Sophie was the first to get into her uniform and thus the first to sink into one of the comfortable armchairs in the far corner of the Cairns Cave. They’d all left their bags on the coffee table in the middle of the chairs and so she reached over to hers, pulling out the battered cue cards she’d been hauling around with her since before this had all begun.
The cue cards held her polite handwriting, the ink occasionally running from the chromatographical impact of the rain, and were held together by a treasury tag in the top corner. She’d written a selection of key words and phrases to remind her what she needed to say throughout the presentation. Memory wasn’t the problem, however. She’d memorised the entire script within seconds of writing it down. No, the problem was standing up in front of the others and doing it. She knew they were her best friends and she knew she trusted them more than anyone in the entire world and she knew that, if they were all drinking lemonade- apart from Chris who only drank water- and sat down here in the cave, she’d have absolutely no difficulty in telling them about the life and discoveries of Stephen Hawking. But place her in that soft spot between the desk and the smart board with a classroom empty but for them and Mrs Carpenter, have the fan at full blast recycling Febreeze odours around the room, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to. She knew she’d be crippled to the spot, just like poor Mr Andrews in his hospital bed, with no hope of ever getting a pass, never mind a merit, never mind a distinction. Why did she have to be like that? So bloody stupid and horrible. She sighed and decided to be more self positive. She didn’t need to hate herself; everybody already did it for her.
“Hey, this seat taken?” Steven asked, wandering over towards the armchair next to her. He was in his full Summoner gear, sans mask, and looked quite ridiculous.
“No. It’s Non-Stop.” Sophie replied.
“It’s a Liam Neeson joke.”
“Oh. Right.” He shook his head. “One of my cousins was named after Liam Neeson, you know.”
“Yeah. My cousin Liam, it was. Not my cousin Neeson. That’d be weird. He always used to brag about it until he realise the Phantom Menace was the worst Star Wars film. Then he promptly forgot he'd ever said a thing.” Steven let out a little laugh, then twigged a glance at the cue cards in her hand. “Revising for the speaking exam?”
She nodded. “Revision makes the world go round.”
“I thought that was the conservation of angular momentum?” He grinned. “Can I help you revise?”
“Depends if you have an cyanide capsules/loaded guns on you. I’m fine, thanks. A problem unshared is a problem ignored, avoided and left till the very last second so that it’ll probably be even worse eventually but as long as it's not bad at this exact second, what does it matter?”
“It’s that kind of attitude that makes us A Star students.” He laughed.
She looked down at the cue cards and tried to continue revising. He misinterpreted this, however, as an awkward silence and so attempted to rescue the conversation with a question to answer his own painful insecurities. “So, you and Chris, huh?” He said. “Fixing computers. You crazy kids.”
Sophie frowned at him. “Yeah. Mr Phillips has coursework to mark so he asked us to help. It’s nice a teacher is actually prioritising marking for once. Hint, Biology, hint.”
Steven did not take the hint. “That must have been nice for you. Getting to spend extra time together like that.”
“Yeah.” She frowned further. “I suppose it was nice. Why are you so interested?”
“Oh, I just want to make sure that Bessie is working to the best of her ability.” He totally and completely lied. "Hate for her not to be running Minecraft to full capacity, right? You and Chris still play Minecraft together?"
Before Sophie could reply, the door swung open and the others wandered through. Chris was yet to eat a Jaffa Cake so his suit looked ridiculously large on him. His hair looked cool enough though and, strangely, felt slightly like fibre optic cable. Ali followed him, the hood hanging around her neck purple so that her costume wasn’t completely a copy right violation towards the CW. Bringing up the rear came Freya, dressed in the darkest hue of the five of them and yet still managing to look by far the most fashionable, in an alternative punk kind of way.
“So, anyway, I say to my mum,” Ali continued, “that’s why you shouldn’t trust her with matches! It was mental!”
Freya laughed. “How did your sister even set fire to your living room?”
“Sounds like it met its match.” Chris grinned.
Whilst the others grimaced and cringed, Steven raised a quizzical eyebrow. “What’s the hot topic?”
Sophie shook her head. “I finally understand why the group chat is called ‘Punslingers’.”
They all let out a laugh, the three standing moving over to take a seat. Freya looked over her shoulders as she did. “Where’s Mr Phillips?”
“He’s gone to warm the Heromobile up.” Sophie shrugged. “He’ll be back shortly.”
“Whilst he’s gone,” Ali said, “I think we have a very important factor of our superhero identity to decide on. Our catchphrase, slash battlecry.”
“Why kind of battlecry?” Freya frowned.
“Like Avengers Assemble or By The Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth or Up, Up and Away! You know, alliterative stuff. Like X-Men, er, well, er…”
“Xylophone?” Chris frowned.
“Not quite. I mean, there are other non alliterative ones too. Like Hulk Smash and it’s Clobbering Time and We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, bit-“
“Language!” Sophie cried.
“Yeah, that’s Captain America’s catchphrase. So, what do you think? Can we have one?”
“I think Avengers Assemble is the best.” Chris said. The others all nodded in agreement.
“So, a name and a verb then? With added alliteration.” Freya said.
“Mrs Carpenter would be proud.” Sophie muttered. “How about Radioactive Anomalies Activate?”
“Gang gather!” Christopher cried.
“Cool gang conglomerate!” Steven grinned. “Now we’re talking.”
“On the theme of that Guardians one,” Sophie said, “what about ‘We’re the Gang, female dog?’”
“I like it,” Freya said, “but female dog is a little too clunky. Are there any other words, besides the rude one, that have the same meaning?”
“How about Ellie Wright?” Sophie and Steven said in unison, massive grins on their faces.
Mr Phillips stuck his head through the door. “Ah! You’re all ready. Fantastic. Come on then. We’ve got a world to save!”
The Heromobile was what they had taken to calling his second hand Citroën Picasso, the Comic Sans MS of automobiles. “There must be some Sixties concept cars lying around somewhere.” Steven sighed, ever the mechanic’s son.
“Stop complaining, will you? We have air conditioning if you turn the radio off.” Mr Phillips replied.
“Please do turn the radio off.” Sophie pleaded. “I hate Capital FM with a vengeance.”
“Did I ever tell you how I listened to Capital FM once and they told the same story about fifty times in half an hour?"
"It'd be ironic if you had and you were complaining about it over and over again." Freya pointed out.
"I haven't heard that one. What happened?" Chris asked.
"Oh well, I was listening to Capital FM this one time- I don't really remember when or where- but it was really annoying because they told the same story about fifty times in half an hour and only played really bad remixes."
"What was the story?" Ali asked.
"Oh." Steven itched his head. "I can't quite remember."
Sophie frowned at him. "Steven, was there any of that story you could remember?"
"I remember it was Capital FM. That's the one with..." He paused for a second, pulled a strange face, and then grinned. "Nope. I was listening to Rock FM. That's it. Not Capital."
Ali sighed. "Are we there yet?"
Eventually, the car pulled to a stop outside a huge building, easily ten storeys above ground and countless below and made entirely out of white marble and glass, sweeping spotlights casting across it and specially cultivated herbological displays- known to normal people as a few bushes- out front. The Picasso came to a stop in front of a parking lot for segways. “Right then,” Mr Phillips said, “masks on and stay in character. Plan is to express our concerns and talk our way upstairs. Remember: The majority of people who work here will be major geeks so the chance to have a shedload of superheroes wandering around will no doubt make them putty in our hands.”
“And if we screw it up, sir can always reset it.” Ali grinned.
They clambered out of the car and walked up the marble steps in the direction of the huge glass doors. They spun slowly and revealed the huge reception. There were a sweeping curve of a desk, behind which android like receptionists were sat reading Dostoevsky and Florensky rather than Hello or Celeb Magazine. Mr Phillips wandered straight over, just as Chris took a bite of a Jaffa Cake. There was a brief flash and Captain Jaffa Cake had joined them.
“Hello there, sirs.” Reiteration Man spoke, his voice of a similar resonance and standing to Truth, Justice and the Gentlemanly Way. “We are aware of a plot to rob your wonderful facility of a brilliant, scientific advancement. As the local superheroes in the area, we wish to offer our services in protecting said science.”
The taller of the two receptionists frowned, reaching out and picking up his phone. He typed a selection of numbers and put it to his ear. “Hello ma’am. We have a selection of, er, well, superheroes in the reception. These ones seem to look quite legitimate. No, ma’am. Not like the last lot, ma’am.”
There was a pause whilst the person on the other end of the line thought and then said something. The receptionist nodded and then said, to our heroes, “Do you have an agent?”
“We’re superheroes not spies.” Reiteration Man replied. “We’re concerned that the contents of Room Eleven of Floor Ten is under threat of being stolen before the sun goes down in, Tempus? How long?”
“Two minutes.” Tempus spoke, consulting her stopwatch.
“In two minutes.” Reiteration Man agreed.
“I promise you that is completely impossible.” The receptionist smiled. “We have the best security in Britain.”
“And the Titanic was unsinkable. Please. Trust us on this.”
“If there are any problems, our security team will deal with them, mister?”
“I’m Reiteration Man. This is the Gang.”
“Hia!” The Summoner waved.
“Well, Mr Reiteration Man, as I was saying… If there is a security breach, our security team will deal with it. Now, thank you for your warning and, unless there is anything else, the exit is the way you came in.”
At that exact moment, there was the wailing howl of the alarms, red lights dotted down the walls flashing with extreme prejudice. Reiteration Man gave a look that said, “I told you so.” Instead of voicing this, however, he simply said, “Fantastic Gang Foregather!”
The Flish exploded into a purple blur, disappearing from sight in the direction of the stairwell. Tempus rolled her eyes and froze time, beginning to walk towards the nearest lift shaft. Captain Jaffa Cake, the Summoner and Lucky Cat followed but Reiteration Man stayed behind. “I’ll see if I can program a complete lock down.” He called. “Go catch the thief just in case!”
“I’ll summon a lift!” The Summoner grinned, throwing out a splayed hand and drawing the nearest elevator down towards them. Lucky Cat silently altered the probability of it being empty so that they wouldn’t awkwardly have to share it with anyone. Captain Jaffa Cake took one of his namesakes from the pouch on his utility belt and allowed it to grow into a full shield.
They all stepped into the lift and Tempus hit the button marked 10. There was a momentary pause and then the doors slid closed and the lift began to move up. Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ played over speaks built into the walls. “The tour guide said all the music that plays in the lifts is designed to inspire creativity." Sophie explained. Conveniently- almost as if a teenage writer who was feeling lazy decided he'd just give in to the tropes of exposition- Sophie had recently been on a tour of the Institute- for reasons that the lazy teenage writer won't mention in the actual plot but will happily tell you now that it's because she needed a new stationary set and the Institute has a thing for handing out new pens plus she genuinely quite likes science. Phew, now that the Fourth Wall is firmly broken, let's go back to the story. "They also plays Hymns sometimes.”
“Holy Lift Music, Batman.” The Summoner grinned.
The lift reached its destination quickly enough, the doors sliding open to reveal the Tenth Floor. The Flish was already stood there, waiting and smiling. “Room Eleven is at the other end. Are you ready?”
“Let’s do it.” Captain Jaffa Cake said. “I’ll draw their attention, Flish sneak behind them, Lucky Cat increase the probability of their clumsiness, Tempus slow down any weapons they might have and Summoner take them from the front. Everyone understand?”
They all nodded. Ali grinned. “It’s clobbering time.”
Running towards the door, Lucky Cat kicked it open and the Flish exploded through towards the other side. The others followed quickly, the Captain running forwards with his shield raised high, the Summoner with a recently summoned sword in his hand. Tempus raised her stopwatch, ready to freeze time if needed, and Lucky Cat straightened her 3D glasses. “Good god.”
There was a vat in the floor covered with a glass roof that, up until very recently, has been filled to the brim with a bright, luminous fluid. Now it had been mostly drained into the tank on the thief’s back. She wasn’t tall but she did take up a lot of space, be it by the huge hoses spiralling from the tank on her back into her hands or the huge propellers pointing out in four directions from her back, allowing her to hover. She wore an iron mask over her face so there was no way they could identify her. Lucky Cat tried to increase the probability of the mask falling away but it didn’t quite work. She needed to improve her control of her abilities.
“We’re the Gang, Ellie Wright, and we’re here to take you to jail!” The Summoner cried, raising his sword.
In a strong Scouse accent, the thief cried, “I am the Antithetic. I will bring order from chaos, love.” She pulled the trigger on one of her hoses and a spout of the glowing liquid exploded out, straight in the Summoner’s direction. “I got y’. I shot y’ and y’ bloody know I did!”
“Ste-“ Lucky Cat began before realising she couldn’t break their cover.
Tempus reached out her hand, slowing the movement of the bright liquid but it wasn’t slow enough. Captain Jaffa Cake grabbed his shield and threw it out, sending it spiralling through the air towards the collision path. The Flish exploded into a purple haze, catching it and holding the shield in place, catching the full blast of luminous fluid. The chocolate dissolved and burnt but the Summoner was safe.
“I stopped it with my bin lid (sized Jaffa Cake).” The Captain grinned. “Surrender, Antithesis. Before it’s too late.”
“It’s Antithetic but I suppose a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” She blasted the roof with the bright fluid, causing it to explode and fill the room with smoke. Visibility was momentarily lost, all senses were in fact shocked, apart from the sudden whirring of propellers. The drag of those propellers cleared the air slightly, revealing the sight of the Antithetic flying straight out of the window, carried a loft by her propeller pack.
The door swung open and Reiteration Man burst through. “Did you get the thief?”
Chris stood up, the power of his Jaffa Cake having worn off, and sighed. “No we bloody didn’t. What did she steal? That stuff was lethal.”
“That,” a woman that Lucky Cat recognised as the head of the Institute- see! Exposition- said, “was a super powerful weapon with the capability to destroy the entirety of the North West of England. If you don’t get it back, I will hold you all personally responsible.”
Sophie sighed. “And I thought prefect duties were a great responsibility.”