Early morning sunlight broke over the horizon, colouring the Pacific Ocean a brilliant red colour. There was no cloud in the sky, allowing for the beautiful hues to be visible clearly. For the passengers of the sixteen helicopters currently flying towards a large island containing the campus of Sun's Joy Academy, it was a good omen that their upcoming year was going to be amazing.
Melissa leaned back in her seat, adjusting her seat belt as she looked out of the window. The sound of the whirring helicopter blades above her head was almost therapeutic. However, despite the serene atmosphere, Melissa found her mind whirring away. Her fingers twitched over the keys of her laptop, the word processor open. The white blank page stared at her, but that was okay. Her goal was to write a novel before the end of the school year, with it ready to be sent away to a publisher's before the next year began. Of course, this was nothing special considering how she already had completed a young adult dystopian trilogy over the space of two and a half years with film rights set to be discussed this winter. And luckily, the scene presented in front of her would make for the perfect opening to a book. Currently, the genres that were bouncing around in her brain included disaster, murder mystery, and straight-up horror. However, the only problem was that it would be hard to get global marketing on those genres, due to the recent terrorist disasters in Japan known merely as the Most Despairing Event in the History of Mankind. It was kind of dramatic, but the media would look down on her as being insensitive if she were to write anything that even remotely resembled what happened over there. Even though very little was actually being disclosed about the event in question. Whatever. Melissa knew she would still have a chance; she was just grateful that she wasn't born early enough for her to begin writing around the time of the 9/11 crisis. Nobody would have even looked at her book the moment they came across the first mention of a gun.
But for now, Melissa would have time away from the high-pressure media world, and would be able to balance education, writing, and a new social life. Previously, she had been somewhat of an outcast – her peers had alienated her, and Melissa had been too withdrawn with writing to really interact with people. Sure, she had been successful, but Melissa knew she was missing out on a major part of development. And hopefully, this academy would offer her the perfect social environment. After all, only the Enhanced Talent Levels, or ETLs, would be getting in. They were all students who had gone above and beyond in their respective fields. From the website, Melissa had seen a huge array of personalities. Some students seemed on a whole other level; Melissa had been especially impressed with the ballerina and lawyer. She knew from her research that they were very vicious worlds to live in, and felt only respect for them. And then there were those that were surprising, such as a hacker and a toy maker. They were a little unusual, but it just went to show how varied the world was. Overall, Melissa was looking forward to the new school year, and getting to know these people.
Melissa looked out of the window again, and saw the island drawing up closer. The pilot of the helicopter turned around, and looked at her.
“Hey, miss,” he said. “We're almost there, so get your stuff ready.”
“Of course!” Melissa said enthusiastically. She snapped her laptop shut, and placed it in her messenger bag. The rest of her luggage had already been sent to the academy as per arrangement, but Melissa's bag and laptop never left her side. She then adjusted her seat belt again, tightening it.
“Prepare for a sudden drop,” the pilot said, before turning around, and beginning to lower the helicopter. Melissa looked out of her window in awe as they descended towards the landing pad. She saw the beautiful beach that surrounded the island, along with the palm trees that dotted the land. And in the middle of the island was its heart: the large campus of Sun's Joy Academy. The name was a little cheesy, but the reputation far exceeded the odd choice of name. And besides, it would probably grow on Melissa throughout the year.
The helicopter came to a stop, landing on the landing pad. The blades continued to whir for a few more minutes, before they slowed to a stop. The pilot then left the helicopter, and walked around to Melissa's door, opening it. She unstrapped herself from her seat, and climbed out of the helicopter, offering a quiet “Thanks” as she did so. Her running shoes touched the light grey concrete below, and she breathed in the slightly salty sea air. A light breeze generated by the helicopter made her pencil skirt ripple a little. It almost felt like Melissa was on vacation instead of about to start school, but that was all part of the experience. It would definitely help with the general environment of the academy; already Melissa felt her anxieties over the academy fade away, instead being replaced with a sense of wonder.
“The academy's just down this road,” the pilot said, pointing to Melissa's right. She looked, and saw a road surrounded by palm trees. At the end, she could see the large gates of Sun's Joy Academy. A smile crossed her face, and her green eyes lit up with joy. “It's a five minute walk. So enjoy the scenery, and have a good year.”
“Thank you,” Melissa said, smiling. She then turned away from the pilot, and began to walk down the road, adjusting her blonde hair, fixing the ponytail it was tied in. Once completed, her hair fell down her back, resting comfortably on her light green cardigan placed above a white blouse. Melissa had thought long and hard about her choice of outfit, and had decided this would help make the best impression possible.
She looked up, seeing the sun shining down on the bright green palm leaves, creating a soft shade over the road. The island was quiet and peaceful, and for a moment, Melissa could hear the soft sound of the waves washing up on the shore. But then the whirring sound of the helicopter started up and Melissa looked behind her to see the pilot taking off, vanishing into the early morning sky. But just as soon as Melissa's helicopter vanished, she saw another one fly over her head, landing on the other side of the island. She wondered which student was inside the helicopter, and whether or not she would get along with them. Just thinking about meeting the students was filling her with excitement, and Melissa began to pick up the pace as she walked along the road. Her bag swung around as she sped up, but the laptop remained secure and safe. Hopefully Melissa would be able to access her new room straight away, so that she could put her laptop on charge before meeting her fellow students.
In front of Melissa, the golden gates of the academy drew closer, almost beckoning her to them. She slowed down, blushing. This was no way to enter the academy! She had to perfectly showcase her personality to the other students so they would get the best impression possible. In a way, it was like writing the introduction chapter of a novel: she had to reveal enough about herself to get their attention without dumping every last detail of her life straight away. It would be kind of boring, and might put off some of the students from really talking to her. Melissa smoothed her blouse, and walked towards the gates again, this time at a slower pace. The bag barely moved by her side, looking perfectly like a fashion accessory. The beige colour of the bag did make her legs look paler than Melissa would have liked, and she felt rather conscious about it, but decided that she wouldn't waste her time on anyone who was only looking at her for her legs.
Melissa took another step forward, and found herself standing right in front of the gates. She peered through the bars, and saw a tall building behind a large fountain. There were also rows of flower beds lining the path, and she could see a few more buildings surrounding the main building. She recalled the campus map, and realised that what she could see was only a small portion of what was on offer. She couldn't wait. Her gaze then drifted to the large brick wall surrounding the site, and saw an intercom built into the wall; it reminded her of the drive-thru screens in fast food restaurants. She walked up to the screen, and as she did so, it buzzed to life, showing the academy's crest: a golden sun on a shield, with the phrase Mane oritur sol radium spei written on it. Melissa wasn't the best at languages, but from what she could gather, it said something to the effect of Rays of hope come in on the morning sun. It was a profound statement, and she felt joy welling up inside her. This was truly a cut above the rest.
“Welcome to Sun's Joy Academy!” A strange, childish cartoon-like voice suddenly burst out from the speaker, catching Melissa's attention. “Please insert your Student Pass into the slot below the screen!”
“Oh! Okay!” Melissa said, smiling. She reached into her cardigan, and pulled out a slip of paper with an image of her, along with information such as her name, date of birth, and ETL. There was a bar code on the bottom of the piece of paper, and Melissa fed it into the machine. The screen changed colour, showing an image of Melissa, with a caption underneath. It read, “Melissa Arthurs: ETL Novelist.” Melissa stared at it for a moment, letting it sink in. She was a registered student. It was really happening.
“Please take your ElectroID from the dispenser tray below the screen! Enjoy your time here at Sun's Joy Academy!” Melissa watched as a small electronic PDA was dispensed into a tray below the screen. She bent down, and grabbed it. There was a small power switch on the device, and Melissa switched it on, seeing the academy's crest appear in the screen before it was replaced with the same image of Melissa that had been on the larger screen moments before (it had turned off now). She lightly tapped the screen, and opened up an options menu, with several headers such as 'Academy Rules' and 'About Your ElectroID'. Melissa pressed the 'About Your ElectroID' button, and read through the following text.
Your ElectroID is your personal form of identification. You can use it to view important information about the academy, such as the rules and timetables, as well as updates throughout the school year. It is important to note that your ElectroID serves as a key – you can use it to access areas such as your dorm room, the bathrooms, and changing rooms. Also, please note that only your own ElectroID will be able to be used to unlock your dorm room, so try not to lose it!
Melissa smiled at the information. The staff here sure had everything figured out. And as she held the ElectroID in her hands, Melissa knew that her bag would gain one more electronic device to carry around. She looked back at the screen, about to select the 'Academy Rules' button, when a groaning noise sounded out. She turned her head to see the golden gates swing open, revealing the campus of Sun's Joy Academy. Melissa placed the ElectroID into her cardigan pocket, and stood there for a moment, in awe. It was finally time to begin her new life. A sense of excited anticipation filled Melissa, and she found herself unable to keep collected. She was soon speed-walking through the gates, entering the campus.
As Melissa walked down the path, she took in her surroundings. The path was lined with flowerbeds, but some areas had yet to see blooming plants. Smaller paths branched off from the main path to allow someone to walk through the flowerbeds and enjoy their surroundings. It looked like it would definitely turn out to be quite the romantic setting, and for a moment, Melissa pictured herself walking past the flowers with a boy, hand-in-hand. She quickly shook the silly thought from her mind, and instead looked elsewhere. She spotted two buildings to her right; one was quite small, but the other was larger and more dome shaped. It was probably some kind of sporting facility. Perhaps it was a swimming pool or something. That would be nice. The smaller one looked less modern, and more like a small cabin or something. It probably contained a few classrooms or something. Melissa looked to her left, and saw three more buildings. One looked like a miniature apartment building with a large set of revolving doors serving as the entrance. Another one was a fairly average-sized building, albeit with several windows. The last building, however, caught Melissa's attention. It was large, and looked more like a traditional building. But Melissa knew this type of building when she saw it: it was a library. This was all before she saw the large book sign hanging above the entrance. Immediately she knew where she would be spending most of her free time.
Melissa looked away from the buildings, and looked ahead as the large fountain drew closer. Water spilled from the top, splashing into the area surrounding it, creating for a beautiful effect. She stepped around it, careful to avoid getting herself wet, and continued along the path, up to the front doors of the main building. Looking up, Melissa saw how tall it truly was, and wondered why they would need to build something so large if there were then smaller buildings scattered around the campus. Perhaps the number of students attending was large enough that they required this extra space. Whatever the reason, Melissa decided it would be for a good reason. She stepped forwards, and pushed open the doors to the academy, stepping inside.
The hallway Melissa was now in was pleasantly lit, and as she walked forwards, noticing the classrooms lining the walls, she realised how immaculate this place was. It was nothing like her old high school. It truly was a different world altogether. Melissa glanced through the windows of the classroom doors, and saw that the rooms were empty. The teachers were probably all hanging around wherever Melissa was supposed to go. She looked away from the classrooms, and at the end of the hallway, found a sign on a stand with writing on it, reading “This way to the meeting hall!! ==>”. Melissa found it a little odd, but at least it was telling her where to go. She turned right, and continued down another hallway. More classrooms lined the walls, but at the far end was a large set of double doors. Melissa walked towards the doors, and upon reaching them, she pushed them open, stepping into the meeting hall.
Melissa stood there for a moment, taking in the meeting hall. It was a large room with several chairs set out. At the far end of the hall was a stage with a podium on it, but it was currently empty. Melissa then noticed a few other students standing around before the stage, engaging in conversation. A sudden surge of anxiety filled her, and she found herself frozen. Her socially awkward self suddenly rose up from the depths of her mind, and threatened to ruin yet another chance at getting a social life. No, she was not going to let this happen. Not this time. Melissa took a step forward before she could change her mind, heading closer to the other students, when suddenly, something descended from above, landing in her face.
Melissa screamed as a small puppet dangled in front of her eyes whimsically. It had long, floppy limbs supported by strings, and the mouth moved separately. The puppet also was wearing a little black suit, complete with tiny dress shoes. But despite this analysis, Melissa felt her heart pounding as it stared at her, reminding her of one too many late-night horror movies. She took a step back, and bumped into something behind her.
“Oh my god!” Melissa exclaimed as she turned around, seeing another student standing behind her. “I'm so sorry!”
“It's fine!” she replied enthusiastically. She was a small girl, with dark skin and dark hair done up in a large braid. Two red ribbons adorned her hair, and she was wearing a white floral top with a denim skirt and black pumps. “I didn't mean for Cammy here to scare you!” The girl motioned to the puppet which was being suspended by strings she was holding. Melissa quickly managed to gather herself, and let out a laugh.
“It's quite fine,” she said. “Just give me warning next time!”
“I will!” the girl said. She then extended a hand. “Name's Shauna: ETL Toy Maker!”
“I'm Melissa,” Melissa said. “ETL Novelist.”
“Wow!” Shauna exclaimed, holding the puppet she called Cammy in her arms. “That's so cool! I've actually read your books! They were awesome!”
“You think so?” Melissa said, surprised at how easy it was to make conversation.
“Yeah!” Shauna said, full of energy. “Anyway, Melissa, have you talked with the others yet?”
“No,” Melissa said. “I've just arrived, actually.”
“Haha, me too,” Shauna said, clutching Cammy tightly. “And anyway, you seem like a nice girl. How about we go meet the others together?”
“I don't see why not,” Melissa said.
“Great!” Shauna exclaimed, walking past Melissa. “Let's go!”
Melissa smiled to herself as she followed Shauna down the hall. The girl sure was a lively one, and from this brief meeting, Melissa assumed she would be the type to be friends with everyone; the go-to gal for the crowd of the talented. Already she knew the social dynamic would be harmonious, provided there weren't any particularly strong personalities that would clash with Shauna's air of positivity. Most likely there wouldn't be, but Melissa's inner pessimist told her to expect some form of disappointment. However, she swallowed these thoughts, and quickly caught up with Shauna as they approached the group of students.
In total, there were maybe five or six of them standing together, lost in conversation. Melissa was once again won over by the wonderful atmosphere, but Shauna didn't take notice, and began to stride towards the others, a large grin plastered on her face. But before either of them could reach the rest of the group, a figure walked up to them.
“Hello there!” he said as he approached. “May I have the honour of interviewing two lovely ETL ladies?” Melissa found his entire attitude charmingly engaging. He was holding a video camera in one hand, and a microphone in the other. He had fair skin with slightly messy dark hair, and wide blue eyes. His attire consisted of a white dress shirt partially unbuttoned with a black tie hanging around his neck, black pants, and most surprisingly, a pair of red running shoes. But before Melissa could respond to his request, Shauna jumped at the opportunity.
“Of course!” she said. “I'm Shauna: ETL Toy Maker, and this is my friend, Melissa! She's the ETL Novelist, by the way!”
“Ah, I see!” he replied, smiling warmly. Melissa smiled back. “I'm Mark, the ETL Reporter, at your service.”
“I thought your face was familiar...” Melissa said wistfully. “Hey. Weren't you part of the team that reported on the despair disaster in Japan?”
“The one and only,” Mark replied, flashing a grin. “That was what landed me my invitation to this academy in the first place.” He motioned to the microphone. “Anyway, enough about me: how did you two get in?”
“Me?” Melissa said as Mark placed the microphone closer to her. “It's because of that dystopian trilogy I concluded last year. You know, the one addressing the themes of nature versus technology? Film rights set for next year?”
“Oh my god!” Mark said. “I love those books! I feel like I'm in the presence of a real-life celebrity!”
“Oh, stop it,” Melissa said, laughing. “I'm only here to study, not to lord my best-sellers over you all.”
“And what a humble attitude!” Mark exclaimed. “It truly shows what an amazing person you are!” He then turned to face Shauna. “And what about you, Shauna? What landed you in Sun's Joy?”
“It was pretty simple!” Shauna said. “Last holiday period, the local toy store near my home had a crisis, and I was called in to help. I ended up making thirty nine individualised toys for all the kids that day. And for most of them, it was their favourite gift! After that, an invitation just slipped into my mail like magic, and here I am!”
“Well, if that isn't ETL worthy then I don't know what is!” Mark said, chuckling as he pulled the microphone away from Shauna. “A real life Miss Santa Claus!”
“Now you're just being flattering,” Shauna said, adjusting Cammy in her arms. “But I'm glad you like us! And may I ask why you're filming us?”
“It's simple!” Mark said. “I want to capture every moment of this year, and see how we all change and grow as people.”
“So kind of like a documentary?” Melissa said.
“Exactly,” Mark replied. “My first goal is to interview each student before the semester officially begins, and interview everyone again a couple of weeks later to gain a general consensus on how the academy is.”
“That sounds pretty neat!” Shauna said. “Have you interviewed anyone else yet?”
“As a matter of fact, I have!” Mark said proudly. “So far, besides you two, I've interviewed the ETL Fashion Designer, the ETL Skater, and the ETL Lifeguard. They all seem just as friendly as you two, and I'm sure we'll all get along great!”
“I hope so,” Melissa said. “It's been a while since I've had the opportunity to make some friends.”
“Well, good luck with that,” Mark said. Melissa noticed he was looking off into the distance. His eyes lit up, and Melissa knew he had found another student to interview. “Now if you don't mind, I've got a few more people to interview! See you around!”
“See you!” Shauna said, waving. She pulled a couple of strings, and made Cammy wave too. The puppet still made Melissa feel uneasy, but she put it to one side. Shauna was a nice girl, and it would be entirely unprofessional to judge her by her hobbies.
“We still have the other students over there to talk to,” Melissa said, pointing towards the stage.
“You're right!” Shauna said. Her face burst into a wide grin. “Let's go make more friends.”
The two girls had barely made it to the small crowd before someone came speeding towards them.
“Watch out!” she exclaimed. Melissa moved out of the way, but Shauna was too slow to move, and found herself crashing to the ground along with the high-speed girl. Cammy fell from her arms, and launched through the air. Melissa expertly caught the puppet, and set it down on a seat. Cammy's head slumped into its shoulder, and it stared lifelessly at the stage.
“Hey, be careful next time!” Shauna groaned as she pulled herself up, straightening her ribbons out.
“Oh my god, I'm all kinds of sorry!” the other girl responded, standing up. She was a tall and thin Asian girl with tanned skin and long dark hair tied up in a high ponytail. The ends of her hair were dyed in the colours of the rainbow. She was wearing an unzipped leather jacket, dyed deep blue. Underneath the jacket was a black vest top with a graphic print of what Melissa could only assume was a K-Pop boy band. As well as this, she wore a pair of low-cut cycling shorts, and a pair of roller skates over a pair of knee-high rainbow socks. She certainly appeared to be a quirky character. “I swear that I will definitely not be doing something like that again!”
“It's fine, really!” Shauna said, laughing. The other girl laughed too. “I'm Shauna, and I'm the ETL Toy Maker.”
“Haha, that sounds rad as hell!” the other girl said. “I'm Naomi: ETL Skater!” She struck a pose, placing a hand on her hips, and winking.
“You sure have planned out that introduction, haven't you?” Melissa said absently.
“Of course I have!” Naomi replied. She flashed a wide smile, and Melissa awkwardly returned the sentiment, overwhelmed by the explosive personality. “I need to make the greatest impression possible!”
“You've certainly left an impression on me,” Melissa said dryly.
“Anyway,” Naomi said, dragging out the vowels. “I don't think I caught your ETL, so do you mind filling a girl in?”
“Oh, sure!” Melissa said. “I'm Melissa, the ETL Novelist.”
“Whoa!” Naomi said. She flashed another huge smile. “That's awesome! I wish I could write a book! I've tried a few times, but I always kept getting distracted.”
“Writing takes a lot of time, dedication, and patience,” Melissa said. “It's not something to step lightly into.”
“Ain't that the truth!” Naomi said. “Anyway, I'll catch you two girls later: I've gotta go meet some other cool peeps!”
Both Melissa and Shauna watched as Naomi skated down the hall, giggling as she did so.
“She was certainly interesting,” Shauna said. “Maybe a bit too much to hang around with all the time.”
“She seems nice enough though,” Melissa said. “Oh, by the way, I put your puppet on one of the chairs.”
“Thanks!” Shauna said, retrieving Cammy.
“Hey, is that a puppet?” a voice called out. Shauna and Melissa turned their heads to see a boy with short brown hair walking up to them. He was wearing a white t-shirt with a pair of jeans and running shoes. He looked fairly average compared to everyone else Melissa had seen so far.
“Yeah!” Shauna replied. “Isn't he awesome?”
“He sure is!” the boy replied. He also looked at Melissa. “I suppose I should introduce myself, then. I'm John Smith: ETL Empathic.”
“John Smith?” Melissa questioned. “There's no way that's your real name.”
“Afraid so!” John replied. “My parents thought it was neat: give an incredibly ordinary name to someone who is anything but!”
“And may I ask just what your ETL entails?” Melissa asked.
“Sure!” John said. “Being an empathic means that basically, I can easily put myself into anyone's shoes at any given moment, as well as being able to sense emotions perfectly.”
“Really?” Shauna said. “So it's sort of like a psychologist?”
“Kind of,” John said. “And if you introduce yourselves, I'll give you a demonstration of my talent!”
“Okay then!” Shauna said. “I'm Shauna: ETL Toy Maker!”
“I'm Melissa,” Melissa said. “I'm the ETL Novelist.”
“Cool!” John said, laughing. “Now, as promised, I'll give a demonstration. Just be aware that I may get a little too personal.”
“That's fine!” Shauna said. “We're all trying to be open with each other, anyway!”
“All right then!” John said. “So, I'll do Melissa first. Based on my assumptions, it is safe to say that you are enthusiastic about interacting with people, but have inner doubts that could almost be classified as social anxieties if you didn't keep them in check as good as you do. As well as this, you are currently viewing these meetings as some form of character study, and you are evaluating everyone as you would a character in a book. And, I'm also detecting hints of some form of attraction.” John winked at that last comment, and Melissa blushed.
“If it helps, it's not you,” she said airily, fiddling with her bag's strap to draw the attention away from herself.
“I know that,” John said. “Your attraction wasn't showing when I was talking to you, so it's clearly some other guy in here.” He looked at Melissa, and quickly added, “Or girl, if that's who you like.”
“Who I like is none of your business,” Melissa said. “Affairs of the heart are private, deeply personal things. If it's important, I'll discuss it with you.”
“Fine,” John said. “Sorry for the awkwardness.”
“Oh!” Shauna said. “Are you gonna do me now?”
“Of course!” John said. “Shauna, based on my assumptions, you are a naturally social girl with a kind heart at your core. However, you have the slightest of insecurities about meeting new people, mainly revolving around rejection. As such, you have flocked to Melissa, a more introverted person as a support of sorts as you believe that she will be loyal to you no matter what.”
“Wow!” Shauna exclaimed, causing Cammy to move somewhat. “How do you do that? Are you sure you're not actually the ETL Psychologist?”
“Positive,” John said. “Psychology is more about thought processes and mental disorders. I'm all about inferring from emotions. I suppose I could be a good counsellor if I put my mind to it though...”
“Well, whatever,” Melissa said. “That talent of yours sure is something. Nice meeting you.”
“Likewise,” John said. “Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go check out the dorms, and find where I'm staying.”
“But they haven't done the welcoming ceremony yet!” Shauna said.
“Take a look at the podium on the stage,” John said. “You'll see that we have plenty of time to spare before then.”
Before Shauna could ask what John had meant, he had already walked away, heading out of the main doors.
“Might as well see what he was on about,” Melissa said, taking the lead. Shauna followed her as they walked past a few students, and up to the podium. Melissa paused in front of the podium, seeing a note taped onto it.
Attention students of Sun's Joy Academy. In accordance with tradition, you will all be given a two-day period to become familiar with your new home, and to become acquainted with your peers before the welcoming ceremony. Free reign of the campus will be given at this time, so make yourselves at home!!
Melissa raised an eyebrow at this. She certainly wasn't expecting that, but the logic behind it made perfect sense. With the two-day inauguration period, the students would really get to know the academy, and would be able to comfortably begin their studies. Once again Melissa found herself respecting the academy more and more.
“Well, that's a little dumb,” Shauna said. “My acceptance letter said that the welcome ceremony would begin shortly after my arrival.”
“Oh well,” Melissa said. “It doesn't really matter, does it? It just means we get more time to become familiar with everything like it says.”
“I suppose you're right,” Shauna said. “And besides, that way I'll be on good terms with everyone before the semester even begins!” Melissa smiled at Shauna, and let out a light laugh. This was truly the best place she had been to in years.
Melissa turned around, and saw another student walking up to the pair. She was a tall girl, who was dressed in an immaculate grey suit and tie. In her hand was a briefcase. Melissa also noted that the girl had shoulder-length chocolate brown hair that really set off her appearance.
“Hello there!” she said.
“Hi!” Shauna replied, seeing the girl.
“You two must be the ETL Toy Maker and Novelist, right?” she asked.
“That's right,” Melissa said. “I'm the Novelist, and Shauna here's the Toy Maker.”
“Excellent!” the girl replied. “I tend to have a hunch for identifying people.”
“Speaking of which,” Shauna said. “Who are you?”
“Oh, I must have forgotten to introduce myself!” the girl said. “I'm Marian, the ETL Lawyer.”
“Nice to meet you,” Melissa said. As she spoke, Marian took her hand, shaking it firmly.
“Likewise,” Marian said. “It's a shame about the postponing of the welcoming ceremony though, isn't it?”
“I wouldn't say so,” Melissa said. “It's enough time for us to form social bonds and learn the layout of the campus. That way we will all be able to start our studies without any distractions.”
“True, true,” Marian said. “It's just that I've been waiting so long for this day to finally arrive, and finding out I have two more days until it really begins is somewhat disappointing. But anyway, how are you girls finding the academy so far?”
“It's great!” Shauna replied. “Well, I haven't seen anything except for the main entrance, and I've only talked to a couple of students, but it's the best place I've ever seen!”
“I have to agree with you there,” Marian said, smiling. Her briefcase swayed by her side.
“Hey, what's in the case?” Shauna said. “If you don't mind me asking, that is.”
“Oh, here!” Marian said. “Let's sit down at one of the seats, and I'll show you!”
Melissa and Shauna followed Marian to one of the seats. They sat down next to her, and watched as she opened up the briefcase, revealing several files.
“What are these?” Melissa asked.
“Just what I call my portfolio,” Marian said. “It's a compilation of my favourite court cases I've taken part in, as well as my information sheets on all of you guys.”
“You sure did your research then,” Shauna said, taking her own file from the briefcase. “You probably know the most about all of us at the moment!”
“Probably,” Marian said. “But of course there's the ETL Empathic. He'd probably be able to pin you down to a T within two minutes of observation.”
“You're not far from the truth there,” Shauna said.
“Really?” Marian asked.
“Yeah!” Shauna said. “He gave both me and Melissa a crazy accurate analysis of our personalities!”
“Sounds about right,” Marian said. “Apparently he got into this academy because he managed to solve the case of a serial killer. You've heard of Sunshine Sally right?”
“The girl that carved a sun pattern into her victims, correct?” Shauna said.
“The very same,” Marian confirmed. “The ETL Empathic managed to perfectly see through her eyes, and predicted her next target, along with the time and location. The guy's a genius. And a neat little piece of information: I was the one who proved she was guilty of the murders.” Melissa found herself realising that perhaps John wasn't as average as she had thought.
“So you two know each other?” she said.
“Sort of,” Marian said. “We worked together on a few more cases, but then we kind of drifted apart after the major cases died down. Today's the first time I've seen him in ages.”
“Well isn't that a good coincidence!” Shauna said. “At least you've come here already knowing someone.”
“I suppose,” Marian said. She took Shauna's file back, and placed it in the briefcase, closing it. “Anyway, I've spent enough time talking. I'm going to go put this briefcase of mine in my dorm room.”
“All right then,” Melissa said. She offered a smile. “See you around.”
“Yeah,” Marian said. She stood up from her seat, and then she was gone.
Melissa looked over at Shauna, who was smoothing over Cammy's suit.
“Hey,” she said. “Is there anyone we haven't spoken to in here yet?”
“I think there are a couple more people,” Shauna said. “I suppose everyone else already arrived and they're now exploring the campus, which I can't wait to do.”
“Me neither,” Melissa said.
“I reckon this place'll feel like home in no time,” Shauna said with a smile as she stood up from her seat. “Anyway, let's go meet the others!”
Melissa and Shauna walked through the hall together, towards the stage where a couple of students still stood. The first they approached was a boy around Melissa's height with close-cropped black hair and grey eyes. He was wearing a red hoodie with a black and white checked scarf, a pair of jeans, and a pair of black boots. Melissa also noticed that he had a pair of golden stud earrings in.
“Hey!” Shauna said, approaching the boy.
“Uh, hi,” he said. He offered a friendly smile to the two girls. “Who are you?”
“I'm Shauna!” Shauna said. “The ETL Toy Maker!”
“And your friend?”
“I'm Melissa,” Melissa said. “I'm the ETL Novelist.”
“Ah, cool,” he said, adjusting his scarf. “I'm Andrew: ETL Racer.”
“Like race-cars and stuff?” Shauna asked.
Andrew smiled. “Exactly like that. I have twenty five golden trophies to my name, so it's safe to say I'm good at it.”
“Well,” Melissa said. “You sure aren't what I expected.”
“What do you mean?” Andrew asked.
“I was expecting someone a little more abrasive and dynamic,” Melissa said. “Not someone like you.”
“Well, I like to break expectations,” Andrew said, chuckling.
“Yeah,” Melissa said. “Sorry if I offended you.”
“None taken!”Andrew said. “Anyway, can you believe we get two days before we begin our studies? It's brilliant!”
“I wasn't expecting it,” Melissa said. “So what will you be doing over the following two days?”
“Oh, you know,” Andrew said. “I'll be checking out all the facilities, and I'll be getting to know as many people as possible.”
“That's pretty similar to what we have planned,” Melissa said. “I guess quite a few of us will be taking the opportunity to get to know everything and everyone.”
“It's a wise choice,” Andrew said. “It really cuts down on uncertainties about stuff.”
“That it does,” Melissa said. “Hopefully you find someone you'll get along with.”
“I hope so,” Andrew said. “But I'm just worried about my famed status putting people off.”
“Uh, no offence,” Shauna said. “But we're all pretty much of celebrity status here anyway.”
“Haha, true,” Andrew said. “I didn't mean to sound that stuck-up, though.” He then looked past the two girls. “Hey, is he gone yet?”
“Who?” Shauna asked.
“The ETL Reporter,” Andrew said with a groan. “He provided coverage for one of my big races a couple years back, and he's been trying to interview me all morning.”
“Yeah, we've met the guy,” Shauna said. “He's not that bad, actually!”
“He's a little up-front,” Melissa said. “But really, I think he just wants to make this as memorable as possible.”
“Huh,” Andrew said. “I just assumed he was like a mad paparazzi type. I guess I'll try to talk to him then.”
“If you get the chance,” Shauna said. “He's literally trying to interview everyone for this documentary thing he's doing throughout the year.”
“Sounds fun, actually,” Andrew said. “Perhaps I'll check it out. See you girls later!” He then walked away from the girls, heading towards the main doors. Most of the students were, actually, since they had very little reason to hang around.
Shauna watched as Andrew joined a small crowd of students, leaving the hall.
“I guess we should leave, too,” she told Melissa. “We might as well check out the other places on campus.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Melissa said. “Let's go then.” The two of them began to walk across the hall, heading towards the doors. But before they made it, someone bumped into them from behind. Melissa turned around to see a boy standing there.
“I'm sorry about that,” he said. He was taller than Melissa, and had spiked-up dirty blonde hair and blue eyes. He wore a white polo shirt under an orange hoodie that was partially zipped up, a pair of camouflage-style combat pants, and a pair of boots. There was a pair of headphones resting around his neck, the wire plugged into a PDA in his hand.
“Is that your ElectroID?” Shauna asked, motioning to it.
“Not at all,” he said. “This is my personal PDA. Never leave home without it.”
“That's cool,” Shauna said. “So where's your ElectroID?”
“In my dorm room,” he said. “I don't really need it; the necessary software on the thing's been transferred to this baby right here.” Shauna looked at him, impressed. He gave a bashful smile. “And who are you two?”
“I'm Shauna: ETL Toy Maker,” Shauna said.
“Melissa: ETL Novelist,” Melissa said.
“Cool,” he said. “I'm Dirk: ETL Hacker.”
“Interesting ETL,” Melissa said. “Not something you'd normally advocate for an esteemed academy.”
“Well, I think we can gather everything about this place is unorthodox as hell,” Dirk replied smoothly. He pressed a few more buttons on his PDA, sighing. “Great.”
“What?” Shauna asked.
“There's no internet,” Dirk said. “I've been trying all day, but there just doesn't seem to be any Wi-Fi signal anywhere.”
“Strange,” Melissa said. “Perhaps it's taking a while to set it all up.”
“I hope that's all,” Dirk said. “Because I feel isolated without constant internet connection.”
“I guess you can't do much hacking if you can't gain access to the internet,” Shauna said.
“Yeah,” Dirk said. He shrugged. “Hopefully when lessons begin we'll get the internet back.”
“Why not just ask someone about it?” Shauna suggested.
“I've tried,” Dirk said, shaking his head. “There doesn't seem to be anyone on campus except for us ETLs.”
“Really?” Melissa said. “That's odd.”
“Probably so we can get along without having to worry about their interference or something stupid,” Dirk said.
“In that case, perhaps cutting off the Wi-Fi was a deliberate movement?” Melissa said.
“What makes you think that?” Dirk asked.
“Well, if they want us all to get to know each other, they'll want to eliminate as many distractions as possible,” Melissa explained. “Hence the lack of internet. It'll probably be all fine after the welcoming ceremony, though.”
“Yeah, hopefully,” Dirk said. “It's kind of a dumb move, forcing us to all interact. You know, I bet that there's at least one person here with crippling anxiety that's withering away without the escape of the internet.”
“And you're not?” Melissa said.
“Just pissed off,” Dirk said. “I was just screwing around with the US military servers, making the files do some funny crap like displaying 'My true love is the president's ding-a-ling.' That sort of stuff.”
“You do know that's enough to land you in serious trouble, right?” Melissa said, shocked by Dirk's nature.
“Well, we're not exactly in the US, are we?” Dirk said with a light chuckle. “The complications to extradite me there wouldn't be worth it. And besides, I'm technically a minor, so what can they really do?”
“They could stick you in a young offenders' or something,” Melissa said.
“I doubt it,” Dirk said. “They owe me after I gave them a file-dump from the Middle Eastern government servers to prevent a terrorist attack.”
“What?” Melissa exclaimed.
“Turns out a few of our friends out there are in on the whole Despair organisation,” Dirk said. “Probably offered enough money to crawl out of the debt holes they've fallen into. Anyway, turned out they were planning to offer the Despair group their nuclear weapons to bring the US to its knees or something.” He let out a small laugh. “Probably to make the damn country feel true despair or whatever BS that organisation spouts.”
“You sure are something, you know?” Melissa said.
“I established that myself some time ago,” Dirk said.
“Yes you did,” Melissa said.
“Anyway,” Dirk said. “They'd better put up the Wi-Fi before the welcoming ceremony. There's something I have to do.”
“What?” Melissa asked, already dreading the answer.
“Just get back at them for denying me internet access for two freaking days,” Dirk said. “I'm planning on finding their crappy Powerpoint that they no doubt made in advance, and changing the text to eye-bleeding Comic Sans in the most god-awful colours imaginable. Oh, and whatever 'inspirational' song they've got lined up for us to endure? I've got something way better.” A mischievous smile crossed Dirk's face, and he unplugged his headphones from the PDA, causing a song to explode from the speakers.
Pon pon wei wei wei
Pon pon wei pon wei pon pon
Wei wei pon pon pon
Wei wei pon wei pon wei wei
Melissa groaned instantly. “That song, really?”
“Yeah,” Dirk said. “See how they like that, huh?”
“For the love of god, please turn it off,” Melissa said as the song looped into the next verse.
“I thought you'd never ask.” Dirk quickly plugged the headphones in again, and the song vanished from Melissa's ears.
“I thought it was pretty cool!” Shauna said. She began to hum the tune, swaying to and fro. Melissa rolled her eyes at her friend, and... wait. A smile spread across Melissa's face as she realised that she had come to see Shauna as a friend.
“Well, I can appreciate it ironically,” Dirk said. “But even then, only if it's being used as a weapon against someone else.”
“Hey,” Melissa said. “If you have this attitude towards Sun's Joy, then why did you come here?”
“Believe me, I had no intention,” Dirk said. “I was fine staying home, when suddenly this helicopter lands in my drive, no joke. And then I sort of had no choice but to come.”
“Well, it's not as if you're going to regret it,” Melissa said. “Once you graduate from here, you're practically guaranteed the best positions in life.”
“True,” Dirk said. “But I'd have rather done it via online classes.”
“And miss out on the atmosphere?” Melissa said.
“Yeah,” Dirk said. “Being around people is not really my thing, and this whole lack of internet is clearly the most impressive display.”
“Oh, lighten up,” Shauna said. “It'll be fun!”
“As fun as a bunch of crazy super talented teens can get,” Dirk said dryly. “I mean, seriously. Half of these guys are nuts as hell.”
“And you're not?” Melissa said tauntingly.
“Damn it,” Dirk said. “I should really learn to not diss things I'm a part of.”
“Good luck with that,” Melissa said. “Just be thankful you haven't had the ETL Empathic probe your personality yet.”
“I'll pass,” Dirk said. Melissa couldn't help but laugh. “Hey, there's nothing funny coming from my mouth.”
“Whatever,” Melissa said, calming herself. “You seem like a cool guy, Dirk.”
“Thanks,” Dirk said. A smile crossed his face.
“Don't mention it,” Melissa said.
“Anyway,” Dirk said. “Since I've got nothing better to do, how about we go and check out the campus?”
“That sounds like a great idea!” Shauna said. She smiled at Melissa and Dirk. “Come on then, let's go!”
Dirk took the lead, and Melissa walked beside Shauna as they walked through the doors, leaving the hall behind for the moment. And as they headed down the hallway, Melissa realised just what she was going to write for the novel she was planning to write: a large, all-encompassing story, involving the students of Sun's Joy Academy. It would be the perfect homage to her new home, and her new friends. But for now, the story would have to wait; Melissa saw that Shauna and Dirk were walking ahead of her, and she quickly hurried after them. Before anything else, she had the rest of the campus to see, and more friends to make.