Name: Ann Braden
Title: Sciencetastic SuperGirls
Genre: MG Light Sci-Fi
On the whiteboard, the large block letters spelling MR. TROLP slant toward the floor at what’s got to be a 40° angle. In two seconds flat, I’m plotting the angle on my “Sub Ineptitude As a Predictor of General Mayhem Graph,” and a quick glance confirms this level of downward drift is one of a kind. Even the sub who only walked on her tiptoes comes in at a distant second. We’re clearly on our way to art-teacher-comes-up-from-the-classroom-below-us-to-deliver-a-lecture territory. Unfortunately, further analysis is cut short when I look up to see Mr. Trolp leaning across the lectern, staring right at me.
His eyebrows are twitching. “You never know who’s going to be out to get you in life.”
Really? This is how he’s starting class? It wasn’t even worth taking the graph out. Anyone could tell you the art teacher’s going to show up. And actually, it’s not just his eyebrows – his whole body is twitching like a rabid spider.
“You’ve got to stay on your toes. Always looking behind you.”
I flip my notebook shut. OK. He’s even loonier than the tiptoe lady, and she spent half the class talking about leprechauns. I get it, Mr. Trolp. Now, look at someone else, so they can benefit from this juicy morsel of very-important-advice-instead-of-actually-having-English-class.
He glances at the door. Then at me. Back to the door. When his eyes dart back to me again, his mouth twists like he has to chew each word before it comes out. “It could happen anytime – next Tuesday, for example – when you think everything is going fine.”
Jeff Harkiss tips back in his chair, his hat perched on top of his head so he can claim he’s not actually wearing it. “Just start the DVD, dude.”
There’s always a first time to agree with Jeff Harkiss.
Without pausing in his door-Julia-door-Julia eye workout, Mr. Trolp fumbles for the DVD case on the front table. Somehow he manages to locate it and looks down long enough to pop the case open. But then his eyes are boring into me again with the DVD around his finger like a hostage. “It’s like dark energy.”
Right. Even Jeff Harkiss puts all four legs of his chair on the floor for this one.
“You think you know what the universe is like, and then BAM!” Mr. Trolp smacks the lectern. “You find out most of it is made up of this invisible stuff that we didn’t even know existed. And while that stuff has been forcing the universe to expand faster and faster, you’ve just been sitting around, twiddling your thumbs.” He seems to have lost interest in the door and leans toward me, his face morphing into a weird kind of smile. ”You know, every minute you spend chatting away with your little friends, the universe has stretched an additional 66,392,269 miles.” He sticks his jaw out, and the smile is gone. “Give or take.”
Ben Michelson looks up from his drawing. “Isn’t that kind of like the Big Bang?”
Mr. Trolp’s at last turns away from me to fix a stare on Ben. “More like the Big Rip.”
I sigh and can’t help but mutter under my breath, “Except that the universe has somehow managed to go for 13.75 billion years without ripping apart.” The man’s making it up like a wackadoodle.
“Except,” Mr. Trolp says loudly, looking back at me.
For crying out loud.
“Except dark energy didn’t exist for the first 4 billion years.” He lowers his voice. “But since then it’s been popping into existence pretty damn fast. You don’t end up as seventy-three percent of the universe without a fight, now do you, Miss Peterson?”
There’s a whole load of things I want to say back to that, like “How do you know my name?” for starters, and “Why on Mars do you keep looking at me?” while I’m at it. But since more than anything I want him to get on with class, I keep my eyes glued to my desk where long ago someone had tried to carve out IDK but gave up halfway through the K. Thankfully, on the far side of the room, I hear two boys fall out of their chairs – like they always do when there’s a sub – and the attention switches to them.
Seventy-three percent. There’s no way that could be true, right? That’s like thinking you know what the earth’s like and then finding out there’s this little thing called oceans. And how would I have not heard of this stuff? Sixty-seven meetings of the Sciencetastic SuperGirls, two freakin’ physicists for parents, and it hasn’t come up once? No way.
I dig my pencil into the groove of the D in the desk. Whatever. Everyone knows energy doesn’t just pop into existence. Of course, I’m not about to be the one to explain to this guy how E=MC2 applies to the conservation of energy – not with him staring me down at every opportunity.
Still, those are some wicked specific statistics for someone who has no idea what they’re talking about.
I look at the clock. One hour and thirty-seven minutes until the next Sciencetastic SuperGirls meeting. I sure know what I’m going to propose for today’s agenda.
When the lights go off, I look back up front and am relieved to see someone has rescued the DVD from its hostage situation and inserted it into the safety of the DVD player. But Mr. Trolp is still on the loose, and damned if he isn’t circling around the back of the room toward my desk. Pretend you don’t see him. Focus on the movie. My, what fascinating opening credits these are. Truly awe-inspiring. But even though I am obviously engrossed by the beginning of this B-grade version of The Time Traveler, he still stops right next to me. And soon that nervy, rabid spider has leaned closer and is quietly growling in my ear, “Not without a fight, Miss Peterson. Not without a fight.”
Like a complete and utter wackadoodle.
I hear him swallow before he adds in a hoarse whisper, “And that’s all I’m going to say about it.”
Of course, it is.
Then, as though his mission is complete, he circles back around and settles down at Mrs. Hamshaw’s computer. Because after thoroughly freaking people out, it’s always good to check your e-mail.
* * *
Maddy puts on as solemn a face as you can have when you’ve got a pink pen stuck behind your ear. “As president of the Sciencetastic SuperGirls, I hereby call the Sciencetastic SuperGirls to order. Now for the oath.”
The four of us, sitting around our corner table in the deserted cafeteria, repeat together: “I will pursue the truth that is science, and I will not be distracted by the boys in that other, way lame science club.” We all put the appropriate emphasis on “way.”
“OK, SuperGirls.” Maddy says, “Let’s get to business. Caroline, what’s on our agenda?” Since Caroline has just popped the rest of a mini doughnut into her mouth, she slides a piece of paper over to Maddy. I bite my tongue to keep from interrupting protocol as Maddy looks it over, tapping the pink pen against her temple.
“Tessa, how’s ‘Assignment: Acquire Dry Ice’ coming along?” Maddy asks as the pen migrates to her mouth.
Across the table, Tessa is tugging at the strings of her black softball sweatshirt, pulling the hood tighter and tighter around her face. “It’s a no go. Too expensive if you include shipping. We only have $13.75 in our budget.”
Maddy mutters “snazzifrass Swedish fish” under her breath and draws a pink box around ‘Acquire Dry Ice.’
“Anyway,” Tessa continues with just her eyes, nose, and mouth visible, “I still don’t see why we don’t first do my question about how to make a fireball with common household cleaners. If we’re going to go dangerous, we might as well go big.”
“And it’s free,” Maddy says, nodding. “That okay with you, Caroline? The dry ice was originally your question.”
Caroline nods as she daintily wipes powdered sugar from her fingers with the corner of her napkin.
Maddy looks at me. “Sound good to you, Julia?”
The opening I’ve been waiting for. I look at each of them. “Something’s come up. Something we need to look into.”
“Whatever it is, we can do it after the fireball,” Tessa says, but her voice is muffled since her mouth has disappeared into the sweatshirt. “Everything’s more fun when your eyebrows have been singed off.”