Breakfast Serial x.05

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The black van, its windows tinted to match its complexion, skipped across gravel like flattened flint across a placid pond. Its outstretched wings folded atop its canopy, a beetle at rest, as it came to stop in front of the three-story loft that functioned as the junior/senior residence hall of the Academy for the Advanced. The van’s side door slid open, and out trickled a stream of students, helmets in hand, each more tired than the last.

The final member of the lot had been sleeping soundly throughout the ride home. He awoke only when hit by a swinging satchel — and, even then, he barely stirred. His bleary eyes were of little use in helping to gather the heroic habiliments he’d discarded long before his snooze. As his fingers fumbled to find the top half of his uniform, something tugged on the hood of his black sweatshirt. He jerked his head around, catching a glimpse of his Home Economics instructor holding his hood.

“Seat-backs and tray-tables in the upright position.” The Ten-Second Rule dropped the cowl. “Buckle up, bucko. We got elsewhere to be.”

“What — are you gonna make me the main attraction at a people petting zoo next?” Mr. Popular flopped back into his seat. “Five-ninety-nine to cop a feel?”

“You wish.” The teacher shuffled back into his seat in the front of the cabin, to the right of the driving Deadlift. “You’re gonna be center ring at a 21st Century circus. Hope you brought your top hat.”

“Where’re they going?” DoubleVision wondered, as the van sprouted wings again and flew off.

“Does it matter?” Spatter pushed the door to the dormitory open with a scabbed-over forearm. “He’s probably off to talk a bi-polar baby down from a ledge or some shit.”

“If our abilities are required, I’m certain we will be informed.” Cortex held the door open for the remainder of his team to pass through.

“So, what do you guys do to celebrate around here?” Tantric spun his helmet around his fist mindlessly.

“Maybe watch a little TV?” The blonde shrugged.

“I”ve got a paper to polish for Architecture of Myth,” DeathGrip offered.

“And, I’ve got a hot date with a hot bath.” The blood-soaked teen headed for the nearest stairwell.

“That’s it? Television, homework, and a soak?” The new student gripped his helmet. “Unless LiveFeed’s been putting images in my head, I’m pretty sure we just kicked the shit out of nine artificial assholes. We need to party.”

“What’re you thinking?” The aforementioned projectionist fluffed his afro back into shape with a black hair-pick.

Tantric scanned the quizzical faces of his peers. “Anybody got access to one of those vans?”

“We all do.” Wavelength slung his jacket over one shoulder, barely covering the burn on his back. “There’s an emergency key on every floor.”

“I am not one to impede upon well-deserved revelry. Quite the opposite, I should think,” the engorged encephalon prefaced. “However, if your aim is to acquire anything illicit, may I suggest a slight postponement? Our esteemed headmistress reboots her internal hard-drive at six-oh-five every evening. If you wish to sneak out undetected, that would be the ideal time. In the interim, I shall see to editing and looping footage to ensure the evening’s festivities do not come to a premature end.”

“You feeling all right, Cee?” The Latina’s brow was deeply furrowed. “This…this doesn’t sound anything like you.”

“Whilst plummeting forty-three feet through the air to incapacitate a duo of getaway drivers, I came to an epiphany.” The brain’s emotional display was a steady “o_o”. “I need to have more fun.”

“Time to suit up.” Deadlift slowed the van to a stop and unlocked its doors with the flick of a finger. “This is it.”

A weary Mr. Popular pulled on his helmet and zipped up his uniform jacket, then opened the side door. The press pounced before he had a foot on the ground. Microphones pounded at his faceplate, rocking his head back. Strobes flared, limiting his vision. Hounds, hungry for a scoop, barked questions. Tongues lapped saliva from freshly whitened fangs. Their eyes ate him alive.

A hand gripped his shoulder, startling him from his shocked stupor.

“This way.” The Ten-Second Rule pushed a path through the crowd of camera-ready reporters and their leering lensmen, through a cacophony of queries so slight he couldn’t believe they actually existed. “Your audience awaits.”

The Chinese teen shimmied out of her black-striped jodhpurs, her stiff thumbs peeling the fabric from her sweaty thighs. With a limp kick, she sent the pants to rest atop the boots she left in front of the sink. Her teeth dug into the tip of a glove where white fibers were still visible and tore. The crimson-coated fabric barely budged. She sank her incisors into the crust that connected cuff with skin and gnawed until all she could taste was copper. Her gums bled before the scabby seal broke. Her lips snapped shut, her tongue darting to slurp at the new wounds.

She dropped to her knees and plunged her arms into the smoldering water in the tub beside her feet. Scab scraped against scab, as she scrubbed. The water grew an ever-deepening pink with each scrape. Her gloved fingers, barely free their once-congealed fists, scratched at her forearms, hoping to hit fabric or flesh. Digging her digits deeper into the coagulated crags, she ripped at the scabs — and felt four nails from her right hand snap clean off.

Her jaw clenched. Her fists pumped. A sharp gust of air breached her flared nostrils. Her eyelids fought back tears. And, she slammed her balled hands against the bottom of the tub in frustration. Bloody, sizzling water splashed up her jacket, assailing her exposed face. Panting, she hoisted her hands from the bath and shakily searched her pockets for her box cutter.

She clicked the blade forward and plunged it into the edge of the scab that encased her right sleeve. She pried, wrenched, tweaked, torqued. Finally, a dark flake fell free.

The Latina laid on her back, her reddened torso clad only in a black sports bra that kept her modest bust modest. A bald man with a bushy black beard moved a scanner across the girl’s bare midriff and examined the screen that accompanied the device. His eyes squinted behind half-oval frames. “Looks like you’ve got a bad case of rug burn.” The doctor shoved the machine out of the way. “No internal bleeding. Not much in the way of outward bruising. The new impact suits seem to be doing their job.” He offered the girl a hand, and she accepted with a gloved one of her own.

DeathGrip sat forward on the examining table and winced slightly, a hiss escaping her lips, as her abs folded in on her dermal abrasion.

“Here.” The physician tossed her a tube of benzocaine from the counter to his left. “Apply that twice a day to the irritated area. It’ll help with the pain.”

The teen rubbed a liberal glob of the medicine on her abdomen. “Am I good to go, then?”

He flipped open the file on the counter and scanned the top sheet, then lifted the page to check the next. “Have you noticed any new mole growth since last we met?”

“No.” DeathGrip shook her head. “No new mole growth.”

“Good.” The doctor pulled a pen from the chest pocket of his white coat and marked the second page of the file. “And, you’re checking regularly?”

“Every Tuesday and Thursday morning.” She capped the tube of medicine and shoved it in the pocket on the left side of her pants.

“Good, good.” The physician clicked his pen and flipped through another set of sheets in the pronged folder. “Looks like you’re do for some blood work, but–” He glanced at his patient, who was impatiently tapping the back of her feet against the step to his table. “–you’re probably too dehydrated for me to find a vein.”

“Later, doc.” DeathGrip was already off the table and in the doorway by the time the doctor looked up again.

The physician turned back to his paperwork. “See you in two weeks.”

Reporters hushed, and cameras refocussed, as a forty-two year-old woman in a periwinkle pantsuit crossed the stage in front of a row of seated figures, including the admired adolescent and his instructor.

The woman wiped her salt-streaked bangs away from her black horn-rims and placed her palms on the podium. “Today, our great state witnessed tragedy and triumph. Eighty-two lives were lost, and countless more were impacted by the explosion that all but destroyed Gavin Industrial Park. Nearly one hundred more, however, were spared thanks to the valiant, heroic efforts of the students from the Academy for the Advanced.”

DoubleVision, sitting cross-legged on an overstuffed sofa in the center of the senior commons, snatched the remote from between the leather-covered cushions and thumbed the volume. “Hey!” she shouted at anyone in earshot.

“Hrm?” A passing Cortex removed the web of earbuds latched to his gelatinous hide. “Apologies. I was listening to a mash-up of Mozart and Modest Mouse.”

“Look! Listen!” The bubbly blonde motioned with the remote at the fifty-inch flat-screen mounted on the wall directly across from her bouncing body. “The governor’s talking about us!”

“–ademy had its detractors. Admittedly, I was initially one.” Below the speaker, in the bottom third of the screen, appeared a bar, identifying her as Governor Harriette Hazel (D). “But, the brave young men and women of the school have more than proven themselves an asset to this community. The lengths to which these youthful heroes are willing to go to safeguard our humble hometowns from tyranny are nothing short of inspiring and should be rewarded at every opportunity.”

The enormous mind couldn’t find a suitable emoticon to encompass his beaming pride, so he settled for listening intently, his hands perched on the back of the couch. Wireframe hesitantly crept into the room behind him, not wanting to interfere with the broadcast.

“So,” the governor continued. “It is with great pleasure that I present the key to the city of Glendo to the aptly-named Mr. Popular, the leader of the Academy for the Advanced’s black squad, for unparalleled valor in executing an evacuation that saved nearly a hundred lives and for orchestrating the takedown of gang of thieves who cut a swath of terror through the heart of our homeland.”

There was an emoticon that perfectly encompassed Cortex’s current emotional state: “>.<". His fingers clenched the back of the couch, penetrating cushion behind DoubleVision's head. "Careful...!" The diminutive inventor reached a hesitant hand toward the furious genius, but her gesture was too little to make a difference. The sofa frame snapped neatly in two, a leather and foam wishbone. The blonde, remote still firmly in hand, leapt off the couch, just in time for it to cave in on itself. DeathGrip rushed into the room at the sound of the thud and surveyed the scene. "Jesus, Dee! Turn that shit off before Cortex has an aneurism." "Sorry," DoubleVision offered meekly, before killing the cable box. The Latina held the big brain's shoulders for a moment, calming him, then helped him uncurl his fingers from the cleaved couch. "That's it. One at a time. Nice and easy." " he all right?" Wireframe asked DeathGrip, who shrugged her response. "Excuse me." Cortex raised his hands and backed out of the communal area. "I must go exhaust the extent of expletives in my lexicon, then learn Farsi."

“Mr. Popular, please accept this key on behalf of the citizens of Glendo and its neighboring towns.” Governor Hazel hefted an oversized, golden key from beneath the podium, for all the cameras — and viewers at home — to see. “Mr. Popular…?”

The Ten-Second Rule gave his sought-after student a shove out of his seat, to his feet, and toward the podium. “Fuck,” the pupil mumbled behind his mask.

The governor turned to see the boy’s stumbling approach. “There he is, ladies and gentlemen!” She clapped as best she could while still holding the key. “Care to say a few words?”

“Uh…” Mr. Popular glanced at the woman he barely recognized from local campaign ads the summer before; at the ridiculous key in her red-, white-, and blue-tipped fingers; at the pressgang; at the crowd of onlookers gathered behind them; and, finally, at his instructor, who arched a brow.

“I…” the much-touted teen faltered. “I wish I could accept this, but–”

“Humble and brave!” Governor Hazel interjected. “The mark of a true hero!” She pressed the key against the boy’s uniformed chest and held it there, a smile plastered on her face for the photo op. “Thank you for all you have done and continue to do.”

The Ten-Second Rule stood behind his student and waved to the cameras. “Smooth, man. Very smooth.”

Cortex threw open the door to the dorm shared by LiveFeed and Tantric and flung a keychain at the new kid’s head.

“Half an hour ’til your window opens,” the enlarged intellect informed, more dispassionately than ever. “Get me Guinness.”

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