After becoming the target of Silverback’s queen bee, Phil quickly realizes that mastering her heat transfer is her only ticket to survival. She succeeds in overcoming the bullies, but in doing so, she ends up revealing herself to the school.
When the head of the school, Dr. McLaughlin, finds out about Phil’s condition, he forces her to go into testing. He knows of the chemicals’ immense dangers. Anyone can get powers, and many are willing to do anything to get their hands on them. But Phil isn’t keen on becoming a lab rat, and in her struggle against him, she shares the chemicals with her friends.
Phil gets caught in a struggle between Dr. McLaughlin and his former employee, Roman, who tricks her into thinking Dr. McLaughlin intents to profit off her. She's faced with choosing a side. Dr. McLaughlin and his research, or Roman and his dubious agenda. Problem is, the chemicals are a ticking bomb, and time is not in anyone’s favor.
“<i>Scan and transcribe Lorena’s notes.</i>”The words were scratched on a post-it note in Dr. McLaughlin’s handwriting. The letters curly and thick. Philippa twisted the post-it note in her hand, her eyes transfixed on the flimsy, yellow material, but her mind was elsewhere. She had a plan. She had the post-it note, Dr. McLaughlin’s keycard, and a question fueling her wild scheme.
Why was her deceased mom’s name being brought up here at Silverback Academy, two-thousand miles away from home?
Her desk wobbled as someone brushed by it, snapping Phil out of her thoughts. She looked up and saw Renata passing by, who also purposely bumped Maxie on her way to the front. Renata swept her mane of curls from one shoulder to another while turning in her work to the teacher. As if she was telling the whole class, “Look how shiny they are! My natural, coiling, perfect curls.” She strolled back, smug eyes scanning a classroom awash in early light, and Phil turned away.
Renata’s antics couldn’t bother Phil today—she wouldn’t let it. She flipped the post-it note again, reading those words. The note had been a reminder, left on Dr. McLaughlin’s desk as part of his daily to-do list. Phil had snatched it the last she was in his office. She had seen the loop of the L to the O, had craned her neck to read the cursive, and her heart had given a jolt.
She knew it had to be her mom. Her dad was an old friend of Dr. McLaughlin’s. The family friendship was the only reason Phil was stuck at this insane school in the first place. It was too much of a coincidence not to be. But why did Dr. McLaughlin want to transcribe her mom’s notes? What notes?
The growing buzz of conversation shattered the classroom quiet piece by piece. It became the telltale the period was drawing to an end. Whispers stopped being whispers as seniors turned this way and that; chatting; joking; passing notes to friends. Phil watched her classmates talk to each other while a globe of loneliness traveled down her belly. It made her feel in the spotlight. As if she was the one saying, “Look at me! I’m the new kid and I’m the only one without someone to talk to!”
But no one cared for Phil. The few curious gazes were on Renata, who sat on the desk beside Phil’s.
Renata’s attention, in turn, was devoted solely to Maxie, in a scene that unfolded every time they had this class. “I can’t believe you told,” Renata told him, her Ts and Ys harsh with a Spanish accent.
The boy sitting to the other side of Renata, one of her friends, flicked a small crumpled paper at Maxie’s back, earning him sniggers from the spectators.
Phil took a deep breath and peeled her eyes away, back to her desk.
Renata went on, saying, “I don’t know. I can’t decide if you have balls of steel, or… no <i>huevos</i> at all.”
“He wants beef,” the person behind Renata added.
Phil pushed them out of her mind. She didn’t want to listen to Renata, nor think about Maxie. Empathizing with Maxie would only make her want to stop them; would only make her want to break Silverback’s golden rule.
She bent the post-it note and twirled it again, tugging at the depths of her mind for an answer. Her mom had been dead for years. How could—
“So what, is the requirement for the Dumpster Scholarship that you snitch on us?” Renata said, just loud enough the students in the vicinity could hear her, but not so loud as to pull the teacher’s attention to the back of the classroom. “I guess being in the McLaughs’ Ass-Kissing team is the only social alternative for someone that acts like they were raised by Barney,” she added, earning her stifled sniggers from her friends. <i>McLaughs</i> was a running gag within the student body. No one took Dr. McLaughlin seriously. His laissez faire management was probably the reason why everyone was so awful to each other all the time. So when Phil first heard the nickname, she wasn’t too surprised.
“Yeah, sure, join his little team, but I’m sure he likes his underage pets to be of the opposite gender, and you’re probably a little too <i>negrito</i> for his taste,” Renata added, finally, and her friends oohed and made hissing noises and murmured, “<i>burnt.</i>”
Phil went red in the face for Maxie. Her eyes flew to the front, hoping the teacher had caught a word of it, but the buzz of conversation was enough to muddle everything Renata had said. He was talking to someone at his desk, sitting in front of colorful handmade posters that simplified the U.S. Constitution and spoke of civil liberties.
Phil forced herself to stare out the window. She couldn’t pick a fight—the period was almost over. The moment the bell rang she could spring out her desk and find out where those alleged notes were, and why they needed transcribing.Past the glass the world was a lagoon of green and copper leaves. From the third floor, the classroom window hit just the right angle where Phil could see the topiary garden that separated the school building from the dorm buildings. The boys’ and girls’ dorms faced each other, at opposite ends, each fronted by a wide fountain and both surrounded in primped gardens and aesthetically placed trees. Silverback had a beautiful campus. It was everything Phil had expected of the north east, but its charm was lost in the people that terrorized its grounds.
Again, Renata’s words wrenched Phil from her musings, “No guys, chill, I don’t think I can burn him anymore than he already is.”<i>Is she being serious?</i> Phil had to reel back her thoughts. She couldn’t intervene—
“He’s probably here so he could be the resident snitch. Like a little puppet McLaughs can use to get real-time proof that—”“Dude, what’s your problem?” Phil blurted, unable to sit there any long and listen to one more breath of vile. To hell with the consequences.
Renata, the spectators, and even Maxie turned to her, expressions of shock capturing all their faces.
“No, it’s okay, Phil,” Maxie mumbled, waving his hand down as if to appease a kindergartener, “It doesn’t bother me, really.”Renata didn’t falter for long. She straightened up, and with a smile said, “I’m sorry, who are you? I didn’t know a new student came in today.”
Her friends sniggered. Phil was new, but she wasn’t that new. Even if she could take back the slip of her tongue, Renata’s smile was an invitation. <i>Come at me</i>, it said.
To Maxie, Phil said, “It’s not okay, actually. I’m not gonna sit here and pretend anything this racist prick says is okay.” Then, with her heart thrumming so hard she heard it up her ears, she turned to Renata and added, “Just drop it, dude. We get it. He snitched on you. He pissed you off. But—from the shit you say I’d bet you had it coming. Can you just—you know, find better things to do?”
A small piece of paper flew in Phil’s direction, hitting her on the chest. More people sniggered around her—the number of curious gazes growing.
Renata sprang to her feet, eyes lighting up with excitement.
Phil stood up, too.