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Education: Chapter II of IV
Posted By: Dagorath<hoyinshan@gmail.com>
Date: 16 June 2006, 9:28 am

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Tommy had left so early that he arrived in the next period – Biology – ten minutes ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, there were not enough tables in the laboratory for him to get one to himself, and he had been forced to share a table with a group of youths who liked to play Pokemon cards at break.

He slammed his bag down, flung out his textbook and, uncharacteristically, pen and paper, and glowered at the door moodily. Group by group of students filed, first the gamer boys, then a clutch of Chinese girls, all wearing pigtails of varying lengths. After the girls came Annie and her ugly – well, maybe they were just outshone – friends; Tommy's Pokemon desk-mates, discussing the merits of Charizard versus Umbreon; Robert and his cronies swaggering in, followed by their Biology teacher himself. Mr Cairne was a short, squat man who wore oddly stylish T-shirts and jeans – a huge contrast from the cardiganed Mr Hay.

"Right," Cairne began decisively. Shockingly, his shirt was black, with a white V on top, which elicited surprised gasps from the gamer boys and Tommy. But he merely grinned and continued: "Today, I want you to work in groups on a project….selective breeding." He consulted his planner. "Yes, a project on selective breeding."

Tommy sighed inwardly. If they made their own groups, no one would pick him; if the teacher assigned groups, he was excluded and ignored. He could never fit in.

Cairne had picked for them this time. The Chinese girls got mostly into one group, but one of their number was spliced with the Pokemon boys, much to her apprehension, and one of Robert's cronies. A friend of Annie's, paired with more of Robert's cronies and some of the gamer boys, began to cry.

Tommy ignored Cairne as he continued reading out the names. Instead, he looked at Annie, who was staring out the window. The morning sun played on her finely-sculpted features, and her eyes gleamed in the light. She looked for a moment like a life-sized gold statue with ebony hair, her beauty eternal, everlasting.

Annie got paired with her remaining friends and Robert. Tommy himself was forced with the remaining gamer boys, who didn't even bother collecting him. Instead, they began gossiping about Cairne's shirt, pointing repeatedly to their leader's magazine a little way away. Tommy sat down on a chair as far away as possible from them and glared at the scudding clouds.

A while later, he felt a light touch on his arm. Tommy spun round – Annie was sitting on a stool not two feet away from him. Her friends were flirting with Robert, who seemed to lack taste as well as a brain, at least in Tommy's opinion.

"Bored?" the goddess asked.

"Oh," Tommy replied, flustered. "I guess I never work well in these group things…."

"Same here!" Tommy's heart leapt. "They never seem to work properly, always gossiping about inane things." She paused. "Well, it's OK when we're not doing group work," she finished fairly.

Tommy nodded absently. He was too busy admiring her.

"Say, why don't we make our own group? Two of us are enough." She leant closer. Tommy could smell a fresh, seductive scent. "You have it in you. I don't get why you never try…." She gave him a small smile and, grabbing his hand, pulled him up. Then she hurried towards Cairne, who was hunched over his laptop with a frown on his face.

Tommy walked in a dream. If he died now, he would be more than content.

Annie gripped his hand for reassurance and walked up to Cairne, who was doing something very uncharacteristic for a Biology teacher – he was typing what looked suspiciously like game code onto a text file. Tommy tried to peek over his shoulder, and Cairne looked up, annoyed.

"Mr Cairne," Annie began, taking the motion for a cue, "can Tommy and I form a group together? We don't like…."

"Go ahead, you two…." Cairne replied distractedly. He waved his hand vaguely, and Annie grinned. Tommy grinned right back.

He practically danced out of Biology. His head reeled as if he had drunk a good deal too much – he had not only spent an entire lesson in Annie's company, he had not said too many embarrassing things, and she had not called him an idiot once.

He pranced down the corridor, along a flat stretch of ground and out onto the playground. No one except the first years played on it any more, and they were out in droves, but it was roughly the centre of the school and so everyone had to pass it to go elsewhere. Everything seemed to have a new, bright shade of colour; even the beaten-up old swings emanated a beauty in their own right.

Something marred the sunshine. Perched on the top of the slide was Tall Boy, and he was looking for someone.

Instinctively, Tommy tried to melt into the crowd. But the combination of the slide and Tall Boy's own considerable height gave Mo's crony too good a vantage point, and he spotted Tommy easily. Jumping smoothly down like a hawk homing in on its prey, he waded through the crowd and grabbed Tommy's shoulder.

"Hello, Tommy boy," he sneered.

"Hello, Alistair," Tommy replied, addressing Tall Boy by his real name, one that caused him considerable embarrassment whenever it was mentioned. He felt deliciously reckless.

Tall Boy gnashed his teeth, and his fingers tightened painfully on Tommy's flesh, but he did not reply. He shoved Tommy forwards and pulled him over to a nearby classroom.

Mo headed an autocracy. He sat sprawled, obese and decadent, on the teacher's chair, with his head cronies on harder chairs near him. Hangers-on and minor characters stood, backs straight, lined up against the far wall. In all of their eyes were obscene gleams of anticipation as Tall Boy shoved Tommy in and shouted like a herald: "King Mo, Tommy is here as requested."

"Excellent," the head bully said lethargically. "How did you grade that kidney punch I gave you yesterday, Tommy?"

Tommy was filled with a dangerous overconfidence. "When I got home, my little brother punched me in the other kidney," he lied – he had no brothers of any kind. "That kidney hurt more than the one you punched."

"Oh, really?" Mo snarled. He pointed at several runty boys lined up on the floor. "Mash him."

"Yes, sire!" The children, eleven or twelve years old, seemed very keen to prove themselves. Grinning savagely, they advanced, cracking their knuckles. A shiver ran down Tommy's back, like the icy feet of some small animal. He had always been weak and sickly, right from birth – it was one of the reasons his biological parents split up. Throughout his childhood, he had never been a strong boy, never played much with other children. Tommy was left with very few social skills and no friends at all offline. Don't even mention fighting skills.

With wild yells, the four executioners leaped at Tommy. All bravado forgotten, he raised his arms, covered his head, and ran backwards. They knocked him down and one straddled his waist. Without thinking, Tommy kicked wildly with his feet, and he felt his shoe collide with one boy's groin – the victim had been about to leap on top of him. The youth yelled out in pain and retreated, stumbling backwards and grabbing his crotch, to raucous laughter from Mo and his cronies.

Meanwhile, the boy on top of Tommy was fisting him in the face. He raised his arms again and felt the blows crash onto his forearms. His wrists knocked against each other and sometimes lucky blows would cuff him on the ear or knock him on the nose. Tommy flailed wildly, but felt his arms being pinioned to his sides. The other two boys were now lifting him up by the feet.

Tommy bit the boy holding his hands down. The youth yelled out as the blood oozed over his skin, and Tommy felt a savage satisfaction. With an almighty effort, he pulled his arms apart and grabbed onto a pair of table legs.

The two remaining boys pulled as the bitten boy kicked his ribs. Tommy felt slightly faint, but his hands clamped onto the desk like steel bands. For a single moment, there was a dead silence.

Then it was broken as the boys strained suddenly. Tommy let go. The momentum of the boys pulling made Tommy fly through the air between them, yelling hoarsely, and as he flew, he flung each arm out sideways and – impossibly – clouted them each in the face. Then with a muffled ooph, he slammed into the opposite wall and fell heavily onto the floor.

Mo roared with laughter. "The boy's got lead in his pencil after all!" he shouted. He waved airily, but his visages hardened when he saw his four underlings sprawled on the floor. "These haven't though. Huh!"

Tommy picked himself up, wiping blood off his nose, and hurried out the door to the sound of his tormentors being soundly beaten for his failure. Something huge and angry had come to life within him. It clawed at his chest and stomach and roared.