Peter approached the podium where DJ Wreckage (real name Stephanie Powalski—sophomore, 3.8 GPA, 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 me some mic time?”
She gave the money a dubious look. “Holly paid me four grand for this.”
He clicked his phone on, activating its display. “I’ll pay you eight.”
She shook her head. “Not interested.”
He tapped his screen, opening a banking app. “How much, then?”
“Peter, when I say ‘not interested,’ I mean not interested.”
He arched an eyebrow. “We all have a price.”
“You’re boring me.” She adjusted a knob on her digital mixer. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”
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 chance to stoke their defiance. He couldn’t let it slip through his fingers.
“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 want to—.”
“I’m working, Peter. Like I said: we’ll talk later.”
“Check it out.” He held up a baggie containing some smiley-faced tablets. “Enlightenment in a pill.”
She flipped her head, clearing a lock of purple hair away from her lashes. “You know I work in top tier 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 person 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. “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 from 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 mic. Bom bom bom. “Excuse me!” Bom bom bom. “Hey, if you could all just—”
Some 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. I just wanted to say that everyone here is tied 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 the annual robotics competition, as well as Atherton High’s 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 before, 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 hologram was being projected on 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 skyward. Peter’s lips widened in an involuntary smile.
Fuck Holly, fuck ANOS, 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 the chimp (Fido to the students, Reptar to Peter) to wander out from his alloyed enclosure. He’d strolled casually through the halls, breaking into two vending machines and eating seven bags of Lays.
A piercing scream split the air: “HOLY SHIT—FIDO’S LOOSE!”
Peter looked wildly around and spotted his simian friend. Reptar was wearing a sparkly party hat, scampering across some 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 at any moment. If they got to Reptar, they’d open his head with a goddamn bullet. 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. “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, certain that his buddy was gonna 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 manageable. The teen 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 behind Blake. 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 that 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 the herd for confirmation. They exchanged fist-bumps, knowing nods, and a few murmurs of tha’s wha’s up.
Before Peter could protest, they rushed his friend. 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 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 Reptar made it 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 started running but Chad Renfro stepped in front of him and shoved him 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 helplessly 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 Reptar by his armpits. His head drooped forward, and 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, Pete, but we’re holding a chimp.” 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 fucking 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 a 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 slowly and studying its edge. “Imma do you a favor.” He met Peter’s gaze. “From now on, you can hang with us. That way, you’ll have real friends—human friends.” A wicked grin. “But there’s a big-ass catch.” He pointed at Reptar with the tip of the knife. “Chimp’s gotta go.”
“NO!” Peter strained against his captors, but they held him fast.
“Yep,” Blake affirmed. “Fido’s done-skies.” He palmed Reptar’s brow and pulled his head back, resting the edge of the blade on the line of his throat. “Check it out: 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 five foot three, female silhouette shone from the gym’s entrance, backlit by the hallway’s halogen lighting. Both fists were clenched by her sides. Her feet were planted a little wider than shoulder’s width apart.
“Let the monkey go,” Eun Yin rasped.