Above a city so small most would laugh at it being called anything greater than a town, the stars began to change one night. Despite the wide plains and scattered homes very few noticed, the glare of man-made light and a society which had in most forsaken looking up and forward in favor of gossip and complaint, may have been the cause or a simple whim of fate. Still the heavens continued to fade each star from a pale blue to a flickering purple and lastly to a dull crimson before winking out completely.
Beneath the center of this darkening void lies a small school. Not the nearby college which brought education and culture to the community. This school was an eyesore for the community, but it was far to convenient to get rid of. It brought commerce and cheap skilled labor in the form of it’s students. This school was no center of knowledge but a mill to grind and sort societies misfits. Those who were foolish, unlucky, spoiled, infirm, lazy or, simply incompetent were sent here. They were enclosed in this small school and made to life strict regimented lives. They were taught to the rudiments of a trade with a dash of experience to build confidence. They were led like cattle through this place of concrete and plaster. Here they would be sorted by their flaws, here they were taught the kindest cruelties of the world.
They were taught that in this world, you learn the rules of the system and you muddle through the best you can. The fact that the system was crumbling due to the short-sighted and the greedy abusing the very system the spread to others. They were taught that they were not the engineers or even the handymen that fix such things. They are cogs and parts in that system and it is not the place of a cog to speak.
“Oi Toby, going for a hike?” A scruffy youth drawled, leaning on a pool cue.
“Nah I heard one of the girls call it his safety blanket.” guffawed another youth, shorter than the first. The comments drew a round of jeers from those relaxing in the student recreation lounge. Toby stared at the two for a moment with dull eyes, then ignored Jared and Robert respectively, dismissing them as irrelevant. Toby shouldered his black backpack, and headed to the area containing televisions and game consoles. Despite being relatively well-known among the students, he didn’t spare much attention to those who didn’t catch his interest.
He caught the eyes of a group clustered around one of the television screens. A variety of low chairs were scattered about the carpeted area, most contained people playing games, or those watching them. In the corner his friends resembled a pack of cats sprawled over every convenient surface, three were seated in chairs the others leaned against the wall or rested on the ground, most lazing against each other in comfort or to annoy each other.
A thin smile touched upon his face, a smirking grin that turned the mousy haired bespectacled man into something more roguish and wild than his button shirt and slacks implied. He only had an interest in four of the group and more often than not was simply annoyed by the crowd, especially as such crowds invariably grew the longer he was there. He found a nearby chair it was however occupied.
“Hey do you mind if I use that chair so I can sit down?” He said with a polite plastic smile ensuring first his body language was equal parts encouraging and friendly. The young man in the chair blinked confused for a moment, before responding,
“Uhm sure I guess?” as he awkwardly vacated the chair for Toby. As Toby dragged the chair over the group, using urgency and stares to convince obstacles out of his path, his friends grinned and laughed softly.
“You are so mean Toby.” Teased Emelia.
Emelia was about as different from Toby as two people could be physically. Where he was short for a man, she was tall for a woman. His hair was fine, brown and receding, while hers was wild, frizzy and, changed color to often to be sure of it’s true color. He was stockily built and carried a little extra weight around his gut as well. She was rail thin and contained a calm grace. His face was soft and sported a bristly van dyke for a beard. Hers was severe but, with a austere beauty that disguised her expressive smile and fierce gaze. His eyes were a hazel cluster of green, brown and, dark blue. Hers were a bright fusion of blue and grey. As a matter of fact the only physical similarity they shared was a pair of spectacles always worn on each.
Mentally the pair clicked on a level that most could not understand. Despite Toby’s taste for enthusiastic rants and his habit of challenging anyone who interested him to a battle of wits. Despite Emelia’s tendency to doubt herself secretly and to bluntly crush those who angered her. It was rare that they could not understand the actions the other took instantly. They each knew they could trust each other implicitly, or at least they used to. Recently a seed of doubt had formed between them. Each would deal with it in their own time and no one else seemed to pick up on the change it became a quiet fact of their relationship.
“How was I mean? It’s not my fault people don’t say no more often.” Toby replied with a knowing grin. The four he set his chair next to smirked at this. Toby made an effort to avoid an irritated sigh as one of the ‘extras’ as he called them in his mind inevitably tried to laugh and smile like the others a beat too late for it to be natural.
“How do you always do that?” asked, Africa Affineur. Africa was quite possibly the single most irritating person Toby had met, even more so in the sense that she had yet crossed any lines that gave him enough reason to berate her. Africa desperately attempted to insert herself into any group that didn’t actively abuse her. Toby had realized that she in fact seemed to be most useful in determining the tolerance and moral standards of those she was inflicted upon. This did not do much to improve his opinion of her.
Ignoring Africa as he often did, after learning that she did not actually listen to answers so much as bask in the meager attention a response required. Toby shrugged off his thick soft coat, which much to his bafflement seemed to be a prized source of warmth among the girls who became cold around him. He had learned to keep it between his back and the rest of the chair lest it be stolen by chilly fingers.
“So are you guys ready for game tomorrow? I know you wanted something equal parts cheesy and awesome.” Toby inquired as he settled a place for his pack.
“It’s going to great, although I still don’t get why you won’t let us make character sheets yet.” responded the perky, Katy. Her generally bubbly personality and curvaceous figure often drew the eye of many admirers. Her position cuddled against the legs of her partner were perhaps the only reason she avoided constant harassment given the manners of most of the students. Her blonde hair often led the foolish to underestimate her intelligence, which anyone speaking to her would immediately realize the mistake.
“Yeah, what’s the point of playing these games if you only let us make a normal everyday person? I prefer the ones where we get to play great and might heroes.” added, Duke the equally blonde owner of the aforementioned legs. His even paler hair and thin figure masked the whipcord strength and a steady mind. Despite his habit of sleeping through many game sessions he still enjoyed participating.
“You won’t be disappointed buddy, and as for hiding the character sheets,” Toby grinned evilly, “That is a secret. Mwahahaha!” His laugh full of hammy theatrics and gesturing.
“Dork.” Laughed Emelia as she punched his arm and rolled her eyes. The last member of the group remained silent as his focus was on nothing but the game. Luke was intense about few things in life but video games and an encyclopedic knowledge of weapons were two of them. His current game pressed but obsessions at once, as he was focused on equipping the character with an absurdly sized sword and a pair of submachine guns with enough neon lighting to double as Las Vegas landmark.
It required asking twice more and a gentle nudge to receive a response. The simple affirmative was enough for Toby as he knew he could be just as bad when he focused on something.
As Toby had predicted the crowd focused on his group was swelling. It always baffled Toby, there were other cliques on the campus and in his mind many of them had more ‘popular type’ traits than his had. Even when he attempted to tally everything that would draw people to his group; Luke’s game console, Duke’s Music, Katy’s general charm, Emelia’s generosity with baked treats and goodies. He simply couldn’t figure out why his friends drew so many hangers-on, other groups had similar or better examples of any given trait. Despite his skills in social engineering, he was often slow to understand mob motivation or the subtle things that drew the attention and admiration of others. He often failed to realize his groups stability and general sense of content and comfort, were desirable factors on their own. He had a deeply ingrained habit of removing himself and his values from any such estimation, more accurately adding in himself and his value never occurred to him. Despite his growth into a self-confident and independent personality, he had not outgrown all of the habits and scars earned from his childhood.
Dark or damaged childhoods were not a rarity among those at this particular school, so much so that anyone complaining about such things quickly became a joke. When the majority of a population is at an age and culture which places self-importance as one of it’s highest unspoken virtues, few people care about the tragedies of others over their own.
That being said, when a void of darkness suddenly flares into daylight brightness and every student of the school of screw-ups suddenly disappeared, it was at least interesting news and a boon to the city for the draw of media and tourists. Even so, most people of the city simply thought, “How convenient” and nothing more.