"Stars OF Light, Points OF Five,
Give us the guidance to Learn and Serve.
Watch over us as we expound on the original,
Seek the Wondrous Unknown,
And Keep the Faith of our Masters.
We Join with the Light of Newness
To Keep the Enlightenment Breathing,
To continue the Wisdom here Found.
To Be One Under the Suns."
Vow of Assent for
Niula College of Higher Learning
Second bells rang dully throughout the passageways as he hurried towards the doorway that lead to the Gateway antechamber. As the bells dictated the time, the young man broke into a run, cursing under his breath. As he rushed forward a side door was abruptly heaved opened and five large bodies barreled out and into him, their laughter and banter a raucous, unwelcome invasion of the quiet. They shoved at him and jostled him rudely.
Attempting to continue on his way he mumbled an apology, winding through the mass of bodies going their own ways. He found his arm seized, his body jerked brutally backwards.
“Hey, dweeb,” a rough voice spat into his ear. “Whadda ya think you’re doing!”
Pii looked up into the face of his captor; a typical jock. The young man was a head taller than Pii, his body oversized with fat and muscles. His head seemed to sit directly on his shoulders; no neck could be seen. Pii looked around at the rest of the loutish group. They all seemed to have similar appearances as the first one; clones, almost. The hand holding him squeezed his arm and pulled him slightly up.
“I asked you a question, cream puff,” the bulky man demanded again as he squeezed harder on Pii’s arm. His mouth twisted in a smirk as he looked to his cronies for approval. The small group laughed and pushed each other, yelling out jeers and insults, cheering their ‘leader’ on.
“I heard you. Please let loose of my arm,” Pii answered calmly. His demeanor was one of impatience, if anything, as he wiped his shaggy unkempt hair out of his eyes with his free hand.
“Right,” the lout said, dragging the word out mockingly as he grinned at the others. He looked down at the young man he held captive. The kid’s body was thin, lanky, not nearly as tall as him. He had a head full of wild sandy blond hair that hung in disarray around his face; on his thin frame he wore a non-descript t-shirt that had seen better days and wrinkled khakis. The kid looked adolescent; an underclassman to be sure. But his eyes were unsettling. They were deep blue and showed no fear, only annoyance; which irritated his aggressor.
“And just who is going to make me? You?” He snorted contemptuously. As he spoke, a spray of spit was let loose, and Pii pulled back as far as he could so as to not be hit.
“I'm in a bit of a hurry, so I'll ask you again to please let go of me,” Pii said in a flat voice, looking around at the sneering faces. Just one day he'd like to not be hassled. That was all he asked.
“Oh…you are?” the large one exclaimed, feigning concern, his grin increasingly more ridiculing. The group was snickering, prodding each other on, as a figure entered, unnoticed through the still open doorway. The large brute found his own arm unexpectedly gripped, pinched so hard he let loose of his prey.
“Hey, what the…” he called out, then caught sight of his assailant. “Oh, it’s you. We’ve just having some fun.” He glowered, struggling in protest. “Didn’t see you at try-outs, what’s up? You injured or something?”
“No, Brad, I have better things to do with my time than running around the field with you animals,” he replied, emphasizing the name as if it were a foul word.
One of the others called out, “Yeah, I heard you’ve been dancin' with the girls,” laughing with ridicule. Putting his finger on his head, he swirled around in an unbalanced circle while the others hooted with laughter. The large young man only watched them, his face remaining composed.
“Yes, I worked with the Ballet troupe this summer,” he responded unflappably. The group exploded with laughter.
“Ooh la la!” one called out.
The new one regarded them with disdain before turning his focus to Pii, who was rubbing his arm. Red hand marks were apparent where the lout had gripped him.
“You okay, Professor?” he asked with real concern, putting emphasis on the last word for the others' benefit. The struggling of the one Genni held ceased, and their sneers abruptly died off. Shock stretched over all their faces.
“Yes, thank you, Genni. You can let this oaf loose.” Genni smiled cheerily at the one he had detained, then whispered something in his ear that the others couldn’t hear. Like a bunch of little kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar they seemed to hunch over as one, and hid behind one another. The first thug stood straight, trying to maintain some of his dignity and looked uncomfortably at Pii.
“Uh…sorry, Professor. Didn’t recognize you.” He scowled and looked anywhere but at Pii. “All in good fun ya know.”
“Yeah, I'm sure,” Pii said skeptically. “Just go away; I don’t have time to deal with this now.”
The five hurriedly backed away, keeping their eyes on Genni and the professor. The large jock took the time to look back over his shoulder, glaring with hatred. As the group rounded the corner their voices could be heard once more. As it gained volume, a few choice curse words cut through the air.
The two watched them until they were out of sight. Then Professor Pii’s rescuer looked down at him with a big smile. “Nice bumping into you, Pii. You always seem to add an exciting flair to my life.”
“Yes…well it seems to happen too often for my liking,” he replied, beginning to walk down the hallway with his friend.
“Well you do look…” Genni ran his eyes over his friend’s frame. “Uh…rather un-professor like.” A sly half smile played on his lips. “And you know as well as I do that you look like an underclassman.”
“Well that’s because if I was normal I’d be an underclassman,” was the smart retort.
“Nothing normal about you, that’s for sure,” he said as he playfully pulled Pii into a head lock and knuckle-rubbed his head.
“Stop that!” Pii yelped as he laughed and pulled away. With Genni walking beside him he picked up his pace and hurried along the hall. “So….Aly talked you into it, did she?” he asked in good humor.
“Yeah, I can’t say no to her. Oh be still my heart; when she flitters around me I just go all mushy. All summer break I worked with them. Basically I just stood there like a tree and lifted the little flying forms as they came at me. Kind of fun really.” Pii laughed at his friend’s confession. “Now, don’t you go telling Aly that. I like her trying to keep me happy so I’ll do it again.” Pii could only grin at him. Genni looked like a soldier; conservatively cut black hair and a body of steel. The thought of him standing in the middle of the flock of ballerinas was just too entertaining. He wished he could have seen some of the performances.
“Why are you going so fast?”
“Dawn said they were coming in by 2:00 and ...crap, I’m so late,” he yelled, breaking into a run. Genni followed suit.
“Aly messaged me that she and her friend were coming in with Dawn. I didn't understand it, something about a surprise?”
“Who’s her friend? Someone I know?” Pii huffed with a bit of concern.
“Her name is Grace Tioua. She worked backstage for the troupe. Her and Aly hit it off right away.”
“Did you do the vetting?”
“Of course. Do you think I’d let Aly spend time with anyone I didn’t know?” he said, glancing over his shoulder at his friend and speaking between breaths. “I did the normal background stuff. She was all clean, but she had traveled...a lot. I sent inquiries around the planets she’d been on. Got a lot of reports back about her family—they were not liked. There was some trouble with the law; but it looked like Grace split from them and went out on her own. Mostly adventuring it looked like; hiking, staying in remote villages, mountain climbing, stuff like that. She left quite an impression behind, everyone liked her. I’ve spent a lot of time with her this summer: her and Aly. Nice girl, good friend to Aly. I like her.” He shot his friend a sly smile: “I think you will like her, too.”
Pii didn’t catch the look Genni threw him, but felt better about the news now. A little bit at least. He wasn’t good with new people and they usually were not good with him. But if Genni said she was okay then he’d let it be, he didn’t want anything to mess up his surprise.
They hurried along until they came to a wide expanse of space and turned right to face an arched doorway. The large doors already opened out to reveal the antechamber of the Service Gateway. It was used primarily for large items coming in; supplies, oversized loads and such. There were a few workers moving pallets into the large lifts.
The room wasn’t as ornate as the others, but it was immense. There were two oversized lifts that together serviced all the levels in the college and the mountain city. Rows of various devices for moving heavy loads were lined up neatly on one side. The Gateway doors were four times the size of the ones for just passengers. This wasn't the largest of the shipping Gateways. The biggest ones were located on the valley floor, for vehicles and other larger items. But this one served its purpose extremely well.
The walls and floor were common stone work, polished, but nothing grand. A couple of chairs sat near a wide expanse of windows that looked out over the valley and the outside city. They were high up on the mountain, providing them with a breathtaking view.
A terminal was positioned next to the Gateway doors with an attendant sitting on a stool in front of it. The young man turned as they entered, a huge smile erupting on his face.
“Hello, Professor…Genni,” the uniform-clad attendant said in greeting.
“Hey Beci, didn't know you were working this shift also,” replied Pii.
“Yep. Gotta pay for my classes somehow. It’s not bad, just boring down here. I liked working the main one better. More people to talk to.”
Pii thought to himself that that was why he liked using this Gate; less people around the better, he thought.
Pii looked at the time display mounted on the wall next to the gate. It was well pass 2:00 now: they should have arrived already. Stumped, he asked, “Did we miss them? Dawn said to meet her at 2pm."
“Nope. Gate’s not due 'til 2:30, so we have another few minutes or so.” Beci glanced at his terminal, Genni leaning over his shoulder to read the screen. As the two began talking about logistics and weights, Pii, uninterested, strolled over to the windows.
He'd seen the vista more times than he could remember, but it still astounded him; this wonderful world they lived on. They were part of the second half of the Pearl Galaxy, a wonderful cluster made up of two separate galaxies that had merged part-way and stayed that way. PrimeG was a spiral galaxy, whereas SilverG was a star galaxy. PrimeG's solar systems were made up of hundreds of planets all thriving with civilization, and it wasn't until groups began spreading out to colonize the larger stars in SilverG that the existence of this unique set of planets had even been discovered.
Arthur Niula had lead a team of colonists to what they thought was one planet, only to discover that it was really five connected in an almost orbital system, an exceptional find in that there was one planet they considered primary for its size, and four others that were 'attached' to it gravitationally. The five planets formed a ring, held together by the unique properties of the main globe.
Arthur Niula, along with his team, landed on the primary planet, and soon discovered that their new home, which at first was thought to be volcanic in nature, did not resemble it in the least.
The planet was formed of crystals, rock being its secondary building block. Every shape, size, type, and color of crystal known, and unknown, to man was found, more to this day being discovered. But one, christened Amaranthine, was distinctive in ways never encountered before. It acted biotic, but not alive in the sense that a plant was alive; but with thoughts, reasoning; and purpose.
The deep caves and caverns that riddled every part of planet were covered with crystals; however the rare purple crystal was illusive. It was if it wished to stay hidden, and once found it wouldn't be there the next time they looked. The other crystals were not so shy; the ground, waterways and even the air sparkled with minuscule flecks of the gems.
Discovery after discovery took place on the Niula Quintettes—or NiulaQ as the newer generations called it. New colonies were not allowed to bring technology from PrimeG planets or any other populated worlds. They had to show they could be self-sufficient before they were allowed to utilize tech from their prior home worlds.
The NiulaQ didn't have any issues with that directive. Advanced electro-optic materials, devices, and technology developed quickly in the system.
The Gateways were still by far the most exceptional. Nowhere else were these to be found. Amaranthine, once found and tamed, could be directed, creating an unseen portal. Who thought to set an Amaranthine up as a Beacon on the highest mountain; how or why it even stayed in place was lost in history. They only had to find the strongest 'pull' areas on each of the other Q planets and walk into it, to find themselves standing on another of the Qs. Eventually Gateways were built around such areas to encase them. The travels routes became known and worn, as it became an every day event to travel from one planet to another.
Niula was a wonderland of discoveries. All of the mountains on Niula main were peppered with tunnels, caves, and huge chambers, which the crystals had bore through. Man had enhanced them, creating this city and the college; scrupulously added more into the rocks and the surrounding lowlands.
...Until one day a ten year old boy had the innovative idea to see if there was a way to give the crystals commands as a science project for his 4th grade class project. He found a way to input the information into the crystal to grow a scale model of a house. The government had stepped in, removed the 10 year old prodigy from his home world and transplanted him into the Tech Labs of the college.
There it was ascertained that it hadn't been a fluke; the boy was a genius. Gifted with the ability not only to understand higher math, physics, geology, biology and chemistry, but with the acuteness of imagination to think outside the box, he became a fixture in the labs, more like a lab rat himself, unable to socialize with others at the college; adults and students alike looked at him like a freak of nature. Some were even scared of him; of what he thought up, of what he could do. It didn't help that by the time he was 17 he held multiple PhD's, and had earned the title of High Professor Head of the Theoretical and Practical Studies of Crystals by his 18th year. Or that he had made the mistake, early on, of telling anyone that would listen that he could hear music coming from the Amaranthine crystals.
Pii sighed without caring to know he did so. It had been so lonely, but oh how he loved it here. The freedom to create, dream, and ponder without the guilt that he wasn't pulling his full weight for his family. Not that they weren't taken care of; he had seen to that. And the isolation at the college had evaporated the day he had met Dawn. Remembering that first day brought a nostalgic look to his face. He had gone home for the summer of his 16th year, and with a heavy heart had been returning to the college. When he was here he didn't miss them, much.
Dawn had been standing with a group of others in the arrival room when the doors had opened and he had exited. He wasn't expecting anyone there to greet him—there never had been. She had glanced up just as he had seen her, and their eyes met. She watched him for a bit, then, walking with sure purpose, she had come to stand in front of him, stopping him from moving away. Putting out her hand she had introduced herself:
'I'm a new freshman. Racelle Dawnily,' she had said in a solid, confident voice, 'but my friends call me Dawn.'
He hadn’t been sure of himself, but his quick brain had moved words to his mouth before he could stop himself. He had asked, 'How many are your friends?'
She laughed, not at him, but with true feeling and had answered. 'Two now.' She had looked behind her where a tall young man had stood, watching them both cautiously, but with a soft grin. She had motioned with her head to him and said. 'That's Genni, my other friend.'
He had discovered he was still holding her hand. Moving his hand to her other one, she had turned and said, 'Come on, let's find something to eat.' She had taken his suitcase, handed it to Genni, and started walking out of the chamber. He found himself pulled along in stunned acquiescence. She told him that they would be the best of friends, and she had never let him down. With her beside him his life at the college had changed. Suddenly he had two friends and they collected more along the way.
A bell chimed thinly in the chamber, breaking Piis' inner thoughts. Turning from the glittering landscape, he saw Genni pointing at the Gateway as a red light started to blink above its doors.
“They're coming,” Beci said. He pushed a couple of buttons on the panel, then sat back. The light stopped blinking, then another chime rang out and the light changed to a solid green. “That’s it,” he said as he pushed another button. The doors to the Gateway silently slid into the side walls.
Sitting towards the back of the Gate, on a pallet of toilet paper, was a tall, willow-thin girl. With a huge grin she hopped off and sauntered over to the boys. She wore jeans with a short leather jacket and bright red high heels, but it was her hair that had all three of them staring in shock. As she walked she swung her head so that a long braid of hair hanging past her shoulders swayed, showing off the line of beads at its end.
Pii was the first to regain his speech. “What did you do to your hair!” he exclaimed. The girl ruffled her short wild mane and fingered the one long braid.
“I cut it. Mother just about had a heart attack!” she said with a smile.
“Wow,” was all Genni could get out.
“Well, it’s, ah, different,” Pii managed, attempting to be polite.
“Mother told me when I went off-worlds that I could buy anything and do anything I wanted. But it went without saying that I had to leave the family gems in. Soooo…I found a way. This cut is all the rave on R5, its retro from the PrimeGs.”
“Oh,” was all Pii could find to say. When he had last saw her, her blond hair had hung almost to her waist, smooth and shining. He loved her hair. No, he corrected himself. He loved her…like a sister; his best friend.
“See?” she said as she held up the thin long braid. Dangling at the end were the gem stones. “All still there. Mothers’ not used to it yet…but she’ll come around. She always does,” she assured them.
Breaking the stunned discourse, a hurricane of excitement suddenly dashed up to Genni and leaped into his arms. The two swirled in an exuberant circle, hugging and laughing.
“Oh, I've missed you!" the young woman cried, her voice awash with cheerfulness. "I've missed you all!" She disengaged herself from Genni, and hugged Pii, though not so energetically.
"Missed you too, Aly," Pii started to say, but she had quickly released him and leaped away back into the Gate. She ran behind a tall pallet and returned, holding tight to another young girl. The group’s focus shifted to her as she was dragged along by Aly.
Her red hair was tied back in a loose ponytail that bounced as she walked. She was wearing jeans that were cuffed just below her knees, with sockless tennis shoes and a blue oversized t-shirt. She wasn't overly attractive; no makeup, no piercings and tons of freckles spattered over her nose and cheeks; she had a more practical look. He liked her. She had an energetic stride and seemed to be fairly comfortable in a new place. She stopped when she came to where all of them were standing and smiled expectedly at them.
"Everyone, this is Grace," Aly bubbled as she pulled the redhead forward. "Grace, this is everyone! Well you know Genni." She hugged him again, "and you met Dawn at the departure Gateway, and this...this is our Pii." The redhead looked him over; he could feel her eyes taking in his disheveled appearance. She must have found him acceptable because she smiled, somewhat uncertainly and held out her hand. She had a strong grip and looked amused as he met her grip with a sturdy one of his own. She came just to his shoulder and she was wearing the largest backpack he had ever seen. Looking over his shoulder she saw the window, quickly released his hand and walked over to it.
“Oh Aly, it does sparkle!” she exclaimed.
“I know. I told you!” Aly exuded happiness. “Come on, let’s get our stuff and get settled, then we can go outside so you can stand in it!”
Together they went to help the others, who were already busy gathering the girls’ things from inside the Gate. Beci had gotten a hand cart and was waiting for them to point out which items were theirs. It ended up being three large trunks, a couple of boxes and a stack of luggage. All of them helped him load everything onto the cart until it was full, then got a second and started to pack it. Grace was trying to pick up one of the boxes to put on top of the second cart, but was having difficulty lifting it up.
“Could you help with me this stuff?” she asked of Pii as he came close. Pii could see that her pack was really the source of her problem; it was stuffed so full that she looked like she might topple over. He hurried forward to help her, stacking the box next to the luggage Genni had already piled on. She picked up another item and laid it gently on top. He was pleasantly surprised to see it was a guitar case. He hoped she played.
Pii and Genni each took hold of a cart and started to roll them out of the area. Beci was on a handset calling for unloading help with the normal shipment and was glad they could take care of the stuff themselves.
After seeing that all their belongings were accounted for, the girls took off down the hallway. Pii held back until he was sure Genni and the others couldn't hear him, then called back to Beci.
"You and Von coming tonight?" he asked hopefully.
Beci said something else into his handset, then called back. "You bet. We are all packed and ready. Can't wait..." He waved as a voice came over his handset again, demanding his attention.
Grace and Aly were walking at a good pace and he had to almost run, pushing the cart, to catch up. Genni had pulled up aside the two girls and was easily keeping up with them. Dawn lingered, waiting for him as Genni and Aly walked ahead with Grace.
"So, Pii. You've been working out have you?" Dawn whispered, not too softly, as she gripped his bicep in good humor.
Without consent he could feel his face turning red; he was slightly embarrassed that she had noticed, while he was at the same time pleased that she had.
"You've grown taller too," she said, watching the tips of his ears redden, then she pulled him to a stop. "You can't be!" she exclaimed as she pulled him close and did a head measure with him. "Suns, you are, you are taller than me now. My little Pii has finally grown up," she said smugly as she linked her arm through his, somewhat hampering his ability to push the cart.
"Thanks...mom" he said sarcastically back at her; she grinned.
"Soooo, what's the surprise? And why, may I ask did I have to come in through the Shipping Gate?" she inquired nonchalantly, as she strolled beside him. Her heels clicking on the stone floor.
"Well, it's easier for me to get around here for one..." he answered with a smirk."And... oh... wait a minute." He stopped pushing the cart. They had come to a fork in the hallways. The main hall lead to a lift into the main part of the city, whereas a small hallway to the side lead down to little used sections, employed for storage mostly. "Hey guys, hold up, you've gone too far!" he yelled to the others, who had almost reached the lift. They turned at the sound of his voice, surprise coloring their expressions.
Dawn and Pii waited for the others to come back to where they were. They had stopped when he yelled, but they certainly took their time backtracking. When they got close Pii pointed a thumb down the little-used hallway.
“This way, guys,” he said, letting a light grin tug loose on his face.
“But this is the way to get to the college; there's nothing down there....is there?” questioned Dawn, a puzzled expression on her face.
“Well, I said I had a surprise for you all.” It was silent as he continued. “You know how the Structural Engineers submitted plans to expand the college and living areas?" All but Grace nodded; she wore a baffled look. “Well, the new inlaid schematics worked, and all the labor was completed during the summer. For the last few months the city planners have been going over the mountain and have decided which older parts should be rebuilt, and which to abandon for a later date. They discovered that under this level there was an even older one. So we did some surveying, and what we found was pretty cool.” He paused and scanned their faces; it was obvious they had no idea what he was talking about. Genni motioned with his hand for him to go on. Somewhat imploringly, he continued: “They had the area scheduled for blocking off, since it was so old. But I liked it. So...I acquired the rights to it." They all just stared at him.
"Oh come on, this is really ace!" He was so excited that he started to wave his arms around. Genni waved his hands in the air forcefully, mimicking his friend.
“And? So?" he asked uncomprehendingly. But Dawn was beginning to understand.
“Wait, you acquired the rights to a level...all to yourself. What, some underground cave thing?" she asked skeptically, but he could see that Grace seemed to like that idea.
Yeah...no..." he started. "Yeah it's a level, kind of. It was a little run down, but I fixed the hallways and closed off all the catacombs. I did leave a couple of really awesome ones that looked like they would be fun to explore." They all only stared at him like he had lost his mind—all but Grace. Then Dawn started to laugh. A little at first, then it built, with Aly and Genni joining in. They had finally understood what he was...and was not saying.
In good humor, Genni slapped him on his back. "Only you Pii, only you." He shook his head in amazement. "Way cool."
“Way!” exclaimed Dawn after him, turning a beaming face to her friend. “So, do we get new rooms there?”
“Better... anyway I think so,” Pii said, grinning. “There was a wing that must have been living quarters at one time. I fixed it up." He waited, wanting to build the tension.
“Yes, sooooo?” Dawn drew the word out beseechingly.
“There are eight sleeping rooms, five baths, our own kitchen and living areas!”
Genni, Aly and Dawn burst out as one:
“Oh my Suns, our own wing!”
Grace just looked from one to another, not really understanding everything except that they were going to get their own rooms—and not ones in the dorms.
“Yes… really,” he proclaimed proudly. "But wait...there's more!"
“There’s more?” Genni said, eyes widening. “No way.”
"Yep, there's a small gym, a laundry room and...you ready for it?" Dawn just about tackled him. "Okay, okay,” he said, laughing. "There's a really cool pool with a waterfall!" At that all of them cheered, even Grace.
He started pushing his cart down the unused hallway. The others followed, letting him lead. As he walked he said, “I put in lifts just for us; there is one from this level straight to our hallway. And we can take any lift and it will take us there also.” He whispered this, even though no one else had been seen since they left the Gateway chamber.
“Good Suns, Pii, you are beyond incredible,” Dawn said, shaking her head, the little braid of hair dancing merrily about her shoulders.
“I know. I'm awesome." He smiled broadly at her as he reached over his shoulder and patted himself on the back.
Dawn rolled her eyes at Genni. “And he’s soooo humble too!”
"But how would a lift on...say level 12 take us down to our hallway?" asked Aly, who was dancing from foot to foot in glee, almost as if she really needed to use the bathroom.
"Don't ask how...it just will,” he entreated, smiling at her as he came to halt before an oversized lift door. "Our side of the lift is oversized, so if you need to bring large things down, use any of the shipping lifts, it will work," he informed them as he pushed the button for the doors to open.
There was a slight hum, followed by the doors opening to a standard sized lift. Pii pushed the cart in, Genni following with his. The others squeezed in around them until the door could close. Looking at the others to make sure they were watching, he reached over to a row of bolts in the corner of the lift. They looked like normal flat head bolts used for construction. Pii ran his fingers over them until he came to one about waist high for him. He held his finger up to show them, then with exaggerated grandeur he reached and pushed the bolt. The bolt glowed under his finger, a small delay, before they sensed movement.
"I put these in every lift in the mountain. It reads our finger print before it will start. It won't work for anyone but us. I'll need to have each of you do an imprint for me tonight, then anywhere you are, just wait for the doors to close and push the bolt."
"Ingenious," Genni remarked.
“Oh, and our wristcoms won’t work down at this level, everything once the lift doors open down there is terminal messages only.” They all digested that bit of information as the lift’s movements stopped and the doors opened to a wide corridor.
None of them moved to leave the lift. Before them was an amazing sight. It looked like real stone work, layers fitted together by hand, perfect in every way. Carved sconces lined the walls, with little real fires burning in them. One by one they filtered out of the lift, looking in wonder around them.
"Pii, I feel like I've gone back in time. Just how old is this place?" Genni asked in a hushed tone.
"It's pretty old. But don't worry, our rooms have all been updated, without losing any of this," he answered, gesturing abstractly.
They followed him down the short hall to stand before a large ornate door. It was wooden and hand carved. The incredible things they were finding to have the crystals do was wonderful, but work painstakingly done by a skilled craftsman's hands was another thing altogether. This was one of those. A beautiful pattern of the Suns and the circle of five were expertly carved on its surface. This must have taken years to complete.
Pii put his finger to a small round stone in the side wall. They watched as it glowed, then a click sounded from the large doors. Pii looked on as Genni pushed the doors open for them to go inside. Hushed gasps came from all of them as they entered, staring in awe.
The main doors opened to a small vestibule, then a short hallway. Just off the hallway was a cozy little room, with stone benches built in and hooks mounted into the stone walls. As Genni poked his head into it, Pii said. “That's a 'coat' room. Some place to throw our things as we come in."
The hallway opened into a good sized room, shaped like an 'L'. The main room had a massive river stone fire place at one end with book cases on either side. Stacks of books were everywhere, some on the shelves, others piled in front of the shelves waiting to be put away. There were a couple of miss-matched couches, some overstuffed chairs and other miscellaneous furniture scattered around the room. It looked like the furniture had been pulled in and dropped wherever there was room.
The smaller part of the 'L' jutted out and held more scattered pieces of furniture, and there was an assortment of game items, more books and other items haphazardly strewn about the room as well.
But the most incredible sight was to the right of the fireplace wall and continuing around the corner into the other room. Floor to ceiling, clear, crystal windows took up the walls. They were arched at the top, the curved part of the windows done in colored glass. Various hues of crystal glass had been utilized to form scenes of trees and rivers.
However it wasn't the windows, or the stained glass, that drew their attention. A panorama view of the mountain cliffs was on display before them. The vista was extraordinary. Far below was a valley that held a river, winding lazily between the jagged cliffs. The view seemed to go on forever; it was magnificent, sparkling in the Suns’ rays.
“I had no idea we were so far up the mountain, or even on a different side…or” Dawn punched Pii in the arm again while she spoke. “That there would even be windows. Does anyone else have windows? Of course they do, but not like this I'm sure.” Her eyes glanced momentarily up to look at the stained glass, then looking back to the remarkable sight before her.
Rubbing his arm, as if it had really hurt, Pii had gone over to one of the couches that flanked the fireplace and flopped onto it, his face set in a perma-grin. “And did you see, I found furniture for us. There are even beds, tables, kitchen stuff. I also got food. I think we need a few more chairs and things," he mused as he looked around "but I hoped you all would help me find those.”
Genni and Dawn ran to him and pounced, the three ending up in a wrestling match on the carpet. Aly had grabbed Grace by the hand and ran off with her to explore, while the three close friends roughhoused.
Soon they collected themselves and continued to explore their new home. Each new find was filled with excitement. The stone walls were smooth and polished; the grand room had a wood floor that if possible was glossier than the walls. Fire bearing sconces lined the walls, flickering gently. There was a multitude of paintings and mirrors leaned up against the walls in the hallways, and Pii explained he didn't know who wanted what where. They had to climb over rolled carpets and tapestries that blocked their way.
The bedrooms turned out to be more like apartments, each having a large room and a smaller one with poles for clothes. All had windows, some small, others floor to ceiling with the same arch and stained glass at the top. There were two hallways that branched off, with four bedrooms in a row on each one.
They found Aly down the left hall, scampering from room to room. All the rooms on this hall were the same size and configuration. Mattresses and ornate bed frames were laid on the floors waiting to be assembled. Dressing tables, dressers and trunks were distributed in the rooms and hallway; mismatched to be sure, but all were real wood and looked handmade.
"Where did you get these?" Aly chirped when she saw Pii come down the hall, gesturing at the furniture. "They are delicious...this whole place is delicious. I feel like I'm in a castle from a fairytale!" she proclaimed as she spun around cheerfully, ending up in Genni's arms. He hugged his little dancer tight, then took her hand and together went to investigate the rooms. Pii just looked at Dawn and shrugged.
"You think she likes it?" he asked Dawn. She just grinned and followed them. They found Grace in the last room on the hall, standing at the large windows. She turned when they came in.
"We can really stay here?" she asked in a manner of concern and disbelief. "I don't think I can afford this place...I barely could the dorms."
"Yes we can really stay here; all of us. And you don't have to worry about credits. It's all been taken care of. There's room for everyone," Pii said, smiling.
"Wow," she said, looking about the room. "How about the furniture?" She glanced at the mattress in the middle of the floor.
"I guess we will need to figure out who wants what; we just hauled it all in. There's more, but we didn't have time to get it all and we weren't sure what else everyone might need."
"Wait a minute," Dawn said, hands resting on her hips. "Just who is 'we'. I was wondering how you got all this stuff in here."
"Yeah, I was wondering that myself." Genni's deep voice broke in from the doorway as Aly ducked under his arm and darted over to Grace, her face all smiles.
Pii had been wondering when they would think to ask, or if they even would. "Who do you think? Von and Beci helped. Von installed all the appliances and stuff. He helped with the bathrooms too—there was plumbing things I didn't want to figure out and he thinks stuff like that is fun. I put in our own power and heating sources." He pointed at a dresser already positioned in the room. "Some things were already here, but the rest Beci and I salvaged from other rooms in this level. Wait ‘til you see the table we found in the kitchen. Oh and they are moving in also....tonight."
"Was that the guy at the Gate?" Grace asked, trying to remember what he looked like.
"Yeah. Von's his twin. They thought this was a grand lark and wanted to be a part of it. Von helped with some of the remodeling plans. He really did most of the bathrooms, so yell at him if you don't like them." He went to the door, Genni moving out of his way as his friend pointed to doors across the hall. "There're two bathrooms on each hall. We will have to share, but there's enough so the girls can have their own. There's also one by the dining room."
The others had followed him and were looking over his shoulder. Dawn swept him aside to go over to the closest door and opened it. She gasped. The others hurried over to her, while Pii stood back from them grinning widely.
The bathroom was huge, with a long counter on one side installed with two sinks. The counter looked like marble, as did the floor and walls. Mounted above the sinks was the largest mirror any of them had ever seen. At the far end was an open area, sunk lower in the floor with a shower head mounted on each side. Beside it was a bathtub that looked more like a small swimming pool; four could fit easily. The wall was lined with built-in cabinets, that when opened revealed stacks of towels and necessities for the bathroom. Pii smugly walked over to the showers and called out. “Warm water, hard spray,” and water began shooting out of the wall to the surprise of everyone behind him. “Water off,” he said, and walked over to a wide door past the wall of cabinets. Upon opening it, he swept his arm wide and bowed.
"May I present the commode," he declared in grand style. Peering inside they saw a cozy room with one toilet and a little sink.
"Wow," said Aly "Wait...I need to say it again. Wow." She was breathless as she looked around the room. "Are they all like this?" she said, eyes wide.
"All the ones on the hallways are. Von and I decided we didn't need to get fancy." he said, trying for sober. It didn't work as Dawn punched him again.
"Will you please stop that?" he yelped. "I bruise easily." Dawn punched him again as she walked stately from the room and started down the hall.
"Let go see the rest of this 'not fancy' place," she called out to the others following her lead. As a group they looked through all the bedrooms, the girls staking claim to furniture along the way. The first room on the right hallway looked already taken when they came to its door. There was clothes scattered everywhere, boxes stacked against the walls and piles of books. The mattress was still on the floor, unmade save for a pile of blankets at one end. It was apparent that someone had slept there.
"Mine," Pii declared as he kicked a pair of underwear out of sight.
"Geez, you're a slob," Dawn noted. She picked up a shirt gingerly with two fingers, then dropped it quickly as if it had bitten her.
"Give me a break, I've been busy," he said with a whine. "I'm sure you will have me all organized soon enough."
Dawn looked around the room in disgust. "Does your lab look like this? No...of course not." She rolled her eyes as she kicked at a pile of dirty clothes.
Grace wasn't sure what to make of all of this. She had lots of questions; first, what was that noise? It hurts something awful; her ears had been feeling like they were going to pop ever since she had stepped into the Gate for the first time. Maybe it was music, but at such a high pitch that she felt like she was vibrating from inside out. She was trying hard not to grimace from the pain. It was hard to think.
The second question also would not go away. Just who was this friend of Aly’s that he could have all of this? She followed the group, trying to stay back, the pounding in her head making it hard to focus; but Aly was too full of excitement and kept pointing things out to her. Pushing the pain back she tried hard to just enjoy this wonderful experience. 'A new adventure' she thought.
By the time they had finished checking out the bedrooms, they had pretty much decided on which rooms they were going to take. Aly declared that her and Grace would take the last two on the left hallway, Genni taking the one next to Aly. Dawn took the last one on the same row. That left Pii alone with the twins on his hallway. Pii thought it worked since Von and Beci could not be any better at housekeeping than he was—that, and the twins did tend to get loud, a lot.
Pii showed them the dining room that he had turned into a study room for them. He'd found desks and more book cases that he had set up against the walls. This is where he had spent most of his time, making sure that there were terminals for them to use. He had already connected them to the Grid, their 'on' lights already glowing.
“Our very own study hall,” Pii explained, as Dawn huffed about him thinking she would actually study.
The kitchen was the last stop on their tour. More gasps escaped as they entered the space. Although the walls were stone, it was a modern kitchen with all the most up to date appliances. The sink was ancient; it looked more like a trough than a sink. It had two parts, both deep and stained, but new fixtures were attached. There was a wide counter that divided the room; one side being the sink and stove, with two large built in ovens set in the stones.
The other side of the counter had stools lined up along it. The rest of the space was taken up by the strangest table they had ever seen. It was formed from planks of wood, wide and long. Looking closely they could see marks carved into it. Names, dates, poems, rude words and such. It looked like an old school desk of sorts that students had scribbled on with a sharp tool. Sitting around it was an even odder assortment of chairs. Not one of them matched. All fit the table they found when they sat, but some had arms, some high backs, some were deep and wide, others more petite. All were wood, handmade and painted in bright colors.
"I love this table," Pii proclaimed as he sat on its edge, patting its surface. "It looks like the one we have at my home at the farm." They gave him odd looks, but had to agree it was sturdy and would do fine for them. Pii went on to point out the cabinets on the wall where he had put various cooking items. When he opened one, a dish fell out and rolled across the floor. He had stocked it, but by just shoving everything in and shutting the door fast. Pots, pans, dishes, cups, and silverware was mixed in with bowls and other containers. It was a nightmare as far as Dawn was concerned. She watched stonily as Pii picked up the renegade dish and shoved it back inside.
"Sorry, haven't found all the right homes for the things yet. But I think we got everything we might need," he said, noticing for the first time the look of shock on Dawn’s face.
“Really?” she answered sarcastically.
"Okay, I may not be good at putting things away, and I do go overboard a bit...but look at this," he said as he opened up more cabinets that held canned and packaged foods. Then he moved to a large metal door with a long silver handle and opened it. "This was here, but not in working condition so Von and I fiddled with it and it works fine now.”
Cold air blasted out at the group as they all took turns looking inside. "Geez Pii did you clean out the kitchens?” Genni said as he looked around. It was a good sized room: there were shelves along the wall piled high with food containers, storage buckets lined up underneath and a rack of diverse drinks was set up to the side.
Dawn came over to Pii with a smirk on her face and threw her arm loosely around his shoulder. “Well we have food; any of you know how to cook?” she asked, not expecting an answer. They all were surprised when Grace quietly answered.
“I do... some.”
“Well, I guess you are picked to teach the rest of us then,” Aly piped in cheerfully, hugging her friend.
They looked around some more, then found their way into the living room. They were just making themselves comfortable when the front door was heard opening and then slamming shut loudly.
“Where is everyone?” yelled two voices in unison as they entered. “Were you surprised?” bellowed Beci as he romped into the room, his arms loaded with boxes. His twin was quick to follow him in.
“Whatcha all think?” Von said ecstatically. Aly jumped up and gave Von a tangled hug, knocking his glasses awry. Von grinned crookedly, his face turning an interesting shade of red. “Did you see the baths?” he stammered, as he pushed his glasses up and grinned sheepishly. “I did that, did Pii tell you?”
“They’re wonderful, Von...amazing!” she said, hugging him tightly, while he looked unsure of what to do with his arms.
When she let him loose and bounced back to her seat, Von was left standing with a slightly dazed look on his face. Beci smacked the back of his head as he dropped his load and sat in the first chair he came to. Von followed suit and soon they all seemed to be talking at once.
Grace had watched the twins come in. She recognized Beci, and knew she would have recognized his brother also. They looked almost identical; both average height, with shaggy brown hair hanging just below their ears. Good looking, she supposed, if you liked the type. When they smiled their high cheek bones were defined and they seemed to smile a lot, showing sets of wide white teeth. They looked like boys you’d expect to see at a college, full of nonsense, but likeable. The only differences she could see were that Beci was tanned, while Von was more fair skinned and wore glasses.
Eventually she found her way into the conversations and felt more at ease. This was an interesting group of friends Aly had, for sure.
“Pii, wake up! C’mon, you can’t sleep all day.”
Fuzzily Dawn’s demand registered in his mind. He took a second to contemplate, and decided maybe she would leave him alone if he pretended not to be awake. It didn’t work. She sat on him...hard…in the middle of his stomach. A grunt of pain erupted from him as he opened his eyes and jerked upright.
“Knew you were awake,” she teased as she rolled off onto the floor. Pii saw that everyone else was lying around the room fast asleep...like he wanted to be. Von and Beci were sprawled on the floor in front of the fireplace that now held a cheerful fire, rolled up in sleeping bags. Genni and Aly were curled up together in one of the arm chairs, while Grace was sleeping in the other.
Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes he asked, “What time is it?”
“Late,” Dawn replied yawning.
“Why did you wake me then?” he asked as he matched her yawn and rolled over away from her.
“Not late at night Pii. I mean you will be late. Don’t you have the freshman orientation this morning?”
Pii was now wide awake. He hadn’t forgotten really; maybe he just wanted to forget. He hated these things. It always ended up with him feeling even more of a curiosity, being paraded up on stage for the entire freshman class to see. He knew the reasons; first it was bragging rights that he was here at the college; the second was so there would not be any mistakes by students about who he was. This year should be different...he hoped. Finally he was the same age as most of the incoming freshman and he didn’t look like a little kid anymore. He pulled himself up, smiled weakly at Dawn and went to freshen up. He noticed that Dawn didn’t waste any time taking his place on the couch.
Pii groaned as he looked at his timepiece. Habits too hard to break he stumbled back down the hall to his room. He noted that he had slept in his clothes...again. It didn’t seem possible, but they were even more wrinkled. Telling himself to just do at it, he headed to the bathroom instead.
It didn’t take him long to shower and brush his teeth. He thought about shaving, but it seemed pointless: even at nineteen there wasn’t much there. Wrapping a towel around his waist he picked up his soiled clothes and went back to his room. It took some searching, but he finally found a clean pair of pants and a not too wrinkled shirt. He sniffed it, thinking it wasn’t too bad and put it on.
He dug around in the mess until he located his note bag. He turned a chair upright in front of a small desk, and swept miscellaneous litter off the surface. Sitting down, he rummaged around inside the bag until he found his notes. With a deep sigh he pulled them out and went over them quickly, making changes every now and then.
Keeping an eye on the time, he finally decided he needed to eat something before he took off. Stuffing the notes back in the bag and slinging it over his shoulder, he snatched up his blue robe and went off in the search of sustenance.
It was still quiet; everyone must still be asleep. He noted with a ping of jealousy that they could slumber while he had to work. As he neared the kitchen his stomach started to growl at the aroma of food. Geez, he must really be hungry: he must be smelling food that had been left out overnight. Turning the corner he stopped, startled. Grace’s back was to him, as she stood at the stove, cooking. She turned with a skillet in her hand as he entered, a blasé expression on her face.
“Good morning,” he stammered. “What are you doing up?”
“I heard Dawn waking you up for the freshman orientation today. I’ve got to go too and I don’t know my way around, so I thought I’d tag along with you.” Pointing at a stool she said, “Sit, I made you scrambled eggs.”
Never one to say no to food, Pii climbed onto the stool and saw a plate and fork had been laid out. He watched in marvel as she filled the plate with a good sized pile of eggs, then buttered toast.
“Do you drink coffee?” she said as he picked up the fork and took a bite; he nodded his affirmation. She went over to another counter and poured him a mug. “Cream, sugar?” she asked without turning.
“Mm hmm,” he said, between mouthfuls. He watched as she fixed the drink, bringing it over to him and sitting it down by the plate. She kept rubbing her forehead and her smile wasn’t reaching her eyes.
“This is good! You do know how to cook.” It was a proclamation along with a question. “Aren’t you going to eat?”
“Already did as I was cooking it.”
“Are you okay?” he asked as she rubbed the back of her neck absently.
“I’ve just got a killer of a headache. I took an aspirin; it will go away soon,” she answered casually, and watched the food disappear. His hair was wet, and uncombed. His shirt was crumpled, with spots of something brown down the front. He had a tie hanging loose around his neck that didn’t match the shirt he had on and the blue jacket thing he laid on the stool next to him didn’t look all that clean either.
“Thank you, that was really good. So much better than the mushy ones they serve in the cafeteria,” he said as he finished. Looking around at the kitchen, he saw it needed cleaning. Just in the one night they’d been here and it was a mess. “I wish I should stay and clean up instead of going to this thing.”
“I was told it was mandatory for all new incoming students.” A slight smile played on her lips. “It won’t be that bad, I’m sure.” Pii could only nod, not sure what to say. This could be a very interesting day.
Pii watched as Grace quickly picked up the dirty dishes, wrote a note to Aly and grabbed a sweatshirt, pulling it over her head. He retrieved his own items and together they headed out to the lift.
When they got to the doors they entered the lift as one. He had to explain the codes for where they were going today and promised to write it all down so she could understand the levels and points in the city better. As he pushed the code in and the lift started to move he noticed Grace putting her hand to one ear, as if to block out something, with a look of pain on her face.
“Are you alright? You’re worrying me,” he reflected concernedly.
“Sure, just a headache is all; maybe the pressure is different here or something,” she replied with a weak smile. She was looking down and noticed his shoes. Dirty tennis shoes with frayed laces; it looked like the soles wouldn’t stay on much longer and she smiled to herself.
He took them by the shortest route he could find, having the lift stop on the main underclassman level hallway. Most of the freshmen would spend their entire year on this level. Few might take some of the more advance classes higher up, but the majority would dwell on this level and the one between this and the next one up. The commons and lunchrooms were there, as were a couple of libraries, study halls and terminal labs for homework.
As the lift doors opened they were met with a sea of bodies and sounds. Pii started out and saw that Grace was hesitating, looking out at the mass of students. She looked at him questioning with her eyes, trying hard not to be intimidated by the amount of motion before them. Students of all shapes, sizes, skin colors and genders were moving, almost as one, pass the door. Entering the flow looked tricky at best she thought, although at least the headache was fading a bit now.
He looked down at the robe he still held in his hand. It was now or never, he conceded, as he dropped his bag on the floor and quickly donned his robe. He didn't bother buttoning it, but instead picked back up his bag and looked at her. She was watching him with interest.
"Follow me; it won't be so bad." He began to move out again, then stopped and glanced at her. "I know we didn't talk about it last night, but you do understand our rooms are private, right?" he asked in a whisper.
"Sure," she answered uncertainly.
"And whatever I say or do, just play along, alright?"
She wasn't sure what he was talking about, but nodded, and followed him out of the lift. Instantly the flow of bodies abated and made space for them. It was as if an invisible bubble had enclosed them and expanded as they walked. The other students were giving them a wide berth. Now and then as they walked, she heard someone say, "Morning, Professor," or "That's him." Eyes seem to follow them as he lead and she followed behind. As they neared the doors into the amphitheater she saw others wearing the same type of blue robe that Pii had put on. But they were all adults...no, she corrected herself...teachers. As she made the correlation, she gave an audible gasp. Pii turned to look at her. Her eyes were wide...stunned...then quickly changed to outrage. They narrowed with anger as she looked at him.
‘Well, that was interesting’, he thought as he watched emotions play across her face. He continued on, and using his body to stem the flow through the door, making a path for her. "Can you find a seat okay? I need to sit with the others." He felt as if she had physically hit him, her eyes boring into his as she passed by, unspeaking. "Okay, well I’ll find you afterwards,” he finished lamely as he moved over to where the other professors were gathered.
Grace made her way to the first seat she saw open. Oh she was mad...and horrified...and astounded. She sat down dazed, not noticing as other students scrambled over her to reach their own seats. He should have told her, not letting her think he was a student. She went over everything she had said to him wondering just how humiliated she should be, followed by her practical brain kicking in. Aly had said something about her friend Pii being really smart...he did have an awesome home. Really, hadn't she wondered how a kid could afford that? Well, maybe he was rich, but that thought never really went anywhere, besides, didn't he say he was from a farm? Questions and their possible answers flew threw her mind until she felt sick from dizziness.
The background noises around her started to filter in. Finally she started to take notice of the goings-ons surrounding her. The place was filling up fast. She really had no idea that the freshman class was this big. ‘Just how big is this place?’ she wondered as she scanned the room. No matter what planet she ended up on the kids were always the same, as were the cliques. She smiled to herself as she categorized the groups around her; jocks and cheerleaders were easy to spot. The first few rows looked like the studious ones, academic overachievers. She knew if she spent some time she could even put them in sub-categories. Then there were the tough crowd, boys and girls, though it was hard to tell which was what. She had to force herself not to stare; some of them were so inked'n holed that they didn't look human. There was a popular crowd in the back. She didn't even have to turn around to tell where they were. Their voices carried bits of conversations. "What a nerd." "What was she thinking wearing that?" "I planet-hopped all summer..." and on and on.
She could pick out the religious groups, the arties, the nature nuts; the ones in The Arts. She found herself capitalizing the words in her own mind and smiled to herself as she did. She recognized a few from the dance troupe and waved when they saw her also. She imagined the room of different types of creatures that always drifted together.
Her entire life was formed of drifting; her family did and she did. On the other worlds they were called gipsies, the wanderers. She thought of herself as a Tommie; a girl that didn't care about her hair, clothes; nails. However, she really didn't like to put labels on people: in her own family she had seen where that had lead. Her family was very sensitive to the names the planets gave them. They could never understand why everyone found it so odd that they just liked to travel and had to impart a more sinister reason for it.
"Hey Red, move your behind over!" a hot breath yelled rudely into her ear. She pulled away as she looked up into the face of—what else?—a jock. ‘More like a no neck,’ she thought. The guy was large, looking to be formed from more fat than muscles. She looked to the other side of her and saw that the row had condensed into the middle. Mumbling an apology she got up and moved in five seats.
No-neck and his clones sat down in the now empty seats. Complaints from those behind them, not being able to see started up, but were quickly squelched by the violent reactions from the group. She pulled as far away as possible from the group, the guy’s arm and shoulder taking up close to half of her space. His body odor was repulsive; she worked hard at not allowing her face to display her disgust, knowing it would be seen and cause more discomfort for her.
She adjusted herself and searched for Pii. Now that she had had time to take it all in, she had to admit she was pretty impressed. Tonight she would get the whole story out of him; she was sure it was a good one. Her eyes met his when she looked towards the front; he was sitting with other teachers wearing the blue robes. Pii had his tie done, not too straight, and his robe buttoned. He didn't look very happy to her. She smiled weakly at him and she could see his lips twitch in a tight smile back. Then it was gone. One of the teachers said something to him, leaning close. She watched Pii nod in agreement.
The lights flickered a couple of times and the assembly started to quiet. Not so next to her: the jocks were making uncouth comments about some girl a few rows forward. One of the teachers approached the podium center stage, coming to stand there as the lights flickered again. The teacher tapped the mike a couple of times, a loud echo reverberating throughout the room.
"Good morning, students. Welcome to the Niula College of Higher Learning. I am Professor Miller, the Freshman Dean. I will be conducting today's orientation." The dean spoke for a long time, and Grace quite enjoyed it. He spoke of the history of the college and what was offered in the way of scholarships and internships, all new information to her.
When he finished, he introduced Professor Hale as the Head of our Sociology department. Professor Hale turned out to be a petite little thing, probably about a million years old. She walked delicately up the steps and to the podium. Professor Miller had to move the mike down for her to speak into it.
The minute she started to speak Grace was entranced. She had an accent that reminded Grace of her older relatives. The quaint little woman spoke with a strong clear voice, giving them a well-constructed outline of the history of the NiulaQs. Then she spoke in detail concerning the colonization of the planets, the diversities of the races of humans and a small amount of the subject matter her department dealt with. What Grace found amazing was when she was informing them of 'special projects' that needed team volunteers. If selected, college credits could be awarded.
She struggled to get her small notebook out of her pocket while wedged in between the large brunette on her left and the lout on her right. He grunted at her when she had to force his arm over to reach it. Watching her and seeing her bring the notebook out and start to write notes, he chortled. Trying to ignore his boorish comments she continued. She wanted to get down the Professor’s name and information on how to apply. All too soon, for her anyway, the Professor was done, and walked quietly from the stage as a steady applause sounded. No-neck kept bumping her on purpose trying to stop her from clapping.
She didn't care anymore. Looking straight at him she gave him the wickedest look she could bring to her face. It startled him just enough for him to leave her alone for a while.
Next a Professor Hably, head of Applied Sciences spoke. He was an older gentleman, with a scratchy voice. He informed them of all the departments, who their Heads were, and went into detail of the variety of courses available in each. It was informative, and again Grace made sure she took notes. She only had until tomorrow to finalize her classes since she was a late registor. Calculating her meager savings she knew she would need to find a part time job which meant she only could pick a short list of classes.
When Halby was done, there was a succession of professors who spoke on different subjects; dorms, schedules, advisors, regulations at the college and more. The guys to her right were growing more restless with each speaker until the entire room was being disrupted by their inconsiderate behavior. Finally one of the professors who had already spoken came up to their row and told them to quiet down or they would need to leave. They quieted down some, but as soon as the professor left they just continued in lower tones. Grace wanted to move, but she would have to climb onto each of their laps to do as. Their legs were so big they were pushed tight against the seats in front of them, leaving no room for someone to walk, or even squeeze by.
Finally, when even Grace had heard more than she wanted to, Professor Miller came to the podium. "Now there is someone else we would like to introduce to you. As many of you are aware, I'm sure, a few years ago a new discovery was made that changed technology in our worlds forever." The assembly grew in tempo as the students started to talk excitedly among themselves. "This of course was the discovery of Growth Crystals. I would now like to introduce the scientist that made this discovery, the recipient of the Niula Tech Award; he holds PhD's in Math, Physics, Geology, Biology and Chemistry and a few others I've forgotten. The Head of the Theoretical and Practical Studies of Crystals..." he paused to build the tension as the crowd’s chatter died down a bit. "I am proud to introduce to you Professor PiiField!" The professor started clapping with the assembly as Pii stood, his shoulders straight, his stride sure, and walked up to the podium.
As the students realized that this young man was Professor PiiField the applause dimmed some, but Grace wasn't one of them. In fact she had stood and was applauding with all her might, as were many others. Suddenly she was yanked down roughly into her seat, her sleeve ripping in the process. Glaring at her was the jock beside her.
"Sit your butt down; he's a monstrosity. Don't you know anything? The guy's creepy," he hissed at her, his bad breath gagging. She stayed seated, but now was aware of others in the audience that were saying the same sorts of things, none too quietly. Young people and adults alike were talking about Pii. One of the professors, Markum she thought his name was, looked like he wanted to vomit, his face twisted as if in pain. Looking up at Pii, she thought she might have a clue to why his home was a secret.
"Thank you," Pii had said several times, waiting for the applause to calm. When he was sure he had their attention, he straighten the mike up to his level and looked out at them, his face calm and composed. "Again, for those of you who did not hear, I am Professor PiiField, head of the Theoretical and Practical Studies of Crystals.
"I do not think for one moment that my discovery was unique to me. Any one, any of you," he emphasized, "could have been the one to ask 'what if?"
Pii continued in his cool, but firm voice telling the story of how he had made his discovery, what the discovery meant for all of them and what his team was currently working on. Grace was overwhelmed by the story, and her regards of Pii were steadily growing. It seemed that not all were so impressed judging by the various reactions to him, of what he had endured for the benefit of their lives...for every person in this room. Her blood started to boil as she listened to nearby conversations.
Pii ended his speech announcing the projects his team was working on and requesting applicants for interns. Then he thanked them, bowed slightly to Professor Miller and left the stage, sitting himself down into his chair. There was applause, though not as jubilant as before they had discovered he was a young man. Professor Miller wrapped the assembly up by announcing tours of the campus and city for those new to it.
When the Professor was done, there was mild applause that died out as chatter rose in the room. Grace wanted out, but she needed the brutes to move first. She stood and waited. They did not seem to be in any haste to move out; finally she reached up and tapped the guy on the shoulder. He turned to her, sneering.
"What?" he growled.
"I'd like to get out," she said in her sweetest voice.
"She'd like to get out," he mimicked her to his friends to their great amusement. Her eyes tightened. She was beyond annoyed now. Grabbing the back of the seat in front of her, she easily vaulted over the seat to land steady on her feet on the other side. Sneering back at the jock, who looked stunned, she now easily walked down the cleared aisle in the other direction to the walkways. It was the long way around, but she didn't want them blocking her path as she as she was out.
The crowd had not thinned much as they stood around in groups talking. She found a few she knew and went to say hi before making her way to the door to look for Pii. By the time she got there he was nowhere in sight. Unruffled she started out down the hallway back to the lift they had arrived on, hoping to find him on the way. The hallways were just as packed, but she was small and agile enough to weave her way through until she came to a junction of corridors. She just happened to glance down the one to her right, seeing the creep that she had to sit by and his band of jocks. They were standing in a tight circle and looked like they were pushing someone. She could hear their rough voices from here, words traveling over the heads of the others around her.
‘Odd,’ she thought and started to walk closer to see what they were up to. Then she noticed their feet: in middle of theirs was another pair of shoes. She knew them; dirty tennis shoes and a glimpse of a blue robe told her all she needed to know. Her instincts told her to run and beat the snot out of them...but she paused and calmed herself. "Play along," he had said... ‘Work it out Grace,’ she told herself. He's a professor; she is a student and a girl. Just how would it help him if a girl came to his rescue? Someone brushed by her and she looked down at her arm. Her sleeve was ripped...then she had it. Walking as fast as she could, she moved directly to 'no neck', reached up and grabbed his ear lobe with all of her might, digging her fingernails in deep, and pulled back hard.
"You ripped my sweatshirt!" she screamed in her best 'I'm a vain girl and you ruined my clothes voice', and she added a nice whine just for good measure. The large jock was no match for her. He had to fall backwards or lose part of his ear.
"Let go of me, you witch!" he screamed, as he bent over trying to move closer to her to relieve the pain. But she continued to pull and scream at him about her shirt. She snuck a look to make sure the rest of the group were watching her and saw Pii move quickly down the hallway and around the corner. She turned around as she pulled, still screaming until a large crowd had grown around them. Finally she let him go, put her hands on her hips and declared he better pay for her shirt, then stomped off down the hall in a mighty righteous huff. The guy continued to scream after her, but didn't follow. Once she turned the corner she broke into a run. She didn't know this corridor and hoped it came out somewhere helpful or that she would find Pii. She needn't have worried. He was standing at a lift holding the door open. When he spotted her he stepped inside, his hand still stopping the doors from closing. There were a few others in the hall that looked at her oddly as she ran, but she didn't stop until she came to the lift door and cried out for anyone who was nearby.
"Oh Professor PiiField, I'm sorry I didn't know you had this one. I can wait," she said, her voice breathless.
"No, that's quite alright," he said in his Professor voice. She stepped in and stood beside him as he allowed the doors to close, then touched his finger to the hidden button. It was only then that the headache returned, but she had started laughing so hard tears were running down her face and the pain once more was forgotten.
Dawn woke to a sore back and loud snoring. Beci and Von both were laying flat on their backs, mouths wide open and snoring almost in symphony. Grace was gone, as were Aly and Genni. She hoped that Pii had got to the orientation on time. She knew how much he hated those.
Pushing the blanket off her, she reached down for her heels and went to find Genni. She needed his muscles to get her room in order. She found him and Aly putting a bed frame together in her room. If she wasn't so tired and frumpy feeling she would have hugged him. She blew a kiss instead as she found her makeup case, and some clean clothes and sauntered off to the bathroom.
When she immerged she felt like a human again. That shower was grand and she totally enjoyed her hair cut. She could wash it with or without the braid in, towel dry it and go. Why she had never cut it before was beyond her. She had pulled on her favorite shirt, the T-Shirt with the kitten saying "I don't do mornings" and a pair of faded jeans. She walked barefoot into her room, laying the soiled clothes neatly on a pile at the end of the newly assembled bed. Genni and Aly were gone, but she could hear furniture being pulled across the stone floors in another room.
Finding them in Grace's room she took over helping Genni put things to rights, leaving Aly to go pounce on the twins. Soon all of them were helping and it wasn't long before there was a bed in every room set up and at least one dresser. Dawn let Aly take the only sit down dressing table; it was a little too cutesie for her taste, but Aly loved it. There were carvings of flowers and birds across the drawers and around the mirror. It suited the little dancer.
Aly was concerned about Grace’s whereabouts until they found the note she had left in the kitchen. They figured that it might be a good thing for neither of them to be alone anyway. Dawn took one look at Pii's room when they set his bed up and turned and walked out, leaving it to the guys. Once the relocation of the furniture was completed they retrieved all their trunks and boxes from the carts in the hall, deposited them in their correct rooms, then the twins hurried to get the carts back to the shipping area before they were missed.
While the boys were gone the rest of them unpacked, starting to organize their rooms. Dawn was in complete heaven. She really loved this place; her room was spacious and had a huge closet. She was able to hang up most of her clothes, and neatly arrange the rest in the dresser drawers. That emptied two of the large trunks and a couple of boxes. The other trunk held her bedding and bath stuff.
She painstakingly made the bed, remembering all the times Mother had got on her case for not doing so. Well, this was different. ‘It’s my own home,’ she thought privately—‘well...Pii's ,’ she corrected herself, trying not to blur the difference, and chastising herself just a bit for not recognizing that her Mother had probably had the same feelings about their home. She fluffed the pillows and plopped a couple of stuffed cats on the bed, then stood back to admire the effect.
Finally a place they could really be themselves, without anyone watching. A place where they could be together, all the time. A weight seemed to lift from her the same time tears she didn't know she had been holding choked her throat. Slowly she lowered herself to the bed, and let them come. She hugged one of the pillows, and reflected over all the responsibilities, all the stress that was finally washing away. Her whole life had been one of holding her head up, being who her Mother needed her to be. She had worked hard at it, never rebelling, never questioning; it was just the way her life was. It was lonely most of the time.
Mother tried to make sure she had friends, but the children were from their social class; rich, spoiled, arrogant. In all those early years she had never met anyone she could trust, someone that she could pull back the veil and be...Dawn. She was Racelle to everyone, the daughter of the most powerful family in the SiverG system, the heir.
She had finally convinced Mother that she had to go to college, had to spend time with normal people, or how was she to take over? How was she to understand their needs, or the real world? She had spent every day since birth closed up tight in a box of security. Never going anywhere without Guards, their very presence forcing regular people to shy away from her. Private tutors from all the worlds had been found to educate her: she had lacked for nothing, save normality.
She needed to be in an environment of her peers, as if she were one of them, she had argued. It had taken months, but Dawn was no one if not her Mother's daughter. She had started well in advance, planned out her arguments, and tried to foresee any objections Mother would come up with. Finally, against the advice of the High Counsel, Mother had relented with only one requirement. She must have a Guardsman with her, always; he could look like a student also, but he would live in the Grand Suites, take the same classes, and socialize with the same people. Dawn had been so happy that Mother had said yes that she had agreed to it quickly.
That had started the search for the right Guardsman. What her Mother wanted was clear, one that could have the ability that a full company of Guards would command. Dawn’s were more basic; he had to be close enough to her age to not stand out and she had to like him. It had taken months of interviewing one after another to find one suitable. Dawn would see them first, and if they passed her test, then Mother and the High Counsel would meet with them. Few got past her and none had met with the other's approval. Dawn was about to lose hope when they were sent one more. A young man, who had been raised in the Guard, completed his training in Special Forces and his commander thought he would be able to handle anything that came his way.
The minute Genni had stepped into the room she had liked him. He reminded her of a teddy bear she had as a child, a teddy bear with a huge smile. He wasn't awkward around her, was at ease with Mother and the High Counsel, answering everyone's questions quickly with pure and steady confidence. They had even tested him in mock up scenarios, seeing how he handled protecting her while not 'damaging' other students that might be in the way. He had passed with flying colors. Together they spent her few weeks still at home getting used to one another, taking trips off world together, sightseeing and shopping. Dawn was so ecstatic that no one seemed to realize who she was when it was just two teenagers out for the day. It was freedom.
They had arrived at the college for the start of the freshman summer program. She’d been excited, hoping to make friends and become part of college social life. It hadn't gone as she had imagined though. Sure people were drawn to her, but they all had ulterior motives. Some wanted to rise in their own social status; others wanted the prestige of being her friend, some just wanted credits. The guys were either arrogant louts or sons of others in her social class whose families were trying to push them together hoping for a marriage contract between their families. It was horrible. She couldn't stand any of them and soon found herself and Genni alone most of the time.
Then she had met Pii. She had heard about him; everyone had. He was the talk of her social gatherings as soon as he had been discovered, pulled from his family and installed in the bowels of the labs. He was thought of as little more than a pet, their own special item to increase their own standing in the hierarchy of the worlds.
When she saw him coming out from the Gateway that day, a scrawny awkward youth with a look of profound isolation coupled with a resignation for his lot in life, her heart had gone out to him. She knew that look, knew what it was like and had instantly known that they were meant to be friends.
Her life had never been the same since. Sure, they couldn't dorm together, or spend much time alone, but she had a friend. Slowly, together, they had made others. Aly was the first. The three of them had taken in a performance of the arts, and there was little Aly flitting across the stage like a butterfly. It was apparent from the first time they met her backstage that Genni and Aly were meant for each other; the teddy bear and the butterfly. Genni's social life developed in other ways, taking on his role of a normal college jock with ease. They had gone to sporting events to see him play, accepting the fact that it meant having normal security around them. Pii had his own that followed him everywhere—the kid had it worse off than she did since every word he spoke, every paper he wrote was taken and stored, worried that someone would steal his ideas that they wanted to keep for themselves.
It had gotten better for him and her also, when he had turned 18 and with her help started to stand up for himself. The Professorship had helped also. Pii was growing up, asserting himself. This place showed how far he had come, she thought. She wondered what the High Counsel and Mother thought of him buying it. Or did they even know?
"Dawn!...Dawn, you’ve got to come see these." Breaking her thoughts, she heard Aly's merry cries from outside her door. Scrubbing away her tears and making sure she was presentable, she went out to see what her friend wanted. She found Genni and Aly in the hall looking through the paintings and other decór leaning against the walls. She wasn't surprised when Aly choose a couple with bright flowers and Genni had discovered a few with old Earth medieval battle scenes and one of a sword. She searched through them also, finding a few she thought would look good in the living room. There was a remarkable mirror that was so massive she didn't know how they had even moved it in, but she decided it should go in the living room also, maybe just propped against the back wall, across from the windows. Dawn decided she had to organize better, so, grabbing a notepad and pencil, she went into each room and made lists of what they might need.
When the twins returned they met up in the kitchen, ransacking it until they found the makings for sandwiches. They had all slept through breakfast and it was getting close to the noon hour. Taking their lunches with them Beci lead the way to where he and Pii had found most of the furniture. The girls pointed out items, Dawn keeping a close eye on her list for things they really needed. But it was like finding buried treasure. Aly found some things she thought Grace and Pii might like. Bookcases were always necessary if Pii was around. Von found a room filled with charts and diagrams that could only be of Niula's waterways that he refused to leave behind. By the time they were done it took several trips to get it all in and arranged, and they’d exhausted all their vivacity.
Beci announced he was going for a swim, and the others hurried to join him. They all grabbed their suits and wrote a quick note for Grace and Pii before heading out. Aly was riding piggy back on Genni and Von and Beci raced down the hall to the door leading to the pool, punching each other along the way. Dawn followed morosely behind them, enjoying their company but feeling left out. She wished Pii would hurry up.