- SIMaS: Chapter 20 – The Raid
- SIMAS Chapter 1 – Link Moss and the Magic Hippo
- SIMAS Chapter 2 – In-Flight Memories
- SIMAS Chapter 3 – Link Moss: Devious Mastermind
- SIMaS Chapter 4 – Curiouser and Curiouser
- SIMaS Chapter 5 – Welcome to Megardia
- SIMaS Chapter 6 – So I Married a Supervillain
- SIMaS Chapter 7 – Little Talks
- SIMaS Chapter 8 – His Excellence, King Link
- SIMaS Chapter 9 – The Megardian Royal Family
- SIMaS Chapter 10 – How Double Lives Start
- SIMaS Chapter 11 – The Morning Report
- SIMaS Chapter 12 – Paradigms Shifting Without a Clutch
- SIMaS: Chapter 13 – Thunderstruck, Enlightening
- SIMaS Chapter 14 – Eris Lives
- SIMaS Chapter 15 – The Guardian Spirit of Megardia
- SIMaS Chapter 16 – Midnight Council
SIMAS Chapter 2 – In-Flight Memories
Link settled back into his seat and adjusted his headphones so that he could only just hear the movie, just in case he wanted to pay closer attention to it later.
It had been the first class tickets that first made him suspicious that the job Amanda had landed just a year after their marriage and Nathan’s birth wasn’t simply ‘flight attendant’. Even with his little knowledge of the industry told him that airlines didn’t care enough about their employees to give proper benefits, much less frequent and plentiful first class tickets.
She was quick to come clean when he asked about it though; she was an Air Marshal; one of this disturbingly few police of the skies charged with keeping the flying public safe from terrorists and manics alike. It was a government job, which explained the good benefits and generous travel allowance, and it was confidential, explaining why she was so hesitant telling him about it.
Learning the truth was a mixed bag for Link. On the one hand it answered important questions, but on the other, it kept him up at night with worry. She wasn’t just off traveling to exotic lands anymore, she was on the lookout for danger and expected to confront it when she found it.
It wasn’t that he didn’t think she was capable, it was just that sometimes capable wasn’t enough. He heard on the news all the time about cops, just doing their jobs, dying in the line of duty, either by normal criminals, or supervillains run amok. Sure, there were superheroes to fight those people, but often, the first responder had nothing that could stand up to Staredown’s laser eyes, or Vicious Cur’s cylinium Claws. It scared him to death thinking that one day someone like them, or worse; heavy hitters like Protherian or The Unjust might end up aboard the same plane as his Amanda.
To calm himself down, he looked over at the sleeping form of Chloe to his right. She’d made the transfer at LAX merry hell, getting separated from him and Nathan while they waited for their connection for ten harrowing minutes, but she looked the perfect angel all buckled into her seat. She was fighting sleep by blinking rapidly whenever she started to nod, but it was a losing proposition. Within minutes after Link looked at her, she finally gave in and slipped off to sleep.
It really didn’t seem like it had been so long ago that Nathan had been like that; all innocent and sweet. Link glanced across the aisle to where his son had his foot up against the back off the seat in front of him, bobbing his head violently to some guaranteed-to-be-god-awful music and clearly disconcerting the man in a suit seated next to him.
Link kept himself from reaching over to admonish the boy. From experience, he knew that would only make it worse. Instead he prayed that Chloe’s rebellious phase would be less grating. Maybe she would turn out to be a smug brain that just looked down on everyone like Link’s sister had. It wouldn’t be pleasant, but at least he knew how to deal with it.
His mind wandered a bit as he once more faced forward and tried to relax. He wondered what kind of teenager Amanda had been. By the time they’d met, life had intervened in whatever teen niche she might have fallen into. Her parents had passed and her only family was an uncle who wanted nothing to do with her.
Thanks to her father’s citizenship, she’d managed to come to America and start working her way through college.
And it was there, at Montague University, just outside of Tampa, Link had met her…
‘Bright but unmotivated’. Link had heard that phrase a lot in high school.
He rarely completed assignments, but not because he was screwing off with his friends, or playing video games, or on drugs, or any of the other reasons his parents and teachers instantly assumed, but because he’d go to read chapter three and answer the questions at the end, but got sidetracked because the contents of chapter twenty-three (which the curriculum would never cover due to the fact that the standardized tests only covered up to chapter nineteen), were much more interesting.
The prognosis was that he was learning too much, just not the things he was supposed to be learning.
Putting him in honors classes to try and stimulate his mind didn’t work because he was less highly intelligent and more highly curious. He stored a wealth of useless facts, but rarely worried about process.
In the end, he got into college only be forcing himself to buckle down and do the work at the last minute. As it turned out, when he actually did what he was told, he got good marks. Good enough for a decent scholarship, even.
But he was still locked into old, bad habits, and so there he was, in the university’s computer lab at three on a Saturday morning pouring over a presentation for his Business class that had a deadline of eight that same morning.
“Why will you not just animate my damn pie chart, you bastard?”
He was running on coffee and fear by then. He had all the information and relevant data points, but the assignment was to present them to the class in a dynamic and convincing manner with style being fifty percent of the grade.
So of course the software he was using decided to jerk him around.
On the screen, his carefully created pie chart was rotating in three dimensional space like a coin that someone just flipped. Not only that, but it was accelerating.
He tried clicking ‘undo’ to no avail, then he tried the keyboard shortcut for the same. Nothing happened. It was possible that he’d stopped the acceleration, but by then, the chart was spinning so fast that it looked like a sphere.
A glance up at the clock told him that it was fifteen past three; well past the time he and his friends dubbed ‘stupid o’clock’. That was the magical time where caffeine would no longer avail you as you mind decided to go walkabout. After a few hours it would realize that doing so wouldn’t do it any good and snap back into focus, but in the meantime…
“I hate you so much.” He told the computer with a glare usually reserved for his roommate’s obnoxious friends. “Just make the damn thing turn slowly like the holograms on those crime shows and we don’t have to do this. I’m not a violent guy, but you’re testing me.”
“Are you alright?”
Just past stupid o’clock, he wasn’t surprised in the least that the computer was talking back, or that it had a female voice. No, it was the accent that threw him. One, because computers didn’t have accents, and two, because he couldn’t place the accent.
“No I am not alright!” He said, grabbing the monitor. “I don’t think you understand, computer: this needs to be done in…” It was either too late or too early for basic math, “…some number of hours, or my grade tanks to hell. And if that happens, I’m holding you personally responsible!”
“No, I mean; ‘can I help you?’” There was a light touch on his shoulder and he looked up to find a woman his age standing there. Her complexion as olive and smooth, and her dark hair almost reached to her waist. Stupid o’clock and testosterone teamed up, but were shut down at the one yard line by the ‘I see that leer and you will pay for it’ glare that came at him from over the top of wire-framed glasses. They did however, lower his gaze to her chest, where, in a peripheral way, he saw that she was wearing a computer Help Desk name tag.
Apparently this was the overnight attendant at the desk outside the lab. Usually, they just manned the phones, ready to commiserate (and privately mock) the trial and tribulations of people who managed to download a virus just before they had a big paper due.
But she was here to help him now, so…
“This computer is insensitive to my needs.” He muttered, throwing another hateful look.
She stopped a moment to look at him as if he were a new species of idiot, then said carefully. “I’m new to this country. I thought my English was very good, but; is that an expression or a joke I should understand?”
Lucidity decided then was a good time to start poking its head in.
Link sucked on his bottom lip a moment, then looked sidelong at the computer, which was still proudly displaying the whirling dervish of the pie chart world. “Right…” He said with slow understanding, “Computers don’t talk.”
“No. They do not.” She said without humor, obviously thinking he was some jerk drunk messing around in the lab she was responsible for.
He shook his head, trying to let some more lucidity in. “Sorry. It’s… it’s late.”
“Yes. It is.” Hidden in those three words were other words, words that said ‘leave now, or I will call the campus police.’
Link rubbed the bridge of his nose right where it met his eyes. “No, I mean it’s late, and I’m tired, and getting frustrated with this computer, and I’m not thinking…” He paused because the word was eluding him. “…right.” And then he groaned because he knew that wasn’t the right word.
This seemed to mollify her, because her expression softened into one of pity. Looking as if she wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, she pulled out the chair beside him. “Well, I am paid to help. Maybe I can help you get things working.”
He gave a weak, embarrassed smile. When not clinically brain dead from too little sleep, he liked to think he was pretty charming. At least, girls seemed to like him. But he couldn’t manage to turn on the charm now, not with his head still full of gibberish and the terrible first impression weighing on him.
“I’d appreciate that…” He looked at her name tag, actually registering its presence this time, “Amanda.”
The woman looked surprised, then realized he was reading her tag. “This is my job. You don’t need to thank me.” She scooted the seat in and tilted the monitor so she had a better view. “So what is your problem?”
Link pointed to the pie chart, busily doing mach five in a circle. “That shouldn’t be doing that.”
She started to reach across him for the mouse, then stopped. “What should it be doing?”
“Not that.” He said automatically, but recovered quickly. “I mean, it should be rotating, only slowly, and, like lengthwise.” A wave of his fingers approximated the direction of the proper spin.
This time, she did grab the mouse. “Ah. Then what you want to do is go down here to the ‘elements’ tab, click ‘pie chart05’, and then here on ‘effects’…”
With her help, he was done and had his presentation in his professor’s inbox before four.
Once it was done, and his mind was a bit more clear, he gave her a more genuine smile as he packed up his things. “Thanks again for all your help. You saved my life.”
Amanda waved it off humbly. “It was just my job. I do this several times a week.”
“Yeah, but not for me.” Link insisted. “Look, I want to make this up to you. How about a free dinner?”
Her expression told him that his brain still wasn’t in perfect working order. “I wasn’t hitting on you, I swear,” Okay, maybe he was, a little, “It’s just that I work over at Spencer’s—by the park? It’s a pretty nice place, the owner’s a pretty cool guy; let’s us have our friends and family in for two free dinners a month. And since my family is all out of state, I figured I could let you have one.” As an afterthought, he added, “You don’t have to have dinner specifically with me. Just come in and I’ll fix you up, how about it?”
After a moment of sifting through his too-fast explanation, Amanda looked uncertain. “I will have to think about it. After all, I don’t even know your name.”
He blinked. So that was what he’d forgotten. “Sorry, It’s Lincoln. Lincoln Moss, but everyone calls me Link.”
“Amanda Gorgias. Please don’t call me ‘Mandy’; my roommate does and I can’t seem to stop her.” They both shared a laugh at this as Link got the last of his things packed up in his shoulder bag.
“Well Amanda, It was really nice meeting you. And, you know, thanks again.” He got his bag on and started out. “Oh, and I’m working later today, around six, if you want to come in or something.”
She sat down in his place, going through the procedure to clear his files and shut the machine down. “I will consider it. My friends usually do not plan before they do things, so I can’t tell you yes or no now.”
That, if he wasn’t mistaken, was as good as a ‘yes’. He grinned. “Doesn’t have to be tonight. Just come in when you feel like it. I work most days.”
From almost twenty years in the future, Link laughed at his younger self. He wouldn’t see the computer help girl with the odd accent for another month after that.
He looked up to see that the first movie of the flight was almost halfway over. It was a romantic comedy; one of the more generic ones, where he felt like he’d seen it before but couldn’t be sure. It was at the part where that couple was at their happiest and everything was going along without complications; meaning that there would be a complication coming up in the next few minutes that would cause them to break up for reasons that were either superficial, or mistaken, or nonsensical.
Link remembered one where the break up was because the male lead heard a rumor that the female lead had a sixth toe. The reasons never seemed to matter; they were just there to set up the moment where one half of the couple (usually the guy), proved their love in an outlandish, embarrassing or dangerous way.
He closed his eyes. It was all formula. Sometimes it managed to come out good, sometimes it managed to come out bad, and most of the time it just came out mediocre, which got called bad by reviewers anyway because in criticism, those words were synonyms. All the same, the parts were all the same and things rarely happened that way in real life.
Although, now that he thought of it, the couples in those movies usually met in improbable and amusing situations, not all that dissimilar to how he’d met Amanda.
The difference was, that meeting usually led pretty quickly to a date and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, their meeting in the computer lab hadn’t come to anything. In fact, by the time that he tottered into the help desk with his ancient and huge desktop, five weeks later at midnight, Amanda had pretty much forgotten him.
“Excuse me?” She looked up from typing up his ticket for bringing in his computer, once more giving him that no-nonsense librarian stare over the top of her glasses.
Link was undeterred. “I was just reminding you that I owe you a meal.”
The stare did not get any more friendly.
He sighed. “You know: a while ago you helped a babbling guy fix his pie chart and he offered you a free meal at a nice place?”
She rolled her eyes. “People try and ask me on dates all of the time when I help them. Most of them are drunk and most of them never stop staring at my chest. I try to not remember when it happens.”
Making sure he was looking at her face without wavering, Link tried to brush that accusation off. “I wasn’t drunk, I swear. Just crashing from working all night. And I didn’t ask you out, remember? It was an actual free meal from the place where I work.”
She nodded in the way that people do when they want to make it clear they don’t believe you and never will. “Uh-huh.”
“Oh, come on. I’m being grateful here.” said Link. “You saved my grade in Business and I wanted to do something nice. Hey, I can prove I’m not trying to date you: bring a date.”
Inwardly, he winced. Where the hell had that come from? Of course, he was trying to date her. But now the hormones were off and running and his mouth was saying words.
“Really?” She couldn’t believe it either. He nodded, because the ditch was dug now and he might as well lie in it. For a few minutes, she studied his face, then she made a face that, years later, he came to recognize as her being on to him. “I think I will take you up on that then. Thank you.”
He nodded, but his mind was cursing at him something fierce. Maybe this was why, though women did seem to like him, that he didn’t seem to actually date all that much. Not that he was a loser, it was just that his mouth started going and before he knew it, first dates were over with no second in the works.
“Any time… I…”
“Your computer should be fixed by noon tomorrow.” She continued as if the previous conversation was perfectly normal and not in any way, asinine. “However, I don’t have any other repairs waiting and could start as soon as you leave. Would you like me to call you if I finish early?”
Deflated from how badly things had gone, Link shrugged. “Yeah, sure.” He grabbed a sticky note from a pad on her desk and jotted down a number in his small, precise handwriting. “That’s my cellphone. Um, thanks again.”
She took the number and he took off, quickly making his way out of the computer science building and onto the main walk across campus. The fall air was turning cold, and he hadn’t thought to bring a coat in his rush to get his crippled computer to the help desk.
Folding his arms to at least keep his hands warm, he tried to walk fast, but didn’t feel much motivation for it.
He was contemplating taking a detour to a bar he knew just off campus when his cell rang. Without looking at the number, he answered brusquely. “Hello?”
“Is this Lincoln Moss?” Asked a voice with an accent he couldn’t place.
Link stopped in his tracks. “…Yeah?”
From the other end of the line, there was a spirited laugh that even years later cut through any of his moods and made him want to join in. “Good. I have been offered a free meal and the person who gave it to me told me that I should bring a date. What night are you free?”
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