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Chapter 1          Pool, School and That Guy

        The classroom was small, with cheap fluorescent lights that gave Nadia a headache.  She hated Foreign Issues class, it was so boring.  She never listened anyway.  She could hear the teachers' voice, it sounded distant.  Nadia was thinking about something else.  Thinking about the rain that was falling outside.  Thinking about the tiny, cool droplets.  Her friend, Jacqueline, sat in the same row as her but across the room, so she could lean foreword, look sideways, and see her.  In front of her was Liam.  Liam Hewson.  Nadia met him last summer (the summer of '98, the summer of The Way, of Fastball) in a violent incident, in which she lost a camera, and gained a soulmate.  But she didn't know the latter part of that yet.  Liam was pretty normal, until he saw Nadia.  Then his world flipped upside down and started revolving around her.  And then she walked away.  He was left dazed and confused and madly in love.  After that day, he never saw her, not until a few months later in the middle of the school year when he was transferred to her school.  His world never stopped revolving around her.  But she never knew of this.  They had become friends. (she had forgotten him after that summer.  And when he first came to her school, he looked so different, she didn't recognize him.)  So now they were friends.  But what she didn't know was that for Liam, it went much deeper.  His heart and his soul were a nervous wreck, and she was the duct tape that held it all together.
         The bell rang.  School was out.  Nadia gathered all her textbooks and notebooks and binders and stuffed them into her backpack, all the while cursing the school and the system and the establishment and everything else for her 20lbs of schoolwork that she carried on her back all day long.
         She met Liam outside.  For some reason, she hadn't talked to him all day.
         "Hey, what's up?" she said.
         "Nada mucho." he replied.
         "Oh." she said calmly.  After a long pause, "Damnit! I want some Mexican food!"
         "Ummm... yeah.  Sure."
         "Hey, you've been  looking kinda paranoid lately, what's up?"
         "I just think something really big and bad and disasterious is going to happen.  Like major war or something."
         "Don't worry.  Nothing's going to happen.  You're suffereng from common human paranoia, that's all.  But it is nice to know that you finally stopped orbiting Jupiter and came back down to Earth.  It really is.  Good for you." she patted him on the back, "Bye."
         "But... hey, what the hell's that supposed to mean?" but she was already gone.
         Nadia actually felt a little paranoid herself, but she was good at hiding her feelings.  So, everyone was a little bit nervous these days and it wasn't anything unusual.  The world was growing more and more paranoid by the second.  It had been doing this for quite a while now.  Liam was just very sensitive, he noticed things long before anyone else did.  He noticed things that no else ever did.  Details, they would always beg for his attention.  And he paid attention to them.  As a result, he was very easily confused by simple things.  Not that he was stupid or anything.  He was actually very intelligent.  An IQ of around 150.  But the thing was that seemed to think only on the higher level.  He could sit and solve quantum mechanics equations in his head, then go to the kitchen and start making a sandwich.  He would eventually get distracted and forget what he was doing, and then go read the newspaper.  About fifteen minutes later, he'd wander back into the kitchen and find a half made sandwich sitting on the counter, “Oh wow!  Look what I found!” he would finish making it and eat it.
         Once his older brother, Paul, found a half made sandwich sitting on the counter, and he ate it.  Later, Liam remembered the sandwich, he went to the kitchen but it was gone.  This really messed with his mind.  He was very confused.  It never occurred to him that Paul had actually eaten that sandwich, not until a week later.  Paul was amazed at the damage he could do to his already whacked up little brother.
         When Nadia got home she went downstairs to the basement, the home of her beloved pool table.  It had been there when they moved in, it was really pretty cool.  Nadia proceeded to play a game of pool by herself.  Her workaholic mother wouldn't get home until 9:00.
         She went to bed that night and had a dream of war.  Broken bottles on the children's feet.  Bodies strewn across the dead-end street.  Families torn apart.  Something about eating and drinking and then dying tomorrow.  We're immune to fact and fiction and TV and reality.  Obnoxious drum intro.
         She had left her CD player on.

         The next day wasn't any better.  Whatever it was that Liam was noticing, Nadia was noticing it too.
 Nadia actually paid attention to Foreign Issues class today.  The United States were up to something again.  She felt a strange creepiness in the room.
         Ahhhh....yes.  The bell.  Nadia gathered her bag and went outside, Liam was there.
         "Dude.  I know what you're talking about.  I can feel it too.  It's creepy." She said.
         The air was thick with turbulence.  It was windy, but there was something else.  A sort of uneasiness in the air.  The wind picked up.
         "Man, I hope it rains." Nadia observed.
         That something else in the air, it was gnawing at the back of her mind.
         Nadia said goodbye to Liam and walked home.  On her way home, she stopped by the public library.  She noticed the flag that flew outside.  On it were the words 'The Republic of Texas'.  Nadia remembered her history class, and some boring lecture about Davy Crockett.
         Nadia walked some more.  She ran into a strange man.  About 25, he was tall and thin, and he had black hair .  And he wore leather, black leather jacket, black Beatle boots, and black leather pants that were supposed to be tight, but they weren't, due to the fact that he was incredibly thin and lanky.  He looked very rock star-ish.  But not like anyone in paticular.
         "Oh! I'm sorry, sir." She apologized, "I didn't see you until it was too late."
         "No, it's OK, really."
         Their eyes met, and she saw something.  She culd see deep into his soul, but his soul was one very sad thing.  But at the same time, very strong.  It was really pretty scary.
         On her way home, Nadia started feeling uneasy, like someone was following her.  She walked faster.  And faster.  Eventually she started running.  She ran all the way home.
         Nadia went down to the basement.  While she was playing pool, she thought she saw something out of the corner of her eye.  Some kind of movement.  She ignored it.  It wasn't anything unusual.
         Awhile later she saw it again.  This time it got her attention.  She looked, but there was nothing there.
         Then she actually saw it.  Right next to her pool cue.  It was strange.  It looked like matter was Jell-O.  And it had just been poked.  Forgetting about her game, Nadia stared at it, baffled.  She kept staring at it.  She stared at it for a few minutes, not believing or understanding what she saw.  She stared at it as if staring at it would somehow explain it.  It didn't. It could only be described as a twinge in reality.  It was exceedingly strange.
         Nadia finished her game.  She didn't get to sleep until 1:00.  And when she did, it was an uneasy, restless sleep.
         By morning she didn't feel any better.  The school day crawled by slowly.  Infinitely slowly.  She met Liam outside after school.
         They walked to her house together and talked over pool and Cokes.
         "I don't like this." Liam said.
         "I don't like this either."  Nadia said, "Not one bit.  A lot of weird things have happened to me lately."
         "Like what?"
         "I ran into this guy yesterday."
         "And, well, he was just this weird guy.  Not weird really, just out of the ordinary."
         "So what did this weird-but-not-really-just-out-of-the-ordinary guy look like?"
         "He was tall and really skinny, 25ish, and he had dark hair and dark eyes.  And he had one of those weird 80's haircuts that's like, long, and then it's like, short on top, you know?  And he was pretty fair-skinned." she added, "Why are you asking so many questions? Just curious?"
         "Oh." She saw how absorbed in the game Liam was.  It reminded her, "Yesterday I saw something else weird.  I know I saw it.  At first I saw it only out of the corner of my eye.  Then it happened again, only slightly more noticeable.  Then it happened right in front of my face.  Right here." She pointed to a spot on the table.
         "What are you talking about?" He was starting to wonder about her sanity.
         "I don't know.  It was as if matter and space and all that stuff-" Nadia started over, "It was as if they were all Jell-O and someone poked it from another dimension.  I guess I could be a sci-fi nerd and call it a flaw in the space-time continuum.  But in our world of reality, things like that don't exist, at least, they shouldn't exist.  Right?"
         "I think you're going crazy." Liam observed.
         "Maybe so.  Either that, or the world is going crazy."
         "Holy crap!" Liam cried out in shock.
         "That's it!  That's what I saw yesterday!" Nadia exclaimed.
         The cue ball had disappeared.  It was the same thing she had seen the day before.  Only now it happened in the same space-time location as the cue ball.  The result was disturbing.  No more cue ball.
         Liam could do nothing more than gawk.
         Nadia noticed how stale the basement air was.  "I think it's about time we got some fresh air.  What do you think?"
         "I think that's a great idea.  Let's go.  I need to chill out.  Maybe we could go to Starbucks."
         "And we need to get a new cue ball."
         Nadia was starting to wonder if they would've better off staying at the house.  They almost got hit by a car, and they got some nasty looks from some gangsters while they were walking through the ghetto.
         For awhile they were able to forget the uneasiness and join the oblivious Houstonians.
         It was a beautiful night, the air was thick and moist as it usually was.  But a cool breeze blew.  It was a clear night, and Nadia looked up to a nearly full moon.  The sidewalks of Westheimer were alive.  They watched all the weirdness that walked down the streets of old Montrose.  Nadia saw a girl with hair that was dyed green.  It was a deep forest green, and her hair had a lustrous shine to it.  She looked over at Liam, he too, was caught in the beautiful oblivion.
         I feel so romantic, it's dippy. Nadia thought to herself.  She looked over at Liam again, they were walking in step.  She fell in step with anybody she was walking with.  It was something that came naturally.
         She looked at the ring on her finger, it was a claddagh, sometimes known as a "Buffy ring".  It was one of those things with two hands holding a heart with a crown over it.  It reminded her of The Claddagh, a local pub, located in a strip center, next to some Mexican restaurant, probably a taqueria.  There were millions of taquerias in this town…
         "Oh!  Damn those flower pots!" Nadia had just collided with one of those large, concrete flowerpots "full of stupid little idiot flowers and trees and various other forms of floral shit.  Ugh!  I hate those things!"
 Liam was laughing so hard, his face was turned red and tears rolled down his cheeks.
         "That's not funny."
         "Yes it is." he laughed.
         Nadia pushed him into a hedge and kept walking.  After awhile he dug himself out of the hedge and caught up to her.
         "You're right.  It's not funny." he said, almost too solemnly.
         They walked into some pool hall.  Nadia bought a brand new cue ball from a nice man behind a counter.  They walked outside to the street.
         "I was just thinking-"
         It hit her.  A thought, a memory, a vision, something to come later in time.  Whatever it was, it was terrifying.  Nadia saw herself, petrified, staring down the barrel of a loaded and cocked AK-47.  It was held by a tall man who was saying something in German.  All she could see was herself, the man, and the gun, nothing else.  No background, no surroundings, nothing else.  Then it faded.
         Nadia stopped dead.  She couldn't move.  She couldn't speak.  She couldn't say anything.  She could barely breathe.
         Liam had no idea what had just happened, "What happened? What did you see? Please tell me." he asked.
         "I ... I..." she freaked out, "I saw a man with a gun and he cornered me in a room and he was speaking in some other language and I had no idea what he was saying and he had me cornered and I had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide and I couldn't scream and he was going to kill me and there was nothing I could do about it and-"
         "Slow down.  Please.  Just chill for a minute, then tell me."
         Nadia was still quite shaken.  But at least now she could think.  She sorted things out as best she could.  "I saw this...this... I don't know, like, a vision or something."
         "I was in this place, I don't know if it was inside or outside, but there was a wall behind me, two actually, I was cornered.  And there was this dude.  He was like, German or something, and he was holding an AK-47.  It was cocked and loaded and aimed straight at my face."
         "You've been watching too much TV."
         That reminded Nadia of something, "Hey man, you know all this stuff that's been happening, I think this could lead to something." She said.
         Nadia continued, "And you know it.  Maybe not consciously, but you sense danger.  I've been watching you, you're nervous as hell and it's not very good for you, or anything for that matter." She said "have you been paying attention in Foreign Issues class?"
         "No." Liam replied, "who does?"
         "You do have a point there, I must say." She admitted, "I'm thinking that maybe we should."

         The United States had nuclear weapons.  Texas had nuclear weapons.  Lately, both countries were getting more prepared than ever.
         But there was no need to worry, at least, that's what Mrs. Smith, the Foreign Issues teacher, had told the class.  Nadia didn't believe one bit of it, neither did Liam, nor Jacqueline.
         Nadia met Jacqueline outside.
         "There's something I have to tell you, but not here."
         "Sorry man, I gotta go, bye." Jacqueline was not interested.
         "OK, fine.  I'll make it short."  She said simply: "We're headed for war."
         "What the hell are you talking about?  We are not going to war."
         Nadia was taken aback.
         "There's no reason for war," Jacqueline continued, "OK? None.  You can't go on relying only on your inside and all your little signs.  You have to wake up and look around.  Do you see growing paranoia?  Or anything like that?  No." She smiled and turned on her way home.
         "OK fine." Nadia said calmly, she was mildly pissed.
         Jacqueline turned and went on her way home.  On her way she ran into a guy who introduced himself as Mike.  Her told her that she should listen to her friends, Liam and Nadia.  He told her that she should watch out, that something really was going to happen.
         Jacqueline was mildly freaked out.  She took a shortcut through an alley, as soon as she turned the corner, the atmosphere changed completely.  She felt as if though she were in a completely different time and place.  It was not an uninviting place, but the time certainly was.  It was almost like a bad dream.  It felt dreamy.  She thought she saw Nadia, but no one was there.
         Jacqueline continued on her way to Nadia's house.  She had to tell Nadia about this weird dude that she ran into on the street.  She walked up to the door.  It was unlocked, so she went inside and went downstairs to the basement.  Nadia was there, of course, playing billiards, of course.  Jacqueline stood in the doorway for awhile.  Nadia knew she was there, but pretended not to.  Jacqueline watched and Nadia was about to hit a ball.  As soon as her pool cue touched the ball, it disappeared.  Nadia was surprised, but for some reason she was only mildly surprised.  Jacqueline was freaked.
         Nadia finally looked up and saw Jacqueline gawking.
         "I know, it's really strange, it's happened to me about three times already.  I'll explain later."
         "I stopped by to tell you something-"
         "I know exactly what it is."
         Jacqueline ignored her, "Yes, well anyway, I ran into this guy on the way over here.  Her was tall and thin about twenty-something and he had one of those 80's haircuts and lots of black leather, and he said his name was Mike-"
         "And he was an Irishman, no doubt." Nadia grinned, "Yeah, I ran into that very same guy just the other day.  He knows so much about us, I think maybe he works for the government."
         "You got it." Jacqueline went over to the fridge and got a Coke.  "So, do you know anything else about this dude?"
         Nadia snorted, "No.  I think he's a ghost or familiar or shapeshifter or something. He's probably a tree when no one's looking.  You know, weird, devious little dude."
         "I had a boyfriend like that once."
         She laughed, but stopped when she was startled by the opening of the door.  Liam walked in, with Mike trailing behind him.  "Hello people!  Meet my new friend, the Weird Guy That Y'all Keep Talking About.  I say let's all find out what's going on, since The Weird Guy Y'all Keep Talking About seems to know more than we do."
         Everyone agreed.
         Sodas and pool cues were passed around, the radio was turned on and a surprisingly friendly atmosphere was created.  Except for Mike's complaining, "No beer?"
         "Nope.  No beer."
         "OK," Jacqueline said, "Someone please tell me.  What the hell is going on?  Mike, you should know, you seem to be behind a lot of this.  So tell me, what's going on?"
         "How do you know all of us?" Nadia asked.
         "Because I know things." Mike answered simply.
         Nadia was slightly annoyed, "Could you maybe, oh, I don't know, give us a more direct answer?"
         "No." Mike stated.
         "Why?" Nadia pressed on.
         "--" Mike started to say something.
         "Nevermind." Nadia gave up.
         "Who sent you and where did you come from?" now it was Liam's turn to ask questions.
         "I work for a guy who calls himself Mr. MacPhisto.  But he calls himself that just because he can't think of a better name so he has to steal it from someone else."
         Jacqueline was doing all she could to keep her Coke from coming out of her nose.  She failed.
         "Wow man, you must specialize in being vague." Liam observed.
         "I'm sorry," Nadia was laughing, "but that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard."
         "Mr. MacPhisto!" Jacqueline couldn't stop laughing, "That's like, the bad dude from Batman, isn't he?"
         "Actually, he's one of the more demonic alter-egos of The Vox, you know, lead singer of Bloody Sunday."
         Mike was irritated but dealt with it.
         Jacqueline wouldn't stop laughing so Nadia whacked her with a drumstick that was lying nearby.
         "I think it's about time I do some talking." Mike said, "All that weird stuff you've been seeing lately is all connected.  You're not going crazy.  But when you see something strange out of the corner of your eye, understand this: Yes. It was your imagination, but not just your imagination.  That something was real, but not completely, your imagination fills in the gap.  And if you actually understand what I'm trying to say, then I am truly amazed."
         "I know exactly what you're talking about" Nadia said as-a-matter-of-factly, it's that thing you see that looks like air and matter are made out of Jell-O, and someone poked it from another dimension."
         "I guess you could put it that way." Mike said.
         "Well Mike," Nadia said, "what is it?"
         "I flaw in the space-time continuum."
         "Are they dangerous?  And how come they tend to congregate around this pool table?  I've lost about three cue balls already, where do they go?"
         "Balls, balls, balls." Jacqueline snickered, Mike and Liam both glared at her.
 Mike continued, "No, they are not usually dangerous, these are small.  When something disappears into one of these things, it goes somewhere else.  Usually someplace many miles away.  The other interesting thing is that they seem to work like a two-way tunnel.  Let's say there's one here," Mike pointed to a spot on the table, "and then there is another one over here," he pointed to a spot on the other side of the table.  "These two spots make a pair.  If something goes in right here, then it'll come out over there.  And when something goes in over there, it comes out here.  Got that?"
         "How do you know this?"
         "Because I just do."
         "OK." Nadia said.
         "Wow freaky man.  So these things are like a teleport." Liam suggested.
         "Ummm...yeah.  I guess you could say that."
         "Freaky." He said again.

         The next day at school was strange, kind of dreamy almost.  Mrs. Smith told the class what was going on, Nadia already knew.  The United States was going to make Texas a state.  But now it wasn't just The U.S. and Texas, Russia had decided to join the fun on the US's side, while Germany sided with Texas.  A major war had just started.
         When Mrs. Smith told the class that Russia was joining the war, everyone automatically turned around and looked at Nadia, who cowered in her chair.  When Mrs. Smith saw this, she called on Nadia.
         "And what do you have to say about this, Miss Litvak?"
         "Ummm...well, what makes you think I have anything to say?" Nadia said
         "You are Russian.  Right?" the teacher smiled, she was just trying to start a friendly discussion, not knowing the damage she would end up doing.
         "OK," Nadia was already irritated by the teachers blatant, oblivious cheerfulness.

         Nadia Anastasia Litvak was about 5'4".  She had brown hair and eyes that were never the same color from day to day.  Her parents were from Leningrad, now St. Petersburg.  Nadia thought that her mother was a crazy communist.  Her father was dead, and her mother would never tell her when, where or why.  She wasn't popular, but she had friends.  She was often labeled in the same group with the military punks.  But she wasn't one of them.  With her Doc Martins, cargos, camo anything/everything, and the red star, she was voted most likely to overthrow the government and start a revolution.  She thought this was the most hilarious thing she had ever heard.  But what she didn't know, is that this was who she really was.  Inside, she was a fighter, but she didn't know that, because at the moment there was nothing to fight.  That would eventually change.

© 1999 Laura Hutchinson