Breaking Free


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Breaking Free

Bloom 01

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Waking Up Bloomers 01

Andrew Parsons

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Creepy Puppy Publishing


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Copyright © 2013 by Andrew Parsons

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.

First Printing: 2014



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Chapter 1: The Period3

Appendix 15




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Chapter 1: The Period


Waking Up

Jayden woke with a jolt. He blinked furiously at the sunlight hitting his suddenly open eyes and rubbed them with the back of his hand groggily.

“Ugh, too early,” he grumbled as he glanced at the clock on the wooden bedside.

6:57, it seemed to blast at him, time to get up!

“Nope, not gonna happen,” Jayden muttered and rolled over facing the wall. And most decidedly away from the judging red numerals.

I REALLY need to go to the bathroom!

The teenage boy frowned slightly. He didn’t need to go to the bathroom. He had gone in the middle of the night after a humongous gaming session with the guys.

Bathroom! I NEED to go!

Jayden frowned again, this time more deeply. What the heck? Why am I thinking about the bathroom? He assessed the situation downstairs and decided that he did, indeed, most definitely NOT need to go. Except despite this surety, there was a sense of urgency behind the thoughts starting to fill his mind again.

Man, I really need to go. I can’t believe I didn’t go last night when we went out! But I was so excited about seeing Julie that I forgot. I really hope I can go soon or there’ll be trouble.

Jayden fidgeted in frustration and rolled over again, ending up reluctantly facing into his bedroom and that dreaded timekeeper. Keeping his eyes firmly squeezed shut he vowed to get another hour. “I reckon I can get ready for school, grab food and get out the door in fifteen” he figured, knowing full well that it was never like that for him.


Jayden’s eyes snapped open involuntarily and he came face to face with Trick. Trick’s face was only inches away from his own, the beagle’s eyes bright and wide open, looking right at him. The dog’s mouth was parted slightly and his tongue lolled slightly to the right as it always did, making him look like he was enjoying some private joke.

“Go away Trick, I’m not ready to be up yet.”


Jayden frowned. That was super weird. Same slightly different tone in the thought that filled his mind, but it sounded like it was a response to his words. “But I DON’T need to go!” he growled with frustration.

Fine. You don’t need to go. Great for you. But I, I, I need to go!

As this thought came to Jayden, Trick fidgeted his front paws, and licked his lips, and whined ever so slightly. Really Jayden? You’re now going to say the DOG is talking to you?

“Ha! Now THAT was definitely my thought. This is so weird,” Jayden said.

Yup. That was you. This is me. Get up! I need to go!

“What? Seriously, this is insane!” Jayden wiped his left hand down his face in confusion, scrubbing at his eyes. He sat up in bed, and looked more closely at the dog.

Trick used this opportunity to lean forward, and with what looked like a knowing gleam in his eye, scored a full face lick on Jayden.

“Hey! Stop it, Trick!” the boy exclaimed, momentarily distracted from the disturbing path his thoughts were taking.

Trick licked again, but Jayden was too quick and ducked out of the way. The beagle stood and turned around in an excited circle, prancing on the spot and tail wagging like crazy. His claws skittered on the wooden floorboards of Jayden’s bedroom, and in his excitement he bumped into the desk chair which in turn spun around crazily and the new school books that Jayden had carelessly piled on it the night before crashed to the floor.

“Did you…” Jayden started nervously “…speak to me just now?”

The dog wagged its tail furiously and half jumped up and down in his signature clumsy way he did. “Nah, you’re such a doofus, Trick. I must have been half asleep and dreamed it.” As he started to settle back into his pillow, his dad called out “Jayden, what was that noise? If you’re up, take Trick out, and then get ready! Remember, the road to school is blocked with road work and we have to go the long way around.”

Jayden slapped his forehead, realizing that his dad was right - he really did need to get up now. He knew if he didn’t, his dad would just keep on nagging until he did. With a sigh, Jayden threw back the covers and swung his feet down to the ground. Quickly getting dressed, he threw on a jacket to fight off the cooler morning air he knew he’d be greeted with at this time of day and picked up Trick’s leash. He snapped it to the dog’s collar and cracked open the door to his bedroom.

He heard the usual early morning bustle of his family stirring and getting ready for the day. “Dad! If you’re cooking, I want pancakes!” he called out as he started for the front door of the apartment.

“Pancakes, PLEASE!” his younger sister said and stuck her tongue out at him from the lounge room where she was taking in her daily dose of morning cartoons. Some random pink, purple and light green fantasy creatures - flying ponies? - crossed the screen and Jayden shook his head at the ludicrous sight and headed out with Trick.

As he walked along the path leading from the front door to the sidewalk, Trick pulled ahead, distracted by the smells of outside. “Trick, you come out here every day! Isn’t it old news for you now? What could you possibly be sniffing that’s new?”

Trick paid him no mind and strained at the leash as he seemingly caught onto a specific scent and, head down, nose in the short grass, headed in a straight line toward the lone tree in the dead end street Jayden’s apartment building was situated in. Jayden let him pull, still a little bleary from the earlier than expected start, and soon enough they were at the base of the tree, Trick sniffing wildly.

The dog spun around in a circle, and then lifted a leg up and peed.

Ah! So good!

Jayden started at the thought that popped into his head. No, it couldn’t be Trick. Dogs don’t talk. And they certainly don’t magically project thoughts into my head!

Now, where was that cat!?

Trick had finished his business and was now furiously working his nose around the base of the tree, obviously looking for scents to chase.

“No way!” Jayden half-shouted, “This is NOT possible!”

His outburst momentarily distracted the beagle from sniffing and he looked up at Jayden.

Huh? What? What’s going on?

Trick came over in front of Jayden and sat down, looking up at his master.

What are we doing? Can we chase the cat? I’m sure it’s here somewhere - I can SMELL it!

Jayden stared down at the dog and with a bemused look on his face said, “Trick, I’m going crazy. You can’t possibly be talking to me - IN MY HEAD at that. So that’s the only solution. Yep, I’m going crazy, completely bat crazy.”

The dog looked up at him longingly, panting slightly and head cocked slightly to one side.

Jayden? Are you-—

The thought faded off as if it was a voice of someone disappearing into the distance and Jayden blinked. The strange thoughts had stopped, and Trick looked like, well, he looked just like he did every day. A big brown, black and white lump of a dog who loved to chase the neighbor’s cat.


He blinked again, looking around at the sound of his dad’s voice.

“Pancakes are getting cold!”

He grinned and shook himself a little and looked down at Trick, “Come on, dummy, let’s go eat!”

“Stella! You are NOT going to be late for school!”

Stella groaned and shifted around to get more comfortable, trying to ignore her mother’s voice. From the sound of it, mum was downstairs, so she knew she could try to get away with a few more minutes. Stella reached for her pillow without opening her eyes but couldn’t find it where she expected it to be - right under her head. Where it should be. Confused, Stella rolled to her side to try to locate the missing pillow, and as she did, her blanket slid off her body and with a soft whoomph, landed on the floor.

Wait, that shouldn’t have happened, Stella thought and opened her eyes to see what was going on.

She let out a little scream as she found herself hovering in mid-air, about ten inches off her bed. “Um, what the heck!?” she said and wriggled around furiously, just out of reach of everything. Just as she was about to scream again, this time in major panic, she suddenly dropped down and landed with a heavy thump on her bed, head hitting her pillow just where it should have been all along.

Stella shivered with both cold and fear, completely baffled with what had just happened to her. That could NOT have happened.

Stella prided herself with the belief she wasn’t a traditionally ‘girly’ girl and wasn’t afraid to do wild and crazy things. The feeling of floating in the middle of her room was, however, not one she’d ever had before and she didn’t know what to make of it. Well, she was certainly awake now, AND cold! she thought. Jumping up, she quickly slipped on her jeans and top she had carefully laid out the night before. She really didn’t want to be late for school. The new school she had enrolled in this year was awesome and wacky and was a breath of fresh air compared to the last dreary school her mother had sent her to.

She quickly brushed her hair into a ponytail, and slipped a band around it to keep it back, grabbed her bag and headed for the door. Just before she got there, she paused, looked around uncertainly and jumped on the spot.

She landed back down on the carpet just as quickly as she had done on any number of occasions where she had the opportunity to jump.

Yes, definitely a figment of my imagination, this floating thing.

Stella shrugged and headed downstairs to greet her mom.

Jayden turned back towards the car, said “bye Dad” and closed the door. Swiveling around again to face the schoolyard, he smiled broadly. He loved this school. He loved his friends. He even loved the teaching. Well most of it. Crester College was a school for gifted children aged 12-17. Jayden’s parents had enrolled him as soon as he was old enough. He aced the entrance exams almost perfectly and the administration was very happy to take in yet another super bright kid.

Now approaching 16, Jayden was in his fourth year and looked forward to seeing what happened with classes. Catching sight of his friends hanging out by the door to the Science Building, he half-walked, half-jogged over to them.

“Hey Nick, Greg, how ARE you guys!?” Jayden said with a big grin.

“Good”, “Great” came the responses amongst fist bumps all round. The three friends were tight and had been since the first year. They consistently ended up in the top five in almost all of their classes. Each one had a single class that had proved to be a weakness. What brought them together was that their weaknesses were different which gave them the chance to help each other, the ongoing support for each other forged a strong friendship and they were almost inseparable.

This last school vacation had been tough. Nick’s family had taken off for almost the entire time, only arriving back the day before school. Jayden and Greg had hung out three or four days a week while he was gone, but they had both missed his constant quips and “word of the day” moments. That was the reason they all had dark circles around their eyes - last night’s gaming session had been epic.

Get it! That’s the cat who knocked over the trash bin last night!

I’m on it! You go around the tree and we’ll get it!

A sudden rush of thoughts entered Jayden’s mind, halting his reminiscing over last night with his friends mid-sentence. He turned around to where he felt the thoughts had come from and caught sight of two dogs on the other side of the road, madly running along the footpath, and a black blur that he recognized as a cat racing ahead of them.

What the heck is going on with my BRAIN!? Jayden thought wildly.

“Who’s that?” Nick asked, stepping up to Jayden’s side.

“Um, ah… what?” Jayden replied with a start, madly trying to figure out how to respond to that question while wondering if Nick had heard the thoughts too.

“Who’s the girl?” Nick said.

“Oh” Jayden refocused his view a little closer and saw who Nick was talking about. A dark haired girl was shutting the door to a bright green car and with a careless wave, started up the main path to the front door of the school. “I don’t know - do you think she’s a new student? Wonder what year she’s in? Definitely looks too old to be a newbie.”

Greg slapped a hand on each of the other two’s shoulders and said “Let’s go, boys! I want to know what class we’ve got first!” and steered them towards the side entrance to the main hall.

* * * * *

Stella jumped out of the car almost before it stopped, grabbed her bag out of the back and shut the door with her foot and a quick wave goodbye to her parents, headed to the front door. Stella had always been independent and with this new school was determined to start on the right foot. The right foot most definitely did not include being escorted by her mom and dad in front of the other kids who were going to be in class with her.

As she approached the front door, she scanned the yard, taking a quick inventory of who was out there. The kids ranged from a group of 12 or 13 year-olds up to a couple that looked older than her. A burst of laughter caught her attention and she looked over at three boys, probably her age, heading towards the corner of the main building. The one in the middle looked back with a puzzled look on his face, shook his head once, then forced a smile on his face and turned his attention back to his friends.

Stella opened the front door to the main building and entered the dimmer light of inside. Blinking the dark away, she looked around for the office. Heading over to the door clearly marked OFFICE, Stella entered and was greeted with “Hello dear, what can I do for you?” from a matronly woman behind the desk that halved the room.

“My name is Stella Morgan. I’m supposed to start this week. Can you look me up?”

“Oh hello dear!” the woman exclaimed, “No need! We’ve been expecting you and I have all your paperwork and class schedule right here. Now, my name is Mrs Steinbirgett and I’m the school admin. You can come to me with any questions…”

Mrs Steinbirgett’s words started to blur as she went into an obviously scripted outline of the school campus layout, location of lockers, bathrooms, gym, who the teachers were and so on.

Blah blah blah, let’s get on with it. Stella fidgeted and then zoning back in as the woman’s words trailed off, smiled brightly and said “Thanks, Mrs Steinbirgett!”

“Now, Stella, your first class is Chemistry. You should head over to the Science building and go to room 202. The teacher’s name is Mr Briggs.”

Stella thanked her again and headed back out the office door.

“All right, all right!” came across the hubbub of the dozen voices talking animatedly among themselves. “Classes start soon and we need to cover a couple of things.”

The words came from the man sitting at the front of the room behind the large desk. In rows facing him, in slightly larger versions of classroom desks sat a number of men and women, in various shapes and sizes, some dressed casually, some in suit pants or coats, two of the men wore ties.

The room resembled a classroom with a few differences. The main glaring difference was the lack of any windows at all. The room was also absent of any adornment, no posters advertising school functions, no graffiti, no charts, flowers, nothing other than the tables, chairs and two white boards behind the man who had spoken up.

The other conversations died down to silence and all attention fell on him. He stood, revealing his incredibly tall but slender frame, and smiled grimly.

“Thank you all. I’m glad to see everyone appears to be happy to be back for the next school term, we’ve got some exciting possibilities ahead of us!”

The man raised an arm with hand open, pointing vaguely towards the back of the room. “For the new face in the back, my name is Tom Travis and I’m the principal of this school, and the managing director of this organisation. Mr Smith, could you please introduce us to the newcomer?”

A short man shot up from the front row and turned. “Sir, everyone, this is Ms June Youngblood, she’s joining the Languages department upstairs, and the Psych department down here.”

“Great!” the leader said emphatically, “Since Mr Heston left last term, we’ve been struggling on mind analysis. Welcome Ms Youngblood!”

The woman smiled and nodded in acceptance of the light applause that came with the words. Smith sat back down, and Travis became serious again.

“Right then! We don’t have a lot of time this morning but there are two points on the agenda. Firstly, there’s a new student in the Senior class, Stella Morgan. She comes from interstate after her parents took new jobs in one of the big tech firms in town.”

Several people shifted in their seats.

“She is an excellent opportunity for us to see if the program works for latecomers. When we did the entrance exams and interviews with her, Mr Smith was able to patch her with the syndrome med and she had no adverse reactions. We’ve kept surveillance on her across the last few months and her progress is extremely promising.”

A number of the people in the room smiled with relief and excitement.

“She’ll be joining the class today and will be in Mr Briggs’ chemistry class. Remember, Briggs is not part of the organisation, so we’ll be doing remote surveillance of all progress made through the chemistry stream this year. It’s unfortunate, but what would be more unfortunate would be jeopardizing the secrecy of our mission.”

Nods and murmurs of assent came at that, and Travis settled down on the edge of his desk.

“Second important order of business, as it always is at the start of the year, is to look at the final year and highlight some of the more promising students. As some of you already know, Jayden Preston is, far and above, the biggest opportunity we’ve had since the program started ten years ago. His two friends are also promising but will perhaps bloom later in the year.”

He paused, took a deep breath and continued.

“Young Master Preston has been topping out in all his classes except English. Over the school break, security has reported that he has physically progressed to full maturity. His muscular frame is lean and strong and he kept his exercise regime up reliably. Besides the physical, we’re expecting his analytical skills, soft skills and psych evalulations will prove to be valuable for every team.”

Smith raised his hand. “Yes, Mr Smith?”

“We think we detected some elevated mental activity in his remote brain scans over the past week. We believe he’s bloomed already.”

“Well then! That IS exciting news!” Travis gave a rare bared teeth grin.

“Okay, okay, we need to capitalize on this opportunity quickly. Steve, John, you two coordinate with Terrance here on making sure we get the scans in classes this week. Catherine, ensure that the agents are in the cafeteria food this week, not next, and above all, everybody, keep an eye on Preston.”

Travis stood up and smiled again, obviously in high spirits. “Remember, we’ve only seen minor abilities bloom previously. We’re looking for a big break this year. We only get one ability per student, if that, and Preston has all of our hopes resting on his unsuspecting shoulders. Get to it team!”


Crester College for the Gifted

Tom Travis sat down in his luxurious leather swing back chair with a satisfied grunt.

Excellent! This could be our chance to see something big!

The principal opened his desk drawer and pulled out a small pile of file folders and placed them almost reverently on his desk. “Such a small number of successes,” he muttered, “but with such great results. If Preston can achieve his full potential his bloom could be something that we can really use.”

He began flicking through the folders, occasionally opening one and pausing at the words printed within.

“Ah, here she is, Miss Hamilton, our strongest result thus far.” He looked up to the ceiling as he remembered the outcomes of Jennifer Hamilton’s results two years ago. “Such a shame we couldn’t hold on to her and perhaps recruit her into the organisation.”

His faint smile faded as his memory progressed beyond the success of her final year to the subsequent graduation and disappearance of their greatest success story, even though calling it “great” was a stretch.

He looked down at the file open in front of him. Besides Jennifer Hamilton’s name, birth date and other personal details, the top page contained a summary of her academic results and a special box at the bottom labeled BLOOM ABILITY.

In the box were only a few paragraphs, but the first one was the most important: BLOOM ABILITY POSITIVE. LIMITED ABILITY TO CHANGE FINGERPRINTS.

Travis snorted, “limited ability.”

I guess being able to change her index fingerprints to anyone else’s that she’d touched is limited. But the board certainly could see some value in the capability.

He continued flicking through the previous student’s file until he got to the last two pages. On these pages, entitled INCIDENT REPORT, typed in a very small font, was the detailed report on Hamilton’s eluding of the two operatives who had been trailing her. They hadn’t expected any attempt at escape or disappearance - Hamilton had been the top student for that year without equal and had taken the revelations after graduation of the organisation seemingly well. Travis still didn’t know what had gone wrong.

The meeting between the girl, Smith and himself had gone smoothly. It was always tough revealing the organisation to a former student. Letting them know that they had been unwitting experiments could go either way and they had to resort to unfortunate actions on several occasions to cater for graduates who didn’t take it well. That was why they had perfected the amnesia serum a few years ago, and since then things had gone well. Several bright students became ‘interns’ into the organisation, others had their memories reset and sent on their way living normal lives.

It became harder, of course, if the bloom abilities became more overt and noticeable by the students themselves. Once that happened, if they didn’t accept the organisation’s offer after graduation, we’d have to start thinking about other, more permanent, methods to deal with them.

But Hamilton! Ah, Jennifer, you really could have helped us out.

The man looked down again at the report. She had agreed to join the organisation wholeheartedly, with a big smile on her face and an eagerness to join the team as an intern computer programmer. But then, using her bloom, she had faked his own fingerprint and broken into his personal office and safe. She’d then taken the money and a USB backup of the last year or so of research (fortunately highly encrypted) and gone on the run. The organisation’s agents were tracking some leads, and they suspected she was still in the country but they hadn’t got close yet.

The longer it took them, the higher chance Hamilton had of cracking the encryption and extracting the contents of the USB. Then they could really have issues depending on what her motivations were.

He sighed deeply, closed the file, and put it and the others away.

Let’s hope Preston and friends work out in every way. We need a big win soon.

Nick, Greg and Jayden grabbed their preferred seats in the classroom - second row, closest to the door. They liked to be up front so they could take in the lesson, but avoided being seen to being “teacher’s pets”. They also liked to escape as quickly as they could in between lessons so they could get onto more important things like talk about the latest video game or trading card collection.

They chatted animatedly, nodding welcome to other students as they entered the room and took their places. Just as the clock clicked over to 9am, the girl they’d noticed out in the yard walked through the doorway and took the desk directly in front of Jayden. He noticed that she had walked in with an self-assurance that was uncommon to kids their age coming into an unfamiliar place. She turned to the kid next to her and introduced herself, then turned around to the three boys and said “Hi, my name is Stella.”

“Jayden”, “Nick” and “Greg” with a collection of nods of welcome came in response.

Stella smiled and started to ask them a question but just then came “Welcome class!” in a joyful bellow as an average sized man walked into the room, quieting the students down immediately. The existing students loved Mr Briggs. He dealt with them with a mature respect that had them returning it without objection. Stella sensed the atmosphere and quickly spun around to face the front and watched the man in the sports coat move over to the teacher’s desk.

“Class, welcome to the new year and how great is it to start it with Advanced Chemistry!”

The teacher then launched into a brief introduction of what the next few weeks would entail for the class. The students settled back with varying degrees of concentration. Jayden noticed that Stella showed great interest, and decided that he should talk to her after class and, with Nick and Greg, see how he could help her feel welcome.

Feeling happy with relief to be back with his two best friends, and in the satisfying comfort of the classroom of one of his favorite subjects, Jayden turned his full concentration on the notes the teacher was now writing on the white board up front and lost track of time.

As the bell rang to signify the end of the double period of Chemistry, Nick and Greg jumped out of their seats and headed for the door. Jayden delayed slightly, and getting up, he tapped on Stella’s shoulder.

“Do you know where your locker is? Senior lockers are in the main building, down the back hallway.”

“Thanks, I haven’t been there yet. I didn’t have time when I got here this morning.” Stella replied.

“We can show you if you want. We’re headed there now.”

Stella nodded in agreement at the idea and they joined the stream of students headed through the door. On the other side Nick and Greg were waiting, leaning against the opposite wall.

“Guys, we’re going to show Stella where the lockers are before we go to lunch.”

The other two nodded at Jayden’s words and the four of them headed down the hallway to the staircase leading down to ground level. The four swapped more detailed introductions as they walked. Stella initially felt overwhelmed at the three boys welcoming her into their little group so easily. The three boys each in turn told the new student about the teachers, what their favorite subjects were, what to avoid in the cafeteria and other miscellaneous info that would make her introduction to school life. Stella revealed that she hated Physics but absolutely loved Mathematics and excelled at languages.

“Any of you played Stealth Combat 4 yet?” Stella asked out of the blue, amongst the conversation about school.

The three boys stopped mid-sentences with various looks of awed shock. “You’ve played it!?” Greg said incredulously, “it’s not supposed to be out until next week!”

“Oops!” Stella said with a sly grin, “I forgot it wasn’t released yet.”

The boys pressed her for more information until she revealed that her mother was a senior manager at Yellow Rhino Software, the makers of the Stealth Combat series.

“I’d be happy to show you guys if you’re interested?” Stella asked the three of them. A chorus of “Yes please!” came back at the question and the conversation turned to an ever more animated one about video games in general.

They entered the main school building and took a sharp right down a wide hallway. After a short walk they arrived at the Senior lockers.

“What number are you?” Jayden asked.

“45,” Stella read out off her keyring.

“Excellent, I’m in 46, and Greg’s 44. Nick lucked out and got 97 and they won’t change it.”

They walked over to the midway point of the lockers and Jayden pointed out 45 for Stella.

With a murmured thanks, Stella opened her locker and inspected it briefly. Looked like a typical locker. Remnants of sticker glue from a previous tenant. A couple of dust bunnies. As the boys opened their lockers and swapped over books for their next lessons. Stella withdrew a notebook and threw her bag inside and shut the door.

“What’s next?” she asked Jayden.

“Lunch!” called out Greg and Nick simultaneously.

Miss Catherine Thornton stood at the door of the cafeteria greeting the students as they filed in and lined up at the trays of food. The school always put on a great selection of healthy and tasty foods that added to the overall satisfaction of the students. It was essential for the plan to work for them to eat in the cafeteria the food that the school offered. Without the reinforcement of the extra chemicals, the bloom often took longer and didn’t always eventuate before they graduated.

She let out a little shudder as she remembered the failure six years ago. A student had bloomed while in college, two years after graduating from Crester College. Fortunately, policy dictated that surveillance was kept on all graduates until they bloomed or reached the age of 25 by which time the chemicals had fully cleared from the body. The team on the young man had put two and two together when a series of trees had lost all their leaves overnight in the middle of summer.

After a harrowing night, they had been able to analyze the bloodstream and mental activity of the graduate and determine that he had the ability to temporarily make trees think that they’d hit the midwinter but had done so subconsciously. The team had brought the graduate in for further questioning and soon after, he became a new member of the research team down below the college. As far as Catherine knew, he was happily looking into how to hybridize evergreens with other plant life with a goal of extending growing cycles for farmers further into the colder seasons.

This year was exciting. As Mr Travis had revealed this morning, not only were the Three Amigos, as some of the junior staff had come to call them, back and ready to bloom, but a new student! This girl would be a first for them with the new serums. Never before had they had a student come into the final year with only the kickstart drugs applied. She was the right age, so as long as she had a latent ability just waiting to be unlocked, it should be fine, but they’d have to watch her psychological condition carefully.

Still, that’s nothing of my concern, Thornton thought, I just need to make sure they all get their meds through the food.

And that needed her to maintain the high quality food that the students enjoyed. She pushed off the wall just as the three Seniors that they were all counting on entered alongside the new girl - Stella Morgan, was her name?

“Good afternoon, boys,” she said politely to the three, “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with this term’s menu. Today we have gourmet hot dogs, sweet potato fries and some fantastic house made slaw.” She nodded in acknowledgment to the girl, “Welcome, Miss Morgan, I’m Miss Thornton, head of the cafeteria.”

“Thanks Miss Morgan! I’m excited to be here after everything these three have been telling me! I mean, I was already excited, but this place sounds so cool!”

“I’m glad they gave us such a great review, we try very hard to make sure you’re getting a great education but also having a great time while doing so. There’s no reason for you to have a difficult time when school is hard enough. Now, on that topic. If you have any personal favorite foods, or a preferred beverage, please let the cafeteria know through our website. We take feedback very seriously, and we’re always looking for new tastes to introduce the students to.”

The teacher smiled. “I also look after Culinary Arts, which I believe you opted in for on your transfer application. I look forward to seeing you in class tomorrow.”

With that, she nodded curtly and headed to the door in the back of the room.

“This place is so fantastic!” Stella exclaimed, “Seriously guys, we get HOT DOGS on day one!?”

Jayden laughed, “Yup! And the sweet potato fries are heavenly. And the food doesn’t get worse as time goes on, if anything, it just keeps getting better. Hey Nick, do you remember the last few days of last term?”

Nick grinned broadly, “do I ever! Boston cream donuts, my favorite!”

Greg broke in, “don’t forget the chicken wings! I wish I knew their secret - the sauce on those things is freaky good!”

The four laughed and headed for the food. A few minutes later the four sat down at one of the tables in the far corner and conversation became intermittent as they focused on consuming a mountain of sausage, bun and fries.

As they settled down, the four got back to their previous discussion of school, video games, and the various activities they’d got up to over the holiday period. Nick went into a big story about white beaches, dark green jungles and a surprising encounter with a turtle that he was sure grinned at him.

Stella marveled at how easily the three boys let her be part of the discussion. While she acted tough, she was privately nervous about the new school. Not about keeping up with the work, she never had a problem with that. But socially she sometimes found other people her age not really wanting to open up to a new kid. This was the third time her family had moved in the last 5 years and she’d experienced a mixed bag of reactions. So far, and she knew it was only a day, things were going better than they had before.

At a break in the conversation, Stella excused herself to the bathroom.

The three boys looked at each other in satisfaction and all started talking at once.

“She’s cool!”


“We’ve got a fourth!”

The last came from Greg, but Jayden knew what h

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