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So heya, it's me, Lena Gomez, better known to some people as just-debuted superheroine Calypso. 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 with Shakedown, 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 called Mot.

But 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.

I 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.

Marsha 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.

"So there I am, ringing up customers at Orlando's," says Angela. "When this woman comes in and demands Kung Pao chicken."

"Oh, you are kidding me," says Monica. Yeah, they definitely aren't going to get any studying done.

"Oh, I am not," Angela says. "Pray tell, Lena, do you remember what kind of store Orlando's is?"

"I sure do," I say. "You sell clothes. I bought T-shirts and a new belt from you last week."

"Exactamundo," 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."

"Oh my god, you're kidding me for real now," says Monica.

"She fired you?" gasps Marsha. "I can't believe she fired you!"

"You're 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 chicken!' "

That's 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.

I 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.

The 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.

The 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 them.

The 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.

There's 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.

And there's the nerds, oddly, not in a corner, but dangerously close to both the jocks and the Alpha Pack -- it's Bud 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.

"Whatever, Melody," I shrug as casually as I can. "You'll do what you want to do."

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 were a physical bully -- I could handle anything physical she could dish out. But she 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 Cognon.

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, okay?"

"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.

So 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 Dunville?"

"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 instead."

"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."

"Uhh, literature?" says Mr. Dunville. "This session is supposed to be covering science careers."

"Is 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 say?"

"Well, 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."

Obviously, 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 Bowers.

"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 teachers.

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 anyone.

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 landed."

"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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