Chapters: [Prologue] [01] [02] [03] [04][05][06][07][08]

Working title: "Academy"
First draft, last updated: 2003, Saturday, the 8th of February
© Original Copyright 2002, Copyright 2003, Ikasatu Kirasawa. All Rights Reserved. Published online, with permission, by KeyAny Press.


In a last-ditch effort to control the wild youth, extreme measures have been taken. At one time, we, the young, were generally stupid, ill-tempered, and lacking in any of your usual social graces.

The very year my grandfather's grandfather was born, new institutions were being planned. It didn't affect anyone already established in society. Instead, my great granddad's generation was the first to experience "Living Schools". Beginning straight away out of the womb, they fed information to the little ones. Told them how life "works", the things they have to consider to keep the gears of the world around them greased and turning. After a little experimentation they developed the "Academy", a free public school, with the attitudes and curriculae of private, military, and finishing schools.

You enter at age four, and stay until you're finished. Everyone who leaves the Academy is "finished". Either they've learned all, and are ready to live according to what they know to become successful and beloved individuals, or they take menial jobs, and live (statistically) until they die in obscurity around age fifty-six.

Most of us will do neither. We'll work ourselves into a competitively productive frenzy, and remain thus for the time that remains before something gives in to the pressure; then we're stone dead in some schmuck's store, from a massive failure of the heart, or critical mass of the brain, whichever hits first, and really, whatever wastes less time.
I mean it, these people are in such a rush to live the exciting life, that they'll even drop dead in record time, just to get it over and done.

-Chapter One-

Orange, excuse me, Orion Angello, was a guy about whom no one worried. This lack of care was mirrored by Orion himself; he seemed at all times to be directly in control of any situation, no matter how weird, or sudden. This put people around him at ease, because it meant they didn't have to know anything about anything. People are always more prone to watch the puppet show and ignore anyone who's got hands on the strings.

After Orange's first eleven years at Central United Academy, people stopped worrying about him, stopped asking questions, and generally just let him do what he did best. His particular area was doing nothing. Not "nothing" in the usual sense, so much as "nothing of Academic value". He passed his classes based solely on participation and group projects. He had a certain strange charisma that flipped people's attention like a switch. This is not to say that he was destinctly likeable; most people's first impression was that he was arrogant as hell. I guess that must be what it looks like when the world around someone is bustling at a furious pace, and they're just the calm nugat center.

I guess that's how Orange and Jhohanson Keirg Nohn became friends. Nohn knows. That's a statement, according to him. It has a subject, a predicate, and it's absolutely oath. All the little, weird things that no one knows, cares about, or cared to figure out on paper, the guy has rolling around the bowling alley in his skull. We call him "Johnny Kno", and if you'd seen him play Trivial Pursuit, you would too. Only you'd call him "Mr. Kno". It's incredible. Some people don't believe it, and they have to play him. The cruel thing is that he lets them go first. When they miss a question, as they must, he just utterly obliterates them, takes all six pie-pieces and the win in less than ten turns. He can land anywhere, and just roll again. At first it seems like luck, like he's actually processing the question, like he doesn't know it and just pulled an answer out of thin air. After he's got two or three pie under his belt, he doesn't even stop rolling to answer the question. He's shaking the next roll out, while he's spouting this utterly infallible stuff. He gave correct numbers past the decimal point in Pi, until Orange had to tell him to stop. Just unbelievable.

Johnny Kno knows, so he only goes to class to take tests or submit papers; indescribable papers. In the two years I've known him, his papers alone have resulted in nine separate instances of teachers quitting, and one suicide. That seems pretty grim, being emotionally unbalanced enough to get up in front of your class, and announce that you're about to commit Hari Kari, then opening yourself up with an antique letter opener, as if your were some kind of antique letter. Worse yet, it was the Advanced Psychology professor,. The majority of Johnny's police statement was an essay about the teacher's incorrect usage of "Hari Kari". He explained that the Japanese ritual suicide technique is actually called "Seppuku", went into the reasons for its creation, and then spent five more pages explaining the origins of the term "Hari Kari". I think that the worst part yet, is that it was utterly perfect, grammatically and artistically, in stunning ink calligraphy.

Back to the point, Kno knows everything, and doesn't go to class. Both for the better usage of his time, and for the teacher's safety. He usually spends this time writing articles for the Smithsonian, Scientific American, anything. Ask the guy the meaning of life. It's supposedly mind-blowing.

As a matter of fact, that might be why Orange and Kno became friends. They met years ago, while Orange was studying for a test. Churchill "Church" Garrison Brenard says that must be it. "Orange was probably a straight-A student, and made the mistake of asking Kno about the meaning of life. It must have stunned him, or opened his eyes. A revelation."

Church is always thinking of stuff like that. To his credit, Orange was an outstanding student until just a few years ago, there was an almost instantaneous change in attitude, and he still won't let any of us ask Kno about the meaning of life. Church is good about that kind of stuff. Everyone has a "Church"in their life. That compassionate friend, who would mourn for a lifetime if he killed a squirrel, unless he was starving and was going to eat it. The same friend who deconstructs a movie while watching it, and figures out the ending before it happens. He can walk into a theater an hour late, and sit down. Less than five minutes later, he's not only figured out all the bits and pieces that happened before, but he's telling you the fine details of the who, why, and what that will show up in the end.

"Hey lads, sorry I'm late, the line for Junior Mints was just murder. That's the butler, isn't it? Yeah, the butler did it. Must have killed her to cover the theft they're talking about. Next thing you know, the body will turn up with distinct marks, or a dinner napkin tucked into the collar."

Seconds later, when a body turns up with a napkin, the butler confesses to killing the woman to cover for the theft of her diamonds.

Church is the only person with whom Kno won't argue. It's because Church is an agnostic. We're all aware of the irony. Church uses diplomatic arguments that can't be disproved, or even argued past the most crude elements. When he said "Maybe there isn't a higher power, but if it helps me to think there is, let me." Kno played on both the "Maybe it doesn't help you", and the "Maybe that's only what you believe you think" angles, but neither is a firm footing for a good, solid debate.

Church was in the theater when Orange and Kno were watching "Murder in Bangkok". When church got there late, and wouldn't shut up, Kno told him everything there is to know about frog mating rituals. After that, the three of them were inseparable.

-Chapter Two-

Dead Man Jim, born James Roland Pritchit, fell into the circle when Church was doing his usual rounds at the local hospital. In fact, it wasn't just one visit, but the fifth time Church stumbled across Jim, that his eyebrows were raised. Seems he was in there for three different gunshot wounds, a broken neck, and one more time for a punctured lung, crushed ribs, broken jaw, and splintered legs. A real regular customer of the hospital, and the morgue. The third time a doctor pronounced him legally dead, they didn't even wheel him down right away. Just waited a half hour or so, and Jim was sitting up (albeit painfully), and asking for the channel changer. The nurses love him. They probably see more of him in a week than they do their own husbands or children. He's charming as all hell with them, too. Reportedly, he talked three nurses into giving and receiving sponge baths with him. Now that they know him, the nurses just ignore the flat line readouts, and stand about, waiting around for him like a bunch of giddy schoolgirls.

Dead Man Jim fell in love with Church. Not in a sexual way, just really likes the guy. Cuddles up with him to watch television. At first, Church was nervous about it, but after a while, it was just normal. Jim doesn't sit in his lap, or anything, just seems to take a good amount of interest in being very close to him. They kiss good-night. I'm not talking about any tongue action, or anything, just a quick peck. Church figures they were conjoined twins in a past life. I guess it's just so normal now, we don't usually give it any thought.

Jim's great at telling jokes. What Church knows about mysteries, and Kno nearly everything else, Dead Man knows about jokes. Just give him the first line of a joke, he'll start laughing, and help you tell the rest of it.

The group has a regular habit of visiting Jim and Church in the hospital, when Jim's flatlined. Rehabilitating him by swapping jokes, or trying, anyhow. It gives us something to do every couple of months. Jim's girlfriend will get pizza for the group, and Church, Orange, Dead Man Jim, Johnny Kno, and I will sit around the hospital bed, swapping stories, and laughing until we nearly hemorrhage.

Jim's girlfriend is Mary Marie Murray, so young and pretty in her twenties that it hurts just to think about her. Her clothing should be printed like they've done to coffee cups, "Caution Contents May be Hot!". She's so pretty, that flowers cry when she walks past.

Like her boyfriend, she's very physical. With Church, and with everyone in our group. She's not a whore, she only has sex with Jim. She just wants a very select group of people to be less sexually tense.

Kno was nervous about her tearing the group apart, but after a little cuddling and a kiss or two, his mind changed.
Not because of the contact, but because she said what she thought about it, and he knew it to be true.
She says that she knows we like her as a friend, but that we would always have a little voice in our minds, wondering what her breasts feel like, and what she looks like naked, or nearly so, and that it would be more likely to tear us apart than a little flirting or making out.

She's also very particular about who does what. It's an issue of trust, when you're allowed to be a part of her physical world.

She kisses all of us, holds hands, and even curls up on the couch with us. Our group, according to her, is like having four boyfriends and one husband. Jim doesn't mind that most of us have felt the smooth skin, usually hidden by one of her many exotic blouses, and bodices you could lose an eye in. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the five of us love her. Together, it seems, we're just what she's looking for in a man.

-Chapter three-

As long as Orange has been subverting the locally dominant paradigm, not to mention anything else within the very broadest edges of reason, there have been people who disliked him. A lot more people like him, or simply don't care, but a few have really taken his apathy (towards what they consider the driving force of civilization) as a personal attack. One of that small group is George Fergus Hanson, called "Gorgeous", but only by the elite team of fighters he's trained to kill with a deadly combination of strict adherence to pointless rules, and the desire to see others suffer. To Gorgeous, Orange's attempts at being laid-back are an affront to his ideals. The problem isn't that Orange is an asshole. As a matter of fact, it's that he isn't, that seems to bother George. The menagerie with whom he associates seems to be different species of the genus "Assholus". On top of the veritable pile, is Gorgeous; "Assholus Retentivus".

His subordinates are colorful, in the scant smatterings of brain that each possesses, but also in smell and temperament. The First Lieutenant of the Goon Brigade is Keith "Sissy Fingers" Jarod Atmund, who reminds the casual passer-by of diarrhea, insofar as he is a slimy little shit.
Known best (with good reason) for his dismantling of wild debauchery, Killjoy-Keith "Sissy Fingers" is the sort of person you invite to parties. Preferably, those being thrown on the same night as your own, and as far away from yours as is available. One could make quite a living off of simply keeping him away from other people's good times.

Sissy Fingers made the acquaintance of Gorgeous when a "mysterious informant" leaked dirt about George's in-school smuggling ring. In trade for not performing an amateur spleen-ectomy on Fingers, Gorgeous gained a snitch.

What Sissy Fingers is to acquiring information, Marian Saul Halstein, or "Hail Mary", is to providing goods and services. If you need something tangible, Hail Mary can get it for you, at a price. Don't look for his accountant, he provides that service for himself, even says that he does it better, says "It comes with being Jewish."

While that sounds flaky, he is the best accountant in Central District, and the guy to talk to if you need something passed under the table. Mostly he deals in things that don't fit under tables, which is how he knows Gorgeous. The aforementioned smuggling ring was done through Hail Mary's dorm room. Cigarettes, booze, and light drugs aren't his specialty, and he didn't really want to be party to their sale. He did, however, like the immense piles of cash that dropped out of the funnel that is Gorgeous' wallet. George would do all the sales, collection, and transportation; Halstein organized pickup spots, and balanced the books. For this, he was allowed to do a little "subtractive accounting" from George's pocketbook.

While not quite the walking sewer pipe one might expect of such association, he relates pretty exclusively with Gorgeous' lot, because its good for business.

His best customer is Brogart Welton Sigmund Quranhall, A.K.A. "Sigbrew". Insane amounts of pornography, chemicals, and all manner of strictly embargoed or highly illegal things pass from his warehouse into Sigbrew's stockpile. Then it just disappears into the dank cave dorm in which Sig makes his home. Sigbrew managed to get a double-dorm, of which he is the sole human (pending lab results) occupant. I don't mean to intone that he keeps pets, at least, not on purpose. I'm sure that in that murk there are all manner of rodentia, worms, bacteria, and irritable socks of all Genus and Species. I just mean that nothing self-aware would choose to live with something that smells that bad, in an environment that actually contains more undocumented creatures than a square mile of rainforest, such as Sigbrew and his room.

After the first two roommates committed suicide, the third became barking mad, and the fourth went permanently missing, the administration felt it best if they gave him his own room. They filled the rooms on all sides with antibiotic, soundproof, reinforced concrete. On his way classes, and between, he is hosed down by a team of specialists, to prevent outbreaks of whatever bio-hazardous materials may be brewing on him. If you made a gorilla entirely out of armpit-sweat-slicked pig rectums, then fitted it with a stringy, greasy blonde coif, it would bear a striking resemblance to the disgusting flytrap that is Sigbrew. A hollow stench of eye-burning death not only follows, but emanates from his every pimpled pore. His complexion is comparable to dripped engine oil on a pizza topped with festering cow patties.

Not truly a friend of Gorgeous, he is merely a limb, through which the wrath of George is felt, heard, seen, and smelt at long ranges. He is an aspiring homicidal sociopath, and an all around nice guy, if you need someone killed, or enjoy being killed yourself.

-Chapter Four-

Being fairly new to Orange's tree of friends, Vincent Harris Nell or "Vinyl", as I'm now called, met the group under even stranger circumstances than was par for the course. With the lines clearly drawn, the teams chosen, and the battle beginning between Orange and Gorgeous, I was merely beginning my long ascent to the mental plateau where one can actually enjoy life. As a matter of fact, I had just transferred from Islington's Brandurbury Academy. It has a reputation for accepting the best and brightest youth, and churning out droves of boring, hapless, tittering stubs. It was for this reason that I arranged a transfer to American Central Academy, which had results that were improved only in the area of getting rather well and thoroughly laid.

When I arrived, I noticed that everyone was virtually the same as they had been in my place of birth, beyond all those many miles of ocean. As I bleakly stumbled through the service line during one of the many lunch periods, which all inevitable made every day feel as if it were raining solely on you, I came across a very frustrated girl. She was slim, short, and well-postured.

Her blue-black hair was cut into a very flattering short style, which furled slightly forward, along her jaw-line. I think they call it a "bob", though in that instant, such a name hardly fit. From her full lips, and under her black lipstick, pitiable distress rays streamed steadily. She had her arms crossed injuredly in front of her, which forced her buckets of cleavage into a rather fetching array, cresting the neckline of her very pretty dress. a dress which casually strolled the fine line between "cocktail", and "smutty".

My heart went out to her with such speed that my brain had faltered. I gaped stupidly, while she swiveled gently around to lock her eyes with mine. "Is there something unfortunate that makes you look that way?" I stammered out, rapidly. When I woke up, she was sitting beside me in the hospital. Her body language suggested that she wasn't interested in the pain that her fist had caused me, brickish though it was. Her body language also suggested that she was very angry with me. Perhaps it was when my head cleared, and I discovered her talking to the very thoroughly bandaged man in the next bed, that her turned back and slumped shoulders made sense.

I had offended her, and now she was turning to other men for comfort.

Hoping that she was merely trying to evoke a response of jealousy from me, I made hurt noises, and moved in a melodramatically pained fashion.
Indeed my plan worked to perfection. She turned round and once again her eyes gently sought out from under sultry eyelids, searching my face for some emotion that would save the moment.
It was rather surprising when she kissed me on the cheek.

Surprising, because she kissed me on the cheek with the flat of her palm. It blazed painfully across my face. My head bobbed and whirled with immense pain. The man next to me laughed detestably.

The laughing man's features were horrifically distorted by his reaction to my apparent hilarity, but he was clearly a handsome man in his early twenties. His brown hair was cut very short, and left quite messy. He was wiry, and the muscles under his pale skin cabled and shifted when he moved, like the tendons of some nervous jungle cat. At the moment, though, he had reminded me more of a hyena. He kept laughing, even when he burst a suture. A very impressive man peeked his head around the door frame. He walked in, eyed me fearfully for a moment, and then shuffled over to the next bed. He moved like a naval fleet, disguised as a very short, ox-shouldered ape-thing. With each solid footfall, Ape-thing's short black hair bristled angrily. Ape-thing and Hyena got to chatting away about whether it was a good idea to be laughing so hard with broken ribs, and the like.

Ape-thing chuckled and walked over. He picked up my chart and walked away with it. After careful review, they both slid their gazes across the floor, and dropped them on me. Ape-thing hung my chart back at the end of the bed.

I looked woefully at my feet, and clicked my heels together thrice.

"What's he saying?"

"Sounds like 'There's no place like dorm!', to me."

-Chapter Five-

A small group of highly trained specialists drove me incautiously down a hallway, as if I were their ships' last unloaded cannon, being rushed to the point. A young man with auburn hair, who did not remind me of a doctor, but rather conjured images of a dashing space pirate from the old pictures, stepped out rather suddenly, and snapped up my chart. He was wearing a pair of dark jeans, a button-up dress-shirt, and a rather smart pair of spectacles. This was not the part that disagreed with any preconceived notions of medical proficiency, but rather the heavy black leather boots, black quasi-futuristic vest, and a five-o-clock shadow that looked as if it had gotten away from work quite a bit earlier than five. The few, easily discernible doctors looked on with a mixture of shock, and childlike wonder.

He looked between my face and charts several times, and pointed down a long hallway. He made a signature on the bottom of the chart, passed my team of experts a small brown box, and commandeered my wheelchair. It was as if I had spotted that one thing, the key object in a dream that identifies the whole situation as being completely imagined. I watched as he wove a web of delivered packages, knowing smiles, and covert signals.

I found myself rather immediately outside, sitting on the grass under a large poplar, which adorned the hospital grounds with its turning leaves. I had been stripped of my wheelchair at some point in the process, but I couldn't pinpoint the exact moment. I didn't remember it being pulled from beneath me at all. I merely found myself floating out in the void of still barely-green grasses, my vessel and the pirate had seemingly fallen into the open sky.
I felt no urge to stand. I lay back, and looked into the clouds for my wheelchair. As innumerable minutes poured smoothly into hours, I regained the feet I had had taken from under me that morning, which seemed to have been ages before.

I made my way back to John Blutarsky Hall (Dormitory), where I found all of my furniture missing; it didn't strike me immediately as I walked in.
What I did notice was that my room was clean. Then I spotted that not only was my furniture missing, but someone had painstakingly replaced it with a completely new set, and that the place wasn't just clean, but also fresh with a smell of dark cinnamon and orange peels. When the walls were a different color than I had remembered them being, I had to step outside to check the room number, When it was DA49, as it was supposed to be, I stepped back in, hoping that perhaps the portal had closed, and that the space where my room had been was no longer occupied with the dimension of such unfaltering taste and cleanliness. The image persisted, and so I made the hike back outside, to examine the name, and then the spelling, of the dormitory's nomenclature.

I returned to what was very definitely a stranger's room within my own. Someone had replaced my plastic-framed sensa-surface message board with one in a Victorian-era mahogany frame. On that board, someone had written "Vincent: hope you like it, check the number on the fridge.", below which another person had already commented in large letters on the odor that wafted from the open door.
"DA49 = CK01"
I erased the messages, and re-entered the fold of bachelorhood that was my living quarters.

Gone were the mangey couch, my cinderblock entertainment center, and the filthy mattress that occupied the floor under a poster of Lyria Vindelli, which no longer graced the ceiling with its reproduction of the skin-tight wet shirt, and microskirt-clad pop music star. The thick, matted, puce carpet had been pulled up, and the wooden floor below exposed, sanded, and polished. The area around the unfamiliar television, and the small bedroom were the only areas with covered floors, which sported luxuriant area rugs. The institutional furniture had been replaced, and the whole place was now stocked with wooden futons, and low tables. The dining area had been remade with a highly polished table, and cushions over bamboo kneeling mats. My coiled, swirling mass of clothing, and un-valuables had been swallowed up by burgundy textiles, dark woods, and a previously unheard of number of aesthetically pleasing angles.

I set my keys in the new dish, on the new table by the newly refinished door.

I wandered through my apartment wonderland, opening things, and gawking, as one does with other people's kitchens and medicine chests. Eventually, I was drawn into the kitchen, where I spotted the note that changed reality. It wasn't the note itself, or even the contents, but the results of my interest in the note, which had that effect.
"Our apologies for Sister M3, she doesn't know her own strength. She left something for you, under the new bed. If you need something, reach us @ (181) 514-1514. - Galileo"
I took the note to the phone, and almost made it before my curiosity jumped me and mugged my brain. I checked under the new bed, where "Sister M3" had left a long mailing tube. The contents were my old poster of Lyria, and a new, large format picture of Sister M3, wearing quite a lot more clothing, but doing a lot more with the modest amount of skin that she showed. I left the poster in the tube, and carefully tacked the new picture onto the wall, using the paint-savers she had supplied. She was the girl from the cafe, and the hospital, depicted in the underwear hurricane that had been my double-size apartment. She was holding a paint sample against the mental-ward-green walls, and smiling mischievously. The walls were now a smooth and dark slate gray. I pressed my hands against the wall, which was unusually cool. I held my face against it, before I realized how strange that relishing a fresh coat of dry paint must look. I wandered back to the phone, and began to dial, twice, before I realized that the number could not now, nor would it ever be reached.

The area code wasn't one of the handfull that remained from the telephone age, and my research showed that it never had been. I tried dialing with and without the area code, and did an area code lookup based on the prefix, but that returned matches from every district in Central, none matched the number entirely. The phone number I was looking at wasn't registered, or it wasn't a phone number.

-Chapter Six-

A package had arrived by inter-school mail. Our school didn't have an official means of sending mail, so this was a curiously of itself. It was a large wooden crate marked with my name, room number, and the word "magsub-ph/os024", followed by the date. The delivery receipt had been stamped "Galileo – Capybara2 ". Sure that this had come from my benefactors, and that they could get me in touch with "Sister M3", I searched the slip for any contact information, but failed to find anything I could recognize.

Inside were several bits and pieces of computer equipment, all taken down to their component parts. I languidly examined each piece, and the included information packets. At the very bottom was a short note, written on the school's letterhead.

" Our final unsolicited gift to you, Vincent.
Just some odd extra parts that didn't ship. Heard you're a wiz with computers.

Call soon,

I gathered the equipment together, and built a machine.
I neglected my classes for three days, and two nights. When I finished, there was only the messy business of pressing the illuminated button within the front bezel of the beast.

A few moments of humming, worried electronic introspection, and then there was a sound like a jet engine. Well, not quite, it was the sound of an immense fluid recycling system coming to bear, which sounds like an industrial fan, then a commercial aircraft at close range, and then a heart beating very quietly in harmony with the low buzz of small fans.

Thum, thum, thum, thuum, thoom, thoom, thoomwish, thoomwish, ooooooOOOOOOVVVVVVVVVVVV...
Lub-dub (whir), lub-dub(whir), lub-dub(whir)...

The entirety of the unit was a stately 65 cm vertical, by 15 cm horizontal, and 45 cm deep.
It had just sucked all the loose paper from my nearby desk.

Somewhat like a small child with chocolate smeared around its mouth, trying to deny any knowledge of now missing cookies, it sat quietly, and blinked its lights, clicking and humming with apparent ignorance as I calmly peeled my homework from the intake filter.

I stared at it from across the room, cradling my abused papers, as I sat slumped against the door frame, while the sun went about its way, setting as if it did not see any part of the incident.

In the now darkened room, the lights eyed me warily.

The windows, cut into the smooth, dark acrylic casing, were a deep, restless green. The image of bonsai trees, which had been channeled out of the inside of the case, now caught the waving, arcing green light of the internal neon very sharply.

It sized me up, and made a lunge for me. At least, in the darkened room, with its heartbeat in my ears, and mine in my throat, a lunge was what I had made of its hard-memory and power cycle checks.

I sat, pinned against the wall, across the room from my creation, which glimmered sleekly in the darkness, contorting itself into horrid shapes within my imagination. I was early man, trapped within my cave, eyeball to illuminatory-polymer with a fierce creature of the unexplored wildernesses. I did what early man did, when confronted with a strange, impressively powerful thing, which he could not remember having ever scared him senseless before.


-Chapter Seven-

I'd been back to class for two weeks, over which time, I'd allowed Ganymede to see that I wasn't a threat. When entering a room, or moving around the apartment, I'd make just enough noise, jingling my keys, shuffling papers, stamping my feet, and the like, so that it wouldn't be caught off guard, and become defensive.

This was difficult at first, because growing up, I'd become accustomed to slinking around, bounding lithely, and other such stealthy, ninja-like behaviors. It was because I, like most other boys, found a time in my life where becoming a ninja was a very real, and possibly sudden necessity, and that it would be best if I were terribly well prepared for all the stealthing about that such a life would require.

Once I entered the bedroom too quietly, apparently unnoticed. When I set my things down rather loudly, Ganymede flicked up the password entry screen, and began scanning ports for signs of intrusion; a clearly defensive posture, but at least a recognizably relaxed one.

A mutual balance of respect and fear had been reached, and when I brought my laptop to one encounter, as a sort of medium ground, an understanding was created between us.

This presented another problem, now that I'd been adopted into its network, I needed to establish myself as user, or if I were feeling very bold, the herd's Administrator. It's easy to exhert dominion over much smaller systems, like Europa the Laptop, particularly given that her Kernel was very "open source". Forcing recognition by a larger, more powerful system, within its own network, is very different than playing leadership roles for the naturally submissive laptop, which had been separated from its natural habitat.

If I was going to make a move to become the Alpha, I was going to have to determine as much as I could about Ganymede. This meant getting with arm's reach of the keyboard, which was a mistake I'd made only once before, with a full, bulding-wide power outage as the result. Clearly caution was going to be the better part of valor.

The next day found Ganymede and Europa in hibernation. They had seemingly responded to the change in environment, which had classes canceled, school-wide.
Overnight, while I had lain curled up with my adoptive network, 45 cm of snow had landed outside. The grounds were now occupied by a hexagonal hierarchy, and battalions of reinforcements were wafting dangerously into the field of battle.

The first "Snow Day" of the college-calendar year is always exciting, because someone, somewhere, has an extra day to study for exams. This extra day is invaluable to the partying community, to which these graced recipients of a miraculous meterological lein will undoubtedly contribute, and because they should be studying; they cavort with wild abandon. Such is the nature of humanity, one cannot truly enjoy recreational debauchery, unless they are doing it with time that should be spent securing their future.

I slipped away from the silicon pride, and with a great, bounding joy, unpacked and donned the cold-weather togs I'd recieved with my new room.

A sharp pair of tall, black, Therm-o-Line leather boots, a pair of Under-Warm Jeans, and a flash set of Temp-U-Grip three-finger mittens were boxed with a long, black, leather trenchcoat. The coat was made of two joined pieces; an internal zipper-vest, lined with black-striped, black flannel, and the outer shell, which was to be worn open.
The left vest pocket had the final piece; a pair of Sub-Zee Un-Candescant goggles, designed to protect the eyes from the cold, and the bright, reflective snow.

I thumbed the switch on the coat's left sleeve. The room went warm and black.

-Chapter Eight-

The heaters within the clothes adjusted to the room's temperature; the goggles adjusted to the ambient light, framing everything in sharp, green lines.

All of the corners, edges, and surfaces were accompanied by corresponding angle, distance, and density figures. Feeling warm and prepared, I exited the dormitory, and dove into a snowbank, which the goggles told me, was powdery and exactly two feet and seven inches deep. I scrolled through the control menu, and set the readings to "Metric". I was instantly transported to a snowbank which was powdery, and precisely 78.74 cm deep.

I had dived into the snowbank of transitory measurement, because a rather hefty snowball had been on a course for my head, and clearly planned for Kamikaze interception. The green silhouette of my attacker was picked out by a maelstrom of swirling numbers, which displayed speed, distance, armament, angle of view, and radiant heat.

I dipped a hand into my crystalline bunker, and withdrew a double-fistful of vengeance. I leaned the local economy of my person into a period of manufacture, quickly compacting into being a small stockpile of weapons-grade slushy justice. Huddling them close to my body, I made my expedient exodus from temporary safety, birthing into the air my wingless ice-children, which splattered against the enemy, and battered their crude shelters. Someone bolted past me, carrying the Blutarsky flag.

As president of the small island of Vincent Nell, a member nation of the Blutarsky Alliance, I had no choice, but to unleash mankind's most horrific weapon.

I imprisoned the war-criminal, and called in the strike.
"Blutarsky! Whitewash Wedgie!!"

An audible gasp arose from every inhabited vector, followed by a tremendous cheer of recognition from the Blutarskians. The noise was horrific, as I fled the scene with our flag, returning the Holy Marker of Blutarsky to the safety of our entrenched fortress on the far side of the tundra, the carnage and horrified shrieking safely behind me.

I pressed through the onslaught of flashing, weeping madness, my comrades shielding me from the incoming hail of snowballs with their very lives.
"Run Vincent!", I heard from above and behind. My neighbor and confederate, Ian "Specs" McHall, was in the watchtower of the guard fort behind me, watching the enemy rush the barricade in the middle of No-Man's Land. I heard his cry of agony as the first volleys of snow were launched; the madness taking him with a mercifully swift snowball to the face.

The gates of a frozen hell had been flung open behind me. I vaulted moguls, turret positions, and was finally rushed back to B.H.Q.
"Thank God you were there, Vincent. I shudder to think what atrocities those cruel bastards would have inflicted upon the Sacred Blutarsky Underwear, once they'd removed it from the display pole."

A boy of about seventeen burst in, his rosy, hairless face a reminder of the horrors committed upon the poor few who had been drafted from the lower grades.
"The snow-filled wedgie, sir! Someone unleashed The Weapon in the middle of the enemy encampment! There was snow everywhere, sir... I couldn't... when they..." He panted and fell to his knees, chilled more by the horrific scene which he now recounted for us, than the actual temperature. "They've called in reserve forces from the Prescots."
The room fell silent.
The pretty, young Lieutenant in charge of communications fell to her knees, sobbing quietly.

It was the time to atone for the act of violence committed upon the flag-bearer. "I called the strike, General, sir. They had our flag, I couldn't just watch them take it!"

The General sighed with a stern heaviness, and above the oncoming insanity which rose outside, spoke. "May God have mercy on our souls, and the sanctity of our undergarments."

I was promoted to Captain, and returned to the field, swimming through floods of young men and women being taken to the wards in the heated Hospital Fort,
I radioed back to H.Q.: "I see them. Our friends from Eton and Aston are here to answer our prayers!"

I stood bravely in the fray, while my fellows were being buffeted Heavenward by enemy fire, a return message came, just as the Radio Private was pulped and cored by a rapid burst of triangulated fire.

"Specs says 'Hello from the Hospital', wants to know if there's anything you need out there."

"Tell Specs that what I need, is for him to keep his feet in that steaming water, and to put hot cocoa into himself as fast as a pretty nurse can carry it. Make sure he gets pretty nurse, and tell them to put marshmallows in his rations."

"But... sir! Marshmallows are for Offic-"

"I don't care! Give him mine... I don't intend to return alive."

"Message sent, sir."

I found the youngest gunner in our trench, and sent him as far away from battle as I could. I gave him a report from the Etons, to be taken straight to the General. "Those Cowen-Mueller bastards double-crossed us. Never fear, Eton holds them at bay."

-Chapter Nine-