Chapter I

Ten more minutes. Just ten more. Why did time have to move so slowly? Was it specifically designed to make waiting seem agonizingly long? Or was it to make the few times where one didn't have to work seem too short? Either way, it was a cruel trick on behalf of whoever it was that established the length time was measured in. Ten more minutes... might as well have been a lifetime.

In any case, it was too long for every student there, but none were awaiting the end of the school day than Luke Therman. His dark hair was about the only thing visible, other than his neck, as his head was repeatedly banging softly against the table. Not hard enough to be heard or noticed, especially considering no one paid him any attention (at least outside the hallways), but hard enough to express his desire to be done.

Normally the wait would be painful, agonizing even, for him. But considering it was the last hour of the school year… suffice it to say he was ready to be done with this place for a few months.

After what seemed an eternity, he glanced at the clock once more. Five minutes left. Time, though art a cruel mistress. Or was it a master? How would one determine time's gender?

"Mister Therman?" the harsh sound of his teacher's voice snapped him back to reality. "Care to answer the question?"

He nervously glanced at the board as his classmates snickered. Lines and numbers littered the board, along with a few variables here and there. Given enough time, he could easily solve it. Unfortunately, he had been using quite a bit of his time trying to break his desk in half with his head. Not his brightest move, but not unprecedented all things considered.

"Ummm… I'm going to go out on a limb here and say X equals… 5?" The teacher shook her head in disbelief as the classroom roared with laughter. Luke winced. Why didn't anyone laugh when one of the Jocks got an answer wrong? Or a cheerleader?

Of course the bell decided to ring then. After his ordeal was over. Luke silently (at least he hoped it was silent, though a couple choice words might've slipped out) cursed his luck. How could his name sound so similar to it and yet he possessed none? In truth, his name meant light. Maybe that was because half the time he envisioned what the light at the end of the tunnel looked like.

The moment the bell went off, the students leapt to their feet and sprinted for the hallways, scrambling over each other like a pack of Velociraptors… then again, maybe the class was a pack of Velociraptors. They had the looks at any rate. Luke had just finished packing his stuff up when the teacher called him over.

"A word Mister Therman?" he glanced at the clock once more, cursing it once again. He walked over to her and awaited her chastisement for not paying attention. She glanced at him and sighed. "Luke, you know you can't keep on zoning out like this in class. You're a very bright student, one of my brightest in fact, but that won't mean a thing if you can't focus."

He wanted to remind her that it was hard to focus when the class was throwing pencils at the back of his head for half the class, or when they were whispering and pointing at him behind his back. He wanted to remind her that despite his best efforts, everything he did only made it worse. He wanted to remind her that his dad had died only three months ago. That made it kind of hard to focus on something he would never use after college anyway. Unfortunately, he didn't really feel that ratting the class out would help, and it probably wouldn't be a good enough excuse anyway. Instead, he simply nodded.

"I'll try harder next year. Can I please go now?" His teacher looked like she was on the verge of continuing the conversation, but apparently decided against it and waved him off.

"Fine. Have a good summer Luke. And do try and stay out of trouble." Unfortunately, he couldn't really make any promises about that.

He quickly exited the classroom and rushed to his locker, hoping to get out quickly. He had nearly made it to the door of the school when a commotion became audible behind him. He grimaced and turned around, already having a hunch about what he would see. Unfortunately, he was usually right about his hunches.

A large crowd had gathered in the front of the school, though no one was paying attention to him as he pushed toward the front. When he got to the center of the mob he finally understood what was going on. Granted, it didn't take a genius to figure it out considering the facts before him.

All in all, there were three main factors that only pointed to one logical conclusion. Factor one: A kid on his hands and knees, gasping for breath. Factor 2: A kid standing over him, preparing to kick the defenseless boy. And the final factor, perhaps the most obvious independently, was the crowd itself that was maliciously chanting out, "Fight, fight, fight!"

The injured kid groaned, eliciting a hard kick from the jerk to his right, causing him to cry out in pain and clutch his gut. The kids cheered and Luke felt sick. How often had he been in that position? How could anyone be sick enough to cheer at the scene in front of him. Someone should be doing something about it. Unfortunately, no one was stupid enough to challenge "The Warden of Greenbay High". No one, that was, except…

"Back away from him Rick!" Luke called out and the crowd immediately silenced, all eyes on him, half gazing in awe, half in anticipation of another fight. The bully, Rick, glanced at him and snickered, walking over as he popped his knuckles.

"Oh yeah Feathers? Who's going to make me?"

Luke hated that name. Feathers. It wasn't even that clever. His name sounded like Thermal, like the pockets of warm air birds glide on. How Rick ever came up with anything that scientific, Luke would never know, either because he was about to die, or because there was no sound reasoning. Or both.

Luke glared back, clenching his fists. He didn't look like much in the ways of fighting. He certainly wasn't beefy like the jocks, but he wasn't overly scrawny either, and in a lot of ways his determination made up for his size. Unfortunately, it also tended to get him in trouble. Like now for instance.

"The name is Luke, and if I were you I'd back away. This doesn't have to end in a fight. Just back away from him. He escapes a beating, and you keep your teeth. Square deal?" It was an empty threat of course. Luke could never take the guy down. Unfortunately, the words rolled off his tongue before he really thought them through. The crowd was silent. At this point you could probably hear a pin drop.

Rick narrowed his eyes in fury. No one challenged him, especially not the shrimp at the bottom of the food chain. "You really think you can take me out Feathers? Did you forget that you're half my size?"

"Can a cobra take out an elephant Rick? You're about as fat as one…" The crowd snickered a bit at that, and he thought he heard a few laughs stifled here and there. Rick got as red as a Tomato. Luke didn't like Tomatoes. Then again, he didn't like Rick either. The mammoth moved closer, and now they were nose to nose…. Well nose to shoulder in Luke's case.

"I got some advice for you Feathers: Leave before I have to make you."

"What a coincidence, I had some for you as well. Get some breath mints. You're like Fatso and Stinky wrapped up into one." That moment commemorated when Luke saw constellations during the day. He reeled back, dizzy and saw Rick charging at him. He quickly sidestepped and tripped him as he ran past.

The sound as he hit the ground was clearly audible, and Rick's nose was bleeding when he got to his feet. "You're going to wish you hadn't done that Therman." And with that Luke hunched over, clutching his gut, because Rick had slammed his meaty fist into his stomach full force. He fell to one knee and felt a foot connect with his back, causing him to sprawl onto the ground. He saw a flicked of movement in his peripheral vision and rolled to the side, Rick's foot coming down where his head had been.

In a moment of pure instinct, Luke lashed out with his legs and knocked Rick's feet out from under him. The jock fell to the ground, but quickly scrambled to his feet, just as Luke got up. Luke threw a punch, but Rick caught it in his hand. Another attempt, another fail, and then Rick kicked him square in the chest, sending Luke flying back. He tried to get to his feet, but wasn't able to in time before Rick kicked him in the side. He cried out in pain, but didn't dare give up. He noticed the jerk rearing his fist back when a loud shout came from behind him.

The crowd immediately dispersed, and the only ones left after a few seconds were Luke, still on all fours, and a man, presumably the one who had shouted mere moments ago. Luke struggled to his feet, using the wall for support. He had just gotten all the way up when a wave of nausea came over him and he sat on the front steps instead. The man walked over and got down on one knee, holding up his hand.

"How many fingers am I holding up?" Luke glanced at him, but it seemed there were about 20 hands around him.

"Is this a trick question, or do you have about eighteen to many hands?" The man rolled his eyes and helped him to his feet. He must have blacked out or something, because the next thing he knew he was lying on his couch at home with an ice pack on his head. He groaned and sat up and noticed his mom talking to the man who had helped him. Did they know each other or something?

He could only hear a few snippets of the conversation, but it was obviously a heated dispute. Words and phrases like "not ready", "only 15", and "New Guinea" jumped out at him, but not enough to even begin to comprehend what they were talking about. It took maybe five minutes for either of them to glance over and notice that he was awake, and they instantly fell silent. They glanced at each other and Luke tried desperately to figure out what they had been talking about, but no explanations came to his mind. The man sighed and walked over to him.

"Luke, my name is Eric Brown. I worked with your father."