01.1 - When Starts the Home Room? [Joe's Tale]

Since Doyce indicated we would all be answering all the Headmaster’s questions, here’s my go at that.

1. Interview with a Headmaster

“Welcome Mr. Moore, welcome.” The Headmaster’s toothy grin was … disconcerting, even if Joey hadn’t been far more scared about the situation than he wanted to admit, even to himself.

Joey paused a moment, looking dubiously at the door frame into the office. He’d need to duck, turn sideways –

Mrs. Schwartz, the school administrator who had walked him to the Headmaster’s door, smiled pleasantly and pressed a metal square next to the jamb. Instead of a blue wheelchair, it had a pair of blue stylized stick figures, like on a bathroom sign, one small, one much larger.

In response, the doorway hummed and expanded in both height and width, the edges somehow folding into the wall.

“No worries, Mr. Moore, no worries,” the Headmaster said with a corresponding chuckle. It sounded like he chuckled far too often. “We’re used to accommodating all sorts of students, and guests. Why, Ravenous himself was here just last week, checking on his boy’s IEP, and his stature exceeds even you.”

Joey stepped in with the peculiar rolling gait he’d had ever since Africa. He could maneuver on all fours more easily, but insisted most of the time on walking on his rear hand/feet, even if it looked a little strange. It was a human thing to do, and that trumped comfort and convenience as far as Joey was concerned.

The Headmaster gestured towards one of the chairs, but Joey shook his head. “I’m good,” he rumbled. If the door could accomodate his size, the chair probably could, too, but even sitting on the floor his head was still over the Headmaster’s. A chair would seem ridiculous.

He looked around. He’d met the Headmaster a few weeks back, when the Foundation was arranging his education here, but it had been at the landing pad, with quick introductions and a quick handoff to Mrs. Schwartz for a tour of the grounds while the “grown-ups” signed paperwork. It was the first time Joey had been in the office though.

This office, at least. He’d been in principals’ offices more than once over the years, before Africa. Joey was a middling student, with occasional discipline problems – “not well motivated” (as Mr. Mays had said in the 8th grade), and “lacking an academic focus toward his future” (according to Mrs. Helgerson last year, at his old school).

This office was similar to those, if ratcheted up in quality. The furniture looked kind of like IKEA – not cheap, not at all, but that same kind of pale wood and simple forms. A place like this, he’d almost expected something like Dumbledore’s inner sanctum.

A large window looked down on Kirby Quad, the heart of the Phoenix Academy, and out to the city across the bay. The walls had many framed photos of the Headmaster alongside various superheroes. There was also one large framed newspaper front page, the Halcyon Herald. It was yellowed with age, but still shouted in its top headline: “HELLBINDER ATTACK DEVASTATES PHOENIX ACADEMY”.

Joey stared at the image of burning buildings. “FIVE TEACHERS, TEN STUDENTS DEAD. ‘WE MAY NEVER RECOVER’ SAYS HEADMASTER BARNES” read the subhead.

The Headmaster – who no longer looked like the monstrous Hellbinder that he had been then, followed his gaze. “A reminder,” the older man said, simply, “of many things. But mostly that we can overcome even our darkest demons, so to speak.”

Joey started, realizing the Headmaster was talking to him. “Oh, uh, sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean --”

“I put it up there, my boy,” the Headmaster replied. “For others to see, and for myself. Yes, and for myself. No offense taken. Now, not to rush, by any means, but I did call you here for a reason.”

Joey jerked his head in a nod. Here it comes, he thought. This was all a mistake. No way I get to go to Phoenix Academy. Not even if the Foundation gave me a scholarship – me, a scholarship. He’s going to tell me when classes start next week, I won’t be –

“I have a few questions I need to ask. I ask them of every student as they begin their career here. I might ask some of them more than once over their stay. We are not all as we start off being, yes?” The Headmaster smiled, that non-comforting smile, even as Joey was realizing he wasn’t being kicked out.

The Headmaster ignored the computer monitors on his desk, and picked up a clipboard with what looked like a single sheet of paper held in it, and then a well-sharpened pencil from a row of them to the right of his blotter. “Now then, let’s start off by telling me your name, your superhero identity, and your preferred pronouns.”

“Uh --” Joey found his mouth didn’t seem to be working well. Come on, you can tell the man your name. He didn’t question why the information was needed yet again, why the Headmaster didn’t simply tap a few keys and pull it up. Adults were weird that way, sometimes.

“Uh, Joey Moore,” he finally got out. “My – other identity --” He had a hard time thinking of himself as a “superhero”. He wanted to be. He wanted to be worthy of that title. But – “I go by Mighty Joe Young. You know, like the movie.”

“Yes. I know. Both movies, in fact.”

That’s right, Joey knew there were two movies, though he’d only watched the color one. They were both old, though. Charlize Theron was hot, or had been.

That guy at the Foundation had suggested the name, even though Doctor Quill had said it was a bit “on the nose.” But, then, Doctor Quill had wanted him to watch the black-and-white version, and Joey had to pretend he had by looking up its Wikipedia entry. Black and white films were bo-ring.

“And the pronouns?”

“He/him.” Even in this new body, he was definitely a guy. Not that he was likely to be going out on dates or anything.

“Right. How did you get your powers?”

That Joey knew was in the records. He sighed. It was a question, or variation on a question, he’d been asked a thousand times since his “rescue.” And he wished he had a better answer. “Um … super-gorillas. In the Congo. After I was shot. I … think.”

The pencil paused on the paper, then wrote steadily onward for a few moments longer. “Yes,” the Headmaster said. “I recall the tale. Quite extraordinary, quite extraordinary.” He looked up from the form with that smile. “Well, yes, by definition extra-ordinary. And I see you are scheduled for sessions with Dr. Anton, so perhaps some of that mist-shrouded memory can be cleared up over time, yes?”

Joey hated the idea of going to the school psychiatrist, though Dr. Quill had said that Dr. Anton was “Quite adequate, even occasionally inspired,” and it was a requirement for his admission. “You’ve had quite the trauma – on multiple levels, I’d say,” Dr. Quill had said when mentioning it. “I’m happy, even intrigued, to assist you with your physical issues, but the school insists on someone helping you with your emotional ones.”

Joey snorted mentally, even as he cringed inside a bit. “Emotional problems” were those kids that lost control, the ones that spent a lot of time at the principal’s office, and often just disappeared, dropped our or run away or joined gangs or sometimes hauled off by the cops.

He’d never hung around with kids like that, but he knew some, knew of more. And the idea that, with his new size and strength, he might have “problems” like they did made his blood run cold.

Joey realized the Headmaster was looking at him, patiently, as though waiting a response. “Uh, sorry – zoned there a moment.”

“Ah, yes, no worries, origin stories are often accompanied by flashbacks.” The smile. “Mustn’t dwell overly on the past, not overly, but still it must be faced, yes?”

[Section omitted about past experience as a hero as the timing of the “When You First Came Together” vs the school year is unclear at the moment.]

“Whom do you admire amongst the known heroes of the world, past or present?”

Joey started to answer, then caught himself. His face felt hot. Gorillas didn’t blush, though, at least not visibly. He still squirmed a bit.

“Honesty is often the best policy, Mr. Moore. I assure you of my discretion.”

“Uh --” Joey paused again, then said, “Well, I always kinda – kinda liked Sigrun the Valkyrie.”

“Ah.” The Headmaster made a note. “For any particular reasons?”

“Well, she’s kick-ass. And she speaks out on stuff, speaks her mind, doesn’t mind trash talking people who cross her, or her cause.”

“So feminist causes are important to you, Mr. Moore?”

“Well --” It’s not like they aren’t, but – “Yeah. Sure.”

“And I assume you had a poster of her on your wall.”

Oh, yeah. And Joey was honest enough to realize a big component of his ‘admiration’ for her was from that poster, though he’d never, ever say that to the Headmaster. “Yeah,” Joey answered. “I – did.” He wasn’t sure what had happened to the poster. He assumed it was still hanging up in his old room, but he hadn’t been back there since Africa, since his parents’ death, since Aunt Edie had disowned him, since –

“Yes, Sigrun is a worthy role model, if a bit more outspoken than the Academy’s classroom discipline expects. If you feel the need to expound on the rights of sex workers, for example, I might suggest less strenuous rhetorical practices than she used during her appearance on Jimmy Fallon. We have a larger budget than most schools for furniture replacement, but even so …” He raised an eyebrow.

Right. Minimize the property damage. Like I needed a reminder. Even he thinks I’m a menace. He nodded back.

“Splendid. Now then, what do you hope to gain from this?”

Joey blinked. “From --?”

“From this. Your academic career at the Phoenix Academy. Your lessons and labs.” A pause. From being here."

“I --” Joey stopped.

The Headmaster smiled at him, patiently.

“I – well, I need to do – I want to – I guess I want to meet people. To – other people, like me. I mean, not like me, there aren’t any like me, but, y’know, other people with powers. Learn how – learn maybe how I can --” He stopped, realizing he was babbling. The Headmaster’s expression hadn’t changed. Joey took a deep breath.

“I want to be a hero, sir. I – what happened to me, what I see around me, people being hurt, people being --” Killed. “-- hurt bad. It’s not right. I – know I can’t do anything normal. But I can maybe do something about that. I can stop people from being hurt, or stop the people doing the hurting. I think I can learn about that here, can learn how to be – y’know – a --” He made himself say the word. “-- hero?”

Joey shook his head. “I know that sounds --” He trailed off.

“Not everyone is so eloquent as Champion, my boy, but your sincerity is clear.” The Headmaster paused, cocked his head. “Do you feel your present state has that goal as part of a greater purpose?”

His heavy brow furrowed. “A greater --?”

“Is it a destiny, and some act of intentional fate that you are as you now are?”

Joey thought a moment, then shook his head. “I don’t believe in some sort of greater purpose. I used to go to church and all that --” With Aunt Edie. She always insisted, even if Mom and Dad didn’t when they were around. “But, no, I don’t think like God wanted me to become a gorilla to fight crime. I just think --” He shrugged his massive shoulders. “I gotta do something. I gotta show I’m not just – just this. And I wanna help people.”

The Headmaster nodded. “Well, that is certainly one of the goals of the Academy – to help the young find their life path, be prepared for it, and, to the extent it involves using their abilities, metahuman or mundane, to that end, training them accordingly. I think you should do just fine here, Mr. Moore.”

“You --” Joey realized he had said it aloud, and had to finish. “-- do?”

The Headmaster set down the clipboard and stood up. “Yes, just fine.” He extended a hand, which Joey gingerly took to shake. “Welcome to Phoenix Academy.”


2. In My Room

Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.

The alarm clock by the side of the oversized bed flashed the time – 7:00 AM – and buzzed with a steadily increasing volume.

Bzzt. Bzzt. BZZT! BZZT!

This went on for at least a minute, before a massive furred hand smashed down on the clock with the sound of much breaking plastic. The night stand was, fortunately, made of sturdier stuff.

There was no further movement or sound for another minute, then Joey sat straight up in bed, dark eyes wide, looking around, trying to decide where the hell he was.

About fifteen muzzy-headed seconds later, he had it figured out. He sighed.

So many different places I’ve been waking up since I left to join Mom and Dad in the Congo. Planes. Crappy Congolese hotels. The camp.


And then on that plane back the states. The hospital. The corporate apartment the Foundation put me up in. And now … Room 247, Fox Hall, Phoenix Academy. Moved in yesterday, for classes starting … this morning.


He looked around the room. It didn’t have much to recommend it for hominess, but it was clean. Cinderblock walls painted a pale apricot. A desk. A dresser. A chair. An oversized bed (apparently he wasn’t their first rodeo when it came to being a big resident, which made sense, he guessed). Private bath, which was nice (he hated cleaning other people’s hair, or worse, out of the drain). Night stand. Clock.


He’d have to use his QPad as an alarm. Or … yeah, maybe buy some cheap alarm clocks and treat them as disposable.

But aside from all that, the room was depressingly institutional. The cinderblocks had already been noted. But, more importantly, there was pretty much nothing there that was his. No posters on the wall. No action figures or models. No stereo. No TV. No game system. No books, except for the couple of textbooks that weren’t online, sitting next to his backpack.

There was a school-issued QBook on the desk, with a separate oversized keyboard plugged into it. But even that had a PA screen saver spinning in slow circles. It wasn’t really his.

Nothing that made the room anything more than a place he had slept in. Nothing made it home, or even home away from home. Except that he was in it, and would be the rest of the school year.

If they let me stay. If I don’t break something more expensive than an alarm clock.

A deep, rumbling sigh, then a stretch of the arms that let off a series of pops like Chinese New Year firecrackers. He rolled out of bed, shambled over to the bathroom, did the usual (fortunately he was still anatomically suited to people plumbing), then went to the dresser, opening the top drawer. In it sat a half-dozen cargo shorts, differentiated only by color (from drab tan to drab olive to drab blue-gray). There were all 4XL, and all had special elastic waists and seams so that if he grew (as he did when he got angry) he wouldn’t become even more of a figure to point at.

He’d toyed with maybe wearing t-shirts or something, but even special-made Big-and-Tall wear didn’t come in sizes to fit his normal shoulders and arms. This would have to do.

No shoes. They’d have to be custom made, too, and his feet could actually serve as extra hands, which was (so to speak) too handy to give up.

He’d be in trouble if he had to attend something formal. Not that he actually expected to be invited to anything formal.

A deep sigh.

A few more minutes went to carefully disassembling the QBook setup and slipping it into his backpack without breaking or tearing or cracking anything. That accomplished, he slung the pack over one arm, squeezed out the door, then headed to the cafeteria.

The cafeteria was a minor disaster. The food was good but he initially broke a plate while trying to over-gingerly handle it. It was a neat trick, since institutional plates were usually tougher than stuff people had in their homes, but he managed it, and then proceeded to apologize so profusely that it actually seemed to annoy the serving lady at that part of the line.

Anyway, the food was good, and plentiful. He got interested enough in the choices that it was only when he got to the table that he realized he had half a dozen plates balanced on hands and forearms, along with two tall plastic cups of Coca-Cola. He stared at it a moment, as much for the feat as for the quantity of food. Maybe he needed to not pay attention to stuff more often.

That sounds like a bad idea.

Since his food ended up covering half a table, he ended up sitting alone – which was fine by him, as he really didn’t know anyone he saw around him anyway. Most of them looked normal, though of course you couldn’t always tell about metahuman powers by sight (except in those cases when, like him, you really could). There were a few exotic touches he saw here or there – one kid heating up his coffee with a thin jet of flame from his index finger; a girl whose arm stretched down a long table – several feet long – to nab the salt and pepper; a kid with wings that shimmered like rainbows (and had to sit with their chair flipped around). But by and large, most folk looked normal. If some of the hair colors were from radiation accidents, most were probably from a box at Target.

In turn, nobody seemed to be looking at him, at least not that he’d caught, and he really didn’t want to catch it. One of the papers in the orientation kit had been about “mutual respect for fellow Phixies” and staring was formally frowned upon as being rude. Which was fine, but Joey knew kids were rude, and expected it. He’d need to watch his temper.

(And, yes, he knew he was rude sometimes, too. He tried not to be, because, well, rude, but he didn’t fool himself that if a giant gorilla sat down at a table near him a year ago, he’d have been staring. And, maybe, telling jokes to his friends. Or taking a picture for QGram.)

He was mostly done with breakfast when the ten minute bell rang. Then things got interesting.


3. Dine and Dash

Oh God. Holy shit. I can’t be late! It’s the first day, I can’t be –

Joey drew up short as he rounded the corner in the corridor from the cafeteria – and found himself faced with halls crowded with chattering, laughing, strolling, standing-and-gabbing, squeezing around others, standing in front of lockers, Phoenix Academy students … completely blocking the hallway.

His eyes widened.

He knew what he should do. What he would have done last year. Push gently through, around, follow others making their way to class, duck past folk moving the other direction, silently curse (or join in with a passing joke or greeting) those standing in the middle of the hallway and oblivious to the folk they were obstructing.

But … he couldn’t.

I can’t be late but – I can’t just push my way through!

He knew how strong he was now. Or, rather, he really didn’t (Dr. Quill’s tests hadn’t yet fully measured things except under strict lab standards, which this really wasn’t), but he knew he could pretty easily break bones without too much effort. Bulling his way through the crowd – that was a non-starter.

But I can’t be late! If I’m late, who knows what they’ll do?

Sure, he knew in his head that nobody ever got expelled for being late the first day of class – but it could start a downward spiral with the home room teacher. It had with Mrs. Sullivan in 7th. And Mr. Clifton his freshman year.

He hadn’t really cared then. Now –

He fumbled in one of his pockets for the campus map that had been in his orientation packet. He unfolded it carefully, not wanting to tear it. His hands felt particularly clumsy, and he realized he was growing – not out of anger, but out of stress.

That’s not helping!

His eyes flickered around the map, trying to orient himself. It had all made sense when he looked at it last night. The cafeteria was there, he must be standing here, his home room (dutifully circled with a pink highlighter) was … there. There? There?!

The three minute bell rang. Three minutes!

It was impossible. Even with the clots of other kids slowly starting to move, there was no way he could make it without smashing students into lockers and leaving a gory trail of broken bodies behind him. That would arguably be worse than being late. Even so … What the hell am I going to --?

He staggered as though hit with a heavy wind. Or a sandbag. Another student was walking on the ceiling, running actually, though with a strange, shuffling gait on the acoustic tile, almost like she was ice skating. Whatever force was coming off of her – like, maybe, waves of gravity? – and had buffeted him was doing something similar to the kids in the hall.

Except they weren’t proverbial five hundred pound gorillas. Hair was being mussed, books dropped, kids knocked around like they had been heads-up-thrown sandbags. Other squeals, shouts, something about a QPhone rebooting –

Hey, that gives me an idea!

The main hallway was high ceilinged, up enough up for a set of clerestory windows to let the sunlight in things during the day. That gave the strange girl (who was, he had enough time to note, pretty good-looking) clearance to be skating upside down over the heads of everyone else. And that should give me enough clearance to do this!

With a leap and a low roar, Joey jumped atop the tall lockers on his right, his toes grasping for purchase (made easier as the metal slightly crumpled beneath him), and then bounded across the hall to the lockers on the left, and so on, jumping back and forth, over the heads of the other kids, finally making progress down the hallway, and only occasionally brushing too hard against the light fixtures.

He saw the girl a ways ahead of him, but she was making much better time (traveling in a straight line), so he couldn’t really catch up with her. But also the corridor was arcing off to the right, to where it would hit another corridor that had to be taken to the left toward his home room. It was going to take precious time, and were the ceilings high enough the whole way?

Wait, I’m thinking inside the box. How about outside the box? Or building!

There was a cross-corridor ahead, but the left branch was short; he swung down over the heads of a gaggle of teens (“Hey! No movement powers in the hallway!” one of them shouted angrily, but Joe ignored her), and made a short dash to the double doors at the end, flinging one side open into the outside.

Outside and – well, there were still kids on the walkways (beginning to jog to get to their own classes before the bell rang), but Joey jumped up onto a parapet, and began bounding along the buildings above them, making great time and only causing a bit of property damage along the way.

There, Baxter Hall, Room 4, alley oop!

Joey tumbled from the rooftop (catching a roof tile he’d dislodged and setting it gently on the ground), and made a last four-limbed sprint to the door there. Inside, first door on the left – and here came the girl, cute blonde, black jeans and jacket, gray t-shirt, weird-looking tool belt –

At the last second, he diverted, interposing himself in front of a trio of students running up, giving her a space to flip back right-side up and came to a stop in front of the door. She flashed a smile at him, he grinned back, and they entered Home Room, a good fifteen seconds before the bell rang.

Not bad, he thought, squeezing into an open desk at the back of the room. Not a bad way at all to start the first day of school.



And then, of course, Mr Brick started talking, and the day went to hell. But that’s for next session.