It's the future. Laura just got into uni. By way of life-and-death-battle. Because that's how it's done these days. This is what could be called the pilot chapter, and can also be found in The Procrastination Outlet.
The premise is ludicrous. But all the best ones are.
Education now consists of a series of deathmatches. Well, strictly speaking, you can pass a grade without having to kill your opponent, but there's no word that adequately describes a life and death battle that doesn't end in one person's defeat and possible expiration. There shall be no further explanation of this system as any attempt to rationalise it would be stupid. Besides which, there is an over-emphasis on maintaining a realistic connection with the real world in fiction these days. Embrace the absurd! It's more fun than forging half a side of mostly improbable and far-fetched explanations to patch up a silly idea at any rate. Oh, and you are actually learning things in between having to fight people, by the way. So you would still have to write that stupid essay at 3 am before deadline, and you would still have to spend 8 hours a week in labs. It's just when the tutor says they'll kill you if you skip another lecture, it's a valid possibility.
Thus concludes the introduction.
As for the setting. This is set in the future. It would make sense to set it in a totalitarian America (or perhaps Britain), since that would fulfil a conveniently popular cliche and satisfy a need for certain readers to pretend they were being political. However, it could just as reasonably be set in China, Korea, Russia, Pakistan, France, Germany, Spain, Egypt, the Congo, Brazil, Argentina, Fiji, Japan, India, Mauritius, and the northern parts of Australia. No explanation will be offered as to why these nations only have been selected. Except Japan. Everyone knows Japan is crazy enough to genuinely do something like that. Have you not seen Battle Royale?
So temporal setting is in the future. Spacial setting is ambiguous. It is left to the whim of imagination, please do satisfy whatever setting takes your fancy.
Please note I said the future, but it will not be so far in the future that there are flying vehicles, lasers, and fully automated robots wandering around. Well, probably not.
Anyway, that's that. Let's begin.
My name is Laura. I am a freshman. I'm only 17 though, I was an honour student at school and I passed a year early. It's quite hard to get into the alliance universities so I was very happy when I was accepted. The alliance are the combination of the top 50 universities in the world. It all sounds very military when you call them by that name doesn't it? Well, they're definitely not that sort of organisation, university life is much the same as it ever was, I am told. We learn our crafts, answer our callings, discover our vocations and ourselves. That's the idealized version. More often first years spend their time learning how many pints they can handle at a time. That and the arts of deadline dodging and late-night library studying, and scraping enough money out of your loan and overdraft to be able to eat consistently. And we have to learn how to survive against more difficult opponents as well. Apparently a lot depends upon who you draw as your personal tutor in first year as to how far you get. Most are helpful and supportive, but I hear that some are outright sadistic and more likely to get you killed than anything else. Well, those are just rumours, besides, actual deaths are rare. In school the teachers would always submit once the victor was clear. It's said that at university they prefer to fight until one is incapacitated or unconscious. I wonder if I'll be ok...
The top 50 alliance are dominated by American universities. Almost 70% of students in the alliance study for at least a year in the United States. The other universities are spread out across the world. Recently there's been a spike in excellence in east Asia and a decline in Europe. One of the new China universities knocked Amsterdam off the bottom of the league table at the end of the last semester. It's getting harder to compete. The Americans are all very physically imposing, the Asians invariably meticulously skilful. When it comes to challenges between alliance members, we, in Europe don't have much by way of natural advantage. Cambridge might not last much longer, I'm glad I got in before we were demoted.
[Yes, I lied about leaving setting ambiguous].
Laura had an unimportant hair colour, but it was long enough to fall past her shoulders and down her back. Her eye colour was also not important, but they were brown. She was perhaps a little taller than average for her age and was fairly slim. She was also very physically fit and was blessed with a high proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibres. Though not strong, she made up for it with a natural flair for battle and a great propensity for staying calm under pressure. In her graduation battle she had fought with her headmaster for a full ten minutes before he submitted. It was recorded as one of the longest graduation battles in the school's history. She also received top grades in mathematics, physics, music, and literature.
Laura brushed her hand along the gates of the college as she walked through. The iron was cold to touch and the paintwork rough. She passed under a stone arch, yellowed, the walls scraped here and there with irregular gouges and also rubbed smooth in places from the hands of centuries of passerbys. She brushed her hand along these walls too, adding her touch to academic history.
Her footsteps echoed as she walked around some quadrangle or other. She did not recall its name. She was sure in time, she would have to memorize it. She reached a large wooden door set with a heavy iron ring. She used it to rap once upon the wood. The door gave a generous thud. She pushed it open.
"I'm Laura. Pleased to meet you all." I'm the last here, how surprising, there's still a couple of minutes left until the meeting was meant to start. And I suppose this must be my tutor.
"Laura, hello, come in, come in, sit down, have some tea. This is-" Instantly forgot all my fellow students' names. Will remember to remember them next time. Probably. "Now that we're all here, let's get down to business."
The room would probably have been fairly spacious, except there was furniture in it. By which I mean it was not spacious, it was in fact, rather cosy. 'It's a nicely cosy room', thought Laura. The light was a low orange and a little sunlight came in through the windows. The bureau, the chests of drawers, the chairs, the coffee table, it was all heavy and wooden. Laura was getting used to the feel of smoothed over wood underneath her fingers. She picked up the teacup her tutor had offered her and sipped some tea. The cup was a Wedgwood, expensive. The tea was less so. Twinings. Hot and gratifying. She dipped her lips in again for another sip. Perhaps a little too sweet.
"My name is Amos, I will be your personal tutor!" He smiles a lot doesn't he? He's very enthusiastic and friendly. I suppose he's just trying to make us feel at home.
"I have more than one tutor group, but certainly for first year, you should not clash, so there won't be any conflicts of interest. I will do my utmost to help you all get through a successful first year with as little stress, worry, and physical harm as possible!" He is awfully cheerful. At least he's a reassuring man. He seems quite reliable. Despite his entirely awful jumper.
"Now for some admin, have you all filled out the forms you were given earlier properly? Good, good, I'll take those from you now-" the papers rustled. "I'll just file these away and then we can complete your registration. Yes-?" That boy to my left whose name I do not remember is raising his hand. What on earth can he have a question about this early? He is vaguely handsome. Actually, no, it's all in his hair. If he didn't use any hair product he'd be thoroughly unremarkable. He's not very handsome at all without his hair.
"When can we begin to challenge other students?" Oh, so he's a keen one.
"Oh, aren't you a keen one." Laura smiled to herself that she'd thought exactly the same thing that the teacher said only a moment afterwards. It was an amusing coincidence. If mundane and almost entirely trivial.
"Well, I've just finished registering you so you're entitled to challenge any other student in the university. Of course, you won't go very far up the rankings taking on other freshmen this early so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it unless you're confident you can eliminate any opponent immediately."
"Then I challenge the long-haired girl who just came in."
Laura had the good grace to look surprised for a moment.
My, he really is a keen one. And it's barely been a minute since I officially joined the uni. I wonder if I'll be ok...