The life death and life.., p.2
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       The Life, Death and Life of Amelia Hollow, p.2
 

           Edward James Bowman
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  ***

  Cameron rubbed his eyes with his hand before looking back to moi. He had not expected me to call him that night. He was far more exhausted than I was after attending an all-day tactics meeting for an upcoming civil war on some planet.

  I decided not to mention the fact that I had looked into Bennu. There was no need to concern Cameron with my slowly developing madness. He had his own issues and I doubted he wanted me to complain about my own sanity.

  “So how’s your day gone?” I asked Cameron politely.

  He shrugged: “Fine. Do you like Starside Academy?”

  “Meh.” I replied simply. “My captain’s a phallic. One of those algrins.”

  My brother nodded in understanding. He knew what algrins were like as Della had worked with some in the past. I did not know much about Della and Cameron’s relationship, but I knew she had often taken him to work so he had plenty of experiences with other aliens.

  “Cameron,” I began cautiously, “what access level do you have for the USM library?”

  My brother raised an eyebrow: “Level three. Why?”

  Damn, if only he was a level five. I grumbled in my head.

  “Don’t worry.” I waved away his question.

  There was an awkward silence for a moment. The call had seemed too quick with my father yesterday, and yet me and Cameron still had plenty of call time left.

  “You’re not being bullied, are you Cameron?” I asked him slowly. I knew very well he was being bullied, but I didn’t want him to think that it was that obvious. – He already worried enough about what people thought of him.

  Cameron could not lie: “Err… It’s nothing to worry about Amelia. You have it harder. At least I get to look like a harsnic and be seen as first-class in the USM. It’s different for you.”

  Somehow, my brother’s situation seemed worse. Like all people, I wished I was the one getting bullied and that Cameron would be left alone. Starside Academy was safe for the most part seeing as the other nineteen cadets were also second-class. Cameron was in an enclosed area with a bunch of arrogant first-class aliens. There were some lower-ranking second-class aliens on his ship, but the first-class aliens were probably more annoyed by Cameron because he looked like a harsnic.

  I decided to quickly change topic: “What Dub crew were in?”

  My brother was relieved by the subject change. “Well… I was originally in Tron which was white at Planetarymark, but at Starside I was in San.”

  Tron! I screamed in my head. Oh, if only all these aliens knew these references. Hell, if any human from my generation understood the references I would be happy.

  “Do you like being a cadet?” Cameron asked before looking off the screen to see how much time we had left.

  I was not sure how to answer him. I really wasn’t sure myself what the answer was.

  “I thought it would be different.” was my reply.

  “What did you expect?”

  “I don’t know.” I admitted. “I probably shouldn’t have expected the academy to be like what I’ve seen in sci-fi movies.”

  My brother nodded in ‘understanding’. There was no fictional television or movies on Hashtish 4. I honestly could not imagine how boring life was on that planet, but for the same reason harsnics were more educated than humans.

  “You’ll be okay.” Cameron reassured me. “I know that you can handle Starside Academy.”

  My cheeks went red. I loved being complimented, but if Cameron had seen my track record he would know that the USM should’ve expelled me days ago.

  Our goodbyes were swift. By the final twenty seconds we had nothing to say to each other.

  Before going to bed, I decided to annoy Donn who was still in line for the phone booth.

  “Who are you gonna call?” I asked him.

  He smiled gleefully: “My best friend, Arkmonno. I’ve got to ask them what gender they chose.”

  I raised an eyebrow: “Pardon?”

  “When sadamonts turn ten we decide our permanent gender. I’ve got three more years, but I think I want to be a dude.”

  Well… That was something I didn’t need to know about the sadamont race. For some reason I still couldn’t believe that Donn was eleven years younger than me. Then again, he aged like a fish.

  “Do you get to choose your gender on your planet?” He asked as if it was no ‘big deal’.

  “Well, although I’m a clone of my father, he had me engineered to be a girl instead. Some people get a random gender when they’re born, but we can surgically change our genders later on if we want. It’s not as easy as it is for your species, though.” I answered precociously.

  “So… You were originally a boy?” Donn asked curiously.

  I paused before answering: “I guess so. Never really thought about it that way.”

  Once it was Donn’s turn in the phone booth I headed back to my regeneration chamber. It was difficult to attach the suction cups to my body. The little holes they left from the previous nights had crusted over making it quite painful to stab myself with the little needles inside the suction cups.

  Never in my life had I yearned more for my bed back at the mansion. It was so much nicer than stepping into a cold regeneration chamber and getting pickled in blue gel. Even for just one night I would love to hop into a warm bed and sleep properly.

  “Start regeneration process.” I sighed.

  I didn’t have a normal dream that night. For a long time there was nothing but a blinding white light. After what felt like minutes there was the echo of a long sustained scream. The scream was a woman’s. A young woman’s judging by the pitch.

  The dream stopped rather abruptly when a thunderous explosion could be heard. My mind treaded back to the usual dreams I had which mainly involved moi being back in Wyoming. For some reason I owned a horse in my dream despite the fact horses hated me like hell. – Don’t ask why horses hate me. They just do.

  21: Science Class Continued

  I was truly sick of porridge by this point. The robots had tried to ‘spice-up’ my meal by giving me an orange juice, but it wasn’t real orange juice. It was more like a flavourless orange Gatorade.

  The other cadets seemed just as excited about their food as moi. Henn poked his dead eel with a look of dissatisfaction. None of us were going to be able to survive five more years of eating crap that looked like real food.

  “So,” Ams began awkwardly, “I heard Alk’s going to be making us fight in a zero gravity simulation.”

  “Think you’re ‘fit to fight’ today, Am?” Kel asked condescendingly. He was obviously referring how I had been repeatedly been passing out recently.

  “Fuck you,” I muttered, “I’m feeling fine.”

  Chorst was observing moi and Kel from a distance. It was impossible to figure out what he was thinking, but he most likely noticed that our Dub crew was completely dysfunctional. Hell, everybody could see that our crew was dysfunctional.

  I stared back at him. Once our eyes met I glared at him as if to say ‘what are you looking at?’, but he didn’t get the message. His planet must have been quite hard to live on if they could not even read body language.

  All of us examined the new science ‘teacher’ as we walked in the class. The robot was a tall and gangly Cyclops with one red eye. – I missed Frek already.

  “Greetings cadets.” The robot said formally. “I am AI624. While Lord Frekostillion Hes Canamao is on leave I will be taking science class.”

  I did not hear the robot say ‘lord’ because I was too busy thinking about all the cadets in this class. Out of the corner of my eye I could see some of the cadets glaring at me. Right, it was my fault that Frek lost control of his Bennu presentation. They had no clue what I saw in that tear. Hell, I have no clue what I saw in that tear. If only I could remember and then I would have all the knowledge in the universe and beyond it.

  “Am?”

  I stopped resting my head on my fist and looked up. A single cold red eye stared down
at me. – Could robots get angry?

  “Please pay attention, Am.” AI624 asked politely.

  I did not pay attention, but I was skilled at looking like I was paying attention.

  The only time any of us really started paying attention was when AI624 pulled out a large metal contraption. At a closer look it looked like one of the giant turrets that had been cut directly down the middle so we could see the inside structure.

  “This is a basic automatic turret.” The robot explained. “You will see these on all standard USM spaceships which is why you have to learn how they work.”

  I don’t understand how anything works! I screamed in my head.

  The only interesting part of the lesson was when the robot called Zand up to help with the demonstration. Some would say that firing a turret in the middle of the class was ludicrous. – Some would be right.

  “USM turrets have perfect precision. Dub Cap Zand will demonstrate how accurate the aim is by holding this.” AI624 passed Zand a small metal tile no bigger than my palm. “That is tezerdon. A metal that is commonly used to build the shell of USM spaceships.”

  The robot put up on display what he was typing into the turrets control system. We were supposed to note what he was programing down on our desks, but I couldn’t be bothered.

  I instead watched Zand awkwardly stand in front of the demonstration turret. Judging by her tense body language she did not trust the robot. On her planet AI robots were banned because her species had a conspiracy that robots would evolve beyond them and take over. Man, I had to get that girl to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or watch Blade Runner.

  “Zand, please stand perfectly still with the tezerdon tile held out in front of you.” The robot asked politely. Zand complied, but kept her Jell-O fingers at the very tips of the tile in hopes she would not get her fingers incinerated.

  “We will start the laser beam off at eighty-five megs which means the beam will be two centimetres in diameter.”

  Zand flinched when the laser beam shot out of the turret. The little piece of tezerdon began to glow as the laser aimed directly at its centre. The metal was glowing red as it began heating up, but AI624 had chosen Zand in particular for the demonstration because he knew her species was far more immune to heat than others.

  “Now we will increase laser beam by twenty megs per second.” AI624 for stated as he reprogramed the turret. “Once the diameter of the laser beam surpasses the area of the tezerdon tile the turret will automatically switch off. The built-in safety system will detect Zand when the laser surpasses the tezerdon tile.” Zand didn’t like this idea. “This safety system was installed so that the USM spaceships could spare as many lives as possible. The turret could be programed to aim at organic life forms, but only the captain of the USM Naval ship can deactivate the safety sys–”

  Zand suddenly exploded.

  Magenta blobs of Jell-O splattered against the white walls and desks. I ducked before any of Zand could hit me. Donn wasn’t so lucky. A big glop of Jell-O got him right in the eye.

  There was silence for a moment as all the cadets tried to register what just happened. Nor from Mar screamed bloody murder after a few seconds and began hyperventilating. I suppose it was an appropriate time to scream, but her shriek was so shrill that I was worried my ears would start bleeding.

  AI624 looked pretty confused for a robot. He had estimated that there was only a 0.05% chance of the turret deactivating too late. Who knew that Zand would be part of that small percentage that was killed by a turret with a safety system?

  “You fucker.” I gasped. Sure, I never liked Zand, but I never wished for the robotic teacher to explode her.

  AI624 did not hear moi. He was in the middle of contacting the Starside medical centre and messaging them about the exploded cadet.

  A look of bemusement spread across my face when the Jell-O blob on Donn slithered down his cheek and dropped to the floor. The magenta blobs on the walls and desks followed. Cadets lifted their feet off the ground as the magenta blobs slithered across the ground and back to ground zero of Zand’s explosion.

  I leaned over my desk to get a better look at what was happening on the floor. The blobs of Jell-O were merging together and building upwards. It was truly strange to watch Zand’s body be rebuilt. You would never see anything like this on Earth.

  At first Zand looked like a Jell-O snowman, but then her limbs began to tone-out as she regained her form. Her clothing had been obliterated, so she stood naked in front of us. Not like there was anything to see. She was very similar to a Barbie doll with her thin, yet curvy body. But also like a Barbie, she had no genitals.

  “Excellent.” AI624 said as if Zand exploding had been part of his plan all along. “We were worried, Zand.”

  The Jell-O girl didn’t say one word. Like a feral animal she pounced on the robot and clasped its head with both hands. I hadn’t known how strong Zand was until she tore AI624’s head right from his shoulders.

  Sparks flew from the robot’s body as it fell to the ground. It twitched for a few moments and then went still.

  “Znn… dn… do… thhh.” AI624 muttered before the glow in his one red eye faded.

  Silence fell upon the class as we stared in shock at Zand. That was probably one of the strangest incidents I would ever face at Starside.

  “Fuck.” Zand muttered. I doubt she actually said ‘fuck’, but my translator told me that’s what she said.

  The naked girl stormed out of the science class and took off down the corridor. Man, I felt bad for any robot that got in Zand’s way.

  I swerved my mushroom stool around to face Donn. He was biting his lip and breathing heavily as he tried not to be inappropriate and laugh. He looked like a cheeky little boy when he could not hold it anymore and burst into laughter. A couple of other students smirked as well and I was one of them.

  “I’m beginning to like this class.” Donn joked.

  It was about fifteen minutes later when the door to the class opened. Frek stepped in with Zand following behind. Her body glove and uniform had been replaced. It was like she hadn’t exploded at all.

  “Well students,” Frek began, almost laughing, “you did it. You destroyed the substitute teacher and got me back.”

  A small cube-shaped robot filed into the classroom. Its torso opened up as it used its hands to collect the remains of AI624.

  “Not to worry. We can rebuild him. We have the technology.” Frek reassured us as the cube-shaped robot zipped out of the class with the remains of AI624 in its stomach.

  Merr –the furry cat-like first-officer of Ket– leaned the opposite direction of Zand as she took her seat next to him. He had every right to fear that she would rip his head off. The Jell-O girl had definitely put the other three captains on edge. The battle simulation today was going to be extra tense now that everyone knew that Zand could go off at any moment.

  The rest of science class was very normal. Frek avoided giving demonstrations as he knew they would end in disaster. Instead we read up on the discovery of the first element; akmorite. Trust me; it didn’t have an interesting history.

  Frek looked up from his desk: “Dub Cap Chorst?”

  I turned back to see what Chorst was up to. The pale boy’s amethyst eyes were glued to the window. I followed his line of sight but saw nothing. Only stars.

  “Chorst?” Frek asked again when the boy didn’t respond.

  “There is a spaceship out there.” Chorst said simply.

  The harsnic strolled over to the window and had a look outside.

  “Look at the curvature of those stars.” The pale boy drew an oval with his finger. “They’ve warped around the body of a cloaked ship.”

  “So they have.” Frek whispered.

  The harsnic tried to think of any undocked USM ships that would be cloaked in the area. There were none, so he dialled Starside security operator on his wrist computer.

  “Uh oh.” Donn gasped when two little golden lights flew from
the invisible ship.

  The little torpedoes were a fair distance away, but it wasn’t as if the who Starside outpost could move out of the way.

  “Suicide terrorists.” Frek stated before striding back to his desk.

  All the cadets knew what suicide terrorists were. I had first heard about them on Earth, but Alk had taught us about the ones in space. Most of them were escaped slaves, clones or slave clones who didn’t care if they lived or died. All they wanted was revenge on the USM for whatever reason. Alk told us there was only one way to deal with the terrorists: kill them all before they caused too much damage.

  Frek grabbed the two black briefcases from under his desk and quickly attached them to two hooks on opposite sides of the class.

  “Activate.” He commanded just as the torpedoes hit one of the branches of Starside.

  His armour was not different from mine, but I did note that he had two electronic cylinders on his thighs instead of guns. – Frek would be the best teacher in the universe if those were lightsabers. Or if one was a lightsaber and the other was a sonic screwdriver then he would be the ultimate man.

  “Beam me to the ship.” He told the robotic operator.

  “Warning,” The robot began in his earpiece, “teleporting to a cloaked spaceship can result in–”

  “I know!” Frek snapped. “Just do it!”

  Within ten seconds our science teacher was completely engulfed in golden light. Most of the cadets –including moi– ran to the window to watch all the action. Only one cadet from Mar stayed seated. He was a cute little golden pixie boy called Nis who always wore huge black goggles.

  Nis would become extremely depressed or scared if he saw too much violence. That was why Chorst switched on his goggles so they would just show pretty colours. Nis loved colours. He made ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ sounds whenever a new colour appeared. The boy had been watching a colourful light show ever since Zand had exploded because Chorst had had a feeling something else bad would happen.

  None of us could actually see the terrorist ship, but now that Chorst had outlined it for us we knew where it was. It was firing rapidly now, almost in a panic. The people aboard knew there time was up. They just wanted to cause as much havoc as possible before they were all killed.

  The ground shuddered below us when another torpedo hit a part near Starside Academy. I was not afraid. The torpedoes that hit the central body of Starside barely left a dent. The USM knew they had enemies, so they reinforced all their outposts to withstand measly attacks. Hell, this outpost was so huge that the spaceship stood no chance.

  For a brief moment the spaceship was uncloaked. It was an old rusty ship which was most likely used for smuggling slaves on the black market. That would explain how the suicidal terrorists got it in the first place. They must have killed the merchants and gone directly for the nearest USM outpost to make their statement.

  I was a little taken-back when the ship suddenly imploded. First I thought wow, then I thought those poor people on-board, and finally oh shit… Frek’s on-board!

  What kind of academy has two science teachers killed in one day? First the AI624, now Frek. Dear God, this class will go through at least a hundred science teachers before the year was done.

  A minute passed. All of us cadets –save Nis– were still glued to the window as if we expected to see the smuggler ship reappear magically.

  “Nothing to see,” a voice said spontaneously, “back to your seats.”

  We all turned to see Frek striding over to his desk. Dark purple and green blood splattered his armour and uniform. Nor and Jee from Mar along with some other cadets gasped quietly before looking at Chorst. I was obviously missing some bit of information that connected Chorst to the smuggler ship.

  While Frek was removing his armour I sent Donn a message: “Why is the blood on Frek important to Chorst?”

  Donn looked at me solemnly before typing back: “You know the whole trinord vs. trinard thing?”

  “Yes.”

  “Trinords have red blood. Trinards have purple blood. I think there was some trinards on-board that smuggler ship. I’m not sure about the green blood, though.”

  I looked back at Frek and the stains on his grey uniform. I thought the trinards had been liberated, but I guess nobody could stop the trinords from making more. It had to be horrible for Chorst. His teacher had just killed some of his kind and he had such a tortured mind that he could not even express his feelings. He just walked quietly back to his desk and continued the work from earlier.

  Frek slid the black briefcases back under his desk, but he didn’t sit down. Like my brother, he could not hide his emotions. His downcast eyes explained enough.

  “Can we speak outside the class, Chorst?” He asked.

  The pale boy was unresponsive for a moment, but a trinard could not deny a request of their superior so he complied. As soon as the door slid shut, half the cadets leapt from their desks and crowded around it. – We weren’t a very sympathetic class.

  I was torn. A part of me knew it was inappropriate to listen in, yet I was incredibly nosy. I squished in next to Donn and pressed my ear against the door.

  “… I was the one who pointed the spaceship out to you.” I heard Chorst say in a muffled voice.

  “That was the right thing to do,” Frek reassured him, “but if I… If it was known ahead of time that there were trinards aboard I would have let USM security deal with the matter. They were not leading the attack. I believe the goverens had bought them off the black market to maintain the ship. I tried not to kill them, but I was in the engine room where a lot of them were so…” His words drifted off.

  Frek was being careful about how he phrased his words. He had to make sure he didn’t give any expression of his own thoughts. He was quite a good teacher that way. All the cadets had different psychologies and he had to familiarize himself with all of them.

  “Your actions were appropriate.” Chorst said impassively.

  There was silence from Frek for a moment.

  “The matter will be brought up in the next council meeting. If the trinords are responsible for the cloning of the trinards on that smuggler ship then they will have a price to pay.”

  Chorst did not answer. Then again, he wasn’t expected to. Frek knew Chorst would not say anything if he did not find it necessary.

  We all scattered when the door opened again. Frek scowled at us, but he had no right to judge anyone at the moment seeing as he just slaughtered some trinards.

  “Right,” he clapped his hands together, “I think that’s enough madness for one day. Let’s try and finish this lesson without any more death.”

  We succeeded.

  22: Battle of the Sexes

  History and tactics were a blur. We probably learned some important stuff, but it wasn’t important enough for moi to care. I knew enough about the USM after Frek destroyed the smuggler ship. – It was a bad government.

  Food during the leisure hour did not appeal to me. I instead took a trip to the regeneration chambers and pulled my old Earth phone out of the duffle bag. There was no way to charge it at Starside so I had to be careful about how long I left it on for. Right now I felt like playing Tetris.

  The lights flickered on when I stepped into the cadet lounge. I got the feeling I was the only one who ever hung out in there. The room still had the ‘just cleaned’ smell.

  My phone beeped to inform me I had a new message. I raised my eyebrows in suspicious. That was impossible seeing as I was light years from home. Elisa, Kim, Tanya and Aiden had all texted moi goodbye messages just before I beamed up to the Titonic.

  A small bittersweet smile spread across my face. Even if I was hated at Starside, I still had friends out there.

  “Am?” A female voice said.

  I jumped off the couch: “Holy fuck!”

  Chorst and his first officer, Veck, stood in the doorway. I resisted the urge to blush. Obviously I had overreacted to their presence.

  Veck was supposed
ly a hermaphrodite, but her appearance suggested she was a girl for the moment. She was tall and pale like Chorst, but she was also more muscular like Alk. She would look like a Goth on Earth with her black uniform, eyes, lips and dark eyeliner. Veck even had a Gothic Rorschach tattoo on her scalp that looked like a withering flower.

  “Why weren’t you hungry?” She asked as she dropped on the couch across from moi. Chorst chose to stand. – I presumed he had a stick up his butt.

  “The food is crap.” I replied jokingly. Veck smirked as well even though she did not have taste buds.

  Chorst was not here to make chitchat: “You and Dub Cap Kel cannot function together.”

  I was not surprised by his abrupt statement. He had been monitoring me and the phallic since breakfast. My real question was why Chorst thought it concerned him.

  “I’m aware of the situation.” I said casually.

  “Chorst and I have a proposition.” Veck began. “I don’t think Gall is going to survive under you and Kel. You have a better shot of making it through this academy if Chorst is your captain.”

  Oh, how I would love to have the pale Frenchy as my captain, but I doubted that was going to happen.

  “I don’t think we’re allowed to swap groups.” I muttered.

  “Cadets of the same rank are allowed to change dub crews,” Chorst stated, “provided that they get permission from their captains.”

  Yeah, that proposition wasn’t going to go down well with Kel. Even though he did not want moi in his crew, he certainly would not want Veck to replace me. She was almost a foot and a half taller than him and could beat him to a pulp without even breaking a sweat. It would be true humiliation for him to have her.

  A sat up properly: “Even if we convinced Kel to let us trade, I couldn’t do that to you, Veck.” I sighed. “He’s annoying to the point where you’d want to throw something at him.”

  Veck let out a low laugh. Her black eyes sparkled with amusement.

  “No, you see I want to trade with you just so I can deal with Kel.” She explained. “I think I can put him in his place.”

  “You think I can’t put him in his place?”

  “I’m sure you could, but I want the pleasure of breaking him.” She said with a sadistic smile.

  The idea of ‘breaking’ Kel intrigued me. Although I hated Kel, Veck could really hurt the guy.

  “I’m kidding.” Veck said after a few moments when I didn’t respond. “I don’t want to get expelled.”

  My fingers explored my scalp. It was surprising how luscious my hair was now that I slept in that blue gel. Not that my hair was actually that interesting. I was just stalling so I wouldn’t have to give an immediate answer. The other members of Gall would most likely think I was a ‘quitter’ for abandoning them. Then again, they abandoned moi when Kel and Gom chose me to be their personal sacrifice.

  “Fuck ‘em.” I grumbled. “I like your plan.”

  “Now all we have to do is get Kel to agree.” Veck said hesitantly.

  “That shouldn’t be too hard.” I joked.
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