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Just the Latest in a Long Series of Diversions

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Even though he knew theoretically what would happen after their successful takedown of Dr. Hathaway, Mitch was still a little shocked when he opened the door to his room at the beginning of sophomore year and there was no Chris behind it. No Bermuda shorts, no wide brilliant smile, no plans for keeping all his friends relaxed yet productive. The room felt much emptier than it had a right to, even after Mitch channeled his inner Chris and pitched his clothes into the air. He had no roommate this year, probably as a little bit of reflected shine and benefit from the laser and an equal part bribery for keeping his mouth shut about the real reason behind Hathaway's sudden and open-ended "sabbatical." Sometimes he wandered down into the steam tunnels just to remind himself it hadn't all been a crazy fever dream.

The feeling of something missing lingered, especially in the lab, but slowly Mitch found himself adjusting to the new normal. Without Chris and Kent to bait each other, he developed a decent working relationship with Carter and Bodie. Carter was quick with a joke, and Bodie knew the best all-night diners near campus when they just couldn't stand being in the same room any more. It wasn't the same, of course, but it wasn't terrible. And every once in a while, like quicksilver, he got a phone call, or a package, or once even an obscene singing telegram delivered by a tiny robot, and he knew Chris Knight was out in the world doing what he was best at. The Darlington job had gone to him, of course, and the events of the previous spring had given Chris a layer of serious contemplation at odds with his typical sunny nature, but Mitch worked better knowing he was still the same old Chris underneath.

By junior year, Mitch felt as if he almost belonged on campus. Despite being several years younger than most of his peers, he had reached an age where he wasn't treated as some kind of kid. It probably helped that his and Chris's reputations had been solidified into legend status following the Popcorn Incident. Sometimes he even saw a little whispering and pointing out the corners of his eyes, and it made him laugh. The extra inches in height didn't hurt either, though he still had to be careful going through low doorways, thinking he was the same shrimp in hushpuppies that first walked those halls. He took to wearing the Hawaiian shirt Chris had sent him from a conference on Fridays in the lab, in tribute to the silly side he always tried to remind himself existed.

If sophomore year had been about finding his footing post-Chris, junior year was the one that was all about figuring out the inner workings of Jordan. For one, they shared a room, taking blatant advantage of her unisex name and a glitch in the registration office's roommate matching plan. (Mitch, having mentioned once to Chris how rarely they got to see each other during the busy parts of the year, wondered a little about that...) It was like nothing he had ever dreamed of, going to sleep with her wrapped in his arms. Of course, he knew she got up as soon as he dropped off, to keep studying or building crazy contraptions or designing specs for things that he knew would eventually make her incredibly successful and probably extremely rich. Mitch found that he slept more soundly just knowing she was there, never mind what she was doing.

Mitch threw himself into senior year with the zeal of a runner who can see the finish line approaching. He wasn't keen to leave Pacific Tech, really, so much as he was ready to see the world outside the lab and classroom walls. With first Chris and now Jordan sending dispatches from the lands beyond, he felt the need to get out and explore, especially putting into play Chris's maxim: when you're smart, people need you. An unexpected taste of this came to Mitch with the addition of a new student to their lab. Max was young, brilliant, and almost puppyishly eager to please. She reminded Mitch so much of himself as a freshman that he had to laugh, and when he was done laughing, he wrote Chris a quick note to his last known address, asking Chris if Mitch had ever been that young and naive, and begging for forgiveness for his own newbie sins.

All joking aside, Mitch found working with, not to say mentoring, Max a refreshing and enjoyable experience that gave him hope for the future of Pacific Tech once he had flown the nest. He even showed her the steam tunnels and Lazlo's secret hideaway in the hopes that they, and the legacy of the man he had once found in them, would not fade from memory. Mitch couldn't delude himself that he deserved the credit for Max, she was stubborn as the day was long, and determined to make it in a field of scientists that still looked at her like a lab rat for thinking she could compete with the boys around her. Still, he hoped that he left her legacy of dedicating just as much thought and effort to a life lived in pursuit of happiness as to a life spent in pursuit of the greater scientific goals.

When graduation rolled around, Mitch knew his folks would be there to see him off, as loving and clueless as always. He knew Jordan would be there as well, breaking herself away from her latest engineering contract to cheer and scream and bounce. He was touched to see Max and his other underclassman friends at the party they threw for the seniors the night before the main event. He was amazed to receive a note from KENT of all people, saying he wished Mitch well on his future endeavors. They had never been friendly, even after the Incident, but he thought that nearly being buried alive in popcorn was as good a cure as anything for general douchery.

But even as Mitch stepped forward in his cap and gown to receive his diploma, he knew who he was looking for in the crowd, certain he would be there. And then there he was, larger than life and twice as loud, clapping until Mitch thought his hands might catch fire. And afterwards, as they walked toward their cars, Mitch's arm around Jordan's waist, Chris asked him how quickly he could pack up their stuff. Apparently Lazlo had a job for them- Chris, Mitch, Jordan, and probably Ick, if they could get ahold of him. He had sent Chris a message to meet him up at Sherry's place, and to bring their problem-solving skills. Mitch grinned; he could tell this was going to be fun.