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Test of Time
In order to pass the time and distract from their situation, the crew tell their life stories.
5th June 2016
8th, 13th, 18th, 22nd, 24th - 31st July 2016
17th March 2001
Chakotay climbed as high as he could without getting unwanted attention. Just in case he crouched down slightly while he got a good look around. The hill he stood on surrounded the area before him. Down below looked like a tiny crater filled with light foliage, a few trees, rocks and a tiny stream trickling down almost opposite from where he was. The barely two metre square wide puddle at the bottom seemed to be the only source of water in this place.
He peered up to the top. All along the rim of this area stood a barbed fence, with an occasional scaffolding style watch tower. Each one manned with armed aliens keeping a close watch on the people inside the hole before them.
Not everyone imprisoned were his people. Other aliens seemed to have fallen into the same trap Voyager did. From here he counted two different species. Two other crews, both smaller than his even combined.
Chakotay headed down quietly, while wondering whether Voyager made it or not. He hoped so.
A few of the senior staff waited for him at the bottom. All of them curious. He shook his head. "They seem to have every nook and cranny covered. Eyes everywhere."
"They have not stated their purpose for imprisoning us. They may yet negotiate," Tuvok said.
Neelix looked up at the closest tower with worry. "None of them look very friendly. We'll be here a while."
"Hold off on dinner for now," Chakotay said quickly in a panic. Everyone else were grateful for it. "Tuvok's right. They showed no interest in Voyager herself. They must want something from us instead."
"We're not in any position to bargain. If they want something from us as a people, Voyager will be the one they bother. Not us," Neelix said.
"Think he'll see us here?" Jessie asked as she sat beneath a small tree. She offered a handful of purple grape looking fruits to the group. They all reached to take one or two.
James looked backwards towards Chakotay's group. Neelix started to pick what looked like weeds, Chakotay and Tuvok quickly restrained him. "I'm sure he won't forget us."
"Yeah, thanks for that," Craig shuddered, popping a grape into his mouth gingerly. Once he chewed he nodded and smiled, "not bad."
Morgan kept her eye on the tower nearby while eating hers. "If we could get close..."
"We'd need a distraction. There's no further cover at all on the way up," James said to her. He crept up to his feet to walk towards a nearby tree, using it as cover as he looked upwards.
Morgan huffed and rolled her eyes, "I know. I thought if Neelix offers up some dinner, we'll have one."
Craig got up as well to follow James. He tried to follow his stare direction, but looked up into the tree instead. "Let me, I used to climb them all the time back at my grandmum's house."
"What?" James frowned at him until he noticed where he was looking. "Wouldn't it save more time if you ran up the hill shouting let me out? Same result."
"Nuh uh. I'll show you," Craig scoffed and waved his hand in his own face casually. Before James could respond he went for the tree and started to climb.
With only Morgan, Jessie and Tani left behind, Tani made a point of staring at Jessie while she leaned over to her friend and whispered. "Laugh and pretend to avert your eye from her when I finish..."
Morgan burst into laughter for a good minute or so. Tani kept trying to finish her sentence but couldn't get a word in. Jessie stared at them both with a raised eyebrow. As sudden as she started, Morgan stopped and her face was completely straight. "You're welcome," she said.
"Yeah, thanks!" Tani grunted. Her eye hovered back to Jessie as she laughed quietly to herself.
The awkward silence that followed didn't last more than five minutes, as another more argumentative group joined them and made themselves at home around the lack of a campfire.
"Nuh uh, Pokémon can be cute and badass. Digimon are uggo's," Kiara said.
Naomi rolled her eyes, "overrated pap. Better stories, better games. I'm right. So there."
"What's Digimon?" Jessie asked.
"I rest ma case," Kiara said. Naomi scoffed and folded her arms in a huff.
Triah chuckled nervously towards the rest of the group. "Sorry. Chakotay wanted me to keep the kids in a more sheltered, less open place but didn't want to lose his command point. I was trying to distract them with the cloud shape game. Got a little heated."
"It's all right. It's better than Tani pretending to say mean things about me, instead of you know, actually daring to say anything to my face," Jessie smiled sweetly.
Tani glared in her direction while her own best friend sniggered at her. "Maybe you should turn your hearing aid up. I said you dress like an old granny."
"Why didn't you just say that instead of what you did tell me?" Morgan asked.
"Morgan," Tani whined pathetically at her. She lowered her voice to a whisper, "I hadn't thought of it yet. You should be on my side."
"Why?" Morgan asked genuinely in an innocent voice. Tani pointed a look of utter betrayal at her. "You honestly think being a bitch to Jessie is gonna get James to declare his undying love for you and pull a ring out of his ass? Oh I know, next time I want some rations from mum I'm gonna tell her the coffee looks like crap and so I threw it out into space."
Kiara giggled first, "coffee crap."
Jessie struggled to keep a straight face at them both. "I... think your comparison is incy bit more um... risky, but thanks. I'm okay with letting her try to piss me off. It's fun."
"I dunno," Triah said, treading carefully. "All you're doing is proving the really bad stereotype that you can't leave girls alone with each other, or they'll start pulling hair. I bet the guys are getting along, we can't let them win."
Meanwhile James was staring at the tree, sniggering but trying to stop it by biting his lip. "How's the view?"
Craig glared down at him, "shut up. I'm fine." He wobbled a bit on the thin branch, his hug like grip on the base tightened. "Any ideas?" he asked meekly.
"Let go," James replied.
"No, I'll fall!" Craig snapped back.
James eyed the ground, then slowly looked up at where Craig was. He barely needed to lift his chin. Craig had not even reached six feet up, stalling on the first branch that could temporarily hold his weight. "Yeah...?"
"A serious idea would be super handy," Craig stuttered.
James shrugged and cringed, "oh serious? Then no. I thought you had done this before."
"Yeah, but these trees are a little bigger than what I'm used to," Craig said.
James looked down and slightly up again, his eyebrow raised higher than Craig had climbed. "You know climbing the Christmas tree doesn't count, right?"
"Stop making jokes for once and help me!" Craig cried.
"Oh I can't. I'm scared of heights. That's why I stopped growing before I got to six foot," James said.
Craig's face turned a bright red from trying to keep from losing his temper. "What did I just say? You're not funny."
"No but this is," James sniggered.
"You're a jerk," Craig huffed.
James shook his head, "thanks, I try. Let go of the damn branch and jump down."
"Why? I'm not stuck, I'm just... its boring as an adult," Craig stuttered.
"Ookay?" James' other eyebrow went up. "Then get down. I'm gonna go back to the women. They're the saner of us."
He had turned to walk away when he heard a clatter behind him, and a painful grunt. James smiled and partly rolled his eyes. "Never fails," he whispered.
Soon Craig was limping on his way to get by him. "Okay, but I call dibs on Morgan and Tani."
James stared at him with his face scrunching up in disgust. "Did you fall head first?"
Craig swung around with confused expression, "what do you mean?"
"If I have to explain why you sound like a big creep, then do us all a favour and test the aim of our prison guards," James answered.
"God, it was a joke. Are you the only one who can do that? What's the difference?" Craig huffed.
"I made fun of you for doing something stupid, and funny, to your face. You insulted the women, no underage girls, behind their back," James replied.
"Don't be so hard on him," Triah's voice said as she emerged from around a tree. "I hear Tom had him as his next protege before you stole him."
"Sis, don't say that like I'm some wannabe sidekick. I have a mind of my own," Craig whined.
Triah walked forward to ruffle his hair as if he were still a kid. "Aaaw, of course you do," she said mockingly, then she wiped the same hand on a few leaves close to her. "What do you put in that? Grease."
"Funny you should ask. I don't have any gel for my hair, so I used this brown slushy stuff to hold it steady," Craig said while trying to keep his face straight.
Triah narrowed her eyes at him for quite a while. She finally laughed and walked off, "yeah, I can see it." Once she was gone, Craig's hands crept up to check on his hair.
The lowering sun dipped behind a few clouds, casting most of the crater in the shade. The rest already were and the groups in it had huddled together for warmth.
Chakotay looked to the stars as he sat down in front of the fire. "I wonder if they made it," he said softly.
"We could be here a long time if they didn't," Tom said.
Tuvok glanced toward them with his hands still in a meditative hold and his eyes closed. "It will do little good to ponder on the fate of our comrades and Voyager. We must focus on our survival here, whilst keeping a close watch on our captors routine. Only then we can contemplate an escape plan."
"Way of ahead of you Mr Vulcan," Neelix said in between laboured breaths. He approached them carrying small tree branches. Doing so seemed to have tired him out, his face dripped with sweat. He groaned as he dropped down beside Tuvok, too closely for his liking. To make matters worse he started to take off his boots. The fire flickered, everyone thought it would go out at any second. "So far they change shifts when the star approaches the horizon. Of course like a lot of planets, the sun can set earlier or later by a matter of seconds or minutes. We'll have to see where it is tomorrow when they change shifts to get a good idea how it works here."
Most of his group had shuffled backwards as discreetly as possible, all while trying to close their nostrils. Neelix did not notice this at all, he merely wriggled his toes by the fire before it gave up and left them in the dark.
"That's if we live that long," Tom commented.
Meanwhile Voyager was a little busy with their own life and death situation to deal with its stricken crew.
"We are the Borg, existence as you know it is over..."
"Yes, yes that's still terrifying and true the twentieth time," Kathryn mumbled while yawning into her hand.
"You will be assi... hey don't sit their ignoring us!"
Kathryn pretended to look insulted, she gasped overdramatically. "I'm not, how dare you! I'm more slouching if anything."
The only other person on the bridge's face twitched a few times before replying. "Captain. We are not at our best. Perhaps you should not aggravate the Borg."
Kathryn snorted uncontrollably for one mere second, she held the rest of her laughter in by biting her lip. She looked up at the woman behind her. "I'll do what I want. If they want to assimilate a couple of dweebs to get to me, instead of waiting for our rescue mission, then more fool them."
"What's a dweeb?" Seven asked.
"You will be assimilated."
"Yeah, yeah," Kathryn waved them off.
The Doctor hurried onto the Bridge, for some reason wearing a command red uniform. "Captain. I have a suggestion."
Kathryn stood up just so he could see her clearly as she laughed at him. "Oh, keep dreaming. It'll be a cold episode in a rotten season before I let you take command of my ship. Go photonic cannon off."
"I er... wasn't..." the Doctor stammered nervously. Seven looked on in actual sympathy. "It's okay. You're angry that your daughters are missing. I won't take it personally."
"Resistance is futile."
"God. It's always something. Maybe I just want to be rude, ever thought of that?" Kathryn snapped.
"Why do they keep mispronouncing that?" Seven wondered quietly.
Not quietly enough, Kathryn grumbled something incoherent. At first. The next sentence she directed to the Borg ship on the screen. "I'll tell you what. You sod off until, um I dunno, next week, and I'll give you back Seven of Nine."
"What?" Seven said blankly.
Kathryn shrugged with an indifferent look on her face, "worth a shot." She made her way over to the helm. "You know the routine."
"Evasive maneuvers?" the Doctor questioned.
"Rotate the bloody phaser frequencies," Kathryn snarled.
"Oh," the Doctor stuttered whilst dashing to Tactical. "Back to my suggestion..."
"Let me guess, the nanoprobe cannon? Seven, open your veins and point it that way," Kathryn groaned.
Seven knew not to take her seriously in this case, so she blanked her. The Doctor chose to ignore it as well. "I found footage from the Luau last week, I'm sure the Borg would be pleasantly surprised to see it."
"What?" Kathryn said in disgust.
That was a no, but the Doctor decided to open a channel anyway. He prepared a file send program. "One person would be disgusted to see this, so this should send the hive mind into a frenzy," he chuckled.
"No, we're still doing that stupid hula hoop and flower crap? God, I thought these programs die out after a season," Kathryn grunted.
"I'm sure something equally ridiculous and offensive will replace it soon enough," the Doctor commented. His finger tapped on send. His eyes widened in a panic. "Uhoh."
"Oh what now?" Kathryn groaned.
"I didn't just send it to the Borg," the Doctor replied sheepishly.
On cue the viewscreen changed from the Borg cube to a still picture of Neelix drooling, his eyes rolled up and worst of all, his crusty foot being massaged right up close to the camera. Toe nails were brown and curled, hair and spots were everywhere.
"Aaaaah. Retreat at once!"
"Aaaaah!" Kathryn screeched almost at the same time. She reached for the empty coffee cup she left on top of the helm and threw it at the viewscreen in a blind panic. It smashed on impact, the screen cracked and turned off. "Ugh, I don't want to imagine how they'll adapt to that."
Seven's eyebrow raised in good humour, "indeed."
"The Borg cube's retreating, they jumped straight into transwarp," the Doctor chuckled. "Can't say I blame them."
"I'm surprised they can still see where they're going. Resume course. We've..." Kathryn said.
"Um, you're at the helm," the Doctor reminded her.
Kathryn scowled over her shoulder, "yes, but someone posted a picture of Neelix's verruca raddled stubby toes. My poor eyes need time to recover."
"Understood," the Doctor replied meekly. He muttered under his breath, "you're welcome."
Some people had not yet fallen asleep when the large orange star made its reappearance. It felt like to most of the Voyager crew that it had been gone for only a few hours. It was difficult to know. Neelix was one of the few it didn't bother, as he looked towards the towers on the hills and watched the soldiers on duty swap over.
While Morgan volunteered to collect food from the trees, Jessie decided to walk down to inspect the only supply of water. Footsteps crunched behind her routinely, she swung around to confront them with her first raised.
"It's only me!" Craig panicked with his hands up.
"Oh," Jessie mumbled. "You should stay with the group."
"That's the thing. We really shouldn't be wandering around on our own. It's not like we're the only people here," Craig said meekly.
Jessie shrugged and continued on her way. "Yeah I guess. It's a good thing though that this puddle isn't enough for a bath or I'd be telling you where to go."
Craig cleared his throat uncomfortably. "A bath, yeah. That's too bad," he said awkwardly.
Jessie turned around again with her eyes narrowed. The sun wasn't the only thing making Craig sweat uncontrollably. She pointed her finger accusingly at him, "are you saying that I smell?"
"No, I wouldn't do tha..." Craig blurted out in a blind panic. What she said hit him, stalling it for now. "What, smell? No. I wasn't thinking anything like that."
"Good," Jessie said. Her eyes still squeezed mostly shut remained trained on him. "What were you thinking about then?"
His collar was starting to feel very tight, and clammy. Craig tugged it a little to get some much needed air. Another person approached the puddle just in time to smirk at his situation.
"Oh hey Jess," the new arrival called out. "Airing the new boy out before you try him on?"
"What?" Jessie whispered and frowned. Tom winked at her suggestively, which helped her understand immediately. She groaned in disgust, "girls and boys can hang out together without wanting to make out. I know it's hard for you to believe, since no girls ever wanting to be around you is good proof of that..."
Tom hand waved her comments to one side, laughing all the while. "Yeah yeah, I know. Chill out. There's not enough water to go around as it is. Just be careful not to stamp on the boy's hopes, he's only young."
"Oh yeah. Cos in Tom's eyes, he's my friend so he's entitled to get some of that, huh?" Jessie hissed. "What's the matter Tom, can you only make friends with fellow twats like yourself?"
"Oookay, struck a nerve," Tom said in Craig's direction, with a forced smile.
Craig meanwhile visibly winced. "Yeah, so maybe you should stop picking at it."
"I'm sorry Jess, but I'm only calling it as I see it. James, Craig, even that counsellor dude..." Tom said.
The argument had left a nasty chill in the air. Craig couldn't help but shiver. He was thankful Jessie's vicious glare wasn't pointed anywhere near him. "Not all men are as sad as you. Piss off," she grunted and turned her back on them both. "You know what, screw this. I'd rather die of thirst." She stomped off, leaving them behind.
Craig sighed, partially in relief as that was over. The rest was pointed in Tom's direction as he still grinned like an idiot. Craig wondered if the heat was getting to his head. "Really?" he only said instead.
"It's okay," Tom smirked. "We've always had this back and forth. It's harmless. You've been hanging around with no fun James too long."
"I don't know, he's really blunt sometimes, but at least he doesn't go out of his way to harass girls for fun," Craig said.
The comment left Tom taken aback. He laughed it off. "Oh he'll get there. I assure you." He pointed towards the little water. "You were here first kid. I got ya back."
"I'm not the kid here, that's you," Craig said to surprise him further. He left the helmsman speechless for once.
When Craig returned to his group he found one member of it missing, and James standing to one side constantly looking over his shoulder.
"Uh, where's Jessie?" Craig had to ask.
The question caught James' attention first. He hurried over whilst looking back a few times. Craig instinctively took a step back, just in case.
"What happened out there? Jessie came back rambling about little boys, pests and prizes, at least I think she said prizes," James asked sharply.
"It wasn't me," Craig quickly defended himself. "Tom, he started teasing her about you and me being friends with her and..."
James groaned as he looked over his shoulder once more. "Tom. What a surprise."
"Am I missing something? What's so insulting about that?" Morgan asked while snacking on orange and tiny nuts. Triah quickly leaned forward to collect them before she ate the entire lot. Morgan's lip stuck out as the older woman added them to another small pile in the middle of the camp.
"Because you know, girls have germs and are icky. They stop being so when you want to make out with them," James said a little painfully, rolling his eyes in disgust afterwards.
"Eh?" Morgan was more confused with that explanation than without. She looked to her friend for help.
"Yeah it's not meant to make sense, that's his point," Tani said. She looked up, unsure of herself. "Right?"
James nodded. "Right. For some idiots, being friends with a girl who's not interested is a fate worse than death. It's the insecure little boys that rate their masculinity on this crap. Like it means anything."
Craig laughed nervously, he leaned forward and lowered his voice. "Maybe you're both overreacting here. It's Tom, he comments on everything."
"No," James said tiredly. "Jess and I have gotten this a lot growing up. It gets old very quickly."
"That's so dumb," Morgan commented.
"Yeah, you two are clearly not..." Tani said while doing kissing motions with both her hands. Everyone pointed similar raised eyebrow looks of disdain at her. "Though with her, it's not for a lack of trying."
Morgan shoved her to one side without even passing her a glance. She fell onto her side with a light thud and an ooph. "That's you. It's gross, stop it."
James looked away awkwardly, "yes, stop."
"Wait. You let her go off on her own?" Craig stuttered as the thought popped into his head. "I know let is a strong word for her but..."
"She's not far. She's fine," James said, looking over his shoulder again. Craig finally understood why he was doing it and relaxed a little. "Sorry," James said, turning his head back. "For a second I did think you were the one who caused this."
"Yeah I figured. I wasn't entirely innocent in this either," Craig mumbled as quietly as he could manage.
"She's always been a bit sensitive on this subject, I've noticed," Triah chimed in thoughtfully. "You said you both got it a lot growing up, but Jessie's more bothered about it than you. More to the story, or?"
Tani shuffled back into a sitting position and folded her arms over knees, pouting her lips furiously. Morgan noticed her expression, she restrained a laugh for the moment by shaking her head.
James meanwhile did laugh, but at Triah's comment. "You have no idea. In those days it was usually her telling me to calm down, and holding me back. She suffered mostly in silence, didn't believe in fighting back. It all built up over the years and... boom, Jessie won't take that same crap now."
Morgan stared at him, slack jawed in shock. She wasn't the only one. Craig's eyes nearly fell out, or so he felt as he slowly shook his head. Tani only shook hers and scoffed.
"Jessie, quiet and meek. I don't believe it," Morgan said just in time for Jessie to return to the group from behind James. Instead of being embarrassed, Morgan smiled and shrugged. "He's telling beefies about you."
Craig hid his laughter behind his hand, not very well either. "Porkies."
"Whatever," Morgan grunted.
"He's not," Jessie said begrudgingly. "I didn't have the guts then. Didn't dare do anything about anything. It wasn't until I was sixteen, I erm... what's the best word?" She looked to James for inspiration.
He looked at her, thinking about it. "Snapped. That's what you called it then."
"Yeah," Jessie laughed briefly, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. "Snapped like a twig. Years of constant bullying will do that. Non stop since I was four, those first few days at school. Ignoring them never did a thing."
"To be fair, I didn't help matters," James smiled meekly.
"Oh I dunno. It was pretty relentless those two days before you started," Jessie said, cringing slightly.
Tani sighed huffily again, "wait, you saying you've known him since you were what, four?" The pair nodded their reply. "Aaw."
"Aaaw," Triah said in the opposite tone, like she was looking at cute puppies. They looked at her, Jessie with her eyes narrowed, and James' eyebrows both raised and his teeth clenched in an awkward grimace. "Not aaw, as in how romantic. I mean aaw, friends forever, how cute."
"Ugh," Tani rolled her eyes in disgust.
"I wouldn't call anything about our first meeting cute," James said reluctantly.
Snow had fallen heavily the night before. All of the children of Miss Turner's class had arrived in soaking wet boots and coats, their cheeks a rosy red from the biting cold and the running around outside. The young inexperienced teacher and her assistant had to spend ten minutes trying to calm the excitable lot down before they could even get their coats off and get them dry.
The assistant managed to spare the two seconds she needed to get the extra heater on. The old fashioned hot air blower would dry off the snow in no time, then it would have to be turned off until the next snowfall. Before she got the chance to do anything else, Miss Turner whispered in her ear and hurried out of the classroom.
No sooner had their teacher stepped out the door, twenty odd kids were running around screaming their heads off. The assistant tried frantically to calm them, way over her head. It was their third day at school ever, so their shy period was long over.
Only a couple of the children remained still at the desks. One boy looked on with his eyebrows high. He returned to his crayon scribbling until another two boys ran up to him and helped him finish it. The other kid, a girl with short black hair kept to herself by the window.
Miss Turner returned to the classroom with another child, a blond boy keeping his head down, trailing behind her. Using the file on her desk she banged on the blackboard to get the class's attention. All the kids rushed to their desks.
"Good morning 1TR," she greeted them.
"Good morning Miss Turner," the children said politely.
"I have another member of this class that you haven't met yet, I want you to be really nice to him," Miss Turner said. The classroom fell strangely silent, most of the children merely stared curiously. "His name is James Taylor. Say hello children."
The assistant looked on, worried that the silence was a bad omen for this new kid. Fortunately a few of them did say hello as if they were shy, which she knew they weren't, and a couple waved. She breathed a sigh of relief anyway.
"Where should we sit you then?" Miss Turner said down to the newcomer. She lead him over to the class, which he didn't look too keen about as she looked around to find him a suitable seat.
The classroom was a small one, with four medium sized desks enough to fit roughly six kids around each one. One of them had been taken over by only girls nearest to the front, while another with only boys in the opposite corner. The third table closest to the door with a mixed gender ratio still looked split, with the girls bunched to the right of it so they were closer to the girls table, and the boys in the back corner of it keeping to themselves.
Only one table seemed like a good idea for this new shy boy, the teacher thought. The fourth and final table sat the lone raven haired girl she had several failed attempts at getting to mingle with the others. She thought perhaps another child seemingly like her would work better, so Miss Turner crouched down next to the new boy.
"Go and sit at that girl's table near the window. She's on her own so it would be nice if you could keep each other company," Miss Turner whispered. James looked at the girl, she was staring out the window looking very bored and lonely. He made his way quickly through the other tables and he carefully tried to pick a seat. Choosing not to startle her, he took a seat on the opposite side. She hadn't noticed since she was still staring out of the window.
For the first hour the class was encouraged to use all of the crayons, pencils and pens in the middle of each table to draw anything that came to mind. The new boy was still choosing which of them to use when a boy from a neighbouring table tugged on his sleeve, he looked over his shoulder.
"Hey Jamesy, can you give this to that girl?" he asked, pointing a piece of paper at James' table-mate. "She'll like it and I can't leave ma table."
"Um okay," he replied, taking the drawing from him.
"Ta," the boy chuckled for some reason. He turned back to talk to his friends.
James thought to look at the picture first. On it a hastily scribbled stick figured dog, a speech bubble popping out of it with only the word woof in it. He had nicely autographed his masterpiece. Another name was on there though. Trailing along the dog's back was the words 'Rexxie the dog' underlined three times in red.
He looked up, for a second he made eye contact with the shy girl sitting opposite him. She glanced down uncomfortably to continue what she was doing. Sniggering from the boys behind him at the same time and after made him look down at the picture again. He was still going to give it to her, as the boy asked, with some edits.
Once he was done he slid the piece of paper over to her. She took one look at it and promptly burst into giggles. He did as well, leaving the other boy dumbfounded as to what they were laughing at. All it took was a little scribbling over the Rexxie part with a felt tip of the same colour. The boy's autograph being the only name left next to a picture of a dog, looking like he was wearing a superhero cape, was enough to bring the two shy kids into a ten minute long gigglefest at the drawer's expense.
"Aaaw," Triah repeated, once again cueing further strange stares. "What's not cute about that?"
"Nothing. James overthinks it. He whines that he shouldn't have given it to me at all," Jessie chuckled, now sitting down against a tree with Craig and Morgan on either side of her.
Morgan was confused again, she looked at her frowning. "Why a dog? What's a dog? Rexxie?"
Jessie inhaled through her clenched teeth, her shoulders tensed up. "Rexxie, is my first and one of my last names combined. Rex is a cute name for a pet dog. They thought they were being funny."
James walked by them, looking for a place to sit down too. His choices were next to Tani, or with the kids. There really was no choice, he figured. He sat near the kids, Kiara gave him a polite smile for it. Morgan noticed it and checked to see if Tani would seethe with jealousy over even that. Luckily she didn't.
"I had no way of knowing if you'd still be upset at the pic. It was dumb, and that wasn't what I was commenting on," he said.
Jessie looked over with a mischievous glint in her eye. He couldn't help but feel worried. "No. You were talking about when we finally spoke to each other."
"Ohno. Are we really doing this?" James asked, groaning slightly.
Jessie tilted her head to one side, smiling sweetly. "You started it. You're welcome to tell this part."
"I dunno," James said. He noticed Kiara and Naomi watching him, both with the same puppy dog look on their faces. "Okay fine, but it's not that interesting. Boring actually."
Most of the kids had looked forward to break time more than they usually did. It was rare to get a chance to play in the snow. However in the few hours of class they had, all that was left of the white stuff was instead slushy and dark grey. The field nearby had been made off limits since it was still wet, with an odd few patches of white left over.
While a lot of the children made do with what they had, the new boy and the shy girl stood near the small park, also off limits due to the wet weather, leaning against the brick wall of the school.
Neither of them had dared to say anything to the other all morning. The girl looked on warily occasionally, while James tried to think of something to say that wasn't stupid or anything. In the end it was so awkward, he said the first thing that came to mind.
"So, er... is this place good?"
The girl jumped and she gave him a quick stare before she answered him. "No, it's boring, I hate everyone."
"Why?" he asked.
"They're all mean. The boys they call me ugly, laugh at me, pull my hair," she replied with a pout. She looked at him fearfully. "Pretend to be nice for a bit, then be mean later."
James didn't notice, all the things she listed brought his gaze down to the gravelled playground. He scraped his foot against a faded white line. "Oh," he could only muster up.
The girl thought about taking that opportunity to hurry away from him before he could turn on her, like the rest. First she looked around for another spot to hide in. Kids were everywhere though.
"You ever play Line Race?" James asked abruptly. Her eyes briefly widened, a frown formed on her face. "Where you follow cracks, and lines and stuff. Reach dead end, turn around and go another way. Pick a finish line, first to get there wins."
The girl didn't look so sure. "My sisters call it Maze Race. I always win."
James smiled, he fully expected her to not know it or be uninterested from her expression before. "It looked like fun. Do you want to?"
"You never played it?" the girl asked, puzzled he'd even bring it up.
"No," James replied, his eyes fell downwards but he kept his smile painted on. "Seen others play it though."
"The trees over there," the girl said, pointing to the opposite side of the playground. At the far edge, along the fence stood a row of trees. Her finger gestured to the closest one. "I go easy on you."
"Nah, that's no fun," James said, shaking his head.
"Okay," the girl said brightly, her guard seemingly lowered.
The two kids found a mark on the ground to start with, two different coloured lines going in the same direction that hadn't been repainted in years. She meekly said go and off they both ran, following the faint lines, hopping onto nearby cracks or other lines on route to the tree. The girl chose to avoid a group of kids nearby by leaping onto a crack by the fence and following it up. Her slight detour gave James the edge, and he reached the tree a few seconds before her.
"Hey," she huffed, puffing her cheeks out. "That's not fair. You cheated. I always win."
James tried to retrace his path in his head, worried that he had missed something after all the games he'd witnessed from his bedroom window. He couldn't think of anything. "Good you didn't go easy on me then, huh?"
The girl threw her hands on her hips. "I knew it, you're mean!"
There was a brief silent stare down between the two, merely a few seconds long, until they both broke down into uncontrollable giggles. Hers lingered a little longer than his, she tried to talk through the end of it, "you were called James, right?"
"Yeah," James nodded. "Still am. You?"
The girl scowled briefly, it looked so animated he figured she was faking it. "I'm Jessie. Where we started."
"What?" he said whilst she ran off, following the lines again. He quickly dashed after her. Halfway back he noticed her stop and look around frantically. From what he could see there were two paths she could take to get most of the way back, he wondered why she couldn't see them. James decided to look ahead and continue following his own, then he noticed what the possible problem was.
"Hey Rexxie," one of five boys sneered at her from near the park. The others whistled at her, while the first boy bent over slightly and patted his leg. "Here girl, wanna a stroke, go for a walkies?" They all burst into laughter.
Jessie remained frozen on the spot. All of those lines James saw lead straight to these laughing boys, she wouldn't go until they did. It didn't matter anyway, they started to head over to her.
"I told you Harley, not to let her off her leash again," one boy scolded the one who was doing all the vocal taunting.
They started to circle her like vultures, James saw her entire frame flinch as she looked down at the ground.
"Well, it's not my fault she's butt ugly. Would you have her around all da time?" Harley sniggered, inspiring a few of the boys to laugh with him and at her.
Another boy pointed at her face, sneering, "nope, those buggy eyes make me wanna hurl. Her stupid black hair. So boring."
She hadn't moved an inch. Jessie stood, staring at the floor looking close to tears. Something the boys took great delight in. The sight of it annoyed James so much, he started running over without even thinking about it. One of the boys noticed his approach.
"Oh look, Rexxie's got a boyfriend," he laughed. The other boys howled in response.
"A blind and dumb one. Better put him down," another sniggered, making it even worse.
"I dunno why I'm still doing this," Jessie said shakily. Her arms folded defensively around her knees.
James looked on sadly. "Yeah, they got the point. It's okay."
Triah glanced between them, forlorn at what she had heard so far. "I dunno how kids can be so crap to each other. So much for innocence of youth."
"I dunno how they swapped who was telling the story without us noticing," Craig commented.
The rest of the group that weren't James and Jessie did a double take, they thought about it as well with a confused look on their face.
"Oh yeah," Morgan piped up first. "I guess I was more into it than I thought. I did like it up until the crapheads appeared. James is still a big smart arse, I noticed. He hasn't changed."
James forced a smile on his face, "that was quite tame by my standards, even back then."
Tani pouted in his direction. "I wanna know what happened next. Violence?"
Morgan rolled her eyes, "eew, you're not gonna drool over this story are you? He was like four. You didn't exist."
James decided to ignore the question all together. "It was usually the same boys. Every day, the same routine. We'd be playing together, not bothering anyone and there they were, lingering across like a really bad smell."
"But why? I don't get it," Morgan said.
"Because they were braindead tossers," James said bitterly while his eyes fell to the ground in front of him.
Jessie glanced at him and sighed. "Because of my silly surname, my family, I was easy pickings, they had a bet to see who could make me cry first, they hated me, my looks really did make them ill. Take your pick. I never found out the actual reason."
"Your family?" Triah questioned.
"When you come to school with a mother who looks nothing like you, with a sister in tow that looks like neither, it tends to create ammo. Like I didn't have enough," Jessie sighed.
The school bell rang loudly across the entire building. Children fled out of it as if it were on fire, towards the parents waiting at the gates.
James though walked out slowly, glancing around gingerly. As soon as he clasped eyes on the gates, he hurried left towards a small inlet in the building. There, with his back against the furthest wall, he wouldn't be seen by anyone at the fence but still visible to everyone leaving through the main entrance.
The stream of kids gradually whittled down to a small few. A ten year old red headed girl with a fair complexion waited around by the steps. Her face lit up as Jessie emerged from the door to join her.
"Hey little sis," she greeted her loudly.
Jessie didn't look as pleased as her. "Ali," she whined, "I told you."
"Oh pish," the older girl laughed and waved her hand in her own face. "Those boys can kiss my bum. Come on." She reached down to hint for the smaller girl's hand.
Jessie reluctantly took it, then they headed off. At the last possible second Jessie spotted James in the inlet, so she dragged her sister that way instead.
"What, are those boys at the gate still? I told you, I'll sort them," Ali protested.
"James?" Jessie said, instantly getting James' attention. He looked immediately nervous on seeing her. "You said you were in a hurry. Your mum not here yet?"
He shook his head, "no."
Jessie looked a little puzzled. His eyes were darting about, he looked nervous about something. Apart from his first day a month or so ago, it wasn't like him at all. Though he never was eager to go home, she noticed. Which made his earlier rush to get out of the building itself even more confusing to her.
"Ahem," Ali hinted with a throat clear.
"Um, this is Alison. My big sister," Jessie said, getting the hint. "Ali, this is..."
"The infamous James, I know. It's about time I got to meet him," Ali teased her.
James barely looked up, he forced a smile on his face. "Hi."
"Hi. You know, your mum's not gonna find you in here," Alison said.
James flinched, both girls noticed but they didn't know what to make of it. "I'll... I'll check if she's here now, bye," he said before hurrying away towards the gates.
"Do I smell or...?" Alison said.
Jessie frowned as she looked up at her, "no, that was weird though. He's acting more like me."
Alison lead her back into the playground and to the gates. Jessie couldn't shake off the image of James as she did, it distracted her and so she didn't see the waiting bullies by the fence until they spoke.
"Oh Rexxie, say hi to your fake mum for us," Harley sneered.
"That's if she isn't already taking her back to the kennels," another boy said.
The other boys laughed in response. One turned up his nose and put on a posh voice, "ohno, take this scruffy little bag of bones away, all it does is pee on the carpet and cry a lot."
Jessie tried to look away, while blinking away the tears trying to come. Alison though glared back at them as Jessie walked faster, pulling her forward. The older girl badly wanted to say something, "hey, the only scruffy like pee stain around here is you lot."
The boys laughed harder while Jessie cringed and pulled her sister harder. "Oh Rexxie, so ugly no one wants to adopt her," they all sang together, clearly rehearsed.
"That's all you get. I heard their lovely song all the way down the street as they followed us. I..." Jessie's adult voice stammered through a frog in her throat. "I couldn't take it anymore. My sister had to carry me home, I couldn't stop crying. Stupid. I pretended to have a bad stomach, didn't eat my tea, breakfast the next day to make it look true.
"I didn't understand why they hated me so much. I was afraid that if I went to school the next day, I would end up blubbering in front of them. I didn't want them to see their bullying was working."
James waited by the park the next morning before first bell. He looked around at first curiously, later it was more out of concern. Finally paranoia. He remembered the previous day, he thought that his running off might have upset his only friend. He winced, silently berating himself for being stupid and rude.
The bell rang. If she was in class, he would keep his distance. He didn't want to be a pest. They always met at this place, every morning. If she wasn't there, she didn't want to see him. He walked into the school with his chin almost touching his chest.
Only she wasn't in class. He wondered why about it all morning. He noticed the boys constantly glancing over at him, sniggering and talking between themselves.
By afternoon break James found himself walking towards his usual spot. He knew Jessie wasn't going to suddenly show up, it was just a habit now. He wasn't there long when Alison and two girls her age approached him.
"Oh James, found you finally," Alison said. "Jessie's not feeling well today. I dunno when she'll be back."
James' face fell, "oh. Hope she gets better soon."
"Me too. Poor thing," Alison sighed.
One of her friends crouched down beside James which instantly made him uncomfortable. "You're almost doll like. Look at you. Baby blue, blonde, that face. I could put you on my shelf."
James' eyes widened as far as they could go, he side stepped away a few times.
"Wow, way to reach peak creepiness Jill," Alison muttered.
"What?" the same girl said whilst looking back and up over her shoulder.
The third girl laughed mockingly at her. "And that's before she talks."
"Speak for yourself Dawnie, you look like your mum drags you around by your lip," Jill hissed back.
"Maybe yours should start. Might shut you up," Dawn sniped back as a teacher approached them.
"Alison, detention remember," he warned.
Alison groaned, "oh come on. I only pushed one of them. How come they don't get punished!" She huffily followed the teacher around the corner.
"Yeah she can talk. At least I don't push four year olds around," Jill sniggered.
"No, you just plan to stuff them and put them next to your Barbies," Dawn mocked her.
James edged away even more. This time the girls noticed it. Jill scooted over a bit to follow him.
"Please, I'm too old for those things," Jill scoffed. Her eyes lit up and pointed to James, who was wondering when the bell would ring and save him. "Oh, do you want them? Maybe not the Barbies since you're a boy, but I got other stuff too. I'm sure my mum will make you some tea if you pop over."
"Okay, going way off topic now. Time for a break," James said rapidly. He climbed up just as quickly. "My turn to go food shopping. Be back later."
No one had time to wonder or ask what happened. He was long gone. Jessie bit her lip, showing her uncomfortableness. They all looked at her for answers.
"Yeah, don't look at me," she said forcefully.
"I know you weren't there, but surely he..." Craig said.
Jessie's face hardened in his direction, he almost melted on the spot. "I mean, you're not getting that story from me. Don't even bother. He's right, let's take a break."
Kiara shuddered and looked to Naomi. "Scawy story. That girl had Sevens on her shelf. Have nightmares tonight."
Naomi frowned at her. "Barbies."
"Where?" Kiara panicked, she ran over to her big sister and hid behind her.
Morgan snorted into laughter at Naomi's even more scrunched up face. "Good thing she isn't actually here," she sniggered. "I'm sure mum's having a great time right now."
"Full power!" Kathryn roared.
Seven flinched. Her fingers were almost like a blur as she worked. "I'm sorry Captain. I can't give it anymore. We really should redirect this power conduit to the..."
"Did I stutter? Full power or I'll use you as a battery," Kathryn snapped.
Seven did the redirect anyway, hoping she wouldn't notice, while still tapping away at the panel Kathryn was death glaring into submission. It whirred back to life and gave a little beep to say it was fine.
"Finally. Coffee, black," Kathryn's voice said from the next room. Seven looked over her shoulder with some bemusement, the Captain had been behind her a mere second ago.
A cup of coffee barely finished rematerialising when Kathryn snatched it away and started to chug it.
"Now may I transfer more power into the shield array?" Seven asked, even though she already was doing it.
"Coffee, black," Kathryn's voice said.
The Doctor shook his head whilst raising one finger, then a second with a grimace. Sure enough the words repeated another two times before Kathryn re-emerged from her Ready Room.
"Are the shields back to 100%?" Kathryn asked casually.
Seven's patience was beginning to strain. She was at least thankful she ignored the Captain before and so got a head start. "Almost Captain. We're at 80%, it should be more than sufficient to get us through the minefield."
Kathryn appeared to be okay with that report. Neither the Doctor or Seven let their guard down though, they knew better. The Captain meanwhile paced across the Bridge, keeping a firm stare on the cracked viewscreen. Strange grey rock formations in various different sizes floated in the distance, getting closer as Voyager drifted through them.
"Until we reach the part we didn't get to map yet, then we'll have to keep our eyes sharp. Two or three bumps and we'll back at square one. Any sign of the aliens who took the escape pods?" Kathryn asked.
The Doctor triple checked his readings at Tactical. "No Captain. Not yet. There is however an energy signature ahead, two kilometres long but narrow, it could be a trail. Or breadcrumbs."
"I have a feed to Astrometrics so we can completely map the mine field. However there is a high probable chance that we could end up in a vastly populated section, unable to leave without grazing a few of them," Seven said.
Kathryn nodded, a thoughtful look on her face. "Someone obviously doesn't want us visiting. Maybe they should have thought of that before they took my crew. We'll have to take it as it comes."
The Doctor smiled. "Perhaps this is a test of time and patience. We create our own pathway through this maze, and the aliens will see us as worthy of an audience."
Kathryn glanced over toward him, her brow furrowed. "You couldn't resist, could you?"
"Captain?" the Doctor stuttered.
"Don't act so innocent. You knew what you were doing with that test of time and pathways bit. I'm not daft. You're on fourth wall report," Kathryn said.
"Perhaps I should have gone on the escape pod after all," Seven mumbled to herself.
Kathryn sniped back, "what so everyone can hear your plot hole filled backstory again? Nice try. Now run along, those power relays won't realign themselves."
Seven sighed and headed for the turbolift.
"Captain. If this mine field is truly a means to keep people out of someone's territory, why would they kidnap an evacuating crew? If they hadn't, we wouldn't have come back after repairing our ship to rescue them," the Doctor said.
"Considering they ignored our distress call after that third mine, and went straight for the pods, I think it's safe to say this isn't about keeping people out. It's about getting people in," Kathryn said.
Tom returned to his group with an arm full of berries and what looked like nuts, to find Tuvok and another security officer pretending to talk, while watching one of the closer towers. Everyone else looked downbeat. Chakotay was the only one that noticed his return and seemed a little anxious to see him.
"Tom, you took your time," he said, sitting upright.
"Relax, Kiara and Morgan are fine. It just took a little longer to catch these bad boys than I thought," Tom said while carefully placing the food into a jacket laid out on the ground.
"Catch?" Chakotay said with a quizzical eyebrow raise.
"The bird things found it first," Tom said. His right eye blinked involuntarily as he grimaced. Typically the rest of the group were paying attention to him now, most of them were smirking. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Too bad. We could do with some entertainment," Chakotay laughed.
Tom faked laughed back, "yeah great. When I popped my head in to their group, it looked like they were telling life stories. I only overheard bits and pieces, like a new nickname for Jessie I don't think I have the courage to use."
Neelix's face brightened up, "oh that sounds like a great idea. Not the nickname I mean. I'd love to hear some stories. Anyone like to go first? Mr Vulcan?" Tuvok definitely heard him, his eyebrow moved only a smidgen, he pretended he didn't though.
Tom took the opportunity to get his in first. "Oh, I was quite thee stud in my prime. Men hated me..." Everyone groaned in response.
"No change there," Chakotay commented.
Tom ignored him, "but they wanted to be me. One day my popularity changed my life forever."
Seventeen year old Tom stood at the bar, waiting for his drinks, while batting off every swooning woman who approached him.
"Ladies please, I'm taken," he said. To prove it, he left with his three drinks which he handled expertly like a pro. He got to his table. There sat two women. As soon as he sat down, they draped themselves over each arm.
"My best friend and roommate suddenly arrived, sporting a look of such betrayal I'd never seen before."
"Oh," Tom grinned at him. "Don't look at me like that. Some men have got it, you don't."
The girls on his arms giggled at the callous comment, their eyes poked many holes at the pathetic boy standing in front of them, gaping in horror.
"But... we were double dating," the boy whined.
"Yeah well, can't blame her for wanting to ditch for the stud," Tom sniggered. He and the girls got up to leave, still all over each other as they did.
The roommate's expression turned to anger. He fumed as they walked by him laughing. The girls towered over the so called five foot nine stud in their needle thin heels, almost drooling over his stupid pretty boy looks and his in your face charisma.
"Er Tom," Chakotay's voice intruded. "I thought this was meant to be you."
"Oh sh..." Tom's stuttered.
Sure enough the seventeen year old walking away with the girls not hanging off his arm, but merely walking beside him, was a much shorter blonde man with a confident aura about him as he talked. The girls were not laughing at all. One even looked back with some disgust and even pity at the forlorn young Tom left holding the drinks on a tray, ready to cry at any second.
"No, that's not what happened!" Tom snapped in anger. His face a bright red.
The whole group except Tuvok were laughing so much a few were in tears.
"He was a midget. The biggest blue eyed freak ever, they didn't even look real. The idiot belonged in a Japanese RPG game with his stupid messy hair," Tom rambled even further. "Pretty little asshole stole my girl. Said I was too clingy and grubby, whatever that means. Me? He spent most of his time being nice to girls, befriending them and..."
"Ohno!" Chakotay pretended to gasp overdramatically.
"So he didn't even steal your date. He befriended her?" Neelix questioned.
Tom scoffed, "yeah, that's what he said happened. Always pretended to be one of the good ones, the feminist who understood the crap girls went through. Every guy I know hated him, the girls always fell for it."
Chakotay wiped away a couple of tears and breathed in to calm down. "Now we know why you have it in for James a lot. Sound familiar. Does he bring back some painful memories?"
"What?" Tom was confused at first. Then he exploded once more, turning even more red than before. "No! He was an annoying runt with an I'm better than you god complex." That was the cue for further laughter. "I'm not talking about James. My roommate stole my date, not him. Screw you guys!" He stomped off, leaving the group rolling around the ground laughing.
The break James spoke of lasted until the sun went down. Kiara and Naomi curled up beside Morgan, both a few feet away from a small fire. James hadn't said anything on returning to the group. He kept to himself, staring at his feet as he leaned against a tree, hidden in its shadow.
"It seems like you were picked on for being adopted and ugly more than you were given the sitting in a tree kissing treatment," Triah was whispering to Jessie.
Jessie raised her shoulders meekly, her face twisted a little. "I was, at first. James would say things back to them, it'd escalate, he'd react more and more."
"It was because he was sticking up for you? That's why?" Triah questioned.
"No. That just brought him to their attention," Jessie replied hesitantly. "Those jokes were more for him than me. It bothered him a lot. They thought he was weird for only wanting to be around a girl. He wanted nothing to do with other boys. He'd act so differently with them so they'd leave him alone."
Craig laughed quietly to himself. Still the girls heard him. "Oh, so that's why he's always so... abrupt?"
"You're worried he'll hear you, huh little bro?" Triah whispered with a cheeky curl in her lips. Craig shook his head timidly but he may as well have said yes.
Jessie lightly smiled at them both. "All boys are the same." They looked at her with puzzled eyes. "That's what he used to say. They act tough around their mates, pick on the girls they like, pretend to like sports even if they didn't, and talk crap to each other. I can't remember the word he used to call them."
"Boring," James replied from his hiding spot.
"Okay, so if James was the one who hated the Tom-esque couple crap, why was it you that snapped over it?" Morgan asked.
"That's, quite a long story," Jessie said, wincing a lot. Her gaze drifted over to James, she noticed his go to her as he shrugged. "How do I explain without...?"
"You probably can't. It's fine," James mumbled.
Jessie didn't agree, not fully. She thought it over, no matter how it ran in her head she figured he was right. She wasn't keen on the idea though. "Maybe the abridged version?" she asked him. He gave her a nod. "After this, you guys owe us a novel or two," she said with a forced smirk.
"Uhoh," Craig said despite his mouth barely opening. "Mine might be more of a novella."
"We'll see," this time Jessie's smile was genuine. Craig swallowed a lump in his throat. "Okay, so blah blah I was off school for a day or two, hiding from them. Right, I came back to school the next Monday."
Rain pounded against the window, the wind howled even through the thick glass. It was still before nine, but because of the bad weather the kids were ordered to come inside before the bell rang.
Miss Turner had not yet arrived. A lot of the class gossiped over what was the reason. The favourite one being blown away by her umbrella.
Alison decided to sneak into the classroom to keep guard of her sister. She told some of the kids on the way in that she was temping for Turner, which got their imaginations running wild again at where this teacher was.
"It's all Fisher's fault. He dragged me to detention before I could tell those two to leave him alone," Alison said with a huff. Jessie frowned toward her. "It's okay, those two tend to spend most of the time catfighting, chav style. They do this a lot. Jill probably wanted another kid on her side, Dawn too."
A couple of kids ran by behind Alison, heading straight for the blackboard. An obnoxious screech took over the room as one scraped a chalk across it as hard as he could. Alison swung around, "oy, get off those you little pipsqueaks!"
While she was distracted James shuffled in through the only door to the class, soaking wet from the rain outside. He passed the rail holding all the other children's coats, hats and scarves, and yet kept his on. Miss Turner arrived as well, she spotted him immediately. "Oh James, don't forget..." she said, pointing to the railing. James nodded, he started with his hat, then slowly removed his coat while watching her approach her desk.
"Good morning class. Lovely day, hmm?" Turner said with a dry smile. She got a few laughs from the children, but the majority looked disappointed. "It's okay. Five minutes till the bell. Okay, Alison?"
Alison chuckled nervously. "Okeydokey Miss."
James got to the table and sat down at the opposite side without saying a word. Jessie gave him a smile anyway, "hi James."
He acted like he hadn't even seen her. "Oh, hi," he said sheepishly, while keeping his head down.
"Are you okay?" Jessie asked.
Alison overheard and turned back to her sister. She noticed James first, grimacing as he dipped his chin down ever so slightly, twice. It would've been a nod if it were not for the thick scarf he was still wearing.
"Oops, you forgot something," Alison said with a smile. She reached out to only point at it, James shuffled his chair back an inch.
"No. Supposed to wear it," he said.
"But why?" Jessie asked.
"Mum told me to," James mumbled.
Alarm bells were ringing in both of their heads by now. "It's drenched, it's just going to make you sick," Alison said.
The bell rang, prompting Miss Turner to walk over and kick out the older girl. "Alison. Get to your class." James' appearance and his withdrawn demeanour got her attention. "Here, let me get that off for you. The heater will warm you up in no time."
"No," he said, withdrawing a note from his trouser pocket. "Mum told me to."
Turner frowned at the hastily scribbled piece of paper. It didn't take long to read and it only made her even more confused. "Bronchitis? That's not going to help at all," she said while reaching out to unravel the scarf.
She barely had time to touch it. James' eyes widened in a panic as he stumbled backwards out of chair. "No!" Turner still had a hold of it when he did it. His jump back left it hanging over his shoulder, leaving his neck bare, the bruises all across it there for everyone looking at him to see. His outburst had made it so the whole class was doing so.
"Holy crap," Morgan said in disgust. Her sharpened eyes floated over to James, still standing by the tree. He had his head turned to the left, a futile attempt to avoid everyone.
"Seconded," Craig grimaced.
Jessie shuffled around in her sitting position uncomfortably. "Holy crap pretty much sums it up. So anyway, we're in the nurses office..."
"Nuh uh, wait a mo," Morgan said impatiently toward her. Doing so she missed James turn his head slightly, shoulders tensing. "Who did it? The bullies, those weird girls?"
Jessie sighed, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. "We're in the nurses office and everyone's butting in their nose to see what's happening. Alison and I were kicked out so they could treat him in peace. The teacher had a hell of a time getting us back to class. I tried to sneak away. I managed to see security officers come into the school when I was caught. The next day..."
"What?" Morgan yelped. Kiara was roused by it. Luckily she decided to roll over and keep her eyes closed. "You can't fast forward through this part. What happened?"
"Maybe she found out the next day. Try to calm down," Triah said softly.
"Everyone were gossiping. Alison said..." Jessie said.
Tani huffed before saying, "this is the abridged version, huh? Why bother mentioning poor James getting beaten up if you're gonna gloss over it?"
"I... some bits aren't necessary, and I wasn't there the whole time in the nurses office," Jessie said impatiently.
"Did you ever find out who did it? Maybe the kids will stop whinging once they know," Triah suggested.
"It doesn't actually matter to the story," Jessie said, shocking the rest of the group barring obviously James. He seemed a million miles away. "It got the attention of the class. It was ammo for our bullies and inspired future ones. Because of it James had to..." Her face turned pale from some unknown realisation. She looked over to James. "No, um... oh crap."
"It does actually matter to the story?" Craig said in an uneasy tone.
Morgan nodded, "yep. I bet it was those weirdo girls. They tried to grab him and put him on the shelf. Creeps."
"No way. Jessie said she was off another few days, those stupid boys probably ganged up on him going oh where's your dog girlfriend and..." Tani argued.
"Dad," James said without missing a beat.
"Don't be stupid, we haven't seen him yet," Craig scoffed and shook his head. Then he realised who said it. He wished for the ground to swallow him up.
The rest of the group stared at James in shock and disbelief. Jessie was only feeling the former, it made her even more uncomfortable, she could only stare towards the fire.
"Your dad?" Morgan whispered.
James slowly looked over to Jessie. "You should be good to go now," he said. Jessie didn't seem to agree. Her cheeks flexed, arms crossed defensively. She then shook her head. The camp fell into an uncomfortable silence for far too long.
All she could hear from the other side of the door were muffled voices and light clatters, like small objects falling to the floor. Jessie swore she heard her friend cry out. She didn't know what to do.
"I thought they dragged you back to class," Alison said.
Jessie jumped out of her skin. She hadn't heard her approach at all. "I want to help."
Alison nodded grimly. "I get that. You're going to get into trouble though, and that's my..." Movement caught her eye. Two girls laughing and joking approached from around the corner. As soon as Alison clasped her eyes on her two friends, rage took over and she charged over to them.
Neither girl seemed to notice her or care that she was, until Alison slapped the Jill girl with the back of her hand. Dawn gasped in horror.
"What the hell did you do? Huh? You sick freaks," Alison snapped at them both.
"Nothing, god!" Dawn protested.
Their argument was soon drowned out by shouting coming from the nurses office. James' shouting. Jessie started to shake horribly. His words were loud and clear. "No, he'll find out! Please don't! He'll kill me." It was then back to the muffled voices, only this time she was sure she heard crying.
"He, he who?" Alison mumbled.
"See?" Jill snapped at her. "I didn't do anything to that kid. He got all whiny and he left. I was glad!"
Dawn groaned in disgust, "you did all the whining, that's why he ran away. It's not our fault he ran into some guy on the way home."
Alison tried hard to bite her tongue but she couldn't, not with the sounds she heard from the nearby room. "I don't believe you. He mumbled something about you grabbing his arm, there were scratches on his arms and legs, more bruises."
Jill and Dawn shared a similar disgruntled look. Alison expected them to deny it, instead they turned on each other. "I told you he'd get out again!" Dawn snarled first.
"Yeah well, I told you to let him go the first time," Jill growled. "Can't stand whiny little boys."
"Hey!" Turner's assistant shouted at them from the opposite end of the corridor. She hurried over, first to collect Jessie by taking her hand. She let out a small squeak in protest. "Mr Fisher has been looking all over for you two. Report to the Head. Now."
"What?" the pair complained while Alison smirked. They glared at her. "You grassed us up," Jill growled.
"And I'd do it again. And again," Alison sniggered. She turned to the assistant. "I'll escort them. Please look after my sis."
Jessie wasn't too happy with her as the teacher lead her back the way she came. The moment they turned the corner, two men in Starfleet uniforms entered through the door leading to the foyer and entrance.
The two new arrivals talked quietly with a very concerned Miss Turner. One nurse and another teaching assistant were with James, his face bright red with tears still flowing. He'd fidget everytime the nurse tried to treat one of his many bruises. The assistant tried her best to comfort him.
Turner glanced over her shoulder for a second. "Where?" she asked.
"For now; the children's wing..." was all James heard from one officer. The other followed with something quietly. Whatever it was shocked the teacher.
"But what about his mother? Surely she..." Turner said.
"From what you told us, she tried to hide it," the second officer answered. Turner's shoulders slumped. "The boy will be protected. We have a team already at Taylor's place of work, he's probably being arrested as we speak. There's nothing more you can do."
James looked up in a blind panic. He jumped down from the bed. He was stopped by the nurse scooping him up, she struggled to keep a hold of him after that.
The last thing he remembered was the sorry face of Miss Turner directed toward him. Everything after was but a mere blur to him.
"Having fun out here?" Jessie asked as soon as she found James standing behind another tree. He didn't respond in anyway so she walked up to stand beside him. "We could've skipped over that little detail. If I had another break, I could've thought of a way to tell the rest without mentioning the whole adoption thing."
James shrugged, "doesn't matter, it's done now."
Jessie studied his face carefully, looking for any sign of what he was feeling right then. All she got was avoidance, and she knew that already. "I thought it would be simple. We were bullied for being friends, you kept sticking up for us, you weren't there for one and I snapped, been sensitive about it ever since. The end."
"But you miss one bit out and it unravels, yeah. We don't owe them anymore of the story though. I think they got the gist of it from what we told them already," James said.
"There's not much else to do. They owe us a few embarrassing tales after this," Jessie smiled. "Besides, until your bit it was strangely therapeutic."
James' eyebrow shot up as he looked at her, a hint of a smile started to form. "Oh? Well, the rest of my bit can be avoided. Go nuts."
"Really? Some of my story doesn't paint you in the best light," Jessie said, playfully nudging him with her elbow.
"Only some? Still plan on making some adjustments huh?" James said.
"Naturally," Jessie said with a slight nod. "I need to be more creative with it though. I don't think any of them will believe you being adopted by mum overnight, or the being dropped off by the Headmaster story. You didn't."
James laughed for a while, she scowled at him for it. "Yeah, fiction writing isn't one of your strengths. I thought I'd play along, but I couldn't help but..." he continued to laugh.
"Oh, shut up," Jessie hissed at him but it only made him laugh more. She huffed, and remained quiet until he stopped. "I don't need to tell that one anyway. It's after."
"True, but they're gonna wonder what happened to you after it happened. You know that right?" James said.
Jessie groaned, exhausted at the thought. "Yep. That'll open up a can of worms, and no thanks."
TO BE CONTINUED
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