After I shooed Taylor away I went to sleep expecting that I’d found myself thrown back into Senna’s life but the occasional snicker, flatulence or bit of conversation from the other soldiers that woke me up assured me that I was most definitely still Kaseko and most definitely still in our fall-out shelter.
The next morning I was a tad irritable. The crap had hit the fan and left its stench on everything. If it wasn’t enough that our branch was nearly stomped out in one day, that the hierarchy devolved to Akuna being at the top of it, that there were no ho ho’s left in the vending machine, I was going to be preparing a bunch of toddling kids to go out and die.
Fortunately the only thing I needed was to make an assessment. Unfortunately when I got to class there was already chaos. Somehow they’d already manage to group themselves by race, age and gender. That wasn’t really the issue. The issue was how many Mp3 players, tablets and phones I had to confiscate. “You will get these back when you’re doing well enough to relax. If you have some other toy on you I’d like to take the time to remind you that I don’t have to physically take it from you. I can just make it combust. Actually pay attention in class and you’ll learn how to stop me from doing that.” I explained as I sent Jasper’s paper plane down in flames.
“Stop acting all high and mighty up there. It’s not like we don’t know that you’re only teaching us because you’re not good enough to send to the front lines,” Jasper said standing and adjusting his glasses.
“Discipline is one of the most important things in the military. If you haven’t learned to sit in a chair and be quiet then get out, because you don’t belong here.”
“You should let Alaric teach the class.” He said.
I do not have time to start a debate with this brat. “Get out.”
He walked out with his nose high in the air.
“We’re going to do an aptitude test on fire today. Anyone who does not have any experience with fire please raise your hand and you will be sent to remedial classes when this class closes out.” Aaron, Tarisai, Taylor, Darien and Ayoka raised their hands. “I will excuse you from the Tungsten aptitude test today.”
The Tungsten Aptitude test ranks a person’s flame by output, sustainability and mostly temperature. The average starter rank is usually Zinc. The average rank of a soldier was Ruthenium which was over five times the output of a trainee.
Despite the averages there are always a few students who really surprise you. Unfortunately the surprise isn’t always a good one. While Annika, Kijana, Siyanda and Tsuguru ranked in at Beryllium, Cailean, Karen and Nyako ranked at Sodium. Just for clarity, we don’t even rank anything under Selenium. In the end we barely made the averages. I ended up calling Jasper back in. I figured he must’ve really been something special if he was so arrogant.
No dice. “I can’t use fire.” He said flatly. “If you’re done I’m going to go.”
“Yeah, you might as well leave since you’re apparently all talk.” I muttered. He stopped on his way out. I expected him to say something. His fists were shaking. But his shoulders slumped and he walked out without a word. Great, now I’m the jerk.
Most of the students were exhausted after the Tungsten Aptitude test. Tsuguro however was fine. He went right back to reading comics. I ought to drag him back and make him really burn himself out. Alaric would have him in there until he collapsed from exhaustion after a stunt like that.
I stormed over to his desk but before I got to give him an earful he pulled his book down before standing and saluting. “Sir, is something wrong?” he asked.
We could start with the fact that you’re reading comic books in class.
“I.. don’t qualify?” He asked after noticing my hesitation.
You’re saluting with the wrong hand.
“How bad was I?” He looked up with a wide-eyed naivety that looked familiar in a sense. This was my first day of class with Alaric standing over me, except I was the teacher and did not have the conviction to give him the verbal beat down that I got.
He’s just a kid. I should go easy on him. “You… don’t seem to understand how the ranking works. Everyone else is exhausted from giving their best efforts. You didn’t even break a sweat.”
“But you… Sir I’m sorry but I am actually quite tired. I’ve just been told to wear my broken arm in my sleeve.”
That excuse sounds familiar. “Are you being lazy?” I asked.
“No sir. I just don’t think I have enough control to handle any more.” He said. “I don’t want to show off and take on more than I can actually manage because I’ve had accidents in the past.”
“I understand. Please forgive my assumption that you were being lazy.” I said walking away. He looked at me like I was crazy.
I could hear the students murmuring and snickering in the background. “Did he just apologize to you? Wow! This guy’s a total pushover!”
“Now that you’re all nice and sedated I’m going to give you all your last rites.” I said drawing a diagram on the board. ”
“We’re going to do a different type of curriculum here. This whole week is going to be about testing your abilities and strengths. You will be tested on ice, healing and mind altering spells. On Friday you will be tested in hand to hand combat. Then, we will rest. But after that, things are going to get really rough and I apologize in advance but you will be harmed during this process. I’m sure none of you will be too hurt to come back the next day. However, if you have any special abilities in any area I might assign some training work to you. I’m going to try to make sure you train in areas you excel in mostly. This is different from our usual training program as we have at the most, three months to complete it before you will actually engage in a fight on the front lines.”
The majority of the class started to get loud and excited with this news. A great deal of the younger students were quite happy with this. There was a lot of “Yes, we made it!” and “I can’t wait to kick some tail!” Annika, Siyanda, Tsuguro and the older students became quiet.
“What do you think he meant when he said last rites?” Annika asked.
The celebrations began to get quiet and was replaced with a discussion about what was or wasn’t going on. I floated across the hallway while they got carried away in their debate. Clover’s classroom was quiet. All of the students were working out of books. She saw me in the door and opened it. “Yo, what up?” She asked.
“Um… nothing. Just wondering how your classroom was so quiet.”
She smiled, “We’re doing some psychological assessments. My group is in support so we won’t be front lining. We’re more of an assist team. For that we need a focus on healing, mind altering spells and shields especially.
“I see.” So her instructions must be different from mine. This whole process is so vague and poorly planned. I guess you can’t foresee every outcome. Who plans for what happens after a defeat?
Back in my classroom Taylor was standing over my desk playing with my megaphone. Tsuguru was sleep and most of the students were fooling around. I took my megaphone back before sending Taylor to his seat. “All of you sit down at your own desk! We’re going to take some assessments today. Once we’re done you will be free to leave and go back to your bunk.”
“While you’re taking the assessments I’ll explain how all powers work. Healing and fire go hand in hand. Mind altering and ice go hand in hand. But these abilities work in cycles. Fire and ice are fueled by your physical state so using either one is physically draining. That’s why you’re all tired right now.”
Some of them grimaced. “A warning would’ve been nice.” Akia said.
“Healing and mind altering work on your mental state and the use of it can cause you a lot of mood swings, personality changes and psychological repercussions. It’s much more dangerous to the user than fire and ice spells because you use fire and ice and an extension of your physical body and can’t hurt yourself with it”
“Um… ew. That sounds gross.” Emily said.
“A person who uses healing begins to lose their emotions over time but a person who uses mild altering spells will become very emotional. When this happens it will be reflected in your flame vs ice abilities. As the intensity of your emotions switches from high to practically nonexistent you’ll also switch from using mostly fire to ice. You will need to keep yourselves in check emotionally and keep a close eye on the rest of this class. Each of you will be partnered up with a team-mate to be responsible for.”
Aaron raised his hand, “Do you have a team-mate?” he asked.
“That would be Alaric.” I said with a sigh of frustration.
“This is a terrible idea!” Jasper yelled slamming his hands on his desk. “If a person can’t manage themselves emotionally then they shouldn’t be here! Why should I be looking after some dead weight team-mate instead of myself?”
“Shut up already! No one wants pick up your slack either since you obviously don’t live up to your own hype!” Aaron yelled.
I smiled, “I see you two are going to get along great.”
Aaron shook his head, “W-wait! I can’t stand this guy!”
“All the more reason for you to work together. You don’t need to be friends. You need to establish an objective view of the other person. Why do you think I put up with Alaric?”
“Because he’s white?” Akia answered.
That’s so disappointing to hear.
“No, everyone is tasked to keep track of someone’s mental state. Part of that task is to remain objective.”
Jasper stood up, slamming his hands on his desk. “So then what the hell are you going to do about it? You can tell he’s emotionally drained but rather than deal with the issue we just manipulate their emotions with magic? How’s that going to save him from what he’s going through?” His eyes were watery and his face was set into a deep frown. I could only imagine that if you dropped an egg on his forehead it would cook before it got the chance to fall off.
“T-that’s not the lesson just yet but don’t worry we’ll get to it before Captain Akuna sends you out to fight. I’ll check on your brother as soon as possible.”
When class finally did end I had plenty of paperwork to go through. Of course as soon as the bell rang Satan… er, Akuna called me over the intercom. “Kaseko! Get your sorry hide to my office right now!” She barked.
When I got to her office she was playing with a paddle ball. Her desk was messy and a good deal of the mess was empty ho-ho wrappers. “How was class?” She asked.
“It was fine. My students are very passionate and energetic.” I said.
“I know that’s code for poorly behaved. Where is my list?”
“List…” I repeated.
“I expected it last night and I allowed you to hold class without any interruptions but now I’ve gotten terribly impatient so don’t repeat list after me like you’ve forgotten what I’m talking about!” She yelled standing up and leaning on the desk. Her hands were creating burns on the desk.
“I’ve not had the opportunity to finish it.” I lied because I really just didn’t want to hand it to her. Fire users tend to be less rational when their power is at its strongest.
She smirked and sat back in her chair. “You’re as slow as you ever were. Fortunately, I didn’t really call you in here for the list.”
Oh? Are you sure you didn’t call me in here to clean up these ho-ho wrappers? “Well then what can I do for you?” I asked.
“Well for starters, you can throw out these ho-ho wrappers. I need a clean desk to do my work at. I can’t concentrate in all this mess.”
Seriously? When I started cleaning up she started laughing. “Oh wow! You actually did it! That’s what I like about you. You’re terribly obedient.”
“I have papers to grade.” My eye twitched just slightly when she said “Obedient.”
“I have something for you.” She said regaining her composure.
“No thank you. I don’t have any needs that aren’t being met already.”
“This isn’t for your sake.”
“I didn’t think it was.”
“We are going to have an information exchange and you will tell no one, not even Alaric.” She said.
“Why? I’m just a rank-C soldier and I’m barely keeping up those responsibilities. I’m more than certain that I am not the best person for you to disclose this with.”
“On the contrary, you’re the only one I can tell. Not many know what this war is about. That’s fine because the only thing telling them would do is create curiosity and discord, two things I’d like to avoid… I’d like you to keep cleaning. I was serious about the concentration issue.”
When I resumed cleaning she reached into her top drawer and began emptying it on to the desk. Eventually after going through the desk she pulled out a small box. “This is it.”
“What is it?”
“The keys to Eden… Or that’s what it used to be called. It was discovered in Sri Lanka but has been in the hands of scientist all over the world. It’s dangerous. You weren’t born at the time but before the scientist tampered with this things were completely different. Wherever there was land, there were people. We ate for fun and not because we had to. We drove around in metal boxes that went faster than any animal alive. We had machines that we used to watch people playing pretend on, just for fun.”
She opened the box. It looked like a large discolored pearl, pretty but unimportant. This is what they wanted.”
“So that’s why this specific base was attacked. What? I could make something like that in my sleep.”
“It’s not as simple as it looks, but maybe you can. That’s why I’m giving it to you.”
“So can everyone else here. There’s something you’re not explaining, isn’t there?”
“There’s something that you will need to experience because explaining it to you would be useless. I can see the skepticism in your eyes.”
I tried to smile it away. “Well, thank you for trusting me with this.” I said picking it up out of it’s box. At that moment everything turned white in front of me. When I cleared my eyes I was sitting at a desk, in a classroom full of unfamiliar people.
Where am I?
I stood up and started to look around.
“Senna? You’re out of bathroom passes for this week so sit down and hold it!” A woman yelled from her desk. I begrudgingly went back to my desk and sat down.
How did I end up here? What was supposed to happen with that pearl? And since when is a person allowed to detain you from going to the bathroom? The uniforms. The overseeer… the silence. This must be some kind of prison. I don’t have time for this!