July 1998, Giles "Gill" Morgan
My father, the Major had been a Weapons Systems Officer who'd been stationed at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom during the early nineteen eighties. While exploring the local taverns he'd met a young Englishwoman, Miss Alcegood, from a small village in West Suffolk. They'd run into each other in the White Hart, a small flint face pub in Tuddenham. She'd been fascinated and they'd had a brief affair that had resulted in a pregnancy. I was born Giles Morgan to Gillian Alcegood and Major James Morgan on Friday, December 22, 1986 at ten minutes to four in the morning in West Suffolk Hospital. The Major nicknamed me Gill.
When I was twelve years old my father, Major James Morgan, had completed his full military obligation and was honorably discharged from the United States Air Force. He had chosen not to reenlist. The Major had applied for me to have US citizenship when I was a toddler and I already had dual citizenship, despite my parents having never married. My mother agreed to give up her custody rights a little too easily and I was moved from the United Kingdom to the United States.
In July 1997 we landed in Denver International Airport and my black-dressed self trudged through the pedestrian walkway from Concourse A to Baggage Claim in a black tee-shirt that read "Punks Not Dead" with the Union Jack in the background. I remember because it was my favorite shirt back then and I wore it almost daily. We collected our luggage, loaded it into the boot of a taxi, and took the dual carriageway to pick up a hire car.
"You can keep in touch with your friends with email or IRCnet," the Major suggested. I was nervous about everyone driving on the wrong side but the Major didn't seem to be worried.
"My bevvy mates are seven hours ahead, Major," I argued, although I already had plans to set up the computer before anything else. I drummed black painted fingernails on the seat next to me. I was unhappy about leaving home. Out the window I could look at the Denver city skyline and the mountains behind the skyscrapers. It was my first time in the United States, my first time outside of Europe, and I tried to see it as an adventure. The empty feeling in my gut and the sour taste in the back of my mouth didn't believe me.
"We've been on a plane for ten hours," the Major told me, his whiskey colored eyes looking me over, "It's fifteen hundred hours, mid-afternoon local time but your body is still on London time. You're probably exhausted but it'll be better in the long run if you can stay awake a few more hours."
"I haven't gone to bed at ten since I was ten," I fidgeted in my seat as I objected, ignoring how knackered I felt.
"I'm glad to hear it," the Major replied, though not like he believed me, "We'll get a car, check out the apartment, and then there are some people I want you to meet."
"Sure, that doesn't sound dodgy at all," I mumbled, "What's the crack?"
"I won't always be home with this new job," the Major explained, "I want you to meet the headmaster of a boarding school nearby. You'll be able to come home like a day student when I'm home. This job is going to ask for a lot of weekends and holidays from me for a while."
"So, what I'll bunk at the boarding house on weekends and holidays?" I was horrified, "What's the point of bringing me to the states then?"
"Your mother and I agreed this would be the best thing for you," the Major had repeated that line over and over again, "You have dual citizenship so if you want to move back to the United Kingdom you can do that when you turn eighteen. For the next six years you're stuck with me so you ought to make the best of it."
"Buggering hell," I swore. I saw my father's hands tighten.
"Watch your language," his tone was angry, "I want to go easy on you because I know this change is hard but there's a limit."
I was sullen the rest of the taxi ride. We unloaded our luggage into a hire car and I discovered it was called a rental car in the states. We got to see the flat for the first time. It was a tiny two bedroom, partially furnished carriage house behind a main house. My bed was full sized, which was nice. I asked the Major about setting up the computer and he told me we didn't have internet yet.
"We'll get it soon enough," my father assured me, "For now, let's go. We'll check out the boarding school. If you really don't like it we can talk about babysitters."
"I'm twelve, I don't need a babysitter," I was both insulted and angry, "I'm old enough to be a babysitter."
"We'll talk about it," the Major didn't sound happy.
The prep school off of Tennyson and West 46th was done in a Spanish theme. The wide, paved walkway was lined with trees that looked good for climbing. The red buildings looked like they might have been made out of clay or adobe and the doorways and windows were decorated with ornate woodwork. We were met by an action man who I was surprised to learn was Headmaster Sebastien Alicea. It was summer term but I was surprised to see that they were still students mucking about on the grass.
"Welcome to Alicea Academy. The school sits on more than sixty acres of land, including a tennis court, a baseball field, and a small lake," Headmaster Alicea explained, gesturing for us to follow him into the main building.
He didn't comment on our appearance, which I thought was odd. I had light brown, wavy hair with copper streaks, like my mother and I had inherited the shape of her almond eyes. I had my father's whiskey colored eyes, his skin color, and his extra-abilities. My father and I both have gills on our faces around our sinus cavities. They were sealed up above water, especially in this super dry heat, but people often noticed them. If conditions were too dry we could get "gill bleed" which was like our version of a nose bleed.
We also had very black skin, not dark brown like someone from Jamaica or Africa, but a dark olive with yellow undertones. The military physicians had taken a biopsy during Major's military career and had discovered that the tissues were so densely packed with myoglobin, which bound to oxygen and might release it during long free dives, and that made the flesh appear almost black. My father was a first generation heteroclite; an anomalous extra-abled person. Major Morgan had an aquatic adaptation that he'd found to be fairly useless as a member of the Air Force. They'd tried to convince him to join the Navy or the Coast Guard but he had always wanted to fly. He wasn't the best pilot which was probably why he'd been made Weapons Systems Officer but that's life.
"Shite," I mumbled grabbing his sleeve, then under my breath I asked, "Major, are you sure I can go here?"
"Why not?" the Major asked, equally quietly, "And you can call me dad, you know."
"Dad," I hesitated, "Are my marks good enough for me to go here?"
The headmaster had paused but was letting us have our hushed conversation. The Major looked thoughtful.
"My son is worried about his low scores," the Major explained, "Gill, I've already discussed this with Headmaster Alicea."
"Mr. Morgan," the headmaster spoke to me directly, but quietly, "I am aware of your academic challenges. We are familiar with ADHD and dyslexia. There are different strategies we can provide to help you with your conditions. Your red-blindness is new to us but that shouldn't be an issue."
"It's called protanomaly," I explained, having had this conversation before, "I confuse black with many shades of red, dark brown with dark green, dark orange and dark red, some blues with some reds, purples and dark pinks, and mid-greens with some oranges."
"It shouldn't be a problem," the headmaster nodded at my father.
"I'm also extra-abled, in case you couldn't tell," I rolled my eyes, "Are your other students going to like having a freak like me around?"
"Mr. Morgan, the students here are all heteroclites," the headmaster smiled, "We don't all wear our advantages written so clearly on our skin."
There were other differences but they were harder to see unless I was showing off. Dad and I had grown up on formula because we were born with retractable, tubular fangs that would inject a ketamine-like venom if we bit anyone with them. The venom is an antimicrobial analgesic that paralyzes can paralyze a person. It contains mambalgins which reduces pain, a peptide called tigerinin that kills bacteria, and a new chemical compound that causes sedation, memory loss, hallucinations, and a rise in blood pressure. The effects kicked in after five to ten minutes and would last for as long as an hour. The air force had studied my dad's venom.
Our skin also has an interesting feature: we're secretly striped. It's nearly impossible to see when I'm above water but when my face is submerged underwater my autonomic nervous system triggers a series of responses. When I'm underwater my heart rate slows down dramatically, strips of my skin start producing luciferins which causes those stripes to glow blue-green like bioluminescent algae, and my skin starts breathing through cutaneous gas exchange.
I thought about the girls I'd seen sitting on the grass outside when we got here while the headmaster continued the tour. They'd just looked like average girls but there had to be things about them that were extraordinary. It made me wonder. The chance to go to a heteroclite school rather than a mundane one got my attention but the art studio made me want to sign my soul away. It was a two story building with windows everywhere. Inside were marble top wood tables, a dozen or so easels, an overstuffed couch in a small seating area, and cubbyholes stocked and labeled for different types of art supplies.
"This is one of the oldest buildings on campus," the headmaster explained, "It was originally used as horse stables in my grandparent's time. The students affectionately dubbed this space the Art Stable. Would you like to see upstairs? We remodeled it for display."
I nodded mutely. I have to go here, I thought a little desperately.
"I think this is Gill's favorite part of the tour," the Major smiled broadly at Headmaster Alicea, "He doodles on everything."
"Art can be a wonderful outlet," the headmaster agreed amicably.
"It helps me think," I said in a low voice.
"This building is also used for theater performances by the students," the headmaster continued, as we trailed him up the stairs. My dad was smiling at me. The upstairs display room had properly matted and framed artwork on the walls but it also had plain white pillars with sculptures and handmade jewelry on display. The art display room was different from the rest of the building; the wood floors were polished to a shine and the walls were pure white. It was obviously well maintained but nothing took away from the student's artwork.
"What do you think, Gill?" my dad asked as I stared at everything.
"I have to go here," I told him, and I could feel how wide my already large eyes had become, "I have to go here." Our amber eyes met and held for a moment. He'd known, or predicted, how I'd feel about a place like this. It made me wonder why I'd grown up in a small English town outside of an air force base with my mundane mother.
"Officially, classes for the next term begin on August 24th. You are new to the United States so I recommend attending the New International Students Orientation on the nineteenth," the headmaster waited.
"Aren't there any classes before then?" I asked, thinking of the girls I'd seen.
"There aren't formal classes, although there are a few students who live here almost year-round," Headmaster Alicea explained, "We do offer a summer riding camp in June. You can apply for next year's summer camp if you have an interest in learning to ride a horse."
"So I could come here in August?" I asked, turning to my dad, "I could start in August?"
The Major nodded, "Don't take it for granted. You'll have to work hard to justify the expense, Gill. The Academy is for heteroclites but attending this school is still a privilege."
"I'll do whatever you want," I told him, then I turned to the headmaster, "I'll do whatever I have to do so that I can go here."
"All we ask is for you to study, turn in your work, and try not to break the rules," the headmaster led us out of the art studio, "There is some paperwork I'll need to review with both of you. We'll need to have Gill complete placement testing. You can complete your placement exams in the computer lab."
"I didn't study," I started to panic, "What if I fail?"
"We're a little tired, Sebastien," my father interceded, "Do you think we could come back another day for the placement testing?"
"Absolutely," the headmaster agreed easily, "I wasn't thinking. You did tell me that you would only just be arriving today."
"I'm just happy it's all working out," the Major sounded relieved.