As he sat in the large room, waiting for proceedings to begin, Doni thought about his life so far, and the chain of circumstances which had brought him to where he was, on this Orientation Day.
He had grown up in a extended family group which had no regular contact with any other family. They had their own family language and it was almost impossible to communicate with outsiders in any case. Life had been harsh but, to some extent, satisfying. Up until a few years ago, the life he was born into was all he expected to have for the rest of his days.
The change came when he was at the age of growing into adulthood. Some strange visitors came to his parents' village and, through signs and gestures, seemed to be offering, just Doni from amongst his family, a new life. He would have to leave his brothers and sisters and mother and father and enjoy what he now knew was called an education.
The first few years were to be spent learning a classical language so that he could understand the wider world. There was, in principal, a choice of classical languages but it was decided that he should learn a language known as English or, more specifically, the form of English spoken in one small region of the world in the second century BME. He had never known of the existence of dates before he began his education, but he now knew that ME, or the Modern Era, had begun with a catastrophe which had almost destroyed all the known world and that on this, his orientation day, it was the year 2093ME. Information about the BME years had been lost to humanity at first but some of it had been recovered by archaeological research. The years 275BME to 50BME had come to be regarded as a golden age of antiquity. Not only was there a plethora of rich and expressive languages, but the means to explore them were also available. In the two centuries from about 275BME, various recording devices had been invented and brought into widespread use. Some of these devices had now been found and reconstructed and it was possible to hear various classical languages spoken. It was also possible to work out how they were written, because printed records from the past had been found and studied.
Doni had been a ready pupil and had thoroughly mastered his new language. He was well aware that he was no longer alone in the world of words.
Now the time had come to take his education onto the next level and this was why he was seated in the large auditorium, with a few hundred other young men and women, waiting for something to happen. He turned to the person next to him and decided to try out his English skills.
Kia Ora, he said, but she looked at him blankly for a few moments before she said by way of reply,
Good morning, my name is Esta. Perhaps the words he had tried out on her were not standard English of the period he had been trained in, so he decided to avoid such words in the future and replied,
Good morning, I am Doni. He looked at her more carefully and liked what he saw. She shyly offered him her hand. He had heard of this ancient custom and, equally shyly, he accepted her hand and shook it tentatively.
At this moment, a large man entered the room and climbed onto the raised stage. He addressed the assembled audience of would-be scholars.
My dear young friends, it is a real delight to see you standing in front of me today. It is my privilege to explain the Orientation Process to you.
Before the modern era began, institutions of learning, called Universities, were known to have existed. At these Universities, a wide variety of areas of study were followed. Science, medicine, law, literature, economics, to name just a few.
Esta and Doni looked at each other; neither of them knew what these words meant or what studying them might consist of.
Seventeen years ago, about the time most of you were born, it was decided to revive the idea of a University and, two years ago, the institution we are in now opened its doors for the first time. Just like in the Universities of antiquity, each academic year begins with an orientation day and this is what we are here for now. On this special day, some of my colleagues and I will tell you what you should expect from what we call tertiary education.
He went on to say that, rather than a wide range of subjects, the new Universities would concentrate on archaeology. Before the human race could devote itself to anything else, it was necessary to learn from the past cultures which had lived in this region, and throughout the world, up until the time these cultures had somehow destroyed themselves. He pointed out that excavations in the ground beneath their feet had located a University in this very place. Evidently this had turned out to be a rich treasure trove because of the highly developed technological items that had been recovered.
On a lighter note, a prevailing emblem, which was believed to be a coat of arms showed images of a number of unknown extinct birds and various other symbols, together with some words in an unknown language Ingenio et Labore. It is still hoped to decipher these words and render them in classical English, as long as the meaning turned out to be acceptable to modern sensibilities, and perhaps use this to construct a modern coat of arms along the lines of classical practice.
Both Doni and his new friend were enjoying the Orientation programme immensely. They each relished the idea of settling in as students of this new University.
As the introductory speech drew to an end, the speaker pointed out the the reason for a little prickly feeling Doni and the other students felt on their armrests.
This is nothing to worry about. We have the means to measure your reactions to some of the things we are saying. The little sensors built into the seats, combined with individual cameras trained on the eyes of each of you, tell us something about your feelings and your attitudes to the things we are talking about. This will help us later in assigning you to specialised projects.
How clever, thought Doni and the look on Esta's face showed that she thought so too.
The next speaker was a trim young woman who spoke about some of the things that had been found by recent explorations into the debris from classical years. She spoke about something discovered in the past known as Music and she played the beginning of an example of this, known as Missa Papae Marcelli. No one knew what the words meant, or even what the language was, but evidence had emerged that this was highly thought of in classical times.
Music, she declared,
is one of the options for the future, but only an option. She said that every aspect of past civilisations had to be looked at critically; the elements of past cultures which might have led to their downfall in the years just before 1ME, could not be tolerated again. Similarly there was something called religion, something called warfare and something else called literature. These were all interesting but potentially very dangerous.
Doni wondered if the humming sound his mother used to make, when he was a small child, sometimes combined with little grunts his father made in time with the humming, were anything like the music that had been discovered in the distant past, and which was now regarded as a danger. And the use of words in an unusual way, to describe feelings that were difficult to describe any other way; were they akin to literature? The idea from the past, described as religion, reminded him of some of the things his parents had taught him. He had always been encouraged to treat other people in a fair and decent way, much as he himself expected to be treated, and, generally was treated. This had been combined with the teaching that there were ways of acting rightly, even if no other people were involved. These precepts sounded a little like some of the guidance given by classical and primitive religions. At the very heart of both of these systems for good living was the belief that the life of another person was never yours to take or to otherwise damage.
Warfare, Doni had never heard of but, the way it was described, it seemed obscene and terrifying to him. Surely it could not exist in a world where religion also played a part, or for that matter where literature and music were valued.
During this long and interesting lecture, a few students seemed to have been invited to leave the room by members of the academic staff. Naturally Doni assumed that these fortunate students had already been identified as worthy of some sort of special treatment, perhaps using the sensing equipment trained on every student.
But Doni and Esta remained as members of the class as the day drew on and other specialist speakers took their place on the stage. One aspect of the past that shook Doni, when he heard about it for the first time, was something known as racism. This was a completely foreign idea but it had apparently existed at one time. It had consisted of individual humans treating other humans in different ways because of something known as race. For example, some people used to have darker skin than others and this was regarded as a racial difference which would render the rules of decent behaviour not relevant in dealings with these people.
What a strange idea, thought Doni and turned to Esta for her agreement. For the first time he noticed that her skin was darker than his and he turned away quickly in embarrassment.
Would racism be part of the future world order? This was under consideration along with other cultural facets of the past.
In the middle of the afternoon, a woman academic, as Doni supposed her to be, came up to Esta and asked her to come with her. Doni was sorry to see her go, but realised that this would certainly be to her advantage. Then, a few minutes later, a middle aged man, with an upright bearing, came up to Doni with a similar request. They went through a different door from the one that Esta had been taken through and, at first, he and the man were alone. However, Doni had the distinct feeling that he had lost his control over events. This was reinforced later when they joined a larger group of students, together with a number of older men, in a separate room where the atmosphere was chilly and austere.
Rather excitedly, Doni asked what was in store for him, and what sort of future studies would he be involved with.
His companion, whom he now saw was wearing a name badge , replied that a different fate had been decided on for him and that he would become a soldier.
You will be given a short period of military training and then you will be required to fight for your country and for civilisation.
Doni displayed a shocked reaction, and this led to another officer bursting into the room to help Captain Horton take Doni through the door that led to the larger gathering of young men who had recently been students but had now become conscripts.
Please Captain, he started to say but was interrupted with:
You call me Sir and you do not speak without permission. But I do permit you to carry on with what you were about to ask me.
Sir, he went on,
what will happen to the female student Esta that I have been talking to?
From the identity of the staff member who took her away, I would have to say that she is being considered for either the breeding programme or else as a convenience woman for the use of soldiers before they go out to die in battle. However, I think her skin is too dark for breeding purposes and she will almost certainly be assigned to ancillary military duties.
He added with a sneer,
I expect she is being auditioned for her new duties even as we speak.
Never hurt another person.