© 1998 Robert M. (Bob) Leahy
2110 E. Crosby Road
Carrollton, TX 75006
(972) 416 - 6098
Approximate Word Count: 3,940
“Asteroids,” called Mrs. Dawson, “it’s time for you to come up for your group work. Marcus Hammond, this means you.”
She always singled me out, like I was the only Asteroid in the room. I scraped my chair back slowly. I hated group work. As I got out of my chair and headed toward the front of the room, Mrs. Dawson continued talking. “Stars and Comets, I don’t want you wasting your time while I work with the Asteroids. Start preparing for the mach quiz.”
I sat down at the edge of the semi-circle next to the bubble-window which looked out across the barren moonscape. I always sat by the window, but not because there was anything to see. I was just further away from Mrs. Dawson when I sat there. Her desk was at the opposite end of our half-circle, and she always stayed seated there during group work.
“Look at the first image," Mrs. Dawson said, nodding to a new holograph hovering over the center of the desk. "And read the description. Remember to keep that image in front of you as you concentrate on the words. Once you have the image and description firmly in mind. Levitate the chalk and draw the image on the board.”
Mrs. Dawson had that speech memorized. She sounded like a voice-mod tape when she recited it at the beginning of each session of group work. I often mouthed those words—behind the cover of my book. It was about the only thing about group work that gave me some feeling of satisfaction. I started to read page seventeen: “Draw a rhomboid whose length is four centimeters long, whose height is three centimeters, and whose vector angle is sixty degrees.”
I glanced at Gina who always sat next to me in the semi-circle. I could see her eyes flashing back and forth as she read the description under the holograph. I took a peek at the board. Already drawn on the board was that rhomboid figure. Next to it was a pie chart with one slice pulled out and enlarged. A third figure was taking shape.
I looked back at the holograph, over toward Mrs. Dawson, and then tried to focus on the board to begin my own rhomboid.
“Mr. Hammond.” The chalk I was about to levitate rattled in the tray at the base of the board when I heard my name called. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” I replied, trying to refocus.
She managed not to say obviously—even with her eyes. Instead, she asked, “What are you supposed to be doing?”
“Drawing a rhomboid like the one over the desk.”
“And why aren’t you drawing that rhomboid?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you know how to draw that rhomboid?” she asked.
“Then get to work.” She sighed as she finished giving the command. It was the sigh that said if only there were a group for space dust….
I reread the description, attempting to match the words with the image. Then I turned back to the board in front of me. The chalk I tried to levitate dropped to the floor. I heard snickers from the Stars and Comets who had nothing better to do than watch the Asteroids try to complete exercises they had mastered long ago.
I could feel Mrs. Dawson’ s eyes bore into me, making me squirm in my chair. As I twisted about I faced Mrs. Dawson, but I noticed I could see the board out of the corner of my eye. So, I remained facing Mrs. Dawson’ s direction and tried my figure again, looking at it through the corner of my eye. I concentrated on the chalk. It rose slowly. When I took a deep breath, the chalk wobbled in mid-air. But it didn’t fall. I started to draw the first edge of the rhomboid.
Even my spine tingled at the sound. But the chalk didn’t fall.
Waves of laughter rolled forward and my cheeks reddened. But the chalk didn’t fall.
I focused on Mrs. Dawson only after easing the chalk down to the tray at the base of the board.
“What are you doing now?”
“I’m drawing that rhomboid,” I replied.
“I guess I pressed the chalk too hard against the board.” I guess that was right because everyone—except Mrs. Dawson—laughed.
“Well,” she said, resting her forehead against the heel of her palm, “try it again.”
I knew everyone was watching me now. And I knew that the chalk would get gummy the longer it took to complete the figure. I was the only one who ever had sweaty, levitated chalk. It was my only skill.
I levitated the chalk once more, drawing the base of the figure. But I went too far and everyone started laughing again.
By the time Mrs. Dawson sighed and the chalk fell to the floor, I had drawn a line that was more than four centimeters squared—stretching into Gina’ s perfectly drawn rhomboid.
Ignoring everyone else, I maneuvered the eraser and smudged out the excess line. I knew how long four centimeters are. I levitated the chalk again and finished the figure. After replacing the chalk on the ledge, I let my breath go. I turned to face Mrs. Dawson, but she was no longer paying any attention to me.
Next came the pie chart. I glanced over the description in the book, but I decided it would be easier to copy the chart Gina had already drawn—hers was drawn better than any of the other six on the board were drawn. I still faced Mrs. Dawson’ s desk. I peeked around the corner of my book and began copying Gina’ s work.
So intent on what I was doing—being careful and exact take a lot of concentration—I didn’t notice when Mrs. Dawson got up from her desk and moved around to my side of the room. The blue skirt flooded my field of vision, distracting me from my work and, of course, shattering the fallen chalk on the floor.
“You were looking at the board, Mr. Hammond?”
“But you are not supposed to look at the board, are you?
“Then why do you do it? Every time you come up here to do group work on the figure exercises, you cheat.”
She continued to stand in front of me. She continued to look down at me.
“Well,” she asked at last, “what do you have to say for yourself?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know,” she mimicked. “That’s not good enough, Mr. Hammond. I think you need to find out why you cheat at these exercises. How are you going to survive if you can’t do them correctly?”
“I don’t know,” I said sadly, hanging my head in shame. Heat again flushed across my cheeks.
“You won’t survive, Mr. Hammond. That’s all there is to it.”
“Why do I have to know that stuff anyway? I can do these figures with my hands,” I screamed.
A roar of laughter from behind me, and even from a few of the Asteroids.
“With your hands?” Mrs. Dawson asked.
“But it isn’t done that way. Our hands are for other things. We do not draw with our hands. We do not eat with our hands. We do not write with our hands. Manual labor is a thing of the past, Mr. Hammond.”
I looked at Mrs. Dawson’ s face and scowled. I looked down at my feet. I didn’t have anything else to say.
“Go back to your desk, Mr. Hammond. Go back and study for your mach signs test.”
I could feel her head shaking back and forth as I walked to my desk in the back corner of the room.
“All you Asteroids go back to your desks. It’s almost time for lunch.”
Just then, the lunch-break signal rang.
As everyone started out of the room, Mrs. Dawson said, “Mr. Hammond, as punishment for your behavior, you will eat your lunch in the classroom by yourself. And you will clean off the boards.”
“Try not to use your hands,” someone taunted before skipping out through the door. Everyone else laughed.
Actually, I didn’t mind eating alone. I could touch my sandwich when I ate alone—no one laughed at me, either. I could feel the somewhat soggy bread where water from the washed lettuce had been absorbed. I could feel the slightly grainy texture of the bread where it was still dry. I couldn’t enjoy those sensations when I had to levitate the sandwich to my mouth.
Another nice thing about handling my sandwich was that I could press the top and bottom together to keep the insides from squirting out of the end. I couldn’t do that with a levitated sandwich. Hunks of meat or tomato always seemed to fall into my lap when I tried to eat the right way.
When I finished my sandwich, I went to the board and wiped it down by hand. I enjoyed the feel of the chalk dust as it floated about in the wake of the eraser. It had a clean, dry feel to it. And I enjoyed making patterns in the chalk dust that clung to the board. I made swirls and whirls and curls; then, I hid those designs behind a zigzag before wiping the board completely clean.
Finished with my assigned task with several minutes to spare, I decided to write some stuff on the board. I could always erase it again. I tried to imitate some of the lettering I saw in one of the books I found in the trash behind the school. It wasn’t that straight up-and-down lettering that our levitating primer taught. It had curlicues and double lines and other extra touches that made writing artful. It had the feel of a hand to it because it wasn’t exactly, perfectly the same. And I liked it.
I wrote the letters of my name one by one: M A R C U S H A M M O N D. First, I wrote with doubled, slanting lines to the right. Then, I used doubled, slanting lines to the left. I tried to add some of the little extra wiggles from the book. I was having a marvelous time, and I had such a feeling of creativity that I didn’t hear Gina come in.
“I’m going to tell,” I heard her say.
“You better not,” I said, spinning around to face her.
“Why do you do it, anyway?”
“You know—use your hands.”
“Because it’s fun,” I replied.
“You’re weird, Marcus Hammond. And I am so going to tell the teacher you were using your hands again.”
“Don’t, Gina,” I began. “Please,” I added for good measure.
“Because using my hands doesn’t hurt anyone. Why does Mrs. Dawson have to know?”
“Because using your hands just isn’t done,” Gina said.
“But I do it,” I replied.
“Well,” Gina said, “you shouldn’t.”
“Have you ever tried it?”
“Not since I was a baby,” Gina said. “Only babies use their hands because they don’t know how to levitate.”
“I know how to levitate—“
“Not very well,” Gina interrupted. “You’re the worst one in class—even worse than the rest of us in the Asteroids. You’re even worse than my little brother, and he’s a whole year younger than me.”
Gina just looked at me.
“I just don’t like to do it, and it’s hard to do if I’m not looking at what I’m doing. I can do all of those things with my hands, and I can do them faster, too.”
“You are strange,” Gina said in that long, stretched-out way that made strange sound disgusting. Then she backed out the door.
I erased my name from the board.
“Are you Marcus Hammond?” a voice from behind me asked softly as I walked through the school’s central tunnel complex. I turned, but I saw no one. I turned back and resumed my trek toward the exit of the school and home.
“Are you Marcus Hammond?” came the voice a second time—no louder but more urgent. Again, I turned around. Still, I saw no one. The entire complex was deserted, except for me and this disembodied voice which kept asking me who I was. Swearing just a little bit, I shook my head and turned, quickening my pace as I edged nearer the exit—half an eye on the lookout for whatever trailed behind.
“It is Hammond, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, Hammond,” I answered without turning around this time. “Leave me alone.”
“Don’t be afraid.”
“I ain’t afraid,” I lied.
“Then why are you running?”
“I’m not,” I gasped, suddenly out of breath. “I always walk like this. Besides, I’m in a hurry and I want to get home. I’m starved.”
“Fine. Fine,” the voice said—a slight hint of laughter behind the words. “But for someone who is not afraid, you sound frightened.”
“I’m not,” I replied. “But where are you, anyway?”
“I’m in your head—mental telepathy.”
“Oh!” Now I was more afraid and RAN as fast as I could toward the tunnel link that would get me out of school once and for all.
“Look, you don’t have to be afraid of me just because you can't see me.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You know who I am and I don’t know anything about you.”
“Sorry. I guess that’s right. I hadn’t meant to scare you.”
Judging the voice sincere, I slowed down a little. I needed to catch my breath, anyway. “So what do you want with me?”
“For now, just to talk.”
“What about me?” I asked, some of the just-lost fear beginning to creep back up my throat.
“Hey, don’t get excited. I’m on your side.”
“My side of what? Just who in the space dust are you, anyway?”
“A friend,” the voice replied.
“Prove it,” I demanded.
“How can I do that?”
“I don’t know. But you could tell me what me what this is all about.” I looked up and down the tunnel trying to find out where the voice was hiding, but I couldn’t see any place where it could be.
“Okay. Okay, Marcus. I hear you like to use your hands. It you do, then I may be able to help you out. If you don’t, well…. I’ll leave you alone. Now, do you see why I wouldn’t let you see me?”
I shrugged. It began to make a little sense. No use taking any chances on being recognized later if I weren’t Marcus Hammond or I didn’t like to use my hands. But I was Marcus Hammond, and I did like to use my hands. Just hearing him say he could help me made me relax a bit. “Can you really help me?”
“If you want to use your hands, you can.”
“Suns and moons,” I swore. “How I’ve hoped I wasn’t the only one—you know, who liked to use my hands.”
“I mean, even though I like using them, I always felt a little weird about it because no one around me ever said they did, too.”
“There aren’t many that do like to use their hands, I’m afraid. Fewer still are willing to admit it.”
“So, how can you help me?” I asked.
“I’ll tell you more, later,” the voice answered. “For now, just agree to meet me where we can talk.”
“Sure. Anytime. Anywhere.”
I was sitting at home waiting for my parents to return from work when I heard the voice again.
Whoever was behind this voice was powerful. I knew he couldn’t be very close by. And yet, I had no trouble hearing him inside my head. “Yeah,” I said out loud.
“How are you?”
“Fine,” I answered. “Are you going to tell me who you are this time?”
“Call me Poe. We, in the Brotherhood, like to keep things simple and friendly.”
“Poe? What kind of name is that?”
“It’s kind of a code name. One of these days, if you’re accepted into the Brotherhood, you’ll have one, too.”
“What is the Brotherhood?”
“You’ll find out about that soon enough. Right now, you need to come to a meeting of—“
“Now wait just a nanosecond,” I cut in. “I’m waiting for my parents. I can’t just go skipping out. In fact, I really ought to be in bed.”
“Look, Marcus,” the voice said, sounding angry. “The Brotherhood can’t hold meetings out in the open or during wake-time. Just make your bunk look like you’re in it and sneak out.”
I hesitated answering.
“If you don’t come, I can’t help you.”
“Okay,” I said reluctantly. “Where do I go?”
A few minutes later, after wadding up clothing and making my bunk look occupied, I edged down a dark, sub-lunar tunnel. There were but a few, dim security lights casting long shadows along the ribbed sides of the passageway.
As I felt my way, I heard Poe in my head again. “You’re doing fine, Marcus. You’re almost there. You should be able to see a duct on the left, just a little ways ahead of you.”
“Yeah, I can see it.”
“Good. Go down that duct. You’ll run into a vacuum seal. Don’t panic. Just knock and tell whoever answers that Poe sent you.”
“Aren’t you going to be there?”
“But,” I tried to interrupt.
“Look, Marcus. Everything is going to be just fine. Trust me. Trust the Brotherhood. We do what's best. We’ll take care of you.”
As I worked my way toward the vacuum seal Poe spoke of, I felt less confident than when I set out. I considered turning back, but had come too far and gotten too close to quit now.
I butted against the cold, blue-black metal of the vacuum seal. A moment later, I noticed a small dim dot of pale light in the middle of the seal. No one spoke. Finally, not knowing what else to do, I said, “Poe sent me.”
I stood in silence. As I stared at the vacuum seal, the small dot of light disappeared. I heard a grinding of metal gears toward the opening of the duct. I started to retreat, but I found my way blocked by another bulkhead. I could no longer breathe. I started hitting the metal barrier. “What in the earth's orbit is going on here?” I screamed.
“Poe? Poe?” I cried out.
I felt the cold tickle of gas before I heard it hiss into the blocked space in which I stood trapped.
My head hurt something awful when I came to. I was strapped down to some metal table, and my head was in a vise, so I could not even turn it to look around. It was so dark, I doubt I would have seen anything. I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to think about the darkness. I was afraid enough without being able to see anything that might come toward me.
The next things I remember were the voices.
“We can use him?”
“I’m not sure.” It was Poe’ s voice.
“He’s awfully young, Poe.”
“I know. But my sources say he’s a prime candidate. He can’t levitate without watching what he’s doing. And he has been seen using his hands to eat.”
“You don’t say?”
“Yes,” Poe answered. “He even fell for the bait of that old hand-writing manual we left at the school.”
“So, you’re sure he’ll be easy to handle?”
“I don’t see why not,” Poe replied. “I get the feeling when I link with him that he feels pretty comfortable around me—around my voice, anyway.”
“That’s probably true,” the other voice said. “He called out for you before the gas knocked him out.”
“Star’ s truth?”
“Star’ s truth.”
“Well, what do you know,” Poe said. “We may not even have to drug him.”
The two men started moving away. I strained to catch their words but couldn’t. I opened my eyes again and tried to see. It was still dark.
I don’t know how long it was before I heard Poe again.
“I see you made it. “
“I was afraid this would happen—you’re angry with me.”
“Space dust, Poe. I’m strapped down. I can’t move. It’s so dark, I can’t see. How can you expect me to be happy? What are you going to do with me? What does the Brotherhood want?”
“Calm down, Marcus. No one is going to hurt you.”
“Yeah. Right. I heard you talking before.”
“What?” Poe asked.
“Yeah. That’s right. You probably thought I was still out. You told somebody you could use me. I had taken the bait. And you probably wouldn’t even have to drug me. I heard it all. And I don’t like it.”
“Are you finished, Marcus?”
“Are you finished complaining?”
I couldn’t think of anything else to say. But I wanted to scream, NO, NO, NO. Instead, I said, “I guess so.”
“Everything is all right. Trust me, Marcus. Trust the Brother—“
“I won’t. I won’t trust you. I won’t trust the Brotherhood. Not any more. “
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I don’t want to be part of your Brotherhood. I want to go home. I want to be left alone.”
“But what about working with your hands? Remember the pleasure it gave you. We in the Brotherhood can help you find a place where you will be able to use your hands. You’ll see that there are others like you.”
“I don’t want to—not any more. Just let me go home. Let me go home—“
A stabbing pain in my neck stopped me cold.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. I screamed, and I tried to push it away from me.
“Let me go home. Please. Poe. Let me go home.”
“What are you talking about?”
It was Gina. “How did you get here?” I asked her as I lifted my head up and turned to face her.
“I came in here the same way you did,” she replied.
“But—“ and then I began to focus on my surroundings. I could see. And what I saw was not what I expected. I was sitting in the classroom, and Gina was sitting next to me. “What’s been happening to me?”
“Nothing. You just fell asleep. Now be quiet. Mrs. Dawson is coming back into the room.”
“Stars and moons. Won’t you just be quiet? I don’t want to stay after school again because of you.”
Just as I started to open my mouth again, I saw Mrs. Dawson walk into the room. She focused her eyes on me. There’s nothing quite as bad as having a teacher stare at you. It made me shiver.
“Mr. Hammond,” she said, walking toward her desk. “Will you show the class how you erased the board?”
Without taking my eyes off her, I levitated the eraser and arced it back and forth across the surface of the board, messing up the neat, vertical erasures I made when erasing the board earlier. The eraser flew across the surface. And then, I lost my grip, as it were.
The whole class erupted in laughter as the eraser landed in a cloud of chalk dust in the middle of Mrs. Dawson’ s desk.
“Stars and moons!” she said, pushing away from the desk.
“Star’ s truth,” I smiled.