Peter approached the podium where DJ Wreckage (real name Stephanie Powalski, a sophomore with a GPA of 3.8 and president of Atherton High’s internationally renowned chess club) was spinning beats. He flashed a trio of hundreds in front of her face.
“ ’Sup Steph. Can I buy some mic time?”
She gave the money in his hand a dubious look. “Holly paid me four grand for this.”
“No problem.” He clicked his phone on, activating its display. “I’ll pay you eight.”
She shook her head. “Not interested.”
He tapped his screen and opened a banking app. “How much?”
“Peter, not interested means I’m not interested.”
He arched an eyebrow. “We all have a price.”
“You’re boring me.” She adjusted some knobs on the upper left side of her digital audio mixer.
He considered threatening her, but decided against it. Steph was a helluva DJ—she wasn’t malicious; she was doing her job.
“What’s it gonna take?”
“Not money—I can tell you that much.”
Fuck. Peter ground his teeth. Nearly everyone here was tripping balls; this was an awesome opportunity to stoke their collective defiance. Not only that, but he was also on the clock; once ANOS realized that their kids had gotten dosed, they’d spike the air with an aggressive counteragent.
“Wait.” He scanned her setup, looking for a cup. “You drink any punch?”
She didn’t look up. “Nope. Why?”
He cleared his throat. “Um, no reason. Hey, I think I have something you might be interes—.”
“I’m working, Peter. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“Check it out.” He held up a baggie containing three smiley-faced tablets. “Enlightenment in a pill.”
She flipped her head, clearing hair from her lashes. “You know I work in nightclubs, right? I’ve had custom-made Molly that’s—” Her mouth dropped open. “Is that double O negative?”
“Bet your ass, doll. A single hit of this and—”
Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t call me ‘doll,’ fucker. You’re the only guy here who uses old-timey detective speak.”
“It’ll catch on someday,” he muttered. “I swear it.” He shook his head, bringing his attention back to the present. “So? What do you say?”
She gave him a suspicious once-over. “Fine. But don’t be slinging any basic-ass rhymes, Peter Lee.”
He dropped the baggie into her upturned hand. “Sheeeit, Wreckage…you ain’t never heard my freestyle?”
“If by ‘freestyle’ you mean ranting into a megaphone like a meth’d up street preacher, then yes. If you mean rap, then no. And do me a favor: stop talking like a sleazy college bro. Faux-urban makes me nauseous.”
“You’re no fun,” he grumbled. “Gimme the mic.”
She flipped it toward him, and he snatched it out of the air. “All yours,” she said.
“Danke.” Peter turned around, taking a moment to assess the gym. The double O negative had taken effect. Dozens of students were gaping at the walls.
He tapped the head of the mic. Bom bom bom. “Excuse me!” Bom bom bom. “Hey, if you could all just—”
Some of the kids laughed. Others reached for imaginary objects.
“EY!” he yelled. “EY YO—LISTEN THE FUCK UP!”
Hundreds of eyes converged on the podium.
He nodded briskly. “Cool. Just wanted to say that everyone here is linked to ANOS—we’ve all suffered from their heinous bullshit. Those evil fucks are wasting billions of dollars, cutting apart freaky-ass lifeforms so they can…what? Invent a new way to microwave protestors? Yo that ain’t us. We’re supposed to—”
Peter pointed his mic at the guy who’d spoken: Jesus Rodriguez, three-time award-winner of Atherton’s annual robotics competition, as well as its fifth-period marijuana kingpin. “That’s right—Jesus knows what’s up. Yo we need to course-correct, because lemme tell you: the way our parents did it? The way their parents did it? That may have worked in the past, but the world’s accelerating—old school shit ain’t gonna cut it. We need to be light speed ninjas…without turning into evil-ass overlords.”
A chorus of “Fuck yeah!”s, along with “ANOS can eat my anus!” and “Holy shit I’m merging with all that is and all that was!” erupted from the high-as-balls partygoers.
Peter shot a finger at Wreckage. She pressed a hand to her headphones and cued up the beat. Peter’s non-mic hand began chopping the air, stealing the show from Kanye or Taylor or whoever the fuck’s likeness was being projected onto the dance floor.
“Open your mind,
Fuck space and time,
Blitz of woke light be spillin’ from my rhymes.
Fuck the Machine trynna shit on us teens,
We breach the side door like a black-ops Falkor
Casting magic spells, rolling 9 D 12s
Blastin’ through ANOS like Mandingo through an anus.”
Rousing cheers filled the gym. Peter turned the microphone outward and screamed, “FUCK THE MACHINE!”
“FUCK THE MACHINE!” the students roared.
He flipped the mic back around. “FUCK ANOS!”
“Sly moves delicate
Light speed syndicates
Troll academic mendicants
With non-dual predicate
Blessed antibodies, forming into letters
Spellin’ out the future of you/we/I better”
His lids drooped. Gorgeous invective tumbled from his lips:
Thunderous approval echoed through the gym. Fists and phone-screens punched skywards.
Peter’s lips widened into an ecstatic smile. Fuck Holly, fuck ANOS, and fuck Blake. Right here, right now, everything was perfect.
When Kor’Thank had been struck by magic lightning, a corresponding blast had traversed the dimensions and electrified Atherton, shorting out the power grid for thirty-three seconds. That was more than enough time for Fido (Fido to the students, Reptar to Peter) to wander out from his alloyed enclosure. As he’d strolled through the halls, he’d broken the glass on two vending machines and eaten seven bags of Lays.
A piercing scream split the air: “HOLY SHIT—FIDO’S LOOSE!”
Peter looked wildly around before he spotted his simian friend. Reptar was wearing a sparkly party hat, scampering across a set of half-folded bleachers.
“Oh shit!” Peter breathed.
He hopped off the stage and began sprinting toward his buddy. ANOS’s security drones would be deploying any moment now. If they got to Reptar, they would almost certainly kill him. An agitated chimp at a high school dance?
They’d put him down the first chance they got.
Reptar whooshed past Blake, who was currently in the throes of double O negative. The jock pointed at the chimp with a shaking finger, screaming, “YOU’RE NOT ME! YOU’RE NOT ME!”
Reptar paid him no mind; he jumped off the bleachers and kick-pushed a wall, channeling his momentum into a sideways somersault. He landed near a table, snatched up a tray of buttercream sheet-cake, and maowed it down in a hungry snap.
Peter surged across the floor, hand extended. “Reptar! Don’t drink the—”
Too late. The chimp plunged his face into a bowl of punch, downing thirty hits of acid in less than a second. Peter skidded to a stop, unsure of whether his primate buddy was about to flip the fuck out.
Reptar’s dripping face emerged from the bowl. “Ook,” he muttered. He pointed at the dance-light flora as it jumped and twirled across the walls and floor. “Ook ook. Ook awk.” He grinned at Peter, and Peter grinned back—this was a manageable situation. He ran forward, intent on embracing his buddy, but was stopped short by an angry shout.
“MONSTER!” Blake spat, pointing at the chimp. Dozens of jocks sidled up beside the jock. A second ago they’d all been tripping on double O negative, but for some reason, the sight of Reptar had snapped them out of it.
The chimp sank into a hunched crouch, eyes narrowed, as if to say, Bring it on, fuckers.
Blake, oblivious to the fact Reptar possessed tear-your-nuts-off strength, cackled with glee.
“Fido thinks he can beat our asses. Time to put him in his place.” He looked over his shoulder at his jock minions, prompting his followers for confirmation. They exchanged fist-bumps, knowing nods, and a few murmurs of tha’s wha’s up.
Before Peter could intervene, they rushed his buddy. Reptar had ignited deep savagery in their meathead minds; the prospect of fighting The Other had turned them from cocky kids into a primal throng.
They tried to swamp Reptar, but he hulked the fuck out. The chimp reared up to his full height of three feet and flung his arms out to either side, sending handfuls of jocks reeling across the floor.
Peter screamed, “Reptar don’t—they’ll KILL YOU!” If a kid got hurt, it wouldn’t matter if Peter got Reptar back in his cage. ANOS would execute him—no ifs ands or buts about it.
The chimp heeded Peter’s warning. He turtled up, grunting and squirming as Blake and his goons resumed their assault. Peter kept running but Chad Renfro stepped in front of him and shoved him squarely in the chest. Peter banged into another jock, clinched up, then three more piled atop him. As his captors stretched him out and pressed him to the floor, he craned his head up, watching in helpless fury as his monkey friend was beaten and pummeled.
The chimp peeked through his fingers, shaking and yelping with each strike. What Peter saw broke his heart; Reptar’s face was sad and knowing. It’s okay, his eyes said. This is the only way.
“No,” Peter sobbed. “NO!”
The jocks hoisted the chimp up by his armpits, and his head drooped forward. A dazed moan slipped past his lips.
“Ooooook….ook ook awk…”
“Let him go!” Peter howled. “You ANIMALS!”
Blake doubled over, braying out laughter. “We’re the animals! Maybe you haven’t noticed, Pete, but we’re holding a fucking chimpanzee.” He shook his head in seeming befuddlement. “Your perception is seriously off.” He reached out and ruffled Reptar’s hair. “This? This is an animal.” He pointed at his chest. “Us? We’re humans.”
“Please,” Peter whispered. “Just—”
Blake chuckled. “You don’t get it, do you? Guess I shouldn’t be surprised; it took a goddamn atom bomb to teach your slanty-eyed ancestors.” He nodded at Cole Johnson. “Get me a knife.”
Cole ran to the nearest refreshment table and grabbed hold of a thick, single-edged cake knife. He jogged back to Blake and offered it up.
“Thanks bruh.” Blake ran the blade across his pants, wiping it clean of buttercream frosting. He held it at eye level, turning it back and forth and studying the edge. “I’ll do you a favor.” He met Peter’s eyes. “From now on, you can hang with us. That way, you can have real friends—human friends.” A wicked grin. “But there’s a catch. A big one.” He pointed at Reptar with the tip of his knife. “Chimp’s gotta go.”
“NO!” Peter strained against his captors, but they held him fast.
“Yep,” Blake affirmed. “Fido’s done-skies.” He grabbed Reptar’s hair and pulled his head back, resting the edge of the blade on the line of his throat. “You lose your only friend, but you gain some new ones. It’s all good; you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few—”
“That’s not his only friend.”
Everyone turned toward the source of the voice.
A female silhouette shone from the gym’s double-door entrance, backlit by the hallway’s halogen lighting. Both her fists were clenched by her sides, and her feet were planted a little wider than shoulder’s width apart.
“Let the monkey go,” Eun Yin rasped.