“I don’t think you want the keys involved any more than we do.” Pistil said under his breath.
“We can either make a racket and get the keys to call the brass or we can all settle this quietly.” Pistil put his hands on Thorn’s backpack, daring Thorn to shake him off.
Thorn nodded sharply. “Let’s go.” They walked silently through the quiet suburban street, dodging the light circles from the streetlights, skirting the houses where the flickering lights of game consoles inside still showed that the keys might be up. Some people got so involved in their games of VeRity that the entire house could burn down around them and they wouldn’t know it until their visors melted on their foreheads. Yet others played with one eye in the visor and one eye on their surroundings. You never knew which was which, so it was best to avoid being seen out of the windows, particularly this late at night. Particularly when they had no business being in that neighborhood anyway.
Thorn guided them to a tiny park he knew, a few blocks up on 9th, which had been carved from what once was a vacant lot. Here the hedges grew tall on both sides to shield the neighbors from the light and sound, making it seem as if they were in the country and not a stone’s throw from downtown. The slide and merry go round in the kiddie area were newly old—a banana plastic rendition of the traditional favorites. But these kinds slipped and no longer squealed when kids spun them, no longer squeaked when kids slid too fast down them. Both were silent now. Empty.
The one light in the park illuminated the benches next to the playground. They settled at the edges, behind the bench, careful not to enter any open areas. Stamen got out a knife-sharpened ball point pen and started to carve on the back of the bench, her scratches no more loud than a cat sharpening its nails.
"V:Find your treasure.” Thorn whispered. “You are a Roser, too?”
“Yep. Going to win that hella Sparkly Prize, come hell or high water. Got the plan and I’m the man!“ Pistil’s voice carried a bit as he parodied a tune nearly a century out of date.
Stamen put her hand on his knee to quiet him. “You got one tucked away in that pack, don’t you?” her voice was quiet, not quite a threat yet.
Thorn neither confirmed nor denied the charge, instead putting out a tentative hand: “Thorn.”
“Pistil.” Pistil pointed to himself, to his heart, then covered Stamen’s hand on his knee. “Stamen.”
In schools where the keys went, the next question would be what your “Spark” was —your idea was to save the world and win the MD Foundation’s Spark Prize—the prize Mark Devallier set up with his profits from VeRity. You’d evade the issue of what you were going to write in the Rose language for your “personal passion” essay. You usually would not even practice any Rose language thoughts or journaling with someone else—for that gave you glimpses into a soul that you did not want to see. Rather, since all the schools and teachers signed non-disclosure agreements, you would feel comfortable sharing your Spark instead—for you needed the Rose essay as well as your Spark that would bring the MD Foundation—and you—both “prophets and profits” as the MD logo ran.
Indeed, most people, settled in with legal ID accounts and a house and a car and a job, thought that Pauline Devallier (Mark’s wife) was just a busybody old fool with a sham pop psychology degree. The Rose Essay was her additional requirement to the Spark Prize. Everyone knew Mark loved her so much, that he valued her now and in the future over anything else he owned, that he’d give in to her silly demands that the sparkers of the New World Solutions also be fluent in Rose.
But on the edges, if you were unregistered like Thorn or if you had other problems where opening a port would be like painting a neon sign on your back “kick me” or “come get me now,” you could only enter the Spark Prize if you cadged an illegal account. On the outskirts of keys and respectability, here no one at all signed (or even dared dream of) an NDA. You knew that the only way to prove it was your idea, your passion, was to explain your knowledge fully and carefully in the expanded tongue, in Rose. So you got all the Rose essay help you could get—but you told your own Rose story slant.