Joining in the humor as she realizes how silly her question sounded, she tries again, “Ha ha!  I guess that is more of a question for my teachers, seeing how they’d have a better idea of how this trend will turn out fifty years from now.”

    “You’re silly, baby,” says Kammy’s grandmother.  Jo then gives her a proper answer.  “Years from now, they will do like we do and only choose their faces at birth.  I mean, they can change it if they’re so set on it, but when you grow up looking a certain way, you tend to just accept it, unless you’re a vain punk, like Ally J.”

    “Ha ha ha ha ha!” Ally bursts into hysteria.  “I was joking, guys!  Have a little mercy already!”

    “Hey, that’s my job!”  Paul inserts with a smile.  At this, the entire class erupts in amusement, even applauding, as they’re not sure if they like Paul’s pun for his mom or the surprise that he actually popped his safety bubble to say it.

    “So, this is what you do when you’re not at the school, huh, Paul?” Ally says to him, displaying her great pleasure at him opening up for a second.  “I might come on these trips more often, regardless of where AB assigns me, if it means getting to hear more of your hidden humor, Paul.”

    Paul responds in his happy humility, “Aw, thanks, Lady Ally!  Making you laugh is every boy’s highlight in life!”

    “Oh, my!” Ally covers her face, feigning her own embarrassment.  “What a compliment from such a gentleman.  Is this how you capture all the ladies?  No wonder they’re afraid of talking to you.  They’re scared they won’t be good enough for you, you little hunk.”

    “Oh, brother,” says Cat.  “Ally, you’re almost as overdramatic as Faye, which I love to watch very much.”

    “Oh, I appreciated that,” says Faye sarcastically.

    Paul’s surprise pun has led to a bunch of buffoonery so crazy that most of the crew didn’t notice the facers have all left to get their identities updated.  However, the waiting period takes several hours longer than expected, so the jokes eventually die down.  It’s during this time that Scott Prince has a moment to take his turn in encouraging young Paul.

    “Seems we’re two of a kind, you and me,” says the golden clad System Guard.

    “How’s that, Mr. Prince?” Paul politely asks.

    “Well,” Scott says, “because of both my Ruyngardian heritage, along with a thing that you’ll learn about later today, my sister and I are considered the successors of James and Amy Scott.  Well, I guess your generation will be taking that now, ha ha.  Anyway, in case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t said much.  Seems that many people classify folks as either being the center of attention or being unlikeable, but when you get older, you see this isn’t true.  I learned long ago that being the quiet guy in the background doesn’t mean I’m a loser.  It lets me observe everyone else and enjoy them.  I don’t have to stress about impressing people because I have ways of entertaining myself with, say, my daydreams or noticing funny things about I.C. that would make her rage if she saw what I saw, but I say nothing because no one else will even notice or care.  That’s just a thing between us.  But because I am content with just being still and enjoying the quiet life, I am able to catch on better when the right moment comes for me to say something.  Make sense?”

    “Yeah,” Paul nods, his confidence greatly growing.  “Yeah, it does make sense.  Justine was trying to tell me to stop scaring myself out of talking, and to appreciate the people who like me rather than focus on the one or two that don’t.  You’re saying not even to worry about that much.  Just find ways to enjoy being the quiet guy so when I speak, there’s quality to what I say.  But how?  This sounds really hard.  I want to speak to my friends.  I want to speak to Gigi, but she’s always hard to talk to.  She used to be nicer, but she’s always treated me like charity, like she was being my friend out of Christian obligation.  It hurts, and it makes me not want to talk to others until I’ve restored the friendship we lost.”

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