- LI: Sophomore Year #1 – Rags to Rags Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #2 – Rags to Rags Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #3 – Rags to Rags Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #4 – Rags to Rags Part 4
- LI: Sophomore Year #5 – Rags to Rags Part 5
- LI: Sophomore Year #6 – Rags to Rags Part 6
- LI: Sophomore Year #7 – Gnome and Goo Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #8 – Gnome and Goo Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #9 – Gnome and Goo Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #10 – Gnome and Goo Part 4
- LI: Sophomore Year #11 – Gnome and Goo Part 5
- LI: Sophomore Year #12 – Gnome and Goo Part 6
- Liedecker Institute Annual #4
LI: Sophomore Year #4 – Rags to Rags Part 4
It was cloudy the next morning, so the sky was only just lightening around seven when Zane glanced out his window.
He’s already been up for hours. Thanks to his mother’s protomorphic genes, he only slept four hours a night before waking and staying up for a week straight more than once suggested to him that he didn’t actually need that.
For the extra wakeful hours, his palmtop and its projector peripheral were his constant companion. With his Quintessence TV Throwback account, he’d taken an interest in early television; black and white shows about too-perfect families that had to be parodies, cheesy cartoons about groups of teenagers who solved mysteries and police dramas about square-jawed, no-nonsense detectives.
Noticing the sun making its appearance, however, reminded him of breakfast. He’d missed the dinner served at the institute’s cafeteria thanks to all the time he’d spent talking to Annette and later letting Phineas show him around some of the other popular spots around campus, resulting in his first real meal at the school being a microwaveable pizza from the common room kitchen.
He paused the current show he was watching. It was one of the ‘mystery-solving teens’ variety, starring, for some reason, a revolutionary war era ghost. A few taps on his palmtop threw up the Institute’s Student Life website on the fifty-five inch projection on his wall and a few more brought up the kitchen’s schedule and menu.
“Mmm.” He said to himself, imagining his stomach rumbling, “A custom pancake bar. Chocolate chip and banana pancakes with peanut butter batter? Yes, please.” The schedule said the cafeteria started serving at seven, so he got up immediately, only to pause and give a fretful look toward the other door to his room.
Even though he had a single room, he still shared a bathroom. He hadn’t met his suitemates, Davian Hightower and Jacob Alexander, but he had heard nice things about the later from Phineas, who had been his roommate the year before. No matter how nice they were though, Zane could only cringe at the idea of one of them walking in on him in the shower.
Not naked, just… without his hood and protective layer of clothes. The shower was the only place he couldn’t keep completely covered.
Visions of one of them seeing and then the grotesque tale working its way through the rumor mill played over and over again in his mind on a much larger screen than his projector could fill.
At length, he shook it off and gathered up everything he needed, which included a fresh pair of gloves, sweatpants and hood as well a miscellaneous clean t-shirts that would eventually make up his day’s outfit in addition to regular toiletries.
When he got into the bathroom, he triple-checked that the door was locked before shedding his layers of cloth. Even with the door secured, he showered quickly and swaddled himself back up within ten minutes. His old rags went into the hamper—they would have to repaired with his powers before he took them down to the laundry room.
By the time he got back to his room and replaced his fears of being seen uncovered, there was a message icon blinking on his palmtop’s screen.
Zane took the device out of the projector’s cradle and checked his mailbox.
The message was from Alexis Keyes and asked him to come to her office anytime between when he had breakfast and noon.
He stared at the message a minute. “Isn’t it Saturday?” A quick check of his calendar confirmed that this was the case, making him groan. “Aw man. I hope this doesn’t mean I’m going to have power classes ever Saturday.”
Briefly, he considered heading off the breakfast first as he’d planned, but then he remembered what Phineas had said about Ms. Keyes’s powers classes. The idea of finding something useful to do with his powers and maybe turning off some of the more annoying ones 9lying down was a pain when one was constantly an inch above the mattress) appealed to him even more than a huge stack of pancakes.
Five minutes later, Zane found himself knocking on the frame of the open door to Ms. Keyes’s office. “Uh… you wanted to see me?”
Ms. Keyes was at her desk, reading something off her computer’s holographic display. She looked up, mildly surprised by the interruption. “Zane.” She started closing down whatever she’d been working on, “I didn’t expect you to come up here so early. Good morning.”
Zane hovered in the doorway, unsure of if she wanted him to explain himself or not. “Good morning to you too.” he replied, masking his uncertainty with eagerness.
Task done, Ms. Keyes motioned to him. “Come on in and have a seat, please.”
“Actually, do you mind if I just float?” He closed the door behind him and came to hover between the two chairs arranged to face the desk.
Ms. Keyes smiled at him. “That’s fine. And there’s no reason to be nervous—you’re not in trouble or anything. How was your first day here?”
It hadn’t even crossed him mind that he might have been in trouble, but he found himself wondering why she felt the need to point it out like that. He rubbed the back of his hooded head. “Pretty good. I think I made some friends and my room is way nicer than I’ve ever had before. I missed dinner though…”
“Anything you didn’t like?”
Zane couldn’t help it; his eyes narrowed to glowing slits before widening. “You… heard, huh?”
“One of the other students noticed that you have some… difficulties with your powers and since that’s my department around here, they sent me a message asking if I can help.” Ms. Keyes chuckled at his eyes widening more. “I think you’ll find that you’ve made more friends than you thought.”
For a moment, he considered asking who sent the message, but decided that the teacher left that out for a reason. Instead, he folded his legs under him and floated in a sitting position in front of the desk. “That’s pretty much why I came as soon as I got the message, ma’am. You probably hear it all the times, but, well, my powers are weird and sometimes it’s not the good kind of weird. My voice scares people, and I’m all cold to the touch—and the cloth control thing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
“It’s not like I’m ashamed or anything. I was jealous when I heard about this guy in my town that turned out to be a descendant and became this fish dude—but it’s just… just…”
“I understand, Zane.” Ms. Keyes said quietly.
He looked up at her. She looked normal enough; just a black haired woman in glasses with her hair pulled back. Nothing about her glowed, or extended spikes, or was on fire. Not all descendants were overt, obviously, but the mere fact that she wasn’t didn’t fill him with confidence that she actually understood what was going on with him.
She must have figured out what he was thinking, because she continued: “Not personally, but I’ve worked with students in your shoes for years now. Even if you’re comfortable being who you are, sometimes you feel like your powers get in the way of that, right?”
So many lost friends, lost opportunities. The yearly back-to-school bash held by Zack Bowder’s parents. Summer at the lake with his best friends. His own cat. Emily… Zane found himself nodding.
“What we’re hoping to teach you here, among other things, is that your powers aren’t in the way: they’re just another part of what makes you who you are. You can’t be afraid of them, or annoyed by them…” She glanced away, “And you can’t pretend they don’t exist. They’re you and while they might make your life harder now, it’s my job to teach you how to make them work for you, to make your life, and maybe the lives of others, better.”
The way she talked made Zane think she knew what she was talking about. All the same… “Maybe the cloth control thing, but I’m not seeing a lot for you to work with when it comes to the boogeyman thing, ma’am.”
Ms. Keyes only chuckled. “Well Zane, how about you just give me a chance to try? I’m sure I’ll be able to do a lot more than you suspect.”
A sudden, horrifying thought occurred to him. “You’re not going to ask me to take off my hood, are you?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to do, or that makes you uncomfortable. What I hope is that by the end of your time here, you’ll want to take it off yourself.
“That’s not gonna happen, ma’am. No offense, but one of the first times I showed the new me, I got puked on.” For once, he was thankful for his unique and horrid voice if only because it disguised the remembered hurt in his tone.
Ms. Keyes was quiet for a moment before speaking again. “That won’t happen here, Zane. But if that bothers you, or you need to talk about it, I and the rest of the staff are here. We also have a psychologist who comes on Thursdays; you can make an appointment to see her if you’d like.”
Zane’s eyes dimmed and he rubbed his shoulder absently. “It’s not that bad, ma’am. I’m actually kinda sure things are gonna be a lot better here than at my old school. I only had a little trouble, and as long as I figure out who not to talk to, I’ll be okay.”
The teacher surprised Zane by offering a soft smile instead of the look of concern he’d been expecting. “You’re not talking about not talking to people who are picking a fight, are you?”
He rubbed his shoulder again, wondering how she knew that. “Well… no.” While she didn’t prod him for more information, the silence that settled in after he spoke did just as surely as if she had. “See, it’s my voice. I’ve got this creepy bug-buzz going on that this girl, Alice says is like an ‘I’m gonna eat you’ frequency or something. It kinda freaked out these two girls…”
“Yeah, Joy and Maya. I think. I only heard their names a couple of times.”
At this revelation, Ms. Keyes lapsed into her own thoughts, sitting back and the seat and stroking the side of her jaw with a finger while the rest of her hand held up her chin. “Hmm…Well after we heard about you problem yesterday, it was pretty obvious what the issue with Joy was. Sound frequencies have odd biological effects on people even before the differences the being a protomorph brings to the table. Joy’s hearing is more sensitive than the non-descendants upper limits and her nervous system is different as well—those wings and ears aren’t just decoration after all.”
Zane just nodded, eyes remaining dim. “I kind of figured. So you get why I can’t talk to her. Which sucks because she was really nice to me and all I did was freak her out the whole time.”
The Ms. Keyes smiled at that made him cringe. “Um… I’m pretty sure that’s not a good thing, Ms. Keyes.”
“Oh, of course not.” she replied, pulling open a drawer in her desk. Something rattled inside as she rooted through it. “But what is good is that it can be fixed. Remember hat I said about giving me a chance to help make things better for you?”
“What side adapter ports does your palmtop have, Zane?”
Ms. Keyes continued rattling things around in her desk, searching intently. “Your peripheral port on your palmtop. Sorry to have to deal with this in a wired kind of way, but we only have a few hours to come up with a solution after getting the message.”
“A solution to…” And then it clicked. Zane bit off the question because it would have only prolonged his wait. “It’s got 305E ports, but I’ve got a universal adapter that snaps on, so whatever’s fine as long as it’s not, some ancient USB ‘D’ connector or something.”
“Luckily enough, I have a 305E.” said Ms. Keyes, coming up with a slim piece of black ceramic with a metal node in the middle. She put it on the desk, then turned her chair around to grab her purse off of the long, narrow table behind her. The search in that didn’t take nearly as long and she came up with a small device with a thin wire trailing from it.
Zane leaned forward to examine it as Ms. Keyes snapped the trailing wire into place on the connector. “A clip-on mic? Are we going to make a movie?”
Ms. Keyes laughed again, brighter and more openly jovial this time. “No Zane, I leave that to the theater class.”
“Sweet, ’cause I signed up for that. I take movies with my palmtop all the time.” He paused, “Wait, but if it’ not a mic, what is it?”
“It is a microphone, Zane, but it’s also a speaker. And it’s loaded with the same kind of software that you might find in noise-cancelling headphones.” She gave him a thoughtful look. “Seeing as your father is a software engineer and you seem interested in tech, can you see where I’m going with this?”
He looked over the device thoughtfully and went over the situation in his head. His problem (one of them anyway) was that his voice scared some people. Ms. Keyes’s fix for that was a noise-canceling speaker with a lapel clip…
“Oh. Oooooh!” His eyes glowed so brightly that it seemed to Ms. Brant that she should have been able to she his face under the hood. “Because there’s a frequency in my voice that creeps people out, this will cancel that part out—and I’ll just sound weird instead of skin-crawly!”
Pride practically poured out of Ms. Brant’s expression. “Not the way I would have put it, but that’s the idea. Eventually, I’ll work up some exercises you can do to stop that frequency naturally, but for now, that should solve your problems with Joy.”
“But not, Maya?” Zane didn’t take his eyes off the noise-canceller in case it turned out to be a dream and disappeared in a puff of dislogic.
“I’m going to tell the truth here and say that I’m not sure why Maya would have been bothered by you.” Ms. Brant admitted. “She’s fairly shy and a bit skittish around new people, but I don’t know why she would be scared of someone. It might be the same issue that bothers Joy and we just never knew she was sensitive to it. I will have a talk with her about it though and see what we can do.”
Zane’s eyes squinted and twinkled happily. “Thanks, Ms. Keyes. I really appreciate that—and this.” He indicated the noise-canceller. “Can I really take this?”
“Of course. It’s yours now.” said Ms. Keyes. “Before I let you go, I did want to ask you a question about your powers and control class.”
He blinked, caught in the middle of clipping the machine to his cloak. “Ask me some questions? Shouldn’t I be asking you?”
“My belief is that powers are so personal that you should have the lead in what direction you develop them.” Ms. Keyes said, leaning forward to clasp her fingers on the desk before her. “So that’s my primary question: my class is meant to help you get better control of and then learn how to better use your powers—where do you want to go with that?”
Zane shrugged as he plugged his new toy into his palmtop and approved the necessary programs to be installed from it. “I was kinda hoping you had some ideas, actually. I’d like to be able to land so I can lie down in bed again, but besides that…” He held up his free hand and unraveled his outermost sleeve, letting the strands of cloth wave in the air. “I’m not sure if I’ve got much to work with.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” Ms. Brant said. She tilted her head as she watched the cloth moving under his control. “We’ll have to see the full extent of what you can do, but all various forms of material-specific telekinesis are more flexible than most users think—you just have to consider what you have to work with.
“You really think I can do something cool with it? Er… I mean useful?” Zane withdrew the cloth threads and caused them to restitch themselves into a sleeve.
Ms. Brant laughed and nodded. “Most definitely. You already have incredible control with barely any concentration. Tell you what: you seem like an early riser, so why don’t I schedule your classes for first period on Monday, Wednesday and Friday?”
Taking a moment to make sure the noise-canceller was running, Zane looked up with glowing eyes and said, “That sounds great! Thanks, Miss K! I mean, Ms. Keyes.”
Again, she laughed. “Miss K is fine. Though…” She waved her hand, which was adorned with a ring. “I’ll be Miss S—probably before the end of the school year.”
He nodded. “Cool. Well, thanks for everything. If this works, you have no idea how much better this is going to make my time here—maybe I can get another cat over the summer too!”
“You’re very welcome, Zane. I’ll see you Monday morning. Sorry I dragged you inhere before breakfast.”
Dropping his legs so that he was floating upright again, Zane bopped with renewed energy. “Totally worth it, Miss K! Thanks again!” And with that, he swept out of the room.
Alexis Keyes smiled after him. “I have the best job.” She said to herself.
With a wave of her hand, she switched the holographic display on her computer back on. She had a message to send to Sheila. As far as Alexis knew, Sheila didn’t even know Joy that well, let alone Zane. And yet, she’d done an impressive bit of amateur sleuthing to get to the bottom of the younger girl’s odd behavior concerning Zane.
Somehow, she needed to find a way to reward the sophomore, because that was the kind of behavior the institute needed more of.
While she was composing that message, she also sent one to Laurel Brant, her best friend and fellow staffer at the school, telling her that they needed to get a wireless version if Zane’s noise-canceller put together by Monday.
Not bad, she thought, considering school hadn’t even officially started.
To Be Continued…
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