Place: St. Cuthbert's School for Young Ladies and Gentlemen, planet Righteousness
He'd only taken out one with the water on the stairs. There were six left. Julian crouched on the girders above the stairwell where he'd manage to scramble with the help of a trash bin, thinking hard and fast. Yanking the old pipe from its deteriorating fittings had been his most ingenious gambit but most of those lumbering idiots had just barreled through the water barrage.
What now? He could simply give up, curl into a ball, take the beating as he had so many times before and hope they tired quickly. Bloody, bloody tired of it, though. Just because the other kids were older, bigger—just because they had families to go home to on holidays and Julian did not—they thought they had some universe-given right to taunt him, to torment him, and to stomp him into the ground. Not to mention the other reason. Why the social workers had sent him to this backwater world and this school with its backward thinking was a mystery.
No more. No. More.
He glanced around desperately as the idiot pack put their tiny brains together below and started to figure out that they could reach him if they worked together. Several long sections of aluminum piping lay across the girders, probably as a handy storage spot. They looked like ones that would fit together to form a frame, maybe even the ones for the shade canopies for the superintendent and teachers at sporting events. Those would do if he could get to them in time.
"Julia, Julia, come down and play," one of the idiot pack called. They were forming some sort of unstable human pyramid and would reach him in the next moments.
The girders creaked as Julian inched along them and he swallowed hard, hoping they would hold. Almost there… Almost there… His fingers twitched a pipe closer and closed around the metal just as Abigail, the cruelest of the pack, snagged Julian's trailing foot and yanked hard. He made a grab for the girders with his free hand, immediately tucked into a ball when he knew it was too late, and bounced off the idiot pyramid on the way down. They broke his fall. He demolished their teetering human construction.
If it had been a building, it would've been condemned.
Julian fought free of the tangle of flailing limbs though not before he'd been kicked in the head twice, and scuttled back to give himself room as he brandished his new weapon.
"It's Julian," he whispered. "And you need to leave me alone."
Corian threw back his head on an ugly laugh. "Aw. It's itty-bitty feelings are hurt. C'mere, you little freak."
The solid crack of the aluminum pole against Corian's head shocked Julian. It vibrated through his fingers and nearly made him drop it. Nearly. Corian stumbled back, hand to the side of his face. The confusion on his face was the best thing Julian had ever seen. He pressed the attack, swinging for heads and shins, without mercy and for once with more anger than fear.
He didn't stop until the other children had fled or were sobbing on the floor. The hand that finally ripped the pole from his hands was unexpected, larger, and most definitely adult. Julian swallowed hard and tipped his head to find the superintendent glowering down at him. The forced march to the administrative offices had Julian's heart slamming against his chest. Part of him longed to be expelled but where would they send him?
Julian's heart sank when they reached the super's office. A man waited for them there, so they were going to send Julian away. Though something about the man's movements struck him as odd as he rose to greet them—too fluid, too graceful, too watchful. His smile was ambiguous, neither kind nor cruel, his eyes half-hooded and considering. Perhaps his clothes threw Julian more than any other feature. The gray suit looked more expensive than anything the teachers wore. He didn't think the man had come from Planetary Childrens' Services.
"This is the one," the super said with condescending disgust. "Julia Higgenbottom—"
"Julian," Julian corrected softly.
"She came to us through the Planetary Equal Education Program—"
"He," Julian interjected, voice barely more than a whisper.
"And it's rare that anything good ever comes of that. She's incorrigible, defiant, disruptive, and, as you can see, has vicious and violent tenden—"
"He has a natural talent," the strange man cut the super off in a voice of quiet authority. "He's quite the most amazing child I've seen in some time. How old did you say he is?"
"Julia is eight."
"And the other children we just watched on the security feed? How old are they?"
The super's frown deepened. "Twelve. Thirteen."
"And there is no family?"
"No known parents or rela—"
"Astounding." The strange man turned his enigmatic smile on Julian. "Young man, how would you like to go to a new school? A special school where you would learn to fight properly and to code and decode and, oh, all sorts of useful things?"
The man was frightening in a way Julian had never encountered. Something about him screamed predator and made Julian want to crawl under the super's enormous desk to hide. But the man had called him by his chosen name. Had addressed him as young man. He glanced up at the super who regarded him as if Julian were something unpleasant at the bottom of a vegetable drawer.
"Yes, sir," Julian finally answered. "I'd like that very much."
"Excellent. Have you chosen a last name as well?"
The super looked confused but Julian understood. No, he hadn't yet, even though he hated Higgenbottom, a name he felt no connection to. He read the chart on the super's wall, the one with space cartography terms, the one he had read so many times while he stood in front of the super's desk being berated. Red Shift. Gravity Well. Stellar Parallax…
"Parallax, sir. Julian Parallax."
"Perfect." The man reached out a hand and waited until Julian slid his hand up to take it. "Come with me to begin your real life, Julian. I have a shuttle waiting." He turned to the super as they were walking out. "I expect Julian's possessions to be sent along. Properly addressed."
"Yes. Of…of course," the super squeaked.
Julian smiled for the first time in days. He had a feeling his new school would be hard but working hard for someone who treated him with respect wasn't something Julian feared at all.