Sunday, June 27, 2010

Edward Scott and the Star Academy: Acceptance

I looked at the letter again. I just couldn’t believe it. I looked up at my mother, and she just nodded her head, smiling. She was holding a letter of her own, along with a catalogue of some sort. There were tears running down her eyes, and I think down mine too. I read the letter again, for the third time; just to be sure I wasn’t missing something.

The Valusian Imperial Star Academy

Office of the Headmaster, Master Greelux Ambridon

Dear Mr. Edward J. Scott, Jr.,

We are pleased to enounce that you have been accepted at the Valusian Imperial Star Academy. You have been awarded a special scholarship we offer to one special student from one of the many outlying planets every year. You’re mother should have received a packet explaining the benefits of the school, along with a personal transporter. It is set to take you to the satellite orbiting the planet you call Saturn on September first. We look forward to educating you on the wonders of the universe.

Greelux Ambridon

I couldn’t get over it. It was like something out of a bad Harry Potter rip off. And the Valusian Imperial Star Academy? The Valusian Empire was the setting for my dad’s novels. A trilogy of sci-fi books that were just breaking out of obscurity when he… well, Mom and I were never really sure what happened to him. One day he was there, the next he wasn’t. Mom always assumed he was dead, but there was no evidence of that. There was no evidence of anything.

And now this letter. It had to be a bad joke. I looked over at my mother who, just like the letter said, was looking at a catalogue. It had some fancy lettering on the cover that read ‘Valusian Imperial Star Academy, You’re Child’s Path to the Stars.’

“What the heck is this, Mom?” I said to her, pointing to the catalogue with the letter. “Is this supposed to be some kind of joke? Because if it is, it’s sick.”

Mom wiped away some of the tears running down her face. She looked over at me and stared at the letter, and I think I saw a smile flicker on her lips briefly.

“No, Eddie,” she says, “it’s not a joke. It’s real. It’s all real.”

“Come on,” I say, getting angrier. “The Valusian Imperial Star Academy? Dad’s setting for his sci-fi books? What, am I supposed to be like the hero in his books, the only human in the Empire, destined to save the galaxy? It was all made up, Mom, just a set of books he wrote.”

Mom started crying again, and had to use a tissue to stop her self and blow her nose. What the heck was wrong with her? I mean, it was true that she still loved Dad, and that she sometimes teared up when she was thinking about him. But this? You might think she just found out Dad was… dead? What, exactly, did that letter of hers say? I reached over to grab it, and she took snatched it away before I could.

“Honey,” she said. “You’re dad’s books, they weren’t just fiction. He wasn’t making anything up in those stories. He was writing about things that actually happened to him. He just changed the name of the main character so it wasn’t him, to make it easier to sell.”

“What?” I say. “That’s not possible.”

“It is possible,” she said. “I can show you.”

She stood up and headed towards the basement. I followed, wondering what she could show me down there that I hadn’t already seen. It’s not like I’ve never been to the basement. We walk down the stairs and she heads over to a corner. I’ve been to that corner before; it’s where we keep most of dad’s stuff including the laptop he wrote his books on. I didn’t see anything unusually or different about it now. Then, Mom did something.

I’m still not quite sure what it is she did. I mean, I know what actions she took, sure. She pulled out Dad’s laptop and turned it on. How it turned on with out being plugged into the wall, I had no idea at the time. But more amazing was what came next. She typed in a password into the log on screen, and the wall opened. I don’t mean, like, it opened up like there was a secret door or something, no, I mean a tear opened up in the wall, like it just wasn’t there. And beyond that, inside a small room, was something out of a science fiction novel’s worst dream.

The walls looked like they were made out of chrome, and there were tubes running out of them at random intervals. Some went back into the wall, and the rest ran to some strange equipment on the floor or ceiling. I couldn’t see much more than lots of blinking lights, but I could hear humming and quiet beeping, and the smell of ozone filled the air. Mom stepped through the opening, and I followed, jaw open, in awe at what I was seeing.

Off to one corner was a desk, made of the same chrome that the walls were made of, and covered with what looked like several computers, all connected to one screen. Mom walked over to it and touched the screen with the palm of her hand. It turned on, and a voice came out of the walls.

“Welcome back, Jessica,” it said. It sounds echoy and kind of metallic, though not the emotionless robot voice of classic sci-fi. “It has been a long time since you’ve been here.”

“It has, Zero-One,” Mom said, removing her hand from the screen.

“I see a boy with you,” the voice continued. “Scans indicate he shares your DNA as well as that of Master Alex. I take it, then, that this is Edward. He must be of age now, and Master Alex’s belief that he has been accepted at the academy. You would not be here otherwise.”

Mom looked like she was going to tear up again. “You’re correct, Zero-One. He just got his acceptance letter today.”

“Mom?” I say, looking at her. “What is this?”

“Honey,” Mom says, and waves her arm around the whole room. “This is you’re father’s AI, Zero-One. He used it to keep in touch with the Valusian Empire. It was a gift to him by the Emperor himself.”

“Greetings, Edward,” the voice said.

“Uh, hi,” I said and waved, though I wasn’t quite sure where to look.

“Am I correct is assuming that you have been accepted at the Valusian Imperial Star Academy?” Zero-One said.

“Yeah,” I reply, “that’s what the letter I got said. I’m still having a hard time believing it, though. I mean, I grew up thinking all this was just part of my dad’s fiction.”

“I understand,” Zero-One said. “I aided you’re father in the creation of those novels. It was a way for him to make money for your family, and protect you at the same time. I can assure you, however, that the events depicted in those novels were real. I am real. Before he disappeared you’re father programmed me to aid you when you came of age to be accepted in the academy. I am to go with you to school and guide you through Valusian culture and life.”

“Seriously?” I said. “Mom, okay, so I believe, this is all real. Zero-One was in dad’s books, the last one where Dash Adams uses the AI to trick the Galfurian’s into surrendering to the Valusians despite the fact that they were winning, thus ending the war that had been raging through the whole trilogy. And the description of Zero-One in the books matches this exactly, down the the voice. But, still, you can’t seriously be expecting me to go to a school that’s in a whole different galaxy!”

“Solar System,” Zero-One said.

“What?” I reply.

“A whole different Solar System,” Zero-One explained. “The Valusian Imperial Star Academy is in this galaxy, just a different solar system.”

“Whatever,” I said, getting angry. “It’s not just down the block, or even across town, Mom. We’re talking another planet all together.”

“But it’s an amazing opportunity,” Mom said. “Plus, it’s difficult to turn down.”

“What do you mean?” I say. “Seems pretty easy. I just don’t go.”

“It is not as simple as that,” Zero-One says. “There are other considerations. The Empire does not take well to scholarship winners turning them down.”

“Besides,” Mom said. “Are you really telling me that you’re going to turn down the opportunity to travel to another planet, meet real aliens and fly space ships?”

“Fly space ships?” I ask, suddenly becoming interested. It never occurred to me that if this were all real, I’d get to see real aliens. The aliens I’ve read about several times in my dad’s books.

“Oh, yes” Zero-One said. “Basic shuttle piloting is taught to all students at the Academy.”

I look at my mom and then at the room. I look back at Mom, who nods and smiles. I think about things for a few moments and then decide that going to outer space is a pretty big opportunity, and one that’s hard to refuse.

“Okay,” I say. “I’m in. What do I need to do.”

The next several weeks are spent getting me ready. Zero-One informs me that while most of the events in Dad’s books are factual, many of the details were made up or made more exciting to make it more book like. Real life, even adventurous real life, is seldom as exciting as a book or movie. Part of my getting ready is getting the materials I need. These include books and a school uniform. He shows me the books I’ll need to buy on the computer screen in his room, and informs me that it is possible to buy them and download them into his memory.

I ask him where am I going to get Valusian money from, and I think the computer actually laughed at me. Apparently, Dad received a substantial sum of money as a reward from the Emperor. I, as his inheritor, am basically wealthy. So, buying the books is a snap. I even get them translated into English. Zero-One has me start on Valusian 101 right away, and I start learning how to speak the strange language. I feel like I need two tongues to speak it, but Zero-One informs me that Valusians only have one tongue.

My uniform is another matter. I have to order that to be waiting for me at the station in orbit around Saturn when I arrive on September 1. I ask how come September? I mean, that’s when school starts here, but we’re talking about a whole other world. Isn’t that a massive coincidence?

“It is, in fact,” Zero-One answered me. “A highly improbable one, as you suspected, but nothing more than that.”

I decide to let it go. I have another question I need answered. Zero-One has mentioned several times over the weeks getting ready that he will be going with me, as will these digital books I purchased. I ask him, how is that possible, when he’s the size of my bedroom?

“Simple,” Zero-One states.

Then, the beeping that is always in the background of his room increases and the room practically hums. A few seconds later, a slot opens in the wall, one that I never noticed before, and out pops something that looks like an iPhone. I pick it up. It’s slightly warm to the touch, and the screen is blank. I gently touch it with my finger.

“Greetings, Master Edward,” a voice that sounds like a smaller, faster version of Zero-One comes out of the phone’s speakers. “I am Zero-One-A. I will be your personal, portable AI on your time at school. All of your books are programmed into my memory.”

“Cool,” I said. “So, Zero-One-A is a real mouthful, mind if I just call you Zee?”

“Whatever you wish, Master Edward,” Zee said.

“Fantastic, Zee it is,” I say with a big grin on my face.

The last few days are spent packing and getting to know Zee. It turns out that he doesn’t have much of a personality. I learn from him and Zero-One that new AI’s don’t, but they develop one over time, based on the person that owns them. Zee will develop a personality to match mine. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.

Finally, the big day arrived. According to Zee, the little disk with a small display screen on it that came with my acceptance letter is my personal transport device. It will teleport me (and only me) and some of my personal possessions that I am holding onto, like suitcases, to the station at Saturn. The device I have isn’t a real transport so much as a homing beacon of some sort, but keyed to my DNA or something. I never did totally understand.

I also didn’t understand the science behind the teleporter. I asked if it was like Star Trek, and both the AI’s laughed at me. They tried to explain the technology to me, something about mini wormholes, but I just didn’t get it. All I understood was that I was going to be sucked into some kind of space tunnel and then spit out the other end. They both assured me that it would not be painful, or even jarring, but their descriptions made me think otherwise. I didn’t have time to think about it, however.

A few days before departure date the two AI’s wanted me to start carrying around that transport disk with me all the time. So, I had been keeping it in my pocket. When the big day arrived, I had been asking questions about what it would feel like to be sucked through a hole to the other side of the solar system when the disk started vibrating. I pulled it out and a count down timer was flashing on the screen, 5 minutes. I rushed up to my room to grab my stuff and started yelling at Mom to let her know I was about to disappear. She came in to my room to give me a quick, tear filled hug and a good luck.

“I know you’re going to do great, honey,” she said. “Here, take this. It belonged to your father, and I know he’d want you to have it now.”

She pulled out a little piece of jewelry. It was a necklace with something that looked like a dog tag around the end. On it was the symbol of the Valusian Empire, a red star rising over a Saturn-like planet in black. On the back was something that looked like a bar code, like you find on cereal boxes or stuff you buy form the grocery store. I nearly cried at getting this. It was my dad’s, and now it’s mine.

“Time’s almost up,” Zee said. He was hanging from my shoulder over my chest on a special case that he and Zero-One set up for me. “You must grab your luggage, Master Edward.”

I had been trying to get him to just call me Ed, or even Eddie like my best friends do, but he wasn’t having that. Master Edward was all he would call me. Something about it not being appropriate for an AI to be on close friendly terms with their masters. I rushed over to my luggage, and grabbed the handles. I looked up at my mom and saw her still crying.

“I love you Mom,” I said. “I’ll find a way to send you a message, through Zero-One.”

And then the transporter disk started beeping again, more frantic and louder than before. Before I could even ask what was up, I suddenly felt like I was being turned inside out. I had about a second of that sensation before the world righted itself again, and I fell to my knees, sure I was about to throw up. Then, I looked around me. I found myself standing in what looked like a Train Station, with platforms and large grooves in the floor, only no tracks. It was all indoor, and mostly made out of steel or some other kind of metal. And then I saw the people walking around me, and realized that I wasn’t on Earth anymore.

There were all kinds of strange aliens. Something that looked like a squid in a power suit made its way by me, followed by two beings that looked like people with dog faces. Kind of like that Egyptian god, Anubis. Some people looked basically human, but with odd features, like purple skin, or no ears and pointy things coming out of their fore head, or four arms. Other’s looked completely alien, like this one guy (at least, I think he was a guy) that looked like an orange weight lifter with a hammer for a head. And this other creature that looked exactly like a centaur, except that the hair was green and the skin was ash gray.

“Welcome to Saturn Station, lad,” I heard a voice say, and turned around to see someone that looked completely human. He was older, with gray hair and a mustache, and wore some kind of uniform, a blue jumpsuit with gray stripes down the arms and legs, and a matching ball cap. “You must be Edward Scott.”

“Uh,” I stumble, unsure what to think. I wasn’t expecting to see a human here. “Yeah, I’m Edward.”

“Pleased to meet you,” he said, extending his hand. I took it and we shook. A completely human thing to do. “My name is Charles, and I’ll be helping you get to your ship. Don’t see too many humans here, I’m always glad to see them when I do. You got your forms?”

I’m caught off guard by the sudden change of subject, but Zee comes to my rescue by beeping and displaying the invitation and the permission slip from my mom on his screen. Charles bends over and looks at the screen and nods.

“Good AI you got there,” he said. “These are exactly what you need. Let’s get you to your ship, shall we?”

I nodded, and Charles led me down the platform and through a set of doors. Through the doors I found myself in what looked like a mall food court. There were at least a dozen restaurants that I could see, most of which looked like fast food places, though the food they served was odd. Some I wasn’t even sure I would call food, despite the strange beings eating it.

But what caught my attention the most was the large window that looked out into space. It was black, as you would expect, but it wasn’t empty. There were hundreds, no thousands of stars, and other things too, clouds of some sort, all strange and wonderful colors. And best of all was the view of Saturn. From this window, it was just a corner of the planet. It was a fantastic shade of orange, with the rings circling it, making it a truly awe inspiring sight. It all struck me at once. I was really here. I was in outer space.

“Awe inspiring, isn’t it?” Charles said. “I never get tired of seeing that view, and I’ve worked on this station for thirty years now.”

We pause for a moment at the window just to enjoy the view, and it truly is amazing. I could just stare out this window for hours. Charles nudges me in the shoulder, however, reminding me that I’m going somewhere.

“Come on, let’s get you to your ship,” he said, and we start making our way towards another door.

“Wait,” I say, suddenly remembering something. “I need to pick up my uniform.”

“Oh,” Charles said, and he pulled out a blocky looking device about the size of a paper back book from his pocket. It was his AI, I realized. “Well, it looks like we’ve got time before the ship to the Academy is due to leave, so I’ll take you to the store your uniform is at.”

He lead me through a different arch way to a big hallway. There were more shops down this hall, but they were not food places. Some seemed like normal stores, a barbershop and gift stores. But others didn’t make any sense to me. Something that looked like a wax for octopuses and another that looked like it sold eyeballs. I didn’t get any of it, but I didn’t want to ask Charles. He seemed to think we were running out of time before we needed to get to my ship.

A few moments later, we stopped at what was obviously a clothing shop. I couldn’t read the sign above the shop, but under it was words in several Earth languages. I recognized English, Spanish and what looked like either Chinese or Japanese, I wasn’t sure. One other language I didn’t recognize but Charles told me was German was there as well. The English sign read ‘Dural’s Clothing for All Species.’

“Welcome, Charles,” I heard a voice that sounded like someone gargling gravel say. “And who’s your friend? It looks like another native to the solar system.”

“He is,” Charles said. “This is Edward Scott, and he’s been accepted at the Valusian Imperial Star Academy.”

“Oh, really?” the voice said. Then, I saw who was speaking. It looked like the voice suggested, a large boulder about eight feet tall, with arms and legs. I didn’t see any discernable eyes, but there was defiantly a mouth. “Well, welcome, Cadet Scott. My name is Dural, and I’m guessing you’re here to get your uniform.”

I only nodded. The rock made a rumbling sound that I assumed was laughter.

“Not used to non-Earth life forms, huh?” it said. I nodded again. “Well, you’ll get used to it at the Academy, let me tell you. Here, let me get your uniform.”

He disappeared behind a counter and reappeared a moment later with a box. He handed it to me and twisted his mouth hole into what appeared to be a lopsided frown. I’m guessing he was trying to smile, because other wise, he was snarling at me, and I didn’t want to be eaten by a rock. I opened the box and looked inside.

The uniform was impressive. It consisted of a white shirt and black tie, and dark blue vest over that, and some navy blue pants with a black stripe down the side. A long, navy blue jacket also came with it, with round black patches on the shoulders and elbows, and black stripes at the cuffs and across the waist. Across the left breast was a gray square with some strange symbols in it. Dural told me that was my name in Valusian. On the right shoulder was a patch that had the planet Earth on it, and below that was another gray box with more symbols. Earth, Dural told me it read. It also came with a set of black boots that came up to my calves. They looked like they were made out of leather.

“There’s a warm weather jacket, too,” he said. “I’ll send it to your ship in another box.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Can I get dressed right now?”

“That’s probably a good idea,” Charles said, and both of them lead me to a dressing room, where I changed. I looked at myself in the mirror. Other than my long, black hair, which went down to my shoulders, I looked rather dashing. At least, I thought so. When I exited, both Dural and Charles told me the same thing, though I suspected that Dural was just saying that because I was his customer. All dressed, Charles and I finally left for the ship that would take me to the Academy. That’s when the trouble started.

We had just barley left the clothing store when there was an explosion. Charles and I were knocked down, and the wind was blown out of me. A few moments later, as the smoke cleared, I scrambled up and started coughing. I turned to look, and saw a group of people in armor. They looked almost completely human, but it was hard to really tell, because their faces were covered by helmets. They were also covered in armor, and sporting what was very obviously weapons, though they looked like something from a Saturday morning cartoon show rather than real weapons. One of them fired in my direction, though, a red beam that scared the wall next to me, making me realize that they were real enough.

“Death to the Humans,” one shouted.

“Death to Edward Scott!” the others shouted behind them. I saw that there were six of them total. And they apparently all wanted me dead. I froze in terror.

As I watched, things seemed to slow down. The six armored beings with guns all looked my way and aimed their weapons my way. A few brought them to their shoulders, but most just held them up to their waist. Then, there was a flash of blue and the next thing I knew I was being carried down a side hallway that I never noticed before. Things moved back to normal speed, and I realized I was being carried, by Charles. For an old man, he was pretty strong, and fast. We were running down a hallway that didn’t seem to have any thing in it, except lights on the wall.

A few seconds later, there were more of those red laser things, complete with buzzing noises. Each time they hit the floor or the wall, they left scortch marks.

“Who are they?” I shouted.

“Galfurians,” Charles replied as we ran. “They have it out for the Valusian Empire, and for some reason, really hate humans, even though we’re not officially a part of the empire. I think it has something to do with your father.”

“You know my father?” I cry, suddenly more interested in that tidbit of information rather than the men shooting at us.

“Not personally,” Charles said. “But everyone has heard of him, and as a result, you. You’re a celebrity, Edward. Didn’t your AI tell you this?”

“I was unaware of current galactic events,” Zee said before I could ask it the question.

“No time for this now, anyway,” Charles said, and rounded a corner. We were back in the food court. He skidded to a stop in front of a stall, and tossed me over the counter to one of those strange octopus looking things, who caught me with three of it’s tenticals. “Watch that for me, will you, Tred? Galfurians on my tail.”

The octopus just waved, and pushed me under the counter. There was a hole in the counter, and so I twisted my self around to get a look at what was going on outside. A few seconds later, the six guys in armor came rounding the corner, and stopped, looking around for us. I see then that their legs are very not human. Their knees bend backwards, and the boots the wear end in two, long toes. Then, I see Charles, over by the window. He’s jumping up and down and waving his arms.

“Hey! Furballs!” he shouts. “Over here!”

Without hesitation, all six Galfurians turn and fire at Charles. None of them aim, which is a blessing, because they are all lousy shots. Charles dives behind something that looks exactly like a couch and the shots mostly bounce harmlessly off the material the windows are made of, or scorch the floor and even the couch itself. Charles pokes his head up, but a few more shots sends him back for cover. This is ridiculous, I realize. He’s going to end up killed, and hiding me under the counter will only work for so long.

I think back to my dad’s books. The Galfurian’s were trying to over through the Empire in them, and Dad’s main character put a stop to it by killing their king. But, before getting there, he discovers that the hostile aliens have a killer weakness. Water. Salt water, like that found in the ocean, is like acid to them. I squirm around, and the squid-guy holding me down puts one large eye towards me.

“Stop,” he says in heavy accented English. “They will hear you.”

“We gotta stop them,” I say, ignoring him. “Do you happen to serve ocean water here?”

“What?” the eye blinks.

“Salt water. Ocean water,” I repeat.

“Well, of course,” he says, as if I just asked if the station had air to breath.

“Great, I want the tallest, largest glass you can get me,” I say.

“I don’t think now is really the time for a drink,” the squid says.

“Just get me one,” I say. “I’ve got a plan.”

The eye blinks again, and then disappears. A few seconds later, its back, and a new tactical brings me a tall, large water bottle, inside of which is what appears to be the dirtiest water I’ve ever seen. I look back out the hole at the aliens with the guns, and I realize that the water probably won’t do much good unless I can get them out of their helmets.

“Zee,” I whisper, and place the little computer up against the hole. “Can you tell me if there’s a way to get those helmets open?”

A few seconds later, Zee quietly beeps, and I turn him around. Text flashes across the screen.

“Affirmative, Master Edward,” the text reads. “The helmets are all controlled by a radio signal. Send the right signal, and the helmets open.”

“Do you know that signal?” I ask hopefully.

“Negative,” reads the text, and my heart falls. This plan isn’t going to work.

“Stay down, monkey boy,” one of the Galfurians says, and sends another shot towards the couch.

Then, to my surprise, another one opens it’s helmet. It pulls back and retracts into the armor, and I get a good look at the face. It’s feminine, to be sure, but it looks very much like a cat. The others follow suit, and I see a mix of female and male cat faces.

“The boy is around somewhere,” the first one to open her helmet says. “Start sniffing him out.”

They start doing just that, smelling the air. I realize that, as close as I am, they will be able to find me pretty quickly. Without thinking, I crawl out from under the counter, open the bottle of water, and jump up onto the counter top.

“Hey, cat face!” I cry, and spray some water into the faces of the nearest two. Their faces burn, and their drop their weapons, bringing their hands up to their faces. I fling water and two more, dropping them just as quickly. The remaining two, however, are quick to act, and start firing at me. I duck back behind the counter, but in doing so, I throw up the bottle. As I watch, the bottle is hit by a bolt of laser, and explodes, salt water flying everywhere.

I ducked my head between my legs and closed my eyes, expecting the cat people to jump over and start blasting me to shreds any second now. In stead, I heard more gun fire, this time sounding more like an electric buzz than the laser guns did. After a few seconds of fire, I heard two drops, followed quickly by four more. Then, there was foot steps, and a voice calling to me from above the counter.

“Edward?” the voice said. It was Charles. “Are you okay down there, lad?”

I open my eyes and see the old man looking back at me. He has a small pistol in his hand, the barrel of which is still smoking. I smile and leap up, giving him a hug. He laughs and hugs me back with one arm.

“Just like you’re father,” he says. “He always acted before thinking, too. But, thanks to your action with the salt water, I was able to take our attackers down.”

“Who are you?” I say. “I thought you worked for the station.”

“Oh, that’s just a cover,” he says. “I’ve been assigned here to make sure that you make it to the Academy in one piece. Looks like a good thing I was here, too.”

I look over the counter at the dead cat aliens. I’ve never seen dead people before. I feel sick, drop out of Charles’ hands, and promptly throw up. He pats me on the back until I finish, then hands me a cold, wet towel that I use to clean up. I see the octopus thing clean up my vomit as Charles leads me away, and wonder vaguely if that will end up on the menu. I try not to think more on it lest I throw up again.

I look up at Charles. I have a lot of questions. What does he know about my dad? Just who is he, really? Send by whom to protect me from what? What the hell is really going on here? He sees the look in my eyes and pats me on the back.

“Come on, lad,” he says, returning to the kind old man I first met when I got here. “Let’s get on the ship. It’s a long trip to the Academy, and we’ll have plenty of time for you to ask your questions on the way.”

I look down at the floor. I was scared. Someone tried to kill me. Six someones. And now I was in the care of a strange old man that was far more than he appeared. All so I can go to school in a space academy?

“Charles?” I say.

“Yes, lad?” he says.

“I’m scared,” I say.

“Good,” is his only reply. “Good.

The End

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