All of my hungry senses start firing simultaneously when the retinas of my eyes, still under their eyelids, fill copiously with a warm peach glow. Then I know, like a sporadic bird, that it’s suddenly magnificent to be alive. 

I have a slight headache that seems somehow related to the hopeful longing in my stomach and my impatient bowels, but a shower supplants the aches. After the shower I skirt the bar and sitting on the stool I sat in yesterday I find that it was not serendipitously soft but still silky and warm. Dad, standing tall and powerful, glares at me for a few seconds, his eyes piercing the side of my face as I ignore him for the aroma coming from the database. He retrieves hash browns, omelettes, banana bread and fruit juice from the database as a bargaining chip.

“Although your cathexis was thorough, tonight we’ll actually discuss what I wanted to tell you yesterday,” dad waits.         

Only after I nod my head does he set the food on the table. The banana bread is sweet and sumptuous only as the hash browns are buttery and crisp. Sipping slowly from a stream of juice I’m siphoning from the jug, I consider our fortune and am immediately grateful for the abundance of natural food. Even though we have never wanted for money, Zhao didn’t produce enough of its own agriculture to support the food market nor our stomachs. Any food was art or tradition: a masterpiece to smell, see, experience, only ultimately, to eat. I take voluminous bites of the hash browns to taste but chew deliberately; they are hearty and aromatic, filling and well-seasoned, and the omelette is packed with flavor from tomatoes, bacon, mushrooms and greens. The mild juice is a respite from savory morsels, delivering a symphony of sugars, citrus and liquid. This is why we moved. Antury is a cornucopian Eden.

I feel about ready to head off to school so I pack a sack for lunch. It’s been too long since I brought a sack lunch to school; it is truly a treat. I organize the apple, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and the chips in the brown bag. The brown bag looks so archaic, and the food so primitive — like I said, gloriously messy. It feels like stepping back in time a century or two. But only for a second. 

I run to the door and rush to say goodbye to dad. He gives me a serious look as I leave reminding me we have to talk tonight. Just outside the door I take off in an augmented run. I undulate with the hills, going up and down swiftly. The wind caresses my skin like the crisp bite of an apple. The sun brightens my eyes, the grass, the hills and the yellow bulbs like peanut butter and jelly’s smooth con-sistency brightens the palette. Once I reach the pasture, I accel-erate to about fifty kilometers an hour and then pull away from the ground and take off for the sky. The ground quickly drops away like it’s trying to get away from me as much as I try to get away from it. The database reminds me with a display in my proximity that the school is in the opposite direction several hundred kilometers ab-ove me, so I stop to turn around and head for outer space. Naturally I gather oxygen, packaging it in the proper percentages with the rest of the air molecules, and store it in my proximity behind my head, neck and back. As a galactic you learn at a young age how to sense the air particles, dividing them and condensing them. Now it is literally a sixth sense to me. 

I feel the wind freeze over as I exit different sections of the atmo-sphere, but by gauging the pressure and stirring a hot spot of air, I maintain the heat in my proximity. Before long I see a small flash of light coming from the black abyss of space. It is not typical for a school to orbit the planet, but the population dispersion makes an orbital school the logical solution. So many kids, all living throughout the planet in different time zones, they need a centralized spot to meet. 

The school’s a round, solid thing ribbed with layers of solar mem-brane. The database reveals the position of the school’s entrance as I approach. One enters through the port on the underside of the school, or the side that views Antury, which happens to be below the school from my perspective, having gone too far out. I see shut-tles entering the port, carrying inexperienced students to school. On Earth no one learns how to breath in space so if this is their first transfer they have to ride the shuttle until they get the hang of it. 

I enter through the barrier in the area demarcated as the student entrance. I sense immediately that there is clean air to breathe and begin to cycle the air in my proximity as I steer from the barrier to the floor of one of the hallways with my name on it. The ground is comfortable but reminds me of a life devoid of gravitons, which is disheartening. I also feel a little out of place seeing the indicators on the hallway walls with my name and classroom — might as well put a sign on my forehead that reads “noob.” A left and then a right takes me to the physics classroom full of eager and curious faces. You think Seniors would get it by now, no one new is cool enough to deserve so much attention. 

The teacher, a nervous lass with eyes that smile uncannily, checks that everyone is in the classroom. I feel exposed standing in front of the class without a seat as she explains the lab.

“Today is collaborative as we reengineer and redesign the belt. I want you to think locally when doing this lab, so remember that,” she glances at the database, “just over thirty percent of our pop-ulation are inexperienced with gravitons and need a comfortable and intuitive belt experience. Let me know if you need a partner or a second opinion.”

I take an empty position at the database quickly to avoid un-wanted attention and I begin doing what I always do: reformatting the database and overhauling optimization and efficiency. I feel my ears burning when an older kid with a pig nose taps me on the shoulder. His tee has a band on it that screams in my face.

“Listen freshy, I’ve been thinking,” he snarls.

“A dangerous pastime for you,” I sigh.

He ignores my comment ignorantly.

“I says to myself, this kid can’t be older than sixteen, what’s he do-ing in a physics class?” 

“And you no younger than nineteen, I see your cognitive develop-mental dilemma,” I joke.

“Do you now? How's about I ask the teach to partner us up?”

By then the teacher sees there’s some tension and approaches us. She keeps a bright complexion as she bounces across the room. I know she is going to side with the punk, me being new and all. All of a sudden all of the lights go off and the database also goes blank. It’s too dark to see for the first few seconds as my eyes adjust. The database must’ve crashed. When the lights turn back on, the lady loses composure but is not cross. Noticing that the database isn’t responding, she motions me to the door.

“I don’t know what you were doing, but I think you should stop by the dean’s office,” she decides. 

“But the database can’t show me where the office is because it shorted,” I hesitate.

“Go right down this hallway, turn left and then you’ll see his sign. It’s analog I believe,” she says hurriedly.

I do as she says, more worried about the database than my aca-demic standing. Was that my fault? Very few people take the time or have the technical ability to update the database, which is why I do it. Which is why I have no idea if it is my fault. The dean peaks outside his office, quizzically looking down the hall. 

“My teacher sent me to see you,” I report.

“Does she think you made the database shut down?” he asks.

I shrug.

“Anyway, you’re Jess huh? Wanted to see you anyway; I meet with all the new students,” he motions me in.

I sit down in a rigid chair across the desk from him. The dean goes to brush the part in his light brown hair but stops halfway.

“I daresay it’s quite extraordinary having a fifteen year old Senior! Your father must be proud,” he appeals.

“Yep. Someone’s got to help society progress. I cannot do that until I’m considered mature by adults,” I rebut.

“Sure seems so,” he laughs, “Well! Can’t say for certain if you caus-ed it, unless you confess?” he stops.

“I don’t know, definitely not purposefully,” I admit.

“Well then go to lunch and if we still don’t know, go ahead on home and we’ll figure it out,” he suggests. 

By then the database starts to hum and flicker on so when I leave his office the indicators lead me to the lunch room. I resolve to be happy despite the shut down because I have a sack lunch waiting for me. I retrieve it from the database as I walk in, trying to be obliv-ious to the envious faces watching me. I see that most of the tables on the ceiling are empty so I float up the wall. The switch of gravity as I float up there is disorientatingly fun.

I park at one of the tables on the ceiling and set the sack down gin-gerly. I remove the items like precious jewels. The chips are as oily as I wanted them to be, and the apple is crisp. I take a bite from my sandwich. What a savory, scrumptious, succulent snack! But be-fore I bite for a second morsel there’s a shadow looming over me. 

“You really have nothing better to do with your life?” I ask without turning around.

“Freshy’s got a little bite,” he snarls, “I come to congratulate you and I see you’re all natural.”

“Well you’re spoiling my appetite, you remind me of a diaper with all those pins stuck in your face,” I retort.

The kid reaches over and snags my food with both of his hands and dashes off. I get up to chase after him, but when I’m about to close on him he motions the food towards the well in the wall. 

“You’re not nabbing this back. Either I get ’em or no one does!”

I lunge to grab them, but he sends them down the well. Madness bubbles out from my heart like hot blood. Steam could be coming out of my ears, because the boy wrinkles up his nose and grim-aces, eyes wide like dishes. I punch him right in his gargoyle face, augmented with gravitons. I love the feel of the cheek bone implod-ing into his face.

Suddenly I’m overcome with a sickening feeling to my stomach. The boy falls, blood gushing from his nose. It’s black and white ex-cept for the blood, so red. I hear no sound as my vision fades to black. My lifeless arm drags me to the floor. Knees buckling, I lose consciousness before I hit the ground.

The light is bright. I lift my hand to lessen the heat on my eyes, the rays wrapping around my hand like it is unworthy. I blink slowly until I can see past the blue square, yellow prism and white tendrils of the artificial diode. The air is cool and dry; I’m laying on an air mat-tress, probably in the nurse’s office. The database lights up and informs me that I’ve been expelled from school. Figures. I want to cry and my eyes sting, waiting for hydrating tears to flow but they won’t come. I get up and set my feet on the ground. 

The database flashes, “Emergency! Evacuate Orbital and return to homes. Unknown invaders sighted.”

Not good. I get up in a hurry and run for the door. What if I was still unconscious? At the threshold I slip into the zero gravity, unable to see a thing. What if I already was unconscious for hours of this? I swim forward slowly in the darkness. I don’t detect any noises or di-sturbances. There also appears to be no damage to the station so I assume whatever invaders were seen are gone now. Yet there was most certainly an emergency here otherwise students would still be at school and the gravity would be on. I glide down the hallway of my physics classroom, trying to remember where the exit is. Still no sounds or weird activity, unless no activity is weird activity. Then again the database isn’t helping either, which means it must be on emergency mode. 

I know the way to the airlock once I turn around the corner. I fly quickly from there into the port to find that there are no shuttles or vacating persons. They left me up here! Collecting ample breathing air, I launch out into the thermosphere. Looking about, I see two ships sitting wantonly in the violet light of the setting sun. They’re too far for me to make out their shapes, but they must be large. 

If the setting sun is there, then New Norwich should be somewhere to the right of it, making it early evening. I head towards my decid-ed area. I let Antury’s gravity pull me down towards the surface, but the vertigo makes the muscles in my lungs inert, so I guide the des-cent. The silence is palpable, I feel like I should be hearing sirens or bombs going off, but I don’t see any explosions or signs of violence. Probably a good sign. 

I think my best course of action is to go home and make sure dad is safe. If he is, then we can figure things out from there. I begin to make out a ridge line. Must be the Reas mountain ridge, but it str-etches far in both directions. I look for lights, but the layout of the neighborhoods makes it difficult to see house lights from space. Eventually I arrive at the peak of the ridge line and follow it straight ahead of me. It looks like the Reas, but I can never know for sure. I’ve only seen and hiked one mountain on Antury before. 

Everything is grey, but if I look closely then I barely make out darker bands that shift tone just ahead. Skyton looks dark — I suspect I would barricade myself in — the message wasn’t exactly clear what we should expect from the unknown intruders. I turn slightly left and down. I won’t be able to see any lights through the privacy glass in the skylights, I’ll just have to guess. Two rows in, third hill to the right and behind. 

I find New Norwick first by the sign of our house lights on, a sore thumb among the other hills locked and quiet. Dad stands patiently at the door, the light around his silhouette hiding the features of his body and his face. I conclude he must be mad; instead there’s a smile on his face. So a different kind of mad. I begin to rethink every negative feeling I have ever thought of him — this is the reaction of only someone brilliant. 

“Father!” I embrace him sarcastically. “You are alive!”

“Of course I am Jess,” he replies equisarcastically.

“You weren’t concerned for your child, alone among unknown vis-itors?” I ask somewhat earnestly.

Dad counts on his fingers, “You’re male, almost an adult, intelligent, you do your exercises and have gravitons — why worry?” 

He leads me inside with a branch on my shoulder. I sit on my per-usual stool expecting pins and needles to prick me, wary that his smile could also be a sign of nefarious punishment enacted in a compromising moment. Dad suddenly looks embarrassed, resting his somber head on his hand. 

“Where to begin?” he blubbers, “You are . . . ”

Our front door flies, forced from its hinge, onto the floor right next to me, stretching the fabric. Dad gets up quickly. Before I shout hey, two giants just under three meters tall come running through the doorway. Dad goes to attack one, but with a sickening crunch the giant returns the blow, sending dad flying across the room, hitting his head first on the light wood finish and then crumpling down into a ball on the floor. He doesn’t move, blood flowing into and absorb-ed by the moss beneath him. More than just a little stunned, I let the other capture me in a bubble. I continue to look at the mass con-gealing on the floor that was my dad as the bubble lifts and follows the giants out the door. 

I see we’re about to enter a drop ship that looks like the tears on my face and the tears in my heart when voices inject into my being, the communications of an entire people entering with as equal gravity as an intimate interchange.