Chapter 6: The Reason for the Seasons
"And Penny is setting up for her last-ditch shot. The score is a narrow 3-2 with Jessie getting ahead early and holding her lead with authority. If Penny misses this shot, her opponent could take a two-point lead giving her a distinct advantage in this first to five-set."
"Avast ye fleet-footed landlubber. I'm focusing." Penny sat her face down close to the table. Her right index finger balancing the paper football on its tip. Ahead she saw her goal, the fingers of Jessie positioned up like a goalpost.
"Come on Penny. Wait any longer and I'm calling delay of game." Jessie sat with a smug grin as Max snickered alongside her. The girls had woken up extra early today. Partially from excitement but mostly because of the explosion that rocked Jessie's room and the neighbors beside her. The two girls grabbing breakfast and joining Max on her morning jog but in their case a campus-wide sprint.
Currently, Penny had on her usual clothing, but she swapped out the blue and white stripes for a bright pink tee shirt with a black bunny caricature across her front. The bunny had a disgruntled look on its face with bright red eyes and a dingy brown bandage around its right ear.
Jessie's hair was still pinned up in her long red pigtails. But instead of her usual junker attire, she wore a bright red and yellow crew jacket. Her hat a matching red and yellow with a small lightning bolt in the middle of her head. Her color scheme made Max proud.
Speaking of the speedster, she had ditched her usual superhero-inspired attire for more street-appropriate clothing. Her usual red and yellow onesie discarded for a sporty red jacket with a yellow hood. Her usual helmet with its blue visors now switched out for a red hat with a matching lightning bolt, much like Jessie's. She was tossing a pair of sharp glasses in the air while she swayed her body back and forth to the music playing from the TV. Her spandex purple shorts attracting the eyes of boys and girls alike as they passed by the window.
"Seriously just take the shot already," Jessie was getting tired of waiting.
Penny mumbled something under her breath as she lined up her left finger. Max decided to start commentating again, her voice lower as she held her excitement. "This is the make or break moment folks. The battle of the brains here today… And Penny's lining up the shot… And~"
Just before she could flick her finger the common's door bursts open, "What's up BITCHES!" Penny flinched from Jacky's sudden entrance, her finger plucking the paper football off its path. Jessie burst into laughter as Penny flew into a rage.
"Bilge-sucking! Lily-livered! Ye scallywag! You ruined me shot!" Penny raised a vengeful fist at Jacky as she walked in. Her face full of confusion as Max explained the situation between staggered laughter, Jacky joining in as she apologized for the distraction.
Jessie picked up the paper football, smiling towards Penny as she aimed. "Come on Penny let's finish this." As the girls finished up their game Emz slowly made her way into the common's room. She took some time to inspect the random students watching TV and playing games on the tables against the wall. Her eyes fell on Penny, her bright pink hair blending with the bright shirt she was wearing. Beside her was their friend and her secret rival, Jessie.
Emz watched as Jessie and Max cheered after she successfully flicked the paper football between Penny's fingers. The girls laughing at Penny's frustrated grimace before they all started laughing together. She couldn't fully process the image, not after the things she saw yesterday.
She remembered laying up last night while Penny was sawing logs in her sleep. The undead beauty wrapped in her midnight black sheets as she tried to analyze her situation. How was she supposed to tell Penny what she saw? Most people would have run to her and screeched out everything they witnessed. Emz knew this situation was a bit more delicate. The group of girls were best friends, ever since grade school when they first ran across each other they had gelled together like siblings. They knew everything about each other; favorite foods, biggest fears, darkest desires. Now the secret feelings of one could destroy the entire group.
While Emz stood against the wall deep in thought Jessie walked up to check on her friend. "What's wrong Emz?"
She flinched with Jessie's sudden proximity, her sweet eyes and content smile throwing her off. Penny approached next; her face was more worried than Jessie's.
"You didn't get up this morning from Jessie's screw up." Jessie voiced her disagreement with the statement, saying that Nita was the one that played with her equipment last night. Penny ignored her to focus on her distraught roommate.
Emz's mind was trying to think up a response. She still wasn't ready to make any final decisions; she didn't want to tell Penny something wrong. The worst thing she could do was tell her something without proof. "Umm… I'm just feeling sick."
The three girls stared in awe, "You're sick?" Penny asked.
Jessie spoke up, "But… I thought you couldn't get sick?"
"Like, what made you think that?"
"Your cells live in a constant state of frigid cold and subtle warmth. Such an unnatural balance that your body could never contract a disease or illness that would not die within minutes from the lack of heat in your body. How did you get sick?"
Emz stood with her lips puckered at the analysis. The other girls looking to her for an explanation. "I guess it's some new virus. Or maybe I just have a head cold?" she tried to laugh off her very weak defense.
Most of the girls just looked at her with confusion. Max, however, saw the opportunity and took her shot, "Head cold? Isn't your head always cold?"
All the girls in the room groaned at the cheesy statement. Most playfully scolding Max as they dispersed from the room. Penny hung back with Emz and Jessie, "If you aren't feeling good today don't push yourself. Take a break class ain't till two."
"Yeah and if you still aren't feeling good before two, we'll just tell Primo you can't make it." Jessie said with a sincere smile, "I'm sure he'll let you off the hook."
Emz thanked the girls for understanding her dilemma. She said her goodbyes as they made their way out of the common room. While they were walking away the two girls conversed about their achievements from the last class's challenge. "So Emz and me are just back to back taking on the whole filthy horde of 'em. The whole time we were laughing like two banshees that just trapped a group of horny sailors." Jessie burst into laughter at the comparison. The thought of Emz and Penny losing their control and letting their sinister sides out was entertaining. Penny looked down at Jessie with hungry eyes, "Now tell me… I'm still mad at ye for taking Leon on your challenge. But what was he like?"
"What do you mean?"
Penny's face was flush as she tried to explain her question, "Like how did he handle the horde? The boss bot, did he take it head-on or lead it around? When I got my hands on him after class his hoodie had tiny tears in it." Her skin shivered as she remembered the smooth flesh he housed under his hoodie. The knicks and scrapes from his battle giving him a manly feeling, "What happened?"
Jessie looked off to the side as she thought about the challenge, "He was… brave. And a natural leader when it counted. I could see that when we were fighting the boss he was scared… but he just kept taking shots for me the whole fight." Jessie looked down to the ground, her cheeks warm from the thoughts of that day, "He was like a knight in lime green armor."
Penny swooned at the thought, "I knew he was a natural leader. He hides behind those insecurities but really he's a humble hero."
Jessie heard the phrase, her mind thinking up a question that her ears needed an answer to. "Hey Penny, I never really asked but… why do you like Leon?"
"Like him… I love Leon!" The girls made their way outside as Penny stared up at the wispy clouds peppering the sky. "Back on the ship. All the guys are hard asses. They don't show any emotion that isn't pride or rage. The one thing that is constant with them is their lust for money and woman." Penny looked back down. To their right was a couple sitting on a blanket enjoying a meal under a tree. "When I was a wee lass I wandered into Darryl's cabin and rummaged through his belongings for a toy to play with. Or a few coins to pocket, whichever I found first."
Jessie followed close behind, listening as she seemed to talk to herself now.
"Then I stumbled across a strange book with a golden bird against a black background."
"The Hunger Games?"
"That's the one. I had never had a book before. The only words I was taught to read at that point were the pirate's code and legends of different maps we found along our routes. So, to say it took me a while to finish the book is an understatement. But damn was that book good."
"Wait I'm confused. How did The Hunger Games make you fall in love with Leon?"
"Peeta… he was the first guy I ever heard of being sensitive. Then I read him saving Katniss from those elitists. And how he chose to hide and preserve his life instead of thinking that dying in a fight was a greater pleasure than running. He was just so different. I'd never seen a guy like that before. I guess it was his strange behavior that I got attracted to. That and how he was willing to sacrifice himself just to be with Katniss. No member of the crew would sacrifice himself for a woman."
Jessie mentally corrected her statement about Peeta sacrificing himself for Katniss. Remembering the book made it clear that it was to fight the government, but she digressed. "Except for Darryl and Tick, right?"
"Well of course, but I'm not just some woman to them. I'm practically their daughter."
"Right… so… you fell in love with Leon… because he reminds you of Peeta?"
Penny blushed at the question, "Is it that weird?"
Jessie thought about it for a second, "I wouldn't know. Remember," she tapped her brain with her finger, "Mind too bright to be distracted by boys."
Penny cackled, "You keep saying that, but I think you're hiding something. You gotta have a boy somewhere that you can't stop looking at."
Jessie threw a smug grin her way, "Nope not a single boy, nor girl, nor creature on this planet that can take my attention off my work."
"Yeah, yeah. We'll see how long that lasts for." The two girls enjoyed each other's company. The mistake from Tuesday like water under the bridge as they made their way to their next classes.
"So based on this we can see that the rare Zuclorian Pythansis is one of the most deadly creatures to mankind and should be avoided at all cost." The teacher stood at the front of the classroom with a pink plant sitting on the table beside her. It reached as high as her torso from the ground up. While the students listened intently to the muscular teacher the plant turned to face her. The thorns around its petals seeming to shift in her direction. She didn't look back at the plant she was focused on explaining the safety precautions for interactions with the creature.
The plant's petals morphed into a sinister grin as it looked for her throat. The students screamed at the teacher as the plant dove down for an attack. Without taking her attention off the class, the teacher reached out with her green-gloved hand. Her powerful grip holding the plant by its stem at the base of the bulb. She turned around to face the plant, her eyes closed behind her small glasses. She smiled at the plant before using her free hand to repeatedly punch it back down into its pot.
The class clapped as she bowed, a few leaves falling from her large puff of hair. She gave her final instructions in her motherly British accent, "Now it's your turn to give it a try. Be careful of its thorns."
The students went up and grabbed their plants, working together in groups of two on each specimen. Sitting in the middle row on the far left was Jessie, the technician currently doodling mindlessly on a piece of paper. She was humming a sweet tune to herself, her lips popping and tongue clicking as she mimicked the beat she heard yesterday.
"Whatcha' Drawin'?" Jessie quickly threw her left hand over the paper, shielding it from her classmate's eyes. Above her stood Bea, the short girl hoisting the impressively large plant onto the table. "Sorry for intruding."
"Oh… no, it's fine." Jessie tried to think up a way to dispose of her drawing.
"You know… you don't have to hide it from me. I'm not gonna judge you." Jessie shook her head as she started blushing at the thought of showing her work. Bea's eyes grew softer as a teasing smile graced her lips, "It's a boy isn't it."
Jessie panicked, "NO!"
Bea tried to suppress her laughter, "Oh my. What happened to 'A mind too great to be distracted by boys'?"
Bea pushed the plant aside as she focused on her similarly statured friend, "How so?"
"He's just… really sweet… like candy. But he's also… deadly… like a gun." Bea was on the edge of her seat. "He has this cute balance between a confident hero and a shy sweetheart. And his eyes… god those eyes. I always get lost in them."
"So what… he's just really cute?"
"No… I'm not shallow. He's also really nice to me. He always gives me compliments. Telling me that I'm cute. How smart I am. He even protects me from dangerous fights. He's like my knight in shining armor."
Bea was getting excited listening to her gush about this guy, "Well is he interested in you?"
"I dunno. When I first started feeling something for him, we were talking about another girl that likes him."
"Wait… he likes another girl?"
Jessie realized the red flags she threw up, "No! No. He doesn't like the girl back. He told me himself. Then he started listing off things he likes about me more than her." Jessie tugged on her pigtails as she heard herself talk. She had developed feelings for her friend's crush. It felt so wrong, but her feelings felt so right.
"Then don't wait." Jessie stared up at Bea. "Take it from me. I don't look it, but I know a thing or two about forbidden love. To long to hold someone so far out of my reach." She stared at the front of the class. The teacher assisting with taming one of the wilder plants the students acquired. "If this guy doesn't love that other girl. And you really like him. Tell him how you feel. It'd be a lot worse if you just held your feelings inside."
Jessie flicked the edge of the paper, "But what if he doesn't see me in the same light."
"Guys aren't that complex. Women that play with their emotions always like to say that they are heartless and don't care about us. Honestly, most guys just want a normal girl. She doesn't need to be drop-dead gorgeous, she doesn't need to be a model, and she doesn't have to be some overly endowed cow. She just needs to be honest and loving." She followed the teacher's path to the other side of the room, "Though some people like their mates a bit… stronger." She shook her head as she refocused on Jessie, "My point is, you're cute. Bloody adorable even, and if he had the confidence to say all that to you, he thinks you're pretty amazing."
Jessie watched out the corner of her eye as Bea traced their teacher's path with her eyes. She took her arm off the drawing, a crude image of a girl with red pigtails holding the hands of a boy with a lime green hoodie on. 'Yeah, I should follow my heart for once.' She traced her finger across Leon's face imagining his emerald eyes brightly shining down on her. In the corner of the picture, she noticed an extra drawing sticking out from under her arm.
When she moved her hand, she saw a drawing of a girl's face. Her eyes riddled with tears as she watched Jessie and Leon together. Jessie's heart froze when she noticed the short pink hair sticking out from beneath her blue skull cap. 'When did I draw that?' She started to feel nervous looking back to Bea to make sure she didn't see. She quickly moved for her backpack hoping to hide the picture away from Bea's curious eyes.
As she took one final look at her drawing, she felt her heart flutter. The image of Penny watching on in tears making her strangely happy. Bea's words running through her mind, 'follow your heart'. 'Don't let anyone stop you.'
Jessie smiled down at the picture, her eyes filling with a dangerous lust as she imagined the future. A life where she was happily cuddling with Leon in his room, Penny sitting with Emz as they dream of being with their crushes. Her face contorted into a sinister smirk, and her pupils morphed as she made her final decision, "I won't let anyone stand in my way."
"I don't think… it's supposed to stretch that far."
"You've just never tried something this hard."
"Please… go slow."
"No promises." Penny pulled back on Jessie's arm as she heard a joint pop loose. Jessie groaned in pain at the extraneous exercise.
"I said go slow, I've never done this stretch before."
"Aye you be doing great. Doesn't your arm feel looser?"
Jessie rolled her shoulder, "It feels too loose."
"Aye! That means it worked." Penny laughed down at her mechanically inclined friend. "You need to be extra loose for today. We don't know what Primo has in store."
Jessie was stumped by her statement, "What do ya mean? He told us already."
Penny was unsure what she meant. Before she could ask a weight crashed into her back. Nita dropped down to the floor, "What's up!"
"Aye matey! You were almost late. What took you so long?"
"Me and Leon grabbed something to eat before we got here!" Penny and Jessie turned in the direction Nita came from, seeing Leon slink into a crowd of students with Poco and Bibi close behind. "He said, 'Hey'," she said in a Leon impression.
Both girls perked up, "Really?!"
Penny turned to Jessie with a glare, "The hell you getting excited for?"
Jessie stammered out a response, "I'm just so excited for you. That's all."
"Actually, he told me to say, 'hey to them'. So, I guess he meant Emz too. Where is she?"
Penny answered, "She said she wasn't feeling good today. Now back to you," she pointed down at Jessie. The smaller girl shaking at the coming altercation, "What do you mean Primo told us what we're doing today?"
Jessie sighed with relief, "The hint. Remember the hint. It said it's all about that bolt economics."
The two girls were stumped by her hint. Jessie would have explained further but the lights went out announcing Primo's arrival. When they came back on Primo slammed the ground from above causing the floor to crumble beneath his force. "Hello and Welcome to another day of?"
"ADVANCED COMBAT TRAINING!"
"Maravilloso! Now I've learned from last class that our numbers are often skewed. So how many students are here today."
Penny raised her hand, "Fifteen. Emz is taking a sick day."
"Glorious! That makes the perfect number for today's class." Primo pulled out his strange remote pressing a button in the direction of the furthest wall. They watched as the wall shifted revealing an opening passageway. Primo walked ahead without a word. He turned back in confusion at the stone-faced students, "Well what are you waiting for? Vamonos!"
The students trudged along into the dark hallway. The echoing sounds of their staggered footsteps filling the empty hall. The excitement jumping between the students filling the empty hall. The dark blue lights lining the walls glowing brighter as they reached a giant metal door. Primo walked up to a small LED keypad pressing a few buttons as the doors whirred to life.
When they fully opened the students took notice of the bright lights and flashing buttons sitting against a large windowpane. Penny and some other students walked up to the control panel, some growing curious about the effects the different levers and switches would have. The others looking out into the dark void that they saw behind the glass.
"Don't touch anything. Wouldn't want to break the equipment." Primo stepped past the students, looking over the panel before pressing the image of a red and blue robot. The ground beneath the students vibrated as the window seemed to open up. They watched as an old junkyard seem to form before their eyes. The students saw several stone walls with patches of grass appearing around the field.
The icing on the cake was two large metal structures standing tall at each end of the opening. A yellow hard hat sitting on each building's roof with a large funnel and a giant gun's barrel sticking out the top. Bibi spoke up, "Primo, what is this?"
"Students. Say hello to today's assignment. This… is Siege!"
The students watched as floodlights filled the arena, lighting up the orange and red brick and mortar. Primo pressed a few extra buttons on the panel causing the walls to open up. Three jet black chairs with strange headsets dangling above each seat appeared on both sides. Primo gathered their attention, "I would like you to all assemble into teams of three." The students shifted around in their pile as they assembled their teams, "Also, give your teams a name. It's good for morale."
The students continued to shift around until they came together into five groups of three. The first team comprised of Rico, Piper, and Sandy. They gave themselves the title, 'Long Dreamers'. The next team to form was Shelly, Brock, and Max. They called their team, 'Speedy Beating'. Joining them at their side was Carl, Jacky, and Bea. The group cleverly naming themselves, 'The Painiacs'.
The final two teams consisted of Leon, Poco, and Bibi; called the Semi-Slambulance. And finally Penny, Jessie, and Nita; the three girls naming themselves Pet Power. Primo applauded his students for their creative names and combinations. He asked them all to spread out as he began to explain the rules.
"Siege and destroy the enemy's IKE assembly turret!" he began with a deep narrator's voice. "Your team also has an IKE: feed it bolts, and it will assemble a powerful Siege Robot to fight for you. Bolts appear randomly around the middle of the map. Grab a bolt and hold it for a few seconds to (magically) feed it to your IKE."
Primo pointed to the ominous seats as he used a more casual voice. Or as casual as Primo could be, "Now those seats have specially made headsets that will transport your consciousness into a holographic version of yourself that will compete within the arena."
Rico raised his free hand, "What about robots like me and Carl?"
Primo walked up to the closest chairs, "As you can see there are special wires made for all of you that can connect to your internal programming." Primo looked over the students, "So… who's first?" The students jumped up and down as they begged to be first in the ring. Primo looked them over as he made his decision, "Give me Speedy Beating and Semi-Slambulance."
The aforementioned teams gladly hopped into the seats as they waited for further instructions. Primo grew a wicked grin as he pressed a button on the console. The seats grew metal restraints as they clamped down on the students. The headsets slamming onto their heads as a bright light flashed from each of their skulls. Some of the students grew worried for their safety, it wasn't the first time Primo threw them into a dangerous situation without warning. They watched as the students calmed down and slowly fell asleep in their seats.
Primo walked up to the window, "Now it's gonna take a second for them to spawn into the map. While we wait…" he wheeled in a whiteboard from a random side room. He wrote down the two teams' names with a bowl under each, "Wanna place some bets?"
A/N: Huh I wonder who will win. Place your bets in the reviews. And thanks again for reading another one of...
Sammy's Silly Scripts