Coming out of class was disconcerting. There was nothing different. There was nothing that stood out as different. There was nothing to make me uncomfortable. There was nothing different from any other day I had left American History class. It was a normal day.
Oh! Except for the fact I was going to need to make a deal with Maven. The spider herself in her web.
No big deal. Not at all.
I had first met Maven when my friends and I started the middle school segment of Shadwell. She was starting her eighth grade year and I was new in sixth. My friends and I were sitting around talking, since we'd known each other and been friends for some time. Maven came over and plopped herself down in the midst of our circle and began chatting. She seemed nice enough. She was certainly pretty.
She had black hair, blue eyes and the palest almost translucent skin. She had hints of east asian ancestry in the tilt of her eyes. She smile easily and laughed. We were being taken in...but something felt odd and off. She'd dropped herself next to Tom. And While she never moved the entire time she sat there and amicably chatted us up, it seemed she was shifting ever closer to Tom. Like she was sneaking up on him. Like a cat on a canary.
Yet, she seemed to be just welcoming the new kids to middle school. The upper classwoman, the older girl, looking out for the younger noobs. Even so, I felt...uncomfortable.
When she left, she DID pat Tom on the shoulder, something light and friendly and left.
I had watched her as she walked away and saw her pause and look back. At me. With something of a grimace and a narrowing of her eyes. Then and there, I knew it: she was trouble. I just didn't realize what sort!
Over the next month, she started to make sure she was always there for us. If there was a problem. If there wasn't a problem. However, after that month, I noticed she started being there for Tom more. We were kids compared to her. And Tom was my friend. Something was...odd.
So, I got a little bold and followed her after school one day. And that was when I first saw her derplicates. The Derplicates.
These were boys. Between the age of twelve to fifteen. There were four of them. They all dressed the same. They all seemed to act the same. Even with the differences in age. I knew of them -Shadwell is a REALLY small town, folks, sheesh! - but had never seen them together like this. Juan was the kid from the grade above mine. I had known him in passing when he was still in the elementary segment. He seemed rather different now...
I watched them over the next few days. They made me more and more alarmed as I did. They never seemed to have much, if any initiative. They seemed to almost be robots. Even stupid robots. The almost acted like clones. Dumb copies. Derpy, dumb copies. Duplicated derping...you get the idea.
I pulled Veena and Rosa and Jackie in. They thought I was being weird and creepy. They called me a stalker and acting scary. I asked, begged, pleaded they come and see. They did. They were even more weirded out than I was.
The very next day, Maven gave Tom a present: it was a shirt. Just like the other Derplicates.
We pranked her immediately. We returned the shirt with a note all left on her front door. She picked it up and looked angry and pulled the note off...and then the shirt melted in her hands. Hey! Chemistry really IS cool. You just have to learn to do the crazy things with it. That requires some...studying the unfun parts though.
She was angry. Really angry.
She tried a bit harder to get Tom and then backed off. We pranked her. Her derplicates. Her locker had rollypollies pour out of it. Her mailbox flew away! Drones spelled out silly limericks in the grass about her. And we kept it up until she finally got the message. Tom was NOT going to get derplicated. He was our friend. That was six months ago. And the weird thing was she didn't have a replacement derplicate for Tom. We didn't understand why she didn't move on and capture some other boy, but she didn't.
However, she made it very, very plain it was an unforgivable act against her and she became colder than absolute zero towards us.
And that was why we wanted her help: the adults knew we hated each other. There was no way we'd work together. So, if we got caught, she would not get busted because there was no way we'd have been a team. And vice versa.
It was impossible. And that's why we needed it to happen.
We sat down for lunch. I was so wound up you could drop something on me and it and I would go BOING like a spring. Maven. I had nightmares about Maven. What if she decided she wanted to make girls into derplicates? or if she DID get her hands on Tom? HOW did she turn them into derplicates?!
We started lunch quietly, atypical for us. We normally were boisterous and fun. Other kids would congregate around and talk. Friends who were not Merry Pranksters. Not today. A pall hung over us. An air of 'DANGER! STAY AWAY!' but not in the mischievous sort of feeling we normally had. Rather, a scary, depressed one.
We talked and agreed. Tom and Jackie went off to approach Maven and arrange for us to talk after school. Tom had come back shivering, but Maven had agreed.
After school it would be.