The Outsider

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Chapter 4 : Admission

The young “arrogant handsome” man was Luke Jones. He caught hold of Dusk, puzzled at her sudden collapse. But recalled what she had said … Walking 6 km obstacle course with these bags was a punishment or training exercise for military students. It was definitely beyond the tolerance of a young girl coming to study computer technology at the university.

The Major’s support team was impeccably trained. On seeing her fall into Luke’s arms, one of them rushed to the hover-car and pulled out a med-kit and ran back to Jones in a total of 5 seconds. Jones noted and nodded in appreciation at the reaction time.

The soldier took a scanner and waved it quickly over her body. He looked slightly embarrassed and said “Slightly high body temperature, elevated pulse rate, low oxygen levels, other vital signs are within normal parameters. I think it mostly fatigue. I have seen similar parameters after cross country run among my teams. However, I can’t be completely certain because your body signs are being caught by the scanner in the middle”

Luke Jones scowled at him “How do you check vital signs then in the middle of an emergency? Would you have the time to put every patient down on the ground to check? You need a refresher course perhaps. All of you … Anyway, what’s the prognosis? And, help me make her sit.”

“Give her a dose of stimulants and rapid absorb nutrients. If you have injectable ATV, add that to the cocktail.” the Major said. He knew he would be on the communicator for the remaining day, trying to figure out all that went wrong leading to the ordeal the poor girl had gone through. He had to connect the dots, identify all the problems and mistakes that have been made by everyone and present a report to Mr. Jones Jr. by end of the day.

It was, after all, a major security lapse, harassment of a student, irrespective of whether or not it was deliberate. He needed procedure put into place to ensure it did not happen again. If Jones decided to report it to his father, the reparations would be pretty high. Being in a university which is favourite of top government official’s children, was not a peaceful job.

He would take the security training professor to task! None of the students recognised a risk? What kind of behaviour training were the students getting that in spite of being in the Military, they were enjoying harassment of a student rather than taking action to stop it.

A few minutes later, Dusk opened her eyes. She was sitting on the top of her re-packed bag. A female soldier held her, supporting her with her thigh and her hands giving her back support as if she was in a chair. She saw the handsome arrogant man looking at her with concern. She blushed and sat up, turning around to profusely thank the soldier against who she was leaning. The soldier nodded poker-faced and went back to her work after ensuring that she was able to get up and stand on her own.

Luke Jones turned to the Major, “Major, may we borrow your hover-car to go up to the Admin Complex? I would not make Ms. Dusk Hale travel one of the hover-buses going around the campus.”

The Major immediately nodded and shouted out to his chauffeur to take Mr. Luke where he needed and then return after he has completed his work. He himself anyway wanted to personally supervise the punishment of his students…

It took the hover-car barely 5 minutes to reach the Admin building. The driver helped put the bags on to the floor and left. Dusk was now feeling well enough to carry all the bags, but gratefully allowed Luke to help with one of them. Together, they walked into the admission department’s office on the ground floor, oblivious to the stares from the Students and Faculty. However, since she now had a ‘Protector’, and a handsome one at that, she was no longer flustered.

Most Colleges and Universities in Bravadia had automated admission processes, with AI and Bots doing the work and humans coming into the process only if there were problems. However, Uni-Viva was different. It had a complete human interface. Given the resources and the kind of students it catered to, that was not surprising. It was in fact, unique among the universities in the country for a number of reasons.

They walked into the room and found a table with a label that said “New Student Admission Desk”. There was a stern looking woman sitting at the desk, doing some work on her computer. She looked up as they came into her peripheral vision. Her expression turned to surprise and then to derision on seeing Dusk in her somewhat ragged clothing. But then she saw the student standing next to her. He was from Business Management, impeccably dressed and pretty obviously from a ‘Star Family’. So, she bit back her comments. Offending a Star Family, without reason was the best way to lose a job here.

Uni-Viva had been one of the last universities in Bravadia to have a scholarship program. Prior to that, free students were all sponsored by government officials, noble families or rich businessmen who wanted to favour someone, or felt would benefit them in their business later. Such students were generally on service bond to their benefactors.

It was only about 10 years ago that the university initiated its official Scholarship Program, targeting the best of the talent in the country. It had taken them 3-4 years more to perfect the system selection, putting in criteria and parameters, streamlining the AI based evaluation that would remove personal bias and after the candidates passed those barriers, a final interview by a board of trustees or their subordinates (after all, some trustees found it a waste of time).

Since the start of the Scholarship, all the applicants were from urban areas and the best of the colleges in the country. Most of the applications were sent by professors who believed their student would be better educated at Uni-Viva because the resources available were so much better. There was a negative ranking for the proposer if the recommendation turned out to be unworthy (or more correctly, un-tenable) to discourage frivolous recommendations or favour peddling. Due to the reputation of the university, only most intelligent and diligent students would dare to apply in any case.

No student from Rural areas, Grade D cities, or unknown colleges had been selected in the Scholarship program till that time. Community College graduates would not even think of applying.

But there was another type of free students that studied in the university…

Some of the students from rich families would get boys or girls they fancied (but of good academic abilities) into the university as a favour and to have them close at hand. These were students rich enough to pay for tuition and stay cost of such students out of their own funds without having to ask their family for the money. It was not common, but done often enough that the Admission Staff knew it happens…

The lady at the desk looked Dusk up and down twice. Her eyes turned cold as she took in the appearance and quickly assumed it she was a girl-friend of the older student. She would have to find some reason to reject the candidate. The President of the university was a powerful person, very strict on his admission standards and was known to back his staff.

“The admissions have been closed last month for this semester. You will need to apply in the next semester. Please get the dates from our website and fill in the forms on time. All details are there. If there is any confusion, you may come back and ask me” She said politely but iciness was dripping from her voice.

“For emergency and exceptional admission requests, the request must come from your existing college and we will not accept direct request at this time. Is there anything else I may help you with?” She continued. She felt that the young man should have filled his girlfriend’s forms earlier. She could see a shining beauty in the girl but wondered why these Star Family boys always were after such innocent but poor girls. She felt a little sad for the girl.

The admissions were actually over a month ago. The classes had started 2 weeks before. Dusk’s admissions were processed late as her father had taken his own sweet time in giving his approval. If she was a normal student, she would not be allowed to join at that time. However, with the backing she had, the university made an exception.

“She has admission in the University already. She was asked to report today” the man replied.

“Really? Please give me the admission token”

Dusk opened the Sixth-Sense and threw the token at the computer in front of her. It appeared on the screen and the expression on the lady’s face changed. She looked up at Dusk again and asked “You are the Scholarship Student? From Arcadia?”

Dusk nodded. The lady stood up. This time her tone was much warmer than before “Please sit in the visitor lounge there, I will call the processing officer. The dean has asked to be informed when you come in. The request popped up as soon as you gave me your token. You need to transfer the token to me so that I can complete your admission. I hope you know that once the token is transferred you cannot use it again.”

Dusk gave a smile and replied “I am a student of Technology. Don’t worry, I know how token technology works. They are single use, non-alterable because they are signed by the previously issued token and there is no way to change the signature code without making it invalid. But it’s ok, I will transfer the token because I don’t think I will need to take admission again after you have processed it …”

She gave a laugh that came out somewhat a mix of a giggle and a proper laugh. Luke had seen her smiling and happy for the first time since he met her. The smile made her face look prettier. He felt she must have been the queen bee in her town and previous college. But for some reason, the arrogance of a queen bee was missing. She had displayed an understanding of token technology which showed that she was actually and expert on token tech. Tokens were the backbone of authentication and business transactions in the entire country and in half the world, but most of the people had no idea of how it worked.

Dusk transferred the token, which was very different from throwing it. She was not the owner of the token any more after this point. Throwing it was like showing it to someone and it was supposed to vanish from their system later. Or in some cases, the throw would give the other party a “Front Copy” of the token, telling them what it contains, but cannot be used by them.

The lady accepted the transfer, typed a few things, probably giving the token to an AI or a Sub-Mind to complete the verification and intimating the various systems and security apparatus in the university of the new student.

She turned to Dusk and asked with concern “By the way, why is your dress in such a mess?”

“I had an accident on the way here.” She replied with a wry smile. The lady gave a sympathetic smile and walked off from the room.

They sat in the lounge. Luke used his student card to coax the vending machine to provide him with two cans of refreshing drinks. He knew Dusk had limited money, so he paid for both on his card and gave her one. Dusk accepted it gratefully.

“I hope you had breakfast before reaching the university” Luke asked.

Dusk shook her head, looking embarrassed. She did not want to look more pathetic than she already was. But the truth was she did not eat much on the train at night, and then it arrived very early. She was confused, in a hurry to get to the university and then things got more messed up.

Luke shook his head, went back to the vending machine and got her two energy bars. It would not fill the stomach but would provide some of the much-needed energy. Of course, the ATV added to the injection at the gate would have helped.

“Thank you so much. How much are they?” she asked. But he just waved her off. The cost of couple of energy bars did not matter to him.

“So, you are from one of the powerful families?” she asked him.

“Ah! I did not even introduce my self. I am Luke Jones. And no, I am not from one of those powerful families. My father is an officer in the central administration department in Regis. Basically, a glorified clerk”

Dusk tilted her head to one side as she regarded him, his clothes, his actions at the Gate. Definitely did not look like the son of a clerk. Luke understood her scepticism.

He hurriedly continued “Look, I am telling the truth. My grandfather had a farm that grew a special spice that was in great demand and made a lot of money. My mother inherited the farm but did not want to run it, so she sold it. That’s how we have enough money, not just what a government officer will earn. Don’t club me with the Nobles. I am a normal person.”

Dusk giggled when she heard his protestations. Indeed! Normal Person. He had probably never seen a normal person. Maybe she should send him on a trip to Longburn to learn what a ‘Normal’ citizen is.

“Ok, how did a ‘Normal Person’ bark out orders, and get a whole bunch of people to jump at his instructions? How did you get that Officer in bottle green uniform to do what you said?” She asked. She had a sharp mind, after all.

“Well…You need to understand the profile of people here. Many of the students are from Noble Families, others are rich, some are children of top government officials. Few are from political families. So it is natural that they are arrogant and people don’t dare go against them. So ...” He paused, gauging her reaction before he continued.

“So … I simply take an arrogant attitude, pretend that I can get them into trouble by complaining to my dad. No one ever tries to find out whether my dad can actually get them into trouble!”

Dusk stared at him for a few seconds. Then she saw he was downright serious. How insidious can a person be? Just with his show of arrogance, he was able to pull a bluff of that kind? Enough to get an Officer to back him up and have a Major come running to the school gate! She found it incredulous, but it was also funny. She tried not to laugh, but the giggles broke through and, in the end,, she doubled up laughing, almost falling off the sofa she was sitting on.

Luke looked at her for a few minutes, trying to think whether he should be insulted. But he himself said it and she had every right to laugh. She was (hopefully) laughing at others and not at him … Or Laughing ‘with him’ as they say. He wondered why he was spending so much time on her. Logically he should have introduced her to the Admission Officer and left. But she looked so vulnerable standing in front of the Officer who seem to be interested only in throwing her out …

She was like a misfit, completely unused to the life of the city or the university, like a puppy dog trying to fit in a place it has never seen before, completely unsure of which action would make it be liked and which one would get it a scolding…

Dusk finally managed to calm herself. She still couldn’t believe what he said. In her hometown everyone knows everyone else. So, no one can bluff like this. If someone came from outside, a claim would be verified by someone. But in the city, with its population a thousand times of Longburn (or more), may be everyone does not know everyone else. But wouldn’t they check? The internet was there, search engines were there, all government officials were listed, can someone actually pull this type of a story?

She turned to her companion and asked “Mr. Luke, what are you studying? You are in senior year right?”

“Actually, I am a Business Management Freshman.”

“Can’t be!!! You can’t be just 20!!”

“Ha Ha … No, I am not. My parents seem to be completely confused on what I should be doing. They wanted me to do engineering and tech but couldn’t decide among them which one was better. I was too young to make a choice, so this place as a combo degree covering both, I did that. I actually did undergrad here… Then I joined the Military Studies course, did that for 2 years and did a year of field duty” He explained.

Dusk looked up at him in surprise. He did Military Studies? No wonder he moved so fast when he was attacked and that is why the Military Students responded to him. He knew the protocols and he was their senior. The Major probably knew him from the previous years and knows his Military Rank. The officers definitely knew that he was from the Military. So why was he trying to tell her a different story.

Then she thought again and asked “But if you finished your studies then why are you back here in the University as a student?”

He looked embarrassed. “I didn’t do very well in Military. I was to be in strategy but in the end I found it to be difficult and troublesome. The one year field work showed me that it was not what I wanted. Since money is not a problem, I came back to study Business Management. That is why I am a fresher. I just joined this year.”

“They allow you to study multiple times?”

“LOL. Yes, why not? They make money from us students. So study as much as you want, who cares. I met a guy who has been here for 10 years. He is now a research scholar, so he will be here in the university for another 10 years at least …” he replied with a smile.

Dusk calculated that if he had finished a set of studies and did a year in the military, then he must be at least 25, so she was correct when she guessed his age.

“Do you like it here? I mean even without a Business Degree you can find a good job based on Military degree and your dad being in the government, right?” She asked

“Perhaps … But I want to learn properly in the field that I will be in. So, I came back. But I don’t like it here anymore. I have no friends. Those I studied with have all gone. The new batch is filled with people like you … who are much younger than me. They have their own friends, and I have no place in their cliché. But life is often lonely, so I guess that is training for the future…”

Luke stopped. He suddenly felt like kicking himself. What was wrong with him? Why was he blabbering away to her and trying to explain to her all these things? Why did it matter? In the end, he had his own future that he had to lead.

His face looked sad. As if he regretted his choices. Dusk felt sad for him. To some extent, they were similar. He was away from his friends as she was away from hers. His home and parents were 2,000 km away, hers were 4,500 km away. Looking at the students she had met so far, it seemed unlikely that she would make any friends.

For a moment, her heart sank. She stared at the prospect of bleak lonely 4 years as she navigated through her university, put in the midst of people she had nothing in common with, who could never empathise with her or take her into their circle. At best, she may get some admiration for her work but that is more likely to raise jealousy rather than friendship.

Even this handsome man next to her was out of her league, even though it seemed he was in a similar situation. She shook her head mentally. What was wrong with her. She was actually thinking that he would be her friend. Yes, he did help her, but that was because of his Military Training. Nothing else.

The door opened, a man walked in and said “Dusk Hale? Please come over to my office. I am the Dean of the Tech Faculty”

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