The Outsider

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Chapter 9 : Training Module Designers

The Hover-Car reached the Military complex in less than 5 minutes. It was probably a military special vehicle because it had a harness that sort of held her in place when the car travelled at super-high speed to its destination. Dusk was tempted to close her eyes in terror seeing how fast they were going.

In the Military Building, Dusk met the Brigadier in person for the first time. He was not as scary as he was on the call. But one look at him was enough to convince Dusk that he would brook no nonsense and she should not get on to his bad side.

“Welcome to the VR Training Design Team, Ms. Hale. We are grateful that you are willing to work with us. I am Thompson, Brigadier, Bravadia Armed Forces. These 15 people you see in this room are members of my team. Our task is to improve the VR training devices that we use for training our military students as well as re-train our soldiers.” He introduced himself in a booming voice.

The team of 15 were standing in a stiff formal position. They all wore bottle green uniform of Full Military Officers. Dusk did not know much about ranks in the Military, but it was clear that each of them were senior officers. She greeted them with a bow, mainly because she did not know how to salute.

“Sit down, we will come directly to the point. We have been using VR for many years now. But our VR has been more like a sophisticated teenage game. We have first person shooting simulations, we have strategic simulations, we have flight simulators, we have even some really basic stuff for training sentry – which is VR basically consists of a landscape where there is little movement, or a city road where there is random people and cars going, and the sentry has to keep an alert watch, because some small movement that may happen and he will miss it, and he will lose.”

At the Brigadier’s orders, one of the officers played short holovids showing what the simulations looked like. They were very detailed in their graphic representation. Much more advanced than any VR game Dusk had ever seen.

“But our problem is that all of this is nothing but sophisticated games. It does not actually allow our soldiers to feel the equipment or the impact of what they are doing. For example, Hale, have you ever fired a gun? … No? Well, when you do, the gun has a recoil. It moves. So, when you shoot, and then have to shoot again, the gunpoint would have moved and you hit something else or miss, unless you realign. But it the VR that does not happen. Then we spent months, making our soldiers unlearn that.” Thomson explained one of his problem.

He signalled to one of the officers who continued “We saw what the Edu-Tech VR from Regis Cybera University had done. When a student uses the farming VR, they feel like they are actually touching the equipment. It’s not like they are just clutching at air. We want that to happen in our simulations. If someone is picking up the gun, they should be able to feel it… May be, if two people are standing next to each other and each turns the gun, it should hit each other and we want that effect to be felt in the VR…

“We tried taking the Edu-Tech VR and putting it into our VR simulations, but it does not seem to work.” The captain explained his problem.

“So, what exactly do you want from me?”

“First, start by explaining the architecture of the application, what are the components and how they interact with each other.”

“Hold on! I only made a small part of it. I didn’t do the whole thing. How can I explain the entire thing?” She protested.

“Actually, it is that ‘small part’ that we are interested in. We have your notes. You were a part of the discussion when the project was planned. You can start by explaining that. Then, we will show you the recordings of the project architecture that we have acquired. You can tell us what it means and where our understanding is wrong …”

And so, started the first day of Dusk’s interaction with the VR Team. She spent the next 3 ½ hours explaining what she knew of the product design, what was intended, what was done, how things were changed. The team was paying minute attention to every word she said, catching all mistakes she made and cross references that had gone wrong. Dusk had never seen people with so much attention to the smallest facts, whose had the ability to assimilate information and digest it, and quickly apply it to what was being said in the next sentence.

She had to be focused and on her toes. She could not allow a mistake or a wrong representation of what she knew of the project. What she though was going to be an easy ‘lecturing the oldies’ turned out to be stressful and requiring her to be focus and on her toes all the time.

Over the session, her own understanding of the project changed. She got a perspective of it very different from what she had considered earlier, because when interacting with this team, her own vision was challenged. She was forced to see it from a very different angle too.

She appreciated the attention the team was paying to her and felt a warm feeling in her heart. It was nice to be appreciated. From a long time, even at home, she was looked down by most people, including her own father who felt she was just wasting time learning ‘nonsensical’ things.

She realised that they had only touched the superficial surface and there would be a lot of more work that would be needed. She suspected they would keep her busy probably the entire year.

When it was close to 9 PM, the Captain suggested that they stop and ensure that their ‘Expert’ is fed a proper meal and returned to her dorm. The Brigadier agreed immediately. Dusk did not realise was that everyone on the team were at least double of her in age. And therefore, her as equal to one of their own kids back home in age and temperament. They would not abuse her or take undue advantage, any more than they would take of their own kids.

They walked out of the Military Building and got into hover-cars to go to the club. The captain suggested she should take driving lessons as she may be required one day to use these vehicles on her own Dusk could not figure out when she would ever be required to drive these. It was not on her career plan to drive cars and there was no hope that she would ever own a hover-car either. A rubber wheeled vehicle would be an achievement!

The club was lively with Faculty and visitors. They went to a different eatery from what she had been at lunch. It was in a dome at the top of the club, with an amazing 360-degree view from it. The meal was specifically planned for a celebratory dinner to induct Dusk into the VR Training team. It was elaborate and consisting of dishes she had not even heard of before.

She got to know some of the team members better, understood their expertise and what they wanted to achieve. She was surprised with the quality of the team and how driven it was. It was her first time seeing such energy and focus. On the other hand, she had never worked with external teams. The only teams she work with before were for school and college projects.

As she talked, her eyes fell again, on a lonely figure sitting on a sofa seat at the other end of the room, next to the glass wall, a plate of food in front of him mostly ignored, as he flipped through what appeared to be documents projected on the table from his wearable computer. It was Luke Jones … again!

The Brigadier who was talking to Captain at that time noticed a sad look on Dusk’s face. He turned to her in concern. “What’s up Dusk? Anything wrong?”

“Not really, just that I noticed a friend of mine, sitting alone and having his dinner. He is always alone, poor thing!” she replied with melancholy, without thinking the statement through.

Thomson promptly sympathised with her friend. But he knew some people just could not make friends. So, he gave what was the most natural reply, “Well, if he is here, and alone, why not call him over to join us? Maybe he will feel better in your company. Who is he?”

“Well … You would not know him, but he did Military Study and then was with the Armed Forces for a year and now back at the University to study something else. Are you sure its ok to call him over? He is sitting there.” she pointed.

Both the Captain and Brigadier almost spilt their drinks as they looked at the man she was pointing at. But luckily, Dusk was looking at Luke. Finally, she shook her head as she remembered the words of advice from Susco.

“No, let it be. He is busy with something. I am not sure if he will want to come over … I don’t want to disturb him.”

Luke, somehow, seem to have sensed her presence. Perhaps because his wearable computer was programmed to scan the area around him at all times. He turned to look at her and saw her staring at him. She immediately turned away, blushing at being caught.

Luke smiled to himself and got up from his seat, walking out to the area where ‘Artisan Coffee Dispensers’ were kept. Thompson suddenly got up from his chair and excused himself. While Dusk was chatting with some of the other officers, she noticed that the Brigadier also walked to the same place as Luke. But she didn’t think much of it or even why the Brigadier didn’t ask one of the servers to get the coffee for him.

“What are you all doing here?” Luke asked Thompson.

“Nothing as such, gave the girl a hard time for over 3 hours, thought the least I could do is give her dinner here with the rest of the team. She is brilliant, actually. And pretty good at handling the pressure of 15 seniors questioning her on her work. Where did you find her anyway?”

“It’s a coincidence, I suppose, that I met her at Gate 3 today, when you were looking for her anyway.”

“Your M … sorry, Mr. Jones, please! You asked us to integrate that engine into our programs. Other than reinvent the wheel, taking her help was the only option. That professor of hers was hardly of any use and the documentation was bad. Surely you knew that she would be here. You are just trying to trap me.”

“No Brigadier, I am not. I was not aware that she was coming to the university when I chose that engine for improving the simulations. We are falling behind in quality of training and my Uncle is desperate. If I didn’t come with up something, both he and my Grandfather would have …”

“What? How can they blame you for it? If anyone is to be blamed, it’s your uncle. Is he worried that the Emperor would punish him for the failure and putting it on you?”

Luke let out a long sigh. “No, they can’t blame me for it, but they are looking to me for a solution. They are nicely and royally gilt-tripping me about being the younger generation, at the peak while they are past peak, how the future of the nation depends on us younger generation, and things like that.

“Anyway, I took the task on myself. I don’t want that we would revert to the cruel ways of Romana or Feroah with a training method that risks the lives of our soldiers. We don’t need to waste lives just to make the remining ones more resilient. This seem to be the best option for us now, a massively improved VR so that they can train in a real-life scenario.”

“But VR is not enough, is it?” Thompson asked.

“No, definitely not. We have to augment it with better technology all round. The Defence Council has approved new equipment, which will provide you a much better monitoring of your field training. You will know how much more a person can take before permanent damage.”

Thomson raised an eyebrow.

“Well, you will get it by next week or even tomorrow possibly. And some amazing firepower we are getting from Monte, some more we are getting from our labs. New aircrafts being designed, more force multipliers, all things to give your people better leverage on the ground. I just hope we are wasting the money and never have to use it.

“Now about that girl, make sure she is trained properly. I want her to be able to withstand a lot of punishment. If she becomes the centre of attention someday, she will be a target of our enemies. Even if she is suddenly thrown in the middle of Monte’s roughest ranges in the middle of winter, she should be able to survive at least till help reaches her.” Luke continued.

“Yes, I will remember that.”

“One more thing,” He said, turning to look at the group. “Compensate her properly for her time and efforts with your team. Pay her more than what you would pay a normal student consultant. She is from a poor family and her parents won’t give her anything. I don’t want to see her deprived when compared to other students. There is enough budget I believe. If you have a problem, I will get Uncle to give you a specific additional amount.”

Thompson nodded and returned to his team. He almost laughed at Luke’s attempt to protect her while pretending to be not interested in her. He had known Luke long enough, meeting him over the years at his Uncle’s home. He had also seeing him on the field in the most hostile environments for a year after Luke had finished the initial part of his university education.

He had rarely seen Luke interested in any girl and now he was trying to protect one and making sure her path of progress was clear. He wondered what Luke wanted… A girlfriend? It would be sad for a Naïve young girl to fall prey to the charms of this man and then be heart-broken when he returned to his own circle or when he decided to move on to the next… But he could do nothing to protect the girl from Luke. If Luke really wanted her… no one could stop him.

Well, he though maliciously, so many society moms would be very upset on seeing Luke get a girlfriend and more so one whom he was taking such an active interest in… One he was pursuing instead of the other way round. But the Regis Society would never hear of it. No wonder Luke avoided going back to home!

The dinner ended soon after that. Thompson complimented Dusk once again in front of the whole team, “Well, … We have learned a lot from you today. I don’t think we have our scheduling in place yet. I am hoping you will be willing to spend more time with us. Without you here, this team will spend months achieving what you can help us do in a few weeks.”

Dusk felt her face turn pink as she blushed from the compliment. Thompson was making it sound like she was some genius scientist or a professor parcelling out her wisdom.

“Sir, you are making it sound so grand! The truth is that you have never worked on a VR system so deeply, and the engine configuration was badly documented. So, you were not able to connect it to your simulations properly.”

The captain stepped up as they were leaving “Good Night Ms. Hale, give us a day or so to document what we have learned today. We will send you the minutes and our notes on what we have decided. Then we can schedule another session after that.”

Thompson saw Luke was also packing up and ready to leave. He waved to Luke calling him over as he cleared the payment for the dinner. Others had left. Only two of them were still there. Dusk was trying to get her Sixth-Sense to explain to her which Mass would be there next and how long it would take to reach back to her dorm. It was already past 10:30 pm and she had to wake up early tomorrow. Asking the Brigadier for a hover-car back to the dorm would be rude and demanding, like she was some Duchess.

Luke came over and greeted both of them. Brigadier looked up as he finished paying for the evening. Though it was department’s money, he checked every item billed to him as if it was being spent from his own pocket. He was still a traditionalist who didn’t believe computers were infallible … unlike these modern kids who seem to think a computer would not cheat them.

“Mr. Luke,” he said with a sly smile, “Ms. Hale needs to go back to her dorm. I have to go back to the lab for some time. There is a message from HQ that needs to be answered immediately. You have a Du-Pax, right? Can you drop her off on your way?”

Luke gave Thompson a look that was difficult to decipher. He wanted to scowl for setting him up, but he could not because Dusk may see it and feel obliged to refuse the ride. He wondered if he was so transparent that the Brigadier figured he wanted to make friends with the girl…

He nodded and said in a bright voice “Sure! Why not? Which dorm are you in?”

“I am in Dorm 6, but no, please! I do not want to trouble you so late in the night. I will manage. Really” She said quickly, obviously flustered.

“Don’t worry, I am sure Luke does not mind. His own dorm is close to yours. Incidentally, one thing I did not wish not speak of in front of the others. I realised today that we need you more actively in the project than we thought earlier. We will be asking you to share more of your spare time with us. Therefore, we need to discuss your consulting fee.” Thompson explained.

Dusk was surprised. She had realised that she was going to spend a lot of time with this team. But she was clear that Staton would not give her unlimited food throughout the year at the Military Eateries for nothing. No one was that generous.

So, the Brigadier offering to discuss payment was completely unexpected. She hesitated for a few seconds and then replied with a sweet smile. “Sir, I do not need money from you to do this work. Perhaps you don’t know, but Sargent Staton has already given me unlimited meals as payment for my hours with your team”

Both Luke and Thompson looked at each other. What is she talking about? Free food? Did she do any maths on that?

“Dusk, you already have free food as a part of your scholarship. What Staton is offering you is … hardly of any value, if you think about it.” Luke explained.

“Luke, … Uhh… Mr. Jones, I think what he has offered me is a fair value for whatever time I give.” She replied.

“Perhaps you do not understand how much money the Military normally gives to consultants.” Thompson interrupted.

Dusk shook her head. “Sir, I checked and found out the cost of studying in this university. I have free tuitions, books are mostly free, I am not charged for stay, given an allowance for food, access to the dorm lounge and study rooms which others are paying for, and now the Military Mess has free food for me too. If you compute that amount, and if I were paying it, do you think it would exceed my consulting fee?”

Luke looked at her incredulously. In the materialistic age they lived in, with everyone trying to grab as much as they could, sometimes fighting for things they were not even entitled to, here was one girl who was giving up something because she felt the government was doing enough for her…

He tried again and said gently, “Dusk, the Military is not the one sponsoring your education. So why should they benefit from your time and efforts for nothing in exchange.”

For some reason, Dusk became angry. As she turned towards Luke, her face partly red in anger. “It’s people like you that have spoilt our country! The Military is not sponsoring my education. Yes sure, so who is doing it, You? To the best of my knowledge, the money for both comes from the government of this nation. The Military is also being funded by the same government that is paying for me. And the Military is doing all it can to protect the nation and the common citizen. If I am saving the Military some money, it is going to mean the government will be required to give them less. If you do not understand this, go and ask your dad to explain it to you!”

Luke involuntarily backed up a little. Hearing of nationalistic favour of the common citizen of the country and seeing it thrown at his face were different. He wondered if she was bought up on some idealistic indoctrination when in school, whether most in her town / province were like that or she was an exception.

But he tried again. He pleaded a little weakly, “But Dusk, you have expenses. How will you meet them, how will you buy new clothes, go out to town with friends, buy some essentials, etc.? Many students like you work in various jobs in the university to be able to get some money to spend…”

Dusk was getting irritated. Why was this guy behaving like he was going to get a percentage of the money! “Look Mr. Jones, I am a rural girl with small needs. If I need to buy some things and I don’t have money left over, I will ask my parents and I am sure they will give me a few $100. And if I don’t have money, I will not spend on things.”

Thompson decided to intervene. He was beginning to like this girl even more. He decided to stop this discussion before she said something worse to Luke or before Luke said something stupid. He patted her on her back in a fatherly manner.

“Ms. Hale, relax. If you feel you do not need the money, no one is going to force it down your throat, or into your pocket I mean… But please assure me that if you need the money at any point of time, you will come over and ask me to start giving you a consulting fee. Luke is right, this is an expensive place to live.”

Dusk felt very grateful to the senior officer for his words. She would make sure she did not need to come and ask him for it. But it was always good to know that there were people who valued her and cared for her.

“Yes, sir. I will do that.”

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