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Hopes Folly Chap. 1
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Hopes Folly Chap. 1

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Abandon hits University vowing to find a cure for his father's illness.

Abandon hits University vowing to find a cure for his father's illness.

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  • 1. “Hunh.”
  • 2. “I wonder….”
  • 3. … … … “Doom! You clear?” “Huh? Um, yeah. Sector 20 clear.” “Check your comm set. Alright, folks. Let’s call it.”
  • 4. Hey, Ms. Carstairs. Been awhile, huh? Reckon I could just write “Dear Diary,” but that’s for chicks doodling hearts and flowers in the margins and pink covers with cute little golden locks that wouldn’t stop a four-year-old from breaking in—assuming a four-year-old would even want to. So, Ms. Carstairs it is.
  • 5. Let me catch you up. See, I wasn’t thinking too clearly when I took off that night. All I knew was my daddy was dying, the place he’d been working had something to do with it, and by god they sure as hell were going to fix it. I had some fool idea about busting into the place, grabbing the boss by the throat and shaking him until he produced the cure. Okay, so it wasn’t the best idea I ever had. It could have worked! It had a (what was it you used to say?) a certain simplicity in its elegance. Yeah. I liked the grabbing by the throat part the best. I surely wanted to hit someone that night.
  • 6. Mama always did say I loved to barge in where angels never dared to tread. Reckon this was one of those times. I had myself a good 30 mile hike, but I didn’t mind none. I was fighting mad. Lucky for me Jimmy Trueblood stopped and gave me a lift when he saw me hitching on Route 29 else I’d probably still be trudging my way over there. I told Jimmy he could drop me off at Old Mill Road. No reason for him to go out of his way. ‘Sides, I didn’t need him tagging along trying to stop me from doing what needed doing. You know how folk are.
  • 7. I don’t know what I expected of a place I’d only ever heard Mama or Daddy speak of as “the Facility.” I reckoned I’d find some sort of factory or plant—a place that used loads of fertilizers and chemicals—the kind of stuff you hear of…the kind of stuff that causes cancer. I sure as Wright never expected a six-story building blazing white against the darkness with guard towers and razor wire and honest-to-god soldiers. Soldiers with guns. I knew my daddy wasn’t some soldier, that he weren’t –wasn’t (sorry Ms. Carstairs)—working for the framming government. But there they were. No way getting round it.
  • 8. The hills around the place gave me some cover, so I snuck up for a closer look. I couldn’t wrap my mind around what I was seeing. What the hell was going on and what the fuck had they done to my dad? At least now I had a name. The Olduvai Biological Research Facility was killing my daddy.
  • 9. So there I was, hunkered down in the scrub oak and sand cherry, my jaw hanging down and hands clenched into fists wondering how the hell I was going to get into that place much less find the !@#$%&!! who hurt my daddy, and I realized. I realized I didn’t have the sense Wright gave a goat. It might feel good to go all Cro Magnon on that guy’s ass, but it wouldn’t fix a framming thing. I cogitated on that a piece. I needed to come up with a better plan. I needed more information. I needed answers. I needed help.
  • 10. I needed to find someone—lots of someones even—who knew what was going on and how to stop it. I wasn’t about to find them at home, not while Daddy insisted on treating me like a little kid. I reckon I’d known in the back of my head I wouldn’t be heading home after that night. Wish now I’d left Mama a note explaining things or that I’d said a proper goodbye to Lindsay. Wright knows, little sisters are pests, but Lindsay was my pest and—you got me—I kinda liked her. And Daddy…. There was only one place left to go. I just knew someone there could point me to the answers.
  • 11. “Well, Mr. Hope, though it’s highly irregular for one of our Peabody Grant recipients to start early, your paperwork is in order. We at the Woodsonian would prefer our freshmen use their summer after graduation to enrich their knowledge of the world before the dive into their studies.
  • 12. “You saying you won’t take me?”
  • 13. “Not at all, Mr. Hope. I’m saying it’s unusual for one of our students to start in the summer term as opposed to beginning in the fall. I’ll need you to sign these enrollment forms, then I can send you on to our Registrar to set up your class schedule and the Office of Student Housing for your dorm assignment.”
  • 14. And that’s how I found myself outside of Cheavers Hall with a bunch of other hopefuls. There’d been some screw up and the place was locked up tight. Our RA had to jog across campus to find a maintenance worker to let us all in. I didn’t mind much. Gave me a chance to meet everyone and make contacts. My ears perked up when I overheard a couple dorm mates whispering about something called the Camelidae League. “They have all the answers,” one of them told the other. But they saw me listening and clammed up quick. Looked like I wasn’t gonna get any information from those two yahoos. But they’d given me the lead I needed. I had to find the Camelidae League as soon as possible if I was gonna help Daddy. Someone had to know how to hook up with them.
  • 15. Then I caught a lucky break. I spotted one of the members right off, hanging out front with the rest of us. So, when we finally were allowed inside, I followed him upstairs to try to get to know him. “So, Camelidae….”
  • 16. “Dude,” said the fellow sitting next to my target. Don’t even go there with the llama jokes. He’s heard them all.” “Say what?” “#$%^!! Same lame gags from the same lame freshmen every framming year. I can hardly wait till I graduate and some other poor schmo can take over the mascot gig.” “Way to go, moron. You got him started. It’ll take an hour before he shuts up.” “Mascot. I thought—” The guy in the llama suit snorted in disgust. “You’re a slow one, aren’t you? The Fighting Llamas? School team? Mascot? What? You think I wear this thing ‘cause I have some sick llama fetish? Don’t make me go vo gerbits on your ass.” “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
  • 17. Time to move out, Ladies! Looks like I gotta run, Ms. Carstairs. I promise to write more later. I know I been slacking off something fierce, but between you and me? When you had us start keeping this diary thing, I thought it was plumb foolish—a waste of my time. Now, well, it’s like talking to a friend. I hope you don’t mind me saying that, Ms. Carstairs. Maybe someday I can tell you that. If only— Doom! If you’re finished with your morning toilette, the rest of us would appreciate you FALLING IN WITH THE REST OF US! Gotta go!
  • 18. Try as he might, Abandon couldn’t get anyone to give him information on the Camelidae League. It got to the point where folk started avoiding him. He reckoned if he wanted to learn anything at all, he’d have to hold back and stop pestering folk for information. He was an outsider. Maybe once they got to know him things would change. So he settled into a routine of classes and studying and painting and getting to know his fellow dormies.
  • 19. He always made time in his busy schedule to socialize with the cow mascot. After all, that guy made himself available for entertainment. The least Ban could do was oblige him.
  • 20. Ban had to admit, he felt mightily entertained whenever he made the cow mascot cry.
  • 21. He was sorely disappointed when he finally did meet up with the Camelidae League. Not only were they lacking in the answers department, their “top secret” goals consisted of dreaming up new schemes to hack their grades and finding unwary volunteers to keep their idiotic little clubhouse clean. It was all a waste of time as far as Ban was concerned. Heck, if you were so worried about grades, go to class a time or two, be buddies with the profs and smile nice at the person sitting next to you because they may not realize yet, but they’re about to write your next term paper.
  • 22. He started hanging out downtown after that in hopes he’d meet someone who either worked for or knew something about the Facility. He even frequented the hobby lots he’d been invited to (though the artsy crowd with their bear fetishes creeped him out).
  • 23. Again, no luck. At least this time his efforts hadn’t been completely wasted. Ban wasn’t about to say no to the many gifts folk took to leaving him by way of saying thanks. He could always use the extra cash.
  • 24. One of his new friends told him that his cousin’s ex-wife’s little brother’s best friend had visited the Islands and the Far East where he’d been cured of cancer or impetigo or the heartbreak of psoriasis or something. So Ban took some of his gift money and spent his spring breaks seeing the world, and he learned a lot.
  • 25. He learned that the world was out to get him. He discovered more than he ever wanted to know about being attacked by poison ivy, fried with second degree sun burn, boiled by hot lava and chased by killer bees.
  • 26. What he didn’t learn was how to cure his father. The so-called sages of ancient wisdom he’d sought were nothing more than snake oil salesmen looking to make a quick buck. Heck, the Wise Man of Tekimizu was some old dude who’d smoked too much of that funny tea. After meeting the witch doctor, Ban was purt near certain the guy must have been a founding member of the Camelidae League. The jerk expected Abandon not only to clean his house, but to risk electrocuting himself on all his broken appliances. Thanks, but no thanks.
  • 27. And don’t get him started on that wise ass ninja and his entire “Mystery of the Orient” con job. “Yes, Young Grasshopper. I will teach you the ancient art of teleportation but only if you prove your mettle by correctly answering this question: Which came first? The sword? Or the Ninja?” “Um…the sword?”
  • 28. “Wrong! For the sword cannot BLAH BLAH BLAH STUPID ZEN LOGIC BULL PUCKY without the ninja. You fail. A true ninja must become one with himself before he himself can become one. Return to me again when you have found knowledge.”
  • 29. “Alright, I’m lit, found enlightenment, whatever. I’m ready. Ask me your question.” “Which came first, the sword or the ninja?” “Hah! Same question. I ain’t even gonna break a sweat. The ninja! Now, teach me to telepo—” “WRONG! The sword came first. Without the sword, the ninja cannot BLAH BLAH BLAH STUPID ZEN LOGIC BULL PUCKY. “ “Wait. What? Last time—” “Listen well, Young Grasshopper, He who questions training only trains himself to question.* Return to me when you have been shown enlightenment.” *Sphinx from Mystery Men
  • 30. “Fifth time’s the charm. The sword! The sword came first.” “I despair of you ever finding enlightenment, Young Grasshopper. Have you not yet learned that the sword must BLAH BLAH BLAH STUPID ZEN LOGIC BULL PUCKY after the ninja?”
  • 31. “…now you’re just fucking with me.”
  • 32. Ban eventually outmaneuvered the ninja and learned how to teleport. ‘Course, slipping the guy 50 simoleans didn’t hurt none either.
  • 33. Sadly, he never learned the answers he’d hope so much to find. He’d have to look elsewhere if he was going to keep his father from dying.
  • 34. He arrived home well-rested but (as the ninja would put it) unenlightened.
  • 35. He soon settled into his old routine. The days blended into one another. Before he realized it, Abandon had managed to net himself over thirty best friends. It’s not like he tried any. He spoke his mind, stayed true to himself and had lots of fun along the way.
  • 36. He couldn’t rightly deny he’d set out to make as many friends as possible. He reckoned once folk got to know him they’d open up more. ‘Sides, he never had a problem being friendly so long as folk didn’t mind him speaking his mind. If you were going to act like an ignorant mouth breather with less smarts than Wright gave a womrat, you shouldn’t complain when he called you on it. Sure, some folk brought out his bad side—okay, maybe a lot of folk—but Abandon had his own brand of charm.
  • 37. Heck, some people (girls especially) liked that chip on his shoulder. Didn’t seem to matter none if he was on campus or downtown. The ladies couldn’t resist his bad boy vibe. He even dated a few of them off and on, never anything serious. None of them really caught his eye.
  • 38. But none of them ever really caught his eye. Truth be told, he liked going out dancing with a bunch of his friends a lot more than he liked singling out any particular female. And if a bunch of those friends happened to be girls, so what? Nothing in the rules said he couldn’t enjoy the view. Well, truth be told, there was one. Ida White was everything he liked in a woman: smart, creative and funny as hell. He’d watched her around the dorm. She didn’t seem close to anyone at Cheavers, but she had plenty of phone calls and was in and out a lot. He reckoned she had tons of friends, just not many in the dorm. He considered himself lucky because she didn’t have a pack of guys hanging around her. He had a clear field. Or so he thought.
  • 39. She shot him down before he could get things off the ground. “You have got to be kidding me. Try your Romancer moves on one of the brainless bimbos around here and leave me in peace.” “But—” “You heard me.” “But—” “Give it up, Farm Boy. Not. Interested.” And she left him there talking to air. “But….”
  • 40. “… but I’m not a Romance sim.” Damn. Girl was feisty. She didn’t take guff off of anyone.
  • 41. He just might be in love.
  • 42. Naturally, once Ida made it plain she wanted nothing to do with him, Ban ran into her everywhere. She ‘d already commandeered the best seat when he wanted to do some research.
  • 43. She spat into his pancake batter when he showed up at the cafeteria for breakfast. Alright, she didn’t spit into the batter. Probably.
  • 44. ‘Course, he couldn’t come upstairs to shoot the breeze without running smack dab into her. Someone had mentioned she was a Dance major, so he reckoned it made sense, but, dayum. Girl probably thought he was stalking her.
  • 45. He always seemed to show up where she was, or arriving as she was leaving or vice versa. Ban reckoned it was possible they’d always rubbed elbows and he only now noticed because, well, he’d just now noticed Ida. Personally, he preferred to think that Fate had taken a shine to him and kept throwing him in Ida’s path so’s to give him the opportunity to change her mind about him. He already knew he wasn’t about to change his about Ida—and that was despite catching her doing the chicken dance with one of those Camelidae League whack jobs.
  • 46. He really shouldn’t have been surprised to find Ida working as barista at Java Joe’s when he stopped by for a pick-me-up after class. She gave him a long, cool once-over.
  • 47. “Do I need to file a restraining order on you?”
  • 48. “Wha—? No! No, no! I mean—why do you say that? Ha ha—it is mighty funny we keep banging into each other like this. I mean. On campus. Everywhere.” He inwardly cringed. Way to sound like a complete goob. No wonder she ran for the hills every time he asked her out. For crying out loud, he felt at home chatting to anybody from the street sweeper to the mayor. He probably had more friends who were girls than he did guy friends. He felt comfortable around folk and with himself. Yet it only took one glance from her sultry blue eyes to make his belly jump and his throat tighten and leave him feeling like that time when he was eight years old and Grandma Cabot caught him stealing Krispie treats from the cookie jar. Ida cocked an eyebrow and the corners of her mouth twitched. “Oh. You’re joking.” “I do that sometimes. So, what’ll it be?”
  • 49. “Triple shot.” “Triple shot it is. I should warn you that the boss keeps a shotgun behind the counter. You start bouncing off the ceiling and walls in a caffeine-induced overdose and I’m using it.” “Duly noted. No bouncing off walls. Reckon vibrating in a corner’s right out, too?” She rolled her eyes, but he saw her teeth flash briefly. “Definitely no vibrating.”
  • 50. Hot damn. Had she just smiled at him? He should strike while the iron was hot. “So what time you get off work? I could take you for a bite—”
  • 51. “Hold it right there. I’d rather have my teeth drilled—sans novacaine. I keep telling you, I’m not going to be one of your harem girls.” “But—” “Get it through your thick skull. It’s not happening. It will never happen. I’m here to learn, not cat around with the campus stud.”
  • 52. He’d have to start taking this personal if she kept shooting him down like this. “Don’t know where you got the idea that I keep a passel of girls on a string, but you’re wrong. I got a lot of friends, sure. And a lot of those are ladies. That don’t mean I’m dating every single one of them or that I have dated every single one of them or that I’d even want to date some of them. They’re friends. You might not be acquainted with the concept seeing as how you’re so prickly and all.” She snorted. “Do they know that? It doesn’t matter. My answer’s still no.” He slumped his shoulders and donned his most heart-wrenching pitiful look and waited. After a moment, she sighed.
  • 53. “Look, what’s your name again? Abandon? Look, Abandon, you’re a little thick but otherwise you seem like an okay guy so I’ll explain things to you. I’m not interested in dating. Period. I’m carrying a dual major and working three jobs. That takes up all my time. “And even if I was interested in dating, it wouldn’t be as the flavor of the week for some guy who can’t settle on one girl. Do you have the faintest idea how many calls from lovesick females I’ve fielded for you at the dorm? So you can stop with the puppy dog eyes. I’m immune.”
  • 54. He pondered that some. “Fair ‘nuff. You got this mistaken impression I’m some sort of ladies’ man out to break hearts. That ain’t me at all. Not gonna lie. You are one smoking hot lady, but that’s not why I want to take you out. I like the way you operate. You don’t take no bull off of no one, no how. Not even from me. “Not only are you smart as a whip, you’re talented. You’re pretty damn nice, too, even though you don’t like to show it. I seen you helping out Vic McPherson and Dina Cochran all the time with their class work. ‘Sides, anyone who can lay out the cow mascot and stomp him into the ground is someone I’d like to get to know.” Ban rubbed his neck, looked Ida straight in the eye and smiled. “And that’s all I want—a chance to get to know you.”
  • 55. Ida stared at him. “You were never told no as a child, were you?” “Probably not near enough,” he acknowledged with a grin. “Look, you’re busy. I get that. But you’re not busy all the time. Everyone likes to cut loose every once in awhile. Would it really be so bad if you did it with me? People tell me I’m a fun guy.” “If I say no, you’ll keep harassing me, won’t you?” “Yep. Stubborn’s my middle name. This is attempt number 242. I reckon I’ll wear you down somewhere around 586.”
  • 56. He swallowed his jitters as she turned away and busied herself cleaning the espresso machine. He’d said his piece. It was time for Ida to say hers. “Fine,” she said at last, still not looking at him. “Fine?” “Fine. I do like to get out on occasion. I’m meeting an old friend tonight at The Asylum—you know where that is?” “That new place out on Kensington Road? Sure!” He didn’t bother concealing his grin. She’d finally said yes! “What time do I pick you up?” “You don’t. I’ll be there. If you choose to be there, too, well, I won’t say no if you’d like to buy me a drink.” That was more than good enough for him.
  • 57. Ban paced in his room and watched the clock. If he had his druthers, he’d have headed on over to The Asylum as soon as he left the coffee house. At least that way he’d be assured of catching her if—when—she showed. But he squashed that idea right quick, finished his last class and headed home to Cheavers Hall to get ready…and wait. He still couldn’t believe Ida had finally agreed to see him. He’d gotten used to being shot down, kind of missed it even, but he sure as shooting didn’t miss it so much that he was going to blow an opportunity like this. Ida might not give him another chance. By the time 9PM rolled around he had a royal case of butterfly belly and changed his clothes five times before settling on what he’d worn earlier. He decided she didn’t need to know he’d spent the remainder of his day holed up in his room acting like a silly love- sick teenybopper. Hell, he must be channeling his kid sister. Watch this all be some stupid joke on her part and her not be there.
  • 58. But there she was, at the bar, just like she’d said.
  • 59. He slid onto the bar stool next to her. “Hey, Beautiful, you come here often?”
  • 60. “Dear Wright, please tell me I’m not going to be subjected to an evening of lame come-on lines.” Lucky his ego was used to being deflated by now. “That was a joke, you know.” “Really? Couldn’t tell. Sounded par for the course.”
  • 61. “Now that’s just hurtful. I’ve never used a lame pick-up line in my life. Hell, I don’t do pick-up lines.” Ida snorted. “Oh my god,” she chortled, “are you pouting? You are, aren’t you?”
  • 62. “We He Men types prefer to call it sulking.” Ida turned her head away, but not before he saw the big smile spread across her face. Ban decided to press his luck. “Admit it. You’re having fun. With me.” She laughed good-naturedly. “I am having fun. At you.”
  • 63. He grinned. “A more sensitive man might take hurt from that, but—” he winked. “—fortunately for me, I’m mule-hided as well as mule-headed.” “Tell me again why I told you I’d be here?” “It was my charm, my abundant charm.” Ida rolled her eyes. “Or my momentary insanity. Cry Havoc should be starting its set soon. I want to find a spot close to the stage.” “I’ll come with.” “Knock yourself out.”
  • 64. They headed the basement where a blast of screeching guitars and body-throbbing bass assailed them. Ban grimaced and wished he’d thought to bring earplugs. Somehow, he’d pinned Ida as the type who went for quieter fare. She glided through the cloud like a graceful angel. Abandon, on the other hand, elbowed and bashed his way after her like an avenging demon. More than one guy received an extra shove when he made the mistake of getting too close to Ida. The couple made it to the front of the stage and Ban finally had a chance to listen. Not bad, he thought. He stole a glance at the girl beside him. She never noticed, too intent on ogling the front man—some idiot who didn’t wear enough clothes and bounced and gyrated way too much for Ban’s taste—or so he decided after noticing how much attention Ida paid to the guy.
  • 65. Can’t have that, Ban thought. He nudged Ida with his shoulder, and when she looked at him, began to dance in place then pointed from her to him. “You know you want to!” he shouted over the blare of the band. “Come on, Swan Princess, show me what you got!” “I’m a dance major. You couldn’t keep up with me.” “Big words from the ballerina. Prove it!”
  • 66. “You are so on! No boot scooting, Farm Boy, and try to keep up.”
  • 67. “Don’t worry about me. I can go all night.” “…what?” “That came out wrong, didn’t it?” She threw back her head and laughed.“You think?”
  • 68. Fortunately, Ida forgave his little bout of foot in mouth disease. “Still think I can’t keep up?” he goaded over the wail of the band. “I know you can’t!” “You keep talking, but I ain’t seeing no doing!” “Oh, yeah? Dare you to try this!”
  • 69. Ban gaped as Ida arched backwards and touched the floor. Wow. She was…flexible. Real flexible, which caused him to cogitate just how much fun that flexibility could be if it was just the two of them. Alone. Heat burned in his belly and spread like wildfire for points south. Oh, hell. He stopped dancing and shifted uncomfortably. “Uncle!” He squeaked, and hoped she wouldn’t notice his condition. “You win. Pretty sure my spine would break if I tried that.” She lifted easily to her feet, a knowing smile on her lips. “Told you I’d win.” That’s when he realized she’d teased him on purpose. He stared at her, then laughed. “You’re evil.” “I try.”
  • 70. Their banter was cut short by a clash of drums, guitar and voice as the song came to a resounding halt. The singer stood and doffed his hat to the crowd. “We’re taking a break, folks, but be ready to go crazy with Cry Havoc at Club Asylum in fifteen.” Saved by the band. Someone up there loved him.
  • 71. Ida soon let him know he wasn’t out of the woods yet. “Hah! Knew you were full of it.” “Only ‘cause you cheated.” “You’re only jealous because I thought of it before you.” Ban opened his mouth to retort and stopped. That implied he had the same effect on her. Hot damn. He moved a tad closer.
  • 72. “You sure you’re human?” he teased. “Pretty certain people aren’t meant to bend that way.” “Ha ha, very funny. Pay up.” “What? Since when did we have a bet going?” “Since I said so. You owe me a drink.”
  • 73. He reckoned the time was ripe to go for broke. “I’ll go you one better. How ‘bout I treat you to dinner in—” A deep male voice interrupted him.
  • 74. “Babycakes! Looking hot.” Ban hadn’t noticed the singer coming up behind him until he’d accosted Ida and drawn her into a big—and way too long—hug. He smirked and settled back to wait for the idiot to have his balls handed to him on a platter. Ida wouldn’t appreciate the idiotic nickname, much less the manhandling. So he received the surprise of his life when instead she laughed and hugged the ignoramus right back. “Jamie, I cannot believe you still have that awful hat,” she exclaimed. “Hey, it’s my lucky hat. It was given to me by my favorite girl.” “You mean your only girl.”
  • 75. What the hell? And then it hit him. That wasn’t a “friend” Ida was meeting, it was her boyfriend. And damned if he hadn’t been stupid enough to fall for her invitation and think she meant that maybe, just maybe, he had a chance. Instead, she’d milked him for drinks and laughs—mostly at his stupidity—while she waited for her guy to finish his gig. Hell, he’d been about to pay for her dinner, too! Ban didn’t suffer fools gladly, and he’d become the largest one of all. The singer noticed his scowl and smirked a little. “Ida, who—?” “Oh! Jamie, this is Abandon—feel free to make fun of the name all you want; it’s good for him. Ban—” “I’m outta here,” he snarled before she could finish. He turned on his heel and stalked off. To hell with them.
  • 76. Ida caught up with him before he could make good his escape. Her fingers dug into his elbow and then jerked him around. “What the hell is wrong with you walking away like that? Jamie—”
  • 77. Oh, hell no. He was not going to stand here and listen to her wax poetic about Jamie. “Don’t cotton much to playing second fiddle. Don’t know what sort of game you and your boyfriend got going, but I sure as hell ain’t playing.” Ban took a deep breath. “Hope you enjoyed your laugh. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I got better things to do.”
  • 78. “Boyfriend?” She asked the question like she’d never heard the damn word before. She was answered by his glare. Realization dawned on her face. Disgust and anger soon nipped at its heels. Ban’s sneer of triumph faded.
  • 79. “I see. Nice to know you have such a high opinion of me,” she observed evenly. “Apparently, I’m the sort of person who leads someone on like that. Oh, and let’s not forget, someone who cheats on her boyfriend. Who knew?” It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize just maybe he’d had it all wrong. Still. “What was I supposed to think? That guy was the ‘friend’ you were going to meet, right? Hell, he was all over you.” His temper flared at the thought. “He called you ‘babycakes’ for fuck’s sake.”
  • 80. “And you called me Swan Princess. Does that mean we’re an item? Because if it does, it’s news to me. “Where do you get off judging me? It shouldn’t matter to you if I’m with Jamie or Marla or Opie the Wonderdog because there is absolutely nothing between you and me. After tonight, there never will be.” Ida spoke slowly, as if explaining facts to an idiot, which, come to think of it, he was. Turning towards him, she continued. “For your information, Jamie Tinsdale was the first real friend I had. I…moved around a lot when I was a kid and never had time to make many friends. He means a lot to me. He’s a great guy, and I thought you two would really hit it off once you got to know each other. And if he’s my boyfriend, well, that’d be news to his husband.” She looked Abandon up and down, her eyes frosty. “This was a mistake. Now, if you don’t mind, I intend to spend my evening with friends.”
  • 81. She walked away without a backward look, taking her friend Jamie by the arm and leading him upstairs. Ban cringed inwardly. He couldn’t have screwed things up worse if he’d tried. “Ban,” he told himself, “you’d best invest in chapstix stock ‘cause you got a heap of kissing up to do before that lady ever talks to you again.”
  • 82. No one had ever made him feel like a worm with just one look. Thinking back on how he’d behaved, Ban couldn’t blame Ida one bit. Hell, he’d have torn into Ida but good if she’d reacted like a crazy, possessive bitch just ‘cause he said hey to a good friend. Instead, she’d squashed him like a bug with a few choice words then walked away like he wasn’t worth treading underfoot. The lady had style. He admired her more than ever. She invaded all his waking thoughts, drifted in his dreams. He couldn’t get her out of his head. He knew he was in trouble when he realized he didn’t want to. He’d give her some space, prove to her he wasn’t the first rate ass she thought he was. It would just take some time is all. He could afford to be patient. Heck, he had all the time in the world. His father didn’t.
  • 83. It stuck in his craw that he needed someone else’s help and—worse—that he hadn’t been able to get it. Oh, he’d tried—been trying—but no one was offering. The little he’d been able to learn on his own was just pitiful. Ban had always been good with computers and electronics. It should have been a piece of cake to find out information about this Olduvai place. Instead, he hit a cyber wall. Oh, they had themselves a fancy splash page and pretty graphics and used lots of $100 words like “paradigm” and “synergy,” but they didn’t give away any meat. He was already a senior and he hadn’t learned a damned thing. It was time to start pushing until someone pushed back.
  • 84. And he’d heard enough to know just where to start. “Tom Barton, right?” “No.” “Say what?” “Whatever you want. No. No, I will not write your term paper. No, I will not take your final for you. No, I will not tutor you in bonehead Algebra. And especially, no, I will not be the butt of your gang’s sophomoric humor.”
  • 85. “Whoa, Hoss. I don’t got myself a gang.” “Whatever. Either way, I have better things to do. Find someone else to entertain you.”
  • 86. “Hear me out, at least.” “Fine. I need to finish my dinner anyway. Fair warning. I eat fast. Talk faster.” “It’s about my daddy—” “Sounds like a personal problem. I don’t do those either.” “Just shut the hell up and listen! He’s sick. Real sick.”
  • 87. “Yeah? What do you want me to do about it?” And people said he could be a first class jerk! “Look, dickweed. You said five minutes. Stop using up my air and framming listen.” The jerk quirked an eyebrow at that. “I’d like to point out that you’re the one wasting time arguing instead of talking. If you want sympathy, you came to the wrong guy. I suggest you find a good doctor.” “Doctor can’t help. No one can help, ‘cepting maybe the place that did this to him…
  • 88. “…and maybe you. Leastaways, I hear tell you know something about this ‘Facility.’” That was what he liked to call an artificial truth. What he’d heard was that Tom Barton was a paranoid kook who bought into every conspiracy theory out there. Ban reckoned if anyone knew anything about Olduvai, this guy would. He’d sort the facts from the crazy later.
  • 89. He managed not to smirk as Tom froze for an instant before carefully lifting a forkful of spaghetti to his mouth. He’d have missed it if he hadn’t been watching the guy like a hawk. But he had him. Damned if he didn’t have him. “Facility? You’ve been watching too many late night horror movies if that’s the best name you can come up with. Not falling for it. Tell your buddies no dice. I’d say nice try except that’d be a lie. Pathetic would be the appropriate adjective.”
  • 90. “You know damn well I’m not yanking your chain, so stop pretending. I just need to know what they did to my Daddy so I can fix him.”
  • 91. “You can’t.” “What do you mean, ‘I can’t’?”
  • 92. Tom scooted back his chair and stood. “Simlish. Learn it.” Ban clenched his fists under the table and glared. “Look—” Tom slammed his plate down. “Listen. I said you can’t fix it, and. You. Can’t. Just—” He took a deep breath and said more quietly, “Sorry. I can’t help you.” He paused by Ban as he left, allowing his hand to drift to his shoulder. “Abandon, right? You don’t have a lot of time. Spend it with your dad.”
  • 93. ...
  • 94. Facility
  • 95. “What’s wrong with you? Victoria’s Secret stop your catalog subscription?” “Get lost. Go spread your particular brand of cheer somewhere else. I ain’t buying today.”
  • 96. Any other time and he’d have been ecstatic that Ida was finally talking to him, but not now. Most folk had the good sense to leave him alone when he told them to. But not Ida. She hauled out a chair and plopped herself down next to him. Ban groaned. Figured she’d only show an interest in him when he was down. Probably wanted to kick him. “Just leave me be, alright?” Ida ignored that, too. “I saw you chatting with Tom Barton. He’s kind of a jerk. A lot of a jerk, actually. He never tutors if that’s what you’re after.” She paused, but when he ignored her she started up again. “I suppose I could help you out—”
  • 97. He couldn’t believe his ears. “What the hell you talking about?” “—I don’t charge much for tutoring, and, well, I could really use the money.” “You. Think I’m stupid.” “Hey, not everyone’s a straight A student. It doesn’t mean you’re dumb.” Normally when folk talked smack about him, he was right in their face, itching for a fight. But he was done in, the fight drained out of him. All he could think about was his dad.
  • 98. Ida considered him a moment. “This isn’t about your grades, is it?” He shook his head. “Dean’s List every semester since I been here.” “Wow. Really? Maybe you should tutor me.” “Just ‘cause I talk like a country bumpkin don’t mean I am one. If folk want to underestimate me, well that suits me just fine. Never know when you’ll need an advantage.”
  • 99. That surprised a chuckle out of her. “Keep them on their toes, huh?” “Yeah. Something like that.” She rubbed fingertips along the table edge and carefully asked, “So. What is bothering you, then?” “Don’t see as how that’s any concern of yours. You’re no bleeding heart and you made it clear I ain’t your friend.”
  • 100. “Maybe not, but it seems like you could use one. Look, I don’t pay attention to the zillions of little dramas that take place in this dorm. All I want is to make it through these four years and earn that degree. “But you looked like you could use something, maybe not a friend but someone you could vent to.”
  • 101. “I’m a guy. I don’t vent. Punch the living hell outta the cow mascot? Yes. Vent? No.” He couldn’t figure her out at all. “What’s your angle?”
  • 102. “What? People need to have an ulterior motive if they want to talk to you?”
  • 103. “Reckon I’m a might befuddled. Before tonight, you wouldn’t cross the room to give me a drink of water even though I was dying of thirst. Now you’re hankering for me to bare my soul to you? Pardon me if I don’t rightly trust your motives.”
  • 104. She stared at him a moment. “Fine. I knew I shouldn’t go against my better judgment and try to talk to you. Wallow all alone in your self-pity if that’s the way you want it.” The chair legs screeched on the cheap linoleum as she pushed back her chair to stand.
  • 105. Crap! He hadn’t meant—dammit, Ban, always letting your mouth run away with your brain! He grabbed her sleeve, half expecting her to slap him. “Wait! Just…wait, will you? I’m s—”
  • 106. Ida hesitated a moment before settling back into her chair, but not before firmly prying his fingers from her coat. “You’re what? Saintly? Scintillating? Sanctimonious? Shameful? Sheepish? Stupid?” He didn’t need to look to know she was laughing at him. Well, reckon he deserved it.
  • 107. “Scintillating, huh? I knew you liked me.” “Don’t push it.” “You forgot sexy—” “Right. I’m leaving.”
  • 108. “—though ‘stupid’ sums me up better. But that’s not what I was gonna say.” He took a deep breath and tried again. “Look, I’m sorry. I had no call to light into you like that . . . Not now or any other time.” “No. You didn’t.” “So, how ‘bout we start again? I’ll try not to be an obnoxious jerk and maybe you try to cut me a little slack?” “I’m listening.”
  • 109. “So. It’s my dad.” “Hey, lots of people don’t get along with their parents. Doesn’t make it any easier.” Ban rubbed his temples. “It’s nothing like that. He’s sick. Real sick. Dying sick.” “Oh.” Ida bit her lower lip but didn’t say anything more. Ban was grateful for that. Common courtesy required folk to mouth platitudes like I’m sorry or Is there anything I can do? That was fine and dandy between friends, but not when you barely knew each other. At least she’d spared him that. After a moment she said, “I can’t…I can’t imagine what it’d be like to get news like that.”
  • 110. “What do you mean?” “Isn’t that why you were upset?” “Nah. I’ve known for a long time. Just, well, I had it in my head that I could stop it somehow.” Ida looked confused. “I thought you were an art major.” “I am.” “But– What could an art major do? A doctor, maybe. But an artist? Was that why you were talking to Tom? He’s pre-med.”
  • 111. “He is? Can’t say I think much of his bedside manner. Anyway, that’s not why. I heard tell he could give me some information, information that might could save my daddy’s life.” That knot in his stomach tightened and he felt like he wanted to hurl. That bastard Barton. He knew something alright. Why the hell wouldn’t he share? Ida stared at him, eyebrows raised, and he realized she was waiting to hear the story. “It’s not the Big C or his heart or any other disease that kills folk. It’s this place he works for. That damned Facility—Olduvai Research Facility—” His fingers put quote marks around the name. “—they did something to him.”
  • 112. “Olduvai…?”
  • 113. “Yeah. You probably think I’m crazy. It’s some biological research place up near my hometown. My dad worked for them.” “No, no. I believe you. But just what did you think you could do?” “Dunno. Something. Find out exactly what’s happening. Make them pay. “ It was hard to get the words out past the lump in his throat. “Fix it.” “Oh, Ban.” “Don’t need your pity.”
  • 114. “You’re treading close to Obnoxious Jerk territory again.” “Sorry.” “And I already said I believe you. It’s just weird, you know? Scary. What’s your dad say?”
  • 115. “Nothing. He didn’t say nothing. He thinks I’m a kid. Wanted to ‘spare’ me. Wright on a stick. He’s always saying family stick together, share, help each other. Then he and Mama close up tight and mosey along like nothing’s happening at all.” “Well, you’re not a child any longer. You should tell him that. Maybe then he’ll talk to you and you won’t be so much in the dark.” “No can do.”
  • 116. “What do you mean? Okay, he’ll probably try to blow you off. Parents are like that. But if you stick to your guns your dad will have no choice but to be honest with you.”
  • 117. “Yeah, well. About that.”
  • 118. I kind of took off when I found out he was sick. Had some notion I could fix things. I, um, haven’tspokentohimsince.”
  • 119. “Wait. Wait, wait, wait, wait. I didn’t hear that right. You’re telling me you’re already a senior and…”
  • 120. “…and you haven’t let your parents know where you are, much less that you’re still alive?
  • 121. “It sounds real bad when you put it like that.”
  • 122. “That’s because it is bad! I don’t believe this. You say you want your parents to treat you like a grown-up when you’ve spent all this time proving you’re nothing but a spoiled brat! I just—do you have any idea how worried they must be? My god! Your father’s dying and you haven’t talked to him in four years. He could—”
  • 123. “Look, I know, alright? At first I had this fool idea that I’d figure things out within a few months and come sashaying home holding Daddy’s cure in my hand—the big hero. By the time I realized that wasn’t gonna happen, I’d waited so long I didn’t know where to begin or what to say.”
  • 124. “You could start with ‘hello’ for starters, followed by about a million ‘I’m sorrys’ with a ‘by the way, I’m still alive,’ thrown in for good measure.”
  • 125. “It’s not that easy. They should have had a pretty good idea where I went, but they never once made an effort to contact me.”
  • 126. “Oh no you don’t. You do not get to turn your mistakes back on them. Maybe when you never called they thought you didn’t want to talk to them and left you alone. Ever think of that? Or just maybe your whereabouts weren’t as crystal clear as you think.”
  • 127. “What if they don’t want to talk to me?”
  • 128. “Then they don’t want to talk to you. You still need to make the effort. You owe them that much. Besides, they’re your parents. They’ll want to talk to you—to chew you out if nothing else. Can’t say that I’d blame them.”
  • 129. “So, ET, stop being such a coward and phone home.” “But—” Ida cut him off. “Do you have any idea how lucky you are to even have parents? I—” “You what?”
  • 130. “I’d kill to have what you have—a home, a family, parents that love you. I lost all that when I was seven. Spent the next ten years in foster care.”
  • 131. “Ida….”
  • 132. “That’s why you’re going to man up and call them, because you’ve had everything and didn’t even realize it. And because it’s the right thing to do.” She sighed. “And because I’d give anything to be able to talk to my mom and dad again.”
  • 133. “Damned if you ain’t right. My daddy would tell me to do the right thing. He could…he could die tomorrow and I’ve been sitting here on my butt too scared to talk to him? I’m an idiot.” “I thought we’d agreed the phrase was ‘obnoxious jerk’?” He laughed despite himself. “Yeah. That, too.”
  • 134. “Good! That’s settled. Now, I need to run or I’ll miss my psych exam. You call your folks, throw yourself on their mercy and apologize like hell. They’ll be too glad to hear from you to be too mad. That’ll come later.” “Yeah, yeah. I’ll do it.” “Great.” Ida stood to leave, but turned back. “And, Ban?” “What?” “Find out what you can about what’s wrong with your dad. We’ll put our heads together when I get back from class. Maybe we can figure this thing out.” And she was gone.
  • 135. Ida shouldn’t have had to kick him in the pants to get him to call home. His family deserved to know he was alive and well. He had no call putting it off so long just because he couldn’t find the right words. Ban swallowed hard around the lump in his throat. Ida hadn’t come right out and said it, but she’d meant his daddy could already be de—no. That wouldn’t—couldn’t--happen. Ban refused to think about anything that Barton guy had told him. There was always a way. You just had to find it. What was it the army guys said? “Failure is not an option.” That’s why he was calling, not because he was afraid Barton might be right. And he surely wasn’t calling because of the way Ida had smiled at him when he said he would.
  • 136. “Hello? Mama? It’s me—Ban. Abandon. I—Lindsay? Wow. You sound just like Mama. Put her on, will you? Yeah, yeah. It’s really me. ~ I’m sorry, this is Linds--! Ban? Abandon? Oh my god! It’s been so long! Are you okay? I missed you so much! What— “I missed you, too, Squirt.” ~WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU? You are so dead! “I’ll grovel all you want later. Just go get Mama, ‘kay?” ~ I can’t.
  • 137. “Mama’s asleep and I’m not going to wake her—” ~ Since when are you Mama’s keeper? You go get her right now or I swear to Wright I’ll blister your behind so’s you won’t sit for a week. Now. PUT MAMA ON THE PHONE! “Don’t you dare raise your voice to me, Abandon Horatio Hope! Mama’s been sick and the doctor says she needs all the rest she can get, so shut it.”
  • 138. “Sick? What do you mean she’s sick?”
  • 139. “Just what I said—sick. It started with a fever. Then she kept getting weaker and weaker. Doctor ran all sorts of tests. Claims it’s a bug that’s been going around and nothing to worry about only, well, I can’t help but worry, what with Daddy– Oh, crud.”
  • 140. “Darn it. When will I learn not to let my mouth run off without my brain? You, um, don’t know, do you? Daddy’s, well, he’s real sick, Abandon.”
  • 141. “S’okay, Squirt. I already knew. Just go get him, ‘kay? And, Linds? You shouldn’t have had to deal with this all by your lonesome. I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you.”
  • 142. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have. But I forgive you. You always did have more gumption than sense. You’re here now and that’s all that matters. You are here, right? ‘Cause if you pull another disappearing act I swear I’ll hunt you down myself and skin you. “Anyway, I’ll go tell Daddy you’re on the phone and you’d best be there when he picks up. Don’t wimp out on me, Big Brother.”
  • 143. He heard a thump on the other end, followed by a muffled shout and then a few moments later a grumbly, “Abandon?” Words failed him for a moment. All he wanted to do was bask in the sound of his father’s voice. It had been so long, so damn long. That’s all. He wasn’t scared. And he wasn’t quiet because his knees had suddenly started shaking and no way was his heart doing nervous flip flops and he for sure wasn’t afraid his voice would squeak what with all the tension. No way. He gulped, took a huge breath and managed, “D-daddy?”
  • 144. “My god, Son! But it’s good to hear your voice!” The tension drained from Ban’s shoulders. Daddy was still talking to him. “It’s good to hear yours, too, Sir. I missed you and Mama something fierce. I—” His father cut him off. “There’s one thing I’ve been wanting to say to you…
  • 145. “…what the hell were you thinking taking off like that and scaring us half to death and breaking your poor mother’s heart—you realize we—she—thought you were dead in a ditch somewhere? Or worse! Though don’t ask me what could be worse than being dead in a ditch—mothers don’t always talk sense when it’s their babies they’re worried about— Me? I wasn’t worried none at all. I kept telling her you were too dang hard-headed to let anything hurt you and if she was gonna worry, maybe she might want to worry some on any poor fool who ever made the mistake of messing with my boy. “And if you think you can call up here after four years and all will be forgiven, you have another think coming. You got a lot of explaining to be doing, young man, and we ain’t about to be forgiving you—”
  • 146. “Leastaways, not until you come home for a spell and we can see with our own eyes that you’re alive and well and in one piece. You will be home for Sunday dinner, right?
  • 147. “I—you sure you still want me? ~Want you? I always bragged I didn’t raise no fools. Don’t go making me out to be a liar, Abandon. Of course we still want you! You’re our boy. No matter what, you’ll always be a part of us. Don’t you never forget that again. “No, Sir. I’m sorry. I should’ve realized.” ~Darn tooting! “…I’m real sorry, Daddy. I never meant to hurt you and Mama.” ~We know that, Ban. For what it’s worth, we’re sorry, too. I never should have kept everything secret. That’s why you took off, isn’t it? You found out I was sick?
  • 148. ~Yeeeeah. “It’s alright to talk about it, Ban. Not gonna make the same mistake twice and try to hide the fact. I’ve had three more years than the doctors thought I had, so I’m not complaining. I’ve made peace with my lot. Time you did, too.”
  • 149. “Frammit, Daddy! You should be spitting nails, not turning the other cheek and talking like you’ve already given up. This was never your lot in life and you damn well know it!
  • 150. “Things aren’t always so cut and dried, Banny. Some things you just can’t fight, even if you’d like to.”
  • 151. “Like hell you can’t! That framming Olduvai place did this to you. And if they can make you sick, then they can damn well make you better! Maybe you decided not to rock the boat, but I never did. They’re gonna pay, Daddy.”
  • 152. “Stop it, Abandon! This is my life and my choice and I’m ordering you to LEAVE IT BE!”
  • 153. “Sorry, Daddy, but I’m all grown up and on my own. You don’t get to order me around no more. If I say I ain’t gonna let these ‘Facility’ asswipes kill my daddy, then I ain’t. Nothing you say can stop me.”
  • 154. “Shut up and listen to me, Abandon. That kind of talk can get you—let’s just say it’s dangerous and leave it at that. I’m not about to allow you or anyone else to put your mother and Lindsay in jeopardy. You hear that? Sometimes…sometimes you gotta man up and take your licks to keep the people you love safe. You think on that before going off half-cocked and getting yourself….”
  • 155. “…getting yourself killed.”
  • 156. “I—frammit, Daddy! Then you gotta tell me what’s going on! I can’t fly blind here!”
  • 157. “Fine. When you come home. We’ll talk then.”
  • 158. “I’m holding you to that.” The long silence that followed was far from comfortable. “How’s Mama?” He asked when he realized his father wasn’t about to say anything more. “Lindsay says she’s sick. She doesn’t…she doesn’t have what you have, does she?”
  • 159. He could hear Daddy’s surprise when he answered. “No! No, no, no. This sickness ain’t catching. Tess is fine. She wore herself out taking care of and worrying about me. The doctors checked her over good. She just needs her rest. That’s all. Don’t you fret none. “I’d let you talk to her now except the pills they prescribed her knock her out for the count. You best call tomorrow or she’ll chew you up one side and down the other, spit you out and use the leavings for hog fodder. I’m already scared to tell her she missed your call.”
  • 160. He had to laugh. Everyone knew his mother was sweeter than pie…unless you riled her. Then you’d best take off for the hills and never come back. And folk said he was the one with the temper in the family. “Don’t you worry. I’ll call first thing in the morning. And Daddy?”
  • 161. “I love you.”
  • 162. “I love you, too, Son. More than you could possibly imagine. They said their goodbyes, Ban promising to make it home, if not this weekend, within the month.
  • 163. Afterward, Ban stared blankly into the night. It had felt good, real good, to hear Daddy’s voice again. Tomorrow he’d have a long talk with Mama. He’d always been able to wheedle his way around her. Maybe he’d discover something new before he went home to visit. He smiled to himself. He could hardly wait to see Lindsay. She must be—Ban did some quick mental arithmetic—sixteen now, old enough for him to get out his Big Brother shotgun and chase the boys off, for sure. So why couldn’t he shake the knot that had settled in his gut? Didn’t matter none how much he tried to reassure himself. The niggling feeling wouldn’t go away. There was something going on, something more than what Daddy had said or wanted him to know, more than what his own father wanted to believe. And that scared him.
  • 164. Eventually, Ban stopped brooding and wandered upstairs to the common area. He wanted to run the conversation by Ida in the worst way, but she wouldn’t return from class for a good two yours yet. He soon found himself refereeing a disagreement between Yvette Sanders and Chrissie Cho over who was the better kisser.
  • 165. At least it gave him something to do while he waited for Ida. He’d been real surprised when she’d taken an interest in his situation. She was a lady with a more than usual helping of good old common horse sense, something he sorely needed. He’d wanted to hear what she had to say about the situation. But Ida turned out to be a no show. He finally gave up on her when the late, late show flashed up on the little dorm television. That girl never had intended to get together with him. Damn if she hadn’t played him. She was probably giggling with her buddies over it by now. He felt like a right fool.
  • 166. Little Miss Ida, he told himself the next morning, had a heap of explaining to do when he caught up with her. He’d take out his frustration by banging on some plumbing until then. When in doubt, he smiled to himself, hit something.
  • 167. While Abandon pounded away on the showers, Ida was giving Tom Barton a piece of her mind. “Listen, White and Nerdy, we need to talk.” “Ida White. Be still my heart. To what do I owe this pleasure? I don’t see a rain of frogs or plague of locusts to herald the occasion.”
  • 168. “Keep it up, hot shot, and I can guarantee Dean Esterhaus will find out just who hacked into the university website and made the logo read ‘We Have Wood U.’” “I’m listening.” “Meet me in five. Usual place.”
  • 169. “Fine. I’m here. Mind telling me what’s of such stupendous importance that you felt the need to break protocol and call a tete-a-tete in the downstairs restroom?”
  • 170. “Listen to you. The only ‘protocol’ is the one that exists in that paranoid head of yours.”
  • 171. “You never have taken the risk seriously, Ida. I should never have accepted you into the cell to begin with.”
  • 172. Ida fought off the desire to grind her teeth. Tom would only be more difficult if he knew he was annoying her. “There is no ‘cell,’ just a bunch of people who don’t believe everything that’s spoon-fed to them. Besides, I don’t remember you complaining much when you wanted the information I could provide.”
  • 173. “Whatever. What is it you wanted?”
  • 174. “Don’t you think you’re being too hard on that Hope guy? Did you even listen to him? The Facility gave some bug to his dad and it’s killing him. We’ve been trying to get real evidence on this place for three years. It finally falls in our lap and you tell the guy who has it to get lost.” “That so-called information is just a tad too convenient. Maybe you fell into their trap, but Tom Barton is much too sophisticated for their little shenanigans.” “Oh, please. You sound like one of those guys who wears an aluminum foil hat to keep out the ‘alien radio signals.’ Abandon Hope is as transparent as cellophane. Do you really think he’d be working for Them? The guy needs our help.”
  • 175. “Ida, Ida, Ida. I’d thought better of you.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “I had you pegged as the type of girl who was too smart to fall for a bunch of muscles and a Cro-magnon swagger. I so hate being wrong.”
  • 176. “Did you fall out of bed and hit your head this morning? Spit it out, Tom, so I know whether I need to kill or merely maim you.”
  • 177. “The lady doth protest too much. Everyone knows Abandon Hope has every girl in this dorm wrapped around his little finger. Now I find you’re no different than the rest of them. Looks like the Ice Queen has fallen.”
  • 178. “First, I never have and I never will ‘fall’ for Abandon Hope. He’s a player, plus we have absolutely nothing in common. Second, I haven’t been a ‘girl’ since I was seven and in pigtails. Third, just because I told you where to shove it when you made that sicko proposition to me six months ago does not make me an ‘ice queen.’ Fourth, if you ever make a crack like that to me again I will personally rip your balls off and stuff them down your throat until you choke. Are we clear?”
  • 179. “Ah ha ha ha. Joke! Joke, Ida. You know I was joking, right?”
  • 180. “Of course you were.”
  • 181. “And to prove it, you’ll have no problem meeting with us at the library this afternoon, will you?” “I—” “Will you?” “No, no. This afternoon. Library. Check.” “Glad we understand one another.” All in all, thought Ida as she went in search for breakfast, that had gone rather well.
  • 182. How one smoking hot redhead could manage to disappear inside a dorm Abandon couldn’t begin to say. He’d spent twenty minutes looking for Ida so he could give her a piece of his mind. He finally found her typing away on one of the dorm computers. He slid into the adjoining chair and waited. She didn’t so much as glance at him, say hey, nothing. He resisted the urge to snap her computer off just to see if that would get a reaction. After about five minutes of being ignored, he cleared his throat. “You wanted something, Farm Boy?” “Bet you had a real good laugh standing me up last night. That how you get your kicks?” “Not particularly. Anyway, who says I stood you up?” “Pardon? I was there. All night. Not an Ida in sight. I don’t take kindly to folk blowing me off. Thought I’d already told you not to underestimate me just cause I talk like a country bumpkin.”
  • 183. “I remember. Anyway, what makes you think I wasn’t there? It’s not my fault you were too preoccupied with your girlfriends to notice.” “Huh? What are you talking about? I don’t have a girlfriend.” Ida plugged in her flash drive and saved her document before replying. “My mistake. What do you call those four non-girlfriends—or was it five?—who were all over you last night? That’s a rhetorical question. I’m really not that interested in your sordid love life. Anyway, I turned in once I saw you were occupied.”
  • 184. Ban stared at her a long moment. Sure, he and the girls had played around some, but he was sure he’d have noticed Ida if she’d shown up. She must be pulling his leg. Then again, it was easy for a fellow to get distracted once Chrissie and Yvette pulled him into a lip lock. He’d wager not a guy in Cheavers Hall would blame him one bit. What had she expected him to do? Sit at the dining table until she came back? And even if he hadn’t seen her come in, she could have had the decency to walk over and tap him on the shoulder! It’s not like he was out with his true love or anything. A little harmless flirting never hurt anyone. She ought to give it a try sometime. But Ida had somehow managed to turn this around on him. Not that she sounded mad or nothing. No, she sounded, not amused (though he had the feeling she was laughing at him). She sounded more, more…. Suddenly, he knew what a cartoon character felt like when a light bulb lights up over its head. A smile slowly spread across his face and he chuckled. “You,” he told her, “are jealous.” He thought about it. “That mean you’re finally gonna go out with me?”
  • 185. It did something to a fellow’s self-esteem when the lady of his dreams took one look at him and burst out laughing—no, cackling. He didn’t think it was all that funny, dang it. “I’d sooner stab my eyes out with red hot pokers,” she told him once she obtained control of herself. “I so am not jealous of you and anything—or anyone—you do. You enjoy that little fantasy realm you live in, Farm Boy. Just don’t expect me to ever visit.” He thought about it. “Is that a no?” “Definitely a no.” Ida may have turned him down for the 342nd time, but she was still smiling. Ban took that as a good sign. He’d have her by number 357 at the latest. “At any rate,” she was saying, “I keep my end of a bargain. Meet me at the library at 3:30 this afternoon. I have some info for you.”
  • 186. Three-thirty found him outside the Atwood Carter Library. Ida jogged up a few moments later. “Sorry I’m late,” she panted. “Stupid Dev Psych ran over.” “No problem,” Ban assured her, not about to admit he’d wondered if she had stood him up once again. “So, what’s this info you have?” Ida glanced around the crowded quad. “Not here. Inside.”
  • 187. “You’re late.” “Polite as ever. My class ran late.” “Where’s the moron?”
  • 188. “Barton,” Ban said as he walked in behind Ida. “Why am I not surprised? Care to rephrase that moniker or should we step outside and discuss it?” “Shut up and sit down while I finish putting this together for you.” Ban quirked an eyebrow, but kept his mouth shut and found a seat on the floor. He wasn’t sure how Ida had managed the meet when he’d struck out, but he was damn grateful. It took all he had to maintain his calm demeanor when his thoughts kept turning towards his dad. If Barton required him to play nice, he’d manage it. She rolled her eyes and settled onto the floor. “It’s easier to do what he says. He gets cranky when he’s doing his hacker thing.” “If you two would be quiet—” Ida’s lips pursed. Ban waggled his eyebrows at her and a giggle burst from her lips before she gallantly masked it as a cough.
  • 189. “Okay, I pulled up the pertinent files from my database. This will go faster if you read through them yourself.” Barton stood and offered his chair to Ban. “Let me know if you need me to explain any big words.”
  • 190. Ban took his place in front of the computer and started to flip through screens. “Operation Deimos, Project Gilgamesh…what is all this?” “Just keep reading.” Tom leaned back and waited.
  • 191. He’d never been more grateful for that speed reading course he’d taken his Junior year as he sped through the documents. Science wasn’t his strong suit, but he surely wasn’t stupid. Even so, he could not be reading what he thought he was reading. “…double blind…control group….”
  • 192. “…Bellivolvic H7N1 reassortment. Hold on a second. This is—”
  • 193. “Germ warfare.”
  • 194. “Come on, Tom. We may have pieced this together wrong. Don’t be such a Drama Llama.”
  • 195. “They engineered a virus for use in war. What would you call it?”
  • 196. “You make it sound like Captain Trips,” Ida chided.* “The goal here isn’t to wipe out an entire country with some disease.” “The goal doesn’t matter. The hubris, the sheer hubris of them to think they can alter nature like that. They’re not just playing with fire, they’re igniting an inferno.” Ida sighed. “Drama llama. Look, I don’t like it any more than you do, but let’s stick to the facts.” “Well now,” Ban drawled. “That makes two of us who know what they’re talking about. Mind filling me in?” The other two stopped their bickering. “I don’t suppose you know your Greek and Latin,” Tom ventured. “E pluribus unum? Veni Vidi Vici? Illegitimati non carborundum?” Ban ventured. “That about taps me out.” *Captain Trips is the nickname given to the disease that wipes out everyone in Stephen King’s The Stand.
  • 197. “Belli, from the Latin bellum, meaning war or bellare—to wage war—and volvic, from the Latin volvere—to roll, wrap up, turn round, orbit. Evolve.”
  • 198. Ban got up and joined the other two on the floor. “Yeah, yeah,” he said, “you got more learning than sense. We all get that. How ‘bout you stop with the pontificating and get on with the explaining?”
  • 199. “File. I’ll small words so you can underst—” “Tom,” warned Ida. “You can’t seriously expect me to—” “Dean Esterhaus.” Barton shoved his fingers through his hair and glared. “Fine. But don’t blame me if he blabs to the wrong people.” Ida smiled at Ban. “He won’t.”
  • 200. “Seriously. I’m not an idiot. Something bad is happening and I need to know what it is. Just spit it out and tell me in Simlish what all that stuff I read means. What’s this bellihoozits and reassortment they keep talking about?”
  • 201. “Fine? What’s the first thing you think of if I tell you to put the words ‘soldier’ and ‘evolve’ together?”
  • 202. “Got me. Training better soldiers? Or—” Ban shook his head. He already knew the military was involved with this somehow. The only thing he could think of was…no, that couldn’t be right. “You gotta be shitting me. You talking super soldiers? Like Captain America? That stuff don’t exist for real. It’s all make-believe. ”
  • 203. Ida replied before Tom could. “Yes, Abandon. That’s exactly what we’re talking about. They’ve engineered a virus that reassorts—mixes and changes—with the host subject’s DNA. And alters it.” She bit her lip and glanced at Tom.
  • 204. Tom held her gaze a moment before turning to Ban. “And kills them. Do you understand? We aren’t talking one man. We’re talking all 120 who were in the test group…and, according to our sources, several more.”
  • 205. A molten lead ball settled in the pit of his stomach to stay, and then grew claws. No way could it be true, but he could tell by the dead serious expressions on both Ida and Tom’s faces that they believed what they were saying. “You’re telling me that the government’s experimenting on it’s own citizens, not caring if they kill some along the way, all to make some sort of Rambo/Terminator/Robocop freak?” He shook his head. “Don’t make a lick of sense. You can’t cover up something that big. ‘Sides, even if there is some spooky Smoking Man calling the shots, he just wouldn’t kill folk off. It’d be stupid. People notice when their neighbors up and disappear or kick the bucket all at once. Can’t have that. They’d administer the vaccine.”
  • 206. “You’re assuming there is a vaccine.” That lead ball gnawed at his belly some. If there wasn’t a vaccine, then Daddy— “Okay. That makes even less sense. Look, I know you buy into all of that conspiracy theory crap, but don’t expect me to. This is the real world.” He threw up his hands. “Where’d you two find this stuff, anyways? Weekly World News?”
  • 207. “I wasn’t always a dance major,” Ida told him. “I only minored in it until this year. Before that—” she glanced at Tom, “—before that I was in pre-med just like Tom. We attended the same classes and labs—” Tom nodded. “You know how it is. Once you get into the upper level courses you encounter the same people.” “But we never really talked, not until last semester.” “That’s when we were awarded the same internships.” “At Olduvai.”
  • 208. “You’d think a military-run operation would be more circumspect.” “If the left hand knew what the right hand was doing, it would have been,” Tom interjected. Ida nodded. “Right. It didn’t take long to realize that Gilgamesh was the private darling of General Kaufman. I don’t know how he’s diverting funds or how he’s kept it a secret, but the regular military doesn’t know a thing about Operation Deimos.”
  • 209. “His troops are loyal, that’s for certain. The platoon assigned to the Facility was hand-picked by him. Every single one of them volunteered to be a test subject in Project Gilgamesh.” “But they weren’t enough.” Tom nodded. “Ida’s right. We don’t know who gave the order, whether it was General Kaufman or Dr. Calacas, but somewhere along the line they decided to infect some of their own employees.”
  • 210. “Like my dad.” Ida and Tom exchanged look a look Ban couldn’t read. “Like your dad,” agreed Ida. “No way Daddy would ever have agreed to some fool scheme like that.” Tom grimaced. “After hearing all this you still think they asked? No, they’ve been telling their workers that they’ve been exposed to some chemicals that are making them sick, assured them that they’re ‘working’ on it, that there’s nothing to be worried about.” “My daddy don’t think that. I talked to him last night. He told me to stay out of it.” Ban looked down a moment. “He sounded scared.” “Then he’s smarter than a lot of his co-workers,” said Tom.
  • 211. “So what are we gonna do about it?” Tom’s voice jumped an octave. “Do?” “Yep. You don’t ‘spect me to sit here and listen to you tell me these folk made my father sick and not do something about it. You got all these facts. We need to tell someone—newspaper or something.” “You don’t think we tried?” Ida asked. “No one would listen. We were just a couple of college kids left with a grudge when our internship got canceled.” “Fine. Then we close them down ourselves.”
  • 212. “You’re joking, right?”
  • 213. “I look like I’m joking to you, Hoss?” “Er…no?” “You can’t tell me these bastards don’t got themselves a vaccine. Maybe they didn’t start out with one, but they sure as hell made one once folk started to get sick. No way are folk like that gonna risk their own skin. So, we’re gonna go in, get that vaccine and fix all these people. And we’re gonna make sure we come out with enough proof that people will have to believe us.”
  • 214. Tom stared at him a moment. “Are you out of your freaking mind?” Ban grinned. “Might could be.” “We could be arrested or shot or worst expelled.” “You in?” “Oh, hell yeah.”
  • 215. “Oh, my god, I am going to die of testosterone poisoning!” Ida turned on Tom. “Are you out of your mind? You know how tight security is there. I don’t care how he-man it makes you two feel. We are not James Bond.” Ban quirked an eyebrow at Tom, who continued to grin. “Absolutely not!” “Come on, Ida,” wheedled Ban. “It’ll be fun.” She looked torn as she thought about it, then shook her head again. “We can’t. Tom’s good with computers and I’m good with planning, but we’d still need—” Ban flexed his biceps. “Count on me for your muscle, and you might be surprised by what else I know.” “There are real locks. You going to rip them open with your bare hands, Hercules?”
  • 216. “Well, we could always ask Daryl….”
  • 217. “Oh, hell no.” “Who’s Daryl?” asked Ban. “Ida’s old boyfriend. He interned with us.” “Daryl is so not my ex-anything.” Ban couldn’t decide if he should feel impressed or jealous that some guy had succeeded where he’d failed. “You mean Miss I Don’t Have Time for Guys dated?” Tom pursed his lips. “Tom! You know damn well I never dated that jerk!”
  • 218. Somehow, teasing Ida allowed Ban to push the fear for his father down. ‘Sides, she was awful cute when she got riled. “You believe me, don’t you Ban? You’ll understand if you ever meet the ass. I do have some taste.” He bit the inside of his cheek so he wouldn’t smile. Interesting how she was all intent on convincing me she’d never had a boyfriend here. “Well, I don’t know….” “Dammit! Tom, tell the truth.” “I m not sure. You appeared quite close to me.” “Oh my god. Daryl Cummings is a first rate jerk who thinks he’s God’s gift to, well, everyone! And he pinches!” “But he can open anything.”
  • 219. “Great. You two have your little joke. Talk to Daryl if you want, but I swear to God if he pinches me I’m knocking his teeth down his throat.” “You’ll have to get to him before me,” promised Ban. Ida heaved a frustrated sigh. “Thanks, but I can take care of myself. We’d better head back. Library closes early on Sunday. It should be okay to talk in the dorm if we’re careful.” All three of the would-be infiltrators stood. Tom pulled his flash drive from the computer, then flew through several screens, his fingers flying on the keyboard. “Okay. We’re clear. Let’s go.” He caught Ban’s inquiring gaze. “Covering our tracks,” he told him. “Oh, okay. I got ya.” “You two coming?”
  • 220. A short walk later and they were back at the dorm. “Here he is now,” Curtis Ingrahm said into the receiver. “Yo, Ban! Some chick’s on the phone for you—says she’s your sister. She must have called fifty times already.”
  • 221. “Linds? Are you crying? What? Slow down. Say that again.”
  • 222. “They took them, Banny! They took Mama and Daddy!”
  • 223. I hope you enjoyed reading this installment of Hope’s Folly as much as I enjoyed writing it. I apologize for the delay. When I played through Uni, I’d planned on showing only highlights. It wasn’t until I finished all of Gen. 1 and wrote the Prologue that I realized I needed more. I had to reshoot several scenes at the school with a previously saved Uni version of my hood. Ida was indeed an existing dormie. Tom, though, is my place-holder. It only made sense to include him in the story once I realized I need another character. The reshoots took place after Ban’s engagement. Try to ignore any flashes of rings you may see. For those who are interested, Abandon Hope is an Aries Popularity sim with the LTW to have 20 best friends (achieved). His stats are: Neat 5, Outgoing 9, Active 6, Playful 4 & Nice 1.

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