Eun charged, chopping the air with her hands like the T-1000. She grabbed Cole Johnson and bucked him forward, hip-tossing the jock like he was a five-year old schoolgirl.
Blake’s face twisted with rage. “FUCK HER UP!”
A mass of idiots surged toward Eun. Peter gaped as she locked arms, twisted spines, and wove them into a tangled mess. Blake dropped his knife and threw some ham-handed punches. She dodged them easily, flitting from side to side in graceful twitches. She waited for a hook, bobbed it, then pushed his chest at the exact right moment—when the momentum of his swing squared up his body. He bumbled back into another jock.
“PETER!” Eun cinched her biceps around four sets of arms. “SAVE REPTAR!” She jerked her waist and let go, sending a quartet of douchebags rolling across the floor.
Peter ran to the chimp and peered in his eyes. His right pupil was larger than his left—a clear sign he’d been concussed. “Motherfuckers,” Peter hissed. “Come on, buddy. Let’s get you in your cage.” He squatted, looped Reptar’s arms over his shoulders, then pushed to his feet and piggybacked the chimp.
Peter walked into the hall and took a left. A second later, he felt Reptar fishing through his pockets. From the corner of his eye, he saw the chimp withdraw a baggie of double O negative.
Too late. The chimp gulped a handful of pills—enough LSD to send him into hyperspace on a rainbow-scaled unicorn. He jumped down off Peter’s back. The teen took a reflexive step back.
Reptar grinned and shook his head, as if he’d remembered something completely obvious.
“You okay, buddy?” Peter asked tentatively.
Reptar threw him a big ol’ grin along with a double thumbs-up. His pupils were the same size—they’d both evened out.
Peter was astonished. The double O negative…somehow, it cured his concussion.
As they continued down the hall, Peter kept an eye on his simian companion. Other than a couple of bumps and bruises, he seemed fine. Every so often he’d giggle or snicker.
They took another left—into the science hallway—and Reptar slipped into a darkened classroom.
“Hold on!” Peter hurried to catch up. “That’s not where we’re goi—”
Automated lights clicked on, illuminating rows of desks and a trio of blackboards. Reptar walked past the desks and stared intently at the boards. On the rightmost slate, a mess of data funneled into a giant question mark, ringed by a pair of bold, chalky circles. Peter wasn’t sure, but it seemed like a solution for dark energy, as well as a lapse of causality within a region of sufficient density…
Reptar grabbed a dusty eraser. He rubbed out the question mark, then the circles.
“Hey!” Peter yelled. “Don’t mess with—”
The chimp clicked chalk across the slate, filling the just-erased space with a complicated scramble of numbers and letters. Once he finished he redrew the circles, bounding his contribution with a pair of thick, strong lines.
Peter examined the math. His eyes widened.
“Reptar,” he whispered. “Did you just unify quantum physics and general rel—”
“ON THE FLOOR! ON THE FUCKING FLOOR!”
Gun-toting robots burst in the room—a lot like the ones from the movie Chappie, only markedly sleeker and more segmented. Peter stepped in front of Reptar and spread his arms, shielding the chimp from certain death.
“He’s not dangerous! He’s not—”
“He’s not a threat!” Peter shouted. “He’s just scared!”
One of the bots retracted its shotgun, clacking it onto a spinal cradle. It tromped forward and shoved Peter aside. Another grabbed Reptar by the elbow, then turned and faced its mechanized leader.
“Stand by.” The team leader stilled. A second later, he said, “Just got word—put it down.”
“NO!” Peter writhed in the grip of his synthetic captor.
“Find a tarp.” the leader added. “Keep it clean.”
“Check.” The drone pulled Reptar towards the door. Before the robot could touch the knob, the door swung inward. The machine-man took a half-step back.
Holly Dent stood tall in the entryway. She assessed the drones with a skeptical gaze.
“Move.” The team leader jerked his rifle to the right. “Now.”
She gave Reptar a suspicious once-over. “Why have you beaten this hairy half-human?”
One of the drones grabbed her shoulder. Her response was instinctive: her hand went up, over, and gripped its palm. Her other hand rose, ready to brace against the pinkie-side and place her attacker in a painful compliance hold. The robot, however, wasn’t subject to human weakness; it held her in place despite her struggles.
“Boss, this is Holly Dent. Her dad is—”
“I know who she is.” The leader extended its off-hand, palm out. “Look, kid: we’re trying to get Fido back in his—”
“UNHAND ME!” she roared. “YOU WILL RUE THIS DAY, MACHINE-SPAWN!”
The bot holding her asked, “Why’s she talking like a Lord of the Rings character?”
The team leader shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. Take care of the chimp and—”
“RUUUAHHHH!!!” Holly’s eyes crackled red. She punched her thumbs in her captor’s eyes, gouging his optics with her glowing fingers.
The drone fell to its knees, emitting a loud series of buzzy squawks. “Servos offline! I caaAAAAAAANNNnnnn’ttttttttzzzzz…” It thudded onto its side, jiggling and twitching in fitful jerks.
Guns snapped up, sighting squarely in on Holly’s face.
“NO!” the team leader shouted. “She’s just a kid! Safe your weapons and—”
Holly’s eyes blazed with energy. She muttered something sibilant, then impaled the drone to her right with a glimmer-lit hand.
“FUCK!” the leader yelled. “Nonlethal! Take her down!”
The robots charged, palms cracking and popping with blue lightning. Holly sank to a haunch and threw a low straight kick, collapsing a polymer knee with her incandescent sole. She shot up and threw a double crescent kick—outside with the right, inside with the left—and decapitated two commandos with her magically charged feet. She kept spinning; as her torso angled down, her straightened leg whipped around and sheared completely through a robot’s neck.
“Holy SHIT! Sonics and microwaves, right the fuck—”
Before the leader could say now, Holly decimated three more commandos. Reptar, still in the grip of double O negative, punched the air and hooted encouragingly. For her coup de grace, the cheerleader leapt and twisted into a 720° spin. Her light-limned heel carved a flashing arc before it slashed through the team leader’s head.
The decapitated robot banged against a desk, then crumpled to the floor.
Holly loomed above her fallen enemies, the light fading from her hands and feet. After a long pause, Peter approached, his sneakers crunching on broken circuitry.
“Holly? You uh…you okay?”
She locked eyes with him. “Who is this ‘Holly?’ ”
Peter halted. “Um…what do you mean?”
She looked down, regarding her chest with a furrowed brow. “Orgoth’s balls,” she muttered. “Why am I female?”
Holy shit. Peter suddenly understood. Maybe not the why and how, but the what. Whoever he was looking at wasn’t Holly. He (or she or it) had possessed her body.
“Who are you?” he asked roughly. He started forward, intent on shaking her, but she stopped him cold with a murderous glare.
“Mind your tone, lest I rip your tongue from your insolent skull.” Something in her voice went a step beyond bluster; his anger was replaced by stone cold dread.
“I’m…I’m sorry,” he stammered.
She took a knee and inspected her kills. “Who would summon demons such as these?” She picked up a head and turned it back and forth. Its right eye had been knocked out—the socket was lighting with fitful sparks.
“ANOS,” Peter said. “They’re using less people and more of these remote-operated—”
“Anus? These machines were spawned from the depths of a rectum?” Her expression turned thoughtful. “Hard to believe, but I suppose it’s possible…”
“Not anus—ANOS. Ah-NOHSS. Although you’ve touched on the source of a billion jokes.” Peter chuckled nervously.
She dropped the skull and rose to her feet. “ANOS—that’s the name for their demon overlord?”
“Close enough.” He nodded at Reptar. “Come on—let’s get him back in his cage.”
After returning Reptar to his enclosure, they raced over to Peter’s house. He got on his laptop and went to work, using NSA-derived software to hack into Atherton’s security cameras. The chimp hadn’t hurt anyone, but still—wrestling with students wouldn’t paint him in a positive light.
“Gimme a minute,” he muttered. “Gotta wipe the cams.”
The cheerleader gave him a puzzled look. “ ‘Cam?’ Is that a device in your magical scrying machine?”
Peter punched a final command into the keyboard, then turned in his chair and studied her closely. A dozen possibilities ran through his mind—retrograde amnesia, subsurface persona, deep-mind hypnosis—but he pushed them aside and asked a single question:
“Who are you?”
She calls herself something out of World of Warcraft. When she fought those robots, her hands and feet were coated in magic light.
“Where are you from, Kor’Thank?”
“I was born on Elithia, in the Seventh Age of the Fourth Epoch, in the northeast corner of the Highholder Wilds. I’ve answered your questions, wizard, now you answer mine: what do you call this strange realm?”
Peter couldn’t speak. A few seconds later, he found his tongue.
“Earth. It’s called Earth.”
He cradled his head in both his hands.
What the fuck have I done?
Kor’Thank eyed the discarded cans of Axe Body Spray, the scattered stacks of yellowed comic books. Her gaze settled on a tactical tomahawk, half-buried in a pile of dirty laundry. She picked it up and hefted it approvingly.
“A bit small,” she grunted, “but well-fashioned. Who is your blacksmith?”
Peter wasn’t listening; he was slumped in his chair, staring at the floor. “How the hell could—”
Kor’Thank spun the tomahawk, dancing it around her torso a dozen times. She whirled into a tornado kick and landed in a crouch, holding the weapon in coiled guard.
“Whoa!” Peter bolted to his feet. “How’d you do that?”
She rose to her feet. “The vorpal storm? ’tis a basic movement. Did your warrior-priests not teach it to you?”
He chuckled disbelievingly. “ ‘Warrior-priests?’ I learned some jiu-jitsu off YouTube, but that’s about it. I’m not sure how they do things on your world, but—”
“What is your name, wizard?”
“Chongha Peter Lee. Just to be clear, though, I’m not a wizard. And these aren’t ‘scrying machines.’ ” He gestured at his laptop. “They’re called computers. My friends call me Peter, by the way.”
“I see.” She examined the tomahawk’s black-steel head.
Peter rubbed the back of his neck. “We can’t call you Kor’Thank, okay? Make sure you answer to Holl—”
“Why not?” she asked irritably.
“It’s not normal. Not around here, anyway.”
A dismissive scoff. “I am a warrior-king.”
“As a king and a warrior, shouldn’t you know your enemy and terrain, and navigate them accordingly?”
She wagged the tomahawk. “A canny sentiment, Peter of Clan Lee. You’re not a wizard…a strategist, then?”
“A strate—” He shook his head. “Dude, I just turned eighteen.”
“When I was eighteen, I had slaughtered o’er a hundred foes. Age is but a—”
“Cool story,” he blurted. “But as long as you’re here, answer to Holly, ok? Holly Dent.”
Her gaze narrowed. “I think not.”
Peter rubbed his eyes with a thumb and a forefinger. “Look: you’re in Holly’s body, so if anyone asks—”
“They would do well to watch their insolent tongue, lest I rip it from their pox-ridden—”
Peter threw his hands up. “That’s not how it works here! You have to play along to get along!”
“ ‘Play along to—’ ”
“You have to compromise.”
A mistrustful stare. “That is not to my liking.”
He sighed again. “This isn’t a world where might makes right—you gotta use your brain. Which means don’t shit on our quaint traditions.”
“I will respect your ways,” Kor’Thank replied stiffly. “But I refuse to answer to ‘Holly Dent.’ It sounds deceptive. It sounds…”
“Two-faced?” Peter grinned. “Couldn’t agree more. I used to joke she was Harvey Dent’s twin sister.”
“Who is this Harvey—”
He cut her off with a wave. “Doesn’t matter. Anyways, let’s think of a name for you. ‘Kor’Thank’ doesn’t really blend with ‘Marissa’ or ‘Paisley.’ ”
“I care little for your sheep-minded titles,” Kor’Thank grumbled. Then her eyes lit with cautious hope. “What about Kora?”
Peter raised a finger, ready to shoot down whatever crazy-ass suggestion she might come up with, but then he lowered it and stroked his chin. “Kora. Yeah…that’ll work.” A wary nod. “Kora it is.”
“Good. ‘Holly’ sounds evil and tricksy.”
Peter laughed. “Like I said: couldn’t agree more.” His brow wrinkled. “Where is Holly? The real Holly, I mean.”
Kora’s expression turned grim and foreboding.
“The Karnaggi Desert. Or so I believe.”
Here’s the link to the book on Amazon: Kor’Thank: Barbarian Valley Girl