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Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack: Brave New Girls, #3
Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack: Brave New Girls, #3
Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack: Brave New Girls, #3
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Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack: Brave New Girls, #3

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Welcome to the sci-fi worlds of brainy teen heroines who hack not just computers, but whatever puzzles come their way. A scrappy mechanic on an oppressed planet builds a device she hopes will be her ticket to a better future. A fledgling chemist uses her skills to catch a murderer. A teen inventor creates a weapon to battle the mysterious beasts attacking her city. A superhero-in-training puts her skills to the test when attackers strike her compound. A self-styled detective hacks an augmented reality game to solve a dastardly crime. Girls who code, explore, fix robots, pilot starships, invent gadgets, build high-tech treehouses, and more. With tales ranging from space adventures to steampunk to cyberpunk and more this 23-story collection will delight, thrill, and enthrall.

Proceeds from sales of this anthology will be donated to a scholarship fund through the Society of Women Engineers. Let's show today's girls that they, too, can be tomorrow's inventors, programmers, scientists, and more.


Lyssa Chiavari, Jennifer Chow, Russ and Abby Colchamiro, MLD Curelas, Paige Daniels, Kay Dominguez, Mary Fan, Halli Gomez, Valerie Hunter, AA Jankiewicz, Nicholas Jennings, Jamie Krakover, Tash McAdam, MJ Moores, Jelani Akin Parham, Selenia Paz, Josh Pritchett, Jeremy Rodden, Aaron Rosenberg, Jenifer Purcell Rosenberg, Jennifer Lee Rossman, JR Rustrian, and Joanna Schnurman.

Featuring illustrations by Jacob Atom, Brandon Bell, Jo Belle, Lyssa Chiavari, Sharon Emmitt, Ben Falco, Fauzy Zulvikar Firmansyah, Christopher Godsoe, Liana Kangas, John Kovalic, MunkyWrench, Josh Pritchett, Emily Smith, Jennifer Stolzer, and Ronald Suh.

Release dateJul 5, 2018
Brave New Girls: Tales of Heroines Who Hack: Brave New Girls, #3
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    Brave New Girls - Mary Fan

    Attack On Aegis

    by Paige Daniels


    The sound of the blaring sirens seems to penetrate my whole being. I can’t concentrate or even think with the screeching sound going on. Bright strobe lights complete the sensory barrage. I feel lightheaded and nauseous from it all, but I can’t let it best me. The stakes are too high. I close my eyes and take a deep breath to calm myself. One breath in, there is nothing here that can distract me. One breath out, steady yourself, you can do this. I slowly open my eyes and focus straight ahead to the keypad on the wall blocking out the blinding strobes. My fingers glide across the keypad. I recall the codes I’ve committed to memory as if they were sacred texts. I punch in the last number of the sequence, saying a silent prayer under my breath hoping to God that I decoded the intel I received correctly. The door whines and creaks as it opens, and I give myself an internal high five.

    A thin sliver of light is displayed from the door. I take a breath, ready my weapon, and head into the unknown that is behind the door. I take a few steps in and look around. If my intel is correct, what I came here for should be in…

    Before I have time to complete my thought, my weapon is ripped from my hands and flung across the room. A very large, dark-skinned man with hazel eyes slams me against a wall, knocking the breath from me. For an instant, I’m stunned and not sure what to do. Then my training takes over. I brace myself against a wall and kick my legs up to his middle, which sends him flying off of me. He looks at me, eyes wide, gasping for breath. I run past him to the locker across the room that hides what I came here for. Just a few steps and… I’m lying face down on the lab floor. In a few heartbeats, my assailant is on top of me, pinning my arm behind me. The pain runs through me, and I cry out.

    The man barks, Do you yield to me, little girl?

    Little girl? I’m seventeen, you jerk!

    At that he bends my arm more. I howl and respond by bucking wildly, which heaves him off of me. I try to scramble to my feet, but my arm is weak and buckles under my weight. I fall to the ground. Again he is on top of me, putting me into an excruciating arm bar. I swear I can hear bones cracking this time. The pain takes my breath away, and I shriek.

    The man growls again, Do you yield to me?

    Unable to get many words out, I whimper and nod my head in the affirmative.

    Simultaneously, the man rolls off of me, the strobe lights from the hall stop, and the deafening sirens are silenced. Ah, sweet, sweet relief. I roll on my back and look up at the ceiling. I’m surrounded by a crowd of people. Some are dressed in lab coats, some in tactical gear. My opponent extends a hand to me, and I take it. He mumbles, You could’ve done better.

    I wipe the dust and grit off my clothes and back away from the crowd of people. I say as I gasp for air, What do you mean? I got WAY further this time than I did last time, Joe! You’re twice my size, and I sent you flying across the room.

    A balding man in a white lab coat looks down at his new fancy Palm Pilot. Tessa’s right. She couldn’t even hack through to get the right codes last time. I definitely see some improvement.

    Joe shakes his head. She’s not even tapping into her potential like she should be! How many times have we been through this scenario during our training, kid? You’re tough. You can do this.

    I take a drink from a water bottle someone mercifully handed me, then burst out. You outweigh me by, what, like eighty pounds? Oh yeah, and there’s that whole military training thing that I don’t have, but I guess since someone accidentally infected me with a virus that gave me superhuman abilities, I should automatically be able to defeat you.

    A petite woman in a lab coat mutters, Wasn’t Joe infected with the same virus?

    I respond, Yes, as a matter of fact, he was. Which proves my point even further. Why should I be able to defeat a huge superhuman military-trained adult when I’m a high school senior and have never been trained?

    Joe growls, First, I wasn’t even using the superhuman strength. Second, you’ve been training with me in the most state-of-the-art facilities for the last year and a half. You actually show some promise when you use your head and try.

    I start to retort, but a man in a suit with his dark hair slicked back in a sort of sixties businessman fashion comes forward. He says in slow southern drawl, That’s enough, you two. Tessa has definitely shown some improvements, and you need to give her credit, Joe.

    I look over to Joe and give him a snarly look. Thank you, Director.

    Director continues, BUT Joe is right. You need to apply yourself more, Tessa. Yes, it was an accident, being infected with that virus. No matter how you came by it, you have a gift. You need to make the best use of your gifts. I groan and roll my eyes. Director claps and says, Okay, people, that was a good run. We’ll try another scenario next week. In the meantime, we have our morning briefing in twenty minutes, and Tessa, you have some schoolwork to catch up on after that.

    I mutter under my breath, Wonderful.


    The smells of sweat and failure surround me in the locker room. Joe’s right, I should’ve tried harder to beat him. I heave a heavy sigh, grab my threadbare Sonic Youth t-shirt, and pull it around my head then slam my locker shut. The sound reverberates through the locker room. I look in a mirror across from me and try to do something with my frizzy auburn locks, but it’s useless, so I just pin my hair up in a fluffy ponytail. I mutter to myself, Guess it’s time to get to the morning briefing.

    I walk out of the locker room down a hallway lined with pristine white walls. Most everyone who passes by is either dressed in business casual or in lab coats. Inside, this place looks like any other normal office, but there is something very different that sets us aside from most offices. This business, Aegis Technix, houses all kinds of supers. It’s not like the Justice League or anything. Just a few supers trying to do some good in the world—and one teenage lab mistake who isn’t sure where she fits in.

    In a few minutes, I’m in the cramped conference room surrounded by supers, techies, and a few suits. The room is a cacophony of murmurs and laughter. No one ever engages me in small talk. They know that I don’t belong here, that I’m just a dumb kid who was unlucky enough to get injected with a superhuman virus by a former employee hell bent on proving his formula worked. I slink in my seat, feeling more awkward and out of place than ever. The Director steps in the room. Although he looks like a boring ol’ businessman in a cheap suit, he exudes authority and confidence. Everyone is instantly quiet.

    Okay, people, tell me what we have on our plate. As you all know, we have a skeleton crew due to that hospital collapse, so we need to make the briefing quick so the rest of you can help.

    The few supers left brief their cases. Most of them are pretty mundane superhero stuff: a thwarted bank robbery attempt, an apprehended mugger. I almost fall asleep until Joe stands, and his loud booming voice fills the room.

    Hearin’ some chatter that Dr. Demko is skulking around again.

    My heart almost skips a beat. Dr. Demko was the man responsible for the virus that made me the way I am.

    Joe continues, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about, but I’m gonna keep monitoring.

    Director nods. Good. He then turns to a diminutive blonde. Ms. Quimby, is there anything from the tech section?

    The techies are responsible for maintaining all the cool gadgets and our technological infrastructure.

    Yes, sir, uh… We’re working on getting everyone cell phone technology. Most of you have car phones. She holds up a phone about the size of a cordless phone with an antenna on it. You can carry these with you all the time.

    One of the supers yells out, Why would you need to carry a phone with you at all times?

    Quimby answers back, It’s the nineties. Get with the times. It’s an easier way of getting ahold of you.

    Director looks at his watch. Very good. Is that all?

    She shakes her head. Uh, no, sir. Director looks a little annoyed, but he lets her continue. On our latest security stand down, we found a few minor security risks in our building. The rooftop access isn’t nearly as secure as it should be, and our security cameras have a few blind spots.

    Director is silent for a moment. The campus itself is secure, but we do need to get on fixing that. Is that all? Everyone nods. Let’s get to work.

    As everyone streams out, Director stops me and Joe. I want you two to stay behind. Tessa, you got schoolwork to catch up on. Joe, I want at least one super to stay here and hold down the fort.

    One of the more obnoxious supers overhears the conversation and spits out, Ha! Looks like Joe has to stay behind and babysit.

    He slinks out of the door in his Aegis uniform of black tactical gear before Director can say anything. Director looks at us. You two understand your assignments?

    We say in unison, Yes, sir.


    In front of me, there is a myriad of texts, papers, and notes all sprawled out a nicked, worn hickory desk. The desk is mine from my old room, and sitting at it makes me feel like I’m at home again. When I was infected with the virus, my parents and the doctors at Aegis all thought it for the best that I stay here in case any medical emergency came up. At first, the virus did take quite a toll on me and the others infected. As a matter of fact, only one other person, Joe, survived. But over the last year or so, I’ve been fine, yet everyone still thinks it necessary for me to stay here. All. The. Time. The company has taken over my schooling too. Mostly, that’s not so bad, since my school sucked and I get to learn more interesting things here, but it gets tiresome seeing the same faces every day. A soft knock at the door interrupts my thoughts.

    Come in. In steps a tall brunette woman in her mid-forties holding a huge Tupperware container full of… Cookies! Thanks, Mom.

    Mom has worked here on the secret side since before I was born. She’s actually a renowned microbiologist, and since I was infected with the virus, she’s spent all her free time trying to learn about it in hopes of curing me. I gave up hope a long time ago.

    She hands the container to me, and I instantly rip into it, shoving a snickerdoodle in my mouth and grabbing a few more. She smiles. You’re welcome, hon. How are you?


    "I know. Me and your dad are planning to take you out this weekend to dinner and a movie. I hear Toy Story is pretty good. You want to go?"

    My heart gives a little leap. I love the little excursions away from this place. I smile and nod vigorously.

    Good. It’s a date, then. She stands and kisses me on the head.

    She does a quick survey of the books on my desk and says, Impressive! Calculus II and Organic Chemistry. Have you filled out any college applications yet?

    Why? We both know Director’s never going to let me leave this place. And I’m not sure I really want to go.

    She sits on the bed next to my desk. Honey, the only reason you’ve been staying here is because I let it happen. If you want to go to college, then Albert is going to have to get through me to stop you. I snicker at her calling Director Albert. She smooths down my hair. Hon, you have a gift. You are smart. Don’t let that go to waste.

    That’s what Director said. ‘You have a gift.’ None of it really feels like a gift. I kinda suck at being a super. I’m not really passionate about school. I don’t know…

    You will. She looks at her watch. I gotta get moving. I have a bunch of lab work to do today. We’re really making some breakthroughs. I think you’ll be excited. I’ll come see you before I go home. We’ll have dinner together.

    Sounds great, Mom.

    I return to studying and completing assignments. A buzzing at my wrist grabs my attention. I smile and remember the lunch plans I made.


    I walk through the courtyard that separates the locked-down secret building, where I spend most of my time, from the low-security part of the facility. Director frowns on my little trips to the other side, but he also knows to choose his battles. Giving me a bit of freedom keeps me from going totally nutso.

    The open cafeteria is packed with people. Along the wall, there are lines for different fare like pizza, burgers, or blech… salad. I quickly go over to the pizza line and grab a few slices. I stand along the perimeter of the sea of tables and survey the area for my lunchtime companion. Nothing. Hmm, maybe this is a perfect opportunity to hone my skills. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and then open my eyes again, this time focusing all of my attention my sight. I scan the far tables and am able to make out faces and fine details of what everyone is eating. I smile. I’m doing it! I’m really doing it! Across the cafeteria sits a large man with a scruffy beard who has bread crumbs scattered all over his Dungeons and Dragons t-shirt. Gross. Okay, next table. A skinny man with glasses perched on his nose feverishly scribbles notes on a piece of paper. Ooh, I wonder if I can make out what he’s writing. I start to concentrate harder when a tap to my shoulder breaks my concentration. I nearly jump out of my skin when I see who’s standing next to me.

    You looking for me? a tall blond guy says with the most charming smile ever.

    Oh, hi, Michael. I assumed you were already sitting.

    He saunters past me toward a table. I got caught up in the lab. Being the intern and all, I don’t really call the shots.

    I met Michael about six months ago when he was interning over the summer. Like a big dork, I ran into him and spilled his lunch all over him. To make it up to him, I bought him lunch, and we started eating together every day in the summer. To my surprise, he decided to get some interning hours in during the winter break. He thinks I’m just a precocious high school senior able to snag one of the few high school intern spots here. He’s different from all the high school guys I’ve been around. Yeah, he’s only two years older than me, but college must do something to a guy to make them not so annoying.

    Once seated, he starts shoveling a pile of noodles into his mouth. So they got you busy?

    Oh, yeah. I’m also trying to get some of my coursework done too.

    That’s the bummer about high school. You go back to a lot of the same courses after the break, whereas I’m all done and on to the next course. Have you decided where you’re going to college yet?

    I take a little extra time to chew my pizza in order to craft a reply that won’t give away too much.

    I force the pizza down my throat. Um, no, not really. I’m just not sure what I want to do. Mom wants me to do something technical, but…

    He finishes my sentences for me. It’s the math, right? The math is the killer?

    I drop my pizza and give him the stink eye. Uh, no. I’m taking Calculus II, and my math is just fine. Did you say that because I’m a girl?

    He looks me squarely in the eye. No, I say that because it’s a killer for me. I was just going to say, ‘Don’t let that dissuade you.’ He takes another bite of noodles. Calculus II? Maybe I should get you as a tutor.

    I laugh. I think you’ll find that my fees are more than fair. He chuckles too and starts to say something then stops.


    "Um, well, just wondering… Have you seen that new movie Toy Story yet?"

    No. I heard it’s pretty cool.

    Uh, yeah, um, just wondering if maybe you’d want to go see it? Uh, with me.

    I’m speechless. This is not something I saw coming at all. How would this even work? My parents would have a cow, and Director would have a whole herd of cows.

    Before I have a chance to respond, Michael says, If you don’t want to, that’s cool. I won’t bother you anymore about it.

    No, no, I totally want to. It’s just that my situation is, uh, weird.

    Are you on the run from the government?

    I laugh. No.

    Um, you’re promised in marriage to another?

    Ew, no.

    So what’s the problem then? I feel like you’re keeping something from me. When I ask you where you work and where you go to school, you’re vague about it. What’s up?

    I know I can trust him. Through the whole summer, I was dying to tell him the truth, but I knew I couldn’t. But what could it hurt? Maybe, just maybe, Director would clear me to tell him.

    Yeah, right, and maybe unicorns will fly out of my butt. I heave a sigh. Michael, it’s just that—

    A buzz from my company-issued pager stops me mid-sentence. I take off the small black plastic electronic device and look at the small LCD.


    My stomach twists. I stand from the table. I gotta go. It’s urgent. My bosses paged me.


    I whip on my coat and head out to the frosty courtyard. I check the pager for any further communications from my mom. Nothing. Across the courtyard, the non-descript building housing my mom stands there quiet, unassuming. My body shivers with fear and indecision more than cold. Maybe I should rely on Joe to take care of whatever is going on. But what if Joe is hurt? He’s not immortal. Please, please someone come out of there.

    What’s up with you?

    I startle at the sound of Michael’s voice. There’s an emergency. I, um, I… Tears start to form. I need to do something. But what can I do? My mom needs help.

    Michael looks at the building. Is she in there?

    I nod.

    They are MORE than well-staffed in there and can take care of any emergency that might happen.

    The building is still sitting there, silent and almost taunting me. I swallow hard. I don’t think they can, Michael. Something is really wrong.

    I start off toward the building without a clue what I’m going to do. I hear footsteps behind me.

    Whoa, whoa, you can’t go there. Can you? I know your mom works in there, but they’d never let in a newbie.

    I spin on my heel. Michael, just go back. It’s not safe.

    He grabs me by the elbow. If it’s not safe for me, it’s not safe for you. Let’s just go back and tell security in our building. They’ll take care of it.

    No, they won’t. They have all been instructed not to intervene on anything that’s going on in there. No one from that side will ever go over to our side. And I know what you’re thinking. No local law enforcement will help either. I turn and walk away with more resolve.

    Michael runs in front of me. What do you mean ‘our side’? How do you know they won’t intervene over there?

    I let out a heavy breath. Because, I work over on that side. That’s why I never see you during work. Now, you need to go.

    Nope. I’m helping you. If everything you said is true, then you’re going to need a friend by your side. We’ll ask for forgiveness later.

    I want to be sterner with him, but if something has my mother scared, then I’m going to need all the help I can get. Fine, but try not to get in the way.

    Yes, ma’am.

    As I get closer to the building, I slow down and survey it. I turn on the super senses. Still nothing stirring from inside. It’s too quiet here. Maybe I’m being paranoid. I check my pager. Again, nothing. I wish these things worked both ways, like if I could get a message to my mom somehow.

    That would be nice, but let’s not spend time fantasizing about the future world and think about how we can get in there. I’m guessing going through the front is not an option.

    No, and we really need to get out of sight now because I’m sure we’re going to start attracting attention soon just staring at this building.

    Good thinking. Any ideas?

    Think, Tess, think. Then I remember what the techies were saying about the potential security breech and look up to the roof. Our building isn’t really that tall. Just two stories. I’ve easily done a thirty-foot jump in field practices. I look over at Michael. From our earlier exchange, I know it’s going to be impossible to ditch him, but doing this with him by my side means that I’m going to have to come clean sooner than I anticipated. I take a breath. I have a way in, but if I let you go along, then it comes with a few stipulations.


    First, no freaking out.


    Second, don’t ask me a ton of questions. I’ll tell you what I’m comfortable with you knowing, but don’t hound me.


    Third, you have to tell me how much you weigh.

    He scrunches up his face. One eighty. Why?

    I eye him up and down. That seems pretty reasonable. I’ve easily thrown Joe across the room one-handed, and he weighs at least three hundred. Without thinking, I squeeze Michael around the waist, pick him up, then bound down the icy yard and will myself to jump harder than I ever have before. In a few heartbeats, we soar through the air while Michael screams, and in a few more heartbeats, we thud down on the cold, hard roof in a crumpled pile.

    As we lie on our sides, he looks at me wide-eyed. What in the hell was that?

    I stand then rip the roof-access hatch off. Before proceeding down the ladder-well, I say, "Welcome to the X-Files."


    Inside, it’s dark and quiet in the hall right below the roof ladder. Michael glances around wide-eyed then looks at me. I give a meek smile. This is what I’ve been keeping from you. It’s kind of a long story.


    He still looks shocked, and I’m not sure how to take this. My stomach sinks as I realize he probably doesn’t want to be anywhere near me now. Look, if this is way more than you bargained for then just stay here out of sight. No one comes up here anyway.

    The shocked looked is replaced by one of excitement and amusement. Oh, hell, no. You got some ‘splain’ to do.

    My stomach unknots, and I chuckle. It is a good story, but right now we need to figure out what’s going on.

    Our footsteps echo on the smooth concrete floor as we walk to the stairway that leads to all the main floors. I motion for him to be quiet, then I close my eyes and focus on all the sounds surrounding us. A drip from the rooftop snow melting fills my whole being. I shake it off and concentrate on the floor below us. It’s quiet. Not a shred of activity is happening. They must’ve rounded up everyone and herded them into one spot. But where?

    I open my eyes and whisper, I don’t hear anything going on immediately below us, so I think we can go down there.

    How did you… Never mind.

    I creep to the stairs, signaling him to for him to fall behind me. Before we’re out of the stairwell, I peek down the hallway both ways to make sure there is no one. I motion for him to follow me to one of the offices out of view from the security cameras. I close the door behind us, push the large credenza to block anyone who might come up here on patrol, and then collapse in a lump on an office chair in front of the monitor.

    Okay, is this a government facility or something? Michael asks. I know you said not to ask many questions, but you gotta give me something.

    I nod. Yeah, I guess I do owe you that much. I move the mouse on the computer.

    Whoa, you guys got upgraded to the new Windows Ninety-Five OS? That’s pretty sweet. Do they have Pentium processors?

    Seriously? I just hurled you and me on top of a two-story building and ripped open a rooftop hatch with my bare hands, and you want to know if my computer has a Pentium processor?

    He shrugs and says sheepishly, Well, yeah, but I’d like to know what’s up with that other stuff too.

    I clack away at the keyboard. Yes, they do have a Pentium. As for the ‘other stuff,’ it’s not really a government facility. Director says that unofficially, the government does know about it, but officially, they claim no knowledge about what we do. We house some humans who have superhuman abilities and some alien refugees. We make money by building commercial items from alien technologies, which is all handled on your side.

    He stops cold. So you’re saying aliens and human mutants, like X-Men, actually exist?


    He responds by whistling the X-Files theme.

    "I wasn’t kidding when I said ‘welcome to the X-Files.’ Actually, some of the higher-ups here got kind of antsy when they started airing the show because it hit a little close to home, but they decided to leave it be since stirring the pot would only cause more questions."

    So which are you?

    None of the above, actually. I accidently got injected with a virus by an over-zealous scientist, and it ended up giving me superpowers.

    So, like, laser eyes? He is almost at the edge of his seat.

    No, moron. Like all the things humans can do but amplified. So I’m super strong, I can run fast and hear well… you get the gist of it.

    Last question: Is the side where I work just a front?

    No. Aegis Technix is actually a pretty successful biomedical equipment manufacturer. There are a few things, and I’m not sure which, that have their roots in alien technology, but most everything has been made right here.

    Wow. Just wow.

    I keep clacking on the computer, and I smile when video from the security cameras is displayed.

    He looks at my screen. How did you do that?

    A few tricks my mentors taught me. When I contracted the virus, no one, including my parents, felt comfortable letting me go back to normal school. So essentially, everyone here has been homeschooling me so I can get my credits to graduate. They also teach me cool stuff I wouldn’t normally learn in school.

    Like hacking into security systems.

    Like hacking into security systems.

    I click through the various feeds. It’s just empty rooms until I happen upon the cafeteria. There is a mass of people crowded in there, all of them cowering under three people wearing ski masks with their guns trained on everyone. I scan the crowd, looking for two people in particular: my mom and Joe. I don’t see either, but I do see Director there, which gives me some relief. I murmur under my breath, Where are you?

    No Mom?

    No Mom, but I haven’t accessed the really high-security cameras yet. That might take me a sec.

    So I feel kind of useless here. What can I do?

    I stop my hacking for a second and think. You a McGuyver fan?

    Well, duh… Oh, I get where you’re going. I’ll see if I can cobble together some weapons with some of our office supplies.

    He opens drawers and cabinets, pulling out anything he can find of use. At the same time, I try to get through to some of the higher-security feeds. The encrypted signals scroll on my screen, and I bite my lip as I try as many schemes as I can to break through. Then finally, something knocks lose, and a feed appears. It looks like the labs that my mom works in. A few people root through files and put them in boxes. In another room, a bookish woman looks to be hacking on a computer. But still no Mom or Joe. Then I click on another screen and…



    Michael stops what he’s doing and peeks over my shoulder. On the screen, my mom and Joe are sitting in chairs while a rather hulkish man has a gun trained on my mom’s head. I imagine that’s why Joe isn’t doing anything. They seem to be staring ahead at something off screen, but then it, or he, rather, comes into view. My heart sinks. I grab the chair for dear life.

    Michael puts his hand on my shoulder. What’s wrong? It looks like you’ve seen a ghost.

    I have. I barely breathe out. It’s Dr. Demko.


    He’s the guy who injected me.

    He looks horrified. How did that happen?

    Well, Dr. Demko used to work for my mom. He was working on a project to make super soldiers, but the thing is, it didn’t work. It just made anyone injected really sick. They were going to shut him down, and he was desperate. I’m quiet for a while. It’s been a long time since I thought about that day. I was here on a field trip, where they tour kids on the other side. You know, to encourage them to be science-y and junk. He nods. Anyway, instead of eating lunch with my group, I went outside to meet my mom. I was kind of going through a hard time with a few of the kids in my class, and I didn’t want to sit with them. While Mom and I were eating, Dr. Demko confronted us. He wanted to talk to my mom in private. She refused. He was very insistent and kept begging her to just give him a chance. I remember almost feeling sorry for the guy.

    Sounds a little nuts to me.

    Oh, this guy was not only riding the Crazy Train, he was the lead conductor of the whole rig. He started shouting, and Mom told me to get back to my class. When I got up to leave, he blocked me. Before security could get to us, he pulled out a syringe and injected me. I don’t remember much but falling to the ground after that.

    Holy cow. So that was the same stuff that made all the soldiers sick?

    Well, it was a little different. Or so they told me. But I got really sick too. I was kept in the hospital here for weeks, months… Hell, I’m not sure. When it was all over, only me and one soldier made it through, and we both got superhuman abilities.

    That is the most amazing thing I’ve heard in my life. He quickly adds in a nervous stutter, I… I mean it’s not cool that you almost died and stuff.

    I chuckle. Nah, it’s all right. I get what you’re saying. Eager to get back to business, I change the subject. I think our next course of action should be to go and get Director from the cafeteria. With him, it’ll be easier to access the high-security areas. I look at the video screen again and count six thugs with guns trained on the people in the cafeteria. I turn back to Michael. You able to come up with anything good to help us out?

    Actually, yes. I looked through the trash and thankfully, this guy seemed to be a chewing gum and Diet Coke addict. I recovered some plastic bottles and a bunch of chewing gum wrappers. I just need to make a trip to the janitor’s closet first. This should make a good distraction and smoke screen. He holds up a tattered olive-green backpack. I also found this handy dandy backpack with a toolkit inside.

    Great. Anything else?

    Yeah, I cobbled together a little periscope from some mirrors, cardboard, and duct tape. Might help us to see around corners.

    I take a breath to steel myself against the absolute dread that I feel. From looking at Michael’s drawn appearance, I can tell he feels the same way. It’s not right that he’s risking his life for someone he’s known for only a few months. Why don’t you just stay here? I’d feel awfully bad if you got hurt or something.

    He flings the backpack over his shoulders and says with his charming smile, Eh, I’ll just hide behind you and let you protect me from the bad guys.

    Gee, thanks. I guess it’s now or never. The janitor’s closet is right by the stairs, so we can swing by it on the way out.

    Right by the stairs, the janitor’s closet door is barely open. We sneak inside and turn on the light. Michael turns the shelves and starts emptying various cleaning chemicals into the assorted plastic bottles he collected from the office. The mop perched in the corner catches my eye. I snag it and break the mop head off the handle.

    Michael looks up and smiles. Good move. Right out of the Sarah Connor playbook.

    "I guess seeing Terminator Two six times did me some good. I hand him the handle. I think you’ll need this more than me. I wish I had something better to equip you with."

    Six times? I knew I liked you.

    It seems stupid in this time of uber stress, but the fact that he said he liked me sends my stomach into butterfly-like antics. Trying to not dwell on this too long and to not make a dork of myself, I clear my throat. Yeah, well, there’s a lot of time to kill here in the lab. You ready to go?

    We open the door to and descend the cold, dark stairwell. We’re both silent for a while, and then Michael speaks. So what’s your deal?

    I told you ‘my deal.’

    No, I mean are you not going to college because of the whole super thing? Are you working here forever?

    I continue down the stairs, thinking. Director wants me to be a super. I think Mom and Dad want me to go to college.

    Well, what do you want?

    I honestly don’t know.

    We’re silent for the remainder of the journey. After what feels like twenty flights, we’re at the door.

    I look at Michael. Last chance to change your mind. You in?



    I pull on the door, but it doesn’t budge. Dang it! They must’ve secured this level from all around. I try to punch my code on the keypad, but nothing. Crap on a cracker! Without thinking, I pry the keypad from the wall, revealing a mass of wires and blinking LEDs. That tool kit got a pair of side cutters? Almost as soon as I ask, a pair is sitting in my hands. I snip a few wires, and the alarm is silenced. You have a few of those gum wrappers? He thrusts a few in my hand, and I cobble together a few alternate routes, and then the door clicks.

    Michael gives me a chuck on the shoulder. Great work. Seems like you could do the superhero thing or the college thing.

    The halls are dimly lit and eerily quiet. Michael peeks his homemade periscope around the corner and gives me a nod, and we proceed down the hallway, slinking along the wall. When I spot the camera, I stop and point.

    He squeezes my arm. Hold on. I think it’s time for our distraction now.

    He puts the backpack on the ground then crouches and pulls out the Coke bottles. He sets a few of the bottles with the gum wrappers in them on the ground. He pours some of each liquid into the bottles with the gum wrappers, quickly caps them, and rolls each down the hall in the direction of the cameras. We turn our backs and plug our ears. My body is tense waiting for the inevitable, but I’m petrified that our scheme won’t work. A thunderous explosion sounds. Smoke and strobing red lights fill the hall, and wailing sirens complete the sensory assault.

    Michael does a dorky victory dance. Yes! It worked.

    He takes the mop handle from the backpack and throws it over his shoulders. I lead him into the smoke. Even though I have super sight, it’s still hard for me to see. I focus harder on all my other senses. To my right, I hear footsteps approaching. It’s hard to make out how many. I stay still and wait for them to come closer. When I can feel their breath on me, I swing. Something metallic thuds to the floor, probably his gun.

    A low-pitched growl comes from the fog, and an arm wraps around me and pulls me down. I yell out, Michael, there are more! Watch out!

    I’m able to wrestle free from my assailant, and almost simultaneously, a few shots ring out. My only thought is of Michael, but I need to concentrate and take care of this thug. I try to get up from the ground, but a man with greasy black hair grabs for my ankle, pulling me toward him. I slam the heel of my other foot into the man’s nose. His hands loosen their grasp, and he’s left moaning.

    I stand, looking wildly for Michael when I feel the end of a gun in my back. Play time’s over. You’re coming with me.

    A breath, then a zip, and I’m right behind the man. I tap his shoulder. He turns, looking confused. Before he can process what’s happening, I land a punch in his face, and he tumbles to the ground. I’m quick to grab his gun then turn to the sound of husky breathing. A skinny man approaches but doesn’t see me yet. I wait until he’s within arm’s length and smack him upside the head with the butt of my gun, and he topples to the floor.

    The smoke is starting to dissipate, but I still don’t see Michael. Michael! Where are you?

    Here! I… I got one! He’s perched over an unconscious body with his mop at the ready. He didn’t even see me before I got a swing in. Thank goodness, because I don’t think I would’ve been a match for that guy.

    He looks over at the stack of unconscious bodies of my doing, shakes his head, and flings his mop handle on the floor and takes his thug’s gun.

    I narrow my eyes. Do you even know how to use that thing?

    No. I just figure whomever we meet doesn’t know that.

    Good point. Looks like we got four down. That means we have two to deal with in the cafeteria.

    Easy peasy.

    We slink over to the corner before the cafeteria doors. Michael pushes his periscope to the edge. Looks like there are two guys in front of the door.

    As if on cue, we hear one of the guys yell, What’s goin’ on over there? Did you take care of it? You need us to come help?

    The other guy says, You know they told us to stay put no matter what.

    I take the periscope from Michael and look at the guys. They are pretty big, but no bigger than Joe. If I get some momentum going I think I can do this. I give Michael the periscope and my gun. Give me a sec. I think I got this.

    Before he has time to protest, I’m down the hall in a shot. I pop up next to the first guy, taking him by surprise. Before he has time to utter a word, I clock him with all my strength, and he flies across the hallway. The next man hardly has time to react before I take his gun and smack him upside the head with it. He tumbles to the ground like a pile of rocks. I slowly open the doors to the cafeteria and scan the huddling mass of people.

    Director stands. Tessa, what the hell are you doing here?


    You’re welcome, Director.

    Stop being such a smart-aleck. He pauses as he stares past me. Who in the blue blazes is that?

    I look over my shoulder. Oh yeah, that’s Michael. He’s my, uh, friend. He insisted on helping.

    Director wades through the ocean of people, looking like his head is about to explode. Tessa! He is not cleared… He stops himself to regain his composure. How much does he know?

    Well, he just saw me take down five guys twice my size.

    For crying out— He takes a deep breath and runs his hands through his hair. A low hiss of air escapes him, and then he faces the cafeteria full of people. All of you, I want you to file out as quickly and quietly as possible. He looks at a man and a woman to his side. You two, go into the conference room, access the secure line, and enter code alpha-niner-lima-hotel-zero. An all-call to the supers will be sent out.

    They nod and say in unison, Sir, yes, sir. And scurry out of the room.

    After all the people are out, I say to Director, Sir, I need your access codes to get to the bottom level. Mom and Joe are down there. It looks like Dr.—

    Yes, I know. Demko is here. He’s threatening to blow up the building if he doesn’t get all of his old research. Your mom’s a tough cookie. I think she can hold out until the reinforcements get here.

    My head pounds. What? You can’t be serious?

    I’m dead serious. Your mother knew the risks involved when accepting a position here. She is more than willing to hold her position for however long she needs to.

    Are you nuts? Seriously, what would you guys have done if me and Michael hadn’t saved your butts? I doubt Dr. Demento is going to be as patient as you think he will. Eventually, he’s going to find whatever he’s looking for or blow this building to kingdom come with my mom in it. That is NOT a risk that I’m willing to take. Now, me and Michael are going down there with or without your help. I grab Michael by the arm. C’mon. Let’s get going.

    Young lady! Don’t you understand? His finger is on the trigger. If he sees us coming, he’ll blow the whole dang building. Just wait for experienced reinforcements, and everything will be fine.

    I stop in my tracks, turn on my heel, and fold my arms. Just one word from him can usually set me into a quivering pile of ooze, but not today. You’re the one that told me I need to make the best use of my gifts. Now I am, and you want me to back down. I just took down five men, all bigger than you. I can take you down if I have to. And I’m sure between me and Michael, we can hack our way into the secure area. I don’t need you. I just thought that maybe you’d help us.

    I wait for the Director’s response. He narrows his eyes as if in careful consideration. Honestly, I don’t know if Michael and I can hack the security systems, but I’m not going to let Director know that. He hisses, Tessa, you’re going to be the death of me. You’re right. I can’t stop you, and your mother would kill me if I let you go in there by yourself.

    Michael clears his throat. I’ll be with her, sir.

    Director growls, Are you still here?

    I say, I couldn’t have done all this without him. I know he’ll be a great help to us.

    Director throws his hands up in the air. Fine. Anything else while you’re at it?

    Uh, just one thing.

    Why am I not surprised?

    I ease myself down on a chair nearby. I didn’t get to eat much lunch, and I think I’m going to pass out from all this activity. Can I eat something before we go any further?


    I stuff the last of a ham-and-cheese wrap into my mouth and then guzzle down the bubbly cold sweetness of a Coca-Cola. Using my powers consumes unreal amounts of calories.

    After I polish off the last of the wrap, Michael looks at me wide-eyed. I feel incredibly self-conscious until he says, I’m impressed. You can almost keep up with me.

    I take one more swig of Coke. You guys ready to go?

    Michael nods, but Director says, So what did you two reckon on doing when you got down there?

    Well, shoot, he’s called my bluff. I buy a few seconds by taking yet another drink of the Coke. I thought we could use your codes to get into the downstairs level. Then when we go to the lab, I thought about making a distraction that would draw them out. I guess from there, I just kind of thought I’d use the brute force method.

    Director looks pretty convinced at the plan I just pulled out of my butt. What are your assets?

    I reply, We cobbled together a few smoke bombs from the janitor’s closet, a mop handle club, a sweet homemade periscope—

    Michael adds, A tool kit and some gum wrappers.

    You kids made it down here and cleared the cafeteria with just that?

    And don’t forget my winning personality and ninja-like skills, I add tartly.

    Director shakes his head and walks out of the cafeteria. C’mon, you two. Let’s get going before Demko gets wise to something goin’ on up here.

    Michael and I grab our guns, sling them over our shoulders, and follow behind the Director. He stops by one of the unconscious men in the hallway, bends down, and inspects his body. He pulls off an earpiece and what looks like a walkie-talkie. He takes the man’s gun and puts it around his shoulder. Y’all know how to use the guns? We both shake our heads no. He makes an exasperated sound. Rack the slide like this. He pulls it back on the gun. Then if you see bad guys, pull the trigger, but try to leave the shooting to me. Okay? We both nod. He says under his breath, Remind me to put both of you in weapons training if we get out of this.

    I screw up my face. Both?

    Well, the way I see it, we don’t have any choice but to bring Matthew to our side of the business now.

    It’s Michael, sir.

    Whatever, Mark.

    Director makes his way to the stairs, making hardly any noise. By my count there should be Demko and—

    Three other guys, I finish.

    Actually, Miss Smarty Pants, there are five other people, including the Demko. How did you know that, anyway?

    I started getting these new ESP-like powers. It’s really weird. He gives me the be-serious stare, and I shrug. Okay, I hacked into the camera systems like Dr. Gloria taught me. I guess the others were out of view when I hacked into the computers.

    Director stops just short of the stairs. "Look, I’m going to level with you before we go down there. Demko is crazed. He wants nothing more than to prove his research is viable. If he sees you, he will

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