With 115 seventh-grade kids split between the five class periods that made up an average day at Deerton Middle School, a project based on the 116 elements then known to exist (according to the out-of-date table that had come with the chemistry classroom). But there was reason to suspect that old Mr. Lancaster had influenced the element assignment process among wags.

Exhibit A was Boyd Carruthers, who had been assigned no. 82, lead. Anyone who had witnessed Boyd in class or in the cafeteria had no doubt that in all things he was heavy, malleable, and slow. And flighty little Tina Hedstrom in third period being slapped with no. 2, helium, seemed entirely too pat–to say nothing of bony Theresa DiSanto, on the wrong end of a growth spurt, earning no. 20, calcium.

But the plan (if there was a plan) had its more esoteric aspects as well. Caleb Schmidt was granted no. 43, technetium. There didn’t seem to be any connection b’tween that unstable and roguish element and the normally quiet and staid Caleb, until one took into account his recent behavior. Socializing, speaking up in class, trying out for the track team, even unsuccessfully courting Emily Dinklage for snowcoming…like Technetium he was arriving late to the game but making a splash. Quiet, meek, average students like Cara Joyce, who sat in the back and never spoke or made waves or did anything other than make steady unyielding eye contact, tended to get slapped with transuranic elements in Lancaster’s plan (if it was a plan). Cara got Unununium, an element no one without a degree in particle physics could say much about and one that nobody but perhaps the head of IUPAC could pronounce correctly.

Lancaster thus got Cara Joyce up for a brief presenation with a word that would take as long to spit out as anything she’d be saying afterwards.