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 highly competitive chess club) was spinning beats, and flashed three $100 bills in front of his chest.
“Hey 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, activating its display. “I’ll pay you eight.”
She shook her head. “Not interested.”
He shrugged, tapping his screen and opening a transfer window. “How much, then?”
“Peter—when I say ‘not interested,’ I mean not interested.”
Peter arched an eyebrow. “We all have a price, Steph.”
“You’re starting to bore me.” She tilted her head and inspected her nails.
Peter considered threatening her, but decided against it. Steph was a helluva DJ—she wasn’t malicious; she was being professional.
“So what’s it gonna take?”
She started fiddling with her turntables. “Not money—I can tell you that much.”
Fuck. Nearly everyone here was tripping balls; this was an awesome opportunity to fan their collective defiance. And Peter knew he was on the clock; once ANOS realized these kids had gotten dosed, they’d spike the air with an aggressive counteragent. It’d take months before he could circumvent their stuff with something as potent as—
“Wait.” He scanned her setup, checking for a cup. “Did you drink the punch?”
She didn’t look up. “No. Why?”
“Um, no reason. Hey, I think I have something you might be interes—.”
“I’m working, Peter. Hit me up tomorrow.”
“Check it out.” He produced a baggie containing three tablets. “Got enlightenment in a pill…if you can handle it.”
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—”
Steph’s eyes narrowed into slits. “Don’t call me ‘doll,’ motherfucker. You’re the only one here who likes 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. “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-ed 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 to him. He snatched it from the air. “All yours.”
“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 people 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. “I wanna address something that affects us all. Everyone here is linked to ANOS—we all suffer from their heinous bullshit. Those evil fucks are wasting billions of dollars, cutting apart freaky-ass lifeforms so they can…what? Invent new ways to microwave protestors? Yo that ain’t us. We’re supposed to—”
Peter pointed his mic at the guy who’d just 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. 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 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. His non-mic hand began chopping the air, stealing the show from Kanye or Taylor or whoever the fuck’s likeness was being projected on the 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 shouted.
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 eyelids drooped. Gorgeous invective tumbled from his lips.
Punk ANOS’s anuses fuck dollar sign heinousness
Not fistin’ just cripplin’ hail the acid-trip christenin’
Roaring approval echoed off the walls. Fists and lighters punched skywards.
Unbeknownst to the students, Peter’s chimpanzee buddy had just escaped from his cage.
When Kor’Thank had been struck by magic lightning, a corresponding blast had reached through the interdimensional ether and electrified the school, shorting its power grid for thirty 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 strolled through the halls, he’d broken into two vending machines and eaten seven bags of Lays.
A piercing scream split the air: “HOLY SHIT—FIDO’S LOOSE!”
Peter looked wildly around and caught sight of Reptar. His buddy was wearing a sparkly party hat, scampering across a set of folded-up bleachers.
Peter hopped off the stage and began sprinting toward his friend. ANOS’s security drones would be deploying at any moment; he was absolutely sure they’d kill Reptar. An agitated chimp at a high school dance?
They’d put him down the first chance they got.
Reptar whooshed past Blake, who was deep in the throes of double O negative. Blake pointed at the chimp with a shaking arm, screaming, “YOU’RE NOT ME! YOU’RE NOT ME!”
Reptar jumped off the bleachers and kick-pushed a wall, channeling his momentum into a sideways somersault. He landed near a table and snatched up a tray of buttercream sheet-cake. It went down in a snap, coating his mouth and fangs in snowy frosting.
Peter surged across the floor. “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 buddy was going to flip the fuck out.
Reptar’s dripping face emerged from the bowl. “Ook,” he muttered. He pointed at dance-light flora as it jumped and twirled across the gym. “Ook ook. Ook awk.”
He turned, spotted Peter, and a giant grin widened his lips. Peter smiled back. He ran forward to embrace his friend, but was stopped short by an angry shout.
“MONSTER!” Blake leveled a finger at the chimp’s head.
Dozens of jocks sidled up to Blake. A moment ago, they’d all been tripping on double O negative, but somehow, the sight of Reptar had snapped them out of it.
The chimp’s eyes went from wide and wondering to narrow and angry. He adopted a hunched crouch, as if to say Bring it on, fuckers.
Blake, oblivious to the fact that chimps possessed superhuman strength, cackled with glee. “Fido here thinks he can beat our asses. Time to put him in his place.” He looked over his shoulder at his jock minions, all of whom exchanged fist-bumps, knowing nods, and a few murmurs of tha’s wha’s up.
Before Peter could object, they rushed his buddy. The chimp had ignited deep savagery within the jocks; the prospect of The Other had turned them from cocky kids into a primal throng.
They swamped his body, but Reptar Hulked the fuck out—he reared up to his full height of three feet while flinging his arms to either side—and sent handfuls of jocks reeling across the floor.
Peter screamed, “Reptar don’t—they’ll KILL YOU!” If a kid got hurt, ANOS would execute Reptar—no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
As a pair of jocks tackled Peter, Reptar heeded his warning and turtled up, grunting and squirming as Blake and his goons resumed their assault. Peter wormed his right arm free but as soon as he clinched with the guy to his left, three more piled atop him. His captors stretched him out and pressed him to the floor. He craned his head off the deck, watching in helpless fury as his 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, letting his head drooped forward. A dazed moan issued from his lips.
“Ooooook….ook ook awk…”
“Let him go!” Peter howled. “You ANIMALS!”
Blake doubled over, braying with laughter. “We’re the animals! Maybe you haven’t noticed, but we’re holding a fucking chimp.” He shook his head. “You have a serious problem with perception, Petey.” He reached out and ruffled Reptar’s hair. “This? This is an animal.” He pointed at his chest. “We’re humans.”
“Please,” Peter whispered. “Just—”
Blake chuckled. “You don’t get it, Lee. And it’s no surprise, either; it took an atom bomb to educate your slanty-eyed ancestors.” He nodded at Cole Johnson. “Get me a knife.”
Cole ran to a refreshment table and grabbed hold of a thick, single-edged cake knife. He jogged back to Blake and offered it up.
“Thanks brah.” Blake ran the blade across his pants, wiping it clean. He held it up to the light, turning it back and forth in speculative twists. “Imma do you a favor.” He met Peter’s eyes. “From now on, you can hang with my crew. That way, you can have real friends—human friends.” His lips curved up, and a wicked gleam shone in his eyes. “The only catch?” He pointed at Reptar with the tip of his knife. “No chimps allowed.”
“NO!” Peter strained against his captors, but they held him fast.
“Yes,” Blake affirmed. “Fido’s gotta go.” He grabbed Reptar’s hair and pulled his head back. The knife came to rest on the line of his throat. “So you lose your only friend…but you get new ones. It’s all good; you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few—”
“That’s not his only friend.”
Blake, Peter, and the rest of the jocks turned toward the voice. A female silhouette shone from the doorway, backlit by the hall’s halogen lighting. Her fists were clenched by her sides. Her feet were spread a little wider than shoulder’s width apart.
“Let the monkey go,” Eun Yin rasped.