Jul 16, 2019 4:28 AM
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Bella likes school. She didn't use to like school one bit. Even when Renée was teaching her when she was in kindergarten (Renée refused to hear of skipping her past her opportunity to teach her only daughter), it was all - coloring and stupid kiddy books. She likes Renée. But she likes learning serious stuff more.

She devours classwork. She plays in the practice rooms and the gym. She loiters in the games room, fingers flying under strips of copper as she controls things, tries things. She loses to older kids a few times with each new game, till she figures it out, and then moving at the speed of thought means she's got the advantage. Bullying happens around her, but she's a girl - this shields her from much of it - and even though she adds up to faster and stronger than all of the other kids, she's still wearing an assistive device, she's still a cripple. That's fine with her; it keeps her out of the way of the nastier kids. She's not sure the Battle School people are looking for quite the right ratio of ferocity to other traits.

She plays the fantasy game, until she hears from other people that you can't win the Giant's Drink, and she uses this as an example in her statistics homework and never bothers with it again. What a stupid game.
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Speaking of the Giant's Drink, here's a kid playing it. He's sitting tucked into a corner of the games room with his desk in his lap, and every time his little avatar gets a new death, he giggles and tries again.

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"Are you just trying to see if it repeats itself?" Bella asks, peering over his shoulder.

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"It's done like fifty and it hasn't yet," he says, grinning. "I wanna see what the next one is!"

His avatar sticks its head into a glass of fizzy pink liquid and takes a sip. The drink froths over, burning away flesh wherever the foam touches, until nothing remains but a tiny skeleton draped over the lip of the glass with pink foam dripping from its clean white bones.

The boy laughs.
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Nobody clever enough to be in Battle School needs to be told that the drink game is rigged after doing fifty of it. Bella refrains from telling him anyway. "Why is that funny?" she asks instead, swaying idly with the rhythm in her thoughts.

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"Why isn't it?" he counters, glancing up at her to share his wide, cheerful grin. "I just like watching the little guy die horribly!"

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"It's like the game was designed for you, then," says Bella, eyeing the boy with amusement. "Since that's all you can do in this section."

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He giggles.

"I'm trying to see if there's a pattern to how it kills me," he adds. "But so far there's not."
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"I never heard of one. I quit playing after I heard it's rigged, though, so I haven't seen for myself." She stands on one foot. She does that sometimes. Balancing is easy when you can hold perfectly still solely by wanting to.

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"Why'd you quit?" he asks interestedly.

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"I don't really think it's that entertaining to watch my avatar die a million times. I'd rather fly around in the practice rooms or read if I have spare time," she shrugs.

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"There's a whole rest of the game, though," he says, and he sends his avatar back for another death.

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"The rest of it was all right, but any game where there's a part you just can't live through seems, I dunno, mean-spirited, it'd bother me to keep playing now that I know. I like books and stuff better anyway."

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"Yeah, I guess," he says. "What kinda books?"

Meanwhile, his avatar is weeping blood into a glass of what appears to be milk. He giggles.
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"The homework stuff. Classic literature - old stuff that's barely English like we talk now. Sometimes stuff on psychology or modern novels if they're highly recommended or whatever else. I finished Utopia this morning. It wasn't very utopic, though, I was disappointed."

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"What was it instead?"

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"There was all kinds of pointless stuff in. Like, you had to move houses every ten years. And worse than pointless stuff, like they had slavery. And people weren't allowed to travel, even just within the country, without a passport. I dunno, I think I could do better. But Sir More wrote it a long time ago."

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"Weird," the boy concludes, steering his avatar into another grisly death.

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"Yeah. I'm Bella. What's your name?"

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"Nice to meet you, Bella!" he says brightly, ignoring the question.

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"If you won't tell me what to call you it can't be all that nice, can it," she says.

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"Don't feel bad," he says amicably, "I'm like that with everybody."

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"Why?" She clearly expects there to be an answer and for him to know it. She still expects people to be able to read their own minds, even if they can't read anyone else's.

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"Because I hate my name and I don't have a better one."

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"Then you should make something up. Half the kids in my launch already have nicknames even if you don't count 'Bella'. And we only got here three weeks ago."

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He shrugs.

"I haven't found one I like, I guess."
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