The hour-long torment is almost over and Jocelyn couldn’t be more relieved to end it. Ever since science class started, things today have just been snowballing out of control. It seems when it comes to this class, it doesn’t matter how many hours she studies; Jocelyn is destined to do poorly on every science test she takes.
But everything else?
She breezes through her other class's tests and assignments like she’s done them all before—like she’s taking these classes a second time just for fun. Even with math, she didn’t feel any grief from testing—so why here and now whenever the test happened to involve her favorite school subject of all time?
Today should have been a good day, but having to bubble in the answers to scientific questions on one of these scannable sheets of paper made her sick. All sheets go to Mrs. Taylor—who inserts them into the scanner one by one. Most kids seem to do alright, but Jocelyn gets the impression of machine gun blasts as her card goes through the scanner’s stomach. She winces, though to some kids it looks like she’s smiling.
Just shy of a failing grade. Were she not already known by teachers for doing so, she would have cursed loudly once those numbers hit her in the eye. Instead she holds it all in like a volcano—funny, since the class’s next unit apparently involves volcanoes at one point.
As all the other kids are busy discussing their grades with each other, Jocelyn decides it’s best to put the paper away before someone sneaks a peek at the ugly score. The D on her latest test sticks out awkwardly against the Bs and As she’d received on her recent English and history tests.
Anxious to get out already, she pushes the black hair out of her face and takes a look at the clock. 3:04, September 7th. Class is set to leave in just eleven minutes—after which the kids will be free for the weekend. As far as Jocelyn is aware, the sooner she gets home, the sooner she would hear the end of Andrew’s complaints about her D in class.
All the chatter about how amazingly well everyone else did on the test comes to an end when Mrs. Taylor makes her final announcement for the class. “Alright, so now that you’ve all gotten your test scores back, we should get started on our next unit—which is Earth and geology.”
The class goes silent as the teacher starts handing out packets of papers discussing the unit as well as a rock-related project that’s due within the next couple of weeks. She explains it in further detail: “On the back you’ll see information about our next big project. The plan is for you to find a rock outside—out in the wilderness, so bring an adult—and find out about its properties and everything else listed on the paper. At some point you’ll need to make a poster about your rock and present in front of the class.”
She continues, “Monday I’ll bring in a few old examples of what the posters will look like and what you should cover.” All that being said, the teacher takes a quick look at the clock. She pauses for a moment, putting a confused look on her face, as if frozen by the mere sight of the clock.
Still looking befuddled, she takes her eyes off the clock. “I think there was one other thing we needed to—”
At that moment, the intercom interrupts her and causes half the students in the room to flinch. The loudspeaker emits an artificial voice: “Attention teachers and students: in case you have forgotten, the Majorana Research Facility announced last week that it would be launching a test today. All personnel need to stay in the building until you are assured that the test has ended. Teachers, please take a moment to make sure all your students are in the classroom. The test is set to launch in two minutes. It is advised that all citizens of Los Abismos stay inside during this test.”
As those last few words rain down from the intercom, Mrs. Taylor counts every head in the room.
To Jocelyn, this just feels like another reason why this Friday has sucked. Leaving school now would have made today suck a bit less, but now she has to wait even longer than she originally intended.
In anticipation, a good chunk of the kids in the room cover their ears for the incoming test. After all, possible deafness is a large reason why the Los Abismos town government wants people to stay indoors when the scientists at MRF go to test their missiles. This practice is completely safe and procedural, as far as many of the younger kids are concerned. Having lived here all thirteen years of her life, Jocelyn can tell any new kids that the procedure is completely safe.
Even with her fingers lodged in her ears, Jocelyn can easily hear all the machines whirring for the launch. Just as well, it’s far too easy to hear the outside intercom saying, “Launch in T-minus 10…9…”
Just about everyone stands at the classroom window, giving them a clear view of the land west—a land almost completely devoid of the desert’s usual canyons. It is in this direction where the canyons surrounding the town seem to halt, giving potential visitors a clear path to the settlement. Fortunately, no one ever comes here.
In a few short seconds, the missile goes off and everyone watches as it flies by like a firework. Though the missile is roughly the size of a few sticks of dynamite, it carries what most would believe to be nothing more than empty air. On the contrary, inside the glass canister is a microscopic cluster of antimatter molecules—all held together by magnets so that they are suspended and separate from regular matter.
Everything goes quiet as the missile escapes the eyeshot of Los Abismos. It would help if the canyons surrounding the place weren’t so obtrusive—but the purpose of this test is to observe the aftermath that comes when antimatter makes a violent collision with Earth’s matter.
Some kids in the back of the room begin to wonder if the test has failed—but then, right as they attempt to take their hands away from their ears, a faraway explosion breaks out with a boom that always makes the hair on the backs of their necks stand up. Whereas any other explosion would have resulted in a regular gray-white mushroom cloud, what stands before the children now is a pitch-black cloud with traces of orange and purple in it. Some say the purple is the result of a short—but sweet—lightning storm that spawns with every antimatter explosion. But that’s just speculation.
Once things have calmed down, the intercom tunes back in. “Teachers and students: the research facility has announced a successful test. You may now dismiss your students. Have a good rest of the day and a great weekend!”
With that, all the kids in the room start gathering their things and making their way out the door. Jocelyn is especially eager to get out of here—but not before Mrs. Taylor calls her name. The teacher sees her student wince again, signifying to that there really is a lot of tension built up in Jocelyn’s stubborn head.
In a manner uncharacteristic for the bespectacled student, she steps up to Mrs. Taylor’s desk and responds, “Yes?”
Jocelyn can’t tell if her teacher is trying to be antagonistic or is just looking something up—but either way, the haughty teen isn’t fond of the way Mrs. Taylor taps away at her computer’s keyboard when she says, “Jocelyn, I can tell you’ve really been trying hard in this class.”
She blinks. “Well…of course I have!”
Mrs. Taylor presses Enter and turns the monitor toward Jocelyn—revealing an A for English. Then there’s an A for math, A for Spanish, A for history—but a D for science.
As she lets those statistics sink in, Mrs. Taylor chooses her words carefully, knowing how snippy the student at her desk can get. She worries one wrong word can trigger Jocelyn into saying something crass—and whether under self-discretion or not, the words would slip out.
After a good long pause, Taylor continues. “I can tell from class discussion and the way other kids ask for your help in homework that you really are a smart girl, but science—which seems like the one subject you like most—is giving you such a hard time.” She pauses again and blinks. “Do you think you know why that is, sweetie?”
To that, Jocelyn can only shrug. “I’ve really been trying hard, Mrs. Taylor—but I just can’t wrap my head around it.”
Most other teachers would’ve come right up and said something along the lines of “Don’t say ‘can’t,’” but Mrs. Taylor knows there really is something beyond a simple lack of knowledge or a lack of trying that’s keeping her student from doing well in class. She can only guess what it is—perhaps companionship, nervousness, or anxiety—but as an eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Taylor knows there’s only so much advice she can give.
There are so many other students she has to keep track of—and with Jocelyn being only one kid amongst so many others who really do need the help more than her, there’s only so much Mrs. Taylor can do. Realizing this, she gives Jocelyn the best advice she can muster: “Jocelyn, I think with the way things are going, you might want to start looking for a tutor.”
Almost immediately Jocelyn’s black hair starts frizzing up in frustration. “What?!” she shouts. “Why in the hell would I need a tutor?”
But before things can get any further out of hand, Mrs. Taylor puts her foot down. “Language, Joss!” she warned. “If you really do care about keeping your science grade up to par with all the others, a tutor is the best thing you can do for yourself.”
Her lips pursed and her nose wrinkled, Jocelyn slowly inhales before retorting, “Well maybe I don’t care about keeping my science grade up!”
Mrs. Taylor has to resist the urge to roll her eyes at that. “We both know that’s not true, sweetie.”
As calmly as she can, Jocelyn says, “Please stop calling me sweetie.”
Feeling a little intimidated by the angry kid’s stare, the teacher looks down at her lap and taps her fingernails against the desk. “This is something you just might have to do for yourself, Jocelyn. If you don’t, the world’s not gonna wait for you.”
Jocelyn says nothing to that, just continues keeping her brown eyes locked on Mrs. Taylor. Until the adult makes her move, there’s nothing left for her to say or do.
Mrs. Taylor understands when it’s time to let the kid go. “I think we’re done here,” she sighs. “Sorry I wasn’t able to help you as much as I could have.”