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By Matt Dempster, Matt Rossi and Pete Milan
Locker Room, SOTC Training Facility
Seekers Academy, Georgetown
The armor, now painted arctic white and electric blue with the blue symbol on the right pectoral, the greek letter Omega, was waiting for him in the locker room when he arrived. Jake smiled as he saw it, and began pulling off his clothes until he was only wearing his underwear. "Hell of a lot easier to see me now...I practically glow." "I gotta admit, Jimmie...that's a freaky looking set of threads. How's it work?" Connor looked it up and down as he spoke, pulling on His own white jumpsuit. Jake's smile just got wider as he pushed a Button on his wristwatch Psi-Suppressor, freeing up his electro- kinesis, and sent the microwave transmission directly into the onboard computer.
With the telltale flickering of the point-to-point transmat, the suit vanished and appeared around Jake. Humming sounds were the only signs that the armor was drawing off his excess power and using it to trigger the magnetic fields which moved the suit. The helmeted head swiveled to the side, and Connor could see his own face, narrowed by the curvature, his goatee coming to a satanic point in the distorted reflection.
"Very nice, lad. Now, you ready to go in there and meet Backstop?"
"Do you want the truth, Connor?"
"Course I do."
"I don't know. I'm used to knowing what I'm doing, but I've seen the Seekers in action...they go way beyond the tricks I picked up from James. I think I'm a little scared of this."
"Good. That means you and I are starting on the same page. It'll keep us honest."
"Say, is this a private conversation, or can anyone join in?" Scott Pulaski, the 300 Floor's Squad Leader, walked into the room in his own jumpsuit, which resembled Connor's except that his had black piping. "So, you two ready for your team-up on Backstop?"
"As ready as I'll ever be."
"Aye, let's get this over with."
"I take it her reputation has spread?" Scott smiled. "She's tough, but fair. Anyway, as you two have some of the more diverse powers, you've been teamed so that you can learn to think tactically. And, as a special bonus, for today's class only, I'll be on the other side of the gym, acting as TA to Lt. Goldberg. Let's get going."
As Scott walked out the door, Connor looked wearily over at Jake's faceplate.
"Are you as worried as I am?"
They walked out into the gym. It was a very large room, full of moveable wall sections, retractable obstacles, and hidden machinery. Jake could see the lines of power all around him...it was a bit intimidating. What happened to that cocky streak that I had when I raided SIRECOM Atlanta?
There weren't any Seekers there.
As Connor whistled, a tall, trim woman in a black Seekers uniform walked over to the both of them.
"Hi, you two. I'm Holly Goldberg...by now, I'm sure you've heard of me. And you two are Hydro and Battery, aka Connor Douglas and Jacob Chevalier, right?"
"Yes, ma'am." Connor smiled. "We'd be the bitter names ourselves."
"Well, then, I guess we should get started." Backstop gestured to the center of the room. "After you..."
Battery hit the wall hard as Backstop sent a wave of telekinetic force slamming directly into him. Even as he went down, he saw Hydro take an ice form and try to lay a hand on Fracture, who was smiling widely. He dodged Connor's frozen fists and slapped his own hand, palm first, directly into the icy chest.
Connor looked down in shock as cracks began to spread out along the length and width of his entire body.
Then he fell apart and dropped to the floor. Battery wasn't fightened for Connor...anyone who could turn to water and back could handle shattering...but the odds were distinctly against him now. Shaking his head to clear it, he tried to get to his feet, intensifying the armor's magnetic fields.
::360 Radar View.::
Suddenly in his mind he could sense the whole room, the armor's sensors converted to a digital pulse that his EK could read. Backstop was approaching him from the rear, and Fracture was coming straight at him. Jake smiled as a thought occurred to him.
Those were awfully shiny buttons on Fracture's piping.
Backstop saw it happening first, almost laughing to herself. Fracture was closing in on Battery, probably scanning his armor for weak spots, when suddenly he'd been jerked onto his back by his shoulders. Even as she threw a TK burst at him, Battery was in motion, concentrating on the retractable wall built into the floor between them. It popped up and was immediately deformed by her attack.
"Good! Use the environment! You've got promise, Battery." Even as she was speaking she was in motion, rolling to the left of the wall. She'd seen enough to realize what his next move would be, and she also took in on a glance that Hydro had managed to reform and was rolling like a wave towards her.
Battery lifted himself up and over the barrier, like she'd expected.
Hydro curled into a perfect mini-tsunami.
It was too easy.
She thought, and suddenly a shockwave was throwing Hydro's wave at high speed directly into Battery. She knew that his armor was waterproof...but the force of the wave slammed them both into the wall right next to where Battery had already dented it. And, even as they were falling down the wall, Fracture had gotten to his feet and was running right at them. His fist found the exact spot where the two impacts had shaken the metal...and he collapsed the entire wall right on top of them. The ringing sound of the impact didn't subside for a few seconds.
"You two all right in there?"
"Och." Hydro oozed out and resumed human form, looking remarkably groggy. "I've been better. Hey, Jake, what about you?"
"Give me a few...seconds to catch...my breath." The metal wrenched once, twice, and finally lifted off of Battery long enough for Fracture and Backstop to help pull him out of it. "Guh. I feel like I've just gone ten rounds with an angry rhino. Maybe all the angry rhinos. Is it okay that we broke the wall?"
"The whole room is modular, Jake." Scott smiled widely and wiped sweat off of his own forehead. "The program figured, what with Omega powers getting used in here regularly, that it had better be easy to repair."
"I have to say, I'm happy with what I saw from you two." Backstop herself wasn't even breathing hard, but she did seem relaxed and in a good mood. Connor felt a slight taste of vertigo and hoped he never saw her in a bad mood. "You need to learn to use team tactics more, but you both showed a willingness to explore the edges of your capabilities and you threw some new wrinkles at us. Connor, how long have you been able to generate that Tsunami?"
"Well, apparently I've been doin' tha for a whole ten minutes or so." He smiled faintly. "I figured the ol' ice form wasnae smart with Mr. Pulaski around."
"That was an excellent example of quick response." Backstop looked over to Scott, who was himself under her training as well. "Speaking of you, Fracture, what did you think of Jake's little trick?"
"It wasn't what I was expecting. I figured I'd have to dodge an electrical attack or something...when he grabbed my epaulets, I was floored. Literally." Scott slapped Battery's armored shoulder. "You've got some sneaky moves, Jake."
"What, sneaky? I just didn't want to repair the armor."
Melanie walked out into the hallway, scowling to herself. Intro to Political Thought was her least favorite class...except maybe for Concepts of Law. That, she also hated. She liked Tac Dev...it was interesting, and the interplay between her and Larry was getting smoother all the time.
Walking the hall towards the stairs, she allowed herself to compare Larry and Connor.
Her first meeting with the Scotsman had been...interesting... although she was probably one of the few people in the world who could have a naked man come rushing out of her sink without freaking. But as much as she liked Connor's sense of humor...and, she had to admit, that wicked smile of his...she didn't know if she could take him seriously.
Larry, on the other hand, she could take seriously. The only problem was that he had a nasty superiority complex going. The other day, after Tac Dev, she'd made the mistake of going to lunch with him...and then she'd sat there, stunned, as he talked about himself for an hour. It wasn't that he was a bad guy...he just assumed that he was as captivating to everyone else as he was to himself.
When she stepped outside, she nearly stomped on the crowd of students sitting on the stairs. Before she could work up an angry head of steam over it, though, she recognized two of them.
"Hey, Val, Angela. What are you two doing here?"
"Just got out of bed." Val looked up. "Angela's gotta run over to the track and meet her Liason...I figured we could keep her company. You up for it?"
"Sure. Who's this Liason, Angela?"
As the three of them began to walk, Angela finished pulling her hair back in a ponytail.
"I've been getting training in how to learn control, but it's been slow going...jeez, that's a bad, bad pun...so they assigned one of the Seekers to me, that fast one?"
"Trax?" Melanie'd met him during the invasion. He'd been a little jumpy in her estimation, but otherwise a nice guy. "So what's he do?"
"We run. He shows me how to go from full speed all the way down to no speed. I actually made it to normal speed once for a minute, and he thinks that he can eventually have me in complete control of my speed the way he is. We've been working on and off for a little while now." She nervously tapped on her Psi-Suppressor. "That's what I dream about, you know? Only being fast when I want."
Melanie's uncle was Peter Staunt, a former SIRECOM agent and a man with a special Omega...he could twist the laws of probability in such a way that he always had something good happen for him, but with tragic consequences: those he was around the most, his closest friends, tended to have very bad luck as a kind of backlash. She'd known him only through letters and the occasional visit...like, for instance, the time he'd come to see her riding a horse at her first show. She'd seen him sitting up with her dad, his brother, looking severe and somehow charming even from a distance...and then Madison O'Clare, the Ulster Defense Front's best marksman, had tried to shoot him and had hit David, her father, in the left side of his face. After that, once David got his glass eye, Peter hadn't come around much.
And she still would rather have his powers than Angela's.
They got to the athletic field after a few minutes of walking. Standing there waiting for them, in an ordinary track suit, was the Seeker named Jason Ortiz, also known as Trax.
"Hey, Angela. Who're your friends?"
"Jay. This is Valerie Maxwell, who they call Redux, and you know Melanie I take it?"
He nodded as they got closer. "I didn't recognize you without the Hollywood sign in flames."
Mike groaned as he walked out of the lecture hall, his head awash in numbers. What made anyone want to be an engineer if this is what you have to go through?
"Hail and well met, young titan!" Connor almost made Mike leap out of his skin as he draped his arm around him. "How fares my man of iron!?"
"I thought that was me." Jake was on the other side of Connor, a purpling bruise spreading on his chin. "Hey, Mike."
"Jake...what happened to your face?"
"Lt. Goldberg. Remind me to add some padding to the inside of my helmet. So how're you holding up in Tac Dev?"
"Pretty good, pretty good." Mike smiled ruefully. "They decided to put Valerie and me together. Angela isn't taking it this semester...said something about needing to learn how to control her speed first. But she'll supposedly be taking it after January break. Anyway, Valerie and I actually did okay for the first five minutes..."
"And then she kicked ye in the arse and woke you up, huh?" Connor smiled as they headed down the hallway. "Yeah, Jacob an' I were feelin' fine for the first few minutes...they let us show off so they'd get ta see where we're cocky, and then they stomped on our nuts. Jake left more dents in the walls than rowdy frat boys at a keg party."
"Hey, at least no one used me as a broom."
They walked out into the sunlight and headed down the quad to the dorm. They didn't see the gaunt man in the long black coat...which is pretty odd, as Washington in September is still a bit too warm for a coat like that, and he stood out like a sore thumb. But no one seemed to notice him.
Finally the gaunt man walked to a telephone. Then he drew a needle out of his pocket, pricked his thumb, and smeared the blood on the buttons while grunting in a guttural language.
The phone rang.
He picked it up.
"Have you found them?"
"Only him. I don't know where she is...but he's apparently taking classes at the SOTC."
"In training to be a Seeker?" The deep voice on the other end chuckled. "So my surmise was correct. Is he powerful?"
"I don't know that. How could I?" Even as he spoke, the gaunt man flinched at the thought of displeasing the voice, but it merely hummed to itself for a moment.
"True enough. Continue to observe. I will tell you when to act. Report in on your usual schedule."
"Of course." The gaunt man replaced the phone and walked away.
Angela tore around the track at insane, disturbing speed, followed close behind by Jay. Valerie and Melanie sat in the bleachers and watched, not quite believing what they were seeing.
"No wonder she's burning out." Valerie whispered. Melanie didn't say anything...she knew there wasn't anything to say.
"Justvisualizeitasatunnelinsteadofawall." Jay pulled up next to her. "Yourpowersarepsychokineticinnature. Force... yourself... to... slow...down." As he said it he began to pull ahead of her, but she could see that he was somehow slowing down even as he moved faster.
"I'm...forcing...myself...into...another...gear. It takes some getting used to...and you're doing it now too." He smiled as she looked around in shock and realized that they were both running at the same pace...a much more normal pace.
"How'd you do that?"
"It's a trick I learned when I first got my powers. You basically needed to be distracted. If you are aware that you need to slow down to keep in pace with me, you might not be able to. But by distracting you, I could get ahead of you, then slow down and force you to slow down just to talk to me. This is normal speed. Or at least not boosted speed." He smiled and headed for the bleachers. "Eventually you'll be able to do this consciously. Your problem is that you got superhuman speed in the crib...it feels normal to you. You need to learn how to use your Omega to go slow."
They pulled over near where Valerie and Melanie were sitting.
"...and now I'm not really sure if I even want to be a Seeker, what with the whole military angle. I'm not much of a soldier." Melanie leaned back and smiled up at Trax. "As Jay well knows."
"If you knew how to follow orders, you wouldn't be you." Jay and Angela sat down on the bench just beneath Val and Mel. "But I know what you mean...Wes' still dealing with the Joint Chiefs, Brenda's pissed off that she might be losing the Seekers, and everything's up in the air. It bothers me, too, but I can understand why they'd want us in place. After the Harrakin and everything."
"Hey, do you mind if I ask you a question?" Valerie looked down at her feet as she spoke to Jay.
"What is Anne Benson like? Is she really that pretty? And you know Tempest too, huh? What's he like?"
Angela smiled. "He's lousy at cards. I used to live with him."
Scott Pulaski stepped out into the cold night air and walked across the quad, his mind more on the frosty cold beer he was about to drink at the Rathskellar than the day he'd just had.
Scott was actually somewhat eager to get out of the Academy. His father had called, somewhat apprehensive about everything, when he'd seen the President's Address and realized that Scott was out fighting Harrakin...but Scott had been damn happy. The risks just seemed unimportant.
"Aaron, you smelly bastard! What's up!"
"Heading to the 'skellar, same as you. How's your second week treating you?" They fell in step together, the taller Ramirez a full head over Scott.
"Interesting, let me tell you. I can't wait for the mid-term team session...I've got one of the most eclectic teams I've ever seen. And there are at least three good candidates for leader in it."
"Really?" Aaron looked up at the sky. "My squad's mostly raw power...a couple of telekinetics, and of course the Rigard twins...Dannielle and Doug, the banes of my existence."
"That bad?" Scott smirked. He and Aaron were only a year ahead of the Rigards, and they'd once been assigned to Pat Grogan's team with them. They never stopped talking about the day they helped Wes Hickman in New York. The door to the Rathskellar appeared, seemingly glowing with the prospect of cold beer and welcome trash talk about the Rigards. "Well, C'mon in then, Energi, and I'll buy you a beer."
"Thank you kindly."
They walked in and smiled over at Jonas, and took their usual table. Carin was already there, working on a Guinness.
"Hey, Gents, I was wondering when you'd get here, especially when Scotty didn't even show up last week."
"But would I dare to miss you twice in one month, Carin? Last week was just a mite more busy than I'd like. Where's Wally?"
"He's not coming." Aaron shucked his jacket. "His dad's sick, so he headed out to see him."
"Poor Wally. Always some family bullshit. Well, I said I'd buy you a beer, Aaron, so a beer I shall buy you. What's your pleasure?"
"A Becks. Hurry back...you don't want to miss my tales of the Rigard twins."
"Oh, Sainted Jesus," Carin smiled like a Cheshire cat, "What did they do now?"
Scott headed up to the bar.
"Hey, Jonas...could I get a Becks and a Fosters, please?"
"Sure thing, Scott."
"Hey, Scott, I didn't see you come in." He turned and looked directly into Angela Strang's face...her very attractive face, part of him noticed...jeez, she's on my squad, gotta get that straight....and saw Melanie Staunt sitting at the bar next to her.
"Ladies...I didn't get a chance to ask how today went, Angela. Are you and Trax making any progress?"
"Some, but I still have to wear my costume jewlery." She lifted her hand and showed him the psi-suppressor discreetly hidden underneath her baggy sleeves. She was wearing some sort of peasant blouse that did a pretty good job of hiding it. "I did manage to slow down to normal speed for ten minutes, though."
"That's great. Listen, do you two want to come sit at my table? There's more than enough room."
"I don't think so...Melanie? What about you?"
"I like the bar." She smiled and sipped from her coke. "It allows me to see everyone...and everyone to see me."
Scott looked. She was wearing the typical tight black shirt and pants combination you saw in college bars.
"Well, if you two change your minds, we're right over there." Scott hooked his thumb over as Jonas brought his beers. "Thanks, Jonas. See you two at the meeting tomorrow."
"Bye, Scott." Melanie looked at him as he walked away. "He's cute, but I think he's a little straight-laced for me. What do you think?"
"I've got a boyfriend."
"I meant for me. And I didn't know you had a boyfriend. Who?"
"His name's Bill. He's a photographer for a newspaper." Angela turned her head as the door opened, and smiled over Melanie's shoulder. "Well, well, look who just tumbled in."
Melanie turned. Striding in the door, both just noticing her, were Connor Douglas and Larry Maxwell.
In the lab, Mike just shook his head and watched as Jake continued spot-welding segments of metal together. Next to him sat Dr. Deborah Cowan, until recently the head of SIRECOM's grotto and now the R&D director for the new US SEEKER branch of the military. Mike heard her hiss out a swear he didn't quite catch.
"What's he doing?" Deb turned and looked at Mike.
"Well...I'm sorry, what's your name again?"
"Mike Ketter. I'm in the SOTC with Jake."
"Ah.' She turned away and looked back into the main lab. On a table, retracted into a ball, lay the suit of Harrakin armor that had briefly gone on a rampage when the Harrakin fleet arrived, possessing Dr. Kevin Marshall with the memories of the Emperor who'd first worn it. Around it, Jake was building a testing apparatus of his own design...with his own electrokinetic powers. "Well...how versed are you in Psion Field Theory?"
"Then I'll make this easy. Last time we tried to analyze the armor, we allowed it to use its own psionic powers to slowly adapt itself to a human mind and take over the researcher. Obviously, that's a bad thing."
"Yeah." Mike had watched that on television, but after the ships had shown up, and the war begun, it had faded to the back of his mind.
"Well, since the SEEKERS are more or less aimed at protecting America, and by extension the world, from stuff like Harrakin armies, we need countermeasures to their weapons. So we're going to start studying it again, this time in an intense psionic negator field."
"But don't we already have Slappers and..."
"Those are anti-Omega weapons." Deb smiled gently as it occured to Mike what that meant. "We need all-purpose high tech counterneasures...after all, the Harrakin have more or less told us that the universe is full of aliens...and that some of them can fight. Earth needs defenses. Against everyone."
::Dr. Cowan.:: Jake's voice came through the intercom. ::I'm ready to engage the negator.::
"Then do it, Jake." An energy field began to play over the metal arcs, and the lump of black metal in the center of the table contracted once, twice...and then seemingly melted into a pool, spreading out over the length and held in by the rim edge. "Interesting. Apparently the cohesion is held with a telekinetic field of some kind...Jake, what kind of readings are you getting down there?"
::It's resisting the field. I don't think we can hold it like this for a long time...::
"Can we increase the field strength?"
::Inherent problem with that...this son of a bitch keeps escalating...and you know the limits of human technology as well as I do. The amount of electrical power it takes to keep this field up is gonna exceed nuclear reactors pretty damn soon.:: As always, it took Deb aback to hear Jake's teenaged slang. She'd been one of the readers who'd approved his article on Ultraquantum States for the upcoming issue of ORION, and the voice in that was that of a man in his fifties...not the barely adolescent boy standing in the tech bay, wearing a gaudy suit of white and blue armor. ::I'd argue for shutdown and a standard psi suppressor gauntlet until I can come up with a proper harmonic pattern for the negator, one that doesn't rely on brute force.::
"Okay, then. Initiate security protocols Alpha through Gamma." Deb turned and sat down at her desk, monitoring her terminal and only remembering Mike's presence after a minute. "Oh, you must think I'm the rudest bitch in the world."
"No, M'aam. Just a bit more focused than I'm used to is all."
"Well...I guess I am that. Are you taking Hypertechnology next semester?"
"As part of my Engineering track. How'd you know?"
"I recognized your name from my class roster. How serious are you about being an engineer, Mike?"
"I don't know. The truth is, I'm still trying to decide what I want."
"That's a good answer." She stopped and looked up at him. "I wish more people were open to trying things out rather than assuming they'd be good or no good at them. Me, I paint. Badly, but I still paint."
Mike had no idea how to respond to that, so he said nothing. She smiled quietly up at him, as the lights on the console behind him came up one at a time, indicating the prototcols locking into place.
"I know. I'm kinda weird."
"Can I ask you something?"
"You can ask...answers might not be forthcoming, but you can ask."
"How good is Jake? You guys seem to give him a lot of latitude."
"He's brilliant. One of the finest minds I've ever met, and I've met quite a few fine minds. And desperately unhappy with himself, so we let him tinker as he sees fit. Otherwise he might retreat into that armor of his full-time, and that'd be a waste. His problem is that he didn't wait to see if he liked science before letting his oversized brain get good at it. Now he knows he'd rather do something else." She looked down at herself. "You've got a chance to figure yourself out, Mike. Take it."
"You know what, Dr. Cowan?"
"You are weird."
Melanie was actually surprised. While Larry was being his usual overbearing self, Connor seemed...subdued. He'd said hello, of course, and then he'd walked over to talk to Scott for a moment...and now he was sitting at a table by himself, drinking a soda and looking out the window.
If it was an act, it was a new one on her.
"...So of course we managed to spring a new move on Backstop..."
Angela actually seemed interested in Larry's relentless line of patter; Melanie didn't know if she was just feigning it, couldn't quite believe that anyone could talk that much about himself, or was actually interested. It gave her a chance to slip away, however.
"Hey, I'll be right back, okay? Angela, get me something to drink. I trust your taste." She slid off her barstool and approached Connor's table. He didn't look away from the window until she cleared her throat.
"Ah. Melanie. How'ye be, lass?"
"Can I sit down?"
"That's an odd question. I just saw ye on a chair a moment ago." Before she could get irritated with him, he smiled a quirky grin and slid the chair out with his foot. "Please. Have a seat."
"You seem down. Something wrong?"
"Something, everything, nothing. I'm just depressed. Comes and goes, ken? If'n I believed in that shite, I'd be on Prozac or something, but I don't and I'm not. Nobody's up all the time." He finished his drink, which smelled suspiciously like it had Whiskey in it to her. "Not e'en the great Connor Douglas."
"This isn't about me and Larry, is it? Because there isn't..."
"Lass, dinnae fash yourself." He said it gently, without heat, but his eyes met hers so she could judge his sincerity for herself. "I get like this all the time round the holidays. As fer ye and Larry...That's between ye and Larry, nought to do with me."
It bothered her that his statement, so matter of fact, bothered her. It meant she felt something towards Connor...and she wasn't sure that was what she wanted at all. All her life, Melanie Staunt had cultivated self-reliance, self-sufficency, never allowing anyone to be particularly important in the grand scheme of things. The way he was looking at her...
"Well...Angela and I are probably gonna get out of here. Do you want to come with?"
"Na. I'll be all right, Mel. You get going."
He sat and watched as she left the table, then thought about getting another drink. If Scott saw him drinking whiskey, even just a Jack and Coke, he'd get himself in deep shit. So he decided not to. Instead, he sat there and thought about where he wasn't, and where he wanted to be.
"You wanna take off?"
"So soon? I..."
Martin Barnes tuned out the chatter of the Omegas. He could still barely stand to look at them, ever since his aborted attempt at blowing the Godless Hellspawn to the dark pit where they belonged.
If they belonged there.
The more Martin heard them, or saw them, the more they seemed like anyone you could meet on the street. But wasn't that how the Devil worked? Doesn't he present himself in a pleasing shape, to make you doubt? Doesn't he whisper in your ear, you've nothing to fear from me?
He hadn't gone home for the holidays. How could he? His father would demand to know why he hadn't used the bomb. He didn't dare pick up the phone; what would he say if his dad called? Tell him he wasn't sure? Not sure? Not sure of what? Not sure evil needs to be eradicated, son, is that it? Is--
Martin turned to his right and came face to face with the most beautiful face he'd ever seen.
"Could you pass the peanuts?" Angela asked.
Martin blinked once, then managed to shock himself out of his stupor and grabbed the bowl of nuts.
"Hi," he said, passing them to her. "I'm Martin."
"Angela," she said, accepting the snack. "Thanks."
"Are you new here?" he asked, not daring to let her turn back to her conversation. "I only ask because I didn't see you during orientation and I thought--"
"Yeah, I was sort of a last minute enrollee," Angela said, smiling.
"Angie!" her friend, another Omega, called from the door. "C'mon!"
"I'm sorry," Angela said. "My friend's calling me. See you around, Martin."
"Yeah, see you around," Martin said, watching her leave. His head buzzing, he turned back to the bar mirror and thought. Mostly about how complicated life had become lately.
"...look, I know he's just fifteen. He's not gonna drink anything."
The bouncer looked Mike and Jake over carefully. He glared intently at the boy.
"We are not losing our liquor license over you," he said. "Is that clear?"
"Crystal," Jake replied.
"Mikey!" Connor's voice cut across the crowded room. "Come! Speak with me!"
"Who can speak?" Mike said, pulling up a seat. "I can barely think after that lab. Pitcher of Coke!" he called to the bar.
"It wasn't that hard," Jake replied. "All she did was ask you about geothermodynamics in association to frictionless surfaces."
"Aren't ye a wee bit young to be in here?" Connor said. "We should get this lad a Guinness, put some hair on him." He raised a hand and waggled his fingers at something past their shoulders. Jake and Mike turned; two girls, one blond and blue-eyed, the other Asian, both hotties, both wearing Rho Alpha Pi sweatshirts.
"What's all that jazz?" Mike asked.
"Ah, couple of sorority chicks. I was chattin' em up earlier. Got 'em convinced Ewan McGregor's me cousin. Stupid bints," he muttered as he took a sip.
"You seem a little down," Jake said after a while. "Something wrong?"
"Now there's a brilliant scientific mind in action!" Connor took another drink.
"Nah. Naught but the usual holiday shite, y'know?"
A waitress approached, bearing a pitcher of Coke and three glasses.
"Well, then, boyos...a toast." Connor raised his glass. "To fuckin' Christmas!"
"To fuckin' Christmas," Mike repeated.
"To friggin' Christmas," Jake said. He blushed a little as Mike and Connor looked at him.
"And to 1998," Connor added. "To the new year."
They toasted the new year as, outside, snow began to fall.
"Mel! Hey, Mel!"
Melanie sighed as she watched Larry Maxwell run up the steps towards the door. Angela gave her a smirk and stepped inside.
"So should I expect you upstairs, or not, or..."
"Ha ha ha shut up," Melanie said under her breath, shoving Angela inside and stepping back out into the snow. "Hi, Larry."
"Hi." He paused to get his breath. "Uh...I suppose you're wondering...I'm taking off for home tomorrow and I wanted to make sure you got this." He pulled a small, badly wrapped gift from the pocket of his coat. "Merry Christmas. Unless you're Jewish, in which case Happy Hanukkah. Or something."
Melanie walked closer to him and took the gift hesitantly.
"I didn't get you anything," smiling in spite of herself.
"Well, that's okay. I mean, that's not the point." A pause as they looked in each other's eyes. "So do you want to open it now, or are you gonna open it at home?"
"Oh! Right, right..." She tore open the paper and held her hands up, closer to the streetlights which surrounded the dorm. It was a white rabbit's foot with a small keychain attached.
"See, I thought, what with you having a bad luck power and all, that...you might..." He found himself faltering. "It was just an idea," he finished quietly.
"I love it," Melanie said. "Thank you so much..." She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. "We're standing under the mistletoe," she replied to his shocked look.
It was true; he looked up and saw a fresh twig of mistletoe, stapled to the weathered wood above the door.
"Oh, yeah," he said, finding himself leaning forward. "I didn't see it."
She saw it coming now, but didn't resist it; she didn't want to. She let their lips meet, and found her hands encircling his waist as they kissed, a small piece of warmth in the middle of a snowfall.
But she had to wonder if this was good luck or bad.
Winter Break Blues.
Notes From The New Guy:
Hi there. I'm Pete, and I'll be your co-writer for Scions. And you know, it occurs to me that this is a somewhat unique situation for RACC; you don't often see a series changing writers. You see writers with a lot of different series, of course, but you don't see, say, Rob Rogers leaving Easily-Discovered Man and handing it over to Drizzt. (Though how might that go?)
I've found it pretty freeing, myself. There's something that happens when you write characters that aren't your own, your evil creations, your babies...you don't have that parental connection to them, so basically, you can do whatever the hell you like to 'em with impugnity.
Hee hee hee.
Not that I don't love and cherish the Scions. I like 'em fine. It's just that I wouldn't inflict this kind of horrific nightmare on, say, Mozz and Shott.
Anyway, here's number two. Number three's already written. Matt and I intend to stay current. We will break you. Have fun.
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