Chloe spent the rest of the day avoiding Alexander and his pestering questions about the future. He wasn’t ready to learn about the tragedies that would take later in his life. Alexander was smarter than Chloe gave him credit for. He could pick up on even the minutest hints she dropped. One of his favorite things to ask was how she could be so adamant about time travel being impossible.
She countered his questions with questions of her own, learning as much as she could about the train and the desert around them. Unfortunately both Alexander and Mouse were useless at giving her any information of value. All they did was discourage her as she searched every inch of the four train cars that had been deemed safe.
She started in the kitchen. There wasn’t a single fork or any other kind of silverware. Every cabinet was as empty as the next. Despite Alexander and Mouse disregarding the emptiness of the kitchen it actually meant something to Chloe. She decided to investigate the lower class dorms to confirm her theory.
“So what school do you go to?” Alexander asked, stalking Chloe from the dining car to the awakening zone.
“School?” Chloe didn’t understand the question.
“So the education system has been restructured. Interesting, a well needed change.” Alexander thought out loud to himself.
“Stop that!” Chloe lost herself for a moment. She knew what school meant, but in her time there was only one school per nation. She forgot that people in the past went to several hundred schools. She opened the door to the first room and immediately dove to the ground looking under the bunk.
“We’ve already looked there.” Alexander continued his onslaught of discouragement.
“I’m aware you have.” Chloe replied nastily. She was normally softer spoken, but she was in full panic mode. The more she thought about being trapped the faster her heart thumped in her chest to the point where she could feel it in every inch of her body. Her movements became faster and less refined as she left one room and continued on to another. She didn’t have to check them all. She just had to check a couple more to further confirm her theory before moving on to the more dangerous next step. Before Chloe could make it to the next room Alexander grabbed her arm, holding her still for a moment.
“I’ve seen this before. Fear is building inside of you. It happens to everyone before they do something stupid. Don’t break the rules Chloe.” Alexander’s voice showed genuine concern for her.
“Don’t worry, I have no intentions of hurling myself into those messy sands. I don’t care to meet the witch either.” Chloe tore her arm from his grasp. She only bothered to search one more room. It was time to prove something that Alexander and the others hadn’t been able to since they arrived. She made her way back towards first class. Mouse was lounging rudely in the dining room, his legs on the table as he lay back in one of the booths.
“Don’t do it Chloe. A bird like you livens the place.” Unlike Alexander his voice didn’t have the same concern, but it wasn’t hostile. Instead it was a sense of hopelessness hidden behind a façade of humor.
The time between Chloe’s steps grew quicker as she burst through the kitchen and to first class where Elizabeth was staying in her room.
“Chloe no.” Chloe heard Elizabeth’s helpless, frightened voice call out. Part of her wanted to stop and reassure the child that she wasn’t going anywhere, but if something terrible were to happen it could result in her death, or rather, whatever happened to those who fell off the train. In the end she didn’t even hesitate. Alexander still chased as she entered the last room of the car. Like all of the other rooms there were two large pillows stuffed with feathers in soft silk casing on the bed. She proceeded to remove the pillowcases from the pillows, taking them and one of the pillows with her.
“What are you doing?” Alexander asked.
“You’ll see finchee.” Chloe replied naturally, letting more of her slang slip.
“Finchee?” Alexander was quick to inquire.
“Finchee, as in finch, as in annoying, as in you.” Chloe explained quickly, carrying her naked pillow and the two pillow cases out of the room. Elizabeth was standing in the hallway quietly, holding on hand on the door leading to her room as she watched Alexander and Chloe uncertainly.
“Finches aren’t annoying.” Alexander didn’t understand and Chloe had no desire to explain it further. She opened the door leading outside to where the conductor’s room was in the front of the train. She stood carefully on the metal pathway between the two cars, trying not to get dizzy from the lack of scenery again. Alexander stood with her. He looked ready to grab her again in case she tried anything daring. She took the feathery pillow and tossed it forwards. She didn’t hear it hit the sand but it was quickly left behind. Chloe did her best to peer around the train car without falling off. She leaned forwards along the handrail to the point where half of her body was over. She could tell she was freaking Alexander out.
Something grabbed the pillow. It was difficult to determine what, but it looked like a human hand. In an instant the pillow was beneath the sands.
“We already told you about the claws.” Alexander interrupted her thought process.
“I remember.” Chloe nodded. “What you didn’t tell me is how perfectly they dig back down into the sand.”
“What do you mean?” Alexander asked. He tried to peer over the railing as well, but the train had progress too far down the track for him to see it.
“I mean the sand where the claw emerged from looks exactly the same as before it emerged. It’s perfectly flat like the rest of the landscape. Unnaturally flat.” Chloe explained. “It falls into my theory perfectly.”
“What theory is that?” Alexander looked almost offended that someone else was coming up with a theory besides him.
“It’s one you’ve had already I’m sure, don’t worry.” Chloe still held the pillow cases in hand as she walked forwards towards the flat wall where the door leading to the conductor’s room should have been. Alexander eyed her carefully looking impatient. He didn’t like her holding information from her.
She leaned forward to the metal wall pushing her face closely to it. She decided to pause for effect. Teasing Alexander was the only thing bringing her joy since she woke up. Finally, Chloe closed her eyes and slowly extended her tongue forwards, licking the steel.
“Why did you do that?” Alexander asked a little disgusted. Chloe kept her eyes closed evaluating the taste of the steel. It felt hot and tasted exactly how she’d expect it to. However there was no lasting taste. Furthermore, there wasn’t a single grain of sand or dust upon her tongue.
“To prove this is a simulation, a rather poorly put together one.” Chloe explained quickly. “At first glance everything looks real, however I’ve all but concluded it’s not.”
“I’ve considered that as well.” Alexander seemed relieved. Like he was worried Chloe had gone insane.
“There is no dust in any of the cabinets in the kitchen, none under the beds either even in the awakening zone. This metal is pristine, not sandy as you’d expect being in a desert like this. Further proof is how perfect the sand was after the claw submerged again. It’s like something you’d see in a video game. The human race has made outstanding progress in creating realistic worlds, but it can never be perfect, and this is no exception.” Chloe explained. She was beginning to feel less anxious as she convinced herself that this was nothing more than a simulation, just like the games she played. If this was a video game then it was her territory, she could excel like always.
“What now?” Alexander asked. Chloe let out a heavy sigh, feeling a fluttering build up inside of her. It was time to determine how alone she was. It was time to determine if Alexander was part of the simulation. There was only one way to determine that, aside from hurting him and seeing how he reacted. She took a moment to build up the courage before lunging forward at him, pressing her lips against his. Alexander’s eyes widened in sheer surprise, but she followed through with the kiss, pressing her tongue forward into his mouth and her body against his. She was as aggressive as she could bring herself to be.
After only a couple of seconds he pulled away from her flustered. She allowed his retreated as she carefully analyzed his every motion, the blush on his cheeks, the gasping of his breath, the motion of his eyes. His reaction was real, at least more real than the rest of the simulation. He was not part of the simulation, but another player in this game.
Once Chloe was convinced Alexander was flesh and blood she finally gave in to her body’s natural response to such an action, turning away and blushing to the point where her face was as red as her hair. She almost gagged from the kiss, but it wasn’t as disgusting as she thought it would be. She had never kissed someone before, especially not like that. She didn’t even know what she was doing. She could still taste Alexander, reminding her to quickly wipe her tongue with her hands and shiver wildly.
Both of them remained quiet as Chloe’s mind rushed at what she just did. Normally she was shy around others in real life. She was so convinced this was a video game that she took on her online persona, Heartfire, and exuded confidence. But even if this was a video game it wasn’t the kind where you could hide behind an alias. They were both very real. She had just given her first kiss. In her mind she always imagined she would be on the receiving end of the kiss. Heartfire would be the kiss initiator, but Chloe Heart would be the kiss receiver.
“Seeing if I’m real?” Alexander’s voice cracked. At least he figured out the reasoning for her sudden advance. Chloe jumped at the sudden noise, nearly dropping the pillowcases she still clutched carefully.
“You’re real!” She quickly spat out. “Very real. I’m sorry.” She stuttered nervously.
“What’s happening?” Elizabeth’s soft voice echoed from the doorway. How long had she been standing there?
“Nothing!” Both Alexander and Chloe shouted nervously.
“Go back inside, we’ll be in shortly.” Chloe added on. She looked to the pillowcases. Phase one of her plan had ended with a bang, but it was time to move on to phase two. She couldn’t allow herself to fall victim to human emotion any longer. She had to be Heartfire if she was going to survive, not Chloe.