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heya, it's me, Lena Gomez, better known to some people as just-debuted
. I got yelled at by the Chrome Cobra
, got my butt kicked
by Penny Dreadful
... and other than that, it hasn't been too bad. It's been a
couple of weeks since that first less-than-auspicious introduction to the world
of spandex, and I think I'm doing okay. I helped out with a multi-car wreck on
the Bradbury Expressway, helped evacuate people from three different fires,
stopped two muggings and three convenience store robberies, went toe-to-toe
, and got to assist a bunch of other local heroes in beating down
some idiot sorcerer who was trying to channel an ancient Canaanite death-god
Mom and Dad won't let me do superhero stuff all the time. Probably a good
thing, because it's mostly not all that entertaining. But unfortunately, it
does mean I have to go to school. And Robert Kanigher High School is the worst high school imaginable.
Okay, maybe there are high schools that are technically
worse, or have shootings or no books or bars on the windows or stuff like that.
In that way, I guess it's not so bad. It's just that, seriously, it's the worst.
The sports teams suck, the teachers suck, the cliques are noxious, the band and
choirs don't do anything cool, the lunchroom is a hole, and everyone I knew in
Detroit was about a million times cooler.
At least I don't have to deal with regular classes today. It's Career Day, so I
don't have to deal with the usual crap in English and P.E. Instead, I've had to
sit in random classrooms and listen to people talk about getting jobs in
computer programming and journalism and medicine and anything else that sounded
vaguely interesting on the sign-up sheet.
For now, though, we've finally hit A-lunch, so I hit the lunchroom and pray I
can find something to eat that's actually edible for once. I end up getting the
chicken-fried steak. It's kinda close to being appetizing. The cafeteria keeps
trying to do those Sloppy Metro sandwiches that everyone in Metro City seems to think are
so awesome, but the lunchroom's Sloppy Metros are even more awful than they are
in all the tourist restaurants.
go find the table where my usual lunchtime crew is camped out at. There's
Marsha Lynch, Angela Cookie, and Monica Cruz. We're all a pretty quiet bunch of
people. We're not popular, and we're not nerds either. We mostly get ignored,
and that's really okay with me. I like these guys because they're not
backstabbers, and they don't do a lot of stuff that embarrasses me. In this
school, that says a lot.
and Monica are in a civics class together, and they're studying for an exam
they've got tomorrow. Or they're trying
to study, because Angela is telling stories about working at the mall, and her
mall stories are usually hilarious.
there I am, ringing up customers at Orlando's," says Angela. "When
this woman comes in and demands Kung Pao chicken."
you are kidding me," says
Monica. Yeah, they definitely aren't going to get any studying done.
I am not," Angela says. "Pray tell, Lena, do you remember what kind
of store Orlando's is?"
sure do," I say. "You sell clothes. I bought T-shirts and a new belt
from you last week."
says Angela. I have no idea where she comes up with this crazy dialogue she
does. "So this lady comes in, waits in line, gets to the front, and says,
'I'll have Kung Pao chicken and a Pepsi. Does that come with fries or tots?' Now
you guys know how I live to serve the public, so I tell her with all the
respect I can muster that we don't sell fine Asian cuisine or tater tots, but
that we do, in fact, sell clothing. And she says, 'So you aren't going to sell
me my Kung Pao chicken?' And I tell her no, probably not. So she demands to
talk to the manager, and she demands that the manager fire me."
my god, you're kidding me for real now," says Monica.
fired you?" gasps Marsha.
"I can't believe she fired
getting ahead of yourself, Marsha," Angela says. "No, I did not get
fired. In fact, I got to bear witness to my manager looking this poor crazy
woman up and down and telling her -- and this is a direct quote -- 'Get out of
my store or I will Kung Pao your
the kind of group we got. Angela is the entertainer, Marsha always jumps to
conclusions, and Monica's favorite phrase is "You're kidding me!" And
I guess I'm the straight girl -- which my dad tells me means I set up the jokes
and has nothing to do with who's gay and who's straight. And no, I don't let
anyone call me that, because it's completely embarrassing.
know when I tell it this way, it sounds like we're the total center of
attention. But we're not, thank goodness. We're just four people sitting at one
table -- we're not considered interesting enough for anyone to eavesdrop on.
There are so many people in the cafeteria for lunchtime, and a lot of them are
really popular, so everyone watches them, not us.
really popular people are the ones I always call (silently, to make sure no one
else hears and passes it along to them) the Alpha Pack. They're basically the
school's Mean Girls, which they take a really freakish pride in. Their queen is
Melody Sutton, who may be the most purely evil person I know.
rest of them -- it looks like today's edition of the in-crowd includes Tiffany
Nielson, Sarah Montoya, Ginger Noble, Mae Collier, Autumn Bradshaw, and Amy
Lynn Burks -- aren't nearly as bad as Melody, but they all take their behavior
cues from her, so it's generally safest to just avoid having any contact with
Alpha Pack is popular and also a little bit feral, so everyone watches them,
partly in fascination and partly for self-preservation.
The closest thing the Alpha Pack has to equals are
the jocks -- and I'm not even sure it's right to call them equals. The jocks
will never have the level of social dominance that the Alphas do. But they
generally don't care, so that gives them enough independence to make them
mostly immune to Melody Sutton's scheming.
There's a whole cluster of jocks sitting at a table
near the Alphas -- they're either trying ineptly to flirt or they're stuffing
their faces. There's Robert Marquis, Jared Shaffer, Tyron Howard, Moses
Figueroa, Bernard "Barn" Broadside, and Alex Riley. I know I
shouldn't like any of them, but wow, Alex Riley is absolutely
surface-of-the-sun hot. Not that I'd dare talk to him, or Melody would start
targeting me for assassination.
the Bible study table off in the corner with Lonnie McGuffie, Cody Lechner, Eve
Noone, and Arlene Carbin. There's the goth table off in the other corner with Helen Bustillo, Abe
Pillot, and Skarf Shelley. There's the Auto Shop Thugs, Jimmie Rocchi, Darren
Sweaney, Felix Boyd, and Abel Santiago, slouched in the other other corner.
there's the nerds, oddly, not in a corner, but dangerously close to both the
jocks and the Alpha Pack -- it's Kip Mooney, Quinton McDonald, Cecil Tarin, Toby
Whitney, Gerald Horn, and Percy Morse, sitting there playing some trading card
game and acting like they have no idea that the popular kids are going to do
something to mess with them.
And sure enough, Cecil gets up to return his tray,
and Robert Marquis slings a whole plateful of mustard-slathered chicken nuggets
at him. Cecil has had years of experience dodging food thrown at him, but
that's too many obstacles to avoid, so he gets splattered a few times -- and so
do several tables around him. The jocks guffaw, and the Alpha Pack giggles.
And damn my stupid mouth, I find myself yelling,
"Leave him alone, you moron!"
Everyone at my table shuts up. Everyone at the nerd
table shuts up. Everyone at the jock and Alpha Pack tables shuts up. Oh, crap,
what the heck is wrong with me?!
The only thing that saves me is the bell ringing for
fourth period. I'd like to say I leave in a dignified manner, but I really just
sprint for the door. Even then, Melody Sutton still catches up to me.
"Hey, look, it's Lena Gomez," she says.
"I didn't realize you were dating Cecil Tarin."
"I didn't say anything to you," I say,
keeping my eyes forward. "Just go leave me alone."
"No, it's okay," she says. "I was
just thinking it's too bad we never hang out. Maybe we should get to know each
other a lot better. Me and you and my friends and your nerd boyfriend. Won't
that be fun?"
I could punch her head off her shoulders so easy. I
could throw her the length of the room. I could stomp on her foot and keep
stomping 'til there's nothing left at the end of her leg. I could take her
flying and drop her from a quarter-mile up.
Mom always warns me that kids my age have less
control over our emotions and are more prone to using violence for stupid
reasons, so she says I have to be extra-careful not to hurt people just because
I'm angry or frustrated. She usually follows this up by saying, "Don't you
roll your eyes at me, young lady."
But the thing is -- as humiliating as it is to have
someone like Melody Sutton and the rest of the Alpha Pack on my case, it'd be
even worse if I came to be known as the crazy musclehead who beat a classmate
into a bloody pulp. So I guess Mom's right, even though there's no way I'm ever
going to tell her that.
Melody," I shrug as casually as I can. "You'll do what you want to
And I walk away from her as quickly as I can. God,
this is going to be completely horrible. I wish like hell that Melody
physical bully -- I could handle anything physical she could dish out.
does gossip and rumors and
horrible things said behind your back. Being
bulletproof won't help me a bit with something like that.
No time to worry about that now. It's time for the
next session of Career Day -- the only session I've been looking forward to all
day. I've had to suffer through sessions on journalism and accounting and even
farming, but now it's finally time to go to the session on science. This is what
I've been anticipating for weeks -- my science teacher, Mr. Dunville, has been
talking up the session leader, a botanist at Goodwin College named Dr. Kent
Dr. Cognon has been a professor for years, but he's
also done plenty of fieldwork. He discovered two new species of plants a decade
back in the Amazon -- and even a new species of beetle, even though he's not an
entomologist. He was Mr. Dunville's advisor back in college, and he's sent us
lots of plant samples to use in lab work. This is going to be his first time to
visit our class, so we're kinda stoked. Well, I'm stoked -- I don't know if
anyone else is.
I'm just about to enter the science quad when Cecil
Tarin flags me down.
"Hey, Lena," he says. "I just wanted
to say thanks for sticking up for me back in the lunchroom. Not many people do
that, and I really appreciate it."
"Oh my god, Cecil, what are you doing?"
"What?" he says, looking all perplexed.
"I was saying thanks?"
"It's bad enough I've got Melody Sutton ready
to use me for popularity target practice, isn't it?" I say. "But now
you're going to start following me around? Don't make things any worse for me,
"Fine, whatever," he grumbles and stomps
off for another classroom.
Well, seriously, alright? Just because I don't like
the Alpha Pack doesn't mean I want to start hanging out with nerds. And I
wasn't even that mean. So shush up and let me get into class.
I head into my classroom. A lot of the students I take science classes with are
in here already, but there are plenty I'm not acquainted with, some older than
I am, some younger. Mr. Dunville is sitting up front chatting with a couple of
seniors but he waves when I come in. I find a seat near the back of the room
(not my usual place, but no one sits in their regular seat during Career Day)
and wait for Dr. Cognon to come in.
A couple seconds after the bell rings, the door opens, and a really old guy
with a buzzcut, a beard like General Custer, and a green tweed jacket comes
into the room.
"Can I help you, sir?" Mr. Dunville asks. "Were you trying to
find a room?"
"I believe I have the right one," the old guy says. "Are you
"Yes, sir, I am. How can I help you?"
"I'm Bertram Ira McKenzie," he says. "Dr. Cognon missed his
flight out of Brazil, and the university asked me to come handle this session
"Ahh, well, that's unexpected," says Mr. Dunville. "We're glad
to have you, Dr. McKenzie. What's your specialty at the university?"
"English Renaissance literature, particularly Shakespeare, Kit Marlowe,
and John Donne."
literature?" says Mr. Dunville. "This session is supposed to be covering
it? I was told it focused on academic careers only. Working as a professor is
certainly one of the likely career paths in the sciences, wouldn't you
I suppose so. I'm afraid I'd gotten the students excited about Dr. Cognon's
visit, but I suppose we'll make do. I can help fill in some of the other
science careers for them."
all of us students are pretty disappointed, and I guess there's a certain level
of groaning and complaining. I guess I'm not too surprised -- when I was in
Detroit, there would be several big screwups like this every Career Day -- a
session without an instructor, people assigned to the wrong topics or the wrong
rooms, instructors who didn't actually know much about the career they were supposed
to talk about. I'm still feeling let down -- like I said, I was looking forward
to getting to hear Dr. Cognon.
We end up being really unprepared for Dr. McKenzie's
reaction to our grumbling.
"Oh, you poor groaning little
delinquents," he snarls at us. "Why anyone even bothers trying to
educate you drug-addled morons is beyond my fathoming. I doubt most of you have
even heard of Marlowe, if you're capable of reading at all."
There's this really shocked silence, then Martha
Bowers, one of the seniors, says, "Motherfucker?"
"Martha, none of that language," says Mr.
Dunville. "Five points off your next exam. Dr. McKenzie, I need to discuss
this with you in the hall, please."
"I have nothing to discuss with any public
schoolteacher," says Dr. McKenzie. "I'm here to impart my knowledge
about teaching at universities -- under duress, thanks to my department chair
-- but I'll do the job that's expected of me, and I won't let some low-rent
tutor for the disadvantaged tell me otherwise."
"You are way out of line, mister," says
Mr. Dunville. Wow, I've never seen him this mad in my life. "I'll be
damned if I'll let you talk to me that way. I'll be damned if I'll let you talk
to these students that way."
"Language, Mr. Dunville," says Martha
"Now see here, you unionized community college
dropout," says Dr. McKenzie -- and he doesn't get to finish that sentence,
because the building suddenly shakes, and part of the ceiling caves in.
It's all over by the far edge of the lab space, so
none of the roof lands on anyone, thank goodness. There's a great big hammered
brass cylinder about the size of a semi that smacks into the floor and skids
toward us for a second or two before coming to a stop.
The smart students take that opportunity to run out
the door. So of course, I stick around, with about half the class and both
A hatch at the front of the cylinder opens up, and a
tall, muscular bald guy who has a shock of neon blue hair and who's wearing
gigantic green goggles walks out and glares at all of us.
"Is the professor in the room?" he asks.
"Yes, I'm the professor," says Dr.
McKenzie. "What do you want, you room-wrecking reprobate?"
"That grant should've been mine, you mad
botanist bastard!" the guy shouts. Then he pulls out this shiny metal pistol
out of his vest and shoots Dr. McKenzie with some kind of crazy taser gun!
McKenzie falls down, and I start to head for him to
try to help (I've got lots of experience pulling taser darts out of people),
but Mr. Dunville sweeps all of us out of the room -- no idea how one guy can
corral all of us so fast, unless teachers get special training in that stuff.
"Everyone out," says Mr. Dunville.
"Tell the other rooms to evacuate. Fast and quiet, get going."
"I'll get everyone out of the women's rest
room," I volunteer, and I duck in before he can tell me no.
After making sure the restroom really is empty, I
change into my costume. It's made of Futorium atoms, of course -- Dad got it
for me. Futorium is neat -- they're designer atoms patented and fully owned by
the Futorium Support Foundation, which is very private and very rich and no one
really knows who they are. But if you're a superhero or a supervillain, they'll
give you costumes made out of Futorium for free.
If you have superpowers involving fire, your
Futorium costume won't burn. If you stretch, it'll stretch with you. If you can
shapeshift into animals, it'll even disappear as long as you're in animal form
and then reappear when you turn back into a person.
No one has a clue why the Foundation gives away free
costumes to superheroes and supervillains, and they don't really care to tell
Anyway, one of the cool things about Futorium
costumes is that you can fold 'em really small, and they'll be just fine. So
while I'd prefer to wear the costume that's all nicely ironed back home in the
closet, I can also take the costume I've got folded up in my pants pocket,
unfold it, and wear it just fine. And because Mom and Dad shelled out a little
extra cash (and it wasn't as much as you'd think -- the Futorium Support
Foundation must be insanely rich or just not give a rat's butt about money), I
was able to get all my street clothes treated in a Futorium solution that makes
them super-foldable, too. So I can fold up all my clothes, including my shoes,
holy cow, and stuff them into the inside pocket of my costume's jacket. So
there's no need to leave a pile of my clothes lying in the bathroom where
anyone could find them.
Long story short -- five minutes later, I'm in my
Calypso costume and ready to kick some ass.
I barge out of the bathroom and find the hallway
almost completely deserted -- the only other person I see is el Phantasmo. So
the good news is the other heroes are on their way.
"Heya, Calypso," he says. I've met him a
couple times since my superheroic debut -- the dude is completely freaky with
those ghosts swirling around him all the time.
"Hey, Phantasmo," I say. "How many
heroes we got on the case?"
"No one else," Phantasmo says. "The
guy in the airship dropped a forcefield over the whole school before he
"Oh, good thing I flew in earlier," I say.
Yeah, totally protecting my secret identity.
"I just saw you coming out of the
restroom," he says. "That's the lamest attempt to hide your secret
identity I've ever seen."
"Yeah, well, it's not like you haven't outed
yourself as a student here," I say. "If the forcefield was already
up, it's not like you could've come from outside, right?"
"It's Career Day," he says. "I could
be a grownup who's here to tell you students about my career."
I snort out loud at him. Dude is so not a grownup.
"Whatever," he says. "You ready to
charge in and bust up the guy in the airship?"
"Sure thing," I say. "I figure he'll
startle good if I break the door down as I go in. Can you grab the professor he's
got in there with him?"
"I didn't realize he had a hostage," says
Phantasmo. "Does he have anyone else?"
"I don't know. Does it matter?"
"It always matters," he says. "No
kidding, I know you're new to the biz, but it always matters. You gotta do
everything you can to keep hostages safe, or the guilt will tear you up."
"Well, okay, but I don't know what I should do
in that case," I say. "My powers are all about busting down doors and
beating up supervillains."
About that time, our communicators tweedle at us.
Phantasmo answers his first.
"Phantasmo, is Calypso there with you?"
the Chrome Cobra's voice crackles out of his wristwatch.
"Yes, ma'am," he says. "We're down
the hall from the room with the airship in it. I was about to have my ghosts go
scope out the room to see how many hostages he had before we went in."
"Negative," she says. "Withdraw. Move
the students as far away as you can, to a storm shelter, if possible. Don't
engage the mad scientist."
"Ms. Cobra, I don't know that we can do
that," I say. "There was an elderly professor in the room before, and
the mad scientist shot him with some sort of taser device. I don't like the
idea of leaving him alone in there. He may need medical attention."
"If he's been shot with anything like a taser,
it's already too late for him," the Cobra says. "The bad guy in there
is Dr. Vladimir Gevaudan, sometimes known as Mad Doctor Gevaudan, and that
taser pistol is what he uses to infect people with his custom-built
genetics-rewriting nanovirus. Anyone he shot has probably already turned into a
mind-controlled monster by now. So vacate the premises before he sends that
monster after both of you."
Well, I guess that's it, right? We can't disobey an
order from the Chrome Cobra, right?
Yeah, right. I'm all
about standing up to bullies today.
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