“Hello Niko,” smiled Sister Francis as Niko came into the office.
“Hello, Sister Francis,” Niko responded politely.
Like most of the teachers, Sister Francis was wearing her usual wimple and short black dress. She sat down at the desk and smiled at Niko, riffling through a manila folder. “Here it is,” she said, and pushed over several papers.
Niko sat down on the other side of the desk. She was wearing the school uniform of a pleated plaid skirt, white shirt and tie, beret, and jacket. She ran her fingers through her short black hair before taking them. “Thank you,” she said faintly, looking at them.
“Are you all right dear?” Sister Francis looked at her closely.
“Yes, I’m all right.”
“Not bothered by the… events of Friday?”
“Hm? Oh… no, not really.”
“Not having trouble with the test?”
“Hm?” Niko frowned. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, nothing… I just wanted to be sure.” Sister Francis smiled at her, and got up. “I’ll check on you in a few minutes.” She left the room.
Niko looked over the test, tapping her pencil thoughtfully. The testing period had been interrupted on Friday, and she had had some concern that she wouldn’t be allowed to complete it.
It was a placement test, and Niko had been considering it all weekend. The results of this test would determine what classes she would take in the new school. But what classes did she want to take? It had been this topic which had been the focus of her thoughts for the last couple of days.
The break had been sufficient for her to focus her ideas. Although she had hovered indecisively over the pages on Friday, today she finished the remainder of the questions in a few minutes and smiled at Sister Francis when she returned.
“Fine, fine, let me see…” She ruffled through the papers.
“What happens now, Sister Francis?”
“Well, this gets sent to be evaluated, and you are assigned to classes.”
Niko was surprised. “You don’t grade it yourself?”
“Not this one.” She smiled at Niko’s surprised face. “Some evaluation tests are sent to the state as part of the standard student profiles. In the meantime, though… let’s see. I’ll have a schedule for you in a few minutes….”
True to her word, Sister Francis returned in a few minutes with a paper, which she handed to Niko along with a note. “All right, here is your schedule. We like to encourage our students to participate in extracurricular activities. You might want to think about signing up for something! In the meantime, off you go…”
This was an unexpected turn of events. She hadn’t thought about extracurricular activities, and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to sign up for. Sister Francis had helpfully included an additional paper with her class schedule, titled “Extracurricular activities contacts,” which listed each of the activities that the school sponsored, and who to contact if one was interested in joining.
She frowned as she perused the list. Cooking club? Cheerleading? ROTC? Her sisters Kayley and Oni were planning to join the cheerleading club, she knew, Penny had signed up for ROTC, and Satomi planned to be involved in choir and drama. Niko hadn’t planned to be involved in anything at all, but if all of her sisters were joining things, she supposed she ought to join something as well.
Her eye fell on the listing titled “School Newspaper,” and she pursed her lips, considering. Of all the choices presented, writing and photography sounded the most interesting, along with “Science fair,” the deadline for which was rapidly approaching according to the flier.
She put the flier away as she approached her first classroom. At the very least, she decided, she would pick up a copy of the school newspaper later and peruse it. She pictured herself handing in a tabloid-style article with a title like, “Space Alien Weds Two-Headed Elvis Clone!” and smirked briefly before knocking on the door.
Her first class was science, Chemistry to be specific, with all the vials and tubes that any mad scientist could ever have wanted. Professor Loche was tall and thin, with dark flyaway hair. Niko noted he was wearing one black and one brown shoe. “Ah, come in, come in!” he said when Niko appeared at the door, and took the note from her hand. “Yes, yes… everything in order… class, this is our new student, Niko. You’ll all get along with each other, won’t you? Niko, there are textbooks in that cabinet – we’re covering chapter five, section two – and then find a seat somewhere please? Now then – ” He turned back to the chalkboard. “Where were we? Oh yes – so the reaction we would anticipate…”
Niko found her books. Several of the other students tittered, whispering behind their hands at each other. She wasn’t sure what they found amusing.
A moment later, though, her attention was attracted by movement. There was something white sailing across the classroom – a paper airplane. She hadn’t seen who had thrown it, but it would be hitting Professor Loche in the back of the head in a moment. She reached out and plucked it from the air, and at that moment the Professor turned.
“Niko!” He looked quite ferocious when he frowned. “No paper airplanes in class! What have I told you? Oh – er – well, you’re the new student so probably nothing, but still, you ought to know better!”
“I didn’t throw this,” Niko said, seeing at once what had happened. “This isn’t my plane.”
“And how do I know that?”
Nico opened one of her notebooks, removed a page from it, and folded for a moment. "My plane would have looked like this."
To her surprise, Professor Loche visibly brightened. “Would it really! I see you are a student of aerodynamics.” He took the new plane from her hand. “Do you know, in the fourteenth century, the Japanese – ” But the snickering from the nearby students seemed to bring him to his senses. “I mean – that is – Humph! No paper airplanes!” He took the other plane too and pointed to an empty desk. “See me after class!”
Niko was so upset by this that she almost couldn’t follow the lecture, but when she tentatively approached his desk after the bell rang, he seemed to have forgotten all about it, absorbed in the textbook. “Oh – Niko. There you are. Why did I want to see you?”
“Oh, yes. No paper airplanes in class. Off you go!”
She stared in disbelief. “That’s it?”
He looked up. “Was there something else?”
“Uh – no,” she said hastily.
“Well then, that’s sorted, isn’t it? Hurry up, you’ll be late to lunch!”
Niko hurried away, hardly able to believe her luck.
Halfway there another student bumped into her, without even stopping to look and see what she had done. Niko grumbled, picking up her papers, and noticed that the “Extracurricular activities” flier was printed on the back, something she hadn’t seen before.
It was a listing of internships. There was an explanatory note about local businesses that would teach students about various lines of work. “Students will spend four hours a day at the place of business, three days a week,” read the explanation. “At the end of the semester, students will receive an evaluation from the place of business. The grades thus generated will be counted as an extra-credit class.”
According to the text, various businesses had left fliers, and so Niko stopped by the principal’s office to inquire about them, as instructed. The secretary there pointed her to a table in the corner with stacks of papers. Niko took one of each, and then spent her lunch hour leafing through them.
The first was a longer explanation about the internship program. Only businesses who had completed an application process with the Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Education were allowed to offer them, and then only in certain fields. Each intership lasted three months and required parental permission. Students were not paid, but successful completion of an internship counted as an extra-credit class.
Niko thought that the entire thing sounded like a lot of trouble to go through if one was a businessperson, but the business tax incentives the pamphlet mentioned must have been generous, because there was no shortage of fields to choose from.
“Learn to Work in a Print Shop,” read one phamplet. “Explore the Exciting Field of Radio Communications!” read another, whose stack had been so short that there had been only three fliers left for it. In short order she had skimmed through “The Wonderful World of Real Estate,” “So You’d Like To Repair Computers?” “Young Minds; The Future of the Legal Field,” “The Joy of Dentistry,” and others.
Then one of the fliers caught her eye. It was titled “You Could Be the Next Top Model” and was another of the stacks that had been very short. It had been printed by a business called the Chambers Modeling Agency, and described how students could apply for an internship. “Students who are awarded an internship will model products for local businesses,” it read. A number of pictures were included of smiling young women wearing fashionable hats, holding props of locally-produced items, or standing in front of signs (one was standing in front of an old biplane which had ‘Smith and Jones Cropdusting’ emblazoned on the side.)
Interested, Niko detached the application form and read through it. Students wouldn’t be allowed to do certain types of modeling, such as liquor, cigarette, or swimsuit/lingerie ads. However, a student who successfully completed their internship could be awarded a full modeling contract at the discretion of the agency, with parental permission. Internships were awarded by means of tryouts, which took place every three months, at the beginning of the internship period. As luck would have it, the next tryout was listed in only two weeks time. She considered for a moment, then took a pen and began filling out sections.
Perhaps the flier had heightened her awareness of the issue, but it seemed as if all the girls were talking about the tryouts. For the rest of the afternoon, she overheard snippets of conversation between classes, and whispers here and there. “But what about the weight limit?” “Just donate a pint of blood, I’ve done it lots of times…” “I can’t believe we have to try out in our uniforms!” “Who else has signed up? We need to try and eliminate the competition…” “SHE’S trying out? SHE’LL never get in! Everyone knows Chambers only takes the best!” “Do you think I should cut my hair?”
It wasn’t until three days later that it occured to Niko she could propose a story to the school newspaper, promising to write up her experiences in trying out for the modeling internship.