One Week Earlier
Who knew I’d ever go back to uni?
My new job did not come with my own office, or pay above 35,000 euros. But I was told it was a great way to transition to working a broader IT job, and I pretended that I wanted that all along!
But deep inside I was still bitter that the job placement authorities at the hospital couldn’t find something more fitting. IT was the job for when you got a useless major or failed computer science and needed to re-train. As much as I failed the rest of my life afterwards, I graduated magna cum laude. I was a star student. They must have focused on that title only when placing me at a job at my alma mater.
At the very least, I loved the University of Windenburg. I loved its grounds, its diverse and global student body, and most of my professors. I didn’t love them starting their Game Design program after I graduated but I had to accept that timing wasn’t on my side. I’d survive in the world with computer science and more self-teaching in 3D.
Maybe the recruiter knew that about me when looking for a job. If I wanted to be building games in the future, it looked better on my resume than nothing. Or cleaning for a rich woman that I also spent each night balls-deep inside of. They promised that they made my criminal background look as innocent as possible. None of my bosses would know the full truth.
The labs were a marvel, though, if unfortunately a walk away from the main campus. Like in America, the University of Windenburg sprawled out past the quad. I used to be used to it, because most computer science classes were secluded away like that. The relative quiet was to be appreciated. It wasn’t even near the endless student flats.
I spent longer than I expected to that morning just waiting for directions. The job description was clear on paper: perform maintenance and cleaning of the three game design computer labs. Tutor students during designated hours, and act as an advisor on larger student projects. Report greater issues to IT and work with them towards solutions. 40 hours and five days a week plus lunch breaks, like I was in America again. And most importantly, it wouldn’t keep me outside past my probation-enforced curfew at 22:00.
Supposedly I reported to the department head themselves about my duties, however–
“So who made you head of the department?”
Frau Professor, Helen Krause, hadn’t changed much since I last took her class. She was still stout and stern, with thick curly hair and a lot of exotic jewelry around her neck and wrists. The only change was that she cut her arse-length hair at some point. I would be lying if I called her dumb, or even not a good teacher…
…but every student dreaded her too. She was a master of object-oriented programming and taught many of the classes I needed to graduate. Without her, I might have been summa cum laude instead. A straight 4.0 instead of a respectable 3.6 that made me cry one night.
“They didn’t, you’re gonna have to talk to Professor Winter instead,” she said. I was unable to get into his classes back in uni. He taught interactive design and every student who took even one web design or programming class swarmed to him. He topped every list of favorite professors, where Dr. Krause didn’t. “But I heard about the new lab assistant, and I have class here soon. This is the material we’re using this semester for all units of Python in Gaming. I hope you remember it.”
“Of course I do. I just…uh…I was out of the workforce for a while. Have you ever had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?” I thought it would shut her up. Everyone curled away like a wilting plant when cancer was mentioned, even a kind that most patients survived.
“Yes, I taught through it last year…if you were wondering about my hair. Who was your oncologist? I worked with Dr. Vogel and did acupressure and sea bathing.”
“None of your business,” I mumbled.
“Keep this workspace clean, and tutor my students well,” said Professor Krause. “I will talk to the department if your skills have slipped.”
Professor Krause was in a different building for much of the day, so I saw little of her and more of Professor Winter after we met. He always looked friendly and his demeanor matched his calm smile and curled-up moustache. Friendly, and not afraid to be a little odd. He even insisted that I treat him like an equal and call him Wolfram.
“I encourage all my students to spend time playing that,” he said, pointing back to the arcade machine in the classroom. “The games are older, but the ultimate point today isn’t pushing technical boundaries but those for storytelling and enjoyability.”
“This sounds like a fun department to work for,” I said to him. “I would have been honoured to be a student too.”
“You get full access to the labs and can practice whatever you want…
“…and we also offer plenty of sick time, should your illness come back.”
“What? Oh…yeah…I have an appointment next week, but it shouldn’t be a big deal,” I said, astonished at how fast fake news could travel. Then again, I did have a follow-up appointment that next week, but it was about that stupid suicide attempt in September. I wasn’t lying to Wolfram, however. And he mattered more than Dr. Krause in matters of keeping my new job. “I just…don’t want to talk about it much.”
“I also heard you were in America, and both healthcare and employment are far better here,” he said. “So we’re glad to have you.”
“Yeah…really glad to be back.”
I would have sulked about Thu at that thought. Usually, it was impossible to drag me out of it, but then the arcade cabinet in the corner started. Wolfram must have put a quarter in it or pressed a hidden button.
“You have to know the principles of gameplay too,” he said, wiggling one of his bushy eyebrows.
I had no idea what it looked like to the students. A few were studying in the common area, and I would have guessed them to be ours. Smart, responsible, and lots of hair dye abound. While Wolfram and I goofed off and played The Greys Bring Gifts.
Three rounds later and I was doing worse than I thought I would. Deep in my mind, I knew that Wolfram played this for hours on end at many times in his life. He loved it so much that he spent thousands on the cabinet and restoring it. But it had its moments of enraging me. I banged my fists against the wrong button and tanked my ship even further. I was busted again.
But Wolfram put in another token.
It probably was because of my lies but he had faith in me. I eventually beat him, and got further encouragement to stay at this job and help make the department better. I had a lot of studying to do, but I believed him. And it made me less angry to believe in myself too.
For the sake of a good impression on my probation officer, I remained composed when they shackled my ankle with a monitor. It was affixed with a big band and couldn’t be taken off without a key. It wouldn’t until not that May, but the next one. It was loose around my skinny ankles but still itched, and I had immense trouble itching under it.
Worst of all, I couldn’t wear my favorite boots until my sentence was over. They did not fit over my anklet, and it did not move up my leg far enough to accommodate them. I was running low on money, after my legal fees, and having to buy shoes on top of work clothes killed my heart a little.
I had to stay later thrice a week, in order to tutor students. Having two days where I got to leave earlier was nice, but I was worried what would happen. Wolfram started me off with programming classes this semester, since it was what I studied. I could then catch up with the rest of the curriculum, which I had to be familiar with anyways. It was coming back to me, but I still felt like a student.
I hadn’t even greeted my students before I tried to remember their faces. Only five arrived that afternoon, though I was told that the number could easily change by the day. It didn’t look as diverse as some of my classes did when I was a student. Was I looking for that only because I was an insecure Viet-German? Well, one of the students looked Vietnamese to me, if very pale for one. But my family had their share of them…
…we usually did not forget the universities we went to, however.
Jackie was there alone. I had never seen him without his twin brother James until then. Otherwise, the young man hadn’t changed much. He still had long hair, was a little taller than me, and was overweight. As I expected, he was scowling. How could he not? I didn’t forget the last time I saw him, outside Thu’s apartment door.
I guess I was in the place he wanted me to be. I was almost as far away from Thu as possible. The crazy men I shared my apartment with gave me a life he wouldn’t dare to criticize, at least I hoped. It was a daily struggle to accept this life as-is. I wasn’t prepared for my family’s criticism of it again.
“So, what language do we all speak?” I asked them that in English. It was truly a gamble at the university, and even classes were taught in one language or the other.
“That’s fine, it’s not my first language,” I said, trying not to look Jackie in the eye. I knew his answer, but I didn’t want anyone else to know that I knew. Again, good first impressions were so important, to my job and to my probation officer when I called her each night. “Anyways, my background is in object-oriented programming and UI design, but as you might know, I’m also the general lab tech here. I’m supposed to know everything.”
And Jackie didn’t seem to believe me. At least he was hiding something too. How were my parents and Lili? And where the hell is your brother?
Although he came to tutoring, he didn’t immediately ask for help, and he was in the back corner so I could ignore him for as long as possible. All the other students were extremely kind. The two in front were foreign and had more questions about Windenburg and German culture than Python. Their only problems with their assignment were boring errors I had to debug. I indeed lost my sense of logic, but surely not for programming. For the place I always thought I would be.
Tae was, funny enough, not another foreigner. Someone further in the past must have come here from Korea for another one of those many Windenburg foreign labor exchanges. They grabbed people from everywhere who later had children and stayed put in Germany. Or their country sucked and we felt bad for them. It was always a big toss-up for children of immigrants like myself (and Jackie).
But that meant that his question was entirely about Python, and not how to swear in German.
“I’m not in their class,” he said. “So it’s not a syntax error…”
“…you can’t be stumped by PyGame, are you?”
They updated the module during my leave of absence from the computing world. Those arguments otherwise wouldn’t work two years ago! I was stumped, and yet, it was all covered in one of Dr. Krause’s books.
“It must be something to do with a recent update, I’ll have to check the books first,” I said to him.
I had my back turned in shame while checking the book. Oh sure, everything got constant updates, but I also stood there stumped about surfaces and events. Didn’t I learn this two years before? It might have been while Ragnhild was sleeping next to me, and I tried to block out a lot of those memories…
…I cornered myself in the worst way.
And Jackie raised his hand to ask a question.
“Oh dear, I’ve gotten stuck with this array, Herr Hahn,” he said. He sometimes was a condescending little nerd but that tone was unheard of from me.
“Serious questions only,” I said to him. It didn’t seem like anyone else had gotten the clue that we were cousins, and I was glad to keep it that way. Thank god for being mixed and growing up half a world away from him.
“Jackie, I didn’t know this was going to happen. Please just treat me as a tutor.”
He didn’t seem to need my help at all. But the other way around? I had so much to ask him.
The department’s break room had a coffee maker and mugs, which I was thankful for. It was a cold day in Windenburg, enough for it to snow, and it was better to study at the university than at home. As long as it was before my curfew, the law agreed.
Jackie hadn’t left either. He lived with my parents according to the rumors, and I did believe that. They did not live far from the university either. There was no rush to beat the snow or winter darkness for him either.
There was so much to say, but I also hoped I remained invisible to him.
“You almost lost your cool again,” he said, sitting next to me.
“So it was just a ruse? And where the hell is your brother?”
“I mean, on, not important, and two, we’re all still pissed off at you.”
“I’m ill, give me a fucking break,” I said, even if Jackie knew parts of the truth and what kind of illness I was talking about. I couldn’t even pretend to concentrate on my book anymore. How could you make a chain of events in PyGame? That was a question for Dr. Krause or Dr. Winter.
Being ill is no excuse but it was the only way I could think of to rationalize my actions. To place them in a journey of recovery, which I could only hope that he and the rest of the family would accept.
“Look, is there any hope of talking to them again?” I asked him. “I’m open to do anything. My life’s in shambles and it’s all my fault, I get it already.”
“I’m gonna think about it in terms of something you have to do for me instead,” said Jackie. “Do my bidding, and I’ll be nice about everything.”
“Fine, I’ll do anything.”
“There’s this physics adjunct who runs a really awful class but I’m stuck taking it. He’ll listen to you before he listens to me,” he said. “Go to the department and tell Mr. Karahalios that he needs to get organized and actually upload homework and study guides online. And that I deserve to retake our last test.”
“I don’t know everyone here, especially not him.”
“Yeah, but no one said talking to your parents was going to be easy either.”
A/N: right before this chapter I switched to a new combination of default skin and overlays, plus eyelashes (!!) for some sims of either sex. I am still in a growing period with all of them so if anyone looks funny…I know. 😛