So in a high school of less than five hundred students, if a “celebrity”—say, a quarterback—and another “celebrity”—say, a cheerleader not his girlfriend—hook up at a party, someone is going to notice.

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And immediately tell, text, and generally spill to everyone he or she knows.

Montgomery’s posse of ponytailed cheerleaders were obviously trying to protect her from something the next day, escorting her from class to class even more closely—and nervously—than usual.

Or maybe they were trying to protect someone else.

“Oh, dude,” David said sympathetically in passing, waving to Montgomery from the other side of the hall. “I’m so sorry. After all that, all the stuff you went through. What a jerk.”

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“What?” she asked, stopping. A crowd began to gather. Murmured voices rose: why were these two talking to each other? And about something besides science homework?

Ryan was coming from the other way.

The cheerleaders tried to get her walking again.

“Um? Ryan and Susan?” David said, thinking she might just be confused. If he knew, surely every other person at the school knew. Someone must have told her. “At the party at Shaniqa’s place? Wow, did I get it wrong?”

“WHAT?!” Montgomery spun around to face Ryan.

Everyone in the hallway was silent, waiting.

“YOU!” she screamed, near-incoherent with rage. “YOU?—”

What Montgomery said next was unimportant. It could have been a thousand different things. She could have called him a “tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood!” She could have gone with the classic “scruffy-looking nerf-herder!” She might have chosen, appropriate to the situation, “gods-cursed TOASTER frakker!”

But in the end it was unimportant what exactly she said.

Because the entire population of Springfield High heard Montgomery K. Bushnell use an insult so geeky, so extreme, that there was no doubt in any other stealth geek’s mind what she was.

One of them.

She pushed David out of the way.

“Excuse me, I’ve got a vampire to slay,” she growled, looking for Susan and Mr. Pointy.

THE DÉNOUEMENT

She managed to make it all the way through school, the drive home, and up to her room before crying. It began messily: a chin shake, a couple of coughs, several quick sniffs. She didn’t want to cry. She wanted to stay angry, or forget about it entirely.

Like an addict looking for a fix, she pawed through her neat shelves for something that would stop the pain.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Casablanca. Doctor Zhivago. Sabrina.…

Montgomery chose Sabrina (the Audrey Hepburn one, of course), figuring the scene with the eggs would at least make her smile.

She delicately opened the DVD and snapped out the disk, holding it by the edges as if it were glass. She took it into her brother’s room (he had the upstairs TV) and put it in, then sat on the floor, hugging her knees.

Tears coursed down her cheeks. Her lips moved silently as the story began:

“Once upon a time…on the North Shore of Long Island, some thirty miles from New York…”

The sobbing began for real. She took a deep gulp of air—

—and then realized something.

“Oh my gosh.” Her eyes went beautifully wide with cheerleadery surprise.

She jumped up and grabbed her phone, stabbing at numbers. Not even bothering to pause the movie.

“Hello?” A grumpy female voice picked up from the other end.

“I GET IT!!!” Montgomery shouted. “I GET IT!”

“Um, what?” Ellen asked, obviously holding the phone away from her ear.

Montgomery paced back and forth, excited. “I get it! The spaceships and the quoting lines and memorizing stupid details about High Elvish and arguing over pronunciations! Before I thought you were all weird for the sake of, you know, just being weird.

“But I GET IT NOW! You just really love it. It’s where you go to. Who you turn to. It’s your…your home.”

“Ah,” Ellen paused, obviously torn between a sarcastic response and a grown-up one. “Yes,” she decided.

There was a moment’s silence as the cheerleader wiped her nose, reveling in her revelation.

“Wait, ‘you’” Ellen suddenly asked. “‘You’ just really love it? Not ‘we’”

“What?” Montgomery asked, confused. “Oh. Right. Yes. Not we. I mean, me. I mean, I don’t love it, the elves and stuff, no.”

“Even after all this time? We didn’t convince you at all?”

Montgomery sighed. “I…appreciate your passion. Now. And I think I can even appreciate some of the more…easily accessible…aspects of science fiction and fantasy. But I don’t love it the way you guys do. I just don’t hate it anymore.”

“Oh,” Ellen said, thinking about it.

“But I like you guys,” the cheerleader pointed out. “Just not the stuff you like.”

“Well, I guess that’s something,” Ellen decided. She paused. “Um. I heard about Ryan…and, uh, David and what happened in the hallway, and you finding out, and…um, everything that was sucky. Um, sorry.”

“Thanks. It was. Sucky.” Montgomery sniffed. She was quiet for a moment, sad. And then she thought of something. “Hey. The girls are going to come over tonight and, you know, just hang with me for a while. Support circle. I’d…I’d really like it if you came, too.”

“You want me to come over and hang out with a bunch of cheerleaders?” Ellen asked carefully, making sure she heard right.

“With my friends,” the cheerleader corrected. “My other friends.”

Ellen paused, letting the significance of the statement sink in.

“I don’t know,” she finally said. “I appreciate the offer, but your other friends might not.”

Montgomery thought about it. Ellen was right; it was a little early for such a sudden culture clash. At least half her “other friends” had tormented Ellen and her friends at some point in their twelve long years of going to school together.

“But, um, if you want to go to the mall or something, maybe, Saturday, I could let you pick out some makeup for me,” Ellen offered. It obviously took a lot out of her.

“Okay, it’s a date,” Montgomery paused. “Hey, do you think you could invite Mica along?”

“What? Oh, no,” the other girl groaned. “No. No, no, no, no…”

“Jealous much?” the cheerleader quipped.

“Horrified, more. On a level I can’t even put into words. Like—cosmic horror. I don’t suppose you’ve read The Call of Cthulhu, have you?”

“Yes,” Montgomery answered proudly. “Yes, I have.”

Tracy Lynn is the pseudonym for Elizabeth J. Braswell. Elizabeth was born in the United Kingdom, to her great surprise. When her parents returned to the United States, she stowed away in their baggage (mega geek points if you know who I stole this from). She is the author of Snow and Rx, and The Nine Lives of Chloe King as Celia Thomson, as well as numerous Disney Pirates of the Caribbean books.

Geek creds, in no particular order:

Favorite SF: old school. Favorite authors: Sturgeon, Bradbury, Clarke, Moore, Ian McDonald. Favorite movie: Blade Runner. Favorite Doctor: Fifth. Growing to love the Tenth. Favorite quote: “Where are we going? Planet 10!”

Knows pi to 12 digits. Majored in Egyptology. Met husband at Star Trek convention. They were there as professionals: he published the Star Trek books, she produced Star Trek video games. Produced video games for ten years. Was on the math team, debate team, and in the Latin club…first story ever published was in Amazing Stories magazine. Can recite most of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by heart.

You can find the rest of the Five Rules of Girls at www.themessydesk.com and write her at

[email protected]

Text by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci. Illustrations by Hope Larson.

DEFINITIONAL CHAOS

by scott westerfeld

I wanted a mission, and for my sins the ConCom gave me one.

It was the usual chaos: everyone on the Convention Committee thought someone had wired the money. Nobody had. Eighty-four thousand dollars, due to the convention hotel two weeks ago. The owner was threatening cancellation, which really would be a problem: seventeen thousand stormtroopers, Browncoats, pirates, quidditch players, and Dr. Who sidekicks wandering the streets, plotting revenge on whomever had left them roomless.

The money was ready to go, but the hotel owner demanded cash now, delivered to her winter home in forty-eight hours. A crazy thing to want, but maybe the money was headed straight into drugs or political contributions—she was down in Florida, after all. That’s what you get for dealing with family-owned hotels instead of the soulless Sheratons and Marriotts of this world: personality, chaos.

But I wasn’t complaining. Like I said, I needed a mission. Even if it meant missing that weekend’s Stargate SG-1 marathon, I was ready to go.

The call came at noon; my berth on Amtrak’s Silver Star was booked for 3:25. An hour later I’d digested a handful of aspirin, showered, and packed, and was pulling my Walther PPK/S 380ACP (of German manufacture, not the post-war Manurhin production run) from its original cardboard box. I set to work with the (also original) finger-looped cleaning rod, bringing both the Walther and my Taurus PT138 to a dull shine. I decided that the Luger my dad gave me for acing my SATs was overkill, but I cleaned it, too, just for luck.

Let’s get one thing clear: my gun collection wasn’t the only reason the Convention Committee had chosen me. Just as important was my alignment, consistent across every system known to gamingkind. Whatever the common good needed, lawful or not, I was willing to do it. I was the only person for the job.

Or so I thought, until I saw Lexia Tollman waiting with the ConCom, bright-eyed, green-haired, and grinning like the devil. She was wearing the leather Peacekeeper jacket I remembered her always wanting, and it looked good on her.

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