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by Matt Rossi and Peter Milan

It's an odd feeling to be completely alone in any public building, but somehow, the feeling is intensified when the building in question is a library. The books act as a kind of buffer, absorbing any and all sounds, like a fresh, thick snowfall.

This, however, is where Connor Douglas found himself on January 5th, 1998. Alone, with only a candle and a copy of Fool On The Hill to keep him company.

Getting in had been tricky. Well, actually, the actual getting in had been simple enough; it was all the side factors that had been tricky. First of all, he'd had to concoct the plan while in the throes of a hangover; he'd found an Irish bar in DC that was quite friendly, and after a particularly memorable New Year's (memorable in that he could remember none of it), he had awakened in the bar's back room.

Second of all, he had to get into the library before he could break in. This was maddeningly difficult, because the library was on holiday schedule; this meant that the rotten place was only open a couple of hours a day, and the interns and work- studies who ran the place were notorious for their lateness. He'd spent three days off and on before New Year's trying to get in here to find something to read. That was enough.

He'd spend the entire day of January 4th camped out in front of the building. It was the most patient he'd ever been; he actually used the time to practice a Zen meditation technique. He lasted an hour before he decided the whole thing was bollocks and rummaged around in his bag for a book.

Finally, a harried young man with wild hair and wide, darting eyes, arrived to open the door. He didn't seem to want to talk, and after a few moments, he realized that this guy was the starer; he and the other members of his floor had noticed him on their first day, looking at them with a kind of fascinated horror. He seemed a little less intense now, and a little more worried.

Once he was inside, he planted his package--a bag containing a candle, a flashlight, and a bag of chips--on one of the bookcases, wedged behind a copy of Hanson's History of Art. Then he started looking at schematics. Specifically, schematics of the school's plumbing system.

He left the library and waited, patiently, for it to close. He waited in his room, watching a Sanford & Son repeat through lines of static on the beat-up TV he and Mike shared. Then, at ten o'clock, when the lights went out, he got up, changed into his uniform, and went down the drain.

In his liquid form, he "surf"ed the pipes, relying on the memorized plans to lead him to his destination.

He emerged, dry and refreshed, in the men's bathroom on the third floor of the library. Quickly, he moved outside, grabbed his uniform, and pulled it on; then he lit up his candle and started reading.

He was about halfway through the book when his chest started buzzing. Puzzled, he realized it was coming from the Omega symbol on his chest. He touched it and heard a crackle of static in his head that made him jump.

"Connor, this is Scott. What do you think you're doing?" Scott Pulaski's voice seemed to be coming from all around him.

"Shittin' meself if ye do that agin!" Connor replied. "Where the hell are ye?"

"I'm at home. But when you put on your uniform, you activate the telepathic link built into it."

"How do ye build a telepathic link into a suit o' clothes?"

"Well, see, we have people constantly monitoring those suits, mostly for learning purposes when you train. They've got a transducer built into them. It's brand new; actually turns tele- pathic energy into electric energy and vice versa."

"Neat. Very Star Trek," Connor remarked.

"So what are you doing?"

"Just a wee bit o' readin'," Connor said, calming a bit. "I always like comin' here late hours. But with no one around..."

"With no one around, it's against the rules for a student to be in there."

"Aw, c'mon, Scott. Ye've got ta applaud me initiative..."

"Why don't you just go off campus if you're so bored?"

"With who? All me mates sodded off for the holidays, remember? They'll no' be back for two more weeks."

"There's Jake. He's living on campus over break..."

"I tried that!" Connor leaned up against the bookshelf, closing his eyes in gratitude that no one could see him right now. "I went by his room but he wasnae there, and you couldn't get me into that lab o' yours with naked women and dynamite."

"I have to hand it to you,'ve got a way with a metaphor."

"Look, jus' let me finish my book an' I'll go. Scouts honor."

"You were a scout?"

Connor scowled.

"I seem to be one now, yes."

Mike Ketter felt the weight of a pitchfork of clean hay stretching the muscles of his back and ribcage: It was surprising how much strength for chores he'd lost.

After finishing with the stalls, he stepped outside into the cold grey day and dumped the wheelbarrow full of sodden wood shavings and horseshit onto the compost pile, wiping his hands afterwards on his tatty farm-jeans. He looked off into the distance and tried to figure out what he was going to tell his father.

Dad, I'm not going to be an engineer. Because I'm nowhere's good enough.

He could already hear the argument: not that his dad was a bad guy...Mike flattered himself that they actually had a good relationship...but because he'd heard it before. Picking up the shovel and rake and depositing them into the shed, he could hear the lines shaping in the wind: You just have to learn to apply yourself, that's all.

Grabbing the bright blue feed buckets, he headed out into the paddock and began dumping grain, the molasses-heavy sweet- feed the Percherons demanded, into the bin near the water-trough.

"What the hell am I going to do?"

::Why not put it off?::

"YAAAH!" Mike threw the bucket and whirled at the cold, inhuman voice that came from behind him, and then managed to stop himself before instinctively lashing out with his Omega disruption power.

::Thanks for not glitching me, Mike.:: Floating in the air ten feet away from Mike was a blue and white metal figure that looked vaguely like something out of one of the less pornographic anime, with a bright cobalt Omega symbol over the pectoral. ::I guess the magnetic flight system's still pretty damn quiet, huh?::

"Jake, don't EVER do that again!" Mike shook his head ruefully. "It isn't like my family goes around publicizing that I'm an Omega! Some people wouldn't understand out here. It's farm country."

::Sorry.:: Jake came to a landing in the sod, his metal-shod feet digging holes in the grass. ::I'm pretty sure they'd have needed a Radar-Targeting system to have detected me, though. What're you doing?::

"Chores, mostly."

::Told your dad yet?:: Mike stared at the sheen of Jake's armor. Everything Mike's dad had wanted to see his son accomplish, Jake already had: it was that very fact that had led Mike to decide Engineering wasn't in his future. Jake was a wunderkind, absurdly gifted with intelligence and Omega electrokinesis...and the boy genius had never made an academic decision for himself, allowing his skills to be pointed aimlessly into paths that now bored and discontented him. Mike hadn't wanted to end up like that.

"Nope. Can't seem to bring myself to do it." Mike reached down and picked up the feed buckets he'd dropped. "I don't want to disappoint him."

::From the way you described him, won't he be happy as long as you are?::

"It's not that simple, Jake." Mike shouldered his buckets and began walking to the barn. Jake took a step, saw the mud sticking to the bottom of his legs where he'd sunk into the ground four inches, and levitated himself up and after Mike. "He thinks I'm just not working hard enough. I'm smart, so he figures I should be able to do it. He doesn't realize I don't really want to do it."

::Oh.:: Jake fell silent as they entered the barn. ::Neat place.::

"Yeah, it is." After putting away the buckets, Mike stretched, feeling the stiffness in his sore back. "So what'd you come up here for, anyway, just to see my smiling face?"

::Sort of. I was wondering if you could come hang out with me and Connor today. He's feeling lower that I know how to deal with.:: Even through the speaker of the battlesuit, Jake's insecurity rang out clearly, Mike had to smile. Jake was so new to this friendship and peer experience thing that sometimes he acted like the robot he seemed to be inside that metal skin. Mike looked down at his filthy clothes, than back up at the faceplate of Jake's armor.

"Sure. Let me just get showered, and then we can get going."

Ten Minutes Later:


::What? We're only going 200 MPH! Big baby.::

Martin sat at his desk, staring at his phone.

It wasn't ringing.

He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.

When he'd failed to use the bomb his father had sent him, he'd spent two days cowering in his room, waiting for the phone to ring. It didn't. Martin had tried to think like his father would have...he figured that Pa would assume the bomb had been detected by the Omegas, and that they'd taken Martin off to some secret place to use their devil-spawned gifts to drag the truth from him. So Pa would assume Martin was dead, and so the family would mourn him and carry on.

But by now this semester's grades must have reached the house (A collection of B's and C's, hardly exceptional, but Martin had a lot on his mind) and Pa knew that Martin wasn't dead. That Martin was fine, and going about his classes, as if he'd never gotten the parts for a bomb in the mail and his father's instructions to use it.

And still the phone didn't ring.

Martin was worried about a lot of things: whether or not he could afford next year without money from home (Luckily this year was already paid for) and that worry had led him to take the job at the library. Which led him to nigh-continuous exposure to them. There was always at least one Omega either entering or exiting the library when he did, it seemed, and Martin couldn't keep from flinching whenever they walked by...except, of course, for the one he'd briefly seen in the Rathskellar the other night.

That one was haunting him. He'd heard her name...Angela...and precious little else so far, but her face was there in his dreams and he wasn't sure what to do about that, either.

He reached out to the phone, picked up the receiver, and dialed the Area Code for Salt Lake City. Then he hung up.

Did they even want to talk to him?

Would they even still think of him as their son?

He sat there and stared at the phone and sweated. Outside, a cold grey drizzle lashed at the trees.

"Seven A.M.! Seven fer frig's sake A.M.!!"

Actually, it was now nine A.M. Jake and Mike, still sodden from the flight, had arrived to find Connor using a screwdriver on a large wooden box. The thing was parked outside of Jake's room and was almost the exact shape as the door frame.

"The miserable UPS bastard pounds on me door for five minutes, after workin' his way down the whole bleedin' floor..." Connor gave up and stabbed at the wood with the screwdriver, imbedding the tool.

"So, life in solitary's not agreeing with you, then," Mike said.

"Oh, it's been deadly. Y'ever masturbate because you had nothin' else to do?"

"Thanks for sharing."

"I found the tag!" Jake called from the other side. "Hey... cool! It's from Jimmy!" Jimmy being Jimmy DeLeon, a close friend of the Chevalier family. "It's my Christmas presents!"

Jake stepped out of the way of the crate long enough to reassemble his suit around himself.

::Get a grip on the other end, wouldja?:: he asked Connor and Mike. They grabbed onto the crate and braced themselves. With careful movements, Jake grabbed the section of wood Connor had been working on prying loose and ripped it off.

A flood of styrofoam peanuts spilled out, followed by several small, wrapped parcels. They all went unheeded, however. Everyone was looking at the screen.

"Oh, wow!" Jake said with childlike glee, his armor retreating. "I bet it's a Cray supercomputer with the new...oh. Oh, never mind, it's just a home entertainment center."

"With VCR, laserdisc and DVD," Mike said, awestruck.

"And a Playstation," Connor added.

"Yeah...looks like Jimmy put it together himself."

Indeed, the learned eye would recognize it as classic Jimmytech; a gigantic screen, maybe 64 inches, connected to a stainless steel base. The appliances were hardwired into the thing. Upon closer inspection, they saw a small door in the bottom right hand corner which revealed itself to be a refrigerator. A little shinier than the average DeLeon creation, but still, it was...

"Y'ever see Logan's Run?" Connor asked.

"Fish, plankton, sea greens, and proteins from the sea," Mike replied.

They stared at it a long, long time, while Jake went through the rest of his presents.

"Complete works of Stephen Hawking...sonic screwdriver...month's worth of chocolate bars...hey, do you guys want that thing?"

They turned and looked at him with whiplash speed.

"What?!" they asked.

"Well, I mean, I'm not going to do anything with it. Except maybe break it down for parts. You want it?"

Awestruck pause.

"Well, gee, Jake," Mike said. "I'd hate to see you giving up your biggest present--"

"Fuck yes we want it!" Connor shouted. "Jake, ye magnificent bastard! I love ye!" He grabbed his smaller teammate and gave him a big bear hug.

"'re welcome..."

"Ye know what this means, don't ye?"

"What?" Mike & Jake asked.


They walked briskly through the drizzle towards the library. Mike & Jake weren't particularly happy with it, but nothing could dampen Connor's glee.

"So this place is really good?" he asked Mike.

"Yeah, Connor, it's great. It's the bomb."

"Street lingo doesn't suit ye," Connor replied, mounting the steps. They stepped through the foyer and approached the library's front desk...where Martin Barnes was flipping through a magazine.

Shock jangled through his veins as he saw them approach. Oh, Jesus, three of them! He felt himself start to hyperventilate and took a deep breath. Just calm down.

"How're ye doin'?" Connor asked.

"Uh...all right," Martin replied. "Help you?"

"Aye, I'm tryin' te special order a book. S'called Sewer, Gas & Electric by Matt Ruff."

"Matt Ruff. Okay." Martin started typing into his computer. "R-U-F-F, right?"

"Aye. Same guy wrote Fool On The Hill."

"Good book," Martin commented. Shut up! he ranted at himself. Don't talk to him any more than you have to!

"Ye've read it?" Connor asked.

"Uh...yeah. My mom went to Cornell and she was interested by the, uh...the setting."

"Brilliant! I've always loved that 'un. You wouldn't believe what a pain in the arse it is to track down a copy of that in Glasgae."

"'s not so easy over here, either. Here we go...I'm gonna need your card."

"Here ye go. Connor," he said, extending his hand.

There was an almost-too-long pause before Martin took his hand and shook it. He wondered idly if he'd burst into flame, or just start bleeding from the eyes. What the hell was the matter with him, anyway?

"Martin. How you doin'."

"No' bad. Ye stranded here for the break?"

"Yeah, my family...couldn't afford to fly me home."

"I know the feelin'. Tell ye what, mate, if ye're interested, we're havin' a wee get-together tonight. Just watchin' some films, gettin' a pizza. Ye innerested?"

"Uh...I don't know if I can. I kinda have a lot of work to do still..." Martin desperately grabbed at the first bit of truth he could find. "Got a research paper for Ryder due when he gets back."

"Oh aye," Connor commented. "Well, if ye like, we're over in--"

"I know," Martin interrupted. "I've seen it. Uh...your book should be here in about two weeks."

"Nice. See ye around, Marty."

Martin waited until they were safely out the door before laying his head in his hands and exhaling.

"What'd you invite him for?" Mike asked, over the din of the Metro. They were riding the Blue Line towards King Street. "You do remember that's the Staring Guy..."

"Yeah, everytime I see him he looks like he wants to spray me with Raid," Jake added.

"Ah, he's just a wee strange, s'all," Connor replied. "Important thing is, he's in the same boat I am, and I wouldn't wish this bollocks on me worst enemy."

The train lurched to a stop and the boys hopped off, walking down towards Old Town. Old Town was the quainter section of Alexandria; it was a few blocks of quaint shops and quaint restaurants and the occasional quaint attraction. There was also Video Vault.

"This is a haul and a half," Jake said. "Y'know, I could still fly us the rest of the way."

"You needed the exercise," Mike replied.

"Oh, right, I forgot. I'm talking to Mr. Simple Farm Livin'."

"Shut up!"

"Oh aye. Mike here believes in a strong work ethic and Hee Haw reruns."

"And manure, don't forget manure," Jake added.

"I wouldn't talk, Scotch Boy--"

"That's Scots Boy."

"--don't even try to tell me there's no sheep farmers in your bloodline," Mike continued.

"Probably an actual sheep," Jake added.

"Hey, that sheep loved me da very much."

They arrived at a white building. Mike led them down an alleyway, up to a small brick set of steps and a white door.

"Gentlemen, I give you Video Vault," Mike said.

They stepped inside.

"...Three floors? Of nothing but videos? Seems like kind of a waste," Jake said. "I mean, they could probably fit some books in here or something--"

"Wow. I mean, wow, man," Connor pronounced. "Coolsville."

"Yeah, and it's Tuesday, so everything's half-price. Jake, anything you want to see?"

"Uh...I don't think so," Jake said as they climbed the spiral staircase. "I'm not into movies."

"What's your favorite one? Maybe we could rent that."

"I guess it's The Wizard of Oz. That's the only one I've ever seen."

"What?!" Connor turned and looked at him in shock. "The devil you say!"

"Well, I just never really had ther time for movies, you know? It's just as well. I found Wizard to be pretty sophomoric."

"Oh, ye poor wee bairn," Connor said. "Where's the sci-fi section? There's a man named Terry Gilliam I want to introduce ye to..."

The sounds of raucous laughter echoed through the empty hallway as Martin approached the door.

Okay. Stay Calm, he thought. All you're doing is observing. It's not like you like them or anything. They're the spawn of, they are, they definitely are... you're just going to see how they desecrate the Sacraments and mock God.

That's all.

He poked his head through the door and goggled at the huge console. That was impressive in and of itself, but what was on the screen was more frightening; it was the band KISS, beating up on their exact doubles.

"Rip Rip!" the skinny, younger one shouted from one of the bunk beds. "Rip And Destroy!"

"...the hell?!" was all Martin could say.

"Hey, Marty! C'mon in! The pizza's just arrived and we're almost done wi' this'un. Hey, Mike, Jake, this is Marty."

"Hey"s were exchanged. Martin took a seat in one of the desk chairs and looked around, feeling very self-conscious. It looked like an ordinary room...there were posters of Oasis and the film A Life Less Ordinary on Connor's side of the room, which indicated bad taste but not collusion with the Devil. Mike's side of the room features a poster for Chasing Amy and This World, Then The Fireworks.

"So what are we watching?" he finally asked.

"Well, we've made it through Strange Days, The Fifth Element, and the MST3K version of Mitchell. We're just finishin' KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park..."

"MST what?"

"...and we're about to move on to the Gilliam film festival," Mike concluded. "We've got Brazil, Time Bandits, The Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys."

"Got a preference, Marty? Here, have a slice." Connor passed him a slice of bacon cheeseburger pizza.

"Uh...Fisher King, I guess. I've only seen that and Time Bandits." He looked at the console again. "What is that thing?"

"That's Box," Jake said. "A friend of mine made it. It's kinda crude, but he probably had something on his mind..."

"I love this bit," Connor whispered as Jeff Bridges sat by Robin Williams' bedside.

"Yeah, me too," Mike whispered back. "The cinematography in this is great. The editing, too, especially that sequence where Parry gets the brain in the face."

"You were payin' attention to that?"

"Sure. I'm always interested in that."

Connor thought a moment.

"Y'ever thought about goin' inta that?"

"What, movies? Nah. I couldn't pull it off."

"Well, c'mon, pal, we're both in this ta be...uh...military by the end of it," Connor whispered, casting a look back at Martin. He and Jake were completely enthralled by what was going on. "Might as well study somethin' that ye like."


"This is so sad," Jake commented.

"It gets better," Martin replied.

It was 3 a.m. by the time the closing credits of 12 Monkeys rolled.

"No no no," Jake said. He was seated on the top bunk with Mike, arguing the ending. "Look. The woman on the plane was one of the scientists from the future. When she says 'I'm in insurance', that means that she came back from the future too, to stop the Armageddon nut before he could get to the other cities."

"Yeah, and about that. You want to explain to me exactly who is going to demand that you open vials labeled 'Biohazard'?" Mike asked. "Wouldn't you just impound the property or something like that?"

"It's just a movie," Jake replied. "Are there any more of this Gilliam guy's movies around?"

"Just the Python ones."

"Actually," came a voice from below, "it could be taken as an ironic statement. Maybe the scientist actually was in insurance before the plague, but the plague was something nobody could insure against." Martin stood up and stretched. "Then again, I've been awake for twenty hours..."

"Best way to view this film," Connor muttered, nearly face- down on the bottom bunk.

"I'm gonna take off, guys. See you later." Martin headed for the door.

"See you later," Jake said.

"Nice to meet you," Mike said.

"Come on by agin," Connor said. "Always nice to see a friendly face."

"Yeah...thanks for having me."

Martin walked down the hall and out the door, into the crisp, cold, utterly silent air. The ground didn't open up. Lightning didn't spear down from the heavens. The sky was clear and full of stars.

He liked them.

God help him, he liked them.

Wondering what was happening, and worrying for his immortal soul, Martin Barnes made his lonely way across campus, to a room where the phone would not ring.

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