“It’s my fault, Sensor,” Cheza broke in. “I’m the reason he ate the knot-fruit.”
Sensor Cull’s face relaxed as he turned to the femmy. “I heard you’re tasting at sixes-and-five already, congratulations are in order, Study Gregory.” While he bowed slightly, Cheza threw me a wink. “However, even though I realize that this is a time of celebration for you, Study Fynch cannot join you on this particular grand voyage of discovery,” he said. “He is not allowed to taste the fruits of your labor, even if he could. Study Fynch, did you imagine your sense locks were a mirage? What did you think would happen when you ate that knot-fruit—that you would actually be able to taste it? That is a privilege you must earn through hard work and dedication to your studies.” Cull frowned. “If it happens again it’ll be a numbers dock, Fynch.”
I lowered my eyes. “Yes, sir.”
Cull began to leave when Cheza spoke up. “I was well aware of his locks, Sensor,” she said. “I knew he’d derive no pleasure from his new job.”
“New job?” he asked. “What new job is that?”
“I thought I could use Tig as a personal food tester, to make sure I’m not poisoned. As top stud here at Fairchild I’m sure you’ll agree every precaution should be taken to keep me safe from the foul machinations of those who might wish me harm.”
Cull gave us a joyless teehee and pulled his hands out of his robe. “Very medieval of you, Study Gregory, although I think your concern might be slightly exaggerated. This is a school after all, not King Henry’s royal court. I think your beefloaf is quite safe.”
“Clearly you’ve never tried the beefloaf,” she said.
Cull gave a hard sigh. “Nevertheless, employing a food tester seems a bit extreme. But it’ll get him off the hook this time. His eyes shifted between Cheza and I. “How long have the two of you been keeping company?”
“We’ve only just met,” she told him.
I don’t know how, but Cull managed to frown even deeper. “And what of that other stud—what was his name?” The sensor stroked his chin. “Or the one before that?” Cheza’s face soured and she prattled on about something just to drown him out. Cull stopped and the merest hint of a smile turned the corners of his mouth up. “I’m afraid that although we can shield our learners from many evils and excesses, we cannot always protect them from each other.” Cull slipped his hands back into his robe, turned, and glided off while Cheza thrust her tongue out at him.
“Clarence can be a crotch of the highest order sometimes. Don’t listen to a word he says about me, o-kee-dee.”
“Yeah, sure. He’s always spooked me out anyway.”
I didn’t question Cheza about what Cull said. I suppose it was partly because I didn’t want to know the answers and partly because I was still in shock to learn one of the head sensors at Fairchild was named Clarence. Besides, I was feeling too good to let something as small as Cull’s crotchiness bring me down.
That was 42 days ago.
“Sweet stuff, Tig, it really is. Warms the cockles and all that.” Alfa’s carving tracks into his mashed spudatoes. “And if I was eight years old, and a femmy, I might actually give a kuff. But as I am, to date, neither of those things, get to the gooden parts already or go piss.”
“Bear with me, bestbro, we’re at the tip top of the roller ride,” I tell him.
Alfa over-sighs. “Alright then, carry on . . . and on and on and on.” He waves his hand for me to continue.
She was waiting for me outside the door of my 6th period lesson. “Come outside and play with me tonight, birthboy.” Cheza said, her eyes alive. “Let’s take a walk in the grove. I’ve taken the necessary precautions.”
We clasped our hands tightly and stepped out into the hallway, fighting against the traffic of a steady stream of bumbling, sense-poor understuds. I dropped my voice and reminded her, “What about the Truancy Forces? Going out after nightlocks is an offense.”
“Only if we’re found out,” she said.
“I don’t know—just to take a walk? It doesn’t seem worth the risk. Those truancy officers are legit gonzo. They got fall guns, sick sticks—they put you in magbonds and everything.”