© 1998 Robert M. (Bob) Leahy
2110 E. Crosby Road
Carrollton, TX 75006
(972) 416 - 6098
Approximate Word Count: 3,940
"Asteroids," called Mrs. Dawson, "itís 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 donít 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 as I stared out the window at the lunar landscape.
The school was no more than a mile from the dark side of the moon. The shadow of the building stretched for meters across the gray-green dust. The terrain near the dark zone became increasingly pock-marked and rugged. Just the other day, while I stared through this very window, a meteor slammed into the lunar surface not more than a half-kilometer away. I kept watching as the dust continued to settle during much of our group's time in the front of the room.
Gina, who sits next to me, jabbed me with her elbow. I turned and smiled. Gina was the only thing I liked about group work. I started to read the information about the figure: "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 obviouslyóeven with her eyes. Instead, she asked, "What are you supposed to be doing?"
"Drawing a rhomboid like the one over the desk."
"And why arenít you drawing that rhomboid?"
"I donít 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 dustÖ.
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. Dawsoní 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. Dawsoní 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 didnít fall. I started to draw the first edge of the rhomboid.
Even my spine tingled at the sound. But the chalk didnít fall.
Waves of laughter rolled forward and my cheeks reddened. But the chalk didnít 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?"
"Iím drawing that rhomboid," I replied.
"I guess I pressed the chalk too hard against the board." I guess that was right because everyoneóexcept Mrs. Dawsonólaughed.
"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 squaredóstretching into Ginaí 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 drawnóhers was drawn better than any of the other six on the board were drawn. I still faced Mrs. Dawsoní s desk. I peeked around the corner of my book and began copying Ginaí s work.
So intent on what I was doingóbeing careful and exact take a lot of concentrationóI didnít 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 donít know."
"I donít know," she mimicked. "Thatís 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 canít do them correctly?"
"I donít know," I said sadly, hanging my head in shame. Heat again flushed across my cheeks.
"You wonít survive, Mr. Hammond. Thatís 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 isnít 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. Dawsoní s face and scowled. I looked down at my feet. I didnít 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. Itís 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 didnít mind eating alone. I could touch my sandwich when I ate aloneóno 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 couldnít 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 couldnít 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 wasnít 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 wasnít 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 didnít hear Gina come in.
"Iím going to tell," I heard her say.
"You better not," I said, spinning around to face her.
"Why do you do it, anyway?"
"You knowóuse your hands."
"Because itís fun," I replied.
"Youíre weird, Marcus Hammond. And I am so going to tell the teacher you were using your hands again."
"Donít, Gina," I began. "Please," I added for good measure.
"Because using my hands doesnít hurt anyone. Why does Mrs. Dawson have to know?"
"Because using your hands just isnít done," Gina said.
"But I do it," I replied.
"Well," Gina said, "you shouldnít."
"Have you ever tried it?"
"Not since I was a baby," Gina said. "Only babies use their hands because they donít know how to levitate."
"I know how to levitateó"
"Not very well," Gina interrupted. "Youíre the worst one in classóeven worse than the rest of us in the Asteroids. Youíre even worse than my little brother, and heís a whole year younger than me."
Gina just looked at me.
"I just donít like to do it, and itís hard to do if Iím not looking at what Iím 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 schoolís 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 timeóno 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 exitóhalf an eye on the lookout for whatever trailed behind.
"It is Hammond, isnít it?"
"Yeah, Hammond," I answered without turning around this time. "Leave me alone."
"Donít be afraid."
"I ainít afraid," I lied.
"Then why are you running?"
"Iím not," I gasped, suddenly out of breath. "I always walk like this. Besides, Iím in a hurry and I want to get home. Iím starved."
"Fine. Fine," the voice saidóa slight hint of laughter behind the words. "But for someone who is not afraid, you sound frightened."
"Iím not," I replied. "But where are you, anyway?"
"Iím in your headómental 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 donít have to be afraid of me just because you can't see me."
"Thatís easy for you to say. You know who I am and I donít know anything about you."
"Sorry. I guess thatís right. I hadnít 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, donít get excited. Iím 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 donít 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 couldnít 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 donít, wellÖ. Iíll leave you alone. Now, do you see why I wouldnít let you see me?"
I shrugged. It began to make a little sense. No use taking any chances on being recognized later if I werenít Marcus Hammond or I didnít 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 Iíve hoped I wasnít the only oneóyou 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 arenít many that do like to use their hands, Iím afraid. Fewer still are willing to admit it."
"So, how can you help me?" I asked.
"Iíll 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 couldnít 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?"
"Itís kind of a code name. One of these days, if youíre accepted into the Brotherhood, youíll have one, too."
"What is the Brotherhood?"
"Youíll find out about that soon enough. Right now, you need to come to a meeting ofó"
"Now wait just a nanosecond," I cut in. "Iím waiting for my parents. I canít just go skipping out. In fact, I really ought to be in bed."
"Look, Marcus," the voice said, sounding angry. "The Brotherhood canít hold meetings out in the open or during wake-time. Just make your bunk look like youíre in it and sneak out."
I hesitated answering.
"If you donít come, I canít 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. "Youíre doing fine, Marcus. Youíre 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. Youíll run into a vacuum seal. Donít panic. Just knock and tell whoever answers that Poe sent you."
"Arenít 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. Weíll 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 wouldnít 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?"
"Iím not sure." It was Poeí s voice.
"Heís awfully young, Poe."
"I know. But my sources say heís a prime candidate. He canít levitate without watching what heís doing. And he has been seen using his hands to eat."
"You donít say?"
"Yes," Poe answered. "He even fell for the bait of that old hand-writing manual we left at the school."
"So, youíre sure heíll be easy to handle?"
"I donít see why not," Poe replied. "I get the feeling when I link with him that he feels pretty comfortable around meóaround my voice, anyway."
"Thatís probably true," the other voice said. "He called out for you before the gas knocked him out."
"Starí s truth?"
"Starí 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 couldnít. I opened my eyes again and tried to see. It was still dark.
I donít know how long it was before I heard Poe again.
"I see you made it. "
"I was afraid this would happenóyouíre angry with me."
"Space dust, Poe. Iím strapped down. I canít move. Itís so dark, I canít 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. Thatís right. You probably thought I was still out. You told somebody you could use me. I had taken the bait. And you probably wouldnít even have to drug me. I heard it all. And I donít like it."
"Are you finished, Marcus?"
"Are you finished complaining?"
I couldnít 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 Brotheró"
"I wonít. I wonít trust you. I wonít trust the Brotherhood. Not any more. "
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I donít 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. Youíll see that there are others like you."
"I donít want toónot any more. Just let me go home. Let me go homeó"
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.
"Butó" 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. "Whatís been happening to me?"
"Nothing. You just fell asleep. Now be quiet. Mrs. Dawson is coming back into the room."
"Stars and moons. Wonít you just be quiet? I donít 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. Thereís 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. Dawsoní s desk.
"Stars and moons!" she said, pushing away from the desk.
"Starí s truth," I smiled.
Revised Text placed on
The Leprechaun News WebPages
16 July 98