This is 1


Part 1

"Malcolm Arcadia!"

And again, the sound of morbidity locked up as a miniature spawn of the forces, Mrs. Greta calling for my attention – it was a familiar sound, unfortunately. And she was desperate; she used my unofficial name. I was vaguely aware that she had called "4509878!" repeatedly before snapping the nearest thing she could grab against her desk and calling at my birth name. Nick Jameson whined silently at sight of his new Anyshape tool roughly smacked against the smartplastik surface of Mrs. Greta's desk. Aimee leaned over from her desk to my right to smack me squarely on the back of my head. I blinked drowsily.

"Hello, Mr. Arcadia? Would you be so kind as to join us today?" The hag asked in her mockingly impatient tone. I pursed my lips, resisting the desire to jab my book off, deny her question, then promptly stand out of my chair and leave. The downside to that brilliant strategy is that my mother, when provoked, is not pleasant to be around…

So I said nothing. And she narrowed her eyes at me. It didn't suit her, since she resembled something of a mouse. "Four. Five. Oh. Nine. Eight. Seven. Eight."

"Yes, Mrs. Greta?" I said, greeting her vehement expression with wide and curious eyes. Several students around me giggled, forcing the corner of my mouth to twitch into a small smile. It was hard not to smile when everyone around you had erupted into a wave of snickers.

"Mr. Arcadia," said Mrs. Greta, lowering her spectacles and walking toward my desk. I looked down at her shoes which tapped against the floor rather loudly, almost like they were too big for her. "If you zone off one more time, please know I am not above sending you to Mr. Rel."

Mr. Rel, fully named Mr. Douglas Relevant. Our principal had abbreviated his name to keep the kids in the East Water High from making jokes and poking fun at him as he passed. People went to extremes for power and respect here. But Mr. Rel didn't try too hard.

"And what, make me stand in the corner?" His punishments were mild.

I know it's clichéd, but the first thing that came to mind when Mrs. Greta's brain registered my words and her expression reacted was a tomato. A bony red tomato. A wrinkly bony red tomato. "I have had it, 4509878! I am writing you a note, and you are going to the principal's office!" And she continued as she scampered over to her desk. "I have tolerated your blatant rudeness and unwillingness to learn for more than I care to! You and—You and your jokes! Why, you're disgraceful to have in my class, and I won't tolerate it any longer, you hear me?"

I heard her, despite the fact I wasn't paying a lick of attention. I was watching my wristband, which was slowly turning white with words on it, the inky blue of the school's colors fading. I read her note swiftly, glaring. "Needs behavioral assistance."

Needs behavioral assistance my ass. My attitude was perfect.

Aimee leaned over and read the band, grinning through her hot pink bangs. "Ouch. That taps. Pushed her a bit too far this time, huh?"

It did indeed tap, but I wasn't pushing anyone. I was merely speaking. It wasn't my fault if she was a sadistic old crone with the sensitivity of a mouse, short little rodent-faced woman she was. I silently stood and jabbed the off button on my book, slid it into my bag, then pulled the strap over my shoulder and kicked my chair under my desk before walking to the door. I shut my eyes and clenched the hand of the wrist which had the note around it, ignoring my English teacher's continued bickering. I exited the room practically gleeful. Rel wouldn't touch a hair on my head, no matter how much "behavioral assistance" I needed; my father was a good friend of his. Or a colleague. College buddy? I didn't care; all it meant was he was nicer to me.

I hoped. He was probably the most mild-tempered teacher in East Water, so my punishment should automatically be assumed to be pretty mild. Except this was my third trip to the principal's office this month, a ridiculously bad record for any average student of Seattle. God forbid he'd call my mother…

I tugged at the band around my wrist, hands behind my back. It had pulse-sensors and would shriek shrilly If it didn't hear my pulse within about a minute, but I could get out of the school easily within a minute. Every time I got sent to Mr. Rel's office I studied these halls, the exits, the quickest way to get off the building if I was trapped on the second or third floor, how to dodge the halls with the highest security if I ever did want to risk escaping another ten-minute detention. But I released the breath I'd been holding as I weakly gave my band one last push. It stuck. I apparently needed behavioral assistance.

The sign on Mr. Rel's door read "Executive Faculty Member," and I'd always wondered why it didn't just say "Principal's Office." Maybe it was his attempt at being modern – everyone had been noticing his poor attempt to do so. He'd even gotten a new hair mod. And I guarantee you, it was not a pleasant sight, seeing a forty-six-year-old man with funny limp and yellowy-white skin like the thinnest parchment walking around with a lime-green mullet. How he ended up with the mullet is a mystery to the wristband-bound students of East Water High. As I entered, however, it was dark brown, a rich mahogany, and shaggy. Maybe he cut the mullet off.

Rel's expression when he turned to me was boredom, then relief, then nervousness. I watched them with a constantly blank face, a technique I had spent hours at the bathroom mirror practicing. "Malcolm, Malcolm…What are you doing back here?" he sighed, leaning back into his chair. I needed behavioral assistance. I shrugged weakly, looking around his office at the familiar decor. It was decorated with…nothing. It was almost completely blank, except for his desk, a file cabinet, and a couple of chairs in front of his desk. No pictures, no certificates, no annoyingly peppy banners supporting random school events, or the tappy school curriculum. Go math! Yeah right.

"Well, let's see the band, shall we?"

I walked over him, still straight-faced and still silent, offering him my wrist when I was near enough. I watched his hair shift from ebony to chestnut before landing back on black. He must have been struggling to keep it the one shade.

"I see…Dozed off in class again, Mr. Arcadia?" Rel said, sighing and rubbing his temple wearily. I knew he was tired of bothering with me -- everyone was. I shrugged in response to him. It was a little embarrassing that I kept going to sleep in the middle of my classes, but I hardly thought it was worth going to the principal's office for.

"Hey, I'm not the one with the issues. Greta—"

"Mrs. Greta is your teacher, Malcolm, she requires respect."

"But she--!"

"I know some teachers are a bit more short-tempered than others, but that only means you have to settle down for once, cut back on the back-talk, and stop dozing off." Mr. Rel sighed, walking around from behind his desk, gesturing me to sit in one of the cold uncomfortable chairs. I sat in it and glared at his weary expression. "Malcolm, are things going alright at home?"

I blinked, dumbfounded. "Uh…sure. Yeah, things're stable. Why?"

"You're getting enough sleep? Relatively low stress?"

I nearly snorted laughter at the irony of his last question. "Well, sir, seeing as I'm always sent here…" But he didn't catch the joke he'd unintentionally made. Instead, he continued to stare at me which caused me to shift uncomfortably in my chair. "Yeah, look, everything's fine, okay? Can I go?"

He sighed again. It made me twitch. "No, not yet. Malcolm, do you think there's a significant reason behind your naps? Have you considered narcolepsy?"

"No, not really. Aren't doctors supposed to consider those things?"

"Well, yes, but if you had a lead, you could see a doctor…."

"Guess that taps then, doesn't it?" I snapped impatiently. "Because I really don't think there's anything wrong with me, alright? I just….get tired." I continued to glare him, meeting his misty chocolate-brown eyes. He was speculating something, and I could almost see him thinking. I wanted to stand and go regardless if he called me back or not. The desire to do something defiant and impulsive flooded me. But I sat and glared.

"This is your third time here this month, Malcolm. Do you realize what that means?" He watched me, but in my silence he continued. "It means that if you come back here one more time this month, I'm going to have to suspend you."

Dreaded suspension – something the students here actually feared, because it got on your record and hurt you for life. I didn't care about it. In fact, I aimed for it. A whole week of school during which I could trap myself in my bedroom and do whatever work I wanted to. I was a graphic designer, a traditional artist, a photographer; nothing common. Most guys my age and at my school wanted to become professional hoverboarders or geneticists or actors. Most girls wanted to be singers or dermatologists or actresses. Indeed, this was the play of a world of showbiz, and I was one of the guys who worked on the set. Or primped the costumes. Or pulled the curtains. I did something insignificant…

"I don't care."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I don't care if you suspend me. Sir."

Rel blinked, then smiled at me. "I know you like to joke, Malcolm, but this is a serious matter."

"I wasn—"

"Just try to be better in class, alright? You may go now."

I gaped, blinked, shut my mouth, and then stared at Rel as he sat behind his desk before gaping again. That ended really quickly, leaving me stunned in the hard-backed seat. He didn't lecture me, he didn't scold…The behavior was so unbecoming of him. I almost wanted to continue the conversation, but that would just be provoking him which was, undeniably, stupid. So I stood, hesitantly and still confused, before slowly walking out the door.

I wouldn't be better in class. I would get suspended.

The day ended after another hour of science, then a half hour of computer lab. I hardly paid attention to either class, eyes narrowed conspicuously at the holoboard as either teacher lectured vaguely and boredly. I would have noticed how much everyone seemed just to want to get out, not much good it would have done me, but I was still annoyed with my principal.

Adults had this annoying habit of telling us "kids" not to do something and truly expect us not to do that thing. How they hadn't understood that we'd do whatever the hell we wanted despite their words hadn't gotten into their heads after the explosion of the Moreen Base of Genetic Research in Trivia, 2109, was beyond me.

Know how after a moment that makes you mad passes, and you start to come up with all kinds of things you could have said that would make you seem the smarter one who had the advantage? Yeah. That was happening to me.

Aimee approached me in hallway as I as was taking my wristband off and removing my vest to insert them in my locker. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and slammed the locker shut, watching the 'plastik slide down.

"So…?" she said, hovering beside me with raised eyebrows. I shrugged and started walking. "Malcolm," she hissed.

"What, Aim?"

"How did it go with Rel? That was your second time this month, right?"

"Third." I glanced over my shoulder and smiled lightly. "Did I forget to tell you about the time I woke up in biology? Long story short: Mr. Anderson nearly ended up with a scalpel in his palm."

Aimee hissed behind me, breathing in through her teeth. She popped back into my view with orange hair. "Jeez, 878. What's with the long naps in the middle of class?"

I sighed, shrugging again as we stepped out of the school and out into the parking lot where we watched other students drive off in the newest podcars. Aimee, Drake, and I walked home every day, except for when Drake could hitch a ride with his brother. We waited as we usually did for him; he usually got out last because he helped the "mentally stunted" with the younger, prettier student teachers who could only do that job as a certified teacher. Some called him noble, like Aimee and I. Others called him an idiot.

"I don't know, Aimilee. Maybe the teachers should find a more entertaining curriculum?"

"Ew, 878. Don't call me that," Aimee said as she wrinkled her nose. I grinned.

Aimee's real name was Aimilee 4507809 Mackenzie, and it was the dumbest thing to her. "Like a rollercoaster for your tongue," she called it. She was one of the weird girls who always wanted a name like Kasen or Jase. Antique names.

"Oh, look – is that 827?"

I looked over my shoulder and, indeed, I saw Drake hop down the steps, looking more human than the rest of us. Drake didn't have a single mod; not even a genetic one. He was half Nigerian, half Brazilian, and he paraded that sometimes until Aimee smacked his head. Being full-blooded or half-blooded with equal parts of two races was rare and something every model agency fawned after. Every girl in school could swear that he would one day end up in an agency. I thought the idiot would end up a teacher.

Being a teacher wasn't exactly the best job. You got paid moderately low wages, and people generally disrespected you because rumor was that the schools were teaching only a load of crap. No one knew what was going on in the world.

That would change.

"Hey, 809. 878," Drake said as he got near to us. Aimee hugged him in greeting; I bobbed my head and started walking. The sooner away from the school the better.

Of course, it was a little unbearable having my incident with the principal be repeated to Drake. Aimee explained with wide eyes and hand motions as she described how Mrs. Greta handled me. I rolled my eyes through it all, a little grateful when Aimee took off down her street. We lived in two separate neighborhoods: Aimee in North Harbor (her father was a geneticist), and Drake and I lived houses away from each other in St. Clementine. I could feel him grinning at me.

"You know, I don't know why she admires you so much," he said. I turned to him, moving my head sharply.

"What was that?"

"878, no offense, but it isn't a big deal, you going to Rel. He's never going to suspend you because he and Mr. Arcadia are friends."

"You never know, right? I almost hope he does suspend me."

"Why?" was his incredulous inquiry.

"Well," I mumbled, kicking at the pavement with my shoe, "I'll just get locked in my room because my mom will be so pissed, and that leaves me all alone with the Gimp and sketchbooks. If I ever need food, I can always have you call Rapunzel and I'll let down my long bedspread for you to climb up and deliver me Chinese."

I snickered at Drake's expression of confusion and disgust. "No. Way. Am I calling Rapunzel."

"I guess I'll have to starve."

"Serves you right, you lazy Ken."

I sighed as we looked down the street on which we lived. I could imagine my mother's reaction when I stepped through the door. Sweet and charming to get me to confess my slip up today before springing upon me she got a message from Rel and sending me to my bedroom before I could finish my daily after-school cup of coffee. I sighed longingly. For as much of a Barbie doll witch she was, she made a good cup of java.

"Mrs. Arcadia is going to be upset with you, isn't she?"

I looked over at Drake who was watching me with sympathetic eyes. Drake was cocky jerk, but he had brains, and manners. Plus his mom wouldn't hurt a fly. He was in a position I'd kill for. I'd kill Greta for. The stupid mouse-lady was the bane of my existence.

I sighed and pursed my lips. "Yep." And then an idea came into my mind. "Hey, would you mind coming over? Stable yet, can I come over to your place?" I stomped impatiently and started walking as Drake was about to mock me. "Never mind," I said, and I ignored his laughter.

My mom was surprisingly mellow. Not suspiciously sweet or benevolent, but not agitated over an unknown cause either. I dropped my bag by the door when I walked in, then made straight for the kitchen where my coffee was awaiting me. My mother was sitting on the couch with her back to me, watching the holovision boredly and flipping through channels at every drop of the r-word (rebellion).

"Oh, hey, sweety," she said when she looked over to me. I smiled, the corner of my mouth rising, through a sip. "How was school?"

I shrugged and walked over. "It was fine. Nick Jameson's Anyshape tool broke." I don't even know why I told her that. Maybe I just did to get her mind off the subject of school; tell her something, anything, and she'd be satisfied.

"Oh, I see," she said, adjusting herself on the couch into a more comfortable position. She flipped the holo away from the news channel and checked her messages on it. I watched the screen, pulse heating at the prospect of seeing a message from the principal informing my mother that I'd be sent to his office. Again. But it wasn't there, the screen was clean. She sighed and pushed herself up from the couch to walk over to the kitchen. I was too stunned at the lack of any messages to do anything other than warm my hands with the hot mug.

It would definitely come later. I knew it would.

"What do you want for dinner, Malcolm?" came the questioning tone of my mother's voice from the kitchen. I stood out of the chair when I'd drained the contents of my mug.

"I don't know. Anything's fine, I guess," I shrugged, dropping the mug in the sink. Jets shot from the side, power-rinsing it for later. "Mind if I go out?"

I needed to call Drake. If my mom isn't upset, if Rel hadn't sent an immediate message…that was defying the law. He couldn't feel that sympathetically toward me – it was impossible to think that any normal adult other than your parent could have any extreme emotion toward you. It was like you became indifferent at a certain age. Maybe there had been a glitch or something; that was why his message didn't get through…yeah, the Skynet had been worked on pretty recently, there were probably still a lot of bugs. Hallelujah for bugs.

"Sure. Where did you want to go?"

"Oh, no where. Coffee house, I think." I cringed at the sound of pots clicking together.

"Well, alright. Be back by six, and take your homework with you," my mother said, flipping through recipes in the book on the wall. I gratefully turned and walked toward the door, picking up my backpack and skipping out of the house.

Biz. I needed a latte.

T1M--Actually a little shorter than I wanted it to be, and less active at that. I have most of chapter two thought out though, and that one will be, if I write it, even shorter, I predict. We can cross our fingers and hope otherwise, though, si? I shall await reviews and see then.