Carl drove the car down Frat row trying to find where Mr. Aye had gone.
“Big fucker has got to be around here somewhere. What was he thinking, tearing off like that? And he says I’m an asshole.”
The street was lined with the huge houses for the fraternities.
“Wow, this takes me back a ways, I tell you. I remember that one year I had, pledging. Too bad I couldn’t stay. Grades and all that. I’d have moved into the house the next year if I’d a been able to stay. Damned ROTC! Flunk a couple of classes and you’re in the fucking army! This, though… this is awesome! All the organization of the military, but with the sole purpose of scoring with chicks.” He drove up to where a group of boys, all with the same hat, were huddling. “You see? That’s organization.”
He looked into what they were doing and realized what was happening. “Holy shit! That’s Mr. Aye!”
Bloodied and beaten with new welts on his face, Mr. Aye lay in a blob on the grass. As Carl swerved the car up to where he was, the boys had become disinterested and drifted back to their house.
Carl got out and rounded the car. Mr. Aye hadn’t moved. When he touched the big mercenary, his back felt soft, like a bag of broken parts. Fighting squeamishness, he pushed at his back, trying to wake him.
“Aye. Hey you big fat fuck, wake up.” he squatted near the unconscious man. “Man, you really are stupid, you know that? Some big Mercenary you are, can’t even take out a couple of geeks. You know, I thought that when they assigned me to work with you that I’d see some really next level merc shit, maybe get into the bigger leagues than driving a truck for Loveless, but now that I look at you, you ain’t nothin’ special. Just some asshooo!!”
Aye’s arm shot up and grabbed him by his shirt while the rest of him stayed as still as the dead. Carl’s extended “o” extended even further in shock as Aye turned his head mechanically, not bothering to lift himself up off of the turf. Only once the head was turned did he open his eyes and when he did, his eyes were soulless.
“Ooooooooo!” Carl continued, having lost control of his verbal faculties to fear.
Mr. Aye arched his back awkwardly and pulled himself up by Carl’s shirt. The soulless eyes still staring at the scrawny driver as his other hand flopped into a position under his body.
“Get me into the car.” he said. A bubble of blood came up where the bandage on his nose had been punched off by a drunk frat boy. Blood now started to flow from the lesions the boys had made on his face, giving him the look of a candle that had been put out to melt.
For his part, Carl ran out of air, and his “o” finally stopped. Mr. Aye repeated. “Get me into the car.” and the lean man nodded. He half carried, half dragged Mr. Aye the few feet to the brown sedan, then dropped him while he fumbled for the door. Aye made a wet thunk sound as he hit the grass and made no effort to catch himself. Carl felt bad about that and took a step to help, but Aye was already flat on the turf. He jerked back to what he was doing and opened the passenger’s side rear door. The door swatted Mr. Aye on the top of the head, making a new gash on his scalp. While Carl winced, Mr. Aye stayed motionless with his face in the dirt. “In the car” Mr. Aye said, sounding angry and muffled by the grass. Carl straddled the man’s back and put his arms under his armpits. Mr. Aye did not move, but merely accepted this, even as Carl trotted quickly with his feet, dragging him. Once they got to the car, Carl’s form of carrying didn’t give Mr. Aye the necessary clearance and their forward motion mushed the large man’s face into the side of the rear seat’s cushion. “Higher” he said, his voice muffled.
Carl regrouped and pulled him up from the side, kicking at the grass and pushing at Mr. Aye’s chest with his back. The large man fell into the foot well with his head resting unnaturally on the transmission tunnel. To get better leverage, Carl went around to the other side and opened the door. He could now grab Mr. Aye by the jacket and pull him in, but with Aye being just dead weight, it wasn’t’ going to be easy on anyone. As Mr. Aye’s face dragged across the bottom of the foot well, he left large crimson streaks. Finally, he was in enough and Carl backed up. It looked like he had a dead body in the car. To belie that vision, Mr. Aye’s cushion side arm wriggled itself free and tried to pull himself up.
“Ah, good. Finally helping out, you big bastard. I thought I’d be on disposal duty here in a second.” With that he slammed the door shut.
With the recent movement, Mr. Aye’s head just barely was in the way, so the slamming door jarred him and made a wet thudding sound. By the time the skinny man had started the car, Mr. Aye had rolled up onto the rear seat and proceeded to bleed into the cushions.
“So boss, where to?”
Carl didn’t think Mr. Aye was in a position to answer, but he his wet voice asked, “Where is the nearest place to get a soda?”
Carl thought and blew out a breath. “On campus. Summer. Weekend. Pretty much everything is closed. Except the Pen. …The bar at Student Union.”
“East of here. Up the hill.”
“You get beat to a pulp and you want a coke?”
“No. I want to kill someone.” His lips rose. “Someone with cotton mouth.”
Carl looked in the rear view just in time to see Mr. Aye fall over and stop breathing.
Goldberg wished he’d brought his bike all the way to the woods. As it was, they were hoofing it. The bikes would have just gotten in the way and anyway, the ride up the hill wasn’t nearly as fun as the ride down, especially not stoned. Though a solid plan, Goldberg still wanted his bike.
The heat made his sneakers feel melted against the pavement and the softness made them squish just a bit. The feel of it echoed inside Goldberg’s buzz, dredging up unwelcome thoughts of his completely fucked up morning. The whole episode with the guy and the tranquilizer dart was now like something he saw on TV, but was not actually a part of. Likewise, the whole thing with Bill being dead and his house being destroyed had a plastic feel of unreality to it. This always happened when Goldberg physically exerted himself while stoned. His life became TV, or like he was an alien riding around in the head of a big human shaped space ship. So, there he was, a meat-based giant robot trudging through the sticky heat of this alien planet for refueling on coffee and nachos. That idea put a smile on his face. Even if the alien inside had questions and problems, the Pen made some good nachos.
Glancing back at Dan, he noticed more than the normal amount of redness in his eyes. “Hey dude, you look like hell. Do you have sunglasses?”
“Nah. Fuck it.” Dan waved his hand trying to move as little as possible. “Someone wants to know if I’m stoned, let them know. I’m not proud.”
“Yeah, you and proud parted ways some time ago.”
“Just like you and… Ah crap, I can’t think of anything.”
“More like a zombie, it was walking around and didn’t know it had already died. I need a coke.”
“We’re going to a bar and you are getting a coke?” Goldberg smirked. “Who are you and what did you do with my friend?”
“Eh, It’s close enough to bed time that I’m going to start to slide. What time is it, like two?”
“Well, at least you don’t have to go to work tomorrow.”
Dan grimaced. “Thanks for reminding me, ass clown.”
“Sorry. But hey, at least you got me!” Goldberg grinned wide.
“You supporting me big boy? My mom always said I’d make a good wife someday.”
“Really? your mom knew you were playing for the other team way back then?”
“Hey man, I’m cool with it. Just keep it out of our bathroom.”
“So does that mean I can have homo butt sex in the living room?”
“Only if you wipe up the eventual spill.”
“Over the line!” Dan protested. “That’s just foul.”
“Considering we’re talking about your love life, anything short of foul would miss the target.”
“Well not all of us can bag a hottie like Joy. Then again, she does have a twin. Maybe I can saddle up to Sarah.”
“In your dreams. First off, she’s taken. And she likes the athletic types.”
“I’m athletic! Did you see the jumps I got on that guy with the dart gun? Tell me that wasn’t athletic.”
Goldberg frowned. “That was unreal. Dude, when did you learn to jump like that?”
“I don’t know. It just seemed the thing to do, you know? It was cool though, felt all ninja!”
Again he frowned. He did know. That’s exactly how he had felt when he finally made good his escape inside Bill’s house. Though he knew it was remarkable, it seemed the right thing to do at the time. Natural.
His thoughts were interrupted as he took the left into the drive to the Student Union. Just before turning off, he saw a slight girl with straight red hair walking blankly down the street coming from the Natural History Museum. He wondered what could have happened to the girl to give her that look.
From inside his head, his power responded to the query. ‘Insufficient data. And with everything going on, you bother to ask me about some random stranger?’
‘When did you get so snarky?’
‘I’m you. And for a full answer, it appears that person, from her physical state recently suffered a fall and trauma, though not enough to significantly wound.’
‘Well good for her. And I have to ask, are you stoned? I mean, I’m baked!’
‘Apparently the drugs do not affect the parts of the brain responsible for your power, leaving me to contemplate and continue to reflexively act to keep you from minor misfortune.’
‘That’s damned handy.’
‘Yes, but you still need to watch where you are going.’
Goldberg glanced off a light post and stumbled making Dan burst out in laughter.
“Dude! You ok? You looked so surprised like…” A look of utter astonishment passed Dan’s face before he resumed his laughter.
“Yeah. Just not paying attention. I need coffee.”
Wiping his face Dan said, “I guess.”
They passed by the bikes, all alone on the rack, and walked to the unassuming doors to The Pen.
The two men crammed themselves into the tiny car, turned it on, and silently drove off on electric power.
“I am so not over having to drive a god-damned golf cart. Wouldn’t be so bad if it had at least a little air conditioning.”
“Well,” Delgado tried to sound encouraging. “At least it’s not like we are battling LA traffic in it.”
Belatran scowled and stopped just a little too fast at a stop sign.
“So we’ve been rebuffed. Belatran, what does that mean?”
“It means we adapt.”
Belatran manipulated the silver box like a lump of clay and said without looking up. “And we have to hurry up and get your upgrades on line. Get your memories in place.”
“Yeah. Especially because that fuck Nixon apparently wiped out our mandate. Though you have powers. Not powers, so much as enhanced human abilities… senses, but you don’t know how to use them. In order to fix that, there is a guide book of sorts in your head. Or there will be when things click in. Memories of people who knew how these things worked. Get the memories and you will too. There’s also history. Past cases because they are often relevant.”
Belatran shot a glance at Delgado, who was still having trouble focusing his gaze. “So. What do I do?”
“Sleep. Helps to sort out the memories and tune the body. Right now, you’re a mess. We’re pressed for time, but things can wait and I need to think without you jabbering. So just see if you can…” Belatran looked over at Delgado, who already had his chin in his chest. “… nap.”
The inside of The Pen was low and dark, even with the few windows looking out to the empty patio. Dark wood on the walls and ceiling sucked all the light out of the room and gave it the earthy feeling of a cave. Except Caves didn’t smell like a beer bong.
A counter stretched across the remainder of the wall that held the front door. It was this configuration that conspired to give Goldberg and Dan a weird vibes as they walked in. Everyone in the line looked over at them. The noonday sun flowed in from the open door and lit their faces in a pale white of reflected concrete. To a man, these were the new summer admittance students, so their unease with lunch away from mom and dad still haunted their faces, especially since this bar was currently their only option without venturing off campus and into the strange, wider world. They were refuges, lining up for their life sustaining nachos and cokes. To Goldberg, it was like feeding time at a prison camp. Though they were happy to be fed, none had the slightest idea what lay ahead.
As the door closed, the mob in front of the counter retreated into the shadows and Goldberg regained equilibrium. He stepped awkwardly around the line, secretly hoping he didn’t just betray how utterly he had just lost his shit.
“Jesus,” Goldberg said as he slid into line. “Did you see that when we walked in? That was fucked up, man.”
An incredulous smirk raised the corner of Dan’s mouth. “What are you, some sort of blasted amateur? You never stare down the public, even if they are a pack of washed-out freshman zombies.”
“So you did see that.”
“Dude, you are so baked. Besides, how can you even see things being washed out with those Glasses?”
“It’s all about contrast. You get used to the color and interpret.”
Dan flicked a hand. “If you say so.” He took a quick look around. “Speaking of light, it seems way brighter in here than I remember.”
“Maybe they cleaned. Besides, when was the last time you were in here?”
“Early spring semester. Remember when I was having time with… uh…”
“I believe her name was Ronda.”
“What ever happened to her?”
“She dumped me. Thought I was just using her.”
Dan shrugged. “Observant girl. Whatever, she had really nice knockers!”
“As I recall, she was more than a little on the plush side as well.”
“What are you trying to say here, pal?”
“That you are an opportunistic poon-hound, and possibly a chubby chaser.”
“Yeah, whatever. The world is just full of opportunities then, isn’t it. Speaking of which, I think that’s Joy over there. I’ll fly if you buy.”
“Cool, get me some nachos, a coffee and a salad…. And a coke I can swim in. Here.” he handed over two twenty dollar bills. “And don’t sponge my change, ya bastard.”
“Hey, would I cheat you?”
Goldberg smirked. “Only if I were wearing a dress.”
Joy smiled when she noticed him coming over to the table. “So, have fun in the forest? Did you leave nothing but footprints and braincells?”
He slid into a chair and stuck up his chin. “I’ll have you know that my braincells are all present, accounted for, and having a good time.”
Goldberg scanned the scene. “Jesus, would you look at this place?”
“Well, it’s funny. It’s like… bar-light.”
“Not exactly Dirty Fanny’s is it?”
“You have been to Fanny’s?”
Joy feigned incredulity. “I’m amused and slightly insulted that you think of me as being above slumming it.”
“You just seem to have more sense than… well, me… is all.”
“Ha! I can assure you, I make sure I’m current with all my shots before such adventures.”
“Yeah, but this place… sure you can get booze, but the place is so…”
“It’s like one of those recreations you see at a theme park.” He puffed up like a tour guide. “And here on your right we have a early twenty-first century bar. Note the DVD jukebox, beer taps, and distracting flat screens ensuring that you can completely ignore your friends while they ignore you. Now if you step this way…to… futureland!”
“You know, if you didn’t want to come here we could have just met for dinner or something.”
“No, I… It’s just weird. I mean, I wonder how many times I’ve been here. A good couple dozen. Mostly with students for a token appearance that the teacher is not a grading machine or worse some vindictive prick.”
“Don’t sell yourself short or anything tiger.” she smiled.
“Yeah, well, check out the people here. Only three types. Alumni in unfashionable shorts, Parents thinking of sending their kids here, and the kids. Where do we fit into that? Where do I?”
“You will always be a kid.”
“Yeah, but it’s been a few years since I sat for my last degree, my recent interview with Rodger outstanding.” He gestured at a table of gray haired men in polo shirts. “I’m one of them.”
“You are not, Goldberg! You’re a teacher. A professional. You took your students here as a bonding exercise because you are more them than the aged frat-boy club over there.”
“Yeah, I suppose so. And I guess it’s scratching at my brain that Bill was often with us at those things.” He looked down at the faux wood grain and added, “Now he’s dead. How is it that I’ve almost forgotten about that?”
“Oh Goldberg you can’t think that way. You haven’t forgotten. It’s not like you haven’t been busy, or trying! You did tell the cops all you know.”
“Yeah, but I can’t help but think it’s far from done. Some jerk off came after Dan and I after we were done toking up!”
“Campus cops? I told you that was foolhardy.”
“No, it was… you know I’m not sure what the hell that was, but it wasn’t a campus cop. Campus cops don’t shoot darts at you.”
“Yeah. Totally bizzare.”
Molly came over to the table from the direction of the bathroom. “What about darts?”
Goldberg noticed a power related shine about the booklets she had in her hands and said “Ah nothing. What do you have there?”
“I’ve got to find a new rental, I guess. They had a couple of stacks of these over by that weird quarter operated phone.”
“It’s called a payphone and it’s from a time when people didn’t have phones bolted to their asses. Anything interesting?” He asked as the power told him of multiple possibilities in that book.
Her eyes lit up. “Plenty! My mom was a realtor, so I just love looking through these things. Unfortunately, on my budget I can only afford a no-bedroom piece of shit. My last place was the only one bedroom I could find and… it’s currently off the market.” She shook her head. “I’m starting to come to peace with it.”
“Ah. Good. So, but you said you found something.”
“Well, I picked up this homes guide while I was at it and there are some really interesting properties here. And really cheap, too! Did you know that the city is providing assistance for people to do renovations to historic properties?”
“I think I heard something about that.”
“Totally! You can pick up a lot of real estate for a SONG if you have a working plan to spruce it up. I mean, check out some of these homes!”
Goldberg took the book and started to leaf through it when Dan arrived.
“Ok, Ok, Clear a space. We got Nachos we got wings, we got coffee…”
“Uh! Coffee?” Joy wrinkled up her nose.
“Who drinks Coffee on a day like today? At lunch?” Molly asked.
“And with nachos!”
Dan put the mug in front of Goldberg who just noticed the girls looking at him with disgust. “What?”
“That’s pretty foul, tiger.”
Smiling, Dan said, “Bad crack kitty!”
“No, really, what’s the big deal? After bonging it up in the woods, I gotta keep my edge sharp lest I get sleepy.”
“You hadn’t possibly thought to take one less toke, now did you?”
Goldberg looked genuinely perplexed. “Well why would I want to do that?”
Joy rolled her eyes and picked up a wing with her long fingers. She dissected it into long strips of sauce-covered meat before grabbing the whole concoction and dipping it into the blue cheese sauce.
Goldberg looked again at the homes magazine. His power highlighted a connection between the business card stapled to it and himself. He reached over and ripped it off, reading it. “Hey Dan! Check out who’s hawking real estate!”
“I wondered where that guy went!” Dan grinned. “Didn’t we score a quarter pound from him back in the day?”
“Nice to know he went legit. I hear he got married with kids and all.”
“Who?” Joy asked.
Goldberg showed her the business card. “Virgil Filtcher, aka ‘the Ack!’ for his horrible habit of getting drunkenly sick at parties.”
“Oh, that guy? I remember him. He threw up on my shoes once. Selling houses, eh? That just doesn’t seem unremarkable somehow.”
“Yeah. Weird how that kind of thing fits,” Dan said.
When the door opened, Joy looked up. Two figures, one massive and the other slender, stood silhouetted against the noontime sun. Joy raised an eyebrow. Once the door closed and the normal weak light of The Pen returned, the slight figure’s hair betrayed a very familiar shade of purple streaks.
Sarah slid across the room with Teague in tow, striding directly up to the booth. “Hey Sis!”
“Hey.” Joy replied. “Nice hair.”
“I could say the same for you.”
Dan motioned to an empty table with two chairs. “Grab a pull in, I think we can get away with end-in’ it.”
“Uh, yeah.” Joy struggled. “Molly, Dan, this is Sarah, obviously my sister, and her boyfriend…”
“Teague London!” Dan burst in. “Last year’s Freshman wonderkid! How’s it going?” Dan put up a hand.
With a smile, Teague returned the high five. “‘S good,” he said in a baritone rumble.
“And you guys know Goldberg.”
“Hey Sarah, Teague.”
“’Sup nerd boy. Heard you got lucky.” Joy started to blush but then he added, “What cha gonna to do with all that money?”
“Oh! Yeah, that. I’m really not sure yet. What you see here is my first major purchase, actually. Dig in.”
“Thanks. Yeah, didn’t get a chance to eat. Kinda got sidetracked.”
Giving Goldberg a little shove Joy said, “I’ve got to wash my hands.” He got up just as Teague was moving over two chairs for himself and Sarah. Standing together, the similarities between the two were even more striking. Identical didn’t even begin to say it. They even moved the same.
As if to accentuate the effect, the two of them turned and said, “We’ll be right back” at the same time. Goldberg fell back into the booth as Teague looked at him, Molly, and Dan.
The situation was awkward. While Teague was a local celebrity of sorts, his real tie to the group had just left. His unique position on a chair outside the booth accentuated that fact.
Molly was fascinated. “So, uh, Teague… How do you know Goldberg?”
“Nerd boy here helped me get through pre-calc last year. So what’s up with the hair and the glasses?”
“He’s in disguise,” Molly said, grinning.
“Been a rough morning,” Goldberg added, sipping his coffee.
Teague broke into a grin and said, “So what’s been going on?”
All three considered the question for a beat too long. It was Molly who finally said. “Well, should we tell him?”
[Author’s note: Hi. This one is a little long and the next is going to be a little short. I’ve been able to hit 3k or so words with updates pretty consistently, but I didn’t want to break the scene. And hey! It took 24 episodes, but everyone is finally in one place pretty much. It really has been a very full morning.
Please, if you like the story so far, please tell people about it and vote for it in top web fiction. It really helps to draw in people looking for a story. Also, if you are a wordpress person, likes, comments and follows also help get the story recommended to people wandering through their readers.
So that’s it. I hope you are enjoying the story. If you like something a little darker, you can check out the story I just posted in Liquid Wax called Idle Hands: The New Girl. I’m still deciding if I’m going to Hell after I’m done with this story of The Strange. Let me know what you think.