Home > Perfect Gravity (Wanted and Wired #2)

Perfect Gravity (Wanted and Wired #2)
Author: Vivien Jackson



   Angela Neko did not celebrate Christmas. First of all, she was thirteen and had long since grown past that kind of fantastical bullshit. Also, she had been taught a severe secular protocol, one that would give her entrée to a whole buffet of opportunities someday, after she graduated. Besides, everybody with a brain knew religion was for anti-intellectuals. Faithmongers believed the fantasies that others fed to them because they lacked the imagination to shape their own realities. Well, she definitely didn’t lack imagination. Or intelligence. Or creativity. She was going places, and fanaticism of any kind could only distract her.

   Also, the Santa Claus thing was repulsive. A fat old man invading her dorm in the middle of the night to eat her cookies? Creepy. Not to mention illegal under at least half a dozen statutes.

   Still, there were a few sad devotees here at her school, newcomers mostly, homesick kids who were trying to hang on to scraps of wherever they’d come from, and she couldn’t fault them their comfort. They’d produced a plastic tree from the wide-volume printer in the engineering lab and decorated it with paper ribbons and flickery LED lights and other crap. Somebody had stuck a bangle on top that she was fairly certain had started out as a pole dancer’s pastie.

   The fake tree stood out in the courtyard in front of her dorm building, so she saw it a lot, but it never, ever tempted her into humming those peppy seasonal songs under her breath. Nope. Angela had control.

   So much control, in fact, that it pissed her off mightily when other students lost theirs. Her hyperdeveloped sense of justice meant she had no problem bringing her hammer down where it was warranted.

   As was the case on a certain night in late December. After a full day of lecture and lab, Angela hurried through the courtyard, a supplemental master class piping itself directly into her embedded earpiece, but she drew up short near the row of water reclaimers. She tapped the earpiece, silencing her disembodied professor.

   A newcomer stood by the spangled plastic tree. Singing.

   He had a terrible voice, composed entirely of flats and sharps. But holy fuckturtle was he pretty. She had never seen a live, nondigital person who looked like this, all golden and shining, staring up at the pastie bangle like it really was the star of Bethlehem. Like it was going to magically poof and lead him somewhere special. The Christmas myth contained angels, she’d read, and here, insubstantial and glowing in the moonlight, this boy could very well have been one of those.

   If, you know, she believed in any of that.

   “Hey, rube,” one of her fellow students called, striding into the courtyard and flanked by his minions. “Can you shut up already? You sound like a dying cat.”

   The new boy flinched and stopped singing. He didn’t look abashed or embarrassed, though, not even when the others surrounded him. Four of them, all prime-tier recruits. Angela knew their schedules, family situations, intelligence measurements, and class rankings. She had worked with two of them on a psych-engineering team project last summer. All of them had been here at the academy for half a dozen years.

   Not as long as her, though.

   One student said something in French about the boy’s clothes, and the others laughed. Odd, Angela hadn’t noticed his clothes, but she looked now. Shabby would be a good word for them. Also inappropriate for a desert winter. He didn’t even have a coat. He must have been really cold out there in the courtyard.

   They teased him some more. Apparently one of his tormenters was his roommate but had locked him out. He wasn’t welcome here, another said. He was part of the problem, part of the old world and everything the modernists had sought to eradicate earlier this century. Clearly the mentors had made a mistake. He needed to go home.

   With a roll of her wrist against her smartsleeve, she accessed enrollment records on her internal com. She ran them against facial recognition. The new student’s name was Kellen Hockley. Nice name, lots of voiced sonorants.

   His profiles had been defaced. Did he not know enough tech to tidy them up? Or did he not mind the things they called him? The threats they made to his “people” and his home? No one had made any attempt to hide their assumptions about him, and no one had defended him either, not even his recruiters or assigned mentors.

   This last got Angela’s hackles up. Her school was better than that. She was better than that. She wasn’t about to let a bunch of self-important jackwagons bully this boy into feeling bad about himself.

   Because no, he wasn’t here by mistake. Not even remotely. He had put up a perfect score on the open testing. Perfect score. Even she had gotten half points on three items at the last exam cycle, and she’d been on an intensive study tier here since she was five.

   Where had he come from? A place full of threadbare, holey-kneed trousers and dishy, golden-haired angels, apparently. And also supergeniuses. She consulted the enrollment, but it didn’t list a nation of origin. Guardianship transfer sections were blank.

   Angel. From heaven.

   Complete bullshit.

   However, bullshit or not, he deserved a warm place to sleep and salvation from this teasing. It wasn’t funny at all, and her justice hammer had gotten pretty heavy.

   Angela stepped into the courtyard, and the cacophony of voices fluttered to silence. The four tormenters could not meet her steady gaze, though they didn’t run away.

   “It is late,” she said, pushing authority into her voice. “You all should be in bed preparing for tomorrow. Good night.” Implicit in every word was a threat. Her mentor, Zeke, wielded power beyond the walls of the school. All kinds of rumors swirled around him. People on the conspiracy-shrouded darknet swore he was trying to take over the world. Angela wouldn’t go so far as that, but even so, she knew Zeke could nudge whole lives off course if he so chose. If she told him he should.

   The bullies echoed her good night in a rainbow of languages, showing off like complete losers. Two told her to have pleasant dreams. She didn’t inform them that her only dreams were nightmares. The darkness inside her mind wasn’t any of their business.

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