Hello, thar. Meinos Kaen here!
"Take a seat, orderly and quietly! Then we'll be calling the general roll!" Richards called, for once wearing a suit as the students walked past him and boarded the magnet train. "Remember, only cars from eight to ten!"
"I don't think I've ever seen someone spend so much on trasportation all at the same time." Jason deadpanned as the four of them approached the fourth to last car, peering through the currently transparent windows. It was second class only, but the cars were sparkling clean and pleasant to look at, in a pleasant bordeaux. The seats were more akin to armchairs. "And how will it take?"
"Little over a hour. Now, for seating conditions." Grace said as they walked to car number 9, following the main group of students. "We'll be all seating in the same car, of course, but you can't seat next to each other."
"Eh?" Thomas 'inquired', breaking his thoughts.
"This is my personal request. A favour you owe me, we could say." Grace winked, earning a groan from Jason. “Until and during lunch, I want each of you to do your best to spend as much time as possible with someone that's not an S. So, take a seat every but near each other."
“Hmm... Alright, miss Kelly.” Thomas acquiesced and climbed onto the train after a few students. Catarina sighed but mimicked the younger kid without complaining. That left only Jason and Grace, staring at each other.
“... If you're really that averse to the idea, you can sit next to-”
“Not a chance in hell.” Jason dismissed the suggestion by raising his hand in the teacher's face. “I don't need the nick of teacher's pet to go along potato boy, thank you.” 'Not that anyone actually called me that, but that's only because I spend most of the day in an underground level.' Grumbling a small obscenity under his breath, Jason climbed the train, an amused Grace right after.
He sighed as he laid eyes on the sea of school uniforms. The three of them were sticking out like sore thumbs, being the only ones wearing casual clothes. And good thing that Catarina was wearing something heavier over her new clothes, or she would have stood out even more. They were all being observed, he knew that. It was the same every time they went up to eat in the cafeteria, but in an enclosed space, he felt it more. Nonetheless, in the next car, the black haired girl had found a seat near a blonde, who seemed to like her taste in clothing if he was reading her lips correctly. Thomas was chatting with a bespectacled boy, who was showing him a magazine of some sorts. 'Well, seems like they're alright.' In fact, Jason was more worried about himself. “Let's just get this over with.” He spotted an empty corridor side seat. He waltzed to it and sat down, earning a gasp of surprise from his neighbour. “Sorry about that. I'm Jason, nice to meet ya. I'll be occupying the seat next to you for the duration of this trip and...” He turned to observe. Wavy strawberry blonde locks. Green eyes. Pretty face. “... Aaaaand you're the popular girl I hit on the arm with mashed potatoes thus starting the food fight.”
“... Yes.” She said, recovering from her surprise and scowling at him.
“... Awkward. Oh, well.” He stretched and got comfortable in his seat, reclining it a bit and crossing his arms behind his head.
“You're... Staying here?” She asked with a shocked tone of voice, earning only a roll of the eyes from the red eyed teen.
“Too lazy to find another vacant seat. You just go on hating me, but keep the scowling down. It's unsightly.” He answered. The girl's eyes widened.
“I-I don't hate you. It's just...” She turned to the side, playing with her hair, suddenly self-conscious. “Well, you did hit me with food.”
“And the next thing out of my mouth was an apology, rudely interrupted by one of your fanboys who decided to play knight in shining armour.” Jason retorted, turning his head to stare levelly at the girl, who had suddenly found the panorama of the car window really interesting. “If you can't even accept an apology, your hurt feelings are no longer my problem.”
“... You're right.” The girl let out a breath, bowing her head and moving her locks out of the way as she turned to Jason again. “I'm sorry... Jason. I accept your apology.” She turned in his direction again with a small smile. “I'm Stephanie.”
“Hmm.” The S nodded and returned his attention to the back of the seat in front of him, just as the teacher finished the roll. Two minutes after that, the train started moving, the windows becoming obscured for the outside as it exited the tunnels and the landscape started running by them. 'We're really going to be there in a hour, then.'
“So... You're an S, right?” He returned his gaze from the window to his neighbour, who was smiling a bit uneasily at him. Probably because of the way he had ended their previous conversation.
'Maybe she thinks I'm peeved at her? Oh, well. I did kind of promise teach that I would try and socialize. For a change.' “Well, now, what gave me away?” He sat correctly, smirking. “The fact that you've never seen me before the day potatoes flew or the fact that I don't wear a uniform?”
“Actually, it was...” She raised her right hand, index and middle fingers stretched out. She pointed them at her own eyes.
“Ah, right.” He nodded. “My baby reds.”
“I've heard about how... Well, how they're a sign for S-Class powers.” She struggled to find the right words, but she managed to not end up sounding offensive.
"Guilty as charged." He admitted, then decided to cut to the chase. "What's your opinion about people like me?"
"You don't beat around the bush, do you?" Stephanie let out, surprised by the brown haired S's bluntness. She let out a thoughtful hum. "I never really thought about it. I guess I have no opinion. And..." She smiled. "I guess it's up to you to give me material to make one."
"Ow. The responsibility!" Jason mock-cried out, causing their immediate seating neighbours to turn in their direction. He paid it no mind. Judging by her flushing, she did.
"A-Anyway..." Stephanie tried to find a subject of discussion. She came up with nothing... Almost. "Have you always had them?"
"You mean my eyes?" He shook his head from side to side. "Nope. They became like this when I first used my Skill. Before that, they were..." He focused, trying to think of those days. Days when he had been far too young to pay attention to the colour of his eyes. Until... "Blue, I think. Or green."
"You don't remember?" She asked, surprised.
"I was pretty young. At that age I was more concerned with pudding and swings than my eyes." He retorted. Then bit on his lower lips. 'Let's hope she's not sharp.'
'Crap. She's sharp.' Jason mentally cursed as Stephanie observed him with a confused face. Then she settled into comprehension.
"This... It wasn't just, like, a couple years ago, right?" He groaned, and forced himself to nod. "You were... A child?"
"... Yes. Please don't tell anyone?" It was either that or threaten her. And he really didn't want to. Also, it had been his fault. Socializing made him sloppy. Or maybe it was his wits.
"O-Ok." She nodded, deciding to change the subject again. "So, uhm... Why did you sit next to me?"
"Huu, because..." Now, that was the question. He had chosen a seat at random and expected to find someone who would brush him off, instead he had actually started a proper conversation. Well, almost. "I was wondering if..." He turned to Stephanie with his whole body, trying to think... 'What the hell, might as well. I do owe teach-well, Catarina and Thomas do but I really don't feel like hanging around her all day.' "If you wanted to spend time together today."
"... W-What?" Stephanie's complexion suddenly turned to a slight crimson.
"You don't want to?" Jason proceeded to ignore the sudden area of silence which formed in the train car, centered around his seats.
"N-No! I mean, I didn't say that! I-!" She calmed herself down, breathing deeply and choosing her words carefully. "You want to spend time with me?"
"Yes. You seem like a nice girl and... I'd like to get to know you better." 'Not really, but, hey, beats teacher's pet.' A few girls gasped in synchrony.
"You... Seriously?" Stephanie asked, her expression shifting to surprise. Jason just nodded. She lowered her head, in thought. Then she smiled prettily and nodded. "Okay."
"Great." More gasps echoed in the car, and a buzz of chatter. A few rows back, Catarina held her face.
"I know. I just know he doesn't realize it." After all, most of the social relationships in culturale produces are anything but normal. Movie star walks into bookshop? Breaks down girl's car so she will be forced to meet him? Yeah. Normal.
"Alright, everybody! Listen up and listen well!" Richards bellowed, being the teacher in charge of the field trip, surprisingly. Ever since mrs Kaytlin had started working in the school, she had always insisted on being it. This time she had accepted just being one of the teachers accompanying the group of students. "For starters, welcome to the Royal New History Complex!”
Jason focused more on their surroundings than the exaggerated hand movements of the teacher. The train had got off in the station in the coastal city, and they had then taken the ferry that had brought them to the artificial island, where the complex stood. They were currently in the main lobby, a big atrium containing the ticket booths, access to the three areas in which the complex was split and straight in the middle, a statue of a soldier holding a cracked helmet in his hands, staring at the headgear with a sombre expression. The group of students were currently gathered around it.
“As you may or may not know, this complex – and the artificial island it stands on – were built the year following the end of the Borders War, to remember how we managed to keep its horrors away from our homeland and the efforts and sacrifices of our soldiers in foreign countries.” The male teacher trust his arm in the direction of the statue, and more precisely the plaque on its base. “To remember, to not forget. To learn, to not repeat. That's the reason we always bring the first years to this place. Our country learned a precious lesson from that war, and it has to be passed on. Now, rules.” Richards pointed at the three doors. “The complex is split in three areas, as you well know: the open area, the educative area, the recreational area. And before you ask, your tickets will only allow you to enter the second one.” A collective groan echoed from the crowd of students. “In the morning. After lunch, you'll have total freedom. Now, go and learn!”
“Wow. What a pep talk. I can totally not see why that other school kicks our ass ever since he became in charge of preparing the team.” Jason deadpanned, not even bothering to whisper since the whole group of students and teachers exploded in chatter right after.
“That's a bit harsh. Mister Richards is doing his best.” Stephanie replied as he heard Jason's comment. “I think the real problem is that he can't find any good athletes.”
“All the students in our school and he can't find someone good? Seriously?” He answered, sincerely shocked. “I've seen a guy lift up three people his own size like they were a sheet of paper and another jump over one of the courtyard's trees during recreation!”
“Well, that's exactly the problem. We have lots of students like that.” Stephanie continued as they started moving along the quickly moving line of students heading for the central arc. Jason just became more confused. “You see, the rules of the Varsity Match state that no students must have unfair advantages. Meaning, for example, a student whose Skill lets him break the sound barrier could not participate in a track race.”
“... This is ridiculous.” Jason let out with a snarl, which made the girl flinch and stop walking. “The school. This whole country. Ridiculous. But not in the good way, since I'm not laughing.” He kept on walking, not noticing that Stephanie was being left behind. “It's all set up to stop people from using their Skill unless they get ordered to or it's for working.”
“But, well, isn't that only natural? I mean, this place is proof that...” Stephanie looked around. They were in the first section of the educational area, regarding the immediate reactions following DHE, the Day Humanity Evolved. “People need that kind of control.”
“Oh, please. All of this wasn't because of a lack of control or foresight. I mean, who could have foreseen all this? People planet-wide suddenly becoming something more than what they were before? Some going even past that? No one could have foreseen something like that.” Jason stopped in front of a photograph in a case. It showed a man cradling a young boy, whose right arm had somehow fused with a swing. "All I see here are people being scared and confused, and turning on each other because of that. That's hardly new. It happened long before humans could fly."
"What about the war, then?" He scoffed.
"Do you really think a few random bands of people who suddenly thought they could own the world could have made all trouble? We're talking armies, here. Organized, supplied, sponsored." Jason continued as they walked past the gallery. Pictures, murals, photographs, newspapers. Riots, trials, destruction. "It's the same old story. A country or two believe they've got the biggest set of the biggest guns in the world and believe that it entitles them to take over their neighbours."
"... Good thing they were wrong, huh?" Stephanie commented, and Jason calmed down a little, sensing her uneasiness.
"Yeah. Sorry, I was... Rude." He apologized, stopping in front of a clipping about one of Catarina's favourite episodes. The man surviving his pyre. "It's just, I don't think suppression at all limits is the way to go." He stared at the photograph, the man kneeling on the ground, the right side of his face showing all the layers of his body as they were regrown.
"So, you think they should allow people with Skills to use them whenever they want?" Stephanie asked.
"I think they should make so that people could use them safely. Our Skills are here to stay, and a bird's instinct is to use its wings." He scratched the back of his head, suddenly self-conscious because of the uncharacteristic bit of poetry. "And you can't keep an entire country grounded forever." His eyes narrowed again. "Especially if you brand some of them as mass murders waiting to happen."
"Hmm... I've never thought about it like that." Stephanie admitted, smiling. "You're deeper than you look, you know?"
"And you've got an open mind. Don't forget that it's an S who's telling you this." He answered, sighing wistfully. "Our reputation precedes us. I bet you didn't learn about the significance of Red Eyes in a kind light."
"Actually..." Stephanie trailed off, enigmatically. Jason slowly turned around, staring at her questioningly. She chuckled. "Let me show you. Come on." Saying that, she started walking in the direction of the next section. Jason followed, suddenly intrigued.
In the meanwhile, from the other end of the room, a blonde adult woman peered in the direction of the two teens. At first, hearing how that woman had managed to persuade the headmaster to let those animals out of their ill-deserved gilded cage, she had been ballistic. But now, she was calm. Contemplative. Calculating. 'I can use this. Yes, dear. I can use this.'
"Catarina, why couldn't we invite Jason to join us?" Thomas asked as their small group of students slowly made their way through the first section, taking their time. Catarina had found a kindred soul in one of the girls she had met on the train when it came to events immediately post DHE, even if she looked to only be into it for the gore.
"Because he has a lesson to learn, that dolt." Catarina stated, frowning at air. "The idiot needs to stop acting like he came out of a tv-show or a book and see how normal people do things."
"Heh. Do you know that your friend actually started a small betting poll?" Peter, the glasses-wearing student Thomas had met on the train, earned their attention. "On how much time Stephanie will resist."
"Not that I don't share the sentiment that he will soon do something really stupid and get the girl ballistic, but how come it's so widespread?" Catarina asked, earning amusement from their newest acquaitances.
"Because it's not any girl he wants to know better. It's Stephanie Morgan. No way she's going to put up with someone like your friend. No offense, but he seems a bit... Rough around the edges." Samantha, Catarina's comrade in gore, answered.
"Yeah, that he-" The black haired S stopped mid-sentence when she realized something. 'The way she talked about her.' "Hey." She said to Samantha, curtly. "This Stephanie... She wouldn't happen to be... I don't know... The most popular girl in the school?"
"Ahahah, no, of course not!" Samantha laughed, and Catarina sighed in relief. "She's certainly the most popular of the freshmen, though."
"GOD DAMN IT!" Catarina screamed, turning a great number of heads in her direction, though. "How the hell is this possible?! His first field trip, the first girl his age he talks to other than me, and somehow, tropes come to him!"
"... What's a trope?" Thomas asked while Catarina fumed, gritting her teeth.
"You don't want to know. I feel dirty just having osmosed it by being around him."
Meanwhile, at the entrance, Grace hid her suddenly red face. "Quite a mouth, that one."
"You don't know the half of it, mister Richards." The redhead muttered, not having it in her to talk any louder.