Chapter 18 – Student Life

5 Days Later

“Alright, let’s get this over with. Let’s see… fuck, this is a lot…”

Pierce glared at the laptop screen in front of him, which displayed the first couple questions of a problem set for a robotics class. The fall term may have only started that Monday, but classes didn’t slowly build in difficulty — they always started at full steam, and that included the homework. Already, Pierce had several homework sets to work on, and his prior two years of experience told him that each set could individually take a day to complete. Most students would wait until the night before a set was due to begin working on it, and since Caltech encouraged student collaboration, having some people wait to start on a set would often lead to most people waiting to start on the set. Pierce preferred to start work early, so as to quickly clear his schedule for more fun or interesting activities… but it also often meant that he worked alone.

It’s just as well… he mused bitterly, half the time when I work with someone, I just end up having to explain everything to them. Slows me down. Not too unlike actual running, heh.

He leaned back in his chair and idly glanced around; he currently sat at one of the dining tables in the dining hall of Fleming House, one of the several student dorms at Caltech. Morning sunlight shone through the hall’s windows, giving Pierce plenty of light to look out over the red brick-covered courtyard to his left, and the white walls of Fleming that surrounded it. All was quiet outside, save for the occasional bird chirp or rustling leaves; human activity seemed almost non-existent. Ten o’clock on a Saturday morning wasn’t exactly a popular time to be up and about amongst college students, after all.

Especially not after a night of drinking and partying… oof. I’m surprised I managed to wake up at my usual time… Pierce rubbed his temples warily as he thought back to the previous night. Friday nights were a popular time to drink and hang out to begin with, but yesterday had even greater significance: it was when all of the freshmen officially gained membership to one of the student Houses. As such, Pierce had spent much of the previous day hanging out and bantering with fellow housemates, both old and new, as well as taking advantage of his recent twenty-first birthday to buy alcohol for underclassmen. He enjoyed the experience, but he knew that it couldn’t last for forever — indeed, here he now was, working on homework.

…Alright, c’mon, dude. Suck it up and focus. He shook his head to clear his thoughts and returned his attention to his laptop. “Alright, problem one. Something… something… sensor coding. Great. So I have to write some code for a sensor I can’t access yet? That’s great. That’s fine. …Oof…”

“Yooo, look, it’s the track man!”

Pierce glanced to his side, at the dining hall doors leading out to the courtyard. Standing right in front of an open door were two men, both about average height, one with light skin, and the other with a dark complexion. The latter sauntered into the dining hall and offered a casual half-salute half-wave, to which Pierce responded in kind.

“Yo, Kai, Grant.” Pierce leaned back in his chair as he addressed them. “The hell are you guys doing up so early?”

“Says the guy who’s already all cleaned up and setup in the dining hall,” the man with light skin, Grant, retorted. “It’s a Saturday, man, what’re you doing?”

“Hey, I asked you first.”

“Nikki threw up in the bathroom…” The other man, Kai, sighed in resignation as he grabbed a chair near Pierce and sat down on it backwards, so that the back of the chair was in front of him. “Smelled up the whole place.”

“Shit, guys, I told you picking the room next to the restroom would be a terrible idea,” Pierce replied with an amused smirk.

“It would’ve been fine if she made it to the fucking toilet,” Grant muttered, and then held a hand to his forehead. “Ugh… fuck me. My head hurts…”

“If you throw up, too, I’m kickin’ your stupid ass outta our room for a week,” Kai threatened.

“Oh bullshit, dude. You drank more than I did, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, but I’m not a pussy-ass lightweight like you are.”

“Maybe neither of you should drink too much,” Pierce countered. “Every fucking time you do, you start arguing with each other like this. I don’t want to have to break up another stupid fight.”

“Shut up, dude, you drank more than both of us combined,” Grant shot back. “How the hell are you okay after that? And— wait a fuckin’ minute.” He moved over behind Pierce and stared down at the laptop screen. “You’re… doin’ a set? Now? It’s a fuckin’ Saturday morning, dude!”

“Really keepin’ on top of your shit, huh?” Kai questioned, amused.

“It’s better than scrambling to finish last-minute,” Pierce replied. “’Sides, if I finish early, that’s just more time for fun.”

“Or you can just have the fun early, and work on the sets with everyone else later,” Grant retorted.

Or, I can finish early before anyone even wakes up, have fun with them, and then drink and laugh at them later as they do the work that I already finished.”

“You’re still workin’ on the damn thing alone. Everyone knows that takes longer than workin’ with someone else.”

“Maybe for a brain-dead schmuck like you, but I’m actually on top of my shit. Besides, how many times have you come to me for help on your own sets, huh? You owe half your GPA to me!”

“He’s got ya there,” Kai remarked with a smirk as Grant drew back dejectedly.

“Yeah, well…” Grant shook his head before plopping down into a chair across the table from Kai. “It’s still really weird to work on a set this early. This early in the term, too. You fuckin’ goody two-shoes.”

“Ah, fuck you,” Pierce retorted. “Laugh all you want now, but I’ll be the one laughing when I ace all my classes and leave you in the dust. All while kicking ass at track, too. I singlehandedly put Caltech on the map for fuckin’ sports, you know, and I did it while getting great grades and having fun all at the same time. Get back to me when you can do that.”

“There it is! The track talk!” Kai let out a short laugh as he clapped his hands together. “That was like, what, three minutes?”

“Oh shut up, dude,” Pierce countered.

“Naw, man, I’m not makin’ fun,” Kai responded. “I’m not gonna bash you for your accomplishments, dude. That wouldn’t be very cool. You do talk about track a lot, though.”

“So? People talk about what they’re good at.”

“Kai’s pretty good at basketball, but you don’t see him bragging about it all the damn time,” Grant shot back.

“I’m no where near as good at basketball as Pierce is at track, though,” Kai immediately refuted, and then turned his attention back to Pierce. “Grant had a point earlier, though. This is the earliest I’ve ever seen you work on a set. What gives?”

“I have two things due on Monday, and obviously I can’t do both tomorrow night,” Pierce explained. “I have plans tonight, and, depending on how well tonight goes, tomorrow morning. So I need to work now if I don’t want to get behind.”

Grant snorted. “What, do you have a fuckin’ date?”

“Is it with that cute blond I’ve been seein’ you with this past week?” Kai questioned with a knowing smirk.

“It might be,” Pierce replied as he returned the expression. “Don’t tell me you’ve been spying on me, though.”

“Oh c’mon, like I need to spy on you to figure out something so obvious.”

“Obvious? Dude, I’ve been all over the campus this week, doing all kinds of shit.”

“Yeah, but since when did you hang out around Lloyd House, of all places?”

“…Okay, good point.”

“You’re dating a Lloydie?” Grant pulled a face. “Really, dude?”

Technically we’re not dating yet,” Pierce corrected. “Tonight’s the first one.”

“You mentioned tomorrow, too,” Kai pointed out. “You got any… overnight plans?”

“You know it, dude.” Pierce flashed a grin. “It’s going to be a great time.”

“Aw shit, dude, you gotta fill me in later.”

“No way, man. This isn’t just a fling, I think there’s some potential here.”

“Dude, you said that, like, five times last year. Don’t lie to yourself, you can’t hold down a relationship to save your life.”

“Then this is where I’ll prove you wrong,” Pierce shot back. “You just fucking watch, man. I’m going to have a perfect year — perfect grades, break all the track records, get a cute girlfriend, everything! No one can stop me now!”

“I’m pretty sure this attitude is exactly why nothin’ worked out for you last year.”

“Oh shut up, dude.”

I’m more surprised you managed to convince a girl to ignore the rumors about you,” Grant interjected. “Whoever this new chick is, you better keep her away from Nikki, or you’ll be cock-blocked in an instant.”

“That’s what I’ve been doing,” Pierce replied. “Why do you think I’m going to her instead of getting her to come to me, huh?”

“Shit, dude, I was just warning you.”

“Yeah… yeah. Sorry, man. Why are we even arguing so much? Isn’t that supposed to be you and Kai’s thing?”

“Only when you aren’t around,” Kai replied with a mischievous grin.

“Oh, you son of a…!” Pierce smirked. “Alright, you bastard. I really do need to get to work though, so if the two of you could kindly fuck off, that’d be great.”

“Well, hold on a sec, what set are you even working on, huh?” Kai jumped up from his chair and moved around to behind Pierce, to get a better look at his laptop. “Is this 133?”

“It’s the first set and the lab prep work, yeah.” Pierce nodded. “You’re in this class, right?”

“Yep. If you’re workin’ on it already, then I might as well, too.”

“Fuckin’ engineers,” Grant muttered as he stood up himself. “I’m going to go do not-boring shit.”

“You’re a fucking math major, don’t even try that line on us,” Pierce shot back.

“Whatever, dude.” Grant pulled a face before walking around the table toward the doors.

Kai followed him out. “I’ll be right back,” he shouted over his shoulder at Pierce, “just gotta get my laptop.”

“I’ll be right here,” Pierce replied. He watched the two for a few moments through the hall’s windows before turning his attention back to his computer. Kai isn’t stupid, far from it, but working with him is still going to slow me down… oh well. It certainly is more fun to work with a buddy, at least. Anyways. Let’s see if I can get a head start…

The next handful of minutes passed quietly as Pierce focused on reading through all of the problems on the set and making notes of his initial thoughts, before going back to the first problem and trying to hash out an actual solution. It wasn’t long before Kai returned to the dining hall with laptop in hand, at which point he sat down in the chair he had previously been sitting.

“Ready to make some robots?” Kai questioned as he opened his laptop.

“We’re still a few weeks out from that,” Pierce retorted.

“Yeah, well. Hey, speaking of robots, you’ve heard about all that robot stuff with attacks on SERRCom, right? And that fight over in Texas?”

Pierce rolled his eyes. “How could I not?

“Ha! I guess it has been all over the Internet, huh?” Kai smirked in amusement, only to return his attention to his laptop and promptly replace his smirk with a concerned frown. “Uh… huh.”

Pierce glanced his way. “Something wrong?”

“Uh, sorta. Hey, you’re from San Francisco, right?”

“I’m from the area, yeah. What about it?”

“Well, some news just hit, and it sounds like those robots from last month are back…” Kai looked over at Pierce with concern. “Apparently, they’ve attacked that big dam near San Francisco.”