In the dimness before second sunrise, the student laboratory was deserted and still. Ordinarily, Theta Sigma much preferred it during the daytime, full of bustle and excitement and the buzzing and beeping -- or in the case of Ushas, squeaking and grunting -- sounds of other people's experiments. He often enjoyed looking over his fellow student's shoulders, noting useful techniques they'd devised and criticizing the useless ones, more than he enjoyed doing his own assignments. Which, of course, was why he'd ended up here at a time when all good Prydonians were expected to be either quietly meditating or asleep. At least the peace and quiet was helping him concentrate this time, though no doubt the looming deadline and the dreadful prospect of having to repeat Intermediate Applied Chronodynamics had more to do with it. He always did his best work under pressure.
Theta made one final, small adjustment to the complicated apparatus in front of him -- some might say overly complicated, but he rather liked the aesthetic -- and switched it on. It hummed sweetly, began to whir in precisely the right patterns... and then emitted a loud electronic scream and exploded in a shower of sparks.
Theta leapt back with a yelp, beating tiny flames out of his already much-abused laboratory robes, and whirled angrily towards the door.
There, just as he'd expected, stood the smugly grinning figure of Koschei, the gleaming cylinder of a temporal wave generator dangling casually from one hand.
"Rassilon's testicles, Koschei! I worked all night on that! It's due today! Why do you have to be such a complete arse?"
Koschei made an unsympathetic tsking noise. "Really, Theta. I'm doing you a favor. If I don't continue to disrupt your experiments, how will you ever learn to shield them properly? Not that you appear to be making much progress in that area, I must say."
Usually, this was Theta's cue to engage Koschei in a battle of witty insults, or to slink off to plan a much more spectacular way of sabotaging his experiment next time.
But today, he didn't feel like being dignified and civilized. Today, he just wanted to wipe that expression off Koschei's face. He wanted to...
With a strangled cry, Theta launched himself across the room and slammed bodily into Koschei, knocking him back against the door's solid archway. He saw Koschei's eyes widen at the impact. He looked every bit as startled as Theta felt. He'd never really engaged in physical violence before. It was rather exciting, but he wasn't at all sure he liked it.
Before he could ponder this question any further, Koschei shoved him, hard. He reeled backward, clutching frantically at the loose folds of Koschei's tunic in an attempt to steady himself. Instead, he only dragged the other boy back with him, and the two of them staggered into the room, locked together and off-balance, until Theta's backside smacked painfully against a laboratory bench. Glassware tumbled from the now-vibrating bench, the sound of its shattering ridiculously loud in the otherwise silent lab. Theta bounced off or threw himself forward -- even he wasn't sure which -- and managed another half a step before his feet tangled up with Koschei's and they both went crashing to the floor.
Koschei landed on his back, hard enough to wrest an inadvertent "uff" sound from him as the air was knocked from his lungs. Theta landed sprawled on top of him, his nose and Koschei's almost touching.
Well, at least he'd got his wish. The smug expression was entirely gone from Koschei's face, replaced with a dark, angry glower. That was not good. Koschei could be worryingly unpredictable when he was angry.
Theta's breath was coming in rapid gasps now, much faster than the physical exertion merited. He could feel little, spiky pulses of adrenaline flooding his brain. Not an entirely unpleasant sensation, but it did make it a little hard to think. What should he do? Letting Koschei up suddenly didn't seem like a very good idea, not with that look on his face. But, given the way he was beginning to squirm, and the fact that the two of them were very nearly evenly matched for mass, he wasn't certain he had much alternative.
Theta wracked his supposedly brilliant mind for inspiration, but for some reason the only thing he could think of were those ridiculous human entertainments he sometimes liked to watch, and which Koschei mocked him mercilessly for. The human stories were very clear about there being only one possible course of action in a situation like this.
Theta shrugged a little, bent his face down towards Koschei, and kissed him.
It was an interesting sensation. Koschei's lips were surprisingly soft, considering how sharp his tongue was, and Theta found himself wondering, irrationally, how he managed not to cut himself. The thought, ridiculous as it was, lent an almost pleasant feeling of danger to the whole exercise. Koschei, for his part, seemed to be rather enjoying it, judging by the way he tipped his face upward to prolong things for a moment when Theta finally pulled away.
Unmoving, still sprawled one atop the other, the two boys stared at each other for a moment. "And just what," said Koschei at last, "was that meant to accomplish?"
"It means I win," said Theta. He was not, in fact, at all certain that's what it did mean, but it seemed like a reasonable conclusion based on the entertainments. It certainly did seem to be a way of stopping arguments, and the only way an argument with Koschei ever ended was with one of them winning and one of them losing.
"Is that so?" said Koschei. "Did it magically fix your experiment, then?"
Theta's lips thinned. He'd almost forgotten about the ruined experiment, about all his lost work. He'd never get the project finished in time now, not unless... "You're going to help me," he said.
"Am I?" Koschei sounded almost bored.
"Yes," said Theta, in a tone that allowed for no argument. He rolled off Koschei, stood, and offered the other boy his hand. Koschei looked at it, snorted, and rose to his feet without assistance.
Theta bent down and picked a circuit board up from the floor, although he wasn't at all certain exactly how or when it had got there. He handed it to Koschei. "Here. You reconfigure this so we can use it as a chronoton detector. I'll begin reassembling the mechanical components, and then we can both work on the calibration."
Koschei rolled his eyes, but, rather to Theta's surprise, he obeyed, and the two quickly fell into an efficient working rhythm. The rest of the morning passed in a blur of industry, punctuated by occasional almost-friendly insults. Several times, Theta found himself humming, much to Koschei's obvious annoyance, but, unusually, Koschei didn't threaten to leave unless he stopped, just gave him a few strange, sidelong looks.
When they'd finished, the results were far less pretty than Theta's first attempt, but if anything, it worked even better. Amazing what two geniuses could accomplish when they wanted to, Theta thought. He turned to Koschei, beaming, ready to congratulate him on a job well done.
Koschei smiled a tight little smile, then, almost casually, swept his arm across the lab bench and dashed the delicate apparatus they'd built together to the ground.
Theta gaped at the wreckage, sputtering and speechless.
"Well," said Koschei, impatiently. "What are you going to do about it? Do you think you can best me again? Go on, try it!" He looked positively eager. Moments later, they were rolling on the floor again.
Somehow, Theta never did entirely understand why.
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