Gatekeepers #1

A story by Aaron Daniels.

Evey breathed a sigh of relief when she found that not only did she have a parking space open, but there was one reserved specifically for her. Seeing her name on the placard above her space made her first day real in a way that was silly but no less true. She looked in the rearview mirror for a moment and saw the face that she had seen countless times before, the one that sometimes felt like Nanna Minako were looking at her through her eyes even though Nanna’s had been brown, not blue. After making sure her bun was nice and neat and tugging her uniform into place, she got out of her car and locked it behind her.

As she followed the signs for the convocation, she found a number of students still milling about and generally making their way there. That meant that she still had a few minutes. She slipped around to the side entrance that she was told would be there. As she made her way through the backstage and hovered at the curtains for a moment, she saw that the faculty and staff were already assembled and seated, including those with black uniforms with blue piping like hers. Most of them looked famliar due to her research of the public profiles that she could find, but she had paid special attention to her new team-mates in the Athena squad. As she moved through their information in her head, she matched the faces to them. The willowy African-American woman with the unreadable expression was Sienna Vincent, the team coordinator and operator. The gruff, solidly built man whose muscles showed even through his uniform in his places was Cade Garrard, primary combat officer. The pleasant-looking Hispanic man who looked equal parts amused and bored was Antonio Dominguez, support specialist and acting captain until that position transferred to Evey. Then Evey noted that the principal, Dr. Ahmadi, was already at the podium. That meant that she was running out of time.

Evey made a beeline for the empty seat, having to slip past Officer Vincent — she acknowledged Evey with studying eyes then went back to looking forward — and Officer Garrard — he gave her a scowl — before she sat down next to Officer Dominguez. Dominguez gave her a smile and polite nod, both of which she returned. Evey followed the gaze of the staff back to the podium, where Dr. Ahmadi stood and waited for the last few students to file in. The doors shut, and he eased his hands to the podium and took a deep breath.

“Welcome, students, to another year at the Ohio Academy for Extranormals.” Hearing his voice a second time, Evey concluded that he was Afghani but had spent most of his life in America. “For those of you who do not know, I am Principal Ahmadi. The first thing that we need to cover, I think, are some ground rules.”

Evey scanned the crowd as Dr. Ahmadi spoke. The students were well-behaved and attentive so far, with most of them giving Dr. Ahmadi their full attention. To a certain extent, that was a testament to his skill as a speaker, but it also said a lot that the students weren’t letting their attention wander.

“So I hear that you’re our new fearless leader,” Dominguez whispered.

“Something like that.” Evey continued to scan the crowd.

“Definitely a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of person, huh?”

Evey nodded. “It’s what I do.”

“I can get behind that,” he said, then fell silent again. She looked at him for a moment, and though he made it out like he was relaxed and sitting back, she saw that he was paying as much attention to the crowd as she was. That made her smile a little. Evey turned back to the crowd and saw that anticipation building in the crowd, and when she paused to remember ¬†what was on the itinerary, she felt excited, too. It wasn’t every day that you got to hear from a living piece of American history.

“And without further ado, students, faculty, and staff . . .” Dr. Ahmadi smiled broadly. “I give you the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.”

The students cheered and clapped, and Evey turned to look where the the projectors were focused. Within moments, there stood an aged man who dominated everyone’s attention even though though he had lost most of his once-thick hair and leaned on a cane for support.

“My fellow Americans,” Former President Kennedy said, smiling his winsome smile. “When you came into your auditoriums for this speech, you no doubt looked to the sky and saw the green and purple wonder that we take for granted. We still call it the Strange Moon, and sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s been around longer than any of you have been alive. But it sure came as a surprise on that day in October, the very first Strange Day, and made all kinds of miraculous things possible.” He breathed a deep sigh, a smile shining his eyes. “Like the hologram stream that I’m currently using to be in 45 academies all over the nation.

“And the people blessed by the Strange Moon’s influence, well . . . it seems like just yesterday,” Former President Kennedy began, his voice taking on a wistful tone, “that I was in my motorcade in Dallas. It wasn’t too long before Thanksgiving, and I wanted to get an early start on my campaign. If I had known that a man was going to try to kill me, I think I may have postponed.”

Everyone laughed.

“We were coming through Dealey Plaza, and before I even knew what was happening, a young woman rushed out of the crowd and threw her hand up to the sky. A blue dome spread out from her hand like she had just made the light itself bend to her will. The very next heartbeat, there were shots fired. I can still hear them. One, two, three! So fast, almost like there was more than just one shooter. But it was just one man with very good aim and very fast hands.

“After everything settled down,” he said, “I was introduced to Ms. Howard, the first Extranormal Event Individual I had the pleasure of knowing, though we didn’t have the words to describe her gifts at the time. It was thanks to her that I learned of the extraordinary Americans who were eager to make their mark on the world.

“And that revelation came not a moment too soon.

“At the time, we had a commitment to our French allies to assist them in Vietnam. Though a full deployment was out of the question, I called up all the extraordinary volunteers I could find, and we had them coordinate with our allies in South Vietnam. We even made a little film about it.”

The crowd nodded. Who hadn’t seen it, after all?

“During the North Vietnamese aggression and after, I kept dialogues going with the leaders of the Extra community. We stayed aware of their needs and what they could offer our nation. It wasn’t long before those talks bore fruit and led us to the right minds and right gifts that allowed for drastically acceleration of our sciences and engineering. For example, we used these skills in cooperation with our Russian allies for our manned missions into space and to the moon. Then we seized on an idea that had only appeared in science fiction and made an elevator to space for easy deployment of space faring ships.” He paused, turning his smile up to full wattage. “But we had work to do on mother Earth as well. Extranormal men and women together with their fellow citizens tied our great country together through the national highspeed rail that reaches from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

“There’s so much more to talk about, but I’m afraid that I only have so much time.”

His smile faded just a touch. “Though the road hasn’t always been even, I was sure that giving our extraordinary citizens the opportunity to make the most of their gifts was the right choice, and I stand by that today. Our leaders in education nationwide have made that choice, too, and join you in beginning the school year.

“So, young men and women from all across our country, don’t just think of what you will gain by walking your halls; think of you what you can do for the world around you with you what you learn.

“Thank you.”

The hologram faded to applause, and Evey smiled. Maybe this would be the good move she hoped it would be.

“I don’t believe I could do better than that,” Dr. Ahmadi said as he came back to the podium. “So I will simply let President Kennedy have the last word. You are dismissed.”

The students stood and followed this teacher and that out of the auditorium or otherwise left in an orderly fashion. The noise picked up as the students engaged in conversation. Evey and the other security personnel stood, and everyone started going on there way. She didn’t follow, as she was to report to Dr. Ahmadi first thing, though he had already slipped out of the auditorium by the time that she looked podium. Did he have some sort of invisibility power?

Whatever the case might have been, Evey made her way to his office. The door was open, but, even so, she knocked on the frame.

“Officer Bloom?” Dr. Ahmadi said. “Do come in.”

Evey did so, and she walked just inside and held herself at a waiting position.

“Have a seat,” he said, and she did.

“I notice that you were very nearly late for the today’s convocation,” Dr. Ahmadi said, his tone carefully neutral.

“Yes, sir.” Evey braced herself but didn’t let it show. “There was an emergency on Vernon Odom on my way over.”

“Emergency?” Dr. Ahmadi asked.

Nodding, Evey started into the account of the event from the beginning. It felt homey to to do a debriefing, and the thoughts flowed out of her mind and into her words in the familiar cadence of observation, action, and detail until she found the whole event recounted.

“Hm.” Dr. Ahmadi drummed his fingers on his desk. “And do you know the cause of the building failure?”

Evey shook her head. “No, sir. I –”

Dr. Ahmadi held up his hand and smiled. “No need for such a title, Officer Bloom. You may call me Mr. or Dr. or Principal Ahmadi.”

“Ah, right.” Evey smiled a little. “I think I’ll go with ‘doctor?’”

Dr. Ahmadi nodded. “You were saying?”

“I wasn’t able to hear anything before I came here, si — Dr. Ahmadi.”

“Hm.” He reached for his desk phone and called a number. “Officer Vincent? Yes, hello, this is the principal speaking. If you would be so kind, could you please start gathering any data on a housing collapse that . . .” He trailed off; Evey raised an eyebrow. Dr. Ahmadi smiled and nodded. “I see, Officer Vincent. Thank you. Good work as usual.” He hung up the the phone.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

“Oh, yes,” Dr. Ahmadi said. “Officer Vincent is already on it. She keeps her eyes out for suspicious events, and a sudden structural failure in an otherwise stable neighborhood would qualify as suspicious in my mind.”

Evey laughed. “I would definitely agree.”

“I did want to say, however.” Dr. Ahmadi’s smile faded somewhat. “I’m glad that you were able to handle the emergency in Akron and still make it here on time.”

“But?” Evey asked, feeling that she knew what to expect.

“‘But’ your duty to the school must always come first. If there should ever be a conflict, then –”

“I’ll do my duty,” Evey said.

“Just so.” Dr. Ahmadi nodded and rose. “Now, I’d like to give you a tour before I hand you off to the chief.”

“Sounds good to me,” she said, and rose to follow him. Looked like this job would be familiar after all. Maybe a little too familiar.

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