Chapter 28:

Book 2, Ch. 3: Skipping School for the Greater Good

ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~


***THANKS FOR READING!***

Another chapter up, another gray hair for me. Joking, of course. But seriously, this keeps me busy, busy, busy...

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*******

BOOK 2, CHAPTER 3: SKIPPING SCHOOL FOR THE GREATER GOOD

In Maxwell Donahue’s class, Jane Pelham was on TV. As part of learning about journalism for current events class, the students were required to watch the local news broadcast. The entire class was awash with bored expressions, allowing Robbie’s brooding to blend in perfectly as he entered the classroom and took a seat.

Mr. Donahue nodded at Robbie, indicating he had been excused by Mr. Kampton for being tardy.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the latest report of the current Chicago epidemic,” Jane Pelham announced from the forty-inch 1080p TV, “which officials are nicknaming the ‘ghost flu’ because of its elusiveness, and because of its sudden disappearance. Officials say the ghost flu is still unidentified, but there have been no new known cases of people infected since Sunday. All patients who had been diagnosed with the illness have made a full recovery, and there have been zero casualties.”

A sigh of relief came from Robbie’s left. The tenth-grade girl next to him was attentively watching the news. Her name was Zinoviya “Zee” Ivanov, a Russian girl with long dark hair and brown eyes. Having moved to America eleven years ago at age five, she could speak fluent Russian, but her English contained no trace of an accent due to her early exposure to the American language and customs.

“That’s good to know,” Zee Ivanov said, “no casualties.”

Robbie was listening to the news broadcast, not watching it, but still paying close attention. He had a difficult time accepting that he knew Erik was the source of the recent epidemic.

Damn it, Erik, he ruminated. Why didn’t you ever say anything to me? You should’ve said you were hurting so bad. We drifted apart a little, but I still would’ve done something to help, or tried to, at least.

Hearing there were no deaths from the disease relieved him, and he unconsciously grinned at that thought. In the end, Erik hadn’t claimed a single life, and as one friend to another, Robbie was happy Erik didn’t have to wear that bloodstained badge for the rest of his life.

He still got the poundin’ he deserved, Robbie thought.

“Hey. Hey, Rob,” Zee whispered as the rest of the class focused on the TV.

“Huh?” Robbie snapped his attention to the Russian sophomore girl next to him. “Sorry, what?”

“Do you know who Marilyn Collins is?” she asked quietly, leaning close to Robbie.

After a couple seconds of thinking, Robbie nodded.

“Yeah, sorta.” He vaguely remembered seeing Marilyn with Chris a few times around school.

“I’m friends with her and her best friend, Katie Vickers,” Zee said. “Marilyn said she thinks she had the ghost flu,” Zee pointed at the TV, “but it didn’t last very long. It went away after Sunday, just like everyone else who had it.”

“Oh. Really?” Robbie didn’t know what else to say.

Drake O’Neil was sitting behind Robbie, listening to the conversation when he intervened.

“Mary had it?” he asked suddenly, leaning in.

Robbie and Zee were caught off guard, unaware that Drake was part of the conversation. He looked at Zee without blinking, his bittersweet cologne increasing in fragrancy from sweat.

“Yeah, that’s what she said,” Zee told Drake, “but she felt better the next day, so she didn’t go to a doctor to see for sure.”

There were distraught traces in Drake’s eyes, accented by his groomed, urbane fashion palette, but he soon smiled in relief.

“That’s good,” he said, holding tightly to the edges of his desk.

“You know her too, right?” Robbie asked Drake.

“Yeah.” Drake nodded.

Robbie turned around and leaned in close to Drake, holding his hand to his mouth to mute his voice.

“Ain’t you Chris’ friend?”

“We’ve been good friends for a while,” Drake replied quietly.

“Marilyn and Chris…are they going out?” Robbie asked.

Drakes eyes got huge, almost comically so. He glanced around for a moment.

“I-I don’t really know,” Drake answered, “…are they?”

Robbie shrugged. “I just see them hanging out around school, is all.”

“What?” Zee asked, feeling left out of the conversation. “Who’s going out with who?”

“Quiet down.” Mr. Donahue, from his desk, could hear some of his students quietly whispering. “The news is almost over. Pay attention.”

Robbie and Zee looked back at the TV, which was now showing coverage about a breakthrough spaghetti-ramen hybrid at a new restaurant in Chicago. The restaurant’s owner looked like Chef Boyardee with a Fu Manchu and was holding a fishcake-swirled meatball with chopsticks, grinning broadly.

Drake wasn’t interested, staring out the window, still tightly holding the sides of his desk.

“Ghost flu,” he muttered under his breath.

*******

The hallways of Lyonbole Public High School were quiet in the absence of students, being nothing more than architecturally-lavish hollow tunnels gutted from a mine rich with materialistic luxury, waiting for the next flood of students at the sound of the bell. While class was in session, Chris and Bret were tiny compared to the open space contained in those hallways. The boys walked away from the main office, their footsteps carried by the purified, humidified, well-controlled air. Chris looked at the polished floor as he walked, at the earthy toned tiles patterned with sky blue and white, noticing an unusual level of shininess—perhaps they were freshly buffed overnight.

They reached one of the several large common areas where the main hallways intersected, which was an open lounge-like place filled with stylish furniture and tables, along with a fifty-five-inch 4K TV showing local announcements and school-related information. Students would often congregate at such common areas between classes or after school to study, slack off, or feel important.

There were four students sitting around one of the tables. Chris recognized them as being the student council members. They appeared to be holding a discussion while sharing notes and passing around papers.

Among them was Xavier Copenhagen, who was both the senior valedictorian and student council president, donning a white suit with a sky blue bowtie and cummerbund, making him nearly camouflaged with the school’s aesthetic theme. He was known for having a grade point average off the scales.

Bret looked at the student council with distaste.

“Gah, it’s those pricks in the student council,” he muttered. “Can’t stand ‘em, all uppity and crap. Especially Xavier, dressing like that with a suit, and in the school’s colors at that! What a joke.”

Chris dismissed Bret’s comment and headed toward the nearest exit, keeping a wary eye out for any teachers or student hall monitors. Although the student council didn’t necessarily possess authority of policy enforcement, they were obligated to be exemplary role models, and would possibly question why he and Bret were wandering the halls during class without hall passes (which was actually because Mr. Norris had his room’s hall pass stolen).

Chris headed straight for the closest exit, but Bret stopped him.

“Where ya goin’?” Bret asked.

“Outside,” Chris said, glancing toward the four student council members. They weren’t paying attention, probably. “We’re leaving, right?”

“I wanna stop by my locker,” Bret told Chris. “Gotta be prepared.”

A thought occurred to Chris.

“Oh, I forgot something,” Chris said worriedly.

“Huh?” Bret looked at him impatiently. “What?”

“My books and stuff are in Mr. Norris’ room. It’s out of the way, though.”

“What, you’re afraid he’ll throw it away?” Bret asked. “Just get them back from him later.”

“I guess,” Chris said flatly.

“You gotta loosen up, Chris,” Bret told him. “You’re such a square. Grab life by the balls sometimes, man.”

Chris smiled.

“I…really don’t want to grab anything by the balls.”

“It’s a figure of speech. Don’t be a weirdo.”

“I know. Just a joke.” Chris felt his phone in his pocket. “Somebody’s lame humor is rubbing off on me.”

“I thought it was a fine joke,” Excalibur said from Chris’s pocket.

Bret snickered.

“Why am I stuck with you two? But seriously, you need to stop worrying about stupid stuff. Is this the first time you ever skipped school?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Chris said. “It’s okay, though. Like you said, worrying about getting in trouble by the teachers is nothing compared to the bigger picture.”

“There you go about this ‘bigger picture’ stuff.” Bret sighed and gave Chris a playful punch on the arm. “Stick with me, dude. I’m the king of skipping school. I’ll show you the ropes and how to do it right.”

Chris said nothing as they approached Bret’s locker. As Bret entered the combination, Chris thought about how his days as a good student were over. However, his determination was resolute, and there were more important things—such as eliminating inhuman threats, which was something only a small percentage of people could do…a percentage including Chris.

With a grin, Bret swung his locker door open, which was filled with snacks and various backpacks stuffed with things Chris didn’t want to know about. An odor of old chocolate and brown paper bags wafted out.

Bret grabbed a metal baseball bat and wore an expression of mischief. The bat was covered in dings and scratches, and Chris could only assume it had been used for much more than baseball.

“Why do you have that in your locker?” Chris asked with suspicion, pointing at the well-used metal baseball bat.

“Heh, for precautions,” Bret replied, giving the bat a one-handed swing. “Arm thyself, fool! It’s common sense.”

“But, you had that in there before we knew about this enemy,” Chris said, raising an eyebrow, “didn’t you?”

Bret had a blank look.

“Yeah, what of it? I’ve been taking precautions before any of this ghostbusting nonsense.”

“Not surprising, coming from you,” Chris muttered.

Kicking the locker shut with an echoing slam, Bret slung the bat over his shoulder and looked at Chris disapprovingly.

“Man, you really need to lighten up,” he said coldly. “I don’t know what kinda pampered upbringing you had, but it probably ain’t gonna do you much good from now on, fightin’ these monsters. The story’s different now, so learn from your street savvy coach, me, and fit your new part.”

“Don’t worry about me,” Chris said confidently. “I like to think I know my own story pretty well…and as its main character, I’ll see it through to the end.”

Bret chuckled and shook his head.

“For real, you’d be a pretty boring main character,” Bret said with a sneer.

“I can live with that.”

“C’mon, let’s get outta here. I’m ready to ditch this dump.”

The two students exited the building through one of the side doors, the sunshine, warm air, and blue sky being witnesses to their delinquency. As Chris passed through the small back gate and stepped off the school grounds, he took a deep breath, thinking it was surprisingly easy to leave. Looking at the school, he briefly considered the fact that a lot of the school rules he conformed to consisted of nothing more than ideological walls that could be bypassed simply by walking away.

“Listen up, here’s your first lesson of being a badass rule breaker!” Bret said loudly, holding the baseball bat over his head and pointing it at the sky. “Don’t look back. Just don’t do it, and it’ll make it easier.”

Chris looked away from the school as they continued walking down the sidewalk.

“I hope you don’t lecture me like this the whole time,” Chris muttered.

“I can’t promise that,” Bret said rudely. “So, where are we going? Can we walk there?”

Looking at the map on his phone, Chris saw the marked target hadn’t moved much since leaving Lavi’s office.

“We could make it there on foot,” he said, “but it’s a little ways away.”

“I’ll follow you, then.” Bret slung the bat over his shoulder again. “I don’t know about you, but I’m stoked for a fight.”

On the way to the marked target, the boys walked through a suburban neighborhood, lined with close houses. Bret offered to split a prescription pill with Chris, saying it would help give him energy for whatever they would be doing, but Chris declined and said drugs were bad. After mocking Chris, Bret swallowed the entire pill for himself.

Because the walk would take enough time, Chris read the text messages from Excalibur outlining the details of the update. He wanted to know how to use the Excalibur A.I. app to its fullest, and possibly in a peaceful, nonviolent way.

The text messages listed out the features:

[EXCALIBUR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE APPLICATION]

[Version 1.0]

<This is the first rendition of the Excalibur Artificial Intelligence Application. It has all of the features of the beta version (version 0.9), some of which are improved, as well as several new features.>

<Here is a full comprehensive list of all features:>

(1) Voice recognition and intelligent conversation abilities, both spoken and written, in any language.

(2) Read aloud onscreen text, as well as identify and explain onscreen objects.

(3) A database of individuals. Anyone who learns of Lavi’s identity will automatically be entered into the database. Information of the individual will include name, voice, contact information, and anything on the Internet pertaining to him/her.

(4) Level 2 detection of entities with powers of unorthodox phenomena. Detectable entities must:

(a) Have either (1) learned of Lavi’s true identity as a holy angel, or (2) emit negative energy readings. AT LEAST ONE OF THESE CONDITIONS MUST BE MET FOR DETECTION TO OCCUR.

(b) Emit no higher than moderate-strength energy signals.

(c) Emit energy signals no more complex than the application’s detection parameters.

(d) Be within the range of a 5-mile radius.

(5) Locate other cell phones via service providers’ towers and other phone-to-phone connectivity. This is only possible during voice calls, sending/receiving text messages, and other phone-to-phone connectivity (such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) with Christopher’s phone. This also applies to other devices with the aforementioned connectivity, NOT ONLY PHONES.

(6) Automatically send text messages and place/receive phone calls.

(7) Access the Internet, perform search-based activities, and any other Internet-based activities using the installed browser and capable applications.

(8) Sword blade. Details are as follows:

(a) Directional assistance to increase movement speed of the blade.

(b) Customizable colors, accessed in the application’s onscreen user interface.

(c) Does not harm the wielder, unless desired.

(d) Impossible to leave the wielder’s hand, unless desired.

(e) Can scratch any material up to a Mohs hardness of 5, such as glass.

(f) Can be used to store, channel, emit, and otherwise alter the wielder’s power/energy.

(9) Use all other applications and phone features according to the developer specs. Is able to hack, jailbreak, and override applications and phone features in ways that are unintended by the developer specifications. (Please refer to the user-end agreement for all relevant developers, for many of the aforementioned actions may be deemed unlawful and in violation of terms.)

Although that was the end of the list of features, several more text messages followed, elaborating in such vivid detail that Chris’ eyes and head hurt as he read it. No doubt, there was a lot of “fine print” involved in Excalibur’s functions.

“Man, this is written like an instruction manual,” Chris said flatly. “It’s detailed, but the technical talk is confusing.”

The delinquent glanced at Chris’ phone as the two kept walking down the street lined with houses.

“What’s up with that phone app, anyway?” Bret asked. “Where’d you get it?”

“Lavi gave it to me.”

“Can I get it, too?”

“I don’t think so.”

Bret grunted. “That’s stupid. How much farther do we have?”

“Under a half mile,” Chris said, looking at the GPS app. “I recognize this area. We’re getting close to Hamlin Park. Me and Drake hang out there sometimes. They have a community pool.”

Bret nodded, mildly interested in what Chris was saying.

“Community pools are cool. Haven’t been to one in a while. I don’t think I’ve been to Hamlin Park, too.”

“We should all go sometime,” Chris said. “Get a group together and stuff.”

“Maybe.”

A middle aged man walked out of a nearby house and got into his car. There was nothing peculiar about this event by itself, but within seconds, the tenants of every single house were coming outside as well. The suddenness of the situation made Chris and Bret stop walking. Dumbfounded, the boys watched everybody get into their cars, on their motorcycles and bicycles, or just walk away.

“This is, uh, a little weird,” Chris said quietly, watching the traffic on the street go from nearly empty to congested in under a minute.

“Yeah.” Bret looked around. “Where’s everyone going?”

A young man walked past, and Chris spoke up.

“Excuse me,” Chris said to the stranger.

The young man stopped and smiled courteously.

“Hello there,” he said in a friendly tone.

“What’s going on here?” Chris asked. “Where are you all going?”

The man stared at Chris for a moment, not breaking his smile.

“What do you mean?” he asked after a short silence.

“Well, everybody’s leaving their houses at the same time. It’s pretty strange, don’t you think?”

The man appeared muddled at first, but then blinked, smiled again, and nodded.

“Thank you,” he told Chris with a smile, “have a good day.”

As the stranger continued walking, the remaining residents cleared the area. Quietness settled in after the fading sounds of car engines, and in almost no time, the neighborhood was empty.

Chris and Bret looked at each other, as if looking for answers neither of them had.

“I don’t like this,” Bret finally said, scanning the area. Only birds and squirrels remained, but did not stir. “Everyone left, didn’t they?”

“Bret,” Chris said firmly, “I think I know what’s going on. Well, partially, at least.”

“Oh?” Bret took his cigarettes out of his pocket and placed one in his mouth. “Let’s hear it.”

“Every time I or Robbie have fought something…something that requires our powers, everyone else leaves.” The street had a distinct stillness that typically accompanied the lack of people; an eerie, crawling tranquility possessing an edge of malice. “Just like this. It also happened at Millers Meadows where Erik was. This has to be what’s happening!”

Bret lit his cigarette and took a drag.

“Are you saying that we’re about to fight something?” he had a twisted look of eagerness.

When Chris checked his phone’s GPS, he saw the marked target was moving rather quickly, and was heading straight for their location.

“Hey, it’s coming this way,” Chris said, trying to stay calm, “right at us.”

Holding his cigarette between his lips, Bret gripped his baseball bat with both hands.

“Okay, it’s party time!” he said excitedly. “That must be it right there!”

A shadowy entity emerged from one of the houses, passing through it unhindered. Instantly, Chris recognized it as possessing similar attributes to the other beings of malevolence he’d encountered: shadowy, smoky, and a disregard for physical objects. He quickly summoned Gunnhildr, the holy handgun with a sleek, simplistic design and chrome-like texture, and wrapped his fingers around the grip.

“Yeah, that looks like it.” Chris pointed the holy handgun at the entity, knowing he could take it out with a single hit of an absolving bullet. “I can probably get rid of it with one shot.”

“Huh, really?” Bret gave Chris an unsure look. “Do you wanna do that? I thought we were fighting this thing for practice.”

Chris hesitated, looking at the approaching entity down Gunnhildr’s sights. Its form was like ash in a snow globe, mostly spherical and swirling.

“I did say that.” Chris tried to relax his muscles, but didn’t do very well. “Um, I could work on my aim.”

Bret took a huge drag off his cigarette before he spit it onto the asphalt, twirling his bat in large circles.

“Let me take a few swings at it,” he told Chris, stepping forward. “If it looks like I’m gonna die, then shoot it.”

Negative energy rippled down the street, increasing in potency as the being of darkness advanced on the boys. Standing down, Chris still held Gunnhildr as Bret confronted the foe in the middle of the inactive road.

“Did you find out anything else about this thing?” Chris asked Excalibur, holding his phone in his left hand as his right contained the handgun.

“Other than constructing a computerized image, I have not,” Excalibur answered. “Like most nonhuman beings of malevolence, it is very old and is comprised of negative energy. Gunnhildr should be sufficient for absolving it, and your smartphone sword should also be effective in slaying it.”

Bret held his baseball bat up high, taking an attacking stance. The shadowy foe acknowledged its opponent, slowing down several yards away from the delinquent student.

“Is there a difference between absolving it and slaying it?” Chris asked Excalibur. “They’re two different ways of defeating it?”

“They are both methods of defeating a foe,” Excalibur explained. “Using an absolving bullet will purify negative energy, and since foes such as this are made almost entirely from negative energy, it will not be able to maintain its form. Also, absolution will not take the life of a living creature, such as a human foe.

“Furthermore, absolution will transform the negative energy into neutral energy, providing the potential for it becoming positive energy. Positive energy is a key component for carbon-based lifeforms, such as yourself.

“The other method, of course, is killing. For mortals and living creatures with physical bodies, this means death as you know it. For entities without physical bodies, the negative energy is not converted into neutral energy, but is dissipated, dissolved, and ridded of its sentience.”

“I don’t know what that really meant,” Chris muttered, watching Bret swing his bat through the malevolent being with no effect, “but it sounds like absolving bullets are more peaceful…and, uh better.”

“That is an accurate summary according to your biases,” Excalibur replied.

“Damn! I can’t hit it!” Bret grunted. After several failed attempts, he realized his attacks were having no effect on the enemy. “My swings just go right through it.”

“You probably can’t use physical attacks on it,” Chris told him. “It’s a shadow thing, after all.”

“Entities with a nonphysical body cannot be interacted with using purely physical methods,” Excalibur explained. “An energy attack should damage it.”

Bret spit on the ground, looking at the sphere of darkness with irritation.

“What’s it doing?” he asked. “I don’t think it’s attacked me.”

“It is a very weak entity,” Excalibur said. “According to the data I’ve gathered, it may not have the ability to inflict harm.”

The two boys stared at each other, showing little emotion as the shadow seemed to playfully bounce off Bret’s head, a strange action considering there were no physical interactions to create a true bounce.

“Then…why’d it come at me like it wanted to pick a fight?” Bret murmured, slouching his shoulders with disappointment.

“It is probably attracted to the negative energy you possess,” Excalibur told the delinquent.

Bret cocked his head.

“Huh? I have negative energy?”

“Yes,” Excalibur replied nonchalantly. “Unlike most humans, you possess negative energy, and a high level at that. However, because it is inside you, a carbon-based lifeform structured from positive energy, it creates a convoluted energy signal that humans probably cannot detect. That said, your energy signal falls within my parameters to detect, so it’s very easy for me—”

“Hold on!” Bret pointed his bat at Chris’s phone as the shadowy figure rotated atop his head. “What the hell are you saying? I have a high level of negative energy?”

“I have already said that.”

“But…most people don’t?” He walked briskly up to Chris, staring at the phone in Chris’ hand. “What’s that mean?”

“I do not know what it means, per se,” the app replied. “For you to possess any negative energy at all is an unnatural anomaly. At this time, I have no details of how you attained the negative energy, but there is a chance that it is the result of an event, perhaps a manipulation or attack. Regardless, your negative energy is why I have always been able to detect you, even before you learned of Lavi and his identity.”

The delinquent gripped his well-used bat so tightly that his hand shook. What was Excalibur trying to tell him? Overhead, behaving like a vulture, the shadowy being circled the two boys, its orbit slow and wide. Chris watched it, feeling nervous.

“That’s ridiculous,” Bret growled.

“I calculate a good probability that the source of your power stems from that negative energy, or is greatly influenced by it,” Excalibur said.

“That’s some shit!”

Bret clutched the bat in one hand and hurled it up at the circling being of malevolence. The bat passed through it and landed in a tree, eventually falling to the ground and clinking on the sidewalk; the resulting sound echoed freely throughout the neighborhood devoid of residents.

“Bret,” Chris said calmly, “get ahold of yourself, man.”

“Shut up, Chris!” He stared at his hands, tense and trembling with anger. “So, this makes me a bad guy, too?”

“Not necessarily,” Excalibur said. “How would you define ‘bad guy’ in this context?”

Not answering right away, Bret glared at the black being. A sneer spread across his face. Making a fist with each hand, he laughed loudly and forcibly.

Inside him, a sensation took form. It started in his chest, surrounding his heart, and spread outward in snappy bursts, growing with his anger and impulsiveness…in fact, it was almost like his anger and impulsiveness were manifesting as this sensation. Hot and aching, yet comforting and melodious, this feeling reached every part of Bret’s body, making his fingers vibrate and vision astute.

His feet lost their weight, and the ground he stood on seemed like a launching platform for his rocket-powered legs.

“I mean ‘bad guy’ like this!” he shouted before crouching down and springing up with a mighty jump.

He soared into the air directly at the nonphysical foe, his hands in front of him, ready to grab the shadow. Like an arrow, Bret pierced the dark sphere, instinctively knowing where to aim.

In the darkest part of the entity, a realm so black and desolate that it couldn’t exist on Earth, Bret felt something in his grasp. Wrapping both hands around it, he felt the freezing elastic object as he squeezed it with no restraint. He felt the pangs of lifeless, soul-corroding energy from this object travel up his arms.

Whatever he held onto seemed to be locked into place, and the feeling of grotesquely ripping it away from its domain was marvelously satisfying.

As he exited the other side of the shadow, embracing the sunlight through the thickening cloud cover, he held his trophy victoriously, catching a glimpse of the object so black that it seemed to be missing from space and time; in a split second, it dissolved without a physical trace. Spiraling back to the ground, Bret watched the shadowy entity also disappear completely before he landed face-first on the asphalt street.

Rubbing his face that had left a crack in the pavement, Bret got back to his feet. He looked at Chris, held out his arms with his palms facing up, and said, “Ta-da!”

“W-what…did you just do?” Chris asked, wide-eyed.

“It’s obvious, ain’t it?” Bret boasted with a grin.

“He killed it,” Excalibur said.

“With your bare hands?”

Bret wiggled his fingers.

“Sure did. That’s the second time I’ve taken one of these things down without a weapon.” He walked over to where the baseball bat was and picked it up. “It’s a shame, though. I really wanted to use this thing.”

“That’s incredible!” Chris exclaimed. “You really did that!”

“Please note that it was a very weak entity,” Excalibur said.

“Shut up, Siri,” Bret said dolefully.

“That’s not my name. Also, I do not understand how that makes you a ‘bad guy.’”

Bret shrugged, resting his bat over his shoulder.

“Whatever.”

“It is possible that Bret had destroyed the essential core of the malevolent being,” Excalibur said, “which would explain the entity’s inability to retain its form and sentience. It is that same core that must be struck by an absolving bullet or destroyed otherwise, yet Bret’s physical hands were able to reach it.”

“I don’t get it,” Chris replied, scratching his head, “but I guess it makes sense. And now we know these things can be beat without Gunnhildr. That’s a relief. The twelve-hour reload time won’t be much of a problem from now on.” He looked at the time on his phone. “It looks like I’ll be able to make it back for most of biology class.”

“Really?” Bret looked at Chris in disbelief. “We’re all the way out here, and you’re still talking about going to school? Really, Chris?”

“We should attend school when we can,” Chris told him firmly. “We’ll avoid sticking out, and learning is important, too.”

Bret skidded the tip of the metal bat across the pavement, snickering.

“You do what you want. I’m already out of there for the day. Man, it’s gonna be tough breaking you outta your goody ways.”

“What can I say?” Chris shrugged.

“If you’re goin’ back,” Bret tossed his bat to Chris, “put that away for me, will ya? My locker’s combination is 29-43-39.”

Chris sighed, looking at the scuffed metal bat, and said, “Fine. I’ll catch you later.”

“Yup.”

The boys headed in different directions, Chris toward the school, and Bret in some other indefinite direction.

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