Read Part 1 here.
Tavis breathed deeply of the cool evening air. Across the street, a chain link fence surrounded a parking lot. Beige tents stood in rows. People milled around. He could hear some vocalizations. It looked like a refugee camp.
“You going over there or not?” Chris asked in their thread.
“You know I hate it when you trace my position when we’re not physically together.”
“I don’t have to trace your position to know you won’t actually do it. You and I both know you’re just trying to unguilt yourself over what happened with May. Give it up.”
Tavis linked in to a public thread that was open in the camp. Two participants masked their identities behind some coding, but their words were clear for anyone to read who cared to. One used pink text, the other purple.
Pink text posted, “Can’t believe they’re going to make us turn off our crowns!”
Purple responded, “I know! I don’t think they can actually do it. I’m keeping mine running.”
“Coming here was the stupidest thing ever. I can’t believe mom thought it would get us closer together or something.”
“Hey! Who’s the new guy?” The two participants of the thread waited for Tavis to introduce himself.
“Hey. I’m across the street… I wanted to find out what was happening over there. I’m Tavis.”
Pink text answered, “Hey, Tavis. I’m Amalla. This is Josie.”
Josie posted a smiley face.
Tavis sighed. These two were probably pretty young, maybe just got their permanent crowns. Fourteen? Maybe fifteen? “What’s going on over there?”
Amalla’s pink text answered, “We just got assigned places to stay for this 40 Days of Love thing. Some opening church thing is going to start soon. We’re helping the poor, I guess. What are you doing across the street?”
Tavis glanced around him. Physically, he stood near a rotting bench on a damp sidewalk. He couldn’t see anyone, but there were numerous public threads available to him in the buildings around. He could skip the whole thing and say he was passing by.
Chris’s thread turned active. “Hey, Marcia just showed up. I’m logging off for a while. Stop lagging and make up your mind, all right?”
Well, that did it. Tavis closed Chris’s thread and posted to the public one in the camp, “I’m thinking about coming over and joining, or at least trying it out.”
Amalla responded, “They’re telling us to turn off our crowns, but we’ll keep ours on. Come on in… if you dare!”
Josie posted a thumbs up.
Fine. Tavis trudged across the street. He could physicalhear people vocalizing on the other side of the fence. Above, floodlights covered the area in a bright white light. He reached out to touch the fence, letting his fingers run across the links as he walked around the corner.
Pink text filled the bottom of the thread, “Are you coming?”
Josie posted another thumbs up.
Tavis came to a wide gate. A man in a dark blue uniform opened a new thread as he approached. “Can I help you?” The text was all formal pretending to be friendly while he ran a search on Tavis’s face.
“Yeah. I’m here to try this thing out. Is this where you sign up?”
“No need. You’re in already; Pastor Darrow had you on the possibility list.” The guard gestured into the low and vocalized, “I’m Ben, one of the helpers from the church. While you’re here, we’re going to ask you to either turn off your crown or use it in a minimal way. The opening ceremony is starting in just a little bit, but you probably have time to claim a tent. Do you mind sharing with someone else? Most tents are made for two or four people, not singles.”
Tavis shrugged and cleared his throat to vocalize, “I guess. I’d rather be by myself, though.”
“For right now, that won’t be a problem. We figured most people would come late.” Ben’s face stretched into a smile. “Anyway, just in here is the mess tent. See that big one? Go in there, grab some gear, and claim a tent. Once you’re done, come back to the mess tent for the opening ceremony. Good?”
Tavis shrugged. “Sure, I guess. What do I do if I change my mind? Can I leave?”
Ben chucked. “Well, Tavis, we don’t keep any prisoners. We just ask that you let us know if you leave so we don’t have to take responsibility for you any more. As long as you’re on church grounds or pursuing church business, we’ve got you covered. Good?”
Tavis made his way into the mess tent, a cavernous fabric building. Tables with long benches filled the interior. The tables nearest the large flap that served as the door were stacked with tightly-packed fabric rolls. A hefty woman in a light blue shirt vocalized as Tavis entered, “Hey, darling. Come on in. You’re new? My crown’s not on; why don’t you tell me your name?”
After Tavis introduced himself, the woman responded, “Well, now, isn’t that something? We don’t get to many teenagers without ma and pop prodding them on. It’s wonderful you could come! Well, you need some supplies, don’t you? Here you go. Oh! I forgot to introduce myself. It’s so easy to forget that anyone could just link your public profile, isn’t it? I’m Gloris. Good to meet you, Davis. Davis? Is that your name? Oh, it’s so hard to remember names when you can’t just see it on the thread listing, isn’t it?”
Tavis left as quickly as he could and found a tent on the outside edge of the big lot. No one had claimed this one, so at least for the moment, it was his. Two cots and an electric lamp decorated the interior of his new home. He unrolled his sleeping bag on one of the cots and sat down.
Josie posted a question mark to the public thread.
Amalla followed the query with, “So, are you in?”
“That lady handing out stuff was crazy, wasn’t she? Why would you ever choose to stop using a crown? It made her stupid!”
Tavis heard some horrendous screeching, and then a loud, distorted voice announced, “Please come to the mess tent for the opening ceremony.”
“What was that?” Amalla asked.
“I guess that’s what they use when they can’t just post to everyone in a certain area.” Tavis stood. “Come on. We get to meet face-to-face and find out what’s going on.”
Read Part 3 here.