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Toe

“This is Dylan we’re talking about,” says Daniel. “Dylan. The girl Dylan. You know? Our friend Dylan?”

“I saw what I saw,” says Philip. “She was hurting them after they gave up. Not for practice, or to test herself. For fun.”

“I’m with Daniel,” says Tyler. “It’s not like she’s suddenly turned evil.”

“Did I mention she started smoking?”

“Oh shit she’s turned evil,” says Tyler.

“I used to smoke,” Toe scowls.

Everybody takes the tiniest hint of a step back from him.

“Jesus–”

“What are you guys talking about?” says Dylan, ambling up.

The silence hums, taut as a violin.

Toe

“I liked it!” says Alex, as they push out the back exit.

“Everyone liked it, nobody’s saying they didn’t like it,” says Tyler.

“IT WAS A 112-MINUTE STROBE-LIT CINEMATIC ORGASM,” Daniel announces to the parking lot. Behind them, someone whoops.

“Are you getting orgasms confused with epilepsy?” says Phillip.

“Are you not?

“It was really, really a lot of fun,” says Tyler. “Particularly considering that nothing was at stake and the girls didn’t get enough screen time.”

“I just can’t believe they gave Toe’s part to Michael Cera,” says Dylan.

“I’m not Michael Cera!” says Toe. “I’m Michael Cera?”

Tyler

Tyler whips around and reaches over, pulling himself along an invisible line; he’s up on his toes and his body moves like a slide rule. Behind him, the ninjas have caught some kind of synchronized seizure, arms curled up and jerking from side to side.

Tyler freezes. Ninjas arch in sudden paralysis. With a piercing cry, he reaches skyward, and lightning smashes down into him: the shockwave scatters their phalanx to the wind.

The Chosen Ones stare as he walks back toward them.

“What was that?” asks Toe.

“The Thriller dance what the HELL did it look like,” Tyler says.

Faust

“A nameless kill is without glory,” hisses the tattooed man, “and rest assured that today you die. So this I tell you: I am Amadeus Faust.”

“Really?” says Alex.

“That’s kinda semiotically loaded, man,” says Tyler.

“Tyler,” says Toe. “Gross.”

“You don’t even know what semiotics is.”

“I know I don’t want to see you two load each other with it.”

“Is your surname really Faust?” asks Daniel curiously. “I thought the preferred transliteration–”

“I chose it myself,” snaps Faust.

Alex smirks. “If we’re picking our own names, I want Einstein Tyrannosaur.”

“Dude!” says Toe. “You know that one was mine!”

Tyler

The guards hover an inch from the surface of the lake, but as soon as they touch it they’re doggy-paddling, hapless. Tyler doesn’t even body-check them. He just skates around, tripping.

On the shore, Daniel’s eating popcorn. Toe kicks an irritated rock.

“I don’t get it,” he mutters. “I bet we could do that too if we could–I mean, where’s his weight distributed? What’s holding him up?”

“Tension,” says Dylan, too close to his ear.

Tyler leans down to brush wave-tips with one finger, and his sandals slice a glittering wave from the arc of his turn.

Phillip

“But when I’m fighting,” says Alex quietly, “it’s like–”

“Don’t say a dance,” groans Phillip.

Alex laughs. “No. It’s like walking on one of those things at the museum, where it lights up and plays a tone where you tread, except each move subtly changes the chord.”

“Seriously?” says Tyler. “I get wireframes and countdown timers, pick a path, hit the targets…”

“What about you, Daniel?” says Phillip.

Daniel smiles. “Pachinko,” he says. “Pachinko forever, and I always win.”

“Toe?”

“Huh?”

“What do you see when you fight?”

Toe blinks. “A bunch of people,” he says, “trying to–like–hit me?”

Toe

Midnight in the park and he’s lost his damn gun. “No,” he whispers, fumbling in the tall grass. “No!”

They step out from the trees. He’s surrounded. “First blood,” Tyler sighs.

Silently and without surprise, Toe realizes it worked. Options rise to his mind like bubbles: aikido, varma kalai, banshay, systema. Systems. A hidden layer of the world, glyphs of potential and force. But most importantly–

“I know kung fu,” he murmurs.

“Prove it,” grins Alex.

Their NERF revolvers rise, not in slow motion, but with the fat predictability of fastballs over the plate.

Toe unclips the lightsaber at his belt.

Tyler

“Wasabi,” says Daniel.

“On a peppermint,” says Alex.

“With ketchup,” says Daniel.

“And a thing from the freezer,” says Alex, “that I don’t know what it is.”

Toe squints at it. “I’ve eaten worse.”

“Wait wait,” says Daniel, “the piece de gras–” and lets fall one drop from the old man’s vial.

Toe nods, satisfied. “Forty bucks.”

Daniel and Alex whoop. Tyler leans over, hesitant as a man prodding a burning cat. “Look, whatever that stuff is, it’s not kung fu,” he mutters. “It could be dangerous. Don’t you think we–”

“Shh,” says Alex, and throws another five on the pile.

Toe

“Because you are chosen ones,” whispers the old man. “Because the sorcerer is waking in the East and he will be searching for it. Because you four must save us all.”

“Is this an RPG?” asks Toe. “I hate RPGs.”

Alex snorts. “You cried every time you killed Tifa.”

“Oh, are we going to bring up middle school?” Toe snaps. “Because we all did some things in middle school.”

“What were you saying?” Alex asks the old man quickly.

“Mix tapes,” says Toe. “With Disney showtunes.

“You didn’t,” gasps Tyler.

“Do you want kung fu or not?” yells the old man.

Tyler

“Secret dealer room,” calls the old guy over his shoulder, grinning. “Special chance, just for you! Very close now!”

“Remind me why we’re following him?” mutters Alex.

“All the good stuff, you have to buy gray-market,” Tyler says. “Underground. Trust me, I’ve got a good feeling about this guy.”

“And if he’s just some psycho?”

Tyler grins. “Four on one? We could take him.”

“You don’t know,” says Toe, “he could be a karate master, maybe that mop is like his bo staff–”

“Just because he’s Asian doesn’t mean he knows karate,” snaps Daniel. Toe turns from gray to pink.

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