A notification lit up in the corner of Tabitha's eye — probably just a message from Charlen — but she tapped her connect rings on and swiped it away. She didn't have time for that right now. The notification bar collapsed to a tiny dot in her peripheral vision.
"But that's not how it works, Mandy," Tabitha said. "Don't you think people would notice if the government was trying to do something so egregious?"
Mandy hustled into the commuter rail with the crowd, holding her connect rings up to the scan pad on the door as she boarded. "It's not like they'd advertise it. Do you think they'd come out and say here's all the ways we're trying to undermine the Constitution?"
Tabitha scanned her rings and hustled onto the train next to Mandy. "But there isn't any proof of them trying to limit free speech or anything."
"Yes, there is. Didn't you read that article I sent you?" Mandy grabbed a metal pole for balance.
"I mean..." Tabitha didn't want to say it, but the article had just been wrong. Anyone who wasn't a Truth Leaguer could see that. Another notification from Charlen popped up, but she ignored it again. Instead, she swiped her fingers to pull up the article Mandy had sent her to try and find some argument against it, but with a quick scan she couldn't think of what to say. She swiped the article off her vision. "But why do you have to transfer colleges?"
Mandy's eyes darted back and forth for a second and Tabitha could tell she was reading a message she'd just gotten. Her connect rings lit up on her thumb and forefinger as she typed out an answer on her visual keyboard.
"I have to," Mandy said. "I can't sit there and listen to the teachers preach stuff I know is wrong. There's better schools out there these days."
"But Rowlen U? That's where Truth Leaguers go."
Mandy shifted her weight as the train made a stop. She raised her hand to adjust the ear cuff connected to the connect disk on her temple. A little star accessory dangled from a chain attached to her disk, swinging just by her cheek. "That's a bad reputation. But who cares? I'm not afraid of a little diversity of thought in my education."
Tabitha sighed. "Mandy, please don't take this the wrong way, but I'm worried about you."
"Why? Tabitha, you should transfer with me. It's just good to be exposed to different ways of thinking. It's healthy for human development, rather than letting one narrative take over culture."
But what's true is true, she thought. Right? How could Mandy believe anything if it didn't have good proof. Charlen had messaged her again and again she swiped it away. Tabitha glanced around the train. Most commuters were zoned out into their connects, which blinked little green lights every so often from the input disk on their temple. She could see the steady finger scroll of people reading One little girl had connect rings on both hands and was obviously playing some kind of game, moving and twisting her fingers. A unicorn accessory dangled from her connect disk on a little chain.
"I don't know," Tabitha said finally.
When they got to their stop, they stepped off the train and joined the masses swarming toward the stairs.
That's when Charlen called her.
God, Tabitha, have you read any of my texts? his voice came through the ear cuff attached her her connect disk.
"No, sorry. I'm with Mandy."
Have you seen the news? It's the Truth Leaguers.
"What about them?"
You didn't hear the news? About declaring their own president?
But then she couldn't think of anything to say back, because that's when she noticed Mandy watching the bulletins on a news screen, hearing the commentator's voice in her connect. And Tabitha's stomach dropped because Mandy was smiling.