Saturday, July 18, 2015

Crossed Off: Students (Part II)


When Starla woke up the next morning, the first thing she did was complain about Alec lying to her. “You had the entire rest of yesterday to tell me that you’re planning to drag me to Kansas City.”
“I was trying to choose my words carefully.”
“Yes. You are known for not speaking clearly when you don’t have the whole night to think about it.”
“We’re doing this, Starla.”
“Why?”
“Because that’s what normal people do; they go see their friends, physically. They get in a car, train, or plane, and they move through space in real-time. I think you kind of need to see what that’s like.”
“That sounds incredibly exhausting. I don’t know how you get through the day like that. I’m fine the way I am. I won’t kill myself, I promise.”
“If you think that this trip is only about that then you obviously don’t understand what friendship is.”
“It’ll be rather awkward, won’t it? I just met Kathleen, and now we’re going to visit her brother four states over? What’s your cover again? How does she think you even know Tristan?”
“We told her that we met at archery camp.”
“You haven’t picked up a bow in your life.”
“I’m thinking about picking it up. Tristan makes it sound interesting.”
“That he does. He doesn’t care about anything but Kathleen and archery.”
Kathleen came back into the room with a towel wrapped around her still dripping body. “What’s this?”
“Uh...what?” Alec asked.
“This door isn’t very thick. What did you say about not doing archery?”
Oh no. Alec and Starla tried to come up with excuses for what they had meant during the conversation, but nothing sounded plausible. They ended up breaking down and just telling the truth about Starla’s ability to switch bodies with people. Kathleen was surprisingly open to the idea, and requested proof politely, which Starla obliged. They would have called her healthily skeptical.
“This is going to make things a lot easier, isn’t it?” Kathleen asked. “Not having to tiptoe around me anymore? I did always found your relationship with my brother a tad bit suspicious. I didn’t think too much of it, though. He’s always been into younger guys, but doesn’t think I know, so I figured you were together, or at least had been before.”
“No,” Alec laughed. “We’ve actually never met in real life.”
“Well.” She slapped her knees with finality. “I’m going to get dressed first, and then spend the next few days going to classes. Then we’ll all go up together. It’ll be a fun road trip!” She dramatically pulled her towel away and finished drying off.
She’s taking this a little too easily, Starla said to Alec telepathically.
You’re so hesitant of people, Alec thought back to her. Just because you didn’t read her thoughts—and you definitely shouldn’t do that—doesn’t mean she has something to hide.
I don’t read people’s thoughts anymore, Starla countered. You taught me how to stop that, and I haven’t anymore. Don’t judge me.
Kathleen eyed them curiously while she was putting on her shorts. “Are you two talking to each other?”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”
“Were you talking about me?” Kathleen asked.
“No,” Starla replied. “We were discussing the events during yesterday’s sports competition.”
“Oh yeah?” Kathleen put her hands on her hips. “What sport?”
Starla thought about it for a second. “Vector?”
Kathleen laughed and looked to Alec. “How has she not yet been caught? She’s a terrible liar.”
“Could you teach me?”
Kathleen stopped getting dressed for a second, assessing the situation to make sure they were no longer joking before she answered, “I most certainly can.”
Starla spent the next few days attending Alec’s and Kathleen’s classes as a prospective student. Kathleen was particularly interesting in bringing her to a special lecture on neurobiology, targeted at students interested in pursuing the subject after completing the general requirements. They sat next to Kathleen’s gracer, Denton. The first thing the guest speaker did was throw up a slide with an image of a human brain in the middle of surgery. “This is a brain,” Magnus Shapiro said. “More specifically, this is my brain.”
A young man covered his mouth desperately with his hand and struggled to leave the room.
“Lost another one I see. If you can’t handle this, you are in the wrong field of study. Neurobiology, and really biology of any kind, is not for you.” He paused to let people leave as they needed, but no one else did. “The human brain is the most powerful machine in the universe. It is highly efficient, potentially limitless, and shockingly underused. You are all idiots. Evolution gave this gift of an intelligent mind, and you fail to utilize it properly. Don’t be sad, it’s not your fault. Because biology also placed roadblocks on your mind. If you could fire your neurons to the absolute best of their ability, there is no telling what you would do. Possible results of a less hindered mind include accelerated learning, control of normally involuntarily biological processes like breathing and heartbeat, superior body temperature regulation, and even possibly the subversion of death. If you could somehow...” he gathered her words “...tell your body to regrow limbs, repair damage, or fight off a disease in a certain way, you would never reach death.”
A girl in the front row raised her hand and Magnus Shapiro called on her. “Magnus, if we were all immortal, the planet would be overpopulated, and we would run out of resources.”
“Would we?” Shapiro asked rhetorically. “Before we reach that level of intellect, surely we would have solved other problems. Food, land space, and construction materials are only restricted by our current situation. There are hundreds of billions of stars in this galaxy alone. It is estimated that there are 500 million planets capable of supporting life to the level of ours, and many more with other resources. All we have to do is figure out how to get there. One man can do that. Just make one man smart enough to solve these problems, and ask him for his help. He’ll lift everybody else up.”
Starla looked over and saw that Denton was enamored with the lecture, almost like he was in a trance. Kathleen looked between him and Starla, like she had a secret of her own. She smiled and nodded to Denton. Starla shook her head, unclear what she wanted. Kathleen just urged her on, and continued to motion to Denton. Did she want her to possess his body? Assuming that to be her intention, Starla closed her eyes and prepared to jump into Denton’s body. She had to think about it beforehand, otherwise she could choose the wrong method and give herself away. She took a deep breath and jumped, leaving her body looking like she was only sleeping, continuing to listen to the lecture from Denton’s point of view. The experience was fascinating. Denton was eating up the Magna’s words. He was processing the information at a rate that she had never felt before. He seemed to be gathering information from other people as well, even though they weren’t speaking. He wasn’t reading their minds. It was more like he was absorbing their knowledge. Had she met another avatar? Could he teach her to do the same?
“...who knows what kind of powers a hyperintelligent human being might have,” Shapiro went on. “Is telekinesis possible? Could someone be so empathetic to others that their own body can be altered on a glandular level?” As he was scanning the crowd for their reactions, he stopped on Starla and Denton. He watched them for a second, causing the students to wonder what was going to happen next. “Could a person use their mind to see what life is like from another person’s perspective? The literal manifestation of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes?”
Out of fear, Starla quickly jumped back into her body and gasped for air. Everyone looked up at her. “Sorry, I’m fine,” she lied.
Magnus Shapiro kept looking at her for a moment before moving on with his speech. He looked back up to them every once in a while, especially when he hit points that were eerily relevant to Starla’s ability. After it was over, Kathleen said that she had to get clear across campus quickly, and asked Denton to take Starla back to the dorm room.
“I can do that, but I was hoping to speak with the magnus first,” Denton said
“I’d love to do that as well,” Starla said. “So that works out perfectly.”
Other students had flocked to ask Shapiro questions, but he was pretty much ignoring them. He was staring at the two of them as Denton was wheeling Starla towards him. He waved his hand to the rest of the students. “I’ve stolen Magnus Björkman's office for the rest of the week. I’ll answer any questions tomorrow.” The students didn’t know what to do. “That’ll be all. Thank you very much,” he clarified. They finally took the hint and dispersed.
Denton nodded with respect. “Magnus.”
“I’m pretty hungry,” the magnus said to him. “Could you recommend a nice quiet place to eat in this town?”
Denton smiled. “I sure could.”
“Great.”
“Would you have room for company?” Denton asked.
“I hate to eat alone.” He looked down at Starla. “As long as you’re coming too.”
She was a little anxious, but she had to understand not only how Denton’s special mind worked, but also how the professor was somehow able to sense them. “Sure.”

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