Chapter One ONE
Charlie sat in his science classroom at Northlake Junior High, doodling in his notebook. One of his classmates was giving a report about geothermal energy at the front of the classroom.
“… and it’s a totally renewable resource, which is really cool…”
Charlie had tuned out the speaker and gotten lost in his doodle. He sketched a figure in a black, one-piece superhero suit with a mask covering his whole face. In the seat next to him, his best friend, Berger, tried to distract Charlie with a magic trick.
Berger wiggled his eyebrows at Charlie and held up his asthma inhaler. Then, with a flick of his wrist, the inhaler disappeared.
At the sound of the teacher calling his name, Charlie dropped his pen and looked up. Everyone in the class was staring at him and Berger.
“You’re up,” Ms. Squint told him.
Charlie grabbed his index cards and made his way to the front of the classroom. He wasn’t sure if Squint was going to buy the idea for his report, but he figured if he had to talk about sources of energy for ten minutes, it might as well be something he knew about.
He stifled a nervous burp and started reading from the first card.
“While physics can explain a lot of the forces that surround us, like gravity or magnetism, there are some things that physics can’t explain,” he began.
Everyone turned to look at the classroom door, where a dark-haired girl now stood. She wore scuffed black boots and skinny jeans, and her worn-out denim jacket was covered with patches from cities around the world.
Charlie froze. She’s back!
Ms. Squint looked up from her desk. “I take it you’re Maya Monroe. Class, this is our new transfer student from Turkey. So please don’t mock any strange customs she—”
“She used to go here,” Charlie interrupted. Maya’s mom was an army officer, and Maya had lived in lots of different places—including Northlake, back when they were both ten.
Maya locked eyes with Charlie, and he looked away.
“I heard she was kicked out of the country,” a girl whispered.
“Take a seat, Ms. Monroe,” Ms. Squint said. “Charlie, you can continue. But please tie your presentation back to our unit on energy sources.”
Charlie nodded and nervously shuffled his cards.
What is she doing back here? Focus, Charlie, focus, he told himself.
“Well, my presentation today isn’t about any of these energy sources. It’s about the world’s greatest hero, the Guard.”
In the third row, Robbie Fernandez grunted. “Fake news! The Guard’s not real.”
“So how do you explain those navy videos?” Charlie shot back. “The Guard has been seen by thousands of eyewitnesses all over the world!”
Ms. Squint frowned. “Charlie, I don’t see how this is relevant.”
Charlie pushed back. “Look, everyone’s talking about how the Guard stopped the nuclear meltdown in India, how he saved those kids in Taiwan, how he stopped that jet from crashing in Brazil. But nobody’s talking about how he did it. How’d he get from Jakarta to Dallas in ten minutes? How does he change direction without inertia? He’s got some kind of new energy source, and it’s not any of these.”
Kids in the class started talking excitedly.
“It’s obviously a military robot,” one girl said.
“Hey, the Guard is a human superhero,” Berger protested.
Maya shrugged. “Could be a C.U.P.”
“See you pee?” one kid joked.
“Cover unacknowledged project,” Maya explained. The students stared at her blankly. “You know—black budget items?”
Same old Maya, Charlie thought. Still totally obsessed with the military.
Everyone started talking at once again, arguing about the Guard. The mysterious superhero had appeared on the scene when they were all little kids. They’d grown up hearing about his daring and miraculous rescues around the world. Not everyone kept track of the Guard’s every move, like Charlie did, but they all had an opinion.
Frustrated, nervous, and frazzled by Maya’s sudden reappearance, Charlie lost it.
“WILL EVERYBODY PLEASE SHUT UP!” he yelled.
Tweeeeeeeeet! Ms. Squint blew the whistle around her neck.
“Charlie Kincaid! Nobody tells this class what to do except for me!” she scolded.
The bell rang, but Ms. Squint wasn’t done. “You know what? Test tomorrow!” she called after the kids as they scrambled to leave. “Since Charlie has decided to ignore the assignment and waste our class today. That includes you, too, Ms. Monroe.”
Maya glared at Charlie and left the room. Charlie sighed.
Well, that could have gone better.