Cheer up, Sleepy Jean.
Oh, what can it mean.
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen.


Chapter Two: Preparations

The girl watched as the two hands rubbed together roughly, a wedding band on the right one while the other was bare. She couldn't recall him wearing one before, but quickly dismissed it to the back of her mind. Right now she was supposed to be paying attention to today's lesson.

"When your body senses an infection," said the owner of the hands, "the usual response from your immune system is immediate, and it attacks the pathogens much like when sharks are drawn to the smell of blood in water."

Before her was a man. Beside her were her colleagues. Another girl to her left, and a pair of twins to her right.

They sat in an open plain that swept into infinity, carpeted by emerald grass. The children all nodded in agreement with his statement, hoping for more valuable information. They'd spent quite some time with their instructor, and had come to enjoy the brief lessons from him that they attended throughout the day. After a while It was hard to tell how long that the four of them had been there, but it wasn't so bad.

"The same can be said of dreams," said the man, finishing his thought. "When the mind finds something amiss, the subconscious tries to identify the source of the contamination. But—," he tapped the side of his temple twice. "What can be said of ideas?"

A tiny hand shot up, eager for a chance to shine.

The man chuckled, pointing to one of the girls.

"Yes, Varsha?" he said.

The girl had a length of black hair that flowed down her back and a calm, confident smile.

"Well, ideas are very resilient. Once successfully implanted, the mind cannot completely destroy an idea."

The man's face darkened for a second, as if he were reflecting on something. "You are absolutely correct," his fingers briefly touched the golden band he wore. "An idea is nearly impossible to kill."


42


Boarding school, what a joke. A professional like herself that was finished with school, playing the role of a schoolgirl? Well, it had its upsides at least. For one, the uniform wasn't half bad.

Penelope swayed her hips coquettishly as she walked down the hallway of Patterson-Drouen Academy. Might as well have fun while she was here. Mr. Evan wanted this job done, and well, so it was all expenses paid. That included food, board, tuition, everything.

Jobs like this were what she lived for. Play by day, work by night, and the best part was you never lost any sleep.

This took the words "Dream Job" to an all new level.

She never formally attended high school, so it was going to be an interesting experience.

Penelope held a textbook to her chest and held onto the knapsack hanging from her right shoulder, still walking in that same seductively swinging gait. Her navy, grey and black plaid kilt swayed in accordance to her movement, catching the eye of some nearby students.

She was new here, and everybody could tell just by looking at her walk.

As she passed a couple of boys next to the water fountain, Penelope noticed them ogling her and grinned inwardly. This was going to be interesting.

Everyone wore blue blazers and white collared shirts. Girls wore red bows around thier necks, but the boys had red ties and khakis for bottoms. And, of course, no one could ignore the mid-thigh plaid skirts that the Academy was infamous for.

Penelope wondered when the rest of her team was going to arrive. She'd called them before to make sure that they arrived on time, and being punctual was crucial for success. A quick glance at her watch worried her even more. Class was in fifteen minutes. First impressions in the real world were just as important as those in the dreamscape. At least, that was her personal belief.

From the time she had graduated from her training as an Extractor, Penelope always thought it made a big impact on the subject whether or not the first meeting in real life (if it was one of those legal jobs) was a positive or negative experience. But it all depended on the subject.

Her subject was a male, so that made things somewhat easier. A teenaged male, so that was another point in favor of her.

There were two types of male subjects, the nice guy and the jerk.

The nice guy, he comes in several flavors: Confident, unconfident, and mixed bag. The confident types are okay to persuade, but it takes some effort. Unconfident types tend to be easier to manipulate, but mixed bag is tougher than both. Unconfident types also tend to be the artsy, and/or emo. Confident types tend to be in sports, but they are usually the team-players who treat everyone with a lot of respect. Mixed bag wavers between either type constantly.

The jerks are different. You have to beat them down instead of building them up. Actually, you have to beat them down THEN build them up. There are usually two types of jerk. The Pig, and the Doofus. The Pig is hard to work with because his ideas are so fixed. The Doofus is basically a jerk with a heart of gold, so you can appeal to their better nature.

One reason why Penelope went into the subject's dream alone was to evaluate him. Turns out he was the nice guy type, and by the way he reacted, Samuel wasn't all that confident.

Two words: cake walk.

Penelope made sure to avoid seeing him before she and her friends were going to be introduced to the class. She should have been in the headmaster's office right now, waiting for the rest of them, so she was on the way there. To make sure she didn't run into Sam early, she requested that his father have the new driver pretend to be lost for a while.

It was a short walk to the office; she hadn't strayed too far from it. She wanted to take a look around the grounds, but remembered that Mr. Evan had arranged it so that his teacher would assign his son to tour her around the school later on.

When she walked past the brown mahogany doors, she didn't expect to be tackled head-on.

"Nels!" squealed a voice, distinctly female. "I missed you so much!"

In the commotion, the two girls had teetered off-balance, and Penelope had to grab the wall to keep the both of them from falling.

"Glad to see you too, Varsha," said Penelope.

What a cousin. The second you walk in there's an ambush waiting around the corner.

" I heard this subject's a cute one, so I just had to be here!"

"You would be here just for that, wouldn't you?" said a tall, curly-topped boy behind her. He had two pools of peppermint tea for eyes, translucent and jade green. Across his face were freckles bridging his nose and cheeks, and resting on his shoulder was a large dark blue backpack.

"Kyle!" said Penelope, surprised to see the young prodigy out in public, "I thought you said you weren't leaving the lab!?"

He shook his head and smiled nervously. "I did say that, didn't I?"

"Yani didn't want to come to Wales, did she?" said Penelope. She figured there was only one reason such an accomplished young Chemist would turn down a job like this. It had to be because he was engrossed in whatever new research that The Agency had given him as busywork. Of course he could always take a leave of absence or have them send another Chemist for the job, but that was where things had snagged for Kyle.

Yani, his lab partner, was his substitute when it came to their unique services in the field of shared dreams. However, as of late she'd been taking on nearly all the jobs he was supposed to take up. This trip was where she put her foot down and swore to Krishna that if it was the last thing she did, then Kyle Isaacs would be on the next flight to Wales.

"She can't have all the fun, now can she?" said Kyle.

The twenty-something youngster gave a roguish, lopsided smile and pat his backpack gently. Dawson-casting job or not, he was going to have a little fun while he was at it. Maybe some pranks while he was here? Superglue was always fun to make.

"Oi!" said another voice from the doorway. "You lot forgetting someone?"

That Australian accent gave him away from the first syllable. Penelope felt her face instantly turn bright red despite her efforts .

"What's with the mad blush, Nelsy?" said the boy. He was slightly shorter than Kyle, and his dirt brown bangs were so long they brushed the top of his glasses' frames.

Her ex, Gary A. Baume.

"You don't look happy to see me, darling," scolded Gary, his arms wide open for a hug.

It wasn't a matter of happy or not, it was just that seeing him brought up quite a few memories for her. Gary hadn't been on the same team that she'd been trained with, but he was her number one rival in the YE program. So they went out a couple times. Well, they went out a lot, mostly in dreams. Okay, always in dreams.

After graduation they parted ways, and never saw one another again until "the incident".

Penelope gave him a hug, but her heart wasn't in it at all. Gary looked down, his blue eyes twinkling.

"So we gonna get him or what?" he asked.

"Come on," said Penelope, turning on her heel. "Class is in a few."