Somewhere, the head of English was subjecting her class to a Liverpudlian musical. Elsewhere, Mr Meaks was threatening a particularly tall student with detention on account of her height. Here and now, however, a fan was blowing. Steven looked straight into the heart of its windy exclamations, his ever growing facial hair dragged back as if he was climbing Everest. He would not let it conquer him and nor would he let the hissed arguments of his peers behind him dissuade him from his evangelistic mission. The Gods had placed him on this Earth for a reason and he intended to do them proud.
Tentatively and with a great sense of trepidation, Steven struggled forward against the screaming breezes, his fingers burning against the force of his enemy. He continued to struggle and then hit the button marked 0. The fan spluttered for a second and then began to calm down, the propeller turning slower and slower until it stopped. The fan died. Steven grinned. There was outward sighs of frustration behind but he didn’t pay it any heed. Ellie Wright could melt for all he cared so long as he didn’t have to put up with the risk of pneumonia any longer!
Now that he had conquered his seemingly immortal foe, he turned his attention to the rest of the room. It was a garish exploration of Shakespearean fan art, so called ‘motivational posters’ and high lighter fluid. On one side of the room was a display of travel writing work, including his A2 poster composed of solid black inked writing as a rejection of colour and art in English lessons, and on the other side of the room was a display of Romeo and Juliet work, including his A3 poster composed of solid black inked writing as a rejection of colour and art in English lessons. Their teacher, Mrs Carpenter, was famed for her collection of highlighters- a different colour for every situation. It was fair to say they didn’t see eye to eye.
On the desk in front of Steven was a partially transparent pink pencil case. It was exactly parallel to the length of the table and perpendicular to the width. Inside was a glue stick he could guarantee was empty- he called it the Carpenter Adhesive Principle- a pair of green pens, a pair of scissors, a pair of black pens, a rubber and a thirty centimetre ruler that didn’t fit inside the box so was kept on the side. In case this wasn’t obvious enough already, a laminated sheet at the bottom of the box listed its inventory. It was on pain of death to not return something at the end of a lesson.
Mrs Carpenter herself was a young, fashionable woman- or, at least, she was young and fashionable in comparison to the rest of the English Department- with a great passion for ‘straight jacket approaches’ and an almost pathological hatred of dashes and bad handwriting. She was currently lecturing the class, in the third person no doubt, on how the Thatcherist movement influenced the writing of Romeo and Juliet and other pieces of inaccurate social historical context. “Urgh! Shut up Miss, I’m sure you’re saying. Just let us get on with the work Miss! Well, Miss needs to tell you one last thing before you get on. As we know from our own research, I believe Becca mentioned it in one of the twenty essays she did over the half term- Mr Carpenter wanted to walk the dog when Miss was marking them but I said No! I’ve got to get them marked for Becca so I did, even if it took Miss ages- but anyway…” She performed her usual trick of letting out an exhausted sigh whilst the class tried to catch up on the verbally pyroclastic flow of spiel she had just spurted before continuing. “As I was saying, it’s important you know this for your exams. Now, as we all know, Shakespeare died in 1616. In 1642, the theatres were closed down as to prevent the easy spread of Bubonic Plague in large, public areas. Now, this is obviously connected to the plague in Mantua as mentioned in Romeo and Juliet…”
Whilst she droned on, Steven zoned out. It’d been a few months since the ‘Calculator Incident’ and since then, nothing much had happened. Mr Phillips had organised a few more training days but besides that there hadn’t been very many call outs for the Gang. He knew the others were happy about that, as Tony Stark had pointed out in Age of Ultron the idea of superheroes was to end the need for superheroes, but he missed being able to save people. Maybe it was his ego, maybe it was the way Sophie had smiled at him when he summoned something cool, he didn’t know. He just knew that compared to Steven Bettany, he much preferred the Summoner.
He cast brief glances over his shoulder. Despite the sight of Ellie Wright boiling to death now the fan was off, he saw Ali sat at the back of the classroom highlighting sticky notes for fun. She was more on his side when it came to the superheroics being a fun thing. Perhaps they could get a police scanner and go rescue people from burning buildings- no. That was too Incredibles.
Freya was sat next to him. She was making detailed notes on Mrs Carpenter’s gems of information but he knew that as soon as the lesson ended she’d tell him how wrong they were. She was cool like that.
Sophie and Chris, on the other hand, were on the other side of the room, occasionally sniggering to each other, occasionally pointing things out in the copies of the text and grinning. He couldn’t wait till Mrs Carpenter would allow them all to move and sit together. Then the horror of English lessons and their routine tyranny would end. As an act of rebellion, he reached out one finger and knocked the pencil case slightly askew.
The room plunged instantly into silence, Mrs Carpenter pausing in her speech. She turned two burning eyes to Steven and silently stalked across the room. One of her skeletal fingers reached out and straightened the pencil case. Another turned the fan back on to full power. She gave him a smile and then walked back to the front of the classroom. She glanced at the clock and then said, “Hm. I’m conscious of time so it’s probably wise if we get working. Go sit in groups and pairs, or work on your own, and begin to complete your Revision o’ Clocks. Get moving!”
At this exact second, there was a knock on the door. Mrs Carpenter spun like a gunslinger, ready to strike. A Year Seven looked at her with terrified eyes, like a gunslinger who’d just been shot. “Hello!” She exuded, her voice the verbal equivalent of nails pulled down a blackboard. “Can I help you?”
“Mr Phillips… Mr Phillips wants,” the child who looked fresh out of Nursery consulted an orange slip of paper, “So-fee Khan, Freyaa Cartar, Chris Rogers, Stefan Bethany and Aleye Grant?”
Mrs Carpenter managed to decode the kid’s instructions- was it his inability to read or Mr Phillip’s bad handwriting that caused the confusion?- and sighed. “Sophie, Freya, Christopher, Steven and Ali, if you can come back tomorrow for the homework I’d appreciate that dearly.”
“Miss,” Sophie said. Steven turned to pay better attention. “What about my speaking exam?”
“Oh, I had an appointment after lesson so you wouldn’t have been able to do it anyway, I’m afraid.” She said. “We’ll reschedule it when you come back for your homework!”
“Thanks Miss.” Sophie said, a secret smile crossing her face.
The five of them shuffled into the corridor where the sound of that Liverpudlian musical was even louder. They knew what Mr Phillips wanted but they didn’t have any intention to rush; there was no point when one of them could move at the speed of sound and another could freeze time itself. Instead, they leisurely began their walk towards the end of E-Block, Seven Nation Army or some such song playing full blast in Steven’s head.
“You didn’t have to do your speaking exam!” Chris grinned and doubled high fived Sophie.
“I thought you wanted to get it over and done with?” Steven frowned.
“Well yeah but I’m hardly going to complain about not doing it am I?” Sophie replied. “I mean, come on! If she’s going to keep putting it off, who am I to argue?”
“I couldn’t drag it out like that.” Freya shook her head. “I mean, the longer you leave it, the less chance you have to resit.”
“How have you even not done it yet?" Ali asked. "I mean, I apparently did mine late but that was before the holidays!”
“Me and Steven had that French exam before the holidays, don’t you remember? Because Mrs Vault deleted the tapes of our original exam so that she could record the Archers on them or something. That pushed the English back and then, after Steven did his, science block was blown up by a radioactive explosion, or maybe you don’t remember? Miss was hospitalised for a bit and then since she’s got back, she’s been too busy catching up on marking to watch my presentation.”
“It feels like an eternity since I did mine.” Ali said, shaking her head.
“And how many times has Dormammu killed you since then?” Chris laughed.
“What?” Ali frowned.
“It’s from Doctor Strange.” Freya said.
“I didn’t know you’d seen it, Freya. I was going to ask you all if you wanted to go see it with me but I suppose if you’ve already seen it, that’s just more popcorn for the four of us, hey guys?”
“We went to see it with her.” Steven said. “Sorry, Al. We assumed you’d already seen it.”
“Oh.” Her face dropped for a second and then the grin bounced back. “Well, I suppose that’s only fair enough. I am the type of cool person who sees superhero films early, right?”
“Right.” They all grinned.
"I was surprised my mum let me go." Freya shrugged. "Normally she's all like, 'Ooh, Freya, you must stay at home and prepare for your medical exams in ten years time.'"
"Was that meant to be a Welsh accent?" Steven said. "Because it sounded Indian."
"It was meant to be Irish." Freya blushed.
They rounded the L-Block stairs, Steven ducking beneath the door frame, and began their path up to Mr Phillip’s room. “Chris,” Sophie said, “what name did we give the cave?”
“Oh yeah. We were down there the other day fixing up some of the computers for sir,” Chris explained, “and we found all these random pile of stones in different rooms and stuff. Apparently they’re called Cairns so we were thinking we should call it the Cairns Cave.”
“It’s better than ‘Downstairs L16.’” Freya shrugged. “The Cairns Cave it is!”
They crossed the small square of space which marked the entrance to the L-Block IT Rooms. The door to L16 swung open at a simple push and revealed the classroom. Most of it was taken up by computers, a U shape on the perimeter of the room and a solid block jutting out from the centre. At the front of the room was Mr Phillips' desk and a leather chair it looked possible to get lost in. Despite the air conditioning being at full blast, the room was pleasantly cool. Steven hoped Mrs Carpenter would take notes.
The room was empty of students and teachers so Chris closed the door, slid the secret latch to stop anyone from entering whilst they were in the lift and then the five of them walked over to the walk in cupboard. It contained plenty of paper work for a mostly digital subject as well as text books that still saw calculators as the most impressive use of everyday computers. Not since the sixties had the IT department been given enough funding to actually teach.
There was a book on a shelf in the far corner stood up next to a pile of forgotten ITV LittleNibbles. Chris pulled back the cover and revealed a lever secreted inside. "Everyone ready?" He asked.
They all nodded.
"Going down." He grinned and pulled the lever. The cupboard chugged, roared and then began to move down, bringing with it the same uneasy motion as any other lift of its kind.
It didn't take very long for them to reach the bottom of the lift shaft, the wall at the back sliding apart to reveal a rocky tunnel. Little lamps stuck out of the walls at random intervals but cast enough light collectively to illuminate the entire corridor. They walked down in silent pairs, Chris and Freya leading, then Steven and Sophie then Ali bringing up the rear on her own. It was in this order they emerged in the central area they had named the Cairns Cave.
It was an incredible sight, a huge cavern of a room lit by flying saucer lamps hanging from the ceiling and giving off an autumnal glow. There were bookcases built into the rock between other tunnel openings and hand painted signs- probably by Freya where there was incredible calligraphy or Chris where it looked like it belonged on a brochure- declaring where each tunnel led. A bar in the far corner of the room looked out onto a Ping Pong table and a Pool table and opposite that was a lounge in front of a roaring fire which let off its smoke through the vents of Science Block. Directly in the centre of the room, however, was the Super Computer. They'd named her Bessie- Brilliantly Engineered Strategic Super Intelligence Engine- and it was composed of a selection of monitors, keyboards and other pieces of hardware that the IT technicians had thrown away over the years. The server room for the entire school was in the Cairns Cave somewhere and a section of it had now been addressed to monitoring crime reports in case the Gang were needed.
Mr Phillips, already dressed in his Reiteration Man costume- sans mask, looked up at them with a grin. "Ah, I'm glad you could make it. We've got a dire emergency. Gather round Bessie. Come on. Mind the Cairns." There was a huge pile of stones on the raised metal platform Bessie sat upon. "I'm not entirely sure where they've come from but they look like a health and safety risk."
"And us dressing up as superheroes and fighting super villains isn't?" Ali muttered.
"Anyway, let me show you the emergency." Mr Phillips said and tapped at a few of Bessie's keys. The computer whirred and then an image appeared on the biggest screen. "This was handed into the police this morning. It appears to be some sort of tip off but it can't be decoded. Normally, we'd ignore such a thing but there is the residue of gunpowder on the paper. Do you have any idea what it means?"
The image was of an unfolded note written in uniform cursive. There were two paragraphs. It looked like this:
"Yes but what kind of treasure?" Chris asked. "And from where?"
"I don't know about you guys," Steven sighed, "but I feel like I'm back in English. How are you meant to get anything out of this?"
"That's it!" Freya cried. "Sir, can you print off a copy of that?"
Mr Phillips hit the button and a piece of paper with the cursive printed on it rolled out of Bessie. Freya laid it down on the nearest desk and whipped a highlighter and black pen out from her pocket. They all watched in wonder as she highlighted various words and drew black lines coming off with annotations. It took her five minutes- the amount of time you were allocated in an exam to annotate and highlight a poem or text- but she got it eventually. Standing straight, she read her annotations. "It was a riddle. 'The skeleton of uncluttered mind' is another way of saying an organised body or an organisational body. Being called forth by destiny means it has a purpose. An organisational body with a purpose is the definition of an Institute. If it's trudging forwards it's advancing and 'the mind's practicality in the pursuit of the Mother's secrets' suggests the intellectual- 'mind'- and practical- 'practicality'- search- 'pursuit'- for the hidden/unknown information- 'secrets'- as belonging to the 'Mother' who, as always, is the metaphorical personification of Nature, or the natural world. The intellectual and practical search for the unknown elements of the natural world is basically science so the first paragraph refers to the Institute of Advanced Science."
They all stared at her, their mouths hanging wide open until eventually Steven said, "You embedded your quotes wonderfully but next time try to place the quotes inside sentences."
No one questioned this. It was the type of nonsensical Next Steps they were used to getting.
"As you can see," Freya continued, "there's a Volta between the two paragraphs and that represents a dramatic change. What’s the mission statement of the Institute of Advanced Science?”
Sophie, who’d been around on their last open day, grinned. “A dramatic change today spells an everlasting tomorrow.”
“Exactly.” She said. “I don’t know about the second stanza but that’s what the first stanza says, anyway.”
“That is incredible, Freya. Absolutely incredible.” Mr Phillips grinned. “Unfortunately, your powers of annotation probably aren’t enough to convince the police to investigate. We’ll have to go in ourselves.”
Ali and Steven grinned and double high fived. The others glared at them. “What?” Steven asked. “We’re superheroes! It’s not right if we don’t get into costume and investigate eccentric crimes at science fiction super bases every so often.”
“Oh! Hang on!” Chris cried. “The second stanza is in iambic pentameter.”
“No it isn’t.” Sophie said. “The second line has eleven syllables in it.”
“10 and 11 whilst referring to the room. When you went around at the Open Evening, did you see the organisation system, Sophie?” Mr Phillips asked.
“Of course!” Sophie grinned. “There are ten floors so it must be Floor Ten, room Eleven.”
“That’s a hell of a lot of stairs.” Chris pointed out.
“According to my weather app,” Ali said, staring at her phone, “it becomes night in about twenty minutes. Goddamn seasons!”
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.”
She lifted up the Antithesis' mask, placed it on her face and pulled on her propeller backpack before running in the direction of the open window.
*I've just realised this cliffhanger doesn't really work in an omnibus*
He didn’t mind leading the kid he was meant to be mentoring, who went by the name of Maximilian, around with him but the other twenty nine currently following him to where the fence surrounding the school field met the road side were a little annoying. Especially if he was going to have to share the pizza he was illegally ordering with them.
The guy on the other side of the fence passed him the pizza box over the grey rail and accepted a rolled up tenner through one of the narrow gaps between bits of wire. “Have a good day.” The delivery guy said and then drove off.
Desmond turned and began to carry the pizza back across the field, thirty Year Sevens in tow. Max, who proudly walked in line with Desmond, was the epitome of all cuteness and Desmond used this to get himself into conversations with Year Eleven girls who, on the most part, couldn’t help but fall for Max’s wonderfully cute charm.
They were halfway across the field when Max raised one arm, the oversized sleeve falling back and revealing a hand that hadn’t seen the light of day in a very long time. He brushed back the curtain of hair in front of his face and his little nose furrowed up as he paid attention to the top of E-Block. “Is that an airship?” He asked, as a blimp suddenly exploded into life directly in front of them.
“No.” Desmond said, staring at the huge green balloon connected to a small red boat underneath. “It’s a funnily shaped cloud.”
All the Year Sevens shrugged and nodded. It was an easy mistake to make.
The Dawson Estate. A spot of brutalist architecture on an otherwise pleasant town’s face. The occupants hated each other, the outsiders hated the occupants and the Council sat in their seats on high, rubbing their hands together and waiting for it all to kick off so that they could go to the government and say, “Look! We do need a competent police force! We told you so!”
There was a swirling roar of propeller blades as the Antithetic began to float down towards the Estate. She didn’t quite mind the architecture; as a teacher she liked to think she practised brutalism in its purest form. It was the decoration of that architecture that sickened her. To see all those mispunctuated sentences, all those spellings mistake and, worst of all, the lines of text that weren’t quite straight, the ascenders and descenders of the letters disproportionate and scruffy… she shivered beneath the weight of her protective armour. It made her sick.
Propelled by the roaring fans sticking out in four directions from her back, she zoomed through the air towards the ground. She lifted the hoses from either side and flicked off the safety. Before her was a prime example of the monstrosities she hoped to eradicate. “Aimee wos hear,” the red spray red, the ascender on the ‘h’ wildly curving and the dot above the ‘i’ in ‘Aimee’ madly askew. She would blast this disgusting display of WWW, SP, P and ? from the face of the Earth.
Like a gunslinger, she pressed softly on the triggers of her hoses, got a feel for the power and raised them. Just as she was about to fire when a small kitten jumped in front of her. Being a human being, and thus vulnerable to the charms of anything small and adorable, she knelt down and reached out to it. Its name tag was almost bigger than it. She read the name and grimaced. Miss Cat, was the kitten’s proper name, but whichever imbecile had written the tag had spelt it incorrectly as ‘Mizz Kat.’ Ridiculous!
Standing, she aimed her hoses once more, but now at the cat. “Good King of Cats, I want nothing but one of your nine lives!” She prattled. “Look upon thy death.”
A huge shadow fell over the wall, the kitten and the Antithetic. Sighing, she turned slowly to see whatever the hell it was now. She completed her turn and frowned. She hadn’t been expecting that.
A blimp hung in the mid air, composed of a huge green envelope holding up a small red gondola. Speakers hung from the bottom and out of them boomed a voice. “Rebellious subject! Enemy to peace! Throw your mistempered weapon to the ground and hear the sentence of your moved Student Leadership Team elective.”
Inside the Airy Word, that is to say inside the Blimp, Captain Jaffa Cake looked over at the Summoner and raised his eyebrows. “Really?”
“It was either that or a Blood Brothers quote and I don’t think I’m allowed to use those because they’re rude.” The Summoner shrugged.
“But you got the quote wrong!” Tempus cried from the back. “There’s the whole bit about purple fountains before anything to do with mistempered weapons!”
“You do it if you know what you’re on about so much! God, you know what I don’t get? Why is everyone a flipping critic nowadays? Bloody annoying, isn’t it? Anyway,” he picked the microphone up, the curly wire hanging down, and announced, “Antithetic, this is your chance to surrender. You know not what you do. Calm yourselves and hand yourself in. We will protect you if you do.”
Being a teacher, Mrs Carpenter had the ability to shout rather loudly and it was for this reason that the Gang could hear her reply from the Blimp. I swear. It’s not just lazy writing. “Protected by you? Are there no prisons?”
“There is a institute for the mentally insane.” Sophie responded, momentarily taking the microphone. “Although, considering that you and Mr Jordan would both be there, we should probably start calling it the Staffroom.”
“We already do, don’t we?” Steven grinned, to a disapproving frown from Sophie. “Anyway, Antithetic. Surrender! Please.”
“Then we will have to stop you.” Captain Jaffa Cake announced.
“Good.” The Antithetic spoke, raising her hoses. “I am for you.”
Before the Antithetic could even consider what was going on, a purple flash had struck towards her, first rescuing the kitten and depositing it in an otherwise safe area and then racing back towards the English Teacher. The sudden explosion of energy as the Flish raced past caused her to accidentally pull the trigger on her hose. The highlighter fluid soared through the air in a bold arc and hit the Airy Word. There was a sudden roaring explosion as the Francium found the Oxygen in the air. The blimp was thrown through the air, a gigantic hole tearing in the hull. The Summoner was thrown straight out, his cape swooping behind him but not helping him in any way. Captain Jaffa Cake found himself smashing through the windscreen. He just managed to grab hold of the window frame before he flew straight out. Lucky Cat and Tempus were thrown towards the rear of the ship, Lucky Cat tripping and smashing into the emergency exit which opened immediately. Tempus watched in horror, realising she was the only one would could save her friends.
The Flish exploded past the Antithetic on the ground, tearing the canister of highlighter fluid straight off her back. At the speed of sound, she disappeared in the direction of Manchester, which was apparently too far for any teenagers to be trusted to go to on their own. Despite having to travel one hundred and thirty kilometres, at the speed she was travelling she made it there and back again in thirty eight seconds. And a bit.
Meanwhile, at the Dawson Estate, Tempus threw her hands out and froze time. She knew she couldn’t hold it for long so she had to make the most of the time she had. She ran towards the emergency cupboard on the side and pulled out two parachutes. Having pulled one on for herself, she ran over to Captain Jaffa Cake and strapped one on to him too. She pushed him out and jumped after him, then unpaused time.
The Blimp rolled and thundered and then crashed into the conveniently placed local pond, joining a suitcase full of drugs, the remains of little girl’s trainer and an abandoned trolley. A group of ducks looked at it, unimpressed.
Tempus splayed her palms and froze the Summoner and Lucky Cat in the air, a new branch of her abilities she’d been experimenting with since it had become relevant to the plot. Her two classmates froze and she was able to safely land alongside Captain Jaffa Cake who, being the hero he was, knew exactly how to operate a parachute. They both landed at the end of the alley way, the Flish materialising next to them. She bent over, breathing in and out heavily, then managed to stand. “Where’re the others?”
“In the air.” Tempus pointed. “Remember when we went to see X-Men: Apocalypse?”
“God! How many films have you guys been to see without me?” The Flish cried.
“Oh. Sorry. Well, anyway, have you seen it?”
“You know the Flash rescues everyone from the exploding building?”
“No. That was Quicksilver.”
“Quicksilver? I thought he was in the Avengers.”
“He is, but he’s too Russian in that so he’s in X-Men instead because God forbid any superhero not be white or British.” She looked around at the others. “Forget that. Anyway, what about it?”
“He grabs a load of people out of midair. Think you could do that?”
“No. It defies the laws of physics. I can run really quick, not fly!”
“He did it in the movie and he’s basically got your powers!”
“That’s the X-Men for you.” Captain Jaffa Cake heroically announced. “Full of plot holes.”
The other two stared at him for a second and then turned back to their conversation. “Come on Ali, I can’t hold them forever.”
“I’ll try my best.” The Flish said and exploded into a purple haze. Knowing they were no longer in her hands, Tempus released them and, with Captain Jaffa Cake, turned towards the Antithetic.
She had reached up and removed her large iron mask, revealing a simple eye mask like the ones they were mostly wearing. She raised her hand to her mouth and bit her thumb.
“Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” Captain Jaffa Cake asked, realising the joke would have worked much better if she was a male teacher.
“So what if I do, sir?” She replied.
“It is a public offence, under Section 5 of the Public Order act, to display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. If ever you disturb our streets again, a small fine or a written warning may pay the forfeit of the peace. All legal information is accurate to the time of speaking.” He grinned.
Whilst she stared back, perplexed, Tempus stepped forwards and announced, “You have put up your weapons. Surrender before it is too late.”
“I have more weapons.” From her sides, she drew a pair of treasury tags in one hand, which she began to swirl like nunchucks. “I remember my washing blow. Draw if you be men!”
Up above, the Flish was running at the speed of sound through space, the air parting around her on either side. She wasn’t entirely sure how she was managing to run through thin air but she was sure there was an exceptionally complicated scientific explanation that would no doubt confuse the hell out of her and leave her with more questions than she ever could have had in the first place.
She raced on, grabbing the Summoner and then curving through the air to catch Lucky Cat. Moving at the speed she was, they weren’t as heavy as she expected. Again, she imagined there was no doubt some fantastical explanation for it that she didn’t know. (This isn’t lazy writing, it’s a genuine reflection of the character’s knowledge - Lazy Ed). She suddenly realised how high she’d managed to run and began to wonder how she was going to get back down again.
On street level, Captain Jaffa Cake and Tempus ran towards the Antithetic. She swung out the treasury tags, the bars of shape metal slicing through the air as they approached. Captain Jaffa Cake swung out a namesake but the treasury tag sliced straight through it, drooping Jaffery goodness all over the floor. He ducked another swing from the other side and Tempus spayed her hand, freezing it in midair and rendering it useless. Cursing, the Antithetic let go of it and pulled a glue gun from her side. She raised it and pulled the trigger. Instead of firing a steady stream of hot glue, it instead fired solid glue sticks. The Captain managed to raise another Jaffa Cake, catching a bombardment of the small cylindrical containers. Tempus froze them, picking them away and sliding them into her pockets. “Finally a solution to the Carpenter Adhesive Principle.”
From seemingly nowhere, the Antithetic produced a huge pile of workbooks which she slung in the Captain’s direction. They hit him and knocked him to the floor. Beneath the weight of four Romeo and Juliet books, three Blood Brothers books, a Poetry Anthology work book and the Poetry Anthology itself, never mind the four books for the Language paper and the Christmas Carol books plus copies of all the texts, there was no way on this Earth he could ever stand never mind walk.
“The fact that you’re wearing black implies you’re depressed and I don’t want to be homophobic but your short hair suggests you’re a boy. You could do with changing your image.”
“That was generally quite mean.” Tempus replied. “Are you resorting to just being mean now?”
“I was attempting to prey on your teenage angst. Why isn’t it working?” She frowned.
“Not all teenagers are angsty, you know? You really need to stop stereotyping.”
“Oh.” The Antithetic sighed. “That’s thirteen years of higher level English education out of the window, then.”
“Sorry.” Tempus said.
“Oh, it’s fine love. I suppose it was bound to happen at some point.” The Antithetic turned away for a second, making a sound like she was crying. Tempus frowned and stepped forwards.
“Miss, are you okay?” She asked, putting her arm around the teacher’s shoulders.
The Antithetic used this to her advantage, whipping around and hitting Tempus in the stomach with the full force of misused Social Historical Context. “Haha! My minor degree in Psychology has once more empowered me beyond you! You’ll never stop me now!”
“I think you’ll find we can.” Lucky Cat spoke from the other end of the alleyway, where she, the Summoner and the Flish were standing in truly heroic poses. Ali exploded into a purple haze, running down the alleyway and using her new found super strength to lift the books from Captain Jaffa Cake’s chest and transport him to where Tempus had fallen, slowing down to help her up too.
“You’re annoying, you purple streak.” The Antithetic cried and threw an oversized pair of scissors towards the Flish. They latched around her purple clad wrists and tightened, like cuffs.
“Damn!” The Flish cried. “I can’t run whilst carrying scissors! I’m powerless!”
“I am not.” Lucky Cat grinned. She turned to Steven. “Give me my long sword, ho!”
“Thou shalt not stir one foot to seek a foe.” The Summoner replied.
“For God’s sake with the misquotes, Steven!” Tempus cried.
“Give me my long sword, ho!” Lucky Cat repeated.
“A crutch, a crutch!” The Summoner replied and accidentally summoned a crutch. “Damn, I can’t seem to get this right anyhow.”
“If you summon me a broadsword right now, I promise I will forgive you for earlier.” Lucky Cat replied.
There was a flash and then a broadsword was passed from his hands to hers. She took it and raised it towards the Antithetic. “Come sir, your passado!”
“You can’t kill me! I haven’t done your speaking exam with you yet!”
“What, you commit these crimes and in their place talk of exams? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Year Sevens and thee. Have at thee coward!”
She ran forwards, broadsword raised. The Antithetic danced out of the path of the swirling sword with almost infinite grace, somewhat like a paintbrush flicking away from a canvas. She continued this procession of endless twisting and turning, leaping away from the path of the blade.
“Damn. Miss’ Dodgy Dancing is making her impossible to hit.” The Flish observed, stepping over, the scissors hanging from her hands.
As Lucky Cat fell backwards, her sword broken, the Antithetic spun and fired three sets of staples out, pinning Captain Jaffa Cake, Tempus and the Summoner to the wall. The only hero free of shackles was Lucky Cat. The Antithetic turned towards her and began to trace forwards, pulling out the remote clicker from her classroom’s smart board. “I have rigged this to detonate five canisters of the highlighter fluid plotted strategically around the estate. Did you think I’d really leave all my hard work down to chance? I’m going to fly away and leave you here so you can be consumed by the end of these horrific mistakes. I suppose we shall never have the chance for your speaking exam.”
“Oh really? Let’s do it now.” Lucky Cat said and instantly wished she hadn’t. Why did she open herself up for this? She had to talk in front of her peers, to express her opinions, but she fumbled her words at the best of times and now she was under pressure. She grimaced in pain, wishing the ground would swallow her. Maybe Miss hadn’t heard her? Maybe she’d be able to get away with not doing it now.
“I believe in you.” The Summoner shouted, grinning.
It made absolutely no difference to her day except that she knew she had to do it now. Sighing, she pulled herself up and stood. Her leg was bouncing, her heart thudding. “Let me change your mind.”
“Go ahead. You know how tricky it is to get a distinction.”
Lucky Cat cleared her throat and wished a meteorite would fall and destroy her. She considered changing probability but then she realised that was suicidal. No, instead she would change the probability of her being confident. A sudden wave of confidence blasting over her, she grinned. She could Goddamn do this! “I hate incorrect Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you I’m a bit of a grammar freak. (I have a tally chart going of the amount of mistakes that Steven makes when direct messaging me on Twitter.)”
He sighed. “You had to go tell the bloody English teacher that, didn’t you?”
“And I embrace that reputation.” Lucky Cat continued. “I am happy to be called a grammarist, a grammar snob, a grammar punk, a teacher’s pet and a thousand other things and I will accept all of them but one. I will not be called a grammar nazi. To me, that term is wrong. Yes, it does annoy me when people make grammatical mistakes and yes, I will correct them with the ruthlessness of an untamed panther.” She frowned a second, wondering if the AQME had been turned back on. “But, I will never deserve the name of Nazi because that suggests something else altogether. By correcting grammar, I’m not denying people’s right to speech. I’m a listener, always have been, always will be. The very fact I’m having to speak now makes me want to crawl right out of my skin. Hearing my mates have a conversation without my interjections makes me happy. The truth of the matter is, I like to correct grammar because it makes me feel uncomfortable to see the language written or spoken incorrectly, not because I don’t like seeing it at all. Regardless of how wrong it might be, all language is beautiful but it is my duty and obligation to enhance it as far as it can go. You must understand that, surely? You’re an English teacher! When you and your niece are going through the alphabet together at the weekends, do you want to hurt her if she makes a mistake? Do you want to blow her sky high just because she doesn’t know the rules that govern our great language? Whoever Aimee is, she’s innocent of any crimes except for self expression. Yes, we can say that she needs to learn how to write and speak English a bit better but it’s our job to teach her how to, not mock her or punish her for it. That’s the basics of education. Not to punish the weak and award the strong but to allow the weak to reach the point of the strong and to push the strong even further so that everyone enjoys learning and reaches their full potential. And you can’t enjoy learning if you’re being punished constantly for not thinking in the same way as someone else. So, join with me, join with the next generation of educators and remember one simple thing: The point of teaching is to share your passion for a subject done well, not your hatred for it done wrong. No. Done incorrectly.” She smiled. “Please Miss. Don’t make a mistake that can’t be fixed with green pens.”
Mrs Carpenter stared at Lucky Cat for a few seconds and then dropped her remote clicker. “Martha.” She whispered, and then fell onto the floor unconscious.
“Did she just say Martha?” Ali frowned. “Hang on, isn’t that her first name?”
“I don’t like teacher’s having first names.” Lucky Cat shivered, strolling over and crushing the clicker underfoot.
“Maybe she thought by saying ‘Martha’ she’d somehow end the fighting?” Captain Jaffa Cake sighed. “Nah, that wouldn’t even work in the movies.”
“I can’t believe she was going to blow up this entire estate.” Tempus said, shaking her head.
“I know. She’s a ‘flipping’ head case, our Ma’.” The Summoner laughed.
“That was an acceptable misquote.” Tempus replied. If there had been a camera, she would have turned to it and winked, “Don’t swear, kids. Not even in quote marks.”
In the far distance, there was the sound of approaching sirens. Ali frowned, pulling down her mask. “Nothing happened. Why are police cars coming?”
“We crashed a blimp into a pond.” Steven said, pulling down his mask.
“Oh yeah!” Ali cried. “I’m so silly. Imagine that, superheroes forgetting ridiculous levels of collateral damage following a major battle! That’d never happen.”
“We should probably get out of here.” Freya asked. “Unless you want to talk us out of this, Cap?”
There was a flash, a bang and then Captain Jaffa Cake was gone, replaced by Chris in an oversized suit. “No, I don’t quite think I’ve got the right charisma modifier for that.”
“Right, well, let’s be off then. Sophie, do you reckon you could increase the probability of us being let down?” Freya asked.
Sophie nodded and the probability of the staples disappearing from around their wrists and reappearing around Mrs Carpenter’s became certain. She was pinned to the floor and so probably only moderately difficult for the local police to catch. The others free, they set off in the direction of Gilliam High, where a secret passage just outside the grounds would be able to deliver them to the Cairns Cave.
As they walked, Steven trailed back to talk to Sophie. “That speech was incredible. I’m really proud of you.”
“Thanks.” She smiled. “Thanks for believing in me.”
“I like believing in you,” he replied, “because, unlike God, I can actually see the effects.”
“You really don’t do yourself any favours.” She laughed.
“I’m sorry.” He replied. “For being a prat and never thinking before I speak. It’s a habit of mine, if you haven’t noticed.”
“It’s fine.” She smiled. “I like it most of the time.”
“Does that mean we’re friends again?”
“We didn’t stop being friends.”
“Friendly hug?” He grinned.
“Double high five finger guns?”
He nodded and they double high fived then shot finger guns at each other. “Ah, well, all’s well that ends well.”
“Trying telling that to the ducks.” Ali said, pointing to the small army of birds angrily plodding away from the remains of the pond.
After Credits Scene:
Gilliam High School. Chemistry teacher Miss Francis was walking through the secret technician’s room in the heart of S-Block when she spotted Mr Coin, the Astrophysicist and general Supply Teacher standing in the corner, erratically playing his electric violin. “Ah, Jon, I was looking for you! I saw some students in the Lunch Hall who wanted to join your Dungeons and Dragons club.”
“Oh they did, did they?” He asked, chuckling. “How fantastic. Which students?”
“Chris Rogers and his little gang. Oh, and Ali Grant too. Those lot.”
He stopped playing his violin and rubbed his hands together. The lighting of the room flickered, as if they sensed his mood. “Fantastic. Quite fantastic. My plans are all coming into fruition at last…”
He began chuckling madly. “Muhahahaha!” He laughed.
Miss Francis left him to go and mark some books. She didn’t think anything of his laughter; he’d probably just got to a funny bit in the constant QI repeats that sidled along his brain. Funny chap, that Jon Coin. You could never quite tell what he was going to do next.
When he heard the door closed, signalling she was gone, he stopped laughing and opened a small portal in the quantum foam. “They are coming, my lord.” He whispered. “Your prey are coming to you.”
And in another reality, the Camel God began to laugh too.