Breaking the Glass
Shelley Huntington was less than thrilled with Kailin University. It was an old, respected institution built on Earth before there were any other inhabited planets to talk about. Ostensibly, the sprawling campus of white stone buildings—likely laced with nanobots and other technology—still belonged in private hands, those of William Scheffer, heir to his grandfather however many times removed that had founded it. The buildings and grounds of manicured lawns and neatly cut road– and skyways likewise failed to impress Shelley. She was an Ybreteh girl. She liked her computers and small spacecraft Abi bought her for her sixteenth birthday and the higher-tech world she had been born on.
"Anywhere, anywhere but here," she muttered to herself under her breath. She had dumped off her things in the dorm room indicated by her room key, a tiny boxed-in affair occupied by three beds—more muttering ensued—and since then, taken to wandering disconsolately about the ridiculous maze of hallways (she didn't even know they still used drywall this extensively) in search of the vocational orientation auditorium marked deceptively on her campus map as just inside the building across from the dorms.
A tiny sound caught Shelley's attention, and she drew herself up short and held her breath. Clacking. Definitely clacking. She nodded sharply to herself, spun on her heel, and followed the sound of typing fingers into a glassed-in reception area she could barely believe she had missed.
"Excuse me?" She rapped on the glass as she entered.
A tall, redheaded man was sitting behind a large desk, frowning and grumbling at the sleek desktop machine in front of him. His hair had been thoroughly mussed from running his hands through it, but his button-up shirt was neat and pressed. He glanced at her over the teetering towers of computer tutorials threatening to topple into him at a breath.
His brown eyes appeared glazed over, but he seemed to rally enough to notice her existence. "Do you know anything..." His voice trailed off as he blinked, taking her in. He scratched his throat and her cheeks heated. "Are you here with someone?" he asked.
Shelley opened her mouth and was surprised that real words came tumbling out. "I'm sixteen years old. I'm in the vocational program."
"Oh." The man colored, stood, smoothing his shirt as he did so—perhaps he was used to wearing a tie, and held out his hand. "Will Danninger. Mech and negotiations."
She hesitated, then shook his hand. "Teacher?"
"Yeah." Another harried look at his computer. "You'd think I could figure out this thing."
"I'll help you out if you can point me to orientation," Shelley prodded brightly, looking as helfpul and sympathetic as possible.
"You know anything about this stuff?" Mr. Danninger asked as he settled back into his seat.
Of course, with her being a vocational student, it was a given she must be exceptionally talented at something, but she did not bother to voice the logic. Instead, she asked, "What's the problem?" and perched up on the desk to peer over his shoulder.
"I got locked out of the system," he remarked dryly.
Shelley giggled. "Chair?"
"What?" He gave her a confused look, but then got it and stood to let her sit down.
At that moment, the door burst open, and a burly man with dark hair, bright blue eyes, and a lab coat entered, gesticulating wildly. "Will, I require the assistance of some of our new vocational students. I assume you have found an opportunity to become acquainted with them." The man—doctor, Shelley would bet—stopped cold, then sputtered an apology for his obliviousness to her presence. "I was unaware you were engaged."
Mr. Danninger stared at this second man, then glanced at Shelley, turned red, then exasperated, and glared back at the man. "I'm not engaged, Clark."
Shelley just kept working. He had locked himself out well, setting up haphazard and excessive security permissions, then entering in on a lesser profile and thus cutting off his own access to the login page. She shook her head amiably.
"I apologize, my friend. An unfortunate double entendré," Clark returned. "I did not mean to intrude."
"Intrude away," Shelley's reply was chipper. "You'll be up and running in another ten minutes, Mr. Danninger."
Mr. Danninger blinked at her, then clearly consigned her to the mental shelf to focus on Clark. "Now, what's this about needing vocationals? I remember distinctly, clearly hearing you deny that Scheffer wanted them on board."
"Of course, I didn't." Clark pushed his glasses up on his nose. "Scheffer may want whatever pleases him. I denied desiring any for myself."
"And now you want them? Just like that?" Mr. Danninger looked positively bewildered.
"Nonsense." Clark waved him off. "I require them. Quite a difference, my friend, though I wish I could dispense with this problem entirely. An acquaintance of some years past sent me an unfortunate puzzle I must unravel. I have kept certain members of my circle apprised of the work in which I am involved and of the habitat project itself, and this would seem to be related in some way."
Mr. Danninger glanced over at Shelley. She stayed focused on her work, realizing immediately he was concerned she should not be hearing this.
"The vocationals," he repeated.
"And this lovely young lady. Are you not in the vocational program?" Clark addressed Shelley.
She nodded, closed out the newly reconfigured login file, then spun around in the chair. "Remand." She made a face.
Clark's bushy eyebrows went up in apparent consternation. "You are quite young for that."
She shrugged. "All set, Mr. Danninger. Could you please show me how to get to orientation?"
Mr. Danninger never had a chance. Clark offered his arm and helped her to her feet. "I'm Dr. Clark Gabrin. I would be happy to walk you there myself."
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