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Education: Chapter IV of IV
Posted By: Dagorath<hoyinshan@gmail.com>
Date: 28 July 2006, 3:28 am

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Author's Note: Sorry about the long wait. I have just found my true calling – vexel art. You can see my first piece on my deviantArt (I use the same username there as here). Anyway, typed this up on Friday morning (where I live), hope you guys like it. To remind you of the storyline: a guy called Tommy comes into school, sees his classmate get killed. Now, wasn't that succinct?

Tommy stood at the classroom windows, staring out into the city. Drab skyscrapers slouched as far as the eye could see, their dull eyes reflecting the sunlight, changing it from a bright yellow ray to a dim brown glow. He could see suited men and women, their clothing covered in New Mombassa's cloying dust, walking wearily to restaurants, fast-food chains or other eateries, dragging their feet. Occasionally, a large, purple Shadow transport would carry regiments of Brutes or Jackals past a street, its mounted cannon a reminder of the real rulers of New Mombassa. Beggars sat outside every lobby and at every street corner.

A few Brutes swaggered from their plain-coloured barracks a few blocks from the school. They saw a child vomit on the pavement, probably because of having to eat the disgusting algae the Covenant grew for human consumption, they immediately pounced on the boy, smacking him hard on the face with their hard fingers and scratching his cheeks. The boy's mother tried to defend him, stretching her arms in front of the child, only to be flung aside by one of the aliens. She flew headfirst onto the road and into a passing Ghost, which decapitated her with one of its aerofoils. Tommy could see the Brute in the driver seat cackle.

He turned away from the horrific scene, though he could imagine the child's screams and the frightened cries of the watching populace. His class was sitting blank-eyed in a state of severe shock. Occasionally, one would burst into furious tears or begin shouting, banging fists onto the walls, then sit back down abruptly. They had all been horrified at the attack on Michael, but perhaps even more by the frantic, desperately flimsy explanations the Principal gave as a Brute lieutenant stood nearby. Mr Hay, their History teacher, had slapped a detention on the entire class for "slandering our great rulers". Tommy nearly boiled over then, but now everyone was silent. The room felt chill.

Michael's parents had come tearfully to enquire, but the class was too distraught to give any coherent description, and they left soon after. An ambulance carried Broode to the hospital, where his condition was said to be "stable but serious". Their Maths classroom had been sealed off and a cleaning company summoned to remove the blood and debris. A mason was coming to fix the wall; a new whiteboard had already been ordered.

The proceedings had taken nearly the whole of Lesson Five. They were sworn forcibly to silence and their numbers were taken down by the Brutes. For the remaining time left of the last period, the teachers had deposited them back in their form classroom.

Tommy shook himself from his thoughts and looked to his right. Annie had been watching him steadily the whole time. He frowned, and called her name.

"Nothing," she dismissed, but with a slight tremour in her voice.

"No, really…."

"Don't talk to me!" she snapped, her dark eyes flashing. They locked gazes for a moment, and then she tore her eyes away and stared out the window resolutely. Tommy watched her as her eyes slowly brimmed with tears. Then she got up and flung her arms around him.

"Why?" she wailed. "Why did they do it? What crime had he committed?" Her voice was muffled in his chest.

Tommy could think of nothing to say. His eyes glanced towards Robert, and the other boy seemed to understand. "He was brewing a revolution," the youth said flatly. The class sat up collectively.

"A revolution," Robert repeated tonelessly. "He was posting the truth on blogs all over the internet. He formed some sort of union with the webmasters of other revolutionary websites. They organised a protest rally in Nairobi."

Robert laughed humourlessly. "Needless to say, they were rounded up en masse. The Covenant wanted them to be fed to the Jackals, but somehow they managed to wriggle out." He gestured helplessly. "Seems like he had used up all his luck that time.

"After their release, they went underground totally. I think they got violent too – they sent several suicide bombers into barracks and administrative buildings, though Michael never gave any places or names. They communicated using Latin – a dead language and deemed not worthy learning by the Covenant – and got AIs from the War to encrypt the messages. The Covenant's AIs were never anything on our own – at least, no Covenant AI can ever defeat its human smart AI counterpart – but the Covenant could force human programmers and scholars to crack – and interpret – Michael's codes.

"For a while there was good news. One of Michael's associates found a Spartan – Linda – hiding in a cave in Tibet, far from the railway, of course. Rumour is that, at one time, they had a battalion of Marines of the old days – not the Peace Army crap nowadays – and several ONI agents who had hid out in the ruins of Earth HighCom." Robert sighed. "At one time. Several days ago, one reported to Robert that their base had been infiltrated and almost everyone slaughtered."

Tommy and Robert locked gazes. For a moment, Tommy could see his condolences had been accepted….then each averted their eyes once more. The classroom was silent once more, each busy with his or her own thoughts.

He walked through the school playground towards the gates, gazing listlessly at the laughing first-years on the slide, older students staring intently together at magazines or teachers standing on the first floor, chatting over cups of lukewarm coffee. The façade was so complete; Michael and his friends were, and had always been, fighting a losing battle. Humans had always pretended they had freedom. They debated endlessly about the merits of each presidential candidate, queried about travelling into South Africa with the lightning-fast Tube, and fantasised about retiring to the new housing development in Mozambique. No one mentioned, or paid attention to the fact that, the real power was wielded by the Prophet of Truth sitting in Noah's Seat, the Tube was powered by Covenant levitation technology - everyone's numbers could be easily tracked therein, and the Mozambique houses were right next to a Covenant research lab, where they could tap into a ready supply of humans from the blocks nearby.

He hitched his bag higher, glanced at his watch – 1530, ten minutes after the end of school – and stepped out the school gate. He was struck by a sudden, uncharacteristic thought that his children would face even more manipulation.

"Tommy!" a high, clear voice called behind him.

He turned. Annie's face was slightly flushed, as though she had run over to him from the central school buildings. She was holding a tearstained handkerchief that she now used to wipe off a few droplets of sweat off her smooth forehead. He raised his eyebrows, waiting for her to catch her breath.

"Erm," she began hesitantly, "Tommy….thank you for being there for me, you know, in Maths…." Her voice trailed away.

"No problem," Tommy replied reflexively. They stared at each other for a while, and then the side of Tommy's face twitched. Annie's lips widened into a big grin, and Tommy, too, smiled broadly back.

He nodded, turned round, and strode towards the bus stop. His face could not stop grinning, but tears began to trickle from his eyes. He stared hard at the sign listing the stops the bus made, even though he rode it every school day.

Tommy stepped off the bus and walked up the path to his lone house, as usual glancing towards Paratrooper's studio to the right. All of its walls were covered with black cloths, as though in mourning, but on every hanging was a white V.

He shrugged and stepped up to his home door. As he pushed his key into the lock, he felt a thrill of fear, a little like an icy rivulet of water running up his spine, from the small of his back to the base of his neck. Tommy peered round cautiously, but nothing caught his eye.

He stepped in and pushed aside a few chip packets and aluminium cans. Re-entering his home felt as though the whole day had been a dream….or maybe it was like falling back asleep.

He flung his bag aside towards a poster showing a computer-generated woman with an enormous bust, grabbed a Coke from the fridge, opened it, took a swig, and dropped himself onto the easy chair.

What a day! He still felt rather bewildered. He had managed to stop Mo bothering him again, something he still wondered at. Perhaps it was only a farce, and Mo was going to be back at it the next day. Far more importantly, he had witnessed the public killing of one of his own classmates by two Brutes. The truth about the Covenant had finally been revealed. He felt like Neo in The Matrix.

The red pill or the blue pill? he mused. Perhaps it had already been chosen for him.

And then there was Annie. Biology and English seemed a little too much like flirting to him, but she had hugged him for comfort, not one of her girlfriends, in Maths. But he couldn't be sure…. Perhaps, if it had been any other boy, she would have done the same. Maybe, even, she was leading him on….?

Never! Annie would never do that….would she?

Surely when she thanked him for being there, she was being sincere? Perhaps she was still leading him on then, or maybe she wanted to use him for her own benefit some day.

I ought to have said more then, Tommy thought. Perhaps she would have given me a hug again, or even a kiss…

As he imagined himself holding her beautiful face, he dropped his Coke can onto the parquet floor. Tommy's eyes closed slowly. The wind came rustling in from the verandah, blowing ripples in the spilled liquid.

Author's Note: No, this isn't the last chapter.