Read me the story
It was a little difficult to tell whether the enthusiasm of the applause was attributable to the quality of the performance, or the fact that it was that last one on the schedule. Either way, the smiles it brought to the faces of the dozen or so eight-, nine-, and ten-year-olds on the stage were enough to prolong it another ten seconds.
“Thank you very much,” the poised youngster who stepped forward to the front of the stage gestured for silence, and received it. “We’d like to thank our Precep, Ti Vundaras,” he gestured at the smiling young woman standing at the side of the stage, who waved a little, then motioned for him to continue. “And we’d like a special round of applause for Junari Ulongo, who adapted the story of the Three Lost Starfarers for our script.”
That was a request Lewji Ulongo could grant with fervor, as the Precep gestured to his daughter from the other side of the stage and the applause swelled again. Junari walked over to stand by the boy at the front of the stage, who made a theatrical mime of gathering the cast together, and all the children bowed again.
The plaudits completed, parents extricated themselves from the slightly-too-small seats, and straggled out to the “lobby” area in front of the academy’s Media Center. Here several tables of refreshments awaited them, and the youthful performers, who were starting to stream out from the backstage area.
Lewji positioned himself where he could see Junari right away when she came out, which also happened to be where half a dozen other parents were queuing for hot cafchi, dispensed by one of Junari’s Preceps. The man grinned at him “I will miss Junari very much, when the new term starts, Ten Ulongo.”
One of the other parents, a blondish woman with a biosculp that definitely hadn’t been worth what she’d paid for it, turned to smile at Lewji. “I should think so! Such a talented little girl!” He’d chatted with the woman briefly before the show began, but for the life of him Lewji couldn’t remember whether her kid was male or female.
Think fast, Lewi… “I think we can both congratulate ourselves on the general excellence of our offspring, don’t you?” His return smile was calculated nicely to distract her without offering insult, and it had its effect. “Oh… Well, I know that Trokip and Junari haven’t always been, ah… friends, but I think they have a lot in common!”
Oh, yes. Trokip. Trokip Temagun. Junari described him as “Eight hundred cc’s of vacuum between the ears with slightly less personality than a lint ball.” But he was a good-looking lad, if he was the one Lew was thinking of… winner of this year’s Mixed Tenso combat medal. “Yes, quite a lot,” he offered. That was true, if age, human DNA, general area of residence, and attendance at the Ermetyne Academy were placed in the “shared characteristics” column.
There she was! Lewji extricated himself without letting his relief show. “There’s my girl…” he murmured, turning to meet his daughter emerging from the cross-corridor that ran behind the venue stage. She separated herself from a small cluster of classmates, and looked a little surprised at the hug he offered. They weren’t normally demonstrative in public. Then she caught sight of Ti Temagun by the cafchi table, smiling and waving. “Oh, right. Let’s go over here, Dad. I want to introduce you to Ti Vundaras, she’s been great.”
They made their way among the little knots of parents, students, and Academy staff, to where the young Precep was chatting to a set of parents with twins who’d appeared in Junari’s “Endless Search” one-act playlet. Well, Lewji thought of it as Junari’s, though technically it was her whole pod’s project. “Ti Vundaras, this is my father, Lewji Ulongo. Dad, Ti Vundaras preceps Creative Expression for all the Upper Division pods.”
“A pleasure, Ti Vundaras,” Lewji placed his palms together, and nodded, and she returned the gesture. “The pleasure is mine, Ten Ulongo. It has been such a joy to work with your daughter this term, she has a most creative imagination, and a flair for writing.”
“She only says that because I can’t act for sparklets. So they had to find something else for me to do.” Junari caught sight of her father’s lifted eyebrow. “I’m not flapdowsing, honest! I flopped every audition. Besides, what chance did I have with these two in the lineup?” She exchanged grins with the twins, who looked alike enough to be identical, except for the sex differentiation.
Lewji greeted the Chuko-zun twins, Hendale and Tandali, and their parents, Aja and Horis. The Chuko-zun were a disept of the vast (and wealthy) Chuko clan. Aja was an Advocate, qualified for Hub Mercantile Exchange Arbitration, and Horis was a maintenance executive in Vastok Commerce Shipping. There had been a security check, back at the beginning of term, when it became clear that their twins and the daughter of a freelance Receivables Consultant would be spending a certain amount of leisure time together.
One of the twins made an eyeroll/grimace cue to their father, who nodded, and addressed himself to Lewji: “Ten Ulongo, I understand Junari will be at Starna Lake Camp this offterm?” he verified politely.
Lewji nodded. “That was the deal. She’s more than earned it with this term’s qual score.” Junari gave an embarrassed shrug. “Da-ad… they’ll think I’m a grind,” she muttered.
Aja and Horis exchanged amused glances. “We will be having a little sendoff gathering for ’Dale and ’Dali on our skyboat, a three-day tour of the Lake, and then taking them to Camp. We would be so delighted if Juni could join us for this? There will be two or three other young people as well, with my brother’s partner and her sister,” Aja explained.
Junari looked at her father. She probably thought she was being very carefully controlled and grown-up, but the light escaping from all the cracks showed the supernova of hope and anticipation inside. Lewji repressed a sigh. He’d hoped to have a few more days of her company between the end of term and dispatching her to Camp, but… “How very kind of you to offer. Of course she may join you,” he smiled at the Chuko-zuns.
The Academy’s Dean was circulating, chatting briefly with parents, exchanging greetings with students, and in the process tactfully beginning the process of bringing the Term-End Gala to a close. Lewji was just as glad to escape the rarefied atmosphere, so when the Chuko-zuns moved off to greet acquaintances, he placed himself more or less on the Dean’s trajectory.
“Ten Ulongo, I’m glad to see you at the Gala this year.”
“I’m glad I could be here.” Lewji knew full well that implicit in Junari’s subsidy had been the assumption that he’d be a devoted Academy parent, attending functions and volunteering to proctor outings and all the rest of it. Well, that might be fine for parents who had partners, and/or whose work was based on regular hours and locations. Fortunately, he’d had a little extra clout in the recommendations department. And then, Junari had pretty much carved her own way through the subsidy route, consistently placing top honors quals even among peers who included a high percentage of genmod-enhancements.
Still, it didn’t hurt to be a little conciliatory to the Dean, a formidable woman who reminded him very much of his mother. In fact, he hoped the two of them never met. So far he’d successfully prevented that.
The Dean smiled at Junari. “Junari, would you mind giving me a moment alone with your father? Perhaps you could collect your gear for leaving.”
“Yes, Ti Ardasan.” Junari was properly respectful, but the glance she threw at her father held plenty of subtext.
“Ten Ulongo, I’ve been most impressed—really, most impressed, with Junari’s quals this year. So much so, that I have included her on my Recommendation List. Just in case you were thinking of a Lyceum application.”
“A Lyceum application,” Lewji repeated carefully. He’d counted himself beyond lucky to get the recommendation from Stav Benthik that had gotten Junari into the Ermetyne Academy, five years ago. But then, Academies in Lyad Retsa were chartered to accept at least 15% subsidized enrollment. The requirement for Lyceum status was one tenth that, and even a half subsidy would be far, far outside his ability to afford it. “That’s… Well. Thank you. Thank you very much, Ti Ardasan.”
The Dean smiled encouragingly. “You never know, Ten Ulongo. A youngster as bright as Junari deserves every chance.”
Lewji couldn’t agree more. He thanked the Dean, and she moved on to another parent. He was looking around for Junari when he felt a tingling, behind his ear.
He’d almost forgotten he had the mastoid implant. Blinking, he activated his wristcom, and checked the incoming file. Nothing there, so it wasn’t urgent. Just important.
Very, very important.