The Freshman
A Tale of the God-Touched


Timothy Maguire

"I cannot believe I’m doing this," Alex muttered to himself as he stepped over the threshold. He’d managed to arrive early for once in his life, but it was an important time to be early. Today was his first day of high school. Problem was, it wasn’t everybody else’s.

Students of every size, shape and stereotype swirled round him as he studied the brief notes he’d been given the day before. He didn’t really need them, having stayed up most of the night worrying about today, but they gave him something to concentrate on other than the incipient adolescent nightmare that was about to engulf him.

"Alex," a voice called unwillingly.

Alex’s mouth twitched slightly as he glanced up as the one person he knew in the school came towards him. Leo Stott was a very stereotypical jock, muscles bulging under a well-cut T-shirt and blonde hair cut close to the scalp. His uncle had recommended the school when Alex had been trying to find somewhere and accordingly, he had been volunteered as Alex’s guide to the place. Leo had taken the task unwillingly, mainly because he knew what the boy was.

"The Principal’s office is just over there, on the left of the entrance," Leo said as he came to a halt in front of Alex. Leo's height and broad chest completely overshadowed Alex’s far smaller physique, but they both knew who could take whom.

"Cheers," Alex said with a nod.

Leo caught his arm lightly as he tried to walk past him. "Promise me you won’t start anything," he asked softly.

Alex’s face was dark for a moment. "I won’t start anything," he said, his voice suddenly grim and thick with anger.

Leo nodded and released him.

Alex took a deep breath and then shrugged, releasing the anger. Might as well get this over with, he told himself. Ignoring the butterflies rampaging in his stomach, Alex walked into his new school.


"Who’s the kid?" Leo’s friend, Pete, asked absently, as his eyes followed a small gang of cheerleader hopefuls crossing the parking lot. Pete wasn’t known for his attention span, being far more interested in girls and cars than the vagaries of high school politics. It was one of the reasons Leo liked him. It also made him oblivious to the wide spectrum of emotions that played across his friend’s face.

"His family’s a friend of my uncle’s," Leo said, skirting the truth and laying down the agreed story. "He moved out here recently and my uncle recommended this place." This was most of the story. Leo really didn’t want Alex at his school, but didn’t see much hope of changing anybody’s mind. After all, Alex had to go somewhere.

"You don’t like him, do you?" Martin asked, and Leo flinched. Martin was an atypical jock, quiet and attentive, well able to pick out the subtle nuances of a person’s behaviour. That same skill made him quick death on the playing fields, able to read the other team’s play in an instant.

"I don’t mind the kid actually," Leo said honestly, "but I’d really rather he wasn’t here."


Principal Baker was an honest, kind looking man who looked like he had a lot of weight on his shoulders. Given what Leo’s uncle and Alex had talked him into, it was understandable. Right now he was sat in his battered leather chair, facing Alex over his desk.

"You’ll be in class 2-C," he told him, handing him a schedule. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Yes sir," Alex replied. "If this is really going to be trans-generational, as we think, we’re going to need my example for the next generation."

"Do you think it can be done? High school isn’t the most calm environment," Baker said.

"Maybe not, but the alternatives are worse," Alex said.

"Here," the third person in the room said, pulling a small slip of paper from a pocket. Karen Olgives was the school’s nurse and one of the few members of staff in on the secret. "This will get you out of sports for the year."

"Thank you," Alex said.

"Are you sure that’s necessary?" the principal asked, worried.

"Definitely. It’s a lot safer all round," Alex said. The bell rang for the first class of the day, and he stood to leave. "I’d better get going --"

"One last thing," the principal said hurriedly. "There are a lot of aggressive people here, so please don’t start anything."

"Don’t worry, I won’t," Alex promised. Twice in one day, he thought bitterly. It's not as if I go looking for trouble. Turning his back to conceal his irritation, he added, "Anything that does start though, I will finish."


"Everybody, we have a new student today." Alex’s homeroom teacher was a tall striking lady dressed in a very conservative suit. Alex felt very small and underdressed beside her, "This is Alex Lockar. Alex’s parents have just moved here from England, so please make him feel welcome."

He stood there for a brief second and stammered out a short introduction. Flushing red, he wondered what they thought of him. His hyperactive metabolism left him looking permanently underfed; he’d never really put on any muscle. His habitual dress (at least here, where they didn't wear uniforms) was jeans, trainers and a light fleece sweatshirt. Alex knew he wasn’t too hot at making a first impression. The things that made him special weren't visible.

The teacher directed him to a seat and began the lesson. As the familiar, if not comfortable, flow of mathematics returned the class to normality. Alex took the opportunity for a little surreptitious observation of his classmates. They were doing the same.

Alex’s class didn’t look like they’d all stepped off the catwalk for a short slice of reality. In fact, most of them would never have been allowed anywhere near it. True, there were two or three girls (and guys) who looked like they’d spent a good hour on their appearance before coming in, but that was it. Even more surprising was the lack of students wearing football tops and the like. Evidently things were a lot different from how he’d expected them to be.

The lesson flew past as he bent to his work. One of the benefits of his previous school was that they had already covered this material before he’d left, so it wasn’t hard for him to do the work. Before he knew it, the bell had gone and the lesson ended. Consulting his schedule, he found he had a free period. So did the rest of his class, evidently.

"Alex, right?" He looked up into a pair of thin rectangular glasses. They tilted slightly and he caught the thin pinched eyes behind them.

"Yeah?" he asked cautiously as he took in the girl in front of him. She obviously wasn’t cheerleader material, pleasantly rounded instead of a stick figure. She wore a black sweater and a long heavy skirt, hiding the rest of her body. Black hair with purple streaks hung down around her ears as she leaned over the desk.

"I’m Linda," she said, smiling. "What do you think of the place so far?"

Alex relaxed slightly with a barely suppressed smile. This was safe territory.

"It’s different," he admitted, glancing round the room. The class had collapsed into several distinct groups, splitting almost evenly between gossiping girls, posturing guys and those who were really trying to work, "But in some ways, its the same."

Linda sat down on the back of the desk and faced him with a smile. She pushed a few curls back behind her ear, marshalling her thoughts.

"When I found out I’d be going to an American high school, I thought I’d end up on the set of Buffy or The OC," he admitted, grinning.

She laughed, a merry, tinkling sound that fit well in his ear. I’d like to hear that sound again, he admitted to himself.

"I can’t remember the last time we had a demon interrupt a lesson, so I guess you’re safe for now," she said with mock seriousness. "But as for teen angst, I got to admit, they got it pretty right. This place can be a mess of hormones." Her voice trailed off and her smile contracted into a rueful smirk.

Alex nodded in understanding. "Not that different where I used to go," he admitted. "So -- got your eye on anyone?"

"No!" she gasped, even as her eyes slid across the room, "There’s no one!" But her eyes obviously came to rest on some one behind him.

"Not even the star quarterback?" he asked with a grin. She stared at him for a second, before laughing in disbelief. "Him?" she said giggling, "He’s an ass. I’d rather be sick."

The rest of their free time flew past in a tide of laughter and comradeship, as the two of them discovered their shared traits and entertaining differences. By the time they had to decamp to science, Alex knew that he had at least one friend in the school.


After a slow and boring trip through the ‘wonders’ of chemistry, they moved on to PE. Or at least the rest of the class did. The school’s coach didn’t think much of Alex’s note, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. It helped that Alex didn’t look like much, positively tiny against the bulk of the linesmen around him. Instead he’d been relegated to the stands to await a call to help in some coaching.

Sitting near him was a slender youngster, almost elfin in frame. His face was a clean, beautiful demonstration of nature’s gifts, but it was marred. A raw, puckered scar ran from above his left eyebrow, down over his right eye and across to the base of his chin. He had long straight blonde hair, most of which hung down over the left side of his face for obvious reasons.

Alex considered his options for half a second and remembered the resolution he’d made on the long flight over the Atlantic. His mind made up, he stood and clambered up the stands until he could sit down next to the slim young boy.

"Hi, my name’s Alex. What’s yours?" he asked. Then he rolled his eyes and grinned ruefully. "Brilliant opening line, eh?"

"Joshua," the boy said quickly, staring down at the practice. Not once in the little exchange did he look up from whatever he was watching.

Alex sighed. Time for a different tactic. "Which would you prefer: the quick way or the long way?" he asked. Joshua shrugged. "What’s the difference?"

"The quick way is I ask you directly about your face," Alex said. "The slow way is that we dance round the subject for the entire period..."

Joshua cringed, lowering his eyes and turning the scarred side of his face away. "Why are you doing this?"

"I get the feeling the coach doesn’t like us," Alex said. "I also get the feeling we're gonna be here for a while and I’d like to be able to talk to you."

Joshua turned to look at him then. He brushed the fine hair away from his face to reveal the full extent of his injury.

Alex gasped as he saw the raw hole dug into the other boy’s skull.

Joshua nodded slightly. Obviously, he'd seen reactions like Alex's many times before.

"It happened over a year ago," he said slowly, looking down at the seat in front of him. "I was in the car with my mother one evening. She’d been working all day as usual and then we’d had to visit my grandmother..."

Alex nodded, forcing himself to look directly at Joshua. It wasn't as though he hadn't seen worse things.

"I had my nose in a book and didn’t notice her falling asleep at the wheel," Joshua continued softly. "The next thing I knew we’d struck a sign post, hard. I don’t know how, but the shaft came through the windshield. It sliced across my face and took out my eye." He tapped the flesh around beside the crater where his left eye should have been.

Alex winced.

"Any way, worst of all, it also took out part of the skull around the eye socket," Joshua said. "A regular false eye is no good -- it just falls out. And those prosthetic things -- you know, where they try to make a plastic piece that matches your skin -- the insurance wouldn't cover it. I think it would look creepy anyway."

Alex waited for him to continue, but evidently Joshua had nothing more to say. Alex looked up at the sky and thought about what he’d heard. He came to another decision, one that was harder than the one he’d made only a few seconds earlier. He looked down at his friend, wrapped up in his own private pain.

"I haven’t told anyone else this yet," Alex admitted, not looking at his companion. "My last school was a private boarding school called St. Peters, back in England. It wasn’t that different from here, really. I mean sure, I had to live with some of my classmates, but it wasn’t so bad. You’d think the son’s of Lords and CEOs would be different, but they’re the same as you and me. That was half the problem."

Joshua sighed. It was obvious that he thought Alex's tale was a poor match for his personal horror story.

"I never really liked it there, to be honest," Alex said. "I like my own company too much, so I didn’t fit in with the hormonal insanity that permeated the place. So I used to get teased a lot. And that was before -- this."

Alex flexed his hand and held it out in front of him. He concentrated for a second and light sprang forth. A pinpoint blue sphere of energy flared in his palm and he stared into it.

Joshua was openly staring now, forgetting to be shy about his appearance. "You're one of them, aren't you?" Alex nodded. "After the Dream, things got worse. I was different originally, but now I was different. And you can’t hide much from someone when they sleep less than two metres from you."

"The tormenting got worse from then on. Do you know how hard it is to protect yourself when you can’t fight back, because you know that if you do, they won’t survive?"

Joshua shook his head, trying to put a little more distance between Alex and himself.

"In the end, I snapped. I lost my temper," Alex said. As if in response to the old emotions, the small Mote flared, briefly expanding, before collapsing to its original state. "I was so close to putting one of these through Steve’s head, I don’t know what stopped me." He paused for a moment, breathing slowly, and let the Mote flicker and vanish.

"I left the school that evening and came out here, to Metahuman Inc.," he said, his voice calm once more. "That’s my little story."

"Why did you tell me?" Joshua asked after several seconds. Even though the Mote had long since died, he still stared at the hand that had spawned it.

"We all have our scars," Alex said, sitting up and looking Joshua full in the face, "Some of them are just better hidden than others."


Lunch was an eye-opener for Alex. The entire school piled into the cavernous cafeteria at once and flocked to the thankfully large kitchen. He and Joshua joined the line and grabbed a selection of foods from the cooks. Alex had his plate piled high, an unstable mound that wobbled as he walked. They took a table near the far wall, away from the general populace of the room.

"Are you sure about this?" Joshua asked, looking at the space between them and everyone else.

"I tried the In Crowd at my last place." Alex’s voice was briefly thick with something hot and angry, but it cleared. "This time I think I’ll try the Out Crowd."

"The Out Crowd? I like it," Joshua said with a lop-sided grin. "I've been out for a while, but it'll be nice to be part of a crowd for a change."

They’d spent the remainder of the PE class talking about more normal things, in particular their coach, who seemed to have an obsession with strength. He despised weaklings, apparently.

"Mind if I join you guys?" Linda asked from the end of the table. Their discussion had just turned to the many different teachers, so they looked up guiltily as she spoke.

"Hi," Alex said brightly, his heart rate calming slightly. Linda placed her far emptier tray down on the table and slid into place alongside Joshua.

"Wow," she said as she gazed at the enormous stack of food in front of Alex. He thrust his fork into the mass, cut off the edges and stuffed the whole lot into his mouth. He swallowed hard after just a few chews and smiled at her.

"I’m still growing," he explained, "plus I have a really active metabolism." It wasn’t really a lie; his metabolism really was far more active than most people’s. He just skirted the reason it was so active.

Linda smiled and laughed that beautiful little laugh that Alex had wanted to hear again.

As Alex tore his way through his massive stack of food, Joshua and Linda took turns telling their new friend all about the people he would come to know, either willingly or unwillingly. And for the first time since he’d set foot in America, he felt at home.


That feeling of belonging persisted straight through his history lesson, which he enjoyed for all the wrong reasons and into the next class, English. Alex had always enjoyed the subject, but suddenly he felt like he couldn’t concentrate. He fidgeted and twitched, fiddling with his pen as the teacher took them through the intricacies of Macbeth. Something felt wrong, some subtle little signal worming away at the base of his mind.

Fear suddenly lurched through his body as he realised what was bothering him. He started in his seat, but thankfully nobody noticed. Relax, he told himself, it’s just someone going about their business. But the odds were low that another of his kind would be travelling anywhere near here by coincidence; the school and Alex's new home were out in the suburbs of Washington. Anyone out here was looking for something.

He stared out the window, looking up at the sky above him, wondering what was coming. Anyone from Metahuman Inc. wouldn’t bother coming out here to get him, they’d just call him.

If he hadn’t been so keyed up by the feeling of dread, he never would have noticed it. Instead his hand came up a fraction of a second early, as sudden light bathed the classroom. A bolt of emerald green struck the football field just outside the classroom and exploded. Power roared up his arm as he reacted instinctively, blue energy springing from his palm. The shockwave slapped against the building wall, hammering the shield Alex had thrown up against the vulnerable windows. Enough force broke through to crack them, insane patterns racing across the glass.

The class screamed almost as one and dived for cover. Unlike them, Alex stood, his face grim. The football field had become a vision of hell, a crater at least ten metres across dominating the scorched turf. Alex stepped onto his chair and leapt through the window, glass flying away from him. He was angry now; angrier than he’d ever been since that day in England.

A figure descended into sight, landing precisely in the middle of the crater. He was dressed remarkably normally, a suit flapping in the abused wind. His hair was immaculately kept and his face wouldn’t have been out of place in an office or conference. Only his smile and the dead look in his eyes told the truth. He was a Devourer, a hunter of his own kind.

"I take it you’re here for me?" Alex said, his anger crystallizing into something worse. He was going to enjoy this.

"Of course," the Devourer said, amused, "I don’t suppose you’re going to make this easy for me -- are you?"

Alex took a deep breath and pushed on the anger. It resisted, red fire blurring his vision. He shoved harder, the flames guttering and dying under his iron determination. With a final draught of air, he was calm.

"Sorry," Alex said with a mirthless grin, "I’m too attached to my skin." A Mote flared into life in his left hand, easily the size of a baseball. He squeezed it, letting the light spread out into a blade. He raised the blade and held it ready in front of him. His opponent did the same.

Something flew like an arrow at his opponent from behind. At the last second it flipped up onto its side and brought one end across the older man’s head. The impact was far harder than it looked and the man folded under the blow. Moving faster than he’d thought he could move, Alex reached his half folded opponent. He brought his knee up in an incredibly hard blow than smashed his target’s head back up. He followed it with a savage roundhouse punch to the side of the head.

It wasn’t enough. The Devourer staggered and fell to one knee, but he didn’t go down. As Alex moved in for anther blow, his opponent’s hand came up and a Mote sprang into life in his hand. Alex was forced to block it for an instant, which was all that was needed.

His opponent sprang skywards, soaring out of his reach. Hurling a Mote after him, Alex followed, leaping aboard his board. The small strip of laminated wood had been what had struck the first blow earlier. Unlike the man above him, Alex couldn’t fly without the aid of the changed skateboard.

He’d really been hoping the earlier gambit would have worked. He was smaller and weaker than the older man. Worse, the Devourer had probably killed before and had the power of at least two of the Touched under his belt. All in all, this fight looked like being moderately unpleasant. Alex raced up into the sky after his opponent, blue light streaming from both hands.


The students had been split into two camps by the sudden attack: those who wanted to flee and those who couldn’t leave. To their surprise, Joshua and Linda were among those who stayed and watched. The fought their way to the front of the small crowd that had gathered at the ruined windows and watched with awe at the spectacle that was unfolding above them.

Flying a few hundred feet above the school, the two fighters dodged and weaved about each other, Motes whipping between them. Occasionally they would close to strike at each other with long blades of light.

"Is he really a God-Touched?" Linda whispered to herself, looking at the small form of her friend as he rolled in the sky, sending bolts of light to strike down the shots from his opponent.

"He is," Joshua confirmed, his one eye fixed on the fight. He muttered a small prayer for his friend; it was obvious he was losing.

The problem was a matter of conscience. Every now and then, the aggressor would loose a barrage of Motes, not aimed at his opponent, but at the school itself. And each time, Alex would have to drop whatever he was doing and stop the bolts himself. Finally, unable to hurl enough to stop the fire, he did the only thing he could do. He interspersed himself with one of the shots.

The explosion was louder than any of the others, bar the first. The impact knocked Alex off his board and he crashed to the ground, his deal with gravity suddenly revoked. The Devourer snatched the board from where it hung in the air, masterless, before heading down himself.

"Well, now, that was fun," he said to the prone Alex, who groaned slightly. The Devourer raised a final Mote, and grasping it, reshaped it into the form of a dagger. But then Alex's skateboard wiggled in his arm, distracting him for an instant.

That was all Alex needed. He brought his leg across in a desperate last kick, striking the older man on the side of the knee.

Even as the Devourer's leg buckled, the board suddenly surged in his arms, tugging him over the prone youngster. Creating a Mote in either hand, Alex brought then together in an ear splitting crack of light and sound.

When people looked back from their instinctive reaction to the searing sight, they saw two bodies, one lying atop the other. For an instant, nothing moved, then Joshua surged forwards, Linda barely a step behind him. They raced over the blasted ground, towards the two fighters. Joshua pulled the older man off as Linda dived for Alex. He grinned at her.

"Well, that worked," he said, sitting up with a wince. One hand strayed to his arm, but he stood without assistance. He tucked one hand into his pocket and pulled out a (by now very battered) cell phone and dialled a number from memory.

"Hi, it’s me," he said tiredly, "It happened again. Could you send a unit to deal with it? Send another operative while you’re at it. I can’t be arsed with another round with this git." He glared down at the unconscious figure at his feet.

Whatever reply Alex received seemed to satisfy him. "Thanks," he said softly. He ended the call and tucked the phone back into his pocket, then let his legs fold under him and sat down on the still-smoldering ground.

His head sagged to his chest for a second, and Joshua moved to catch him before he fell. But then Alex shook his head and straightened. He let his gaze sweep over the staring faces watching from the damaged classroom windows. There was the same mixture of fear and jealousy and elation he had seen before. He looked up at his two friends.

"So what do you think of me now?"


© 2005 by Timothy Maguire

Bio: Timothy Maguire says, "I am a Rocket Scientist. Or at least I'm in training to be one. When I'm not trying to wrap my head around my degree, I like to write a little."

E-mail: Timothy Maguire

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