Geoffrey looked out over the schoolyard through his helmet visor and frowned. The other kids could run around freely. They didn’t worry about breaking the seal on an encounter suit. As Doltalyi, they had no problem breathing the ammonia-rich atmosphere of their homeworld.
As the son of a visiting EarthGov geologist, however, Geoffrey had to be on alert every second. In fact, it wasn’t entirely clear that a thirteen-year-old human boy should venture outside the school’s central dome. There, the built-in magclad projector could follow him everywhere and all he needed was a light-weight oxygen feed.
But officials in the Doltalyi Division of Child Services had been adamant that Schoolyard Time was essential to Geoffrey’s social development. Too bad nobody bothered to tell his class mates.
“Hey, Bubble Head,” yelled Kron Vodev, a particularly obnoxious Doltalyi from the upper school.
Geoffrey had learned to ignore taunts like that. Being a few centimeters shorter than average for his age, he’d already had his fair share of “Shorty,” “Shrimp Cakes and “Micro Boyotic.” Here on Doltal, Geoffrey was actually taller than most kids, but the names kept coming.
At first, he’d been thrilled when Mom told him about her new assignment. He’d enjoyed the trip over, on a government starspanner, especially when Lieutenant Jansen had shown him around and even let him input the jump coordinates one time.
And after they touched down, Geoffrey’s first few weeks on Doltal were exciting. Mom had taken him everywhere and explained all kinds of cool stuff about the exotic mineral deposits she would study. Imagine, thin crystal lattices capable of filtering out gamma rays up to ten thousand Gy! Mom said they could reduce the cost of radiation shielding dramatically.
Then school started and, within a week, Geoffrey wished he’d stayed home with Dad. Except, a lot of the time, Dad acted like he’d been exposed to too much radiation himself. Something to do with his military service, Mom said.
But Geoffrey was old enough to SkyNet the prescriptions in their medicine cabinet. Poor guy. Regardless, staying on Pursuit, his home habitat in the Tau Ceti sector, would also have saved him the headache of adjusting to Doltalyi math.
The aliens, who’d evolved from a species remarkably like terrestrial arachnids, calculated in Base 8. While that made sense, given their four prehensile arms and four supportive legs, it was a solid month before Geoffrey could get used to reading “107 and thinking “71.”
But that was nothing compared to Doltalyi geometry. Dealing with four dimensions was way harder for him than for the Doltalyi, who could reallocate discrete sectors of their brains for calculation whenever they needed to.
Fact was, he couldn’t keep up and wasn’t much better off in the rest of his courses. At least, Geoffrey could rely on the joint Earth-Doltalyi translation grid to keep him in touch. Otherwise well, he didn’t want to think about it.
In the midst of his frustration, Geoffrey had made one friend. Her name was Guneel Haktoh and she was Chotaarese, an ethnic group making up approximately one-eighth of the total population. While the average Doltalyi were deep red with blue markings across their backs, the Chotaarese were deep blue with red markings.
“Yeah, I get rejected sometimes,” she’d told Geoffrey one day after school. “You have this nonsense where you’re from?”
Geoffrey nodded. Though his homeworld’s edubots had soft-pedaled that aspect of human history, it didn’t take much to find out the truth. Plus last year, Mom had finally filled him in with a few sharp words about his best friend’s ancestors.
Yet, fifty-seven parsecs from Pursuit, Geoffrey hadn’t given that conversation a thought, until Guneel reminded him.
“They’re just jealous,” said Guneel, “Chotaarese are telepaths.”
Geoffrey squinted at her.
“What’s that like?” he asked.
“Like this,” Guneel’s voice echoed in his skull. “Umm, your brain’s cozy. Mind if I poke around a little?”
“Hey, cut it out you’re not supposed to .” he stuttered.
“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” said Guneel, once again through the translation grid. “Just tell me: Who’s Jamie Norris?”
Geoffrey kicked a patch of orange grass with his right boot.
“She’s someone I used to be obsessed with,” he said.
“Used to be?” asked Guneel. “Now, you know you can’t lie to me.”
“Can we not do this?” asked Geoffrey. “I mean, unless you share something, too. Who are you crushing on?”
Guneel’s lower mandible swayed side-to-side in the Doltalyi equivalent of a smile.
“Nobody special,” she said. “Just you.”
(To be continued)
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