Chapter 17: Kailani
If you open your mind for me...
Meals Sunday – a late brunch and then dinner – were a little awkward, Vlad and Conrad quiet and unsmiling, even Mabina and Cassidy seeming out of sorts, but by Monday, everything seemed to be back to normal, Conrad grinning mischievously at her as he claimed the seat to her left, Vlad unceremoniously splitting up Mabina and Cassidy by sitting down between them. ‘Lisha was no-where to be seen – not quite true; a brief scan of the dining hall revealed her in a far corner of the room, a brief flicker of moth wings in a gaggle of people, but she was at least not sulking at their table, and even Taro was smiling. Only Mabina, her hands resting on her round belly, looked pensive.
Kai was considering whether asking her about it would be rude, when a businesslike and yet still exotic woman in her late thirties walked up to their table and stood at one end, raking her gaze over them all before settling on Kai.
“Kailani?” She was looking straight at her, so Kai just nodded; the women nodded brusquely in response. “Dr. Regine would like to see you in her office after breakfast. She will excuse you from your first class.”
Her first class, Chemistry, was something she rather enjoyed, both the hard science of it, and the intense, demanding way in which Ms. Peletier taught the subject, and she wasn’t sure she appreciated being called out of it for a meeting with the Director. A lifetime of obedience to school authorities, of being the “good girl,” had left a deep mark of habit on her, so she nodded again, and said, “Yea, ma’am.” The woman nodded crisply, and left.
The crew seemed to hold its breath until she was out of sight, and then let it out all at once. “Woosh,” said Mabina, a sentiment Kailani couldn’t quite decipher but could still agree with.
“I wonder what that was about,” Taro frowned.
“Me, too,” Kailani confessed, growing a little nervous and a little more resentful. “That doesn’t happen often?”
Taro shook his head. “I’ve never been called into Dr. Regine’s office. I don’t know why you would.”
“I bet I know why,” Conrad grinned.
“What? Did I do something wrong?” Was there anything she’d done against the rules – or the Laws? It was hard to tell, even as she wracked her brain for any potentially offensive actions – when neither rules nor Laws were clearly defined.
Conrad shook his head, still smiling, and Taro snorted softy. “You couldn’t do something wrong if you were trying, hon.”
Not sure if she was being complimented, teased, or insulted, she ignored him, and turned to Conrad. “What?” she demanded.
He just shook his head, grinning. “That would be telling. But don’t worry,” he added, a little hurriedly and a little belatedly, “if I’m right, it’s nothing to worry about.”
“And if you’re wrong?” She wasn’t sure why she was irritated with him, just that she was.
“If … if I’m wrong, which is unlikely,” he flashed an arrogant smile before sobering again, “well, seriously, Kai. The worst she’s going to do is scold you. Come on, Kai, you haven’t been here long enough to do anything really bad, and even if you had, they wouldn’t do anything to really punish you. They need you too badly.”
“Need me? Why”
She saw the same flicker of dishonesty in his eyes she’d seen Saturday night and, while she didn’t have the brilliant clarity of understanding she’d seemed to then, she could still recognize the patterns when he prepared to lie to her. “You raise the GPA of the school,” he teased.
She didn’t know why he had suddenly decided to start lying to her, if he had, or why she was recently able to see it, if he’d been lying all along, but she didn’t like it either way. She frowned softly at him, but let it lie again and went back to eating. As they seemed to do, Cassidy and Vlad filled in the uncomfortable silences with gossip, and Mabina chatted softly with Conrad and Taro. Kai let it all wash over her, back to puzzling over what it was that Dr. Regine might want.
The end of breakfast was almost a relief. She split from the group at the doorway, and entered the antechamber of the Director’s office, where the crisp woman who had brought her the summons sat behind a wide walnut desk, a very old-fashioned-looking typewriter to one side of the slick expanse of wood and a very precise stack of color-coded folios to the other. Walnut file cabinets stood like soldiers behind her, each one labeled with typewritten labels; a computer sat on a side desk, its monitor off.
She nodded at Kailani, turning her attention away from the ledger sheet in front of her to the sleek multi-line phone, like the computer an alien in this 1920’s office. “Doctor Regine?” she spoke into the intercom. “Kailani sh’Moonchild is here to see you.”
“Very well, Hayley.” The voice from the speaker was too clear, without distortion. “Please send her in.”
sh’Moonchild? She puzzled over that one as Hayley ushered her through a thick paneled door into another office. Moonchild was her mother, or, at least, the name her mother had chosen for herself, purportedly to be more in touch with the goddess within (Kailani had always assumed it had more to do with being named Norma originally, but it seemed safer to allow her mother to pretend). So “sh’Moonchild” must be some sort of matronymic. She supposed it was no worse than Kailani BrightNight, but why a matronym, when most of Western society used patronyms?
Well, you don’t have a father, a cynical voice pointed out. She winced a little, remembering that many societies gave a child its mother’s name only when it had no legitimate father. Great.
But she could worry about that later. Maybe ask Conrad, if he was feeling like being honest. She glanced around the office – the desk was bigger than the secretary’s, and mahogany, with a black marble top, devoid of any paperwork or files. Dual computer monitors were positioned so that they could not be viewed from this side of the desk; they, and a modified keyboard, were the only things marring the smooth lines of the office.
Behind the desk, Dr. Regine sat with her hands folded lightly in front of her; she nodded when Kailani came in, and met her gaze for a moment. Kai looked away first, disturbed by the emptiness in the woman’s gaze.
“Kailani. Please have a seat.” She did so, without consciously deciding to. “How have you been finding things here at our little school?”
Kylie had asked her much the same half a week ago. Anatoliy had asked her something similar at the dance. This was beginning to be a pattern. She wasn’t sure if her answers were changing, and if they should be.
“It’s interesting,” she said cautiously; Regine’s expression didn’t flicker one bit. “The classes are fun, and rather challenging; I like that.” That got her a brief nod. “And Taro’s –“ no. “-Mabina’s crew has been very nice to me.” Where did that come from? But it was right, wasn’t it? And Regine was nodding softly. “The rest of it, I haven’t really completely figured out yet,” she admitted. She hated to acknowledge any ignorance, but she figured that she could be forgiven it in this situation.
“It doesn’t disturb you?” Regine asked, her voice as devoid of emotion as her expression.
“Disturb me?” She shook her head. “The lack of all the facts bothers me, ma’am. I like puzzles, but it’s rather frustrating when I don’t have all the pieces.” Her candor startled her, but, with no guess as to what the woman wanted, honesty seemed like the best bet. “I know that things work by different rules down here, and I want to know how deep that goes. It seems as if there would almost have to be different physical laws as well. Normal biology and physics can’t explain some of the things I’ve seen.”
At this, Regine cracked a small, pleased-seeming smile. “Very good,” she said approvingly. “These are the sort of questions that you should be seeking answers to.”
Kai felt a momentary surge of pleasure mixed with resentment, but managed to stifle a comment about the lack of tools and information that would forward those questions. Regine continued,
“Tell me, have you given any consideration as to a Mentor?”
She flushed, and shook her head. “No, ma’am, I haven’t.” She’s been too busy thinking about boys. Foolish. Her mother would scream if she knew.
The Director, however, seemed unperturbed. “That is unsurprising, considering how busy the weekend was. No matter. Would you considering taking me on as a Mentor?”
“You?” The thought startled her. Regine wasn’t even a teacher. “Why? Why would you want me as a Mentoree?”
“You’re brilliant, of course,” Regine said easily; “you were bred for it.”
“I – “ Kailani gaped at her, but the woman just kept talking.
“Your genius is in your genes.” She made it sound as if everything Kai had ever been praised for was… nothing. A trick of genetics, or, from the sounds of it, purposeful breeding. Like cattle. “But I am curious to see how far you can take it. Your teachers speak of you being engaged, enthusiastic, and, of course, intelligent. But I imagine you’re learned how to get by in classes designed for a far less intelligent student than yourself.”
“Well, yes.” She made it sound like a flaw of hers, instead of a problem with the schools she’d been to.
“A waste of your potential. I want to see what you can do when you’re really challenged. And, in return, I will give you access to my research, which should, in turn, help you figure out those questions that have been plaguing you.”
“Your research?” Given the “bred to be brilliant” comment, she had some suspicions about the nature of the research, but they seemed… far-fetched. Likely the Director had just been referring to Kailani’s mother, who was, if spacey, still a respected scientist, and, possibly, her unknown father.
Regine nodded. “Into the nature of the creatures that we all are.” She spread her hands flat on the marble, and nodded sharply. “Think on it, and get back to me on Friday. If you choose to be my Student, I will challenge you, and I will work you to your limits, but you will become everything that you can be. If that seems like too much work for you, then, by all means, feel free to choose another Mentor.”
Understanding a dismissal, Kailani stood. “Thank you, ma’am. I’ll think on it.” She would, rankled by the insults and the casual dismissal of her hard work, but she knew that she wouldn’t be able to resist the challenge, either.
What am I getting myself into? she wondered softly, but she already knew:
Answers. She was going to understand everything that was going on here. It was going to be a lot of work, and she might have to stop playing the silly games with Taro and Conrad, but, no matter what Regine said, hard work and a lack of a social life had never deterred her before, when there were answers to be found.
Her jaw set, determined, she stalked out of the Director’s office...
...and there was Conrad, leaning against the wall, smiling at her. “Hey.”
“Hey. You waited for me?”
“Thought someone ought to.”
Her anger melted away, and she smiled back at him, feeling warm and happy.
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