The Outsider

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Chapter 2 : Uni Viva

The train reached Grande Ci’gazze Terminus early in the morning. The train slowed and came to a halt so smoothly that it took Dusk Hale some time to realise it was no longer moving. She turned and saw the steady movement of fellow passengers from the coach and she hurriedly followed, carrying her handbag and the Sixth Sense.

She got off the train and surveyed the station. It was huge… multiple levels, many different platforms, probably 100 trains, elevators, moving walkways and stairways everywhere. The number of people she could see walking past her eyes was definitely more than the total number of residents in her hometown. Compared to the station where she had embarked, this was like being in a game stadium. Her father had taken her to the Rocket-Ball game competition once in the largest stadium in Tharq. Her head swarmed on seeing the size of the place.

As she stood, dazed, the crowd from the train had more or less vanished. No one seem to wait here in Ci’gazze. Everyone just hurried away, almost running. As if the time was coming to an end. As she looked around, another bunch of people were hurrying towards another train that seem to be ready to leave. She felt that she could stand there all day just marvelling at the mass of humanity and the energy they exuded.

“Hey! What are you standing there for? Is there a problem? Show me your Citizen-ID!” A sharp voice broke into her revere. She looked around to see a local Militia-Officer standing on a hover-board, looking at her with suspicion and disgust. Dusk quickly put her bag down, then very slowly moved her hands to pick up her communicator, took out the Citizen-ID token and flicked on the device to ‘throw’ the token at the Officder. She remembered her security training… a rapid hand movement during a Militia Investigation could result in you getting killed on suspicion of carrying a weapon.

“I am sorry officer, I just got off the train, and need to go to the university. I am new in the city, so was trying to figure out the transportation.” She said politely.

The lady muttered something that sounded like “Useless Rurals, Uncivilised Villagers”, but Dusk decided it was better to pretend she did not hear it. Exercising her “Citizen Dignity Rights” was much easier in Longburn than here in a new city.

“Your train arrived more than 20 mins back, why are you still here?” she asked harshly after she confirmed the ID with the train manifest. “Move. Don’t block the service team. They have to finish their work”

Dusk considered pointing out that she had not interfered with the service team and there was enough place on both sides for them to go … or that she was in a demarked yellow zone, where the service vehicles would not come. But she did not dare to raise the point.

“Can you help me find transport to the university?” she asked politely instead.

“Go to the Transfer desk, it’s a pink display board on the right side ahead where the platforms join the main concourse. They will give you the booking token. I hope you know how to use the universal travel app. I don’t have time to baby-sit visitors. Ask at the desk if you can’t learn to use your phone apps for information.” She went off on her hover-board.

Dusk’s temper rose as she felt she was insulted unnecessarily, but the lady was gone before she could react. She had no option by to walk down to the ‘Transfer Desk’ as instructed.

She manged to find an old man at the Transfer Desk who seem to have sympathy for a young girl. He explained that the travel options were to take a private taxi or a public mass transport. He pointed to the Universal Travel App that was commonly used in most cities in the country. She did not have it because she never needed on back home in Longburn. A hoverboard, a horse, sometimes dad’s car or even just putting one foot in front of the other repeatedly (otherwise called walking) was all that was required for going anywhere in her hometown.

Well, it appeared, there were 8 mass routes that went past the university. She could take any of them. The old man ‘threw’ the app from his tablet to her sixth-sense, which immediately downloaded and installed it.

“However, you seem to have just arrived in Ci’gazze … so you will have your travel bags. The Mass Transports do not allow you to carry large bags. You need to verify that. Anyway, they will not allow more than one bag, so you may be out of luck”

Hearing the old man’s words, Dusk paled. The old man looked at her concerned. “What happened? Are you ok?”

“I … I didn’t take my travel bags from the train. And now I don’t even remember which platform the train came to!! How do I get my bag back? Almost everything is in it!”

The old man relaxed. “It’s not of much concern. You see, it does not matter which Finger the train came in…Don’t call it a platform, the other kids will laugh at you. Anyway, once the train comes in, the bags are automatically moved from the storage to the baggage dispensing counter. It is kept there for 2 hours after which it is moved to larger storage. So quickly go and get it. You need to show your Citizen-ID to collect it. Go over there … see the blue blinking light, its next to it.”

Dusk hurried away after thanking the old man. At least one person in the city was nice …

It took her a few minutes more to collect the bags. Then she took out the travel app and checked the option. The mass routes were not an option because they wouldn’t allow her with three bags (the two larger bags and the handbag she was carrying). The taxi was very expensive for her. It would cost her $50 from the Maglev station to the university office. Her father had given her limited amount of money. She did not want to spend that much on just reaching the university. Nor did she want to ask her father for more money.

There was an option of Maglev too. But it would only take her to another station, and she would be stuck in a similar position there. It said ‘Embarkation Point – Admin’ and ‘Embarkation Point – Military’ when she tried to find Maglev options. There was no Uni-Viva station.

She considered the choices and found only one. Then she shrugged her shoulders and decided that the Longburn method made the most sense – she would walk. The university was not so far.

… …

Unfortunately, the university proved to be a “So-Near-But-So-Far” type of a situation. On paper, a 6.5 km walk was not difficult. She had done it so many times in the past. She and her sister would skip along the walkways of Longburn from one end to the other to meet friends, to deliver stuff to her father’s clients, or to school. They would not even realise it. But a walk through the city was different …

The air was humid and heavy. There was also a smell and taste to the air that felt strange. At home the air was dusty due to the desert sand but here it was different. Perhaps it was the city pollution that she had heard about, but the proximity to the sea probably made the most difference.

Adding to the problem was the fact that the roads were not flat and straight as in Longburn. The station was on a slight elevation, so she had to go down-hill for a km or so, and then it climbed higher as the University was on the top of a small hill. Further, there were 8 major road intersections on the way. At each, there was a pedestrian over-bridge or underpass. She had to climb up and down again. Two of the bridges had stairs …. And she had bags.

Worst of the problems she had not considered when she decided to walk was that she would not be ‘skipping along’ but dragging 3 travel bags! She wished her mother had allowed her to buy a “Follow-Me” bag, but no, these were normal bags, with wheels, which she had to pull or push along the road. The handbag on her shoulder decided from time to time that gravity has a good friend and it would use that to topple from her back to one side and weigh down either of her shoulders… Finally, she decided to put the handbag on to one of the travel bags. The bag decided every 200-300 mtr, it should fall off, many times to the front where it blocked the wheels of the other bag!

In the end, what she through would be a half hour brisk walk was a 90-minute torture. What made the things worse was pedestrians with Follow-Me bags walking past, looking strangely at her. Some others walking in a hurry looking at her with disgust for blocking their way. Even kids walking past laughing at her problem instead of offering to help. One of them stood at the top of the bridge and took a video of her struggling with the bags up the stairs!

When she reached the university gate, it was almost 8 am. And guess what? The stupid gate was locked. There was no guard, no bot and no bell or desk! She looked around to see if there was any way to get in but found none.

She stood there for a few minutes, ready to cry in frustration, when a shining red convertible car came along the road, turning towards the gate. As the car slowed a little and turned into the driveway before the gate, red lights glowed on the top of the gate, then turned green and the gate slid open. As the car quickly drove past, the gates slid back shut before Dusk recovered from her surprise. She saw the driver of the car turn and look back at her, seemingly wondering why she was there.

Automated gates? How did it open? Perhaps it used the Citizen-ID or some university card? But the car did not even stop. Did the cars have their own tags or did the University AI know the identity of each car allowed to come inside.

She saw another car coming and decided to rush in along with it. She stood ready to drag the bags and run into the university before it closed the gates again. The grey and obviously student car came towards the gate and as before the lights went from red to green and the gates slid open. She ran towards the gate.

Suddenly, a blue laser beam shot out of the gate post and hit her leg, causing her muscles to seize up in protest. She stumbled, falling to the ground, watching in frustration as the gates closed. The car slowed and stopped, three heads popped out and laughed at her, gesturing to each other.

“Such Wanabies!”

“Wonder if she didn’t get admission or her boyfriend ditched her, and she wants to desperately get to him”

Still laughing, the car zoomed off.

As Dusk stood up and glared at the car, a mechanical electro-voice came alive “This gate is for vehicular entry restricted to university students. Pedestrians are required to use Gate 3 at Students Square. Any attempt in trespassing University Property will result in arrest by the Militia.”

Dusk cursed the car, its passengers, uncaring city residents, mean students, university gates, all Artificial Intelligence Modules in general and finally her own self for not checking out the route map correctly and verify which gate she should have been at. She took out the Route app on her Sixth-Sense and found that the gate she wanted to use was a little further, requiring another half hour of walk around the campus perimeter.

Rubbing her still numb legs, she picked up the bags and commenced her trek towards Gate 3. She was starting to wonder why everything was turning out wrong and difficult as soon as she stepped into Ci’gazze! Maybe it was the heavenly spirits telling her the University was not for her and she should turn back. Then the image of her father laughing at her for returning a failure, and the prospect of serving beer and steak to customers in the dim tavern pushed her determination back to its original level … or well, not original but enough to ensure she try.

After another half hour, she reached what looked like a lively and crowded front gate of the university. She looked up and saw the gate with a huge arching metal name board –

“Uni Viva – Gloria Regali”

“Glory to Those Who Better Our Society”

The university name was written in huge letters, and the tag line in smaller letters below. Dusk smiled … she had reached her destination.

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