- I -
(School Week One. Friday)
From my window seat in the classroom, I watched the gulls ride the thermal currents flowing over the ocean waves. Looking small in the distance, they resembled tiny pieces of paper littering the air, rising and falling, sometimes lazily circling about. Nonetheless, I knew they were gulls and not paper, and for much of the afternoon homeroom period they had persistently nagged at my attention.
The small flock of gulls dove out of sight. I imagined them diving beyond the rocky shoreline of Telos Island that was shored up by a seawall completely encircling the island. For extra measure, countless permacrete tetrapods banked up against the seawall, protecting it from the heavy waves roused up by the ocean storms that frequented the coastline during the summers experienced in the northern hemisphere.
I say that I imagined the gulls diving beyond the seawall because despite having a window seat on the second level – or first floor if you counted the ground floor – my view of the ocean was obscured by the giant monstrosity of permaglass and titansteel that was the high school clubroom building – a hundred meters long and four stories tall with a transparent façade facing the school.
What is the point of a window seat if all I can see is that vulgar architectural disaster?
I really hated that building and wished the school had built it somewhere else. To me it was a testament to the ego of some half-baked architect with too little talent and too little imagination. I found nothing appealing in its design, though I’m sure someone will criticize me for my lack of taste.
I watched and waited for the gulls to reappear above its rooftop. When they didn’t, my attention drifted upwards to the long, thin contrail cutting across the patchy late afternoon sky, generated by a trans-orbit shuttle making its way down planetside from the orbital city. Then again, it could be a commercial skyliner making the low orbit jump from west coast to east coast of the northern continent. With a faint shrug to myself, I watched the contrail slowly dissipate back into the surrounding atmosphere.
The sound of a bell ringing dragged my attention back to the front of the classroom, where our teacher, Miss Serene Marisol, quickly wrapped up proceedings for afternoon homeroom.
For the six thousand students attending Telos Academy, that bell signaled the end of classes for the day, and the end of the five-day school week that paralleled the business week. In other words, it was Friday afternoon, and time to pack up and head for home or other intervening destinations.
I looked at the tall annoyingly good looking blonde boy seated ahead of me, and watched him with a sinking feeling in my gut as he pack his belongings quickly into his school issued carry-bag. It was obvious he had plans, and those plans didn’t include me. This was something that had become abundantly clear during the week – more specifically ever since we graduated into high school – as more often than not I found myself heading home on my own, and today was apparently no exception.
Nonetheless, I made a valiant effort to alter that outcome.
I cleared my throat and leaned forward over my intelli-desk. “Hey, Tobias, how about that crêpe place over in Ring One? It’s close by the arcade. I was thinking we could pass by on our way—”
“Sorry, Ronin. Gotta run.” He hastily stood up and pushed his chair in under his intelli-desk.
I stared at him and blinked quickly. “Wh—what do you mean you have to run?” I sat back. “What—again? You’re ditching me again?”
For a heartbeat, he looked uncomfortable or perhaps nervous. “I’ll explain later—I promise. Something I have to do. Sorry.”
He threw me a fast wave. “See you. Tell you about it later. Ah—maybe.”
I frowned, thinking he wasn’t making sense. “Hey—wait! What are you talking about? What about our plans? I thought we were hitting the arcade—”
He palmed his hands together in supplication as he backed away. “Sorry Cass, but you know you like that game more than I do. Besides I can’t beat you. No one can. You’re the best.”
I wasn’t ready to give up on him or our joint afternoon activities. “Yeah, but it’s not the only game there. What about the Gun Princess Royale? You keep bugging me to try that.” There was a reason why I avoided that game like the plague, but we’ll get to that later. “I’ll make an exception today. I’ll try it out. What do you say?”
I must admit to my embarrassment that I was sounding rather desperate, and this did not go unnoticed by my classmates, namely a cadre of girls getting ready to leave.
“…there he goes again….”
“…her boyfriend’s running out on her….”
“…I have to feel sorry of her….”
“…don’t you mean sorry for him…?”
I ground my teeth together.
I can HEAR you!
However, they did state a valid observation. I really did sound like a girl being ditched. It didn’t help that my voice had failed to break. Can you imagine that? I was almost sixteen years old and yet my voice still hadn’t broken. So in effect, I most certainly sounded like a nagging girlfriend. Put me in a girl’s uniform and the transformation would be almost complete.
Tobias shook his head as he continued retreating from me, and waved a hand airily. “Nah, I won’t be able to beat you in that either. You’re just too good.”
I stood up and leaned forward on my desk. “You’re saying that without trying.”
He pumped a fist in the air. “Set a new high score and tell me about it.”
My expression contorted into disbelief. “What…?”
He looked sheepish and a tad nervous as he continued backing away. “Cass, I swear I’ll make it up to you. Just forgive me this once. Please. I have to deal with this.”
“Just this once?” Feeling abandoned is unpleasant, but I bristled for a heartbeat and growled, “And don’t call me Cass!”
He grinned, yet oddly I felt it was forced. I could describe his expression as constipated.
He turned quickly and cut a fine path across the classroom to the front entrance on the opposite side of the room.
I watched him in a state of disgruntled disbelief. “Just what exactly does he have to deal with?”
He was through the door and out of sight a heartbeat later.
I doubted he heard me, and I was probably the farthest thing on his mind in those moments.
Sitting back down, I crossed my arms, and ruminated darkly.
“…ow…she got dumped again….”
“…I feel sorry for her….”
Silently, I renewed grinding my teeth together. Just to set the record straight, I’m a guy not a girl, but this manner of ribbing was something that began late last year when the differences between Tobias and I grew more noticeable. And as I’d mentioned before, I sounded more like a girl than a guy. Complement that with my feminine appearance, it was hard for anyone to see me as a guy despite the uniform I was wearing. Insisting that I was male only convinced people to see me as a deluded tomboy.
“…hey, want to invite her to a mixer...?”
“…are you serious…?”
“…is it? A little make up….”
“…and a dress….”
“…I bet she’d look really cute….”
I stopped grinding my teeth and instead sighed long and low under my breath as I considered my situation.
Yet again with no explanation, the only real friend I had at this school, or anywhere else for that matter, had just abandoned me, and as I’d mentioned before, not for the first time this week. I had acquaintances and classmates, but Tobias Matheus Praetor the Third was my best friend, adversary, rival, and fellow Menial, ever since we entered middle school at Telos Academy three years ago. I strongly believed we were like-minded individuals, but this week that belief had been thrown into question.
Why was he in such a rush?
I slumped my shoulders and glanced out the window as I fell into thought, remembering how he skipped lunch with me and chose to spend it talking to a pretty girl in the cafeteria. I recognized her as Monique Valjean from Class One-Dee, and remembered seeing the attractive brunette with the impressive rack loitering about outside our classroom on a number of occasions this week.
I nodded slowly to myself.
Yeah, that would explain a lot. He probably ditched me for a date with her.
Truthfully, I didn’t like her. There was something about Valjean that just rubbed me the wrong way. I experienced a weird sensation whenever I looked at her, or rather glanced at her, that made me uncomfortable. I’d only learnt her name in passing when I overheard some of the girls in my class talking critically of her, and that was because they were annoyed that the boys they were interested in were instead interested in Valjean. I guess female jealousy or envy can be an ugly thing, especially if you were on the receiving end.
I’m so glad I’m not a girl.
I may have thought that, but a certain quartet in my class had other ideas.
“…I just got a reply….”
“…oh, what did they say…?”
“…the more the merrier….”
I heard them giggle and my thoughts darkened, yet I refused to turn away from the window.
“…really? So should we ask her…?”
“…yeah but what about her clothes…?”
“…hmm, I’m sure we can pick up something along the way….”
“…it’s at the mall anyway….”
I felt a growl well up in my throat and clamped it down.
“…hey let’s go ask her….”
“…no, you go….”
“…fine, fine. I’ll go….”
The more I overheard them, the more my growl grew, and now it was swelling up in my chest like a balloon putting pressure on my lungs. I decided it was best to leave sooner rather than later in the event the balloon burst and I lost control, thereby committing an act I would live to regret. I turned away from the window, and began the process of shutting down my intelli-desk, but the sound of approaching footsteps made my fingers stumble and I touched the wrong parts of the desktop.
The footsteps stopped by my desk, and the balloon of hot emotions burst in my chest.
“No, I am not going to a mixer!”
I almost shouted the words as I looked up at the girl standing near my desk. She had a hand on one hip while the other carried her schoolbag slung over a shoulder.
“Ah—!” I swallowed hard as I recognized her.
“Mixer? What’s this about a mixer?”
My classmate, Felicia Anjeur, questioned me with an affable smile. She was taller than me and naturally slender but years of training had gifted her with an athletic build. She was quite pretty, enough to make my heart skip a beat the first time she talked to me at the beginning of last year in middle school. It was something unexpected, and though I’d wondered many times why she spoke to me rather than the other guys in my glass, I decided not to ask. I believed that to do so would be a mistake, to break the spell of friendship, so I accepted her company and conversation.
I blinked hastily, and then turned my head to look at the group of four girls staring at me from across the classroom.
“…she heard us….”
“…maybe we’ll ask her next time….”
“…yeah, she’s bound to be dumped again….”
I fixed a glare upon the quartet.
“…we’d better go….”
I watched them giggle amongst themselves while casting furtive smiles at me as they quickly exited the classroom.
I slumped in my chair.
Felicia humphed to herself. “I guess it’s getting worse,” she muttered.
“Can’t really blame them,” I muttered back. I might be criticized for feeling sorry for myself, but there are times when it just can’t be avoided.
“True. You do make a pretty girl.”
I tossed my hands in the air. “Oh for the love the gods! Thank you. Just what I needed to hear. Maybe I should come to school next week in a girl’s uniform. Wouldn’t that make people laugh.” Felicia’s eyes widened, and I felt guilty over my outburst. “Sorry….”
“Well, I don’t think they’d be laughing,” she stated seriously.
“No, they’d probably hunt me down and beat me up.” Memories of being chased down the school corridors during my third day as Princess Silver Blue flashed before my eyes. Remembering the traumatic event, I started to tremble, and my legs became rubbery.
“Why would they beat you up?” Felicia wondered partly to herself and partly to me.
Surprised by the concern in her voice, I looked up at her with my eyes wide. For a moment, a single heartbeat, I wondered if I should tell her. But I had promised myself and extracted an oath from the Cosplay Club that my identity as the Silver Blue Princess would never be revealed to the world. Thus, even though I wavered on the cusp of making that soul shattering revelation, I held my tongue and tried to dismiss her concern with a shrug as I looked back down at my intelli-desk running through the shutdown process.
Felicia sighed and said, “Well, maybe not everyone would be as accepting, but I don’t think it would be all that bad.”
I held back a frown of disbelief. Was she even thinking when she said such things?
From across the room, a girl’s voice called out, “Hey, Feli, did you ask him or not?”
The owner of that voice was a girl with natural blonde hair, a heart shaped face, and hazel eyes. Like Felicia, she sported a slender yet athletic build with long legs that tapered into perfect ankles and cute feet. A smidgeon more attractive than Felicia – probably because of my natural preference toward blondes – Angela Letrois wore her customary thoughtful smile as she regarded the two of us silently. Like her companion, Angela too had struck up conversation with me last year, and I’d learnt a lot about her tastes, likes and dislikes, from our lunchtime and classroom chats.
If I had to characterize my relationship with the two girls, I would say they weren’t friends of mine but strong acquaintances, and I’d enjoyed lunch at school in their company on many occasions. The downside was that more often than not, I found myself dragged into discussions that my male classmates wouldn’t dream about, and more than likely choke upon topics that eroded my sense of male identity. While other guys were talking about sports and girls – well, mostly girls – I found myself wading through the subjects of fashion, gossip, the latest entertainment trends, who was dating whom, and who was on the rebound. It was all innocent enough, but the cold reality was that Felicia and Angela didn’t see me as a guy, and so they had no trouble including me in their clique or circle, something that left me with convoluted feelings that cycled between gratitude and resentment.
Standing beside my intelli-desk, Felicia blinked then gasped as though abruptly remembering why she came over in the first place. “Oh, yeah, I completely forgot.”
She grinned down at me like a cartoon cat.
Yes, that was indeed her specialty. If Felicia ever gained the ability to become transparent, I was convinced the one thing that would remain visible was her cartoon smile. At the very least she had perfect pearly whites. However, at the moment her grin was making me nervous.
“Wh—what?” I was ashamed to hear my voice tremble.
“We have a proposition for you,” Felicia said.
“I told you before I’m not going to a mixer,” I declared uneasily while looking at her eyes instead of her mouth.
“Oh, forget about the mixer. We can do that another time.”
“Besides we need to get you a dress.”
Felicia turned her smile into a thoughtful pout. “Well, Ange and I figured we’d cheer you up.”
Some of my annoyance veered away into surprise. “Huh?”
“You got ditched by your boyfriend, didn’t you?” She wagged her slender eyebrows at me. “Third time this week?”
“Fourth time—and he’s not my boyfriend.”
She waved a hand. “Chill, girl. Chill.”
“So since you’re single again, we figured we’d treat you to something special.”
For a moment, I was left with my mouth hanging open.
Felicia gave me a questioning look. “You did say you wanted to try out the crêpes in that new place by the entertainment arcade.”
“Eh…I guess I did.” I realized she’d been eavesdropping on me.
“So what are you waiting here for? Let’s get going.” She leaned toward me and smiled suspiciously at me. “What do you say? You’ll have three of the prettiest girls in the school keeping you company. Are you man enough to handle all three of us?”
I squared my shoulders and leaned back at her. “Ha ha. Very funny.” Suddenly my eyebrows rose sharply when the proverbial penny dropped. “Three girls?”
“Yeah. Three girls,” Felicia replied, dazzling me with her twin rows of pearly white teeth, while holding up three fingers for me to count.
Hesitantly, I looked toward the opposite side of the room and my anxious gaze fell upon a girl standing at her intelli-desk, her eyes glaring at me on an otherwise impassive yet incredibly beautiful face. She had long, almost snow blonde hair, and almond shaped emerald eyes. Her five foot six figure was trim, slender, and topped with a generous helping of womanly flesh where it counted the most – her chest.
Anri Shirohime was a goddess to us first year students and our class rep.
She was the girl I considered number two in my ranked list of goddesses, both attending and not attending the academy and while it wasn’t the first time our eyes had met, it certainly wasn’t the first time she’d glared at me. I had myself to blame for drawing her ire, and that was because my gaze inexorably travelled from her beautiful face down to her chest and settled there. It wasn’t my fault. A chest as perfectly proportioned as hers demanded attention, and it was a man’s duty to oblige. But leaving that aside, whenever I gazed upon her, I melted like warm butter.
Shirohime was a new addition to our class this year, though not the only one. Graduating from middle school to high school, there had been a reshuffling of class assignments, breaking up some of the established cliques, and requiring the hasty need to form new ones or become a resident of Lonerville for the remainder of the year. Tobias and I had moved up into Class One-Cee together, but Shirohime and a handful of other girls were brought in from other classes in an effort to accommodate new students and compensate for those that had transferred out of the academy. However, this balancing act left us with a classroom of thirty-six students where two thirds of them were girls.
I should mention that the four girls toying with the idea of inviting me to a mixer were part of the new ranks to join Class One-Cee. As such, I didn’t know them well, that is to say, I was less familiar with them than my other classmates, but equally so I knew little about Shirohime.
From her self-introduction at the beginning of the week, I’d learnt that she’d transferred to Telos Academy late last year after moving south to Ar Telica for reasons she would not disclose. When the subject of nominating a class rep arose, she volunteered for the position without batting an eyelid, leaving many of my classmates happy to be spared the need to vote for someone, and many of us wondering why anyone would volunteer in the first place since it was a problematic role to fulfill.
So here I was, moments after locking eyes with her, melting into a puddle of nervous goo as I was consumed by her beauty. However, Shirohime huffed and tossed her hair, then folded her arms brusquely under her breasts as she averted her gaze.
Clearly rejected, I felt my heart sink as I continued to melt away, until Felicia suddenly grabbed me by the shoulders and yanked me up to my feet.
“Okay, girl. Let’s go.” Still holding onto me, she spun me around with a strength that came from long hours of training at her sports club.
“Girl, you complain too much. Onward march.”
She picked it up with ease and threw the straps over my shoulder. “Come on, Princess. Let’s get going.”
There was clearly no arguing with her.
Watched by the amused Angela and the disapproving Shirohime, I was marched along by Felicia. Overwhelmed by her surprising strength, my ego took the blow and then withered up on the floor of my psyche, unable to handle the truth that a girl was so much stronger than I was.
The trio ensured I didn’t run away, and thus escorted me down to the shoe lockers. After swapping my indoor shoes for my outdoor ones, Felicia and Angela flanked me as the four of us departed the academy’s high-school building and made our way across the wide entrance, heading toward the mag-lev station.
I'm posting the full first chapter in two parts.
This is a little more than Amazon offers in their sample, but that's because of the cover, preface, and so forth.
I apologize in advance if I've messed up the page formatting and links.
Having trouble trying to figure out how to get everything linked up.
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