Monday, 8 April 2013

The next day (part 8)

When Doctor Phoebus had come back into the room, boiled the kettle and made coffee, he and Oscar sat down at the desk.

“So, Lady Amelia tells me you’ll be starting training tomorrow,” Doctor Phoebus said as he set down his mug on the desk and leant back in his chair.

Oscar, beside him, nodded. “Yes, that’s what she told me, too. So what will the training involve?”

“Well, here, we follow the standard Four School training programme: Theory, Culture, Physical Training and School Specialism. You’ll have no trouble with the culture part, of course.”

“I won’t?” Oscar replied impulsively. “I mean, no, I won’t,” he corrected himself, hoping Doctor Phoebus just meant normal, British culture. He could do normal, British culture: drinking tea (although he had had a lot of coffee so far), being reserved and afraid to speak up when he didn’t understand what was going on (and hoping he could keep this up and subtly work out where he actually was), rooting for the underdog (although that seemed to be himself at the moment).

He chuckled along with Doctor Phoebus, then asked, “Can you tell me more about what you cover in the training programme?” And he added, “Here?” to make it sound as though he wasn’t a complete novice but merely enquiring about the methods used as this particular establishment.

“Well, Theory mainly covers the history of Friarr. We won’t make you sit through all of that. You’ll need to go to the classes on the theory of the Power, though, but you’ll see on your timetable which ones those are. Physical Training will make you ready for going out on missions and using the Secret Art of the Breadbin. You’ll need to go to all those sessions. I mean that,” he said seriously. “You’ll regret it if you don’t. And School Specialism is where I come in.” Oscar was pleased to hear the cheerier tone back in his voice. “I’m the Yellow School trainer, so I’ll train you in how to use the Power of Friarr as a member of the Yellow School.”

“Right. And what about the culture?”

“Oh, you’ll just soak up the culture while you’re here. Don’t worry,” he said conspiratorially, “You can pretty much just carry on as normal.”

“I see,” Oscar replied, doing his best to keep from panicking about this new training programme he had suddenly been signed up to. He hadn’t been expecting to be sent back to school. “And how long does the training programme last?”

“Until you’re ready.”

“Until I’m ready for what?”

“To go out into the field. I assume that’s what your aim is.”

“Sure.” That was close enough. His aim was to get out of here and go home.

“Great. Now, have you been issued your Manor Buddy yet?”

“I don’t think so. I mean, I came here with Delta. Does she count?”

“No, not that kind of buddy. Not to worry, I’ll print you off a timetable for now.” Doctor Phoebus pulled the computer keyboard towards him, typed in a password and searched through some files until he found what he was looking for. He clicked on print and reached under the desk to retrieve Oscar’s new timetable.

The colour-coded grid reminded Oscar very much of his school timetable, of the joy he’d had at colouring it in on the first day of each school year, of colouring his favourite lessons yellow and his least favourites in blue. He was pleased to see that there was no blue on this timetable: Theory sessions were coloured pink, Yellow School Specialism was – of course – yellow and Physical Training was orange.

“The grey blocks for Saturday and Sunday morning mean you can have a lie-in,” Doctor Phoebus explained. “It’s quite a full timetable so you’ll want to make the most of those mornings off to catch up on your sleep. Although, like I said, you might not need to go to all of the classes. And Culture in Sunday afternoon isn’t exactly a class and the activities are all optional. I’m going to the noodle tasting this Sunday and the first round of Wild Goose Chase is being shown on the big screen in the hall next weekend.”

“Right,” Oscar replied. “It’s just that this looks a lot like a school timetable and I wasn’t really expecting that. I was told I’d be trained to defend myself because I can’t go home yet, but this is… a lot to take in.”

“Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it looks,” Doctor Phoebus tried to console him. “It’s not like you’re at the Glass Plains – now that is a heavy timetable! But, of course, they really fast-track you through if you’re based there.”

Oscar sighed and wished someone would explain things to him properly. He considered asking Doctor Phoebus how he’d explain this place and Friarr to a complete outsider but didn’t want to sound too weird.

“Anyway, enough of this official stuff. Tell me what you’ve been working on out there in the real world.” Doctor Phoebus said kindly.

“I work for a software company,” Oscar said. “In sales at the moment. I basically meet with clients to tell them about the packages we offer, in the UK and abroad.”

“Have you ever been to Canada on your travels?” Doctor Phoebus interrupted him.

“No,” Oscar said, remembering how Delta had asked him the same thing.

“Oh, you should definitely go some time. I’ll next be going in the spring. Only to visit the Glass Plains this time but I’m trying to get time off to go in the summer and do the tourist thing. Growing up there I never got to do that, of course. And working here, I don’t get to that in the UK either. Worst of both worlds somehow.”

“So you grew up in Canada?” Oscar asked.

“Yes, started training at the Glass Plains right from the age of four and youngest to graduate when I was 15.”

“Congratulations,” seemed to Oscar to be the right thing to say.

“Thanks.” Doctor Phoebus sighed and stared into space for a moment. “Anyway,” he said, sitting up straight again. “Now you have your timetable. Let’s see what you’ll be doing tomorrow.”

They looked at the timetable. Wednesday morning was coloured in bright orange: Physical Training Outdoors (with permission).

“Have you got permission for outdoor training?” Doctor Phoebus asked.

“I didn’t even know there would be outdoor training. Do I need permission?”

“If you don’t know, you probably don’t have it. Lady Amelia will have to approve it. I’ll call her now.”

While Doctor Phoebus was on the phone, Oscar looked more closely at his timetable. Wednesday mornings were outdoor training followed by History in the afternoon. Yellow School specialist training was on Tuesdays and Thursdays; there were theory classes all day on Mondays and Fridays were dedicated to indoor physical training. Saturday afternoons were for outdoor physical training again, although, from what he could hear of the phone conversation, this was sounding unlikely.

To Oscar’s relief, Doctor Phoebus announced that Lady Amelia had not approved his outdoor training. He hadn’t been looking forward to taking part in sporting activities outside during winter.

“I won’t reprint your timetable now,” Doctor Phoebus said. “But it’ll be correct when you get your Manor Buddy. I’ll arrange for it to be sent up to your room. Which room are you in?”

“Uh, last night I slept on Delta Foxtrot’s sofa. I doubt I’ll be staying there.”

“Oh, right, haha, no, you won’t be staying there. A room will have been sorted out for you in the Yellow School wing. We’ll go and find it for you before dinner.”

“Good,” Oscar said. “And what is the Manor Buddy?”

“Oh, you haven’t had one before?” Doctor Phoebus asked. Oscar stared at him blankly. “It’s like a smartphone, only on local frequency so it’ll only work in and around the Manor. Everyone has one. It has your timetable on it and you can use it to communicate with anyone in the building: call, text, you name it. You use it to check in to your classes and you can share your location so people can join you in the social areas. You’ve really never had one of these before?” Doctor Phoebus asked again.

Oscar pulled his Android smartphone out of his pocket. “This is what I have at the moment,” he said.

Doctor Phoebus laughed. “Oh boy! You’re going to have a great time when you get your Manor Buddy! It’s totally customisable and yours to keep. Oh, and I think there’s even a map of the building and grounds so you won’t get lost. Speaking of which, why don’t we go and find your room now?”

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The next day (part 7)

Oscar paid little attention to the journey down to see Doctor Phoebus. He was too preoccupied with worrying about his parents. He replayed the exchange with Lady Amelia over and over in his head as the lift descended. She looked so serious, more and more so the more he imagined her saying the words “very tragic”. He was relieved when the lift bounced to a stop and the doors opened, presenting him with something new to look at to take his mind off things.

The corridor was quite different to those on the floors he had already visited. Here the bare bricks were painted a pale yellow, giving the underground level a cheery feel without being too in-your-face. At the end of the corridor, Daphne knocked on a door and opened it to reveal a small office-cum-laboratory. Oscar followed her over the threshold.

“Doctor Phoebus?” she called. There was no reply. “Doctor Phoebus!” she said a little louder. Was it Oscar’s imagination or did she sound a little exasperated? It was only the second time she’d called his name: she couldn’t start getting exasperated already.

This time, however, a man appeared from behind the desk. He stood up so suddenly that he made Oscar jump. Once he’d recovered himself, Oscar took in the man as he put down what he’d been holding and crossed the room to greet Daphne. Oscar looked at what he’d put on the desk: a short cable and a screwdriver. Oscar watched as the lightly-tanned, long-haired Doctor Phoebus gave Daphne a friendly hug, exchanged a few pleasantries with her then extended a hand to Oscar.

“And you must be Oscar,” Doctor Phoebus said with a smile. Oscar was surprised to hear an American twang in his accent as everything and everyone had been very English so far.

“Yes, Oscar Thornton,” Oscar said as he allowed his hand to be shaken.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you at last,” Doctor Phoebus said amicably. “Shall we get to work?”

Oscar followed Doctor Phoebus uncertainly over to the desk. Daphne hovered behind them, then said “I’ll be off then. See you later,” and walked out the door before either of the men had a chance to respond. Oscar blinked at the closed door for a couple of seconds, surprised at how rude she had been, then Doctor Phoebus interrupted his thoughts.

“Let me just finish putting this computer together, then I’ll be a much better host.” Doctor Phoebus muttered something about not having been given much warning of Oscar’s arrival as he got down on his hands and knees behind the desk, reached up for the screwdriver and took his computer apart ready to put in the cable he’d also set on the desk. Oscar didn’t know much about the insides of computers so he wasn’t sure what he was doing. He stood uncertainly next to the desk, watching because he thought he should, but not really paying attention. Again, he wasn’t sure where he was or why, and Doctor Phoebus seemed to know more about what was going on that he did.

The office was very tidy despite the rough-and-ready impression the bare bricks and flagged-stoned floor gave. Books were neatly stacked in colour-coordinated bookcases; two cups, a cafetière and a kettle had been set neatly in a row on top of a cabinet Oscar assumed held coffee, sugar and biscuits; the desk looked worked-at but not messy, with papers spread out next the computer monitor, keyboard and mouse. Most out of place was the work bench, which held some kind of science experiment. The apparatus had been set up to create a clear path-way along the middle of the desk, length-ways; with a mirror at one end, about the size of a computer screen, and an empty photo frame at the other. Along the side were some technical instruments and some everyday objects that would otherwise be out of place in this kind of office: a football, an iron and small Christmas tree, for example. The workbench wasn’t much larger than the average desk or dining table so Oscar didn’t think it could be a very serious experiment.

“Just something I’ve been working on in my spare time,” Doctor Phoebus confirmed when he had stood up again and found Oscar staring curiously at the experiment. “I thought I’d investigate how different objects are affected by the power of Friarr.” When he said ‘Friarr’, he did a very curious movement: he put his arms at his sides, elbows bent so that he hands were at shoulder height, stuck he hands out flat to the sides, palms down (as Delta had done on the bus the day before) and stuck one leg briefly out to the side in a small kick (like when someone’s foot pops when they are kissed in a film). He did this so matter-of-factly and as though it were part of the word itself that Oscar was quite taken aback. Doctor Phoebus didn’t seem to notice, though, and went to fill the kettle from a room leading off the office.