So … let me know what you think about this one?
The Earthers that greeted them as they disembarked were nothing like Adeline had expected.
They were wearing clean, smooth skirted jumpsuits that were clearly some sort of uniform, little booties with flat heels, and masks covering their noses and mouths. They immediately handed Adeline and the other Habitaters with her the same sort of masks.
“It can take up to three weeks for the immune system boosters to completely kick-in,” one of the Eathers explained. “Until then, you want to avoid as much fluid-to-fluid contact with new people as possible.”
Adeline shared a look with Geordi. As if they didn’t know basic health protocols!
“In addition, you’re going to want to check in with the University Med Team as soon as possible. That information will be on your tabs-” The person speaking paused as the second Earther passed out small data tablets. Adeline almost protested that they had their own, but the first Earther was talking again. “-which you can access via a touch-screen interface. Each tab is synced to you the first time you open it, and cannot be used by anyone else without you opening it for them. In addition-“
The Earther droned on. It was all first-year sort of stuff, things that Adeline had learned before she’d finished learning how to write. She wiggled her fingers surreptitiously at Geordi:
“Do they think we’re idiots?”
“Maybe they’re idiots,” he replied in the same way.
One of the twins cleared their throat. “I’m sorry, but you know we’ve seen tabs before, right? And computer interfaces and–“
“Look.” The Earther who’d been speaking looked pointedly annoyed. “No, we don’t know. Because the spacers left and cut off all ties until five years ago, and what do we know about what you lot get to up there in space?”
“Spacers?” Adeline signed to Geordi; he shrugged.
“Habitats,” the other twin corrected. “And the habitats didn’t cut of contact with Earth, Earth-“
“Look.” A girl Adeline hadn’t been introduced to yet cut off the twin. She had short curly blond hair and dark brown skin; more importantly, she looked annoyed. “We don’t know what happened because we weren’t there. None of us are a century old, right?”
A ragged chorus of agreement from Earthers and Habitaters agreed that, yes, they were all under 100.
“So none of us were possibly there or, if someone here is like 99, then maybe they were a toddler. But we’re not, are we? We’re teenagers. Or twenty-somethings,” she added, nodding at the Eathers. “For real. So we don’t know, we Habitaters don’t know anything about Earth or Earthers as it and they are now, and they know nothing about us. We’re here to learn and to teach, right?”
One of the Earthers cleared his throat. “To teach?”
“Well, yeah.” The blonde girl grinned at the Earther. “Don’t you want to know how the weird ‘spacers’ live up there?” She gestured vaguely upwards. “And we want to know how the weird Earthers live down here. We all have a million questions. Right? So, our tab is our entry into all the places on campus and it has an account for us for spending money…?” she cued.
“I like her,” Geordi signed.
“Me, too,” Adeline had to agree.
The Earther smiled slowly, looking not-quite-certain, and picked up – slowly – the spiel about the tabs. “And now we’ll show you first to your residence hall and then a brief tour of the rest of the campus. Your luggage will be brought to your rooms while we’re touring.”
Adeline picked up her go-bag. Almost everyone with them had a similar bag, the sort that was never far from you. It wouldn’t need an oxygen mask and back-up tank here, on Earth, but it would probably be a while before she stopped carrying that anyway. Habits you’d learned when you were barely old enough to stand did not die easily.
“So this University is mainly rebuilt, but some of the original buildings withstood the Catastrophe and are as much as four hundred years old. This one building here, this one was built with stones from a collapsing building in England. It could be said to be almost a thousand years old.”
Their tour guide gestured at a black-and-grey stone building, looking squat and cranky, its windows small and criss-crossed with black lines. Adeline frowned at the building; it felt like it was frowning back at her.
“Is that common?” one of the twins asked.
The tour guide blinked. “There’s quite a few buildings that survived the Catastrophe,” she decided to answer — Adeline couldn’t fault the confusion; she had no idea which thing the twin had been talking about. “-maybe one out of twenty in this city-area, and maybe 1 out of fifty overall in this region. Other regions were harder hit; some regions are nearly entirely intact. I’m sure you learned about the way the Catastrophe affected different areas of the globe in school; I wouldn’t want to bore you.”
“See?” The blonde girl chuckled. “There you go assuming again. We have no idea. Literally, like no idea.”
“None.” Adeline felt like it was time to speak up. “She’s right. Absolutely no idea. We can tell you when the Scars began and when the Habitaters left, and why each habitat was settled the way it was. We know lots about pre-Scar Earth history and plenty about Habitat history. But Earth history after the first Habitaters left? I think it’s safe to say that, as a group, we know nothing.”
The Earthers were baffled. The blonde girl looked smug. Adeline was starting to feel guilty.
“I think,” she offered, “‘willful ignorance’ is probably safe, but I don’t want you to think badly — worse, maybe? — of the Habitats” She was going to have to watch that, she realized. Thinking badly of the Earthers. “It’s… I think it’s a long story. Maybe after the tour?”
The taller Earther managed to take the cue. “Yes. Yes, the tour. Thank you. So, this way…”Want more?