I storm out of Town Hall, so furious that I feel like I’m about to explode. How dare he call me a little girl?
Just when I’m about to leave the city, I hear the patter of footsteps behind me. Turning around, I see Ramya approach me hesitantly.
“Hey, Alisha...” she mumbles.
“Yeah?” I say sharply.
“Um... Suchet wants you to go back,” Ramya stammers. “He says he’s sorry for being a jerk.”
“He should be,” I mutter. “Tell me why I should go back.”
“I don’t know,” Ramya admits, faltering as she searches for a reason. “Because... uh, we need your help?” Her voice ends in a questioning tone.
What a fool. “Fine. I’ll go back, but this is his last chance.”
Ramya smiles with relief. “Thank you.”
I shrug. “Don’t thank me just yet.”
I follow Ramya into Town Hall, putting on a mask of confidence and getting ready to show Suchet up, should he say or do anything offending.
I stop just inside the double doors and survey the teenagers sitting before me. “I’m here.”
Instead of the condescending, patronizing looks everyone gave me previously, I’m greeted by stares of awe and wonder. Everyone’s goggling at me as if I’ve grown a third foot.
I turn to Ramya. “I thought Suchet was the only one with mental issues. Are all of these people unable to talk or something?”
One of them, a tall Chinese boy, comes to his senses. “Uh, no. We were just surprised.”
“Right,” I say, drawing out the word in a cynical, satirical tone.
Before I can make another withering remark, though, Suchet clears his throat. “Hello, Alisha.”
I focus my attention on him. “Hello, Suchet,” I say, mimicking him sarcastically.
“Sorry about what I said before,” he says awkwardly. “I changed my mind.”
“Wise choice,” I say with a smirk. “Does the new one work any better? And where’d you put the diaper?”
Suchet’s ears turn red.
“Yeah, I was right. The wheel’s turning, but the hamster’s definitely dead,” I taunt. “Come on. You’re supposed to be the brain of this little gang. Act your age, not your IQ! Say something intelligent. Make us all faint of surprise!”
“That’s enough,” Suchet snaps, his face flushed with color. “We need to start planning.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” I say before he can go further. “Who’s ‘we’? Since when am I helping you?”
Suchet falters. “Well, I thought you were helping us, since you came back--”
I hold up a finger to silence him. “I agreed to come back. I didn’t agree to help you in any way, shape, or form.”
“Er, well...” Suchet trails off, and I give him a triumphant smile.
“But I don’t care. I’ll help you if you want me to. Got nothing else to do anyways,” I finish.
He nods, still looking a bit nettled. “Yeah. That works.”
I help myself into a chair and sit down, swinging my legs under the table. “So. What do you all have so far? Your plan, I mean.”
Suchet sits forward in his own seat, his eyes lighting up at the mention of his plan. “We have the key now, so we just have to charge head-on and force Christy into the prison. Then, all we need to do is lock it, and we’ll be golden.”
They’re going nowhere. I sigh and say, “Are you freaking stupid or something?”
He bristles. “Excuse me?”
I lean back in my chair. “So how do you plan to get Christy into the Cosmo Prison?”
“Easy. We force her in. We’ve got more than forty people now; sheer manpower will overwhelm her.” He smiles, radiating arrogance.
I raise my eyebrows. “Oh, really?”
“I thought that was obvious,” he says with a roll of his eyes.
“Keep rolling your eyes, Suchet, maybe someday you’ll find a brain back there,” I sneer. “Because -- shocker -- how do you plan to get her into the prison when you don’t even know where it is?”
Suchet gapes at me. “I-- I never thought of that.”
I snort. “The thought just crossed your mind, huh? Must’ve been a long, lonely journey.”
Luckily for Suchet, Ramya jumps in to save him. “We haven’t had a lot of time to plan,” she says. “You raise a good point, and I think that should be our next focus. We need to find the Cosmo Prison.”
“We should send out teams of scouts. Like, spread out,” Suchet adds, casting a grateful glance at Ramya.
“Again, are you stupid? Were you dropped on your head as a baby, or perhaps thrown headfirst at a wall?” I snap back, interrupting his brief return of confidence. “Because the Cosmo Prison could probably be anywhere in the world. No matter how many scouts you send out, there’s a strong chance that we’ll never find it.”
His tone disheartened, Suchet mumbles, “So what do you think we should do?”
Finally, a chance to lead. I sit up straighter. “Well, think it through, Suchet. Give that brain of yours a trial run. We need to find the Cosmo Prison. We have a lot of people, but manpower is ruled out. What’s the next best thing?”
Watching Suchet think is like watching a color-blind person solve a Rubik’s Cube: the gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t coming. Finally, the gears start creaking and his eyes light up. “Spying.”
I beamed at the group. “Exactly. And if what I’ve heard is true, Christy’s two strongest allies are unable to help her.”
“So you’re saying that someone will have to join her,” Suchet says slowly.
I nod. “Then, our agent can spy on her to find out where the Cosmo Prison is.”
All of the other kids have been quiet so far, but now, one of them -- a Chinese girl with glasses -- questions me, “But how do you know that Christy can lead us to the Cosmo Prison? What if she’s as clueless as the rest of us?”
I stare at her, unable to believe her stupidity. “Are you serious? Do you really don’t know? Christy escaped from the Cosmo Prison, idiot. Of course she would know where it is. You must be from the shallow end of the gene pool.”
The girl glares back. “Who are you calling stupid?”
I tap my fingers on the table, pretending to think. “Hmm, I don’t know. What’s your name?”
Someone snickers. “Ooh, burned.”
Suppressing a laugh, Ramya says, “Her name is Sophia.”
“Well, Sophia,” I say in a scalding tone, “maybe you should actually think next time.”
Her forehead burning scarlet, Sophia suddenly develops an interest in the tablecloth.
“Geez, Alisha,” the boy next to her admonishes. “Lay off her.”
I smirk at him. “Whatever. We actually need to start planning now anyways.”
Suchet nods in agreement.
“All right.” I try to make my tone more businesslike. “We’ve established what we need to do, so we need to decide who will be undertaking the task.”
My words are met with silence as everyone exchanges nervous glances.
“Well?” I raise my eyebrows at the others, trying to dissipate the uneasiness. “Nominations, volunteers, anyone?”
“It has to be someone whom Christy hasn’t met yet,” Suchet warns.
Sophia pushes back her chair and stands up. “I’ll do it.”
The boy sitting next to her grabs her by the shoulders. “No way. I’m not letting you out of my sight again,” he snaps.
“Aww, how cute,” I mutter with a sardonic smile. “But we seriously need someone to step up.”
A tall Asian boy speaks up, pointing at Suchet. “Let him do it.”
Suchet’s eyes widen, and I see the fear and uncertainty within them. “Me? You’re crazy, Leo.”
“Well, who else would you volunteer?” Leo challenges. “Who else is left?”
Suchet winces, and I can tell that Leo’s words hit a nerve. “I told you, I can’t--”
“Then MAKE IT HAPPEN!” Leo roars, leaning over the table. “It’s not like we can’t survive without you!”
“Guys!” I yell, raising my voice over their shouting. “Quiet down, we can work this out!”
“No, we can’t,” Leo growls as he stands up and walks over to Suchet’s seat. “I’ve had enough of your crap, Suchet. Get the freak out.”
Looking terrified, Suchet stares up at Leo’s rage-filled face. “Wait, please--”
Leo grabs Suchet by the arm and hurls him towards the door. “Out.”
Suchet scrambles to his feet. “Okay, okay--”
“NOW!” Leo bellows.