The Outsider

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Chapter 18 : Internship Offer

Dusk stepped into the platform and froze for a moment, as the crowd in the entire room turned to look at her. Almost all the camera drones turned to focus on her, the dazzling white lights moved from all directions to focus on her, excluding everyone else.

Dusk turned back in panic. She wanted to get off the stage and go hide somewhere. There was no way she could face the crowd of business leaders, news-reporters and even celebrities who were looking at her, expectantly. She had no idea what they wanted her to say or do, but she was sure she would mess up out there.

Fortunately, Susco seemed to have anticipated her move. As Dusk poised to run off the stage, she came up the steps, blocking Dusk’s escape route. Unless Dusk jumped of the front side (which was already full of people), she couldn’t leave. Susco was trained in handling panicked students, so she held Dusk’s hand in a smooth movement, and pushed her on to the middle of the stage. To the audience, it looked like Dusk had turned to pull Susco on to the stage to share her moment of glory.

Seeing her ‘selfless deed’, the crowd broke into a thundering applause, as the MC moved into the lights, directing his microphone at Susco.

“Who have we here? May I know your name please?”

“Hello, I am a student counsellor from Uni-Viva, Susco, here as a friend, guide and chaperone for Ms. Hale. Glad to meet all of you! And on behalf of the University, I would like to thank you for showing your appreciation of our star student!”

The MC turned to Dusk, “Ms. Hale, thank you for coming to our event tonight. I understand you are from Arcadia. How do you find the change from your hometown to our city?”

Dusk managed to part her parched lips, but no words seem to come out of them. She tried to calm herself but instead she felt her heartbeat shooting up. She just hoped she wouldn’t faint or something. She gulped a few times as she looked around. Finally, she managed to say ‘Hello’, which came out like a squeak.

Susco, still holding her hands, is if to give her courage but actually to ensure she wouldn’t bolt, signalled to the attendant behind her back and got a bottle of water. She handed it to Dusk and said “See, I told you that salty spicy tidbit was a bad idea. Here, drink some water first.”

Dusk gulped down a few mouthfuls of water and handed the bottle back to Susco. She looked around again, desperately trying to calm herself down. It would look badly down on her hometown and on the province if she couldn’t get herself together. Suddenly she spotted Luke Jones standing in the crowd. He met her eyes and gave a thumbs-up of encouragement. He mouthed something that looked like “Doing Good, Here for you”.

Susco poked her discretely in the back with her elbow, indicating she needed to say something.

“H… He... Hello everyone. I am D…Dusk Hale.” Once she was able to say one sentence, her confidence started to rise.

“I am from Arcadia, from a small village called Longburn. It is a pure desert country. In Ci’gazze, on the other hand, we can drown in water if we are not careful! So, yes, the change is massive. I can walk from one end of the village to the other in less time than it took me to come from the university to this place … That is the second difference, and number of people! I think the people in this room would be about half of the total population of my hometown. And then … of course, what you have at Uni-Viva is amazing, somethings I never even imagined possible.”

The MC smiled, liking the answers.

“So, how did you adjust to the life in the university?”

Dusk knew that she should be saying something good, “Well, it is difficult for an ordinary rural girl like me to adjust in a place full of the best our country has to offer. I have met professors who are amazing experts, I have met amazing genius students. Normally, I would have been terrified, but I have received so much help and assistance from my Dean, from my counsellor here, that before I knew it, this is home for me.”

There was a round of applause. She had given a near perfect answer.

“Tell us about your invention.”

Dusk was now unsure of what to say. She looked at Susco for help, but Susco shrugged. She decided to give it a try based on her discussion with Brigadier Thompson. “Well, I do not know the current definition of ‘Invention’ that you use in this city. To my knowledge, all that I did was assist a team to make a software based an outline that was given for the project. What does it do? It is a VR Engine. When you play a VR Game. Let’s say you pick up a gun to fire. You don’t feel anything touching your hands, right. But we developed an engine which when put into this VR Game, you will feel you are holding the gun in your hand. You will feel you are touching it. The gloves in your hands will not move closer because there is a gun in your hand, or supposed to be in your hand”

“So, you developed a weapon?”

Dusk gave him a look that clearly looked like she thought he was stupid. The audience laughed on seeing her expression. “No, of course not. We have a VR program to train people in farming. But if I had to explain it in farming terms, I think no one in the audience would be able to understand.”

“Ok. Ok. You are the genius. I accept your contention.” The MC said in a hurry. “So, what are your plans for the future?”

“Well, I have a lot to learn at the university. So, the next 4 years I plan to learn all that my professors think I need to know for real life work. After that, I hope to work on new projects and make a contribution to our country and society.”

“That’s an amazing future then! I have a question that has come from the audience… How exactly did the Imperial Governments Rural Remote Education Program Network help you?”

Dusk knew she was being set up. This was a political question. There were opponents of the government who would not like her answer saying it was good. And the government, university and the Minister would not like if she said it was not good. Her answer could land her up in trouble either way. But she decided she needed to be pro-government. They had helped her, after all.

“Well, even in our small village, which is only known to people because there is a nice tavern where you can get amazing juicy stake when people drive through the desert, we have a Remote Classroom. We have 25 rooms connected to the university network and using that, I studied with 2 different colleges in different parts of our country, and with that I was able to work with a team of researchers on a project with the Regis Cybera College. That place gave me the ability to break out of my village and landed me her in the heart of our tech community. Personally, I have benefited. And have many others in our village, but with different focus and intentions.”

The audience applauded her answer.

The MC took the center stage and continued “I now invite the CEO of Micro-Mega, our host, to present the sponsorship letter formally to Dusk Hale.”

Daniel came forward, turned to the audience and the camera drones, and held out a data-pad facing the audience, allowing the camera to zoom in and see the sponsorship letter. Then, with a flourish, he ‘threw’ a copy of the letter to Dusk’s wearable computer. As it hit her system, she accepted it with a bow of thanks.

Then he turned and opened another document and showed that to the audience before throwing it over to Dusk. Taking the mic from MC, he said “And this, Ms. Hale, is an internship offer that we are now making to you. Since we are only providing a small part of your cost at the university, we cannot ask for a bond for you to work for us. But we want you here the day you finish your university courses … and this is a partly binding offer. Binding from us, optional for you to accept.

“We want the best of the talent to work for Micro-Mega! You are the best we have in VR technology today, so of course, we want you. And since I know my competitors here will corner you and make other offers, let me also announce the details of the offer. We are offering you a paid internship of 1 year with a stipend of $15,000 per month!”

The crowd gasped. That was not a stipend! It was a salary. The salary that top tech graduates in the country would die for! Daniel was definitely making it expensive for his competitors to steal his prodigy.

“Ms. Hale, I thank Daniel for disclosing the amount, by tomorrow morning Exier Techlogics Inc will be making a better … a counteroffer!” The CEO of one of the leading Tech Corporations called out, leading to a ripple of laughter from the audience.

A deep voice of a general from the other end of the room commented, “The Military will match any offer you get from anywhere and increase it by 10%. All you need to do is figure out how your VR will make guns. Ask your counsellor to get in touch with me whenever you wish!”

The audience turned to him noticing a twinkle and an amused grin on the face of a general and broke into loud laughs.

The University President came to the stage, “I thank all of you for the confidence you have shown in our university and its students. I assure you that we will continue to give you the best that the students in this country can have. I wish to, with an apology to the Host for hijacking his forum, announce that the university has sent a proposal for a special program of adding a capacity of 150 students next year onwards, who will be the best from all of our country who will be sponsored by the Tech Community, who will study with a focus on the fields that meet the needs of our Tech Companies. I expect your support on this matter because no university can achieve the pinnacle on its own. We want to be your partners to take our nation to greater heights.”

The room erupted with applause. The tech leaders were thrilled. The other business leaders also saw this as an indication that they could also have special status with the university to get specialised skills they need. For the President, it was a coup.

“Now, the formalities are over, I understand the dinner is being served and the bar is open to all of us. Enjoy the evening.” Daniel announced, as he took Dusk by the arm and stepped out of the stage, towards the bar.

Before they could go anywhere near the bar, they were surrounded by the newspersons. They all had a number of questions to ask. Some were clamouring for interviews. Daniel felt Dusk’s fingers tighten over his hand and understood her anxiousness.

He managed to shield her and finally held up his hand, “Hold on, Please! Ms. Dusk desperately needs a drink. Any interview she gives can only be with the approval of the university, so you need to speak to her Student Counsellor. I cannot let her violate the university’s code of conduct when she is my guest.”

There were waves of protest but then they all made a beeline for Susco and the University President instead.

When they reached the bar, Daniel got Dusk another bubbly glass. She took it gratefully, though her brain was shouting to her that having a second drink in a single day was asking for trouble. As she turned, she almost dropped the glass. Standing right behind her was Luke Jones. And with him was the beautiful lady who had greeted him so intimately earlier.

Seeing them standing right in front, Dusk felt an insane urge to push the girl away from Luke. Or throw the drink in her face like she had seen actors do in Holo-Novels. She tightened her fingers on the glass and restrained herself because somehow her mind was telling her to do something and she knew she definitely shouldn’t. She couldn’t understand why she was feeling that way. She had rebuffed Luke and he was free to come with someone else. But if he had such an outer-worldly beauty with him, why did he even ask her? And he kept claiming he didn’t have friends…

“Mr. Jones! How lovely to see you here!” She finally managed to say.

“Ha! You refused to let me be your… companion tonight. You know, I have not been rebuffed so ruthlessly in my life?”

“You rebuffed Luke?” The lady gave a twittering laughter. “You are really something then. I can’t even count the number of times when I wished someone refused him to a dance, party, dinner … Luke, if this leaks out, your reputation is in tatters! And oh yes, so many girls I know will be willing to fly down here from all the provincial capitals and from Regis to beat you up, Ms. Hale.”

Daniel immediately turned to the lady and bowed deeply, taking her hand to his lips, gave a kiss on her fingers, as he would to a royalty. “Princess Rosemary! I am so glad you could make it. I was wondering why Mr. Luke refused my invitation. He was planning to come as your companion!”

Luke scowled at Daniel but turned with an embarrassed smile at Dusk, shrugging his shoulders. Before either could say anything, Rosemary released her hand from Daniel’s and took hold of Dusk’s.

“Dusk Hale, I am so glad to meet you. I have heard much about you before. But everyone, including my cousin here has been giving the impression that you are from the rural sector, completely unlike my urban friends. But looking at you here, and on the stage, I realise that everyone has been just… And my, such a lovely dress you are wearing!” Lady Rosemary stopped her words to admire the clothes she was wearing.

“Yes, you are looking lovely and beautiful!” Luke agreed with Rosemary.

“But it does not suit you. This is not up to the mark! It does not show your true self. I suppose that is a disadvantage of your hometown, not having exposed you to opportunities to improve your fashion-sense. No offence meant, it’s just that in Regis, that is all that we are capable of doing… dressing up nicely. Next time, you need to come with me to buy your dresses. I am considered an expert on clothes. Unlike you, I have few other skills…” she said with a charming smile.

“Yeah! Like you will fly down here from Regis every time she needs to buy something!” Luke retorted.

“Come on! Do I have anything else to do anyway? What difference will one flight make? It takes only 2 hours from Regis. I can come, help Dusk and go back.”

Dusk’s mind was screaming ‘Spoilt rich brats! Useless people! Showing off like that!’. But all she managed to croak out was, “Cousin?”

“Oh! I am so sorry, but we have not been introduced. Luke, this is shameful! Fine, I will do it myself. I am Rosemary Grant. My mother is Luke’s Aunt…”

“And,” Daniel continued as she saw Rosemary being modest, “Her father is the Minister of Education. In a way, the person responsible for finding the gem from the rural territories and getting you here.”

Dusk’s free hand went to her cheeks. Oh god! She felt ashamed of her thoughts earlier. Luckily no one would know what she thought in her head. She bowed slightly to Lady Rosemary and muttered her thanks.

“Lady Rosemary, thank you for your appreciation of me. But I think your cousin and the others were actually right about me. This is not the way I normally dress. In fact, this dress I got on the way here. Ms. Susco, my student counsellor helped me pick it up and it’s a gift from the Dean. Sorry to disappoint you Lady, but I am really not at all used to all this!”

Daniel interjected, “Nah! I do not believe that at all. You look stunning and natural in this. It is just not possible that this is the first time you wore a party formal.”

Just then, Susco entered into the circle with a very pained look. She addressed Dusk with her hands on her hips, “Dusk, I can’t believe you just fed me to the wolves by saying that I will decide whom you give interviews to or something like that! How could you?”

Then she saw Luke and Rosemary and stepped back, bowing to Lady Rosemary. “I am so sorry Princess Rosemary. I did not see you here! My apologies for interrupting your discussion.”

Rosemary laughed, “Susco! You are a Student Counsellor? Oh My God! You were just a first-year student when I graduated. I bullied you so much, now that I think of it. I hope you will take care of Ms. Hale here, and not let her be bullied like you were. She is under my father’s supervision and Luke’s Protection.”

Surprisingly, Luke seemed to be blushing, as he discreetly poked Rosemary. She looked at him with twinkling eyes clearly enjoying his discomfort.

Dusk interrupted, “Ms. Susco! It was Mr. Daniel who ‘threw you to the wolves’, not me, but thank god he did! They were hounding me. But forget that, can you please tell all of them that I do not dress like this and that we just got this on the way here.”

Susco covered her face with her hands in despair. “No! You can’t say a thing like that! You have to pretend you are always sophisticated like this. You are supposed to be the idol for students. We have to keep the image of the university. I have to coach you for all those interviews now!”

“What? I have to give interviews?”

“Of course. The university wants the publicity. They haven’t had a chance like this. Celebrities and Royalty like Princess Rosemary here are too common at Uni-Viva to attract anyone’s attention. But you, are like a fresh summer breeze. Everyone wants to speak of you.”

Dusk looked at her in despair, which made everyone around laugh. She felt her Sixth-Sense beeping and excused herself to take the call. It was her sister.

“Dusk Darling! I can’t believe this! You are on frontline news! You are on the top of every news channel, even on the Royal Chaser! Apparent someone called Princess Rosemary is there with you. And you are being talked about on Social Media! I got so many calls from friends. Mom also says you didn’t take her call, but I think you were on stage then. And oh my, you are looking so beautiful! Where did you get that dress? My, it must be more than my annual allowance. Wait till dad hears you are spending all his money on dresses.” Dawn Hale gushed away.

“Thanks Dawn. I miss you so much here. But this is the only time I got away from the campus. Don’t think life is easy here. And, please explain to dad and mom, the dress is not mine. They gave it to me for the event.”

“OH! Just saw the other news. They are giving you a salary of $15,000 a month! But you didn’t even finish studying. Even Dad does not make so much or at least he tell me so when I ask for money. Everyone here is going to be so jealous of you. Hey, listen … can you give me an allowance instead of dad?”

“Stop it! That is the salary I will get after 4 years when I finish study. So, don’t get your hopes up. And tell your ‘Jealous’ friends that nothing stops them from studying and coming to the university like me. Listen darling, I need to go. There is someone who wants to talk to me, and its looking bad if I am standing here and talking to you… And oh yes! You are not going to talk to any newsperson or post anything about me on Social Media. Or I will borrow money to come back and beat you up”

Finally, she was able to end the call and then noted that there were over 100 messages from friends back home. She sighed. She would need to reply to all of them.

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