Thursday, Sept 10th, during 2nd period
Thursday had started well. Joel had soccer, and I’d wanted to bike, so we made our way to school separately. I had a free first period, so I’d come in a little late. Going by my mailbox before physics, there was a mostly completed form for our booth. I’d called to tell Hull about the problem on Tuesday night, and whoever he’d gone on to get in touch with had taken care of it quickly.
In physics, as Kai had expected the prior week, Dr. Amril let us know that we could switch to our own lab partners. I’d felt embarrassed working with Cory the prior week and had figured Joel and I would do much better pairing up.
As it happened, though, we did not make it to the end of class. I hadn’t up to then heard the PA system, but today it crackled to life. I didn’t recognize the voice coming from it, but it was a man’s:
All school classes are suspended for the rest of the day. Upper-school students must come to the main hall in the arts center; all lower-school students must remain in your homerooms or return there and wait for instructions about dismissal.
After a few moments, the message repeated. It wasn’t recorded, but whoever was reading it repeated it word for word.
“OK,” said Dr. Amril to the class, “Gather your things, and I’ll walk the class over.”
Most of the class started pulling their things together, but Cory raised her hand. Once recognized, she asked, “Do you know what this is all about?”
“Not at all,” he said.
Thursday, Sept 10th, during 2nd period
The main hall of the arts center
There was a lot of buzz leaving the room, and it only got louder as other classes funneled down the same stairways and walked across the quad. People seemed nervous; it reminded me of the prior school year back in New York when we’d been sent home early, because someone in the school administration or board of education had worried that the protests after the Rodney King verdict would become violent like they had out in California.
Teachers and some security guards were at the entrances and directed us in and to take seats. Up on the stage, I recognized Dean Jerdew and saw another person wearing a uniform that could have been military or police.
After people stopped filtering in, the Dean stepped up to the podium, and started to speak. I couldn’t see his face well enough at the distance to tell his mood, but his voice was grave.
“Students and faculty members, it is with deep regret that I must inform you that we have lost a member of the Queen Sara family. As some of you may know, one of your classmates from class 2-D, Alvar Leto, was reported missing by his guardians this past weekend. Unfortunately, he was found today; Chief Detective Arantis will tell you more about the circumstances. After he’s done speaking, I’ll have more to say.”
“Thank you, Dean Jerdew,” said the uniformed man, who must have been Arantis. “I am the chief detective for the Imperial Guard in this district. Mr. Leto was found dead this morning under circumstances that cannot be anything other than foul play.
“Because of the nature of the crime, and this school’s student body, we must treat this as a threat to all of you until we find out otherwise. At the school’s request, we will be invoking various security protocols to ensure your safety, but we cannot guard all of you on your way to and from school. We ask that you stay alert, avoid unfamiliar situations, and if you know anything about Mr. Leto or why someone would have wanted to do him harm, to make yourself available for interview.”
With that, he stepped away from the microphone, and Dean Jerdew came back. “Thank you, Chief Detective,” and after a moment, “I know that this must come as a shock to many, whether you knew Alvar or not. Classes are over for the day; we need to clear the campus to put new security measures in place. This will be done by tonight, and we expect Saturday morning classes to go on as normal.”
“If any of you do not feel safe getting home on your own, we have some support from the Imperial Guard and city police, as well as faculty members who might live in the same direction. Please let your homeroom teacher know if you need assistance today or returning tomorrow.”
“Starting on Monday, there will be additional counseling staff available. I would appreciate your patience as we wait for the lower school classrooms to be dismissed.”
With that, he stepped away from the microphone.
“You think that he was the student who Dormer mentioned?” I asked Joel.
“I dunno for sure, but I’d take that bet,” he said. “If this Alvar guy was… how did Dormer put it? ‘Politically sensitive,’ it would explain a lot.”
Violet and Tess were sitting together, and Violet found herself gripping her friend’s hand tightly. A murder? Her father had taken the posting here in part to get away from violence back home; she was small enough when they’d come that that she had only distant memories. Daddy is not going to take this well.
“It’ll be OK,” said Tess.
“I hope so,” said Violet. “This feels like a lot all for one student.”
“There are the kids of some real big shots here, right?” said Tess.
“I guess,” said Violet. Do I count as one of those? she wondered. Her family wasn’t especially wealthy or important by local standards, but her father held a senior diplomatic post, and back at home they were part of a very old noble family.
Tess and Violet talked about their classes for what seemed like a long while, when the Dean came back to the microphone. “Thank you for your patience,” he said. “Please return to your homerooms for an attendance check, and to be dismissed.”
Thursday, Sept 10th, after school
Campus outdoors and our apartment
As Joel and I left the main classroom building, Agent Morgan stepped over next to Joel and started walking with us. I hadn’t seen where he came from. He said something quietly to Joel. Joel then said to me, “They want to drive me home. Do you want to come along?”
“Sure, why not?” I said. A moment later I realized it meant my bike would be on campus overnight, which I didn’t love, but the odds of either someone stealing it or there being rain overnight seemed low.
The car was parked in the faculty lot; Dormer was waiting in driver’s seat. His car, like most here, looked boxy and old fashioned – kind of like the ‘70s had never ended. Inside, though, it was spacious and comfortable.
Once we were inside, Joel asked, “What’s going on?”
“Not here,” replied Dormer. “I can say more when we get back home.”
We were after the morning rush and even with the long wait at the main hall, it still somewhat before noon. The trip was quick.
Once we were at the apartment, Dormer seemed more relaxed. “I’m sure you have questions. I’ll answer if I can, or if you’d prefer, I can just brief you on what I know.”
“Just tell me what you know,” said Joel.
“Alvar Leto was the missing student I mentioned over the weekend. I don’t have the full details, but it’s clear that he was murdered, and someone went to a lot of trouble to make sure it was untraceable and irreversible.”
“Wait,” said Joel. “Since when is being dead reversible?”
“Under normal circumstances, like if this had been a robbery gone bad, it’s not hard to get a resurrection spell. It’s just extremely expensive, and his family would not have had any trouble paying.
“As I said last weekend, you’re not the only politically sensitive student at Queen Sara. He was another; his father is part of the ruling junta in Fenrik, and he was living in quarters at their embassy. This is going to be a big problem for them, and for the local security services.”
“What does this mean for me?” Joel asked.
“You’re going to need to be more careful. Some of the foreign ministry folks seem to think this internal matter from Fenrik that spilled over, in which case this is probably over. At the same time, if that’s not it, you or Mark could be at risk.
“At my most paranoid, I can’t fully rule out that this is somehow a way to get at you. Our information security on your real identity has been very good, but the king is concerned that your existence could have leaked.”
“Why would they target him to find me?”
“You and he fit a similar profile.”
At first with this conversation going on, my thought was that I was glad to be a nobody. Being exactly what Joel had thought he’d been – just another kid from Queens – I was safe, right? But as Dormer talked about Alvar’s profile, and the similarity to Joel’s, it sent a chill down my spine. Maybe I wasn’t that safe after all.