The Outsider

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Chapter 14 : A Packed Day

When Dusk left Lab 3, she saw her next course was on “Wireless Communication” starting at 12:45. That meant she had a total of 15 minutes to grab something to eat and reach the class. Going to Military Building was out of question. Even going to any of the student food outlets in the tech building was not possible. Looked like the Great Galactic Spirit (not that she believed in those spiritual / religious stuff) was taking revenge on her for the good food she got the previous day.

As she was walking hurriedly towards the next class, she saw a vending machine which had ready to eat snacks. She hurriedly got a large sized soft buttery, spongy sweet roll which was oozing with chocolate and black-current syrup, an energy bar and a can of non-alcoholic bubbly drink. She stood for a few minutes next to the machine while she finished the roll and then continued walking to the class nibbling the energy bar and taking gulps of the drink. It was not same as a proper lunch, and much less cost effective, but well within her food budget since the breakfast did not cost her anything and she got free food the previous day.

She entered the class and though she was not late, the Professor was already there. It was a lady by the name of Susan. She was one of those who, unlike Elton, unhappy that she had to spend extra time to coach Dusk. So, she simply told her to join the lecture and try to catch up and that she would send her materials on the previous 2 weeks.

Fortunately, the topic on wireless signals and communication protocol were not completely foreign to her. She had a course on that in college, so she knew the basics. Most of what was done in the lectures before were basic, however some of the items were new to her. Therefore, she had to quickly pull up reference materials and definitions on her sixth-sense to understand some of the things while ensuring she did not miss what the teacher was explaining in the class. If she did miss a portion of her current lecture, then she would be in more trouble. Professor Susan did not look like someone who would take kindly to a student coming up to say she missed a part of the session. It was starting to give her a headache.

The topic of the day was focused on frequency and range of wireless communications. So at least most of it she could understand.

Suddenly the professor decided to move into a quiz format. She started asking questions to students at random. Dusk could not figure out whether this was topic covered in the previous weeks or something she just expected students to know.

This classroom was different in layout as compared to the previous one. However, it was more sophisticated. When a question was asked, the desk where the student was, lit up. If the teacher wanted, she could have the image of the student asking the question (or being asked) appear on the huge screen at the front of the class.

Suddenly, Dusk’s desk lit up and her face came up on the screen. She immediately bolted up, but not before the entire class saw her slouched in her seat looking into the display put up by her Sixth-Sense. A ripple of laughter went through the class as she looked around in panic.

“What is the maximum distance of CRNC Com?”

Dusk looked blank. What in the world was CRNC? She saw all the other students were looking at her, smirking. Some were silently laughing too. The professor looked irritated, as if she had asked simplest question to the class dunce… She was sure that the Professor would be more irritated if she looked at the Sixth-Sense to find the answer. Finally, she bit the bullet and said “Sorry Professor, I am not aware of the term.”

The Professor looked her as if wondering why she was even in her class. Another desk lit up and the girl immediately answered gleefully “Close Range Non-Contact communication can happen within a range of 15 cm to 100 cm range. But in most cases, it would be impractical to allow it to exceed 30 cm. Practical maximum in design parameters is considered to be 45 cm”

She turned around to look at Dusk as if asking how can you be in our class?

Professor Susan looked back at Dusk and asked “How can you not know CR wireless? It is used all the time in every part of our life? What is the reason why you shouldn’t exceed 45 cm?”

Dusk shook her head indicating she was not aware of the answer, though from the previous answer, it seems obvious to others. The Professor turned away and walked back to her desk disgusted.

“CRNC is mostly used to decide whether the device, and by extension, the person, standing next to it, is authorised to gain access. As the range increases, the number of devices which can communicate simultaneously, increases. This is one case, where larger number of devices and larger number of recipients of a communication system adversely affects its quality ….”

The Professor then continue to explain the concepts of CRNC and how it has improved options available to the tech world. Once she knew what CRNC was, she was able to understand what the professor was saying. But she still lacked the knowledge on the architecture, which apparently was covered earlier.

Dusk sighed. There was a lot of homework she still had to do.

After a 90-minute session, the professor walked off without any further instruction. As students started packing up, Dusk’s communicator beeped, and she saw the professor had just sent her a large set of documents and videos relating to previous classes and asked her to finish reviewing them before the next session. Luckily the next session was a week later. But it meant that she would have no spare time over the 7th Day.

While most of the students of the first year did not have classes after that. Few had another class an hour later. But for Dusk, there was another 2 hours session almost immediately after this one. She had to reach her next course lecture in 15 minutes. As usual, there was hardly any time.

The course was a non-tech session on accounting, costing and budgeting. She was not sure why it was required for Tech Students, but it seem to be mandatory for some reason. Luckily this class had started late, and she had missed only one session. It was relatively easy for her to catch up.

“So, we have a new student, Dusk Hale, from Arcadia province of our marvellous nation. She has been allowed to join late due to some logistics reasons. Since she is the only students in our class from Arcadia and also the first in our class from Rural regions, let’s all welcome her with a standing ovation!” The professor said.

Dusk looked down at her shoes. She could not understand why the professor made such a big thing and brought her to the attention of the entire student body in the class. But the damage seemed to be done. People were already whispering about her.

She sat at her designated place. This class was different from the other two she had attended that day. It was a normal auditorium style layout with a foldable plate that acted as a desk for those who need to put things or a surface to reflect from their wearables. But in typical Uni-Viva style, it was layered upwards. Each subsequent row was higher than the previous, giving the professor chance to see every face directly. The classroom was more of a square shape while the other classes were curved.

“In our last session, we have studied the history of the subject. How accounting has started and developed over the last 1,000 years. Those who have already studied economics last year will have a different understanding of this course. The others, no problem, economics is not mandatory pre-requisite for this course. Off all the students here, only one student is Fresh, First-Year Student. Again, it is not a senior year subject either, so Dusk, don’t worry.”

Dusk tried to sink deeper into her seat as everyone turned and looked at her. It was obvious that most students were senior or pre-senior (third year) students, and she was the youngest in the class. She wondered if the counsellor who designed her schedule was drunk. In any other university they would blame the AI, but here it was designed by a human.

“So, one question some of you have asked, is why you are wasting your time on this course, and why is it mandatory. Well, our government believes that knowledge of accounting and costing is important. And that if everyone knows how to do accounting and costing, they will know how to manage things more efficiently. Our university goes further and says that you need to know how to factor in prices, cost of making a thing, difference between variable cost, fixed cost, overheads, margins and how it affects the price of anything you make. Without the knowledge of this, you are at the mercy of the bureaucrats and bean-counters for everything. You make the best, but it will never get you your rewards if you do not understand these.”

He then went on for the next two hours on what accounting is and what they will learn in the course. Dusk struggled hard to stay focused … and awake … but she managed. At 5:30 in the evening, as the class got over, she felt like she was released from a quicksand trap or a prison (she was not sure which was worse) and she went out of the room at lightning speed.

The seniors in the class happily gather together and decide where they will go out for a drink before heading back to their dorms, but for she had no option of joining them. She had to be at Gym at 6:30 with that Squid guy.

She quickly walked out of the Tech-3 Building and came over to Finger in the Military Building. She went to the mess for a quick meal. Obviously if she was to hit the gym, she could only have a very light snack. So, she got herself a cup of coffee, one large sandwich and sat at one of the desks to eat it while reading some of the course materials she was given during the day. At 6:30, she presented herself at the gym.

The gym was a large floor, with 3,000 square metre area located on the minus 10th floor. There was one more gym that was on the 5th floor, but the system said she it was only for seniors. She had been to the gym a few times in Longburn. In comparison to that, this was like a rocket-ball field. One wall of the gym was polished metal and the other side was padded with foam and insulating material. There were clusters of equipment at various places and enough open spaces for group exercises. At that time, the gym was not crowded.

Dusk had little expertise with gyms. She looked at the equipment. Some of them she understood how to use, some of them she couldn’t figure out at all. She looked around and saw the Cadet who she met in the morning. She went up to him and introduced herself.

Just then a group of students came into the gym. About 25 of them, all typical military students, with muscular bodies. The Cadet walked to them with Dusk in tow.

“Hey Squid, Sargent Bear asked you to train this girl when you are in the gym. She is a volunteer trainee. Bear wants you to teach her how to do push-ups properly and also give her a proper gym routine.”

Squid looked at the Cadet and then at Dusk. “You want me to teach HER?”

The Cadet Nodded and gave the Cadet called Squid a very innocent look, “Sargent Bear’s orders. You can protest to him if you want. Or … if you don’t want to take the trouble, I can do it for you”

Ignoring him, Squid looked again at Dusk. “What do you want to learn, Civilian?”

“I am not sure sir… (she could see he was her senior, so ‘sir’ was the best way not to get on his bad side.) One thing the Sargent was unhappy about was my inability to do push-ups. And his boss said I need to strengthen my muscles by spending some time in the gym. I do not know what I am really supposed to do”

Squid and his group had basically surrounded Dusk. She felt a little apprehensive. But then Squid did not seem to be hostile to her as such. She looked back at him with more confidence than she really felt.

“Ok, join us, we will help you along the way”

That is how Dusk became a part of Squid’s Squad in the gym. It forced her to extend her gym session from half hour to an hour, but she felt it was worth it. She needed to get stronger and better at these things. Obviously, someone thought these are skills she would need later. Rather than fighting it, she decided she should respect their opinion and take advantage of the resources being given to her.

It started with doing warm-up exercises with them. Dusk had no idea of what it meant earlier. But 50 sit-ups, 200 skips, a series of stretches and a quick run around the room 10 times did lumber up her muscles. The one problem being that she was not used to this and she had already been ‘punished’ once in the morning.

The squad seem to understand she could do less than them. While she did 50 sit-ups, the rest of them did 150…

Squid introduced her to the concept of weights. First Dumb-Bells, then some that you need to pull on, some you need to push on and the Barbells. In the end he said, he would message Sargent Bear that she should not try the push-ups for a few days till she gets a proper routine in place.

After an hour at the gym, Dusk could take it no more. She thanked the squad for their help. After all, her presence did slow them down… Then she dragged herself to the main road and took the Mass back to the Dorm.

Unknown to Dusk, one man had been standing in one corner of the gym for almost half hour, partially hidden by the equipment and keeping an eye on her. Then, satisfied that she was trying her best and Squid would teach her properly, he walked off …

Back at the Dorm, Dusk had a long hot shower. Her roommates had come and then gone somewhere else. She planned to study the large number of documents the teachers had given her. But instead, she collapsed into her bed, shut her eyes, intending to take a short nap, and slept for the next 4 hours.

She woke with a start and checked the time on the Sixth-Sense. It was past midnight. She managed to get past her sleep addled head and sat up. Her room mates were still not in the room. She realised that her plans to study had gone for a toss. She needed to be stricter with herself, going ahead.

She was also extremely hungry. She got up, changed into normal clothes and went up to the Lounge. It had a scattering of students sitting all over the place. Most were couples, laughing, talking and having a good time. Dusk sat heavily into one of the single sofas and looked at the food menu. She ordered a large mince-meat pie, which she knew would keep her happy for the next 10 hours, as she would not get to eat till breakfast time at 9:30 or 10…

The cost of the meal would make a slight dent in her budget, but there was no choice. She did not want to go all the way to the Academic Cluster. So, there she sat, eating alone, going through some of the files from school, ignored by the other students, each in their own group.

She remembered that the previous night, she was there with Luke. Perhaps he too, was sitting somewhere, alone as she was … She quickly shut that train of thought and took a harder look at “Evolution of Wireless Communication”.

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