Читать онлайн «Earth Girl»
Everyone forgot about applications then. There wasn’t any suspense as far as my friends were concerned, since they were guaranteed places on their chosen courses at University Earth. I was a nervous wreck though. I’d been scanning stuff about University Asgard. There was a lot of competition for places on their courses, especially history, and they’d be trying to find every reason they could to reject an ape girl.
If they rejected me … Well, Candace could go legal at them, but forcing my way in with a lot of publicity was no good. Everyone would know what I was, and the whole point was to fool them, and see their faces when they found out the truth. Maybe I should have been sensible and applied to University Earth as well, but it was too late to be thinking of that. I could only hope that if necessary, Candace would throw her ProMum weight around and get me a place there.
We were due to get the mails about our degree courses on 1 December. I spent all day waiting to hear from University Asgard, nerves jumping every time a mail arrived. Mostly I flipped through vid channels, but I couldn’t even concentrate on an episode of Defenders. By the evening, I was furious. They hadn’t even bothered to reject me! I sent Candace a mail telling her exactly what I thought of off-worlders. She sent me a mail back saying the inhabited continent of Asgard was in a time zone eleven hours behind us, and they hadn’t had breakfast yet.
Have you ever felt really stupid? I had no excuse at all. We have enough time zones on Earth. The everyday stuff we portal to is all local and in a similar time zone, but some of our school trips had set off in the middle of the night so that we would arrive in daylight at the other end. I’m a nardle brain. Nardle, nardle, nardle …
My mail from University Asgard came five hours later. They’d accepted me! They didn’t sound ecstatic about it, and there was a special note about how they couldn’t make any non-standard arrangements to allow for my disability, but I didn’t care. I danced round my room in victory.
The special note was designed to worry me, but it didn’t. They couldn’t do anything to stop me taking part in all the classes. There was a shakeup in history teaching twenty years ago, because so many historians had never been to Earth at all. That wasn’t so bad if they specialized in modern history, but even the leading experts in pre-history had never visited a single site. They didn’t want to be contaminated by us apes! Teaching pre-history when you’ve never been to Earth is like teaching literature when you’ve never scanned a book.
So they cracked down on the whole thing, made the History Foundation course purely about pre-history, and made it compulsory for it to be held on Earth. It makes sense. You can’t ignore pre-history. It’s the starting point for everything that has happened since the invention of the portal. So, all historians have to learn pre-history and experience Earth dig sites right at the start of their training.
When I finished dancing round the room, I sent a jubilant mail to Candace. She wouldn’t read it until next day of course. I had enough sense not to wake up my ProMum at midnight with an emergency-flagged mail unless it really was an emergency. Issette was a totally different matter. She was my best friend and I wanted to tell her this right away!
I dashed next door and stuck my hand on the door plate. I could hear the faint sound of its response from the other side of the door. A musical tone, followed by a voice saying, ‘Your friend Jarra is requesting admission.’
I gave it another minute or two and then tried again. The door opened and Issette stood there in a crumpled sleep suit, looking at me with bleary, accusing eyes. ‘This better be good! Are you dead or something?’ She turned round without waiting for an answer, went across to the bed and flopped on it with a dramatic groan.
I followed her in and the door shut behind us. ‘I got the mail about my course. I’ve been accepted!’
‘What? You woke me up at this hour to tell me that!’ Issette lifted her head to glare at me.
I grinned back at her. ‘I’ve been accepted by University Asgard.’
‘WHAT!’ Issette screeched.
A computerized voice interrupted us. ‘Please have consideration for others attempting to sleep at this hour and reduce your noise levels.’
Issette threw her pillow at its sensor box. We all hated having those things in our rooms. Officially they weren’t an invasion of privacy, because the units didn’t record or pass on information, they just told us off reproachfully. If you kept ignoring them for too long then they started making an annoying noise like a gong being sounded every second until they beat you into submission.
It wasn’t just noise they complained about either. They didn’t like fire hazards, messy rooms, or you getting too boy and girlish. It does nothing for a romantic moment when a computer voice interrupts saying: ‘Your current inter-person intimacy is exceeding that acceptable for your age group.’
There were always rumours going round that people had managed to hot-wire their room sensor to bypass monitoring, but most people just set the tampering alarm off and have to pay for a new unit out of their personal credits. Those things are expensive so I’ve never tried it myself. Cathan wasn’t worth it.
‘I can’t wait to leave Next Step and get away from that thing,’ snarled Issette. She turned back to me. ‘You’re not serious about University Asgard? You can’t be!’
I spent the next hour convincing her I was serious, and explaining what I was planning. The computer complained about our noise level several more times. Eventually Issette started taking me seriously.
‘I’d love to see their faces when they find out,’ she said. ‘You have to promise me to vid it and mail it to me.’
‘And you have to promise to keep this secret. Don’t tell anyone, none of our friends, no one. Only you and Candace know. If too many people find out about it, then someone will be bound to give it away. I can’t fool the other students if they’re expecting an ape to join their course.’
Issette pulled a face. ‘Don’t call yourself that!’
‘Please have consideration for others attempting to sleep at this hour and reduce your noise levels,’ said the voice.
We both groaned.
‘You aren’t even telling your psychologist then?’ Issette was shocked.
‘I’m dumping my psychologist. He’s optional after I leave Next Step.’ I didn’t think much of psychologists, and I felt my sessions with mine were a total waste of time.
‘I’d be lost without my psychologist,’ said Issette, but she didn’t argue any more. She was a believer in psychologists and I wasn’t. We’d been round this too many times in the past to bother with it again now.
She got back to the point. ‘I don’t see how you can manage to fool them even if you do manage to keep it secret. You won’t know all their stuff. The right clothes. The way they talk. I know we watch the vids but … And the sectors all have their own silly words. Those aren’t in the vids we see. We don’t see sector only stuff, there’s only the odd bit in a comedy when they do it for a joke.’
I nodded. ‘Yes, they can all speak Language, but they have dialects too. Alpha sector has the strongest dialect because those are the first planets settled during the Exodus century. Did you know, the newer the sector, the closer the dialect is to standard Language? I saw this info vid about linguistic history mapping and …’
Issette had her fingers in her ears. ‘No history lesson. Bad, bad, Jarra!’
‘Stop doing that.’
She took her fingers out of her ears. ‘Well, stop lecturing me on history. You’re always doing it.’
‘Oh yes you are. You’re obsessed.’
‘I’m not obsessed.’
Issette just gave me her special look. It’s a sort of hard stare, which says she’s right, I’m wrong, and we both know it. It’s very hard to argue with, so I gave in.
‘Well, if you say so … Anyway, if I pretend to be from a sector, there are bound to be some other students from there, and I won’t have the accent or know the dialect. My plan is to say that my parents are Military.’
Issette looked suspicious. ‘Is that because you’re a fan of Arrack San Domex?’
It wasn’t, really it wasn’t. I’d picked Asgard because of Arrack San Domex, and he plays a Military character in Defenders, but my decision was based on logic this time.
‘No, it isn’t. All the sectors have their dialect, but the Military don’t. They stick to Language. When they’re on assignment, their kids live in places just like Home and Next Step, and Military kids usually go Military themselves. No chance of running into one in a class of thirty history students.’
‘That could work,’ Issette admitted. ‘That would explain your name too. Hospital Earth and the Military both use stupid old-fashioned names. I mean, “Issette”! Have you ever seen an Issette in the vids who’s less than eighty?’
I giggled. Issette has successfully resolved her anger and bitterness over being Handicapped, but her psychologist is still working on her hatred of her name. The only reason she hadn’t changed it years ago was that she couldn’t make up her mind about a new one.
Issette fell asleep soon after that, so I went back to my own room and started scanning info vids about the Military. You can’t totally trust the facts in these things, but it was fascinating all the same.
Well, the ones about Planet First opening up new worlds were fascinating. The ones about running the solar space arrays were interesting too, though I didn’t follow all the science in them. The policing stuff was a bit too like sociology in school. Yeah, yeah, we have cross-sector Military so the different sectors don’t have their own armies and get tempted to re-invent war. I shouldn’t be rude about it – I’m going history and I know we don’t want any more wars – but it gets a bit preachy.
As for the alien standby exercises, well that was just funny. Even the Military people taking part in them sometimes started to laugh in the middle. How do you train to fight aliens when you’ve never met any? The answer is you get someone to imagine mad scenarios, so you find yourself fighting computer-generated bouncing-ball-shaped aliens who can stick to ceilings or eight-legged things that squirt sticky ribbons at you that explode on contact.
All right, it’s serious stuff really. We haven’t met intelligent aliens yet, but it’s been mathematically proven that they must exist, and humanity will at some point meet them. Some of those aliens will be hostile. I may find it hard to believe, but it’s a scientific fact. We have to be prepared, and the Military are doing their best.
I scanned vids all night, and made notes of what I needed to study. I had one month to create myself an identity as a kid of Military parents. If I was going to make a success of this, I needed to make Military Jarra into a real person, and know what she would know. The more I found out, the more I realized I had to learn.
The bit about Military schools was a big shock. Since Military kids usually go Military themselves, their schools cover a lot of things to prepare them for that career. Military basic training is for new recruits from the sectors. Military kids skip it because they’ve already done it at school.
I nearly gave up when I found out all Military kids were trained in unarmed combat. It was only a month until Year Day, and University courses started the day after that. How could I learn unarmed combat in that short a time? Should I pick a different fake background? At least there were info vids I could study on this, and if I didn’t know all I should about the Military, it was pretty certain that my fellow students would know a lot less.
In the end, I decided to stick with the Military idea. I started making up career histories for my fake Military parents, details about bases where I would have lived, and mailed Candace asking if she could arrange anything about unarmed combat training.
Candace mailed me back about nine in the morning. The mail showed her holding a glass of frujit and smiling. ‘Congratulations, Jarra. I’ll find out about the training, but maybe you’re taking the Military research a bit too seriously. You do tend to get carried away by things. Why not have breakfast and get some sleep?’
I decided to take her advice.
The Year Day party was … a bit sad. The nine of us had lived together through Nursery, Home and Next Step, but now we were splitting up. I was heading off on my personal war against University Asgard. The others were all going to University Earth, but would be scattered across different courses and campuses.
Maeth and Ross were doing different courses, but would be on the same campus in Europe Central. Issette, Cathan and Keon would be together on a campus in Europe South. The other four of us would be heading off alone. I’d always known I would be, of course, since Pre-history Foundation classes spent the year working at some of the major dig sites.
Issette was going Foundation Medical. Cathan and Keon were both going Art, but they’d chosen different specialities. Cathan was going Art Paint and Keon was going Art Light. Probably just as well. They’d been asked to send in sample pieces of their work before starting their course, and Keon had been given some sort of award for his.
I’d seen a vid of his piece. A laser sculpture of lights weaving and shimmering through all the colours out of the tropical dome in Zoo Europe. Most of the time it looked totally abstract, but every now and then the colours would sort of fuse together and you saw it was a bird with outstretched wings. Keon called it ‘Phoenix Rising’. You’d have to see it to understand, but it was seriously zan. We were all grazzed to discover Keon actually had some talent. Most of us were grazzed in a good way, but Cathan was a simmering heap of resentment just waiting for an excuse to explode.
So, the nine of us were splitting up, and the Year Day party was a bit like a funeral. We were leaving Next Step. We’d meet up, but it would never be quite the same again. You wouldn’t understand, living out there with real parents, but the nine of us had been a family. We didn’t always like each other (Cathan usually wasn’t speaking to someone) but we were all we had to hang on to.
The younger ones were at the party too, sending us off the way we’d sent off the other years ahead of us. We opened all the partition walls in Commons, to make it one big room. We did all the traditional things, singing Old Lang Zine just before midnight. I tried telling the others just how old that song was, the way I did every year, and they all threw cups of Fizzup over me.
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