Friday, Sept 11th, 6th period
Honors world history classroom
The next day, Dormer drove us back to the school. There were now ID checks getting onto campus, and a few more security guards around, but nothing else seemed to have changed. My bike was right where I’d left it. At physics, everyone was able to switch lab partners without problems. Things started to go back to normal.
After the world history class, I went up to talk to Ms. Calliot. “Do you have an outline for your paper, Mark?”
“Kind of.” I grimaced and handed her the page and a half of notes I had. “I never made it by the library to start actually looking at primary sources, and …”
She raised a hand, and I stopped there. A couple of other students were waiting to talk to her. “I’ll look over these and we’ll discuss next steps tomorrow after class.”
When she gave them back to me the next day, there were a lot of comments on them. They weren’t all bad, but I felt bad reading them all together. The final one read simply,
You’ve picked out a lot of details and if you can find sources to support them, that’s a good start. At the same time, I don’t see any thought on how the details fit together to make a cohesive argument for or against the thesis. I don’t even see which side you intend to support.
Saturday, Sept 12th, after classes
Dueling club room and Riva’s
Having missed Thursday, it was the second fencing practice for those of us doing it for PE credit. It was turning out to be fun; I was still completely clueless what to do with a foil, but Gwen and Kai leading warmups beat gym class hands down, and it was at least interesting practicing the numbered parries.
In addition to Galen and I, two first year girls had joined for PE credit; there were a couple of seniors who were here for PE credit as well, but both were already familiar enough to do practice bouts with the folks who were competitive members of the club.
Watching the practice bouts was also interesting; the competitive members, even Mina who had just joined, all seemed so fast and fluid – it was hard to imagine ever having that kind of reflexes.
When things were wrapping up, Kai came over to Galen and me. “Hey guys, some of us are going to Riva’s after we clean up. Do either of you want to come along?”
“Sure,” said Galen.
“In that case, do you mind helping clean up?”
“Why not?” I said.
Cleaning up primarily involved putting the equipment back in the storage room and looking over things as we did so to see if anything needed repair or washing. When we were finished, I asked if there was more storage behind the other door.
“No,” said Kai. “That’s actually a shooting range.”
“No way, really?”
“I’ve never seen someone use it, but yes, really,” he said.
Overhearing this, Gwen stopped to ask, “Never seen someone use what?”
“The shooting range.”
“Oh, ok. I have,” said Gwen. “There was someone back when I was in the lower school who shot targets competitively and who’d borrow it. I think he graduated from the upper school after my second year, so 4 years ago?”
I thought about asking to see inside, but I was feeling kind of ripe and wanted to get a shower in before getting ice cream. Other people were going to do so as well; we agreed to meet up in the sports center lobby before heading over.
In the end, there were six of us; Galen, Cory, Kai, Mina and Gwen, and me. I’d been to Riva’s with Joel’s family after we initially toured the school, but I couldn’t remember exactly where it was, just that it was nearby and after Dormer talking up the ice cream, I had gotten an actual breakfast instead.
The walk was short enough, and there wasn’t a wait. We ended up in a large booth, with the three girls on one side and the three of us guys on the other. The waitress had just left water and food menus in case we wanted them – the dessert menu was already at the end of the table, one for all six of us – when Galen said, “Hey, this is funny – almost like we’re three couples.”
“That’s not funny,” said Cory.
“Awkward,” I said under my breath just after, and at that, Gwen just cracked up.
After a remark like Galen’s, it was hard not to take a longer glance at the girls, who were quite different. I was seated across from Mina, who was the least interesting to my eye – middling height, with an athletic figure that I bet many guys would have liked, but Joel was not completely wrong about my tastes. She had short, sandy brown hair, and was the only one wearing the uniform blazer.
Cory was interesting, but I wasn’t sure if it was in a good way. She was taller than the other two and a bit tan; her dark brown hair was tied back in the same no-frills pony tail I’d first seen it in in science lab, and she was wearing our winter gym uniform a size or two too large, baggy enough that obscured whether she had any figure or not. She had dark brown eyes behind her glasses; I didn’t think I’d ever seen her with a real smile, but she might have been quite pretty if she did.
Gwen caught my attention most of all. I had up until then only seen at a distance or wearing a fencing jacket and with her hair tied back. I'd thought she was cute at both assemblies, but I was surprised by how striking she was when I saw her up close. Her hair stood out, dark red, long and slightly curly. She also had green eyes and a light dusting of freckles that matched her hair. She was wearing the blouse of our girls’ uniform without a jacket, and with green scarf rather than the regulation tie or the bow many of the girls favored. Although she was quite petite, she was…
Galen, who was sitting in the middle, elbowed me lightly. It was enough that I kind of jerked in response. I guess I’d been staring a little,
“Uh, sorry guys,” said Gwen. “I guess it wasn’t that funny.”
“It’s alright,” said Kai.
“You’ll get used to her sense of humor,” said Cory.
I hadn’t been meaning to look too long, but I guess it was interpreted as a reaction to her laughing so hard.
We were saved from further awkwardness by the waitress coming back to take our orders. I hadn’t had a chance to look at the dessert menu, but you can never go wrong with chocolate. The waitress took the girls’ orders first – sundaes for Mina and Gwen, and when she got to Cory, she asked “the usual?”
I went for a sundae myself; Galen and Kai both went for scoops, and the waitress was off again.
“How is everybody’s semester starting off?” asked Gwen.
“Pretty good,” said Kai.
“Taking some getting used to,” said Mina. “Much less structured, and everything in English, but I have enjoyed it so far.”
“Your old school was in Kala, right?” asked Gwen.
“That’s right. My mom got a temporary assignment for work here, and I was able to do well enough on the exam to transfer in.”
“How about you, Galen?” asked Gwen.
“Good, mostly. I’m still disappointed about the election, though.”
“I hope you’ll keep coming to student council meetings,” said Gwen. “There’s always more to do than we have officers for.”
“Definitely,” said Galen.
“Mark, that leaves you. Kai was saying you were transferred in from even farther away than Mina?”
“I guess the other side of the gate qualifies,” I said. “It’s not actually that far on the train, though.”
“How did you end up here?” asked Galen.
I gave the same shortened version of how we ended up here that Joel had on our first day of classes – basically, diplomats on our side, more trade, Joel got selected, and I ended up tagging along. I left out Anne’s death, and of course, the real reason Joel was here.
“Do people usually believe you?” asked Cory.
“We haven’t told a lot of people, but the folks we met in our homeroom did,” I said. “We talked to Neil about a national booth, and he basically called us liars.”
“Neil Mayhan?” asked Kai.
“Yes, him,” I said.
“Somehow I’m not surprised,” said Kai. “I don’t know him, but Jack really hates him.”
“He’s not that bad,” said Gwen. “I don’t know why he wouldn’t take your word for it. I mean, it’s a difficult story to believe, but it’s not like you’re the first student from another world who’s been here.”
“I’m not?” I asked.
“He’s not?” asked both Kai and Cory around the table at the same time.
“Yeesh, I know you and Cory have better grades than I do,” said Gwen, “but I guess I’ve spent more time learning about the school’s own history.”
“There’s got to be a story behind that,” said Kai.
“Maybe not a very good one,” Gwen said, “I’ll tell you another time. Do you want to hear about the prior students from other worlds?”
Gwen went on. “You all know the official reasons they created the Gate, right? To control the phenomenon that the newcomers came in on, make the world safe, trade for resources we can’t get here, and all that. But there’s another big reason – some of the newcomers really, really wanted to find their way back to their own world. Probably still do.”
“OK,” said Kai. “I didn’t know this was public knowledge, but I’ve heard my some of my grandparents’ friends talk about it.”
“Yup,” said Gwen. “So, for about 60 years since they finished the gate, it’s been opening to a ton of different worlds. A lot of those are parallels of the world the newcomers came from. I know there are a few a few they have figured out how to repeat. Mark, you must be from one of those.
“Most of those parallel worlds weren’t very nice, especially as time went on. The first batch of refugees they brought through were people fleeing the original Nazis in that big war their world had, and then they kept finding parallels which were pretty much wrecked. Nazis won, or there was a nuclear war, or horrible famine wiped out civilization.”
Sometime during this story our ice cream arrived. Whatever Cory’s usual was, it didn’t arrive at the same time.
“It sounds like a lot of the worlds that aren’t parallels of the newcomers’ world aren’t very nice either. The gate opens briefly so it’s never many people from any given world, but over a lot of years the brotherhood has been able to resettle a lot of people who needed help.”
It sounded to me like Joel’s mom had almost been a reverse case of that, but of course I couldn’t share that with them.
“So how did some of those people end up at our school?” asked Kai.
“Well, if you’re rescuing people, some of them are going to be kids, right? I don’t know for sure, but I’d think sometimes people on the other side of the gate might want to protect their kids first. This school got a lot of funding from the government courtesy of the newcomers, so when they or I guess the brotherhood have someone they’ve resettled who needs a high school, some of them end up here.
“I don’t know if there are any more recent ones but there is a book of oral history in the school library that I found while researching a part for a play we’re doing. A couple of high school aged kids came through about 20 years ago and got interviewed. There may be more recent ones, I don’t think most of the folks who come here that way really want it to be known that they are refugees.”
Gwen took a break after this; her ice cream was melting. Cory’s plate came while Gwen was still talking. It was an open face sandwich, with a piece of grilled chicken and fried egg on top of it.
Kai took a look at Cory’s sandwich and asked, “Have you ever tried oyakodon?”
Cory shook her head.
“You might try it, your sandwich always reminds me of it. Chicken and egg over rice.”
“It’s good protein,” said Cory.
I biked home, and when I got there, both Dormer’s car and Joel were out. I decided to head back to the supermarket to get stuff for a few lunches that week, as the cafeteria ones remained underwhelming. Having done well with sandwiches the prior week, I got basically the same things.
On my way back into the house with my grocery bag, the cat walked up about halfway across the yard and looked at me expectantly. I looked back at it.
“Can you smell the ham or something?”
The cat meowed at me.
“Let me unpack the bags, I’ll leave you some in back.”
The cat meowed again, and then ran back to the bushes.
After unpacking things into the fridge, I brought out another dish of cat food for him, with a couple of slices of ham on top. I set it where I usually did, just past the back patio, and stepped back to the door to see if it would come out.
Sure enough, it came out, and devoured the ham before sniffing at the kibble under it.
“You can’t really talk, can you?” I asked the cat.
The cat meowed at me and wandered off.