- 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 #5 – Rags to Rags Part 5
Zane drew back his left arm and his sleeve started to unravel. Or rather, several layers of sleeves began tin unravel. By color of cloth along, Ms. Keyes counted at least six different garments coming undone and the young man’s arm still remained covered.
It also didn’t escape her notice that with so many layers shed, Zane’s arms were frightfully thin. His medical records hinted at as much, but it was still jarring for the teacher to see in person. All of her traditional training was practically shouting at her to child services, protomorph or no.
The threads that formerly made up his sleeves wove themselves into thick cords that in turn partially braided into a rope three times as thick as Zane’s arm, ending in a frayed end where five cords did a fair imitation of a hand if hands didn’t have bones in them. When Zane reached forward, the cloth-hand mimicked the motion, stretching and uncoiling across the length of the room they were using for Zane’s first powers class.
With perfect dexterity, the cloth-hand—or super-sleeve, as Zane insisted on calling it—closed over and picked up a medicine ball from among a collection of other balls, ranging from golf balls to basketballs to bowling balls. Zane hadn’t even bothered working his way up; he just went for the heaviest in the set with complete confidence.
“Is this good?” He asked, eyes shining hopefully under the hood. Turning his empty hand, he bounced it up and down, which caused the super-sleeve to toss and catch the medicine ball.
Ms. Keyes smiled and made a note on her tablet. “Very good, Zane. You don’t have any problems using your powers at all?”
“Like, is it hard to? Or like… am I freaked out by it?”
Zane shrugged, almost dropping the medicine ball in his inattention. “I practice, so I’m pretty good with the sleeves, taking stuff apart, or putting it together. Heehee… it’s a good thing too, otherwise laundry day would suck, the way I wear out stuff just by wearing it.”
“And the other?”
For a moment, Zane’s eyes dimmed. “The cloth thing’s never been a problem. It’s not useful, but it’s not a problem. Usually the problem is the protomorph thing: the voice, the glowy eyes, the cold skin…”
Something else from the medical files: Zane’s core temperature was normal, but the surface of his skin was consistently ten to twelve degrees below room temperature.
“…and my dad keeps telling me that’s not my problem, that’s other people’s problem.” Zane continued, voice getting excited, “Thing is, I don’t think he gets that it’s their problem with me, so it still kind of is my problem. Oh, and then there’s the floating. Floating kind of sucks if you can’t turn it off.”
He withdrew his sleeve, reforming the fabric over his arms, then spread said arms out and flapped like a small child imitating a bird. He only gained a few more inches off the ground. “I can’t even jump, ’cause I can’t touch the ground. I’ve got the only flight power that’s actually worse than jumping.”
A moment later, he seemed to notice he was ranting. His eyes dimmed and he sheepishly lowered his head, putting his hands behind his back. “Uh… sorry. I didn’t mean to go off like that…”
“It’s perfectly fine, Zane.” Ms. Keyes said gently. “I want you to know that you can be upset of excited about your powers as you like here. It’s my job to take that and if I can’t help you improve on it, at least help you live with it.” She made a few more notes on her tablet. “Over the next few weeks, you’ll work on things like seeing if we can get you flying better or landing as the case might be. For today though….”
She tapped a finger to her chin. “I wonder if I can’t help you get more mileage out of the cloth control. Can your er… super-sleeves be something other than hands?”
Even when the eyes giving it were just white lights in shadow, Ms. Keyes knew a dull look when she saw one. “Like what?” Zane asked.
Ms. Keyes gestured to the assorted balls littered about the room to test the manual dexterity and strength of his cloth-based telekinesis. “How about a scoop? Let’s see how many of those you can pick up with just one sleeve and no fingers.”
“No fingers?” Zane asked, looking down at his arm as if to ask it if that was possible. When he got no answer, he shrugged and held out his right arm, unraveling and rearranging the cloth of his sleeve. At first, he telekinetic equivalent of muscle memory led to the strands starting to braid together into chords, but he caught himself and started weaving it into a cloth pouch, like a less rigid version of the business end of a lacrosse stick.
‘Less rigid’ proved to be the problem. As moment he swept the scoop down to pick up a ball, the structure folded and collapsed. After three more attempts failed, Zane’s eyes flashed. “Oh come on! This should not be this hard to make a scoop!”
“Actually, it makes sense.” said Ms. Keyes.
Zane looked over at her, tilting his head curiously. “How’s that?”
“You’ll learn more about it further down the road,” she promised, “But the short answer is that the brain is kind of lazy. Once it knows how to do things one way, it’s actually more difficult to do things in another way. You’re used to making a hand and having your sleeves do what your hands do. Try and cup your hand when you make and use your scoop.”
Not really understanding why he was doing it, Zane followed the teacher’s instructions and formed the scoop shape again. It was shaky and he had trouble aiming it, but this time, he did manage to catch up a basketball.
Ms. Keyes smiled and made another note. “That’s very good, Zane. Eventually, you won’t even need to move your arms at all to do this sort of thing. In fact, you’ll be amazed at what you can do by the end of your career here.”
Lunch on his first actual school day at the Institute was something Zane had been both anxious about and looking forward to it.
He always liked lunch. Back in his old school, before his powers manifested, he hardly ever sat at the same table twice because he had so many friends in so many different groups. He hadn’t been the most popular kid in school, but he might have been the most widely popular one.
Over the weekend, everyone just kind of grazed; wandering down to the cafeteria, using the common room kitchen, or eating out. Zane had eaten with Phineas, his friend, Phil ‘Packrat’ Simms and, surprisingly, Eddie Argent (who didn’t seem to harbor any hard feelings about Zane’s initial meeting with Maya and was polite enough not to bring it up) a few times, brunched with Annette at Midnight Black Sunday, and eaten an early breakfast by himself three days in a row.
Now though, there were two lunch periods, half the student body was in the cafeteria, and the social dynamics had changed.
Annette was eating with Betty Sinclair and her other friends ad he knew from just casual discussion with her that he wouldn’t be welcome there. Phineas and Phil (Eddie was on second lunch period) were eating with a group the included Maya, and the moment Zane entered the room, she seemed to zero in on him and shrink a bit. The little fire creature, Soot, however, hopped up on her shoulder and waved one of its fiery little appendages at him.
Thinking it was best to pretend her hadn’t even seen that, Zane just moved to the lunch line. He could worry about where to sit after he’d gotten his food. As Ms. Keyes’s homework for him was to use his powers in new ways for the day and keep a record, he snagged his tray and utensils with cloth cords.
He skipped the buffet-style line where the day’s offerings were grilled chicken, various vegetables, and three varieties of soup (cream of potato, chicken and sausage gumbo, and vegetarian noodle being the soups of the day), in addition to unrecognizable offerings labeled for certain special diets some of his fellow students had. Instead, he made his way over to the self-service sandwich bar and constructed thick specimen with turkey, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and avocado. This was supplemented with a banana and a bottle of lemon-lime soda. He also snagged an apple and made it disappear into a fold in his cloak for later.
Lunch in hand, he turned back to the seating area and his earlier conundrum.
He still didn’t know more than a handful of people there, truth be told, and first lunch period had most of the Juniors and Seniors in it to boot. The glass doors at the back of the room offered the chance to go eat outside, but Zane didn’t really like eating outside: too many bugs wanted his food just as much as he did.
“I know that look…even though I can just see your eyes.” a voice behind him jolted Zane out of his thoughts. He turned to find Sheila Flaherty. She was balancing her tray on one arm while picking over the offerings of fruit with her free hand. “New kid, first day of school, you don’t now where to sit, right?”
“Um…” He didn’t really want to admit it. It would be like a bird admitting it had forgotten how to fly.
Sheila finally decided on some grapes and added them to her tray. Looking back toward Zane, she suddenly grinned, her eyes fixed on the tiny speaker clipped to a fold of cloth just under his chin. “So how’s the noise-canceller working for you?”
“Pretty good. People don’t…” Zane trailed off as something failed to click. “Wait. How did you know about that?” Anger didn’t seem appropriate and it took a lot to get him there in the worst of circumstances, so he settled for honest confusion.
She shrugged, fluffing her wings. “Who do you think told Ms. Keyes about your problem in the first place?”
“Um… thanks?” It wasn’t that he wasn’t grateful—he was really, really grateful and kind of wanted to hug her, actually—but that didn’t actually answer his question.
Sheila seemed to understand this, as she continued. “Joy was pretty upset after she finished your tour.” Zane’s eyes dimmed with shame. “She thought there was something wrong with her and she felt really bad because it made you feel bad… She’s a sweet kid, really. Anyway, after she told me and Jada all about it, I talked to Steampunk and put two and two together.”
“And you told Ms. Keyes?” Zane asked. Nothing good ever came of reporting things to teachers in his old school, but once again, the Liedecker Institute had defied his expectations.
“Of course I did.” said Sheila. “That’s the point of this place, right? Not that I have any problems with my own powers besides assholes trying to kidnap me but I still get it: sometimes a person’s power can cause trouble.”
Zane started to nod, but paused. “Kidnapping?”
Sheila motioned for him to walk (or float) with her as she headed for the glass doors. “Good for you if you’ve never run into that fun little part of being a descendant. You’ve heard about the Academy right?”
“Oh.” He had indeed. “So you went there? You were one of those kids?”
“Nope. I applied there, but lucky for me, the shit hit the fan for them before I was accepted. Not so lucky: they weren’t the only ones. For a while there, there were fake schools all over the place. Even if they weren’t looking to perform tests on you, they had shit for classes and just wanted to steal your parent’s money. And then there were the guys that came after me. No school, no fakes, they just pulled up in a van and chloroformed me.”
Zane’s eyes flared. “Whoa. Seriously?”
“Seriously.” Shelia said, her tone grave as they passed out of the cafeteria and into the warm sunlight. “They had me locked up in this shack in the wilderness trying to decide who was the highest bidder until the marines came in and bid ‘lots of taser bullets’.”
Eyes dimming, Zane fidgeted in the air. “I’m sorry to hear that happened to you.”
“It’s fine. I’m mostly over it.” She headed toward a tree on the quad, under which Jada Devos was sitting and talking with two girls Zane hadn’t seen before. “Besides, that’s not the worst story you’ll hear here. Steampunk apparently grew up in a lab, and if you believe Kura, she, Maya, Tammy, Steampunk and Olivia got chased down by guys with guns over spring break.”
Zane shivered. He knew about the Academy, but not the rest. It sort of put losing his popularity, cat and girlfriend into perspective when other teens were being taken off the street or actively hunted down. All he could think to say was, “Seriously?”
“Seriously.” Sheila confirmed. “That’s why I volunteer for Descendants Rights Worldwide. No matter how old we are, someone’s got to stand up for us and make that kind of stuff stop. But we can talk about that later if you want. Seeing as you didn’t seem able to make up your mind who to eat with, why don’t you eat with us today?”
“Thanks.” Zane says, feeling some stress draining out of his shoulders. “Er… but aren’t you Juniors?” The division between upper- and lowerclassmen had been fairly solid in his old school.
“Just me and Jada. Rita there’s a Sophomore like you and Virginia’s a frosh.”
“Freshman. We’re all in Choir class together. Actually, we’re the entire LI choir, minus one.” By then, they had reach the shade of the tree, where simply being in shadow seemed to shave ten degrees off the temperature. Sheila stopped a few steps from the other girls and waved. “Hey ladies. Anyone mind if we have one more for lunch?”
Jada gestured broadly to the empty ground. “I think we’ve got space. Zane, right?”
Zane waited for Sheila to take a seat on the ground before he did his best approximation of the same, winding up floating gently above the ground. “Yeah, Zane Springfield.” He looked to the other two girls. “Nice to meet you.”
Neither girl had anything about them that hinted at their powers. The one nearest to him had blonde hair in a buzz cut and a skinny frame she hid with a long gray jacket despite the heat. She was pink-pale with freckles that got more dense across her nose and had wise, curious blue eyes. The other was her opposite: dark skinned with long, curly hair and her brown eyes remained hooded to match her laid back expression.
The darker girl raised one hand from where it rested on her knee to throw him a quick wave. “You too, Zane. I’m Rita Clay Thomas.” Her voice was rich and melodious, leaving Zane no doubts that she deserved a place on any choir she wanted to be part of.
“Virginia Russo.” The blonde said, her eyes locked onto Zane’s. There might have been a musical quality to her voice too, but he couldn’t tell because it was so broken up with nerves on top of being rushed and quiet. He also didn’t quite like the way she was looking at him. Before his change, he would have interpreted any eye contact as a girl being interested in him, but with Virginia, it was more like she was afraid to break eye contact.
Before he could venture any further down that train of thought, Sheila patted him on the shoulder, making him jump. “Ginny’s not really used to other descendants,” she explained.
“Sorry… for staring.” Virginia shifted her glance to the ground.
Zane shrugged. “It’s okay. I’ve been going around with my jaw dropped at all the powers her myself.” He coughed self-consciously. “So, you guys are the choir, huh? I didn’t even know this school had one.”
A smirk played on Jada’s lips. “There wasn’t until this year. If you want a class here, apparently all you have to do is ask and have enough other people who want to take it. Sort of like clubs in a regular school.”
“That’s pretty cool. So are you guys going to do competitions or anything? I mean… can you? I don’t imagine that our…” He thought back to his class earlier and how easy it was for him to toss balls around at range with this super-sleeves, “…basketball team would get to play against other teams in competition.”
“Probably not.” Rita admitted and Zane thought he saw a rainbow-colored shimmer in the air around her. “But we are going to get to put on shows. That’s going to be a lot of fun.” She gave him a thoughtful look, “And we don’t have a basketball team… yet. Do you play?”
Zane picked up and contemplated his sandwich sheepishly. “Heehee. Third string at my old school. I was almost first towel boy though…” He raveled and unraveled a layer of one sleeve, “I’d kick ass at that now. Anyway, I was just thinking how much better I would be at it now.”
“Then maybe it’s time we get a team. Actually, we had a pretty amazing game of baseball last winter—let’s see if we can get a pick-up game going after classes today? All powers allowed.”
The glow of Zane’s eyes brightened. “All powers allowed? Sweet!” This was going to be his best homework assignment ever.
To Be Continued…
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