“Come with me,” Bristol inquired of Jesse. “I would like to show you something.”
Jesse rolled his eyes. “What is this, make the star quarterback feel special day?!” he scoffed.
“Trust me, you’ll want to see it.”
“Well, with that gray sweater and black gym shorts you have on, I assume you’re taking me to boot camp?!”
“I’m afraid this has nothing to do with the draft, Jesse.”
Jesse lowered his eyebrow. He studied Bristol’s face as he did in class, and felt that unlike his principal, his teacher had not yet earned the respect necessary for him to trust his impetuses.
In morose frustration, Bristol folded his arms. “I was hoping I didn’t have to do this ’ere, but…”
Jesse recoiled in apprehension. Bristol pulled up the adjacent chair to his immediate right, sat, and took an elongated breath before staring into Jesse’s blue eyes.
“Hey,” Bristol murmured. “You were correct. About a lot of things. And… I wanted to apologize.”
Jesse squirmed and leaned back, incredulous of what to make of his teacher’s unexpected statement.
“If you can forgive me,” Bristol added, “will you accompany me?”
Jesse took a deep breath and asked: “Where is that?”
“Newark,” Bristol replied. “Those rumors you spoke of on a couple of occasions? They’re true.”
Jesse recognized what his teacher was referring. “Okay, Mr. Bristol,” he said after a sigh, “I’ll go with you–on one condition. We pick up Sarah.”
“Of course,” Bristol replied. “Thank you, mate.”
Minutes later, Bristol and Jesse left the Everton campus in Bristol’s green Sherwood sport hovercraft, the first hovervehicle worldwide constructed from porcelain-based carbon fiber.
As they entered Bergen Boulevard while the clouds cleared and the sun lit up the Sherwood like a blooming blade of grass, Bristol broke the silence.
“Funny, isn’t it?” Bristol asked, somber.
“What do you mean, sir?” Jesse inquired, studying the road ahead, not making eye contact.
“I commute on this thoroughfare every weekday, and I’m still fascinated by the differences between this country and England. Silly enough, I drive a British vehicle, but it sticks out like a mole amongst all these Harrises and Kehoes that are twice the size. The contrasts of this country? I don’t bloody understand them! You see those new tent cities, flaming barrels, and garbage-bagged pryvies. A quarter of a mile later, there’s these holographic billboards of products we know to be toxic and unsafe, but we consume nonetheless, cheesy slogans and whatnot. The nine-percenter districts with those electrified gates… look at all these bloody police and military vehicles zooming back and forth along the perimeters! Why are they so paranoid? Where’s the protection for the pryvies? It’s all strange.”
“Well, if I’m not mistaken, sir, Britain eradicated its poverty problem by installing socialist programs. This is why you migrated to this country in the first place, correct?”
“Yes, but… this leads me to my point about contrasts. What do you see me as now?”
“You see me as this stern authority figure; a man devoid of humor, enthusiasm, and understanding, right?”
“Sir, I really cannot understand your point.”
“Well, you may find this interesting.” Bristol’s eyes appeared to become saturated. “I was rebellious at your age, too. When I was growing up in Birmingham, I used to get into fisticuffs with just about anyone who angered me. This phase came at the worst time; the height of the Endgame. After we surrendered to the New Axis after 800,000 died in the Battle of London, me, my brother, and my mum and dad were trapped in our flat for two bloody months with little food and barely any running water. Russia and China were conducting air and ground raids, trying to smoke out any British citizen they could find. We ended up surviving, thank Joshua.”
Jesse nodded, but he still felt unconvinced. “That must have been tough for you,” Jesse replied nonchalantly, with sarcasm Bristol recognized and understood.
“Mr. Maith, I’m fully aware of what happened to your parents,” Bristol replied. “I can’t imagine how that feels, and I’ll never pretend to understand. But mate, I saw the bombings. I saw friends die in the streets. It made me more cross and cynical. When we eventually went back to school a few weeks after the New Axis left Britain, I no longer saw the point of getting an education! I mean, how could we after what happened?! Millions dead worldwide, for what?! Money? Power? Prestige?”
“And we still have leaders fighting for the same things.”
“Yes! A few months later, I was nearly expelled after I threw a pencil at my teacher’s head. It came a bloody millimeter away from gouging out his eye.”
Jesse chuckled. “Harrison couldn’t tell me to my face I’m getting expelled, so I’m guessing he paid you?!”
“Heh, you’re not getting expelled, mate. Nice try. But that brings me to my next point; not a study of contrasts, but parallels. Me dad sent me to a military academy outside Glasgow after the pencil incident. Of course, since Britain was out of the Endgame, I figured it would be some kind of free pass because I wouldn’t be deployed to the front lines, right? No, but… the academy transformed me from a dodgy little punk to the man I am now. You know how that happened?”
For the first time in the conversation, Jesse displayed a hint of interest. “How?”
“One day, I refused to complete a homework assignment because, well, I didn’t like my teacher, Mr. Geoff. So, the bastard tied me up, blindfolded me, and took me to the cliffs outside town. After he removed my blindfold, I saw nothing but crackling waves five hundred feet beneath. With the wind howling in my face, I felt a terror I would not wish on anyone.”
Jesse’s mouth slowly widened. Bristol’s words had tugged at his heart.
“That bald, handlebar-moustached muppet then nudged me close to the edge. I felt a shove… like a battering ram had impacted my back. Seconds later, the bottom fell beneath my feet. I was about to plummet to my death. Then… a miracle! Mr. Geoff snared me with a restraining bolt and yanked me away from the cliff. Panting for air, I looked at that dastardly man in stunned disbelief. He said: ’you still want to be insubordinate?’ Immediately, I shook my head and mouthed ‘no.’ Being near death like that… well… it doesn’t compare to a comfortable, non-barbaric magnetic restraint against a chair, right?”
Jesse’s heart stemmed with invisible waves of humility. For the first time, he didn’t feel as if Bristol were cramming useless information into his mind.
He felt he was learning something.
“Point is,” Bristol continued, “from that day forward, I forced myself to change, and I did. I ended up graduating with honors, and I got a full scholarship to Oxford. Now, here I am. I’m making a great living for my family, and I’m proud to be teaching at Everton.”
Jesse’s eyes remained frozen on Bristol’s, detained with awe.
“You may not be proud to be a Pioneer, but… one of these days… you may have a similar reckoning like I did. You’re going to get drafted soon, and when you get sent to the front-lines in New Alaska, I think that moment will arrive. You’re a genius, Jesse. I see that now. I don’t want you to waste your talent.”
Jesse slowly panned his head back toward the windshield. “Wow,” he whispered, still in utter disbelief not only at his teacher’s story, but the resonating effect of its conclusion. Still ever the cynic, however, he had one question. “That was an astounding story, Mr. Bristol, but, honestly, don’t you still harbor some resentment for your past? I refuse to believe that any man, no matter how even-keeled or stoic they may be, truly lets go of their predatorial instincts.”
Bristol sneered at his star student. “Mate, you’ve triggered my anger enough!” he said, then smiled and chucked in sarcasm.
Jesse returned the favor as they arrived at Sarah’s house. “I guess you’re right,” he replied.
Sarah, dressed in a gray track suit with a hood and her hair meticulously tied up in a bun, entered the Sherwood on the right passenger side door. “Mr. Bristol,” she cheerfully said, “to what do I owe this pleasure?”
“This was Jesse’s idea, Ms. Schale,” Bristol replied. “He insisted you come along.”
“Where are we going?!” she asked.
“A place I think you’ll both be very interested to see.”
Sarah gave a skeptical scowl towards Jesse, whom had looked back towards her. “I thought it was a dumb idea, too,” he quipped.