Monday, May 29, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 20: Meeting With Maven

If I said I was anything other than nervous about meeting Maven you call paint me purple and call me a plum.  I think plums are purple.  I've only seen them in pictures.  They didn't survive well on Jefferson.  For whatever reason, they seem to die off faster than other fruit trees.  Even when they were kept in pressurized domes and greenhouses like Dad has.

Too bad.  I would have liked to have tasted a plum.

There were purple fruits here on Jefferson.  A couple could be eaten if carefully prepared.  Most could not because, well, incompatible biochemistries.  You REALLY ought to know that by now if you've been readying this up to this point!  Sheesh!  Every first grader knows that here.  Earthers, I swear.

I steeled myself for the coming meeting.  I prepared my every snarkastic come back I could think of.  I also tried to make sure I was relaxed enough I would not merely launch myself at her with nasty comments.  In other words, I was a complete wreck and had no idea what to do other than be nervous and twitch in uncontrollable ways.  Well, may be not QUITE that bad!

Come on, I'm a middle schooler!  Make some allowances for snark and insecurity.

Jackie and Tom had come back and stated the meeting was on and it would be at the park on the far side of town.  It was a bitty park, enclosed and primarily used by the dog owners to let their doggos run around in.  While dog owners are often funny about it, Maven thought they would be too wound up by the situation to want to take their furry kids out to the park.

Because of the taxitos and the fact dogs love to lick and try things, little yappie dogs were the norm rather than the exception.  That meant the park was smaller than I'd read about Earther America has, but then small is a relative thing.  Here we were, Jeffersonian Americans, with less than a hundred thousand people on an entire planet.  that means there is lots of space on the planet.

We entered through the airlock into the park.  All five of us were together.  None of us wanted to be alone with Maven.  Since we'd had our melt down, we were worried what she and her Derplicates might do.  We found her over in the play area sitting on a small stone wall and throwing a squeakie toy out for a small pack of...identical terriers.  They really looked exactly the same.  They ought to have been cute.  They were creepy.  Especially when all four Derplicates were standing around in different spots trying to look casual.  For of them.  It would have been five if she'd gotten her teeth into Tom.

Five dogs.

Five derplicates.

*shudder*

She looked up with a look that would have made a greek god feel inadequate.  The amount of disdain was enormous.  She could have, would have curdled milk with that look.  If ever we would have had a flop sweat, it was then.  She oggled Tom and then let out a small contemptuous sigh when her eyes fell upon me.

"I agreed to this meeting because I could not possibly imagine what it was you could want from me.  The thought amused me.  It also seemed like it would be fun to make you squirm all the way up to the moment I say 'no' to whatever it is you want.  So, let's hear it.  Let's hear what you children want so dearly from me."

She had to have practiced that line a few times.  And gotten it from somewhere.  She was only 14 now and it was way, way too good or rather evil for someone in Middle School!

But then...what we were would probably shock most people in the past.  When you can connect to anything, it does...things to you.  I think.

Veena started to speak but her mouth was too dry.  Rosa opened her mouth.  Jackie tried to spit it out, but...fine!  I'll just do it.

"We want your help.  We need some materials from the chemical closet - we have a list! - for our next project and with everyone watching us now, there's no way we can get them.  We think you and your guy friends can do it because you're not noted for...pranks.  Or have everyone watching you.  Your guy friends could even do a good shell game if things did get bad..."

I cleared my throat.  Veena, Jackie and Rosa looked at me as if I had lost my mind.  I hoped Maven took it as meaning I was telling too much.  The nervousness made it seem that way.  I hoped.  I hoped!  Rosa started to squawk but I kept going: too late to stop now!

"...And! we could pay you or do something for you to make it even.  But you need to name it now.  No open ended favors.  We don't want to owe you."

Maven had arched an eyebrow at that and then smirked.  She looked over at Tom.  Tom, quiet Tom, who had been trying not to be noticed, who seemed to be acting like a fluffy funny realizes its been seen by cockatrice on its first flight from water: don't move and it won't see you.  Fine mouse and owl for you Earthers.

I moved between Maven and Tom.  I didn't know it was possible to pout, smirk and sneer all at once.  The expression was horrifying.  The look given seemed to say, "Be afraid, my darlings, for your are crunchy and good with ketchup."

She turned away and threw the squeekie toy again.  I swear at the moment, if she had told her Derplicates to chase it, they would have.  I could almost feel their excited anticipation when she threw the dumb thing.  How did she control them?!  Why did they put up with it???

It was quiet for longer than we felt comfortable with.  My snarky side was thinking she was trying to come up with something very devious sounding well beyond her years.  heh.  Two can play that game.  or she was trying to make us squirm.

Forget that.

"Fine, we'll be going."

I actually physically started turning Tom, who was sweating profusely, and the others started to shift when Maven clared her throat.

"Did I say 'no?'" she looked bemused.  And then she looked directly at me.  Her eyes took an entirely too predatory look for me to feel even remotely comfortable.  "The hack you used on the Awknerds' boosters.  I want it.  I want the exploit.  Send it to me and I'll collect whatever you want and leave it wherever you want it."

In that moment, I was afraid.  Very afraid.  Maven with the ability to get into people's boosters?!  That was a terrifying thought.  However, we wanted her to do what we wanted.  It was an evil price.  yet...hmmm.

The gang was about to yell no.  You could see them all inhale to yell at once.  Except Tom.  I swear we'd freaked him out to the point where he was going to pee his pants.  Maven with the ability to hack his booster?!  He quivered so bad I think if I'd put a finger on him a note would have sounded like on a violin string.

I blurted out: "Deal!"

Maven looked like she had triumphed.  The Merry Pranksters looked at me like I was as mad as a hatter.

"I'll leave the data in your locker.  Along with the list.  Tomorrow.  We want everything after school.  We'll meet here."

Maven had that gloat, evil and foul and tasting victory, "Agreed.  I will see you here tomorrow.  And I especially look forward to seeing you again...Tom."

With that, I grabbed Tom before he did pee his pants and zipped out of the park.  The girls trailed after, shocked at what I had just done.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Stealth Saga #62

6th Generation Fighters:

Japan has teamed with Britain to study its next generation fighter.

The penetrating counter air system may be fast tracked and only a small number bought.

The PCA program under the Trump budget was $143 million.

The NGAD/F-X program may have merged with the PCA program.  The new budget under the latest Trump proposed budget is $294 million.

Some are saying the FA-XX really ought to be an F-14 replacement rather than for the F/A-18.

Engine studies have ramped up for the USAF F-X and USN FA-XX 6th generation fighters.

Will the MiG-41 actually be a sixth gen platform?

F-313:

Iran's "stealth" fighter has started taxi tests much to everyone's surprise.

TFX:

Rolls Royce has formed a joint venture to produce the engines for the Turkish indigenous 5th generation fighter.

KFX:

South Korea has selected Elta Systems to develop the KFX's radar.

FGFA:

The Russians are claiming they are on the cusp of signing the next deal related to the PAK-FA derived FGFA with India.  India is...silent.

PAK-FA:


The Russians claim the next gen engine is nearing readiness for the PAK-FA.

The Russians are claiming deliveries will start in 2019.  This is a slip by another year.

The PAK-FA avionics are advanced enough to do most of the flying for the pilot (supposedly).

The PAK-FA will carry an antiship cruise missile, confirming the PAK-FA is a multirole fighter rather than an air superiority specialist.

PAK-DA:

The PAK-DA has a digital model completed.  Presuma bly this is a completion of the CAD drawings rather than just another rendering.

The PAK-DA's first flight has been postponed until 2025.

The whole program is in question given the funding problems and given the announcement of the purchase of 50 new Tu-160 White Swan bombers, its looking rather likely the PAK-DA program may go the way of the MiG 1.44.

FC-31/J-31:


J-20:

The Chinese J-20 stealth fighter has entered service and achieved at least by American parlance, initial operating capability.

B-21:

The inspector general for the Pentagon is worried the B-21 program is excessively secret.The USAF is extremely reluctant to say anything about the program.

The B-21 program took a small budgetary hair cut, losing $20 million.

The USAF is starting to talk about needing 165 B-21 Raider stealth bombers.

KC-Z:

The next generation tanker may not be truly stealthy but then again reports are mixed.

F-22:

It appears the Russians might have tried to lure F-22s into an 'intel trap.'

F-22 can now use upgraded missiles.

Even after Trump's missile strike in Syria, the F-22 is just fine patrolling there.  However, if shooting started some have questions whether the F-22 would do well against the newest Russian air defenses in Syria.

How the F-22 and the F-35 will communicate and share data is still TBD.

Two F-22s escorted an airliner when there was a problem onboard with a passenger.

The F-22 avionics flying testbed is now based in St Louis.

F-35:

The Australian Air Force will have an air force entirely made up of F-35s by 2025.  They have ordered 72 F-35As.

The British F-35Bs will have the Meteor missile starting in 2024.

Germany has requested a classified briefing on the F-35 for procurement purposes.

Israel has taken delivery of three more F-35Is bringing their total to five.

Israel will get a special order, sensor laden F-35 for testing.

IAI is seeking engine work contracts for the F-35.

The first Italian built F-35B has been rolled out.

Norway has begun testing parachute braking on the F-35.

Taiwan is inquiring about procuring the F-35.  Normally, that would be a nonstarter.  However, under the Trump administration, who knows?

The GAO is warning of an increase of costs of $1.7 billion and a year delay in the F-35 program.

Some are arguing we ought to be buying F-35s faster.

The F-35 order from the proposed FY2018 budget is 46 F-35As, 20 F-35Bs & 4 F-35Cs.

Will the F-35 be the next jet for the Thunderbirds?

The USAF has lifted the ban on lighweight fighter pilots for the F-35A.

USAF F-35As toured and exercised in Europe.  Starting in Britain, hitting Estonia and Bulgaria along the way.

Hill AFB will be standing up its 4th F-35A squadron and the second combat coded one.

F-35As will participate in the Paris airshow.

QF-16 drones exercised with F-35s to practice working on jamming techniques.

What it is like to train new USAF pilots on the F-35?

USMC has completed gunpod testing on the F-35B.

USMC F-35Bs participated in Northern Edge exercise in Alaska for the first time.

The USMC wants to put 20 F-35Bs on its first few America class assault ships to act as mini carriers.

Lockheed was awarded the contract to upgrade the F-35s to the latest avionics software version.

Lockheed claims to have improved the F-35 logistics system.

A US Navy F-35C tested that software and dropped a bomb on a moving target.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Hell Beast

Ichor dripped from its teeth. Poisonous and deadly, the slime pooled on the floor before us. It's malleable covering for its consumptive orifice was pulled back and a terrifying noise emanated deep from within the beast. We were doomed.

We had landed peacefully upon this world. It was a world of plenty but pre contact. It was not considered advanced enough to join the Galactic Federation. We were, technically, bending some silly laws to be here. Frap knows, there were far, far too many rules for a good soph to follow accurately and besides, they were intended to keep every last soph in their place and maintain the status quo. So, we had come down, looking for samples of the very one thing this world had to offer that would be worth enough to come here and risk so much despite the ban.

If crept forward. It was going to kill us all. Like it had Tokwit when it found us in the field. It tore herm apart. And when Crateef had tried to stand herm's ground to buy us time to get back into the ship to escape, but it was too fast. Too strong. It had crushed Crateef as it bounded after us and didn't seem to even phased at the psionic blasts from Crateef's weapon. We were all going to die.
I closed my oculars and turned away. I didn't want to see what was going to happen next. I could feel its calcified, enameled slashers even before they reached me. It as going to be horrific. My mind ran wild. I was going to die.

It had chased us. Chased us from the field. Making us lose our samples. It had chased us into the ship. Chased us into the cargo hold. Where there was no escape since it prevented us from getting to the bay door controls. We were cornered. We were doomed.

I heard every drip and drop of its ichor as it closed cautiously with us. Air passed through my spherules. I was going to end. And…

"Sit! Stay!"

I opened my oculars and looked up. Before us in the cargo bay was an enormous giant. Bipedal. One of the dominate primitives that controlled this world and were not yet mature enough to join the Federation.

To my horror, it stroked the head of the hell beast next to it. The alien manipulator stroked the hell beast's head! It was unharmed! How could that be!?! The hell beast was covered in immensely sharp and deadly spines! So many of the megafauna on this world were! That's why we had to be careful when we extracted our samples.

"good boy!" came from the biped and the hell beast lolled out its poison applicator from its deadly orifice. More pooled on the floor right before it. Then the biped looked furious and deadly and right at us.

"Now, you freaks are going to explain. And it better be a good explanation, because you've been here enough times and killed, mutilated of my livestock in such a sick way! WHY FSCK DO YOU NEED CATTLE ANUSES?!"

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 19: No Haven From Maven

Coming out of class was disconcerting.  There was nothing different.  There was nothing that stood out as different.  There was nothing to make me uncomfortable.  There was nothing different from any other day I had left American History class.  It was a normal day.

Oh!  Except for the fact I was going to need to make a deal with Maven.  The spider herself in her web.

No big deal.  Not at all.

I had first met Maven when my friends and I started the middle school segment of Shadwell.  She was starting her eighth grade year and I was new in sixth.  My friends and I were sitting around talking, since we'd known each other and been friends for some time.  Maven came over and plopped herself down in the midst of our circle and began chatting.  She seemed nice enough.  She was certainly pretty.

She had black hair, blue eyes and the palest almost translucent skin.  She had hints of east asian ancestry in the tilt of her eyes.  She smile easily and laughed.  We were being taken in...but something felt odd and off.  She'd dropped herself next to Tom.  And While she never moved the entire time she sat there and amicably chatted us up, it seemed she was shifting ever closer to Tom.  Like she was sneaking up on him.  Like a cat on a canary.

Yet, she seemed to be just welcoming the new kids to middle school.  The upper classwoman, the older girl, looking out for the younger noobs.  Even so, I felt...uncomfortable.

When she left, she DID pat Tom on the shoulder, something light and friendly and left.  

I had watched her as she walked away and saw her pause and look back.  At me.  With something of a grimace and a narrowing of her eyes.  Then and there, I knew it: she was trouble.  I just didn't realize what sort!

Over the next month, she started to make sure she was always there for us.  If there was a problem.  If there wasn't a problem.  However, after that month, I noticed she started being there for Tom more.  We were kids compared to her.  And Tom was my friend.  Something was...odd.

So, I got a little bold and followed her after school one day.  And that was when I first saw her derplicates.  The Derplicates.

These were boys.  Between the age of twelve to fifteen.  There were four of them.  They all dressed the same.  They all seemed to act the same.  Even with the differences in age.  I knew of them -Shadwell is a REALLY small town, folks, sheesh! - but had never seen them together like this.  Juan was the kid from the grade above mine.  I had known him in passing when he was still in the elementary segment.  He seemed rather different now...

I watched them over the next few days.  They made me more and more alarmed as I did.  They never seemed to have much, if any initiative.  They seemed to almost be robots.  Even stupid robots.  The almost acted like clones.  Dumb copies.  Derpy, dumb copies.  Duplicated derping...you get the idea.

I pulled Veena and Rosa and Jackie in.  They thought I was being weird and creepy.  They called me a stalker and acting scary.  I asked, begged, pleaded they come and see.  They did.  They were even more weirded out than I was.

The very next day, Maven gave Tom a present: it was a shirt.  Just like the other Derplicates.

We pranked her immediately.  We returned the shirt with a note all left on her front door.  She picked it up and looked angry and pulled the note off...and then the shirt melted in her hands.  Hey!  Chemistry really IS cool.  You just have to learn to do the crazy things with it.  That requires some...studying the unfun parts though.

She was angry.  Really angry.

She tried a bit harder to get Tom and then backed off.  We pranked her.  Her derplicates.  Her locker had rollypollies pour out of it.  Her mailbox flew away!  Drones spelled out silly limericks in the grass about her.  And we kept it up until she finally got the message.  Tom was NOT going to get derplicated.  He was our friend.  That was six months ago.  And the weird thing was she didn't have a replacement derplicate for Tom.  We didn't understand why she didn't move on and capture some other boy, but she didn't.

However, she made it very, very plain it was an unforgivable act against her and she became colder than absolute zero towards us.

And that was why we wanted her help: the adults knew we hated each other.  There was no way we'd work together.  So, if we got caught, she would not get busted because there was no way we'd have been a team.  And vice versa.

It was impossible.  And that's why we needed it to happen.

We sat down for lunch.  I was so wound up you could drop something on me and it and I would go BOING like a spring.  Maven.  I had nightmares about Maven.  What if she decided she wanted to make girls into derplicates?  or if she DID get her hands on Tom?  HOW did she turn them into derplicates?!

We started lunch quietly, atypical for us.  We normally were boisterous and fun.  Other kids would congregate around and talk.  Friends who were not Merry Pranksters.  Not today.  A pall hung over us.  An air of 'DANGER!  STAY AWAY!' but not in the mischievous sort of feeling we normally had.  Rather, a scary, depressed one.

We talked and agreed.  Tom and Jackie went off to approach Maven and arrange for us to talk after school.  Tom had come back shivering, but Maven had agreed.  

After school it would be.  

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 18: Lessons Learned Before Maven

The bell rang at that point and we all ran off to our respective classrooms.  We knew we would have to continue the discussion as to what we were going to do and how when lunch came.  That was the next time all five of we, the Merry Pranksters, would be together.  The thought of having the face Maven was not going to be fun.  It made me queasy, actually.  

Maven.

Maven the Raven from whom there was no haven.

Classrooms had Shadwell School were not exactly what was in the past.  It wasn't even what they had on Earth.  While what classes we took adhered to what Washington, DC required back on Earth, how we did them was probably more than a little different.  Or perhaps not.  I've never been to a school on Earther America.

When we got to our classrooms, we checked in our boosters with the teacher and picked up a limited one.  This allowed us to link to the lessons and school computers but did not allow some of us to hack our way through the lesson plans.  Some how that just seemed unfair.  If you have the ability...why not?  But, no.  We were randomly given cripples to prevent us from preloading software for ourselves (and hacking) and they were wiped and reloaded each night.  This forced us to actually LEARN.  

OH! THE TRAVESTY!

Oh, ok.  I do like learning and we even move at a pace of our own choosing, so long as you met minimum requirements.  If you could absorb information very fast, then you could unpack all sorts of backstory, side stories and extra information without slowing down others, boring them or dragging people who were not as fast along with you like they were on a wild sleigh ride.  

The experience was mostly virtual.  Today, after we said the pledge of allegiance, was history.  American history.  The last four hundred, almost five hundred years of the US of A were being covered in the class.  From the attempts by England to settle Roanoke to the present day while Earth's greatest nations settled the stars, we learned.  Some eras were more important than others and covered in more detail: walk the battlefields of the American Revolution, get narration, explanation and more, but if you wanted to WATCH the Battle of Yorktown, you needed to take a quiz immediately and get 8/10 right.  If you wanted to PARTICIPATE, as a Redcoat or a French soldier or as an American, you better get 10/10.  Revolutionary War, Manifest Destiny, Slavery, Civil War, Industrial Revolution, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, Great Recession, the Rise of China, the Long War, Global Warming, Robopocalypse, the Race to the Stars and Escheria.  Each could be viewed, participated in and grasped not just as dry statistics and boring desiccated words, but as events with people in them, places and how they shaped the our country and later my world.

Every day, at the end, we'd get a test.  It would cover all that we learned and participated in.  Three hours of history could be fun.  It could be exhausting.  It could be devastatingly depressing: slavery did that to me and I got the light version for tweens, not the full blown one for seniors in high school.  I saw Natasha Ricardo come out of that day green as a Terran plant and lose her lunch in the waste basket.  Fortunately, that was six grades away.

And I was in the Great Recession.  It WAS rather depressing: how could all those people get away with doing so many illegal things!  Didn't they have auditbots?  They could have easily seen the data was corrupt and caught the criminals!  But, no, no auditbots yet.  This was before the robopocalypse and actually one of the seeds that spawned it.

Ever seen a car that could NEVER self drive?!  That's just odd!  And how dirty things were in San Francisco.  I am surprised they didn't all die of disease.  And...there was more, but I won't bore you.  Earth is a strange place.  So easy to live in, yet so disrespected by those that live there.  

Three hours later, after I had rocked out at a concern (yes, I had answered 10/10) and virtually walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, I did well enough on my test for the day to pass.  It was lunch time.

Lunch time.

My stomach flip flopped.
That much closer to having to meet Maven.  

I was pretty sure we would do so after school.  

We needed time to plot and decide how we wanted to try to work with Maven.

But then...there would still be Maven.

Maven the Raven from whom there is no Haven.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 17: The Healing Power of Popcorn

Popcorn!  Who'd have thought it had magical properties to save the universe!?!  Or at least slay an argument...Tom was either a genius or an absolutely evil deviant who had laced his popcorn with happy sauce.  The stuff we swear the school nurse keeps above her desk and eats for lunch.  No one is that happy!  While I doubt Tom's pilfering skills, I have to say I lean towards him being an evil deviant rather than a genius.  No one who makes the awful puns and is as awkwardly dorky as he is could be an evil genius.

Hey!  He's OUR awkwardly dorky evil deviant!  

DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT PICKING ON HIM!

(that's our job!)

AND DON'T THINK ABOUT STEALING HIM AWAY EITHER!

(he's ours!  sold his soul to us in the 1st grade.  too bad so sad, you guys just look and see what you could have had)

As we munched with greatly reduced passions and talked.  We were agreed.  We wanted to go check out the spot where the helmet was and the legless footman appeared: we even named it Creepy Follow.  Tom nominated me as Icky Trod Stain to go with our naming theme and I downgraded him from deviant to just got lucky once mentally.

If you haven't figured out our puns there, I'm not explaining.  Sheesh.

If you ask again, I shall have to mock you for a second time.

There were serious problems with our goal of going to see where the Legless Footman went.  The first was the site was cordoned off by the BII (Bees, by the way is how most people call them) and would be for the next week at least.  

Secondly, the US Marine Corps had a squad in Shadwell now.  It was a precaution against trouble.  There were no signs of a massive invasion fleet, but even so, no one wanted to be in the little town wiped out.  The USMC Planetary Commandant didn't want to be the gal on duty who lost the first American town on an exoplanet to soldiers from another country either.  On on her watch!  And then there was the parents of Shadwell.  They were well and truly stirred up.  And they were watching.

The Bees were going to be doggedly thorough: first major case on Jefferson within their jurisdiction.  The Marines were going to be watching for people sneaking around.  And then the 'Rents.  Oy.

To even get out of school was going to be a challenge.  To not be tracked as we did our thing was going to be an even bigger challenge.  Remember our Boosters?  They are AWESOME.  However, they are the single easiest way to track anyone, anywhere.  Parents upload tracker software all the time to their kids' boosters.  The law forbade doing so to our brain implants directly, but...you had to wonder.  That meant at least ONE of our five sets of parents had probably placed a hacker tracker on our boosters.  

This meant we had to swap out our boosters. What?!  You didn't think kids in the 22nd century aren't STILL better at tech than their parents?  

We would also need a distraction to get out of school.  After all, with the increased security, the drones were going to be everywhere.  We could hack cameras temporarily, but if the drones were all out of whack someone might actually figure out what we were up to and then on top of that, someone might get hurt.  There WAS someone out there with an Indian combat suit or so it seemed.

And then the Marines...they had tech.  Tech that made what we had look like sticks and stones compared to modern boosters.  Or so we were sure.

We knew we also couldn't be directly involved with the distraction.  If we were, we'd get caught.  Tensions were just running too high.  The parents were just too flipped out.  It was annoying.  That meant we had to get META with our Merry Pranksterhood.  We would need someone to do it for us at least.  And get caught in the right way.  And not care.

We felt rather uncomfortable then.  We knew who we were going to have to talk to.  And she didn't like us.  She actually liked Tom a lot.  Too much.  She wanted to add him to her collection.  But she especially hated me.  I was the one who stood between her and Derplicating Tom.  It made me queasy to think about.

But we all knew what had to be done.

We were going to have to talk to Maven.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dawn on Jefferson, Chapter 16: WAITAMINUTE!

Just when you think you're about to go do something amazing and wild and crazy and fun, that's when you get into a fight.  Every time.  I swear.  Unfortunately, it was with my friends, my Merry Pranksters.

Veena, Rosa, Tom, Jackie and I all blew up at each other and it became a serious huff between us. It was all very dramatic.  Well, perhaps not that dramatic.  Perhaps it was a fight.  Yes, there was yelling.  However, we didn't get that mad at each other.  It was just dramatic.

It started because Jackie, oh so bright and relatively normal Jackie, asked if the emperor was wearing any clothes.  Well, sorta.

Parents and adults and teachers and all those people who pretend to be grown up are often annoying, very annoying.  They tell you what to do.  They tell you how to do it.  They tell you what you CANNOT do (most annoying of all).  They often think they are right.  Even when they are not.  But...

Most of the time they are.  Its even more annoying that way.  The adults are annoying, but they are rarely stupid.  We might not see what they are doing and why - we're still kids after all - but they almost always have a reason.  It might be one we like.  It might not be one they explain (psst.  helps us grow up if we understand what you're doing, grownups!) It might not be one we think is fair. It might even be really annoying!  However, it is really outright dumb.

Jackie asked why didn't the adults see this?  They had all the information we did.  They had better equipment to study everything we had.  How come they were not going out to deal with the legless footman we just saw?

Rosa got into a bit of a huff then.  She was feeling really proud of finding the foot.  She felt a bit...superior for the act.  Her find was being called into question and she didn't like that.  She countered that sometimes some people notice things faster than others.  It was a dig.  It wasn't nice.  She shouldn't have taken Jackie's comments as an attack (hint: they weren't.  They were a good and insightful criticism.)  Rosa was just being too proud at that moment.

Veena jumped to Rosa's defense and started saying how good and smart we were and especially Rosa.  We obviously saw it first.

I felt bad for Jackie.  She wasn't doing anything wrong and was actually making a good observation.  I jumped in on her side when I heard Jackie growl.  Jackie growls impressively.  She was likely to bite off Rosa and Veena's heads.  She's not just taller than the rest of us, including Tom (ha! Tom! I see you grimace and glance to see if you're taller than Jackie ever time you stand next to her!  Have a coooommmmmpleeeex?!), but she also has a presence.  When she pops, she's scary.  But when she's not, she has a force of nature feeling to her.  She's not mean.  She's not overbearing.  She's not even the leader of the group (hello?!).  She does stand her ground better than the rest of us and doesn't wilt.  And then, sometimes, when she does pop she growls more impressively than a bear.

This was going to make her bear moments seem tame.  Those moments would seem like Masha's Medved from that ancient Russian cartoon.  She was about to go nuclear cave bear.  

Her chest began to expand when I jumped in on her side.  She looked at me as I did.  I reasonable.  I was brilliant.  I was a genius with my arguments, but then Veena and Rosa started yelling at me.  The nerve!  

Jackie and I were yelling at Rosa and Veena.   The argument was heated.  The argument was white hot flaming.  Any human not participating would have been instantly sautéed by just being in the room.  There were clashes and battles and epic wars in that argument.  There would have been very hurt and angry feelings except for one thing.

The smell of popcorn snapped us out of the fighting.  Hot, buttery popcorn.  There in a bowl. Sitting in Tom's lap.  Where had Tom gotten popcorn?!  We were at SCHOOL!  Yet there he was.  Watching us.  Munching on popcorn.  And looking both terribly amused and smug with his salty, buttery munchie.  

We were stunned!

WHAT!
THE!

HECK!

Tom, in an exaggerated movement, wiped his mouth with a napkin and even dabbed at his mouth's corners in a ridiculous action of pretension.  It was comical.  It was ridiculous.  It was oh-so-Tom.

He then opened his mouth - which was fortunately not full of popcorn!  How gross would have that been?!  EW! - and said, "While this is entirely amusing, I have to say, I'm sure the adults have figured it out, which case, we'll follow along a path already worn and we'll have fun.  If not, we'll get our adventure.  And I, for one, want an adventure.  We are the Merry Pranksters after all, not the Immie Spud Club."

And it was hard to argue with him over that.

But I STILL want to know how, where he got that popcorn!  He's been holding out on us!