The Outsider

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Chapter 15 : Learning to Cope

Dusk had no idea when her roommates returned at night. They were not in when she finally went to bed. This time she set her morning schedule properly and also packed her backpack with a set of clothes to take with her.

In the morning, she was mentally prepared and ensured that she did not take a “shut-eye”!

Finally, she reached the Parade Ground in time. With a few minutes to spare. She found her Group, and with them went to the Trainer Station, submitted her sixth-sense, took the metal band to wear on her hand… All in a smooth clockwork like it was a workflow that she had been following for ages.

And suddenly she noticed she was jogging everywhere like the rest of them.

The morning training with them running around the ground for quite a few laps, with the speed increasing with each round. She was taken off the run after 4 rounds when the metal band turned yellow and then pink. She was asked to do a few stretch exercises when the rest did more rounds.

Then she did sit-ups with them but was exempted from the push-ups.

Then they spent half hour punching a set of dummies that were standing strongly and stubbornly on the ground. After a few tries, when it didn’t really move, and her hand started hurting, Slider came and suggested to her that she may have better success if she were to jump on the dummy instead of hitting it with the fists.

Without thinking, Dusk walked back, ran and jumped hard on the dummy. The momentum did have the dummy move. But it did not fall over as she hoped. Instead, it bent as it absorbed the weight, with the heavy base staying in pace and then it straightened, throwing Dusk into the air arching towards to the ground a few meters away.

As the rest of the team looked at her, hooting with laughter, she fell right into the arms of Sargent Bear, who simply caught her and put her back on her feet without effortlessly. But after that hell broke loose.

“What the hell are you trying to do Dusk Hale! Break you back? OK, which of you nincompoops came up with the suggestion? I am sure it was not her idea. Who told her to tackle the dummy? Knowing fully well it is designed to curve and then straighten!”

He looked at the team, absolutely furious. Then seeing no reply from any of them, he shouted his orders “Ok, then everyone, pick up 200kg bars from the storage, Dusk will take 2 bars of 50kg each, and start running. NOW! I WANT EVERYONE IN FORMATION IN 120 SECONDS!

Immediately the entire group ran and picked up the heavy bars that were to be carried. Piggon helped Dusk pick up the ones that was for her and they started running the perimeter. Sargent Bear ran with them, which surprised Dusk. She thought he will stand in the center and look.

Running again after having exercised so much was already a problem, and carrying heavy bars and weights just made it worse. But they all bore the punishment without compliant. That was the way they were trained. But they did not come and squeal on their team members. The fact that Dusk, being a civilian and also the victim kept quiet also, made the team members happy and each decided that they will help her when she needed.

After two hours of torture on the field, Dusk dragged herself to the hover-vehicles that came for them. This time she insisted she will get up on her own, and with a little help from Piggon, she did. Rest of the routine was the same as the previous day. Except that she took a quick shower and changed to civilian clothes before having breakfast. Piggon and her friends promised to help her learn to swim, irrespective of whether she wanted to or not …

Just as she finished breakfast, she saw a familiar figure walking into the eatery where she was sitting… Luke Jones!

She looked at him and felt her face becoming hot and her heart racing. She did not want to face him again at that time. She was not sure how he would react to her after the unexpected behaviour night before. She put her head down and pretended she didn’t see him. She hoped he also would not see her. Which was wishful thinking, because she was the only one in the room in civilian clothes…

She felt Luke walking towards her, but suddenly a loud voice called to him.

“Hey Luke, I was looking for you. But why are you here? I thought you were coming to see me.” It was Brigadier Thompson.

As Luke turned to greet him, Dusk, having finished her breakfast, quickly made her escape. She didn’t dare to look back. She practically ran down to the bank of elevators and took the first one that opened…

… …

The day went much better as compared to the previous. The first half of the day was spent in the Hardware Lab again. This time she had a better understanding as the professor explained the basic architecture. She was still far behind the others in terms of course work. She would have to work faster. She needed to understand the design and then make her own. Professor Elton refused to accept her suggestion that she should simply implement the design at this stage instead of trying to improve it and leave that for the next stage.

The problem was that she had never worked on the hardware side. It was all new to her. Her preference had always been for the software side and therefore she had worked on that only. That was the advantage of dynamic and open course-ware programs. However, at Uni-Viva she was not given that choice. While the students were free to take up more courses of their favourite subjects, they were required to do a certain number of courses from each of the groups. Hardware architecture was one of them.

As she stared at the diagrams, rule charts and design specifications, she noticed that some of the students were working on 3-Diamensional representations of some of the designs. That gave a much better view of the design. So, she decided to follow the same method.

“Well, nothing stops you from using 3-D Imaging of the design. The problem is that the textbooks are all 2-D based design images. So, you have to specifically buy books that have 3-D images of these specific designs. It is not free, and the library can’t help you either. These books are created by highly trained and paid professionals who do not give their work free.”

“How come so many of the students have it then?”

“Cecil’s dad has bought the required books of all the items we will be covering this year. Therefore, he has access to them. As you know, his dad is from the RMart Family. For them it’s no problem. I can give you the list or links to the books” Elton said.

“How much do these books cost?”

“Well, the first one you need is a non-transferable license book, costing about $900. Since it’s non-transferable, there is no chance for you to take from a previous student or buying from one who finished the course. Sorry. You can search for an alternate book if you have the time.”

Dusk was disheartened. That’s an atrocious price. How could she get that kind of money to spend on the first design book? It would make life so much easier for her. Why is it that knowledge is allowed to be restricted to the rich?

Elton felt sorry for her. He had seen her transcripts and knew her mind was pretty good in analytical stuff. With a 3-D Design she could pick up the matter much faster. But the cost of such stuff was high, so there was nothing he could do.

“One way out, if you have time, is to make a 3D of it yourself. You don’t need the entire design series. Just the one you are working on. No one makes a single design book, specially of such an old design, but nothing stops you from doing it.”

Dusk was confused and looked at him blankly.

“Come on! Use your brains! Just get a 3-D imaging software. Then make the image yourself. By the time you finish your basic learning of design rules, the image should be ready, and you can leverage on it.” He repeated his idea.

Dusk immediately proceeded to search for the right software. It was available, but she had to buy it. Cost was $150. She could afford it if she was careful about the spending for the rest of the month. It would be pretty useful as she could make her own 3D images thereafter. She showed it to the professor who agreed it would meet her needs.

She proceeded to buy it, watching sadly as the balance of her money dwindled. Then she happily proceeded to install it. But no… the installation failed. Her wearable was not powerful enough to handle the requirements of the software!

Dusk was devastated. Would all that money be just wasted? Elton realised that they had both been careless. They should have checked the requirements. Luckily, the university rules required all software sold to students be subject to refund if it failed to work due to any reason. So, he could help her to recover that money at least.

Dusk had no option but to continue the previous way of studying.

Soon after her class was over, she had another, which was on a different course. It was a mechanical tech. Another subject she had very little knowledge of. The class went pretty much similar to the one on hardware. It didn’t seem the students liked that she would get special attention. Or perhaps they were all snobs who did not want her because she had nothing to offer to them in terms of family or social status.

Lunch was a quick pre-set meal at the Military Building and then she was back in tech. The rest of the day was spent on her main subject, software development. She was at ease there, since that is what she had studied all along. She had an edge over most others.

Alas, this only made life a little more difficult, since now she was hated for being a “Know-It-All”. Dusk wondered if life planned to support her any time in her planned 4 years at the university…

After software, that day she had an extra class. It was on 3-Diamentional and Virtual Reality Imaging!

When entering the class, Dusk realised that this was one class that would enable her to do what Elton wanted her to do. A course on 3-D imaging would have imagers!!

At the end of the class, Dusk approached the professor.

“Professor, we have 3-D Image creators here at the lab, right?”

“Of course, what do you want to do?”

“I needed to create a 3-D image of some design specifications of a particular computer processor I am using at my Hardware Architecture class.”

The professor was willing to help, so they spent half an hour looking at the requirement and the options. At the end, Dusk had to be disappointed again. The imaging systems in the lab were basic and intended for beginners. It was not good enough to be able to do what Dusk wanted. The imaging processors were expensive and 3-D imaging was very intense process. The university did not get high end system for the students to learn. They got very basic stuff, enough to do what the students needed to understand …

It was not that the university did not have high end equipment. But they were used for research and anyone wanting them had to pay a usage fee, charged to recover the cost of the equipment. In order to get enough processing power, she would spend more than what the book probably cost her. So again, not an option.

Dusk saw it was already 6:15, so she quickly went to the gym to meet with the Squid Squad. She spent the entire hour with them, repeating what she had done the previous day, but for longer time and with more demanding exercises.

By 7:30 pm, she was exhausted. But she decided that she needed to finish her dinner and then leave. She could not afford to eat at the lounge in Dorm 6 every night. However, as she was leaving, she saw Piggon walking into the gym. She was looking for someone, but her eyes lit up on seeing Dusk.

“Hey Partner, what are you doing here?”

Dusk smiled at her and said, “Hi! I come here every day for an hour. That Sargent of ours has ordered it.”

“Oh! Lovely. Maybe I can come also. You work out alone?”

“Don’t joke! I don’t know what to do if someone left me alone in an empty gym. I never went to a gym before. But luckily some good guys are there, willing to help me”

“Yeah! Which guy will be stupid enough to refuse to help you?”

“Huh? What is that supposed to me?” Dusk asked immediately worried.

“Chill! I mean you are nice and beautiful. Every boy in this gym will want a chance to come over and ‘Help’ you out… Surely you know that.”

“Come on! You are no less!”

Piggon laughed aloud “You are mad. Seen my size, muscles, and my built? I doubt if I look like a potential date to any of these morons here.”

Dusk shook her head. No one had asked her for a date and there did not seem to be many there who showed any interest in approaching her either. She had heard of lively social life in Universities, but so far, it was as barren as the desert landscape she was used to. Unbidden, the dinner with Luke popped into her head. But she firmly pushed that down again. No, that was an exception, she would not count that. Didn’t Susco specially warn her about him?

“So, who is helping you?” Piggon asked again. Dusk pointed to her ‘Squad Leader’. Piggon rolled her eyes and almost wailed, “Squid? Squid is helping you? Why? Shit! If you are in his squad, no one will even dare to offer you a glass of water, forget about a date.”

Dusk looked at her in surprise. “Bah, I am not looking for a date, but why should me being in Squid’s Squad make a difference? This is an outlaw thing or what? Shun the girl in that team?”

“Well, there are stories about that brute. He is focused on training and can’t think beyond. So, he and his teammates will never ask you out. The entire squad is made of such maniacs. But know what? He is super protective of his team members. So, once there was this fresher girl who was on his squad and someone tried to be mean to her, he beat up that guy so badly … He was punished with confinement for a week.”

Dusk looked at Piggon and then at Squid still working out with his team at the other end.

“I think since then, everyone avoided dating any girl from Squid’s group. They are all scared that if they make a mistake and the girl cries, they will be in hospital… Well, coming to think of it, all girls in his squad are capable of putting boys in hospital by themselves! Ho Ho Ho.” Piggon laughed at her own joke.

It gave Dusk a new perspective of her “Squad Leader”. And the respect she had for him increased. Even with such a nature, he was pretty gentle and understanding to her. She felt if he decided to take training as his profession instead of the Armed Forces, he would definitely do good.

“Ok, what you are planning to do now?” Piggon asked when she saw Dusk was silent.

“I don’t know, have a dinner at the eatery on the 5th floor and then go back to the dorm. Maybe study a little.” Dusk replied with a sigh.

“Sheesh! How much can you study? You are a fresher. You don’t need to study till next year.”

“I wish! You don’t know how much of backlog of courseware I have pending. I don’t know why I was made to join late. My parents could have just given their approval 2 weeks earlier! It’s not like they have to pay for me or anything!” The latent anger bubbled in her.

“Huh? You are a Free Student?”

Dusk’s heart went cold. Shit! There was one group where she was accepted and not looked down, and she had to go and spill the beans. But to her surprise and relief, Piggon seem more excited by the news.

“You are that good? Your tuition and stay both are free? Who’s paying for you?”

Dusk looked at her strangely and then replied “The university is paying all the cost including food. And some company is paying me a living allowance because I made some engine that they find fascinating.”

Piggon looked even more excited on hearing this. “Wow! Listen, I was looking for one of the guys from my class to go for dinner. I don’t see him here. Forget him, let’s go and have dinner together. I love cars, I want to know about the engine you made”

Dusk looked at her as if she had gone mad, and then giggled, holding her hand and said “Oh Piggon! You are making fun of me, right? I did not make a vehicle engine. I just attended the first Mechanical Tech class today. I made a computer software module that provides some function to a larger software program. Those are called ‘Engines’.”

“Immaterial! Have dinner with me. But not in this 5th floor crap. I want to go to Student Square.”

“Uhh Piggon, thanks but it is not possible.” Dusk replied in a soft voice. “You forget, I am a ‘free student’. I am not from one of the rich families like you guys. I can’t afford to eat out. Military Building eateries are free for me. I don’t have the money to spend on food outside.”

However, Piggon was having none of it. She pulled Dusk to the elevator. “Puh! you are not getting away with a stupid excuse like that. We don’t need to go to a luxury restaurant. There are many smaller places in Student Square. We will go to a small place. And then we will find some young men who will fall for us and get us free drinks and food!”

“And if that does not happen? Then what? If no one falls for us? Or worse, falls for you and no one likes me? Besides, I can’t allow a stranger to pay for me… No one does that without expecting something in return.” Dusk tried to remain rational even in the wake of Piggon’s exuberance.

“Oh Spirits! You small town kids are so … conservative. Someone will think you are from the Royal Family! What’s wrong if someone pays for you? The guys are expected to do it. Our company does not come free! And …” she giggled, “If they expect something in return, and I think I know what they expect, isn’t that even better?”

As the elevator reached the ground floor, Dusk tried again, “Look, let’s be rational. I don’t want to do anyone any favours of that type for a free meal.”

As Piggon dragged Dusk into the Mass going to Gate 3, she turned to Dusk and said in a tone of fake haughtiness, “Don’t forget, I am a rebel with money! My dad owns a small rural factory, but we make good money. I have enough spending money to pay for both of us and not feel a pinch … If no one wants to buy us dinner, or if you don’t want to do favours, that is.”

Sitting down beside her, Dusk drawled, “Ok, then what makes you a rebel?”

“My parents did not want me to do Military Studies. They wanted me to do Business Management. But I refused. I wanted a life more exciting than looking at accounting reports and worrying if the quality would be good enough or the client will send the things back. I fought with my parents and took this course, while making them pay for it. So, I am a rebel.”

Dusk found it very funny. “So, they agreed to pay for your education, an expensive one, even though it was not what they wanted … you are lucky.”

Piggon scowled, “Not that I disclose this in general, but I had to compromise … I have to do two years more of University Education in Business Management after I finish Military Studies before I can actually join the Armed Forces. Luckily the Military is willing to wait. That is the advantage of studying in Uni-Viva. If I was in a proper Military College, I would be just packed off to join my regiment on the day I graduate. Here I actually have a choice to join or go back home even, with my knowledge.”

Dusk nodded. She was slowly able to understand a little more about the people around her. There were back-stories to everything perhaps. Well, since she had no choice, she may as well enjoy this evening, she thought, as they disembarked at Gate 3 and walked into Student Square.

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