Patrick sat back into the sand. A jug of whiskey carefully mixed with Xan juice rested in between him and his friend Alex.
“What time is it?” asked Alex. Each word slowly and carefully over enunciated. Patrick, who had been swatting at the ever present bugs, paused and then turned to glance over his shoulder at the reddish sun.
“It’s about 7 minutes before noon,” Patrick replied with an equally stressed clarity. “An’ your drunk an’ should na operate heavy equipment.”
Old jokes ripping on a time long ago and place far away.
On Sempra Dia the sun Manara never moved and never set. And the two older boys, about to turn young men, had never operated heavy machinery because there was none here. The high tech. metals, the ones left over from the original star ship crash, were so rare by now they were more myth than anything else. What metals there were went wherever they went and the average citizen of Darna province never saw much of it.
“We’re about to graduate ya realize?” Alex asked seriously. “If you’ve not gone strange and forgot.”
“You are,” Patrick replied.
“We are,” Alex replied gravely. “Both or neither Patrick an’ tha’s my final word.”
Patrick gave up the pretense that he was fascinated by the desert scrub and rolled to face his friend.
“One last time ya daft fool,” said Patrick. “I know my history, civics and all the rest of it. I’ve passed every class The Academy has thrown at us. I can beat anyone on the mat except maybe you.”
“Except maybe me,” Alex chimed in.
“Don’t interrupt,” continued Patrick. “This last term is different. If I muck it up again, the Maghistar will have na choice but to dismiss. Patrick held up his hand to prevent Alex from speaking. “I’ll not take you down with me. Stop or I’ll pound ya!” Patrick continued over Alex’s gesticulations. “I’m not a suicide and I won’t be responsible for your murder. Give me that at least.”
“You are uncommon uncoordinated tis true,” reflected Alex. “An despite all your otherwise grand charms you can’t ….
“I can’t dance,” Patrick finished.
This should have been comedy but in the Township of Alice, the capital of Darna Province, it was very serious indeed. Everyone in the province was required to attend The Academy. Patrick and Alex happened to live in Alice and had grown up with the Academy buildings in the background; the students and black robed teachers called Maighstirs. But other young boys and girls traveled long distances to be instructed in the arts and disciplines needed for citizenship in Darna. It was a simple process really. Three terms with pass/fail at the end of each term. And pass meant pass everything. A failing grade in anything from martial arts to civics led to dismissal. A pass for all three terms was required before a young man or woman was allowed to sit for the citizenship examination. Citizenship was required to own property or hold a job anywhere in Darna and because the examination was more of a formality, everything came down to passing the Academy. The dropouts and dismissed were forced into backbreaking agricultural work or ran away into the wilderness where most became outlaws and were hunted down. There were prisons but captured outlaws were notoriously accident prone and often had fatal accidents during transport.
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