Pat split off from the group for his next class, leaving Austin and me to proceed to Ms. Warren’s chemistry lab. Among the students, there was a joke or rumor — I was never quite sure which — that claimed Warren had discovered the chemical formula for an eternal youth potion. The first day of class had involved a few minutes of confusion as we waited for the teacher to show up, since the whole class mistook Warren for one of us. She had a good sense of humor about it, at least.
“The school board wouldn’t let a student do this,” Ms. Warren had said, while filling a balloon with natural gas from one of the Bunsen burner hookup lines.
“I’m surprised the school board is letting a teacher do that,” Jade had called out in response, to the amusement of the rest of us.
I still don’t know how she didn’t set off the fire alarm that day.
Anyway, the day’s activities in this class were a break from the intensive catch-up on content from all the snow days. We had a self-directed lab in groups of our choosing, which meant I was working with Austin and Jade — a very slightly worrying combination, but one that was familiar enough to be comfortable with.
“Hey, did that announcement go out to the whole school, or did you hear about it after class?” I asked Austin.
“What announ- Oh, that. Yeah, we heard you get called up. No windows in the computer lab, though, so the Extraordinaire thing wasn’t on our radar. I just thought you were in trouble.”
“Thanks,” I said dryly.
“Out of the three of us, you’re the most likely,” Jade said, dropping a penny into the test tube full of the zinc solution.
She put a hand on Austin’s shoulder. “Because we don’t get caught.”
I shook my head, smiling despite myself.
“Anyway,” I continued, “did you catch any big reactions to the announcement?”
“Big how?” Austin asked.
“I dunno. Any of your classmates seem surprised to hear it?”
“Uh. Maybe? Why?”
“Eh. Just curious,” I fibbed.
Curious who bashed my head in. I would imagine that hearing my name over the loudspeaker startled whoever dumped my body in the river last night, but I had to admit the chances of the culprit sharing a second-period class with Austin weren’t that high.
“So, what’s Extraordinaire like?” Jade asked.
“You’re not getting anything out of her,” Austin lamented. “Take a creative writing class or something, Crystal. Not that you’re boring to talk to, in general, but when it comes to stories….”
“Oh, give it a rest,” I sighed. “Extraordinaire is… um, a lot. A lot at once. Did you know she types all her conversations into like, a note document?”
“What?” Austin asked.
“Yep,” Jade said at the same moment.
“What?” Austin asked again, turning to Jade.
“Every once in a while, those transcripts get published in one way or another,” Jade reported. “Journalists request them, or they get put on the public record for a trial, or something like that.”
“Oh, you make a habit of reading trial records, do you?” Austin scoffed.
“Only the ones that seem interesting.”
I used a pair of tweezers to get the penny out of the acid.
“Can you light the thingy?” I asked, pushing the striker across the table.
Jade snatched up the implement and set to work igniting the Bunsen burner. I plunged the silver-colored coin into the flame, watching it turn yellow as the metals alloyed.
Austin clapped his hands lightly. “Ta-da! A gold coin.”
“It’s brass,” Jade pointed out. “And you didn’t even help.”
“Watched and learned,” Austin said. “I can make one on my own, now.”
“Well, duh. It’s not like it’s difficult.”
“Guys, hot metal,” I interrupted.
“Oh right.” Jade ran to the sink and started filling a cup with cold water.
“Hey, weren’t we supposed to clean that before it went in the fire?” Austin asked, holding up the lab instructions.
“Little late to say that,” Jade complained as she returned.
I dropped the brass coin in the water.
“Well, let’s make another one,” Austin suggested.
“Are we allowed to do that?” I asked.
Jade dropped another penny in the acid-zinc solution.
None of my friends were in my last class of the day, but the whole gang met up after school.
“There you are,” Pat observed.
“Yeah, yeah. You didn’t wait that long,” I said.
“You’re still the last one here,” he said.
I ignored him. “So, anyone got plans for the break? Jade, your glasses, obviously, but besides that?”
“That’s basically the only thing on the calendar,” she said.
“No parties?” Clara asked.
“Like I said, all the good hosts are out of town for the week. I’m probably going to see if I can track down Extraordinaire.”
“Sounds like fun,” Austin said.
“Well, she’s got some charity thing in the park tomorrow,” I said.
The whole group stared at me.
“When did you find out about that?” Austin asked.
“Oh. Well, you know.”
“You specifically said you didn’t ask what her plans in Brandy were!” Jade complained.
Not before lunch, anyway.
“Someone told me during fifth period,” I clarified. I did not mention the someone being Extraordinaire, over text message.
“Welp, who’s down for a trip to the park tomorrow?” Jade asked.
“I can’t,” Austin said. “Packing up this afternoon and heading west at the crack o’ dawn.”
“You’re going to the beach?” Pat guessed.
“Lucky,” Clara said.
“Not if it means missing a superhero, I’m not!”
“I might be busy tomorrow, too,” I said.
“Aw, why?” Jade asked.
“Okay, ‘busy’ means ‘grounded,’” I amended my cover story.
“Lame. Well, want me to get you an autograph or something?”
“I did already meet her,” I reminded Jade.
“Oh, yeah, you did. Huh. You’d think you’d be more excited about it.”
“Well, I know what my plans for the break are,” Pat said, “and I’m going to need to wait in line for them overnight. My brother’s already staking out the GameStop so we can take a front-of-line campsite when it closes tonight.”
“You still buy physical games?” Austin scoffed.
“You can’t download a Collector’s Edition!”
“What game is it?” Jade asked.
“Why do you care?” I whispered.
“Cursebreaker: Light of Madness!” Pat declared.
“So a solid nine-point-five on the scale of one to NERD,” Jade taunted, answering my question.
“Jade, it’s a technological landmark,” Clara pointed out. “You of all people should be up to date on the advances Pishon Industries releases for the public.”
“She prefers the street-level superheroes,” I said.
“Those guys don’t even count as superheroes,” Jade said. “Who are they saving? Geeks, from boredom?”
“They built an atmospheric decarbonizer in Los Angeles and raised its air quality by like, sixty percent,” Clara countered.
“Okay, well. They could’ve built another atmosphere decarbonater instead of making a freaking MMO.”
“Atmos- mm.” Clara shook her head.
“Light of Madness is no mere MMO,” Pat said, winding up for a sales pitch. “For you see, th-“
“Don’t care,” Jade interrupted.
“Crystal, are you getting the game?” he asked, turning away from Jade the instant she shut him down.
“Isn’t it a hundred dollars or something?”
“Oh, yeah, and all you get in return is the most advanced online fantasy gaming experience ever devised by human minds,” Pat drolled. “You’re right, that’s just a terrible deal.”
“Look, I get it, value for money, but I need to have the money first.”
“Are you sure it was human minds?” Austin asked.
“What?” Pat glanced at him.
“Well, Pishon’s full of those, uh, enhanced thinkers, or whatever, right? So where exactly are the ideas coming from? We don’t know how powers work. What if it’s, like, an alien mind, and it’s just feeding info to the host or something?”
“Why would aliens want to give random dead people superpowers?” Jade asked.
“I’m just saying we don’t know all the details.”
“Well, that just means nobody’s going to replicate Light of Madness anytime soon. So if you’re waiting for a competitor to drive the price down, Crystal, you’re going to wind up way behind the level curve.”
“Look, I’ll consider it, okay? I can get the digital version while I’m at home tomorrow, if I can figure out how to budget around it.”
“Sounds like it’s just us going after Extraordinaire tomorrow, eh?” Jade asked, bumping Clara with an elbow.
“…Yeah, alright. I’ll go with you.”
“Cool. Bright an’ early, got it? Wait, what time is the charity thing?”
“Like, nine to seven?” I recalled.
“Wow,” Jade smiled. “Alright, long window of opportunity, then. Perfect.”
Why did I tell them?
I nodded, turning over the possibilities in my head on how I would avoid scrutiny from my friends when I went to the park tomorrow.
“Perfect,” I said.