Tony put his hand up even though he hated being called by his full name.
"Antonio, is Jeff Andonuts still absent?"
"Did you contact his parents as I asked you to?"
"Miss, I can't find the Professor either!"
Tony's home room teacher tapped her pen on her desk irritably.
"That boy has been absent for three weeks straight!" she said, "He's missing all his lessons! If he doesn't come back soon, he'll fail his exams!"
"Don't worry, Miss, Jeff can't fail his exams - he's a genius!" said Tony, "He's so clever he's already three weeks ahead of us all, so he can afford to take three weeks off! I bet he's doing all his work from where he is anyway!"
"Hmph. That's why I tolerate it." said the teacher. She sighed and marked down Jeff as absent on the register, "Aeolia Stable!"
"BOING!" yelled a girl's voice. Tony looked around to the desk behind him and gazed at her. Today she wore a simple red dress. She had permanently wild, windswept hair and doll-like green eyes that looked somewhere else, somewhere Tony knew he wouldn't be able to see if he tried. As far as anyone could make out, Aeolia was raised by Mr. Saturns.
There was a long pause, during which several children giggled, a ruler twanged, firing an eraser at another child, who protested, and someone's paper rustled as they frantically tried to do some last minute homework.
Something went 'thud'. A head emerged from underneath a desk. It had dishevelled hair and was dirty.
"Rocky Road, what ARE you doing?"
"Er... I dropped my pen, miss!"
"Well, you shouldn't have had your pen out during assembly!"
"I assume this means you haven't done your homework." she sighed.
"No, miss, my homework is complete and finished!" blurted Rocky, still rifling around under his desk. The teacher sighed and walked over to his desk. His homework was on the table. She picked it up and inspected it, her beetle-like eyes moving up and down underneath her tasteless glasses.
"Well, it looks okay..." she said, "ROCKY, do come out from under the desk! Find your pen after class, you don't need it now!"
Tony knew that Rocky hadn't been searching for his pen or sneakily finishing his homework. He had been playing with Savey, his pet Save Frog. Rocky insisted it was a genuine Save Frog. Maxwell had invented a machine to test whether it was or not, but it involved somebody dying and they couldn't get any volunteers. If Savey's escaped and the teacher finds him, thought Tony, she'll go berserk. What did that idiot mean by bringing his pet frog into class? He worked hard in Dungeon Design class, probably because his dad took the classes, but apart from that, Rocky was thick as two short planks.
The homework check took up half an hour. Tony had done his homework easily, so he didn't need to worry. He let his mind wander to more important matters, like Jeff's disappearance. Where had he gone, wondered Tony, on that long journey of his? Was he saving the world right now? How many UFOs had he seen? Tony had always wanted to see a UFO, but he had heard they attacked you and tried to kill you. Tony wasn't a hero like Jeff. A good mathematician, maybe a future accountant with an office as big as Mr. Monotoli's, but not a hero.
Tony was interrupted from his pondering by a soft ribbit-ribbit and a wet sensation on his lap. He carefully felt with his hand until he found Savey, then closed his hand lightly around him, taking care not to hurt him, and put him in his satchel before tightening the buckles. Everyone had begun leaving now, and he needed to find a strategic time to make his own exit. If he went first or last, he would draw attention to himself and his croaking, wriggling satchel.
A soft hand closed around his arm. He looked up into two round, wide eyes.
"WHIZZ?" demanded Aeolia.
"I'm fine." Tony sighed, "Come on, I'll walk you to your class."