BrrrNccssrrTrrr 882: Syncro Earrtthh
“Okay, first years, follow me!” Melissa announced. Her hair was a golden blonde wave that whipped across her back and shoulders whenever she turned to address the club.
Julio thought she smelled nice. Too nice. Like caramel dragonflies on a cotton candy pond. Her pink chap stick looked more like lip gloss and it made her lips glisten. Julio, blanched, tried to block the sweetness out and focus on other things. Like the architecture. The buildings on campus were all made of different materials, making no two buildings look alike. There was a stone one. A brick one. There was one with a marble base and a coral dome. There was one made of riveted metal. As they passed the one that looked like a glass wizard’s tower, Melissa wrapped up the tour and Julio realized he hadn’t been listening at all.
“So only Tuesdays and Thursdays?” Amanda asked.
“Yep. As long as you remember that, you get to keep your fingers,” Melissa said with a smile and a wink.
Ugh, too sweet, Julio thought. It left a sticky taste in his mouth. And his hands. And the back of his neck. He shook himself and cleared his throat.
“You okay, dude?” Zach asked, though he sounded deeply uninterested in Julio’s well being. It was more of a query into whether he had to get outside of Julio’s flash radius or not.
“Yeah. I’m fine. Butterflies, you know?” Julio lied.
“Yeah. Butterflies,” Zach nodded, clearly unconvinced.
“Okay, and here is the Tildi Clubhouse,” Melissa said with a grand wave.
The Clubhouse, like every other building, was wholly unique and unmistakable. It was modeled after a Classical temple; rounded sides with columns out front. As to what god the temple builders worshipped? The satellite dish on the roof and the steel, glass and concrete elements of its construction were clues to that mystery. A huge crest adorned the front of the Clubhouse; a giant version of the snake pins every Tildi club member wore. But the tiny snake on the pin was a monstrous serpent on the Clubhouse crest. Its scales and fangs were rendered in photorealistic detail and it made the first years tremble just looking at it.
“I see you’re all admiring the club mascot,” Melissa said. “That up there is the Oro Snip. It is a rare breed of snake sought after for the regenerative properties of its venom. It continues to grow during its long lifespan and no one really knows how big it can get.”
“How big was the biggest one ever recorded?” Amanda asked.
“Great question! The biggest Oro Snip ever encountered measured 15 meters in length and weighed over 1300 kg.”
Julio didn’t know what that meant in feet or pounds. He assumed it was a lot.
“Jesuz Cristo that is a lot of snake,” Zach said with an impressed whistle.
“That’s why it’s the mascot of Club Tildi,” Melissa explained. “It not only represents knowledge in the old sense of the word, but it’s also fierce and deadly and not to be underestimated. This way. Follow me.”
The lobby of the Clubhouse was equal parts museum and lounge. Stands, plinths and display cases littered the area, showing off the inventions of alumni of years past. Surrounding them were comfy chairs, reading lights, and coffee tables full of old coasters. About a half dozen students were already back from the Welcoming Hall and getting their study on.
“The bedrooms and washrooms are upstairs. Kitchen and common room is down here. The library and the vault are in the sub-levels, but any first year that wants to go down there must be accompanied by a year two or above.”
“Let me guess, the books are dangerous too?” Julio blurted.
“No. The books are valuable and we don’t want you messing them up,” Melissa replied flatly. Julio blushed, embarrassed by his own outburst. “It’s the vault that’s dangerous. Do not go down there on your own. Not if you don’t want to lose a leg.”
Julio suddenly wished he could just leave. This place with its dangers and weird students was getting to be too much for him. He knew he couldn’t, though. Not yet.
“Hey, what’s that?” Amanda asked, pointing to one particular display case.
“Oh! Here, come check this out,” Melissa beckoned them.
This case was near the back of the common room. Behind very thick glass, looking like it was suspended in the air, was a single purple page. It looked incredibly old. Almost ancient. There was silver text and bright illustrations on the page in a language Julio couldn’t identify. The pictures he could suss out, though. They appeared to be crudely drawn people in funny clothes kneeling before a glowing… object. He couldn’t tell what it was, but everyone in the drawing seemed to adore it and fear it in equal measure.
“This here is the Tildi Club’s reason for being,” Melissa said proudly. “Caroline Tildi acquired and restored this piece herself. Can anyone tell me what this is? Anyone?”
“That’s the Codex Transitore,” Amanda said, wide-eyed.
“Precisely,” Melissa clapped. “And can you tell me the importance of the Codex?”
“Ha ha! How much time do you have?” Amanda chortled. “This is one of the most important documents ever recovered from the last Technic Age. It’s a translation of an older text on the rediscovery of the transistor by Arlo the Saint.”
“Yes! Yes, very good, Miss Campion. Oh, you’re a natural for Club Tildi. I can see why the Selector put you here,” Melissa said, clapping again. “Yes, the Codex Transitore is the basis for our current Technic Age, without which we might still be working out the basics of the vacuum tube. Arlo’s teachings stem from his study of the artifact there in the middle,” she said, pointing to the glowing object the people in the illustration were cowering from.
“This is incredible. Is there more?” Amanda asked.
“Much of the original work has been lost, unfortunately. There are only a few other pages of the original codex left in the world,” said Melissa.
“Or until more are discovered,” Amanda said under her breath. Julio caught the tone in her voice. Something… menacing? No. Ambitious. That was weird.
“Feel free to explore the clubhouse. Classes start tomorrow so don’t stay up too late, kiddos!” Melissa said waving them off. “And remember what I said about the crumbum!”
“Don’t acknowledge it or we lose our assholes,” the first years parroted.
“Hold the fuck on, what was that last part?” Julio asked.
“And break!” Melissa said, slamming the door to the Club President’s office.
“God damn it. Why am I here?” Julio griped.
“Why are you here?” Zach asked, munching on a smuggled turkey leg.
“Huh? Oh. Because I got a letter,” Julio replied.
“So? It doesn’t mean you have to show up,” Zach said.
“Yeah. My cousin got five of those letters. He never came here,” Zach said, face full of turkey.
“Right. Well, whatever. It’s not like staying home would have been any better,” Julio said, looking at the floor. Zach arched an eyebrow, but decided not to prod.
The rest of the day went by uneventfully. Only one first year was hospitalized (accident) and a manic third year ran screaming from the library, ranting about things man was not meant to know. A slow day for the Potter School, apparently. The first years’ luggage had been brought to the dorms and thrown about in a heap so they had to spend some time figuring out whose bag was whose and what the sleeping arrangements were going to be. Some of them fought for a bed with a window view, but Julio didn’t care, opting for whatever bed was left.
That night, after everyone had fallen asleep, Julio found himself lying on his back, still awake. He tried to calm his mind, but it was no use. There were unfamiliar people all around him, their shells lighting up as their astral forms flew to the world of dreams. Unfamiliar noises alerted him every single second that he was not in his home. Snores. Beds creaking. Walls settling. Farts. Lots of farts. Coughs. Moaning. Sleep talking. Sheets being pulled up and tossed off.
He closed his eyes, let his mind expand. The clubhouse was big. So big. Looming. Oppressive. He pushed past it. Further and further. The grounds were wet and cold and prickly. Prickly? Yes. Prickly. The air was thin and chilly. No, push further, he told himself. The buildings were solid and old and full of ghosts. And people too. Further. Cement and cobblestone paths wound around the campus. Unyielding. Unchanging. But that wasn’t true either. Change was everywhere. No matter what the faculty did to this place, it was constantly changing. Decaying. Growing. Glass cracked. Stone chipped. Wood rotted. Further. Push further!
Then, an abrupt stop at the edge of campus. There was something there. A presence. What was that? Julio focused on the feeling at the border between school and Everything. It hurt to look. Like sand in the eyes. It didn’t want to be seen. But that made Julio want to look at it more. Now it was glass in the eyes. Bleeding cuts dipped in acid. But it was there, just beyond the veil. Hidden but not hiding. It wasn’t trying to hurt him. Its very existence was pain. Needles pushing deeper and deeper into the skin. Cold and dull and burning and sharp and jagged and edged and pulsing and throbbing and breaking and shattering and bright and dark. And… and…
Julio couldn’t take anymore. His mind snapped back to its normal dimensions. He fought to catch his breath. That… whatever that was… it was everywhere. Surrounding the school like a dome of pain. This was bullshit. This whole place was bullshit! He decided to go for a midnight stroll to clear his head.
Using his best sneaking steps, he moved silently from the boys’ dorm to the hall separating the dorms from the rest of the clubhouse. When he got to the end of the hall, he caught a flash of light down the stairs. A flashlight. Someone else was up. He crept down the stairs, looking over his shoulder the whole way.
The other insomniac was in the lobby, turning their flashlight this way and that. Julio strolled over to them.
“Hey,” he said. The figure jumped in her skin.
“Jesuz Cristo! What the hell?”
It was Amanda.
“Isn’t that… I thought that was your name?”
“Oh. Well yeah.”
“Couldn’t sleep either, huh?” Julio asked.
“Yeah. That’s why I’m awake. I, um, I wanted to go to the roof and look at the stars. I think stars are magical,” she said, clasping her hands together and wiggling her whole body.
“Yeah! You know, some star-gazing. I do it every night. It helps me remember how small we all are and how important life is… or something.”
“If you were going to the roof, why are you down here in the lobby?” Julio asked.
Her shells were slipping. Julio shook his head. Slipping? How was that possible? It was like someone had plastered a poster on top of themselves and the corners were peeling off. Julio ‘reached’ out and grabbed a corner with his mind. Then, with a firm tug, he pulled Amanda off. Someone else entirely appeared.
“Mandy?” Julio asked.
“What the? What did you do? What the fuck did you do?” ‘Amanda’ demanded.
“Who the hell’s Mandy? Who the hell are you?” Julio asked, backing away.
“Give me that! That’s mine!” ‘Amanda’ growled.
“No way, faker! You’ve got some explaining to do,” Julio said, keeping the fake Amanda shells away from her.
“The hell I do. Gimme!”
‘Amanda’ grabbed at Julio but he kept her probing mind tendrils at bay. Finally, ‘Amanda’ had had enough. She put two fingers on her forehead and reached out with her other hand. Julio didn’t know what she was doing. Then he felt it, in every part of his body.
“Wha? Hey, what is this?” Julio asked. He couldn’t move at all.
“I’ve got you now. Release my disguise,” ‘Amanda’ said.
“What even is this?” Julio asked.
“It’s a psychic cloak now hand it over.”
Julio begrudgingly released the cloak and it floated over to her. It wrapped around her and Amanda was herself again.
“Cool beans!” Amanda said with a wink.
“Your real name’s Mandy? Your disguise is Amanda and your real name’s Mandy?” Julio asked, still unable to move.
“Shut up, kid. It helps sell the act.”
“Because the more similar the cloak is to the real me, the more it lines up with my design. If I had the cloak of an old Black man named George, people would notice right away.”
“Oh, so it’s like a fake I.D.,” Julio said.
“Yeah! Exactly! Wait, you came up with that way too quickly.”
“Okay, judgey much?”
“What are you even doing down here? You spying on me? You after my score?”
“No. I just couldn’t sleep. Then I saw your flashlight down here and I went to see who else was up. That’s all.”
“Can you let me go? This is uncomfortable,” Julio said.
“Can’t do that.”
“I won’t tell anyone you were snooping around. I really don’t care why you’re here,” Julio said. Amanda knew he was telling the truth. Besides, it wasn’t like she could just kill a kid right here in the middle of the Tildi Clubhouse. She sighed.
She released him from her grip and he fell.
“Ow. You could warn a person.”
“Would you shut up, kid? God, don’t make me regret not killing you.”
“Why do you keep calling me kid?”
“Cuz I’m older than you.”
“How much older?”
“Enough to call you a kid.”
“So you’re just another Larry, huh?”
“No! I’m not a perv and I’m not old, just older than you. I only look younger.”
“So… so you’re not all perky and quirky and weird?”
“That was all just an act?”
“No. I’m not that good an actor. It’s the cloak. It’s basically an artificial shell I wear over my real one.”
“Really? That’s a thing?”
“Mmm hmm. You bet.”
“Salvador would have seen right through an imbuement, just like with that Larry guy. So I had to try something he’d never seen before. And it worked. Here I am. I even managed to fool the Selector. Believe me, I wasn’t prepared for that fucking thing, but the cloak worked on it too. Lucky me. Now I have free rein of this place and why the fuck am I telling you all this? Jesuz Cristo, this Amanda girl never stops talking.”
“Cool. Guess I’ll just, you know, head back to bed.”
“And if you breath a word of this to anyone, you die. Got it?”
“Okay, you know what? Threaten me again and I’ll fucking blow you up,” Julio sneered, powering up his fist with a searing white energy.
“You think you can, punk?” Amanda said, powering up her hands with an ethereal pulsing blue energy.
They heard the fridge door close in the kitchen. They turned to see Zach carrying armfuls of food back to his bed.
“Can you guys keep it down?” he yawned. “Everyone can, like, hear you two.”