A light, feathery feeling overtook Theo’s senses as soon as Noel pressed her fingers against his skull. He didn’t feel sick, and suddenly Carrie’s stream of annoyed thoughts trickled down to a mere drip in the back of his mind. A wave of comprehension blew through the clutter of his mind, filing everything away neatly.
He could see it clearly, his mind. It was a wall of computers, each with a different purpose that Theo already knew. They rotated and switched, but Theo could call the one he wanted at any moment, and it would arrive instantaneously.
There were feeds showing the thoughts and emotions of those he’d managed to tap into. He could use one computer to see through another’s eyes. Another screen held a map of a human body and information on its physical aspects.
He came back to the real world, bothered by something that was making Noel nervous. Noel’s feeds seemed to stay near the bottom. It didn’t matter how many other things he tried to think about at once, Noel’s information stayed near him. He wondered why, but the answer he came up with was too impossible.
His ears cleared. Carrie and Yvette were arguing about racism and how it should be handled. That was a normal topic for them. Next to him, Noel was smiling her dork smile.
Theo slipped back into his mind. He read her thoughts clearly, and with ease. She hoped the other girls wouldn’t ask her for an opinion on their discussion. She was scared to take sides, in fear of being criticized.
Was there anything he could do for her? It burdened Theo to hear her thinking like that. So this was Noel’s mind. He suddenly wondered what she’d been thinking all those times when he poked fun at her.
It’ll be okay, Noel’s feed read, Worse comes to worse I can just dump the question on Theo.
He broke concentration and took back any thoughts of sympathy. No way would he feel sorry for a girl who so callously left her problems for other people. It was her fault he had this dumb mind-reading ability anyway. Stupid, stupid Noel.
Softly, Noel’s thought feed clicked. I wonder what’s wrong with Theo she’d thought.
On Friday, Noel looked like she was on drugs, like someone had pumped a gallon of extra dopamine into her already-overfilled brain. During zero-hour, Noel had been so content and idiotic-looking that the teacher even asked if she was awake. In P.E. warm-ups, she’d followed the routine without so much as a grunt from the work, and while outside, she hadn’t even complained about the weather.
Lillian couldn’t see how Noel could skip complaining about the one thing she actually complained about.
She leaned forward in a stretch during some other pianist’s turn and griped at Yvette. “I can’t believe how mellow Noel’s being today. It’s creepy.”
All she got was a ‘hmm’ in reply.
“Really? You don’t have anything to say?”
“No, I don’t.”
Lillian sat back up and brought her feet together. “I’m serious. She’s acting even ditzier than usual.”
“Maybe she’s excited about something.”
Lillian wrapped her hands around her heels. “Impossible. When Noel is excited, she reminds us about it like a hundred times a day.”
“Good point,” Yvette agreed, “Maybe she’s already gotten this wonderful thing and is waiting for everyone else to notice.”
“She got her braces off months ago. What else is there to be excited about?”
Yvette placed a hand on her chin. “And she’s never been keen on contacts, so it’s not that.”
“She’s still wearing her glasses,” Lillian interrupted.
“Yes, and she’s made it known that haircuts are annual affairs, so not that.”
“I doubt it’s anything romantic, because then she’d be freaking out.”
“Maybe she changed the cover of her binder?”
Lillian shook her head. “No way, I’d have seen the new one by now.”
What was it? Why was Noel acting like such an idiot? Lillian would have to catch the dazed girl after fourth hour and wrangle an answer from her.
And that’s exactly what she did. Noel and Doug were ambling through the courtyard, having eaten outside despite the wintry weather overstaying its season.
“Hey Noel,” she called, quickening her pace to meet them faster, “What did you do in English?”
“More Romeo and Juliet,” she replied. Her tone was light, airy. “I got to read Benvolio.”
“Whatever,” Lillian started, wanting to get to the point.
But Noel stopped her. She smiled hopefully. “What’s the math homework?”
“Page three-eighty-something numbers one through seventeen, now why-”
But Noel and Doug had already moved along to greet other friends who passed through the courtyard to their fifth hour.
Dang it, Lillian thought. She’d have to catch the girl after school.
Because of some mystical irony, strict Madame always let Lillian’s French class out a good thirty seconds early. So Lillian waited the next fifteen seconds outside the German room to drag some info out of Noel.
Bobbing her head as she walked, Noel passed through the door only a second or so after the bell rang. She looked like she’d taken opium or something, she was so jovial. Lillian resisted the urge to make a witty remark, knowing that Noel probably wouldn’t even hear it in this state.
“So what’s up?” Lillian asked as they walked through the hall behind the auditorium. There were way too many posters hanging there. Some idiot had even designed the school walls with a strip of cork board lining every place in the school. That way the posters couldn’t damage the walls. Thoughtful, but too encouraging to the idiots on student council.
“The ceiling,” Noel replied, nearly giggling. Weird, she didn’t usually give smart-alec answers.
“So, why are you so… happy-looking?” Lillian pried, dumping the roundabout approach.
Noel frowned, a confused look skirting her mouth and eyes. “I don’t know. I just woke up and felt really light, like I hadn’t a care in the world.” Then she smiled again. “But it doesn’t matter, right?”
Lillian rolled her eyes, exasperated.
The moment Lillian had brought it up in jazz, Yvette decided to report to Mr. Wills immediately. She’d heard that the device could affect the brain, and though the chances were slim, Noel might have come across the quantum computer somehow.
“Mr. Wills,” she called, as she calmly walked into his room. The walls were covered in posters, compliments of his government class.
“Ah, did you find something of interest?” the bearded man said, looking at his computer, “You usually don’t come for anything aside from the Wednesday report.”
Yvette cleared her throat. “I’ve come to ask what effects the quantum device would have on someone. You know, emotions, appearance, whatnot.”
He looked up from his computer and stopped typing in grades. “Well, I’d imagine the device would cause distraction, as well as lower the body temperature, but that should be it.”
“Now that you mention it, do you think the device would even survive the descent? Most things burn up in the stratosphere on this planet.”
“I believe it could,” Mr. Wills replied, “But what did you find that prompted you to ask about the device’s effects?”
Yvette scratched her head, the short blonde hair feeling strange beneath her fingers. “One of my classmates, Noel, was acting far more distracted and well, happy, than usual.”
“I remember having her in my first hour last semester. She was always pretty cheerful.”
“No. It was more than usual. And there wasn’t even a reason for it.”
“How do you know?”
“I know my friends very well, Mr. Wills.”
The man stroked his beard. “I worry about that, Yvette. What will you do if the device takes over the world? Will you try to save them?”
“I said I know them well,” Yvette replied, her voice edging on a growl, “not that I care for them.”