Oscar’s body is a sack of marbles as he opens the journalism room door. Big, solid, heavy marbles. All cold, hard lumps grating against each other. Part of him hopes the room will be filled with students, teachers, anyone who will challenge them. Anything to keep them from whatever Sam has dug up for them to do next.
But there’s only Sam, seated with Cole at the computer table, and Bronwyn hovering nervously behind them.
He should have known it would never be that easy. That he could never get into the system, do what they were there for, and get out again with no complications. Leaving no fingerprints. He just hadn’t expected the complication to come from friends.
Best get it over with now. Sam vacates the chair in front of the screen. She’s logged into the system, but now that Oscar’s here, it’s clear that he’s the one who has to do the deed. He slumps into the chair.
‘I couldn’t find the camera program,’ Sam says.
Oscar sighs. It’s not so hard to get in now the brute work’s done. But some part of him doesn’t want to tell Sam that. He needs just that much control. The power of veto. With the sort of trouble they could get into over this, he wants to be the only one who can click the button.
He pulled a mask over Ms Glass’s account at the end of the last session. If anyone else still uses the account, they won’t log in and find the CCTV servers sitting there waiting for them. He wrapped a copy of the old Ms Glass around the new one. An illusion. Smoke and mirrors.
In a few keystrokes, it’s off again.
‘Great,’ Sam says. ‘Now fire up the camera archive.’
Oscar double-clicks the icon and navigates to the Archived videos tab.
‘Go back to morning interval. Level 2 linkwell.’
Oscar opens the file.
In the linkwell, a bunch of six older kids – Year 11s, he guesses – tower over three tiny Year 9s. One of the older kids shouts. Oscar knows her face from somewhere, though he can’t place it. The year 9s quiver. One tries to make a break for it, but she’s grabbed and pulled back into the scrum.
The marbles in Oscar’s body settle in a cold mass at the bottom of his gut. He knows what’s going to happen next. Not just to the kids on the screen. To him. He knows what Sam wants.
‘What has this got to do with us?’ he says.
Sam gives him a hard look. ‘They’re in trouble, O.’
The scrum tightens. The younger kids are blocked from view by the larger bodies of the mob.
‘It’s been going on since last term,’ Sam says. ‘I’ve been walking past it since March. Only, what can you do? There’s six of them. And they’re big.’ It’s unusual for Sam to admit that much weakness. She glares at Oscar and the others each in turn, daring them to laugh at her. No one does.
‘They’ll kill us,’ Bronwyn says.
‘They’ll never know who we are.’
‘It’s not our problem,’ Oscar says. His eyes stay glued to the screen. It’s impossible to tell what’s going on inside that huddle of bodies.
‘I can’t believe you’d say that.’
Oscar can’t bear the disappointment in Sam’s voice. He looks at her at last. Of course it would be nice to help. Of course he feels for those kids. But he can’t shake the feeling that last time was a fluke. A waft of unusual luck. It can never hold. He tries to put that pleading into his look to Sam. She, if no one else, knows that luck can never hold. But Sam’s jaw is set.
‘We can do something good here,’ she says. Her voice is quiet and hard. ‘We’ve got the tools to fix so much that’s wrong in this school, and you’re happy to help the one kid we know and leave the rest to their own devices? I can’t believe you.’
Oscar breaks her gaze and looks back at the screen. If he stares at one spot long and hard enough, he stops seeing it as an image. It’s just a noise of movement. Lines of pixels changing colour.
‘We don’t know their names. How would we send them emails?’ Bronwyn’s voice is full of relief, though she tries to hide it. But Oscar knows that’s not enough.
‘Ms Glass has access to Student Records.’ He hates himself for speaking, but knows if he doesn’t, Sam will. ‘We can check out every Year 11 in the school if we have to. Just scroll through the ID photos.’
Bronwyn gives him the traitor’s glare.
‘Do it,’ Cole says. He’s cold water. No tension. Serious, steady flow. When Bronwyn stares at him, he shrugs. ‘You can’t look at that and do nothing,’ he says. And he leans back in his chair and waits.
Oscar sit motionless, watching the image.
The older kids pull back. The Year 9s are a mess. One boy sits with his arms around his knees and his eyes shut. The girl who tried to run stands and yells at the familiar-looking one.
And the Year 11 girl spits, right in the younger girl’s face. The girl stands in shock, as the older kids walk off down the linkwell. She touches her hand to her face, then sits down, suddenly.
The marbles jump into life. They glow red hot in Oscar’s gut. Something about the girl’s face. Not pain, or anger, or disgust. Blankness. As though her brain has given up trying to keep up with what is going on around her. She sits, and is still, and says nothing.
Oscar opens Student Records.