START – Chapter 2
Rowan of southeast, fire programmer, future Crimson Master.
Only in her wildest dreams.
She could not make a fireball, the simplest fire program, no matter how hard she tried. She could not even make a spark. The best she could do was program travel clouds, and of those she could make only small ones to glide her across the streets. She did not know how she passed first year basic programming. She studied for the theoretical culminating examinations, but was hopeless in the practical culmis.
Yet the teachers told her that she was a programmer: someone who could manipulate element programs. Creating travel clouds was not a whole lot of programming. But if the teachers thought she deserved to take second year basic programming subjects, she would not object.
And if anyone who was not a teacher said she did not belong there, they would answer to her fists.
She collected her money from a wooden box under her bed and filled her wallet with it. She would kill anyone who would dare steal it, she swore as she made her way to the basic program halls to pay tuition.
She resolutely marched through the streets of the capital from her apartment to the basic program hall. She knew the path well; after all it was the same route she took to the coffee shop to work.
She reached the front steps of the hall when she ran into another reminder that the new school year had begun.
At the foot of the steps, hidden by some of the shrubs of the front lawn, she spotted a familiar sight: a girl pummeling a boy with water program pellets.
Rowan did not even have to think. She had a year of experience. In a heartbeat she was there, legs and fists flying. She pinned the girl to the grass in the next heartbeat.
“Rowan of southeast!” The blue-haired girl coughed as she regained her footing.
Rowan clenched her fists and placed herself in front of the thin boy on the grass. “Juno. You’re up to no good early.” She scowled at the girl with cropped blue hair and spectacles.
Juno began to step back. “Sorry! I’m under orders!”
“Orders? How could Eloise already have orders!” Rowan glanced behind her. The silver-haired boy was still unconscious. He was not even whimpering. She rolled her eyes. Why did she have to go against the Metalworks this early?
Classes had not even started! She had just finished enrolling for second year subjects in basic programming. She was late enough as it was, waiting for the last possible moment in order to get her earnings up enough to pay. Bullying students out of their enrollment money: the Metalworks did not know when to stop, damn them! None of those girls needed more money than their families already had!
Someone needed to stand up to them. Rowan resented that the person to do it all the time had to be her.
“Sorry! Just under orders! I had to check out who would be good clients!” Juno quivered, too scared to run.
“Clients?” Rowan lunged and knocked her down. “Victims!”
She hated punching girls, but sometimes she had to do it. She had had to fight these girls of the Metalworks too often.
Juno threw up her hands, blasting Rowan with a surge of water programs to the chest. Rowan shielded herself with her arms. Then she charged back and elbowed the girl’s abdomen.
Juno bowled over, but as she did so, she chuckled through the pain. “You still have no offensive programs, huh?”
“I can still fight better than any of you bullies with your metal and water programs!” Rowan landed a punch to the face, turning the girl’s cheek blue and purple. “That’s my message for Eloise. I’m still in program hall.” Rowan gave her a final kick. Then she let the girl run whimpering away to her leader, as she checked back on the boy.
His silvery hair was streaked with blood. Unlike others she had helped, this one did not roll up into a ball; his legs remained bent but spread out. Then she saw them: small, lightweight steel crutches, thrown down near him.
She turned her eyes back towards the boy. He had not moved or groaned since she first looked at him. He still breathed normally but was pale. His fingers opened and closed somewhat, his lips opened slightly to pant, but the legs did not move at all. She tried tapping his cheeks but he did not even groan. “Hey, kid, open your eyes. How bad did she hit you?”
This was bad, worse than she had ever had to deal with. She did not know what to do about his injuries.
She programmed for a travel cloud. She lifted the young man onto it — he should not have been that light! — and placed the crutches beside him. She steered the cloud toward the coffee shop where she worked, to someone who hopefully would know what to do. She needed the chief. He would be the only one who would not freak out if a body appeared at the front door on a travel cloud. It was not very far, just across the street from the basic programming halls and at the next corner.
She burst into the coffee shop, almost knocking over the chief at the door. He was still a young man with sandy hair and a cook’s apron.
Rowan explained before the chief even greeted her. “A…I….um….There’s a kid that got bullied, he’s in a bad way…”
The chief patted her shoulder then stepped outside to look at the person on the travel cloud. He initially gasped, but then calmly came up and placed a hand over the boy’s heart, making it glow somewhat. After that, he smiled at Rowan. “New friend fine, but need rest. Take friend upstairs.”
She breathed with relief.
She paused. “Yes, chief?”
“New friend, special.”
She could see that much, what with the crutches and all…
“No, Rowan. Really special. Different.”
“Yeah…..like me.” She was different, a fire programmer who could not activate fire programs, who dealt with those who teased her by using her fists.
But the chief simply grinned.
START – Chapter 2