Chapter 1b: What is This Place, and Why Won’t This Line Move?
Rio Castellanos Alvarenga surveyed his surroundings. So much of this place was at once strange and familiar to him. The people here were very different to those he grew up with in Honduras. His family’s…farm had hired humans exclusively, but the Offworlders he had seen here so far did not strike him as particularly alien at their core. They were still, one and all, sheep. Not one of them, so full of power and the potential for power as they were, truly had that drive to make the world their own.
Take this Professor Ina, for example. He had listened very carefully to her welcome speech, and then just as carefully to the responses of the other new Students he was standing with. If one of the Farmhands had spoken of his father like that…well. They would not dare it twice. And yet, though Professor Ina had most assuredly heard the comments, she did nothing.
A few of the Students now gathered near the Gate, he observed, were ineffectively trying to establish dominance over the others. Their attempts were laughable, unimaginative, and showed obvious deep-seated personal insecurities. Rio supposed that this was acceptable. All people must start weak and find their way. He would have to keep an eye on them, however; some could end as rivals but most would undoubtedly turn out to be nothing more than bullies. Rio could not stand bullies.
A strange girl with unnecessarily bright pink hair chattered just on the edge of his attention. From her clothes, Rio could tell that she came from a family without great means, and his heart went out to her. There was some good in this university, then, to provide financial assistance to the worthy. Perhaps, when he had settled the matter of his housing, he would seek out this poor young thing and grant her the friendship she so desperately craved.
Until then, however, he decided that he should go to the Clocktower to meet with this Dean of Admissions. He pushed his way through the throng and strode into Ani Daigaku Campus like he already owned the place.
As he passed the first set of classroom buildings (“Medical Studies,” he decided, “or possibly Mathematics”), Rio fought against the urge to stare like a tourist. He had known that he would come to this place for years now; he had received the acceptance letter six weeks past his thirteenth birthday. He would not allow those undoubtedly watching from the high, cold windows see him as anything other than perfectly in control.
When he came to the first buildings of the impeccably manicured living quarters, he began to pay closer attention. He wanted the very best rooms, of course, but he also had the feeling that there was something going on here. He had surreptitiously watched his own family’s business dealings often enough to sense something in the area. He suspected under-the-table deals were taking place inside most of these buildings. He covertly glanced behind bushes and around corners as he walked, looking for any underhanded dealings. He was not sure if he would stop one or approach with an eye to make contacts. He supposed it would depend on what was being done.
Suddenly, from a window on the third floor of the next dormitory in line, he heard someone shout “Hey, Squiddy!” He looked around, and realized the comment had to be directed at a Shok-Hito fanning itself in the shade on the ground at the base of the same building. Its longer tentacles held a book of some kind, and three of its eyestalks rotated upward, drawn to the young blond man leaning out above. Rio barely had time to register his own displeasure at the nickname when something came sailing down and struck the Shok-Hito on the head. It was, honestly, kind of hard to tell, but the ’Hito appeared agitated by this as it extracted the object from what might have been its mouth. It dropped the book and waved its tentacles frenetically, making short chittering noises.
Rio started forward to ask if it required assistance, but it gathered up its belongings, got up, and left before he could arrive. The Shok-Hito, moving on eight prehensile appendages, moved a lot quicker than he. Instead, Rio took careful note of the building number and the specific window and vowed silently to return and see that something unfortunate happened to the blonde man.
He wondered if AniDai had a bullying problem. He hoped not, but was beginning to suspect it did. Yet another thing that he would end when he came into his own.
He grudgingly started toward the Clocktower again. As he walked, more and more Students and faculty appeared, each busy about their own tasks. There was a brief moment of excitement when he was almost struck by a passing fool on a unicycle. The man was bald and had bizarrely huge legs, but was gone before Rio could formulate a suitable response. He opted, instead, to keep an eye out for any further vehicles. There was a groundcar in the distance, but it was not heading his way. He saw some sort of aircraft passing overhead, apparently descending toward the far end of the Island. The small spaceport was certainly quite active; there were several small ships variously approaching and departing the large, flat area outside the North Wall. So far as Rio could tell, however, none of them were likely to run him down quite yet. He set his gaze on the Clocktower once again.
A few minutes later, he had reached it. It was very tall and looked quite old. There was a bank in Trujillo, near the family “plantation.” The building at the base of the Tower looked very similar to it. The clock was accurate, at least.
There was a line coming through the glass-and-aluminum double doors. He took one look at it, saw that the other new Students were waiting with varying degrees of patience, and walked right past it and inside, ignoring the complaints of his less imaginative peers.
The line extended forty meters into the interior of what did indeed appear to be an old bank. Rio glanced at the waiting figures as he passed them and suppressed a whoop of triumph. He had passed the first test! Most of the “people” waiting were actually statues. Or, possibly, the mummified remains of previous supplicants.
Either way, he skipped directly to the teller’s stand, raised an eyebrow at the person behind the counter, and allowed himself a small superior half-smile.