Che startled awake at the sound of Tyson’s voice, his heart pounding in his chest.
“What is it?” he asked, sitting up and trying to orient himself. It was still dark outside, and he had no idea what time it was.
“I thought you’d be up soon,” Tyson was already dressed in his uniform, his hair still damp from a shower. “I didn’t want to wake you up. Didn’t know if you hated that as much as I do, but uh…we already missed breakfast, and class starts in ten minutes.”
“What?” Che yelped, jumping out of bed. He scrambled to get dressed as fast as he could, his mind racing. This was not how he wanted to start his first day at the academy.
“Normally I’d wait for you,” Tyson said, already heading for the door, “but I don’t want to be late on the first day. I’ll see you in class.”
“Yeah, sure,” Che said, still feeling disoriented. He threw open his drawer, grabbing his uniform and whatever toiletries he could find before darting out of the room.
As he stumbled into the hallway, he had no idea where he was going, but he luckily found the showers on the first try. Inside, he quickly cleaned up and got dressed as his mind flooded with memories of performing the exact same ritual in college. He always got up as early as possible to be the first one in before it got crowded and disgusting. He chuckled as the water from the shower head cascaded over his body. It all felt like a lifetime ago now.
Once he was finished and certain he looked presentable, he deposited his old clothes back into the dorm room, grabbed his brochure and bag, and took off down the hallway. Once he stepped out of the elevator onto the first floor, he looked at the clock. Three minutes left. He felt a shiver run down his spine. He’d never quite cut it this close!
He burst through the doors just as a maglev train was sinking into the ground in front of him. Perfect! Maybe he’d make it in time. He stepped onto the platform and braced himself as it whirled to life, zooming him towards Legaros Tower. Once he stepped off, he checked a nearby clock outside of the lobby. One minute left.
He took a deep breath and rushed inside, taking care not to break out into a run and be disruptive, as he made his way towards the elevator. Once he was inside, he began to mentally check off items in his head as he reached for the numbered console. Battle Skills was his first class of the day per his brochure. Since he was currently cosplaying as a seventeen-year-old, that meant his classes would be on the top floor. He pressed the number twelve, and the doors quietly slid shut before he was propelled upward.
When the elevator dinged once more, he stepped off and began to search for his classroom. Taking out his itinerary, he noted Battle Skills was in room F102. The hallway he was standing in resembled the office space of the many tech startups he’d interviewed at on Earth. The classroom walls didn’t touch the ceiling and were made of glass, though they were mostly covered with artwork and old posterboard presentations. The floor was made of tile that sported a sporadic, multi-colored design, while the turquoise-colored steel beams crisscrossed overhead, serving as a barrier between the tops of the classrooms and the eggshell-flavored vaulted ceiling.
The room right in front of him was F101, and he could see students already seated as an older man walked up to the glass door and closed it shut. He looked to the right of this room and found an identical door with a sign that read F102. The door wasn’t open.
Che’s entire body shook with dread as he slowly made his way over, feeling as though he was walking into his execution. He hesitantly raised his hand and knocked on the door, his eyes drifting down to the multicolored tile as if it would somehow spare him.
“Come in!” a voice called from the other side. Che took a deep breath and pushed open the door, stepping into a room that felt both open-ended and entirely too small. He gasped at the sight of Professor Avis, whose arms were crossed as her eyes drilled into him. Great. He had somehow managed to not only have her as his homeroom teacher but also show up late to her class on the first day? He wanted to turn and leave before remembering his mission. He looked around, noticing the rows of desks, a chalkboard at the front of the room, and a teacher’s desk situated off to the side. At first glance, every seat seemed to be full.
“So nice of you to join us,” Professor Avis said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “I’m assuming you’re here for Battle Skills?”
Che nodded sheepishly. “Um, yes. I’m sorry I’m late.”
“It won’t happen again,” she decided for him, her voice now laced with ice. “I can assure you. Now, please take a seat.”
Che scanned the room for an empty desk and found one in the back row. He made his way over to it and sat down, feeling the eyes of his classmates on him. He tried to give a few of them a friendly smile, but most of them just averted their gaze. He heard an exasperated sigh and turned to see Nikki, who was facing away from him, probably annoyed he’d managed to once again draw attention to himself. He felt someone nudge him on the shoulder and looked over to see Tyson grinning at him.
“Not a great start, huh?” Tyson winked.
Che let out a laugh. “Yeah, you could say that.”
“I’m not sure how they do things where the two of you are from,” Professor Avis had her back to the class as she drew on the chalkboard, though she was clearly addressing Che and his roommate, “but class has started.”
Che did all he could not wince as she turned around to face them. He’d had instructors like her before, strict and able to suck all of the heat out of any room they stood in. He took a moment to scan the classroom, and his eyes fell on a boy with long, wavy hair, his expression, even from Che’s vantage point, aloof and sour. It seemed Mr. Angst also had this class.
“Welcome to course BTTS 170. I’m Professor Avis. You are all here because you wish to compete in the ToKyotchi tournament this year. This course is designed to provide you with the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully compete, and it is also the most important class you’ll take here. Which means your attendance is critical.”
Che felt his stomach sink as Professor Avis scanned the room, making eye contact with every student. Her eyes landed on him, and he felt his heart stop. “I didn’t get your name just now. Mister…”
“Uh-Rowan!” Che blurted out, his volume much louder than he intended. He heard a series of stifled giggles and felt his face flush.
“Mister Rowan,” Professor Avis said, her eyes still boring into him. “Can you tell me what your first advantage in battle is?”
Che instinctively grabbed his arm, gently squeezing it to feel for goosebumps. It was his first day of freshman year at Douglas Parks University all over again. He’d been late that day too, walking in just after class had started. Dr. Hara hadn’t been as attentive as Professor Avis was now. She was an exceptionally tall and modestly-dressed woman who always had a funereal disposition, as if she constantly woke up to a new tragedy. She’d barely noticed he’d sat down, letting out an exasperated sigh as she turned to face her students, her classroom at full capacity.
“Let’s get one thing settled right now,” her eyes had narrowed nearly into slits. “Most of you won’t make it past this class. You’ll realize you stand no chance of making it into the NFL, grow bored with playing football against other colleges in sundown towns, and end up joining the military. I won’t pretend as if I’m interested in cultivating any of you.”
She then looked down at Che, her crooked nose scrunching up in amusement.
“But you…” she scoffed. “You won’t make it anywhere at the rate you’re going. No sports scholarship. Not involved in the arts. Haven’t decided on a major. I don’t see why you crawled out of your hole in the first place.”
Che had felt the lump in his throat as his stomach lit on fire. He’d wanted to shout, to leap up from his seat and storm out of the classroom. He could hear the other students snickering, could see them ducking their heads, thankful they weren’t the subject of Dr. Hara’s wrath. But he’d stayed in his seat, willing his eyes to stop filling up with tears so he wouldn’t have to bring his hand up to his face.
Professor Avis stared at him expectantly, and he realized he’d yet to answer the question.
“I would say it’s your Type,” Che felt a chill run down his spine as his own words brought him out of the daydream.
Professor Avis paused, her eyes narrowing just like Dr. Hara’s had. “That’s correct.”
Che relaxed his shoulders, thinking she’d move on to the next student, but she remained fixated on him, never budging from her spot. “And what would you do if you didn’t know your opponent’s Type?”
Che took a deep breath before answering. “I would try to find out as much as I could about them.”
“And how would you do that?”
“I would…watch them, I guess.”
“Watch them?” Professor Avis scoffed. “Watch them as they beat you to a pulp? That’s your strategy? What good would that do you?”
The classroom erupted with laughter, and Che felt his face flush again. He could feel the anger swelling up inside of him, but he tried to push it down. He could feel his shoulders tense up, so he slowed down his breathing. She’d be done soon. It would be all right.
“Have you ever won a fight before, Mr. Rowan?”
Che’s stomach dropped, and he shook his head.
“I didn’t think so,” Professor Avis crossed her arms and stuck out her chin, pleased with whatever assessment he’d helped her complete. “Yet here you are, at Legaros Academy, preparing to enter the biggest fighting tournament in the world. To be quite honest, I’m not sure why you’re here.”
The laughter had been reduced to a few scattered snickers by the time Professor Avis began walking towards Che. As she moved closer to him, he could see small yellow orbs blinking in and out of sight. As she passed a few students, he saw their hair stand straight up before falling back down as she passed. The closer she got, Che could feel the air vibrating, almost humming with energy.
“Tell me,” she said. “Do you think you’d have an advantage over me, a Surge Type?”
Yellow energy began crackling around her body, and several nearby students leaped up from their desks and began moving away from her. Che could see Tyson in his peripheral and noticed he hadn’t moved a single inch, his eyes focused on Professor Avis. Che tried to steady his breathing as much as he could. If he held out just a little longer, she’d get bored and go find someone else. He wouldn’t have to reach up and wipe his eyes dry, and no one would be able to see he was upset.
“No,” he whispered, and the energy surrounding Professor Avis vanished instantly as a confident, satisfied smirk came across her face.
“Correct,” she turned and made her way back to the front of the classroom, and the students all returned to their desks. “And as a reminder, students, you are not to use your abilities while in class –“
“But since I’m a Brawl Type, you wouldn’t have an advantage over me either.”
Che’s eyes widened as the words escaped his mouth, and he realized his fists were clenched so tightly his knuckles felt like they were burning. Professor Avis slowly turned back to face him, her expression unreadable, and the sight of her made every muscle in Che’s body tense. He felt like he was holding onto a live wire, ready to explode at any moment. Professor Avis hesitated as if waiting for a challenge Che was all too willing to give her. Yet, before he could say anything else, his vision began to blur. He started relaxing his shoulders again, refusing to break eye contact with her, before taking as deep a breath as he could while folding his arms in front of him on his desk.
Professor Avis’ expression softened, becoming a mixture of understanding and pity, as she turned to face the chalkboard once more.
“Very good, Mr. Rowan.”