King of the Hill

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The hallway opened into a large, cavernous space which served as a connecting hub for multiple corridors. The throw of Rowan's helmet light draped a soft white light on a strange, towering junkyard of middle school bric-a-brac which made the clutter of the hallway from which astronauts had just emerged seem tame in comparison. This space didn't have the same "lived-in" quality as the Beiber hallway; Here the junk had been distributed haphazardly, sometimes in piles that stood taller than Rehearsal, the tallest of the astronauts.

"Okay. So who's Jonas?" Sands said, turning to Spacekid, who'd found a cracked old smartphone inside an upturned orange traffic cone and was stupidly trying to turn it on.


"Jonas," Sands repeated, pointing to the brick wall to the left where, partially obscured by the tall mounds of chairs and shelving and desks, a group of large red letters, applied hastily in glossy red paint, gleamed in the team's collective helmet light. The letters spelled Jonas.

"Uh. Let me think for a moment..." said Spacekid as he slid the broken smartphone into one of the pocket-flaps on his right thigh and scrunched up his forehead, deep in thought.

But Rowan had already figured it out. "The Jonas Brothers. There were three of them, as I recall. They were just like Bieber. The teenagers loved them. My daughter used to-"

"Yeah," said Spacekid, disappointed that he'd missed out on a rare opportunity to be of use to his know-it-all companions. Eager to have a say in the matter before the conversation turned once more to subject-matter well outside his wheelhouse, Spacekid clapped his thickly gloved hands. "Exactly! Nick Jonas was the least lame, but they all sucked. They had only like three good songs." He thought about it some more, then shook his head, frustrated with his own trivia sluggishness. "Sorry. Five."

Citro, having noticed some new detail on the wall, attempted to move a bit closer to the painted letters but found her progress quickly impeded by avalanching junk, which clanked and clattered into her buffeted spacesuit and spilled out onto the tiled floor behind her, where the remaining astronauts hide to lunge out of the way. The bright, earsplitting sounds of metal-on-tile echoed inside the multiple hallways that fed into the main hub. Though the cacophony was tempered by their suits' respective audio processors, which isolated and tempered any spikes in volume that might cause discomfort to human ears, the three astronaut males tensed up and raised their respective weapons in alert, each facing a different direction for maximum coverage. The other residents of the school, whoever and whatever and whereever they were, would have no such sound-dampening filters; Spacekid figured there wasn't a single corner of the school unreached by the din of the metal avalanche.

But in moments the school settled back into quiet without event. No sounds of stampeding cadavers or irate People rented the silence. Citro, though clearly still embarrassed by her recent faux paux, seemed satisfied that she hadn't brought doom upon her party, averted her eyes from her fellow astronauts and turned her attention back to the letters on the wall.

"Look," she said importantly, evidently eager to redeem herself. "There's more letters underneath. They were painted over by the new ones." She adjusted the throw of her helmet-light and squinted her eyes, then smiled with comprehension. " Says Bieber!"

"Yep. And now that you mention it," offered Rehearsal, still visibly tense from the recent scare, his iron poker extended purposefully in the direction of the hallway from which they'd come, "Looks like there's more letters even deeper down."

Her interest piqued, Citro leaned even closer to the wall and ran her eyeballs over the graffiti-like letters. "'Jonas again, I think. Bieber, Jonas, Bieber, Jonas. Back and forth it went."

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