Saturday, Sept 5th
Having to get up for our first day of Saturday classes had me grumpy, although yes, I’m often grumpy in the morning. When Joel and I got to the lab room, most people had already paired up and picked lab stations. Jack and his partner were off on their own, while Kai, Amy and two other girls had staked out three stations between them. The two other girls were quite different; one was quite ordinary in a school where “ordinary” tended to clean up better than at home, and she had the silver pin of a scholarship student, hers in the form of a rose.
The second stood out, and I wasn’t sure if it was in a good way. She was around my height, taller than many of the girls here. Except for some bangs, her brown hair was pulled back into a simple ponytail, and her uniform fit loosely. She had a silver dragon pin, so she was a local, and I realized that she was the first person I’d seen up close in this world who also wore glasses.
I’m close to blind to fashion, but while she wasn’t unattractive, she was a girl who either was consciously choosing comfort over appearances, or who was even blinder to appearances than I am.
Kai introduced us. “Mark, Joel, this is Mina,” indicating the girl standing with him at his station. “She’s also new here,” and then indicating the girl a few steps away, “and this is Cory.”
Mina curtsied; I don’t think I’d ever seen someone do that in real life. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” she said.
“Hi,” said Cory. Then, to me directly, “I guess we’re lab partners.”
“I guess so. It’s good to meet you.”
The teacher was already there, and not long after he took attendance and let us know to start the lab without further instructions. I started looking through the lab manual for setup instructions, which seemed like the right thing to do. From a quick look around, a lot of people were doing the same, although both of our immediate neighbors had started getting pieces together. Cory was doing the same, and started to say, “Can you hand me…” and then noticed I was reading the lab manual. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Reading the instructions.”
“You didn’t read them in advance.” That was not a happy look she gave me. “How do you not know to be prepared in advance for a lab?” OK, scratch unhappy. Furious? I wondered for a moment if I was about to get punched.
“Sorry,” I said, stepping back. “I never had a problem with this at my old school.”
“How the heck did I get paired with someone like you?” she asked, and then continued, “Never mind. Just stay out of my way and take notes. You can do that much, right?”
She then added, more to herself, “This isn’t the first time I’ve had to do one of these by myself.”
Cory powered through the entire lab, and two extra credit problems, in sixty of the ninety-five minutes we had, all without a word to me except figures to write down. She stopped a few times to make sure what I was writing down was correct. At the end, she went up to the teacher, and while I couldn’t make out everything, she seemed to be asking if she could get started on the next lab or more extra credit. The answer appeared to be a “no.”
She came back to the lab station, took the lab notebook I had been writing in, and said, “I’ll put it in your mailbox once I make a copy. You get to clean up.” Then she walked out of the room.
Everybody else was still working, so I went to the teacher to ask what I should be doing. He said to clean up our station, and then I was free to go as well. I cleaned up the materials, and then figured I’d get ahead on my history reading while I waited for Kai, Amy, and Joel to be ready to head back to our homeroom.
At homeroom, the girls who’d volunteered for the festival committee had a handout, which I figured I’d look at later. Before we headed off to our next classes, Kai took a moment to speak to me. “That was classic Cory. I’m sorry I didn’t warn you.”
“She’s always like that?” I asked.
“She used to be worse,” said Kai. “I’ve known her since the second year at the lower school, and Amy was in her homeroom in the first year there. Back then, she’d have been a lot louder in telling you off.”
“How bad was it to try to read out of the lab manual, anyway?”
“For most people, it wouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “I mean it’s always a good idea to read through it in advance, but it’s only a big deal for someone really serious about taking honors in the science track. If you want to get all the extra credit in, you need to avoid wasting time.”
“If she’s that serious, how did I get paired with her?”
“We were talking about that before you got to class. Cory looked at last year’s rankings. Except for transfers, it looks like the teacher just paired people up in rank order. You must not have been kidding when you said you are good at taking tests, because whatever unofficial rankings he used put you and Joel both at the top of the class.”
“Could that have been just because we are transfers?”
“Cory didn’t think so,” said Kai. “Otherwise, one of you two would have been paired with Mina, but she apparently ranked behind both Cory and Amy.”
“Really,” said Kai. “I think she’d actually been looking forward to working with you.”
“Damn. Well, that didn’t last long.”
“Don’t worry about it.” He gave me a pat on the shoulder. “Most of the class is going to want to switch to lab partners they know better, so you probably won’t have to pair with her again.”
Saturday, after class
My meeting after class with Ms. Calliot had gone only slightly better than physics lab. I’d thrown together a couple of topics I might be interested in. She’d rejected all of them.
“Mark, I can see part of your problem with papers. You aren’t trying to make and support a thesis. Every one of these topics is an open-ended prompt for a narrative.”
“How do you mean?” I asked.
“Let’s take one of these as an example – you have ‘How did Zagras liberate the Kingom of Kala?’”
“There are a couple of good works on the subject, and while it’s well into antiquity there might be enough primary sources to write a good paper, there isn’t any thesis as a part of it. Do you have a sense what specifically you wanted to write about it?”
“I’d planned to read through a more detailed history than the textbook, sum up the arguments for it, and go over the basic timeline.”
“Was that kind of survey paper adequate at your last school?” she asked.
“I didn’t get a lot of As, but it was always better than just passing.”
“I see,” she said. “It may be good enough in your regular history class, at that, although I don’t recommend it. It’s usually a lot more work to do that well than a more focused paper.”
“How should I have approached it, then?”
“You want not just to have a general idea, but a specific proposition that you can support with evidence. I don’t recommend this as a paper at your level, but the classic argument is whether or not Zagras’s marriage to the goddess Mina was literally the case in life or a metaphor for after his death and deification. As a paper topic, you’d take one side or the other.”
“OK,” I said. “How do you recommend I narrow these down?”
“I don’t recommend you do, at least for this first paper. Unless you feel very strongly about it, I’m going to give you a topic. I’d like you to write an outline, or at least two pages, by next Friday’s class. If it looks OK, you can expand it to the full first paper.”
She took out a sheet of paper, and at the top wrote,
Between the fall of the second Empire and the rise of the
Great Kingdom, warfare was the first business of the state.
“Is that clear enough?” she asked.
“Is that specific to the nations that are now part of the Great Kingdom?” I asked.
“You can limit it to those,” she said, “or try to make a case for or against it for all human nations during that time. Which do you think is easier?”
“To be more specific rather than more general?”
“That’s usually the case, yes.”
Joel and I had planned to eat lunch during our free period, before the clubs assembly, so I headed off to the lunchroom to meet him.