Eventually, Sunny came to get Nari. “I’m sorry,” Sunny apologized to May and me. “She’s supposed to tell me before she walks off.”
“Totally fine,” May said as Sunny began to yell at Nari in Korean. “She’s actually a… You aren’t listening to me, are you?”
Meanwhile, the clerk yelled, “Yes! Yes! Take her away before she breaks something please!”
Eventually, Nari and Sunny left. As she hurried Nari off, Sunny said, “Well, Nathan, I hope to see you soon!”
“See you too,” I said, waving as she left. When she was gone, I asked May, “So, you want to get breakfast?”
May shrugged. “Sure,” she said.
Breakfast was enjoyable, and I managed to seal the deal for investing in May and Andy’s company. It wasn’t a controlling share by any stretch, but I’d have a say in the major decisions and a percentage of the profits. I also learned that Andy and May had gotten… close over the summer. Mary, however, had kind of drifted off due to an argument.
“And you,” May said, doing that weird thing where she was suddenly drifting back to someone else, “also had quite the summer as well.” Damn. I was hoping she’d forget about that. She then got very quiet and watched me intensely. I could swear she was gambling on the awkwardness of the conversation forcing me to speak.
“John and I had…” I searched for the words, “… a job from The President.”
“Yeah,” May said, “you told me that. Now give me details.” She looked like she wanted to pester me with questions, but she continued with her version of the silent treatment.
“Ok,” I said, giving in and lowering my voice, “We went to North Korea to find out what the hell was going on.” When I saw that May had heard this (she gasped and covered her hands with her mouth,) I began speaking normally. People in crowded areas don’t usually pay attention to what strangers are saying, especially if they’re acting normal. My hope was that people thought May’s reaction was just her hearing some juicy gossip that didn’t concern them. Of course, that was kind of the truth.
“Basically,” I continued, “we were able to get in and out before the big reveal.”
“Before…” May said, somewhat in awe, “…before Drake came out?” Unsurprisingly, the genius caught on fast. Bonus points for making the Dragon’s Teeth sound like some closeted gay mutual acquaintance instead of an army threatening everything we loved.
“Yeah,” I said. “He let us go, but he kicked our ass. Anyway, if I wanted to get something analyzed on the quiet…”
May gave me an exasperated look. “Let me guess, The President doesn’t know about this.”
“He actually kind of does,” I said.
“What do you mean, ‘Kind of?’” May asked. Abruptly, her voice became dangerous. I had seen her like this only a few times. Every single one of these times, scary people would suddenly become scared of her. “I’d like specifics.”
“He knows,” I said, now irrationally fearing for my life, “that I’m keeping some souvenirs from my trip and he has an inkling of what I might do with them. If it makes you feel better, you can check with him about it. I just don’t want other parties getting ahold of the lab results.”
May suddenly got apologetic. “Sorry for snapping, Nate,” she said, reverting back to her usual bouncy self, “I just get kind of… irrational when I think…”
“Hey,” I said, cutting her off, “first rule of this place: trust nobody. Not even me.” Her eyes widened. I must have reverted back to my battlefield persona, the one that had earned me the nickname “Killer.”
Slightly guilty that I had scared her, I continued on. “Anyway, I can get the samples to you any time.”
“Yeah,” May said. “Well, uh… I’ve… I’ve got some stuff to do.” She got up to put her plates in the washing queue.
“We should meet again,” I said. “Maybe do a study group?”
“Maybe,” she said. “Anything I’d be able to help with?”
“Not sure,” I said. “Do you know anything about physics, calc and bio?”
“Nate,” she said, “you do realize that those are the hardest classes you can take as an AMS student, right?”
“Well,” I said, “I’ll deal with that when I get to it. Anyway, be seeing you.” Suddenly, my phone rang. “Oh,” I said. I was expecting Eliza. Instead, I saw an unwelcome name on my cPhone’s touch screen.
As soon as I accepted the call, an unpleasantly familiar voice with a South African accent asked, “So boyke, how would you like to meet with yer advisor before he goes off to Hell Semester?”
The voice belonged to Karl Krieger, my Hell Semester drill sergeant and student advisor. He was a white man from South Africa who had (based on his word and pictures in his office) gone from nerdly Nelson Mandela devotee to mad, lion-like mercenary and drill sergeant at NIU. Something had happened to him and now, every time I looked into his brown eyes, I could see a scary mixture of intelligence and insanity. Still, he wasn’t anywhere near the scariest or craziest person on the island. He also claimed to have good intentions (i.e. overthrowing the President) but anyone could talk the talk.
I sighed. It was probably going to be mandatory to meet with him. “Is it going to have to be tonight?” I asked. “I was going to have dinner with… a friend.”
“Ah, you can put it off a night if it is who I think it is,” Krieger said. “But if you want to do your scholarly duty and get your bartending job back, meet me at the Drunken Russian at eight.”
I sighed. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll be there.”
“Very good, Killer,” Krieger said, “I’ll be waiting at The Drunken Mercenary along with Dmitri and a few others around eight. See you there.” He then hung up.
I groaned. Well, I thought to myself, at least I might be able to meet up with her for lunch. I’ll call her.
I had already finished my food, so I began to head off as I called Eliza. I wasn’t really going anywhere, instead taking a leaf out of May’s book. It was the last day of freedom before the semester started, and the only day at NIU I had experienced that wasn’t raining, snowing, unreasonably hot, terrifyingly cold, or some combination. I was going to make the most of it.
“‘Ello, Nate,” Eliza’s voice came from over the phone. “What’s happenin’?”
“My advisor called,” I said. “I need to meet up with him by eight. Does that affect our plans to meet up…?”
“Yeah… about that…” Eliza said. “I already ‘ave some stuff on the table. Oro ‘n Bai kind of asked if I could go supply shoppin’ with ‘em. I ‘aven’t seen them since the term ended and… and Bai found out ‘bout what ‘appened with John.”
Oddly enough, the line to her was getting kind of fuzzy. Normally, a cPhone on NIU’s network produced the kind of quality audiophiles paid out the nose to get. Now it sounded like one of those radios on the movies, the kind that was constantly crackling.
Putting that thought out of my mind, I said, “Let me guess: Bai blames me for John getting shot.” That was bad. Not only was Bai John’s girlfriend, but she was a trained martial artist who had just started to learn how to shoot guns.
“What was that?” Eliza asked, the distortion from the connection barely making her intelligible. I had to repeat myself three times.
“Oh, that makes sense, doesn’t it?” Eliza said. “God the connection is…” She was cut off by a hiss of static. “…ing Vodafone is better’n this shite,” Eliza said, not realizing she had been cut off. “Anyway, yeah, Bai ain’t exactly pleased. She ‘eard about it through some medics, so she knows exactly how bad ‘e was.”
While I had been walking, I had somehow got to the wall that separated the campus from the rest of the island. Part of the reason for this was to keep some of the students in softer fields from walking out into an island dotted with mines and unexploded ordnance, especially while AMS and Shadowhaven students were using live ammo. Like the majority of the man-made structures on the island, the wall was made of red brick and mortar…
…Except for a brief moment (barely even a second) when it hadn’t. Instead, it had been a yellow-colored material, the kind you saw a lot in pictures of the Middle East.
“Oi!” Eliza said into the phone, “Nate! You haven’t said anything in ages.”
“Sorry,” I said, “I thought I saw something.”
“What do you mean?” Eliza asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said, leaning in to the brick wall. At the time, I could swear I was going crazy, but the brick looked different. Before, I could swear the bricks had more variation, mostly due to weathering. Now, I was somewhat freaked out because I swore each one looked exactly the same. The coloring, the pattern NIU’s freak weather system had worn them down… all the same, or at least repeating with disturbing regularity.
“Is someone there?” Eliza asked. “Where are you? I can…”
Somewhere, I heard that Lupines, the kind of Parahuman that Eliza was, had heightened protective instincts. I believed that. “It’s ok,” I said. “It was probably my imagination.” Either that, or the SIG-Sauer and the Berreta tucked under my hoodie wouldn’t do that much good. “And if it wasn’t…”
My reassurance/outright lie was cut off by a God-awful screech of feedback from the phone, which formed a horrendous harmony with Eliza’s scream of pain. “Eliza!” I shouted. “Are you ok?”
“Sorry, Nate,” Eliza said weakly. “If this shite’s gonna continue…”
I nodded. Her foxlike ears are incredibly sensitive. If my ears were ringing, I could only imagine how she felt after that spike of feedback. “Totally fine,” I said. “Talk to you later, I guess.”
“Bye, Nate,” Eliza said. Then the line went dead. I looked at it. On the phone screen, there was a dropped call message on display. Oddly enough, the phone’s battery was rapidly changing. It was jumping from various numbers at random, being at a hundred percent one millisecond to being at one percent the next and anywhere in between. When the screen started flickering, I turned it off out of fear it would be damaged.
Suddenly, I heard someone speaking in what, to my ears, sounded like Arabic or a similar language. At first, I thought it was behind me. Suddenly aware of how alone I was, how few of my friends spoke Arabic, and how many Al-Qaeda people who attended NIU that I had pissed off during Hell Semester, I turned around, whipping out my M92.
As I faced the direction I thought I heard the voice coming from, the weak morning sun glinting off my Berretta’s chrome barrel, I suddenly became very afraid. Not because I had come face to face with a dozen terrorists with AKs (though that would be terrifying,) but because I couldn’t see anyone coming.
Suddenly, the voice began whispering and moving all around me, like it was right next to me and moving in a circle. I began spinning, trying to find a target. When I realized that sometimes it sounded like my tormentor’s mouth was between my gun and my face, I decided I needed a new strategy. Namely, running the fuck away.
That’s when I heard the voice start to become voices. They were all the same voice, but they were coming from dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of directions from all around me. I ran.
My plan was to make it to the main street. If I could get there, maybe this… thing would decide it didn’t want witnesses and leave me alone. Or maybe it would kill everyone else anyway. Or maybe I had finally gone crazy.
Now, the thing is, in order to pass Hell Semester and stay in the AMS/Shadowhaven programs, you need to be a good runner. So when the main street wasn’t getting any closer despite me running as hard as I could, I began to worry. Instead, I seemed to be slowly going backwards. Needless to say, this didn’t cause me to stop panicking.
To make matters worse, I suddenly felt hands feeling my body. Normally, this would be creepy enough. But these hands weren’t normal. To start, there was at least a pair of hands for every voice.
But the worst thing? They weren’t kept out by my skin. These hands caressed my tongue, prodded my throat from the inside and out, fondled things in my stomach, messing with my eyes, and pushing at the back of my throat, making me vomit.
When the hands began to violate me in more traditional ways as well as starting to feel up more important organs like my lungs and heart, and the distance between safety and whatever the fuck this was starting to increase rapidly, I decided to do something crazy. I made a ninety-degree turn and booked it.
Instantly, the hands stopped and I was moving forwards. I laughed. I was blind, covered in vomit and aching from how I had been handled, but I was free. Then I crashed into something.