November 21, 2012 by Lyn
Chapter 12: Jovanna
Tuesday, November 24, 2003
In theory, Jovanna understood why she wasn’t going home for Thanksgiving break. Almost nobody was, after all. They had classes Monday and Tuesday, and then… well, she imagined that the Administration didn’t want to risk people running away, and Keepers didn’t want to lose sight of their Kept.
That didn’t mean she was happy about it… even though it had really come down to her own choice. (She had, she realized, one of the oddest relationships with her Keeper. But Arnbjörg liked it that way, so who was she to complain?) Æowyn and Ahouva were staying, so Jovanna was staying. Reluctantly – but she wasn’t going to leave them alone with their Keepers, however much better Basalt was supposed to be – for a five-day weekend.
“We could do a dinner?” She had cornered Arnbjörg between the end of normal classes and her Huamu class, off in one of their more private meeting places. “I don’t know, it might be if we could do something for some of the other kids…”
“Let it be, Jovan.” Her Keeper’s frown was unpleasant, but she only used that name when she was aiming to punish. “We don’t need to do it like everyone else does. We can be friends, and share a bed, and have that be it.”
“But I’m…” Yours. She didn’t understand why Arna wouldn’t acknowledge her, wouldn’t let her tell people who Owned her, wouldn’t even collar her. Why bother Keeping her if she wasn’t going to, well, Keep her?
“You are.” Arna kissed her forehead by way of apology. “For now. To keep you safe. But if we host a Thanksgiving dinner together, don’t you think it will be very obvious?”
““I…” Yes. “I just want to do something nice for my friends.”
“You’re more than welcome to. I’m not stopping you.”
You never stop me from anything. She nodded, reluctantly giving in. There was no arguing with that tone. “I’ll see you sometime?”
“I’ll stop by sometime. I promise.”
It wasn’t much of a promise. Jovanna sighed. “Thanks. I’ll see you when you come by, then.”
“You will.” She graced Jovanna’s lips with a brief kiss, then headed off. Jovanna waited the required count of thirty, muttered the words to finish the hiding-them Working Arna had put in place, and headed for class.
She liked Huamu class, even if she wasn’t all that good at it. The Words had been getting progressively harder as they went on, which made sense – her first couple classes had been the easiest, the Words she was the best at.
The other girls in the class didn’t seem to be having any more luck, at least. “Meentik Huamu alpha akanthos.” A single leaf appeared in her hand, and then dissolved. “Damnit.” Belfreja frowned at her hands.
“Damnit is not a Working word.” Professor Valerian sounded very calm about the whole thing. So much calmer than in History class. “Mallory, your turn.”
“Meentik Huamu alpha rhízōma.” She held her hands out, her nose scrunched. A potato, a tiny little potato, appeared in her hands.
“Very good. Jovanna?”
“Meentik…” she paused, because Belfreja was trying again.
“Meentik Huamu zeta rhízōma zontanos!.”
“Zotanos, very nice… zeta? Belfreja!” Professor Valerian caught the blonde girl as she swooned, five potatoes appearing in her hands. Five potatoes… with little tentacle arms and legs. The first one wobbled, wiggled, wormed out of Belfreja’s hand – and stood up. “Shit.”
Jovanna couldn’t help herself. “Shit is not a Working word, is it, Professor?”
“Very funny, Jo.” She shook her head, almost hiding a smile. “This,” she lowered Belfreja to the ground, “is what happens when you use a level of a Working you’re not strong enough to handle yet. You overtax your body, and, if you’re lucky, lose consciousness.”
“If you’re lucky?” Mallory looked a bit pale. Jovanna didn’t blame her. “What if…?”
“The Working keeps pulling power, and you can do your body permanent damage. You’ll all be able to do a zeta Working and beyond, eventually. Stick to alphas and betas for now.” She tucked a blanket over the slumbering girl. “She’ll be fine in a little while. Now. Where did those…”
The potatoes had wandered away. Jovanna had seen the second one get up, but then she’d been distracted with threats of burning out her body. “They, ah, walked off, Professor?”
“Hrmp. Of course they did…. Oh, you’re serious. Well, that was an amusing Working. I’m sure we’ll find them, or the floor team will. Now, it’s your turn, Jovanna.”
Okay, not zeta. Alpha, beta… gamma? Let’s hope it didn’t knock her out. “Meentik Huamu gamma kudzu zontanos!”
The vines began writhing out of her hand, little vines at first, getting bigger, slithering down to the ground. Mallory whispered something, and the vines began to grow faster, reaching for the ground. They tickled, brushing against Jovanna’s palm. Twitching, she dropped them, letting them grab for the dirt.
“You’re a creative and daring trio, I’ll give you that. You might consider working together next year.” Next year, of course. First-year students were not assumed to have any freedom.
She eyed Mallory and the unconscious Belfreja and considered Next Year. Not even all the way through the first semester, and they were already talking about it that way, in Capital Letters, like it was another state of evolution. Not just here – Æowyn and Ahouva, her cy’ree, even Arnbjorg. Next Year, when we’re free. Next Year, when we we’re still trapped in this school.
The vine was still moving. It had set down roots, and its long feelers were reaching for more dirt. As she watched, it set down another tap root and sprouted another hand’s worth of vines. And then another.
“What, exactly, did you have in mind when you were making this Working?” The Professor stepped daintily out of the way of a reaching sprout. “Down, you.”
“Um… Kudzu? The way it spreads and grows…”
“Do you think that was wise?”
“No.” She snapped out the word. “Nothing I’ve done since coming here has been wise, Professor, but it was fun.”
“Well, now that you’ve had your fun, we will have to deal with the consequences.” Professor Valerian’s expression softened. “Much as with everything in life. And, I think you’ll find, everyone always ends up finding consequences for their actions.”
“Always.” Her eyes raked over the three of them. “Sometimes it takes a while. Perhaps I shall take the three of you on a little field trip next week. There’s something you might want to see.”
“Will…” Will our Keepers allow that? “Are the other professors going to be okay with that?”
“The other professors can let me teach my students as I see fit, as I allow them to.” She smiled, which made her words no less bladed. Jovanna gulped.
“Sorry, ma’am, it’s just…”
“You’re used to people telling you what you can’t do, of course. I believe that allowing plants and students to grow unfettered is the more natural way of doing things. I do not, as it were, believe in bonsai teaching.”
Bonsai teaching. Jovanna shuddered. “What about bonsai Keeping?”
“Well, Keeping is, by its nature, the act of transplanting someone, potting them, as it were – putting in confines. But, like this vine of yours, I have found that those Kept in too small of pots have a way of, mmm, branching out.”
“No offense, Professor, but that’s a rather creepy metaphor.”
“Many things about this place – and about Ellehemaei existence in general – are rather creepy, dear. It’s the nature of the beast. But, speaking of beasts and nature, we should do something about this vine. It appears to find Belfreja interesting, and I’m not certain she wants to be its friend.”
The vine had surrounded them, and wrapped around one of Bel’s ankles. It was reaching for the second one. “I, ah, don’t have Temp… control, Professor. And I’m not all that good at Abatu.”
“I can’t even say A…Ab…” Mallory frowned. “That one. Yeah. And I don’t really have control either. I don’t think any of my Words would help…”
Professor Valerian nodded to Mallory, and turned back to Jovanna. “Well, you’re not all that good at Huamu, either, and look what you did with that. I’m sure you can manage something, although I would hurry. If not Abatu, what about Aistrigh? You’ve show some proficiency with that.”
“I… yes, thank you, Professor.” The vines had grown to waist-height around them. Aistrigh, Aistrigh. What did she want to transmute the vines into? Not force, that would be bad. And probably not some sort of Unutu, because they’d be surrounded by a fence of plastic vines. Water it was. “Aistrigh Huamu mesa Yaku gamma kudzu.”
“I don’t know if….” Water splashed around them, soaking them to their ankles and sinking quickly into the ground. No, it was leaking into the giant holes left open by the absence of the vines. The ground itself, on the other hand, was sinking. “Well. Mallory, give me a hand with Belfreja. Jovanna, how good are you with Yaku, then?”
“No, no, not that. That would be a bad idea.” Mallory had grabbed Bel’s shoulders; the Professor grabbed the girl’s ankles.
Jovanna moved to help. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” She scrubbed at her face with one hand while reaching for Bel with the other. “I didn’t mean to…”
“Don’t worry about it, Jovanna.” Mallory chanced a small smile. “That’s what we’re all here learning for. I bet I’ve made worse mistakes in my other classes.”
“You’re fine,” the professor agreed, shifting the unconscious Bel onto solid ground with their help. “You’re doing all right, Jovanna. It was a clever idea, and much better than, say, making fire. It’s just that this area…”
Jovanna’s foot slipped, catching in the hole made by a vine. She let go of Belfreja, rather than bring them all down with her, and scrabbled for balance. But the hole was sucking in her ankle, and then her whole leg. “Shit! I mean help, oh, shit, Professoooooorrr…” Her other foot slipped, and, with a wet, sucking sound, the hole swallowed her up.
There was mud everywhere. There was mud in her face, there was mud under her grabbing hands. A root grabbed at her fingers and bent one back, peeling back a nail and breaking it off. She yelped, and got mud in her mouth; she spat, and got even more. She was pretty sure her finger was bleeding, but she couldn’t tell, and her elbows were being scraped raw. Her dress was inching up, and she really didn’t want that, and something was grabbing at her shoes, the mud sucking them off.
And the mud was gone, with another messy sucking sound, and she was free-falling. She flailed, trying to find some sort of handhold, but there was nothing but air. The mud meant she couldn’t see anything at all, and could barely hear, but she knew there was nothing slowing her, nothing stopping her fall.
And then the floor stopped her fall, catching her leg, bending it awkwardly. Something twisted, with a stab of pain so bad she saw red and stars, and she landed, her already-abused hand catching the rest of her weight.
The impact knocked the air out of her, leaving her gasping, every mouthful of air bringing in a nasty taste of mud, choking her. She managed to roll over onto her stomach and coughed, turning the cough into vomiting with skill born of practice. She felt like she’d swallowed an entire acre of mud. She felt like she vomited up an entire field of the stuff.
And she still couldn’t breathe. “Meen…” she couldn’t make Words. She could barely make sounds. She coughed, and tried to sit up, trying to get out of the pile of muddy vomit, and trying to get air into her lungs.
Only then did she hear the footsteps. She scrubbed, unthinking, at her eyes with the back of her sleeve, only to drop her hand, choking on a curse. That hurt.
The footsteps left. She felt for a wall with her undamaged hand, found one, and pressed her back against it. Her ankle wasn’t going to take her weight. Her wrist was useless. She coughed up another mouthful of mud and mucus, and tried for a Word again. “Meentik…” The K caught in her throat and she started choking again. And, worse, she didn’t know whether to be more worried by the pain, or by the footsteps. Someone knew she was here.
She’d seen the looks on some of her classmate’s faces. She’d seen Ahouva’s bruises, and the ones Æowyn had bitten her for asking about. This school wasn’t safe, the halls weren’t safe.
Then again, being injured, blinded, and lost someplace one had found falling through a rabbit hole probably wasn’t safe anywhere in the world. It wouldn’t have been safe in her old school. In any of her old schools. She coughed again.
“Meentik Yaku alpha.” The words came out reedy and thin, but she managed a thin stream of water into her mouth.
“Don’t try too much Working. You’ve been injured.”
She hadn’t heard someone coming. She yelped, and pushed herself back against the wall, hating how gravelly her voice sounded. Gravelly. She probably had swallowed a pound of the stuff.
“Here.” If her voice sounded gravelly, this one sounded like metal rubbing on rusty metal. The accent was strange, and the words had that unused feel to them. “I asked for girl for birthday, ya know. Everyone else gets one.”
Shit. Maybe putting herself up against a wall hadn’t been the brightest idea. Maybe she should have, oh, kept moving until she found a door. Screamed for help. Something. “Sorry to disappoint,” she croaked.
“No disappoint. You came from up.”
“I fell through.” And hadn’t three separate professors promised her that the ceiling couldn’t collapse? And yet she’d fallen through the earth, and landed in what felt like a room. “From up there.” She nodded her head, because she was using her good hand to prop herself up. “Nobody sent me.”
“You here. You came from up.” The voice coughed. “Stay here.”
“Not going anywhere.” Workings, Workings, what could she do? She was lousy to horrid at Tlacatl, so she couldn’t heal herself. More water, more water she could do. She was really good with water. “Meentik Yaku beta.” She pictured it coming in a stream, like a shower, and it did, washing off her face. “More, more, Meentik Yaku gamma.” This time, it was a deluge, and she finally felt like she was beginning to get clean.
She scrubbed at her eyes with her free hand, using the wall behind her for support. Where was she? Wall, yes. Smooth linoleum floor, looking far more institutional than anything upstairs. The floor was yellowed, but well-maintained looking – except where her mud and vomit were trickling away in rivulets into the drain.
The floor had a drain. That wasn’t a good sign. That was a very bad sign. Was it maybe a shower room? She looked around. No windows, of course. One door, looking like an old school door, complete with that horrid tiny window of security glass, and a door that looked like it locked from the outside. No desks. No showers. Not much of anything, including none of the shackles and chains her imagination was helpfully providing. Not a prison. Just an unused, empty room. An unused, empty room with a drain in the floor and a hole in the ceiling. Shouldn’t the Professor be coming for her? She looked up, as if looking for rescue could summon it.
There was no hole in the ceiling. There were tiles, slightly yellowed acoustical tiles, that was it. Not even a smear of mud. It was as if she had just appeared here, instead of falling through the ceiling.
No wonder her bad-grammar friend thought she was a birthday present.
She pushed herself to her feet, pressing her back against the wall for support. It hurt to even think about putting weight on that ankle, but she could, if she gritted her teeth, sort of hop, leaning on the wall for support. She could make it to the door, then… but then what? Not only had she never seen this room before, she’d never even seen anything like it before. The classrooms upstairs had wood floors with tacked-down Oriental rugs to provide traction; the halls were thick carpet, and everything was wood paneling and wood furniture and smooth ceilings. Nothing like this, nothing looking like a seventies school or a twenties institution. Was it even the same building?
Something happened to Kay, Ahouva had told them. She was coming back from class and some invisible creep beat her up because she cou… wouldn’t say anything. And there’d been whispers of it happening to others – Kheper, the pretty dark-haired boy with the really nice eye. Eirena, the tiny Mongolian girl that Jovanna wanted to take home and cuddle.
The stairs go all the way down. The doors go all the way to hell. She’d thought it was more of the stupid pranks. No. Arnbjorg had told her it was more of the stupid pranks. But what had Kheper said? I couldn’t see anything, but the stairs kept going down.
There were invisible doorways. Professor Valerian had brought them through one for Huamu class, and, once, in the dead of night, Arnbjorg had brought Jovanna out there. She had opened her eyes on the way in, and flipped out, because there was no door, just a wall they were walking through.
So, maybe there was an invisible stairway. Okay, she could deal with that. But an invisible stairway to what? And invisible in both directions, or only going down? That could turn out to be very important.
She limped towards the door, as quickly as she could stand, which was barely faster than a snail-crawl. She needed to get out of here before her would-be boyfriend came back, and made the same discovery Arnbjorg had made. (And if being rejected by her Keeper burned with humiliation, well, being rejected by a cave troll might finally break her.) She sucked in her breath, bit her lip, and kept going. Step, hop, think-about-the-sunshine. Step, hop, swear while practicing Spanish. Step, stumble, catch herself on the wall
The door swinging open nearly caught her in the chin. She flinched, and leaned hard on the wall.
“Still here? Good. I brought water… oh. Oh.”
Jovanna nearly felt bad for the… ah, guy? Guy, go with that. Standing in the doorway, holding a bucket of water and a washcloth, was… well, a short, dark yeti. Or a very very furry man, although men didn’t usually have voiced that squeaked in the last vestiges of pubescence. (Jovanna flinched again, remembering that, the squeaks and the random changes in pitch, the hours learning to control it).
“Thank you for the water. I don’t think I cold have made more.”
“You didn’t look like Maker.” The yeti frowned at her. “You look like girlfriend.”
“I am a girlfriend.” More or less. “The problem is, I’m already someone else’s girlfriend.”
“She promised girlfriends!” His voice broke on promised, and he flailed both hands at her. “She promised girls!”
Those fangs had to be getting in the way of diction, Jovanna realized. It wasn’t, maybe, that he was stupid, although he was hard to tell with someone covered in curly brown fur, but maybe he just didn’t bother with full sentences because of those big teeth. Big teeth on a very agitated mouth. “I’m sorry. If she promised girls, I’m sure she’ll send them eventually.” It wasn’t like people didn’t get used for all sorts of unpleasant shit out here.
“She sent you.”
“No. I made a mistake and fell through the hole.”
“I wanted girl, and you showed up.”
“I’m sorry. I’m already someone else’s girl.”
“You’re mine now. You’re mine. And I’m keeping you.” He grabbed her arms with two big mitts of hands, and she didn’t feel sorry for him anymore. “I’m keeping you all for me. You’re mine.”
You’re mine. You Belong to me. What you have, you get from my hands. Everything you need, I will give to you.”
Arnbjorg had stripped her naked for the ceremony, completely, utterly naked. That had taken quite a bit of doing, but it wasn’t like, by then, she hadn’t already known. And then, then, after all that, she’d sent Jovanna away.
She squirmed backwards, her bad ankle threatening to give way. “I can’t be yours. I’m sorry.” She wasn’t, not anymore, if she ever had been, but it seemed like the thing to say. “I already have a girlfriend.” Sort of.
“Mine now. She’s not here.” He grinned. He had a lot of teeth and not the world’s best dental hygiene. “Been waiting and waiting, and nobody. Just Inigo and Anita, mostly, and they don’t count. And the kids. But now there’s you. Now I have my own girl and nobody can take you away.”
Okay, that was really, really bad. “I need to get back to the school.” She’d never thought she’d be this eager to get back to Addergoole. “I have to. There’s oaths and geasa and shit.”
It really was a very unpleasant smile. “This is Addergoole too. Where you think we came from?”
“I don’t know.” She really didn’t. She wasn’t sure she cared, either, but talking was good. Talking delayed the risk of something really bad, any number of really bad things happening. “I’m not even really clear on where I came from.”
“You take Bio?”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it. The rough bits, at least.” Since Jovanna was one of those cases that Bio textbooks outside of Addergoole didn’t talk about much – and, though she’d seen a look at the “other genders” pages in Æowyn’s Bio book, she was taking Earth Science this semester – she’d never paid that much attention. She’d never figured, before she came here, that it would have anything at all to do with her. “Short of magic,” she’d said to one of her few friends back home, “there’s no way I’m making a baby.”
She had magic, now, and she still seemed no closer to fixing her biology. It was like fate hated her.
Not the issue. The issue was the yeti holding her and insisting that she was going to be his girl now. “I get the biology,” she repeated. “Not the school full of faeries.”
The yeti laughed in her face. His breath stank of fish. “Ha. Faeries. Do I look like faerie?”
“You look like Ellehemaei. Same as me.”
“You don’t look ‘hemmy.”
“No, I guess I don’t.” Arnbjorg and her Mentor Doug had taught her Masking within an hour of her Change. She didn’t mind, except when she felt that they were both ashamed of what she was. “You can hide it, you know.”
“Some people can’t. That’s what Teacher says. Some people don’t learn how.”
“Some people… can’t?” She’d never heard anything of the sort. “Just can’t Mask?”
“Teacher says. I can’t.” He shrugged, which jarred Jovanna. She hissed as pain shot through her wrist and ankle. “You will be better soon. Teacher can heal.”
Teacher. A teacher would send her back where she belonged. For a certain definition of “belonged.” Right?
Or a teacher would agree that she belonged down here, with yeti-boy. The way the Mentors had with Ahouva, and Ceinwen, and Kay, the way that even Luke had, when Jovanna had asked him can’t you do something? Anything? She couldn’t touch a teacher, especially not if this Teacher were Yeti’s Mentor.
“I need to get back to my room. I need to get back to my teachers. I made a promise.” Well, she had.
“Promises sacred.” He nodded firmly. “You promised. You promise to come back?”
Kept cannot be bound by promises. She smiled as brightly as she could manage. “I promise I’ll come back to you. Will you help me to the stairs?”
“You come back?”
“I’ll come back.” She’d have to, wouldn’t she? Now that she knew it was here. “But I have to go home, now.”
“I carry you.”
“Oh… good? Thank you.” She was going to be carried by a yeti. This had to be the most surreal day she’d had yet. “I’m not too heavy?”
“Peh, you tiny.” He scooped her into his arms, surprisingly gently. “You come back. I carry you anywhere.”
“You’re very sweet.” She held to his arm, trying not to feel too disoriented by the strange angle. The world was moving, and she wasn’t controlling it. She thought about asking him to put her down. But walking was going to be slow, and it was going to hurt.
“I carry good. Teacher teach me.”
“You carry very good,” she assured him. She could get used to this. Arna was big enough, strong enough…
Arna couldn’t be bothered to do something like this. “I’ve never been carried like this before.”
“Treat girls right, Teacher says. Teacher teaches.”
She thought about Lemon’s bun in the oven that they were jokingly calling Lemon Tart, and the abashed look on Professor VanderLinden’s face every time he saw the student he’d gotten pregnant. “How much does Teacher teach?”
“Everything.” He grinned with his fish-breath smile. “Teacher teaches all of us everything.”
I bet. How long had this place been here? And why was it here? And why was this particular Ellehemaei tucked away here, when everyone else was up there, taking classes and getting Kept? “Why…?”
“Stupid upstairs people.” This was another voice, but it seemed to be connected to a wisp of air. A wisp of air, and a hand grabbing her ankle, and trying to pull her out of her yeti’s arms. “Stupid upstairs people, ruining everything. Slumming. Coming down here and slumming.” A second hand grabbed her hair. “Let her go, Tokko. Give her to me. I’ll show the stupid thing where she belongs.”
“Can’t have her, Inigo. She’s mine.” The yeti pressed Jovanna against his chest, filling her face with fur and crushing her bad wrist against his ribs. She groaned in pain, hating the sound. Damnit, she had to be stronger than this.
“You can’t have pretty things. You break them. You know what’s why you’re down here, Tokko. Give her to me. Give her here.” The invisible person yanked hard this time, but yeti was holding tight, his fingers pressing into her ribs.
“Don’t break. You reason for new locks, new gates. You keep making trouble. All this trouble, everyone says is me. ‘What about suboles sine futiri?’“ The yeti’s voice twisted in mockery. “Stupid shit. No-one cares.”
“No-one cared about any of them. Give me the damn girl.” His invisible hands found her skirt, and he tugged, as yet hugged her closer. Jovanna focused every last iota of energy on her Mask. Not was not the time for it to fail. Now was not the time for it to fail. “Give.” He grabbed her hair again, and yanked.
“Me.” He grabbed her ankles, and Jovanna screamed, only her Mask covering the sound, making it high enough.
“The. Girl.” The thudding sound must have been him kicking the yeti, because the big oaf went down, cradling Jovanna against his chest, pressing her injured wrist into his ribs.
She screamed again, and then didn’t have breath for anything but screaming, as the invisible hands started dragging her away.
“…and if you can get me out of this madhouse, it would be great. Thanks, Shang.”
Shang dropped the letter in the Director’s Secretary’s little outgoing mail bin. He had sent a letter every week since things started getting weird – so, since the first weekend of school – and his parents had answered, so he knew they were getting the letters. But their excuses were thin and getting thinner every time.
He just wanted to get out of here before whatever was in the water got to him. He hadn’t sprouted horns or funny ears or sharp teeth or anything yet, he could barely mange the magic beyond an Alpha level, and, unlike the rest of his friends, he couldn’t pull things out of thin air or smell emotions or anything. And he liked it that way. He liked being normal, and he liked the world around him being normal and stable.
The class work was good. Shang had to admit that much. He liked the classes, and he liked the karate training with Luke. Professor Akatil had a collection of sound equipment in the back of his office, too, and he and Shang had been building a sound system together. As long as Shang focused on that, and not the weird shit going on all around him, he was fine. It was just that the weird shit kept getting weirder, and it kept interfering in his normal life.
“Where are you wandering, all alone, little ninthie?”
The girl calling him little was at least four inches shorter than Shang, although that was common. Not many girls at all could look him in the eye. She was skinny, with pale spots like a cow splattered over her tan skin. Shang didn’t look to see if she had a tail, too. He didn’t really want to know.
“Going to the Store.” He thought he knew who she was, although he hadn’t been paying a lot of attention outside of his friends. “I’m going to pick up a movie to watch.”
“That sounds fun. You could come watch it at our place.”
Shang stepped away from her reaching fingers. “I’m sorry.” He tried to sound polite about it. He didn’t want to get in any fights today. “I only date humans.”
She didn’t move in further, and she smiled instead of getting angry. “It’s going to be a long cold time for you here, then, little ninthie. “
Shang shrugged. He’d had a few dates in his old school, and didn’t really see what the big real was. “I can make it four years.”
“Ha. If you can’t pull off dating someone, it’s going to be a lot longer than that.” She clicked her tongue and shook her head.
“Look, it’s all a big mistake anyway. I don’t belong here.”
“We all belong here, kiddo. You’ll figure that out eventually. Why not give in…”
A wailing siren cut her off. She snapped her mouth shut, and Shang, seeing his opportunity, took the moment to dart off.
He’d been planning on going to the Store. But the siren pounded through his head, making his heart beat fast. He needed to hide. He needed to find someplace tiny, and quiet, and high up, and he needed to hide.
Shang ran for the entryway. The Jeep lift. He could get up on the lift and hide there.
The sirens rang around him, and he ran and hid.
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