Ancient History, Chapter 2

By Niko

James fell to the bed in amazement, his mouth open but without the appropriate sounds coming forth to make words. Empty. Almost completely empty. He'd had four suits ranging from tawny brown to pitch black, a handful of sweaters and a smaller number of sweater vests, several pairs of dress slacks and a sparse arrangement of casual attire consisting of T-shirts and one pair of knee length shorts. What should have been in the closet was far from what James saw though. They were gone, every last piece save one T-shirt given to him by a friend that he had never been tempted to wear for all its gaudy decoration. Worse than knowing where they weren't, though, was knowing instinctively where they were. Again.

It had taken James several hours to move all his things back to his old dormitory from the upscale one he'd awaken in several days earlier. With every trip it seemed he only managed to take back fewer and fewer things while the amount of his belongings remained mainly in the newer place. He'd finally settled on collecting all his necessary articles before calling it a night and slipping back into his squeaky, overused bed along side his roommate Steven in the smaller, less appealing room. Everything he had brought back seemed to have vanished in the night. James mused that he was perhaps lucky the strange Ashe hadn't picked him up and carried him back to the other dorm as well. He wouldn't have put it past the freaky young man. He almost expected him to walk in with breakfast again to tell him how to live his life. It was absolutely absurd.

"Morning, James."

He looked over at the two desks along the other wall. Steven was smiling at him from his own, looking far too goofy to mean much good for James. So this is how my morning begins, he though, grimacing at his forced companion by means of returning the sentiment.

Steven laughed a little, unfazed as usual. "That guy came an hour ago or something and grabbed your stuff."

"And you didn't stop him?"

"The hell would I do that for? Soon as you move out, this room is all mine." His crooked grin and wink combination made James roll his eyes.

He sat up, running frustrated fingers through his hair. Left in only his undershirt and boxers with an empty closet mocking him, he was rather stuck. His eyes drifted over to where he'd lain his dirty clothes from the day before but, to no real surprise, they too were gone. Laying on the back of a chair, however, was a pressed pair of slacks.

"Oh yeah," Steven remarked, rising from his desk. "He brought you some clothes when he came. Shirt's hanging on the back of the door. And he even brought something for me, too. Like it?"

James did not like it. It was a campaign shirt; his false campaign. It was a simplistic rendition of his face with his name and his candidacy scrawled across it in blinking, eye catching flashes. It lied somewhere between gaudy and interesting and James Maxwell did not like it. "Take that off."

"Why? I think it's cool. You can count on my vote, buddy." Steven sat back down looking all the more triumphant. "Anyway, he said he'd meet you in the downstairs lobby before your ten o'clock class but it's.... what, about eight or something? You're good for a while."

If he was going to avoid Ashe, he was going to have to get downstairs much earlier than necessary. It was unfortunate that it left no time for the argument James wished to enter into with his roommate. He walked quickly over to the prepared wardrobe and dressed quietly, pleased that Ashe had not left him a matching T-shirt. It would have been a hard decision to chose between the attention grabbing campaign shirt and the one left in his closet featuring bears on terminals.

His tie was still undone, flapping against his chest as he tore down the hallway towards the elevator. Other boys filed in beside him, the elevator pausing every couple flights to pick up the next lot on their way to the dormitory cafeteria or to the skyway linking their building to the classroom centers. James remained on to the ground floor, exiting with only a few others into the much less crowded lobby. The sound of rushed dinners in the cafeteria was a mild, slightly unpleasant roar but the smell of baked goods was almost too good to pass up. He'd have to though. Ashe was going to be waiting for him in the lobby in an hour and a half and he needed to be as far away as possible.

"Mr. Maxwell."

James felt his shoulders slump. It was impossible. He turned his head and saw him standing there though, juice box in one hand, a bran muffin in the other. Ashe approached him with not so much a smile but a even, emotionless expression as he held both items out for him.

"I'm not going to bother explaining to why you shouldn't skip breakfast but you're itinerary is rather full today and I'm not certain when you will find time for lunch later on. Best to fill up now while we're on schedule."

James desired most to slap the items from his hands and tell him to leave him alone but the steam that rose from the warm muffin carried the delicious aroma close to him and the cool beads down the side of the juice container made it look very cool and refreshing. Grudgingly, James took them both, biting into the muffin with as much spite as he could muster even as his mouth most greedily salivated for them. "What do you mean 'on schedule'?"

"Please don't speak as you eat, sir. Concentrate on not making a mess of your shirt and I'll fill you in on the details."

James glared as he swallowed.

"I had expected that your roommate would motivate you to join me soon. Any time before ten would have been fine, Mr. Maxwell, but it's most ideal you're here now so we may go over a few important details." Ashe steered him by his elbow out the sliding doors into the campus green. "Candidates are expected to present the student body with a speech this afternoon. I realize we haven't had an opportunity in the short time we've known each other to solidify where you stand on most topics up for debate but I have finished your speech as well as an outline of possible questions you may need to field afterward. You need to read the speech before hand so you are familiar with it and prepared to deliver it at one this afternoon. There is a pop quiz in your history class; you'll find the answers to it downloaded to your own datapad. You did your reading for philosophy, yes?"

"Between work and hauling my stuff back to my room? No. No, Ashe, I didn't do my philosophy homework. I didn't do my math either as I'm sure you're going to ask that next."

Ashe smirked slightly. "I've already submitted your math homework to the teacher for approval. I realize your average grade in algebra is... average to say the least so I kept the number of correct answers to something believable: a low B. As for the philosophy reading, you'll have time to make that up once we reach your classroom."

James popped the butt of the muffin into his mouth, wiping the crumbs off of his hands onto the ground. "You expect me to believe that the university has assigned you to help me cheat my way through college?" He scoffed, yanking his elbow from Ashe's grip. "Your story gets more holes in it every day."

Patient Ashe continued to follow him. "You're being conditioned for politics; that does not require you to do large sums within complex equations. As for history, there have been no great wars since the cataclysm to learn about and anything that happened before that is rather out dated for politics. I will ensure you are well versed in relevant treaties and fundamental intercity legislation but for the most part, a grammar school education will suffice for now."

"Then what was the philosophy reading over?" James asked, looking back at his curly headed shadow.

"Philosophy and rhetoric go hand in hand, Mr. Maxwell. I suggest you read quickly if you wish to stay up to speed."

James' considerable distaste for the man continued to grow. He pulled out his datapad, and was not at all surprised to see the notes which Ashe had promised him as well as a file containing his speech. He opened it out of curiosity, reading over it with only a small portion of his attention as he weaved between students. It was good, though. Very good. "I should get you to write my papers." He remarked, scrolling through the speech to peek at its conclusion.

"I'm sure I will have no choice but to write one or two of them but for the most part I would like you to do your own work. I've no qualms staying up and assisting you in their composition, however you're articulate enough that my assistance should only be needed in mechanical and technical formalities."

James paused, turning around to face Ashe with an even greater sense of paranoia. "Why are you doing this? We both know this is bullshit. No one's making you go this far and I've already told you I don't want to be a politician at any level. Why haven't you just given up yet?"

Ashe gave him one of his knowing smiles. "Mr. Maxwell, without my assistance, you will fail, be expelled from the university and end up no better off than you are now. You know that whether you chose to accept the fact or not. You need me, Mr. Maxwell. And I find the prospect of turning you into a household name both challenging and entertaining. Let's both do our best and see where it takes us."

"You're insane."

"I'm bored, Mr. Maxwell. It's quite different. I'm afraid we're wasting time now, though, that should be spent on your philosophy reading and the speech. Please hasten yourself." Ashe pushed him forward with a hand to his shoulder, guiding him into the core classroom building.

James got an A on his history quiz. The teacher had expressed pleasure at his "renewed interest in academia" and wished him luck at the rally that afternoon. James Maxwell for Class President. Half his class had been wearing the shirt, several had buttons pined to their breasts instead. Vote Maxwell. His name was everywhere. Positive recognition. Since when did so many people learn his name? Ashe was a masterful campaign leader. For a small moment, James imagined he could win. It wasn't a vivid scene but he could imagine the feel of victory in his chest. It was possible. People were excited for him. Maybe even Hines would give him a break if he proved to be something more than just an average student. It was a good speech.

James took his datapad out and looked over the file again, mouthing the words as his eyes drifted across them. He'd have voted for the man who said these words. It was exciting in a way work seldom was anymore to have the chance to be that man. It would mean accepting help. It would mean putting his future in someone else's hands. It also felt like certain success though. He twirled the stylus between his fingers, watching the digital clock tick down towards one.

His mobile buzzed, signaling a message received. James plucked it form his pocket and thumbed over the buttons, bringing the message onto the screen. "Shipment failure. Get ur ass here now." He grimaced. It was from Heins. If there was only one person he knew who didn't have the patience to wait for anything, regardless of importance, it was him. He had to go.

He looked at the clock: twelve forty-seven. He could still catch the one o'clock tram. Ashe was an annoying son of a bitch anyway. The last thing James wanted was to see his smug smirk as he took his place behind the podium to deliver the speech. His rightful place? James wasn't so sure about that. He packed his things, shoving datapad and phone back into his pockets. He walked to the door, waiting as people walked past him towards the conference center where the speeches were to be delivered. Vote James Maxwell. James Maxwell for Student Body President. I Heart Maxwell. James watched them for a moment, catching different home made versions of the shirts Ashe had distributed, feeling the seconds tick down in the back of his mind. He didn't have time for indecision and he certainly didn't have time for the added responsibilities of a class president. Knowing this, he stepped into the hall and, at a light jog, made his way to the conference center. Heins could wait an hour.

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