All three stare at me, the impervious Jenna Fox, at the center of attention once again. Where are the cameras? I play the scene with an exaggerated bow.
‘Dammit, Jenna!’ Father slams his hand down on the glass tabletop, rattling the dishes. ‘You’re not the first person in the world to have to deal with a disabling accident!’
‘I know, Father.’ I sit down in the chair opposite him. ‘There’s those three people in the closet, too. The ones in the black boxes? Now that’s what I call a disability.’
Lily grunts. ‘Touché.’ And she downs the rest of her wine.
‘Jenna, we have to talk about these things,’ Mother says. ‘You can’t just run off and worry us every time you hit a bump.’
‘I didn’t hit a bump. You both hid it from me.’
‘They aren’t people,’ Father says.
‘Have another,’ Lily offers, holding out the platter of mushrooms to me.
‘We didn’t hide it from you,’ Mother says.
‘Did you hear me?’
‘Behind a locked door is hidden.’
‘Shall I open another bottle?’
‘What do you expect when you’re acting like this?’
‘Stop!’ I yell. I can’t keep up with the tangled conversation.
‘I’ll open another,’ Lily says. She shuffles off to the house while we sit at the table, using the silence to regroup. Mother lifts her hair off her shoulders and blows at the wisps on her forehead. The shifting Santa Ana winds have made it unseasonably warm for March. Father turns his glass, suddenly so interested in his wine, his brows creasing, his concentration holding his emotions back. I see his lips pull tight, like a seam within him is splitting.
‘Let’s start at the beginning,’ Mother says softly. ‘What were you doing in my closet?’
‘Let’s start more at the beginning,’ I say. ‘Why is there a computer in your closet with my name on it?’
‘It’s a backup, Jenna,’ Father says, in his usual cut-the-crap voice. ‘We had to save the original upload.’
I can hardly see Father as he continues to explain. I can only remember a place with no dimension, no depth, no heat, no cold, but immeasurable amounts of darkness and solitude. Another Jenna is still there.
‘We already told you that this is uncharted territory. We don’t think anything will go wrong, but if it does, we have a backup just in case. But it can’t be a part of any Network. It’s too risky. So we keep the bioenvironment completely independent of all Networks and shared power sources.’
I stand, holding my arms, walking in circles, shaking my head.
‘What are you doing? You have another me trapped in that environment! And Kara and Locke!’
Father shifts in his seat. His shoulders hunch awkwardly. ‘It’s not another you or them, and trapped isn’t a good word to use. It’s only bits of infor—’
‘It’s a mind. You said so yourself.’
‘But it’s a mind without any sensory input. It’s like limbo or a dreamworld.’
‘Trust me, it’s not a dreamworld. Not by a long shot. It’s more like a nightmare.’ I collapse back into my chair and close my eyes.
‘Jenna, it’s only been a few months,’ Claire says. ‘Give us some time to work this out. We’re still trying to think it through ourselves. That’s all we ask. Just give us some time.’
She is not listening. Neither of them are. They don’t want to believe that the place I occupied for eighteen months was anything less than a dreamy waiting room. And time is all I’ve given them. Time. Months. Years. A lifetime of being theirs. Will a time come when I can ever say no? Do I even have time? I need a backup because something could go wrong? I am suddenly aware of my quivering hands and the tremor in my leg.
‘What could go wrong?’ I ask. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could suddenly blink into nothingness like a crashed computer with not even two years used up on my shelf life. That two years seems so precious now—a lifetime. I don’t want to be … gone. My insides tighten and I feel breathless. Breathless from someone who has no lungs. Should I laugh or cry?