Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Rivalries: Chapter Two, Part Two

Notes: The last class of the day, the SENIORS! Oooh, fun times. Good luck, Charlie, you're going to need it.

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Two, Part Two


Rivalries: Chapter Two, Part Two


Being in the military meant that, once you reached a certain rank and had to manage people—or just had enough years in and were fairly observant—you could spot personnel problems a mile off. It was never as simple as taking someone down a peg, especially when you and everyone else around you had a knack. Attitude problems came from all kinds of directions, and as soon as the senior class walked in, the last class of the day for both Charlie and the group of fifteen students, Charlie spotted at least three different sources of trouble at once.

He should have expected it. Hell, he had expected it. Seniors in a school like this were the ones with the least to lose. They’d already taken all the tests to assure their path forward, and they’d had three-plus years to form themselves into a cohesive unit—or, in this case, carve themselves into factions that probably only united when facing a common enemy. Charlie knew that, right now, he was that enemy. They didn’t know him, didn’t understand his skills or where he was coming from, and had no reason to give him respect—he hadn’t had the forming of them, hadn’t guided them past early fumbles into the state of competency with their knacks that they were in—or at least, had better be in—right now.

This wasn’t the army, either. He couldn’t give problem children pushups or make them gear up and run an obstacle course knack-less if they got in his face. If he went to the principal with anything, he’d automatically lose any chance of gaining their respect. He needed to handle this right.

But what was right?

He introduced himself and went down the attendance list, matching names and knacks to faces. Four purely mental, four purely physical, two ornamentals, three elementals, and two crossovers. Pretty good distribution.

“So,” Charlie said, sitting on the edge of his desk and crossing his feet at the ankles. “Who’s already been accepted to college?”

Ten of the students raised their hands.

“Or a military academy,” he modified, and four more students lifted their hands up. Only one girl didn’t join in, a girl with brown skin and dark hair down her back who scowled at the floor. Charlie checked his list. Elemental knack, premier grade. Shit, she ought to have entrance to any school in the country with a knack like that, all expenses paid. What was stopping her?

Not the time to find out. “How many of you are legacies?”

The hands weren’t as quick to rise this time. Nine of them eventually found their way into the air, the students glancing between each other.

Not surprising. “How many of you have already been offered jobs for once you get out of school?”

All of their hands went up this time. “Excuse me, Mr. Verlaine,” a boy in the front of class drawled, dropping his hand as he leaned back in his chair, his legs spread as far apart as they could go before running into the sides of the desk. Ah, we have a manspreader. Great. “Why do you need to know our plans for the future? Isn’t your job to, like, help us refine what we’ve already got going on?” The look on his face said very clearly Not that you could.

Charlie knew his missing arm was getting a lot of attention, knew it the way he always knew when someone was staring at him—a prickle across the back of his neck, like he’d been grazed there with the edge of an ice cube. It was a wariness that had developed as an effect of his training, a little bit of a crossover bleed that some people with a mental knack could get if they worked hard enough on it. Charlie was almost strong enough with his mental alert system for it to qualify as a crossover, except that—what was there to cross over from, now that he couldn’t make a shield?

Head in the game, Verlaine. “That is my primary job, yes,” Charlie replied. “And to know how to best help you refine your skills, I need to know where you’re going. Those of you heading into the military academies will get worked to hell and back, so apart from making sure you’re ready to handle the first year, I’m not too worried. Those of you who are legacies, depending on the kind of institution, will either have an easier time of it than you should, or a much, much harder time of it than you should. Those of you going into a university that no one in your family has attended before should be as sharp as possible, regardless of prior expectation.”

“I’m going to Harvard in the fall,” a girl in the second row said. She was a knockout, put together in a way that screamed wealth to Charlie. It was a wonder she wasn’t a legacy, honestly. “I really can’t think of any reason they’d have to try and push me out. I’ve got one of the rarest mental knacks in existence, after all.”

Emotional manipulation at a fundamental level. It  was a very rare knack—this was a girl who, in seconds, could plunge someone into a terrible depression or elevate them to a joy so exalted that coming down from the high might kill them. She was almost certainly going to end up either a doctor or a black-ops specialist.

“It’s not that they’d tried to push you out,” Charlie said, going for honesty. Not that this girl probably didn’t already know what was coming at her, but it couldn’t hurt to reiterate it. “It’s that they’re going to want to control you. Whether its out of fear or jealousy or just because someone with a stronger knack can, you’re almost guaranteed that an upperclassman will try it.”

She rolled her eyes. “Who can beat what I’ve got?”

“Dream knack,” the girl who hadn’t raised her hand the first two times said. “Your stuff’s only useful when you’re awake. Someone could get into one of your dreams and put you in a coma. Or an invisibility knack. Wouldn’t even see them coming until it was too late.” Invisibility knacks never made a person actually invisible—they generally made them so unnoticeable, so plain and unremarkable, that it was essentially the same thing, though.

“All we have to do to fuck your knack up is keep you inside, ‘Nanda,” the manipulator shot back. A few of the other kids laughed.

“It’s important to be aware of your strengths,” Charlie said, interceding before the argument could get any hotter. “And I’m pretty sure that most of you are very aware of your strengths. Confidence is important in ensuring your knacks work reliably, after all. But at your level, it’s also important to be aware of your weaknesses. The ones inherent in the knack, and the ones that are specific to you.”

“What if we don’t have any?” the boy in the front—Willard, the sheet said, which had to be a family name, he probably went by Will—asked, with all the cockiness of a teenage boy backed up by a formidable knack.

“Then we make sure you’re right before you leave school, so that you don’t get any unpleasant surprises in the future,” Charlie replied. “What’s your knack, Will?”

“It’s Willard, and I’m a shield.” The kid grinned, and a small, acid green mushroom-cloud burst against the floor in front of Charlie, leaving a scuff behind on the tile.

Oh boy. The most arrogant jackass in his class was a shield.


Just great.

“I want a list from each of you of pros and cons related to your knacks,” Charlie said, ignoring the way his heart ached seeing a shield cast for the first time in months. His own knack rumbled loudly inside him again, thrumming in his chest and throat so strongly he could barely speak. “This will be the basis for a paper you’re going to write later on, and for most of the practical training we’ll be doing this semester. And for those of you who think you don’t have any weaknesses?” He glanced at Willard. “Do some research and revise your thinking.”

“What’s your knack, sir?” Willard asked, all false innocence. If he spread his legs any farther apart, his pants would split. “If you don’t mind me asking, of course.”

Charlie didn’t have to tell them. Just like Principal Cross, he could refuse to say and that would be that.

He couldn’t do that, though. It would just be a different way of jettisoning his chances of gaining their respect. “Shield,” he said evenly, and watched Willard do a doubletake. “And believe me, our knack’s got plenty of weaknesses.” He stood up and went behind the desk. “Everybody get to work.”

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