Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

Nate Sorelli ruled the playground like Napoleon ruled France: with an iron fist and a mind like a laser-cut scalpel. With the knowledge of Sun Tzu and strategies selectively culled from the Roman and British Empires, Nate Sorelli was an architect and a general. He had a loyal army of boys who let no one tread on his territory, and his territory didn’t stop at the schoolyard’s boundaries. To the colony’s children, it was Nate Sorelli and not his parents who owned all of Shi.

In the early days of the colony, physicians played it fast and loose. Frontier medicine had different rules, and when his early tests showed mild retardation, his parents didn’t even need to pull strings. The neural implant had never been approved for children, but if Nate Sorelli was any indicator, that lack of approval was a terrible oversight.

Nate had a network. He didn’t need to threaten kids for their lunch money: they willingly handed it over. A quirk of his lips could start and end playground fights, but Nate never threw a punch. He didn’t like getting his hands dirty.

The teachers, too, were under his thumb. They didn’t realize it, of course, but he could redirect lessons with a few choice words, and he steered the curriculum like a rudder steers a boat. They thought it was their idea to move him to the C class with the older kids, and the following year, they thought they made the decision to bump him up to B. There wasn’t a test he couldn’t ace. The colony’s library had been committed to memory, and the only thing keeping the wealth of the internet out of his mind was the communication delay between Shi and Earth. It was no surprise when the home world sent a team of doctors to study him.

The study lasted three minutes: as long as it took to process the data from the CAT scan. Three Shi doctors lost their licenses. His parents were fined extensively, and paid twice that in bribes to maintain custody of their son.

Despite the setback, he maintained his rule. The other children continued to revere him, and although the scandal was teachers’ lounge gossip for weeks, they considered the decline in test scores a result of the stress of publicity. No one saw the first cracks in his empire. Certainly not Nate Sorelli.

Lunch money came more slowly. Paper bills turned to coins, which turned to crinkled wrappers. Without funding, the army of children grew restless, but it was over a month before they disbanded. There was no coup. No new ruler, no interim leader. Political issues were eclipsed by video games and dodgeball. The teachers noticed the change, but there were no complaints. The other kids’ performance improved. Overall, Shi’s school was well-ranked among the colonies.

At recess, Nate Sorelli took to playing jacks. His reflexes were still sharp, and he liked the smooth texture of the rubber ball. His previous loyal subjects played hopscotch and football in the nearby field as his hand shot out, snatching three silver stars before catching the ball in its descent.

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