The kids aren’t looking particularly interested in anything I have to say, but they aren’t setting up any game boards, either, so things are looking up. They’re kind of milling around, not really talking to each other. Caffeine has a sandwich, but no one else has touched any of it, not even the junk food, not even the soda. It’s like the beginning of a commercial for some horrible chemical goop that didn’t work out as science intended and got rebranded as a toy.
“Hey,” I say, and they turn their heads towards me, slowly, even Caffeine.
I start doing jumping jacks, and they just fall into line. The shrinks are going to be pulling them out of class until they graduate, I swear, Jailbait even longer. I leave them jumping up and down and go to pull out yoga mats, setting them up in the middle of the room while the kids start to run laps, completely without prompting. I can’t tell if they’re giving me looks, or just looking back at me because I keeps shooting looks at them. It’s making me dizzy.
There’s a little grumbling as I count them through situps and pushups, but that’s about par for the course, and they settle down onto their respective mats – which they take a moment to rearrange, because they’ve not only claimed colors but staked out specific spots in a specific order – with about as much fuss as I expected. There’s some debate about two people – characters, I assume, because I don’t recognize them, and it’s not anyone here and I have no idea where else they all come in contact – and which of them is better.
Not better at anything. Not stronger or faster or ‘who would win in a fight’ better, not sexier or smarter or more talented at whatever thing would let me identify this, I don’t know, book, TV show, just better. I can’t even figure out what metrics they think they’re using. But at least they’re talking again.
I manage to run them through a couple of poses before they start just ignoring me and bickering at each other instead. I split them up to practice their individual skills for a few minutes, because I figure it’ll work off their energy better than trying to force them back into structured activity since they obviously don’t want to do that and will they just listen for a second I mean come on. Especially since they’re going straight back to structure as soon as Sensei Domino gets here. And he will not thank me if they argue over every word.
I tell Caffeine to set up an obstacle course for FiendPuncher. Not a real one, obviously, just safety cones on the ground, but enough to get her flying in patterns, avoiding stuff as it comes up. Probably intellectually stimulating enough, because if there’s one thing Caffeine is going to do, it’s try to trip up whoever he’s working ‘with’, so they make a good pair. She may also be attempting to pelt him with something or other but I’m sure it’s not intended to be harmful. She grins at me. Augh.
I finally got back that list of particular domains they definitely share, which is far too scientifically worded for a couple of high-schoolers, but at least helpfully annotated by Dr. Skye, so I manage to set up Jailbait and Psybeam with a couple of targets and let her play mentor for a while. Honestly, she’ll probably get more out of trying to teach it than he’ll get out of pretending to listen, but he’s the stare-off-into-space kind of student, not the run-around-and-break-stuff kind, so his boredom isn’t doing much to anyone. Half-heartedly practicing can really only help, with his kind of skills.
I set Enigma Machine up with a punching bag, because he looks ready to fight anything I let him at, and I’m sure as hell not pitting that against another student. He lets me help him put on his gloves before he goes for it, anyway. Probably a problem I’m supposed to ask him about, so we can have some sort of after school special heart to heart, and every ill in his life will be solved. Probably also something he’d refuse to acknowledge is wrong, even if I asked. So glad the therapists are getting involved.
“Gatling,” I call, fumbling with one of the marshmallow bots, “come here.”
“What if I don’t?” he calls back.
I pretty much just ignore him while I get the thing turned on and calibrated. I have to shoot it like seven times before it starts doing what it was designed to do, and then it seems to go into some sort of warmup sequence or a self-diagnostic or who knows what. Gatling eventually comes over.
I hold out one of the little foam pellets. “Here, make some of these.”
“Why?” he asks, folding his arms over his chest and refusing to take the thing.
“Because this is an expensive piece of equipment you’re not allowed to destroy,” I say, pointing at the hovering machine, “but you need to practice with it.”
“Why,” he says, again, like he’s got one over on me.
“Because it will help your aim and speed and precision and you know what Gatling,” I tell him, “just do what I say, okay?”
“Or what?” he says, and tilts his head, narrowing his eyes slightly, and grinning the beginning of that grin that means he thinks he’s won the conversation, “you’ll shoot me?”
I feel the fingers of one hand clench together while the other completely loses its grip on the gun, this tiny, harmless, foam dart shooting gun, this little thing that couldn’t hurt him even if I had been aiming at him, even if I had been aiming to hurt, and I just have to wonder how long he’s been holding out to use that little tidbit, where he found out about it or who he heard it from, and why now, why deploy it when there’s – god, even Gatling’s gone a little paler than normal, mouth scrunched up like he’s not sure he should apologize, staring at his feet or maybe the dart gun next to them. His hands are gripping onto his arms a little tighter than usual, like this time even he knows he crossed a line.
Sensei Domino mutters a couple things into my ear, and I nod and respond, and he walks me to the elevator. The doors whir shut and the metal is smooth and cool and smells like coins.