“Remember to keep your knees together when you sit down,” the old lady reminded me while we were waiting to see the headmaster of Providence Meadows for the fourth time at 7:30 am. I wasn’t really in the mood to respond vocally, so I simply gave the old lady a look that translated into ‘yeah, I get it now, stop reminding me.’ But I still kept forgetting. My opinion of the skirt had changed a bit, a feeling I didn’t know how to describe, but I still felt exposed wearing it.
“Nancy, Headmaster Gare will see you and Claire now,” the secretary informed us. Me and the old lady both looked at each other. I could see on her face that she was having second thoughts, but I couldn’t tell why she was having them. Headmaster Gare turned out to be a very tall man dressed in some sort of camouflage clothing.
“Captain Darius Gare.” The headmaster instantly stood up the second Nancy spoke his name. Okay, so the guy was military. That explained the camouflage. “It's been a long time.”
“Yes, it has,” Gare said with no emotion. Clearly, something happened between Gare and the old lady in the past. As we took our seats, his eyes studied me. “I take it this small thing is Claire?” he asked us. I instantly glared at him. I didn’t like being called tiny. Sure, my weight was still 90 pounds, but I still had strength. Well, Gare ignored me. Gare ended up glaring at me, with his eyes coming to rest on my hair, which for once wasn’t covered by a beanie, so the pink tinted hair was out in the open for everybody to see.
“She is,” the old lady confirmed.
“Alright.” Gare flipped through the paperwork that was lying on his desk. “Now, before Claire is allowed to begin as per the Test Run, there are some things we need to address.” The old lady became confused, which signaled to me that this wasn’t supposed to happen. “First, you see, Nancy, when you signed the girl up, you put down that her ability was at a level two and she was a telepath.” That was news to me. “But, I have right in my hand the official report on this girl from Galen. Would you like me to read it out?” Gare didn’t wait for the old lady to give him an answer. “Ability Type: Unknown; Level: Unknown; Summary: Unpredictable. Now, how do you explain this?”
The old lady hesitated. “I can’t. I didn’t expect Galen to send you this, but I couldn’t explain even if I knew he was. Claire is just a special case that has everybody stumped. That is why both Galen and I got her enrolled in the test run.” Who’s this Galen they keep talking about?
“Alright, but then there is the issue with Claire’s appearance. Her hair.” I knew ever since he laid eyes on me. “The hair -- it's distracting, and it's inappropriate for a school environment. If it was dyed with some other natural hair color, I wouldn’t raise a fuss. But pink? No, that will not do in this tight ship I run.”
I was about to give him a piece of my mind when the old lady came to my defense. “Captain Gare, that ‘pink dye’ in her hair isn’t dye. I don’t know what it is, hell, not even Dr. Silas could figure out it out. It's something that we are at a loss for.”
“I see. Well, Nancy, regardless of your position and your relationship to Galen, if it was up to me, Claire wouldn’t be allowed to set foot in here, given that you lied about her ability, and that she has been classified as unpredictable, which I am witnessing first hand. But since I have orders directly from Galen, Claire can do the test run.” Nancy breathed a sigh of relief, but I still wanted to know who Galen was. “However, I will have this document sent to all the teachers here.” Turning to me, he said: “Young lady, I have many rules, but here are a few that you need to remember. One, I demand respect at all times. The goes the same for the professors. Two, you are not to bring any harm to any of your fellow students. Three, you are to not to socialize with the high school students. Socializing with them is a sign of privilege, a privilege you do not have. They can, however, talk to you and you can talk back if you are given permission. Four, failure to follow these rules will result in immediate expulsion. Now, my secretary is outside waiting. She will give you the supplies needed for the next three days and take you to the first class of the day. You're dismissed.”
I hesitated, so Gare stared at me with a glare that could kill anybody.
“Go on B… Claire. I will be back at 4 pm to get you,” Nancy said and pointed to the door. With a little smile, I left the two, still unsure of anything.
Nancy watched as Bug left, waiting for the girl to be as far away as possible. Once she was sure the girl was out of earshot, Nancy turned her attention back to Captain Gare. “That was harsh.”
Gare’s face never changed. “I have to be harsh; that is what makes this school the best in the country. Claire’s amnesia is terrible. I wouldn’t wish such a fate on anybody, but her status as a refugee from Asia does not give her a free pass.”
“But you read the report, you know how unpredictable she could be,” Nancy retorted, “She needs training for own safety and for those around her.”
Gare didn’t seem fazed. “Doesn’t change a word I’ve said. Claire will be held to the same expectations as all my students. If she fails, she fails. No second chances.”
It suddenly dawned on her. “I see. The war.” Gare didn’t have to respond for Nancy to understand his reasoning. “Alright, Gare. But if something happens, call me first,” she reminded him as she stood up to leave.
His only response was, “No promises.” And as Nancy left the school to head to a doctor’s appointment, she wondered if it was a good idea to keep Bug’s origin a mystery from Gare. More importantly, she wondered if signing Bug up for this school was a good idea.
So far, I had broken a door and an electric lock. Now, I wondered if I could break through a solid wall. The secretary quickly showed me where all the classrooms were, then brought me to my first class. There I stood in front of twenty-five other students, all dressed in the same uniform as me. I felt so exposed and nervous while I waited for the professor to introduce to me. I was dismayed to find that I was the smallest kid here. Everybody, including the girls, was bigger than me and despite the sillish uniform, they all looked like they wanted to kill me.
The professor also took an instant dislike towards me, judging by the glare he gave me when he read the note. I guess that the note meant babysitting to him, and he felt that babysitting someone like me was below him. Quickly, and without a word, he pointed to the only empty chair in the room, the one in the very front. I quietly took a seat, trying to avoid being the center of attention, but it didn’t matter. The students’ thoughts flowed through my mind: They are letting elementary students in here now? They’re idiots and Look at that hair, it screams I’m depressed and I want attention and the worst one, I can’t believe they would let such a snob in there. Snob? I wasn’t a snob. Wait, what was a snob?
“Before I was rudely interrupted, we were discussing the Nikola-Orestes Level System. Now, can anybody tell me what the Nikola-Orestes Level System is and what it does?” the professor asked us. One student, a boy, raised his hand but didn’t bother waiting for the professor to call on him.
“The Nikola-Orestes Level System is the system we use to categorize the different superhumans into one of the four current levels.”
The professor nodded in approval. “Very good. Now, would someone like to tell Claire here,” he said, pointing at me, “Why it’s called the Nikola-Orestes.”
Again, the same guy answered, this time with a smirk in his voice, “Well, Nikola organized it and created the testing system, basing it off the first real categorization created by Orestes, a Greek scientist who witnessed the Battle of Aegates.”
“That is a basic answer, but I’ll take it.” The professor wrote down the names of the five levels. “Now, trivia question. We learned about this last week, let's see if you can remember.” He turned to pick on a student to answer, his eyes resting me, “Claire, what is Level 5?” he asked me.
I froze. Level 5? There are five levels? Lacey only told me about four, and I don’t remember shit other than what I’ve been told and what little I still remembered and the Level 5s was not among that. “I… I… don’t know.”
The professor smirked. “Right, I forgot. Caithlin,” he called at a girl twice my size sitting next to me, “You have an excellent memory, unlike Claire here. Tell her what Level 5 is.” The professor had it out for me.
“I don’t know, professor, you didn’t go over this with our class, remember?” Caithlin informed him.
The professor thought for a second, then started laughing, seemingly agreeing with her. “Right, I told my other class, not your class. Well, then, while I’m on the subject,” the professor took a seat on the edge of his desk, “there were once superhumans who were more powerful than level 4s alive on this world. We refer to them as level 5s. Now, the Level 5s went extinct nearly two thousand years ago, so very little information is known about them, including why they went extinct, but what we do know is that these superhumans were basically gods. Their powers went far beyond our understanding of superhumans. Everything that we have achieved in terms of understanding why you are you would be undermined by these superhumans. Heck, everything we know about life, death, science, the UNIVERSE, would be shattered in the presence of the level 5s.”
A sudden bell rang over the intercom. “Is it that time already,” the professor said and checked his watch. “Hmm… guess it is. Alright, remember, test next Wednesday on the levels and we will have a review of the Ionic Measurement. Have a good weekend.” The professor seemed much nicer now. But, as he made eye contact with me, he glared. I narrowed my eyes to return the glare, and I was able to see his thoughts: ‘Why did they have to accept a reject in the test run?’
My glare disappeared, my emotions turning against me as tears began to form. I quickly left the room before I made the professor aware that I had read his mind. Normally, I would have stood up for myself, but this time, I didn’t. ‘Reject.’ He called me a reject just like Margaret did. And the students looked at me with such distaste and rejection that a feeling that I didn’t know emerged. I felt… cold. With that, I wandered into the second class.
“You really should go to your hematologist-oncologist for this, Nancy.” Dr. Silas reminded her for the fourth time.
“I know, but what is he going to tell me that you won’t?” Nancy fired back at her friend. “Besides, I want to hear it from a friend.” Nancy was prepared. Prepared to know. Prepared to know how much longer she had left to live.
“Are you sure? I can send the results to Dr. Hamas,” Dr. Silas asked her friend again.
“Tell me, Laura. Please,” Nancy demanded.
Dr. Laura Silas took a deep breath. “Death is beyond my power to accurately predict, but there is an 85% chance that you won’t make it past New Years. I’m sorry.” Nancy simply sat there, quiet. “It’s time to get your affairs in order and say your goodbyes.”
“I know, Laura.” Nancy’s voice was barely above a whisper. She knew that cancer would claim her one day, but to finally know that her days were severely limited brought on new feelings. Relief, sadness, fear. “I know I need to tell them, my kids, Galen, Bug, but, right now, I feel that I should keep this... a secret.”
“A secret? Geezes, Nancy, you’re dying.”
“I’ve been dying for two years now, Laura. What makes now any different?” Nancy countered Dr. Silas’s disbelief.
“Well, for one, you have Bug to worry about. What is she going to do once you’re gone? And Galen. You two may have been separated for twelve years, but Galen is still legally your husband and you his wife. I still see it in your eyes, despite what is going on between you and him concerning Bug; you still love him and I’m willing to bet he still loves you.”
“I’ll withhold it from Bug for now until I figure out where to place her, or who to place her with, but I’ll go ahead and tell Galen,” Nancy said.
“You also need to tell your family. As soon as possible,” Dr. Silas told Nancy, knowing that she needed to allow people to help her during her last few weeks.
Nancy looked Silas right in the eyes. “My family? Now? Don’t forget. This weekend marks the twelfth year since Jared was killed at Lhasa. The family is reminded how they threw him out and rejected him, and when they finally realized their mistake and attempted to reconcile with him, they discovered that he had just been killed. If I tell them now, while they are grieving, it would destroy them.” Nancy’s voice became grieving, as she too suffered from the death of her Grandson. Dr. Silas didn’t say a word about it because she understood. “Jared and the superhuman legacy died twelve years ago tomorrow in Lhasa. For them to know that I will join them, it would more than shatter their hearts.”
Dr. Silas knew what she was talking about. Both she and Nancy were superhumans and grew up idolizing other superhumans. History sometimes glorified them, marking their legacy among the greats, alongside Beowulf and Odysseus. But now, because of the war and what had happened at Lhasa, what both Silas and Nancy believed in and fought for was now nothing more than a story told to children at bedtime. “How’s Bug been doing?” Dr. Silas decided to ask, to change the mood from death to a light conversation about the girl.
Nancy smiled. “I see that you prefer using that nickname she chooses for herself. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you.” Both got a small laugh out of that. “I still don’t know what that pink coloring is, but it's getting brighter and more defined. She eats enough to feed a horse but continues to lose weight, and her period hasn’t come. I find it hard to believe that you were wrong.”
Dr. Silas frowned. “I’m not. Bug wasn’t pregnant, she should’ve had it unless…” Dr. Silas thought for a second, recalling a medical case that had occurred long before the war started. “Unless whatever ability she has is breaking down the material once the cycle is complete. So, she would have the normal cycle, but instead of having a period, her ability breaks everything down for the raw material. If she were to become pregnant, I’m certain that this would be negated.”
Nancy could only shake her head while smiling. “Lucky her. She doesn’t have to suffer.” By now, the atmosphere was light, with two friends having a nice conversation.
“How is she doing?” Dr. Silas asked, wanting to know how Bug was doing with her amnesia and her ability.
Nancy picked up on this. “Well, Bug still doesn’t remember anything, and while I hope for the best, a part of me believes that she may never recover her memory. Her powers are growing stronger every day. Galen’s belief that she is a level 4 may not be ill-founded.”
“Well… I’m sure you will find some place that will be good to her,” Dr. Silas said, finishing the conversation.
“You don’t know what Project Eternity was, you barely know anything about the war, or anything involving what happened at Lhasa, but at least tell me you know how to use this?” the third professor of the day asked in bewilderment, referring to the iPad I was attempting to use.
“No,” I said quietly. The class responded with laughter, making me blush and become very embarrassed. I was always ashamed of my memory loss, but now it became unbearable.
“How do you not know how to use an iPad?” one student asked.
“Are you that dumb?” another asked. The tears that I had been holding back slipped through and the other students took immediate notice: “Oh, look guys, she’s crying.” Nearly every student was either laughing or amused, except for one. A boy with darkish skin. But he looked away, outmatched. In defeat, I looked down at this iPad. This stupid... FUCKING IPAD! I felt a quick surge of strength and energy and with a quick motion, I shattered the iPad. Unlike the lightbulbs whose pieces went flying everywhere, the iPad shattered into multiple pieces and just simply scattered over my desk. Everybody was taken back by what just happened, except for the professor, who simply just stood there, shaking her head,
“They had to stick the unpredictable in my class,” she quietly whispered. The rush of energy and strength passed, and I found myself staring at fellow students whose faces had a mix of surprise and fear on them. She’s stronger than she looks and Spoiled reject were the two most common thoughts pouring out of people’s head. The lunch bell ringing snapped everybody out. “Alright, we will resume our lesson on the Nepalese Civil War after lunch. Everybody is dismissed except Claire.” I knew I was in trouble. The professor waited until everybody left to say what she had to say: “You are a candidate and will only be here for two more days, but already on your first day, you’ve managed to break a $400 iPad. Now, I know you used your ability to break it in anger. Regardless of the unpredictability of your unknown ability, you need to get it in line or you won’t make it the remaining two days. Now, get to lunch so I can clean this up.”
Slumping in defeat, I dragged my feet out the door, heading to where the secretary had told me that everybody ate lunch. I didn’t need to worry about bringing a lunch, as they provided lunches for everybody. I was thinking about how I would face the other students when I ran into something very large and very heavy, falling on my butt. “Ow, who…” I looked up to see a guy in a military-like uniform looking down at me with a sickening grin. It was Frank’s grandson. The guy who body slammed on the farm where I first woke up.
“Well… well… well… it's the little Cutter. How about this, you attending my school,” he said matter-in-factly.
“Greg, is this the girl you body slammed?” Another student, female, and wearing the same type of uniform, came walking up to Frank’s grandson, whose name seemed to be Greg.
“Yup, this is her. I’m surprised to see her here. I was certain they would send her someplace dark and depressing, but nope, she winds up here, wearing that really cute uniform.” He leered when he spoke. I wanted to speak, to say something back to him, but he held his hand up., “Oh no, Cutter, you haven’t earned the privilege of speaking to a Cadet, so you better keep that mouth of yours shut.” I instantly became terrified. Despite how much my ability had developed, I knew what this guy could do, and the fact that he was here meant that he had an ability of his own.
“Why do you call this girl Cutter?” A third friend of Greg came up, pulling a student wearing the male version of my uniform behind him by the collar of his shirt.
Greg snapped his fingers, reached down and grabbed my shirt, and lifted me up off the ground. “You’ve gotten lighter since the farm. Are you starving yourself as well?” he mocked as he pulled my sleeves up, revealing the scars to his two friends.
“An attention beggar isn’t she,” one of the friends said, barely able to contain his laughter. In response, I started crying, my emotions running wild, but that only gave them more incentive to make fun of me. The middle school kid that they had dragged with them spoke no word in my defense. Finally, Greg simply tossed me down the hallway, towards the cafeteria. I hit the ground hard and struggled to recover. “You better get going, but don’t worry, I’m not finished with you, and neither is my dad!” he declared before leaving with his friends, dragging the middle school student with them.
Slowly standing up, pulling my sleeves down, and wiping the tears from my face, I made my way to the cafeteria. I was hurting, both inside and out. I hated the guy because of what he did to me on the day I woke up. But now I was scared of him. The way he looked at me, I saw an evil within him, a deep evil that knew no bounds.
There was nobody in line for the food when I reached the cafeteria, so I quickly grabbed my tray and looked for a place to sit. Good thing, though, because the professor who was watching over the lunchroom directed me to a table where the other Candidates were assigned to sit and eat. In total, there were six, excluding me. I only knew one; the rest weren’t in my class. As I took a seat, all of them gave me a look, but for the first time today, it wasn’t a look of disdain or annoyment or even hatred, but rather, a look of general concern.
“Rough day?” one asked.
“You can say that,” I said as I began to dig into my food, which, ironically, was a ham sandwich.
“Don’t worry, it will get better, especially since Monday we have gym class and they are going to help train our abilities,” another one said in great delight. I perked up at the mention at that. Finally, a chance to learn what exactly I could do.
Another candidate, the same boy who had refused to laugh at me in class, asked me in a strange accent, “Why don’t you know those things?” His tone seemed to be one of curiosity. The others seemed to be wondering the same thing. I honestly didn’t know what to tell them. The old lady never coached me on what to say if someone asked me about my memory problems.
“Uh, well, you see, I was in a horrible car accident a few months back. I survived, but my family wasn’t so lucky,” I told them, completely making it up. “While I’ve recovered physically, I still suffer from deep memory loss because of the accident. I’m sure I knew what the professor is talking about, but because the accident, I can no longer remember.” I saw their thoughts, and everyone thought the same thing: She’s an orphan, how sad, while their faces expressed sympathy. “There’s really nothing that I can do about it. Doctors say that I may never recover my memory.” I honestly wished that what I was telling everybody was fact rather than a lie. At least I would know my place in the world, and what happened to my family. But, in reality, it was far from the truth. I still had no idea where I came from and who or what I was.
Everybody accepted my answer, and the conversation shifted elsewhere, most discussing what they called the Falling Star; I had no idea what it was. Maybe I should sneak away to the library again and do some research. Biting into my own sandwich, I noticed that the boy from my class was still looking at me. His stare had none of the leerings that I experienced from Greg, but rather, a curious, almost knowing look. It was almost like he knew something about me that I didn’t know.
Suddenly, someone knocked my chair out, making me nearly drop my food. “Why is everybody so mean?” I asked as I sat back down.
Another kid, a girl that hadn’t spoken up yet answered, “It's the same thing at my old school. They’re broken.”
“Broken?” I asked.
“Well, in a war that has taken well over a billion lives, everybody has lost something,” she said. “I lost my father, all my uncles, two of my aunts, and two of my brothers.”
“Sorry to hear,” I responded, offering my sympathies. She gave me a smile in return.
“No, that’s not it.” The boy finally spoke up. I expected the girl to fire back, but she didn’t. Rather, she and the rest took interest and waited for him to speak. Like he possessed words of wisdom far beyond them. “They lack hope. Hope in themselves, hope in the future, hope in society, hope in life itself. It's just gone. And it's not just these students. It’s everybody.”
All I could do was ask why. “Remember the teacher referring to Project Eternity during class?” he asked me. I nodded. “Well, what I know about them is that they were a team of superhumans and that they were our protectors. But when the Battle of New York started back in 2001, they never came. They simply disappeared without a trace.” So, the world once had a superhero team. “When they disappeared, the world became fearful,” his voice became much more serious in tone, “they became afraid, worried. The war was just beginning. But they still had hope. Hope in each other. They believed that they could still set things right and fix the world, even without Project Eternity’s help.” The boy stopped for a moment, looking down at his food, then back at us. “But…” he said, hesitating to say the rest.
I looked at him, silently begging him to continue. The other students gave him a little nudge to get him to finish what he started to say. And he did, and now, I wished he didn’t, because it showed to me what kind of world I didn’t remember. “But when Lhasa perished, hope perished with it.”
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