Chapter 1:

The One with the Email

Boundary Scramble

Ruta saw the email and gasped, the frightful message reflected in her eyes.

“It’s a disaster!” she exclaimed. Laying on her messy bed, the shock of the email’s news jolted her small frame upright. She waved her arms around dramatically, brown hair shaking, her breathing already showing signs of a flight-or-fight response.

“Mmm-hmm,” Sarika answered, not particularly paying too much attention to the trials and tribulations of her roommate. Sitting at her desk, she pushed strands out of her black hair out of her face as she focused on the equations, numbers, and paragraphs in her notebook, all of them jumbled together, looking like the ramblings of a madman and a scientist, though in recent times it seemed like they were usually one and the same (and Sarika had also been called both, among other things).

“Do you know what Edith said to me?” Ruta continued. Incensed by the memory, she started punching her pillow with her small fists.


Every night, Sarika kept at her work. Slowly but surely, the grand equation that could move humanity beyond the boundary of life and death would make itself apparent to her. That’s why she attended Vyse Academy, after all. Well, anyone who possessed a physics-defying ability known as a Talent had to attend there. But overcoming that boundary was why she threw herself so much into her studies.

Three weeks into the first semester, she went through several cases of pencils already, all of them whittled down to a mere stub and then some. An ever-increasing stack of notebooks piled up on her desk, filled with anything and everything Sarika thought might help her defeat the grand, universal principle that made living things die.

She threw herself so much into studying that she almost forgot to eat. She certainly forgot she ordered dinner from the Vyse Academy Breadystack burger chain earlier that night until the cellphone on her desk started ringing.

Ruta let out a dramatic sigh as she flopped back into her bed, holding off on her story while Sarika put the phone to her ear.

“Awesome, be down in a second.” Sarika hung up and, over Ruta’s protests, took some money out of her wallet to pay for the tip (Ruta owed her money).

Quiet hours for the Academy dorm weren’t for another half hour, but things had already settled down for the evening. The hallways seemed quiet, but Sarika supposed that life itself seemed awfully quiet, ever since the accident. But no matter how silent it is, life still goes on, and Sarika wouldn’t rest until she had what she wanted.

Sarika arrived in the lobby, nodded at the security guard and clerk that manned the entrance to the dorm, then exited into the evening air of an Indian summer. Despite being late September, the heat wave that dominated the weather for the past few weeks kept its hold over Vyse, blanketing it in a dry heat that was comfortable for lounging around in the mornings, irritating during PE classes, and deathly in the dorms since the school budgeted money for televisions in the lobbies instead of air conditioners for the rooms. But that’s just life, right?

Under the cover of the night sky, Sarika found a man next to a running car, a Breadystack bag in his hand.

“Thanks,” Sarika absent-mindedly mumbled, still ruminating on death and school budgets.

“Sorry for running late, I got a little lost here,” the delivery driver apologized.

That snapped Sarika back to reality. “Don’t worry, it’s alright. The street here, you know, it winds around all the dorms. Can be confusing.”

Sarika grabbed the bag, but the driver held out a pad in his hand. “Ah, if you could just sign this. Since, ah, you paid with a card and all.”

“Oh yeah, of course.” Sarika gave a messy signature, then handed over the tip.

“Thanks,” the driver said.

“Thanks,” Sarika said. “Have a good night.”

“You too.”

With that, Sarika headed back inside, made it through security, then waited at the elevator door. Just as it dinged, Sarika had looked around the entire bag, moving around her and Ruta’s calzones to see what else was in there, and came away with typical disappointment.

“Yep. No ranch. Not surprising.”

Sarika stepped inside the elevator, gave a melancholic press to the button to her floor, and sighed.

But that’s just life. Air conditioners and the lack of ranch. Those little annoyances just happen in the metaphoric river known as life, swept along by the current and gone before you know it.

But to death? Can you really say that’s just life to death? Wouldn’t you want to dam your river to keep something like death at bay?

Sarika stared up at the light in the elevator’s ceiling and wondered.

“...and they forgot the napkins, too.”




Earlier that week, at a typical PE class. They called it physical education, but it was much more akin to Talent training. Out in the big football field, around twenty students had been placed into pairs of two. Today’s class involved combat training with one another, with the wide field providing them with lots of room to get creative with it.

Sarika’s opponent, a big student with a funky-looking mullet named Quaid, stretched his quads while Sarika did the same.

“I heard you’re pretty tough,” Quaid told her, his voice gravelly, a hint of disbelief in Sarika and arrogance in himself carried in his voice.

“I know I’m pretty tough,” Sarika answered, unable to keep her own disbelief in Quaid and arrogance in herself out of her voice.

Quaid finished stretching, then raised his hands in a boxer’s pose. “Prove it to me.”

Sarika cracked her neck. “Gladly.”

Sarika never said anything that didn’t have any basis in it. She knew for a fact she was tough. To achieve her goal would require both mental and physical strength of the highest order - she couldn’t have just one without the other. Reaching the limits of your person required both physicality and mental ability. How could a person break the boundaries of their existence without even reaching those boundaries in the first place?

Quaid struck first, raising his arm towards Sarika. A number of silver-colored eels shot out of his jacket sleeve, circling and coiling as they lashed out towards Sarika. Their tail ends kept in touch with his arm as they shot towards Sarika, mouths opened wide. As tough as she was, all the writhing eels gave her the heebie-jeebies. But then she steeled herself, ducking out of the way as the eels writhed past her.

The eels immediately changed direction (they’re pretty flexible, after all) and went right for Sarika’s new position. She jumped off the ground, the eels smashing right into the grass. They actually smashed right through the grass, burying themselves into the dirt below it, disappearing from Sarika’s view. She glanced over at Quaid and saw that the tail ends of those eels were no longer connected to his arm.

When she landed on the ground, the eels shot out of the dirt toward her. Sarika frowned, hoping that once the eels left Quaid, they wouldn’t work any longer, but either they had some autonomy or Quaid could mind control them. However it worked, Sarika still needed to kick his ass, so she nimbly sidestepped the eel attacks, rolling across the ground.

This time, when she rolled, she brushed her hand along the grass. The grass immediately turned black, their color stolen by Sarika. When she got back to her feet, she pointed her palm at Quaid and fired.

Green thorns shot out of her palm like a cannon firing a storm of sharp, little flechettes (or something like that, since cannons didn’t fire flechettes). Quaid gasped and brought his arms across his chest to shield himself; the thorns in the swarm slashed past him, ripping and tattering his jacket. Angry red marks appeared on the bare skin struck by the thorns.

But Quaid still stood, grinning. “I see. You have a Talent!”

Sarika raised an eyebrow. “We all have Talents.”

“Haha! No matter. These thimble-sized thorns are no match for the Power of the EEL!”

With that, a second wave of eels shot out of his sleeves. Meanwhile, the first wave coming out of the ground still wasn’t done with Sarika. Grimacing at what she was about to do, Sarika managed to brush her palm along one of the eels, leaving a black streak indicating the stolen color of silver. It didn’t hurt or anything, but the feeling was so disgusting (no offense to anyone who likes the feeling of eel on them) that Sarika decided to end things here and now.

The eels followed her like heat-seeking missiles. All Sarika needed to do was avoid them, and then charge at Quaid. With all those eels following her from behind, almost reaching her, so tantalizingly close, Quaid kept his focus on reaching her with the eels until it was almost too late. When Sarika got close to him, Quaid gasped and tried to headbutt her.

Sarika jumped into the air; the eels tracking her couldn’t change direction in time. They all collided into Quaid, and considering eels can apparently have weights ranging from one ounce to fifty-five pounds, that was a lot of force striking Quaid.

Or should’ve been, at least. Sarika expected the eels to hit Quaid like a freight train; instead, they immediately slithered back into his jacket with Quaid no worse for the wear. He laughed, since he was one of those people who like the feeling of eel on them.

“You really think my own EELS would turn against their EEL MASTER?” he asked out of pure enjoyment. But then he groaned.

Using the silver color stolen from the eel, Sarika created a silverware plate in her hands while in the air. On her return trip to the ground, she smacked Quaid right over the head with it. The plate scattered into a thousand pieces; Quaid opened his mouth, stumbled around for a second, then fell to the ground with a loud thud.

Sarika stood over the unconscious Quaid. Since this was PE class, she probably shouldn’t have knocked him unconscious, but those eels, man.

“Does he carry them around all day?” Sarika wondered aloud.

“He keeps them in his gym locker!” Ruta answered in their dorm room. Ruta’s chirping took Sarika out of her story; the fight with Quaid did happen, but while eating their calzones, Ruta and Sarika talked about their experiences in PE class that week.

“His locker?” Sarika repeated, regretting her decision to reminisce on eels while trying to eat.

“He taped over the air holes, filled it with water, and then filled it with eels! He took over the locker next to it and put a little spacecraft air docking mechanism thingy to get the eels in and out!”


That Quaid was a dangerous man.

“But that’s not important,” Ruta interrupted. “I wanted to tell you about my PE experience.”


“There’s a point to all this. It’s connected to the email!”

While Sarika battled Quaid, Ruta had been paired up with Bass, one of those two girls who always followed around the most popular in school. Bass didn’t look particularly happy with her pairing; neither was Ruta, since she was sure that said most popular girl in school, Edith, would get involved soon enough.

Ruta raised her hands. “Hey, so…my Talent’s kind of scary, so if you just want to keep this hand to hand, that’s alright with me.”

The brunette Bass was a tall girl (not as tall as Edith) and had the same mean streak to boot (even more so than Edith, since the most popular girl’s lackeys always had something to prove). Bass rolled up her sleeve, revealing a surprisingly well-developed bicep.

“I’ll let you interpret this however you want,” Bass declared, the intent to kill in her eyes.


Bass charged Ruta, the skin on her fist hardening into some sort of metal, perhaps iron (Ruta wasn’t an expert on metal). Ruta just barely avoided the first swing by ducking underneath, an audible whooshing sound vibrating in the air as it sailed over her head. Even though she wasn’t an expert, Ruta suspected that getting hit by a fistful of metal wouldn’t be that good. Bad, even.

Fortunately, Ruta’s Talent only required touching the target’s forehead. Since her fist was now much heavier than before, Bass’s attack made her stumble forward, the weight throwing her off balance. Before she could recover, Ruta made a charge of her own, standing on her toes to reach the taller girl's forehead.

The second they made contact, Bass’s eyes widened.

Rather than fighting on a field, she was now back at her childhood home in the upstate region. Instinctively, Bass knew the date - ten years from now. She had become an accomplished medical professional, had a healthy 401k, and numerous suitors from respected upper-class bloodlines currently courted her. In fact, she returned home that day simply to tell her mother that she had been accepted into MENSA.

After giving a timid knock on the door, Bass heard shuffling noises from the inside. Her mother looked her up and down, but the usual frown on her face never disappeared.

“You will never amount to anything.”

Back on the field, Bass immediately collapsed onto the grass and started sobbing. “I’m sorry!” she exclaimed. “I’m sorry!”

Ruta rubbed the back of her neck while Bass hyperventilated. “Ahaha,” she said awkwardly. “I can’t really control the settings of my Nightmare, so when it hits, it hits at full strength.”

Ruta then heard the sound of clapping. Edith, followed by her other lackey Rankin, stepped over the folded-into-the-fetal-position Bass and sized up Ruta.

“Nice going, big stuff,” the blonde Edith commented, her arms across her chest. Auburn-haired Rankin tilted her head and sneered at her.

Ruta frowned, because she was short and wasn’t merely stuff.

“You think you own these fields or something, big stuff?” Edith asked.

Ruta felt immensely small at the moment. “Ah, no…I’m just, you know, training.”

“Oh, I see. Training.” Edith gave her a haughty look. “It does need training after all.”

“It?” Ruta blinked. “Oh, you’re calling me an it. Well, I’ll call you something too, you c…continuing source of inspiration.”

When Ruta thought about how much power and sway Edith had, how popular she was, how cool she was, and how Ruta wasn’t any of that, what else could she do there but grovel?

“Hmm…take care…Pooper,” Edith jested, that arrogant look in her eyes letting everybody know that she herself knew of and relished in her superior social status in the post-apocalyptic hierarchy known as high school.

Ruta simmered, but what could she do? How could she respond when someone so superior to her called her Pooper? There was no response but to just take it when it came to it and to avoid Edith from here on out.

“Pooper,” Rankin jeered. She followed Edith off, grabbing the sniveling Bass’s hand and dragging her away across the field.

Ruta sighed and looked at her shoes.

Back in the dorm room, Sarika looked down at her half-eaten calzone and realized she wasn’t all that hungry anymore.

“That’s…kinda something,” Sarika mumbled, never knowing her roommate had this sort of side to her. “I mean, both you and especially Bass got some sort of physiological thing going on here.”

“Life’s a swamp, and only the real alligators make it out alive,” Ruta surmised, her arms folded in front of her chest as she sat cross-legged on her bed.

“No, I mean, like this is kind of alarming, you know?” Sarika said. “Don’t you think we should tell someone or something?”

Ruta guffawed. “My silly Sarika, don’t you know how shark-infested waters can’t even compare to the might-makes-right world of high school? Me telling anybody wouldn’t accomplish anything. You want to talk about going beyond the boundary? Are there any boundaries greater than the high school social hierarchy? You either eat, or get eaten. So, much like the mighty gazelle, I’m simply going to run away from my problems.”

Ruka held her phone up to Sarika’s face.

Sarika squinted. “Jeez, why is your brightness up to high? And what the hell’s a BubbleBoy27?”

Ruta brought the phone back down, found the correct app, and jammed it back in Sarika’s face. “Look at this email!”

Sarika read the official-looking correspondence straight from the desk of Principal Holloway of Vyse Academy.

“To my esteemed students,” she said aloud, “As you all know, the motto of this school is a simple phrase. Beyond the Boundary. As masters-in-training in the arcane arts known as Talents, that phrase is not merely a suggestion. It is our duty. And we must fulfill that duty in all manners possible. While we may be the cutting edge in terms of physic powers, we are falling behind academically. To put it into more concrete terms, I wanted this school to be in the top five percent of standardized test scores across the country.

Instead, we were in the top thirty-seven percent. Or more, accurately, in the bottom sixty-three. This is the worst performance I’ve ever seen since my first wife on our wedding night. This is unacceptable. This must be corrected. From here on, lunch seating privileges are revoked. All students must sit at assigned seats. This will continue until test scores improve.”

Sarika groaned. “There goes eating lunch on the roof.”

“It’s even worse for me!” Ruta exclaimed. “My full name is Ruta Applesmith. Edith’s full name is Edith Appleton. We’ll have to sit next to each other!”

Ruta shivered in her bed. Sarika felt sorry for her, but also knew Ruta was prone to theatrics.

“Well, I mean, we can always go talk to someone about it-”

“For someone who’s trying to break a boundary, you’re very lacking in knowledge about boundaries,” Ruta interrupted. “You see, you’re more like the Mississippi River. Strong, knowing exactly what course she wants to take and willing to get there, no matter the distance in the journey. Me? I’m more like the Charles River. Small and unhygienic.”

Ruta raised a finger. “Fortunately, there’s an easy solution to all of this. I will simply sit at the peanut allergy table.”

Sarika stifled a laugh. “You need to actually be allergic to sit there.”

“Au contraire, you addled-pated simpleton. Have you not heard of the modern wonder known as forgery?”

Ruta scrambled off the bed, a hop in her step as she rummaged around her own desk. She pulled out an official looking document. “Ta-da!”

Sarika wasn’t sure how to react to this alleged doctor’s note from a sketchy website proclaiming that Ruta had recently developed a peanut allergy and therefore needed to be separated from others, such as during lunch time, for her own safety.

“Alright, go ahead if that’s your plan,” Sarika supposed. “You’ll be breaking a boundary, of course - social convention. And honesty.” She then gave a rare smirk. “Let’s make a bet, then.”

Ruta beamed. “Oh, I love bets!”

Sarika rubbed her chin. “If you actually pull this off until we go back to sitting wherever we want, I’ll give you a hundred dollars. And should this spectacularly blow up in your face as I know it will, you owe me a hundred dollars.”

Ruta let out a hearty chuckle. “I never knew you liked parting with your money so much, Sarika!”

The two girls shook on it.

Deck of Cards
Taylor Victoria