The weeks began to pass much more quickly. March went by somewhat quickly, and during that time, it stopped snowing completely! Of course, it was also raining nonstop, but somewhat warm rain was much better than cold snow and freezing snow. Of course, there were still complaints about the weather.
These complaints got more pronounced as the temperature began to spike near the end of the month. Eighty-five Fahrenheit and raining is nice, but ninety-five? It starts to get a little disgusting.
The work was also pretty hard. However, the nice thing about it was that some of it was getting me money. I figured that after taxes, I’d take in a little over fifteen hundred from my bartending. Not enough to get myself a car when I got home, but at the rate I was going, I would be one of the few people from my country who wouldn’t graduate college in debt.
As April began, and culture week started to gear up, things began to get pretty hectic. I didn’t have as much to do as some people. For instance, there was Ricardo, who was working with the Latin-American Culture Fest teams. Their idea was actually pretty genius and quite possibly against the rules.
“Ok,” he said when I asked him about what they were doing, “I suppose I can tell you. The Brazilians already found out about it and got in on it.” It was the Friday before Culture Fest.
“How’d they find out about it?” I asked. “You were keeping it heavily under wraps.” I was also unsure of the requirements of being a Latin-American country.
“There’s actually two ways,” Ricardo said. “First off, they’re perfect for what we’re planning and people thought they should be in on this. Second, we needed to use every football stadium.” Being from the US, it took me a second to realize he meant soccer. “So, the plan is this: a football tournament.”
“A football tournament?” I asked dumbly.
“Yeah, man,” Ricardo said. “Everyone loves football! Plus, the prize for winning is going to be the votes of every other team.”
“Ah,” I said. “How are you going to get people to stick to that?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Ricardo said. “There’s also going to be half-time shows. We’re going to have you and Andy cover the Brazil-Mexico game. We’re going to do a pre-game show, they’re going to do a halftime show, and the winner gets to do a reprise. It’s Monday at one, so make sure you got time.”
“Someone else actually checked with us already,” I said. “We’re good to go.” Well, apart from the fact that I knew nothing about soccer (football, I needed to start calling it football) and as far as I knew, neither did Andy.
The next day, when I walked outside, I was shocked to see that it was sunny. It was also a hundred and five degrees Fahrenheit, but I was too shocked by their being actual sun. As I was walking down the street to breakfast, I stared up at the bright light that had been mostly invisible for the past few months.
“It’s so bright…” I said. Then I began laughing manically and running in a circle.
“Let me guess,” someone asked, “AMS, right?”
“How’d you know?” I asked.
The person who had asked gave me a look, then walked off, muttering about AMS nutters getting excited about the bloody weather. I ignored him and started running to the cafeteria.
When I was done with breakfast, I noticed some people setting up stalls on the side of the street. Each one had a different flag. Near Marine and Squire was one with the Scottish flag. The people there were doing something with various forms of grain and I could smell paint thinner wafting from it. I began walking away from it, but then Eliza burst out of Squire, a look of excitement on her face.
“Oy, mate,” she asked, running to the vendor, “is that Scotch you’re makin’?”
“Aye,” one of them said. “But it won’t be ready until Monday, so it’d be great if yeh could fuck off ‘till then.”
“Sure thing!” Eliza said. “It smells like the Irish, yanks, and kraut ‘ave got some stuff set up as well! See ya Monday!”
Before she could run off, I called out, “Hey, Eliza!”
She turned around, “Nate! You’re up early, aren’t ya?”
“Yeah,” I said, “just thought you might want to know that I’m going to be covering a soccer, er, football game for my radio show. It’s at Newell-Howard. You want to come?”
“Footie?” Eliza said, somehow brightening even more. “‘Oo’s playing?”
“Mexico and Brazil are playing each other for Culture Fest,” I said. “Starts around one. Can you make it?”
Eliza laughed. “Of course I can. It’s football.”
The rest of the weekend was mostly studying and trying not to go insane. Seriously, this first year at NIU I had worked harder and felt more scared than I had ever felt in my entire life. I was also not feeling too good about the camera with pictures of sensitive documents being in my room. I was also curious as to who the alleged fourth UNIX agent was. I also wanted to know how Agent Hicks had known about this fourth infiltrator when I hadn’t.
At this point, I was pretty sure that there was a fourth UNIX agent somewhere on the island, possibly more. After all, UNIX had lied to me about almost everything else. Why not this as well?
That was the mixture of paranoia and resentment was what I went back to classes with. I stewed about this through English class, barely able to concentrate on what was going on. At some point, I realized that if I couldn’t put this out of my mind, I’d make some stupid mistake because I was taking this too personally. The question, though, was how did I not take this personally? John and I had basically been hired to die so two others could live.
I had managed to calm down a bit by the time English was over. Seeing it was warm (ok, way too warm) and sunny, I decided to walk around a bit. I quickly discovered that the German Culture Fest booth was serving sausages, beer, and giant pretzels. I got a bratwurst, a knockwurst, and a laager and sat down to enjoy my free food and beer.
Eventually, I saw Eliza walking over to Newell-Howard. She was carrying a shoulder bag and taking alternating sips of two bottles of beer. “Hey, Eliza!” I said. “You heading to the soccer game?”
“Yeah,” she slurred. “Just gettin’ inna the proper state of mind.”
I looked into the bag. Inside were a bunch of beer and whiskey bottles. “Eliza…” I asked, “are you planning on drinking all of those today?”
“Just enough to get me proper hammered,” she said. “Two of my teachers canceled classes so we could enjoy Culture Fest ‘n become more cultured. Also, I haven’t had a break in months, and the only way I can get a decent sleep nowadays is to get a little bit of booze.”
“Eliza,” I said, “I’ve been having the dreams too, but this isn’t good for you.”
Eliza glared at me. “Let’s just watch the fucking game, ‘kay, Nate?” She then chugged the remainder of one of the bottles and tossed it into the garbage.
When we finally got to the gym the game would be held in, Richard was waiting outside. “Oh good,” he said to me, “you’re a few minutes early. We got the thing set up, so if you want to start broadcasting, now would be a great time.”
We were in a small indoor football field (rest of world, not American) that was separated by glass walls. At either end, by the goalposts, there were storage spaces for various things like boxing platforms. On either side, there were bleachers, the side we were on had a gap for an entrance and the other side had a platform upon which radio broadcasting equipment had been set up. From there, Andy waved at me.
As I walked over to the platform, I noticed that Eliza was following me. I decided not to mention the mini-intervention that had just happened and instead sat next to Andy. “Are you and Eliza ok?” he asked. “She doesn’t seem to be happy.”
“It’s kind of private,” I said, as I set up the radio. “Sorry. Anyway, you know anything about this game?”
“Nope,” he said. “Plus, we’re doubling as announcers. That will make this interesting.”
“Luckily, the first thing is going to be the pre-game show,” I said. “Hopefully, that will be something I understand.”
It turns out the Mexicans did have something I understood: music. Their opening show was a Carlos Santana cover band. A really good Carlos Santana cover band. “Man,” I said to Andy and everyone who was listening, “I don’t know if you heard that, but if the Mexicans can play soccer, uh, football, as well as they can make music, then they’ve got this game in the bag.”
Then the game started. It turned out, the Mexicans weren’t as good at football as they were at music. The Brazilians were slaughtering them. “Oh man,” I said, after the Brazilians had managed to score twice in five minutes, “They aren’t as good at football as they are at music, are they?”
“Wait,” Andy said, “what about that guy?” I looked down and saw Ricardo running up the field, somehow behind enemy lines.
“Holy shit!” I said. “Ricardo looks like he’s going to…” There was a muffled thump as Ricardo kicked the ball into the net, the goalie missing it completely. “HE SCORES!” I yelled. “MEXICO’S PUTTING UP A FIGHT, NOW!”
It soon became apparent that Mexico wouldn’t win, buy by God, they’d make Brazil work for it. By the time halftime came around, the score was three-seven, Mexico-Brazil. As I watched the Brazilian show, a bunch of dancers in skimpy costumes, I said, “Ok, people, Brazil’s going to win the game, but Mexico won the shows.”
The game started up again. This time, it was more brutal. The Mexican team was putting everything into it, and the Brazilians were getting pissed that they actually had to work at winning. There were also a few injuries. Most of them seemed highly exaggerated in an attempt to get the other team out, or “given a red card.” Seriously, I know nothing about football.
Something I didn’t comment on was Eliza’s increasing state of drunkenness. She was cheering wildly like everyone else, but she swayed whenever she tried to stand up. She had also finished her second bottle of beer and had opened a much larger bottle which looked like some form of whiskey. It also smelled like whiskey.
Eventually, both trends came to a head when a Mexican player tripped on air as a Brazilian ran past him. He began rolling on the grass and yelling his head off. Everyone could tell he was faking, even the referee who was rolling his eyes as he walked over.
Eliza, who had been getting more and more pissed at this kind of behavior, finally exploded. “Oy, ya pansy!” she called out drunkenly, “this is fffootball, not minceball! Stop yer blubbering, ‘e didn’t even hit ya!”
At this, the faking guy sprang to his feet and made a beeline for Eliza, shouting insults in a mixture of Spanish and English so heavily accented I couldn’t make out what he was saying.
Eliza stood up, swaying dangerously. “What, mate?” she asked, her voice thick with liqour. “Y’wanna go? ‘Cause I’m good t’go.” She staggered out of her seat on the bleachers towards the yelling football player… and promptly fell on her face.
“Shit,” I said. “Andy, take over, ok?”
“Uh… ok…” Andy said as I ran down to help Eliza.
“Damn it,” I said when I got to her. She had fallen on her face and slid down the steps. Luckily, not a lot of people were sitting in that section, so she hadn’t fallen into any of them. Still, the fall had given her a broken and bloody nose and cuts on her lip, chin, and cheeks. “You look like a fucking mess, Eliza.” I held out my hand. “Here,” I said, “let me help you up.”
She looked at my hand for a moment, trying to process what was happening. Then she burst into tears. “Oh God you’re right,” she said between sobs. “I’m a bloody wreck.” She took my hand and I helped her to her feet.
I turned around to Andy and called out, “Hey, I’m going to take Eliza back home, hold the fort, ok?” When I saw that he had heard and understood, I began leading Eliza out of the field. “I’m going to take you back to your dorm, ok?”
“I’m sorry ‘bout this,” she slurred as we exited the room. “I’m just… I’m just tired. I can’t… the girl I gutted. I keep seein’ Campus Security tryin’ t’get all her pieces on the stretcher. It just… I spent six years hatin’ meself last time I did somethin’ like that…”
“Wait,” I asked, “you did something like that six years ago?”
Eliza looked away. “Some pieces o’ shite tried to buy me from my parents, sell me for scrap, ‘cause only a few people have done dissections on underage Parahumans. My parents objected. Then things went to hell, well more to ‘ell I should say.” She looked at me sadly. “Things never really got better, y’know?”
“Ah,” I said. “Well, I’m going to get you back ho… back to your dorm.” I was glad I had caught myself. I wasn’t sure if she was homesick, and if so, which home? Her mansion with the adopted family? Or her biological family that had struggled to make ends meet?
I didn’t ask her, I just led her back to her dorm room. It was a little hard, as she still had to buzz us in, but I managed to do it. “You’ll be ok in here, right?” I asked her.
“Yeah,” she said, staggering into bed, “I’ll be right as rain in a few hours. Go back to…” After that, I couldn’t hear anymore, as she was lying face down on her pillow.
“Ok,” I said, “I’ll just leave you here, I guess.” Taking the mumble to mean yes, I walked out. Then I hurried back to the soccer game.
I arrived just in time to see everyone get out. I waited for the initial stream to pass by before I walked into the room. Andy was still manning the radio booth. I headed over to him and yelled, “Hey, Andy, how did we do?”
“Well,” he said, “I had no clue what was happening.”
“Apparently,” I said as I reached the booth, “that’s part of our charm. Or at least I hope it is, because we have no clue what we’re doing in general.”
“Actually,” Andy said, “I don’t think we’ve made any mistakes an audience would notice. We didn’t have any radio silence or repeated songs, and we kept our stuttering to a minimum. That’s more than I can say for most other shows I’ve heard.” He paused. “You also get really weird sometimes.”
“Well,” I said, “it helps fill in the gaps before the music. Anyway, are we ready to do the Japanese… exhibit? Show? I don’t know how to describe half the stuff going on this week.”
“Basically they’ve taken over this dining hall, Sun Tzu, and are serving people food while dressed as maids.” Andy shrugged. “Apparently, it’s a thing they do in Japan.”
“At least the interview isn’t till tomorrow,” I said. “We’ve got time to prepare. Want to talk about it at supper?”
“Not particularly,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of work.” For some reason, I got the feeling he wasn’t telling the entire truth. Maybe it was the way he looked a bit to the side, maybe it something else.
“So do I,” I said, ignoring my instincts, “but if I spend any more time doing it, I’m going to snap like Eliza.”
“Sorry,” he said, “but I really got stuff to do. See ya!”
“Sure!” I said. Then, I was back on my head, doing work. Doing work, in this case, meant staring blankly at various pages. I was able to actually work when I started, and for a bit after supper, but apart from that I couldn’t concentrate. For some reason, I got the feeling it wasn’t just that I couldn’t remember the last time I had watched a movie without flinching. There also was this sense I had something was going to happen.
Around ten, I stood up. John and Cross looked up. “You ok, Killer?” Cross asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “I just gotta destress.” I considered my options. The games I used to play and the movies I used to watch weren’t really an option, as sometimes I would end up lying on the floor, trying to take cover. I wasn’t sure that the gyms in the student centers were still open. That left one thing to do. “I’m going to The Drunken Mercenary,” I said. “If any of you want to come, you can.”
“What are you going to do there?” John asked. “Drink? It’s still a school night. During finals.” Since it was the week before finals, quiet hours had been enacted for the entire day. Also, most people were busy studying, so very few people would be in the common rooms or other places of recreation.
“If worse comes to worse, yeah,” I said, “but that’s the only way I know how to destress now. And I haven’t done anything fun in months.”
“Go ahead,” Cross said. “I might join you.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll be on the lookout.” After checking to make sure my Sig and my Beretta were concealed correctly under my grey hoodie, I headed down the stairs to The Drunken Mercenary to see what was happening.
It turns out that almost nothing was happening. When I got down, there were literally only three other people, including the bartender. Two other Freshman from AMS/Shadowhaven were sitting at the bar. I didn’t recognize them, and I somehow doubted they recognized each other. To give you an idea how empty that was for the bar, normally the bar was also staffed by a bouncer and two waiters and all of them would be busy at this point. Now, it was just a bored bartender.
However, there was one person I did know. There, playing pool was Ricardo. He noticed me after he took a shot. “Hey, Killer!” he said. “How’re you doing?”
“Stressed, bored, and can’t sleep,” I said. “Mind if I join you?”
“Not a problem,” Ricardo said. “You want me to buy you a drink?”
“Not at the moment,” I said as Ricardo pulled out a pool cue for me. “I just watched someone have a beer and whiskey induced meltdown. I kind of want to avoid that happening to me.”
“Yeah,” Ricardo said, “I saw that. That was fucked up.” He handed me the pool cue and began to reset the balls. “Anyway, nice job doing the announcing. Pretty good enthusiasm.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I had no clue what I was talking about or what was going on, but it was still pretty cool. You guys were pretty good.”
“Still got our asses handed to us,” Ricardo said.
Several games of pool and a lot of small talk later, I noticed that the other two patrons had left. I looked at my cPhone. It said the time was 10:58 PM. “Shit,” I said. “Look at the time. I should get to bed.”
“Not a problem,” Ricardo said.
Suddenly we were distracted by an angry shout. We turned out the window to see the top of May Riley’s head as she walked down the street, angrily yelling to herself. Then there was the sound of metal clanging.
“Never mind,” I said. “This looks like something I have to deal with.”
Both Ricardo and I walked out into the street, the door swinging closed behind us. May, however, was a bit farther down the street, towards the gate out of school. She hadn’t calmed down, but she had quieted down, muttering angrily under her breath.
“Hey,” I said, “you ok?”
May turned around. “What are you doing here?” she asked, her voice somewhat dangerous. I saw that her eyes were red and her cheeks stained with tears.
“Well,” I said, pointing to Marine, “I kind of live there. Then I heard a friend having a bad day.”
“I just followed him out,” Ricardo said. I shot him a look to let him know he wasn’t helping.
May relaxed a bit. “I hate my family,” she said. “I finally get a boyfriend, and it’s one of the few people in the world who is capable of making me feel not like a freak, and what does my sister do?” I shrugged. May continued, now yelling again and gesturing wildy. “She threatens his life! I’m sorry, sis, but where the hell was your protectiveness when I was coming home crying every day? Seriously, what the hell is her problem? I actually am a better judge of character than she ever will be, because she let me deal with people like Destiny and Shirley by myself! And we were supposed to be twins!”
“Who are Destiny and Shirley?” Ricardo asked. I shrugged.
“They’re bitches,” May said. She then fell silent. After a while, she said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine in the morning. I might even be ready to talk to Mary again.”
“Do you want me to…” I began, but before I could finish, I heard the sound of metal slamming. Up and down the street, automated steel shutters began to close over all the doors. Fire escapes retracted up so that they were unusable. The school had turned every building on campus into a fortress and sealed off the only entrance to the rest of the island.
Instinctively, Ricardo and I drew our weapons, me with my Beretta from a shoulder holster, Ricardo with his Bernadelli from a holster at his hip. Anxiously, we checked the street.
“What was that?” May asked nervously, her anger forgotten.
“Nothing good,” I said.