Refusing the call
Keisha, CaraBelle and Jay had different classes most afternoons so after lunch they split the remaining free soda cans between them and split to their various activities: CaraBelle had a free period that she wanted to spend in the art room finishing off her ceramics project, Keisha had a wrestling practice and Jay had Computer Science. She was convinced that of the three she faced the more boring option.
The school had a campus layout with several numbered buildings randomly scattered around a central one housing the caffeteria and main meeting hall. A back door out of the caffeteria lead Keisha through the bicycle sheds and into a “staff only” entrance to the gym complex. She coughed loudly as she passed a group of smokers trying to give them the hint that their habit stunk. It didnt work. They laughed and blew smoke in her direction as she strode on by.
CaraBelle took a more conventional route. While she could have cut through the bike sheds and out down the hill from there, she chose to leave by the caffeteria’s main door. The short hallway offered her a leftward glimpse into one of the music rooms and a right-hand wall covered with award winning student art projects. She paused to listen to the music coming out of the room … a girl was proudly playing Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga” on a keyboard for a boy who was clearly interested in the music, clearly pleased for her to be playing it for him but oblivious to the added dimension of emotion that the girl was radiating.
“Are all boys always such insensitive clods?” CaraBelle wondered.
She wished she could reach out and bridge that last gap. She closed her eyes and listened to the music and emotion from the room. Yes, he was vaguely interested. She bit her lip and concentrated harder, letting a visualizion of the room materialize in her mind’s eye. The room as a mountain stream. The emotion pouring from the girl was nicelly combined with the music, her technique was good, but the boy was a rock in the middle of the stream. The water rushed at him and parted around his immovable form only to reform on the far side. He was getting wet but it wasnt sinking into him.
CaraBelle shook her head to clear the mental image. It wasnt helping. The longer she saw him as a rock impeding the flow of the stream of emotion and music, the less she could believe it possible to reach him. In frustration she opened her eyes and looked again. He was covering something deeper. His defenses were up. She sighed, finally giving up, resigning herself to an observer’s role. She browsed the artwork in the corridor and drank in the captured emotion of each piece letting it ease her frustration. Finally she stepped out through the double doors and made a left turn down the hill. Her own art project lay in a room past the swimming pool, woodwork and metalwork rooms, “block 3” as it was known. The haunting sensation of unrequited love hung with her as she reached the art room and her own ceramic project. As she began to work she poured what she could into the project, losing track of time and even most of the outside world.
Jay watched Keisha and CaraBelle leave and for moments enjoyed the quiet at the table. She finished her diet coke and crushed the can with one hand. She grabbed the second, free can and her bag and followed CaraBelle’s path out through main doors making a right turn once through them. “Block 2” was immediately up the hill from the caffeteria and it housed classrooms for maths and sciences. Second and third floors were given over to labs for chemistry, biology, physics and the newly constructed computer science lab. She had co-opted her friends to come in with her over the summer holidays to help on the construction – converting what was a disused science room and storage area into a machine room and computer lab with white painted walls. She’s learned more than her fair share about network cabling over the summer and had been there for the installation of the network servers and PCs. Learning a trick or two from CaraBelle, she’d stood just that little bit closer, smiled that little bit wider than usual and had convinced the head of the maths department to give her administrative access to the network.
Since the beginning of the school year, she had already dealt with three disgruntled students who had tried to penetrate the network to deface the school website. She’d not told the staff, but had launched her own counter attack and left trojan horse software running on their machines each time. She smiled. Even today their high-spec machines were running as slow as a slug on crazyglue, and she’d been automatically FTP’d some rather nice audio and video files that each of them had spent the money to download.
She was twenty minutes early for her computer studies class so she slipped into what had been the storage room, immediately to the left of the main door into the computer lab, and closed the door. The room was air-conditioned to maintain a stable, cool environment for the machines. She’s moved the furniture around when they were first arranging things in the summer so that she didnt have to sit directly in the down-draught of the A/C. While the main computer lab had a sign saying “no food or drink”, staff maintained a small fridge under the desk inthe machine room. She dropped her diet coke inside to keep cool and began work on her homework.
While she was working she thought she could hear voices but dismissed them as being other students in the main lab working on their own projects. Then one stood out from the rest, distinctive in its contempt for anything not blond, blue-eyes or clothed in pink.
We need to deal with them both
Yeah, but how?
Where R U right now?
In the carpark behind blk-2
Do you see her car?
Gotta deal with the dog before we jump the owner. Do something to the car to scare her off
Jay jumped out of her seat and slammed through the door into the main computer lab. There was no-one there. One machine’s screen glowed and showed a popup box: “What do you want this computer to do?” with buttons for Shutdown, Restart, Log Out and Cancel.
Jay clicked the Cancel button, “Stupid bitch. Cant even get that right! Now what were you up to…”
The screen showed an IM client logged in as “PrettyPrincess801” with an IM conversation still up on the screen. Lazy cow didnt even bother to close the app before logging out? Jay scanned down the conversation replaying in exact terms what she thought she’d overheard moments before. Did the brainless blond read every message back to herself? She’d heard her father talk of a manager in his office who’s secretary printed out all of his email every day, meticulously typing up his hand-written scrawl to answer them later on when he deigned to answer the messages. Tech-savvy or not, the intent was clear and Jay needed to do something about it. She closed the applications and logged out. She didnt know what they were planning but she figured it best not to pick up her bag from the machine room, to just make for the carpark and see what they were doing to Keisha’s car.
In her haste she didnt see Mr. Tillbrook, the head of maths, come in through the door. She walked right into him sending text book and marked homework assignments everywhere.
“I’m sorry. I’ve …. “
“… got a computer studies class in here, yes. Give me a hand picking these things up and help me get the Cecil interpreter loaded on these machines before other students arrive.” He finished
Jay sighed, turned on her heel and stomped angrilly off into the computer lab again. She resigned herself to an hour of tedium before she could hope to deal with the car issue. Thankfully this was the last class of the day for her.
Cecil was a simplified form of machine-language created to teach students about machine-language programming. As such it didnt correspond with anything the computer would normally execute and it needed a special execution environment – a simplified software emulation of a computer – loaded before anyone could run their homework assignments. The language was pathetically simple, in fact, and something that had irked Jay from the first class. She’d pressed Mr Tillbrook to give her the entire module’s homework assignments up-front. He’d handed her the first and she completed it in ten minutes during a lab session. He marked it, smiling at the perfect score, and handed her the rest of the module’s assignments with a comment that he was expecting perfection. He wasnt disappointed, they were returned at the start of the next class completed. That had, of course, caused a problem – he didnt know what to do with the rogue student so he’d put her to work as a teaching assistant in the class.
Between student protests about how “tough” the assignments were, how “retarded” the computer was acting and the genuine requests for help Jay worked on a PC on her own in the corner. She almost had a generic framework written that would act as an IM proxy on the network, passing all requests and responses through without changing them, just logging their contents to the massive server hard-drive for later access. Near the end of the class she’d got the kinks worked out and installed it. As she helped each student in the last ten minutes, she’d reconfigured their network settings to bounce all IM traffic through her proxy. If they tried anything now, she’d have a log.
After class she took a detour, cutting through the back of the biology lab, into a corridor ending in twin chemistry labs with windows that looked out over the main carpark at the back of Block 2. From her vangage point she could see most of the cars, could see the stream of students leaving school through the pedestrian exist, and the groups heading toward the gym complex for after-school sports. Keisha liked to park her car near the gym for an easy exit. Jay waited a few moments as a faceless, seething mass of teenage boys streamed into the gym to see Keisha’s car. It was gone. The empty space glared at her, mocked her, taunted her for obeying the authority figure and not going after the threat to her friend.
“Looking for something?” a voice asked behind her.
She turned and found herself face-to-face with the chemistry teacher, Mr Haigh, known for wearing either mis-matched socks, one sock or not bothering with socks at all. All her teachers had quirks. The head of maths, Mr Tillbrook, stuttered badly and could take minutes to say a word like “Probability” or “Statistics”. She heard that an advanced math class, when face with a choice of mechanics or statistics as an optional module, had chosen the stats one on the grounds of difficulty for the teacher to say it. Mr Haigh wasnt so bad, much better than being accosted by the other chemistry teacher, nicknamed “death-breath” by students. No-one knew the reason for his abomnible bad-breath but it was sickening at 2 paces. Any closer and students had been complaining of losing their appetite. None had died but the claimed it was only a matter of time.
“Im looking for a friend” Jay explained.
“Well, I dont see her in here. Scoot.”
Jay took off at a decent pace to see if Keisha had parked somewhere else, or whether she’d already left. Guilt rose. If something happened… Jay exhausted the gym and other carpark as places to look. The wrestling coach told her that she’d already left, a fact that Jay was all to aware of herself.
The walk home was a daze for Jay. Her mind was whirling with feelings of things she should have done, what might be happening. Her gaze swung inward and her awareness of self in relation to surroundings springing into clear relief. She ran fingers through the 6’ privet hedge of an expensive house a few streets from her own. The tiny leaves were wet with green dew which clung to her fingers. She raised her hand dimly aware that it felt dry and the skin clean while simultaneously running with the green dewy residue from the plant. No smell or taste to it. She remembered the lava-lamp and the connectedness of her family. Green and textured. The liquid reflected the light strangely, glinting with an inner structure. She shook her hand and wiped it off on her jeans.
She crossed at the intersection and made a right turn off the main road onto a side-street that was a quicker way home. Big mistake. The moment she was out of clear sight of the main road a figure slammed into her from behind. She stumbled forward. Had she been looking and not wrapped up in her inner world she would have noticed the leg sticking out from behind the edge of the hedge. She stumbled forward, tripped on the leg and sprawled on the hard concrete of the path.
Time seemed to slow, to crawl at a snail’s pace, as the concrete came up to meet her face. A quiet Voice spoke in her ear, “Let me show you how. Reach. Strike back at them.”
Jay recoiled from the malice in the tone. There was glee too. A lust for conflict resolved, that would strike hard and fast with overwhelming force to end it as quickly as possible. She’d heard Keisha talk of it. Heh, she’d hear her father speak of it when nations went to war. Something of the warrior echoed in the voice.
“Let me show you how.” it urged again.
Jay saw a threshold in her mind’s eye. The Voice was urging her to cross it but she couldnt bring herself to take the step. “No.” she responded.
“So be it.” the Voice responded as it departed.
Concrete slammed into her cheek and Jay cried out in pain. The moment of stunned disbelief was all her assailant needed to move in close for the kill. Knees landed on the middle of her back roughly. Weight landed on her legs grinding her knees into the concrete. A third set of hands roughly grabbed her shoulder length hair and pulled her face up off the ground. PrettyPrincess801, nominal leader of the pink and beautiful crowd, grinned at her. She pulled a knife out of her pocket and flicked it open – a wicked looking 4 inch slightly curved blade – and she laughed as she saw the fright in Jay’s eyes.
“I told you we’d be back.” she sneered.
Jay wriggled helplessly under the weight of the 2 blond cohorts but to no avail. She was held securely under their weight, the handful of hair controlled where her head was facing. Right now she was looking at the descending blade of the knife. It danced to and fro in-front of her eyes. The blond took pleasure in taunting her before she attacked … roughly hacking into the fistful of hair she was holding. Jay screamed as she felt the girl hack off large random chunks of her hair.
“Now you look like the freak that you truly are.” The blond blew hair off the blade and put it away. The weight on Jay’s back lifted and the girls took off laughing, leaving her shaking like a leaf and sobbing uncontrollably.