February was when things started to get into a routine, albeit one with ever-escalating academic stakes. There was at least one paper assigned per class, not counting the math class. The teacher there just decided to pile on the homework. Between schoolwork, my job at The Drunken Mercenary and the exercise schedule I had to keep up, I would get back to my dorm and cry myself to sleep. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done, with Hell Semester barely beating it out. Due to some miracle of God, I was getting Bs and As.
The nice thing was that the weather was improving. After the one week where classes had been canceled, the snow’s constant barrage had begun to back off. Then, for one day, the temperature jumped up. Now, occasionally, the snow would become rain. One day, it even stopped! People went out into the streets, marveling at the fact that there was no precipitation, assuming fog didn’t count as precipitation. Of course, no one could see the sun.
It was soon after that my driving lessons started. The problem was three-fold. First off, the weather, as stated above, was crap. The second problem was that the instructors were training us on both automatic and manual transmission cars. Finally, I had failed my driver’s test back home. All of this, plus my workload, stress, and mounting paranoia, should have made my driving lessons miserable.
Instead, I was having fun. I had an excuse to empty my mind of all the various things that were happening to me. I guess it was because I had to focus on what I was doing or die, sort of like how I hadn’t once had a nightmare during Hell Semester. It was better than drinking, and I was having trouble playing my favorite games.
Not everyone had my stance on driving lessons. John, the lucky bastard, didn’t have to take them because he had taken his test back home. He even was a TA for the instructors. Thankfully, he was pretty cool about it.
Cross and Eliza also hadn’t passed their tests yet. “God,” Eliza moaned, “why is this happening to me again? Wasn’t three times enough?” It was at dinner in Newton-Howell, and Eliza was having her second meltdown.
Most of us were doing our best to comfort her. We had all broken down at some point this semester. At least I had. The day before, I was doing my laundry when I had realized how much work I still had to do. It took ten minutes, then I had to remove clothes from the laundry.
“You failed three times?” Cross asked. “Seriously, it wasn’t that hard.” He had just come into the dining room from his first lesson. He had never driven before, due to being a New Yorker.
“Well,” Charlotte said, “technically she only failed once. I really thought she’d get it the third time, until the lightning struck.” Eliza sobbed.
Suddenly, Jen appeared directly behind Cross. “Did she almost run over a friend? Because Cross almost hit May.”
Cross’s eyes widened. Meanwhile, Eliza gave Charlotte a pleading stare. “No!” Charlotte said, obviously lying. “She never ran over or into anything.”
“Anyway,” Jen said, “she doesn’t seem to be eating with us tonight. Does she have classes?”
“I think so,” I said. “She tends to like eating with us whenever possible. I’m not sure she has anyone else to eat with. Kinda sad.”
“‘Ow’s it sad?” Eliza asked.
“Well,” I said, “despite being pretty brilliant at med stuff, she never seems to hang with any of the other med people. I mean, we’re pretty cool, but I get the impression that she’d rather be hanging with people in her major.”
“She has an intriguing perspective on things,” Jen said. “I like her. Shame she doesn’t like me.”
“Really?” John said. He hadn’t been paying attention for most of the conversation, just texting on his cPhone. “May seems to be a little oblivious and, well, is as accepting of what we did during Hell Semester as a pacifist can be.”
Jen shrugged. “Wish I knew.”
Suddenly my phone rang. “It’s May,” I said. “She’s asking if she wants us to meet at the morgue around 11:30. I can make it because work’s canceled tonight.”
“Really?” Cross asked. “How is The Drunken Mercenary closed?”
“Someone dared Ulfric to break the window with his bare hands,” I said. “He did. Also, the toilet broke. Like seriously broke.”
“Jesus,” Cross said. “There go my plans for tonight. I’m in.”
“I’m not,” Jen said, shivering a bit. “That building’s jump-shielded.”
“What’s so bad about jump-shielding?” I asked.
Jennifer’s light brown eyes lost their usual twinkle. Instead, they became somewhat haunted. “Have you ever been locked in a coffin and buried alive?” she asked. “I haven’t, but that’s the closest I can come to describing jump shielding.”
“Well,” John said, “that doesn’t sound fun.” He stretched a bit. “Anyway, I’m in. I need a break. That fucking English paper is killing me.”
“Yeah,” I said, “and I need to not look at math.”
Unusually, John and I were the last of the group to leave. “Hey, Nate,” John asked as he finished swallowing his brownie, “can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” I said.
For a moment, he was quiet, and debating what to say. Then he asked, “What do you think of Bai?”
“I’m a little scared of her,” I said. “After all, the first time I talked to her was… awkward, to say the least.” On our first meeting, after Eliza had deduced I was a spy, she had spent the conversation silently trying to figure out whether to hurt me until I talked or to just kill me.
“But…” John said, “can she be trusted?”
“Eliza trusts her,” I said. “I don’t know her well enough to make that call.” Suddenly, a suspicion hit me. “Any reason you’re asking?” I asked. Images of her stalking him suddenly passed through my mind.
“She kind of invited me to this place called The Back-Home Bar and Grill,” he said. “I’m thinking of going.”
“Who else is going?”
“Just me,” he said, somewhat smugly. “If you’ll excuse me, I got some stuff to pick up at the library.” He got up, smiling a bit.
Well I’ll be damned, I thought, John and Bai… Didn’t expect them together.
A few hours later, we were walking into the medical building. The foyer was very nice for a reception area and well-secured. The Campus Security Guard on duty buzzed us inside without much fuss. “You’re here to see little scarface, ja?” He said approvingly as we checked in. I noticed that the nickname could apply to him, as he bore the telltale marks of going hand-to-hand with a Lupine. “She’s down in the basement, room B010.”
When the elevator dinged open, Charlotte said, “My, this is a gloomy place.”
“Gloomy” was kind of underselling it in my opinion. The walls and floors were clean enough, but the lighting was somehow simultaneously harsh and dim. They were also in mesh housings, so a creepy spider web pattern appeared in the blue light. These shafts were not wide enough to touch each other completely, making the place look like a horror movie set.
It only took a few seconds to find B010. Those few seconds were actually pretty creepy. We knocked on the door, a steel monstrosity with a camera built in. We waited for a few moments. Then it slid open.
There stood May in scrubs and an upturned visor, her eyes bleary. “Sorry,” she mumbled, “just was doing some stuff. Come on in.”
We all filed in. “Totally fine!” John said. “Anyway, what are you doing? It’s pretty late.” We were in a small locker/office area that was much better lit.
“I’m wondering,” May said, eyeing us suspiciously, “what you guys are doing here.”
Cross, voicing the sudden dread we all felt, said, “But you were the one to invite us here… weren’t you?”
“Did my message to you say ‘sent from my cPhone?’” May asked. “Because that got stolen a few days ago.”
“The question is,” Eliza said, “‘Oo benefits from putting us all in one place? And why do they want us ‘ere?” We considered this for a moment. Then Eliza added, “Probably not healthy for us, innit, though?”
We all moved away from the door. Cross, John, and Eliza began to reach under their coats and Charlotte began to fiddle with her pocket book’s zipper. Then we heard a muffled thump.