Authors: Sara Wolf
Tags: #school, #young adult, #sci-fi, #aliens, #romance, #science fiction, #high school, #adventure, #action
“And finally, there is Shototh, the Great Mother of Ocean. Shototh is the schemer, the planner, the one who twists the fabric of us mortals to her bidding. She wishes only to be entertained. Anything that is interesting will do, even suffering. With her honeyed words, Shototh manipulates Umala’s rage so that she will do great and terrible things for Shototh to take delight in.”
Someone raises their hand. “So none of them are evil? Or is Umala the bad guy? Like Satan?”
Gianca smiles patiently. “There are no good and evil goddesses. There is only right and wrong. Some things they do are right, and some things they do are wrong, just like us.”
The bell trills, and I wait until the class leaves to walk up to her desk.
“Hello, Victoria,” Gianca looks up from her papers. “What did you need from me?”
“I was wondering if you could teach me how to say a sentence in Rahm.”
She smiles. “Of course. It would be my pleasure.”
She writes it down and teaches me to purse my lips just so to make the hissing sound. There’s an awkward quiet after I master that particular phrase. I want to say it to Shadus, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get the opportunity. Maybe it’s stupid, learning this just to say it to him. But it’s worth a try, I think.
Or is it?
Why am I trying at all, if I’m just here for the money?
I look at Ms. Gianca carefully. She doesn’t look any older than twenty five. We all know Gutters are prone to looking youthful. It’s why so many cosmetic companies and modeling agencies snapped them up. I wonder what her real age is.
“Why do the Gutter factions hate each other?” I blurt. She raises an eyebrow.
“Each Gutter does not hate his fellow, rather, healthy competition is considered best for keeping our minds and bodies sharp and alert. The factions give Gutters something to take pride in - just as humans have national pride for their countries.”
She reaches over and pats my hand.
“But do be careful. Sometimes the younger generation forgets that the competition is merely friendly.”
There’s a beat of quiet.
“What if I told you I know you guys have really good noses?” I ask.
“I would ask you who told you that,” Ms. Gianca smiles patiently.
“What would happen if I told you who told me it?”
“They would be punished by Gutter law, of course,” Ms. Gianca says automatically. “Anyone who compromises our security on this planet must be dealt with.” She covers her mouth, and tries to make her smile extra sugary, as though she let something slip. “But that’s assuming it was true. It’s not, so you don’t need to worry, okay? I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She shoos me out of the door and closes it behind me.
It’s obvious not all Gutters have the frigid self-control of Shadus, or Taj, or hell, even Raine. Ms. Gianca is considerably easier to crack. I store that in my mental notes, and start towards PE.
It’s midnight when someone decides to start throwing pebbles at my window.
I groan and pull the pillow over my head.
“Raine, get that,” I mumble. But then I realize Raine isn’t here. She’s taking leave for two days for her photoshoot. A bunch of Gutter bodyguards in black suits drove up in a likewise black SUV and shuttled her off. Public relations for Gutters is apparently real serious business – more serious than putting on a good show at the world’s first segregated school. And Raine is the flagship – the most popular Gutter by leaps and bounds. It has to be stressful on her, to be under so much pressure to appear appealing to humans. But she never shows it.
I tumble out of bed and blearily rub my eyes so I can see out the window. I rub them harder when I realize who it is. Shadus. He’s in a sweater and jeans. I open the window just in time for him to pelt me with one last pebble to the forehead.
“Ow! Cut it out, Creeps!”
“A crepe is a French pancake filled with fruit and cream,” He deadpans.
“It sounds like Creeps. Crepes. Creeps,” He tries experimentally. There’s a silence. “That was my attempt at human humor.”
“Okay, that’s great and all, but did you forget you’re throwing rocks at my window for some reason?” I hiss, not wanting to alarm any of the night guards patrolling.
“Get dressed and come downstairs.”
“And get expelled? No thanks!”
“You won’t get caught. Not if you’re with me.”
“What does that mean?”
. Meet me at the dumpsters you usually sulk behind.”
“I don’t sul-”
He’s gone into the shadows before I have the chance to defend myself. I sigh and massage my forehead. Why the hell does he want me to break curfew? If I get caught, that’s a hundred thousand dollars down the drain. But Taj’s words echo in my sleepy head.
I’ve never seen him speak or interact with a Gutter the way he does with you.
I throw off my blankets and pull on my jeans. The October air is freezing, so I grab a sweatshirt and take the stairs quietly. The guards only really patrol the downstairs. I wait until a guard passes, then dart out the side door in the lobby – the front door is rigged with an alarm. A girl learned that the hard way the first week.
I miraculously make it to the dumpster alcove without alerting any guards patrolling. Shadus is leaning against the wall, waiting. He looks up, crimson eyes glimmering like bloodstones in the moonlight.
. You’re slower than a
in a sandstorm. Let’s go.”
“What about the cameras?” I hiss breathlessly. “I wasn’t seen, but they’ve got cameras everywhere –”
“The cameras are taken care of. Let’s go.”
He starts off across the lawn, keeping to the shadows of the trees and walls. I try to keep up, but it’s like he’s got perfect reflexes. He feet ahead of me, and the only thing keeping us remotely close is the fact he pauses every so often to inhale deeply.
are we going?” I press when we stop behind a bush. The dark forest that borders the school looms high before us.
“There’s something you should see,” He says. “I’d explain, but we don’t have a lot of time before it’s over. This way.”
We duck around the bush and he stops suddenly. He pushes me back, his hands on my shoulders as he pins me to the wall of the maintenance shed and puts his finger to his lips. A guard jingles past, keys and flashlight swaying. Shadus’ hand is rough, and strong, and the smell of ash and boy wafts up from him. For a second, I feel like screaming. Getting pressed like this to a wall in LA is a sure sign something bad is going to happen to you. But then I realize a single scream and dozens of guards would come running. For now, I’m fine. For now, I try to concentrate on how else I feel. A surge of jitters crawls up my body and down it all in one flash second. Boys and me don’t exactly mix. I’ve always been too preoccupied with protecting Alisa to hang out after school, or go on dates. The one guy I ever liked called me a gloomy skeleton when I asked him out in middle school. So Shadus touching me now is something entirely new. He’s an alien, so it doesn’t really count, and I know he doesn’t like me like that, but still. It’s different. It’s something I never thought the gloomy skeleton would get to experience in her life.
“Apologies,” Shadus whispers when the guard is gone, and releases his grip on me. “I miscalculated and had to hide both of us quickly.”
He starts off, and I follow.
“I-It’s fine,” I struggle to say. “You just scared me.”
“Exactly. I scared you. It’s not fine. Human females are physically weaker than the males. You must be wary of them at all times. I took advantage of that just now. It will not happen again.”
We pause when we get to the safety of the forest’s treeline. The oaks and pines are dark, and shade us from view. No human guy would ever say something like that. He must see my confusion, because he explains himself quickly.
“There is no sexual dimorphism in Gutters. Females are equally physically powerful as males. Though now, we are all human. That has changed. We were taught not to abuse this change, and to display courtesy to the fact human females had to account for it in their lives. Hence, my apology.”
“Look, it’s really fine. You don’t need to talk like a robot. Let’s just go.”
“Your compliments are unneeded.” Shadus says.
“A robot has advanced logic capabilities compared to a human. You were complimenting me, were you not?”
I smack my hand to my forehead. “Sure.”
He looks deeper into the forest, and points to the west.
We muck over roots and rocks, our footsteps muffled by the thick blanket of pine needles. It starts to lightly rain, but the trees are close enough to keep us mostly dry. Just as I’m considering calling the whole thing off and going back to my warm bed, I see the burnt outline of what used to be a house – it’s fireplace and doorframes the only thing left standing. It must be one of those old bottling facilities Raine was talking about. Shadus walks over to it, and pulls open a dusty hatch in the molding wood floor. A square of bright, warm light bursts from it, the sound of people cheering wafting out. Shadus’ face, now lit by the glow, flashes me a smirk that’s childlike in its deviousness.
“I believe this is the part where human men say ‘Ladies first’.”
I slowly walk forward. “What’s gotten into you?”
His grin fades. “What do you mean?”
“You’re like a…a totally different person.”
I see the familiar coldness wrap around his features, as if I reminded him to compose himself. I regret it instantly as he looks me over with bored, listless eyes.
“Is this any better?” He asks, voice laced with venom.
“Look, no,” I scrabble. “It wasn’t bad. Shit.
. I didn’t mean it like it was bad.”
“I wanted to show you this.” He sighs. “So come now. Let’s have it done with.”
“No.” I plant my feet. “I’m…I’m not going down there unless you go back to the way you were.”
“And what way was I?” He asks coolly.
“Happy. Happier. Not-bored. Whatever. Just don’t put that cold face on again. Go back. It was nicer.”
“I’m sorry I don’t cater my facial expressions to what you consider nice,” He snarls.
“Jesus, okay, okay! You win. I’m sorry I ever brought it up. Be nasty. Be mean. Just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t get you a lot of fans.”
“I don’t need fans. I have an entire faction at my command when my father dies.”
“Then don’t be surprised if it doesn’t make
I brush past him and descend the steps into the warm basement. The air is hot and nearly suffocating with so many people inside. They gather in a circle around an empty space of concrete, musty barrels and broken boxes pushed away to make room. There’s gotta be at least forty people in here, all of them Gutters. They cheer and shout louder than I’ve ever seen them be at school. They’re smiling more, too.
Two female Gutters face off against each other in the center of the crowd-circle, wearing flowing silver clothes that almost look like judo uniforms, but with sweeping sleeves that extend well past their fingers, and high collars. The female Gutters are fighting, but it’s like no fighting I’ve ever seen. Their strikes are lightning-quick, too quick to follow with the naked eye, and they sway in a strange dance-like stance. One girl throws a chop forward, but the other girl ducks, moving like water to evade. She crouches, and in the blink of an eye leaps to the ceiling, and hangs there. By her palms. My eyes bug out. The crowd cheers wildly as she peels away from the wall and descends with a sweeping kick that the other girl dodges.
Shadus walks down, and closes the hatch behind us. Several Gutters stop to look at him, but most are riveted to the fight. Two boys walk over.
.” One Gutter says to Shadus in Rahm, and makes a small bow.
.” Shadus nods back. “I came to observe the fight.”
“Of course,” The other Gutter says, shooting me a wary look. “But,
, you must understand. No humans are allowed here. It’s the last and only place we have to ourselves on this restrictive campus. If word got out -”
“I will take the responsibility,” Shadus says. “It will be mine alone.”
The Gutters look unconvinced, but finally relent, and go back to the circle. Gutters ask them what’s going on, and they assure them everything is fine.
“You wanted to show me this girlfight?” I ask.
A battle for honor. Look at the girl in the middle, with the short hair.”
I squint, taking in the girl’s familiar face.
“That’s Melune,” I say. “The girl who started that fight on the first day.”
“Yes. She’s defending herself against Gira, who insists she had no right to confront her Illuminator friend. This is how our personal disagreements are settled, through observed combat. The winner is the correct one.”
“Last time I checked, being a human gecko is sort of a special ability.” I motion to the girl who clings to the wall this time, her feet and hands seemingly acting like suction cups. She jumps off and swipes at the other girl, who dances out of the way and counters with her own attack.
Shadus’ smirk barely blossoms. “Noticed that, did you?”
“What are the rules?” I ask. “Do you guys just beat each other into the ground, and whoever can’t get up is the winner?”
He shakes his head. “It’s much simpler than that. Whoever gets hit first loses.”
I watch the fight more closely. What I thought were hits and strikes never actually connect at all. The girls evade each other at the last minute, twisting and ducking away. It’s hard for my eyes to follow, but the Gutters seem to be having no problems at all, a loud ‘oohing’ going around when one of the girl’s hands almost touches the other girl’s shoulder. I think. It’s real difficult to tell when everything is a superhero-like blur. The girls put Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to shame.