She said it with a lilt in her voice and a reassuring pat on my arm. I tried not stab my salad fork through her manicured fingers.
“Fine,” I muttered, weaving through the crowd of uniformed school children looking for seats. I hoped she didn’t follow me.
“He told me what happened,” she said, a few steps behind me. I knew her from English – why did I have to continue knowing her during the lunch hour? Couldn’t I just forget the existence of people that were inconvenient to me?
Or more importantly, why did he choose to forget our privacy and tell the whole world what I’d told him?
I slid onto the cold seats, someone else’s drink seeping in through my thin layer of clothes. Great. Now I’d look like I couldn’t control my bladder. The chatter of other students at the table continued, non plussed by two new additions to their seating arrangement.
Either that or they didn’t want to meet my eyes. Last I sat in the cafeteria without him I punched a rugby player. One that played the sport all traditional like, with gravity and everything.
The two girls with matching haircuts sitting on the edge of the table laughed a little too loudly, and the guy’s smile across from me faltered. I felt a small wave of satisfaction that I’m certain came from me.
“So,” she said, ignoring her food, staring earnestly in my direction. “Delta Prime.”
“You sandwich is going to get cold,” I said, taking a bite of mine. Not likely though. The heat in our food lasted for three hours, guaranteed. Along with a promise of freshness (or the imitation thereof) and a low price even a student on the Magnus Belt could afford. It couldn’t be healthy.
I took a breath of the stuffy recycled air, hoping the pain in my chest was related to some stressful test he was taking, or a new resurgence of some ancient disease, like cancer, and not the uncomfortable feeling of abandonment he had left with me.
He was supposed to have been outraged.
“I won’t be in Delta long,” I said, looking down at my food. Her head snapped up excitedly, knowing my reluctance to share information would soon return. The blond curls that framed her round face still bounced, and I tightened my grip on my milk carton. “They don’t like to keep us apart.”
She nodded. “Do you know what your mission is?”
“Whatever it is, I’ll be back soon.” I said, trying to put an emphasis on how quickly I’d return. On how important it was that my telepathic bond and I stayed close. On how irrationally stupid I felt when he decided to share with other people. Other blonde people.
He was supposed to have feelings about all this separation. Not me. I was strictly a no feelings person. That’s why they made us bond.
“I couldn’t do that,” she said, taking a dainty sip of her milk. It likely wasn’t dainty. I was likely projecting. “Work for them and not know what I’m doing.”
“You’re not me.”
Her eyes widened and her lips parted, and somewhere behind my cold anger I registered that I had somehow offended her.
“Of course not!” she said, reaching out to touch my hand. “I could never be you. Nor could I replace you.”
I pulled my hand away.
“That’s an impossibility.” I forced a laugh, choosing to ignore what she meant. Her face smiled, but her eyes didn’t. I offended her again. Did she want to be me? I’d promptly give her a list why that was an irrational desire.
The ID scanner that contained my briefing and my mission weighed heavy in my pocket. Metaphorically.
She’d cry from the things written there. She’d cry from the things that I’d done. I’d almost like to see that. I told myself to stop looking for available ID booths before I broke a law they couldn’t forgive me for.
A column over and four seats to the right a wiry looking fellow with spiky black hair slammed his tray a little too hard on a table, the other boy with him twitching in apprehension. He shoved himself in the seat, took another boy’s milk and poured it over his head. Laughed.
Before the bond I never would have seen that. I never would have felt the fear in the younger boy’s eyes. I never would have felt anything.
Stupid empathetic telepathy.
I stood from my seat, emptied my tray in the proper trash receptacle, walked over and punched wiry on the nose.
The cafeteria let a out a shout of surprise, loudly and predictably. He growled and tackled me, throwing me on the ground where I landed into somebody else’s lunch. Ducking a punch, I kicked him in the ribs before he had a chance to get to me while I lay in an array of lunch meats.
The shouts grew louder and more violent, growing to a crescendo as we both found our footing. His eyes were dark, focused. Blood dripped from his nose. Good.
I felt myself grinning as I stood, grabbing a plastic knife from another student’s tray. It wasn’t anti-grav neopolymer steel, but it would do. I rushed.
He grabbed a broken tray and whipped it across my face.
I spun, landing a few feet away, my head rammed against the floor.
A loud horn rang through the cafeteria, urging in a wave of hushed whispers. I could hear the vague shouting of some authority figure. My face too close to the cold tile, I pushed myself from the ground, fighting the wave of dizziness that crashed my vision. Something dripped from my forehead.
“Are you okay?” my seat-mate asked, her pretty faces frowning. Did she have two faces?
“Besides the open wound?” I giggled, and it echoed through the silent hall. Another drop of blood fell on my cheek. “Fine.”