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“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.


“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.


“Relax, T,” grins Alex as they squeeze shoulders crowdwise. “We’re among your people.”

“Toe wasn’t short enough?” asks Daniel. “It’s T now?”

“I reject all nicknames that do not reduce aggregate syllable count,” says Tyler.

“These are not my people,” says Toe, a little gray.

“Remind me when we got our WonderCon badges, Daniel?” Alex grins wider.

“Why, just after last year’s WonderCon, Alex.”

“Attending a con with nerds doesn’t nerdify me,” grunts Toe. “I enjoy Star Wars. Star Wars is mass American pop culture.”

“Granted,” says Alex, “but the lightsaber on your belt, T, that puts you over the line.”


The broken links ricochet, ping and thud, knocking ninjas cold.

“Wait a second,” says Alex. “Wait!” The remaining ninjas hesitate. “That was impossible,” he says flatly.

“We do that a lot,” says Toe.

“No, we’re improbable. But Daniel just snapped that chain in about eighteen places at once. Strings don’t break like that.” Daniel grins and shrugs; Alex looks around. “Somebody back me up?”

Tyler frowns. “Well it’s not a string, is it? Each link has discrete velocity, integrity–” The bravest ninja decides to leap forward, sword up, screaming. He gets his legs broken.

“Quiet!” Toe scolds. “We’re having science time!”


Toe trips.

“Oh shit,” says Tyler. Daniel and Alex spin around, facing out, searching the trees and buildings.

“What?” says Dylan, helping Toe up. “It looked like you just tripped.”

“You don’t understand,” mumbles Toe, pale and wild.

“We never trip,” says Alex.

“Not since this whole thing started,” says Daniel.

“Are you guys joking?” Phillip looks back and forth between them. “You have to say if you’re joking–” But he watches Alex take up a stance and there’s no power in it. Nothing. He looks like a teenager playing Matrix.

“It’s gone,” Daniel whispers. “The Liquid Kung Fu is gone…”


Above, Quan-Ti doesn’t turn around. “I expected the blonde boy,” he says.

“I’m lighter,” Toe mutters.

“Do you even know anyone in China?” He does turn, now, tapping the bronze dagger on his lips. “Did they ask for your help?”

Toe glares.

“Where were you when they burned four thousand years of art? Tortured monks? Locked up authors? Where were you in Tiananmen Square?”

“Eating crayons.”

“Even if you could stop me, how do you expect to erase the past?”

“We’re fucking nerds, man,” says Toe, “our job is the future,” and Hugo’s sword falls smack in his open hand.


“No,” says Toe quietly. “Let me see.”

Dylan punches him, but somehow doesn’t connect. She stumbles.

“You’re stronger,” he says. “Faster. But I’ve been doing this longer.”

Toe turns her next punch into a sine wave. Dylan understands the circuit and pulls through, then kicks off the wall. It should break the hold and jam his shoulder into its socket; it doesn’t.

Instead she ends up with her arms crossed, palms back, Toe’s hand flat against her wrists. He looks at her knuckles.

“Ash?” he mutters. “That’s what it is?”

Their faces are very close. It’s unfair, how slow he’s breathing.


Tyler drops the last of his ninja on the pile and wanders over to where the guys sit, on a ledge.

“Ooh,” says Daniel, as Dylan does something complicated that causes two ninja to kick themselves in the face.

“Yeah, she showed me that yesterday,” says Phillip.

They grow quiet again. Dylan blurs up past the limit of visual tracking, and her own pile grows steadily larger. Daniel passes Tyler a bag of popcorn.

“Nice. Who brought this?” He takes a handful.< "I was thinking, is there ever a reason not to have popcorn?" says Toe. "And I was like, nah."


MACHINEGUNDICLES SAVES ORPHANS, blares the headline; the blurry photo shows a towering silhouette, chin like a cliff and one arm a Gatling gun from the wrist up. Toe slaps the paper on the counter.

“That all for you?” booms the clerk. His nametag says MAX HINES-UNCLES.

“Could I get some Tylenols?” Toe and Tyler are trying hard not to laugh.


“Thanks. Hey, you hear about Machinegundicles?” He pokes the paper. “I heard they totally found out his secret identity.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” Max says smugly, and accidentally sweeps the painkiller shelf clear with his huge, cylindrical, black-gloved left hand.


Phillip’s finally got them all eating with chopsticks. Well, almost all.

“So Phil, you’re Taiwanese,” says Toe, filling his mouth with danzi.

“First-generation,” replies Phillip.

“How come”–Toe swallows–“you’re a Chinese Studies major?”

“Well, those aren’t the only classes I take,” he replies. “But yeah, that’s my focus, because Chinese history matters to Taiwan right now. Most Americans try pretty hard to ignore the situation.”

“But Daniel’s Chinese, and he doesn’t even speak the language. Either of them.”

Daniel grins. He’s using a fork. “My family’s Chinese. I’m American, man. The rest of the world can eat fruit and cake.”

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