Flashback: “Practicum of Combat”
Three members of the Board of the Education down. Twenty-four to go.
Professor Conor Anderson, of Ninjutsu, breaks into a run.
In the background he can see his Department head waving his hands. Arguing. It’s futile. The Lethal Magnet Professor knows as much. You’ll never sell the Board on giving exams in three-man cells so that the law of inverse ninjutsu will not apply. You’ll never even talk them out of forcing the students to fill out standardized, fill-in-the-circle and feed-the-thing-to-the-great-Machine, out-of-date multiple-choice tests.
Ninjas! And still they want lead-marked pointless standardized tests from them.
It is, in Professor Conor Anderson’s clinical opinion as a Lethal Magnet Professor of Ninjutsu, not sane.
One palm stops in front of the stomach of a fire-type Subcommittee of the Public Trust board member. A shockwave radiates.
It strips the mask from the oni, unwinds the Public Trust creature into an ink glyph bleeding from the air, and shatters it into dust.
Professor Anderson brakes!
The club of Dr. Abernathy, Chairman for Assessment & Accounting of Ninjutsu-Related Education, smashes down as Professor Anderson skips back. It’s slow, it’s too slow to really process at the speed the Lethal Magnet Professor is moving, but he thinks that he can hear a vast roar.
It is close. It was too close. There’s too many of them.
The inverse ninjutsu law does not apply to members of the Board.
Four down. Another—
The club snaps. Pieces of it go in two directions. A tree is sprouting from the ground where the front piece hits—
Twenty-three, soon to be twenty-one, to go.
“The rules are in place to protect the children,” the Minister’s Representative is arguing. Professor Anderson attempts a punch, but the Minister’s Representative is nothing more than an Agency Puppet; it explodes around his fist and then reforms.
He decides to ignore it, retreats.
The Department head, all present are given to understand, is totally in favor of protecting the children, as are Mr. Gulley and Professor Conor Anderson. Stop that, Professor Anderson. Professor Anderson!
Bureaucrats do not understand the true way of ninjutsu. Not even their friends.
Professor Anderson drags his foot across the scattered paper on the table. Paper writhes up to become a ninja doll in his likeness. It drops grumpily into his chair and attends the meeting. It is pretending that it has gotten over its fit of pique and is willing to listen calmly to the concerns of the remaining twenty-one members of the Board of Education in attendance.
As for Professor Anderson, he has spiraled into ninja space.
“There’s no way you can win this,” says a voice of evil. It is surrounding him. It is pervading the annex of ninja space attached to the Board of Education meeting. There are eyes. There are fangs. And in fact he cannot. It is entirely and utterly obvious that Professor Conor Anderson, of Ninjutsu, cannot.
He is knocked out of ninja space. He is thrown from it, slammed against the wall, left dazed there with his cap slumped off the side of his head trying to remember whether he’s set the DVR to record the latest episode of Whisker Ninjas or not.
It’s very important! The rats can’t operate the DVR on their own.
“Are you done?” asks the chief demon. Right. He remembers this. He is still at the meeting. The demon is looking at him. It is looking at him through and from behind the glass eyes of the committee chair. But he shakes his head. He grins a little.
He’d say something clever but he’s a ninja. He’s swift. He’s silent. He’s like a shadow. Shadows don’t speak up at Board of Education meetings. That’s—
That’s not really that much of a virtue.
He doesn’t say it, anyway, though. He just closes his eyes and imagines it.
The clock hits a standardized moment.
There is a standardized shiver of ki.
Somewhere in the offices of the Standardized Testing Institute, Ninjutsu Division, the papers, the papers filled out by his students, his marvelous students, his marvelous ninjas who will save the world one day, see if they won’t, spiral together. They weave themselves into a great paper dragon. They roar.
Machinery is shattering. He can almost hear it.
Fires are starting.
And the strings of the puppets; the power of the oni; the force that keeps the Brentwood Board of Education Subcommittee Member Responsible for Improving Alignment and Setting the District’s Direction manifest physically rather than confined to his cell in the bowels of Brenthall—