Monday, June 11, 2012
Diners at the Memory’s End
Copyright 2012, Raymond Frazee, All Rights Reserved.
Note: this is is being written as you read it. It is a first draft, and as such, it may be presented with typos. Please excuse these, and remember that everything will be nice, clean, and near perfect, when you buy this story. Remember--you get what you pay for.
Tuesday, 28 August, 3183
Day One, Magdalen College, Introduction to Astronomy and Astrophysics—it was history, baby. Albert leaned back in his chair, tipping the front legs a few centimeters off the floor. Only twenty one more of these bastards to go, he thought.
After twelve hundred years, Albert had expected the classroom venue to change a little, so he was a bit surprised when he wandered into a large lecture hall, one that might seat five hundred people. Albert did the same thing he’d done when attending Purdue: find a seat near an aisle, near the center of the room, and about half way up from where the instructor was presenting. It was a good place to hear, good place not to get hemmed in on both sides, and it left you with a quick getaway when class was through.
Winfrieda—Professor Koltzer, Cytheria had warned him on using her first name—came out after about one hundred and fifty students were in the room. As she took center stage, holo-displays popped up before every student, showing Professor Koltzer on the stage. When she spoke, Albert heard her perfectly, which he took to mean there was sonic emitters in the display station.
The professor’s first order of business was to get every student’s personal system tried into the class’ Assignment Sharing Module. He brought up his system and typed in the access code needed establish a link,and in about two minutes he was good to go. He noticed most of the other students were finished far quicker than him—but he also knew this wasn’t the first time they’d done this thing. Everyone here was, at the least, a second year student, and Albert was the lone exception to that rule . . .
Class was straight forward. Albert recorded the presentation, which was easy to do by having his personal system intercept the holo-feed, but he also listened closer to what Professor Koltzer was saying. Albert was entranced by the small woman, whose facial features indicated she possessed some Asian Pacific Rim ancestry. She also possessed a dark creaminess to her skin that reminded Albert of Cytheria—though Cy was much darker than the professor—and that this was the result of genetic mixing over the last thousand years of humanity.
But Albert wasn’t seeing that skin tone throughout class today. Some were nearly as light skinned as he, and to a lesser extent, Tommy, while a few students were far darker than Doctor Wesley. I’m seeing people from all over the Empire now, he thought, trying to keep his mind on the lecture. I’ve not really paid that much attention to the students, and now I’m in the midst of them. Then again, I’ve not needed to pay attention to them . . .
There was a flashing in his peripheral vision, like something was flashing a strobing yellow light at him. It took Albert a second to realize what was happening: the system monitoring his learning comprehension—which did so by directly monitoring his brain—was reminding him that his mind was straying from the professor’s lecture. Oh, Christ, just what I need: a computerized reminder that I’m daydreaming. He knew how to shut it off, which could be done if he needed to check something important during the lecture, but Cytheria reminded him this morning that doing so could count against him when Old Winnie started checking his class progress—
He’d already been reminded twist not to fuck up in class. As much as he might want to, Albert had taken Cytheria’s words to heart.
Everything was pretty painless until the end . . . when Albert heard the one sentence uttered by Professor Koltzer that sent a slamming shock of fear running through his entire essence—
“I expect you all to have your study partner picked out and sitting next to you by Thursday’s class.”
With that, Albert made a beeline for the door, and for the building exits—
Which eventually lead him here, to the Lusty Librarian.
While Albert had frequented a number of pubs around the New Oxford Conurbation, he’d always avoided any of the establishments located on the campuses proper. It was as if he understood they were meant as a place for the students to go after classes and decompress, maybe have something to eat, a pint to drink, and company to enjoy, and he didn’t want to upset whatever natural balance that had been established at some point in the past.
Well, no problem now: he was a student, so nothing was off-limits. He could come and go as he pleased, and plopping his butt down in an establishment known as the “Lusty Librarian” was what pleased him the most—
Though perhaps the pint of nut-brown ale sitting before him pleased him even more.
Albert sat alone at a table meant for four patrons. He wasn’t expecting company, it just didn’t want to sit at one of the smaller, two-person tables. He wanted to be able to spread out with his personal computer—which was a floating hologram—and inspect his text books—which were also viewed in holographic mode—and . . .
Ah, fuck it, he thought. I didn’t want a smaller table, because they make you feel more alone. Albert always thought the guys sitting by themselves at the tables meant for two were some of the sorriest sons of bitches in the world; depressing drunks who were at the tavern get hammered and bitch about all the misfortune in their lives.
He knew them well, because in his “past life”, he’d been one of them. And right now, bitching about his misfortune was the last thing he wanted . . .
The textbooks—he had two, one for class, and one for projects—were simple to understand, and pretty easy to read. Albert wondered, however, if by only scanning the books, as he was doing now, they were reading his mind, observing his brain wave patterns, and making determinations about his comprehension of the material—and when was ol’ Winnie gonna be pulling up his file and taking notes on his utter inability to figure out—
The request pulled Albert’s gaze away from his book, and allowed him to lock it upon the young woman standing just on the other side of the table. In the few seconds before he responded, he looked her over quickly—
She looked like she might be a little taller than him; he based this by the position of her waist in relation to the table. She probably comes from a planet with gravity lower than University’s, he thought. He noticed, though, that she wasn’t extremely tall, or that she possessed the willowy frame of those people who were brought up on planets with a gravity about eighty percent that of Earth. Her weight is distributed evenly— He resisted smiling as his eyes lingered on noticeable curves of her full body—and quite nicely . . . We’re talking a low-g planet, but nothing crazy low; maybe like ninety percent Standard . . .
Then there ere was the issue of her skin tone. Most of the University natives were something of a homogenized light coffee-in-cream color, which seemed to be standard from what he’d seen of most people in the 32nd Century. But there were differences, because not everyone grew up on planets circling G-Class stars anymore—and hadn’t for several hundred years.
This woman had the creamy complexion, but it’s dialed way back, Albert thought. She’s pale, but that’s from not getting much of a tan because of her home star. There’s still some color to that alabaster skin, otherwise she’d look like a modern-day Olivia Prestegin—without the homicidal tendencies, I’d hope.
He smiled up at her. “K-Class star.”
The woman returned the smile, with a touch of puzzlement, however. “I’m sorry?”
“Your home planet: it orbits a K-Class star.” Albert nonchalantly motioned at her. “You don’t get much of a tan from orange sunlight, do you?”
The time the woman laughed. “No, you don’t.” She shifted her weight to one side, and Albert noticed that, like him, she was carrying a backpack. “You’re very observant.”
“I do my best,” he said modestly. “It’s all I have going for me.”
“I’ll bet.” She moved to Albert’s right and came around the table. Holding out her hand, she said, “Meredith Llywelyn.”
“Albert Dalh.” He shook her hand.
“May I sit?”
Albert nodded towards the chair. “Knock yourself out.”
For a moment Meredith looked unsure about what she wanted to do, and Albert realized his use to centuries-old slang had gotten the better of him again. She did sit, however, setting her pack on the floor. “Um, I’m in class with you—”
“Right: Professor Koltzer’s class.” Albert imagined the lecture hall. “You were three rows down from me, and six, seven seats to my right.”
“Again, I’m impressed.” The woman turned her chair, leaning her right arm on the table. “Tell me,” she said, resting her head on her hand, “do you recognize every girl in our class?”
“No, only the pretty ones.” Albert watched the blush spread over her cheeks before saying, “You have a pretty colorful blouse on—very vibrant floral pattern. There’s your skin, which is hard not to notice . . . but most of all—” He nodded at something that seemed to be located just above her head. “Ginger hair. I always notice that.”
Meredith glanced upward at her bangs. “Yes, my ginger ‘do is hard to miss. And how many other gingers do we have in class?”
“Two other girls besides you.”
“There was a boy, too.”
“Really?” Albert feigned surprise. “I don’t always notice everything . . .”
Meredith giggled, and Albert smiled along with her. But she didn’t come here to smile and giggle, he thought. She’s got a reason for showing up at the table . . . “So, if I may ask . . .”
Her smile softened. “You may call me Meredith.”
“Okay, Meredith. What brings you here?”
“I saw you leave the lecture hall,” she said. “You certainly dashed out.”
“Not really, just . . .” Just that I didn’t know anyone in the room, and when Winfrieda said to pick study partners, I panicked.
Meredith waited for Albert to finish; when he didn’t, she spoke. “Yeah, anyway . . . I noticed you didn’t get a study partner.”
“No, I didn’t.” He looked about the pub. “I figured I’d connect with someone afterwords.”
“I don’t think you’ll have much luck doing that.” She didn’t wait for Albert to ask. “Most of the people in the hall were already pairing up as you were leaving.”
Though he’d hoped that wasn’t going to happen, Albert wasn’t all that surprised. He figured most of the people in the room knew one another—or, at the least, had taken a class with each other at some point. Albert assumed there might be a few stragglers left over—people he was going to check on before the next class . . .
Meredith was following his train of thought. “I don’t have a partner,” she said softly. “I was wondering if you’d like to team up.”
He wanted to feel worried—a strange girl he’d never met before finds him, and wants to be his partner—but Albert’s curiosity was peaking. “So why would you want to partner with me?”
‘Oh, come on.” Albert smiled to show he wasn’t update. “Better answer? Please?”
There was a short pause, then Meredith said, “I noticed you as well, believe it or not. You were sitting by yourself, and you looked as if you were trying to avoid contact with the other students.”
“I had my reasons.”
“That’s something I found . . . Interesting.” She looked Albert up and down. “You were also focused on your texts, and on Winnie—” Meredith looked around, as if she expected to find Professor Koltzer sitting next to them.
“But the thing I noticed the most was . . . well, you. You’re not—I mean . . .” She was suddenly at a lost for words.
Albert, however, had a pretty good idea what she wanted to say. “I’m not your age?”
She winched. “Not angry, are you?”
He shook his head slowly. “No. And besides: it’s true. I’m probably . . .” He made a guess about her age. “You’re about twenty Standard years, right?”
“Yeah, I’m a second year.”
“Okay. That means I’m about ten years older than you.” Albert took a sip of his ale. “You want one of these?” he asked Meredith.
“Oh, yes, please!”
He nodded to a waitress, pointed to his glass, then to Meredith. “So, what? You like older guys?”
Meredith almost rolled her eyes. Though Albert was being charming in his own way, she thought he was almost trying to push her away at the same time. Ignore the negative; concentrate on the positive, she thought. “I’m majoring in Hyperspatial Engineering, and while you wouldn’t think it, this class is important to me. I need to pass it. That means I’m serious about my studies, and I’d like a partner who’s just as serious.”
“Like someone who’s older.”
“How do you know I know what I’m doing?”
“I don’t.” Meredith turned and leaned on the table, supported by both elbows. “But I know a lot. And I think you know a lot, too.” She turned to look at him. “ I got a feeling you’re a good one, Albert. I don’t think you’ll let me down . . . I know I won’t let you down.”
Albert had to admit he needed a partner. He hadn’t thought about getting one after class was out; he was more of the opinion he’d just see who was still looking on Thursday, and then offer himself up for his services. He knew it wouldn’t be the best situation, but it would be better than doing the class on his own, which was something he did a lot during his days at Prudue . . .
The waitress returned with an ale for Meredith, setting in front of her. “There’s one thing I want to know, though—” Albert hand-scanned the waitress’ tab-pad, paying for the drink, then waited for the woman to walk away before completing his inquiry. “How did you find me?”
As she closed her fingers around the pint, Meredith said, “That was easy. I called up the class roster to see who sat where, and found your name. I then asked Professor Koltzer if I could be permitted to access the Campus Security Grid and see if I could find you—”
“You found me on the Security Grid?” All the New Oxford schools were tied into a monitoring grid that tied into each student’s Personal Hand Scanner. The idea was that if an instructor needed to know where someone was, they could have the school avatars contact them. By the same token, if the hand scanner gave off a burst of biometric information—as they were suppose to do if a student suffered a medical emergency, they could summer the proper personal to their location.
Being the paranoid person he was, Albert always thought it was New Oxford’s way of knowing when too many people were gathering in one place at one time. At the end of the last school year Albert remembered there was a gathering of two or three hundred people at St. Peter’s College, where they were protesting an altercation between a student and a part-time instructor, and had resulted in the instructor being placed on probation. Security hadn’t been brought in to help quell possible problems, though, so perhaps Albert was wrong. Maybe New Oxford wasn’t spying on everyone . . .
Which reminded Albert of something: the security net didn’t go everywhere, not even on campus. “Wait: the grid doesn’t come inside the pub; this is a private establishment.”
“That’s true. But until you step onto their walkway, you are on Magdalen College grounds, which means . . .” She picked up her pint. “I could follow your path, and I saw you vanish in front of the pub.”
“Pretty good work, Meredith.”
Albert raised his pint and tapped it against hers. “I do—” They both sipped their ales in a silent salute to each other. “Lets just hope your new study partner is going to be able to keep up with you . . .”
Hope you enjoyed that. If you have any questions, please leave a comment, and I'll see you next week!