Friday, October 8, 2010

Into the Shadows - Chapter 14

Chapter Fourteen
Policies

Paivi carefully packed her gym bag for basketball practice that crisp, sunny Tuesday morning. She looked her outfit over in the mirror, carefully affixing her new silver badge with the red glowing letters and numbers to her purple hoodie. She studied her reflection carefully.

It’s not so bad, she thought. Maybe people won’t even notice.

She tossed her long, blond hair over her shoulder. She could still see the red light glowing through the strands, but it was much less noticeable. Paivi headed downstairs for a piece of toast, though she didn’t feel very hungry.

Mrs. Anderson was going to drive both Paivi and Torsten to school. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson felt it was best for them to avoid the school bus, at least until they were comfortable with their new accessories. Paivi and Torsten didn’t argue.

Paivi was slightly nervous—she hadn’t spoken to any of her friends since the list was released. She kept reminding herself that she had been friends with many of them since grade school. One stupid, silver, glowing button couldn’t ruin what she’d had with her friends for seven years.

The ride to school was quiet. When her mother reached the school parking lot, Paivi sighed in relief. Everything here looked comfortably the same. Students parked their cars and others were getting off of busses—the usual noise and chaos of a regular morning before school.

Paivi got out of the car; carefully making sure her hair had fallen over the glowing pin. She headed towards the front entrance of the school, spotting Michaela, Aimee, and Crystal near the steps and headed over to join them.

“Hey guys!” she tried to sound as upbeat and normal as usual.

“Paivi!” squealed Michaela, throwing her arms around Paivi. “I missed you yesterday and I didn’t get to talk to you all weekend! It feels like years! Where were you?”

Paivi didn’t feel like going into all the details.

“My parents made me stay home. It was pretty lame,” she answered.

“We thought maybe it was because you were on that list in the paper,” Michaela spoke a little more quietly. She looked concerned. “My dad told me about it, but we just couldn’t figure out why you, your parents, Elena, Christian, and all those other people were on the list. What did your parents say?”

Aimee and Crystal were watching the conversation with interest, like spectators at a tennis match.

“They were pretty upset. I mean, we’re on this list and they won’t even tell us why. None of us have ever broken the law, let alone helped terrorists. It’s all just crazy! It’s got to be some kind of misunderstanding,” Paivi said, her voice low. “Yesterday we had to go to City Hall, and they gave us a bunch of rules to follow, like we have a curfew and we have to wear these stupid pins.” She brushed her hair back, exposing the silver badge. “Anyways, we have to do this until they interview us. Hopefully that will be soon, so everything can just go back to normal.”

Michaela fingered the silver badge.

“Well, it is ugly isn’t it? Maybe I could glue some sequins to it to give it a little pizzazz!”

“Very funny,” chuckled Paivi, feeling happy that she had been right about her friends. “Come on, let’s go inside. I’m freezing!”

As the girls entered through the main doors into the cafeteria, Paivi noticed something out of the ordinary. Four men, dressed all in black with the now all too familiar ATC badges glowing on their shirts, stood with arms folded across their chests. They had positioned themselves so that the students had to go around them. Paivi’s heart began to thump so loudly in her chest that she worried they would hear it. One of the agents spotted her right away.

“You.” He pointed right at Paivi, eyeing her badge.

The students all around them stared at her, more frightened of the agents than of her, at least.

“Go over there.” The agent pointed to the side of the cafeteria.

Stunned, she shuffled to the side of the stream of students, unable to utter even a goodbye to her friends. At one of the lunch tables sat about a dozen other extremely miserable looking students, slouching down as far as they could. Some had even put their heads down on the table, hiding their faces in folded arms. She spotted Christian’s white-blond hair and headed over to sit by him. She said nothing as she slid onto the stool opposite him. He looked up, eyes ringed with dark circles, but otherwise looking as cocky as ever.

“So I guess a ‘good’ morning isn’t really in order,” he offered.

“Yeah, not so much.”

“Paivi.” His eyes were serious. “It’s gonna be a bad day.”

“Way to cheer me up.” She smiled sarcastically.

He nodded in the direction of the agents.

“I know they’re here to give us more rules.” He glanced at her gym bag. “No more basketball for you.”

Her jaw dropped. “What? No way. They can’t do that!”

“Paivi,” he whispered, “they took away all of our constitutional freedoms in one day and you’re surprised that they are going to kick you off the basketball team? Come on!”

“Well, I just don’t see what our activities have to do with all of this. They’ll figure something out,” she insisted.

“Whatever.” He rolled his eyes at her. “I wouldn’t lie to you about that.”

“I…I know,” she answered quietly, fiddling with the zipper on her gym bag.

The warning bell for first hour rang and the crowd moving through the cafeteria had almost completely thinned out. Three of the four ATC agents came over to their table. Paivi noticed each of them had a holster containing a handgun, not unlike the one her dad carried at work.

“Good morning students,” began the agent standing in the middle. “We will now be escorting you to room thirteen, where we will meet with the principal to detail the policies you will have here at school.”

The bell rang, and the fourth agent joined them. Without saying a word, the students rose to follow the agents, who broke into two pairs, flanking the group in the front and behind to ensure none of them deviated from their route. Paivi was grateful that everyone was in class with the doors closed. She didn’t want to be seen being herded down the hallway by men with guns.

They entered room thirteen and took seats in some empty desks lined up in rows. The principal, Mr. Carson, and the assistant principal, Ms. Merriweather, stood waiting at the front of the room. Their faces were tense, mouths set into a firm line.

“I would like to address my students before you begin,” requested Mr. Carson, speaking to the man who appeared to be the leader of the ATC agents. He nodded his head.

“Kids, I just want to say that we value you. The school did not create the new rules that the ATC has mandated. Please come and see us if you have any problems. Thank you.”

“What are you implying, Principal Carson?” demanded the now red-faced ATC agent.

“I’m not trying to imply anything. I am just factually informing the students from whence the rules came. They are a creation of the ATC, are they not?”

“That is correct,” stated the agent, looking like he wanted to add a few more things to his response, but decided against it.

Mr. Carson stepped back, gesturing to the ATC agent to take the floor. He and Ms. Merriweather looked on sternly, arms crossed.

“It is a privilege for you to still be able to attend school. I am here to inform you of the policies that the ATC has developed for EOS students. My name is Agent O’Higgins. We will be stationed here at St. Andrew High School. If any of these rules are broken, you will be immediately expelled from school and subject to house arrest.”

As Agent O’Higgins spoke, one of the other agents handed each student a booklet.

“Inside this booklet you will find the information that I will explain to you today. First, you must all wear your EOS badges at all times, which has already been explained to you at your local ATC office. Your lockers have now been moved to a designated EOS area, directly in front of the main office. In each class, EOS students need to sit at the special table at the front of the room, next to the teacher. In the cafeteria, there will be a table specifically for EOS students. You may get your food only after all the other students have gotten theirs. Finally, you are no longer permitted to participate in any clubs, organizations or sports related to this school.”

Paivi sucked in a hard breath. It’s not that she didn’t know it was coming; it still pained her to hear it. She snuck a look at Christian. He was sitting straight up in his chair, no expression on his face. She could feel her eyes prickling with tears, but she wouldn’t let them come. She wasn’t about to give the ATC agents the satisfaction of seeing they had hurt her.

Agent O’Higgins dismissed the students to return to class, following them out into the hallway. Paivi trudged along slowly, wishing a giant hole would appear in the floor, sucking her right in. Or just that she could go home. But that would probably break some rule, causing her to be placed under house arrest. At this rate, maybe that didn’t seem like such a bad idea.


Throughout the day, Paivi followed her new rules, sitting at the designated table at the front of the room. Her teachers looked relieved that they didn’t need to ask her to move. Sometimes she sat alone, sometimes with one other student. She tried to busy herself by taking notes, or looking at her textbook, if only to avoid the stares. She could feel everyone’s eyes on her. None of them appeared to be paying attention to anything but Paivi and her glowing button.

It was with a groan that Paivi entered her sixth hour class. It felt like an eternity since she’d last spoken to Jason. She put her head down and went to her new seat.

Jason reached out and grabbed her wrist as she walked by.

“Hey, Anderson, too good for me now that you’re a big star?”

Paivi pulled her hand away and headed to the table she knew had been set up for her. Another boy in the class, Tyler Matthews was already sitting there. She threw herself down into the chair and started to cry. She buried her face in her arms, but didn’t much care if people saw her. The tears poured out, hot and angry.

Jason rushed to her, putting his arms around her shoulders.

“I am so sorry, I was just kidding! I swear! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean anything by it. I…I don’t know what to say. Please!”

Between sobs she attempted to get out a few words.

“I’m…not…allowed…to play…anymore.”

She began sobbing harder than ever. The floodgates had opened. All of the tension of the past few days, the shame, the embarrassment, all came rushing out.

“Oh my god! I am so sorry Paivi! I didn’t know!” he hugged her in vain, unable to stop the tears.
At that moment, Dr. Hasenpfeffer burst through the door. She dumped her usual pile of books and papers onto the desk and went straight over to Paivi, who was still sobbing uncontrollably.
“Oh you poor thing!” Dr. Hasenpfeffer pushed Jason to the side. She pulled Paivi into a hug, patting her on the back. “There, there sweetie, go ahead and let it all out.”

The bell rang. The rest of the class sat awkwardly in their desks, whispering to each other.

“Jason, fill me in,” Dr. Hasenpfeffer ordered.

“I, uh, all I did was make a comment about basketball and she started crying. I was able to get only a little of the story out of her. She said something about not playing anymore.”

“It’s okay Jason, it’s not your fault. I’m sure it has to do with this.” Still holding Paivi, she grabbed a booklet from the top of her messy pile and handed it to Jason.

He looked at it, slightly bewildered. The title read ‘EOS School Policies: How to deal with EOS students.’

“Basically,” Dr. Hasenpfeffer continued, “these students, like Paivi and Tyler, are considered Enemies of the State by your future president.”
 
The class sat silently and stared blankly at Dr. Hasenpfeffer.

“Seriously, you guys watch television sometimes, don’t you? This past Sunday, December 7th, President-elect Stevens gave a speech. Anybody?” She looked flabbergasted by their silence. “Come on kids, you have to know what’s going on around you! Get informed! Okay, Paivi, I’m going to have you sit down, no, in your normal spot please.”

She guided Paivi to her desk.

“Tyler, back to your original seat as well. Crystal, close the door. Okay, so no one saw the speech the other night? Well, here’s what you missed. This new organization, set up by the government, known as the Anti-Terrorism Coalition, announced that they had knowledge of people suspected in helping the terrorists of the Righteous Front. They released the information in the newspapers yesterday and all of those listed had to show up to a given location to register. They have made these people wear these silver badges to identify them.” She gestured to Paivi and Tyler. “They have rules to follow in their daily lives, and according to this booklet, they have even more rules to follow here at school, such as sitting at special tables in their classes and at lunch. They’ve also been dropped from all activities and sports because of the new, strict curfew laws.”

The students remained quiet, taking in the information. A hand went up in the back.

“Dr. Hasenpfeffer,” asked James Boggs, a tall, red-haired freshman, “why are they considered ‘Enemies of the State?’ I mean, what did they do? They must have done something bad.”

“That’s a fair question, James. That’s exactly what they want you to think. Tyler, Paivi, did they tell you what you were charged with?” asked Dr. Hasenpfeffer.

“No,” Tyler answered curtly.

Paivi shook her head.

“They said we had to go to some interview, so I guess they will tell us more then. Maybe,” said Tyler.

“This, class, goes against these students’ constitutional rights. As does being forced to follow these ridiculous school policies,” Dr. Hasenpfeffer threw the booklet across the room, banking it off of the wall and into the garbage can. “In this class, I will not make my students subject to rules of these, these…Nazis.” She spat out the word. “That is why I have asked them to remain in their usual seats. For your own safety, you may want to keep your little silver buttons on, but I’m not going to turn you in if you don’t. We are going to get on with our lesson, but please, more than ever you all need to get informed! This is your life we’re talking about here. Wake up people!”

Dr. Hasenpfeffer then turned to the day’s lesson, which was something about the Middle East. Paivi was too distracted to pay attention. She could feel the other students’ eyes boring into her back the whole period. She could only stare at the clock and will it to move faster.

By the end of the hour, there were doodles in her notebook that she had traced over so many times that she had pressed them into the pages underneath. At long last, the bell rang. Paivi snatched up her things and bolted for the door. Jason was just as quick, catching the back of her backpack.

“Slow down, speedy!” He pulled her backwards as they entered the hallway.

“I wasn’t sure you’d want to walk with me,” she mumbled.

“Come on, Paivi, I don’t really understand what’s going on right now with all of this,” he gestured to her EOS badge, “but I’m not going to allow some idiot to choose my friends for me.”

He grabbed her hand, pulling her closer to his side. Her fingers tingled, making her forget everything for just a moment before she came rushing back to her all too terrible reality.

“I just feel like such a freak,” Paivi whispered. She noticed an ATC agent up ahead that had not been in the group earlier in the morning. She looked at him in disgust.

“It’s like they’re multiplying,” she muttered.

“Who?” Jason asked, and then noticed her staring at the man dressed in black, his badge glowing, silver and bright. “Oh, these guys? I know! It’s like they came out of nowhere. Listen, let’s just go get some lunch, my treat. I think it’s hot cookie day,” he tried to make it sound enticing.

Paivi felt like crying for the second time today, remembering the policies. She wanted nothing more than to enjoy a nice lunch with Jason.

“I can’t,” she sighed. “According to my new rules, I have to sit at a lunch table with the other freaks.”
“Stop it, you’re not a freak. I guess I’ll just have to walk you to your new table and pick you up after lunch is over. In fact,” he added, as they entered the crowded lunch room, “why don’t I just be your personal security?”

She cracked a smile at the absurdity of it all.

“Aha, there’s a smile,” he laughed. “No, really, I’ve always wanted to be a Secret Service agent, well, until Senator Stevens got elected. He’s on his own. But in the mean time, I can practice on you!”

“Whatever! You’re crazy! I have to find my table.”

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, she thought, if it meant she would get to see him between every class.
Paivi spotted the lone table—it was at the far end of the cafeteria. An ATC guard sat on each end, guarding the four students already sitting there. She could see Christian’s blond hair—he was seated in the middle, the furthest he could be from the two guards. At least she wouldn’t be alone. As they neared the table, Michaela came running up to meet them.

“Paivi, what are you doing? Are you guys sitting together today?” she smiled.

“No, actually, I have to sit there,” Paivi gestured towards the table ahead.

“But why?” Michaela seemed a little annoyed by the information.

“It has to do with this whole thing,” Paivi pointed to her badge. “Trust me, I’d much rather sit with you.”

She could see one of the agents eyeing her.

“Look, guys, I better go.”

Michaela threw her arms around Paivi.

“This sucks! I’ll miss you!”

“Don’t worry P, we’ll come get you at the end of the hour,” Jason reminded her.

Michaela unlocked her arms, releasing Paivi from her grip. She gave one last sad look at Paivi and stepped back. Paivi turned without another word and headed to her new table as Jason and Michaela looked on.

Paivi walked by the agent at the end of the table. He looked at her, checking her badge, even though he had already seen it from across the room. He didn’t say a word, and didn’t offer so much as a smile. She passed by him, her head held high, and chose a seat next to Christian. From there they could see the whole cafeteria. Christian looked up as she sat down. His chemistry homework was spread out in front of him.

“Hi.” He didn’t sound pleased.

“Hi,” she answered. It didn’t seem like he was very talkative and she didn’t want to push him. She pulled out her paper lunch bag from her backpack. Luckily, she had remembered to bring some food today. Who knows how long it would be until the agents would let them go get lunch.

Paivi opened her bag. Peanut butter and jelly. Bag of chips. Apple. The only thing she hadn’t brought was a drink.

“Do you want some of my lunch?” she offered a half of her sandwich to him.

“No thanks,” he responded. He shoved his book toward her. “But I could use your help with these chemistry problems.”

“But I don’t…,” she began to protest, preparing to explain that she hadn’t had chemistry yet when she saw what was on the notebook paper sitting on top of Christian’s open book. In the middle of his homework were the words PAIVI PLEASE JUST READ.

Paivi looked at him.

“Uh, sure I can help you,” she glanced back to the page.

“Well, I am mostly having trouble with this number,” Christian pointed, touching it with his pencil. The writing jumped to life, like a swarm of ants, rearranging across the page into a new message.

YOU CAN JUST THINK, DON’T SPEAK.

She looked at Christian, and for the first time that day he smiled. She understood. He could read her mind. He touched his pencil to the paper, the words dissolved and re-formed.

THEY KNOW ABOUT US.

“These two things go together,” she pointed at the paper, trying to keep up the guise that she was helping him with his Chemistry. She glanced at the end of the table, checking out the ATC agents. They were looking around the cafeteria in utter boredom.

What do you mean ‘they’?

The message changed again.

ATC.

How do you know that?

She made a face.

I KNOW OTHERS ON LIST.

I don’t understand. We’re not criminals.

MAYBE.

He smiled again.

“What about this problem? Number three?”

Paivi gave him a dirty look.

Well, we aren’t terrorists.

NOT US. MAYBE OTHERS.

By why mess with us. We aren’t bothering anyone.

NOT SURE.

“Well, I think you’re just kind of dumb. This problem is easy,” Paivi tried not to laugh.

MAYBE WE ARE DANGEROUS.

Us? Dangerous? Come on!

Christian shrugged his shoulders.

WE NEED TO STICK TOGETHER.

I suppose. But now you can’t blackmail me anymore. It seems that everyone knows my secret thanks to the ATC.

OKAY YOU WIN.

One of the ATC agents suddenly turned around, facing them. Paivi’s heart jumped into her throat.

“EOS students,” he addressed them. “There will be no lunch for you today.”

And with that, he turned back to surveying the lunchroom.

The three students at the other end of the table grumbled to each other. One of them had a lunch that they split. Paivi handed half of her sandwich to Christian.

Here’s to sticking together, she thought.

“Thanks,” said Christian quietly.

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