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Earth Girl

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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Then we put on the big vid wall to show the countdown to midnight, and shouted along in chorus as the numbers flashed on the screen. ‘Three! Two! One! Happy Year Day 2789!’

We cheered wildly as we all became a year older. Our Next Step Principal had been lurking in a corner keeping an eye on things, now she stepped forward. ‘Congratulations to our new adults. Let’s all wish them happiness in the future.’

The younger kids cheered again. I was embarrassed to find I was getting a bit weepy. Issette was unashamedly crying. We were 18, we were adult, we were moving on. There was a time when people counted ages from the day each person was born, not from Year Day. Must have made things really messy and lonely at times like this.

Eventually the younger ones headed off to bed, the Principal said goodnight, and it was just the nine of us left in Commons. Issette was asleep on the floor. We woke her up because Ross and Maeth wanted to register their first Twoing contract. They’d been waiting months for this. The rest of us watched while they dialled Registry, entered their details, and got the confirmation. Then we all applauded and gave a big cheer.

Ross was planning to work in either a Home or a Next Step one day, so he was going Care and Community Foundation Course. Maeth had picked a random course that was on the same campus. She wasn’t bothered what course she did, because she was planning to be a ProMum and you don’t need qualifications for that.

‘They only allow you to have a three-month contract to start with,’ Maeth said, ‘but that means we can get on to our second Twoing contract quickly, and qualify for joint student accommodation.’

Ross nodded. ‘One more three-month contract, then a six-month contract, and we’ll have the minimum three contracts and a year needed to get married. You have to all promise to come to our wedding next Year Day.’

We all promised.

‘After that …’ Ross grinned at Maeth.

She blushed. ‘After that, we have our kids. Ideally, I’d like our own kids to be at least two years old before I start being a ProMum when I’m 25.’

They had their whole future lives planned out. Listening to them, I didn’t know whether to be jealous or terrified. After a bit, they said goodnight and headed off. The rest of us went a bit quiet after that. I suppose we were all thinking the same thing. Just because a couple start Twoing, it doesn’t automatically mean that they … On the other hand, Maeth and Ross had been together a long time, so now they were adults they probably would … I told myself sternly that it was none of my own business.

Cathan’s mind was clearly also considering the options available to adults. He wandered over to sit next to me with horribly fake casualness.

‘We should get back together, Jarra,’ he said, in a low voice.

‘I’m about to spend a year on assorted history dig sites,’ I pointed out. ‘They’re only open to authorized visitors.’

‘You could visit me even if I can’t visit you.’

‘It’s not a good idea. You wouldn’t be happy unless we spent most of our time together, and that just wouldn’t be possible because of my work and the time zones.’

Cathan wasn’t accepting the polite brush off. ‘We’ve got a bit of time still before we head off. We can try and work things out. Let’s go to my room and talk. We’re 18 now, so I could go and buy some wine and …’

I got sick of being tactful. ‘I know we’re adults now and the room sensors won’t bother us, but I’m not getting drunk and spending the next thirty-six hours in bed with you.’ I stood up and tried to walk away.

‘Oh come on. You want to try it too …’ Cathan came after me, grabbed me, and gave me an incompetent attempt at a masterful kiss.

Just maybe my psychologist is right about my aggression, because I really enjoyed what happened next. I grabbed Cathan’s arms, rolled backwards, and threw him over my head. I’d been enjoying doing this sort of thing in unarmed combat lessons every morning for the past month, but doing it for real was totally zan!

I stood up, and looked down at Cathan. Commons had a nice padded floor, so he wasn’t hurt, just absolutely grazzed. So was everyone else. Issette pulled a buggy-eyed, amazed face at me.

‘Like I said, Cathan. The answer is no. Good night, everyone.’ I made a magnificent exit and headed to my room.

Once inside, with the door safely closed behind me, I fell on my bed and burst out laughing. Cathan’s face!

After a bit, I calmed down. I have to admit I put the vid on after that. I’d turned down Cathan’s generous offer, but I couldn’t resist indulging my curiosity by scanning a few adult vids. Since there was no one under 18 in the room, it gave me access to all the forbidden channels. I knew Beta was the most sexually permissive sector, so I took a look at some of their vids. Hoo eee! I’d never seen so much leg!

I went to bed after that and slept solidly through until early afternoon. When I woke up, I grabbed a quick meal down in Commons and started on the demoralizing task of packing. I’d lived in this room for six years, and it felt like I was dismantling part of myself.

I’d splashed out some credits on a set of luggage with hover pads. I wasn’t sure if everything would go in. It’s amazing how much stuff you can accumulate in one room. After an hour of sorting, I was quite positive everything wouldn’t go in.

A musical tone sounded and my door said, ‘Your friend Issette is requesting admission.’

I went over and hit the unlock plate. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. We do have voice command doors on Earth, we aren’t totally last millennium here, it’s just we don’t have them in our Next Step. They all got disabled after someone in the year above me hacked the system and started sneaking into girls’ rooms. A girl caught him vidding her in the shower, and when they checked his lookup he had vids of two other girls as well. All chaos broke out. It was the most exciting thing that ever happened here. Our Principal had six fuming ProParents in her office, and another forty officially registering concern. After that, the culprit got transferred to Correctional for his last three months in Next Step, and we all had to use unlock plates instead of voice commands.

Issette stood outside, arms full of old toys, her face registering total despair. ‘I’ll never find space for all this.’

‘I’m in trouble too, and I’ll be moving dig site several times during the year. I’ll have to keep unpacking and repacking it all.’ I tried to be practical. ‘I suppose we could throw some stuff out.’

‘I can’t throw them away,’ wailed Issette. ‘I can’t throw out Whoopiz the Zen and all the fluffies.’ Issette was very attached to her toys in Nursery, especially the strange skinny purple object that she called Whoopiz the Zen. She didn’t seem to have entirely grown out of it.

I didn’t want to toss all my old familiar clutter down a waste chute either, so we dragged everything over to a hired storage unit. It was surprisingly hard to close the door on the sad jumbled relics of our years in Nursery, Home and Next Step, and return to a stripped, impersonal room.

I didn’t sleep very well, but the next morning I could laze in bed until late. I was due at my course at ten in the morning, but this time I’d remembered to allow for the time zones. The first part of my course was in America North, so I had five spare hours.

My last bit of packing took only a few minutes. I spent a while helping out Issette, and then we both headed down to the entrance hall with our luggage. I just had to press my key fob, and my bags gathered up in a tight group behind me, bouncing up and down slightly in mid air, like obedient but excited puppies. Issette’s bags didn’t have hover pads, so she had them loaded on a hired hover trolley.

In the entrance hall we met five other hover trolleys, another two sets of hover pad luggage, and their owners. The nine of us stood in an awkward group, with nothing to say except the goodbyes we’d already said, but feeling unable to actually leave. This was the big moment that we’d dreamed of for years. No more Principal giving us orders. No more rules. No more room sensors nagging us. We could go anywhere we liked, and do anything we wanted. We were adults, we were free, and we were scared.

We’d probably have stood there all day, if the Principal hadn’t arrived. She did a quick head count, saw we were all ready to go, and put us out of our misery by waving us off.

We dutifully formed an orderly queue for the portal, and took out our lookups to check our destination codes. One by one we dialled, stepped into the portal, and vanished. I let the others go first, because they all had internal Europe destinations, and I was going inter-continent.

I portalled to the closest Europe Transit, wandered past the information signs about inter-continent portal charges, and portalled to America. AIPTH, that’s Automated Intercontinental Passenger Traffic Handling, randomly allocated me an American Transit destination, and I popped out in America Transit 2.

That’s where I made a really nardle-brained decision. I could have dialled straight to my destination from any local portal in America Transit 2, but I had the bright idea of going via America Off-world since that was where a genuine off-world student would arrive. I felt this would help me get in character as Jarra the Military kid.

It was a seriously bad move. I thought America Off-world would be nice and quiet by now. Around eight in the morning, it would be busy of course, the plaza full of Earth norm kids gathering up ready to portal through on the way to their off-world schools. The authorities generously pay for them to portal off world daily to school, but they aren’t completely insane about it. The big cost is establishing the portal, not keeping it open, so they march the kids through in batches of up to a hundred to keep the cost per head down to the minimum.

The mass off-world kiddie commute would be over by now, so I expected things to be peaceful, but I stepped out of the portal into chaos. It was the day after Year Day and every university course was starting. America Off-world was teeming with Handicapped parents sending their normal kids away to off-world universities. There were also off-world history and medical students flooding in. The problem wasn’t so much the people, but the quantities of luggage chasing their owners in all directions.

I weaved my way through the mob, avoiding the area with big red information signs about the colossal off-world portal charges, and went to another local portal. Anyone watching would think I was mad, coming here and then just going from one local portal to another. They’d be right too.

I was relieved when I made it without losing myself, let alone my luggage. I entered the code for the dome on New York Dig Site, where our course would be based for the first couple of months, and the portal started talking to me.

‘Warning, your destination is a restricted access area,’ it told me. ‘If your scanned genetic code is not listed as authorized for access, then your portal will not establish but your personal account will still be charged for this journey.’

I hesitated, with last-minute cowardly thoughts running through my head, and an acid voice spoke from behind me.

‘You may have all day, but I don’t!’

I glanced behind me at an impatient, elderly woman, who reminded me of my scary science teacher at school, turned back to face the portal and took a deep breath. I was Jarra, a Military kid, trained in unarmed combat. A history lecturer and twenty-nine other history students wouldn’t scare me.

I stepped into the portal and a new identity.


I arrived in a very basic accommodation dome. There had been no attempt to disguise the curve of the outside wall, or even colour the flexiplas from its depressing natural grey. I hadn’t expected anything better, because I’d been to several dig sites before with the school history club.

A harassed looking man of about thirty had been watching a trail of bobbing luggage head out of the door, presumably following its owner. He turned to face me and my own shoal of bags. ‘Welcome to University Asgard Pre-history Foundation course at the New York Dig Site. I’m Lecturer Playdon. You are …?’ He scrolled down a list of names on his lookup.

‘Jarra Reeath,’ I told him.

He first looked startled, and then as if he’d just noticed a very bad smell. ‘You’re in room 6,’ he said, stabbing his lookup with a vicious finger to check my name off on his list. ‘Student greet is in the dining hall in one hour.’

Someone else had just come through the portal. Lecturer Playdon turned to the new arrival, and I led my little procession of bags through the door and went in search of room 6. I’d learnt a few useful things in the one-minute encounter. Lecturer Playdon obviously knew what I was, and didn’t like it, but he was being professional and he wasn’t going to tell the other students. That was good news, but even better was the fact he hadn’t been able to tell at first glance that I was the ape girl. Rationally, I knew there was no truth in all the exo jokes about the look and smell of apes, but eighteen years of seeing them on the vid channels had still worn away at my confidence.

I tracked down room 6, which for some reason was between room 4 and room 12. It wasn’t bad for a room on a dig site. Bed. Storage space. Even a very small wall vid. I unpacked my bags, and then it was time to face the student greet. I’d survived meeting one enemy, and now I was going to meet another twenty-nine. I comforted myself with the fact that Playdon knew what I was, but the other students wouldn’t.

I’d already discovered the dining hall while looking for my room, so I headed back there. I found a dozen or so students sitting on grey flexiplas chairs around grey flexiplas tables and looking at the grey flexiplas walls. More were arriving.

I sat near the back, and tried to get in character. For a month, I’d studied Military vids. I’d trained in unarmed combat. I’d built an entire life history and family for Jarra Military kid, or JMK as I’d nicknamed her. By this time, I knew JMK better than I knew myself.

Lecturer Playdon was sitting at the front of the room and looking depressed. After a few minutes, he seemed to decide he had a full class present. He started with exactly the same words he’d said when I arrived.

‘Welcome to University Asgard Pre-history Foundation course at the New York Dig Site. I’m Lecturer Playdon.’

After that, he branched out into daring new verbal territory. ‘We will be staying at New York for the next two months before moving on to our next dig site. This is the dining hall, used for meals and classes. You’ll have noticed all the other rooms in this dome are very small. Has everyone found their rooms, and have you any problems or questions?’
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