The rest of the day was midterms, sleeping and the radio show. Thankfully, my English class ended just in time for me to take a nap after lunch. After that, I slowly staggered into the radio booth. Andy came in a bit later. At our second break, I said, “So, as you may have noticed, I’m a little tired. I’ve only taken one, and already I feel like crap.”
“Well, thankfully midterms are only a week,” Andy said. “Oh, something else. On my way over here, our GM said we have been selected to operate the booth during Culture Week.”
“Oh,” I said, visions of gargantuan responsibilities filling my head, “what, uh, what exactly does this mean, Andy?”
“The week before finals we’re going to be set up outside talking to people,” Andy said. “You know, doing interviews and talking with our fans.”
“We have fans?” I asked blankly.
“Apparently, we do,” Andy said. “We got two hours because we were requested by the Mexican and Japanese presentations. From what I can tell, that’s the champs and the underdogs.”
“I think I know how we got the Mexicans to request us,” I said. “I got a friend who’s working with them.” I then added in a joking manner, “If you’re listening, Ricardo, thanks for the extra work!”
“Shouldn’t be that hard,” Andy said. “It actually sounds like it’s kind of fun.”
“Oh yeah, definitely,” I said. “Don’t mind me, I’m actually looking forward to it.” It was true. I really wanted to see the culture festival, and this would force me to make time to see it. Otherwise, I’d probably just stay in my dorm and have a panic attack.
The rest of the week wasn’t anywhere near as fun as that radio show. I enjoyed presenting my projects in Military History and Sociology, but the amount of work I had put into them beforehand nearly made me snap.
Math, though, was the worst of the lot. I was never any good at math. In fact, for half of high school, I had special one-on-one math classes. Here, I had none of that. Plus, when we were finally done with that stupid test, the teacher assigned us more math homework that had to be done by tomorrow. Why? He said it was because “Math never rests,” but people in the class (mostly the ones who weren’t in AMS/Shadowhaven) suspected it was because he was legitimately insane.
Another thing that happened that week was Cross convincing me to carry a gun. At lunch on Wednesday, I was sitting with him. Eventually, he said, “Hey, Killer, remember what happened last week? You know, with the people breaking into Secure Records?”
“Yeah,” I asked, “what about it?” At the time, I thought we were going to start speculating on who the people there had been working for, or maybe Cross would talk about a potential buyer for the information I had gotten.
“Remember how you weren’t armed at the time?” Cross asked. “Because if it was just you who was there, things could have ended a lot differently.” He waited for me to respond. When I didn’t, he asked, “Why the hell weren’t you carrying?”
“I kind of don’t like the idea of carrying a weapon all the time,” I said. “What if I lose control? What if I shoot the wrong person?”
Cross sighed. “Listen, Killer. You come from a pretty clean family, right? I bet before you came here you never knew anyone who had done anything worse than smoke weed or shoplift. You were taught that the system was on your side and all you had to do was do well in school and you’d get to live the kind of life your parents lived.”
“You seem to have me pretty well figured out,” I said.
“Am I wrong?” Cross asked.
“No,” I admitted. I actually was probably even more sheltered than Cross thought.
“You want to know the thing about this system that you’ve been taught to trust?” Cross asked.
I rolled my eyes. “Let me guess: it doesn’t serve the little guy, it just fucks everyone who isn’t in power and the only way not to get fucked is to ignore it. Trust me, I’ve heard it.” It was very hard for me to avoid getting on my high horse. I had killed way too many people for that.
“Yeah,” Cross said, “but that’s not the point. The point is that they’ve lied to you about other things. For instance, human life doesn’t have an intrinsic, objective value.”
“If that’s the case,” I said, “why do you have my back?”
“Because you have subjective value,” Cross said. “You’re a badass motherfucker who actually gives a shit if people live or die. However, if someone comes after me, I’ll shoot them because I value my life, and I don’t give a fuck about theirs.”
He paused. “Look, Killer. I like you. That’s why I’m telling you this. If I didn’t think you were worth having around, I wouldn’t lose an ounce of sleep if someone popped you. Just remember: if someone has made up their mind to kill you, you probably wouldn’t have liked them anyway.”
“Still not convinced,” I said.
Cross rolled his eyes. “Ok,” he said, “say you’re walking down the street with May or Eliza or someone you care about and you see someone in front of you start to pull out a gun. You know that they’re going to kill that person you care about, and possibly you as well. The street is structured in such a way that you can’t throw the loved one out of the way and the attacker is too far away for you to grab. Is it better to let him kill you and your friend, or is it better to blow his brains out?”
I bought holsters for my two pistols that very day.
After midterms, things quickly calmed down. For about two weeks in March, nothing except routine work happened. It was glorious.
The third Monday looked like it was going to continue this trend. I was a little late getting out of English class, so the elevators were pretty much empty. The only other person waiting was John. I smiled to myself. Things were going well. I had good friends, good grades, and no one had tried to kill me for weeks.
Just as I had finished that thought, Mubashir suddenly ran into the elevator. His sudden appearance startled me and John, causing us both to reach reflexively towards our weapons. “Hello,” he said, looking at us nervously as the door closed. “Sorry about the intrusion. But you should really ask me about why I joined NIU.”
Suddenly, it came back to me. That stupid fucking joke I had to tell everyone. “Let me guess,” I said as John and I relaxed, “you thought you were applying to NYU, I say, ‘what a coincidence, me too,’ and then you comment about how we rhymed.” Mubashir sighed in relief as I turned to John. “Does that sum it up?”
“Yeah,” John said, “pretty much.”
“Good,” Mubashir said. “I can’t stay long. Salim is already suspicious of me.” He looked directly at me. “Do you have any idea how hard it was to convince him to let what you did to Amir go?”
“I’m surprised you did it,” I said, a little skeptically. “Salim tried to stab Ulfric once.”
“Technically,” Mubashir said, “I convinced him to wait a few years. He’s not going to make a move until after you graduate. Or go home for the summer. Or set foot off the island for any reason. Or if he gets tired of your existence.”
“I feel so much safer,” I said.
Mubashir’s normally chipper expression faded, replaced by a dark look as he leaned against the door. “You’re lucky,” he said, “I’ve got to live with him and pretend to like him. I have to just watch as he spews hate in the guise of Allah’s kindness.” He looked at us, his expression broken beyond words. “I want to kill him.”
Needless to say, we didn’t know what exactly to do with that. We just stood in silence until the elevator dinged. We all stepped back from the door. There, standing in front of us, face as impassive as ever, was Alma Hebert.
“Well, well,” she said, “the gang’s all here. Good. I have something to show you three.”
“I’m sorry,” Mubashir said, “I just…”
“Believe me when I say,” Alma stated, focusing her cold gaze on Mubashir, “that you don’t have to lie to me. It would also be hard to do successfully.” She shifted her focus back to all three of us. “Now, I don’t know who, exactly you work for,” she said, “but I have an idea of what you’re after. Allow me to show you something of interest.”
Suddenly, the world turned yellow and black, and we were standing near a brick building in the Northwest corridor of the campus. It was completely boarded up and sealed off with heavy-duty steel plates. The sign above the building said “Interdimensional Research Facility One.”
“This,” Alma said, “is the IDF. Thirty years ago, there was an incident, and three of the school’s top scientists went missing. Their project has resurfaced in North Korea. If you want to know why, you’ll have to dig. Start by going through the Secure Files in the Engineering school from the eighty-five-eighty-six school year.”
“You know,” I said, “if you know what’s happening, you could just tell us.”
“I’m sorry,” Alma said, the sepia fading away to reveal we were still in the elevator, “but by now you should know that everyone at this school has their own agenda.” When the elevator was completely there again, we realized that Alma was gone. However, we still heard her voice, as if from a great distance away, say, “And Nathan? Tell Eliza and Bai that the angels are coming and it’s time to unite.”
“Well,” John said, “that was creepy and vague. And kind of annoying, too.” His brow furrowed in apprehension. “Mubashir, you ok?”
Mubashir, up to this point, had been standing stock still. When John repeated his query, he shook himself. “Yeah,” he said, with a fake smile, “I’m totally fine.” Somehow, I wasn’t sure I believed him.