"So what is your specialty?" Jena asked as she carefully unlatched her cases to begin unpacking. "You're vocational?" Her father had told her that only married students or students from the same program roomed together.
Jena's father had wanted her to do the standard program, as he had when he attended Kailin University, but Jena had little patience for the supplementary and core classes required of semester students. She had requested an interview with her mother, then her mother had requested leniency for vocational. He grimly relented.
Hayley's muffled "Yes" drew Jena's attention back to current details.
Hayley had pulled off her boots and now shimmied out of her jacket, both of which were then tossed in the general vicinity of the bed. She rolled up her sleeves and glanced over at Jena long enough to answer, "Mechanical engineering." She shrugged—"Etcetera."—then dug in.
She wrangled clothes into drawers and hauled more into the closet. Jena's mother would not approve, for Hayley was not at all gracious, but she did have some grace, an evasive intensity as she navigated her room as surely as a preprogrammed guided missile.
Jena went about her unpacking more methodically. She unzipped each garment bag, one at a time, then gently removed her dresses and suits to hang them each half an inch apart. She unwrapped her framed family photographs and set each picture neatly on the tiny side table in three layers so she could see each face.
"You're close to your family?" Hayley asked, quietly.
Jena looked up, surprised by the question, and saw that Hayley was rummaging through her duffel, head close to the zipper. "Yes," she answered cautiously.
Jena watched as Hayley's expression become a thoughtful frown. Then, with a sharp cry of pleased discovery, Hayley dug her hand deeper into the bag. Liquid silver melted up her arm in a stream from the duffel, then resolved into a necklace in her hand. She reached back, clasped the chain around her neck, then zipped the duffel and shoved it beneath her bed. The formerly messy half of the room had transformed into a startlingly neat and clean new version of itself. "Ready for orientation?" Her voice was bright, her green eyes fixed on Jena.
A moment of hesitancy. "You wear the silver?"
Hayley tilted her head appraisingly and rested one hand on her cocked hip. "Mechanical engineers generally need to be at least decent nanotechnologists: know the materials they build with and all that." Absently, "You are a curious one."
Jena smiled, keeping the gesture appropriately small. "Aren't we all?" she asked.
Then Hayley looked at her, really looked at her, and with a strange bite to her voice answered. "No."
Clark Gabrin stopped in the doorway to Jack's favorite garage and stared at the new renovations, then frowned grimly at the broad glass door to the outdoors. "Nanobots," he muttered distractedly.
Jack tried to ignore the doctor and focus on his own work, his motorcycle to be specific. The long hauler had taken a beating from his last trip up north to Yukon country, and he wanted it usable for the local scene by the end of tomorrow.
Of course, Clark had other ideas. "You asked for a new door put in?" he asked, seemingly materializing at Jack's elbow and nearly giving him a heart attack.
"Make some noise when you walk!" Jack growled at him. It was hard to sneak up on Jack. An unusually good set of ears and a couple decades in the militancy will do that to a man, but when he first arrived at Kailin, half the current students and all the staff took it as a personal challenge to do so. The betting pool Danninger had started at fifty credits before it grew to almost a thousand certainly did not help either.
Clark just grinned. Briefly. "The door," he pressed.
Jack frowned. "It's just nanobots. Vocational kid putting together her portfolio."
Clark turned back to the door, clearly unreassured. He held a slim brown envelope in his hand and kept tapping it against the other palm.
Jack sighed, realizing there was a reason Clark had shown up in the garage. "Something on your mind, Doc?"
Clark glanced over, then went back to staring at the door. He frowned. "The glass is silver?"
"Not sure." Jack shrugged. "Why do you care?"
The doctor shook his head, frowned at the envelope in his hand, and then shuffled out of the garage, muttering, "Nothing, nothing," beneath his breath.
Clark Gabrin frowned at the thin package as he entered his office. It looked like a brown envelope, but was in truth one of those slim media boxes the Interplanetary Mail Service liked to use: whatever it took to carry as little bulk as possible.
He had an opener in his right desk drawer and went to get it, gaze hovering blankly and briefly over the teetering mounds of books and paperwork flooding through his office and overwhelming both bookcases and file cabinets. He pulled out a small silver disc, etched with an intricate glyph, and a note.
Medes to militancy to you. Keep it away from the Council.
A seared scorch mark graced the bottom of the note, and Clark sat down abruptly. Marré. The spacer. She had saved his life once when they were both young and he had taken an educational trip on a cargo ship to save portage fees (a terrible idea he now dissuaded all manner of young students from emulating), and he had returned the favor—from nanobots.
He stared at the disc, stared again at the note, again at the disc with distaste. He knew nothing about how to work the silver, having avoided it until now. At last, he returned to the note. Marré never did anything without purpose. She had written him letter after long, breezy letter from Sellus, where she was currently stationed. This brief note...
Medes to militancy to you. Keep it away from the Council.
Clark's mouth straightened in a grim line. He knew nothing about silver, nothing beyond the dangers of it, and none of his trusted colleagues on campus knew more than he. There were rumors, but then not all of his colleagues did he trust.
He opened a drawer full of files he had previously refused to look at. And that was the trouble with vocationals.
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