Author's Note: This chapter focuses on Ike Burke and takes place approximately six and a half months before The Final Battle. Of all the chapters in The Lost Chapters, this one probably focuses the least on its major character. I tried to focus on Ike as much as possible, but this is really Jimmy's story. I already have a plan for Jimmy's chapter, though, so I tried to tell the events of this chapter from Ike's point of view as much as possible. At any rate, you'll definitely get another glimpse into Ike's past and see the beginning of his friendship with Carl. I hope you enjoy.
The full moon's brilliant light shown down from the sky onto Retroville's emptry streets. As Ike looked up at the beautiful white orb above him, he couldn't help but smile. It had been a year and a half since he had been in space, since he had saved his parents from being sacrificed to an alien god. In spite of the urgent matters Ike needed to attend to, he stopped for a moment and leaned against a nearby tree. He allowed himself a small smile as he pulled out a carton of cigarettes and lit one up. He took a slow drag and savored the smoke's taste before blowing it up into the sky.
Ike gave his head an amused shake has he pondered why he was wandering the streets so early in the morning. For the most part, Ike was happy to stay out of the chaos that some of his classmates were a constant part of. Like nearly every other child in Retroville, he had helped Jimmy Neutron and his friends save their parents from the Yolkian menace. Beyond that, however, Ike had had little interaction with the boy genius. Yet here he was, roaming the streets of Retroville at two in the morning, on his way to break into Retroville Middle School in order to help Jimmy.
Ike pushed himself off of the tree and took another drag from his cigarette while continuing on his way. Ike twirled the cigarette around in his fingers while giving a small sigh. As Ike silently walked down his street towards Jimmy's lab, he wondered why he had agreed when Nick had asked him to help Jimmy. Perhaps Ike had been in need of some adventure or had simply been in too good of a mood to refuse. Yet as the preteen took one final drag of his cigarette and flung it onto the ground, he knew there could be only one reason. Ike pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and flipped it open. The date stared back at him, glowing with a painful brightness amidst the darkened street. Thursday, February 13, 2003.
February Thirteenth. Ike repeated the words in his head and couldn't help but squeeze his phone tighter. Just one day before Valentine's Day, one day before the day that had ruined his life. Ike felt his eyes began to water and immediately shoved his phone back inside his pocket. He whipped off his sunglasses and ran his right hand over his moist eyes. Stay cool, Ike. Don't do this again.
Ike stood in place for a long moment as he pondered his thought. At long last, he gave a nod of resignation and resumed walking, though he could still feel the sadness builing in the pit of his stomach. It had been three years since the Valentine's Day dance, three years since the most horrific night of his life. Ike wished to sit on the curb and give his thoughts the attention they deserved, but he knew he couldn't afford to be late. So he let his mind wander as he walked.
Sandy. The word shot through Ike's mind quicker than a bullet, leaving a picture of the young girl in its wake. Even after three years, Ike could still see every ringlet of her golden hair and every one of her twenty freckles. He savored the image and allowed himself a small smile. He remembered how amazing it had felt to ask her to the dance, and then recalled the unimaginable euphoria that had followed after she had said yes. He remembered holding her hand, hearing her quiet laugh, and staring into her beautiful brown eyes. For five long months he had hidden his love for her, kept his undying devotion a secret. And then, in a mere instant, that secret had been let out to reveal a joy Ike had never known. But nothing could ever be so simple. Almost immediately after claiming that joy, it had vanished.
Ike tightened his hands into fists and clenched his jaw as he remembered how that magical night had turned to hell. He remembered being called up to the stage for winning a raffle, how Sandy had so gleefully taken his hand and walked beside him. He remembered realizing that it was a trick, and recalled with perfect clarity the bucket of punch spilling onto his and Sandy's heads.
A shiver ran through Ike's body. He knew it wasn't from the chilly night air, but he still rubbed his hands against his arms and sighed. Ike shoved these macabre thoughts out of his head and picked up his pace. He pulled the carton of cigarettes out of his pocket and stared at them with an unwavering intensity as he crossed the empty street.
It had taken too long to heal from the pain. Too many months had been spent being picked on by his classmates, too much time had been wasted in misery. Ike remembered how he had tried to cope with his pain. How he had tried ignoring the taunts only to delve deeper into loneliness. How he had attempted to repair his broken friendships only to be rudely rebuffed. How he had, in a fit of complete despair, stolen a cigarette from his mother's purse and desperately set it alight, hoping with all his heart that her old adage of "They calm me down," would hold true.
Ike shook his head sadly at the memory before sliding the carton back in his pocket. His smile turned more genuine as he felt his necklace bounce off of his neck. He slowly grasped the golden cross and gave it a gentle kiss. When all of humanity had let him down, a special friend had stepped in and saved him. "Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever," Ike happily whispered while rubbing the necklace with his right thumb. He gave an appreciative nod and tucked the cross back inside his shirt.
Ike's spirit continued to rise as he approached Jimmy's street. There was no doubt that too much of his young life had been spent in pain and sadness. But that was over now. Ike had moved past his misery . He could still feel a tiny remnant of despair in his stomach, but he knew it would soon pass. Helping Jimmy recover his art project would keep his mind busy and help pass the time until this wretched week was over. Valentine's Day would soon be behind him, and he would no longer be forced to remember that horrible night.
As Ike strolled down Jimmy's street, Ike's thoughts turned to the boy genius. Ike knew only the vaguest details of why Nick had asked him to meet at Neutron's house and aid him. Ike was aware that something had gone wrong in his art class; that Jimmy's project had gone missing the day before. Nick had assured him that their task was to get Jimmy's paper-mache heart back, but Ike had no idea why he was needed or why they were accomplishing their task at two in the morning. Still, Ike found it hard to complain. It was a beautiful night for a walk, and his spirits managed to buoy even higher as he saw Carl nervously exit his house.
Ike gave an amused half smile as he quickened his pace. After being seated next to each other in Ms. Wolf's art class last month, the two had become friends. The boy was timid, highly stressed, and seemed to have rather severe issues with both llamas and older women. But Ike had quickly come to realize that the boy was genuinely kind and amusing. If Ike was going to be breaking into school, there was no other person he'd rather have by his side.
"Hey Carl!" Ike happily whispered while approaching the asthmatic llama lover.
Carl immediately jumped into the air and nervously swiveled his head around. For a moment, Ike was worried that the boy might hyperventilate and pass out, but Carl calmed down once he saw that it was Ike who had called his name. "Oh," Carl wheezed in relief while taking a puff from his inhaler. "Hi, Ike. You scare me," he said with a nervous laugh.
Ike shot another half smile while matching his friend's pace. "Sorry," he earnestly apologized as the two boys closed the short distance between Carl's house and Jimmy's lab. "So, I'm kind of new to this whole "crazy Neutron adventure" thing. Any tips from a pro like yourself?" Ike asked.
Carl blinked several times and seemed to deeply ponder the question as the two boys stopped in front of Jimmy's lab. Finally, Carl opened his mouth and spoke while pressing a small red button beside the lab's entrance. "Um…try to roll when you land."
Ike lifted an eyebrow in curiosity. "When we land where?"
With that said, the ground underneath the boy's feet peeled back. Ike and Carl fell straight down, and Ike's eyes widened in fear as the floor of Jimmy's lab seemed to rise up and meet him. He landed hard on his ass and groaned in agony. He watched as Carl awkwardly attempted to roll forward once he landed, but the boy merely ended up falling on his stomach and slamming his face into the floor.
"Spleen," Carl weakly whispered.
"At least your scapula's okay!" Sheen happily screeched while dashing over to the lab's newest arrivals. He quickly hoisted Carl to his feet and then offered Ike a wildly trembling hand.
Ike stared at the maniacal boy for a few seconds before gripping Sheen's palm. Ike's entire arm began to vibrate, and he immediately pulled out of Sheen's grasp and looked into his wild eyes. Ike was about to ask why the boy seemed to be having a heart attack, but Sheen beat him to it.
"You ever have coffee?" Sheen raced through his words in less than half a second and immediately nodded vigorously. "Because I have, and it's great. Great!" he practically shouted. "I didn't think I could wake up at two, so I stayed up all night. But then I got tired, but then I drank coffee, but then I was awake! I love it!" he shouted while staring deep into Ike's eyes and slowly pushing his face closer to Ike's. Ike began to recoil in fear, but Sheen merely increased the speed in which he was closing the gap. Sheen stopped when their faces were an inch apart and somehow managed to stare deeper into Ike's soul.
"Sheen, stop it!" Jimmy's angry voice rang out.
Ike would have sighed in relief as he heard Jimmy's voice, but he was too entranced by Sheen's hypnotic gaze. Sheen finally blinked and spun around to face Jimmy.
"Ike and Carl are here!" he happily exclaimed.
Ike stared past Sheen and realized that Jimmy and Nick were both walking towards him. Nick rolled his eyes and muttered, "Yeah, we can see that, Ultrafreak," in clear annoyance.
"Drink this," Jimmy quickly muttered while shoving Sheen a steaming mug. "It will calm you down."
Sheen shrugged and swallowed the beverage in a single gulp. Ike shook his head, stood up, and helped Carl rise to his feet as well. As soon as his friend was steady, Ike walked towards Nick and Jimmy.
"Hey Nick," Ike said with a respectful nod.
Nick returned the gesture and crossed his arms. "Hey, Ike. Welcome to the party."
Ike then turned to face Jimmy, who was glaring at Sheen out of the corner of his eye. Carl quickly grabbed the maniacal teenager's arm and led him deeper into the lab. Once they were out of sight, Neutron turned towards Ike and gave a small sigh. "Thank you for coming, Ike. I'll need the help."
Ike cringed as his rear end began to ache, and he narrowed his eyes in annoyance. "You ever think of maybe putting an elevator in this lab so you don't kill your guests?"
Jimmy seemed to ponder the question for a few moments before shrugging. "I'll think about it. But right now we've got a job to do. You know why I had Nick ask you here, right?"
Ike cast Nick a curious glance and shrugged. "I know it has to do with your art project. You lost it and we're getting it back, right?"
Jimmy immediately gave Nick an annoyed glance. "That's all you told him?"
Nick rolled his eyes and glared back at Jimmy. "Even I don't understand why we're doing all of this, Neutron!"
Jimmy huffed in annoyance and led the two boys deeper into his lab. He stopped in front of a workbench where Carl, Sheen, and Bolbi were sitting. Jimmy motioned for Ike and Nick to join the others. Ike complied and took the empty seat near Carl.
Jimmy cleared his throat while staring at his five friends. "Alright everyone, we're all here. I think it's prudent to discuss exactly why I've gathered you all here and what we are going to accomplish tonight."
Bolbi raised his hand and grinned wildly. "Bolbi understand mission! Girl steal Jimmy's heart, and we take back!"
Everyone stared at Bolbi for a few long seconds until Jimmy blinked severl times and gave a slow nod. "That's…not entirely inaccurate."
Ike leaned back in his chair and asked, "Wait. Someone stole your project?"
"Cindy did," Carl answered.
Sheen, who was finally beginning to mellow out, spoke up next. "We spent all afternoon figuring out who took it!" Sheen smiled happily and leaned back in his chair. "I think it was one of our better escapades."
"Regardless," Jimmy interrupted, "Carl is right. Cindy stole my art project…"
"Heart," Nick muttered with a chuckle. Jimmy immediately shot him an annoyed look, and Nick held up his hands in a defensive pose. "Hey, just stating a fact, Neutron. Glad to see you're embracing your sensitive side."
Jimmy clenched his jaw and forced himself to ignore the remark. "Cindy stole my project," he began once more, "so we are going to steal it back. Art class only lasts for a quarter, guys. This is one of only three projects we have. If I don't turn it in, I'll fail art," he angrily explained.
Ike narrowed his eyes as he concentrated on Jimmy's words. There was something…off about the way he was speaking. Ike didn't know Jimmy well, but he knew that the genius prided himself on his perfect grades. He had no doubt that Jimmy was indeed worried about failing art, but there seemed to be much more on his mind. Ike looked deep into Jimmy's eyes and could see rage burning inside them, but something else lurked beneath that. Ike couldn't help but recognize the source of his pain. It was the sting of betrayal.
"Now, I know that Cindy is keeping the heart in her locker," Jimmy explained. "That means my project is in the middle of the school's main floor, right near the art classroom. We're going to get inside the school, open her locker, and get it back."
Jimmy began to walk away from the workbench and motioned for everyone to follow him to a small storage closet nearby. He opened the door and quickly pulled out what looked like a futuristic rifle. "This is a nonlethal weapon of my own design," Jimmy explained while showing the weapon to his friends. "I call it a sleeper rifle. It fires an electric pulse which causes immediate elevation of melatonin in…"
"Two in the morning," Nick angrily grumbled. "Short version, please."
Jimmy stared angrily at Nick and quickly said, "It puts whoever it hits to sleep." Jimmy looked away from Nick and took a deep breath before continuing. "All you have to do is aim and pull the trigger. As soon as it hits the target, they should fall unconscious. There's no possibility for long-term damage. After a half hour the victim will wake up and feel perfectly fine."
Jimmy handed the weapon to Nick, who eagerly grabbed the weapon and looked it over. "Nice, Neutron," he happily uttered.
Jimmy managed a tiny smile and nodded while grabbing the remaining sleeper rifles and passing them around. "Now, these are only a prototype and I had to make them quickly, so they can only fire two shots. After that, they're useless."
Carl's hands began to tremble as he accepted the weapon and held it as far from his body as possible. "Um, Jim? It's two in the morning, right? Doesn't that mean that nobody will be in the school?"
Sheen blinked his eyes and stared at Jimmy in disbelief. "Wait, teachers don't live in the school?"
Jimmy ignored the question and handed the last gun to Ike. "These are just a precaution, Carl. I'm not expecting there to be anyone inside, but better safe than sorry."
Ike nodded as he looked over his rifle. After giving it a cursory inspection, he looked down the sights and aimed the weapon at a far-away wall. By the time he turned back to Jimmy, the genius was handing him a walkie-talkie. "I've also got walkie-talkies for each of us to use. Other than that, I think we're all set."
Jimmy grabbed his rifle and walkie-talkie and brushed past the crowd of five children before him. "Come on, guys," he huffed while leading them out of his lab. "I'll explain the rest of the plan once we get in the hovercar. We've got to move."
Ike groaned in annoyance as he struggled to shift in his seat. He ended up bumping into Carl, who quickly apologized. "Don't sweat it," Ike mumbled while slamming his sleeping foot onto the floor. "Jimmy, you ever think it's a little too cozy in this hovercar?"
Ike saw Jimmy tighten his grip on the hovercar's steering wheel as he shot back, "It's not meant for eight. We'll have to make do."
"Bark bark!" Goddard happily shot back. Ike turned towards the mechanical dog, which was happily lying down on Carl's lap. Carl gently patted the creature's head, and Goddard let out a low howl of pleasure.
Ike turned to Nick, who was sitting beside him and happily looking over his sleeper rifle. "Is that why you're helping Neutron?" Ike quietly asked.
Nick looked up from his weapon and met Ike' curious gaze. "I thought I'd have to wait until Spring Break to use a gun," he happily muttered.
Ike rolled his eyes and gave a playful grin. "Yeah, we know. I think we're all pretty tired of hearing about that hunting trip."
Sheen nodded and leaned towards the two boys. "It's annoying when you talk about the same thing all the time," Sheen steadily offered, which earned him a furious glance from Nick. Sheen blinked several times before adding, "Just trying to help," he uttered before leaning back in his seat.
"Idiot," Nick muttered in disgust. He rolled his eyes before turning back to Ike. "The gun's part of it. Plus Neutron promised he'd do my book report next month." Nick gave a wide smile and happily leaned back in his seat. "Ain't that right, Neutron?"
Once more, Ike noted how angry Jimmy seemed to get as he answered. "I said I'd help," he shot back. "Not that I'd do it for you."
Nick rolled his eyes. "Yeah, we'll see, Neutron. We'll see."
It only took a few more minutes to reach Retroville Middle School. Jimmy carefully parked the hover car down the street from the school and quickly exited the vehicle. He knelt down on the ground and waited until everyone had done the same beside him. One they were in place, Jimmy whispered, "Goddard. Come here, boy."
Goddard let out a nearly silent bark and hopped over to Jimmy. He powered on his chest's monitor and uploaded a blueprint of Retroville Middle School. Jimmy cleared his throat and pointed at the screen. "Everybody, this is the layout of our school. Goddard, overlay security camera placement." The kids watched as a dozen blinking red lights appeared on the screen. "Now add in vision cones," Jimmy commanded, and blue cones of various sizes extended from each light.
"Cool effect," Ike said with a satisfied nod.
Jimmy allowed himself a small smile before resuming his speech. "The red lights are the school's security cameras, and the cones represent the area that they can see. It is imperative that we disable the cameras along our path before they spot us."
Ike and Nick shared a nervous glance. "Neutron, breaking into school and a locker is one thing," Nick began. "Busting up security cameras is another."
Jimmy quickly pulled his hypercube out of his pocket and reached inside. He pulled out a bag of small red plastic cups and tossed it to Nick. "We're not busting them up," Jimmy explained as anger seeped into his tone. "We just have to approach the cameras from the side and put a cup over them. Then they can't see anything. Not the most scientific approach, but it gets the job done."
Jimmy turned back to Goddard's screen before anyone else could speak. "Goddard, display location of Cindy's locker." A blinking green dot appeared in the middle of the dog's screen, and Jimmy tapped it with his finger. "Cindy's locker is in the middle of the main floor. Reaching it should be easy. Once we get there, I just need to burn off its lock with my laser," he said while motioning at his watch. "Then we grab my heart and get out. Any questions?"
Sheen immediately shot his hand up. "I have a question! Why don't I just ask Libby to get your heart back?"
Carl nodded. "Yeah, Libby's pretty nice. She could probably just talk to Cindy, Jim."
Jimmy narrowed his eyes and angrily shook his head. "Not a chance," he shot back. "Libby is Vortex's best friend. No way I'm trusting her to get my project back."
"But Libby…" Sheen began.
"I said no!" Jimmy harshly seethed. Sheen recoiled in surprise at Jimmy's tone. Everyone watched as the maniacal boy fell silent and stared at the ground.
Ike narrowed his eyes at Sheen's visible pain and glared at Jimmy. "Neutron, take it easy, man."
Jimmy stared at Ike and blinked his eyes. Ike could see regret wash over Jimmy's face, and he frowned while turning to Sheen and saying, "Sorry, Sheen."
The words caused Sheen's face to light back up, and he happily uttered, "No problem, Jimmy."
Nick crossed his arms and drummed his fingers against them while staring at Jimmy. "Neutron, why did you even make a heart for this class anyway?"
Jimmy blinked several times and felt his mouth give a nervous twitch. "It's…it was a Valentine's Day project," he slowly explained.
Ike stared at Jimmy curiously. "Ms. Wolf never said we had to make anything for Valentine's Day. She said we could make whatever we wanted."
"Well I'm sorry if I was feeling festive!" Jimmy shot back. His eyes shifted between the members of the group and saw that no one seemed convinced. Only Carl's expression belayed understanding. "Look," Jimmy quickly began, "let's just this done, okay? It's already…"
"2:37 in the morning," Nick immediately grumbled.
"Right," Jimmy said while nodding and shooting Nick a smile. "So let's just finish this and go to bed, okay?"
"Fine," Nick agreed. "So what exactly do we do now?"
Jimmy sighed in relief and pointed at the monitor once more. "The first security camera is hanging over the main entrance. Sheen, you're the tallest, so…"
"Got it," Sheen said with a nod and wide smile.
"I haven't told you what to do yet," Jimmy managed to say somewhat patiently. Sheen's smile fell and he stared deep into Jimmy's eyes. "You're also thin, so…"
"Got it," Sheen said once more.
"Sheen!" Jimmy seethed. "So Nick will lift…"
Nick smiled widely and couldn't help himself from saying, "Got it." Sheen lifted his hand up for a high five, but Nick merely stared him down.
"Are we done?" Jimmy asked in exhaustion. He waited a long moment, stared at both Sheen and Nick, and slowly continued on. "So Nick will lift up Sheen," he paused and angrily stared at the two boys, "and Sheen will put the cup over the camera. Then the rest of us will move in. Got it?"
"Yep," Sheen replied.
Jimmy traced his finger along Goddard's screen as he continued. "Carl, you're going to stay in the lobby and be a lookout. Let us know if anything seems to be going wrong."
"Sure thing, Jim," Carl offered.
Jimmy nodded and resumed explaining his plan. "The next security camera is at the end of the lobby and in a corner. It's aimed at the opposite corner, so if we sidle along the wall we should be able to stay out of its sight. We'll cover that camera too and then proceed to Cindy's locker. There aren't any other security cameras, so the rest is easy."
Jimmy gave Goddard a pat on his head and said, "Thanks, boy." Goddard let out a happy bark and powered off his monitor. Jimmy then pointed at the sleeper rifle in his hands. "Now, I cannot stress this enough." He bore his eyes into Sheen's and explained, "The sleeper rifles will not erase memories. So if we come across anybody, we need to shoot them before they see us. Okay?"
Ike nodded and tightened his grip on his sleeper rifle. "Got it. We good to go, Jimmy?"
Jimmy nodded back and clenched his teeth. "Yeah. Let's move."
The group quickly darted down the street and hid behind a row of bushes beside the school. Sheen and Nick slowly approached the main entrance from the side, making sure to stay out of the security camera's sight. Nick cupped his hands and gave Sheen a boost. Sheen quickly slid a cup over the security camera and pulled out his walkie-talkie while hopping onto the ground.
"Perilous Pigeon here. Camera's taken care of," he said while bracing himself against the school's door.
Jimmy's face radiated confusion as he pulled out his walkie-talkie. "Sheen, we never picked codenames."
"Suave Squirrel here. Get a move on, Captain Chaos!" Nick's voice shot back.
"Let's move, Chaos," Ike said tightening his grip on his rifle and charging forward. Jimmy hesitated for a few seconds before shoving his walkie-talkie back in his pockets and doing the same. Bolbi, Carl, and Goddard followed suit.
The six boys and mechanical canine braced themselves against the school's front doors. Nick quickly tried to open them and confirmed that they were locked. "Chaos, get these open."
Jimmy shot Nick a curious glance before shaking his head and looking down at Goddard. "Goddard, activate lock pick mode."
Goddard opened his mouth to reveal a long thin needle sticking out. Goddard gently shoved it inside the keyhole and carefully moved his head around. After a few seconds he shoved his head against the door and pushed it open.
"Great work, boy," Jimmy gratefully said. Goddard retracted the needle and panted happily.
"Alright everybody. Brace yourselves along the right wall and sidle forward. Nick, Sheen, go first and cover the next camera. Let's go."
The boys fell in a line with Ike and Goddard bringing up the rear. Ike flexed his fingers and let out a quiet breath while resting his head against the wall. He turned to his right and saw Carl slowly edging his way forward beside him. "How you holding up, Carl?"
Carl gave a small nod and appreciative smile. "Good." The joy vanished from his face as he looked down at the rifle in his hands. "You don't think we'll actually have to shoot anyone, do you?"
Ike huffed out a small mouthful of air and shook his head in response. "I doubt it. There can't be anybody in school this early."
"Good," Carl muttered in relief. He stared at Ike and managed another small smile. "It's…fun hanging out with you. Outside of class, I mean."
Ike smiled back and gave a tiny chuckle. "Same here, man." He paused and noticed that Nick was having trouble balancing Sheen while giving him another boost. "You know, I never really wanted to get involved in all the crazy shit you and Neutron always get into. Fighting the Yolkians once was enough. But I've got to admit, this is pretty fun."
"Done," Sheen happily uttered while leaping off of Nick's hands and landing beside Jimmy. "What next, Chaos?"
"Sheen, just call me Jimmy," Jimmy muttered in exasperation.
"Lighten up, Captain," Nick said with an easy smile that caused Jimmy to frown in annoyance. "This is actually turning out kind of fun."
"Thanks, Suave," Sheen gratefully answered, and Nick couldn't help but giving Sheen a small grin.
Jimmy's temper seemed to be flaring once more as he pointed at Carl and Goddard. "Carl, you stay behind as lookout. Goddard, stay with him and monitor police chatter. Let us know if you get any calls involving this school. It's possible someone saw us enter."
"Um, okay, Jimmy," Carl said while looking at Goddard, who uttered a friendly bark in response.
"Everybody else, let's get going. Cindy's locker is in the middle of the first floor. There's no more security cameras, but keep a close eye out for any people. If you spot anybody, take them down before they see us."
"Bolbi shoot fast," Bolbi happily uttered.
Jimmy nodded and peeked his head around the corner. Satisfied that no one was in sight, he motioned for everyone to follow him. Ike, Sheen, Bolbi, and Nick headed down the hallway while aiming their weapons all around.
Ike moved to the front of the pack and cast Jimmy a worried glance. The genius still seemed furious and was gripping his rifle tight enough to drain the blood from his knuckles. "Neutron, are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine," Jimmy angrily shot back.
Ike narrowed his eyes and said, "You know, I am doing you a favor here. Maybe you could tone it down a little."
Jimmy registered some guilt and let out a small sigh before turning to Ike. "Sorry," he earnestly apologized. He took one hand off of his sleeper rifle and ran it down his tired face. "It's just…"
"It's more than failing, isn't it?" Ike gently prodded.
Jimmy hesitated as the group reached another corner. He poked his head out and saw no one, so he continued to lead the group towards Cindy's locker. Ike kept pace alongside Jimmy, who finally faced him once more. "Yeah," Jimmy quietly shot back.
"What's got you so pissed?" Ike asked.
Jimmy seemed to contemplate whether or not to answer the question for a few seconds before sighing once more. "We don't do this anymore."
"Get in crazy adventures?" Ike tried to clarify. "Wasn't it last week you five ditched science class, went to Loch Ness, and proved that Nessie was actually a pod of highly intelligent seals?"
Jimmy shook his head. "I mean me and Cindy," he answered. "We…we don't play tricks like this anymore."
The group rounded another corner and scanned their weapons in all directions, but found no traces of any people. The five children continued silently on their way with only Ike's and Jimmy's barely present whispers to break the silence.
Ike nodded. "Yeah, we've noticed."
Jimmy cast Ike a curious look. "Who's we?"
Ike rolled his eyes. "You know. Me, Nick, Brittany, Oleander, Butch…pretty much everyone from Ms. Fowl's class. We've all noticed the whole love/hate thing slid down the tubes last year."
Jimmy immediately stopped walking, and Nick slammed into his back. "Neutron," Nick angrily mumbled, and Jimmy offered a quick apology before slowly resuming his pace.
"There…there's no love," Jimmy nervously shot back.
"Uh-huh," Ike insincerely huffed.
"We're just friends," Jimmy somewhat angrily shot back. "At least I thought we were," he quietly added.
Ike pondered this for a few seconds before nodding in agreement. "Betrayal stings, alright."
Jimmy held up his hand, and the group stopped walking. Jimmy looked around one final corner and nodded. "It's halfway down that hallway," he told everyone. "All we've got to do is reach it and I'll burn the lock with my watch. Then we grab the heart and go home."
"Sounds good," Nick happily said while pulling out his walkie-talkie. "Porky Pig, how's everything in the lobby?"
Ike gave an amused smile as a despondent sigh answered Nick's question. "Couldn't I be Llama Lover? Both words start with the same letter and everything!"
"Focus, Carl," Jimmy shot back while activating his own walkie-talkie. "Are we clear back there?"
Jimmy heard a happy bark, and Carl dejectedly muttered, "Yeah, everything seems fine, Jim. Are you almost done?"
"Almost," Jimmy answered. "Just give us a few more minutes."
"Couldn't you have just gone through Cindy's locker after she left school?" Sheen suddenly asked.
"Let's move!" Jimmy quickly shot back while heading down the hallway. Everyone hesitated before following his lead. They all slid to a stop in front of Cindy's locker and stared at it.
"Let's end this, Neutron," Nick uttered while resting his rifle against his shoulder. Jimmy nodded and aimed his watch at the small lock in front of him. Just as he activated its laser, a brown-haired middle-aged woman in a pink bathrobe rounded a nearby corner. Everyone turned to face her and widened their eyes in shock.
"Ms. Wolf?" Jimmy incredulously asked.
Ms. Wolf recoiled in surprise and stared at Jimmy. "Soft Serve?" she asked in disbelief.
Jimmy slowly raised a hand to his long hair and quickly touched its tip.. Nick furrowed his brow in confusion and asked, "Ms. Wolf, what are you doing here?"
"I'm not sleeping under my desk because I was evicted from my apartment, if that's what you're insinuating!" the group's art teacher angrily shot back.
"What?" Ike asked.
"Shut up," Ms. Wolf grumbled while casting Ike a warning glance. She turned her gaze back to Jimmy and sighed. "What the hell are you doing here, Soft Serve?" She glared at the burnt lock at his feet and then glared at Jimmy.
A beam of light suddenly slammed into Ms. Wolf's face, and the teacher immediately crumpled to the floor and began to loudly snore. Ike, Jimmy, Sheen, and Nick stared Bolbi in terrified amazement.
"Bolbi save lives!" he happily explained.
"Holy crap we shot Ms. Wolf," Nick raced through his words, clearly frightened.
"Bolbi!" Jimmy angrily seethed. "I said don't shoot if they've seen us! She's going to remember that we shot her!"
Nick glared at the strange boy as well before turning to Jimmy with fear etched across his face. "She's going to kill us."
"She can't kill us," Jimmy nervously countered. "We'll just…get detention or something."
"Do you know Ms. Wolf?" Nick incredulously asked. "She's freaking crazy!"
"Nick's right," Ike calmly uttered. "We're dead."
Jimmy felt his heart began to race and struggled to keep his words steady. He reached into Cindy's locker and grabbed his heart while saying, "Everybody, try to relax. The important thing right now is to stay calm and…"
"Run!" Sheen screamed while running back towards the school's entrance.
More than anything, Ike wanted a cigarette. He clenched his jaw and forced his hands to remain steady as he silently sat in front of Ms. Wolf's desk. Jimmy, Carl, Nick, Bolbi, and Sheen were all equally quiet and sat in a row beside Ike. A lone empty chair sat at the end of the line, and Ms. Wolf was tapping her her fingers against her desk and glaring at the seat. Just then, the door to her classroom swung open to reveal a rather confused Cindy Vortex.
"Ms. Wolf, I heard the announcement. Why do you…"
"Sit down!" Ms. Wolf snapped while pointing at the empty chair. Cindy recoiled at her fierce tone, but her face morphed into one of anger as she spotted Jimmy. "Ms. Wolf, whatever trouble Neutron's gotten himself into, I swear I had nothing to do with it."
Jimmy spun around and shot Cindy a look that could kill. "Just sit down so we can get this over with, Vortex."
Ms. Wolf gave a slightly amused huff and nodded. "I like your attitude, Soft Serve. Blondie, take a seat. Now."
Cindy glanced back and forth between Neutron and her teacher for a few seconds before crossing her arms and storming towards her seat. Ike saw Jimmy slide his chair a few inches away from her and was surprised to see some pain register on Cindy's face.
"Alright, let's get a few thing straight," Ms. Wolf growled while glaring at each of the children. "First of all, I hate every one of you."
All of the children waited in silence for Ms. Wolf to continue. She merely settled her gaze on Sheen and glared at him furiously for some time. "Really let that sink in," she finally snarled.
Ten more seconds passed, and then she spoke once more. "Second, you boys are here for breaking into this school, vandalizing school property, and shooting your teacher in the face!"
Bolbi grinned happily and clapped his hands together. "Bolbi aim good!"
"Bolbi not aim good!" Ms. Wolf angrily shot back while angrily pointing at the strange boy, who merely smiled wider and stared emptily at the wall in response.
Ms. Wolf then turned towards Cindy and scowled at the girl. "And Blondie, you're here for stealing Neutron's project and causing this whole mess!"
Cindy's eyes widened and a hint of fear raced across her face. She immediately tried to cover this up with a scowl, but the damage had been done. "I didn't…I didn't steal anything!"
Jimmy rolled his eyes and glared at his rival. "Vortex, just give it up! I know you stole it! We found in your locker!"
Cindy nervously swallowed and bit her lower lip. "I…I…"
Ms. Wolf threw her hands into the air and loudly sighed. "Do you know what this is?" she loudly asked the group. "This is my one free period. And as much as I love spending it with you idiots, I'd love even more to not be sharing it with you! Brandy, Jimmy has proof you stole his project. What do you have to say for yourself?"
Ike leaned back in his seat and braced himself for one of Cindy's long-winded tirades. To his shock, the blonde could only mutter, "I…I didn't..."
Ms. Wolf narrowed her eyes and sighed loudly. "Very compelling argument." She turned towards the boys and stared into Jimmy's eyes. "Alright, Neutron. Obviously, I don't agree with you breaking into the school and shooting me in the face. But I admire your spunk. You boys will get a week of detention."
"I object!" Sheen shouted out while shooting his hand into the air, but Jimmy scowled while yanking it back down.
"Fine," Jimmy grumbled.
Ms. Wolf then turned towards Cindy and crossed her arms. "Blondie, you stole from another student and caused this whole mess. I'm not sorry, but you get a zero for this project. And also detention."
Jimmy's scowl faded as he turned towards Cindy and smiled triumphantly. He expected her to scowl back, yell, or perhaps merely shoot him a look that could kill. Instead, her face fell and her lips began to tremble.
"But…" Cindy quietly began. "But this is a third of our grade." Cindy struggled to steady her trembling voice, but it was a mostly futile effort. "I'll…I would fail."
Ms. Wolf had been absent-mindedly glancing around the room as Cindy spoke, but she suddenly stopped and met Cindy's pained gaze. "Sorry, I wasn't caring. What did you say?"
Ike watched as Cindy bit her lower lip and clenched her hands into fists. "Nothing," the normally feisty blonde quietly whispered while staring at the ground. Ike turned to face Jimmy and waited to see what the genius would do.
Jimmy stared hard at Cindy and felt his anger slowly vanish as he understand how much this was killing her. Jimmy knew that Cindy fought tooth and nail for every single one of her grades. Even though it had been nearly a year since their rivalry had been fueld by true anger and resentment, they still enjoyed competing with each other. Beyond that, Jimmy had begun to understand that Cindy's mother did not tolerate failure well. The final thing Jimmy knew eating away at Cindy was her own pride. Perhaps the blonde could handle failing a truly difficult course, but art? Jimmy had never heard of anyone failing that before. Even Sheen was pulling a steady B. Jimmy could tell that tears were beginning to well behind Cindy's eyes. Jimmy considered his options of for a few long seconds before slowly nodding. I know I'll regret this, he glumly thought.
"Vortex…you won't fail," he quietly whispered.
Cindy kept her gaze on the ground for a few more seconds before slowly looking up at Jimmy. "What are you talking about, Neutron?"
Jimmy clenched his teeth at the mention of his last name. It was a stark reminder of how far he and Cindy had fallen the past week. Ever since the tail end of fifth grade, he'd felt as though they were true friends. But since art class had started last month, he'd noticed that Cindy had seemed to grow distant from him. This had only intensified once he had begun work on his paper-mache heart. He considered taking back his words and allowing Cindy to receive Ms. Wolf's punishment, but ultimately decided to continue with his decision.
"Vortex, you're not going to fail," he said once more.
"Um, yeah she is," Ms. Wolf angrily muttered. "Do you all not understand that I'm in charge here?"
"Ms. Wolf, ma'am, I think they're having a moment," Carl quietly offered.
"We love to watch these!" Sheen whispered in excitement.
Ms. Wolf glared at the two boys, and Nick shrugged while looking into his teacher's eyes. "They can be kind of amusing. Like a bad TV show."
"What?" Ms. Wolf asked in disbelief.
Ike looked at his teach for a few seconds before turning back to Jimmy and Cindy. Cindy seemed to be regaining her composure, and in turn Jimmy's anger seemed to return.
"Just tell my why, Vortex," Jimmy spat out. "Why the heck did you steal my project? I was going to fail, and you sure as heck weren't going to bail me out like I'm doing for you!"
Cindy narrowed her eyes and slowly turned her frown into a scowl. "Don't blame me for this, Neutron! You know this is all your fault!"
Ike glanced back at Ms. Wolf, who raised in eyebrow in excitement as Jimmy began to tremble with rage. "Good call, kids. Extra credit for you three."
"Score!" Sheen exclaimed while lifting a hand up at Nick for a high-five. Nick stared at Sheen for a long moment until the boy sullenly lowered his arm.
Jimmy paid his friends no mind as he dug his nails into his palm. He could feel rage coursing through his veins and jumped to his feet. "That's it, Vortex! I'm sick of you! All I do is try to be your friend, and you just…you're just mean!" he angrily shouted.
Cindy jumped to her feet as well and fiercely poked her index finger into Jimmy's chest. "Screw you, Neutron! I stole your stupid little heart to help everyone in this class!"
Jimmy's scowl intensified as he threw his hands into the air. "How does making me fail help anybody?" he nearly shouted.
"Do you grade on a curve?" Ike whispered at Ms. Wolf.
"Shut up, I'm trying to watch," Ms. Wolf said resting her chin on her hands and leaning towards Jimmy and Cindy.
Cindy rolled her eyes and shoved Jimmy's right shoulder. "Did it ever occur to that big brain of yours that none of us wanted to watch you give Quinlan that stupid thing?"
A long silence filled the room, and a puzzled expression took hold of Jimmy's face. "Vortex, what are you talking about?"
Cindy gave a sarcastic laugh in response. "Oh, stop denying it, Neutron! We all know you were going to give her that stupid thing as a Valentine's Day gift. It's pathetic!"
"Pathetic, huh?" Jimmy growled in response.
Cindy nodded. "Yeah, Neutron. We're all sick of watching you fawn over little Ms. Perfect every class. It's disgusting and, yeah, pathetic!"
Ike and Nick shared a curious glance. Ike raised an eyebrow, and Nick shrugged in response.
"Cindy, what are you talking about?" Nick tiredly asked.
Ike nodded in agreement. "Neutron doesn't fawn over Betty."
Cindy stared at the boys incredulously. "Uh…yeah, right!" she sarcastically shouted. "We all see it!" She turned to Jimmy and glared at his confused face. "You dove across the room to pick up her pencil the first day of class!"
Jimmy widened his eyes to show his complete lack of understanding. "I didn't dive across the room, she was sitting right next to me! I just picked it up for her!"
Cindy shook her head in annoyance. "Sure, whatever. And you just gave her your extra clay last Monday because she needed it, right?"
Nick stared at Cindy in disbelief. "Um, I'm pretty sure he did. She needed more for her unicorn, didn't she?"
Cindy rolled her eyes. "And two days ago you carried her project to the back room for her like a lovesick puppy dog!"
Ike stared at Cindy in confusion. "Cindy, her arm is broken from tennis! She can't carry anything!"
Jimmy shook his head and glared at Cindy. "Cindy, I have no idea what you're talking about! I don't fawn over Betty, and I wasn't going to give her the heart for Valentine's Day!"
"You're lying!" Cindy shrieked. She was breathing hard and fast, and it wasn't hard for everyone to tell that rage was overpowering her. "I heard you tell Carl that you were making the heart as a Valentine's Day gift." Cindy glared at Carl before turning back to Jimmy and shouting, "I heard you say it!"
Jimmy gritted his teeth and stared at Cindy in clear fury. "Yeah, I did make it as a gift!"
"Ah-hah!" Cindy wildly shouted with a triumphant smile while pointing at Jimmy.
"But not for Betty!" Jimmy angrily shot back.
Cindy angrily huffed and crossed her arms. "Yeah right. Then who was it for, Neutron?"
Jimmy's angry face slowly faded, and Cindy stared into his eyes. Then, as if a switch had been thrown, all the anger vanished from her eyes as well. Her scowl was replaced by a desperate frown, and her crossed arms hung loosely by her sides. She blinked several times and found it difficult to speak. She opened her mouth, waited a long moment, and quietly whispered, "Oh." Jimmy couldn't meet her gaze any longer and stared at the ground. Cindy took a tiny step back and barely managed to utter, "Jimmy?"
Ms. Wolf rose out of her seat and loudly sighed. "I'm bored now!" she growled out. Everyone looked at her in shock. "Thank you all for wasting my one free period. Really," she angrily muttered, "I'm truly grateful."
"You're welcome," Sheen happily replied and was immediatley knocked to the floor as Ms. Wolf chucked a notebook at his head.
"Detention for all of you. And Blondie, I'm your teacher, not Soft Serve here. You're still failing."
Cindy's face fell and she took a step back from Jimmy. "But…but…"
Ike allowed himself an amused smile. He slowly rose out of his seat and saw everyone stare at him. He looked into Ms. Wolf's eyes and crossed his arms. "Veronica, I think we're all forgetting something very important here." He slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out a carton of cigarettes.
Ms. Wolf widened her eyes in disbelief as Ike lit his cigarette and placed it in between his lips. "Are you serious?" she wildly asked. "You can't be serious."
Ike took a deep drag and pulled the cigarette out of his lips. "Now, I'm no genius, I'll admit that. That's more Jimmy's thing. But aren't there rules against people living in their classrooms?"
Ms. Ike's eyes widened in shock before narrowing in fury. "You…you can't prove I do that."
Cindy stared at Ike curiously before pointing at the classroom's rear right corner. "Is that a sleeping bag?"
Ike turned to Jimmy and gave the genius a small smile. Jimmy smiled back in relief and added, "Ike's right, ma'am. I believe section 14 of the Retroville Fire Code specifically forbids employees living in their places of work."
Ms. Wolf gritted her teeth before angrily sitting back in her seat. She glared at Ike for a long moment before letting a tiny chuckle escape her lips. Ike raised an eyebrow in response, and Ms. Wolf amusedly uttered, "Guess Soft Serve's not the only one with spunk, kid."
Ike gave a tentative smile back. "So how about we all just forget this ever happened, and you can keep your 'apartment'," Ike offered while enjoying the use of air quotes.
Ms. Wolf contemplated the offer for a few seconds before sighing. "Fine. But I'm sick of all of you," she grumbled. "Get out of here, and I don't want to see you back until your art class starts."
A loud bell immediately rang through the school, and Sheen happily shouted, "Time for art class!"
Ms. Wolf slammed her head onto her desk and pulled hard on her hair. "Out! Just…just get out! Class is cancelled for today!" she desperately shouted.
The kids needed no more motivation. They all quickly rose from their seats and strolled into the busy hallway. The seven children stared at each other for a few seconds before Nick gave a small smile.
"Well, guess things could have gone worse," he said with a shrug. "I'm still holding you to that book report, Neutron," he muttered.
Jimmy gave a disinterested nod before turning to Cindy, who immediately shifted her gaze down to the floor and began to nervously rub her foot along the ground. "Vor…Cindy," he quietly began. "I…"
"Hey guys!" Libby happily shouted while approaching her friends. She gave Ike, Nick, and Bolbi a curious glance before smiling at Cindy. "Did I miss something?"
Cindy swallowed nervously before smiling in relief. "Not…not much," she answered. She stepped towards her best friend and said, "Class is cancelled. Want to go the library?"
Libby blinked in confusion and muttered, "Okay," before Cindy grabbed her arm and dragged her away from their friends.
Jimmy stared after Cindy for a long moment with a blank expression. Finally, he allowed himself a small smile and shook his head in amusement. He turned towards Sheen and Carl and said, "Come on, guys. Let's go to lunch early. My treat."
"Really?" Sheen excitedly asked.
Jimmy gave a friendly nod. "I really do appreciate the help. Sorry for being such a jerk."
"Thanks, Jim," Carl said with a wide smile. Sheen also grinned and nodded at Jimmy.
"Bolbi eat all food!" he happily said while leading the way to the cafeteria.
Jimmy's face fell as he uttered, "Well, I was actually just talking to Sheen and ..."
"Thanks, Neutron," Nick interrupted with an amused grin. "I heard they're serving lobster today. For a ridiculous extra fee, of course."
Jimmy sighed and rolled his eyes. "Alright, fine. Let's go."
Ike gave smiled and fell in stride at the rear of the group besides Nick. Ike gave his stomach a gentle jab with his elbow and whispered, "You know, for a minute there I actually thought those two would get together."
Nick gave a tiny chuckle and shook his head. "Keep dreaming, Ike. Some things never change, and one of those things is Jimmy and Cindy acting like idiots. They'll never get together."
Ike gave a small smile as he watched JImmy lead the way. The genius' steps came easy and he laughed at one of Sheen's wild remarks. All traces of his anger and misery were gone. "Maybe," Ike whispered. "But maybe not."