- LI: Sophomore Year #13 – Steam Complex Chp. 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #14 – Steam Complex Chp. 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #15 – Steam Complex Chp. 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #16 – Out of the Past Chp. 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #17 – Out of the Past Chp. 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #18 – Operation: Fuzzy Cheer Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #19 – Operation: Fuzzy Cheer Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #20 – Operation: Fuzzy Cheer Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #21 – Student Union Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #22 – Student Union Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #22 – Student Union Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #23 – Student Union Part 4
- LI: Sophomore Year #24 – Student Union Part 5
- LI: Sophomore Year Annual #5
“Are you feeling okay, Joy?”
“Hmm?” Joy pulled the blanket tighter around her, only vaguely aware of how uncomfortable she was and only registering that she was sitting up instead of lying down in a detached way that made it more of a curiosity than something she could correct.
Her roommate, Rita moved around somewhere close behind her, a rustle of clothing signaling that she was either making her bed or dressing. “I’ve been talking to you on and off for the past ten minutes and all you’ve done is grunt or slur. Are you feeling sick?”
Yes, yes she was. Just not the way Rita thought.
Things were starting to come back to her. Steampunk’s ‘revelation’, then being unceremoniously brought back to the Institute with nothing to show for it but more questions and a nauseous feeling that wouldn’t stop. Steampunk didn’t even understand what she’d done and Maya had been so lost in her own concerns that Joy decided not to bother her.
And so she’d come back into the room and tried hard to distract herself with videos and web-pages so she wouldn’t fall asleep and dream about the awful things swishing around in her head now. Her father’s alleged machinations, brothers she didn’t know about, a teacher who was working for the bad guys, and a classmate who was an emotionless experiment who went out of her way to traumatize her with it all; it was too much.
Joy usually made up for being nocturnal with day classes by taking lots of catnaps, so forcing herself to stay up hadn’t been a good idea. She was crashing already and she could feel it, but she didn’t want to put everything Steampunk had dropped in her lap on Rita. She wasn’t even sure who she could tell.
“I’m fine.” she tried to say, but it came out of her mouth as something resembling “figh’ and a gurgling groan.
“I don’t think so.” Rita said. “Do you want me to call the school nurse?”
Joy shook her head and made an effort to get up. “N-no. I’m ‘kay.” It was a struggle to get the blanket off her because it tangled in her wings, but eventually, she was vertical and blanket-free. Through blurry eyes, she saw the dubious look on Rita’s face.
“Something is wrong. You’re up and ready for breakfast before I am every morning. Come on, Joy, what’s going on?”
“Bad dream.” Joy muttered, looking away. Not technically a lie—at least she wished it was a dream.
Rita nodded and hugged herself. “I know where you’re coming from there. Wanna talk about it?”
Usually, Joy would have her interest piqued by Rita saying she had bad dreams. Her roommate seemed angst-free for the most part, aside from having to split her time between the ‘elite’ clique and her other friends. Joy would love to have that problem.
“It’s okay.” she replied after far too long spent thinking about it. “Kinda personal.” That earned her another concerned look from Rita that made her wince inside. What kind of images had she conjured in her friend’s head?
Not one to give up on anyone, Rita tried again, “Maybe you should talk to Mrs. Goodwyn about it then?”
Mrs. Goodwyn, the school therapist. She was new that year. Joy wondered if she was being paid by some third party like Dr. Kingsbury. Maybe the entire staff was. Not even her own sister could be trusted. At least Ms. Masters, the therapist who came once a month, worked for the government. Maybe she could tell her and…
…and get her father and sisters arrested.
There really were no good options.
She took a deep breath before forcing a smile for Rita’s sake. “I’ll get over it. It just… you know, felt so real and I’m freaked out.”
Thankfully, Rita seemed to buy that and smiled back.. “Then let’s get your mind off it. Come on, if we hurry, I can totally arrange for you to end up sitting next to Jacob at breakfast.” She singsonged the voice of Joy’s crush, using her powers to make rainbow hearts sparkle in the air.
Not even that could take Joy’s mind off of what happened the night before, but she decided to put on a good act for Rita.
Kura watched Maya idly cutting up her pancakes across from her and frowned. She’d woken up to find Maya already up, dressed and idly petting Soot while sitting in their window seat and knew something was amiss. Seeing the girl playing with her food rather than attacking it with gusto while trying to squirrel some away in her hoodie was reason of concern.
She glanced over to Tammy just as her partner in crime did the same. They nodded to one another, then Tammy looked at Maya. “Okay. Something’s up. Spill.”
Instead of flinching or cringing, as they expected, Maya let out a little sigh as if she’d been expecting the demand, and looked around. “I-I’m not sure how much I should tell you. I m-mean, it’s not really just me that it’s about.”
Tammy made a face. “Is it Eddie? Did Eddie do something to you? Because me and Kura will totally test that luck factor of his if he did. You know that, right?”
Maya made and eeping sound and waved her hands frantically. “No, Eddie didn’t do anything, I swear. It’s just…” She returned her attention to her pancakes. “Remember the stuff that went on over spring break last year?” The other two nodded, “Well I learned more about it last night. A lot more.”
“And it’s… bad?” Kura guessed.
“Kinda bad…” Maya looked guilty, “But really interesting too. You know how the Nazis got the SD-108 genes from something magical? It turns out that it was some kind of fire-genie thing. But it k-killed a lot of people…” Her tone wavered between interest and fear.
Kura and Tammy shared another look. Tammy raised a finger to reign Kura’s reaction in before asking, Maya, “Would you feel bad if we said how awesome that is? The fact that you’re part genie, not the killing people.”
Maya shook her head. “L-like I said, it’s really interesting. I mean, obviously, that t-thing wasn’t my great-grandma or anything, but if someone was able to splice the genes of one completely different species in 1940… well it changes everything…”
“Yeah, I guess you can ask Dr. Jerkberry that in class—So can you grant wishes now?” Kura blurted out. She frowned when she saw Maya wince. “What? Maya, I was kidding! Even if you can, I promise I won’t ask for anything… except maybe getting my driver’s license. For some reason, none of the teachers wants to be my instructor.”
Looking around again in case someone might be listening, Maya leaned forward. “T-that’s not the problem… uh, and no, I don’t think I can grant wishes. No, see that’s not all I learned last night. I learned about the bad guys too. Who s-some of them are.”
Leaning in as well, Tammy gestured for her to continue. “And?”
A sound like a strangled squeak escaped Maya’s throat. “I don’t know if I should tell you. I-it’s pretty terrible and I’m not the only one who found out, and I think it really hurt her?”
“Her?” Kura asked. Maya immediately slapped her hands over her mouth. Soot in the meantime had scaled down the side of her cheek using a strand of hair as a rappelling line, and had landed on the pancakes, laying waste to them in a fiery little frenzy.
“Steampunk?” Tammy hazarded a guess. “Is that why she decided to eat in the common room instead of coming down to the cafeteria?”
Very briefly, Maya wondered if Steampunk felt bad about what she’d done. Very briefly. Intellectually, she knew that Steampunk (should she still think of her as ‘Alice’?) didn’t understand what she’d done wrong or event hat it was wrong. As far as the strange girl was concerned, she’d given them important information and the emotional ramifications were as far beyond her understanding as calculus was to a horse’s.
She let out another helpless sigh and shook her head. “N-no.”
Still leaning toward Maya, Tammy squeaked her eyes closed for a second before opening them and saying, “Maya, I get that you don’t want to tell someone else’s business, so let me ask this: is it our business? I mean, we got attacked b those guys too, right? And those fake FBI guys that came after you might decide they’re interested in someone else at the school, right?”
Maya couldn’t argue there, especially since things were a lot closer to home than Tammy even guessed. “Um… actually i-it’s worse than that. They’re here. In the school.”
As she feared, Kura was already looking around the cafeteria, scouting for enemies. Her eye, of course, fell to the table where Betty and her friends were eating. “Oh please tell me it’s the hairball. Pranks are fun, but it’d be so awesome if we could fight her.”
“No!” Maya said, then snapped her mouth closed when she realized how loud she’d been. “I-I mean it’s not Betty. It’s not a student here… though it might hurt a student here if it got out.”
“’If it got out’? Maya, it’s kind of got to get out if there are bad guys here at the school. They tried to kidnap you how many times now?” Tammy’s voice was starting to rise and Maya tried desperately to signal her to quiet down.
“I know…” The problem was that she did know. Tammy was making lots of sense. Going to someone in charge like Ms. Brant or even Mr. Liedecker was the right thing to do. But the right thing to do ended with Joy losing her family—maybe her entire family depending on if they were all working for her father like Steampunk suggested.
“…but it’s more complicated than that. I know I could get kidnapped, but this other person could lose a lot more than that. I never had any sisters or brothers, but I know how it felt to lose my parents and I can’t do that to her.”
Even Kura stopped what she was doing at that, though Maya could almost see her mind hard at work. “Who has brothers and…” Her lips formed a perfect ‘O’ as she started casting around, finally finding the person she was looking for at a table with Rita, Jacob, Phil and Phineas. Everyone at the table seemed focused on the girl in question, who hunched over her breakfast of assorted fruit and wasn’t saying much.
“Fuzzbutt?” She asked, turning back to Maya. Then her expression turned sorrowful. “Aw crap, that means her sister’s one of the bad guys? But she’s cool! I don’t even like programming, but I like her class. Last week, she taught us how to make the speakers make fart sounds that sing the national anthem! Why couldn’t it be Dingleberry or someone not cool?”
Maya shrank a little in her seat. “Well actually… he’s kind of in on it too.”
Tammy’s eyebrow twitched. “Seriously? How many teachers here are crooked then?”
“I think only those two?” Maya offered, unsure herself. “And they’re not working together… at least I don’t think. Look, I can explain it to you, but you need to promise not to tell anyone until I have time to figure out what to do, okay?”
Leaning back in her seat, Tammy looked down at her own pancakes. “I don’t like it. This place is supposed to be safe. No mad science crap, or trying to make us super-soldiers. The bad guys are supposed to be outside. I mean, the teachers, they’ve got the run of the building, basically? And they can set up field trips, and tutoring—lots of ways they can get someone here alone. I don’t wanna be the jerk here, Maya, but a lot of people are in danger here and I don’t think I could even think of talking to my brother if I didn’t say ‘no’ to this.”
“Your brother?” Kura asked, giving her an odd look.
Scoffing, Tammy looked away casually. “Yeah, you know how much of a comic book geek War is. Ever since he heard I had powers, he’s had a lot of hopes I’d be this awesome superhero… and I kind of wanna live up to that, okay?”
“By being a stick in the mud?” Kura chirped.
Tammy glared. “Hey, I’m still fun, but seriously: kidnappings.”
“Or…” Kura said with a smile on her face.
“Or what?” Tammy asked, turning her attention to the other girl.
That mischievous smile only grew. “Ooooor we do the protecting. We make sure neither one of them gets any kids alone. We keep tabs on them—and get lots and lots of proof so the cops can just stick ’em under the jail when we do turn them in. We’d be like superheroes ourselves—secret superheroes.”
Maya gave her an incredulous look. “H-how do you expect the three of us to do all that?”
With a wink, Kura gestured broadly with her fork. “Who said the three of us? It’s not just us that’s on on part of this secret. Fuzzy knows about her sis and stuff, and Steamy knows everything. Plus Gracie knows about everything that happened over spring break.”
“Olivia.” Maya corrected automatically. “I mean wait—we can’t drag her into this.”
“She didn’t mind getting dragged in before.” Tammy pointed out, “… you know, much.”
Maya gave her a worried look. “You’re in favor of this?”
“It’s better than doing nothing and keeping it a secret.” said Tammy. “Plus, this is really more my style anyway. Especially the part where we get to screw up whatever Dr. Kingsbury has planned. I’m being totally serious when I say that high school got 100% better now that I know he’s actually evil.”
Groaning, Maya rested her chin on her hands, elbows on the table. “You two are going to do this wh-whether or not I help, aren’t you?” The pair both nodded, sealing Maya’s fate.
“But first…” Kura said, scrutinizing Joy from a distance. “We need to do something about Fuzzy over there. If she’s going to help us, she needs to be less Sadsville.” She grinned and winked at the other two again. “But don’t worry: leave that to me.”
Both Maya and Tammy felt chills going down their spines at that.
Later that day, in a darkened study room with all the shades drawn, a digital projector threw Joy’s student ID photo up on the wall.
“This is our target: one Joy Louise Duvall aka Cryptid, better aka Fuzzy or Fuzzbutt.” Kura hadn’t been able to find a telescoping pointer and didn’t know exactly what they were called to order one, so she was using a stick from one of the alanthus bushes on campus to do her pointing.
“Current status: bummed. The reasons for said bummed feeling is on a need-to-know basis, but it’s this unit’s job to un-bum her by any means necessary, with extreme prejudice, dead or alive.”
A hand when up in the group.
“The Gnome is pretty sure being dead will not improve her happiness. Never had The Gnome seen a happy zombie.”
Kura blinked, then nodded. “Good point. Alive then. And probably unhurt. Definitely unhurt. But anyway, you were all handpicked by me for your personal achievements in the field of being awesome. Awesome is a must when it comes to cheering people up and awesome we shall be. Now in case some of us haven’t met before…”
“Dude, I’m pretty sure we’ve all met. The school only has like a hundred kids in it total.” Zane pointed out.
“Hey. I spent all of English class writing up these cool intros and I’m gonna use ’em!”
“Good.” Kura nodded sharply. “Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the team. The Gnome, aka… uh… Leroy…Mc… Gnomerson?”
“Just The Gnome.”
“Whatever. Master of the gnomely arts. There’s a twisted brain under that pointy hat and size-shifting adds much-needed sneakiness to the team.
“Ragamuffin, aka Zane Springfield: textile telekinetic for added alliterative appeal (hey, it was English class, remember?). Cloth control is perfect for pranking while his palmtop brings the electronic excellence.” It was, in fact, his palmtop she was using to project Joy’s picture.
“The Synesthetic, aka Rita Clay Thomas: her ability to conjure light from music makes her great at parties and this should probably involve a party. Also, she’s the target’s roommate, which is all sorts of useful.
“Yeah, let’s not use my name.”
Kura growled under her breath. “You guys just aren’t in the spirit of this. Fine. Plant guy. Um… I didn’t write any more because the bell rang. Anyway, now that we all know each other and our mission, it’s time for Operation: Fuzzy Cheer to begin! And I’ve got a plan!”
“It was my plan.” Rita pointed out.
“And now I have it, so nyah.” Kura replied, sticking her tongue out.
To Be Continued…