Nani stands there for a moment, breathing slowly,
concentrating on each breath. Time passes her by, until she hears whooshing
sounds growing exponentially louder, drowning out the sound of her breathing
with each consecutive whoosh. Her breathing eventually dissipates in the
background noise and at this moment she can feel wind rushing toward her from
the opening of the tunnel from whence she came. The wind brushes against her
face, moving upwards toward the sky—she traces the path of the wind by moving
her head upwards. The wind fills her nostrils, while it simultaneously pushes
her hair upward and to her back. With her back facing the wall, she tilts her
head far enough to see the top of the wall. The glass tunnel is morphing, its body
extending upward along the face of the wall like a caterpillar scaling a cement
wall—from the ground upward—only its body extending infinitely. The glass
tunnel creeps its way over the edge of the wall, and Nani can see the new roof
of the glass tunnel, more than one hundred and twenty meters above. She holds a
breath in complete astonishment at this unbelievable technological feat
humanity has created. She turns her gaze groundward toward the massive body of
students gathered before her. She searches the first rows of students, which
are barely assembled in groups of five, to search for her own group. She
decides to look for the easiest way to do it, by looking for the tallest one in
their group, and arguably the tallest one in their graduating class. She
finally pinpoints her tall group-mate’s bald head—noticing that the oblivious
lover boy and player, has finally yielded his advances toward the pale shy,
bespectacled girl named Paige. She impulsively decides to take this chance to
bond with Paige, since she and her are the only females in their group, and
that being a female also makes them a minority voice in that same group. She
starts walking toward Paige, meanwhile Wei has retreated to sitting on the
ground alone and leaning against the walls of the glass tunnel; Hector and Lennon
are idly conversing near Étaín’s group; and the mob in front of the podium at
the entrance of the tunnel is down to its very last groups of five.
As the remaining groups of five rejoin the main body of the assembled students, the woman scanning the students’ PECs turns toward the middle aged man on the podium and says, “Mr. Teech, all students are now registered in the Summer Survival Camp Database.”
The man grins, looking downward at her. “So, it’s finally about to start. I was falling asleep up here.”
“Mr. Teech, allow me to speak freely here,” the woman starts as Mr. Teech opens his mouth to speak, but is interrupted without being able to say a word.
“—but you have the latest tech the UTG has developed, and you never use any of it! I mean, first off it took us almost one whole hour to process these students. We could have easily just set up a temporary glass gate room and scan them all in one go. On top of that, you let me do all the scanning while you stood up there doing Space knows what. Secondly, you now complain that it took so long, meanwhile you could have easily gone into the Konsohkius plane, and wasted the hour there, instead of mindlessly watching me work…”
Mr. Teech is speechless now, suspiciously eyeing the woman. “I’ll allow that, my dear Milly,” Teech says.
“—Amalia! Please Mr. Teech, call me Amalia!” The woman pleads.
“Okay, okay…” Teech concedes, smiling inward. “Amalia. Now then just to be clear, I wasn’t just ‘mindlessly’ staring at you work, I was in fact doing mental calculations of the projections of each of the students. Do you want to know which team is going to surpass all the others?”
“Mr. Teech, what in the world are you talking about? I thought that was just a simple registration?” Amalia asks in confusion.
“Aha, Amalia, you are still the naïve intern I met years ago. Tell me, what kind of data do you think passes through these Personal External Communicators? These PECs?”
She tilts her head, furling her eyebrows in confusion.
“Well it doesn’t matter!”
“What!? Then why did you bring it up?”
“To accentuate your position, of course! You dear, are a sweet little thing.” He chuckles to himself, while Amalia ponders over his words.
“In any case Amalia, what do you think of my calculations? Which group do you think is going to surpass them all?”
“Sir… are you just trying to show off that you’re some important big wig? It’s really unnecessary. And you’re question is irrelevant. There is no winner in this Survival Camp. There are only losers.”
Teech puts on a very wide smirk and says, “Heh. I suppose you’re right about that. But just to indulge myself, I’m going to share my calculations since you frustratingly don’t have any interest.”
“Sir, it’s not that I don’t have any interest it’s tha—“
“Enough!” Teech interrupts her with a stern voice. “My calculations suggest that Hector Steadfast’s group is going to make contact with Free Citizens, but also incite a civil war in Pater.”
“Oh my Stars! That’s terrible Mr. Teech. Are we going to warn them? Are we going to do something to stop this? Is the Survival Camp going to be called off? What will—“
“Milly! Please, my dear, calm yourself. We are not going to do anything. The Survival Camp will go on as planned. And we will not say a word to those students.” Mr. Teech says in a very stern manner.
Amalia simply nods in compliance to her superior.
“Well then, I think that’s enough chit chat. You are up to speed with my current projections, you will run analyses of those kids, and you will report any anomalies.”
“Yes, sir!” Amalia shouts with pride.
Hector and Lennon are face to face. Their faces begin to turn red as if they have a lack of oxygen. Their hands are held high, and Hector’s long hair falls upward toward the ground, touching it—Lennon is bald, he has no hair to fall upward to the ground. They stare at each other fiercely as Wei continues counting.
The long haired and bald, boyish young men steadily bend their elbows, their entire weighting shifting toward the ground—then they steadily push upward toward the ground to their starting position.
Nani and Paige exchange glances at the two young men in competition, a circle of students formed around the two. They laugh at the sight, as Nani says, “That is quite a scene. I mean, I never thought Lennon to be strong enough to do hand stand push-ups.”
“Well in he is a tall young man, and his body shape, particularly his arms, indicates his body mass index to be quite low, meaning he has a lot of arm muscles. If my calculations were correct, he would be able to outlast Hector, who in nature has a bigger body shape, meaning a larger body mass index. Of course this is just by sight alone, and precise measurements would have to be measured, but even that would still result in very crude measurements. If we had the full might of the advanced technology of the UTG—or better yet the HIPER we would have atomic measurements of their exact body mass indexes.”
Nani blankly stares at Paige and says, “I think Hector has a lot of muscles, his arms felt hard when I grabbed at them during last year’s Survival Camp.” Nani quickly realizes the words that came out of her mouth and says in a panicky manner, “Well I mean when he had to carry me because I was too exhausted to continue our hike back to the Eco-City wall. I don’t go around grabbing boys’ arms, okay!”
“I didn’t think you did! I hope you don’t think I thought you did that. I apologize that you had to bring that up! It won’t happen again!”
Nani curiously looks upon the panicking Paige. “Hey there friend, you didn’t do anything. Don’t worry about it.”
They glance away from each other and an odd silence fills the air between them.
“Sixty-eight! Sixty-Nine! Seventy!” Wei slowly continues, keeping pace with the boys’ counts.
Suddenly before Wei could continue to the next number, Lennon drops to his knees.
Hector yells, “Keep counting!” So Wei complies.
This continues until Hector reaches one hundred, for at the moment Hector completes his one-hundredth hand stand push-up, a podium unlike the one Mr. Teech was standing on, appears almost instantly at the back of the mob of students and below the glass tunnel roof, before the glass tunnel crawls up the one hundred and twenty meter tall wall. Mr. Teech appears to be standing on the podium, and now with Amalia on it as well—her PEC still has its thin glass surface retracted outward to cover her forearm. Mr. Teech grins.
“So my dear students!” The oldest man in the tunnel says in a smooth voice.
Hector pushes upward at the ground so hard, and in a way, to do a back flip. “Pff…” Wei remarks.
“Today is the day you all participate in the annual Summer Survival Camp. You seniors of the school know exactly what’s expected of you. So go out there and do what you must to survive for a week. As always your Personal External Communicators will be shut off, and the Personal Internal Communicators implanted in your brains will be set to record data only. At the end of the week, you will submit that data through your PECs in the same manner as we’ve done today. And to make things interesting this year, a new rule will be introduced:” Mr. Teech smirks before saying, “nobody will get a shred of resources from the UTG. There will not be air drops, nor will you start with any initial supplies. What you have on your persons as of this moment will be considered your starting supplies.”
Panicked gasps come from the mob of students, and a couple of students drop to their knees in disbelief.
Now then please stay where you are and a lift will be prepared. Amalia presses a series of on screen buttons on the glass surface on her PEC, and a circular area lights up in orange on the synthetic ground below the one hundred and twenty meter tall atrium created by the morphing of the glass tunnel, filling exactly the area of the atrium. The students gather into the area, and as soon as they are all comfortably standing inside the circumference of the luminescent orange circle, a rudimentary elevated platform is created from the elevation of the synthetic ground highlighted in orange. It instantly hardens in place having no issue lifting the massive weight of the entirety of the graduating class of the coming Primary school year.
“Good luck graduating class of Academy #9. May you all come back safely, else may the HIPER return you to Sol. Do you comply with these terms, and the terms set before you in my previous statement?”
In unison the student body replies, “We comply with these terms, however we shall do everything in our power to return to Academy #9 safely.”
“Aalllright! That seals the deal. Milly, my dear, will you do the honors and send these kids up the atrium?”
“I suppose…” Amalia mutters disdainfully, loathing her nickname.
“What was that?”
“Nothing sir,” Amalia says, pressing a series of taps on her extended PEC.
Immediately afterward the orange lit elevated ground shoots upward in a fast sweeping motion, but not fast enough to startle any students into falling off the platform. Soon enough the platform levels off with the top part of the one hundred and twenty meter tall wall.
“Whoa~!” Hector says in a drawn out manner, with a sense of shock and awe in his voice. He walks off the orange lit platform and onto the top of the one hundred and twenty meter tall wall. He walks away from the glass tunnel in order to view the Eco-City from this elevated view. He gazes upon the perspective of the Eco-City’s landscape; the Academy in front of him; the farmlands that is laid along the edge of the one hundred and twenty meter tall wall; and the metropolis that stands in the centre, the jewel of the magnificent view of the Eco-City. ‘This is always such a pleasant view, and is the most enjoyable part of this annual event… well besides the feeling you get when you survive it,’ Hector thinks.
Hector then turns around and he sees the forest floor below. ‘These trees are tiny compared to…‘ His thoughts trail off in a train of thought that he can’t put into words, but his palms begin to sweat.
Nani approaches him from his side and holds out her and to place it on his shoulder, gently squeezing it. “Quite a view, isn’t it Hector?” She glances at his eyes, which are focused at the trees below. She glances at his sweaty palms, they seem to be twitching.
“Yeah, it’s fantastic…” Hector replies in a monotone voice.
“Hector, you haven’t been having those drea—“
“Hey! That’s not the time to be discussing that.” Hector turns to the young woman still gently squeezing his shoulder. He motions his shoulder away from her hand, and she recalls her gesture.
“I’m sorry, I’m just a little worried about you.”
“Don’t be! You can rely on me this week. We’re going to get through this week. I’m not thinking about anything other than our survival in this cursed forest!”
Nani smiles warmly at the determined boy, and he beams back at her.
Nani turns back to the forest floor and she sees a road leading from one edge of the forest toward the horizon, in a long arching road. At the end of the road, in the horizon, she can see a town. She can see billows of a dark smoke, some distance away from the town, trailing upward toward the sky.
Without warning, a similarly levelled color coded platform emerges on the forest side of the tall wall, except this one has railings and a gate, made of the same synthetic material. The mob of students make their way onto the platform, and Hector—being the last student on—closes the gate behind him. At a slow but steady pace, the platform begins to move and the students start shuffling around the platform to divide into their groups of five. Hector finds his four group mates pretty easily, and they cut through the crowd to the far end of the platform, away from the wall. Hector’s group watch the forest floor grow larger, the trees come into plain view, the branches become distinct, and before they descend into the forest below, they see a flash of light in the distance, then momentarily they hear a large explosion coming from the direction of the billows of smoke on the horizon. They quickly look toward that area, and see a cloud of greyish-black smoke rising into the sky, the base of the mushroom shape colored a fiery orange red. The view of the trees abruptly block their way—the annual Summer Survival Camp has officially begun.