Name: Jessica Silva
Genre: YA sci-fi (with steampunk elements)
On the same day for the last six years, I skipped class to sneak into the intern’s lecture. I had the procedure perfected now. When the morning’s cleaning staff finished their last sweep of the castle, I was already in the shadows outside the giant double doors. I counted to ten. Then I hurried inside and slipped down the hall to the left.
The familiar creak of the lecture hall’s double doors brought a smile to my face. One more year I wouldn’t have to try using one of the excused I’d penned on my hand in case I was caught. After I slipped into the dark auditorium, I shut the door behind me. Motion sensors set gears clicking into place until sparks ignited the Blaugas lighting. I surveyed the auditorium seating and stage set with just a lectern. Only shadows stared back.
I bit off the last chunk of my apple and threw the core into the compost bin hidden by the velvet drapery on the walls. The same two stairs as last year squeaked under my feet. My fingers slid over the smooth finish on the tables in the third row as I moved to the fourth section. No one ever sat over here. I sank into the last armchair and stilled. After a minute, the lights shut off to conserve the gas.
Now I just had to wait. Thirty minutes was nothing compared to the year I’d already waited to see Dad again. My hands clutched the lion heads at the ends of the armrests. This would be easy.
Suddenly, the door creaked. I shot under the table as the Blaugas lit again. My hand clasped my shirt over my heart as a soft, low hum filled the auditorium. Footsteps climbed down the stairs to the front of the room. Casual, comfortable.
The professor who taught this class the last five years had allowed me to watch as long as I’d remained hidden, but he’d been one of Dad’s colleagues. Sympathy had been on my side.
This year a transfer from our university’s affiliate was teaching. I’d only met him once. If he caught me, he could give me two demerits. One for sneaking in to a private lecture. Another for skipping my own class. I’d be put on probation, and then so much for graduating and goodbye potential internship. Who wanted to be stuck on secondary education an extra year? Hang that.
I could not be caught.
When the footsteps finished down the stairs, I peeked around the corner of the table. White hair puffed on the top of a head like a cloud. It was the professor as I’d thought. He shuffled to the stage in full academic robes. His knees cracked, and the sound echoed through the room.
“I guess that’s what I get for refusing those joint replacements last year!” he said to himself. He grinned his way to the lectern on the left side of the stage. His hands opened its cabinet door and started fiddling with the projector’s settings.
I released my shirt and ducked back under the table. He had no idea I was here. All I had to do was keep it that way. My entire body loosened, and I resettled myself under the desk. Closed my eyes. Started my mental countdown.
This professor wasn’t the only one who’d refused to trade out their arthritic joints last year. Premier Castol had, too—and every year beforehand. That old man even wore glasses. He was the only person I knew who did. He insisted he didn’t need prosthetics to be healthy. Most of the professors who’d been born at the end of the war were like that.
The door opened again. Much too soon. I held my breath. No one had seen me, right?
“Aren’t you rather early, Eques?” the professor asked.
I choked. I’d forgotten Gavriel would be attending the lecture this year, since he’d become an intern. Even if he’d seen me, he wouldn’t tell, would he? I would hack into the system and fail him in every single one of his classes if he did.
Gavriel’s soft chuckle resounded through the room. It pinched the nerves all the way down my spine. “I can leave and come back later if you’d prefer?” he said and padded down the stairs anyway.
“No, no,” the professor said, “that won’t be necessary. I do enjoy the company of a good, youthful mind from time to time. Perhaps you’d like to help me set up for our lecture this morning?”
“With pleasure.” His boots met the hollow stage with muffled thumps.
I resisted my urge to peek around the desk just to see his stupid mug. Not worth it if he spotted me. He had some kind of trick with that sort of thing—be it finding me from across the parterre or hearing me from two floors down. It was a worthless talent.
He was probably here for class, not to tattle. We had been still best friends when I’d told him my plan to sneak in. That was five years ago. He wouldn’t remember something stupid like that, right? And if he’d were going to betray me, he would’ve said something by now. I was safe for now. I still had to manage to sneak out, but I had a routine for that, too.
After twenty minutes, the rest of the interns—all eleven of them—filtered in and took their seat. Always in section two and three. My legs had fallen asleep by the time the professor finished his rambling introduction of the day’s lecture and stepped off stage. I didn’t need it. I knew exactly what today’s topic was.
The room darkened. Under the blanket of shadows, I crawled from beneath the desk and sat on the stairs. Hidden from the interns with roaming eyes, I was alone in my own little corner. Finally, the projector hummed and golden wisps of light stuttered to life.
On the stage, the holograms of nine dead historians lounged in oversized armchairs. They went down the line with intros, and then it was his turn.
“Hello, interns,” the last historian said with a bright smile. The same as always. “My name is Dr. Evander Clemens.”
“Hi, Dad.” I wrapped my arms around one of the table’s legs. My eyes burned with tears. I didn’t hold them back. But it was fine since no one could see me.
He sat, then the first historian stood again and started his pre-programmed lecture. I watched Dad’s frozen form stare into the aisles as each historian took turns. I tried to commit every angle of his face to memory all over again. His slicked back blond hair, clean-shaven face, sturdy jaw, and sharp nose. After an hour and forty-five minutes, Dad cleared his throat and rose to his feet. My wet cheek rested against the cold wood leg.
“So I heard you want to be historians,” he said, folding his arms over his chest. The black silk of his robes rippled with the movement. “Not a bad choice, if you want my opinion. Which of course you do. You wouldn’t be sitting there if you didn’t.” He flashed a boyish grin, and despite my tears, I smiled right back. “Just kidding. None of you really had a choice. Mandatory lectures were always beastly annoying, so I’ll be quick.” He twisted his mouth. “Quick-like, rather. I’m a rambler.”
The interns stifled their laughter, and my grin only grew. I couldn’t help it.