Silently, Basil cursed his sister for making him promise that he would not let his grades at school suffer. He had always been a straight-A student and she expected him to continue the trend in high school – especially since she was paying through the nose to send him to the single most expensive and exclusive high school of the entire city, if not the state. Not that she can’t easily afford the fees.
Diantha High, named after Lady Light’s third daughter, doubled as a memorial to her sacrifice during the destruction of Old Lennston at the hands of Desolation-in-Light. A pure gold larger-than-life statue of the teenage heroine, whose old high school had stood on this spot, greeted everyone upon entering the premises through the main gate. The school was funded by Lady Light herself in memory to her child and was known for giving scholarships to any and every promising student, as well as offering the highest security standard – no criminal, whether metahuman or normal, was stupid enough to attack the school or operate even close to it. Drug abuse on the grounds was close to zero, since no one dealt in proximity to the premises and Diantha High students were avoided as customers.
Also, the school was asking for very reasonable fees for a school of such prestige. Another reason why Basil thought that Amy was being overly dramatic about the money.
As he reached the golden statue, he heard someone call his name: “Hey, Basil! Over here!”
Turning around, he saw his old friend Tim, or Timothy Louis if you wanted to annoy him, an Afro-American boy his age, but even taller, hitting nearly two meters. While Basil was a little bit on the underweight side, the boy was a bit overweight – he usually described himself as ‘comfortably plump’ – and had middle-length dark brown hair done up in cornrows.
Next to him stood Aimihime Dannington. Half-japanese, she stood less then a hundred and sixty centimeters and looked much more japanese than caucasian. Unlike Tim, who was a bit overweight, she was clearly quite a bit more than that. She also sported the classic goth look, with lots of mascara, black eyeshadow and black lipstick.
They wore the same uniform every attendee of Diantha High had to wear, a blue jacket and pants with a yellow shirt for the boys and the same just with a blue skirt and knee-high boots for the girls. Basil wore the same clothing, though in keeping with his usual attitude, they were immaculately clean but very disheveled.
“Tim, Aimi, how are you doing?”, he asked as he approached. He couldn’t help but notice that Aimi was looking very unhappy. Not that she was usually cheery, but she looked like she was on the verge of tears. “Fine”; said Tim and Aimi echoed him. Basil was about to ask her how she really felt and why, but he knew the look in her eyes. She would tell him in her own time.
And then, right on cue, the school bell rang.
* * *
They went into the school, making small talk about their impressions after the first month of school. It had been largely a pleasant experience. All three of them had never expected to be able to afford entry into the school. While none of them had been poor, none of their families had been wealthy, either. And the only one of them who had the necessary grades for a full scholarship was Basil.
But a streak of luck had, somehow, allowed all of them into the school. One of Tim’s grandfathers had died and it had turned out that he’d had some property that, upon being reviewed by the bank, had turned out to be worth quite a lot of money. And since Tim had, surprisingly, been the main benefactor of his grandfather’s testament, he’d been catapulted from working class to millionaire over night.
As for Aimi, her mother had finally been promoted at the law firm she had been working at and now made enough money to pay for the school along with a scholarship that had been suddenly granted.
Of course, now Basil knew that his sister had altered the testament of Tim’s grandfather and ‘convinced’ the boss of Aimi’s mother to promote her to make sure that he would be able to go to school with his friends.
That was something he had thanked her for, illegal mind control notwithstanding.
“So, what are you guys doing after school?”, he asked them as they sat down for English class. The room was designed like the rest of the school: simple, elegant, efficient.
“Nothing planned. Why?”, Tim asked. Aimi just sat there quietly.
“Well, I’ve got something I’d like to show you guys. A little surprise I’ve been waiting to spring on you for a while”, Basil answered with a smile.
“Oh? Does this have anything to do with why you’ve been almost completely unavailable the last two months?”, Tim asked with a raised eyebrow. Now Aimi finally looked up and seemed actually interested.
“Partially. So, you got time after school?”
“Well, some of us took more than the minimal necessary classes…” Basil had done his best to minimize the time he would have to spend in school. “…so unlike you, we will be done at five o’clock. That alright?”
“Sure. I’ll be out of here at about two o’clock. How about we meet up at O’Dallahy’s around six o’clock? We can have dinner and then I’ll show you the surprise.”
“Done, done and done.”
Aimi just nodded her acceptance.
* * *
The rest of the school day went largely without anything worth mentioning, except for two incidents:
First, shortly before third period, Basil got lost in his headspace again. Rounding a corner, he ran into an equally distracted girl and they both fell down onto the floor. The girl’s bag opened, spilling her books and writing utensils,.
“Oh, I’m so sorry”, he said, immediately helping gather everything. He immediately noticed that all of the books were encased in handmade protective sheaths, decorated thematically depending on the subject of the book in question. The pencil bag was equally handcrafted. He could not help but admire the amount of care and work it must have taken to make these. He looked up to give them back.
The girl had gotten back to her feet already. She was tall, only a few centimeters shorter than him and she had a distinct greek cast to her skin. Her school uniform hid a figure that was already quite developed for a fourteen-year-old. Her skin was naturally tan and she had long, wavy black hair. He recognized Vasiliki Parapagadou – she was his age and had been assigned to the same counselor (every student at Diantha High had a counselor who was supposed to help them with their schedule and any other problems they might have) and had spent a few minutes chatting while they waited for their turn to be introduced to their counselor. They’d found it funny that they both had the same first name, with hers being the greek feminine form of his.
“Don’t be, I wasn’t looking where I went either, Basil”, she said and bent down to pick up the books he was holding up for her. For just a moment, he was able to look down her cleavage. While that in and of itself was very interesting, the amulett she was wearing was even more so. It might have passed as a classical greek amulett for protection against the ‘evil eye’, but then he saw that it, too, was not off the rack. The blue stones with the white and black ‘eyes’ were more transparent than usual, with strange veins that shifted their colour depending on the light running through them.
Then she straightened again. She did not seem to have noticed that he basically peeped on her.
“So, how has school been until now?”, she asked.
“Oh, quite well. Can’t complain, really. I don’t have that many classes, so I’ve got a lot of time for my own projects.”
“Same with me. Though I am taking some extra-curricular arts classes.”
“Well, I can see that you have a knack for the finer arts”, he said, indicating her school bag.
She gave him a hearty laugh and said: “Yes, everyone says that. I just have this urge to improve anything I get my hands on.”
Now it was his turn to laugh. “Oh, I know that one. Though I am nowhere near as artistically inclined.”
Then, the school bell rang and the two excused themselves and went their seperate ways.
* * *
The second incident came during lunch break after fourth period. Basil, Tim and Aimi had gotten their food and gone out onto the yard to enjoy one of the last sunny days of the year. They found a wooden table with benches near a tree that had not been occupied yet and made themselves comfortable as they dug into their food.
All the while, Basil was watching Aimi. The young Goth was looking even worse than in the morning. In fact, she looked like she had cried and then redone her make-up.
After a while, he could not take it anymore. “Aimi.”
She looked up. “What?”, she asked rather rudely.
“You’ve been looking like someone bought you a kitten and then killed it in front of you all morning. And I know that you’ve been crying. No, don’t even start telling me it’s none of my business, or that ‘everything is okay’. And don’t try to avoid answering. Just tell us what is going on. We’re your friends. We won’t judge you and we will do what we can to help you.”
“I’ve got to second that. If even Basil noticed that you’re down, there’s a problem. Talk to us”, Tim chipped in.
Aimi was getting more and more restless. The hand she used to hold her plastic spoon had begun to shake.
“Thanks for the glowing endorsement. So, Aimi, are you going to tell us what’s going on, or do we have to pull it out of your nose?”
“I… You know my…”, she sighed, then tried again. “You know my…”, and the rest was an incoherent mumble. Finally, she put down her fork and leaned back to take a deep breath. Basil and Tim remained silent, waiting for her to work up to tell them.
“You know my dad’s not exactly the smartest… or the cleanest guy”, she started. Both of them nodded. Aimi’s dad, Danny Dannington, was a career crook who had managed, more out of luck than skill, to get an in into the local drug trade. But he also had a gambling problem and regularly used his own product, so he constantly owed money to one or the other underworld figure.
“Dad’s finally managed to cross the line. Some kind of gamble, so now he owes the Snow Queen money”, she went on. That helped explain her mood – the Snow Queen was a supervillainess, and not a weak one, either. Solid B-List, actually. “And as if that ain’t enough, he somehow got his hands on m-mom’s savings and lost them, too.”
Now she was in tears, sobbing quietly. “Even if he didn’t owe the Snow Queen money, even with mom’s promotion, without those savings, I won’t be able to keep coming here. And w- and we’ll probably lose our house. If the Snow Queen doesn’t kill us to make an example.” She broke down into tears and buried her face in her hands.
“He has to go to some kind of meeting tonight, down at the harbor. The Snow Queen is going to be there and a bunch of other guys in the trade. She told him if he doesn’t have the money till then, she’ll come after us!”
Tim, sitting next to her, put an arm around her shoulders. Basil tried to help with words: “Listen, Aimi. Don’t despair. I’m sure everything will work out. And even if your dad doesn’t manage to get your money back, someone will stop the Snow Queen before she can hurt you.” Well, now I have a target for my debut. And it’s going to be tonight.
* * *
After having taken care of Aimi, Tim and her went to their classes. Basil, on the other hand, decided to skip his last class and go to his base.
Time to prepare for tonight.
First of all, he used a program he had written a few weeks ago to scour the internet for every piece of information about the Snow Queen available and compile it into a complete portfolio.
While his program worked, he checked up the armor and his equipment. When he was halfway done with that, he suddenly had an idea for improving his chances and making searching for the meeting place easier.
Thirty minutes later, he had a prototype of a robotic raven lying in front of him. It was little more than a remote-controlled camera and microphone, but it would be invaluable for tonight. Plus, it complemented the theme he had picked out for himself.
The raven had been built using designs found online and adapted to serve his purpose. It looked like a large, though not unusually so, specimen of the common raven. Unlike most such robots, it did not use propulsion to fly. Instead, its wings were fully functional, including making authentic noises. Since it was meant only for surveillance, he had been able to make it look like the real deal, to the point were anything but a close-up look would identify it as a normal raven.
He wrote a simple control program and also included some scripts so it would simulate authentic behaviour while not flying, such as grooming itself and the like.
When he was done with that, it was already time to go and meet his friends.
Two more hours, and he had worked most bugs out and fixed them.
* * *
Even though he ran, he was still a bit late to their meeting.
O’Dallahy’s was an old Irish pub and restaurant, run by the same family for as long as New and Old Lennston had existed. It provided fairly-priced, filling food, though it was not exactly gourmet. But most people went there for the beer, anyway.
The three friends were still too young to drink (and at least Basil found alcohol to be quite disgusting, no matter what type), but the steaks served here were insanely good.
Aimi seemed to have calmed down and actually smiled a bit when Basil arrived.
One hearty dinner later, the three of them paid and went towards the warehouse.
“I’m curious what you have been working on the last two months. And how you got permission from your sister to do it here, in the Northern District”, Tim said.
“Just you wait. You are going to love this”, Basil said as they reached the warehouse. They entered and he guided them to the door that led to the entrance of his secret base.
He unlocked the door and pushed it open with a flourish. “Behold.”