Chapter 44:

Vol. 2, Ch. 19: The Precious, Delicate Balance of Funk Shui

The Integrity of the Super Club [Beta version]

The Condors’ cabin was located on top of a hill overlooking the Megms River on the other side of town, and the grassy fields seemed endless as it expanded out in all directions.Bookmark here

Quintegrity watched fluffy clouds drift below the hilly farmlands. Her legs were wrapped around the top of the wooden guardrail that ran along the cabin’s back deck, separating it from the fields beyond. She dangled upside down, gazing out into the fields.Bookmark here

Snickerdoodle lounged back in a large fishbowl full of water like it was a tub, using magic to keep the bowl afloat in midair. He donned his little sunglasses and had a small parasol to block the sun, making him look like a summer cocktail. When he drifted past Quintegrity, the water refracted a rainbow across her upside down face.Bookmark here

She noticed Rover’s reflection in the fishbowl, his expression bored as he sat on the deck’s wooden guardrail next to Quintegrity and played Glove Alien Fight on his phone.Bookmark here

“Ever wonder if you could fall into the clouds?” she asked as she dangled, reaching “down” toward the clouds.Bookmark here

“Not really,” Rover replied, not looking up from his game.Bookmark here

A breeze from the Megms River rustled Quintegrity’s hair, her long strands tickling the grass “above” her head.Bookmark here

“I love it out here,” she said, watching Snickerdoodle use his front paws to pantomime a row boat in his fishbowl. “Graphite’s family must have a lot of money to afford a second home like this!”Bookmark here

“Yeah.” Rover still didn’t look away from the phone.Bookmark here

Quintegrity looked over at her boyfriend. “From my perspective, it looks like your grumpy face is gonna fall right into the sky.”Bookmark here

“I’m not grumpy.”Bookmark here

“Jealous of Graphite’s cabin?”Bookmark here

“No way.”Bookmark here

The girl put her hands on the ground and pushed off from the guardrail, doing a cartwheel to stand upright in front of Rover.Bookmark here

Her smile was warm enough to make the sun jealous. “I know you’re stressed about raising an army to fight giant robots and our government’s tyrant…”Bookmark here

“That’s putting it lightly.”Bookmark here

“…So, if there’s anything I can do for you, just ask me! Okay?”Bookmark here

Rover finally peeled his eyes away from the phone screen, landing them on something much harder to look away from. His girlfriend knelt in front of him to pick up her wide-brimmed sunhat off the ground, and as his heart strangled his lungs due to hormonal anarchy, he wondered if she’d chosen her low-cut, sleeveless dress for such a kneeling occasion.Bookmark here

Oh no! It’s the carnal chaos! This vixen is trying to seduce me!Bookmark here

“C’mon inside,” she told him, leaping up the steps onto the deck. She kicked off her skeeterwood sandals before entering the cabin. “Let’s introduce our newest Super Club member. Come along, Snickerdoodle!”Bookmark here

Rover chuckled, signing out of his sister’s game account. “They’re gonna freak out when they meet our newest member…”Bookmark here

He followed Quintegrity inside the cabin. Lumpy, Graphite, and Skater Girl were sitting in the living room, lounging back and relaxing. The cabin wasn’t as modern or high-class as the Super Club penthouse, but was definitely bigger and just as comfortable. It had a cozy, country feel from the abundance of dark, heavy wood in the furniture, floors, trimming, and decorations. With all of the windows and screen doors open, a fresh breeze aired out the entire interior, allowing the indoors to breathe with the great outdoors.Bookmark here

“This place is really nice, man!” Lumpy told Graphite, walking around the living room and looking at the high ceiling.Bookmark here

“It’s my family’s home from home.” Graphite blew his nose into a tissue, honking like one of the old motorcars driving in town. “Complete with all-natural allergies from the harvesting…”Bookmark here

“I could spend a whole season here,” Skater Girl said, reclining back in her chair and propping her feet up. “Thanks for having us, Graphite!”Bookmark here

“Yeah.” Graphite sniffed, wiping his nose with another tissue. “Ugh…I think the allergy pill is finally starting to kick in.”Bookmark here

They noticed Rover and Quintegrity walk in. As expected, the chill vibe was totally wrecked as soon as the magical dog paddled into the living room in his hovering fishbowl.Bookmark here

Lumpy, Graphite, and Skater Girl broke out into a cold sweat. Their first thought was that dogs should not fly. Alas, their eyes were witness to the exact counterargument. There was a fluffy dog with cherry-blossom fur hovering next to Rover and Quintegrity at eye level.Bookmark here

“You made it!” Adele said, suddenly next to Rover.Bookmark here

“Whoa!” He jumped back. “You gotta stop just appearing like that!”Bookmark here

“Everyone’s here now.” Quintegrity started the meeting with hyper gestures and dramatic theatrics. “Introducing our newest Super Club member, Magical Poodle Snickerdoodle!”Bookmark here

She clapped. Adele clapped. Rover snickered. Graphite and Skater Girl shivered. Lumpy fainted and crumpled to the floor.Bookmark here

The magical pup rode in the floating fishbowl across the room, and he tilted over to splash some water on Lumpy’s face. Lumpy sputtered back to life as Snickerdoodle handed him a towel that had fluttered from the bathroom.Bookmark here

“What…the…hell?!?” Lumpy thundered, hopping to his feet, cowering away from the towel the dog tried handing him. “Snickerdoodle??? Like, that Snickerdoodle?!” He thrusted his index finger at the TV, a gesture at which Quintegrity nodded. “No way…”Bookmark here

Graphite and Skater Girl were equally dumbfounded, keeping their wide eyes on the drifting doggy. Snickerdoodle threw the towel over Lumpy’s head, who stood motionless.Bookmark here

“I know, right?!” Adele hopped around the seating area, full of giddiness. “He’s the real deal!” She high-fived the dog as he floated past her, and he returned a cool grin, peering over his sunglasses. “I heard Quinn pulled him right outta the TV! Isn’t that wild?!” Grabbing Quintegrity by the shoulders, she said with an intense face, “Quinn…please tell me you can bring all of my favorite fictional characters to life…”Bookmark here

“Sorry, Adele. Too much interdimensional travel is not good for the precious, delicate balance of funk shui.”Bookmark here

“This ain’t happenin’,” Skater Girl muttered, shaking her head repeatedly as her flat bill cap fell off. Her long, straight hair flapped around like veils of burning sapphire gemstones. “Magical dogs aren’t real… Magical dogs aren’t real…”Bookmark here

“You know,” Rover told everyone with a smirk and a shrug, “after that giant robot, a magical dog shouldn’t be that crazy.” He sneered at the cabin’s host. “And I find it hilarious that a dog pulled from the TV is already higher in our club’s ranks than Graphite Condor! Ha-ha!”Bookmark here

Nervous laughter was the only comeback Graphite could muster.Bookmark here

After everyone had the opportunity to pet Snickerdoodle and fall under his charming spell (which wasn’t actually magic—he was just so darn cute with his little sunglasses), their paranoia subsided enough to hold a group discussion. The meeting was now underway as Quintegrity stood next to the TV.Bookmark here

“Behold the fundraiser idea!”Bookmark here

Quintegrity tapped on her bulletproof tablet to bring up the PowerPunch slide featuring the words “Operation Last Frontier” in bubbly, bouncy letters.Bookmark here

“Headmaster informed me,” she continued, “that school will resume next Wenno-day. On Thurdur-day, we’ll begin our operation. The goal is to lead expeditions through the Southbound School Dungeon. Rover’s online research shows that people are spreading rumors and getting antsy about the dungeon, but they’re worried about waking up another Mech Bot General or something. Even though the government announced that everyone is legally entitled to enter without restriction, people are just too dang scared! That’s why we’ll show people the truth! We’ll be the gatekeepers and official hosts of these AR adventures, which means money, money, money!”Bookmark here

“How foolish,” Graphite grunted, looking at the slideshow of crude drawings depicting eager AR adventurers throwing archaic paper money at the Super Club members.Bookmark here

“Hmm?” Quintegrity gave Graphite a curious look. “Does the club slave have concerns?”Bookmark here

Graphite scoffed. “It’s not really my business, but did you forget that you’re in hiding? You’re the Dumbass. This fundraiser will give you a lot of exposure…” His voice trailed off as he glanced around.Bookmark here

Rover glanced at Quintegrity before looking away.Bookmark here

Being exposed as the Dumbass hacker is only the least of her concerns if she gets caught. Graphite and Skater Girl don’t know the extent of her charges, though.Bookmark here

“No worries, Graphite,” Quintegrity assured with a soft smile. “I’m not in hiding, per se. I’m in stealth mode!” Her thumbs-up made her statement legit. “Theoretically, if I do get exposed, it’ll be to my boyfriend.” Rover choked on air and locked up, making her chuckle. “You really are too easy to pick on, Rover.”Bookmark here

Calming down, Rover added, “I have to agree with Graphite. You should lay low. But…knowing how you are, you won’t.”Bookmark here

She grinned. “You know me, then. But you forget: I’m far too super awesome to be caught!”Bookmark here

“What about these meetings?” Skater Girl asked. She lowered her voice. “It’s probably safe here, but be careful. Rover’s and Adele’s house could be bugged because of Rover’s notoriety. I’d say he’s already high on the suspect list because he cheated in Glove Alien Fight.”Bookmark here

“Also not a problem,” Quintegrity said. “I check for bugs and surveillance tech before each meeting, including here. So far, I’ve found nothing.”Bookmark here

“You checked here?” Graphite raised his eyebrow. “You mean you went through my family’s cabin?”Bookmark here

“Yep! Nice infrastructure here, by the way. Very clean and efficient.” She turned back to the PowerPunch presentation, bringing up another slide of crude illustrations. “Okay, here’s how Operation Last Frontier will carry out. The slave and the intern will man the ticket booth.”Bookmark here

“Is that us?” Skater Girl whispered to Graphite, who responded with a morose nod.Bookmark here

Quintegrity continued, “Rover, Lumpy, and Adele will be the safari guides. You’ll lead the adventurers, be in charge of taking care of hostiles or fatalities, and provide undying companionship so people won’t need to return to reality. The adventurers will be able to immerse themselves fully and devotedly in the game. To enable their addictions, our pockets will be fattened with wealth.”Bookmark here

“How noble,” Rover murmured.Bookmark here

Lumpy asked her, “What will you be doing during this fundraiser?”Bookmark here

The shining girl scooped Snickerdoodle from the air and held him in her arms.Bookmark here

“I’ll be with Snickerdoodle, doing recon!”Bookmark here

“Recon for what?” Rover asked with narrowed eyes.Bookmark here

“Good question. Perhaps I’ll figure it out while knee-deep in the situation. Things might get hairy, and I’ll be there to comb the cowlicks and collect the hairballs! Ha-ha-ha!”Bookmark here

Rover and Graphite both facepalmed. Their frustration toward Quintegrity was the most they ever had in common with each other.Bookmark here

“And seriously, guys,”—Quintegrity clicked to the next slide, conjuring up a bevy of cake charts and pub graphs— “take a look at these revenue projections. Do you have any idea how much money we’re going to make from this? Operation Chocolatier Action Punch was super successful, but most of that money went toward the kitchen appliances in the penthouse and donations to the school. This time, not only do I expect us to make waaay more money…it’ll all be ours!!!”Bookmark here

Adele panted, wiping her mouth as she stared at the sexy revenue forecasts.Bookmark here

“Will it be tax-free income?” Skater Girl asked.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry about it.”Bookmark here

The punky girl’s stare drilled through Quintegrity’s skull. “Dude, that’s, like…absolutely essential to know about.”Bookmark here

“I know,” Quintegrity said. “Headmaster has it all taken care of. Okay, moving on…there’s exciting news!”Bookmark here

She lifted her finger, ready to strike up the band—everyone in the room leaned forward in anticipation—and then she poked her tablet screen. The cabin rumbled as the next PowerPunch slide appeared with the announcement:Bookmark here

PENTHOUSE 2.0 — COMING SOON!!!Bookmark here

“D-Did the TV just shake?” Graphite squirmed uneasily in his chair.Bookmark here

Adele examined the slideshow’s photographs of construction crews. “These pics were taken in the Super Club penthouse?” She turned to Quintegrity. “What are they doing?”Bookmark here

“Updating the Clubhaus High-Rise building,” Quintegrity answered, beaming. “The government and charitable sweethearts are funding to restore and renew the entire campus!”Bookmark here

Lumpy grinned as he looked at the pictures in the slideshow. “Nice! Your home’s getting an upgrade! Are you still staying in the penthouse while they’re working on it?”Bookmark here

“For the most part. Not as much, though, but I can easily pack my personal stuff and lay low somewhere else, like an inn or a manga café. Right now, Ryuumba-chan is staying with Rover.” She giggled. “We think it’s scared of Snickerdoodle.”Bookmark here

Rover snorted, amused. “It runs away when Snickerdoodle gets close. And I’d rather have Ryuumba-chan around than Adele’s stupid AthletaCom drone. That thing is a frickin’ pest, shooting darts everywhere.”Bookmark here

“Wait, hold on.” Skater Girl looked at Quintegrity. “You live in your clubroom?”Bookmark here

“Of course! It’s very plus-ultra.”Bookmark here

“Why am I not surprised?” Graphite sneered, leaning back in his chair. “You’re like the queen of the school, Quinn. Makes sense you live there…”Bookmark here

“It’s true,” she replied. “The entire top floor of the Clubhaus building is my home. But…now that you know that…”Bookmark here

Quintegrity stood up straight with her feet together, arms at her sides. Then she leaned forward—a collective prostration toward everyone in the room.Bookmark here

“I ask that nobody mentions I live in the penthouse at school.” When she straightened herself, an unsettling aura emanated from her serious expression—an expression that begged, and demanded the obedience of, everyone in the room. “Only Headmaster knows that…and my Super Club team, so please keep it a secret.”Bookmark here

How could anyone resist the request?Bookmark here

They all nodded and agreed. They were very happy to oblige!Bookmark here

“Still,” Rover told her with a quiet, yet stern tone, “please be careful, Quintegrity.”Bookmark here

Offering a sweet smile, she said, “No problem0!”Bookmark here

She has a lot going on. Rover became lost in admiration, watching his girlfriend’s peppy poses and exaggerated explanations as she continued the slideshow.Bookmark here

Suddenly, that admiration segued into a darker notion, even as the girl’s springy voice and expressions reverberated through the room.Bookmark here

Will she really be all right…?Bookmark here

44!44@44#44$44%44^44&44*44(44)44_44+44Bookmark here

Later that day, Lumpy and Adele had a Glove Alien Fight AR match against each other on their tablets. Lumpy won, gaining some levels and taking all of Adele’s consumable items. Quintegrity and Graphite kept the tea flowing and snacks coming. Rover and Skater Girl scoured the internet forums and articles as Benedict had suggested. Their research turned up some useful tidbits, and they discussed their findings afterward.Bookmark here

“The most recent article,” Rover said, reading from his notes, “says the first six Special Numbers are in play, and they’re already changing hands fast through AR matches.”Bookmark here

“Man,” Lumpy muttered, focusing on a co-op adventure in Glove Alien Fight with Adele, “I’m at level nine hundred fifty-six… So close…”Bookmark here

“I dunno,” Adele added, defeating a Naughty Piñata enemy, earning experience and papier-mâché coins, “I’m not even at level eight hundred yet.”Bookmark here

“What the crap, Adele?” Rover snapped. “What’s your excuse?”Bookmark here

“Life,” she retorted in a straightforward tone, “and personal health.”Bookmark here

Sighing, Rover turned to Skater Girl. “Okay, what else did we find out online?”Bookmark here

“People still hate you,” Skater Girl answered bluntly, flipping through her notebook.Bookmark here

“…What else?” Rover asked with a sour face.Bookmark here

“Some people are actively looking for the other School Dungeons,” she added, “but nobody seems to know if they really exist. There’s also speculation that the AR dungeons aren’t even at the schools.”Bookmark here

We know they exist,” Rover said, crossing his arms, “because you checked the game code, and we’re gonna keep it a secret, no matter where they are.”Bookmark here

“That’s pretty much all I found out,” Skater Girl told him with a sigh. “I still can’t figure out a way to steal the Legendary Cogs without waking up the guardians. It’s all in damn quantum code! It takes time to learn that crap.”Bookmark here

While looking over her notes, her phone’s ringtone sounded.Bookmark here

“I just got an email.” She typed something on her gaming phone’s screen. “I’m challenging a man named Wildebeest Squittoo. He just won Special Number 1 earlier today, and it sounds like he’s down for a match.” She grimaced. “Since I don’t have a Special Number of my own, it’s only worth his while if I pay him in advance… Ugh, such is the price of business…”Bookmark here

Graphite chuckled, looking at his phone. “I just sent out a challenge, too.”Bookmark here

“You can’t do challenges!” Rover yelled. “You’ll risk losing your Legendary Cog!”Bookmark here

“How stupid do you think I am?” Graphite shot back. “I’ll let someone else here beat me in a match so they can hold on to the Legendary Cog item. Not to boast—well, maybe boast a little—but you know I’m one of the stronger Glove Alien Fight players in our group. I’ll need to participate in these AR matches for the Special Numbers.”Bookmark here

Skater Girl told them, “One person here doesn’t need to hold on to the Legendary Cogs forever. If anything, we’ll just throw matches among ourselves accordingly.”Bookmark here

“I’ll throw a match for Graphite,” Adele said. “I’m just under level eight hundred, so I probably won’t get a Special Number by reaching nine hundred ninety-nine.”Bookmark here

“Graphite,” Rover said, “who’d you send that challenge out to?”Bookmark here

“To Captain Pretentious,” Graphite replied. “Apparently, she has Special Number 4.”Bookmark here

Rover’s face hardened with spite. “Crush her, Graphite.”Bookmark here

“Duh, I plan to.”Bookmark here

Ruin her,” Rover growled, clenching his fist. “Destroy!”Bookmark here

“Destroy!” Quintegrity mimicked with a cute giggle.Bookmark here

“Uh…sure, man. Whatever you say.”Bookmark here

Grabbing a pen and paper, Rover added, “I’ll give you her personal phone number. If you email her using the number on her website, you’ll never hear back from her. And it’ll piss her off that I gave this personal number away! It’ll be payback…”Bookmark here

“Payback?” Graphite took the paper from Rover, nodding at the number written on it.Bookmark here

Not looking up from his tablet, Lumpy said with a straight face, “Just look out for the albatross, Graphite.”Bookmark here

“What damn albatross?!”Bookmark here

Gazing out the large living room window into the endless countryside, Rover suppressed his chuckle, deciding to let Graphite learn on his own about Captain Pretentious’ preferred mode of communication.Bookmark here

“Well, I think that wraps up this meeting,” Quintegrity told everyone, her smile full of pride and energy. “Let’s give it up for Graphite and his incredible cabin!”Bookmark here

Rover noticed his girlfriend’s applause alone was far louder than the combined lazy responses from everyone else. However, even as he admired Quintegrity’s optimism and heartwarming sincerity, he couldn’t keep one particular thought out of his head.Bookmark here

After today, I still don’t think I can answer Dad’s question.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

<<<STATUS>>>Bookmark here

Rover… Lvl 1,003Bookmark here

AthletaCom Points… 9Bookmark here

All Money… {T}10,705Bookmark here

Allowance… {T}9,705Bookmark here

Fundraiser… {T}0Bookmark here

Food Slip… {T}1,000Bookmark here

<<<EXPENSE GOALS>>>Bookmark here

Anti-Grav Skateboard… {T}499,999Bookmark here

<<<CURRENT EQUIPMENT>>>Bookmark here

Weapon… InfantryBookmark here

Armor… FASCAR ShirtBookmark here

Acc. 1… Yakuza ToolsBookmark here

Acc. 2… Heist HoovesBookmark here

<<<PERIPHERALS>>>Bookmark here

<None>Bookmark here

<<<SPECIAL NUMBERS>>>Bookmark here

<None>Bookmark here

<<<LEGENDARY COGS>>>Bookmark here

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