This is a school for children. It is the type of private institution which has a tuition carefully calculated to test the poker faces of the very wealthy. The only test required for applicants is a blood test, to keep out the wrong sort.
On the outside, it looks like a high school, all brick facade and carefully cultivated ivy. On the inside, it also looks like a high school, with an abundance of linoleum and disused lockers. Between classes, the halls fill with students clad in black slacks and white polo shirts, identical school-issued tablets taking the place of bulky textbooks.
Plodding through the throng is a slight, girl of 14 with a long curtain of raven hair obscuring most of her thin face. She pushes past some burly upper classmen to get to a door labelled “office,” shoulders it open, and strides purposefully to the plump woman behind the counter.
“Name?” the secretary asks without looking up.
“Pratchett,” the girl mumbles. The woman taps her tablet and then points toward another door, handily labelled “guidance counselor.” The teen stomps where indicated and enters the office without knocking. There is a desk piled high with paperwork nearly obscuring a slim, silver laptop. The brass nameplate reads “Dr. MacSweeney” in large type. There are motivational posters tastelessly employed to cover the beige-painted walls and a lone, withered fern by the small window. The girl slouches into the ugly, leather armchair and stares at the poster of a cat dangling from a clothesline for five minutes before the wooden door admits another person.
“I’m going to be brief, Ms. Pratchett,” says the intruder, a thick-set, middle-aged, red-faced man in a storm-colored suit. He seats himself heavily in the desk chair, palms a stray lick of gray-black hair back from his broad forehead, and fixes the girl with a gimlet glare. “We’ve been watching you for some time. Your test scores are off the charts. Even without out your father’s name, you’d be top of the draft, so to speak.”
At the mention of her father, the girl raises her long, almond eyes to coolly survey the man. She casually tucks her locks behind her ear and forces a demure smile. The man continues his pitch with new fervor. “The prep school can be exceptionally challenging, especially for freshmen, but you appear to have the aptitude and the passion we look for in our students. Jacobson University would be gaining an excellent candidate for their School of Law, which you know is the premier institute in the territory. It’s a fine opportunity, one I wouldn’t pass up, unless someone else had already made an offer.” Here, he pauses to fiddle with his tie tack, a series of gold symbols understood only to inducted members. His thin lips jut out as he studies the ornament and surreptitiously glances at the girl under his thick eyebrows.
Her narrow face has gone still and her right hand twitches as though she wants to reach for something, but is resisting the impulse. A broad grin suffuses the man’s face. “I knew your father was, well, never mind. I’m guessing the Council has sent a recruiter as well, someone to lure you with the position of legal lap-dog, eh?” The girl blinks once, slowly. “I bet they offered to train you, send you to the finest school, and then set you up with a nice, cushy practice, provided you came when they called, is that about right?” Another slow blink. Now he leans into the desk and drops his voice, inviting her to join in his illicit conversation. “There’s no reason why you can’t accept, Ms. Pratchett. In fact, you would be doing us a favor, ” he says with a significant tap to his tie tack. Again, the girl blinks owlishly, which he takes as confirmation.
With a burst of energy, the man escapes the desk chair and brusquely strolls around the desk, retrieving a black business card from his jacket breast pocket. “Give this to the guidance counselor so they can set you up. It was an education, Ms. Pratchett.” and he’s gone, leaving the door wide open. The girl scans the business card, turning it so that the gold lettering is caught by the flourescent lights. There is only a website, no name or other contact information.
She is interrupted in her perusal by the entrance of a befuddled, desperately hopeful man in a corduroy jacket and coke-bottle glasses, clearly the counselor. Wordlessly, she hands him the card and hunches down in her seat while he plugs in her new courses and prints out her class schedule.
Two years later, she walks across a stage, delivers a brilliant valedictorian speech, and receives her high school diploma. In another two years, she receives her Bachelor’s from Jacobson University. When she gets home, she sits at her vanity and stares at a collection of photos saved on the mirror’s desktop. There is a series of images featuring her and a much younger, boyish girl with white blonde hair. She absently scrolls the images across the bottom of the mirror, watching as the little girl changes from a silent, closed-off automaton to the giggling prankster who started the food fight at her graduation party.
The last picture has the new grad holding the little girl in a headlock and smashing cake into her hair. She smiles, imagining that she can still smell the sugary frosting smeared across her face. The girl looks up at her own reflection, taking in the long, straight hair, the high cheekbones, the wide nostrils, and the demurely smiling lips. She sees a stranger, a creature built by powerful people to be a spy and worse. She sees her father’s prejudice, her mother’s spite. She sees a caged beast.
With steady hands, she grasps the orange handles of her large scissors. She meticulously cuts the long strands at the side of her head, leaving a mohawk which she braids to keep neat. Her things, some clothes, toiletries, and a well-worn rag doll, fit easily in her bright pink rolling suitcase. A few words typed up as a sticky note to the mirror desktop, and she is out the door, driving her hot red Miata west.