8: Emily and Truth
Phoenix looked like she was about to offer some theories of her own when the door to the simulation chamber opened. Leira stormed through the waiting room without a word, while Joel spent all of a second staring at Andromeda in her simsuit before Kaori rammed her elbow into his ribs. Unlike Leira, she didn’t seem the least bit embarrassed by her outfit, and even stopped a moment to greet Emily.
“It is quite the experience,” she said, “but Mother would scold me if I told you more.” She cast a look over her shoulder, then leaned in and whispered in Emily’s ear, “Just don’t try to win. It’s impossible.”
As Kaori shooed her boyfriend back to the changing rooms, Phoenix Rogan looked to Emily in the hopes she might share her advice. Emily just smiled.
Ms Shimomura’s soft voice called them into the simulation chamber a minute later. Unlike her daughter, the brash, colourful, immodest Kaori, Commander Yuki Shimomura was a reserved, conservative woman, who wore the forest-green variant of the staff uniform. Her broach, which she pinned to her left breast, marked her as a veteran of the Apostle Wars. She bowed to the girls as they entered the room.
“Welcome to one of our better kept secrets,” she said, “at least until today.”
There were twelve machines in total, each one an ergonomic cocoon ready to seal its occupant in an illusionary world. One was already closed. Emily could feel somebody inside.
“Ms Anderson is preparing the system for your arrival,” said Ms Shimomura with a smile. She had an undeniable ability to sooth even the most troubled of moods, if not with a smile then with words, and if not with words then with music. Were it not for her appearance, Emily would have thought her of Maidenblood; instead, like the rest of her fellow officers, she was proof that even ordinary humans could accomplish the extraordinary.
“I am aware the four of you may have questions,” she said, “and that you may also be uncomfortable with the concept of entering a simulated reality. I would like to reassure you that, if you have any objections, you may voice them, and if you do not wish to take part in this exam, you shall not be penalised.”
Phoenix’s hand shot up, quivering with anticipation. Ms Shimomura nodded. “Commander, if I might question your last point? How can this be a part of our exams if we are allowed to dismiss it without penalty?”
“Because today is a very strange day.”
And it was only getting stranger. After a brief rundown on the simulation experience and the technology involved, Ms Shimomura delivered their objective.
“We have used personal accounts to recreate the events of August 27th, 106, when the Sophist Aristocracy came into conflict with the Donaran people. In this recreation, you will take on the role of Seelie cadets assigned to the Theatre under Chief Payne’s command.”
Phoenix’s chest swelled with pride. It was her dream come true.
Joel is even happier than Annie.