The thing about himself, Vang0 thinks, is that he’s pretty sure he’s the coolest person ever.
Hear him out.
He’s a damn good gamer, he’s been playing Sixnite for a few months now, and sure, he isn’t good enough to get into legit esports yet, but he streams and he’s almost broken 20 viewers for every time he goes online. He’s a genius, thank you very much, and he’s damn well sure he’s got the highest academic standing in the senior year level. He’s a proficient hacker, already good enough to fuck around with websites and change records and maybe make other streamers follow his account. These are cool things. He's cool.
But Night City High School is a festering hell pit, so no matter how cool Vang0 is, that won’t change the fact that he’s small, that he has no friends, that everybody else will always see him as a huge loser.
Somebody shoves past him in the hallway, sending Vang0 sprawling to the floor.
“Watch it, Braces Barker,” The guy says with a smirk. A few girls standing around titter as Vang0 rights himself.
“Fuck off. The name’s Vang0 Bang0.” He says his name, not his legal one, but still his damn name. He throws up his VB sign defiantly.
The dude just scoffs and walks away. Which, not fun, but at least Vang0 didn’t get punched in the face this time. He’ll take it.
It’s lunch break and he heads over to the cafeteria to grab a chicken sandwich then he promptly ducks out of there without bumping into anybody else who’ll call him uncreative names. Seriously, they’ve been calling him Braces Barker since sophomore year, as if orthodontics are just the funniest thing ever.
Vang0 doesn’t like eating in the cafeteria. It’s too crowded, too noisy, too many people who could glance at him and giggle for some reason or the other. It sets his anxiety off like nothing else, so he always eats lunch elsewhere. Today, his usual spot in the parking lot in front of school is filled with a bunch of stoners, so he walks out back to the ridiculously out of place football field and finds a spot under the bleachers.
He’s not alone, he notes, as he sits down on the grass, which is a novelty in Night City. There on the other end under the bleachers is Dapper Dasha, and sat on a bench close to the school building is Burger Chainz.
Which, Vang0 isn’t a stalker, he’d like to point out. He just likes knowing things.
And boy, is there stuff to know about those two.
He watches Dasha pull out a cigarette and light it, taking a drag with no problem, blowing it out and watching the smoke wisp out into the air. She blinks, then turns her head to Vang0, sending him a death glare, and Vang0 scrambles to look away, turning to look at Burger instead.
Burger seems to be...having a conversation with a singular pigeon.
Neither of them look like they’re going to bother Vang0, so he unwraps his chicken sandwich and settles in to have his lunch in peace.
He gets approximately four and a half bites in before he’s interrupted.
“Hey, Braces Barker!” Somebody is walking towards him from the school building. Vang0 squints, switching on his optic monitor to zoom in and, ugh. It’s one of those assholes from the Seinfeld clique, or something. Vang0 thinks his name is Ross? Rod? Rock? Vang0 likes to know things, but not things about shit he doesn’t care about.
“Vang0 Bang0,” he says around a mouthful of bread, half heartedly throwing up a VB.
“Whatever,” Rock says, stopping to stand in front of Vang0 looking down at him with his hands in the pockets of his letterman jacket. “You got a minute? ”
“No,” Vang0 says, chewing.
“Cool, I’ve got a job for you.”
Vang0 swallows. “No.”
“The thing is that I failed my last physics test—”
“Why are you still talking to me?” Vang0 sighs, wrapping his chicken sandwich up again. He has a feeling he won’t be able to finish it with where this conversation is going.
“—and I can’t have that on my transcript, I’m trying to get a football scholarship, yeah?”
“Words cannot begin to describe how much I do not care.”
“Well,” Rock barrels on forward, like a battering ram who wants to speak to the manager. “I asked around and heard that you’re the best hacker at NCHS. Better even than those software dev club geeks.”
“I’m awesome, yes,” Vang0 raises an eyebrow. He’s well aware that he’s encroaching on dangerous territory where pissing off somebody bigger and stronger than him is a bad idea, but Vang0 genuinely can’t stop himself from being an asshole. “Your point?”
“Could you, y’know?” Rock makes typing motions. “Do some hacker shit.”
“Come on, dude!” Rock whines.
“No.” Vang0 is too intelligent for this conversation, so he stands to leave, but Rock blocks his way. Vang0 rolls his eyes. “What can I possibly gain from hacking your transcript? You have nothing to offer me.”
“If you do it,” Rock’s gaze suddenly turns dark, tired of playing around. “I won’t pummel you into the ground.”
The familiar swoop of fear churns in Vang0’s gut, but not even that can stop him from opening his stupid mouth and saying “You’re not even aiming for creativity points, are you?”
That pisses Rock off. Big shocker.
He grabs Vango by the lapels of his jacket, lifting him up so that he’s on his tip toes, and slams Vang0 into one of the support beams of the bleachers. Vang0’s head bashes against the support beam, spinning with sharp pain.
“You’ll do this for me, Braces Barker,” Rock growls. “Or else I’ll make your life a living hell.”
Vang0’s heart is beating fast and hard in his ears, a thundering drumbeat of get away, get away, get away. But Vang0’s a stubborn piece of shit.
“Go fuck yourself,” Vang0 says.
He really should’ve expected the quick punch to the gut Rock gives him.
But as Vang0 is doubled over in pain, leaning on the support beam, he doesn’t expect somebody to call out “Hey!”
Vang0 looks up and sees Burger walking towards him, having abandoned his riveting avian conversation. Burger says “What do you think you’re doing, Ross?”
“Back off, Chainz,” Rock grabs Vang0 by the jacket again, and Vang0 can’t quite hide his hiss of fear. “This isn’t any of your business.”
“I’ll show you business,” And then—
And then Burger grabs Rock by the shoulder, turning him, and socking him so hard in the jaw a bit of blood comes spraying out. Rock staggers backwards, letting go of Vang0, and he groans in pain as he runs back to the school building.
Vang0 leans back against the support beam, heart still rabbiting quickly, and watches as Burger, a guy who is way, way more huge than Rock is, turns to him.
Vang0 shrinks against the support beam.
“Woah, hey,” Burger says gently, as if talking to a spooked rat in an alley. “Are ya okay?
“What do you want?” Vang0 says quickly. He can handle a punch from Rock, but if he pisses off Burger? Vang0 quite likes his internal organs staying within his body, please. “Do you want me to hack something for you too? I can do that. I can do anything with computers.”
“What?” Burger’s eyebrows are scrunched up. “I don’t want anything. Can y’hear me alright? I asked if you were okay.”
“I’m—” Not used to anybody but my Mom asking me that question. “--fine. I’m fine.”
“That’s good,” Burger smiles, and jesus, it’s a sunshine and rainbows smile, what the fuck? “I’m Burger Chainz.”
“I know,” Vang0 says. Then he realizes how fucking creepy that is to say. “I mean—Fuck. I’m Vang0 Bang0.”
“That’s a cool name!”
“Thanks, I made it myself,” Vang0 jokes.
And Burger actually laughs.
Okay, is Vang0 dreaming or is another human being at NCHS actually being nice to him?
Is Vang0 actually...going to have a good day?
“There they are, sir!” Rock says, running back to them from the school building with, fuck, with a teacher in tow. “Those two beat me up!”
“Chainz, Barker. Detention.” The teacher says.
“Oh, come on,” Vang0 sighs.
“What? He’s lying!” Burger says, sounding honestly shocked and offended that somebody would lie about things.
“Of course you’d say that,” Rock says, acting pitiful to the teacher.
“Why don’t you ask her,” Burger turns to where Dasha is at the other end of the bleachers, still smoking. “She saw the whole thing!”
“Woodrose,” The teacher says. “Detention.”
Dasha blows a puff of smoke out. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Yeah, she really didn’t,” Vang0 murmurs.
“No smoking on school premises,” The teacher tells her. “I expect all of you to be in room 2-A4 at 3:30pm. Lunch break’s almost over. All of you, get to class.”
Dasha stubs her cigarette on the ground and says, completely deadpan, “Yipee.”
The thing about himself, Vang0 thinks, is that all the intelligence he has comes with the nasty side effect of self awareness. He damn well knows he lies to himself. He knows he isn’t cool. He knows people only talk to him when they want to take advantage of him. He knows he’s a huge loser, and will most probably stay one for the rest of his pathetic life. These are the magnificent thoughts in his head when he walks into room 2-A4 at 3pm on the dot, because it’s not like he has friends to talk to and make him late.
The room, when he gets there, has the chairs arranged in a circle like an AA meeting. At the front, there is a huge, busted ass animatronic of NCHS’s stupid mascot, Robbie the RoboDog.
He sits down with a huff. A few seconds later, Burger comes in and takes a seat right next to Vang0, smiling as if this whole situation doesn’t bother him at all. Just before she would be considered late, Dasha comes in, hands in her green bomber jacket, chewing a piece of gum. They sit there, Dasha sitting apathetically, Vang0 sitting miserably, and Burger sitting like he’s just waiting to go pick up a Build A Bear, until the teacher from earlier walks in.
“Alright, ne-er doers,” the teacher says. “You earned yourselves one hour with good ol’ Robbie, here.” He plugs Robbie into the wall socket, what is this, 1998? “Be nice and become better people."
The teacher leaves and shuts the door as Robbie powers up at a fucking glacial pace. After five excruciating minutes of watching this animatronic halt and stutter into movement, the screen on its face lights up with an OwO and Robbie begins speaking.
“GOOD AFTERNOON, STUDENTS,” Robbie says with its robotic voice. It turns to Vang0. “VEE BARKER,—”
“Vang0 Bang0,” he corrects. VB up, baby.
“That’s me, sir!”
“—DASHA EVANGELINE WOODROSE.”
Dasha stays silent.
“YOU ARE HERE IN DETENTION BECAUSE YOU HAVE COMMITTED AN OFFENSE. OH NO!” Robbie’s face screen changes to a >n< before flashing back to OwO. “BUT JUST BECAUSE YOU MADE A MISTAKE, THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU ARE A BAD PERSON.”
“Oh my god,” Vang0 says quietly.
Burger shushes him.
“TODAY, I WILL HELP YOU THROUGH A ONE HOUR LONG SESSION OF GUIDED MEDITATION. HOPEFULLY, THIS WILL HELP YOU BECOME MORE IN TUNE WITH YOURSELF, YOUR MORALS, AND YOUR FUTURE ACTIONS.”
“Yeah, no, I’m not doing this,” Dasha says, standing up.
“DASHA EVANGELINE WOODROSE, PLEASE SIT DOWN.”
Dasha walks towards the plug in the wall socket. Vang0 grins as Burger gasps.
“DASHA EVANGELINE WOODROSE, PLEASE DO NOT UNPLU—”
Dasha pulls the plug.
Robbie powers down.
“You killed him!” Burger cries.
“I just saved us all from the torture of an hour long guided meditation,” Dasha twirls Robbie’s plug.
“You’re really cool, I like you,” Vang0 blurts out. A half second after the words are out of his mouth, he realizes what he said and promptly wants to crawl into a hole and die.
Dasha doesn’t scoff at him though. She just levels him with an appraising gaze and says, “You had some balls saying no to Ross earlier. You’re not too bad yourself, Braces Barker.”
“Vang0 Bang0,” he says, standing.
“Wait, a second,” Burger says, still in his seat, looking at Dasha and Vang0 going for the door. “We can’t just leave.”
“Yeah we can,” Dasha shrugs, like the cool kid she is. “You see anybody here to stop us?”
“No, but—” Burger frowns, looking very nervous.
“Burger, right?” Dasha asks. Burger nods. “You punch real good.”
Burger brightens at that. “Thanks! I like your jacket.”
“Thanks,” Dasha says, opening the door and looking out for a moment. “There’s nobody out in the hallway. Nobody will know. Unless you actually want to have guided meditation.”
“I suck at guided meditation.” Burger sighs, standing up. “Okay, I’ll come with.”
“Nice!” Vang0 raises a fist into the air. Because he is a huge loser.
Dasha walks out of the room and, damn, she walks fast. She walks like she’s on a mission, constantly. Burger seems to catch up fine because he’s got brisk walking legs, but Vang0 has to gently book it.
“Hey, Dasha, Burger, does this mean we’re friends now?” Vang0 asks them.
“Hell yeah!” Burger says, grinning at Vang0. “I love making friends.”
“We’re not friends,” Dasha says airily. “I’ve just decided, after what I’ve seen today, that maybe you two aren’t as lame as the rest of the student population.”
“I’ll take it,” Vang0 shrugs “Do you guys wanna grab some pizza or something? If I stream and people see I have friends, my viewcount might go up.”
“I love pizza,” Burger says, much too solemnly. “You’re such a good friend, Vang0.”
“Again,” Dasha stops walking, and Vang0 almost careens right into her. “Not friends. Say it with me. Not friends.”
“Not friends,” Vang0 nods.
“Not friends is just one word away from friends,” Burger says.
“Oh, lord,” Dasha sighs. “Look. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you two might be useful to me. That's why I'm talking to you”
“Aw,” Burger places a hand on his chest.
“Honestly,” Vang0 says. “That's the nicest thing somebody who isn’t my mom has said to me all week.” A pause. “So, pizza?”
Dasha raises an eyebrow. “You’re paying.”
“Hell yeah!” Burger cheers. “Free food with almost friends!”
Dasha rolls her eyes, but Vang0 swears that he saw a little bit of a smile pull at her lips.
They keep walking, and Vang0 actually feels pretty good, all things considered. He’s going to have some pizza with two people who don’t want to actively beat him up and it might be fun.
Maybe Vang0 is going to have a good day afterall.
Then they turn into a hallway and see the dead body.
They all stop walking.
Right in the middle of the hall, sprawled out in their own pool of blood, is an unmoving body. From here, Vang0 can see where the blood blooms from the side of their gut, spilling out onto the growing puddle on the floor.
Vang0 looks at them, his body feeling as if it had been dropped into a vat of ice water. Next to him, Burger and Dasha look with different kinds of horror written on their faces.
The body doesn’t move. The pool of blood inches larger.
The thing about himself, Vang0 thinks, is that he’s a lot of things. He’s a genius hacker that people want to use. He’s a lonely nerd who has nobody on his side. But most of all, he’s a teenager.
He’s just a kid.
As he stares at the body, he thinks that now, he’s a kid who’s just gotten himself, Burger, and Dasha, into something very, very dangerous.
So much for having a good day.