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“You can put that down now, you know. You didn’t even have breakfast yet!” Dan grinned at her and deftly plucked the pencil from her hand, sticking it behind his own ear. “Who cares if the equation is Speed of Light to Wavelength and Frequency Relationship?"
“And you can come eat with us.” Gwendolyn was pulled out of her chair by her best friend, Tay. Gwen protested but allowed herself to be guided to the kitchen. “Where’s everyone else?” The kitchen was empty of its usual buzz of people.
“Oh, they’re off on a mission...” Tay replied vaguely. “They’ll be back.”
“Ah-chi! Ah-chi!” The telltale sneeze echoed off the walls of the common room, bouncing into the kitchen. Gwen gave Dan and Tay a look before rushing out to demand the truth from Lena.
“These guys in black came up behind us, and- Ah- chi! put these bags over our heads. I only escaped because they were too busy fighting Qwan. It took three guys to subdue him.” She grinned, but then it faded to worry. “They had pe- Ah- chi! pepper inside the sacks. Don’t know why. Everyone else got taken- even Qwan.”
She glanced at Gwendolyn with her red pepper-irritated eyes. “I’m sorry. We went out to get you stuff for a- Ah-chi! party. Surprise, that is. Not sneeze. I mean, a sneeze party. Not one.” Lena's face was flustered and worried.
Gwen’s birthday wasn’t for a few days, but she hadn’t even given it a single thought. Namely, she had forgotten. “That’s all right. It’s just the thought that counts.”
“Pepper.... pepper... right! The place over- no. Never mind.” Dan was already thinking. But what were they supposed to do? They were trained to solve intergalactic equations, not mysterious kidnappings. Sure, they could all do calculus in their heads faster than a calculator, but aside from Gwen, none of them had experience with much of society. Gwen felt a sadness wash over her, thinking about her mother and father and siblings. That family had been taken. Now this one was too.
“What are we supposed to do?” Tay interrupted her thoughts. All four of the teens glanced around at each other uncertainly.
“We could.... uhhh.... We could ask Mr. Kelley! You know, the detecting parody on Winchester Avenue!” cried Dan. Glancing at the blank stares that followed he added. “Or, we could not.”
“Let’s put our heads together. Surely we can come up with something.” Gwen said. She back-handspringed across the room, leaped, grabbed the well-positioned metal bar (Qwan was a good worker), swung behind the waiting chair, and slid into her seat at the head of the table, right next to Qwan’s. Being the eldest teenagers at 17, they shared the leadership of the team.
Lena stumbled over to her chair, sneezing constantly. Her blond hair was spotted with pieces of the black pepper, and a fine red dusting of cayenne decorated the shoulders of her green top. “H-How are w- Ahh-chi! we supposed to tra-a- Ahh-chi! -ain ourselves to do this! Ever since Mr. Jim left Ahh-chi! we’ve been on our own with no parental gui-ui Ahh-chi! guidance.”
Tay fondly brushed the pepper from the 12-year-old’s hair and shirt. “It’s okay, Lena.”
“We could split up and only Tay and I would go.” Gwen stated flatly. It wasn’t even a question, or a suggestion, but a command.
“No!” Tay looked firmly at her leader. “We all go. I don’t care if your 17 and I’m 16 and Dan’s 14 or if Lena is the youngest of our group of seven at twelve, we are all going.”
Dan voiced his approval, and Lena followed.
“Fine. My plan would be smarter, but fine.”