Four hours before prom, Peter unveiled his latest invention. “Check it out.” He spread his arms and looked down at his body. He was coated in sleek, circuit-laced mesh, like a high-tech scuba-suit. “What do you think?”
Eun smiled. “You look like a superhero.”
“Fuck yes!” He punched the air and hooted with joy.
Kora put her hands on her hips and gave him an approving once-over. “Not gonna lie, it looks pretty awesome. “You make some for us?’
Peter reached under his bed and pulled out a matching pair of battle-suits. He tossed them to Eun and Kora, who caught them against their chests. The girls held them out, letting them unravel and dangle above the floor.
“You kept them under your bed?” Eun raised an eyebrow.
“You should be honored.” He grinned. “They’ve been drenched in genius-level sperm.”
“Gross,” Eun muttered.
Kora went into the bathroom. She came out a minute later in her suit, marveling at the glimmering light flashing across her diode-coated body.
Eun headed off to change. When she came back, fully suited up, Peter asked, “How do they feel?”
Eun and Kora did some range of motion tests.
“Wow,” Eun remarked. The suit was skin-tight, but didn’t pull or catch in the slightest. “Feels amazing.”
“Agree.” Kora kick-flipped into an aerial twist, landing in a single-kneed crouch. She got to her feet, shadowboxed, then stretched her arms overhead. “Comfort and support, but no bunching or tugging.”
“It’s a variation of a discontinued DARPA project,” Peter explained. “Originally designed as a low-key combat uniform for guys above tier one. They ended up shelving it due to the cost. If you’re paying a hundred million plus, it makes more sense to spend it on a military aircraft than a James Bond super-suit.”
“A hundred million?” Eun blanched.
“And some change,” Peter said.
“Is that a lot of money?” Kora asked. “Are you a merchant?”
“I’m good with my mouth.” Peter smiled smugly. “Let’s leave it at that.”
“Ick.” Eun made a face. She knew all about his blackmail-generated finances. “Yes. Let’s.”
“Let’s see how your prom stuff looks on top of the suits.”
Eun and Kora unzipped their garment bags. Soon they were clad in gorgeous, rich-sheened dresses. Kora’s was red, Eun’s was green.
“How do they fit?” Peter asked. He’d sewn them himself; a note of proprietary concern crept into his voice.
“Good, but…” Eun looked down at her hands, then at Peter. “They don’t cover our arms or our shoulders. You can still see my suit.”
“Ah.” He folded his hands behind his back. “Not a problem. “Just whisper, ‘light-speed ninja’ under your breath.”
The girls did so. Their suits faded, then vanished altogether.
“Whoa…” Kora studied her bare shoulders. “What if we have to—”
“Take off your dress so you can fight in your suit?” A light puff of air blew through Peter’s nose—not quite a laugh, but almost. “Got you covered. But first, there’s a hidden pair of quick-release straps right by your hips. Go ahead and feel ’em out. Careful,” he warned. “Don’t pull ’em—just hold ’em.”
Kora and Eun found the flaps. They pinched them loosely between their thumbs and forefingers.
“Yep,” Peter confirmed. “When it’s go-time, give ’em a yank and the dresses’ll come right off.”
“And the battle-suits?” Eun pressed. “Will they stay see-through?”
“Tempting,” Peter chuckled, “But I know full well you’d kick my ass if I decided to prank you like that. No, each one is keyed to your neurokinetics—when you doff your dresses, your suit will auto-shift into an opaque state.”
“So we won’t be naked,” Kora clarified.
Peter nodded. “They’ll also camouflage you in low-light settings. Not like Predator, but—”
Kora cocked her head. “What’s Preda—”
Peter answered before she could finish: “A sci-fi monster who could turn invisible. Sorry—should’ve remembered you weren’t from around here. You’ve gotten so good with our lingo and dialect that it’s easy to forget.”
“Thanks,” Kora said. “This Predator, though…” A faint smile played across her lips. “He sounds pretty cool.”
“Eighties icon,” Peter said. “Everything old is new again. You guys ready?”
Kora and Eun both nodded.
“Alright. After I change, we’ll head over. Goddamn.” He shook his head, grinning wryly. “Always thought I’d skip prom.” His eyes turned contemplative.
“Never thought I’d ever look forward to it.”
For the big night, Bitefighter transformed into a sleek-ass car. While other students came in cheesy-ass limos, Peter, Kora, and Eun arrived in jaw-dropping style. As they pulled up to the Ritz at 600 Stockton, Atherton students stopped and stared.
BF’s gull-wing doors folded up. The three teen heroes emerged as one. Peter snapped his lapels, drinking in the gapes and murmurs. Kora and Eun looked absolutely stunning. Guys (and some girls) received dirty looks from their prom night dates.
“Yo yo yo!” Peter threw his hands up. “The fuck is up, you half-evolved primates! We ’bout to get cuh-razy up in here!”
A valet walked up, but Peter waved him away. “Nah, son.” He threw the sharply dressed man a disdainful look. “You ain’t laying hands on the muh’fucking Bite Mobile.”
The valet’s lips pressed together into a thin, bloodless line. “Sir, your car is parked in the passenger loading zone. Hotel policy states that—”
“Fuck all that!” Peter sneered. “Hotel policy can take a big ol’ suck on my lemon-scented dick!”
The valet rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger. “Look kid—I just work here, okay? I know your parents are rich out the ass, but that doesn’t mean I won’t call the cops if you don’t—”
“Bitefighter!” Peter looked over his shoulder, right at the car. “Vamoose!”
The Bite Mobile revved three times, then trundled out of the loading zone. The valet stared at it.
“Is that a self-driving car? Didn’t know it could find its own parking…”
“Not your concern.” Peter reached in his pocket and withdrew a thick roll of hundred-dollar bills. He held it up, then grabbed the man’s hand and slapped the money into it. “This is, though.”
“Uh…” The valet stared at the giant wad of money. Everything it represented—freedom, addiction, opportunity, ruin—flashed across his face in the blink of an eye. He stuffed the money into his jacket. “Th…thank you.”
Peter clapped the guy on his shoulder. “Thank me after you’ve done something good with it.” He stuck his hands in his pockets and walked past the stunned valet, humming the LOTR score that played in the background when the One Ring entranced its prey.
He crooked his arms out. Eun and Kora grasped his elbows and fell in step.
“Not bad, Peter.” Eun cocked her head. “The student becomes the teacher.”
“A natural progression,” Peter replied smugly. “And I’m not a ‘teacher,’ per se. I speak the truth as best I can and leave it at that. Hey—” He swiveled his head, catching both his friends in the periphery of his vision. “None of that’s important—not tonight. In a few hours, the world might end, we’re at a high school dance that’s supposed to symbolize our coming of age, and we look like extras in a James Bond gala. We need to have fun, goddammit.”
Kora looked around. “Everyone else brought a date….I would have asked Leona, but her parents are homophobes; they’d shit a duck if they saw her with a chick. You called this ‘going stag,’ right?”
“Wouldn’t say that,” Peter chuckled. “I’ve got two beautiful ladies hanging off my arms.”
“I’m not really a ‘lady,’ ” Kora countered. “I’m kind of both at this point. Maybe I should be the one in the middle.”
“I think it’s perfect as is,” Eun said. “When we first met, Peter was the least balanced of all three of us. We taught him how to find his center.”
Kora said, “And in so doing, he helped us find ours. Gotcha.”
“We’re light years beyond these unevolved simians.” Peter regarded the fresh-faced prom-goers. “They’ve been brainwashed by Hallmark to crave trinkets, live muted lives, and don invisible chains made from debt.”
“How are we beyond them?” Kora asked.
He gave her a smile, authentic and pure. “Kora, our friendship is way more precious. You, me, Eun…our strength comes from something greater. Something noble and undeniable.”
Eun interjected with, “Which puts us in a position to—”
“—help these people.” He nodded knowingly. “Absolutely.”
Eun beamed at him.
Peter cupped his hands around his mouth.
“Let’s get this party STAAAR-ted!”
Holly had been reduced to a shambling machine—a spare, haunted automaton pushing through a phantasmagoric desert. She remembered it was called the Shattered Territories, but everything else was starting to fade. She’d once been a cheerleader, she’d once been a king, she’d once been a victim, a deceiver…
Her memories were flitting shadows, nagging at the edges of her fraying mind. Who she was had fallen away. What she was had come to the fore: a half-crazed animal, hunted by beasts who wore her face. All that mattered was a full belly and safety from her enemies.
Her sanity hadn’t ranked as one of her concerns. At least not at first.
As she slept (early on, she’d learned to cast a protective dome around her slumbering form) she would giggle maniacally. She’d laugh herself awake, feeling a black despair wrap tight around her soul.
Nothing about her predicament was the least bit funny.
A deep blight had taken root in her psyche. If she tried to excise it, she might cut too deep. There might not be anything left of her once she was done.
Or maybe there would be, and it would leave her a pale shadow of her former self: a doddering simpleton, tormented by inklings of what had come before.
There was irony there. And it was doubly ironic that Holly couldn’t grasp it.
And so she slogged and she killed. And she avoided the gaze of her blank, lifeless eyes, staring up at her from the face-stealers’ corpses.
Eventually, she saw it: a bright dot of light on the wind-whipped horizon.