Since it's July 4th today...

The room was filled with a horrible screeching sound. The last remnants of Laura's dream suddenly became filled with cats in agony. And then suddenly, she could hear words. "-glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night-" Laura snapped her eyes open and saw Shelby standing on her bed holding a piece of cloth and singing. "-that the flag was still there. Oh, say does tha-at star-spangled banner-r ye-et wa-ave, o'er the land of the-e freeeeee! And the home... of the brave!"

"Ow, Shel," said Laura irritably, rubbing her throbbing ears. "What are you doing?" Shelby promptly moved into "America the Beautiful". Laura's nerves had taken about as much as they could bear.

"-and crown thy good with brotherhood-"

"Shelby, if you had any sense of brotherhood or sisterhood or roommatehood, you would have stopped singing!" moaned Laura.

"-from sea to shining sea!"

"Shelby, we're stuck on a tropical island." And then, brandishing her flag, Shelby began singing yet another song.

"My country tis of thee-" Laura, who was absolutely fed up of Shelby's singing, began singing loudly too.

"God save our gracious queen-" she began, feeling more patriotic by the second.

"-sweet land of liberty-"

"-long live our noble queen-"

"-of thee I sing-"

"-God save the queen-"

"-land of the pilgrims' pride-"

"-send her victorious-"

"-land where my fathers died-"

"-happy and glorious-" Despite the fact that Laura and Shelby were both singing to the same tune, Shelby was so off-key that the whole room was filled by a terrible cacophony. There was a loud knock on the door. Laura opened it without considering its devastating consequences to accommodation block 7.

"-from every mountainside-"

"-long to reign over us-" Attracted by the noise, Otto and Wing had come. They stood in the doorway, Otto looking extremely ruffled and Wing extremely unperturbed.

"-le-et freeeee-dom ring!"

"-God save the queen." Otto sang the last line too. Laura shook his hand very enthusiastically. Shelby tried to begin "God Bless America" but stopped when Wing gagged her with the flag that she was holding. Luckily, all of Shelby's curses were muffled.

"Shelby," said Wing, "it pains me to do this, but you must stop singing. I will release you if you solemnly swear not to begin singing again." Shelby looked at him indignantly.

"Does anyone have a pencil and some paper?" asked Otto. Within seconds, the desired implements were in his hands. He shoved them at Shelby, who wrote "I, Shelby, solemnly swear not to sing again for the remainder of the day."

"Release her," said Otto. Wing dropped the cloth.

"It's unpatriotic to gag someone with their own flag," protested Shelby.

"That's a flag?" asked Otto in mock astonishment. "Oh! I see! So this is supposed to be red, I guess, and then those sort of look like stripes, and then those white blobs could be stars even though there aren't fifty of them, and..." Shelby punched him and grabbed her flag back. Wing frowned at it.

"Is it supposed to be an American flag?" he inquired thoughtfully. Shelby tried to punch him but didn't quite succeed.

"Why all the patriotism?" Otto asked. "Is this the - for lack of a better word - anniversary of when you stole your first diamond or something

?"

"You? Lack of a better word, computer brain?" asked Shelby. Otto looked offended. Laura spoke up for the first time.

"Um... guys? Do you know what today's date is?"

"July 4th," said Otto. And then he got it. "Oh!"

"I feel that I am missing something here," said Wing.

"It's the Fourth of July," said Laura.

"Is this an American patriotic holiday?" asked Wing.

"It's their Independence Day," explained Otto. "When they broke off from England. Big mistake if you ask me."

"And no one does," muttered Shelby.

"Ah," said Wing. "So this explains the singing of American patriotic songs?"

"Yes," said Shelby. "Now get out!" Wing quickly left. Otto didn't move as quickly and was whipped by Shelby's flag. With a chorus of "ow"s, he left.

"Shelby!" Laura said innocently. "I didn't know that you where such a patriot!"

"One has to make an effort on the Fourth of July." Shelby smirked. "And Laura, don't tell the boys, but there are more surprises coming..."

"Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!"

"Otto! What happened?" a worried Wing asked as his roommate came staggering into their room.

"Shelby whipped me with her flag," complained Otto.

"With her... flag?" asked Wing, bemused.

"With her flag," confirmed Otto. "She's armed and dangerous. Wing, go to their room and tell Shelby that today is the fifth. Or something."

"Wouldn't that be a lie?" asked Wing.

"Wing," said Otto, "I don't care about your moral codes. What if Shelby kills someone?"

"I doubt that she will go to such extremes," said Wing calmly. Otto pretended to bang his head against the wall.

"Are you all right?" asked Wing.

"No," said Otto. "I'm suffering from severe depression. Now do something!"

"Don't worry," said Wing. "Shelby swore that she wouldn't sing again today."

"She'll think of something," said Otto. "I know she will!"

"Don't be so paranoid," Wing chided. "Shelby is our friend."

"Or at least she was," muttered Otto. Wing ignored him and left for breakfast. When Otto reluctantly followed him ten minutes later, he was in a very fatalistic state of mind. And rightly so.

"I didn't know that the cafeteria had a stage," said Otto.

"Yes you did," said Laura.

"No I didn't," said Otto.

"Then how did you hijack its lighting controls in Franz's play about the life of Diabolus Darkdoom?"

"Oh," said Otto. "I guess I did."

"Has anyone seen Shelby?" asked Wing. Otto and Laura slowly turned towards Shelby's empty chair. Otto immediately got up and left.

"What's with him?" asked Laura.

"I believe that he was worried about Shelby's holiday celebrations," said Wing matter-of-factly.

"Oh!" said Laura. "She warned me. I think I'll go find Otto, then." Wing was left at an empty table.

"Can I join you?"asked Nigel.

"Yes," said Wing courteously. "Will Franz be joining us too?"

"No," said Nigel. Suddenly, Wing began to wonder if there was a conspiracy afoot. Franz not showing up for breakfast? Something was very seriously wrong. Franz would have rather climbed a mountain than miss breakfast. As Colonel Francisco had discovered in his "Covering Rough Terrains" unit, where Franz, an inch from spectacularly failing the whole class, had shown a surprising burst of speed when he saw food on top of the "mountain" that he was supposed to be climbing.

The lights in the cafeteria dimmed. "That's our cue to go," said Nigel. "Unless you want to see Franz dressed up as the statue of liberty..." A frightened Wing decided to take his very wise advice and leave. Franz dressed up as the statue of liberty was something that he wanted to avoid at all costs. And so he ended up in the hallway with fellow refugees Otto, Laura, and Nigel.

"Shel, you don't even like beets," said Laura.

"Of course I don't," said Shelby.

"So why is your plate full of them?" asked Otto.

"They're red," said Shelby as if that explained everything.

"I believe that Shelby is having a red, white, and blue craze," explained Wing.

"She's insane," said Otto.

"Aye," said Laura sadly. Shelby ignored all of them and decided, instead, to don a red and white towel that she took out of her backpack. No one bothered to ask where it was from. They knew the Wraith.

"Where's the blue?" asked Otto. Shelby gave him a superior look.

"Obviously, the black on my jumpsuit isn't true black; it's dark blue," she said. Laura scrutinized the sleeve of her jumpsuit carefully.

"I can't see anything," she announced. There was a long silence in which Shelby dispiritedly prodded the beets. Otto snickered. Shelby glared at him.

"I never knew that you're such a patriot," said Otto. Shelby continued glaring. "But I don't understand," he continued innocently. Shelby had a feeling that he was pulling her into a trap but felt the need to respond.

"Don't understand what?" she snarled.

"Oh, nothing," said Otto. "Just, you know, the millions of dollars of diamonds that you stole from your country..."

"I stole them from other countries too," said Shelby indignantly. "And I brought them to the US, so it's actually good for America." Otto was smirking slightly.

"Tell me, Shelby, have you ever actually opened a Political and Financial Corruption textbook?" he asked.

"Maybe, maybe not," replied Shelby.

"So do you know anything about the economy?"

"Maybe, maybe not."

"So you know that, because of the diamonds you stole, millions of dollars were paid in insurance. And you know that to compensate for not having enough money, the US can make new dollars and pay off any debts, but the dollar becomes a lot less valuable, and people with savings suddenly have a lot less than they think, and then-"

"For a few diamonds?" Shelby asked incredulously.

"No," admitted Otto. "But the principle remains."

"And you never stole anything?" demanded Shelby.

"No," admitted Otto. "But you notice that I'm not waving around an English flag."

"But it's the Fourth of July," said Shelby. "Of course you aren't. Maybe you should be going around in mourning or something. I can check if I have a black towel in here..." Shelby dived into her bag again.

"How did you get the towels?" Laura asked. Otto rolled his eyes.

"I stole them," came a muffled voice. "How else?"

"I didn't know that HIVE had towels," said Laura.

"They were by the swimming pool," said Shelby, who had reappeared from the bag. "You know, the one for Tactical Education. And no, Otto, I do not have a black one, but your uniform is black, so it should be fine."

"Weren't you just saying that your uniform is blue?" challenged Otto.

"Yes," said Shelby. "Mine is, and yours isn't." There was a long silence as the others tried to make sense of her irrational remark. Shelby got up and left the table to avoid eating her beets. The others just shrugged and continued eating.

The bell sounded. Students came pouring out of their classes. "Has anyone seen Shelby?" asked Laura.

"I have not," said Wing. "I am surprised that the Contessa did not remark on Shelby's absence."

"Well, Ms. Leon will certainly say something about it," said Otto. "I just hope she isn't planning some... festivities." And then he heard the music. And then he saw Shelby, who was coming down the hall with a harmonica in her mouth. Luckily, her harmonica abilities outstripped her singing abilities. Until, suddenly, they didn't. Shelby apparently could not both cartwheel and play at the same time.

"It appears to be a one-man parade," said Wing impassively.

"Wing," said Laura, "on behalf of Otto and me, please stop her. Now." Otto was writhing on the floor in an exaggerated attempt to show his misery. Hearing Laura's words, he got up onto his knees and faced Wing.

"Please," he intoned, "save us from this misery. Silence that creature." Thus saying, he collapsed into fits of helpless mirth. Laura prodded him in the ribs with his toe. Wing stared at him in curiosity.

"Was that a joke?" he asked uncertainly.

"Wing," said Otto, "I am deadly serious."

"But Otto," said Wing, "you were laughing."

"Out of hysteria," said Laura helpfully.

"Wha-yes! Yes, out of hysteria. Exactly." Laura winced at Otto's clumsy cover-up. Luckily, Wing didn't seem to notice.

"So I am supposed to stop her?"

"Yes," said a panting Otto. "Kill her. Or at least kill that harmonica."

"That harmonica is not alive," said Wing. "I cannot kill it."

"Otto was joking," said Laura. "Just stop Shelby. Now!" As Shelby cartwheeled towards them, Wing grabbed Shelby's arm and swatted the harmonica out of her mouth. There was a chorus of "aw!"s.

"The one-man parade was stopped out of respect for the safety of the audience," yelled Otto.

"Yeah right," said Shelby, still struggling in Wing's grip.

"Where is Laura?" asked Wing.

"I don't know," said Otto. "She probably-" The bell began ringing. The three of them turned pale and began to dash off to class, all senses of danger containment or patriotism. Wing miraculously made it into class on the bell's final ring. Shelby got in a few seconds after.

"Detention, Miss Trinity," said Ms. Leon. And Otto, in spectacular third place, came jogging in the door a minute later. "Detention for the next week, Mr. Malpense," said Ms. Leon. Otto winced, but he knew better than to argue with Ms. Leon. Her cat had never been declawed.

Practical Technology was the last lesson of the day. Professor Pike barely looked up as the class came in. After ten minutes, he looked up from what he was reading and addressed the class. "Your projects should be up here," he waved his hand in the direction of the blackboard. Today, Shelby Trinity and Franz Argentblum are presenting their project." He went back to his paper. Shelby went up to the front of the class and smiled a winning smile.

"Hi," she said. "Today, Franz is going to talk about why our project is effective, and I will demonstrate. I just need a volunteer... Otto!"

"But my hand wasn't raised," complained the albino.

"I know," said Shelby. "But I don't care. I'm turning the floor over to Franz."

"Our project is being used to scare people," said Franz. Shelby looked expectantly at him. "I am being done," announced Franz. Shelby rolled her eyes.

"Otto, come up here please," she said. Otto got up very slowly and began shuffling towards the front. Shelby waited patiently before picking up a metal cylinder that was lying on the ground and opening it. "In you go," she said cheerfully.

"And what will happen when I do that?" asked Otto.

"Wait and see," said Shelby with a wolfish grin.

"This is a bad idea," muttered Otto, reluctantly getting in. Shelby slammed the door. Otto was lying in the metal coffin. Or at least, it seemed like a coffin. It was small and metal, and Shelby's science projects usually didn't work very well, and...

"You see," said Shelby, "the fuse over here. Now Franz is going to light it, and-"

"I am going to be lighting it?" asked Franz nervously. "This is not being a good idea." Shelby tossed him a box of matches. He missed. The matches fell on the floor, drawing a collective "ah!" from the audience.

"Not to worry," said Shelby cheerfully. "These are safety matches." Franz picked up the box and began scoring the edge with a match.

"I am thinking that this is not working," he muttered. Flames suddenly flared up on the edge of the match. Franz paled but lit the fuse. Shelby quickly blew out the match. And then the cylinder exploded. At least, the outer shell did. Otto appeared to still be safe.

"Sorry about that," said Shelby. "It's supposed to be a Fourth of July firework, but it's more of a bomb, actually..." Franz's eyes were closed, and he was whimpering. "I guess we'll let Otto out now..." said Shelby, casually opening the tiny compartment. The Malpense inside it was not at all amused.

"What were you thinking, Shelby?" he yelled. "Trying to kill me? Was that it?"

"Fourth of July fireworks?" Shelby suggested.

"Shelby!" Otto thundered. "Never! Ever! Celebrate! The! Fourth! Of! July! Like! This! And now, I will demonstrate my project with Laura." He picked up a small robotic dragon from the stack of objects and held it in his hand. "Activate Malpense Pyro 38," he ordered. A stream of fire shot from the dragon's mouth, singeing the tips of Shelby's hair. It fizzled out before the fire could actually harm one of the students.

"And now we have our barbecue!" sang Otto. Shelby advanced on him threateningly. Professor Pike looked up and surveyed the room.

"Fire safety can be convenient," he said mildly before drifting back into his reading.

So there it is. Please review! I'm not really sure that I like this at all, and criticism would be much appreciated.