j-j-j-w J.J.J. W

Royal Palidan Generation Is an online V.R. experience that was (and is) all the rage with teenagers and young adults. So much so that faculty of certain schools were prompted to use its technology in academics. This didn't go over so well with the school board in many countries so, students and teachers from all around the world went on their own path and created an entirely new scholastic system involving such technology. Over time, the original game that this system was based on was weeded out little by little, until only one school was left with the original idea of fun and learning under one roof. Athens Academy. On the border of Athens, Greece. It Is also the hardest school of its kind to be accepted into. With the game still widely played around the world, this was the only school that used it in academics. One day, this game is hacked, and subsequently the entire world. With the digital world tearing into the real world and turning real people into digital ones. All save for Athens Academy. Now it's up to the gifted students and teachers to use the game to free the world from the control of the digital code and catch the mastermind behind it. How Is Athens Academy the only school that's not under digital mind control? And how does this relate to the system as it used to be? That's to be found out.


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A NEW DAY, A NEW SCHOOL

"Hey in there, wake up," I hear my mom calling to me from my doorway. Her sweet, gentle voice carries into my drowsy ear. I, trying not to get up, ignore her request. "Don't make me come in there." I tense up, keeping my eyes closed, as she walks into my room. She nears my bed, and I tense even more until I'm a living statue. She stands over me and I can feel her gaze boring a hole into the back of my head. "Honey," she sings into my left ear.

Twitch. I twitched. The one moment I had to avoid my first day at my new school and my mom's wrath and my frigging leg twitches!.

"Last chance to get up, David." I'm sweating bullets in my harmless state of emergency. "Alright then." After a sharp yank, I rag-doll onto the floor. My mom yank the covers, which I'm holding onto for dear life. True to the act, I stay still with my day on the line. "Get up or I'll get the belt," she says, coldly.

I jump up and say, "Yes ma'am," As I began to get ready for school.

After a hot shower and rough hygiene control, I stare out into the street from the bathroom to see the car sitting there. We were previously an upper low-class family living in America, but then, my mom and dad finally saved up enough money from their jobs as building repair people to buy a blue and black hovercar and become a caddie for rich people.

My dad was the one driving while my mom continued her prior job. I heard his driving was legendary, and he was a good listener to those who needed it. He also drove for people like us and made a few friends along the way. Eventually, we had enough money to buy a new house in my dad's old neighborhood, and with it, came his old school.

I didn't like the sound of leaving my old school behind in favor of a new one. Instead, I agreed to go initially because I hated how my old school was run. That isn't the problem today. Today I just want time. Time to think and ponder over stuff like the new house, school, field trips, and worse-case scenarios. Not to mention that the location we moved to is in a whole different country!

There was also a game that my dad was so happy to tell me about as the move was done called, R.P.G. I didn't know his fascination but he said I would understand when I got to school. He must have not known that it was a game that any kid with money claimed to play, despite not ever seeming to have any evidence of it. I had seen videos of it online and always wanted to play, it but never bothered my parents about it. Not because we were poor, I just never wanted to bother them for anything.

"David! Come and eat your breakfast or you're gonna be late!" Mom calls from the kitchen. "I made omelets and your dad's already waiting in the car!"

"Kay' mom! Here I come!" I find my way out of the bathroom and on a right turn, go up a short flight of four stairs back into my room. Finding my way to my bookbag, I shuffle all my school stuff into it. Six notebooks, a ruler, a protractor, a pack of mechanical pencils, pens, and a calculator. There’s also a card that my dad gave me that was about a half time bigger than a credit card and looked like the inside of an old 1990s video game cartridge and a clip-on pocket for it.

I race to get dressed. I start with my white undershirt. Next is the light brown button-up and khaki pants. Finally come my light blue gym shoes and socks.

Rushing downstairs, I almost run into the few stairs on the other side of the staircase leading to the guest room and stumble as I descend the wooden steps.

“David, are you alright?” Mom calls.

"Yeah, I'm good!" I respond.

I come down the wooden stairs down to the first floor into the dining room. Retrieving a small stack of omelets on a blue plate directly in front of the middle chair of the table, I swiftly and promptly devour it in one fell swoop as I race toward the front door. Opening it, I analyze the car in short detail. It’s essentially a convertible SUV. The interior is much more spacious than the exterior suggests. The lavish red that it currently is, can be switched to one of several colors and combinations at the push of a button. It has wheels, but they can fold down to act as directional rotors. My dad’s in the driver's seat, waving me toward him. I walk down the few stairs and hop into the car.

"So, how do you feel about your last first day at a new school?" he asks, starting the car and driving off.

"Do I have to answer that?"

"I mean, you can if you want to."

"Are you sure this is the last one?"

"Yes, I'm sure. I know I say that last time, but whatever happens here, we're staying."

"You mean like if someone comes up to the school with a gun?"

"You mean, how you single-handedly stopped a school shooting?"

"No, I didn't. Why does everybody keep saying that?"

"You told me yourself. You were all calm, cool, and collected as you wrestled the gun away from him."

"No, I just talked him out of suicide."

"And if you didn't, He could have decided to shoot more people than just himself before stopping."

He was right. All it would've taken was one wrong move and more than his blood might've been spilled. That being the case, it only took some minor convincing to avoid the entire disaster.

"That's not the point." I look out the window and spot a girl that seems to be running to the same location. She’ struggling and obviously short of breath. She’s behind two others that seem to be less labored. They had all apparently gotten out too late to school for walking distance and are running to make up for it. I watch them quickly fall behind us a few blocks away from the school. I’m there in under five minutes. The entire school is surrounded by a blue gate situated on top of a yellow stone base. The large gate door stands open as students enter.

"I'll be in this same spot to pick you up after school, got it?" says Dad, as I hop out and close the door behind me.

"Yeah, see you later Dad."

"You got your schedule?"

"Yeah, I memorized it."

"Okay, see you later." He waves and drives off. I enter the gate with a flood of other students and find my way to the marble white stairs that led up to the entrance of the school.

The entrance has four Greek-style pillars reaching from to an overhang more than thirty feet up with arches in between. There’s an open double door between each set of pillars. I enter the middle. Around fifteen feet from that point is what looks like a temporary waypoint to the rest of the building. It consists of three tables set equal distance apart in a line. Each table has a computer on it being manned by someone. I walk up to the one in the middle. I instantly recognize the person at the table. She’s a famous author known for how many different genre books she wrote that won awards. I owned three of her books. One, a science fiction novel, called 'Starbomb', another, a horror novel called, 'Don't Count to Zero', and a realistic fiction novel called, 'Chastity's Belt'.

Her name is Eve. She, apparently, didn't have a last name. Her parents never gave her one. Her skin and long hair are as white as snow and her eyes are as blue as the ocean. Someone like her is as rare as it gets. She wears a blue plaid button-up and slacks. My hands clam up and I start shaking a bit as I walk toward her. To say that I have a crush on her is an understatement.

"I.D drive?" She holds out her hand.

"Is that what this is called?" I pull the cartridge out of my pouch and nearly drop it, fumbling slightly before handing it to her. She inserts it into a slot on the right side of the computer and the screen flickers on. It shows my name, height, weight, and a picture of me from my old school as well. She looks at the picture, then at me.

"Alright, when we're done here, you can go up those stairs and take the first left. your class will be the second one on your right; room B4." She’s pointing towards a stairway on the right of the large courtyard.

"O-okay." I nervously respond.

She presses a button and a different cartridge pops out of the other side. It’s a red rectangle and has my signature printed on it. It seems that the one I already had was just put into a case. "Here's your completed drive. You'll only have to show this to a faculty member if they ask and that's all. You won't have to do this again, okay?"

"Okay." I receive the drive from her and walk away slowly backward, attempting to lock eyes with her as long as I can before turning around. In the process, I bump into someone.

"Hey!"

Startled, I turn around to see a girl around my height with short black hair strangely tied into a ponytail on one side yelling into my ear. She has a decisively dangerous look in her dark eyes. She’s looking for trouble.

"Ah! What's up?" I ask, seeing as no one else in the immediate vicinity or paying her any mind. Whatever she’s doing, she did it frequently.

"'What's up' is you in my way!" She throws a punch and I dodge it. She has a solid form and good positioning. She had been trained. She tries for a follow-up punch and I take a couple of steps back. "You afraid?"

"If you're looking for trouble, I suggest you stop now." I put my hands in my pockets and smile. I had been in many schoolyard brawls before but, never with a girl and never with someone who was so obviously trained. My confidence, however, wasn't feigned. I had always wanted to test my combat prowess on someone who knew what they were doing.

"No, fuck that." She runs at me with fury in her eyes. I planned to catch her next attack and put her into a hold or something. That didn't happen, however. Someone comes out of nowhere and embraces her. They turn around and let her go.

"That's not a guy you wanna mess with." He’s much shorter than me with short, curly, honey-colored hair. "Go pick on someone else." This remark seems only to make the girl even angrier as her face reddens.

"Fuck you too." She attempts to punch him just outside of his reach, but he catches her fist, pulls her toward him, and trips her. She stumbles toward me awkwardly and catches herself.

By this time, I had already moved back to give them space.

Grunting angrily, she comes in close while throwing knees and elbows.

He counters her rising knee by stamping her foot back to the ground and he catches her elbow, pointing it away from him.

She attempts to wildly kick his foot off hers.

He moves by jumping back and pushing her away at the same time.

She rushes at him poised and ready with a right hook as soon as she’s in range.

He dodges the punch and grabs her arm.

She pulls it back and followed up with the other one.

He takes that opportunity to jump and follow her arm while still holding it, then sweeps her feet and follows her to the floor, still holding her arm. However much she struggles, she can’t get free.

"Let me go!"

"Only if you promise to stop causing trouble. Besides, if you fought that guy, he wouldn't have gone easy on you like I did."

"Okay, I give, I give. Let me go."

He lets her go.

She stands and throws one more punch straight at his face. "Oww!" The multiple popping sounds that come just before her cry make evident what happened. Her fist lands on his forehead. It’s more like he headbutted it. I make a mental note to try that whenever I can.

She falls to her knees clutching her fist and he walked toward me. I’m slowly attempting to tiptoe around them and make my way upstairs while this is happening. I’m more intrigued than anything, so I don't get far before the guy catches up with me going the same way.

"Pay people like that no mind." he says, "Everybody here is weird and at least a little crazy. Something like this isn't an everyday occurrence but you'll get used to it nonetheless." He pats my shoulder and walks away.

"Uh... Sure." I make my way up the stone-gray stairs as quickly as possible. The iron railing seems to be held only by a thick pane of glass that curves all of the way up, yet doesn't budge when I use it to pull myself up the stairs faster. I make sure I’m not around when that girl starts moving again. Getting to the top of the stairs, I scan my environment. The walls are clean white and the floor is a simple black and white checker pattern.

There is a long hall in front of me with only a few doors on the left and lockers lining the right between windows. There are a few students nose deep in lockers and I spot a large person wearing a black uniform walking near the end of the hall. They seem like a security guard.

I go through the first set of open double doors and come upon a hall full of students crowded around what look like riddles and puzzles on the walls. One is a riddle three lines long, another is centered on biology, and another is a mathematical word problem. The word problem is on room B4. The problem reads: ‘Three people, A, B, and C, are waiting in front of you in line at a bank. Person A takes 12 minutes. Person B takes 50% more time than person A, Person C takes 50% more time than person B. How long does person C take?’ The answers listed are: ‘27 minutes, 24 minutes, 30 minutes, 26 minutes, and 34 minutes.’ After a moment of figuring and finger counting, I come across the answer. The only other problem is: There’s no way to input the solution. Pressing it directly does nothing and neither do vocal commands. Attempting to open the door only leads to the frustration of any who try.

After a bit longer thinking, a thought suddenly crosses my mind. I put one hand on the wall and knock with the other. The wall was solid and made of some kind of metal with drywall on top. "This isn't a door," I say, continuing down the hall. No one seemed surprised. It makes sense, they had been there a few days longer than I. Someone had to have tried that before.

After a while, every other class finds a way into their respective rooms. The riddle is solved by tapping out the answer in morse code and the biology problem is solved with a pattern drawn by hand. There are three other classes with visible doors. They had either been solved before I got here or there are no classes being held there in the morning.

While wondering about it, I’m hit with a quick jab at my right side from the back. "Ah- fuck! My kidney..." I move away from the crowd. I hadn't noticed until it’s too late, but the girl from before caught up with me. She follows me out of the crowd, walking as if she has all the power in the world with a devilish look on her face. She’s a bully who found her target and is dead set on tormenting me to the best of her abilities.

I’m not used to this. In middle school, I’d casually show off by walking up behind anyone brave enough to call me a friend completely silent and without their notice and either scaring them or outright picking them up and running through the halls with them in my arms. That was usually after dealing with any bullies personally.

I'd gain a reputation pretty quickly and the few times I actually got hurt were mostly accidentally self-inflicted. This is wildly different. This isn't that one hard guy who likes to fight causing me trouble. This is a girl who knows exactly what she’s doing and really caused me pain. I’m more dismayed at how she could find me in a crowd of around twenty people more than anything. I stand against the wall and wait for her.

"Do you like me or something?" I ask in response to the power stance she takes after cornering me.

"It's hard not to like a punching bag," She responds, narrowing her eyes and clutching her fists.

The first punch is a gut check that I catch with both hands followed up with a hard left hook while I’m still holding the other fist. She puts so much effort into it that she even hopped a bit forward. I let myself slide down the wall with her hand still in place. This causes her to punch the wall so hard that her fist goes through the drywall and hits the metal. Her head isn't far behind although her face only dents the drywall.

After the deafening crash, it takes her a few seconds to realize what just happened. That’s enough time for me to get up and rejoin the crowd.

What sounds like the wails of the damned follows. Soon after, classroom doors open and concerned teachers emerge. Weirdly enough, this is the first time anyone takes real notice of what’s happening outside of the crowd. Both her fist and nose are bleeding and she can't talk, just cry. Looking at the damage makes me wonder what would happen if I get hit by that.

I look down at my hands to see them shaking. It’s almost like a consistent vibration. My heart goes so fast that I think it might explode. One of the teachers, a taller woman with dark skin and micro braids, helps her to her feet and walk her down to the nurse's office. As she limps away, the crowd starts shrinking. The door to the classroom opens and everybody begins funneling in. I’m one of the last to cross the threshold and immediately dash for a seat in the far back. There’s another door on the opposite wall near the back and I’m sitting directly across from it.

"Okay class, you're all late," says a woman at the front of the room just before the school bell rings. "Was that the first bell?" She looks up at the white hanging clock on the wall "Never mind. You all made it on time. Well, since no one was able to get in the right way, I still consider it a failure."

I take a look upward from my hidden position and analyze the class. The room itself has mostly white walls with the one blue one upfront. Black shelves filled with math supplies line part of the wall closest to me and the rest have empty cork boards and posters showing mathematical equations and jokes as well as a few motivational posters. The board up front is a black digital canvas with a silver frame and white grid lines. The entire thing spans from just beyond the reach of the door to the other wall and from three feet from the ground up to the same distance from the ceiling. On it, the name 'Lucy Main' is written in the middle with bold white letters.

The teacher herself is of average height with shiny red hair that has a soft curl at the end. Her wide eyes are such a light brown that it’s almost mistakable as the same color and she has a bit of an overbite when she speaks, which she did very energetically. "Okay class, as you can see on the board, my name is Lucy Main but, you all can call me Ms. Main, Ms. M, Ms. Lucy, or pretty much anything as long as you say it with respect. Orientation week is over and since you've all been placed in my homeroom, it's time to start getting to know each other. This is a questionnaire," she says, picking up a stack of papers from a desk that I can't see on the opposite side of the room. "It's a good opportunity to let everybody else get to know you better. There are only a few short questions and you don't have to answer any of them, but I encourage all of you to answer them to the best of your abilities." She hands the person at the front of my row the stack of papers. "Please take one and pass it back. When it gets to the back of the row, please pass it to the next.”

When the stack comes to me, I take one and pass it to the next row. The few questions only ask my name, likes, dislikes, one special thing about me, and my aspirations. It takes a few minutes, but I complete most of the questions before the same teacher that helped the girl before pokes her head into the room and looks around until she spots me and comes all of the way in while knocking three reps on the door.

Ms. Main turns toward her as she begins whispering something in her ear. In the middle of the whisper, the other teacher points at me and I duck down, even though I had already been seen. I keep my head down until the other teacher crouches next to me and whispers, "Hello, my name is Ms. Dextross and I teach Physics and General Science. What's your name?"

"I'm David." I sit back up. "I teach coolness under pressure and diffusing awkward and stressful situations with steeze."

"Okay David, I'm going to need you to come with me."

"Is it because I don't actually teach?"

"No, it's because of that situation earlier with your classmate whose hand and face ended up in the wall. Do you know what I'm talking about?"

"Yeah, she was crying earlier next to a hole in the wall."

"So, do you understand what I need you for?"

"Yeah." I stand up and she does as well. "Where exactly are we going?"

"Follow me."

She ushers me out of the classroom and down to the opposite end of the hall from where I came. We walked past the hole and accompanying dent on our way through before going down a set of stairs just like the ones I came up and straight forward past an exit to another door with a sign that reads, 'Nurse' in bold, red letters with a red cross under it. In the process, I finally get a good look at the courtyard. It’s about a hundred yards across and around thirty from the front entrance to the first hallway.

The floor is a mix of black and white marble in a mosaic pattern and I try looking at the ceiling but I’m distracted by three symbols. One looks like a gray marble with a red shadow over half of it, another looks like a red sun tucked into a blue crescent moon, and the last one looks like a green tree with four upward pointed branches with a bulb at the end of each of them. They’re high on the opposite wall.

Before I know it, I’m being led through the door into the nurse's office. The first noticeable thing is white sheets hanging from rails around what are probably beds and a brown, sturdy desk housing a computer, printer, and roller seat. The man sitting in the chair wheels around to face us as we enter. When he does, he reveals a girl sitting across from him with a bandage over her nose and a cast on her hand.

"Hello young man, I'm Nurse Likes, what's your name?" He holds out his hand.

"David," I shake his hand. He’s around six feet and bald with minimal facial hair and a strong handshake. The skin on the back of his hands is slightly wrinkled but his face shows no such sign of aging. In his other hand is a clipboard.

"Okay David, do you know this young woman next to me?"

I give the girl a long, hard look. "Nope."

"Well, she says that you're the reason her face and hand are this way. Is that true?"

"Nope" I shake my head.

"Bullshi- Ah... " The girl on the bed attempts to shout only to hurt herself again. She puts her uninjured hand over her nose. "You know what you did."

"What did I do huh?" I fold my arms and take the same stance that she took previously.

"You...You..." She had clearly cornered herself. Maybe she was expecting me to buckle under pressure and be unable to defend myself or, maybe she was just trying to buy herself some time to come up with a better excuse for her condition. Either way, she’s clearly at the end of her rope. That's what I thought until her eyes widen before she speaks again. "I'm taking you to student court." She removes her hand and points at me triumphantly as blood begins streaming down her nose. "Oops, my nose is bleeding again." She reaches for a small ice pack and tissues sitting next to her and places one on top of her nose and the other below. After momentarily putting them in the wrong spot, she switches their placements.

"There's a student court?" I look at the nurse when I ask.

"Yes, there's a teacher judge and a jury of students," He explains.

"I'm in," I say, turning sharply back toward the girl.

"Alright then, I'll see you there," she responds with a hard nod, "Okay, I'm going to lie down now." She begins leaning backward.

"No lying down until the nosebleed stops, remember?" Nurse Likes quickly reaches out and helps her sit back up.

"Is there anything I need to sign or something about the court stuff?" I ask.

"You'll get a letter to take home by the end of the day," says the nurse, "In the meantime, you can go back to class."

"Okay." I leave the room past Ms. Dextross and find myself back in my classroom. On the way, I examine the broken wall. Upon closer inspection, what I thought was drywall is actually some type of soft, chalky metal. I take a piece, put it in my pocket, and enter the classroom.

Once inside, I learn that two more bells that I didn't hear rang and that first-period practical math had started. I also learn that the nurse's office was outside of the range of the class bell.

I make my way back to my seat and find a paper booklet waiting for me. It reads: 'Practical math 101 Beginning-of-year Exam'. Everyone else is nose-deep in their own booklet while Ms. Main is standing at the head of the class and watching over everyone.

I sigh and open my booklet, getting to work. Most of the questions are pretty easy and I don't spend much time on any of them aside from a few that seem outlandishly difficult compared to the rest of them. I leave those alone and just keep my head down.

Before long, class is almost over and we’re passing our tests back to the front of the class. Ms. Main receives all of them and counts to make sure. "Excellent." She sits the stack on her desk. "Since there's a little time before class ends, you can all converse and get reacquainted with each other."

I just fold my arms on my desk and rest my head on them. I’m fine with this until I hear a loud whisper next to me.

"I saw what happened in the hall."

I look to my left and see a girl with heterochromia, a blue right eye and a brown left eye. Her long brown hair dangles over the side of her face. She has her head down as well. I didn't see her there before. She must have moved seats.

"What do you want?" I mumble.

"There are going to be a lot of eyes on you over the next few days."

"And you want some of that publicity?" It’s a wild and sarcastic guess.

"Exactly." She’s serious.

"This school is weird."

"None less than you by what I've seen."

"Okay, I'm going to court for what happened, any way you can help?" I don't think I need any help, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

"Court this early in the year, huh? How about I be your representative?" She has the smile of a businesswoman.

"I don't know why I asked, I don't know if I can trust you." I sit up and sit back.

"In that case, I'll write up a contract by tomorrow." She doesn't skip a beat.

"I might regret this, but you might be crazy enough to trust."

"Wanna shake on it?" She reaches out her hand.

"On what?"

"Well, I guess to celebrate our meeting and future business."

"Eh, sure." I reach out my hand and shake hers.

"My name's Zinnia, but you can call me Zia."

"I'm David, but you can call me David."

"Cheeky."

On Zinnia's other side, there’s a rustling as someone else leans in and speaks. "What are we doing here? You two flirting? Holding hands?" It’s a boy with shaggy brown hair and silver highlights.

"The fuck man, who the fuck just comes in with that?" I’m visibly confused.

"Ignore him, he's gossipy." Zinnia turns toward the boy. "We were just finishing up some business."

"So, you moved seats and waited for him to come back so you could conduct 'business'? Could have fooled me." He’s sarcastic with a sly smile.

Zennia gives him a look of spite. "If you don't leave, I'll ask Erica to beat your ass. Again. She still owes me one."

"Whatever... Fuck." He slinks to a seat farther away, mumbling to himself.

"Uh, what was that about?" I ask.

Zinnia turns back toward me. "A lot of us know each other from middle school. That includes people from other classes."

"Oh, okay. That wasn't what I was asking about, but okay"

She smiles again and says, "I look forward to doing more business with you."

"Yeah, sure..." The bell rings as I respond.

Leaving the classroom amongst the other students, I realize that I have no idea where to go next. I know what class I have, but not where it is. I thought I'd have a map or itinerary or something and I made the mistake of not memorizing where my classes were. Looking in all directions, I almost tiptoe into the hall intersection. Between classrooms as if looking for a sign as to where to go next.

"Do you know where you're going?" Amillia's voice almost startles me.

I snap my fingers, pumped my fist, and say, "Nope."

"What class are you looking for?"

"I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be World History."

"Not that, the room number."

"I don't know."

She scoffs in surprise. "Then how do you know what class..." She sighs. "Get out your I.D drive."

"Okay." I pull it from the holder on my waist.

"Press the button on the side."

I turn the object around in my hand and find a red square button on the side. Pressing the button causes a light to flash from the front. Turning it upward, I see a hologram projected off an open panel. It’s a model map of the school with a red beacon in the shape of a triangle with a circle on it. It’s on the second floor in a hallway intersection near the front.

"So I'll assume that this is me, and..." I look closer and see that each room is labeled with what current class is being held in it. "This is where I'm supposed to go." I press a room on the third floor; class C8 which is labeled 'World History'. A blue line appears between me and the room, marking a path.

"Well, there you go." She pats me on the back. "Get moving, don't want to be late." She goes in the opposite direction of where I’m going, weaving through the crowds.

"Sure." I follow the flow of people to the left and down the hall, still looking at the map. Once I reach the end, I go up and around a staircase, then to my right at the next corner, and one room down to my next class.

On the wall is a short quiz on the history of the school. Three of the five are already inputted as correct. Of the last two, I’m drawn to one that reads: ‘In the first hall, there are six banners hanging from the ceiling. What do they represent?’

I stare at the question and think back to when I was on my way to the nurse's office. I knew the banners meant something, but I couldn't really put my finger on it. It's as if I saw the symbols somewhere before but they were never the focus of what I saw until then. I rack my brain as to their meaning and realize I only saw three of them whereas the question says there are six. I need to get back downstairs to see the rest.

Just as I take a step back, someone writes using their finger; magic, mysticism, and the unknown.

A few thoughts popped into my mind: What? Why would a school hang banners that mean the opposite of what a school should represent? And why does it seem so correct?

A green checkmark appears in the box next to the question and I’m so hung up on the answer that I don't notice until just before the door opens after the other question is also answered.

I funnel into the room with the other students and find a desk at the back to sit at. I sit in basically the same spot as in the last class, the back. Unlike Ms. Main's classroom, this one only has bare blue walls and a board at the front of the room.

The bell rings for class to start, but there is no teacher. I don't think much of it, but most of the rest of the class is looking around in confusion. I just start fiddling with my I.D drive when the lights turn off briefly.

They turn back on too fast for anyone to react and confusion spreads even further. Now everyone is looking around at the sight of a large bald man standing behind the teacher's desk. He wears a black and white casual suit that fits just closely enough that his hefty muscles are well defined through the fabric.

"I am Professor Douglas Black." His booming voice rings through the room loud enough that I’m sure the next classroom will go deaf. His name writes itself in red and pink swirls on the board as he speaks. "And this." He continues, spreading his arms out and gesturing to the entire class. "Is history."

It was already silent before his arrival, but now it’s a stunned silence. I look around for places someone his size could have popped out from but decide it’s futile. Instead, I put away my I.D drive and sit back.

"History is made every day." His voice lowers to a volume that won't blow anyone's ears out. "We all make history with every little thing we do. They cumulate into the bigger things that happen in life." He snaps his fingers and the sound reverberates throughout the room similarly to his voice. "Never be afraid to document history in the making."

By the end of his sentence, I notice a piece of paper appeared on my desk. Looking around, I notice that there’s only a piece of paper at the desks where someone is sitting. There’s even an empty seat between me and the person in front of me, but there is no paper there either. It’s as if he knew where everyone was going to sit ahead of time.

The paper turns out to be a set of questions about how our lives were before coming to the academy. I make sure to keep out anything out the ordinary while answering. After finishing the sheet, I notice another one stapled to it. After that one is another attached to the same staple. I don't question it and just make sure not to give away anything that can put me in the spotlight.

After a few minutes, Prof. Black speaks up again. "We'll be spending the whole class period on this, so be sure to be thorough. When the bell rings, leave your papers at your desks. I'll collect them after you leave."

Sure enough, we keep working on it until the next bell rings. I nearly exhaust myself looking back over all of my answers repeatedly to find any inconsistencies until I’m sure everything is sound.

As soon as I leave the classroom, I take out my I.D drive and follow the map back to the second floor. My next class is the one I’m most excited about. The wall outside of the classroom has no quiz, but instead a single quote, "Come with me and you'll be in a world of pure imagination." -Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

The door is ajar and students are flowing in like a stream. I enter and sit in a seat in the front row. This classroom is lined with posters of literary quotes, writing tips, and bookshelves filled with hard and softcover books. At the teacher's desk sits a pale woman in a blue sundress pouring over notes and writing feverishly between separate sheets of paper.

A while after everyone took their seat and class started, she looks up briefly and her eyes widen in surprise. "How long have you guys been there?"

"Around ten minutes," I say, still fiddling with my I.D drive.

"Oh." She stands and prances to the board. "Sorry class, I get pretty distracted sometimes." She takes her finger and waves it across the board in a whimsical style and writes her name. "I'm Eve. I don't have a last name and I don't like being called miss, so just call me Eve. Also, if you see me distracted like that at the beginning of class, just tap on my shoulder and let me know." She scans the class a few times and continues. "So, first thing's first... What class is this?"

"Creative writing," I say, placing my palm on my forehead.

"Oh, yeah... second or fifth period... Wait... no..." She counts her fingers to five and puts two down. "Third period." She sounds hesitant. "In that case." She taps the corner of the board behind her three times and her name disappears to be replaced with a series of images that fills the canvas. After looking between all of them, she selects a few by tapping on them and then taps the board three more times. All the ones aside from the few she selected disappear and what’s left grows to be visible from the back of the room. The images turn out to be book covers.

"In this class, I'll be assisting all of you in writing your own novels and we'll be using these books as references." She double-taps the one closest to her and text appears under it. "The Tale of Genji. This Japanese book is credited as the first novel." She double-taps the next one over, and then each in turn. "Next is Journey to the West, a great Chinese fable. Then, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, A classic in English literature. And finally, Universal Locket, a recent novel already acclaimed as a modern classic." She scans the class one more time. "What do these books all have in common?"

It takes us all a second to realize we’re supposed to answer. "Oh, they're all fiction." Someone answers.

"Correct, but there's a few more things, too."

I think about what they all had that was similar aside from being fiction and answer, "They were written hundreds of years apart and helped define... Something." The rest of my statement was at the tip of my tongue, but I couldn't quite get it.

"They helped define their era." Someone else finishes the thought for me.

"That's right." Eve smiles brightly. "Even if they weren't the defining novels of their era, they still helped shape the world of fiction as we know it." She goes to her desk and pulls out a phone before scrolling around and typing something on it. "All of these books should now be downloaded on your I.D drives. You can take your time and read them over now and tomorrow, we'll start writing exercises." She sits at her desk. "Just call my name if you need help with anything."

Unsure of how I’m supposed to find the books on the I.D drive to read them, I look around and see people pressing the side of their desks revealing a slot that they insert their I.D drives into. Looking along the side of my desk, I find a part that pushes in. It opens to a slot like everyone else's and I put mine in. The top of my desk flickers from light brown to pitch black before the words 'Student Operating System' appear bolded in white with three small letters, R, P, and G, over the S in student. The words soon disappear to be replaced with 'voice identification' in the same font.

"Voice identification?" I say, confused.

'Accepted' appears under 'voice identification', then the screen goes white and a menu appears. There are a few options, but I press the one that reads 'literature' and it changes to another menu with images of the books Eve described. Of the four, I've read 'Journey to the West' and 'Harry Potter', so I press 'The Tale of Genji' and begin reading as the screen changes to a book layout. I scan over a few pages and then start at the beginning. Eventually, the bell rings and I take my I.D drive out of my desk and return it to its holder at my waist.

I was going to strike up a conversation with Eve, but she’s nose-deep in paper and I don't want to bother her. Instead, I wander awkwardly into the hallway and just walk in a random direction. My next period is a free period and I never went to a school that actually had those, so I have no idea what to do.

After a few minutes, I remember the nurse's office and make my way there. Once I get to the hall at the front of the building, I stop and look around. I take note of the three banners from before again and examine the three others. One is a stick with a leaf and three gold rings around it, another is a black star of David with the points connected to a hexagon surrounded by a shining purple and blue circle, and the last one is a red sword surrounded by a fractured emerald ring. The more I look at them, the more what they stand for makes sense.

After some time, I go to the nurse's office and am about to knock but stop when I hear voices. Placing my ear to the door, the voices grow louder.

A vaguely familiar voice is repeating the phrase, "I warned you once," while growing closer.

The other voice is the girl I’m expecting to be there. She was speaking quickly in a one-sided argument.

"Oh, and one more warning." I now recognize the voice of the guy from earlier who got the girl to back off before she inevitably caught up with me. "Just give up on the whole court thing. You're just going to lose." I hear the sound of the doorknob then back off a few steps and continue forward as if I just got there.

The door opens and the guy and I see each other. "What are you doing here?" I’m genuinely curious.

He closes the door. "Just doing some housekeeping. That girl knows no limits." Looking me up and down, he says. "So, any scratches?"

"Uh, nah. Not really."

"Well, I'll get going. My free period's about to end. By the way, I'm Titus." He goes off towards the middle of the room.

"I'm David," I respond.

"I know." He enters the hall at the end of the large room.

I open the door to find Nurse Likes sitting at his desk typing on the computer. The girl is still sitting on the bed as before, but now she’s laying back and kicking her feet.

"What's going on?" I close the door behind me and just stand there with my hands behind my back.

The girl answers first. "Nothing much; just wondering why these assholes keep showing up. You?"

I look around to find nobody else. "I don't see anyone-"

"You're one of them!"

Nurse Likes speaks. "I hope you're here to see how she's doing."

"Kinda." I lean against the wall next to the door and turn my attention to the patient on the bed. "Actually, I don't know your name. It's weird that somebody I don't even know tried to attack me on the first day at my new school, so mind telling me what I can call you at least?"

"Shut up, you talk too much and I have a headache."

"Can you at least tell me your name?"

"Damn, it's Gina, whatever, fuck..." After a moment or so, she lifts her head up and sees me for a split second. "What are you still doing here, get out, I don't wanna see you." She seems tired.

"I don't have anything to do, so I'll just stay here for a while just to annoy you," I tease.

She lifts her head again with a large scowl and murder in her eyes. "Get the fuck out."

"Sure, just try not to ram your face into any more walls, okay?"

"Get. The fuck. Out." She seems to have lost all her energy and just lays back with a heavy moan.

I exit the room and start wandering around the building. It goes up three floors and each gets progressively smaller but they all have the same number of classrooms as well as a boys and girls bathroom, two lab rooms, and two locked closets. The second floor has a library and the third floor has a study room.

I think I explored everything until I notice that I never saw a cafeteria. After fiddling with the map a bit, I find that it’s underground. I saw stairs leading down before, but thought it wasn't the best to go down unprompted, but as it turns out, there are classrooms down there as well.

The way down consists of only a couple of steps into a sloped hallway left and right. One direction leads to a brick wall painted white and the other way leads to a set of double doors into a room full of tables with people sitting at them. Perhaps it was their lunchtime or maybe some of them just decided that was the best place to spend their free periods. On the right, there is a counter with windows built into the wall. On the other side of the window is a kitchen full of warming ovens with a man and a woman in scrubs sitting on bar stools at the opposite counter facing me.

The woman saw me and says, "This yo lunchtime?"

"No." I stop in my tracks and stared them dead in the eye.

"Alright." She goes back to monitoring everyone else as they sit, eat, and socialize.

At the opposite end of the lunchroom is another set of double doors as well as to the left of the entrance. Just as I’m approaching the door on the left, the bell rings, signifying the end of my free period.

Looking at my I.D drive, I see names on some of the classrooms changed. My Biology class is in one of the labs on the second floor, so I make my way there.

The door is gone and across the wall is a series of switches in three rows. Where the door was, now houses an image of a person whose appearance changes with every switch flipped. I just watch as people flip the switches back and forth. I don't even try to join in as people take turns making the image look like various celebrities, themselves, and other teachers that happened to pass by. Eventually, the bell rings again, signifying that we’re all late.

Less than a minute later, all of the switches vanish into the wall and the door opens. Out pops a young boy shorter than most of the students gathered around the hall. He has sparkling green eyes and emerald hair. He wears a white lab coat and a neon green turtleneck under it.

"Alright students, file in." He hops back into the room and stands beside the doorway as we do as he says and file in.

I take a seat in the back again while everyone else finds their place. I see something out of the corner of my eye and look to see Zinnia sitting next to me and not far from her is Titus whose eyes are slowly darting back and forth. I look away quickly and pretend not to notice them.

The boy at the front of the class starts writing on the board. Afterward, he turns back to the class with 'Professor Richard Green' written behind him. With a smile, he says, "Okay class, listen up. My name is Richard Green and you can call me Prof. Green. You don't have to, but I always wanted to be called Professor. I may look really young, but that's because I am. That is all. Any questions?"

Someone raises their hand.

"Yes?" says Prof. Green.

They ask, "So, you're Green in green?"

"Yep, I'm a plant man. I teach biology but my specialty is botany." He turns some of his hair with his fingertips.

Someone else raises their hand.

"You have a question?"

They ask, "Does that mean we'll be covering plants a lot?"

He answers, "Perhaps. To be honest, that hasn't exactly been decided yet. I was hired on short notice, so many things, like the classroom, haven't even been fully decided yet." He waits a minute just standing at the head of the class with his hands behind his back before speaking again. "Well, since there are no more questions and I have a lot of paperwork to go through right now, you guys can get to know each other while I work at my desk. Just don't get too rowdy." He goes to the teacher's desk and sits in front of the computer. "Oh, and one more thing: my name may be 'Richard', but that doesn't mean anyone can call me 'Dick'. You will live to regret it. And then you won't." He puts his head down and begins typing at insane speeds from the sounds of the button presses.

I fold my arms and put my head down on them and less than a minute later, I hear a familiar voice.

"Have you thought it over?" Zinnia's voice pierces my ear uncomfortably.

"No, not really," I moan.

"Well, here's what I have so far." Something lands on my desk and I look up to see a short stack of papers. "It's an early draft, but you can look over it if you want."

"That's uh... A lot..."

She tilts her head quizzically. "Is it?"

I flip through it a little and immediately question the sanity of who could ever write so much by hand and think nothing of it.

"You couldn't have typed it or something?"

"I did, I just used my handwriting as the font."

"And you printed it?"

"Yeah."

I close what’s basically a book and slide it back to her. "I'll think about it." I lie.

"Well, while you think about it, there's a guy over there who keeps looking at you. You know each other?" She points over at Titus, who is casually looking our way.

"You sure he's not looking at you?" I shrug. "You have different colored eyes."

"That's not uncommon. Besides, your left eye is tinted slightly red."

"You've officially been staring too closely." I put a hand between me and her. That slight tint is something only I knew existed until now. It's in both eyes, but only visible in one at a time if you focus on it, otherwise, my eyes are a light shade of brown.

"Huh, I didn't peg you as the shy type. To each their own." She leaves the stack of papers and goes to bother someone else.

I put my head down into my folded arms until I hear someone approach, then I bury my head deeper.

"Hey." Titus takes the seat next to me.

"What do you want?" I mumble.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, what do you want?"

"Well, I was going to ask if you wanted me to represent your case, but I heard that girl was already on it."

"Zinnia? Yeah, sure..."

"So, what are you doing next period?"

"That's... A free period, I think?"

"A free period for all freshmen until we pick an elective."

"Oh, I was gonna explore the basement then go see Gina at the nurse."

"Yeah, I thought so. You should stay away from her. The more you're around her, the more she has to use against you."

"I don't really care about all that. I just want to see what kind of person attacks another person at random. Besides, it's not like the whole 'court' thing's gonna amount to much."

"Well, you shouldn't see her anyway. She'll just have more reason to keep doing what she's doing."

"Well, what if I want to see her?" I prop my head up on my fist with my elbow on the desk and look at him. He’s giving me a look as if he’s talking to a brick wall.

He shakes his head in disapproval. "Don't do that, don't fall for your bullies. It never ends well."

"Not what I meant, but you sound like you speak from experience. Been there, done that?"

"All I'm saying is, she's bad news. Save yourself the trouble and just leave her alone."

"Why are you interested in me anyway? Do we know each other? Do you know me from somewhere? I'm not famous or anything."

"Let's just say, I've seen what you can do."

Conscious that my low profile has already been compromised and unwilling to stand out for my past, I lower my voice. "Like?"

He lowers his voice as well. "Bang."

"What do you want?" I say, acknowledging that my suspicion is confirmed.

"Nothing, really. Just can't have you drowning before this ship sets sail."

"Is something supposed to happen?"

He shrugs. "Nah, I'm just looking out for you."

I put my head back down. "Okay, I'm pretty sure there's more to that, but as long as you don't have a problem with me, I'm fine."

"For now, I don't, it's whatever."

He leaves me alone and after a while, someone taps my shoulder.

"What?" I look up slightly but enough to see over my arms.

Zinnia stands politely by my side. "The bell rang and you were snoring a little."

I look around to see other students leaving the classroom. "Weird. I don't feel like I fell asleep." Standing, I make my way out of the room and down to the first floor. Taking a glimpse over my shoulder, I see Zinnia following behind me. "What are you doing?"

"Observing you. After all, I am representing you in court."

"I don't think I actually agreed or signed anything yet."

"I see a seventy-percent chance of you accepting and signing our contract."

I sigh. "Can't we just go with a handshake or something? The whole 'contract' thing feels like too much."

"No, procedures like this have to be handled with care and sophistication."

"Alright, Hermione. Wouldn't it be better if you're not like, right next to me if something else happens? You can't represent both me and yourself."

"I beg to differ," she says, folding her arms with a look of superiority.

"Alright, do whatever." I wave her off.

I continue down to the lunchroom and make a sharp left after entering then go straight through the doors I stopped at before. On the other side is a long hall lined with lockers. Directly to the right is another set of double doors. I continue forward to the end of the hall and past some classroom doors to an intersection. To the left is a shorter hall while on the right is a longer one that leads to another double door.

Turning left, I pass a stairway on the right, go to the end, and find another set of steps on the left that seemingly lead outside past another room that doesn't seem to have a defined purpose, and more lockers against the opposite wall.

Taking a moment to decide where to go next, I turn around, go past Zennia, and down the other hall I saw. Halfway down this hall, something shifts. I can't tell what it is, but something definitely changes as if I’m suddenly in a completely different place. It can't be that the halls are empty, they were already empty.

It's as if I’m in the middle of a dream but I don't feel like I’ll wake up. I take each step fluidly, yet cautiously as if a wrong move can spring a trap. My senses feel like they’re both dulled and heightened at the same time but I also feel completely blind to my surroundings.

Out of the corner of my eye, someone appears walking next to me. It’s a girl, but it isn't Zinnia. This girl has long blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and is shorter. I look back to learn that there’s no trace of the girl who followed me.

"Hey," I say, looking straight forward, keeping the girl in the corner of my eye.

"Looks like you got pulled in here too," says the girl. "Somehow, that doesn't surprise me."

"Same here. Who are you, anyway."

"Oh, little ol' me?" She pushes some of her hair behind her ear. "I'm Allice, wandering this mysterious wonderland. I'm late to a tea party, you see. Who, pray tell, might you be?"

Feeling far too comfortable with the scenario, I say, "Well, Miss Allice, Some call me mad, but I seem to have lost my hat, so it seems ill-appropriate to tell you who I am, but I can tell you my name. It's David, ma'am."

She gives a soft giggle. "Oh, so, you are indeed mad? You must be to perceive this land and think naught of it. Perhaps you belong here? In the madness of this 'other' world. This wonderland."

We continue walking until I notice the hallway only getting longer as we go. It seems like we’re covering distance, but so too is the hall. Doors also begin appearing in the newly empty spaces of the walls as if they were always there.

A feeling soon begins tugging at the back of my mind as if an incomplete thought is trying to enter and a heavy sense of foreboding creeps up on me. Danger is near but I keep walking as if nothing is the matter.

"You're brave," says Allice.

"Nah, just curious." I shrug.

"Or mad?" She smiles.

"Maybe I am. I shouldn't be here."

"Well, then it looks like this is where we part. Never stay in this realm longer than you need. The walls are deaf, and the shadows have hands."

The very next step I take after she says that feels different. It’s as if I returned to reality and my senses are back to normal. My knees wobble as if they aren't ready for my weight to fall and the danger I sense subsides.

"What the hell was that?" I look around at the hallway and it’s back to normal. I’m sweating, the hair on my arms is standing, and I’m breathing as if I’m out of breath, but I don't feel exhausted in any way.

"David." Zinnia's voice rings out from behind me as her arms tighten around my arms. "Where the hell were you? You just disappeared."

"I... I was walking with a blonde girl and we were talking? It rhymed and stuff... What was that? Why are you hugging me?"

"You just fucking disappeared for a minute, what do you mean?" Her panic is easily understandable, but I’m a long shot from sharing her sentiment.

"That was weird... I'll just get going, I guess." I shake loose from her grasp and start walking forward.

She grabs my hand, stops me, and says, "Why are you so damn calm?"

"No idea." I start walking again and Zennia follows, still holding my hand. I try to pull away but she won't let go. "Are you just going to keep holding my hand like that?" I start waving my arm around and she refuses to let go. "Huh, didn't think you liked me like that."

"Shut up, I'm just making sure you don't disappear again."

"Not without you, huh?"

"With or without me. That was weird and I think we should just go back."

"Nah, I'm not done exploring."

We get to the intersection and the hall to the right is dimly lit, only getting darker as it reaches another intersection. I stop and stare at the consistently encroaching darkness. I take a cautious step and the hand holding mine pulls me back.

"What do you think you're doing? We're not going over there."

I get an Idea and grip her hand before rushing forward, causing her to stumble a bit to keep up. I’m not sure how hard I’m squeezing since her hand is so soft, but I’m sure it’s fine. I’ll just pull her along on a little date. No, not a date. If I can pull her into the darkness, she might get scared enough to leave without me. That’s the plan.

It's only after reaching what’s supposed to be the next intersection that I notice that we’re a breath away from a wall of darkness. It seems almost solid and ethereal in nature. I feel like if I take a step closer, I'll be firmly in the grasp of something I’m unprepared to deal with. That's when I remember the advice from Allice. 'The walls are deaf and the shadows have hands'.

"Darkness creeps from behind." The words fly from my mouth before I have a chance to think of them.

"What?" Zennia sounds shaken.

"We're walking backward. Let's go." I start walking backward and steady footsteps behind me do the same.

"What's going on?"

"I don't know, but the darkness can't follow us if we don't look away from it. Something I learned from being afraid of the dark as a kid."

We keep walking backward for a minute until I see a dim halo of light from my peripherals. The wall of darkness stays at bay and I’m sure the hand I’m holding is still the same as before. If I’m wrong, my problems will be more consistent with a horror movie than a supernatural thriller.

I blink and the darkness is gone. The hallway is normal as if there was never a problem with the lights and the feeling I have subsides. Even so, I keep my guard up just in case. Taking a slow look around, I see Zennia still staring intently down the hall. I snap my fingers in front of her face and she blinks then looks around as well.

"That was weird," she whispers.

"Not as weird as what I experienced before, but yeah, that was weird." I shrug.

"How did you know what to do?"

"I think I already explained that. I was scared of the dark as a kid."

"But, how... We need to document this. I'm definitely sticking around you."

"No need. Something as weird as this. Someone should have already. Also, no. I don't need someone literally at my side all the time unless it's my girlfriend."

"Well, how about-"

"Not interested."

"I wasn't even going to suggest that."

"Doesn't matter." I start walking down the well-lit hall. Zennia follows, still holding my hand. "It's weird how no one else is here. Nobody's come this whole time. Almost as if people avoid this place."

"As I was going to say, we can keep track of each other with our I.D drives. There's a thing that lets us track each other. It only works in the school, though."

In as exaggerated a tone as possible, I say, "And I would want to be tracked, why?"

"Just in case something else like this happens. We can have each other's backs."

"Nah, I'm good." I slam my fist into my chest. "I got my own back."

We meet the intersection and turn left. From there, we explore until the bell rings. Eventually, we find a gymnasium, a pool, a locker room, a library, and an auditorium dotted around the maze-like basement. All of which have multiple entrances that are locked. No other anomalies occur on the way and we do eventually run into a few other students also exploring. They pay us no mind, but I know it looks like we’re a couple, causing me to sigh every time. She at least lets go when I go to the bathroom but she keeps calling in to see if I’m still there.

Eventually, the bell rings and the next class will start soon. As soon as people start filling the halls, I firmly yank my hand away and run back to the lunchroom and up to the lobby then outside. My next class is Phys-ed.

There’s a racetrack behind the school that my I.D drive leads me to but since the halls leading out back are full of people, I take my chances by going out the side just to get away from Zennia. I sneak around the left side of the building and to the back where a small group had already assembled by the track. Zennia’s there and so is Titus.

I sigh and take my place among them. Zennia says nothing to me but gives a look of superiority. Titus nods at me and I shrug in response.

As more students flood out of the building, I see someone that makes me question my sanity. Allice is in the middle of the crowd and we see each other at the same time. We share a look of recognition as she comes to stand next to me.

"I see you found your way out," she says.

"Out of where? What do you know about that place?"

"Nothing at all. What I do know is that you looked like you were having a lot of fun running around the halls holding that girl's hand. Is she your girlfriend?"

"You wish. She wouldn't let me go, so I just dragged her along."

"Oh, if she was, I'd like to meet her."

"I'm right here." Zennia’s lurking behind us. "You two seem unusually friendly."

I look back and forth between the two girls and make sure I’m not getting any weird looks myself. "Remember when I disappeared? This was who I was with."

Zennia folds her arms. "In that case, what do you know about that weird... Thing that happened?"

Allice puts her hands up and shrugs. "Like I just said, nothing."

A piercing male voice springs from near a nearby bench facing away from us. "Shut up." Not just our conversation, but many others quiet down. "Good. Is everyone here?"

We all look around in confusion as if we’re supposed to know the answer.

Someone pipes up and says, "I think so."

"Good." A long arm reaches up and with a snap of the fingers, he points over to another bench. "Gina Costello and Nick Hrabik. I need you two over there."

Gina appears out of nowhere with a boy that looks a lot like Prof. Green except for having a natural brown hair color and being taller. Gina still has the cast on her hand and the bandage over her nose. They sit on the other bench.

"Alright, roll call. I'll be calling everyone's names in order. Just respond if you're here." He begins calling names in alphabetical order. When he’s done, I have a list of names I’m sure to forget and re-learn in due time locked away in my head. I also learn that Zennia's last name is Strong, Titus' last name is Rain, and Allice's last name is Manchester.

After rollcall, the man lying on the bench sits up and then stands. He’s tall and slim with short dark hair and a goatee sporting an unusually stern demeanor despite how laid-back he seems. In one hand is a clipboard and in the other is a whistle dangling from a lanyard.

"Alright, class, my name is Maxwell Blue. You can call me Max or Coach Blue. I'm not a coach, though. It's just a fun title." He blows the whistle softly, well, as softly someone can blow a whistle. "First thing's first, stretches. The two on the bench are exempt from this for today on the grounds that one is injured and the other is a nurse's aide who happens to share the same P.E. period and he has to watch over her to make sure she doesn't hurt herself again. Any questions?"

I raise my hand. "What do you mean by, 'again'? She's just sitting on a bench."

Gina audibly growls and attempts to stand, only to be pulled back down by the boy smaller than her as he scolds her with a nod of disapproval.

"Well, if you must know," says Max. "She has an outstanding record of incidental injury. Like the incident earlier today. You would know, after all, you were there."

I look around a little more suspiciously than I like. "Perhaps..."

"Anything else?"

"Nope."

"Thought so. Everyone get on the track and we'll start."

We do as he says and he proceeds to lay out a basic set of stretches for everyone to do. Once we’re done, I’m very relaxed. Never noticing how tense I was throughout the day, the stretches force me at ease and I nearly fall asleep on the asphalt.

Someone snaps their fingers near my ear and I respond with, "No... I'm too comfortable..."

"So, that means you're comfortable enough to run two miles?" Max is crouching by my side.

"I guess... Wait-"

"Nope, too late." He pats me on the back. His hand is heavy enough that for a moment, I think he’s slamming his fist down. "Get running. Four laps is a mile and if you don't finish today, you'll finish tomorrow with two more added."

"Wait-" I roll over and sit up. "Two laps, or two miles?"

"Every new question adds a mile."

"Ah-" I stand and start jogging.

I don't pay much attention to it before starting, but the track is huge. He wasn't kidding about four laps making a mile. It only takes four laps to tire me out, but I still have four to go. Gina makes faces and throws middle fingers at me every time I pass her and Nick waves as if to mitigate her mockery. I wave back a couple of times and throw her a few middle-fingers, too. Anyone I can consider a friend is too preoccupied with a series of exercises most of the time to interact with me aside from a few breaks sprinkled between them and the last ten minutes when Max lets them do whatever.

On my last lap, I pass Zennia, Allice, and Titus and they all give a simultaneous 'Hi' before looking at each other and pointing accusingly. A second later, Titus bolts after me with what sounds like a war cry. Alarmed, I step it up a pace and run at full speed. By the end of the lap, I’m sure I’m going to die from my lungs exploding. My legs feel fine until I sit down and realize I can't stand back up.

I reach out to the nearest person as the bell rings. Surprisingly, it can be heard outdoors. "Help."

I’m not paying attention and that person happens to be Gina. "Go fuck yourself," she says, bouncing a middle finger in my face with an outstretched tongue as she walks backward past me.

"I hope your favorite book gets adapted to a movie and none of the characters are how you imagined them," I retort.

She just laughs, makes a fart noise with her tongue still sticking out, and promptly trips on her own heels, landing on her already injured hand.

"That's what you get for talking shit." I laugh breathlessly, still unable to stand.

Nick helps her up then comes back to help me up. My legs feel like jelly and Gina sounds like she’s starting to cry, then suppresses it as we begin walking together.

"Looks like your friends left you," says Nick. "What's up with that?"

"They're not really my friends," I say. "One's a weirdo, the other's a cryptic weirdo... Scratch that, they're both cryptic weirdos, and the last one is my lawyer. Also a weirdo."

"Well, that's what this school is made of. Weirdos, geniuses, genius weirdos, and weirdo geniuses. That's why people can get away with so much. It's all in the name of academia, though, it does become a bit of a headache when people get hurt as often as they do."

"Shut up, and don't you point at me," says Gina, speeding up ahead to one of the closed doors and trying unsuccessfully to push it open one-handedly despite there being no sign of it being a 'push' door.

"I wasn't pointing, but at least you know who I'm talking about." He lets out a soft giggle with a smile. "She's really resilient, though."

"A real firecracker if I ever saw one," I say.

Annoyed, Gina says, "I can hear you."

"I know you can," says Nick. "Did you check to see if it's a 'pull' door?"

"Duh..." She pauses, then pulls the handle and the door opens. "Fucking-" She runs in and pulls it closed from inside.

I can't help but laugh then say, "You seem pretty normal, dood."

"Nah, I'm one of those weirdo geniuses, and I assume you are too, otherwise, you wouldn't be here."

"Well, about that." We make it to the door and I open it, letting both of us through. "I'm pretty sure I'm only here because my parents went here."

"Now, I can't help but doubt that."

"No, really, my parents went here."

"Not that. There's gotta be something weird about you or you're insanely smart in something. I'm here to become a doctor. If I graduate here, I'll only need a year of college to get my doctorate. How about you?"

I shrug. "I like books. I read and write-... Stuff."

"That's pretty cool." He nods. "What's your next period?"

"Lunch, I think."

"Alright, me, too."

As we go down the few steps down to the basement of the school and toward the lunchroom, we spot Gina hurriedly limping toward us with a lunch tray in her hand. She spots us and starts limping faster.

"What happened?" Nick asks as if he was her mother.

"Nothing, fuck off." She dismisses him as harshly as I thought she would.

"Nope, give me that I'll help." He reaches for the tray and she maneuvers it away from him.

"No, I got this."

"No, you don't, give me that-" He successfully wrestles it away from her.

"No, I-" Enraged, she stamps her foot down. "I said I got it!" In the seconds that follow, a tear comes to her eye. "That was the wrong one..." Her lip starts quivering.

"Just let me help you." Nick puts her arm over his shoulders while she nods tearfully and he carts her away.

"Have fun, you two," I call after them.

"Fuck you!" Gina yells back at me.

"You, too, bitch."

I continue to the cafeteria and look around until I spot Zennia and Allice at a table attended by all girls. Titus is off in a corner by himself, unsuccessfully shooing away anyone who approaches. A few people still sit near him, but none particularly close. I sit directly across from him and just look at him for a bit.

"What?" he says.

"So, you just chase me around the track then leave me when I can't get up?"

"I was just having a bit of fun. That Allice girl is pretty cute. How did you pull her?"

"I didn't." I pivot my elbow on the table and rest my head on my hand. "And you're changing the subject."

"Glad you noticed. So, does that mean I can swoop in, snatch her away, and you won't bitch about it?"

"I don't know, man, ask her."

"Well, what about Zennia? I can dig a girl like that. The bossy rule stickler. You just know she's got some kinks."

"Dood, whatever. Why are we talking about this?"

"Maybe I'll just take them both since you're so oblivious. Or you really do have the hots for Gina."

"Nope." I think for a second and decide to say it. "I like Eve. You may judge if you so wish."

"Which Eve? There are a few."

"Uh... English teacher?"

"Oh... Yeah, that's understandable." He nods slowly. "Literally nobody alive looks like that anymore. Albinism is a hell of a thing. Then she's got a slim package and she's a bonafide airhead. I get it. If I had to choose a teacher, she's in the top ten at least."

"Top ten? Who's number one?"

"I'd have to say it's between Dr. Tachibana and Prof. Green."

"Prof. Green? I thought he was a guy."

"His sister is also a teacher here, but they do look similar, so I guess it doesn't really make that much of a difference."

"Huh, what does she teach?"

"Physics."

"Biology and physics... Never mind. Who's Dr. Tachibana?"

"She teaches Japanese history and culture. It's an elective I'm thinking of taking."

"Because she's hot?"

"You have no idea. She's like a hundred-twenty centimeters with a giant rack."

"Really? How tall is that in feet?"

"You don't know how to convert?"

"I do, it just takes forever."

"It's about... You're right, it does take forever."

A familiar voice rings from my left. "Four-point-nine-five-feet."

I look over to see Zennia far enough away from me to stand outside my peripheral vision.

"And how long have you been there?" I say.

"Long enough to know someone thinks I have kinks."

"That's... almost the entire conversation."

"I know." She look sharply at Titus. "So, were those simply observations? Or were you hoping for something?"

"Well, I, uh..." Titus looks around as if he’s in trouble. "I wasn't expecting to have to answer that so directly... Can I think on it?"

"Nope!" Allice appears almost out of nowhere, slams a lunch tray down next to Titus, and sits. "I'm too curious now."

"Same." Zennia sits next to me with a half-eaten bagged lunch. "You were talking about the hottest teachers, right? Describe me the same way. As if I'm not here."

Titus looks down at his tray, almost analyzing the scraps still on it. "Uh... Do I have to?"

Both Zennia and Allice nod.

I shrug and say, "I think you have to."

Swiftly, Titus scoops up a piece of unfinished bread and stuff his mouth then starts mumbling incoherently while chewing and stops after swallowing. "And there you have it." He smiles triumphantly.

"Alright, smartass," says Zennia. "I'll let you get away with it this time."

Excitedly, Allice says, "Okay, now do me."

Out of food to stuff his mouth with, Titus just looks at her and says, "Cute."

"Is that it?" She looks disappointed.

"Is that what everyone calls you or something?"

Making a sour face, she says, "I don't wanna talk about it."

"Well, regardless, I'm curious about the rest of that top-ten list of yours." Zennia now has a broad smile stretched across her face.

Titus meets her eye contact for a second then says, "Which one? Date or fuck?"

"Up to you."

"Alright, but only if you tell me yours."

"Agreed." She doesn't hesitate for a second.

In the minutes that follow, the pair give a list of ten teachers they'd either date or do and even explain their choices. While Titus only has female teachers on his list aside from a possible exception of both Prof. Greens, Zennia has a mix of male and female teachers. They eventually pressure Allice into giving a list too and try to pressure me into it but stop after realizing that one day is not enough time for me to know even a quarter of the faculty. By the end, I walk away wondering if they were secretly friends the whole time. I also forgot to get a lunch and only remember near the end.

When the bell rings, we all walk together until Titus has to split off since his homeroom is down the hall from the rest of us. It turns out Allice is in the same room as me and Zennia. There is no code or riddle we have to solve on the wall and instead, the door stands open.

Once we’re inside, I follow them to a spot near the middle where they sit next to each other and dart off to sit by myself in a corner like always. In mere seconds, they both catch up with me.

"You were supposed to sit next to us," says Allice.

"In the middle of the room? Nah." I sit back in my seat. "I'm a loner, and a loner's gotta be alone."

"What kind of shitty movie line is that?" Zennia sits next to me. "If you're an introvert, just say it."

Allice laughs and sits next to Zennia so we’re all side by side.

Not amused, I say, "I thought sitting alone would imply that I'm an introvert. Speaking of being alone, why did you guys leave me outside?"

"I went in to talk to Titus since he seemed to have a lot to do with your case," says Zennia.

"I went because I was curious," says Allice.

"Makes sense." I fold my arms on my desk and put my head down. "Let me know when something happens."

A familiar voice I’m not expecting burns my ears. "Here's something." What sounds like a thick piece of paper lands on my desk. "You've been served."

I look up to see Gina with a shit-eating grin by my side. "What do you want," I say, propping up my elbow and placing my head on my palm as I immediately begin thinking of ways to get her to leave me alone.

"I want to see you suffer, plain and simple." She picks up the manilla envelope she slapped on my desk and plops it down a couple more times. "Court stuff. Including date and..." She looks down and around as if in thought.

I scoffed and say, "You don't remember what's in there, do you?"

"Shut up. All you need to know is that you're gonna get fucked so hard you'll have a new asshole."

Finally thinking of a way to get rid of her, I sarcastically say, "Yeah, sure. Wanna join my harem?"

"What the fuck?" A look of disgust splashes across her face and she looks back and forth at me, Allice, and Zennia. "No- hell no." She turns and leaves at a brisk pace.

"Well, that worked better than I thought." I put my head back down.

"Did you really just say that?" Zennia does not sound impressed.

"What, you wanna join it, too?"

"Oh, so, you weren't insinuating that we were already in it?"

"Ah, well, mhm-maybe." While I think of ways to stay on her good side, she starts rummaging through a duffel bag she carries at her side.

"So, do you really have a harem?" says Allice, brimming with pure curiosity.

"Nope."

"Oh." For some reason, she sounds disappointed.

I look up with a sarcastic smile. "I mean, if you want me to start one, you can be the first member."

"Nope." Now, she sounds offended. "You need at least two other people."

"What?" Shaking off my momentary shock, I say, "Well, there's... Uh... You?"

Allice just shakes her head in disappointment.

"Eh, whatever, I'd rather be alone, anyway." I attempt to put my head down, but Zennia stops me with a heavy stack of paper that she sits on my desk. "Where did this come from?"

"The second draft of our contract. Read it over and let me know what you think by tomorrow. I'll give you my number so you can contact me with your thoughts on it, then, I can write up the final draft and we can sign it so I can represent you in court."

I just look at the stack for a moment then looked at her and say, "Do I have to pay you or anything?"

"No, my services are always free of charge, at least, they are on matters like this. Win or lose."

"Okay, how about I just sign it, then?"

"Unacceptable, it's only a draft. If you're that eager to sign it, I'll have the final document tomorrow."

"That's just a waste of paper."

"No, it's not. This paper is a hundred percent recyclable. All I have to do is dip it into a special solution and all of the ink comes right off so I can use it again."

"Oh, nice." We sit in silence for a moment. "What are we supposed to be doing right now? Isn't this like, a class or something?"

Seemingly bored of being silent, Allice speaks up. "This is extra time before after school stuff where we can study and stuff. Didn't you do stuff like this at your old school?"

"Nah, I went to a public school. After the last class ends, we just get our stuff and go wherever we go after school. We literally couldn't stay and study unless we were in a study group." I nestle my head back into my arms. "I guess I'll just put my head back down, then."

Some time passes and I feel a light tap on my head. I looked up to see Zennia typing something on her desk with her I.D drive docked in and Allice fiddling with a pen that has multiple spinning parts to it and I don’t see Gina anywhere near us, so I figure it’s nothing and put my head back down.

While my head’s down, I overhear a conversation between the two girls next to me about a variety of things that fall into background noise until they arrive at the subject of R.P.G. My ears perk up in hopes of some useful details, but all I get is something about a celebrity who plays it. I don't bother asking about it and just use their chatter to keep myself awake enough to hear the bell ring, which it does eventually.

I sit up and feel something crash into my back. Looking over, I see Zennia rubbing her hand.

"Sorry," she says, "I was going to shake you awake, but I guess that was unnecessary."

"Yeah." I stand quickly and make my way out of the classroom and out the front doors along with a flood of other students. As soon as I’m clear of the dense portion of the crowd by the door, I’m hit with something on the back of my head.

"Forgot something?" Zennia’s standing beside me with an envelope on top of a short stack of paper in her hand.

"Oh, yeah, I forgot about that." I reach for the strap of my bookbag and don't find it. "Uh, oh."

"I figured this was yours." She holds up my bookbag by the top strap in her other hand.

"Wow, thanks, you actually brought my stuff." I take the bag from her and open it while she gingerly places the papers and envelope inside.

"Just don't leave your stuff lying around. Especially when it's this important."

"You mean because you really wanted me to take home that whole 'contract' thing?"

"That, too, shut up." She starts walking ahead of me. "Go home."

"I mean, I was gonna..."

I continue on my predetermined path through the open gate and off to the east corner of the block where I wait for Dad to pick me up. In less than a minute, he drives up with the car in hover mode and pitch-black in color. He rolls down the window and tilts his sunglasses down.

"Mister Gear?" he says.

"Dad, what are you doing?"

"Get in." He presses a button on the dashboard and the passenger door in the back opens sliding upward instead of out like normal.

I don't question it and just hop in like any other day. It’s only just before we drive off that I notice the staggering amount of eyes on us both jealous and impressed.

"How's that for an outro?" Dad sounds proud of himself.

"The episode isn't over yet, Dad."

He has a good chuckle at my remark. "This would be a good show if it was one."

"Then, I guess there's a court episode." I rummage around my book bag, produce the envelope, and wave it around a bit. I have to go to court.

"Wait, what?" Dad sounds less confused than I thought he would. "That was way faster than I thought it would be. What happened?"

"A girl tried to beat me up."

"And you're taking her to court over it? Or is it not that simple?"

"She ended up with a broken hand and bloody nose."

"Damn. I get equal opportunity, but those hands are really indiscriminate, huh?"

"It's not like that- why do you sound impressed?"

"I mean, if you had to go that far, she must have had brass knuckles or a chain or something. A knife?"

"No, she missed me and slammed into a wall and broke it."

"The knife, her hand, or the wall?"

"Hand and wall. She also had a concussion, I think."

"Oof, at least you weren't hit by that."

"Yeah, I guess. I gotta stand trial though."

"You'll be fine."

We’re already home before our conversation was over, and I stepped into the house first. I immediately look around for Mom to tell her about me going to court, but she’s nowhere to be found. Apparently, she’s out gathering local clients for the family business.

After quickly changing into something more comfortable I lie down on my bed and sift through the two pieces of paper in the envelope. One is a list of charges that were placed against me by Gina, most of which are completely invalid. The other is a summary of how court proceedings work at school. It’s all pretty straightforward and mildly interesting in some places.

Out of sheer curiosity and nothing else, I flip through the far too many pages of a contract Zennia gave me and nearly fall asleep. A lot of time staring into the space between me and the document later, Mom knocks on the door and it opens since it wasn't really closed, to begin with.

"How are you doing, David?" She comes and sits at the foot of my bed. "I heard what happened from your dad. Was there anything else? Did you make any friends?"

I proceed to tell her basically how my day went aside from the weirdness that happened in the school basement and she just listens like she always does. At the end of my story, she makes remarks about how the school never changed from how she remembers it and how the people never really do, either.

Dad calls up a little while later about dinner being ready and instead of me going down to eat, Mom goes and makes me a plate, then brings it up to me. It’s regular old macaroni and baked chicken with peas. As soon as I’m done eating, I get seconds then pass out.

14 Şubat 2023 17:11 0 Rapor Yerleştirmek Hikayeyi takip edin
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J.J.J. W I'm just your average writer trying to get my name out there... Well, maybe not average, but I do what I like and odds are, you'd like it too.

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