Return of the Magic School Bus by RogueDragon
Act 3: Save the Day
Chapter Ten: ApocalypticConclusion
The work-study program was ideally intended to be jobs with a lot of down time so students could earn money, do school work, and learn responsibility or some other nonsense like that. As handy as computers are for research and school work, they should have realized that having a computer at a dorm receptionist desk would mean that, over-the-top security filter or not, Lowtown University was pretty much paying Scott Moxley to goof off.
Traffic in and out of the building was pretty constant and unremarkable for a Friday night. Scott was so focused on beating one of the day-shift guys' Minesweeper score that he didn't notice a group approach his reception desk and wait expectantly. Noticing something amiss out of the corner of his eye made him lose concentration and lose the game. Finally looking at them, his first thought was that most of them looked a tad young for college. His second thought was that they must have come to file a complaint due to the general look of grumpiness about them.
Then he zeroed in on the girl with the coppery ringlets of hair. "You again?" He then focused on the other female redhead, an older adult who seemed familiar. "You're the parrot." He informed only himself since the others didn't blink an eye. He continued to unphase them with his brilliant deductions, "that means you must have some other magical thingamajig! You sure you waited long enough to use it... unless you broke the bus out! Marge did call me ranting about an explosion at the office but between her paranoia and the crazy things the others cook up... so everything, it was all a setup?" Then he did something that surprised them. He stood up and declared with enthusiastic, "dude, that's awesome!"
"Glad we could impress," a tall Latino kid in a blue jacket dryly responded.
"Please, keep talking," the sassy redhead he knew was named Janet added, "you were about to say something useful."
"And anything I do say can and will be held against me, right?" Scott countered with a laugh, stepping out from behind the front desk so he could face them directly, "How about you go first? You all came in here to demand something of me, obviously." Scott smugly leaned again a counter.
"Don't play with us!" an old, mustachioed dude barked, "you know full well that your terrorist cell kidnapped Val here! Were you involved with the raid on my shop too? What else have you done! Who else have you attacked?"
"Whoa, dude, chill, alright" Scott threw his hands up defensively, "we aren't all that deep and complicated! That kidnapping has been the only thing we've accomplished, really. Our fearless leader of sorts has been pretty focused on capturing Frizzle and her voodoo technology; and I sware I didn't know she was an elementary school teacher at the time, by the way. But he insisted you couldn't be reasoned with! Now, without your techno-creature, we're back to square one. You know about us now, we are pretty much at your mercy. I know when to play along."
"Actually, with the raid on Mr. Humerus's shop, your team is still a step ahead," a girl with dark skin replied.
"Was this raid a recent thing?"
"This afternoon you eroded exhaust port!" Bellowed the grumpy man with, apparently, an ironic surname.
"Ugh, "Scott whined, "they always leave me behind and out of the loop!"
"You poor baby," Janet sneered acidly, "now tell us about your other partners in crime lest we start compiling evidence against you!"
"How about I make you a deal?" Scott offered, "you let me join your team and I will tell you everything I know."
"Join us?" Laughed a blonde girl in disbelief, "we will never trust you!"
"Eh, neither does my team, I'm used to it."
"I wonder why," Janet added.
"Hey, I'm a very trustworthy guy!" Scott feigned more offence that he actually felt, "my goals were different than the others! No matter what they said, their goals were clearly vindictive, warped by revenge. I, on the other hand, all I ever wanted was to participate in the discovery and adventure!"
"We do need your help," Frizzle, the former parrot, spoke up diplomatically, cutting off a couple more retorts, "innocent people could be in danger. I'm sure anything you could offer will be enough of a good faith gesture."
Scott smiled and stood tall. If his kidnap victim was willing to give him a chance, he wasn't going to pass it up! "The first thing you're going to want to do is head out to their gizmo shop somewhere out past Hillvale. That's where they built the devices we used in the, err, your kidnapping. If they got something new they’ll probably be already working on it through the night. They get excited like that."
"Who are 'they' anyway?" One of the teens interjected, "are these Dave and Jerry? And that blonde woman? Do they even have last names?
"Wow, you guys really do know more than you let on! How did you find me, by the way?" The teens in the front of the group all pointed to the Lowtown University logo on his shirt, the same one he had worn when he and Marge had met Janet in the Wal-Mart parking lot. "Ah." He responded simply then shrugged, "Last names, on the other hand were less freely flaunted, heck I'm convinced Marge's real name isn't Marge... So, are we going to Hillvale?"
"You are not coming with us," Mr. Humorless huffed.
"Look, take me with or don't," Scott replied, "but I'm being serious about somebody heading out there asap. Leave me with a watch guard or something if you distrust me so much, but I don't think my evil-er cohorts are going to wait."
"I'm not sure guys, I should have had the car home an hour or so ago," Janet hesitated, "Besides, I have a lot of work I need to try and make up for due to a ruined meeting."
"I have opening shift tomorrow morning," a brunette chick spoke up shyly, "as much as I want to be there to help, I can't risk my job."
"I think civilians in danger is more important than a job, Phoebe," a brunette guy in a WHS sports jersey contended.
The brunette who responded to the name Phoebe turned in the guy who spoke up. "It's not just a job, Ralphie! It my family! I need this job for them!"
"Doesn't your dad own a business or something?" jersey-sporting-Ralphie continued, treading in dangerous ground in Scott's opinion.
"Well, yes" Phoebe started.
"Then I'm sure you guys will be fine," this Ralphie guy was digging himself deeper.
"You don't understand! Insurance and social services say he makes too much money for his disability and nonsense like that and have left us on our own with Mom's worsening back injury and if she doesn't get surgery she could end up paralyzed!" tears welled up in her eyes, "I can't fail them now! They need me!"
Judging by the reactions of the others, outbursts like that from this girl were very unusual. A couple seconds of stunned silence and Scott was getting worried he'd have to be the one to get everyone back on track.
But then Frizzle placed a hand on the shaking teen's shoulder. "You know, Phoebe, I am in need of a teacher’s assistant or two. I started making a lot of plans in that birdcage, so I promise, no matter what happens today or tomorrow, you and Keesha will have a guaranteed jobs and I probably pay better too, but believe me, I will put you to work."
Phoebe and another girl then gave the teacher a hug. Only then did it occur to Scott that these kids were all probably once her students.
"I feel like some James Horner needs to be playing right now," Scott muttered to Janet who ignored him.
"Okay, that's solved, can we now all go and save the day?" The jersey wearing idiot asked.
"You all have fun with that, but Cuz and I are headed home," Janet declared.
"But Janet-" a boy with matching hair coloring protested.
"But what, Arnold?" Snippy Janet countered, "they did barged in and ruin my meeting today and I was going to start the fundraising this weekend! We still have no committee for recruiting people to actually do these projects!"
"I'm sorry Janet, but I don't think I should." Cousin Arnold really didn't sound convincing.
"It is not impossible for a couple of juniors to make a big difference in their school!" Janet continued, "we can do this! Don't you want to be student class president?"
The cousin's hesitation felt like such a dead weight that Scott couldn't help but say, "whoops!"
"Don't look at me like that, Janet!" The center-of-attention cousin Arnold protested, "I'm in awe of your ambitions, your enthusiasm, and I'm honored to be a part of what we accomplished but you and I both know that I'm no leader--"
"Bull!" Janet scoffed.
"You should be running for class president!" Arnold spat back, "your just afraid of some silly illusion of being friendless!" Arnold got more into his cousin's face, "but you know what? You have plenty of friends and you don't need me, but you know what else? They need me."
Couple of the other teens cheered.
Janet pressed her lips together and studied Arnold condescendingly, "after everything I've done for you you turn on me in my hour of need? I got you your girlfriend--"
"Tiff is not particularly happy with me right now," Arnold laughed humorlessly, "Harry said he'd try and explain things to her, but I didn't go after her; he said girls aren't too happy about that sort of thing." Scott could have sworn that he shot a quick glance at one of the other girls. "Look, Janet, you're not talking me out this and that's final!"
Janet put her hands on her hips, "All I've got to say is: well it's about time!" That seemed to stun the others, "you picked the worst possible time too!"
"Y-You wanted me to abandon you?" Arnold stuttered.
"No, I wanted you to grow a back bone," Janet replied, "and while I'm proud of you, this still leaves me in a pickle."
"We mentioned civilians in danger, didn't we?" Blue-jacket-man spoke up again, "this really isn't the time for any of this! We don't know what kind of clock were fighting against."
"All the more reason for me to sit this one out," Janet replied, "I tend to invite more danger whenever magic is involved. But I need Arnold's help."
An Asian girl in a team uniform stepped between the cousins. "You can't have him this time, Janet and that's final!" This new girl declared, "Respect his choice!"
"Arnold knows the student body better than me," Janet explained, "knows who would help in the different ways needed, volunteer time, talents, coordinate efforts, get some team leaders. Form a committee at the very least!"
"Well, you now have eight," Asian-sports-chick declared
"Eight what?" Janet blinked.
"Committee members who at least know a diverse group of students," continued the Asian girl. "Well, seven incase Tim's not up for it, but I don't see why we can't invite the Standertonians to swim at our new pool especially if they help with the funding. Between Ralphie and I we can convince at least half of the sports teams, probably more..."
"I've got the band kids," the blonde girl spoke up, "and at least the science experiments team."
"Debate club!" Another kid spoke up.
"Art honors society and the drama kids."
"There you have it," miss problem-solver declared, "When this business is finished, we’ll be there for you like you were there for us in our time of need." She held her hands is a kind of offering/peace gesture.
Janet looked so shocked and touched she was starting to show an emotion other than snark, "I guess that means I can move on the administrative stuff, which is boring to do alone, but I will make do."
"Take him with," Mr H. gestured at Scott, "put him to work, keep an eye on him, keep him from warning his buddies, and try getting information from him. He seems in a hurry to leave his post anyway."
"Oh my shift ended a half hour ago," Scott shrugged, "it's Jason's shift." He pointed his thumb behind him to a guy with his nose in a book.
"Can't say I feel comfortable with him going with you Janet" Arnold chimed in.
"I still have my can of mace," Janet reassured, appearing to be calculating Scott, "mom and dad are home too."
"Easy kid, I'm no threat, I promise," Scott raised his hand defensively. "I'll behave and help you with your paperwork and stuff."
"For one thing, I'm not a kid," Janet declared, looking pretty threatening, "you can't be more than two or three years older than me!"
"I call you 'kid' as a self-reminder that I should probably wait a couple years before I ask you out." Scott responded giving her his most charming wink.
That nicely caught her of guard.
"How about we drop him off at your house on the way to Hillvale," Frizzle injected.
Movement from the brunette girl Phoebe distracted Scott. "Oh my gosh they're talking!" She whispered to her friend, gesturing to where Janet's cousin had taken the Asian girl aside to thank her or something.
"I'm going to make it up to you, Wanda, I promise," Arnold was saying in a low voice, though the others had ceased to chatter and we're giving the pair deer-in-headlights full attention.
"It's no big deal Arn!" Sports-Asian-Wanda tried to play it off, "Janet has been a big help!"
"I-I mean for all of it."
"Look, like I said, it's no big deal," she said softly, avoiding eye contact.
Arnold placed his hand on her arm and ducked his head to try and meet her eyes. "Hey, you’re worth it."
He said it casually, but it must have been the perfect thing she needed to hear because she threw her arms around him and kissed his cheek.
Scott wasn't sure what the big deal was, "so I guess I should try and figure out where you guys are going, huh?" He sat back down at the computer.
"You don't know?" Accused the bossy blonde.
"Hey, they never actually told me," Scott replied, "don't know if they ever caught on that I recognized our residence gizmo lady from her TV show..." Scott pulled up the web browsers and started typing.
"TV show?" One of the teens asked cautiously.
"Yeah, you guys are probably too young to remember," Scott continued, "a little Yahoo! searching, especially if you know what you’re looking for, pull up MapQuest, and voila! Geri Poveri's Hillvale experimental robotics laboratory... it's really more of a garage, they took me there blindfolded once."
"GERI POVERI??" The teens all exclaimed in freaky unison.
"Oh, maybe you kids do know of her!" Scott commented