How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World
By Ada Hoffmann
Illustration by Bryan Prindiville
Rania Mehanna was my best friend, so when I bumped into her crying in the stairwell at lunch hour, I was stupid enough to rush right to her. She freaked out and shook her head, trying to brush her eyes off all clumsy. Rania didn’t cry much, and she didn’t have the hang of it.
She hadn’t picked the spot at random, of course. She’d crumpled up in one of the blind spots where the school security cameras don’t quite see. She didn’t want the world to know she was crying. World Savers don’t cry alone in corners. I had to be careful not to blow her cover.
Everyone knows this stuff. But when your best friend is hunched over sobbing, basic stuff slips your mind.
I stopped, then grinned and hopped over the rest of the way, like I was just happy to see her. Rania glared at me, but she stopped trying to jam her fists into her eyes.
“Hey,” I said.
“You want to be alone?”
She hesitated. “No.”
I slid down beside her. “What’s up?”
“Nothing.” She shook her head.
“‘Kay, then. I got us movie tickets. Two seats. Rania Mehanna and Emma Cruz for Catgirls vs. Pterodactyls. Opening night. I mean, if you still want to go.”
She sighed. “Yeah, I guess.”
“With Suman Bachchan as the pterodactyl trainer.”
It wasn’t like Rania not to squeal over Suman Bachchan. She scowled even deeper when I said his name. Boy trouble, then. I lowered my voice. “It’s Jacob, isn’t it?”
Rania buried her face in her hands. “He stood me up again. That’s all. I should be used to it by now.”
“Bastard,” I said.
“Like you’d know.”
I hated when she needled me about that. I never got into the “guys” thing. Or the “girls” thing. Dating wasn’t my scene. But I knew what it meant to care about people. I had friends I’d take a bullet for — Rania first. Even when she was giving me the death glare from Mars.
“Hey,” I said, “if you promised me Catgirls vs. Pterodactyls tickets and stood me up, I’d be pissed too. I get it.”
Rania snorted and shoved me. “That’s not a date with me. That’s a date with Suman Bachchan’s cheekbones.”
I shoved back. “Then Stephen Hawking: Space Pirate. Same analogy.”
“Dude. I’m allowed to stand you up if the movie sucks.”
“Filmgate gave it 8 out of 10.”
“Filmgate is full of Numbers Fiends. They’ll give 8 out of 10 to any pile of crap with a space pirate.”
“So who says it sucks?”
“Moviedock.” Which was as full of World Savers as Filmgate was full of Numbers Fiends. “No female characters in the whole movie. Not even a waitress or something. Just a bunch of white dudes with speech synthesizers blowing things up.”
“But you don’t have a problem with all the bikinis in Catgirls?”
“Yeah, well.” She waved me off. “Suman Bachchan. Shut up.” Now she was smiling, at least. “Did you hear the Infallible Cloud changed his label? He’s not a full World Saver anymore, just a World Saver slash Pleasure Seeker. Can you believe it?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know the guy, except for his cheekbones.”
“Yeah. Stupid raters.” She pulled her knees up to her chest. “Stupid everyone.”
“Rania,” I said, “how long has it been since you and Jacob talked?”
Rania plopped her head down in her hands. “A month now. I mean, I text him. I post on his wall. Nothing stalkery. But he’s all ‘Oh hey, I’m out someplace, talk to you later.’ I ask him to come and see me, but he ignores it.”
“So go see him anyway. He’s got GPS, doesn’t he?”
“You know why I can’t go see him.”
I did. Jacob was a Pleasure Seeker, all jokes and persuasion with nothing on the inside. Which was fine, as long as he and Rania were happy. But his dad had a new job and the family had moved to Brightside: one of those prissy gated communities in the suburbs, full of Upward Movers and Monocle Men. World Savers did not go to parties in Brightside. Rania couldn’t go to him without losing some serious personality points. And Jacob wouldn’t go to her.
“So don’t go see him. Set your AllBook status to Single. It’s not like he deserves any better.”
She snapped back up straight. “World Savers do not break up online. That’s a sign of poor empathy and lack of respect for your partner, and if you don’t even respect the person you’re dating, how can you—”
I raised a hand. “Stop. Respect goes both ways, remember? Right now you don’t owe him any. Besides, everybody’s got little marks on their record. Even the Pope.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re a Relator. You can make friends in any cesspool of privilege you like.”
“Sorry,” I said. “It sucks. You’re right.”
She closed her eyes and breathed in and out.
“I wish I was a hacker,” she said. “I wish I could just go see him, cuss him out, break things off, and then erase it all from the system and still be a World Saver and get into pre-med at Harvard. I’d do that.”
I wanted to tell Rania that even the rudest breakup in the world wouldn’t stop her from being a World Saver. She was the real thing: single-handedly raising thousands of dollars for World Hacks one month, volunteering around the world in another, and keeping her grades up high the whole time. She didn’t quit: her only problem was that she couldn’t set out to fix her personal life with the same zeal as fixing everything else.
But Rania had her eye on some picky colleges. The kids who got in had records spotless like you wouldn’t believe. These were kids who never went through a Delinquent or Self Destructor phase, not even something semi-respectable like Beta Girl. They’d been World Savers since they were two years old and their parents posted about how fast they’d learned the alphabet. I had a theory those kids weren’t the actual best World Savers, but they looked great on paper. By those standards, one mark on Rania’s record was a pretty big deal.
I knew those problems went way deeper than what I could deal with. I knew I should sit tight, let Rania cry on my shoulder, validate her feelings. But all of a sudden I had a bright idea.
“Do you want it that bad, Rania? ‘Cause I’ve got a lot of Numbers Fiends on my friends list.”
She shoved me again. “You’ve got a lot of everybody on your friends list.”
“Yeah, and I bet someone in there knows how to sneak into Brightside without the Infallible Cloud knowing. I bet we could do this, Rania. If you wanted it enough.”
She looked at me sidelong. “We?”
It was like a Suman Bachchan movie. Me and Rania on a heist, beating the computers at their own game. I had a lot of smart people to draw on. We could do it.
She thought about it. Then she hugged me ridiculous tight. “Let’s.”
Jacob Harrington [Pleasure Seeker] wrote
Can’t WAIT 4 Julia’s party. Gonna be awesome, robot camels and 360 degree TV. For real, her house has everything. <3 Brightside!!
Yesterday at 2:38 pm | Comment | Like--
Emmett Lancaster [Upward Mover] wrote
U gonna bring Rania? Dying to meet her. Looks great in ur pix.
Yesterday at 3:16 pm--
Jacob Harrington [Pleasure Seeker] wrote
Yesterday at 3:54 pm--
Parker Austin [Upward Mover] wrote
Not according to her profile. Dude, you haven’t met her at all this month. Love you to prove me wrong, but twenty bucks says you’re keeping her around for the personality points.
Yesterday at 4:25 pm--
Caroline Ward [Monocle Man / Numbers Fiend] wrote
Bad strategy if so. Strong relationship good sign if desired transition to Upward Mover but in yr case many more pressing issues judging from profile, e.g. grades? Extracurriculars? Dating life minor in comparison esp. at our age, & for actual strong relationship, rl interactions with gf are expected.
Yesterday at 5:07 pm--
Parker Austin [Upward Mover] wrote
Dude, Caroline. Nobody asked you.
Yesterday at 5:38 pm
I didn’t know a thing about sneaking past the Infallible Cloud. But I had two thousand people on my friends list, give or take. Maybe forty of them were Numbers Fiends, and twenty of those were local. AllBook would log anything we said online, so I had some face-to-face schmoozing to do.
I had plans that evening already, of course. Bowling night with my friends at yearbook committee. So I typed out a bunch of heartfelt apologies and cancelled those. Then I got to trolling for Numbers Fiends. Gita Jha, my favourite, was out of town, and the next two had their schedules bricked right up, but I got a hit with number four: Deborah Hendrix, a frizzy-haired girl I played video games with every couple of months. Numbers Fiends aren’t picky: a quick query if she wanted to hang out tonight, and I had her.
Deborah had the kind of house that smelled like old pizza boxes and chips, with her parents holed up in home offices all night, but she led me all perky through the mess to the den. In here, there was enough clear floor to move around. Three of the walls were plastered with wide-format screens, and a patched-up maroon sofa leaned against the fourth. Deborah took out an old-fashioned handheld remote.
“The arm controls are broken,” she apologized, pointing at the sofa’s raggedy arm. “You know how it is. I got a new platformer, though. With alien battles! You still like those?”
We clicked our way through the login and into the new game. Pictures popped up on the walls: a maze of golden walkways, gears, and ramps over a steaming green sea. We ran in place, and our avatars on the big central screen ran through the maze—or the maze moved around them. We jumped from one walkway to another, grabbed power-ups, sometimes pushed each other into the water to see what would happen. (Answer: You die.) We dodged the flocks of flying 8 balls. On the first big stairway, with a mean-looking alien at the top, I moved one of my arms wrong and the stairs folded up into a slide. My avatar fell all the way down and landed in a green bubble-blowing machine, which swelled me up and popped me into nonexistence.
Deborah giggled. “Oh, man! I missed that — I never died that way. Try it again.”
I held my arms out straight and tried to do the biggest steps I could up the staircase, but I couldn’t get it right. By the fourth bubble-popping death we were both hunched over laughing on the floor.
“You suck at this,” said Deborah.
“I’ll try again when the room stops spinning.” The alien on the wall fidgeted, and a return to last save point? window popped up, but I ignored them. “Hey, while I was here, I wanted to ask your help with something.”
“Yeah, sure.” Deborah waved me aside, still giggling. “You’ve got to get to the top of the stairs, though. The alien battles are awesome. They’ve got all these tentacles and you have to — Wait, what do you need help with?” She scowled. “I am so tired of people using me as a math tutor. I like you because you spend time with me, not my textbooks. If this visit is about math, I swear—”
“No, no. Not math. Do you know Rania Mehanna?”
“She and I want to crash a party.”
I already knew it had to be a party. Showing up at his house would be creepy, and his parents would see us.
Deborah raised a bushy eyebrow. “A party? And you asked me?”
“It’s not just any party. It’s in Brightside. If the Infallible Cloud gets word Rania went to a party in Brightside, it’ll lower her World Saver rating. She’s extra worried about her rating. Wants to get into Harvard, you know. But her boyfriend’s in Brightside and she needs to talk to him. So we need to get to the party, do what needs doing, and get out again, without anyone knowing. And for that, we need expert help. You in?”
Deborah scowled. She didn’t have the best dating life either. Mostly she’d gone for the boys — and a few girls — who asked for her help with their math homework, despite the way she complained about them, and they tended to dump her in the spring when math class ended. “Why’s Rania dating someone in Brightside?”
“I don’t know. Animal magnetism. Four months ago they did Model UN and she babbled nonstop about the way he swaggered around pretending to be the Russian Federation. Then all of a sudden they were dating. He didn’t used to be in Brightside, you see.”
“But now he’s standing her up all the time and he won’t change his status back to Single.”
“Oh, and she can’t change it herself without a face-to-face meeting. I’ve heard of that.” Deborah tugged on her hair, thinking it over. “Yeah, I guess it’s worse than not dating. You sure you have to go into Brightside to find him? He never goes out to the movies or something?”
“Yeah, he goes to the movies. At the Brightside Cinema. They’ve got everything in there, trust me. Logic says he’ll run off on vacation at some point, but that could be months, and even then he might not go anywhere Rania can reach him. He might head straight to the airport and jet off to Tuvalu. So to get to him, we’ve got to go in.”
Deborah thought it over. “Okay,” she said at last. “I’m in. On one condition.”
She grinned and sat up straight, which swung her avatar’s head right into an oncoming 8 ball. “I want to go to the party.”
Celebrity Sues Over “Fraudulent” Personality Rating
The Infallible Cloud is not so infallible according to Sadie Clare Wolfe, star of Electric Mermaid and Babes of the Apocalypse. When her personality rating changed from Upward Mover to Beta Girl, Wolfe sued the six major rating consortiums, calling the decision “fraudulent” and claiming that the change would cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost fan revenue.
The rating consortiums stand firmly behind their product, saying the change to Beta Girl was simply an honest algorithmic assessment of her behaviour. But Wolfe and her legal counsel claim the models behind personality ratings are subtly flawed. Two other B-list celebrities, Sophie Xu and Dimitra Panagiotopoulos, have filed suit on similar grounds.
The furore has led some to speculate that Suman Bachchan, the heartthrob star of Catgirls vs. Pterodactyls, may also speak up. Bachchan, noted for his philanthropy and charity advocacy but also a regular at Hollywood parties, was recently reclassified as a World Saver / Pleasure Seeker, rather than simply a World Saver.
At press time, Bachchan’s agent had not responded to inquiries.
Rania’s house was the opposite of Deborah’s: it looked like something out of a furniture ad. Cozy, mind you, with cushions and blankets over the armchairs, and it smelled like cinnamon and honey from the kitchen. But Rania’s mom had a fit if anyone so much as got crumbs on the floor.
Deborah was already sprawled out on the carpet by the time I got there. Rania was perched on the edge of the couch. She looked worried that I hadn’t found someone better. I had to introduce them and convince Deborah to sit on a chair like a normal person. Then we got down to business.
“First thing you do,” said Deborah, “is leave your cell phone at home.”
Rania flinched. “But what if I need to call—”
“No. Trust me, it does GPS even if you turn it off. Leave it here. Same with whatever else you’ve got. Tablets, book reader, music, even your ID. And no ultra-good clothes. Secondhand is best. Nothing with an RFID.”
Rania nodded slow.
“That’ll stop the Infallible Cloud from tracking you. Next thing we have to do is block face recognition.”
I raised an eyebrow. “They’ve got face recognition at the door?”
Deborah sighed like she was talking to idiots. “People are taking pictures at this party, right? And posting them? It’s not a Luddite party? Even if you stay out of trouble, you’re going to be in the background of someone’s photo. Soon as they post it, AllBook runs face recognition, auto-tags you, and links to your account. In case someone goes ‘Who was that girl?’ and wants to friend you. So we need to give you a face AllBook can’t identify. Got any interesting makeup?”
Rania made a face. “Can’t I just wear big sunglasses, or…”
“Obvious disguise attempt is obvious. No. You want something that screws up the algorithms, but doesn’t look like you’re trying to screw the algorithms. Best thing is dressing you up like a World Hating Poet. They’re all drawing spiderwebs under their eyes, right?”
“So you wear your darkest, laciest clothes. I’ve got a lace trim hat you can borrow. And Emma paints you with the biggest, most asymmetrical spiderweb ever. Darken the cheekbones and nose, brighten it up above the eyes, and with any luck AllBook gets so confused it can’t tag you.”
“But I’m not a World Hating Poet,” said Rania.”I can’t have that on my record.”
“Which is why,” said Deborah, talking slow. “We’re getting. The computer. Not. To tag you. Got it?”
Rania sighed and nodded. “I’ve got an eyebrow pencil in my bag.”
I leaned back. The couch was solid: didn’t even creak. “This is all great for the computers, but people are gonna manual tag her.”
Deborah shrugged. “I got nothing. You’re the social-skills girl. Just try not to get in a photograph.”
“Oh, sure,” said Rania. “How do I do that?”
“Luck,” I said. “And stay away from dancing, big groups, cool balconies, anything photo-oppy. Keep your body language closed-in and boring in case someone’s taking candids.”
Rania sighed. “Yep. World Hating Poet. And we’re going in your car, Debs?”
“My parents’ car.” My mom was a doctor; we weren’t Upward Movers, but we had enough money to park in their street, and taking the bus was too risky. “I drive. We go in, find Jacob, Rania takes him aside, I stand lookout, and you enjoy the party. Everyone’s happy, right?”
“Right,” Deborah said fast, and Rania nodded, but that worry in her eyes was getting worse.
I chewed my lip. “You want moral support?”
“And a witness. So he can’t blow it off.”
“Okay. Deborah, would you stand lookout?”
She sat up straight. “I wanted to see the party.”
“You can still see it. We’ll even wait around in the car when we’re done if you want extra time. You just need to stick with us for a little while and let us know about anything suspicious.”
“How would I know?”
“People pointing. People gravitating towards you. People saying ‘hey, where’s Jacob, I think he’s in there.’ The usual, obvious stuff.”
Deborah raised her chin. “Sure. I’ll do the social-skills stuff. See if I can’t.”
Suman Bachchan [World Saver / Pleasure Seeker] wrote
Wore an old suit for Catgirls vs. Pterodactyls opening night instead of buying new. Donated the difference. Still look GREAT! Dunno why everyone’s still talking about the Pleasure Seeker label. Just a label, guys.
Yesterday at 12:31 pm | Comment | Like
1542 people like this
The party was ridiculous fancy. Deborah’s gaming system was space-cool by my standards, but this was from another planet. Not just screens on the walls, but 3D projections outward and inward all over, making the whole place an ultra-real projected desert full of postcard dunes. The resolution was so good you could see through the walls, into the distance, where the dunes went on forever and ever. We would have all bumped into the walls if someone hadn’t projected pictures of railings on them.
Lots of the guests were wearing imitation desert clothes to match. Girls with Jell-O shots tripped past us in headscarves and belly-dancer pants, and pale blond Monocle Men fiddled with their keffiyehs.
Rania wrinkled her nose. Orientalism, she mouthed when I caught her eye, and I nodded. Ew. Rania’s mom wore a headscarf for real, and most of these people in fake hijab would’ve whispered and called her a terrorist outside this party. Too bad it would have wrecked our disguise if she said anything. I guess this was why World Savers didn’t go to these parties.
Deborah stared around at everything making fish faces.
“Ohmygod,” she whispered. “Look, look, this is top-of-the-line early adopter stuff. Musta cost more than my parents’ car. And what’s th—”
A robot camel the size of a Golden Retriever slammed into her. I winced. How much money did you have to waste to get custom robots just for one party? But Deborah made a wibbly face, like it was a kitten, and threw her arms around it. “Ohmygod, Emma, look! It’s so realistic. Look how they did the joints, you can hardly tell it’s motors under there and not muscles. The fur, even. You’re not looking.”
“Real camels aren’t two feet high at the shoulders,” Rania muttered. “And real houses don’t have camels indoors. God.”
I got the sense Deborah had never been to any parties at all.
I nudged her. “Yeah, it’s good craftsmanship. I like the nose.” Rania glared. “But remember we’re trying not to draw attention.”
Deborah blushed. “Oh. Yeah, okay.” She straightened and tried to look cool and bored.
“In to find Jacob, in to talk to Jacob, then out,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Deborah, tossing her frizzy hair. “Whatever.”
I stifled a laugh.
“Recognize anyone?” I whispered to Rania.
“A little. Seen a few of them in Jacob’s AllBook photos. Never in person.”
We sauntered around, avoiding the photo-ops, and Rania found a redheaded boy browsing the retro-cool paper bookshelf.
“Hey,” she said. “You seen Jacob?”
“Yeah.” He pointed. “Kitchen.”
In the kitchen Deborah started bug-eyed grinning again. The place was like a posh cooking show, all sterile metallic lines and big spaces. A hot desert sun beat down above the oven, and a cool oasis powered the sink. A steel screen door led out to the back porch. Jacob and like twenty other people stood around talking beside it.
Jacob had the most ridiculous outfit in the whole party. Not just a keffiyeh, but a whole costume from that godawful remake of The Sheik. Trying too hard. That would get him Beta Girl if he kept at it, but not Upward Mover.
Rania started at him, then paused. “If I go get him, people will realize it’s me. Is that going to be…?”
“Yeah, I’ll do it. You two wait outside.”
I sauntered in and spent a couple minutes joining the crowd, laughing at the jokes, pointing out movie references. Easy peasy. Jacob noticed me and frowned, but it looked like he didn’t want to make a scene, either.
“Hey, Jacob?” I asked after we’d exchanged a few not-so-bon mots.
I did a flirty head tilt. “Wanted to talk to you outside for a bit. You mind?”
I never flirt. Jacob knew me well enough to know. But Jacob never didn’t flirt, and the others in the crowd grinned, poking him to follow me.
He sighed. “‘Kay, sure, whatever. ‘Scuse me, guys.”
I led him out the screen door. There was a bigass back yard, the kind with a pool and a porch and a big dog-walking lawn full of cute stands of trees. He got pale when he saw Rania and Deborah. “What is this, some kind of girl-mob?”
“Those trees.” I pointed. “Over there.”
“You’re ganging up on me?”
“I’m ganging up on you,” Rania said. “Emma is here as a witness. And Deborah… is here.”
“Standing lookout,” said Deborah.
“Why are you dressed like that?” said Jacob.
“Long story,” I said. “Let’s just get to the trees.”
He gave me a nervous look, but he let Rania and me frog-march him into the trees, away from the splashing, chlorine-smelling pool crowd.
“First thing,” said Rania once we were out of sight. “I’m not going to be seen talking to you in that.”
Jacob couldn’t have taken off the whole costume without stripping, but he took off the headdress, at least. “Nag, nag, nag. This is why I don’t call you more often. You’re so busy being a World Saver you can’t have fun.”
“So you’re tired of me?” said Rania, folding her arms. “You don’t want to see me anymore?”
“Um,” he said. “I mean, it’s not that simple. I was going to call you, it’s just that things keep coming up.”
“Then you do want to see me?”
“Um,” said Jacob.
“You see, the last six times you said you wanted to see me, we set a date and you never showed up. It kind of gives the impression you don’t. Isn’t that right, Emma?”
I shrugged. I knew a script when I heard one. “Sounds right to me.”
Jacob scowled. “Okay, maybe I don’t.”
“Then we’re breaking up?” said Rania.
“Look, you don’t know how it is for me. Everyone here’s been an Upward Mover for years. I’ve got to work quadruple to fit in. At least if I’ve got a girlfriend, that gives me something to talk about.”
I raised my eyebrows. “You talk to them about Rania? There’s nothing to talk about, at the rate you two have been going out. Unless you’re making things up.”
I wondered if he was making things up. It was the sort of thing he’d do, and it might cost Rania more personality points than she thought. Boys like Jacob made up weird sex stories, or even crime stories, to get attention. That kind of gossip might change her label for real.
“Please,” said Jacob, ignoring me. “If you find someone else, then sure, that’s cool, but why not keep our status at ‘Dating’ till then? For show? It would help my personality rating. And I know how you feel about your personality rating. I know you understand. I need this.” He reached out and rested a hand on her shoulder. “Save the world for me a little, Rania, sweetie. Just for a while.”
Rania wavered. She bit her lip.
I looked around quick, trying to squint through the tree needles and assess the danger. Clumps of people all over the backyard, and a big splash-war in the pool, but nobody dangerous close. Not even Deborah.
She’d wandered off. I thought I saw her frizzy head in the distance, talking to someone. Flirting, to judge from the body language.
Duh. I should have seen it coming. Deborah might not go to another high school party ever. How could I expect her to stay in the trees, missing it all?
“I don’t know,” Rania said. “Maybe…”
I wanted to run and drag Deborah back, but Rania needed me here more. Her weak spot was weaker than I thought.
“You think it’s saving the world,” I said, “helping you swan around in those clothes? You think the world will improve one bit because you, Jacob Harrington, were an Upward Mover?”
“Well, sure,” said Jacob.
Rania rallied. She raised her head a bit higher. “And you think I owe that to you? You want me to give up my personality rating, my chances at a good college and a World Saver job, and most of my chances at finding someone better than you — all so, what, you can impress people at racist parties?”
Jacob raised his voice. “You think you can call me racist?”
“I think I can tell you,” Rania said, raising hers to match, “that World Saving has as much to do with this as pigs do with the International Linear Collider. And that you are no longer my boyfriend, as of now. You can put that on AllBook!”
“Because why?” He was shouting now. “Because you’re on your high horse about the clothes at this party? Who even invited you? I didn’t!”
“I don’t have to explain anything to you!”
“Guys.” I was starting to freak out. Yelling like this was a good way to get noticed fast. “Guys, can we quiet—”
Jacob shouted past me. “It’s my love life, and you owe me an explanation! This is the worst thing about World Savers. You prance around deciding who’s worthy of help and who’s not, and you think you’re so good. But when an ordinary guy needs a little bit of slack—”
Rania wasn’t looking at me either. “Don’t you tell me what World Savers are like. You’ve never been a quarter of the way to World Saver in your life!”
“And damned glad that I—”
There was a quick rustle in the branches, then a click and a flash.
I turned. A whole gaggle of Upward Movers in imitation hijab stood there giggling, snapping pictures with their phones.
Rania turned the color of feta cheese.
“I’m going home,” she said in a strangled voice, and she rushed out of the trees.
Ethan Waller [Upward Mover / Beta Girl] wrote
LOL guys, drama going on at Julia’s party! UR MISSIN IT
Today at 10:24 pm | Comment | Like
3 people like this
I didn’t chase Rania down right away. She didn’t like to talk when she was that upset, and she wasn’t going to get far without a wallet or bus pass. Instead I pushed past the Upward Movers and ran to Deborah.
She was flirting, all right. At least the trollop who’d distracted her was well-dressed. No costume, just a smart vest, boots, and slacks, with boyish bowl hair.
“Deborah,” I said through my teeth.
She startled. “Oh, hi, Emma. This is Caroline. We were just — I mean, is everything all—”
“A horde of Upward Movers walked in on Rania and Jacob and me while you were gone. So no, everything is not all right. Thanks for asking.”
Deborah flushed bright. She knew what she’d done.
“Walked in?” said Caroline. “What were they doing in there?”
“Breaking up,” Deborah moaned, burying her face in her hands.
“Why on earth would you need to break up with nobody watching? For that matter, if you needed to break up with nobody watching, why on earth would you try to do it at a party?”
“Long story. C’mon, Deborah.” I tugged Deborah’s wrist. “We’ve got to take her home. You can look Caroline up on AllBook later.”
Caroline waved a vague hand. “It’s all right. I’ll probably look you up before you even get home. Have fun.”
“Bye!” Deborah called as we hurried away.
We found Rania pacing the sidewalk. It was a well-lit street, no traffic, but it looked like she’d remembered she didn’t have a bus pass or taxi money, and it hadn’t improved her mood.
“I’m sorry,” Deborah said. “I’m really sorry!”
“Don’t talk to me,” Rania snapped. She had this apocalyptic redness under her eyes.
“I’ll drive you home now,” I said. “I’ve got the keys. It’s going to be okay.”
“Don’t. Talk. To. Me.”
But she got in the car.
The ride was hot and silent until we dropped off Deborah. After that, Rania started throwing words like bricks.
“My life,” she said, “is ruined.”
“Maybe not.” I’d been trying to figure out what to say ever since starting the engine. “Maybe you lost a couple of points. Maybe not going would have been worse, in the long run. Maybe his points would have rubbed off on yours.”
“I should have just changed my status to Single. I shouldn’t have let you talk me into this.”
“You did a good thing, Rania. You confronted someone who’d been hurting you. It would have worked if not for Deborah and the shouting. You were brave.”
“Fuck brave.” Her knuckles paled around the arm rest. “You ruined my life.”
“You ruined my life, Emma.” We stopped, and she unbuckled. “I’m unfriending you.”
I stared at her. She was my best friend. She had the biggest, most tempestuous heart. But she was no World Hating Poet. She didn’t do the “leaving forever!” thing lightly.
She slammed the car door and stalked off.
Deborah Hendrix [Numbers Fiend] wrote
ARGH. No wonder I never get invited to parties, I screw EVERYTHING up.
Yesterday at 11:01 pm | Comment | Like--
Caroline Ward [Monocle Man / Numbers Fiend] wrote
Nonsense. 138 people tonight by last count, incl. crashers. Each on average participates in dozens of activities. Hardly any of these screwed up, most not by you. Also enjoyed yr company. Thinking of mtg again at more intellectual venue. Shame about angry friends though. What happened there?
Yesterday at 11:15 pm--
Deborah Hendrix [Numbers Fiend] wrote
It’s private. Emailing you…
Yesterday at 11:23 pm--
Mario Cantu [Numbers Fiend] wrote
u went 2 a party???????
Yesterday at 11:55 pm--
Mario Cantu [Numbers Fiend] wrote
nvm, found pix
Today at 12:00 am--
Caroline Ward [Monocle Man / Numbers Fiend] wrote
Ah. Received email. Thinking over reply. Possible I can find a way to help…
Today at 12:02 am
School sucked. I mean, I had plenty to do: I passed notes in science class, giggled with the Beta Girls by my locker, organized up a storm with yearbook committee (with constant apologies for missing bowling night), and kicked butt at volleyball practice. But I kept seeing Rania out of the corner of my eye, slumped over her desk, puffy-eyed. Glaring when she caught my eye.
It wasn’t all my fault, but she was hurting, and it had been my idea. I had to make it up to her. And groveling empty-handed wasn’t going to work. World Savers are about results.
I knew I had twenty-four hours: the Infallible Cloud’s average latency. The pictures of Rania at the party — yelling, red-faced, with a World Hating Poet spiderweb on her face — had gone up last night. The makeup must have worked, because AllBook didn’t automatic tag her. But Jacob sure as hell knew who she was, and he’d tagged the picture in the wee hours of the morning.
“What’s on your mind?” said my friend Isabella while we toweled off after volleyball. “You’ve been out of it.”
“I hurt Rania,” I said, rummaging through my clothes. “Didn’t mean to, but I overreached and screwed things up.”
Isabella wrinkled her nose. “So it’s, what, one of those World Saver spats? She yelling at you?”
“No, she unfriended me.”
What could I do? I wasn’t Deborah, and even Deborah couldn’t hack a system like AllBook. I was a Relator. I just talked to people.
I was a Relator. I had two thousand AllBook friends. How many of them could I talk to in an evening?
Emma Cruz [Relator] wrote
My friend Rania Mehanna is a World Saver. Top of every social science class. You should hear her talk about her fundraising for World Hacks or the volunteer trip she took to India. She’s ambitious. Wants to change things.
We need World Savers because things need changing. Always will. We build the best systems we can, but one way or another we’ll always need better.
Rania’s ex-boyfriend, Jacob, used the system against her. He wanted all the social points of a girlfriend and none of the responsibility. So when he moved to Brightside, an Upward Mover community, he stayed there. Rania couldn’t visit him without risking her World Saver points, and he refused to visit her. If she dumped him online, that would have risked her points too: let’s face it, breaking up via text is still a dick move.
So with a couple of friends, Rania snuck into Brightside and stood up to him. She had Numbers Fiend advice for the sneaking. Turned out that wasn’t enough. Now Rania’s despondent because the pictures are up online and her World Saver label’s in danger.
But World Saving shouldn’t just mean doing the right volunteer work and having the right opinions. World Saving is risky. Rania Mehanna had to choose between fixing her personal life and saving her reputation. That choice is itself unjust. But when it was reputation or justice, Rania picked justice.
This is the principle World Saving works on, big or small. It’s not Big Oil or the rainforest, but this is what it looks like.
Rania thinks the Infallible Cloud doesn’t agree. But the Infallible Cloud’s supposed to reflect what people think. Which is why I need you all to click “Like”, and repeat this yourself:
Rania Mehanna is a World Saver.
Spread the word.
Today at 4:36 pm | Comment | Like
1663 people like this
The next day I couldn’t even get to my locker past the crowd of people saying:
“Oh, wow, your post!”
“I wish I had the balls to post something like that.”
Just like in the comments. So far, so good. But Rania pushed past them all and howled, “Emmmaaaa!”
She hugged me and everyone crowded in.
“It was the least I could do.”
“No, no. Emma. When was the last time you looked at your AllBook feed?”
I started paranoid-imagining everything. Trolls. Death threats. AllBook shutting the page down. “This morning before breakfast. So, like, seven maybe. Why?”
She took a minute to get the words out, and by then other people chimed in.
“Oh. I think I saw this too.”
“Let her tell it, dude.”
Rania took a huge breath and shrieked, “Suman Bachchan!”
At which point everybody started cheering and talking so fast that it took like ten minutes to get out my phone and check AllBook. I thought I was going to lose Rania in all the high-fiving. But there it was:
Suman Bachchan [World Saver / Pleasure Seeker] wrote
Everyone keeps asking why I’m not up in arms about the label change. Maybe I’ve got other things to worry about? Just maybe?
On that note, a friend linked me to this.
Go read it, guys. She says it better than I could.
Rania Mehanna is a World Saver.
Today at 8:19 am | Comment | Like
4324 people like this
I stared at my phone. I like to think I’m a supportive friend. But the first thing I thought was, “Oh, God. I’m going to be swamped.”
Then I started laughing.
“How the heck? How did that happen?”
Rania made her way back to me. “That stupid Monocle-Man-slash-Numbers-Fiend who was talking to Deborah. Her uncle knows Suman Bachchan’s dad. Can you believe it?”
I hugged her again.
“So we’re still friends?”
“Total friends. And we’re still on for Catgirls vs. Pterodactyls.”
She hooked her arm in mine, and we marched to science class. Rania was what Rania was, and there was a lot of world left to save.