Illustrated by Kevin James Hurtack © 2006
by Chris H. Stevenson,© 2006
As he hurried up the steps, pangs
of guilt stabbed at him for missing the first day of the
semester. He hoped he wouldn't frighten the students. As a result
of the vehicular collision, his face looked like ten pounds of
chopped liver. It was not going to be a good first impression. He
would have to be especially charming.
The only thing original about The
San Temecula College for Women was the land it was sitting on;
the old wooden and concrete structure had been torn down years
ago and replaced by foam-shot dormitories (for the very rich),
classrooms, and the main administration building. In the hopes of
keeping with tradition, the campus was built using right angles
and configured to surround a plaza with grassy knolls and trees.
The entire complex was rectangular in design, and there were no
glidewalks or gently curving ramps to afford easy access to the
second or third floors. In keeping with tradition, the engineers
and designers had incorporated real stairs, which meant much
walking was needed to get from one point to another; it was a
feeble attempt to bring back some form of ambience. Even the
parking lot was uncovered and left to the elements.
After checking in with
administration and acquiring his lesson plans for the first
semester, Mikus headed for his first-floor classroom twenty
minutes early to get the jump on any over-zealous students who
might be inclined to sit in conference and stir up rumors, or
sabotage the seating arrangements. But once he stepped through
the door he realized it was too late, as could be noted by a
dozen females who had formed a small knot in the middle of the
classroom, sitting on top of the desks, busily chatting away.
He took his station at the head
of the class and looked around. Not much had changed from last
year. Behind him, incorporated into the wall, was the large view
screen; a small holo pad for 3-D displays sat just to his right;
a world globe nestled in the left corner; the remaining walls
were a tapestry of amateur artwork left over from the preceding
year. He could stand at a small podium, or sit at a desk; both
were equipped with master consoles, keys and switches.
His students were all female,
mostly from the Red zip code, a little better off socially than
his own station--the Blue. They were arriving for their first
year of college, and if they could be expected to graduate, it
would take them four years. They had all started Primary at the
age of three, having done so by virtue of their parents enrolling
them early. It was an elective decision designed to jumpstart
some early careers in families that could afford the extra
expense. Such young women were regarded as "squeens" by the
regular public school system, a denotation that they were somehow
too elevated, or even pompous, to attend classes put out by a
Mikus had spent ten years in the
public system, and certainly wanted no part of what it had to
offer. It wasn't that the scheduling and curriculum was
sub-standard, it was the violent and abusive attendees that
disavowed him of the idea of ever returning. Those kids were an
eyelash away from becoming full-blown teenonsters.
All of these students were
similarly attired, wearing gray and red shifts, belted at the
middle. Their pull-on gel-soled slippers were made for comfort
and non-impact strolling. The hairstyle trend was collectively
short, an obvious attempt to distance themselves from the
appearance of teenonsters, who always wore their hair very long
and tied in ringlets and neck wraps. Eye makeup was kept to a
minimum to discourage distraction among the male staff. The
overall impression was mild and subtle. Only their personalities
shone through, glowing and obvious. To record and participate in
lessons, they all carried hand-held navigators--small keypads
with popup screens. The navigators could be plugged into the
desks and downloaded to the main viewer.
He flipped a switch that
activated his desk and podium displays. He typed some keys that
flashed behind him on the large view screen. It was an
introduction and an apology. It was several lines long, written
in easy bold font:
THE NAME IS MIKUS MARKUS, AND
I'LL BE YOUR LANGUAGE INSTRUCTOR FOR YOUR FIRST YEAR HERE AT SAN
TEMECULA COLLEGE. I REGRET THAT I MISSED ORIENTATION YESTERDAY.
I HAD AN AIRBUS ACCIDENT, AS YOU CAN SEE BY THE FACIAL
CONTUSIONS. THOUGH I MAY BE A DAY LATE, I HOPE THAT I AM NOT A
CREDIT SHORT. I'M AWARE THAT YOU HAVE ALL TAKEN PART IN
ORIENTATION WITH YESTERDAY'S SUBSTITUTE, BUT I HOPE A REPEAT WILL
BE JUST AS ENLIGHTENING, AND I LOOK FORWARD TO MEETING ALL OF
YOU, WITH SPECIAL EMPHASISON YOUR VOCATIONAL INTERESTS AND LIFETIME PLANS.
PLEASE BE SEATED AND TYPE IN YOUR DESK ASSIGNMENTS SO I CAN PUT
YOUR BIO AND FACE WITH THE SEAT.
"But it's not even time yet."
Somebody was already complaining.
Mikus ignored it and watched as
several more students pushed through the door to stand and gawk
as though they had to pass judgment on what they were seeing
before it was appropriate to fully enter the room and take seats.
When most of them were seated, he counted twenty students in all,
a little shy of his anticipated roster. He was missing five and
it was time to start. Those five might have ducked out, or become
dissatisfied and chosen to switch classes at the last moment. To
make sure, Mikus sent an instant message to the counselor's
office and received a reply that five had indeed quit the class
and had been reassigned. The reason given for the transfers was
attributed to "incompatibility with the substitute." Mikus
wondered what his first impression and reception would be like.
If five had deserted the substitute, what were his chances of
losing ten? Somehow the words 'compatibility' and 'charming' kept
entering into his thoughts.
He looked at his console viewer
and said, "Is everyone keyed in yet?" They obviously weren't, and
he wondered if they were reserving judgment or gauging his
reaction. He decided he would hit them over the collective head
with a basket of flowers.
"You know, I don't like this
system of formality and protocol," he told them. "Would there be
any objections if we just freelance? To tell you the truth, I had
a terrible row with my girlfriend last night, and right now I
don't feel like giving myself a brain sprain. Eh?" There came a
A student looked at him
quizzically. "Did you beat her?"
Another one dared, "Hah! Look at
his face; shethrew it to him."
"That's a shame," said another.
"I'll bet he ain't a half-bad chunk of matter." That got an
uproarious response. Out of the corner of his eye, Mikus could
see that his seating roster lights were popping on, filled with
the missing names. He discovered the name of the first respondent
and decided to address her question.
"Candice, I can hardly take my
lady in a fair bout, and find it best to avoid her when she's in
one of those moods. Besides, I've never found it fitting to throw
into the fair sex, especially when I'm wrong. I just happened to
be out of line and wrong last night."
With that small discourse, he'd
just confessed that his woman was somewhat superior to him, that
he could admit when he was wrong, and that it would never occur
to him to strike a woman. Yet he did not convey to them that he
was alwayswrong. It had the decided
A short, cropped-haired brunette
who was packing some extra weight said, "Name's Roseland. You
wanna know something? I can't finger it out either, why--"
"F.i.g.u.r.e," said the
instructor, and took some notes.
"Yeah, that too. I don't know how
to figure it out when Bobby Edwards don't get his way, he goes up
and starts slapping on me, because when I don't feel like, well,
you know, he does and there ain't nothing I can do with it.
"Oh, Rosalind, clap your yapper
shut and listen to Mr. Marshal. He's not concerned about things
of that nature with you and Bobby Edwards, in any degree, shape,
and form. Are you, Mr. Marshal?" That came from Mercedes.
Markus. Quite the contrary. Rosalind, I
think it's a fair estimate that Bobby Edwards doesn't have your
best interests at heart. How can a boy stimulate your heart and
mind with just his hands?"
"That's because he's out to
stimulate other things that belong to her. Oh, I'm Sissy, by the
way. And let me tell you something, Mercedes, Roseland don't have
to clap her yapper just because you've been saying so. Everybody
knows you been chasing around with that gutter runner from the
Brown zip, and not only that, but there's more, I think, if you
know what I'm talking about."
"Now just one minute," said the
very svelte and attractive blonde Mercedes. "I've been seeing
Blithe, and it's not his fault that he has a home in the Brown.
He sure ain't a gutter runner, because you know why? He's
learning how to be a bi-wheeler technician for Yamasaki. They
make more credits than Slugs, I mean, cops, practically. But not
as much as a language mentor, I'm sure." The blonde looked
affectionately at hermentor, Mr. Markus. "But
please don't tell my parents," she added quickly.
"That's a profound utterance,"
said Mikus. "I deem that it is very unfair that one person should
degrade another only because of their zip designation. What are
credits, aside from a means to an end, wot? Money cannot buy me
"I deem that too," said a
cross-eyed redhead, who was so pale she might have been termed
see-through. "I'm Poppy Hullings, and you all know my dad owns
the Hullings Emporium over in the Gold zip, sector nine, right
off the Black Hawk expressway, and you can't miss if you're
coming from east Nightshade, but if you're coming in from the
north you have to--"
"Why don't you just chuck it
straight out of your yapper," volunteered another, who introduced
herself as Candy Flyer. "Get to the basic point, Poppy, if you
want us to know how much credits you have in your bank. I don't
need a road sign to get to your dad's shopping mall. There's a
few of us here that don't go screeching up in a fleetzine to get
dropped off here at San Temecula. We saw you this morning and
it's not pretty impressive."
Poppy stood up. "I'm not trying
to impress anybody, for your information. I suppose you'd like me
to take the glidewalk when you know that I'm anemic to direct
sunshine. If I don't wear SunzBlock, I could go up like a piece
of bacon in a vaporizer. I'm just as worried about saving credits
as you are--that's because I get my SunzBlock at my dad's
pharmacy inside Hullings Emporium and I don't have to get a
prescription from Dr. Breacher. Right now, we're having a
four-percent-off sale on--"
"Who cares if you are having the
sale of the millennium," said Candy, matching her stance. "You
don't have to run around bloatingall the time."
"G.l.o.a.t.i.n.g," said Mikus,
and made a few cyber notations.
"I'm not the one who's gloated,"
said Poppy. "I know for a fact, Candy, that your mom signed you
up for the Dazzlin' Little Miss Contest three months ago, and
that contest is for younger girls than you! How did you think you
were going grease that one? Were you going to give the judge a
"I wouldn't go there if I were
you," said Candy. "I've never seen a boy around you with a smile
on his face."
"Oh, yeah? Well I've seen them
laughing at you!"
"Well, you two have got me
crying," said Rosalind. "I think Mr. Mucous would like to think
of something more construction. It's probably best if we got back
on the list of who beat who."
Mikus interrupted, "Perhaps the
topic of beatings is not apropos here. There were really no
beatings. It was settled quite amicably. I abhor
"So do I," said Sissy, "and I can
tell you that anybody who believes in violence deserves a good
smack. So I think the two of you should sit down and go
"Then we'd better change the
subject," said Poppy, and took her seat, but not before Candy
took her seat first.
"Maybe we should talk about
something we know," suggested Candice.
"Yeah, like sex, maybe," said
Sissy, knitting her eyebrows together.
Candy Flyer stood up and waggled
her hand, but then she seemed to swoon for a moment. She cocked
her head back and crimped her eyes shut. After she sat back down
slowly, she said, "I forgot…what…I was…going to say."
Mikus let them run their own
gauntlet. He could tell that this class was somehow different. He
made lightening-fast notes under the topic headings: SLANG,
JARGON, MISPRONUNICIATIONS, INTONATION, WRONG WORD CHOICE,
DIALECT, and others. All the students seemed to waft out of the
same cooking pot for females that hailed from the Red zip. He
listened attentively for another forty-five minutes before he
interrupted them in the freelance throes of gender identity and
sexual permissiveness. There were only two students who hadn't
participated in any of the discussions.
Mikus looked to the back of the
room. "Uh, seat number fifteen…how do you pronounce your
The young lady spoke something,
but her head was down and the words were barely audible. Brown
hair, petite and mousy looking, the girl raised her head slightly
and tried to project her voice. Mikus could discern that she had
a cleft palate, which was highly unusual given the advances in
reconstructive surgery, and the fact that she was enrolled at San
Temecula--she had to have come from a high-rent zip. He decided
to pay her a personal visit, and walked to her seat to apologize
for the wax that was clogging his ears, then asked her to try
"Maheena May," it came out, which
Mikus interpreted to mean 'Melina May'.
"That's just fine," he told her.
"Are you having fun yet?"
She nodded slightly, but kept her
head down. Mikus returned to the front of the class, and as he
turned around, the last quiet student spoke up.
"I guess I'm…ma…
Regina ," said a plump girl who had black stubble
for hair. Her earrings were so large they looked like small sea
anchors. At once Mikus knew her hesitancy came from a pronounced
"Well, I think that's everybody
then," said Mikus. "I've come to the conclusion that I have an
exceptional first-period, first-year college assemblage here. Not
a bad seed in the barrel, and I'm proud of all of you for
initiating this freelance introduction in the round. As a matter
of fact, I think we should have more discussions like this. Are
there any objections?"
"Not in this court, your honor!"
That was cute, and Mikus didn't know where it came from. He'd
already drawn his conclusions about their literacy. They were a
little different from anything he'd seen last year, and certainly
there would be more of the same for the next four classes.
Just before class ended, Mikus
composed an introductory message on the rear main viewer. It was
a basic greeting to the parents with a few lines about himself
and his qualifications. It closed by saying that he hoped that
the parents wouldn't hesitate to contact him personally if they
should have any questions regarding class assignments or other
general topics. He then told the students to plug in and copy the
message to their navigators and deliver the message to their
parents when they arrived home.
A few hands went up. Someone
plaintively said, "Aren't you going to give us a home
"Well…yes." Mikus had never
received that query before during the first week of school. He'd
never pushed the issue in the past. Yet here they were, faces
upturned and glowing, expecting an answer. He looked to the
deeper reaches of the room where one special student shyly peered
from her desk. A slight smile came to his face.
"As a matter of fact, there is a
program or two that I would like you to download. There are two
wonderful audio versions that you can listen to tonight. Review
them and give me your thoughts on them in the next class. Plug in
and I'll key you the source."
All of the students eagerly
plugged into their desks and received the input.
As the warning flasher ended the
session, and the students filed out of the classroom, a few
lingered behind and stepped up to their instructor's desk. One of
them asked him, "Who's Hans Christmas Andersen?"
Andersen," he pronounced. "You'll find out tonight."
He watched the retreating backs
of his students as they left his classroom, then gave a great
heaving sigh of relief and looked over some of his cyber notes.
After checking their bios, he noticed that the youngest student
in his class was 26 years old and the oldest was 32. He typed in
a few responses to the initial status report:
TENTATIVE CLASS OF: 2066
EMOTIONAL REPONSE: Well-adjusted
INTELLIGENCE QUOTIENT: Above
OVERALL EVALUATION: Gifted
Mikus Markus shut the monitor
off, and awaited his next class with anticipation. It was going
to be a great year!