“I don’t think you understand the seriousness of the situation,” he said.
I, begrudgingly, took off the clown nose and settled in for a long lecture on “proper courtroom etiquette” from the judge.
It bubbled in my chest rising in jerks and spasms until it exploded out of my mouth. Strange ululations. Breathy gasps. It brought tears to my eyes.
My companions looked concerned, “What is he doing?”
“He’s going to get us caught.”
But I couldn’t stop. I cupped my hands frantically across my mouth to try and keep the noises in but they pushed out through my pressed lips like a broken sputtering trumpet.
“We’ve got to get out of here. Back to the dorms.”
“I think… I think he’s… laughing….”
But that couldn’t be what I was doing. Laughter was forbidden. The very idea of ‘laughing’ was barely a thought exercise anymore. We knew the word just as we knew the words ‘humour’ and ‘joke’ but they were archaic phrases. Vestiges from an earlier time. No more useful than the appendix.
“He’s gone glitched,” Bartholomew asserted. “They’re going to catch it on his next Download and then we’re all going to get caught.”
“But what do we do?”
“I’m okay…” I said between deep inhales. “I’m okay.” The old book lay on the ground between us. Momentarily forgotten.
“We have to recycle him,” Bartholomew-2 continued grimly. He stooped to pick up a piece of rubble “They’ll catch him in the Download and then we’ll all be recycled.”
The idea muttered among the group.
“Nobody is getting recycled until we have Understanding,” Jessica-12 insisted. She eyed me suspiciously. “We need to know what happened first. Understanding is all.”
“Understanding is all,” Everyone dutifully chorused.