Thomas was a little annoyed. It had to have worked, but it didn't. For what seemed like possibly the 101st time (it would be far too painful to actually count) he checked his code. As far as he could see, it was perfect; no apparent flaw at all. He made a Rebuild All and compiled the executable again. He tried to run it and got the same result. The program would not open! How weird. That was really making him mad. It wasn't fair, he had devoted the whole day to this block of code and the whole week to this piece of software. Now a last few minor changes that he had made somehow spoiled it all. And he had not run the app since yesterday. All day lost! And, since he could not understand what was wrong he would have to revert to the backup. Backup? Oh, my, he realized that he had not made any during the course of the whole day, not even the day before. He had gotten cocky and had been sure that he was just doing last-minute polishing of the code and that he would not mess anything up, too much self confidence leads to destruction, he thought. He had planned to make another backup as soon as he finished this polishing! And now, what to do? Mmm, this was certainly good motivation to finally take the time to start using cvs or some version control system for programmers. Well, he had to backtrack everything until the last stable version. It occurred to Thomas that at least he had a screenshot of how the polished version had looked about an hour ago. That would help him more quickly re-create the many hours of work he had just corrupted. Well, he thought, let's paste it.
Damn! That was the contents of the clipboard but it did not paste the screenshot...and he had also mistakenly forgotten to save a permanent copy of the screenshot before over-writing the clipboard with some silly file... now he only had the memory of it. Having been working on this project until very late the last few nights was screwing with his memory and ruining everything. "Here we go, hands on it", he thought. His comment sounded a bit familiar to him, but he did not know why. Did he?
It was so boring. He liked to program in bursts, only "committing" to his backup after everything was good, often at the end of a long day. He did not like to have unstable backups. But now he was regretting this way of doing things. For a moment he mentally stepped back and thought about what he was trying to do. He became puzzled about his own behavior of the past few days. This sudden burst of introspection brought many burning questions to his mind. And the most important of all... why was he making this particular software right now? A moment earlier he had been consumed by commitment to complete this software development project, but now that he thought about it, the reason for this was something unknown to him. He sometimes thought that people often behaved just like silly bots who only obey the commands of some unseen programmer.
Thomas was fascinated by Solipsism and he really thought that everything in his world of personal experience was a simulation... but not exactly solipsism, maybe he thought that life was like a simulated reality. That is, the universe is just a program in a huge quantum computer beyond that. Or maybe everything was not a program but a novel being composed by some unseen author. He knew that such thinking was thought by most other people to be absurd. Thomas had been told that by one of his doctors, but he was pretty sure that he was right. There were some things in life that were just too irksome to be true...they came out of nowhere like a silly plot device in a story. And then, there were the visions... well, he did not want to remember them now, he was busy and they distracted him from the task of creating software code. Bot or whatever he was, he needed to have this software up and running or he would have no money. And no money meant no pleasure, meaning no girls. Well, that was just a blunt way of saying it, no? How could he even think about inviting Cathy to go out without money? Or Jenny? He still could not say whom he would invite... or, honestly, if he would actually invite anyone out on a date.
He was pretty stressed. He looked at his only clock, the date and time readout on his PC. It was 3:34 am and he was still up, working like a m... workaholic. He did not like that term, it made silly comparisons between an alcoholic and programmers. Of course, the saying was not about programmers, it was about people devoted to work. But, if it wasn't work, what would it be? There was nothing like work. Of course, there was nothing as hard and boring as work. But no, work was not boring, at least for him. Well, sometimes. Right, there were many interesting things to do in life... but for those, you had to feel "interested". Work was just doing a blind job and getting it done right all the way down to the resolution of the last most trivial and boring consequences. In contrast to work, love was much more easy to think of as being fun, but you can't feed yourself with love, you can't pay for food to eat and live only with love. Moreover, it was Love itself who was feeding from people, like a parasite, sucking everything it needed out of people. Wasn't it? Well, if we let it, love can fill your entire brain. But not his, never. That was why he had his own ways to avoid it... No time for that now, either. He was trying to get a stable version and he had to do it before dawn. He just needed a little sleep.
But that four-letter-word would not release him... Who would he invite? Jenny, Cathy? His love was so magnanimous that he was very often in love with more than one girl at the same moment. Obviously, this was just in his mind and in his fantasies; he was seldom actually involved with a girl in any formal way. And he could not afford to do it now. Could he? Well, his mind was a complete mess now. AND YOU MUST SLEEP, he thought. Did he? He felt as if that command was something he heard. Oh, maybe he was totally lost and working against destiny today. It was another of his original ideas: Sometimes, we go against the world, against destiny when we try to exert our own will. And then the entire universe goes against us and does not let us do whatever we want to do, no matter how silly or simple it is. It seemed to him that this was one of those moments. Parallel to that chain of though, he started hearing a melody, right inside his brain. He had some musical abilities and when he was pretty stressed, he often started hearing melodies, like a movie sound track that someone had composed for his life. He recognized this particular song. It was Norwegian... he remembered a nice lady singing it, dressed in a fancy way, all flashy red and white. Now the sound track swelled and started to fill his brain like the music during a love scene of a movie; but there was no love....well the melody was about it, but no. He could not. No! He was so stressed and tired- he needed a break. And he took it...
He got up from the computer and approached his bed, which was not exactly his, but who cares. He started practicing the methods of breathing control he had been taught to use. He completely closed his eyes and let the mental pictures go. He tried to imagine a complete black background. After that, he tried to concentrate on void. He was getting inside something very similar to dark matter, he thought, the hyperspace! He even remembered that stupid video on YouPipe, about a man who could stop his EEG and convert it into a plain line. Lies! After the breathing exercise and clearing the visual cortex, the hardest part was still to stop his brain processes, his thoughts, at least the conscious ones... It was a problem for him; he could not stop thinking or talking, ever! How could sleep come if the mind would not rest?
He turned his attention to his breathing again, but he found something that was trying to break his concentration. That blue light he could see, even with his eyes closed. And that regular sound, a fan. Of course, it was his PC; he had left it turned on. And now the problem was: how to turn it off without losing his concentration? With the power of the mind! Right, the master switch. He approached the wall and disconnected everything from the power outlet...that was better than using a switch. Plus, he had a rope to pull that would turn off the lights. He did it. With the distractions eliminated he could now restart the special breathing he had learned. He tried to maintain the air inside his lungs for at least a "mental" minute. During that time, he tried to imagine oxygen going to his cells, the oxygen molecules encapsulated in a special transport device, a biological molecule that carries the oxygen in the blood. After 2 minutes of this mental game his mind was finally becoming calm. Of course, the same thoughts kept hunting him, the images of Cathy and Jenny and many other "girls", who were not his, obviously. He tried to touch Cathy, but she disappeared. Now the images started fading, replaced by blackness. And the music too... it could be very nice music, but his brain needed a break from all sensory input. And oh, he felt sleepy. But no, this was just a relaxation, he could in no way get asleep. Why not? Because he could not. Simple. Besides, he just could never do what some yogis were supposed to do sometimes: to enter the dream state in a conscious manner! But what if he could? The images came back again, forming a scene. What was that scene? He tried to go back to the black background but his efforts... Back to the breathing then. Well, he would just remember the issue that had troubled him and that had flashed before his mind in that scene. Maybe he could dream and act out that situation again. It was from the time soon after he got out from the hospital and...
But he could not. He heard a far noise, he did not even have a clue what it was. And now it had impressed his mind and back again to conscience. Now he had to remember about relaxing his limbs, all his muscles. He tried to do it, gently, and started to make it again. He could not feel some of his muscles now, they were very relaxed. He felt a strange feeling, of something coming from far away to change the way Earth people lived. But maybe it was just memories from the novels he had read before. His breath was calm now and no noise could now distract him. His mind was getting to the no point, the blackness of the void. No thought.
He looked at the newly created scene. It was like an old photo, all black and white and completely still. Now he entered the scene. He wondered if there was any music to announce his entrance, a leitmotif. He felt something on his ear; it was a phone. Now he was back in there! His mind soon diluted and melted with the scene as if he was there again. Obviously, he forgot it was "again".
Now he did not remember what he was doing there. He felt something pressing against his ear; the phone. Oh, yes, it was as if he had fainted for a few seconds. He heard an annoying sound. He hung up the phone and then made the call again. He punched in the number and then he started hearing the same annoying sound. That stupid friend of his, Richard... if he could even be called friend right now! Of course he was a friend, but using that label was an undeserved luxury in a situation like this. Thomas had just come back after visiting the doctor in his home town and after such a long and trying journey the last thing he needed was the phone doing nothing but make an irritating noise.
When Thomas was sure that his flight was on time he had notified Richard that he would be back that very day as planned. And there was no reason to think that Richard would fail to come to the airport. As always, Richard had offered to pick him up, because he thought he would be tired. And Thomas knew he did not deserve Richard's kindness. He could just catch a bus or even a taxi (if he felt like wasting some of his medical disability money) and not have to bother Richard. Pretty simple. It was true he was tired and a bit angry for having been awakened from a good sleep on the flight, but as precious as sleep was to him, that was something he could accept. What really bothered him now was the fact that he had to wait for Richard. He hated that word. Why? Because he had gotten used to the idea that Richard would pick him up and Richard had always been reliable. It was something of a mystery...why were friends so friendly? In particular, why was Richard so nice to someone who had never really previously trusted or inspired confidence in anyone? And now this man wanted to help him. As though he had asked for help. And now Thomas had come to rely on this help. How can people spoil and alter a simple situation like this? Was it inevitable that just when you start to trust then you will be disappointed? Yes, now he could only wait until his friend came and took him home. Damn!
Briefly, Thomas tried to see himself from a third person view, and the matter was not so tragic. But it was for him. Thanks to Richard, he was trapped now! Right, he could not leave the airport because Richard could arrive at any moment. He could not call him because Richard had turned his cell phone off. The only thing he could do at that moment was to watch people and try to guess their personalities. Which was pretty boring, obviously. Well, he thought, let's call him one more time. Maybe at some point he will remember that he has his cell phone ringer turned off. Then it occurred to Thomas: let's send him a mental message instead! He had always dreamed of mental communication...it would be less expensive than cell phones or whatever. But no, it never worked.
There, he could see a strange couple. He observed them while he was still hearing "Toooo... toooo..." at the phone. Hahaha, a lunatic and his wife. Man, that man is drugged! He followed the lady as if he had been hypnotized. No, as if he were a baby pigeon and that was his mother. How weird. But they did not look like a couple at all. Maybe they were spies in disguise, ready to kick butt. And they did not even have any real carry-on luggage, so their trip should have been very short. But no, thinking about it more, that man inspired pity. Yes, he looked like a mentally disabled person. Poor people, he sighed. But there was another stranger possibility now that he saw it. Maybe that lady could be abducting the poor fella. And indeed, who was SHE? He had the strange feeling that this woman was someone he already had seen once before. But where? She seemed so familiar, but there was no memory there to refresh, it was more like a vision from the future... no, from a parallel reality, if there was such a thing. No, it could not be. Everything looked normal at the airport, except those two. She still looked strangely familiar to him, like a mental ghost, a recycled memory, a reverie, even a dream. But he would never dream with a person like that, no? And what if he just hung up the phone and...
He saw it. Right in front of his eyes. It was nonsense. The man who had behaved like a baby pigeon had come alive and walked away, leaving the woman behind. Now Thomas walked towards the woman. There were plenty of people, even a few guards, so he was safe, no matter what SHE was. And she was not a normal woman now, not after the magic she had performed on that man.
"Hey, I feel like I know you-"
And SHE turned back at him, too fast to be a normal wife. Or no? She looked at him with revulsion as if he had came from the local meat store, smelling and dripping blood. Or was it just his imagination? He noticed he could not stop now. She stepped backwards and he continued towards her, ready to settle the score and find out the truth... about what? Well, he could lose nothing just by asking her.
"What did you do to that guy? It looked like worms came out of your hand and into his head."
Oh, man, he thought, I told exactly what I was thinking. I wanted to ask if I knew her and from where... but no, I said too much. And there was no Ctrl-Z here.
She answered some stupid nonsense about hypnosis and then he felt something on his hand. It could not be, on his left hand. He looked after her but she was gone, with her strange fellow. And now his hand was as hot as an oven. An oven making a cake, obviously. It became red and besides the pain, it started to itch. What had that witch done to him? Oh, it looked like magic and now everybody was looking at him....they should be looking at HER! But she disappeared, all of a sudden. He needed to get to a bath, to pour water on his hands. But there was no time. Now he thought he heard something, not music this time. It was a "hiss" sound. Were those the alarms at the airport? Had SHE already attacked someone? Or was it just his mind? He gazed at everybody but they were normal, as normal as people can be at an airport... the bored faces, the pervasive dislike of waiting on their features, kids crying, parents yelling, rushing people walking impatiently behind dawdlers, usual stuff. No, it was his mind. But it could not be. Why? He could now identify the sound; it was like the sound of a radio when it wasn't tuned. Psychofony? Interference?
He tried to calm down. It was like the time when he had his first seizure. He had to relax, although difficult, it was not impossible. He was a complete donkey to have talked to HER. Now, he was bearing the consequences of his acts. He took a deep breath, remembered the yoga techniques and the noise just went out. As if he had turned the volume off. A potentiometer. And the pain on his hand, it had gone too. Anyway, he had forgotten about it while hearing those bizarre noises. He knew he was still vulnerable... to mental illness. He tried to go on as if nothing had happened. Maybe the world was not against him anymore. He called his friend again and this time he was able to contact him. Richard was waiting outside, just a short distance away. They would meet and everything would be fine. Or no?
Suddenly, the whole scene faded away. Or was it he who was subtracted from the airport? He remember how it all started. Blackness and then the scene. It was a dream, very vivid. Not a dream, a very vivid recollection of the airport affair. It seemed that suddenly all his mind "training" amounted to something now. He could remember everything just as if he was re-living it. This was the second time he had achieve this kind of perfect recall and it was an impressive accomplishment. Now he had to write it all down. But not on his PC, no, sometimes he thought the microprocessor's cycles or the screen's refresh rate interfered with his brain waves. No, he was going to write it in a notebook. And then sleep, at last. The software program was not important now. He had remembered HER.
He turned on all the lights and started to write everything he saw in his dream. And now, before that. Now he was wondering if she had performed hypnosis on him. She had mentioned hypnosis while looking straight in his eyes. Maybe while talking about hypnosis she was hypnotizing him... But he knew he could never get into that state of mind...his doctor had tried hypnosis as a therapy and given up...Thomas just was not susceptible to it. And he did not remember her mentioning anything about his hand or trying to talk him into thinking that his hand was on fire. Maybe she had mind-controlled him, but if so, she had done it without him knowing it, if that was possible. Or maybe not. "Let's just write about when I saw her for the first time", he thought.
It was a clear night and Thomas could see some stars from his dormitory window, although the lights of the campus and the city beyond hid many stars that were down near the horizon. It was nice being on campus, after all. His school friend, Arthur, had offered him the use of his off-campus room while he was away to participate in a course or seminar in another country. Thomas could not remember the name of it, it was not important, anyway. Arthur had told him that he would have to fill out papers from his landlord so that Thomas could take care of his room during those weeks. Thomas thought it was a bad idea to take on such a responsibility now. What would he do when he had to go out of town to visit his doctor in his hometown? Yes, it would have been a special experience to live off-campus for an extended period, but life on campus was also special, by definition, and well-suited to Thomas' needs.
Living on a university campus was like living in another reality, in a hyper-real world. Why? Just because everything was so artificial and contrived. Right, it was not like living in the "outside" world. On campus you were shielded against many things like thieves and even poor people who had to live on the street. There was a lot of security inside the campus and there were plenty of security cameras all around. Thomas has once seen a harmless old man on a corner of the campus asking for money or food. Campus security had quickly taken that man away. Anyone who came on campus for purposes other than learning was quickly questioned by the campus guards. That extraordinary level of security, added to the park-like vegetation and landscaping made the university look like a dream world. Thomas liked the fact that you could wake up at 5:30 and step outside just to watch the sunrise. Not many people did it, but it was worth doing once in a while, just to see the world fresh and new. Sure, Arthur's off-campus room was larger and more private than a dorm room, but it was not part of a vast campus, a giant oasis for learning safe from reality.
Thomas was feeling a bit cooped-up in his room. Well, maybe it was time for a night trip. In the old days there had been more restrictions on dorm residents, but these days, unless you were in a special restricted dorm, students could stay out of their residence hall until very late...he could not remember the exact hour of the campus-wide curfew. There were a few hours when all dorm residents were supposed to be inside, but it did not really matter. There had been plenty of times when he was out during the curfew and all he had done was show his student ID to a security guard who would then walk him to his destination. Some students had jobs and other reasons to be out during curfew, and the campus security guards just wanted to make sure that the students were safe. Another way that the campus was special was that at night there was no sound of dogs and other such noises found in cities. So, he could just go out, look at the stars and imagine himself far away and living another person's life. Arthur's life, for instance. Arthur was also attending the university and studying Computer Science, but he had not lived on campus since his freshman year. He had found an inexpensive room to rent and and after experiencing the freedom of having his own space he was not even sure if he would like moving back into a dorm. Thomas took the keys, turned everything off and he was off, to walk outside.
He took a deep breath. It was very lonely that night. He wondered what Jenny would be doing right now. Most likely she was working on her surveillance, er.., virtual campus stuff. He did not understand how a person would be interested in such a project. Well, to be honest, he also had some strange preferences in software terms. He hated cameras. They showed a distorted and ugly version of reality. For him, what Jenny was doing was like those new and stupid reality shows that everybody liked. If he wanted to watch organisms do something, he would just go to a zoo. Or watch a documentary... Well, that was how people were. He looked at his surroundings and decided he would go towards the Eucalyptus Park. It was not named that way, but it was an accurate description. He thought any person going there at this late hour would have to be bored and would risk being frightened just by being there in the dark shadows of the big trees. But there was nothing to fear. He approached a guard and nodded. The guard looked at him, with a smile on his eyes. The guard liked to see weird people and he was enjoying the scene. Thomas kept walking, trying to ignore the smile. Anyway, eyes can't smile, can they?
He got to the "eucalyptus park". It was empty. Much better, the trees were his only company. He looked at his clock, it showed 10:31 pm. Then, it just changed to 11:31 pm and then back again. WTF? He looked again and it stopped working. Very weird. Maybe it was damaged. Well, it was not important, either. It would not spoil this night, he thought. Anyhow, I don't even remember when I got this watch, weird, he shrugged and put the matter out of his thoughts. He inhaled the nice smell coming from the trees. He could not get deep into the whole set of trees because it was dark... and forbidden to leave the paths at that advanced hour.
He kept walking and his mind went back to Jenny. He could see her, with his mind's eye, working at the computer, her eyes completely red and he imagined her wanting to go to the bathroom for the past hour, but unwilling to stop the flow of her coding. He had a very vivid imagination, he laughed. Now that he was walking there among the trees, he had another pleasing memory: Cathy. She was so special, he did not know why. He started a bulleted mental list (as in wikis) about the factors that made him love her. Certainly, it was not actually love, to start on an honest footing. Whatever it was, the special feelings he had toward her, they could not be generated by superficial things like her height. Could it? She was very small and always seemed in need of something ... or someone? He could not tell, it just seemed to provoke some kind of protective instinct in Thomas. That day, word had spread quickly among her classmates that she had been attacked and taken to the hospital. Later he had been assured that she was fine. She had gone through a minor surgery on her arm and would be back to classes on Friday...was already back on campus, but would spend the night at the campus clinic. Thomas wondered what he would do if he confronted the person who has attacked Cathy. The idea of someone hurting Cathy filled him with dark feelings. The fact that Cathy had been attacked by a woman only slightly eased his desire for revenge.
Thomas tried to shift his thoughts to the happy prospect of seeing Cathy in class on Friday. She just seemed like that kind of person who is always depending on others, who is always accompanied by some friend and the type who would never be comfortable sleeping alone. Well, by that Thomas meant sleep only. Who knows if she had company now? Jenny was often her company walking to and from classes. Thomas imagined what they talked about: Jenny would be thinking inside her "virtual world", oblivious to the real world. Cathy would be telling Jenny whatever women usually tell to each other, usually some clever observation about men. And when Cathy was talking Jenny would nod and appear to be paying attention while she would just be programming some snippet of code in her head. Women, who could understand them. Maybe not even them. A sexist thought, but who cares. No man would ever be permitted to know, he thought. Maybe they think the same about us. The mystery was important, like a spice.
Well, if it wasn't her "love me, I am helpless" message she sent to everybody, what was it? Her face? Nah, it was just too standard. Or no? Maybe too many bones... or very tight skin across her facial features, actually. She was very thin. But no, it was not that. Her eyes? They were big, right, according to old claims of phrenology, the eyes of a person who talks too much. And it was true for her, anyway, no matter how pseudo-scientific phrenology was. But it was not that, either. Maybe it was... He heard something, like a scream. Her voice? No, it is not her voice, he thought, the scream is not that. But the scream triggered realization. Ah, it was her voice that held him crushed under her spell. Could a voice really do that? Thomas remembered his preferred sense was not sight, but voice. He easily remembered full conversations word-for-word and seemed to always be in "record mode". Plus, in high school, he had been good with imitations... people seemed to enjoy that... maybe he had a real talent for it. Who cares. Well, he tried to remember and suddenly felt that most of the girls he had ever been attracted to had nice voices. Maybe he was somehow over-sensitive to that sense, as strange as it might seem. But anyway, what was it he had heard?
Was it a scream that he had heard? He was not afraid of ghosts, he did not believe in those kinds of things. But it was strange... a lonely scream in the dark night. It was the kind of odd event that could make a story for one those fellows who write fiction. Maybe a novel for Agatha Christie. And then, they were screamers. No, the peace of the night was shattered, he had to go now, back to his dorm. Maybe there was a mad student down here, mad at having lost the chance to make good grades for the semester. Thomas could not risk confronting some lunatic; he did not know karate or some self-defense system like in the movies.
And so, he came back around towards his dorm. He heard a scream again, now coming near from close to where he was. Maybe he should tell the guard about it. Maybe not. He looked up at the sky. He was fascinated by the Moon; it was particularly vivid that night. He had felt a little scared due to the screams but then he calmed down a bit. Now he seemed to hear laughter, women laughing. So, maybe there was something cool up there, wherever it was. He went back to his dorm.
Before returning to his room, he looked into the lounge. The local news was on the television. Thomas listened to a story about a student who was attacked on campus and taken to the hospital. They did not mention Cathy's name, but they showed the image of a woman that had been captured by a campus security video camera. The newscaster said, "If you recognize this woman, please contact the police. Do not approach this woman, she is considered dangerous." Thomas turned away from the television and went to his room, wondering what he would do if he ever saw that woman.
(Note: this scene is parallel to the last scene in the Andresklo chapter.)
Thomas was back on his bed...he wanted to record the strange sounds heard during his walk.... But he started reading what he had once written in his diary about a vision. He now remembered it again...
It was a dream. It was at night, as for many of his dreams... and very dark. He was outside, walking towards the eucalyptus when he looked at the sky. It was filled with spaceships! Of course, he thought it was the real world. He looked closer. There were plenty of fancy colors in the sky, green, red, yellow. He hid behind a tree; a spaceship was about to land. It landed and he saw HER. The same lady he would see at the airport months later. Now he recalled the entire scene at the airport and he knew it was the same woman. He could not be mistaken; and the weirdest thing was that she was trying to look normal but when she moved her hand towards the idiot he saw it like a swarm of tentacles, and then the idiot came to life. "He's alive", he recalled from a Frankestein movie. After that, he fell asleep, sprawled on the bed with his day clothes still on.
Friday classes seemed to be particularly painful. Thomas had been so obsessed with his programming project that he had gotten behind in his class work. Thomas hated the disorienting feeling of not knowing exactly what his teachers were talking about.
However, there were two good events for the day. First, Cathy was out of the hospital and attending her classes. Thomas saw that she had her injured arm in a sling, but she would be fine...no permanent damage. And Thomas had the pleasure of a brief conversation with Jenny during which he confirmed that he would attend the party on Saturday. Thomas had received the emailed invitation that Jenny had sent to the entire computing club, but he was still confused about who "Lanora" was and why everyone in the computing and physics clubs had been invited to her house for a party. Jenny had shrugged and said, "Stefi got the original invitation and did not want to get stuck partying with a bunch of physics students."
Thomas made arrangements with some friends from the computing club to ride their bikes to the party. On Saturday they met after lunch and rode along the Old River Road, ending their afternoon ride at a popular pizza restaurant in the late afternoon. Thomas was having a great time and he told himself that he really should get out and exercise more, particularly while the weather was still good before winter set in.
After the bikers ate their pizza, it was just a short ride to Lanora's house along quiet residential streets. They were directed down the long driveway past Lanora's house to the barn. Thomas was impressed by both the house and the inside of the barn, which looked like a garage for a race car team.
After admiring the expensive cars that were parked in the barn, Thomas and his friends walked back up the driveway towards the house. It was now totally dark out, but the driveway and the adjacent swimming pool were both well lit. There was a man standing next to a small shed that held a changing room and the pumping and heating systems for the pool. One of the students called over, "How is the water in the pool?"
The man replied, "Eighty four degrees."
Another student complained, "I did not bring my swimming suit."
The man pointed to the changing room door and said, "There is a shower in here and a closet full of swimming suits. Feel free to use the pool any time this evening."
Thomas called a question, "Are you Lanora's brother?" There was something oddly familiar about the guy.
The man shook his head, "I'm the gardener, Alfred."
Thomas and the other bikers continued up the driveway and entered the house. They found Jenny in the kitchen helping to arrange food and drink for the party. Thomas suddenly regretted eating so much pizza. There was all kinds of food and drink...except no alcohol. Thomas grabbed a bottle of root beer. Jenny introduced them to Lanora and told them about the video game equipment in the recreation room. As soon as Thomas saw Lanora he started having a hard time concentrating and the good feel of the day that had been building all day for Thomas was gone.
Thomas went down the stairs into the basement and each step closer to the overly loud music coming from the recreation room increased his discomfort. He sank onto a couch in the corner of the recreation room and pressed the cold bottle of root beer against his forehead. He closed his eyes and felt slightly better. He wondered if he had gotten too much sun during the bike ride...he had certainly eaten too much pizza, but it had been very good and "all you can eat". For a while he debated with himself the wisdom of getting up and finding a bathroom and a toilet to throw up in. Jenny sat down next to him and asked, "Are you alright?"
Thomas opened his eyes and noticed that the recreation room was now much more full of students. Besides him, everyone seemed to be having a good time. How long had he been sitting there? He replied, "I think I ate some bad pizza for dinner, but I'll be okay."
Jenny frowned, "Ug, what a time to get sick! You rode your bike here didn't you? I'll get you a ride home anytime you want to leave."
Thomas was about to thank Jenny for her kind offer, but then he noticed that Lanora was also in the room and he again felt very disoriented and had to closed his eyes. He sank back into the cushions of the couch and cursed himself for having visions at this moment. He felt Jenny put her hand on his forehead and he vaguely realized that he was dripping sweat from his face. He felt her take the untouched bottle of root beer out of his hand.
Somehow Lanora reminded Thomas of the woman with the worms he has seen in the airport the previous Sunday and then the next day on campus. Now with his eyes closed, he could see that woman again... no! now it was two of her, sitting together in a room and talking to each other. He opened his eyes and Jenny was no longer there, nor was Lanora. Still sweating, he felt the need to get out and get some fresh air.
Thomas left the noisy recreation room and went up the stairs. He grabbed another cold bottle from the kitchen and stepped outside into the night. It was cooling rapidly outside and the cool air felt good for a moment, then the evaporating sweat suddenly sent a chill up his back. Two students were in the pool and Thomas walked over and sat in a chair next to the pool. They introduced themselves as members of the physics club and when asked, confirmed that the water was wonderfully warm.
For a few minutes Thomas thought about looking for a swimming suit in the changing room and going in the pool. He was feeling much better now and was just getting up when another student came out of the house and walked down the driveway. Thomas recognized it as a guy from the computing club, but Thomas did not know him well and could not remember his name. As soon as that initial wave of recognition struck Thomas it was replace by a rush of "visions". The student seemed to wave casually while walking past the pool and continuing towards the barn, but Thomas saw what looked like a swarm of bugs erupt from his hand.
Thomas stumbled and sat back down. The "student's" face also looked like a swarm of insects...Thomas had to close his eyes, but somehow he could see that those bugs looked like the woman he had seen on the news. Thomas remembered the news broadcaster saying: "If you recognize this woman, please contact the police. Do not approach this woman, she is considered dangerous." Thomas realized that somehow this was not a student...it was not even a guy. It was the woman who had assaulted Cathy! Thomas forced open his eyes just in time to see her enter the barn. He jumped up and shouted, "Hey, stop!" He ran towards the barn feeling the sudden heat of rage.
- continue to Chapter 9 - Andresklo, the robotic handyman
Here is a map of the chapters:
_> Mary –––––––––––––––––––––> Lincoln / \ / \__> Amelia PAlbert ––––––––––––––––––––> Andresklo / \ \---->Ferace ------> Yasas / \ __----------> Cathy / / \ / \ / / \ / \__________>Tess CC –––> Charlie ––-----–> Stefi \ \ ----------------> Lani \ / \ \ _______---> Jenny –––> Thomas \______> Dexamene
Sunday ----> time flow --> one week in the Fall --> ---------> Saturday
Useful pages for the reader: List of characters and the Glossary. Readers can discuss the story at Talk:Cellular Civilization.
If you want to help write the story, see the meta page (warning: spoilers!).