Irving’s Plan – Maev Barba

Irving (ID: G70133; Rank: 3,000) swiped his tablet and spooned his meal. He was in trouble because he turned on the lights during nap time. His punishment was to write Unpermitted light. Unpermitted light. Unpermitted light. Every day, Irving did something wrong, and every day, Irving had a new punishment. Still, Irving thought, this terrible Irving had a great plan.
There was a window on the fifth floor of Building One. It was faulty. The lock was held on by a thread. Irving had with him a screwdriver he had made from a mechanical pencil. Sixth period, he could finish the job on the lock, then climb out onto the forbidden skybridge, run to the wall, and jump into the trees. From there, if uninjured, he might climb down, live a real life, a life of his own, a life in the woods without grades, a life far outside the confines of the National Technology and Creative Cultural School.
An instructor, his rubber mask dangling at his neck, slapped his hand down at Irving’s table. He glared at Irving and Irving picked up his stylus. Unpermitted light. Unpermitted light. Unpermitted light. As he wrote, Irving again envisioned his plan. The footsteps up to the window. The clattering of the lock, until it finally fell broken to the ground. The creak of the window as it opened. Unpermitted light. A boy’s body crashed to the table, exploding utensils, glasses, and bowls.
Irving looked up and saw the open window. It was not a window facing out, but a window facing in. The buildings were each built like a stack of rings. The rings themselves contained the classrooms and hallways, whereas the center of the ring was a single-floor gymnasium whose ceiling was five-stories up. At lunch time, these inside gymnasiums were converted, by the unfolding of long benched cafeteria tables, into cafeterias.
The cafeteria went silent. The body writhed on the table. Its torso lay twisted away from its legs, kicking strangely, as if pedaling a bicycle. The boy’s eyes swam upward like two unlodged white balls, then swerved back down to the side. His tongue slipped through his lips as he stared directly at Irving.
“G07320,” he said.
Irving looked at the upper left of the body’s striped uniform. Embroidered above the pocket was the ID “G07721,” not G07320.
“G07320,” the boy said. “1 1 1 1 1 1 1.”
Irving finally realized that this was Teddy Yang (ID: G07721; Rank: 1,313).
Nine-hundred and ninety-nine children sat and watched Teddy. Why wasn’t it over? It was the anticipation of the leaderboard, an enormous black slab which hung down from the ceiling. As soon as Teddy’s breath stopped, the students would hear the shuffling of names. The white text of “Teddy Yang” would change to black, and the other 1687 names would each advance one slot higher in a flurry of shuffling black and white text.
The six administrator doors opened on the first floor. Six instructors, in black chem-suits with unsealed rubber masks dangling at their necks, emerged from the doors and spaced themselves evenly around the perimeter of the cafeteria. Four nurses in scrubs emerged behind them with a stretcher for Teddy. They strapped him in and carried him away. His eyes remained open, and he apparently breathed.
Why wasn’t it changing? This was unfair. Why wasn’t he dead? The internal thoughts swelling through the student body evolved into muttering. Still, the instructors would not intervene. Would the student body correct itself? They stood there and waited.
Tension swelled in the student body. One child pushed his classmate. Two others pushed him back. Three children climbed onto a table. The instructors pulled on their masks.
When the students had fallen too far from acceptable behavior, the instructor with the iPad pressed something on his screen and thick green clouds spilled from the walls. Within seconds, students—leaping, bashing, ripping, and pulling—collapsed in heaps across the benches and tables.
Instructors, in black rubber suits and masks, waded into the attractive green gas to collect students. In a half hour, they would wake back up at their desks.

It used to be that, at NTCCS, students could climb over the ledge of the sky bridge and leap far enough they could actually clear the security wall, ultimately falling to the outside street. And it was rumored that, because a death of 1 of the 3,000 meant a new vacancy at NTCCS, the mothers and fathers of the less fortunate waited in the bushes to finish the child off and run to the registry to thrust their own child in. Others would run to the body and kick at the corpse to ensure it was dead, or just take its books, or school ID cards, or uniform jacket. The worst rumors were perhaps those which claimed grandparents instructed their grandchildren to eat the deceased. There was the ancient folk wisdom: “One brain in the stomach is worth two in the head.”
All such “gifts” to the outside world had been all but eliminated since the addition of the inflexible netting (impervious to most sharps potentially accessible students).

Irving’s eyes opened slowly, blacking in, as if emerging from a hole underground. Other students, waking up at the same time, scrambled to open their Chromebooks. The teacher was at the whiteboard, as if none of the students had been unconscious at all. Irving rubbed at his eyes then slid out his Chromebook.
Irving entered his student ID (G07921) and password, but as he went to press enter, his fingers paused above the keys. G07320?
He deleted his password and username. This time, he typed G07320. He clicked the password box. The thin black line of the cursor sat there and blinked. He typed 1 1 1 1 1 1 1, enter. The dialogue box closed. The wheel spun.
Irving looked to his left. He looked to his right. Their teacher sketched mathematical symbols in light.
Irving’s desktop loaded and a Chrome window opened. At first, Irving noticed nothing different from their typical browser, but then he saw the little red light was missing. No one was watching. No administrators could monitor his screen. Further, there were two folders he noticed in bookmarks: “HERE” and “THERE.” Who marked their folders just ‘here’ and ‘there?’
Irving clicked “Here.”
The hamburger menu unfolded and showed three files inside:
Irving clicked GRADES.
Nothing happened at first. The wheel spun so slowly it got stuck.
Irving tapped on his Chromebook. Nothing budged.The teacher was at his desk pairing his nails as the students at their desks were typing away. Suddenly, Excel files opened at once. Irving clicked through them and found his own class number: Class 13351.
The Class 13351 file opened. It was all their grades for the year. All of them. How was this possible? Yes, it was password protected and uneditable without the password, but students shouldn’t even have access to the names of those files, let alone see the grades. What is a teacher’s account? Irving scrolled down to his name. “Irving Fu. G07921. Rank: 3,000 of 3,000.” He scrolled right to his scores on individual assignments. Homework – Week 1: 2 out of 10. Homework – Week 2: 1 out of 10. He scrolled all the way to the end. Homework – Term 1 Cumulative: 2 out of 10. So, he was going to fail. He failed year after year and still they wouldn’t let him leave this school. His stomach sank to the bottom of the floor.
But then his cursor hovered over Homework – Term 1 Cumulative: 13 out of 100, over the cell where 13 was entered. He didn’t know the password. Still, he doubleclicked. A dialogue box popped up—this document is password protected—but then just as quickly disappeared. The loading wheel turned, stuck, turned, then a second dialogue box popped up: “You may now edit this file.” This browser knew the password. Irving swallowed. He changed 13 to 100 and pressed enter. His cumulative term score improved ten percent, from 20 to 33.
This login was… hacked? It had happened before, but why now? Why Irving? And Teddy—how? He was ranked 1,313. How could Teddy hack a user account so totally? That, that username though—G07320, not G07721—who? Then it hit him: Brother Bird. Bird died last spring of an aneurysm. He died in the middle of an exam. He just slumped forward and the teacher had thought he had just given up, and let him stay there with his head on the table until the second hour was up for the test. “Brother Bird,” everyone called him. He was the promise of the school, for students, parents, and teachers. He was universally loved. But now Teddy? Irving? Irving was unequivocally the most hated student the school had ever seen. He was a thorn in their side, but no matter what he did, nor what teachers said, his parents and the administrative staff would not ax him. They paid their tuition. Irving walked through the halls. He was, by the teachers, yelled at daily and, by the students, incessantly ridiculed, so why had Bird entrusted Teddy a hacked account? And why had Teddy now passed that account onto Irving?
Irving highlighted the text in the cell marked “Project – Term 1.” He changed “10/100” to “100/100.” Enter. The loading wheel started again.
There was an unmistakable sound outside the classroom: the sudden fluttering of the leaderboard. The students all looked left at the windows. They could not see the names from their angle, they could only see the thin side of the board, a monolith hanging down from the ceiling.
“Please continue the assessment,” said their teacher.
The Excel screen finally loaded. Irving’s eyebrows raised to the very top of his head. He was suddenly ranked number 900.
“Focus please,” said the teacher.
There was apparently some disturbance in a number of the classrooms that had caused a sudden swell yet swift eb in muttering.
Irving clicked the cell by his name under “Week 6 Oral Assessment” and changed 3/10 to 10/10. Rank: 750. Irving Fu. Project: 1/10 to 10/10. Rank: 613. Quarter 1 Midterm: 36/100 to 100/100 out of a hundred.
The muttering increased. Students in all the classrooms were pushing against their classroom windows. The fluttering of the leaderboard, though it had grown wild, could not be heard over the increasing apoplexy of student distress.
Only Irving stayed at his desk. There was only one remaining bad grade. Semester 1 Trigonometry Midterm: 55/100. Irving selected the cell and replaced 55 with 100. Excel stuck again. His wheel began to turn then stuck and would not budge. Irving stared at his rank on the Chromebook screen. Though he had climbed up from 3,000, he was now stuck at 111. As he stared, the leaderboard fluttered and a rumble began. It was a rumbling like an oversized train being rushed through a tunnel.
Nothing happened on Irving’s screen. The little wheel was still stuck. Irving left the classroom and clamored through the others to get a look at the leaderboard. Teachers ceased yelling at students and instead raised their black rubber masks over their faces and began cinching them tight at the back.
Green gas was already following on students’ heels. Irving pushed through the others and made it to the window. There he was: Irving Fu. Number 1. Number 1 out of 3,000 students.
As the sound of collective student body outrage rumbled through the school like an airplane melting through its walls, the green smoke slipped into its lungs, as the student body inhaled, it closed its eyes and collapsed.

Irving opened his eyes again and found himself sitting across from the principal and a prefect already engaged in conversation. Because of the strange lighting in the room, the principal’s face remained in shadow, while the prefect’s face was strangely spotlighted. Irving felt completely as if he were in a dream. He squeezed his own fingers to see, then he rubbed the strange texture of the uncomfortable chair.
The principal seemed to be smoking. “Young colleague,” she said. “We have brought you here to inform you that Teddy Yang is recovering and will return to school very soon.”
G07721, Irving remembered. “Oh,” he said.
“Yes, we wanted to tell you first,” said the principal. She leaned into the light. Her lips were incredibly white. “We know you were close.”
The prefect shook his head. “He is recovering in an off-campus hospital, but do not think our reach does not extend—.”
The principal laughed, bubbling streams of wet smoke. “No. No,” she said. “We are certainly monitoring every step in Yang’s recovery. Do not fear for that for one second. In fact, is there anything you would like to say to him? We may certainly pass on a message.”
“We have a great deal of influence at the hospital,” said the prefect. Irving could not remember his name, only knew he was somewhere in the top-50, maybe top-10. “G07921,” said the prefect. “In the further matter, we expect your cooperation.”
“We know your involvement in changing the grades,” said the principal, sneering and ashing her cigarette.
“To think that a number three-thousand could access such a guarded account,” said the prefect.
“We’re not making accusations,” said the principal, lighting a new cigarette. “But Teddy gave you a username and password. Were they Bird’s?”
“Bird?” Irving said.
“Number 1 of 3,000,” said the principal.
“Last spring,” said the prefect. He stared directly at Irving. “That anyone could disrespect the grade—”
“We need,” began the principal, intentionally interrupting the prefect who was becoming increasingly agitated, “your cooperation, young colleague, in this delicate matter.”
“A number three-thousand! Smart enough to break into that kind of account! It’s impossible! A farce! It’s ridiculous!” said the prefect.
The principal leaned back from the light and exhaled streams of smoke. “We are not accusing you,” she said. Though half-concealed in darkness, the shadows about her nose and mouth still showed her anger clearly. “We are only asking as to your involvement with Brother Bird.”
They had nothing, Irving realized. Nothing at all. They only suspected him because it was his grades. Irving covered his face and pretended to cry. “I have been the butt of your jokes since I got here,” he said. This was true. “I don’t want to be here.” True. “I don’t care about the grades. I don’t care about this school.” All true.
The prefect crossed his arms. “If you don’t care about the grades, then why did you change them?”
”Don’t blame me for a faulty security system. I had nothing to do with this,” said Irving. Not true. “This is just another conspiracy to get me expelled. I don’t want to be here. You don’t want me to be here. I don’t care. Expel me.” Expulsion contradicted the idea of the school. They could control any student, reform any student, correct any student. If they expelled any student, it was admitting defeat.
“Just tell us your involvement with Brother Bird. What was his plan?”
Why haven’t they asked Teddy? “What’s Yang’s status actually?” said Irving.
“He’s in the hospital,” said the prefect.
“Is he conscious?”
The principal waved her hand at the prefect, seeing he was about to object. “Not exactly,” she said.
It was all coming clear now. “You want to expel me, expel me. I do not care. But I never knew Bird. I never talked to Yang. I don’t know who hacked the accounts. It’s probably a virus, and I’m just the virus’s joke.”
After a long silence as the principal simmered in the darkness and the prefect murdered Irving with his eyes, they finally let Irving go. He left the principal’s office and walked through the hall. The principal’s office was on the fifth floor and he could look out the window which looked down at the ground-level gymnasium. Students in gym class rolled a giant ball as a group. It was ten feet tall, and if they did not keep up rolling it coordinated as a team, the giant ball would break free and roll over them.
Irving opened the door to trigonometry class, bowed and apologized. Their teacher stared at Irving like he wanted to kill him. This however wasn’t unusual. All hated Irving. He sat at his desk and slid out the desk’s Chromebook. He tried logging into Bird’s account. It was locked. At first it prompted him to log in again, but then the screen froze and the loading wheel began spinning. A dialogue box popped up: “Password Accepted.” But I haven’t typed any password, he thought.
The Chromebook logged him in and automatically opened up a browser. Again, there was no administrator light, and the “HERE” and “THERE” were the only two bookmarks. Irving was a dead man. This he already knew. They would eventually find him out. Whatever part of the plan he was, he didn’t know, but he had already gone too far. Before he could even finish this train of thought, he had already opened “HERE.”
This time, he clicked on “NURSE.”
His computer opened hundreds of jpegs in rapid succession. It was overwhelming and strange. The images were fleshy. It was definitely skin. But it was all messed up and discolored—blue, and black, and yellow, and red. When the final image opened, he could make out what it was: an arm, some kid’s arm covered in bruises. Irving minimized it, revealing the image directly behind it. It was a girl holding up her hair to expose blue bruises up and down her neck. He could see by the background that it was taken in the school nurse’s office (he had been there very many times).
Irving went back up to “HERE” and clicked and held “NURSE.” He felt a strange feeling, as if compelled, as one might using a planchette, to drag “NURSE” into “THERE.” He did so, letting “NURSE” highlight, then let go. His Chromebook made the email-sent swoosh and Irving tapped wildly on his volume. But here was the teacher. “What was that?” he said.
The students’ blank faces expressed deep terror. They looked at the teacher, then at Irving. Irving quickly closed everything he could, logged out, and shut his computer. The teacher said nothing to Irving, only took the Chromebook and opened it.
Every student looked at Irving. Would he get what he deserved? He didn’t belong here. He had no right to be here, not with his grades. He was terrible in class, he was a failure, and his parents were fucked up. He had no right to be here.
The teacher closed the Chromebook and returned with it to his desk.
After several assessments throughout the day, the grades on the giant black leaderboard were returning to normal. Steadily, Irving’s name fell further each period. By the second period, he was back to 139 of 3,000. By fourth period he was back to 400. At fifth period he had stopped looking and assumed he had come back down to the thousands again.

The next morning, the administrator’s office was closed. The blinds were shut, and, by the dark impression the office gave, it appeared no light was on inside. A number of teachers stood at the administrator door, knocking on the door, and asking loud questions. They were not answered. The door was locked. A male teacher shook at the handle, and pushed at the door with his shoulder. Nothing budged. Eventually, the teachers had to get back to teaching.
It was gleaned through rumor that the National Technology and Creative Cultural School had become international news.
While the New York Times published it only as a digital article, Sweden’s Daily News put NTCCS on their cover, reporting that, not only NTCCS, but all the schools in the country, assigned “grossly unhealthy” amounts of homework to students. Further investigation uncovered that parents smacked and beat their children, depriving them of sleep, until their homework was finished. The Daily News published half a dozen images of children’s bruises—dark black and blue, up arms and legs and down necks, some deeply ridden into collar bones, many horizontally placed, as if rendered by switches or sticks. Corporal punishment had been banned at the schools, and so had concentrated in homes.
Sweden’s Daily News called it “a system more misguided than the European Dark Ages.” Once hailing the country as a nation of “serious and promising freedom,” Sweden’s Daily News now “doubt[ed] the country capable of running itself.”
Where other schools may have buckled, NTCCS prospered. The principal, in agreement with the minister of education, released a public statement that NTCCS would be allowing students, who felt too much pressure at home, to stay in the school overnight. NTCCBS had become a boarding school. The government announced its public agreement, stating that, “students would not return home until home was proved safe.”
The parents of NTCCS protested with foaming intensity.
They appeared at the gates of the school and demanded their children. They neither would not, or could not, climb the wall, nor would the gatemen open the gate. Instead the parents screamed at and rattled the gate. I gave you my money! I pay your salary! You can’t treat me like this! I feed you. I feed your family. I keep you from eating your own shit. I am your reason for life. You are nothing. I gave you my money!
Luxury electric sports cars, sedans, and Range Rovers blocked the main street, keeping more than a dozen student buses from the public high school gridlocked so long that drivers eventually let the students clamor out and walk home through the traffic.
While the parents at NTCCBS had already paid their semester tuition in full, their foreign investors paid monthly, and the admin at NTCCBS couldn’t risk losing that now. The government had ordered that all students stay in the school and kept away from home until all the medical records could be properly evaluated and the higher board of education could determine which were the dangerous parents.

The first night at the NTCC Boarding School, dinner was a frustration. The administrative staff, somehow, from their dark administrators’ room, had ordered soup noodles for the students’ dinners. It was their first night away from home. None of the kindergarteners, almost none of the first graders, and about half the second-graders could not use any utensils besides spoons. Handling chopsticks and forks, they spilled and they cried. At home, parents spooned them.
Things got worse in the evening when they rolled away the tables and laid out the cots. To the surprise of many teachers, many of the students, even a few in third grade, were still breastfed at night. When these students came running for milk at lights out, no one could help them. The older students, who sat up in their cots, revising flashcards by flashlight, grew dangerously anxious. Surrounded as they were by their classmates, they had no respite from this sea of academic competition, and only grew more anxious into the night, pulling out their hair, which piled about them in their beds.
Uncertain breathing, full of stress and of anger, spread through the gymnasium-dormitories. As rage and fear climbed in their chests, the gymnasiums filled with clouds of green smoke.
The students, sitting up in their cots, their legs serving as desks, or with heads on their pillows weeping for milk, drifted off peacefully before panic could peak. As emerald knock-out gas drifted like mist over the dorms, instructors, in masks and rubber suits, crept through the rows and took notes on what students did in their sleep.

Irving woke up sore and cold. Something about the air, he—he was outside? He blinked his eyes and tried to get them to focus. His whole body ached. He rubbed at his spine, and up the back of his skull. It felt like the whole thing was sprained, or like his spine had been packed in with ice. But then he noticed something strange, a raised piece of skin. He picked at it. That hurt. He held his hand over the spot and shut his eyes hard in the pain.
His homeroom class, in fact all the homeroom classes were on the roof, seated in rows. It was like the opposite of an earthquake drill. Instead of leaving the building for the ground, they were now on the very top. Teachers stood at the heads of their classes scrolling through their phones.
Irving was seated near enough the edge he could see over and down into the street. At street level, where parents had stood yesterday screaming, were many mobile medical units. Doctors in surgical gowns were pushing roll-away baskets full of post-op bandages.
Words were tossed around between teachers and interpreted among students: “suspect,” “unethical,” “inhumane.” It came down the line that they were having homerooms on the roofs today because national doctors were assessing health records.
Irving watched a small group of doctors peel off their gloves and their masks, throwing them all into a passing roll-away cart, and then climb into one of the medical units, which rolled away and left out the gate onto the road.
Eventually there was an announcement over the speakers on the cage-poles over the roofs. The cleaning is finished. Students and instructors may convene in the auditorium for an important announcement. Everyone filed down from the roof and into the auditorium.

The principal and a number of the administrative staff sat in folding chairs on stage behind the minister of education who stood behind a podium; above them, a projected Zoom meeting full of foreign faces, like giant foreign heads, hung over the backs of the administrators.
The minister of education apologized on behalf of the school and the principal. “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,” she said.
As she spoke, Irving felt a new sort of awareness. It was at once both familiar and yet impossibly distant. Like picking one’s nose, it was a feeling so vanquished that the impulse was felt locked away in a dungeon. As it grew, so did the pain in his neck.
“We are educators,” she said. The row of administrators behind her listening raptly, with their backs completely straight and their feet flat on the polished stage floor. “We are a nation of freedom and fairness. And we are devoted to the best education of learning. Misunderstandings have risen to the surface of my attentions. I assure that we are committed to the facts.”
At the word ‘facts,’ that ancient impulse arose suddenly in Irving, and a corresponding word flung itself from his lips. “Farts?” he said at full volume.
The minister’s face said murder, but then smoothly bent into a smile. This was the biggest teacher of all; the worst student in the school vs. the biggest teacher in the country; a death match.
The minister laughed and continued speaking the international language, showing that she was a good sport, and that we could all laugh at this.
“Facts, young colleague,” she continued. “Facts. They are pressing but—”
In a tone of earnest incredulousness, Irving interrupted again: “The facts are pressing out your butt?!
A few scattered giggles.
The minster’s whole presence became very cold, a controlled act of murder, a kind of mock anger which still concealed the real thing. “Young colleague,” she began. “Immediately desist.”
“You want me to piss?! Here? I- I-”
A wave of uncertain laughter.
The minister turned back to the staff sitting behind her. “Who is that?” she said in a calm rage, and a uniformed fat man came to stand by her. He stared out into the audience and shouted, “Young friends. Which one of you spoke?”
No one answered.
“Answer the minister,” said the fat uniformed man.
“Butthole!” said a voice in the back, but Irving could not tell from where.
The minister switched to the mother tongue: “Find him at once.”
A spotlight turned on and began to search through the auditorium seats full of students. One of the administrators stood up from the folding chairs and came to stand by the minister. “There,” he said. He pointed directly at a very small boy. “YuJingYi!”
The spotlight shined on YuJingYi and the small boy went silent and scared. His face appeared on the Zoom screen, huge, terrified, trembling.
“Ass! Fart! Anal!” came another voice, maybe even voices, and the spotlight traced through the crowd of increasingly uncontrollable children. It finally focused on a small expressionless girl who lit up like a candle. Her face appeared on the Zoom call.
A new voice from the front left: “Eat my ass!”
The spotlight followed and the fat uniformed man pointed him out. “TsaoXingYi,” he said.
Yes, Irving thought. Yes. It was happening. It was changing. This feeling, whatever it was, rippled up the whole auditorium, the entire student body, whether it participated or not, had become irrevocably enclaves. It fell not inward to attack itself but flung outward, aflame, enraged. “Anus!” “Sodomy!” “Tits ass!” “Cum!” This time uncountable voices.
The fat uniformed man lunged forward onstage. “YuZhongYu! YuZhenHua! TongYuTsao!” He had gone so red in the face he looked swollen and ill. The in-auditorium Zoom screen searched through the students like a prisoner spotlight, but had somehow come to rest once again upon YuJingYi.
Finally, the minister of education turned to face one of the administrators who, sitting cross-legged, tapped at an iPad he held on his lap. The man with the iPad nodded and pressed at his screen.
On screen, YuJingYi’s eyes began to blink rapidly, as if cycling through systems. His body appeared to go weak. Only his hands remained remained in control, stiffly gripping the auditorium seat armrests, while his head lulled forward and then his whole body went limp.
The foreigners on Zoom clapped their hands to their mouths.
“What the fuck…” It was the quiet and frightened voice of a high-ranking student seated in the front middle row.
The fat uniformed man pointed at the voice. “GaoJingHong!”
GaoJingHong appeared on the screen. The man with the iPad once again pressed his screen.
First, GaoJingHong’s mouth dropped open and spit tumbled out. Then his eyes jerked suddenly left, and disappeared in all white. He too went limp and slumped in his chair.
“What’s…going on?” said a student, number 3 of 3,000.
The administrator pointed and rasped, “YunJieKo!”
As YunJieKo appeared on screen his eyes flickered, turning white to black to white to black, spit fell in streams from his mouth, and then he blacked out.
What happened next happened swiftly. The Zoom faces winked out, and the students en masse began leaping from chairs, climbing and fleeing over the backs of their seats. What had he started? Students jumped over him, crashed into him, climbed over him. As the chaos plunged up through the auditorium, his own body fell sideways, and his mind went blank.

Note to NTCCBS international investors:
We at the National Technology and Creative Cultural Boarding School believe students are the smartest investment. After all, they are our future. And the future deserves high quality management. Rest assured, that we will stop at nothing to mold the youth into a decent future, one in which we may one day all in thrive. Believe. Students are the golden future age. Trust. Consider us problem solve. Lovely school. Hopeful grace.
Advancing education, we have deemed that grades are a thing of the past. This is revolutionary in fact. We are the first school in the first country to do this. That is because, at National Technology and Creative Cultural Boarding School, we believe in the student first. We believe that the student’s creativity and cultural are the big pinnacle important. Yes, we have slashed away with the grades. Other schools will follow, but we were the first. We were the first! This is the best way forward. Please assure us!

When Irving woke up again, he had already written the thirty-nine strokes of the new vocabulary character (used only to denote the wooden pin used in the wheel of the oxcart used by carpet traders of the mid-17th century) fifteen times. Absolutely fulfilled in doing so, he felt a pang of disappointment at the bell. There’s always tomorrow, he thought.
As he and his classmates tucked in their chairs, they began to sing their school anthem. Exiting their classroom, students delighted in walking to their next classrooms. There was no big black leaderboard anymore. In fact, Irving realized, there was the window of his plan, the faulty window of the fifth floor. It creaked, its sound horrid, distracting, and the air which drifted in so hopelessly cold. Irving approached the window and felt the feeble lock. He looked out at the vast forest. The sky bridge was a mere hop below. Then the branches of the trees. Life outside. A life without schools. Irving had once had a plan, he—
A classmate greeted Irving with a bow.
Irving rubbed at his neck. God how it hurt now and then. Irving closed the window and refastened the lock, then returned his classmate’s bow.
“Good morning.”
“Good morning.”
They said it happily; they said it in unison. Irving belonged. Thank God, Irving thought, for NTCCBS.

Dr. Maev Barba attended the Puget Sound Writer’s Conference in 2018. She is a PNW native and a great lover of books. She used to sell books door-to-door. A doctor of astronomy, Barba looks into space and considers neither the small as too little, nor the large as too great, for the lover of stars knows there is no limit to dimension.

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