The Unknown

Chapter 1: Athena

Hey Fellow Believers,

Agent 318 reporting. All appears to be quiet here at The University. That's not to say that something isn't lurking in the shadows, though. We all know that's always a possibility. For the time being, however, my fellow students and I appear to be safe. My roommate, who will henceforth be referred to as Roommate X, is not currently present. It's people like her that make our task as Believers so much harder. She's written me off as some sort of "crazy space freak." Typical. When reckoning day comes, I guarantee she'll be the first one to run to me for help.

Athena's fingers were poised to type the sentence, but she was momentarily distracted by the sound of the lock clicking. Seconds later, the aforementioned "Roommate X" came into view. She didn't even spare Athena a glance as she made her way over to her dresser and pulled out her cosmetics bag. Athena was baffled as ever by the girl's incessant need to change her clothes and fix the makeup that she had caked onto her face. The seated roommate rolled her eyes and resumed typing.

Ah, and Roommate X has returned to take part in her daily face-changing ritual. Better sign off for today. I'll be in touch if anything suspicious starts to pop up around here. Until then, take care, Fellow Believers and remember, always be watching your back. We can never be too sure what's hiding out there, waiting for the opportune moment to jump out and strike us down. As our good old friend Mr. Spock would say, live long and prosper.

As always,

Agent 318

"What are you always typing on that thing anyway? I find it hard to believe that you have to write papers two or three times a day, every day."

Athena was surprised that Roommate X was speaking to her. Their correspondence had, since the beginning of term, been limited to passing nods and an occasional demand to turn out the damn desk light, always delivered hostilely. They'd known on their very first day as roommates, after just the shortest of conversations, that they didn't like each other. From that point on, they'd tried to keep any sort of interaction at a minimal.

Roommate X, whose real name happened to be Audrey Boldin, was still looking at Athena expectantly, waiting for her to respond. The latter snapped her laptop shut and proceeded to put it carefully into the bottom drawer of her dresser. She removed the key necklace from her neck and locked the drawer, pulling on it a few times to test its security. By the time she hung the key around her neck again and rose to her feet, Audrey had apparently given up on the conversation and returned to the task of making herself look like a completely different person.

Athena never quite understood why Audrey bothered with all of that. She was perfectly good-looking without it. Some might even call her beautiful, with her light golden hair and wide blue eyes. Her skin, even without the layers of foundation, didn't possess even a single blemish. It just didn't make sense.

"I have an online blog," Athena finally said, deciding that answering Audrey's question posed minimal risk. Audrey was apparently surprised that her roommate had actually responded, because she jumped a little and turned around quite sharply. Athena was a little amused at Audrey's reaction, so she continued. "It's actually more of a private forum, if you want to get specific. Just a place for a group of Believers to share information and such."

Audrey's brow wrinkled in confusing, creating little hairline fractures in her layer of foundation. She mouthed the word "believers" a few times before realization dawned. She raised her eyebrows, adopting a haughty sort of look, and let out a small noise of derision.

"More of that weirdo alien junk?" She began to re-powder her face, turning her back on Athena but still gazing at her through the mirror. "You're such a space freak, Athena."

For a while, such comments had made Athena so angry that she went into a ranting sort of frenzy. She'd learned through the course of a great deal of experience, however, that people were always going to say those things to her. She was an oddity by choice, and so opened herself to ridicule. The best she could do was state her case and ignore the people who shot her down.

"Laugh at me all you want, Audrey," said Athena as she walked to the other side of the room and opened the door. "Just remember, when the shit comes down, I'll be prepared and you won't." She slammed the door behind her.

Weeks later, when she would look back at that conversation, she'd want to slap herself for that last statement.

It wasn't a long walk to the nearest boys' residence hall, where Athena's best friend lived, but it was rather cold out, being late November. Athena gritted her teeth so they wouldn't chatter, wrapped her arms tightly around herself, and pressed on. When she reached the hall, she jogged quickly up the stairs to the third floor, her feet carrying her automatically to the last door on the right.

There were two nameplates adorning the door, but the one that read "Michael Hartley" was the only one Athena concerned herself with. Michael's roommate was almost never in their room. Even Athena, Michael's best friend, had only seen him a handful of times.

She didn't bother to knock (Michael had told her that it wasn't necessary), instead just going right in. Michael was seated at his desk, working on what appeared to be their assignment for calculus. It was the only class they had together, as Athena was an Education major and Michael was pre-Med. She crossed the room wordlessly and seated herself cross-legged on his bed.

"Hey Owl Eyes," he said, not looking up from his assignment. "Just give me a second, I'm almost done with this." Athena grinned. Michael was the only one who could really make her smile like that. Owl Eyes had been his nickname for her since they'd met at Freshman Orientation earlier that year, where they'd been in the same group. It was a play on both her name, and the fact that when she was excited about something, her blue eyes widened to the size of saucers.

Athena didn't bother to help him with the problems, which she'd already completed, knowing that he would much rather do them himself. That was Michael's way. He didn't like to ask for help from anyone. It took him a few moments, but he finally finished the last question and closed his notebook, smiling triumphantly.

"So what's up?" he asked, turning to Athena and leaning back in his desk chair. As always, he folded his hands behind his head, the perfect picture of relaxation.

"I heard people around campus talking about some party tonight that I'm sure Audrey's going to. I didn't want to be around when your sister showed up so they could spend hours getting ready."

Michael's twin sister, Gwyn Hartley, was Audrey's best friend. She was a carbon copy of Athena's roommate, except much nastier. Since the moment that Audrey had first brought Gwyn back to their dorm, the girl had fostered a deep, violent hatred for Athena that, try as she may, the alien enthusiast could not explain. She'd befriended Michael before she even knew he was related to the repugnant hag of a girl.

Michael and Gwyn had the same brown hair and tanned skin, but the similarities stopped there. Gwyn's eyes were a dull, dark brown, while Michael's were a soft grey. Their personalities, too, were starkly different. That much was obvious to anyone. Gwyn was conceited and seemingly "perfect," while her brother chose to keep to himself and keep his group of friends narrow. Athena counted herself lucky to be among them.

"I can't blame you for that," Michael replied, grinning. "Well, I'm starved. You wanna go grab a bite to eat?"

"Sure, but let's not go to Al's. I have to work every day for the rest of the week, and I'd prefer to not be there more than I have to." Al's Diner was a small eatery just outside of campus, where all the students went for a cheap meal and where Athena had gotten a job as a waitress. Al and his wife were nice enough, but Athena hated waiting on some of the idiots that she attended The University with.

They decided to hit a pizza joint just a little farther down the street from Al's. As they entered the main campus, there appeared to be some sort of commotion. Athena figured it was just a fight between some guys who thought themselves to be big and tough, but her curiosity was piqued nonetheless. If it wasn't a jock fight, there was always the chance that she would find some good fodder for her blog.

It turned out that people were gathered around a section of the brick wall separating the campus from the housing plan beyond. Athena and Michael pushed through the crowd, ending up next to Shiloh Calligan, a recluse who rarely left her dorm except for class, and Faith Atticus, a soft-spoken girl whom Athena recognized from Intro to Psychology.

It took a moment for her to be able to read the wall, since there were so many people, but eventually she got a clear look at it. The message was written in dripping, dark red paint.

This is your first and only warning, students of The University. Take cover and run home to your mommies and daddies, or I'm coming for you next.

In all actuality, Athena had to admit that it was most likely just some stupid prank, but she couldn't help the flutter of excitement that rushed into her belly. Finally, something mysterious had happened. The investigator in her had been itching to get out, and this was her chance. If this didn't turn out to be the work of some freshman buffoon she might have a real tantalizing mystery on her hands.

Suddenly, there was a bloodcurdling scream, coming from behind the nearest building, a hundred or so yards away. The mass of students rushed towards the sound, not hesitating to push each other over and shove their way to the front.

The girl who had screamed spoke up again. "Somebody help! Help! There's a dead girl over here! Somebody's been killed!"

There it was. The warning on the wall. The warning sent by an unidentified person—or, Athena mused, being—to frighten all of them. Judging by the sounds of sobbing girls and boys spewing horrendous expletives, it was working.

And so, with a murder, begins the tale of The Unknown.