Aquapleat and the Shredder Squad: Expel the Justice Pleats
Aquapleat and the Shredder Squad: Expel the Justice Pleats
By SF Hades and SF Poseidon
Aquapleat Versus Himself
“Have you won any tournaments lately, babe?” She asks. The question repeats itself in my head and in my ears, I just can’t get it out of my head. I wipe the sweat away from my brow.
“JC?” Hannah asks.
I snap back to reality, like the song.
“Uhhhh,” I’m careful to slow my words, careful to pretend like there’s nothing going on in my mind. Heaven forbid I have a thought, “Yeah… no. No, no, I haven’t really been on my S-Game.”
“Do you mean A-Game?”
“No, I mean S-Game. The S stands for swimming.”
“There’s still a few more meets left in the season, right?” She asks, putting her hand on my leg.
Below us is the whole world. The Lampert Fair is bright and brilliant. I can see Chris and Penny, and I can see Vietch and Elanor, and they look so happy. And I guess it makes sense, Chris dropped his puppet, Penny never got one. And Vietch and Elanor are happy together; strong together.
But… I’m Aquapleat. I’m just Aquapleat. I’ve had the same puppet for years, and all I am is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The ferris wheel creaks and for a moment I hope it comes crashing down- not for a longing of death, but for a longing of adventure.
I let out a deep breath, and the scene changed.
I’m nose to nose with a seven year old. His puppet is so big it practically takes up his entire hand. I recognize the kid: It’s Ronald Lamden. Ol’ Ronald joined swimming and my teammates are picking on him, Theo among them. I tell my cousin, with venom in my heart, to lay off. Ronald’s attention turns to me, he bares his teeth like an actual shark and roars, unlike an actual shark.
He challenges me to a race.
It’s the first time I won a race, maybe ever. And it was against a seven year old. He threw a hissy fit, pounding on the ground and crying. I feel you, little man, I feel you.
Without warning, the doors burst open and the pool room begins to flood. Ronald is there, and he reaches out to me, but his hand doesn’t meet mine.
Swimming through the sea are those Clyrax, the kind from the movie. I can feel myself fading in and out of consciousness, the water feeling suffocating yet, oh so liberating. I swim outwards, through the halls of Lampert. The Clyrax follows me, Ronald does too, and soon, it’s me… I saved everyone!
I saved Lampert Academy!
I can see the newspapers out on the printer as I lead them through the flooded school, their hands in my hands.
But before the exit stands Black Manta. He stares me down with his lifeless and large red eyes, firing a blast at me. I swim towards him, kicking him down. He produces a knife from his side, and stabs me, the blood spreading among the water. Nonetheless, I get a kick in the face, sending him floating throughout the water.
I kick his mask off and it goes floating through the water, the water flowing into his empty bucket of a helmet. I grab his own knife and hold it to his throat, but upon defeating him I see only one thing: Myself.
It’s me from three years ago, back when I dyed my hair. My skin was lighter, my hair wasn’t buzzed off. I had the body of a swimmer, less bulky but more fast. More respectable.
I’ve been trapped.
Aquapleat Versus The Green Arrow-igami
Class is still boring, and so I’m still flunking. Only reason they haven’t kicked me out is because of the thirty or so meets I’ve been coasting off of: They say I’m the best teenage swimmer in the state, top twenty of the country.
Those kids in New York, man, they’re crazy.
When the bell rings, I try to get out of there as quickly as possible. I sling my backpack over my shoulder, hell, I’m already facing the open side of my desk. After leaving, I push my way through the halls of Lampert Academy.
Out of nowhere, a door swings open, hitting me in the face. I’m about to ball my fists but then I recognize who it is: Cooper King. Cooper chats me up for hours, after screwing over everyone’s prom he’s become a bit of a social outcast. Still good at archery, but he’ll talk about anime to pretty much anyone who’ll listen. He’s a joke worse than Aquaman.
After ending my conversation with him, he skips off to class and I realize the hallway is empty except for one kid with a dark hoodie. He’s hunched over, and he’s wearing a mask, and his bangs cover his eyes.
He looks alot like Vinny, back when I went to Kane. That guy always scared me.
He’s hurrying down the hallway and slams into me, and for a moment I catch a glimmer of his disgusting blue eyes. Get contacts.
A note falls from his pocket, and I pick it up.
Meet me on the roof after school, it beckons.
Naturally, I say $#@% that, but I do it anyway. My man is standing up there, the same guy. Looking all stupid and #$@#. I hate him. He looks kind of like Chris Booth, if Chris Booth was a college dropout. His hair was more of a salt and pepper color, and though his eyes were boh blue one was ever so darker than the other.
“You’re- You’re J.C. Rusell, right?” He asks.
“Uhhhhhh… I don’t know.”
He sighed, “It’s you. You’re J.C. That’s J.C.”
“If you say so, man. What’s your name?” I asked.
“Gil.” He says.
“That’s a stupid name, man.”
“I got a stupid family.”
“Me too, brother, don’t mean I gotta have a stupid name like that. It’s 2020.”
“What does that mean?”
“You can change it. Would rather be a woman than named Gil.”
He looked sad, “…Oh.”
“It’s true, bruh!”
“Hey, $%#* you! $%@%!”
“Shut the $#%^ up, that’s why you don’t wipe when you poo!”
“THAT’S NOT EVEN TRUE!” He composed himself, “Who cares? You’re a hater.”
“Bro… what do you even want… $#*@ing %*#%^…”
“How- How would the Aquapleat like to be a hero?”
“I already am.”
He scoffed, “Are you sure about that?” He asked. Okay. John Cena looking bozo.
“I am, I literally have so many lobsters…”
“Is that what you do?”
“Yeah, I- I collect lobsters. They are my friends.”
“Do you- Do you talk to them?” ‘Gil’ ‘asked.’
“Like- Like Aquaman. Do you talk to the lobsters?”
“Yeah? I mean, yeah? Wouldn’t be much of an Aquapleat if I didn’t.”
“That’s weird, that’s so weird. Does Alan have bats?”
“Nah, bruh, he got head lice, bruh.”
“Anyways, tell me more about your mission, it sounds like it might be cool. Or something.”
He smiled, “Thought you’d never ask! See, have you noticed a pattern?”
“Yeah, I have.”
He nodded, stepping forward, “See, you’re smart, I like that, I-”
“Circle, circle, square. Circle square. Circle, circle, square. Circle square.”
“Pattern,” I said.
“No, the pattern going on is-”
“Am I wrong, though? Was that not a pattern? It repeated.”
“It’s not the pattern I’m referring to.”
“That is so stupid…”
“The pattern I’m referring to is-”
“CIRCLE. CIRCLE. SQUARE. CIRCLE. SQUARE.”
“Shut the %#*@ up. Like, actually. I am offering an opportunity and you are being exhausting, you are being insane. You are being a real loser, right now. Okay?”
I sighed, taking a seat on the ledge. “I’m sorry. Enlighten me.” I said.
“The pattern that’s going on is that… hero’s are dropping like flies. Green Arrow-igami, The Fold, SuPaperman, the BatFold. They’ve all been gone for quite some time.”
“I noticed. Those are my home dawgs.”
“In their absence, fakes have cropped up. Sure, there’s heroes, but for every Mister Miracle that crops up there’s ten Puppet Societies, CADMUSes, Reverse Folds, and Red Hoodies. And the worst of the worst of ’em? They’ve been brought together.”
“That’s wild, man.”
“Yeah! And so that finally brings me to Doctor Castillo’s evil slam poetry club.”
“Dude, are you like my Grandma?”
“She’s always, like, talking about how poetry’s always about the devil.”
“Dude, I don’t know-”
“That’s- That’s so weird, no, no, I’m not like that, that’s-”
“Okay, thank you, that’s all I needed to know.”
“No, no, that’s so weird because, like, weren’t most early poems about god and Jesus and stuff like that?”
“Is that true?”
“I don’t know.”
I looked it up on my phone, “Epic of Gilgamesh. Epic of Gilgamesh, it says, I- I knew that.”
“Yeah, I knew that too, I guess my mind just blanked for a moment.”
“No, no, I mean, I get it, I- I’m sorry, off track, I do that, ADHD, you were saying?”
“Oh sweet, ADHD? I got ADD.”
“Anyways, bleuh, uh, yeah, Dr. Castillo, he’s the Lampert principal, I got him fired once, it was fun, he’s back now and better yet leading a slam poetry club of some of the worst heroes we have.”
“You mean the Rhyme Syndicate?”
“You know them?” Gil asked.
“Yeah, there’s like, posters and stuff.”
“I- I- I- I- I didn’t know that, man.” He looked embarrassed.
“It’s everywhere, man, EVERYWHERE.”
“Oh, $%#*, I mean, I’m in college, I’m just, like, weird, y’know?”
“Eugh, why are here man? A college student at a high school? That’s weird, man,” I started walking away, “That’s weird, man. That’s weird.”
Aquapleat Versus The Green Paper Lantern
I can only assume that Markus Dickings woke up this morning. He made himself some Eggo Waffles and poured himself a glass of water. Across the table was his Father, a burly man, six foot something. Ever since Momma walked out on them, things have been hard, but Mark here, he’s happy. Before he leaves, he places a finger puppet on his finger. His pride and joy, a little paper ring. That’s him. He’s the Green Paper.
And the moment he leaves his house, he chooses violence, he has hate in his heart. He is mean, and he is evil. And why is that? He is serious, he is dead set on this mindset that he is living through the events of Groundhog Day (1993). Bill Murray and all, he fights through each day like it’s the last, and brother, he’s on Day Two.
As he makes his walk down the sidewalk, to his school, Donner, he punches a random stranger just trying to get to class, spitting on him. That person is me.
“HEY NO, WHAT THE $%#%!?” I walk up to him.
“I- I- I- I gotta get to class, man, I-”
“YOU JUST ASSAULTED SOMEBODY, YOU DON’T GET TO WALK AWAY, DUDE, WHAT? WHAT?”
“I- I have to get to class, I-”
“No, dude, %#*@ you. I don’t care, like, about your personal problems and stuff, you just assaulted somebody. I’m gonna beat the $%#$ out of you! $#%@!”
“Oh,” and so I beat the $*@$ out of him. I really let him have it, he talked to me before I had my coffee, that’s a big no-no when you’re talking to J.C. Russell.
Unfortunately, I was caught in 4k. Boy named Gil Anderson (Same guy as before) had one of those old fangled cameras out, and was recording the whole thing. So I guess I was caught in 720p.
“Man… %#%@ you…” I said.
He made an evil face, “Hello, my little honeybun,” he sneered.
“Dude, if you call me that again, I’m gonna punch you.”
“Yeah, it sounded wrong coming out of my mouth. I’m blackmailing you.”
I punched him.
“I’m still blackmailing you.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get that, it was worth a shot.”
“Listen, what do you want?” I asked. I shuddered, thinking about the March 2020 OrigSuperboy Prime incident. I could still smell the horse radish and the cries of Cooper King.
“What you’re gonna do, for right now at least, is follow me.”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Kane. Kane High School.”
“I used to go there, before the Novick riot.”
“You’re better off at Lampert, if my sources are right… we don’t have much time. Something’s about to happen, kids are sneaking in at night… preparing something. It lets us work out of there. Now, c’mon, unless you want the world to see J.C. Russell beating up some poor kid,” he gestured to Markus, passed out on the pavement.
Kane High School had changed. Typically, schools get a lot better after you leave them. It’s frustrating, you know. But, uh, Kane had only gotten worse. The place still had roaches, only now they weren’t just in the bathrooms. I saw a kid with an Origami Ratcatcher actually training rats from a Primary School buddy bench, brought in for kids with disabilities. Next to him, the overweight band director in crutches with a dyed beard, pink flamingos and previously mentioned cockroaches poking out of his beard. Ratcreaser and the Foldmingo made eye contact for a moment, before continuing to stare at the ground. Foldmingo stabbed himself in the knee, and started carving the words “Big Jay Jay” into his leg as Ratcreaser sighed.
“I miss Socrates…” Sighed Ratcreaser.
“My wife… She’s- those %#*%ing birds.” Foldmingo said, “I’m gonna kill ‘em.” It was weird— nothing was connecting, it wasn’t making sense.
The library was locked and all the lights were out, I noticed as Gil unlocked the door with a key. The first person I noticed was sitting on the counter top, his hair was choppy, kind of a wolf cut. He had wisps of his orange-brown hair on his chin, and his jean jacket had stains that were pretty much every color.
He waved at me, and then returned back to his call.
“Baby,” He said, “I- I swear, I know it’s your Mother’s birthday and all, but I- I- I- I- I’m a little busy! Yes, yes, I know I missed your whole… jewish mardi gras thing- Christmas? My bad, I’m sorry, just, babe, I’m on the cusp of some things right now and-”
Beep. He looked at his phone, noticing that she hung up. He sighed, “Hey Gil,” he said.
“Mornin’ Jonah,” he said, the two of them pulling off a secret handshake. He nodded at me, “See you got our guy.”
Gil nodded, “J.C. Russell, the man himself.”
Jonah got off his countertop, shaking my hand vigorously, “Man, it’s a pleasure… do you remember me?” He asked.
I shook my head.
“Eh, I figured, I was more of a Kid Fold villain. But that one time when you got a goldfish at the fair, and that kid slapped it out of your hands, that was me! Ah yeah, that was me.”
I looked him up and down, and I noticed that despite being shorter, and all around smaller, he was muscular. And he had a look in his eyes, an aurora of redness and gunk surrounding his thin, small pupils like he was an animal. Some kind of rodent.
I knew that he wanted to trick me into fighting him, trick me into hating him, only for him to pull the “He punched first!” card. Only thing I had left to figure out was… Why?
“Chadwick! Josie!” Gil yelled, “Get your clothes on, we got company!”
A boy and a girl, who I could only assume were Chad and Josie, stumbled in, their faces red. Chad could hardly walk.
“Hi hi,” Chad said. He collapsed on the floor.
Josie looked down at him, lovingly, “No, no. He does that sometimes.”
Mumbling through the floor, Chad asked a question, “Did you find Baby Boy, yet?”
Gil shook his head, and Josie looked down, ashamed.
“Who’s Baby Boy?” I asked.
“Baby Boy was one of the members of mission two, what were we trying to stop, Jonah?”
Jonah stared at the ceiling, “Uh, yeah, mission two, Miss Oldman defected and tried to expose ARGUS, had that little Origami Pandora and everything.”
Josie snickered, “That woman was not an artist.”
“Yeah, no kidding.” Jonah laughed.
Chad giggled too, though he went back to snoring.
“Guys, guys, guys,” I stopped everything, “Who are you people?” I asked.
Gil clapped his hands, “Friends! C’mon, we’ve… we’re being inhospitable. Let’s introduce ourselves.” Gil pointed at the man on the floor, “That’s Chadwick, Kiteman. He’s been here since the beginning, he’s seen everything, he- he likes kites.”
“Chad… kite… ‘thusiasm…”
“I love you… so much…” Josie said.
“That’s Josie,” Gil said, “She’s the most dangerous woman in Kane High School.”
“How come I’ve never heard of her?” I asked.
Josie smirked, “That’s the whole point, no one even knows I exist. But I’ve been here. Who do you think held onto the Babel Files for Neil Swift? Yeah, that’s right, me. I’m practically on the Legion of Plume. And who was the Complicaire guard who let Alan Wade in?” She pointed at herself, “This girl.”
“Josie,” Jonah said, “Your puppet is Killer Moth.”
“You are Killer Moth!” Jonah yelled.
Upon noticing my judging eyes, Jonah leaned forward, “Hi, Jonah Macline. I’m the Pleatster! Based on, you know, The Trickster. Man, I do so much pleating. It’s insane.”
“Together we’re Task Force ShreX,” Gil continued, “Last year, right before the pandemic, a couple of teachers brought a buttload of students like us, screwups, delinquents. And they forced us to do some good. Most of that team was expelled… including its leader,” Gil pointed at himself, “But the teachers, calling themself ARGUS, kept on it. They appointed me as the leader, and these guys, Baby Boy included, are the survivors. Now,” Gil jumped behind the countertop, pulling down a World Atlas, “We’re down on our luck, Dr. Tenebris is onto us, so we’re moving,” He pointed around the map, frantically pointing at Ohio, “TO HERE! The Ostrander Juvenile Detention and Reformatory School in Weston, Ohio! The perfect market for juvenile delinquents such as ourselves.”
“We’re the last members of the Task Force ShreX for the time being,” Gil continued, “And we’re here on unfinished business. Dr. Castillo, an old enemy of mine, is leading the Rhyme Syndicate, but in secret… they’re just like us. They’re being blackmailed, just like us. And the head teacher,” with their fingers, everyone did a drumroll, “Miss Susan Snyder!” Everyone laughed at the sound of her name, Jonah making a fake fart sounding noise, “Decides we’re gonna take them down. And that’s where you come in, J.C., we need a real hero, someone strong, someone we can depend on, to help us save Baby Boy and take down the Rhyme Syndicate.”
My eyes widened, they- they need me. Gil, Jonah, Chad, and Josie… they needed me. I wouldn’t let them down. I was ready to prove to the world that I was more than my just girlfriend, more than just my wins at swim meets… I was more than all of that.
I was the Aquapleat.
Suddenly, a couple of screams erupted from the hallway. We peered out and noticed teachers, all of the teachers, were leaving.
Gil smiled, rubbing his hands together, “They’re distracted,” he said, “Excellent?”
I was scared for my old school, “What’s happening?” I asked.
“Who knows?” Gil responded.
“Who cares?” Jonah asked.
Josie picked up a sleeping Chad, “Taking this as our cue to leave, I see?”
Gil and Jonah nodded.
Josie tossed Chad, light as a feather, over to Jonah who propped him up on his back. Jonah carried Chad, while Gil pumped his fist into the air and Josie did cart wheels. And me? I was jogging behind, careful of my new friends.
They wanted me.
For once… somebody wanted, no, needed the Aquapleat.
And the Aquapleat they were going to get.
Aquapleat Versus OrigIntertia
“Bro, where even are we?” I asked.
We were on the rich side of the town, which I didn’t know very well. By the looks of it, my friends didn’t either. Gil seemed to know the place a bit too well, his parents must’ve been rich. My trust for him, which was already pretty low, took a double dip deeper than my trust for those who do just that- double dipping.
In the hour after we left Kane (which we spent walking), Chad had gotten back up on his feet. He wasn’t fully awake yet, but each time Josie gave him a kiss he seemed to brighten up a little bit more.
And every time he brightened up, I thought of Hannah, and wished that we were in Arkansas with Vought-igami. Maybe then there could be an Origami A-Train… I sighed.
Jonah put his hand on my shoulder, “You jealous? Of what they have?” He asked.
I blinked, making eye contact with the man who killed my fishie fish, “Yeah, I- a little…”
Jonah nodded, “I don’t blame you. I’ve known those two for about a year… we were quarantined together, it’s a long story. Actually. Y’know, when all that happened, Josie was the first person to notice Alan was in California, on his snapmap. She texted everyone she knew to check it out.”
“Can we not talk about Alan?”
“Oh? Are you still butthurt about…”
“Yes. Once Hannah realized that I was disposable, she did just that. She disposed of me. It hurt.”
“Sounds to me, friend, like Hannah used you for your status. She didn’t so much want you for you as much as she longed for your status.”
“I- I- Nope, that’s not true.”
“What was your first interaction?”
“She gave me my puppet…”
Jonah raised an eyebrow.
“But that’s besides the point!” I yelped.
Jonah sighed, “Look, J.C., listen, I’m not gonna tell how to live your life but- dude, this is why I don’t deal with women, okay?”
“What?” I asked.
“Men!” He exclaimed.
“What?” I asked.
“Boys!” Jonah said, “I date boys! Men! I love men! Jeez, do you need a song and dance number to go with it?”
“No, no, no, I- I get it. I just- I don’t think that solves my problem. I like girls, I- I want to kiss women and girls.”
“Ain’t no shame in that.” He said.
Gil put his hands on his hips, “Alright lovers, we’ve reached the spot,” the house was a carbon copy of all the other big places we passed, the only difference from it and Alan Wade’s house was this one had a bigger balcony.
Gil rang the doorbell, and was answered by a servant.
“We’re looking for the daughter,” Gil said.
“The Swift family is out, although- they don’t have a daughter.”
Gil scoffed, “Tell that to your basement.”
The servant looked offended, “Good heavens!” He said, “I don’t know what you’re referring to. Please leave before we contact the a-”
“Money laundering in 2012.”
“We’re sorry, come right in.”
At the mention of money laundering, I thought about Cooper King and Braxton Bouvet… and OrigSuperboy Prime.
Josie looked around, “Well, shoot! This place is fancier than Terry D’Lunes’! I would know, after all, I found his lucky coin in the drain and returned it to him.”
Jonah plopped himself down on the first seat he could find, propping his muddy combat boots up on the table.
Gil looked Jonah up and down, “Jonah, keep walking, Susan still has your dog!”
I ran up to Jonah, “They took your dog!?”
Jonah suddenly looked really sad, “Yeah… Well, not Susan. A different teacher. But yeah.”
“Hey, hey, man, hey man, hey,” Jonah said, “It’s okay, do you wanna know why?”
“I can always count on my fingers,” he said, twiddling them.
We went back to following Gil, at this point Chad being fully awake, and a bit startled. “Where are we?” He asked.
“Welcome to Neil Swift’s basement!”
I put my arms in front of all of them, “Woah, woah, woah, you mean the Neil Swift?”
“You two know each other?” He asked.
“Dude, he was the one who took down the Justice Pleats.”
“Thought that was Alan Wade.”
I shrugged, “Just, dude, if Neil’s down here I’m-”
“I’m not Neil, I’m not my brother, I’m not.” A voice cut me off.
The girl I saw was pale, she had her feet propped up on a chair and a pink light shone above her head. She turned to face her three screened computer, “See ya chat, guests are here, I’m out. Nini out.” She closed out her Twitch stream.
“What do you guys want? I told you, I graduated, I’m not joining your %#@ing Shredder Squad.”
Gil sighed, “This, my lovelies, is Nikki Swift. Neil’s older sister, and… my ex-girlfriend.”
Nikki looked me up and down, “Alright, I’ll bite, what did you get yourselves into?”
Gil shrugged, “The Shredder Squad is on its last mission, taking down some copycats. The goal is a quick one and done, then we’re off. One last mission, eh?”
“And the problem with that is…”
“We’re not sure where to start, we figured you’d be able to help us.” Gil turned to face us, “Nikki here is a weirdo, like me,” Nikki punched Gil in the back, “But she’s lovely, she’s got files on everything and everyone. She’s our go to guy for this type of thing.”
She kicked back in her seat, “What’s the mission?”
“Doctor Castillo’s Rhyme Syndicate. We need to know who’s on it.”
She looked through her hard drive, only coming up with a Word document. “Says here it’s got six people, we have listed identities for everyone except… two.”
“We’ll take anything we can get.” Gil said.
“Alright, your Paper Ring, Markus Dickings-”
“I took care of him!” I blurted out.
Everyone looked at me, Gil included.
“No bloody way, that guy, he was-”
“That was Markus, he- he and I were on a team together, one time. It didn’t last very long but it was long enough for me to recognize his face.”
“So,” Chad said, “That’s one down, right?”
“Not exactly, see, if you beat them up they’ll get scared for a while, but they’ll just keep coming back. We need to take them all down at once by letting the people know they’re weak. We’re just making the rounds, collecting evidence, you feel?”
“Nice,” Jonah said.
“Next person, Edgar Avilla.”
“I know him,” Gil said, “He was OrigIntertia. He was on my team, the In-Puppet Society.”
That didn’t make much sense, “Wait- I- I- I- I thought that was OriChronos’s team.”
“It was, love, I’m OriChronos.”
“That- No, Daniel was OriChronos. I would know, he gave me the stomach bug!”
“No, it was- that was me, I framed him.”
“No! I disagree!”
“Honeybun, why would I-”
I punched him in the gut, he hunched over, groaning, “DUDE, WHAT THE $%#%!?
“Dude, I warned you, I said I was gonna do that if you did that again, and- and I did.”
There’s a knock at the door. “I’ll get it!” Chad said, running up stairs.
“The- the butler can get-” Nikki began, she was cut off by Chad being thrown down the stairs.
“Hey guys, how we feelin? Surely we’re not… getting into something we ain’t supposed to? No, no, we would never…”
“What are you doing here, Edgar?” Gil asked.
Edgar smiled, “I- I, uh, thought I’d help out with this interior decor, you know?” He ran up to Nikki’s computer, “Thought it could use a little,” kicked the PC, “Remodeling.”
“MY SUBS! MY SUBS! MY SUBS, NO! NO, MY SUBS!” Nikki screamed.
“$%*@!” Gil screamed.
I punched him, but he did something none of us expected. He caught my punch. With Chad passed out on the floor (again), and Nikki crying over her lost subs, that left me, Gil, Jonah, and Josie to figure out how to take this guy down.
He shoved my fist forward, forcing me to elbow myself in the head. Josie came running, nimble, float like a moth, sting like a bee. She tripped him, sending him stumbling on his feet. He backed into a wall.
Gil ran up to him, gripping Nikki’s microphone, about to hit him with it. Edgar slithered between Gil’s legs like a snake, which was ended before jumping up. He chased after me, and I panicked. Not knowing what to do, I jumped up on the dishwasher.
“No!” I screamed, throwing tide pods at him. I took the cap off of some detergent, and not knowing what else to do I splashed him with it.
“Excellent, Russell!” Gil shouted.
Edgar made eye contact with me, he looked mad. His eyes were red with fury, and he looked ratty and rancid. “No,” he said, “You ruined my outfit,” he pointed at his Jordans, “THESE WERE REAl, $%*@!”
I understood his anger, his rage, his desperation, and before he tackled me to the ground, I saw the sight behind him.
Nikki was standing on her table, in one hand a machete, and in another… something.
“Hey #$%&@!” Nikki shouted.
Edgar turned around, “This is for my subs…” Nikki said, her blade rising. Before I could wince in pain, Nikki raised her blade and…
Edgar lie on the floor, screaming in agony, holding his hand to his eye. In Nikki’s other hand, a chardane bottle, fizzing and bubbling from the spout. “That’s 316 years of aging, @$%crack!” She shouted.
“You put a cork in his eye.” Jonah said.
Nikki stood back, dumbfounded, at Edgar writhing in agony on the floor. “I- I did. I put a cork in his eye.”
“YOU PUT A CORK IN HIS EYE!” Gil shouted.
“Drinking…” Chad snored.
“He’s so cute,” Josie said.
As we left (Nikki, with a newfound bloodlust, accompanying us), I pulled out a napkin, one of the fancy ones I stole from the Swifts. I wrote down Markus and Edgar’s name with a box beside them, checking them off.
“Who’s the other four?” I asked her.
“Well, we don’t exactly know who the trinity are. But there is an OrigOwlman, a Superwomanigami, and an Ultrafold. I know that much.”
I scribbled those three down.
“And… is there an Aquaman?” I asked.
She thought to herself for a moment, trying to jog her own memory. “Yeah, yeah, there is,” she said, “You’ve fought him before, he was also Markus. Two Markuses, wild, right?”
I nodded, “Yeah.” That’s the former Swimmaster… my first villain, “I can’t wait to take him down again.”
Gil chuckled to himself.
I smiled, “What?” I asked.
He stared at my checklist, “Nothing.”
Aquapleat Versus The Working Class
“Jeez,” Josie said, “This is worse than when Tommy said if I didn’t stop saying CJ had a dump truck he would shank me!”
“Did that actually… happen?” Chad was returning to the land of the living, I could tell, but that didn’t matter. We were all huddled together in a men’s locker room shower, keeping our ears open. According to Nikki, this is where the Rhyme Syndicate members would meet up, especially since they hate women.
The door creaked open, and the first voice we heard was louder, commanding. The second was more humble.
“Yeah, so I was like, bro, chill.” Voice One said, “If you’re gonna pull a stunt like that then at least do it at your own wedding, like, right? I’m not being unreasonable here?”
“No, no, no, you’re spitting, I can’t believe they’d do that to you, bro. And with birds too? Like, too soon.”
“Too soon, yeah!”
“Yeah!” There was an awkward silence, “Bro, did you hear that Weird Al is on tour? Like, he’s gonna be in town soon, I mean soon.”
Jonah’s eyes widened, and he pulled out his singular Weird Al ticket. Gil smacked him for making too much noise, the sound of the slap echoing in the locker room.
“… Did you hear that?” Voice two asked.
“Who’s Weird Al?” Asked One.
“Weird- Weird Al, I don’t know who that is.”
“He’s like… major cultural touchstone, best artist of all time.”
“Didn’t he- didn’t he make that one song? Welcome to the Jungle?”
“No, no, that was Guns N’ Roses. Completely different genre, man.”
“Oh, oh. What’s the genre?”
“Like David Spade!”
“I mean… no, but- but yes, but- No, no, just- just look it up, dude, we got more important stuff to talk about.”
“Markus got his legs broken.”
I jumped back, I BROKE HIS LEGS!? Gil held me to the wall, while Josie crouched down, gripping my kicking feet.
“Oh lord, PR for that one’s gonna be a nightmare.
“Right? I mean, we can’t be having a cripple on the new Justice Pleats.”
“We could, like, introduce some Jessica Cruz type character.”
“That’s smart, I like that. Fits DC lore, too.”
“Yeah, yeah, I like that, yeah.”
The door swung open, “Greetings,” a nasally voice that I recognized as my Markus said.
Voice One sighed, “$%@$ do you want? $%#%?”
“I- I’m on your team.”
“No, let’s get one thing straight,” Voice Two said, “You’re only here because no one cares about Aquaman! Who the hell is gonna be, $%*#, the Sea Kirigami? Stupid, man, it’s stupid.”
Markus left, crying. As he left, the door swung open and I could hear him getting slammed with it, his bones cracking.
“THEY GOT MY #$%*ING EYE!” Edgar shouted, followed by Markus’ groans.
“NOOOO,” Voice One said.
“You’ll get better, right? Like, it’s you or Jonathon Yen!”
“#$%# that guy,” Edgar said, “I hope he dies.”
“Yeah, same.” Markus says.
“Bruh!” One says, “Shut the #$%@ up! Ain’t no one ask you!”
“Yeah, #$%&#,” Edgar says.
“How’s Black Manta-Gami holding up?” Two asked.
Edgar sighed, “Last I checked up on Echo, she said he hasn’t cracked yet but… he’s about to.”
Gil cursed, and I could see him mouth the words, “$%$#it Baby Boy!” Most of the team, really, Jonah, Josie, and Chad looked disappointed.
“We’ll check on him, we got your text, if the Shredder Squad is onto us, then…”
“We can’t let the Manta out of the bag,” One said, “Send everyone, and I mean everyone, to that break room, okay?”
He sighed, “Okay.”
“Anything else?” One asked.
The room fell silent.
“Alright then,” one clapped his together, “Meeting adjourned.”
Immediately, Gil opened the shower curtain and the six of us flopped out. Me? I was mad.
I shoved Gil, “WHAT THE HELL, MAN!?” I shouted.
Jonah caught Gil as he stumbled back, pushing him into me.
“WHAT!?” Gil asked.
“YOU DIDN’T TELL ME YOU WERE TRYING TO SAVE BLACK MANTA-GAMI?”
Jonah snickered, “You two have history?”
“He only ruined my career, my relationships, and my family.”
“Oh,” Chad said.
“Yeah.” I said, “I’m not- I’m not mad. I came this far… just, just let me sit down.”
I took a seat on one of the benches, gripping my hands together. Josie took a seat next to me.
“I just- I just don’t know what I’d do if I ever saw him again, he- he’s the reason I’m like this.”
Josie looked at me like she was about to say something deep and profound, and she pursed her lip before choosing her words carefully, “Y’know, this reminds me of the time I worked for Maxie Z-”
“Shut the $%$@ up.”
After we left Lampert, we noticed the sun was setting.
“Who’s house we staying at?” Gil asked.
Chad sighed, “I’ll bite. It’s my turn, right?”
Gil snorted, “Yup. Hey, Jonah, you got ten bucks?”
“Yeah, I gotchu,” Jonah handed him ten bucks.
“So, gas station, then Chad’s place?”
After getting to the gas station, Gil pointed at various locations, from the dumpsters to the tanks, to beside cars. Everyone followed them at once. Noticing my confusion, Josie leaned in to me, “We’re calling our parents, just say you’re staying the night, shouldn’t be so hard.”
I sighed, pulling out my phone, four missed calls from Mom. “Hi Mom,” I said.
My Mom gasped, “JAMSEY CARGILE STUART RUSSELL, YOU WORRIED ME HALF TO DEATH!”
“I’m so- I’m so sorry, Mama. I- I made some new…” I looked at Nikki taking a nap on the bench beside me, no one caring if she was out at night. And Chad resting his head on Josie’s crossed legs. Finally, there was Jonah, alone. He stared up at the night sky, brilliant and beautiful.
“Friends, I- I made some new friends, we’re talking about spending the night.”
I could hear my Momma choke up over the phone, “You- You made friends? They’re not like that Hannah, girl, right?”
“No, no, oh, lord, no. They’re leagues better.”
“That’s what I like to hear, Jamesey.”
“Is it okay if I spend the night?” I asked.
She thought about it for a moment before sighing, “Sure,” she said, “And tell them I said hi.”
“I will, Mom. I love you.” I said.
“I love you too, I trust you.” She said.
I hung up the phone.
Jonah knocked on his door, and the person who answered the door looked like he was in his mid-twenties, he had the scraggly hair and the formations of a beard. “Uhh… what’s up?” He asked.
“Sup TJ,” Jonah said, “Guys, this is my cousin, TJ, he’s chill. TJ’s really good at, like… TJ what do you do again?”
“Uh, yeah, I’ve been working selling papers for this bruh, Perry Mid.”
“Perry Mid. Like, business man, Perry Mid Scheme.”
“He sounds chill.” I said.
TJ jumped back, “WHOA! I didn’t see you, oh my god, bruh. Jonah, bruh, who are your friends?”
“Sup, little man.”
“Sup, baby girl.”
“Sup, little man.”
“Sup, baby girl– who’s that?” He pointed at Gil.
TJ nodded, “Sup, baby girl. Meoww.”
“I’ll kill you faster than a star nosed mole can slurp up a worm.”
“Moooooom,” Jonah yelled, “I’m home!”
Jonah’s Mom grunted from the kitchen, “Are those friends with ya?”
Jonah rolled his eyes, making a stabbing gesture with his hands, “Yeah!”
A small, miniature Jonah whizzed past me and knocked down a lamp. TJ grabbed his PC controller and beat him over the head with it. “WHAT THE #$%# DID I TELL YOU!?” He yelled.
Jonah walked into the kitchen, putting his muddy feet on the table and a toothpick in his mouth, he nodded at his sister, “What’s up, Jenny?”
Jenny sighed, “You finally came home for one night.”
Jonah gestured at us with his head.
Jonah’s Mom poured herself a glass of wine as Gil rooted through the kitchen. “Sit at the table, boys.”
I was the first to sit down, Josie and Chad next, then Nikki. Gil remained standing.
Gil slabbed a platter of meat loaf he stole from the fridge onto the table.
“Ew, meat loaf,” Jenny said.
“That’s my sister, Jenny,” Jonah said, “I really missed her because of how busy I’ve been with missions. Hey, Jenny, how’s your-”
A six foot five, burly man in a tank top with the words “OrigAmazo” splashed across it pulled out a chair and sat back down.
“Uh- Uh- Jenny, who’s this?”
“Um, that’s my boyfriend,” Jenny said, “We met, like, a week ago. It’s gotten pretty serious, though. Right, babe?” She put her arms around his muscles. We stared in disdain.
“I missed you, Jenny.” Jonah says.
Jonah notices my confused expression, “That’s my sister, Jenny! She doesn’t like me very much, because I’m not home often, but we love each other, of course.”
“Jonah, shut the #$%# up. I have no love for you, I genuinely hate you. In March 2013 I put a firecracker in your parakeet’s mouth.”
“I love you!” Jonah cheered.
“Maurice,” Jonah’s Mother croaked into the living room, “Come eat with us! Your son is home!”
“WOULD YOU SHUT YOUR TRAP WOMAN,” he slapped one of Jonah’s bald headed brothers as he ran past, “I HAVE BEEN WORKING IN A GOD#$%* FISH HATCHERY FOR 36 HOURS! MAURICE DOES AS HE PLEASES!”
“I SHOULD’VE SOLD YOU WHEN I GOT THE CHANCE!”
Jonah ate his meat loaf.
Jonah let Chad, Josie, and Gil take his room, he said he trusted them more. Meanwhile, he left me and Nikki for the guest room and himself for the couch. Sharing a guest bed with Nikki was an interesting experience, she wasn’t great with boundaries, and was up until 11:00 p.m scrolling through TikToks and checking all of her friends Folder’s Connection stories.
She was a screw up, like me, but she seemed so content. I decided to pop the question: “Nikki, are you happy?”
Nikki snickered at the question, “Sure, man.”
“How?” I asked.
She stared up at the ceiling.
“I- I don’t really know. I mean… Do any of us really know what happiness is?”
“I guess not.”
“Yeah, man. Besides, when you get to college things are gonna be better. I mean, maybe I’m not happy but… I know what makes me happy, y’know? I mean, Gil makes me happy. He’s my best friend. Doing this doesn’t make me happy, I know that. This is just work.”
I nodded, “Yeah, yeah. I guess that makes sense.”
“J.C., does swimming make you happy?”
I paused at the question, trying to figure out an answer, “Swimming’s my only escape. Feeling the water course around my body, darting through the air like a god. The rush… that’s what I miss, the rush. Because that’s all it ever was for me: An escape from all the anxieties, all the troubles. But the more and more I did it, the harder it got to keep going. It doesn’t make me happy, it’s just- it’s just work.”
Nikki nodded, taking a sleeping pill from a glass of water and passing out immediately. Not long after, I fell asleep too.
Aquapleat Versus The Origami TMNT
I awoke with a water balloon to the face. Giggling to himself, Jonah Macline, “Up and attem, man!” I groaned, as I slid out of bed. I did my morning routine, thankfully today was leg day so I didn’t need to borrow any weights.
As I exited the guest room, I could see that everyone else was already up. Nikki was preparing herself a smoothie, Josie was helping Chad tie his combat boots, and Gil was stacked from head to toe in what I can only assume was war gear. He had the whole fit, army jacket, combat boots, sunglasses- he looked like he was ready to stomp on somebody.
Gil, upon seeing me, grabbed a vest off of the table. The way it was padded, it looked like it had scales. “Mornin’, sunshine!” He threw the vest at me, “Crunch bar’s in your pocket, we gotta get going. We gotta get going because someone insisted on letting their boyfriend sleep in.”
“Sorry.” Josie said.
As we left Jonah’s house, Gil split everyone up. “Alright,” he said, “J.C., Jonah, you two walk right in. No point in making y’all sneak in if y’all’s already a student, right? I’ll go with Chad and Josie, make sure they don’t get into any trouble, alright? We’ll meet up in the janitor’s closet.”
“What a weirdly southern sentence,” Jonah said.
“Right? Like, what was that about, that was so weird.” I said.
On the way to Lampert, Jonah and I noticed something: Kane High School. Kane was surrounded by police cars and news helicopters, someone who looked kind of like Austin Nolan was barking orders over a megaphone.
“What do you think is going on over there?” I asked Jonah.
“Eh,” Jonah said, “None of my business. I heard it was something with the Joker.”
“Maybe you should be over there,” I cracked.
“OKAY, LET’S GET ONE THING STRAIGHT, @$%*%,” Jonah said, “I am the PLEATSTER. The Pleaster is ORIGJAMES ORIGJESSE. I’m not the #$%@ing Joker, @#$*%.”
“I- I’m sorry,” I said, and I genuinely meant it.
“It’s- It’s okay, you just hit a nerve.”
“Are you crying?” I asked.
“Yes, I- Don’t call me the Joker… I’m the Trickster.”
“I do little tricks.” He said.
Upon arriving at Lampert, we encountered our first of many obstacles: DJ Vibecheck. DJ Vibecheck was on the Lampert soccer team, a notoriously #$%@ty group of people. Worse yet, soccer wasn’t even his true passion. His calling in life? What got him out of bed in the morning? Soundcloud artistry. And if his name didn’t give it away already, he had hopped onto the puppet trend… as Origami Vibe.
“Hey, wassup man!” DJ nodded at me and Jonah.
“Oh, hey, what’s up?” I hadn’t talked to DJ since the OrigSuperboy Prime incident, and I wasn’t sure if I could look at him the same way after what he did with that mop.
“Man, I’m kind of just… mad, man. I’m just tryna get my music off the ground man, and ain’t no one listening to my #$%& and stuff, man, it-”
Jonah squirted toothpaste on him.
“DUDE, WHAT THE #$%@!?”
“I was- I was tryna have a conversation with that man! You can’t be doing that to my brother!”
“Keep walking.” Jonah said.
“NO, NO, NO,” DJ Vibecheck said, “YOU #$%&#ES GET BACK HERE, MAN!”
“See what you did?” I hissed at Jonah.
“MAN, I KILL YOU, MAN, I KNOCK YO HEAD OFF, MAN!”
Jonah fired off an air horn.
DJ Vibecheck shoved him and then started filming him.
Jonah looked him up and down, “Bro, quit filming me!” He shoved him.
“YOU ARE ASSAULTING ME,” DJ said, “AYO, ALL Y’ALL, THIS MAN IS ASSUALTING ME!” DJ shouted.
Jonah knocked the phone out of DJ’s hand, “Man, #$%& you.” He picked up the phone, “I’m keeping this, bruh.”
As we met up at the rendezvous point, Josie, Gil, Chad, and Nikki were already waiting for us. “What took you so long?” Gil asked.
Jonah nodded, “We got held up.”
Gil nodded, “It’s okay, we had to deal with the Weather Whizzer.”
“Don’t you mean Weather Wizard?” I asked.
Chad looked really sad, his head tilting towards the tile floor of the hallway, “No…”
We ran into the Lampert break room, designed for the future athletes to take a break- I spent most of my days here, having earned enough credits to do just that. We looked around the room, “Alright guys,” Gil said, “Bell rings at 8:00, that’s when this room becomes the most guarded place in all of Jutefruce County. We got five minutes.”
“I- I’m pretty sure Kane’s more guarded by those Jokers guys,” Nikki said. She grinned, “Hey, Jonah, you’re kind of like a Joker. Why aren’t you over there?”
“No!” Jonah yelled, and he started punching and kicking her. Nikki shoved the little 5’2 goblin off, but he kept at it, pretty soon… he started hissing and biting… “DIE! DIE, DIE, DIE!”
The fighting went on for so long that soon… the bell rang. When the bell rang, we quickly silenced ourselves and ran into an empty closet. We put our hands over each other’s mouths, and listened to the sound of the first group heading in.
Nikki’s eyes darted around the room, like she was trying to compute the voices, she tapped on me, because I was closest to the door, “J.C…” she whispered, “Try to listen in on what they’re saying.”
“So yeah,” a dude bro said, “THAT’S how I got with that hot Taco Bell cashier.”
Another dude bro laughed, “Oh my god… she’s a baddie.”
“Girls are so cool,” a squeakier voice said.
“I like men.” One said.
“And I respect that,” the first dude said.
“Something about Taco Bell…” I said. Nikki’s eyes widened, and she mouthed the words “No… no, no, no, no… not them, please…”
Suddenly, we head a buzzing sound, followed by a familiar tune:
“Yuh, yuh, yuhhhh, ayo??”
“Boomba… sha sha… shoof SHAF SHEEF.”
“DJ Vibecheck gonna knock yo head off, yuhhhh”
“SHOOOOFF SHAFFFFF SHEEFFFF”
“Gonna knock yo head in man”
“Burn, burn, burn all the girls”
“Shoof shaf sheef”
NO! I internally screamed. Jonah quickly declined the call (From “Babygirl 3 <33 “OrigGypsy”) but by then it was too late.
“BRUH!” The dude bro outside yelled, “WHO THE @$#% WAS THAT?”
The door that me and Gil were leaning on fell over, putting us face to face with four guys, four guys Alan had told me about… Blakely Lockley, Dustin Wickers, Winona Sampson and Oliver Suckers.
Separate, they weren’t much but together… They were the Origami Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Winona pumped her fist, “Who are you guys?”
I jumped up, “We’re Aquapleat and the Shredder Squad,” I said, “Expel the Justice Pleats. And we’re looking for Black Manta-Gami.”
Blake looked around, and he snorted, “Like that’s gonna happen. We’re the Origami TMNT, and they said they’ll let us join if we make sure he doesn’t get out.”
“#@$% you!” Josie shouted.
“We’re gonna join the Justice Pleats!” Oliver shouted, punching Chad in the stomach. Chad fainted.
“#@%^@ you times two!” Josie shouted.
“That was a warning shot,” Blake said, “Now, if you don’t make like a tree… and pee your pants and run away… we’ll make you.”
“Trees don’t even pee!” Gil hissed.
Josie looked angrier than I’d ever seen him, and for a moment I wanted to hold her back.
She shoved Blake, “You remember me, #$%&@?” She shoved him.
“You were in the Fold Clan…” he said.
“Yeah,” Susie reached over, and grabbed a piece off of giant Connect Four. Gripping it in her hand, she punched him in the face, sending his teeth flying across the room, “THAT WAS FOR BREAKING MY LEGS.”
The other three rushed towards Josie, and Gil dropped Chad and just as quickly raced across the room towards a pool ball table. He grabbed a cue off the table, snapping it in half and tossing one over to Jonah. The two took on Winona and Oliver, Jonah trying (and failing) to crucify Oliver while Winona simply fought using a bat.
After fighting like I hadn’t fought in a good, long, while, we were on the cusp of winning. That’s when the door swung open- and in stepped…
A woman I didn’t recognize. No one recognized her except for Gil, “ECHO?” He screamed.
Her hair was dyed blue, and she was pretty tall. She wore all this dark, baggy clothing and, my god, she stunk.
“Echo” looked around, “Boys, it’s okay, Gil here is… a friend…” she said.
Quickly, the Origami TMNT left, bruised, bleeding, and sore.
Echo and Gil looked at each other with longing eyes, the two inching onward and onward. With each step, Echo’s hair bobbed up and down and her lashes fluttered, lovingly. Gil smiled, like he’d never smile before.
“Gil, my love, oh how I missed you.”
“Echo,” he said, “How have you been?”
“I took on poetry after you left… I joined Dr. Castillo’s club… I’m SuPaperwoman. Soon, I’ll be the Wonder Folder.”
“Oh, how I would long to be your Steve Trevor.” Gil said.
“That would be… nice. I would love that” she said.
“But tell me more about this club,” Gil said, “It sounds so… enticing. So… effortlessly you.”
She smiled, “We- We’ve been at war with the Shredder Squad, and we’re winning. I’m the last person they’ve had at Lampert… with all that’s going on at Kane, we’re planning on unveiling at Donner tomorrow.”
He hugged her, “So, like, who’s UltraFold?”
She whispered in his ear.
Gil punched Echo in the stomach and stomped her face in, “Racist.” He said. “Jonah!” He snorted, “You catch all that on camera, right?”
Jonah, holding up our video camera, did an OK sign. I knew then that it was time to check off my list.
As we continued towards the closet, Josie looked Gil up and down, “I didn’t know you had so many exes,” Josie said.
“Just wait until you meet the one that I was toxic towards.”
Jonah shivered, “You’d be surprised at how awful women can b- OH MY GOD!” Jonah jumped up, his majestic goat legs sending him hitting the ceiling. At the end of the corridor-esque closet was the man who ruined my life…
The man who ruined my career, my future, my… everything…
The Black-Mantagami, and my cousin, Theodore Franklin.
Aquapleat Versus Amanda Waller
“Now which one of you #$*%ers phone’s went off?”
“Go easy on em’, Gil! By the looks of it, you’re already low on members…”
“If I wanted your opinion on how to lead my team, Theo, I’d ask you. Now, which one of you $%#@ers was it? You almost ruined the whole mission.”
Gil was nose to nose with him, “Was it you, Jonah?” Jonah shook his head, lying.
“Or you?” Gil asked.
“Bruh,” I said. “No.”
“Then who was it, huh?” He asked, his eyes filled with venom and carnage.
“I- It was-” I looked at Jonah, “I- I don’t know, I wouldn’t even listen to trash like that.”
“Hey…” Nikki said, “DJ Vibecheck is my favorite…”
“THEN IT WAS YOU!” Gil shouted.
Jonah’s eyes darted around the room before a lightbulb shone above his head, “Yup! Yup, yup!” He pulled the phone out of his pocket, “I EVEN SAW THIS FALL OUT OF HER POCKET!” Jonah opened up the phone to a screensaver of DJ Vibecheck flipping the camera off, “SEE! ONE MISSED CALL!”
Gil snorted. “Nikki, leave.”
“Leave. Your services are no longer required.”
“C’mon, Gil,” Theo began.
“Quiet.” Gil said.
As we made our way to Donner, Josie and Chad caught up with me.
“So… you and Theo have history?”
I nodded, “He’s my cousin.”
“Oooo, family drama,” said Chad.
“Yeah, I guess. I don’t wanna talk about it.”
Josie shrugged, and the two skipped off, hand in hand. I wish one of them got hit by a train.
Once we arrived at Donner, people shot us weird looks. Or, well, mostly me. After all, I was the outsider, and unlike Kane… Donner was a prep school. I was practically saved from being egged by a teacher who pulled me in by my collar.
“What are you doing here?” She hissed.
I sighed, “I’m here on a mission.” I said, “I- I- they blackmailed me.”
“No, no, no, I know all that, but why are you at Donner!? The target was at Lampert!”
“I- I- I-”
“Well, you’re gonna answer me, kid? Huh? Huh? Huh?”
She sighed, upon noticing my blank expression.
“Kid, it’s okay. I’m part of A.R.G.U.S… you would’ve gotten to know me, if I hadn’t let those stupid kids freestyle! Much less bring someone like… you, onto the team. You’re literally Aquaman. No offense, but kid, what are you gonna do?”
“WELL ANSWER ME, WOULD YA?”
“I don’t know what to say!”
“Fine, fine, fine,” she took a seat at a chair in an empty classroom, urging me to take one as well. “Please, please, sit. My name is Susan, you will call me Ms. Snyder. Hello. Hi.”
“Hi.” I said.
“Hi,” she blinked for the first time in our entire exchange, and by the sound it made, I would assume months. Her eyelids cracked louder than Cooper King’s bones after OrigSuperboy Prime had his way with him.
“Hello,” I said, knowing that I sounded unsure.
“So…” she began, “What do you know?”
“We’re taking down Dr. Castillo and the Rhyme Syndicate.”
She looked around, almost guilty-like.
“Poor kid… they haven’t even told you what part you’re playing…”
“No, no, I trust Gil, everything’s gonna be okay, son.”
I poured her coffee in the trash can, “I’m gonna ask you this one more time. What. Part. Do. I. Play.” She shrugged.
“I can’t! I can’t tell you! It’s a shame though…” she looks at her screen, “You were supposed to unite the seven…”
I was mad, I had lived a normal, boring life until this woman came in… until A.R.G.U.S. came in… and pulled me back into everything. I reached across the desk, pulling her up by the collar. She smiled, putting her hand to the office buzzer.
“Easy now, Mr. Russell… easy, now…”
I put her down, still red with anger. I don’t know what came over me.
She sent me on my way, and leaning on the wall was Gil. For the first time since I met him, he had his puppet on his finger: OriChronos. He smiled, handing me my puppet, Aquapleat. It wasn’t mine, it was the smiley blonde one, with the orange scales and little green paper legs.
“You’re gonna need this.” He said, “We’re approaching the end.”
“Gil, what part am I playing in all of this?” I asked.
He avoided meeting my eyes, “You’re one of us, I- you were the only person who could save Theo.”
“That’s bull#$%@ and you know it.”
He looked at me, dead on, “Maybe so, but then again, do you really have a choice?”
“You’re a monster, Gil.”
He smiled, “You’ll know what a monster looks like, J.C. You’ll know soon.”
Aquapleat Versus SuPaperman
Gil slammed the backpack onto the table and ate a handful of Josie’s mashed potatoes. After slamming his hand down, taters between his nails and all, he looked at Chad.
“Open the pouch on the bottom,” he commanded.
Chad unzipped it, and unfurled… a kite. A big, green, beautiful kite.
Chad’s eyes widened with joy, “My kite! My Kite-man kite!”
Gil nodded, “I spent the day looking for all of our old gear,” Gil explained.
He unzipped the backpack and threw a home made looking taser at Theo, who grinned, “Sweet!” He said.
Josie rubbed her hands together, before being handed… a net. Josie’s eyes lit up, “My moth net,” she hugged it like it was a stuffed animal.
And finally, the rest of the backpack was thrown at Jonah, “Jonah, all your supplies are in there. Your puppet, too.”
Everyone rejoiced to see their puppets again, like they’d been lost. I assumed they might’ve gotten lost in whatever mission saw Theo get captured, but I digress. Everyone put their puppets on their fingers, and to fit in, I produced the new Aquapleat that Gil had given me.
“Sweet!” Chad says, “I got my Kite-Man puppet back! Thank you, Gil.”
Gil nodded, “We’ll need it.”
“Why?” Josie asked.
“Well, it’s just that,” Gil raised his voice, “We’re gonna need all the help we get when WE TAKE DOWN SUPAPERMAN!”
Jonah slapped Gil, “Gil, shut up, keep your voice down.”
“WHY!?” Gil jumped up, standing on the table, “IT’S NOT LIKE WE’RE EVEN TRYING TO HIDE IT ANYMORE. I MEAN, NIKKI INJURED THE FOLD’S EYES, J.C. RUSSELL BEAT UP THE GREEN LANTERN. WHAT THE HECK, I TOOK DOWN WONDER FOLDER! I MEAN,” he grabbed Jonah’s chin, “DID YOU REALLY THINK SOMEONE WOULDN’T NOTICE THIS?”
Jonah, Susie, Theo, and Chad, looked around, not knowing what to think, most of them scared out of their minds. Gil hopped off his table, “YOU KNOW, IT’S CRAZY, THAT PEOPLE ARE SO AFRAID OF-”
Jonah jumped up, putting his hand over Gil’s mouth. Gil bit Jonah, kicking him in the crotch.
“Ow! My crotch!” Jonah yelled.
All eyes were on the fight that was going on, everyone staring. Every word that Gil uttered drew more attention, and the loony voice and his eyes screamed that he was not afraid of expulsion. Not long after, people started to boo. OrigAmazo even threw a muffin at him, Gil picking it off the ground and taking a wild bite out of it.
Suddenly, the door swung open. Standing at the end of the hallway was a tall man, with blonde hair and glasses. He had a bit of a triangular figure, like he worked out on his chest. I’d recognize that face anywhere.
See, I’m straight as a pencil, but no man could ignore the kind eyes of Chris Booth.
Chad smiles, “Yes! It’s Chris Booth! The SuPaperman! He’s come to save us!”
Chris had lead us out of the cafeteria, telling us to follow him, “Chris, man, brother, it’s good to see you,”
Chris kept walking.
“How have things been?”
“I’ve been good,” Chris said.
“She’s doing alright, she may be expelled soon.”
“Good reporters are dangerous. What brings you to Donner?”
“We’re looking for someone trying to replace you, some SuPaperman wannabe.”
“I’ve dealt with plenty of wannabes… has anyone ever told you the story of the SuPapermen?”
“No, no, I- I haven’t, no.”
Chris shrugged, “It’s pretty recent, I wouldn’t expect you to. It was a few months ago that the SuPapermen banded together. Cyborg SuPaperman, SuPaperboy, Compost SuPaperMan, Steel. And they weren’t real, and they kept getting into trouble. They were expelled.”
“That doesn’t sound reasonable.”
“Life isn’t reasonable.”
Chris Booth stopped in his tracks, turning into an empty gym. Me, Theo, Gil, Josie, and Chad followed. Chris stopped at a vending machine, pulling out his wallet.
“What does everyone want?”
“Cheez-Its,” Chad said, “I could go for some Cheez-Its, right now.”
“Get me crackers,” Gil said. Gil looked distrusting of Chris, a bit angry too, like Chris had done something… personal. Like they’d known each other for years, which didn’t make sense to me. I hadn’t seen Chris since DC. I didn’t even know he dyed his hair.
“Can I take a Minute Maid?” Jonah asked.
“Make that two,” Josie added.
“I’ll just take a water,” I said.
Chris smiled, “I get it. Because you’re Aquaman.”
As Gil put in our orders, I noticed something in his wallet. Poking out of his wallet pocket, was a couple of puppets bound by a rubber band: One of them, very clearly, a cyborg.
As our orders came out, slowly, one by one, I noticed something: Chris was doing everything with his right hand. One time in DC, we had a conversation about our favorite hands. I said I preferred my left when I did a front stroke, but my left as well when I did a backstroke. I was left handed. He, too, was left handed. So… why would he be using his right hand at a vending machine? And the dyed hair… It looked too platinum blonde for me. Like, all-natural platinum blonde. Something inside of me said that this wasn’t Chris Booth.
I punched “Chris” in the jaw, Jonah and Josie shaking up their Sprite can and hosing him down with a crack. Pretty soon after, Gil grabbed him by the collar and slammed him into the vending machine, before pulling him back and shoving him. SuPaperman, no, Ultrafold’s breath became shaky with rage.
“Why, you little-” Josie put her arm around his neck, pulling him back. She started punching him in the stomach, over and over, as he stumbled backwards. He bit down on her wrist, and she stumbled backwards, blood dripping from her hand.
Ultrafold smiled, his teeth red as he approached the Origami Killer Moth. She held up her puppet like it was her last resort of defense, but by then it was too late. Ultrafold shoved her down, elbowing the poor girl in the face. Over and over, he beat down on her, I heard cracks, I heard snaps, and oozes.
And that, right there, was when Chad broke. Chad grabbed his kite, tearing the fabric off until it looked like a cross. He ran up to Ultrafold, smashing his crucifix through his teeth. As he held him down with it, he held his forearm to his throat.
“Listen here trash,” Chad said, “I want you to remember this, I want you to remember that no matter who you hurt- you don’t hurt Josie,” he stood up, kicking him in the face again, “I want you to remember the one man who beat you. I want you to remember this moment every time you look at a kite in the god#$%@ continental United States. I want you to remember Kite-Pen.”
“Kite-Pen,” Jonah said.
“Hell yeah.” Chad said.
The Aquapleat Versus… The Pain That Arrives With Longing For More
The room is, essentially, empty. All that’s left is me, Theo, Jonah, and Gil.
Susan sighs, “I hate all of you, you know that right?”
Gil grins, “I love you too.”
Jonah jumps up, “Why are we even here when we have two more enemies to take down?”
“Shut up, Jonah,” Gil said.
“NO, YOU SHUT UP!” I yelled. Everyone looked at me, even Jonah. Susan sighed, “Everyone, just- just go home.”
Gil put his hands on his hips, “J.C., it’s your turn.”
Susan looked around, “No, No, you don’t- none of you understand. The mission is done. Finished. Finished, Gil. We’re moving to Ostrander, okay? You guys are free,” she opened her drawer, and produced seven flash drives, each one with a piece of scotch tape on it.
The Origami Killer Moth.
Kite-Man The Kite-Pen.
The Black Manta-Gami.
“This is everything,” Susan said, “Everything we have on you. We’re moving to Ostrander, you guys- you guys can go.”
“No, no, no, no, no, why!?” Gil asked.
Susan shook her head, “Because, with a beating like what just happened, they’re gonna catch Dr. Tenebris’ attention.”
“So!?” I asked, “You’re ARGUS! #$%&ING ARGUS!”
Susan looked around, she looked much more frantic now, the deranged look in her eyes now dialed to a million. “I- J.C., you- you don’t get it, do you. Do you? Mr. Tenebris, he’s- he’s going to [Redacted.]
I stumbled back, “[Redacted.]”
“No, no, you can’t be- [Redacted.]”
After leaving the school, we all looked around. At each other, at our puppets, at the floor. I noticed something. This whole day, Theo, my cousin, hadn’t said a word.
“What do you have to say, Theo? About all of this?”
Theo held his hung low.
“Say something.” I commanded.
Theo sighed, “Josie and Chad were my family. I- I don’t know what’s going to happen to them.
“Neither do I.”
“You were my family, J.C.”
“Whatever happened between you and me?” I asked.
He shrugged, “Do you really have to ask?”
Jonah started walking away, Gil too. I grabbed them all by their sleeves, pulling them back over. I sat down on a bench, and the other three sat down as well. And so here we were, three idiots, buttcheeks touching on a bench. It’s been a wild two days.
“Are we really going to give up now?” I asked.
Jonah nodded, “I’m not giving up. I’m going the #$%@ home,”
I shrugged, “Sure. But what about you, Gil?”
Gil looked shaken… alone… scared. OriChronos was scared.
“But what about you?” I repeated.
He stared off at the road, at the cars that passed by, and all the suburbs. A chill ran down his spine before he spoke, “That was my brother, y’know.”
“What?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, Daniel Nixon Anderson. Says so right on his birth certificate.”
“Ultrafold. Big blonde Chris Booth WannaBe.”
I knew Daniel, he was The Atom. He was one of Lampert’s early heroes, cropping up a little before me. Other than Sean Jimenez, he was the first Folder of Tomorrow. But Daniel had dreams beyond that- he longed, oh so much, to join the Justice Pleats. He even sent in his case file to Alan Wade, the Alan Wade. And Alan, say what you will about him, made the right choice to send him packing. After all, Daniel had done the-
“He didn’t cause the food poisoning thing. I did. He- He knew that because I was a senior, they’d kill me. Literally kill me, I’d get jail time. So he took the fall for me, he- he hoped he’d inspire me,” Gil said, “He always kept on and on trying to help me, and Mom and Dad would always clap and cheer for their perfect little golden child… Ugh,” Gil shrugged, “I joined ARGUS because as soon as I learned he was the SuPaperman, I wanted to take him down, to bring him down to my level-” he opened up his wallet, and pulled out a puppet.
It was mostly blue, with a little visor over the face. The guy was asian, he wore glasses. There was a little symbol above his head, of protons and electrons coursing around a nucleus. And the puppet was accented with little red bits. Despite how well done it looked, something was off about it… the eyes were up a bit too high, the proportions were all off. It was like he’d looked at different drawings and traced them over and over again until perfection, losing touch. Like generation loss.
“I wanted to take him down with this, my very own- my very own Atom-igami. And I would do it right this time.”
I looked at Gil, and then at Theo, and then at Jonah.
“Guys,” I said, “We’re all messed up. All of us want to be seen as the heroes, all of us have been betrayed, beaten, hurt- all by people we call family. People we care about… but we only have three more left. Gil, think about how amazing it’d feel to take down your brother! Theo, I- We could take down Markus! Imagine the headlines in the school paper, an Aquaman and Black Manta teamup! And Jonah, I- You could-”
“No,” Jonah said, “I’m not going back in. Josie and Chad were the only shred of innocence left in this team- Gil, Theo, hell, J.C. too, I love you guys. But I’m out. For good, this time.”
I shrugged, “That’s fine, man. See ya.”
Theo nodded, “Love you too man, see ya!”
Gil hugged him, “I’m sorry it had to turn out this way,” he said.
Jonah smiled, “I’m sure things’ll get worse. And hey, with ARGUS gone, what’s to stop the Pleatster from making a comeback?”
Gil smiled, “That’s the Jonah I know.”
After Jonah left, that left the three of us: Theo, Gil, and me.
“So, you guys in?” I asked.
The Aquapleat Versus HOPE!
The Shuster Siegel Center was a big, sprawling auditorium with a basketball field in the center. It was open to all of Jutefruce, but would be reserved by Donner (and sometimes other groups) for big events.
Gil had went to Nikki’s house (she’s doing fine, by the way, but still miserable about losing her income) and found out about the pep rally today, which is what brought us here: outside of the Shuster Siegel Center.
“That’ll be 12:50!” Penny Layne chirped. We were at the entrance to the Donner Pep Rally, by the merch shop.
Gil chuckled to himself, covered in Donner merchandise, “Son of a gun, ain’t no way!”
Penny sighed, “Gil… what the #$%#.”
“You two know each other?” I asked.
Gil shrugged, “Everyone knows who Gil Anderson is. Anyways, Penny, baby, tell me… I’m a bit of a new student here-”
He pulled me and Theo in, “What I meant to say was, my sons are new students here.”
“Hiiiiii, Penny.” Me and Theo grumbled.
“Gil, why did you rope J.C. and Theo into this? They’re babies, they’re just little guys.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Theo said.
“Just little guys.” I added.
“Alright, fine,” Penny said, “Go up the stairwell, take a left. Don’t take a right, that leads to the projector. They’re going to be playing some videos.”
Gil fired a finger gun, and, with his arms still around us, led us up the stairs. He let go after we turned left, shoving us forward. Then, he turned around and started walking the opposite direction, to the projector’s booth.
“Gil!” I shouted, “The #$#@ are you doing!?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Okay! I won’t!”
While me and Theo made our way into the auditorium, I decided to make some small talk with him. “So, Theo, how’d you end up on the Shredder Squad?”
Theo shrugged, “There was a whole team, y’know? Big one, too. Lobo, Mirror Master. A lot of good people we were mixed up with.”
“And we did a recon mission- studying the old ex-principal, Psycho Pirate,” he shrugged, “Things went to #$@$, and after a grueling week the only people left were, well… me, Chad, Josie, Jonah, and Gil. After all that happened, they- they became my family, J.C. Before OrigSuperboy Prime found out about us, Chad was bustling with life, he was the energetic one. He made us kites, and he loved Josie. He loved Josie more than anything, or anyone, in the whole world. We even had a little mock wedding. Jonah, he- he always hated Gil. But he had respect for him, a lot, too. Jonah always wanted to be a leader, to keep Josie and Chad safe, but… Gil was the leader. That’s just how it was.”
“And what about Gil?” I asked, taking a seat on the bleachers.
Theo shrugged, “Gil was always a mystery, he somehow always knew what to do- so we trusted him. He was willing to do everything he could to keep us safe, but usually that’d put us in more danger than before. This mission, I- I don’t know, it’s-”
“It’s like it’s killing him.”
“Yeah. I think he just wants one last mission with us, before it all shuts down. And he wants to keep all of us safe. He- he let Jonah go home. He sent Nikki away, and if Josie or Chad get expelled, that’s- that’s-”
“That’s on them.” The kid next to us said. His long blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and one of his buck teeth was chipped, but I could still clearly see me and Theo’s old enemy… The Swim Master.
“C’mon,” he said, “Let’s take this to the bathroom.”
It was me, and it was Markus, and it was Theo. The three of us hadn’t been in the same room since the swim tournament of ‘18- since I beat him, and Theo helped me.
“You fools, you fools, you-” He began. And then Theo tazed him with his Black Manta-Gami taser. That was a really boring fight.
“We should give him a swirlie,” Theo said.
“No, I’m okay.” I said.
After leaving the bathroom, we noticed that something was off. Gil was jumping around the stage, microphone in hand, while Daniel was crying on the floor.
“YES! YES! PEE! HE USED TO PEE THE BED!” Gil cackled, the projector displaying peed on bed sheets.
“LITTLE PEE BOY!” Damian Murke, THE Shazami cackled.
“PEEEE!” Giggled Jack Guardings, THE Hawkpen.
“The hierarchy of power in the DC Origami Universe is about to change,” said Rocky Slush, Black Adam-igami. And then he did an evil smirk.
The Aquapleat Versus Mortality
I am J.C. Russell, The Aquapleat. I am the king of kings, and I bathe in the blood of gods.
From masters of oceans, to laws of motion, to the trinity of heroes. I live without a lover, without burdens, because he who fights alongside his enemies looks doom in the face, and spits in it.
I am J.C. Russell, the one and only Swim Master. And it is my destiny to unite the seven.
Upon arriving at Lampert, we all huddled around Gil’s phone, footage of Paper Ring, OrigIntertia, Super Woman-igami, Swim Master, and Ultrafold all played. It was rough, and it was dirty, but all their darkest secrets were ready to be exposed. Now came the day of bargaining.
Only one problem…
There was this gut feeling in my chest that something was off- and it hit me. We had forgotten OrigOwlman… When I brought this up with Gil, he shrugged it off, “He’s probably off at Kane… locked up. He’ll get what’s coming to him when we take down all his friends.”
Still, I was uneasy. Worse yet, I thought about the conversation we overheard in the men’s locker room- that “Voice One,” was Daniel, I could tell that now. But that second, darker voice, the one that scared Chad and Gil so much… it was The OrigOwlman.
He’s still out there. Gil, Theo, and I snuck into the Teacher’s section of the school. Y’know, the little closed off bit with all the offices and printers. When we heard the voice of a teacher (talking about something called “Project: Owlette”) we ducked into the printer room.
The room was bright white, just like the printer’s new models. They used LEDs, not even fluorescents. Suddenly, the lights shut off with a click. We got out our phones, all turning the flashlights on. Me and Theo had older models, and Gil’s was on low battery but still, there was… something. The inklings of something.
There was a loud screech that I quickly realized was one of the printers. Printing away… something. A message, maybe?
Theo pulled it out, Gil shining his phone on it. It was one word, printed over and over again along the side of the paper: “Respect.” The final line reads, “I respect you.”
Suddenly, all the printers flashed to life, the sound a nightmare on my ears. Words after words, undetermined, unmentionable, it’s all infinite.
A silhouette emerges from the shadow, and disappears so quickly that all that’s left is its shadow in the light of our phones. It jumps around, it’s footsteps loud, the wind racing past my hair.
“I’ve been looking for you all, the Shredder Squad. I’ve hunted for so long. All of Killer Moth’s bosses, all of Pleatster’s tricks. I’ve been there.”
Hands stretch out, and grab Gil by the shoulders- arms so long it takes a moment for us to see who they belong to. The paper talons massage Gil, rubbing on his shoulders and chest. The face is obscured with a paper mache mask, like the kind the Origami Black Mask wore- the only difference being, it’s an owl’s mask. A great horned owl.
“I see you…” He said, continuing at Gil’s shoulders. And then he pulled Gil into the shadows, the two fighting- their blows knocking my phone out of my hand. All that Theo’s phone lit up was the dust the fight kicked around, Gil’s phone nothing but a distracting strobe light: Every so often, we’d catch a glimmer of brass knuckles, a splash of blood, screaming… and then silence.
The OrigOwlman lifted Gil up, “I expected you to be a challenge. I expected you to be strong. You’re not. You’re weak.” He peeled off his mask, crumpling it up in his palm, “Auntie must’ve gotten desperate,” said Shaun Snyder.
I only knew Shaun from the OrigSuperboy Prime Incident- he was a middle schooler back then. He was the poor kid OrigSuperboy Prime held onto, whose life he threatened. The rumor was that, when he showed up at Donner, he became Rick Flag and led the fabled Shredder Squad… guess we were onto something, after all.
He continued at Gil, slamming his face into the printers until he cracked. Gil broke down, crying. But he kept getting back up, I could tell by the sound of his bones creaking and popping. Out of nowhere, I heard a thunk: Like OrigOwlman had just gotten slammed into something.
“Do you want to know why I’m better than you?” Gil hissed, “Because I care about my teammates- because I don’t look up to… Alan Wade? Because I- Because I’m not #$#%ing you, Shaun.” He dragged him by his black shirt, opening up the blinds, and forcing his face to the window, “Do you want to know why I’m better than you, Shaun Snyder,” Gil asked again, “Because you wanted to be what I already am.”
And he punched him in the jaw, sending his front teeth flying, and spit on him.
Gil noticed Theo filming the confrontation, and shook his head, “No,” Gil said, “Not this one. Not this one… this one stays between us.”
We knocked on the door to the principal’s office, a large plaque on the front reading “Dr. Castillo.”
“Come in.” Dr. Castillo chirped.
We swung the door open. Dr. Castillo was a built man, sort of a Kingpin type build- the only difference being his hair that dropped down to his chin, and his more rectangular, sharp-jawed face.
“Hello, Gil,” Castillo said, “I’m happy to see you here again.”
I looked around the room, he had a photo in the back: Of him with his daughter, and his husband, the two laughing and playing. He’s carrying her on his shoulders through a wheat field, the sun reflecting on his hair. Next to the photo, a cup that reads “World’s Best Father,” steam from the coffee inside is still sifting out.
The other side of the room told a different story, every degree, every award you could imagine a principal would get, was there- the oldest dating back to 1989 and the youngest only from this summer.
“Same here,” Gil said, “May me and my associates take a seat?”
“Of course you can! I’m in the middle of a back and forth between Dr. Tenebris, there’s a whole situation going on at Kane! I bet you heard about that though, eh, whatever, I digress, I always have time to talk to a student or… former student…”
“Yeah, yeah, Doc, I, uh, I’d like to show you a couple of videos,” Gil pulls out his phone showing the encounter with Superwoman-igami. Her confession… everything. And then he opened up his microphone, playing the recording of the locker room conversation. And then the video of Josie getting her #$@# kicked in, and then- well, you get the idea.
Castillo stared at his large, ringed hands, for a few seconds too long, “Alright.” He said.
“Alright?” Gil taunted, “#$#%ing, alright!? Is that all you have to say?”
Castillo shrugged, “You do realize… all of you are in these videos too, right? You’ll be ruining yourselves, too. And- And who would even upload them? J.C., you- you have too much at stake. Besides, you’re in most of these videos. You won’t just get expelled, your free ride to college is gone. That’s your future at stake. Gil- you should be in college. You’ll lose everything you have, too. And if that gets tied to you, then it’s only a matter of time before they learn about ARGUS-” Dr. Castillo shrugs, “And I don’t think ARGUS would take too kindly to that. And Theo… Theo, do you have any real friends? Who would trust the…”
“Black Manta-Gami. I’m Black Manta-Gami.”
“See? Exactly? All three of you have-”
“Gil, send me everything.”
I was the only one who could do it, Gil needed to continue on.
“Send me everything, now.”
I was the only one who could do it. No one trusted Theo, and Gil had already lost too much. But me? What have I done? All that I ever was was… The Aquapleat. The Swim Master, the king of kings, whatever. But was I a hero?
As the files flooded my phone, I added them to my Instagram story. I sent them all to everyone I could think of, Penny Layne, Chris Booth, Vietch Jimenez, Sean Jimenez, Emily Sampson, Charlie Robinson, all of them.
And then I added Theresa Carter, Matthew Yen, Cooper King, everybody I knew. Not everyone got involved- most of them didn’t, but enough did. Some people followed just to see the fights, but more spread to take down Castillo. Castillo stared at me, in baffled silence, as his career fell apart.
And that’s how I knew that Aquapleat beat the Anti-Monitor.
I sighed, dipping my toes into the community center pool. My Mom was mad, but soon enough I explained it all to her. Through tears I told her about everything: Hannah, Markus, Neil, Theo, Gil, Daniel, Shaun… everything I’ve been through. Ever. And how I’ve been feeling.
And she understood. A couple hours after we get the call from Dr. Tenebris, I sit down. The pool is empty, except for me and the lifeguard, a lanky man. As I kick, and feel my body arc across the water, I feel free. Not just from ARGUS, or from The Shredder Squad, but from myself.
For the first time in, oh so long, I love swimming. Not for a tournament, not for my future, but for fun.
When Theo sits down beside me, he’s a welcome addition. After swimming a lap together, I talk about how freeing my expulsion was, and how glad I am. He smiles, saying that that’s why he invited me there- all these years, he had hoped to get me expelled because that’s what I needed.
Me and Theo went in for another dip.
And so marks the end of the Aquapleat! Having abandoned his grudges, and swam past the waters of self doubt and burn out! And so marks the rise of a hero, a king of kings, J.C. Russell, the king of kings! J.C. Russell will return in the DCOU’s spectacular finale… Final Creases!