Matt glared at the geometry problem on the sheet of paper in front of him. It mocked him with a series of shapes and letters—all things that decidedly did not belong in math. The clock ticked with every second, and he had yet to even start the fourth problem on the unit exam. He flipped the sheet of paper over, skimming the next problem. It left him equally confused. Matt resisted the urge to groan and ran his hand over his face. Aiden had been right. He should have studied. He thought he could wing it, but apparently the one class period he missed was crucial to the test.
Matt looked up, glancing around the room. His teacher, an older, spindly man, sat rigidly at his own desk in the front of the room, looking over assignments from the previous period. Mr. Alvarez held a concentrated frown, red pen making quick work of the paper before moving to the next. Around him, Matt’s classmates worked on their own tests with varying levels of focus. The smartest kid in class, Ross, ran over their test with an intense gaze, double checking their work and taping their stickered rainbow pen against the side of their plastic desk in an off-beat rhythm. On the other end of the room, another classmate sat with his feet on the desk and his hands shoved in his pockets. No one doubted that Dylan completed exactly zero of the questions on the test before handing it in. Everyone else fell in some place between those two.
Matt turned his head, stopping at the sight of a young man hunched over his test, pencil flicking back and forth as he worked through one of the problems. Andres. Pink flushed Matt’s freckled cheeks as he watched Andres bite his lower lip and furrow his brow. His thick, dark brown hair was cut in a taper fade, highlighting his strong jaw. Andres sat straighter, sweeping a hand over his paper to get rid of eraser fragments. He glanced back enough to catch Matt’s eye. A small smile tugged on his lips. Matt clapped a hand over his mouth, attempting to hide the burning sensation in his face.
Andres definitely caught him staring. Matt felt his stomach turn as if the butterflies that had lodged themselves in his gut were trying to fly out. Turning back to his test, he tried to focus on the problem in front of him. He would never hear the end of it if he flunked geometry, and he did not want to have to take the class again. Staring at the same question as before, he started scratching out an answer. Maybe Mr. Alvarez would take pity on him and give him points for at least trying. Any hope of a curve was dashed as Ross stood and placed their exam on the teacher’s desk with a smile.
Matt sighed. Heavily. All the air deflated from his chest. Maybe he could just not bring home his next report card.
Matt moved to go to the next problem when the classroom door slammed open, banging against the wall hard enough to startle everyone to attention. Mr. Alvarez rose to his full height.
“Mrs. Oster, we are in the middle of an exam,” he addressed the petite, middle-aged English teacher attempting to catch her breath in the doorway.
She stared at him with wide eyes, something wild and frantic in the way she looked across the room. Her normally neat bun frayed, stray strands framing her face. A tremor threatened the edge of her voice, “Turn on the news.”
“Just turn on the news, now,” Mrs. Oster said. Mr. Alvarez frowned in response, his ever-present grimace growing deeper. The entire class now focused on Mr. Alvarez as he switched on the projector board. He typed for a minute, pulling up the local news feed. Their attention turned to the projector. A student close to the door flicked off the light as the computer lagged. The video stuttered to life.
The local news anchor, Carl Kennedy, appeared on the screen, his usual smile set in a grim line. He stood on what was typically main street but was now a mass of rubble—huge boulders and broken buildings scattered the busy road along with overturned cars. An alarm could be heard behind the man, but otherwise the scene was eerily quiet. Matt gripped his pencil tighter.
“Citizens of Axiomville,” Carl Kennedy said, “this is Carl Kennedy with you on AX10 News reporting to you live from the corner of Main and 2nd Street. Local Hero, the Comet, has been engaged in a battle for the last half hour against a new meta-human not yet seen in Axiomville. A few minutes ago, this meta-human, who is referring to herself as Gea, managed to hit Comet with a critical blow—”
Matt held his breath. His stomach swam, but in a completely different way than before.
“Folks, I am just getting reports in…” Carl Kennedy paused. The whole room waited. Mrs. Oster still stood at their door unmoving. Mr. Alvarez’s gaze was glued to his computer screen. Matt could hear his heart beating in his ears, blood pulsing faster, harder. “Folks, the Comet is dead.”
No one moved. All Matt could do was stare at Carl Kennedy’s perfectly combed hair and finely pressed suit, not a strand out of place. Their hero was dead. Aiden told him to take the day off. To focus on school. He even took away Matt’s pager. He went into the fight alone.
Carl Kennedy continued speaking. “The Comet’s side kick, Nightstar, is not on the scene. It is unknown whether he is aware of his partner’s condition or the current battle. Gea’s location is also unknown. After attacking the Comet with a volley of rocks, she has seemed to have disappeared---”
The earth rumbled below Carl Kennedy, shaking the camera as he stumbled back. In front of him, the earth erupted upward, spraying dust and debris. Dust clearing, a woman appeared in the crooked camera angle. She grinned widely, displaying her glistening white teeth. She looked to be in her late twenties, but it was hard to tell. Amber hair framed her dusted face, highlighting the striking angle of her cheekbones and the sharpness of her chin. The golden epaulettes on her shoulder broadened her frame, making her an imposing figure as her deep green cape waved in the wind.
“Hello, Axiomville. It is so good to make your acquaintance. Formally at least,” Gea stalked toward the fallen camera. She crouched down, picking up the camera and angling it to capture her image. “I’ve had your dear city on my list of places to visit for a while now, and well, now that your precious “Great Comet” is gone, this seems like a wonderful place to call my own. Because let us all be clear on this, if the Comet cannot stop me, there is no one in this pathetic city that can, so I will do with it as I please.”
Gea glanced off camera, slowly running her tongue over her teeth. She shook her head, grin returning. Her focus returned to the camera. “Unfortunately, I have some business I must attend to before I make myself a more permanent fixture. Ta-ta for now. And the next time I see you all, be prepared to bow before your new empress of the earth. Fare—”
The screen cut to black. The classroom erupted in shouts. Matt stood to his feet before he even realized he was moving. His hands slammed against his desk. Mr. Alvarez hand sat shakily on the power button of his computer.
“What the hell?” Someone shouted, Ross maybe, Matt thought, but couldn’t clear his head enough to think straight. His vision swam. He gulped for air.
Mr. Alvarez raised his hands, gesturing for the class to calm down. Knees buckling, Matt sank to his desk chair. The shouts turned to whispering and grumbling. “Calm down, everyone. This…this is obviously shocking news,” Mr. Alvarez took a deep breath and the room quieted, “I will be waiting to hear from the principle on whether classes will be dismissed, but for now, your test is canceled. I trust you can all manage to behave while I go confer with the other teachers on how to proceed?”
A choir of muffled yes’ and yeahs answered the teacher’s question. He nodded once, then quickly left the room. The door clicked shut behind him. The silence was short lived, students whispering back and forth. Matt tried to breath, head sinking into his hands. Sick bile rose in his throat, threatening to cause him to throw up. He exhaled, swallowing, and shut out the noise around him. Standing abruptly, Matt ran out of the room to the nearest restroom.The Comet was dead.