A/N: Alex’s powers and new knowledge will make more sense if you go read the first story in this series: “The League of Extraordinary Women”. The disclaimer, spoilers, and other information are in chapter 1.
Alex thought. Buffy had given her a lot of advice, and one of the really big ones was: stop planning on dying next week. Buffy had pretty much given up on having a life, or even living to be eighteen. And when Buffy got to college, she felt totally out of place, partly because she’d never believed she’d ever get there. And then when Sunnydale collapsed, Buffy didn’t know what to do, because she’d never really believed she’d get out of Sunnydale alive. So you needed to plan just like everyone else, because you never knew how long you might be around.
So Alex needed to plan for going to college, and doing the same things everyone else did. She had a great boyfriend, so she needed to plan normal things. Dates. Prom. Girlfriend – boyfriend things. Learning to cook the stuff Ray liked. Thinking about going to college and then maybe even getting married. Even if she had no idea if her screwed-up DNA would do horrible things to a baby.
No, she couldn’t think like that. She just had to plan on having a research team, like her dad and sister, who would make everything better.
The bell rang, and Mrs. Finnegan let everyone run out if they didn’t have her for English, and run in from other homerooms if they did. Then the end-of-break bell rang, and she started talking about the paper they had to write that would be due in a little over two weeks. They had been reading ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which Alex hated. How could you have a great love story that’s so romantic, and then kill off
the main couple at the end? What kind of sicko writes a story like that?
But Willow had been really clear on this. Don’t write the paper you want to write. Write the paper your teacher wants you to write. Don’t write a paper saying ‘William Shakespeare is a dork for killing off the romantic leads’. The teacher won’t like that. Write a paper about what the teacher talked about in class. Okay, Mrs. Finnegan liked to talk about how communication skills were important. So… A paper that said the poor communication skills of everyone in the story were what made everything go wrong. And boy, was that sure true in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, from the fighting families who couldn’t talk stuff out, all the way to Romeo and Juliet’s helpers who basically messed up so bad that the main couple ended up dead. That nurse was a moron. And Willow had told her exactly how to write a paper like this. First, notes on all the things to say and not say. Then an outline to put everything into its proper place, with an intro paragraph and a summary paragraph at the end. Then each paragraph in between connecting things together, with each paragraph getting a sentence to explain what you wanted to say, then examples to show you were right, then a sentence to pull things together. And examples from the play to show you knew just what you were talking about, although quotes were even better.
Huh. She had the paper already started in her head and class was only halfway over. Listening to Willow talking about gaming the system was already paying off. Next, she was going to use Willow’s tips about studying, and about reading a story, and about reading a textbook chapter.
She should totally have asked Willow about gaming the system when it came to extra-curricular activities, and applying to colleges. Sam didn’t believe in ‘gaming the system’. Sam believed in playing it straight as an arrow and ‘be all that you can be’ and being the kind of person who becomes a super-genius Air Force major on a top secret project that saves the world several times a year. Hermione didn’t believe in gaming the system either. Hermione believed in studying the entire textbook, even the parts that weren’t going to be covered according to the class syllabus, and reading so far ahead the teacher wasn’t there yet, and doing way more homework than was required so she could learn extra stuff, and stuff even Annie didn’t do.
But tonight Alex was going to try really hard to do what Willow had suggested. Willow said if you could practice organizing and writing your papers on a timeline, like in one hour, then you could learn to write really good essays for tests super-fast, and that was something that was a giant help on lots of exams. And not just in English classes. Pretty much all the courses except math and science had you writing essays on exams, so this was a really cool skill she could teach herself. So she was going to give herself one hour to write out the outline for the paper and then write the whole paper out longhand. And then she was going to put it in her desk drawer until the weekend and grade it and think about where she messed up, and then look up some quotes, and then try to re-write the whole thing in thirty minutes. Willow said if you could learn to write a great paper in one hour instead of needing thirty hours to write a mediocre paper, you got better grades and you had a lot more time to spend on fun stuff.
Spending five days with Willow and Sam and Hermione and Buffy and Selina and Jaime was definitely the best thing that ever happened to her. Not counting Ray.
The next period was European history with Mr. Porter. And it was more of the same. He wanted to make sure she had done her homework while she was ‘out sick’, and he warned everybody about the quiz on Wednesday, which was totally not necessary because he ALWAYS gave a little quiz on Wednesdays. And then he started talking about Napoleon’s battles, and Austerlitz, and a guy named Clausewitz who was one of the names she remembered Sam saying, and how their battle strategies were different from Oliver Cromwell back in the English Commonwealth era.
Alex smiled to herself, because this was something Sam had told her about. Not about the boring political stuff, but about the warfare stuff. Sam had told her that she needed to learn about warfare at a bunch of different scales, and history classes were a good way to do it. Whenever she had to write a paper or do a presentation, concentrate on the battles. Sam said Oliver Cromwell was really good at indirect warfare, not letting the other side know where he was going to attack next, and making sure that he made good strategic moves. Sam told her another couple dozen wars and battles she should study in history classes, and she probably forgot most of them already, but she remembered Cromwell and Napoleon and Clausewitz. So now she knew what her next history paper was going to be on. And later on, if she could, she was going to do some strategies of the Napoleonic Wars or World War II.
She was going to learn about waging a war against a supervillain while she was pretending to learn about European history. Sam was a genius.
And then it was Mrs. McGurty, who thought Alex looked too pale to be back at school yet, but still wanted her to take that makeup test.
Alex said, “Well, I don’t really feel like eating, so how about I stay here and take it during lunch period?”
Mrs. McGurty smiled, “A teenager? Who doesn’t want to eat lunch? Either they’re serving the mystery meat with the gross brown sauce again, or you really aren’t well.”
Alex smiled back and said, “I’ll be okay. And I did study for the test, so I do want to take it.”
Alex looked in her trig textbook while Mrs. McGurty talked in class, and she realized Willow was right. If you looked over the next sets of homework and read ahead before class, then you would know what was easy and what you were going to need help on. And that told you what to ask questions about in class. And that made the math a lot easier to get done, and a lot faster to get done. And Willow said it worked on science and computer classes too. Hermione just insisted it wasn’t ‘gaming the system’, it was being an ‘active learner’. Sam said it was being ‘self-paced’ and ‘self-motivated’. And really, if three different super-geniuses told you three different reasons it was the way to make your classes easier, why wouldn’t you take their advice?
Okay, she didn’t like studying, but she knew she had to study the stuff sooner or later, and if studying it sooner made things easier… And she knew perfectly well that she could ace pretty much anything if she just studied hard enough. Like that geography test years ago that her folks were so worried about her failing, but she got her Aunt Ashley to help her study, and it went great. She still remembered the look on everyone’s faces when her 92 was the grade that ‘ruined the curve’.
And she really had studied for the trig test. She liked trig. The formulas made sense to her after her dad drew those triangle pictures to illustrate everything, and Annie had sent her an email from M.I.T. telling her which sines and cosines and tangents to memorize. She knew girls were supposed to stink at math, but Annie was a science genius, like their dad, and maybe – just maybe – some of that was in her genes too.
Mrs. McGurty looked over the test and said, “This is very good. You made one little error here when you were doing the calculations-”
“-but that’s the only thing I see wrong, so you get a 24 out of 25.”
Alex couldn’t help grinning, even though she was trying hard to be ‘still feeling sick Alex’. “Thanks.”
Mrs. McGurty said, “Don’t thank me. You did all the hard work. Now can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” Alex said, even though she knew she might not want to answer.
“I saw your schedule, and you’re taking Earth Sciences instead of AP Chemistry or AP Biology or something like that. But you’re near the top of this class, and you’re probably going to take calculus next year…” Alex shook her head no. “Why not?”
Alex sighed and confessed, “Have you ever talked to Mister Hooper about me? Or about my older sister?”
Mrs. McGurty carefully said, “Well no…”
Alex said, “My older sister is a super-genius chemist. She’s at M.I.T. this year. Every science teacher and math teacher except you and Mr. Nieder had her in a class, and she was awesome in every single science class. There’s no way I can compete with that. You probably don’t know what that’s like, but it’s… bad. There’s no way I could take chemistry from Mr. Hooper. It would be like… umm… going to the Tom Cruise Fan Club and telling them you were there to replace Tom Cruise.” Alex expected her to say something like ‘oh no, you must be exaggerating’ but she didn’t.
Mrs. McGurty pursed her lips and said, “Oh. I know the feeling.” When Alex gave her a surprised look, Mrs. McGurty explained, “I had the same problem when I was in junior high. My brother was a grade ahead of me, and he was Mister Perfect in every class and never stuck a toe out of line. Every math and science class I took, it was like that. ‘Oh Rhonda, I hope you’re going to be as talented as your brother Rick.’ This one English teacher, she kept messing up and calling me Rick for most of the school year! Do you know how junior high kids treat you when the teacher calls you by a boy’s name all year long? I really hated my brother for years, even though it wasn’t his fault.”
Alex said, “I don’t hate Annie, but living in her shadow is pretty tough.”
Mrs. McGurty smiled and said, “I tell you what. I’ll have a little talk with the science department and the math teachers, and Mr. Hooper in particular, and we’ll see what we can do for you.”
Alex gave her a huge smile and said, “That would be awesome! Because I don’t think I can take chemistry through an on-line course, even if my dad brought lab equipment home so I could do the labs in my house.”
After that, Alex went and sat outside so she could sneak a couple energy bars from her backpack, so everyone would think she was still too sick to eat lunch.
She usually tried not to think about what all the GC-161 had done to her body chemistry and her genes and everything else, but sometimes she couldn’t ignore it. GC-161 had been invented as a weight loss drug. Eat it in your food, and it would burn fat insanely fast and give you more energy and help you build muscle without doing anything. The perfect drug for lazy people everywhere. A few years ago, she would have been one of the regular people begging to buy some so she could be slim and trim without exercising and without watching what she ate. But now she knew what the consequences were. No one except her family – and Gloria – seemed to notice that she ate a lot of Gloria’s donuts pretty often, and she was thin. She told Gloria she ran track and hiked to school a lot. Even if she had her own car now. Her dad had won it for her in a raffle a couple years ago, and she hadn’t wrecked it or even gotten a ding on it yet.
Okay, she’d had to use her telekinesis a couple times to keep people from opening car doors into her car, or letting shopping carts roll into it, or stuff like that. And lots of times, she just parked way away from everyone else so maybe she had to walk farther, but her car was safe. And she never parked downhill from where shopping carts might get left. And she never parked in the school parking lot over where the guys like Sammy Kruger and Dave Kelly had their cars, because their cars were piles of junk, and they put lots of bumps and stuff on other cars when they were in a hurry.
She knew from talking with her dad and Annie that part of the deal with the GC-161 was it changed biochemical pathways in the body so you could easily expend more energy to burn up those calories. The thing was that the biochemical pathways weren’t the ones the researchers had hoped for, and most of them counted as ‘serious side effects’. Most drugs, when they said side effects, they meant a rash, or nausea, or even stuff like heart palpitations. Nobody ever meant ‘you might be able to glow like a glowworm, or lift stuff with your mind, or blast lightning out from your fingers, or even weirder stuff’.
Well, at least she hoped that wasn’t what they meant. She was pretty worried now that there were other kids out there who had been exposed to stuff like this, who might have even freakier powers. Or might be dying from the side effects. She needed to keep this stuff organized too, but Sam was pretty clear about security on stuff like this. She couldn’t just keep a notebook. She’d seen what happened if you did that. Stuff like that got lost, or swiped, or just peeked into, and then the secret… wasn’t. She was going to talk to Annie and her dad – and maybe Louis too – about ways to keep her projects organized but secret, given the technology she had access to. After all it wasn’t like she could do like Willow did, and put a magic spell on a notebook so no one else could even see it, much less open it and read it. But there had to be something she could do. She couldn’t keep all of this in her head.
She wolfed down one of the energy bars and hid the wrapper in the baggie where she kept all her snacks. She was just thinking about digging out another energy bar, when Kelly walked over.
Kelly and her posse, that is. Kelly had Amanda and Natalie and D behind her. Alex felt bad for D. Real name: Danielle Edna Nichols. D was one of plenty of kids in Paradise Valley who had been named for Danielle Atron. Okay, half the schools and a street and two buildings were named after Danielle Atron too, but the mayor and city council had made a big deal about changing all those names as fast as they could. So at least they weren’t going to Danielle Atron High School now. Ugh. But D couldn’t go with her middle name because Edna was a terrible name, and D’s parents wouldn’t help her get her name legally changed, so she was looking at having to wait until she was eighteen and saving up for the legal fees and all of that. It totally wasn’t fair.
Alex looked up and smiled, even if she didn’t feel like it. “Hi, Kelly.”
Kelly said, “I just wanted to see what you were up to.” It couldn’t be that she was making sure Alex was okay. Kelly made a big deal about not being nice to people, but Alex knew Kelly just didn’t know how to be nice. And she knew Kelly didn’t have enough confidence in herself to let people in if she exposed the real Kelly inside and gave people the chance to maybe be mean to her. But Alex wasn’t ever going to tell anybody that part, because Kelly had told her in private.
Alex wondered out loud, “So you brought your whole gang along?”
Kelly just gave her one of those looks. “Like you don’t have the biggest posse in the whole school! You’ve got Robyn and Nicole hanging around you most of the time, and Margo and Hannah some of the time, and Ray and Louis, and Ray’s pals, and Louis’s pals, and the paper guys, and the yearbookers, and even Lindsay and some of her goth freak pals, and… Well, a ton of people. You are such a hypocrite!”
Alex reminded herself about the whole ‘bigger things than high school cliques to worry about’ thing. She pretended to think it over for a second and said, “Kelly, I appreciate you being honest with me. This kind of thing is why I like you. I hadn’t even realized it. I guess I’m not all that introspective.”
Kelly was totally taken aback, and almost didn’t know what to say. Finally, D said, “Just watch out, because Libby’s already starting on her run for Homecoming Queen next year, and she’s decided you and Kelly and Donna are her biggest threats. So she’s going to be spreading more rumors and being an even bigger backstabber.”
“Me?” Alex still remembered being the kind of girl who was dying to be prom queen or homecoming queen or county fair princess. Maybe she had grown up a lot since seventh grade. Maybe she hadn’t been given a choice. She thought about wasting her time running for homecoming queen next fall. Then she thought about saving her parents and Ray from being blown up by Danielle Atron. She thought about trying to be senior prom queen. Then she thought about fighting a real dragon that flew and breathed fire and was magically tough.
There was no comparison. She said, “You know, we should work together. If I back Kelly for Homecoming Queen next fall, and we get Donna to, and we get Ray’s friends to, Libby won’t stand a chance.”
“You… would do that?” Kelly looked like she couldn’t believe it.
Alex nodded. “Sure. I’ve got too many things for next year already, and it’s not even May yet. I’m gonna be editor for the yearbook, and Joe wants me to take pictures for the school paper too, and I’ve got college prep to worry about, and Louis wants me to be co-president of the photography club so he doesn’t have to do any real work…”
“That sounds like Louis.”
“What a goofball.”
Alex said, “Yeah. Remember the time he was running around trying to convince everyone I was the mystery kid and I had superpowers?” She stuck in a derisive laugh. “He had a big bet, with Ray, I think, that he could convince the whole school in like two days. Anyway, everyone knows it’s Libby.”
Natalie looked shocked as she asked, “What do you mean it’s Libby?”
Alex said, “Have you seen
Superhero Girl? I have. Gloria and I watched one of her fights one day last summer when I was working at the donut shop. Totally obvious. You know that shade of blonde she was going with last summer? Same. And she was wearing her usual lipstick color. I don’t know how she thinks she’s gonna keep it a secret if she just puts on that stupid little mask thing and leaves her hair the same and doesn’t do anything with her makeup. And it’s not like she’s hiding her figure, or anything.”
Kelly thought it over. “Yeah… Could be Libby. We should keep an eye on her and see.”
Natalie said, “Oh come on! Libby? She wouldn’t help an innocent victim unless there was something big in it for her
“Yeah, that’s true,”
“Got a point there.”
Alex shrugged, “Well, it looked like Libby. Maybe Superhero Girl has shapeshifter powers and can just look like whoever she wants.”
Kelly said, “Or maybe there’s something big in it for Libby to get her to do it. Like payoffs from the government. We should look into that.”
Alex said, “Okay, but we ought to keep it a secret. Because we wouldn’t want badguys trying to kidnap her mom or anything.”
Kelly said, “And if the whole school knew, she’d get a lot of votes for Homecoming Queen just from being a superhero.”
Alex said, “There’s your slogan. ‘Vote for Kelly. Because nobody wants Libby.’ Unless that sounds too mean.”
Kelly acted like she was really considering it. Alex added, “I can get Louis to run the campaign for you, if you want.”
Kelly said, “I was thinking about Scott. He’s sleazy enough.”
Oh. Right. Scott The Jerkhead. In junior high, Scott had treated Alex like garbage, when she was dying for him to take her out on a date. Then Kelly had dated him for like six months before he dumped her for a skanky blonde, Miki Wallace, who, like four months after that, dumped him for the star of the football team. Who finally dumped her and was now asking Libby out. Even though Libby wouldn’t date him before he started being the star of the high school team.
Man, high school was almost as bad as junior high. She was sure her parents didn’t have stuff like this to stress about.
Oh yeah. Her folks had other awful stuff to stress about. Her dad used to have a psycho boss who mistreated him at work, and then fired him, and then kidnapped him and his family, and then tried to blow them up. And that guy Lars was really creepy to Annie while she was interning at the plant, and tried to get her and their dad in huge trouble. Danielle and Lars. Worst bosses ever.
Okay, she was hoping there weren’t any bosses worse than them, especially in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, because all she needed was a supervillain boss like that Luthor guy Selina told her about from Selina’s dimension.
She watched Kelly lead her little pack off into the school and wondered if the afternoon would be okay too.
And that was right when things went downhill. A voice – a voice she knew really well – snarled from behind her. “Alex Mack. I knew if I left you alone long enough, you’d let your guard down. And now you’re toast.”
She kept her voice flat as she said, “Hello, Jo. Fancy meeting you here.”