Chapter 5

"Hey, Sarge, how much longer before we get there?"

The Private school where Hank would live for a full year sat all the way on the other side of the state. Of course driving there would take hours, but now that conserving fuel was no longer an issue, Sargent Hatred was able to fly the X-1 to the nearest air port. The rest of the way there was only a nice hour long drive on a fairly warm autumn morning.

"In about twenty minutes you'll experience your first day of highschool." He chirped after checking his watch, they were actually about twenty minutes behind schedule after that wrong turn about fifteen miles back but that was no big deal, sure they'd excuse the little mix up. The school was quite far, not only from the compound which was a given, but was places miles up into the mountains nestled next to what used to be a small mining boon town back when in the days of early settlers. Besides the school he knew it had a jail, two grocery stores, a drinking establishment, and a library.

Hatred made a mental note to warn Hank about drinking. He didn't want the boy to get any bad habits from the local color. Though the school apparently had a good reputation, educating children from senators and supreme court judges and all that.

"Ah man this is going to be great! I mean seriously, real school with kids my age doin real highschool stuff, and like...study halls and food fights and hacky sack, pep rallys, skipping classes and-"

"Hey now just cool your jets there, Hank. Nobody is payin for you to all the way to this expensive school just to goof off and flunk out. This is you're future we're talking about!"

Hank rolled his eyes and laughed complacently. "What money, I'm going to this school for free!"

"What? For free? Seriously?"

"Yeah duh, didn't dad tell you?"

With one hand still on the wheel Sargent Hatred scratched his temple contemplatively. "No your father didn't tell me, but I just figured, this school's reputation considered..."

"Eh," Hank shrugged. "Maybe they owe my dad a favor or something." This was as much thought as he was going to put into this situation. Sargent Hatred though was still not sure, and for a few minutes wondered why they would accept Hank at no charge. Sure he was from a long line of elite super scientists, but Hank was no progeny and the doc was far from even casting a shadow in the wake of the late Jonas Venture. Not that he'd ever openly admit that.

Hatred had his own... unfortunate vices to worry about. "Well free or not, this is a perfect opportunity for you to decide what to do with yourself when it's time for college, and I don't think your dear old dad will like hearing any news of his son becoming a delinquent. So keep to your studies!"

"Yeah fine I might pay a nerd to do my homework or something, are we there yet?"

As a matter of fact they were, they had just passed the sign showing they had just entered the small town of "Bluffton Mountains" resting precariously at10,000 feet above sea level, population 18,000. Pretty small and secluded but that also made it nice and quiet and hopefully safe. For Hank's sake at least, Hatred thought. Dr. Venture was taking a risk by allowing Hank to go to this school alone without him being their to guard him. If it wasn't the threat of attack from the Guild, his sons had their own way of bringing about their own surprising or calamitous demise.

Ironic that most of the times Hank or Dean bit the dust had nothing to do with The Monarch. But apparently Dr. Venture had been appeased by their promise to watch Hank closely and keep him out of any extreme danger. Though extreme danger always had a way of following the boy no matter what. He could do nothing but cross his fingers and hope for the best. He watched Hank through the rear view mirror. Hank had the window down, gazing out at the mountains with a child like wonder in his eyes.

Though it seemed strange since the venture compound was surrounded by mountains, and there was almost no part of the world he hadn't been to in the X-1. It was probably the destination he was more excited about than anything. They passed a few buildings as they twisted upwards through the mountains until they eventually reached the town of Bluffton..

"Wow check this place out, looks like something straight out of Twin Peaks!"

It was true the town seemed to embody everything old and American. He hadn't come across any steel mills but he could guess there was one around somewhere.

The school was large, made of red bricks, cement and surrounded by polished wrought iron.

"Wow its huge." Hank uttered in wondered as the car drew nearer. It was in fact roughly the same size as the Venture Compound's main building.

"Here we are, champ!" said Hatred as he stopped in front of the iron gates which would lead into the large courtyard beyond. Hank was practically out of the car before the car came to a full stop.

"Be careful Hank!" Hatred shouted over the engine and the radio to Hank who was now standing on the side walk. He turned back to his bodyguard with an impertinent look. "What? We're here aren't we. You can't body guard me anymore. As of now I am out of your jurisdiction."

"You won't have to worry about the young Master Venture anymore I assure you he's in good hands."

A body swayed with a purposeful stride into Hank's view, with dark thickly rimmed glasses, a tightly pinned hair style and wrapped in very professional business clothing. Both Hank and Sargent Hatred were taken by surprise by this woman , they hadn't noticed her when they drove into the front of the school.

"Oh? And you are..." Hatred peered over the passenger seat to try and get a better look at the woman's face.

"Crabblesnitch. Ms. Oliviera Crabblesnitch. The vice principal of Bluffton Academy. Dr. Venture has put his full trust in our abilities, Mr. Hatred. Trust me there is no reason for you to worry."

Hatred's back stiffened, he didn't want to look worried. But he had been temporarily put off by the woman's surprising appearance. The front gates weren't open so why was she just standing out on the sidewalk?

"Well I'm sure the doctor will want progress reports on his son from time to time. Hank's is a kid you certainly gotta keep an eye on."

"Hey!" Hank scowled openly. So much for first impressions.

"Now if you please follow me, master Venture I will direct you to the boy's dorm room. Right this way please." After Sargent Hatred drove away, the large front gates opened allowing Ms. Crabblesnitch to walk briskly inside. It was straight to business with this lady, Hank realized. Not that it mattered much to him. He was quickly filled with anticipation of the new experience. A place full of kids his age, a real school. Wow! They crossed the courtyard and stopped at a building that was much smaller than the main building. A one story brick building with blue slats covering some windows and a blue awning hanging over the entrance.

"This is the boy's dorm, Master Venture. This is your room number." Crabblesnitch pulled a small card from her pocket, handing it to Hank. The card read Rm 16-203. "Okay, Thanks miss!" Hank said enthusiastically. Crabblesnitch halfhearted patted Hank on the head. Something that Hank felt slightly uncomfortable with but didn't complain about.

The woman quickly retracted her hand back behind her back, looking as statuesque and professional as ever. " No need to thank me, young master. Everything you'll need is already in your room. Though you've arrived a few hours early so please, take your time and relax. I'm sure the other students will be happy to greet their new school mate." And with that Crabblesnitch walked back to the main building.

Hank walked into the dormitory. A relatively small place compared to his home, even though this dorm had to be twice as big as any regular house. Down the dimly lit hallway Hank could hear the faint boops, beeps, and unmistakable 8bit theme tunes of video games. "Sweet a game room. I wonder what kind of games they have." Hank thought as he walked down the hall heading towards the sound.

"You must be the new kid!"

Hank spun at the exclamation, there was someone standing behind him. A boy his age but noticeably shorter and slumped forward like he couldn't stand fully up right. He was wearing a thick wooly sweater vest with a black and white checkered pattern with short sleeves His face pale and heavily freckled with eyes hiding behind thick glasses. Hank inwardly cringed. He honestly thought Dean would be the dorkiest person he'd ever know. But this guy had just trumped him three times.

"I saw old lady Crabblesnitch walking you to the dorms so I thought I'd introduce myself." The boy took a few paces forward before stopping suddenly to pitch forward five loud hacking coughs into his hand and wiping his palm under his nose before finally reaching out his hand. "The names Niles, Niles Millhouse Sheckler." Hank grimaced at the boy's hand and decided it would be better to just wave instead.

"Uh yeah, nice to meet you, too." He shifted his backpack and pointed behind him. "You guys got a game room?" Niles Sheckler didn't seem bothered by Hank not shaking his hand yet reacted instantly to Hank mentioning the game room. "Oh yes, You'll love it, all kinds of games, all kinds!" He shuffled past Hank and went down the hall himself, expecting the young Venture to follow. After the dim hallway the dormatory brightened up by light fixtures in the ceiling. The area branched with the left side leading to more hall ways lined with many rooms and the right side leading to sturdy double doors. The gaming sound was considerably loud now and coming from right behind the doors. Niles opened the door and a blast of sound and color hit Hank square in the eyes. The room was huge! Every old arcade game from Alpha Mission to Zed Blade lined up on every wall.

Every version of Metal Slug all lined up like ducks in a row. Water coolers sat in two corners and a little wall space was reserved for dart boards. In the middle of the room sat a billiards table, a couple of air hockey tables and his personal favorite, foosball.

"Woah this place is awesome." Hank was already gravitating toward one of his favorite arcade games.

"Who's blonde?" But before Hank could reach it, several tough looking boys in matching uniforms walked into the room, the boy in front apparently taking the initiative to speak for the three others standing behind him.

"Never seen you around here, you must be new." the ring leader pointed out. But just as soon as he'd acknowledged Hank's existence his eyes snaked past him and onto Niles who was trying to look inconspicuous beside the water cooler furthest from the door. He growled and pointed an accusing finger at the nerd.

"Hey Shitler what the hell are you doin on this side of the house? Didn't I tell you to get your pansy pencil pushing back side out of the game room?"

Niles shirked away from the other boy's accusing glance, knowing he'd put himself in a bad situation with no real way to talk his way out of it. "Y-You can't tell me w-where I can't be, D-Duncan! This building isn't your property!"

Duncan's broad shoulders shook as he chuckled bane-fully. When he stopped he had a strange looking grin on his face. "Yeah yeah, Sheckler I know. This ain't my property."

Hank was surprised by how fast Duncan changed from totally immobile to a full sprint. It had to have been just a few seconds. Maybe less than that! The burly kid cleared the pool table in a single bound and crashed his shoulder into Niles like a battering ram.

The smaller boy collapsed like a pile of cards to the floor and with no way to get around the bully, covered his face with his arms in a weak attempt to protect his trembling form. "Oh God I think something's broken!" he screeched. Duncan dragged him up by the front of his vest and stared him straight in the eyes.

"This ain't my property, yet. You keep forgettin that last word, Shitler." He liked to put emphasis on his made up insult name for the nerd as if it were impeccably creative. "So as far as I'm concerned what I say goes, you got that nerd?" Duncan shook yanked the front of Niles' vest hard then dropped him to the floor. "Now get out." The boy in the vest crawled from around his feet and shakily stood up to run frantically out of the room, whimpering. Hank noticed he was moving pretty fast so probably nothing was broken.

"Wow." was all Hank could mutter to himself even though nobody could have heard them under the jeering laughter. He laughed nervously himself to infuse the tension he felt surrounding him. Nobody was laughing for any good reason. It was like a lightning bolt struck inside of Hank's chest when everyone stopped and looked directly at him. Glancing quickly between them Hank began to realize that he didn't know what to say to any of them. Sure what they did to the nerd kid was wrong but he knew bringing that up wouldn't be a good first impression.

"Uh hey guys." he waved. "Yeah, I'm the new kid!"