Chapter 2, 35: Games
The intercom crackled. Chris almost ignored it, tense with anticipation of news from the battle in Europe. But the Drama Club had been called to the principal’s office one-by-one for the last hour, until only Mario was left. Now, ten minutes before the 2:30 bell, it was his turn.
Tyrell nudged Chris. “Mario’s so going to get it.” Chris looked over. Tyrell was grinning, but Chris could see the fear behind his eyes. Was this how his aunt and uncle felt every time their kids went on missions?
“Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” Chris answered. “Did you notice that I used my sarcastic tone when I said ‘nice?’” It was the best joke he could think of, off hand, and he was eager for a distraction.
Tyrell said, a little louder, because two Savannahs and Babs were themselves taking even more loudly and anxiously, at the other end of the Danger Room, and you could hardly hear anything else, “No, I did not. I mistakenly assumed that you and Mario were bonding over being big, brooding tough guys.”
“I do not brood. I’m meditative!” Chris protested.
Billy spoke from the side. “You do brood. And not just today.” Billy made some indecipherable gesture in the direction of where the continent of Europe might be. “It’s because you feel ways about stuff.”
“What?” Chris asked.
“Futurama taking a shot at Breakfast Club,” Billy explained.
“What?” This time, Chris and Tyrell said it together.
“Yeah, what I thought,” Billy said.
“Besides, you’re one to talk,” Chris noted.
“Brooding loner is my schtick, dude. It’s why I chose ‘Wolverine Boy’ as my code name.”
Tyrell looked puzzled. “Oh. I thought it was because of the knives and the healing factor.”
“No, anyone who lives as long as me has a healing factor. The knives are something I can do because of the healing factor. The Wolverine tribute is because we’re both long-lived guys who’ve, like, been there and done it.”
“You have not!” Tyrell protested.
“Hey! I’ve ridden across America, like, a dozen times!”
“So has Forrest Gump.”
Chris interrupted. “Who?”
“Just be glad you don’t know,” Tyrell answered.
“I’m nothing like Forrest Gump,” Billy protested. “For one thing, he jogged. I rode my motorcycle.”
Tyrell smirked. “You’re exactly like Forest Gump,” then stepped back hastily into Chris as Dora Guzman led her classmates into the Danger Room. The fans from Pemberton Elementary contingent was here. Chris wasn’t sure how much Bruce, Charlotte, Dora and Rose wanted to see the game, and how much they just wanted to avoid their last class, but they were definitely coming.
“Do either of you see Mr. Piccolo?” Chris asked. “I want to get this show on the road. Ravenswood sounds like my kind of joint.”
“Ha!” Tyrell said. “Done with being trailer trash and ready to go preppy?”
Chris shook his head. That had come out wrong, somehow. “No, because of the ravens. That’s, like, the stuck-up way of saying ‘crows,’ and my spirit guide is . . . . .”
“. . . A crow that really likes DQ fries,” Billy finished.
“In his defence,” Chris started out by trying to sound serious, “He likes every kind of fry. It’s just that Babs feeds him, so he hangs out at the DQ Drive-Thru. And then Snowflake gives him half of his if he’ll perch on his handlebars while he rides around the mall parking lot.”
“It’s amazing that he can still fly,” Tyrell added.
“I think he levitates a little. Cheating, spirit guide-style.”
Billy spun around and did the hand moves from the pony dance. “Spirit guide style! Hey… spirit ladies,” until Babs reached around from behind him and clamped her hand over his mouth.
“Gangnam Style is, so, like, five minutes ago. They’ve even done it on Dancing With the Stars. Remember that, Tyrell? Where’s Mr. Piccolo?”
Tyrell shrugged. “Maybe he’s looking for El Professore. He’s late, too.”
Babs nodded. “Hey. Have you ever noticed that El Professore and Principal Guzman are never in the same room together?”
Chris thought about it for a second, and realised that he’d been an idiot. But Tyrell just answered, “And that’s why they call her . . . . the World’s Greatest Detective!”
“Who calls me the World’s Greatest Detective?” Babs asked.
“I do. You’re awesome. Even when I’m being sarcastic, you’re still awesome.” Chris felt his stomach curling with that embarrassment you get when someone is being sincere around you, and Billy made a face for him to see.
Babs smiled, and her face seemed to stretch towards Tyrell, until Mannie Guzman brushed by her from behind, hurrying to open the door to the Danger Room. El Professor came in backwards, holding the bowl end of a massive copper-coloured metal brazier on a stand. Mr. Piccolo, followed, his slight frame staggering, until Mannie grabbed the tripod legs away from him. Mr. Piccolo put his hand on Mannie’s shoulder for a second, then excused himself around the perimeter of the room until he came to the lecture podium that currently extruded from the Danger Room’s floor. He sprang up on it like a gymnast, grabbed the lectern rim, and rapped the microphone in one smooth succession of moves.
The room bounced to the amplified rap. “Good afternoon, everyone. Today’s cricket match is an away game in Detroit.” Mr. Piccolo was far too old-fashioned to call the shiny modern metropolis built on the ruins of old Detroit by its modern name of “Millennium City.” “It’s also going to be a busy night for many of us, so we’re starting the game early. All of you youngsters with your fancy coffees will be glad to know that I owe you a round, as I will be imposing by teleporting you to Ravenswood Academy.”
Then he paused for a long second, resting his sweater-vested chest over the lectern so that everyone got a view of his perfectly-knotted tie. He panned the room intently, his brown eyes peering over his old-fashioned bifocals. “I gather that there will be a spaceship waiting to bring you home. . . . .”
The room broke out in a buzz. Everyone here knew that the Grade 9s and 11s had taken Rosa the spaceship to Munich that morning.
“As today’s mission in Europe was a rousing success,” Mr. Piccolo finished, and the whole room wore itself out cheering. When the Danger Room finally quieted, Mr. Piccolo turned to the side to greet El Professore as the luchadore teacher stepped up on the podium, and then stepped down himself to go supervise his brazier.
El Professore looked around the class. “Today is an important day for our team. It’s our first away game against our cross-continent rivals. Certain people think that the public education system in America is doomed, that the only way you can get a quality education in this country and take home a few trophies is by attending a private school like Ravenswood.” He paused. “Do we think that?”
“No!” The Savannahs, Babs, Charlotte, Dora, and Bruce McNeely said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear that,” El Professore answered.
Chris surprised himself by yelling, “No!” This time, the whole room joined in.
“Okay, everybody, let’s crowd around Mr. Piccolo.” A glowing green double circle appeared on the floor, with weird symbols drawn between inner and outer lines. “Everyone inside the circle, of course. Everyone and everything.”
Chris, Tyrell and Billy hurried into the circle. “What happens if you have a finger or something outside the circle?” Billy asked.
“A demon gets you and makes you watch Dancing With the Stars forever,” Tyrell explained.
Babs, a half-pace away, turned her head over her shoulder and stuck her tongue out at Tyrell.
“She looks pretty good for a demon,” Chris pointed out.
“Cool your jets, lover boy,” Tyrell answered. “You’ve already got a nemesis. Stay outa my nectar.”
The light on the ground flashed, green on their side, red on the other, where apparently someone hadn’t got the message. After a moment, the red cast on the far end of the room turned to green, and Mr. Piccolo began to chant in some weird language.
“Will there be special effects---“ The good old Danger Room under the Tatammy Old Schoolhouse vanished. They were standing on a gym floor of lustrously polished hardwood, with a running track overhead, and the mirrors and stretching posts of a ballet station in the corner. The room was flooded with natural-seeming light from great windows that stretched in a band beneath a high, arching ceiling of lustrous white-and-black metal that somehow didn’t harshen the place, or conceal the fact that it was underground.
“—And stuff,” Chris finished. “Hunh. That was just like science-teleporting. You get a lot more scenery riding a dragon.”
“Welcome, Tatammy,” a lady on the stage that backed the gym said, Chris looked at her. This must be the headmistress of Ravenswood Academy. Which meant that she was the old superheroine Rowan. Chris looked at her in dismay. She’d been one of the prettiest members of the Sentinels when he used to see them on the news. Now she was an old lady. A distinguished old lady, with a badge of white hair at each temple under a tight, grandma-style haircut, but an old lady nonetheless. “I’m glad to finally be able to extend some Ravenswood hospitality to you all.” She gestured at a table set down the middle of the gym. “Please, help yourself, and, when you’re finished, the ‘away’ dressing team is on your left.”
The group dissolved towards the table. Unfortunately, it was a typical sports-day spread, all cut oranges and sliced melons and Gatorade, but a quick search turned up thick grapefruit slices. Chris picked one up. The bitter/sweet/sour taste flooded his mouth and reminded him of his aunt and uncle sectioning grapefruit at the breakfast table and dusting them with sugar with that weird curved knife and serrated spoon. Bruce McNeely squeezed in beside him and turned towards him. He had an orange section in his mouth, peel side out, giving him a weird, Joker-like grin.
Chris looked back for a moment, until Bruce reached up and took the peel by one corner, ripping it free to leave the pulp gripped in his teeth. “Urm blah!” He said.
“Excuse me?” Chris asked.
“Look at her,” Bruce repeated himself. Gesturing over his shoulder with his chin.
Chris looked. Rowan was chatting with Mr. Piccolo.
“She wants me back. And any other kids who can pay full freight. Like you and Charlotte, maybe.”
“We’re supposed to blow through Grampa’s money at Harvard Medical School, not Grade 10,” Chris pointed out. “Besides, there’s no way they pay for this place out of tuition.”
“It’s about networking,” Bruce answered, “That’s what Dad says. Private school is about the social capital.”
“You meet rich people and they get you jobs.”
“Hunh. But aren’t you rich?”
“And the rich people meet other rich people and give each other money.”
Chris mimed pouring water from one hand to the other. “I’m not clear how that would actually work.”
Bruce shrugged. “It does. If there’s one thing Dad knows, it’s how to get more money by hanging around other rich people. The important thing is that I’m not coming back here, and neither is Babs. And that you beat these snot-nosed preppies this afternoon.”
Chris nodded without answering, because he’d just crammed a huge chunk of grapefruit in his mouth, and because he didn’t know what to say. Instead, he headed off for the change room. Jason was there, with John, Jameel and Don.
Jameel, as usual, looked cool and calm. The other three looked like they’d just run a marathon. Jason waved, a little boneless wiggle-flop of the hand that signified, ‘I’m tired. Ask me how tired.’
Behind Chris, Bllly boomed, “Hey, how you guys doin’?”
“Hey, cuz, Billy,” Jason answered. “Wiped out.”
“Can’t believe we have to play cricket now,” Don added.
“Eh, it’s not so bad,” Jameel said. “And we brought Max over to play for Ravenswood, so there’s a bit of a level playing field.
Chris’s ears perked up at that. “You brought Max over?”
“He’s going to be an exchange student at Ravenswood for a while,” John explained. “It seemed for the best.”
“John and Max have a master plan to draw Doctor Destroyer out,” Jason observed. “They’d explain, but your brain would explode.” Jason made a head-exploding gesture with his hands, finishing with a loud, “Ka-blooie!”
“Eh,” John shrugged. “It’s like Max suspected. There’s more to his connection with Doctor Destroyer than being his really smart nephew. Zerstroiten is, well, he's smart, but he's, I'm not sure what the word is, lazy. Or maybe careless. We can play on that….”
“I still think he’d be safer in the 31st Century,” Jameel said, sounding disappointed.
“And I still think that you’re not taking the downside risk of time paradoxes seriously enough,” John answered, sounding angry and impatient. There was a momentary silence, and Jason stared hard at John. “Eh, I’m sorry, Jameel. I’m tired.”
El Professore walked into the change room. “Oh, Lordy,” he began, sounding exasperated, “Do I need to change you guys myself? You’re missing last period so that we can get this game done before dinner!”
“Speak for yourself,” Tyrell muttered. “It’s just a regular Monday for me.”
“Got New Year’s envy?” Chris asked. “You can celebrate Lunar New Year without being Chinese. We’re having the Neilsens and Guzmans over.”
“Nah,” Tyrell answered. “That’s just tradition. You can’t just make up a family tradition. It’s got to be ancient and authentic. Like Black History Month.”
“Whatevs, dude,” Chris said, stripping his pants hastily over his shoes before El Professore started shouting. Auntie Ma said that the first plate of dumplings was coming out of the kitchen at 4:45, whether there was anyone to eat them besides her, Jenny, and Nita, or not. On the other hand, with six hours of eating in store between first plate and midnight breakfast at Denny’s with Henry and David, at least if he was back from wherever Pyandur sent him, it would be good to get some exercise.
Chris was still struggling into his top when he ran out onto the field, which, typically for Ravenswood, managed to be underground in spite of being a full regulation cricket field. Apparently it could also be tricked out as some kind of water polo field for games with even weirder schools, but that was all that Chris knew about that. Water polo! Chris had trouble imagining a more preppy sport, and here he was, playing cricket!
Chris looked around the field, and froze. There was Eve, also taking the field, as the home team batted first. He hadn’t seen her since the morning. He had been wondering if she was going to lie low at the McNeely mansion during the New Year party, but here she was for the game. So they would be confronting her with Babs’s suspicions, after all. Chris’s stomach lurched. This might just get ugly.