ANOTHER term, another school.
Harry peered through the window of his old man’s microjet at the lush grounds and ornate buildings below. So this was the new place—St. Bartholomew’s Academy for Promising Girls and Boys. Promising. That was a good one. Just about the only promises Harry could keep were to get into three fights in the first week, flunk all his classes, and be expelled by Christmas break.
Up front his dad rode shotgun, working as usual—holographic multicolored pie charts tinted the pale beige interior of the cabin. He was blond like Harry, only it was a darker blond. They had the same face and the same eyes too, but Harry was growing. Soon he’d be the bigger one.
It couldn’t happen soon enough. Next to Harry sat one of his dad’s bodyguards, Banks, a six-foot-five, heavily muscled reminder not to get out of line. Harry leaned against the window, watching St. Bart’s get bigger as they descended.
“What the fuck?” said the Old Man. He magnified one of the holoscreens. It was Harry’s debit account.
His dad turned around in his seat. Harry looked out the window again.
“Look at me.”
Banks sighed and grabbed Harry’s wrist.
Harry tried to pull away.
Banks’s grip was like steel. He bent Harry’s pinky back against the joint.
Pain lanced up Harry’s arm. He squeezed his eyes shut. Fucking Banks. The Old Man never went anywhere near Harry without him or one of his other bodyguards. Not anymore.
“You think I won’t let him break it? Look at me.”
Harry almost wanted to force it—to make his father make Banks break his fucking pinky. But it hurt so bad.
He opened his eyes and met that cold blue gaze. It seemed to drill right into his brain and see all his thoughts. Captains of industry were known to piss themselves at that look. What would happen if Harry stared back the same way? Could he? Not with Banks just about ripping his finger off; someday, though.
“What the fuck did you do with all your money?”
The pressure on Harry’s pinky increased. Shit. “Donated it.”
“P-project North Star.”
“What the fuck is that?”
“What do you care? You said it was my money.”
“To spend while you’re at school, dumbfuck. I asked you a question.”
Goddamn it. “They fight modern-day slavery, okay? Ow! Let me go!”
The Old Man cracked up. “I get it. You’re still upset over my labor practices. Well, knock yourself out, but a bunch of goody-two-shoes granola eaters are not going to make one single dent in my bottom line. And you’re not getting another penny from me for the rest of the term.”
I never thought I was, fuckwad. The words filled Harry’s mouth, but he didn’t speak them.
“And another thing.”
Here we go.
“Don’t fuck up this time. I’ve had it up to here transferring you every single term. And we’re running out of schools that will take you.”
The ache in Harry’s hand was a dull throb now, extending from his little finger all the way up to his shoulder.
“Do you hear me?”
Banks released Harry.
He took a deep breath and leaned back in the seat. He just let his arm hang at his side. He wasn’t going to rub it, not while Banks could see.
Harry’s dad said to Connor, “After we drop him off, take me straight to the meeting. We’ll stop in New York after.”
That’s right. The only reason the Old Man was even along for this trip was because he had an important meeting nearby. Ordinarily, he’d just send Harry off with a couple of bodyguards.
Harry stared at the back of his father’s head. Someday soon, I’ll be strong enough to beat Banks, and then I’ll kill you.
THE greenhouse of Antonin’s family home was a warm, vibrant contrast to the bitter Arctic cold outside. Palms and bougainvillea grew around the fringes of the pond. But on the other side of the thermal glass, the white desolate expanse of Siberia stretched out for miles in every direction. Even though it was only early afternoon, it was already starting to get dark outside.
Antonin sat on the bank of the pond, his shoes and socks beside him, the navy-blue pants of his school uniform rolled up to the knees. He dangled his feet in the water. “Do you think Jason will be happy to see me again?” he asked his uncle Tumcari. Antonin had texted his roommate at least five times over break and never got a response.
“If he’s not, then there’s something wrong with him.” Tumcari bobbed in the water a few feet from the bank, only his head and his bare shoulders visible above the water. With his strong chin, piercing green eyes, and wavy blond hair, he resembled an American newscaster with a really good plastic surgeon—from the waist up. But then, that was about all anyone ever saw.
“Of course you’d say that. You’re biased because you’re my uncle.”
“That’s my objective opinion. My biased one is that he’s not good enough for you no matter what.”
Antonin splashed Tumcari.
Tumcari swam closer and grabbed Antonin’s foot.
“If you pull me in, Mom will have a fit.”
“True.” Tumcari released him with a squeeze. “And you have to go.”
Antonin sighed. On the one hand, he wanted to get back to St. Bart’s to see Jason again. All summer break, he’d been playing their brief encounter over and over in his mind, reliving every intoxicating detail. But on the other hand, that had been the bright spot in an otherwise pretty lackluster term.
Ever since his fall from grace he had to watch every word he said. He liked it better at home, where he could be himself.
“Antonin, if we don’t go right now, you’ll miss your flight.” His mother, Rose, stood in the doorway to the greenhouse. She wore what he always thought of as her business uniform: dark-blue suit and jacket, white blouse, pearls. Her shoulder-length hair was sleek and curled under slightly at the ends. She stood with her spine straight, her hands knotted in front of her, tension radiating from every pore.
Reluctantly, Antonin dried his feet and put his shoes and socks back on. “Good-bye, Tumcari. I’ll text you when I get there.”
“Do that. And send me the next installment of The Arctic Avenger when you finish it.”
“Okay, but I still have to do the inking.”
“I know. Great art can’t be rushed. I’ll wait.”
“Great art. It’s a comic.”
“It’s a great comic.”
It wasn’t, really, but Antonin loved drawing it and Tumcari loved encouraging him.
Near the door, Rose exhaled audibly.
“Why are you all dressed up?” Antonin asked her as they made their way to the entrance hall of Wotroya House.
“Because it’s important to make the right kind of impression.”
“With the people at your school. The teachers and students and—”
“Oh, you’re not walking me in again like last time,” said Antonin.
Rose stopped and turned to face him. “Why not?”
“Oh come on, Rose,” Magnolia said, striding into the hallway trailed by Antonin’s other aunt, Cid. “You can’t do that to the poor kid. He’s fifteen, for crying out loud. The other kids will never let him live it down.”
Rose looked between Magnolia, Cid, and Antonin.
Antonin prayed that Cid would remain silent on the issue. Rose could take input from Magnolia, but she seemed to take everything his other aunt said the wrong way.
“Is that true?” Rose asked him.
Miracle of miracles, his opinion was sought. “Yeah, Mom. They were all over me about it last year.”
“Oh.” Rose frowned. “Well, I don’t know why nobody said anything before!”
Cid examined a spot on the carpet.
“Huh. Fine. I won’t go in with you.”
Antonin took a deep breath. “You know, you don’t have to fly out there with me either. I can—”
Cid looked up at the ceiling.
“No way, mister. I’m taking you right up to the entrance and I’m making the cab driver wait until I see you get inside. Who knows what could happen to you on the way there?”
“Yeah, I might get kidnapped by organ-leggers.”
“You think that can’t happen? The rumors are true!”
Antonin hugged his aunts. Magnolia was the youngest, just in her midtwenties, with long, dark hair and a lean frame. To look at her, you wouldn’t think she was dangerous, but she was. “You’re your own worst enemy, kiddo,” she said, holding him tight.
“Be well, Antonin.” Cid kissed the top of his head, bringing with her the smell of disinfectant from her lab upstairs. At six feet, Cid towered over the rest of them, though she hadn’t always been the tallest. She was blonde, with the body of a pleasure android. Literally.
It was a long story.
Apart from Rose and him, none of them were blood relatives, but they were a family just the same. They’d carved out this home and this life after being thrust together by the machinations of the mad scientist, Remus Rahul. But that was all a long time ago, when Antonin was just little.
“Let’s go,” said Rose, taking Antonin’s hand in a death grip. He grabbed the laptop case with his notebook and art supplies from the table by the door. Magnolia and Cid followed them out with his bags.
THE first thing Antonin noticed when he opened the door to his room at St. Bart’s was the punching bag. When had Jason gotten a punching bag? He walked over to the large, oblong object hanging suspended from the ceiling. The low round table and brocade upholstered chairs that usually sat in middle of the room had been shoved aside to make space for it. A jagged hole in the ceiling and a dusting of plaster chips on the thick burgundy carpeting attested to its recent installation.
An action figure stood atop the dingy canvas bag. Antonin recognized his green-and-purple outfit and his golden cape. It was Captain Invincible. “Cool,” he whispered under his breath, setting his suitcase and notebook down on the displaced table. He picked up the figure. Since when was Jason into superheroes? Antonin glanced around the room. Jason’s desk and his bookshelves were bare. A duffel bag lay on the lower bunk, unzipped and spewing forth clothes. Something was wrong. Jason always took the upper bunk.
Antonin looked back at Captain Invincible. He was dingy and scratched. His hands and his face and the edges of his molded plastic cape were worn smooth and shiny and almost colorless. The comic book and the cartoon series had been cancelled years ago, but Antonin still recalled his epic battles against the evil forces of Dr. Contagion and the Poisonauts.
From out of nowhere, an arm wrapped around Antonin’s neck. Another hand pushed his head to one side, locking him in a chokehold.
“Shit!” Mom was right. I am going to be kidnapped by organ-leggers.
“Drop it,” said his assailant. It wasn’t Jason.
Antonin brought his heel down on his attacker’s foot and threw his head back. He connected with something he hoped was a face.
His attacker groaned. The grip around his neck loosened. Antonin broke away.
He turned to face a boy about his age, though taller, with short blond hair and a muscular build. A little blood trickled from his right nostril, but he didn’t seem particularly fazed by it. He wore jeans and a black T-shirt that said “Maniac” in big white block letters.
Fair enough. Antonin swayed under the glare of the boy’s pale blue eyes. At least it wasn’t a ninja organ-legger.
“Give me that!” The boy pointed at Captain Invincible, still clutched in Antonin’s left hand.
“What, this?” Antonin jiggled the doll. “Make me.” He pivoted and drove his heel into the boy’s stomach. Magnolia had taught him that move.
But the other boy was fast. He slid out of the way, grabbed Antonin’s foot, and twisted.
Antonin fell in a heap on the floor, his ankle throbbing.
The maniac dove at him, teeth bared.
Antonin’s heart stuttered to a halt.
The boy grabbed him by the collar. He drew his fist back.
Antonin squeezed his eyes shut.
The blow never came. The boy wrested Captain Invincible from Antonin’s grasp. “I’ll hit you if I have to, and you know I can do it now, so don’t make me.” The boy walked away, shoulders hunched like a mountain range. He placed the doll back on top of the punching bag, wedging it between the canvas and one of the chains. “Leave my stuff alone.”
Antonin sat up, rubbing his ankle. “Who the fuck are you, and what’s your fucking problem?”
“I don’t have a problem, but you will if you mess with my stuff again.”
Antonin’s stomach clenched as the awful realization washed over him. He glanced at the duffel on the bottom bunk, the bare shelves, and the punching bag. Maybe Jason hated him now and had asked for a different roommate. Or maybe the headmistress had found out what they’d been doing and assigned them to separate rooms. Either way, he was stuck living with this freak now, and it was so unfair that tears rose to his eyes, forcing him to pretend his ankle hurt worse than it did.
The boy gave the bag a roundhouse kick that made Antonin’s attempt look like the schoolyard-kung-fu-showoff-bullshit it was. He was good, really good: fast, powerful, not to mention built like a brick shithouse. Muscles rippled in his back and his biceps bulged like billiard balls.
Antonin looked away. He could have gotten a lot worse than a sore ankle. He was going to have to be careful. He remained sitting but couldn’t keep his mouth shut. “What’s the big deal? It’s just a doll. I was just looking at it.”
The boy frowned and ceased his assault on the punching bag. “It’s mine, and it’s not a doll. It’s an action figure.” He picked it up and made it swoop through the air.
Why Antonin pursued this he couldn’t even say, but it was better than thinking about the possible reasons he wasn’t rooming with Jason. “I know what it is. It’s Captain Invincible.”
The boy paused and gave him a look of surprise. “Yeah, that’s right.”
“I used to watch the series. Read the comic book too.”
He wrinkled his nose. He was tan, with freckles. A white scar bisected his right eyebrow. “Oh yeah? Well, who did he defeat to save the metropolis of Vargos from plunging into the sea in the second season?”
Antonin crossed his arms. “That’s easy—the Tectonic Terror.”
A shrug. “Anybody could know that.”
“Oh yeah? Well, maybe you can tell me what secret weapon Dr. Contagion used to defeat Captain Invincible in issue #187 of the comic book.”
The kid put the toy back on top of the punching bag and turned to face him. “Captain Invincible was never defeated.”
“Not in the cartoon, no. But the comic was different. Lots of villains got the drop on him there.”
His face turned red. A vein popped out on his forehead. “You’re lying!” He clenched his fists and stalked toward Antonin.
Cripes. Antonin scrambled to his feet and got ready to defend himself, mentally running through all the moves Magnolia had shown him. “Remember,” he heard her voice in his head. “Unless it’s a sparring match, always fight dirty. Disable your opponent as quickly as possible. Best way to do that is cause them a lot of pain.”
“You’re lying!” the boy repeated. “I never read the comic book. That’s not true.”
Antonin shook his head slowly, waiting for a chance to kick him in the balls. “If you didn’t read it, then you wouldn’t know. Of course, Captain Invincible was always triumphant in the end.”
The boy stopped advancing, and some of the blood drained from his face. He stared at Antonin for a while, as if deciding what to do next. Finally his hands relaxed, and he nodded. “See, that’s what I’m saying.”
He went back to the punching bag, grasped it by the chains, and levered his legs up between his torso and the canvas. He hooked his feet on the chains and leaned back, hanging upside down. He swung for a little while, then started doing sit-ups. His shirt slipped down, revealing a rock-hard abdomen.
“Whatever,” muttered Antonin, tearing his gaze away and attending to the task of unpacking his clothes.
“YOU won’t believe this guy they stuck me with. What a freak!” Antonin told his friend Sari that evening in the student lounge. It was probably Antonin’s favorite place at St. Bart’s—with a twelve-foot-high ceiling and dark oak beams. It reminded him of Wotroya House, though Wotroya was not quite so grandly furnished. Here, the fifty-square-foot room was generously equipped with overstuffed sofas and chairs, study and game tables, vending machines, even a fireplace.
He’d come down there looking for Jason and instead found Sari, playing PerilQuest, her tense face lit with furious colors from the open notebook.
She didn’t look up, but Antonin went on anyway, throwing himself down on a burgundy leather couch. “First thing he does, he attacks me ’cause I’m looking at this doll he has. A Captain Invincible action figure. He put me in a headlock and shit, but I got out of it, right? He’s all like, ‘Put it down, give it back,’ and I’m like, ‘Make me.’ Then we got into it over the comic book. He thinks he’s some kind of Captain Invincible authority or something. I thought he was going to jump me again, but he didn’t. And he’s got this punching bag that he hung in the room, and he’s all the time beating up on it. What a spaz! Where’s Jason, anyway?”
Sari paused her game and looked up at Antonin, her hazel eyes wide. She had straight, short brown hair and a tan from her summer on the kibbutz. “Didn’t he call you?”
Antonin’s breath caught in his chest. The way she looked at him, it was obvious Jason had called her. “No.”
“He’s not coming back this year. His parents hired a tutor so they could take him along with them on their dig. He’s so lucky.”
Sari was lucky. She’d heard from Jason. Antonin hadn’t gotten so much as a text from him all summer. And now he wasn’t coming back. And Antonin was stuck with this freak of a new roommate. He slumped back against the couch. Life wasn’t worth living.
“So, you all hear about this new kid?” Ted flopped sideways in an armchair. He wore red-and-white checkered jeans and a shiny red vinyl vest. He looked like a refugee from a geriatric music festival. “Big blond dude, Harry Ygrasil?”
“Does he have a T-shirt that says ‘Maniac’ on it?”
“That’s the guy!”
“His name is Harry? No wonder he’s such a spaz.” He snorted with laughter. “Hairy Fits, more like.”
Sari and Ted laughed.
“Hairy Fits. That’s great,” said Jeremy Maphane, passing them on his way to the vending machine. He stopped and talked to Beryl Weishopft and Hilal Vasananda. They laughed, and Antonin heard the words “Hairy Fits” being repeated.
“Looks like you’ve coined a nickname,” said Ted. “Good for you.”
Antonin sat up straighter. He’d never coined a nickname for anyone before. He had to admit it felt good. Did that make him a bad person? No. This was different. This kid deserved it. “Yeah, well, I’m stuck rooming with the nut job. There has to be some compensation.”
Ted leaned forward. “You’re rooming with him?” He ran his thumb down the side of his nose. “Well, listen, Antonin. If I were you I’d watch my cherry fairy pie around that dude. Word is he killed a kid the last school he was at.”
The blood drained from Antonin’s head. “What?”
“Oh yeah, over at Holyoke, he beat some kid to death with his bare hands. He’d be in prison right now if his daddy didn’t have more money than God. Instead they sent him here, which figures. We get all the rejects.”
Did Ted look at Antonin when he said that? Where did he get off?
“Anyway, he’s crazy, and he’s got the power to back it up.”
Sari smiled. “And you just gave him a nickname.”