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Chapter 3

Special Assignment Class

Institute of Manamancy

Atalen ya Doaka

April 2008

A voice rang out in the darkened room, but the general noise of the crowd obscured the meaning. “Please, let us continue with the lesson. Silence, please,” the voice repeated. As the noise subsided a small light blinked into existence and grew in intensity, revealing the cloaked figure of Professor Johnson, his hood thrown back, seated cross-legged on a woven rug. The white light emanated from a small black-on-white ceramic figurine floating above his head and reflected off his silver white hair and beard.

“I have already graded the performance of Davic and Retta that you have seen here in the kiva.” He glanced into the darkness. The light feebly reflected off the eyes and teeth of the rows of people before him. He waved his hand and black-on-white ceramic figurines --similar to the one above his head-- set in niches around the circular classroom began to glow softly, revealing the twenty or so students sitting on cushions in a half circle in front of him. His own light still acted to spotlight his actions. Anyone descending the ladder entrance from above would have instantly looked to him as he was the center of activity.

“However, I would like for each of you to offer one comment of critique on this assignment. Be honest, but be kind. Remember each of you will have a similar experience. . .” He was interrupted by an Asian woman seated on the second row raising her hand. “Yes, Sauri,”

“This child, Carl, Kyle, --whoever-- lived,” she said. “He would not have lived without their intervention. It sounds to me like they pass this assignment.” She nodded, relinquishing the conversation back to the Professor.

A murmur of approval sounded from her fellow students, then silenced as the Professor nodded. “Yes, it would be hard to pass them if little Kyle had died.” He nodded again, his face as solemn as ever, giving away little to nothing of his thoughts. “Ricardo,” he singled out a sharp-eyed, swarthy complected Guatemalan three pillows over from Sauri. “You look like you have something to say.”

“He always has something to say,” whispered someone behind him.

“That’s true, Ian,” countered Professor Johnson. “As do you; you will give us a comment right after Ricardo does.” He smoothed his short white beard and returned his intense gaze upon the poor Ricardo who visibly tensed up.

“Uh, I think that, umm. . .” stammered Ricardo.

“Yes, thinking is a good thing,” stated Johnson dryly.

“I didn’t like the bickering between them,” he blurted louder than he intended.

“Ah ha,” he said, waving his hand through a glowing golden menu window floating in the air beside his right knee. Luckily for Ian, the Professor did not seem to pick up his slapping Ricardo’s shoulder and his “Good job, Ricky,” comment. “Let’s review a portion of their performance,” he said in his lecture voice, turning on his pillowed spot to face away from the students. The lights dimmed and the scene from the Wyoming hospital filled the northern end of the kiva again.

“The matter of the blood is more important than his retro-pattern, Retta!” hissed Davic. “Make an over-ride to fill up his blood. Here’s his blood pattern.” He plucked the mana out of the rest of the pattern and flipped it over to Retta.

“No!” she called. “The Professor said the fastest way is to find the ret . . .”

“I’ll do it myself then!”

The light returned as the scene faded and the Professor’s gaze returned to face his students. He looked at Ian and waggled his finger in a negative. “Ian, you will comment when we’re done with this bit.” His gaze wandered the kiva until it fell upon Davic McKay and stayed.

“I was not very professional,” he all but whispered.

“No, you weren’t,” came the unvarnished reply. “However, you were correct in your assessment. You saved the boy’s life with your quick thinking. He would have died waiting for Retta to find his retro-pattern. But, you were quite unprofessional in your treatment of her before the Earth-Bounds.”

“Would you rather the boy have died?” asked Davic in a very quiet, almost shaking voice.

“No,” said the Professor as if he were addressing a particularly dense six-year-old. “I would rather you had saved his life in a professional manner.”

“I didn’t like the way Retta kept blaming Davic for her problems,” interrupted Ian.

“Nor I,” said the Professor. “However, this does not fulfill the comment I require from you. When we’re done discussing professionalism, you will give us another topic to discuss.” His gaze shifted. “Retta?”

She –with her already pale, red-headed skin-- blanched. “I was having a very difficult time finding the pattern. It was as if we were competing . . .”

She would have continued if the second “Ah ha!” had not interrupted her. Another hand motion and a new scene filled the kiva. This time, it showed an extreme close-up of Kyle’s basal-mana pattern with Davic’s and Retta’s fingers battling for the lines. Then the scene skipped to the following scene:

“No,” called Retta. “You wrinkled it all up! How can I possibly read it?”

“Bring it here. Let me look.”

“Never mind!” she groused. “I found it.”

“Yes, it did seem to be a free-for-all, not the efforts of a coordinated team striving to save a poor boy’s life. Retta, do you think all the problems were Davic’s fault?”

“No,” she said slowly, too slowly to back up the idea that she believed what she was saying. “But it was easier to find the retro-pattern after Davic crumpled the basal one. I must have been looking in the wrong place all along.”

“And blaming it on Davic,” added the professor.

“Yes,” she said slowly.

“This bit of unprofessionalism very nearly cost Kyle his life and the other gives this institution a bad name. . .”

* * *

The long, rough poles of the ladder through the opening in the roof of the kiva shook with the weight of the class members exiting. The majority of the class stood on the eastern rim of the flat kiva roof and chatted with the professor about some of the aspects of the day’s lesson. The breeze kicked up a bit of dust off the flat canyon floor. Davic was nearly the last to leave the class below, followed by Ian and then a few minutes later by Retta.

“That was an interesting choice of assignments, saving a random boy in the middle of . . . Wyoming?” said Ian. Retta stood closer to the opening, a bit away from the other two. Their backs were to the desert breeze. “I wonder what Dr. Johnson will assign me and . . . I hope my note is as high as yours is.” Ian watched as some of the students climbed down the several shorter ladders to various locations in the Pueblo.

“You mean you hope yours is better than mine,” said Davic. “You want straight Superbs. This Excellent will probably bring down my chances.”

There was a muffled sob and the two men looked back at Retta who was trembling. “You got an Excellent?” she said. “I got a Poor.” She put her hands to her face and brushed her curly, red hair away, then stood up straighter and strode from the two. She went west, to the Solar Wall that divided the pueblo into its morning and evening districts. There were no ladders there and no traffic. In fact, there were no footprints in the soil that made up the roofing, just hard packed dirt. All you could see of the school from here were the roof of the kiva and the wall behind them. She would have had to turn to the north to see the balconies on the third floor of the pueblo. The canyon floor, --and the cliffs in the distance-- were beyond the outer wall.

She stood facing the Solar Wall, having turned her back on her classmates in the shade that the afternoon sun cast on the morning district. She seemed to hope to disappear, a dark, cloaked figure standing in the shadows below a huge featureless wall.

A hand touched her shoulder and she flinched. She whirled on one sandaled foot to see Davic, his hood thrown back and a concerned expression. “Are you all right, Retta?” he asked softly.

“What a stupid question!” she answered, her anger surprising Davic. “Of course, I am not all right. You got me into all this! I was roasted by our class, skewered and burned by our professor, again! I feel so ashamed. There’s nothing here for me. I am dropping out of school!” Her skin was mottled from emotion. Her breathing was ragged and harsh.

Davic made a fist and pressed it to his mouth and nose. He inhaled deeply. “We were just the first ones, Retta. Professor Johnson graded us as an example. Your note really wasn’t that bad.”

“Wasn’t that bad!?”

As Ian walked across the central plaza to his dorm room, he could still hear Retta’s part of the conversation. Ian shook his head. Those two were at it again and he didn’t want to listen. Davic was not a nice person in the middle of an argument. Just as he was stepping into his dorm he heard Retta, fifty yards away, repeating for the fourth time “Wasn’t that bad!?” and Davic yelling “Ah! Retta I don’t believe you did that!”

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