Past Tense

Samara sat in the pod, taking a deep breath.

“Drink some water,” her assistant said, passing her a cup.  Samara downed it and leaned back.  The Damned Ordered Gravers were the people who had kept her as a pet during her formative years.  She escaped at the age of 14 with another girl, taking the long boat road to the island.  Before she came to this facility, she was in another one, but it was more of a group home for refugees like her.  She remembered letting go of some lady’s hand before being snatched by an old white man.  The rest of that history, up until she escaped, were all a blur.  But some things caused her to panic. That’s why she didn’t like to be touched.  She sat quietly, listening to the beeping of monitors.

“Put me back in,” she whispered, leaning back.

Her assistant nodded.  Samara’s head slumped forward.

She loaded into the main room of Shouta’s house.

“How can we find her if she’s outside the simulation?” Dana asked, watching Shouta.  Ekundayo had gotten up and gotten a shot of sake.  He noticed Samara and nodded to her.

“You doing okay?” He asked.  She nodded and sat down, listening to Shouta and Dana talk.

“Well, someone has to be inside from where they are, otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to get in.  So we have to find where their player for the simulation is and then sever the connection… After the people out there upload it of course.”

Dana nodded.

“So how do you know Yetunde and Dekinai?”  she finally asked.  Ekundayo made his way back into the conversation, holding several bottles of sake.  Shouta took one and took a long sip from the bottle.  He cleared his throat, sniffed and looked at Yetunde’s sword.

“Dekinai is my father,” he said.

Everyone gasped.

“So why is he–?”

“He’s trying to kill me because I made this simulation with Yetunde.  His hatred for Black people has made him want to kill his only son.  He disowned me when I started seeing Yetunde.  Then when we made this, he suddenly came back into my life.  I thought he was genuine.  Yetunde said to watch my back.  I should have listened.”

Samara smiled.  “So you and Yetunde are…?”

“She is co-director of my project.  She is… Was… My partner.  But work made us break it off.  It was a mutual agreement.”  Shouta took another long sip.  Everyone else did as well.

“You still love her, don’t you?” Ekundayo asked.

“Forever and always.  Whenever she comes into the simulation, I just…” Shouta drifted off zoning out.  The computer beeped.  Shouta turned around and opened up a file.

“There is a… campground 100 miles to the north,” he said, reading over it, opening up maps.  Everyone crowded the screen.

“So, we can break up into teams of two and enter from the north and east.  Looks like the player is housed in this hotel, but it could be a front.  We should probably get some sleep and—”

“Yes, okay, plans and all, but can you tell us about the first time you saw Yetunde?” Dana asked, looking at Shouta’s face.  Shouta blushed and laughed quietly.

“We had bumped into each other at the library.  I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going and I dropped my books.  So I bent down and she bent down and I looked up and it was like… She glowed.  She had long black hair, which I later found out was a wig, and she wore this sweater dress and scarf.  And her eyes were so gentle and sweet.  And when she smiled at me and touched my hand on accident to hand me my books back, I felt like I had seen the most amazing person in my life.”

The group sighed happily, smiling from ear to ear.

“So what happened next?” Ekundayo asked, sipping his sake.

Shouta rubbed the back of his neck.  Dana grinned and started to laugh.

“We didn’t see each other for a few months after that.  We met again by chance on a message board about how the direction of interfacing with games could be better and I saw her profile picture and messaged her when I saw who it was.  We went to grab a coffee a few days later to talk more about it.  Well, she talked more about it.  I love watching her talk.  She’s always so serious, but she’s so funny and passionate about what she does.  She was set to graduate a year later.  She was gonna take a break from schooling for a while, she said.  Even though I still had a few years before I could graduate, I took off schooling too.  Just to be with her.”

“Your father was probably not happy about that,” Samara whispered.  Dana’s stomach growled.  Shouta laughed.

“I’ll make us dinner, and we can finish talking.”

The kitchen area tapered off from the main area, so Dana and Samara laid on the floor of the main area, staring up at the ceiling.  Ekundayo sat at the island in the kitchen, watching Shouta move around the kitchen.

“So, can we know about your guys’ first time or naw…?”

“Woooooow, E,” Dana said, looking over at him.  Samara shook her head.

“Remind us to never give you booze again,” Samara said.  Shouta snapped his fingers, the ceiling about Samara and Dana opening up.  The sky was dark and the millions of stars twinkled above them.

Shouta gingerly sliced off a fatty bit off a piece of meat.

“We went to an opera,” he started as he seasoned the food.  “She wore this long red wine colored dress, and her lips and eyeshadow matched.  And her hair was an afro and she wore this crown.  I bought us a box, just for us because it was our like… 10th date, I think?  We weren’t official, but we were after this…”  Dana and Samara had come to the island to listen and watch Shouta cook.

“Every time I saw her, she had gotten more beautiful, but that night.  I’ve never seen anyone like her.  I don’t even remember the opera, but I remember her face during it.  During intermission, I kissed her.  First time we had kissed.   She held my hand during the rest of the opera.  Afterward, when I went to take her home, she invited me inside her apartment.  I loved her apartment.  It was so small and cozy.  Always smelled like… like… Knowledge and relaxation.  I had to use the bathroom, and when I came out, she was just dressed in this button-up shirt and these cute little panties… Still had her makeup on…  We were each other’s for 6 years.”

Shouta placed plates of food in front of the others.

“Why didn’t you guys get married?” Samara asked in between bites of food.

“Because of work.  We started to hate each other because we were both on this project.  She insisted to help, which I am glad she did because it came out wonderfully, but… It wasn’t the same.  So we called it off.  Until after this was finished.  When you joined in, Dana, that was our first time speaking in a long time.”

Dana blinked and then squinted.

“Shouta… How long do you think it’s been outside?”  she asked.  Ekundayo and Samara stopped chewing.  Shouta watched Dana.

“Only like… a few weeks, why?”

Dana took a deep breath.

“When you found Yetunde’s body, she had been in the machine for almost a year.”

Shouta blinked.

“W-What?”

“She said she started before or after the holidays and that it’d only be a few months, but it’s been about 9.”  Shouta stared at his plate of food and nodded.

“That would explain a few things on my end…” he whispered.  He looked up and smiled at them.

“I hope we can shut this shit down soon.”

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