Sonia didn’t see Fuyuhiko for at least a week, and even when she did see him after that, it was brief glimpses as he stomped by her in the hallway. No matter how often she tried to stop him to talk, he ignored her wordlessly, leaving her standing alone in the empty halls of the facility.
Had it really been a week since the incident in the cafeteria? Unfortunately, there was no way to verify. Time was indeed a construct in the facility. There were no windows, so there was no way to determine the time of day for sure, and there were no clocks to even create the illusion of night or day. During one of the many therapy sessions she was brought to attend, she had asked The Ultimate Psychiatrist about it, but it didn’t lead to much:
‘As I’m sure you’ve also noted, there are no mirrors here either. Time for you all has been… altered. Abused, even. You all went in the simulation as young adults, lived as teens, and now are older than when you went in and when you lived. Time is integral to who we are as people. It is the basic foundation of our identities. However, for you all, time has been irreversibly damaged. As a result, we need to reform that trust in time and in your own identity. We want you to discover who Sonia Nevermind is. Not the Sonia from before the simulation, not Sonia during the simulation, and not even the Sonia who woke up here. We want to rebuild who the true Sonia is. Do you understand?’
At the time, she had simply nodded and carried on with their session from there. In reality, though, the explanation only seemed to muddle the already turbulent waters that were Sonia’s thoughts. She felt like the true Sonia already. Really, every iteration she could remember of herself felt like the true Sonia. What did it matter what she looked like now? What did it matter whether she knew if it was night or day? Was she not still Sonia either way? These questions lingered in her mind, answerless, the entire time she made her way to the pod room. They were only silenced by a whisper of a voice slipping from the usually silent pod room.
Before Sonia fully entered the room, she hung out at the doorway, peering in just as Fuyuhiko had when he came to ask her to eat with him. From there, she could see her seat right next to Tanaka’s pod. However, rather than it being empty, awaiting her arrival, there sat Kazuichi. He was hunched forward, his hands holding tightly to his knees – so tight his knuckles gleamed white, and though it seemed he was trying to whisper, it came out more has an airy yell.
“You hear me, Tanaka? Wake up. I know you can hear me.”
Sonia wanted to ask him what he was doing. She even wanted to demand he leave. The way he spoke to Tanaka had anger bubbling deep in the pit of her stomach, but as she worked up the confidence to speak, she found a gumminess in her throat that she couldn’t clear without awkwardly breaking the silence.
“Don’t you get it, man? She’s here every single day. She lives for you, man. She reads to you and talks to you. The least you could do is wake the hell up.”
As he cursed, his hands crumpled into tight fists.
“I was asleep, too, ya know that? You weren’t the only one. I would have killed to have someone waiting on me. Someone who would come by to check on me. Anyone, really, but especially Sonia. Do you even know how lucky you are?”
As she watched, she could just make out the tears falling from his eyes into his lap. Then, he stood up, and the next words that came from his mouth were no longer that pseudo-whispery voice he had put on.
“You bastard! Don’t you know how lucky you are? She loves you, dude! None of us have anyone like that! We’re all alone here, except for you, but you won’t even wake up! Sonia makes sure you aren’t here alone every. Single. Day, but you just leave her by herself! I would have woken up for Sonia! I love Sonia!”
He motioned emphatically as the words rushed passionately forth. However, on that final declaration, he fell silent. His arms fell to his side. Tears that were cascading down his face hit the floor with soft plinking sounds. The next time he spoke, his voice was a whisper.
“But she loves you. Wake up, man.”
He then wept in silence, his shoulders shaking as each sob slipped from his mouth. His hands were finally relaxed as he pressed them against his face, but not even that could stop the tears from rushing out. Unable to watch in silence any longer, Sonia cleared her throat.
At the sound of her voice, the man jumped, and when he met her gaze, there was no hiding the puffy pinkness beneath his eyes along with the still shimmer tear tracks that webbed down his face.
Realizing the state he was in, he quickly scrubbed his face with the heels of his hands, but really all it did was cause his entire face to glow pink with irritation. Sonia could appreciate, though, the fact that his face, hair, and eyes all matched to that fluorescent pink. Once he was done scrubbing, he flashed her shark-toothy grin.
“Hey, Ms. Sonia, here to visit as usual?”
Sonia stared at him silently for a while, mulling over her next words carefully. Finally, she said:
“Actually, I came to find you.”
The words weren’t true, and they felt chalky coming out of her mouth, but she said them anyway. Out of pity? Perhaps, but when her kindness was met by Kazuichi’s face lighting up, the kindness ultimately felt more like some kind of sin. Guilt was building up in Sonia’s throat.
“Want to grab something to eat from the cafeteria?”
Of course, he wouldn’t say no. His answer was so apparent, he didn’t really say anything. Instead, he flounced over to Sonia, offered his arm with a sickly sweet, ‘M’lady,’ then he escorted her to the cafeteria. All the while, though, Sonia’s mind was back with Tanaka, reading to him… no. She was back there with him, sure, but she wasn’t reading to him like she usually did. Instead, with tears streaming down her face, she was begging him for an answer to the question:
‘Why won’t you wake up?’
Despite still being mentally tethered to the sleeping Tanaka in his pod, Sonia did her best to smile and laugh as Kazuichi babbled. The moment she took his arm, his floodgates opened, and words were falling out of his mouth without any sign of stopping. It was a shocking change to the usual silence that filled Sonia’s world. Was it a welcome change? She wasn’t sure yet, and by the time they had made it through the food line and to a table, she was growing weary of having company in general.
“So, Ms. Sonia, enough about me, what about you? What have you been up to?”
Had he been talking about himself? Sonia flushed, realizing she had no idea what he had said. It was hard to believe he had so much to say, seeing as he hadn’t been awake all that long. Sonia cleared her throat and let her hands rest delicately in her lap.
“There hasn’t been much to do since waking up, I suppose. Sounds like you’ve been rather busy, though.”
Kazuichi’s grin turned sheepish, and as he cradled a juice in one hand, he used the other to scratch at his chin. Stubble was beginning to grow. It was hard to imagine him with a beard.
“I guess so. It’s hard not to be busy when something around this place always needs fixing.”
Sonia perked up a bit at that.
“So they have you fixing things? What all have you worked on?”
Kazuichi’s brow furrowed.
“Like I said before, mostly stuff in the kitchen, and the pods occasionally. I tried to tell them I was better with cars and motorcycles, but I mean… I guess I can fix anything.”
Sonia could already feel her cheeks warming. Apparently, he had already said all this to her. Her embarrassment didn’t last long, though, as the thought of him working on the pods overtook her. Why would he need to work on the pods? Were they going to break? If so, what did that mean for those who were in them? These worries must have played across her face as Kazuichi sighed and took a long swig of his drink before saying:
“Don’t freak out. It’s just minor repairs. Everything needs to be tinkered with at some point to keep it going. Your boyfriend is fine.”
Sonia tried to hold back the smile that tugged the corners of her lips at the mention of her ‘boyfriend.’ In an attempt to change the subject, she took a sip of her own juice, but before she could come up with anything to say, Kazuichi’s stern voice gave her pause.
“You know we can’t stay here forever.”
She froze, eyes wide, and trained on Kazuichi. His own gaze was blank, mouth slack and resting into a frown. The juice bottle was still perched on her lips, the golden liquid teetering over the rim of the bottle.
“Sonia, they can’t keep us here forever. They won’t. Those of us who have woken up first will be released into the wild to our own devices.”
Finally, Sonia set the juice bottle down without taking a sip.
“They won’t until everyone else wakes up.”
Kazuichi sighed, shaking his head.
“I’ve been in the background, Sonia. When I am fixing things, I am in the rooms we aren’t allowed in, around people we never get to talk to… I’ve heard them. They can’t keep monitoring these comatose people forever, and they can’t keep babying us in here. Eventually, this all is going to end, whether we’re all awake or not.”
The thought had never crossed her mind. What was all the therapy for? Why were they even trying to wake everyone up? What was the purpose of all this? And when that purpose was fulfilled, what would happen to everyone? Her heart was just starting to pick up speed when a now-familiar sound chimed.
It was the pod room. Someone was waking up.