Return to Earth - 04a

Return to Earth - 04a

Daniel splashed some water on his face. After three weeks, the Med Center walls were closing in on him despite he couldn’t see them. The condition just amplified the feeling. Alisha wasn’t allowing him to go out without some kind of escort, there wasn’t always someone available when he wanted to go wandering. Amy was there as much as she could be during her shift, but she had other patients. Alisha and Michele made daily visits but they still had jobs to do. He had been working with Amy all week trying to get the hang of using the guide stick. Once they were sure he could use it he could walk about more on his own. Of course, it would be better if he had his vision back. At least he wasn’t confined to bed. He had the limited space of his room to move around solo in. He did make it into the hallway and across to the nursing station. The first time he managed to avoid three male doctors and a nurse rushing somewhere down the hall. Amy and two other nurses just watched as he moved as if he could see each obstacle. Amy was at his side a second after he touched the counter. The first thing she asked was if he was okay and then she asked was he able to see. He could hear one of the other nurses paging for both Alisha and Michele. He leaned into her and told her yes and no. Then chuckled when she asked him to explain, clearly confused.
“Yes I am okay and no I can’t see. I just keep hearing something. It’s not very loud and its weak but sounds like someone calling for help.”

Amy looked at the nurse at the monitors who shook her head at her unasked question. “There’s no one in trouble here Daniel. I think you’re hearing things. If you wanted attention you should have just called like normal.” She teased him and started walking him back to his room. He didn’t let her and turned in the middle of the hall, startling Amy as he started walking faster. “Daniel I don’t have the time for tis right now. We can go for a walk after lunch. Please come back to your room.” She tried to pull on his arm but he kept moving.

“It’s coming from here,” he said finally stopping at a room three doors form his. “A woman, she’s in some kind of distress.”

Amy looked at the door marker. “Daniel this is Miss Lynx’s room. She’s an elderly woman that is having heart issues. If she were in distress the bio bed would signal to let us know. Now please,”Daniel pushed her towards the sound. “Check,” he said sternly.

“Daniel are you giving the nurses trouble again. Don’t make me restrict you to bed again.” Alisha called out laughing. Michele laughed with her but stopped when they got to them.

“He is insisting there’s something wrong with Miss Lynx. Tara checked the monitors there’s nothing to indicate that she’s in any trouble. They just brought her back from a test a short while ago. Even that went well.”

Daniel growled and shook the hold Amy hand on him and started toward the door. Alisha grabbed one arm and Amy the other. Michele was in front of him and holding her hand on his chest. “Dam it Daniel you can’t go into a woman’s room, even if she is ninety years old. So help me you better not be messing with us.”

Michele used her medical override to get the door open. Alisha gasped and released his arm as she ran inside with Michele. “Miss Lynx, we are here try to calm down everything will be okay. Amy get a float in here.”

Daniel headed back to his room. That day had more doctors visiting and asking questions. They even ordered more tests. Later the women came in and told him what had happened. The bio bed had malfunctioned. The computer in control of the bed was running a diagnostic series. Testing a bio bed required having a mock body on it that gave of readings to the sensors. The readings were used through the test, and locked in for use in other tests. One of the tests is that the bed lifts up and tilts helping to move patients from the bed to a float or vice versa. Since there was no one there and no float in place, the bed dumped Miss Lynx on the floor. The locked readings fed false information back to the nursing station. Miss Lynx suffered a concussion laceration to her forehead and a broken arm. Alisha said the bright side of it all was that her son finally visited.

“When we told him what happed he was shocked that she was alive,” Alisha said as she sat on the bed and spooned fed him.

Michele was on the other side and Amy in her chair and stayed quiet. “Who did the investigation?” he asked between bites.

“Station security, why?” Michele answered

Daniel held his hand up stopping Alisha form feeding him more. He searched the bed and tried to find the remote. “Dam it. Amy if you’re done brooding in the corner there could you please call the first number in the comm contacts. When it gets to the access code its six, one, nine, two.”

“It’s late Daniel, I hope you’re not calling me to complaining about being there again. I told you your there until the Doctors are one hundred percent sure there’s nothing else to be done.”

“Daniel could feel all eyes turning to him. “Yes sir, I know that. I am doing whatever I can to convince them I’m just a waste of their time but they are stubborn.”
“Perfect, then you should all get along fine. So why the late call?”

Daniel had told him the story and added his suspicions. “I can’t say where it starts or why, but there is no way this was an accident.”

The Command Marshal was nodding in agreement. “I’m sending Marshal Garret in the morning. She has expertise in medical tech and can run her own tests. She’s all the way out on the Rim. It will take a few hours to get back. In the meantime, I’m locking out the station security. Until this is cleared up, we are taking over the security for the Med Center.” He thought about something a moment, “Daniel I’m lifting your exemption and putting you on limited active duty. You are in charge until she gets there. That doesn’t mean you can just do what you want. The Marshals will report to you there and you can command from your room. The Doctors still have medical authority to bench you. There’s only you and six others. After your incident, we concentrated on security issues didn’t send more. I’ll get the rest there by days end.”

The call ended and Daniel sat back. “We just need to make sure that bed isn’t touched.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Michele replied and the bed moved slightly as she stood. “My ass was falling asleep sitting there anyway.”

That had been a week ago. The investigation led the marshals to arrest the son the security investigators and the orderly that had brought Miss Lynx back and put her in bed. Turned out The son was in debt. He was working three jobs and everything he made was nearly taken to pay it off. He had a policy on his mother. It paid off he could be in the clear with some to spare. He offered each of them ten thousand credits. The orderly was to initiate the diagnostic test, then the security investigators to rule it an accident. He figured he could get more credits from the med center as well in a wrongful death case.

He took a deep breath. The Med center rooms were not large, and he had a private room. Given his condition, they gave him one of the biggest they had. He let out a sigh and stepped out of the bathroom. After a few tries he manage to sidestep a display of flowers. He had a narrow path through the various gifts that were gathered around the room. As Alisha said, everyone knew of what he did, as did their relatives. The station school had boxes of drawings and notes from young children. Many were sending get-well wishes. Some came everyday now that they knew he was awake. The residents of Station Six had little faith in law enforcers. They all voted to accept to allow the marshals in, but they didn’t have faith they would be any different from what they had. Alisha and Michele had told him that the incident had spread like wildfire. People were talking and they were rethinking their position on the subject. Perhaps she was right when she said that it would be impolite not to accept. He didn’t want to offend anyone. They were just showing how thankful they were to be alive the only way they could.

Still every day he argued that the pastries that the Sinful Delight company were sending were to extravagant in his opinion. It was perhaps only slightly less extravagant than the coffee vendor, Steve Star. He was bringing him a cup of coffee for every meal. Daniel had found out, through Michele that he was the owner of the station that Daniel used when he discovered he could use it to call the marshals office. The first time he brought a cup he thought maybe he was just replacing the one Daniel had paid for and never got to drink. Alisha told him that he had told her that he was doubling his sales as everyone came around to see where it all happened. She said all the businesses in the vicinity were busier, pulling in thousands of credits. Eventually they would all stop and be content. Amy came to the rescue when she suggested that there might be a way to accept them where Daniel didn’t have to trip over them all the time. They would leave them in there a few hours and then distribute them through the Med Center to other patients. At least more people would be able to appreciate them. Daniel was extremely happy with that idea. Only a small vase of flowers and a basket of fruits were left. The crew that distributed them would be by to get this batch soon. It wasn’t soon enough for him.

Daniel made it back to the bed and opted to lie down. He could feel his eyes close. He started to think back to the very beginning eighteen years prior.

Daniel slipped the hideous tie off despite his mother’s insistence that he wear one. He hated them. They always felt like they were choking him. She only patted him on the cheek and grinned. “It’s the only time you will graduate from high school. Humor your mother and wear it. You’ll look nice,” she said and left him to go get ready. He could only shake his head. He didn’t want to go at all. He wasn’t popular and had very few friends. ‘Enough to count on one hand’ he told anyone that asked how many he did have. He wasn’t even the smartest in the class. Out of three hundred and fifty, he was graduating ninety-ninth. All his father had to say to that was “At least you’re in the top hundred. You’ll get full system aid going to college.” It was always about money with his father. Daniel just reminded him that no one paid for the college. Students did pay if they decided to take on a level to which the system thought they were not qualified. If they were successful then the system would give them a reimbursement. If they failed the system would only pay a percentage of the cost to educate them in a career that was more suitable. Though he agreed to go, Daniel would have much rather just getting a job from the job bank and taking the classes needed for that. Neither of his parents would hear of that. They both insisted that he take the exams to find out what potential he had.
Daniel understood why they were both being so adamant. They were both in their sixties. Times were different back then. There weren’t a lot of high listed jobs. Station five was still being built and there was need for more asteroid miners and station construction. They were some of the best paying positions around but they were also the most dangerous. Even Daniel’s grandfather was a miner and his great grandfather before. Daniel’s father was going to follow the family tradition but took the construction job after meeting his mother who was working in the supply depot. Apparently, he got a lot of teasing about taking a job to meet a girl. In the end, though they all agreed it was a good choice.

Daniel looked in the mirror and groaned at the suit he was wearing. Like everyone else, he knew everyone had to work. Everyone contributed to the system and the system contributed to everyone. He also knew there were more jobs now. There were still miners and construction work. The jobs had become more sophisticated as technology and science progressed. New mining suits were developed that allowed a miner to dig deeper and collect the raw material. The suit was protected against radiation so miners could mine the surface of asteroids as well as collect radioactive materials. Chemical sprays even made it so that the surrounding rock would be eaten away. It was less wear and tear on the equipment and more material was collected. Even construction had become more sophisticated. There were no more stations to be built. Even the destruction of station five didn’t prompt another station to be built. There was, however, always something being built somewhere. As the populations on the stations increased, a demand for biosphere homes started to rise. His father still worked on stations, doing repair work. He had to use less of the newer technology, and needed less retraining. Daniel didn’t see the difficulty in using the three-dee printer. He found it fun to use. Still the idea of more schooling made his stomach turn. The job bank had lots of jobs that he could do with minimum training. He could even become a maintenance staff, his father had done that that for years between construction jobs. He argued that the jobs may be minimum training but they paid enough credits to live on. His father just shook his head and said he wouldn’t hear it anymore. The opportunity was there and if he didn’t take it there was almost no chance it would be offered again. Like it or not Daniel would go and learn to do one of the more sophisticated jobs available. His mother even made sure that he submitted all the required paperwork. She said he would be better off.

Daniel sat on his bed. He looked around. He didn’t have a lot of stuff. It wouldn’t take long to move everything to the dorm room. Still he had hoped to be done with schooling. It wasn’t that he wasn’t good at it, he just didn’t care for it. He would have been happy to just do a simple job and do his share. He didn’t see the point to doing any more. However he would never have met Cynthia if he done things his way.

Going to college wasn’t a big deal. Most didn’t even refer to it as college, but called it career training. College sounded better. Whatever they called it, everyone now attended. It was a matter of how long and where it was that people went. Some needed a few classes some more. Thanks to the placement tests, everyone knew what areas of work they would be best suited. Students picked a career specialty from the list.

Daniel had sat at the table and both his parents sat with him when he went over the list. They helped him break it down, instantly discarding any option that took less than three years. He was certain that they expected him to take one with the least time. He took his time and looked into each on the list. Every morning one or both of his parents would ask if he picked something yet. He told them no but had already submitted for husbandry. Of the options on the list, it drew his attention most. He would be taking classes for at least four years. There were options for more came when he finished the primary classes. He would have classes in every station. He was to learn everything from proper soil treatments to how to cross-pollinate to research and development of new healthier plants and animals. His classes could even lead him to work hands on with the experts at the moon husbandry center. It all seemed sounded interesting.

Husbandry was a great field but Daniel had not thought about the importance of it. He had some doubt that he had the mindset to do it justice. He was going to file for a change when his parents called him out to the kitchen. The school had sent out a letter to parents with student selections. He didn’t they would be sending it so soon. They couldn’t stop congratulating him. It wasn’t just that it was great paying, the field was loaded with opportunity. He could hold any number of positions. It was more that they each position had a lot of responsibility, something they had not really seen him take on before. Specialists in husbandry were responsible for the food production for every man, woman and child everywhere. They were so happy they all went out to a restaurant for dinner, a rare event reserved for special occasions. So like it or not he was stuck going back to school for another four years.

Something else made college different from any other learning system. A study done a hundred forty years prior tried to find out how to improve human ability to learn. Humanity was on the brink of extinction, the Earth was no longer habitable and off limits. Resources were limited. Necessity truly became the mother of invention. The knowledge was available. They needed a way to ensure that the knowledge was used more efficiently. People learned differently. How they learned, was the issue. Humanity had to expand on what it knew in order to survive. The study showed that group learning was the key. You could take people with different shortcomings and strong points as well as some similarities and they would augment each other and had potential to absorb information better. After some trials, they found that pairs worked the best. Of course, it all depended on the individuals and how much effort they really put into the studies. In the beginning, students just met in the gymnasium, talked and paired up. Rarely did a pair be anything but a boy and a girl. The success rate was less than twenty percent. Fifty percent of the partners ended up getting married. After a few years they changed the process. IQ exams as well as personality assessments would be used to select pairs instead of leaving it to hormones. The new method still paired boys with girls but there was also a large increase in boys with boys and girls with girls. It worked. Individual intelligence increased by ten percent for the first class.

Students had about four weeks to prepare for college. They were free to do whatever they wanted and prepare themselves for the upcoming session. Daniel opted to take on some light work running supplies through the station sections. He wanted some credits that he didn’t need to get from his parents or part of his funded training. As for preparing, that was the basics. Every class he took needed a workbook tablet. Anything they needed for and all the work they did in the class was stored in the tablet. Professors could take a student’s tablet and up load it to the course computer server. They could then evaluate part or all of the students work with a push of a few buttons. Most waited until the last minute to go to the university store. There were plenty to go around but they were not always in the best of condition. Two weeks after his graduation, his mother had surprised him with a full set of tablets for the first session of classes, all brand new in box. Working in the supply center had a few advantages. She was there when the supplies for shipment came in. Daniel thought she just took them at first. He went on and on about how she could get in trouble of taking them. She let him rant and then gave him the mother stare that said he was being stupid. She had talked to several people and they told her that it would be better if he had newer tablets. They were faster and had more storage. They also had the best in security features, they couldn’t be hacked. She told him that they had been saving for this day and the university tech actually said that the newer tablets made their job easier. They didn’t even need to have the tablet there to set it up. They did it all over the comm line. She was pleased she got it done without asking for help.

Daniel wouldn’t say it aloud, but he was dreading getting some worn out second hand tablet. They tended to be unstable and programs worked half the time. He had that happen more than once in high school. He lost entire projects because of damaged equipment. It was a hard way to learn to do things on his desk computer, then transfer to the tablets for portability. At least he could get what was lost without redoing it all. It took a whole two days before he was reading and making notes about things. He even fell asleep with them on a few times, resulting in chiding from his mother. She had seen the light in his room late one night. She checked on him and found him asleep, everything still on.

The time went fast and before anyone knew it there was only a week left. The day had come. It was the day for students to report and be evaluated. The testing would take up to three hours. The tour varied depending on the guide and those in the group. The selection process would take a couple hours, usually by lunch they would notify each student with the results. What happened then was up to the students. There was nothing to do but wait and see how many it took before he met the one who was stuck with him.

Daniel waited in the line to the shuttle that would take him to Station One. He watched the others around him. Some carried bags some carried briefcases. Others, like him, were empty handed.

Station One was the largest of the stations. It was just over two and a half miles long and one mile wide at its widest point. It had to be big to incorporate every possible requirement humanity would need. Among other things it had its own husbandry center, second in size to the one on the moon. It was said that building it destroyed nearly every major city on Earth and destroyed half of the once habitable land.

The university was at placed in the center of Station One. The levels surrounding the university consisted of the research and development laboratories and various businesses that offered students work during the year. Some needed the jobs for the curriculum others just needed the credits to pay the cost of attending. Only those that selected to take options not optimal for them had to pay their own way. If they showed that they were able to succeed at their choice, the government would pay them back the cost.

To cut the costs every field of study was evaluated. The curriculum was established using only the necessary course work. If it didn’t have a direct application to the field, students didn’t need to take it. They just needed the knowledge to do what it is they were going to do. However, so that it wasn’t all work and no play, everyone was encouraged to take at least one class per term that was not field related. They could take more if it wasn’t interfering with the course studies. It was something to help break up the routine and help students relax. These electives were the only classes that students didn’t have to share with their partners, proving a break from them as well. Students had to make elective choices for the first session, at least, before they left for the day. After lunch, they could log into their university account and add the class. Professors would be available to talk to and information stations set up to provide as much about the offered classes they wanted before they picked. Daniel had already decided on a class on cooking. He figured it would be a good option since he didn’t know how to cook. Shuttles were not always available, so he wasn’t going to be making it home every day for a cooked meal. He decided to wait on choosing any others.

The hour after the tour had students sitting in the large auditorium. The Dean of the university went over the standard rules of behavior for the university. Follow by that they were remind that the university often had visitors looking to recruit up and comers and that it was best not to sign any agreements until parents and or legal representatives read it. They made it clear that the university was not accountable for any misrepresentations. Advisors would advise if asked, but the final decisions were the students alone. Students would be held to any contracts signed and it included the contracts with the school. The school contract was the agreement to finish out the selected course of study with passing grades. Failing meant being sent to retrain in a less advanced specialty, determined by a committee. What it came down to was you did what they said you were going to do, no choice. Half of the cost of the training would be paid by the students, deducted from their pay on any job they had until it was paid off. Some felt that it was to extreme, but it helped to prevent career students.

It was the end of the lecture when everyone got a message containing the comm number and the name for their selected partner. They could meet and talk. They had the week to determine if they wanted to try another partner. Any requests for a change had to be approved by the day prior to class.

Several of the local restaurants had opted to provide food for the students. They not only got to promote their restaurant but also got a little write off when it came to tax time. Daniel looked over the selections and even talked to a few of the chefs. They each gave him a plate of a variety of things to try. They also took his comm number to send him a review questionnaire. He sat down at a table at the far corner of the quad wishing he had brought his tablet along. He would just have to remember who made what. He was already through the second plate when he got a message.

“I have thought about it and I would like to postpone our meeting until our first class. I know it’s not common but I have been watching others and they seem to be changing partners for stupid reasons. I would rather not be one of them. I don’t want to start with the negative. I am sure that there will be enough of that that we will need to overcome throughout the next three years. After all we are not always going to agree on things. I hope we can at least agree on this. If you don’t then I will leave that to you to file the change. I really hope you can. Cynthia.”

Daniel keyed for a reply after having read it twice. “I have no objections. As long as you do your part in the studies and we can promise to work out any difficulties then there should be no problem. Please feel free to message me if you should change your mind prior to the cut off. Daniel,” he spoke out loud just enough for the message system to pick up and type in the words. He read it over before sending it.

Daniel sighed and looked at the last of the plates he had. The first two had a few decent things on it but overall he wasn’t impressed. Most of it still sat on the plate, barely touched. The growl in his stomach along with the agreement that he would try the items urged him on to tasting. His eyes went wide at the first bite. There was flavor and spices all mixed to a wonderful mouthwatering moment. Daniel moved on and had similar reactions with the remaining samples. He took his time and tasted each one. He was halfway done when another message come through.

“I don’t anticipate changing my mind on this. I have a bad tendency to judge a book by the cover if you know what I mean. For instance, I just had some food from one of the restaurants called Zimmer. It all looked great but when I took a bite, it wasn’t even cooked all the way.” Daniel glanced at the one plate he pushed to the side and shook his head in agreement these were supposed to be examples of their menu. If they did this bad for their customers they wouldn’t stay open for long. “I don’t anticipate going out to eat much, but I know I won’t go there. I only took it because it looked good. Now I’m still hungry and at least three hours left here and then there’s the wait to get the shuttle home.”

Daniel laughed. “You do know that it’s a sample buffet. You can go get something else from another provider, or the same one if you like. I would recommend Quantum. Everything was fresh and well made. The cheese puffs are very creamy and perfectly baked. If you like fish try the tilapia taco.”

He reached and popped the last of the tacos he had in his mouth. Next were the pigs in blanket. He was finishing up when another message came.

“Seriously? I didn’t read that anywhere. You’re not trying to trick me to go somewhere that you can see me and break our agreement are you?”

Daniel picked up everything and headed off to a recycler. He keyed for a reply as he walked towards a building and inside. “Well I was going to go back and offer my complements to the chef, but I can forgo that. Maybe you could tell them for me instead. And yes, I am serious. They didn’t advertise it. They want honest opinions about the food and not a bunch of greedy students taking because they can and wasting it. As for breaking our agreement, it is tempting but I am going to go to the library and the student union for my id update. I might come back around after that so you should have plenty of time before I get back out there. Now go eat something. I wouldn’t want you starving to death before we have a chance to meet.” He raised his arm and started a short recording of his entering a hall and then up a set of stairs. He attached the video as proof he was nowhere near the quad and couldn’t see her if he tried.

He had reached the student union when her message came. “Thank you. The chef said to tell you that you can forget the questionnaire, he already has your answers. He said that you should come in for a whole meal sometime. Don’t worry. I already told him credits will be tight but if we have the chance, we will. Hope you don’t mind. I’ll keep in touch over the week. We can get to know each other the old fashion way. Bye for now, got to feed this growling belly.”

Daniel smiled and shook his head. This girl was interesting and he hasn’t even met her yet. She was going to make the school year interesting. That is if she didn’t bulk the last minute and ask for a new partner. He couldn’t do much about that if she did. All he could do was wait and see what unfolded.

The student union didn’t take as long as he thought. There were only a few other student there and everyone was quickly helped. All they needed to do was update his ID to say he was also a registered student. It wasn’t much but he needed it. It was his access to his room, the cafeteria, and the student discounts offered at some businesses. In the future it would give access to specific places in the university that were geared to what he was taking. He smiled a little as the young woman helping him took his hand and held it under the comm scanner. She was maybe a couple years older than he was. Her long red hair ties back and draped over her neck. She had green eyes that seemed to sparkle. She was a little shorter than he was and had to look up when she talked to him. She looked over the information on the screen as it updated his ID.
“Husbandry? I would never have thought that. I figured you to be going out for one of the construction sections.”

Daniel smiled. “I thought about it but my father didn’t want the competition. Not to mention there are not as many pretty girls to hang out with.”
“Smooth talker. I better makes sure the girls all know about you. My name is Keri. Maybe I’ll see you in a class or two. I have to retake chemistry and biology.”
Daniel grinned as she rubbed a finger on his hand. “That would very pleasant. However, I think they have me in intro chemistry. Guess I have to work my way up to regular chemistry.”

“Well good luck. Feel free to stop by if you have any questions. I’m working here every afternoon before evening class. I only have a few hours left today so if you’re still around then maybe we could meet up. I’d be happy to give you the student tour.”

Daniel grinned and pulled his hand away making sure to let his fingers slide across her hand. “That sounds like a very nice end to a long day, I might take you up on that.” he smiled as he looked at his comm and saw she had added her contact info. “Have a good day.”

The Library stop was less eventful. Not counting the intern questioning why he was getting books already. Daniel just asked the question “does it matter?” I didn’t matter and there was no reason to refuse the request. Like anyone else, he could have just as easily got the same books from the database. Doing it this way the university had a record of his requests. It could be useful in the future. Having left any tablets he had at home, the books were sent to his home account and queued for download. He did go back out to the courtyard for something else to eat. He messaged Cynthia to ask her where she was and if she tried anything else. She was inside getting ready to talk to a professor about her the elective choice. She said she didn’t need anything else. The Chef from Quantum had loaded her plate. He did ask what she was thinking of taking but she refused to answer. When he got back out he was going to go to Quantum but the line was long. He did manage to find a few things on other stations to eat. One even had mini hamburgers.

The week went moderately quick. Cynthia would message Daniel daily, talking about everything from favorite colors to what classes they thought were going to be the hardest. They even started planning some of the projects listed. They talked about every class but the non-related one. It just never came up.
His mother had made a big lunch and packed up some of the leftovers as they saw him off to the shuttle. He didn’t have to go until the next day but his room was available and both is parents figured it was a good thing for him to go get settled in. They said it was good to go and meet some others that were in the same dorm floor. He was seated in one of the seats just behind the cockpit when the pilot came over to him.

“Nervous Daniel?”

“Only about your piloting” Daniel joked. He and Captain Sims knew each other for a few years. Some of the jobs Daniel had on the school breaks him running packages from station to station, mostly equipment being transferred. Some were sealed envelopes containing documents that they didn’t want transferred over the general comms.
He laughed. “Think you could do better you should sign up for the training.”

Daniel looked up at him and shook his head. “It is tempting but I am not sure my study partner would agree. It would be an extra class and we already have six. I might find some odd jobs too. Shuttling home once a week isn’t going to be cheap.”

Captain Sims nodded. “What did you say you were taking again? Horticulture?”

“Husbandry. It kind of includes horticulture. It combines care and cultivation for both animals and plants. But also it also covers resource management.”
Captain Sims nodded. “Well I might know something but have to check it out before I say anything. Tell you what, come up and sit with us. We can go over some of the basics and see if it’s something that sparks an interest.”

Daniel looked at him and shrugged. After gathering up all his stuff, he followed Captain Sims forward. It wasn’t the first time he was up in the cockpit area. He had been there a few times writing reports for school. The flight was fifty-five minutes, but it went by quickly. As always, he thanked Captain Sims and copilot Nicholas. He didn’t say anything but Daniel was always interested in piloting a shuttle. He did wonder why they were looking for new pilots. There weren’t many shuttles and the business that could afford their own had their own pilots.

It took a short time to get to his room once he got his bags and a trunk. As he walked and looked around, Cynthia sent him a message. She was worried that she might not make it to the first class on time. She was commuting back and forth since her parents didn’t want her rooming at the university. She had to take the earliest shuttle and that would make her at least an hour early. Daniel almost said that she could just come to his room and crash for the hour but thought better of it. He didn’t know the girl more than week, and what he knew was limited to messages. He didn’t want to send the wrong message. Instead, he suggested the library as it was open all the time for students to use to study. If she was tired, she could crash in a study room. She just laughed and said she hadn’t thought of that.

Daniel looked around what would be home for the next three years. It would be less if he managed to find the credits to get a place off site. He didn’t think that it would happen. Even the cheapest place would take five hundred credits. It seemed unfair to be charged for a place to live when there wasn’t a choice. Where else could they go? Since it was included in the fees for education, Daniel didn’t scoff much at the small place. It had a private bathroom at least. The bedroom was small enough to fit a bed and a workstation. There was a closet for his clothing. A small kitchen area was off to the side of a larger room with a fold out sofa, a small chair and the vid system. All in all, it was bigger than his bedroom at his parents.

It took a little over an hour to get everything set up and the bed made. He even got the vid station programmed before he decided to go to out. He wasn’t going to spend the rest of the day in his room. Instead, he spent it walking around the university, talking to other students that were doing the same thing. Not one was there for the same thing that he was. Most of them were taking basic classes, like what he originally wanted to do. Few of them were going out to work on some of the mining asteroids to build housing units. The mining corps wanted to have places for their management to stay during inspections. Some of the larger asteroids were getting barracks style housing for the workers. It would be good pay and the builders would remain on site to do repairs and expand. They all went to the cafeteria and ate dinner together.
Daniel settled in and watched a few old movies as he read over his class schedule. He had chemistry first thing. It was followed by the chemistry lab and then Intro to animal science. He had break of an hour then botany, agriculture concepts , intro to livestock care and last he had his intro to culinary arts. Each class, excluding the lab was a hour and a half long. The lab was two but once the lab work was completed, students could leave. He had the same classes every day. He looked up and rubbed his forehead. It was going to be a long day. He had his doubts that the fun class was going to make it any better.

He was getting tired and figured it was best to get a full night sleep. It was probably going to be the last one he would have for a while. He was settled in when he got a message from Cynthia.

“Well now your stuck with me like it or not. I can’t wait to meet you in person. See you in chemistry.”

“You’re stuck with me. After all, it was your idea not to meet beforehand. I do hope you won’t regret it. I have enjoyed our conversations this last week. It’s going to be a long four years if you do,” he replied the nervousness of starting class now amplified with meeting her. He almost hit the delete button instead of send.

“I’m sure things will be fine. Have a good night,” she sent back.

He sent her a return saying good night and tried to go to sleep. It almost felt as if he had just got to sleep when the alarm went off and he groaned. He hit the delay button and shut it off hoping the extra ten minutes would help. It just made it worse. Reluctantly he got out of bed and started getting ready. His shower was a great help but he quickly found his bottle of caffeine pills and downed two of them.

He had made plans and figured out the best routes to from one class to the next. He had even allotted a few minutes to use the restrooms. He made it to the class ten minutes early. He expected that Cynthia would be there, but the room was empty. Well not everyone was going to be early. Maybe she was getting breakfast or something, he told himself.

After looking around, he went to a seat near the back. The seats were paired together and spaced out. Partners worked together on most things but the individuals were tested on what they knew. So to accommodate the desks swung outward and turned in to face the other during test times. The rest they sat side by side, sharing notes, books, the joy of correct answers, embarrassment when they got it wrong. It didn’t matter which of them answered. They were a team they were supposed to work together and they reaped the rewards together and suffered the penalties.

He was reading the next chapter in the book when he heard someone clearing their throat. “I thought we agreed that we would sit closer to the front.”
Daniel looked up and blinked a few times. The young woman before him was beautiful. Her hair long and jet-black fell over her shoulders. She was tanned, and it looked natural. She wasn’t as tall as he was maybe a couple inches shorter. She was wearing a form fitting skirt and a matching shirt that showed just about every curve she had. She also wore glasses, not many did that anymore.

“We did, unfortunately the professor had other plans,” he managed to find his voice and waved at the screen in the front of the class. It had a diagram on it showing where the students were to be seated. “I already sent the professor a request for a closer seat, telling him our reason.”

“Thanks,” she said and stuck out her hand. “Daniel Miller, a pleasure to meet at last.

Daniel smiled and reached up as he stood. “Cynthia Prieto, the pleasure is mine.”

This time a cleared throat came from across the room. “Interesting,” the older man said as he stepped to the platform with the one desk. “I have been teaching since long before either of you were born and I have never witnessed any student partners that waited so long to meet.”

Daniel blushed and looked at his bag on the floor.

“We just thought it would be better that way Professor Kingston. Why jinx ourselves and look for new partners when one is already available and statistically a match,” Cynthia answered quickly. “We just figured it wouldn’t be the good start we all hope for.”

Professor Kingston looked at the computer on his desk and made some changes to the seating chart. “I received you request Mister Miller. However, be forewarned, I am not the only professor that assigns the seating even if it is temporary. You and Miss Prieto may want to contact your other professors and inform them of your requirements.” He glanced up at them. “And if I may, I hope the choice works out for you both.”

“It has so far, Sir,” they both replied at the same time.

Professor Kingston laughed and shook his head. “This may be an interesting session with you two. Since you both are early, you can get a jump on the reading. I expect the first two chapters by next class. There is a question section at the end and you need to answer each of them. You are also required to do a research project to be completed by the end of session. I have made a list of suggestions but I am open to any that you may wish to do. I am giving to the end of this week to have the choices in.”
Cynthia grinned ear to ear as she and Daniel moved down to the new signed seats. It didn’t take long for them to find the documents in the class folder. They were already discussing a few of the projects when more of the class filed in and groans could be heard from most as they read the screen.

Daniel smiled at Cynthia as she mocked a few of them. Daniel looked up and around. “Guess it’s a good thing we like our seats since the professor said he would make it permanent if anyone complained about it.” He spoke loud enough for anyone passing by to hear though he was looking directly at Cynthia. She gave him a grin. “Seems like a real hard case, “ she said playing along. “Hopefully no one has it in their head to cause any trouble, we are going to have enough as it is,” Daniel replied. Professor Kingston had come in by then. He apparently heard the last parts and shook his head smiling amused.

“Take your seats please. Today will be an easy day. We will get through the necessities and then you can talk about and meet your classmates. You will be working with your partners but you may have opportunity to work with others. I suggest you get to know each other.”

Cynthia was seated by then and typing a note to each of the professors they would have for the rest of the day asking for front seating. Daniel really didn’t like the front but he accepted it knowing she would do better seated there.

Half the class was done before they had the chance to walk around and talk. The conversations continued for the next class since everyone also had to take the lab course. The safety instructions and session review took longer but they still had an hour of class remaining. Professor Kingston looked at the clock on the wall and shrugged. He ended his talk by telling them that he would be selecting students to be assistants. Any that wanted to could speak to him and he would note it for his selection. Volunteering wouldn’t mean automatic selection, but it would factor in. He need people that wanted to do it.

The rest of the day went pretty much the same way. Every professor walked through the expectations of the class and made the daily assignments before letting them talk amongst themselves. There were familiar faces throughout the day in every class. Daniel and Cynthia were looking around the courtyard during their break for lunch when several waved them over.

After the livestock class Cynthia laughed saying she needed to go to wash up, as the class left her feeling a bit dirty. It was in the livestock habitat of the station after all. There was still twenty minute before the last class. Neither of them had mentioned what they were taking. Neither asked either. Daniel nodded and agreed that he probably should do the same thing. It didn’t seem appropriate to go to a class about food smelling like animal feces. She said she would call him later to talk about the assignments and hurried off. Daniel was about to go off to the restroom when he thought about the smell in his clothing. He couldn’t exactly wash it. He decided to make a detour to the university store. The woman there agreed he needed to do something about the smell and directed him to the product he needed. She said she was surprised he hadn’t already had some. He bought several cans of the deodorizing spray admitting that he hadn’t thought about it.

When he walked into the classroom Daniel had expected to see the same auditorium style set up as most of the other classes. Figuring the professor would teach in some kitchen at the center of the class and bring them up to show them different things. He was wide eyed when he saw the class was nowhere close to that. The room was huge like the others but that was where the similarities ended. Along the walls were twenty kitchens, fully equipped from the look. The center of the room had another kitchen, above it were screens facing all four walls. This kitchen was surrounded by dining room seating.

“You’re a little early,” a soft voice called out. “I like that. Maybe you can give me a hand.”

Daniel looked over at one of the tables and saw where the voice came from. “Sure,” he replied. “How can I help?” he walked over to her and set his bag down.
“Sadly some of the supplies were not handled properly and need to be removed from the pantries. Here is a list of what needs to be taken out.” She said her voice was somewhat upset.

“Sure not a problem. Wouldn’t want anyone getting sick.”

“Very true but seems such a waste.”

“Yeah I know. Guess we will need to make sure whoever stocks the supplies is reminded on how limited they are. Looks like just some small perishables. I should be able to get them all before the class starts to arrive.”

“If I help you will be sure of it,” a voice came from the entryway.

Daniel spun around and shook his head not believing his eyes. Cynthia came walking over with a big grin on her face. “I didn’t expect to see you here,” she added, as she got closer. “After the way you talked about that restaurants food last week I thought you were some food expert.

Daniel just took a deep breath and laughed. “Yeah at eating it, not making it.”

Even the professor laughed at that. “Well in this course you will get a chance to do both. Hopefully learning to make it will help the eating part.” She gestured them towards the kitchens. “By the way what are your names?”

The spun back and laughed as the told her then rushed off to complete the task.

They had finished in plenty of time. Professor Crèmes talked to them about the class and their studies. She found it interesting that they somehow managed to pick the same class even though never discussed it. “So will the two of you partner for this class as well?” she asked them, though she suspected she knew the answer. These two seemed to work well together. They both joked about tolerating the other for another class but broke into laughter unable to remain so serious.

“I think you two are going to be interesting to watch this session.” She told them as she stood up, more students were walking in. “Normally I let student pick the kitchen they would like to use. If the both of you don’t object, I would like you to use the one over there,” she pointed at the one directly to the right of the center kitchen.
“As long as it all works the right way makes no difference to me,” Daniel said as he looked.

“It’s perfect,” Cynthia replied. “I can see the screen perfectly.”

“You can set your stuff over there, but come back and have a seat here.” Professor Crème replied.

The class started the same way, talking about the requirements and the expectations. She did warn them that their final was to plan and make a three to five course meal to be presented to a panel of chefs, her and maybe a few others. They would be graded on several aspects but the key was to utilize their knowledge and the application of the knowledge. She did somewhat joke that the food needed to be edible to pass. She also warned that anyone watching their weight should consider some more exercise since this class always ended up adding a few pounds to most students. She also pointed out that she will be selecting students to help. She heard a bunch of groans and shook her head telling them that helping with the main pantry was part of the course and though some may be asked to help more than others, everyone would be helping out. Then came the meet and greets.

“There are a few of you here that are taking this as an elective class and that means you are here without your regular partner. If this is the case for you then you are to use this time to select your partner for this class. Choose carefully, you may not have the chance to change your mind.” She took a breath and let it all sink in. “Once you have picked your partner or if you already have your partner you may select a kitchen to which you will use for the rest of the session. Go in and look around get familiar with its layout and where everything is. There will be no cooking today. However, there is a basket of various items on the counters. You will need the contents to complete the assignment for the next class. There is enough for both partners. I will leave it to you how you work it out.”

As everyone got up and moved around, several went to kitchens, one pair went to the one the professor asked Daniel and Cynthia to take but walked away after the professor told them it was taken already.

“Now’s your chance to work with someone else,” Cynthia whispered as they walked around.

“Why tired of me already,” Daniel asked feigning a hurt look.

“Yes, I am tired of looking at you and I am so tired of the way you make every class feel comfortable,” she said sarcasm leaking into her words. “But, uhm, I would understand if…”

“Be careful thief. Stealing words may not be a crime but I’m sure it might get laugh from the security enforcers if I report it,” Daniel pushed against her as they walked side by side and grinned at her confused look. “I was thinking it was you that made things so comfortable. I honestly wasn’t looking forward to all this, but you made it a lot better than I thought it could be. So unless you’re having second thoughts as I told you before, now you’re stuck with me, like it or not.”

She laughed, “Great, “she added with a little fake despair tone, “ I was hoping that you would run off with someone and left me to someone more qualified in this place.” She waved her arms around gesturing to the kitchen they walked into.

“Nope, I’ll stick around just to be spiteful,” Daniel laughed and reached a hand out to introduce himself to the student in the kitchen.

The first day was done before they knew it. The basket in the kitchen contained various items they were to take home and taste, write out what they tasted, how it tasted and then classify it in a category of what they thought it would be used for or in. They were welcome to use the basket but it needed to be returned. Daniel broke it all down and moved half of the items to his bag. He figured the basket would be better for Cynthia to take her share home. She had a longer trip being she had to shuttle back. She would have to a short time to run out to catch the leaving shuttle. If she missed it, she would be stuck until the next one. Her parents would not be pleased.

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