She recognized Mbussu and Sebele Dlamini from their pictures. They were children of the Swazi king. Mbussu looked far too old for school. She knew he was fifteen, but he looked fearsome, like he'd probably killed a man before. Or maybe several. Sebele was as lovely as her picture, with coal black skin that was much darker than her half-brother's, but in person, she was so tiny that she seemed younger than her fourteen years.
There were three other children from the tribes, which had arrived in the very last shuttle after hers. Misty figured that meant everyone else had been living on Akupara for some time. They certainly seemed to know each other. A group of the older kids – minus the Dlaminis – lounged near the waterfall, making fun of Ms. Cruz and her name tags when she wasn't looking.
“All right,” Ms. Cruz announced, clapping her hands for attention. The group at the falls dispersed as everyone took seats on the couches. “Everyone has arrived and we're all on time. That means we're off to a great start already! I think school is going to be a bit different for you here. Even for those of you who've been living here. This will all take some getting used to, but I think we've got some wonderful opportunities here that you wouldn't find anywhere else.
“I'm excited about Akupara because it offers such potential. Each crew member will at some point serve as a guest speaker. In addition to the core classes, we'll have a chance to learn about each position here and understand how each of us helps keep this ship running. As young adults, you'll be able to choose a large portion of your own course work.” Misty perked up, and she noticed that a few other kids did too.
“You'll have an opportunity to develop a Personal Enrichment Program, or what we call PEP. You'll each be asked to utilize your current skills, as well as try out some new ones. Everyone must spend a mini-mester 'apprenticing' to a certain program, and everyone must try out at least five programs before graduation. For six weeks, you could apprentice to a solar engineer, and then move to apprentice under a farmer, a botanist, blacksmith, or a chemist. The PEP program won't start for another six weeks, but you'll spend a portion of the summer in your first apprenticeship. Start thinking about what you might like that to be.” A couple of kids groaned, and Ms. Cruz gave them a sharp look.
“We won't have to meet in a class room every day. This whole world is our class room. When the weather is nice, we'll try to meet outdoors or here in the solarium. On stormy days, we could choose a room such as the library. Now, I think it's best if we spend some time getting to know one another. I'm Ms. Cruz, and I come from Miami Island, in the United States. I applied and fought for this job because I love the adventure and the potential of it. Our children need exceptional teachers if they are to foster knowledge and wisdom throughout the universe. I became a teacher because I care about our future generations, and the future of humanity. I'm so very pleased to be a part of this, and a part of your lives.” She smiled. “So, who would like to go next?” She looked around, but most of the kids avoided her gaze either purposefully or out of boredom. “Linda, Ged, your family has been here for maybe the longest. Why don't you begin and tell us a bit about your lives here on the ship?”
Ged, who'd been lounging with his long legs over the arm of his couch, sat up but made no move to answer. Linda, who looked to be in charge of the older kids, sat back and looked around at her audience. “Well, I'm Linda Harrington-Carter. This is my cousin, Gerard Harrington-James.”
“Ged,” he said pointedly.
Linda went on. “Our grandfather built Harrington Inn, and my momma and his momma run it. Technically, biological siblings aren't supposed to have positions on the ship, but our family has helped build Akupara from the start. Momma and Aunt Bella are a good team, so they kept them both. I'm supposed to take over the Inn, but I suppose I've already apprenticed for that. I think I'd like to apprentice at the winery this summer.”
“Thank you, Linda,” Ms. Cruz said, smiling. “Ged?”
“I'm Ged, just like she said.”
“Okay then.” Ms. Cruz moved on to the girl sitting beside Linda. “How about we just go around the circle then. Jennifer?”
Jennifer had long sandy blonde hair and the biggest, most beautiful pale blue eyes that Misty had ever seen. She saw Misty looking and smiled at her. “I'm Jennifer Machate. My parents are both astronauts who've been stationed here since before I was born. My dad's a welder, and he's done a lot of the building and repair work on the space side of the ship. I was born here. I got to visit Earth not too long ago, before we got sealed off. It was nice enough, but I like it better here.”
“Akupara is a lot more inviting than many places on Earth,” Ms. Cruz agreed. “Where did you visit?”
“We went to see my grandparents down in Oklahoma.”
“At least they're out of the biospheres.”
“Yeah. It was all right. Very open.”
Most of the morning was spent on the introductions. One of the boys, an aborigine named Woljiki, she just could not understand. She knew he was speaking English, but his accent was so thick that Misty wouldn't have even known his name if it weren't written across his chest. She knew he was of the Ainja tribe, which meant he was from Australia. The other two tribal girls were of the Amazonian Jururei. Both tribes had been made famous in Kieran Kell's books. She was sure it was his influence that helped get the tribes accepted onto the ship. The Jururei girls were both very pretty, even if they wore weird grass necklaces for shirts. They also had bone piercings through the bottom of their lips. Even with the piercings, she understood them better than she had Woljiki.
Finally it was Misty's turn, and she couldn't help but sound incredibly lame. She was no royalty, tribal or otherwise, and her family hadn't lived on Akupara for generations. “Hi, I'm Misty King,” she said, trying not to sound nervous. “We're from Asheville, North Carolina. My dad is a master carpenter. It's his dream that brought us here, but it seems all right so far. Asheville was getting pretty crowded. I think my dad will be happier. I prefer the city, but I could get used to a place like this.”
“You're gonna have to,” Linda said dryly.
Misty didn't say anything, figuring the girl could easily hurt her cause if she wanted to. There were nineteen kids in her class all together, all ranging from eleven to sixteen. Misty was smack in the middle, and she really didn't want to get lumped with the younger kids. Linda Harrington-Carter seemed in charge of the older ones - or the ones who had lived there, at least. Prince Mbussu looked like could easily take charge, only no one in the class interested him enough to try. Misty thought he seemed like the coolest one there, and not just because he was so exotically handsome. Lena Martin, the other girl her age, and a girl named Olive Rosamund had both arrived during the last wave, which had gotten there about eight months earlier. Misty figured they might be good friends, but she still wanted to get in nice with the older ones.
“Well I had thought that we could all take the river tour together and spend our first unit learning about Akupara itself,” Ms. Cruz said. “Now, I know most of you know the area, so would you object to the tour?”
The class looked around. “Nah,” Ged said. “Beats writing essays.”
“Oh, we'll do our fair share of essays, but not on our first day together.”
“You're nicer than Mr. Broughton,” someone grumbled.
Ms. Cruz smiled. “Thank you. Mr. Broughton had considerably more students, and for a longer time. I think he was more than ready to retire. Well, come on then. Let's head up to the docks.”