Hello, thar. Meinos Kaen here! Delivering what I promised!
I've been building it up real slow, haven't I? The announcement, the new section, the teaser banner languidly ridding itself of protections and marks till all that was left obscured was the title. Well, the day has arrived to come out with it. With the title of my first ever Web-Exclusive Novel, and the first excerpt! Ladies and gentlemen, my dear fans, I give you... S-ClaSS.
It still doesn't help you much in finding out the meaning of the sentence below, does it? Well, that's the trick of good PR. Make you interested enough while not revealing everything in advance. But hey, I'm not that bad of a tease! I leave you to the beginning of the story itself, which is followed by a small FAQ. Once again, but especially today and I thank you in advance for your feedback and patronage, I encourage you to read, analyse, scrutinize, and enjoy!
The résumé wasn't as large he thought it would be, and that surprised him. He had learned long ago that people in that line of work liked to be quite verbose about their past experiences, and he couldn't really blame them. This one excerpt though was awfully short. So, either they had sent him a rookie, someone just out of prep school, or maybe this one was just not quite as boastful. "So. Miss Kelly, right?"
"Yes, sir." She replied curtly. To the less experienced one, she could have appeared rude, but he had enough years behind him to understand that she was just tense. He raised his eyes from the picture and moved them to the woman sitting in the chair in front of him.
Her body language told him the same story. She was sitting with her legs completely joined, her hands clenched into half-fists in her lap, desperately trying not to grasp the fabric of her skirt. She was wearing a business suit, which translated in another sign of nervousness. She wanted to look her best for the conversation, but the job was already hers. It was just a formality, she could have gotten away with wearing something more comfortable. He would have wore something more comfortable.
The purple clashed with her ginger hair and green eyes. She didn't have freckles, but combining that bit of information with the surname Kelly he was pretty sure that she was Irish or had Irish parents. He returned to the résumé. He stopped at her full name and couldn't help but raise an eyebrow. "Kelly... Grace? Grace Kelly?" He smiled, amused. He moved his gaze to the woman as well, seeing her tense even more for it. "Seriously?"
"M-My parents are fans." She let out weakly, before laughing a bit herself. "Although Grace Kelly has been dead for more than three hundred years..."
"Doesn't really matter. Life is fleeting, but talent is eternal." His acceptance seemed to put her at ease. Her name was probably a sore spot for her. Kids can be monsters, and some adults as well. Though, it didn't bode well for her if she let just the idea of being teased get to her. He returned to the résumé and skipped quickly through the personal details... He almost dropped the papers. "... You put your three sizes in this?"
"... Old roommate's joke. When I found out, it was too late." He felt the sudden urge to roll his eyes. He decided against it. Either this 'friend' was a joker or really, really smart.
"So... Miss Kelly." He paused. "Can I call you Grace? I keep thinking of The Country Girl." She immediately nodded. He kept on reading, finding a bunch of details about her temporary works which she probably used to pay her studies and finally, at the end, what he was really interested in.
A degree obtained with flying colours and a Master of Education, specialization in School Counselling before Preparatory School. Everything high-level and with stellar results, but that was it. She had no experience, and her background wasn't military. People with years of service behind them in both teaching and the field had not been suitable for the job, and to fix things they sent him a nervous wreck barely out of training from a non-military institution? He skipped to the next page, the one with the 'confidential' note and the stamp of the Home Department.
He started going through the details about her family, discovering a very familiar note. Then it came to the woman herself. This time he let control of his body slip, eyes widening slightly as comprehension downed on him. 'I see. That's why.' He understood the logic behind it. Since experience hadn't worked, they had sent someone with particular Skills and a 'normal' disposition. He couldn't say that it was what he expected, but maybe this was what he needed. A different approach to the problem. "... So, you're a Double."
"Yes." She nodded and seemed to relax even more. It seemed like her Skills were a point on which she felt confident. "That's the reason I was selected for this assignment right after finishing training. You see, even among trainees this institute..."
"It has a peculiar reputation. I know. It's not a mystery to anyone." Or better, it had the bad reputation of being good enough to have such a big problem. It was a twisted way of reasoning, but it wasn't faulty. His institute was one of the best existing, and according to the Edict, that was also why they were expected to be able to take care of more problematic individuals than normal.
He got up from his chair, the wood creaking in the process, before placing the electronic paper in an opened drawer of his desk, closing it securely with a key right after. Placing said key in a pocket of his jacket, he walked around the desk to stand in front of the woman, who made no sign of getting up herself. "I suppose you know that this is probably the hardest task you could ever be given, especially to someone just out of training."
"I-I do." She nodded. Of course she knew. They made it clear to her on the day she got the assignment.
"Well, think worse." That wasn't what she needed to hear, he knew, but there was no way around it. "While the fact that a lot of people went through the job you're supposed to undertake is public knowledge, the reasons for such changes weren't disclosed."
"... You're right, they never were." She acknowledged, and he blinked slowly.
"That's because otherwise there would be no more volunteers for this assignment. But since that's happened anyway..." He turned to the nearby library, picking out a folder. He opened it and started going through the files. "We've always had trouble with our group because it's tradition to send an amalgam of the worst cases available in the whole prefecture to our school, but real problems started around five years ago." Finding what he was looking for, he extracted a blank page from the file. He grasped it tightly for a few seconds. A 'Bip' echoed in the room and the blank space began to fill with colours. Once it was completed, he showed it to the red-haired woman, who let out a soft gasp and instinctively brought one of her hands in front of her mouth.
"This was teacher Kaytlin. He was the responsible for the Special Class five years ago." He held out the photo for a few more seconds before putting it back into the file. "His incident was what caused the situation in this school to change. We usually had one Special Class for each year of schooling, now we only have one that has to graduate before we can enroll another group."
"What... What happened to him?" She swallowed, causing a pause in her sentence. The man in that photograph had met a gruesome end, if all the burns and the missing limb were any indication.
"A student attacked him." Her eyes widened in surprise as the headmaster answered her question. "It seems that he had taken too much... Liberty, in disciplining him. In the ensuing fight, the two injured each other and two other students. Kaytlin died three days later because of the injuries he had sustained."
"Such a thing..." She lowered her head, imagining the scene. The headmaster let the silence continue for a few seconds.
"There was a trial, of course. The student was found not guilty. Not of homicide." That caused her to stare strangely at the older man. "They decreed that since the student had been provoked, what happened was to attribute to stupidity on the teacher's part. I can't really find any fault in the reasoning."
"It's an awful thing to say." She retorted, but she then avoided her gaze at the headmaster's annoyed stare. She didn't feel any malice or anger in it, though.
"But it is true. They are dangerous, and acting with arrogance towards them is plain idiocy. P-Is aren't one hundred percent secure." The man crossed his arms over his chest. "But the point is another, and it's also the reason why the trial was held by a military court. It's important that nothing of the sort ever happens again, because otherwise the military couldn’t afford to keep it under wraps again. Can you imagine the effects it would have on public opinion?"
"I can." The subject was already a minefield as it was.
"The whole point of the education system is to teach that no matter the Skill, no one can ignore the law. We needed to do more than that with Special Classes. We needed to put the fear of god into those students. Now, that system has backfired on us." The headmaster blinked slowly again in his verbal pause. "Kaytlin's case has created a legacy, since a student killed a teacher and got away with it. Legally. Every Special Class we've had in this school after that year has had at least one troublemaker, someone who tries to get into the teacher's face as much as possible, try to make them lose control, to make them strike first. Because of that, we've had to make a special policy, starting with the limitation of the number of classes that was introduced last year."
"I guess it also concerns the teachers... And why there has been such a big number of transfers from and to this school for the position." The older man nodded.
"Yes. The rules limit the time of service to one year, and we have a policy of removing the teacher at the first sign of animosity on their part." The headmaster then raised his head to look at the big clock hanging over the door's frame. It was getting late. "Well, those are not important right now. What I want to know is, do you still want this assignment?"
"I... That's not even a question." Grace let go of her skirt and patted it to get rid of eventual wrinkles. She finally stood, the headmaster finding her to be as tall as himself, a bit under 180 centimetres with her short heels. "I've been preparing for this for years. I understand that this is... A more delicate case than most, but it doesn't change the fact that it's my work. It's what I want to do."
He observed the woman's posture and expression. He liked what he found. She really meant those words, and even if almost forty years of work experience weren't enough to guess it, his Skill confirmed what he suspected. He walked past her and opened the door. "I will personally hand you over all the documentation later, but I think you should meet your students before that."
"Eh?" She turned around slowly, her heels making a sharp sound on the wooden floor. "Right now?"
"Yes, right now. I'd prefer if your first impression didn't have the filter of documents and reports." He replied, still standing near the door. Grace stared at him for a few seconds before sharply breathing in and grabbing her handbag.
"Mister Roberts, sir."
"At ease." The headmaster dismissed the saluting man. Grace walked by his right side, observing everything around her. If from the outside and on the upper floors the institute looked pretty normal, although luxurious as it befitted a prestigious one, the two lower floors looked like anything but a school.
The walls were white and completely bare, and covered in a strange plastic-looking material that she didn't recognize. The doors were made out of the same material, but they looked more shaped, angular and embedded . Finally, the place was patrolled. Ever since they had walked down the stairs behind that 'personnel only' door, they had walked into someone dressed in some kind of uniform every few hundred meters, and a couple of times in people wearing lab-coats.
Whatever it was, it wasn't like any normal school she had ever been in. Though, the place felt awfully familiar for some reason. She couldn't put her finger on it, at first. When she did, she was surprised of how much back in her memory she had to go to identify that feeling. "By any chance, this place-"
"It doubles as an Evaluation Center. That's one of the reasons this institute is so notorious. Our facilities are top of the notch, and we have the continued sponsorship and support of the government. That's to be expected when you consider that this place started as one of the first Skills Facilities of the Home Department." She jerked her head in his direction as fast as possible, her long hair swinging wildly. "Don't be so surprised. It had to start somewhere, right?"
"So... This is where they first... Wow." She started looking at her surroundings with renewed interest, trying to peer through the small windows in the doors as they passed by a series of new rooms. "It doesn't look that old."
"It's been renewed, of course, but this isn't the place you're thinking of. That happened in another military, or military-sponsored, facility. This is just one of the places that made experimentation reach a big scale." He answered, dismissing at least half of her dreams of the grandiose discoveries that those walls could have been witnesses to. She maybe didn't think those exact words, but he bet it was pretty close. "The upper floors were the housing sections of the personnel, the science teams and of course the volunteers. These lower ones are where the magic happened."
"The magic?" She repeated, confused. She understood that it was an euphemism, but she just didn't feel like it was an expression that normally belonged in headmaster Roberts' mouth. She only had known him for little more than a hour so she could be mistaken, but she was usually right when it came to first impressions.
"Everything. Eighty years ago, though, the facility was closed down. The upper floors turned into a school, these lower ones, the floors with the labs, are now used for S.P.E. Lessons, and they also house the infirmary and, as you've already guessed, a governmental Evaluation Center." He stopped in front of one of the strange doors which, differently from the others they had laid eyes on till that moment, was just a few meters away from another similar one, and both were guarded by a couple of men dressed in military uniform. "We're here."
"This is the classroom?" Grace inquired as the two guards let them pass through the opening door. There was no answer but she could tell she had guessed wrong just by looking around. The room was darker than the outside, and pretty spoil with the exception of four armchairs and a command console on the right wall.
"Not quite. This is the Observatory." The definition confused her. Roberts didn't seem to notice or care. He walked to the console and pressed one of the fluorescent buttons. An immediate reaction was an electronic sound and the colour on part of the wall immediately above the console starting to fade, becoming transparent. "The nearby room, the one accessible from the door next to this one, was once a laboratory for dangerous experimentations. Scientists and guests observed the unfolding of the experiments from this room while machines operated it. As a consequence, the nearby room is more secured than most of the facility."
As the wall became clearer and clearer, artificial illumination started to fill their room and she started to distinguish shapes in the adjoining one. When it reached the point where it was like looking through clear glass, she had a sharp intake of breath. "They are..."
"It didn't take much effort to redecorate it into a classroom." Roberts finished, allowing the ginger-haired woman to focus. Grace approached the now transparent wall to better observe the room on the other side.
The room was equally white to everything else on that floor, but the ceiling and walls were padded. It resembled the padding usually in place in the rooms of a sanatorium, but that was usually made out of soft materials to avoid patients hurting themselves. This particular one seemed to be made of the same material of the normal walls, only differently shaped.
There wasn't much decoration, if at all. She couldn't see one wall, but she guessed she was currently looking through an electronic blackboard. There were desks and seats, all firmly planted onto the floor all sharing the same white colour if not for a single red stripe on the front part of the desk, for a maximum sitting occupation of fifteen people even if the room was currently containing just a fifth of that amount. They were occupying three nearby desks, one sitting in a chair facing the seat's back, the other two sitting on top of the other two desk nearby. She started observing them closely, one by one.
The first one that caught her attention was one of the two sitting on the desks, because he looked young. Too young to be in that particular grade. The blonde hair kept in a bowl-cut, the blue eyes and freckles on his cheeks didn't help fight the feeling that his height and overall stature gave to an observer. Even the expression, as he listened eagerly to the older male of the small group and nodded by moving his whole head, only made her feel like the boy had somehow found himself in a higher grade by mistake.
The next one was the girl of the trio, the only one seating in a chair, and whose colour palette seemed to be a total opposite of the young boy she had observed before, whose choice of clothing fell on a blue t-shirt, jeans and white and blue trainers. The girl sported black baggy cargo pants reaching to her ankles and a hoodie in stripes of violet and dark grey, with sleeves so long that they came to cover her hands. The attire was completed by black leather boots that disappeared under her pants and a metallic chain connecting her belt and something resting in her right pocket. The only thing that was in clear sight of the girl, the hoodie being down, was her face. Long black hair cascaded smoothly around a pink skinned face and green eyes.
The last occupant of the classroom, the older of two boys, was maybe the meeting point between the other two when it came to clothes and colours. Like the girl, he seemed to like black, if his jeans and shoes were any indication. Of the same colour was the jacket that she noticed sprawled out on another desk, but the red sleeveless t-shirt broke the monotony. He was wearing gloves, black leather, fingerless.Since he was talking to the other two with his back turned to her, she couldn't see much of his appearance if not that he was tall and he had short trimmed, except for the front, brown hair.
As she was observing him, his body suddenly tensed and he stopped talking to the other two, raising his right hand, asking for silence. He then turned around, and even if she knew that it was impossible, there being a wall between the two rooms, she felt like he was staring right at her. The gaze produced from those red eyes was just that piercing.
"Red eyes?" She whispered, straightening her posture while observing how the other two turned their eyes in her direction as well. She brought a finger to her mouth as she reflected about it. The iris's colour was uniform, a dark red, but the pupil was still black. That ruled out an injury or albinism. It only left... "A somatic mutation..."
"Exactly." Roberts nodded, satisfied with the knowledge displayed by the young woman. Grace turned to the headmaster again.
"Is he... I mean, he turned around. He knows we're observing him?" Maybe it had something to do with the boy's Skill. It wasn't unheard of, but from what she had heard the headmaster say, she had thought that the walls would isolate the room.
"Not us exactly, but he knows someone is observing him. It's not because of any Skills... I guess it's a result of habit." The grey-haired man moved a hand through his hair, observing the crimson eyes. "After all, these children's very nature makes them prone to be observed, to always be under surveillance, scrutiny. In Jason's case, this has been pretty much a constant in his life."
"His name's Jason." Grace said, settling her gaze on the now named boy with the red eyes.
"Exactly. I want you to go in there a blank slate, but I can least tell you their names. Jason is the tallest of the two boys. The girl is named Catarina, and the youngest boy is Thomas." Roberts explained, before giving his whole attention to the young woman at his side. "So, miss Kelly... Are you ready to meet your students?"
"... Yes." She replied after a few seconds. Roberts then darkened the wall again, the last thing to disappear from her sight being those piercing red eyes.
The teacher and the students!
"... They stopped." He announced, and Thomas let out a breath that he didn't know he had been holding. He turned around to look at the others again, forming a sly grin. "I bet you dollars to buttocks that in five, ten minutes tops, our newest guard dog is going to walk through that door." He threw his head back in the direction of the only door leading out of the room.
"To buttons." He raised his head again, finding a chuckling Thomas holding a hand in front of his mouth. "The correct expression is 'I'd bet dollars to buttons', Jason. The way you said it, it sounds..."
"As if you'd bet dollars to ass." The sudden cut in from the girl startled Thomas, making him flush. Jason snorted out in laughter at that. She had prepared that as soon as she heard his slip up, he bet. "Though, I wonder how in hell you came to know such an outdated expression."
"I guess your mere presence has been affecting our tastes and common sense. And once again, would it kill you to not swear so often, Cat?" He was no cherub, but the girl was impossible. He had known her for years, and to his memory her mouth had always made her sound like a drunk. An angry drunk. "I'm the first to admit that when it's due it's due, but you swear as often as you use commas."
"Still not the one who'd bet dollars to ass, though. I have this fortune." He rolled his eyes, getting off the desk and taking a seat, Thomas mimicking him right after, sitting at the desk on his left.
"I have a theory. A normal human has a swear quota. Like, a fixed number of times he can swear in a week. He tries to swear any more than that?" Jason brought his left hand up, pointing at his temple with his index finger in mockery of a gun. "There's a barrier. A limit. His brain stops him and brings the conversation back to a normal level. You?" He tapped his temple with the point of his fingers twice. "You don't have that barrier. Your brain doesn't care if you make a fool out of yourself or if your already precarious social situation gets even worse. He's an accomplice in all this, but you are the mastermind. You've outsmarted your brain."
"I'm going to ignore you, now." The girl declared while Thomas laughed out loud as he made himself more comfortable in the rigid seat.
"How do you think the new teacher will be like?" The blonde boy asked once the laughter settled down, before lowering his gaze to the ground, unwelcome memories surfacing despite him. "I hope he isn't like mister Jacobs. I didn't like him very much."
"That's an euphemism. He scared you shitless." Catarina commented, and Thomas just laughed nervously and turned his head to the front, observing the teacher's desk and the northern wall of the room behind that. "He had noticed that you were the meek one and decided to pick on you. It's not a mystery."
"I guess he decided to find an outlet for our 'insubordination' and gym class just wasn't doing it for him any more." Jason commented, narrowing his eyes at open air. He hadn't liked the guy from day one, particularly because he could understand from the way he talked and moved that he was from the army.
Most of the teachers he had been saddled with had come from an army background, but that was understandable. They weren't there just to teach them, after all. That was probably the last thing on their mind, or better, normal teaching was the last thing on their mind. He had been transferred last week, two months into the school year, because he had irked the ire of one of his students. Jason's.
The features of the brown haired teen softened as he turned his gaze to Thomas. "Sorry if I didn't do anything sooner."
"It's fine. I thought I could take it, but I guess I was wrong." Thomas answered, smiling. "Thanks for the trust."
"Just don't be in such a hurry to grow up. You can't skip growth as you skip school years, genie." The older boy threw Thomas a small grin, which earned a nod of acknowledgement from the blond haired boy.
"I'm reporting this, sicko." Only for Catarina's comment to break the good mood they had created. Jason turned to stare at her outraged, before realizing that he had fallen into another one of her traps, if her sardonic smile was any indication.
"One day, Cat. One day..." Before he could retort with some kind of threat, the door opened with a soft sliding noise and the three turned to the door as one man. In total silence, a mane of red hair peeked through the door.
"Good... Good morning." The woman owner of said hair stared at the trio with something that Jason could only identify as uneasiness, a small forced smile on her face. She suddenly moved her head back and then stepped inside the classroom. "I'm your new-Ah!"
Only for her right heel to get stuck in the thin line along which the door usually slid, breaking her balance and making her fall face first on the floor, under the bewildered gazes of the three students, Thomas going as far as instinctively opening his mouth in surprise. "Ow... Why didn't I pay more attention?"
"Are you... Ok?" Thomas asked, standing up from his seat to better observe the now prone form of the woman.
"Yes, thanks." Grace pushed herself off the floor and grabbed onto the nearby desk for support as she steadied herself, rubbing the sore spot on the underside of her jaw for a few seconds before getting back her briefcase from the ground, opening it on top of the desk to check for any broken contents. She let out a small sigh of relief, before facing them again with a more natural smile. "As I was saying before I was... Interrupted..."
'She makes it sound like the floor did it on purpose'. Jason thought, finding the whole situation amusing. No one of their previous teachers had ridiculed himself in that way, to his memory. Maybe they had ran out of competent ones? Wishful thinking. It could all be an act. After all, he had noticed how the bruise from the fall had disappeared in a matter of seconds.
"I'm going to be your new APT. I'm confident you know what the acronym means, right?" She asked with a smile. She was met with silence. The surprise from the sudden fall had passed and the three students just stared back and kept their mouth firmly shut. It gave her pause, but just for a second. "All-Purpose-Teacher, of course. I'm going to teach you... Well, everything in your curricular project. My name is miss Kelly, but you can call me Grace."
"... No way." She didn't know if to feel relieved or upset that it was her name which earned another reaction from one of her new students. She decided for relieved, as it was Jason's amusement which appeared clear on his face. "Your parents either had no imagination or were big fans, teach. In the latter case, I approve. Really, Grace Kelly?"
"Who's Grace Kelly?" Hearing that question, Jason's head snapped in Catarina's direction, amusement leaving place to incredulity.
"Are you serious?! Grace Kelly!"
"Please remember that in this room you're the only one who has an interest in defunct actresses and centuries old crap."
"Old c...!" Jason gasped in outrage, opened his mouth and raised a hand in a threatening manner, about to utter another retort, but he stopped himself and lowered his hand. "I'll let this go only because you're a miscreant and you don't know what you're talking about." He declared, turning his head to the other side of the room.
"I take it you like Old Era Cinema?" Grace tried to get into the conversation, and the question surprised Jason. He stared at the woman for a few seconds before acquiring the same serious expression as before and returning his gaze to the wall on his left. Grace had a feeling that that would be their answer to any question which they didn't have an obligation to answer. "Well, I thought that since it's our first day, we could spend it getting to know each other better. Starting with our names. I introduced myself to you, after all. It's common courtesy to reciprocate, right?"
The statement earned her attention from the whole trio again. "Weren't you supposed to already know everything about us?" Catarina asked, suspicious. "That's how it usually works."
"I thought that it would be better if I met you before going through your files. They can often be misleading, after all. Even the best people can be biased." She lied, since it hadn't really been her idea, after all. The words earned her more of Thomas's attention, since it was the first time he had heard about one of their APT admit to being at fault about something. Their teachers usually met them after already going through their files at least twice. Mister Jacobs knew everything about their Skills, their families, their past lives. He had even known the name of his old cat.
Maybe the surprise was showing the most on his face, fact is that Grace turned in his direction with a small smile. "So, why don't you start? What's your name?"
"... Thomas. My name is Thomas." He decided to go along with it. There was nothing wrong with telling her their names, after all.
"Thomas. Then, can you indulge a curiosity of mine?"
"... Maybe." He replied uneasily, confirming Grace's theory. Among the three, he was the most open to strangers and would talk more easily than the other two about subjects that didn't concern school, probably having been an S for the shortest amount of time among the three. Jason had replied with silence, after all. From that, a 'maybe' was a big step forward.
"I was curious as to your age. You seem a bit younger than your friends." She was honestly curious.
"Ah... It's because I am. I'm twelve." The answer really surprised her, and she was sure that it showed on her face. "I skipped three years because of academic achievements."
"That's... Unusual." She knew of such procedures, but three years were a lot. Also, she knew for a fact that S weren't allowed to skip years. She wondered how Thomas came to do so nonetheless. She recomposed herself. They were supposed to get to know each other. "Academic achievements... To skip three years, you must be very smart."
"Y-Yeah..." Thomas suddenly moved his head to the side and lowered his eyes, trying to avoid the eye-contact they had kept till that moment. She guessed that it was a difficult subject for him, though she didn't understand how could intelligence be hard to talk about.
"I guess you can go next?" She turned her attention to Catarina, who had had been observing the exchange along with Jason all the while, but the boy's gaze wasn't as neutral as the girl's one. He looked somewhat displeased.
"Catarina." She stopped there. Grace nodded in acknowledgement and decided to go with the subject of her clothes.
"You have very peculiar clothes... They're really nice, though." She suddenly scoffed at her comment.
"Just say that I'm a weirdo who wears boyish clothes. I've been called worse." She dead-panned. Grace was a bit taken back by her being so direct, but considering the earlier exchange between her and Jason, it was to be expected.
"Well, yes, it's not 'mainstream' clothing for a girl your age, but it's not a bad thing. Also, I've seen worse myself." Catarina stared at her as if to say 'Really?', and Grace just smiled. "The world is a big place. I can assure you that I've seen people dressed even more strangely. At least your clothes are pretty." She wasn't lying about that. It's incredible what you can witness by simply attending college.
"... True." She smiled maliciously in Jason's direction. "Heard that, Jay? My clothes are pretty."
"Either she didn't see the boots, she's saying that just because she wants to get into your good graces or she's got bad eyesight. " That made Catarina's lose her smile and glare in Jason's direction, who in turn just ignored her and raised his head up to look at Grace. "My name's Jason. That's all you're going to get from me."
"Oh. It's... It's alright." She hadn't imagined his opposition to her trying to familiarize with the other two as well and at the moment she didn't see any openings or subjects she could exploit, apart the matter that he seemed to like Old Era Cinema but he had already cut off that line of conversation earlier. "After all, it's the first day. I can't expect you to warm up to me immediately."
"It's not like things will change with time but, whatever you say." Jason continued, shrugging his shoulders. Grace understood that Jason would be the hardest to try and get to open up to her. Since he outright refused any conversations that weren't tied to academic matters, she would have to go with that and then work her way from there, find something to use to get him to talk about other things.
"Well... Why don't we review something together?" Catarina gasped hearing those words and the strength of her glare intensified, and Jason couldn't exactly ignore her any more, since he was regretting it already and Thomas smiled sympathetically at him. "Don't worry, it's not going to count in regards to your grades. It's just a way to familiarize with each other."
Jason let out a sigh of relief. 'Way to keep me on my toes. Don't know if she did it on purpose or not.' While Jason's and Catarina's reaction told Grace that they didn't feel exactly overconfident in their academic knowledge, she hadn't done so with ill will. Though, she now worried about their preparation.
"Let's talk about something easy. I'll start with Thomas, if it's alright with you two." Catarina sighed in relief and Jason this time had no visible objections. Thomas just laughed at the older students' expenses before turning to face the red-haired teacher. "So, Thomas... What's the official date that signifies the end of the Old Era? In both dating systems."
"Something easy, she says!" Jason exclaimed, even if he managed to keep the volume to barely more than a whisper. It was easy enough remembering the date in the modern dating system, but he only remembered the year of the old version.
"Aries 24th, Year 0." Thomas answered almost instantly, not skipping a beat. Grace nodded in approval. The question may have been a bit too specific for a normal student, but that's exactly why she had decided to use it. "April 13th Year 2055 AD using the Old Era dating system."
"Good. And exactly what happened on that date?" She pressed him on, with an easier question. Maybe the easiest she could ask. Even children knew the significance of that old date, almost three centuries in the past but never forgotten. "What event was significant enough to warrant a new dating system? Also, do you happen to remember at least one state which still uses the old one?" She still felt like testing his knowledge, though.
"The most prominent state which still uses the old dating system is the Vatican, unsurprisingly." Thomas replied immediately, a small chuckle echoing from his throat. "And of course, it's significant because it's the day when the first Skill user was born. Or, as many like to remember it..."
"The day humanity evolved." Catarina interjected, sighing as she leaned her right cheek on the correspondent hand in a very unladylike manner. "I think 'the day comic books lost their reason to exist' would have been more suitable."
"What is it with you and expressions of creativity?! What did imagination do to you?!" Jason let out as he heard the girl's words.
"Nothing, Geekson. I just found them stupid and think they should burn. What's the point of making stories about everyday things?" He rolled his eyes and let it go. It was probably going to be that week's argument to make herself feel superior to normal people.
"My, Catarina. Care to elaborate on that matter?" The young girl's expression turned from bored to startled as Miss Kelly turned to her. "Exactly what do you mean with that?"
"Like you don't know. I mean, come on." Catarina recomposed herself, raising her head from her hand. "I've read some of that stuff, and I could understand their appeal... In the old era. But now, with all the shit that went down in the last three centuries, how can anyone still be interested in those things I don't know. You just need to watch the news to see the same things!"
"All the... Things which went down in the last three centuries? Like what?" Grace was a bit upset by the language but she let her go. It wasn't really heavy profanity, and she could understand that it was part of the girl's speech patterns. Better avoid to antagonize her on that. For now. "Is there a historical event that particularly impressed you?"
"Huh. Now, that's a good question." She observed as the girl put a hand behind her head, turning in her seat to cross her right leg over her left one. Grace noticed something strange. Even if her demeanour and clothes told another story, that last movement had a distinct grace, femininity, to it. "There were the protests from the 'purists' and those religious groups, the thefts, the trials... All those videos of that guy burned at the stake coming out of it growing his tissues back were pretty rad."
Thomas cringed mentally as he recalled exactly one of the videos Catarina was talking about. It was the one with maybe the best shot of the man as he was still tied up to the pole, his body fat melting and his muscles burning and growing back almost immediately after. He was ten when he saw that for the first time, and he couldn't sleep for a week.
"But I'd say it was the Borders War. Damn, I wish I had been born to see it happen!" Catarina smiled as she remembered what she had read about the conflict, the battles and their outcomes. The pictures of landscape damage, and god bless whoever was brave enough to hack into those military archives to spread the recording of the field live feeds. "The war that made weapons obsolete. If I want to see someone beat the shit out of each other while doing millions in property damage, I just need to browse. Comics? F-"
"Alright! Thanks! You were very exhausting-I mean, exhaustive!" She lost her precious composure as she cut off the girl before she could utter a word that was really off the 'allowable' chart. Catarina stared at the teacher before shrugging and sitting back in a normal position.
Miss Kelly sighed as she turned to Jason. The boy was expecting it. "... I don't really have a particular argument that interests me."
"Nothing at all? Come on, there must be something." Grace wasn't ready to accept defeat, but Jason just kept his silence. "It doesn't have to be an event."
"... Then I guess it's our situation. We are S-Class, after all." He finally replied, but his tone made her understand that while he was willing to talk about it he didn't find the argument particularly endearing. "It's funny, really. There are nine billion people living on this ball-shaped rock, and thanks to some long-dead idiot who messed up his vials..." He turned around in his seat to stare at miss Kelly directly. "Of that amount, a 70 percent are Faulties. The remaining 30 percent, including the Doubles, possesses major Skills that put them higher on the food chain. And among those..."
His stare took a turn for the worse and he started clenching and unclenching his hands in a fist to an open palm and then in a fist again, over and over. "According to their Skills, people are classified in a Class that goes from E to A. Three percent of the whole world population, though, are born with Skills - or genetic malformations - which put them into a whole other class, the S. That's people like us."
"I... I see." She guessed that she would cause animosity by pressing the subject further, but she had to know about the whole vision he had on the matter. "And exactly what does being an S-Class mean?"
"... It means you're a freak at best, a complete monster or a natural born killer at worst. That's what they say, right?" Indeed, the glare she received from Jason for having the gall to even ask something like that told her that she had guessed correctly. "That's what you always tell us. That our Skills are malfunctioning or that their very nature makes their only possible use being to destroy things or hurt people. That's the reason we're put into isolation ever since our Skills and/or defects manifest and kept on a leash and every single teacher I've ever met tried to carve that into our minds."
"... You were very concise." Grace moved her gaze to the other two and noticed that whatever good mood she had managed to create had disappeared as soon as Jason started talking. Both of them were looking away. Catarina's neutral face had re-appeared, Thomas was staring at the ground or possibly his feet. "... I guess it's enough chatting for today. Let's now focus on your studies, shall we?"
Roberts had stayed in the observatory for the duration of that morning's classes, observing the interaction between teacher and students. The morning's try to get friendly with them had ended up in disaster, but knowing Jason it was only natural. Though, before she had asked his opinion on S-Class individuals, it had been going much better. She had managed to earn some natural reactions from Thomas and Catarina, in the latter case touching a personal preference without appearing invasive. That was much more than any of the previous teachers had done, mostly because they hadn't really tried.
What Jason had said was true. All the teachers they had had till that moment had only one objective in mind: burn into their heads that they were a danger to society and they would forever be controlled and checked with due reason. As he had said that morning to Grace the main purpose of an APT had always been to put the fear of god into them, to make them realize that they could get away with even less things that normal people. All-Purpose-Teachers weren't purely educators, they were more like caretakers, guardians, wardens.
The morning classes were now finished and the nearby door opened. Roberts watched through the door's window as the three students started walking in the directions of their rooms under the wary eyes of the guards. He opened the door and walked into the classroom, where miss Kelly was scribbling notes on an electronic device, still sitting at her desk.
"Impressions?" She stopped writing for a split second but resumed right after, letting out a long sigh.
"It's going to be hard getting their trust." She wrote for a few more seconds, finishing a sentence before settling down the stylus but keeping her gaze on the scribbled notes, which the pad's processor elaborated and turned into electronic font. "They are very close and because of that they influence each other heavily. It can be either very useful or a heavy deterrent."
"Getting their trust." Roberts made himself comfortable on a nearby desk, sitting on it, his arms crossed in front of his chest. "Why would you want to do that?" That caused Grace to raise her head and stare at the man in confusion. "You're the most peculiar APT which I've had in this school, Grace. All your predecessors were content with teaching them academic subjects and made a point of making them aware of their situation, like Jason gently reminded you."
"... I'm going to be the most prominent adult figure in their life for a long period of time. Of course I want to get on good terms with them." She turned off the electronic pad and put it back in her briefcase along with the stylus, standing up in the process. "I'm going to be teaching them everything but S.P.E., and even in that case I'm going to supervise them. I'm going to be with them when they eat in the refectory, when they go on field trips, I'm going to check if they sleep in their rooms at night."
"All the other teachers were content with doing it from a distance."
"All the other teachers had to leave because they started stepping on each other's toes." He noticed how Grace was fumbling with her briefcase's latch, making a mess in the simple act of closing it. She was tense, but not because of embarrassment. "I have my own methods of dealing with my students. I hope that's not a problem, headmaster."
"... Not at all." He was surprised. He had identified her as a pretty meek person, but she was displaying indignation and anger, directing it right at him, her direct superior and someone who had made her nervous only a few hours before.
"Good." She nodded, calming down and letting out a breath she had been holding in. "I guess I should go and get settled in the teacher's dormitory before lunch time." They had cut the first lesson close early. She wanted some time to get acquainted with the facility before lunch. "Also..."
"I'll have the school nurse bring you the personal files of the students. She'll be your neighbour, if my memory doesn't fail me." Roberts declared, getting up from the desk and walking to the door, which opened for him with a soft noise. "I'm looking forward to see the results of your own teaching methods, miss Kelly."
"... Sure." She replied curtly, and stared at the space in front of the door until the headmaster stepped out and it slid close again. "... Idiots." She didn't know if she had included Roberts in the group or not.
Well, I sure hope Grace doesn't include me in that group. She still could. Better to appease her, become proactive, and answer you a couple of questions!
What is S-Class?
S-ClaSS is a story belonging to the Sci-Fi genre, but today the genre includes operas that go from Star Trek to the works of Asimov to Pen-And-Papers like Shadowrun. To give it a subgenre, S-ClaSS belongs to the Superhuman subgenre, as it's pretty evident just from the first excerpt. It takes place in the future, there are technological innovations, but the focus is on the people living in it. The technologies you'll find in the story are pretty easy to relate to and imagine, some common-place or in development even in the present day, what really will throw you for a ride and what the story is really about is what happened to the people living in this world and their society, through the story of a group of characters.
Why the scholastic setting?
Well, think about it like this. I'm narrating a story here, which takes place in a whole new world, an evolution of our own with events and modifications which I created from pretty much scratch. There have been changes on all levels, from geopolitical to cultural to social, which need to be exposed for you to enjoy the story at its maximum. By focusing the story on a group of students and teachers, I can work in occasions to expose without making it seem forced or unnecessary.
What can we expect?
Even if the main setting is a school, and the characters are student and teachers, it's still the Superhuman subgenre. Our main characters are individuals possessing powers that go from telepathy to super-strength to bioelectrogenesis. As Checkhov eloquently put it "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.”. Thus, you can be assured that these guns will fire. How and when... Well, those are for the story to narrate.
I think that covers up pretty much everything which could pass through your mind at this moment in time. If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask. With that, hoping you enjoyed this first excerpt and that you will be back for more, I salute you, my readers.
Meinos Kaen out!