LI: Sophomore Year #6 – Rags to Rags Part 6

This entry is part 6 of 13 in the series Liedecker Institute Volume 4: The New Kids
“I don’t know what I expected, but besides Ms. Keyes’s class, it’s pretty… normal.” Zane was talking to his father on his palmtop. The final class of the day was over and he was headed out across the quad to the gym in hopes of starting a pick-up game of basketball.
“History, Calculus, Programming… just regular high school stuff.” He said.
On the other end of the line, his father laughed. “Not everything can be superpowers and high tech. Do you like your teachers?”
“They’re pretty nice… mostly. Dr. Kingsbury kind of has a stick up his butt, but Ms. Keyes is great, and Mr. Willowsbee. Ms. Duvall, the programming teacher said I was ‘impressive’ with my commenting style.”
“That’s my boy. How about the other kids?”
Zane shrugged. “Mixed bag. A lot of them are really cool, but after that thing Friday, and then this guy Hightower who’s in like all of my classes—I’m thinking things aren’t going to be like they were before…”
Mr. Springfield let out a small sigh. “I know. I wish I could say you just have to wait it out, but I’m not going to lie to you: things are going to be a bit harder for you now. But you’re a good kid and anyone who can look past you being a protomorph is going to see that and respond. You’re going to be fine. I wasn’t the absolute most popular kid in school and I did well for myself: good job, good friends and the best son a man can ask for.”
Having seen his father’s yearbook, Zane knew it was true. His father hadn’t been anything approaching popular, basically hanging out with the same four guys throughout his whole career. It hadn’t stopped him from making good exactly as he said. Zane’s eyes glowed. “Thanks, Dad. Really, I think it’s going to go okay. I even had lunch with some upperclassmen today.”
“Yeah, and they suggested I see if I can get a basketball team started here—powers allowed.” Zane floated through the doors of the building housing the gym—he’d forgotten what it was called in the brochure.
“Now that sounds exciting. I look forward to catching an exhibition game.”
Zane caught an odd sound echoing through the halls and tilted his head. It was like a ruler being snapped against a table repeatedly. “Hmm—oh, yeah, Dad, I hope I can get it set up so you can see. I’m… here now though. Talk to you tomorrow?”
“Sure thing, Sport. Have a good night.”
“You too.” Zane disconnected the line and floated down the hall, following the noise. The front half of the building had art and music rooms as well as spaces for just about any other hobby or extracurricular the Institute might eventually have use for. Most were darkened and hadn’t been used in the place’s two-year history.
Further in, there were practice and exercise rooms arranged in a squared circle around the all-purpose gym. The snapping noises were coming from one of those, so Zane peeked in.
That particular room was a martial arts practice room with a wall-to wall floor mat and striking dummies standing in a haphazard line against the far wall. In the center of the room were two people dressed in gis. One was also wearing pads and a fencing mask while the other obviously needed no such protection as she was made of gray stone. Both of them wielded shinai, and were striking at each other with careful, controlled kendo katas.
Despite the stone girl’s advantage in height and reach, her opponent always seemed to be in just the right position to turn a solid blow into a graze if not a miss that left her exposed to his ripost. The action was as fast and fluid was it was practiced; both showing skill Zane had only seen on TV shows.
After a few minutes of fencing, the stone girl finally found an opening and took it, swinging laterally to catch her opponent’s ribs. It would have been a cut and dried win if the other kendoist didn’t pick just that moment to trip over his own feet. The fortuitous misstep caused him to go down on his hands and knees to avoid face-planting, allowing the strike to pass harmlessly over his back.
He got his bearing a moment later and rose up from his knees, tapping the end of his shinai against the stone girl’s belly, ending the fight with a simulated lethal strike.
“Nice!” Zane called from the door before his brain could stop his mouth.
“He just got lucky.” the stone girl said, folding her arms.
The masked fencer laughed. “Sorry, Arkose—can’t turn it off. You would have won like five times if it hadn’t though.” He turned toward the speaker at the door. “Thanks though.”
Reaching back, he pulled off the mask to reveal that he was none other than Eddie Argent. “You’re Zane, right?”
It was impossible for Zane to hide his reaction, what with his glowing eyes both widening and dimming at the same time. “Um… yeah. That’s me. I was just passing through though; looking for the gym.” He floated backward on instinct, seeking to get away before things could turn bad.
“Hold on.” Eddie raised his hand. “I needed to talk to you anyway.” Turning to Arkose he flashed her a friendly smile. “Good match today.”
The stone girl rolled her eyes. “Yeah, it’s so much fun when your luck randomly kicks in.”
Eddie shrugged sheepishly. “One day I’ll figure out how to turn it off and we’ll have some skill-only sparring. Anyway, I’ll see ya later.”
By the time he got to the door, Zane had already started edging slowly down the hall. “Hey.”
Zane cringed and turned to face him, holding up his hands defensively. “If this is about freaking your girlfriend out, I swear I can’t help it. I don’t even know exactly what I did!”
Tucking his fencing mask under his arm, Eddie held back a laugh. “Wait: did you think I was going to beat you up or something over that?”
There was a pause while Zane weighed his options for a response. “Yes?”
Eddie raised an eyebrow at him.
“Well if you almost made my girlfriend burst into tears, I’d really be thinking about it.” Zane defended, trying very hard to gloss over thoughts of his former girlfriend.
“I’m not though.”
“Really. That’s more of a Davian thing.” Eddie started off for the equipment room, motioning for Zane to come along. “Also, Maya’s not my girlfriend… I don’t think.”
Now it was Zane’s turn to raise a brow—or it would have if his face was visible. Instead, his eye just seemed to subtly change shape. “How can you not know?”
Eddie shrugged again, almost unsettling the shinai slung over his shoulder. “I don’t know… I mean I like her and she likes me, but if she is my girlfriend, she’s my first one and how do you eve know if you’re dating someone?”
“I honestly don’t know how to answer that question, dude.” Zane said flatly. “It never occurred to me that you could not know. You like a girl, you ask her out and if she says yes, it’s like a date.” He rubbed the back of his head. “And if you do that a couple of times, you’re dating.”
“Huh.” Eddie pushed open the equipment room door and the light automatically came on. The place gave the appearance of neatness without that actually being the case: balls, spare mats, pads, and other sport-related accessories were all placed on shelves, rolling carts and in racks, but they had been put on whatever open space presented itself, resulting in utter chaos.
“I guess she is my girlfriend then.” He put both the shinai and the fencing mask on a rolling rack, then started undoing the ties to his pads.
Zane extended a super-sleeve over to a bin filled with balls and rummaged around until he found a basketball. “That’s not going to change your view on the ‘not hitting me’ thing, I hope.”
Tossing his pads, followed by his gi onto the same cart the rest of his equipment landed on Eddie laughed. “Of course not. That whole thing isn’t even your fault. That’s why I wanted to talk to you in the first place: Maya’ s really sorry about what happened.”
“Yeah well…” Zane bobbled the ball between his hands, but almost dropped it when he finally figured out what Eddie just told him. “Huh? She’s sorry? Why’s she sorry?”
The supernaturally lucky young man opened his mouth to reply, then thought better of it. He ended up stammering, “She just is.”
Zane blinked at him, giving a quizzical tilt of the head. Under his gaze, Eddie shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t think I should be the one going around telling it, okay? It’s personal.”
“Oh…” Zane tossed the ball back and forth between his hands if only because he didn’t know what to do with his hands anymore. “You know, she’s not the only one who had that kind of problem. My voice really messed with that girl, Joy’s head. Ms. Keyes gave me this to fix it.” He stopped tossing the ball so he could point to the mic clipped to his collar.
With no idea how the little piece of plastic was supposed to work, Eddie just nodded.
“So is this the kind of thing Ms. Keyes can help with? Like I told her: I don’t want to make anybody uncomfortable or anything if I can help it.”
Eddie looked away and stepped out of the equipment room with Zane not far behind. “That’s really up to Maya. I don’t think there’s anything you can do yourself that’ll make her feel better about the whole thing.”
Zane’s eyes dimmed. “Really?”
“Like I said,” Eddie said, “It’s not your fault, I swear. It’s not hers either.” He held his tongue on saying that the sooner she learned that, the better of she’d be.
“I don’t think I get it.”
Eddie sighed and turned to face Zane. “That’s pretty much all you’re getting, man. Sorry. But I’m not going to pick a fight or anything with you over it.”
“That’s something, I guess.” Zane’s eyes didn’t regain any light.
“Zane!” Sheila’s familiar voice called from further up the hall. Both boys looked to find the upperclassman girl coming around the corner along with Jada, Joy and a tall, muscular man with blue lines on his skin. “Still up for a game? Looks like we’ve got enough for three-on-three if Vegas is in.”
“Who’s Vegas?” Zane asked, though his attention was largely diverted toward Joy, who was partially hiding behind the guy he vaguely remembered was called Jacob. He also didn’t miss the adoring looks she was shooting the Jacob.
Eddie raised a hand. “That’d be me. And yeah, I’m up for it.”
“Excellent!” said Sheila, “And I call captain.”
“Me too.” Zane added quickly. He looked to Joy, however, suddenly uncertain. “…If that’s okay.”
Sheila quirked a brow at him. “Why wouldn’t it? This was your idea.”
“I meant us.” Zane gestured between himself and Joy. “Are we okay, now?”
Joy took a half-step out from behind Jacob and cast her eyes groundward. “Sheila told me all about the sound thing. I’m really sorry for acting the way I did.”
Zane shook his head. “It’s not your fault: it’s a powers thing. If you think about it, something like this was bound to happen eventually with a bunch of people with powers all living together. At least there was a fix.” Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Eddie frowning.
The sudden noise of Sheila clapping her hands broke them out of the awkward silence starting to form. “Alright then. Now that we’re sorted: Zane, you know everyone except Summit.” She indicated Jacob. “Summit, this is Zane. Zane, Summit. You can call him Jacob too if you want.”
Jacob waved and gave Zane a friendly smile. Striding over, he offered a meaty paw to shake hands. “I think you’re actually me and Davian’s suitemate. Nice to meet you.”
Ignoring how his gloved hand looked absolutely puny compared to Jacob’s, Zane shook with him and gave a friendly nod. “Yeah, I heard your name a few times.” Looking past Jacob to Sheila, Jada and Joy, he grinned within the confines of his hood. “So, wanna play guys vs. girls?”
A huffing laugh escaped Jacob as he looked back as well. Two of the girls could fly, but then they had a luck master on their side. “Game on.” he said jovially.
Next: The Gnome Meets Goo
Series Navigation<< LI: Sophomore Year #5 – Rags to Rags Part 5LI: Sophomore Year #7 – Gnome and Goo Part 1 >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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  1. Typo Watch:
    she was shooting the Jacob
    Either “shooting Jacob” OR “shooting at Jacob”

    said Sheila, “And I call captain.”
    Either “,”->”.” or “And”->”and”

    Why wouldn’t it?
    “Why wouldn’t it be?”

  2. Vaal, I have to say, of all the takes I’ve seen on the “super school” I think yours is one of the better ones. The focus on actual schooling is believable and sensible, handling powers on a case-by-case basis makes perfect sense, and the general culture – the attitudes, security focus, and all of that – is nicely consistent with the larger world you depict.

    Just wanted to give you my two cents worth of well-earned praise for the general way you’ve handled this whole concept, which can easily go wrong.


    • Wow, thanks a lot for the kind words 🙂

      Now watch me ruin all the good feeling with the The Gnome storyline :p

  3. Somehow I doubt you’ll ruin it, especially since the gnome seems like he might be a pretty funny guy, but I guess we’ll see.
    And you’re welcome. I realized I hadn’t said it because it’s general feedback, not specific to any one chapter, so I wanted to let you know that this reader, at least, enjoys the LI stuff.

  4. So we’ll be getting to know more about The Gnome? Awesome as long as its not him starting to date Kura. I think I have forgotten who said it but I’m not sure I want to imagine the chaos that would bring 🙂
    Is this a typo or some grammar I’m just unfamiliar with:
    you eve know if you’re dating
    eve? maybe even

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