Chapter 2

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Dall made his way to the main street nearby. After a short walk, there was a split in the ground with the left side continuing straight while the right sloped down toward the level below. Dall descended to Akoya's level one-below, housing the tallest and widest concourses except for the top level. The most noticeable difference was the azure-lit ceiling, which replaced the great dome.

At the hyper-flume station entrance, Dall stood in line to pass his hand next to the entrance reader. The sleek white walls and the bright light strips made his eyes hurt a little. As the school year's agenda rolled in front of his mind's eye, a man in front of him stopped abruptly. He barely managed not to walk into the man.

The cause of the disturbance in the line was someone ahead not having his hand scanned properly. A service droid, only thirty centimeters tall, rolled quickly between the hurrying commuters and stopped dead in front of the man. It unfurled into a tall slate about the man's height; a message appeared on its surface, instructing him to press his hand next to its surface for re-identification.

The people behind started walking around the incident. Dall reached the scanner and made sure his hand was read correctly. The accosted man was cleared by the droid and offered apologetic looks to everyone around.

Dall continued to the platform for the route that would take him to Academia Block. The high frequency of flume-cars meant little wait time. Shortly after, a massive vehicle came to a rest after ejecting from a side tube to board its passengers. Dall watched the storage compartment entrance on the side of the car yawn open to accept his luggage. Then he stepped on board himself.

Once the doors closed and everyone was seated, a low ping announced they were about to depart. A slight vibration rumbled as the strong cold-fusion engines ramped up, pushing the car gently into the sealed tube. The valve behind clenched shut and as it reached vacuum, they shot forward with incredible speed. Dall could feel the gravity zone reaching equilibrium instantly. As soon as the train stopped accelerating, it started deceleration; they reached the Academies Station in less than a minute.

Academia Block was on the same level, so Dall only had to walk out of the station to reach its massive grounds. It housed many buildings with broad streets between them and several parks. Some buildings even knifed into the ceiling, stretching upward to the top level. The building that housed Piloting School was one of the largest in the complex. Its shape resembled a rocket of days long gone. Its base was much broader than its apex, which was hidden from sight as it too continued to the top level.

At the entrance to the building, Dall passed his hand next to a reader mounted on a metallic shaft so his attendance could be recorded. A welcome notification arrived and hung at the center of his vision. It showed him where he was supposed to go next. He then signaled the Welcome system to engage his luggage to make sure it reached his newly assigned dorm room.

Most of his classmates were already present in the study hall. There were about a hundred people inside. Mostly seated in clumps over the thirty or so rows. Dall knew there were fewer of them this year. Some dropped on their own, some didn't make the cut.

Dall greeted and exchanged pleasantries with those he was friendly with, before moving toward the back where his close friends were seated. They talked loudly, catching up and boasting about their adventures during the break. Of the five, only Clara was an Akoya-native like Dall. Jonas and Jenny were from Keshi, Linn and Ulfi came from Kurasu. The small group cheered when they saw him approach.

They didn't get to talk much when a voice came on the hall's speakers and asked them all to take a seat and be quiet. It was their lead instructor, Mr. Nereid. The wiry instructor had his head shaved completely, with dark brown skin, his bald pate had a shine to it. He was in the functional light blue overall, marking him as school staff. An instructor's dark blue badge was sewn on his left sleeve, and on his bib silvery insignias denoted his specializations. There were quite a few.

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