Sorry, This is the longest one yet. But a lot happens, so it should go faster.
Getting There is Half the Fun
On the edge of nowhere, they wait. There are just over a hundred of them now, although that information is basically irrelevant. They themselves cannot be bothered to keep a specific count – no one who could knows they exist. In fact, only one person has any idea at all how many there are, and all he can say is somewhere near one hundred. Counting them is difficult because they frequently seem to blend into one another for short periods of time.
What they all know is that there used to be more. A lot more. They can remember that. Their memory is practically infallible. The irony then, is how little happens to them. Even in thousands of years of continual existence, there’s not much to remember.
They are restless, impatient. They know there are fewer of them then there were at first. That there are more disappearing all the time. That there is less space, and they’re being forced together. Some are being forced out. They know that if nothing is done it won’t be long at all before there are none left.
They don’t know exactly how long they have, because that would require keeping track of exactly how many are left, which is difficult. They know that there is a plan in action, a plan to get back the space they had and keep more of them from disappearing. They know it hinges on four or five individuals thosen by them for this purpose. They do not understand it, because it requires knowledge of concepts which are completely foreign to them. But they trust it. They must. They have no choice.
So they wait. And hope. And wonder. Of these, they are familiar only with the last. Before this began they had nothing to wait for. Nor did they have anything to hope for. Conversely, they were had never known what it was to be without hope. But now they were learning many things. Hope, Dread, Anticipation – but above all, they were learning fear. Fear that the plan will not work. Fear that the world will close in around them and disappear. Fear that they will have no choice but to give themselves up to the darkness.
After lunch on Friday, Corrine and Ethan went with Luke to the appointed conference room, mostly for moral support. Ethan still thought the other two were being really paranoid about this meeting, but he came along anyway. He didn’t really have anything else to do.
Anna had come as well. She had gotten the feeling she was being left out of something, but she couldn’t quite figure out what. So she had endeavored to follow her roommate around as much as she could until someone explained everything to her. This was getting a bit tedious.
“I don’t get it,” she asked, as they walked down the stairs towards room 120. “What’s so suspicious about this note again?”
“Nothing,” Ethan replied, “They’re just really over thinking this,”
“It’s complicated,” answered Corrine.
“Something to do with what happened that night, though?” asked Anna.
“Possibly,” said Luke.
“Probably not,” said Ethan.
“Let’s find out,” Luke answered. They had reached the conference room.
The door was standing open, and there was woman sitting at the head of the table. She was middle aged, wearing a dark blue business suit with her dark brown hair tied up in a bun. She got up and walked over to the door.
“Luke Farrar?” she asked, glancing down at a small, yellow notepad.
“That’s me,” Luke replied. If he was apprehensive, his demeanor did not give it away. He sounded as friendly and cheerful as ever.
He went inside, leaving the others standing outside.
“So we just wait for him?” asked Anna.
“Yup,” Corrine answered.
“Why?” asked Ethan.
“Just in case,” replied Corrine.
Anna and Ethan spoke up at the same time.
“In case what?” she asked.
“This is absurd,” he said.
“Look,” said Corrine, “If you don’t want to be here, then go. No one is making you stick around,”
“Fine,” replied Ethan. “I have work to do. I’ll see you at dinner, probably,”
Anna watched him leave, then looked to her roommate. She decided to stay for the time being.
“I really don’t get what’s going on,” she told Corrine.
Corrine looked at her, and her eyes glazed over. For about forty seconds, she stared straight ahead, unblinking, and said nothing.
“Corrine?” Anna said. “You okay? You’re kinda freakin’ me out here…”
“Sorry,” said Corrine, shaking her head. “Got distracted. Look, how much do you actually remember about what happened that night?”
“The night you went into your Coma?” Anna asked.
“Not much,” said Anna. “I was pretty wasted. Just images, you know? Flashes of light, Gunshots, Luke carrying you on his back – it’s all very confusing,”
Corrine shared with her everything she could remember, and everything she’d learned from Luke, which admittedly wasn’t much. She left out Aeolus, of course, and any leads she might have gotten from it. Then she explained their suspicions about the note.
“I guess that makes sense,” said Corrine. “But I still don’t get what you’re expecting to happen,”
“I don’t know,” said Corrine, “It’s just a feeling,”
“Take a seat,” said the woman politely. Luke had never seen her before. This wasn’t that odd, but it was a very small school. He knew most of the administrative workers at least by sight. He pulled out a chair next to hers and sat down.
“A few weeks ago,” the woman began, “You reported an… incident to the security office,”
“Yes,” Luke replied. “It was ridiculed and then promptly ignored. I’m surprised you even found out about it,”
“It was… an easy oversight to make,” replied the woman. “The security staff of your school, while quite competent, is not possessed of the same information as we are,”
“Who’s we?” asked Luke.
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation,” the woman replied. She took a small badge out of her coat pocket and displayed it. “My name is Agent Sneed. I work for a branch of the F.B.I. that deals with… special cases. It was really pure luck that brought yours to our attention,”
“So what’s this all about?” asked Luke, “Aliens? Future technology? Some kind of terrorist threat, maybe?”
“I’m afraid that’s classified,” said the woman. “I need to ask you some questions however. If I understood your report correctly, your school may be in great danger,”
Luke retold the story, as best he could remember. He was actually getting quite good at it, as he’d been asked to several times. He left out the identity of the man – he wasn’t quite sure why.
“Your friend Corrine,” asked Sneed, “The one who was in the Coma. Is she one of the young ladies who accompanied you here?”
“Yeah,” said Luke.
Agent Sneed peered through the small window next to the door. “She appears to still be standing outside,” She observed. “Would you send her in please?”
Luke opened the door. “She wants to talk to you,” he said.
“Me?” asked Corrine.
“Yup,” Luke answered.
“What about me?” Anna asked indignantly. “I was there too!”
Luke glanced at Agent Sneed, as if to relay Anna’s question. The agent shook her head.
“Actually, I’d like you to step outside for a moment,” she told Luke. “Corrine, come in,”
Corrine walked past Luke into the room.
“Shut the door,” called Sneed. Luke obeyed.
“Corrine,” the woman began, “Have a seat,”
Corrine sat down.
“My name,” she continued, “Is Agent Sneed. I work for the F.B.I.”
“F.B.I.?” asked Aeolus.
“Just search my head,” said Corrine. She didn’t feel like trying to explain it, and felt sure she’d get it wrong. Plus she needed to listen.
“We’re investigating a threat to National Security that’s been around for a long time,” continued the agent. “The details are highly classified, but I can tell you this a matter of the utmost importance. Now I need to ask you a few questions,”
“Okay,” said Corrine.
“Since you woke up from the Coma, has anything strange been happening to you?”
“Don’t tell her,” Aeolus cut in.
“I thought you wanted me to tell people?”
“Not her. Don’t tell her anything. She will kill you,”
“She works for the government,”
“That doesn’t matter,”
“Corrine?” asked the woman, “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” said Corrine. “No, nothing strange. I mean, I’ve never woken up from a Coma before, so I don’t really know what’s normal, but nothing’s happened that can’t be attributed to that in one way or another,”
“No voices in your head?” asked the woman.
“Nope,” Corrine lied.
“No strange lights appearing anywhere near you?” the woman continued.
“What do you mean?” asked Corrine. She was trying to improve her deception by feigning confusion.
“You’d know,” the woman answered. “Hmm. Well I think that’s all. Thank you for your help. Have a nice day. I’ll call you if I need anything else,”
She left the room, where Ethan and Anna were still waiting outside.
“What did she ask you?” inquired Luke eagerly.
“Nothing important,” Corrine lied again.
“What was it?” Luke pressed her.
“Just some weird questions about the Coma,” said Corrine.
“So, F.B.I., eh?” said Luke. “This is big,”
“Yeah,” said Corrine, “Too big. I say we leave it in their capable hands,”
She split off from them. She needed somewhere to think.
As Ethan walked out of the student center, he noticed Radhika sitting on one of the benches, reading. He stopped and sat down next to her, folding his hands in his lap,”
“You holding up okay?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said, barely looking up.
“Anything you want to talk about?” Ethan asked.
“I have to finish reading this,” she answered, her voice rising and falling in her usual almost musical rhythm,”
“Okay,” said Ethan. He got up, then added. “If you need to talk to someone, you know where I am,”
“I do,” she said. “Thank you but I think I’m going to be okay. I am going to see my uncle this weekend,”
“In India?” asked Ethan, with mild surprise.
“No,” said Radhika, “He speaking at some summit in D.C. So I’m borrowing a car to drive down and spend the weekend with him there before it starts,”
“When are you leaving?” asked Ethan.
“Tomorrow after lunch,” she answered.
“Well great,” said Ethan. “I’ll let you get back to your reading,”
“See you around,” she called after him.
He wandered back to his room. His roommate was gone, and he didn’t feel like doing homework, so he sat down to work on his Dungeons and Dragons campaign. He was a good Dungeon Master – he could always come up with some exciting and challenging quest for the players. No, he corrected himself, for the characters. That was the thing about D & D – you could fight trolls and goblins and have all kinds of exciting adventures, but everyone knew it wasn’t real. It was just for fun.
Ethan wondered if perhaps Corrine and Luke needed to start playing role-playing games. That would be a sensible way to add some excitement to their lives. Ethan didn’t even have a problem with conspiracy theories – he himself believed in some pretty outrageous ones. But none that involved him specifically. He never let them influence of impact his life – that was taking things too far. And eventually, someone was actually going to get hurt.
He had been working for some time when Luke came back in.
“How was it?” asked Ethan, without looking up. “Is the world in imminent danger?”
“Could be,” Luke answered, swinging his bag down onto the floor. “The F.B.I.’s involved at any rate,”
“Seriously?” asked Ethan.
“Yeah,” said his roommate. “That woman was an F.B.I. agent. Apparently what we saw was some huge threat to national security,”
“I can imagine,” Ethan remarked, “So she just wanted you to tell her what happened?”
“Pretty much,” Luke answered
“Well, at least she’s one of the good guys,”
“Hmm?” said Luke, looking up.
“You thought she was out to get you, remember?”
“Yeah,” acknowledged Luke, “Nothing like that,”
“Well, that’s good, though, right?”
“Right. I guess,”
“You guess?” asked Ethan.
“Yeah. It’s good. I’m just… not sure about her,”
“Stop being paranoid, Luke,” said Ethan.
“I’m not being paranoid!” Luke protested. “There’s more going on then we know about. Something… very strange and potentially very dangerous is going on here. It only makes sense to be cautious,”
“The cautious thing to do,” replied Ethan, “Would be to forget the whole thing ever happened. But some how I doubt that’s what your thinking of doing,”
“C’mon now,” said Luke, “Where’s your sense of adventure?”
Ethan held up the Dungeon Master’s Guide in his lap. “I trapped it in here,” he said. “You should think about doing likewise,”
“What are you not telling me?” Corrine asked, as she walked away from the others.
“Calm down. You know as well as I do I can’t hide anything from you,”
“So why shouldn’t I tell the government about this?”
“Because they’ll lock us both up and experiment on me,”
“They can’t do that! There are laws and things,”
“The laws don’t apply to us,”
“Why not? I’m a United States Citizen. I have ‘certain unalienable rights’,”
“Trust me, it wouldn’t matter,”
“So you remember all this?”
“Some of it. Some is just conjecture,”
“What do you remember?”
“I remember that I’ve never trusted the government – any government,”
“You don’t remember why?”
“I’m not sure. I remember what I was afraid of, but not where that fear came from,”
“Look, we’re going to D.C. We’re going to have to deal with the government,”
“Minimally. And as a human, as far as they know,”
“Corrine?” said a voice.
Absorbed in her conversation, she had not noticed Radhika coming up behind her and trying to get her attention.
“Oh, hey,” she said, turning around. “Sorry, I was…”
“Lost in thought?” offered Radhika.
“Yeah,” said Corrine. “Something like that,”
“You’ve been acting a little bit odd lately,” Radhika asked, “Is everything okay?”
“Coma story again?”
“I was in a Coma for two weeks,” replied Corrine. “It’s a little disconcerting,”
“I’m sure it must be,” said Radhika. “But you seem very preoccupied. You are sure there’s nothing else?”
“No,” answered Corrine. “Nothing,”
“Alright,” said Radhika. “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow then,”
“See you then,” said Corrine. She walked off.
All that evening and well into the next morning Corrine tried to come up with a plan to get herself to Washington D.C. on Monday. She couldn’t think of anything that could pass for inconspicuous, though. Aeolus was all for just borrowing a car or even taking a bus and skipping classes – clearly he found them unimportant. Corrine, however, would not relent on this.
“Look, I know this is important to you,” Argued Aeolus as they walked out of English class that morning, “but we’re not going to get another opportunity like this to figure out what’s going on!”
“We don’t know that this guy even knows anything! And even if he does, we have no idea if knowing this stuff will solve any of our problems,”
“We have to try,”
“Not like that we don’t. It’s not worth the headache,”
“Hey Corrine,” hailed Luke. He was walking up to her coming from the opposite direction.
“Hey,” she said. “Where are you headed?”
“Lunch,” Luke answered.
They walked together toward the dining hall. After they passed the library, they took a shortcut through one of the side streets just off campus.
“You’re being pretty quite,” Luke said after a little while. Corrine and Aeolus had been arguing in her head some more, and it had taken all her concentration to keep that up while walking.
“You know me,” said Corrine. “I like to think,”
“I know,” said Luke, “But occasionally you could share a thought or two with me,”
Corrine smiled sheepishly at him. “I’m sorry,” she said, “There’s been a lot going on in my head lately,”
Luke didn’t answer. He was distracted, looking up at the window of the house to the left of where they’d stopped. Suddenly he grabbed Corrine and pushed her down. This was fortunate because the slug zoomed right over her head, hitting the pavement and exploding with a buzz and a crackle of electricity.
“Run,” said Luke.
They sped off as fast as they could. Corrine’s first instinct was to run down the street the way they were already going, but Luke took her hand and pulled her to the right, toward the lawn between two houses. As they ran, Luke heard another buzz about six inches behind them.
They came out on the other side of the houses. As soon as they hit the street they ran towards the student center again.
“What are we doing?” asked Corrine.
“Heading for the dining hall. I get the feeling these guys like their privacy; they won’t relish attacking us with whole building full of students around. Then we can call the police. Actually,” he fished his cell phone out of his pocket, “Why don’t we just do that now…”
“Don’t,” said Aeolus.
“Corrine, someone just tried to kill you. We’re calling the police,”
“We can’t,” the creature continued speaking through Corrine’s voice. “Trust me,”
They had reached the drive of the Student center. The usual crowd was milling about. They slowed to a brisk walk and headed for the door.
“Corrine,” said Luke, “You have to tell me what this is about,”
“I think we can trust him, Corrine,”
“Well why does it matter what I think, you’re just gonna butt in anyway,”
“Corrine, he can’t call the Police. They work for the bad guys. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole sniper attack was a set up so they could take you into ‘protective custody’”
“Memory or intuition?”
“Corrine? Can you hear me?”
“Yes. I… need to tell you something. But not here. We have to go somewhere private,”
“Okay, let’s go back to our room,”
“That’s too far away,”
“Hey guys,” said Ethan, walking through the door. Anna was right behind him. “You’re here early. Did you run?”
They turned and looked at him, as if to say “Don’t ask.” He looked back bewildered.
“What’s going on?’
“This way,” said Corrine. “Anna, you should hear this too,” She led them to the mailroom, to a small, unused corner devoid of people.
“Ok, what I’m about to tell you might seem odd. But I’m hoping you’ve seen enough odd in the past three weeks that you’ll be able to believe it fairly easily. I have a creature living in my head,”
“Literally in your head?” asked Ethan, “Or are you just saying that he’s sharing your consciousness?”
“The second one,” said Corrine. “Anyway, its name is Aeolus,”
“Like the wind god?” asked Luke.
“I don’t know,” said Corrine. “Will you please stop interrupting?
“Okay,” said Ethan.
“Right,’ Luke echoed.
“Its name is Aeolus. It doesn’t remember what it is or what it’s doing in my head, but it keeps remembering little things, like little pieces of a puzzle. One of the things he remembers is that if the government finds out about him, they’ll lock us up and experiment on us, quite possibly killing me in the process. Hence why we can’t call the police,”
“Why would we want to call the police?” asked Anna.
“We’ll get to that later,” said Luke. “Go on,”
“Another of the things it remembered led me to finding out the name of a scientist who it thinks has more information on what’s going on here. The only problem is he lives in Wales and his phone number, e-mail, and address all seem to be unlisted. Fortunately, he’s gonna be in Washington D.C. in three days for a summit on Global Warming. We’ve been trying to find a way to get to that summit,”
“That explains the sudden interest in politics,” said Luke.
“This way,” said Ethan suddenly, turning to go. “We don’t have much time. I’ll explain on the way,”
He ran out the mailroom door and starting running towards Glaston. The others looked at each other for a moment, then followed. After a minute Ethan stopped.
“Go back to Glaston, pack some clothing as quickly as you can then run to Tristan Hall. Luke, pack me some clothes. I’ll meet you there.” He ran off.
“Wait!” Corrine called. “Why Tristan? What are we doing?”
“Just trust me!” Ethan called back. He was already gone.
Ethan ran as fast as he could to Tristan Hall, where Radhika lived. She had said she would be leaving after lunch. It was 11:37 now, so she most likely hadn’t left yet, but some people do eat lunch earlier then that, he surmised. Best not to risk it.
He could see the building now. He wondered if he should go inside and try and find her room, or go straight around the back to the parking lot. He decided to go around first and see if he could see her. As he rounded the corner of the building, he spotted her emerging from the back door. She was wearing a backpack and carrying a large duffel bag.
“Radhika!” he called.
“Hey,” she said. “What are you doing here?”
“I need your help,” he said urgently, jogging up to her.
“I was about to leave,” Radhika pointed out.
“I know,” said Ethan, “We need to come with you,”
Radhika looked at him, startled. After a moment, she simply asked, “Who’s we?”
“Me, Corrine, Luke and Anna,” said Ethan. Then he thought for a minute. “Maybe not Anna,”
“Why, exactly?” asked Radhika. She was quite perplexed.
“It’s a long story,” said Ethan. “But it’s important. Can you wait five minutes the others to get their stuff?”
“And your stuff?”
“Luke’s getting it,”
Radhika contemplated this for a moment.
“Well, it will be nice to have the company,” she said finally, “They will be here soon?”
“As soon as they possibly can,” said Ethan.
“Alright,” said Radhika, “But I am driving. It’s a borrowed car. And you’re going to have to come up with your own living arrangements,”
“We can manage,” said Ethan, although he really had no idea how.
“Do you want to tell me what is going on?” said Radhika, after another pause.
“I think I’ll let Corrine do that,” Ethan answered. “She knows more about it then I do,”
“Anything to do with Professor Bronson Fighting Ninjas in the alley three weeks ago?” asked Radhika, with a hint of sarcasm.
“Quite possibly,” Ethan answered. “I’m really not certain,”
After another ten minutes or so, Anna, Luke, and Corrine finally appeared, coming around the side of the building. Luke had nothing but two backpacks, Corrine a smallish duffel, and Anna was lugging an enormous wheeled suitcase.
“Guess why we took so long!” said Luke sarcastically.
“Hey guys,” said Ethan. He ran up to Anna, and indicated her luggage. “Can I take that for you?” he asked.
Anna stepped away from the large suitcase and let Ethan haul it into the trunk. Corrine placed her duffel bag gingerly on top of it.
“I assume this is how we’re getting to D.C.?” she asked.
“Only if someone can explain why you are all going to D.C.!” Radhika insisted.
“That’ll take some time,” said Corrine.
“Explain on the way then,” said Radhika. “We’re already running late,”
She ran around and climbed in the driver’s seat. Corrine climbed in the passenger’s seat. The other three shoved themselves into the back with Luke’s backpack. Radhika turned the car on, backed out, and they were off.
Corrine was unsure of how much to tell Radhika. On the one hand, she was grateful to her for her help. On the other hand, she really wasn’t sure how much she could trust her.
“I say tell her,” said Aeolus, after thinking this over for a moment. “She’s as wrapped up in this now as the rest of them. She deserves to know what she’s getting into,”
“Right,” thought Corrine, “We’re all in this together,”
“So,” she asked Radhika, “You want the long version, or the short version?”
“We have a long trip ahead of us,” the girl answered, “Plenty of time,”
So Corrine told the story for the second time that day, ending with the story of the assassination attempt (or what she perceived to be an assassination attempt) and her telling the others about Aeolus.
Radhika said nothing. Corrine looked over at her. Her face was screwed up in concentration.
“I really… don’t know what to say about this,” she said after a little while.
“But you believe me?” asked Corrine.
“I think I do,” she answered. “It all fits. And it seems too complex for you to just make it up on the spot,”
“Wait, he can talk through you if he wants?” said Ethan.
“It’s not really a ‘he’” Corrine corrected. “It’s pretty clear they don’t really have genders. But yeah, when it wants to, it can,”
“Does it have anything it wants to say to us, then?” he asked.
“Umm… not really. I think you’ve pretty much covered everything,”
“No, it’s good,” assured Corrine.
“Ok, I really don’t like calling this creature ‘it’,” said Ethan. “Obviously this is a sentient being we’re dealing with, not an animal or an inanimate object. It deserves a personal pronoun,”
“Well, what do you suggest?” said Luke.
“Does it bother you if we refer to you as it?” Corrine asked.
“Should it?” asked Aeolus.
“It really doesn’t care,” said Corrine, “It doesn’t quite get language, though,”
“How about Spivak pronouns?” Ethan suggested.
Everyone was quite for a moment.
“I’ll say it then,” said Luke, “What are Spivak pronouns?”
“Ey, Em, Eir and Eis. This mathematician, Michael Spivak, came up with them for dealing with just this sort of thing,”
“Yeah, I think I’m gonna stick with ‘it’,” said Luke.
“Well, I’m gonna start calling em ‘em’,” Ethan insisted.
“I am all for English having a gender-neutral pronoun,” Radhika chimed in. “It’s very confusing without one,”
“Why don’t we just ask it to pick a gender?” asked Anna. “Wouldn’t that be easier?”
“Ey doesn’t need to pick a gender,” said Ethan, “The Spivak pronouns work just fine,”
“If you can remember them all,” said Luke.
“It’s the same conjugation as “they” only without the ‘th’” Ethan retorted.
“What are they talking about?” asked Aeolus.
“They can’t figure out how to refer to you,” Corrine answered.
“Why don’t they just call me Aeolus?”
“I don’t know. It would get kind of wordy, I guess. Pronouns are nice because they’re short. They stand in for other words,”
“So they’re meant to increase the efficiency of the language?”
“I suppose so,”
“Then doesn’t arguing about them like this sort of defeat the purpose?”
“I suppose it does,”
“May I address them?”
“Hi everyone,” said Corrine’s voice. “My name is Aeolus. I just wanted to say you may refer to me by whatever third person pronoun you choose. From my understanding of pronouns, however, which I’ll admit is not perhaps so extensive as yours, it would seem to me you should all agree on one, and stick with it,”
Everyone was quite for a moment.
“Everybody ok with Ey?” asked Ethan.
“I don’t understand it!” Anna protested.
“It’s just they without the ‘th’” Ethan explained.
“Look,” said Luke, “For the sake of simplicity, can we just use ‘it’?”
“Or ‘she’?” asked Anna.
“I think the only way they’ll agree to one is if you make a decision,”
“I’m fine with ‘it’”
“Say so then,”
“Oh, just go with ‘it’!” said Corrine.
“Was that Corrine, or Aeolus?” asked Luke.
“It was a general consensus,” said Corrine.
“Ok,” said Luke, “’It’ it is,”
“Well, I’m gonna keep referring to em as a person,”
“That’s your right, I suppose,” said Corrine.
No one said anything for a little while. Then Ethan piped up again.
“SO ey doesn’t remember anything? Like, where eir from, what ey is, is ey like an alien consciousness or something? I mean, did ey originally have a body, or has ey always just lived in people’s heads? Anything?”
“Ethan,” said Radhika, “When you use that pronoun, it sounds like you are trying use a Cockney accent,”
Aeolus took over again. “All I can remember for sure is that my name is Aeolus, and my race, or whatever I am, is called a Telepsid. I do not think I have ever had my own body, but it seems to me I must have at some point. I know I have inhabited several other humans before Corrine, including most recently Dr. Daniel Bronson. I could easily be some sort of extra terrestrial, or possibly a human consciousness from thousands of years ago, some sort of ‘ghost’ or ‘spirit’. I’ve even considered that I might be some sort of demon – I really have as much of an idea as you do. That’s why we’re looking for Dr. Schiefling. I think he has the answers we need,”
Ethan took a moment to process this.
“I wonder if you might actually be Aeolus?” said Luke after a moment.
“Of course I am,” Aeolus replied.
“No, I mean, I assumed you’d simply been named after Aeolus, the Keeper of the Winds in Greek mythology. But what if, like, the Greek Gods were real, but something made them lose their power and they’re all just floating consciousnesses now,”
“First off,” said Ethan, “Aeolus was not a ‘Wind God’ – he was just the Keeper of the Winds. He was either a very minor god or actually a mortal who Poseidon entrusted with stewardship of the winds,”
“He can’t have been that minor,” Luke insisted, “Wind was one of the four basic elements. You can’t be totally insignificant if you control one of those!”
“Ok, wind was never one of the four elements,” said Ethan.
“C’mon, Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. Everyone knows that!”
“Like the band!” Anna chimed in.
“Disco groups aside,” continued Ethan, “The four classical elements were Earth, Fire, Water, and Air,”
“I fail to see how any of this is relevant,” Aeolus confided to Corrine.
“Me too,” Corrine agreed.
“What can air do without wind?” Luke asked. “Nothing. Especially since ancient societies didn’t understand that ait is everywhere and we have to breathe it,”
“They so did!” Luke insisted. “Breath has always been associated with life-force and spirit, which has always been connected with Wind. It’s not that hard to figure out that when we breathe we take in and let out air,”
“Still, the primary association was with Wind, which was necessary for navigation. Once the Greeks started lauching ships - ,”
“Guys!” yelled Radhika. “This argument is ridiculous and pointless. It doesn’t matter. Please stop,”
Luke and Ethan looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders.
“Just trying to pass the time,” said Luke.
“I do not think that I am a god,” said Aeolus. “And even if I am, that answers nothing. If gods can be trapped inside humans, then they’re not really gods at all, which would bring us back to the original questions about my nature. I think it’s useless to speculate. With any luck, we will know in a few days,”
“Which actually brings up something that is worth arguing about,” said Ethan. “Where are we going to stay?”
“A hotel?” Anna suggested, with a look that said “You idiot, where else would we stay?”
“Can you afford that?” asked Luke, “Because I know I can’t,”
“Don’t look at me,” said Ethan, “I don’t know if I can even afford lunch,”
“Any chance we could stay with your uncle?” Corrine asked Aeolus.
“He’s staying in a hotel,” said Radhika. “I could probably put up one of you in my room, either Corrine or Anna, but the rest of you still need to figure this out,”
“So no one has money?” asked Luke.
Anna reached into her purse and pulled out a small wallet. She opened it and peered in.
“Let’s just hope they take VISA,” she said. “I’m a little low on cash,”
Everyone turned to look at her (except Radhika, since she was driving on the interstate and that would be dangerous.)
“Anna,” said Luke, “Do you know how much a hotel room in Washington D.C. costs?”
“Maybe 5, 6 hundred for all for of us?” said Anna. “I can cover it,”
Everyone continued to look at her.
“How much do you have?” asked Ethan, incredulously.
“I’m not sure,” said Anna. “Let me check my balance,” She took out her cell phone, dialed a number and held it up to her ear.
“Damn it,” she said, “No dial tone. Oh well. I know it’s I have at least nine hundred,”
“How?” asked Luke.
“Cause every Friday, Daddy loads some spending money on to my card. But this week I haven’t spent much more then a hundred, so I should still have at least four hundred left over from last week, plus this weeks, so that makes –“
“Your father gives you five hundred dollars a week?” asked Luke.
“It’s my allowance,” said Anna, as if this were the most normal thing in the world.
“Anna,” asked Ethan, “What does your father do?”
“He’s an entrepreneur,” said Anna proudly. “He owns a big company that makes – they make a lot of things, actually. Mostly Dry-erase boards and markers. And Drink machines – you know, like the ones in the dining hall. I think he just bought a company that makes fire extinguishers,”
The others looked around at each other.
“What?” said Anna.
“Nothing,” said Luke after a moment.
There was an awkward silence.
“Let’s play a game!” suggested Anna, cheerily.
The awkward silence utterly failed to be broken.
“What sort of game?” asked Ethan, finally.
“How about the Grocery store game?” asked Anna..
“You guys don’t know it?” she asked after a pause.
“I used to play that with my mom when we’d go on trips,” said Ethan.
“How does it work?” asked Radhika.
“Well,” Explained Anna, “I would start with something that starts with the letter ‘A’, like, I went to the grocery store and I bought… an Apple,”
Ethan chimed in. “I went to the Grocery store and I bought an apple and a badger,”
“Corrine, your turn,” prodded Ethan.
“Sorry,” she said, “I was - ” She started to say she was thinking, but remembered they already knew. “We were talking,”
“Should we just skip you?” asked Luke.
“No, we’ll play,” said Corrine.
“I suppose you should have two separate turns…” Anna speculated.
“Aeolus doesn’t want to play,” said Corrine. “It doesn’t really understand the point of this game. That’s what we were talking about actually,”
“His loss,’ said Anna.
“Eir loss!” Ethan corrected her.
Anna rolled her eyes. “Anyway, Corrine, your turn,”
“Ok,” said Corrine, “I went to the Grocery store, and I bought an apple, a badger, and cauliflower,”
“Radhika?” asked Ethan.
“I don’t understand,” said Radhika. “How do you get a badger at a grocery store?”
Twenty three more letters, eight other games, and a very unenthusiastic sing-a-long later (all at Anna’s bequest) they were finally almost to the capital.
It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. Anna seemed to be the only one still in a good mood. She was hanging on Luke’s arm trying to convince him that he had a nice singing voice, a fact which he vehemently disputed. All in all he seemed very annoyed with her advances. Ethan, meanwhile, seemed very envious of them. He was sitting sulkily and reading his DM’s Guide (Luke, remembering his roommate’s comment had stuck it in backpack.) And Corrine and Radhika were discussing just how to accomplish their respective goals.
“So you’re uncle is Amman Aggarwal?” Corrine asked.
“Yes,” Radhika responded, “You know him?”
“No,” said Corrine, “But I noticed his name while I was looking over the speakers for the Global Warming summit. Do you suppose he knows Dr. Schiefling?”
“I have no idea,” said Radhika. “If he’s from Wales, I doubt they’d know each other all that well. Calcutta and Wales are nearly as far from each other as they are from here,”
“True,” accepted Corrine. “In that case, do you think he could get is into the summit?”
“It’s possible,” said Radhika. “Security is usually pretty tight around these things. He might be able to get one or two of you in though,”
“Really I’m the only one who needs to meet this guy,” said Corrine. “I don’t even know why these guys tagged along,”
“Because I was being shot at!” Luke piped up from the back.
“Actually, I have no idea why I’m here,” said Ethan. “Curiosity, I guess,”
“Why not?” asked Anna. “It sounded like fun,”
“So what’s the plan?” asked Luke.
“Well, first, you see if you can get a room at a hotel near where my uncle is staying,” Radhika said.
“Or the same hotel,” suggested Anna.
“My uncle and the other scientists and foreign dignitaries are being put up by the United States Government,” Radhika said with a sigh. “Even if there are rooms still open in their hotel, I highly doubt you’ll be able to afford them,”
“Even if she’s heiress to a dry-erase board empire?” said Luke sarcastically.
“We’ll see,” said Corrine. “Once we get our own hotel sorted out, we have to figure out where Dr. Schiefling is staying,”
“And how to get there without a car,” said Ethan.
“Wait a minute,” said Luke, turning to Anna. “Your father gives you five hundred dollars a week in allowance, but can’t afford to buy you a car?”
“Oh, I have a car,” said Anna. “Actually I have two. I just can’t drive one until I have a license,”
Luke looked ready to punch her in the face, but stifled this impulse pretty swiftly. It wasn’t her fault her parents were ridiculously well off. Besides, he could already see how much it was going to come in handy.
“Anyway,’ said Anna, “What’s wrong with this car?”
“It belongs to my roommate,” said Radhika, “And I’m the only one who she said she would trust to drive it,”
“This is more important then that,” said Corrine (at least, it seemed to be Corrine.)
“We’ll see,” said Radhika.
“D.C. does have a very nice subway system,” said Ethan. “I really doubt the car will be necessary. Besides, it’s Global Warming symposium. There’s probably tons of people their who don’t use cars at all,”
“What?” said Anna.
“’Cause of the CO2 emissions,” Ethan specified.
“Okay,” said Luke. “So that shouldn’t be a problem. How do we find out where this Dr. Schiefling is staying?”
Everyone thought about this for a moment.
“Well,” said Corrine, “We could always ask the hotel staff,”
“They’re not obligated to tell us,” said Ethan. “They might not even be allowed to,”
“I’m sure I could talk them into it,” said Anna, mischievously.
“No seducing!” said Luke.
“Who said anything about seducing?” said Anna, opening her purse again.
“No bribery either,” said Ethan, “That’s illegal,”
Corrine spoke up, but it was obvious it was not Corrine. “One thing you’ll learn soon enough,” said Aeolus, “Is that it’s very difficult to do everything that needs to be done within the constraints of the law,”
“Did you just remember something?” asked Corrine.
“Sort of,” said Aelous. “Actually, this whole trip has been making me remember something. A group of people, actually. Eleanor, Tom, and William. I have no idea who they are, or were, but I went on a long road trip much like this one with them,”
‘Where were you going?”
“Any idea why?”
“To kill someone,”
“Corrine?” said Radhika, shaking Corrine out of her conversation. “I need you help me find the hotel. There should be a map in the compartment next to yours,”
Corrine reached in and flushed out the map, continuing her conversation with Aeolus at the same time. This was to important to put off.
“Who were you trying to kill?” Corrine asked.
“Where do I turn off of George Washington parkway?” asked Radhika.
Corrine stared at the map, hunting around for the George Washington Parkway.
“I don’t remember,” said Aeolus. “Some politician. I can’t remember details,”
“Francis Scott Key bridge,” said Corrine. “You don’t remember why you were trying to kill this person?”
“Where do we turn after that?”
“No, but I’m sure I had a good reason,”
“How are you so sure?”
“Because I wouldn’t just kill people. I’m not like that,”
“How do you know what you’re like? You can’t remember anything!”
“Where do I turn when I get off the bridge?”
“Water street!” said Corrine.
“It’s true,” said Aeolus. “I don’t really remember who I am. That’s one of the things I’m hoping to figure out on this trip. But I know I wouldn’t assassinate someone without a good reason,”
“Now?” asked Radhika.
“Keep going until you hit the hotel,” said Corrine, “Wow, this place is right next to the White House,”
“I love how all the streets are named after patriotic things,” said Anna.
Luke turned to her again. “Your good mood really is infinite,” he said.
“I’m an optimist,” she responded.
“Someone was shooting at us this morning,” Luke reminded her.
“But why dwell on that?” said Anna.
The car pulled up in front of the Hays-Adams hotel. It was a very impressive looking building. They pulled up under an enormous Façade, held up my a pair of tall, imposing looking pillars.
“You go in and see if you can get a room,” said Radhika. “I’ll find a parking spot and then call my uncle to let him know I’m here,”
Corrine climbed out. The other three sort of fell out the back doors of the car. Four and a half hours is a long time to sit down.
As Luke opened the trunk and got out the luggage, Anna brushed herself off, quickly redid the loose bun her hair had been in, and turned to Ethan.
“Do I look ok?” she asked.
“You look beautiful,” Ethan replied, with a peculiar mix of sincerity and sarcasm.
“Shall we?” asked Luke, indicating the door.
They picked up their bags and
walked through the door into the lobby. The lobby was just impressive as the outside of the building. Luke had never been anywhere so nice. He was looking around with barely concealed awe. Ethan and Corrine were both quite impressed as well, although they were handling it quite a bit better. Anna alone seemed unphased. She walked up to the counter, leaving her friends to stand gawking at the lavish furnishings.
“I do believe I’ve been here before,” said Aeolus.
“On your little Assassination vacation?” Corrine asked.
“Why are you making such a big deal out of this?”
“You killed someone! You killed someone and now you’re living inside my head,”
“I hate to say it, but I’m pretty sure he’s not the only person I’ve killed,”
“No killing! Not while you’re using my body,”
“I can’t guarantee that,”
“Can you believe this?” Luke asked Ethan, as they stood in the center of the lobby.
“Yeah, it’s pretty incredible,” Ethan agreed with somewhat less enthusiasm.
“That Chandelier alone has to cost a semester’s tuition,” said Luke.
“I don’t know about that,” Ethan replied.
“And she’s just going about her business like she does this all the time,” he indicated Anna. “You know what I’d give to not care about money like that?”
Anna was talking with the concierge. Well, maybe more then just talking. As Ethan watched she flipped a loose strand of hair seductively and batted her eyes at him. After a few minutes, she walked over to the rest of the group.
“They have one room left,” she said, “But it has two double beds, so we should all be okay staying there,”
“And you’re okay paying for all this?” asked Luke.
“Of course,” she said. “We’re all in this together, right?”
At that moment the elevator in the lobby opened, and a tall, curly-headed Indian man in a fine beige suit stepped out, and walked over to the desk.
“Radhika’s uncle?” asked Luke. The other’s turned to look.
“I know him, too,” said Aeolus.
“You sure?” asked Corrine.
“He looks very familiar,” Aeolus confirmed. “Of course I have no idea where I know him from,”
“Is it someone Danny knew?”
Radhika walked in the front door and looked around. She spotted her uncle and ran up to him and gave him a hug. He wrapped his arms around her and patted her on the back, emotionlessly.
She pulled away and said something to him in Hindi. He responded in kind. They talked like this for some time. Finally, she pulled him over to the rest of them.
“Uncle Amman, these are my friends,” she said, “This is Corrine, Anna, Luke, and Ethan. Guys, this is my uncle Amman,”
“Pleased to meet you,” he said. His accent was far less defined then Radhika’s. Luke wondered if she came from a different part of India.
“So what brings you to Washington this weekend,” he asked. “My niece was very vague on the details,”
“Don’t tell him anything,” said Aeolus.
“We’re… very interested in Global Warming,” said Corrine.
“We’re members of the Keansley Conservationists,” Ethan chimed in.
“I’m so excited about seeing Al Gore!” said Anna, in the same cheerful tones that had made the car trip so memorable.
Everyone turned to look at her. She smiled as if to say “what?”
Radhika was giving her friends with a bewildered look.
“It’s good to see young people so concerned about the environment,” said Dr. Aggarwal. “So you’re staying here?”
“Room 341,” said Anna.
“Kind of expensive isn’t it?” asked Dr. Aggarwal.
“For four of us?” asked Ethan. “It’s not so bad,”
“You’re all staying in one room?” asked the man.
“Why not?” asked Ethan.
“Just seems a bit unusual,” he said, “Two young women and two young men. But this is America, I suppose,”
“Dr. Aggarwal,” said Corrine, “You wouldn’t happen to know Dr. Andrew Schiefling, would you?”
“We met several years ago,” he answered, “But I haven’t spoken to him in a long time. I am looking forward to hearing his presentation,”
“You wouldn’t happen to know where he’s staying?” asked Luke.
“I have no idea,” Dr. Aggarwal replied. “Now, my niece needs to get checked into her room, and I’m sure you do as well,”
The four friends got their bags and got into an elevator. Ethan was still lugging Anna’s suitcase in addition to his own small backpack. Luke pressed a button for the third floor.
“I’m so excited about seeing Al Gore?” he asked.
“I am,” said Anna. “”I had such a big crush on him while he was running for president,”
Everyone turned to look at her again.
“What?” she asked.
The door opened. They went through.
“Room 341, you said?” Ethan asked.
“Yup,” said Anna.
“Here we go, then,” he said, coming to a door.
She swiped the key card they’d given her, and he pulled the door open. They all went through and plopped their bags down on the floor by the beds.
It was a very nice room, much larger then the hotel accomadations most of them were used to. There was a large TV between the two double beds, and plenty of room. From the window was a beautiful unobstructed view of the White House. Anna of course, failed to notice all of this.
“Check out this mini bar!” she said.
“Anna,” said Luke, “I really don’t think that’s a good idea right now,”
“You’re no fun,” she said.
“So we’ll share this bed,” said Corrine, “And you two can have that one,”
Luke and Ethan exchanged looks.
“I’ll take the floor,” conceded Ethan.
“No, it’s cool,” said Luke, “You can have the bed tonight,”
“No, really,” said Ethan. “I’m small, I can pull those two chairs together,”
“Guys,” said Anna, “You’ll both fit in those beds,”
Ethan and Luke stared blankly at her.
“We’re guys,” Luke finally said, as if this explained everything.
“You are not sleeping on the floor,” said Anna.
“No,” said Luke, “I’ll pull two chairs together,”
“Or we can see if they have a pull-out,” suggested Luke.
“Or just stop being so homophobic,” said Anna.
“That wouldn’t be a problem if I shared with you and Luke shared with Corrine,” said Ethan. There was silence. Anna broke it my laughing.
“I can’t believe you just said that,” she said, hugging him. They both broke out into laughter. As it let up, she said, “I’d be okay with it the other way around, though…”
“Oh, no,” said Luke, “It’s a simple size issue. I’m big. Corrine’s small. You two are both medium sized. His way makes the most sense,”
Ethan was blushing considerably now. Luke gave him a mischievious smile and a wink, as if to say “Maybe there is a bright side to everything,”
Anna thought about this for a moment. She didn’t want to hurt Ethan’s feelings by bringing up their prior relationship. Besides, to her mind sleeping with a guy, even if it was Ethan, was better then sleeping with Corrine.
“It’s all up to you,” she said to Corrine.
Corrine shrugged her shoulders.
“Ok,” said Anna to Ethan. “You and me. But no cuddling!”