S.Q. has always been a favorite character of mine, so I thought I'd write a story centered around him. This take place at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, before Reynie, Kate, Sticky and Constance attend. Thanks for reading!
It was a morning like any other.
S.Q. Pedalian rolled out of bed, sleep rumpled and puffy-eyed. He pulled on his striped pants, his shirt and sash, and absently ran his fingers through his hair. If mirrors were permitted in the Institute, he would have seen the dark circles beneath his eyes and the slight frown that remained between his brows, day and night. Perhaps he might have wondered why he looked that way; he was extremely happy, after all.
Becoming aware that he was actually questioning his own happiness, S.Q.'s frown deepened. "That's enough of that," he murmured. "No more thinking."
And he strode out of his room and into the gleaming corridor. A few Helpers lingered nearby, purposely avoiding eye contact with the Executives, concentrating only on their mops and brooms. As he always did, S.Q. raised his hand in a perfunctory wave. "Good morning!"
One of the Helpers, a mousy sort of woman, flushed, clearly unsure how to react. She ducked her chin and began voraciously scrubbing the tiles. Unperturbed, S.Q. strolled along the hallway, around a corner and down a set of stairs. Rather unfortunately, he lost his footing on the second to last stair, and crashed to the floor, wincing. A well-muscled arm appeared before him. "Need a hand?"
Looking up, S.Q. was surprised to see Jillson, Jackson behind her and making no effort to conceal his mirth. "Shall we take you to the infirmary?" the young man asked around an impressive smirk.
"Er, no, that won't be necessary." S.Q. struggled to his feet, relieved that he was no longer the object of their mocking. "Thanks, anyway."
"You really ought to watch your step," Jackson advised. "Imagine sprawling like that in front of Mr. Curtain! It would be terribly disrespectful, you know."
"Yes, I know." S.Q. knelt, inspecting the impeccable floor for shoe scuffs. Finding none, he rose to his full height and smoothed his sash. "Breakfast?"
"Sorry," Jackson drawled. "I'm afraid Jillson and I already have plans."
Jillson's eyes glinted with greedy excitement. "We've booked an appointment with the Whisperer."
At the mere mention of the Whisperer, something within S.Q. jumped, aching with envy. He could feel it, the primal longing to sink into that blissful fog. The deep desire to forget his fears.
"It's a top secret appointment, too," said Jackson. "So this information goes nowhere, got it?"
"I won't say a word." S.Q. bowed his head and hurried off in the opposite direction. No longer sustaining an appetite, it was simply muscle-memory that led him into the dull mist of the morning, across the grounds, and into the cafeteria. Already it was swarming with students, chattering cheerily about all manner of the things. S.Q. gloomily selected a muffin, and headed toward the Executive's table, careful not to trip. Before he could slip into the last remaining seat, Martina Crowe slid gracefully in, plopping her tray on the table and utterly ignoring S.Q.
There was a small scuffle as all the Executives tried to talk to Martina at once. She tossed her raven-hair and grinned, looking like that cat that had swallowed the canary.
"Excuse me," said S.Q. apologetically.
Martina turned around. "Yes?" she barked.
"Erm, you're well…you're not…you aren't an Executive."
Martina narrowed her eyes. "Well, you're not getting your seat back. Finders keepers." And she turned her back.
Momentarily stunned, S.Q. walked away, convinced he could feel the hostile gazes of his fellow Executives burning through his shirt and stinging his back. Abandoning the cafeteria, he sped down the empty corridors and out into the courtyard. The sun was out, burning off the mist. He sat down on a bench, dejected. So miserable was he that his brain did not register the faint buzzing and whirring growing nearer and nearer.
S.Q. started, and looked into a pair of reflective glasses. "Mr. Curtain, sir!" He leaped to his over-sized feet. "Do you need any assistance, sir?"
"Assistance, no." Mr. Curtain looked mildly annoyed. "What I would like, is to know why you're loitering about on a Monday morning. Work never stops, S.Q.; that is something you must understand."
"Oh, I do, sir, I do! I just—" he paused. "I just thought the Helpers might need some supervision." He gestured toward a distant huddle of Helpers removing rubble from the shore.
"Ah." Mt. Curtain swiveled in his chair, appraising the scene. "A highly admirable duty, S.Q. I misjudged you." He clapped his hands together. "Now. Let us walk."
S.Q. felt rather off-put by Mr. Curtain's ceaseless gliding, as they "walked" together. He didn't like speaking to someone whose head was at his own waist level.
"Eh, Mr. Curtain, I thought you were supposed to be in your office. I heard about the Whisperer."
"Ah, yes!" Mr. Curtain grinned, then frowned a bit. "But do keep your voice down, S.Q. This particular session with the Whisperer is quite confidential. It's not a casual conversation starter, young man!"
"Sorry. Sir!" S.Q. had almost forgotten the respectful monosyllable.
"How is Martina this morning?"
"Oh…" S.Q. hated lying, but what was he supposed to say? That the sly young woman took his customary seat at the Executive table and refused to relinquish it? "She's sharp as ever," he muttered lamely.
"Excellent!" Mr. Curtain stopped abruptly, causing poor S.Q. to trip over his back wheel. "Do mind your step, S.Q. You're forever flailing about and it detracts from my fragile concentration process. Now, I have a job for you."
Within ten minutes, S.Q. was giving Jackson orders (oh joy of all joys) to take over his morning classes, kicking the boulder and entering the secret passageway. He strode into the brightly lit hall and descended the steep carpeted slope. Down, down, down he walked, passing the door to the waiting room—he shivered, remember his own time spent there—and at last he reached the passage that branched to the left. Arriving at the austere metal door, he paused. "Oh dear," he muttered. "I've forgotten the passcode." Wracking his brains, S.Q. remembered that because Mr. Curtain had recently celebrated his birthday, the number code had something to do with that. If only he could remember the year, though. Drat.
At the sound of approaching footsteps, he leaped away from the door, embarrassed, and dropped to the carpet.
"What are you doing?" A wiry executive with close-cropped blond hair was peering down at him. It seemed that S.Q. had been on the floor quite a lot that morning.
"I dropped something," S.Q. replied hastily.
Shrugging, the young man turned away and punched the passcode into the keypad. "It is 6738, right?"
"Yes!" yelped S.Q. He flushed. "Ahem, yes, of course. Smart of you to check."
"Are you coming?" Bradley-the-executive held the door open.
S.Q. unfolded himself and followed Bradley into the printing room. "I just need to grab Mr. Curtain's cup of juice, then I'll be out of your hair." Bradley snatched a plastic cup half-full of liquid perched on a crate, and ducked from the room. Alone again, S.Q. made a quick search of the room, found the propaganda pamphlets he was looking for, and laid one carefully in the copy machine. He looked at the penned message on his palm. Mr. Curtain had requested 200 copies of the leaflets. Leaflets with slogans like, "Make the Choice to L.I.V.E," and "L.I.V.E to the Fullest." A great deal of mail circulated in and out of the Institute for the Very Enlightened, so S.Q. assumed that Mr. Curtain intended to send the brochures to a public business in Stonetown. "Advertising rights," he called it. Settling down atop a stack of crates three high, S.Q. stared absently at the wall opposite. His thoughts turned to daydreams, which turned to real dreams as his head drooped dangerously toward his chest.
"Preposterous!" someone shouted, startling S.Q. from his doze. "Are you telling me that eight students must be sent to the Waiting Room? Snakes and dogs!"
"Sir, five of them were caught cheating, two of them spoke out of turn, and the last one refused to hand in her homework!"
"And what will you do about it, Jackson? I don't have time to deal with these young scoundrels."
"Sir, that's what the Waiting Room is for, is it not? For rule breakers?"
"Even so, I will not tolerate all this disobedience. Something must be done. Just last week, there were six children!"
S.Q. hovered near the door, listening with all his might. Mr. Curtain spoke again.
"These problems are trivial, Jackson. Deal with them efficiently and move on, do you understand? I'm occupied with other matters." There was a brief interlude, in which Mr. Curtain must have been typing the passcode, for he zoomed in a moment later, nearly knocking S.Q. flat.
"For God's sakes, S.Q.!" he roared. "Out of my way!"
"Sorry, sir." S.Q. staggered about, clutching his toe. In a rare gesture of kindness, Jackson steadied S.Q., and went to the copy machine, frowning.
"Has the machine jammed today?"
"Jammed?" S.Q. shook his head vehemently. "No, it's fine as leather."
There was a most awkward pause. Mr. Curtain glared at S.Q. over the rim of juice cup like a temperamental toddler (which might have been comical at any other moment) and said, "I believe you mean fine as a feather."
"Yes," said S.Q., "That as well."
"Good," said Jackson. "It stuck when Jillson was making copies yesterday, and with your lack of technological prowess, I was sure it would be blocked by now."
S.Q. felt his cheeks go hot. To mask his embarrassment, he turned to his superior. "Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr. Curtain?"
"More juice," he snapped, brandishing his empty cup. "Make it quick!"
"Coming up!" S.Q. left the room, sped up the hallway, glanced sympathetically at the line of blindfolded students by the Waiting Room, and hurried into the entrance hall. If this was any inclination, it would be an extremely long day.
Kind of a boring chapter end, I know, but would you mind telling me what you thought of the style and content? And character portrayal?
Thanks a million,