“She’s an alien,” Maria giggled. “She has to be. I think we’ve got another Slitheen running the school. Seriously, check for zippers. Our new headmistress is an alien.”

“I think she’s ok,” Clyde answered.

“Only because she didn’t enforce the detention you were given by Miss Johnston during the holidays,” Maria told him.

“No, it’s not that,” Clyde replied “I like her policies about school sports. PE lessons are proper, competitive games, not just standing around waiting until Larry Appleton manages to hit the ball with a rounders bat. Today we actually played a real game of football. Under the old way of doing it, proper sports were only done after school.”

“PE lessons are not supposed to be competitive,” Maria insisted. “They are supposed to benefit everyone, not just the fit kids who are good at sports. Larry Appleton should get a chance to hit the ball. It’s not his fault he has bad eyesight. It’s like our class today. We had girls athletics. Miss Summers was there, watching with Miss Baxter. She made everyone run the full four hundred metre track. Those who did it in what she deemed a good time got merit marks. Those who came in after that got demerits. Even Julie Khan…”

“Don’t you mean Julie Can’t!” Clyde sniggered.

“That’s not funny, Clyde,” Maria snapped. “I know people call her that. But it’s not her fault. She CAN’T run four hundred metres. She can’t even walk that far without her inhaler. It was so not fair to punish her for not being able to do the impossible.”

“Well, maybe she won’t get the demerit. I’m sure when Miss Summers realises that she’s got a disability… She won’t punish her for that.”

“She will. I heard Miss Baxter telling her, and she wasn’t interested. She said that ‘weak’ students should be weeded out so that the best resources can be given to the worthwhile ones. And if she means to apply that in the classroom, too, then Julie is really going to have a hard time. She is off school so often in cold weather when her asthma is really playing up, that she’s bottom in nearly every subject. It’s like, Miss Summers thinks she’s waste to be shoved aside. And that isn’t right, at all.”

“Her dad’s on the board of Governors, she’ll be all right.”

“Larry Appleton’s, isn’t. What about him? Will she just trash him, too?”

“Larry’s rubbish at hitting a rounders ball, but he’s good at science and maths. Those binoculars he wears are ok for reading with!”

“It’s still not fair. Julie was really upset. In the changing room, after, she was crying, and then she needed her inhaler again because she was upset and her breathing was a mess. I thought she was going to be really ill. It’s not right.” She paused and looked around the empty playground. They were starting to look conspicuous. They had been warned that Sarah Jane would be late. She had to drop Brendan at the railway station. He was going up to Leicester to give a guest lecture at De Monteford University.

But even if she was here already, they’d still be waiting for Luke!

“How long does it take to sign up for another lunchtime club?” Maria sighed.

“He’s coming now. They both looked as Luke emerged from the school, among a group of other teenagers that Maria and Clyde vaguely recognised, though neither of them knew any of them well. These were the confirmed ‘geeks’ – the ones who were good at science and maths but not particularly good at sports. Clyde regarded Luke as only partial geek, because he had managed to grasp the offside rule and after patient coaching managed to hold down a conversation that wouldn’t be embarrassing around his other friends. But the rest of them, as far as he was concerned, were a lost cause.

They all looked pleased with themselves. Luke, as he came to join his two friends, was grinning all over his face.

“What’s with you?” Clyde asked. “Why are you so full of yourself?”

“I passed the test to join the Elite Club. Miss Summers was very impressed by my results.”

“Well, that’s no big deal,” Clyde answered him. “We all know you’re a brain box. It’s not as if you ever had to work on it. All the information was downloaded into your head by the Bane. It’s easy for you.”

“Clyde!” Maria reprimanded him. “Don’t remind him of that. It’s cruel.”

“It’s all right, Maria,” Luke assured him. “It was very interesting. We did specially developed tests of intelligence, as well as a general knowledge pop quiz. And members of the Elite Club are to be excused PE and vocational lessons like woodwork and metalwork in order to concentrate on the advanced theoretical sciences.”

“That’s not good,” Clyde responded. “PE and woodwork are the lessons where you’re no better than the rest of us and you have to be less of a geek.”

“I am not a geek,” Luke answered him. “I am not a loser. I am not inferior to you, Clyde Langer. I am an Elite. And you are the one who is inferior.”

“Luke?” Maria was surprised by that comment. Clyde had always called Luke a geek in a sort of joking way, and tried to ‘educate’ him to act like a normal kid by his definition, listening to the ‘right’ music, watching the right TV. He did it for Luke’s own good, really. It could be hard being in school if you didn’t fit in. Clyde had taught him to do that.

And Luke had never objected to being taught. Like Pinocchio, or the sad little robot kid from A.I., he wanted to be an ordinary boy.

At least that’s what his friends thought.

“Luke, that wasn’t really what Clyde meant,” Maria ventured.

“Yes, he did. But it doesn’t matter. Those who seek to hold us back from our true potential will be shunned.”

“Fine by me,” Clyde answered. “Maria, I’ll see you around. I’m going to walk home.”

“Clyde…” Maria called out. But she didn’t know what else to say. Caught between her two friends, she didn’t know whose side she should take, if at all. Clyde had said some mean things to Luke, but he had said some even meaner things back.

“You understand, don’t you, Maria?” Luke said to her. “You’re not exactly an elite, but you are in the top stream in all your subjects. You understand about striving for perfection.”

“I want to get the best results from my O’levels,” she answered. “Because I want to go on to sixth form and do the A’levels and then university, and then work for Torchwood. But I think there is more to life than studying. We know there is. Look at all the things we’ve seen and done with Sarah Jane. You can’t learn all that from books. And… look… she’ll be here soon. You should really stop talking like that. Because she isn’t going to be happy. Sarah Jane wants you to have a normal life. Joining an Elite Group isn’t normal.”

“I will no longer hide my true potential among mediocrity,” Luke answered. “Average results, average education, average students are no use to me. I must strive to be the best. And if mum seeks to prevent me from those goals, she, too, must be set aside.”

“Luke!” Maria actually stamped her foot in annoyance. “Luke, that really is enough. Stop it. Don’t talk like that in front of your mum. It really isn’t on.”

Luke lapsed into silence. So did Maria. They were both quiet on the way back to Bannerman road. When they got there, Luke said he had homework to do and went on upstairs to his room without stopping in the kitchen for tea and a chat like he usually did. Sarah Jane was puzzled.

“How much homework could he possibly have on the second day of the new term?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Maria replied. “It might be this club he joined. It’s all about intelligence tests and quizzes. And he’s been a real prat about it, making out that he’s smarter than the rest of us.”

“Oh, dear,” Sarah Jane said. “I know he does get bored in some of his classes. But I really thought… his friendship with you and Clyde… I thought he would be all right. I don’t want him bullied.”

“Then he really needs to catch onto himself and stop saying silly things,” Maria said. “I think it’s all the new headmistress, though. She’s got some unusual ideas.”

“Miss Harriet Summers,” Sarah Jane said, thoughtfully. “There’s a parents meeting tonight at the school. Something about the curriculum. If you and Luke don’t mind amusing yourselves for a couple of hours, I think I’ll go along. I think I need to have a talk with the new headmistress.”

“I don’t mind if Luke behaves himself” Maria said. “He can have supper at our house. Dad’s working until nine, but he said he’d bring pizza on his way home.”

“That’s all right then. Now, would you like some help with your homework before I go out? Luke never does, of course, even when he’s in a good mood.”

“I’ve got an English assignment where I’ve got to write a newspaper article,” Maria answered. Sarah Jane smiled and poured more tea and then the two of them settled down to a pleasant hour with Maria’s English homework before it was time for her to go out to the meeting. Maria went upstairs to the attic to say hello to Mr Smith and K9. As Sarah Jane’s car pulled out of the driveway Luke came up to the attic, too.

“Are you going to be a bit nicer, now?” Maria asked him.

“I just want you to understand,” he answered. “Miss Summers was explaining it all to us. What she plans to do with the school. You see, the Comprehensive system of education just isn’t working. It only really benefits average students with average ideas. In the old days, when there was the 11 plus examination, the best went to grammar schools and were taught to strive for excellence, and to be future leaders of society. And the others went to Secondary Modern schools where they learnt practical skills to fit them for the workplace, and where they would be managed by the people who had learnt to be leaders at grammar school. They would all know their place.”

“Well, it doesn’t sound a good idea to me,” Maria answered. “Making some people leaders and the others workers sounds terrible. It’s like making the lower ones into just slaves who aren’t allowed to do anything but what they’re told.”

“It’s called meritocracy. And isn’t it right that the brightest and best people should rule? Why shouldn’t we?”

“Not if you’re going to lord it over everyone else,” Maria answered. “It’s wrong. And if that’s the sort of thing Miss Summers is going to be telling our parents at the meeting tonight, I don’t think she’ll be headmistress for long.”

“Why would our parents not want the best for us?”

“Because… Look, it’s like you said. I’m in the top stream. You’re brainy. We’d be all right. But I don’t think we can just abandon everyone else. What about Julie Khan. She’s not stupid. She just misses out on so much school because she’s ill all the time. She needs extra help to catch up. But Miss Summers would just put her in the bottom class and leave her to rot.”

“Because the resources are best spent on those with the potential.”

“Oh, for heaven sake. I’ve heard enough,” Maria snapped. “Come on, Luke, before we fall out as well. Let’s… I don’t know. Let’s challenge Mr Smith and K9 to a chess tournament.”

They did just that, and they passed their time happily after that until Maria saw her dad’s car across the street and they went to join him for the promised pizza. After that, Alan engaged Luke’s interest by showing him the blueprints of the building that his firm were doing the electrical installations for. Everything seemed normal again.

Except that Sarah Jane was late. Very late. When they realised how late it was, Alan tried her mobile phone but found it switched off. He phoned the school in case the meeting had gone on longer. He debated whether to call hospitals or the police.

“You’d better sleep here, tonight, Luke,” Alan suggested. “On the sofa. Yes, I know there are K9 and Mr Smith over the road, but they hardly qualify as responsible adults. Not Human adults, anyway.”

“I don’t want to sleep until mum is home,” Luke answered. Maria agreed with him.

“Yes… but…” Alan began. Then there was a loud, insistent knock at the door. He looked and saw a police car outside. Luke bit his lip anxiously. They all had the same thought at once. Sarah Jane had been in an accident!

Alan went to the door. There were two policemen and a woman in a skirt suit and neatly pinned up hair who stood between them.

“Is there a boy named Luke Smith here?” asked the policeman. “Of 13 Bannerman Road.”

“Well, yes,” Alan answered. “But what’s the problem? What’s happened?” He opened the door fully and the policemen came into the house. Luke and Maria stared in surprise at the woman with them.

“Miss Summers? Why are you here? Where is my mum?” Luke asked.

“Your mother has been very silly, Luke,” Miss Summers told him. “She has been arrested for trespassing on the school premises. She was caught in my office, rifling through the filing cabinets. Very strange, altogether. However, that is for the police to deal with. I am here to take Luke home.”

“My home is over there,” Luke answered, pointing in the general direction of 13 Bannerman Road.

“I meant, to my home,” Miss Summers answered. “I have obtained legal custody of you while your mother is detained. There is no reason why you should suffer because of her silliness. Come along, there’s a good boy.”

“No,” Maria protested. “This can’t be right. They’re not real policemen. It’s like last time. They’re androids. They must be.” She pulled out her sonic screwdriver and aimed it at one of the policemen who looked at it with a puzzled expression. Nothing happened. She tried the other one, and then Miss Summers herself.

“Androids?” Miss Summers laughed. “What a strange imagination. Really, Mr… Jackson, isn’t it? I wonder if your daughter has been exposed to some unsuitable elements. But I have the paperwork here. It is all in order. Luke is to come with me.”

Alan held Maria by the shoulder comfortingly as Luke was led away by Miss Summers, flanked by the policemen. She watched as they all got into the police car and drove away. Alan shut the door and turned to her as she struggled to say something.

“They were real policemen,” she managed. “It’s real. Sarah Jane really has been arrested.”

To Be Continued...