Robynne was not happy.
The boys on campus weren’t being as oogly as usual. It was odd, she thought as she handed out flyers, that this bothered her. Obviously she didn’t actually want to be stared at like she was some slab of meat, but now that most guys were being polite and trying not to stare… well, now she felt like a jerk for assuming they would.
That wasn’t to say they weren’t looking her up and down. Or trying to flirt with her some. They definitely were. But… no one had been awful about it. As a former guy herself, she knew what it was like. You wouldn’t not look at a cute cheerleader who was talking to you of, ostensibly, her own volition.
Robynne held out a flyer to a pair of girls who walked past her. “Hi. SFEERS is having a tournament tonight for–”
“Ugh.” The girl just held up a disgusted hand and kept walking like Robynne had offered her live fish instead of a flyer. Robynne bit her tongue as she heard the girl say something about, “thinks she’s so hot” to her friend. No… the boys so far had been mostly polite. “Appreciating” how she filled out her outfit to be sure, but no one had been a tool. It was the girls that Robynne was having the bigger issues with.
She had seen flickers of this since becoming Robynne. The other cheerleaders were catty with each other at times, but were especially dismissive of anyone that wasn’t one of them. A lot of the SFEERS girls, other than GalleyGirl who seemed to think every girl in the club was both her friend and naturally going to cosplay with her, had been rather cold towards Robynne and Vivian until they had proved that they were “one of them” and not cheerleader spies or some sugar like that.
Robynne just didn’t get it. She had assumed girls had enough problems to deal with being, well, girls that they wouldn’t snipe at each other like this. Well, she knew from high school, of course, that girls had rivalries. Everyone did. That was human. But guys wouldn’t just snipe at random guys they didn’t know… at least, not in such personal ways. Girl World just made no sense to Robynne.
Scratching at her… what was it that Vivian had called it? A criss-cross ponytail? Yeah, she scratched at it. It still felt “off” to her. However, she had decided she was going to be done with worrying about things she couldn’t change… mostly. Hair was one of them. She was going to embrace the fact that she needed to vary her styles up too and make that something she got used to.
Like she was going to have to get used to the fact that wearing a cheer outfit meant that lots of females, females who probably had been wronged by cheerleaders in high school the same way Robert himself had been, would not like Robynne. She was infiltrating cheer. That was the territory. As Uncle Taylor would say, “If yur waltzin’ through a field in a rainstorm ya can’t complain too much ’bout your shoes gettin’ muddy.” This was life now. She’d just have to accept that.
Coming out of her reverie, Robynne saw two guys walking out of the building. She could clearly see they had chosen the doors dead between Robynne and Stacy. One short and dumpy, the other tall like a scarecrow, the two were basically walking stereotypes of nerdery. Robynne didn’t remember them from any of the SFEERS meetings she’d attended, so, remembering Stacy’s speech earlier, Robynne took a deep breath and approached them. “Hi. SFEERS is having a tournament tonight for Mega Mash Family: Battle. It’s being sponsored by the Warp Zone, so they actually have some prizes to—”
The shorter of the pair had begun to sigh when Robynne started speaking, but the moment she said “Mega Mash Family,” his tune changed. “Wait… an MMF tourney? Really? Battle just barely came out.”
Robynne nodded, happy to see the change in attitude. “Two weeks ago, man. It’s definitely tourney time. Especially with a prize as good as the customized controller the Warp Zone donated.”
The taller of the pair had stubble on his face that Robynne could clearly tell he was cultivating to try and go for a “rugged” look. It wasn’t working. He had a baby-face that made him look like he still belonged in high school. Couldn’t fault him for trying though. “What do you mean, it’s sponsored by the Warp Zone? What’s that?”
“You really know about Mega Mash Family?” the shorter one asked, apparently still not believing that the short, scarlette cheerleader before him spoke his language.
Robynne took a deep breath. This had been the first time all day… okay, well, all first- fifteen-minutes-she-had-actively-tried-to-promote-this-event, that someone had actually engaged her in a meaningful way. She pushed the mild offense bubbling underneath down and focused on the fact that these two didn’t know what SFEERS was and clearly needed it in their lives. “Who doesn’t know about Mega Mash Family? I mean, sure, I got into it a bit later—not until MMF: Escalation—but yeah. I enjoy it. I’m not gonna knock your socks off or anything but I’m fairly decent with B.I.T. and Kyoriru but I started dabbling with Dragoanik. Haven’t really tried too much with the newer characters.”
Both blinked in shock. Baby-stubble cleared his throat. “Yeah, well… I play… Stasys. So uh, you uh, said something called the Warp Zone is sponsoring this?”
Robynne nodded. “Yeah, it’s a local game shop. Only about five minutes south of campus. SaltStorm—that’s the guy who is in charge of this tournament. Not his real name. Obviously.—Anyway, SaltStorm got them to donate this awesome controller as a prize. It’s a custom controller that’s been designed to look like a classic GameBox controller. It’s on the flyer but it’s kind of hard to see.” And with that, Robynne handed them both flyers and their eyes opened wide with excitement.
“Duuuuuude, that’s so retro!”
Robynne grinned, “I know, right?”
The shorter guy fidgeted a bit. “Is there, uh, is there a registration fee?”
“Nope, just come in on time, sign up to play, and get going. It’s going to be, like, huge. Multiple set-ups and everything. SaltStorm has really outdone himself on this one.”
She could see both these guys were in awe this was actually happening. They both seemed the types that should have joined the club already. However, if Stacy’s earlier hypothetical had been right, Robert himself might not have discovered SFEERS until much later. “Out of curiosity, had ya’ll never heard of SFEERS before?”
Baby-Stubble raised an eyebrow. “I’m familiar with the shape but it sounds like that’s not what you’re talking about?”
“It’s an overworked acronym,” Robynne chuckled.”S-F-E-E-R-S. Science-Fiction, Fantasy, and Electronic Entertainment… uh… Research Society… I’m pretty sure.” Yeah, that was it. Research Society. “I honestly never hear anyone say the full name enough to keep it logged in long term memory. Everyone just says SFEERS.”
Shorty squinted at that. “Wow. Did a mad scientist name the club?”
Robynne shrugged. “Given the usual clientele, I wouldn’t be too surprised. Anyway, you two should come tonight and meet everyone. I’m sure you’ll fit right in.”
Baby-Stubble nodded, “And… and you’ll be there too?”
With a sigh, Robynne nodded. She really hated how no one could believe she was a gamer when she was wearing her cheer outfit. “Sure as eggs is eggs.” She blinked. Donut it, Vivian! Now she had her saying it. Now she had to rescue this conversation from Vivian’s dumb saying. “If you see that Waveform is fighting, that’s me. That’s my gamer handle.”
Shorty looked over to where Stacy was giggling, chatting up a group of no less than four guys and handing them all fliers. She really was a natural at this. Shorty gestured at her with a thumb incredulously, “Is she coming too? Like, uh, do all you cheerleaders…”
Robynne laughed. “I mean… she might come. Stacy is cool like that. But I don’t think she’ll play. I am a little bit of an oddball in that regard.”
Shorty gave a sigh of relief, “Okay, then the world isn’t completely crazy. I was worried that cheerleaders had secretly been big MMF fans all along.”
Robynne shrugged. “I mean, I think most people would be MMF fans if they just tried it, so that could be true and they just don’t know it yet.”
Baby-Stubble smiled. “Yeah. Yeah, maybe.” He had a look in his eye. Robynne didn’t like it. “I guess I’ll look forward to seeing you there then.” Something about it felt like… like Dale. “You have a real name?” Oh sugar, the guy was probably forming a crush on her or something. She didn’t quite know how she could tell but… she just kind of could. He had been willing to just avoid her before, but now that he knew he shared at least one interest with her, he was going to take a chance. It would have pissed her off more if it wasn’t kind of the exact same thing that had gotten herself… er… himself to pursue Brooke back in high school.
Donut! Last thing she needed was another one… well, okay, really there was only Dale that was full blown crushing on her, at least to her knowledge. But that was one too many. It was one thing for guys to objectify her as they walked by… well, she didn’t like that either, but it was casual and something guys would just naturally do to a beautiful girl they had no connection to. It wasn’t serious in her mind. Temporary pain. Like the sun beating down on you on a summer day. But guys crushing on her? That was like being unable to turn down the thermostat inside a room that was supposed to be comfortable. She really needed lessons from Kara on how to let guys down or something… then again, that meant taking Kara’s Girl Lessons more seriously.
“Oh, uh, well, you can just call me Waveform. Everyone in SFEERS goes by their handles. You might as well get used to it.” She glanced around and saw Stacy coming over. Thank gummi! “Well, maybe I’ll run into both of you tonight.”
Shorty nodded enthusiastically. Clearly he was more interested in the tournament. “Oh you bet! This is going to be great!”
Baby-Stubble grinned a dopey grin, clearly not picking up the hints Robynne had tried to lay down. “Sure thing. Look forward to seeing you there, Waveform.”
Robynne groaned as they got out of earshot. “Well aren’t you just a flirt,” Stacy tittered. “How do you, like, get anything done at these SFEERS events with all those boys’ broken hearts getting in your way?”
Robynne shook her head. “I was… I was just nice to him! Ugh, this isn’t a problem online!”
Stacy put a finger up to her chin. “Weren’t you complaining to me a week ago that, like, as soon as you talk online you get, like, inundated with teenagers telling you to make them sandwiches or something?”
Robynne gave a sigh but smirked as well. “You need to stop remembering that I told you that story. It only happened twice. Middle schoolers aren’t very creative.”
Stacy put her hands on her hips and loomed over Robynne smugly. Another reminder of how short she was. “Don’t tell me anything you, like, want me to forget. My grandmother always said I have a mind like a steel trap!”
“More to the point. Yeah, stuff like that does happen on occasion. But it doesn’t bother me that much. I mean, not like this.”
“And the guy who asked you to moan in chat?”
“Pretty rare,” Robynne lied… well, not quite lied. It was rare to run into someone who was such a phenomenal angelcake-hat… just not as rare as it should have been. The sandwich line was one she had heard now five times. Requests to moan up to three. Even more awkward was the insane increase in friend requests. She was definitely coming to understand why a lot of the girls in SFEERS were shocked she talked in public chat rooms.
But even with all that, it was a small percentage of guys doing this. By her estimation, it couldn’t have been more than two percent of guys doing making complete sexist angelcakeholes of themselves. But in battlegrounds, where there were sixteen players to a side… well, two percent really could add up fast. However, even with all that adding up fast, that wasn’t the worst part. “No, it doesn’t really bother me when they say crap like that. I can totes handle that.” She cringed at the word “totes.” Living and being around cheerleaders really was getting to her. “It’s actually kind of fun because those gremlins are so uncreative I can actually respond with pretty good retorts. It’s fun to emasculate them in front of everyone. No, it’s worse when it’s, well… like that guy.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, when you can just tell he’s… suddenly interested. He’s not being rude or anything. In fact, he was rather polite. And not even in a ‘I’m a nice guy’ kind of way. Just genuine and… you’re genuinely not interested. I just don’t really know what to do with all that.”
Stacy nodded and didn’t say anything. She just… listened. She was so good at that. It was weird. Robynne considered her a chatterbox and, if given the chance, Stacy could go on and on about a subject and Robynne could just eat her lunch in peace… but when Robynne spoke, Stacy didn’t fake anything. The brunette girl would really just consider everything you said. It was really kind of nice. “Well, yeah. That’s rough… then again, like, as always I’m shocked you aren’t used to it.”
Stacy nodded. “I know. I know. You weren’t exactly popular in high school but, come on, at the minimum I would have thought you were, like, queen of the nerds or something. Or… is that derogatory? Sorry if that’s derogatory.”
“It’s… it could be derogatory? I don’t know. It’s murky with nerds. I don’t see it as insulting but others do. I’d say ‘geek’ is more derogatory than ‘nerd.’ To me nerd just means, well, that you’re into the types of things people in SFEERS are into. But I guess it might sound bad coming from a non-nerd so maybe just… queen of the outcasts maybe?”
Stacy shook her head. “No way. Outcast has to be, like, way more insulting.”
“I mean… relative to my high school situation. I said I wasn’t very popular. Seems to me like outcast works in that context.”
Stacy nodded. “I guess… my point still is right though. I would still totally think you were, like, queen of the outcasts.”
Robynne shrugged. “Small towns are just different I guess.” This was bad. Stacy was such a good listener that Robynne was running out of excuses for some of her gaps in her story. Stacy, sincere and extroverted Stacy, was breaking down too many of Robynne’s walls. Noriko would suggest she become more aloof, but with the plan to infiltrate Cammy’s Cheer Cabal more fully in Robynne’s focus, she knew that couldn’t work. She needed to work on filling in these gaps with the girls. Maybe Angela or Mal would have some ideas? Angela especially understood how Cammy worked. They needed to come up with something that the Queen Bee of SAU would buy.
“Thanks for trying to come to my rescue though,” Robynne added. “If they hadn’t left I wasn’t sure how I wasn’t sure how I was going to get rid of them.”
Stacy giggled. “Oh, I wasn’t coming to rescue you. You looked like you had them well in hand.”
“What? Then why did you come over.”
“I’m out of fliers. You have the spares in your satchel.”
“Wh… you’re out already? How?” Robynne started to squat down to reach into her satchel, but then remembered her most recent lessons from Kara and Vivian. Guys squatted down like they were about to take a dump. They were always wearing pants and didn’t have to worry about flashing everyone. Girls knelt down carefully and gracefully. Robynne assumed Vivian had added that part just to annoy her… which made sense because Vivian never saw a calm pond that she didn’t want to skip rocks over.
“Well, some of us aren’t busy flirting with nerdy boys and actually promoting. You might hand out more fliers if you would, like, make it a point to be less enchanting. Perhaps you should give them one of those withering glares you give Vivs when she goes over the line. I’ll bet that will stop their advances.”
Robynne sighed and gave Stacy a pleading look. Stacy shook her head, “No, not that stare. This one is more, ‘C’mon you gotta work with me here.’ You need the one that says, ‘You annoy me and I will boil your liver or something.'”
“Why would I boil someone’s liver? I’m antisocial, not a cannibal,” Robynne chuckled as she handed Stacy another stack of fifty or so fliers. “Also, ‘boil your liver or something‘? You’re making me sound like an indecisive cannibal to boot!”
Stacy shrugged, “Sometimes a girl has to boil a liver or two to, like, make sure boys take the hint?” With a giggle Stacy thumbed through the stack. “Give me a few more. I don’t want to be out again in fifteen minutes.”
“I had to give you, like, fifty of them Stace. Can you even hold more than that?”
“I’ll be fine. Flier me!” Robynne rolled her eyes and handed over another twenty-five. “Joking aside though, I’m handing out more because I’m, like, wandering out more to chase down groups that aren’t coming through the main entrance. Like, even social people can be having a bad day. What better way to cheer them up then telling them about an awesome event that’s going on tonight with, like, cute girls like you and me who are going to be there.”
Stacy flashed a conspiratorial grin at that last line but the line about cute girls wasn’t what she was focusing on. “Wait, you’re planning on attending the tournament?”
“Yeah,” Stacy said with a flourish. “The social you took me to last month was totes interesting. And, like, I’ve never seen a video game tournament before. It sounds like an event I want to try out at least once or something.”
Robynne couldn’t help herself from smiling. “Stacy… do you have a bad attitude about anything?”
“Of course I do!” She leaned in conspiratorially. “I absolutely despise mushrooms.” With that she giggled and skipped back to her spot to accost another gaggle of people with the event fliers.
Robynne shook her head in amazement. It really was a shame this whole magical girl business had taken over her life. Had she remained Robert, a girl like Stacy would have been perfect… no, it was a mistake to dwell on what could have been. It never put her in a good mood. However, it did seem the cruel twist of Fate herself to take someone who was into cheerleaders and turn them into one twice over.
Regardless, Stacy was right about handing these fliers out. And, from a more cynical point of view, the sooner she got rid of them, the sooner she’d be done. She looked out to look for a larger group to hand multiple fliers out to, when a tall, snowcapped dude-bro with a too-tight shirt walked right up to her. She didn’t like that her eyes were right at his chest level and that the look kind of did something for her on a… biological level. Why did Fate have to curse her with a body that liked buff guys?
“Well aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” Dude-bro leered and stepped one step too close for Robynne’s liking. “You promoting some party tonight?”
Robynne took a step back but handed him a flyer. “No. A tournament. For a video game called Mega Mash Family: Battle. You heard of it?”
He gave the flyer a skeptical look and pushed a quick laugh out of his nose in a way that made Robynne just hate him deep within her core. “No. No I haven’t. So, you coming to the party at the Delta Beta House tonight? I would love—”
“No.” Robynne said, trying to keep her voice as flat as possible. “I’m goin’ to this tournament.”
“Ah, a real shame Cammy is making you go to that.” Oh great. Now he was name-dropping Cammy. Like he wanted to show how connected he is. ” I know a few cheerleaders are coming to—”
“Cammy couldn’t make me do anything if she wanted to.” Obviously that was a lie—after all, Robynne was promoting right now—but he didn’t know that. “I’m going to this tournament because it’s going to be a lot more fun than…”
Robynne trailed off as something tickled her extra sense. It was a textured aura. She had only felt those from Cammy, Dale, and Fretribution. But this didn’t feel like those. This had the texture of a metal cord or string wrapped tightly around something. Like a telephone wire that had lost it’s slack? No, a tightrope but metal. The tension of the aura was palpable. It made her feel more alert. But she couldn’t quite place it yet. It was nearby and—
“Excuse me. Did you say a gaming tournament?”
Robynne recognized that voice. It sounded deeper in person than over the microphone but that was… NightKnight? She spun around and was shocked. She remembered his hair—from the one time she met him in person—was red, a natural red, unlike her scarlette. But the guy she was looking at was an auburn brown… and actually properly combed this time. He seemed taller. She thought he had that usual scarecrow look a lot of guys in SFEERS had, but he seemed less… skeletal than he had that night. More muscular. Not a bodybuilder but… well his clothes no longer looked like they were too big for him. His face no longer had a slight sunken-in feel to it. And his eyes didn’t have the bags under them they had before.
He… didn’t look half bad. But this didn’t make sense. How could he have this aura? He hadn’t last time they spoke. At least not that she could feel. Could she have been distracted by Fretribution’s aura? No… that couldn’t be it. This aura was too rich, too… urgent to ignore. She would have sensed it. What was going on?