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We Are the Ninety-Nines (Working Title) - Chapter 4

by SidereaAquila

Chapter IV – Tam

The Monday Crew had pushed two lunch tables together, so we wouldn’t have to deal with the riversiders. We huddled around a portable radio that we shared, listening to Harry’s show. Corrections was always the highlight of every Monday. There’s nothing like listening to your older brother publicly ridicule national leaders to brighten up your day.

Harry was playing another song, one of Psychotic Tangerine’s favorites. Kevin, Addy, Shaun Harder and I sang along. Addy and Shaun played air guitars while I banged out a drum beat on the table, and Kevin tossed an invisible microphone around. The entire Monday Crew bobbed their heads to the beat, and a few of them joined in on the chorus. Kevin’s singing was only slightly subdued, and about halfway through the song, I started using Emmy’s binder as a cymbal. A few riversiders glanced at us disgustedly, but we didn’t care.

The song ended, and Harry started talking again. “Harry Rockwell ‘ere. Welcome back ta Corrections on 73.1, KG-W-U. That’s a mouthful. We’ve got about…thirty minutes of show left—just enough time ta say a few words about one of the last sane writers in the country before we take phone calls.”

Here it was—my moment of quiet fame.

“Hope Everdream—even ‘er name suggests what she stands for. She is the defender of the deprived, the champion of the persecuted, the warrior of words. I am fortunate enough ta know ‘er personally, but, having taken an oath that protects our warriors from Thrasher, I can’t reveal any details about ‘er. I can only say that she is especially inspirational ta ‘er neighbors, the people of Wyoming.

“Ta the average person, Hope is a writer. She writes a weekly column for the National Tribune, an’ she is one of the most reliable journalists in the country. Ya can always depend on Everdream ta ‘ave the most accurate, up-to-date information available. She paints a realistic picture of the issues she addresses, an’ she can always support her opinions with logical reasoning.”

“Go science!” Kevin cheered quietly.

“Ditto,” Shaun said.

“But Hope Everdream is much more than just a writer. As ‘er name suggests, she represents our hope. She is the source we draw from, the leader we rally behind. She represents everything we need ta keep going—hope, strength, intelligence, and dreams for the future.”

“Miss Einstein,” Addy commented.

“Ditto,” Shaun said again.

“Why, thank you,” I whispered, turning away from the riversiders.

“Although Hope is just one writer among thousands, she still ‘as the courage ta lean the other way, ta fight the misinformation put out by her peers. She still ‘as the courage ta go against the flow, ta contradict Thrasher and his posse. She still ‘as the courage to say what she knows is right. Everdream is our voice, our spirit, our light in a sea of darkness.

“So ‘ere’s ta Hope Everdream. Thanks for everything.

“I’m Harry Rockwell, an’ you’re listening ta Corrections. We’ll be taking phone calls when we come back. 73.1 KGWU.” Jackie played another song.

“Go Harry!” Emmy shouted. “Woo!” The Monday Crew cheered and clapped.

Just then, something caught my eye. Someone at a nearby table was pointing at us. I looked over. It was that snobby boy from gym, the one who had walked out on crutches. He sneered at me from behind his thick glasses.

“Look at them,” he chuckled derisively. “Listening to that silly little radio. I mean, come on—who has radios anymore? Everything’s online.” He was obviously looking for a reaction. I wouldn’t give him one.

“And did you hear what they’re listening to? The guy’s talking about Hope Everdream like she’s the savior of the world. She just writes lies.”

You calling me a liar? Open your eyes, you little twit. I gave him the finger. His girlfriend bugged her eyes out at me until they looked like they would burst. The snob’s jaw dropped open, and he stopped blabbing for a second. But he recovered and kept spieling.

“I can’t believe them,” he said to his girlfriend, looking sidelong at me. “Talking along with the radio guy like they think they know something. It’s like living alongside lower life forms—they think they’re equal to us, but they’re really just our inferiors, in both ability and intelligence.”

This time, my jaw dropped open. I stared at him for a few seconds before catching myself and glaring at him. I’ll bet that line came straight out of some nut job’s newspaper column. I’ll bet your dad read that to you word for word this morning. You’re like a parrot—just repeating what people say to you, never thinking for yourself. You can insult me all you like, but I draw the line at discrimination.

“Go jump in a volcano, ya dork!” I shouted.

Snob boy turned to his girlfriend and laughed. “Look, it can talk,” he said.

That does it.

I grabbed Emmy’s applesauce and hurled it at snob boy. It splattered all over his face, sticking to his carefully moussed hair, sliding slowly off his thick glasses, running down his preppy purple vest in blobs. He stared at his outfit for a few seconds, and then screamed, his high-pitched voice echoing through the cafeteria.

Everything went silent. Even the gossiping English teachers shut up.

Then Shaun shouted, “FOOD FIGHT!” and all hell broke loose.

It was tubers versus riversiders—or, to be more accurate, the Monday Crew versus snob boy’s oh-so-loyal friends. The riversiders formed a semicircle around us, tossing entire plates of food, and then running back to the lunch line for more. They were sloppy and unorganized, haphazardly hurling food whenever it pleased them, and most of them couldn’t even throw far enough to hit us. We clustered in the corner by our table, building a wall of binders to hide behind. We threw what we already had out, and a few people unpacked all the unopened lunches.

Meanwhile, Mick gathered a special ops team and made a run for the lunch line to get more food. Addy and I covered them. She shielded me with an open notebook, while I blasted a hole in the line of riversiders with half-liquefied food items. Once Mick and his team were through, I turned my attention back to snob boy. Winding up like a pitcher, I chucked a cup of yogurt at him, which slopped all over his stained purple vest. Addy handed me something else, and I threw that, aiming a little higher this time. Canned peaches exploded on contact with his face, most of them ending up in his hair. He shrieked and hid behind his girlfriend, who took a cup of bean soup in the face.

Mick and his team returned with food from the lunch line, and Addy and I protected them on their way back. I ran back to our shielded table, diving over a chucked milk carton and ducking under a flying scoop of mashed potatoes. Kevin, who had gone with Mick, appeared next to me.

“See anything?” I asked.

“Not much,” he reported. “A few of ‘em went back for more food, but they’re running out.”

“Good,” I said. “How much did you guys bring back?”

“Loads,” Kevin replied, pointing to Mick. He was holding a tray piled high with food—potatoes, fruit salad, yogurt, ice cream, chicken soup—even Food™, that awful instant energy mush the Stocks manufactured. How’s that for giving the rich kids a taste of their own medicine?

I grabbed a spoonful of Food™ and hurled it over the binder wall, ducking down again without seeing whether it hit its target. We were being bombarded by various foodstuffs, and I didn’t want to wash Jello out of my hair after this was over. I peeked over the binders and threw another spoonful of Food™, dodging a stream of orange slices in the process. I hid behind the table and surveyed our little base. For the most part, the tubers

were clean, but the binders and the wall behind us were splattered with all kinds of food. And, of course, chemically-hazardous-potentially-toxic-but-still-edible stuff like Food™.

While the rest of the Monday Crew chucked food, Addy and Bryce were building something out of straws. Addy was crouched under the table with a pile of straws, while Bryce was doing something with a roll of duct tape. I took a closer look. They were building a long, winding tube out of straws.

“What’re ya guys doing?” I asked.

“Makin’ a cannon!” Addy yelled from under the table.

“This is designed ta take advantage of gravity,” Bryce explained, shaking the tube. “If we can force enough liquid inta it at once, it’ll shoot out the other end like a squirt gun.”

“Cool!” I exclaimed. “That’s cool. When will it be done?”

“In about thirty seconds!” Addy shouted. “So could someone get us some juice?”

“On it,” I said. “Mick, let’s go.”

Mick, the special ops team and I ran from cover, dodging a barrage of edible projectiles. We made it past the riversider line with minimal damage and sprinted toward the lunch line. Leaping over the soup counter, we charged into the kitchen and swiped five jugs of juice, running awkwardly back to our base. We made it back safely, without dropping any of the jugs.

“There!” Bryce shouted. “Done!” While Mick and I were gone, she had unraveled one of those waxy paper cups and taped it to the straw tube to make a funnel. “What ‘ave we got?” she asked me.

“Grape juice, orange juice, fruit punch, and two jugs of lemonade,” I reported.

“Great!” Bryce said. “Ready, Addy?”

“Ready, cap’n!” Addy called.

“Alright, gimme the fruit punch!”

“Fruit punch!” I ordered. Shaun handed a jug to me, the cap already unscrewed. Being careful not to spill any (and hoping that Bryce’s duct tape would hold) I tipped it upside down, pressed it into the funnel and squeezed as hard as I could, forcing the sticky red liquid into the straw. Addy aimed from under the table, and fruit punch shot out the end, showering the riversiders with little red droplets. Boys and girls alike screamed and ran for cover. Addy panned the stream across the riversider line once, twice, three times before the fruit punch ran out.

“Grape juice!” I shouted. Shaun handed me another jug, and I repeated the squirting process, Addy aiming a little higher to spray the riversiders hiding behind tables.

Shaun gave me a jug of lemonade just as the grape juice ran out. This time, Addy aimed straight at snob boy’s girlfriend, the powerful jet of lemonade hitting her right in the face. Next to me, Kevin pulled out a pair of scissors, cut the top of the other jug off, and tossed the lemonade at the riversiders. The stream of liquid traveled like a ballistic missile, coming down right on the head of the much-targeted snob boy.

Suddenly, a high-pitched screech filled the cafeteria, making everyone within earshot go rigid with pain. It was like a cross between nails on a chalkboard and a police siren—but at least twenty times louder. I flinched and covered my ears, ducking behind the binders to escape the awful sound. Through the ringing, echoing haze in my brain, I could see the rest of the Monday Crew wincing, their faces contorted into horrible grimaces. Very few had managed to stay on their feet; most were curled tightly into balls on the ground, in a desperate attempt to block out the noise. I peeked over the binders to look at the riversiders, almost all of whom had also fallen to the ground, and the screeching became much louder. I ducked back behind the binders again, but not before I saw the principal pointing a sound gun in our direction. Back behind the tubers’ table, my brain sluggishly pieced together the puzzle—the sound gun was aimed at us. Once again, the tubers had been labeled the source of the problem.

Finally, the awful noise stopped. I stood up slowly, my ears ringing loudly. A few kids from the Monday Crew stood up, but most just stayed on the ground, still unable to move. The principal glared coldly at us, his sound gun still pointed in our direction. I glared back.

“Who started this?” he demanded.

Snob boy popped up from behind a table. “Tam!” he shouted, pointing at me. “Tam Rockwell!”

The principal walked over to me, taking those tiny, fast steps he took when he was angry. He grabbed my wrist roughly and pushed me toward the door. “My office,” he ordered. “Now.” That was how he usually spoke to us—in one- or two-word sentences, as if we couldn’t understand anything else.

“Kick his butt for us,” Bryce whispered as I walked past. “Verbally, at least.” I gave her a small nod, something the principal wouldn’t notice.

As the principal dragged me through the cafeteria, I surveyed the riversiders, giving anyone who dared to look at me my infamous death stare. Every week, without fail, they’d forget what we had taught them the previous week—that we weren’t going to take their riversiders-are-better crap, that we were dangerous. And every week, we had to teach them again. I was pretty sure that they’d gotten the message.

For a moment, I was happy to be going to the principal’s office. It wasn’t often that I got to teach him.

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I am and always will be optimist, the hoper of far-flung hopes, the dreamer of improbable dreams.
— 11th Doctor