This is an unedited draft. While the main story won’t change, you may find some awkward phrasing, typos, and some fine details will be missing. I’ll publish a new chapter every week. Enjoy! Chapter Two is here.
Warning: To avoid having issues with book retailers when I publish, I will be deleting Chapters One through Eighteen the week before I post the last chapter, which is Chapter Twenty. You have been warned! Read fast!
A notice flashed in her holo: “You are leaving the Tetzlaff Forest. We hope you enjoyed your stay. Report any health changes occurring over the next week to your local Medico.”
And that wasn’t ominous at all. Quinn shuddered again.
The straps around Quinn tightened momentarily as the lift van made an abrupt turn to the right. A narrow road appeared in front of them, cut off by a solid black gate. High fences traveled left and right from the gate, razor wire glinting at the top. The lift van slowed and the gates swung open.
Another vid appeared in Quinn’s holo, and she selected it immediately, rather than delay as she wanted to. “Welcome to Adzari Academy,” scrolled across the vid, showing the view she had now, only the gates were fancy, decorative things with the Academy’s name and the fencing had no razor wire. Orchestral music began, with an overhead view of what she assumed was the Academy.
A disembodied voice said, “Welcome to your new home away from home. We know you will love it here! Adzari Academy is a large campus with many amenities. First, a short introduction to the grounds. The roadway you are on parallels the Tetzlaff Forest. While it is fenced, if you choose to walk or run along this roadway, please keep an eye out for native animals. If you see one, do not run, back away slowly, and notify staff immediately. This is a rare occurrence because the fence is charged, but it does happen. Do not touch the fence or you will receive a severe shock. We will travel several kilometers into the grounds before the Academy appears. You are free to use this area at any time for recreation. It, and the rest of the Academy, is planted with human-safe vegetation.”
Tetzlaff Forest was to Quinn’s right, a large, open field with scattered trees to the left. The vid’s voiceover had odd jumps and stutters, like it had been badly edited. What was edited was telling—they’d taken out all specific distances and possibly the shock level of the fence.
“The Academy’s campus is spacious and mostly self-sustaining. Food for the Academy is raised on site. Many of the farm and ranch workers are local students learning their trade. Thank them if you have the opportunity—the food here is delicious! Allowances for dietary restrictions are no problem; you will find a pleasing number of choices for every meal. You may eat as much as you like, but please don’t take more than you need. We are conscious of the environment here and try to minimize waste.” Pictures of gardens, greenhouses, and pastures came and went, all with happy workers.
“We have two dormitories, split by the dominant human sexes and separated by year level—three, nominally, although some will stay longer or shorter periods as necessary. Students may self-identify as either sex. A warning: sexual relations are strictly forbidden for students, including between students.”
The dormitories appeared to be four stories high, in some sort of native stone with a chalky appearance. The windows on the ground level were tall and wide; the three stories above narrower and shorter, but still generously sized in rows of six. Assuming those were rooms, and students were two per room, that meant at least twelve students per floor, maybe a few less depending on the number of bathrooms. If there were two rows of rooms, twenty-four students per floor. Or more if they put three or four in a room.
The warning about no sex was another bad edit, so this was another recent change. The Sisters themselves were chaste but didn’t enforce the restriction on their charges or associates, instead relying on extensive education about sex in general and emotional relationships. Quinn paid attention but had no interest in romantic entanglements. From what she saw of her classmates and neighbors, romance and sex caused a lot of problems and often kept people from reaching their goals. Quinn’s only concern here at the Academy was to become a net expert. And it looked like she had to become the very best or she wouldn’t leave this place.
“The dining hall is right behind the two dormitories. Mealtimes are strictly enforced, but there is a selection of healthy food and drink available at all times.” A long, single-story building, in the same stone, also with lots of windows. The vid entered the large, double doors, flying into a large open area with rows of long tables and a cafeteria-style serving bar at the end. There were seats for at least a hundred people, maybe more.
“Classrooms are all held in the Academic Building, located beyond the dining hall.” Another four-story building, the same chalky-white stone, lots of windows. The vid flew through large, auditorium-style rooms, more familiar classrooms with rows of seats for twenty or so, and small rooms, with one or two larger tables, chairs around the outside. “As you can see, some classes are lectures and some are more participatory. As an upper-class being, you will have the opportunity to lead some projects. The meeting rooms can be reserved by students for these projects.”
The vid swept out of the Academic Building and over to another building, almost the same size and type, but labeled as the Net Lab. The vid flew inside. Two rooms with rows of desks, students at the swiping away at holos. The upper floors had smaller rooms, mostly set up as classrooms. The very top floor contained three large, open areas, with a variety of seating options and what appeared to be a small kitchen.
“The Net Lab building is set up for practical training. Some will be done in a group setting, some in smaller groups as projects, and some individual efforts. Healthy snacks are available on the third floor. Also on the third floor, underclass beings will find upper-class beings willing and able to advise them on individual and group projects. Mentoring lower class members is part of the graduation requirements.”
The vid flew out of the building and up to a bird’s eye view of the area beyond the classroom and lab. “As you can see, there are a number of recreational opportunities. Gymnasiums for athletic training and team sports, pools for swimming, fields for team sports, and running tracks are all available, as are other enjoyable outdoor pursuits. Explore these options at your leisure. We hope you enjoy your time at Adzari Academy!” Orchestral music crashed and swooped again.
The lift van halted in front of a building helpfully named Administration. Two stories tall, the same chalky-white stone as the rest, with wide windows. The driver exited his compartment and grabbed her luggage float. Quinn hurried to unstrap herself and hop out.
Coll pointed at the Administration building. “Go through the doors. They’re expecting you.” He turned away and got in the lift van without waiting for her reply.
Quinn took a deep breath, attached her luggage leash again, and walked up to the doors. One opened in front of her and she walked in, fully aware her life was about to change forever.
She just hoped she survived this change as well as the last few changes.
Quinn entered an open area, with soft seating in beige, accented with blue and green. Soft music tinkled and a light, flowery scent wafted to her. A girl, a few years older than she was, waited. Taller by a good ten centimeters at least, she had blond hair, blue eyes, and a blandly welcoming expression. She wore what must be the Adzari Academy uniform—dark pants with a bright green sweater and what seemed to be a white shirt underneath. A single red and white stripe slashed diagonally across the forearm of the sweater.
“I am Freya Helmi. I’m your mentor for the next week. Welcome to Adzari Academy. Come, let’s get you checked in.” She turned away and crooked a finger over her shoulder.
Quinn followed. Freya’s tone was machine-like; was she a real person? They passed rows of offices, all separated by clear plas walls, men and women working on holos or talking to them. Everyone wore predominately black clothing, although there were touches of bright colors in scarves, shirts and in one case, a hat. At the end of the hall, a door labeled “Student Administration” opened in front of them. They entered a room with a long, chest-high counter running the length of it. A woman stood behind the counter, also dressed in black, dark hair pulled back tight against her skull, a look of disdain plastered across what might have been a pretty face if she’d smiled.
“Logistics Mistress, this is Quinn Cygnus,” Freia turned away and walked to stand at the end of the counter.
“Your luggage and e-torc, Student Cygnus.” The woman held out an imperious hand.
Quinn swallowed hard. “Can I keep my pics in some form? A few hardcopies?”
The woman glared. “No. Students and rooms will be neat, tidy, and standardized. Now, Student Cygnus.” She pushed her hand toward Quinn.
Biting her lip, Quinn pulled off her e-torc and handed it to the woman, then disengaged her luggage leash and pushed it to the woman. Her luggage float rose over the counter and disappeared behind it.
“Any jewelry or other adornments?”
A hand smacked the counter. Quinn jumped. “That’s no, Logistics Mistress. Understood?”
“Yes, Logistics Mistress.” Quinn stumbled over the name and title. How awkward.
“Proceed to the dressing booth,” the woman pointed to Quinn’s right, “take off all your clothes and stand inside the circle on the floor. Your measurements will be scanned and the appropriate uniforms delivered. Additional uniforms and physical fitness uniforms will be delivered to your room shortly. Understood?”
“Yes, Logistics Mistress.” She turned and walked to the door, opened it, and entered a small room, only a few meters square. Quinn swallowed again, and took off all her clothes, standing in the circle as ordered.
“Scanning,” a male voice said. “Raise your hands over your head.” Quinn did so. “Lower your hands, separate your feet by at least ten centimeters.” Quinn followed that direction and the rest. “Scan complete, stand by for clothing delivery.” A small hatch slid open in front of her and Quinn pulled out the clothing. It included undergarments and shoes. “Place all your clothing, including shoes, into the hatch. These items will be stored with your luggage.” Quinn did as she was told, feeling ice-cold even though the dressing room itself was warm. She pulled on the garments she was given, shivering slightly because the clothes were chilly. They were nicer than her old ones, though, made of a smooth, slightly stretchy material that fitted her almost perfectly. The shoes were better too, with firm soles that almost cradled her feet and stretchy uppers.
Quinn left the dressing room and returned to the counter.
“We understand you are a child from a subsistence farming world. Is this correct?”
Close enough. “Yes, Logistics Mistress.”
“You will have enough clothing to change every day. Do so. This uniform is for classes and net work. You will receive athletic gear for sports, a more casual version of this uniform for after class hours, and sleepwear. You will keep all of it clean and in working order. There are autocleaners on each floor. If you tear, stain or damage the clothing, you must return here for replacements. Depending on how the damage occurred, you may be charged for these replacements. If you outgrow the clothing, return here for a new scan. Is this understood?”
“Yes, Logistics Mistress.”
“Good. Here is your student e-torc. Do not lose it.” She turned to Freia. “Take her to House Mistress Vormer for a room assignment.”
Freya bowed her head. “Yes, Logistics Mistress.” She turned and exited the room without waiting for Quinn.
Quinn slid her new e-torc around her neck and stumbled after Freya, who immediately turned left, striding down a long blank hall and out a door at the end. She turned left again, following a plascrete walkway, and one more left, bringing Quinn to the dormitories.
Freia entered the dormitory on the right. They entered a large, high-ceilinged room with soft seating in shades of brown, with accents of pink and yellow. “This is the women’s dorm. Mistress Vormer’s office is right here.” She motioned to the right. Clear plas walls created a small room. Two chairs, a desk, and Mistress Vormer waited, seated behind the desk. Freya stopped at the door and entered when Mistress Vormer waved. “House Mistress Vormer, this is Student Quinn Cygnus.”
“Thank you, Student Freya. Return to your studies for now. I will have Student Quinn message you if necessary.”
“Thank you, Mistress Vormer.” Freia bobbed her head again and left, leaving Quinn alone with Vormer.
Vormer scanned her up and down. “You are tiny. Did they not feed you?”
“The Sisters fed me sufficiently, House Mistress Vormer. It may be genetics.” Quinn tried to find the line between defending her family and not offending her…keeper. Captor? She’d have to wait and see what Vormer really was. The chill in her spine was spreading.
“Did you watch the introductory vids, Student Quinn?”
“Yes, Mistress Vormer.”
“Good. Do you have questions right now?”
“Only when do I start, Mistress Vormer?”
A slight upturn appeared on her lips. “Excellent. You start tomorrow—I have sent your schedule to your e-torc. You are on the upper floor, in room eight. As of right now, you do not have a roommate. We anticipate further arrivals soon, and you will receive a roommate or perhaps two. With your background, I am sure this will not bother you. Neither will the shared bath, two on each floor. Since you are in room eight, you are responsible for cleaning Bathroom Two, along with the students in rooms five through seven. If any of the students are unwilling to fulfill their responsibilities, I expect to be notified. Is this clear?”
“Of course, Mistress Vormer.” Right. Because that’s the way to make friends so they’ll help you with projects. Quinn kept her face impassive.
“For the remainder of today, you should explore your new home. Do not enter any of the classrooms, or intrude on any organized activity unless invited, but you may watch, both visually and on your e-torc. If you wish, the student net has a tagging feature you can enable. This will ensure you know everyone’s name and address the instructors and staff appropriately.” The smile that wasn’t a smile appeared again. “Infractions against other students and especially staff are not tolerated. There is a rule book in your e-torc, I suggest you study it carefully. Punishments run from mild to severe. None of them include any kind of physical damage, but some of the more severe will be painful. Do not make me administer any of these. I do not enjoy it.”
That might actually be true. Her distaste was obvious. It could be fake, though. Quinn didn’t know this woman’s tells and quirks. She’d have to tread carefully. She was pretty sure the boy’s house master enjoyed the pain of others.
“We expect you to write or vid home now, with news of your safe arrival and at least once a week while you are here. We want your family to know you are healthy and happy.” Now she did smile, but it looked painful. “All messages are sent from a central Academy message center. Just send your message there and it will be forwarded. Now, if you have further questions, ask Student Freya. If she cannot answer, message me for an appointment. If you have issues with another student, message me immediately. We cannot have anarchy at this academy. It has an impeccable reputation and we will maintain that. Do you have any questions?”
“No, Mistress Vormer. Thank you.”
“Excellent. You are dismissed.” She turned away to fuss with something on the shelf behind her. Quinn took the opportunity to leave the dragon’s lair immediately. Pulling up a directory on her e-torc, she searched for a map of the building and found one immediately. Here on the ground floor, there was the common area, a small kitchen, two medico units, and two stairways to the upper floors. She headed for the closest one and started climbing.
The stairway was brightly lit and her footsteps echoed slightly. The next floor was marked “Third Year Students Only” the following “Second Year Students Only” and the final one “Third Year Students.” No exclusivity here, which meant the other classes could bother them at any and all times. Having lived in a similar environment all her life, she knew it was almost guaranteed.
Quinn walked down the hall looking for room six, her assigned room. It didn’t take long for her to find it—the walls were plain beige and the doors plain brown wood so the large numbers on each door stood out. Room six was at the very end of the hall. There were 12 rooms on this floor but, as she suspected, two of them were bathrooms. So, if there were two students per room as Mistress Vormer implied, then there were 10 students per floor, which meant up to thirty female students and thirty male students.
Of course, they probably could shove more people into each room. Quinn opened door number six, her new room, and entered. Again, the room itself was very plain. Beige walls, beige blinds on the windows, two narrow beds, one on each side of the room, and a large storage cubby on each side of the room, presumably for the issued uniforms.
Both beds had pillows and linens piled on them. One of the beds also had a stack of the same uniform Quinn wore now, plus many other clothing items. So, the Logistics Mistress had already delivered the clothing she was promised. Quinn walked the few steps to the bed. Underneath, shoes waited, similar to the one she wore now. Plus, sandals probably for the shower and for swimming, and athletic-type shoes. There were also two kinds of boots. One appeared to be plain black plas, presumably for muddy conditions, and the other appeared to be dress boots, the shiny black uppers rising to just below her knee.
Quinn sorted through the clothing. The athletic wear included long tights, shorts, and both long and short sleeve shirts, along with a hooded, heavier-weight shirt. There were also rain jackets, both a sporty one and a more formal plain gray one, probably for the class uniforms. The uniforms, four more of them, were exactly the same one she wore now. There were also five sets in the same colors as the uniform but more casual; the sweater had buttons, the shirt was a plain white t-shirt and the pants were a little softer and stretched more. Probably the after-class uniform the logistics Mistress spoke of. There were also thin long pants and shirts, presumably for sleeping in, and a stack of towels.
Moving quickly, Quinn placed the uniforms in the cubbies on “her” side of the room. When she got to the bottom of the stack, she noticed one of the Academy uniforms was fancier than the others. A dress uniform? She looked for, and found a narrow area for hanging items, and carefully hung the dress uniform and the jackets.
She made the bed, making sure the corners were crisp and sharp. Then, wanting to explore a little more virtually before venturing out on the campus, Quinn pulled up her new e-torc menu. There was indeed a student guide. Would it be updated for the new Adzari Academy or was it still using the previous owner’s version?
But first, Quinn looked at her new schedule. Breakfast was at a local time of zero-seven-hundred, lunch at noon, and dinner at eighteen hundred. There was a note that athletic wear was not allowed in the dining hall for dinner. Good to know—she’d hate to run afoul of the rules before she even got started.
Tomorrow, her entire day was assigned to testing. They must want to test her level of net expertise before entering her into classes. Why did she do all the tests back on Secundus then? But despite the test results, her classes the following day were already assigned. Her first class was at zero-eight, an introduction to the local net. That was scheduled for two hours. The next class was an Introduction to Net Security. Then lunch, followed by a History of Omicron and Canis Majoris. Oh boy, history right after lunch. Quinn’s nose wrinkled. Whose bright idea was that? Hopefully, the instructor was good, or she’d fall asleep. Then Introduction to File Structure and Co-Working, whatever that was, followed by Introduction to Viruses, Malware, Net Riders, and Other Tools of the Trade and at the end of the day, Math for Net.
When was she supposed to do the required physical fitness? Quinn looked at the following day’s schedule. Oh, different classes, and the afternoon was dedicated to athletics. She was assigned a testing period for that too.
Which made her think. She knew a lot of self-defense through her study of y’ga. But, if she needed to physically defend herself at some time, which seemed likely, she’d be better off pretending she knew nothing about martial arts. That way, her reaction would be a surprise to any attacker. The first time, anyway. She’d been trained to react, rather than think, but she’d try to remember to use the minimal force and skills possible, so she could claim a “lucky hit” or something. After two or three, though, it would be obvious she wasn’t just lucky.
Well, she’d have to do what she could to avoid confrontations. And, if she didn’t want a confrontation with House Mistress Vormer, she’d better leave this room. The woman told her to observe, so she’d better. Her stomach growled. Quinn snorted. She should feed herself something before that.
Leaving her room, she noticed it secured with her e-torc. With a school full of net experts, that probably wasn’t very secure. If she ever had something to hide, she couldn’t hide it in her room. She’d be on the lookout for a good hiding spot, just in case. It would have to be something she could get in and out of quickly because she was sure the e-torcs had trackers. The instructors and staff undoubtedly had access to visuals from their e-torcs as well. She’d be careful not to vid herself or others when they were undressed or in the shower. Quinn shuddered. That could be misused so easily.
Hopping down the stairs, she found the small kitchen. Bev-tainers for water waited, a couple of pitchers of some sort of fruit juice in the cold storage, along with what she assumed were fresh fruit and vegetables, although the colors were unfamiliar to her. Because of the blue-white sun, perhaps? On the shelves, plas packages of various kinds of snack and meal replacement bars, tea and coffee packs, packaged soup, and dried fruit. No sweets of any kind. Quinn wasn’t used to those, but she’d heard stories and had hoped to try some. Well, a protein bar and fruit would probably be her best bet, since she’d missed lunch.
She picked two at random and started to walk away when her e-torc buzzed. Bringing up the notice, she shivered slightly when she read it. “A reminder—students may not have food or drinks other than water in their rooms or in the classrooms.” Also a reminder they were watching. Or maybe it was an automated message? Quinn sat in the lounge area, finished her snack, and carefully checked to make sure she didn’t leave so much as a crumb. House Mistress Vormer was sitting right there. She gave no sign of noticing Quinn, but she could be watching on a vid someplace and Quinn would never know.
Taking in a deep breath, Quinn forced herself out of the dormitory. Since class was in session, she’d go watch. Walking outside, she winced when her e-torc didn’t respond to the bright sun. Stepping to the side of the walkway, she found the settings and changed it to automatically adjust for brightness. Wonder what else she’d have to adjust with this new e-torc? She walked to the Academic building and let herself inside. The auditoriums on the first floor didn’t have plas windows, so she walked up to the third floor, thinking the smaller sessions might be easier to watch.
Enabling the ‘display location’ setting in her e-torc, she saw the first class was an advanced net security class. Quinn selected the “live classroom feed” but quickly swept it away. The class was evidently working on some sort of project and it was well beyond anything she knew. She put a hand over her stomach—the bar wasn’t settling well. The next two classrooms weren’t any better. Quinn found a chair and breathed, trying not to panic. Here she was, trapped in a strange place, with beings who were definitely not on her side, and she’d just learned how pitiful her hard-earned skills were.
How could she survive this place when she knew nothing?
Quinn of Cygnus Copyright © 2020 by AM Scott. All Rights Reserved.