ESPU:Zero

Chapter 3

Nero slumped back in his seat. He had barely gotten any sleep last night, and the sleep he got in his first class wasn nearly enough for him to focus on his professor. The faint murmurs of the other dozens of students underlying the professors droning had nearly done him in right then. If it wasn for caffeine, he wouldn have even made it to the shuttle on time to get to the campus.

”Hey, are you alright? ” the girl next to him asked, trying to whisper.

”Yeah… ” he yawned back. ”Im fine Maria, just focus on taking notes, Ill be needing to borrow them later. ”

While everyone else furiously clacked their fingers against screens to match what the professor wrote on the board, Maria scribbled with a pencil and paper. She was about the only person that Nero could consider a friend in this place, a homely girl with matte brown hair that never wore make-up to class. She wasn boyish, but Nero felt she was approachable.

After mulling it over for a few more seconds, he turned to Maria again. ”Hey, can you wake me up when class is over? Even if there is a quiz, Im not passing it like this. ”

”Yeah, yeah, get some rest, you look like you need it. ”

”I had a long night, Ill tell you about it after class, ” he said, letting out another yawn as he dropped his head down onto his arms.

Within seconds, the room had faded away from his consciousness, with only the droning speech of the professor left. A focused image of the professor sharpened in his mind, with his voice becoming even clearer. He felt odd, dreaming about the class.

”Falling asleep isn an excuse not to pay attention. ” the professor said, his eyes sparking with wit behind his drained appearance.

Nero sat there in his dream, trying to think of something else, like trying to change the channel. The world around him shimmered like a kaleidoscope for a moment before the professors face sharpened back into view, again and again. It finally clicked for him. This was the professors psychic power.

The professor droned on while Nero focused on the gray fractals forming around him.

”Nero. ”

”Huh, what? ” his focus snapped onto the professor.

”What was the foremost factor in the dissolution of the world council? ”

It was a question to test how closely he had been listening. Of course, he hadn been paying a moment of attention since he got here, but he already knew the answer by heart. ”The greatest factor was the rise of Nova Somnia. ”

”Not quite. ”

”The world council couldn compete with the bounding strength, both militarily and economically, with Nova Somnia. Psychic powers were more impactful than nuclear weaponry, and almost as much as the internet. ” The gray around him had erupted into colors, with flashes of images related to what he said popping up around him, from a photograph of a mushroom cloud to a hazy screenshot from a game from his childhood. ”Since they are localized to this island, the rest of the world couldn compete, even together. ”

”I guess you have been paying attention. ”

”No, Ive just learned all this before. ” Nero laid his head back onto his arms, trying to fall asleep within the dream.

”Hey, Nero. Wake up. ”

The voice seemed to come from all around him. It sounded like Maria.

”Nero, class is over. ”

Nero bolted awake, with Maria shaking his shoulder. ”Oh, uhh, thanks, ” he said, rubbing his eye.

”Lets go get some lunch now. You probably need a coffee. ”

”Yeah, that might help. ” He stood up, the chair loudly scraping the floor behind him.

The pair of them left the lecture hall with the rest of the stragglers. He had a couple hours until his next class, which was still with Maria. They quickly made their way down the hallway, and out into the bright sunlight.

The campus was right in the center of the city, yet there was bright green grass everywhere, with pure white accents on all of the ruddy brick buildings, standing out like marble in the bright sunshine. Concrete walkways criss-crossed between the large buildings around the field. A fountain sat right in the center, surrounded by blue flowers. Gray skyscrapers stood like titans on the horizon, behind the campus buildings in all directions, tinted blue by the distance.

The two of them headed to the southeast of the field, right towards the tallest of the buildings around it, the Rogers student center. Though it was five stories tall, it was still dwarfed by the towers beyond it. Once inside, the two of them made their way through the crowds, shuffling along toward one of the many fast food places along the perimeter of the giant room.

It wasn long before they had ordered their food and Nero got a small coffee in his hand. It was apparently New Columbian style, grown with imported dirt in District 10, at least according to the cashier. They went back out to the field, now eager to get away from the bustling noise of the mass of students inside.

”So Nero, ” Maria asked. ”Whats going on? Did you spend all night gaming for some reason again? I keep telling you you shouldn do that. ”

”No, I had an unexpected guest last night calling in a favor. It was an emergency. ”

”Oh? ”

”I can tell you much about it, but thank you for covering me today. I hope I can count on you for the afternoon too? ”

She paused, clearly unimpressed. ”I don want to with how little you
e giving me. ”

”Look, I can say no. Its a favor. ”

She folded her arms. ”Playing with a friend on an MMO isn a favor. ”

”Come on, even Im not that low. Thats not it. No, its something in real life. ” He sat down onto the grass, having finally arrived at their normal spot. They were under the shade of one of the buildings, right in the southwest corner.

”Fine. ” she said, sitting down across from him.

After five minutes or so, the crowds dispersed, having shuffled away into the dozens of buildings, leaving only those with an off period sitting around the field. Nero sat on the grass, right in the shade of the library as his eyes slowly drifted closed, despite his constant sips of coffee.

***

Nearly two hours later, and Nero got up from lying on the grass, his phone waking him up from his nap. He looked around, and didn catch Maria, so he headed towards their next class, assuming she already headed out. His target was a couple buildings out from the field. The crowd of people ebbed around him like the flow of a river around a salmon. A hand touched his shoulder, and he spun his head around, Maria was right behind him.

”Sorry, I thought you went on ahead. ”

”No, I had just fallen asleep on the grass. Its just that I… ” She started to lower her head with embarrassment.

”Ah, gotcha. ” He gave a quick smile before turning back. She had turned invisible, just lying there in the grass.

”What do you think well be doing in power development today? ” Nero asked.

”The syllabus didn say, so hes probably going to keep going on about self-defense techniques. ”

”He always like a brute, always focused on fighting with powers. That doesn even scratch the surface of what they
e good for. I wish we had a better teacher, one who would understand that you don function in society by beating people up. ” The crowd had mostly thinned out as they got away from the center of campus, with only a few people around them now.

”Mr. Virzi isn that bad, ” she said.

”Of course you would think that, you already knew self-defense things. You still accidentally turn invisible all the time. He hasn helped you at all. ” He waved his hand back to her without even turning.

”You are so rude sometimes, Nero. ”

They arrived at the building, it was fully brick, with the only trim being around the edges of the roof. The orange and brown walls were almost unacceptable compared to the elegant red of the better buildings. The entire building was for power testing rooms, used at this time just for this kind of class. Their class in particular was just a dozen students, seated at the worst desks Nero had sat in, all in a room that looked like a miniature basketball court, complete with the loud plastic-like floors.

”Hello class! ” A large man walked in right after Nero and Maria took their seats.

The class answered with a low grumble vaguely similar to a greeting of their own.

He had dark red hair, a finely trimmed beard, and a tall, muscular stature. It was almost comical how crouched over the tiny looking podium he was, but it was really just how tall he was. He glanced through the room with a warm smile on his face.

”Today, we will be taking benchmark power tests before we transition into the power training stage of the class. ”

”Finally! ” yelled a boy with blue hair.

”Please, push your desks aside. Mr. Anderson, you will need to test your power in another room, this one isn designed for electric shocks. We have several IMB agents here to test you all. ” He motioned towards the door as seven people in black suits walked in, each carrying a tablet. One of which was even more muscular than the teacher, though not nearly as tall. Nero recognized him immediately, but tried not to make eye contact.

”Mr. Virzi. ” Nero said, lifting his hand into the air.

”Ah yes, you can have a private room as well, ” the teacher answered before Nero could ask. ”Agent Johnson, if you would take those two. ”

”Alright, ” said the muscular agent.

After pushing his desk to the side of the room with the other students, Nero headed for the door, right behind the blue-haired boy. They only went right across the hall, to another equally spacious room, this time without any obstructions, and with white containment panels lining the walls.

”Mr. Anderson, you can go first, then itll be Mr. Satou, ” the agent said while swiping around on his tablet. ”Your power is listed as electrokinesis, do you feel that needs re-evaluated? ”

”No. Let me start already. ”

He pointed across the room. ”Go ahead and use the maximum voltage you can to strike the far wall. ”

A blue light surrounded the blue-haired boy, and sparks of electricity started to flutter around him, each giving a crackle and buzz. Once enough had collected around him to be a constant drone, he lifted his hand forward with a scowl on his face, and a massive arc of electricity instantly jumped forward from his hand, with near deafening power.

”Distance achieved was twenty-three and a third meters, estimated production of six kilowatt-hours. So you Onto the endurance test. Try to sustain a one meter arc for as long as you can. ” The agent locked eyes down onto his tablet.

He slowly charged up again, the blue light returning around his form, and then, he shot a arc from his hand straight down to the floor. It was loud, and incredibly bright, with a blue glow emanating from the shifting spark in the air. Slowly it wore out, disappearing just as fast as it came.

”How was that? ” the boy asked between heavy breaths.

”Fifty-three seconds. An improvement from your last score by two seconds. ”

”Yes! ” he shouted.

”Don get too excited, its not enough to bump you up from Level 3. Go on and head back to the main room now. ”

”Alright, ” he said, waving as he energetically walked away.

Nero stood there anxiously.

”Your power is listed as none, do you believe that has changed? ”

Nero swallowed his saliva, with his tongue catching at the back of his mouth. He almost stuttered. ”No. Im still powerless as far as I can tell. ”

”You are aware that lying or falsifying results during a power examination is a criminal offense, correct? ”

”Yes. ”

The agent, Mr. Johnson, let out a deep sigh. ”Ill just mark down no change then. Youll still be a Level 1. ”

”I know. ”

”Have you been doing okay Nero? ” With a worried look on his face, he put his tablet down by his side.

”Ive been doing fine. ” Nero broke eye contact, letting his eyes drift to where the lightning had been striking the floor.

”I don have much room to help you, but… ” His deep voice trailed off. ”Well, lets return to the classroom. ”

”Actually theres something I wanted to tell you. ”

Mr. Johnson snapped his attention back to Nero. ”What is it? ”

”I… Uhh… Fetter. ” Nero cleared his throat. ”Thank you and Fetter for rescuing me back then. I don think I ever told you that. ”

”Oh uh, right. We should head back. ”

”Yeah. ”

Nero followed him back across the hall, slinking back in through the door trying not to bring attention to himself. Right inside, he saw Maria appear in front of him, as if phasing into existence.

”Eighteen seconds. Total evaluation is Level 1. Next is Ms. Kujo. ” One of the agents announced as Maria shimmered back into view, like dozens of scales a couple inches away from her were shifting around, like prisms reflecting beams of light, turning until they disappeared.

Maria walked over to the side where Nero had just plopped down. ”Looks like we
e both still bottom of the food chain, ” she said.

”Its not like the levels actually matter. Its just a rating of how dangerous you are. Its better to be low ranked. They don watch you as closely. ”

”Hey Mr. Virzi! Are we doing anything else today? ” Maria asked loudly, waving her hand in the air.

”Huh? No, ” Mr. Virzi answered, looking up from something he was reading on the podium. ”You can leave early if youve already been tested. Ive left specific training instructions in your emails for each of you! ” Some of the students had already headed towards the door.

”Thank you! Now its been a pleasure, Nero, but Im going to head home for the day. ”

”Yeah, I think I will too. Thank god its the end of the week. ”

Nero headed out towards the shuttle station, in the opposite direction of Maria, hoping that somehow the problems at his apartment had left.

***

Nero opened the door to his apartment, with a few bowls of instant noodles in the bag hanging from his hand. For a moment, he thought he had entered the wrong apartment. The clothes strewn all over the floor were missing, light was shining in through the window, and the bed was made. Everything somehow smelled slightly of flowers.

Standing in the kitchen area was the culprit, the strange humanoid from the previous evening, now dressed properly in jeans and a button-up shirt, though put on backwards. Fetter was sitting at Neros desk, slowly spinning in his chair.

Nero looked around for a moment. ”Wheres my clothes? ” he asked.

”Don put them in the laundry hamper he found, they
e in your bathroom now so they don stink up the place. ”

”Its been a long time since Ive seen you, Nero, ” Don said, a warm golden glow emanating from his smiling face.

”You
e already up and moving around? How? You were in such a bad condition before that- ”

Fetter interrupted him. ”Did you forget what Dons power was? ”

”Ah, you healed yourself? ”

”Unintentionally, but yes. Im glad I didn have any broken bones or anything or that could have been bad. Thankfully Im all better. Or mostly better. ”

The wings behind him fluttered slightly, sending a slight gust of wind to Nero.

”How are the… wings? ”

”I don know. Im still trying to adjust to everything Fetter told me. Do you want some food? ”

Nero set the bag down on the counter, right next to his rice cooker, which had been recently cleaned. ”Sorry but Im going to sleep, ” He declared. ”I was kicked out of my own bed all of last night, and Im tired. ”

Once over to that side of the room, he fell face first into the blanket, falling asleep right as he noticed it felt softer than usual.

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