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Once and For All

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Once and For All - Title Card by RecklesslyMindful

Aboard the Grim Wreaker, The Hacker - the most dastardly borg in all of Cyberspace - sat in his recharging chair as a frustrated, exhausted silence hung thick in the air. He had been defeated once again by those Earth brats and that stupid cyber turkey, the source of his constant heartache. They always wrecked his brilliant schemes, always managed to outsmart him, or at least defeat him by some dumb luck. He never seemed to catch a break.

This had been going on for years now, and he was truly beginning to get sick of it. He could feel it. He was reaching his breaking point. A cyborg could only put up with this for so long. He had done his best to remain patient and be persistent, always keeping in mind his ultimate end goal of ruling all of Cyberspace. If those incessant children didn’t always step in his path, he could have taken over long ago. He could have permanently destroyed Motherboard and disposed of Dr. Marbles several times over. Yet here he was, right back where he always ended up - aboard his old, worn-out spaceship, trying to concoct a new plan to attempt to outwit his goody-goody adversaries, despite the high likelihood that his efforts were futile.

Could it be that I’ve been going about this problem all wrong this entire time? , he wondered to himself, leaning back in his chair and gazing at the large screen in front of him. How I would love to have those little pests off my back for good . He smiled and stroked his large chin, relishing the idea. Yes, that would be absolutely splendid… but how would I go about it? How could I accomplish it? What could be done so that they could finally be out of my way?

Hacker stood up from his seat and began moving absentmindedly around the cockpit of his ship, thoughts beginning to flow through his head as he deliberated the budding idea. They always arrive here by way of portals… Perhaps I could seal them off so that they would be stuck in their own world… No, no, no, that would be too complicated, and I’d likely have to have Buzz and Delete break into Control Central to mess with Motherboard’s circuits, and by no means do I trust them with such an important task, those blundering fools…

He then stopped dead in his tracks, a new, better idea taking shape in his head. Oh yes… Yes, that just might work , he thought with wicked delight, a sinister grin spreading across his green face. If I can accomplish this, I just might be able to dispose of those Earth brats once and for all… But before I can do anything else… I need to find myself some portal dust…

***

“Ah… Home sweet home,” the oldest member of the Cybersquad said with a sigh of relief as he stepped out of the portal and into his bedroom. He gazed out his window and across the property of his family’s farm as he stretched, letting out a yawn and scratching his head full of bright red hair. Judging by the moon hanging high up in the dark blue sky, he could tell it was quite late. “I should take a quick shower and jump into bed,” he remarked to himself. “Don’t want to oversleep and get to school late tomorrow…” He then went off to do just that, hopping in and out of the shower in a flash and hopping into bed, glad to be safe and sound at home. As much as he loved Cyberspace, coming back home never got old.

Matt had been returning to Cyberspace for over half a decade now with Jackie and Inez. The day they had first become acquainted, been called upon by Motherboard, and introduced to Cyberspace for their first mission was still as clear as day in his mind. How could one ever forget the day they had met their best friends? Matt could hardly comprehend the idea.

Sure, it had its downsides. Fighting Hacker certainly grew tiresome at times. Even after all this time, he had never given up on his conquest to take over Motherboard's domain and defeat them. Matt had to give him credit for that, at least - he was persistent, and wasn’t one to throw in the towel. But then again, neither were they. And that was not about to change by any means. In fact, now, at the ripe old age of 17, he felt even more strongly about that than ever. They had defeated Hacker so many times now. Perhaps they were wearing him down, chipping away at the cyborg’s resolve. Maybe, just maybe, they would even ultimately defeat him one day, and completely discount him as any sort of threat to Cyberspace.

It would certainly be nice. If it happened, Matt could then focus more of his attention on his normal life. College would soon be around the corner for him, and he would need to begin making some big life decisions.

Thankfully he had few worries about high school, at least. After all, he and his friends all received impressive marks in math.

***

Matt slept quite well that night, and he made his way to school feeling refreshed and ready to learn. Meanwhile, however, in town there was a girl who had not slept so well, and that girl was Becky Botsford, a.k.a. WordGirl.

The young crime fighter had been up half the night, battling a handful of her own adversaries who hadn’t had the decency to let her have her time to recharge. Now, in the morning, she stumbled into the kitchen, doing her best to force her eyes open as she poured herself a bowl of cereal.

Her monkey sidekick Bob, a.k.a. Captain Huggyface, noticed this, and let out a squeak of curiosity.

“Huh? Wha?... Oh, sorry, Bob… I just didn’t sleep too well last night,” Becky answered tiredly. She had been halfway through pouring milk, when she realized her aim was off and she was pouring it into the sink, which she quickly corrected.

Bob squeaked once more, clearly concerned for his friend.

“Oh I’m fine, Bob. Don’t worry,” Becky assured, placing the milk back in the fridge and sitting down. “It was just a few bad guys causing trouble. Nothing I couldn’t handle.” Bob squeaked yet again, to which Becky replied, “It’s okay, Bob, really. I didn’t want to wake you up. It was nothing so important I couldn’t handle it myself. I just hope I’ll be able to keep my eyes open today is all…”

Things had been like this for a long time now for the young heroine. She had been fighting these villains for several years now. It amazed her how persistent so many of them had remained over the years. Here she was, now a 16 year-old girl, much older than she had been when she first became a crime fighter, and most of the people she fought now had been enemies since the beginning. Over time, she thought less and less about it, and her fights became increasingly automatic for her. She felt as if she was on autopilot half the time, and as if she was simply trying to stay awake the other half. But her city and its citizens needed her, and she wasn’t going to let something as silly as exhaustion stop her from doing her duty.

After finishing her breakfast, Becky got her stuff together and made the commute to school. She had to snuggle up in her jacket while she was outside, as there was a brisk autumn chill in the air. Summer was definitely on its way out, it seemed.

Finally, she made it into the school building. She stopped at her locker and chatted with her best friend Violet for a little bit before finally settling down into her desk in her first class of the day, algebra. It was taught by someone named Mr. Ratburn. Becky knew very little about him, other than that he was a generally friendly soul aside from being a bit on the strict side. She had also heard that he used to be an elementary school teacher at one point. It was a frustrating class for Becky, as math wasn’t her strong suit, but Mr. Ratburn helped her along so that she wouldn’t fall so far behind. She just wished it wasn’t such a struggle for her, and that she could breeze through it like she could with English. Oh well , she sometimes thought. I guess you can’t have everything .

The girl was in the middle of working on her assignment for the day when a sudden yell rang out from outside. “HEEEEEELP!!” The source of the yelling was a man, who approached the classroom window. “The Butcher is robbing the bank!!... Wait… Is this the police station?”

“No, I’m afraid not,” Mr. Ratburn replied calmly, making his way to the window. “This is the high school. The police station is only four blocks that way,” he advised, pointing north.

“Oh! Thanks,” the man replied calmly, before breaking into a run once more. “HEEEEEELP!!” he yelled once more, growing quieter as he ran off.

Becky grunted in frustration from her seat. “Not this again… God, I can’t catch a break,” she muttered under her breath before raising her hand and asking, “Um, Mr. Ratburn, may I go to the restroom?”

“Yes you may, Becky,” Mr. Ratburn replied. “Do hurry back though.”

“Got it,” Becky replied, dashing into the hallway and into the empty bathroom. “Word up!” she cried once she was alone, transforming into WordGirl and flying like a bullet out of the building and towards downtown.

***

Meanwhile, back in the classroom, another girl was busy working on her own assignment. Fern Walters had always been a rather quiet girl. Sure, she wasn’t necessarily a complete recluse, as she had a few friends, but she was a bit unsociable compared to many of her peers.

She had never been all that popular with anyone. People knew of her and felt she was nice enough, but that was about it. She didn’t particularly enjoy hanging out with many people in her school, instead choosing to keep to herself and write her stories and poetry.

Except, even she herself had to admit that she had become more withdrawn since her grade school days. She recalled the times she and her friend George would play on the school playground as detectives. Those were good times. For whatever reason, she found it difficult now to feel as happy as she did back then. She wasn’t entirely sure of why. If anything, she supposed it was likely because she had become increasingly aware of the fact that so few people seemed to actually like her and wish to be her friend, so she didn’t feel the need to be as outspoken anymore. Hardly anyone cared what she had to say anyway, so why should it matter? It wasn’t that bad. She had George and Sue Ellen, and she talked to Muffy once in awhile, and wasn’t that good enough?

Maybe so, but Fern couldn’t deny that she definitely carried a general unhappy feeling inside of her wherever she went, even if she couldn't pinpoint one main reason for why this was. But since she couldn’t do this, she felt she couldn’t actually justify complaining about anything. So she simply went through the motions of each day, doing her schoolwork as any good student would, and spending most of the rest of her time sealed in her room at home. Sometimes she wished she was more sociable. George and Sue Ellen worried about her sometimes, and they told her so. But she saw no point in trying - After all, no one seemed to take any interest in her, so the point was moot, at least in her mind.

Fern glanced up from her paper and looked out the window, only to be greeted with the sight of a red streak flying through the sky. No doubt it was WordGirl going to save the day downtown. She chuckled a bit, remembering the day she had first shown up and explained who she was and why she was here in Elwood City. Buster Baxter still had never stopped bragging about how he was right about aliens existing all along, even if this particular alien wasn’t what he had expected. Fern had to admit, she wouldn’t have guessed the first alien to visit their planet would become their town’s number-one crime fighter and hero. She was a great role model. And in all honesty, she was a rather big fan of the red-and-yellow-clad girl herself.

See? , she thought to herself, returning her gaze back to her schoolwork, which she quickly finished up before pulling out her writing notebook. There’s one more reason to feel good. WordGirl is protecting our city and keeping us safe. With her around, there’s no need to worry. Everything will be just fine.

***

Becky soon returned to her class. The Butcher had quickly been taken care of, and she went back about her business as if she’d been in the bathroom the entire time. Maybe now she could finally get some work done.

Thankfully she managed to do so, and had her assignment close to finished by the end of class, with a little help from Mr. Ratburn. She stood up eagerly when the bell rang, thankful to be done with math for the day. She managed to knock her pencils off the desk when she did this though, and she huffed and rolled her eyes at her own negligence before bending down to pick them up. She gathered her things together and into her backpack before slinging it over her shoulders. It appeared as if she was the last one left in the classroom - or so she thought before glancing to the back of the room and seeing one other student remaining seated in the corner, seemingly engrossed in something she was writing down.

Becky tilted her head a bit as she looked at the quiet dog girl. She had seen her before, but had never paid her much mind. She couldn’t quite remember her name. Faith? Fiona? Something with an F, she thought. Not wanting the girl to miss her next class, Becky stepped over to her and lightly tapped her shoulder. ”Hey, um, class is over,” she pointed out.

The girl looked up at Becky, slightly startled at first before glancing at the clock and having her cheeks flush red as a result. “Oh! Wow, this is embarrassing. I can’t believe I missed the bell,” she said indignantly, standing up and hastily getting her supplies together.

“It’s alright, I’ve missed it myself in the past,” Becky said reassuringly, helping the other girl get her things together, picking up the notebook she had been writing in. “You must have been really absorbed in whatever you were writing.”

“Um, y-yeah, kind of…” the girl replied with a nervous nod, hastily grabbing the journal from Becky’s hand and stuffing it in her backpack. “I write poetry and stories, but I don’t really like when people read them...”

“You do??” Becky asked, a smile breaking across her face. “That’s pretty cool! I like that too! But I’m not very good. I’m not good with anything artistic. You’re probably better than me.”

The girl let out a small chuckle, returning Becky’s smile. “Well thank you... My name is Fern. You’re Becky, right?”

Becky raised her eyebrows, surprised Fern knew her name. “Yeah! How did you know?”

“I’m in journalism class, and this kid named Scoops mentions you sometimes. And I’ve heard Mr. Ratburn call your name for attendance, so I put the pieces together.”

“Oh,” Becky replied, glancing down and blushing. She shouldn’t have been surprised Scoops had mentioned her to people. He was one of her best friends, after all, second only to Violet. And he knew of her secret identity and that she was WordGirl. And on top of everything else, she still harbored remnants of a crush on him. She had mostly gotten over it though, as he and Violet had eventually started dating, and she didn’t want to get in the middle of their relationship. She would have been lying, however, if she’d said she didn’t have lingering feelings for him, at least a little. “Well he IS a good friend of mine… So you’re in journalism, too? Sounds like you do a lot of writing.”

“Reading too,” Fern added, picking up her fully packed backpack and momentarily pulling out the book she had brought with her that day. “I love Persimmony Glitchet’s books. They’re some of my favorites.”

Becky’s smile grew even wider. “I love reading too! English is my favorite class… Say, if you’re not doing anything after school, you wanna come over to my house? I can show you my book collection! I have to study math too, but I don’t have much of that.”

Fern stood deep in thought for a moment, considering Becky’s offer, before finally meeting her eyes again as they began walking out of the classroom. “S-sure! I’d like that.”

“Cool! I’ll meet you at the front doors at the end of the day,” Becky agreed excitedly, giving Fern a wave as she stepped quickly down the hall towards her next class. “See you then!”

“Y-yeah, okay! See you!” Fern called back, remaining rooted in place for a moment in disbelief before coming to her senses and heading towards her own class. Had she really just made a new friend?

***

As the next period drew closer, a new batch of students shuffled into Mr. Ratburn’s class, one of which being Matt, taking his seat near the front of the room. Not long after, his friend and fellow Cybersquad member Inez came stepping into the room. Matt smiled upon seeing her and waved. “Heya, Nezzie!” he greeted teasingly with a coy smile.

“For the billionth time, quit calling me Nezzie,” Inez scolded, though her smile quickly returned as she sat down at her own desk next to him.

“I’m so glad we share the same class,” Matt remarked, pulling out his textbook and homework. “Just too bad that Jacks doesn’t.”

“Yeah, I know, it would be nice,” Inez agreed, opening her own textbook to today’s lesson. “But I have physical education with her later, so it’s not so bad.”

“True, but math is, like, our THING, you know?...” Suddenly Matt found himself breaking into a chuckle upon digesting Inez’s statement. “Geez, Inez, you’re the only person I know who actually says ‘physical education’ instead of ‘PE’ or ‘gym.’”

“Oh hush,” Inez chided once more, turning her head to the whiteboard and away from Matt, but not ditching her smile either.

Matt finished his fit of giggles and turned his own attention to the board as well. He loved teasing the youngest member of the cyber squad. It probably had much to do with the fact that he’d had a crush on her for the longest time. He had always felt funny around her, even if just a little bit, as if one or two butterflies were always floating around in his stomach when she was with him, sometimes more. And one day when they were older, he finally realized it. Though to this day he still hadn’t found the courage to tell her how he felt. Jackie, Digit, and even Motherboard saw right through him, and had encouraged him to tell her a number of times now, but he had never managed to get up the nerve to go through with it. He knew he had to one of these days though. He couldn’t wait forever. If he did, surely someone else would come along and scoop her up.

That day wasn’t today though, apparently. Math class went by for him in a blur, and soon the two of them walked out the door and went their separate ways. Matt knew it would happen eventually though. He figured he didn’t need to worry too much, and that he would know the right time to tell her when it came along. He had all the time in the world to mentally prepare himself. He’d waited this long already. A little while longer would hardly hurt anything.

Chapter Text

Fern didn’t know what to think as the final bell rang at the end of the day, and she began making her way towards the front door. She hadn’t made any new friends in a long time, but here she was, going to hang out with someone she had only just become acquainted with. Part of her was quite nervous. She didn’t want to accidentally goof up and say something stupid or offensive and possibly drive away her first new friend in years. She knew it was kind of pathetic, being 14 and fresh out of middle school with only two notable friends under her belt. But maybe that would change now.

She adjusted her trademark hair bow as she neared the front entrance to the building and, sure enough, there stood Becky with a bright smile on her face. Fern had quickly been able to tell she was a cheerful soul. She supposed she could use someone like that around her.

“Hey!” Becky greeted, waving to make sure she got Fern’s attention. “You ready to go?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Fern replied, flashing a small smile. She couldn’t help it. Becky’s perkiness was rather infectious. “Where’s your house?”

“Over that way,” Becky replied, pointing down the street as the bus pulled up. She stepped towards it and waved Fern forward as she added, “but we can ride the bus. I would drive to school if I could, but I'm just starting on my learner's permit. Hey, you don't have a car here, do you?”

Fern shook her head and followed her onto the bus. “No, I can’t drive yet. I’m only 14.”

“Oh, okay - I’m 16,” Becky replied, sitting down in one of the seats, leaving room for Fern. She supposed if she squinted really hard, she could agree Fern looked slightly younger than her. “You must have just started high school this year.”

“Yeah, it’s been kinda hard,” Fern said, taking her own seat. “Algebra has been such a struggle for me.”

Becky giggled. “Me too.”

“Hey, if you’re older than me, why are we in the same math class?” Fern asked curiously.

Becky was silent for a moment before replying self-consciously, “I put it off. I struggle with math so much that I just didn’t want to do it. But I guess I had to get it over with eventually.”

“I get it, I feel similarly,” Fern replied understandingly as the bus began to pull forward. “I just wanted to get it out of the way and over with. I’m more of a right-brained person anyway.”

“Well, I’m not good with math, but I’m probably still more left-brained,” Becky countered. “I may be good with words and knowing what they mean and how to use them, but I’m not good at being artistic with them… Hey, speaking of which, can I take a look at your notebook now?”

Fern blushed and stuttered, “Oh, um, n-not right now. When we get to your house though, I guess…”

“Sure,” Becky replied with a knowing nod. She understood why Fern would be a bit self-conscious about sharing her writings with people. Although, there was likely more to it than that. What would be the point of writing stories or poetry if no one else ever got to read them?

But then again, Becky could completely understand wanting to keep secrets. She knew what that felt like all too well.

***

The Hacker lifted his welding helmet and turned off his blowtorch, chuckling to himself. This new statue was coming along quite nicely. Making these had never gotten old. It had already been far too long since he’d last erected himself in metal or stone.

A shout suddenly rang out from behind him, startling him a bit. He was glad he had turned off his blowtorch already. “Hey boss!” cried the shrill voice of the taller of his two lackeys, Delete. “Whatcha working on?”

“Rrgh!” Hacker grunted in frustration. “Not now, you dunce bucket! Can’t you see that I’m busy?”

“Oh - Sorry, boss,” Delete apologized sheepishly. “I just heard noise in here and I was curious.”

“Hmph. Well if you MUST know, Delete, I’m working on a brilliant new scheme I have planned. If it succeeds, I’ll finally be rid of those meddling Earth brats once and for all!” he exclaimed triumphantly while standing up straight and facing his henchman.

“Really, boss? What’re you gonna do?” Delete asked with heightened interest.

“Now now, no need to spoil the surprise,” Hacker hushed, turning back around and adjusting a couple things on the statue. “But let’s just say for now that once this little beauty is up and running, we’ll be able to… shall we say… enlarge our search range. Those little pests won’t be able to run and hide, and I’ll finally be able to do away with them!” He turned his head and motioned to the door. “Now leave me alone! I have a lot of work to do and I can’t be disturbed!”

“Alright boss, whatever you say,” Delete relented, leaving and shutting the door behind him. He could tell by the look in his boss’s eyes that he was already feeling very passionate about his new idea. The robot may not have known what exactly Hacker had in store for those Earth kids, but he knew whatever it was, it wouldn’t be good for them.

***

“Here we are!” Becky declared as she and Fern reached the front walk of her house.

“You’re sure your parents won’t mind me being here?” Fern asked, not wanting to impose on anyone.

“Oh, they’ll be fine,” Becky promised, reaching the front door and pulling out her key to unlock it. “My friend Violet comes over a lot, so I’m certain they’ll be fine with you.”

“Alright, if you’re sure,” Fern said with a shrug. Becky unlocked the door and led her new friend into the house. Fern could see it was a pretty average home, not much different from her own. But it was clearly taken care of and tidy.

“Hmm… Looks like no one’s home,” Becky pondered, glancing around into the living room and kitchen. “It’s just as well. If my parents were here, they’d probably barrage you with a ton of questions. Come on, my room is this way, upstairs.”

The two girls made their way upstairs and settled down into Becky’s bedroom. Fern took notice of the different trinkets lined up on Becky’s desk and bookcase, as well as the decor. This girl was certainly no tomboy, it seemed. She let a small giggle escape her lips as she said, “I guess you’re a fan of Pretty Princess, huh?”

Becky blushed as she sat down on the edge of her bed. “Oh! Uh, well, yeah, I am. I’ve liked it for a long time. I’ve even dressed up as her for Halloween before. I know it’s silly and kind of babyish…”

“No no, it’s okay,” Fern replied hastily, shaking her head. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not a huge fan of it myself, but I never had a problem with it. So what if it’s meant for younger kids? If you enjoy it, that’s all that matters.”

Becky smiled gratefully. She was glad when people didn’t judge her for her love of her favorite show. It was just one of many reasons why she was friends with Violet. “Thanks, I appreciate it. What’s your favorite show?”

Midafternoon Mystery Theater,” Fern replied. “I’ve liked it since I was a kid. But you wanted to show me your books, right?”

“Oh yeah! They’re right over there,” Becky said, pointing towards her bookshelf, packed to the brim with reading material. “Take a look and see whatever jumps out at you.”

Fern obliged, setting her backpack aside and kneeling down in front of the bookshelf, beginning to skim the titles on the spines of each book. She was impressed at Becky’s collection. She definitely had a wide variety of books. The main showpiece appeared to be a thick, hefty dictionary. She certainly did like her words, it seemed, as she’d said earlier.

As Fern looked over the contents of the shelves, her smile grew increasingly wide. “Sherlock Holmes? Frankenstein? Agatha Christie novels? You have so many of my favorites!” she exclaimed excitedly. “So many kids our age don’t. I would have thought I was the only one.”

Becky shrugged. “What can I say? I like a lot of stuff from a lot of different eras. Sounds to me like you really like mysteries, given the ones you mentioned and your favorite show.”

“I do, a lot,” Fern confirmed. “If I can’t be a writer or a poet, I’d want to be a detective.”

“So you’d rather solve crime than fight it, I’m guessing?”

“Without a doubt. I could never be a police officer or, god forbid, be a superhero like WordGirl. I couldn’t fight a bug, let alone a criminal.”

Becky half-frowned. She never liked hearing people say they could never be like her, or at least her persona that wasn’t her secret identity. “Well, you may not have superpowers like WordGirl does, but you don’t have to have them to be a hero, you know. Having powers just makes some things easier… or um, I would guess that they do. I wouldn’t know. It’s not like I’m an alien superhero like WordGirl or anything, hehehe…” she corrected hastily, trying to cover up her minor slip of the tongue. She could never seem to quit doing that, no matter how hard she tried. “And anyway, solving crimes really is a way of fighting them, when you think about it. You just don’t have to throw any punches is all.”

Fern smiled at Becky’s explanation. She had never quite thought of it that way. “I guess that’s true… Still though, I’d rather be a writer.”

“So hey, can I please see your notebook now?” Becky asked eagerly once more.

“Yeah okay, just a second,” Fern replied with a nod, reaching into her backpack and grabbing it. She only hesitated a moment or two before handing it over to Becky.

“Thanks! I promise not to make fun of it or anything,” Becky promised, opening it up to a recent page. As she read, her face melted into a touched smile. What Fern had written was absolutely magnificent. She had never read anything from anyone in her class and ever gotten this emotional from it before.

Fern, meanwhile, waited anxiously for Becky to speak up again. She could barely believe how nervous she had become when people read her work. She hadn't always been this way, had she?

Eventually Becky finally looked back up and met Fern’s gaze, sniffling a little and wiping a stray tear that had escaped her eye. “Wow, Fern… This poem is so beautiful. You’re so talented… I WISH I could write like you do.”

Fern blushed, not used to receiving such high compliments. “Well gee, I… I’m glad you liked it so much, I just finished writing it the other day… I didn’t feel like it was that good.”

“No one ever thinks their own stuff is good,” Becky pointed out. “I mean, I never thought any of the paintings I did in art class were any good, to be fair, but I got a lot of... comments on them, so I knew they needed work. But Fern, you’re fantastic! You should be published!”

“Well, technically I HAVE been published before,” Fern explained sheepishly. “I’ve been in a couple writing contests in the past and had my writings published in the newspaper and stuff. So I’ve kind of been.”

Becky frowned slightly, puzzled. “Really? I thought you said you didn’t like people reading your stuff.”

Fern looked down at her lap, fiddling with her hands. “I feel more like that now than I used to. When I was younger it wasn’t as much of a problem, but… I don’t know… I’ve become kind of withdrawn, if I’m being honest. I don’t feel like many people like me or want to be friends with me. Maybe it’s my own fault. Sometimes I’m a bit abrasive with people and rub them the wrong way, so I guess I only have myself to blame. I only have a couple friends. And I guess being less sociable affected how I feel about my writings and letting people read them…”

Becky was touched by Fern’s speech, and it saddened her. She hated hearing people talk in such a way about themselves. She knew it couldn’t be healthy. She half-smiled at Fern as she finally replied, “Well… like you, if it makes you feel any better. I think you’re really nice. I think you just need to come back out of your shell a bit more.”

Fern was silent for a minute. Becky wasn’t wrong. If she made more of an effort to befriend people, it stood to reason that she would feel better about herself. “I guess… but I would hate to try, and then just have people not respond or care. I’m afraid my fears would turn out to be true, and to find out that they don’t like me after all…”

“I can help you if you want,” Becky offered. “I don’t want you to hide from the world, Fern. You’re so talented, and you seem like a good person to me. I would hate for all that to go to waste just because you’re afraid of the worst-case scenario happening.”

“............Well………… Okay, if you want,” Fern replied after a moment of contemplation, a smile returning to her face. “Honestly, Becky, this has been a weird day for me. You’re one of the first new people I’ve talked to this way in a long time…”

Becky smiled sweetly and placed her hand on Fern’s shoulder. “Well thank you, Fern. I’m glad we’ve gotten to meet and talk to each other. I’m actually glad you missed the bell this morning.”

Fern chuckled at Becky’s admission. “Yeah, I guess I am too. Thanks, Becky.”

***

The two girls spent a little while longer together, chatting in Becky’s room, before Fern finally decided she should be heading home. It was just as well, since Becky had her math homework to finish up. She encouraged Fern to come back another time, and the dog girl accepted her offer, confirming she would enjoy coming back soon. It felt good to her to be out of her own room for once.

Becky showed up at school the next day much more refreshed, as she thankfully hadn’t had to go fight any villains the previous night. She spotted Violet at her locker, smiling upon seeing her best friend and walking over to her. “Hey, Violet!”

The blond, doey-eyed girl turned her head, slightly startled by Becky’s unexpected greeting, but she quickly recovered. “Good morning, Becky,” she hummed in her usual low, sing-songy tone. “What happened to you yesterday? I never saw you after school.”

“Oh, right! Sorry about that. I actually made a new friend! She came over to my house yesterday afternoon. She really likes reading too, just like me, and she even writes poetry and stuff!” Becky explained excitedly.

“Ooh, she sounds nice,” Violet replied, growing interested. “What’s her name?”

“Fern Walters. You know her?”

Violet thought for a moment, puzzled. “Hmm… Maybe, but I’m not sure.”

“She’s a dog, and she wears a lot of purple, as well as a red bow on her head,” Becky described.

“Oh! I’ve seen her before,” Violet realized. “I have her in my creative writing class. She’s awfully quiet. I don’t think she’s ever said a word.”

Becky frowned slightly. “I’m not too surprised. She’s in my algebra class, and I’d never spoken to her until yesterday. She didn’t hear the bell at the end of class, so I went and got her attention, and we just got to talking. She’s a nice person, she’s just really reserved. You should talk to her! I think you two would get along, too. She doesn’t have that many friends, or at least that’s what she told me.”

“Okay, that sounds alright. Maybe you could introduce us,” Violet suggested.

“That would be fantastic!” Becky cried.

“Hey, Becky!” someone called out. Becky turned her head to see her friend Scoops approaching. He waved and came up to them, standing next to Violet and planting a kiss on her cheek. “Hey, you,” he greeted with a hint of flirtatiousness.

“Hehe, hello, Scoops,” Violet replied with a giggle, her cheeks turning pink. Becky mentally cringed a bit. It still somewhat hurt seeing the two of them together, but she wasn’t about to complain. They were happy, and that was that. Nothing she could do about it.

“So what was that you guys were saying? Introduce who to who?” Scoops asked.

“Oh, it’s nothing huge, Scoops. I just made a new friend the other day and I thought Violet might like to meet her.”

“Neat! Who is it?”

“Fern Walters,” Becky answered. “She said she knows you from journalism.”

“Oh right! Yeah, I know of her. She doesn’t talk much though.”

“Heh, why am I not surprised?” Becky asked redundantly, playfully rolling her eyes a bit. “She’s a bit introverted, but I got to talking with her yesterday and she was nice. She even likes reading, just like me! And she’s good with words and writes poetry and stories!”

“Gee, no wonder the two of you got along,” Scoops remarked, glad Becky had made a new friend, and Fern too, for that matter. She definitely struck him as the type of person who could use more friends. “I wouldn’t mind talking to her more either, I suppose.”

“Awesome! This is just getting better and better!” Becky exclaimed. “I’d love for her to be able to come out of her shell a little.” Before she could continue on though, the warning bell rang signaling class would be starting soon. “Oop! There goes the bell! I’ll see you guys later, okay?”

“You bet!” Scoops answered.

“Yes, see you later, Becky,” Violet added before taking Scoops’s hand and walking off down the hall with him in the opposite direction. Becky saw this and sighed a bit. Her friends’ relationship really shouldn’t have been bothering her at all, but she couldn’t help it. She often felt like the third wheel around them ever since they’d begun going out, even if they were all still good friends. Sometimes she wished she could have her own relationship with someone to help alleviate her negative feelings. No one had ever interested her as much as Scoops, though. Maybe someday someone would eventually come along and be that special somebody. She just needed to be patient and look for some sort of sign.

***

The next few days went by with little out of the ordinary to make note of. Becky introduced Fern to her friends that day at lunch, and she got along with them well, especially Violet, given their shared, strong artistic sides. She and Fern even went back to her house a second time, which was enjoyable for the both of them. This time Fern got to meet Becky’s father, though it was a rushed greeting, as he was getting ready to head downtown to see a temporary display set up for the world’s largest onion. Fern realized quickly that Becky’s father was much more eccentric than her own, but he was perfectly nice.

Meanwhile, things were even less eventful for Matt and his fellow cyber squad members. One afternoon after school, the same day Fern had returned to Becky’s house, he got a call from Jackie on his skwak pad. They could have very well used their normal cell phones to call each other, but they communicated with each other so often this way that it had become habitual for them.

“Heya, Jacks!” Matt greeted, answering the call and looking down at the screen, which displayed Jackie’s face.

“Hey, Matt!” Jackie replied. “How’s it going?”

“Eh, alright,” Matt replied casually with an indifferent shrug. “It’s been kinda quiet though. I don’t remember the last time we went this long without a call from Motherboard about a problem in Cyberspace.”

“I know, right? That’s actually what I was calling to talk about. We rarely go this long without a call. Do you think Hacker is up to something big?”

“I dunno. Maybe he’s finally given up. I’m certainly not complaining.”

“It’s possible, I guess…” Jackie replied warily. “But I’m not sure, Matt. I don’t like this gut feeling I have.”

“Trust me, Jacks, you’re worrying too much. You’re letting your nerves get to you. I’m sure everything’s fine. If and when there’s a problem, Motherboard will call us just like always. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Rrgh, Matt, I really wish you wouldn’t say stuff like that,” Jackie replied with a bit of disdain. She had never been wild about her male friend’s tendency to speak or act so boldly. “You’re gonna jinx us one of these days.”

“Really, Jacks, quit worrying. I’m not gonna jinx us. We’ve always managed to outsmart Hacker in the past, right? Even when we felt like we’d hit rock bottom, we always bounced back up and defeated him in the end. Why should this time be any different?”

“Well… we’ll see, I guess,” Jackie relented. “I just don’t want to be cocky... It was good talking to you anyway, though. I’ll see you around, okay?”

“Sure, Jacks, talk to you later,” Matt agreed, ending the call and setting his skwak pad aside and reclining back into the living room couch. Jackie’s such a bundle of nerves, the young man thought to himself with an amused chuckle. What’s she worrying about? Nothing, that’s what. Things are gonna be perfectly fine, like always. We don’t have anything to fear.

Chapter Text

While things had been appreciatively peaceful for the cyber squad over the course of the past few days, it unfortunately wasn’t destined to last much longer. Hacker had been keeping himself busy with his latest scheme, and it was now finally beginning to take shape, as was his statue. He was now adding the final touches to it, being meticulous in making sure it was aesthetically pleasing to himself, and captured every detail of himself just perfectly.

Once this was all said and done, he set down his tools and stood back to admire his latest creation. “Ah! There! Simply magnificent!” he declared, highly satisfied with his work. “Buzz! Delete! Get in here!” he shouted over his shoulder towards the door.

Within a matter of seconds, both of his henchmen came stumbling into the room, not wanting to keep their boss waiting, falling into a heap on the ground nearby.

“Glad you two could take the time out of your busy schedules to see me,” he greeted dryly and sarcastically.

“No problem, boss,” Buzz replied as he and Delete stood up and dusted themselves off, not quite catching the condescension in their boss’s statement. When he caught sight of the statue, Buzz pointed and asked with a puzzled frown, “Um, hey, boss - What’s with the statue?”

“I was just about to get to that, if you two could possibly SHUT YOUR USELESS PIE HOLES for a minute,” Hacker said sharply with a harsh scowl. “It’s part of a new plan I’ve been working on. Observe,” he ordered as he lifted his arm, revealing a small remote in his hand with a single button. He pressed down on it and, within seconds, a portal opened up in front of the statue, much like the ones Motherboard could conjure up.

“Um, boss,” Delete piped up, as puzzled as Buzz was at the moment. “Didn’t you try this plan already a long time ago? You placed all those statues on all those different cyber sites?”

“Ah, but if you’ll let me finish, you blithering buffoon, you’ll see that this plan is actually quite a bit different,” Hacker corrected.

“How’s that?” Delete asked, looking back at the portal.

Hacker cackled and ominously suggested, “Well now, I suggest you two go ahead and see if you can find out for yourselves?” Then, without another word, he darted around behind the two robots and picked them up before tossing them through the portal, both of whom yelled with surprise as they passed through and came out the other side, landing in a heap yet again.

“Ugh… my head…” Buzz moaned, climbing off of Delete and reaching up to rub his temple.

“Why does the boss have to be so mean to us?” Delete questioned, straightening himself up and shaking his head.

It was then that the two of them began to take notice of their new surroundings. The stood up and looked around, not saying a word as they took it all in. This was certainly no cyber site that they had ever seen before. They were standing in the middle of a hilly field of tall grass, blowing in a cool, gentle breeze. Off to one side, the hills escalated in height, eventually turning into tall mountains in the far distance, covered with a forest of tall trees. To their other side, they could see what looked like a large city several miles away, with tall building jutting up from the horizon. They could already tell this place definitely wasn’t small by any means.

“Where are we, Buzzy?” Delete finally spoke up, rather dumbfounded by what they were seeing.

“I dunno, Deedee,” Buzz replied. “I know as well as you do. I’ve never seen a cyber site like this one before.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Delete agreed, glancing up to see a bright blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds.

Both robots looked to see the portal still sat in its place. “Let’s go see what the boss has to say. Maybe he knows,” Buzz suggested, motioning for his friend to follow. He did so, and they jumped back through the portal, flying through and popping back out again, returning to the Grim Wreacker.

Hacker stood over them, his hands at his sides. The fact that Buzz and Delete had managed to return was a good sign. “Well? What did you see?” he asked impatiently.

“We landed on this really weird cyber site we’d never seen before,” Buzz answered.

“Yeah! The sky was blue, there were fields and forests and mountains, and there was a huge city off in the distance!” Delete added. “Why would you want to go to that cyber site, boss?”

Hacker’s face formed into a sinister grin. “That was no cyber site you two were on. You see, my meat-headed minions, what I have just created is no ordinary portal. This is a very special portal, a portal that opens up… into the real world,” he explained, pausing for dramatic effect.

Buzz and Delete gasped in shock. They had just been to the place where Motherboard’s little helpers were from! “The real world?!” Buzz exclaimed. “But boss, how did you do it?!”

“Yeah! I thought only Motherboard could make those!” Delete agreed, just as bewildered as Buzz.

“Well that’s certainly not true anymore, now is it?” Hacker asked redundantly. “If you two dunce buckets can recall, I used to work for Motherboard, and I was by no means ignorant to how her portals worked. And now I’ve simply harnessed the technology necessary to recreate them,” he explained, clearly full of himself as he paced proudly around the room.

“So… what’re we gonna do with it, boss?” Delete asked anxiously.

“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do,” Hacker replied without missing a beat, “Now that I know for certain that it works, we’re going build a much bigger statue to create a much larger portal. Then we’re gonna take the Grim Wreaker, enter the real world, and I’ll finally be able to dispose of those Earth brats ONCE AND FOR ALL!” he asserted with strong malevolence. “And of course, wreaking havoc across and taking over the real world along the way will be quite nice too,” he added with an amused chuckle.

Buzz and Delete stared wide-eyed at their boss. This may very well have been his biggest, most complicated, and most dastardly scheme yet. “Are you sure about this, boss?” Delete asked concernedly. “Have you really thought this thing through?”

“Hah! Of course I have. Don’t make me laugh,” Hacker said dismissively, finally thinking to turn off the portal. “Trust me when I say that this thing is just getting started. We’ll have those kids either destroyed or begging on their knees in no time flat. I can safely say that they’re all in for quite the surprise…”

***

Blissfully unaware of Hacker’s evil plan, Matt was sitting in math class on Friday morning. With no word from Motherboard regarding any problems in Cyberspace, he found that the week had passed by quite quickly. He had to admit, he had grown a bit more anxious since his talk with Jackie. Even more time had passed now, and he didn’t know whether to feel better or worse about their situation. He wanted to remain optimistic and hope that Hacker was simply giving up on his quest to rule Cyberspace, but he knew as well as anyone how persistent Hacker could be.

In the meantime, during this period with a lack of missions to be sent on, Matt was able to spend more time thinking about his situation regarding Inez. He had had his crush on her for so long now, and it had been frustrating keeping his feelings to himself. A large part of him really wanted to come right out and tell her how he felt about her, and that part of him had only grown larger with time. He was seriously considering finally giving in to Jackie and Digit’s encouragement and finally confessing his feelings. Besides, what if Hacker WAS planning something big? What if their winning streak eventually ran out? If he didn’t do it by then, he might never get the chance to tell Inez he liked her.

Sitting in math class that morning as the bell drew closer, he looked up from his assignment for the day and glanced over at her, totally unaware of her friend’s gaze as she worked on her own assignment. He smiled a little, thinking of the numerous times Jackie and Digit had said to just come out with it already, and the times he’d almost persuaded himself to do so. He cared so much about Inez. He had for the longest time. He cared about his other cyber squad members too, of course, but it had always been different with Inez. And one day, the realization hit him like a ton of bricks, and he knew right then and there what it was he felt for her.

And on this day, he decided that was it. All these thoughts persuaded him to finally do what he’d always wanted to do. He was gonna do it. He couldn’t wait a day longer.

When the bell rang signaling the period’s end, Matt quickly gathered up his supplies and threw them in his bag, then followed his crush out of the classroom. “Hey, Inez, I wanted to ask you something,” he spoke.

Inez turned her head to look at him. “Sure, Matt. What is it?”

“Well, I, uh… uh…” Matt began, struggling to bring the words to his lips. Geez, this is hard, he thought. Two seconds ago he had been quite confident. He couldn’t allow himself to chicken out again. “I wanted to ask if you… well, if you’d like to go do something tonight?...”

“Tonight?” Inez echoed, considering Matt’s offer. “I don’t know about tonight. I have a big history project to work on. And Saturday I was planning on going to conduct some research at the library for an English paper I have, and also to go to the movies. Sunday is open though, so we could do it then.”

“Great! Works for me!” Matt agreed enthusiastically.

“What were you thinking we could all go do?” Inez asked.

“Huh? ‘We all?’” Matt asked, wondering if he’d heard her wrong.

“Yeah - You, me and Jackie,” Inez confirmed.

“Oh, well no, actually I meant… just the two of us,” Matt corrected self-consciously, scratching behind his neck.

“Wait… you mean just you and me?” Inez asked after a moment of silent confusion.

“Well, yeah,” Matt replied with a shrug and a half-smile. “There was something I wanted to talk to you, specifically, about…”

“Oh! Well, I mean, I guess that would be alright,” Inez supposed. “What about?”

“I’ll tell you on Sunday. I think it’d be best to wait until then. We can get dinner or something. I can come pick you up in the evening in my truck. Sound good?”

“Yeah, sure,” Inez agreed with a nod, much more intrigued now.

“Awesome! See you Sunday, then!” Matt agreed, giving her a thumbs-up before taking off down the hall, not wanting to take the chance to make a complete fool of himself by sticking around longer than necessary.

“O-okay! Sure! See you then…” Inez said, waving goodbye and heading off to her own next class. Matt never asked to go do anything without Jackie. Could he possibly want to tell her what she hoped he might? No, no, come on, that would be ridiculous, Inez chided herself, not wanting to let herself believe it could be true. It’s probably nothing. Motherboard hasn’t called us up in a week now. It’s probably about that… Still… a girl can hope, right?

***

Later that school day, Fern was standing at her locker and grabbing her stuff for her next class. She gathered it all together and closed the door, only to find her friend George Lundgren standing behind where the open door had been.

“Augh!” Fern jumped back in surprise, not expecting to see anyone there, but she recovered within moments. “Oh, gosh, George, you scared me,” she scolded lightly.

“Hehe, sorry, Fern,” George apologized, being unable to hide his amusement at his friend’s reaction.

“It’s alright. Anyway, what’s up?”

“Actually, I wanted to ask about that girl you’ve been talking to,” George answered, beginning to walk down the hall with her.

“Oh, that. Well I-” Fern began, though she was interrupted by a loud clattering of thunder and a flash of lightning from outside. It was a stormy day out that day, and the rain hadn’t stopped all morning. It seemed to have only gained strength as they day had progressed. “Ugh, what a storm out there,” she remarked. “Anyway, it’s not a big deal or anything. She’s in my algebra class and we just started talking after she came to get me when I missed the bell.”

“Yeah?” George said, beginning to smile.

“Yeah. She’s really nice and friendly, and we both like reading and stuff.”

“Hey, that’s great!” George said brightly. It thrilled him to hear that Fern was making a new friend. He couldn’t remember the last time she’d done so. He knew as well as anyone how much more quiet and reserved Fern had become over the years, and he was glad to hear that was maybe beginning to change. “I’ve seen her around before. What’s her name?”

“Becky Botsford,” Fern answered. “She’s nice to talk to and be around. I’ve been over to her house a couple times already. I like her a lot, honestly.”

“Well that’s great, Fern. I’m really glad to hear that,” George said sincerely. “I’ve been hoping something like this would happen for you. This’ll be good for you, I’m sure of it… Oh, looks like I get off here,” he said, pointing to the door of his next classroom. “See you later, Fern. Let me know how things go!” He then gave her a  quick wave before heading inside.

“Thanks, George, see you later,” Fern replied, smiling as she continued on to her own class. I’m pretty lucky to at least have George, she thought to herself a tad regretfully. I don’t say that to him enough. It was true. The two of them had been friends for a long time, and he had always been there for her, both at her best times...  and also at her worst. He was truly a one-of-a-kind friend, even if they didn’t talk extremely often outside of school

That was all he was, though. Just a friend. The moose boy had dropped a couple hints in the past, which had led Fern to wonder if he perhaps had a bit of a crush on her. She wasn’t completely convinced this was true, though. She could hardly picture anyone having a crush on her in general. And even if it turned out to be true - and she’d be flattered if that was the case - she just didn’t feel the same way about him in return, and she would never want to lead him on. If it eventually became more obvious that he liked her, she’d have to break the truth to him. That wasn’t going to be fun for her if it ended up happening.

In fact, when she thought about it, Fern realized that she’d never really had a crush on anyone. She would hear other girls talking about all the boys they liked, and she just couldn’t relate. Whatever that feeling was that other girls spoke of, all the signs they described that signaled they liked someone… she had never experienced it, as much as she wanted to. But not one guy in school had ever piqued her interest.

Not that it mattered. No one expressed interest in her that way either, so what right did she have to have those feelings for anyone else? No guy had ever walked into her life and swept her off her feet, so why should she get her hopes up that it would eventually happen? She doubted she’d ever find a Mr. Perfect for herself. Again though, like with other things, she supposed it was her own fault. She was probably just picky and had a very specific type that she simply hadn’t discovered yet.

Of course, she couldn’t deny the fact that she enjoyed the idea of having someone special to be with. Someone to hold her and comfort her, to always be there for her, to spend her life with… and to hear tell her they loved her.

She wasn’t optimistic about her chances at a relationship, to say the least. Maybe she could talk about it with Becky the next time she saw her. She was smart. Maybe she’d be able to help her figure this out.

***

At the end of the school day, Matt left his class and was headed towards his locker to put his things away and grab his jacket, when he saw Jackie up ahead of him. “Hey, Jacks! Wait up!” he called out, weaving his way through the thick crowd of teenagers to get to her.

Jackie turned her head upon hearing him and waved. “Hey, Matt!” she called out, waiting in place so he could catch up. “Thank god it’s Friday, right?”

“Don’t I know it,” Matt agreed wholeheartedly. “So hey, I have a bit of news for ya.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?” Jackie asked. “It’s not about Motherboard or Hacker, is it?”

“No, it’s actually about, well… you know…” Matt contested, stopping at his locker with her. “I, well… I finally decided to… tell Inez about-”

It was here that Jackie caught on to Matt’s point, and she gasped with delight. “Oh!!! Matt, is this what I think it is? This is so exciting!! I can’t believe you’re going to finally tell her how you feel!”

“Me neither,” Matt replied, grabbing his jacket and zipping it up, closing his locker before they continued on.

“So what’re you gonna do, huh? Take her out to dinner?”

“Yeah, something like that. We’re gonna go out Sunday night, and I’m gonna try and find a good time to tell her while we’re out.”

“Well good for you, you ladies’ man!” Jackie joked as they reached the door. “Good luck! I won’t say a word, I swear. My lips are sealed.”

“Thanks, Jacks,” Matt said gratefully. “I’ll probably need the luck.”

***

Several minutes after Matt exited the school, Becky was drawing closer to the door herself. She had had to fly off to fight a battle with one of her adversaries in the middle of the final period, but it had been a relatively stress-free day otherwise. However, at the end of her last class she had gotten into a drawn-out conversation with her English teacher, to the point where she had stayed after the bell. As much as it didn’t bother her otherwise, she was forced to cut it short out of fear of missing the bus. So she dismissed herself and made her way towards the exit as quick as she could. She would have been worried about getting drenched more than anything else, but luckily she had thought to bring her umbrella with her that morning.

She stepped into the entryway and stood to the side while she began to get her umbrella open, so as not to be standing in the way of anyone heading outside, especially considering it was Friday and everyone was in a hurry to get home for the weekend. Her hurry in trying to get it open caused her to struggle a bit with it, costing her precious time.

Finally she got it unstuck and was about to get it open, but before she could, she heard a skirmish off to the side of her, further down the hallway, followed by the sound of someone shouting in surprise and falling to the ground. Wanting to see if the person was alright, Becky tucked the umbrella under her arm and went back inside to find none other than Fern, her stuff scattered around her as she sat up and rubbed her arm, which Becky guessed she must have landed on.

“Fern!” Becky called in surprise, quickly making her way over to her and bending down to offer her hand. “Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself?”

“Oh, hi, Becky… No, I’m fine…” Fern assured, clearly annoyed with herself for tripping and getting into this mess. She accepted Becky’s hand, and the human girl helped her stand back up. “Thank you…”

“No problem! Here, let me help,” Becky said, bending back down and grabbing some of Fern’s dropped things.

“Thanks, Becky, you don’t have to do this…” Fern said gratefully, grabbing stuff herself as well and tucking it back into her bag.

“It’s no trouble, really,” Becky assured. She noticed Fern’s bow was askew and took the liberty to reach up to her head and straighten it. “There! It was a little crooked.”

“Oh! Well... thank you again,” Fern repeated, flushing a little pink in embarrassment.. Suddenly, she stopped short and glanced out the window before declaring, “We’d better go, before buses leave!”

“Right! We wouldn’t want to…” Becky began, before trailing off and seeing the row of buses pulling away. “...miss them…”

Fern grunted in aggravation. “Great. Just great! I act like a klutz, and now I make both of us late!” she berated herself. She sighed and slumped a bit, going from being mad to defeated. “Sorry, Becky…”

“Oh, it’s alright, Fern. Don’t worry about it,” Becky consoled, patting Fern’s back. “It was an innocent mistake. I guess we’re just gonna have to walk.”

“But it’s storming really hard out there,” Fern pointed out. Both girls looked outside, confirming that the rain and wind was still going strong.

“That’s not a problem - I brought my umbrella!” Becky proclaimed proudly, holding it up for Fern to see. “Just let me know where your house is, and we can get you home. Then I can get myself and my umbrella home.”

“Well gosh, Becky, that’s really nice of you,” Fern said thankfully, “but I’m kind of a long walk from school. My house is over a mile away from here.”

“Not a problem for me!” Becky replied, shaking her head. “I won’t take no for an answer! Let me help you out. I mean… that’s what friends are for, right?” she asked with a sincere smile.

Fern was speechless for a moment. Becky was making such a sweet offer, all to keep her from getting overly cold and wet. She honestly didn’t think she deserved someone being this nice to her. She chuckled a little bit and returned her smile. “Hehe… yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Well then, let’s get going!” Becky said, motioning for Fern to follow. She reached the door, got the umbrella open, stepped outside, and held the door for Fern. “Sounds like we’ve got a ways to go.”

Chapter Text

Getting home wasn’t an issue for Matt thanks to his pickup truck. He drove it into town and to school every day, which was over twenty miles round-trip. He didn’t mind though. It was certainly better than riding the bus. He drove up the short gravel drive that branched off from the main road, which was wet and muddy on this day, before finally arriving at the house and running from the truck to the door. Once inside, he soon ran into his parents. Since there was lousy weather outside, they told him he didn’t need to worry about his chores today, as they did whenever the weather was bad.

This was good news for Matt. Now he could spend more time planning his “date” with Inez. He relaxed on his bed in his room, Obi Wan Kadoggie at his feet as he pondered his options for where to go. After a while of deliberating, he eventually decided on a new stir fry place that had recently opened up. He planned to come pick her up at her house around six o’clock Sunday night, and he would make sure that restaurant was okay with her before they went there.

That was the easy part though. He knew the harder part would be attempting to admit his feelings to her. He admittedly wasn’t entirely confident in himself, fearing he would bail on the idea. He felt it was certainly a possibility. He had struggled a bit simply asking her out earlier at all.

But he figured he wouldn’t know how hard it was until he tried, so he wasn’t about to skip out on the date altogether. All he needed to do for now was relax and wait for Sunday evening to arrive. He would have plenty of time to worry then.

***

Meanwhile, it was much more of a struggle for Becky and Fern to get home. Fern’s house was indeed over a mile away. That would have been a long walk any day, but combined with heavy rain and wind swirling around them, it felt even longer. They were half expecting to be blown away with the strong gusts.

Their struggles came to an end over forty-five minutes later, when Fern pointed out her house to Becky, and they picked up speed a bit until they reached the front door at last.

“Whew! Thank goodness!” Becky huffed in relief as they stepped inside. She shook the umbrella off before closing the door and taking off her shoes, leaving them on the mat.

“No kidding,” Fern said in agreement, pulling off her own shoes and wiping her face dry. “Thank you so much, Becky. It was really nice of you to do this for me.”

“You’re welcome,” Becky replied with a smile, appreciative of Fern’s gratitude.

“Hey, are you cold?” Fern asked concernedly, noticing Becky’s red nose and slight shivering. It was so much easier for humans to get cold, given that they lacked fur to keep them warm.

“A little bit, but I’ll be fine,” Becky assured. However, soon after saying this, she found herself sneezing, which she blocked with her arm.

“You don’t sound fine,” Fern contested. “I think you…” she trailed off, before finding herself sneezing as well. Maybe she wasn’t as warm as she had thought.

“You sound cold too,” Becky pointed out with a giggle. “But yeah, you think I?...”

“I think you should stay here a while to warm up.”

“Well thank you, if you’re sure. Your parents won’t mind?”

“I doubt it. My dad is at work, and my mom is probably around here somewhere. Come on, let’s look for her.”

Both girls stepped further into the house, being careful not to slip on the floor, as they now only had socks on their feet. It didn’t take them long to find Fern’s mother, who was sitting at the kitchen table, assumedly working on paying some bills. She looked over her shoulder when she heard them step in and smiled upon seeing her daughter. “Hello, Fernie! I’m so glad you made it home.”

“Hi, Mom. Me too…” Fern greeted in reply, a bit self-conscious that her mother had referred to her with her family nickname in front of her new friend. Becky, out of not wanting to embarrass Fern further, kept her reaction to the smallest little giggle.

Her mother glanced over at the other girl, surprised to see someone else with her that wasn’t George, or possibly Sue Ellen. “Who’s this?” she asked, looking back at her daughter.

“Oh, this is Becky,” Fern introduced. “I met her on Monday, we share algebra class. We missed the bus, but she had an umbrella, so she helped me get home.”

“That was certainly nice of you, Becky,” Fern’s mother said gratefully, turning the chair around to face them and reaching her hand out. “I’m Fern’s mother, but you can call me Doria of you want.”

“Nice to meet you! And it was no big deal, really,” Becky insisted, taking Doria’s hand and shaking. “I was glad to do it.”

“Well it’s nice to hear that someone’s looking after our little Fernie,” Doria repeated, causing Fern to silently fume, her cheeks tinged red. It hadn’t even been five minutes and her mother had already said the name twice.

Becky smiled brightly. As WordGirl she looked after the entire city, and of course most people acknowledged that. But it was rare to hear anyone express thankfulness to her for doing anything similar in real life, even if it was smaller. She had to admit, given Fern’s relatively shy and passive nature, especially compared to herself, she did feel a stronger need to look out for her than with most people. On top of everything else, she thought it was rather cute how Fern was reacting to the use of her parents’ pet name for her right in front of both of them.

“You girls look a bit chilly,” Doria observed after looking back and forth between them.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cold out there, and the wind isn’t helping at all,” Fern replied. “I was gonna let Becky hang around for awhile and get warm, and maybe call and see if her parents can come get her, if that’s okay.”

“Not a problem at all! In fact, why don’t you two head on up to Fern’s room, and I’ll bring up some hot cocoa in a bit,” Doria suggested.

“Sure!”

“Yeah, that would be awfully nice of you.”

“It’ll only take a few minutes. Go ahead upstairs, and I’ll be there soon with your drinks.”

Both girls thanked her again before doing as she suggested and going up to Fern’s room. Fern sat down at her desk while Becky took a seat on the bed. Becky quickly called her parents to let them know of the situation, and Fern’s mom soon returned with the mugs of cocoa, as promised. They both thanked her again as she left, leaving the two of them together, the only sound being the rain beating on the bedroom window.

“So… Fernie, huh?” Becky asked with an amused grin.

“Yeah, they’ve always called me that,” Fern admitted with a defeated sigh.

Becky chuckled. “Well you don’t need to be embarrassed. I think it’s cute.”

“I guess…” Fern said with a shrug, sipping her drink.

“Your mom looked surprised to see me,” Becky remarked, holding her cup and enjoying the warmth it radiated into her hands. “I guess I don’t blame her.”

“I think it might kind of be because I don’t have people over much at all. There’s my friend George once in a while, but that’s about it.”

“Would I know George by any chance? I’m not sure I do.”

“Hmm… Well, he’s a moose, wears a lot of orange… and he’s a bit on the awkward side, so that’s probably why I get along with him well.”

“That does sound familiar… Is there anything there between you guys?” Becky asked hesitantly. “If it’s not too much to ask.”

“Hmm?... Oh that, no, I’m not interested in him that way. I never have been.”

“That’s okay. Is there anyone you DO like?”

“Not really…” Fern admitted, taking another sip. “I don’t know why. I’d like to have a relationship, but no one has ever really interested me.”

“Aw, come on, there must have been someone sometime, even just a little.”

Fern shook her head. “No, I can’t think of anybody. No guy has ever really interested me that way…”

Becky considered this for a minute, continuing to down her drink as an idea occurred to her. “You know, this is just a suggestion, but… maybe you just don’t like guys?”

Fern frowned, puzzled. “Well if I don’t like guys, then I…” she paused as she began understanding the meaning of Becky’s proposal “Wait, you I think I might… you know?”

Becky shrugged. “It’s a possibility, right? You never thought about that before?”

“I guess I… I just never really considered the idea… What about you, if it’s alright to ask? Do you like guys?”

“Well I had a crush on a guy friend of mine for a long time, so I’m pretty sure I do. But he started dating another friend of mine, and I haven’t had a really big crush since then… I mean, I suppose it’s possible I could like both… maybe… I guess I never really thought about it either.”

A slightly awkward silence settled between them, mostly because they became preoccupied with their own respective thoughts. Neither of them had ever considered the possibility that they might be playing for the opposite team, or both teams in Becky’s case.

“I guess it’s possible…” Fern finally spoke up, licking a bit of cocoa from her lip. “But I’ve never liked a girl before either.”

“Well… maybe you just haven’t found the right one yet,” Becky suggested. “I’m sure you’ll know them if they come along. He, she, whoever.”

“Yeah… maybe… but it’s not like anyone would be interested in me,” Fern said dejectedly.

“Oh come on, don’t be that way. I’m sure plenty of people would like you,” Becky assured.

“I don’t think so,” Fern argued, shaking her head. “I know I wouldn’t want to date me. I hardly talk to anyone, and I get frustrated easily, so when I’m not being shy or reclusive then I’m being stubborn and off-putting…”

“Don’t talk like that, Fern, you’re being too hard on yourself!” Becky said, not enjoying hearing Fern talk about herself this way. “You’re a great person! You’re smart, you’re funny, you’re creative, you’re cute - If someone doesn’t come along that likes you eventually, I’ll eat my hat!”

Fern was flattered by Becky’s compliments, which did make her feel a bit better, and she found herself giggling a bit. “‘Eat your hat?’ You don’t wear a hat, silly,” she pointed out.

“It’s just an expression I’ve heard a lot,” Becky explained. “Seriously though, Fern. You’re absolutely great girlfriend material. You just need to find someone who can appreciate you, and who you feel the same way about.”

“...Thanks, Becky,” Fern said with a small, grateful smile. “That means alot to me.” However at that point, more than anything else, she appreciated how kind Becky was being. Despite her friend’s encouraging words though, Fern would have said that Becky was much better girlfriend material than herself. Still, she was grateful for it, and the only thing she could think to do to really express it was give Becky a hug, which she then gave in and did, standing up from her chair and wrapping her arms around her.

Becky’s eyes grew in surprise, but she soon returned the hug and smiled. “It’s okay, Fern. I’m just being honest.” When they let go, she looked Fern in the eyes and said confidently, “Trust me, you’re gonna find somebody really great. I’m sure they’re much closer than you probably realize. You just have to look a bit harder.”

“Alright, I will,” Fern agreed, feeling better than she had in quite a long time. “And you do the same. I want you to find someone great to be with too.”

“Hopefully,” Becky said with a nod. Just then though, their conversation was interrupted by the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. Both girls went to look out the window and spotted what Becky recognized to be her family’s car. “That must be my mom to pick me up,” she pointed out. “I’d better head downstairs.”

“Well, alright… Thanks for talking about this with me, Becky. I think it helped.”

Becky smiled. “I’m glad,” she replied, heading for the bedroom door. “But now, off to do my math homework. That won’t be fun.”

“I know what you mean, I have stuff to work on too.”

Becky then got an idea. “Hey, why don’t we meet at the library on Sunday, and we can study together? Then maybe we can get dinner afterward. I heard a new restaurant opened up not too far from here.”

Fern perked up at the suggestion. She always liked being at the library, and studying with Becky would certainly make the activity more bearable. “Alright, sure! That’d be fun.”

“It’s settled then!” Becky agreed. She gave Fern one more quick hug before stepping out of the room and heading downstairs. “See you Sunday!”

“Yeah, okay!” Fern replied, shutting the bedroom door behind Becky and smiling as she leaned back against it. It had been a long time since someone aside from her parents had hugged her.

 

Becky Walking Fern Home (Once and For All) by RecklesslyMindful

 

***

Back on The Northern Frontier in Cyberspace, Buzz and Delete were beginning to make progress on the new, larger statue of Hacker. It had been decided that it needed to be at least as tall as the Grim Wreaker so that the whole ship could pass through the portal, and Hacker felt he had already done quite enough for now, so he had put his henchmen up to the daunting task of building the larger one.

The two robots were standing on a tall ladder leaning against what had been completed of the statue thus far. They clearly still had a long way to go. Buzz was farther up, screwing in several bolts. He looked down at Delete, who was holding a heavy box of various tools. “Hey, Deedee, hand me the 9/16 wrench,” Buzz said, reaching his arm down.

“Sure, Buzzy,” Delete replied, lifting the box up to root through it, but losing his balance as a result, shrieking loudly as he fell and collided with the ground below. He climbed back up several minutes later with the right wrench, a little bent up but no worse for wear. “Here ya go…” he said through a terrible hacking cough as he handed it to Buzz.

“Thanks,” Buzz replied curtly, returning his attention to the statue, seemingly unfazed by the tumble Delete had taken.

“So, um, Buzzy… What do you think the boss is gonna do once he gets to the real world, exactly?”

“Don’t you remember? He wants to get rid of those kids and take over the place.”

“Yeah, I know, but… What’s he gonna do with them, exactly?”

“I dunno,” Buzz said with a shrug. “Hammer,” he said, reaching down again.

Delete got the hammer for him, thankfully not falling this time. “It’s just that, well… I don’t want him to hurt them too badly, you know?”

Buzz gave him a puzzled look. “Why do you care?”

“Oh I don’t know… No reason, it’s nothing,” Delete relented, letting the subject drop. He didn’t entirely get his own concerns either. He and Buzz had been working for Hacker for several years now, and they had tried to chase down the Cybersquad countless times. But although Delete may have been one of the bad guys, he didn’t enjoy picturing them getting seriously hurt. They were just kids, after all, even if they were older now than they had once been.

And what about Digit? He had once been their friend and ally before leaving them for team Motherboard. He may have been a traitor, but he still didn’t want to entertain the idea of Digit being hurt or destroyed.

So with all that in mind, what would become of all of them, assuming Hacker succeeded in his plans? Delete found it hard to picture his boss keeping them around on the off-chance that they might escape. He would probably want to get rid of them as soon as possible. While Delete didn’t know what exactly that would entail, he had a feeling he wouldn’t want to witness it.

He let these considerations go for now, though. He was just a robot henchman, after all. He wasn’t supposed to question these things.

***

On Sunday morning, after Buzz and Delete had been hard at work on the statue, they ran into the shelter and up into the Grim Wreaker to find Hacker seated at his recharging chair as usual.

“Boss! Boss! It’s finished!” Buzz exclaimed, pulling doughnuts out for himself and Delete to celebrate.

“Yeah! It’s all done!” Delete added, taking the doughnut and taking a big chomp out of it.

Hacker grinned and looked back at his cohorts, hopping up from the chair. “Splendid! Absolutely splendid! Let’s go take a look.”

Buzz and Delete led their boss back outside and across the short distance to where the statue now stood. It was definitely the same height as the Grim Wreaker, and would hopefully create a corresponding portal. Hacker gazed up at it, enjoying seeing his own likeness in a statue as usual.

“Here you go, boss,” Delete spoke up, handing him the new remote.

“Excellent,” Hacker said, taking the remote and pressing the button to test it. Sure enough, a large portal opened up in front of them. No doubt it would fit his ship with ease.

“Well done, you two,” Hacker said as he looked back and forth between his henchmen, surprised at their apparent competence with this project. “I’m impressed. It appears you’ve done the job well for once.”

Buzz and Delete smiled with mouthfuls of doughnut. It wasn’t often that Hacker gave them compliments like this. “Gee… thanks boss!” Buzz replied.

“But now for the REAL moment of truth,” Hacker went on, gesturing for his minions to follow. “I say it’s time for a little field trip, boys. Come on.” He led them back to the Wreaker and they seated themselves in the cockpit. He got the ship turned on and the clankety old thing began hovering out of the shelter. Hacker then pulled out the remote once more and the portal reappeared in front of them. Then, without saying a word, Hacker flew the ship forward and through the portal.

When they came out the other side, they returned to the same spot that Buzz and Delete had arrived at earlier when using the smaller portal. “YES! YES! HAHA!” Hacker cried victoriously. “It worked! It worked! Let’s find a place to park this thing.” He flew the ship deeper into the forest away from the city until he eventually found a small, shallow cave. “This will be a perfect place to position ourselves for now,” Hacker observed, pulling the ship into the cave and parking it so it was just barely poking out. He wasn’t worried about being spotted. The cover of trees was rather thick, and they were several miles away from town.

“What do we do now, boss?” Buzz asked, curious to hear what he had planned next.

Hacker messed with a few of the controls for a minute until the screen in front of them displayed the nearby city, bustling with activity. He then leaned back in his chair and sighed contentedly before finally answering Buzz’s question. “Now… we wait and observe.”

This answer confused his minions. “Wait? But boss, don’t you want to go attack and take over?”

“Of course I do, you dunderhead,” Hacker snapped impatiently. “But I’m not about to go barging in there without having any idea what to expect. We’re gonna use the camera setup we have here to look in on the city and see if there’s anything that could pose a potential threat to my plans. If there IS anything, we’ll find a way to make it so it’s no longer anything to worry about. THEN we’ll go in there and attack.”

There was a minute of silence as Hacker gazed out at the city before them. “Take a good, long look, you two. Soon this city, as well as every other on the planet, will be mine to conquer and wreak havoc across. Then with Motherboard’s little nuisances out of the way, it’ll be no problem taking over Cyberspace as well. I’ll be the emperor of both worlds. And everyone will bow down before me… but I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, all we have to do is simply have patience. Patience is a virtue you know, and it’ll reward you well in time. I’ve come to learn that over the years, and it’s especially true in this case.” He fixed his eyes on the skyline of the unsuspecting city and chuckled to himself. Enjoy your last days of freedom, people of Earth. Enjoy them while you can…

Chapter Text

On Sunday evening, Matt was busy at home getting ready for his outing with Inez, blissfully unaware of what Hacker had been up to that day. He spent the later part of the afternoon getting showered and shaved, not that he needed to do much of the latter. He was a ways off from having a full beard. He may have been on the tall side, and his chin may have been a bit more square than it used to be, but as much as he may have wished it weren’t the case, he still definitely looked like a high schooler. Hopefully this wouldn’t deter Inez from possibly liking him though.

Once he was all cleaned up, he picked out one of his better shirts and pairs of pants. It may not have been an actual date at an expensive restaurant, but he still felt it was a good idea to appear decent tonight. Thankfully the rain had already dried up, so he wouldn’t have to worry about getting anything muddy. Not even his truck, though this was mostly because it was already caked with mud, as it had been for awhile. He planned to take it to a car wash and rinse it off once he was in the city again.

Soon it was 5:30, and Matt decided he’d have to get going if he wanted to make good time and not be late. He said goodbye to his parents and walked out to the truck. The engine sputtered a bit before coming to life, as usual. “God, this thing is old,” he muttered to himself before turning around and heading down the long driveway leading to the main road. His dad used to use it for farm work, but he had given it to Matt when he began learning how to drive, deciding he needed a new truck for work anyway. It had hung on so far, but Matt could tell it was on its last legs. Thankfully his parents had hinted at possibly getting him a new car before he went off to college as a graduation gift. For now though, it would have to do.

After making the drive into town, Matt pulled into a gas station and ran the truck through the car wash. He also decided to fill up the tank, since he had a little time on his hands. When he stepped out to do so, he looked over the thing for a moment with satisfaction. It hadn’t looked this clean in months.

He then pulled out of the station and made the drive to Inez’s apartment building further into the city. Once there, he parked his car along the curb and made his way inside, eventually reaching the correct door to the apartment he had visited so many times before. He rapped on the door and stood with his hands in his pockets.

“Coming!” Inez called from inside. Moments later she reached the door and poked her head out, smiling when she saw who had knocked. “Hey, Matt! Just a second,” she greeted before turning her head back. “I’m leaving now, abuela! I’ll be back soon!” With that, she stepped out into the hallway and locked the door behind her, allowing Matt to get a better look at her outfit - a summery sundress covered only by her jacket, while showing a decent amount of leg. Nothing wrong with that as far as Matt was concerned.

“Your abuela, huh?” he asked as he met her eyes.

“Yeah, she’s been with us more and more frequently as of late,” Inez explained as they walked down the hallway towards the front entrance.

“She doing okay?” Matt wondered.

“Not too great, actually,” Inez replied with a slight frown. “Her health has slowly been getting worse the past couple years. She hasn’t been able to do as much on her own. Unless my parents offer for her to stay with us, she’s gonna need some sort of assisted living in the near future.”

“Man, that sucks for her,” Matt replied sadly. He had met Maria a few times, and he knew she was a very nice lady. “Think she might be able to get any better?”

“No, not really,” Inez denied, shaking her head as they reached the door, which Matt held open for her. She thanked him briefly before getting back to her answer. “Once you start down that road, there’s really no going back, it seems. At least her mind is still sharp though.”

“Well that’s good, at least,” Matt said, unlocking the truck. “Oh hey, see I finally got around to washing this old rustbucket?”

Inez looked and noticed that Matt was indeed correct. “Hey, yeah, you did - Wanted to get it cleaned up for the occasion, huh?” she joked.

“Well, it needed it pretty badly,” Matt remarked as he began driving off. “This thing has done a lot for us. I should really do that more often.”

The two continued to make harmless chit chat until they reached the restaurant. Once they were inside the doors, a perky waitress greeted them almost immediately and led them to a booth next to a window. They were given their drinks and had their orders taken before they were finally left alone once more.

“So why DID you want to go out tonight, Matt?” Inez asked, stirring her soda with her straw. “And why not bring Jackie along too?”

Matt stiffened up a bit. He hadn’t been expecting the question, and he wasn’t ready to fully admit everything yet. “Oh, um, no real reason…” he said, coughing and tugging at his shirt collar a bit. “I just know you and Jackie go and do stuff together a lot, and I thought it was about time just the two of us did something together.” That sounds plausible, right? Nothing unusual about two friends going out to dinner, even if one’s a boy and the other’s a girl.

“Well it was a nice idea,” Inez said, glancing around the inside of the restaurant, honestly a little disappointed he hadn’t told her he wanted to go out with her, but she decided not to dwell on it. “I’m surprised it’s not more busy here. I’ve heard a few people talk about it.”

“Eh, maybe it’s because it’s Sunday night and people have work and school tomorrow,” Matt said with a shrug. “I’m glad it worked out. Hardly any other people here at all.”

Inez glanced out the window and across the street. “Doesn’t look like you can say the same for that place,” Inez remarked.

Matt looked over to the building Inez was talking about. It was a little blue and red building with a sign reading “Sugar Bowl” over the top of it. “Oh yeah, I’ve been there a few times. You’ve never been?”

“Nah. It’s always pretty busy, and I never got around to it.”

“It’s a pretty good place, from what I remember. A lot of people from school seem to go there.”

“Anyone we know?”

“Not really, but I recognized some of them… I know I’ve seen that Muffy Crosswire girl there. The one whose dad has that car dealership and lives in that mansion uptown?”

Inez frowned upon hearing the girl’s name. “Yeah, I know who she is. I have to tell you, I don’t like her very much. She’s a bit of a you-know-what.”

“Seems a bit harsh,” Matt replied, scratching nervously at his neck. “She’s not THAT bad, is she?”

“Well, I mean, I guess she’s at least tolerable for the most part. I just hate how she flaunts how rich she is. I mean, it’s not like she’s the one that earned it, right?”

Matt shrugged. “Well, what can you do, you know?”

It was then that the waitress returned with their bowls of stir fry noodles, and they quickly realized they had made a good choice coming here after taking their first bites. They were about halfway through their bowls when Matt remembered why they had come here in the first place. Come on, Matt, just do it already. There’s nothing to lose. You’ve wanted to for so long! Making up his mind, he swallowed and looked across the table. “So Inez… there actually was a bit of a reason for asking you here tonight.”

Inez looked up from her bowl and met eyes with him. “What was it?” she asked hopefully.

“Well, you see, Inez… I… I wanted to tell you-” Unfortunately, Matt heard a beeping sound coming from his pocket. Rrgh!, he thought to himself. I was so close! He reached into his pocket and realized that the beeping was coming from his skwak pad, not his phone. “It’s a call from Motherboard!” he informed Inez, causing her to jolt her attention to the screen of the device. Matt answered it and spoke, “Hey, Mother B. What’s going on?”

“Cybermates - Come to the Northern Frontier. A strange device has been found there,” Motherboard informed them.

Matt and Inez glanced up at each other. So Hacker was far from giving up, apparently. “We’re on our way, Motherboard,” Inez said. “We’ll just head outside and go through a portal there.” She looked back up at Matt and added, “Guess we’ll have to call it quits here. Sorry about that, Matt.”

“No big deal,” Matt said as nonchalantly as possible, despite the significant disappointment he felt. “We gotta do what we gotta do. Let’s go.” They then stood up from the booth, left a tip, and quickly rushed to the counter to pay the check before high tailing it out of the restaurant and into the alley. There they had Motherboard open up the portal and they jumped in, curious to see what Hacker could possibly be up to now.

***

The two Cybersquad members had been largely unaware of the two girls sitting in the booth directly behind Inez, who had arrived not long before they came in. As a result, the girls’ ears had caught bits and pieces of Matt and Inez’s conversation, and they also noticed how soon they got up and sped out as if they suddenly had to get somewhere.

“Those two must have been in a hurry to leave,” Becky remarked, returning to her bowl of noodles.

“They must have,” Fern agreed, taking a sip of the hot tea she had gotten. “Did you hear the thing they said about Muffy Crosswire?”

“I don’t think so,” Becky answered. “But you’re sitting closer to where they were than me.”

“Well, I heard the girl say something about how she didn’t like her, or how she flaunted her money.”

“To be fair, she definitely doesn’t try to hide the fact that her family is pretty well-off.”

“I guess not, but she’s really not so bad,” Fern said in defense of the rich girl. “I’ve known her for quite a while. She was in my class in third grade. She may be a bit stuck up, but she’s not a bad person. She just forgets what’s really important sometimes.”

“Are you friends?”

Fern shook her head slightly. “Not really. I mean, I’ve talked to her once in awhile and I wouldn’t say she’s ever been mean to me. Honestly, her friend Francine bothers me more, though she’s better now than she used to be.”

“Is she that one really sporty girl she hangs around with?”

Fern nodded, placing her chin in her hand. “M-hm. I honestly felt like she was kind of a bully in the past. She even picked on me a couple times and made me cry.”

Becky frowned sadly. “Aw, I’m sorry…”

“It’s okay, it was a long time ago and we made up, even if I still didn’t love her after that.”

“I just can’t stand the thought of someone picking on you is all. Why on earth would anyone want to do that to you?”

“Are you kidding? Look at me. I’m quiet, unpopular, dorky - perfect fodder for bullies.”

“Well it wouldn’t make picking on you any more okay… but still, if anyone ever makes you cry again, I’ll be sure to tell them off. And I wouldn’t bop them in the nose or anything, but I’m sure I’d want to.”

Fern giggled, appreciating the sweetness in Becky’s statement. No one had ever said anything like that to her before. “Well thanks, Becky. I appreciate it,” she said, placing her hand back down on the table.

“It’s nothing. I’d do it for any friend of mine,” Becky replied, placing her own hand down and rapping her fingers. Of course, after doing this a couple times, she realized she was actually doing it on top of Fern’s hand. She stopped sharply once she saw this, leaving her hand there as she locked eyed with the girl across from her. A strong wave of embarrassment hit her like a ton of bricks, and her face went red as she pulled it back. “Oh! I, um… sorry about that…”

“No, i-it’s okay…” Fern replied, pulling her own hand back and tucking it away, her own face turning red to match Becky’s. A very weird feeling had hit her when their eyes had met. It was like nothing she had ever experienced before. She barely knew how to describe it. All she could say was that she instantly felt more nervous and her pulse had picked up speed, as if her heart was going to beat out of her chest… and she was enjoying it for some reason. A million questions began racing around in her head. Is this what it feels like when… Could it be possible that… I don’t really… No, I couldn’t… Could I?

Becky had experienced the same thing, and felt just as confused about it as Fern did. Whoa… she thought to herself. I haven’t felt anything like this ever since the time I really liked Scoops… Oh god. Is this really happening? She was the first one to realize how long the two of them had been silent, and she decided she needed to work up the nerve to say something, anything. “So, um… thanks for meeting up to study with me today,” she finally spoke up.

Fern was pulled out of her own stupor as Becky spoke. “Oh, uh, well, thank you for suggesting it… It was nice to study with someone else for once.” She glanced to the edge of the table and noticed the check sitting there in its little black tray. She began to move her hand towards it to grab it. “Here, why don’t we figure out the check…”

Becky reached for the receipt herself once she saw Fern going to grab it. Their hands brushed against each other again momentarily, and both girls mentally panicked once more. Neither could believe the feelings they were having at that moment, and neither was aware that the other was acting the same as themselves as a result. “No no, here, let me pay for it,” Becky spoke up, moving to the edge of her seat to stand up, placing a couple bills on the table for the waitress to pick up.

“What? Oh Becky, you don’t have to pay for it,” Fern said, moving to stand up herself. She was almost surprised she managed to do so, as her legs were beginning to feel like jelly.

“It’s okay, Fern,” Becky assured as they began moving forward. “I’m the one who offered for us to come here. It’ll be my treat, don’t worry about it.”

“Well gosh, t-thank you…” Fern said, absentmindedly fiddling with the bow on her head. “That’s really nice of you.”

Becky told Fern once more that it was no trouble before paying the girl at the counter and walking outside. They had walked there from each of their houses, so they both began the trip back to their respective houses together. Nighttime was beginning to settle in, a few stars showing up in the dark sky, which turned pink as it reached the horizon near where the sun had set.

After a few blocks, Becky finally broke the silence that had set in between them. “Well, this is where I need to break off,” she said, pointing down the street that led to her house. “I had a nice time, Fern. We should do this again.”

Fern smiled a little and nodded. “Yeah, we should. I had a nice time too, even if a lot of it was spent doing math…”

Becky giggled. “Well, being with you makes it a lot more enjoyable.”

Fern blushed and looked down at her feet as her smile grew. “I feel the same way with you…”

Becky smiled in return and stepped closer to wrap Fern in a small hug. “Thanks, Fern. I appreciate it.”

Fern hugged Becky back for a couple seconds before they finally broke their embrace. They simply looked at each other for a couple seconds, after which Becky began turning around. “I’ll see you in class tomorrow, okay?”

“...Okay,” Fern replied, turning to where she needed to go as well. “See you, Becky.”

On that note, both girls began the last stretch of each of their walks home. Neither one could believe what they had just experienced. In Fern’s case, she had always wanted to have that feeling before, but she never thought she would feel it in relation to another girl. And as for Becky, she hadn’t felt such a feeling in a long time, and it had been long enough since she’d felt it last that it may as well have been new to her, especially considering it was with a girl this time. Both their messy, complicated strings of thoughts could really be summed up in one much simpler one:

Oh my god. Am I getting a crush on a girl?!

***

While Becky and Fern were dealing with their newfound feelings for each other, Matt and Inez and arrived at the Northern Frontier where Jackie and Digit were waiting for them.

“Hey guys,” Matt greeted after hopping out of the portal with Inez. “So what’s the deal?”

“I would tell you if I knew for sure, Earthlies, but I don’t have much of an idea,” Digit spoke, pointing his wing. “Take a look.”

Matt and Inez turned their heads too see the massive statue of Hacker, stood a bit of a distance away from the shelter.

“Whoa! Hacker hasn’t built a statue that big in awhile,” Inez remarked in surprise, having to crane her neck a bit to see towards the top of it.

“I know, right? That’s what I thought when I saw it,” Jackie concurred. “I wonder what he’s using this one for.”

“That’s what we’re here to try and find out,” Digit spoke, adjusting his cap.

“Hmm… Looks to me like it’s about the size of the Grim Wreaker,” Matt observed, looking back and forth between the statue and the shelter.

“You think so? It’s so hard to tell when there’s nothing to compare it to,” Jackie replied.

“There’s the shelter over there,” Matt pointed out.

“Let’s check it out,” Inez suggested, turning to look down at their feathered teammate. “Digit, do you have any tape measure?”

“I do believe I do,” Digit replied, rooting around in his chest compartment before finding pulling out a roll of tape measure. “Ta-da! Here ya go,” he exclaimed, presenting it in his outstretched wing.

“Thanks, Didge,” Inez said. She grabbed it, pulled it out a bit, took the tip of it, and placed it on the ground against the statue. “Now go ahead and fly up to the top and see how tall it is.”

“Righto!” Digit nodded, taking back the body of the measuring tape and flying up to the top, Inez keeping her finger on it at the bottom to hold it steady. Once Digit read off the height, they then made the short walk to the shelter and repeated the process. The new measurement was only a couple feet off from the statue, but it was close.

“So they ARE about the same size,” Jackie remarked, pacing around a bit. “You guys think that has anything to do with anything?”

“Maybe?...” Inez supposed, scratching her chin in thought. She pulled off her glasses and cleaned them before giving the statue another look. “You know… it kind of reminds me of those statues Hacker placed on all those different Cybersites that time, so he could use portals to get to and from each one more quickly.”

“You think this is another one of those?” Matt wondered, giving it another look himself. “It DOES look pretty similar.”

“But if it DOES make portals, then where does this one go?” Digit asked. “The Wreaker isn’t here, so I’m guessing they’ve used it and gone somewhere else, if that’s the case.”

“I’m not sure, Didge,” Jackie answered, shaking her head. “And I don’t really see any way we could find out.”

“I think the best thing to do is wait a bit. I mean, Hacker has to come back eventually, right? Once he does, we can come back and do a little snooping around. Maybe we’ll overhear something that tells us what this is all about,” Inez explained.

“Sounds alright to me. I don’t have any better ideas,” Matt said with a shrug.

“Well thanks for trying anyway, Eartlies,” Digit said gratefully. “We’ll keep an eye on them up at Control Central, and we’ll call you when Hacker comes back, or if we find out anything else.”

“Great. Thanks, Didge. We’ll keep in touch,” Matt said before calling Motherboard to summon a portal for him and Inez to get back where they were, while Jackie got her own. They all hopped through them and waved goodbye to their friend, and Digit was alone once more. He stepped over to the side of the shelter where he had left his vehicle that he’d used to get there. Ugh, that Hacker, he thought to himself as he began taking off. Always making us guess what he could possibly be up to. If he’s already tried this before with a whole bunch of statues, what good could do to only have one?

***

After they arrived back on Earth, Matt drove Inez back home and they said their goodbyes for the night. They had both enjoyed the outing, even if it had been cut short, and it hadn’t happened quite the way they’d wanted it to. Matt was kicking himself on the drive home for not having the guts to come out with it sooner, but he eventually let it go. He would just try again another time, he decided. At least they had gotten an update on Hacker, if nothing else.

The next day went alright for everybody, despite it being a Monday and no one being thrilled to be back at school. Fern had taken to sitting with Becky and her friends at lunch now, and had brought along her friend George that day to introduce him to Becky. He had liked her, and it didn’t take long for him to realize why she and Fern got along as well as they did. Becky liked George as well, and she insisted on seeing him do some ventriloquism sometime after he mentioned it was a hobby of his.

Despite lunch being as pleasant as it was, though, Becky and Fern were both aware of a weird feeling hanging between the two of them, though neither was aware that the other felt it as well. They wanted to talk about what they were feeling, but neither wanted to risk ruining their quickly strengthening friendship. However, they both wished to talk to someone about these new feelings, and each decided to try and find the time to talk to their friends at some point, as soon as they could work up the nerve to do so.

Becky had unfortunately been forced to take off in the middle of that lunch break to go fight Tobey McCallister, who had also decided to use his own lunch break to unleash a new batch of robots upon the city. She put a stop to it though, and the rest of the day went by with little to speak of.

On the contrary, this was not the case for Hacker that day. After spending the morning keeping an eye on the city with Buzz and Delete’s assistance, his attention was quickly drawn to the sight of a commotion taking place downtown. It appeared that a handful of robots the size of buildings were rampaging through the streets. Hacker chuckled upon seeing such glorious chaos, and was pleased to see that there were apparently Earthlings that enjoyed causing it as well. He made a mental note of the boy perched atop the shoulders of one of the robots, who appeared to be the one controlling them.

What truly surprised Hacker, though, was seeing a red streak zooming by, only to come to a stop right in front of the boy. Once it did, Hacker was able to get a good look and realize it appeared to be a human girl in a red and yellow superhero outfit, who looked about as old as the three Earthlings he knew of.

“Whoa! Boss! That girl was flying!” Delete cried in shock. “I didn’t know Earthlings could fly!”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions now,” Hacker said, holding up a finger to his lips, gesturing for the robot to keep quiet. “Motherboard’s little nuisances can’t fly. I think we’re missing a piece of the puzzle. Just be quiet and watch for now.”

They all continued to observe the two teenagers have a brief battle. As they did so, Hacker quickly discovered that the girl also possessed other superpowers consisting of super strength, super speed… and a vast knowledge of vocabulary, of all things.

Once the battle was finally over and the girl had taken off in a blur, Hacker had a deeply set grimace on his face. He should have figured it wouldn’t be so easy to fly in and take over, and he was glad he had chosen to avoid doing so too quickly. This girl was definitely a superhero, without a doubt, and she posed a serious threat to his plans.

He stood up silently and slowly trudged to the back of the cockpit where he paused, facing away from his minions and holding his arms behind his back. He appeared to be deep in thought, and Buzz and Delete silently waited for him to do or say something.

After several moments of utter silence, Hacker finally spoke up in a low tone. “It appears that we have an unexpected road bump to hurdle, you two… I’d even be willing to say that she’s more of a threat than Motherboard’s kids. Not that we won’t deal with them once we find them, of course. I’ve underestimated them too many times before, and they need to be eliminated if I’m going to succeed. But now we have another bug to squash…”

He went silent again before turning back around to face the robots, his cape swirling about as he did so. “Buzz, Delete, I need you to find out everything you can about this girl, and relate it back to me. Go into town in disguise if you have to. I want to know all I can possibly know about her if I want to have any chance of getting rid of her efficiently. While you do that, I’m going to begin attempting to track her down, and I won’t rest until I manage to do so. After all, if she’s anything like other superheroes… then we know she has to have a secret identity.”

Chapter Text

On Tuesday evening, Hacker was sitting and looking out over the city, trying to look for any sign of WordGirl. He had had no luck thus far since seeing her yesterday afternoon, and it was getting dark enough that he would have to call off his search for the day soon. It was much more tasking doing this by himself without Buzz and Delete’s eyes as well, but he had ordered them to head into the city to find as much information as possible about his new rival.

It finally came to and end when Hacker heard the sound of his minions entering the ship and making their way to the cockpit. When he heard them at the door, he swivelled around in his recharging chair and eyed them expectantly. “So? What did you manage to find out?”

Buzz and Delete were clearly exhausted. They had taken off early in the morning to have plenty of time to walk to town. They had worn disguises so they hopefully wouldn’t be found out as robots, each wearing street clothes and wigs. Luckily for them no one appeared to notice, and they had been able to make their way around with little heartache. It had been a long day though, consisting of much walking and many questions to ask to dozens of people.

They both trudged up to their boss, and Buzz pulled out a small bunch of papers. “Here ya are, boss… There’s everything we could find out.”

“Yeah… We asked tons of people questions and found out as much as we could, just like ya said,” Delete added hopefully.

“Hmm… Let’s have a look, then,” Hacker said, taking the papers from Buzz and leafing through them. All he had been able to tell before was that she was a teenage girl and had powers of strength, speed, and extensive knowledge of the English language. Looking over the papers though, he quickly came to realize there had been much they hadn’t known.

According to the information his henchmen had brought to him, WordGirl was actually an alien from a far off planet, and wasn’t just a regular Earthling. She revealed herself to the public several years prior and became a widely known crime fighter. It was unknown to anyone what her secret identity was, for obvious reasons.

It seemed she did have a physical weakness - a substance known as Lexonite, which could weaken her powers. Hacker liked the idea of using it on her, but it seemed that it was not a common substance, and who knew how long it would take to find some.

There was one other notable bit of information though: She had never been permanently defeated before, despite there being a few close calls here and there. Hacker wasn’t deterred, however. He was willing to bet that most of her opponents had simply never considered thinking outside the box before for ways to defeat her. He knew he had an advantage in this department. She likely wouldn’t be prepared for the kind of planning he was doing.

He finally glanced up from the papers and looked at his minions. “Good job, you two. I’m not certain how much of this information we’ll actually need, but the more we know, the better. Until I can find out her secret identity, we can only be so prepared.”

“But boss, how are you gonna find that out?” Buzz asked as he and Delete laid down on the floor, tired from all the walking they had done. “There are so many people in the city, and she could be anywhere!”

“Not exactly,” Hacker argued, turning back to the city on screen and zooming in on a particular building, illuminated by several lamp posts in its large parking lot. “Boys, what do we know about WordGirl?” he asked, continuing to watch the screen.

“Um… she’s a superhero?” Delete replied hesitantly.

“Try again.”

“Well… she’s a girl?” Buzz proposed.

“True, but still wrong.”

“She’s an alien?”

“No, no, no! You incessant imbeciles!” Hacker cried in frustration. “What we know is that she’s young and appears to be a teenager. And do you know where teenagers go every weekday? Hmm?”

“...School?” Delete asked after a short stretch of silent thinking.

“Correct. Now, assuming WordGirl has a secret identity, it only stands to reason that she would go to school just like anyone else, wouldn’t you say?”

“I, uh… I guess so,” Buzz replied, not entirely sure where there boss was going with this.

“Plus, if a crime happens during the day, she would have to go and fight it, yes? We saw her do just that the other day.”

“Well sure, boss, but… what does that have to do with finding out who she is?” Delete asked.

“Rrgh! You two are so dense! It means that if we keep an eye on the school during the day, and a crime happens, we’ll be able to see WordGirl leave and take off, then come back and reassume her alter ego! And once we figure out who she is in public, we’ll be that much closer to defeating her.”

“Oooooohhhh……” Buzz and Delete said in unison, finally understanding what Hacker was getting at.

“Sure, it may take a little while for the circumstance to happen, but I’m confident we’ll catch her in time as long as we stay vigilant. Once we know her secret identity, she won’t be able to hide anymore, and we can look for the perfect way to bring her to her knees.”

***

The past couple days had not been particularly kind to Matt. It had been almost two whole days, and he was still frustrated by how close he had been to telling Inez his feelings. He knew there was no one to blame but himself, though. He had simply taken too long to come out with it, and they had needed to go see what Hacker was up to before they could do anything else, as annoyingly timed as it may have been.

That afternoon during his free period, he was sitting at a bench outside on the school grounds, passing time by playing with his yo-yo. He had never stopped using it over the years, and could now do a good number of rather impressive tricks. It was also therapeutic for him and helped him think.

He was so distracted by it and his thoughts on this sunny autumn afternoon that he didn’t notice a figure coming up and stopping next to him until they finally spoke up. “Hey, Matt.”

Matt looked up to see Jackie standing there, a sympathetic look on her face. She was wearing her running outfit, and Matt concluded she must have just gotten out of gym and was now on her own free period. “Oh - Hey, Jacks,” Matt replied with a tired smile. “How’s it going?”

“I was going to ask you the same question,” Jackie replied, taking a seat next to her friend. “I would also ask how your outing with Inez went the other night, but judging by what you two were wearing when we got to Cyberspace, I’m guessing it kinda got interrupted, huh?”

Matt sighed, still flicking his yo-yo as he went on. “Yeah… It’s alright, it’s not the end of the world or anything. But I was THIS close to telling her everything,” he stressed, holding up his free hand and holding his thumb and forefinger less than an inch apart.

“Gee, sorry about that,” Jackie said apologetically.

“It’s okay, it was just kind of frustrating. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever get the opportunity to tell her.”

“What are you even waiting for, then? You could go up to her today and tell her, couldn’t you?”

“Come on, Jacks. It isn’t that simple. I want it to be perfect, you know? You’re telling me you wouldn’t rather tell someone you like them in a more romantic setting than a school hallway?”

“I guess that wouldn’t be ideal, when you put it that way…” Jackie supposed, crossing her arms and leaning back on the bench.

“Right? I can’t just do it out of the blue. I want to be prepared, to be in a good place to do it and to say just the right thing, you know?”

“Yeah yeah, I get it… So what are you going to do now?”

“I dunno… I guess I’ll just have to try again at some point, once I work up the nerve again.”

Jackie chuckled somewhat disheartedly. “God, Matt, you’re hopeless.”

“You don’t think I know that? I’ve wanted to do this for years and I still can’t just tell her already.”

“Well… I wish I could tell you what to do, Matt, but it’s not like I’m a romance expert… Just keep trying, I guess. If you keep at it, it’ll have to work out one of these times, right?... I just wouldn’t take too long if I were you.”

“Why not?” Matt asked, before becoming visibly agitated. “Oh come on, Jacks. Not that feeling you mentioned before…”

“I’m telling you Matt, it hasn’t gone away and it’s only gotten stronger.  It’s been OVER A WEEK now, and nothing has really happened, even after seeing that statue. You’re telling me you’re not even a LITTLE worried?”

“I don’t know, I mean… maybe a little…” Matt admitted self-consciously. “But what does it matter? Until we find out what he’s up to, is there any point worrying about it?”

Jackie shrugged. “Well I don’t want to grow complacent and eventually be taken off-guard. It’s been way too long since the guy has done anything. What if I’m right and he IS up to something big? And what if we can’t beat him this time?”

“We’ll beat him, Jacks, don’t worry!”

“But what if we don’t?” Jackie persisted. “I don’t want you to have never told Inez how you feel about her before something like that happens, Matt. I would feel bad for you.”

Matt stopped playing with his yo-yo and was silent for a bit, resting his elbows on his legs and resting his head in his hands. “...I’ve thought about that too, honestly… It’s just that… you know I don’t like to stress out about things. I never feel like it helps anything… but you’re not totally wrong. I don’t want that to happen either.”

“I know you don’t…” Jackie said defeatedly, patting her friend’s back before standing up. “Well, I’ll leave you alone now. I’d better get moving anyway.” She began to turn around, but looked back at Matt. “I’m not gonna tell you what you have to do, Matt. All I’ll say for now is just… be careful, and don’t do anything you’ll end up regretting...” With that, Jackie placed her earbuds in and began jogging out to the school track field, leaving Matt to his thoughts.

 

Matt And Jackie by PastelRoll

 

***

Later that afternoon, after most kids had gone home from school, George Lundgren was hard at work in his family’s garage. His parents had recently been desiring a new set of end tables for their bedroom. George had maintained his hobby of woodworking over the years, and he had offered to build the set for them, which they gratefully accepted.

He had been going at it for a few days now, and had all the pieces cut to shape. On this day he was drilling holes into them to prepare to screw it all together, when his mother came into the garage. “George, honey!” she called out over the whirring sound of the drill.

Upon realizing his mother had stepped in and called him, he shut off the drill and set it aside. “Hi, Mom! What is it?”

“Fern is here to see you, if you’re not too busy.”

George raised his brow in surprise. He certainly hadn’t been expecting his friend to show up today. It wasn’t a common occurrence in general, and usually she’d ask first. “Oh! Well sure, that’d be fine. This can wait a bit. Thanks, Mom.”

On that note, Mrs. Lundgren went to get Fern, and she soon appeared in the doorway. “Hi, George. Sorry I interrupted you.”

“No, it’s fine,” George assured, lifting his safety goggles up and dusting himself off a bit. “I’m building a set of end tables for my parents’ bedroom, but it’s hardly urgent or anything. What’re you doing here?”

“There’s something that’s been weighing on my mind the past few days,” Fern answered, stepping further into the garage. “I knew if anyone could help me, it was you.”

George smiled. He appreciated how highly Fern’s statement suggested she thought of him. “Well I’ll certainly try. What’s been bothering you?...... Oh… You… you haven’t been having those thoughts again, have you?” he asked concernedly, dropping the smile.

“What? Oh no, no George, it’s fine. It’s nothing like that,” Fern replied fervently. “That hasn’t come up for quite a while now. It’s something else.”

“Oh, well phew! That’s good,” George said, clearly relieved as he wiped his forehead. “Go ahead, you can tell me anything, you know.”

“Yeah, I know… This is just difficult to admit…” Fern sighed and wrapped one arm around herself, while resting her chin on her opposite fist. “I have kind of a crush on someone…”

“Really??” George asked, rather surprised by this development. Fern had never talked about liking anyone before, and perhaps he was the least a bit hopeful that it might be himself she was referring to.

Fern nodded. “It’s pretty recent. But it’s just left me really confused about myself.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well… It’s because… you see, I… I...” Fern stuttered, struggling to admit what had quickly become one of her biggest secrets.

George stepped closer and placed a hand on her shoulder. “You know I mean it when I say you can tell me anything, right?” he asked reassuringly. “I would never tell anyone something you didn’t want me to.”

Fern sighed. “I know… You promise?”

“Cross my heart and hope to die,” George replied without hesitation, making an “x” over his chest.

“Alright… well, the thing is…” Fern took a deep breath before finally getting it out. “...It’s Becky.”

George might have felt more disappointed upon hearing this if he hadn’t been so flabbergasted. “What?! Becky?! Oh wow, I mean… Gosh, Fern… I never knew you liked girls.”

“Ugh, me neither, until last week,” Fern replied, her face turning red as she nervously fiddled with her shirt. “I never thought I liked girls, it’s just that I’ve never actually liked a boy before. But I just figured I hadn’t met the right one yet. I guess there was more to it than that…”

“No kidding,” George remarked with a nod. “Well thanks for telling me, Fern. It means alot to me that you trust me enough to tell me something so personal.”

Fern half-smiled, looking down at the floor. “It’s nothing. It’s not like there’s a lot of other people I could tell, and I trust you.”

“So what is it you like about her, exactly?”

“Well, she’s really smart and nice. We both like reading, and… I don’t know, she just makes me feel really good in a way no one else ever has. It’s honestly really hard to describe…”

“I get what you mean,” George replied. He definitely could appreciate where Fern was coming from. He had often felt that way himself about his friend. “I’m guessing you’re nervous about telling her?”

Fern nodded. “Exactly. I’m afraid she won’t like me back. I mean, when we talked the other day, she began questioning  whether she might possibly like girls as well as guys, but that doesn’t automatically mean she’s going to like me that way. And what if it ruins our friendship? I don’t want that to happen.”

George scratched his antlers as he pondered the situation. Fern was definitely in a pickle, but he could once again relate to her situation. “Well…” he finally spoke up, “I think there’s two ways you could look at it: You can either keep your feelings to yourself and carry them with you, but still be friends; or you can tell Becky how you feel and open the door to her either accepting or rejecting you. And what I think you should ask yourself is if you think telling her how you feel about her is worth risking your friendship. It’s not like there’s any going back for you, right?”

Fern drank in George’s wisdom and debated the questions he proposed with herself. This is why she was glad to be friends with him. He was so good at giving advice. “I do know I wouldn’t enjoy never getting to tell her…”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t. And hey, there’s always a chance, right? Think of what could happen if she says yes!”

Fern giggled and smiled a little at the thought. She had quickly come to like the idea of being with Becky that way. “It would be pretty great…”

“Right?” George said brightly. “But hey, don’t let me decide for you. Obviously do what you think would be best.”

“Yeah, I should probably think about it a bit more,” Fern agreed. “But thank you so much, George. I feel a lot better now. I’ll be sure to let you know how things go.”

“Great! I’ll be excited to hear,” George replied, pulling his goggles back on. “You wanna hang around a while?”

“Thank you, but I should probably get going. I’ll see you at school, okay?” Fern said, turning back towards the door.

“Yep! See you!” George said with a nod and a thumbs up, grabbing his drill. He then began returning to his project and heard the door shut behind him. He finally allowed himself to frown a bit in disappointment. So Fern didn’t like him after all. In fact, it turned out she didn’t even like boys in general. At least now he had some sort of closure and didn’t feel like he was left hanging, he supposed. And he wasn’t about to be selfish. There were plenty of fish in the sea, and he wanted his friend to be happy, even if that meant not being with him. He hoped for the best for her and Becky, whatever that might turn out to be.

***

Fern did as she said she would and spent the next few days thinking deeply about her feelings for Becky. After a long, hard think to herself, she felt she just wasn’t ready to decide yet. She wanted to have at least one more conversation with Becky before going any further with this. So at lunch on Friday she asked Becky if she could come over to her house again, which Becky happily agreed to. Becky had been having her own struggles with her own growing feelings for her newest friend, and she also felt another visit with her might help her sort them out.

That afternoon as school was letting out, Becky and Fern met up in the hall close to the entrance and walked outside, when suddenly a loud cry rang out shouting, “HEEEEEELP!!” Glancing around, the two girls quickly spotted a man running towards them, who Becky quickly recognized as the same guy who often inadvertently reported developing crimes to her. He ran up to the two girls and hollered, “GRANNY MAY IS ATTACKING CITY HALL!!... Wait, is this the police station?”

Becky face palmed and replied as Fern watched. “Ugh! No, it isn’t. You were just here last week! You should remember the police station is four blocks that way! Mr. Ratburn told you that!”

“Oh, right… I forgot. Silly me,” the guy replied with a shrug before taking off again in a panic.

Fern frowned, puzzled. “How can someone make a mistake like that twice?”

“You never know with that guy,” Becky answered before hastily making up an excuse so she could go take care of business. “Oh! I just remembered, I left one of my books inside. I’m gonna go get it. Could you wait here just a minute, Fern?”

“Okay, but hurry back. We don’t want to miss the bus again,” Fern complied. She would hate for them to have to walk again, and she wanted as much time as possible to spend and talk with Becky at her house. Although looking back, she had to admit it was a rather romantic picture to have Becky walk her home in the rain, even if they were only just becoming friends then.

“Great! I’ll be back in a jiffy,” Becky promised, running back into the building and darting into the bathroom. Relieved to find she was alone, she transformed into WordGirl and flew off towards downtown, taking care of Granny May within a matter of minutes. The woman happened to be getting quite close to her retirement, so the combination of that along with having gotten older and slower made her quite easy to defeat. In a weird way, Becky was almost going to miss her, though she had no logical defense for this.

Having accomplished her goal, Becky quickly returned to school and walked back outside where Fern was waiting patiently by the buses. “I’m back! Sorry about that. I just didn’t want to leave that book behind,” Becky apologized.

“It’s okay, let’s just get going,” Fern replied, motioning for Becky to follow.

“Right,” Becky agreed with a nod, climbing onto the bus behind Fern and taking a seat next to her.

Little did either girl realize that they were being watched the entire time. Several miles from town, Hacker had been keeping his eyes focused on the school along with Buzz and Delete. He had seen Becky and Fern exit the school along with hundreds of other students, and had seen Becky dart back inside. When he saw the same red streak flying out of a school window, similar to what he had seen earlier that week, his suspicions grew exponentially. And when the streak returned a few minutes later only for Becky to walk back outside the building within a matter of seconds, he smiled widely and chuckled. “Well well well… Look who we found, boys.”

“Wow… You think that’s WordGirl, boss?” Buzz asked.

“I’m positive that’s her,” Hacker confirmed without a hint of doubt. He managed to zoom in on the pair of girls as they boarded the bus, allowing them all a better look at Becky. “Take a look at her - Same face, same hair, same size, and she just so happened to appear to be in the building the entire time while WordGirl was downtown, and went in and out within moments of WordGirl arriving and departing - I think it’s quite safe to say that that’s her.”

“So what now, boss? We’re just gonna follow her?”

“We certainly are. We’re going to observe her very closely until we find out more about her secret identity. Now we know what she looks like, and once we know where she lives, she’ll be completely helpless. And the best part is that she won’t even know it.

Chapter Text

Becky and Fern stepped off the bus and made the short walk to Becky’s house on that sunny Friday afternoon in early October, grateful they had managed to catch it this time and not get left behind again. Becky’s parents greeted Fern cheerfully when they arrived and offered them snacks before the girls retired to Becky’s room. They both had quickly come to like Fern judging by all the positive things Becky had told them about her, as well as from the couple times they’d seen her. Similarly to Violet, she was polite and quiet and didn’t cause trouble.

Both girls enjoyed their time together that afternoon, snacking and chatting. Today Fern got the chance to meet Becky’s pet monkey. She’d told her his name was Bob, and he had behaved well towards Fern, and wasn’t bad company. Becky had also convinced her to let her look at her writing notebook again, which Fern reluctantly agreed to. She once again encouraged her to try entering some of her writings and poems into contests again. Fern appreciated how much Becky said she enjoyed it all, but she remained rather unconvinced at first. Becky continued to persuade her, practically begging by the end of it. Fern hadn’t expected Becky’s elongated “please’s” to sound so cute, but her heart melted upon hearing them, and this finally persuaded her to agree to at least think about it, which Becky reacted quite giddily to.

Time passed by in a flash for them, and the sun was rather low in the sky when Fern finally decided it was about time for her to be heading home. As disappointed as Becky was, she knew it was probably best that Fern not get home too late.

“So hey, did you maybe want to go to the library to study again tomorrow?” Becky proposed, standing up off of her bed.

Fern smiled. She had quite enjoyed their last time doing this, and being with Becky had certainly made studying a much less draining experience. She nodded and replied as they left the room and walked down the stairs, “Sure! We can do that.”

“Awesome! I’ll see you tomorrow, then!” Becky said gladly as they reached the bottom of the stairs. “Same time as last time?"

“Works for me,” Fern confirmed, putting on her jacket and shoes before turning the knob and opening the door.

“You’re sure you won’t want my parents to drive you home?” Becky asked.

“It’s fine, I don’t mind walking. It’s a nice day, and I’ve been getting used to doing it,” Fern assured, smiling as she went on. “Thanks for having me over again, Becky. It’s been fun hanging out with you.”

“Well, you’re always welcome here, Fern,” Becky said sweetly. “Anytime you want to come over, just ask. I’ve really enjoyed having you over, too.”

“Thank you, Becky. And you can always come over to my house too.”

It was then that Becky stepped forward and wrapped Fern in a hug, which Fern gladly returned. “Stay warm, okay? I think it’s gonna get chilly tonight.”

“I will, and you too,” Fern said in return. It had truly begun to make her feel warm and fuzzy inside hearing Becky say such things, knowing she held concern for her well-being. “Goodnight, Becky,” she added, turning to begin her walk home.

“Goodnight, Fern!” Becky called back, waving and standing at the door until Fern turned a corner and was out of sight. She then slumped back against the open door and placed her hand to her forehead as her mind raced. One of her main goals for that afternoon had been to use her time with Fern to try and judge how she truly felt about the girl, and she now felt more strongly than ever that she cared about her in a different way than platonic friends did. She felt she needed a bit more help to draw a better conclusion though. “I need to call Violet…” she decided aloud, straightening up and shutting the door behind her. “She’ll know what to do.”

***

Hacker unfortunately wasn’t able to see into the house very well with his camera setup. Knowing this would be a hindrance to finding out more information, he had once again sent Buzz and Delete into the city once saw what house she and another girl were entering, who Hacker assumed was likely a friend of WordGirl’s. He then had his henchmen dress in their disguises once more and dispatched them to the location after finding out the house’s address, and they had been forced to hurry. They didn’t know for sure whether WordGirl or the other girl lived there, and they needed to be there in time to see which one would actually be the one to leave.

After making the long, hurried trip, Buzz and Delete collapsed on the ground against the house after each climbing behind one of the small bushes on either side of the front door. Several minutes after resting and listening, they heard a pair of voices approaching the door and immediately went quiet. Peeking out, they could see the door open, revealing both WordGirl and her friend.

“You’re sure you won’t want my parents to drive you home?”

“It’s fine, I don’t mind walking. It’s a nice day, and I’ve been getting used to doing it. Thanks for having me over again, Becky. It’s been fun hanging out with you.”

“Well, you’re always welcome here, Fern. Anytime you want to come over, just ask. I’ve really enjoyed having you over, too.”

“Thank you, Becky. And you can always come over to my house too.”

The two girls then proceeded to share an embrace before bidding each other goodbye. Buzz and Delete were relieved to see that it was the other girl who walked outside and began heading away down the street, realizing that they were at the right house. They also made a mental note of their names, that WordGirl was Becky and that her friend was Fern.

They then noticed Becky hadn’t closed the door right away, but was leaning back against it, her hand against her forehead. She appeared to be in deep, frantic thought about something. “I need to call Violet…” she eventually huffed to herself before straightening up and shutting the door.

The two robots met each other’s gazes, panicking a bit. They hadn’t found out very much information, and they weren’t sure what to do next. Buzz pulled out a walkie-talkie they had brought with them, clicked the talk button, and spoke into it in a low tone so as not to be heard by any potential passers-by. “Boss! Boss! Come in, boss!”

“I’m here, I’m here,” Hacker replied through the veil of static. “What did you two find out?”

“Well, it turns out this IS WordGirl’s house, and her name is Becky. The other girl’s name is Fern, and she said she was going to talk on the phone with someone named Violet.”

Hacker could be heard chuckling fiendishly on the other end. “Perfect! I’m going to look for a satellite signal and see if I can’t listen in on their conversation myself. You two can come back while I do that.”

“Ugh… Yes, boss…” Buzz replied warily, while Delete groaned in frustration from the opposite bush. They hadn’t even been resting for ten minutes, and now they had to make the trip back once more. They didn’t protest, though, as they began walking back in the direction they had come from.

It was already getting dark by the time Buzz and Delete made their way back to the Grim Wreaker and climbed aboard. Both trudged through the hall and opened the door to the cockpit where Hacker was seated before collapsing in a heap on the floor. “We’re… we’re back, boss…” Delete huffed between heavy breaths.

Hacker turned around and said in an impatient huff, “Well there you are. I was beginning to wonder if you two nincompoops were ever going to show up.”

“Well… it was a long walk, boss…” Buzz pointed out in their own defense.

“Hey, were you able to find the right signal?” Delete asked, slowly standing up and stretching his back.

“You bet your boots I found it,” Hacker answered with a satisfied grin, swivelling his chair around to face the two exhausted cyborgs. “And I believe I have just about all I need. Take a listen,” he ordered, turning around and pressing a button on his control panel, causing a clip of a conversation to begin playing. Buzz and Delete recognized one of the voices as WordGirl’s, and they assumed the other was this Violet girl they had heard her mention.

The conversation was somewhat interesting for them to listen to. Apparently Becky had a crush on that Fern girl they had seen her with. Violet had been surprised to hear this, but she was still excited for Becky and had encouraged her to ask Fern out. Becky had been concerned about whether doing this would possibly ruin her friendship, but Violet wasn’t discouraged, and maintained that Becky should take a chance through some rather poetic speech. Becky then thanked Violet for her help and understanding, and the call ended.

Hacker looked back and forth between his henchmen as he began speaking once more. “So tell me boys - What did you learn from hearing that call?”

It was a few moments before Buzz finally spoke up, albeit hesitantly. “Um… that WordGirl has a crush on that girl we saw earlier?”

Hacker nodded. “Precisely.”

“But what does that have to do with anything, boss?” Delete asked with confusion.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Hacker asked indignantly. “It means we finally have what we need to defeat WordGirl!”

“Come again?” Buzz asked, tilting his head.

Hacker’s face formed into a blank, flat, unimpressed stare. “I mean, we finally have an exploitable weakness to use against her!” He swivelled his chair back around so it was facing away from his minions. “I’m quite glad I decided to follow the other girl to her own home with one of the cameras. Buzz, Delete - Tomorrow I’m going to be sending you on one more errand for me… Oh! And also, before I forget - you’re going to need a box.”

***

The next day at Control Central in Cyberspace, Digit was venting concerns he had to Motherboard over the situation regarding Hacker. Almost another whole week had passed since they had called the Cybersquad to see the statue, and there had still been no sign of Hacker anywhere.

“I’m gettin’ real worried, Motherboard,” Digit fretted, pacing around on the floor in front of the large screen as Motherboard looked down at him. “We shoulda seen something by now, right? Hacker’s never gone this long without starting up some new scheme of his! When Jackie first got here the other day, she said to me she’d been worried Hacker might be up to something big. What if she’s right? I don’t like this, Motherboard, not one bit.”

“Why don’t you try making another trip to the Northern Frontier?” Motherboard suggested. “Perhaps there was something there that you missed before that could help out.”

Digit sighed. “I guess it’s worth a shot. I don’t want to just sit here and do nothing while Hacker’s up to god-knows-what.” He made his way towards the exit and said, “I’ll be back in a little while, Motherboard. I’ll call you if I find something,” he promised, though his hopes of finding anything weren’t high.

“Very well. Good luck, Digit,” Motherboard bid him.

“Thanks… I’ll probably need it.”

Digit made his way to his ship and blasted off, making the trip to the Northern Frontier and landing behind Hacker’s base. The statue was still there as it had been before, and the inside of the shelter remained vacant. The bird cautiously made his way inside, taking care to make as little sound as possible on the off-chance someone might hear him, though he highly doubted anyone would.

After several minutes of fruitless searching, Digit was about ready to throw in the towel, when he suddenly heard unexpected noise from outside. In a startled panic, he dove behind a pair of large trash cans next to a small pile of boxes, desperately hoping he wouldn’t be spotted. As he listened to a pair of voices approaching, he quickly recognized them as being Buzz and Delete.

“See, Deedee? I told you there were plenty of boxes here.”

“But will any of them be a good size, Buzzy?”

“I’m sure out of all of them, there has to be at least one that’ll work. Now come on, help me look.”

Digit held his breath as he peeked between the small space between the two trash cans, and could see the two robots rooting through the pile of boxes close by. He held his breath, wondering what they could possibly need a box for.

“Hey, Buzzy - Does this one look okay?” Delete asked, holding up a box that appeared to be just big enough to hold an average sized Christmas tree.

Buzz stepped over and took a look. “Hmm… Looks okay to me. C’mon, let’s get goin’. The boss won’t want us to take too long getting back,” he said, beckoning for Delete to follow.

“Right behind ya,” Delete said with a nod, carrying the box with him as he followed Buzz outside.

Once they were out of view, Digit carefully came back out from behind the garbage cans and poked his head out slightly from inside the shelter to see where Hacker’s henchmen had gone. To his dismay, they were headed for the statue, which now had a large portal in front of it, towering quite high. He followed silently behind the two robots as they both entered the portal. Within moments, he had reached it as well. Although he was nervous, the bird knew there was only one way to find out where the portal led, so he took a deep breath and jumped through the portal.

When he came out the other side, Digit could see the two robots walking away from him, still unaware of his presence. He looked towards where they were walking to, and he could see what appeared to be the skyline of a large city. Looking around at his surroundings, Digit concluded that this was certainly no Cybersite he had ever seen before.

It was then that a piercing, awful realization hit Digit and caused him to seize up. What if this wasn’t actually a Cybersite at all? Oh no, he thought with alarm, I really hope this isn’t what I think it is…

Without another word, Digit hopped back through the portal before it had the chance to close, and popped out the other side, returning to the Northern Frontier. He began rushing back towards his ship and pulled out his skwak pad, dialing Control Central and waiting for Motherboard to appear on screen.

“Digit? What’s happened?”

“Motherboard! Call Matt, Jackie and Inez!! I think we have a problem!!”

***

While Digit scrambled to return to Control Central as quickly as possible and explain what he’d seen to Motherboard, back in the real world Fern remained ignorant to all that was going on, and was instead absorbed by her own thoughts on this Saturday afternoon. She had recently finished her lunch and was seated on her bed reading one of her books. Her parents had left to run a few weekend errands, leaving her alone to hold down the fort.

As she read, she couldn’t keep her thoughts from perpetually circling back to Becky, as well as the advice George had given her earlier that week. Having had almost a whole day to reflect on her most recent visit with Becky, along with an extended rest on the previous night, Fern had only been able to draw one conclusion: Not a single doubt remained in her mind that she indeed had romantic feelings for Becky.

However, now she was presented with a new dilemma. She knew she wanted to tell Becky how she felt, and common sense told her that George was right in what he’d said - If she didn’t open up to her about it, there was little to no chance they could ever be together. And some chance was better than no chance, right?

But would she be able to handle rejection? Fern questioned how well she’d be able to hold it together if Becky were to say she wasn’t interested in a relationship with her. She didn’t want her first crush to also become her first heartbreak.

All this was on her mind when out of nowhere she heard a loud noise from downstairs, which she thought sounded like a door being slammed open. This was followed by multiple pairs of steps clamoring up the stairs. She wondered if her parents had possibly forgotten something and had returned to pick it up. However, they weren’t usually so loud in doing such things.

What Fern most certainly had not expected to see at that moment were two strange-looking robots bursting open her bedroom door and stepping inside, quickly spotting her. One of them was much taller and was carrying a large wooden box, while the other was shorter and rounder.

Fern was scared speechless. It wasn’t as though she hadn’t ever seen a robot before. No one in Elwood City could say that and have it be true. But these ones were certainly different, and none of them had ever been near her house, let alone inside her bedroom.

“There she is, Deedee!” the shorter one shouted, pointing at her as she sat petrified on the bed. “Grab her!”

It was then that Fern finally regained control of her body and began backing away, letting out a blood-curdling scream. She fell off the bed and quickly scrambled to her feet, running up to her window and attempting to get it open. Her hands were shaking so badly, though, that she fumbled in getting it open. In pure desperation, she began pounding hard on the glass and cried out, “HELP!! HELP!! SOMEBODY HELP ME!!” Before she could do anything else, she suddenly felt something wrapping around her middle, pressing her arms to her sides while dragging her back from the window. She darted her head around and realized they were the taller robot’s arms, which could apparently extend to great lengths. “NO!! NO!! PLEASE, LET ME GO!!” she wailed, frantically trying to break free of the robot’s grasp. Before she could do anything else, though, she saw the smaller robot climb up on top of the larger one out of her peripheral vision. She then felt a blunt object being whacked against the back of her head, causing her to swiftly lose consciousness and fall to the floor, landing with a sharp crack.

***

“Ha-ha! I win again, Huggy!” Becky declared victoriously, slamming her paddle back on the ping pong table and pumping her fists in the air.

Huggy squeaked defeatedly, climbing down from the table and walking away.

“Oh come on, you don’t have to be a sore loser about it,” Becky scolded, following after her monkey sidekick. She had been spending the past couple hours with him at her spaceship hideout and had finished working out before challenging Huggy to a game of ping pong. They were dressed in their superhero outfits as they normally where while at the hideout. “How about best twenty-four out of forty-seven?”

Huggy shook his head, plopping down on the nearby couch to rest.

Becky shrugged. “Oh well. I should probably think about getting ready to go anyway. I’m planning on meeting Fern at the library at 3:00, and I don’t want to keep her waiting.”

Huggy squeaked flatly and rolled his eyes as he grabbed a nearby bag of chips.

Becky huffed and placed her hands on her hips. “What?! Well, w-what makes you think I like her that way?”

Huggy smirked knowingly, biting into a chip.

“...Was it really that obvious?” Becky asked self-consciously, dropping her frown.

Huggy nodded as he chewed.

Becky sighed. If anyone was good at reading her, it was Huggy. “Say… You wouldn’t possibly have any idea if she maybe likes me back… would you?”

Huggy shrugged, pouring a bunch of chips straight into his mouth.

“Hmph. Well thanks for all the help,” Becky said sarcastically. “I’m glad I at least had Violet to talk to about-” She suddenly stopped short and went totally silent. She glanced around, her attention to everything around her being heightened. “...Did you hear something, Huggy?” she asked quietly.

Huggy shook his head, growing slightly concerned.

Becky hesitated a few moments before speaking again. “I’m going to go outside. Stay here. I’ll be right back,” she said, zooming towards the exit in a flash. From the entrance to her spaceship, she glanced around at the treeline in front of her, searching for any sign of movement that could pinpoint where the noise she’d heard was coming from. She darted her head to the right upon hearing the sharp snapping of twigs a ways off from where she was. She flew up to the closest three in that direction and hid behind it, finally beginning to hear noise once more. She soon realized it was a pair of voices and she listened intently to decipher what they were saying.

“I don’t know, Buzzy… I just didn’t enjoy doing that. It looked like it really hurt, you know?”

“Come on, Deedee, you’re always so soft. Quit worrying about it. It’s all just part of the plan, like the boss said.”

Becky glanced around from behind the tree, attempting to find the source of the talking, which she quickly realized was a pair of robots. One was short and round while the other was tall and skinny. The latter was also carrying a large box. Is Tobey behind this?, she wondered to herself. Why on earth would two of his robots be out in the middle of the woods? She continued listening, hoping to piece together what could possibly be going on.

“Rrgh… Can’t you give me a hand with this, Buzzy? I-it’s so heavy…”

“Oh come on, we’re almost there. You can rest when we get to the ship.”

Ship?, Becky wondered to herself in confusion. Tobey doesn’t have a ship… And can these really be his robots? They’ve never looked like this before, and none of his have ever acted as independent as these ones seem to… She continued silently following them, growing nervous about how suspicious all this was.

The robots’ destination was revealed to Becky upon reaching a small clearing in the woods, where a small cave sat in the middle of a wall of rocks. Parked inside this cave was a large black spaceship with green tinted windows, poking out slightly. Becky grew quite concerned upon seeing it. This was definitely not a ship she recognized, and a large part of her doubted that the “boss” one of the robots had mentioned would be someone she’d recognize either. She remained in the tree line, not wanting to be potentially spotted.

She watched the two robots board the ship with their box before finally deciding to fly away again. She returned to her own spaceship and informed Huggy of what she had seen. Both of them had reason to be unsettled and concerned, but they decided to let it go for now and worry about it later. Becky didn’t want to keep her friend waiting after all, so she quickly took Huggy home before changing back into her normal clothes and beginning the walk to the library. She was going to do her best to enjoy her time with Fern, but she absolutely wasn’t dropping the matter at hand. She fully intended to investigate further as soon as she got the chance.

***

Matt sprinted down the sidewalk away from the garage where he had been getting his truck’s oil changed. He was in a hurry to meet up with Jackie and Inez, who were thankfully nearby closer to downtown where they had been out shopping together. He would have been willing to bet Inez had been dragged down there by Jackie, who was likely more enthusiastic about it. Normally Matt found it amusing to picture Jackie leading poor Inez around town all day to store after store, trying on garment after garment until the sun went down, but there were no laughing matters today. They had all just received an urgent call from Motherboard, and all three had agreed to meet up at the library nearby, since it was about halfway between where they each were.

It was several blocks away from the garage, but Matt barely even noticed being as athletic and physically fit as he was, while also fueled with adrenaline. Thankfully as he approached the library, he saw his two friends running as fast as they could towards him. Inez was trailing several yards behind Jackie, as she wasn’t used to running such distances in such a short time.

“Hi, guys,” Matt greeted as he caught his breath. “I’m so glad we were close by each other.”

“Same here,” Jackie said as Inez finally caught up with her. “Let’s go inside. There has to be a quiet place to talk in the library.”

“No objections here, let’s go,” Matt agreed, leading the way as the three of them quickly made their way to the door and weaved their way around inside before spotting an open doorway leading into a dimly lit hall. “Let’s try in there,” Matt suggested, motioning for the girls to follow. “You think anyone would hear us back here?”

“I doubt it,” Inez replied as they entered. “I think these rooms are just used for storage.”

“Good enough for me,” Jackie said with a shrug. They entered a random room and stood in a little circle.

“So I guess Motherboard told you guys what was up?” Matt asked.

“Yeah…” Jackie replied, allowing herself to think deeply about what she had heard for the first time since she and Inez had began making their way to meet up with Matt. “I… I don’t even know what to say… Do you think it’s true?”

“When she told me what Digit described to her, it sounded pretty accurate… Oh wow… So this is where the statue led all along!” Matt said with frustration, cupping his forehead with his hand.

“Ugh! I can’t believe we didn’t figure that out!” Jackie cried shrilly.

“Ooooooh, this is not good! This is not good at all!!” Inez fretted, wringing her hands nervously.

“Well what are we waiting for?!” Jackie asked. “We need to get back to Cyberspace and figure this out, NOW!”

“Alright, alright, let’s not press the panic button yet,” Matt interjected, trying to calm his friends down, holding up his hands. “We can figure this out once we get there. If there’s a time where it won’t be good to panic, it’s now.”

Jackie breathed deeply and nodded. “Yeah, okay, you’re right…”

“I’ll call Motherboard again,” Inez spoke up, pulling out her skwak pad and dialing her up. “Motherboard? Come in, Motherboard! We need a portal!” she cried urgently. Within moments, a portal opened up for them and they all hopped in without a moment’s hesitation, quickly arriving back at Control Central.

“Okay, so let’s see if we can figure this out,” Jackie said once they were all accounted for. “I think that-” Before she could go any further, however, she was interrupted by the sound of a sharp cry, followed by something hitting the ground nearby. The three teens all turned and yelped in surprise. What they all saw at that moment was something they never would have expected.

Chapter Text

Becky sat waiting patiently for Fern to arrive at the library so they could begin studying together. She wished her crush would show up already though. While this of course was primarily because she enjoyed having Fern around, she also couldn’t force herself concentrate on her work at the moment, and having her there would have helped distract her from the swarm of confused thoughts clouding her mind.

She couldn’t stop thinking about that ship she had seen earlier, and she felt guilty for not investigating it further. I’m such an idiot, she thought, mentally chiding herself. I’m WordGirl, for Pete’s sake. It’s probably just another new villain. There’s no reason I couldn’t have gone in there and confronted him.

However, as much as she hated to admit it, those robots had spooked her quite a bit. It was strange because she had fought Tobey and his own robots countless times before, and very rarely had anything about them truly unsettled her. What really felt like the nail in the coffin for her was how intelligent they had seemed… relatively speaking, of course. If they were any other normal people, no doubt they would have been a couple of dim bulbs. But they still appeared to talk and think like real people in a way Tobey’s robots had never been able to. And if they were, indeed, of comparable intelligence to people, she knew that whoever created them must have been an absolute genius… and she honestly wasn’t sure she wanted to meet them. Thankfully for her, most of her rivals lacked much in the way of brains. But if someone truly, honest-to-god brilliant came along to battle her, she had reason to worry.

Becky groaned in frustration and let her head flop onto the table into her folded arms. “I haven’t even seen this guy yet and he’s already in my head,” she bemoaned out loud, which was responded to with a small chorus of shushing from other library patrons further towards the front of the building. “Oh, uh, sorry…” she apologized, much more quietly this time.

She allowed her thoughts to circle back to Fern once more. Checking the clock on the wall, she realized her friend was over half an hour late, which was much later than she had said she would be. Becky was beginning to worry about her. I’ll try calling her, she thought, pulling out her cell phone, just to see if anything is keeping her. Before dialing the number, she looked up one more time in front of her to make certain Fern hadn’t arrived, quietly glancing around. The lack of loud noise, however, allowed her to pick up on what sounded like a few hushed voices nearby. Catching her attention, she looked around again to see where it could be coming from, and she realized the noise appeared to be originating from inside an open doorway next to the chair where she was sitting, leading into a small hallway that turned to the left.

Becky had been to the library many times, of course, and she knew that the rooms in that hallway were mostly used for storage. This seemed like unusual and somewhat suspicious activity to her, as she had never seen or heard more than one person back there at a time.

Deciding to go investigate, she got up from her spot and made sure no one was looking before stepping into the hallway. Once she was tucked away from view, she very quietly said, “Word up!,” transforming into her superhero self in case she were to confront some real trouble. Slowly moving forward, she listened intently to find out what room the talking was originating from, and it was now that she began to pick up on some of the words. It sounded like two girls and one boy speaking, and they seemed to be in a rather panicked state, despite keeping their voices down.

“So this is where that statue lead to all along!”

“Ugh! I can’t believe we didn’t figure that out!”

“Ooooooh, this is not good! This is not good at all!!”

“Well what are we waiting for?! We need to get back to Cyberspace and figure this out, NOW!”

Cyberspace?, Becky questioned to herself. What kind of place is that? She had now reached the doorway and, peaking into the room as inconspicuously as possible, found what looked to be three regular teenagers like herself, who all appeared to be close to her age. Once she got a closer look, she realized she recognized all of them from school. She didn’t share any classes with them, but she was certain she had seen them in passing. All she knew was that they all must have been good friends, because they were always around each other. In fact, it occurred to her that two of them looked like the kids she and Fern had seen when they’d gone out to eat last weekend.

“Alright, alright, let’s not press the panic button yet,” the boy said. “We can figure this out once we get there. If there’s a time where it won’t be good to panic, it’s now.”

One of the girls took a deep breath and replied, “Yeah, okay, you’re right...”

“I’ll call Motherboard again,” the other, shorter girl said, pulling out what looked to Becky to be a really weird cell phone. She pressed a button on it and looked down at its little screen. It was too far away for Becky to see what was displayed on it, but the girl said as she looked at it, as if she was talking to it, “Motherboard? Come in, Motherboard! We need a portal!”

What Becky saw next was almost indescribable. In front of the three kids a large, swirling purple vortex appeared out of thin air. As if that hadn’t been shocking enough for the silent observer around the corner, all three jumped straight into it without a second thought. Lastly, and easily the most shocking part for Becky, all of them failed to appear out of the other side.

Awestruck with silence, Becky cautiously approached the rotating disc of light. She hadn’t intended to go into it, but it seemed that she had simply gotten a bit too close because, when she was within a couple feet of it, she found herself being unexpectedly sucked into it. She panicked wildly and tried to step back, but its pull was far too strong even for her, and within moments she was spiraling through a tunnel of darkness. For a split second, after the dim light of the library disappeared, the poor girl genuinely believed she was in mortal danger, but her worry largely came to an end when she saw another source of light growing bigger in front of her, this one being much brighter. The previous events then happened in reverse as Becky was forcefully tossed out of the tunnel and into the brightness.

***

Hacker, Buzz and Delete watched the entire event unfold before their eyes. Hacker had had the bright idea that morning to send a small remote-controlled drone of his own design into town, mounted with a camera. During the phone conversation he had recorded, WordGirl mentioned she was planning to meet her friend at the library at 3:00, so he had flown it down there while Buzz and Delete were off running their errands, so to speak. Sure enough, WordGirl had shown up right on time, and he’d been able to follow her inside.

His henchmen had returned by this point, and they were all quite surprised to see the Cybersquad hurriedly enter the building and pass by her into a back room, which they had seen after sending the camera into the hall after them. Hacker chuckled to himself as he realized the three kids were likely talking about him. He figured Motherboard must have discovered the purpose of the statue somehow, and informed them all of the situation. It was apparent how frightened they were, and Hacker couldn’t get enough of it.

They soon realized Becky had heard and followed the kids, seeing her step quietly into the hall, transform into WordGirl, and discover the Cybersquad talking amongst themselves. This is going even better than I expected, Hacker thought to himself. Now they’re all in one place and I might not have to explain my plan multiple times. But easily the most surprising part was when they summoned a portal and hopped through it before Becky approached it, getting sucked in herself.

The two robots gasped. “Boss! Boss! Did you see that?!” Buzz exclaimed.

“WordGirl got sucked into the portal!” Delete piped up. “She’s gonna end up in Cyberspace with them!”

“Yes, it’s perfect, isn’t it?” Hacker asked delightedly, looking back and forth between them. “It looks as though we’ll be able to move on to the next part of my plan much sooner than expected. Buzz, Delete, get the camera set up and quickly check up on our little guest. We’re going to call Control Central and have a nice, friendly chat with them…”

***

After being tossed from the portal, Becky landed in a heap on the floor with a loud thump, and she was unaware of the small chorus of shrieks of surprise around her as she took the time to recover from her unexpected tumble. “Rrgh…” she grunted, sitting up and rubbing her head. When she looked up, she was taken by surprise by the three kids she had seen before, all looking down at her with bewildered looks on their faces. Not knowing what could possibly be said at a moment like this, Becky resorted to a nervous chuckle. “Hehehe… Hi…”

“WordGirl?!” the taller girl cried in surprise.

“Um, I, uh… Oh, right! Yep, that’s me!” Becky responded, standing up straight now, her hands at her hips. She had already forgotten whether she was Becky or WordGirl at the moment.

“What the heck are you doing here?!” the boy asked in obvious confusion.

“I’m not really sure…” Becky replied honestly, rubbing her arm nervously. “I was in the library and heard voices coming from the back, so I followed them and saw you three… and then you opened up that, well... thing that I guess was a portal. I went to get a closer look at it and… here I am.”

“Oh geez! I can’t believe we were so careless!” the taller girl exclaimed, slapping her own forehead. “Anyone could have walked in on us!”

“No kidding! I’m just glad it was you, WordGirl,” the boy said with a bit of relief, “and not somebody else.”

“Whobody else was what, Earthlies?” asked a shrill voice from behind them. Becky darted her head around to see the strangest bird she had ever seen in her life. It appeared to be flying by spinning its tail, and was wearing a little red cap on its head. On top of that, it was purple and had a rather large beak.

“Digit!” the three kids said excitedly in unison as he flew towards them.

“So I’m guessing Motherboard told ya about… uh…” Digit stopped abruptly as he spotted the caped, costumed girl standing sheepishly with who were assumedly his friends, and he asked cautiously, “Um, Eartlies… Who’s this?...”

“It’s okay, Digit, she’s from our world, and she’s cool,” the boy said, dulling any worries Digit may have had. “This is WordGirl, and she’s an alien superhero! She came here accidentally.”

“I don’t know… You’re sure about this, Matty?” Digit asked, clearly a little unconvinced.

“Yes, Digit, I’m sure,” the boy promised. “She’s one of the good guys.”

“Well… alright then…” Digit relented with a sigh. He reached out his wing to Becky and introduced himself. “Digit LeBoid, at your service.”

“Well, um.. Thank you…” Becky replied. This day was only getting stranger and stranger for her. “So… where am I?” she asked, looking around and really noticing the room she was standing in for the first time. It had a glass dome over it and they appeared to be in space, or at least somewhere where it was nighttime. In front of her was a large screen, which was off at the moment.

The bespectacled girl glanced around at the other two kids and Digit. “I guess there’s no point hiding it from her, huh?... You’re in Cyberspace,” she said, addressing WordGirl while adjusting her glasses. “We’ve been coming here for a long time to help out with all sorts of problems people have here.”

“How on earth did you find this place?” Becky asked with confusion. “I mean, I know I’m from a far off place too, but at least Earth and Lexicon are both in the same dimension.”

“Motherboard came to us,” the boy said, stepping closer. “She’s the protector of this place, and she contacted us in the real world after she was infected with a virus. It took a long time, but we were eventually able to help cure her.”

“Oh… Well that’s good,” Becky replied, at a loss for anything worthwhile to say. “Sorry, this is just a lot to take in…”

“We get it. We felt the same way when we first came here,” the boy replied, reaching out his hand to her. “My name’s Matt.”

Becky managed a tired smile and gave him her own hand as well. “Thank you, Matt. I’m sure you must have.”

“I’m Jackie,” the taller girl greeted her, also shaking her hand.

“And I’m Inez,” the shorter girl added, being the last to take her hand.

“Well it’s nice to meet all of you.”

“More like nice to meet YOU,” Jackie corrected, pointing at Becky’s chest. “You’re WordGirl!”

“Heck yeah! This is really pretty awesome!” Matt said enthusiastically. “Getting to meet a real life superhero!”

Becky giggled, a bit embarrassed by the attention, but enjoying it nonetheless. “Well golly, thanks,” she gushed, unable to keep from snorting a little bit, which she tried desperately to cover up with more laughter. “But it sounds like you guys do some pretty impressive stuff too.”

“Well it’s not like we can take credit for much of anything,” Inez admitted with a shrug. “We just use the technology here, we didn’t invent it.”

“Now let’s not be too modest, Nezzie,” Matt interrupted. “We all know how many times we’ve kicked Hacker’s butt around here.”

Inez laughed. “Yeah, I guess that’s true… and don’t call me Nezzie!” she snapped.

“Hacker?” Becky asked, puzzled. “Odd name. Who’s he?”

“Well, to put it lightly, he’s just the nastiest, most evil, most hateful borg in all of Cyberspace,” Digit explained bluntly with a touch of malice.

“He’s one of the main reasons we were brought here,” Jackie added. “He’s the one that infected Motherboard in the first place, and we’ve had to constantly keep him from trying to take over Cyberspace. Way too many close calls, let me tell you.”

“Well… it’s not just Cyberspace anymore, Jacks…” Inez interrupted with a regretful tone.

“What do you mean?” Becky asked, Inez’s statement causing her to grow apprehensive.

“We just got news recently that Hacker found a way into the real world,” Matt answered.

Becky felt her heart stop dead at that moment. Could this have had anything to do with what she had seen earlier?  “Come again?” she asked, hoping she had heard wrong.

“Yeah, he used to work for Motherboard before he went bad, and he apparently must’ve remembered how her portals from here to the real world work, because he managed to recreate one, and now he’s probably out there in the real world somewhere!” Digit explained with fright.

Becky thought for a moment before asking, “Um… by any chance… is his ship big and black, with green windows?”

Her four new acquaintances all went wide-eyed at her question. None of them had been expecting WordGirl to be familiar with anything about Hacker. “Y-yeah! It is!” Inez finally spoke up in reply.

“Does he have a couple of robots, one short and round and one tall and skinny?”

“Yeah!” Matt confirmed with amazement.

“Oh my god… I saw his ship, then! I saw it in the woods near my, um.. i-in the woods!” Becky said, catching herself almost revealing her secret spaceship hideout.

“Oh no!! He IS already there!!” Jackie wailed in despair, collapsing to her knees. “We have to stop him! If we don’t stop him he’ll take over both Cyberspace AND the real world!! We’re doomed!! DOOMED!!”

“JACKIE! Get a grip!” Matt shouted, lifting Jackie back up under her arms and shaking her. “I told you before, this is no time to panic! Breathe!”

Jackie followed Matt’s advice and took several deep breaths before finally returning to her feet. “Thanks, Matt… I needed that.”

“Eh, don’t mention it,” Matt shrugged off. He had long been used to having to handle Jackie when she got panicky.

After all this, Becky cleared her throat and went on. “Well it isn’t good, I’ll give you that. But if he’s already there, why hasn’t he done anything yet? Wouldn’t he have tried to attack already? What could he possibly be waiting for?”

Just then, sounds began emanating from the large screen behind them. Motherboard had appeared on screen. Becky was understandably surprised, but she was beginning to get used to the strangeness of this whole situation. “Is that Motherboard?” she asked to no one in particular.

“You got it,” Jackie answered before stepping forward. “Hey, Mother B. Thanks for getting us here. What’s up?”

“It seems we have an incoming call from The Hacker,” Motherboard informed, causing everyone around Becky to frown. “Shall I answer it?”

“Ugh, alright… Let’s see what he wants…” Inez relented, not looking forward to talking to their egocentric enemy, as no one else was.

Motherboard disappeared off the screen, and within seconds, her face was replaced with that of Hacker’s. From the moment Becky saw him, her gut instinct told her she didn’t like him. From the deplorable grin on his sickly green face, to his jutting chin, to his cold stare - She knew within seconds that he was bad news through and through.

“Good afternoon, kiddies…” he greeted, twiddling his fingers as he sat in his large recharging chair.

“Hacker,” Digit spat out in greeting, while WordGirl and the rest of the Cybersquad remained coldly silent.

“And hello to you specifically, WordGirl.”

“So you know of me already, huh?” Becky asked curtly.

“Indeed I do. Pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Hacker said with a fake smile.

“I wish I could say the same, Hacker. These guys have told me all about you.”

“Oh good, so there’ll be no need to delve into my backstory for you.”

“We’re heartbroken, Hacker,” Inez spoke up with heavy sarcasm.

“My my, awfully snappy today aren’t we, tiny tot?” Hacker asked condescendingly before turning his attention back to Becky. “But anyway, as I was saying, there’s certainly no need for you to do so either. I know all about you, WordGirl. Or should I say… Becky.”

Becky was stunned absolutely silent by the last part of Hacker’s statement. It took her brain several moments to wrap itself around the fact that Hacker had discovered her secret identity. She never could have seen this coming in a million years. Looking back, she supposed he must have been spying on her ever since he came to the real world. It made sense he would have learned of her existence quite quickly. “W-what?...” she asked in barely a whisper, feeling herself beginning to tremble. Everyone around her, meanwhile, were shocked as well and growing even more worried than they had been before about their chances, as impossible as that may have seemed to them before.

“That’s right, WordGirl,” Hacker said snidely, quite proud of himself for being so underhanded. “I did a little snooping around and found out all about your little double life.”

“Oh my god… This… this can’t be happening…” Becky fretted, her eyes beginning to water. She had never felt so vulnerable before. While Doctor Two Brains had discovered her secret identity once a long time ago, she had been able to solve the issue with relative ease, as he had had a memory erasing device with him at the time. This time, there was no such device in sight.

Behind her, the Cybersquad exchanged sad glances. They had never seen WordGirl so scared before in their lives. “You know, now that I think about it, I remember seeing a girl around school named Becky that looks a lot like her,” she said in a hushed tone. “I guess that must’ve been her all along.”

“Yeah, I guess so…” Matt replied, placing a hand on Becky’s shoulder to try and comfort her a bit. “Don’t worry, Becky. We won’t tell a soul,” he promised.

Becky glanced back and replied shakily, “Th-thanks, Matt…”

“Nor will I, WordGirl,” Hacker added, continuing on. “My end goal is not to reveal your secret identity to anyone, as much as I’d love to see what would happen.”

Becky grew a bit more calm hearing this, but also more confused. “But… but why, then? Why go to the effort to find out who I am in the first place?”

Hacker’s smile grew wider and much more sinister as he went on. “Funny you should ask, WordGirl, because I wanted to make a little bargain with you. You see, finding out your secret identity was only necessary to obtain something TRULY useful to barter with… Or rather, someONE.”

The little bit of calmness Becky had felt was completely zapped away once more. Her heart was pounding like it never had before from the sheer icy dread she felt in her chest. “Oh… oh please god, no…” she said in distress, nearly on the brink of sobbing.

On screen, Hacker glanced to the side and said to his henchman off screen, “Buzz, turn the camera so WordGirl can see her… prize… should she accept our offer.” The camera began turning in response, and when it stopped, the screen now displayed Fern. She had been forced back into a corner of the cockpit of the Wreaker, and had been tied up and gagged. She was very clearly frightened out of her mind, and when she met eyes with Becky, she began crying out through the gag, squirming around in attempt to try and get free. It was useless though, as she had been tied too tight and she was miles away from anyone who could help her.

“FERN!!!” Becky howled as she saw this unfold. Tears were now streaming like little rivers down her face. This was the last straw. This was too much for her to take. It would have been bad enough if it was any innocent person in that situation, but Hacker had gone out of his way to find Fern and kidnap her - Fern, the girl Becky loved, who she had already grown to care quite deeply about and felt a strong need to protect and keep safe. And Hacker had ripped Fern away from that safety and protection when Becky wasn’t looking.

Becky was absolutely livid now. She unconsciously found herself floating in the air, closer to the screen as she began railing at Hacker, who had stepped back into frame, closer to Fern, as she cowered in the corner away from him. “YOU’RE GONNA PAY FOR THIS, HACKER!! I WON’T LET YOU GET AWAY WITH THIS!!!”

Hacker laughed maniacally, completely numb to Becky’s heated fury, terror, and anguish. “Hahaha! It’s a bit late for that, missy. And that’s THE Hacker to you. Now, if we can get down to business here, I think you could make a good guess as to what it is that I want: complete and utter surrender. And if I don’t get it, I can personally guarantee that you’ll never see your precious little Fern ever again. Isn’t that right, sweetie?” he asked, looking down to meet Fern’s eyes as he lifted her chin up to face him. She began shaking uncontrollably, trying to turn her head so she wouldn’t have to look at her captor’s horrible, leering face.

This drove Becky to grow even more seething, fueling her white-hot rage. “DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH HER!!! YOU’RE SICK!! YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY REVOLTING!! LEAVE HER ALONE, YOU FUCKING PSYCHO!!!”

The other kids were taken aback. They had never heard WordGirl swear before, although it was perfectly justifiable in this instance.

Hacker looked back to the camera and shook his head. “Now now, WordGirl, simmer down… What a potty mouth... You know it can all come to an end right now, provided you admit defeat and agree to my terms.” He chuckled once more, completely eating up Becky’s reaction. “Oh! And I also suggest to you, Earth brats and cyber turkey: I’d like the new encryptor chip as well.”

Now it was the Cybersquad’s turn to be outraged upon hearing the new demand. “WHAT?!” they all exclaimed, distressed by the thought of leaving Motherboard vulnerable to yet another virus.

“Never, Hacker!” Digit exclaimed angrily, flying closer to the screen, next to Becky. “We’ve worked too long and too hard to get Motherboard cured!”

Becky turned towards Digit, still visibly trembling. “But Digit, what about Fern?!!” she cried through choked, angry sobs.

“Yes, birdbrain - What about WordGirl’s little girlfriend, hmm?” Hacker mocked insidiously, reaching down and pinching Fern’s cheek and shaking it, obviously just doing it to make her suffer a little bit more. Hearing the girl’s pained whines through her gag signaled he had done the job nicely.

“I SAID TO LEAVE HER ALONE!!!” Becky shrieked vehemently, wanting so desperately to reach right through the screen and knock Hacker into oblivion. She had never been so angry with any adversary of hers before. Today he had quickly managed to climb to the top of her list of worst enemies.

“And as I said, surrender and hand over the chip, and all of this will end.” He paused for a moment to let everything that had happened sink in. “You have twenty-four hours to decide. And remember…” He cut off momentarily, reaching down and lifting up Fern by her shirt collar, without bothering to try and be at all gentle with her. “...her life hangs in the balance.” With that, the call was ended, and the screen was left with nothing but static.

There was a long, thick, painful silence hanging in the air for seemingly forever after that. Everyone was at a loss for words. Not only had Hacker invaded the real world, but he had kidnapped Becky’s friend and budding love interest, and managed to find a painfully easy way to get leverage on her. The atmosphere in the room was darker than it had ever been before.

The quiet was only finally broken when Matt piped up from down below. “...So THAT’S what he was waiting for…”

Chapter Text

It had been several minutes since the call from Hacker had been terminated. Inside Control Central, the four kids and Digit were seated in a circle. Hopelessness was stronger than it had ever been for any of them in any situation they’d been in.

“I can’t believe I let this happen…” Becky moaned distraughtly, her face resting in her hands. She had managed to cry herself out, and her puffy red eyes and running nose were clear indicators of this. “I was there. I saw the ship. Those robots were carrying a big box with them. Fern was probably in there. I could have confronted them and stopped them, and taken her once I realized she was in there, before they could get her to Hacker…”

“Box?” Digit repeated, recalling what he had seen earlier that day. “I went to check out the Northern Frontier this morning - that’s the place where Hacker lives - and I saw Buzz and Delete show up. They grabbed a box while I was hiding. That must be the same one!”

Becky turned her head towards Digit as he recalled the incident, and her face twisted into an enraged glare. “WHAT?!! AND YOU DIDN’T STOP THEM?!!”

Digit panicked, not expecting such an angry reaction. “Well, I-I-I didn’t know what they were up to! Me getting caught wouldn’t have helped anything!”

Becky fumed silently while tugging on her hair before finally relaxing and looking warily back up at him. “Ugh… You’re right. I guess not... I’m sorry.”

“No harm done,” Digit assured with a tired sigh.

“Thanks… That was hypocritical of me, when I think about it…”

No one else was faring well either. The other kids couldn’t exactly match Becky’s level of despair for obvious reasons, but they were well are of what the fate of their home planet would be if they didn’t figure out a way to stop Hacker. The thought of what might become of their families and everyone they knew was almost too much to bare. As much as they wanted to remain confident that they could figure something out, seeing WordGirl of all people in such a morose, distressed state didn’t make them feel any better.

Inez looked up as WordGirl spoke, feeling her heartstrings being tugged at the heavy regret in the heroine’s voice. “Don’t beat yourself up, WordGirl. You couldn’t have known you were being spied on. None of us would have realized it either.”

“You might as well just call me Becky now…” Becky replied, removing her face from her palms, brushing her cheeks dry and sniffling. “It’s not like I have a secret to keep from you anymore.”

“True…” Inez supposed, removing her glasses to pinch and massage the bridge of her own nose.

“So… Becky Botsford, am I right?” Matt asked out of curiosity. “I’ve heard of you and seen you at school here and there.”

“That’s right…” Becky confirmed with a slow nod.

“Yeah, me too,” Jackie concurred. “I actually recognized Fern as well. I remember seeing you helping her pick her stuff up off the floor one day at the end of school,” she recollected. “It was really rainy that day.”

Becky forced a small smile, recalling the instance Jackie mentioned. “I know what day you mean. We missed our buses, so I offered to walk her home since I had an umbrella...”

“...So I guess you like her, huh? As in LIKE like her,” Matt wondered. “I just noticed he called her your ‘girlfriend…’” he explained, making air quotations.

“M-hm… I do…” Becky replied, her lips twitching. “We’ve been talking for a little while now. We haven’t been more than friends, but I realized about a week after we met that I liked her… which is strange because I never realized I liked girls at all before. I thought I only liked guys…”

“I’m so sorry this happened to you both…” Inez said sympathetically.

“I’m just really scared for her. From what it sounds like, Hacker is worse than just about any villain I’ve ever thought, and knowing Fern is being held captive by him, I… I just can’t… it’s… it’s just so awful…” she lamented, her voice growing shaky again. “Fern is so shy and passive. It’s not like she’s completely helpless or anything, but she’s never been in a situation like this before. And god knows what he might do to her if we fail…”

Digit frowned and pulled out a box of tissues from his chest compartment. “Here ya go, Becky. Take these.”

“Thank you…” Becky said as she took the box, pulled out a couple tissues, and thoroughly blew her nose.

Matt frowned, growing tired of the depressing atmosphere that had set in between all of them. “We’re not gonna let this happen, you know. We’ll get her back and stop Hacker yet.”

“But how?...” Becky asked, balling up the tissues. “If any of us go there and try to break into his ship, he’ll probably see us. And if we try anything like that, he’ll… he’ll…” She grabbed another tissue and dabbed her eyes, not wanting to picture something so horrible as Hacker standing over her crush’s lifeless body, or worse. She hated feeling so helpless and knowing that someone had managed to find a true weakness of hers.

“We’ll figure something out,” Jackie replied, standing to her feet. “We always have before, and we’re not gonna just give up and beg for mercy now. All we need is to think up a plan. Make room, I gotta pace.”

Everyone else scooted aside so Jackie had more room to walk around. “But Hacker said he’s only giving us twenty-four hours, remember?” Becky reminded them. “If we don’t have anything by then, we might not be able to get Fern back!”

“We have to at least try, Becky. It doesn’t look like we have any other option,” Inez pointed out, moving up against the wall so she could get into position to sit on her head.

“Exactly, and we’ll need as much of that time as we can get to deliberate,” Matt agreed, pulling out his trademark yo-yo and messing with it.

Becky sighed. She knew they were right. Crying about it wasn’t going to save Earth or get Fern back. They needed a plan, and five heads had to be better than four.

Matt placed a hand behind her back and rubbed it comfortingly. He understood how she felt. If he saw Inez in the same position Fern was in, he’d be as horrified and enraged as he knew Becky was at that moment. “Trust us, Becky. Don’t worry. We’ll get Fern back safe and sound in no time. There’s one thing you have to learn about us: We never give up.”

***

Back in the real world, on the Grim Wreaker, Delete was standing by himself in the hall, leaning against the door that led to the small prison cell on the ship, which their prisoner had now been taken to and was being held in. He was currently the one tasked with keeping guard. The job was quite boring, and the robot had nothing to distract himself with but his own confused thoughts, as well as the periodic muffled sobs coming from behind him, which he chose to ignore as best as he could.

He had only become increasingly torn regarding this entire plot of Hacker’s, especially now. It had been one thing whenever they’d captured members of the Cybersquad, as they were their direct adversaries. But this girl was an innocent bystander who’d just so happened to be unfortunate enough to have a connection to WordGirl. He remembered the look of terror that he had seen in the girl’s eyes as he and Buzz had apprehended her, right before they had knocked her out and stuffed her into the box. He doubted he would ever forget it, nor how much he had winced seeing her fall to the floor unconscious. Her head was probably really hurting right now.

And even the fact that she was an innocent bystander wasn’t even so bad in and of itself. What really tore at Delete was knowing what Hacker planned to do to her if WordGirl and the Cybersquad failed to surrender. Even Hacker, as despicable as he was, had never tried to murder an innocent person in cold blood before, especially one who was so much smaller than him, and tied up to boot. No way would she be able to defend herself. Delete could hardly bare the thought. He wouldn’t want to be around if and when the time came.

Delete’s attention was pulled away from these dark thoughts when he began to hear voices down an adjoining hall to the one he was in, and he quickly realized it was Hacker and Buzz. He listened in as best as he could as they passed by.

“Gee, boss… You’re really gonna do that to her?”

“Of course I am, you dunce bucket! If they fail to agree to my offer, I want to have it made very clear to WordGirl that she made the wrong choice.”

“It just sounds kinda harsh is all.”

“Well being nice isn’t going to get those brats to surrender, now is it? Picture it - They don’t surrender, we make a little trip to Castleblanca, ‘borrow’ one of the dungeons in one of the castles, and once the girl has been punished enough for WordGirl’s mistake, we’ll finish her off and take pictures. We’ll leave them for WordGirl to find, and I’m sure that she’ll see the light.”

“Well, alright… If you’re sure, boss.”

“I’m quite sure, Buzzy old pal. And once that’s done, we can carry on with the rest of my plan…”

Their voices now began to grow quiet again so that Delete couldn’t hear them anymore. Not that he wanted to. What little he’d picked up had horrified him. He had had no idea Hacker was planning to torture this girl, on top of everything! Hacker never failed to show how contemptible he could be, but he had never planned anything so dark and mortifying before. Could Delete really stand by and let this happen?

The robot sighed, sliding down against the door and sitting down. He often hated being the softest, most sensitive one on the team, but he was beginning to think it might not be such a bad thing. Hacker and even Buzz were certainly more abrasive than himself, but he realized that having such a hard exterior also appeared to make them numb to some of the most basic morals, especially in Hacker’s case. Was this how Digit had felt once, a long time ago? Is this somewhat similar to what he had experienced?

As confused as Delete had become about where he stood in relation to his boss and his fellow robot henchman, he now realized he couldn’t let this happen. He couldn’t let an innocent teenage girl be tortured and murdered. He didn’t even want Hacker take over the world or even Cyberspace anymore, and destroy so many people’s lives. It swept over him all at once, and he knew now that he had to do something. And as he sat there on the cold floor, he began to hatch an idea.

***

Fern should have been able to cry herself to sleep that night, but she was far too terrified for her life to do so. It had been several hours since she’d been abducted from her home and taken aboard this giant ship, several miles away from everyone she knew, and now it was most likely well past midnight. She couldn’t tell for sure though, as there was no clock there for her to look at.

Frankly she hated herself for allowing this to happen to herself. For many years she would imagine being a brave detective, getting into perilous situations, only to valiantly remove herself from them and obtain the object of her search. This wasn’t to say she didn’t know better, though. These were only fantasies, and she knew that in reality she wasn’t exactly the strongest or bravest person.

Nevertheless, she still felt she should have been able to react better than she had. Despite hitting her head, a constant reminder of which being the dull, throbbing pain there, she could still remember seeing those two robots breaking into her bedroom. She remembered the sharp wave of panic that had overcome her, and how she jumped to her bedroom window in a mad fury, desperately hoping to get it open and call for help. But the taller robot had grabbed her with his extending arms before she could do so. She barely had any time to react before she felt herself getting knocked hard on the head.

So here she was now, bound and gagged and left on the cold floor of a little metal cell, held prisoner by a horrid man who she knew intended nothing good for her, provided his offer wasn’t accepted.

She could still hardly believe so much of what she’d heard as Hacker had explained his plan to her. It was a brief explanation, but the main points had certainly been made quite clear to her. Being informed that Becky was actually WordGirl had been astonishing news to her at first, but after having time to think about it, the similarities were obvious, and she was amazed she hadn’t realized it sooner. Becky was so much like WordGirl, and that wasn’t just to say that she looked and sounded a lot like her and both were good with English and words. No, what really sealed the deal for Fern was simply knowing what a good person Becky was, and how much she was willing to put others before herself. She felt extremely lucky to be her friend.

If anything had been a true surprise to Fern, it was learning that Becky returned her romantic feelings for her. This is something Fern had no hope of expecting to happen. Of course, that was hardly a good thing in this situation. Her stomach felt like it had dropped like a rock when Hacker explained it was because Becky liked her that he was going to use Fern as leverage. She couldn’t stand thinking how much Becky was likely hurting right now. It had been obvious earlier how furious Becky was to discover Hacker had kidnapped Fern.

It saddened Fern how little she could get any happiness out of knowing this now, though. She likely would have been extremely joyful under normal circumstances. For all she knew, she might never see Becky again or get to talk about any of this with her. She didn’t want to die. She was only 14. She had so much life to live, and now it might all be taken away from her.

On the other hand, however, she knew if Becky accepted Hacker’s offer, it would mean she was agreeing to surrender, and that would mean Hacker would be taking over the Earth. Fern was confident in feeling she wasn’t at all worth the fate of the world. And what would become of Becky if that happened? For all Fern knew, he might just trade herself for Becky, and then they’d still be separated.

It’s hopeless… Fern lamented to herself, trying to adjust into a more comfortable position against the wall and wriggling around her arms and ankles in yet another futile attempt to get loose. She had tried for hours, but the ropes were simply too tight. It seemed there was really nothing else she could do aside from sitting sorrowfully in the dark, waiting for some awful fate to befall her.

The last thing she expected on this night was hearing the door to her cell quietly being unlocked and seeing it slowly begin to open, letting in a sliver of light from the hall. It took her a couple moments to react due to her tired state, and she had to blink a few leftover tears from her eyes, but fear quickly began growing inside her. Was it Hacker coming to get her already? Oh god, oh god, oh god!!, she panicked, her eyes growing wider and her back stiffening. But it hasn’t been twenty-four hours yet! This isn’t fair! No!! Time can’t be up yet!!

Thankfully when the figure stepped inside, she could see the silhouette of the taller of the two robots that had kidnapped her earlier, and not actually Hacker himself, only illuminated a little by the dim light from the hallway. This was a slight relief, but she still felt petrified having one of her captors approaching her while she was so defenseless. She flattened herself against the wall as fearful, frail cries escaped her throat, muffled by the cloth blocking her mouth.

“Hey, hey, shh… It’s okay…” the robot said as calmly as possible, showing his hands, as if he was attempting to relax a startled animal. “I’m not going to hurt you, okay? I promise.”

Fern, of course, would have been perfectly justified in not trusting him. But the look she saw in his eyes appeared to suggest he meant what he said. This was strange to her, as she had never seen a robot act so… real before, as if he was an actual person. Granted, Tobey McCallister’s robots were the only ones she was familiar with, but it was still an odd sight to her.

Fern didn’t back away any more, so the robot slowly reached down towards her mouth and pulled the gag down. This surprised Fern, and she was relieved to be able to take a few deep breaths with her mouth. After doing this, she met the robot’s eyes and narrowed her own. “What do you want?” she spat icily in a hoarse voice, as she hadn’t been able to speak in hours, and her throat was parched dry.

“Shh!” the robot shushed once again, but still in a rather gentle way. He looked over his shoulder, as if he was concerned about being heard. Without another word, he reached down and gingerly grabbed Fern’s shoulders before turning her around.

Not wanting to be shushed again, but still afraid, she protested in a somewhat loud whisper, “H-hey! Let go of me! What are you doing?!”

“I’m getting you free,” the robot replied quietly, fiddling with the knots of her bindings.

Fern turned her head back in confusion, trying to get a look at him. “Wait, what? Why?”

She heard the robot sigh, and he hesitated a moment before answering. “Well… I overheard the boss talking to Buzzy. He was saying what he was planning on doing to you if WordGirl and the Earth kids didn’t take the offer.”

“...What?...” Fern asked, feeling a pit engulfing her stomach once more.

“You don’t want to know…” the robot replied morosely, continuing to undo the knots as he talked. “But I realized I can’t let him do that to you. The boss has always been mean, but… never THIS mean… I just can’t take it anymore. We’re getting you outta here, and then… I decided I’m also leaving the boss… and Buzzy.”

Fern was quite stunned to hear this admission. So one of these people had a heart after all. “You are?”

She heard the robot sniffle a bit as he went on. “Yeah… It’ll be hard. I’ve been with them for so long, but… I finally realized just how bad the boss… I mean, how bad Hacker is. I don’t wanna be like him anymore.”

Fern’s arms were now completely untied. She stretched and took large, cleansing breaths after the ropes slumped down to her sides, and the robot went to untie her ankles, which he managed to do much more quickly. Fern remained silent all the while, completely taken aback by this robot’s change of heart. Once her ankles were free, she stood up with him and looked at him, extremely touched as she rubbed the parts of her arms that had been irritated by the ropes, despite being covered by her sweater. “Wow… well… Thank you… um… What’s your name?”

“It’s Delete… but Buzz calls me Deedee…” he replied, slumping sadly a bit, his antennae drooping.

“My name’s Fern…” she returned sympathetically. “Sounds like you two are good friends.”

“Yuh-huh…. Like brothers… But I don’t think he’d come with me. He’ll probably stay with Hacker.”

“Maybe he would?”

Delete was quiet for a moment and looked regretfully at Fern. “...He didn’t object to what Hacker was gonna do to you…”

The two stood there a minute in a heavy silence as Delete slowly broke down and began crying. “W-what am I gonna do?... I can’t stay here anymore, b-but I don’t have anywhere to go…”

Fern felt rather sorry for Delete. He may have helped in her kidnapping, but he obviously felt bad about it, and it seemed that he wasn’t a truly bad person. He appeared to be going through a lot mentally at this time, and she could relate to that. “...Why don’t you come with me?” she suggested.

Delete looked back up in surprise, wiping his eyes and looking aghast at Fern. “R-really??”

Fern shrugged. “Well sure, why not? If we tell everyone that you’ve changed and don’t want to be bad anymore, and that you saved me, maybe they’ll understand and give it a shot?”

Delete smiled gratefully. “I… well… I guess we could try…”

Fern beamed in return, glad to see him cheering up a bit. If he was genuinely willing to go good, she was willing to give him a chance. She even decided to lean in and give the robot a hug. “Thank you so much, Delete. Whatever happens, I’ll never forget what you’re doing for me.”

Delete blushed, not expecting Fern to go so far as to hug him or thank him so strongly. “Oh! W-well, you’re welcome…” he replied with a chuckle. When they parted, he gently took her hand and began leading her along. “Now come on. Let’s get you outta here.”

Fern frowned anxiously as they entered the maze of hallways. “But how will we get to… Cyberspace?” she asked, hoping she got the name right. She recalled Hacker using it earlier while explaining his plan.

“Don’t worry,” Delete assured as they turned a corner. “I have a plan.”

***

Everyone at Control Central was struggling to keep their eyes open. All five of them had been seated around a table for several hours, tossing ideas back and forth and trying to work out some sort of plan of action. Each of the kids had been forced to make quick return trips to Earth to give their parents an excuse for not being at home that night, as well as getting the truck home in Matt’s case. Becky had also called Fern’s parents and told them she had come to spend the night at her house, which they believed. And as much as they would have enjoyed going home to rest, they knew they had no time to waste given the perilous situation Fern was in. Yet after so many hours of discussion, it seemed they were hardly closer to a solution than they had been that afternoon. They had gotten pizza to tide them over, but it seemed none of them were very hungry anyway.

“Maybe we could try disguises?” Becky suggested, propping her head up by her chin. “Convince him we’re salespeople or something?”

“In the middle of the woods? As if Hacker would fall for that,” Jackie contested, shaking her head. “Matt, you’ve been quiet for a while. Any ideas?” she asked, turning her head to find that Matt was completely slumped over, his face flat on one side on the table. “Matt! Come on! This is no time to nap!” she scolded, repeatedly smacking the boy’s exposed cheek.

Matt jerked upright, brought out of his stupor. “Wha?... Oh, right. Sorry, Jacks…”

“Oh, who are we kidding? It doesn’t seem like there’s much of anything we could do that wouldn’t alert Hacker of our presence,” Inez moaned, letting her head hang off the back of her chair.

“But… but we have to do something!” Becky objected. “We can’t just not do anything! I mean, I don’t want to surrender. If I do, Hacker’s gonna go and conquer the planet! But if I don’t, then Fern’s gonna…” Choked sobbing cut her off, and she reached for the nearly empty box of tissues.

“Oh Becky, don’t start cryin’ on us again. We know you’re upset,” Digit said, flying over and rubbing her back.

Becky dabbed her eyes and blew her nose, taking a few deep breaths to try and relax. “...You know… I was thinking not too long ago about possibly finding a way to tell her I like her… I guess she already knows now, and now we might never get to talk about it together…” She was then forced to grab another tissue and clean herself up yet again.

Her words hit Matt quite strongly. If the situation hadn’t been so sensitive, Jackie likely would have pointed out that this was the kind of thing she was talking about before, about why it was a good idea to just tell Inez how he felt already. This may have been an extreme example, but he knew he would feel absolutely awful if he was in Becky’s position. If something like this were to happen to Inez before he could tell her how he felt about her, he didn’t know if he could live with himself. “Come on, guys, there has to be a way to get her out of there!” he asserted, pounding his fist on the table. “There MUST be a way we’re just not thinking of, some other way! We can’t just let this happen!”

“But Matt, I just don’t see any way we could do it without Hacker spotting us first,” Inez argued, albeit defeatedly.

“Who cares?! There’s always hope, right? Even if we couldn’t do anything at all ourselves, miracles have been known to happen! There’s always a chance something great and unexpected could happen, right?”

At that moment, all at once, they heard a small cough from behind them. Not expecting to hear anything else, or anyone besides themselves, all five quickly turned their heads to see a figure standing in the doorway. Despite being a bit scraped up, on the verge of breaking down emotionally, and clearly extremely exhausted, she appeared to be in relatively good condition.

Matt couldn’t keep from chuckling inwardly to himself and thinking, Wow… Can I call them or what?

Chapter Text

“FERN!!!” Becky exclaimed, positively euphoric to see her friend back, alive and well. Being the first one to move, she immediately flew over to her and lifted her up off the ground, swirling her around in the air in her arms. “Oh, thank goodness you’re okay!! I can’t begin to tell you how worried I was!” She quickly realized, though, that it was probably a good idea to keep her on the ground, given her condition and what she’d just been through. So she set her back down and cupped her face in her hands, allowing her to notice how disheveled and upset she looked. “Are you okay?! Are you hurt?!”

“I’m okay... My head hurts and I’m really thirsty and hungry, but I’m alright otherwise… It’s just… I’m… I… I’m so happy to see you, Becky!” Fern replied, keeping her arms wrapped around Becky’s middle as she began weeping uncontrollably, her tears falling from her eyes and dripping down onto the floor as she loudly bawled her eyes out.

“It’s okay, Fern, it’s okay. Let it out…” Becky cooed encouragingly. She gently lifted Fern back up into her arms so she was sat upright facing her, keeping one hand under her bottom while rubbing her back with her free one while Fern continued sobbing, her chin resting on Becky’s shoulder, which then began absorbing the numerous tears. Thanks to her super strength, this wasn’t at all difficult to do. She carried her over to the table, where the Cybersquad all looked on with a mixture of shock, elation and sympathy. It was one of the sweetest, most tender displays they had ever seen, without a doubt. “Think any of you guys could make coffee or tea or something?” she asked, glancing back and forth at each of them. “Maybe get some food and water for her, and something for her head? I have a feeling we’re gonna be here a while longer.”

“I’m on it,” Inez replied without hesitation.

Digit nodded. “Me too,” he said as he and Inez made their way to the kitchen area nearby.

Becky stood with Fern in her arms as they all waited for Inez and Digit to return, silently comforting her with the exception of a gentle shushing or reassurance here and there. Jackie and Matt watched silently, exchanging relieved glances periodically. They each knew the other was glad they had one less problem to solve now, although the battle was far from over.

Once it seemed that Fern had cried herself out, Becky had her sit down at one of the chairs and grabbed her a blanket, which she draped over her shoulders. Inez and Digit soon returned with the coffee and tea and half a dozen mugs, water and some of the leftover pizza for Fern, and an ice pack for her head.

“So… I guess you know my secret now, huh?” Becky asked, continuing to gently rub Fern’s back as everyone sat down.

Fern finished a large gulp of water, grateful for something to quench her thirst as well as tea to soothe her throat, and met Becky’s eyes. “Which one?”

“Oh! Well… both, I guess…” Becky replied self-consciously.

Fern nodded. “Yeah. Hacker told me them and how they were part of his plan…”

There was a long silence before Becky spoke again. “I didn’t want you to find out this way… About liking you, that is. I don’t know if I ever would have told you I’m WordGirl. My family doesn’t even know.”

“It’s okay, Becky… It’s not your fault,” Fern assured, biting into her pizza.

“Well if I’d told you sooner, I would have felt at least a little better... We weren’t sure we’d be able to find a way to save you, Fern. I was so worried I’d never get to see you again, that I’d never get to talk to you or hug you again...  and I was going to tell you I like you myself, but now Hacker’s taken that away from me…”

“...We can talk about it now, though,” Fern pointed out with a small smile, the first that had been on her face since arriving. It touched her greatly knowing how much Becky cared for her. “In fact, there IS something I’d like to do…”

“What’s that?” Becky asked.

Fern then did one of the boldest things she’d ever done, leaning in and hugging Becky as she placed a little kiss on her cheek. Less than an hour ago she thought she might never have the chance again to do such a thing, and she didn’t want any more time to pass and risk anything else happening to stop her.

Becky’s face turned beet red, and she was practically speechless. “Wha… Fern, I… What was that about?” she asked, her lips curving into a giddy smile.

“I like you too, Becky,” Fern explained. “I began realizing it last week when we went to that restaurant together. I can never stop thinking about how happy you make me feel.”

Becky was beyond overjoyed to hear this. Fern actually liked her back! “I feel the same way about you,” Becky replied, pulling Fern into another embrace and snuggling her. “You do realize I’m never letting you out of my sight again, right?” she asked playfully.

Fern managed a small chuckle. “I know, I know, I figured. I definitely feel even more safe now. I mean, you’re WordGirl!” she exclaimed. “That’s so amazing! I can’t believe I didn’t realize it before!”

“Well I feel like kind of a lousy hero right now, in all honesty,” Becky lamented.

“Oh please don’t be hard on yourself, Becky. I told you already, it wasn’t your fault I got kidnapped. It’s not like either of us saw this coming.”

“I guess not… but in any case, I promise I’m not letting my guard down this time,” Becky declared, placing a hand on Fern’s back. “I don’t want anything to happen to you, Fern. I don’t want you to have to go through anything like that again.”

Fern smiled and rested her head on Becky’s shoulder. “I know… I mean it when I say I feel safer with you, Becky… or WordGirl,” she said, giggling.

“You WILL be safe this time, Fern, I swear,” Becky promised firmly. “I won’t let Hacker or anyone else hurt you ever again...”

The two girls sat together silently for a minute, grateful to be in each other’s company again and to have revealed their feelings to each other. The others watched as they talked, Inez and Digit in particular getting rather dewy-eyed. “Aw, now that’s… that’s really sweet,” Digit remarked, loudly blowing his nose.

“Definitely,” Inez concurred, wiping her eyes.

Jackie noticed Inez’s reaction to this and elbowed Matt’s arm and whispered, “Take notes, Matt,” to which he scoffed and turned his head away.

As much as Matt didn’t want to interrupt, a question had been weighing heavily on his mind since Fern’s sudden arrival. “Say, how DID you get here?” he asked, surprised it had taken this long for it to occur to anyone. “Did you escape? Did they let you go?”

“I… I think I should explain everything before I build up to that… um… I’m sorry, what’re your names?”

“I’m Matt, and these are Jackie, Inez and Digit,” Matt answered, gesturing to each of his Cybersquad members. Fern had been quite surprised to see a talking bird, but she couldn’t find the energy to care much, considering the day she’d had.

“Nice to meet you,” Fern said with a small nod before getting onto her story. “So... this afternoon, these two robots kidnapped me from my house. They came into my room and I tried to get out, but they caught me and knocked me out before I could.”

Becky winced upon hearing this, finding the idea of someone hitting Fern in the head to be quite painful to picture.

“Buzz and Delete,” Digit spoke up in practically a hiss. “Should’ve figured…”

“When I woke up I realized I’d been tied up and gagged, and then Hacker came in. I wouldn’t have liked him under normal circumstances, but… I think being as helpless as I was made him seem a lot scarier.”

“I’m sure it must’ve,” Matt said understandingly.

“Then he told me his plan, how you’re WordGirl and he was going to use me as leverage,” Fern went on, turning to look at Becky. “It wasn’t too long after that that he made that call, and then he mostly just left me in a little cell on the ship after that.”

“Oh yeah, we’ve been in that one before,” Jackie remarked.

“But how did you get out?” Matt repeated. “You didn’t escape yourself, did you?”

Fern shook her head. “No. I tried, I guess, but the ropes were too tight. I actually got help from someone else.” All were surprised to hear this, and they all asked who it was. “Just a moment,” Fern said, standing up and walking over to the doorway, peeking her head around into the hall. “Okay! You can come in now,” she said, motioning for an unseen person to enter. Becky and the Cybersquad all looked on and were astonished upon realizing the identity of Fern’s savior.

“DELETE?!!” the Cybersquad all cried, flabbergasted.

Becky hadn’t been sure what this robot’s name was specifically, but she recognized him immediately and shot up from her chair, with the others following suit. “YOU!!” she shouted, pointing at him.

“M-me?” Delete said with confusion, nervously taking a step back as everyone at the table, who had now begun approaching him, with varying levels of anger apparent on their faces.

“Yes, you!” Becky replied as the gap between them grew smaller. “I saw you in the woods with that box, and I know Fern was in there! You have a lot of nerve showing your face here!”

“Guys, stop!” Fern protested, stepping in between them. “Delete is the one that saved me!”

The other kids and Digit all exchanged confused looks. “He did??” Matt asked, sounding unconvinced.

“Yes, he did! I swear on my life!” Fern insisted. “He came into my cell and untied me, took an escape pod from the ship, opened the portal and brought me here!”

“Don’t worry, Fern, we trust you,” Jackie assured before glaring sharply back at Delete. “It’s HIM we don’t trust.”

“Exactly!” Digit chimed in, flying up and getting into Delete’s face. “What’s your motivation, huh? I bet this is all part of Hacker’s plan! Once a bad guy, always a bad guy!”

It was here that Delete’s panic was replaced with frustrated indignation. “You’re one to talk, Digit. You used to work for Hacker too, you know!”

“WHAT?!” Becky and Fern cried, completely taken aback by this revelation.

Digit shirked away a bit, self-consciously scratching his head. This was a point he couldn’t argue. “Well yeah… but I switched sides a long time ago, and I’ve never looked back! What’s your point?”

“My point is that if you can change, why can’t I?”

Digit exchanged glances with his three friends, unsure of what to say. As much as they didn’t want to admit it, Delete wasn’t exactly wrong.

As wary as Becky was about this situation, knowing that Digit used to be in Delete’s place definitely caused her to reexamine the situation. Cautiously, she spoke up and said, “Well… He DID save Fern, guys… I don’t see how that helps Hacker at all. And if Fern is willing to trust him, I think I’m willing to as well.” She then met Delete’s eyes and said firmly, “Just don’t blow it.”

Delete nodded understandingly. He wasn’t expecting them to fully trust him right away, and he knew it would take time to get them to fully believe him.

Matt shrugged. “Well hey, if WordGirl of all people is willing to give him a shot, I’m game.”

Inez glanced towards Jackie and Digit and remarked, “You know… if he’s telling the truth, it could really be an advantage to us and give us a leg up on Hacker, having someone with us who worked for him so recently.”

Jackie and Digit remained wary, although they had now become outnumbered, and Inez admittedly made a good point. So they reluctantly agreed, effectively giving Delete a trial run working for team Motherboard.

“Aw, thanks a lot, everyone. I promise you won’t regret this,” Delete said gratefully.

Becky half-smiled at Delete and hugged Fern. “Thank you for saving Fern, by the way. I guess we owe you a chance for that.”

“It was nothin’,” Delete replied bashfully. “I just realized I couldn’t let him… do what he was gonna do to her.”

Becky nodded, tightening her grip on Fern the slightest bit. She didn’t want to know the details of what Hacker had planned, especially considering it was bad enough to convince one of his henchmen to help her escape. No doubt had been left in her mind that she was going to defend her until the bitter end. If Hacker wanted to try and take her again, he’d have to get through WordGirl first.

Fern coughed and sighed, breaking the short, relaxed silence that had set in. “Well… I guess we’d better get to planning if we want to find a way to beat Hacker, huh?”

“‘We?’” Becky repeated, confused. “Oh no no no no no, the rest of us will do that. YOU’RE getting some sleep.”

“What? But Becky, I don’t want to just sit around here and be useless, I want to help!” Fern objected.

Becky frowned and shook her head. “No way. I’m not giving Hacker a chance to hurt you again, remember?”

“Oh come on, Becky, let her help,” Matt interjected, stepping over and patting Fern’s shoulder. “She seems like a smart girl, even if she IS smaller than even Nezzie over there, and that’s saying something,” he joked, to which Inez grunted irritably in response. “You said so yourself that she isn’t helpless.”

Fern smiled upon learning Becky had said that to them about her. “Come on, Becky - I want to help. I’ve always wanted to be involved in some big adventure, ever since I was a kid! This is my chance, and this time I’ll be prepared! I’m sure I’ll be safe with you by my side, and with these guys.”

Becky pondered the idea. She didn’t want to be overprotective and keep Fern from doing something she really wanted to do. Then again, though, she felt perfectly justified in being concerned for her safety, especially after all that had transpired that day. “I don’t know, Fern… I’m worried. If you did this and something happened to you as a result, I’d feel awful beyond belief. These guys say they’ve been fighting Hacker for years, and I’ve been battling villains just as long, but you’ve never done anything like this!”

“Well… We all have to start somewhere, right?” Fern asked. “I would hate just sitting and doing nothing while knowing what’s going on and what could happen.” She was doing her best to explain her position, but it was plain to see how worried Becky was for her. “Hey,” she spoke up after a moment, reaching down and caressed her gloved hand, massaging her palm with her thumb. “It’s really sweet how concerned you are, Becky, and I appreciate it a lot… but please let me help. I’m sure I’ll be safe with all of you.”

Becky sighed in defeat, finally caving in. Fern really seemed to want to be a part of this, and she didn’t want to be the one to stand in the way of something her crush really wanted. “Alright…” she relented, gently pulling Fern’s arm, “but only if you get some sleep. I’m sure you’re exhausted after everything you’ve been through today. We’re gonna keep talking for awhile, and we’ll give you an update when you wake up. Deal?”

Fern smiled and rolled her eyes. “Deal.”

“Do you guys have a place where she can rest?” Becky asked, turning to look at Digit and the other kids.

“There should be a room down the hall there,” Digit answered, pointing through the doorway.

Becky nodded and went with Fern to the room, helping her get settled once they found it. Meanwhile the kids, Digit and Delete sat down at the table. “Geez, we’re never gonna get to sleep. Fern is lucky…” Matt moaned, rubbing his temples.

“I have to admit, I’m getting pretty tired too…” Jackie agreed, letting her head flop back.

“We’re ALL tired, guys,” Inez said, adjusting her glasses, “and I’d love to get some sleep, but we don’t have time right now. We’re just gonna have to power through it. We’ll make a dozen pots of coffee if we have to. We can sleep when we beat Hacker. For all we know, he could start invading as soon as tomorrow morning, and we need to be prepared if that’s what it comes to.” She looked up at their newest team member and asked, “Do you have any idea what Hacker’s planning to do, Delete?”

“He didn’t give me that many details,” Delete answered regretfully. “What I do know is that once he took care of WordGirl - or Becky, I guess - he was going to, well… get rid of you guys, too. Then he was going to invade the city after that. He probably would’ve tomorrow. But now since he doesn’t have Fern for leverage anymore, I don’t know for sure.”

“I guess we should try to be prepared for the worst, then,” Inez supposed, taking a swig of her coffee. “I don’t see why he’d let that stop him from trying.”

“I agree,” Jackie concurred. “He may not have Fern anymore, but he’s made it this far and I doubt he’d just give up.

It was then that Becky returned and sat back down. “Just finished getting Fern to bed. I can’t tell you guys how relieved I feel. Fern is safe, and I have a much better feeling about our changes.”

“Same here,” Matt said, “but what are we going to do now?”

“Well, we’re gonna have to come up with a plan to defeat Hacker,” Inez clarified. “Let’s try and make this as simple as possible - What is it exactly that makes him such a threat, and what can we do to take it out?”

“I guess if the Grim Wreaker was out of commission, he wouldn’t be able to do much,” Jackie remarked.

“That’s true…” Inez agreed, tapping her chin.

“Is that the name of his ship?” Becky asked.

“Yeah, he’s had it ever since we met him,” Inez replied. “Do you think you’d be able to fight him while he’s flying it?”

“I’ll certainly do my best,” Becky answered. “But is there something you guys could do at the same time to try and help take it down?”

“Maybe… Delete, can you think of any weaknesses the Wreaker might have?”

“Hmm…” Delete silently brainstormed a moment before getting an idea. “This is just an idea, but maybe if we could find the power magnetic booster battery, we could get it on the ground…”

The Cybersquad gasped with surprise, sharing excited glances. “The power magnetic booster battery! Of course! Delete, you’re a genius!” Matt exclaimed.

“Really?” Delete asked, smiling.

“Absolutely! If we can find that thing, Hacker will be toast!”

“‘Power magnetic booster battery?’ Is that like the power source for the ship?” Becky asked.

“You bet! Every ship in Cyberspace has one,” Digit answered. “The Wreaker definitely won’t be able to run without it.”

“We’ll have to sneak onto the ship to get it,” Jackie pointed out. “That won’t be fun.”

“Delete, do you think you’d be able to get us onto the ship, so we can look for it while Hacker takes off and goes into the city? Or do you maybe even have an idea where it is?” Inez asked.

“Sure, I can help get you on there. But I’m not totally sure where the battery is,” Delete replied.

“That’s okay, I’m certain we can find it,” Inez assured. “I say we should take off and get back to the real world early in the morning. That way we’ll hopefully have plenty of time to get aboard the ship and start looking.”

“And I’ll head back into town and try to be ready for when Hacker gets there,” Becky added. “It occurred to me that Hacker still knows where Fern and I live, so I’m going to get my family and her parents to a safe place so Hacker can’t track them down as well. I don’t want what happened to Fern to happen to any of them.”

“Of course not,” Matt said understandingly. “And you think you’ll be ready soon after that?”

“Definitely,” Becky replied with a firm nod and a confident grin.

“Great - I’m starting to feel a bit better about this, guys,” Jackie remarked, happy they finally seemed to be getting somewhere.

“Me too,” Inez agreed. “Even if it’s a loose plan, I’m glad we at least have something.”

“So I guess what we’ll do is wake Fern up in a few hours and tell her the plan,” Becky supposed. “Then we’ll go back to the real world and split up before the invasion starts. I think we have a chance, guys. We just might be able to beat Hacker yet.”

Chapter Text

It had been about one o’clock in the morning when Fern had been put to bed, so everyone decided to wake her up three hours later, enough time for her to go through a couple full sleep cycles. Becky went to do so before 4:30, and Fern was soon up and relatively awake, feeling much better if not a slight bit tired. She appreciated the others letting her get some sleep though. As much as she wanted to keep sleeping, she knew that wasn’t an option at this point. Besides, Becky told her Inez was making breakfast, and she was admittedly still slightly hungry.

When she left her room and went into the hall, she spotted Delete near the doorway into the main room. He appeared a bit forlorn from what she could see, but perked up a bit upon seeing her.

“Hi, Delete,” Fern greeted, interrupted by a small yawn. “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” Delete replied. “Feeling better?”

Fern nodded. “Yes, a little sleep definitely helped me. What are you doing here in the hall by yourself?”

Delete shrugged. “Well, they aren’t super comfortable having me in there, you know? Just yesterday evening I was working for Hacker. I get why they don’t totally trust me.”

“Well I trust you. I mean, I’m still kind of mad about the fact that you helped kidnapped me in the first place, but I really believe you feel bad about it, and you’re the one that also helped me escape. I meant it when I said I won’t forget it,” Fern assured. “It might take them a while to really come around, but I’m sure the more time passes, the more they’ll trust you. They seem close to Digit, and I’m sure the same could happen with you.”

Delete smiled. “Thanks, Fern. It’s nice that at least one of you trusts me a little.”

Fern returned his smile. “I’m sure I won’t be the only one for too long. Come on, let’s not keep them waiting,” she said, leading Delete to the table, where the others had seated themselves once again.

Everyone greeted Fern as they came in, and she sat herself down next to Becky. “I hope you’re hungry,” Matt said. “Inez makes the best pancakes I’ve ever had.”

Inez chuckled and blushed as she placed some pancakes on everyone’s plates. “Thanks, Matt. I learned from my abuela,” she explained as she reached Fern.

“Wow! I wish I could cook,” Fern replied. “I literally can’t do anything more complicated than cereal.”

“I could teach you if you wanted,” Inez suggested, going to sit down as she finished distributing pancakes. “I can’t make anything very fancy, though.” 

“It’s okay, simple isn’t a bad thing. That could actually be nice,” Fern said, enjoying getting to know these other three kids a bit. She knew most of that would have to wait until later though. She looked around and asked as she began eating, “So did you guys come up with anything earlier?”

“We think we might have something,” Becky answered. “Delete gave us the idea. See, Hacker’s ship runs on something called a power magnetic booster battery. The ship can’t get off the ground without it.”

“So we think if we can get onto the ship and find it while Becky’s fighting Hacker, we can remove it and ground the ship. That way it’ll make it easier for her to finish the job,” Jackie explained.

Fern tensed up nervously. She truly did wish to help out with the plan, but she wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the idea of going back onto that ship again.

Becky could see the worry in Fern’s eyes, and she wrapped her hand around her back. “You don’t have to go, you know. I know you want to help, but if the idea of going back on that ship is too much for you, you can always just stay here where it’s safe while we deal with it.”

Fern was silent for a minute before shaking her head. “No… No, I’m okay. I mean, I don’t really want to go back on there. But if it means I get to help save Earth, then it’s alright.”

Becky sighed and nodded. “Okay then. If that’s what you want.”

Everyone else smiled encouragingly. “You’re pretty brave for being willing to go back on there again,” Matt acknowledged.

Fern chuckled a bit. “Thanks, Matt.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“And you don’t have to worry, Becky. We’ll be with her and keep each other safe,” Jackie promised.

“I’m sure you will,” Becky agreed with a nod. Knowing this made her feel a bit better. If it had been entirely up to her, she probably still would have made Fern stay someplace safe and out of harm’s way. But given that she wanted to help out so strongly, and that she’d be with other kids who were more experienced with Hacker, she didn’t want to be the one to stand in the way. She simply had to have hope that it would all work out in the end.

***

The group soon finished eating, and Motherboard conjured a portal for them, returning them to the real world. They arrived in the woods once again, the Grim Wreaker visible in the distance in the early morning light.

“I guess this is where we split up,” Jackie supposed, eyeing Hacker’s ship poking out from the little cave.

“Yeah, I guess so…” Becky replied, sounding a bit deflated. She stepped over to Fern and gently held both her hands, giving her a sad smile. “Good luck… You’re gonna be fine, okay? If anything happens, I’ll be the first one to get to you, I swear.”

“I know… Thanks for being okay with this, Becky,” Fern said gratefully. “Don’t worry about me. If Hacker finds us and tries anything, I’m sure I’ll be prepared this time.”

The two girls then embraced, holding each other tight. “God, I don’t want to leave you again, especially so soon after you got back…” Becky bemoaned.

“Me neither…” Fern agreed, gently rubbing Becky’s back.

“There’s… something I’d like to do… You know… just in case worse comes to worst,” Becky spoke up, giving a sheepish grin.

“What?” Fern asked, intrigued.

Without another word, Becky planted her lips against Fern’s. They only touched for just a few short moments, but in those moments they both felt lighter than air, as if they were absorbed in their own little world for mere seconds. It was easily one of the best moments of their entire lives.

“Aaaawww…” Jackie and Inez uttered, touched by the little romantic display.

Matt looked on as well, and Jackie glanced over at him and elbowed him in the arm when he had been doing so a tad too long. “What?” he asked quietly but indignantly. He had secretly always wanted to see two girls kiss in real life. I mean, come on, what guy doesn’t?, he wondered to himself in exasperation.

Becky and Fern finally parted, pausing a few seconds before letting their hands go. Becky then silently turned and flew away towards town, high in the slowly brightening sky, her bright yellow cape flapping behind her in the wind. Fern couldn’t look away as she did so, gazing in awe at the sight, which was so much more beautiful to her now than it had ever been before. She sniffled a little bit, wiping away a stray tear.

“You okay, Fern?” Inez asked, walking up from behind her, placing a hand on her shoulder.

Fern nodded, wiping her red face and eyes dry. “M-hm…” she replied with a tiny nod.

“She’ll be okay. She IS WordGirl, you know.”

Fern out at the pink horizon towards the city where Becky had disappeared, smiling brightly. “I know… I’m sure she’ll be amazing…” 

***

The occupants of the Botsford household had not expected to be awoken so early in the morning that day. They also had been quite surprised to see the town’s superhero at the door.

“WordGirl?” Mr. and Mrs. Botsford asked with confusion in unison after answering the door in their pajamas, Becky standing on the front step.

“Did somebody say WordGirl?!” a voice from inside spoke up excitedly. Within seconds, Becky’s brother TJ appeared in the doorway between his parents. He immediately lighted up upon seeing his idol. “WordGirl!! What are you doing here?!”

Becky was amused by TJ’s reaction to her appearance, but she maintained a professional composure. “Well, citizens, it appears that there’s potential for a large attack on the city.”

“Oh dear!” Mrs. Botsford fretted, putting her hand to her face.

“Yes, it’s a troublesome situation,” Becky said. “And for reasons that must unfortunately remain classified, you are all potential targets for the bad guys’ plans. I’m afraid I’ll have to escort you to a safe, undisclosed location.”

“Well fiddlesticks!” Mr. Botsford objected, snapping his fingers in frustration. “That’s going to mess with our plans for today.”

“I apologize, sir, but that’s the situation. It’s for the sake of the city.”

Mrs. Botsford “Oh very well… Just let me go wake up my daughter Becky first.”

Becky panicked a moment. That detail had totally slipped her mind. “Oh! I, uh, there’ll be no need, ma’m. I was informed that your daughter was away tonight at a sleepover. Is that correct?”

“Oh right! Of course, how silly of me to forget. Will she be okay, though?”

“No worries, ma’am. I simply advised her to remain at her current location once I learned where she was, since it’s believe that it won’t be a target for the attacker.”

“Good enough for me!” Mr. Botsford said with a content shrug. “If WordGirl says she’s safe, I believe it.”

Becky sighed, relieved that this had gone over well. Once she had her family taken care of, she went and did the same at Fern’s house, bringing her parents to another safe place where they wouldn’t be found. Having accomplished all this, she returned to her own house once more and found Huggy asleep in her room.

“Huggy! Huggy, wake up!” Becky called out, gently shaking the monkey awake.

Huggy stirred and rubbed his eyes. Once he saw it was Becky, he squeaked in greeting.

“Hey, Huggy. I’m glad to see you too.”

Huggy squeaked, a look of confusion on his face.

“Yeah, I know, I’m sorry I wasn’t here last night. Mom and Dad didn’t tell you anything?”

Huggy shook his head. He had been a little worried when Becky hadn’t come back since dropping him off at home the previous afternoon.

“A lot of stuff came up. Remember that ship I told you I saw yesterday?”

Huggy nodded.

“Well it turns out it’s owned by this new villain named Hacker from a place called Cyberspace, and he wants to take over the planet. It turns out he’s been hiding in the woods the past week or so staking out the city, and when he found out I existed, he actually went to the effort to find out my secret identity…”

Huggy’s eyes widened and he squeaked loudly, startled to hear this.

“I know, I know, but I had no idea he was spying on me,” Becky said in defense. “He’s honestly thought his plan through pretty well. So then what happened is when I was at the library, I stumbled in on these three kids who - and I couldn’t believe it when I saw it - opened up a portal and just jumped into it! So I followed them, and I ended up in Cyberspace!”

Huggy narrowed his eyes and squeaked, not entirely convinced.

“I swear I’m telling you the truth, Huggy,” Becky assured, though she understood why he was skeptical. “I met and talked to those three kids, and they can vouch for me. They’re all pretty nice.”

Huggy shrugged, deciding not to worry about it.

“But you see, the worst part is that once Hacker found out who I was, he learned about my crush on Fern… and so he kidnapped her and threatened to… well… kill her if I didn’t surrender…” she explained, holding back a few tears. “Turns out she was in that box I told you I saw those robots carrying yesterday…”

Huggy was completely taken aback. This was perhaps the most serious situation Becky had ever found herself in. He hopped up on the bed, reaching over and rubbing her arm sympathetically.

Becky sniffled and wiped her eyes. “Th-thanks, Huggy… but don’t worry. There IS good news. One of the robots seems to have had a change of heart, and he actually saved Fern and brought her back to us! And also, it turns out Fern likes me back!”

Huggy brightened up, relieved to hear the issue had been solved, and glad to hear Becky’s liking for Fern was mutual.

“Yeah, at least that’s over. But Hacker is probably still going to try and invade the city today, and Fern wants to help the rest of us try and defeat him. I’m not totally comfortable with it, honestly, but she really wants to do it. And she’ll be with the others, and it turns out they’ve been fighting Hacker for years in Cyberspace. So I’m just going to trust that she’ll be safe with them.”

Huggy put his hand to his forehead and squeaked. This was a lot of information to have suddenly unloaded onto him.

“I know, it’s kind of confusing. I’ll explain any details you want later. Before we left Cyberspace a little bit ago, we decided it’d be best to split up. You and I are going to fight Hacker when he enters the city in his ship. Meanwhile, the others are going to sneak onto the ship before it takes off and start looking for the power source. When they find it, they’re going to take it out and ground the ship so you and I can handle him more easily. I just got back from the woods, that’s where we split up… I actually kissed Fern goodbye, just in case anything happens…”

Huggy squeaked and smiled coyly, nudging Becky’s arm.

“What? ‘Ladies’ girl?’ Please, it wasn’t that complicated, just a quick peck on the lips,” Becky said, crossing her arms and blushing.

Huggy squeaked once more.

“I don’t know… We haven’t officially agreed to be girlfriends or anything. I’d really rather not think too much about that until after this is all over. Then she and I can talk about it.”

Huggy nodded understandingly.

“So anyway, that’s basically the plan. Let’s go grab you something for breakfast and get you into your superhero outfit. We need to be ready as soon as possible for when Hacker gets here.”

***

Back in the woods, the rest of the group made the short walk to the Grim Wreaker, or the short flight in Digit’s case. They were all careful to sneak through thicker groups of trees and avoid more open spots so that there’d be less of a chance of being spotted in case Hacker or Buzz were awake.

“Wow… That thing’s really big…” Fern remarked as they poked their heads out from the bushes. This was the first good look she’d been able to get of the ship.

“Hacker likes having a big ship,” Delete explained. “He thinks it looks more impressive and makes him seem more threatening when he lands somewhere.”

“Well, mission accomplished,” Fern replied. “That thing will probably look scary flying over the city.”

“It’ll be a lot less scary when it’s in a heaping mess on the ground,” Jackie interjected.

“Delete, how are we going to get on the ship?” Inez asked, glancing over at their new accomplice. “You said you could get us in there, right?”

“Uh, y-yeah, I did...” Delete answered.

“Do you have a remote or something that’ll lower the ramp?” Matt asked.

“Well, um… No, no I don’t.”

“Then how are we supposed to get in there, huh?” Digit asked pointedly.

Delete looked up at Digit and said defensively, “I don’t know, I thought I’d figure it out when we got here!” It was then that he spotted the bird’s chest hatch. “What stuff do you have with you?”

“Oh, in here? I’ve got lots of stuff, let’s see…” Digit rooted around inside himself a moment before pulling out a really long, thick rope. “Could this help?”

Delete smiled confidently. “Yeah! I know just what to do! Follow me, but quietly,” he directed, stepping out from the bush and attempting to make as little noise as possible, while the others did the same. They sneaked under the ship and parked there for the moment, hoping they’d be well out of sight. “Digit, take the rope, fly up to the top of the ship and drop the rope down, but hold onto one end of it.”

Digit nodded, finally getting an idea of what Delete was thinking. “Righto,” he said, giving a thumbs up before doing as Delete advised. He landed on top of the ship and pulled the rope out, holding onto one end as he dropped it down. Thankfully it was plenty long enough to reach the bottom.

“Oh no, do we have to climb this thing?” Inez asked warily.

“Guess we don’t have any other option,” Jackie shrugged, grabbing a hold of the rope and beginning to climb up the ship’s side.

“One at a time, Earthlies!” Digit called down to the group as Jackie ascended. “I can only hold so much weight, ya know!”

“Ooh, I hate this!” Inez moaned, covering her face with her hands. “Isn’t there another way I could get up there?”

“Come on, Inez, I’ll help,” Matt offered, cupping her back and gently moving her towards the rope. “I’ll stand right at the bottom while you climb. That way if you slip and fall, I’ll catch you. Okay? Take a deep breath.”

Inez looked up and shivered a bit seeing how high it went. But she took Matt’s advice and breathed deeply and deliberately for a moment. “Alright…” she relented, grabbing on and beginning to climb.

“Just don’t look down and I’m sure you’ll be fine,” Matt encouraged.

Inez gulped and nodded, remembering his words as she went up. In a matter of minutes she had reached the top, and Jackie pulled her up and hugged her. “You did it, Inez!”

Inez giggled. “I know!” She turned behind her and called down, “Thanks, Matt!”

“No problem!” Matt called back, beginning to climb up himself.

Now only two others remained at the bottom. Delete glanced over at Fern as she looked up towards the top. “Think you can do this?” he asked.

“I guess… but I’ve never climbed a rope so high before, and I’m not that strong…” Fern replied.

“Hmm… How about I climb up before you. That way you’ll be the last one, and maybe we can just pull you up?”

“I suppose that could work…” Fern said with a nod.

Delete smiled and grabbed the rope, beginning to climb. “Great - I’ll climb up and tell them the plan.”

When Delete reached the top, he told the others his idea.

“But what if she accidentally slips and falls?” Matt pointed out. “That would be a long drop.”

“Oh yeah, I didn’t think of that,” Delete answered self-consciously.

Inez then got an idea. “Hey, Digit - How about while the rest of us pull the rope, you fly down and hover below Fern, just in case?” 

“Hey, good idea!” Digit replied, taking off and flying down to the bottom.

Everyone at the top grabbed the rope. “Ready, Fern?” Jackie called down, peering over the edge and seeing Fern standing at the bottom next to Digit, holding the rope.

“Ready!” she called back, giving a thumbs up.

It was then that they began pulling on the rope. Luckily there were four of them, and Fern wasn’t very heavy, so she wasn’t too difficult to pull up. At the other end, Fern glanced down at the ground, getting slightly nervous as she was pulled up.

Digit smiled up at her encouragingly. “Doing great, kid! Just keep holding on tight!”

“Thanks…” Fern replied, trying not to focus on how high up she was too much.

A couple minutes later, Fern appeared at the side of the ship at the top, and they kept pulling until she was pulled over entirely from the edge. “Great job, Fern!” Inez praised, helping her get to her feet.

Fern giggled. “Thanks for pulling me up. That would have been a tough climb.”

“You have no idea,” Jackie remarked, rubbing her hands, as they had been irritated by the rope, as had Matt and Inez’s.

“So what now, Delete?” Matt asked.

“Right over here,” Delete said, gesturing to a handle several feet away. He squatted down and pulled on it, revealing a ceiling hatch. “Climb in! This’ll take us inside.”

No one was particularly eager to go in, of course, but Fern was especially hesitant. Matt noticed this and patted her shoulder. “You’ll be fine, Fern. Don’t worry about a thing. You’ll be safe with us.”

Fern sighed. “I know… I just really don’t want to see Hacker again.”

“Tell you what - If we do accidentally run into him, we’ll be the ones to deal with him,” Jackie offered.

“Yeah, that big green narcissist doesn’t scare us,” Inez agreed confidently.

“Just stick with us and you’ll be totally fine,” Matt assured.

Fern smiled. She appreciated all the encouragement she was getting, and was quickly growing to like these kids. “Okay, if you’re sure…”

“We’re totally sure,” Jackie said with a firm nod. “Once we get in there, we’re gonna find that power magnetic booster battery. And when we do, Hacker won’t have anywhere to go, and Earth will be safe.”

“Go on in. We’re right behind you,” Matt said, pointing to the hatch.

Fern nodded and slowly approached the entrance. As nervous as she was, she wanted to stay strong. As she had said less than an hour ago, this was the big adventure she had always wanted to go on, and she didn’t want to chicken out. She wanted to be brave for once in her life. With that, she stepped into it and placed her foot on the rungs of a ladder, leading down into the darkness of the ship. She looked back up at the three kids and Digit and smiled. “Alright then - let’s go find that battery.”

Chapter Text

Hacker had woken up not long before his ship was being infiltrated, figuring he would need an early start considering everything he had planned. He was seated in front of the mirror in his bathroom while wearing his nightshirt, getting himself prepped. He wanted to look his best for such a special occasion as taking over the world, after all.

As he covered his face in exfoliating cream, he ran through the main aspects of his plan once more: First he would call Control Central again and ask if WordGirl and the Cybersquad had made their decision. If they agreed, he would let Fern go and take them and the encryptor ship in return. If they denied, he would go through with the invasion and kill her off when he got the chance. He hoped they would pick the former option, of course. This way they would all be out of the way sooner rather than later. On the other hand, he did have a backup plan if they failed to take his offer. He planned to let Fern live as he attacked the city and once again extend WordGirl the opportunity to surrender at any time until he was confident he had Earth in his grasp, thereby still increasing his chances of not having to deal with her as he carried on with his mission.

He also allowed himself to daydream a bit, fantasizing about all he would do after the fact. He could picture it now - massive, glorious statues of himself dotted all around the globe, his face carved into mountains and painted on walls in each and every country, the entire population serving him either directly or indirectly, and best of all, those pesky brats finally off his back for good. He even chuckled as he thought about WordGirl’s plight. Whichever option she ended up choosing, her girlfriend wouldn’t end up in a positive situation. She would either be killed if they stood their ground, or become one of his many slaves if they surrendered. A tiny part of him almost felt sorry for her, but he didn’t care. He would do it a thousand times over again if that’s what it took to accomplish his goals.

As he was getting ready to wipe the cream from his face and begin gelling his wig up, Buzz burst into the room unexpectedly. Hacker let out a startled shout, sharply turning his head and glaring at the shorter of his two minions.

“Boss! Boss! I need to tell you somethin’!”

“Buzz! Can’t you see I’m busy, you thick-headed numskull?”

“But it’s important! I just checked the cell, and that girl’s gone!”

Hacker’s face remained unmoving for several seconds as he was informed of this. He then closed his eyes and forced a toothy smile. “I’m awfully sorry… but… could you be so kind as to repeat that? My ears must be mistaken.”

“Um… no, I think you heard right, boss. The girl isn’t there anymore,” Buzz repeated, furrowing his brow.

Hacker chuckled and stood up from his seat and began walking towards Buzz, taking slow and deliberate steps. “I see… Any other bit of news you’d care to share with me, hmm?”

“Well, I… I was also gonna say I haven’t seen Delete anywhere either. He wasn’t in his bed asleep where he usually is in the morning, he wasn’t guarding the cell door, and I couldn’t find him anywhere,” Buzz added hesitantly.

“M-hm, m-hm…” Hacker replied with a few quick nods, holding his hands together in front of his face and twiddling his fingers, taking deep and slightly shaky breaths. “...Well, Buzzy my friend, it appears we’re certainly in a bit of a pickle, aren’t we?”

“Uh, y-yeah… I guess so…” Buzz responded, scratching his head. Hacker was reacting much more calmly than he had expected him to. “What should we do?...”

“Well, I’ll tell you,” Hacker said, crouching down closer to eye level with Buzz. “YOU are going to search every nook and cranny of this ship, just in case they happen to be here somewhere. If you find either of those two, I want you to take them to me… SO I CAN WRING THEIR SCRAWNY LITTLE NECKS!!!” he hollered straight into Buzz’s face, suddenly fuming beyond belief.

Buzz stumbled backwards, taken by complete surprise by the outburst. “But, but wait, boss! Delete?! Why?!”

“Isn’t it obvious, you bucket of bolts?! The girl escapes, and suddenly Delete isn’t here?! You do the math! He must have helped her escape! He’s a traitor! And don’t even THINK about resting until you’re absolutely certain they’re not on this ship! Although I must admit, my hopes of you finding them on here are unfortunately quite low. If I had to guess, it seems more likely that they’ve escaped to try and meet up with the Cybersquad. I believe they’re probably going to try and fight back.”

“Well… can’t we just find another hostage, boss?” Buzz suggested. “We can find one of WordGirl’s family members and use THEM to threaten her with, right?”

Hacker shook his head. “As much as that would theoretically work, I unfortunately don’t think WordGirl is that stupid. She’s probably already taken them somewhere we won’t find them. I see no point in trying to sniff them out, wherever they might be.”

Buzz was at a loss for words. Not only was Hacker’s plan in serious jeopardy, he wanted him to find Delete and bring him back so Hacker could eliminate him, someone Buzz had always considered a brother to him. Even if he was a traitor, the idea of him basically being executed for it was almost too much to bare… but he knew he couldn’t disobey Hacker’s orders.

There was a long silence before Buzz spoke again. “So… What ARE you going to do, boss? You’re not just going to give up, are you?”

“Hardly. I’ve spent too long on this operation to simply give up now. It looks as if we might just have to fight WordGirl the old-fashioned way and hopefully wear her out. I’m not surrendering just yet, Buzz. If I have to fight tooth and nail to earn my place at the throne, ruling over the Earth, then so be it. Now go away. I need to look absolutely dazzling for today.”

Buzz obeyed, quietly stepping back into the hallway and closing the bathroom door behind him.

Hacker glared bitterly as his reflection as he returned to what Buzz had interrupted him in the middle of, and began wiping his green face clean. “I hope you’re ready for a fight, you little brats,” he mumbled to himself under his breath, “because I’ll be unleashing unrelenting war on you yet. When I’m done with you, you’ll be wishing more than ever that you never got in my way in the first place.”

***

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Wreaker, everyone had now climbed inside through the hatch in the roof and were walking through one of many of its dimly lit metal hallways filled with blinking lights. They were all huddled close together as they walked, keeping their eyes peeled for potential danger in all directions.

“Delete, are you sure you don’t have any idea where the battery might be?” Jackie asked in a low tone. “The Wreaker is so big, and there are so many places to look that it could take forever to find it.”

“Hmm…” Delete put on his thinking cap, racking his brain for any place where the battery might be. “I guess we could try the boiler room. A lot of the parts that keep the ship running are in there. It’s pretty far down though, near the bottom.”

Inez sighed. “I guess it’s a start. It’ll have to do.”

“You don’t think we’ll get lost, do you?” Fern asked concernedly.

“Pssh, no way,” Delete huffed. “I know this thing in and out.”

“Not enough to know where the battery is, apparently,” Digit grumbled under his breath.

“I heard that!” Delete protested, glaring back at Digit. “Nobody’s perfect, you know!”

“You got that right,” Digit retorted.

“Come on, guys, quit bickering,” Inez scolded. “Fighting isn’t going to help us find the battery.”

Digit grunted and sighed. “You’re right… Sorry, Nezzie.”

Inez shook her head. “Don’t worry about it, Didge… and when are you people going to quit calling me Nezzie?!” she snapped.

“Right, right, sorry. Let’s just go already.”

“Amen. Lead the way, Delete,” Jackie instructed.

Delete obliged, and he began leading everyone towards the nearest staircase. Matt and Jackie followed directly behind him, followed by Fern and Inez, and lastly Digit brought up the rear, periodically glancing behind them.

“So… ‘Nezzie,’ huh?” Fern asked Inez.

Inez sighed. “Yeah, I’ve been stuck with that nickname for a long time. Matt’s actually the one who started it, and I guess it clicked.”

Fern chuckled. “Don’t worry about it, I think it’s cute. If it makes you feel better, my parents are always calling me Fernie.”

Jackie chuckled and looked back at them. “Maybe WE should start calling you that. That way Inez won’t be totally alone anymore in having a nickname she doesn’t want.”

Fern blushed and looked down as they reached the stairs. “Oh! Well, I, um… never mind. I take it back. Forget I said anything.”

“Aw, no need to be shy, Fernie. We’re just teasing you. We’re all friends here,” Matt assured, slipping in the nickname without a moment’s hesitation.

“Oh Matt, quit it. She’s been through enough,” Inez chided.

“No, it’s okay,” Fern assured. “I don’t want to seem oversensitive or anything… I just… really hate feeling like I’m being picked on is all… I haven’t dealt with that feeling well in the past…”

The rest all shared concerned glances before looking back at Fern as the reached the bottom of the flight of stairs and Delete began leading them to the next one. “Oh…… We’re sorry, Fern. We don’t do it again if you feel that strongly about it.” Matt apologized, his instincts telling him he didn’t like how Fern had said that.

Fern shook her head. “No, really, it’s not a big deal or anything. Maybe I could use it. I should grow a bit more of a backbone anyway… So tell me about this encryptor chip thing. Why did Hacker want it?” she asked, figuring some more chatting would help kill time while Delete searched.

Jackie spoke up, grateful for the change in topic. “Do you want the long version or the short version?”

“The short version, I guess,” Fern replied as they reached more stairs.

“Well a few years back, Hacker infected Motherboard with a virus which kept her from functioning properly. The encryptor chip is what was needed to cure her, but it took forever for us to find.”

“And whenever we DID manage to find it, we would always end up losing it again. That or one of these bozos would always steal it,” Matt interjected, pointing towards Delete.

“Yeah… sorry about that,” Delete apologized.

Matt shrugged. “But anyway, one time we did finally manage to get the chip. We brought it back to Control Central and put it in, but it turns out it had been tampered with. Hacker actually used it to get into Motherboard’s system and override her. For a while there, we were really worried she’d be gone for good. Thank god Dr. Marbles was there to help.”

“Dr. Marbles?” Fern repeated, puzzled as they reached the next floor.

“He’s a friend of ours from Cyberspace who also works for Motherboard,” Inez explained. “He was able to override the chip and bring Motherboard back, but it was destroyed in the process.”

“So how do you have it now?”

“Well, some time after that, Marbles decided to try and recreate it from memory,” Digit said, continuing the story. “I helped him out once in awhile, though I mostly just help these guys on their missions against Hacker. And just recently he finally managed to do it! It took a lot of trial and error, but he recreated it and cured Motherboard!”

“Wow… No wonder Hacker wanted it,” Fern remarked.

“Right? Thank goodness we don’t have to worry about that now, though,” Jackie said with relief as they approached yet another flight of steps. “Now that we have you back, Hacker doesn’t have leverage against us anymore, so ha!”

“Hey, everyone,” Delete spoke up from the front. “We’re getting close to the boiler room now, and we can start looking for where the battery might be.”

Everyone sighed in relief as they heard this. They had made it all the way through the ship without being heard or spotted.

Delete stopped at one of the doors in the dark hallway and turned its knob, revealing a rather ugly room, the centerpiece of which being a massive boiler. No doubt the Wreaker needed a big one, seeing how large it was.

“Alright, everyone - start looking!” Digit declared. “Who knows how much time we might have before Hacker takes off.” With that, all six of them began scrambling around the room, trying to look for any sign of the battery. Fern was at a disadvantage here, as she had never seen one before, but the others described it for her as best as they could as they looked.

A few minutes after beginning their search, Matt and Fern were close by each other on one side of the room, while everyone else was towards the other side. As they stood and looked through all the different panels on the wall and contraptions in the middle of the room, Matt turned to Fern and said, “It’s lucky Delete got you out of here before. Must’ve been nice getting to talk with Becky about how you feel about each other, huh?”

Fern nodded. “It was. I’d been waiting for days to tell her that.”

Matt was silent a moment before speaking again. “Say… What Becky said to you… was that what you would have really wanted to hear her say? All that stuff about how much she cares about you and wants to keep you safe?”

“Of course,” Fern replied earnestly. “Knowing she cares so much about my safety is one of the best things I’ve ever felt… Why do you ask?”

Matt brushed back a couple loose strands of red hair and wiped his forehead, partially because of how hot it was in that room, and partially because of being a bit nervous to admit what he was about to. “Well… I’ll be honest with you. I’ve wanted to tell a girl I like her for a long time now. I’m kind of jealous of you and Becky and how soon after meeting you admitted your feelings to each other.”

Fern perked up, her interest growing. “Who is it?” she questioned before glancing back over her shoulder. “Is it one of them?” she asked in a more hushed tone.

Matt sighed and nodded. “Inez. I’ve liked her a long time now, and I just want to tell her already. But I want to say the right thing, you know? So I just asked to figure out if what Becky said to you is like what I should say to Inez.”

Fern nodded, totally getting where Matt was coming from. “Well…” she spoke up after a moment of deliberation, “I’d be lying if I said it isn’t a nice idea to have planned something really romantic to say. But I think you also shouldn’t overthink it. I think planning only helps so much. A lot of times it kind of has to be spontaneous, if that makes sense. But hey, I hardly wrote the book on relationships.”

“No, I think I get what you mean,” Matt assured. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks, Fern.”

“You’re welcome,” Fern replied with a smile. “It’s okay if you want to call me Fernie, though. I can handle it.”

“Good to know,” Matt said with a firm nod. He was definitely growing to like Fern. She almost reminded him of Inez a bit, what with how clearly intelligent and thoughtful she was. He could see why Becky liked her.

Everyone continued searching a while longer, until they were interrupted by the sound of someone shushing them. They all stopped what they were doing and realized the shushing had come from Delete. “Everybody, be quiet and listen!” he ordered in nearly a whisper.

They all did as he asked and listened carefully, soon picking up on what sounded like footsteps and someone calling, “Deedee! Deedee! You here? Where are ya?”

Delete gasped. “Oh no! It’s Buzzy! Quick, everyone, get into the closet!” he instructed, pointing towards a small broom closet in the corner of the room.

Everyone jumped up and quietly ran over to it, looking inside. “But it’s so tiny! We’ll barely fit!” Jackie fretted, glancing back. The footsteps were definitely getting louder.

“No time to worry about that! Get in!” Inez cried. They all squeezed in as best as they could save for Delete, feeling like a tightly packed can of sardines.

“Stay right there! I’ll open it up when it’s safe!” Delete promised, shutting the door behind them and turning around just in time to see Buzz enter the room.

“Deedee! There you are!” Buzz greeted, relieved to see his fellow robot henchman. “What’re you doing down here? I’ve been looking everywhere for ya!”

“Oh! Well, I, um… I thought I heard a weird noise down here, so I went to check it out, but I guess my ears were playing tricks on me, hehehe…” Delete lied nervously.

“Yeah, well we’ve got problems. The girl escaped from her cell, and the boss thinks you helped her!”

“What? Pfff, no way!” Delete denied, shaking his head and grinding the ball of his foot against the floor with his arms behind his back. “I’d never do that!”

“Oh. Well that’s good to hear,” Buzz replied with a relieved smile. “The boss will be glad to hear that. But she still escaped under your watch, so he won’t be THAT happy.”

“Uh, y-yeah, I guess not…”

Inside the dark closet, the kids and Digit were all doing their best to remain quiet and not be detected by Buzz. “Ugh, it’s so dusty and gross in here!” Jackie whined. “Ew, ew, and double ew!”

“Oh Jacks, it’s not that bad,” Matt argued, squirming against the wall, trying to make more room.

“Well, I can barely breathe!” Fern complained, coughing through the clouds of dust, hanging thick in the musty air.

Suddenly Digit gasped and moaned, “Uh-oh…”

“What is it, Didge?” Inez asked with slight dread.

“I just realized where the booster battery might be…”

“Where’s that?” Matt asked.

“Under a panel on the outside of the ship… That’s where it is on mine…”

Everyone emitted sounds of despair. “Fantastic! Delete led us inside when we maybe didn’t even have to be here in the first place! He probably misled us on purpose, that little weasel!” Jackie accused.

“Come on, Jackie, don’t be so hard on him,” Fern protested. “I’m sure he just forgot.”

“Yeah, well I…” Jackie began, but she soon lost her balance and fell against the closet door, causing the others to lose their own balance as well.

Back outside the closet, Delete had finished telling Buzz his excuse for not being at his post. “Well come on then, let’s go!” Buzz ordered, motioning for Delete to follow. “We’ve got work to do!”

“Okay, just a minute. I-I have to do something. I’ll be with ya in a minute…” Delete replied. Before he could continue, though, the closet door burst open and its occupants spilled out onto the floor in a heap, bringing a mop and broom with them. Delete saw this go down and turned back towards Buzz, who was now staring in wide-eyed shock, his jaw slack. He giggled nervously and said shakily, “Oh, um… oh my! Would ya look at that, Buzzy! She was with the Cybersquad down here this entire time!... Hehehe… he…”

Buzz simply looked up at Delete and glared at him as the kids and Digit got to their feet. “You WERE helping them! I should have known from how weird you’ve been acting recently! I can’t believe you, Deedee!”

“But.. but Buzzy, I… I couldn’t… I couldn’t just, I…” Delete stammered. Buzz had never been so mad at him before.

“Shut it! You DID help her escape! You were probably planning an ambush or something!”

“But! But!... But Buzzy!” Delete pleaded, his eyes beginning to well up.

“I don’t want to hear it! I’m going to get the boss!” Buzz declared through his anger, turning back towards the door.

“No! No, Buzzy! Please!” Delete pleaded, running after him, with the kids and Digit following suit in a panic to reach the door. Digit flew ahead of Delete and was almost able to reach it, but Buzz slammed the door behind himself and locked it, and Digit’s wing got slammed into it in the process.

“YEEOUCH!!!” Digit hollered, falling to the floor in agony and holding his injured wing.

“DIGIT!” the kids cried. Everyone knelt down next to him.

“Didge, buddy! Are you alright?” Matt asked, picking him up and examining his wing.

“Y-yeah… I’m fi-OUCH!” Digit cried as Matt lightly brushed his hand along his wing.

“Oops! Sorry,” Matt apologized.

“Oh Digit, we’re so sorry!” Inez apologized.

“It’s okay, Eartlies. It’s not your fault,” Digit insisted. “I was just trying to stop the door.”

Fern gasped and stood up. “The door!! I heard Buzz lock it!” She turned and ran back towards it, desperately turning and pulling on the knob with all her might, but to no avail. “Oh god! Oh god! We’re trapped!! No, this can’t be happening again!! Please!!” She banged on the door and wailed through the keyhole as she began sobbing, “HELP!! SOMEBODY HELP US!! LET US OUT!!” She began hyperventilating through her tears, tugging on the knob again. “BECKY!!! BECKY, HELP ME!!!”

Matt and Delete stood up and pulled Fern away from the door as Jackie and Inez stayed with Digit, watching Fern with sympathetic pity. “FERN! GET AHOLD OF YOURSELF!” Matt shouted. “Everything is going to be fine! You’ll be okay! We made a promise that we wouldn’t let Hacker get you again, and we’re gonna keep it!”

So there they all remained, not knowing for certain what would happen to them. Inez looked around at the awful scene before her. Digit was hurt, Fern was in a complete panic, Delete had been found out as a traitor by his best friend, and they were all locked in a boiler room with no escape apparent to them. She bit her lip put her hand to her forehead. “This is not good… This is not good at all…”

Chapter Text

None of them were certain exactly how much time had passed. For all they knew, it could have been as little as ten minutes or as much as ten hours since they had been locked into the boiler room. As grim as the situation was, the upside to being left there by themselves was being allowed some time to attempt to get themselves together.

Matt and Inez were doing what they could do help Digit with his injured wing. Thankfully Matt always had a small emergency kit in his trusty red backpack, and he had been able to bandage the wing a bit. It had been a tricky process though, given how sensitive the bird’s wing had become. They all had a strong suspicion that it had been broken, and they would need to get him some better treatment as soon as they could, if possible.

Fern and Delete were slumped against the wall nearby. They had both cried themselves out and were quietly reflecting on the situation they had been thrust into. Delete felt stupid for bringing them down to the boiler room in the first place. Once Digit had informed him of where he predicted the booster battery might be, Delete had felt like an idiot for not realizing it. He had no doubts that it was entirely his fault they were all stuck here now, not knowing for certain what would happen next.

Fern, meanwhile, felt like she was reliving an awful nightmare. Here she was, trapped on the same ship she had been held prisoner on the previous night. Logically speaking, it was largely better this time around, at least. She wasn’t tied up or gagged, and she at least had her new friends to keep her company. She wanted so badly for Becky to be there with her though, as selfish as she knew the desire was. She would have felt so much safer with her by her side.

Lastly, Jackie was fervently pacing around the room, her mind racing to try and come up with a plan to get them out of there, though so far she had had no luck in doing so. The door was too strong to try and break down, there were no windows, no one else on the ship would help them escape, and Becky was miles away and had no idea they’d been caught.

“Come on, guys! There has to be a way to get out of here! We just have to think!” Jackie said hopefully. “We can’t give up now!”

“Jackie’s right,” Inez agreed, standing up herself. “Sometimes there are solutions to problems hidden in plain sight.”

“Like what?” Digit asked sarcastically. “A closet full of cleaning supplies? I’m not sure, Eartlies…”

“Rrgh!” Jackie grunted, whacking her forehead with her fist. “I don’t know either, Didge! But I’m not about to let Hacker take over the Earth!”

“I hardly need your permission to do that,” a voice replied unexpectedly. Everyone gasped in surprise, and those that had been sitting jumped and got to their feet upon being startled. Turning towards the door, they saw Hacker standing there, shutting the door and locking it behind him before walking further into the room. “So nice to have you all here together, kiddies. It’s almost like a little party,” he observed with fiendish delight. “And it’s quite nice to see you again, missy,” he added, spotting Fern near one of the cold walls.

Fern yelped with fright, backing flat against the wall in an attempt to get further away from the odious man she had grown rather shamefully afraid of.

The others stepped towards Hacker, in between him and Fern. “Leave her alone, Hacker!” Matt ordered with a contempt-filled sneer.

“Yeah, you’ve done enough to her already!” Inez added.

“Not that we should expect much in the way of decency from you, but it still blows my mind you were actually ready to kill her!” Digit spoke up shrilly.

“What can I say? To make an omelette, you have to be ready to break a few eggs,” Hacker stated nonchalantly. He then caught sight of Delete specifically, standing with them with a cold grimace on his face. Hacker put on an obviously fake display of sadness and said, “Oh, Delete… Words can’t express how upset it makes me to know you’ve abandoned me, especially when we’re so close to victory.”

Delete’s frown deepened as he replied, “Come on, b… I mean, Hacker - You think I’ve forgotten all the times you’ve verbally abused me and Buzzy? All the times you’ve been perfectly willing to get rid of us without a second thought? Neither of us ever mean much of anything to you.”

Hacker pretended to feel a sharp pain in his chest upon hearing these words, and acted dramatically in accordance with it. “Ugh! Delete, my old friend, you’re breaking my heart… If all that is true, why have you stayed with me all this time anyway, hmm? Why is it today that you finally choose to break off from our wonderful little partnership?”

“I guess sometimes it takes something really big to make you think twice about things,” Delete replied, stepping forward and poking Hacker’s chest with his finger as he went on. “Something like realizing you’d be willing to torture and kill and innocent girl if it meant you got to take over the world and make someone else’s life miserable!”

“Torture?!!” the Cybersquad members shrieked, appalled to hear this revelation. No wonder Delete hadn’t wanted to say what he’d heard. Fern, meanwhile, remained back against the wall. As she heard this, her breath caught in her throat and she went pale, feeling as if she was going to faint.

Hacker barely noticed as he replied, pushing Delete back away from him. “Hmm… I suppose you must have overheard Buzz and I talking. Yes I did, in fact, say I would. I’d do it several times over if that’s what it took!” Glancing back down at Delete, he growled, “Don’t come crawling back to me when you realize the mistake you’ve made.” He then looked over the robot’s shoulder and met Fern’s eyes. “And YOU, young lady, should consider yourself lucky that what I originally had planned for you won’t be necessary anymore,” he spat in her direction. Fern could practically feel herself shrinking to the size of a mouse as he stared her down.

“Geez, Hacker... That’s low, even for you!” Matt said icily.

“Consider this a lesson, then,” Hacker said, bringing his face closer to Matt, who remained steady in his place. “Never. Underestimate. The. Hacker.”

“What are you even doing here?” Inez asked sharply. “Did you just come to gloat?”

“Largely, yes,” Hacker answered calmly, nodding. “I also came to apologize - It’s a shame you won’t be able to have a front row seat to watch as I attack your little town and defeat WordGirl. But I suppose that’s simply the price you pay when you mess with The Hacker.” He then turned and began walking back towards the door, unlocking it and stepping into the hallway. Before closing it again, he poked his head back in. “I’ll deal with you all once I have your planet bowing at my feet.”

It was only when Hacker left and slammed the door that Fern collapsed back onto the floor, her legs feeling as though they had turned to jelly from how much she had been shaking, especially near the end. She buried her face in her legs as she held them closer to herself, curling into a ball as a fresh batch of tears fell from her eyes and her sobbing began anew. Everyone rushed over to her and sat around her in a small semicircle.

Matt gingerly rubbed her shoulder as she cried. “It’s okay, Fern. He’s gone. You’re safe.”

Everyone else remained morosely silent. The situation appeared to be even more hopeless than ever. As much as they may not have been ready to completely give up just yet, they would have been lying if they’d said they weren’t at least considering the ramifications of choosing to do so.

***

“I wish Hacker would just get here already,” Becky remarked to her sidekick. The two of them were seated on the roof of one of the many tall buildings downtown. It had been over an hour since they’d begun waiting there, looking for any sign of the Grim Wreaker.

Huggy turned and squeaked, looking up at Becky.

“I don’t know… Maybe they stopped him already. If they did, that’d be fantastic,” Becky answered. “But I’m not going to get my hopes up. It sounds like that booster battery thing could be anywhere on that ship. It could take forever for them to find.”

Huggy whined concernedly.

“Well gee, I HOPE they haven’t been captured,” Becky said, not enjoying picturing such a situation. “It’ll be a lot harder to take Hacker down without them helping from inside.”

The two remained silent as they watched the treeline in the distance, set against a clear morning sky, which was slowly turning from pink and orange to a delicate shade of blue. She could feel a light breeze on her back, blowing her cape around in the otherwise pleasantly warm air. If this was any other October morning, Becky likely would have been enjoying it, as most other people in town likely were, having no idea what would be coming soon.

“I’m worried, Huggy,” Becky finally spoke up, continuing to gaze straight ahead. “I want to believe so badly that Fern can handle herself. She has the Cybersquad with her, and she’s smart. I have a lot of confidence in her, I really do… but I still can’t help but worry about her. What if something goes wrong? What if Hacker catches them? She hasn’t been fighting Hacker for a long time the way the others have. Will she even be able to defend herself if he manages to get to her again?

“And what about Delete?” she continued. “Can we even really trust him? Sure, he seems genuine and all, and he did save Fern, so I want to trust him. But there’s always a chance that he’s actually still working for Hacker and is just trying to get us to trust him so he can turn around and stab them in the back… Ugh, my head hurts,” she moaned, rubbing one of her temples.

Huggy placed his hand on Becky’s back and rubbed it comfortingly.

Becky smiled. “Thanks, Huggy,” she said gratefully. “I should probably quit worrying so much. I mean, it’s eight against two here! They’re way outnumbered! And I have super strength and super speed! What does he have? A ship? Lasers, maybe? We can totally take him!”

Huggy nodded and squeaked confidently, glad to see Becky perking up a bit.

“Right! We just have to remain confident! We just have to-”

“HEEEEEELP!!” a loud yell suddenly interrupted Becky as she was speaking. Within moments she had a good guess who it might be. Startled, she glanced over the side of the building and had her assumption proven right upon spotting the same man calling for help as usual.

“Oh look, it’s the town crier,” Becky remarked dryly, picking up Huggy and flying down to the sidewalk with him, landing on her feet in front of the man. “What appears to be the trouble, good citizen?” she asked.

“WordGirl! Thank goodness it’s you! There’s a giant, scary-looking green and black spaceship thing approaching the city!” he hollered, pointing towards the sky.

Becky looked up towards the horizon and saw what a large part of her had been hoping not to see. There was the Grim Wreaker, slowly coming towards them. Becky felt her heart skip a beat, but she remained composed and took a deep breath. She re-ascended into the air, as Huggy held onto her. “Alright, Hacker…” she said assertively under her breath, “...bring it on.”

***

Everyone in the boiler room jolted in surprise upon unexpectedly feeling the Wreaker start up and begin to lift up into the air. If they managed to somehow get out of there, they knew that flying off the ground while moving forward would only make it harder to get to the battery, especially considering where they were now quite confident it was located.

Matt, Jackie and Inez had all assumed their typical thinking positions. Matt was standing against the wall, keeping one foot propped against it as he fiddled with his yo-yo. Jackie was pacing around aimlessly, mumbling to herself as her mind scrambled for a solution to their problem. Lastly, Inez was sitting on her head against another wall.

Fern and Delete sat against the wall not far from Matt, each with one their arms wrapped around the other’s back. Digit remained seated as well, taking care not to move his broken wing.

“I’ve never seen Buzzy so mad before,” Delete remarked sadly, breaking the silence that had been set in for the past several minutes.

“Me neither,” Matt agreed. “I guess we owe you a bit of an apology, Delete. Looks like you were telling the truth after all.”

Delete shook his head. “Don’t be sorry. I would’ve had a hard time believing me too.”

“At least we know for sure we can trust you now,” Inez said, looking on the bright side of things.

“Sorry we accused you of leading us to the wrong place on purpose,” Jackie apologized self-consciously.

Digit cleared his throat and nodded. “Yeah, maybe that was unfair of us, assuming you were helping us under false pretenses…”

“It’s okay guys, really,” Delete assured. “I don’t blame ya for being skeptical.”

“What are we gonna do?” Fern spoke up, her voice heavy with despair, rubbing her puffy red eyes. “How are we ever gonna get out of here now?”

“Don’t worry, Fern. We’ll think of something,” Matt replied. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

“But the door’s locked, and there’s no way we’ll be able to break through it!” Fern argued. “What are we supposed to do, dig through the floor with a spoon? It’s hopeless!”

As Fern finished speaking, Delete gasped and straightened up, snapping his fingers. “The floor! That’s it!!” he cried, standing up and letting go of Fern.

“Delete, I… I wasn’t being serious,” Fern objected meekly.

“That’s not what I meant! Everyone, over here!” he called. “And someone grab the broom or the mop!”

The kids and Digit followed him to the spot in the room where he now stood. Inez was the last to arrive, holding up the broom and handing it towards him. “What do you need this for, Delete?” she asked with hopeful curiosity.

“To reach with!... Hmm… Matt, actually, you’re the tallest. You try,” he suggested.

Matt shrugged and took the broom as Delete looked up at the ceiling. He looked carefully and meticulously before pointing towards one particular metal tile. “Right there! Reach the end of the broom up and poke that tile!”

Matt gave a puzzled frown but did as Delete asked. It was a close shave, but he was able to reach it. He poked at it a few times with increasing pressure and, to their amazement, it came loose.

“Yes! Yes! I knew it! Ha ha!” Delete exclaimed joyfully, grabbing Fern’s hands and dancing around with her for a few seconds, but she barely seemed to notice due to her total shock.

“Whoa! Delete, how did you know that would happen?” Jackie asked with amazement.

“Awhile back, Buzzy and I were doing some repairs on the floor right above us,” Delete explained, letting go of Fern. “I was standing on the ladder and holding a bucket of nuts and bolts, and I lost my balance. I must have weighed more because of the bucket, because I fell through the floor right there! And we never fixed it properly, so it’s still loose!”

“Well thank goodness! I’m really glad you remembered that, Delete!” Inez said with relief, everyone else uttering words of agreement from around them. She looked up and examined the hole left from where the panel had been. “It looks kinda small though… Do you guys think we’ll be able to fit?”

Matt observed the hole and squinted, trying to get a sense of how wide it was. “I’m not sure, honestly. It looks like it’ll be close though.”

“I would suggest Digit should try to get through it, but I’d rather not risk him injuring his wing any more. And it’d be hard to get the battery out with one hand,” Inez remarked.

Digit sighed, feeling useless being incapacitated.

Matt squatted down and patted their friend’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Didge. We’ll just try to get the next smallest one of us through there.”

Everyone glanced around upon hearing this, before their eyes all settled on Fern. She stiffened up upon realizing this and fretted, “Wait, what, me?! Don’t tell me I have to go through there!”

“But Fern, you’re the smallest aside from Digit! And time is of the essence! It’s imperative that SOMEONE gets to the battery and removes it! There’s no point wasting time and energy trying to get Matt or Jackie through first if it just turns out they won’t fit! We’re really sorry, but you’re gonna have to be the one to do this!” Inez declared.

“But, but I… But I…. but…” Fern stuttered, looking back and forth at everyone. She felt like she was the last one of them who should be doing this. And the thought of being on the outside of the ship while it flew around high in the air nearly petrified her.

“It’s okay, Fern. We’ll help you as best as we can while we try to get out ourselves,” Matt promised. “Here, take my skwak pad,” he directed, handing it to Fern. “Take this and just go back the way we came, through the top of the ship. You’ll have to look around a bit for the panel, but once you do, get it open and take out the battery. If you need help with anything, just press this button and one of us will answer you. You can also push it if one of us calls you, too.”

“Here,” Digit said, reaching into his chest hatch and pulling out a screwdriver, handing it to Fern. “You’ll need this to unscrew it from its place. The battery is also a bit heavy, so be prepared for that.”

Fern glanced between the two items in her hands. This was so much information to have to absorb in a matter of seconds. “But when I take it out the ship will start to fall, right? Wh-what do I do when that happens?!”

“Hmm, good point,” Digit replied, reaching back into his chest once more. “Ooh! Yes! Voila!” he exclaimed, holding up a parachute. “Slip this on. When you have the battery, just pull this cord here and jump as far from the ship as you can.”

It was apparent how visibly shaken Fern was by the prospect of having to do all this. She hadn’t expected to have so much weight on her shoulders during this whole endeavor. “Guys, I… I know I said I wanted to help, but I don’t know if I can do this!” she bemoaned regretfully.

Matt smiled reassuringly and wrapped an arm around her. “Look, we hate having to ask so much of you, especially considering how new you are to this. We wouldn’t ask you to do it if we didn’t think we had to.”

“Of course not,” Jackie agreed, putting her own arm around her. “But look at it this way: If you can do this, you’ll be a hero! Just like Becky!”

Jackie’s statement hit Fern like a wave. She looked back on the conversation she’d had with Becky a couple weeks prior. It made so much more sense to her now. Becky had been right all along - She COULD be a hero!

Fern breathed deeply, trying to clear her head, before putting on the first smile they had seen from her in awhile. “You’re right...” she replied, looking up at the hole in the ceiling. “...I’ll do it.”

Matt patted her firmly on the back. “That’s the spirit! Come on, we’ll give you a boost.” He went and stood under the hole, placing his hands together at leg level. This allowed Fern to step into his grasp, and he lifted her up to the hole by her foot. Luckily this was enough height for her to reach the ceiling. They realized she couldn’t squeeze through it while wearing the parachute pack though, so they had to take it off of her and try again. This time they were finally successful, though it was still a tight squeeze for her to get through. Once she’d pulled herself up and onto the upper floor, she sat there on her knees and sighed heavily with relief. “Oh thank god!” she huffed, thankful to be out of there.

She looked back down into the hole, and everyone else was cheering for her. “Way to go, Fern!”

“Yeah, good going!”

“Nice job, kid!”

Fern giggled, appreciating the gestures. “Thanks, guys!”

Delete grabbed the parachute, screwdriver and skwak pad before stepping into Matt’s hand and being lifted to the hole, where he handed it all off to Fern. “There you go!” he said.

Thankful for the help, Fern buckled the parachute onto herself over her sweater once more and grabbed the screwdriver and skwak pad.

“Think you’ll be okay?” Delete asked before she had the chance to stand up.

Fern smiled. “I’ll be alright, Delete. What about you guys? I don’t want to leave you behind…”

“We’ll be fine,” Delete assured. “We’ll keep trying to get through this hole, and we’ll call if there’s a problem. You just worry about getting to that battery. You can do it, Fern. I’m sure you can.”

Ferm beamed and hugged Delete, greatly appreciative of his faith in her. “Thank you, Delete. I won’t let you down, I swear.”

“I know ya won’t,” Delete replied. “Show Hacker who’s REALLY the boss.”

“Guys? Can we finish this up? Delete is heavy!” Matt called out from below.

“Sorry, Matt!” Fern apologized, standing up as Delete was brought back down, and everyone called up to her.

“Good luck, Fern!”

“Remember what we told you!”

“We’ll catch up as soon as we can!”

“Thanks, guys! See you soon!” Fern replied, turning to leave and making her way towards where she believed the stairs were. Okay, Fern, she thought, pep talking herself as she ran. Time to quit being scared. Becky, your friends, your parents, the planet - They’re all counting on you. It’s time to be the hero Becky says she knows you can be.

Chapter Text

Fern made her way back through the dark hallways aboard the Grim Wreaker and up the stairs. She unfortunately hadn’t been paying very close attention on the way down towards the boiler room earlier that morning, and she hoped she was headed in the right direction and wouldn’t hit any dead ends or, god forbid, come across Hacker again.

As she was climbing up what she believed was the last flight of stairs before reaching the top floor, she felt the ship come to a halt all around her. This threw off her balance, and she was forced to grab the rail to keep from falling backwards. After taking a moment to recover, she realized that if the ship wasn’t moving anymore, it must have meant Hacker had arrived in the city. As unnerving as it was for her to know it was there, floating above her own city, there was at least the upside of knowing that she’d be able to climb onto the outside of the Wreaker more easily.

The girl was relieved to find that she had indeed managed to find her way to the right spot, recognizing the space under the roof hatch they had first climbed into. She was forced to stand on the tips of her toes and jump to reach it, but at least she was able to at all by herself. It took a few tries, but she got it pushed back and opened up, allowing bright morning light from outside to enter the dim hallway.

After climbing up through the hole and positioning herself on the roof of the ship, she took a look around at the scene before her. The skyscrapers rose up into the sky less than a mile away from her, as familiar as ever. Peering over the edge and observing the street below, she could see a crowd of people and cars forming around the ship, grinding all surrounding traffic to a halt.

The sight that relieved Fern the most was Becky, still in her WordGirl outfit, suspended in the air, level with the Grim Wreaker. Captain Huggyface was hanging onto her back, and she could hear her shouting in her direction, her eyes fixed on the front windows of the ship. She heard Hacker answer over a loudspeaker shortly thereafter and quickly pieced together that they were in the middle of a heated confrontation.

She wanted so badly to say hello to her sort-of-girlfriend and let her know she was okay, but common sense informed her it was best to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Of course, she knew it was inevitable that she would be spotted eventually. Even if no one on the ground saw her, news helicopters would likely arrive soon, and then she’d be spotted on camera. But as long as Hacker wasn’t made aware of her presence, she saw little reason to worry too much. Besides, she had more pressing matters to be concerned about and deal with.

Fern remained on her hands and knees as she made her way carefully across the roof of the ship. Upon reaching the edge where it began to curve downward, she thankfully spotted what appeared to be a set of rungs, such as the kind that could be found on a ladder. She turned herself around and rested one of her feet on one while using her opposite hand to grab another, all while trying her best not to look down and stay focused and calm.

Unfortunately she could only hold on with one hand, as her other one was occupied by the skwak pad and screwdriver. This was made even more difficult by a breeze she had begun to notice, which only seemed to be increasing in strength. Her ears blew around as she glanced around in front of her. This was as good of a place to start looking for that panel as any, she supposed. But she made note of just how large the ship was and how much surface area there was to cover. Oh geez, she thought to herself nervously.  This is going to take awhile.

***

Becky watched in silence as the Wreaker came to a complete stop several yards in front of where she now flew, suspended in the air. Huggy, despite being a bit nervous, remained at the ready, positioned on her back. Becky glanced down at the ground and noticed a crowd of people beginning to form down below, which made her slightly worrisome. She hoped none of these people would get hurt, or anyone else for that matter.

The large glass dome on the bottom side opened up, revealing a large megaphone which Hacker’s voice soon began booming loudly from. “Well hello, WordGirl… So nice to finally see you in person.”

Becky grunted, pointing at where she assumed the cockpit was as she replied angrily, “Zip it, Hacker! I don’t want to hear it! I know why you’re here, and you’re insane if you think I’m going to let you waltz in here and take over!”

Hacker chuckled defiantly. “Oh WordGirl, it’s rather sweet how deluded you are. Don’t you know I’m already one step ahead of you, as always?”

Becky nodded. “Sure, Hacker. Just like how last night I’m sure you were well aware that one of your henchman would switch sides.”

“Fair enough, that was certainly unfortunate,” Hacker replied. “Nobody’s perfect, but I’m as close as you’re ever going to get.”

Becky huffed, blowing back a bit of stray hair from her forehead. “So what do you think I’m going to do? Just give up?”

“If you know what’s good for you and your friends, you will,” Hacker replied coldly. “They were discovered aboard my ship this morning, and I have them locked in the boiler room.”

Becky’s stomach dropped upon hearing this, but she wasn’t about let Hacker pressure her to reveal anything, just in case he was bluffing and trying to get her to reveal where they were. “As if, Hacker,” she retorted. “They’ve all gone somewhere you’ll never find them.”

“Come now, WordGirl. We both know you’re lying. You know perfectly well they’re here. Now I’ll admit, I could also be bluffing about having them locked up, but is that a chance you really want to take? Because if you fail to surrender in time, I’ll be more than happy to finish them off.”

“I’ll be honest, Hacker. No, I don’t...” Becky replied, trying not to get too upset. The thought of her friends and almost-girlfriend’s fate being in his hands was a very unpleasant one for her to stomach. But she wanted to maintain her confidence in them. “...but it would be irresponsible of me to back down now, when the fate of the Earth and everyone on it is at stake,” she went on.

“Suit yourself then,” Hacker snapped. “No saying I didn’t warn you, WordGirl. I hope you’re ready for a war.” With that, the Wreaker quickly took off towards the heart of downtown, and Becky and Huggy quickly took off, following close behind. Of course, seeing as Hacker and Becky’s attentions were heavily focused on each other at that moment, neither of their ears picked up on the sound of a single person screaming from the side of the ship.

***

“Come on, Jacks! Keep going!” Matt encouraged, looking up at her as best as he could.

“I’m going! I’m going!” Jackie replied. “It’s not easy, alright?”

Jackie was sitting on Matt’s shoulders, trying to make the hole in the ceiling bigger by pounding the sides of it with a hammer that Matt had had in his backpack, while Inez, Digit and Delete watched hopefully. They’d begun on it soon after Fern had taken off towards the roof, and it was slow going, but they appeared to be making progress.

The oldest girl beat the now misshaped sides of the hole a few more times before looking down at Matt. “There…” she huffed between breaths. “Let’s try getting you through here now, Inez.” She hopped off of Matt’s shoulders before Inez stepped into his hands and was lifted up to the hole. It would have been an extremely tight fit before, but now she went up through it rather easily.

“Yes! I made it, guys!” she called back down, getting her footing on the floor above. After her came Delete and Jackie, who also slipped through alright, though it had been close for Jackie. But now they were in a sticky situation. Only Matt and Digit now remained in the boiler room. No one would be able to lift Matt up to the hole, and everyone wanted to avoid any situation that could potentially cause Digit to agitate his injury, such as trying to squeeze him through a relatively small hole in the ceiling.

“What do we do now?” Matt called up.

Everyone thought for a moment before Inez spoke up. “The door! Maybe we can just go open it now!”

“Let’s check it out!” Jackie concurred. She, Inez and Delete raced toward the stairs to the floor below and found the boiler room door once more.

“Yes! It’s a lock you don’t need a key for, just like I thought!” Delete exclaimed after examining the knob, turning the dial on the front to unlock it. Matt and Digit quickly approached the doorway when they saw it open and stepped out, thankful to be out of there and away from the heat of the boiler.

“Now let’s get back to Fern!” Matt declared, and they all began running as fast as they could up the stairs.

“I hope she’s okay up there,” Inez remarked concernedly. “I still feel bad that we had to send her out there all by herself.”

“I’m sure she’s fine,” Jackie replied. “We gave her everything she needs. I’m sure she can-” She was interrupted in the middle of her sentence as the five of them felt the ship began to move again, causing them all to grab onto the railing. “Oh no, it’s moving again!” she exclaimed.

“You think Fern was able to hold on?” Delete asked with significant worry.

“No point worrying about that until we get outside. Come on, we have to hurry!” Matt said, beginning to go back up the stairs, with everyone else soon in tow.

It took them all a couple minutes, but they soon reached the top floor once again. The hatch was thankfully still open, and they decided to repeat what they had just done in the boiler room and lift each other up through it one by one.

“I’ll go first,” Inez spoke up, positioning herself below the open hatch.

Matt stepped up to her, but didn’t bring his hands down for her to step into just yet. “Hold on, Inez. There’s something I need to do before we get up there. I don’t know for sure if we’ll make it out of this in one piece or not, and I want to do this in case things don’t go right.”

“What is it, Matt?” Inez asked curiously. Before she could say anything else, though, Matt lifted her face towards his own and pressed his lips against hers for a brief moment. “I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time,” he explained after pulling away. His heart had been telling him it was now or never, and that he finally needed to step up and get his feelings out, especially considering the circumstances they were now faced with. How's that for spontaneous, Fern?, he thought to himself with amusement.

Behind them, Digit and Delete stared at them in shock, while Jackie pumped her fist and cried quietly, “Yes! Finally!”

“Now come on, let’s get you up there!” Matt declared. Inez, who was now blushing a deep shade of red and was completely speechless, took a few moments to respond, but soon forced herself to step forward into Matt’s hands. She was then lifted up through the hole, followed by Jackie, Delete and Digit. Matt was able to get up through it this time thanks to a large wooden box he had found further down the hallway.

Once they were all on the roof, they were forced to lay low on it to avoid being blown off of it. They took in the scene surrounding them and did not enjoy what they saw in the least. Hacker was flying in large circles around the downtown area, shooting off lasers at random intervals. They spotted Becky flying not too far away, assumedly trying to find a way to deal with the dangerous situation in the safest way possible. Helicopters from local news channels were hovering overhead, filming the events that were taking place. Peering over one side, they could see hundreds of pedestrians in a panicked scramble to get as far away as they could and avoid the lasers, while traffic had come to a complete standstill, though several police vehicles were still attempting to weave their way through the streets and alleys. It was likely the most dire situation they had ever seen.

Holy crap!” Matt shouted over the noise, almost at a loss for words. “I’ve never seen anything like this!”

“Me neither! What are we gonna do?” Jackie cried, finding the sight almost painful to watch.

“Forget about us! Where’s Fern?” Inez asked. This question brought everyone’s minds back to what they had originally gone up there to accomplish. Not seeing her over the side they were currently on, they carefully made their way to the other side and looked over it as well.

***

Mere minutes prior to the Cybersquad’s arrival outside, Fern had been carefully making her way down the side of the Wreaker, analyzing the metal surface for any irregularities. About halfway down near the middle, she spotted a hatch with a small handle within arm’s reach of her. Hoping it was what she thought it was, she carefully reached one arm over to it while keeping her other one hooked through one of the rungs of the ladder. Pulling it open and examining the inside, her eyes were drawn to a large orange cube in the middle which was screwed in place in a couple spots.

This must be it!, she thought to herself excitedly, grabbing the screwdriver and carefully reaching over twist the pair of screws loose. It looks exactly like how they described it! She had managed to get one screw undone, letting it drop to the ground below, and was halfway done with the other one when she suddenly felt herself being launched back as the ship unexpectedly beginning to move forward again. She likely would have been knocked off the side and fallen due to the sudden motion, but managed to hang on thanks to her arm that had been looped through the rung where she stood. However, as she was knocked back and caught herself, she immediately felt an agonizing pain shoot through it.

Upon feeling this sharp pain running up and down her arm, Fern screamed her lungs out, wanting so badly to let go and examine it. She worked through the pain though, and forced herself to return to the battery and continue unscrewing it, all while the ship continued to fly around through the blustery air.

She was almost finished when she heard several voices call down to her from above. She glanced up and was relieved to see everyone she had been forced to leave behind at the boiler room all calling down to her.

“Fern! There you are!” Delete called down.

“Are you okay?! Did you find the battery?!” Inez asked.

“Guys! You made it!” Fern cried with relief. “I did! I almost have it out! But I think I hurt my arm!”

“Do you think you’ll be able to climb back up with the battery?” Jackie asked.

“I think so, but I’m going to have to drop the skwak pad to do it!”

“That’s fine, it doesn’t matter!” Matt assured. “I can get a new one later! Just get the battery out and get back up here!”

“You’re so close, Fern! You can do it!” Inez exclaimed encouragingly.

Fern smiled through the pain she was feeling and had the other screw removed within the next few moments. She dropped the screwdriver and skwak pad from each of her hands and got ahold of the battery with her good hand. Once she had a decent enough grip on it, she began climbing back up the ladder as quick as she could, knowing the ship would begin falling at any second, while doing her best to avoid being blown around.

When she finally reached the top, the others grabbed onto her and pulled her away from the edge. “You did it, Fern! You got the battery!” Matt pointed out, grabbing it from her so she wouldn’t have to try to carry it anymore. “Alright, let’s jump for it!”

“But there’s only one parachute! I don’t have any others!” Digit objected.

“We’ll just have to make due, then! Everyone grab onto Fern!” Jackie ordered. No one hesitated to do so, and they all gathered around and grabbed onto her, trying to avoid her bad arm. Once they were all together, Fern reached up with her free hand and grabbed the cord on her pack.

“Everybody ready?!” Matt called, to which everyone responded with fervent nodding. They could feel the ship beginning to fall now, and they had no time to waste. People on the ground below were scattering once more, trying to get away from where it looked like the ship was going to crash. “Alright! On the count of three, we get a running start and jump! One!” he shouted, in response to which they all began to sprint towards the other edge of the roof. “Two!” he went on as they reached the edge. Finally as Matt called, “Three!” they all planted their feet firmly before launched themselves into the air.

As this happened, Fern pulled the cord of the parachute. “God, I hope this works!” she cried shakily as they began to descend.

***

While chaos reigned downtown, it remained relatively quiet out in the suburbs. Inside one of the many houses, George had been having a rather peaceful morning thus far. He had recently gotten up and gone out to his family’s garage, where he was close to finishing work on his parents’ new end tables. He had screwed them together the previous night and had finished sanding them off this morning, and was now beginning preparations to stain them.

He had barely begun to open a can of wood stain when his mother burst in through the door.

“Hi, Mom,” George greeted her, grabbing a pair of gloves. “I was just about to start-”

“George, honey, come into the living room!” Mrs. Lundgren interrupted. “You have to see what’s happening on the television!”

Puzzled, George set down his supplies and came back into the house, peering over the couch where his father was currently seated as his mother sat down next to him.

What he saw was quite startling indeed. The TV was currently showing a local news channel, and the live footage being shown displayed a large black ship with green windows flying around downtown, shooting off lasers now and again towards the ground and certain buildings. WordGirl could be seen in the frame periodically, assumedly doing what she could do try and fight this strange ship that was wreaking havoc and causing mass hysteria all around.

“The announcers say it must be a new villain in town,” Mr. Lundgren explained as they watched. “It’s too hard for them to get a good look inside the front windows though.”

“Oh dear… I don’t think I’ve seen anything so serious happen here before!” his wife fretted. “It looks like WordGirl is having a lot of trouble fighting them…”

At that moment, the announcer asked them to zoom in on the side of the ship, explaining that there appeared to be a teenage girl hanging on and messing with something inside it. Upon realizing who it was, George stumbled backwards and slapped his hand over his forehead. “Oh my god!! That’s Fern!! What the heck is she DOING up there?!! That looks really dangerous!!”

George then turned and ran for the door, missing the announcement that more kids had been spotted climbing out of the top of the ship and seemed to be talking to Fern upon spotting her below them. He slipped on his shoes and turned the knob to open the front door.

“Son, where are you going?” his father asked with confusion.

“I have to go downtown and see this! Fern looks like she’s in trouble!” George responded before shutting the door. He ran to grab his bike nearby and snapped on his helmet before beginning to pedal towards downtown as fast as he could.

***

Onboard the Grim Wreaker, Hacker and Buzz were seated inside the cockpit. Having just finished giving WordGirl her warning several minutes prior, he was now flying above the city, weaving in and out between the tall skyscrapers and shooting lasers down into the streets.

“Isn’t this marvelous, Buzzy my friend?” Hacker asked with an evil cackle. “Wreaking glorious chaos across a previously unsuspecting city, in the real world no less! It’s something I’ve often only dreamed of doing, and look where we are now!”

“Aren’t ya worried about WordGirl, boss?” Buzz asked halfheartedly. He was only mildly interested in what was happening. It would have been much more fun for him if Delete had been there with them. As much as he hated his former comrade for betraying them, he couldn’t help but miss him regardless.

Hacker, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared much less whether Delete was there, or even Buzz. He was simply eating up every moment of this endeavor. “I’m hardly worried - WordGirl can only do so much to us while we’re inside the ship without risking harming her little friends. Soon the world will be ours, and I can finally get rid of those little brats that have caused me so much heartache over the years! I-” Hacker cut himself off, though, and began frantically tugging at the steering mechanism.

Buzz noticed and grew concerned. “W-what is it, boss?”

“The blasted controls aren’t working!” Hacker yelled out with increasing alarm. He looked over the control panel and saw that the power levels had dropped down entirely to zero. “We’ve lost our power source!” he hollered as the lights went out and they felt the ship beginning to plummet towards the street below. Before everything went dark, though, he spotted an image on the camera feed behind them and grew exponentially furious in a matter of seconds. On the roof, he could see the four kids, Delete and Digit all jumping off, a parachute opening up moments afterward. And in one of their grips was none other than a power magnetic booster battery.

Hacker shot his head around towards Buzz, who was now shaking with fright. They had forgotten to keep an eye on the camera, and Hacker was blaming him for it as usual. “YOU… YOU… YOU DIM-WITTED DUNCE BUCKET!!!” the borg hollered in the robot’s face as the ship came closer to the ground.

***

Becky had been amazed and delighted upon catching sight of the Cybersquad climbing out of the top of the Grim Wreaker. Either Hacker had been bluffing after all to try and get her to give up, or they had been able to escape. In either case, she was glad to see they were alright. Up until that point she had only been able to deliver small blows to the ship for fear of hurting them if they were still inside as she had assumed.

She grew even more excited, if not somewhat concerned, when she saw them glancing down the side of ship and spotted Fern hanging there, reaching into a small door in the side of the ship. Within moments she pulled out an orange object and began climbing up towards the others. “Huggy, look!” she called, pointing subtly towards where Fern was in hopes Hacker wouldn’t pick up on it. “She must be getting the battery out! Look at her! I can hardly believe she was brave enough to do that!”

Huggy squeaked happily, relieved to see that the others were making progress in their mission.

“Right! Now we can deal with Hacker a lot easier! Let’s go help them! I’m sure we…” It was then that Becky noticed the Wreaker beginning to fall towards the ground. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been as surprised as she was. Without its power source, of course it was going to fall. But she could see it was plummeting right towards the street below, where she could see people struggling to get away or climb out of their cars. It looked like a number of buildings were also in danger of being crushed.

Not wanting this to happen, and having mere seconds to act, Becky zoomed down closer to the ground and under the ship as it came towards her, before it had a chance to smash into the buildings or the road. Relieved to see the others had jumped from the roof of the ship and had a parachute with them, she blocked it with her arms and used her super strength to fling it back the other direction. She was compelled to use a lot of strength to get it away so that it wouldn’t land somewhere else in the city. Rather it went far enough that it flew right back over town and careened towards the woods and the mountains where they had come from earlier.

Becky turned her head and covered her eyes, and Huggy did likewise, as they didn’t want to see what they suspected would happen next. Within seconds, their ears were assaulted by the sound of a large explosion off in the distance. Only a few moments after this did Becky allow herself to see again, and she was met with the sight of a massive black cloud of smoke billowing up from the distant treeline.

She met eyes with Huggy and remained staunchly silent, her mouth hanging open with disbelief. Little doubt was in her mind that they had just beaten Hacker in the most conclusive way possible.

Chapter Text

Cheers began erupting from the crowd surrounding Becky as she slowly landed back on the ground. She was swarmed by people all around her, including a handful of news reporters. She barely noticed, however, due to how shocked she was by what she had just seen and done. She had never gone so far as to kill any of her adversaries before, even if it was largely accidental and admittedly justifiable.

She didn’t even bother trying to answer anyone’s questions. She only robotically shook a few people’s hands before taking off  for the spot where she was fairly certain her friends had landed, wanting to make sure they were all okay, while Huggy remained clinging to her back. She soon located them at the center of another group of curious onlookers, wondering what a seemingly random group of teenagers could have been doing high up in the air on the roof of a strange ship.

“Alright, alright! Back up everyone! Make room!” Becky called out loudly, spreading her arms out, getting the crowd to back away from them and give them some air, allowing her a better view of them. Digit was nowhere to be found, and the other five were all sitting on the curb. In the center of them was Fern, and they all appeared to be examining one of her arms. The parachute had been removed from her back and was laying open on the sidewalk behind them. Meanwhile, Matt was on his cell phone talking to someone.

“Guys!” Becky called out, stepping over and standing in front of them before kneeling down to their eye level. She wrapped her arms around them as best as she could as Huggy hopped off of her.

Everyone looked up and smiled upon seeing her. “Bec… I mean, WordGirl!” Inez cried while patting her back, catching himself from accidentally revealing her real name in public. “There you are!”

“I’m so glad you all made it out of there!” Becky exclaimed with relief, letting go of them.

She looked towards Fern and noticed how uncomfortable she looked. She wanted to hug and kiss her so badly, but she didn’t want to reveal too much about how they could possibly know each other to the surrounding townspeople. “Fern, are you alright? You don’t look so hot.”

“I hurt my arm while I was up there,” Fern replied, wincing.

“We’ve been looking over it, and we think it might be broken,” Inez explained. “It’s probably just a hairline fracture from what we can tell, but Matt’s calling 911 right now, so they’ll try to get an ambulance here soon so she can be taken to get it checked out.”

Becky’s face fell upon hearing this. Fern getting hurt was one of the last things she had wanted to happen, and she felt awful for her, especially considering the promise she had made to her that she wouldn’t get hurt. “Oh my god! Fern, I’m so sorry!” Becky apologized regretfully. “It doesn’t hurt too much, does it?”

“I’ll be fine, B… WordGirl. Don’t worry,” Fern assured, although most people could have guessed she was attempting to veil how much pain she was in.

“Was that the booster battery you were grabbing? I saw you hanging onto the side of the ship, and I was really worried.”

Fern nodded. “Hacker locked us in the boiler room, but I was able to get out and get to it first while everyone else got out themselves. I was knocked back when the ship took off again, and the force must’ve been strong enough to break it…”

Becky smiled proudly. “That was really brave of you to do, you know. Not everyone could have handled that.”

Fern blushed and looked down at the ground, chuckling a bit. “Thanks, WordGirl. That means a lot coming from you.”

“Where’s Digit?” she asked quietly.

“He took off into an alley nearby and went back to Cyberspace. He knew he would have been a strange sight and hard for us to explain. We’ll talk to him the next chance we get to go back to Cyberspace,” Jackie replied in a hushed tone.

Becky nodded. That had been good thinking on his part.

It was then that one of the news reporters caught up to Becky and made his way into the circle. “WordGirl! WordGirl! If I could just have a moment of your time to ask you a few questions.”

Becky turned her head around, slightly startled, but quickly recovered. “Oh! Um, yes, of course,” she replied, standing back up. “Not too many though, not right now. I have a lot to deal with at the moment.”

“Of course, of course,” the man replied, holding out a microphone towards her while a cameraman behind him filmed her. “Can you tell us what on earth just happened here a few minutes ago?”

“Well…” Becky began, tapping her chin in thought. She wanted to be able to explain the situation well enough to satisfy people’s curiosity, but not reveal too much information that would possibly reveal the existence of Cyberspace, her secret identity, or the connections she shared with Fern and the Cybersquad. “...That was a new villain who was trying to attack the city, defeat me and take over the planet. I guess we don’t really have to worry about him anymore though…”

“Who are these kids?” he asked, pointing to Matt, Jackie, Inez and Fern. “What were they doing up there on the ship, and do they have any connection to you?”

“Well, sort of,” Becky replied, scratching behind her head. “They simply offered to help me fight Hacker. Normally I think it’s best if regular citizens stay out of the way during conflicts like these, but they were actually a lot of help. They deserve just as much credit as I do.”

“Thank you for your time, WordGirl,” the reporter said gratefully. “Please feel free to go do what you have to do.”

“Thanks,” Becky replied curtly, turning back to her friends. “I’ll catch up with you guys later, okay? I’ll be at the hospital as soon as I can,” she promised quietly, before taking off into the sky to go retrieve Fern’s family as well as her own, receiving a large round of applause from everyone as she did so.

“So would you all mind telling me your names?” the reporter asked, turning his attention to the group sitting on the curb.

“My name is Matt.”

“Mine’s Jackie.”

“I’m Inez.”

“I’m Fern.”

The reporter turned to the last of them, and was taken aback upon getting his first good look at Delete. “What exactly are you, if you don’t mind me asking? You don’t look like a person.”

“I’m a robot, actually,” Delete replied. “My name’s Delete.”

“A robot? Like one of Tobey McCallister’s?”

Delete shook his head. “No, I used to work for Hacker. But I switched sides and helped these guys beat him… Say, where did the Wreaker go, anyway?” he asked, turning back towards the kids. “I wasn’t paying attention while we were landing.”

“I’m not sure, honestly,” Jackie replied. “It just disappeared while we had our backs turned. But… WordGirl must have dealt with it somehow.”

“I did think I heard something, though,” Fern remarked, continuing to gently feel her arm. “It sounded like a really big crash, over towards the outside of town.”

Delete went stiff upon hearing this. He glanced in the direction Inez described, the others following suit, and they all spotted the rising cloud of thick smoke in the distance. Delete immediately shot up and began running towards it. “I have to go. I’ll be back later,” he promised hastily before weaving through the crowd and out of sight.

The others glanced at each other in shock, realizing what must have happened “Well, no point worry about that now, I guess,” Matt spoke up. “For now let’s just worry about-”

“Fern!” someone called from nearby, cutting Matt off. They all turned their heads to see George resting his bike against a nearby building before quickly stepping towards them.

“George!” Fern cried, relieved to see her friend.

“What the heck is going on?! I saw you on the news up on that ship! What were you doing up there?!”

Fern sighed. “It’s a long story, George. I promise I’ll explain it another time though.”

George knelt down and placed his hand on her shoulder. “Well I’m glad to see you’re okay, at least. You ARE okay, right?”

“Yeah, I just - ow - think I broke my arm a little,” she replied, feeling another small wave of pain.

George gritted his teeth. “Ouch! I’m really sorry, Fern. I can’t say I’m too surprised though. What you were doing looked really dangerous!”

“Well sometimes being brave means doing dangerous things,” Jackie interjected. “This girl is the reason the ship went down! She’s a hero!”

“Wait, wait, wait - Fern, YOU took down the ship?!” George asked, taken by surprise.

“Well, I… I mean, I-” Fern stuttered.

“You bet she did!” Matt said, answering for her. “She took out the battery that was giving that ship its power! It would have been a lot harder for WordGirl to take down otherwise!”

“Wow! Fern, that’s amazing!” George cried with amazement. “It sounds like you totally saved the day!”

Before Fern could offer a rebuttal, a space in the crowd cleared away for an ambulance that had just arrived.

“There they are,” Matt remarked. “Come on, let’s get you to the hospital,” he said, helping Fern up along with Jackie and Inez and bringing her towards the paramedics that had just stepped outside of the vehicle.

George wanted to come with, but he knew he couldn’t leave his bike there. “I’ll see you there later, Fern! Feel better!” he called out.

“Thanks, George - I’ll see you soon,” Fern replied gratefully as she and the others stepped into the back of the ambulance, glad to be out of the crowd of people, and being able to truly relax a bit for the first time in nearly a day.

***

The first thing Becky did was retrieve Fern’s parents and drop them off at the hospital, explaining the situation to them without going too far into details. They had been quite shocked to hear of what she had gotten caught up into, but they were proud of her nonetheless.

Following this, she retrieved her own family and left them at the front door. They thanked her for helping them out, and she flew around the house and up into her room, changing into her normal clothes and collapsing onto her bed with Huggy.

“Wow… What a morning, huh?” Becky asked, staring up at her ceiling.

Huggy squeaked and nodded in reply.

“I’ve never done anything so drastic in my life, Huggy… I mean, it’s not that I specifically, literally  wanted to kill him… I didn’t do a bad thing, did I?”

Huggy smiled sympathetically and patted her shoulder, going on a rant that would have been indecipherable to anyone but her.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right…” Becky replied after he finished, sitting back up and rubbing her temples. “He may have kind of had it coming to him. I still feel bad though, for taking a life, even if the person with that life was a big, evil jerk…” She stood up, grabbed a bag of candy sitting on her desk and threw it to the monkey. “Thanks for your help today anyway. Go ahead and eat it all if you want. You deserve it. Just don’t get sick. I’m going to the hospital to see Fern.”

Huggy squeaked in thanks, beginning to down the bag as Becky chuckled and walked out, closing the door behind her.

Hearing her family talking in the living room, she ran down the stairs and approached them. “Guys!” she greeted them, opening her arms. “There you are!”

“Becky!” her parents and brother called back, hugging her.

“We’re so glad to see you’re alright!” her mom said with relief. “WordGirl told us there was an attack on the city and that we were potential targets, what with me being the city’s district attorney and all. She told us you would be fine and that she told you to stay where you were, but we were still worried!”

“When did you get back?” her dad asked curiously.

“Just a little bit before you did,” Becky replied, fabricating an excuse in her mind. “After WordGirl told me to stay put, later we turned on the news and saw what was happening downtown. You wouldn’t believe it! WordGirl was battling some guy in a huge ship who was shooting lasers everywhere!”

“Really?!” TJ asked, seemingly startled at first until he pumped his fist. “That sounds super awesome!”

“Well, it was kind of scary,” Becky replied. “And you’ll never believe this - While the TV was on, it showed Fern was up there on the ship! She was helping WordGirl fight, and so were a few other kids from school!”

“Oh my! That sounds awfully dangerous,” her mom remarked nervously.

“But brave too! Sounds like she’s much more daring than I would have fought!” her dad added.

“Your friend helped WordGirl fight a bad guy?!!” TJ exclaimed. “Whoa! I’m gonna have to talk to her later!”

“It might be a bit before you can, actually,” Becky remarked, slumping a bit. “It looks like she injured herself in the process and broke her arm. I’m going down to the hospital to see her.”

“Well that’s not good! Do you need a ride, sweetie? Or one of us could go with you while you drive. Good time to get a bit more practice in for that license!” her dad suggested.

“I think I’ll just take the bus,” Becky replied. “But thanks, guys. I’ll be back soon!” she promised, heading for the door.

“Take your time, honey! Just keep your phone on so we can call you!” her mom advised.

“Yeah! And tell your friend we say hello and hope she gets better!”

“I will!” Becky agreed, closing the door behind her and beginning to run down to the nearest bus station.

It took her a couple bus transfers and over and hour to do so, but Becky finally managed to arrive at the hospital. Bursting through the front doors, she found Matt, Jackie, and Inez further inside in one of the waiting rooms. “Hey, everyone!” she called, waving to the little group.

The three other kids looked up, taking a few moments for Becky’s presence to register. “Oh! Hey, Becky!” Inez greeted. “We were wondering when you’d get here.”

“Yeah,” Matt spoke up. “We almost didn’t recognize you for a second. We haven’t seen you without your… um… your other outfit on since last night.”

“Well, I had to get my family home first, like I said. I also dropped Fern’s parents off here before you guys got here. Are they still here?”

“They’re in her room seeing her now,” Jackie answered.

“And her friend George?”

“He already came and went. We were mostly just here waiting for you. Turns out it was a hairline fracture after all, like we guessed. It shouldn’t take too long to heal.”

Becky sighed with relief and collapsed into a chair across from them. “Thank god…” she said, wiping her forehead. “I was hoping it was nothing serious.””

Inez giggled. “It’s sweet how much you care about her, you know. You two are going to make a cute couple.”

Becky blushed and hid her face. “Oh geez… It’s not like we’re totally official yet. We haven’t vocally agreed to be a couple, we’ve just admitted we like each other.”

“You might as well have,” Matt said, pulling out his yo-yo and messing with it. “You did that, you kissed, you’ve hugged a bunch of times.”

“I guess…” Becky supposed, rubbing her arm nervously.

“You don’t have to worry, Becky,” Jackie assured. “She’ll definitely say yes when you ask.”

“Well, thanks… Say, where’s Delete?” Becky asked, not seeing him around anywhere.

“He actually took off for where the Wreaker wrecked…” Matt answered, frowning sadly a bit.

“Oh… Poor guy… I can’t imagine what he must be feeling right now.”

Inez nodded. “I agree. I don’t see any possible way Hacker or Buzz could have survived that. If I had to guess, I’d say they’re probably long gone.”

Silence hung between them all for a minute as they reflected on the weight of the situation. “You know, in a weird way I’m almost going to miss that guy,” Matt remarked with a slightly amused chuckle.

“There was never a dull moment, that’s for sure,” Jackie concurred, twiddling her thumbs in her lap. “You think Delete will be okay?”

Inez wiped her glasses and replied, “It’ll take time, I’m sure. He and Buzz were close, even if they bickered pretty often. But I’m sure he’ll recover eventually. He does have us now, after all. He seems to be talking to Fern quite a bit already, especially.”

Matt chuckled, scratching his head. “Imagine becoming friends with someone who kidnapped you, only to let you go again.”

“That would definitely be insane,” Jackie agreed.

“You think Fern'll be okay too?” Becky asked worriedly. “Going through something as horrible as a kidnapping must be hard on you.”

“It’ll probably affect her a little,” Inez guessed, “but again, I’m sure she’ll be okay. I think we can all agree that she’s stronger than she looks.”

“If I had had any doubt about that before, it would definitely be gone now,” Becky agreed, and she meant it wholeheartedly. She had known all along that Fern had it in her to accomplish something as amazing as this.

At that moment, a bubbly nurse approached them and glanced around. “Becky?” she asked, glancing around. “Is that any of your names?”

“Mine,” Becky said, standing up. “Can I help you?”

“Fern Walters asked to see you if you were here.”

Becky perked up and smiled, appreciating knowing Fern had specifically wanted to see her. “Great! Lead the way!”

As Becky left, Inez leaned over the arm of her chair, bringing her face closer to Matt’s. “So, speaking of cute couples, Matt, I think we have something we need to discuss, huh?”

Matt blushed and laughed self-consciously. “Yeah, I guess we do…”

Jackie shook her head with amusement and smirked. This would be fun to watch.

Down the hall, Becky was led to one of many doors. “She’s right in there,” the nurse advised. “She’s really looking forward to seeing you.”

Becky smiled and nodded. “Thank you.”

The nurse nodded and left, leaving Becky alone to turn the knob and step inside.

Chapter Text

When Becky poked her head through the doorway, the sight she saw was both relieving and heartbreaking. Fern was sitting up in the bed closest to her while curtain next to her, fully pulled back, revealed the other bed to be empty. She was wearing a hospital gown and reading one of her Sherlock Holmes books, which Becky figured her parents must have brought for her so she wouldn’t be entirely bored. She could only hold it up with one hand though, as her left arm was slack at her side, encased in a thick layer of gauze and held up by a sling. She looked content enough, but seeing her crush injured like this stung Becky emotionally, especially considering that she felt largely responsible for it.

“Fern!” Becky cried upon seeing her there, quickly coming over to her and giving her a hug, careful to avoid her injured arm.

“Becky, hi!” Fern greeted, turning her attention from her book and smiling joyfully, setting her book down and returning Becky’s hug as best as she could with one arm. “I’m so glad to see you!”

“You too! I was so relieved to know you’re okay!”

“Well, the break was pretty small. I don’t even need a full cast, and I’m taking painkillers that are helping a lot. The doctor said they’re only keeping me here under observation until tomorrow to be on the safe side.”

“That’s a relief. I’m glad you’ll get to leave tomorrow,” Becky said, sitting down in a chair at the side of the bed. “I feel awful though. I wish you didn’t have to be here in the first place… I even promised you wouldn’t get hurt…”

“It’s okay, Becky. We saved the planet from Hacker today - I think one of us getting a tiny little broken arm is a pretty good price to pay… Well, two of us, actually. Digit got his wing slammed in the boiler room door when he tried to stop Buzz from locking us in.”

“Ouch!” Becky winced. “I hope he’s okay.”

“Well, he went back to Cyberspace once we landed, like we said. I’m sure he’s getting it taken care of. I’ve heard birds’ bones knit quickly. I don’t know how much different his anatomy is, being from another dimension and all, but still.”

“Yeah… I still would have taken that break for you if I could have.”

“It’s really not a big deal, Becky, I promise. I can deal with it. I’m honestly glad this is all I got by the end of all this.”

“I was so worried when I saw you there on the side of the ship! I’m amazed you held on!”

“I guess the adrenaline must have helped,” Fern pondered. “You know, Becky, it’s weird when you go through an experience like I have, where I was honestly pretty close to death. Not just once, but a couple times. It’s like I felt that deep, instinctive will to survive that we all have, you know? Like whatever happened, I needed to keep on living… Funny how that can happen to anyone, even if sometimes… you don’t necessarily feel that way. It’s kind of a wake up call...”

Becky completely understood what Fern meant as she went on. All people were animals, after all, each with their more animalistic instincts, however deep or buried they might be. She grew more concerned as Fern finished her little observation, though. “Fern… What does that mean, exactly?”

Fern sighed. She supposed she would have had to tell Becky about this sometime. “I guess I might as well tell you… but this is something really personal, Becky. I’ve never told anyone else about it besides George.”

Becky nodded encouragingly, gently placing her hand on Fern’s good one. “Go on... I promise I won’t tell anybody. You can trust me.”

Fern smiled sadly. “I know that,” she replied, entwining their hands as she went on. “Honestly, Becky... for the past year or so,  I’ve been having these patches of time on and off where I’ve felt really unhappy. I’ve had some… really dark thoughts during these times. I don’t like to talk about it, mostly because I can barely even explain why I’ve felt this way at times. I mean, objectively speaking, my life is good. Both my parents are together and love me a lot, I have a few friends, I have a nice home - I don’t feel like I have any right to feel the way I’ve felt, so I’ve mostly kept it to myself. I hated not telling anyone about it though, so I told George. He’s helped a lot, and it hasn’t gotten that bad for me for a while now… but it still lingers from time to time. It’s even affected my writing. Maybe that’s part of why I’ve been hesitant to let people read it recently. I’m afraid people will read parts of it and realize what’s going on in my mind, and it would be so embarrassing to have to explain it… Does any of that make sense?” she asked warily, meeting Becky’s eyes.

Becky didn’t believe she had ever felt such a crash in her mood as she did as Fern articulated her thoughts. She had hypothesized that Fern had a few issues, of course, but she had no idea she had been depressed enough to think about taking her own life. By the time she finished talking, Becky’s mouth was hanging open in shock, her lips quivering as her eyes began welling up with hot tears. Without another word, once again being careful to avoid Fern’s injured arm, she wrapped her arms tightly and protectively around her, burying her face into her neck. “Oh Fern, oh my god…” she choked out between heavy sobs. “I’m so sorry…”

“It’s okay, Becky… It’s not your fault,” Fern assured, rubbing Becky’s back. She felt awful seeing Becky so upset for her, sadder than she had ever seen her, almost wanting to cry herself. “It’s my problem, not yours… and anyway, I’m fine, see? I didn’t do it. I’m still here… and now I have you too. You’re one more reason for me to want to live.”

Becky finally let go, sitting back up and wiping her red eyes, but still sitting close to Fern. “You’re darn right you have me now,” she replied confidently, taking Fern’s free hand in both of her own, grasping it gently but firmly. “I want to be your girlfriend, Fern. I can promise you right now that I’ll always be there for you. You’ll never have to be alone or feel so sad again. I’ll make you feel so loved and happy, you’ll never want to think about doing that ever again.”

Fern smiled as her face went red, extremely moved by Becky’s words. “Thank you so much, Becky. It feels so amazing to hear you say that. And I want to be your girlfriend too…”

Becky beamed, her face blushing to match Fern’s. The two girls placed their lips to each other’s gingerly for the second time as bright sunlight shone onto them through the room’s window. Both were quite happy to know that their first one wouldn’t also be their last.

As they pulled back away from each other, they both chuckled contentedly. “This’ll be fun to explain to our families, won’t it?” Becky asked jokingly.

“You bet. I can’t wait,” Fern replied with playful sarcasm, pulling Becky back in for a one-armed hug, smushing their cheeks against each other. They already knew they would never get tired of warmly embracing each other.

***

The rest of the day was rather draining for all five kids, especially considering how tired they were already. Neither Matt, Jackie or Inez could get home without being recognized by people who had seen them on TV that morning. They were each also forced to tell their families what they had been doing up there, and fibbed as convincingly as they could.

After Matt went home to deal with his own family and their inevitable questions, he decided to take the truck back into town and make one quick stop that he felt was necessary. He parked in front of Inez’s apartment building and went inside to the right door, knocking and waiting.

Inez grinned upon seeing who had arrived. “Hey, loverboy,” she greeted cheekily. “What brings you around these parts?”

“I thought you and I could talk for a little bit about… well…”

“About us?”

“Everything, really. But definitely that too,” Matt confirmed, stepping inside, Inez shutting the door behind him. “I hope this isn’t a bad time.”

Inez shook her head. “Nope. My parents went off to run errands, so it’s just me and my abuela right now, and she won’t mind that you’re here. We can go talk in the kitchen.”

“Great,” Matt said, giving two thumbs up as he followed Inez into the kitchen. Her pet cat, Gato, strolled about as they stood there. He had gotten older and slower over the past few years, but he remained generally the same otherwise.

“Want anything to drink?” Inez asked.

“Nah, I’m good. I wasn’t planning on staying too long. I just wanted to talk for a little while about everything that happened.”

“About what, specifically?” Inez asked, confused.

“I don’t know,” Matt admitted with a shrug. “Don’t people usually talk to each other after big things happen? Hacker and Buzz are gone, the Wreaker is destroyed, Delete’s switched to our side, we made friends with WordGirl and know her secret identity - That’s a lot to unpack, right?”

“You’re not wrong,” Inez offered, closing the fridge and opening up an orange soda. “I’m still barely convinced Hacker is just… gone. He’s the whole reason we came to Cyberspace and got to know each other in the first place…”

“Is that it, then?” Matt asked after a moment. “Are we done? Do you think Motherboard will need us anymore? We’re not just gonna stop being the Cybersquad now, are we?”

Inez put down her soda and looked down at her shoes. “I hadn’t really thought about that, honestly… I don’t think we would have to disband, necessarily. It’s not like Hacker caused all the problems we fixed in Cyberspace. Just most of them.”

“That’s true,” Matt agreed, his eyes drifting over to Inez’s drink. “You know, now that I think about it, I AM kind of thirsty…”

Inez chuckled and rolled her eyes, reaching back into the fridge and tossing her new boyfriend his own soda.

“Thanks,” he said, twisting off the cap and taking a large, refreshing gulp. The caffeine would help him stay awake a bit longer until that night anyway. “Man, could you believe Fern today?”

Inez nodded. “What she did was definitely impressive, without a doubt.”

“I can’t believe after all this time we’ve been fighting Hacker, some other kid comes along and defeats him for good. I like her and all, but I kind of feel like she stole our thunder.”

“Oh come on, Matt. It’s not as if we didn’t do anything. We and Delete kept encouraging her and helped her get out of the boiler room. It also would have been hard for her to jump with the parachute and carry the battery with a broken arm all by herself. And to be perfectly fair, she’s been through a lot during this whole ordeal, more than any of us have. I think it’s fitting that she should be the one to do what she did.”

Matt nodded understandingly. He couldn’t argue with that. None of them were the one that had been kidnapped or had their arm broken. “She turned out to be tougher than I thought she would be, that’s for sure. She looks all cute and innocent, and she kind of is, what with that big red bow on her head and being a bit younger than even you, but she can get the job done when she needs to.”

“No argument here,” Inez concurred. “In fact, I actually had this idea floating around earlier regarding her.”

“What’s that?” Matt asked curiously.

Inez shook her head. “I’ll tell you another time when Jackie and Digit are around so we can discuss it together, and then we can talk to Motherboard. Soon, though, don’t worry.”

“Got it,” Matt relented, taking another sip of his soda. “You know, Inez… Remember that night last Friday when we went out and got the call from Motherboard?”

“I do, why do you ask?”

“Well, you should probably know that I was actually planning on telling you that night that I like you,” Matt explained. “It was so frustrating getting so close to telling you only to be interrupted like that.”

Inez smirked impishly. “You’re sure you’re not just saying that to try and impress me?”

“Please,” Matt said, waving his hand dismissively. “I’m impressive enough already.”

“Oh do tell,” Inez replied dryly.

“Seriously though, I did want to tell you that night. It took me a long time to get the courage to really try and tell you.”

Inez smiled, genuinely this time. “I’ve been wanting to tell you for quite a while, too. Jackie kept encouraging me, but I never got the nerve.”

Matt went bug-eyed at this revelation. “She did that to you, too?”

Inez paused, beginning to realize what had been going on this whole time. “Yeah… you?”

“Yeah!” Matt smacked his forehead in disbelief. “Of course! Why WOULDN’T she talk to both of us about it?”

“I guess she really wanted to see it happen already,” Inez said with a chuckle. “I’m glad it finally did.”

“Me too,” Matt agreed. “I’m looking forward to our first official date.” He held up his bottle towards her and said, “Hey, let’s cheers. To victory!”

Inez smiled and held up her bottle. “To victory!” she repeated as they clinked it against Matt’s.

***

Becky stayed in Fern’s hospital room and talked with her as long as she could until it was time for her to be heading back home, promising to come see her at home as soon as she was released from the hospital, which was scheduled for early the next morning. It was a school day after all, and she knew Fern would need help with a lot of things due to her injury.

After arriving home that evening, Becky received calls from both Violet and Scoops, who both had seen the news that day as well and practically demanded an explanation, wondering what Fern could have possibly been doing up on the ship, seemingly fighting alongside her. Luckily since they knew about Becky being WordGirl, she had no need to keep any information from them, and they were able to hear the entire story. They were understandably confused upon hearing their friend’s explanation of Cyberspace, but they had no reason to doubt her, so they believed her. They were also both excited to hear that she and Fern had officially gotten together, with Violet in particular pointing out how romantic the entire situation sounded.

The next morning Becky kept her promise and rose early, getting in a quick breakfast before leaving for Fern’s house. She came home not long before Becky showed up, explaining that all had gone well at the hospital and she had been released right on schedule. Becky quickly said hello to Fern’s parents before they took off, and she happily offered to carry her books for her as they walked to school. Fern had decided she wanted to avoid confronting their peers as long as possible, knowing she would likely be swarmed by them as they asked about the events of the previous day.

“So how’s it going, you?” Becky asked sweetly after lightly pecking Fern’s cheek and began to descend the front steps with her. “Feeling better?”

Fern nodded. “The doctor said I should be able to stop taking the painkillers after a few days, and I should be able to take this stuff off my arm in a couple months at the most.”

“Well, I’ll help you whatever way you need until that time comes,” Becky promised. “Consider me your personal lackey while you’re healing.”

Fern giggled. “Thanks, Becky. I’m not worried about my arm though. “I’m more worried about getting to school today.”

“Why?” Becky asked. “You don’t think people will react negatively, do you? Fern, you helped saved the day! You’re a hero! You won’t even be alone, I’m sure Matt, Jackie and Inez will also have crowds following them around all day!”

“It’s just the idea of having all that attention on me,” Fern explained as they walked, shivering a bit. This was slightly caused by the brisk chill in the air. Autumn was in full swing now, and it wouldn’t be long until winter would be on its way. However, it was also caused by thinking about so many pairs of her classmates’ eyes  on her. She wasn’t used to getting two looks at the same time, let alone dozens.

Becky rubbed her back comfortingly. “You’ll be fine, I promise. Just keep calm and don’t worry too much about it. I’m sure it’ll be totally positive attention. And I’ll be by your side as much as possible.”

Fern smiled and rested her head on her girlfriend’s shoulder. “Thank you, Becky. I don’t know what I ever did without you.”

“Take a battery out of a moving ship with a broken arm, for starters,” Becky answered without missing a beat, though she appreciated the sentiment in Fern’s declaration.

Only about five minutes before the bell, the two girls were some of the last people to arrive at the school building. They stopped at the top of the front steps, and Becky turned towards Fern and said, “Alright… You ready?”

Fern breathed deeply and nodded. “Yeah… I’m ready.”

Becky smiled and opened the breezeway door for her, and then the main one inside leading into the front hallway. As they both entered, almost every student nearby noticed them and paused, as well as a couple teachers, and the hallway went silent.

Fern glanced around nervously, beads of sweat condensing on her forehead. Becky took her good hand and held it gingerly.

Within moments, almost everyone visible to them crowded around the girls and focused their attention on Fern, spouting praise all at once, barely noticing she and Becky were holding hands.

“Fern! I saw you on TV yesterday!”

“That was incredible, what you did!”

“You were awesome yesterday, Fern!”

“How did you get up there?”

“Were you scared?”

“Did you talk to WordGirl? What’s she like?”

“What you did was quite impressive yesterday, Miss Walters! Dangerous, but impressive!”

“I can’t believe you did that, and got injured too!”

“I had no idea you were so cool!”

Fern blushed heavily, holding on tight to Becky’s hand and wanting to never let go. Part of her wanted to go curl into a ball and hide in the corner, but another part of her was genuinely enjoying the compliments.

“W-well, thank you!” Fern finally replied, glancing around at the several faces circling her and Becky. “It was nothing, though. I was right there nearby and WordGirl needed help…”

“That was hardly nothing!”

“Yeah! That was super brave! I couldn’t have done it!”

“You’re like a hero!”

It went on like this for Fern for most of the day, being showered with praise from all around as she made her way down the halls and into her classes. Becky moved to sit next to her during algebra that morning, allowing them to help each other out the whole time. She stopped to see her in between their other classes, offering to help her with anything she might need, which often involved carrying something awkward or heavy. She didn’t mind though. She considered it repayment for not exactly being able to keep her promise, though Fern continued to insist she had nothing to feel sorry about.

Immediately upon sitting down at lunch with Violet, Scoops and George, another crowd flocked to them, though they quickly dispersed after Becky soon pressured them to do so.

“She’s been having to deal with this all day,” Becky remarked to her friends, pointing her thumb to Fern.

“I’m not surprised. I suppose it must be one of the perks of being a hero,” Violet answered.

“Perks, curses, whichever,” Fern said jokingly with a shrug, reaching towards her tray of food.

“Hey! Over here, you two!” someone called out from nearby. Everyone at the table turned their heads to see Matt, Jackie and Inez approaching them.

Becky and Fern smiled, glad to see their new friends. “Hey, guys!” Becky greeted. “Wanna sit down here?”

“That’s just what we were going to ask!” Jackie said, and the three of them accepted the offer and sat down.

Violet and Scoops, of course, knew who they were due to Becky’s explanation from the previous afternoon. George, on the other hand, only recognized them with minimal context. “Hey, I saw you guys on TV yesterday too, with Fern! And you were the ones with her on the curb when I got there! You were all helping WordGirl too?”

“That’s us,” Inez confirmed.

“What can we say? Hacker was difficult to take down and WordGirl wanted the help,” Matt remarked, glancing momentarily over at Becky and smiling knowingly. She, in turn, rolled her eyes and stifled a laugh.

“Hacker?” George repeated in confusion, having never heard the name before.

“It’s a long story. I’m Matt, by the way.”

“I’m Jackie.”

“And I’m Inez.”

“Have you had to deal with swarms of fans, too, like Fern has?” Becky asked.

Jackie nodded. “Yeah. It’s both nice as well as annoying, depending on how you look at it.”

“Well I have a feeling you guys are only going to get more popular,” Scoops spoke up, standing up and pulling out his notepad and leaning over towards the three Cybersquad members. “Todd ‘Scoops’ Ming, reporter for The Daily Rag. I’d love to interview you all about what happened yesterday. I already talked about it with Becky, but I’d like to hear from your perspectives.”

“Isn’t that paper worked on at the elementary school?” Inez asked flatly.

“Well I’ve been working with it for so long, I was promoted to an executive position! Someone older has to help oversee things, you know!”

The three kids begrudgingly agreed, and they as well as Fern all gave Scoops a general retelling of what had occurred the other day, leaving out events that would out Becky as being WordGirl or reveal anything about Cyberspace. Of course, they weren’t aware he and Violet already knew of these details.

Scoops finished interviewing them all around the time lunch was coming to a close. He and Violet stood up and left, as well as George, bidding them goodbye, leaving the other five alone, all together for the first time since the previous morning.

“So I think after school, we should all go up into the woods,” Becky explained. “I haven’t heard anything from Delete, have you guys?”

Everyone shook their heads. He hadn’t been seen since taking off towards the wreckage of the Grim Wreaker.

“I’m worried about him,” Fern fretted. “You think he’s okay?”

“He’s probably still up there, if I had to guess,” Inez supposed, adjusting her glasses. “We should definitely go check on him. At least he’s had time alone to… well… grieve, and to do what he has to do.”

“And once we get him, we should all go back to Cyberspace,” Matt added. “We can check up on Digit when we get there.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Becky said definitively as they all stood up. “We’ll all meet at the door after school, then… Ugh… This won’t be too fun…”

Chapter Text

The five kids all came through with their agreement and met up outside after school, breaking away from their respective crowds that had been following them around for much of the day. Climbing into Matt’s truck, Jackie in the passenger seat and the other three girls barely having room to squeeze together in the backseat, they drove up out of town and into the woods in the general direction of where they had seen the ship crash.

“How are we going to even find our way there?” Matt asked as he got off the highway and pulled onto a two-lane back road that wound its way through the hills, past where the tree line began. “We’re probably going to have to leave the truck and find it on foot eventually.”

Becky sighed and spoke up from behind him. “Actually, from what I saw yesterday, it looked to me like it crashed not too far from…”

“From what?” Jackie asked, looking back at Becky after she trailed off.

“I’m sorry, it’s just...I trust you guys and all, but I feel like I need to say out loud that you can’t tell anyone about this…”

“Our lips are sealed,” Matt assured, keeping his eyes on the twisting, turning road.

“...Alright… not too far from my spaceship hideout,” Becky finished.

Everyone else in the car gasped slightly. “You have a spaceship hideout??” Matt asked, quite surprised.

Becky nodded. “Well yeah. I had to come to this planet somehow, right? I snuck onto Captain Huggyface’s ship when I was a baby, and I startled him and caused him to hit an asteroid, which made us land here. It’s been at that spot ever since.”

“Wow… It sounds like you’re lucky to be alive,” Inez remarked.

“I’m definitely lucky, even more now than ever,” Becky agreed, glancing over and meeting Fern’s eyes, causing the bow-clad girl to giggle.

With the matter being settled, Becky gave Matt directions as he drove, leading him to the closest spot they could get to the hideout by road. From there they only had to walk a short distance through the trees to reach the hideout.

As Becky led them by it, everyone else gazed at it in awe. “Whoa… I’ve always wanted to see this,” Fern said, noting how big it was. “Will we ever be able to see the inside of it at some point, Becky?” she asked eagerly.

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt, since you guys know where it is now anyway,” Becky replied. “Another time though. For now we need to find the Wreaker.”

She continued leading them on, and they soon found the cave where the Wreaker had previously been parked, which the others quickly realized. “It must be around here somewhere,” Jackie said, looking around in front of them. “You’re sure it landed in this area?”

“I’m pretty positive,” Becky answered. “I’m relieved it didn’t land on my hideout… Maybe we should split up so we can cover more ground. Maybe you three can go that way, and Fern and I can go this way,” she suggested, pointing in two opposite directions.

“Not a bad idea,” Inez agreed, pulling out her skwak pad and handing it to Fern. “You guys can take this one so we can communicate. We still have Jackie’s. Fern knows how to use it, or at least how to make and answer calls with it, so it should be fine,” she explained to Becky. “Right, Fern?”

“I think so…” Fern confirmed, holding the device with her free hand.

“Great! Let’s go, guys,” Inez said, motioning for Matt and Jackie to move along with her. “We’ll call you both if we find it!”

“Okay, see you soon!” Becky called back as she and Fern headed in the opposite direction. They had been walking through the thick brush for over five minutes in relatively content silence, when Becky looked over at Fern and noticed she looked unsettled, glancing frequently around them. “Hey… You okay?” she asked, placing her hand on her good shoulder.

“Hmm?... Oh, I’m alright…” Fern replied, pursing her lips.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, it’s just… I felt better when there was five of us. Not that I don’t feel safe, Becky. If I could only be in the middle of the woods with just one person, I’d definitely pick you. I mean, it’s like… Oh I don’t even know what I’m saying, don’t listen to me. I’m worried about nothing…”

“I don’t think it’s nothing,” Becky countered. “I get why you’d be nervous about being in a situation like this, Fern, especially after everything that’s happened. I’m sure something like this can be a bit nerve-wracking, being in an unfamiliar place and feeling more vulnerable. I would protect you if something happened though. I do have super strength, you know.”

Fern nodded. “I know. It’s totally irrational. I feel kind of pathetic, honestly. I LIKE the woods. I SHOULD be enjoying this, at least a little, but I’m not…”

Becky frowned sadly. It looked as though Inez’s prediction had been correct. She hated knowing that Fern’s experiences were going to affect her in this way, like some form of PTSD. She wanted her to be able to enjoy the things she typically took pleasure in without worrying. “I’m really sorry, Fern,” she apologized.

“It’s not your fault,” Fern replied with a halfhearted shrug.

“You know, there might be something we could try though, at some point. I’m not a huge fan of camping or hiking or anything. I just don’t find it really relaxing. That’s just me though. But maybe we could try going on a short little camping trip soon, before winter gets here. We can maybe even see about Matt, Jackie and Inez coming with us. That way you’ll see it’s totally fine to be out here, and you can feel better knowing there are more of us to keep you company.”

Fern smiled sweetly. “You’d do that for me, Becky? I wouldn’t want you to make yourself do something you don’t enjoy…”

“It’s fine, Fern, I promise. I’m sure it’ll be more enjoyable with you there.”

Fern giggled and rested her head on Becky’s shoulder as they walked. “Thank you so much, Becky. That’s really sweet of you,” she said gratefully.

“Well I want to help you any way I can,” Becky said, squeezing Fern slightly with a one-armed hug and nuzzling her.

At that moment, the girls’ attention was drawn to the skwak pad, which was indicating there was an incoming call. Fern pushed the answer button and Jackie’s face popped up on the little screen. “Guys!” she began. “We can see the ship from here! You’re headed uphill, think you can find a clear spot to look down from?”

Becky and Fern both agreed they probably could, and within minutes they found a spot clear of trees on top of a steep ledge. They thankfully hadn’t gotten too far away from the others, so it didn’t take them long to spot the Wreaker from there, or rather what remained of it. Even from their distance, they could tell it had been an extremely ugly crash. As they confirmed they had seen it and began approaching it, they noticed many metal parts scattered all around them, increasing in number as they got closer. Very few of them were at all recognizable.

The two girls soon reached a small clearing near the center of the wreckage. The Cybersquad members were all standing around Delete, who thankfully had been right where they assumed he would be. He was seated on the stump of a tree which, judging by the black burn marks on it, must have been taken out in the crash. It was merely one of several dozen, whose carcasses were scattered around them along with the many dessamated parts of the ship. He had a rather dead look in his eyes, as if all the energy had been drained out of him.

“Delete!” Fern cried, speeding up to reach him quickly once she saw him, with Becky close behind. The former bent down a bit to be at eye level with him, while the latter stood with the other three kids nearby.

Delete looked up and half-smiled. “Hi, Fern… What happened to your arm? Are you okay?” he asked, noticing the sling her left arm rested in.

“I’m fine, it’s not a big deal. It was a tiny little break that happened when I was getting the battery out,” Fern explained. “What about you? You’re what I’m more concerned about. I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now…”

Delete sniffled a bit and glanced down, off to the side. “It’s been hard… I know Hacker wasn’t a good person, but I spent so much time around him for so many years. And Buzzy wasn’t always warm and fuzzy, but he was my best friend in the whole world… and now he’s gone…”

The kids all nodded understandingly. None of them could totally empathize with Delete’s heartache. None of them had ever lost a friend to death before, and in such an awful fashion no less.

“We’re so sorry, Delete…” Inez spoke up from close by.

“Yeah, we barely know what to say…” Jackie concurred, scratching behind her head.

“It’s not like you’re alone now though, if it makes you feel any better,” Fern pointed out, wanting to reassure the robot somehow. “You still have us… and Hacker was going to take over the Earth, but you helped us stop him! We can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done… I can’t thank you enough.”

Delete nodded slightly and stood up. “Thank you… It’s hard to feel very happy about it right now, though…”

“...We were going to go to Cyberspace now. Digit went back already and we’re going to go see him,” Matt explained. “You want to come? You ready to go back?”

“I guess so…” Delete replied with a shrug. “Where else am I gonna go?”

Jackie nodded understandingly. “I’ll call Motherboard and get us a portal,” she said, pulling her skwak pad back out. She dialed up Motherboard, and soon a portal was conjured up for them.

They all jumped through and arrived inside the main room at Control Central, where Motherboard was on the screen. “Well done, Cybermates… and friends,” she congratulated, glancing towards Becky and Fern.

“It was no trouble, Motherboard,” Becky replied. “We were just doing our jobs.”

“Well thanks to you, Hacker is no longer a threat to the safety of Cyberspace or the real world. You all have much to be proud of.”

“Thanks, Mother B,” Matt replied, smiling and giving a casual salute to her.

At that moment, Digit flew into the room, his wing in a cast. It was times like these he was thankful he could fly with his tail. “Eartlies!” he greeted enthusiastically, waving with his good wing.

“Digit!” the three other Cybersquad members greeted, all giving him a quick hug.

“How’s your wing, Didge?” Jackie asked, eyeing his cast.

“Could be worse,” Digit replied with a shrug. He glanced behind them and spotted Fern’s arm in its own sling. “Whoa! What happened to you?” he asked in surprise.

“My arm got broken a bit when I was getting the battery out,” Fern explained once more. “It’s really small though. They told me your wing got broken too.”

“Yeah, but it’ll be fine,” Digit replied, chuckling a bit. “And look at that! We’re twins!”

Fern returned his laugh. “Yeah, I guess so, huh? Hopefully not for long for either of us though.”

He then looked over at Delete and gave him a sympathetic glance. “You doing okay there?”

Delete shrugged. “I don’t know… I’m glad we saved Earth and all, but I miss Buzzy.”

“Aw gee… I’m sorry, Delete,” Digit said apologetically.

“But like we said, at least you have us now, right?” Fern repeated, walking up to the somber robot.

“I know,” Delete replied, “but I don’t know what to do now. Working for Hacker was my life, and now I just have nothing…”

Inez then straightened up, remembering the idea she mentioned she’d had to Matt. “You know, that makes me think - Becky, Fern, Delete, could you three step out into the hall, just for a little bit? I wanted to talk with these guys about something.”

The three were puzzled, but they complied and did as Inez asked, standing quietly in the hallway after Inez shut the door, waiting for her to return. It took several minutes, but they were eventually invited back inside the room. When they entered again, the four Cybersquad members stood on either side of them near the screen, looking excitedly at them, while Motherboard eyed them with a content smile. “Fern and Delete, would you two step forward, please?” she asked kindly.

They glanced at each other before doing as Motherboard requested, clearly confused. Becky moved as well, standing back to give them more room.

“From what the Cybersquad has explained to me, it sounds as if you both were instrumental in defeating Hacker. Delete, you went so far as to free Fern from captivity and get her back to Becky safely, thereby removing Hacker’s ability to blackmail her. You also helped everyone sneak back onto the Grim Wreaker in order to take it down.”

Delete smiled a little, his arms behind his back as he drug his toe against the floor self-consciously. “It was nothing… I just realized what we were doing was wrong, and I couldn’t stand by and let it happen…”

Motherboard then continued on. “Fern, you generously offered to help fight alongside the Cybersquad, despite some events that I’m certain were quite traumatizing. Not only that, but it was also brave of you to climb on top of the ship and remove the booster battery, all with a broken arm while it was flying around.”

Fern shook her head. “It was hard, but someone had to go out and do it. I probably didn’t do it as well as the others could have.”

“Nevertheless, you have both made Earth and Cyberspace proud, so much so that Inez felt it would be a good idea to make you both an offer. She suggested it to us while you were waiting in the hall, and we all unanimously agreed it was a good idea, but we want to hear your thoughts. And of course, it is entirely up to both of you whether you choose to accept it or not.”

Fern and Delete glanced back at each other once more, sharing curious looks. Their attention was turned towards Matt, Jackie, Inez and Digit upon seeing them move to stand in front of them, while Becky continued to watch from behind.

“You want to be the one to ask, Nezzie?” Matt asked. “You’re the one who thought of it.”

Inez rolled her eyes. “Sure, Matthew…” she replied teasingly before looking back in front of them. “Fern, Delete… we want to know if you’d like to officially join team Motherboard and become part of the Cybersquad with us.”

Fern and Delete’s jaws practically dropped to the floor upon hearing the request and having it register in their heads. Meanwhile, Becky gasped excitedly from behind them.

“You’re serious??” Delete asked, completely taken aback.

“This isn’t a joke, is it?” Fern questioned, convinced she must have been dreaming.

“Of course not!” Inez assured, stepping forward slightly with an earnest smile. “You both could be great additions to the team! I thought of asking you first, Fern, since you were a bit more of an obvious choice. Look what you accomplished! We’d be by your side, and you wouldn’t have to worry about Hacker anymore. I’m sure we wouldn’t be coming here very often anymore anyway, so it wouldn’t take up that much of our time.”

“I-I-I… I don’t know, I…” Fern stuttered, trying to wrap her head around the idea of joining the Cybersquad and all it would entail. “You really think I’d help anything?...”

“Definitely!” Matt spoke up. “You’re smart, and you’re clearly capable when you put your mind to it!”

“It made perfect sense when Inez explained it to us,” Jackie added. “I could totally see you rocking a skwak pad and going on missions with us.”

“I didn’t think of suggesting Delete join as well until a little while later,” Inez continued, “but that made sense too, when I thought about it. You’d be a lot like Digit - Both of you used to be bad guys, so like him, you could have better insight into how whoever we’re fighting might be thinking. You can live here and bunk with Digit if you decide to join.”

“Fern, this is awesome!!” Becky exclaimed, running up from behind and glomping her girlfriend in a hug. “You’d be an official crime fighter, just like me!”

“You totally would!” Jackie agreed. “We would offer for you to join too, Becky, but we know you have a lot on your plate being WordGirl and all.”

Becky nodded. “Well thanks anyway. If I wasn’t already doing that, I would love to join. But you definitely should, Fern! And you too, Delete!”

Fern and Delete looked back at each other once more, trying to gauge what the other appeared to be thinking. The idea wasn’t unappealing to either of them. In Delete’s case it meant he would have a home and a new prospect to aspire to, and in Fern’s case it meant she’d get to spend more time with these new friends of hers and have a chance to continue being a hero and doing good deeds.

“I’ll do it if you’ll do it,” Delete suggested. “What do you say, Fern?... I’m not sure I’d want to do it if you weren’t there.”

Fern smiled. She appreciated how highly Delete seemed to think of her. She had only grown to like him more as well ever since he saved her. Aside from Becky, he was the first one there she had met and gotten to know a bit. She believed she felt a similar sort of attachment to him that he did to her. “I think I feel the same way,” she replied tenderly. “You’re sure you want to do this?”

“...Yeah… Do you?” Delete asked.

Fern nodded. “I think I do.”

“So is that a yes, then?” Inez persisted.

Fern and Delete paused a moment before slowly taking each other’s hands and maintaining a firm stance. “We’ll do it,” Fern declared after taking a deep breath.

Applause broke out in the room right then, and Becky hugged Fern from behind once more. Celebration lasted for a few minutes, which Fern and Delete would remember as some of the proudest of their lives. They were both welcomed onto the team with open arms and shared enthusiastic hugs from everybody.

As the energy began dying back down a bit, Inez ran off to a back room and returned with a couple small devices. “Now that you’re official members of the Cybersquad, you’re going to each need one of these,” she pointed out, holding up brand-new skwak pads and handing one to each of them.

“Ooh…” Delete mouthed in awe. He had watched the Cybersquad use the devices for years, and now here he was with one of his own.

“We’ll show you how to work them later,” Digit assured. “They’re simple once you get used to them.”

“Yeah, they’re no big deal,” Matt agreed. He then noticed that Fern seemed to be tearing up a bit. “Hey, are you alright?” he asked, walking up and placing a hand on her shoulder.

“I feel amazing…” Fern replied shakily, wiping her eyes. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I belonged to anything before, until now…”

Matt chuckled and wrapped her in a hug. “Well, you do now. Welcome to the Cybersquad… Fernie.”

Fern laughed at Matt’s use of her once dreaded nickname. “Thanks, Matt. Thank you so much.”

“Don’t thank him too much just yet,” Inez spoke up. “Hope you can get used to that nickname. Once Matt starts saying something like that, he never stops.”

“I don’t mind,” Fern assured, looking around at her new teammates in front of her. “It’s kind of nice, actually.”

Jackie smiled and walked up to her, hugging her as well. “Think of us as a second family if you want. That’s how we think of ourselves already… You too, Delete,” she added, glancing over at the former henchman of Hacker’s.

Delete smiled. “Thank you… um… what’re your names again? Hacker never told them to us very often…”

Everyone in the room laughed at this revelation. “It’s Jackie,” Jackie answered. “Or Jacks if you want. You’ll get the names straight soon, I’m sure.”

Matt glanced down at his wrist and checked his watch. “Oh! We’d better be getting back home. It’s already starting to get late. Don’t want to keep our families waiting.”

“Yeah, you guys don’t want that,” Digit agreed.

There was a moment of silence as it was realized what going back now meant. “I guess it’ll be awhile before we come back here, huh?” Inez supposed.

“Probably,” Matt agreed with a nod. “But it won’t be forever. Eventually I’m sure Wicked or somebody will start causing trouble.”

“Wicked?” Fern spoke up, confused.

“You’ll meet her eventually. She’s a ton of fun…” Inez said sarcastically.

Digit yawned. “I’m definitely a bit tired myself. Gotta give this old wing some rest. Come on, Delete. We’ll find you a place to sleep and get settled in a minute.”

Delete nodded and began moving towards Digit, while Motherboard opened up a portal for the Earth kids to go back through. Before he could move further, however, a hand on his shoulder stopped him. Turning around, he realized it was Fern, using her good arm.

“Hey, Delete… Before we go, there’s something I want to give you,” she said, reaching into her skirt pocket and pulling out a small object, placing it in Delete’s hand. “I write a lot of stories and poetry, and this is one of the pencils I use. I’ve had it a long time. I want you to have it… you know, as a bit of a token to remember me by when I’m not here.”

Delete looked down at the pencil, rolling it in his hand and smiling, moved by her kind gesture. “Thank you, Fern… You won’t miss it?”

Fern shook her head. “I’ve got plenty at home. I just don’t know how often we’ll be able to see each other now for missions, so I want you to have it as a reminder of me, that I’ll always be grateful for what you did for me, and that you can always think of me as a friend.”

At that moment, Delete pulled Fern into a hug, minding her broken arm. It was a bit cold due to him being made of metal, but Fern didn’t mind at all, and she returned it as best as she could while everyone else watched on, touched by the display.

When they finally let go, Fern turned around and went back to Becky, who was standing by the portal. When she reached her, she was enveloped in yet another hug. “I’m so proud of you, Fern… You’ll be great at this, I know it.”

“We’ll see,” Fern replied with a content shrug. “I just know that I can’t wait to go home and spend time with you, Becky. I’m so happy to get to be your girlfriend now.”

“Me too, Fern…” Becky replied as she smiled and kissed Fern’s cheek, continuing to embrace her as the rest of the Cybersquad said their goodbyes.

“I guess we’ll see you in the funny papers, huh, Didge?” Matt said somewhat sadly.

“It won’t be that long, Earthlies,” Digit promised. “Like you said, someone is bound to stir up trouble somewhere around here sooner or later. And this time we’ll have more members to help us out.”

“Exactly,” Inez agreed. “This isn’t goodbye. It’s just… ‘see you later.’”

“Come on guys, bring it in,” Jackie said, gesturing for the four of them to come together. They all shared a quick embrace before departing for the exit.

Matt, Jackie and Inez walked back to the portal, joining Fern and Becky, who finally let go of each other. Delete and Digit waved at them, and Motherboard bid them farewell. “Great job, Cybermates, and welcome aboard to our new members. When Cyberspace eventually needs you once again, you’ll know where to go.”

“We will, Mother B,” Jackie agreed before being the first to go through the portal. Matt and Inez then took hands and went next. After this, Becky and Fern were the last two remaining.

“Hey, Fern?” Becky spoke up before they could go through and return to Earth.

“Yes?” Fern asked curiously.

“I’m still so glad you missed that bell,” Becky remarked with an amused grin.

The two girls shared one more laugh before stepping into the swirling disc of light, looking forward to a bright future together. That future appeared to be brighter than it was when they got back though, as it was another rainy autumn evening. But that was okay... Becky had luckily brought her umbrella.

End

Chapter Text

“There!” Becky huffed with satisfaction, pulling down the oven door and removing a hot tray of fresh chocolate chip cookies from inside and setting them aside. “Not too shabby huh, Huggy?”

Huggy, who was sitting nearby at the kitchen table while wearing a chef’s hat and gorging himself on candy canes, gave her a toothy grin and a thumbs up.

“Thanks for your help, by the way. I don’t think they would have come out as good without you assisting me. I’m glad Inez had that recipe of her grandmother’s for us to use.”

Huggy nodded, hopping up from his seat and grabbing one of the cookies before making his way towards Becky’s room.

“Where are you going?” Becky asked, untying the apron and pulling off the oven mitts she had been wearing and setting them aside. “You don’t want to stick around?”

Huggy turned back and squeaked, pointing down the hall.

“Oh, right. I did interrupt you, didn’t I? That’s fine, go ahead back to your online solitaire game now. Thanks again, Huggy.”

Huggy smiled and waved dismissively before taking off back towards the computer in Becky’s room where he had been playing his game.

Becky sighed contentedly and glanced over at the window. The snow was still coming down quite strongly, as it had been since yesterday evening. Elwood City was in the middle of its first major snowstorm of the year, which had forced school to be closed on Friday, and Becky was thankful to be sheltered from it inside her warm house. She could hardly wrap her head around how fast time felt like it had gone over the past couple months, and that winter was already there and Christmas was right around the corner. But then again, it probably flew by so fast because of how much she had been enjoying herself.

Her relationship with Fern was still going strong, and she couldn’t have been happier with her. It had been a tad daunting at first, being open about being in a relationship with another girl at school, as well as telling her parents about it. Thankfully though, very few people at school appeared to care very much, and the only remarks she had ever received regarding it had been positive. Her parents had also taken it quite well and been supportive of their relationship, and Fern’s parents had as well. On top of that, she hadn’t gotten the least bit tired of spending time with her. Obviously Becky had very little to complain about.

Her thoughts of the approaching holiday were interrupted by the sound of a loud knocking at the front entrance. Surprised someone had made their way to her house in the storm, Becky adjusted her hair a bit and brushed some stray flour from her cheek before walking towards the door. Who the heck could that be?, she wondered. Is it the mailman? He’s here kind of early.Turning the knob and pulling the door open though, she quickly realized her guess had been quite off the mark. On the upside, it was someone she was much more happy to see.

“Fern! Hi!” she greeted her girlfriend excitedly.

“H-hi, Becky!” Fern greeted in reply, shivering as she stood on the front step. She was wearing a thick, puffy winter coat over her normal clothes along with earmuffs, mittens, a scarf and boots. She also held a small brown paper bag in her hand, which blew around slightly in the cold, harsh December wind along with her ears and scarf. Just looking at her made Becky feel colder, but at least it seemed she had planned ahead enough to wear pants on this day instead of a skirt.

“Quick, get in here before you freeze to death!” Becky insisted, gently pulling Fern inside and shutting the door.

“T-thank you,” Fern said gratefully, tossing all her winter gear aside and setting her bag down before vigorously rubbing her arms, hands and red cheeks to try and warm them back up a bit. None of this was an issue for her anymore, as she had been allowed to stop wearing the sling a few weeks prior, and her arm was now healed up nicely. “I’m g-glad you guys had your lights hung up outside, otherwise I’m n-not sure I could have seen your house through all the s-snow,” she joked with a chuckle, which she immediately followed up with a large sneeze.

“Bless you!” Becky said, picking up Fern’s bag for her and leading her towards the bright living room. “What were you doing out there?! You know there’s a no-travel advisory, right? It was still below zero outside last time I checked, and the snow isn’t expected to stop until Monday!”

Fern nodded. “I-I know… I wasn’t planning on it, b-but my mom realized we were a b-bit low on a few things that we needed. She was going to d-drive to the store, but I offered to g-go instead so she wouldn’t risk getting int-to an accident. It’s k-kind of a long walk though, and I knew your house was c-close by, so I thought it’d be ok-kay to stop here…”

“Well that was awfully nice of you to do for her,” Becky observed, sitting down on the couch with the shivering girl next to her, keeping an arm wrapped around her. “I sort of wish you hadn’t done it, it’s just so nasty outside… but I’m happy to see you and know you’re okay,” she acknowledged, leaning over and kissing one of her cold cheeks.

Fern giggled. “I’m g-glad to see you too…”

Becky stood back up and grabbed a nearby throw blanket, draping it over Fern’s legs. Then, after promising to be back in a few minutes, she went to the kitchen, piled some of the cookies onto a small plate, and filled up two mugs with herbal tea. “Here,” she said as she returned to the living room, setting down all the treats which she had placed into a tray. “If these don’t help you warm up, I don’t know what will.”

Fern smiled widely and took one of the mugs and cookies. “Ooh! Thanks, Becky!”

“No problem!” Becky replied, sitting back down and getting under the blanket with her. “But Huggy also helped me, and they’re Inez’s grandmother’s recipe, so don’t just thank me.”

Fern nodded as she listened, biting into her cookie. She had been over to Inez’s apartment a few times by then and had been able to meet Maria. She was a nice old lady, and it was a shame that she was getting sick. As unlikely as it was at this point, she hoped she’d be able to pull though. Even if she didn’t, though, at least her legacy would live on through her cooking, which Inez was becoming remarkably adept at. “Mmm! These are so g-good! Did you just bake these?” she asked.

“Yep! I just pulled them out of the oven a few minutes before you got here,” Becky answered.

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything by sh-showing up unannounced,” Fern said apologetically.

“No need to worry,” Becky assured. “My parents are sleeping in since they have the chance, and TJ went down the street to see a friend. I hope he’s doing alright.”

“Me too. I’m sure he’s ok-kay though. He didn’t have to walk nearly a mile like I did… Oh hey, since I was at the store and figured I’d be seeing you soon, I picked something up for you. I might as well give it to you now,” Fern supposed, reaching to grab her bag and rooting through it.

This perked Becky’s interest, and she watched as Fern searched through the bag’s contents. “Oh? What’s that?”

“You’ll see in just a second...  Let’s see… milk, eggs, toothpaste… Here it is!” Fern said, reaching towards the bottom of the bag and pulling out a DVD. She handed it to Becky, who examined the cover and realized it was the first volume of the first season of Pretty Princess. “I figured you could use something to help keep you entertained while you’re cooped up here during the storm,” Fern explained.

Becky smiled and gave her a grateful hug. “Aww, thanks, Fern! That was really nice of you! I’m sure I’ll enjoy this! I wish I’d known you were going to get me this so I could have gotten you something…”

“It’s alright, Becky. It was no trouble. Consider it an early Christmas gift. Don’t worry though, you’ll get your actual gift too, when the time comes,” Fern promised with a chuckle.

“And you’ll get yours too. I want to give you SOMETHING now, though. But since I don’t have anything material, I think some snuggles will just have to do,” Becky said with slight flirtatiousness.

Fern blushed and shrugged, playfully rolling her eyes. “Oh well, if you say so…”

“I do say so,” Becky said definitively, reaching over and pulling Fern down so they were both lying flat on the couch. She then held her on top of her so they would fit better and cupped her hands around the small of Fern’s back while nuzzling her face with her own. “You wanna just stay the whole weekend? I wouldn’t mind a bit.”

“Me neither...” Fern replied sleepily. The combination of the warm house, the blanket, the cookies and tea, and Becky’s embrace had already worked wonders warming her back up. “...but I need to go home at some point. My parents will eventually want me back with the milk and stuff.”

Becky sighed. “I know, you’re right… I guess that just means I have to appreciate this while it lasts…” They laid there together for a several peacefully quiet minutes, simply enjoying the warmth radiating between them and the sounds of each other’s breath before she finally spoke again. “So hey, have you still not gone back to Cyberspace at all since the last time we were there?”

Fern shook her head. “No, and the others say they’ve never been away from it for so long. They say they went really often before. Hacker must have caused even more of the problems in Cyberspace than I thought.”

“I’m not surprised,” Becky said contemptuously. Even two months after the fact, she still had no intention to forgive Hacker for what he had done, neither to the city nor to Fern. “I guess that’s a good thing though, right? Things must be a lot more peaceful there without him around.”

“I guess that’s true. I miss Delete though. I haven’t seen him at all since then. I hope he’s getting along okay at Control Central and getting used to it.”

“It’s been a couple months. I’m sure he’s had plenty of time to get accustomed to things. It’s probably good you haven’t heard anything from Motherboard. No news is good news, right?”

“I just wish I could see him is all. I feel like a lousy friend not being there for him. I also feel kind of useless being part of the Cybersquad now and still never being able to go on any missions.”

“I’m sure you’ll get your chance,” Becky assured. “I WISH I could call myself a hero and not constantly have to go stop bad guys. Consider yourself lucky.”

“I did ONE thing, Becky, ONE time. You’ve been fighting crime as WordGirl for the better part of a decade now, and you’ve fought so many people so many times. I’m not much of a hero compared to you.”

“Oh hush,” Becky said kindly but dismissively. “You helped stopped someone from taking over the planet, there was a big ceremony for you and the others for what you did where you all got keys to the city, and now almost everyone around here knows who you are and has given you praise either directly or indirectly. People clearly appreciate you, as well as the others. That sounds like a hero to me. And hey, at least you’ve gotten to spend time with Matt, Jackie and Inez and get to know them,” Becky pointed out.

“They’re all great,” Fern remarked. “I’ve gotten along well with all of them. They’re all pleasant to be around in their own ways. You know Inez likes Sherlock Holmes too? She’s not QUITE the fanatic that I am, but she’s up there.”

“No kidding?”

“Definitely. And I know you know how cool Jackie is. She does really well at track and cross country. She convinced me to try running with her one time a few weeks ago, but we had to stop because of how tired I got...”

Becky giggled. “You never told me that! You poor thing!”

“Well, I lived, at least,” Fern joked. “Honestly though, if I had to pick a favorite, I might have to say Matt.”

“That makes sense. He seems to be the one you talk to the most.”

“He makes me feel like a little sister or something, with how much he teases me and all, but it’s friendly teasing. He’s cool too, though he can be a bit goofy at times. Remember when we went on our camping trip and he was so confident he could put up the tent himself, but he just got everything tied up in a giant mess and Inez and I had to bail him out?”

Becky laughed heartily. The incident Fern recalled was absolutely hilarious for her to witness at the time. “How could I forget? I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life. If the best part of that night hadn’t been looking at the stars with you, it totally would have been that.”

Fern smiled, adjusting herself on top of Becky. “That was my favorite part too. I enjoyed the whole trip though, even if I was a bit nervous at times. You made me feel a lot safer, though.”

“Well don’t let me take all the credit for that. I’m so proud of how well you’ve been recovering from everything, Fern. You went through a lot, but I was so happy to see you pick yourself up and dust yourself off as well as you did. But I’m still glad I was able to help.”

“It would have been much harder to do without you,” Fern pointed out. “Not that you’re the only person I have - my parents, George, and now the rest of the Cybersquad are always happy to help me, but I really feel like you’ve been my rock, Becky.”

Becky beamed and snuggled Fern closer. “That means a lot to me, Fern. And I swear I’ll keep being your rock as long as you need,” she promised gratefully.

The two girls remained lying together on the couch for a while longer, having to struggle to keep their eyes open due to how relaxed they had become there. As much as Fern would have loved to stay the whole rest of the day, she knew she had to get her bag of supplies back home to her parents, so she bundled herself back up a couple hours after arriving and chatting with Becky and was about to begin the cold walk back home, when Becky suddenly stopped her.

“Wait! I have an idea! I don’t want you to have to walk all the way home in this weather, Fern, and I know just how to speed it up.”

“How?” Fern asked curiously, adjusting her scarf and earmuffs.

“You’ve got a good hold on your bag?”

“M-hm,” Fern replied, holding it up with her mittened hand.

“Good, now just hang tight,” Becky directed, reaching down and lifting Fern up snugly into her arms, carrying her bridal style, before stepping outside and closing the front door behind them. Fern was confused where her girlfriend was going with this until she quickly brought one fist to her own chest and cried, “Word up!,” taking off from the front step into the dark sky of the blizzard, now wearing her WordGirl outfit.

Fern gasped, shrieked, and held on tightly as she was flown above the houses, through the thick curtain of  falling snow. This was a development she hadn’t been expecting. She was at least glad she wasn’t Inez right then, though. Inez was to heights what Fern herself had become to feeling trapped.

Becky giggled lightheartedly at Fern’s reaction, her cape blowing about in the harsh winds. “Don’t worry, I’ve got you!” she assured, holding onto her tightly. She rarely carried such precious cargo while flying, and she focused much of her energy on not letting go despite having more than enough confidence.

Once Fern had relaxed from the initial fright of being high up in the air, she looked around at the scene before them was able to appreciate the beauty of it from this new perspective. “Wow…” she said in awe, looking down at the streets and houses being blanketed in white as large, puffy flakes of snow fluttered around them. “No wonder you enjoy flying so much…”

“I haven’t gotten tired of it, that’s for sure,” Becky confirmed. “I should take you for more flights like this. You’re kind of cute when you get all startled like that, you know,” she remarked playfully.

“Oh, be quiet,” Fern pouted, blushing and crossing her arms, only increasing Becky’s amusement.

Within minutes, they arrived at Fern’s house and Becky touched down onto the ground, allowing Fern to return to her feet. “Thanks a lot, Becky. That would have been a long, cold walk,” she said, checking inside her bag to make sure nothing had been damaged. “Aren’t you cold, though?”

“Nah, I’m good,” Becky replied, shaking her head. She gestured to her costume by pinching and lightly pulling on one of her sleeves. “I knew I’d only be out here a few minutes, and you’d be surprised how well spandex can insulate your body heat.”

Fern chuckled. “Good, I’m glad.”

“I’d love to stick around, but I should get going before anyone spots us together. Most people are probably also cooped up in their houses, but I still hate taking chances. I’m sure I’ll see you when school is able to start up again, whether it’s Monday or Tuesday. Maybe you can come by the house next week. We’re planning on putting our tree up then, if you want to help.”

Fern brightened up upon hearing Becky’s offer. “I’d like that! Inez is also going to be doing some holiday cooking this week, and Matt, Jackie and I were going to help out, and you can come to that. I’m sure they won’t mind.”

“They’ll mind once I ruin all the food. You know I’m a bit of a klutz sometimes and that I’m no good with cooking or anything like that.”

“Those cookies you made earlier say otherwise,” Fern retorted jokingly. “And even if that happened, it’d still be fun to have you there.”

Becky smiled and rolled her eyes. “Oh, alright… Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though.”

Fern laughed a bit, and there was a moment of silence before the girls gave each other a quick hug.

“Stay warm, alright?” Becky asked.

“I will, don’t worry. And you do too. I’ll probably just do some reading and writing while I wait out the storm.”

“Well if you do write anything, show me your journal when we see each other again,” Becky directed, giving Fern a light smooch on her cheek before letting go. “You know how much I love reading your stuff…” She paused a moment, taking a cleansing breath before finishing her thought. “...just not as much as I love you.”

Fern was at a loss for words, and she stood there speechless with wide eyes and flushed cheeks on the snow-covered sidewalk. Becky had never told her she’d loved her before.

Becky giggled. “You don’t have to say anything. That’s just how I feel,” she explained. She turned back in the direction of her house and got into her takeoff stance but, before flying away, she turned her head and added sweetly, “See you, Fern.” Only then did she soar back up into the sky, disappearing from sight within seconds.

Fern remained rooted in place for several seconds, still amazed by what had just happened. When she finally regained her senses and allowed what she’d heard to sink in, she covered her mouth in shock and ran to her front door, thinking to herself, Oh my god! That just happened! I… I… I have to call George!