This piece is back story for Wes and Devin. It takes place 3 or 4 years before Polemic.Why do they even
have a class this early?
I wonder. 6:30 am is inhumane.
Holding my breath, I take a swallow from my institutional paper cup. The SynthBrew here is terrible, but I need it this morning. Even the aftertaste is enough to induce a full-body shudder; it's all I can do to keep it down. To my left, someone bursts out laughing.
"Dude, that's my
reaction to the Brew here, too."
Looking up, I see a guy about my age with spiky dark hair and a bleached-blonde goatee. He looks far more awake than I am. Flashing me a cheery smile, he takes the seat to my left.
"Hey. I'm Wes." My new classmate offers his hand. I shake it, stifling a yawn.
"Devin." I mumble, gulping down another mouthful of foul brown liquid.
"Nice to meet you! Devin's a cool name. I like your ponytail." Wes has obviously had his SynthBrew already.
Hoping it will shut him up, I grunt in response.
"Do you like SimFighting?" he continues. "What's your favorite weapon? Mine's the rocket launcher. Only you have to be careful not to use it inside a small room. Did that once and exploded myself and my whole team. Oops."
I groan out loud. Is this guy gonna yap at me for the whole hour and a half?
"I'm sure you're a really great guy and all," I say, "but I'm pretty much the polar fucking opposite of a morning person. So do you think I could at least choke down the rest of this swill before we make with the friendly chatter?"
"Sure, dude." Wes looks a little hurt. "Whatever you say."
I finish my repulsive cup of SynthBrew in blessed silence. By the time it's gone, the professor has entered the room and begun lecturing. Sociology 101 sounds
interesting in theory, but I can already tell the actual curriculum will be a total waste of time.
"Unlike our City," the instructor drones, "the Other Side has no social structure. The lives of its people are pure anarchy. Lack of proper regulation has led them to develop dangerous and violent natures."Yeah, glad I got up at the ass-crack of dawn for this. Never heard
By "proper regulation," the professor means "constant monitoring of all neurovision implants". Thanks to my contacts on the Splinternet, my own implant is free of such impediments. I can use it whenever I want and even pick up signals from the Other Side. Turning it on, I tune out for the rest of the class with an episode of NebulaQuest
. It's not brain food by any means, but it'll keep me awake.
After the lecture ends, Wes gets up to leave with a tentative wave. I start to feel guilty about the way I've treated him. After all, he seems like a nice enough guy.
"Hey, buddy," I say. "Sorry for being such an ogre earlier. Like I said, I'm really not a morning person."
"It's all good, dude." Wes's expression brightens. "So, do
you like SimFighting?"* * * * *
"Brace yourself," I tell Wes. "You're gonna feel a little pinch."
Adjusting my laser-imaging goggles, I squint at the neurovision implant still inside his brain. I take a moment to steady my hands and then begin making the modifications. When he feels the pressure of the laser screwdriver, Wes flinches. It's a good thing I have exceptional reflexes. I correct for his movement and keep working.
"Hold still, buddy," I tell him, "or the only profession you'll be fit for is cooking VitaFries."
"Dude," Wes moans, "Being a fry cook couldn't be much worse than the profession I've already been assigned."
"Hmmmm?" I murmur absently.
It's not that I'm uninterested in Wes's plight. I'm just too focused on the task at hand to respond in any meaningful fashion. The last thing I want is to turn my friend into a drooling myrmidon. Fortunately, Wes doesn't require much input to carry on a conversation.
"Yeah, dude," he continues in a sad voice. "I'm supposed to be a Floral Arranger."
"What's wrong with flowers?" I muse. "They're cheerful."
," Wes corrects me. Then he laughs. "Now that I know you
like them, though, I'll be sure to bring you the samples from my classes. You can put 'em in your pretty, pretty hair."
"I've told you before not to call me 'pretty'," I growl. "It's especially inadvisable when my screwdriver's inside your brain."
It's nice that he's feeling better, though, even if it's at my expense. Biting my lip in concentration, I disable the restriction circuits on his implant. After that, I make the final tweaks and pull off my goggles.
"Okay, I'm all finished. Now sit back, relax and enjoy 9999 channels of neurovision goodness."
"Are you serious, dude?" Wes looks like a kid in a candy store. "Where do I even start?"
"Channel 4242 airs NebulaQuest
nonstop," I say. "It's a pretty cool space exploration show."
"Space exploration?" Wes yells, clapping his hands in glee. "How awesome would that be?"
He's such an excitable guy; sometimes just talking to him makes me tired. Still, he's pretty much the only person I've met in this City who doesn't make me want to claw my own eyeballs out.
"The plots aren't exactly believable, but if you can get past that it's a lot of fun."
Wes doesn't answer. He's already staring off into nowhere, completely entranced. * * * * *
Fidgeting in my hard plastic chair, I wait for the Examiner to arrive so my Professional Placement Interview can begin. My appointment time was 7 am; I've been sitting here since 5 minutes before that and it's now 7:30. The Testing Room is just large enough to hold a tiny table and two chairs. Above me hangs a single bare bulb. Dressed in a suit and tie, I'm beginning to sweat under its harsh light.
The door opens and a small, thin balding man walks in and sits down across from me.
"Good day," he says. "I am Examiner Farlan, and I will administer your Placement Interview today. And you are?"
"Devin Renton." I offer my hand; he ignores it. Right off the bat, I can tell I'm going to love this guy.
"If you're ready, let's begin." Clearing his throat, Farlan continues. "What is your greatest strength?"
"Well, I'm fucking brilliant - "
I'm kicking myself the moment the words are out of my mouth. Exactly what evidence am I supposed to provide for my self-professed genius? Somehow, I doubt my ability to hack CompuPanels or my expertise at illegal neurosurgery are going to impress him. More likely, they'll just get me thrown into a Reprogramming Facility.
Farlan's eyes drill into me, awaiting elaboration. For the first time I can remember, I'm at a loss for words. A painful amount of time elapses. Finally, Farlan clears his throat.
"Duly noted," he says. "Perhaps we should go on to the next question. What is your greatest weakness?"
"Well, obviously, it's my big fucking mouth," I laugh.
Farlan gives me a wilting look.
"Um, I'm good under pressure?" This would be hysterical if it weren't so tragic.
"Clearly," Farlan says.* * * * *
Standing outside Wes's quarters in Multiversity Housing, I pound on the door. It's barely 9 am on a Saturday but hey, he's a morning person. I'm starting to wonder if he's still asleep after all when he throws the door open, looking chipper as ever.
"Dude! What are you doing here?" He pauses, noticing my formal attire. "Oh yeah, your Placement Exam..."
"Yeah, that," I scoff. "No big."
"So you rocked it, right?" Wes says.
"If by 'rocked it', you mean a promising career in waste-processing technology maintenance, then yes."
Wes's face falls.
"Dude, I'm sorry," he says. "I know how you feel."
"At least you don't have to touch raw sewage?" I offer.
"But I hate my assigned profession," Wes sighs.
"You know," I tell him. "I know some people on the Other Side. Kinda thinking about moving there."
"The Other Side? Aren't they all maniacal killers over there?"
"From what I've heard, a lot of them kinda are," I say. "But not all. At least over there, we'd be allowed to do what we wanted for a living."
"Yeah!" Wes perks up in a flash. "We could be like those people on that one NebulaQuest
episode who survive by stealing technology and modifying it to suit their needs."
"Dammit, Wes!" I say. "I'm already sorry I introduced you to that show. That'd never fucking work in real life. Now are you coming with me or not?"
"'Course I am, dude," he replies. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."