There’s nothing more humiliating than waking up in the hallway, realising you never actually made it to your room. Everyone was casually walking over me, no one stopping to wake me up, on their way to class. They knew I’d be late, but of course, they would just find this amusing when I finally did stumble into class. The actual reason I had awoken wasn’t because of the stampede of feet inches from my face (though that should have done it) it was the sound coming from above my head. I could hear a fluttering and even my subconscious knew that was bad. I opened my eyes wider and focused above me and saw what my brain had already realised. A flyer. It was making curious circles around my head, a low beep emitting between the fluttering of its metallic wings. A flyer on alert. I didn’t have much time. I scrambled from my disarray on the hallway floor, ignoring the giggles of my classmates, and ran to my room. It was only a few feet away from where I had drowsily collapsed the night before, but I ran nonetheless. The door made a slight thud as it slid shut and I quickly started changing into my gear for class – if I made it to class on time, I may at least be in a little less trouble than I was about to be in. My gear always felt tight on my body, almost like a second skin. We had to wear our gear at all times during study hours, it had everything we needed programmed into it and it was punishable not to wear it. Once or twice I had lost, or in my words, mislaid, a fitting or two and had been held in detainment for three days per missing item. Since then, I usually kept all gear together at all times, on a pile in the corner of my room. Even though I knew I was too late by now, I still ran out of my room and towards the classroom. The logger would store my arrival time, unavoidably proving my tardiness and for that, I would be punished also. I had been recorded by a flyer which I remembered was much worse, but a part of me still thought that delaying my list of inescapable punishments until after class would be preferable somehow. It may have been dehydration due to the night before making me delude myself but I was determined to make it to class.
The hallways were empty by now, which made my feet echo as they padded on the wooden floor. The light was dim as I made my way downstairs, but it was edging its way through the windows, giving the hallway a purplish tint. I used to enjoy the mornings when I was younger. The ice on the ground would throw rainbows into the air when the light shone upon them, and my warden would always point out the shapes and colours to me. My warden once made a mistake to mention my parents to me, I’ll never forget that moment. No other person around knew anything at all about their parents, and the fact that I knew one small detail made me feel special. I never told anyone what my warden had done, she would have had to be replaced otherwise, so we both agreed to keep it a secret. Since then, I had tried to get more out of her, but she was much more careful from then on. She told me once when we were watching the light appear in the morning that my mother had always compared the colour of my eyes to that of the rising light; a deep blue that verged on purple. She knew her mistake immediately, it was a genuine mistake; she had let her memories and fondness of me overcome her duty. Of my father, I knew nothing, but I held onto this morsel of knowledge of my mother tightly. It would never help my find her, but I felt better knowing this one small insignificant detail.
I was nearing the classroom now, and started pulling out my tags from under my collar. The logger scanned my arrival and allowed me through the door into the already full classroom. Instructor Tycho wasn’t speaking as I entered, and scrutinized me with great detail. I wanted to run to my assigned seat and hide as low as possible, but I knew that would be worthy of more reprimand. So I kept my head held high, as I had been taught, and strode to my seat with confidence. Perhaps applying skills I should be learning might lessen my punishment later. Although no one in class could really watch me, as all eyes were immovably on Instructor Tycho, I still felt like the centre of attention and my discomfort was showing. My stride faltered somewhat and my brow was warm, but I eventually made it to my seat. Even as I sat down and fidgeted in my seat, not one eye moved upon me, but later I knew there would be jeers. Instructor Tycho continued with whatever he was talking about before I entered the room, something regarding the colours of edible sea grass, but I caught the flash of his hand as he logged something into his HPG. My spirits fell. The crushing feeling of inevitability finally dawned upon me when I realised my fate was near now. I knew already, of course, that I was in extreme trouble, but the idea of actually making it to class seemed to lessen the fear. Sitting in my seat now, watching Instructor Tycho, I could all but count the seconds to my doom. I have been in trouble countless times, far more than any of my classmates, but I had never actually been caught by a flyer before. I was usually quite careful in my misdeeds and adventures, always knowing the routes of the alert flyers, returning to my room silent as the night, but I had finally been recorded. I cursed myself for being so careless. I didn’t know of anyone who had been caught by a flyer. People had been recorded saying and doing things that were less than appropriate, but for such an act you would at most be put on collecting duty. I had had collecting duty so many times since moving to the Sky Institution, I actually found it quite entertaining rather than a punishment. Even the Instructor in charge of collecting duty offered a sly smile when he saw me approach for my day of work. Most collecting duty required the offender to venture low into the trees, strapped into a sturdy harness, and collect any life forms that created homes upon the lower bark. Even that low into the trees wasn’t in fact anywhere near the water, students would never yet be allowed near the water. I however, as a veteran of the art, ventured as low as the harness would allow. Instructor Elias of course was breaking every rule regarding collecting allowing me to do so, but the prizes I sometimes returned with was worth the risk. He never revealed my adventures to the Institution, but he was well rewarded for finding such delicacies and he made sure I was rewarded to. Strange, I always thought, to be rewarded for a punishment.
My mind wandered back to the present and what possible punishment would be provided for actually being caught by a flyer. My classmates who had seen it happen had laughed and shrugged off the matter as that of non-importance, but I knew better. Collecting would not be punishment enough, especially if knowledge of my prowess at collecting was known. Detainment was another punishment that fell short, that was usually held for the smallest of offenses; back talk, first offenders, indolence and the like. I could only conceive the possible nightmare in stall for me later. Instructor Tycho was again referring to his HPG, and I looked around me in confusion, everyone else had their own HPG’s out also. It was the end of class! I had lost myself in my own thoughts and had breezed carelessly through the whole lesson. Tycho was installing our assignments onto the students’ HPG, and I had no idea what the class had eventually been focussed upon. I cursed myself silently, and did not bother to check the assignment on my own HPG; I would keep that pleasure for later in the privacy of my own room. My classmates had begun to leave their seats and file out of the room and I followed suite, until I was stopped in my tracks by Instructor Tycho.
“Elpida? Do you not understand the uses of your HPG?”
I stared at him for a moment, as I had never really seen Tycho this close before. He was old; no doubt about that, his papery skin was the tell-tale sign. The young of our kind had soft supple and saturated skin, not that we really needed that aspect anymore, whereas when we reached a certain age our skin would become rougher but much more fragile in nature. To try and damage my skin as it was now would be a hefty task, no knife or blade would even cause me pain. When our skin became older and less durable, blades would have no problem slicing into us. That is why the elder of our generation taught the younger, they did not assume practical roles like we would. However, our kind had not been disturbed for years. There was no other sentient being alive on Andoria since the War of the Water. We destroyed the other water dwelling inhabitants when our ancestors had tried to find new food sources and had been attacked for entering already occupied territory. Or that is how it is taught to us. We do not even know the name of this other being, or we did but it was lost throughout the age, and I think that our ancestors knew far more about these being than they let on. Since the War of the Water, no other sentient being has been seen or heard of, and also since the War of the Water, we water dwelling beings cannot even go near our well fought for water residence.
“I’m sorry to interrupt your clearly more interesting thoughts, but I have not got all day Elpida!”
I jerked back into the conversation, and looked at Instructor Tycho sheepishly.
Tycho looked at me impatiently, “Your HPG Elpida? Your Handheld Portable Gen? Or has that key instrument been lost amongst other things lost from your kit in the past?”
“No sir, I have my HPG right here” I gestured to my forearm but made no move to turn it on.
“Well, Elpida, during the lesson, I sent you a report to your HPG. I thought, as you were paying no attention to my words, maybe electronically you would take notice!”
“Sorry sir.” I mumbled to the floor.
When I looked back up, due to an extended silence in his words, I saw Instructor Tycho tapping his foot waiting for me; to check my HPG obviously. I sighed and raised my forearm. I typed in my passcode into my HPG which was wrapped tightly around my left forearm, and waited for my holographic main screen to appear before my eyes. As expected, a message was waiting for me on my screen, flashing with importance as it was a message from an instructor. Tycho was watching me waiting. I thought this was all a bit silly, he was standing right in front of me and could as easily tell me the message, but I continued with the charade. Using my right hand, I expertly opened the message and made the writing a little bigger:
This was the third time you have been late this semester. But we both know this time was different.
You were caught by a flyer and not at the time you believe you were.
5 hours previous, the same flyer had found you and recorded you.
You think you will be punished, but if the Watchers realise what they are really seeing, you will be begging for punishment.
This message cannot be read by anyone else.
In 3 days’ time, if you have only been punished severely and nothing more, you must meet me. I will send you another untraceable message in 3 days.
I stared at the message, and reread it another two times. Tycho was still staring at me as if he was punishing me himself, and my face just remained confused. His stare became more intense, but the intent was still the same. I closed my HPG, hoping the gesture would indicate my unease, but Tycho just stared. But then I caught the glance. Tycho was trying to tell me something. I knew instinctively that I shouldn’t look where he was signposting, but I had to decipher the glance. I reopened my HPG, to Tycho’s confusion.
“I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t realise you needed me to send you the information you asked for immediately”
Tycho’s stance did not falter, but I saw him relax in his eyes; he knew I had a plan. Unbeknownst to anyone, I had made many illegal modifications to my HPG, and one would now come in handy. Our HPG’s were sacred; they were the most important part of our kit. They were our information source, our navigation, some of our communication, our survival guide, but I may have added a few guilty pleasures. I added my extra passcode and another screen appeared; my personal screen. I scanned the list of my personal embellishments and found the one I needed. Suddenly, my screen became that of a sheer silver mirror, and I angled my forearm so I could behind me. Where Tycho had been glancing, the top corner of the ceiling, I saw through the mirror the tiny fluttering of a flyer. I gulped softly, and with my forearm shaking slightly, I turned off my HPG. I nodded marginally at Tycho, and he, seeing my slight shuddering continued our farce.
“Thank you Elpida, and next time I’ll expect you to respond much more swiftly to an Instructors directives!”
I nodded, and with my mouth as dry as Tycho’s own skin, I walked out of the room as quickly as I possibly could without alerting the flyer. I ran back through the hallways as I had run this morning, and without stopping I headed straight to my room. Two flights of stairs, three corridors, one gallery, and an atrium later, I was in my room with the door locked. I sat on my bedstead. What had I done the night before to start all of this trouble? What in the world was going to happen to me now? And with these thoughts and a tired head, I lay down, and wept.