LI: Sophomore Year #3 – Rags to Rags Part 3

This entry is part 3 of 13 in the series Liedecker Institute Volume 4: The New Kids
“Man, this isn’t how I pictured this day at all.” Zane suddenly broke the silence between himself and Phineas as they made their way down the street to Midnight Black.
 
Phineas made a hollow noise that might have been a snort of he had a nose. “What? Maya? Don’t worry about it, she’s jumpy about everything and everyone until she gets to know them. You’re just lucky Kura and Tammy aren’t back though: those two are really protective of her, especially after that trip they took over spring break.”
 
“What about that guy?”
 
“Eddie?” Phineas shrugged, “Yeah, he likes her, but he’s not going to, like kick your ass over making her nervous. He’d never stop fighting if that was the case. Seriously, it might have looked bad for you, but it wasn’t.”
 
Zane’s eyes dimmed. “Maybe if that wasn’t the worst of it. That other girl, Joy? My voice freaks her out. Like really freaks her out. I hate making people feel like that; it’s why I do the hood and gloves and stuff, but even that’s not enough.”
 
“Dude. Have you even seen me?” asked Phineas with a laugh. “I’m like that evil plant from that old movie that ate people. Only I’ve got arms and legs and glowing eyes. What I’m getting at here is, I’m not going into modeling after high school.”
 
There wasn’t a lot for Zane to say to that. Saying the other boy looked fine would be an obvious lie, but agreeing with him didn’t seem like a good idea either, so he just looked at the ground and kept floating.
 
“What’s cool about this school is, people just… get used to it.” Phineas crossed his arms behind his head and looked up, enjoying the sun on his face. “I don’t really have a girlfriend or anything, but when we have dances, I’m not getting turned down most of the time, you got me?”
 
“That’s not really what I’m talking about.” Zane asserted. “I’m not really looking for a girlfriend. The last one… yeah, I’m not really looking for a girlfriend, I just want friends again. I used to have a lot of friends at my old school and then… well the hood is staying on, okay? Don’t try and talk me out of it.”
 
Phineas raised his hands defensively. “Hey, if The Gnome can keep his stupid hat, I’m not going to give you a hard time about your hood. I’m just saying that maybe you don’t need it.”
 
“Can we talk about something else?” asked Zane, shoving his hands into pockets that weren’t there until he willed them to be.
 
“Sure thing.” said Phineas brightly. Unfolding his arms from behind his head, he made an expansive gesture. “Ask me anything. I am the LI guru.”
 
Zane thought for a moment. “What are classes like? The powers classes, I mean?”
 
“Depends on what you can do.” said Phineas. “You fly—”
 
“Kinda fly. This is about as high up as I go.”
 
A leafy eyebrow raised. “Huh. Well Kura flies slower than she walks, so you might still get into the flight class. They learn to do tricks and stuff so they can fly better. Not all of it’s as cool. I have to take a nutrition class because I don’t eat like everyone else, there’s even a class for the super-strong kids once a week to learn how to not accidentally rip a door of the hinges when they have to leave a room in a hurry or something. ‘Knowing your own strength’ I think they call it.”
 
One of Zane’s eyes widened while the other narrowed, an expression of puzzlement from someone without clear expressions. “So… I’m going to have to take a knitting class or something?”
 
“Huh?”
 
“You didn’t hear when I said it? I control cloth. The floating, how I look, that’s, from one side of my family and from the other…” Zane held out and arm and the tattered sleeve around it frayed into a dozen twisting, edges until re-weaving themselves into a new style of sleeve with a crisp, straight cuff.”
 
That got Phineas to miss a step, almost falling on his face. “Whoa. Never saw that one before.”
 
“I know right?” Zane laughed. “There was never a Knit-man comic as far as I know.”
 
He paused because Phineas had gotten a look in his eye he wasn’t sure he liked. Really, he was having a hard time understanding how he managed to interpret a ‘look’ in the coal-ember eyes of the other boy. All he knew was that the word ‘shenanigans’ was playing in his head like a warning klaxon. “What?”
 
The plant boy stroked his chin. “I’m just thinking there should be.”
 
“There should be a comic called Knit-man?”
 
“Okay, maybe not, but seriously, that’s a pretty cool power.” Phineas started walking again, forcing Zane to float along faster to keep up.
 
“It is?” Zane was having a hard time keeping up. ‘Cool’ was not a word he would use to describe cloth control. ‘Lame’ fit—who controlled cloth? Some searching around on the internet revealed to him that a lot of people had telekinesis that was ‘keyed’ to a specific kind of item or material because that was just what their mind fixated on. What did it say about him that he somehow had cloth on the brain?
 
In the same way Zane had sense mischief from Phineas, Phineas seemed to pick up on his train of thought. “Don’t worry about it; it’s just proof you haven’t had a class with Miss Keyes yet if you don’t think it’s cool. Look at it this way: see everyone around us?”
 
“Yeah…” Some of them were staring, thought not as many as Zane thought there should have been. Proximity to the Institute seemed to have left them desensitized to strange looking people wandering around.
 
“What do they all have in common?” Phineas only gave him a second to respond before cutting in. “Time’s up. Correct answer is: they’re wearing clothes. Everyone. Every single person you meet on the street is wearing at least some kind of clothes. Dude, for you, this is like Alloy finding out everyone in the world started wearing giant suits of armor.”
 
There were indeed a lot of fully clothed people on the street around them; and not a single nudist in sight. At least Phineas had a point there: Zane could use his powers every stitch those people were wearing. “And… what am I supposed to do with that?”
 
Phineas almost stumbled. “Huh. I didn’t think that far ahead. You could make people’s pants fall down.”
 
“I don’t think I want to do that.” said Zane, watching a couple, easily in their eighties, crossing at the crosswalk up ahead.
 
A thorny grin spread across Phineas’s face as he spotted a group of college-aged girls. “Well you could always…”
 
Zane was starting to wonder if he shouldn’t have just gone to his room after all. “I already look creepy and sound creepy. I’d rather not be creepy.”
 
Phineas laughed. “Yeah, guess you’re right. But you probably really should start thinking of stuff because Miss Keyes is going to ask you that kind of stuff right off the bat. She even makes you keep a journal of how you used your powers for a week.”
 
Before Zane could comment on that, Phineas flourished his hands at a row of stores across the street. “Here we are, man: Midnight Black.”
 
***
The first thing Zane noticed was that no one stared. This might have been because they were just used to Liedecker Institute students, or because they were all stared out from the other Liedecker Institute student already there.
 
It wasn’t that she looked strange; just another athletic looking blonde girl who Zane wouldn’t hesitate to call pretty. She was sitting in the booth; legs up on the seat and crossed over one another; reading from a tablet like any other coffee house patron might. Most patrons wouldn’t be attended by flying objects wrapped in auras of purple energy.
 
As Zane watched, three sugar packets tore open and emptied themselves into a coffee cup. The coffee then glowed purple itself and began swirling into itself at high speed until the sugar was mixed in. Meanwhile, napkins dislodged themselves from their dispenser and flew to the table. Shortly after them, a plastic knife lifted out of a bin of plastic utensils and flew with perfect accuracy, slicing a bran muffin set in front of the girl in two.
 
“Now that’s a cool power.” Zane said before he could think better of it. Frankly, he couldn’t understand why people were applauding after seeing that trick.
 
“Really?” Phineas asked as if he saw that kind of thing every day—which, of course, he had, “That’s just TK.”
 
“You don’t have TK.” Zane pointed out.
 
Phineas shrugged, “Yeah, but—”
 
“I don’t have TK.”
 
“Actually, you kinda do.”
 
That caused Zane to draw up short. “Oh. Well I couldn’t do any of that. I have to touch stuff to control it.”
 
His explanation might as well have been incoherent babbling, because Phineas’s attention had drifted elsewhere—or rather back to the blonde telekinetic. “Hey, Tantrum.” He said, sidling up to the girl’s booth and waggling his leafy eyebrows.
 
The girl looked up with murderous intent in her eyes and muttered something in French.
 
Zane got out his palmtop. While he’d never officially been n the scouts (thanks to an allergy-riddled childhood), he was still a fan of being prepared for anything. Upon learning that he was going to be moving to a major metropolitan area like Mayfield, one of the first new programs he got for his palmtop was the top-of-the-line universal translator, the kind major police forces and the US military used.
 
“Phineas.” The dark haired woman working behind the counter looked up, a motherly glare fixed on the plant boy. “Stop harassing Annette.”
 
The plant boy held up his hand defensively. “Aw, I wasn’t harassing her, Lucy; I just wanted her to meet our new classmate.”
 
The girl, Annette, flexed one hand into a fist and said something else in French.
 
Zane’s translator converted her words to text, which he dutifully read out loud without thinking. “I know exactly what you are doing, you pervert.”
 
“No, I’m serious—hey! Pervert?”
 
“Well you were the one who wanted me to use my powers on those girls’ clothes.” Zane grinned within the confines of his hood.
 
A few of the other patrons, who no doubt knew Phineas’s antics well, chuckled, as did the woman, Lucy. Phineas, however, didn’t see the humor in it. “It was a joke. And—hey; how did you know what she said?”
 
In answer, Zane held up his palmtop. “Universal translator.” his eyes winked as he mulled over a question, “Dude, if she only speaks French, and you want to talk to her, why don’t you have one on your palmtop already?”
 
“Because ‘she’ does not only speak the French.” said Annette huffily. “I just do not like English.” After a moment of hesitation, she added, “They have translators? Why did no one tell me? A year of frustration and there is a computer that can fix it?”
 
A Hallelujah chorus started up on Zane’s head. After a day that had done serious damage to his self confidence, he finally had a chance to at least prove his competence to someone. “Yeah, sure. I’ve got plenty of credits with this store—I can send you a copy.” As an afterthought, he added, “I’m Zane by the way. Zane Springfield.”
 
Annette cocked her head to the side curiously. “I am Annette St. John. People call me ‘Tantrum’ because they are… merde.”
 
The translation Zane got back from his translator made him chuckle. “Well I promise just to call you Annette. You can call me Ragamuffin if you want. It’s like a codename, you know, because of the…” He picked at his tattered outer clothing.
 
She evidently didn’t know, because she leaned closer as if that would reveal more about him to her. “You dress like this because… why?”
 
“It’s best for everyone.” Zane said quickly. He looked over to find that Phineas had slipped over to the counter and was ordering a drink. When he was sure the other young man wasn’t going to argue it, he added, “You do not want to see.”
 
People reacted to the revelation in a number of ways. The truly stupid would get curious and try to rip his hood off, immediately learning their folly and probably needed therapy for months afterward. Most people were sympathetic or offered tired cliches like how it was what was inside that counted. A few tried to guilt him into revealing his face—that was how he’d lost his first and only girlfriend; she just couldn’t take it no matter how much she promised she could.
 
No one had laughed in his face over it until Annette St. John.
 
His eyes dimmed as he sensed another lecture that his looks wouldn’t matter at the Institute. Despite his better judgment, he asked, “What?”
 
Annette laughed for almost a full minute more before finishing with a sigh. “You are like Betty: always about who is ugly and who is strange. What is the point of ugly and strange for us, yes? I think it is more important that people not be stupid.” She turned a glare at Phineas, who looked appropriately affronted at the accusation.
 
“You… so far are not stupid. So what does it matter? You are at least smart enough to have the hood.”
 
“Thank you!” Zane said with at little too much enthusiasm. He’d really had enough of people pretending he’d be better off with his hood off. None of them understood and the only way to make them understand would be to show them—and that was not on the menu.
 
Annette smirked with a certain cockiness, proud that someone finally appreciated her wisdom. Betty, she imagined, would dwell on it and rub it in the new boy’s face. No, she realized; actually Betty wouldn’t have bothered talking to the guy beyond making fun of his weird clothes and voice.
 
What she’d told him was true though: she wasn’t like Betty. Stupidity had shaped Annette’s life for as long as she could remember: A stupid country that turned on her because she was born with powers. Stupid Arceneaux thinking she was just another ‘troubled teen’ who needed to be mothered. Stupid ‘Alice’, who was now ‘Miss Carroll’, thinking she could bully her into being a good girl. Her stupid classmates who called her Tantrum and played pranks on her because Betty was mean to them.
 
If people just treated her pleasantly or even just left her the hell alone, she wouldn’t hate most of them so much.
 
Of course, they didn’t; and with so much to hate, she just couldn’t find it in herself to dislike someone for the reasons Betty invented like looks, clothes, powers or ho much money they had.
 
“So.” She said at length, “You said you can give me this translator?”
 
Zane’s eyes glowed more brightly, yet somehow still didn’t illuminate the face they were set in. “Sure! Let me just synch up to your tablet… unless you want it on your palmtop, you choice really…”
 
***
Phineas pouted a little as he watched Zane talking to Annette without her once insulting him in French or threatening telekinetic violence.
 
“Tell me something.” the last customers on line had been seen to and Lucy came over to where he was sitting at the counter, sliding a paper plate with half a brownie on it over to him. She was always giving the Institute kids little treats, both because they were regular customers and because she liked them. “Do you actually like her and this is pulling her pigtails or…”
 
“Who Tantrum” Phineas did his version of a snort and picked up the brownie, “Thanks.”
 
“You’re welcome.”
 
He took a bite. “Not really. She’s just fun to tweak.”
 
Lucy noticed that he still didn’t take his eyes off them. “Whatever you say, Finny.”
 
That got his attention, if only long enough to glare at her good-naturedly. After a moment though, he looked back to where Zane had slid into the booth across from Annette so he could show her how to use the new program. “Eh, whatever. The guy’s had a bad enough day without me being a jerk about a girl that hates me.”
 
He popped the last of the brownie into his mouth, “Besides, he hasn’t even met Kura or Betty yet. Let him have the win while he can.”
 
To Be Continued…
Series Navigation<< LI: Sophomore Year #2 – Rags to Rags Part 2LI: Sophomore Year #4 – Rags to Rags Part 4 >>

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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4 Comments

    • I have not. Looks pretty cool, though I’m not sure when I’ll get to see it with my awful, slow internet.

  1. Really been enjoying these characters!

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