The Outsider

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Chapter 16 : Some Social Life

Dusk and Piggon looked through the options and finally selected a large and less popular eatery called “Thesaurusia”. Piggon wanted to go to one of the popular outlets, with loads of guys, but Dusk was very clear that she did not want to go to an expensive place irrespective of who was paying.

“But … But … That is where the boys with money are!! And the cutest ones too.” Piggon whined. But Dusk put her foot down. They had to choose one where she would not feel guilty for spending Piggon’s money.

Thesaurusia was an off-beat themed restaurant. Had metal mesh tables, with mis-shaped chairs. The table they were on had a poster saying “Don’t laugh at your partner’s choices. You are one of them.”

The table next to them said “The chicken is so fresh, it can discuss the latest politics with you” and the one on the other side said “Eat well, don’t fret, either way you are not getting out of this life, alive”

Dusk liked the place. But surprisingly it had no tech at all. No digital screens, no robo-servers, no systems pinging your communicator with advts. It actually had some young children serving the food and 4 cooks (men and women, actual humans) doing the cooking. Dusk suspected the food was mostly pre-cooked and just heated, or there were robo-chefs beneath the counter in the kitchen.

Dusk looked around and figured she had been ‘taken’. She gave Piggon a dirty look. There is no way this place would be cheap. Who can afford human cooks in the city today?

One of the pre-teen kids came and gave them a ‘Menu Card’. Dusk didn’t know how the laws allowed the restaurant to have children working. An actual physical paper that had a list of what was available for food. Dusk had never seen one before. The prices … were … sort of reasonable, considering that they had human servers and cooks. Unless of course, the prices were in code.

Around the restaurant, there were quite a few couples, but lots of boys who looked they were from Uni-Viva. So Piggon got her wish. All of them kept turning and looking back at them. While they were looking at the menu, one of the kids came to them and said that one of the guys had asked him to give them a drink. Did they want to accept it?

Piggon looked at what was offered and shook her head. “Too cheap”, she told Dusk who shook her head speechless.

In the next 15 minutes, they got lots of offers for drinks. Each time, Piggon looked at the table and refused. She wanted better! Dusk could only shake her head at her friend’s behaviour.

Finally, a couple of very handsome guys came over to them and introduced themselves. Piggon allowed them to sit down and she introduced herself. Dusk just gave her name and nothing else. The guys bought them a drink each. Dusk refused and opted for a sour beverage instead. The boys were from government studies.

After almost an hour of chatting, they offered to take the girls to a night club close by for a dance. Piggon figured that Dusk would be uncomfortable and refused, so they left.

“See, it’s not bad. You didn’t have to do any favour to anyone right?” Piggon stuck her tongue out.

The server kid came and placed a huge pizza before them.

“Hey! we didn’t order this!” Piggon said.

“The men who were with you ordered it when they were leaving. They paid for it and went. You want me to take it back? I will have to throw it away”

The guys had taken Piggon’s contact details and intended to catch up with her again. So they bought the girls a pizza to earn brownie points. Dusk decided they were smart. She didn’t mind a pizza. And as the kid said, if they sent it away, it would be thrown away.

As the girls sat there happily talking in the music and finishing their drinks before starting on the food, Dusk suddenly saw one table with a single man sitting, in a light pink shirt and dark pants that stood out in the crowd. And also, the fact that he was the only one in the entire eatery who was alone. The only table in the whole place that had no companion.

Piggon suddenly noticed Dusk’s attention was somewhere else and she turned to look … and sucked in her breath.

“Wow! That guy is better than anyone we met so far!” she said nudging dusk in her ribs. “No wonder you are not interested in anyone else.” She winked at Dusk.

Dusk felt her face getting hot. She was sure she was blushing. But she turned to Piggon fiercely. “What rubbish. Just because I have noticed someone sitting alone?”

“Yeah! He is sitting alone… No companion, so no girlfriend. He has an expensive bottle in front of him, so he is rich. He is alone so he does not have to worry about offending his friend if he went off with you somewhere… And he is Alone!”

“Oh! Stop harping on him being alone. Luke is always alone …”

“Ah! you know him then!! What a sneaky character you are.”

Dusk knew she had opened her mouth and put her foot into it. Now Piggon was not going to get off the topic.

“Call him over! He must be waiting for you only” Piggon badgered her.

“Look, he is not waiting for me. Just because I know his name does not mean he knows me or wants me. Every time I have seen him anywhere, he was alone that is all.”

But Piggon caught the wrong part of the sentence. Her eyes were twinkling, “he does not want you, but you are not saying you don’t want him. Call him! I will tell one of the servers to call him if you don’t call him.”

Dusk refused vehemently. But she did not realise her friend could be pretty sneaky. While they were arguing, Luke happened to look up towards them. Immediately, and before Dusk to react, Piggon caught her hand by the elbow, pushed it up and waved it. Dusk pulled her hand down hard, hitting the iron table as it came down.

She put her reddened face down on the table and whispered to her friend, “Are you CRAZY? What did you do that for?”

Seeing her friend silent and still looking towards Luke’s table and grinning like a clown, she sat up. Luke was standing … He saw her sit up, he smiled and started walking towards them. Dusk felt like taking Piggon’s head and hitting it against the metal table. But she was forced to smile back.

“Hello ladies, nice to see some friendly faces here.” He said in a husky voice. Waiting for a few seconds and getting no response from Dusk who seem to be frozen in place, he turned to Piggon and said, “I am Luke Jones, a student from Business Management studies. Glad to meet you.”

Piggon looked like she would melt into a puddle. But she quickly stood up and greeted Luke, “Good evening! It’s my pleasure to meet you. Please sit down and join us. I hope you like pizzas. Dusk ordered a big one and I don’t think she can finish it.”

Dusk recovered her wits and shook her head vehemently.

“Oh, I don’t think Ms. Hale wants me to sit here. I think she would like to continue the girl-talk you are having. I guess she was waving to someone else.” Luke replied with a smile that made Piggon tingle all over.

“What?? No!” Dusk almost shouted back. Why were people suddenly attributing statements and intent to her like that?

“See, she does not want me to sit here. Anyway, I am glad you girls are having a good time. I would suggest you have the spicy sunset drink. It’s got light spirit instead of alcohol and an amazing combo of spices in it. I will return to my table before some other customer takes it over.”

Dusk stood up in a hurry, toppling her chair in the process, almost tripping a customer who was walking behind their table.

“No, no, stop!” Dusk practically screamed. Then she took a deep breadth to calm herself but felt her anger rising as she saw both her companions were looking at each other and laughing … at her. She finally managed to get her thoughts together and continued, “I never said I don’t want you here. I was saying I did not order a pizza I can’t eat. I didn’t order it at all, in fact… my friend is just blaming me for it.”

Seeing Luke Jones was not offended, she gathered her thoughts and said, “But she is right, we have a lot of food here and it would be our pleasure if you can help us finish it. And we would not have waved to you if we didn’t want you to come over to our table!”

Luke nodded, accepting her explanation. He pulled the chair out and sat down, waving to one of the servers, asked them to get his drink from the other table.

“So, which major are you from?”

“I am Piggon, from Military Studies, first year. Dusk and I do our morning training together. Like her, I am from rural area.”

“Oh, very good. How are you liking university life? I am happy to see you are helping my friend get some social life.”

Piggon nodded vigorously. So, he was her friend. This girl keeps things secret and behaves so innocently. And this guy was a ‘Level 10’ too!

Seeing the glasses empty, Luke called the server and ordered a “Spicy Sunset” for each of them. Dusk protested that she did not want to drink spirits, but her protests were brushed aside by her companions.

“Taste it. If you do not like it, I will send it back. Promise, I will not force you to drink something against your wishes and will ensure no one else forces you either in my presence.” He handed over a golden card over to the server and told him to charge it to him.

The server saw the glittering card which turned black when seen from a certain angle and his eyes went cautious. He had not seen too many customers carry a bank card like that. He hurried off. The worst thing he would do would be to offend this guy by delaying his order.

“I am not used to drinks. I told you that before.” Dusk said in a tight voice.

“Yes, I remember. But this is a spirit, not alcohol. It’s much lighter. And anyway, last time a glass of alcohol did not really affect you. You were ok, so stop putting yourself down. I promise to reach you back to the dorm if you feel you have a problem.”

Dusk stiffened for a moment as she remembered the previous meeting. The ride back was not something she wanted to do again, and her behaviour after the drink was not what she considered as ‘unaffected’ either. Is it possible that this man considered her behaviour normal? Was that his concept of normal behaviour?

As they talked, the drinks arrived. The pizza was marvellous too. They talked about what had been happening during the last few days. Dusk mentioned how they were having a problem with the 3D design software and the professor’s suggestion that she can make her own.

“Why do you need to have 3D images when the textbook does not give it. What difference will it make?” Luke asked.

“Well, it is much easier with 3D. You can zoom in, turn it and can get a much better idea than a schematic diagram which is more conceptualised. Then I saw this other boy in the class using it and realised that even his re-design would be that much easier. On the other hand, with the 2D schematic, I have to think and guess and do number of iterations… I tried coping out by saying I will not do design modification, but the professor shot it down and said I have to make modification and improve the design.”

“But how exactly will you make a 3D?” Piggon asked, curious.

“Well, we need to consider the options. One is to have it create a possible layout from the schematic. I don’t think the normal software can do it. Otherwise, everyone would be making their own chips. The second one is to do imaging from the 2D ones. So, it will take the 2D image, refine it, add layers from what it can make out (with inputs from me) and then in some cases, guess what’s in the inner layer”

“Didn’t either you or your professor consider a third option?” Luke interjected.

“You mean imaging from a live chip?”

“Exactly!”

“Well, we will need equipment and scanners that would be so good that it can take inside images from the real chip, which would be both visual as well through ultrasonic and inner-spectrum analysis. I did a bit of research, it seems there are scanners that can send out waves and from what comes back and what is absorbed give a very accurate estimate of what lies below and what metal, material or element it consists off.”

Piggon was evidently out of her league here. But Luke nodded. “Yes, not only that, but you also need to scan it layer by layer. The equipment has to be very good to be able to restrict the scan and give you the image estimates few micro-meters at a time. The current chips are in the nano-meter range. Luckily, the nanometres are in the circuit design. They layers are still micro-meter. From the day nano-meter layers get implemented, our scanners can’t scan them correctly.”

Dusk became thoughtful. She had not considered that as a problem. But this was a basic architecture chip, so it would not be a problem. They would not have started with nanometre width technology at that time. She realised that she had not even checked width measures.

“Doesn’t the Military have high-powered equipment that can do this type of processing? Why don’t you use them?” Piggon suggested.

Dusk looked at her surprised. How is it the thought did not occur to her. But Luke gave a sad smile and said “I don’t think so. Yes, the military has the equipment, but it is not going to be available for her. They use it for high end research and will not give it to you for doing a student project or making a copy of something that already exists. You would be better off begging the university tech department for the equipment.”

Then he looked at the two girls and said, “Hey! I thought this was a social evening. Why are you both talking of studies and work and feeling sad? It’s party time. I think another Spicy Sunset will be good for you both… Server! Repeat our drinks please.”

In spite of Dusk’s protests, she got another drink. She felt a little lightheaded, but the drinks were much less potent than what she had a couple of nights before.

The pizza got over faster than she had anticipated. She looked longingly at the plate and unfortunately, Luke caught the look. He immediately ordered for them, another item from the menu.

Dusk felt mortified when she realised that Luke had seen her expression. But saying anything more at that point would only make it worse.

“Why were you sitting alone there?” Piggon asked Luke.

Luke looked at her and smiled slightly. “I don’t have much of friends, so I am alone most of the time. Sometimes, Dusk calls me over and I get to sit with a girl.”

Piggon’s eyes widened and then narrowed in disbelief. “What? You expected me to believe you? YOU? A handsome man from a good family … alone because you don’t have friends! Complete bull shit. Even the biggest douche bags have friends.”

“I see, so you consider me as one of the biggest douche bags or a lesser douche bag?”

Piggon got more bugged by his remark “I am trying to be nice to you and you are just twisting my words and throwing them at me! Are you deliberately trying to be jerk? I never said you were a douche. I said even the douches have friends, so how come someone nice like you won’t have friends.”

“Then you admit you see me as a jerk. See, now you understand why I do not have friends?”

Dusk started giggling seeing how he was playing with her friend. She tried to stop Piggon, “Give up Piggon, you can’t win an argument with him, he will twist you in circles till you start wondering why you are still here”

But Piggon ignored her and did not deviate from the track she was pursuing. “Ok, you are being stupid now. Deliberately stupid. I can’t think of the reason why you are trying to do that, but you are! If nothing else, there will be some wannabe social climber who will be around you for your money. Even that is not there?”

“That position is open. You want to apply for it?” Luke replied with a very goofy grin on his face.

Piggon was even more angry with him but Dusk was giggling non-stop. She began to wonder whether Dusk found it actually funny, or knew something she didn’t, or perhaps she was drunk already!

“You know, if you were not Dusk’s friend, I would have given you a punch on your face and broken your nose by now, and then pushed and wrestled you to the ground and taught you a lesson! Did you forget, or maybe I forgot to tell you, I am in the Military” Piggon said thoroughly annoyed at that point.

“Well, does being beaten up, put flat on the ground with a girl above me count as the first step in making a friend? I wouldn’t mind” Luke said with a wider grin, as if it was his dream come true.

Piggon had enough. She stood up and put her hands on the table, trying to control herself. Putting this guy in the hospital would result in her getting a reprimand and break her friendship with Dusk…

But Dusk, who had gone beyond giggling and was almost laughing suddenly sobered and jumped up and put her hands on Piggon’s. “No! No! Don’t even think of it.” Then seeing her friend’s expression, she continued quickly “He is a Military Graduate with something called ‘Field Experience’. And he is very, very fast. You wouldn’t stand a chance!”

Piggon realised that Dusk was worried about her and felt like giving her a hug. Then the statement penetrated into her hot-headed brain and she went pale. Military Graduate? with Field Experience? Oh Shit!

Dusk may not know it but Piggon knew that in all probabilities, Uni-Viva Military Graduate with Field Experience means mostly he kept his rank and was on a standby duty. Even if she had been able to hit him, which was unlikely (and she believed Dusk when she said this guy was fast), hitting a Military Ranked Officer would get her into tank full of garbage!

She then smiled back at Luke and apologised, “Sir, I am sorry. I was not aware of that, But I get a feeling that you deliberately provoked me. Which was mean of you”

Luke shook his head, “Relax. I would not let you hit me. I would have stopped you. And no, if you had hit me, I would not pull rank at that stage. But yes, I was teasing you, and I am sorry. But you gave me such a good chance which I rarely get. Anyway, I was truthful when I said I don’t have friends.”

The dishes arrived at the right moment giving all three of them a reason to divert the topic. It was one that Dusk had never seen before. Apparently neither had Piggon. It was non-metallic pot, that had some yellow think bubbling liquid and they were given biscuit sticks, square cut bread pieces and some strange looking vegetables with it.

“This is a dish from the Highland Provinces. It’s called a Fondue. Try it. Take a stick biscuit, dip it in the liquid, cool it till it solidifies like this and then eat it…” Luke explained.

The girls tried it out and were astonished.

“It tastes like … like … cheese! But cheese at my dad’s tavern is always solid! Why is this liquid!” Dusk exclaimed.

Luke seemed very pleased that they liked the food and more so that they found it a surprise. This was one of the few places near the university where it was available. And it had best of the pizzas too, which is why he was often there.

He encouraged them to try the Fondue with different types of bread and vegetables, each gave a different underlying taste. And the other advantage was that fondue delayed the impact of the alcohol. Luke had noticed that Dusk had her third drink without realising it (unless had one before he came to the table) and he was a little worried for her.

Almost an hour later, Dusk suddenly looked at the time on the communicator and shrieked. It was past 10:00 pm! She had planned to go back and study. She needed to catch up on her backlogs! But now it was impossible, especially since she had class the next day.

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