“They’re not like us.”
I sigh and look up from my breakfast. “Have you met girls before, BB?” I say.
He throws a half-eaten bit of sausage at me. “You know what I mean. If they’re neffs like us, why are they only getting here now? All at once?”
“Who cares?” Sue asks. “This is bitchin’, man!”
“Are we going to talk about the escape plan at all?” Mouse asks. “Feels like explosives around the island should be something we talk about.”
“Wolfe probably doesn’t care about female neffs,” Dolphin says. “She’d probably be fine with us banging our own kind.”
“Anyway, look at them,” Ball Buster says, pointing his spoon not so discreetly at the other side of the cafeteria. (By common consent, the cafeteria has split evenly between the boys on one side and the girls on the other.) “Do any of them look like they’ve got giant holes in their rib cages?”
Looking up and down the line of tables proves Ball Buster has a point. Quite a lot of the girls have very definitely nothing missing from their chests.
“Could be wearing inserts,” Dolphin suggests.
“They’re not tall either, and I’ve yet to see one break a rock,” Ball Buster says.
“Again, I’m not sure how much your parents told you,” I say, “but girls are built differently to boys.”
This time a piece of bacon gets flicked at me. “Shut it, Square.”
Sue grabs the same piece of bacon, which landed on my chair, and eats it.
“Explosives, guys?” Mouse says. “How are we going to deal with those?”
“C’mon,” I say. “If they’re not Nephilim, why are they here?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Ball Buster says.
Normally, we’d cut across the field to make a straight beeline for our classes. But without a word, we walk the plowed path straight out of the cafeteria. Which just happens to run straight between the dorms Anaconda/Scorpion and Spider/Mantis. What we used to call “Creepy” and “Crawly.”
Or as we now call them, “Boys” and “Girls.”
There’s not much to see, since it’s still pretty dark out. Still, I notice all four of the guys making supposedly casual glances towards the camp. In fact, I can see the guys ahead of them doing it, and the guys ahead of them.
Reminds me, really, of kindergarten: little boys going “Ewwww!” and girls giggling and pointing. It should go away before too long. Hopefully.
At any rate, the behavior’s still around in history class. Anatomy class was fairly normal—no additional students or anything. But when I walk into history class, it’s immediately apparent that a bunch of desks have been added.And again, with what I imagine is almost an unconscious impulse, it’s mostly girls on one side and guys on the other. A few brave guys have invaded the girls’ half of the classroom, trying to chat up their (clearly uninterested) seatmates.
I wonder if I should sit on the girl’s side, just to break things up. Then I’m worried I’ll be bothering them, like the invaders. Then I wonder whether I should be worrying about this at all and if this is discriminatory or …
Jeez, finding a seat was so simple before.
“Mr. Dickson, when you’re ready.” Doc Schaefer glares at me over the tops of his eyeglasses. Guess he’s teaching today.
“Right.” In a sudden fit of defiance, I walk straight to my normal seat (apparently the girls have taken over the surrounding seats) and sit down.
Doc doesn’t seem to be running off a lesson plan, so far as I can tell. He briefly mentions that Ms. Scribe is taking a few days to orient herself with the “transfers” curriculum, then he launches straight into a talk about Solomon and the lack of records from that time period.
I’m still wearing that amulet he gave me. Don’t know when I started doing that. It just feels nice under the turtleneck.
“Who can tell me anything about Solomon?” he asks.
The class explodes in an uncharacteristic fashion.
“He was wise!”
“He almost had a baby cut in half!”
“He was rich!”
“He controlled demons,” says a voice directly behind me. It sounds husky.
There’s a whole chorus of responses. I can’t even keep track of them. This class is a lot more talkative than I remember.
Doc quiets the class down and begins to talk about the significance of Solomon as a legend, particularly the legend of his fabulous treasure.
Someone pokes me from behind. “Hey,” says Husky Voice.
I turn to see a pale, heart-shaped face framed by golden hair. The girl we pulled out of the water. She’s leaning over the desk in a way that she probably doesn’t intend to be as distracting as it is.
“I can’t see,” she hisses. “Could you move?”
The request is almost like a command. But it’s easy enough to oblige. I pick up my desk just enough to move it to the right.
“Thanks,” she whispers. Such a pleasant whisper. Up front, Doc is talking about the ancient temple of Jerusalem and the lack of archaeological data. Husky Voice nudges me. “That’s what Solomon used the demons to do, you know. Build the temple.”
That seems a bit backwards, but I just nod.
The girls seem to have their classes mostly separate from us, either in the cafeteria during non-lunch hours, or in the gymnasium. Dolphin and I notice this when we step out of Coach’s PE class to see the girls streaming through the hallway.
“Why don’t they get their own classrooms?” Sue wonders, stepping up behind us.
“Hey! History kid!” A hand waves from the line of girls, and a familiar heart-shaped face detaches itself from the crowd. “That’s you, right? Guy who sits in front of me in History?”
“Right. You’re the demon girl.”
I don’t hear it until it comes out of my mouth, and any chance I had of playing it off is completely blown by Sue laughing hysterically. My face is burning. “Um.” I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to think. “I mean …”
Demon girl just gives a little laugh. “Glad I made an impression, I guess.” She laughs again, looks away and back. “For … uh … for future reference … my name’s Valiant.”
Valerie, I hear the auto-translate say. Valerie Jones. She’s got these light blue eyes that are really fascinating…. I’m not sure if I’d call them steel blue or cerulean, or …
Dolphin slaps my arm.
“Cha—Gareth,” I say. I reach out to shake her hand, realize that’s stupid, and try to turn it into a gesture that leads into scratching my hair. “Gareth, um, Smith. But … um … everybody calls me … ah … Square.” I hadn’t actually disliked the name before now.
She seems a little puzzled but shrugs. “Works, I guess … Cha-Gareth,” she says with a cheeky smile. “Hey, uh … weird question: would you guys mind helping us move in? My roomie and me, I mean? A lot of the furniture is still just sitting in the snow with a lot of our baggage…. Would you mind … y’know … helping out a few newcomers?”
“Newcomers,” I say. “Help. Right. Yeah. No, yeah, no, shouldn’t be … guys? A problem, guys?”
“Great,” says Valerie Jones, beaming. “Let me grab my coat, and I’ll show you.”
We bump into Ball Buster and Mouse outside, and they agree to come along too. Ball Buster grumbles a little, but he follows us down the snow-covered path. It’s already dark—the sun’s been setting at like 4pm lately.
“Aren’t you cold?” I ask Valerie. “With your coat unzipped like that?” The red polo underneath isn’t completely buttoned, either, which shows… damnit damn you Chad eyes front don’t treat her like meat damn you damn your eyes
“I’m fine,” she says.
“Oh.” I look at the guys. Dolphin’s walking on the street on Valerie’s other side, not even bothering to hide his eyes. Ball Buster’s strolling ahead with a surly air. Sue’s walking with Mouse, whispering to him. Mouse is just nodding.
“Where’d you … where’d you get the coats?” I ask.
“They gave them to us during orientation. Good thing, too. We were freezing when we got here. Where’d you guys get yours?”
“Same place,” I say. Ball Buster looks back at me with an expression I can’t recognize. Whatever. “So… um… demons, huh?”
She laughs. “I guess that wasn’t the best first impression. There’s some legend with Solomon using a ring to control demons and do all sorts of magic stuff for him. I’m a bit obsessed with it.”
“Just sort of took me by surprise.” I shrug.
Sure enough, the road in between House Scorpion and House Anaconda is crowded with chairs, bedframes, and dressers. They look a bit different than ours—metal instead of particle board—and there’s a lot of small bags piled among them too.
At the dorm, Pixie Cut from History is digging through the bags, along with several other girls. “Hey, Val,” she says, looking past her to us. “What’s this about?”
“Hey roomie!” Valerie says, smiling. “You remember Square, from History class? He and his friends volunteered to help.”
“Volunteered” seems a bit strong, but I’m not objecting. I look at the bags Pixie Cut has collected—about five or six. Some are pretty sizeable.
“Seriously, we’ve got this, Val.” Pixie’s face is unreadable.
“Lighten up,” says Valerie. “It’s more fun with friends.”
“Allow me,” says Dolphin, stepping past. Before he even makes a move, I know exactly how this is going to go.
He steps up to the pile, grabs a dresser, and stacks two chairs on top of it. Then he picks up the whole thing and lifts it above his head.
Valerie’s eyebrows jump upwards. Pixie blinks. The other four girls stand still, watching.
Dolphin gets to show off for about five seconds before the chairs fall off and crash directly on his head. Dolphin drops to the ground with a curse, and the rest of the stuff goes spilling across the ice.
The rest of us guys can’t help laughing. “Need to control the weight, moron,” Ball Buster says.
“You ain’t never moved, have you?” Sue says, looping the chairs over his arm. “Probably got you a butler just to help you pack for school.”
“Shut up,” Dolphin says, red-faced.
“Um,” Valerie says, watching as Sue picks up the dresser. “Can … can all you guys … do that?”
“Basically.” Ball Buster walks to one end of the bedframe and eyes it critically. “Like I said, need to be able to control it, though. Give me a hand with this, Mouse?”
Mouse grabs the other end. We quickly move the rest of the stuff.
“Well … I guess that’s it.” Valerie looks around, a bit nonplussed. “Wow, that was fast.”
“Told you we could have handled it ourselves,” Pixie Cut says.
“The guards said they’d be by later to move this stuff in,” says another one of the girls, as she picks a bag out of the pile. She checks the tag and nods with satisfaction. “Could’ve waited. I just wanted to grab my make-up.”
They have make-up? I don’t think the shampoo in the guys’ showers even really works.
Sue reappears in the doorway. “Hey!” he calls. “Where we moving this shit?”
“Oh, I never said.” Val half-trips over the luggage. “Hang on. I’ll show you. It’s … uh … up on the second floor. Sorry.”
Make-up Girl looks at me and Dolphin. “Hey, if you guys don’t have anything else right now … would you mind helping the rest of us?”
“Uh …” I say.
Dolphin bounces right back up. “Sure, ladies.”
“Hey, what’s the cafeteria like here?”
“Is Ms. Numbers cool?”
“What’s the arcade like?”
“Is it always this cold?”
It’s all I can do to keep track of the various questions, as the five of us rush about the hallways, moving bedframes and dressers and random boxes and bags. Blondes, brunettes, redheads, and raven-haired girls point and gesture at what they want and where they want it, all while firing off all sorts of questions.
It’s seriously amazing.
“Why’s there a giant snake painted on the side of the dorm?”
I turn to the chubby Hispanic girl as I set the dresser on the ground. “It’s the name of the House: House Anaconda,” I say, untangling Doc’s amulet, which got twisted around my neck a bit in all the hustling.
“Seriously?” she says. “That’s … like … all sorts of weird and creepy. Why not House Tiger or House Phoenix or … like snakes are automatically nasty. Why go with a snake? What do the houses even—”
“Hey, roomie, have you seen …” A very skinny girl with hip-length brown hair comes in the door. She turns, sees me, and practically recoils, drawing in a panicked breath. “Aaah!” She hurls the bag she’s carrying, almost on reflex.
It bounces off my chest. “Ow,” I say, just because it seems I should.
“Holy … jeez!” The girl lets out a breath. “Give me some sort of warning or … Hi.”
“Hi,” I say. I guess terrifying people has always been a side-effect of being tall.
“You’re … ah … helping us move in?” She’s still standing a good distance away.
“I’m done now. I’ll leave.” I move towards the door, but my shoulder catches on the corner of the dresser and knocks it forward. I manage to catch the dresser itself, but the drawers slide out and crash on the floor.
After sorting that out, I head back out into the hallway. Mouse and Dolphin are carrying a bedframe down the hallway, with a redhead trailing just behind them. “Please, I can do it. It’s no trouble. Please be careful …”
Pixie Cut is standing by the entryway to the lobby, looking at the boys with a frown. “Still at it?” she says as I pass.
“It … one thing kinda led to another,” I say.
“Whatever. Val’s got some more stuff for you,” she says, in a monotone. As the two of us head out, there’s a faint crashing noise from upstairs.
Valerie is standing by some crates out by the central pile. “Can you bring these books up? They’re a lot heavier than they look, apparently.”
“Sure.” I glance around. Ball Buster’s pushing a bedframe up to Sue, who grabs it and deftly maneuvers it through the window. Turning to the pile of furniture, Ball Buster grabs a dresser and throws it up to Sue. Some of the girls actually shriek before Sue grabs it.
“You guys have books?” I ask.
“Well, these were from the school, actually,” Valerie says. “We had to grab whatever we could. We were leaving in an awful hurry, and they didn’t want the floodwaters to ruin stuff. So people grabbed what they could. These belonged to Ms. Queen, the History teacher.”
“Oh?” I grab the boxes and pick them up. “Doesn’t she want them?”
“She died,” says Pixie Cut. She says it like you might say “Nice weather.”
“She and Dr. Temperance, from Sex Ed.” Valerie at least has the grace to look sad. “They were getting stuff from the classrooms…. I thought Ms. Queen was right behind me when I got these.” She runs a hand over the boxes. “Now they’re all we—”
“Disperse!” blares a loudspeaker. The girls and I look up to see one of the camp’s tractor trucks rolling up. “Please disperse. Please disperse.” There’s another truck behind them, and another truck behind that. “Please clear the area.”
About twenty heads immediately duck back into windows. Ball Buster gets caught off balance and sends a terrible throw up at Sue, who luckily catches the dresser anyways. Mouse and Dolphin, who’ve stepped out exactly at the wrong moment, pause on the front steps as if not sure whether to go in or stay out. Valerie steps a little bit away from me.
Sergeant Grim Goatee jumps out of the truck. There’s five other guards with him, and others coming out of the cart behind that. He’s got the loudspeaker in one hand, but the other hand is resting on the silvery gun they all carry.
“If your residence is in this quarter, I need you to go inside. Now!” he says. “You five.” He snaps his fingers at the guys. “Come out here.”
Valerie gives a last look at me and darts off for the door, lingering a bit on the threshold. Pixie Cut just walks off nonchalantly, not even pausing as she brushes past Mouse and Dolphin.
“You all,” Grim Goatee says, gesturing. “With me in the truck. Now.”
“I don’t understand,” Ball Buster says. “What exactly did we do wrong?”
Wolfe’s gaze is unwavering. “The girls are a separate part of the camp and are to be treated as such. You are not to interfere in their doings. Is that understood?”
“No,” Ball Buster says. “We were asked to help. We helped. That’s a problem?”
Wolfe glances at Sergeant Grim Goatee. “All of the girls asked you to help them?” she says to Ball Buster.
Bally shrugs. “Pretty much.”
“The sergeant says several girls complained that you grabbed their things and hauled them inside without asking. Even that you damaged some items in moving.”
“What?” Ball Buster’s puffy face knits together angrily and grows red. We probably could have gotten out of here a half hour ago if he hadn’t kept demanding to know reasons.
“We were rushing around,” says Mouse. He’s gripping the underside of the table. “Many people were asking for help. It’s possible we got caught up in the confusion.”
“The girls are new to the camp and just settling in,” Wolfe says. “They’re more than capable of handling things themselves, but they don’t have the confidence to outright refuse people who are grabbing their things and throwing them into rooms.” She breathes out through her nose. “They’re afraid of you. Naturally. Don’t pressure them.”
The guys have a collective aura of disbelief. I’m pretty sure she knows it, too, because she gives a little huff and looks away.
“But how—” Ball Buster starts to say.
“So we’re to have no dealings with the female side of camp?” I ask.
“No,” Wolfe says.
I wait for a moment. “‘No,’ we’re not to have any dealings, or ‘no’, that’s not what you mean?”
Wolfe sighs. “You are not to molest the girls in any way.”
“I … didn’t think we were.” I feel a bit of Ball Buster’s snark in my voice there. Too late to stop it. “Like … that’s molestation? What we were doing?
“Emotional molestation,” Wolfe says. “Pressuring them into accepting help they don’t want.”
Emotional molestation? That’s a thing now?
“But they did want help,” Ball Buster says.
“While you may think that—” Wolfe begins.
“I think that because—”
“So we’re not to interact with the girls in a way that bothers them,” I say.
“Yes,” Wolfe says.
“Even if they ask us,” Ball Buster says. “And never mention being bothered.”
Wolfe ignores him this time. “Understood?”
“No,” Ball Buster snorts.
I kick his leg. “Yes,” I say.
“Good. I don’t want to see you in here about this again.” Wolfe gestures to the door. “Jonathon will show you out. I haven’t updated the rules to reflect the new campers, so this will be just a warning.” Wolfe turns to the sergeant. “Officer Wild Boar”(Everett, I hear under the auto-translate).“If I could talk to you for just a moment …”