Breakfast Serial x.08

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The skyscraper jutted from the ground, a twisted spire intent on stabbing the sky. Adolescent eyes drank in every sinuous curve, growing wider with each gulp. The teen’s throat kept pace.

He would have scarcely noticed the door to his right swing open, if the motion hadn’t also moved the window through which he peered. His boots dug into the carpeted floor, his fingers into the leather cushions.

“Take my hand.” The driver extended an open palm into the cabin of her limousine.

Mr. Popular, his body sculpture still, studied the seams of the woman’s glove. “What do you want from me?”

“I want you to take my hand.” Selina flared her fingers like a peacock in search of a mate.

“I don’t think so.” Green eyes followed the contour of the hand up the arm, across the shoulder, and to the face of the Dominican woman. “Not until I get some answers.

The driver squatted on the curb to come face-to-face with her wary passenger. “I can tell you’re scared, and you have every right to be. But, there’s nothing I can say or do to assuage your fears. Not when you’re mind’s already run through every possible horror lurking inside that building. So, just know this: if your safety wasn’t a concern, wouldn’t I have harmed you already?”

Mr. Popular sat in quiet contemplation, mulling her words and his potions, as Selina retracted her hand.

“Look, you either come inside with me, or I have to take you back to the academy.” The driver rested her hands on her bent knees. “And, anywhere’s better than there, right?”

The teen idol gave a slow nod, and his body eased. With an uncertain sigh, he stretched a foot to the sidewalk.

Selina stood and side-stepped to hold the door open for the student. “Has anyone ever told you you have serious trust issues?” She pushed the door shut behind him, careful not to slam it. “Don’t they have team building exercises at your school?”

“Who needs?” was Tantric’s means of announcing his return, as he placed his bag of booze onto the coffee table in the senior commons with a thick clank.

“‘m good.” DeathGrip pulled the matte black flask from the interior pocket of the jacket draped across the back of the love seat.

DoubleVision waved a dismissive hand. “My body is a temple.”

Under his breath, the pudgy teen corrected her: “Your body is a wonderland.”

The busty blonde titled an ear toward her peer. “Sorry? I didn’t hear you.”

“Oh, I, uh, I said I’d drink yours, then.” Tantric fumbled to pull a bottle of Corona Extra free.

DoubleVision shrugged. “Your funeral.”

“And mine.” Wavelength accepted a beer with all the delicacy of holding a newborn. “Many thanks, good sir.”

“I’ll take one.” Spatter approached, with a hand outstretched.

“Ditto that.” LiveFeed stepped into the lounge, his undercover jersey replaced by his white polo (collar still popped, of course).

“Are we going to have an issue?” The Chinese teen’s sepia eyes locked onto the French-Creole’s bark ones.

“Only if you start making out with other guys.” The beanstalk snatched a bottle from the bag.

“I was tutoring that kid in history.” Spatter yanked the paper bag toward her. “He was from France. Kissing on the cheek is part of their customary greeting, you uncultured ass.”

“I know what I saw.” LiveFeed twisted off the cap of his beer. “And, so does everybody else.”

“Oh, so you were broadcasting, huh?” The girl in the sundress tore open the side of the bag. “Just like you were every time we fooled around. Admit it.”

The boy in the polo drank defiantly, a smile playing behind his eyes.

“Coward.” Spatter ripped a bottle free from its cardboard container. “You get to act all smug, like the fucking big man on campus, while every guy here thinks I went down on them. Thanks a lot. I can’t even sit through English without Professor Inkwell giving me bedroom eyes.”

“You sure you didn’t suck ’em all off?” LiveFeed wiped his bottom lip with a thumb. “I hear that’s a customary greeting now.”

“You know, I honestly thought you loved me once.” The Asian girl snapped open her Corona. “But, all you ever did was fuck me over.”

“All right, separate corners, you two.” DeathGrip stepped between the feuding exes and gave them a slight push in opposite directions with her gloved hands. “Now, watch closely as I demonstrate how to have a civil conversation.” She cleared her throat. “Good game this morning, Tantric.”

“Oh, thanks.” The pudgy teen swilled his beer.

“Was that your first time playing battle ball?” the Argentinean annunciated.

“Why, yes, it was.” The Polish teen matched her cadence. “But, we had something similar at my old school.”



DeathGrip sighed.

“I’m beginning to have misgivings about our latest admission.” The feline founder toggled the joystick on the control panel ensconced in the end table between the recliners. A four-by-four square of screens in the center of the viewing wall shifted to focus on the pudgy pupil, as the auxiliary camera mounted in the recessed lighting of the commons snaked to find its target. The audio feed from the lounge area pumped into the subbasement all the while.

“You never were one for puerile humor.” The elderly man arched his stiff back and attempted to crack it, to no avail.

“I don’t see what he adds to this class.” The cat twitched his onyx tail, impatiently. “We already have a handful of students who think they’re far more clever than they actually are. And, tactically, he’s worthless. We should have chosen someone with long range offensive capabilities — an area where this particular team remains sorely lacking.”

“We spent weeks sifting through potential recruits, Gregor. Had we found a single blaster of the same caliber we expect from our seniors, he or she would have been our annual late arrival.” The man called Micah tapped the concrete floor with his cane. “We didn’t. So, we were forced to settle.”

“Luckily for him, mastering enhanced stamina clearly takes no effort.” The feline folded his limbs and nestled atop them. “These eleventh hour additions never prove worthwhile.”

“You say that, yet tonight marks the first time in nearly two years that these students have been willing to interact socially as a whole — or at least the majority of one.” The aged founder watched the teen on screen take a sloppy swig from a beer bottle. “This boy may not be the leader — or the blaster — this team needs, but he may be the glue.”

Gregor squinted his neon eyes. “Where you see glue, all I see is a lame horse.”

The elevator opened its stainless maw and spat Mr. Popular onto the hardwood of the tenth floor. The media sensation peered over his shoulder, at the driver still lodged in the mechanism’s throat.

“This is as far as I go,” Selina explained, as the jaws clamped in front of her.

“Great…” The teen idol took a tentative step forward, triggering the motion sensor that cued the overhead lights. Blistering fluorescents blinded the boy with a blanket of blanc.

“I’d like to think so.” The voice was crisp. Feminine. Direct. Familiar.

Mr. Popular blinked furiously, attempting to acclimate. An elongated oval produced itself from the overwhelming whiteness. A table. Then, the chairs around it. A conference room. Finally her. Pantsuit first. Mauve this time. She’d changed. Her fingers were the same, though. Red, white, and blue. The governor. The adolescent media darling slumped. “Oh, hell.”

“Less than twelve hours in, and our partnership is already opening new doors for you.” Her smile was equal parts warm and imitation. Botox paralyzed her forehead from revealing any true emotion.

“‘Our partnership’?” Mr. Popular scoffed, shoving his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. “You think forcing a key on me in front of a rabid press line makes me a tool of your administration? Is that how politicians do their gang initiations?”

“I suppose a formal invitation was never extended. I apologize.” Harriette Hazel took long, confident strides toward her guest, her two-inch heels clicking like a metronome across the maple floor boards. “I am in a position to offer you the opportunity to achieve your potential. You have a unique gift, and–”

“And, I shouldn’t let it go to waste, right?” Mr. Popular glared at the governor. “Because I could do great things? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Because I have. Every damn day since I was six. And, it never gets new. Or convincing. Christ, the more I hear how fucking special I am, the less I want to use my ‘unique gift’. I could give a shit about doing ‘great things’.”

“Ah, the folly of youth in full display.” The elected official perched herself on the edge of the conference table, in front of the teen idol. “I don’t know who harmed you in the past, causing you to build this defensive attitude, but I do know that pushing people away only closes doors around you. If you continue down this path, before you know it, your prospects will dry up, and you’ll be all alone.”

“I look forward to the silence.” The Lebanese teen spotted a stairwell exit and took it.

“He refused the offer?” Micah held the cellphone in front of his thin, cracked lips.

“He refused to hear the offer,” the governor’s voiced blared through the phone’s speaker. “I didn’t even get a chance to put it on the table. He has no interest in this life.”

“A shame.” A taut hand raked the patch of wispy, white hair that clung to the top of the retiree’s scalp. “Thank you for the prompt call, in any case.”

“It’s always a pleasure hearing your voice.” Hazel’s blushing was all too obvious in her tone.

The former hero smirked at the thought of the governor having a fangirl moment. “Goodbye, my dear.” He hung up the call and addressed his in-house associate. “It seems we can cross politician and PR representative off the potential career trajectories for our Mr. Popular.”

“Fair enough.” Gregor was unmoved by the news.

“I suppose he’ll have to settle for being a tastemaker now.” Micah shook his head in palpable disappointment. “Or one of those dreadful people famous for being famous.”

“Let him be a recluse, living in a cabin in the middle of nowhere,” the cat advocated. “It’s obviously what he wants.”

“Would that I could, my friend.” The old man leaned forward, resting his chest atop his hands, his hands atop his cane. “But, society will always be nipping at his heels. Anywhere he settles, no matter how remote, a city will spring up. The more powerful he gets, the more moths and gadflies will be attracted to his flame. They’ll build a sky-rise on his grave, so people can always be close to him — so he can never escape.”

“Are — are you okay?” Wireframe poked her head into the bedroom to address the enlarged encephalon sitting at the desk.

“My functions appear optimal, yes.” Cortex’s emotional display read: “-_-“. “Thank you.”

“Oh. Good.” The diminutive inventor stepped inside the room. “Be…because the party started, and, well, it didn’t feel right without you.”

“I fear, after my earlier outburst, I may be persona non grata.” The big brain folded his gelatinous hands into the lap of his drawstring pants.

“I — I don’t think anyone thinks that.” Wireframe moved closer, her arms tucked behind her back. “I’d miss your presence.”

“What if I am this team’s token loose cannon?” Cortex balled his fists. “What if I explode in juvenile rage again after perceiving some slight? You shouldn’t have to be subject to that display. No one should.”

“You…you may not see it anymore, but you’re still human.” Wireframe rested a delicate hand on the shoulder of his casing. “We all do things we regret. We all let our emotions get the better — the best — of us, sometimes. It’s — it’s okay. I promise.”

A ten-pound paw engulfed the miniature one that rubbed the intellect’s arm. “I appreciate your appeal to logic, but, until I ascertain how to properly apologize for my uncharacteristic demolition and ranting, I think it best that I stay out of sight and mind.”

“I thought you might say something like that, so…” The Indian inventor revealed her other hand — and the bottle of Patrón in it.

“I’m afraid I must decline.” Cortex’s emotional display switched to: “/_\”. “I don’t believe it wise to drink alone with my mood so melancholy.”

“Then, I guess I’ll have to stay.” Wireframe unscrewed the lid.

Tantric took a gulp of tequila and immediately grimaced. One eyelid clenched, while the other spasmed. “Oof.” He put the bottle back on the coffee table. “That’ll put testicles on your chest.”

“You wish.” Wavelength took a slug himself and merely set his jaw as a result.

“The last time we all hung out like this was — what — like, two years ago?” DoubleVision nursed a bottle of Evian.

“Yeah, my first day.” LiveFeed killed his Corona. “The beginning of sophomore year.”

“Christ, and we played Trump It.” DeathGrip took a swig of her flask.

“I love that game!” The bubbly blonde sat up straight on the love seat.

“You would.” Spatter, sharing the chair, thumbed the rim of her beer.

“‘Trump It’?” The pudgy teen, seated on the floor, cocked an eyebrow. “Tell me that doesn’t involve bad toupees or shitty comb-overs.”

“Heh, no. You just try and top each other’s stories,” DoubleVision explained. “Like, the first time your powers emerged or how you got recruited or whatever.”

“Huh.” Tantric eyed the bottle of tequila back on the table. “Sounds pretty ideal for a drinking game.”

Mr. Popular kept is shoulders hunched, his head down, and his hood up, as he pushed through the emergency exit and into the alley that was cursed to forever remain in the shadow of the skyscraper. A styrofoam cup, gnarled about the rim, thrust into his chest. The media sensation could smell its owner — dog damp and sickly sweet, the perfume of the street — before he could see the bindlestiff.

But what a sight, all the same. Wooly gloves with every other finger missing. A dingy duster over a skintight catsuit, unzipped to the navel to reveal a hairy, heavily tattooed chest. Stringy hair held at bay by a black headband, the kind a little girl might wear to a ballet recital. Blood red eyes and sunken cheeks. A beard that cascaded from the chin like a waterfall. He looked like every ’90s hero gone to pot. And, he sounded like a broken record: “I said, ‘Brother, can you spare / Can you spare a dime? / See, I’m down to my last dollar’.”

“There’s twenty bucks and a limo in it for you, if you never butcher a Candlebox song again.” The Lebanese teen fished the brown, beaten leather wallet out of his black-and-white pants.

“Whatever you say, hoss.” The homeless man licked his dirty lips, as the boy sifted through a handful of small bills.

The media darling dropped a folded Jackson into the hobo’s cup. “The car’s around the corner. Tell the driver Mr. Popular said to take you wherever you want to go.”

The vagrant clamped his hand over the top of his cup and galloped toward the street. “You’re a saint, man!”

“And, hey!” Mr. Popular called after the hobo. “Where can I get a decent up of coffee at this hour?”

“I’ll judge,” DoubleVision volunteered, raising her hand and wiggling her fingers. “Secret origins. Who’s first?”

Wavelength plucked the tequila off the birch table and threw back a mouthful. “Banged an alien.”

“Way to set the bar high.” Spatter rolled her eyes.

“I liked it.” Tantric shrugged.

“So did the alien.” The faux-hawked storyteller smirked.

“Gimme the bottle.” The Chinese girl stretched out a hand, and Wavelength filled it. Spatter wiped the lip of the bottle clean with the now-dry cloth wrapped around her right forearm, then took a sip. “I was born with aplastic anemia. Low white blood cells. Low red blood cells. Low platelets. My bone marrow was severely underperforming. To survive, I needed a transplant and fast. My uncle was a match — and a masked vigilante. You might know him: China White.”

Blank stares.

“Well, he was pretty famous in Seattle at the time, anyway. He’s a hemokinetic. He controls blood. Thanks to him, mine now hardens into super-dense scabs, and I hold the distinction of being the youngest successful bone marrow recipient on the West Coast.” The girl in the sundress held out the bottle. “Who can trump that?”

“Wavelength already did.” LiveFeed sat at the opposite end of the room, pulling on the loose threads of the throw rug. “Alien sex beats family bonding every time.”

“What?” Spatter slammed the bottle into the arm of the love seat. “His origin was three words long!”

“Quality over quantity,” the afro’d teen defended.

“Can I get a verdict?” The Chinese teen turned to the blonde beside her.

“Having sex with an alien sounds disgusting, but it is a better story,” DoubleVision ruled. “Take another sip. Sorry.”

“Fine.” Spatter pounded the Patrón. “Happy?”

“Who’s next?” the judge inquired.

“I’ll take a shot,” the pudgy teen, cross-legged diagonally across from the love seat, offered. The youngest successful bone marrow recipient on the West Coast passed him the bottle, and he chugged it. “Do any of you remember PowerCore? It was a Gatorade/Powerade kinda thing.”

“Sure,” DeathGrip piped up. “‘PowerCore powers your core’.”

“Right, yeah. Not the best slogan ever, which is probably why they ran a contest to find a better one a couple summers back,” Tantric recalled. “My brother bet me that I wouldn’t enter, so, you know, I had to. Turned out, I was one of only, like, ten people who did. And…I won.”

“What was your slogan?” the Argentine teen wondered.

“‘High octane for your brain’ or something like that? I kinda just slapped it together in the web form and hit ‘send’,” the new kid admitted. “Anyway, the grand prize was a tour of their headquarters in Chicago. I got to see their bottling plant and sit in on a rebranding meeting and sample their newest experimental energy drink: Fallout. I dunno what was in it exactly — I’m still waiting on the report — but it tasted like ass and bonded with my cells, hyper-charging them. So, I feel like I’m constantly hopped up on caffeine.”

“That’s some Willy Wonka type shit right there,” LiveFeed interjected.

“No doubt.” Tantric nodded. “I’m in the midst of suing them for all their worth, but they filed for Chapter 11 as a counter measure. So, we have to wait for an independent accounting firm to come in and check their books before proceeding to trial.”

“What are you going to do with your winnings?” Spatter was working her way through another bottle of Corona. “Lipo?”

“You’re a mean drunk,” Wavelength observed. “Damn.”

“It’s cool, man,” the pudgy teen placated. “She’s not wrong. My body’s pretty much locked in this form. No matter how much I exercise, I can’t lose weight. If I want to look as fit as I feel, I’m gonna have to go under the knife.”

“That sucks.” The beanstalk popped open a new beer. “But, it still doesn’t trump tapping an E.T.”

“I have to agree,” DoubleVision stated, and so she did: “Take another sip.”

Tantric gulped tequila and wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his lime green windbreaker. “Any takers?”

DeathGrip plucked the Patrón from her peer’s fingers and downed a quarter of it, before settling on the arm of the love seat beside the judge. “My grandfather was a Nazi war criminal.” There was a slight shake to her voice. “He fled to South America to evade prosecution during the Nuremberg trials, like so many of them did. He settled in Argentina and pretended to be Swiss. My grandmother didn’t know any better. He just seemed worldly to her. A European doctor. He took a job at the local hospital as an obstetrician, and the number of miscarriages immediately tripled. He blamed a virus that spread through the drinking water and targeted the weakened immune systems of the pregnant women. The townspeople — they believed him.”

She stared into the mouth of the bottle in her hands. “Why wouldn’t they? He was a doctor, right? He was there to help them, to save them. My grandmother miscarried twice before having my father. My grandfather kept practicing for fifteen years until he decided to spend time with his son before he became his own man. The following year, the number of miscarriages dropped.”

Her gloved fingers traced the neck of the bottle. “My parents were high school sweethearts. They were married at seventeen and pregnant by eighteen. My grandfather consulted on the pregnancy and was constantly at my mother’s side. Her own private doctor, administering shots and pills as he saw fit.”

DeathGrip took another sip. “My mother was a suspicious woman. She never trusted anything that was free, even from family. And, she felt worse with each passing month, after each treatment. Her older sister was a chemist a the time, working in a lab in America. My mother — my skeptical mother — sent her a bottle of the prenatal vitamins my grandfather advised her to take every morning. My aunt called her the next day, frantic and screaming. Those weren’t vitamins at all. They were sugar pills…laced with carcinogens.

“My mother — eight months pregnant with a twenty pound belly — confronted my grandfather, who denied all wrongdoing. He blamed the hospital and the pharmacy, the drug company and the couriers. But, my grandmother wasn’t convinced. She could always spot a lie. Secretly, she emptied her bank account and gave my father the money to get out of the country. My mother was too pregnant to fly, so they took a boat that only went as far as Mexico. Then, they had to hire a coyote to get them across the border, to my aunt in America.”

She set down the tequila and picked up her flask. “A day later, outside of Waco, Texas, my grandfather’s first success came into this world. Since his time in Germany, he’d been trying to weaponize cancer, and I was his patient zero, his toxic carrier. Everything organic that I touch — everything that grazes even grazes my fingers — is riddled with tumors and polyps, malignancies that always end in death.”

The faux-hawked teen picked up the Patrón and glugged. “You win.”

“What happened to your grandfather?” The pudgy, Polish Jewish boy kept his eyes averted, staring at the afghan rug. “I hope nothing good.”

“My grandmother kicked him out of the house after my parents left.” The Latina sipped her flask. “He was found dead in a hotel room in Brazil a few years ago. Robbed and shot through the heart. I was surprised he even had one.”

“And your parents?” Tantric lifted his gaze to catch DeathGrip’s hazel eyes. “They didn’t get deported, did they?”

“No, my aunt kept them pretty well hidden. And, my parents were determined to pass the citizenship test as quickly as possible, so they wouldn’t ever be separated from me. My dad passed in a little over two months. My mom never got to take it.” The Argentinean rubbed the skull and crossbones on the front of her flask. “She died. Uterine cancer.”

Spatter lifted her head in realization. “Because you–”

“Yeah.” DeathGrip bit her lip.

“No wonder you carry a flask.” The Chinese girl had lost her filter to too much drinking.

“This?” The Latina flipped the capped container in her hands. “This is shark’s blood.”

DoubleVision cocked her head. “You’re a vampire, too?”

“Cortex read an article a while ago online about shark’s blood being used to retard the spread of cancer and postulated that it might have the same effect on my powers, keeping the locus in the tips of my extremities.” DeathGrip unscrewed the lid of her flask, pilfered the blonde’s empty water bottle, and poured a stream of crimson into the plastic container with practiced precision. “So far, so good.” The Argentine teen tipped the one-time water bottle to her lips and drank.

“Gross” was the judge’s verdict.

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