Sun's Joy: Academy of Despair

Sixteen students carrying the world's hopes on their shoulders suddenly find themselves in the academy of their dreams. But this hope soon turns to despair as they find there is no way out. Well, unless you count what the strange black and white teddy bear said. But really, who would actually go as far as to kill another? Surely there must be another way out.

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3. Budding Friendships

Charlie walked down the hallway, her ElectroID in hand. The skylight above her was allowing sunlight down, lighting up her mousy brown hair. She could feel it on her head, and forced herself to feel less self-conscious. This morning, she had tried to select a decent outfit for today, but now she wasn't sure if it was really that good. The outfit in question consisted of a light green summer dress under an open white cardigan with white tights and black pumps. It was subtle, and didn't really draw attention to her, but Charlie was also worried she was making an understatement. The awkward crippling shyness of the past was supposed to have been buried, but after seeing the sign in the hall that there were two days until the welcoming ceremony, Charlie left before anyone could even talk to her.

 

And now, she was trying to find her dorm room, whilst trying to ignore the burning shame inside her. She was better than that. She should have been better than that. For crying out loud, she was the ETL Gardener! In no way was she the same girl she was before now: Sun's Joy was meant to be a whole new start. Yet even now, as these thoughts bounced through Charlie's head, she did not look back towards the hall. She couldn't bear to face her fellow students. From searching the forum boards online Charlie had seen the types of ETLs here, all of which proceeded to make her own talent seem worthless. Really, how could she compete with the likes of a computer hacker or an abstract artist? She couldn't.

 

A sigh escaped from Charlie's lips. In no was was this how she was expecting to spend her first day in the most esteemed of academies. When the helicopter first landed, Charlie's initial thought was that she'd be thrown into classes the moment she arrived, and wouldn't have time to worry about her social shortcomings. But after finding the notice that they had a two day period to become familiar with the campus, Charlie had even thought that she could perhaps try and befriend someone. And then the other ETLs began to arrive, thoroughly intimidating her. So she had left the hall without talking to a single soul. Very few actually noticed her there anyway.

 

The narrow hallway suddenly opened up, and Charlie looked around to see doors lining the walls. She walked over to the one closest to her right, and inspected it. It was a light cream colour, blending in with the wall. In the middle of the door was a sign with a blown up pixel image of someone. Beneath it there was a caption that read 'NAOMI FENNE: ETL SKATER'. Charlie looked closer at the image, but in no way could see any resemblance to the hyper bubbly girl down in the hall. However, at least this meant that she had found the dorm rooms. The only thing that bothered Charlie about this whole set-up was that the boys and girls had their rooms next to each other. But at the very least, everyone had their own room, so there was not going to be any room sharing, which was only good news to Charlie. She no longer had to worry about having to share her living space with a stranger that would most likely end up giving her a panic attack by merely engaging in conversation with her.

 

But anyway, this room did not happen to be Charlie's, and she quickly turned away from the door, continuing down the hallway. Luckily, she soon found her room: the fourth door on the left. She walked up to it, and saw another blown up pixel image. This time, it was of herself. She looked at the caption which read 'CHARLOTTE GRATH: ETL GARDENER' and sighed. Of course they had to use her embarrassing full name. Charlie was certain that once the semester actually began she'd speak to someone about changing the sign on her door; she hated being called Charlotte. Mostly it was because it stemmed from being the name exclusively used by her overbearing mother when scolding her during her childhood, and memories of being the new kid in school, when the teacher would read out Charlie's full name. And of course, Charlie did not bother to correct most of her old teachers on this as she found the feat of speaking to them nigh-impossible. And here she was supposed to escape all that.

 

Charlie grabbed the door handle, and pulled on it. The door did not budge. She stepped back from the door, and saw a small rectangular slot underneath the handle. It read 'Place ElectroID here'. Of course; how did Charlie forget that the ElectroID was the key to her room? Ignoring the feeling of embarrassment, Charlie placed the ElectroID in the slot.

 

Bleep-bleep!

 

The sound of a lock being turned reached Charlie's ears once the bleeping had stopped. She took her ElectroID out of the slot, and gripped the door handle, pushing the door open. Charlie quickly stepped inside her room, closing the door behind her.

 

Charlie's room consisted of a bed against the wall to her right made with white bedsheets, a desk and a closet to her left, a large window in front of her that offered a view of the palm trees outside, and several plants on the windowsill. She walked towards the window, and found another door next to the closet. It was half-open, and Charlie quickly opened it all the way, taking in the contents. It was the bathroom. In no way was it some sort of luxury suite, but it was pretty good. There was a sink and mirror on one side of the room, a toilet against the far wall, and a shower on the other side. It was also pretty spacious compared to what Charlie was used to. But she didn't have any real need to be in here, so she quickly stepped out, and returned to her main room.

 

Upon returning to the room, Charlie quickly noticed something on her bed: several suitcases. She breathed a sigh of relief: they had kept to their word, and had delivered her luggage in advance. Charlie walked over to the bed, and grabbed a small, pink suitcase, opening it up. Inside was her laptop, along with the charger and a few books. Charlie grabbed the laptop and charger, and carried them across the room onto the desk. She found a plug socket beside the desk, and plugged the charger in, attaching it to her laptop. She then sat down on the chair in front of the desk and opened up her laptop, turning it on. It took a few seconds, but the computer soon booted up.

 

Charlie wasted no time in opening the internet browser; she had to check up on her gardening blog. She wasn't the most internet-savvy girl, but she was still good enough to post several extensive online tutorials for people to follow. And it had been successful; Charlie had nearly two million subscribers to her blog, which had in turn partly secured her place at Sun's Joy. However, as these thoughts rushed through Charlie's head, she looked at the screen to see something: there was no internet signal.

 

A cold chill of anxiety ran through Charlie. The internet was like a lifeline for her; her world revolved around it. And to not have it was to cut Charlie off from everything she was comfortable with. She hit the refresh button, hoping to get somewhere, but the page continued to display an error message. But as this showed, Charlie noticed a pop-up on her menu bar: it was alerting her to how she was not connected to a network. Perhaps that was it: all Charlie would have to do would be to connect to the academy's Wi-Fi and her problems would be solved. She clicked on the button, and was directed to a list of available networks. Currently, there was only one, with the cryptic name of 'MONOKUMA_NET01'. It had to be the academy's network, though, despite the odd name. Charlie clicked on it, but another message came up: it was password protected.

 

Charlie let out a sigh, and sunk her head into her arms. This was just perfect; she was without the internet. She closed the laptop, since there was no reason to keep it open. Perhaps she could find someone and ask them to help her with setting up the network, but that was assuming that there were people other than the students on campus, which didn't seem to be the case.

 

However, before Charlie could worry about the issue any further, the sound of someone knocking on her door caught her attention. A rush of anxiety washed over her as the knocking continued. Part of her willed for whoever was on the other side of the door to just go away and leave her alone, but another part of Charlie recognised that this was a prime opportunity to try and make some friends. They wouldn't know about her anxieties. She could start over. She could leave her timid life behind. This was the decision that Charlie made as she walked across her room to the door, opening it.

Hi!” Charlie looked to see two people standing in front of the door. The first was a stocky girl with frizzy brown hair that fell to her shoulders. A light pink baseball cap rested on her head, and she wore a white tank top, a pair of jeans, and boots.

Hello,” Charlie said. “Who are you?” Inwardly she wanted to curl up for such an awful first impression, but she still stood tall.

I'm Nina,” the girl responded. “ETL Video Game Designer.” She smiled widely at Charlie. “And may I ask the same question?”

Okay,” Charlie said. “I'm Charlie, and I'm the ETL Gardener.” Nina immediately took Charlie's hand, shaking it.

Nice to meet you, Charlie!” Nina said. “I'm just sort of making the rounds through the dorm rooms to meet my fellow ETLs.”

That's a great idea,” Charlie said.

Glad you think so,” Nina said with a smile. “You see, you're actually the first person I've spoken to since coming up with this plan, so your approval means the world to me!”

And who's that with you?” Charlie asked. She pointed to the other figure.

Oh, I'm Joel,” he said. “ETL Lifeguard, at your service.” Joel was a tall boy with sandy hair. He had alert brown eyes, and wore a grey tank top underneath an unbuttoned sky blue shirt, a pair of board shorts, and flip-flops. He extended his hand. Charlie took it, shaking it gently. His grip was firm, she noted.

A pleasure to meet the both of you,” she said.

Same,” Joel replied.

Joel here's a pretty cool guy,” Nina said. “I'm sure you remember that freak whirlpool off the west coast a few months back?”

Oh yea,” Charlie said. “That was all over the news, wasn't it?”

Well,” Nina said. “Out of the eighty survivors, Joel saved seventy five of them.”

Charlie's eyes widened. “Really?”

Come on, Nina,” Joel said. “It's no big deal.”

He's a little too modest for his own good,” Nina said. She laughed at her own statement.

Really, Nina's just dragging me along for her tour of the campus,” Joel explained. “I heard there was a pool, and just want to find it really.”

I imagine that the pool here will be excellent,” Nina said. “I mean, the IT room? To die for!”

So it has the right stuff for your work?” Joel said.

Yep,” Nina replied. “Every program I need is there.”

Program?” Charlie asked.

Oh yeah!” Nina said. “I never did explain why I earned my ETL title!”

She's responsible for creating a whole plethora of video games,” Joel said. “Her current fame comes from the reality simulation game Carefree Starlight.”

What's that?” Charlie asked.

Let me explain!” Nina stated proudly. “Carefree Starlight is a game in which you create your own character and explore the world around you. And depending on the choices you make and the people you talk to, the game can go in hundreds of different directions, from romance to sci-fi!”

Wow,” Charlie said. “That sounds amazing.”

In fact,” Nina said. She reached into her pocket, pulling out what appeared to be a Nintendo 3DS. “I have the 3DS version with me her!” Nina handed Charlie the console. “Have it!”

Really?” Charlie said. “I mean, these things are awfully expensive...”

Consider it a friendship token,” Nina said with a smile.

Well, thank you,” Charlie said. She placed the console in her cardigan pocket.

Anyway, enough of that,” Nina said. “Let's get exploring the campus!”

 

Charlie followed Nina and Joel as they walked down the dorm hallway. At the end of the hall was an elevator, which Charlie had used to get up to this floor in the first place. Nina pressed the button on the wall, and the silver door slid open, allowing for the trio to step inside. Once they were all in, Nina selected the button that said 'GROUND FLOOR'.

 

The elevator began to smoothly descend, a soft hum sounding from somewhere. Charlie looked up at the roof of the small space, and saw a security camera. It made sense, considering that this was such an esteemed academy, but the thought of potentially being watched made Charlie uncomfortable. She looked away, and to the elevator door. As it opened, Charlie saw someone standing on the other side, appearing to be waiting patiently for the elevator.

 

Oh, hello,” Charlie said as the three of them stepped out.

Hi,” the other person said. “Who are you three?”

I'm Charlie: ETL Gardener,” she said.

I'm Nina: ETL Video Game Designer,” Nina added. She motioned to Joel. “He's Joel: the ETL Lifeguard.”

I'm Ella,” she said. “ETL Sound Engineer.” Ella was a petite girl with tanned skin. She had black hair done in a pixie cut, and wore a mocha t-shirt with the words Turn the Music Up, Tune the World Out written on it in a striking black font. The rest of her outfit consisted of a pair of knee-length beige shorts, and a pair of high black boots. “And if you don't mind me asking, does this elevator go up to the dorm rooms?”

Yes,” Nina said.

Oh, good,” Ella said. “My ElectroID says it does, but I was just double checking.”

Hey, wait a sec,” Joel said. “Haven't I seen you somewhere?”

What do you mean?” Ella asked.

I swear you were in some Hollywood interview a while back,” Joel said.

Oh yeah,” Ella said. “I'm the leading composer for the blockbuster success Poisoned Rainbow. Did the interview talk about releasing the tracks on iTunes before the movie actually came out?”

Sounds about right,” Joel said.

It should do,” Ella replied. She smiled knowingly. “Literally five minutes after that interview I received my acceptance letter for Sun's Joy. I remember that day in great detail.”

That's awesome!” Nina said. “In fact, I think I know what we should watch if we were to ever do an ETL Movie Night.”

Ella couldn't help but smile. “Of course, I'd advise watching it for more than just the soundtrack. The story's unlike anything I've seen before, and I have to tip my hat to the main actor for his stunning performance. To be honest I'm incredibly surprised that he didn't make it here as the ETL Actor.”

Is he our age?” Charlie asked.

Yes,” Ella said. “His birthday is precisely a month before mine, actually.”

When's that?” Nina asked.

June fifth,” Ella replied. “Why?”

Just curious,” Nina said with a shrug. “And also I now know when to begin preparing for a surprise birthday party for you.” She laughed loudly.

I'm not really the party type,” Ella said.

Me neither,” Nina replied. “I'm actually more inclined to become so engrossed in working on a game that I can end up forgetting everything. I even ended up missing my fifteenth birthday because I was too busy working on a Pokémon fan-game.”

Wow,” Ella said. “I've never done something like that.”

I guess I just get too passionate about what I do,” Nina said. “Not that it's a bad thing.”

Yeah,” Ella said. She looked down at her wristwatch. “Anyway, I don't want to sound rude, but it's already past noon and I still haven't checked out my room.” She smiled bashfully. “Mostly I just want to make sure all my stuff has been sent over okay.”

All right then,” Nina said. She smiled as Ella walked into the elevator. “See you around!”

You too,” Ella said. And then the elevator shut and she was gone.

She seemed nice,” Nina said to Joel and Charlie.

Yeah,” Joel said. “I still can't believe we're surrounded by such talented people.”

Uh, Joel,” Nina said. She nudged his shoulder. “You're an ETL as well.”

Yeah,” Joel said. “But these people are like celebrities.”

It gets better, you know,” Nina said. “According to the forums, we have people like best-selling authors, artists, and even fashion designers attending. Prepare to be starstruck.”

Joel laughed. “Sorry. Before now I came from a small coastal town. I'm not used to this sort of lifestyle.”

Get used to it quickly,” Nina said. “You're part of it.”

Um, guys,” Charlie said. “Where are we heading first?”

Oh yeah!” Nina said. “Well, I came in from the southern entrance, so you want to explore the northern side of the campus?”

Okay then,” Charlie said. “I think the exit's at the end of this hallway.”

Yeah,” Joel said. “I remember since I came in from that way. I didn't really check anything out though.”

All right then,” Nina said. “Let's go see what's in store!”

 

As Nina led the way, Charlie pulled out her ElectroID. She opened up the menu, and selected the option titled 'Available Facilities'. She began to read through them as they walked through the large double doors that led to the northern section of the campus.

 

Sun's Joy Academy – Facilities.

 

At Sun's Joy we pride ourselves in providing facilities to accommodate students of every Enhanced Talent Level. The campus will always be expanding every year to provide even more for the next class of Enhanced Talent Levels.

 

For the first year, these are the current available facilities.

 

NORTHERN HALF:

Skate Park

Film Studio

Race Track

Dance Hall

 

CENTRAL BUILDING:

Wood Workshop

IT Room

Courtroom

Art Studio

 

SOUTHERN HALF:

Swimming Pool

Library

Garden

Textile Building

 

In addition to this, there are several smaller study buildings for students to utilise as quiet areas of private study, or to host extracurricular activities.

 

Charlie looked through all of this with a sense of awe. This place sure had been ready for their arrival. She looked ahead to Nina and Joel who were walking down the path. There was a large fountain in the middle of the path, shining in the afternoon sunlight. The two had stopped in front of the fountain, admiring.

Hey, guys,” Charlie said, running up to them.

Yeah?” Nina said. She and Joel were sat on the edge of the fountain.

I checked the ElectroID,” Charlie said. “According to this, there's a skate park, race track, dance hall, and film studio on the northern side of the campus.”

Really?” Nina said. Her eyes lit up. “That's awesome!”

This place really caters to us, huh?” Joel said. He trailed a hand in the water of the fountain, getting his shirtsleeve wet in the process. He soon took his hand out, and rolled the sleeves up.

Yeah,” Charlie said. “I can't wait to see the garden on the southern side myself.”

So where to first?” Joel asked Nina, who seemed to be acting as the leader for the group.

Hmm...” Nina said. “How about the dance hall?”
“Fine by me,” Joel said. “You okay with this Charlie?”

Yes, I'm okay with it,” Charlie replied.

That's great!” Nina said. She hopped off the fountain, and began to walk along the path. “Let's go!”

 

The three of them continued to walk down the path, heading away from the main building. A light summer breeze blew in the air, carrying the scent of the ocean with it. At times it felt more like a vacation resort than a school. But, Charlie supposed, that was part of the charm.

 

They soon found the dance hall in the north-west edge of the campus. It was a large building made up of classical brickwork. Several windows reflected the sunlight, and a large pair of double doors made up the entrance. As they drew closer, the sound of pounding pop music reached their ears. Charlie idly noted that it was the current chart-topper.

I love this song!” Nina said. “Fun fact by the way: the boss battle theme in this RPG I'm working on is actually based on this!”

You create the soundtracks as well?” Joel asked, astounded.

Well, yeah,” Nina scoffed. “I'm a one-woman video game team. The best in the world.”

You certainly are,” Charlie said.

But enough about me,” Nina said. She pushed open the double doors. “Let's go find the source of this music!”

 

The doors led to a small hallway lined with lockers and benches. All of the lockers were open, except for one, and a backpack was laying on the ground in front of it. Charlie noticed that there was a Hello Kitty print on it. At the end of the hallway was a wooden door.

Whoever owns that bag's probably in there,” Joel said.

Should we go in?” Charlie asked.

Sure,” Nina said. “I guess if we're interrupting then we'll just leave and head back some other time.”

Yeah,” Joel said as Nina walked past him. She pushed open the door, and she stepped through. Joel followed suit, and Charlie made up the rear end. Once she was inside, Charlie's jaw dropped in awe. The dance hall itself was larger than the gym in the main building, with a large stage at the far side. There was an open wooden floor, and the walls were lined with bars and mirrors. But none of this was what she was noticing: Charlie was transfixed by the figure on the stage.

 

All three of them watched in awe as the figure performed perfect ballet moves to the pounding. The contrast was striking and captivating at the same time. The music began to fade out towards the end, and the dancer suddenly performed a perfect pirouette off of the stage, landing gracefully on the ground. The music cut out. Nina began to clap.

Whoo!” she said. “That was amazing!”

Oh,” the dancer said. “I didn't know I had attracted an audience.”

You deserve one,” Joel said. “Those moves were sublime.”

You really think so?” the dancer replied. “It was just an improv routine.”

Wow,” Charlie said. “You wouldn't think that from watching you.”

Thanks guys,” the dancer said. “You're too kind. And may I ask as to the identities of my loving audience?”

Sure,” Nina said. “I'm Nina: ETL Video Game Designer. He's Joel: ETL Lifeguard, and she's Charlie: ETL Gardener.”

Nice to meet you all,” the dancer said. “I'm Chelsea: ETL Ballerina.” Chelsea was a large girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. She was currently wearing a red tank-top with a white skirt along with a pair of pumps. Clearly this was her dance outfit.

I guessed so,” Nina said. “I don't think anyone else can come close to your abilities.”

Chelsea blushed. “You all are too kind,” she said. “I'm not that good, you know? Having all this extra weight doesn't help either.”

What are you talking about?” Nina said. “You're gorgeous, Chelsea, and before you let any negativity seep in, know this: you are an ETL. You are one of only sixteen people in the world with that title. You should be proud of yourself for this achievement.”

Well, thanks,” Chelsea said. “But I'm not too bothered about this: I mean, I've worked my routines all around it.” She suddenly walked past them. “I'll be with you guys in one second: I'm just going to change out of this outfit.”

Okay then,” Nina said. She then turned to Joel and Charlie. “Oh, wow. She dances like no other!”

Someone's a little starstruck,” Joel teased.

Oh shut up,” Nina said. “I just really like her dancing, okay?”

I know,” Charlie said. “I remember seeing her in the international championships last year with that solo rendition of Swan Lake: I didn't know it was possible, but she pulled it off brilliantly.”

That's an ETL for you,” Nina said.

 

The conversation died down naturally for a few moments before Chelsea returned to the dance hall wearing her regular outfit, which consisted of a white shirt under a black hoodie, a pair of black sweatpants, a pair of blue running shoes, and her backpack. She had also put a pale pink headband in as well, and two large golden hoop earrings adorned her ears.

I'm ready,” she said.

You're going to join us?” Nina asked. “That's great!”

So how much of the campus have you explored so far?” Chelsea asked.

We decided on doing a tour of the northern section,” Nina said. “This is our first stop.”

I've seen a little of the southern section,” Chelsea said. “But I had to leave before the ETL Reporter roped me into a follow-up interview.”

What?” Charlie asked.

You haven't seen him yet?” Chelsea said. “He's trying to make some kind of documentary of our time here, which consists of interviewing every last ETL. His goal is to interview us all at least once before the introductory period is over.”

He sure sounds devoted,” Nina said. “And that sounds pretty interesting as well; I'll be sure to get interviewed when I see him.”

I've already given mine,” Joel said. “He's pretty upbeat and an all-around likeable guy. He's really passionate about this project of his.”

I don't know if I want to be on camera...” Charlie said.

It's not that bad,” Nina said. “You get used to it after a while; I know since there are so many interviews required when you're the leading game designer.”

My shows are also filmed on live television,” Chelsea said. “I've been surrounded by cameras for as long as I can remember.”

I knew you were all practically celebrities,” Joel said, laughing.

And what of it?” Chelsea said. “We're all in this academy together, after all. We should ignore all that celebrity stuff and just see each other as fellow students.”

Yeah,” Joel said.

Anyway,” Nina said. “This has been nice, but we still have our campus tour to do. Where to next?”

Since we're on the northern section,” Chelsea said. “I wouldn't mind seeing the race track.”

Why?” Charlie asked.

One of my hobbies happens to be watching that kind of stuff in my spare time,” Chelsea explained. “I'm actually working on a dance routine that explores the whole concept.”

Really?” Charlie said. “That's amazing.”

And you are the only person that managed to completely cultivate a two-square mile flower garden with no help what-so-ever,” Chelsea countered. “Don't sell yourself short.”

Charlie smiled. “I just don't see myself as that good, really,” she explained. “I mean, all of you have done things like becoming celebrities or life-savers, and all I can do is make plants grow.”

A green thumb is nothing to be sniffed at,” Chelsea said. “Heaven knows I don't even have the patience to grow roses in my own living room!”

Oh,” Charlie said. “That's because you're cutting the plant off from a sufficient air supply, not to mention that if the temperatures of an average house are unregulated, it can be detrimental to the plant's hydration by cutting it off from the natural water vapours, and that if the plant is not close to a windowsill, then it will have to rely on a light bulb, which does not contain enough nutrients to allow it to healthily photosynthesise. The best thing is to either keep the plant on the windowsill outside of the window, or to keep the house well-ventilated with plenty of sunlight.”

Whoa,” Nina said. “Charlie, you really are like a plant genius!”

Yeah,” Chelsea added. “If that isn't ETL material then I don't know what is.”

Thank you,” Charlie said. “But really, that's just basic textbook botanical knowledge. Any old person could learn that.”

But any old person couldn't recite it like their favourite song,” Joel said.

I know,” Charlie said. “I guess maybe I'm not that useless.”

That's the truth right there,” Nina said. “Now, onward to the race track!”

 

Nina led the way once again as they left the dance hall, returning outside. They walked along the path, heading east towards where the racetrack was. They could see it even from just outside of the dance hall: it was a large, dome-like building with a checked flag flying high in the sky in front of it. In fact, Charlie thought that they looked more like Olympic venues than school facilities. Chelsea was staring in awe at the building as well, so absorbed that she didn't notice the person she just walked into.

Hey!” the person said. “You know, you could watch where you're going.”

Oh, sorry!” Chelsea said. “It was an accident!”

It's fine,” the person replied. “Just pay more attention to your surroundings next time, would you?”

Okay then,” Chelsea said. “By the way, since everyone seems to be doing introductions, I suppose we should do it as well. I'm Chelsea: ETL Ballerina.”

All right then,” the person said. “I'm Wyatt: ETL Fashion Designer.” Wyatt was rather thin, and had bleach-blonde hair styled up with gel. He had glasses that could only be described as part of the hipster fashion, and wore a long sleeved pink shirt with white sleeves, a pair of skinny jeans, and a pair of high-top shoes with some elegant pattern etched onto them.

That's cool!” Nina said. “I'm Nina: ETL Video Game Designer.”

I'm Joel,” Joel said. “ETL Lifeguard.”

Charlie,” Charlie said. “ETL Gardener.”

Well, isn't this an interesting menagerie of students?” Wyatt said. “You four don't seem to have anything in common regarding your talents.”

That may be,” Nina said. “But really, friendship is about more than just talents.”

I have to agree with Nina there,” Chelsea said. “We shouldn't let our skills define us.”

That's an interesting way to put it,” Wyatt said. “But anyway, why are you four going around together?”

Exploration,” Nina said. “We were just on our way to the race track.”

Hm,” Wyatt said. “You know, I saw a couple more students also heading over there a little while ago. If you were looking for more people to meet, then they still might be there.”

Really?” Nina said. “That's good to know. And where are you going?”

Me?” Wyatt said. “I'm off to the textile building; I must confess I'm interested in which fabrics they have available.”

Well,” Chelsea said. “If it's anything like the dance hall, you won't be disappointed.”

Really now?” Wyatt said. A faint smile crossed his lips. “I hope you're not wrong there.”

I don't see why they'd give preference to one student over another,” Nina said. “I mean, this place only has sixteen students here at any given time. It can't be that hard to provide equal advantages for everyone, can it?”

You're right,” Wyatt said. “Anyway, I'm off now. I guess I'll see you this evening at dinner?”

Oh yeah!” Nina said. “I forgot about that! But yeah, see you then.” Wyatt gave them all one more smile, before walking past them, heading back towards the main building.

 

Chelsea turned to the others as they also began to walk towards the race track.

It's kind of funny, you know?” she said. “Even though there are only sixteen of us here, it feels like a lot more.”

Tell me about it,” Nina said. “Everyone here's bursting with character. My head's spinning just trying to remember everyone's names!”

Charlie laughed. “I wouldn't worry about that,” she said. “The ElectroIDs have the student roster loaded on them.”

Really?!” Nina said enthusiastically.

Yeah,” Charlie said. “It contains detailed profiles about everyone here.”

Let's see then!” Nina exclaimed.

Okay,” Charlie said. “I'll load mine to show you.” Everyone crowded around Charlie as she switched on her ElectroID, displaying her profile.

 

STUDENT PROFILE

Name: Charlotte Grath

Height: 5ft5

Weight: 124lbs

Blood Type: B

Birthday: August 30

Likes: Summer Breezes

Dislikes: Crowds

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Gardener

 

Whoa,” Nina said. “That's extremely thorough!”

It is,” Charlie said. “I honestly didn't expect them to have researched me this well.”

Whilst we're at it,” Joel said. “Why not look through the profiles of everyone else we've met today?”

Are you sure?” Charlie said. “Surely it would be better to get to know them than to just look them up on some PDA.”

Well,” Nina said. “It's not like yours gave us your life story, so it'll be fine. Not to mention it's pretty cool that we get to find out neat pieces of information like this.”

It kind of feels like we're looking them up as if they're video game characters though...” Charlie said. “But I suppose it won't hurt to satisfy a mild sense of curiosity.” She returned to her ElectroID and booted up the profiles of the other students they had met throughout the day so far.

 

STUDENT PROFILE

Name: Nina Harrison

Height: 5ft10

Weight: 135lbs

Blood Type: O

Birthday: May 26

Likes: Salsa Dip

Dislikes: Slow Internet

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Video Game Designer

 

STUDENT PROFILE
Name: Joel Miller

Height: 6ft1

Weight: 149lbs

Blood Type: B

Birthday: April 29

Likes: Family

Dislikes: Enclosed Spaces

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Lifeguard

 

STUDENT PROFILE

Name: Ella Walker

Height: 5ft3

Weight: 121lbs

Blood Type: A

Birthday: June 5

Likes: Cityscapes

Dislikes: Betrayal

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Sound Engineer

 

STUDENT PROFILE
Name: Chelsea Dennis

Height: 5ft6

Weight: 180lbs

Blood Type: O

Birthday: December 9

Likes: Bubblegum

Dislikes: Horror Movies

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Ballerina

 

STUDENT PROFILE

Name: Wyatt Temple

Height: 5ft8

Weight: 150lbs

Blood Type: B

Birthday: March 11

Likes: Magazines

Dislikes: Overused Internet Memes

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Fashion Designer

 

Satisfied now?” Charlie asked as she switched off her ElectroID.

Yeah,” Nina said. “But whoa: this is actually kind of neat!”

Let's not bring any of this up to anyone out of the blue though,” Chelsea said. “It kind of feels like we're invading their privacy somewhat.”

I guess,” Nina said. “But at least we now have interesting conversation topics for people.”

It'll probably help break the ice,” Joel said. “I guess not everyone's that good at starting conversations.”

I suppose,” Charlie said. “Still, knowing people can see this about me is unnerving.”

Get used to it,” Nina said. “By next summer, I know we'll all be best friends with one another.”

A little optimistic, don't you think?” Chelsea said. “I'm pretty sure that there will be at least one conflict of personality somewhere down the line.”

I know,” Nina said. “But one must hope, after all.”

 

They then began walking again, not really talking to one another until they reached the outside of the race track. Charlie was in awe at the size of it.

Wow,” she said. “It's huge.”

I know,” Joel said. “And judging from what we've seen so far, I can't wait to see the pool.”

It's the garden I'm really looking forward to,” Charlie said.

We'll see that in due time,” Nina said. “But first, let's take a look at the race track!” She delivered a smile to the group, and walked up to the main entrance to the building. But as she did, the door swung open, slamming her in the face. Nina reeled back as two people stepped through the door, their faces plastered with worry as they saw her.

Oh goodness!” one said. “I'm so sorry!”

Are you all right?” the other said.

Fine,” Nina replied. “Nothing to worry about.” She took a deep breath, and smiled warmly. “See?”

That's good to know,” the first one said. “I'm Ben, by the way. I'm the ETL Abstract Artist.” Ben was of average build, and had dark brown skin with short black hair, appearing to be of Indian descent. He had wide eyes that almost seemed golden, and wore a plaid shirt and white pants with brown loafers.

And I'm Carlos,” the second one said. “ETL Blogger.” Carlos was shorter than Ben, and had slightly scruffy ginger hair and blue eyes. He wore a simple dark blue t-shirt with a Pikachu print on it that seemed somewhat faded, a pair of jeans, and some black and white converse shoes.

Nice to meet you both!” Nina said. “I'm Nina: ETL Video Game Designer.”

Joel,” Joel said. “ETL Lifeguard.”

I'm Chelsea,” Chelsea said, smiling. “ETL Ballerina.”

And I'm Charlie,” Charlie said. “ETL Gardener.”

Wait a sec,” Carlos said. He walked up to Charlie. “Do you happen to be Charlotte Grath?”

Um, yes,” Charlie said. “Why?”

I just love your blog!” he exclaimed. “You know, I have an eye for that kind of stuff, and let me tell you, besides me, I've never seen such an impressive blog!”

Uh, thanks?” Charlie said. But Carlos didn't notice, and continued gushing.

And the image arrangement,” he said. “Combined with the subtlety of the font, it makes for every blogger's dream!”

Wow,” Chelsea said wryly. “Someone sure seems passionate. And if I may ask, what is it you blog about?”

Depends on which blog you mean,” Carlos said. “I run over two hundred blogs, all of which have at least three million subscribers!”

Oh goodness,” Chelsea replied. “That's a lot. How do you have the time to update them all regularly?”

That's the beauty of it,” Carlos said. “I've actually scheduled the next eighty weekly posts for each blog well in advance! I'm currently writing the next batch right now.”

Have fun scheduling it,” Nina said. “Internet's bust.”

I know,” Carlos said. He sighed. “It fills me with the deepest of despairs.”

Whoa now,” Joel said. “Isn't that word kind of a sensitive topic after what happened in Japan?”

Maybe,” Carlos said. “But we shouldn't attach a stigma to the word. It's hardly the word's fault it was used in such an awful context, is it?”

You have a point,” Joel said.

Yeah,” Carlos said. “I guess I do.”

And, Carlos,” Chelsea said. “May I ask as to what landed you here?”

Oh yeah!” Carlos said. “It was actually my blog covering the happenings of the Despair Event, oddly enough.”

I guess it could have been worse,” Nina said. “And what about you, Ben?”

Me?” Ben said. “It was an art show of mine featured in one of the national galleries. My letter was delivered by hand soon after, and I've been preparing for here ever since.”

That's cool,” Nina said. “And what do you do, art-wise?”

Oh, everything,” Ben said. “Sculpting, painting, pixel art... you name it, I've probably done it in an abstract medium.”

Pixel art?” Nina said, her eyes lighting up. “Do tell me!”

It was just a political piece,” Ben said with a shrug. “I made the government into character sprites. That's all. Nothing to get excited about. It was actually quite a flop as well.”

You know, I'm not half bad at pixel art,” Nina said. “I could give you some pointers if you'd like.”

That would be great!” Ben said, smiling. “Once the semester begins, I'll definitely talk to you about it.”

Awesome,” Nina said.

Um,” Charlie said. “I don't mean to derail the conversation, but what's the race track like?”

Pretty empty,” Ben said with a shrug. “We were hoping to see the racer, but I guess it's a little too early for that kind of stuff.”

I guess,” Charlie said. “What time is it, anyway?”

Let me check,” Ben said. He looked down at his watch. “Whoa. Five already? It feels like just two minutes ago we arrived here.”

I know,” Nina said. “And since the race track's disappointingly empty, how about we head to the main building's cafeteria for some dinner?”

Fine by me,” Ben said. “Let's go then.”

 

The group of six walked along the path back to the main building. The late afternoon sun shone brightly on the campus as all the ETLs gradually made their way to the cafeteria, growing hungry after a day of exploration. It was around six thirty by the time everyone arrived.

 

The cafeteria was a large room filled with tables that were piled high with food. Charlie sat at one of these tables, eating from a plate of salad. Nina sat next to her, eating tortillas. The others had dispersed across the cafeteria, talking to one another.

So,” Nina said to Charlie, taking a bite of her tortilla. “How's this place looking?”

Like something from my dreams,” Charlie said.

I know,” Nina said. She looked across the room. “Hey, do you mind if we check out the other profiles? I really want to talk to everyone I didn't manage to see tomorrow, and knowing some stuff to talk about would be great.”

Okay then,” Charlie said. She turned on her ElectroID, and displayed the other profiles.

 

STUDENT PROFILE

Name: Carlos Woods

Height: 5ft7

Weight: 140lbs

Blood Type: O

Birthday: July 3

Likes: The News

Dislikes: Hypocrites

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Blogger

 

STUDENT PROFILE

Name: Ben Raiser

Height: 5ft7

Weight: 138lbs

Blood Type: A

Birthday: September 25

Likes: Plane Trips

Dislikes: Spicy Food

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Abstract Artist

 

STUDENT PROFILE

Name: Melissa Arthurs

Height: 5ft6

Weight: 143lbs

Blood Type: B

Birthday: August 4

Likes: Quiet Evenings

Dislikes: Failure

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Novelist

 

STUDENT PROFILE

Name: Shauna Kerzenna

Height: 5ft2

Weight: 120lbs

Blood Type: B

Birthday: October 29

Likes: Pop Music

Dislikes: Isolation

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Toy Maker

 

STUDENT PROFILE

Name: Mark Sanders

Height: 5ft9

Weight: 145bs

Blood Type: A

Birthday: April 17

Likes: The Ocean

Dislikes: Violence

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Reporter

 

STUDENT PROFILE

Name: Marian Tanner

Height: 5ft10

Weight: 152lbs

Blood Type: B

Birthday: September 30

Likes: The Smell of Books

Dislikes: Spiders

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Lawyer

 

STUDENT PROFILE

Name: Naomi Fenne

Height: 5ft8

Weight: 136lbs

Blood Type: O

Birthday: February 10

Likes: Cute Boys

Dislikes: Repetition

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Skater

 

STUDENT PROFILE

Name: Andrew Cyrus

Height: 5ft8

Weight: 147lbs

Blood Type: A

Birthday: January 4

Likes: Iced Tea

Dislikes: Bears

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Racer

 

STUDENT PROFILE

Name: John Smith

Height: 5ft9

Weight: 150lbs

Blood Type: AB

Birthday: November 28

Likes: Fresh Bedsheets

Dislikes: Public Transport

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Empathic

 

STUDENT PROFILE (lmao what a dumb title)

Name: His Royal Highness Dirk Parker

Height: Taller than u peasants

Weight: hella B)

Blood Type: XXX ultra rare

Birthday: March 31 (or is it? nobody knows :o 2spooky)

Likes: Honest to God

Dislikes: Just ask me in person if you're that curious but I'm really kinda boring

Title: Enhanced Talent Level Messiah (No joke 100% serious biznizzle here) (Is actually dope as hell Hacker represent)

 

What the hell is that last one?!” Nina exclaimed.

I think it's a poorly executed joke,” Charlie said. “If it's any indication I think it's because he's the ETL hacker, if this is to be trusted.”

I hate wise guys like that,” Nina said. She rolled her eyes.

At least it reveals something about his personality,” Charlie offered. “Just be careful to not actually punch him in the face when you meet him.”
“I won't,” Nina said. “Don't worry.” She then began to smirk. “It is actually kind of funny, you know?”

Charlie smiled. “Yeah, it is.”

 

Before either girl could speak any further, however, someone stood onto their table. Charlie recognised her from the ElectroID as Shauna, the ETL Toy Maker.

Could I please have everyone's attention?” Shauna said. The cafeteria soon turned quiet. “Thank you. Anyway, my name's Shauna, and it's great to meet you all here at Sun's Joy!”

Don't waste time,” the girl next to Shauna, Melissa, said.

Whoops!” Shauna said. “Back to the main point: as a way to hope for a great year with you guys, I've decided to plan a beach party for us all!”

That's a great idea!” Nina spoke up.

Thanks,” Shauna said, smiling. “So the plan for tomorrow is to wake first thing, and head down to the east beach for a day of sun, sand, and friendship! After all, what better way is there to get to know your fellow ETLs?” Several people then began to speak up, saying things such as “I'm in”, and “Why not?”

I don't know,” Charlie said quietly to Nina. “I don't do big social events.”

Come on,” Nina said. “It's not like you've got anything better to do.” Charlie hesitated. Nina was right. And besides, this was the best opportunity she had to introduce herself to some other people.

All right then,” Charlie said. “I'll try.”

That's the spirit,” Nina said.

Okay everyone,” Shauna said. “We'll all meet here at seven AM, and be down at the beach by nine. Sound good?” Several people voiced their approval. “Okay then! It's pretty late now, so I guess we should maybe head off to bed so that none of us are tired for tomorrow!”

I like her,” Nina said to Charlie. “She's definitely the type of person I'd love to have as a friend.”

Yeah,” Charlie said. “I'm actually a little excited for this party myself now that I think about it.”

I think we all are, actually,” Nina said. “Hopefully this will allow for even the most reclusive to come out of their shells.”

I hope so,” Charlie said. “But promise me you won't leave me alone; I don't think I'm ready to make that step just yet.”

All right then,” Nina said with a smile. “I promise.” She then looked around, and saw the others filing out of the cafeteria in groups of two or three. “We should probably get going as well. Shauna said it best: we don't want to be tired for tomorrow.”

Okay then,” Charlie said. She placed her ElectroID in her pocket. “Let's go.”

 

The two of them stood up, and left their seats, walking through the cafeteria to the hallway outside. The sun had set now, and the lights above them illuminated the hallways perfectly. Charlie smiled to herself. She had started today adamant that she was going to avoid talking to everyone for the entire year, but now she was preparing to go to a beach party of all things. She wished the internet was working; her parents would be enthralled to know that their daughter was developing a social life. Once everything's up and running, she told herself. After the welcoming ceremony.

 

Charlie wasn't aware of it, but none of this would come to pass. By the time that the welcoming ceremony was scheduled to happen, she would be experiencing complete and utter despair along with the other ETLs. None of them had any idea of how grave the situation was to become. And if they did, none of them would have boarded the helicopters to take them to Sun's Joy Academy.

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