“Thank you for responding so promptly, Mister…”
“You may simply call me Inspector, Principal Summers. In this capacity, my given name has no function.” The gray-skinned official, his taupe suit neatly pressed and his black hair precisely trimmed and brushed back over his pointed ears, smiled blandly at the Headmaster of Claremont, then at each of the students in turn. Schism felt a chill in her stomach at the man’s voice. He didn’t look familiar, but all Inspectors speak in that same cadence, the one she remembered so well and wished she didn’t. The man’s head turned towards her last, a subtle insult.
“Kenbish, I presume. Are you present here as a cultural liaison, or is this a confessional?” His bland smile was augmented with a bland laugh.
She felt the old storm rise up in her mind, but she kept it at bay with the memories of her family and the reminder that this was for them. The stutter code laced into her “latest report card” had gotten through to them, as hoped, though the answer was disappointing, if not unexpected. Her mother’s carefully penned words, obviously under the direction of Grandmother Viro, were decoded into a request to be able to return to their home and lives in that world instead of choosing freedom and exile here. But I’m here, too. Shouldn’t that count for anything? It wasn’t a fair thought, though; she knew they wanted only for her to be able to return to them. Safe. Non-threatening. As Kenbish. Not Simone, and definitely not Schism.
Kenbish means nobody. It was the government’s form of a warning wrapped in sarcasm. When she’d turned thirteen she lost the birth name given to her by her parents and was assigned her new one based on her expected role in society. “Nobody” was causing all this chaos and disruption, and “nobody” she’d remain until she learned her place.
She opened her mouth to make a safe, non-threatening reply, but Principal Summers had already stepped slightly in front of her, hand hard on his cane, and spoke with quiet authority. “She has no blame in this scenario. We are dealing with a situation in which she has offered her valuable assistance, as have these others.” Summers gestured toward Sorrel, adding, “We are taking this as an educational opportunity for our students, hence the number of students present; I hope you don’t mind. This young man will provide you with the specifics on how they ended up in your dimension, and what followed them there.”
Sorrel, in turn, stepped forward. His voice took on a smooth, professional tone, and he played the role with precision: exhaustive detail on seemingly important trivialities, an excised version of their battle with “forces of disorder” that somehow led to a rip between worlds, and finally, the presentation of the mock-Cybersoul chassis. Reggie, visibly gritting his teeth as he watched the Inspector’s eyes pass over Simone with deceptive dismissiveness, stepped forward in turn with Brian and Kirby to reassure the man that this mysterious entity posed no threat to anyone anymore, and that no, of course, there was no sign of any unauthorized intel retained in this husk. The real Cybersoul – after working diligently with the tech kids at the creation of this false being that needed to match their material makeup and electrical signatures – was waiting things out, along with Otakubot, in Aaron’s protected off-world room to make sure any scans would reveal nothing remotely like that simulacrum. Deaglan and MC were also missing from the lineup, but both remained stationed nearby to provide the supporting illusion and fae glamor on the chassis that could feasibly account for whatever strange readings the officials had picked up during the students’ time there.
Simone stayed quietly in the background, nodding when appropriate and speaking only when asked direct questions by the Inspector, which was thankfully rare. She felt a wave of gratitude for her friends here. Even Thad was present, wearing his trust-fundiest looking clothes and attitude, exuding the stability, class, complacent respectfulness that are hallmarks of the model citizens from her home world. Aramat and Flora didn’t have much to do, as it was unlikely their skills were going to come into play, but they insisted on being there as moral support. It was a surprisingly intense feeling, knowing that there were people here just to make sure she would have friends nearby. Yuna and Sebastian were present, too, and Simone was slightly suspicious that Casanova was assisting the performance in subtle ways. Bobby very much wanted to be there, but was rightly concerned about his connection to both Twilight Darkness and Cybersoul, so instead grudgingly agreed to keep out of sight.
Finally, all the forms were filled, the boxes checked, and official questions supplied with acceptable answers. The Inspector, continuing to display that mincing efficiency which made Simone want to commit violence to his person, blinked to clear the screens from his eyes. He then paused for a second before remembering to put his hand forward in a customary concluding gesture for humans. He once again offered a general smile to the group, nodding approvingly at Sorrel, Thad, and Reggie in particular. “Such a productive, respectful group of young people. I commend you, Principal Summers.”
Simone waited. It sounded like a bland, polite way of ending the meeting, and in fact the Inspector was already turning toward the portal that had begun to open the second he’d cleared his interrogation screens. They never pass up an opportunity, though, she thought to herself. True to form, just before he stepped through the portal, back to where her family waited anxiously to return to their lives, back to where fear and comfort are indistinguishable from each other, he looked directly at Simone for the first time.
“Really, Kenbish, it seems like they hardly have a use for someone like you at all. Do try to keep up with your classmates, won’t you? The sooner you learn your lessons here, the sooner you can come back home to us, where you belong.”
Storm raging, Schism looked back into his eyes with a demure smile.
“I intend to, sir.”