It was a nice day.
Sunny, warm, the kind of day that would have sent any person with allergies skittering into a dark and windowless basement with three criss-crossing chains and a separate padlock for each — either because the national allergy forecast had foretold the invasion of the chenopods, or because it was Monday and Monday meant the beginning of a week-long martyrdom of forced, if temporary, cohabitation with people whose conversations mainly consisted of Atkins diet, relationship drama, and the mistaken belief that everyone and their dog would lead an incomplete life until they'd looked at the newest set of pictures of their newborn niece-or-nephew.
Sol Badguy would have belonged to the latter set of people, except he had reached that special state of being that could only be achieved via the biting fumes of continuous nicotine intake and forty-eight hours of unrelenting and highly unsatisfactory paperwork. Thus, the first reason why it seemed noteworthy that it was a nice day was because of the near-lethal dose of morning sunlight piercing his blurry, red-raw vision as soon as he stumbled out the door to his home.
The second reason for noting the quality of the day's weather was, at that time, not even a faint notion in his mind, which was busy finding the ignition, cursing when the stereo once again chose to tune in on the local station's Rick Astley remix instead of the dulcet tones burned into the sleek silver surface of the Sheer Heart Attack album, and leaving some noticeable tire tracks on the frontal driveway to express his displeasure.
The second reason would slowly begin to unfold once he'd sent the car skidding into his customary parking lot, slammed the door, cursed again, yanked it open to extract the keys, and began to make his way through the as yet blissfully deserted hallways of the pre-term campus. However, he missed the first signs of impending cataclysm altogether, signs that would, in retrospect, cause him to think that the weather ought to have been a little bit more fitting for the fiendish machinations about to take place.
As it was, though, Sol was still preoccupied with registering the inconveniences of once again being in contact with the outside world and with not acknowledging anybody lest they think him a charitable soul, and thus, he completely missed the connection between the little things neatly lining up between his trek to administration and his trek to his lab. Things that, to be honest, would have sent alarm bells ringing in any probability theoretician's head.
The first thing was the disturbingly cheery smile on the face of the midget they'd hired for the secretary internship. She hadn't smiled at him since the day he'd first ignored her incessant attempts at small talk, and possibly insulted three generations of her family, but here it was, the kind of 100-megawatt candy-fueled smile that could power an entire Christmas tree with its obnoxious bubbliness. When the carebear stare failed to produce the desired reaction, she simply dumped his pile of mail into his arms, informing him that she'd graciously cleaned out his pigeon hole even though she could have sworn that package was hissing at her and was kind of oozing, and that was, like, totally ew, and normally she wouldn't be doing something like this for him, because this was a cute-guy-only privilege, but she thought it might be necessary for the new term.
The grin was practically splitting her face when she said "new term," and that should have been his warning to turn around, walk back to the parking lot, do a u-turn and get the hell out of there, but at the time he thought she was just one of those brainwashed trainee kids who actually believed that her attitude would contribute to the workplace climate like some kind of hair-twirling, bubblegum-snapping El Niño. He grunted an acknowledgement and prepared to shuffle on, but she wasn't quite done yet.
"Annnnd the post office called to ask if you'd died yet and I could have told them yeah, but then I didn't because I'm such a nice person, so they'll still keep your space lasers or whatever until closing time."
Sol paused. The last time the post office had started returning his mail to the sender with the little 'deceased' stamps on it, somebody in the department had thought it funny enough to send the police to break down his door in order to retrieve the body. Maybe the kid just hadn't heard of that little stunt yet.
He turned to catch her staring at him expectantly. "...Great. I'd toss you a treat, but I'm all out of biscuits."
"You are so lucky that it's be-nice-to-cave-troll-day today," she threatened, and that should have been his second clue to leave town forever and get a new identity as a traveling bass guitarist, but at the time, all he'd wanted to do was duck out of the office before he could be run over by the freight train of sparkly strawberry-scented hearts that came attached to the shriek of, "OH HI GOOD MORNING, JOHNNY!"
His third and final clue presented itself shortly before his lab, when he made a brief stop to check whether the queue sign for his own office was still firmly stuck on the utility closet on the other side of the hall, and caught a whiff of coffee — the kind of uplifting, motor-oil-consistency smell that could only be pulled from a private espresso machine. That was the point when he should have been trying to catch the next flight to Panama, because his own coffee maker hadn't produced a coffee since the Nixon administration, and the next machine was at least three floors away.
However, his sleep-deprived mind refused to connect the dots properly, so when he shoved open the door to his lab, he was completely unprepared for the surprise waiting inside.
The smirking, high-heeled, mini-skirted surprise lounging on top of his research notes, nonchalantly waving his favorite mug.
"Well, well, look what the cat dragged in," I-no purred, twirling the booby trap explosive formerly mounted on the door knob with her other hand.
It took his brain a moment to pull out the corresponding facial expression, something he thought was a passable approximation of an angry whale shark. "You. Get out."
"Behold, it speaks," she announced to the empty room, and took a sip of coffee. "You're such a sunshine, Freddie dear, and after I came out all this way just to see you."
"Isn't your hunting ground somewhere closer to gradeschool?" he growled, trying to determine where he'd put the acetylene blowtorch. "And don't call me that."
"I prefer my meat without mold attached to it," I-no said airily. "Just swinging by to deliver this."
She held out a clipboard, and rolled her eyes when he made a show of pulling on a pair of sterile gloves before taking it off her hands. Underneath the usual pompous coversheet that marked official missives, complete with the university seal and the names of at least three vice presidents, Psy. D., J. D., triple Ph. D., five pages of legalese were clipped on, and then...
"What the fuck is this."
"The spores messing with your eyes, Freddie dear?" She was watching him, visibly relishing his slow realization that the tiny print was spelling out his doom. "It's exactly what it looks like. Your schedule for this year!"
"I am not teaching classes."
"Yes, you are," I-no sang. "As you should have been doing all along, I might add. Well, that's what your grant program said, anyway, when I took the liberty of asking about their conditions. Wouldn't want you to get in trouble, after all."
"I mean, just imagine what would happen if that breach of contract came out... you're getting, what, some ninety-odd thousand a year? While the poor little literature department is struggling to even get enough for a couple of guest lectures." She set the mug down, clasping her hands and batting her eyelashes.
"The suffering maiden act would work so much better if you'd be wearing a shirt that actually closes," Sol snapped, tossing the clipboard back to her. "I'm not doing this shit."
"Oh, yes. Yes, you will. Unless you'd like to be paying back... let's see, how much was it again?"
"Hey, look at it this way, I'm only doing you a favor. And because I wouldn't want you to be forced to battle all the evil, awful paperwork you hate so much, I even took the liberty of signing you up." Sliding off the table, she swaggered towards the exit, pushing the clipboard back into his hands. In the doorframe, she paused, her tone adopting a motherly sweetness that made his skin crawl. "Better take a good look at that roster... you really wouldn't want to be late. Oh, and you'll be the proud pioneer of our new interdisciplinary program... teaching rocks for jocks. Have a nice day."
The door closed behind her.
Sol waited an extra five minutes until she stopped lurking outside his office in hopes of hearing the spill of his incoherent rage, the click-clack of her heels fading down the corridor.
He didn't swear.
Instead, he methodically located the blowtorch, grabbed the mug, and went outside to set it ablaze on the hood of her car.
A/N: So here it is, my own personal crack attempt at college fic. I'd blame this on Twig, who kept proclaiming her support of the idea, but sadly I am having way too much fun with this, myself. XD I'm not sure how quick the updates will be, but I do hope you're willing to give this one a chance. I'd be happy to hear what you think, at any rate.
Notes for the Bored:
- Although I'm sprinkling cameos here and there, I am not planning on drawing the entire GG cast into this fic. For one, that's a lot of characters, and for another, that rarely ends well. I'd rather toy with a few of them, and the focus is meant to be Sol and Ky, anyway.
- Fyi, I-no is teaching feminist literature. You can't tell me she wouldn't be scary like that. :P
Sol versus the basic science course, knock-out round 1 of ∞. Now with Ky in a suit.
When William Shakespeare sat down in front of his stack of parchment, dipped the quill, paused to adjust his ruff and inform his wife about the extremely distracting fashions of the day, and then penned the immortal line, "Hell is empty and all the devils are here," Sol was pretty sure that he'd been talking about the inside of a college classroom.
A college classroom filled with the napalm-thickness of fruity Jennifer Lopez scents mingling with "it's totally not CFC, honest" male deodorants, the noise of two dozen simultaneous and equally inane cell phone conversations (not always conducted by separate people), approximately twenty-five guys and fifteen girls who thought wearing their pants around their knees or T-shirts emblazoned with "Pop My Cherry" made them appear more adult, and the overall atmosphere of long-suffering disdain distilled from the minds of over five dozen students who were hoping to just get this over with and be allowed to return to whatever faculty they'd been so cruelly thrust from in order to fulfill the general requirements of their curriculum.
In this, they vaguely had something in common with him, Sol thought, a grimace of disgust momentarily threatening to replace the death glare that had effectively sent staff members lunging for cover behind dustbins for the past few weeks. He had derived a small measure of satisfaction from this, as well as the promise of unspeakable pain radiating from every tendon in I-no's face as she had to resort to lugging a CO2 extinguisher around at all times to be able to curb the spontaneous and very specifically concentrated outbreaks of fire in and around her office, and on the faux leopard covers of her car seats.
He was still in the process of devising some manner of creative protestation against the people whose signatures had come attached to the missive — fresh and green, all of them, and completely unaware of the lengths he could go to in order to avoid things he considered a complete waste of time.
There was a reason nobody in the entire university had been foolish enough to make him teach classes. It was the same reason nobody had been foolish enough to try and make him do anything he didn't want to do in a long time.
The disastrous results of such early undertakings had been added to the ever-growing corpus of urban legends surrounding the campus, such as the last time someone had tried to turn him into the scientific poster child for a consortium of potential investors. They had received a demonstration on the marvels of the find-and-replace feature before a running camera ("The Wang Particle Wang under Conditions of Wangity Wang Wang" by Sol Wang, Professor of Wang). He'd also long since become exempt from all the faculty meetings with mandatory attendance, as the last attempt to do otherwise had the firefighters of the entire district trying to stop an army of jetpack-powered metal pterodactyls gliding menacingly around the university grounds.
Sol had decided, sometime between exploring the rim of his crib and gradeschool, that he would subscribe to the Einsteinian theory about the universe and human stupidity. The world was a place populated by an astounding amount of stupid people, and all the useless inventions with which they managed to turn life into a huge, tangled, annoying mess, such as biker shorts, senators, ringtones, slim fast candy, clerk desks with "gone to lunch" signs at ten o'clock, pop music, and FOX news. (He had not yet discovered the brain-melting qualities of reality TV).
It followed, then, that he would go out of his way to spend as little time as possible in the company of people with an annoyance factor greater than zero. This included ninety-nine percent of college students, whose conglomerations he'd been trying to avoid even when he himself had still been a college student, if only in name. And now, he was going to make damn sure that he would never be forced to interact with same-said conglomerations ever again.
Sol looked around, taking in the rows filled with animatedly chattering students who had as of yet no concept of the horrors they would be facing before the course was over, and were not the slightest bit inclined to acknowledge his presence at the front of the lecture room. He glanced at his watch (synchronizable with atomic clocks in Japan, Europe, and North America), and decided that his charitable ten seconds were over.
He reached into the pocket of his lab coat, extricated a pair of headphones, and pulled out a small rectangular switch box.
The WMD Geiger Counter was not an actual Geiger counter. It looked, for all intents and purposes, like a reject from a 1960s Star Trek film set, with its bright yellow color, clunky red digits and gauges, and over-sized dial knobs. However, beyond its hopelessly old-fashioned shell, it possessed a high gain modern preamp driving an 8-bit computer, and thus was determined to live up to all the terror and volume of its brethren without the necessary presence of life-threatening substances.
As soon as the right switch was flipped, it gave its best rendition of the eardrum-shattering screech of a tortured electric guitar coupled with the burst of noise one could reasonably expect from a dying Dolby Surround at full volume. This effect, of course, was amplified by the groans and wails of approximately sixty students, who had dropped both phones and conversations, and were seeking to stuff their fingers into their ears as far as possible.
Satisfied, Sol turned off the device, slipped it back into his coat pocket, and let the headphones settle loosely around his neck.
The students were rising slowly from their slumped position, gingerly testing the integrity of their skull, accompanied by a few scattered complaints among the dazed majority.
"Ow. Fuck. Is he nuts?!"
"Seriously, what gives?"
"What just happened?"
"Who's that guy?"
"I think that's the teacher."
Sol smirked darkly. "Now that I have your undivided attention... I'd welcome you to class, but that would imply that any of you came here voluntarily and that I feel even the slightest bit accommodating. Which I don't."
"I know you're here because you think this is a minimum effort course. I know some of you — like you there, in the back row. Yeah, you."
In the uppermost corner, a hulking guy who looked like something sprug from a 90s movie, complete with a crew cut and letterman jacket, stared blankly.
"—are going to be very concerned with their grade average. But this is a science class, and this year you'll have to do something else than boil an egg for ten hours and write about the results. Actually... no, you don't have to. You can fail, for all I care. Makes my life easier."
More silence. In the front row, a student timidly raised her hand. "Um. Um. What do we do if we don't want to fail?"
"Use your brain," Sol scoffed. He turned to the blackboard and started scrawling, his teeth already close to grinding at the thought that he'd have to be wasting his time drawing silly pictures and explaining the periodic table for the next couple of months. If cougar queen and her buddies in the administration thought he wasn't going to raise hell, though, they were in for a bit of a surprise.
The background was filled with rustling as the students scrambled to extricate their notepads, blending into the obedient scratching of pens. There was a pause when they realized that the blackboard was indeed spelling out "The Fucking Atomic Model", which was followed by rapid strikethroughs. Sol continued scrawling.
"Um. Um." The same student, urgently waving her hand like a kid waiting to be excused. "Um. Could you, like... use all caps or something? Please? It's just... um. Your handwriting is.... um..." — a pause as she searched for the polite expression for 'godawful' — "Um, a tad hard to read, and, um."
This time, Sol did gnash his teeth. "This—"
The door to the lecture hall squeaked open a crack.
"I apologize for being late," said the tiny blond thing in the preppy suit that had whizzed through the gap. "I couldn't find the right room."
Sol stared, as did the rest of the class, because the thing wasn't just tiny, it also barely looked a day into high school. The thing, meanwhile, seemed uncomfortable with all the attention being paid to its person, because it coughed, discreetly seeking to inch towards a free seat.
"I'm sorry for disrupting the class..." A blink, an aborted stare that undoubtedly registered Sol's untucked shirt and fuzzy bunny slippers, before it ventured hesitantly, "...sir?"
"Is this a practical joke?" Sol asked, having calculated the thing's age and figuring he could pin this on someone's poor sense of humor.
The thing blinked, giving him the kind of wide-eyed rabbit stare that couldn't possibly be real. "Pardon, sir?"
"Is this a joke," Sol reiterated. "Did you get lost on the way to preschool, kid, or is this some kind of prank so you can ask me about a packet of crayons?"
The tiny thing straightened abruptly, its bewildered gaze morphing into the kind of tesla-powered glare that made Sol want to check for singed eyebrows. "The name is Ky Kiske, sir. And I'm here for the basic science course."
A/N: To be honest, I didn't expect to update this quickly, but stress demanded a relief. XD More to follow whenever the schedule allows now. As always, thoughts are much appreciated.
Notes for the Bored:
- "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the the universe." ~ Albert Einstein
- The WMD Geiger Counter (turn down the volume if you like your ears) is a type of instrument effects pedal that would technically need to be plugged into something, but Sol's awesome enough to have modded his into a single-unit eardrum destruction machine. XD
- Yup, tiny preppy genius Ky, a tender fourteen, tossed to the wolves. *giggles* Explanations to follow.
- I'll also, at this point, have to mention my high school science teacher, who was the most merciless tormenter of slackers, and yet the most wonderfully rewarding teacher for those willing to work hard. I imagine Sol would also be that kind of person.
Sol versus Tiny Cute Thing on his doorstep. Heaven or Hell! (If you ask Sol, hell.)
Sol Badguy's mind worked in mysterious ways, not so much like the guy's who had thought up the ineffable plan, but more like the minds of all people with an IQ in the upper two-hundreds, and possibly aliens, except neither of them listened to Queen nearly as much.
Most of his thought patterns and logic were incomprehensible to the average person (usually because his words and actions seemed divorced from ordinary, everyday reality so completely that they weren't even paying alimony), and if anyone had been able to remote-intercept his brainwaves, they likely would have gone down from the punch packed by the concentrated powers of science, geekdom, and pop culture trivia interspersed with the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody and wrapped in the boxing glove of impenetrable, perpetual disgruntlement. In short, Sol Badguy's mind was the closest approximation to mental madlibs.
Knowing this helped considerably in understanding the events of the following Wednesday.
What also helped was knowing about Sol's own experience with what the world commonly referred to as 'genius'. Sol himself placed the term somewhere between Bosco Chocolate Syrup and presidential elections in terms of accuracy and usefulness because he felt it said nothing, explained nothing, and invoked in the minds of the masses a notion of a pimply, bespectacled loser who spent his youth being stuffed into trashcans a lot and never getting any dates.
It never invoked the kind of person who could end you with his knowledge of the forces of gravity, wind resistance, and the speed common to bikes in a public street, all of which would help in selecting the perfect placement for a new speed bump in a particularly dangerous slope of the neighborhood. (It should also, in the interest of full disclosure, be mentioned here that Sol was pretty popular with a certain type of girl — the type of girl that would animatedly discuss the finer points of superstring theory while unhooking her bra, and would occasionally roll over in the middle of things to grab her notebook, because that position had just given her a brilliant idea for her research paper).
However, the world rarely stopped doing something just because Sol was opposed to it, and continued to use 'genius' to refer to children with the capacity to end you.
Most people, when asked to picture Sol Badguy as a child, didn't picture a pint-sized rosy-cheeked dirt-covered bundle of brat with joyfully shining eyes as it held its jar of live tadpoles out to its dismayed parents in the middle of the formerly spotless living room carpet. What they envisioned was Sol Badguy, age thirty-five, with a permanent scowl affixed to his features and the growing competitor for the world's worst mullet on his head, shrunk down to the height of about four feet, with his lab coat pooling around his ankles as he lectured on the poor alkalinity of the pond water.
If you asked his mother, which you couldn't because she'd joined the ranks of the dearly departed a while ago, she would have informed you that the mental image was pretty much accurate, except for the five-o'clock shadow.
The point was, though, that he had been a child once upon a time, if in a purely physical, superficial way, and he had gone on to drive both his parents and teachers crazy until the gradeschool psychologist, fresh from college and armed with all the newest child-rearing theories after the last psychologist had hurled himself out the window, wailing loudly about how the universe was all wrong, had suggested gently that maybe it was a good idea to let little Freddie skip all the grades between now and high school. By this point, Sol had become able to tune out the world at will, so that all he noticed of this change in his life was the fact that his brain was suddenly getting the stimulation it had so craved. He had never paused to consider how he might be perceived by his peers, and likely wouldn't have cared, anyway.
Both these factors played a significant role in Sol's course of action after his Monday encounter with the thing. (He would have put 'the thing' in capital letters, but the thing was too damn short to be impressive enough for capital letters).
Instead of engaging in ponderings of pedagogical concerns that might have plagued an ordinary teacher (unless, of course, this teacher happened to be I-no), he simply forgot about it. Or rather, he allowed it to be dragged under by the torrent of discoveries to be gleaned from his beloved Petri dishes, as he did with most things that had managed to annoy him to some degree, but not sufficiently enough to interfere with his life. Within a scant few minutes, the incident with the thing had been forgotten so thoroughly that Sol didn't even notice that his brain was still firmly sticking with calling it "the thing", which would have indicated that he hadn't forgotten about it nearly as thoroughly as he liked to believe.
And it stayed that way until Wednesday morning.
There was, at first, nothing special about Wednesday, other than that it was the day before Thursday, which had been transformed into another day of supreme annoyance thanks to his newly appointed teaching position. Then, Wednesday spun around, twisted in on itself, and spat out the thing, still blond, still tiny, still in a spotlessly ironed suit, right in front of his office door. Or so it seemed to Sol when he yanked open the door to catch the thing, hand poised in the act of knocking, and very surprised to find itself nose to nose with an angry glare.
Sol, for his part, was also surprised, if only because he'd been expecting the knocker to be someone from the tech department, begging him to do something about some broken mail server or another and to please return that Macbook that he'd been hogging for the past year or so. The rest of the people that could possibly come calling round to his office never knocked, and were, in fact, prone to acts of burglary.
The thing opened its mouth.
Sol slammed the door.
For normal people, this would have been the cue to leave and never come back, but whoever was paying the thing was obviously paying it a hefty amount, since it knocked again. Rather insistently, too. When the knocking failed to garner a reaction, a sheet of paper was slowly and meticulously pushed under the door.
Sol knew he should have ignored it. Even as he picked it up, he was half expecting to find some kind of crayola drawing with rainbows and asteroids on it because the kinds of colleagues that would derive merriment from his situation by deploying something such as the thing just to get on his nerves (read: all of them) were also the kinds of colleagues whose humor was about as evolved as a prehistoric flagellate blindly propelling itself through the depths of the stormy waters of the Paleoarchean oceans, in search of a single shaft of golden light.
There was no rainbow on the sheet. Instead, there was the official course list, with two classes circled neatly in red ink and a post-it note attached, written in the kind of calligraphic fountain-pen flow that had gone out of style before the end of the 19th century. This only served to further confirm Sol's theory that the thing simply couldn't be real. It was too many clichés rolled into one, and while Sol was entirely willing to believe that there were, in fact, thousands of people out there incorporating all the bad clichés, it was the polite, respectful, Dalai Lama-like patience that made him suspicious.
He reopened the door.
The thing was still standing there, waiting, allowing itself to be sized up. "Don't tell me you're lost and need to make a phone call. Should have thought of that on Monday."
"No, sir," the thing said sincerely. "I apologize for showing up so unexpectedly, but... I wasn't sure about your office hours, and it seems someone has mistakenly attached your name to the utility closet."
There was just the barest hint in the thing's voice that suggested it had an inkling as to who that 'someone' had been.
Sol might have been willing to give the thing some benefit of the doubt on Monday, mostly because after the initial face-off, the thing hadn't done anything beyond sit down and join the ranks of furiously writing students. It had become part of the background noise, a background noise that was most definitely drowned out by the idiot in row 4-C who'd kept asking how to spell hydrogen, and the nervous girl in the front seat who had desperately needed to know about the final exam, like, now, and had subsequently grown more frantic in her handwaving whenever he ignored her to test whether she would explode under the pressure of her unvoiced questions. (She hadn't, but he was pretty sure that she was the sort of person who couldn't handle not having a shopping list of instructions for life, and would thus suffer from sleepless nights by being deprived of answers).
At the time, he'd simply wanted to get it over with. Now, though, the thing was becoming a real annoyance. "I don't know how much they're paying you, kid, but if I pay you triple, will you go away?"
The thing was staring at him with wide blue eyes, in a manner that meant it was looking for something it might have been guilty of, and was coming up empty-handed. "Pardon, sir?"
"I'll include something extra if you tell me who put you up to this."
This seemed to put things on the right track, because the thing suddenly brightened. "Oh. Excuse me. I know registration ended a while ago, sir, but I was told to speak to you personally. I, um, was hoping you would not be opposed to my joining these classes, sir."
Now it was Sol's turn to blink, partly because he'd never been called 'sir' in two consecutive sentences before (actually, he'd never been called 'sir', period), and partly because the thing still couldn't possibly be real.
The thing seemed to take this as encouragement to proceed, because it smiled tentatively, and said in very earnest tones, "I know it's not part of my curriculum, sir, but I found the way you present the material to be fascinating."
Sol stared, realized what was going on, and did the only thing that could effectively convey his thoughts at this point.
He slammed the door.
Thursday's annoyance ratio was similar to Monday's, if not quite as high, because Thursday marked the beginning of the advanced biochemistry class, and 'advanced' carried a certain connotation of sophistication. In Sol's book, this meant more of a chance to encounter a handful of people who might not be utterly useless. So when he shuffled into class that day, in a mood commonly seen as the default mode of operation in grizzly bears, what he did not expect was for Wednesday to come back and bite him in the ass.
Or, in this case, to slap him with a hurricane of painfully high-pitched, rapturous female voices.
"Awww, will you look at that!"
"What's your name?"
"Are you looking for your brother or something?"
"Tell him he can wait here, we can go look for his brother after class."
In the middle of a tittering, squealing circle stood none other than the thing, smiling in the manner of someone who found this a baffling, mildly embarrassing, but not entirely novel occurrence and didn't expect to be able to get a word in edgewise. It had given up on trying to escape the hands that kept reaching out to ruffle its hair, even if its furtive glances at the rows of seats indicated its yearning for freedom. Most of the male students had remained seated, but appeared to be torn between wishing to be in the thing's place and wishing to join in.
For his part, Sol only registered the vague wish to hunt down whoever was responsible for this. But first, he needed to put a stop to the petting zoo.
"Alright, fun is over. I'm taking it back to the pet store now."
The announcement was met with a couple of gulps and eeps as the students scrambled back to their seats, leaving the thing wide open for the receiving end of Sol's thunderous, "You."
The thing blinked owlishly, before remembering that the students had made an utter mess of its head, which it surreptitiously sought to straighten out as it replied, "Yes, sir."
"You," Sol repeated for that extra bit of emphasis meant to send the thing backing up towards the door.
It didn't. "...Yes, sir?"
"This is an advanced course," he said, with that special undercurrent that was threatening to stuff the thing into a jar of ethanol and display it on his shelf.
"Yes, sir. Physical, Chemical and Molecular Biology. MCB 293," the thing rattled off, as if it were answering an honest question. "I figured, sir, since you didn't explicitly refuse yesterday..."
It trailed off. There was something in its gaze that Sol knew, but he couldn't pinpoint from where. It was the kind of glint of someone who was working to outmaneuver an opponent and knew he was winning. The rest of the students stared on, confused and uncertain, and not entirely sure they were willing to risk their lives to rescue the poor adorable creature that had mistakenly wandered into the lion's den. Maybe it was because the teacher seemed the sort who required an offering of live meat before he became even marginally tolerable. Maybe it was because they were experiencing the faint yet unshakable feeling that they were about to see a clash of wills that would make 300 look like a teleshopping commercial.
A few uncertain whispers rose in the background, students double-checking to confirm that the poor adorable creature was not, in fact, looking for a lost sibling but seeking to join the course.
Sol stared hard at the thing, trying to determine how much someone had to be getting paid to keep this charade up. Somewhere in the back of his head, a small voice muttered that maybe the kid just really, desperately wanted a transfer to his class, but it was ruthlessly smothered by the eternal cynic that occupied most of his higher brain functions.
"I know it's somewhat unusual," the thing was saying, "But... as I said yesterday, I found the material really interesting."
Sol gnashed his teeth, and decided to go for broke. The small voice, forever trying its best to ruin his unscrupulously realistic outlook on life, was grumbling about how he wasn't being exactly fair, that maybe there had been true, honest-to-Freddie-Mercury enthusiasm in the thing's voice, but the rest of him was still hung up on the fact that the universe seemed to have it in for him this term. He drew himself up menacingly (or more menacingly, anyway).
"Alright then, kid. I'll give you till the end of this class to answer a question. If you can't, then I want you out of here."
The thing's expression grew firm. "Understood, sir."
"Oh, and the rest of you—" Sol made a sweeping gesture at the rest of the class, which sent a few students' heads fleeing into the protective custody of their shoulders, "—can get cracking on this, too. How much of your DNA do you share with a common house plant?"
The question was as old as dirt, or at least as old as the first forays into genetics. The more scientists got poking and prodding at the human genome, or any kind of genome, really, the more it morphed from an earth-shattering and deeply philosophical inquiry into a kind of trick question, the kind of trick question people like Sol Badguy liked to throw at a class of unprepared students who were still caught up in debating in whispers whether the tiny cute thing that had so unexpectedly dropped in on them would make a better pet project or a class mascot.
Bewildered and somewhat intimidated by the fact that their teacher appeared to be equal parts unforgiving, vengeful man and man-eating grizzly, they put themselves to the task of answering as best they could. The one foolhardy soul who dared to raise his hand and ask, "Which house plant?" got a swift and dead-accurate sponge to the head, and spent the rest of class furiously staring at his notepad, his flaming cheeks muted by a sheen of chalky dust.
The tiny-cute-thing-known-as-Ky-Kiske was not scribbling. He had tilted his head to one side, letting his gaze sweep over the ceiling of the lecture hall, tracing the insulation tiles and noting a bit of near-transparent cobwebs in one corner that couldn't be reached without a very long mop and a ladder, shifting to a spot of slightly melted enamel that indicated the location of a long-forgotten experiment gone awry, and turning upwards into the searing whiteness of the halogen lights. To an outsider, he might have appeared anything from daydreaming to slightly pensive, but he was thinking very intensely.
Ten minutes later, he raised his arm. "A hundred percent, sir."
The scribbling around him stopped.
At the blackboard, the professor narrowed his eyes, daring him to continue.
"Um. Well. Since we all have the same type of DNA... that is, the same four amino acids... technically we share a hundred percent with just about everything. It's the arrangement that matters." Ky hesitated. "...Sir."
The professor's expression was resembling that of a snapper turtle that had swallowed a lemon, but he gave an acquiescing nod, turned to the blackboard, and scrawled in all caps, "THE FUCKING PROTEIN BIOSYNTHESIS."
The class collectively decided they had just been handed the tiniest, cutest superweapon against the science troll, and that it would definitely pay to take very good care of it. It could still be the class mascot on the side.
Unseen, Ky allowed himself a small moment of pleased elation. Then, he reached for his notepad and started writing, carefully omitting the stray swears.
- TBC -
A/N: What is the tragic story of Ky's past?! Will Sol be able to defy the fiendish machinations of fate?! What deep, dark secrets hide in the depths of his lab?! And most importantly... how high is Ky's annoyance ratio?! Tune in next time to—— Ahem. Getting carried away here a little. *straightens* As you already guessed, this concludes another chapter of the unrepentant college crack. It seems that whenever I think I'll update slowly, I'll do it quickly, and whenever I promise to update quickly, well. Story of my life. As usual, I hope it provided some entertainment. Comments and thoughts are much appreciated. :)
Notes for the Bored:
- Poor Ky is still under the impression that college professors are people of great wisdom that should be respected. He's going to be in for a few revelations.
- I don't care what Ishiwatari says, Sol is never in his early twenties. Never. I peg him in the range of anything from 30-35, personally.
Yeah, older people can do things! I'm not sure he ages in this universe, either. He seems to be thriving on universal hatred like roses on sunlight. XD
Sol versus Tiny-Cute-Thing-On-A-Mission! Innocent bystanders include girl scouts, coffeeshops, and golden retrievers.
The only reason Sol Badguy hadn't destroyed the universe was that it would take too much effort. However, he was the terror of door-to-door salespeople, neighborhood watch schemes, and girl scouts, the destroyer of customer support networks and anyone who tried to chat him up under pretenses of "talking about faith", as well as the personal hell of the kid working part-time at the downtown music store, who, in a moment of utter lack of self-preservation, had once answered the question of, "What. Is. This," with, "Uhhh, D.J. Sammy's Best of Queen Remix. It really rocks."
Spam bots made frantic detours whenever they detected his e-mail or any e-mail that looked even remotely like it on a public web forum, and telephone interviewers tried to avoid his number like it was the devil compressed into ten digits — unless they were Candice McMutton of Denial, Anger and Ca$h, an upstart insurance firm (her boss had an odd sense of humor), who had not listened to the warnings and was currently sobbing away at her desk, vowing in the part of her brain that had not been terrified into incoherent blubbering to start a chicken farm in Iowa after making the ill-fated acquaintance of Sol's answering machine.
The thing did not seem to understand this.
It kept popping up like a type of especially irritating mushroom, serious, diligent, bright as a pin, and appearing perfectly at ease in classes most students considered to be unspeakable torture. It was brimming with questions that wanted answering, and ideas it felt could be beneficial for discussion, and had the endlessly frustrating gift of avoiding the projectiles Sol had taken to launching from the teacher's desk whenever its hand went up.
By the end of the first week, Sol had exhausted his arsenal of blackboard erasers, chalk pieces, and rubber bands (he felt too proud to reclaim them from the empty seat next to the thing, where they had been neatly stacked for his convenience). By the end of the third week, he was starting to run out of trick questions and had to start preparing them in advance.
By the middle of the fifth week, when the thing was starting to develop a distinct eagerness in response to Sol's vengeance, as if it couldn't be happier to be threatened with being tossed out of class, he was beginning to earnestly look into his theory that the thing wasn't real. Maybe it was a mutant that had swallowed Plutonium as a baby. Maybe it was some kind of renegade robot that had fled from a secret military testing facility. Maybe the aliens had forgotten one of their own on the last vacation trip to Earth.
Maybe the thing was completely demented.
It appeared to be under some kind of delusion that its dedication would eventually be rewarded, as it didn't complain, didn't file a harrassment suit, and didn't break down crying and begging for forgiveness as most other people would have under the circumstances. Instead, it just had more questions.
And it was doing the unforgivable: It was enjoying itself.
Of course, the more complicated Sol's attempts at destroying the thing became, the longer the thing's answers grew, so by the time it delivered a flawless and completely uncalled-for paper on two-stream instability for the advanced physics seminar, it had also begun to think of Sol as approachable. This was mainly because the ammunition on Sol's side had been reduced to beakers and growled retorts. He wasn't quite up to sacrificing his own tools to the cause, and the thing seemed to have some kind of built-in immunity to biting sarcasm. It had even stopped scowling upon being addressed as "kid", "shrimp", "brat", or "tribble"; instead, it now started talking whenever Sol paused for breath between insults.
Eventually, Sol was reduced to a single, scathing, two-letter word, as it was the only method of stopping the thing in its tracks. He began to say "no."
"Sir, I was wondering if—"
"Sir, there was also the question of—"
"Sir, about the theory concerning—"
In fact, it quickly became the universal transmitter of his feelings, as he discovered that there was room for a startling amount of exasperation and disdain in such a short word, and he'd always been a minimalist, anyway. The word was hurled whenever the thing opened its mouth. It was hurled whenever the thing raised its arm. It was also hurled whenever the thing nodded, tried to approach his desk, or so much as breathed in his direction. He even began to use it for whenever he had the misfortune of spotting the thing in the hallways, on the way to the labs, or in the split second before the elevator doors closed, and, or so it seemed to him, he was spotting the thing a good deal more than was normal.
If he had felt inclined to listen to the small voice in the back of his mind, he might have realized that the reason he was seeing the thing a good deal more than was normal was because his brain had zeroed in on it like it was the tiny, blond constant in the equation to ruin his day. The small voice was understandably upset at Sol's continued refusal to listen, but there was little it could do. It was, after all, just a voice.
Thus, after all its reasonable cajoling, hinting, and facepalming, the voice refused to take responsibility for the Starbucks incident.
The Starbucks incident wasn't really an incident so much as it was a agglomeration of factors that only made sense when combined in a specific order at a specific time in a specific place. It further required you to tilt your head at a ninety degree angle and squint three times fast, and maybe even that wasn't enough, because that was what Ky did, and he didn't really understand it, either. You kind of had to be Sol to fully comprehend the Starbucks incident.
The first factor was Sol's weekend routine, which involved locking himself in his basement and spending forty-eight hours staring at the contents of Petri dishes through the lenses of an electron microscope. It also involved Monday, his most loathed day of the week thanks to the Basic Science course, and the fact that the coffee company, a little disturbed to notice the unusually high turnover on the third-floor vending machine with absolutely zero profit, had carted the device off to the repair shop.
Eight on a Monday morning was not the best time to track down the next vending machine and hack it to deploy something that contained enough caffeine to support his sleep-deprived system, however, which was the reason Sol shuffled off to the corner Starbucks to get something that maybe hopefully wasn't just instant powder. The scowl he meant to direct at the erratically jingling bell over the door was instantly mellowed by the aroma of the gods, so much so that he didn't even mind the crowd of college students having breakfast at the tables.
Then, the lone employee behind the bar turned around, and everything changed.
"Good morning," said the tiny blond thing in the barista outfit. "May I take your—"
"Um," said the thing, squinting. "Okay."
At this point, the situation could have still worked out for the benefit of Sol's blood pressure if he had chosen to listen to the little voice. He didn't. "You. You planned this, didn't you."
"Um, no sir. I work here."
"You knew I was going to come here and you did this on purpose."
"I got hired for minimum wage on purpose, sir?" the thing asked.
Sol stared, the cogs in his head turning because the thing had accidentally stumbled upon the only convincing argument it could have made. The cogs were grinding away towards the realization that maybe he was overreacting. The thing didn't move, just stared at him in a mildly concerned fashion. Ruining his day. Ruining his curve.
Then, it opened its mouth again, and Sol decided to stand by his resolve.
"No!" he proclaimed, and stomped out the door.
If patience was a virtue, then Ky Kiske was the most virtuous person on the planet, as this particular trait was required in superabundance if one happened to be short, fourteen, and in college. He practiced patience the way water practiced patience, grinding away at a solid rockface.
He had spent the first few weeks being very patient with various people, including the librarian who refused to believe that he was a student and wouldn't let him borrow a copy of Dostoyevski, repeated offers from several college students to help him look for parents, siblings, or lost pets, his roommates who thought it was very funny to make jokes about play pens, and the well-meaning secretary in the student administration who had taken one look at him, whipped out the business card of a Chinese place and scrawled her number on the back, all the while saying that he could ring her any time if he didn't know what to do, she'd love to help him out, really, no need to be shy, and hopefully he was eating okay, such a skinny little thing, her parents had a restaurant over on 42nd street and he could skip over for a meal any time, she'd treat him.
And then, of course, there were the professors, who were anything from nervous to enthusiastic about having him, and who'd occasionally stop to ask how he was getting along, hopefully the workload wasn't too much, and if there was something troubling him, he knew their office hours, didn't he?
It wasn't that Ky didn't appreciate the help, he just didn't like being an exception. In comparison, it was almost nice to spend a couple of hours a week being threatened with being set aflame, stuffed in a jar, or booted out of class. In fact, the getting-booted-out-of-class bit had gotten kind of fun, even if he was sure the professor was dead serious about it.
He wasn't sure if the professor was dead serious about the other threats (it was improbable, but not implausible), though his classmates certainly seemed to think so. In fact, this was the reason for the impromptu war council being held in one corner of the lecture hall, a handful of students lounging together — they refused to think of it as 'huddling' — to discuss the predicament the way terrified peasants tend to discuss their evil overlord.
"I heard he has a door in his office," one girl was saying, twisting one of her many braids around her fingers. "If you try to bother him, he'll throw you through it! And you'll only make it out again in pieces. Floating in ethanol."
"Oh, please," another girl said, glancing around nervously in case a stray chair or desk decided to morph into Professor Badguy. "You know what I heard? He tranqued the press staff at a conference with a homebrew cocktail, just 'cause he hates questions. Was six hours before they stopped babbling about fairies."
"Well, you know what?" Another student leaned forward conspiratorially, letting his glasses slip to the tip of his nose. "He's got an eyeball as a bookmark! I saw it!"
"What, like, from a goat?"
"I think it might be from his lab assistant."
"He doesn't have a lab assistant."
"...Actually, I think I saw those things at Staples for half off," Ky ventured, shrugging when six pairs of eyes turned to him. He had developed the tendency not to speak very much unless he was spoken to, as it took most people too long to locate the source of his voice two heads below their own. "Some kind of Halloween gag gift."
"...anyway," the guy said, squinting at him over the rim of his glasses. "Point is, he's damn scary. I wouldn't wanna cross him."
"Yeah, but... man, he's a teacher," another girl moaned. "He's supposed to answer our questions."
"I'm not sure that one's a teacher. More like... I dunno." The guy waved his hands to illustrate. "A bear. A really angry bear that hates people."
"All of this isn't really helping. Mock exam's in two weeks, which means it'll be in one week. I mean, we could just pool all the questions and send in one person. That way, he won't kill all of us."
"Oh, great idea, Fanny. So noble of you to make that sacrifice." The guy with the glasses bowed dramatically. "Sayonara, we hardly knew thee."
"Hey, wait wait wait a sec, Mito," the braided girl interjected. "You can't do that."
Fanny glared. "Thank you."
"No, I mean," she paused. "You can't do that. Sacrifices have got to be virgins. Power of purity and all that."
"Oh, ha ha."
"Well, depends." Mito was stroking his chin thoughtfully. "I mean, do virgins help against trolls?"
"He pings more demon to me, honestly. Takes way too much pleasure in our torment."
"Oh, well. In that case..."
All eyes swiveled to Ky.
Certain insinuations aside, Ky minded his new role as the sacrifice a lot less than the others thought possible. He had questions of his own, after all, but Professor Badguy had the unfortunate tendency to yell at him and storm off. Ky wasn't quite certain what he had done that might merit such behavior, but he had long since come to the conclusion that there were a lot of creatures on God's green Earth, and they all had to be allowed their little idiosyncrasies. (This philosophy mainly stemmed from the fact that Ky was usually subjected to samesaid idiosyncrasies, and had, in fact, subconsciously started spelling the word with a 'z'.)
He spent an evening pondering the best way to approach the professor, akin to a time-traveling big-game hunter pondering how to approach a particularly skittish specimen of Tyrannosaurus rex. After class was out of the question, unless he found a way to lock them both in an elevator long enough to ask what he wanted to ask. Before class was even less ideal, since the professor had the uncanny ability to materialize out of nowhere, which had caused a couple of students to speculate on the success of beaming technology and meant the professor couldn't possibly be waylaid. Besides, it might delay the course, and that just wouldn't do.
Ky was pretty sure the professor's office was still in the same spot, even if, over the past few weeks, it had been adorned by crisscrossing police tape and the sign "crime scene" hung on the knob, painted over to blend seamlessly into the off-white hallway, and been half-covered by a giant flag with Sanskrit writing on it declaring the office a city state. (Road toll: 10,000$ per inch, caution: killer robots inside, residents: one; with the 'one' crossed out and rewritten to become a zero, with the footnote 'too much stuff inside' attached to it. Ky knew this because, intrigued, he had spent an afternoon at the library, which had the added bonus of him becoming semi-fluent in Sanskrit).
Eventually, he decided on the method least likely to offend, which also happened to be the method most easily ignored. He opened the laptop, and began to carefully choose his words.
In his lab, Sol was working away at his table, surrounded by the harsh glow of halogen lights. Occasionally, he paused to reach across the table to take a sip of coffee (he'd finally managed to crack the machine on the fifth floor instead, plus the machine selling Snickers next to it), and was thus prepared for a nightlong session with the bacteria cultures. The beep of his e-mail client interrupted him mid-sip, and he sent his swivel chair spinning towards the other end of the table, where the laptop stood on a small square free of dangerous chemicals, feeling distinctly uneasy in the company of so many liquids just waiting to be spilled across its keyboard and melt its insides.
The inbox was showing one new message. Now, the only reason Sol was even checking his mail in the first place was because he was waiting for the confirmation of a shipment of nitrous oxide for his revenge against the vice presidents. It didn't really occur to him that nobody could have been working this late, otherwise his fingers wouldn't have automatically guided the mouse and clicked. Absently, Sol lowered his head for another sip, and paused.
There was a message splaying across the screen, but it had nothing to do with the crisp efficiency of business e-mails. The message continued for paragraphs upon paragraphs, elaborately phrasing various questions, and Sol was momentarily too fascinated by the realization that its phrases were arranged in iambic pentameter to notice that he was reading it.
His gaze fell upon the sender, and he scowled.
Normally, he would have deleted it. Taken satisfaction in moving it to the recycle bin, and watching it disintegrate bit-by-byte into nothing. But, he admitted, the iambic pentameter did deserve a commendation. He pulled up a folder and chose his best picture of a bedraggled deer.
Two minutes later, the answer arrived, so succinct in its tone that it might as well have been written by a completely different person.
"I fear that this does not sufficiently answer my questions, sir."
In the glare of the overhead lights, Sol's satisfied smirk would have looked right at home on a man-eating shark.
Thursday morning found Ky on an intercept course towards the labs. He had decided that while patience was a virtue, so was perseverance, and had funneled every ounce of his immense determination towards the goal of getting answers. The result was something that made a couple of early risers stop in their tracks and stare after him, mostly because they could have sworn that there was a crackling thundercloud stalking down the hallway. Not that thunderclouds could stalk, but it was really the only way to describe the sight.
Ky Kiske was a tiny-cute-thing on a mission.
This didn't escape Sol, who had just exited his lab, saw the thundercloud coming, and decided on a quick detour to avoid being massively annoyed.
Ky would have none of it. "Sir!"
"No," Sol said, and shoved open the door to the fire escape.
"Sir, I know you don't seem too fond of my presence, but this is important."
"Is the world ending?"
"What? No, sir. It's just—"
"Then it's not important."
Ky gritted his teeth. He'd finally caught up to the professor, who seemed determined to take an obstacle course to class this time, slipping through an open second-story window and dodging one of the cleaning wagons polishing the floors. "Sir, I know I'm not in a position to criticize—"
"—but you have an obligation towards your students."
"Do I, now?"
Ky sighed, nearly skidding around the sharp bend towards the lecture halls. "Sir, I know you don't like me, but would you please consider answering the questions that aren't mine? Most of my colleagues are really worried."
"Hm, let me think about that." The professor shot him a sidelong glance. "No."
"Sir, please. I don't see why you're so determined to slight people who are willing to learn. We're all interested in the course, but sometimes we need a few more explanations."
"You know what? That's my problem."
The professor glared at him. "You're interested."
"...You... don't want us to be interested, sir?" Ky said slowly, blinking to make sure he understood.
"No, because then you think I'm going to have to start teaching you."
"...and you haven't been doing this?" Ky asked, feeling that the entire conversation had taken on a rather surreal quality. It was a belated realization, to be sure, but his tolerance for the bizarre and illogical had grown substantially since starting college.
"You're real bright, you know that? I've been trying to get rid of you." The professor was staring at him now, as if hoping to make him spontaneously combust. They had come to a halt in front of the lecture hall, though to any unfortunate soul wandering by, it was looking more like the beginning of the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral.
"I don't care about these classes, I don't care about these people, I don't care about you. I wouldn't even be here if not for—" He interrupted himself. "The point is I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to, and I'm not doing a lepton more than that."
"...wow," Ky breathed softly, trying to recover his wits. One of the side effects of flapping his unflappable personality was that he tended to speak his mind without the two dozen politeness filters getting a chance to intervene, and it was about to get him in big, big trouble.
"Wow, you... I've never met a teacher so unwilling to teach."
"You know what? Here," the professor said, and dumped his pile of books into Ky's arms.
"Mazel tov." Fishing around in his pockets, the professor pulled out a laser pointer, and placed it on top of the pile. "Today you become a man."
Then, he turned on his heel and vanished down the corridor, leaving Ky to stare after him in utter, stunned bewilderment.
"Yo. I think you— whoaaaaaa!"
Sol, finding the blissful silence of a busy workday abruptly disturbed, glanced up from his experiment to see the equivalent of a golden retriever caught in a bear trap. One half of that impression was figurative, the other quite literal, as Sol had chosen to replace the explosive on the doorknob with the rather more effective snare. The retriever was swaying slightly from side to side, one of his legs caught in the sling, his hair and bandanna brushing the floor. Briefly, Sol contemplated keeping him there until the doorstep was clean.
Then, the retriever opened his mouth again to let out his best whine. "C'mon, bossman, you gotta stop doing this. That's just cruel. Let me down."
Grudgingly, Sol pressed a button, and the retriever fell to the floor with a thump, the metal sling landing smack-dab across his belly.
"Ow," Axl Low pronounced as he clambered to his feet, rubbing his bottom and seeking to rid himself of the sling. And then, again, for emphasis, "Ow."
He was one of the few people Sol didn't wish to murder on sight, if only because of his three defining characteristics. One, he was working for the tech department, two, was looking like a Guns 'n' Roses reject at all times, and three, he was naive enough to keep lending Sol computers, programs, gadgets and parts, all of which he never got back. Occasionally, he would show up to complain about it, but Sol thought it only fair, considering he was doing Axl's job on the side most of the time. Which was probably a good thing, since the guy couldn't fix a toaster to save his life, regularly electrocuted himself while changing the light bulbs, and had the special talent of making computers give up on life just by looking at them.
Thoughtfully, Sol reached for the borrowed Macbook and moved it out of Axl's line of sight.
Axl finished dusting himself off. "I just wanted to swing by. Thought congratulations might be in order."
"And why's that?" Sol asked, knowing from experience that Axl would go away quicker if he didn't ignore him, and break less.
"Well, your robot."
Sol raised an eyebrow.
"Come on, your robot," Axl encouraged. "The one teaching in hall 33-D!"
"What," Sol snapped.
"Yeah. Granted, I thought you'd go more for scary than cute, but he's pretty damn lifelike. You wouldn't mind if we took a look at his wirings, would you? I mean, you beat us to it and all, so the cybernetics— Hey! Where are you going?!"
But Sol was already shoving past him, taking the quickest route to lecture hall 33-D. Dimly, he heard Axl calling after him, rambling on about how he'd always known Sol would succeed one of these days, how it was a breakthrough in robotics technology, and where had he gotten the idea for that downright adorable template, but Sol wasn't really paying attention. His mind was awhirl with the conviction that this couldn't be what he thought it was, and if it was Axl's idea of a prank, then the idiot wouldn't be able to feel safe again for the rest of his life.
Lecture hall 33-D was usually completely unremarkable, distinguishable from other lecture halls only by the large black sign above its front entrance. Today, however, it was distinguishable by the cluster of people that had formed outside, a bunch of students and one or two professors trying to peer through the crack in the door, and whispering excitedly. Since he'd always been a man of little patience, Sol elbowed his way past them, and froze.
"Welcome back, sir," the tiny blond thing at the blackboard said, turning from a meticulous diagram depicting chromosomal crossover during meiosis, and flashing him a smile.
"You," Sol bit out.
In the background, the students stopped taking notes.
"Why are you teaching this class."
"Um, you... told me to, sir?" the thing ventured, looking very earnest.
Sol stared, finding himself at a complete loss for both words and thought for the very first time in his life. The thing was staring back expectantly.
Eventually, wordlessly, Sol held out his open palm. The thing beamed, dropped the piece of chalk in it, grabbed its bag and made its way to its seat, looking more the part of elated fourteen-year-old and less the part of military genius who had just managed to win the decisive victory in a stalemate against Attila the Hun.
Sol turned to the blackboard to examine the diagram, found no fault with it, and promptly began to scrawl all over it.
- TBC -
A/N: No retrievers, girl scouts, or Starbucks customers were harmed in the making of this fic. They were, however, slightly disturbed. As usual, C&C is much appreciated.
And now, for the after-fic bingo:
- Spot all the cameos, win a cookie!
- I'm pretty sure Starbucks is a bit more generous to its employees, but hey. XD Also, in case you hadn't guessed it yet, yes, this fic's main purpose is to stuff Ky into as many cute outfits as possible.
- For the record, the students are mourning their loss.
- Next time on Crack R Us... THE LAB!!! *dom dom dooom*
Sol versus the Warmfuzzy Feelings, and Meddling Elderly Department Heads! Round Three! Keep on rockin'!
If anyone thought that things ended with the defeat of the Science Troll at the hands of the Tiny Cute Thing, they weren't very familiar with Sol Badguy's psyche.
Actually, nobody was very familiar with Sol Badguy's psyche. The last person who'd tried, the aforementioned grade school psychologist, had survived his self-inflicted defenestration (ground floor office) and was since enjoying his retirement in the backwoods of Arkansas, with a couple of heart pills at the ready whenever the TV switched to a science program. (In little Freddie's defense, he'd simply been explaining what the fight with his teacher was all about — you see, the teacher had found it quite detrimental to her teaching when he kept asserting that space was not, in fact, made up of nothing — and this explanation required an understanding of chaos mathematics and subatomic theory and the infinitesimal unimportance of humanity in the cosmos. This might help in understanding why the psychologist had to take that leap.)
In any case, nobody had been quite deranged enough to try and get acquainted with Sol's psyche since. The one subject potentially convoluted enough to provide an understanding of how the current battle was shaping up was the continuity of any popular comic book, after going through the hands of several editors, some of whom were possibly drunk. After an unlimited number of stalemates, retcons, and unexpected comebacks, neither readers nor creators would be quite sure what the fight was about, but they kept going at it anyway, and fans kept watching with the inexplicable fascination one tends to develop in the face of a blazing, smoking trainwreck leaking Strontium 90.
Sol had taken great pleasure in rendering the thing's victory utterly Pyrrhic, inflicting upon it a barrage of assignments that was sure to leave it too busy to so much as squeak out a plea to stop. Not that the thing would have done that, having foolishly decided to declare war in the first place, but Sol took a measure of satisfaction in imagining it, anyway — especially when the thing appeared to flourish under the treatment like a particularly masochistic type of Bougainvillea, unfurling fresh leaves with every new near-impossible task it was set to.
The other students had long since learned to stay out of the way, though they needn't have bothered. Sol had become so single-minded in his torment of the thing that he didn't even notice them scribbling along under their desks; some out of genuine interest, some because members of the faculty had begun to scout and pay willing members of the student body to provide them with insider reports, delighting in the struggles of their sworn archnemesis/long-time anathema/scary guy who'd once built a harmonics disruptor tuned to explode any stereo playing 80s pop.
Thus merriment was had by nearly all parties involved in this face-off, and all was right with the world.
Until one day, it stopped.
It stopped in the manner a wondrous, well-oiled machine tends to stop, everything grinding to a halt and slumping into shutdown after a fuel source has been taken away. Eye-witnesses would later describe the events in hushed whispers, partly because this was the tone of voice one tended to adopt when speaking of a very grumpy, unpredictable man who had the power of science (!) at his disposal, and partly because they just enjoyed keeping their listeners on the edge of their seats.
It started about five minutes into Monday's class, with the professor's sudden interest in the doorway. Periodically, he would look up from his blackboard squiggles, or pause in popping the cork of a vial, his gaze sliding to the door almost through a will of its own. Soon, this evolved into sudden bouts of pacing, and a routine laser glare sweeping the rows of desks, with the students fighting the urge to dive for cover. For all the jokes they liked to make about being taught by an angry grizzly bear, they had never really been taught by anything more than an extremely disgruntled, sleep-deprived, short-tempered and very intelligent man. Now they were being taught by a grizzly, who seemed increasingly willing and ready to commit scientific savagery upon his students, so they were all very glad when something finally seemed to snap, and the professor stormed out of class, slamming the door.
In retrospect, the catalyst, once unveiled, was as simple and insignificant as it was baffling. It was the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings, causing a tornado to tear through the campus on his way to the lab, and a flood of rumors to spill from classroom to classroom.
The thing had failed to show up.
The thing also failed to show up on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and by the time of eleven o'clock on Friday night, Sol had become very twitchy. This twitchiness did not stem from the thing's conspicuous absence from his classes — no, this twitchiness was due to the fact that the thought of its absence would every now and again wander into his mind like a disoriented tourist whose guide booklet had failed to point out that he really wasn't allowed in here, and who would raise his arm and shout, "Excuse me!" in the peculiar desperation of someone wishing to be noticed by the uncaring locals.
By the time Friday evening rolled around, the tourist had been yelling, "Excuse me!" since Monday, and was of the opinion that he had really been quite polite in his inquiries, so he'd decided to change tactics. He'd taken to windmilling his arms and shouting in five different languages at ten-minute intervals, to the point where no amount of calculations and formaldehyde were capable of drowning him out.
Sol paused in his work, and tried to find a way to forcibly kick the tourist out of his country.
He thought of finding a sturdy vertical surface for bashing his head in, or possibly being the first to perform a full frontal lobotomy on himself.
In the end, neither seemed very productive.
He went to the library.
Seeking out the library was a reaction left over from Sol's own college days, the days before affordable computers and ipods were ever at the ready to tune out a world that was out to annoy him with its frat parties, Madonnas, and motorized ice cream cones. The library was his sanctuary, a place of thought and silence, with the ability to instantly calm his overclocking brain and blood pressure (though he might have changed his mind had he spotted its new additions in the form of Several Novels About Sexy Vampires). It was also the place nobody expected him to go, which had left him with ample time to stake out his own private lair between the most remote shelves in the science section, the place where the works of Heisenberg and Schrödinger lay undisturbed by the aggressively illiterate student body.
The laws of probability state, however, that for every ten thousand ignoramuses, there is one really smart person, and this meant a greater than average chance that the place would not remain undiscovered forever. Sol had never considered this before, and wasn't about to consider it now when he was preoccupied with bodily hauling the tourist from the premises. When he rounded the corner, though, the tourist suddenly yelled, "Aha!" and waddled off in extreme self-satisfaction, leaving Sol's blood pressure to spike through the roof.
In a distant corner of his brain, the notion was forming that maybe he should find a more intelligent insult than "you," but the rest of him didn't care. Curled up in his special corner was the thing, half-barricaded by stacks of books on either side, a notepad in its lap, and fast asleep. It appeared to have been readying itself for an all-nighter, a thermos of tea and a packet of cookies sitting next to it on the floor, but somewhere along the line, it had succumbed to the warmth of the central heating system at its back.
Upon the bark, though, it stirred, lifting its head and clumsily rubbing the blurriness from its eyes. "Oh. Good... well, I suppose it's evening now, isn't it. Good evening, sir."
Sol merely blinked, partly because his curiosity had been piqued and was now engaged in a wrestling competition with the urge to just turn tail and leave, and partly because "you didn't show up for your daily smackdown" seemed like a stupid thing to say.
"Um." The thing shifted uncomfortably, trying to make itself presentable the best it could, and drew up its legs to allow him easier passage. "Um, do you need something from here, sir? I mean, I can move."
Sol could have said yes. He could have told the thing to get lost, reconquered his corner, and invasion-proofed it for eternity with barbed wire fences and rocket launchers. He wasn't sure why he didn't. Instead, he said, "Place is gonna close soon."
"Oh." The thing straightened even more. "I've got permission from the librarian, sir. She said she'd make an exception."
"You're gonna let yourself get locked in over homework," Sol said, narrowing his eyes.
"Well," the thing said, its gaze shifting from side to side. "My roommates have their girlfriends over. It would get... crowded."
"And you'd rather sleep in the library than ring up your mom. Right."
The thing glared abruptly. "I don't have a mom."
Somewhere in the back of Sol's head, the little voice facepalmed. Snappy-ass comeback — error. Abort/retry/fail?
He scowled at his conscience rearing its ugly head, and demonstratively jammed his fists into his coat pockets. No way was he going to apologize over that one. He hadn't felt sorry for anything in over thirty years, and he wasn't about to start now. If the thing thought he was going to get misty-eyed over some kind of tear-jerker story, it was sorely mistaken.
The thing wasn't thinking anything, apparently, because it stopped glaring and began to shuffle its notes in order. "Well, if there's nothing you needed, sir... I'm just going to stay here and finish your assignment."
"...which assignment?" Sol said automatically, his brain still not quite able to perform a 30 GOTO 10 and steer the conversation back into a territory that was safe and far away from foot-in-mouth.
"The assignment from last Friday, sir," the thing said, and if he hadn't known better, he would have said that it looked almost hurt. "On the chemical origins of life. You told me not to come back until I had an answer."
Had he? He honestly couldn't remember. It seemed like a fairly standard thing to say, right alongside, "Any time you think your incompetence has reached peak levels, feel free to use the exit to the right," and "As we can see, this result means that the type (1A) reaction is standard. Unless you're some sort of dumb shit." He barely even expected people to listen to the standard stuff, any more than they listened to other standard stuff in the more civilized world, such as "good morning" and "thank you" and "If you do this, your bones will melt. Whatever it says on that label. Try not to do it."
He frowned. "You're trying to tell me the reason you've been skipping class is that assignment."
"It proved to be... a little more time-consuming than I thought," the thing admitted, chagrined. "I sincerely apologize for my tardiness, sir."
If looks could move mountains, this one could have melted all the glaciers of the Himalaya with its abject misery at being too stupid to solve a problem humanity had been gnawing at for the better part of modern science. In Sol's case, all it did was shift a pebble. A very pissed-off pebble on an indignant mountain that did not want to move and didn't understand why it should, but a pebble nonetheless.
"You do realize the reason why none of these books will give you the answer is that it doesn't exist, right?"
"Um," the thing said, confusion rather than betrayal flitting across its face. "...I thought you wanted me to find it."
Slowly, his own internal can't-be-for-real-o-meter decided to swing from "nope, not real" to "you've got to be fucking kidding me." Making a face, Sol said, "Yeah, kid. I totally wanted you to solve what every major lab on this planet hasn't been able to solve."
"Give me that," he growled, holding his hands out for the papers. Stunned, the thing obeyed, still entirely too much in abandoned-puppy-mode for his liking. "And find a goddamn couch. And if I don't see your ass on Monday, you will rue the day you ever came here."
Then, he turned on his heels and marched out of the aisle to avoid getting caught in the lethal blast of happy sparkles heralded by the joyful, "Yes, sir!", trying very hard not to think about what he had just done.
It was only when he was safely back in his lab that Sol realized he had accomplished nothing he had set out to do. The tourist might have gone, but its smugness still lingered, and on top of that, he'd managed to invite the bane of his existence back into class, and would be subjected to its happy eager glow for the rest of the year. Something was definitely wrong with his brain. Maybe it was time to take a weekend off and get drunk, before he did something like join a knitting club for charity or starting a petition for world peace and interstellar harmony.
It seemed like a plan. Safe, and very likely to get him back to normal once his massive hangover met Monday morning and he got reminded of all the things wrong with the world. He was already halfway to putting his plan in action, shoving experiments into their respective containers, when his gaze fell upon the paper he'd taken from the thing, and so carelessly tossed onto his desk, into the middle of a congregation of flesh-eating acids.
And kept staring for a very long time.
"Congratulations. You've scarred the new intern for life."
Sol jerked up from poking through his research notes to see the wobbly outline of an elderly, shrunken figure tinged in a gentle brown aura. Then he realized he was staring through a rack of dirt-encrusted beakers waiting to be cleaned, and craned his neck past the lab table. The elderly, shrunken figure — now no longer wobbly — waved in greeting.
"She's threatening to forward you her therapy bill. And before you ask, the door was open," Kliff Undersen observed, giving the handle a pat, to which it responded with a weak, metallic groan and fell out of its socket. "Huh. Better get that repaired."
"As a matter of fact, I've got some parts on order," Sol shot back, and went about adjusting the microscope. "It's not my fault that she lacks the intelligence to stop snooping through my mail. And whatever it is, no, I'm not doing it."
The old head of the department was one of the few people in Sol's life who managed to be equal parts incredibly annoying and incredibly interesting, and who could be both or either entirely at will. Sol had long since learned to be busy whenever Kliff showed up, as he had the uncanny ability to make him do things he didn't want to do, and all of this was most easily avoided by pretending he couldn't hear, couldn't talk, and couldn't see. As an afterthought, he reached for his headphones.
"I think the hand in the jar was a bit much," Kliff said, in a tone that meant he knew Sol had started including these little extras in his mail on purpose.
"As I said, lacks the intelligence. I'm sure there's a sociological study for this."
"Average human's self-preservation instincts in the face of unspeakable horrors?" Kliff asked mildly.
"Something like that. Also, get out."
Kliff did nothing of the sort. Instead, he shuffled closer, and began to wave a packet of M&Ms under the lens of the microscope. Sol knew a basic ruse when he saw one, and he also knew that if he were to grab it, he'd have to start paying attention to whatever errand had brought the old man here. In the end, his cravings won out. Kliff thought he was cleverly concealing a triumphant smirk under his beard when Sol snatched up the packet and tore it open with all the care and attention of a wild boar that knew it had walked into a trap, and Sol made very sure to let Kliff know he wasn't being at all sneaky, it was just that he was hungry.
As always, the old man failed to look even the slightest bit guilty about it. "I read the paper."
Sol began laying out the M&Ms in the shape of a double helix. "So?"
"I won't pretend I know even a third as much about this subject as you do, but I have to say... it is the most well-researched punishment I've read in my entire career."
"Ah." He nudged the bases between the spiraling strands into place.
"It looks incredibly promising. To tell the truth, I've been keeping a bit of an eye on the boy. Seemed way too much like someone I know, with better social skills. He came here on a grant, did you know that? Both parents deceased, and yet he keeps working so hard."
Sol glared, and started devouring the guanine. "Your point?"
"Truth be told, I always thought he was a bit too good for law."
"Law?" Sol muttered past a mouthful of cytosine.
"Oh, come now," Kliff said, raising his eyebrows. "Half the faculty's been wondering what on Earth he's doing in your courses. Are you going to tell me you weren't the least bit interested?"
"Yes. Now are you going to give him some backing, or did you just come here to share Cinderella stories?"
"Oh, I'm going to. I'm going to. In fact, if he accepts the change in major, I'm going to do more than that." The old man crossed his arms, looking thoughtful. "I was thinking of assigning him a tutor. That way, the boy can get access to the labs, do some independent work. There's no use in waiting until he's allowed to apply for a graduate project. That kind of talent needs some guidance and practical experience."
"And now you want me to tell you which one of our eggheads to turn into the chaperon," Sol concluded, and started attacking the green ranks of the adenine. "Gee. Let's see. Moron, moron, moron, incompetent fuckstick, moron. Closet creationist, moron, moron, oh, and Bergman's a mouthpiece for Bayer pharmaceuticals. Just thought you'd like to know. I'm sure any one of them will jump at the chance to raise the fluffy little genius duckling into a scientific swan. If you want a completely degenerate swan that talks out of its own ass, of course."
"That wouldn't do, no."
"Better start looking at other places, then."
"Actually, I already had someone in mind."
"Oh, yeah?" Sol said, shooting him a sideways glance.
It took him a moment to identify the twinkle in Kliff's eyes, and to realize in a split second of perfect clarity that this was where he knew the thing's look from— it was the same expression the old man was wearing now, immensely pleased that he'd managed to maneuver him exactly where he wanted: between a rock and a fucked place.
"I'm of the understanding that you would be on the same wavelength."
The old bastard was already backing up, smiling serenely, completely unconcerned at the fact that two-hundred pounds of musclebound science were starting to get really, really pissed off.
"And you have more than enough room."
"I think it would do you good, having someone around. Help you remember how to communicate in polysyllables. Don't worry, I'll take care of all the paperwork."
"Excellent, I knew you'd see it my way."
And before Sol could reach for the nearest flammable object and whatever might make it flam, Kliff slipped out the door.
A/N: Whaaat. You didn't earnestly expect Sol to win this one, did you? XD Next up: Further adventures of the Quasiamicable Pair!!! How will Sol cope with the invasion of the Warmfuzzies?! Will Ky befriend the contents of Sol's fridge?! How long does it take for udon to gain sentience?! And most importantly... what will I-no do?!
Here comes a daredevil! Ky versus... THE LAB!!!
It was a widely known fact that Sol Badguy did not generally pay attention to people. It didn't matter if you were the dean of the university, the president of the United States, or the self-proclaimed archnemesis of the week (such as the guy who swore revenge in the name of scientific integrity and good taste right after Sol managed to attend a congress in a pair of novelty boxers and still walk away with funding money and the cover-story in Science Magazine).
In response to the onslaught of inanity pounding on his skull since childhood, Sol's brain had developed split-second analysis tactics and a flawless categorization system separated into "fuckwit" and "asswipe," and he found that this neatly encapsulated about ninety-eight percent of the world, thereby sparing him having to remember anything about people besides the fact that they were a colossal waste of time.
If you walked up to him to inform him of your name and station as if they meant something (or, in the case of the archnemesis, crashed into the juicer table where all the eco-reporters gathered, and screamed your doctoral degree across the after-congress buffet with all the ineffectual, humiliated fury of someone who has just been ignored by a guy in a pair of "Rub for Luck" underpants), you could count it as a triumph if Sol turned, arched an eyebrow, and asked, "...So?"
The only way to get him to even remember your name was to be persistently annoying on a very far-reaching and painful scale (like Lady Gaga), and it was generally not a good idea to try this unless you were very rich and very far away (like Lady Gaga), because then Sol would attempt to get rid of you by the quickest and most ruthless method possible. The remaining two percent of the world could be separated into people Sol found interesting and people he found to make very good chew-toys, and the latter was quite an unlucky fate, as Sol's attention liked to manifest in the form of itching weed toilet paper in the literature department bathrooms, nitrous oxide burritos in the staff lounge, and, if you happened to be Testament, a shipment from Victoria's Secret delivered straight to your office door and unpacked for inspection.
Most students, as well as most members of the faculty, had long since figured out that the best way to live with Sol was to give his lair in the science tract a wide berth, and, if that proved impossible, to remain as inconspicuous as they could.
The tiny-cute-thing-known-as-Ky-Kiske thought that these were disproportionate exaggerations.
Over the past few days, word had gotten around that it would be beneficial to check for low-flying pigs or the four horsepersons of the apocalypse (though the meteorology department was quite sure the inquiry about whether it was possible to measure the temperature in the bowels of hell had been a prank call), as the impossible had finally happened: the Science Troll had chosen to take on a lab assistant.
Over the course of the same number of days, Ky had heard more horror stories about Professor Badguy, the Merciless Tormenter of Souls, than he had heard the entire semester thus far. The head of the law department, a reserved and dignified woman, had reacted to his change in major with restrained disappointment right until she'd heard just who he would be studying under from now on, upon which her face had changed color several times before settling for a complexion associated with "muted horror." Miss Cloudberry of the student administration had leapt from her seat and rushed around her desk to check his temperature, his pulse, and for signs of a head trauma, and had eventually suggested he lie down in her office, she'd make him a nice cup of tea, clearly he was running a fever which was to account for his downright insane choice of a supervisor. His dorm-mates had taken the entire thing a step further and arranged for a mock-funeral in front of his room, at which Ky had shaken his head, though he'd still helped himself to an extra slice of the triple-layer chocolate fudge monstrosity masquerading as the funeral cake.
All in all, Ky thought, people had gross misconceptions of Professor Badguy's character. For one, the invention of pizza delivery would have suppressed any leanings towards cannibalism, not to mention that there were easier and less messy ways of obtaining human tissue samples than by keeping hapless students confined to cages. For another, a cursory check had revealed that most of the professor's on-campus victims were not, in fact, dead and buried in unspeakable places, but seemed to be still alive and doing fine, as long as they stayed away from anything rhyming with "science."
Granted, he wasn't at all sure what had motivated the professor to change his mind about teaching in general and Ky in particular, but Ky had heard of stranger dispositions, and frankly, it seemed like far too much effort to construct such an elaborate ruse. Angry grizzly bears were not in the habit of inviting people into their caves. Plus, after almost three months of withstanding the professor's insults, death threats and classroom-staple projectiles, Ky simply felt he was in no danger of being devoured, dissected, or otherwise atomized out of existence.
Still, it would have been foolish to approach the professor's office/lab/evil lair without the proper preparations. This included a pair of insulation gloves against possibly tampered doorknobs, an all-purpose key courtesy of Professor Undersn since there was never any telling when the lock on the lab would be mysteriously switched over night, and several ounces of candy in the pockets of his backpack (also courtesy of Professor Undersn) in case Ky needed to initiate a conversation that was to elicit a response longer than "no" and "get out."
He was, however, not prepared for the sight that greeted him when, upon having his knocking ignored for the tenth time, he finally let himself in.
Actually, it couldn't quite be described as a sight, since his field of vision was immediately obstructed by a broadside of dark, clingy fabric. Sputtering, Ky peeled back the impromptu blindfold to realize that it was the skeletal money print of a pair of Benjamin Pelvis shorts that had smacked him in the face. Stunned, he dropped them like a hot potato, only to have them cheerfully swing back towards him for another slap.
Ky swiftly sidestepped the boxer assault by retreating back into the relative safety of the door frame, the material fluttering ineffectually a couple of inches from his nose before relenting again. His mortified blush kept somewhat at bay by the sheer strangeness of the occurrence, Ky craned his head to catch sight of the piece of nylon string they had been stapled to for want of some actual clothes-pins, and had to see that they weren't alone.
He was gazing at a congregation of more or less offensive laundry, a few stray t-shirts, jeans, and a pair of dangling flip-flops interspersed with a disturbingly vast collection of various underwear, which were being paraded past the entrance on a moving clothesline and disappearing into the forbidding recesses of the lab. Periodically, they would sway forward like a variety of ship's flags whenever an array of free-standing computer fans rotated to push a gust of wind towards the door.
Okay, so he'd made the mistake of coming by on laundry day, Ky concluded, forever determined to roll with reality's punches. Nothing unusual about that, the professor was a very busy man, of course he wouldn't find time to do laundry at ho—
A black negligee swung past, followed by a heart-shaped g-string.
...Okay, so the professor was into wearing women's underwear, nothing strange about that, lots of people did that, and who was Ky to judge what made others feel comfo—
A tent-sized nightgown billowed its way around the bend in the clothesline, followed by a piece of plain, ordinary cardboard.
You just don't get it, do you? it read, before it was obscured by the motion of a pair of sweatpants.
"...No?" he ventured, not sure if he was meant to be commenting on the professor's clothing habits or addressing someone specific.
The new piece of cardboard whizzed past, succeeded by a cartoon-print tie that couldn't be anything but somebody's idea of a gag gift, and then—
A brief pause, filled with a series of mismatched socks, before a new cardboard swung his way.
What do you want?
The clothesline didn't feel inclined to allow Ky to formulate an answer, because a set of rapid-fire prompt cards rotated past, the professor having apparently run out of cardboard.
World peace and kittens for everyone?
I'll give you your doctoral degree if you leave.
Ky made a face and reached into his backpack, rummaging around for his notepad. When a pair of garters made its way towards him, he quickly clipped the sheet of paper on, ruthlessly suppressing the rush of embarrassment.
/I can't do that, sir./
A growl resounded from deep within the lab, as if the hounds of hell were lurking in the shadows.
Ky waited, and, when nothing more was forthcoming, fished out a Snickers bar, which he stuffed into the pocket of a passing lab coat.
@§%$!!!! said the clothesline.
Deciding that the sounds of the wrapping being rent to pieces were as good an invitation as he was going to get, Ky dived past the laundry — and straight into a world that would have made a koniologist happy for life.
Normally, Ky estimated, the dust would have been lying thick enough to poke a yardstick in it. Thanks to the power of the numerous computer fans, though, it was swirling gently along the floor, looping backwards and forwards like some bizarrely choreographed dust bunny ballet. If Ky had had a microscope, he would have been able to detect that a good portion of the dust had found its way into the main office from the backroom, and that he was actually peering at roughly four generations of dust, left to procreate in peace since the 1950s. The narrow entrance space quickly gave way to a precarious construction of several interlocking shelves, each of them packed with gutted computer husks, dirty beakers and boxes, old light bulbs, collision ball pendulums, cables, a variety of tools ranging from simple soldering irons to a pair of industrial bolt cutters, gyroscopes, books and empty propane bottles.
Past a board with a six-inch layer of memos and a rack of multicolored flasks bearing the bio-hazard sign, Professor Badguy was bent over in his office chair, tinkering with an array of machinery Ky couldn't quite make out past his broad shoulders. The massacred remains of the candy wrapper were still lying on top of his desk in the form of minuscule bits of shining foil, suggesting that the professor had accepted the gift more out of obligation to his stomach than because he actually wanted to. Still, Ky thought this was progress. He had yet to yell or slam any doors.
Clearing his throat, he stepped forward. "Good morning, sir. I—"
The professor held up a warning finger in Ky's general direction, and went right back to tinkering. After a while, his hand came up again, this time blindly groping along the edge of his desk as if looking for something.
"Screwdriver," the professor ordered, as if the command could scare the furniture into procuring the missing item. Ky couldn't honestly say that he would have been surprised if it worked.
"Screwdriver," the professor repeated, still more to the desk than to his visitor, but Ky felt it would be prudent to just assume that any utterance directed at an inanimate object was meant for him instead. A quick glance around yielded the location of the tool where it had rolled underneath the filing cabinet, so he placed it in the professor's impatiently curling hand.
"Hmph," the professor said to the desk, and concentrated on his work again. "...Cable."
Another look around only revealed a nicked and twisted SCSI cable, wedged between two half-open drawers, but the professor seemed satisfied with the offering, because he snatched it up with a "Finally!" and plugged it in with a little flourish.
"Um, sir, I—" Ky tried, but was met with the finger once more.
Flipping a switch, the professor swiveled away from his creation and planted his feet on top of his research notes. In the background, an ancient printer started up with a strangely musical screech, its cartridge transport stuttering forward. It was soon joined in its efforts by the pinging of an oscilloscope, accompanied by the rhythmic snarling of several floppy drives. Ky winced as the unlikely orchestra trilled and squeaked its way up and down the gamut, quite unmistakably warbling out the melody to Bohemian Rhapsody.
He directed a doubtful look at the professor, who had reclined in his chair the best he could with his eyes closed in an expression not unlike bliss, and knew better than to ask. Charms to soothe the savage beast, and all that, even if these charms were liable to send anyone with perfect pitch into a faint.
Once the cacophony ended, the professor slowly cracked one eye open. "Why are you still here?"
"You didn't seem entirely disinclined to see me, sir."
"Hmph." Withdrawing his feet, the professor reached into one of his drawers to pull out a a contraption made up of an old Geiger counter attached to a pair of spring-mounted eyeballs. "Stay put."
Ky dutifully held still as the eyeballs bounced up and down. "What is—?"
"Quiet. I'm measuring your annoyance potential."
The bottom of the device popped out, sending a bunch of wires spilling towards the floor.
"You've broken the meter. Now go away."
Ky frowned. "Sir, I'm here on your request. I understand you might not have expected me so early, but I fail to see how I can assist you if I'm not physically present."
"Actually, that'd be assisting me a great deal," Professor Badguy said. He put the meter aside, and turned to look Ky straight in the eye. "Let's make one thing clear, kid, before you imprint on me like a lost duckling or something. I don't want you here. I never wanted you here. The only reason you are here is because the universe hates me and everybody thinks this is going to be hysterically entertaining. The old bastard tricked me, end of story. So don't go getting any ideas."
"But Professor Undersn said you gave him my paper."
The professor grit his teeth, obviously unhappy that this tidbit of information had found its way to Ky. "Yes. More proof that it doesn't pay to do good deeds. I thought it'd get you off my back, kid, not get you glued there like a flea-infested spider monkey. Oh, stop it with the wounded deer stare. What do you want?!" He spread his arms wide, eyes blazing. "There's nothing here! Nothing. I'm not going to pat you on the head and tell you what a little smartypants you are and — fucking hell, what did you expect?!"
"Nothing, sir, I..." Ky slumped his shoulders, already aware that it would be futile to try and convince the professor of his lack of ulterior motives. He shifted his backpack, and turned to go. "I wasn't aware of the situation. If you'd rather I ask someone else, I will."
There wasn't a font size tiny or wispy enough to convey the sheer, gut-twisting, soul-ripping, reality-warping reluctance contained in that word. Half-convinced he'd hallucinated the protest, Ky turned back around just in time to catch the professor with an expression that suggested he was in the process of internally punching himself in the face and about two seconds away from repeating the violence in real-time.
"I. said. no," the professor bit out, as if every syllable was coated with tongue-dissolving venom.
"I. Oh. Oh. Thank you, sir! I won't—"
"For fuck's sake, stop acting like this is Christmas and I'm Santa Claus!"
"Yes, sir!" Ky said, but was unable to stop beaming.
"Just. Go. Go away," the professor groaned, pressing both hands against his temples. "Go sit over there and don't bother me and don't move and don't touch anything and don't breathe until I say you can."
Wisely deciding not to push his luck, Ky followed in the direction pointed out to him, carefully making his way between the shelves and boxes until he reached the opposite corner of the room, where the dust bunnies were still playing. He looked around, but everything was clustered with an unbelievable amount of stuff, with no seats or desks to be seen under the piles of junk and equipment.
He bit his lip, and called, "Sit where, sir?"
His only answer was a string of near-incoherent swearing that he had to stop translating once it hit Swahili.
Shaking his head, Ky decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth, dropped his backpack, and settled in for the wait.
The wait, it turned out, mainly served to give the professor ample time to brick himself in. Whenever Ky moved, blinked, or sneezed against the gale of dust, a new item was directed to the ever-growing barrier rising around the professor's desk. It didn't seem to matter whether the barrier was opaque or not, as petri dishes, a miniature rack of pipettes, a trio of glass containers for raising algea and a couple of empty beer bottles were nudged into place just like overflowing folders, old take-out boxes and a dismantled ghetto blaster, though the professor seemed to vastly prefer objects that would prevent him from seeing Ky.
For his part, Ky tried not to move too much, both to demonstrate his downright uncanny willingness to make this work and in order not to drive the barrier to its inevitable collapse, as it had taken to shivering threateningly whenever another piece of equipment joined the resistance. In truth, however, he could scarcely wait to get to work, shove aside the detritus and test out all the fascinating ideas he'd had in the past couple of weeks. Of course, he would have vastly preferred it if the professor had been available to discuss them, but that didn't look like it was going to happen any time soon.
He glanced up to catch the professor glaring at him through the flask-window on his right like a particularly suspicious Roman camping out on the safe side of Hadrian's wall, possibly hoping that the intruder would lose interest if he stayed behind it for long enough.
Under different circumstances, Ky would have wondered at the apparent conspiracy centered around the forced socialization of a man who should have been living in a single-tenant doom fortress in the middle of a fiery lava pit, except the professor appeared to be mostly doing it to himself. Maybe he was just one of those people who needed some time to get used to the idea of change, and liked to go to great lengths to avoid it. As long as he stayed on his best behavior, Ky figured (not that he was, objectively speaking, capable of exhibiting any sort of behavior that would be considered reprehensible by any standard other than his own), and proved himself to be a helpful, non-irritant factor in the professor's personal space, there was a good chance the professor would warm up to him.
"...You still here?"
Ky peered between the shelves. He couldn't see very much thanks to the barrier, just the tip of the professor's mullet shifting back and forth, but talk was definitely a good sign. Maybe they were finally getting somewhere. "Yes, sir."
"I'm sorry?" Ky said, not really all that sorry now that the erratic pendulum of stay-go, go-stay had taken to hovering closer to the 'I won't toss you out on your ear...yet' end of the spectrum.
More shifting, followed by the sound of a locker door falling closed, and then the professor reappeared on Ky's side of the wall, dressed in an outdoor coat and carrying a battered laptop bag bulging with the printer and its mechanical backup singers.
"Gotta run some field tests," he announced, before shuffling towards the emergency exit. "Be back whenever."
Ky blinked, and decided it would be better not to ask any questions. "...What should I be doing in the meantime?"
"I dunno, what have you been doing so far?"
"...Not... much, sir," Ky said.
"Good. Keep doing that."
And before he was able to get another word in edgewise, the door banged shut. Thinking better of heaving a sigh, as he truly didn't want to introduce his lungs to any more members of the resident bunny population, Ky glanced around the room.
The dust lolled back and forth. The clothes on the line continued circling aimlessly around the perimeter. The beakers shimmered in varying shades of unnatural greens and browns. One side of the Hadrian's wall gave a weak groan and collapsed in a landslide of papers and glass.
The more Ky looked at it, the more it became clear that he had to do something. Fact aside that he really wasn't looking forward to doing experiments on the floor, the professor really needed some help in keeping this place presentable. He had heard about it often enough, usually in connection with his own tendency to keep everything labeled, filed, and in chronological order — most smart and dedicated people were simply not very good at taking care of themselves. Maybe that was to at least partially account for the professor's near-constant bad mood; being faced with the task of keeping everything tidy on top of all his research work had to be really daunting, and this kind of workplace environment was detrimental even to the most chipper of spirits.
Yes, this was probably it.
Nodding to himself, Ky shrugged out of his jacket, determinedly rolled up his sleeves, and went on to locate the place of exile of all the terrified cleaning supplies.
Sol was in a good mood. Nobody could tell that he was in a good mood because he wasn't prone to smiling (which was a good thing, as it was a sight that could make grown men start shaking in their boots), but he nonetheless felt considerably better than he had just a few hours ago. A round of "terrorize the campus" tended to do that to a guy, and he was very pleased to add the conservatory to his list of places that would never dare perform another revival of Grease - The Musical ever again. The fact that the Queen Machine had also taken out the late morning aerobics meet-up in the central courtyard, the construction workers on the east side with their off-key renditions of the Pet Shop Boys, and the literature department's poetry slam in lecture hall four was just an unexpected bonus.
Since his few remaining moral circuits had kept him from plotting revenge against an elderly man who had to tilt his head backwards to even see what would hit him, or from dangling the thing out of a tenth-story window by its belt hoops, he just had to lower his blood pressure in another way, and performing an educational interlude for people who wouldn't know music if it bit them in the ass was simply the most effective way to prevent himself from rocketing into the atmosphere on the power of his own rage.
His ire now successfully funneled elsewhere, he found that he could kind of sort of maybe begin to deal with the fact that he'd been saddled with babysitting. It didn't mean he was about to accept it — nothing could have been further from his mind — but it meant he could slowly begin to think about the fact that the thing had invaded his dwelling without immediately popping a vein. In fact, he was currently taking pleasure in the knowledge that at this moment, the thing, ever eager to take him literally and carry out an assignment to the T, was undoubtedly about to fall over from standing around unoccupied for hours, if its little neatfreak mind hadn't already been sent into a meltdown from exposure to the lab.
Of course, this didn't solve the overarching problem of having the thing in his sacred personal bubble in the first place, but he didn't feel like acknowledging just yet that he really hadn't wanted to see how the thing would turn out in the care of any of the imbeciles, or perhaps in the hands of that one guy from the pharmacological institute who tended to talk to himself and wore paper bags on his head. For the moment, it was enough to claim that he'd been disappointed at how quickly the thing had suddenly deflated in the face of a little adversary, and, much more importantly, that he still had a score to settle. Let the thing enjoy its false sense of security, he would find ways of reducing it to a pile of helpless, steaming fury.
In the back of his head, the little voice refrained from pointing out the inherent immaturity in taking out his frustrations on a fourteen-year-old kid, and settled for rolling its... well, the eyes it imagined having. It had been on strike ever since the Starbucks Incident, as there clearly was nothing to be gained from playing the voice of reason for someone so hell-bent on refusing to accept its input and live according to the rules of normal, civilized human society. It wasn't going to listen to the complaints if Sol ended up cold and lonely and possibly ruled deranged by a court, no sir.
Sol, however, was too wrapped up in fantasies of spiting the thing to take note of the plight of his own imaginary voices. In fact, he was so enamored with the idea of introducing the thing to his collection of electrified eyeballs that he didn't notice the overly sweet fumes of acetone wafting down the science tract, as if all the female students had decided to paint their nails in the same spot as part of some kind of beauty sit-in.
If he had, it might have cushioned the full force of the shock somewhat.
For a second, he was convinced he'd opened the wrong door. That he'd taken a different turn somewhere and ended up stumbling in on a bacteriological sterilization test arrangement or possibly a janitor's illicit tryst with a gallon of easy squeezy solution. That what he was seeing was in no way his own lab, his very own lovingly decorated lab with its pandemonium of loot and the coffee stains on the linoleum and the semi-sentient disinfection mat and the modern art arrangement of old take-out boxes and his ratty couch that he'd stolen from the third floor staff lounge for the purpose of naps — simply because, if this was indeed his lab, it was now missing all of its carefully crafted mayhem.
Instead, what was opening up before him was a vast and shining place of absolutely horrifying cleanliness, the sunlight from the formerly boarded-up basement windows bouncing off a variety of surfaces that shouldn't even have any reflective qualities and highlighting the geometrically arranged furniture and glimmering lab equipment, beakers lined up from shortest to tallest, liquids grouped according to basic and acidic properties, tools, prongs and burners stowed in properly labeled boxes. On the far side of the room, stacks of yellowed, dog-eared papers were waiting to be sorted into color-coded folders, and to add insult to injury, all the laundry he had specifically brought in just to weird out the thing had been folded and stacked in a stray chair.
This wasn't his lab. This simply couldn't be his lab. Maybe he had fallen down a flight of stairs somewhere and this was his own personalized version of hell—
"Welcome back, sir," chirped the devil in attendance, hefting a dripping mop on its shoulder and flashing him the happiest, friendliest, most undevilish grin in existence.
Inside his head, the little voice sighed. Clearly, this was a job for it, if it wanted to prevent the destruction of the planet, and it deeply regretted not having any hands to take control of the levers in Sol's brain that would make him stop gaping like a strung smelt and say something sensible like 'thank you' or 'you didn't have to' or even 'that wasn't necessary' (which would have been the most blatant lie for the sake of courtesy in recent history). Distinctly lacking in options, however, all that was left for it to do was to pull out a stock of soothing phrases to throw at the blockhead in control of the vocal chords before—
"WHAT DID YOU DO."
— yes, before that happened.
The thing stared, baffled, as if it had been under the assumption that Sol would actually appreciate being blinded by the magnitude of sparkling conformism. "I... just tidied, sir. A little. Plus whatever was oozing out of that jar that was trying to eat my leg."
"WHERE IS ALL MY STUFF."
"Oh. Well." The thing hesitated briefly, and started ticking the points off its fingers. "The coffee mugs are soaking in acid cleaner to get rid of all the..." It paused momentarily to omit 'five-year-old', "...sediment. I went through the pin board and removed any memo that's older than 1995. I've filed the rest in case there is anything you would like to keep. The couch is at the dry-cleaner's, the disinfectant mat was... uh, very affectionate, so we're getting a replacement, you're owing three thousand two-hundred and sixty-five dollars worth of library fines for all these overdue books, and the city is sending someone to pick up the old propane bottles. They said not to worry, and they'll be charging the costs to your stipend. All the spare parts were moved to the storage room—"
Sol, who had been trying to keep up the expression of an injudiciously incensed killer whale against the barrage of productivity, blinked. "I have a storage room?"
"...Yes, sir. So..." The thing brightened. "You now have places to put things!"
"There was a desk under all that stuff, so... I moved it over to the window. You know, for my studies. That is, if you don't mind, sir."
Apparently, a nondescript sound from the back of his throat was a good enough answer for the thing, because it continued, "I haven't gotten around to your desk, yet, but I thought it best to ask you first if—"
"What happened to the fridge."
"Um, I cleaned it, sir."
"You... cleaned it."
"Well, I cleaned the first one." The thing coughed. "I'm afraid I couldn't do anything for the second. It kind of... jumped out the window. Screaming."
"There was some chow mein left... at least, I think it was chow mein. It was sort of... exhibiting some unusual characteristics... behavior... properties..." It cleared its throat again, figuring that this was the best way to politely convey the fact that it'd had to prevent all the leftover take-out Sol had ever forgotten in the bowels of the mini-fridge from forming a provincial government. "I've put it in a containment box for further study."
Taking a deep breath, Sol squared his shoulders, distinctly not pleased with how his rage had fizzled out under the thing's heartfelt, stone-melting stare of sincerity like a vampire in broad daylight. He wasn't quite sure how to stop what was clearly a militant carebear before it started bringing flowers and scented candles and erected a feng shui spring in the middle of the room. Facing off against the fridge and winning, he reluctantly admitted, did deserve a commendation, as the last time anyone had tried had been a good three years ago, and it had eaten several mops and put one janitor into institutional therapy, but then again, he didn't want the thing to think that what it had done was in any way desirable or worthy of praise.
He also didn't want to sacrifice any more of his reign of rats and pestilence and chaos (well, okay, maybe not rats, but definitely pestilence and chaos), now that his desk was all that was left of a once mighty empire, the sole remaining island of darkness. Naturally, the easiest way to deal with this would have been to grab the thing and boot it out of his office, but visions of cross-eyed, uncoordinated swans prevented that move.
He gnashed his teeth, screwed his eyes shut, and summoned irritation, cousin to rage and keeper of its ashes.
"Alright, listen up, kid."
Ever obedient, the thing perked.
"You get one get-out-of-jail-free card since this is your first day here and you've been talking to all the wrong sources. I did not, do not, and will never need your help. Not everyone has to live off a diet of unicorn rays to be complete. Now, this part over there..." He indicated the far half of the room, "...is obviously beyond help, so... stay there and raise baby putti or something. I don't care. But this..." He indicated the space around his own desk. "...is alphabetically organized dirt. If you cross this line, if I see you so much as thinking of taking a feather duster to my space, I will strap you to a rocket and shoot you into orbit. Are we clear."
The thing nodded fiercely. "Crystal, sir. Just..."
"Um, how am I going to get outside? The door is... kind of on your side, sir."
Shrugging, Sol turned in the direction of his oasis. "Place has got windows, right?"
A pause. "I have the coffee pot."
Sol turned back around, unable to see how this would make for a good bargaining chip, since this particular piece of inherited hardware had seen its last ritual washing some time around the first moon landing. "So?"
"It's... clean, sir."
"Trade secret," the thing said, though he could have sworn that he saw its gaze furtively flicker to the locker housing the radiation equipment. "Would you be willing to negotiate coffee for free passage, sir?"
"Give me one reason not to just march over there and take it back."
Very slowly, the thing smiled, as if it was certain that Sol would never be able to refuse its offer. "I'm told I brew a really mean espresso."
A/N: And all is well that ends well... OR IS IT?! *doom doom doom* C&C is much appreciated.
For the record:
- Sol isn't really into women's underwear. He just likes to scandalize people. He does, however, own several of these.
- Ky felt sort of bad for the rug, until it started trying to hump his leg.
- The printer orchestra? Totally exists.
- And yes, I've been announcing I-no's revenge for two chapters now. She'll really show up next time, promise.
Coffee, tea, or... literature teachers with a penchant for Catholic schoolboys?!
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Coffee, it turned out, was the Spanish gold of the science lab — precious enough to barter ceasefires, able to buy passage to strange lands, and capable of enticing the supreme ruler of the jungle of pestilence and chaos, adversary of love, peace, and morning cheer, and natural enemy of sodium dodecyl sulfate into trade agreements he couldn't back out of.
Ky, newly appointed master of the treasury, swept through the decades-old box of coffee supplies like a spring-scented tornado, tossing out decaf, instant coffee, malt, and the dreadful powder mixes promising the unforgettable experience of a hazelnut chocolate mocha that tasted strongly of chalk. He had appropriated part of the budget to buy a proper grinder and a steady supply of kona beans, as he'd deemed the acquisition of a water-powered jetpack to be rather low on the list of priorities in comparison to the precious beverage that would allow him to enter and exit the lab in a dignified manner.
Professor Badguy was a man of few words, but they could be teased out of him with an espresso con grappa, and Ky politely decided not to remark on the pleased hum that would emanate from behind the Great Wall whenever he pushed a cup past the barrier. Of course, there was still the fact that the door locks were changed twice a day, and that he had to check his seat very carefully before sitting down, and the professor kept misplacing all manner of important things in hard-to-reach and inappropriate places, but other than that, he really didn't see what the fuss was all about.
Never in his life had it occurred to him to feel lonely, but he had certainly developed a lot of empathy for the pygmy possums at the local zoo. Being short, fourteen, orphaned and in college tended to have that effect, and if Ky had been majoring in sociology and also a lot more cynical than his sunny countenance allowed, he'd have written a paper comparing the frequency of curious stares, commiserative awws, and grabby hands. By contrast, the lab was a wildlife preserve run by the most disinterested gamekeeper on Earth. The professor called a wrong idea a wrong idea instead of telling him what a brilliant wrong idea it was, and Ky could expect to go through a whole day without any hair-ruffling, concerned questions about whether he was getting on, or his roommates' well-meaning, discomfited attempts at inviting him to a night on the town out of pity.
Here, he wasn't required to be legal to get access to the back room (though he certainly was required to have a strong mind and stomach), and he didn't get in the way so long as he kept to his side of the room. He could stow his meticulously hand-picked box of tea in a secluded corner of the coffee cabinet without expecting to find somebody's weed stash in it, keep working late without the distraction of drunken dorm parties, or have his nose buried in a publication all day and feel, for the first time in his life, that he had found a place to belong. Thus, Ky became the first and only person on the planet to describe spending an extended period of time around Sol Badguy as 'pleasant' and 'really quite normal,' something that would have gotten his capacity for risk/benefit judgments ruled unsound in seven states and also upset the professor profoundly, so he decided to keep it to himself.
Meanwhile, the ruler of the realm of pestilence and chaos began to experience some revelations of his own, but by a chance conspiracy of his higher mental faculties — most notably reason, curiosity, and his pitifully atrophied sense of companionship — was successfully kept from noticing the extent of these changes. (The higher mental faculties were quite aware that their owner had the tendency to resist change with flamethrowers, ground-to-air missiles and the occasional mutant uprising, so they deemed it much safer to leave the noticing of change to the tiny blond thing, who could be expected to catalogue it, professionally assess it, and, in this particular case, finish the cycle of realization by smiling quietly into his Earl Grey.)
At first, the change mostly manifested in the professor's lack of cursing whenever he saw Ky. After a while, a lack of door-slamming could be added to the list of observations. Looking closer, it became apparent that little bits and pieces in the wall around the professor's work table were starting to disappear, until it had shrunk to — or so Ky supposed — its usual size, less like the Hadrian's wall and more like the wall of an eccentric English gentleman, who was neither very English nor very gentlemanly, and also didn't take very good care of his lawn.
Around the same time, the realm of pestilence and chaos began exhibiting strange new properties. For one, it began to develop an acute lack of ashtrays, though the term "ashtray" had to be liberally applied to anything from saucers to crumpled take-out boxes, and, once in a while, an obliging petri dish. Ky couldn't honestly say where or why the ashtrays went, but his lungs and red-raw eyes felt grateful all the same.
For another, the chaos began to ooze. Not like a building tidal wave, or a blob of penetrating oil that could simply get into everything, but more like an amoeba in the depths of a water sample, slowly and purposefully stretching towards a distant source of food. Steadily, foreign items were finding their way into the space Ky had claimed as his own — a book on physical chemistry, a stack of old student papers with the post-it "Don't be that guy" attached to it, the occasional print-out of the first draft of one of the professor's articles (gratuitous swearing included). All of them simply phased into existence when he wasn't looking, and he was trying very hard not to.
It only seemed right to make room for a box of candy between his files and allow the professor's need for a cheap sugar fix to take over, munching on a chocolate bar while performing most-definitely-not-a-check-up, and muttering most-definitely-not-advice into his coffee cup.
Of course, class garnered Ky more stares than ever, since he was not only the first person to clamber back out of the jaws of hell (he suspected that this was mainly because nobody had tried), but also the first person to willingly clamber back into them (he suspected that being shot in the face with a pie cannon was a first impression few people cared to amend). He probably could have mentioned that really, Professor Badguy was only feeling murderous on days ending in -y, and he seemed to like teaching quite a bit so long as he didn't think he was teaching, and no, the story of the chewed-up pizza boy in the biosample refrigerator wasn't true, he tested it, and it turned out to be just congealed pepperoni with extra tabasco, but at this point, it almost felt like a personal betrayal to do so.
It was better to accept that he and the world had different priorities; Ky was content to get to know the man who could spend the better part of a day designing a Freddie Mercury cursor sprite, and the world was content to swap stories of said man's truly phenomenal and absolutely unproven body count — to interfere with this would be to upset the balance of the universe, and so it was much better to answer nosy questions with an enigmatic smile and accept that people were starting to call him St. George.
There were a lot of reasons to become a teacher of literature, and a lot of reasons to stay one. Granted, most of them weren't very good reasons, generally some combination of idealism, mistaken hopes for fame and visions of the countless red sports cars that could be found tearing through the college campuses of early nineties movies. Once they started their career, one could observe a progressive souring of the young idealists' expressions, until they could be seen haunting the hallways with the mildly homicidal face of a person who had to see Shakespeare make an appearance on a list of modernist writers one time too many.
Most of them began to compensate by developing strange habits, such as directing independent films on the meaninglessness and impermanence of words, or self-publishing gloomy eighteenth-century-flavored verse only attractive to the kind of buyer who felt as bitter and slighted by life as the poet. (Then again, Testament had never been the particularly cheery sort, and all those free bra samples couldn't have helped.)
I-no's reason for staying was the shock value. Technically, a person of her persuasions seemed like she should have felt more at home running an S&M club — more money in that business, plus less of a fire hazard — but I-no felt that S&M had stopped being shocking with her mother's generation (or, to be precise, her mother's parents). These days, it needed a lot more than a bit of latex and a pair of handcuffs to make people turn the color of gently boiling lobster, and women's studies had proved to be fertile ground for any number of splendidly outrageous things that could be passed off as education and empowerment. Nothing quite like an erotic poetry reading with mandatory attendance, or a graphically aided lecture on the many representations of male castration in writing, and that wasn't even getting into all the wonderful things that could be passed off as "performance art" which would normally get a person arrested in the street.
I-no simply lived for making rows of prim, bespectacled and graying eminences squirm in their seats. Her students had turned out to be entirely too receptive to her teaching methods to make good victims, but she didn't necessarily see this as a loss. Nurturing the next generation was part of her job description, after all, and luckily, the university boasted a sufficiently broad selection of staff whose lives could use a healthy dose of pure, undistilled misery on any given day. She was keeping a time-table for just this purpose, as there was absolutely no sense in doing it like the science boar, who was only interested in scaring people into leaving him alone. No reason to go breaking her toys so barbarously; they all needed time to recuperate and believe themselves safe, sound and well over their crying fits before she would strike again.
Speaking of crying fits...
She paused in marking an appointment with the dean in her calendar — the university absolutely needed to host an exhibition on the erotic furniture of Catherine the Great, surely he would agree, he didn't seem to be averse to some rather unusual practices himself — and spent a few minutes contemplatively staring at her office phone.
The beautiful thing about phones was that they would never become superfluous. Say what you would about the accomplishments of the information age, none of them came close to replicating the circumstances of a caller screaming his fury and outrage into a receiver in the vain hope that the power of his voice would race through the landline and punch the recipient in the face. Modern technology also couldn't replicate slamming the receiver back down so hard that the phone cracked, or the fact that the caller's rage could be burned into someone's voicemail until the unsuspecting victim was around to go down in a barrage of words.
What most people didn't realize was that phone repairs could be kept track of, and messages could be preserved indefinitely for all kinds of wonderful purposes. To I-no, the helpless, incoherent vocalizations of a person in torment were what Händel's Hallelujah was to a music lover. She relished getting them, and relished reminding People in Certain Elevated Positions that she had them on tape, but most of all, she relished keeping them for herself, to be played while relaxing in a hot tub at the end of a stressful workday.
During the past few weeks, however, she'd felt like something was missing. That it had taken her this long to notice was a rather grave oversight on her part, but sabotaging a theological conference had taken up most of her afternoons. With that out of the way, however, she was left to realize that Freddie dearest really was overdue for a call.
If her messages had been a stamp collection, Freddie would have been the Blue Mauritius of voicemails. Much sought after, rarely heard, but, when provoked far enough, a truly masterful symphony of creative insults that were only sweetened by the knowledge that something she had done had driven him to communicate his fury instead of merely trying to exact his science-powered revenge.
As much as I-no liked to think of herself as an expert in blackmail and torture, it was extremely difficult to gauge what would drive Freddie to the point where his rage overpowered his desire not to come in contact with the outside world. Truth be told, she had only gotten him to scream at her over the phone once in all those years, a feat that had mostly been aided by very specific circumstances which regretfully hadn't been her doing, and this had been a good ten years ago. She'd invested a lot of time into crafting a situation of the same magnitude, and had believed the trigger to lie in the combination of the two things Freddie hated most of all — forced social interaction and prolonged exposure to a maximum amount of stupidity.
Now she had to face the fact that all her hard labor hadn't paid off quite like she'd thought it would. Sure, it had irritated Freddie considerably, but not enough for him to become inventive. In fact, the last time she'd had to deal with any spontaneous fires had been a good two weeks ago, which, though quite lucrative for manufacturers of faux leopard fur car seat covers, had grown rather dull in itself, and that alone was a cause for concern. Freddie cared about the creativity of his vengeance as much as she cared about her creativity when provoking it. That he should have grown beyond holding petty little grudges was a thing of impossibility.
She'd have heard it if he'd managed to knock himself out snorting his own spores; the on-campus celebrations alone would have been deafening. He also couldn't have surpassed himself and developed an immunity to stupidity. That was the wonderful thing about dealing with a genius — his brain was his own worst enemy, as there was scarcely a person in the world smart enough not to drive him up the wall.
The only other possibility was that Freddie had rolled over and admitted defeat, and that would have just been the damnest shame. She'd never be able to forgive herself if she'd broken him without getting a good scream out of him first. (Alright, that was a lie, but she'd feel very disappointed that he would succumb to a bit of exposure to real life so easily.) In any case, I-no decided, Freddie dearest losing his groove like that simply wouldn't do. She'd have to go and stoke the fires of his rage back to their usual neutron star temperatures, the sort of favor only bitter enemies could do for one another, though it certainly was a thankless job.
With a devious smile on her lips, I-no canceled her appointment, and went to investigate.
They say a woman's purse is a place of deep, dark secrets... and stray hairclips, lipstick caps and scattered small change, ruining the air of mystery. "They" had never met I-no's purse, which was all about digging up the deep, dark secrets of other people, while also putting the secret-keeping capabilities of other purses to shame. I-no was quite fond of the red leather Vuitton, which could conceal a small-sized bear trap in its frame, and still had enough room to discreetly accommodate her all-purpose lockpicking kit. She'd had to significantly expand her arsenal of tools for Freddie's door, including a pen-sized welding torch and a compact powder box that doubled as an explosive detector, since Freddie could be awfully inventive when it came to keeping people out of his lab and in the hospital.
She'd already managed to disable the electroshock trap without incident, and was prodding around for the inevitable bomb when there was a quiet click, and a melodiously high-pitched voice announced, "Sentry mode activated."
"Coming!" another voice called. "Don't open the door! Just a moment, please."
The shout was followed by the sound of moving chairs, and I-no took a step back to ascertain that she hadn't somehow ended up stepping through a dimensional portal or picking the wrong lock since Freddie never said "please." Freddie never said anything, period, instead preferring to communicate in flying furniture. Freddie also didn't sound like a member of the Vienna boys' choir.
Some more clanging, followed by a childishly drawn-out cry of protest, and then the door swung open to reveal the strangest sight I-no had ever seen coming out of Freddie's lab (including, but not limited to, black-coffee-on-bacon sandwich, miniature velociraptors, a perpetual people-kicking machine, and a musical condom waterbomb, rigged to blow its load all over the unlucky passersby to a warbly rendition of "Good Old Fashioned Loverboy").
In the doorway stood the shortest, blondest, most adorably breakable-looking thing outside of a nativity play, wearing a custom-hemmed labcoat and a pair of goggles on his head.
For a moment, I-no found herself earnestly contemplating a strategic retreat, because the short, blond, adorably breakable-looking thing simply couldn't be real. Freddie was exploiting her secret weakness with the most horribly devious trap in the history of time, and if she didn't throw herself out of the way right this second, it would transform into a death ray and obliterate the portion of the corridor she was standing in.
Then, all her years of experience and observation kicked in to inform her that for one, Freddie just couldn't be arsed to remember anything about people, and for another, Freddie was not an aestheticist and thus wholly incapable of producing anything that didn't have six legs, three heads, and the vocabulary of a drunk, truck-driving sailor. In fact, the object in the blond jailbait's arms was looking much more like Freddie's usual kind of subterfuge — lasers, spider legs, stupid pop culture references and all. In the background, a few more creations of the same type had been stuffed upside down into cardboard boxes, rotating their thin metal legs and chittering furiously in the voices of homicidal school children.
"I'm very sorry," the jailbait was saying breathlessly, still preoccupied with wrestling his catch into submission. "He keeps building these things and they keep wandering off and I thought I found the last one but apparently not and it's really very much not safe here and GET AWAY FROM MY CULTURES."
I-no blinked when he whirled around to face the addressee, and his catch, apparently resenting the rapid movement, followed up with a sudden burst of gunfire. On the other side of the room, another one of the creatures fell off the chair it had been trying to climb, its egg-shaped shell riddled with bullet holes.
"I thought we agreed on this one, sir!" The boy slammed a hand on the thing in his possession, causing it to shut down with a shrill wail of protest. "No. live. bullets!"
When there was no response, he turned back to I-no, shaking his head and smoothing out his tie. "I'm so sorry about this mess..." He coughed when he realized who his visitor was, and straightened just that extra bit, like a regency shoujo manga page boy sprung to life. All that was missing, really, were some ruffles and criminally short shorts. "Um, ma'am. The professor doesn't seem to be in at the moment. Is there anything I can do for you?"
I-no raised her eyebrows, partly because she had never pictured Freddie hiding such a truly delectable secret, and partly because nobody had ever said, "Is there anything I can do for you," and looked her in the eye the entire time. Oh, this could prove to be fun.
"Well, that depends," she purred, leaning forward. "What can you do for me?"
Instead of turning the shade all teenage boys turn when faced with a cleavage of such generous proportions, this little specimen merely tilted his head in earnest contemplation. "Well... if the professor's borrowed anything he wasn't supposed to borrow, you can give me a description of the item and when and where you last saw it. I'm still sorting through storage, so locating it might take a while... unless he's used it for something, in which case, you might be better off demanding compensation. If you'd like to register a complaint, um, I'm afraid he's set the complaint box on fire again, but I can definitely take dictation. The overdue book fees will be paid by the end of the week, I'm pretty sure what happened to the music department was an accident this time, and if you're here to ask about the robopocalypse, I've been told to tell you that he didn't do it, and 'would this face lie to you'."
He took a moment to stuff the turret into an empty box and shoved it out of sight with one foot, a motion as discreet as it was practiced. "But you're not here for that, are you, ma'am?"
"Such a clever little boy. Whoever thought it would be right to abandon you here?"
The boy's lips pursed in displeasure. "My name is Ky Kiske, ma'am, and the professor has kindly agreed to watch over my progress."
"Oh, has he now," I-no said, eyeing him speculatively. Freddie liked students just slightly less than he liked live alligator wrestling, and even if she factored in the possibility that the cute little jailbait was simply lying for the sake of politeness, that still didn't explain how he'd ended up here or why he seemed perfectly at ease in an environment that would have sent most people into a terror-induced meltdown. Just imagining the kind of blackmail it had to have taken for Freddie to endure sharing his lab space with another human being... ooh, the things she would do to get her hands on this information.
On second thought, judging by the boy's face, she might not have to do very much at all. She knew the type, after all — guileless, willing and naive, the kind who trusted instantly and whose helpfulness knew no bounds, particularly when they were feeling out of their depth.
She smiled sweetly. "I'm having such a hard time imagining that; you see, Freddie is a terribly antisocial type. You must be something really special."
"...Freddie?" The jailbait blinked. "Are you an acquaintance of the professor's, ma'am?"
"You could say that. We go way back, in fact, though I don't suppose he's ever mentioned that."
The jailbait cocked his head to the other side, as if trying to picture Freddie having acquaintances and failing.
"Don't worry if you can't imagine it. Nobody can, what with Freddie dearest's issues and all."
I-no waved her hand. "It's such an old story, really. He's quite the handful, isn't he?"
"No need to be shy. I've seen and heard it all before." Shaking her head, she pushed past him, figuring that if Freddie really was either pressured or enamored enough to keep the boy around, the number of outright death traps would dwindle significantly once she stepped beyond the door frame. "Will you look at that, he's really turned this place around. Unless..."
The jailbait shrugged in the manner of someone who had been asked this question many, many times before, and also had to confirm that he was not a robot, a vat-grown life form, or whatever Freddie's version of a boy slave was. "The professor needs a bit of help with some of the day-to-day things."
"Indeed he does. Oh, is that coffee?"
Ignoring the jailbait's attempt to warn her of her imminent murder, she grabbed Freddie's favorite mug (formerly his second-favorite, but it had received a promotion upon the incineration of the actual favorite after her last visit). "I'm sure he won't mind if I help myself to a cup while I wait."
"Actually, ma'am, for your own safety—"
I-no tut-tutted. "Oh, he won't kill me. They'd take away his science toys if he did, for one. I'm really much more worried what his presence must have done to such a bright young mind. You simply have to tell me how you ended up here..."
And with a decisive heel, she nudged the door shut.
Sol Badguy hated the world. That in itself was nothing new to anyone by now, save for the bunch of neighborhood kids who had decided that ignoring all the "murderous space crayfish breeding ground" signs around Mr. Badguy's backyard was a good idea, and whose misadventures in same-said location would rack up triple-page therapy bills for years to come. Everybody else had been reminded of that fact often enough (usually with science-to-the-face), but what they didn't know was that the reasons for his violent antipathy had changed considerably over the past two weeks.
Whereas he had formerly hated the world because it was aggressively incompetent and full of marvellous idiots, he now hated it because the world had suddenly gotten a whole lot smarter, brighter, and was serving him excellent coffee. It could all be blamed on the thing, of course, which seemed to have dedicated its life to ruining his curve, something he had spent so many years calculating and refining that it might as well be its own mathematical theorem by now. The curve existed solely to compare Sol's ideas of how the world should work with how the world was actually working, and to help him continuously adjust his expectations to the lowest possible point.
The world being what it was, this was necessary quite frequently, and though it was certainly disheartening to behold for researchers, educators, and passing alien probes, to Sol it merely meant that he didn't need to waste a lot of effort on becoming a functional human being. But now, the thing was here, with its stupid suits and its stupid enthusiasm and its stupid appetite for knowledge (not to mention its really stupid coffee-making skills), and it was throwing years upon years of carefully lowered expectations into disarray.
He'd simply had to get out for a while. Staying in a pocket of the universe filled with nothing but logic, curiosity and intelligence was having a catastrophic effect on his judgment — his daily word count had doubled in the past week alone, he'd noticed his hands developing a nervous twitch that made them put waste in its proper containers, and he was feeling, all in all, that getting to work at eight on a Monday morning was really quite a pleasant thing to do, and that was just about the singularly most horrifying revelation of his life.
Clearly the thing was emitting some heretofore unknown and dangerous waves that, given enough time, would turn the parts of his brain responsible for his steadfast hatred of humanity into silly putty. The best way to medicate was to go out, buy some truly terrible vending machine coffee, sit down in a cell phone-infested space and start correcting the midterm exams.
Just half an hour of this treatment was enough to get his blood pressure back to the active volcano stage, and as he came stomping down the corridor to his lab, anything could have set him off. So when he caught sight of the scarlet lacquer miniskirt trying to disappear into his lab, one could have expected him to erupt like the Krakatoa.
He didn't, because the overtaxed anger management center in his brain was immediately doused with the ice-cold realization that the thing would not have the good sense to save itself — the thing was hanging out with him, that was proof enough that its danger responses were broken, and of course its naive politeness would demand that it invite the mantis queen for tea and crumpets.
He would have to do something before she could shred the thing's clothes and leave it a devirginized, gibbering and possibly disemboweled mess. It would require the combined powers of mathematics, physics, exact memory of his lab's layout, and a decent amount of raw violence, but Sol was positive he could do it.
He elbowed the door open.
The undignified squawk told him he'd been right on the mark — well, almost right on the mark. The door hadn't left her splayed against the wall plaster, but it had made her dodge, and the dodge had sent her a good four feet away from the thing's belt buckle.
"Sir!" the thing exclaimed, predictably, stupidly in the process of doing exactly as its overly fastidious nature demanded, and pouring a cup.
"We really have to work on your sense of self-preservation. Put the coffee down and back away slowly."
"If she gets her hands on you, no one will ever see you again. Just a lone shoe in the hallway. I saw her get a sophomore this way."
"But sir, that's—"
"Professor Cougar. Of Cougar Studies. Today's lesson will be on hemlines. We'll be focusing on the difference between slutty and whorish."
"Oh my, what's wrong?" I-no cooed. "Did the cave troll not get his morning feeding?"
Sol narrowed his eyes, and thought it wisest to plant himself between the thing's bewildered innocence and its natural predator. "And what are you doing here? Exhausted your supply of prepubescent virgin flesh already?"
"Just their tears." I-no smirked. "Thought I'd swing by and see if you had any, you're so good at making the helpless little ones cry. Is that raw talent, or do you just get off on it?"
"Look who's talking. I'm not the one who prefers her victims without balls."
"Now, now, who's been keeping cute little boys around to do his dirty work? Tell me, how does it feel to finally have the chance to put that equipment to use?"
Scowling dangerously, Sol reached for a beaker. "Out."
"My, my, looks like I hit a nerve."
"Oh, no need to get brutal. I can tell when I'm not welcome." With a pout that was fooling exactly no one, she turned, and made her way to the door with an exaggerated sashay. With her hand on the knob, she cast a glance back at the thing, which was still staring between them in wide-eyed, stunned confusion. "Just let me know whenever you're tired of him getting his science all over you. My door's always open."
And with a wink, she was gone, leaving the beaker to shatter ineffectually against the door.
Taking a deep breath, Sol closed his eyes, reminding himself why improvising a rocket launcher and splattering her all over the walls would be a bad thing. It would be refreshing, to be sure, and probably grant peace to hundreds of suffering university staff, but if he left to build it now, she'd just come back, and the thing would still be too clueless to protect its honor. With the sizable rage demon in the back of his mind howling in dissatisfaction, he straightened and turned to face the thing, which was only just now remembering that it could blink.
"...Sir? What's going on?"
"Listen," Sol said, trying very hard not to sound like he was speaking through clenched teeth, "That. Is not a woman. That. Is a black widow in human form. If you like your life — and your balls — you'll run the other way when you see her."
"She said she knew you..."
"Don't see how that's any of your business," he said brusquely, and, ignoring the faint look of hurt on the thing's face, started rummaging through his pockets for the key to the storage.
"Where are you going, sir?"
"To dip her car in liquid nitrogen."
A little over a week ago, the thing would have been appalled at the idea. Now, fully aware that nothing could possibly get between Sol and a mission, and that it was in fact easier to just deal with the results, it merely gave him a doubtful look. "That... isn't going to do much good, sir."
"Well. It will give me something to do with the excess nitrogen."
A little ways down the corridor and safely out of the range of any surprise death lasers, I-no lingered, a cheshire grin playing across her lips.
Who would have thought that after years upon years of surly hiding in his cave and spitting flames at anyone who foolishly ventured forth to approach him, the science dragon was actually forming attachments. Wholly against his will, of course, and in denial every step of the way, but that was to be expected. Provided she didn't interfere, there was a chance he would even turn into something resembling an honest-to-god human being, but where would be the fun in that.
She flipped open her cell phone.
If Freddie wasn't going to appreciate what he had, she knew someone else who would..
Next up: What demonic machinations lie in the future for our
unwillingheroes? Who could possibly appreciate Ky more than Sol? What soul-shattering secret is hidden in Sol's past? And most importantly... will I-no ever get her voicemail?! Tune in next time to The Adventures of the Quasiamicable Pair which hopefully won't take a year to happen.
- Yep, the Portal guns. C'mon, like he wouldn't.
- While Cougar may be her main subject, I-no also minored in MILF.
- Ky owns forty-seven kinds of tea (high-quality, of course). Then he ran out of room.
Sol vs. his Past! Old enemies, sinister music, and all new reasons to look into the weaponization of raccoons.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Those who had the dubious pleasure of being personally acquainted with Sol Badguy would not have described him as a particularly paranoid man. In fact, depending on their job, the solidity of their state of mind, the last time they’d been to see a priest and whether or not they were in possession of a double-barreled shotgun, they tended to describe Sol more as a source of paranoia than anything else.
He trolled political talk hosts in his spare time, was the archnemesis of any radio DJ foolish enough to let a dubstep remix of Bohemian Rhapsody on air, and was the reason the Girl Scouts had declared the five-mile area around his house a no-sale zone (granted, this was mostly due to their scouts running away crying after one look at his face, which wasn’t really something Sol could do anything about, but he wasn’t about to turn down all those inadvertent free cookies, either).
In spite of his reputation, however, Sol lived his life according to one simple and unalterable truth — that the universe was out to fuck with him, and that if he gave it half a chance, it would swipe his wallet, steal his car, and leave him stranded in the middle of the Mojave desert.
The best way to ensure that the universe wouldn’t get a chance to fuck with him was a three-step plan, though the university had so far refused to approve his request for a perimeter fence made entirely out of chainsaws. While that was a pity, it wasn’t a significant hindrance to the implementation of steps two and three, which consisted of expecting nothing and doing nothing of consequence, respectively. This, he had determined long ago, would give the universe as small an opening as possible and save himself a lot of annoyance that was better spent elsewhere.
Expecting nothing meant not having to live with the inevitable disappointment that came from having expected Scientific American to publish an article without at least three bogus sources, or from having expected frozen burritos to taste anything at all like a real burrito, or from having expected the results of last night’s play-offs to go unspoiled for even five minutes of morning conversation. Doing nothing of consequence meant less time and energy spent on being forced to justify his own existence, and minimizing the chances of having it blow up in his face.
The thing, consisting primarily of sunshine and rainbows, didn’t quite subscribe to this philosophy.
The chainsaws, it argued, while certainly impressive, weren’t particularly cost-effective, especially not — and here, Ky had pulled out the books Sol hadn’t even known existed — especially not after the deduction of ten years’ worth of library fines, the costs for incinerating three truckloads of semi-sentient waste, and the import fees for the monthly shipments of kona coffee.
Trying to argue for just not returning the books or simply burying the old bio-samples in Professor Skankentine’s backyard had just triggered the transformation of the world’s tiniest, fluffiest scientist into the world’s tiniest, fluffiest lawyer, and that meant six hours of his life he’d never get back. He’d never realized something that looked about as ferocious as a Japanese dwarf squirrel could argue so loudly and so persistently for so long. After his ears had stopped ringing from the barrage of paragraphs, Sol had quietly vowed to implement future cost reduction schemes without the thing’s knowledge, though he hadn’t gotten very far in figuring out how to do that yet.
Predictably, the thing also didn’t think much of his work ethic, determined as it was to win some kind of award for having absolutely no life whatsoever. In fact, the only reason Sol had stopped trying to tear the happy right out of its soul was that the thing seemed to agree with the most central part of his philosophy — namely that expectations were for the kinds of people who tried to dry their palmtop in the microwave and were very surprised when it exploded.
Granted, this was owing to some rather generous rounding on Sol’s part. In reality, Ky was only about ten percent cynical and ninety percent very, very pragmatic; an attitude that, apart from demanding he try to do everything himself, guaranteed that he never left the dorm without a sewing kit, extra paperclips, a roll of duct tape and a thermos full of tea, the basic ingredients to solving almost all of life’s problems. (Since he’d started working at the place formerly known as the den of pestilence and chaos, the checklist had grown to include a pair of industrial safety glasses, half a backpack full of candy, and the ability to lie convincingly, which were the basic ingredients to solving almost all problems pertaining to Professor Badguy).
At any rate, the fact that the thing was similarly prone to not expecting things made Sol feel somewhat vindicated in his approach to the universe, not to mention it made his life considerably easier. The lab might not have been a place for expectations, but it was a place for ruthless capitalism. The exchange rate for answers was one candy bar per topic, double that if the question couldn’t be answered with a series of grunts (which, as it turned out, was quite difficult to do when discussing the finer points of terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase).
The exchange rate for some actual help was one mug of freshly brewed coffee, and Sol was quite pleased with how quickly the thing had taken to his teaching methods. (He didn’t realize that the thing, in turn, was quite pleased with how quickly Sol had taken to its teaching methods, derived from an online dog training manual. Or that most of the candy had long since morphed into whole grain crackers and granola bars to ensure that the professor would continue to be his tight-lipped, irritable self well beyond the age of forty).
The system was working well; in fact, it was working so well that the more time passed, the more it began to expose its fundamental flaw. It was a flaw that could have been easily fixed, or at least given due consideration with a little bit of introspection, but in a twist that should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, Sol avoided introspection like he avoided Freddie Mercury cosplayers — mostly by immolating the very suggestion.
If Sol had felt even slightly more inclined towards the occasional bout of self-reflection, he would have found himself violating his own most basic principle: He had begun to expect things.
Granted, they were not what other people would consider expectations, which made them all the more extraordinary in Sol’s unique version of reality. He had come to expect to come in to a squeaky clean lab. He had come to expect his morning coffee. He had come to expect a modicum of fifteen minutes of intelligent conversation a day. Most damningly, he had come to expect the thing to be there, with its annoying industriousness and its annoying questions and its especially annoying resemblance to a unicorn.
And because the universe is about as likely to ignore such a slip-up as an asteroid is inclined to change its collision course with Earth to avoid ruining everyone’s Sunday, this turned out to be the perfect moment for a shiny silver bullet car to come skidding into the university parking lot.
In truth, skidding was perhaps the wrong word to use in this context. It would have been more accurate to say that there was the sound of tires skidding before said shiny silver bullet car simply materialized in the parking lot. It sat there for a moment, bathing the other cars in the sparkle of its wax-polished majesty, just to allow anyone who might be watching to understand that this was a Really Important Development. Then, its gullwing doors slid outward and upward with a quiet hiss, and spectators would have been forgiven for anticipating fog to come billowing from inside.
There were, of course, no such needless dramatics, though the fog could have undoubtedly been customized in a dashboard function. There was also no theatric accompaniment provided by a church choir, though again, spectators would have been forgiven for thinking they could hear the opening chords of Dies Irae when a foot stepped onto the pavement. A foot clad in an Italian leather shoe, which came attached to a man clad in an expensive three-piece suit and carrying a thin, stylish briefcase. Beyond his strangely nondescript face, he looked like a CEO who had walked out of a board meeting after introducing all the other members to the multi-functionality of his Hammacher Schlemmer therapeutic death chair.
Straightening his jacket, the man surveyed the campus stretching out before him, the car doors sliding closed and locking at the press of an unseen button. He was pleased to note that little had changed — a fresh coat of paint on some of the buildings, some abstract sculptures which were meant to represent wisdom, industriousness and justice but all ended up looking vaguely obscene, and the countless students caught up in the eternal recurrence of college life.
Perhaps the lack of shrapnel pockmarks dotting the ground should have come as a bit of a disappointment, but it was fairly obvious that the emergency reconstruction and landscaping task force had become a lot more efficient since his own college days. Fred had a way of inspiring people to new heights, even if they mostly happened to be a squad of bulldozer drivers called in at four in the morning to refill the gaping crater left behind by a field test of tarmac-eating bacteria.
He smiled a little to himself, and though it was, for all intents and purposes, a benign, everyday kind of smile, onlookers would have once again been forgiven for checking the area for the aftermath of a puppy-stomping.
Originally, he’d planned to be in and out in under fifteen minutes, but now, he figured he could afford to take his time. It was a lovely day for a stroll around the campus grounds, and the stroll was a lovely way of building up some anticipation for the reunion to come.
Across the campus, the-tiny-cute-thing-known-as-Ky-Kiske was blissfully oblivious to the fact that the unicorn had just been added to the list of endangered mythical beasts.
This was partly due to Ky having no idea that there was such a thing as a list of endangered mythical beasts, and partly due to him ignoring any and all of Professor Badguy’s taunts involving unicorn farts, which prevented him from realizing that he was now endangered by association. If he had, he might taken the next rainbow out of there, or at least considered working from his dorm room for the rest of the day.
As it was, however, he was engrossed in the progress of a culture of slime mold that was fanning out across a series of small food clumps, slowly forming the perfect network for a new city subway system. Every once in a while, he reached for his keyboard to make allowances for a water vein or a bundle of high-voltage cables, happy whenever the detour required only a minor increase in costs. On its altar, the coffee maker was gurgling away, but other than that, the lab was enshrouded in a peaceful silence.
It would be fairly short-lived, Ky knew; the professor had gone to argue fundings for the print publication of a couple of Ky’s papers and would be back in a little while, steaming mad at the inconvenience of the world in general and the penny-pinching ways of the university in particular. Ky chose to consider it very nice of him to go to such lengths, although he privately suspected that the professor mainly did so to have an excuse to call the office for research and development a bunch of incompetent — insert words Ky was too polite to repeat here — cockmonkeys.
The professor, it seemed, occasionally needed to blow up at someone, the way other people develop an urge for a double down chicken sandwich or for screaming down the highway at two hundred miles per hour. Apparently, these blow-ups happened with such regularity that the R&D office had turned them into an initiation ritual for new interns.
At any rate, Ky was busy enjoying the calm before the storm and not worrying about the imminent extinction of the species he didn’t even know he was considered a part of, when there was a knock on the door. Not a hurricane of fists pounding on the door, or any rage-blind yelling for the blood — or at least the suspension — of Professor Badguy, but the kind of brisk, inquiring knock one could expect from an ordinary visitor, which ruled out pretty much everyone the professor knew. Most people, insofar as they didn’t tend towards apoplectic rage, found it easier to let themselves in and, if they happened to encounter Ky, apologize for their rudeness after the fact. Anyone who knocked with such civility was either lost or an uncommonly well-mannered delivery man, so it was probably in Ky’s best interest to answer the door before the professor could swoop down from the ceiling and eviscerate their visitor.
As he disabled the electroshock device and turned the door knob, he couldn’t help but wonder where the college choir had found such strong-voiced singers that they could be heard all the way from the other end of the campus, or when exactly they had started practicing in Latin.
On the other side stood a man in a light gray, very expensive-looking suit. It was the kind of suit that belonged to very important people, or at least to people who considered themselves very important, a custom-fitted Armani that looked like it had been whisked from right under the sewing machine to avoid the undignified touch of an in-store display rack. An amused smile was forming on the stranger’s oddly nondescript face as he studied the name plate next to the door, and Ky was pretty sure he was imagining it, but he could have sworn the man was humming along with the practicing choir under his breath.
“Yes? May I help you, sir?”
A standard greeting, though he couldn’t quite help the small spark of irritation that shot through him — the man had quite clearly realized that the door was open and that someone was waiting for him to introduce himself, but had for whatever reason decided to ignore both. Now, he took a second to blink before turning his smile upon his host, though Ky couldn’t shake the feeling that his failure at Method Acting 101 was entirely intentional. He’d never met anyone who had put him on his guard so fast, not even Miss (at her own insistence) I-no, and she was the first general of hell’s legions of succubi, at least according to Professor Badguy.
“Hello. I don’t believe we’ve met yet.” The stranger inclined his head. “I’m That Man.”
Perhaps it was not very polite to respond with a bewildered stare, but Ky had never met anyone who expected people to identify him by such a questionable moniker, either. “…Who?”
“That Man,” the stranger repeated as if it were perfectly obvious.
Ky frowned. “I’m sorry, but you will have to be a bit more specific than that. Sir.”
“Ah, my mistake.” Still smiling, the stranger shook his head and produced a business card from his breast pocket. “Thaddeus Mann. BlueDyne Enterprises.”
Ky frowned harder as he accepted the card, which indeed proclaimed its owner to be Thaddeus Mann of BlueDyne Enterprises on 6425 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, next to a pale red logo resembling an upside-down dragonfly.
“And you must be the wunderkind I’ve been hearing so much about. Ky Kiske.”
“I don’t like that term, Mr. Mann,” Ky said in a voice that wouldn’t melt butter. “And I’d appreciate it if you could state your business plainly, since I have to keep an eye on my cultures. If you’re here to see the professor, I suggest you reschedule your appointment for another day.”
To his surprise, That Man started laughing. “Alright, I see now. I see why he keeps you around. From her description, I thought I’d be plucking a harmless little daffodil.”
“Whose description?” Ky asked, his tone suggesting that the butter would soon find itself the very first object in the universe to achieve absolute zero. He didn’t like these attempts at unsettling him, and he liked infinitely less that they were starting to work. “…You’re talking about Miss I-no, aren’t you.”
“Miss?” That Man raised an eyebrow. “My, she really loves that naughty teacher routine, doesn’t she. Ah well, no matter. She was kind enough to inform me that this department has bred a very promising upstart in biochemistry, so, in the interest of my company, I simply had to nip down here and see for myself.”
Ky wasn’t quite sure in what world a four-hour drive could be considered “nipping,” but decided to let his dubious expression speak for itself. “If you’re looking for a consultant, I’m sure Professor Badguy will give your offer due consideration.”
By which he meant “perforate the proposal in a particle accelerator, then fire its sad subatomic remnants into the sun,” but all the practice in courtesy lies made this one roll rather smoothly off his tongue. The professor thought about as much of doing consultation for corporate undertakings as he thought of decaffeinated coffee and intelligent design, which was to say not much, which was to say nothing at all, and God help you if you were fool enough to mention it in his presence. In his opinion, freelance science consultants got paid to have their words twisted in the annual budget report, and non-freelance science consultants were a bunch of eels so slippery they could slide all the way to the Cayman Islands with their tax-free bank accounts on nothing but the seats of their pants.
That Man seemed to know as much, though, because he laughed again. “Oh goodness, no, the only thing Frederick does is consult asses out of doors. No, my company is rather more interested in nurturing promising little sprouts.”
Pursing his lips, Ky found himself experiencing a strange bug in his politeness module, compelling him to simply shut the door in his visitor’s face. It was the kind of solution the professor would have gone for (plus-minus some flamethrowers or machine guns on legs), which was to say it wasn’t a solution at all, and Ky had an inkling that a closed door would be about as likely to deter That Man as three a.m. was likely to deter an aggressively enthusiastic mariachi band.
Besides, as annoying as it was to be referred to as someone’s pet floristry project, he was also starting to get fed up with all the secrecy surrounding Professor Badguy. Under normal circumstances, he would have considered the matter entirely too personal to pry into, but the strange characters that kept popping in and out of the professor’s life had the unfortunate tendency to extend whatever grudge they were holding against the professor to Ky, such as the engineering teacher with the cowboy hat, who had made it into a habit to appear in the secretary’s office whenever Ky had to go there on business, and who would watch his dealings with the intern as if Ky might suddenly do something potentially scarring or, at the very least, utterly rude, like insult three generations of her family. In the interest of peace, justice and diplomacy, Ky decided, it was high time he found out what was going on so he could at least reassure people that they had a complaint box now, even if it spent most of its time being on fire.
“‘Frederick’?” he asked, tilting his head and widening his eyes for the little extra bit of adorable bewilderment that caused a lot of people to misclassify him as harmless. Although the man in front of him had more than likely graduated from Dewey, Scruem & Howe (and was probably putting the “dick” in “valedictorian”), he also seemed to have decided that he didn’t mind carrying around a stepladder for that high horse, which made him considerably more inclined to dismiss anything smaller than five foot two that was desperately hoping for a growth spurt.
“Are you and the professor acquaintances?”
This time around, he even managed to pronounce “acquaintances” without sounding like he was inquiring about the victim of a gruesome strangulation attempt, now that he knew that the majority of the professor’s acquaintances considered themselves to be so simply because they either didn’t mind living dangerously, or because they were working on a rather promising anger management study and had built their entire career around him.
This was obviously the question That Man had been waiting for, because he chuckled warmly. In the background, the voices of the practicing singers hitched for a moment, before awkwardly segueing back into the chorus.
“Hmm. Coating the football stadium with astroglide doesn’t quite fit the bill for ‘acquaintances’, I think. Then again, I’m not sure what it would fit. The equivalent of second base, probably.”
“I… what?” Ky said, and this time, he didn’t have to fake being confused.
“It was one way to alleviate the occasional tedium of student life,” That Man said, tapping his chin. “I’m pretty sure some pranks made it into a couple of yearbooks. Pressure cooker auditorium? Carnivorous vending machine? Night of the Walking Dead at the MedCenter?”
When Ky shook his head, infinitely less surprised by the professor’s apparent choice of a hobby, he added, “Actually, if memory serves, Fred made it into the national news that one time, even. Public hearing. Very dramatic. He’s good with that when he wants to be.”
“Funny story, that. He’d tell it better than I could,” That Man said, waving his hand dismissively. “…Actually, probably not. What’s his syllable count these days?”
Ky decided that there was no way to frown hard enough at that particular bit of information. He’d never heard of any hearings, public or otherwise, but he had noticed some odd gaps in the library’s yearbook collection, filled with little piles of debris that, come to think of it, looked a whole lot like ash. “It’s just fine.”
The professor’s syllable count was, indeed, just fine, but it was only fine if you happened to be Ky or a researcher studying speech development in adults. Mostly everyone else had taken the triple increase in Sol’s daily word quota for the sign of the end times it surely was, and had begun glancing nervously towards the sky to make sure the cosmos was still in its proper place and not hurtling towards them in a screaming fireball at a trillion miles per hour.
That Man seemed to think so, too, because he squinted in surprise. “Oh, is it, now? Funny, that. Fred was never much of a social butterfly, even before he ended up here.”
Ky kept himself from echoing the phrase, held in check by the unwelcome realization that while their visitor was evidently disinclined from regarding him as a particularly sensitive variety of garden plant, he also seemed to want Ky to keep asking questions.
The scientist in him was annoyed by the realization. The lawyer had to applaud. The newfound shoulder devil had given up on suggestions of door-slamming and was now recommending bolt cutters.
That Man seemed to notice he wasn’t going to take the bait, because he shook his head. “Ah, do forgive me. It’s hard to be around this place and not get swept up in a bit of nostalgia.”
He reached for his briefcase, allowing the choir a brief pause to build up to a crescendo, and pulled a set of documents from within.
“Allow me to present you with a proposal.”
There is an age-old conundrum surrounding the question, “If a unicorn wanders into a snare and no one is there to hear it, do the psychic waves of its distress summon a virtuous hero to save the day?” It is a conundrum primarily of interest to unicorns, who have to deal with the predicament in the first place, and in this case, they would have been very disappointed to learn that the answer was a resounding no.
The answer was no because Sol Badguy was not especially virtuous and also a little past the age of the average RPG hero (he was, in fact, this close to being considered legally dead in Japan). Besides, the unicorn in question had once trained to be a lawyer, which meant that it was not only quite difficult to distress, but also perfectly aware of the many applications of Tesla coils which exempted their operator from being held accountable.
Now it just so happened that although Sol was not attuned to the waves of non-existent unicorn distress, he did hold the Olympic gold medal in bastard detection. It was a talent he owed in part to his own proficiency in bastardry, and in part to his absolute pitch, which meant he was currently weaving through the busy hallways with the picture of a smirking church choir in his head.
The last time he’d seen an image of a smirking church choir had been the day IT had happened, and while it was always possible that someone was breaking in the newly formed congregation of Absolute Asshole Adventists down the street, as he swerved into the corridor leading to the science wing, Sol was dreadfully certain of two things.
One, that he had, in a bout of terrible carelessness, forgotten to restock the lab’s disproportionately large supply of liquid nitrogen. And two, that the universe was right behind him, twirling the keys to his car.
The laws of physics state that every action prompts an equal and opposite reaction. This is broadly true. The laws of physics do not, however, account for denying said opposite reaction an outlet for something close to fifteen years, which might help to explain why That Man suddenly found himself slamming skull-first into a wall.
In retrospect, self-restraint would have been option. Self-restraint, a welding torch, and an hour-long mixtape of “Ice Ice Baby,” which would have given him the added pleasure of watching the bastard try to set the fire-proof interior of his car ablaze in a last-ditch effort to shorten the torment.
As it was, Sol had to make do with the impact of human cranium against cheap wall plaster, which, while not nearly as poetic, wasn’t altogether unsatisfying.
Dimly, he could hear the shrieks and clatter as passersby made desperate leaps to safety, and the crunch of plaster when he tightened his grip. Someone was shouting close to his ear, which, upon later reflection, turned out to be very reasonable things like assault charges and blood pressure, but for once, not even the small, underdeveloped voice of reason in the back of his mind felt inclined to listen.
He was going to wring the bastard’s neck until his eyes popped out of their sockets, and he was going to do it it until he gave himself a repetitive stress injury.
“My… my, what a welcome.”
Somehow, the dispassionate amusement in that tone rang as clear as it had on that fateful day, despite the fact that he had his elbow pressing up against the bastard’s throat.
/What’s wrong, Fred? Don’t care for the responsibility?/
“You… never could go… five minutes… without making a scene.”
Somewhere in his head, he had an answer to that, consisting of a middle finger, a power drill, and a parade of curses arranged in rhyming couplets, but all that left his mouth in the real world was a long, guttural growl.
“Sir, what’s gotten into you?!”
A hand on his arm, trying to keep him from cutting off the bastard’s air supply, but he refused to budge.
“Sir, stop that! You’re rendering yourself liable to prosecution!”
Sol didn’t reply, but kept watching the face on the end of his elbow, which, despite its increasingly purplish color, was still watching him with that same unbearable smugness from fifteen years ago.
“Sir! I assure you, we do not have the legal funds to deal with such a case, unless you’re willing to cut back on your coffee.”
It took some effort to tear his glare away and level it at the thing instead, which stared back with unflinching seriousness, wielding the unforgiving logic of the numbers. The air crackled. So did the plaster. Nobody moved, except for the apparition of a strange Japanese man, who was clutching his electric guitar with bated breath.
After a long moment of silence, Sol let out one final growl and stepped back, leaving the bastard room to crumple into a wheezing heap, which, infuriatingly enough, he did not do. He merely coughed, straightened his tie, and began brushing out the wrinkles in his suit.
Unseen, the apparition of the strange Japanese man collapsed in disappointment.
“My goodness, how little has changed.” The bastard picked up his briefcase, and began brushing it off with the same exaggerated care. “You always did need people looking out for you.”
“I wouldn’t worry about charges,” he added, turning to address the thing, which was staring from one to the other like it was trying to figure out how to keep the two live wires in a bomb from touching. “That’s just good old Fred’s way of saying hello. Not sure I’d call that syllable count ‘just fine,’ though. Then again, reunions are supposed to choke you up, aren’t they?”
“Fuck. off .” Sol bit out, well aware that he was just wasting his breath. The universe had gotten what it came for and had already swaggered off, perfectly happy to let fate and her sister payback handle the fallout.
“That’s cold, Fred. And after I came all this way just to see you.” The bastard smiled the kind of toothy smile that made Sol want to slug him in the face, just to see him try and talk past a mouthful of dislocated teeth. It wouldn’t hurt him for long, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt his wallet in any way, but again, this was all about the laws of physics and not about pay-off.
The bastard seemed to realize what he was thinking, because he shook his head. “…Actually, no, not quite. I don’t need to give you special invitations. You know my door is always open for you.”
He nodded meaningfully towards the thing. “This is BlueDyne’s philosophy, you see. We are interested in and willing to support the raw talent, no matter the personality attached to it. Individuality is where innovation comes from, after all. And live entertainment.”
“Shut the fuck up and leave.”
“Before you’ll do… what exactly? I know you, Fred. You’re all bark and no bite.”
Just a punch. Just a punch was all he needed, and then he could take his sweet time figuring out where he’d get a vat of teflon and enough rocket fuel to fire a hundred and eighty pounds of asshole into the sun.
“See?” His plan for a better world must have shown on his face, because the bastard smirked, giving the thing a meaningful nod. “From this, you’d think he’d be all id, but then Fred picks the oddest times to develop a superego.”
There really wasn’t anything keeping him from lunging that remaining distance and reducing the world population by one — the world had shrunk down to the maelstrom of his own fury and its target, eclipsing logic, reason, and the good dozen mobile phones working to load Twitter and Instagram. The balance of the force would finally be restored, and all he needed was to—
“Think of the coffee!”
Sol blinked, his rage-soaked mind momentarily unsure what coffee had to do with anything. The maelstrom eased up a bit, leaving him to realize that there was an inconveniently placed object blocking his path, or rather blocking his fist, and that it was short, blond, and trying to do the blocking with its face. Its stupid, wide-eyed, earnestly imploring face.
With the fist stalled an atom’s breadth away from its nose, the thing swallowed. “Sir…”
Sol stared back, for the first time in his life disconcerted at the thought of causing collateral damage — so disconcerted, in fact, that it took an obnoxious clucking noise to remind him that the bastard was still there, and, unfortunately, still very much in one piece.
“You know, Fred, you might want to do something about your impulse control. Not everybody’s as understanding as I am. I can only do so much to keep you out of trouble.”
He cast a glance around the bend of the corridor, which was beginning to fill with the sounds of the descending gossip vultures and the determined jog of the campus police. After a pause that existed solely to remind Sol of the full extent of his near-misfire, he turned towards the exit, secure in his knowledge of paragraph forty-seven of the supervillain rulebook, which states that the villain never has to worry about protecting his back during a dramatic departure, because a bumrushing hero would just look pathetic.
In the doorway, he turned back to meet the thing’s eyes, and tipped his nonexistent hat. “It’s been a pleasure. You know where to find me, should you change your mind.”
If there had ever been a time when it would have been useful to know how normal people reacted to nearly being falcon-punched by two-hundred pounds of angry Kodiak bear, it was certainly now. Ky suspected a nervous breakdown was probably in order, maybe a newfound aversion to shaggy rugs, but found neither option to be particularly conducive to resolving the situation.
At least, he would have dearly liked a cup of tea before he had to try and placate the campus police, who were a lot less eager to do their duty once they learned just whom they would have to approach for questioning. In fact, they seemed downright relieved to be talking to Ky, taking notes with the kind of exaggerated care that suggested they had no idea how to tackle the incident, and were hoping not to be forced to tackle its instigator. At least not without flame-retardant suits. And armor-plating for delicate places. And a couple of cattle prods. All of which they were going to put on order right now, expect us to be back in two weeks, thank you and have a nice day.
Instead of taking this as the cue to start fearing for his own safety, though, Ky was exactly one part worried about the potential ramifications of the incident, and four parts worried about the professor himself, which didn’t leave a lot of room to worry about anything else. By now, Ky could safely say that he had seen the professor’s moderately unhappy reaction more times than any insurance company in the city cared to count. For Professor Badguy to forego the precision lasers, noise cannons and the many uses of angry raccoons in favor of punching someone… well, most people wouldn’t have touched that incident with a barge pole covered in exploding puffer fish, but by now, it was safe to say that Ky wasn’t most people.
Armed with a cup of espresso (with lots of cream to soothe frayed nerves), he made his way to island of pestilence and chaos, where the professor was bracing himself against a shelf, drawing deep breaths.
“Here, sir.” Ky set the cup down in the one spot on the desk that always remained clean and free of face-melting acids, but got no reaction. The professor had never refused coffee before, not even when he was grading independent research assignments, which, according to him, were the [expletive deleted] floodgates on the [expletive deleted] Aswan dam of insultingly incompetent laziness and deserved to be [expletive expletive expletive deleted] into the sun and [expletive deleted] sideways.
After a minute of silence, Ky decided to press on. “Sir, who was that?”
“He said you used to be students together. That you were… friends.”
At this, the professor stiffened and shot him a baleful look from the corner of his eye.
Ky sighed. “Sir, please. I understand if you don’t want to talk about it, but I do think I’ll be able to help better if—“
“None of your fucking business,” the professor ground out, causing Ky to take an involuntary step back.
The professor had never sworn at him before. Well, alright, the professor had sworn at him plenty of times and in several languages, but never in a tone of voice that suggested Ky should stop asking if he liked his internal organs all lined up and in working order. There were any number of personality quirks Ky was willing to put up with, from choleric coffee critics to socially inept social workers, but he hadn’t grown up to be a fifteen-year-old ward of the state by letting himself be intimidated into silence.
“Pardon, but I do believe it is my business, sir. I’m the one who handles the complaint box, I’m the one who has to draft up letters of apology, I’m the one who has to lie for you when there’s trouble, and I’m the one who gets to deal with all the after-hour visits by furious strangers who seem to think it’s okay to knock me down a peg because I’m not six feet of poorly controlled temperament. The least I deserve is a heads-up when the arrival of some random person means I’ll also have to deal with you!”
Ky let out a breath, willing his fists to unclench. “I’m sorry, sir. That wasn’t what I—“
For a moment, a glimpse of something indecipherable flitted across Professor Badguy’s face, before it was buried once again under a glare of such animosity that Ky found himself direly wishing for a heat shield.
“Sir, that’s not—“
“Get. out.” the professor repeated in an even lower voice, pushing back from the shelf.
“Look, you can’t just throw me out because you’re—“
The professor took several steps forward in a manner that suggested he could, and he would, and if Ky wanted to be spared the indignity of being tossed out by the scruff of his neck, he would keep backing up towards the door and feel a very intense regret over leaving his taser at home. It wouldn’t have prevented things from escalating into a scuffle, but it would have given him a sound basis for an argument.
As it was, his heels hit the doorstep, and crossing over it seemed to appease the professor’s need to defend his personal space because the glare abated slightly, allowing Ky to catch a glimpse of a man who was very angry, and very tired, and very tired of being very angry, but stopping was out of the question because, well, what else was there to do.
And because he had seen it, and the professor knew he had seen it, his vocal cords couldn’t even get past the first syllable of a reparation attempt before the door slammed in his face.
Arms at his sides, Ky stood there, trying to comprehend what he’d seen and slowly realizing that the lock hadn’t clicked shut, and there were no hammering noises coming from inside, and the door knob wasn’t starting to glow red hot from a soldering iron. The professor hadn’t even tried to confiscate his keys, and that was precisely the reason why Ky could absolutely not go back inside.
After a while of listening to the silence, he lifted his hand and quietly rapped his knuckles against the door. “I’m… going to need my notes, sir.”
There was no reply from within, but after a moment the door pulled open a crack and his backpack dropped at his feet.
“…Thank you, sir.”
The door closed again.
Swallowing past the lump in his throat, Ky picked up his bag, straightened his tie, and, after a last look back, marched off in the direction of the campus café. If the professor thought things were going to end like this, he was sorely mistaken.
Oh lookit, we found the plot. It only took about six months. XD Anyway, C&C is most welcome!
Notes for the bored:
- Yep, Firefly and Terminator. Of course.
- That Man's address is the Google HQ in Pittsburgh, which looks rather remarkably like an evil lair.
- Funnily enough, the domain abbreviation for Cayman Islands is Ky. Yeah.
- Yeah, Johnny isn’t exactly wearing a cowboy hat, but meh. Who cares.