Tales from Ohio Academy #4

Sometimes I can’t believe this ranting idiot became my best friend.

“Audrey!” said Harmony Bizaadii, sliding in late to the seat next to mine. She clenched her fists in that stupidly adorable way. “We’re going to be in the Battle of the Bands!”

“I thought that was just a thing on TV,” I said. “Also, there’s a slight problem where I don’t actually know how to sing or play instruments. I know, I know— you thought I was flawlessly talented in every way, and I’m sorry to have to break your illusions—”

“Augh shut up you NERD.” She grabbed a forkful of basmati and started talking with her mouth full. “Loof, I’ff got a flam.”

I sighed, grabbed a napkin and cleaned the bits of flying rice off her face. “What’s your flam?”

“You know Jeremy Singh, right?”

“Sure, he’s that second-year who can give you a temporary— oh. Harm, no.” I pointed at her and gave her my best Serious Face.

“What?” She gave me her best Angelic Innocence Face in return. Ugh. “We can just have him give you someone’s guitar skills for a night and—”

“No, no, no. First off, none of this ‘one night’ stuff – we’d need to be rehearsing well in advance. Second, I am not trusting anyone who’s not even in college yet with the delicate workings of my mind. I’ve put a lot of work into getting it neat and tidy, thank you very much. Third of all, wouldn’t we actually need a whole band?”

“Look, A. This? Is our ticket into the big time!” Harmony thumped her fist on the table, sending rice flying everywhere. Sigh. “To stardom!”

“I thought you wanted to be a professional kickboxer.” I rested my chin easily on my fist. “Though I admit, I preferred when you were running for student council president.”

“That election was rigged!” Harmony leapt up and stood on the table for the third time this week. She was a bit more careful this time, at least – they’d stopped giving her demerits, but she was on the hook to pay for any tables she broke. “I’m gonna have my name up in lights, and I want it right there next to yours!”

I sighed. She was like a freight train when she got going. Unstoppable… even when it was on the wrong track. Music was just not something I was talented in. But…

I glanced at the clock. “Look, I’ll… think about it. I did piano lessons for a while, maybe we can work with that. For now, I have to get going to World Cultures.”

“All right, all right. See you in Energy!” She shoveled the rest of her lunch into her body at high speed. Energy indeed.

I sighed, making my way out of the cafeteria and across the campus. Nice place, really, not too far off from the private schools I’d attended in the past. The government did well by young Extras, or at least the state of Ohio did.

Harmony was the reason I was here.

I was in Ohio because of the ridiculous things that happened the summer before last. Especially since it was my fault that they happened – my family’s money, my arrogance. I mean, it all turned out for the best – which reminded me that the appeals had run out and Petersen was finally going to trial for corruption; after we testified, there would be time for a nice vacation with the families. But it had made trouble for her, her mother, and the baby.

I was an Extra because of her. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s random – inspiration always comes from somewhere. And we fit together perfectly. She came along, with her ability to convert one type of energy to another, and upended my world; I gained the ability to project flames, and let her turn my fire into whatever she wanted.

She was… a very important person, and didn’t deserve the shit she got. She deserved to be protected and uplifted; she deserved the spotlight.

Besides, dangerous people are supposed to watch out for each other.

I walked into class, sat at my usual seat, and traded the usual pleasantries. But I was off in a world of furious thought. Perhaps I could train a musically-talented shapeshifter in my mannerisms and have her take my place through weeks of rehearsal? No, that was ridiculous and unethical; besides, I didn’t particularly want to give up that much Harmony time.

The teacher came up to the front of the class, and I paid attention as best I could, hoping that the important parts would flow through my ears and into my notebook. A good GPA was a useful tool, after all.

“We often think of ‘thunder gods’ as a simplistic explanation for why storms produce lightning, but it’s often the other way around; lightning is often brought into the story of a god as a poetic element, as an example of their mastery of the natural world, or even as a simple bit of wordplay.”

Wordplay. Maybe I could just write lyrics? Poetry wasn’t my strong suit either, but then, I’d never really sunk that much time into it. Perhaps I had a heretofore undiscovered talent? But I wouldn’t want to bet on that…

I chewed my pencil absently. It was the only bad habit I couldn’t seem to get rid of. Hmm, culture, mythology, polytheism, music, music…

“In Hellenic religion, we have the Elysian Fields, resting place of the honored dead. Some think that ‘Elysian’ is derived from ‘enelysion’, meaning ‘struck by lightning’ – blessed by Zeus. Similarly…”

Aha! Though you couldn’t tell it from my cool facade, it was then that I had my brilliant idea.

A month later, it was time. We’d had to get permission from the Energy teacher, from the contest committee, and from the building maintenance crew, but thanks to some careful diplomacy, we were not only in, we were getting extra credit from the performance.

The auditorium was pretty full. I’d signed us up about a third of the way through, so the audience was at maximum excitement. (Admittedly, a school-sponsored function only has so much excitement, but the important part was that everyone there wanted to be there.)

“…and that was Cleoburgh Simonson and the Summit Academy Jubilee Jug Band!” said Mr. Robinson, Life Skills teacher and part-time emcee. “Next up, we have…” He squinted at the printout. “…Thunderstrike Zero! Take it away!”

I came out first, in a bright red dress with a tasteful smattering of rhinestones, wheeling out a carefully-wired giant metal pole. I bowed to the audience, and gestured to the wings.

Out stepped Harmony, decked out in full glam – complicated full-face makeup with fake jewels glued to her cheeks and forehead, a blindingly yellow suit with high lapels, a shimmery silver cape, and rainbow platform shoes. She threw the horns up to the audience, grabbed the microphone, and shouted “YEAH!”

The response was a befuddled but enthused shout from the students and parents below. She tossed off the cape and took my hand.

I smiled to the audience and gave her my flame, a quick pulse. She turned and pointed a finger at the pole, and lightning leapt out, arcing through the air with a dull buzz.

I gave her more, and she used it, the buzzing turning into a series of tones, then a melody, quick, upbeat, and powerful. Harmony had wanted to do a full-out rock ballad, but it had taken long enough to get the whole “be a Tesla coil” thing down that I had insisted on something shorter. We’d compromised on the one song she could think of with the most “concentrated awesome” – the opening theme to Blastoff Defender Infinity.

The crowd got into it, singing the lyrics, cheering and shouting, and Harmony soaked in that energy too, sending it back out in the fervor of her performance. She finished with a five-finger solo that buzzed all the way up and down the scale, and they exploded in applause.

We took a bow, hands held tight, sweating in the warmth of the lights.

“…third place!?” exclaimed Harmony, swinging around the tiny trophy and the gift certificates that came with it. “Seriously? That was grand prize material!” Which hadn’t prevented her from graciously accepting while the prizes were being given out, mind you.

“Well, you have to admit,” I said, plucking it from her hand and admiring the lowest-font-size-available inscription, “that guy who was the drummer, bass, guitarist and the lead singer was pretty impressive.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She flopped down in the chair and leaned it back on two legs. “Still, though. This was the best idea.”

I shrugged and gave her my best Cheshire Cat smile. “Do I have any other kind?”

She rolled her eyes, grabbed the trophy back and elbowed me in the ribs. “Nerd.”

Ah, satisfaction.

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