As with the other times I had been on the plane, we were in the air for days. Each hour we were in the sky only cemented my opinion that the phrase “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” had been invented before air travel. There is nothing rewarding about sitting in the same seat for hours upon hours, only occasionally getting out of the plane when it stopped to pick up other students.
The nice thing was that we were eventually joined by May Riley and Andy Sebaldi.
“OH. MY. GOD!” May said, as soon as she spotted John and me, rushing over to us. “I am SOOOO glad to be out of my home. Ever since Mary left to do all this crazy-ass merc work in ISIS-land or wherever…”
As she began babbling on, a few people turned around to stare at the tiny little woman with a Tech N9ne t-shirt, pale skin, mismatched eyes, one green, one brown, blond hair with the tips dyed purple, and a face that had one side visibly scarred. They also probably stared at the thin, lanky giant of a man who followed her. I, meanwhile, just zoned out and let May’s rapid-fire speech patterns flow over me.
“Hey,” Andy said, “let them speak, why don’t’cha?”
Andy and May were two of the smartest people I knew. When we hosted a radio show together last semester, I had learned that Andy was a master of robotics and had made his own factory in his room. May, I had met earlier. She had attended me after Eliza kicked my ass in one of Hell Semester’s more brutal traditions and had made at least two inventions that had saved the lives of me and my friends. However, like most people who were scarily smart, they had some eccentricities. May, in particular, had been teased mercilessly for her weird looks and ADHD.
Still, it was nice to have them with us. They were genuinely good people. The only problem is that May was sometimes a bit nosy. “You know, that’s a good idea, Andy,” she said, “what did you guys do over the summer?”
“Oh, nothing much,” I said, maybe a little too casually. “Just, y’know, hung out around the house.”
“Yeah,” Eliza said, “not much.” Her voice cracked as she said this, and she stared at her hands.
Instantly the two of us regretted saying anything. May’s exuberant attitude suddenly became suspicious. “You know,” she said, “for people who do so much cloak and dagger stuff, you two are terrible liars.”
“How about you?” I asked. “Did you and Andy do anything interesting?”
May sighed. “Ok, I see how you’re going to play this. Fine. You remember how when I met Andy I asked him if he could help me produce some of the stuff I made?”
“I think that might have been the first thing you said to him,” I said.
“Anyway,” May said, “we created a prototype assembly line in Andy’s basement. Well, technically, it’s his parents’ basement. Now we need to get the money to buy the supplies.”
“How much money would this cost?” I asked.
“Well,” May said, “to make five gallons of my surgical glue would cost about five hundred dollars but… Wait, why are you asking this?”
“John and I…” I said, “we came into a bit of money over the summer.” That was understating a bit. Both John and I had gotten five million dollars. Right now, it was gathering interest. How much interest depended on the investment person I had put in charge of it. The only problem would be getting to it.
“Look,” May said, “we wouldn’t know what to do with more than two thousand dollars. Then we think we can get a government loan or grant. I don’t really want to take your blood money, no offense.”
“What about the money I made bartending?” I asked. Last semester, I had taken a job at an on-campus bar called The Drunken Mercenary. I hadn’t made as much money there, but it would be enough.
“Fine,” May said. “Why not? I guess we have our first investor.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, “all I want is to make sure that this gets to market as soon as possible.” If I was right, and the Dragon’s Teeth were going to get worse, there were going to be a lot of people needing the best medicine at the lowest price.
“So do we,” Andy said. “The school has a policy: if you can’t put your invention on the market within three years after making it, the school gets all the rights to it. That’s how they’re ten years ahead of everyone else.”
“What?” John asked. “How does that make any sense?” I had to agree. The ways that NIU could benefit from all the various inventions must outweigh any other advantage, right?
“They might be stockpiling,” Jen said, “creating an artificial lack of supply to sell later… or they’re going to use the tech themselves. I’ve made a profit on both tactics.”
“Figures.” May said. May didn’t like Jen. It was either because May knew about Jen’s illicit activities, or Jen was reminiscent of one of May’s tormentors in school, or maybe both, plus a little extra. As far as I could tell, Jen ignored the barbs, but I wouldn’t put it past her to retaliate when no one else was looking.
As we continued the rest of the trip, May did her best to restrict her thinly veiled aspersions cast against Jen. Also, with our wise decision not to drink anything unhealthier that two or three sodas per day, the trip was much more pleasant than it had been the last time. On that flight, May and I were the only ones who weren’t hungover for most of the flight.
Still, I felt like I needed a drink, and I don’t mean water. The pain in my leg and chest was acting up again, and the nightmares were getting worse. I woke up twice screaming, everyone staring at me in a mixture of concern and annoyance. The last two times I had been able to get a decent night’s sleep that I could remember I had some kind of whiskey.
“Christ, Nate!” Eliza yelled the second time this happened. For some reason, she seemed a bit closer than she should have been and I felt a pressure leave my shoulder. “What’s up with you?”
I looked around. Dozens of people were staring at me in annoyance. Honestly, I didn’t give a shit about some strangers. My friends, meanwhile, were mostly concerned. Except Andy. He was out like a log.
“Sorry,” I said, “It’s… the nightmares. They’ve been getting worse ever since…”
“Yeah,” John said, who was groggily coming awake. “I get them too…” He blinked a couple times. “But you’ve been having nightmares since Hell Semester.” He paused, considering something. Eventually, he asked, “You ok, man?”
“Yeah,” I said, flashing a smile. “I’m fine, man.” Outside, it was night. Only the stars above and the clouds below were visible.
A hand touched my shoulder. “Oi,” Eliza said, her green eyes locking with mine and her fox ears lowered and rotated towards me, “if you need to talk to anyone, y’know we’re ‘ere for you, right?”
“I know,” I said. “Eliza…” I didn’t know where I was going with that, but I was definitely going somewhere.
Before I could finish that thought, the captain came over the speakers. “Please fasten your seatbelts,” she said, “we are about to make our final approach to Nowhere Island University. Have a safe landing and a happy semester!”
When the plane was well and truly in its final descent, Jen said, shouting a bit above the noise, “So, Nathan, you were about to say something to Eliza?” I noticed an odd, hopeful look on Jen’s face.
“I… I actually had no idea where I was going with that,” I said sheepishly. “Kind of was going on autopilot.”
Jen’s hopeful look suddenly disappeared. “Are you really going to let that get in the way?” she asked me disgustedly. “And you, Eliza, are you going to let him weasel out like that?”
“I… I’ve no idea what you’re on about,” Eliza said, her face turning as red as her hair.
Jen groaned. “When this plane gets down,” she said, “I am going straight to my dorm. I trust that, in my absence, someone who isn’t blind will educate these two.”
Andy, suddenly realizing that we were descending, suddenly jerked awake. “Wai… wha…? Wha’s goin’ on?” he asked blearily.
“Obviously not him,” Jen said above May’s peals of laughter and the roar of the plane. She put on some earbuds and began to pointedly ignore us. When the plane touched down, she took her luggage out without a word.
When she had finally gone off, Eliza asked, “So, Nate,” she said, a little awkwardly, “I was wondering if you wanted to… you know, ‘ang out a bit.” There was still a bit of awkwardness in Eliza’s body language, but it was rapidly fading away.
“I’d love to,” I said. “Today’s, what, Friday? How about we meet Saturday or Sunday?” I turned around to see May doubled over with laughter. John was smiling and shaking his head. “What?” I asked. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, nothing,” John said, a little too quickly.
Meanwhile, May, between paroxysms of laughter managed to squeeze out something that sounded like “Jen was right! You two…” She then started laughing harder. Maybe it was because she hadn’t slept for quite a while.
Eliza, trying and failing to ignore the chuckles and grins from our friends, nodded. “Yeah,” she said, “Sure. ‘Ow about Saturday night? Should be enough time for me to find an activity for us.”
“Hey,” I said, “I’d be, y’know, perfectly fine with some stupid movie.”
“I was… thinking of something a little more involved,” Eliza said. “Maybe goin’ somewhere nice.”
“Sounds good,” I said. We all headed off in different directions soon after. Eliza walked alone to her apartment in what was considered the “soft section,” the part of the campus where all the Business, Law and Rogues went, as well as some of the richer students from the other disciplines. She was in the Academy of Military Science like John and me, but she roomed with her adopted sister, who was a Rogue. May went to a single deep in what was known as Cutter Country, a small area where a lot of Medical students hung out. Andy was pretty close, in an area where the various scientific crowds met up with each other.
John and I, meanwhile, were in a dorm around the Sun Tzu Student Center. It was in one of the campus’s far corners, tucked out of the way. AMS and Shadowhaven combined were dramatically smaller than the third smallest of the schools. We had a slightly bigger area because our education was more physical.
We were in a dorm called Ranger, the main entrance of which literally was only a few steps away from Sun Tzu. In Marine, we had to walk quite a ways to get to Newton-Howell. That was quite annoying when we needed food and had to walk through whatever horrible weather that the island was throwing at us. The interior was also much nicer than Marine was. Instead of the blinding white walls, there was some nice, soothing wallpaper. Instead of mostly featureless corridors, except for some doors, there were a few common rooms.
We had been to our room over the summer after coming back from our Korean mission. While we were there, we had set up some of our stuff, so it wasn’t that uninviting. The room was divided mostly down the center, my stuff on the right, John’s on the left. By the windows, our desks looked out onto the street below. By the door were our dressers and weapons lockers. The beds were already made.
As tempting as it was to just fall down onto our somewhat dusty beds, we first checked our weapons lockers. Once I confirmed that my G-3K, Berretta M92FS Inox, and SIG-Sauer P229 DAK were there, as well as John’s Z-M LR 300, Mossberg 500, Bren 10 and all the magazines, ammo and other accessories for the guns, we took turns brushing our teeth. Only then did we finally allow ourselves to get to sleep.