The Life, Death and Life of Amelia HollowEdward James Bowman / Science Fiction
The Life, Death and Life of Amelia Hollow
By E.J. Bowman
Copyright 2013 E.J. Bowman
Cover art by E.J. Bowman with text from 1001 Free Fonts
1: The Year was 2808 AD…
…And Earth had probably changed a little since your time. The USA was fresh out of a civil war and a war with China. And there’d already been a gay president who went dressed as a unicorn to every press conference during Gay Pride Week. Not a great president, but one hell of a guy.
Around about twenty-eight years before in 2780, a Swedish man called Sven Hollow went on a one-man deep space mission to the outer rim of the solar system. He lost his way home when his coordinates got all screwed up. With food and oxygen supplies running low, Sven was on the verge of death. His saviour was strange spaceship that picked him up making Sven the first human to have contact with extra-terrestrials. Then Earth realized how out of the loop it had been seeing as all aliens outside of our dear solar system had already met and had created one huge union.
Sven was the first ambassador of Earth. He had to fight hard to convince the aliens that Earth would be a great contribution to their union. At first they didn’t like us very much but they warmed up and finally came to a decision after a 5,450,054 to 5,450,053 vote that Earth could join the USM (United Systems of Mel) as a second-class planet. Sven had gotten the final vote by sleeping with the equivalent of an alien Jessica Rabbit with flaming red hair and green skin. He accidently got her pregnant and their son Cameron (the name ‘Cameron’ was common on both planets) became an ensign on board one of USM’s mightiest ships called the Titonic… I’d also like to mention the fact that he is my half-brother.
Although my father was an ambassador and still had a presence in the USM, Cameron’s mother kept Sven away from his son because she didn’t want her son to act human in an alliance that saw humans as a ‘second-class’ species. This wracked my father to the core, but her species was first-class unlike humans so Sven had no say in the matter. She only let the pair talk via hologram and despite her attempt to keep them distant; Cameron rebelled and called his father as much as he could when she wasn’t around and especially when he left home to join the Titonic.
Sven had left Earth at the age of twenty-seven and officially retired when he was thirty-two. He let some Russian woman take over for him because they had both been in the same space program.
At thirty-seven he was still single, but desperately wanted another child. He had a ‘test tube’ baby genetically engineered and I was ‘born’. Having children bioengineered was very popular in this time – especially if you were rich.
My father didn’t do much after he retired and had me despite deciding that he wanted to be bi-sexual. After lots of experimenting he married a Jamaican ex-drug addict cross-dresser. They didn’t seem to have a lot to talk about, but they did enjoy each other’s company. Sven recently celebrated his fifty-fifth birthday while his husband celebrated his thirty-seventh a few months after. What can I say? My father has a thing for younger men… and women.
Because the first encounter with aliens was still very recent, people were still uncomfortable with the idea. Conservatives said they didn’t exist and wrote them off as boys in costumes. There wasn’t anything you could say to change their mind, but I didn’t really care about what they thought seeing as our liberal dictator just moved the last of them to Florida.
Oh yes, the USA was totally fucked when it came to politics. Ever since the 2340 elections when an android was brought into office things had been bad between the liberals and conservatives… really bad. All sane people had just stopped voting so really the fate of America was in the hands of the crazies. There wasn’t Republican and Democratic Party anymore. They mutated into just being called the Right Wing and the Left Wing party to avoid confusion. There was no point in trying to understand either party… They both seemed awful to moi.
The last Right Wing president managed to undo almost a thousand years of democracy. There were executions in the streets for illegal immigrants, homosexuals and women who had had abortions in the past years. The most horrible thing he did was buy thirteen Chinese slaves for himself which may have just helped spark the war between the USA and China. Really, it was America’s fault for voting in a president who had just escaped a mental asylum. The man was still wearing his tinfoil hat!
Shortly after the hundredth execution, a guy called Clive Darwin lost it. He got an army together and stormed the White House. My dad was luckily off-planet at this time or he may have not chosen to raise me in the States.
Clive Darwin took over the USA and started the craziest revolution in the history of forever. He basically just started a civil war in the heart of the States that killed a lot of Right Wingers before he sent the rest to live in Florida. Not in concentration camps, more like retirement villages but in Florida which most people agreed was just downright mean.
Lots of Left Wing voters weren’t sure how to feel about this. Montana started a massive rebellion against Clive and caused the second part of the civil war. You know what happened to Montana? It was renamed New Utah. Why was it called New Utah? Because Clive liked Utah, that’s why.
But years ago when I was eight, Clive died in hospital with head injuries due to mysterious circumstances. A woman called Leona Adams was suspected of murdering him (they had slept together the night before) but there was no proof… and she vanished. And so Clive’s son took over. He’s was little less crazy and that’s why my father decided it was okay to continue raising me in the States. Clive’s son Harry Darwin was young, but he was harmless. He was just a computer nerd so technology advancements skyrocketed once he took over. People still aren’t sure how they feel about him being the leader of the USA at his age but, the value of the American dollar went up so nobody complained.
If you didn’t guess from the cover, my name is Amelia Hollow. Before we go further I must warn you this book will portray me to have a big ego, but when you’re as awesome as I am then why wouldn’t you have a huge ego?
I grew up in the countryside of Wyoming where my daddy had a big mansion. His family had always been wealthy, but being the Earth’s ambassador made Sven filthy rich. – Apparently you make big money for discovering aliens.
You’d think I’d have a sort of Swedish or Jamaican accent due to who I was raised by, but surprisingly I have a very American drawl. The only time I sound ‘Swedish’ is when I’m imitating the Swedish Chef from the Muppets.
I got 100% on my SUNE (Standard United Nation’s Exam) plus extra credit on the extension papers making moi one of the highest scoring high-school students in the whole of the USA. Some would say I was cheating seeing as I had been bioengineered to be better, but they were just jealous. That’s why I couldn’t be on the women’s basketball team. The coach thought the men’s team would be more of a challenge. Not really much of a step up, though; none of the boys on the team were over six feet which is why they sucked so badly.
Being my father’s clone, I enjoy retro science fiction as much as Sven. When I was little we watched rinky dink shows from hundreds of years ago like the Star Trek series, Star Wars, Crysis, Hidden Target and the Intelligence Factory… If you haven’t heard of some of those then you are either stupid or they are after your time. I don’t understand my father’s obsession with old sci-fi television shows, but apparently all the new shows are just rip-offs of them so he prefers the originals.
Okay, so if you found this book coverless on the side of the street or you’re reading creepily over your friend’s shoulder and don’t know what this book’s about: this is basically the story of my life, death and life. Confused? Good. I’m just going to start at the very beginning… when I was a zygote. Nah, I’ll start somewhere a little more interesting.
2: The Good, the Bad and the Really Bad
Tamarax Station. Possibly the worst place in the universe. The demon herself; Lady Tamarax Deloro ran the place. She’s wasn’t really a ‘lady’ anymore. She was just a monster.
She was good until she looked right at a tear in the space time continuum. Since then she was never the same. Apparently she saw a future where Mel (founder and leader of the USM) killed her so she lost it and would stop at nothing to kill the woman.
The station was based on a humungous rocky planet labelled uninhabitable, but she chose to ignore that obvious fact. At least three people in her station died a week due to the horrid conditions while three more died by her own hand. Nobody dared to ask for better living conditions because otherwise she could introduce them all to her little friend who had the real power.
Lady Tamarax used to be a beautiful woman (well, in an alien way) but her skin had become grey and rotten. She was skinnier than a skeleton with sags of old muscle under her arms and around her stomach when she wasn’t wearing a corset. Her long black hair looked like millions of untamed vines. Light could not escape her cold, black eyes and her nails had grown into eight seven inch black blades (she only had three fingers on each hand). Heck, she hadn’t used a knife to cut up her meal in years!
Looking into the space time continuum had really changed her. Anybody who looked into the tear saw the true meaning of time and it frustrated them because it was impossible to explain what you saw no matter what language you spoke. Tamarax tried to explain how time overlapped and could change but everything that changed was supposed to be changed and nothing was spontaneous with time. Everything that should happen would happen whether people wanted it to or not. Just travelling back through time could make the event you tried to prevent happen which is why the monks of Destin-Hey (often just called ‘Hey-monks’ as their language never had more than one syllable for each word) wrote the rules of time and made the universal bestseller list with their novel. They knew the rules because their race began just as time did. Although they didn’t know what came before the universe, they knew what was to come. They had physic powers and were the only race in Milky Way history to reach telepath level twelve which was higher than the highest level… Seeing as they graded the telepaths of course they were the most powerful.
Tamarax had forgotten about the laws the Destin-Hey monks had created because she intended to break them. She didn’t consider the fact that by trying to break the laws she wasn’t breaking them at all and was following the set path, yet she was sure she had found the friend who was going to change all that. She had captured a 4th dimensional creature that called itself Tak because its actual name would take a millennium to say. Nobody was actually sure what the creature looked like, but judging by its shrieks it was terrifying. Tak was the only known creature that existed out of time and space. It had the power to manipulate the space time continuum if it got the right ‘push’. To get this ‘push’ it had been hidden in an comet/ship that had a set course for a particular star that would not only give it the right amount of energy, but also the time ‘push’. This particular star had a lot of enigmatic time energy surrounding it. It had a connection to Mel who was the only being older than the universe itself. Tamarax had done the math and concluded that crashing the comet into that star would create not only tear a hole in the space time continuum, but also let her use Tak as the remote to control the universe and rearrange it. – Don’t worry; this’ll all make a whole lot more sense later, but for now just smile and nod, time travel isn’t simple okay?
Tamarax’s bubble of thought popped when two soldiers the size of rhinos burst through the sky scraping doors. One had a strange blue blood surrounding his knuckles and Tamarax found it easy to conclude that the guy he had hit was not in great shape. – Good.
“Scouts were patrolling this area.” He grumbled.
“Excellent.” She said slyly. “Did you dispose of the ship?”
“We took what we needed from it and then blew the heck out of it.”
“How many were on-board?”
“Damn.” She said with the snapping of her sharp nails in disappointment. It was a horrible sound that sounded as if millions of tiny bones were breaking under her touch.
“Well, we can spare some of our own men, Tak’s got to eat.”
“Yes my lady. I’ll run through the library and search for the weakest.” The other soldier said before bowing once and leaving her office in haste. – He didn’t want her to consider him for the menu.
“You.” She said pointing at the one with the bloody knuckles. “Show me where they are.”
All the walls in Tamarax Station were lined with one giant equation that the lady herself had written up when she was bored one day. She had never explained it, but it was something to do with the ultimate bomb. She would have created the thing but some of the elements needed had not been discovered and she had just made them up on the spot. – Crazy right? No, she had seen into time itself so she knew those elements would be found. Tamarax found it annoying having to wait around for everybody to discover things that she already knew about, but she couldn’t be stuffed to put her money into scientific research when she planned on recreating the universe anyways.
The prisons were just as pleasant as her mind set. Anybody captured was probably not going to live through the day anyways, but their final day was a day in hell. They were like old medieval prisons except filled with the advanced versions of a stretching board that shocks you while you get torn from limb to limb. Tamarax let strange little rodent creatures scurry around in the prison block, most were diseased demons hungry for blood. If the guards didn’t wear the proper boots then the creatures would get their legs. In fact, the only thing that separated it from a medieval dungeon was that instead of looking out the window onto a kingdom, you looked out at dead space: The place where a star could not be seen for at least three light years in every direction.
Tamarax Station sat at the very tip of one of the Milky Way’s long arms. It seems to be too far from any place like Earth to really be a threat, yet aliens like Tamarax had far older civilizations that have been advancing their technology for much longer.
Unlike on Earth which was the one of the most primitive contributions to the USM, all spaceships authorized by Mel had to be able to travel at two light years per hour with a dega-drive of at least 230,405 light years per hour. This was just the minimum a spaceship can travel at, but some of the larger ships like the Titonic –the one Cameron was on– could travel to some of the greatest speeds in the universe… Seriously, speed of light was nothing.
Two USM Navy scouts sat weakly on their knees in one of the cells. A Tamarax soldier on each side of them making sure they couldn’t escape even if they had the will. The co-pilot usually looked similar to an overgrown butterfly. Sadly, it hard to tell now because her wings and antennas had been ripped off.
The pilot wasn’t looking so good himself, his orange skin had gone purple in places and blue blood was dripping off his fangs from where he had been hit. Their grey and black uniforms were tattered and soaked in blood.
“You two are looking lovely.” Tamarax joked.
She held the pilot’s chin in her fingers and made him look up at her. It was at that point that she realized his eyes had been gouged out and she let his head drop. He was barely conscious like his co-pilot, but it did not matter. She didn’t need information from them anyways.
“Mrl… ke…you…r…a…” He mumbled. It took a heck of a lot of strength just to get his vocal chords to work let alone make words.
“I’m sorry I didn’t quite catch that. Could you repeat it darling?” Tamarax asked patronizingly as she knelt down beside him and put her pointy ear close to his bleeding lips.
“M-Mel’s going t-to kick you’re a-ass.” He whispered with an evil smile that made more blood run down his chin.
Tamarax usually didn’t let little things get to her, but just seeing the amount of faith the USM soldiers had in such a horrible creature like Mel made her mad. She stood up and drew her metal-rimmed boot back before kicking the pilot right in his alien rib-cage. She heard a cracking noise as her boot made contact with his ribs. The pilot went backwards and stopped moving.
She snapped at the guards and they both picked up the prisoners and followed her out the door. The co-pilot was more active now that her best friend was down. She couldn’t escape the giant man’s hold and she was in too much pain to put much effort in.
The station stretched out for miles in each direction which is why conveyer belts were placed conveniently in most areas. Tamarax hopped on one and grabbed the bar followed by the guards carrying the two USM scouts. They didn’t need to grab the bar because they were so heavy and probably weren’t going to blow away like scrawny Tamarax would. She actually had to dig her boots into the ground just to keep her balance. Her greasy hair blew wildly in every direction like each individual lock was a snake in Medusa’s hair. The skin on her cheeks began to ripple as the wind hit it. She tried to turn head, but hair just attacked her eyes and she gave up.
She leapt off the conveyer and strode down the long corridor followed by the two giant beasts and the fresh meat. The metal doors started to slide open as the cameras detected her coming. The doors revealed the private hangar the size of a warehouse. Right in the centre was a large hole covered only by the thin electric shield. Below it was the giant ‘comet’ that was just getting ready to take off on its massive adventure to the star Mel grew up around. The engineers who were just doing the finishing touches on the engine outside in space hated to touch the thing because they knew what monster was inside.
Tamarax made the guard drop the pilot before she dragged his limp body right to the edge of the hole. She didn’t know why but she wanted make him fear her in those final moments otherwise she would be left unsatisfied.
In the bay there was hatch leading into the ‘comet’ that stuck through the electric shield so that Tamarax could easily feed Tak without having to go outside of the station. She punched a button on her wrist and the hatch doors slid apart. A strange shrieking sound could be heard from deep within the comet. Its cries were angry and disarming.
The co-pilot began shifting in the guard’s arms. A small bridge came out that sat just above the electric shield and went straight to the asteroid entrance. She dragged the pilot to the very edge of it and stayed quiet as the terrifying creature screamed at them from below.
“Hear that darling? Because that will be the last sound you’ll ever hear.” She hissed in his ear before looking at the blood oozing from where his eyes used to be. How she wished she could make him look her in the eyes. – It was a shame he would miss out on seeing the satisfaction in her face.
“What the hell is that?” The co-pilot screeched as the shrieking seemed to just keep getting louder.
“Calm down Sefras!” The pilot called back, but she just kept struggling.
“You can do whatever the heck you want to me but my co-pilot deserves better than this. Send her back into space, I promise she doesn’t know the location of this base.” The pilot pleaded quietly.
I failed her, I failed her family, I failed the USM Navy and I failed Mel.
“Oh well aren’t you the honourable captain?” Tamarax said haughtily. “Sadly, now that she’s heard that noise she’s gotta go too. Any other requests?”
“Let me go.”
She then realized he didn’t mean ‘let me go’ as in wanting to be free. He pushed himself out of her weak grip and dove head-first into the asteroid entrance. His last act to annoy her, she always loved to force people in and he just went on his own terms. – What a badass.
Tamarax bit her lip so hard that blood started to run down her chin before she stamped on the bridge like an angry little girl. She wished that she had kept the pilot around a little longer so she could really break him, but he wasn’t going to allow that. Despite everything he just died a free man and there was nothing she could do about that.
His co-pilot shrieked sorrowfully. Tamarax stopped her as she dug her nails right into her throat. She knew the genetic makeup of Sefras’s species and that it wouldn’t kill her although she would have some trouble breathing. Oh well, it wouldn’t matter much longer anyways.
“Well your dear captain may have been a bit of a blind rebel, but no such luck for you sweetie.” She growled as she dragged the dying creature onto the bridge.
Tamarax made the scout stand up properly so she could push her in when the co-pilot suddenly turned to her and spat her protective acid mucus onto her face. Tamarax covered her face with one hand before kicking the creature into the spaceship below. – She and her captain could rot in hell.
“Ugh, the USM Navy is just full of those kind of people isn’t?” She joked as she stepped off the bridge.
One of the guards passed her a small cloth to try and tame the acid on her face. Tamarax pushed right past him and headed for the door. She had sustained so many injuries in her life that her body had grown numb to such melee pain. She already had plenty of scars on her ruined body; one more wasn’t going to be a big deal. The witch-like woman grabbed the collar of an engineer walking by and made him look her right in the eyes. He tried not to stare at the acid steaming off of her skin and did not break the eye contact.
“I want the damned ship done soon or you’re next on the menu. Got it?”
“Yes ma’am.” He said placidly as if her words weren’t threatening. – Big mistake.
“Okay… He’s next on the menu.” She said bluntly and passed him to one of the guards who would take care of him.
The other guard followed her back into the hallway and onto the rickety conveyer belt. She looked more furious than ever as she licked the blood off her chin with her elastic tongue before accidently burning it on the acid.
“Don’t worry bucko,” she said to the guard, “once I’m through with this universe you get the decade off. I’ve just got to kill Mel in more ways than one and then I could give you your own planet. Think your men can work a little harder this next month until all of that gets done?”
“Of course ma’am. Our duty is to serve–”
Tamarax looked around at her station as they flew through it. Everything was coming together. She had an army, she had the ultimate weapon and she had her looks (ha ha). Most importantly; she couldn’t wait to watch the universe burn before she recreated it in her own way… She figured she’d call it Tamaraxia or something stupid like that.
3: The Acceptance Message
The mansion was about the size of a small castle if you want a comparison. Its garden looked like one you could see Greek Gods prancing gleefully about in. There wasn’t another home for miles and my family liked it that way. We could have huge parties and wouldn’t have to worry about noise control because we had no neighbours.
Sure, the Hollow’s just sounded like rich douche bags, but we changed the world so we could do whatever the hell we wanted in our own house. Plus my father and Geraldine had worked hard to get their money. Sven –as you know– discovered the USM and became the ambassador while Geraldine (his real name was Gordon but when he discovered that he preferred cross-dressing, he changed his name so other men wouldn’t know) used to work the streets in Kingston for various reasons. He took a lot of crap so meeting Sven was his big break.
My room was a fair size, but seeing as it was filled with all my crap it didn’t feel that large. Even though we had a small gym I still liked to have a treadmill in my room in case I woke up in the middle of the night and felt like going for a run – which happened very often.
Because everything was electronic I didn’t have a whole bunch of posters all around my room, I just had one giant screen above my bed which changed posters every five minutes. I had computer that was quicker than the speed of sound, a television with over a million channels, a tablet packed with thousands of books and yet I was still bored.
Instead of any of these options I just sat on my bed and stared out the window. It was cloudy which meant there could be thunder and lightning later but probably not any rain. It was summer so the weather usually sat between either blazing hot or lightning storms. I didn’t mind it and neither did Geraldine. My father on the other hand still hated the heat even though he had lived in the USA a long enough time that you would think he’d be used to it.
I eventually decided that my window that looked out onto the vast valley was the most boring thing in the world so I slipped on my sneakers and flew downstairs. I did not have to worry about my father or Geraldine because I was pretty sure they were both in the indoor pool together and probably didn’t want me to disturb them anyways. They would not mind if I was gone half an hour or so.
Starting out with a jog I picked up the pace when I reached the end of our gravel path and started sprinting down the road. There was no need to be worried about cars coming down the road because it was pretty quiet out in the countryside. Any of the people who would even live within five miles of my house would’ve preferred to take helicopters or shuttles to town instead of an old fashioned car.
When running with music booming into your ears you just seem to lose track of time. I started heading back when I realized that I was coming up on another house. Lightning struck off in the distance followed by rolling thunder. My weather predictions for today had been wrong. Big fat droplets fell from the grey clouds. Luckily it was summer in Wyoming so the rain was actually refreshing. My white singlet was completely soaked and my chest could be seen easily. That was the other great thing about living out in the middle of nowhere. I could’ve gone for a run in the nude and nobody would’ve noticed. Well, save Richard Dickson who tended to be a runner like moi. Luckily, he only ran at night because he wanted to avoid me at all costs. Apparently he did not like me screaming out ‘Dick Dickson’ every time I passed him. Great guy. Darn shame he resented me.
My sneakers squeaked as I walked back up the mahogany staircase. The charming sound echoed all down the mansion. The sound would inform my father that I was home even though he probably had not been aware that I was gone.
The silver scrunchie got knotted in my hair as I tried to pull it out. Taking a shower didn’t seem right seeing as I was completely wet, but I did anyways.
My Scandinavian heritage gave me the usual bright blonde hair and my skin was fair. Growing up in Wyoming had given me more of a tan than my father Sven who preferred to think of himself as albino and tried to avoid the sun at all costs. He had even resorted to wearing a cowboy hat on days to make sure the back of his neck did not burn.
I looked like a mixture between a zombie and a creature from the Grudge as I staggered out of the shower. Strands of soaked hair covered my eyes. Once my vision cleared I saw the steam hovering in the bathroom suggesting that I had forgotten to turn the fan on when I came in.
Cosmetics had really advanced in the past a hundred years. Razors had gone out of style quicker than Zune when a cream had been invented that permanently removed hair and had no side effects like previous versions of it that made skin go purple or burnt like acid. It looked like I always waxed my legs, but that didn’t mean they looked very attractive if you got a closer look. They were covered in plenty of nasty scars and bruises. One from every sports team I had been on which meant there were quite a lot. When you’re the daughter of Earth’s first ambassador there’s a teeny bit of pressure put on you by coaches and teachers. I had to work pretty hard to please them even though it required getting a couple of bruises and breaking a couple of bones.
There was a knock at the door and before I even answered it slid open (yes I had a slide door for my room unlike every other room in the old style mansion). Geraldine was standing there in his dark blue singlet and jeans. His long black hair was pulled back into a ponytail that split into two braids at the first hair tie. He always had better hair styles than I did. Whenever he usually pranced into my room he had something to ask me about Sven. Right now he was silent. – This concerned me.
“What’s up?” I asked him as I slid my singlet back on. I didn’t mind him seeing me naked because I saw him as a sexless figure more than anything.
“You’re daddy wants to see you in the holo communications room.” He said in a tense voice.
“Oh god… Did Aunt Paige finally kick it?” I asked due to his tone.
Aunt Paige was three-hundred and seven years old and had every disease in the book. You would expect her to be dead, yet due to advanced medical care she was probably going to live another twenty years unless she got a cold or left the special sanitary room in the retirement complex. Most people lived to be at least 250-500 years old which may seem strange but you should see the health care system… Cured everything except the flu.
People would think this meant that there were millions of really old people running around the streets due to the increase in life expectancy plenty. But because of cosmetic creams and surgeries you were sure to look at least forty years younger. My father, Sven, was in his fifties but he used a cream that made him look late thirties.
Sadly, people also thought that because they looked young that meant they were young and many children were born to over-aged couples. This lead to a big health issue next to cancer because twelve per cent of children were born with deformities. This is when our dear ‘American Unicorn’, President Stanley Kesmin, said all people over the age of forty five had to have either a vasectomy or a hysterectomy in the most humane way possible. He put that law in forty years ago and it still stands today. It is not as a creepy as it sounds. My father went in for a vasectomy a couple of years ago and although he didn’t see why he had to have it seeing as his partner was a man, he did understand why the American Unicorn had put the law in.
“No your Aunt did not kick it.” Geraldine said firmly. “Nothing bad has happened, but you really should come with me.”
The holo communications room in our mansion was nothing short of awesome. It was just a giant room filled with monitors and a big circular table in the middle that displayed holograms. When I was very little I pretended it was the bridge from Star Trek and ran around with my little friend, Ben, pretending to be all sorts of crazy aliens. Poor Ben always had to play a red shirt and pretended to die on a daily basis.
This was the room that my father raised Cameron from. Travelling beyond our Solar System to visit other planets was illegal due to the fact humans were ‘second-class’. Instead at the end of every week my father called his son to chat. They had never officially met face to face, but my father said he felt like he really knew his son. I’m not sure if that was true or not. It was hard to really know someone if you had never talked in real life.
My brother and moi did not talk much because we were both busy people and also the language block –I didn’t have a translating earpiece like my father– but all three of us had chats during one of our birthdays or Christmas. Geraldine felt a little left out of this family gathering because Cameron’s mother, Della Vis Homen of Hashtish 4, was his rival for Sven’s love. Even though Sven was sure he had made his choice they still had a ‘friendly’ rivalry. All of us knew that if Della said she wanted my father Geraldine would not have the power to convince Sven otherwise.
My father had both of his hands on the rim of the giant circular table. He was in his usual black turtle neck with jeans and glasses. Even though doctors offered him eye surgery to restore his sight properly Sven wanted to wait a little longer until he was really blind.
“What’s news from Starfleet?” I asked him casually before imitating him by putting my hands on the table.
“Well… you’re actually close about the whole Starfleet thing.”
“I don’t know if I can explain this without showing you the message first so don’t ask me anything until it’s over.” He said with a slight hint of anxiety in his voice. It was easy to tell when he was worried on concerned, his voice got a little higher and his Swedish accent became far more obvious.
“I hate the suspense. What happened? Did we lose money? Did President Darwin do something? Oh God, tell me the American Unicorn wasn’t shot.” I pleaded.
“No the… What?” My father shook his head. “Just watch.”
He punched a playback button on the side panel and the hologram sprung up. We had one of the old-fashioned hologram projectors so there was an electric blue tint to it. None of us really noticed it until we saw the quality of other people’s hologram displays. Then again, ours was meant for making calls to the USM so we didn’t get to upgrade as easily.
“Greetings Amelia Frank Hollow.” The recording of a monotone female voice said as a projection of my head came up and rotated around for all to see. “This message is from the USM Naval outpost ‘Starside’ in the Dalowit System. For the first time in USM history, Starside Academy is accepting cadets from second-class planets to train as commanding officers. Your profile and results from the Universal Standard test have been examined by our moderators and you would be pleased to know you are the most logical choice to be accepted in Starside Academy.”
I looked up at my father. He said nothing but smiled.
“The academy is located in the Starside outpost. Only twenty students are accepted every grade from all over the galaxy. These students are prepared to become the commanding officers of the USM Naval ships. If you accept you will be the first human to be a part of the USM Navy. If you decline another human will not be chosen as there are far more qualified students from other second-class planets. Please listen to the contact details in the second message for your itinerary and list of contacts. You will spend two weeks preparing in Darwin Enterprises; your planet’s leading science facility where you will learn how to survive in deep space. Thank you Amelia, we hope to see you at Starside Academy.”
The hologram switched off and the table went back to its usual grey colour. I wasn’t aware that my jaw had dropped. Had I just been accepted to Starside? Now that’s a university I didn’t apply for.
“Holy. Mother. Fucking. Crap.” I gasped before running my fingers roughly through my damp hair. This wasn’t a gleeful moment for any of us. It was shocking and completely unexpected. – The USM tended to be like that.
“Well… What do you want to do?” Sven asked me rather abruptly. He didn’t sound particularly happy and was more concerned than anything. His daughter had to make the decision whether she wanted to travel millions of light years away or regret not accepting the chance of a lifetime.
I had already been accepted into Lund University and the University of California, but now Starside was in the equation.
“I don’t believe it.” I whispered.
“I know this is shocking but you need to–”
“I can’t fucking believe they didn’t even meet me in person to ask me something like that! How do I know that isn’t spam mail or something?”
Sven shook his head: “Amelia, they don’t act like humans. You just got asked by those guys to be the first human to be in the USM Navy. You’re about to make global headlines no matter what your decision is.”
My dad choked a little. He was expecting me to take a little longer to make my decision but he had no idea how excited I was. Sure, everybody on Earth knew which station Starside was –that was where Mel resided– yet we never considered a human, save the ambassador, to make it there. It was only for the best of the best in the USM Navy. Seeing as humans were a second-class race I would change the USM-Earth relations just by showing up. It was time to show them what humans were made of.
“Are you sure?” My father asked, stunned.
“Daddy… I just got accepted into the real life Starfleet. You don’t honestly think I’m going to turn them down?”
He smiled sincerely before circling around the table and giving me a bear hug. I wasn’t a very ‘huggy’ person so I just acted as a plank when he wrapped his arms around me. It hadn’t really fazed me how big a move to space would be. It seemed to unrealistic at the time. But if it was going to happen, it was going to happen damn soon. We didn’t even have time to relax that day, after listening to all the messages sent to us it was nothing but go.
The next five goddamned hours of me and my father’s life was spent answering calls from the usual places like the White House, Darwin Enterprises and an android who would organize how I got to Starside. The day had really changed rapidly for us yet the whole situation was still very surreal. Geraldine had given up on having a presence after the fourth call and went to clear his head. I know I was not his daughter, but the move was really going to affect him too. He did not love moi, but the thought of me moving still stressed him out. What really scared my father was that I was at a naval academy which was a major target for enemies of the USM.
We had a great talk with the Russian ambassador for Earth, Karina Asimov. She kept telling me about how screwed I was going to get by publicity. Anything that had happened in my past was apparently going to rise up again and Sven agreed with her on that one. She would know.
When it was first learned that Karina had an affair on her husband in university the media went insane. Her husband explained ‘they were on a break’ at the time and he was okay with it, but the media wasn’t just going to give up on a good story. They tortured her with it. A part of me felt that Karina would not have been treated that way if she was a man. Reporters loved scandals surrounding powerful women more than the loved scandalous stories about powerful men.
“…and another thing, Ms. Hollow. Have no sex between the time this call ends and the time you go to Starside. Paparazzi are going to be stalking your house and Darwin Enterprises for the next month, you don’t want to give them anything to work with.”
“Err… Thank you Mrs. Asimov.”
“Don’t worry Karina. I’ll be telling her all about those things later.” Sven joked before squeezing my shoulder, telling me ‘he wasn’t joking’.
Karina looked down for a moment to check the time on the side of her own hologram control panel.
“Sven, you know how much it costs to have these conversations so I don’t need to explain why I’m signing off early. Good luck Ms. Hollow, make Earth proud or die trying. Did you get the itinerary for Starside sent to you? You must be organized, you depart in one month.”
“Yes ma’am, no need to worry.” I tried to reassure her but she did not seem amused.
“Sven… I trust you will get her prepped for all of this. She’s too young to understand how important her presence is on Starside to both the USM and Earth. Take care.”
She rolled her eyes before reaching to the side and the transmission ended. I slumped in the chair and looked at my father hoping for an explanation. She was a strong, organized, powerful woman who represented Earth better than anybody else besides my father ever could… and dear god she was a bitch. She had set herself up to think I was going to fail and was probably already preparing her statement to the press on the matter… I see why my father nominated her. If humans went to war with another civilization she’d end it immediately with a snap of her bony fingers.
“Can you believe this?” I asked my father with a sigh.
“This is just the first day.” He laughed with a hint of anxiety. “For the next two weeks we will be taking these calls daily and then when you leave for Darwin Enterprises you’re going to every press conference they can arrange.”
“If I die before I go to space you know why.”
“Amelia, this may be the hysterical part of me speaking, but how are you not freaking out?” He asked with a slight twitch to his right eye. He was blowing up inside.
There was a loud beeping noise and the small screen on the panel informed my daddy we were getting another call. He sighed before hitting the answer button. Who could it be this time?
Cameron Vis Homen’s image was projected on the table. He was in his usual grey and black USM Naval uniform with his matching grey cap and earpiece like my father’s. It was a translator so that all USM workers could understand each other. My father had not bought me one yet so I just had to read the translations on the small screen while they talked.
Like moi, Cameron almost looked exactly like our father except the fact his skin was a sickly green and he had orange/red hair. His silvery/grey eyes seemed to sparkle more than a human’s. It made him just look like he had puppy eyes on all the time… Really, I don’t know how he looked like my father. He just did.
“Hello!” He said in his best English to try and please me. He may have been half human but his mother Della had never bothered to teach him English so the language was very new to him. He really sounded German for some reason.
I could tell he was calling from the Titonic’s public phone. Other staff occasionally came into view when they walked past him and man, talk about diversity. Some looked like the creatures from Aliens while others were Wookiees from Star Wars. The only thing they all had in common was the uniform.
I felt very out of the loop when my father and brother talked because although Cameron could understand me due to his earpiece, I had no idea what he was saying.
“Hang on one second.” Sven said as he fumbled in his jean pocket until he pulled out his earpiece that resembled a hands free phone except there was a long wire wrapped around it. He uncoiled the wire and carefully started pushing it into his ear. The earpiece only worked when it was hooked up to his brain. It was very efficient, yet horrible to witness when he put it in.
“Hello Cameron. And how’s the Titonic?” My father asked cheerfully. He always loved chatting with his son because on Earth it was rare for young men to contact their parents so often. Luckily, Cameron was raised on Hashtish 4 where your parents were basically your best friends. He had felt very separate from his mother when he went to the naval academy (he was the first human cross-breed to make it into Starside but seeing as his birth certificate said he was raised on Hashtish 4 he wasn’t technically considered a human. Although it was clear he was still treated unfairly because of his father from a second-class planet) so he always called Sven who had more context for what he was going through. His mother was the Hashtish Alliance ambassador which meant she didn’t have much experience with the USM Navy. Politics was her forte. Sven had gone through plenty of hard-core training before he became an astronaut back in Europe and got what his son was complaining about. I was about to go through the training myself so he was going to have to listen to my complaining too.
“It’s fine. Not sure if I’m ever going to get promoted even though I trained to be an officer.” He giggled pitifully. “I’m too distracted all the time because I only get five hours of sleep before my next shift. I know because I’m a harsnic that I’m supposed to only need three hours anyway, but I believe the human side of me wants its rest.” Cameron replied in Kestern; a common language in the Hashtish Alliance.
Sven laughed. “Yes, humans get very distracted when we get sleep deprived. Is your superior still Officer Geignovats? Ask her for a shift off so you can catch up on the well-deserved rest. They really want you to be at your best all the time so it would be best to request your shifts to be more spaced-out so you have more rest in between.”
The harsnic did not like that idea: “But Ensign Davlos is on the same shifts as me at the moment. We work well together. I don’t want to lose that. I think he’s the closest thing I have to a–”
“The drama!” I cried sarcastically as I read their conversation off the small screen. Cameron obviously was not aware of how much work we had to do that day and could not have chosen a worst time to call.
Cameron looked to the side where I was probably being displayed on his hologram. He smiled sweetly and nodded. I had learned over the years that he was actually afraid of me. On his planet I would be considered very loud and obnoxious (I was considered that on Earth too) and that wasn’t looked well upon. Because I was his sister he understood that some people were just like that. – Crazy and loud.
“Well Amelia. I’ve heard the news and I must say congrats.” He smiled. “Guess what ship you’re taking to get there?”
“Oh my.” I said after reading the translation. “I’m taking the Titonic aren’t I?”
He nodded. “Oh yes you are. All the new cadets get to experience a USM Naval ship first-hand when they get accepted. That way they know what they’re in for.”
“Are you going to meet up with me when I catch a ride?”
“Uh huh.” He nodded speedily like an energetic chipmunk. “I’m the one picking you up off Earth. I volunteered to tour you around the ship.”
“Aw. I get to be your annoying little sister finally and embarrass you in front of all your friends.” I ‘joked’. Cameron knew very well I wasn’t joking and blushed.
His expression went from happy to more solemn in an instant: “Heh… Yes. Then there’s nobody to embarrass me in front of.” He joked in his species brutally honest way. My father’s smile dropped into a frown. It was not nice knowing your child wasn’t getting along with everybody else.
“Amelia can you leave for a couple of minutes? I’ll call you back in soon.” Sven said. He wanted to talk to his son about why he had no friends. Even I knew Cameron was a great guy so I could not understand why he wasn’t getting along with others.
I decided I needed to annoy Geraldine in the kitchen where he was baking some sort of French pastry and miserably failing at it. It was either a deflated croissant or some sort burnt gingerbread man… How do those two have any similarities whatsoever? Ask Geraldine, he made it.
“So, how’s the planning going?” He asked as he poked the pastry with a fork like it was a dead animal.
“Good. We’re taking a break and Sven’s talking to Cameron. The poor little guy apparently has no friends or something.”
“Oh no! Not Cameron!” He gasped as he dumped the lifeless pastry into the trash. He did not know my brother very well because he disliked his mother but he knew the harsnic was a good boy.
He washed his hands in the sink and was about to reach for a tea towel when I grabbed his wrist. He jumped a little but I had seen something I didn’t want to see. We made eye contact as I turned his arm and saw two little red holes just below the inside of his elbow. – The common trace of dusk.
Yes, after cocaine vanished from the face of the Earth during he-who-shall-not-be-name’s presidency, the situation got worse and people wanted something more. Dusk was small mixture of meth, peyote and a large amount of a newly discovered moss found in the deepest parts of the ocean which was similar to marijuana except a little harder on the body. Dusk had nearly killed Geraldine and that’s how my father and Geraldine really got to meet the night after they first ‘met’. He was having a seizure in the bathtub from the dusk and Sven was the one who saved him and then spent two days in the hospital with him. Not exactly romantic seeing as Geraldine was a hooker at the time and on dusk, but it’s always a fun story to tell at dinner parties. My father never wanted him to touch dusk again because it was just too hard on his system but apparently Geraldine was willing to break that promise just to get another taste.
“My father’s going to be so pissed when he finds out.” I hissed.
With a tug, he managed to pull his arm away and continued to wash the scorched tray. His head down. Not like he was ashamed, more annoyed that I had found out.
“Amelia. This is between me and him. Don’t get involved.” He muttered.
“I will get involved if you don’t tell him.” I said sharply.
I was very defensive of my father’s feelings. My first promise to Geraldine when I was five was that I would take away his manly bits if he hurt my daddy… I stand by that. I like Geraldine but nobody hurt my father.
“It was just night when you were both out… I’m waiting to tell him after you leave. He already has enough on his plate I don’t want to overload the poor man.” He lied. I doubted that he had only done dusk once in the past few years. It was not something you got a needle for just to do once.
I rolled my eyes. The last time me and Sven had gone out and left Geraldine alone was a week ago when they were playing the adaptation of Burroughs’s The Lost Continent at the theatre in Laramie. He had had plenty of time in the seven days after to tell him!
“Sweetie?” Sven called down the hall. I glared a Geraldine one more time before leaving, just to make sure he knew it wasn’t over.
I returned to my father and Cameron in the holo communications room. Obviously things had gotten quiet between them which was why they wanted me to come back in. Despite his kind not having the power to flat-out lie; Cameron probably had not wanted to tell his father about issues in his social life. He was very reserved when it came to people that he were not his family and probably hadn’t been making much of an effort to make friends. Also having his father from a second-class planet had really affected how others treated him. Most aliens from first-class planets did not take well to any creature below them. My father would have nagged him about putting himself out there more and proving himself to the other before remembering it was his own fault that Cameron was treated differently and going quiet.
“Say goodbye to your brother.” Sven asked when I took my spot back next to the translator screen.
“I will see you in one month. You like the term ‘beam me up, Scotty’ right?” I perked up despite the glum atmosphere. “Well, we will beam up to the Titonic.”
The harsnic was trying to please me and oh, I was very pleased indeed. So pleased I could not help retain the strange animalistic squeal that escaped my lips. Both looked at moi as if I was a dying weasel.
“Yes Cameron.” My nodding was hasty. “I’m glad even your kind knows that quote.” I choked. Don’t cry, don’t cry, for the love of God you better not cry!
“Well… Bye, bye!” He said in shaky English. Me and my father waved goodbye before he ended the call on his side. Once Sven was sure the message was over he dropped his head and sighed.
“So, why is he a loner?” I asked, unconcerned to how my father was feeling about the situation.
Sven shook his head solemnly. “Cameron’s a shy boy, you know that. Apparently he misheard an order and accidently put the ship into DEFCON 2 mode. He believes he misheard the order due to his exhaustion. But now he’s afraid to talk to anybody because he thinks they’re still mad at him.” My father sighed. “And of course they won’t forgive him easily… first-class aliens just wait for the lower class kids to slip-up so they have more reasons to hate them. Cameron tries so hard to please people, but they just knock him down. Poor kid, look after him when you get up there.”
“Will do… How did he activate DE–”
I walked around the table and gave my father a hard pat on the shoulder. I knew he worried more about Cameron than he worried about me because he felt useless when Cameron wanted help. Also, I was basically a crazy obnoxious girl who was incredibly outgoing so my father didn’t worry about me making friends. Cameron probably did not like being compared to his little sister when it came to our social lives so I hoped Sven had not brought it up even though I was sure he had. I’d told him that Cameron had to figure these sorts of things out on his own; nonetheless my father was not willing to accept that seeing as he already felt plenty of guilt about missing out on his child’s life.
We spent the rest of the night taking calls and planning what we were going to do in the final two weeks I had in the mansion. All the time I was thinking about whether Geraldine would tell my father or not that he had injected himself with dusk. Once I left there would be nobody else on Earth who knew he had (besides whomever he had bought it from) and he would get away with it. I would have been the definition of a tattletale if I had told on him. Plus I did have to agree that times were pretty hard on my father at the moment and I wasn’t sure if he could handle it. It was hard to tell why he was so stressed. He had been to space, his son lived in space and so it was not a very foreign place to him. I was willing to accept his stress for the time being seeing as it had been less than twelve hours since we got the acceptance message and everything was still sinking in. If he was going to be like this for the next two weeks I was probably going to ‘accidently’ serve him something in his food that would calm him down… But not dusk.
“Okay.” Sven began. We were sitting in the lounge next to the fake fireplace while he read over the notes on the tablet. “So, you’re only allowed to take a small duffle bag filled with your property. Most necessary items will be provided for you –e.g. sanitary and bathroom supplies– and you are required to wear your cadet uniform at all times whether you are at Starside Academy or not. The duffle bag you are allowed to take to Starside is coming in a package tomorrow so you may begin packing…” He was only reading the important bits so he skipped some lines and used his finger to swipe the tablet and move the page up. “Apparently it would be wise to not take valuable items and it would be better to leave them in either a storage facility or a relative of whom you trusts house. Plus, you have no need to take your cell phone seeing as you will have no connection.”
I was not really listening. The book I was reading on my tablet was much more entertaining than listening to what had already been said a dozen times. “Can I take my cell phone anyways?” I asked without looking up from my screen.
“I guess. But–”
“Good. I have a saved game of Tetris on it and I’m not letting go of it now.” I smiled. Sven was not as amused, but he knew humour was my way of dealing with stress. He sighed like a teenager before letting his eyes wander to the edge of the tablet to check the time: 12:45am.
“You need some sleep. According to your brother you don’t get much sleep in space so get it in now.”
I rolled off the couch and hit the floor casually before standing up. I usually got to bed in the 1am range, nevertheless my father was right. Cameron had looked exhausted and I didn’t look very pleasant when I had bags under my eyes all the time.
“Night.” I kissed my father on the forehead before strolling out of the room. I secretly looked back once to see how he acted when he thought I wasn’t looking. He was sitting up properly now with his head in his hands. Not crying, just being a stress monkey. I wanted to go back and give him another one of my ‘comforting’ pats on the shoulder, but I decided against it because it was best not to embarrass him. Instead, I went took two stairs at a time and flew into my bedroom.
I did not actually get much sleep that night. At 3am it suddenly hit me that I was going to Starside Academy. Then I just lay on my back and stared up at the ceiling thinking ‘holy shit I’m going to Starside’. What bothered moi most was thinking about how I was going to break it to my friends… and my boyfriend, Aiden Wyle. I only had two weeks before I was going to Darwin Enterprises in Washington D.C. where I most likely would not be able to contact them. Aiden would be the hardest to tell because even though he was really cool with most things I did, he was emotionally invested in our relationship and really thought it was going somewhere. Lord, he was so cheesy right? But hey, I loved the guy. I liked him so much I had even tried to lose my virginity with him. Well… I say ‘tried’ because he was very ticklish and it was hard to have sex with someone who couldn’t stop giggling like a child. Nobody understood why a tough emotionally-detached girl liked a sensitive nerdy guy like him. I guessed I liked boys who were the direct opposite of me or something. My greatest fear was that he would cry when I told him.
Crap I’m a horrible friend and girlfriend. I kind of spaced calling any of them to plan a get-together because we were so busy in the first week. It was only on the Sunday that I actually got them all together at the mall (no, I didn’t like shopping. It was just an easy place to get to) so I could break it to them. I wanted to tell Aiden privately, but there wasn’t time for that because my father expected me back in four hours so we could do more ‘gleeful’ organizing.
I did not have much time to keep a social life in between schoolwork and sport so the friends I had were the loyal ones. Tanya and Elisa were actually both in my hockey team which is why I got to see them so much and Kim –who was actually Kimberly but hated her full name– was my ‘math buddy’ in class seeing as she worked faster than a calculator. – Strict Chinese family, you know how it is. Well, that’s unfair because she was also Hawaiian. Meh, she had a Chinese tiger mother which was where the strictness came from.
And then there was Aiden, with his soft brown hair, green sweater vest and leather loafers. Some of the boys at school laughed when they saw us because I was just over six feet tall and he was barely 5’7. Not like we cared, because shortly afterwards I would be beating those boys up in the parking lot. Yeah, there was a kind of gender-swap in our relationship. He was more of a Yin guy while I was Yang. I only say this because Kim thought it would be hilarious to buy us promise necklaces and she gave me the black side while he got the white. She said we could swap them, but we never did. Just every time someone asked I would explain how it meant he was a part of me or some crap like that which is why I had his side… and then they would meet the boy and understand.
Here they all were. My dearest friends all on the bench in front of the indoor fountain, laughing at Tanya who had been laughing so hard that soda had come out of her nose. – Idiots. No, I did not actually think they were idiots. They just preferred to laugh at the strangest things.
I clapped my hands together to get their attention. “Okay guys, so who is ready to hear the big news?”
All four of them looked at each other before Tanya shrugged and Kim nodded. “Sure.” Tanya said. “Is it bad news?” Elisa asked.
“No.” I reassured her. “It’s not bad news depending on how you look at it.”
“That sounds like bad news.” Aiden joked. I didn’t make eye contact with him. He was going to be the one I hurt the most.
I probably should not have done this but I decided to get all my news out in one breath. “Well a week ago I got accepted into Starside Academy so I’m moving there at the end of this month which is in three weeks but I gotta leave Wyoming in one week.” I blurted out.
It felt as if the whole mall went quiet for a moment. They all sat in silence with blank expressions as their brains tried to process what I had just told them. I could not tell if they had actually misheard me or were in shock. Personally I hoped it was shock because I hated repeating myself.
“Yowza.” Elisa said placidly. That was kind of her one-liner that she used whenever she was surprised. It was the appropriate time to use it I would say.
“What the fuck is Starside?” Tanya asked bluntly.
“A giant USM outpost in the Dalowit System, it’s a couple light years from here.”
“Of course it is.”
“You’re going in a week?” Elisa asked with a strain in her voice. She did not know how bad I was feeling about giving them so little notice but I hadn’t had a chance earlier.
“Yeah. Sorry I couldn’t tell you earlier. I’m lucky to even be with you guys right now.” I explained defensively. “Apparently space travel requires a lot of planning and time especially when it’s all crammed into four weeks.”
“So have you only had four weeks’ notice?”
“Yeap. At the end of the month I’m hopping on a spaceship and going away.”
“For how long?” Tanya asked with annoyance in her tone. – I was going to miss her birthday which was happening in just over a month.
I opened my mouth, but no words came out. Being in the USM Navy was kind of a lifetime job. “Err… Quite a few years… A couple of decades.” I mumbled.
“This better not be a fucking joke.” Tanya growled. “You’re a sick bastard if this is a joke.”
“I can promise it’s not a joke.” I thought for a moment with a raised eyebrow. “Well… it could be the USM version of a joke, but not mine. Keep an eye on the news. I should be making headlines soon.”
All of them were looking at me as if they expected me to burst out laughing and tell them it actually was a joke, but I didn’t. Neither Aiden nor Kim had spoken a word so it was finally time to ask for their thoughts… I was going to ask Kim first because I feared Aiden’s response.
“And what do you think Kim?”
Kim; the only girl to have ever successfully pinned me to the ground in Kung-Fu. Sure, I was terrible at martial arts. However I found this rather annoying seeing as she was almost half my height, but that made us more competitive with each other.
“Stars don’t have sides. They’re spheres.” She said icily.
“I’m aware of that.” I muttered.
She smiled. “But I’m actually really proud of you. A part of me would love to go there but I didn’t have the athletic skills to even apply. How did you apply by the way?”
Oh, bless her blue plaid dress (no, I’m not religious, but I’ll bless her anyways). At least somebody wasn’t panicking. I could always count on Kim to not freak out; she was too smart to panic. Of course she was the only other person who knew what Starside Academy was. She was the kind of girl who would love to exceed all other humans by going to that academy.
“Well Kim, you don’t apply. They just randomly select you I guess.”
Kim was not amused by the answer because it felt like she had little control over her education and career if it was all random selection. It was not actually random and apparently I was the top student in the world, but I was not going to tell her that. I’m not really sure if that was even true and maybe the USM had lied to moi because they had ulterior motives.
Finally I looked to my boyfriend. He was just staring at the floor.
“Well should we all go grab smoothies and talk this through a little more?” I suggested. That way there wouldn’t be an awkward silence between us and more of a suckling noise.
We sat on the rail on the outdoor roof garden for quite a few hours. It was nice. None of them were pressuring me for questions or complaining about Starside Academy. They were simply enjoying what they knew would be our final day together as a group. Kim would not hang out with Elisa and Tanya once I was gone because she was closer to me than she was to them and Aiden, well… I didn’t know what Aiden was going to do. Hopefully find another lovely girlfriend who he would give himself up to because he had built up a level of trust like he had with me. He was such a shy boy. The reason we got together two years back was because I sympathetic for him on prom night. A chunk of students had gotten together and voted in poor Aiden as prom queen… and then when the red-faced boy got on stage they dumped pig’s blood on him. Yeah… that had been a pretty bad night. After Tanya and kicked the crap out of the leader of the horrible scheme, I took the sobbing boy away from the prom. I would have taken him straight home, but he did not want his parents to find out so I took him back to my place first. After I leant him some of Sven’s clothing, I released my inner geekness and showed him a few episodes of Star Trek and Unnatural while he calmed down. He was incredibly patient with moi which is probably why I fell for him so quickly.
“Do you know how we’re going to call you once you leave?” Elisa asked, staring out at the parking lot below and wondering what would happen if she spat.
“Hey, I’ll be lucky if I’ll even be able to call my Sven and Geraldine.” I laughed fearfully.
“Dude that is so not cool. You sure the acceptance message wasn’t just spam mail? They could just want your credit card number.” Tanya joked.
I smiled, considering it for a moment before shaking my head. “No, it isn’t. We just talked to the head of Darwin Enterprises and the Secretary of State’s assistant. Unless the government is in on the conspiracy I doubt it.”
“You never know with this fucked country.” Elisa muttered before going back to chewing on the straw of the green smoothie.
“True.” I agreed before realizing the time. It was nearly six and Sven expected me home at seven and I still hadn’t talked to Aiden. I looked at Tanya and did a sort of head cock in Aiden’s direction so she would understand that I needed to talk to him.
“Hey guys we should leave the lovebirds alone for a bit.” Tanya stated as she swung her leg over the rail and hopped back onto the roof. “We’ll have a group Skype chat later on this week before she goes. Won’t we, Amelia?”
I joined her on the right side of the rail. “Not a bad idea. It may have to be around midnight when my father frees me from the organizing hell.”
Elisa and Kim joined the two of us but Aiden stayed on the rail. He knew he had to stay behind no matter how much he didn’t want to. We still had not spoken properly even though he had warned me earlier that my straw had come out of the cup and fallen off the roof. He was more mysterious than a woman!
“Later. You guys rock by the way if that wasn’t made clear by the fact I hang out with you every week.” We had a small group hug. This was the last time we would meet face-to-face so I did not mind hugging on this one occasion.
“Later loser.” Kim joked. “Enjoy being the first human at Starside Academy or whatever.”
“If you had told me earlier I would’ve gotten you a going-away gift.” Elisa moaned. I gave her a hard pat on the back.
“No need.” I reassured her. “I’ve got to live out of one duffle bag for the rest of my life so I probably can’t take anything cool, just a lot of gifts for my new ‘space friends’. Yeah, I’m taking a lot of souvenir Ray-Ban sunglasses to space. I don’t know why, it just seems like the right thing to hand out to aliens.” I joked despite the fact I actually was taking Ray-Ban sunglasses to Starside Academy.
“Oh lord, stop rubbing the fact that you’re rich in everybody’s face! Who hands out cool sunglasses as stupid souvenirs?” Tanya exclaimed.
I raised my eyebrows smugly. “I do.”
“Oh whatever. See you around… or not.”
What a blow to the gut that was. But I just smiled at her remark before giving all three of them another hug. That was the good thing about the girls I chose to hang out with; they did not get all emotional.
I watched them all the way to the glass doors of the elevator. They waved goodbye as the elevator moved down and until they were out of sight. Wow, my best friends had just left and I was never going to see them in the flesh again. I felt like I should have done more with them. I would’ve used my savings to get them a trip to New York, but I had already planned with my father that all of my own money would go to some child fund I cannot recall the name of. The USM only took credits as currency so I would not need cash anyways.
I turned back to Aiden. He had his back to me and was staring out at the parking lot. He was hell when he was dead silent. I knew he was shy, but usually there was always a smirk or giggle from him when I cracked a joke. Now he was quiet. If he was trying to give me the silent treatment because I was leaving him behind on short notice while I moved onto greener pastures, then I was supposed to understand, though I didn’t want to end on bad terms with him. I did not like expressing my feelings, but he needed to know that I really cared about him.
“So,” I jumped over the rail and took a seat next to him, he shuffled away a bit, “how are you?”
It was all I could come up with.
“W-what?” He shook his head, astonished. “You just came out of the blue and told me you’re leaving forever. How do you think I’m doing?”
“Great, I would suppose.” Shit, he was mad at me. “But hey, it was pretty out of the blue for me too. What would you have liked me to do differently?”
“Never taken me to your house that night. That way we wouldn’t have been together and I wouldn’t have fallen in love with you.”
Every word was like I knife stabbing into my chest. He was mad, I got that. But he didn’t need to be mean or anything. It was not my fault I got into an academy I never applied for. What was I supposed to do, stop being good at everything?
He realized how what he said had come out and decided to re-write his words. “I… I didn’t mean that. But… You know?”
“Yeah.” I sighed. “I do know.”
“It’s just kind of…”
That was how we learned to communicate. He was not much of a talker so I just had to predict the end of most of his sentences. It greatly confused Geraldine and Sven when he came over to dinner because we would both be laughing so hard at something even though we hadn’t told them what we were joking about.
“This is it, isn’t it?” Aiden asked after a short amount of silence. He knew the answer I had to give him already.
“Heh… I guess it is.”
He let out a small laugh as if he was in hysterical pain. “Wow.”
The sun was almost setting behind us. Though the clouds some stars could be seen far in front of us and all they made me think of was ‘Starside’. Kim was right, it was a stupid seeing as stars did not actually have ‘sides’.
“Hey, do you think that if you had chosen to stay that we would’ve…” Aiden drifted off.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to know. You’re going to find a kickass girl who’s a lot nicer than moi and marry her. Then you’ll never look back.”
“Fuck my future.” I scoffed. “You get to be happy. I’m going to get early stress-marks in space.”
He laughed. “What if you meet a sexy alien dude?”
I punched his shoulder. “There is no such thing as sexy in space, darling. If it makes you feel better, you’ll probably be the last serious relationship I have… Actually, make that the last relationship!”
“That doesn’t make me feel better at all.”
He kissed me. If it had been the end to a romantic drama the sun would’ve set right at this moment, but it was our luck that we heard the crack of thunder in the distance. I then had a graphic vision of us both getting struck by lightning in mid-kiss and quickly pulled away from him.
The mall hadn’t quieted down. A new horror movie was being released at midnight so more people were actually going to be coming in. In Laramie the mall basically had everything from the theatre to a bed store. The ‘Mighty Mall’ killed all the other businesses within a one mile radius and probably a little further. That was the way since 2235 when a chain of Chinese malls were opened up in America that literally killed thousands of small businesses. But hey, globalization had basically killed all businesses that could not handle the heat. That was what first put the USA on edge because certain people felt we had too many immigrants coming in that didn’t take jobs, just destroyed them. President Kathryn Santos –who was also the first Latina president– was in the White House at the time so she was not going to take any shit on immigration seeing as both her parents were immigrants and she let it happen. Instead of pulling a Sweden and closing off the borders, the USA just became one hell of a mixing pot and that didn’t make a lot of rednecks happy. Guns had to be banned from civilians when the number of shootings that went on in foreign churches increased. It wasn’t just Muslims taking crap anymore; anybody who wasn’t white was screwed. Sad that America could fall so low, but the issue was going to come in full force eventually. It was good that Kathryn was president at the time because she got the issue sorted just before another Right Wing president was brought in.
(As I said earlier, yes, Sweden did close its borders to immigrants for a hundred years. Not because they hated other countries, they just wanted to keep out the Finns mainly. By 2808 it was sorted even though some countries like Finland were mad at them for doing a thing like that. Don’t get me wrong; the Finns are not bad people. They are just too kind, friendly, humble and all these terrible things.)
A part of me wanted to hold Aiden’s hand as we walked through the mall while the other part said ‘hell no’. It was best not to lead him on again see as we had basically just broken up. But we were much closer than boyfriend and girlfriend. We were friends; there was a bond between us that wasn’t even romantic. I would not be jealous if I came back in ten years and he had a wife. I would probably high-five him and say ‘good job’. I think he knew that too. Romance was only the tip of the iceberg in our relationship.
I drove my personal shuttle home, the one my Sven had bought me for my sixteenth birthday. Aiden and I had departed on good terms, just a simple kiss on the cheek and then I left. It was a little past seven so no matter what Sven was going to be in an anxious mood. When he had gone on his first mission to space it had taken almost two years to plan and the USM had given us one month.
I was not a very focused driver. There was a little on my mind at the time and I accidently went a little higher into the atmosphere. I had to quickly pull back down because the police had tracked all shuttle activity in the sky and they could probably see how high my shuttle went. I suppose it would not matter much longer seeing as by the time I got a ticket I would be either in Washington D.C. or space. That would mean Sven and Geraldine would have to deal with the ticked, but not like they would complain.
The shuttle was a little shaky when it landed in the garage. Despite being only two year sold it was already outdated and seemed kind of rinky dink. Sven had wanted to buy me a new one last Xmas –formally known as Christmas– but I refused, it’s funny how you get attached to the stupidest things. But my LFA V04 (I called her Liffy) had been very understanding of my landing techniques like when I let her accidently grazed her on the trees or the roof of the garage. A few days before Geraldine had joked about how many scratches the spaceships I controlled would have. I had not laughed because I was still annoyed with him about the whole ‘dusk’ incident.
Sven had been pretty ignorant about the situation as he usually thought of me and Geraldine having a rocky relationship. We officially first met when I was two when my father came back from Kingston with him. Our maid, Deanna, who had also been a dear friend of Sven’s since he hired her four years before had been looking after me in the two months my father was absent. My grandparents in Sweden had insisted I come and stay with them instead, but I demanded to stay with Deanna (or ‘Dee’ as I called her). I greeted Geraldine formally with a handshake instead of a hug despite the fact my father had said he was going to be in our life for a while. At that time I liked it just being me and my father and didn’t want any of his attention taken away from mine. Eventually I came to understand that Geraldine was going to be staying even if I didn’t like it, so after a few months I finally accepted him even though I never called him ‘father’.
“Where have you been?” Sven’s voice was strained. He had been making at least twenty-five calls a day on no sleep so I could see why. “Have you realized that you’re only leaving in one week?”
I gave him a pat on the shoulder as I walked past him. “Take chill pill Daddy-O. Darwin Enterprises has already promised that they would do all the organizing. I want you to take this week off.”
He laughed. “Please, I trust something run by the government as much as I trust a member of the Cult of Disney. They still don’t understand how the USM works, I do. And–”
“Come with me.”
He blinked a few times. “What?”
I shrugged. “Follow me.”
“Because I want to show you something.”
He raised an eyebrow in suspicion. “Like what?”
“Just come with me and you’ll find out.”
I presume he did not like the placidness of my voice but he followed. It was going to take a lot for him to relax but I had the perfect solution. He got a little confused when he was led to the lower floor where only the entertainment devices were. He presumed I wanted him to play a game with him, but I had something better in mind.
“Hurry up Amelia. I’m planning your move to Starside Academy if you haven’t noticed.”
I waved his statement away. “Oh, stop worrying. Have a little faith in Darwin Enterprises.”
“Hell no, it’s named after Clive Darwin.”
“No, Harry Darwin endorsed it and it’s in honour of Charles Darwin, silly.”
Sven scoffed. “Sure… That’s what he says.”
He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw what door we were heading to. Now he knew exactly where we were going.
“No.” He said bluntly.
“No. We’ve got a lot of work to do, darling and now isn’t the time for any movies or television.”
I did the one thing I never thought I would have to do. – Pulled the puppy eyes in hopes of getting sympathy.
“I just want to watch something with my daddy.” I said in my little girl voice. “How many more chances are we going to get to do this?”
He growled. He knew I was trying to manipulate his emotions but he couldn’t resist feeling bad. I was technically right, we weren’t going to get a ‘geek night’ anymore. And he probably would not watch all the old movies we had because it would be too painful knowing I used to be there, in the leather seat next to him, watching a movie like Wrath of Kahn on the theatre-sized screen. I hoped he wouldn’t be too lonely when I was gone, geek wise, that is. Geraldine had not realized we didn’t watch old sci-fi because of the sets, animation or acting in the case of Star Trek. It was about seeing what the people of the past thought the future was going to be like. And for me and my father it was about the bonding experience. We got joy from watching the old shows and loved talking about the characters later or joking about the plot holes. Once I was gone who would Sven joke about the plots with? More importantly, who was I going to joke about the plots with?
Even though people on Earth thought old movies and TV shows were stupid and silly (yes they were, but still) most of them at least knew what they were. The aliens up in the USM would have no idea what any of the movies or shows were. And they would probably find the shows offensive because the aliens were inaccurate to real aliens. Man, I was going to be so alone in space. Sure, I was going to be surrounded by all sorts of crazy species, but I was going to lose my human connection. Maybe my classmates would have some cool alien shows… Probably not.
Sven let out a heavy sigh. “Alright, fine. One movie or television show and then that’s it. Then we go back to work.”
“Yay!” I kissed him on the cheek before pulling him into the theatre.
He took a seat in the front row and crossed his legs casually. He was secretly was glad I was forcing a break on him, he was especially glad that his break involved spending time with me watching some rinky dink old movie.
I took my seat next to him and pulled the options panel up on the screen. “Okay, what shall it be, Star Wars, Star Trek or Unnatural?”
He looked up in thought for a moment. “Err… How about a Star Wars tonight?”
“Okay… Which one?”
“The Phantom Menace?”
“Fine, fine.” He waved the suggestion away. “Would you like to watch A New Hope?”
I smiled sweetly and nodded. “Sounds good.”
The movie began. I grabbed Sven’s arm and nuzzled my head on his shoulder. I would regret acting so lovey-dovey in the morning, nevertheless I was enjoying myself at the time.
“How did your friends take it by the way?” My father asked.
I sighed. “My friends took it really well. However, Aiden was a little mad at me because he wished I had told him earlier.”
“Exactly. But then we made up so we’re cool now.”
“That’s good… Sorry I didn’t let you out to tell him earlier.”
“It’s all good. We all ended on good terms so it didn’t matter anyways.”
“Well I’m sorry for you too.” He said honestly. “It must’ve been very hard for you to tell them. I wish the USM had given us at least a year’s notice. Sadly they don’t work that way. Things go much quicker over there and they expect us to work at their rate. Lord,” Sven sighed, “when I was an ambassador in the USM they gave me so much work, I literally had my computer filled with random crap that didn’t make any sense to me, and they expected me to get it all done in an hour.” I stared at him wide-eyed and fearful. “Sorry honey to tell you this. I know you do excellent in school and all, but Starside Academy ain’t no school. It’s going to really take it out of you.”
“Joy to the world.” I laughed.
There was silence for a moment as I readjusted the sound. If you were going to get engrossed in a movie then the sound has to be perfect.
“Hey dad, can you believe this is our last week together in this house? This really isn’t like going off to college eh? I mean… I’m only going to see holograms of you after I leave.”
My father stopped breathing for a moment before exhaling deeply. “Yeah… Let’s not talk about that. Let’s just enjoy the film and see who can recite the lines quicker.”
I smirked and punched his shoulder before settling back into my seat. It almost made me want to cry knowing I wouldn’t get to see my father every day. Even during special events like birthdays I probably would not be able to just catch up with him. I would be lucky if I could even see a hologram of him, let alone send a gift. I would miss my friends, boyfriend, the maids and Geraldine, sure, but my father… I couldn’t imagine not seeing him every day. With that thought I did not even feel like going to Starside Academy at all.
It was too late to back out now. Earth needed a stronger presence in the USM so I had to play as the military ambassador. If I could get through Starside Academy and become part of the crew on a naval ship, I would prove that humans were fit to become full members of the USM society. Earth was treated as a second-class planet because we were still seen as in a primitive stage of life because our society seemed so un-advanced both technically and mentally. My presence would prove we were not at primitive as they thought. Thinking about how much of an impact I would be making in the USM and on Earth really scared the crap out of me. If I failed, Earth would forever be seen as second-class. Even if I made it through Starside Academy the pressure would always be on, people would always just be waiting for me to slip up.
I did not sleep that night.
5: Road Trip!
Deanna did not seem to understand how long hugs were supposed to last. I presumed five seconds at the maximum but she figured they were more around fifteen. I did not resist though. She and Clara were staying at the mansion while Sven, Geraldine and I travelled to Washington D.C. to stay at Darwin Enterprises. I had never realized we had a butler until this point when I saw him standing with Clara. I shook his hand casually before looking to my father in search of an explanation. He would tell me later that we had had Derik as our butler for over a year.
“Oh darling, things aren’t going to be the same without you here.” Deanna said solemnly. “I mean, who am I going to pick up after?” She laughed.
“Ouch.” I said while clutching my chest jokingly.
Amazingly we were packing like usual. I hardly ever took much, Sven knew how to compact all he needed into one suitcase and Geraldine had three suitcases all for his clothing. But instead of packing my usual items (e.g. Computer, tablet, clothing), I was packing sunglasses. I had only brought one change of clothing as Darwin Enterprises informed us that I would be testing out my uniform instead of wearing normal clothing. Apparently I had to wear into it before it would be comfortable, plus there was an under layer they needed to test on me. I didn’t ask much about it. Apparently it was like wearing a wetsuit. – Kill me.
We were taking the family shuttle; it required the least amount of charging up before it ran. Solar power had become the cheapest source of energy which was kind of sad seeing as it was pretty expensive. The shuttle estimated that it would take at least ten hours to reach Washington D.C. if we travelled at the shuttle speed limit. The day before I had been saying how I would use that time to sleep but now that it was the day I was so energetic for some reason, sleeping didn’t seem like an option.
“I’ll see you soon.” Sven said impatiently to all of the servants as he sat in the shuttle with the hatch up. He was dialling in the coordinates into the GPS so we knew where we were heading. He was anxious to leave because if something happened and we were delayed, he still wanted us to reach Darwin Enterprises in plenty of time. I had already explained that seeing as the earliest we would get there was midnight, and the D.E. probably wouldn’t mind if we came a couple of hours later. Then his rebuttal was that we should have left even earlier so that we wouldn’t get there that late.
“Well… When you see a weird robot with a vacuum cleaner for a hand, think of us.” Deanna joked as she pointed to herself and Clara.
I was almost offended. “Hell no, you do realize you guys are way more than just the cleaners right? You two are like my surrogate mothers… And Derik, well you’re just awesome.”
Derik, the butler, nodded before his eyes shifted slightly. Our unawareness of each other’s existence had been vice versa. He thought he had been working for a childless couple, so saying goodbye had actually been saying ‘hello’. I do not know how we never ran into each other. Apparently the mansion had been big enough that we would never encounter.
Sven coughed to get my attention.
“Stop rushing me.” I growled. “I’m never going to see these guys again. I can say goodbye at my own rate.”
He rolled his eyes. I had already said goodbye to Deanna and Clara twice this morning, but for some reason it did not feel like enough. Deanna had raised me as much as my father had and Clara was like my awesome sister from East Coast. They did not get paid as much to clean the house as they did more to sit with us at dinner and start the conversations. Yes, the maids ate with us; it was a large enough table that it didn’t make any sense to send them somewhere else. This raised the question of ‘where the heck had Derik been all this time?’
Geraldine looked down at his green watch. “Yeah Amy, we should be getting going before your father starts complaining about how hard it is to fly at night.”
“Don’t call me Amy.” I said sharply. He looked a little taken back, but he knew why I was annoyed at him. The harshness of my tone even drew my father’s attention. He presumed I was stressed so he let it slide.
The shuttle ride was less relaxing than I had wanted it to be. Our dear friends at D.E. had finally sent us the re-drafted itinerary for the next two weeks up to my departure. Sven read it out and emphasised the meeting with President Harry Darwin and the interview that would be broadcast to the entire world. No pressure.
Sven wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “…Well, according to this, me and Geraldine have far too much free time on our hands. Really, it’s just you who has to do all the work.”
I punched the button on my armrest to lean my chair back. “Joy.” I muttered before closing my eyes.
“Well, would you rather come and join us on a tour of Washington D.C. instead of getting prepped for Starside?”
I hesitated, seeing his point. “Nah, I think I’ll pass.”
Silence filled the shuttle for a few minutes. None of us knew what to talk about. It was best not to discuss Starside at that moment or my father may have just jumped out of the shuttle to end the madness. However, not talking about it made it seem as if we were just putting it off.
I had been able to get in one video session with my friends before we left. Even Aiden had joined the chat which was heart-warming because I knew how badly I had hurt him. The extra fun part of the week was calling my relatives in Sweden and Germany to inform them of the news. I did not call my relatives in Finland: I was not close with them.
My great-grandmother had burst into tears and started cursing my father in Swedish. She had not been exactly happy for me. She could not believe she would probably never see her only great-granddaughter again. She wasn’t one of those stereo-typical grandmothers that wanted me to get married and have lots of children. No, she really did not care what I did with my future so long as I was happy… yet for some reason me moving to space was a bit of a stretch for her acceptance.
“Do you guys want to put on an audio book or something?” Geraldine asked. He hated silence.
“Just keep your eyes on the sky.” My father replied. Geraldine had had some ‘close calls’ in the past even though the skies tended to be pretty clear. Sadly, my father had been in the shuttle with him two of the times so he did not trust him to drive anymore. The only reason he was letting him fly the ship now was because he intended to be the one to drive when it got darker.
Geraldine shot an icy glare Sven’s way before violently twisting the steering wheel. The shuttle did a roll in mid-air before returning back to normal. My father was clasping both armrests and his feet were in brace position on the floor. For being a retired astronaut, my father still could not handle a sudden shift in gravity.
He released one of his hands from the armrest and used his index finger to push his glasses back into place. “D-don’t do that.” He stammered femininely.
Geraldine and I burst out in laughter for a moment before I remembered I was still annoyed with him and stopped. Sven was not as amused. He felt as if my move to Starside was an elephant on his chest and he did not know how to cope with it. Sven was terrified. He feared I was going to lose my life in an intergalactic war. He was sure my death was fact that was just waiting to be written into the history panels. My father would never say this to my face but I was his female clone, child, I knew these things. A part of him probably wanted me to drop out at the last moment and stay on Earth while the opposing side was proud of me. Such a conflicted man; even if I told him that I was not leaving he still wouldn’t be satisfied.
He looked up. “Hmm?”
“I beg your pardon? Did you just say ‘chill out’?” He raised an eyebrow. Obviously he had shown moi too many films from the twentieth century.
“I did.” I admitted. “But seriously you need to calm down. Everything’s going to be fine.” I said with a sincere smile.
“What are you talking ab–”
Now it was my turn to raise an eyebrow: “I know what you’re thinking. You should have a little more faith in me.”
Sven was about to object, but closed his mouth. He knew I knew him better than anyone. He just bit his lip and unbuckled his seatbelt.
“I think I’ll drive now.” He said to Geraldine who quickly jumped out of the seat. The autopilot was perfectly capable of driving us all the way to Washington D.C. but my father did no trust technology that much. The autopilot had failed him back when he was astronaut and he had not trusted an operating system to drive him since.
6: Dear God I Hate this Woman
“Oh shit.” Geraldine gasped as he went to the window. Dozens of flashing lights could be seen on the rooftop of Darwin Enterprises where we were supposed to land. We had been told our arrival would be kept a secret… That obviously was not the case.
“The motherfuckers.” Sven growled as he slowly eased his hands up on the steering wheel as we started our descent.
The window wipers continued to swish from side to side as the rain attacked the Plexiglas windshield. The weather had been horrible all the way from Laramie to Washington D.C. despite the fact it was supposed to be summer. Apparently the weather hadn’t stopped the press from coming out.
“Dad.” I moaned while looking down at my beautiful ‘Han Shot First’ shirt. “I was told that I could dress casually. What the heck is happening?”
He shrugged. “Hey, don’t blame me. I was under the same impression.”
“Oh God, I’m a mess.” Geraldine squeaked before pulling the mirror down from the ceiling to check his makeup. I rolled my eyes and pushed the mirror up again. “Relax. I doubt they came to take photos of you.”
I rolled my eyes when I saw Sven even running his hand over his hair to make sure it was all in place. “Oh come on. You ladies should stop worrying about your looks. You’re both beautiful.”
“Hey, I don’t want to be on one of those ‘troll’ websites where they make fun of celebrities just because my hair’s bad.”
“Do you consider yourself a famous celebrity?”
“Please.” He scoffed. “I’m the guy who made first contact with the USM. I think I’m well-known.”
A part of me thought that the paparazzi would jump on top of the shuttle as soon as we landed. They were only restrained by the small plastic chain running through the posts around the landing pad. On the other side of the chain were five people in long black rain jackets. Two of them were the presidents of Darwin Enterprises we had been told about in the itinerary. I didn’t know who the other three were. They were most likely the doctors I would be working with and my fitness instructor for the next two weeks. I felt bad for the guys, they had been given so little time to get all of this organized, but could they have at least gotten rid of the freaking paparazzi?
Sven took his hands off the steering wheel and slumped back in the leather seat. “Everybody smile, act natural, and we’ll get through this.” He muttered in a very unenthusiastic way.
I squinted my eyes as the doors to the shuttle opened. Non-flash incredibly high definition cameras had been invented but only on the iPhone 7005G which most measly reporters could not afford so they still preferred to use the flash cameras on their phones. I felt like bitch slapping one of the stupid reporters who was calling out my name in an attempt to get me to look at him so he could get a photo. For my father’s sake, I was tame and ignored that man yelling. The last thing I wanted was a picture of me beating up a reporter making it to Starside Academy. Sven pulled the large black umbrella out of the glove compartment and stepped out of the shuttle before putting it up. The rain battered against it as he used it to shield me from both the weather and all the reporters. He had it on a strange angle so that I was wedged between him and the umbrella.
“Walk quickly.” He murmured in my ear. My legs were long like his so I was able to stride in time. Poor Geraldine was not as lucky in his high-heel boots and got left behind in the rain.
The tallest of the black raincoats came to us first. He ran like an ostrich with his long lanky legs while his equally long arms flapped around like wings. – ‘Dork’, was the best word to describe him.
As he got closer his face became clear and his teeth sparkled when the light from the cameras hit them. His bangs were wet while the rest of his hair was dry and protected under his black hood. He had a long horse-like face with a little bit of black stubble developing. That was most likely because he had not had time to shave. Kind of hard when you’re planning an eighteen year-olds move to Starside Academy.
“Hello!” He said in an overenthusiastic voice the startled me and my father a bit. “Welcome to Darwin Enterprises. Sorry about the weather,” he laughed, “it’s not usually this bad in Washington D.C.”
“I’ve travelled to Washington D.C. many times.” My father stated in his ‘I’m-superior-to-you-in-everyway’ voice. “I know this is the usual weather.”
The man let out a meek laugh. “Well… still better weather than San Francisco.”
Both nerdy men laughed and although I did not get the comparison I joined in anyways. I’m not sure what the weather is like in your time. Global warming changed some things for us so some parts are rainier while other parts are bone-dry.
Geraldine joined us. His springy black curls had been uncoiled and drenched. He had not been wise enough to wear an extra layer and he was shaking like a wet cat.
“We should get out of the rain… and away from the press.” The man in the black raincoat suggested. “By the way, my name’s Dr. Blake Cooper.” He stuck is hand out.
At first I thought he wanted to shake hands with my father but as it turned out he was more interested in moi. It was strange that I was in the spotlight instead of my father who also seemed rather surprised that Dr. Cooper had not even acknowledged who he was. Blake was determined to get off to a good start with me so I would hopefully put out a good word for him during a press conference.
A man who I thought was a journalist stepped over the plastic chain and ran up to us. I then realized his name tag that had the D.E. logo on it. “May I unload your shuttle sir?” He asked my father who tossed him the keys carelessly. “So long as you’re taking our bags to our room.”
My father gave the trembling baggage boy a harsh pat on the shoulder. He knew he intimidated most people so he had to make sure the kid knew there was nothing to be afraid of. The guy nearly jumped as soon as my father laid a hand on him.
“Attaboy.” My father said sincerely before the baggage boy adjusted his clear plastic raincoat and jogged off to the shuttle. He was going to have a blast getting all of Geraldine’s stuff out.
The interior of Darwin Enterprises was pretty spectacular. It was already like being in a spaceship with the florescent lights bouncing off the reflective white tiles on the ground and walls. Silver frames ran down the hallways with holograms of a representative accepting awards for all of D.E.’s achievements. There was nothing humble about the place. They felt as if they had just won a place in the USM against all the countries and were rubbing it in the other countries’ faces a bit. Just having me live and train at D.E. meant they were getting stupendous amount of funding from companies that wanted their logo slapped on me. The other reason I had been told to not bring too much clothing –besides the fact I was going to be wearing my Starside uniform most of the time– was because they planned to dress me like a Barbie doll for all my press conferences with famous brands.
I spotted a 3D picture of the founding of the Russian/Chinese outpost on Mars. It was not exactly relevant to the USA, but back when Mrs. Clarke –the current co-president of Darwin Enterprises– was ‘Ms. Heinlein’ she helped setup the outpost. She was, after all, the product of the Chinese-Russia communist alliance.
“Hey.” My father pointed at one of the holograms as we walked by. “I remember when you guys won that. You got the first ‘rocket in space powered solely by faeces’ award by default when Europe’s spacecraft burnt up in the atmosphere on its trip home.” He sighed heavily, holding back laughter. “Good times.”
Don’t worry. No humans or animals were on the ship. To be safe the scientists in the primary European NASA station had only sent up two androids and a handful of other robots and for good reason. Money was lost, but no lives.
“Yes.” Mr. Clarke laughed, president of Darwin Enterprises. “One of our proudest achievements.”
I wasn’t really listening to anybody. Mr. and Mrs. Clarke seemed like great people and all, but when all they could talk about was their own corporation I could really care less. I instead examined the two women walking in front of us with Dr. Cooper. One was a short athletic blonde woman named Merissa Elway who was my fitness trainer. She had lived on Mars for a year and learned techniques to deal with different atmospheres so I liked her already. I was not sure what to think about Dr. Shea Hernandez. She was one of those women with the whole hair-in-tight-bun look. She was the perfect example of a woman who could not be defined to one ethnicity. She had an American accent yet she looked Mexican, African, with a hint of Asian in her. Her last name did not exactly define her to one ethnicity either. Even my own last name ‘Hollow’ didn’t exactly say my heritage. I looked Scandinavian, but the Hollow surname was from my German roots. ‘Hollow’ was not a German last name. During the Second World War most of our primary family members fled to the Netherlands and changed their last name to something ‘less German sounding’. What happened to the Nazi side of my family that stayed in Germany? They got their karma and were all killed when a Pinto crashed into their house during the Nazi family reunion many years later. What was a Ford Pinto doing in Stuttgart Germany in 1973? Excellent question. Sadly, there is no answer.
Shea had barely shaken my hand when we met before immediately pulling out her iPad and telling me what we had to do. I trusted her to get the job done, but her tone almost made it seem like she was annoyed about something. – Most likely me.
And not to discriminate or anything, but shaking her robotic hand had surprised me a little bit. She was a cyborg, and not like one of those cool ones from Terminator. She had lost both her leg, right arm and some parts of her skull under mysterious circumstances. She didn’t seem disadvantaged in any way which is why I did not pity her. The only reason I guessed she had a prosthetic leg was because she had a slight limp when she walked. I presumed her sharp and cold attitude was a way of protecting herself. Even in this age having robotic limbs was still not very well accepted. I was curious about how she had gotten that way, yet I was polite and would never ask such a rude question.
“This is our room.” Dr. Hernandez stated as she slid her card through the slot and the door slid up. The room had a long silver table surrounded by black leather chairs and a blue bubble in the centre that when activated would project holograms.
Mr. Clarke took a seat at the very end of the oval table and his wife took the seat next to him. Merissa raised her well-tanned arm and pointed at where me, Sven and Geraldine were supposed to sit on the left side of the table. She took the seat opposite us on the right along with Dr. Cooper and Dr. Hernandez.
Blake looked so enthusiastic that I almost fretted that he would fly from his seat and start dancing. He was the youngest in the room besides moi so I did not think he had dealt with many interplanetary assignments. It wasn’t exactly reassuring to know this. Luckily, I just had to make it off Earth before I was in the hands of the USM. Somehow I trusted the aliens to keep me safer than the humans.
“Now just to make things clear.” Shea began in a sharp tone. “The USM informed us that you are not the very best. There were ten ahead of you.” I raised my eyebrows, surprised in an unsurprised way. “Because your father was an ambassador and your brother, Cameron Vis Homen is part of the USM Navy it was figured you would be trusted more because of your family’s ties to the USM.”
Thanks Shea. Great to know I’m not the best. I muttered internally.
“However,” Dr. Blake interjected, “the NASA base in China wanted to make it very clear that they would choose another applicant to take your place if for some reason you were not able to go to Starside Academy … That’s why we’ve now got armed guards surrounding the base.”
My father and I exchanged a glance.
“But the acceptance message we got said another human would not be chosen if Amelia declined.” Sven stated.
“That is the case,” Mrs. Clarke agreed, “but it’s not like we’ve actually shared any of the messages with the rest of the world so they don’t exactly know that.”
“Maybe you should tell them that before things get out of hand.” Everyone looked at Geraldine. He shrunk like a cowering kitten in his seat and went quiet. He was the one person in the room who really had no grounds to speak on.
“Well.” There was a high pitch to Dr. Cooper’s voice. Obviously the discussion was making him uncomfortable. “It’s too late for that now. One woman has already tried to break into the room Amelia was supposed staying in and tried to plant a shrapnel bomb there.”
All three of us on the left side of the table turned sharply to look at Blake. He put his hands up defensively. “Hey, we’ve changed what room you’re staying in so it’s cool now.”
I looked to my father. He avoided making eye contact and just kept staring at Blake. Sven had already been worried about me getting killed in space, now he had to worry about me getting killed on Earth too?
“Why didn’t we hear about this before?” He snapped.
Mrs. Clarke put her hand up as if she was trying to calm an angry lion. I wouldn’t have actually been surprised if my father bit her hand off.
“Relax Mr. Hollow. Everything’s under control. We didn’t tell you because we haven’t told the press either. If they found out you imagine what would be covering the tabloids. We don’t want the bomb scare being the headline before Amelia leaves Earth. The United Nations wants this to be a bonding time for all countries as Amelia represents this whole planet… or some crap like that. Imagine people’s reactions if they thought the Chinese were terrorizing Amelia. America’s been to war with China before and we don’t want that to happen again. After all, China would kick this country’s butt.” She said, sounding proud of her Chinese heritage. – It was quite a thing to be proud of.
“Was the assassin Chinese?” I asked, sure hoping that wasn’t the case.
“No… it was a skinhead.” Dr. Cooper happily explained. “But we all know the press would twist it to sound like a Chinese agent.”
Thank god it was a skinhead. I thought. I’d much rather have one of those after moi.
My father sighed and intertwined his fingers before resting his palms on the cold metal table. He had never been more fearful for my life than he was right now. I nudged him with my sneaker under the table to tell him that ‘it was all going to be fine’. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and let a small smile slip out before his face tightened up again.
“All right, but I swear to God that if my daughter’s life is in danger then I will haul ass to Sweden where I know they will take care of her properly.”
Mr. and Mrs. Clarke’s faces paled. If they lost me to Sweden then they would lose all of their funding. And nobody wanted all the funding to go to Sweden. They might have put the money towards something crazy like helping orphans or protecting wildlife. I’m kidding, I would’ve actually preferred if they put the money towards something like that instead of moi. After all, I was just getting beamed up to the ship Titonic so they did not have to put any money into flying me to Starside. All the funding was just going towards their resources. I thought they already had pretty decent equipment. Then again, everything they owned was from Apple which meant it would be great for a few years before it gained rebellious artificial intelligence and try to take over the world. And then you’d have to take a crowbar to the machines to beat them back into submission. That was the problem with having iJobs run Apple, he was secretly an evil android who wanted to dominate the world.
Now it was Mr. Clarke who put his hand up. “Mr. Hollow. There is no need to resort to actions as extensive as that. There is no time to move Amelia to Sweden. We are running on a very short schedule to get her ready for the academy.”
“You just told me there was a bomb scare and we’ve been here less than an hour.” My father said in an exasperating voice. “Not exactly a great start. I swear if there is another threat on her life –I don’t care when it is– we are leaving.”
I gave Sven a good kick under the table. He needed to calm down or one of us would be going to Sweden and it certainly would not be me. He jumped a little in his seat when my sneaker made contact with his shin before turning his head slowly to shoot me an icy glare. I just continued to look forward at Merissa as if I was not the culprit.
“Relax guys.” I laughed hesitantly. “My father is just having a stress monkey moment.”
“I’m not having a stre–”
“Shush.” I interjected. “But I’m sure my life is safe in your… capable hands. We would just like to be informed next time there is a disturbance.”
Mr. and Mrs. Clarke nodded. They were glad I was being so reasonable. After all, it was my life on the line and not my father’s. If I wanted to trust my life to the crazy people at D.E. then I was going to.
“We don’t like being threatened like that Mr. Hollow.” Dr. Hernandez said coldly. “It feels like your trying to gain power over us by threatening to take your daughter away. Blackmail, almost. We’re the ones who have done all the planning to get Amelia to Starside and not the Swedish. Amelia must stay here but nobody is forcing you.”
Moi, Geraldine and Sven stared blankly at Shea. All I could think about was how much she sounded like Seven of Nine right then with her emotionless tone. I then realized that she had just offended my father. I had two rules: Never hurt or offend my daddy and never laugh at a joke made by Jar Jar Binks. I guess only the first rule applied in this situation.
“Listen up bitch.” I growled. Suddenly I had everyone in the room’s attention. “I’m allowed to be annoyed with my father for panicking and wanting to get me out of here, but you can’t be. You didn’t tell us there would be paparazzi when we landed and more importantly you didn’t have the decency to tell us right off that there was a bomb scare… Hell, Sweden may be too far but there’s always Canada.”
It was a short moment before I realized that I had just called Shea a bitch. I had been using that word a bit too much recently and now I was suffering the slow and insufferable consequences as I got the strangest look of anger, yet surprise from her.
“When you call a woman a ‘bitch’ it’s demeaning to our sex as you’re implying that all I’m good for is being fucked by an alpha dog.” Wow, this woman takes thing seriously. “It’s as offensive as if I were call your fathers faggots.” She spoke in such a calm voice that it was actually disturbing.
A blanket of painful silence draped over all of us. Dr. Hernandez sure knew how to shut me up. Yes, using the word ‘bitch’ was very offensive and I should’ve known better. However, there was no need to use slurs on Sven and Geraldine. I would have come back with a rebuttal but Sven’s tense body language was just telling me to leave it. We would most likely talk about it later when we were safe in our own rooms. Oh wait, my room wasn’t safe anymore, that’s right, we had to worry about bombs.
Mr. Clarke coughed quietly into his fist to clear the silence. “Well. Shall we get on with the meeting?”
We all nodded in agreement and watched as the hologram projector lit up and the D.E. logo appeared. All the time being I still couldn’t help but continue to look over at Dr. Hernandez. I wanted to try and get inside her head, see what she was thinking. She did not like moi, and God knew I hated her. Sadly, we were going to have to work together whether we liked it or not.
“Okay Amelia.” Sven threw his jacket down onto his and Geraldine’s bed with authority. “You may not be able to call that woman a bitch, but biatch is fine.”
“Sorry about that guys.” I said sincerely to both Geraldine and my father. “You two know how defensive I get of our family… I swear, if I had had time to prepare a debate on her last remark I would’ve knocked her off her pedestal.”
“It’s better you didn’t. Otherwise she could just ‘tip-off’ the next assassin what room you’re sleeping in.” He laughed with no happiness in his tone.
“In which case I would tell her that I was moving to work with Maple Corporation and the NASA base in Canada.”
Yes… the Canadian equal to Darwin Enterprises was Maple Corporation and not one joke had been made about how stereotypical the name was. It was named after some scientist called Professor Isaac Maple who lived over two-hundred years ago and created the first satellite from Canada to leave this Solar System and travel to Proxima Centauri which is the next system over. (That satellite was destroyed by the USM who had an outpost in Proxima Centauri and did not want us to discover them).Yeah, I was at the stage where I’d rather be working with Canadians than spend another minute with Dr. Shea Hernandez.
“Whoa, Amelia.” Geraldine put his hands up like I was pointing a gun at his chest. “Let’s not go that far.” He laughed.
I rolled my eyes before striding into the bathroom. I had a paranoid feeling that D.E. had rigged security cameras all through our accommodation; I wanted to check the shower so I wouldn’t find a camera a little too late. – It was clean.
“Honey.” My father was standing in the doorway. I pulled my head out of the shower and closed the glass door. “They didn’t put cameras in the shower. If I’m sure of anything, I’m sure of that.” He told me.
I was angry, angry like a freaking hormonal teenager. – What was wrong with me? I was never this emotional. I wanted to tell him about Geraldine and the dusk, how I wanted to leave D.E. and how I was just overall scared. What if my father became ill while I was in the USM, and what if he died before I could come home? No, I didn’t want to think about that.
“Amelia?” His eyes softened when he looked at my face. I wasn’t crying –I never cried– yet he knew something was troubling me. He closed the door to the bathroom and left Geraldine on the other side. “Are you all right?”
The door is soundproof. Geraldine can’t hear you, you can tell Sven all about the dusk.
“I’m fine.” My voice was strained.
My father had a small melancholy smile on his face as he wrapped his arms around me. “It’s all good, you’re gonna be fine.”
His words were comforting even though I wasn’t worried about myself. I was worried about everybody around me. Being light years away meant I was basically disconnecting myself from Earth; my home. If my father –or even Geraldine– passed away and I wasn’t there I would never forgive myself.
7: Spandex Spacesuit
First Officer (FO)
Chief of Science Officer (CSO)
Chief of Engineering Officer (CEO)
Chief of Tactics Officer (CTO)
Not Applicable (NA)
Primitive, opinionated? Is their information recorded on humans from Neanderthal times?
“What the hell?” I turned the tablet around and showed Dr. Cooper. He was the one who had given me the list of dub crews. I was going to give the USM the benefit of the doubt and presume the actual version of the list had gotten lost in translation. There had to be a better word than ‘opinionated’ to describe moi.
Dr. Cooper stepped away from the counter and looked closely at the list. He raised his eyebrows when he saw the information provided on me and shrugged. “The ‘primitive’ thing is because humans are considered underdeveloped compared to other civilizations the USM deal with. Also, it is considered a ‘primitive trait’ to have five fingers instead of four for some reason; not your fault that one.” He joked. We couldn’t control how fast we evolved. “This is the first year they are accepting minorities from second-class planets to be trained as the top officers which is why the notes seem to be biased about all the cadets.” He explained. “I’m not sure why they said opinionated… maybe it’s a typo.”
“Yeah, it better be. Do I seem opinionated to you?”
“Err… no. I don’t think so.” He lied. His poker face was atrocious. “But the USM is just going off what Dr. Hernandez told them about you.”
That biatch! I thought. Of course she would badmouth about me to the USM.
“And what’s with the ‘Hey-name’ column?” I asked, pointing at where it said ‘Am’ was my Hey-name.
Dr. Cooper smiled. He knew lots on the subject.
“Well,” he began smugly, “Mel is the ruler of the United Systems of Mel… Well obviously she is. So she was raised by Destin-Hey monks and out of respect of them, the USM shortened all names to one syllable because Hey-monks don’t pronounce more than one syllable for each word in their language. I know your name is pronounced A-me-li-a and not Am-e-li-a, but Hey-names work weirdly.”
I nodded even something still bothered me. “Wait, I thought Mel was born before time itself so how did the Hey-monks raise her?”
Blake looked up in thought for a moment. “She was born right before time started. Some say she was the cause of the big bang. And the Destin-Hey monks found her body shortly after time started when they were still evolving. They raised her as she raised them. They were the first species in the universe and they evolved into humanoid monkey things in a mere day because they were so advanced. They could see the future so they knew what they had to do to survive. They also made the first spaceship.”
“How do you know all this?” I asked curiously.
“I have a minor degree in the history of the USM.”
The first week at Darwin Enterprises had passed by swiftly. Between the constant fitness and nutrition tests run on my body I was getting exhausted. Today was more of a slow day, the day before I had had my first –and hopefully last– press conference. I was fine with public speaking, but not when reporters were asking me the most imprudent questions. One of them asked if I liked Sweden, Germany or the USA more, another asked if my body would be buried in space or not, and the greatest question of all came from a random temp who was hastily fired right after he said the final word. – He asked if I was single.
That madness was all over now. It was Wednesday and I was finally getting to try on my whole uniform. The hardest part was getting on the ‘body-glove’ under layer. I supposedly had to wear it because it would help my body deal with constant changes in gravitational pull and air pressure. Most life forms had evolved in very similar habitats. The USM had a ‘standard’ artificial environment built into all of their space stations that would support all aliens. The only problem was the gravity was pulling me to the core of Starside quicker than it would on Earth. Instead being pulled to the core of Starside at 9.8 m/s2 I was getting pulled at 15.05m/s2. Small difference? Yes, but the long term affect was very bad. If it wasn’t for the nylon-thin body glove I was wearing then I probably wouldn’t last very long. Oh yes, and it was compulsorily to wear a body-glove when we were floating around in space unless we wanted to die in the vacuum of space so that made sense. The body glove was made of an extra-terrestrial fabric Dr. Cooper just couldn’t get his head around. – It was so thin yet so strong.
The poor scientist was actually supposed to help me put on the freaking thing for the first time, but he had a strange fear of women’s body parts so I just made him turn around and put it on myself. Sure, the man could discuss the reproductive system of an alien for hours, yet when it came to Earth women his face went red like a tomato.
The body-glove came in two pieces: one top-half and one bottom. It was hard to get the thin neckline over my head even though somehow I managed. The undergarments covered every part of my body excluding my head only. No underwear or bras needed be worn under it seeing as it was both. The top and bottom halves met in the middle at my waist where the top half overlapped the bottom which went all the way to my stomach. It covered my fingers in toes in the black fabric, yet it perfectly outlined my fingernails. The USM tailors were clever when they made my suit; certain areas had thick padding stitched in meaning the body-glove was more modest than it could be. It also meant Dr. Cooper could look at me without blushing.
“Is it comfortable?” He asked as he looked at the required checklist on his tablet.
I gave it a quick test out by flipping backwards before landing with the splits. It was so unrestrained it was almost impossible to tell if it was there.
“Yeah.” I stood back up and took a seat on the counter. “So do I have to wear it all the time?”
The door slid open. “Yes.” Dr. Hernandez said coldly as came in and took the tablet off Dr. Cooper. “Except for when you are in the regeneration chamber, then you must remove it. You could only last a good month in at Starside without the suit on before your muscles started straining and your bones grew brittle.”
Shea and I still weren’t on very good terms; we were both too stubborn to talk about what had happened on the first night so instead we were just snappy with each other.
“What happens if I have to go to the bathroom or something during the day?” I asked, it sounded like a stupid question but I had to know. Then I remembered…
“Like I said, you could survive a month without the body-glove but that’s the maximum. I’m sure you won’t need more than an hour to go to the toilet.” She said exactly what I was thinking.
I hopped of the counter and took a step closer to Shea, my voice low. “What happens if… it’s that time of the month?”
She whispered back: “You’re going to be on a pill so those kinds of things don’t happen. Weren’t you listening to me when I explained all twenty pills you will be taking monthly?” She asked, as if I sounded like an absurd idiot.
Last week when Shea explained the pills I had really just tuned out. Being on a USM outpost meant I would not be getting enough of the vitamins I usually got on Earth. So once a month, me and the other cadets would sit down for breakfast and instead being served the usual, we would receive a heck of a lot of pills with a glass of some sort of liquid and a small meal because we couldn’t eat much after taking that many pills. – It was going to be a blast.
I hadn’t been aware that Dr. Cooper had even left the room, but the door on the other side of the lab slid open and he came back in with my cadet uniform. The jacket and pants were florescent white with a black outlining. They were both folded in neat little square shapes and we had no need to worry about ironing because the extra-terrestrial material it was made out of did not crinkle. Resting on top of the pants and jacket was a black belt that had pockets attached to it and a dorky cadet hat. It was also white with a black line running around it and resembled a Navy beret. The uniform was really topped-off with the black 1970s go-go boots I had to wear. Thank God they didn’t have much of a heel or my father would have never let me live it down.
“Once you put this whole uniform on you may feel a little hot and sweaty but don’t worry,” Blake reassured moi, “that’ll all change when you move to Starside. It’s freaking cold in the USM because most of the species are sensitive to heat so the rest of you are the ones who’ve got to suffer the cold.”
I picked up the white beret to feel the fabric when I noticed the elastic black ring that had been hiding underneath. I set the beret back down and instead grabbed the little band to show to Dr. Cooper.
Blake looked up in thought for a moment before snapping his fingers. “Oh yes, technically you should be cutting your hair so that it only reaches your ears. However, they’re letting you get off with tying back your hair.”
I stared blankly at him. I would have been perfectly happy with cutting my hair if it made the USM happy; I wish Blake had consulted with me first before making decisions. Maybe he had just made the assumption that I was a typical teenage girl who loved my hair. I did like my hair, but I would’ve happily cut it if I needed to.
Surprisingly it was more awkward putting on the uniform now that Shea was in the room. Sure, I was covered from the neck downwards in black fabric, but I didn’t like how she just stood there with a judgmental look on her face. Every time I accidently tried to punch my foot right through the fabric as I put on the tight spandex-like pants she cringed. She was overacting a little seeing as the spacesuit was made of an almost invincible fibre.
I pulled my hair back into a tight bun before placing the silly beret on my head. I had never looked more like Wilma Deering from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century fused with Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager, except my uniform had a freaking beret so nothing could top that.
On my limbs, chest and back were strange black dots that were like small magnets covered by a thin layer of the alien spandex. It looked odd having black dots on my white jacket in two incredibly awkward places.
Dr. Cooper noticed me touching the hard dots on my arm (I wouldn’t touch the ones on my chest) and shook his head. “Don’t worry; those little magnets are for your armour. You’ve probably seen them on your brother’s uniform when you chat with him. We do not have your armour but apparently it kicks ass.” He laughed.
With raised eyebrows I pinched one of the black dots on my arm before deciding to give it a rest, wishing I had been placed in the dub crew: Marmus (or Mar), where their uniform was entirely black and the dots would not show. The four colours for the dub crews were also the four colours on the USM emblem on the left side of my jacket. The logo looked like somebody had sliced an ‘X’ shape through one large diamond to make four small ones. Starting from the top and going clockwise the colours were red, white, blue and black. The white diamond on my uniform was only visible due to its thin black outline. The four colours looked fine on Cameron’s uniform seeing as his was grey, however none of the cadet uniforms could pull it off so easily. I wasn’t sure how those colours –let alone the diamond shape– symbolized the USM, but that was probably something I had to look up if I wanted to pass the ‘history of the USM’ class.
Dr. Hernandez circled around moi and hunted for any faults in my uniform. She found none, but wouldn’t compliment me on my tidiness. “You will receive your earpiece, wrist computer and armour on the USM naval ship: Titonic seeing as it is still being programmed.” She took a step closer to the door which slid open when it sensed her coming. “I’ll go check with Merissa if she’s ready to test you in the fitness centre with your new uniform on. I’ll get you when she’s ready.”
I was about to say goodbye, but stopped at the first word when the door slid closed behind her. An obstinate silence sat between me and Dr. Cooper. Neither of us were exactly sure what to talk about seeing as we already had a pretty awkward relationship.
“So,” I mumbled hesitated, “where are ya from?”
I figured it was the easiest question to ask seeing as certainly wasn’t American. At first I thought he was English, yet there was a different flavour to his accent that I couldn’t put my finger on.
“Err… Ever heard of New Zealand?” He asked.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “It became part of Australia thirteen years ago didn’t it?”
Dr. Cooper’s eye twitched. Behind his semi-neurotic smile was pure frustration. His grip tightened on the tablet in his hands. I was braced myself for him to snap the thing in half.
“Yeah.” He said in a voice higher than helium. “I remember that change well… because we Kiwis love Aussies and were so excited to become part of their country. That’s what we get for putting our money into healthcare, education and other crazy things like that instead of our military.”
He burst out into high, hysterical laugher for a moment before coming to his senses and giving himself a spontaneous slap on the cheek. He looked once at me, smiled, and then strode out of the room, his white lab coat flapping vigorously.
Well… That explained why he was living in the USA.
I took advantage of the empty lab to go over to the mirror and get a clear look at my uniform. It wasn’t all too bad. I did not look as stupid as I thought I would. The little inconveniently places black dots on my chest were still annoying, but everybody in the USM had them. Everything was suddenly feeling all too real. It was hard to tell if I was sweating due to the two lairs I was wearing or the realization of how close my final day on Earth was. In two days I was meeting President Harry Darwin (a.k.a. the Liberal Dictator) and then it was Saturday… and on Sunday that was it; that was my final day.
Dr. Hernandez returned shortly with Merissa following. Their laughter could be heard echoing down the hall outside, yet as soon as Shea opened the door her smile dropped and she transformed back into the dark monster I knew so well. For some reason both Merissa and Blake were good friends with her despite the fact they were both exuberant and friendly people and Shea was… well, the exact opposite.
“Where did Dr. Cooper go?” Shea asked as she looked from left to right in search of him.
I simply shrugged and shook my head innocently. “I’m sure he’ll be back soon.”
She raised her eyebrow, displeased. “You said something about New Zealand didn’t you?”
Obviously it wasn’t the first time Blake had stormed out of a room because of a discussion on the Australia/New Zealand conflict. I was only five when the whole thing happened so I didn’t really know much about it. Nobody had died so it had not been big in global news. What was more popular at the time was when Alaska was adopted by Canada in the same year before Canada became a State and we got Alaska back. Then we lost Canada again but they didn’t take Alaska with them the second time. It was like the world was playing a giant game of Risk that year except China had already won before it started. Sure, the war between the USA and China was said to have been a ‘tie’ even though we all knew which country really won. Hell, if the Nordic countries hadn’t intervened and complained to the UN the USA would be part of the Republic of China. Nobody even knew places like Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark cared about the USA (Iceland was neutral about the situation… bastards).Of course then tension between the US, the Nordic countries and China was still there however none of us could stay mad at each other. After all; there were USM aliens to deal with that really owned all of us.
“Ugh.” Merissa smacked her palm to her forehead. “Don’t talk about New Zealand with him. He can’t handle that kind of stuff.”
“That kind of stuff?” I tilted my head. “Then the fuck does he live in Washington D.C. and work almost directly for the man who does ‘that kind of stuff’?”
“Well… he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about politics here for some reason.”
“But he lives he–”
Merissa put up her hand and shook her head. “It’s just best not to question his beliefs. Hey… nice outfit, wanna go test it out?”
The fitness centre wasn’t all that big, but it didn’t need to be seeing as only moi was using it properly. According to Merissa the equipment was generally all packed away in a storage facility and the space was used for office parties. Once D.E. got the message from the USM and NASA about my arrival they quickly had to get it all back out again and call in Merissa to be my trainer. Merissa was not a part of Darwin Enterprises. For the past four year she had been back and forth between Earth and Mars teaching astronauts how to survive the conditions on Mars. Earlier in the week she had explained to me how she intended to be the first woman on Mercury. I wasn’t in a place to judge seeing I was about to be the first full-blooded human to join an alien navy.
“Right.” Merissa clapped her hands together. “So we’ve got to check how this suit affects your agility and speed.” She pointed to the air conditioning vent up on the roof. “We’re cooling this room down to simulate the environment of Starside. That is, unless you want to get all sweaty and forever have a stinky uniform.” She grinned at her own joke.
She was right, it was cold. My breath was almost visible as I exhaled through my mouth. I almost wished the uniform required some sort of ski mask, the tip of my nose and ears were going numb. I did not understand how Merissa didn’t have a jacket on. Then again, she was from Vermont and was used to the cold. I was wondering if Shea could handle the cold, but after becoming a cyborg she lost most feeling in her remaining limbs. The sleeves of her lab coat were rolled up. Her left arm had Goosebumps rising on it. She took no notice as she used her robotic right arm to work on her iPad. Poor woman, it makes you wonder what could have happened that damaged her body so severely… Wait, why am I feeling bad for her?
The course I was going on was like the badass version of a child’s playground mixed with a conveyer belt and an army crawl course. I basically had to make it to the other side while the floor moved against me on the crawl course. I’m not exactly sure when a situation like this would ever come up in the USM Navy unless they chose to conveniently send me to a planet made entirely out of conveyer belts and playground equipment. I totally kicked ass on it, though. I beat my time from my original test from earlier when I was in normal fitness gear. I’m pretty sure I beat Merissa’s time as well though she wasn’t going to tell me that.
Every part of the uniform was perfect. Even though my hands were covered by the black glove, I actually had better grip when it came to the monkey bars because of the special grip padding on the palm and fingers. It was strange how all D.E. did was send my measurements to the USM and the tailors could work it out perfectly just off the holographic version of me. It had to be hard to make every single uniform unique due to the variety in alien species. Hell, it had to be awful repairing and remaking all the uniforms. And I was going to be one of those cadets who conveniently misplaced my beret every other day and they would have the pleasure of making me a new one. C’mon, what enemy would be scared of a dorky white girl in an even whiter beret?
That’s a good question, who the heck is the USM defending the galaxy from anyways? Earth was so wrapped up in its own measly little conflicts that we had somehow forgotten to ask what we were up against when it came to the battles in space. All I knew was that the USM was usually up against someone big. From what Cameron Vis Homen told me; the leader was a neurotic woman who had it out for Mel. Apparently she had seen into space and time and wanted to change her future by killing Mel before Mel killed her. Random? Yes, but that Tamarax lady had killed a heck of a lot of USM soldiers to get her way so therapy was not an option for her anymore. My brother had never seen her before even though he had seen her henchmen and all he had to say about them was “they are huge.”
Wearing the uniform was making everything all too real. I’d become incredibly sick of being on Earth and was ready to get over to Starside and kick ass. Sure, training to be a first officer was going to be difficult, but if Riker could do it then so could I. The main concern for me was how good the rest of the dub crew: Galle was because their performance would reflect my command skills. My dub crew’s captain seemed to have interesting notes though… Did it say he was a sexist polygamist?
Oh shit, I’m screwed.
8: Meanwhile in a Place Similar to Hell…
Some women just don’t suit makeup. Tamarax was one of these ladies yet she put it on anyways. It was the last remaining shard from her life before she went insane that suggested a part of her still wanted to feel beautiful.
Alien lipstick was a little different from any human lipstick. Tamarax pulled out the strange screwdriver-like device before hitting the red button on the side of it. A small red laser shot out and stained her thin lips red like blood. She puckered her lips as she moved the laser to each corner of her mouth. One slipup and she could tattoo a crooked red smile to her face for the rest of the week.
Makeup especially does not suit a woman who has blood dripping from her nose. One of the many side-effects of looking into a tear in the space time continuum: Whenever she thought too hard her nose would bleed. She happily ignored the blood and licked it away whenever it got close to her mouth.
“Guess what’s happening in four days.” She called through the cracked bathroom door. The lights in her queen-like bedroom were off, yet she knew her companion was still wide awake. After all, he probably needed to go to a medic to treat his stab wounds. – The problem with long fingernails.
“Yes?” A muffled voice called back. Obviously he had smashed his head into the pillow and was trying to catch up on the sleep he had missed out on the night before.
Tamarax pushed the bathroom door all the way open with the tip of her nail. Light poured into the bedroom and shined directly on her poor companion’s face. His blue skin and darker blue blood sparkled in the light before he pulled the sheets up and over his face. He and Tamarax were some of the types of aliens that had adaptable bodies to survive any conditions. That’s why they didn’t have to wear body-gloves or sleep in regeneration chambers. They just slept in normal beds.
“The cadets from second-class planets are going to make their journey to Starside.” Tamarax whispered to her drowsy toy.
Her companion sat up, the sheets slid off his upper-body revealing the golden flame tattoos running up his chest and back. His silky black hair was all over the place after his restless night.
“What does that mean for you? Does it change your plans with Tak?” he asked curiously.
She smiled and shook her head. “No, not at all. Can you guess why these cadets fascinate me?”
Her companion didn’t have to think twice. “Is Amelia Hollow one of them?”
Tamarax clapped her hands together and the lights in the bedroom came on. Her companion had to squint to see properly. She sat down next to him on the bed before carefully running her sharp nail down his the centre of his chest, passing older scars as she went. She wasn’t applying enough pressure to draw blood, but she often did this to remind him just who was in charge. She sensed his fear as she did this. All of his muscles tensed.
“Oh yes, she is.” Tamarax answered after a short amount of time. “I wonder what Mel would think if I killed the girl.”
“Probably be a little upset.” Her companion joked hesitantly, finding it hard to look at her when she had luminous black blood dribbling from her nose. Actually, he always had a hard time looking at his master.
Tamarax’s companion didn’t really have a name. He just had the licence number: KC2203. He was a slave clone she bought on the black market thirty years back. Despite being a clone, he still had deep religious values like the rest of his species. The golden flames on his body represented how their alien god created their home world from the ashes of a great fire. Slavery was illegal, yet the USM didn’t have as strong of a grip on some planets in the farther reaches of the galaxy where they got away with it. Most slaves were a clone of their own merchant like KC2203, however they still had unique minds. Slaves tended to be used to do dangerous jobs like deep space mining because they could be easily be replaced if they died and didn’t have to be paid. KC2203 on the other hand felt he was treated like royalty compared to his brothers. Sure, he did not like Tamarax and feared her more than anything, yet it was nice to be on the good side of the woman who wanted to reshape time and space.
“By the way. When you reshape the universe will I still be here?” KC2203 asked cautiously.
He tried not to flinch when she kissed his cheek A line of her blood stained his cheek. “Oh… we will see.”
He laughed meekly, she wasn’t joking.
9: The Double Standards of the Liberal Dictator
Wow, for some reason I never expected to find myself in the Oval Office during the reign of a killer dictator’s son. I had no problem with President Harry seeing as he wasn’t a mass killer, but like many others I wanted him to free all the Right Wingers living in Florida. Sure, he said he was liberal and thought everyone deserved to be treated equally, except those who did not treat others equally, in which case he threw them into Florida.
Secretly it was every voter’s dream to just have the opposing side vanish to a place where they wouldn’t have to worry about their votes, but none of us wanted Clive Darwin to make that dream a reality and fuck up the States forever. It was a very sad day when the Left Wing party was acting more ludicrous than something as bad as the Tea Party. It was an even sadder day when North Korea was telling us how to run things. Sure, they were one of the most liberal countries in the world now, but it still seemed hypocritical with their complicated past and all.
One of the servants poured me some Coca-Cola before slowly backing out again. The old-style clock seemed to be making the most noise as the ticking sound echoed across the room. An unnerving noise, I was considering if I would have time to walk over to the thing, turn it off, and get back to my seat in time. Sadly, the two white doors swung open and the man himself strolled in. Four photographers, a bodyguard, and his assistant followed. It was a chaotic scene. The pressure of running a dysfunctional country seemed to be getting to poor President Harry Darwin. He was young, yet his eyes were dark and solemn and showed his exhaustion even if he did put on a good smile.
Like the rehearsal I stood up on command. I hated the freaking blue dress the D.E. had put me in even if was from Gucci. The dress was fine, but it was made for somebody who had larger breasts. Really, I was as flat as a board. I guess that is what I get for having my breasts surgically reduced in size.
I had gotten out of wearing makeup except for on this one occasion when the D.E. forced moi to. From what I had learned; the USM had chosen me because of who I was, but it wasn’t okay to be myself in front of other humans. – Why am I still here?
Without saying one word the president put his hand out. I took it before we both looked at the camera and smiled. To be honest, he looked like a video game nerd with his vampire-pale skin and wild curly black hair. There was no way this man was running this country on his own. When we took our seats I examined his assistant who was standing behind his master’s chair like a trained dog. He was a middle-aged man, well unless cosmetics played a role in his looks. There was nothing to spectacular about him. Grey hair, dark brown eyes, Italian suit, iPad in hand, earpiece and a bureaucrat. Yes, this had to be the real man running the country.
“A pleasure to meet you.” I said, like an actress reading from cue cards.
“The feeling’s mutual.” Harry laughed. How unprofessional! At least I had learned my lines!
He took a sip of a foreign red liquid, wine. Obviously the alcohol ban of 2307 AD didn’t apply to him. Nice to know the he could be the only man to be drunk on the job in over five-hundred years.
“Miss Amelia Frank Hollow,” Harry began, finally reading from his invisible cue cards, “I speak on behalf of the United Nations when I say that it is an honour to have you be the one to represent planet Earth in the United Systems of Mel Navy. Your presence will help our relationship with the USM progress.”
“Thank you, I’m excited to represent Earth.”
“I’ll tell you honestly, I don’t think it’s going to be an easy job. Earth has a long way to go before we’re worthy of being first-class to the USM.”
“I’ll do my best to prove this planet to the USM.”
His smile suddenly changed from formal, to cheeky in the blink of an eye. “Well enough of this crap. Shall we grab lunch?”
I could not help looking surprised. I knew the lunch was coming; the D.E. team, my father and Geraldine were all attending it. I was just expecting a little more discussion on the whole Starside Academy thing.
Harry Darwin’s assistant looked as if he was staring at a dead diseased rat on the side of the road. It was easy to tell he despised the president, but little ignorant Harry did not take one notice. Yes… I was allowed to call President Darwin ‘little’ seeing as I was a few inches taller than him.
I did not like the way Harry Darwin had his arm over my shoulders as we walked down the white and powder yellow halls. He did not seem like a sexually driven man towards moi (although he was a nerdy loner which meant he would try and get sex whenever he could), but people didn’t just touch me. It felt too controlling. He was so lucky I was resisting the urge to grab his arm and twist it till it snapped. I’m sure the photographers would just love it if I did that. I would much rather have the headline: “AMELIA HOLLOW BREAKS PRESIDENT’S ARM” over “PRESIDENT AND AMELIA HOLLOW CLOSER THAN FRIENDS”. Yes, the photos of his with his arm around me were like candy to the ratty little photographers.
We walked into the dining room. The guests stood up as we walked in. There was Sven, Geraldine, Dr. Cooper, Dr. Hernandez, Merissa, Mr. and Mrs. Clarke plus three other men in suits. My father was smiling until he noticed the [resident’s arm around me and his eyes popped out of their sockets. He was thinking: Why is the President’s arm around my daughter? Why is the President’s arm around my daughter? Why is the President’s arm around my daughter? Over and over. I gave him a look suggesting I did not like the situation either before taking my seat.
A nice lunch. Obviously the chefs had done their research on what food I liked seeing as a delectable chocolate tart was part of my dessert. Harry Darwin was a very social man in an anti-social way. After giving a short speech he would not shut up about how crazy his daily routine as president was.
“Well Miss Hollow. Are you excited to be in the White House?” He finally asked.
The boy sounded a little tipsy. This was my chance to tell him how I felt; he was in a playful mood and wouldn’t be offended in the same way… Probably wouldn’t even remember.
“Well sir it has been fine… but there’s just one teeny thing.” I used my fingers to show how tiny the problem was.
“Yes?” He sat up properly in his chair, intrigued. Everybody else was chatting. Nobody would hear our conversation.
“You see, I don’t like being touched. I especially don’t like being touched when I’m in a dress that I find too revealing anyways.” I explained.
He tilted his head slightly in confusing. Then it clicked.
“Wait… are you talking about the walk here?”
“Yes.” I nodded slowly. “Truth is, I don’t want that to be the photo that comes up on the news sites and I don’t think my father wants it to be either.”
“Oh.” He muttered solemnly.
Shit, I just made the president of the United States feel bad. I probably should not have said that, but I didn’t care how much power he had, it did not mean he had the right to put his arm around me.
“Sorry about that. Next time it won’t happen.” He lifted his glass and took a big sip.
“Not to worry, just one of my things.”
He put on a fake smile, was about to pat me on the shoulder, realized that wouldn’t be wise, and pulled his hand back. We did not speak to each other for the rest of the meal.
My father ran his hand across his eye through his hair. “You didn’t. Oh, please tell me you didn’t say that!”
Sven couldn’t help but laugh; only his daughter would be crazy enough to give the president a telling-off. He had been wondering why Harry Darwin and I had not spoken more that afternoon, now he knew why.
“So is the Secret Service going to break into our room and kill us tonight?” Geraldine asked, jokingly. I didn’t give him an answer. – They very well could for all I knew.
“Well you weren’t the only one who despised him today.” My father had a boyish smile on his face; he had seen or heard something that he shouldn’t have. “During the tour he was at the back speaking to Dr. Hernandez. I think they were having a tiff about what was best for you Amelia. Man, Shea does not like him.”
I came out of the bathroom after successfully getting out of the Gucci dress and into my plaid pyjama shorts and retro Star Wars shirt. – A very attractive site. It was the reason my father never worried about me sneaking a boy over in the night. As soon as it got dark, BOOM, I became a sexless creature, also known as a nerd.
“Huh.” I nodded my head in thought. I wonder what they could have been talking about in particular concerning me.
Sven looked up from re-arranging the clothing he had stored in the dresser. “Hmm?”
A strange question: “How do you feel about Clive Darwin dumping all the Right Wingers in Florida?”
His eyes shifted to the ceiling for a moment. He was searching for any recording devices the D.E. might have installed that could pick up on our conversation. He saw nothing, but still looked very hesitant, his voice low: “Err… I don’t know. This isn’t really my country in the same way.”
“But you’ve lived here long enough to have an opinion I think.”
“Yes, that’s true.” He took off his glasses and put them in their black case. “It’s like this Amelia: I don’t agree with what crazy Clive did. It’s a crime against human rights like Guantanamo Bay was.” He paused to think for a moment. “Then again, the crazy people who ran the Right Wing party were trying to take away the human rights of other people so I don’t agree with them. It’s a complicated situation. Honestly… Florida kind of reminds me of the concentration camps from World War 2. I can’t tell if this is really that different.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I think it sort of is. Hitler had no real standing to do what he did, but he brainwashed enough people to think he was right. The Jewish people hadn’t done anything wrong, but the Right Wing voters have done a lot of bad things in the past.”
“Have they? Or have you just been brainwashed to think they have?” He asked in his conspiracist voice.
“Nope,” I shook my head happily, “I took American history. I don’t think there’s ever been a good president from the old Right Wing…”
I stopped myself quickly. Too late. My father knew where I was going with my statement.
He laughed. “How about Abraham Lincoln? He ring a bell?”
“Okay.” I waved away his points. “No good Right Wing guys from after err… the late 20th century.”
“You got me there.” He laughed. “Well… save that one guy from the 22nd century.”
“Yeah… that guy was great.”
Geraldine joined the conversation. “Honestly, how many good Left Wing presidents can ya name?”
It took a moment, but I could count thirteen from memory. Oh well, I doubt my knowledge of the US presidents will really matter at Starside Academy. On that note, I went to bed that night wondering what the politics were like on the planets my fellow cadets were from. Maybe they had bad governments, tyrannies, mob rule, anarchy… communism! Maybe the politics of those other second-class planets made Earth’s political problems look like disagreements in a child’s sandbox.
10: Final Countdown
The big day had finally arrived. Cameron Vis Homen was meeting me at the Washington Monument and together we would beam up to the spaceship: Titonic. Was I nervous? Yes. Was my father even more nervous to meet his son for the first time and lose his daughter? Definitely.
“Shit, shit, shit.” I gasped as I hastily put on my USM cadet uniform. It was just me and Dr. Hernandez in the dressing room because there was a ‘women’s’ sign on the door and Dr. Cooper didn’t feel comfortable coming in to help.
“Does this feel real to you?” I asked her, almost in a panic.
“Yes.” She said placidly. This day had felt real to her since two AM when she was forced to get up and start organizing my departure.
“My dad… father is so excited about meeting his son for the first time. He’s more excited about that than moi getting accepted to Starside Academy.” I laughed.
I knew my father well. I knew he didn’t think he had to worry about me as much as he had to worry about Cameron. I saw how tense he had gotten when Cameron first got into Planetarymark.
(Planetarymark was the USM space station located closest to the Hashtish Alliance. Cameron did his first two years of training there before getting an upgrade to Starside Academy due to his advanced tactics skills. Starside Academy was only for cadets training to be commanding officers.)
My father would never admit it but, he really had not wanted either of his children to go into armed forces. He was proud of me and Cameron, but he was a pacifist at heart.
I pulled my hair back into a strict bun and placed the silly cadet beret on my head. Ugh, I was so going to make the ‘Hot or Not’ section of any trashy website. I looked silly, but soon I would be surrounded by silly looking aliens.
“Shall we?” I opened the door for Shea. She rolled her eyes and stepped out.
Dr. Blake Cooper was sitting on the bench across form the changing rooms. Once he saw us coming he put his phone away and got up. We were in the secret rooms installed inside the Washington Monument where the dancers got changed every year for their 4th of July performance.
“I just heard from outside.” He sounded more gleeful than I thought a man could sound. “Ensign Cameron Vis Homen… He’s just beamed down. He’s behind the stage.”
I couldn’t help but smile. Not because of how excited I was to see Cameron, but because of how excited I was for my father to see his son. Sven, Geraldine, Merissa, President Harry Darwin and the Clarke’s were all on the floor below us with some other random people I did not know, or care about. If Blake had just heard that Cameron was here then no doubt my father knew as well.
We took the elevator down to the floor below to where the others were all waiting. Geraldine was in his finest turquoise dress while Sven was in a black suit with a tie to match Geraldine. As a pair they looked like they were attending a wedding as the bride’s maid and groom’s man. President Harry Darwin’s assistant, Mr. Flandry, wondered whether or not it was a bright idea to have a cross-dresser on the stage and did request Geraldine to wear a suit as well. Seeing as it was a ‘request’ and not a ‘demand’ Geraldine made the easy presumption that the suit was optional and still chose to wear his best dress. – I respect him fully for his decision. He was better looking than the rest of the women in the room combined.
“Did ya hear?” I asked my father as I stepped into the small waiting room.
He nodded electrically. “Yes. Your brother is here, on Earth!” His voice went a little higher at the end of the sentence and his Swedish accent broke through. He was very excited.
“Are we allowed to go down and see him?” I asked Mrs. Clarke.
She sucked her thin top lip behind her bottom. “I think we have to wait until security calls us down. They still have to confirm his identity.”
I looked to my father who had already punched the elevator button. He was not waiting.
“Mr. Hollow, you ca–” Mrs. Clarke began.
“Geraldine, Amelia. Let’s go meet him.” Sven interjected.
I looked back to Mrs. Clarke, shrugged, and joined my father with Geraldine at the elevator.
“Mr. Hollow.” Mr. Clarke was backing his wife. “He has to go through the safety precautions seeing as he is not from Earth. We must make sure that–”
“See you guys down there!” My father said just as the doors closed.
Once the elevator started moving downwards Geraldine squealed like a girl and wrapped his arms around my father. All the excitement was getting to him even though Cameron was not his son.
“Honey, you finally get to meet your baby!” He kissed my father on the cheek. He then looked at me and realized I was also Sven’s child. “Well… your other baby.” He laughed, I did not.
Cameron and I had sibling rivalry despite living light years apart. Even on my big day my father was still more excited about seeing Cameron. Sure, it was the son he had never met, but I wanted to be a jealous brat and be annoyed that I wasn’t the one getting attention during the event meant for me.
Sven could not control his cheerful giddiness. “Yeah… I know. Meeting my son and saying goodbye to my daughter. I can’t tell if this is a dream or a nightmare.”
“Hey!” I yelped, semi-jokingly.
“I’m kidding Amelia.” My father reassured me. “This is just one of those confusing dreams that isn’t scary but doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either.”
The elevator stopped. There was that brief moment of suspense as we waited to see what was on the other side of the doors. Nothing. We had to walk down a short hallway, turn left, open the third door on the right and then the suspense was relieved.
“Now just hold still for a moment.” A security officer said as he scanned my big brother with the X-ray machine. Poor little Cameron did not look very comfortable standing in the middle of four men in black suits all staring at him judgingly. They still could not handle how different he looked.
“C-Cameron?” My father said in a rather high voice.
My brother looked up sharply. His grey eyes ran across me and Geraldine before landing firmly on Sven. His body relaxed when the whole planet suddenly seemed less foreign to him. After all, his daddy was here to protect him now.
One of the taller men stepped between us and Cameron. “Mr. Hollow, I’m just finishing the scan and–”
“Oh, shut it.” My father pushed past him with ease. Geraldine and I followed awkwardly behind him.
Cameron smiled at the man running at the X-ray as if he was trying to apologize for his father’s rudeness. He then stepped off the X-ray and cautiously walked towards the three of us. He was still very aware of the men around the room, but they all knew not to interfere with the ex-ambassador and his son so they all just pretended to be doing other work while all knew they were still watching us.
“Err… um.” Cameron didn’t know what to say. Instead he just smiled sweetly.
My father reached into his pocket and pulled out his earpiece and uncoiled the wire before inserting it into his ear. Like before during our holo chat; Cameron could understand all of us, but only Sven could understand him. I really wanted to get my earpiece soon because I hated being left out of their conversations.
“Hi Cameron.” My father said after a moment. Both of them had forgotten how to start a conversation.
“Hello f-father.” Cameron said in English. He wanted to respect all of the humans in the room.
“Hi Cameron!” I said cheerfully to break the silence. He smiled at me and nodded. Waving wasn’t exactly a normal gesture on his planet, but he did it anyways.
“How was the beam down?” Sven asked. It was all he could think of.
“Err… quick.” Cameron laughed hesitantly. He didn’t like the serious expressions of all the other men in the room. He felt he could not please them no matter what he did.
My dad gave up on trying to make awkward small talk and hugged his son. He couldn’t believe he was meeting his in the flesh. Della Vis Homen would not approve, even though she had no say. They hugged for a long time. In the Hashtish Alliance they often expressed their emotions physically. The equal to an ‘Earth hug’ was a one-armed embrace, but before Cameron had beamed down he decided he wanted to impress his father by researching what humans did when they first met up.
“I can’t believe it’s you.” Sven choked. He wasn’t crying. He was just so excited that he was almost struggling to breathe. He was actually laughing a bit for some reason.
The door opened behind us just as Sven and Cameron broke their hug. Dr. Hernandez was standing there with Mr. Clarke. Both looked displeased. Merissa was standing behind them holding my duffle bag. – I had forgotten it upstairs.
“Well… Looks like you found him.” Mr. Clarke laughed. He had seen many aliens via hologram in his time as president of D.E. so Cameron wasn’t a shock to him.
“Yeah.” Geraldine agreed. “Sorry about running off. Sven just gets very excited.”
“So… am I going in front a big audience?” Cameron asked in Kestern. He had forgotten that nobody else besides his father could understand him. Sven nodded before giving Cameron a sympathetic pat on the shoulder and telling everyone else what he had said in English.
Cameron shifted from side to side. He was camera shy. He worried what the humans would think of him because of his green skin. Like my father I gave him a pat on the shoulder. Of course my ‘pats’ were far more aggressive and my brother had put his foot forward for balance to keep from falling over.
He was shorter than me in real life. I had not expected that. Most harsnics stood at five feet and 5’6 so Cameron was considered tall standing at 5’7. Height in the Hashtish Alliance was very important. Studies had shown that taller harsnics held the highest ranking jobs. Cameron’s mother, Della, tended to wear high-heels (very high-heels) that made it possible for to look my father right in the eyes. She was like a supermodel on Hashtish 4. I had seen pictures and I must say; it was easy to see why my father had been attracted to her. Sure, she had to wear a body-glove that covered her from the neck down, but the red dress she put on was all too alluring to men. The black body-glove left nothing to the imagination.
Merissa passed me my duffle bag. I unzipped the pocket on the side and pulled out my present for Cameron. In my hand was a black case holding pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses. I had ten other pairs in my bag. One was my own pair, some for my dub crew and the remaining four could be for any friends I made along the way. I do not know why I wanted to bring sunglasses as my gift. Sure, they were light and didn’t take up much space… but we would be in a space station where we most likely would not need them.
“Oh, thank you!” Cameron said gleefully as he accepted his present. – He had no idea what it was.
He pulled out the sunglasses and examined them. The harsnic looked more excited by them then I thought he would. That is when I noticed that he only had four fingers (or three fingers and one thumb). It was only a small difference in the physical makeup of a harsnic compared to a human. That was why Della and Sven had been able to procreate together. Most children of interspecies parents had been genetically engineered because each parent had a different number of chromosomes. However, harsnics and humans conveniently had the exact same amount. Had my father known that at the time he probably would have used his ‘hour out of the body glove’ more wisely and used protection.
Cameron looked so cute in sunglasses. They made him look more like an alien with his green skin and huge black lenses covering his eyes.
“Activate.” He said in Kestern. When nothing happened he tried to say ‘activate’ again in English but it sounded a little funny.
“There a problem?” I asked him as we followed the stage manager back down the hall.
“How do you turn them on?” He asked Sven in Kestern, who translated it for moi.
“Err… you don’t. They’re just sunglasses.”
He tilted his head slightly before nodding. He was so used to advanced technology that he could not even recall what simple things like sunglasses were originally meant for. I couldn’t blame him for thinking that the Ray-Bans would do more than just exist; they did look a little too cool to just do nothing.
“We have presents for Amelia aboard the Titonic.” Cameron told my father who told me. Sven didn’t say it with much enthusiasm. I presumed he was getting tired of just being the translator in a conversation.
I put on my own sunglasses too. What better way to leave Earth then with kickass sunglasses on?
“Do I have to say anything?” I asked the stage manager. I was waiting backstage with him, Sven, Geraldine and Cameron. The others had already taken their seats on stage as President Harry Darwin gave a speech. We were just waiting for our queue to go on.
“Just a farewell.” He told me casually. “You’ve not been scripted to say anything so you could really just say ‘goodbye’ and leave it at that… but don’t do that.”
Damn, I had been planning on just saying goodbye and nothing more!
Yeah, there was a little bit of a turnout. Cameron gulped as he saw the thousands of heads in the audience. Their skin and hair were such a wide range of colours. Harsnic skin colour only ranged from light green to dark green while hair could either be orange, red or brown. When Della was pregnant Cameron she was worried that he would get his father’s blonde hair or blue eyes which would just prove more that he was a cross-breed. The harsnics were a highly respected race so Della didn’t want many people to know that his father was from a second-class planet. Now more than ever Cameron wished he had been raised on Earth where everybody looked so strangely different. When he had first seen a projection of his father he was shocked… and then he saw Geraldine a few years later.
“Relax.” I whispered to him as we walked on stage. “Now that you’re wearing shades nobody can see the fear in your eyes. The photos of you are going to turn out fine in the newspapers.”
“That is good.” He said in English. My God, why did my brother sound so German?
“Amelia.” A stage manager whispered to me from just off stage. “Go to the podium. Say your farewell.”
This was it. I was saying goodbye and then I was leaving. I gave him the thumbs up before walking across the stage to the glass podium. It was incredibly wide and jammed with thirty little microphones. President Harry Darwin was there already talking to the audience about ‘the greatness of the USM’. I stood next to him, waiting for him to introduce me. Most of the audience had their camera phones raised. Some were filming me and Harry, others were filming Cameron who was sitting quietly next to my father and Geraldine. They had seen pictures of aliens online, but never in real life.
“And now the woman herself…” President Harry Darwin gestured to me. “…Miss Amelia Frank Hollow, the first human to join the USM Navy. Here to say her farewell.”
He took a step back to let me get closer to the podium. I smiled awkwardly at the audience. It took me a second to realize I still had my sunglasses on. Not like I was going to take them off. I felt like the coolness of the sunglasses cancelled out the silliness of the cadet beret.
“Greetings Earthlings.” I joked, no laughter. It was so awkward that not even a cricket would chirp. “I must say I’m very sad to leave this planet… let alone this great country.” That got some patriotic cheers. “Wow… I really don’t know what to say. But I guess all I need to say is that I hope I represent Earth well and… farewell. I’ll see you guys later. I love America men Sverige är ett bättre land!” I said cheekily.
This was the issue with having an improvised goodbye. Still the audience cheered so I guessed I had said enough. I stepped away from the podium and waved. My father caught my eye, he was laughing a little because he knew what I had tried to say in Swedish even if my pronunciation was bad. Cameron also knew what I had said due to his translator and so did Mr. Flandry. Trust me, Harry’s assistant was not happy. Luckily, by the time the rest of the American knew what I had said I would be long gone.
Everyone stood up. This was the part where I was supposed to say my final goodbyes. A stage manager snuck on and passed me my duffle bag. – I had forgotten it again. I was about to swing it over my back when I remembered my phone in the side pocket. I pulled it out and secretly wrote a text to all of my friends saying: “Later guys. Love ya’ll!” before throwing it back in the pocket and swinging the duffle bag over my back.
Cameron and I shook the hands of all the men and women on the stage. I didn’t know most of them, but I pretended to and shook their hands sincerely. When I reached Geraldine I hugged him. I did not care about the dusk situation at that moment. I was probably never going to see him again so no point in ending on bad terms. I was about to hug my father but Cameron was still hugging him. They had had so little time together. Sven couldn’t believe he was losing both of his children now.
“Be safe.” Sven whispered to me as we hugged for the final time. “Cameron said you two will call me from the ship.”
“We will. Bye daddy.”
I wish we could have had a longer goodbye. I wished even more that the last person I had to say goodbye to wasn’t President Harry Darwin. I just shook his hand and smiled. Hopefully the next time I visited Earth –if I ever did– he would be out of office.
Cameron stood next to moi on the blue tape. We were placed on an angle so that the other people on stage could see us along with the audience. I looked to the sky, the sunglasses protecting me from the sun. I could not actually see the spaceship so I presumed they had ‘parked’ a fair distance away from Earth. They didn’t want to scare the humans by making them thinking an alien invasion was happening.
The screen on the Washington Monument (technology times, it also had a giant clock on it like it was Big Ben or something) came up with the countdown.
“10… 9…” The audience chanted.
“Here we go.” Cameron whispered in English, but by now I was just sure he was German. He pulled up the wrist communicator and silently spoke to the Titonic in Kestern, informing them to start the transport.
I looked to my father and Geraldine one more time. Geraldine had teary eyes, but my father never cried. He had told me that the last time he had gotten ‘teary eyed’ was when he held me for the first time after the scientists had confirmed that I was ready to leave the artificial womb. People who were against engineering children said that the children wouldn’t have as strong of a connection with their birthparents if the child wasn’t inside a mother… but like they would know. Bioengineering children was originally started for parents who could not procreate for whatever reason. Most cases were when the mother’s womb was not fit for being fertilised which is why artificial wombs were created. Shockingly, one of the first clinics opened up with new artificial wombs for infertile parents opened in Wyoming which explains why my father moved there. He was originally going to just stay for the five months while I was being created (bioengineered children had sped up pregnancies) but then he grew fond of the place and bought a freaking huge mansion because he felt like it.
A yellow beam started at my feet and slowly worked its way up. Because of my years of watching bad sci-fi shows I expected the teleportation ray to look more digitized and crappy. This one was very much real. The only way to describe the feeling as it reached my waist was that it felt like being splashed with warm water. Why? I don’t know, it just did.
The last sound I heard was the crowd cheering as my face engulfed by the golden light. I wasn’t blinded like I expected to be because both Cameron and I were still being kickass with our sunglasses on. Yeah, perfect way to leave Earth.
Final nerdy thought: Beam me up, Scotty!
11: Titonic… Titanic?
The room was spinning and had just become one big grey blur with yellow flashing lights. My body wasn’t used to being turned into billions of little particles and shot across space. A hand reached out and grabbed my shoulder just before I fell over. It was Cameron’s hand.
“Easy.” He said in English. “I felt bad the first time I did that too.”
If you thought about how foreign of a language English was to my brother, then you had to be impressed by the fact he could even construct sentences.
The bright lighting in the room was disorienting. I grabbed Cameron’s arm to keep myself from falling over. It felt like my guts were still trying to rearrange themselves after the beam up. The tip of my nose and cheeks felt icy. Blake had not lied; being in a USM spaceship was like walking down the frozen food section of a supermarket.
I was a little surprised to see the aliens running the teleporter. One was bright pink and had its eyes high above its head on stems while the other did not even have a head. The only thing all aliens seemed to have in common were the universal translators attached to whatever part of their body detected sound waves. Cameron had ears like mine –except for their little pointy tips– so the little translator was attached to his ear while the wire ran all the way to his brain. I was soon going to learn why it needed to be attached to the brain. Apparently while attacked to my brain, it would also affect my sight in some way. A part of me really did not want to know how.
Cameron carefully pulled the sunglasses off my head and put them in the side pocket of my duffle bag. He attached his own pair to his collar before grabbing the strap of the bag and pulling it off moi.
“I will hold this until you feel better.” He said as he swung it over his back.
“Thanks.” I mumbled jadedly.
“You are welcome.”
I stayed close to my brother as we headed for the elevator. The hallways were extra-large for some of the taller aliens. On our way we passed a creature the size of Jabba the Hutt while another looked like a skeleton on stilts. I knew we were all on the same side here, but they still disturbed me a bit. These aliens were far more exotic than anything I, or any sci-fi director, could have ever dreamed up. We passed one that looked like a slithering spine with two big black eyes and a USM Naval beret on its white head. – Very disturbing.
The aliens did not seem to like moi much either. First they would look at Cameron and roll their eyes –or what I presumed was their eyes– and then they would look at the dorky cadet beside him and scoff. My poor brother, he must have been so embarrassed by me.
“How big is this ship?” I asked him to break the awkward silence in the elevator. I hadn’t noticed before, but there was another alien in the elevator with us who only went up to my knee. He cocked his head up and gave me a strange look for asking a stupid question.
“Big.” Cameron laughed. The little alien looked at him strangely too… maybe that was just its usual face.
Sadly, the layout of USM spaceships weren’t like the ones in Star Trek. They looked more like a mixture between submarines and ships like… the Titanic, except of course they were far larger and were a lot cooler. Then there was the bridge… Yowza. The room was circular with one great window/monitor at the very front. The image on the monitor was of Earth. A very surreal feeling knowing that I wasn’t on that planet anymore and that I was miles and miles away from my family. Near the front was the captain’s chair with its own computer attached to the armrest. All the other computers were either attached to the walls or grouped in circles with all the other computers that performed the same task.
A tall green creature that resembled a praying mantis in a USM uniform made its way through the bridge and greeted us. Except it did not greet us in the usual human way. The creature had four arms. The higher up ones had the stereotypical alien hands while the lower down ones were like bendable swords covered by a thin black body glove. The creature raised one if its blade-like arm to draw an invisible line down both Cameron and I’s chests. I stood absolutely still. One slip up and the creature could cut right through my body like a knife through warm butter. It was the way the captain greeted people on the ship. I could tell he/she/it was the captain because of the black stripe running across its chest and the black pin attached to its beret. The first officer would have something similar, except they would be missing the black pin and just have the stripe.
The captain made a strange gurgling noise fallowed with a small shriek that was just loud enough to startle me. It didn’t seem like aggressive sign, but if I knew one thing about aliens, they were never what they seemed.
“He says hello.” Cameron told me. “He is Captain ______.” I didn’t quite catch the name because it was so foreign to my ears. At least I knew it was a ‘he’ so that I would no longer have to refer to him as an ‘it’.
The captain spoke again. Cameron translated it: “We should get your tr-trans…. translator so we can communicate better on the t-tour.”
“That sounds great.” My smiled seemed a little forced. I was feeling so many strange emotions. I didn’t even know if I was happy or not. I was just in a surreal daze.
We passed the first officer in the hallway called Tek. She (or I presumed she was a ‘she’) seemed incredibly intimidating. The way she stared Cameron down did not make her gain my approval. Her blue hair-like tentacles contrasted with her bright pink skin. She was a fairy in appearance, but a hellcat in personality. I could not understand a word she said but something had made her very unhappy. Cameron hung his head, ashamed.
What the fuck where they talking about? I thought with an expression that matched my thoughts.
Tek strode off as if she was late for something very important. Although I knew she had nothing important to do seeing as the ship hadn’t even started moving yet. A fascinating fact about the USM: They never ‘took their time’ to do things… even walk. That was why they expected me to be ready to shift my life forever in one month. In fact, they had felt like they had actually giving me plenty of notice because they usually only gave out the news a week early. I was happy to have the month, but it also felt a bit patronizing because they were giving all the new cadets extra time. They thought all the aliens from second-class planets were slower and held us all in lower standards.
“What was that all about?” I whispered to Cameron. Hopefully his captain did not have ultra-good hearing.
“Nothing. Do not worry.” He put on his best fake smile. Sadly, it was not the harsnic way to lie even if he did just want to be a ‘good sport’.
My God, I now knew why my father felt so protective of Cameron. A part of me just wanted to go out of character and hug the boy until he got all the feelings out. Another part of me wanted to run back down the hall and beat the living hell out of the first officer who made him feel bad.
We were led by the captain to what appeared to be the armoury and where they also upgraded electronics. It looked like the inside of an Apple store except less flash somehow. I loved a ship that was so huge that it could have its own electronic store. I was sure that if I looked at a map of the place that there would be a section labelled ‘shopping centre’.
A silver box the size of a shoebox was passed to me by one of the crewmembers with creepily long fingers. I looked to Cameron to see if it was okay to open the metal box and he nodded enthusiastically. On one side was a wrist computer like Cameron had and beside it was a small earpiece. It was my universal translator.
“Sweet.” I laughed. For some reason the two little electronic items excited me more than anything else I had seen on the Titonic.
The same slender alien came back with two thin suitcases coated in a layer of jet black metal. They were so dark that they just sucked up the light like black holes. I was about to ask Cameron what was in them when he plucked the earpiece from the silver box and uncoiled the wire. He turned my head gently with his free hand before carefully pushing the wire into my left ear. The wire was stopped on its journey down my ear canal by the eardrum. I was curious because out of the corner of my eye I could see there was still some more wire to go. To my surprise, Cameron exerted a little more force and pierced right through my eardrum. It amazingly didn’t hurt at all, but my hearing out of my left ear was now cloudy.
The nanotechnology made the small wire self-guiding. It slithered through my head until it reach my brain and jabbed right in with no hesitation. I had not known how far in the wire was until I suddenly lost hearing in both ears. I had the horrible feeling something had gone awfully wrong.
I looked at Cameron. He and the captain noticed my anxious expression as I yearned for an explanation. A bolt of pain ran through my brain and my vision became foggy. Neither Cameron nor the captain seemed concerned whatsoever. Apparently this happened to everybody the first time they tried on the earpiece.
“Can you hear me?” Cameron asked after a few seconds when I stopped rubbing my eyes.
I nodded, relieved my sight and hearing were coming back. – I wasn’t aware of the change in my mind yet.
“I’m aware that we weren’t introduced properly Amelia. Your underdeveloped ears wouldn’t be able to comprehend my name.” The captain began. His pincers moving like flippers in pinball. “I am Captain Gorirtz. In Hey-terms you can call me Cap Gor.”
There was one good reason I wasn’t going to call him Cap Gor and I dare not mention it. If you know, you know. If you do not, it’s better that way. – Trust me.
“A pleasure to meet you again.” I joked. Then it suddenly clicked and my eyes popped out of their sockets. – How could I understand him now… and why did he have a British accent?
“How can I… Why are you British?” I was finding it difficult to structure a proper sentence so I just sounded like a mad rambler.
“The translator is doing it.” Cameron explained. He had a huge grin spreading across his face. “It has tapped into your brain so that you’re hearing all of us in English even though we’re all speaking different languages.” I tilted my head in curiosity. “That isn’t all though. Although it looks like I’m speaking to you in English, I’m actually speaking in Kestern.”
I raised my eyebrows. “But I can see your mouth moving like you’re speaking English. How’s that possible?”
“Your brain is just telling you that you’re seeing me speak English. Clever little device the earpiece is. They made it that way so that you can tell who’s talking if you’re with a group of people. And in the case of Captain Gorirtz; he’s been given an accent your brain will recognize because his real accent is too high pitched for the average untrained ear. Cool huh?”
“No… fucking… way.” I gasped.
Cameron nodded. Hashtish 4 was a very upper-class planet and it was considered very offensive to swear there. He understood it was different on Earth and decided not to comment on the matter.
“Want to know the coolest thing?” He said as he tapped his wrist computer. I looked at my own in the silver box which was now back on the counter with the black suitcases. I was soon going to get to try out my wrist computer… maybe I could play Tetris on it!
A small blue rectangle was projected from Cameron’s computer upwards for all to see. He tapped the small panel one more time and the words “can you read this?” came up in the rectangle.
“I can read it.” I told him.
“I wrote that in Kestern.” He deleted the letters one by one. “The translator has told your brain what it says and your brain is deceiving your eyes so you thinking you’re reading English.”
“Shit.” I gasped again. That sounded so freaking cool! Sure, it basically meant that everything I heard and read wasn’t real, but now I never had to learn a new language.
“So wait.” I rubbed my spandex-covered hands together. “I can write in English, speak in English and you guys can all understand me perfectly and understand what I write?”
Cameron and Captain Gorirtz nodded.
“But be careful.” Captain Gorirtz warned me. “Because of how different each language is things can get lost in translation. For instance, you may think you’re saying one thing but one of us might interpret it as another thing. Technology may be advanced, but it still can’t prepare us for every conversation we will have in our life.”
I took note of that. The same problem still occurred on Earth sometimes. Like during a discussion for a treaty with China in the course of the war where a representative from the USA accidently said ‘death’ instead of ‘four’ in Mandarin and there was some outrage.
The wrist computer fit snugly on my right arm. It was not tight enough to cut off blood from running to my hand and was not loose enough that it would slip up and down my arm. Cameron pointed to a little button on the side before pressing it. The small screen went blue and came up with “Voice recognition ready.”
“You need to tell the computer you are ready to confirm your identity.” Cameron whispered, as if he did not want the computer to pick up on his voice instead of mine.
The USM computers were pretty flexible about receiving instructions. They weren’t programed with algorithms in the same way as Earth computers so telling them a command in a colloquial way didn’t affect their performance.
“Start identity confirmation process.” I told the computer, keeping it close to my face just to make sure it misheard nothing I said.
“Please state your name.” The little robotic voice said.
“Information on Amelia Frank Hollow retrieved.” The screen came up with a loading line as it updated its system so that it knew everything about me. “Greetings Dub First Off Am. Please state the name of this device.”
I looked up in thought for a moment. What did I want my wrist computer to respond to?
“The name of this device is Data.”
It had been a toss-up between the names Marvin, HAL 9000 or Data. I chose Data because he was not evil like HAL 9000 or depressing and paranoid like Marvin.
“Process complete.” The voice of Data informed me. Well, that was easy.
The monitor then changed to its home screen which showed my name in the centre and my rank below it. In the bottom right corner was a GPS system telling me my location while in the top left corner was the time and date. The standard USM day was thirty Earth hours so it said it was 13:45. Then the date was 6th of Khan 212028 X.X. I didn’t understand how the date worked. It had been reset years after the last major galactic civil war in history where civilians rebelled against the USM. After the civilians lost the war the USM decided to reset the date for a ‘fresh start’. The ‘X.X.’ represented the reset, but most aliens in the USM cancelled them out and just wrote the date without them. Man, the history of the date is boring isn’t it?
“Test it out.” Cameron told me.
“Scan me. Our body-gloves have various chips throughout them that has information on who we are, our rank and also traits of our species.”
“How do I scan?” I asked like I was a technophobic old lady.
“Blue button in the top right corner.”
I guided the sensor on the side of the computer to face Cameron and pressed the button. Ten blue lines shot out of the sensor and ran around his body in search of the chips. The information about Cameron came up on the monitor on my wrist as well as being read out to me.
“Name: Cameron Vis Homen
Rank: Ensign of Tactics
Assigned Ship: Titonic
Date of Birth: 14th of Ark 212003 X.X.
Species: Harsnic X Human
Planet of Birth: Hashtish 4
Note: Harsnics tend to be a calm and peaceful species. However, the Hashtish Alliance has often used force to take over inhabited planets for colonization. There are currently 17 planets in the Hashtish Alliance. The population of harsnics consists of 84% of the whole Hashtish Alliance while 5% are gagogans, 2% are messmores, 3% are javas and 6% are kekomans. All harsnics hold Amori, the Saviour, in high regards. In terms of an Earth analogy Amori is feline-like with telepathic abilities. When the harsnics were forced to flee their Mother Planet: Hashtish Moore, after the War of Royale in 1753 pre-reset, Amori was the creature that found the new home planet ‘Sanctuary’ for the harsnics. Sanctuary was the first planet in the Hashtish Alliance and is also known as Hashtish 1. If Amori is degraded in any way then that is an offense to the whole Hashtish Alliance and the perpetrator of such an offense is under law required to be taken to the Hashtish High Council and be put on trial.”
“Wow.” I said after listening to Data. “A lot of information about your harsnic side Cameron.” I joked.
But where was the information about his human side?
“Is there?” He asked. “You’re aware that after you confirmed your identity that the wrist computer only communicates with your earpiece right? We can’t hear what… Data says to you.”
I nodded slowly. I had not been aware of that, but it made sense.
“What are those two suitcases for?” I asked, pointing at the black suitcases.
“That… is your armour.” Captain Gorirtz told me. “You won’t be trying it on here. Starside Academy will train you how to use it.” He clapped his non-razor hands together. “Now, shall we go back the bridge to watch the ship go into hyperspace?”
“Hell yeah!” I put my hand over my mouth quickly. “I mean… yes sir.”
The captain laughed. There was no equal to ‘hell’ in his language and the closest synonym was ‘bad place’. He had heard me say: “bad place yeah!”
“Where was the information on your human side Cameron?” I asked my brother on the elevator ride back to the bridge. He was being kind and handling my duffle bag plus my two suitcases.
“Pardon?” He asked as if he did not know what I was talking about, but his poker face gave him away.
I raised my eyebrows. “Data told me all about your harsnic side but said nothing about your human side.”
“That is because I edited my information and took the human information out.” He said solemnly.
I was about to ask why when Captain Gorirtz interjected: “En Cam is being brave even having the ‘harsnic X human’ part.” He explained. Obviously he had been the one who had edited the information with my brother. “His human side has really been holding him back. Around the rest of the crew he has a better chance of being accepted if they think he’s fully harsnic and not mixed with a second-class species.”
Captain Gorirtz did not seem to have a problem with Cameron being part human. He had actually requested the boy be assigned to the Titonic because he feared other captains would not be as accepting as he was. He couldn’t protect Cameron all the time without being resented by his crew, but he did his best to make sure my brother was being given a semi-fair shot.
“The whole ‘class’ system doesn’t seem fair at all. It’s a very inequitable way of thinking.” I muttered, knowing I was going to face the same issues in my life along with all the other cadets in my grade.
“I’d still take being half second-class over full third-class.” Cameron laughed hesitantly.
“Third-class?” I asked. So there were species even lower on the pyramid of social hierarchy?
“Planets that have tried to start an uprising against the USM in the past are considered third-class planets. Like after the civil war when all the planets and species that were part of the ‘Alliance of Freedom’ were considered third-class. They can’t be in the USM government or military and all third-class species are banned from interplanetary travel. They’re basically considered ‘independent planets’ as the USM doesn’t pay much attention to them.” Captain Gorirtz explained. He seemed to not mind the idea.
“So third-class planets are like prisons for the people that live on them?” I asked cautiously, remembering how the same thing was happening in the USA with Florida.
“It’s best not to think too much into it.” Cameron reassured me. “There are so few third-class planets with third-class species living on them. Only seven-hundred and ten I think.”
“Wrong. Seven-hundred and ten planets but seven-hundred and twelve species.” Captain Gorirtz stated.
“Right.” Cameron would’ve smacked his forehead in realization if he hadn’t been holding my suitcases. “I forgot about simnolis and bassacs living on Ormo 34 and the kapkorts and uvens on Natarakaja. I need to go back to the academy and relearn my USM history.”
“Yes you do.” Captain Gorirtz laughed.
I didn’t laugh. The whole class-system system made my stomach churn. The galaxy was so immense that seven-hundred and ten third-class planets seemed like a small number to Cameron and Captain Gorirtz. – It didn’t seem like a small number to me. In terms of social hierarchy on Earth I would be pretty high up the pyramid, but now that I was in space I was a ‘middle-class’ civilian. How can humans be considered ‘underdeveloped’ if the USM has the exact same issues in their own government?
“So is there such thing as fourth-class planets?” I asked Cameron to continue our conversation from the elevator. We were now back in the corridor we had walked down earlier. I could tell because the alien that looked like Jabba the Hutt was passing through again except this time he/she/it was going in the opposite direction.
“Err… I don’t think so.” Cameron replied.
The truth of the matter was that there were fourth-class planets, yet he refused to tell me about them because he had seen my expression in the elevator during the third-class discussion. He figured telling me about them would only make me mad.
There were fourth-class planets, not fourth-class species. Fourth-class planets were battered ghosts of USM wars. There were no life forms of any kind on fourth-class planets. Most of the planets were so toxic because of the bombs that had gone off during the wars that not even plant life could grow. The USM tried to keep information about fourth-class planets concealed. Mostly because it was partly their fault the planet’s life forms were gone. Most fourth-class planets were created during USM wars with space pirates or terrorists that tried to take the planet hostage as protection. They thought the USM would not dare go through civilians to kill them. – They were wrong. If the planet’s inhabitants got in the crossfire between the United Systems of Mel and the pirates the USM would not consider themselves to blame for the deaths.
There were very few fourth-class planets. Only a hundred and sixty-two. They tended to be just bigger than an average dwarf planet. When they were once inhabited the populations tended to be very small due to the size of the planet. It was easy to see how poor species just got wiped out so easily with such small populations and planets where you couldn’t run far enough away before coming back around again to the same spot. I was going to learn about all these bloodbaths in the USM history class I had to take, but for now I was glad Cameron had not told me all of that.
The main screen on the bridge still held the image of Earth. I stared at the little blue and green planet long and hard as everybody else continued with their work. Cameron was standing beside me. It was his shift off so he did not have to get back to his work station down in tactics. He was going to take me on a tour of the Titonic once the ship went into hyperspace.
It felt like I hadn’t really left Earth at all. I was still going to have to deal with the same discriminatory issues, but now I was going to get to see how other people lived. I was going to be living without getting everything handed to me, without having people respect simply because of my last name, without my supportive friends and family, and without the benefits the first-class species got. I was a second-class alien in the eyes of the USM and they were going to treat me like one.
Earth flickered out of view in an instant. The stars stretched out like they were elastic as we shot into hyperspace.
Goodbye Earth. I thought. I’m gonna miss ya… a lot.
Sure, I was going to be treated differently and have a huge disadvantage in the USM. But there was one thing the USM hadn’t counted on: my inexplicably large ego that would demand their attention. And with my ego came my bitchy side (sorry, biatchy side) because when I didn’t get what I wanted I tended to make sure everyone knew how I was feeling.
I couldn’t help but smile a bit. – The USM had no idea what it was in for.
“Yeah.” The holographic image of Sven Hollow nodded his head in understanding. “I remember being briefed on the ‘class’ system in the USM back when I was an ambassador. Don’t think less of your brother though. He doesn’t know any different.”
“I don’t judge any of them.” I reassured him. “The problems are no different on Earth so I would be a hypocrite.”
It was hard to tell whether or not my call was being monitored. I tried to sound as nonchalant about the situation as possible in case somebody was listening in. I was in the glass ‘phone booth’ near the ship’s recreation room. Cameron was leaning on the other side of the glass waiting to talk to Sven after moi because this chat was coming out of his call time. I had been told the cadets got to call people for free at Starside Academy because we had no credit income. Sadly, that also meant I was probably wasn’t going to be able to call my father for as long as I would like.
“Want to talk to Geraldine?” My father asked, pointing his thumb behind him to show Geraldine was just in the other room. “He’s really been missing you too.”
“Nah.” My head shook. “I think Cameron wants to talk to you. I’ll chat with Geraldine when I get to call you guys again at Starside.”
“Okay.” My father nodded slowly. He was suspicious of why I was being weird about Geraldine. He would not say anything because he didn’t want to ruin the conversation. “You want to send in Cameron… Wait.” A smile spread across his face when he remembered something. “Deanna’s getting married.”
“Excuse me?” I said with maybe a little too much enthusiasm. I had actually said ‘excusez-moi’ but my translator had made me think I had said it in English. Don’t ask me why I like to incorporate a teeny bit of French into my everyday language. Everybody does because it’s a sexy language.
“She’s marrying that retail guy we had over for dinner once.” Sven told me. “She didn’t want to say anything because she didn’t want her news to distract from your move to Starside.”
“That biatch.” I said with a smile. “Put her on, I need to talk to her.”
Sven raised his eyebrows. “Wait, you don’t want to talk to Geraldine but you want to talk to Deanna?”
I bit my lip. “You’re right. Never mind. I’ll send Cameron in now and I’ll talk to all three of you later.”
“Sounds good sweetie. Have fun on your first day at the academy.”
“Thanks. Love ya!”
“Love you too.”
I opened the door and tapped Cameron on the shoulder. He smiled before stepping in and closing the clear door. Unsure of what to do, I just stood awkwardly outside of the phone booth with my duffle bag and suitcases watching the aliens go by.
I had a strange throbbing sensation in my eyes. At first I figured it was from my new translator that was messing with my brain. Then I realized that it also had to do with the compressed oxygen in the spaceship. It did not feel like the gravity had changed much compared to Earth. I presumed my spandex body-glove was protecting me from any real change. I had tried jumping and it felt no different either. Later Cameron would explain that my boots were ‘springy’ to balance out the change in gravity.
A tall orange figure scoffed as he strode by. The whole crew had been warned that a second-class cadet was coming aboard to be taken to Starside Academy so he knew who I was. Sure, there were probably other second-class crew members, but nobody could handle the fact that I was part of the first generation of second-class species that were being trained as officers. My eyes shot daggers in his direction even though his back was turned. Damn him, damn them all. Stupid class-oriented society. Yes, I was born and raised in an equally bad society where me and anyone with the last name ‘Hollow’ were ‘top dogs’ but I still have a right to hate it. Not even my ego could overcome my dislike for the pyramid of social hierarchy. Only the guys at the top benefited from the system. My friends like Tanya and Elisa were very much middle-class and often struggled with finding money. Elisa was an orphan after the last civil war and was being raised by her aunt while Tanya’s parents had fled their country with no more than fifty dollars in their pocket. Money didn’t just fall out of the sky for them. Then there was Kim and Aiden, filthy rich like me. We kept quiet while Tanya and Elisa were around, but if it was just us three we often discussed our stock options and what we put our money towards. All three of us funded aid work in other countries. I was surprised to discover that I was the one who put the most money into my shuttle (Liffy, you met her)… I really am a hypocrite for hating the pyramid system. I probably just hated it now more than ever because I was no longer on top of the pyramid.
Once Cameron was done talking to our father he pulled me back in so we could both say goodbye. My brother was then was kind enough to carry my duffle bag and suitcases to the recreation room… Actually, we never made it to the recreation room. We were at the door when we both received the same message.
“Dub First Off Am please report to the bridge.” Data told me.
Cameron turned to me. “I think we’re here.”
Yes, yes we were. My jaw dropped when we entered the bridge and I saw what was on screen. The nebula itself was purple which contrasted with the bright white star in front of us. There was only one major planet in sight orbiting around the giant star… and it wasn’t a planet at all.
I had to take a double look at the sphere-shaped space station known as ‘Starside’. It was at least the size of Jupiter but it was entirely manmade (or alienmade). Long branches reached out from the space station with docked spaceships attached like leaves. There had millions of USM spaceships in the area… and yet they only trained four new captains every grade?
I still could not get over the size of Starside. And to know there were millions of other space stations throughout the galaxy of around the same size scared me more. Everything was just so much bigger in the USM. I suppose that was because they had to deal with a heck of a lot of planets.
“Holy shit.” I gasped under my breath. Where the hell was Starside Academy in this giant place?
Captain Gorirtz came up behind Cameron and I. “Pretty extravagant eh?”
“Definitely. Which part of it is the Academy?”
“It’s on the other side of the station.”
The first officer was calling out commands to the crew, organizing the docking. They could have just beamed moi to the space station but the Titonic was also docking because it had no assignments. Cameron had told me earlier that he was not going to be showing me through Starside like he wanted to. Nonetheless, he would help me find where all the cadets were meeting first. I had really enjoyed spending time with Cameron. I wish we had more time together. Oh well, now that I was at Starside I would probably be seeing a lot more of him.
If there had been more time I would have sat him down so we could really talk. He was physically and mentally exhausted. He was lacking in sleep, he was incredibly stressed and he was paranoid because of his co-workers. I got the strong feeling Cameron was getting bullied. Not just verbally, but physically as well. The way he tensed up around some of the crew members as we walked by really gave it away. There were two of them… well, three I suppose seeing as one had two heads. He would’ve taken another route to get to our destination, but there were no other ways. Instead he just kept me by his side as we walked by. I swear they muttered something about us. Cameron did not seem to usually mind the badmouthing that went on behind his back. However, he was cautious around the pair (or trio). Some aliens really hated Cameron. He was the descendent of a second-class species and yet he was still treated like he was first-class. Most hated him because they felt cheated. Why did he get to train to be a tactics officer and they didn’t?
“Thank you so much for allowing me on board the Titonic, captain.” I told Captain Gorirtz after he did his usual drag-blade-like-arm-down-chest ritual.
“It was a pleasure, Am. Maybe in five years when you graduate I could have you assigned to my ship.” He said sincerely.
“I’d like that.”
Pulling into the docks felt like an eternity. I thought the spaceship was cool and all, but I wanted to see the space station now. I felt a little light headed which continued to feed my reoccurring idea that this was all a dream and I was going to wake up in my bed in the mansion. Nothing about this situation felt real.
There were five people in each crew. All of our uniforms had the same black outlining but the other colours were red, blue or a fully black uniform. Man, why did I have to get white?
I was glad I was not the last to arrive. An alien in the red uniform was the last to instead. They were at least a foot taller than me but as skinny as a skeleton. I could’ve scanned them to see who they were –everyone else was scanning each other– but I didn’t want to be rude. I’m sure I would get to know everyone later. Plus I could access a replica of the spreadsheet I had been shown back at Darwin Enterprises on Data so I could always learn a little bit about everybody that way.
Cameron kissed me on the cheek. “Have fun Amelia. I’ll see you… next time I see you.”
“See you then.” I laughed. “And you take care of yourself. I mean it.”
After a moment Cameron had been engulfed in the bustling crowd of hangar four. A feeling of loneliness swept over me. The other cadets looked just as anxious as moi except for a few who either didn’t show emotion, or showed emotion in a way I could not understand.
I scanned the twenty of us with my eyes to locate the other members of my dub crew (no, I still don’t know what ‘dub’ means). Four cadets in white were all standing together awkwardly. Nobody was talking. They were merely standing together because none of us knew anybody else, so having matching uniforms was the only reason we felt a part of something. I was on my way over to them when I noticed little blue lasers running up and down my body. I turned to my right and was shocked to see another human. No, he wasn’t a human (maybe not even a he!). The four-fingered hand typing on his wrist computer was the first giveaway. He was in the black uniform that matched his hair. His skin was as white as paper and his eyes… Oh, sacrebleu his eyes. It was like his corneas were made from amethyst. He was almost a foot taller than me despite the fact he was also thinner. Trying to read his face was like trying to figure out how a concrete wall was feeling. – Very impassive. A simple scan of my body and then he was gone. No explanation.
“Okay then.” I muttered under my breath as I quickly made my way over to my dub crew.
The mustardy-golden boy made no effort to acknowledge me as I strode up. It was easy to guess he was the new dub captain I had heard so little about, yet I felt like I knew him enough to despise him. His eyes were as black with little yellow lightning bolts shooting down the middle. It was a sad day when his golden hair was more luscious than mine… but I’m sure it was to compensate for his unattractive mustard yellow skin.
“Hello Kel.” I said politely. After all, I did not want to judge the man before I had even heard him speak.
“That’s Cap Kel to you.” He snapped. Apparently my translator had decided to give him an American accent like mine. However, despite the fact Kel seemed like he would be from Utah on paper, his accent made him sound like he was from California… Fresno, California.
He was shorter me, about five or more inches, and I made sure he knew that by making it obvious that I was staring down at him. He did not like that. Well… I could tell this was the start to a beautiful friendship.
My bitchy side kicked in: “If we’re really getting into it; you’re Dub Cap Kel. You ain’t a captain yet.”
The other three members of our crew stood by awkwardly. When I finally introduced myself to them I learned the tall blue one was Henn, green bulky one was Gom and the other female in our group was Ams. She was about half my height with wild hair that seemed like it could explode out of her beret at any moment. In our crew there were two boys and two girls and Gom. At first look Gom looked like a regular guy (in an alien way) then again according to my spreadsheet his gender was ‘not applicable’.
I had to introduce myself under my Hey-name ‘Am’ because everyone else had. I did inform them that I much preferred to be called Amelia and they all understood even though they had no intention of calling me my real name. They all said their own full names as well. I could not be bothered to learn all their names (like Ams’s which was just too hard to pronounce) but it was best they knew mine seeing as I was obviously more important.
I decided that if Kel was a sexist polygamist then I was going to have to prove that I was better at him at everything because I was just generally a better, more awesome person. Maybe the shame of being beaten by a woman would set him straight.
“So why did you not cut your hair? How will it fit into your helm?” Gom asked me. He sounded Spanish for some reason.
I stared blankly at him. “Err… what?”
“You know… your helm?”
“My helm?” I was bewildered in this strange environment.
Gom had come to the conclusion I was an idiot: “Yeah, it’s a thing that covers your head to protect you.”
I glared at him for being patronizing before quickly changing my expression to happy. I had made an enemy of Kel today. I needed Gom on my side.
I patted my blonde ponytail. “You know, I think I’ll be fine.”
“Whatever you say.” He muttered. He had shaved his head to fit his helm, and here I was with all my hair.
We all looked up sharply when we heard a whistle-like sound. Two aliens in the traditional dark grey and black uniforms stood in front of us. One looked like he was part-blowfish while the other was like a typical zombie with sickly blue skin and white eyes. Her posture however, made her look like a peppy cheerleader. – If she was even a woman of course.
“Hello cadets.” Said the one that looked like a blowfish. “Welcome to Starside. I’m Lieu Rac and this is Lieu Shaos.” He said, gesturing to the zombie. “Please line up in the order of captain, first officer, science officer, engineering officer, tactics officer in your dub crew. Make two lines with Gall in front of Mar following Lieu Shaos and Ket in front of San following me… Go.”
It took quite a lot of shuffling but we finally got there. I was surprised at how fast this was all going. Usually at my old high school when they asked us to line up in a particular way it took the whole day to get it done. But the USM did not take that sort of crap and nobody was going to last long if they couldn’t act quickly.
It was impossible not to look around as we all strode through the hangar in our perfect lines. I was finding it difficult to find the right speed when I wouldn’t be too slow but also not too fast that I would step on Kel’s heels. – Though I would like to.
The crowd of USM Navy personnel split to let us through. All of us could feel their judgemental eyes on our backs as we walked past. I did not let the bastards get to me and instead smiled smugly at them as I walked by as if I hadn’t noticed.
Two giant metal doors began to part for us as we reached the edge of the hangar. A nightmarish corridor was on the other side. Each light came on one at a time as they detected our presence and went off when they sensed us leaving. We were on a little island of light in the middle of a black ocean as we moved. The darkness was making it impossible to see the very end of the hellish corridor… if there was an end! The giant passageway had nothing in it except for white tape down the middle which told us which side to stick to.
Because Starside was so big, the corridor was used as the main separation tool to keep us from leaving the Academy without permission. It ran for at least three quarters of a mile and could possibly drive someone insane if they got stuck in it. The whole feeling of walking down the long passageway was so surreal I was almost positive I was in a nightmare.
The lights started coming on from the opposite direction as a group of personnel in grey were striding down the on the other side of the white tape. It was the midshipmen from the grade that had just graduated that were heading to the hangar to be assigned to their new spaceships. They were all chattering and laughing like old friends. Some were talking about how it was the last time they would walk down the corridor, others mentioned how annoying it was that they were trained as officers and yet were starting out as measly midshipmen. Luckily, they had trained to be officers which meant they would be ensigns within a matter of months.
In them, I saw my grade when we graduated it five years. With their brand new grey and black uniforms, black suitcases and bluish/grey duffle bags it was like looking into the future. Of course they gave us odd looks as we walked by each other. They could not believe they were going to be the last ‘pure’ grade with only first-class species.
Half an hour had passed by the time we finally reached the doors on the other end. A part of moi was thinking about how hard it would be to escape Starside Academy if bad guys invaded. With one entrance and one exit we would most likely run into the enemy in the corridor and things would become incredibly awkward. I hoped that never happened… I really did.
Starside Academy seemed pretty large for only training twenty cadets a grade. It was as dead as a ghost town when we first walked in. There were only a couple of robots whizzing around with ship parts and important files.
Most the walls had huge glass windows in them allowing us to see all the rooms in the academy as we passed. One window showed a giant white rectangular room. The robots were running around in it fixing what appeared to be damaged turrets. Most of us were looking into that room as we passed and one of cadets around me whispered: “That’s the battle room. What I’m really excited to see is the simulation room, though.”
What the hell is the difference between the battle room and the simulation room? I thought, but did not say because the cadet wasn’t talking to me.
We passed a few more boring things: the library, some of the classrooms and our sleeping chambers before we reached a circular opening. In the centre of the room was a hovering cart that a robot appeared to be in charge of.
“Put your armour and bags on the cart and they will be taken to your chambers.” Lieu Shaos commanded.
The robot made an electrical squeaking noise before zipping off with the cart. I was not sure how they would figure out who’s was who’s with all the luggage. Then I saw are names were printed in silver on them.
The captain of San, Donn, was the first to look up and gasp. We all followed him (if he was a ‘he’) and looked at the glass bubble-shaped ceiling far above us. I could not believe we were looking directly at the star without our eyes burning. Although the glass was protecting, it was still hard to believe. The bright light radiating from Nar (that’s the name of the star by the way) was hypnotizing. I could not explain it. Many times I had seen Earth’s Sun but Nar was different, more beautiful.
“Hey kiddies!” Lieu Rac clapped his glove-covered hands together patronizingly. “Trust me; you will be seeing plenty of old Nar later. But for now, focus.”
The lieutenants led us though the largest of the doors which lead to another circular room except this one had a stage and podium in it. They lined us up with Gall in front then Mar, Ket and San at the back. Up on the stage were three personnel. A tall Amazonian-like woman with bright yellow eyes and skin black like onyx, a short mousy woman with white skin and blue hair who was not more than two feet tall and a man who looked similar to Cameron. He was definitely from the Hashtish Alliance even though his skin was a darker shade of green and his hair was more brown than orange or red which meant he likely wasn’t from Hashtish 4. More likely he was from Hashtish 8 or 9. The main giveaway was the stubble and moustache he had going which harsnics from Hashtish 4 did not go for. Only harsnics from Hashtish 8 and 9 accepted such bristly faces. But what would I know? I was just going off what Cameron had told me in the past.
I began to look around the room when I realized Lieu Rac and Lieu Shaos were gone. I was a little surprised they had left without saying goodbye or explaining why we were in this room. We all just stood in our perfect rows and waited. The three aliens on stage obviously had no intention of telling us what was going on. They were just staring forward at the door we had entered in. I cautiously turned my head to look back at the door to see if anyone was coming through. Some of the other cadets who were as curious as moi turned their heads too. Soon we were all staring at the door until we heard somebody clear their throat and we all instantly turned back to the front.
There was a woman about my height at the podium. Well, she had a womanly figure at least. It was really hard to tell seeing as her body was entirely wrapped in greyish bandages. She looked like a mummy from ancient Egypt except her except her bandages were spotless. It was impossible to see her eyes through the two tiny slits that only revealed blackness. Maybe that was all she was: blackness.
She was wearing all the colours of the USM. Her tunic was blue with a black outlining. A bird that almost looked like a phoenix was printed in white on her tunic and her open silk robe was red. The hood of her robe was up over her head making her look like a Sith lord. But those weren’t the features that that caught my eye first. The USM said that having five fingers (or four fingers and one thumb) was a ‘primitive’ trait, and yet the woman in front of us had five fingers on each hand just like me. – Fucking hypocrites!
“What a group we have.” She said calmly. What was interesting was that she didn’t have a translator nor wrist computer which made me question if she could understand us.
“Do any of you know how many speeches I’ve been given to new cadets over the years?” She asked rhetorically. “Most of you should know I’m Mel. As leader of the USM I have given thousands… millions. But I must say this is the grade that is truly different. The twenty of you will be the dawn of a new era.” Dramatic pause for effect. “I will not lie: You will be pushed harder than any other grade because you have more to prove. This galaxy will work against you, but never forget you are not alone.” She looked at every single one of us. She got stuck on me for a moment before she kept moving. “From your family, friends, school, you have learned that the USM Navy is a place where you fight alone. That is a lie. The USM works as a community…”
“Liar.” I whispered under my breath without realizing.
“I’m sorry, what was that?” Mel looked directly at me. So… I guess she could understand me without a translator.
All eyes were on moi. How could she have heard me? Nobody else around me had. I could have just lied and pretended I had said nothing… but I was Amelia Freaking Hollow, and I wasn’t the type to cower.
“I called you a liar ma’am.” I said bluntly. I heard some gasps from behind me. Oh God, I could get the death penalty for this!
“Did you?” There was no change in her voice. She had been around in the universe too long to care about what I thought. “And why would you call me that?”
I swallowed. My throat felt incredibly dry. “Well ma’am. You said the USM was a community… but what kind of community still has a discriminatory class system?”
She stared at me. I could feel Kel’s eyes trying to pierce moi so I ignored him. Mel had asked me what I said and I had told the truth. What horrible news my father would receive if I died on my first day. But if I lived then this would work in my favour. However Mel felt, she would remember me. She would be forced to permanently remember a second-class species who questioned her so-called perfect galaxy. – Yeah, my ego was pleased.
“Indeed.” She said impassively before returning to her speech as if nothing had happened. A wave of relief ran through my body. Maybe I wouldn’t die on my first day after all.
“Now, as I was saying.” She continued. “You are with a community. You will never be alone. You will be with your crew when you become the highest ranking commanders. I cannot say your path to reaching the top of your career will be a breeze. You are hated, hated because you are all misunderstood.” Oh, fuck you. “You’re second-class in the eyes of the USM.” You are the USM! “You are the grade that must change the USM perception of second-class species… You must change my perception of second-class species.” Well, at least she admits her bias. “How you do in this academy will determine the fate of first, second and third-class species everywhere in the galaxy. If you excel and prove to the USM you are as capable as first-class species at commanding, then in the future grades there will not only first or second-class species per grade… there will be both, learning together. And who knows, a third-class species could make it in too. However, if you fail in the academy and don’t prove your worthiness to the USM, then there won’t be another second-class species officer for a long time… a very long time.”
All of us felt a sudden burden land on our shoulders. We were test subjects, very important test subjects.
“So my fellow cadets,” Mel continued, “you are important. So important in the development of the USM. Don’t fail the USM… Don’t fail me. Prove you are worthy of being treated like first-class species.”
On Earth we would’ve clapped for Mel (whether we wanted to or not), but I kept my hands by my side like everybody else as she walked off stage. A few of the cadets behind me were whispering to each other, most likely about me. Hell, so long as they knew my name I was cool with it.
Just as the three aliens on stage were leaving two wheelie robots whizzed in and zipped around to stand in front of us.
“Greetings cadets.” One of them said in a very electronic voice. “You have a very long day tomorrow so you will need your rest. Please follow me to the cadet chambers where we will help you into your regeneration chambers. If you have any questions feel free to ask me. Simply address me as ‘AI605’ to get my attention.” The robot pointed to the robot they were next to. “You can also ask AI606 for information as well.”
We followed AI605 in the same two lines we had before when we were walking down the nightmarish corridor. AI606 followed behind us as if to make sure none of us broke away from the pack.
Our ‘rooms’ were the size of a bathroom stall if not smaller. There was a small screen on each door with our names, our crew name and a status on the condition of our chamber. All of ours currently said ‘vacant’ but if we stepped inside and closed the door it would change to ‘occupied’ and if we were regenerating it would change to… you guessed it: ‘regenerating’. Wow, they were exactly like bathroom stalls.
There were ten chambers on each side of the long, narrow room. On the wall the farthest away from the door was an archway that led to the lounge area with a few grey couches. I doubted I would be spending much time in there, though it was nice to know there was extra space to hang around in seeing as we couldn’t lie down in our own rooms. Not like I would be spending much time ‘hanging around’ in my thirty hour day where I spent twenty-four hours in classes though.
Next to the archway appeared to be the bathroom… the unisex bathroom. In the USM they did not have bathrooms just for males, females, hermaphrodites and aliens who asexually reproduced. To make it easier they just had one bathroom for all. I was not sure what to think of that. I was all for genders be treated equally, but having unisex bathrooms was just a step too far for my taste.
My room was in between Kel and Henn like on the spreadsheet. All of us were ordered to stand in front of our doors under our names as the robots confirmed we were in front of the right cubicles.
“You now all have permission to enter your chambers.” AI605 informed us. “When you enter, please leave the door open until either AI606 or I come and help you into your regeneration chamber. To make our job easier, remove your uniform and body-glove and place them in the drawer on your left and retrieve them when your regeneration is complete. The drawer will steam and clean them so they are fresh every time you put them on. Once we have helped you into your regeneration chamber well will close the door for you. This is the only official time we will help you regenerate so pay attention.”
When I opened the door I saw the little cell for myself. The little drawer AI605 was referring to stuck rather randomly out of the wall of the stall. It was something I could see myself easily running my stomach into every morning. My duffle bag and black suitcases were high up on the shelves on each wall of the cubicle looking like they could just too easily fall down and hit me.
I put my beret and hair tie on top of the drawer so I wouldn’t lose them. I set my wrist computer on my drawer too but I kept my translator in just in seeing as it was attached to my brain. My father constantly put in his earpiece and took it out with ease. However, I wanted to give it a day or two… or a year.
I did not like the idea of stripping down while knowing the other cadets could see moi, but I did anyways because everyone else was doing it with no hesitation.
AI606 went down the one row opposite moi and AI605 went to help Kel first. Due to the low temperatures in the space station I was shivering as I stood there naked. I was trying to suss out a way to use my two arms to cover my whole body. Being free of the body-glove was a strange feeling. I almost wanted to put it back on again. It was like my extra layer of skin. Sadly, it was already steaming in the drawer so there was no chance of getting back till the morning.
From my chamber I could only see Donn and his first officer, Or. Or made no attempt to cover his alien genitals while Donn had no genitals to cover… he was under ‘hermaphrodite’ on my spreadsheet, but apparently he could also be asexual. He was the only alien who was aquatic in our group. He had gills on each side of his face, dark blue skin with green speckles covering his body and head crests that made him quite distinguishable from the other aliens here. He only had three fingers (or two fingers and one thumb) with very sharp fingernails which on his home planet would be used while hunting other marine life. I only noticed these features when he waved at me as if it was no big deal that we were both naked. I found it interesting his species used waving as a way of saying ‘hello’ as well. I did not wave back because I was currently using both arms to cover my body.
I jumped when AI605 peered into my stall. The robot was long and narrow meaning he didn’t take up much space in my little cell. His long arms reached past me and hit the panel that slid the glass regeneration hatch open. The chamber was on a slight slant which made it easy for me to get into. The white padding glowed as the fluorescent light coming from the top of the chamber shined on it. The padding made a mould of my body as I sunk into it. The robot’s icy hands held my shoulders as he adjusted the way I stood in the chamber. If you haven’t realized: I was a person who didn’t like to be touched, especially by a robot.
“You will regenerate for exactly five hours. When you are done you have one hour of before your classes begin in which time you will get dressed and eat.” AI605 informed me as he used an alien marker implanted in his hand to put different coloured dots on certain parts of my body.
“This ink is permanent. It tells you where the sensors go when you put them on before you regenerate. Match the dot colour to the sensor colour for an efficient regeneration.”
He pulled down the sensors from the roof. Each one was connected to a wire with a colour on it. The sensors appeared to be little suction cups. My body tensed when I noticed the tiny needles below the suction cups. AI605 matched the green sensor to the green dot on my chest first. The little sensor jabbed me like a bee sting but drew no blood. He connected the other four before stepping back to examine. This must have been how I looked when I was in the artificial womb so many years ago with all the wires.
I didn’t dare to move in case one sensor detached… or cut me.
“Now. Say ‘close’ and once you do the hatch will shut. Then say ‘start regeneration process’. Do not resist anything and avoiding moving. Close your eyes and breathe steadily. It will all be fine.”
I was about to ask the robot another question, but he zipped out and slid my cell door closed behind him. There was a clicking noise meaning the door was locked. I was the only one who could unlock it now.
Nothing to fear Amelia It’s just your new bed… Your new bed from hell.
“Close.” I said, trying to sound calm.
Claustrophobia set in as the hatch closed. I was trapped behind a thick layer of glass now. Sweat beads formed on my forehead and under my armpits. The glass was so close to my face that every time I exhaled it fogged up.
“Start regeneration process.”
The light in my chamber suddenly dimmed and I could hear the whining of the mechanics inside the body of the regeneration chamber. They sounded strained and annoyed. I couldn’t help but look down when a blue gel started seeping in near my feet. I was panicking slightly but I refused to move. The cool gel rose quickly and before I knew it I could feel it at my neck. All parts of my body that gel had engulfed had gone numb and I could not move any of my limbs even if I wanted to because of it. My instinct made me cock my head up to avoid my mouth from getting gelled. I tried to inhale one last breath however the gel was too quick and seeped into my mouth. It didn’t taste awful yet I gagged nonetheless. My mouth numbed up just before I had a chance to try and close it. I thought about whether or not the gel was bad for me as more poured into my mouth.
I wasn’t thinking straight anymore and did not close my eyes in time. I blacked out. My head cocked up and my mouth and eyes wide open. The view of me from outside of the regeneration chamber would have been quite a sight!
13: Frekostillion Hes Canamao (Frek for short)
There was blackness for a long time. My body wasn’t there, I was simply observing. Little white lights appeared randomly in front of me. Soon there were millions… stars. My non-existent body was suddenly flung forward. Like a comet, I hurdled through the universe and towards an unknown star. Truly an exhilarating experience.
I awoke suddenly as icy water splashed my entire body all at once. Still not realizing the difference between dream and reality, my first thought was: How am I being splashed with water? I’m a mother fucking comet!
The blue gel was being accompanied down the drain by the icy water. I had taken many cold showers in my life, but I was not used to taking a shower while I was still in bed. It was easy to presume that once the water stopped the madness was over… I was wrong. I was going through the routine like at an old carwash. First I was washed-down and then dried-up by warm air that shot at me from all angles. Strands of hair repeatedly smacked my face. By the time the drying process stopped my hair was as puffy as a poodle’s.
The regeneration chamber hatch opened. Disoriented, I tried to step out but my legs were like jelly and I fell. Of course, I hit the drawer sticking out of the wall which caused my body to twist as I fell. Because the cell was so small I hit the back of my head on the door. I found that I had blacked out for a moment and when I regained consciousness I had my head on the ground and my knees bent. The cell was too small for me to stretch my legs out so I had fallen rather awkwardly. – Just judging by how I had woken up I knew it was going to be a great day.
Getting dressed was far more difficult in my small quarters and with a disoriented mind. I had no idea how much time I had left before my first class, but honestly I did not care. The blue gel had made my eyes temporarily red and they stung like hell. Not as bad as my mouth, though. I guess there was still some blue gel in my system as I was constantly trying to hack it up like a hairball. Next time, I would shut my eyes and close my mouth. – No question.
Only while I was putting my body-glove on did I notice I was bleeding in some areas. I had forgotten about the sensors when I stepped out of the regeneration chamber and they had been drawn through my flesh before they were finally released. Hoping the body-glove would stop the bleeding, I got dressed hurriedly and opened my door. Most of the other cadets were already out and chatting. For some reason my first thought was about how my breath smelled. I had not packed a toothbrush so my presumption was that all sanitary items were in the bathroom… The unisex bathroom!
“We’re cadets.” A voice said behind me in a French accent as I strode towards the bathroom. I whipped around to see who was talking. It was that creepily pale –yet sexy– alien I had seen earlier. “We only wear our berets on formal occasions.”
I stared blankly at him for a moment before realizing I was the only one wearing my beret in the area. Hastily, I chucked it back into my cubicle and closed the door again. The albino still had not moved. He scanned moi with his amethyst-coloured eyes before walking away. Again, no explanation.
When his back was turned I used Data to scan him. Time to figure out who he was!
“Name: Chorstand Metccli
Rank: Dub Captain
Assigned Ship: Dub Ship Marmus
Date of Birth: 16th of Day 211993 X.X.
Planet of Birth: Okevella
Note: Trinards are a second-class species due to the fact their ancestors are freed clones from the planet Somnosia. As slaves, they were trained to never show emotion or speak their thoughts. A trinard will not speak unless spoken to or if they find necessary. In their culture, fear of expressing thoughts or feelings is a genetic phobia. When speaking to a trinard it is best to avoid using ‘I’ and ‘think’ in the same sentence as it is considered offensive. However, using ‘I’ to refer to your physical being is acceptable. After the years of physical abuse inflicted on their bodies, the trinards have no care for their physical wellbeing, but their mind is sacred. Back when trinards were still slave clones their thoughts could not be accessed by their masters. The trinards are the daughter race of the trinords who used them as servants, for deep-space mining and sold them on the black market as sex slaves due to their natural beauty. To tell a trinard from a trinord, you will notice a trinord’s corneas are red while a trinard will have purple corneas. The trinords engineered trinards to have purple eyes and blood because purple is the colour of peasants and trinords wanted to make their dominance unquestioned. The trinards were liberated by the USM back in 141956 X.X. and given the planet Okevella to live on as compensation for their millions of years of physical and psychological abuse.”
Time slowed down as Data told me about Chorst’s history. It was so dark and awful, but I’m sure a human’s backstory would sound bad as well.
So that is why he had chosen not to speak to me. His kind just did not do that. What I did question was why did he comment on my beret? He didn’t have to comment on my silly beret but he chose to anyways. Evolution had made his kind not dare to speak unless necessary, but maybe years of being liberated had made it possible for trinards to speak when they wanted. Damn my translator though… Giving him a French accent. Really? It’s like it wanted me to be attracted to him. Lord new I had a thing for pale lanky guys with beautiful eyes. Take a look at my ex-boyfriend!
There were toothbrushes in the bathroom like I had guessed. The toothpaste provided made me gag, but it did leave my mouth with a minty fresh feeling. Apparently we were supposed to only use the toothbrushes once seeing as everyone was just tossing them away right after use. Sure, I was the rich version of a bourgeois girl but even I waited till the end of the week to dump a perfectly fine toothbrush.
Afterward, I awkwardly followed the other cadets down the hall and pretended as if I knew where they were going. We actually had maps on our wrist computers that told as where the cafeteria and classrooms were, but I could not be bothered to look at mine.
There were five large tables in the cafeteria. Each seat had a screen on the back of it that said who was supposed to sit there. Of course the tables were arranged by Dub crews so I was sat between Kel and Henn. Reluctantly, I took my seat.
With my head resting on my fist I stared at the fifth table and blocked out the sound of Kel’s voice as he told Gom about his wives. I wondered what fifth table was for seeing as there were only four Dub crews. I made the assumption it was for the cadets who were rejected by their own crew… I would be sitting there soon.
The robots whipped around the tables quickly giving us our breakfast judging by the back of our seats. We all ate such different things. Kel was given what like a creamy rice with an orange sauce, Henn got a dead eel-like animal, Ams was served just a drink of red liquid and Gom ate what looked like snails with colourful shells. What did I get? Classic porridge. Of course, it didn’t taste very much like porridge. It had been made in the alien kitchen in a microwave-like appliance that only made it look like porridge and not taste like it. Apparently it was jam-packed with nutrients to help me perform, but I almost felt like throwing the bowl at Kel because it tasted like lime-flavoured cardboard… and also I just felt like throwing something at Kel.
“And what is Earth like?” Ams asked me. Apparently everybody thought I was part of the conversation.
I felt like only one word described my planet: “Intense.”
“Intense?” Henn’s elf ears perked up. “How so?”
“Because it’s fucked up.”
Henn and Ams nodded, greatly confused.
Our science teacher was late to class. In a stereotypical class we would all be chatting and throwing paper darts, but this was Starside Academy: land of the socially awkward. We all just sat at our assigned white mushroom desks and faced the front. It was a sad day when I was the most rebellious in the class by using my wrist computer. I was checking the timetable for the day:
29:30- Report back to chambers
Judging by the timetable it was an easy guess that Starside Academy was going to drain my body of all energy. In a thirty hour day we had five hours to sleep. I cannot believe my classes were either four or six hours… My school days back on Earth had nearly been as long as one class!
Science had a semi-different meaning in the USM. Science wasn’t just the usual physics, chemistry and biology. Math was considered a sub-category of science and we were most likely going to learn some stuff about medicine too. In the first two years of going to Starside Academy all of us cadets were going to learn the exact same subjects, but for the final three years we split off into our own our own classes judging by what we were training to be. Oh god, that meant Kel and I were going to be training together for the whole five years!
The white door slid open. In stepped the harsnic I had seen on the stage earlier. He looked ‘ecstatic’ to see us all as proven by his heavy sigh.
Then we heard him speak: “Geed merning stoodents. I’m yer scionce teacha Frekostillion Hes Canamao. Ye can call me Frek fer shert.”
What… the… fuck? I looked at the all the other cadets. Some of them were tapping their earpieces to see if it they could adjust the signal. I knew very well that it wasn’t the earpiece that had the problem. Frek had the ultimate accent that my translator read as a mixture between Scottish, Irish, Russian, Indian, German and a hint of Canadian. I guessed the accents really varied in the Hashtish Alliance… and Frek had all the accents.
“Naw ve just herv to git somethern cleer: Ye’re all incredirbly stoopid.” He said bluntly. If only we had understood him so that we knew he was insulting us. “I wernt ye all to cleer yer minds of anythong ye’ve eva lerned in scionce… ‘cause I’ma here to teach ye averythang again the cereect way.”
A very long silence followed his introduction. None of us could comprehend anything he had just said. I did not understand how we were going to learn science this year if we couldn’t even understand one word our teacher said. He did not notice all of our expressions –or just didn’t care– and just casually leaned against the front of his desk.
“Vi’ll stert weeth soomthen easy jest so I con see vat ya all know.” He began. “Vat is de ferst element on de periodic teble?”
His eyes ran across all of us. It took me a moment, but once I figured out what he had said my hand shot up. – What a terrible mistake.
“Hydrogen.” I said, unaware of the mistake I had just made.
Frek raised one of his eyebrows in confusion. “Vat da fook is heedrogin?”
“The first element of the periodic table because its atomic number is one.” I scoffed. “That’s general knowledge.”
Apparently it wasn’t general knowledge. Some of the other cadets were giving me weird looks as well. How could I be wrong?
Frek shook his head patronizingly. “No serry. De ferst element on de periodic teble is akmorite weeth an atomic number of fur-hondred and serventeen.”
The first element is on the periodic table has an atomic number of four-hundred and seventeen… I call bullshit!
“Vat’s yer Hay-name?” He inquired. His strange accent seemed to change every passing minute. First he sounded Irish/Scottish, now he sounded Russian/German.
“Am… Dub First Off Am.” I said boldly.
“Vell Am,” Frek began very haughtily, “yer periodic teble is wreng. Seein’ as yer sacond-clers de USM ne’er bothered to cerrect yer kond. It vould be too herd to try and teech yer whole spacies somethen new like dat ‘cause ye vould’nt anderstond our coomplix scionce anyweys.”
The man was speaking gibberish. The only reason humans would not be able to learn new things is if someone as wacko as Frek taught ‘em!
It was strange knowing that everything I thought I knew about science was wrong. Maybe it was the USM who was wrong. Who knew? I mentally could not comprehend the idea of a new periodic table. Earth’s own periodic table made perfect sense. How could it be wrong? Had I studied chemistry for years for no reason?
I didn’t pay attention for most of the lesson. The longest I could handle a class for was two hours, but at Starside Academy science class was six hours. It was pretty obvious I was not paying attention seeing as I had opened a digital sketchpad on my mushroom desk and was doodling on that. Frek noticed, but honestly didn’t care.
I hated feeling like the dumb kid. Most of the other students understood this new periodic table. Well, pretended to understand at least seeing as it was impossible to understand more than a quarter of what Frek said.
Frek clapped his hands together before switching the projector off. “Vell, dat’s the leeson. See ya’ll teemorrow.”
The cadets fled quicker than the average baseball fan trying to leave the stadium parking lot before the rest of the crowd. I followed behind in a melancholy state. Was I pouting? Yes. I tended to do that when I wasn’t happy. I had inherited that trait from my father. It was easy to argue that because I was a snobby rich girl, I hated not having things go my way. – This was true.
“I sew ye at Mel’s preesintation.” Frek said. I continued to walk as if I didn’t know he was speaking to me. “I sew da way ye talked back to de mest powarful woman in da galerxy.”
I came to a halt and broke off from the other cadets and turned around to face the harsnic. He didn’t seem like a mean guy. We had just gotten off to a bad start. He actually reminded me a little bit of my father in some ways. Calm, intelligent… funny accent. The major difference was that I never got mad at my father.
“Ye gonna bother to learn anythong in my clers Am?” Frek asked. I couldn’t detect any smugness in his voice.
“I will sir.” I reassured him. “I just don’t like the USM not giving me the ‘heads-up’ about the major changes I will have to face in my learning.”
“Ya know vat I vould do if I was in yer situation?”
“Geet the fook ovar it and take the sheet comin’ like a good memba of da USM vould.” He said rather bluntly.
Fuck you, Frek. My thoughts were vivid on my face.
“Ye den’t have to like me Am,” Frek sighed, “boot ye’re gonna have to reespoct me as yer teacher. Ye’re loocky Mel’s been aroond too leng to cere vat a cadet thinks. Boot she desn’t have to see ya every day for sex hours. If ye’re goin’ to pout in my clers then den’t even bother comin’ here. I got other stoodents to teach.”
I opened my mouth to speak but stopped myself. It was true; I had never respected my teachers. Even back at my old high school Kim and I used to sit at the back of the class and snicker when the teacher got something wrong. – We were little biatches. Schools really had nothing to offer me past the age of fifteen. I had learned everything from my father because he knew more about math and science than the teachers seeing as he was a trained astronaut for science expeditions. Basically, I hadn’t learned anything new in a class in years. Frek was finally going to challenge me again… and I hated him for it.
The other cadets had made some good distance from the class in the time Frek and I had had our little conversation. We only had an hour for ‘leisure’ time so they wanted to get to the cafeteria as soon as possible to get a snack. We were not given assigned seats seeing as the small snack prepared was meant to be edible for all species… although it didn’t look it. It looked like brown Jell-O with black cubes stuck in it. Yes, it tasted awful.
I hate it here.
14: He/She/It Started It!
I’m not even going to bother giving an in-depth explanation on how my ‘history of the USM’ class went. To be brief: it was the most shockingly boring four hours of my life and made less sense than an episode of Star Trek. Yes, I do love Star Trek (never doubt that!) but it still does not make much sense. I’m guessing I am comparing it to that series because the history we learned was all out of date and there were quite a few plot holes. They were not giving us the whole story when it came to the creation of the universe. It wasn’t explained how the Mel was born before time began and we were just supposed to accept that.
Religion was not the same as it was on Earth. Mel was like their version of God. She was the reason for the ‘big bang’ after all. I was an agnostic so I could accept the new circumstances. I chose to neither deny nor accept the existence of any gods that had been laid out for me because they all seemed to have their faults. The USM had been around a lot longer and had proved that Mel created the universe and everything in it. Nobody could deny the scientific evidence supporting the USM version of the creation of the universe, but that didn’t mean we were hearing the whole story. For example: how did Mel exist in the first place?
Kel looked very uncomfortable with the situation. Where he came from religion played a very important role in his everyday life. The algrins believed in a god called Meshe, the god of fertility. Their version of the bible didn’t state that Meshe created the universe; it said that the universe had never not existed. Yes, I read up on Kel to give myself a better understanding of my enemy. They had a god of fertility because their race was on the verge of extinction due to a genetic disorder that meant only one in a million children born were males. However, the algrin religion was also against the idea of having unnatural births which meant no cloning or bioengineering male children and no fertility clinics. I would be considered the antichrist on their planet seeing as I was a bioengineered clone conceived in a medical lab. That is why Kel despised me. – He had done his research on moi.
I felt sorry for the algrins. Because they were second-class, the USM could not be forced to save their race if they could not accept change. That’s why there was polygamy on their planet. Each male had over a thousand wives but only a few ‘primary wives’. It was their job to impregnate all their wives to get a higher chance of having a male born to carry on the family line. Kel was seventy-four. However, his species only hit puberty in their forties. When I looked up his profile I learned he had over a thousand wives and at least one child with every single one of them. The only reason he was different from all the other algrins was because one of his primary wives was not an algrin and he had married out of their race. Of course, this was also banned by their religion. I could not tell what this meant about Kel. Did it mean he was trying to save his race from extinction by killing of the genetic disorder, did he marry her out of spite, or was he just tired of all his algrin wives and wanted something new? Either way, according to his profile, his wife –Jaedorra– was only one month pregnant which meant they would not know if she was carrying a boy or girl yet. Either way the child would be rejected by the algrins and seen as a mongrel. I hated Kel for making me feel bad for him. It was so much easier to despise him when I just knew he was a sexist bastard, but now he had a freaking backstory!
Anyways… Our history teacher was called Wesai or Wes. She was the pale mousy one I had seen on stage. She could not project her voice farther than a few feet making it impossible to hear her properly. Dear God, was it really going to be this hard understand what all my teachers said?
But as previously stated: history was boring. We had another one hour break after class in which we all got another snack. I had already attended ten hours of class today and I still had two more classes to go. It was exhausting. How was anybody supposed to do all this on five hours of regeneration? Some of the other cadets seemed to be feeling it too. The tall demon-like guy called Us from San had just collapsed in the line at the cafeteria. I rushed to his side like Donn did. – Donn was his captain after all.
“Us?” Donn gave the demon a gentle slap on the cheek to try and induce a response. “Come on, man.”
That’s when I noticed that my translator had given Donn a Russian accent. Not like a normal Russian accent. More like an American trying to imitate the accent. I instinctively thought of Pavel Chekov from Star Trek and knew the freaking fish boy would be my friend. We both took one of Us’s arms over our shoulders and helped him to the closest chair. I’m calling Us a ‘him’ even though he was technically an asexual hermaphrodite… It was just easier.
“You want me to grab him something to drink?” I asked Donn.
“It could help.” He replied with a smile that revealed his shark-like teeth.
Nobody stopped me from cutting in line to pour a glass of some sort of bright blue liquid. The cafeteria robots made no attempt to help the poor demon boy. Apparently they had not been programmed to respond to people passing out on the floor. The robots here made me very uncomfortable. Their bright blue glowing eyes almost made them look insane. – Robots couldn’t go on psychotic killer rampage, right?
Us was more responsive when I came back. He happily took the cup from me, but I didn’t pull my hand back just in case he dropped it. About half of the blue liquid went into his mouth while the rest trickled down his chin and onto his blue and black uniform.
“That’s disgusting.” A female voice said behind me.
I immediately spun around to see who was judging a guy who had just passed out. It was Zand: Captain of Ket. Zand… The name had a villainous ring to it. Her red uniform also added to the evil picture. She had a very slender figure like you would see a mannequin have. The only difference was that her body was made of a magenta coloured Jell-O. C’mon… The girl (if she was a girl) didn’t even have a face! How could she even see Us drinking?
My strong American accent kicked in defensively. “You gotta problem, darling?” I said rather sassily. “I’m sorry we ain’t all perfect blobs like you are.”
That prompted a gasp/laugh from Donn. Zand took a step closer to me. Her body was made of plasma and seemed so restrained in her body glove. I didn’t understand how she ate, drank or spoke… but I didn’t care.
“Zand,” I began, knowing I was going to make another enemy today, “I have this thing called a ‘personal bubble’ and you are currently standing in it. Please clear the area.”
Yeah… I shouldn’t have said that. Ten seconds later I found myself in the middle of a fistfight with a blob. I hesitated when my fist went right through her head and out the other side. Zand took my moment of shock to grab my shoulders and throw me to the floor. As I tried to stand up she caught her boot in my stomach and winded me for a moment. There was no particular reason we were fighting. I’m guessing we were all just so tired and angry on our first day of school that we were searching for a way to release that tension.
As soon as I stood up, Zand scrunched her three boneless glove-covered fingers into a fist again and went in for the kill. To both of our surprise, somebody dressed in black stepped in between us and caught Zand’s fist. It was Chorst. Kel was in the corner of my view glaring awfully at moi. I had repeatedly embarrassed him and we hadn’t even been here two full days!
“You are a captain.” Chorst told Zand in his mesmerizing French accent. “This fighting is illogical. Restrain yourself until we reach the battle room.”
Zand made a strange growling noise before pulling her hand away from the Chorst aggressively. She was strong, but she was a hell of a lot shorter than him. Trying to hit him in the face would be difficult.
“In the battle room I’ll tear your head off.” Zand hissed. But because she had no eyes it was impossible to tell if she was talking to moi or Chorst.
The Jell-O girl still had her fists ready and looked as if she was about to take on Chorst. Instead, she made another snarling noise before storming out of the cafeteria. There was silence for a moment before everyone returned to eating and chatting like nothing had happened. Chorst returned to his table where the rest of his dub crew was sitting without even taking one look at me. There was a hand on my shoulder. It was Donn’s.
“That… was awesome.” He laughed. “But maybe it would be wiser to avoid getting into fist fights on your first day at the academy.”
I glared at him in a semi-joking way. “Hey. She… He… It threw the first punch. I just returned the favour.”
Over the fish boy’s shoulder I could see the robots still serving the last of the cadets. So they did not respond to people passing out or fights. Good to know we could literally get away with murder in the academy.
Us walked over to us. He was a little embarrassed that it was sort of his fault that Zand and I had clashed.
“You can sit with us if you’d like.” He offered sincerely.
I opened my mouth to answer him when I noticed Kel standing in the cafeteria archway giving me an icy glare. Like a teacher to a naughty child, he gestured me to come over. Oh, this was not going to be good.
“Sure.” I told Us. “But I’ve got to go see my darling cap first.”
Donn and Us both looked back and saw Kel.
“Want me to come with you?” Donn offered politely.
“Nah, I can take him with one arm tied behind my back.” I joked.
Kel did not say a word to me when I reached him. Instead he just led me a little further down the corridor so we were a good distance away from the cafeteria. I wasn’t scared. It was easy to tell he just wanted to build the suspense because he could not really do anything to me without the teachers hearing about it.
“Look Kel,” I began bluntly, “sorry if I embarrassed you, but I didn’t start that last fight. Zand di–”
He slapped me right across the face. And not just a slap. A backhanded slap! It stung a little more than usual seeing as I had previously sustained some bruises from my fight with Zand. My cheek was red. It had been a hard hit. Was this his way of trying to gain control of me? Not gonna happen. The boy’s head barely reached my shoulder!
“It’s not just the cafeteria fight I’m embarrassed about.” He hissed. “On our very first day at Starside you spoke back to Mel and today I overheard you talking to Frek after class. You’re a mess Am. What do you think the USM will think of me if I can’t control you?”
I suspected he was asking a rhetorical question and didn’t bother to answer. Instead I decided to figuratively slap him back.
“You slap your wives like that?” I asked.
Kel didn’t flinch. “Only the ones I don’t like.”
“Well I’m not one of your thousands of wives so you don’t get to try and control me with force. You’ll never be a good captain if you have to hit your crewmembers.”
He growled quietly. “I can bet I’ll never have to strike a man like that. Reckless women like you have to be controlled. If you were allowed to do whatever you wanted the USM would implode.”
“I’m not reckless because I have a vagina. In fact, it’s the testes that pack men full of aggressive testosterone. No, I’m reckless because I just don’t give a fuck about what others think of me.”
That caught him off-guard. Even though he had had sex with over a thousand women, he still wasn’t used to the word ‘vagina’. That’s when I realized he was young adult like I was. Sex was just as foreign sounding to him as it was to me. I hated the hell out of the bastard, but I don’t think he wanted his life to be the way it was either. He had come from a world where men were so rare that they were all treated like royalty… but that wasn’t true. He was just as mistreated as his wives by an even higher power. Kel must have been barely a teenager when he was married to all his wives. He was under an immense amount of pressure to produce at least one son even though it was technically all out of his control. Honestly, his life sounded like hell. I blamed his miserable life on his restricted religion. He most likely blamed it on women.
“How in the galaxy were you accepted into Starside Academy?” Kel inquired after he recuperated from my use of the ‘v’ word. “You’re the most disgraceful women I’ve ever met.”
“Good question.” I joked.
Nothing more needed to be said. Kel flinched when I patted him on the shoulder patronizingly before I strode back to the cafeteria. He decided to wait for a moment so we would no walk back in together. There was no way the two of us were going to be able to function as crewmates. I hated him for being sexist and he hated me for being a woman. It’s like the USM knew we would not be able to work together because they wanted to see us fail like the second-class species we were.
I decided it was best to keep what happened between me and Kel to myself instead of concerning Donn and his dub crew. They seemed like a much more cheerful crowd. Not to say I did not like Henn, Ams and Gom, it’s just that Kel really brought the storm cloud to our table.
“So have you ever watched pod racing?” Jhan asked me. She looked like the green version of Zand. The difference was that she had visible organs through the gel and I could see her brain working away. – Very creepy.
An image of the pod racing from the Phantom Menace flashed through my head and I shuddered. For some reason my father liked the first three Star Wars episodes because he had lived through political battles in the USM that were equally stupid and murderously dull. I personally found politics boring and did not want it messing with my movies. Pointless fight scenes were much more entertaining for moi.
“Um… Sort of.” I told Jhan.
My translator had given her a Canadian accent: “They’re intense races, eh?”
“I guess so.” I muttered. Not wanting to talk about pod racing out of all sports.
“I wish combat was at the beginning of the day instead of the end.” Us mumbled. “I’m going to be so beat.”
Donn took a sip of the blue liquid. “That’s probably why they put it at the end.”
The rest of us looked at him in confusion. He sighed as if it was so difficult explaining his idea. “I think putting combat at the end is part of the battle simulation. Because usually in wars the marines run on very little sleep and are exhausted.” He explained.
“We’re not marines.” I mumbled. “We’re commanding officers.”
Donn agreed with the nod of his head. “Yeah… but we’ve got to be trained to fight if we have to.”
Surprisingly, I was exhausted, but not sleepy in the same way. The florescent white lighting had disoriented my body. No matter what time it was my body thought it was daytime. That was a contributing factor in why we did not just ‘sleep’ normally. Our body clocks were so confused that we most likely wouldn’t get any rest at all without our regeneration chambers. The nocturnal students like Ams and Chorst were suffering even more. They were most likely going to be blind by the end of the first year.
Tamarax was acting strange. Well… stranger than usual. Her sharp black nails punched numbers into her alien calculator as she went back and forth down the long corridor. It was like she was on a treasure hunt and her calculator was the map.
KC2203 followed meekly behind her in his green button-up jacket and tight black pants. Apparently a jacket with tight pants was the new fashion so that was exactly what Tamarax made him wear. He was not very well-liked by Tamarax’s personnel seeing as she had basically put him on a pedestal to be admired. Her henchmen did not know what she did to the poor guy behind the scenes, they were too ignorant. It was strange how much of an interest Tamarax had in her slave, and yet she had never bothered to give him a proper name.
One of her expendable assistants stood to one side and watched her go back and forth like a madwoman. It’s finally happened. He thought. She’s lost her mind. The fact was that Tamarax had lost her mind long ago, but she was just very good at hiding her true insane self.
Tamarax stopped abruptly and stared at her calculator and then the floor. A sadistic smile spread across her face showing her rotten fangs. Her smile vanished for a moment when she examined the numbers again on her calculator. Then she took one step backward and smiled again.
“Vel,” she glanced at her assistant, “can you come over here?”
Her assistant hesitantly walked over. The job of working for Tamarax was very dangerous, but he needed the credits. Tamarax’s workers were from all over the Milky Way. She worked alongside pirates and terrorists, bought many slaves and hired aliens from second-class or third-class planets who could not get other jobs. And like most awful people; she got her money from the slaves she sent out to do deep space mining. That was the original reason she bought KC2203. His ‘brothers’ were out in the farther reaches of the galaxy slowly dying in the heart of giant asteroids. While they scavenged for rare minerals, KC2203 was here with Tamarax. He felt a huge amount of grief for his brothers. He would have rather been physically dying with them than spiritually dying with Tamarax.
“Draw a cross.” Tamarax ordered. Using her boot-covered toes to point to where she wanted the cross.
Vel complied and got out a red marker. He wasn’t sure why she wanted a cross there, but it was a death sentence to ask.
“Here it is gentlemen.” She said proudly. “Here is where Amelia Hollow will die.”
She sniffed. Both men thought she was crying due to her ‘achievement’, but it turned out she was just holding back a nosebleed.
Time was linear. But at certain points it could be tampered with. This was one of those points. She had to kill me (yes, I’m still narrating the story even though this isn’t my plotline) exactly on the red cross Vel had drawn or the path where Tamarax died would be inevitable. However, if she succeeded in killing me, then Tak would successfully collide with the star that had the time energy surrounding it. By looking into the space time continuum, Tamarax had formed a telepathic connection with Tak. So when the 4th dimensional creature got the ‘push’ it needed to reshape the universe, she would be able to tell Tak what she wanted to be done telepathically.
(Do not ask me how Tamarax was able to figure out where the time-changing point was with just a calculator and her mind. If you saw the vast amount of equations going on in her head you would go as crazy as her.)
Vel and KC2203 joined her in smiling even though neither of them agreed with her. They both secretly wished she was wrong so that she’d die.
“See Vel?” Tamarax began. “And you said that I wouldn’t be able to find the time changing point.”
Her green assistant stared at her blankly. “I never said tha–”
Vel was cut-off when her sharp nail went through his eye and pierced his brain. Tamarax had a strange impulse to kill whoever said she was wrong about something.
KC2203 squeaked and covered his mouth with both hands. He hated death. Killing was against his beliefs and it tore him up inside every time he remembered he was the slave of a killer.
Tamarax instantly regretted killing Vel in front of her little blue pet. He was always so solemn after she killed someone in front him. He suffered from depression for obvious reasons. Tamarax had him on medication for it, but it just got worse every time she did something bad in front of him. It would have been easy for her to just kill him and get a new slave, yet she didn’t want to do that. In spite of everything, she had feelings for him. It was an unhealthy to have a relationship based on one partner having all the control. Unfortunately Tamarax didn’t know how to have any other kind. It was not as if KC2203 could complain. After all, she had ‘saved’ him from being sent to the deep space mines.
The blue boy stood there like a deer in the headlights. He was worried that she would go for him next. Tamarax took her nail out of Vel’s head and let his body drop.
“Sorry sweetie.” She said as sincerely as she could. “It’s just impulse.”
KC2203 nodded in understanding, but avoided eye contact. He saw no way out of his hellish life. All clones feared the USM as much as they feared their own masters. The USM did not recognize them as people and therefore weren’t afraid to shoot them conflicts. Slave clones only trusted their siblings and KC2203 was alone, so he trusted no one.
16: Band of Nitwits
We had the same teacher for tactics and combat. Her name was Alk. She was the tall woman I had also seen on stage with the skin dark like onyx. Alk appeared as hard as a diamond however she seemed like one of those women who would become softer once we got to know her better.
“Donn!” She barked before pausing the video we had been watching.
The fish boy looked up from his desk. He shrunk under her glowering yellow eyes.
“Yes ma’am?” He asked.
“What were you doing?” She asked. The voice my translator had given her was low and enigmatic.
“Nothing ma’am.” Donn replied sincerely.
“That’s the issue.” She hissed. “You weren’t paying attention to the film. You know why we’re watching this battle?”
“Err…” Donn mumbled.
“So that you can figure out the strategies our fleets used to take down these terrorists. You need to focus or your ship will be the first to explode in battle.” She said bluntly.
Donn nodded eagerly in agreement. “Yes ma’am. Sorry ma’am.”
Watching old USM wars was tremendously boring after the first three hours. We were all just waiting for the class to end so we could have our hour break before we came back for combat. I had already taken enough notes on what had happened in the wars that I felt ready to start strategizing our first battle in the battle room.
Donn’s wrist computer informed him there was a new message. When Alk had her back turned he quickly opened it. It read: “You are SO rebellious”.
He turned to face me before using is disturbingly long forked tongue to lick his big blue eyes. I’m not sure what that was supposed to mean, but I guessed it was similar to how humans stuck their tongues out immaturely. I had not been watching the film either. I was just really good at looking like I was focused even though I was staring off into space.
The leisure break we had next was actually for dinner. I was curious about what they intended to serve me. I wanted a chicken sandwich desperately. Or at least something that looked like a chicken sandwich.
Data had informed me that my father had scheduled in a call to me at 29:12. Everybody got to make one call a day for exactly one and a half minutes. Boy, my father was going to be so happy to hear about how I was doing. I probably would not have enough time to give him all the details on how I talked-back to Mel, got into a fist fight with a blob, got slapped by my captain and learned that everything I’d learned in science class on Earth was a lie. Sven would most likely want Geraldine to chat with me too. I really hopped Geraldine had told my father about the dusk situation by now. Otherwise it was going to be very awkward for moi.
Once tactics class finally ended we went to dinner. Surprisingly, my ‘mashed potatoes’ and ‘steak’ dinner was pretty good. None of it actually tasted like the food it was supposed to, but I was too hungry to care. We were then told to go back to our chambers and grab our armour. Finally I was going to see what the silly black dots on my uniform were for besides looking stupid.
I strolled to my chamber with my hands in the pockets of my cadet jacket. I had not realized the things had pockets until now.
The suitcases seemed a lot heavier than they did a day ago. They were basically dragging along the ground as I carried them with my hunched back. Donn zipped up behind and slapped me on the back with one of his suitcases. Surprisingly, Henn was also with him. It seemed strange that the two were friends, but here they were acting like ‘chums’. I had not considered that the cadets could be friends with people outside of their dub crew. – Unless you’re moi, of course.
“Have either of you tried looking in these?” Henn asked, gesturing to his black suitcases.
Donn shook his head. “Alk said it wouldn’t be wise to open them.”
One of my eyebrows rose. What was inside that made them dangerous?
We had about fifteen minutes before combat started so the three of us just sat against the wall outside of the battle room. Gom, Jhan and some other people from Mar and Ket were there waiting too. This was the class we were all the most eager to attend. Science was dead to me, history and tactics were boring, and then there was combat; a place where we could all knock each other’s brains out. I needed to do something physical like this. Back at my old high school I enjoyed all the usual subjects, but I found the extra-curricular activities much more to be my forte.
To pass the time, Donn wanted to prove how good he was at keeping his balance. He stacked up our six suitcases and stood on top of them. This does not sound like much of an achievement, but the walls of the suitcases warped outwards meaning that they tried to slide when they were stacked.
“How impressive… But random.” Jhan joked. It was obvious she had a crush on her captain.
We all suddenly turned to see Alk standing in the corridor. Her arms were crossed impatiently. I was expecting to have one of those ‘comedic’ moments where Donn yelps and tumbles clumsily off the suitcases. Luckily, he was right about his good balance. He did yelp, but he was able to leap casually of the suitcases.
Strike two! I thought. Sure, I had a lot more strikes against me than Donn did, however they were all with different people. Donn had ‘displeased’ Alk twice in the past few hours.
Alk did not shame Donn like she did last time. She instead just strode past all of us and let the ID confirmation camera scan her so we could get in. Fish boy sighed out of relief before quickly picking up his two suitcases. Our names were printed in silver on the top of them so it was easy to find my two as well.
We were all led into what was apparently the overview room. It was where we got briefed on what was going to happen and also where Alk would monitor the battle from. On one side there was a large touchscreen monitor and on the other there was a long glass window that let us see most of the battle room. In-between the two were four white benches that had too thin of a seat so they looked more like balance beams.
I felt a little more anxious looking into the battle room now. It looked like a ginormous white elevator shaft on a tilt. Besides turrets everywhere, there was also a huge fan at the very end of the shaft.
Well… This should be interesting. I thought while taking my seat with the other cadets on the benches. I was right about them. They were very uncomfortable to sit on unless you were as thin as Henn.
“The battle room is meant to prepare you for any type of combat.” Alk began as she turned on the large monitor. “We’re not going to get straight into the battle of course. Well… unless your intent is to fly into walls and misuse your gun by stunning yourself.”
None of us were sure if we were supposed to laugh at her ‘joke’ or not. We all just hesitantly smirked instead.
On the monitor we were seeing a 3D projection of the battle room. It emphasized where the turrets were placed and the balconies that could be used to a team’s advantage. It also showed where some of the passages were that could take you through the whole room. Of course, there were some secret passages we would not be shown. They were the most useful for getting around the battle room secretly and also shooting the enemy without being seen. Alk told us that in one of them there was also a hidden gun that more powerful than any of ours. I did not care about that. I was just happy that we all got our own guns.
This may shock you; I liked the power a gun gave me… Actually, that’s probably not shocking. I’m from Wyoming after all. Once the real gun freaks vanished off the face of the Earth –or were sent to Florida– the shooting ranges became much more civil and were more like posh gun clubs. My father refused to touch any weapons besides a foil, but Geraldine and I had a heck of a lot fun shooting the targets.
“We’re going to start with the armour.” Alk said as she led us down the corridor to the prep-room. “There is a reason all of you must wear your body gloves all day even if you have an adaptable body. The glove will protect you in water, fire and deep space. It’s the same with your amour. The armour recycles the air you breathe so you can last in any conditions for long periods of time.”
Alk pointed to a black box behind glass in the prep-room. It was quite thin despite the fact it was the life preserver for our armour. Sure, great, but when were we actually going to get on our armour?
“If your life preserver is damaged, you have thirty seconds to remove your helm before you lose all oxygen in your suit.” Alk pressed a button that made the pedestal the life preserver was on rotate so we saw the damaged life preserver on the other side. It appeared to be damaged by laser. For some reason that excited moi more. It made me imagine the old sci-fi movies where lasers where firing rapidly from everywhere and yet doing no damage was being done.
Finally, we were going to put on our amour. Alk put hers on first of course. She attached her two black suitcases to each side of the amour chamber and stepped into the giant white and blue cylinder. I was surprised to see each individual braid of her black hair recoil back into her head until it only went to her ears. – Aliens could do the coolest things.
We all jumped a bit when she barked “activate!” and her suitcases flew open. Unrecognizable black objects flew out and at her. We could hear the objects as they slapped her body and magnetically connected to the black dots on her uniform… It looked like it hurt.
The armour looked like it had been put on her like pieces of a puzzle. What was the best about it was the helm. It looked like a more epic version of a fencing mask. We could not see her face at all through the jet-black plastic mould. It was easy to imagine how terrifying it was for civilians to see the USM personnel. They almost looked like villains themselves.
What caught my eye was the silver gun in the holster that had magically attached itself to her belt. I did not find it convenient that you had to put on your armour every time you wanted your weapons. What would happen if you weren’t near an amour chamber and you needed your gun?
The San dub crew went first. Donn was not excited about being the first to go. I saw him close his eyes at the last moment when the armour came flying at him. His helm was had an odder shape to fit his head crests inside comfortably. It was going to be a lot easier spot him out in the battle room than it would be to distinguish the others in his group.
The next up was Ket, Mar and then finally us. By the time it reached Kel we were all still anxious about seeing a cadet get attacked by flying armour. The algrin tried to act manly, but I saw him flinch when both sides of his helm charged at him from each direction. I reassured myself it did not actually hurt and it was just the build-up. – I was wrong.
I set my suitcases up and stood in the centre trying to look as casual as possible. When I called ‘activate’ the suitcases sprung open and pieces of armour shot at me like bullets. I was thankful that I had had my breast size reduced a couple of years ago because the chest plate hit me hard. Not like my breasts had actually been big originally, but the reduction made sense for when I played basketball and somebody elbowed me in the chest.
The helm hit me like a slap in the face. I now understood why we were requested to keep our hair short. The back end of my helm squished my bun into my head and created a throbbing sensation. I ignored it. I had always kept my hair at the same length and I was not changing today!
My body felt a little numb as I stepped away from the armour chamber. I then remembered that my suitcases were still in the armoury chamber and quickly picked them off the walls with my shaky hands. Alk then directed me to go and stand by Kel while we waited for the final three to gear-up. We didn’t bother to speak to each other. Instead I thought about what code names I would give out to my crew if Kel suggested we needed them. Phallic… It seemed like a good codename for Kel.
The first combat lesson was mainly going to be about learning how to use our armour and gun. We all stood in the battle room facing Alk as she gave the demonstration. She had programmed the battle room to be lying perfectly horizontally. Now we knew that the battle room could rotate with great ease. We all presumed that in the practise battles Alk would be rotating the battle room like crazy.
What I had not been aware of was that the armour that attached to our boots actually allowed us to fly. Alk was such a natural at flying. She actually made it look easy. She hit every wall in the giant rectangular prism. Her hand hit the top of the battle room before she soared back down. We all jumped back when she landed with her fist-first on the ground. She stood up properly and acted as if it was ‘nothing big’.
“You can communicate with your wrist computer to start, stop and change speeds while flying.” She lifted her hand so we could see the glowing blue circle of energy on her palm. “This is a stabilizer. This will help you halt in mid-flight or changed direction.”
We’re acting like Iron Man. I thought, loving the idea. Even though we all had masks on, it was easy to tell that the other students liked the idea of flying too.
“There is only way to learn how to fly,” Alk paused for effect, “and that is by flying.”
Oh yes, our first flight lesson must have been very entertaining to watch… but not fun to be a part of. As soon as I switched on my boots I found myself crashing into a wall. Only the students with ‘accelerated intelligence’ got the hang of it while the rest of us flew around like deflating balloons.
Just as I stabilized myself in mid-flight, I collided with another student I didn’t recognize from Ket and we both ended up crashing into the corner of the battle room. He (if he was a ‘he’) quickly switched off his boots and ran back to the centre of the room where Alk was standing. I followed him but at my own pace. I was sore all-over. I was either going to have a dislocated shoulder or broken bone by the end of the day.
“Well… That was interesting.” Alk laughed.
We knew things were serious when a girl from Mar had to be taken to the medical centre due to two broken bones. Her species had frail bones like birds. A robot zipped in with a hovering stretcher and scooped the sobbing girl up before zipping back out.
“She’ll be back in a couple of minutes.” Alk reassured us all. Medicine was far more advanced so a broken bone was easy to treat.
“Now we’ll get started on target practise.” She said as she typed something into her wrist computers.
All the cadets looked around as we heard the turrets turn on. I swallowed anxiously.
“In your Dub crews you must deactivate the ten turrets. Your guns are automatically set to ‘stun’ which works on living things and these turrets.”
Of course, since Gall was first on the spreadsheet that meant I was up first. The other three Dub crews and Alk watched from above in the overview room. In the two minutes we had Gom ran his eyes up and down all ten turrets to figure out which we needed to take out first. He was the tactics officer after all.
“I think we should spread ourselves out across the battle room so the turrets aren’t all just aiming in one direction. Two of us should be decoys who fly and distract the turrets while the other three find safe spots to fire from.” Gom explained while pointing at the small ‘pockets’ on each side of the room that people could hide in.
The turrets started firing spontaneously. We immediately abandoned Gom’s plan and scattered like insects. A laser just barely missed my leg as I dove behind a wall. I pulled my gun from its holster and got ready. A little too late did I realize that although I was protected from the turret aiming at moi originally, another had spotted me. I shot once but missed before electricity ran through my body. How could I already be out? This kind of stuff was supposed to be my forte. I didn’t even hit one turret.
The other members of Gall had not done so well either. Altogether we had deactivated two turrets before we were all stunned. Robots collected the five of us and took us to the battle room medical centre to be reanimated. Alk didn’t look very impressed with us when we came back into the overview room. I just hoped some of the other dub crews did poorly so we would not look as bad.
“You did good.” Donn whispered. At first I thought he was mocking me, yet he seemed sincere.
Like everyone else in the overview room, I removed my helm and attached two sides to my belt. Beads of sweat rested on the back of my neck. I casually used my gloved hand to smear them away. I didn’t want anybody to think I was already tired.
I noticed the girl who had broken two bones was back in with Mar. Her posture in the battle room suggested she was still a little shaken-up from the whole experience. She could still remember the pain from only a few minutes ago and now she was back in the battle where she would probably get injured again.
Mar seemed a lot more organized than us. Chorst had been one of the few cadets who had actually listened throughout the whole of tactics class so that was another card in his hand. He ordered the rest of his team to hide before sacrificing his science officer to the turrets. While the turrets were all aiming for poor Jee, the rest of the dub crew fired from their hiding places. In the end his team got five turrets. Alk nodded her head slowly when they came back in after reanimation. She was impressed. Most cadets from previous grades only got at three or four on the first go.
“Sacrifice.” She noted. “A good idea, but will you have the heart for it in a real battle?”
Chorst’s impassive expression didn’t change. “I will do what must be done.”
Jee didn’t seem to like the idea very much. He did not understand how the one with ‘accelerated intelligence’ ended up being sacrificed.
“And why not sacrifice yourself instead?” Alk asked. She wanted to see how much Chorst had learned in tactics class.
“A crew needs a captain.” He said simply.
“Excellent work Dub Cap Chorst.” She looked at all of us and then back to him. “You all should keep his tactics in mind.”
And of course, the two Dub crews afterwards had sacrifices as well. Ket got four turrets while San got three. When it was my crew’s turn again we quickly discussed what was going to happen during the walk down the corridor. It was best to use the two minutes before the turrets turned back on to find hiding places.
“So are we doing sacrifice?” I asked Gom.
Kel answered for him: “Yes.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Who’re we making the bait?”
“You.” Gom and Kel said simultaneously.
I scoffed and shook my head before putting my helm back on so they couldn’t see my frustration. It was a ludicrous idea to give up the first officer. Kel was acting on emotion and not thinking logically. He and Gom were in a pact now, but who would Henn and Ams side with? The two of them avoided eye contact as I looked at them. Understandable, it was always best to side with the captain… even if he was a nitwit.
Lasers shot right past my head as I flew around the battle room. Some were from the turrets while others were from my dub crew as they made pathetic attempts to deactivate the turrets. I was awful at flying, but I still pulled out my own gun and decided to see if I could hit something while in mid-flight. There was a pain in my back as a laser hit me. I hit the floor with a thud and lay still in position that would be awkward if I could feel anything. The gun landed on my pelvis before sliding off. Now that I was out, the turrets would be searching for the rest of my crew. Bastards, it was probably one of them who shot me down.
This time we got three turrets. Better than last time. Still, it hardly seemed like sacrificing the first officer was worth a measly three turrets.
“Try and stay in the air longer. You make it too easy to get shot.” Kel told me bluntly as we walked back to the overview room.
It’s like he begging me to hit him. I thought, clenching my fists.
Alk looked as happy as I did: “What was that?”
“Sacrifice.” Kel replied. He had no respect for Alk. He wasn’t used to women being more powerful than him.
“Have you not considered the fact that if you and Am had been taken down first in a real battle, then there would be nobody left with the experience to command?”
“Frankly, I don’t think Am’s qualified to command.”
That brought silence to the room. Hitting the phallic wouldn’t have helped, but I sure did want to. Alk shifted her weight from one foot to the other and folded her arms. She was above getting into petty debates so she said no more on the matter. She used her hand to gesture for the next dub crew to go down.
The next hours were repetitive, then again necessary. The first team to hit all ten was Zand’s. She had actually been the last one standing at the end and we were all impressed.
Even though I had been reanimated, my body had been stunned so many times that I felt numb in my hands and feet. I sat on the bench as the cadets watched San and pinched the top of my hand. All the other teams had changed sacrifices each time, but Kel always made sure it was me. – What a phallic.
When San returned from reanimation my dub crew got ready to go in for our turn. Alk stopped us and directed with her finger for us to go and sit back down on the benches.
“We’re going to try something different now.” She said as she turned the monitor back on.
Another 3D projection of the battle room was shown, but now it was standing up vertically. That’s when we all heard a cranking noise as the whole battle room rotated. Now it looked much more like an elevator shaft.
“The turrets aren’t the enemy anymore.” She began. “In your Dub crews, it is your job to eliminate all the members of other crews. You must also protect your base from attack. If you lose the heart of your base then you automatically lose the whole exercise.”
Shit just got real. We were all still exhausted from the previous exercise. This new game would most likely form competitive wedges between dub crews. I could see them already forming as we all eyed each other.
Four little rooms were open now that had not been open during target practise. They were each of our bases. In the centre of each little room was the ‘heart’ of our team. Three shots and it would be deactivated. Gall’s base was not in a great location. It was below two of the other bases which meant we had been automatically disadvantaged.
I leaned against the dark grey wall as I secretly listened into Kel and Gom’s conversation. They wanted to use me and Ams as decoys… Sexist.
Fuck this. I thought before slipping out unnoticed. Even though the game had technically started I would not be noticed seeing as everybody was still inside their base planning.
Near the very bottom where the fan was, there was a tucked-away pocket which I hid in. Sure, it was general knowledge that being below in a battle was not a very good idea, but nobody knew I was down there.
My wrist computer beeped. Apparently as soon as Kel realized I was gone he sent a message demanding to know where I was. I told Data to delete the message and continued to watch what was happening above. If I was not going to be respected by the rest of my crew then I might as well go rogue.
The first to leave their base was someone from Ket. The alien was like an ant as it crawled along the walls and down to San’s base. Instinctively I wrote a message to Donn to warn him. Unfortunately, my screen flashed orange and an error message came up.
“I’m sorry Am, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Data told me.
I slowly looked down at my wrist computer. “Why not HAL… I mean Data?”
“Dub Cap Donn is not on your team. All contact with other dub crews has been forbidden until the end of the exercise.”
The insect-like alien jumped onto the San crew’s balcony and drew its gun. It had to be Va, the hermaphrodite, because I recognized his/her four insect arms and large bulbous head. I drew my own gun and aimed. If Alk criticized me later I could just say I was just shooting for the hell of it and not trying to help San.
I missed, and Va spotted me. On impulse I fired again and hit the alien right in the gut. Va stumbled backwards and fell off the balcony. I looked away. – It was a long drop. The ant-like alien landed on the grate above the fan with a splat. At least Va was stunned or that would have really hurt.
Three members of San –including Donn– came out shortly afterwards. All of them went to Ket now that their crew was one short. None of them looked like they really wanted to fly but they had no choice. Two of the remaining members of Ket were already on their own balcony and firing down at the assailants.
It was surprising to see four members of the Mar crew fly out from their base and right into San’s. Chorst seemed to be the most organized so none of us had prepared for him to do something as crazy as that. However, that was exactly what he had been planning on. I could see the flashes of light from the balcony as they took out the heart of San and lost one of their own in the skirmish.
“San has been eliminated.” Data informed me as the heart was deactivated.
The final member of the blue crew suddenly felt an anonymous jolt of electricity run through his body and dropped like a dead fly. As soon as the heart was destroyed, no matter how many were left you’d still automatically ‘die’.
The remaining members of Mar flew back to their own base. They were most likely already planning who they would attack next.
Little Ams was flying around like a wingless sprite. Gom and Kel had still decided to use her as a decoy even though I was gone. Zand was smarter than that and only had one member of her crew shoot Ams down while the other two went for my other team members. Even though I was ‘rogue’, I still had to make sure the Gall heart survived.
Stupidly, the three remaining members of my crew were out on the balcony firing at Ket. Nobody was defending the heart. If they had not made Ams go and get herself stunned they could’ve left her to defend. The last one standing at the end was Kel who realized his mistake and began to walk backwards. Zand did not let him get that far and shot him herself.
After Kel went down, three members from Mar came back out from hiding and decided to finish off Ket themselves. They succeeded, but the two of them got stunned.
“Ket has been eliminated.” Data said.
Now it was time for me to get back in the fight. It was just Chorst, one of his teammates and moi. The crewmember from Mar –who wasn’t Chorst– seemed rather cautious about entering the Gall base. He thought I was in there with the heart seeing as I had been missing the whole game.
“Data?” I whispered.
“Yes, Dub First Off Am?”
“If the doors to the bases can be opened automatically, can they be closed too?”
“Close the door to the Gall base and lock.” I ordered, hoping Data had that sort of power.
There was silence for a moment as the crewmember took another step towards the Gall base before the metal door slid shut. He jumped back otherwise it would’ve sliced him like a knife. In this brief amount of time I got out of my hiding place and flew back up. I shut my boots off just as I reached the balcony and landed clumsily. The member of Mar quickly turned around and raised his gun, but I grabbed his arms and tried to direct the gun up into the air. He squealed like a little wounded animal but refused to submit so I screwed that plan and just pushed him away before grabbing my own gun. I got him in the chest and he dropped like a puppet had its strings cut.
Now it’s just moi and Chorst. I thought. Ironically, I felt a gun pressed into the back of my helm.
“Do you surrender?” Chorst asked coldly.
I hated losing, but was surrendering actually an option?
“Yes?” I said more as a question.
“Drop your gun.” He ordered.
I complied. He would have to be a real bastard to shoot me now.
“Dub Cap Chorst,” Alk said over the loudspeaker, “what are you doing?”
“I have no need to kill the enemy if they surrender.” He said sharply.
I looked up at Alk in the overview room. Chorst was her new favourite cadet. He was the only one of us thinking about what would happen in a real battle.
“Good answer Chorst.” She said, impressed. “Mar is the winner of this exercise.”
The hovering robots filed in from an entrance at the top of the room and started searching for stunned cadets. Chorst lowered his stun gun as I turned. We could not see each other’s face through the helms, yet I assumed he looked impassive as usual.
I wasn’t sure what to say: “Uh… Thanks for not stunning me.”
He did not reply. Instead he just switched on his boots and flew to the exit.
“Okay then.” I muttered before following him.
Every cadet had lined-up outside the high-tech phone booth. We were all anxious to call our family and friends to brag about how ‘great’ Starside Academy was.
The day had droned on and seemed to last sixty hours instead of thirty. Most of us could barely stand still or stand at all because we were so tired. Although I loved my father and Geraldine, I was so tired that talking to them did not actually seem that appealing. Calling them in the morning would have been a lot easier when I had more energy.
All the cadets nearer to the front of the line were acting voyeuristic and staring into the booth to watch the calls… I was one of these cadets of course. What I found most interesting was Kel’s conversation with what appeared to be his father. The man looked like the leader of an Italian mafia with his dark clothing, black desk, windowless room and heavily-armed female bodyguards. The fertility wars on the algrin planet had intensified since Kel left and his father didn’t appear happy about it. It was almost sad to think of Kel as a little boy just trying to impress his father and failing. The males on the planet had a lot more baggage to carry. Kel leaving to become a cadet made his father feel as if he was trying to run away from his fate, but he would never escape.
The final thirty seconds of the conversation were the most intense. Kel’s body language suggested it was taking everything he had to not raise his voice at his superior. The discussion was most likely about Jaedorra and the fear of the mongrel child she would have.
None of us were sure exactly what was said, but something made Kel crack and scream “don’t you dare touch my wife” before storming out of the booth without even finishing the call.
All of the cadets at the front quickly went into ‘nonchalant’ mode and pretended that they had heard nothing. Kel did not look at any of us as he stormed away. Man, he was one messed-up guy. Why the hell would Starside make him a captain? He obviously wasn’t emotionally fit for the job.
Three more calls and it was finally my turn. It was awkward standing in the long slender cylinder. They obviously weren’t made to fit obese aliens because even I was having issues.
The cadet USM phone was different from my hologram projector at home. It was more like watching a 3D movie instead of having it projected onto a table.
I suddenly felt bubbly inside when my father and Geraldine’s image appeared. A small smile spread across my lips and my tiredness was forgotten. Sven had his little translator in his ear even though he knew I spoke English. I guess it was impulse for him to put it on whenever he made universal calls. Or maybe he was calling Cameron afterwards.
A part of me wanted to tell my father about Cameron getting bullied, but that would make the situation worse on both sides. Cameron most likely wanted to deal with his situation independently and my father would just feel helpless. If Cameron wanted Sven to know, he would tell our father himself.
“Amelia!” My father exclaimed as if he hadn’t expected it to be moi.
I wasn’t sure how to the conversation: “Hi guys. How are ya?”
Sven waved the question away.
“Never mind about us. How are you? How’s the academy?”
“Well,” I began slowly, “I talked back to Mel, realized everything I had ever learned in science was a lie and my captain is a phallic.”
There was a brief awkward silence as my father registered everything I said. He then smirked and shook his head. Geraldine had a slightly different reaction. He was laughing because he thought I was joking.
Sven adjusted his glasses with a smile. “I’m having an awful flashback to your first day of kindergarten when you beat up little Henry Kuttner because he said girls weren’t allowed to play tag.”
“Good times.” I reminisced fondly.
“Wait,” Geraldine squinted his eyes in suspicion, “isn’t Mel the super master overlord thingy?”
“Yes.” I replied casually.
“And you talked back to her?”
“I did indeed.”
Geraldine put up his pedicured hands defensively as if to say ‘hey, I’m not one to judge’. I could tell he was acting more coyly towards me than he would usually, because he still hadn’t told my father about the dusk.
“What happened?” My father asked before he re-thought his question. “Wait… I don’t want to know the answer, do I?”
“Probably not.” I joked.
“So has anything good happened?” He asked hopefully.
I had to think for a moment.
“Well I befriended an aquatic hermaphrodite with a Russian accent called Donn.”
My father raised his eyebrows: “He sounds… interesting.”
“There’s also a really hot trinard here with a French accent.”
“No!” My father objected. “Stay clear of trinards… They are the most impassive creatures in the universe.”
I questioned how my father knew so much about trinards. He most likely worked alongside some during his time as ambassador. There was also a good chance he slept with one, knowing my father.
“But he has a French accent.” I moaned.
“Change it to something less attractive like… Finnish.” He joked. – He had issues with Finland which was most likely because there was enough Finnish in him that he was judged by other Swedes.
“You can change the accents of people?” I asked in an enticed way.
My father and Geraldine instantly saw the maniacal smile spread across my face. Kel was about to become Scottish! No. Fresno, California suited him.
“Good.” I said after my moment of insane power passed. “My science teacher, Frek, speaks gibberish at the moment so I may give him a German accent.”
“He’s a harsnic?” My father asked with a strange expression. I do not know how he knew Frek was a harsnic. Maybe he knew the man, or maybe he knew that I generally associated harsnics with German accents.
“He is,” I nodded slowly, “but not a pompous one from Hashtish 4.”
“Your brother is not pompous.” My father protested.
“That’s because he’s your son. Della’s the definition of pompous.”
My father raised his index finger to object, then lowered it again. He and I were just as pretentious and arrogant as Della, and we knew that about ourselves. It didn’t make sense that Cameron was so sweet and shy. The only explanation was that he generally had less confidence than the rest of us because he was a crossbreed.
Geraldine was the first to glimpse at the timer and nudged my father. We had just under twenty seconds left.
“Well darling,” My father began hastily, “Geraldine and I love you very much and we hope the rest of the week is better for you. You want me to schedule in a call for tomorrow?”
I had to think for a moment. There was someone else I wanted to call.
“Can you schedule in one for the day after tomorrow? I kind of want to give Cameron a call.”
My father smiled and nodded. He understood completely.
“Love you!” Geraldine squeaked.
I was about to say ‘love you too’ when the transmission ended. Standing there in the booth, I realized how much I missed both of them. Was it possible I was in over my head here at Starside Academy?
There was no time to think like that. Zand banged ferociously on the door to the booth and gestured for me to get out. I shot daggers her way as I strode past. Sadly, it was hard to try and make eye contact with someone that did not have eyes.
“Yes, Dub First Off Am?”
“Can you schedule in a call to Cameron Vis Homen on the Titonic for tomorrow?”
There was a brief silence as Data checked his records.
“Yes. The earliest time available is 29:06. Is this acceptable?”
“Perfect.” I said with a smile.
Due to the exhaustion, I went to my ‘bed’ earlier than suggested by my timetable. The call had put me in a melancholy mood. It had been like chatting with ghosts. Earth seemed like a planet I had lived on in a past life. I could only imagine living in the present and nothing else.
My chamber didn’t get the better of me this time. My eyes and mouth were tightly shut so that not even the Jaws of Life could get them to open.
I can recall having dreams that night. None of them were clear, but it seemed like I was on Earth. It was a nightmare. The entire planet was being engulfed in white flames. Above in the sky the sun was exploding while being eaten by the foreign white flames as well.
Somebody was holding my hand, and yet I did not turn to see who it was. I already knew it was Chorst. We were in a golden field near my father’s estate. I wasn’t actually holding Chorst’s hand, I was holding was remained of his smouldered wrist. How did he lose his left hand and why was he here? Who knew?
It was just a dream after all.
18: Close Encounters of a Fourth Kind
Life became much easier once I gave Frek a German accent. The last German teacher I had went through an open window after he called two boys in my class ‘shirt-lifting faeries’ so I hoped for a better result with Frek. Yes, I shoved the teacher through the window on the first floor. But according to my eleventh grade history class; he ‘tripped’ and fell through it.
Today’s lesson was on the first million elements in the USM periodic table. I went in with a better anticipation of the class than I had the day before. It was just easier to imagine I was attending science class like I would a blockbuster movie: agreeing with everything –whether it made sense or not– and accepting it as it was.
Seven magnified holographic elements hovered in front of Frek. The structures of USM atoms were very different from the ones on Earth. They were colourful coiled-up balls of yarn with an unseen bright white core.
This was hard to believe seeing as human scientists had studied the atom for so goddamned long, but I had to pretend to accept it so I could pass the freaking class.
“Now students,” Frek began in his new accent, “what I’m showing you next is not part of the USM academic standards. In fact, I’m not supposed to be teaching you about it at all.”
All the cadets felt anxious when a boyish smile spread across Frek’s harsh face. The seven hovering atoms in front of him suddenly all untwined to reveal their white cores. The stringy outside dangled off the balls of light like a tail. As each white ball connected, the combined glowing core became larger and larger. Once all seven were fused together, the stringy tails started wrapping themselves around the new element.
“My friends,” Frek addressed us patronizingly, “when these seven elements are fused together they tear a hole in the space time continuum. What you’re looking at is called Bennu or in Hey-terms Ben. The only known 4th dimensional element.”
Bennu… The Egyptian version of the phoenix. I thought, remembering my old mythology class. It was most likely just coincidence that the 4th dimensional element shared the same name as a magical Egyptian heron that could reincarnate itself.
“If it’s not in the standards then why are we learning about it?” Jee asked. – He was incredibly annoying because he thought his ‘accelerated intelligence’ made him better than everyone else…Which it did.
Frek intertwined his fingers. “This element is the most dangerous thing in and out of this universe that we know of. We don’t know enough about it to teach you anything. If you must know: a tear in the space time continuum made Lady Tamarax Deloro go insane.”
A large ratio of the class swallowed nervously. Tamarax was one of the most famous names in the USM alongside Mel’s. She was the only mortal creature to ever survive looking into the space time continuum, but she was also the largest threat the USM faced. She had too much knowledge for her own good and it drove her completely insane. – I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s always good to have a recap.
None of us were sure why Frek was so keen to show us something we should never learn about. The truth of the matter was he did not know either. He just stepped out of his regeneration chamber that morning and knew he had to show us Bennu. He was feeling more hesitant now that the moment of madness was gone. He felt as if something else had peer pressured him into this presentation even if he did not know what.
There were some sudden gasps from cadets as Bennu changed. The element stretched vertically and began to tear at the centre to create a hole.
But it’s just a hologram. Frek thought fearfully as he went back to his deck to end the simulation.
Something changed inside moi that moment. My vision and hearing blocked out everything else in the classroom. It was just me and the Bennu element. A subtle humming noise ran through my ears as the tear in the space time continuum continued to stretch. Bennu was not just an element. Whatever was on the other side of the tear was alive.
I did not flinch as three tentacles made of the white light shot from the tear. Two of them went straight through my eyes and into my brain while the third went through my mouth instead. My body went rigid as images of time and space were shown like a slideshow in my head.
For that brief moment everything in the universe made sense. All questions that had –or ever would be– asked were answered.
A horrible aching sensation rose in the centre of my brain. My mind was melting into a disgusting juice that seeped out my nostrils along with a large quantity of blood. During this time I just sat completely still and let fluids run down the front of my white uniform. I didn’t question why this was happening or how I was still alive. Brains are just organs, Bennu showed me that they were not necessary for the consumption of knowledge.
A single word kept reappearing my head. It was too complex for humans to contemplate, but if shortened it was Tak.
I was awoken suddenly by an electric shock that ran through my ears. I hadn’t even been aware that I was asleep until that moment. Time had not seemed to pass when I was staring into the space time continuum.
“Am?” A voice said. It sounded like it was coming from the other end of a tunnel.
As my vision began to clear I saw a blurry green man –obviously Frek– along with a silver figure with electric blue eyes.
Of course, the first words out of my mouth were: “What the fuck?”
I had forgotten everything Bennu had shown me. It was like coming out of a deep sleep which you could not recall the dreams in. A part of moi desperately wanted to have those memories back, but the other part of me knew the knowledge would kill me.
“Thank Amori.” Frek said under his breath. It wouldn’t look good on his record to lose a cadet to Bennu.
We were in the medical centre located near the battle room. I knew this place well after being reanimated so many times.
The front of my white jacket had a couple specks of blood on it, but not as much as in the nightmare. Apparently a river of blood and brains hadn’t come from my nose. I questioned how much of my experience with Bennu had been reality and how much had been hallucination.
“That shouldn’t have happened,” Frek said in a strained voice, “it was just a hologram. Had it been real we wouldn’t have been able to save you.”
I didn’t answer. That had not been a hologram. That had been the real thing. Holograms wouldn’t just change into a tear in the space time continuum for no reason.
Frek looked uncomfortable when I looked at him with my glassy blue eyes. He knew very well that something was still wrong inside of me. He blamed himself, however I knew there were darker forces at work.
“How did you save me?” I asked sharply.
The robot replied for him: “We wiped your memory of the event. Mel confirmed that was the only way to be sure there was no long term damage.”
Anger boiled in me. I was not even sure why. There was nothing wrong with what the robot did. I felt like I was missing something. Some very important piece of knowledge that could change the fate of the…
“We’re giving you the rest of the day off classes.” Frek informed me. “Hopefully you’ll be back to yourself by tomorrow.”
I snapped out of my strange state, but the piece of knowledge I was missing sat at the tip of my tongue.
“You told Mel?” I asked.
Frek nodded impassively.
“Aren’t you in trouble?”
He let out a heavy sigh: “Not as much as I should be. I’ve been relieved of teaching for the two months.”
“Then who will replace you?” I asked, a little annoyed that I was just starting to enjoy science again.
“A robot most likely.” He said simply.
I sneered. I didn’t want a robot to teach me.
Frek shifted his stance awkwardly. He had not expected his day to go like this.
“Am,” He began cautiously, “can you remember anything at all?”
Something clicked inside my brain. I couldn’t say exactly what it was, but I knew I maintained some of the knowledge Bennu had given me. It was just buried deep in my mind.
“Something’s going to happen soon.” I said more to myself than Frek.
My teacher raised an eyebrow like my father would do. “What?”
“Things are going to happen. A string of events that all lead to the biggest thing.”
Yeah… I was not making much sense. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get out what I wanted to say. I did not even fully know what I wanted say.
“Could you be more descriptive?” Frek asked curiously. If I maintained any 4th dimensional knowledge, he wanted to know.
Words were hard to use in this situation. My strange hand gestures didn’t help explain what I wanted to say either. “I… You see… things are going to do stuff… and I have to…”
Frek muttered something to the robot that I could not quite hear. The robot produced a syringe filled with a dark green liquid… Anaesthetic.
“I have to die!” I blurted out just before the needle went through my body glove and pierced my skin.
Surprisingly, I looked just as stunned as Frek. It was like somebody was using my body for a ventriloquist act and speaking for me. The knowledge was all in my brain, but I didn’t know how to access it.
The voice speaking through me continued: “And if I don’t die, then everybody dies.”
There was a long silence as I waited for Frek to respond. He didn’t. There was a strange look on his face as if he had been mentally prepared for moi to say something like that. On one level he was shocked while on another he knew my insanity was imminent.
My vision blurred as the anaesthetic took effect. Maybe this time the robot would wipe all my memories. I knew too much and Frek was aware of that. He just could not tell if what I knew was true or not. A tear in the space time continuum had made Tamarax lose her sanity. It was possible that even though I had only seen a hologram, I had suffered the same amount of damage as her.
The familiar icy water woke moi as it showered down. Obviously Frek and the robot doctor had decided it was best to put me into a deep sleep. My teacher hoped I would step out of the regeneration chamber remembering none of the events that took place with Bennu.
After my second mind wipe, I hardly recalled the entire science lesson. Somewhere in my brain it was still tucked away, but for now I was back to normal… and I had the day off!
My wrist computer said it was 15:32. All the other cadets would be in the middle of history class. I decided to wait until after that was done before I re-joined them.
Although I had technically been given the day off, I had to prove to Kel that no tear in the space time continuum was going to stop moi from outdoing him in the battle room. The question was, what was I going to do to pass the next hour and a half?
I went where any cadet with spare time would go: the library. The wrist computers only held summaries of the information in the library. When it came to exams –if there were exams in the USM– all the cadets would go to the library to get in-depth information on anything.
Despite the fact my memory had now been wiped twice, the thought of Bennu remained firmly implanted in my head. I took a seat at one of the white desks in the library and pulled up the touchscreen monitor.
“Access denied.” A robotic voice said into my translator when I tried to open a file on Bennu. “You must have level five access privileges to open this file.”
Cadets weren’t level five. Hell, cadets weren’t even level one!
I tried to be a little more clever. I typed in the first three atoms that created Bennu, but the same message played in my earpiece.
“What are you hiding from me?” I whispered to the monitor.
Without thinking, my fingers tapped the screen. It took me a moment to realize that I had typed ‘Tak’ into the search engine.
This time it was a little different. No message played. The computer searched its library in search of anything relative to the word ‘Tak’.
“Did you mean Taek?” It asked.
Dear God, it was like trying to search something up on Bing! – Not that Bing existed anymore.
Tak did not exist. Well, at least not in the entire USM database. I didn’t know what this meant. Maybe Tak was just something I invented in my dream. Or maybe I knew more about Bennu than the USM. – My ego was pleased.
“What are you doing?” A voice said.
I nearly fell of the mushroom stool I had been sitting on. I was slightly annoyed to turn and see Frek standing there with his arms crossed.
“You gave me the day off.” I grunted. “What are you doing? You’ve been relieved of teaching.”
“I have.” He nodded. “But Mel told me to keep an eye on any strange behaviour. Why are you so interested in 4th dimensional things?”
Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because you people are trying so hard to keep me from learning anything about the 4th dimension. I thought, but didn’t dare say.
“What aren’t you telling me, Frek?” I asked out of the blue.
He raised his eyebrows. Frek knew I had forgotten all about telling him that I was going to die.
“I believe the real question is what aren’t your telling me, Am? Staring into Bennu can cause serious mental illness…”
“So you think I’ve gone crazy?” I growled, ironically sounding crazy.
“No,” He put his hands up defensively, “but the effects of the space time continuum aren’t immediate. It was a good week before Tamarax…”
My eyes narrowed. Frek thought I was going to be like Tamarax, but I figured Bennu –or Tak– had different plans in mind for me. I didn’t know what they were. Nevertheless a part of moi knew I would be seeing Bennu again.
“Mind your own business, Frek.” I hissed. I didn’t enjoy disrespecting teachers, but the idea of Frek ‘keeping an eye on me’ was creepy.
The harsnic looked a little taken-back by my rudeness, yet he was the one out of place. Frek would have to be more subtle if he actually wanted to spy on me.
“Alright then.” He said casually as he strode towards the exit. “If you are feeling better it would be wise to attend combat today. I believe Alk will be introducing you to the dub crew spaceships.”
I liked the idea of a spaceship, but not the idea of being stuck in a small area with Kel and Gom for a long period of time. Especially after yesterday’s combat lesson when they sacrificed moi before I ditched them and went rogue.
I swerved the mushroom stool so I was back facing towards the desk. There was just one more thing I wanted to search:
“Name: Tamarax Deloro
Assigned Ship: Not applicable
Date of Birth: 8th of Ves 184395 X.X.
Planet of Birth: Savina
Note: Lady Tamarax Deloro was the first hekkit to gain the rank of ‘lady’ or ‘lord’ in Mel’s personal scientific research team in 194539 X.X. The ranks of ‘lady’ or ‘lord’ are only given out by Mel herself to members of the USM with highest positions or deceased war heroes. With Mel’s permission, Tamarax studied the possibility of a 4th dimension existing. Taking the atoms: carson, atreides, velcosin, guanim, theodin, arkmite and zellium, Lady Deloro used a sonic fuser to…”
Okay, so I kind of spaced out at this point. It was probably the most important part because it was related to the 4th dimension, but it was boring. I instead thought about how Sven declined knighthood after he retired from being an ambassador. Space had humbled him. In his youth he was far more arrogant (like moi), but being treated like a second-class species made him more mindful. My father most likely hoped I would have a similar experience. – He underestimated my ego.
“… after the incident, Tamarax spent eight days in the private Starside Medical Centre. Although she sustained no serious physical damage, Mel diagnosed Tamarax as mentally impaired on the eighth day and ordered her to be taken to an mental institution on the third moon of Bedderk. After destroying two robots and killing one doctor, Tamarax escaped the medical centre and used her own ship to leave Starside. Lady Tamarax Deloro is known to be the largest seller of illegal minerals on the black market. This suggests that she has personnel working illegally deep space mines to retrieve these minerals. Tamarax’s current whereabouts are unknown.”
Obviously I missed something, but I got the jiff of it. Tamarax equalled cuckoo and that’s all I needed to know
It was likely that I could have gotten that small amount of information off Data instead of a library computer. There was far more information on Tamarax than just that summary. The only problem was that all other information on Tamarax was restricted. – The USM liked to keep us second-class cadets ignorant.
After syncing up Data with the information on Tamarax, I headed to the student lounge near the regeneration chambers. I laid down on the largest grey sofa with my feet on the armrests. – The same position I used to take back on my favourite leather couch in the mansion.
If I had learned anything so far at Starside Academy, I had learned Mel was a bit of a biatch. She was a tyrannical psycho who was the main reason Tamarax was the way she was. If she worked with the all-seeing monks of Destin-Hey then wouldn’t she have foreseen Tamarax’s fate?
Maybe she was a biatch, or maybe she had live so long that she’d just stop caring about what happened.
My memory was hazy due to my memory being erased twice, but somehow Mel, Tamarax, Bennu, Tak and moi were all connected. At the rate I was going, it was going to be hard to find the links. Hell, I would probably never find the links if I kept getting the ‘access denied’ message. It was as if the USM was intentionally blocking me at every turn…
I’m a very paranoid conspiracist if you have not noticed.
19: Meanwhile in a Place Nobody Cares About…
The White House. Well, by this time in the future nobody cared about it. It wasn’t even the original White House. This was its replacement as the previous one had been blown up during the civil war and the new one looked like a cheap plastic knock-off.
Whether you voted for the Left Wing or Right Wing party, everyone agreed that Clive and Harry did not deserve the last name ‘Darwin’. The name had been tainted by their sick family line. Harry knew this himself, but felt powerless to do anything about it. He, after all, had never wanted to become president anyways.
His assistant, Mr. Flandry, hadn’t wanted Harry to become president either. Dominic was one of those ‘old fashioned’ men who still believed in having a democracy instead of a dictatorship… What a silly man.
Mr. Flandry stood at the door of the Oval Office with his tablet. He had been contacted by the Russian/Chinese outpost an hour earlier and needed to report it to the president. The Russian/Chinese outpost had the most advanced technology out of all the other Mars outposts which meant they could pick up on activity deep in the Milky Way.
Before Mr. Flandry even answered the phone he knew the call would be important. The USA wasn’t likely to get a call from that outpost unless something had been discovered that could affect the whole globe.
“Good morning, Mr. President.” Dominic said as he stepped in. He hated having to call a boy-faced dingbat ‘president’ every day.
Harry was relaxing in his large chair with his feet on the desk. Something in his smile suggested that he was feeling rather haughty today. Mr. Flandry presumed his happiness was woman-related (or man-related. Dominic did not know what Harry’s preference was).
Harry stretched out his arms before resting them behind his head.
“It is a good morning, isn’t it?”
Dominic did not answer. He instead sent a file to Harry’s computer and waited for the boy to notice. Harry did sit up properly, but not to look at the file he was sent. His email had just over a million unread emails so he would not notice another on the pile.
“You will never guess who I’m going on a date with.” He said, giddily.
Mr. Flandry resisted letting out a sigh: “We are not teenage girls at a slumber party, Mr. President. Now look at the file I just…”
“Dr. Shea Hernandez!” Harry interjected.
Harry’s assistant paused for a moment.
“The cybertronic hardass?” Dominic asked. “That’s absurd. You two were bickering last time you met.”
Harry nodded enthusiastically, ignoring the judgement in Mr. Flandry’s tone.
“Yeah, she called me to apologize for the ‘bicker’. Then we got talking an–”
“Please take a look at what I sent you.” Dominic said sharply. Harry was like a child, and Mr. Flandry had to be firm with him.
The president complied and brought up the hologram. The video was short and simple: a white-flamed comet soaring through the universe at a great speed. The footage almost looked stop motion because it had been slowed down so much. At four seconds the video stopped. Harry looked at the email, and then back to Mr. Flandry with annoyance.
“What the hell was that?” He asked childishly.
“That,” Dominic paused, “is an comet picked up by the Russian/Chinese outpost on Mars. It’s currently at the other side of the galaxy, but our Sun is the only thing in its path at the moment.”
“So?” Harry said naïvely, thinking because it wasn’t heading for Earth than it wasn’t important.
“You saw from the video it’s moving at an incredible speed and it’s getting faster by the moment.”
Flandry sighed: “The outpost hasn’t been able to predict its maximum velocity which means we don’t know when it’s going to reach our Solar System. What we don’t want is for our planet to be in the line of fire when the asteroid comes this way. A single day could make a difference on whether or not it hits our planet. It could get pretty damn close, Sir.”
Harry was a little more intrigued now.
“How big is it?”
“Approximately the size of Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
“Shit.” Harry gasped. He had never been to the Met but he knew it was pretty big.
“Won’t the Earth’s atmosphere slow it down and break it up?” He asked with a tinge of panic in his voice.
Dominic ran through the information the outpost had sent him in search of an explanation.
“We can dream, but that thing could reach the speed of light for all we know. We don’t even know what kind of extra-terrestrial minerals it’s made out of which could help it survive our atmosphere. It’ll be coming at us so damn quickly that even if most of it breaks up in our atmosphere, the impact will still be catastrophic.”
“What if it just crashes into the ocean… or some other country?”
“That’s what I’m hoping for.” Dominic said honestly. “But if it crashes into US waters then we risk tidal waves.”
“What if we blew it up with missiles before it reached Earth?”
Dominic sighed. Nuclear missiles were under China’s control so it was up to them, not the USA. “Not a bad idea.” He reassured the president.
The president intertwined his fingers before resting his chin on them. All this was so abnormal. It did not seem right even to him.
“You sure it’s a comet coming this way?”
Mr. Flandry knew what Harry was thinking: “That’s what we’re calling it for the moment.”
“Any word from the USM?”
“Those fucking bastards ain’t gonna do shit if that thing turns out to be coming for us.”
Harry looked a little taken-back by Mr. Flandry’s sudden burst of incoherent swearing. He had almost forgotten that Dominic was from Virginia. – He was usually so good at taming his accent and pretending he was Dutch like his parents were.
“But if it’s not an comet then…” Harry began before drifting off.
“Karina Asimov is going to bring it up in the next council meeting.”
The president clapped his hands together and sighed. Most people were originally so excited to have first contact with aliens. Now the mere thought of the USM was enough to make anyone mad. Their zoning laws forbid any of Earth’s spacecrafts to travel past Pluto (which the USM considered to be a planet) and Earth could start up no trades with other planets meaning they had no ‘credit’ income.
That Sven guy should’ve never gotten into that spaceship. Harry thought. He would rather have remained an ‘independent planet’ than a second-class one.
“All we can do is wait until the maximum velocity is calculated.” Flandry said solemnly before a smug smile spread across his face. “I hope that doesn’t ruin your date.”
Harry scowled. His date with Shea seemed less important now that a giant rock could hit the Earth. Wait… Now it seemed more important. – If the USA was going to be hit by a giant hunk of rock then he wanted to ‘get laid’ one last time… or first time.
20: Lost in Space (Not Really)
The Dub crew spaceships were not as marvellous as any of us expected. The Galle/Gall spaceship really just looked like high-tech Winnebago with wings (like the one in Spaceballs).
Robots had done their best to polish the ships, but we could all still see the old dents and scratches from the previous dub crews who used them as bumper cars. I was not allowed to judge. My old shuttle, Liffy, was worse-off and I loved her to pieces… in a literal sense.
“I hope you were all listening during tactics.” Alk said while eyeballing particular people.
Donn gulped behind me semi-jokingly. We had both become really bad about listening once we discovered how to chat on our wrist computers without being noticed.
Ams ran up and down our spaceship like a small child in a supermarket aisle. I would have joined her, but I could feel Kel’s eyes burning into my back. I could not figure out why he was annoyed at me today besides the usual reasons. He was probably irritated because he had not wanted me to show up.
We all chucked our suitcases into the back room where the armour chamber was. Alk had warned us that we would not need our armour in today’s class, but it was always good to have because the armour completed our spacesuit. If one of us happened to get ejected into space by Kel –like moi– we would survive so long as we had our armour on.
“It’s good you’re okay. We were all really worried about you.” Henn said sincerely as he took his seat at the scanners.
I’m still mad at you Henn. I thought, remembering how he and Ams hadn’t had my back when Gom and Kel ganged up on me.
“What did the rest of the class see when,” I paused for a moment, “the Bennu element went all crazy?”
Henn looked up in thought for a moment. It was just as hazy to him as it was to me.
“Well, we saw the tear open and then… nothing.”
I raised my eyebrows: “What do you mean nothing?”
He ran his hand across his blue scalp.
“I don’t remember anything besides a white light. Then the next moment Frek was carrying you to the medical centre.” he paused while trying to think of anything he may have missed out, “What did you see?”
I shrugged as if I did not know. By this time I really didn’t know what I had seen. All the knowledge was on the tip of my tongue, but just out of a reach. – It was incredibly annoying.
Flying practice reminded me a lot of when I went to get my shuttle licence, except instead of having my instructor yell at me it was a stupid algrin.
“The right panel not the left!” Kel snarled.
Alk had started us out with some basic exercises, however Kel was taking them a little too seriously. We were just supposed to be doing laps around the red hovering posts. Kel was acting as if we were in a race and wanted to lap the other dub crews.
We were quite a few miles away from Starside. I loved looking at the giant space station from out here. It was a shame that only a handful of humans had ever seen the space station up-close.
The algrin wasn’t yelling at me directly. Both moi and Gom were the ones steering the ship. Kel just chose to look at me while he dished-out commands.
“When do we get to start shooting?” I joked while hovering my hand over the attack panel.
Kel slapped me away. Obviously doing laps was no laughing matter.
It was tragic watching Ams trying to work the engine at the back. She was too little to reach all the controls and Kel was not helping by barking at her to speed up the ship.
“Lay off, phall…” I quickly saved myself, “… Kel.”
He shot a cold glare in my direction which I ignored.
“Look!” Henn squealed like a child.
All of our eyes went to where he had pressed his bony finger against the window. In the distance a white light was flashing. It looked like no star. It grew larger and larger by the second as it got closer.
“Holy fu–” I gasped.
Within a moment it was rocketing right past us. Time slowed down as the giant body passed the training course. It looked like a comet, but it was far too large. Plus the rear suggested that it was being thrust forward by an engine.
The humming noise started up in my ears again. All the knowledge Tak/Bennu had given moi came flooding back. I loved knowing so much. I wanted to retain all of it. My mind couldn’t take it.
I awoke to Gom kneeling over me. For some reason I had been moved to the floor despite the fact I had been sitting in my chair when the ‘comet’ passed.
“Damn it,” I groaned, “not again.”
“What’s your problem, Am?” Kel asked threateningly. He was so sick of moi being the centre of attention. – His ego was somehow larger than mine.
I sat up and tossed him a fake smile: “Good to see you too.”
My nose felt as if it was going to start bleeding, but it didn’t. Once again, all the knowledge I had was gone. Ultimate 4th dimensional being or not, I did not like Tak fucking with me.
“How long was I out?” I asked as stumbled back to my seat.
Kel returned to his own chair: “About fifteen seconds.”
“Good.” I whispered to myself.
My wrist computer beeped. Alk had sent all of us a message saying: “Don’t worry, it was just a comet.”
I turned my head to look back at the window above the engineering controls. The comet twinkled in the distance as continued its journey. Well, there was nothing suspicious about that comet… Nothing at all.