Education: Chapter I of IV
Posted By: Dagorath<email@example.com>
Date: 2 June 2006, 9:55 am
Tommy stirred in his computer chair. His eyes slowly opened and he blinked blearily, like a princess waking out of her enchanted sleep, looking out on a world she had left long ago. He rubbed his eyes and pushed himself strenuously out of his chair, before wiggling his mouse. The computer monitor fizzed on, revealing a slowly revolving image of his game character lying dead on the floor, sprawled spectacularly with one leg dangling over a yawning chasm. An assault rifle teetered on the brink for a second before falling into the blackness below. On his screen, it read: "9 seconds to resurrection."
Tommy flexed his fingers and stood up, before a coughing fit grabbed him by the chest and squeezed his stomach mercilessly. He fell back onto his chair, gasping.
A minute later, Tommy got up again and looked wearily at the screen. His character had been resurrected and was now being attacked by spawn-camping monsters. He reached forwards and reset his computer. He was so tired
. An endless night of gaming, lack of food and a kidney punch from Fat Mo had all taken their tolls on the gangly, stretched boy.
He looked at a digital clock suspended on the ceiling among loud game posters and discarded chip packets. 0630.
Tommy blurred into action. He had only five minutes to pack his bag, put on his uniform and catch the bus into town. Otherwise, he would have to wait another half hour
.and that would certainly render him late. As he had learnt from long experience.
He rushed into the bathroom like an Olympic runner, grabbed his toothbrush and scrubbed quickly. Then he opened the tap and splashed some cold water onto his face, spilling a fair amount onto the floor and his T-shirt. Tommy then grabbed his comb and attacked his ruffled hair, to no effect. It still had a crumpled just-out-of-bed look. Too bad.
Tommy swivelled round and ran out, his left foot sliding on the pool of water, sending him yawning towards the door and tripping him on the threshold. He fell forwards and landed on his face with a muffled ooph.
He struggled up painfully and lurched back into his bedroom, pulling his clothes off and throwing them in a pile on the edge of his bed before struggling into his uniform. His shirt looked as though it had been having a tussle with his other clothes in his wardrobe. Damn.
Tommy threw his tie around his neck and chucked his textbooks into his bag. He glanced at the covers of the tomes as he did so. "Shit!" he shouted, almost simultaneously. An important piece of coursework, which he had been reminded of time and time again, was due this morning. He had not done it, of course.
Tommy stood stock-still, weighing each option in his head like a supercomputer
.or perhaps more like the relics in the school ICT rooms. After a while, he heaved a huge sigh and pulled on his bag. He would just have to do it before class
Tommy limped out of the house and stood at the bus-stop. The early-morning chill crept in between his buttons and swirled in the gap between his shirt and stomach. His eyes flicked, as they always did, towards a tall warehouse a few hundred metres away. The building had once been a supply depot, but it had been abandoned a decade before. Now, it was the headquarters of Paratrooper Productions, a major games studio.
Tommy adored Paratrooper. He had a whole stack of their games piled on a shelf, from their first game, a rather primitive FPS, to a classic released three years ago. The game he had been playing the previous night was their latest game, though it had been released more than a year ago. Tommy liked to look at the building while waiting for the bus, starring at the bright red sign, the posters of previous games and the locked doors that lead into the place of wonders. He had often fantasized of an employee inviting him in for a tour. His house was the only one near the warehouse and most of the employees said "Hi" when their paths crossed, but there had never been any hints of trips into heaven.
A loud rumble reached Tommy's ears from along the road. He looked up; the bus had arrived, like an old, untended dog. It slowed to a halt in front of him and disgorged a few Paratrooper employees dressed in casual T-shirts and jeans. There was a tense air to them this morning that Tommy had noticed increasing from a month or so ago. They hurried past him without a word, and he stared after them in wonder.
"You getting on, son?" the driver shouted, after a pause, pregnant for Tommy, empty for him.
"Oh, sorry," Tommy stammered. He walked quickly on board, paid his fare, and climbed up to the second deck. It was deserted except for an old couple holding hands near the middle; he ignored them and flung himself onto a seat at the back. Then he stared out the window moodily.
A wave of dread suddenly washed over Tommy, postponed by his frenzied gaming the previous night. Fat Mo would bully him again today. The brute liked to pick on anyone and everyone who did not fit his image of "cool", and that was most of the school. Tommy was his latest fad; he had endured taunts, blows and humiliation every day for the past fortnight. He had had lunch money grabbed, school books torn, dirtied clothes. Tommy still shuddered at night about it, when he wasn't furiously gaming or sleeping from total exhaustion.
Thoughts of Mo always turned Tommy back to his character in the Paratrooper game he was playing. It was tall, muscular, handsome and popular with girls. Tommy was very high level and he often talked with female gamers. In the game, he never got nervous or confused.
He heaved a sigh again and looked at the morning traffic. All too soon, the church bells chimed outside St. Dolby's Secondary School, a large, blocky, nondescript building with a small yard and beaten-up playground.
Tommy got off, still limping slightly from his fall earlier in the morning. One of Mo's cronies, Tall Boy, lounged at the gate, watching the students lazily and whistling at girls with no sense of shame whatsoever. Tommy pulled his bag higher and hunched his shoulders, trying vainly to appear small and unnoticeable. Tall Boy looked down his nose at him, but only raised an eyebrow in amusement.
Filled with trepidation at the reprieve, Tommy hurried up the stairs to his floor and crept into his classroom like a scout entering the camp of his enemies. It was covered in aging paint, cracks across the ceiling plaster like spider webs. Small, damaged desks littered the scuffed floor, arranged in vaguely straight lines. Students were arranged in separate pockets across the area. The leader of a huddle of girls near the front of the classroom, a beauty with a long, black mane of hair and stunning brown eyes, Annie, winked at Tommy as he tried to go unnoticed to his desk near the back. He blushed furiously and walked quicker. Upon his destination, he pulled a textbook from his bag and hid behind it.
There were sudden shouts of "Oh, my god!" from a nearby set of tables. A group of youths were huddled around a magazine, and, for once, it did not seem to be pornographic. Tommy laid his textbook down quietly and peeked over their shoulders, careful not to breathe on them. An entire page was devoted to a black background, on which was superimposed a white V. Near the bottom of the advertisement was a tiny man with a parachute on his back.
"Is that " he began, his voice squeaking with excitement.
Tommy froze. Every one of the boys turned round and stared at him. He could feel their collective gazes on his face, beating on his brow like the sun. Tommy instinctively hunched up and shuffled backwards as the boys recovered their voices with shouts of: "Get out, you oddball!" "What you lookin' at, you geek?" "Do I know you? Cos if I don't you'd better fuck off!"
A single tear welled up in Tommy's eyes as he raised his Chemistry textbook up to his forehead, but he dried it with a tissue before it could travel down his cheek.
Registration passed as usual. Mrs Hemingway called out their names, starting with "Bradford, George" and ending with "Way, James" and was answered with bored "Here"s. The usual notices followed Mrs Cooke's badminton club had changed its meeting date from Tuesday to Wednesday, Assembly was on the field instead of in the Hall, a certain Albert Maine had lost his calculator
. Tommy's mind drifted away to a world where he was a tall, handsome mercenary who slew hideous monsters and devious turncoats for a living. He had, in fact, received several engagement proposals from female gamers. One had been quite a looker she had sent him her photograph but he had to decline, albeit very reluctantly.
Tommy's eyes half-closed as he remembered a particularly spectacular episode where he, armed with only a pistol and a torch, crept inside a dungeon and rescued out a party of gamers who had been captured by a tribe of bloodthirsty ghouls. Tommy had disguised himself as the head honcho's leader's brother, infiltrated the ghouls, and killed them one by one as they came to seek advice from their chief, who he had disposed of in the privacy of the chief's hut. He had been snitched on by a ghoul who had only feigned death, and a spectacular gun battle ensued, where he popped shots from behind the ghouls' crudely constructed water closet
. If only he could be as brave and resourceful as his game character
A loud klaxon blew Tommy's fantasies apart. He raised his head, which had slump down onto his chest in weariness, and looked wildly at the clock. The bell for the start of the first lesson had just gone.
He leapt up, grabbed his bag and rushed out of the classroom towards the first lesson History. Racing through drab corridors and dark stairways, he screeched to a halt outside a classroom. Tommy took a deep breath and pushed the door open.
"- the Human-Covenant " Mr Hay stopped abruptly and looked at Tommy. The collective gaze of the rest of the class swivelled over from the teacher's desk, the window and each other to him. The clutch of boys who had been looking at the game magazine previously laughed quietly. Tommy took no notice, but his heart sank when Annie frowned in disgust.
"Well, Mr Scott," Hay sneered. "You've just set a new record for yourself! This is the earliest time you have ever arrived at my lessons!" There were nasty snickers from most of the class. "I think the boy deserves a merit!"
"Sir " Tommy began warily.
"No, I mean it." Hay smiled cruelly. He waited expectantly until Tommy laid his bag down onto the floor and pulled his diary slowly out, feeling as though he were pulling a piece of flesh off himself. Impatiently, Hay reached down, snatched it off him, and flicked to the Merit page. Tommy had managed to procure several, not because of his grades they were awful but because he liked to help teachers out during breaks and lunchtimes. Helplessly, he saw Hay sign his signature and write: "Early to class."
Tommy closed his eyes in anger. He could never "cash in" his Merits anymore: such an odd reason for one would prompt an enquiry, and Hay would tell all.
"Thank you, sir," Tommy said stiffly, taking back his diary. He walked to his place amid jeers and catcalls.
Savouring the moment for a while, Hay licked his lips almost obscenely. He watched Tommy sit down, ears glowing red from anger and embarrassment, before saying: "The Human-Covenant war was started by us, the humans. A peaceful Covenant ship had been observing Harvest, an Outer Colony, considering humans' potential to be assimilated into the Covenant, and we humans attacked it. It was forced to retaliate. After destroying Harvest's fleet, we began to man the ground-to-space missiles and the Covenant ship was forced to send down warriors to quell the populace.
"Admiral Cole, who now resides in a lunatic asylum in Africa, sent a battlegroup to attack the Covenant ship, with orders to shoot first and ask questions later. The Covenant ship was forced to eradicate the battlegroup, much to its regret."
Not all the class was listening, but they were all pretending to be hunched over their notes, taking in Hay's narration. Tommy, having dreamily been contemplating the back of Annie's beautiful head, had forgotten to pretend likewise. He was spotted by Hay.
"Scott, have you taken any notes?"
"Y-yes, sir," Tommy replied hurriedly. He fished inside his bag for a sheet of paper and a pencil.
"Well, smart-boy," Hay sneered, "what happened after the Covenant ship implemented self defence against the battlegroup?"
A pause. "Don't know, sir."
"Exactly," Hay said smugly. "I want a thousand-word essay on the War from you by tomorrow!"
Tommy sighed inwardly. Today was even worse than usual.
"The answer to the question that I asked Tommy was that one ship escaped from rightful death. It limped back to Cole and Cole marshalled the largest fleet in UNSC history, setting out to attack any Covenant they came across. Desolate at the thought of humans' probably non-existent salvation, the Covenant decided to destroy the human colonies, so that our scourge could not spread to the rest of the galaxy.
"Cole destroyed the ship near Harvest, and it sold its life dearly. Then he began on a path of blood and terror, attacking the locations of all known Covenant sightings, destroying any of the brave ships they found. Fortunately, the valour of the Covenant warriors and their high level of technology finally destroyed Cole's death-fleet.
"Over the years, the Covenant destroyed all the Outer and Inner UNSC colonies, culminating in the destruction of Reach, an important human dockyard and command planet, from which much of the human virus seeped."
"Sir, what of the Spartans?" an obsequious voice asked. Tommy looked up. The source was an ugly-looking youth with a head of dusty brown hair that most girls seemed to find sexy. His name was Robert and he had recently been considering joining Fat Mo's gang.
Tommy was struck suddenly with a feeling of pity for Robert. He, like many others, thought Mo the height of cool and power. He was anything but. Robert was in for a cruel awakening.
Perhaps he could get some people on his side to crush Mo permanently. Several boys had had their girlfriends forced off them by Mo's gang; countless more terrorised by him and his cronies. One Chinese boy had been repeatedly beaten by Mo, because he was not allowed to defend himself with the Wing Tsun he had learnt from a child, for fear that he would send Mo and his gang to hospital, if not the morgue. There was one ally that Tommy might be able to get
.then again, the conceiver of this ingenious scheme was not particularly popular with very many people in school either
"- their shields were stolen off the Elites' designs, and the armour surprisingly well-made. They, through a mixture of cunning trickery and blatant cheating, stole many victories off the noble Covenant. Fortunately, most of them died on Reach and a horrific attack on the Covenant's command-and-control station, the Unyielding Hierophant."
"There was one left, though, sir?" a girl near Annie asked. "The
"Spartan-117 has been stripped of his rank and listed as beyond-salvage. And, yes, he did escape the Covenant, despite being the Spartans' leader, through the manipulating of many brave men who had been unwillingly dragged into the fight. One of those is Commander Miranda Keyes, the daughter of the disgraced Captain Keyes the Covenant does not believe in the sins of the father being passed down to the daughter, so she has been allowed to keep her rank. She was forced by Spartan-117, who coordinated his efforts with the traitor Lord Hood, to follow a Covenant capital ship containing the Prophet of Regret into Slipspace. 117's foolish efforts had forced the Prophet to do the jump in the middle of a city, and it is the Spartan's actions that destroyed New Mombassa, not the Covenant's."
"But where is 117 now?" came a voice, floating through Tommy's thoughts. He had been admiring the light-blue strap of Annie's bra, barely visible through the back of her thin white blouse. Vainly, he tried to straighten and pretend to have been listening with rapt attention the whole while. But Hay was not looking at him. A gleeful, fanatical gleam danced in his eyes, giving his visage a terrible, twisted light, as he stared out the window.
"His whereabouts are unknown. 117 was in the company of a Sergeant Johnson, who suffers from a rare but horrific nervous disease that perverted his mind to obey the Spartan, and a battalion of ODSTs and Marines forced into their service. Keyes's family has already filed charges against the Spartan, rape most prominently. Given his past history of bloodshed and necrophilia, I don't think Spartan-117 would hesitate before stooping as low as to assault Ms. Keyes. Who knows, he probably learnt it from the evil Captain Jacob Keyes, who has had many posthumous charges filed against him."
The class sat in resonating silence at the revolting potential of the changeling Spartan-117. Hay smiled at their horror for a while before saying: "It's getting near the bell, kids. I'll go into the caste system of the Covenant next lesson." He glanced at Tommy, who was thrusting his untouched paper back into his bag. "And I remember the essay, Scott!"
Tommy pushed past the desks in front and walked quickly out of the classroom, slamming the door behind him.