The school was stuccoed, and in an unfortunate colour scheme of beige and salmon orange. The school's name was fixed above the main entrance in both English and French, in keeping with the school's bilingual curriculum.
To be kind, it was ugly. The building's only saving graces were the line of tall, flowering cherry trees - this early in the fall, the pink blossoms were gone, and instead, the street was carpeted with leaves and the needles from pines and cedars. If the school had been in any other setting, anywhere else but southern BC, it would have possessed a level of ugliness surpassing hideous.
It was still ugly, and Areahannah sighed as she resettled her book bag over her shoulder and headed for the doors, hoping the inside wasn't nearly so bad.
It was. Bureaucrat Beige walls, lockers painted in alternating tan, orange, yellow and dark brown, and marble-patterned brown linoleum as far as the eye could see. Again, she sighed, and pulled the schedule the school had sent her out of her pocket. Her homeroom was in room 2002... which after glancing at the nearest several doors, whose numbers all began with a 1, she decided that 2002 must be upstairs.
The second floor was just as crowded as the first, mostly with freshman students milling hopelessly in every direction. Dotted among them were several taller, older students. Most of them seemed to be amusing themselves by tormenting the eighth-graders. Areahannah steered carefully around them, avoiding eye contact, and glancing at the room numbers as she passed them.
It seemed she'd been right - the 2000's were on the second floor. But after going up the hall once, back down, and up it again, she hadn't found 2002. She stood at a T-bend in the hall, mentally cursing government bureaucracies and the public school system in general, while scrutinizing her schedule and trying to figure out where she'd gotten turned around, if she had at all (though she was more inclined to believe that the corridor had spontaneously re-arranged itself upon her arrival, just to spite her). The room numbers started at 2022 at the end where she'd started, and ended at 2006 at the other. But nowhere, it seemed, was 2002. She was about to give up and approach a senior student (a plan that would have gotten her even more lost, by the looks of it), when someone tapped her on the elbow. She started, and turned quickly, to see a girl standing there, one half a head taller than Areahannah herself. Her softly-curling, dark blonde hair reached her shoulder blades, and her eyes were a peculiar shade of muddied blue, behind oval glasses. An amused smile hovered around the corners of her mouth.
"Lost?" she asked. Areahannah glanced down at her schedule once more and nodded.
"The room numbers seem to vanish at that end..." she pointed vaguely off at the far end of the hall.
The girl peered at her schedule. "Immersion, right?"
Surprised, Areahannah nodded. "Yeah. How'd you know?"
She got a grin in response. "Because the French Immersion kids got lumped into one home room this year, instead of being split up alphabetically like everybody else. I guess 'cause there are so few of us."
"You're Immersion too?"
"Yeah; that's how I recognized the baffled, lost expression. The room numbers go all twisty at some point, end down there and start up here again." She inclined her head up the T-bend, and then, seemingly as an afterthought: "I'm Katia Robensen." She stuck out her hand, and Areahannah took it.
Katia squinted at her schedule again. "Areahannah? That's a pretty name."
"Areahannah MacPine. But most people just call me Arrah."
The bell chose that moment to ring, loudly, from the speaker directly above their heads, and both girls were almost instantly caught up in the mob rush of students desperate not to be late the first day.
If Areahannah and Katia's attentions had not been diverted by the bell, they might have paused to wonder about the strange, fleeting sensation both experienced, the moment their eyes met - though years later, both remembered that it had seemed, upon that first meeting, as if they had met before.
If Arrah had had the occasion to compare that day's lunch to anything, it would have been to the feeding frenzy she'd once witnessed at the Vancouver Aquarium, when half a cow had been dropped into the shark tank to demonstrate, to the audience, just how quickly sharks could react to the stimulus of blood.
The school cafeteria was offering free fries that day, and most of the eighth grade class had run straight from their third period blocks to get to the line before anyone else. Areahannah and Katia, however, had noticed that the older students had hung back, with expressions of mild distaste. Uncertain whether this was for the eighth-graders themselves or for the food, they had decided not to risk it. Besides, Katia had brought her own lunch. And Katia's father was a chef.
They'd found a secluded stairwell, boasting a window onto a courtyard, and settled in for the duration of the lunch hour. Katia was as good as her word. She had a ridiculously large lunch, one she could not, she said, have possibly eaten alone. Arrah was hardly going to disagree, having not brought a lunch of her own.
"Dad said he wasn't going to leave me "at the mercy of government-sponsored food", so he stocked me up. He made it sound as if I was going to war in the desert or something," Katia giggled, digging into a plastic container of pasta salad, while Arrah contemplated a tuna sandwich.
"Your dad's a chef? That must be nice," she said, sitting against the wall next to the window. "Around our house we don't get a lot of regular meals. We're not all there at the same time very often, except to sleep."
"Well, my mum's a doctor," Katia replied, focused on her lunch. "She's home late all the time, so Dad makes sure he's always got something to take her mind off how horrible her day was - it usually is, and Dad's solution usually involves chocolate. What do your parents do?"
"My dad's a professor at the University," Arrah said, eyes focused on a spot of light on the ceiling. "English and stuff. My mum's a dance teacher. She owns a school."
"Oh? Which one?"
"Swan Dive. That little place on the highway. I've been dancing since before I remember." Arrah grinned at her new friend. "She's a little obsessive sometimes. But she's usually home late, closing up, and with adult classes on Fridays that run a lot later. I have this awful feeling she wants me to take over some stuff when I'm old enough." Arrah gave a dramatic sigh. "I'll never have time for anything else." She looked at Katia. "So what's so horrible about your mum's days? I thought it was pretty quiet around here."
A faint line of worry creased Katia's brow. "It used to be," she said slowly. "But in the last year or so, things have been getting... weird, I guess. Because of mutants and everything, I think."
Areahannah raised an eyebrow. "What - injuries because of weird powers?"
Katia shook her head quickly. "No, nothing like that - not often, anyway - more like those True Humanity psychos beating up anyone who they think *might* be a Hype. It's disgusting." She frowned down at the half-eaten salad. "My mum told me about a bunch of kids she saw the other night - do you know that some parents *abandon* their children when they find out they're Hypes? Or kick them out? Well, they've got group homes for those kids. The other night the THC fire-bombed one of them, down near the river, and... Mum was on call, and she didn't get home 'til after three that night. Dad was so worried, pacing back and forth in the living room..."
Katia shook her head. Then she looked up at Arrah. "Little kids, Arrah. They bombed little kids. And you just know they'll *never* get punished for it. They never do. Because they've got the government on their side..."
Areahannah was silent. She'd heard this same story from *her* father only a couple of nights ago. A half-dozen children, with second and third-degree burns, two of whom died before anything could be done. Not a one of them had been older than twelve.
"Mum said it was a miracle none of them was scarred permanently. A miracle." Katia dropped her eyes again. "She said *she* thought it was because one of their teachers had a healing power, or something. There was no other way to explain it. But two of them *died*. Because those *psychos*..."
"They *are* crazy, aren't they?" Arrah said quietly when Katia trailed off. "They're... frightening. They're places nothing like that should be. There are posters up *here*. I walked in and it was the first thing I saw."
Katia nodded vigorously. "I had to keep myself from ripping it down. It makes me sick just thinking about it. I mean, we're supposed to be better than that! This isn't the States, this isn't, like, Kosovo or Germany in the forties - this is BC! This stuff isn't supposed to *happen* here!" She finally abandoned the salad as a lost cause, and set it down on the floor in front of her.
"I sort've hoped people learned their lesson from the Japanese Internments and crap like that. But I guess not."
Arrah looked disconcertedly out the window next to her - and sighted at least two teenage boys wearing THC insignia. It made her skin crawl. "Some lessons, people have to learn over and over again," she said. "That's what my dad always says."
Katia, staring at the floor, sighed. "It's just disturbing that people can be so *stupid* - that they can let themselves be controlled by scum like the THC."
Areahannah shrugged unhappily. "It's taken less," she said. "It still takes less, sometimes."
Katia shook her head. "I don't want to think about that," she said, "Because it means people are getting dumber - and the monsters are getting smarter."