The Outsider

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Chapter 8 : Dorm-Mates

The Tech Buildings in the Academic cluster of Uni-Viva were a set of impressive steel and glass structures. Dusk sat in the garden in front of the building, admiring the evening sun which reflected off the glass façade.

It had been a long day…

She had met her professors. Some of them were nice, a couple of them seem unhappy that they would have to spend extra time on her, but of course could not refuse the Dean. She understood where she needed to meet them and what she had to do. During the next 2 weeks, she would not attend few of actual lectures as she would be with the various professors or their teaching assistants understanding what she had missed. Probably in the following week she would be able to sit in the actual lectures.

She did not meet any of her classmates, though.

Lunch was an amazing affair. She had not seen such luxuries and such food in her entire life. The club was meant for the faculty, so she was not likely to be there again. Susco was right when she explained how good the food would be. There was an actual chef, though he did not make the food, but he directed the robo-chefs, and made the food specific to what the diner wanted. Deviation from standard food is what make it most attractive. The food took time because things had to be made from the scratch after the order was placed.

Dusk found a good friend in Susco, as the counsellor was only a few years senior to her. She was still young enough to remember her own university life, positive, optimistic and helpful. Susco on the other hand, found that Dusk was humble and un-pretentious. She did not have airs and did not threaten people with her status. That day spent together was exceptional for both of them, but it formed a basis for a long term friendship.

Suddenly, as she was looking around, she saw a man sitting alone, eating quietly while looking at some documents on a holo-screen. While most of the people at the club were in groups or pairs, he was along. He was Luke! What was he doing in the club? He was a student. And why was he alone?

She turned to Susco, “I thought the club was for faculty and senior staff only. How is Luke Jones there?”

“Who?” Susco turned and looked. She apparently did not know him. “Well, some students are more than just students. Ha Ha Ha. Few of the students are from important families or for children of ministers … they are allowed to come here. The President gives special approval for such cases. But I don’t think there will be much of them. I don’t think more than 50 such people are there.”

Dusk looked thoughtful. Luke had told her that his dad was just an officer or something. Not a minister, that was for sure. He also said he was not from the noble family. So how did he get here? Was Susco mistaken or was she lied to? But why will he lie to her? He had no reason to hide the fact that his father was a minister or something. Most people would be proud.

Susco, checked some things on her communicator and then looked up with a twinkle in her eye. “You do have a habit of catching the most powerful people here huh? Luke Jones, right? Yeah, the pic is his too … I checked in the student database. He is doing his third post-graduation here, this time in business administration. And he is an advisor to the Military. So yeah, he gets access to this place.

“But a word from the wise, as they say … and from my own experiences … Avoid him. He is way too powerful. He has strong backing. He is also 7 years older than you. It all looks attractive at this time, but even if he does like you, he will eventually dump you and walk off without a shred of regret. In the end, his family will decide who he should marry …

“Find someone who is a little lower on the scale. May be some cute and handsome from one of the entrepreneur families. Their families will want you because you have an outstanding tech background, which many of them lack. There are lots of choices. They may or may not work, but why start with one that can just not work, and one so powerful that if you offend him by mistake, you can be out of the campus the next morning…” Susco pinched Dusk’s cheeks and ended her preaching.

Coming back to the reality, she stood up from her seat in the garden. Dusk had no illusions of where she was and what her ‘status’ was - none. It’s just that he was one of the few who did something to help, so she sort-of, liked him. She picked up the bags of clothes and shoes she had received, got into the next mass going her way and returned to the dorm.

… …

Dusk walked into her room at the dorm. There were two girls sitting on the sofa between the bunkbeds, laughing about something. They turned to look at her, slightly surprised.

“You are the new student in our room?” one of them asked.

“Yes, I am Dusk Hale” she replied putting her bags down on the table she had chosen for herself. “I have just joined the university today. Glad to meet you both”

The two girls looked at her, saw the bags of clothes she was carrying. They looked at the Military Cadet uniform in surprise.

“I am Violet. And this is Amelia. You are in Military Studies? I thought they had their own dorms”

“No! I am taking up Tech. But I have to attend Military Primary Training in the morning, so I had to go and get the uniforms.” Dusk replied.

“Why are you doing Military Training if you are in Tech?” Amelia asked in confusion.

“It’s optional. They asked me to do it …”

“Oh! Know what? You look like the girl in the video this morning …” Violet said suddenly.

Dusk looked confused but, in her heart, she knew someone must have captured her humiliation of the morning on video. Violet replied by showing her the video, which was very clearly her own, being laughed at by the girls and then held at gun point and, in the end, falling off into Luke’s Hands.

“Did he kiss you? I would love to fall into the arms of someone so handsome” Violet asked giggling.

Dusk was both embarrassed and irritated. What kind of a question was that? She replied calmly since she wanted to be their friend “Of course not! And I didn’t do it on purpose either!”

Amelia asked “So, where are you from?”

“Arcadia … a place called Longburn in Tharq district. Should be over 4,500 km from here. What …” But she was interrupted by Amelia again before she completed her sentence.

“Never heard of the place. Your dad is in the government there or he owns a company?”

“Ha! Neither.” Dusk replied. “My father owns a tavern in Longburn. It’s not a big thing, but enough for us to live comfortably. It’s not a corporation or a large business. Otherwise, perhaps I would be studying Business instead of Tech.”

She was not ashamed of her background, so she did not bother to make up a story. It was only during the discussion with Susco over lunch that she came to know that not only were all of the students were urban, but most came from rich families or government background. She was also beginning to understand the way these people thought and figured out that if the kids were rich or from Noble families, they would not be in 4-bed Dorms. However, she underestimated the snobbishness that permeated the student body.

“Tavern? You mean those quaint things they show on holo-stories? And he makes enough there to spend $200,000 to pay for the University?”

“Well, I got a scholarship …”

There was a complete silence in the room after that. Both the girls stared at Dusk, with their mouths open. A scholarship student? Forget being from a rich family, her parents could not even afford her education? Why come to Uni-Viva then? Such a Pretentious thing! It was the first time they had heard of it. They were not even aware that Uni-Viva has a scholarship program. No one they had met at the university qualified for Scholarship. Some of them got a bit of waiver from the government programs due to their parents, about was about all. Slowly they closed their mouths and their gaze turned from interest to pure contempt.

Just then, 4 girls from other dorms walked into the room. They saw Dusk and eyebrows went up.

“Hey! New Student? How come they allowed you to join so late?” one of them asked.

“She is the one who was at Gate 3 this morning!” Amelia replied, pointing a finger at Dusk. “And guess what? She is a free kid. Her father runs a drink-house somewhere”

The other girls looked at her with either contempt or pity. Poor thing. What a sad life… They definitely did not want her over among their group. They wondered who sponsored her. Perhaps she was a rich kid’s toy.

One of the girls turned to the group and said “Anyway, we are going to the Lounge for dinner. Coming? There is a rocket ball match between Bravadia and Aquadom! We can watch it together.”

They all agreed, except Dusk. They turned to look at her, waiting for her reaction. She knew how expensive the food there would be. There was no way she would be able to pay. She shook her head.

“I will not be able to join you. Thanks for asking.”

“What, no money? On your first day here too?” one of the girls sneered, clearly finding the matter actually a new source of entertainment.

Dusk felt miserable on seeing their expression. But there was no way she could keep up with the rich kids. By then she had figured out that she was a unique creature in the university. The only one whose parents did not have lavish amounts of money. She looked at the girls in the room… Each of them wore expensive clothes of the latest fashion. Her own clothes, on the other hand, were plain and simple.

She decided that she may as well admit to her status and get over with it. She had no intention to make friends with these girls. With her schedule, she wouldn’t get time anyway, so it wouldn’t matter if they looked down on her. But before she could say anything, her communicator beeped…

The Sixth-Sense showed an unknown contact, someone she had never talked to before. She let the Sixth-Sense create a holo-screen in mid-air. A senior man in an army uniform appeared on the screen, hovering in the air. The image looked around and realised that it was an open screen in the middle of a room full of girls. His image changed from friendly to stern.

“You are Dusk Hale?”

“Yes Sir” Dusk replied, wondering if she should salute or something.

“I believe Sargent Staton spoke to you this afternoon. I am Brigadier Thompson, heading the VR Training Team. You are supposed to work with us to set up the new training systems, right?”

“Yes Sir. Sargent Staton asked me if I would work with your team …”

“OK! Good! We have already wasted weeks on this. I don’t see any reason to delay further. Come over here right away, I am calling the team over. You can explain to us how this engine works.” The Brigadier commanded. It was a tone that few would dare to say no to. And from the look of things, it did not seem many within the army refused his orders, either.

“But S.. Sir,” Dusk started to protest in a feeble voice. She had just reached her room, she had not unpacked anything, she didn’t sleep properly the previous night and she had early morning training. Going back to handhold some foggies where were apparently tech-noobs was not her idea of first day fun activity.

“I know you have not had dinner, so we can arrange have dinner at the Club tonight. We would like to welcome you to the team. And you can get to know the team members.” The Brigadier’s tone softened. “I am sending a hover-car to pick you up, please be below Dorm Building 6 in the next 5 minutes.”

The screen winked off, as he cut the line.

The room was silent. The girls looked at Dusk in amazement. A Brigadier calling her to ‘Explain’ something to the Military? Sending a Hover-Car for HER? Dinner at the Club? Who was she? How could she get such a treatment? It was doubtful even kids from the top families would be given that privilege.

As they looked, the Sixth-Sense beeped and said in a toneless voice “Designated Hover-Car reaching target spot in 2 minutes”

“Sorry, I have some work to do tonight, bye.” With that, Dusk quickly walked out of the room. As she walked towards the elevators at the end of the corridor, a girl, slightly older, started walking with her.

“I am Sylvia. I was watching what happened there. I mean, before the Military called you over to meet them. I was passing so I stopped outside the room… Sorry for invading your privacy. These girls are all wannabe queens. All pretend to be high and mighty. But they are from professional or small business families. Your roommate’s dad is only a regional governor’s assistant. The other one was asking about how you do not have money, her father has a small business involved in logistics. They are not much better than you. Yes, they are better off, have better resources and their family are more willing to give them money to spend. But that is all” She commented quietly.

“You are probably better than them. I have not heard of anyone coming to this university from as far as Arcadia. And you are on a scholarship which means you are here because you are good, not because your parents have money to throw away. Don’t be intimated by them. If the Military is calling you for consultation, believe me, YOU have very few equals on this campus…” Sylvia said with a smile.

As the elevator opened for Dusk to go down, Sylvia stepped in with her gave her an encouraging pat on her shoulder and said “I was to some extent like you. I applied on a whim to Uni-Viva. There was no way my parents would pay the fees they charge here. But I got a good score in the main tests. Practical expertise was close to zero. But my dad works for the Highland Provincial government. He was in the Economic Affairs Ministry at that time. I did pre-graduation internship in the ministry, and I had done some very good predictive modelling for the minister, with some simulation algorithms which another student was doing as a senior year project. I gave ideas in my model on how we can develop specific businesses that will do well in the highlands and not anywhere else.

“The minister was the son of the Crux Family, he was trying to prove that he was good at his work, so he could be given a more rewarding position, may be even in Regis. He implemented some programs and incentives based on my model. It seems to have worked and he got a commandment from the National Economic Minister. He privately credits my work for his success. So, he sponsored part of my education. He offered to pay the difference between what the local university would charge and the cost of studying at Uni-Viva. I have a contract to go back to Highland after graduation from here to work for the government for 5 years. It’s just that none of the girls here know my background, so they don’t bother me as they think I am like them. You, on the other hand, are brave to have disclosed your background …”

The elevator had reached on the ground floor. Both of them walked out and came to the entrance of the building. A hover-car was waiting. As Sylvia turned to go to where-ever she was headed, she put up her hand for a fist-bump with Dusk and said “We are the cream of the country, don’t forget that! We are the ones who are here because we achieved something! Those girls, they are nothing but parasites leveraging on their parents and their family’s earning, wealth and power. Don’t let them get you down…. EVER! If you have any problem, call me over.” Saying so, Sylvia threw a contact card to Dusk’s communicator and left.

Dusk smiled. Maybe she was not unique after all. She had made two friends at least today. Perhaps 3 if she counted Luke Jones… If she dared to count the mysterious Luke Jones.

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