He was a watcher.
He knelt in the woods, walked down streets and alleyways, peering in windows, glancing at his creation.
He lived in constant watch for her; it defined his every movement in time and space. The rest of the day was a meaningless blur except for that quick glimpse, that brief moment in time when he saw her each day. He studied her. What was her likes and dislikes? What did she read and watch on television? What was her favorite song, the one she sat and listened to all afternoon?
Sometimes he would lose her. For a day, week, a few months he would search frantic for any connection that may bring him closer. He had let himself get too close, too personal once. He just wanted to see, to touch, and talk to her. She was so perfect, so wonderful, but still flawed. She had to be perfect, angelic. To fix something it must sometimes be broken. So he smashed his angel and slid into the background waiting to see if she would rise from the ashes of his creation.
His beautiful work of art.
Mother used to say my body was written with signs and portents. That my entire life story was etched into my skin, like a blank page all used up. She said most people simply stay blank and never remember their past, their history. Mine was already written. I just never knew how to read it.
Pain rippled along her back as random arpeggios of muscles clenched and spasmed. The attack had left her near death and now years later it was leading her back to that dark embrace. Only stubbornness and desperation in the part she was playing kept her stride even and her head tall as she walked across the massive entryway and to the small knot of people waiting.
“Miss McCray?” an older man wearing glasses and a tweed suit inquired.
“Yes.” with a mental wince she took the man’s outstretched hand, men of his generation seemed to delight in hand shakes that could crack bone.
With a hearty shake and a grin, he continued, “Welcome to Triton College. I am Dean Phillips and this is the Assistant Dean, Mrs. Peabody, and our head of the history department Dr. Blair.” After a round of hand shakes and “pleasure to meet you”, with Mrs. Peabody eying the gloves the new student was wearing with distaste, they were off on a quick tour of the main building and grounds.
Along with its fast paced academics and throngs of high ranking former graduates around the world, Triton intended its graduates to be among the elite of society and government, no matter their profession and provided the classes and support to make it so. The school prided itself on a classical renaissance education focusing on classical languages, speech, debating, history, politics, dance, fencing, and martial arts. As well as offering degrees in history, chemistry, physics, biology, and philosophy along with its military programs.
An hour later she was seated across from the Dean in his office. Dean Phillip’s rummaged through a stack of files threatening to take over his small office.
“Ah yes, here it is.” Donning his glasses he perused the file for a moment before sitting it in front of him and regarding Lorna McCray as his steepled fingers tapped his chin.
“Your test scores are exemplary, I must say. I have received quite detailed records from a few of your tutors; however your school records are rather nonexistent. Aside from staying two years in Japan you seem to have moved around quite a bit.”
Lorna sat straighter and forced her hands into a loose clasp in her lap to hide the tremors.
“My mother wished me to have as well rounded an education as possible, if it meant we had to move to France so I could learn French, we did.”
With a small smile Lorna remembered the incident preceding that particular move. It was like her mother was possessed when the time came to move. She would come sweeping into the room, pale and wide eyed.
“I think it is time you learned how to speak French. You have never been to France, it will be very educational.”
She would whirl around the room in nervous excitement naming the places we would visit, the things to see and do. Always with in two to three days they would be where ever she had been rattling on about. Sometimes it took even less time. There was no stopping her when this happened, no matter what was planned or must be discarded in our wake.
“Well, you will do very well here. After all, our motto is Aerugo Animi Rubigo Ingenii.”
Lorna interrupted with a smile, “Rest of the mind is the destruction of genius. My mother attended Triton. It is one of the reasons I wished to attend.”
“Ah, and how is she, I do not recall a McCray I am afraid?”
“She passed away when I was seventeen, sir.”
Clearing his throat he mumbled, “Very sorry for your lose.” Cover his fumble he snatched up a stack of paper and shuffled enthusiastically. “Now, you originally requested to do an independent study or intern under one of our chemistry or biology teachers. Considering your spotty school records you will need to take several equivalency tests to see where you stand. We will then build a schedule for you from that, your advisor will be assisting you in this. If you are willing I will see about starting the testing tomorrow after lunch. It may be a good thing that you came a week early.” With a grandfatherly twinkle in his eye Dean Philips smiled and reached to hit an intercom button. “Mrs. Peabody, do you have a moment?”
Mrs. Peabody bustled in a moment later. With graying brown hair pulled into a loose bun and a smile that never seemed to stop Mrs. Peabody seemed the type to be running a bed and breakfast more then a college. From her sensible skirt, pressed white blouse and matching sweater, she was one who mothered every child around her like she had birthed them.
“Can you spare a moment to show Miss McCray to her room?” Turning to Lorna he explained, “Most of the staff will not be arriving till tomorrow.”
“Not a problem as all, Brian. I just called one of the handymen to carry her trunk upstairs.”
Ushering Lorna outside she eyed her small pile of baggage, “Is this all dear?” sniff, “No, leave it, one of the others will bring it all up in a bit.” Snagging her messenger bag and a small carpet bag she followed Mrs. Peabody into the hall. They headed out of the main building and into an older Gothic looking structure off to one side.
“Your in one of the older wings of the school on the top level.” she said eying the massive staircase heading upwards. With a determined set of her shoulders they started the trek to the top floor.
“I know it looks a bit run down, but you will appreciate the quiet once classes start. Here we are.” she said. Opening a heavy door she ushered Lorna through the door. Inside was a simple sitting room with two doors on both ends and a small window. Furnished with sturdy if well worn furniture and rugs, the room had the air of somewhere that had been well lived in, rather like walking into a favorite aunt’s room with all the varying shades of blue and beige adorning the walls and carpet.
“The door to the left is your study and to the right is your bedroom and bath. You’re lucky you came so early. We squeezed you in with our graduate students. I do want to show you one more thing before I leave you to get settled.”
Chatting the entire way Mrs. Peabody lead Lorna back out into the hall and down a side corridor studded with massive windows. Opening the door at the end with a heavy iron key which she then handed to Lorna as she pushed open the door and gestured Lorna through. The fading afternoon sun sparkled on the revealed greenhouse hidden amongst a small rooftop garden in much need of care.
“Dr. Charles is our head of the Biology department this year and the only one looking to take interns at the moment so I thought you might need this.” Seeing Lorna’s stunned look she continued, “His last intern wound up with every bit of floor and shelf space covered in plant cuttings and potted plants, the poor dear.” She said with a tsk, shaking her head at manic botanists. Leading the way back inside she explained how to get to the dining hall and said she would send one of the workmen up to bring in some wood for the fire. Lorna thanked her and eased her toward the door.
Leaning against the closed door for a moment, she grinned. Mrs. Peabody was clearly one of those motherly types who knew everything that was coming and going at the school and had a hand in all of it. Laughing softly Lorn realized Mrs. Peabody was probably the best source of gossip in the entire school.
Picking up the one bag she had managed to grab and pocketing the keys to her room and the greenhouse she headed toward the bedroom. Setting her bag in a side chair, she quickly strode to the windows, pulling back the heavy brocade drapes, letting in the afternoon sun. The fireplace was flanked by two worn leather arm chairs with the far wall of the room dominated by a queen size four poster bed. The wood and carpet were worn, however everything had a just scrubbed look and a light floral scent drifted from a vase sitting on a desk set into one corner near the windows.
Grabbing her bag she headed for the study. The wall facing the door was wall to wall empty shelves. At least everything was dusted, she thought. To the right of the door was a truly gargantuan old desk with a stained leather top and a chipped green desk lamp that looked like it had once graced a library with its light. Setting her bag in the desk chair she removed her journals and the handful of books that she refused to travel without. Thanks to the constant travel and need to travel light her mother preferred, Lorna learned never to own more then what can fit in two suitcases by the time she was ten. Sometimes not even that much made it. Her handful of treasures was always packed and ready so they would not be lost. Often they would move every few months, even if they stayed in the same community, simply changing homes. Coming to Triton was a strange and uneasy proposition. She had never stayed anywhere while she lived with her mother for more then a year. If all went well she could be at Triton for as long as four years.
Reaching into her bag she carefully unwrapped the small framed picture of her mother. Carrying it back to the bedroom and sitting it on the bedside table, Lorna took a moment to run her fingers along the silver frame. The familiar ache that always came with thinking about her mother rose in her chest.
No one really knew what happened that night. On her way back from a rare night out to visit a friend she died on an empty stretch of road in a fiery accident. The case was judged and accidental death, but one of the investigators pointed toward possible foul play. There were traces of gas throughout the interior of the car and the collision did not appear severe enough to cause the fiery accident. A bullet was found in the wreckage but could not be connected to the accident.
With only a handful of distant cousins and one Uncle in a nursing home, Lorna had no real family to be sent to. Luckily her Mother’s will insist on her emancipation if she was 16 years old or older at her death. So at 17 Lorna started traveling on her own. She was living off the stipend from her Mother’s inheritance left to her by her Grandfather. It was enough to continue Lorna’s education and live modestly during her college years and maybe a few years after.
Returning to her room after dinner she was a little disturbed to see the bed turned down with her trunk and bags at it’s foot and wood laid out and ready to be lite in the fireplace. She knew she had locked the door behind her when she headed out. She would need to make a “do not disturb” sign for the door and find out when the maids would be coming through this end of the building. She also needed to see where the gym was, or find and empty room nearby which she could run through her morning exercises in. She flinched to think of having to strip down and exercise in the middle of a gym full of males intent on honing their biceps while eying every female in the room. Besides she wanted to keep the topic of her scars under wraps for as long as possible. It would be good to make a few friends before they realized just how messed up she really was.
Tugging off her finger-less gloves, Lorna eyed the cross hatching of scars that twinned along the backs of her hands and up her wrists. Turning one hand over she rubbed the four point star that covered each of her palms. She would not let her body hold her back. This was her chance to show how much she had overcome since the accident when she was five. The doctors had been amazed that she had survived and said she would never walk again much less have a life beyond a nursing home. Instead, as soon as she was mostly healed her Mother put her into a rigorous physical therapy routine while hiring tutor’s to keep Lorna’s mind sharp.
That was when we had started moving. Each surgery needed the best doctor or specialist. I was happily threw myself into the study and worked with the tutors, anything to forget the pain for a time. By the time I was 12 we were in a full time whirlwind tour of every country you could name at a glance.
Judging by her records, or lack of them, the Dean set up a rigorous testing schedule for the rest of the week. Lorna took the basic college level exams for every core subject. Those she excelled at were reviewed by professors of that subject who judged at what level she might be at. She was then tested at the higher lever to see if she was as proficient in it.
She took three exams after breakfast and two exams after lunch for the entire week. By Wednesday she had started to think the professors were just trying to mess with her. She took exams on history, English, biology, chemistry, calculus and mathematics, physics, and languages.
On Thursday after getting strange looks by several professors all day, she caught the tail end of an argument among several professors and the Dean. As Lorna walked in to take the final test of the day, above the general murmur, one professor burst out, “She is either a genius or and idiot savant!” At this point Lorna scraped a chair back loudly, silencing the room. Everyone quickly dispersed with downcast eyes as one professor handed her an exam booklet and told her she had two hours to complete it.
On Friday the Dean was waiting for her at the first exam of the day. After a few minutes of asking how she liked the school and such he got to the point.
“In some areas you are testing well at the graduate level, however in a few areas you are ranked in the bottom percentile. You are going to have to take a few remedial courses to catch up with the freshman entry level courses.”
He cleared his throat and shuffled his papers before handing her a stack.
“In light of your high scores in Biology and Chemistry you will be interning with two of our professors and taking a few classes of your choosing along with a remedial history. If you wish to take Botany you could intern with Dr. Charles in Biology and Botany. You will be interning with Dr. Durnough in Chemistry as well. You have the list of possible classes you can take. I would recommend not taking more then two more classes as you will be using a lot of time assisting in class with Dr. Durnough and Charles as well as working on experiments and projects for them.”
Glancing over the list Lorna selected to take applied Physics and Botany.
“Wonderful, now there is a required physical education class however with your medical history it can be exempted.”
Lorna interrupted, “Is there a physical fitness test I can take to be exempt?”
“I will have to check with our physical education teacher, but if not you would have to take the class if you do not want to be medically exempt.”
Dean Phillips leaned forward pinning Lorna with a grave stare. Waving his concern away, Lorna stated, “The teachers need to be informed of the chance of me having seizures in class and how to deal with it but the rest of my medical history should not be a problem. I will take the class if I cannot take the test.” The last thing she needed was half the school waiting for her to freak out. With how the rumor mill ran through most schools…
With a resigned look Dean Phillips set the paper aside and regarded Lorn across the table,
“Very well, on Monday morning I will give you your class schedule. Classes do not stat till noon, so come by my office at ten to pick it up.”
Since she had two days until classes Lorna spent the weekend wandering the campus learning where everything was.
Walking the grounds on campus she was almost completely alone except for the occasional grounds men or security guard. It was a relief to not have to look over her shoulder and worry about every sidelong glance from a stranger. Her mother left a letter in her will full of vague warnings about the person who had attacked her as a child.
She had spent three years waiting for this danger to appear. She knew that she had been followed several times, including a flat-out bolt through the streets of Rome, but had never been threatened or physically attacked since the attack at age five. Often she was not sure if someone was out there watching or if it was just paranoia heaped upon her by her mother. Most of the weapons she had learned to carry throughout her strange childhood would have to be locked away while she was at Triton. She had never felt so naked and vulnerable. Her hand kept reaching for the small knife hidden at her waist to double check that this last safe guard was in place. The school rules did not allow weapons of any kind unless you were part of the school military teams or programs.
One thing her mother insisted on was that she be educated, through her definition of what this “education” should be varied wildly. Lorna learned martial arts of every discipline her mother could find. Once she was healthy enough to do the exercises she was sent to a local martial arts trainer in the area, no matter what the discipline. Because of this she knew a little of many kinds of martial arts which she had fused into her own rough and tumble style. She would never be going out for a black belt since most of her instructors were more concerned with their students keeping themselves alive then in keeping their form perfect.
She also was tutored in seemingly random languages and studies. What twelve years old can translate and speak Latin? Or for that matter knew how to fence and basic hand to hand combat with and without weapons. Her mother seemed determined that Lorna be ready for anything.
One side of Triton Campus was dominated by a massive lake used mainly by the rowing teams as they practiced. To the other side of the lake was a rectangle of cleared lawn used as a football (soccer) field during lunches and after class. The other three sides of Triton College were woods. The kind of woods you imagined when reading fairy tales, full of massive towering hardwoods and firs shrouding the moss and leaf covered ground in shadows and mist.
One thing Lorna truly enjoyed were the trails criss-crossing the woods. Beyond the legion of military students tramping through at dusk and dawn, the woods were deserted most of the day. The twisting overlapping trails and obstacle courses were too intimidating to most students and few saw the need to exercise outside of physical education classes and mandatory marches proscribed for the members of the Mercenary Club or those in the military tract.
Since she was not a military student Lorna was not required to make the 4 am runs and the obstacle courses done after classes. However, she knew how quickly her body could give out on her and worked to keep herself in as good a condition as possible.