. Apparently, she had been unaware that everything was being recorded. He vaguely remembered Cynthia telling him that “if the students know they can communicate with us, they will not be as focused on their mission.” Josiah sat in shock as he listened to the unfamiliar sound of Zoe’s screams and cries. Of course, he had heard her whine before, or throw a tantrum when he would refuse to give her what she wanted. But these – these sounds coming out of her mouth were of sheer agony and terror. Josiah looked over at his associate, who did not look at all surprised with Zoe’s reaction.
“What…what is she..?” Josiah choked on his words, unable to find a way to communicate his question. Cynthia knew what he was asking.
“Anxiety attacks. Panic attacks. Maybe some of each. She could be snapping from all the unnecessary stress she has been putting on herself, trying to find ways to get out of this.” Josiah went cold as he listened to Cynthia talk.
“Get her out of there.” He spoke in a low, sure voice. “Now.”
“I said, now.” He stood, intent on yanking that metal door open with his bare hands if he had to. Cynthia grabbed the edge of his lab coat.
“Josiah, listen to me. Don’t forget why she’s there in the first place,” she continued methodically. “It’s to keep from emotions like these,” she pointed to the screen. “From ever happening again. It’s to give her a reason to be grateful for the life she has today.” Josiah paused for a long moment and finally nodded, convinced by her logic. He had to save Zoanna from herself.
“Where was it you wanted to send her?” Cynthia asked, looking at her clipboard of names. Josiah sighed in reluctance.
“1930. The Great Depression.”
Zoe’s eyes slowly opened. She was confused, unaware she had fallen asleep at some point during her breakdown. She lay face-down on unfamiliar, dusty ground. She groaned and slowly got to her feet. She wore a bizarre outfit, made of some faded blue material that stretched from pants into thinner straps that connected somewhere on her back. Overalls, Zoe suddenly recalled from a picture in her “Presently: Ancient History” course tablet from freshman year. Zoanna looked around her, confused and surprised at what she saw.
The people around her walked slowly. They each had a pair of dead eyes. Hardly any of them used modes of transportation other than their feet. All of them were thin. Some, too thin. Just looking at their starved faces made Zoanna hungry. She slowly inserted her hands into the two front pockets of her overalls.
'Where am I?' She wondered, baffled by the blinding heat of the day. She felt a thin sort of book in her left pocket and pulled it out. It was a larger piece of paper, folded into quarters. She unfolded it carefully as she could, noticing how excruciatingly thin the paper was. She stared at it uncomprehendingly, and suddenly understood.
'It’s…a newspaper!' Zoe’s eyes widened. It was one of the oldest ways of receiving information Zoe could remember from the “Evolution of Communications” term of her History class. She skimmed the article carefully, gasping in shock as she read the date of it. “July 16, 1930.” The newspaper section told Zoe what she needed to know. She was in Illinois, during one of the toughest times in the history of the world. The Great Depression.
Zoanna began to walk and as she wandered she recognized more and more of the structures and vehicles from her History pictures back at school. She was astounded by what she saw. In the innermost part of the city, she watched as a group of men fought over a garbage can for the scraps of food inside. She looked at the piles of furniture that lay on the lawns of evicted homes. She watched as children, dirty faced and bare footed, would beg on the streets for money. Zoanna spent all day wandering the unfamiliar place, fascinated by how life once was. She observed as though she were in a museum, taking a tour of the latest exhibit. She looked scornfully upon the hoboes setting up camp deep in the woods and frowned in distaste at the large pot of boiling scum they ate for dinner. Zoe, at the end of it all, stood on the edge of a dark street and sighed in contentment. That had not been nearly as terrible as she had originally thought it would be. She looked around, confused by why she wasn’t back home yet. She stood awkwardly on the sidewalk and waited.
Cynthia watched the monitors of Zoanna in confusion and laughed once when she finally understood what she was doing. She was waiting for them to turn off the illusion. Cynthia smiled sadly to herself as she watched Josiah’s daughter scowl disgustedly as a poor old man hobbled past her. She had not learned a thing.
Zoanna could stand there for as long as she wanted, but she certainly was not ready to return. She was there to discover and complete her mission. Unfortunately, Cynthia’s patience was hardly perfect, and she soon grew tired of watching the girl stand there expectantly. Doctor Zaltone needed to give her a push in the right direction. She fiddled with a few buttons on the control panel and turned the microphone on.
Zoe’s feet were getting tired, and her body was growing weaker. Okay, she thought irritably. I participated…when are they going to get me out of here? There was a sudden, unexpected breeze from the west.
“Zoanna…” it seemed to whisper. “Zoanna…”
“What?” She growled, feeling utterly ridiculous for talking to the air.
“Zoanna…” It began again. “Turn around….” Zoe sighed and did as she was asked. She saw that the wall of the drugstore behind her was cluttered with flyers, each promising services of every kind for either food or money. She noticed one, bright purple paper that seemed out of place on the make-shift bulletin board. It was too dark to see what it said from where she stood, so Zoe jumped up and pulled it down.
“Zoanna,” it read.
“Your mission has not even begun. You must discover it before you can complete it.” Underneath the irritatingly vague words was an address. Zoe huffed.
“Thanks for this!” She called to no one, somehow sure Cynthia could hear her. “It makes things so much clearer.” Her tone dripped with sarcasm. Zoe stared into the silent night and angrily began to crumple the paper until she felt something rough on the back of the flyer. She reopened it slowly. There was an old version of the twenty-dollar bill stuck to the back, with words written underneath.
“This is all the money you have. Use it wisely.” Zoe quickly shoved the money into her pocket before anyone could see it. If a group of men would fight over trash, she had no desire to know what they would do to her if they knew she had a twenty in her possession. Zoanna carefully memorized the address on the flyer and threw it away. She began to wander, looking for 63rd street. Oh, well. Zoe thought casually as she walked the dark streets of the eerily quiet city. As long as I’m not in school, I might as well take my time.
The rumors were so intense, not even Vena could ignore them.
“Maybe she went crazy,” One girl said as Vena passed her in the hall. “After all, she is the only one who hasn’t come back.”
“I heard they have her locked up in a prison,” another flew by. “Good riddance.”
“Maybe she died. You know, she never could survive without being in the spotlight.” Vena spun halfway around, recognizing the voice but not believing her to be the one who would say something so terrible. Clara Thibaut. Vena’s heart sank. Clara, Zoanna’s very best friend in the entire world, was spewing the worst rumors of them all.
“I can’t believe you!” Vena sputtered without thinking. Realizing she had spoken out loud, Vena clamped her mouth shut and stared at Clara. Most of the hallway was staring at them. Oh well, too late to back out now, Vena thought sadly.
“Excuse me?” Clara took in Vena’s figure with obvious scorn, and laughed meanly at the ancient cellphone Vena carried in her left hand. “Oh, yes. I remember you. Meek face and a big, fat mouth.” Clara walked right up to Vena and stood in the center of Vena’s personal space. “You remember what it did to you with Zoe? Of course you do,” Clara hissed as Vena flinched. She vividly remembered all the rumors, all the scorn, and all the infamous attention she received from the videos of her and Zoe locked in an almost-fight.
“I’m three times as mean as she ever was.” Clara snarled and then whipped around, her ponytail smacking Vena right in the face. Her hand flew up to her raw cheek and her temper flared.
“You talk about her like she’s gone.” Clara laughed once.
“She IS gone. Dead, crazy, imprisoned, wherever. She’s not here, is she? Then she’s gone to me. And to pretty much everyone else in this school. Except you. Why do you even care, sweet, darling little Vena?” Clara’s voice was injected with venom. “You don’t know half the things she said about you. They were terrible things. And she made your life miserable,” Clara reminded her. “Remember?” Vena couldn’t find words for the emotions coursing inside her. She watched, horrified, as Clara simply smirked and began to walk away. Vena found her voice before she could get very far.
“She trusted you.” Vena announced in a sad, clear voice. The entire hallway had gone dead. Clara slowly turned and locked her narrow, uncaring eyes with Vena’s. “She trusted you,” Vena said again, shaking her head in disbelief. “And you’re betraying her. You are her best friend, and-”
“Was.” Clara stated coldly. “I was her best friend.” Vena could think of nothing else to say, and watched in incredulity as the hallway emptied of the people who used to worship at Zoanna’s feet. She was no more than the ghost of a memory now. Vena felt a sharp pain for the girl, wondering what had happened to her – and what would become of her if she were to ever return to this school again. Vena glanced at her phone-carrying hand. She looked into the camera sadly.
“I’m so sorry, Zoanna.” Then, Vena hit the stop button. She had recorded the entire scene with Clara, just in case. If Zoe ever came back, she had the right to know what her ‘friends’ really thought of her. Vena realized she was late for class and began to hurry away, but not before she heard voices coming out of Room 101B. Vena stopped and her curiosity got the best of her. She leaned against the door and did something she had never even dreamed of doing before.
Zoanna frowned at the little house on 63rd Street. It was small and white. It could be charming, if it weren’t hanging on by threads. Only five of the eight shutters framing the homes’ windows remained. The paint was peeling in numerous spots, and the walkway up to the steps was in desperate need of replacing. Zoe had long gotten used to the lack of any familiar devices such as her robots and moving walkways. She could not believe that people used to live without such fabulous inventions.
She walked up the stairway of the house and knocked on the door three times. She was not exactly sure what she expected, but it was not the woman who came to answer the door. She was younger looking, in her early thirties perhaps, and her long blonde hair was pulled back into a tight bun. She opened the wooden door, but left the screened one shut. She gave Zoe a once over, frowning in confusion.
“Can I help you?” She asked with hostility. Zoe opened her mouth to respond but quickly realized she had no idea why she was here. “My word, you can’t be more than fourteen,” the woman murmured, almost to herself. “Well, I’m sure I can find something for you to do.” She opened the door wider and gestured for Zoanna to come in. “Well, come in, come in. Hurry up now, I haven’t got all day.” Zoe snapped her mouth shut and hurried inside, still unsure of why she was here.
“What’s your name?” The woman asked brusquely.
“Zoe.” She went with her nickname. Somehow, ‘Zoanna’ didn’t seem to fit here.
“Zoe. Pretty. Got a last name?” The woman asked as she led Zoe to the kitchen.
“Not really,” Zoe replied, not exactly lying. She no longer wanted to share the same last name as her father. She could barely stand to think of him at the moment.
“It’s that way with a lot of people nowadays.” The woman turned to face Zoe and stuck out her hand. “I’m Catherine Muller.” Zoe smiled attentively at her and shook her outstretched arm. “I’ll assume you are either a runaway or just someone looking for work. I’m not going to ask, though, because if you are a runaway it would be my job to send you off to the police. Trust me, you are much better off sticking around here for a while.” Catherine smiled jokingly, and Zoe nodded in agreement. Zoanna was surprised by how much the woman reminded her of her own mom.
“Well, come along. I’ll show you what your chores are while you are staying here.” Zoe opened her mouth, ready do object to any form of physical labor, but Catherine was already out the back door. Zoanna huffed in anger and stared up, hoping the people who put her here were ready for the anger of their lives when she got back.
“Alright, everyone. We can begin.” Doctor Zaltone sat at the head of a long, meeting room style table in Room 101B. She glanced at the researchers and interns gathered around the table. “We have a lot to discuss today.” She smiled at the room, obviously pleased by how their mission went. “It’s safe to say that Project: Back to the Past was a complete success.” There was a polite but energized round of applause after the statement. Many of them began whispering excitedly to one another, each wondering what an accomplishment like this could hold for the future.
“Excuse me, Doctor Zaltone,” an intern in the back began hesitantly. “but…aren’t you forgetting something?” The room grew quiet, and Cynthia sighed heavily. This was obviously a topic of discussion she had not wanted to include in the meeting for the day.
“Yes, Mister Jones, I am well aware that one of our subjects has yet to complete her task, if that is what you are trying to get at.” Cynthia threw a quick glare his way.
“However,” she continued, refusing to make this meeting about the negative. “I am nearly positive that when Miss Zoanna decides to take her mission seriously, she will return with some of the best results this Program will have ever dreamed of,” Some of the interns raised their arms to begin another round of applause.
“Because,” she interjected. “I have decided to begin the AMP phase of her mission.” Not a sound came from the group. Cynthia glanced at the wide eyes and hung-open mouths around her. One brave girl sitting somewhere to the right of Cynthia finally spoke the words that everyone was thinking.
“But…Doctor Zaltone!” She gasped, blinking quickly in disbelief. “You can’t…I mean, we don’t…” everyone stared at her, waiting as she collected her thoughts. “You haven’t even presented that phase of the Program to the board! They don’t even know it exists! It’s years away from being approved.”
“What if something went wrong?” The boy next to her asked. “You know how dangerous that level is. There are so many risks.”
“If someone found out, the whole Program could be shut down,” one of Cynthia’s top researchers offered.
“All this work could be for nothing! If the girl was hurt, or damaged in any way, you know Professor Teele will pull out so fast our heads will spin. He will destroy all of your credibility! Is her completion that important to you?” She continued. Confused and horrified conversation broke out across the room, the interns and researchers all jotting down the worst-case scenarios, listing anything that could go wrong with this idea. Doctor Zaltone, who apparently had heard enough, cleared her throat. The room was instantly quiet.
“Zoanna has been there for nearly two weeks now,” she began, focused of making her coworkers understand. “She is currently somewhere on the verge of phase two of her mission.” There was a long pause.
“Phase… two?” Someone to her left asked, shocked.
“But it took the rest only a few hours to both discover and complete phase two!” Her head researcher informed them.
“Exactly. At the speed the girl is going, she will be down there for another year. I, personally, would not mind leaving her there for that long. If that is what it took to make her realize why she is there.
“But, unfortunately the board will see this as problematic. No one wants to send their child, no matter how troubled, through a Program that can take anywhere from two days to two years. It would never happen. Her being there for much longer will destroy any chances of this Program becoming open to the public. You see how hard Professor Teele is taking this, and Zoanna has only been gone for thirteen days. Have any of you even wondered why he isn’t here at today’s meeting?” Cynthia felt a little guilty about the last part of her speech. The Professor was actually unaware of the meeting she had called today, and for good reason. He never would have agreed to the AMP phase where his daughter – or any other child, for that matter – was concerned. The people around her had mixed emotions. Some confused, others upset. Most in the room looked as though they were struggling with the idea of setting something so risky into motion. Cynthia finally sighed.
“Don’t you see? This is the only way her mission will be successful. If she is presented with a time limit, she will be forced to care. Zoe has an amazing level of self preservation. This will only motivate her more.” Cynthia paused. “Look, I am the main inventor of this Program. I spend nearly two decades working on it. If anyone knew how this machine worked, it would be me. I would never risk this if I thought, even for a second, that Zoanna would be put into a dangerous situation.” Her words were working on the crowd, and Cynthia could see the reluctant agreement in the eyes of her employees.
“Okay.” The older girl at the foot of the table spoke for the room. “We understand, doctor. Either way the project could be compromised.” Cynthia flashed her a smile, but the girls’ face remained grave. “But,” she continued, “I only said we understand. That does not, under any circumstances, mean that we agree with your decision. We will not be held responsible if anything is to happen to Zoanna Teele.” She continued to speak in the plural, and a swift look around the room gave Cynthia the impression that none of them objected to her speaking for them. She nodded seriously in her reply.
“Of course.” There was a collective release of tension in the room as the decision was made. Lighter conversation began as the meeting adjourned.