Part 4 - Nicholas: part 2

The school day was more than half way through when Nicholas marched into the room like he was the Base Commander. He slouched down into his seat and wiped sweat from his forehead, though it wasn't hot. His anger at Merch still pounded in his veins. Few students looked up from their data sheets to acknowledge his entrance, and those for only a millisecond before they turned back to their work.

A girl sat in the chair ahead of him but never raised her head from crouching over her data sheet. Her brown kinky hair stuck out in odd directions like she'd just gotten out of bed. He ran his fingers through his own long light brown hair and wondered how a girl could be so out in space that she didn't even run a brush through her hair. He could only see her shoulders and above. Her neck was skinny, with each vertebra of her spine poking out like knuckles on a fist. The collar on her jump suit was too wide and looked like she had borrowed it from someone twice her size.

Nicholas unrolled his data sheet and pressed the power point.

A message flashed across the top of the display, "Ten days, six hours, 81 minutes delinquent." A list of past due assignments scrolled below the warning and then the question, "What would you like to work on first?"

Students in their first year of high school were given a reprieve from the strictly regimented course work of the lower grades. They were allowed to choose from a broad range of subjects and studied independently. From these studies they would choose the concentration for the following four to five years of course work. Between the ages of twenty and twenty-two they should be prepared to enter university or matriculate into one of the technical training programs with available personnel slots on the battle base. All military personnel must graduate with a university degree in astrogation or military science. Nicholas was interested in none of that.

He looked around the classroom.

Most students sat or reclined in their cushioned lounge chairs, deeply engaged in their studies.

One girl a few rows over taking a breather from her studies looked up and around the room. Nicholas caught her eye, smiled and winked. She smiled back, blushed and returned to her data sheet.

Nicholas realized there were a lot of pretty girls in the classroom. He went back to his data sheet and pulled up an array program, dividing it into the number of spaces to match the arrangement of students in the class. He blacked out the spots belonging to the boys.

He turned back to scanning the classroom. When a girl took a break and looked up from her work, Nicholas coughed, or sniffed, or something conspicuous enough to get the girl's attention, then smiled and winked at her. On his data sheet he entered a rating of her response and of her appearance into the student's block in his array.

The school day was almost over, which helped Nicholas fill in the last few blocks as students became more restless and ready to leave.

He also caught the teacher's attention.

"Mr. Morris," the teacher said, loud enough to still the entire class. "Welcome back to school. We've missed you."

He smiled and nodded, but said nothing.

"You've been studiously working on … something. And since it looked to me like it involved the entire class, would you please stand and explain?"

Nicholas stood and said, "Ms. Callista, I have been doing a study of the pretty girls in this classroom."

"That's an awfully sexist remark, Mr. Morris." She eyed him with a frown.

"Oh. I'm sorry. I've been studying the ugly ones, too."

A repressed murmur of laughter rumbled around the room.

"Anyway," Ms. Callista said, her frown deepening. "Please explain your theory and results."

"Um. I didn't really have a theory. Well, I guess my thesis question was, 'Would a girl return my smile, and was there a greater chance of her returning my smile if she was pretty."

"And, then?" The teacher asked.

Nicholas tapped about on his data sheet. The holoscreen at the front of the class came to life and displayed a smattering of dots on a two dimensional grid.

"I was able to smile and wink at all but two girls in the room and these are their responses. With, let me say, 'relative' beauty across the bottom, since I am deciding what I consider beautiful, the horizontal represents ugly on the left and gorgeous on the right. The vertical is how strongly I gauged their response. You can see there are girls at both ends of the spectrum who found me offensive, though most gave me a favorable response to some degree."

Nicholas tapped his data sheet again and said, "Here is a layout of the classroom. You can see from the position of the girl in the room relative to my seat over here on the side, the farther away the girl the lower the response."

The image on the holoscreen shimmered and the schematic of seat positions was replaced with an image of the girl sitting in that seat.

"Who did … " Nicholas started to say, but the teacher cut him off.

"Any final conclusions, Mr. Morris?"

"Hmmm. Well. You can see from the horizontal placement, we have a lot of pretty girls in the class." He looked at the screen again with the girls' actual faces present, saved a copy to his data sheet, and said, "Other than that, the data is inconclusive."

Nicholas sat back down.

"Thank you, Mr. Morris. I hope this means that you will find a greater desire to be in class, where you can put that analytical mind of yours to a more productive use. I'll look forward to seeing all of you tomorrow. You are dismissed."

Nicholas waited in his seat until the teacher looked at him once more. He winked and smiled. When she blushed, shaking her head but smiling as well, he made a show of making a note on his data sheet.

The girl with the messy hair sat hunched over her work table as the teacher gathered her things to leave. If he wanted to keep his data accurate, he still needed her reaction. If she never stood and forced him to walk around in front of her, he would look too obvious. So he left the room and stood in the hallway.

As the girl walked out of the room, her eyes were on the floor. Frizzy hair obscured her face. The sleeves and legs of her jumpsuit exposed her wrists and bare shins above her base boots. The uniform hung on her like a sack, with a belt around her waist to keep it from sliding off her shoulders.

He cleared his throat.

She stopped without looking up and smoothed the sleeves of her jump suit, pulling at the cuffs as if trying to increase their length.

"Class is over. Now I can say, 'Hello', as well as wink," Nicholas said, trying to get the girl to look up.

Her lips moved but he heard no sound. She might have said, “Hello”, as well.

"You don't want to look at me?"

She shook her head.

Nicholas laughed and said, "Or is it you don't want me to look at you?"

An almost indiscernible nod.

"Ok. I'll leave you alone. I know. I don't like people bothering me, either. But someday I'm going to catch you off your guard and you're going to smile at me. I'll see you tomorrow."

Nicholas watched her walk away.

He wanted to give her a minute and then follow her. One thing the school's data base wouldn't give him was her cube location, but as he started after her another boy cut him off.

"Hey. Can you share that data with me?" A boy asked. He seemed to have a skin condition, but as he got closer Nicholas wondered if the boy ever bathed. His greasy hair hung in strings and though he was a good five centimeters taller than Nicholas, he had a round, babyish face, and short, stubby fingers.

"No. I don't think so," Nicholas said and started after the girl.

"Come on, crew. I added the pictures to the schematic. Share some cred."

"I'm not your crew and I don't owe you any cred. I didn't ask you to put the pictures up, so give way."

The boy didn't step aside quickly enough and Nicholas pushed past him. He brushed off the shoulder of his jumpsuit hoping the boy hadn't left any sludge on him. The girl wasn't anywhere in sight. He thought about going back to slug the slimy boy in the stomach for interfering, but reconsidered. That would only give Merch more fuel for his afterburner, and Nicholas was hoping to stay off his stepfather's scanners for a while.

"Might as well head home and see if I can get in the cube," Nicholas grumbled, heading out of the school's matrix.


Part 1 - Celia: An introduction

A ‘Trigger Warning’ is a psychological term warning a reader, listener or viewer of content that something in the following information may set off (trigger) a severe emotional reaction in some people who have experienced trauma in the past or who suffer from a variety of mental illnesses.


The story, “Trigger Warnings” is about several people who have suffered mental, physical or sexual abuse, or are suffering from other mental illnesses.


If you are triggered by non-suicidal self-injury, emotional abuse, sexual assault, or child sexual abuse you may want to proceed with caution, if at all. While sexual abuse and child abuse are not presented graphically, they are addressed.


If you find you are triggered by these stories—have a desire to self-harm, become depressed, have suicidal thoughts—please contact your physician, a school counselor, a trustworthy family member, or the suicide hotline. I am presenting these stories to raise awareness of mental illness and create support for those in need, not to cause harm. You have value, you are loved and there is help if you can bring yourself to look for it.







Celia dragged a brush through snags of thick brown hair. Her mother would have fits if she went to school without controlling her wild mane. Again. Tears rose in her eyes; her hair refused to let the brush pass and she tore at it, gritting her teeth. She pulled with all her strength, tearing a knotted snarl free to hang from the brush like a hairy spider. Her frustration flared into rage and she threw the brush at the floor hoping it would shatter into a thousand pieces.

Her head throbbed where the hair came free from her scalp, but the pain felt good, justified. Her tears were gone, replaced by anger.

The view screen at her dressing table divided into four sections as she stepped back, showing her head and shoulders from all sides. There was no hope for her hair. She couldn't get it to the level her mother required and still make it to school on time.

She pressed the self-seal strip at her neck and looked down the front of her jump suit. It hung on her like a bag; if her head and hands didn't poke out of it, a person might wonder if there was a girl in there at all. Other girls in her class wore tailored jumps of fine materials. They wore the correct shade of grey to identify them as high school students, and still the material clung to their bodies and emphasized their figures. It was clear their parents cared about them and how they looked; they obviously deserved having families who loved them.

Looking at herself in the view screen Celia raised her chin and checked her neck for evidence of the scar across her collarbone. It was stupid to cut so high where someone might see. She had only done that once and was relieved that it didn't show. She tugged at her sleeves, wishing they would cover her narrow wrists and she smoothed the arms of her jumpsuit.

Hoping to save time by working on her hair as she walked to school, she grabbed the brush from the floor and hurried down the passage toward her mother's open bedroom door. She stopped short of the doorway, intending to tiptoe past--her mother was rarely awake when she left for school. Celia's stomach turned over as the brush slipped from her hand and hit the smooth plasteen floor directly in front of the open door, clattered down the short passage, and slid to a stop at a decorative carpet in the sitting room.

Celia held her breath waiting for her mother's blood curdling scream.

No. She wished for such a scream; then she could scream back, justified to loosen some of the anger built up inside her head like layers of plaque lining her skull. But her mother never raised her voice.

When Celia's heart calmed enough that she no longer felt it pounding in her ears, she heard her mother's soft snores and soundlessly edged past the room. A quick glance into the room revealed her mother asleep on the bed. Her mother, the socialite daughter of lifer parents, filled out a jumpsuit nicely. Her physical attributes had clearly been one of her main attractions when she Celia’s father, also the son of lifer parents, originally signed a cohabitation contract.

In the kitchen Celia took two compact nutrition bars and slipped them into a self-seal pocket on the leg of her jumpsuit. She took her data sheet from the table where she had left it the day before and pinched the edges of the thin electroconductive polymer. With a snap and a hiss the data sheet rolled itself into a tube as big around as Celia's thumb. She slipped the tube into a narrow pocket that ran from shoulder to elbow.

Celia rubbed the back of her hand beneath her chin and probed her neck along the edge of the straight collar of her jump suit. She tugged up on the wide collar, trying to make it look like a straight line instead of dipping down into a deep curve. Doing so only pulled the tight jumpsuit uncomfortably into her crotch.

She smoothed the arms of the suit again, patted her breast pocket, checking for her ID card and Info Synch. She waved her hand in front of the door sensor; it swished open and she walked out into the passage.

Few others were in the corridors of her residential section, most of the cubes being inhabited by higher ranking commanders and other important personnel--people who had no time for children. A large number of retired people also lived in the area, having earned retirement in one of the larger cubes and chosen to remain on the Battle Base for the rest of their lives. Besides, it was only 3.75. The second shift had started at 3.00 and the first shift didn't end for another quarter, when classes began at 4.00.

With each intersecting passage the number of people increased.

Her classroom was up two floors and a long walk fore on one of the longitudinal corridors. At an intersecting link of passages she opened a door and entered the stairwell. Each door in the stairwell displayed the link coordinates and a chronometer. Celia saw she had plenty of time to get to class.

Two floors up, she stood at the door to the main corridor, took a deep breath, checked her breast pocket for her ID card and Data Synch. She wouldn't be able to enter the school without them, and once at school there wouldn't be time to go all the way back to her cube to retrieve them.

Celia smoothed the arms of her jump suit and waved open the door. The corridor was packed with people on their way to their duty station and other students going to school. Folding her arms tight across her stomach, she bowed her head and stepped into the flow. She squeezed along the wall and paced herself behind the others going her same direction to avoid touching anyone and drawing their attention.

Following the corridor for several hundred meters she reached the shuttle bay where the solid wall of the passage was replace with transparent plastisteel. Celia moved toward the center of the corridor to work her way past people standing along the window, watching others arriving or departing. She didn't mind this in fact, this 100 meter stretch of corridor was her favorite place on the entire Battle Base. People here were arriving from other Battle Bases or departing to distant systems, places she hoped to visit one day--places far away from her mother.

A shuttle must have recently arrived from a jump-gate the base had passed the day before. Travel weary people, still shaking off induced sedation, entered the waiting lounge from vertical transport doors at the far side. People in military jumps walked through without baggage while others wearing Support Service jumpsuits often carried bags. Then there were families wearing casual jumps--parents dragging irritable children in addition to their belongings. Finally, two men directed a long oval cylinder about the length of an adult. The cylinder lay in a supportive cot and rolled on three sets of wheels.

Celia smoothed her sleeves and kept pace to reach the lounge exit as the men and cylinder drew close, opposite through the window. The leading man stepped into the corridor and held his hand up to stop traffic, right in front of Celia. She pressed her arms tighter against her stomach, tipping her head down, but watching as the cylinder pushed passed. A window in the upper third revealed a man inside the tube, his features slack and his skin as grey as her uniform jumpsuit. Traffic resumed, pushing her forward, alongside the isolation tube.

This kind of tube wasn't an uncommon sight coming from the shuttle bay. Anyone from off the battle base with an unknown or contagious disease would be transported to the base hospital in one. She patted her breast pocket and surreptitiously peeked through the plastisteel window to get a better look at the sleeping man. Data panels on the tube were blank and nothing in the man's appearance revealed where he had come from or why he was in isolation.

Traffic moving both directions came to a stop again as the men turned off the main corridor and pushed the isolation cylinder toward the base's principle hospital. Celia followed a few steps into the side passage and watched the men push the tube away. She patted her breast pocket absently as she considered how similar the man's plight was to her own; sick, maybe dying, unable to communicate with those who could help, and though they each were surrounded by millions of people they were isolated and alone.

Celia turned back to the high school. She had to hurry now to be on time. She pulled at the sleeves of her jumpsuit, the cuffs barely reaching past midway on her forearms, and weaved between others in the passage. Reaching the front double doors to the grid of rooms used by the school she had a moment of panic, afraid she had left her ID card back at her cube. The few students ahead of her flashed their cards at the sensor, barely looking up enough for the retinal scan, and she dug in her breast pocket to fish out a thin, transparent card. She held it flat on her palm and blinked up at the card reader in the ceiling above the doorway and worried the device wouldn't read the card properly if she angled it incorrectly. The sensor recognized crystals imbedded in the card regardless of its angle, confirmed it against her retinal scan, and passed the information to the central computer reporting Celia was in class and on time.

The rest of her class was already seated when she slipped into the room. Celia smoothed her sleeves and folded her arms as she ducked toward her seat. No one looked up from their data sheets or broke off their conversations to greet her. No one even looked her direction to notice she had joined the class. She sat, slid her data sheet from her sleeve, and unrolled it onto her desk, smoothing it flat until it held its shape. Shifting on the seat to find a more comfortable position, the hairbrush fell onto the floor with a clatter and she remembered that she hadn't finished her hair. She knew it must be sticking out at embarrassing angles and if she only had the courage to look around her she would find the rest of the class sneering and laughing.