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Education: Chapter III of IV
Posted By: Dagorath<hoyinshan@gmail.com>
Date: 30 June 2006, 7:03 am

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The bell for the third lesson sounded. For most, it was the call to return to drudgery; for Tommy, it signified an ending within him. He had never been aggressive and had never laid hands on anyone, let alone four people….normally it was him who got struck. An obscenely wild exhilaration filled him. He felt sick.

Tommy swung the English classroom door, covered in scratched paint and doorknob oiled by hundreds of sweaty hands, open and strode over the threshold. As he did so, the memory of the early morning came back to him in a flash – he had forgotten to do the coursework he had resolved to do once he was in school. He was filled to the seams with an unhealthy nonchalance and recklessness. Tommy remembered him smashing his hands onto the boys' faces as they pulled him – it was an accidental act at the time, but he now saw it as a well-planned and intentional attack – and Annie smiling at him that morning in Biology, and he melded the two moments together – Annie smiling at him while he clobbered the youths. Filled with this encouraging, if not entirely or even vaguely correct, vision, Tommy swaggered to his seat at the back and sat down with a flourish.

Mr Pince, their English teacher, swept in in a cloud of silk after a minute or two. Pince was flamboyance incarnate. Today, he wore a silk shirt covered with a rainbow-coloured dragon, its eyes blazing, its claws outstretched, its spines bristling. His pants were black, flared and covered in colourful spray-painted circles and squares. Tommy felt a little blinded and bewildered.

He shook his head. If he was now commenting on teachers' clothing, something odd had happened to his brain.

"Hello, class," Pince boomed. His voice was as flamboyant as his clothes. "I hope you are all keeping well!" Many students whispered mocking jokes to one another. "Before you hand in your coursework, I would like to bring your intellectual attention to a newspaper article I spotted earlier…."

The class collectively sat back and got comfortable as Pince began rambling about a writer who had received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Tommy inched his hand inside his bag, rummaged for a sheet of paper, and pulled a pen from his pocket. Then he set the paper upon his knee and carefully wrote: "Is the use of human medical technology a viable solution to make us worthy of the Covenant?" before underlining the text carefully without his ruler. There was a skill to be demonstrated here – the whole essay had to be completed in a very short time, yet look as though it had been written the previous afternoon, preferably after one or two drafts.

Tommy finished his first paragraph in a minute: "The Covenant, consisting of the graceful Drones, the team-working Jackals, the strong and intelligent Brutes, and the wise Prophets, are impossible to rival in any way. However, humanity can make inroads by increasing brain power using psycho-enhancement drugs, strength through steroids and longevity through low-calorie diets." He ran an expert eye over it: clear, unhurried script, dated a week before.

Tommy had by now printed another paragraph illustrating the qualities of the Covenant races in greater depth. Too late. Pince was nearing the end, and many people were stirring in their seats. He sped up, his pen flying across his paper

A minute later, Pince was collecting coursework in, starting from the students in the front row. Tommy frowned. He'd have to make an excuse up. Unfortunately, Pince had heard most of them before. He watched as the billowing, fat figure, comic and yet vaguely threatening at the same time, moved down the rows, taking thick, ten-page essays with quiet words of: "Oh, well done, Michael" or "Excellent, thank you, my dear." Pince wound down carefully, and shot a quick glance at Tommy, who was furiously writing on his lap with tell-twitches of his shoulder.

As Pince paused before the seat of the gamer boys' leader, his mobile phone rang. "God Save the Queen" blared out with a triumphant chorus of voices in the classroom and Pince reached lethargically into his pocket, pulling the slim object out. "Yes?" he asked cheerily. After around one second, the smile fell off his face like water rolling off a marble wall. His voice turned into a hoarse, terrified whisper and his eyes widened in horror as he listened to the person at the other end with exclamations of: "Oh, my god!" and "No, that's not possible…."

"OK, see you there," Pince finished after a while. He dropped his phone back into his pocket and said hurriedly: "I have an urgent family matter to attend to. Put the coursework on my desk; I'll be back as soon as I can." With sweat pouring down his forehead, Pince swept out in a flurry of silk that was nowhere near as graceful as when he had entered.

Feeling as though he had been saved from the death row, Tommy sighed in relief. The mysterious phone call had saved him from humiliation in front of Annie, and that meant a great deal more to him than before. He sat back and grinned at the sun smiling through the window.

"You did do that coursework, didn't you?" a voice asked beside him accusingly. Annie was reclined on the edge of the seat next to him, he long, smooth legs crossed before her.

"Of course," Tommy replied confidently. "Had it all thrashed out, every point listed."

"Why don't you give it in then?" Annie asked shrewdly.

"Oh, later," he replied airily, and quickly switched to a new topic. "Say, are you watching the upcoming match between the French and the Moroccans?" As he did so, his eyes flicked over her features, from her glossy dark hair to her beautiful, orb-like eyes; from her exquisite neck to her round, firm breasts. His eyes flicked up once more to hers and, to his horror, he saw that she had been watching him.

With a faint smile, Annie said: "No, but I think the Moroccans…."

It was nearing the end of the lesson. No supply teacher had come, and Pince had not reappeared. They had talked about anything under the sun, from the curfew to be announced by the Covenant authorities later that month to Mr Pince's "family matter"; from the recent new album released by the pop group "Confectioner's Sugar" to the news of Sangheili rebels leading an insurgency in Santa Fe.

If he walked on air after Biology, Tommy now leaped amongst the stars as they left the English classroom. It was surprisingly easy talking to her, and their conversation had gone even better than the ones he had imagined in his dreams. The sun shone dazzlingly on St Dolby's in a blaze of glory.

The duo strolled out of the classroom down the stairs. Though they weren't standing particularly closely together, Tommy could see incredulous and even jealous looks being shot at him. For a second, he felt a frisson of selfish pleasure, then with a bitter tone, a voice burst out involuntarily within him: "Who would want to go out with an oddball like me?"

He lapsed back into his old gloomy thoughts as they walked further down the stairs. They exchanged few words and Annie turned round at around the first floor and to talk animatedly to a boy behind her. She was grinning and, Tommy thought gloomily, "she never smiled so wide when talking to me". His eyes dulled and they did not seem to register anything in their sight. He could only feel his feet tramping down, down, towards a hell where no one wanted to be near him –

"Finally! Took a while to get rid of him," Annie breathed in his ear. He spun round with a look of surprise on his face. Annie was rotating her jaw slowly, as though all the previous grinning had hurt her cheek muscles. "That idiot keeps trying to curry my favour, I have no idea why." She frowned slightly at his incredulous look of joy. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Tommy replied quickly. "Erm…." They talked happily down to their Maths classroom, where Annie arranged for Tommy to sit on the end of a row of desks, then herself to his right, and then her friends to her right – a drastic change from before, when Tommy used to sit at the back, his usual haunt, and sulk, just like in every other lesson. Once she sat down, she was immediately pounced on by her friends, who whispered and pointed at Tommy like a crowd of angry conspirators who were yet too afraid to face their target openly.

He ignored them. Instead, he pulled his Maths textbook out – it was still quite crisp because of disuse – and planted it on his lap before scanning every page with the expert eye of a master reviser-at-last-minute. Soon, he had grasped enough of the concepts of their current chapter to help Annie when she, dismissing her friends' accusations with a casual wave of her hand, to an accompanying chorus of "We're only trying to save you!", turned round to start work with him. His dextrous brain, which had not seen much proper use lately, churned out innovative solutions and smart answers to cover his tracks. Annie was suitably impressed.

They were at a particularly diabolical question ("Show that the 2n multiples of 4 is 4n(2n+1)") when there came the sound of thumping footsteps on the classroom corridor. Tommy peeked through the left window – his position on the end of the row gave him an excellent view through it – and jumped visibly.

"What is it?" Annie asked, lifting her eyes from diabolical workings-out.

"Look," Tommy breathed. He pointed outside. Two huge, ape-like aliens with wicked-looking fangs and enormous, furred muscles were tramping down the pristine corridor, clad in crude and bulky-looking armour made of something that looked horribly like human bones. Tommy could identify part of a skull, several femurs and various ribs clanking on the Brutes' frames like funeral bells. Their fur and armour was covered in a dark, red substance that looked half-congealed and glinted evilly in the sunlight.

"Woah…." Annie leaned across him to look. He could smell a faint perfume floating from her hair, like the smell of a crisp, clear morning with a light, scented wind, and felt slightly intoxicated, despite his fright.

Their Maths teacher Mr Broode, a jolly-looking, pinstripe-suited man, who was standing a row behind them, saw the two aliens at their classroom door and rushed over, opening it hurriedly and asking: "How may I help you –"

"Out of my way!" one of the Brutes growled. He cuffed Broode on the head with the back of his armoured hand. The man swayed slightly, and then fell down like a puppet that had its strings cut, with a crash, onto the classroom floor.

Several of the students shouted out in surprise and rage, and got up to help Broode, but a glare from the Brutes made them sit down again reluctantly.

The Brutes swept their gazes around the classroom, ignoring the looks of fear and enmity they received. For one horrible moment, one of the creatures stared Tommy straight in the eye, and his mind felt pierced like a lance by the cunning evil in the alien's head. The Brute grinned obscenely, baring his teeth. For an electric moment, Tommy cringed backwards, held in place by the creature's gaze. Annie's eyes widened and she grasped Tommy's right hand tightly.

Then the contact was broken. The alien shut its mouth and resumed its search. Both creatures' gazes fell at the same time on Michael, a dark-haired youth who was one of Robert's friends, sitting near the other end of the classroom. They bared their teeth savagely. With superhuman speed, the creatures leaped towards the boy, laughing gutturally. Several girls began crying in fright, and their sobs seemed to strangely harmonise with the Brutes' broken grunting….a horrible symphony. Michael leapt out of his chair in fright and, for a moment, his eyes flashed in defiance, then his shoulders slumped and Tommy could hear a hissing sound. The boy had urinated in his pants.

One of the Brutes grabbed Michael by the arm and threw him bodily towards the front of the classroom, where there was a wide gap between the whiteboard and the desk to facilitate the teacher's pacing. Michael slammed onto the ground, amid more screams, and struggled up slowly. He made a dash for the door, but too late. The Brutes had already run back to the front of the room.

"You first," one Brute growled in English. The other inclined his head in mocking graciousness and grabbed Michael by the throat as he tried to flee. With an uninterested expression on his face, he threw the boy into the air with his left arm and slammed his right armoured knuckles into Michael's back. With a wild cry, the boy flew towards the other Brute, who kicked him so hard in the stomach that he flew back into midair. He vomited out a huge, red fountain of blood that leapt on high and splashed the whiteboard, the floor and the teacher's desk.

With a whimper, Annie buried her head in Tommy's chest. He put his arms around her gently and covered her eyes, but his own were wide open as he watched the murderers pass Michael to and fro simply by the force of their mighty blows. He whimpered, very softly, each time the boy received another fist or foot, though the victim himself was now unable to utter any more cries. The chorus of screams and cries echoing through the classroom seemed to provide accompaniment to the sounds of breaking bones and rupturing organs.

Suddenly, with unspoken consent, one of the Brutes caught Michael, and Tommy's heart leapt for a moment in hope. Then the creature grabbed Michael by the back of the neck and slammed his forehead with terrific force into the whiteboard. Everyone jumped. With a terrific crack, the whiteboard split apart and a small dent appeared in the wall underneath, while Michael's broken body slid down the wall onto the sprawled body of the unconscious Mr Broode, leaving a horrific red stain on the wall. Everyone's faces were stained with tears, Tommy realised as he looked around in fear, except for one of the gamer boys'. The youth was gripping the edge of his desk in a white-knuckled vice, and on his face was a look of grim determination.

The Brutes patted their hands off and did a high-five together. The moment was so surreal that Tommy almost laughed….but when the Brutes kicked Mr Broode in the ribs on the way out, his heart hardened to pure hatred. A low growl rumbled out of his throat, but he kept his mouth tightly shut in prudence.

The pain of the kicks seemed to have awakened Mr Broode. His eyes fluttered open and was immediately confronted by Michael's blood-stained body sprawled on his own. He kicked his legs wildly, yelling with high-pitched squeaks, as though his lower half were in the maw of some horrific monster, and his spasms flipped Michael over. Michael's bloodstained head now stared up at the ceiling. Grey brain fluid dripped from the colossal crack in his skull onto the floor, and his eyes, popped by the Brutes' hard, long-nailed fingers, gazed unseeingly up at the overhead fan. A thin trickle of blood flowed from the corner of his mouth onto the already-stained floor.

Those who weren't screaming began doing so at around this point.

Author's Note: I hope this chapter freaked you out too. The maths question comes from Heinemann's Core 1 Mathematics textbook. I finished the dang book last year but only found out how to prove the equation I set Tommy and Annie while correcting the draft of this chapter. Heh.