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Master Que
This follows on from Hopefully Not An Ordinary Evening Out and runs to 4,098 words.

My strategy with the extra loud alarm clock worked, and I rolled out of my bedclothes when it went off feeling remarkably well, all things considered. It probably wasn’t helpful that the second day of the week was one of my early starts with an eight o’clock Geology tutorial, but I managed to honour the family shrine, feed myself, grab my lunch, and my books before getting out of the house on time. Walking to the university didn’t seem to take so long this morning, perhaps because I knew where I was going and it was a beautiful day – it didn’t seem an exaggeration to say that I felt better with every step.

The tutorial was in Room 8 on the second floor of Laboratory Building Number 5 (Earth Sciences) and we were tucked in beside the staff bathroom and opposite their small kitchen. The sink had a sign above it that read, “This is not for lab equipment!” The tutorial room itself had a locked glass-fronted cabinet along one wall containing polished rock specimens and was otherwise furnished with laboratory benches, stools and a series of cabinets with bench space on top of them. I wasn’t the first person to arrive, although I hadn’t expected to be. Our tutor was Tay Yang, who’d been my orientation group’s guide, and he was waiting for us. Also already there when I arrived were: Kwan Ren the financier; Hsing Ying, a boy who wore dark rimmed glasses and had hair that almost curled; two boys who lived in the Sing Bao Residential College, Ling Wei and Soong Tang; and a girl dressed in grey who looked like she’d shaved her head that morning and introduced herself as Gui.

The rest of the class did arrive by eight and so everyone was present to hear Tay Yang’s explanation of the assessment and marking system. He said, “The pass mark is sixty-five percent. There will be four examinations across the year, one halfway through each semester and one at the end of each semester. All together these will represent fifty-five percent of the available marks, and the final examination will be nineteen percent of the year’s available marks. Your weekly study task will, cumulatively, account for twenty percent of your potential marks – these will be based on readings and laboratory work. The remainder of your marks will come from the in-tutorial presentations you will be giving from halfway through this semester onwards. There will be two cycles of these; the first done individually and the second in teams, but you will receive a cumulative mark. Are there any questions at this point?”

Gui stood up and bowed. “How will teams for presentations and laboratory work be selected, Tay Yang? Also, will there be provision for external commitments when presentation dates are assigned?”

“Laboratory teams will be assigned by hexagrams drawn for each student by the senior Geology laboratory technician.” Tay Yang smiled. “It may have no scientific basis and it may not be random, but it works as well as any other method plus we get a bit of ceremony to enjoy.”

“You petition Heaven to give guidance on class assignments!?” Gui sounded like she was building up a head of steam.

“At this stage of your academic careers Heaven is likely to have a better idea than us as to which of you will work well together,” returned Tay Yang drily. “I believe they turned to hexagrams the year after the personality matching trial resulted in a number of successful and attempted murders, plus several elopements. Consulting Heaven seems to produce less disturbing results, and if you argue that science should be our religion, then the senior Geology laboratory technician must count as a senior temple functionary, if not a priest.”

One of the students who’d arrived after me, Kun An, stood, bowed and asked, “And the provision for pre-existing commitments versus presentation dates?”

“I would like to think that none of you will have other commitments set for our time together,” replied Tay Yang, “unless they were scheduled before you received your academic timetables.”

Gui asked, “So there’s no special assembly where everyone has to watch everyone else give their presentations?”

“Miss Gui,” replied Tay Yang gravely, “This institution aspires to be a centre of learning, not a Circle of Torment. There are one thousand students undertaking this subject; what sort of monsters did you think we are? Presentations will be made in the regularly scheduled tutorial periods. However, if an emergency comes up, come and see me. I have no influence over older relatives who think that your life is theirs to rearrange as they see fit, but if it’s an academic conflict then I can help negotiate a solution that allows you to meet all your obligations.” He looked around the room, “Anything else?” None of us made a move. “Right then, on to course work.”

There were vocabulary words. Tay Yang gave us a list of ten, four of which were entirely new characters to me. Fortunately they came with definitions because one of them wasn’t new to me and I was used to it meaning the underlying hidden layers in a gi construct. Here it meant deeper geologic layers that had never been on the surface. There were additional readings to be done in preparation for our first laboratory period the next morning. We were allowed to ask questions that we might have developed after having had a chance to go over our lecture notes and read the textbook chapters. We finished up with a reminder to wear sturdy, enclosed footwear and to have long hair confined for the laboratory session the next morning. Tay Yang pointed at my feet and said, “Miss Sung’s footwear is perfectly acceptable and those of you currently wearing slippers might consider that style if you don’t want to wear something that looks like school shoes.”

I spent a few minutes having my boots examined by most of the girls in my class and I freely admitted that Master Que had chosen them for me. Kwan Ren, who I thought was waiting for Kun An, said disbelievingly, “A gi teacher as a stylist?”

“Master Que has very good taste,” I replied quietly. “He is also my manager and my image is his business.”

“And you are?” He raised his eyebrows at me. “I don’t know your face from the higher championships.”

“A professional gi fighter,” I bowed. “So I fight Masked. I am still a student without a professional name, so I cannot offer you a business card.”

“I am corrected.” He bowed back. “My apologies for the offence.” Kwan Ren gave me a pleasant smile and turned to ask Kun An if she’d like to accompany him to the library.

I made sure not to invite myself along because, although the library sounded like an excellent idea and my next class was at noon, Kun An had said yes to the invitation with the sort of smile and head duck that some of my school friends had used when a boy they found attractive talked to them. If those two might be starting a happy little romance, I didn’t want to ruin it for them.
When I left the tutorial room there was a policeman waiting for me. He was not alone. His companion was a tall thin man who might have been described as cadaverous if he hadn’t been looking around with considerable animation. They ignored my classmates and our tutor, but headed straight for me as soon as I passed through the door. The policeman I remembered from the previous night; he had been stationed at the front door of the restaurant controlling access and egress during the police investigation. The sergeant said, “Miss Sung Nai.” It was not a question and neither of them bowed.

I bowed, and greeted them, “Sergeant, honoured sir. I am afraid that I do not have the felicity of your names?”

“Sgt Ren Shu and Professor Doctor Xin Zhai, senior psychiatrist at the Xiamtian Central Hospital,” the sergeant gave me their names gravely.

“This is about Mr Teng, isn’t it?” I looked from one man to the other.

“It is,” agreed Professor Doctor Xin. “What did you do to him, Miss Sung? He’s sane!”

“Temporarily,” I pointed out. “And I don’t know exactly what I did to him. I believe that it was intended to make his brain chemicals work the way they are supposed to – in the correct proportions and so on. I acted on the intention and without precise knowledge.” I added apologetically “I’m sorry I can’t give you more details, but I was quite tired at the time.”
“In this case the outcomes have been felicitous,” said Professor Doctor Xin, “but you cannot go around doing things to people’s minds whenever you feel like it, Miss Sung!”

“Mr Teng expressed sufficient dissatisfaction with his state of mind that he wanted to kill himself and cause maximum mayhem and public mischief as part of his departure,” I pointed out. “He tried to shoot me with a gun. One that holds multiple bullets and fires really quickly. Also, technically I didn’t attempt mind control, I tried to give him control of his own mind. By fixing the way his brain works, for a while.”

Professor Doctor Xin replied severely, “Miss Sung, even if you weren’t attempting mind control and even if you have made Mr Teng’s situation temporarily better, you can’t go around treating people without their permission, official order, nor medical qualifications!”

“I am allowed to protect myself and others, though,” I said. “Last night Mr Teng presented a clear and immediate danger to myself and others. It can be argued that at that point in time I had a duty to do what I could to relieve that situation. I can certainly promise not to repeat my actions of last night unless the circumstances are replicated.”

“Miss Sung, could what you have done also have made Mr Teng smarter?” That was from Sgt Ren who had managed to get his words in before Professor Doctor Xin could speak again.”

I thought back to what I could remember about what I had done to Mr Teng. “Only if his medical conditions normally blunt his native intelligence,” I answered thoughtfully. “I did get the impression last night that Mr Teng is probably a Reincarnated Scholar of some sort. So coherent thought and access to his full range of experience?”

“A Reincarnated Scholar?” Professor Doctor Xin looked furious, as if it were my fault. “Why do you think that?”

“He talked about wanting to end this incarnation – most of us don’t talk about dying that way,” I pointed out. “Besides, if he’s been a sorcerer in a past incarnation, that would explain his waijin. All I did to Mr Teng is let him be who he would be without his disease for a while. Doesn’t mean he’s going to be nice or not scary.”

“That explains-. He’s requested psychiatric confinement no matter what the outcomes from last night. He wants his bloods tested hourly until he’s back where he was before you interfered with him,” said Professor Doctor Xin. “He smiles quietly, and he asked for a cheap copy of The Cymbals of Disorder to read. For now it’s like dealing with an esteemed colleague who’s going to turn into a monster at any moment. I’ve warned the nurses and orderlies where he is that he’s dangerous but I don’t think they believe me.”

“Well, he certainly scared me out of being myself last night,” I agreed. “I can give you a testimonial if that would help, but I think you came here to scold me for playing around in people’s brains without permission and without knowing what I’m doing?”

“Exactly!” Professor Doctor Xin smiled thinly, “And you have agreed not to repeat your behavior unless you are threatened again. I don’t believe I can ask for more, so if the authorities are happy…?” He looked at Sgt Ren.

“A brief on last night is still being prepared for the municipal magistrate,” observed Sgt Ren. “It is not my place to speculate on the outcome of the matter. If you have nothing further for Miss Sung, Professor Doctor Xin, then our business here is done. I am sure Miss Sung has classes to attend.”

I chose to take Sgt Ren’s words as dismissing me, so I bowed to both of them and then left by the stairs. That way they couldn’t change their minds while I was waiting for the lift. I knew that mind control had been illegal for a long time before it had been scrubbed from the statute books when the legal code was updated during the Occupation, but I had no idea what the law’s position was on what I had done to Mr Teng. On reflection I hoped that the Professor Doctor Xin’s visit was the last I was going to hear of it, although I couldn’t possibly be charged with impersonating a medical practitioner, because I’d never claimed to be one. Just to be on the safe side, and because I had three hours before my next class, I went to see Professor Hu Kun.

When I arrived the Tang Jet Building was having a fire drill. Apparently the building and faculty staff believed in getting such administrative issues over and done with early in the academic year. Their emergency assembly area was the open grassed area on the northern side of a long grass-covered mound that ran along the opposite side of the roadway in front of the Building, and as the space had some conveniently arranged benches and tables I assumed it was used as a recreation space for lunch and other breaks in the timetable. It was at one of these tables that I found Professor Hu.

As I approached he was telling a couple of people a few years older than me, “Of course, when I started working here the late Professor Liu used to tell the dawdlers, ‘Well, they say they removed all the explosives….’ Speeded them up remarkably.”

“Excuse me, Professor Hu?” I bowed to everyone at the table. “I apologise for interrupting, but you asked me to come and see you?”

“Ah, yes. Miss Sung, the earth scientist with interests in cosmic energy relationships and philosophy, isn’t it?” His eyes twinkled as he spoke to me and I had serious doubts that he’d been confused about his timetable dates when he’d come into our orientation lecture room that day. “I was just telling my young teaching colleagues here that our building used to contain an explosives magazine.”

I asked politely, “Pre-Occupation, Occupation, or Resistance, sir?”

“Pre-Occupation,” replied Professor Hu. “Back when we were a centre for military education. The Occupation forces didn’t seem to think that either the explosives or military education for our people were good ideas but you can see that we kept the berm. I suspect no-one was quite confident that it was completely safe when they first had the building fitted for gas. Now, I promised you some names and I have introductory notes for you to give to them back in my office. Can you wait till we go back inside?”

“My next class isn’t until noon, Professor, so as long as this is just a drill I should have plenty of time,” I assured him.

“Excellent! Take a seat next to Wang Wei the Mapmaker here, and talk with us about mediums through which we can observe the universe.” Professor Hu pointed at one of the seats next to the young man sitting opposite him. “Wang Wei is looking at doing a thesis topic involving the distribution of dark matter through the universe, and this one,” he pointed at the person sitting next to him, “is Kim Dharka who is studying the creation of metals.”

I bowed before taking the indicated seat and said, “I am Sung Nai, first year Earth Sciences student and professional gi fighter.”

“You’re the one who gave Professor Hu this idea about seeking other ways to observe the cosmos, aren’t you?” Wang Wei grinned at me. “I like the idea of finding a way of looking at things where dark matter isn’t invisible and doesn’t have to be inferred.”

“It is intriguing,” agreed Kim Dharka, who to my eye seemed to be both part Khem and Shimba as well as being without gender markers. “Perhaps not so useful in my line of inquiry, but things don’t have to be in order to be interesting.”

“Hasn’t anyone tried to use gi to look at the other planets and the stars?” I looked at the three of them as I asked my question. “Most of those old sorcerers did write things down, if only so they could boast about them to their friends.”

“And here we touch on the thorny problem of the initial literature research,” sighed Wang Wei. “It seems unlikely that any library is going to have a section on using gi for astronomy.”

“Well if Earth Sciences can have a small library that references glacial spirits, why wouldn’t there be one that holds the celestial observations of sorcerers? Have you asked?” I looked Wang Wei and asked bluntly, “Can you sense gi at all? Because if you can’t, how are you going to do your study?”

“That,” remarked Professor Hu, “is an inconveniently cogent point. Certainly the design of your trial study would vary depending on whether you were making direct observations yourself, recording the observations of others, or a combination of the two.”

“I stopped studying gi when I was eight,” admitted Wang Wei. “It just wasn’t convenient. I think my teacher was Laosung? What I do remember was that he was never very happy with me – I wasn’t a good student.”

“So, your first two steps are your literature search, and to find out whether you can sense gi,” Professor Hu smiled genially. “Remember that librarians are your friends for the first, and for the second, do you have any suggestions Miss Sung?”

My suggestion was, “Approach the Laosung Association and ask them to recommend someone who might be able to help you? It would be polite because you think that your first teacher was one of them. If they can’t or won’t help you, then you could approach any of the other gi associations or even the Illustrious Board of Referees.”

“If I might ask,” put in Kim Dharka, “why would any of these people help?”

“Because Wang Wei is going to ask politely, and many gi masters believe that good manners and courtesy should be encouraged,” I replied. “And because they may have members who are interested in things like astronomy, cosmology, and the distribution of gi-sense in the population.”

“Ah, well,” said Wang Wei resignedly, “being a plot point in someone else’s study is just part of being a university student, isn’t it?”

Professor Hu and Kim Dharka were still laughing when the wardens gave the all clear to re-enter the building.

I followed them back to Professor Hu’s office, where he removed three addressed envelops from a desk drawer and then handed them to me. “These esteemed colleagues would be delighted to discuss energy relationships with you, Miss Sung. I hope I see more of you in your time here.”

I bowed, sensing a polite dismissal. “Thank you, Professor Hu. Also, if I might be bold enough to make an offer to Scholar Wang Wei?” From how Professor Hu had introduced the two younger men I assumed that he was some sort of tutor as well as a graduate working in a thesis. “If the proposed lines of approach for your readings and finding out whether you can sense gi don’t work, I could introduce you to my gi teacher. He has a wide acquaintance among other gi masters, and can be unexpectedly knowledgeable on diverse subjects. Even if he cannot help you directly, his advice is likely to be good.”

“Thank you,” Wang Wei bowed in reply. “It is kind of you to offer.”

“You might not thank me if he inveigles you into a game of mah jong,” I told him. “He’s given me lessons on how to cheat, but he doesn’t need to.”

On that note I completed my farewells and took myself off to the Library.

I stopped at section where the Library kept the daily newspapers, intending merely to get some sense of their individual focus and tone so I could discuss which ones we should order with Master Que, and found myself reading four different accounts of previous night’s events at the Riverside Terrace. All four had the story on the front page, and the two local dailies had gone with pictures of Master Ran to illustrate their stores while the local edition of the ‘national’ daily paper had preferred to use a picture of the parties who had been in the private dining room as they left the premises. The local weekly sports tabloid, apparently printed for the second day of the week so it could supply up-to-date fields for the afternoon’s horse races, chose to have strips across the page made up of photos of every professional gi fighter who’d been present – in order of rank. Master Que was in the first quarter of the first strip. I was the last. My pleasure at very face-obscured picture they’d managed to find of me was tempered by the five paragraph piece on page three that not only covered my results in the National Championships but demonstrated that the writer had listened to other people about what I’d done in the whole mess; his conclusions were interesting, but I would have told him that I hadn’t felt in the least heroic at the time.

It was after ten before I got myself to a study table to go over the work for my Geology lab the next morning. Only one of the reserved readings was available when I asked for them, so I read that and made my own notes before returning it and hoping that one or both of the others had been returned in the meantime. Which was how I learnt how the Library enforced the return of reserved material.

“I can’t get out of the Library,” complained the student in front of me, who looked to be my age. “You need to give me my student id card back so I can open the doors.”

The librarian behind the counter calmly replied, “I can’t do that until you’ve returned all the reserved materials you’ve got signed out.”

He protested, “But I need them to study overnight, and I have another class to get to.”
The librarian pointed at one of the signs listing the rules for reserved documents, and reminded him, “Reserved documents are not to leave the building. We close at nine tonight – there are bathrooms and food vending machines on the mezzanine level.”

“But I need to get to class!” The student was bowing with the sort of sharp punctiliousness that spoke of a desire to pound the counter in front of him.

“Not with our documents in your possession you don’t,” corrected the librarian. “Return them and you get your id card back.”

“But then someone else can take them out,” the student complained.

The librarian lifted an eyebrow. “That is rather the idea,” he commented, “but they won’t be allowed to leave the building with them either. Do you want to book copies for a particular time that’s convenient for you to come and study them here?”

“But what if someone else has them all?” He seemed quite caught up in the idea that other people might access the documents.

“No-one is allowed to take out all the copies of a document,” the librarian told him. “Now, if you give the documents back now, we can book a study slot for you so you can use them here in the library. Assuming you want to get to this class of yours?”

“Alright.” I didn’t think he accepted the offer with very good grace, but at that point a second librarian came to the counter to help with the build-up of borrowers.

I got my other two readings, both of them quite short, and was able to make my notes on them, review my Geography, and practice a vocabulary character, before going to get some lunch.

When I left someone else was complaining to the librarian at the front desk that she couldn’t get out of the library.

This is now followed by A Full Afternoon.
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I like their system!

I am curious about Wang Wei and the gi.

Some part of me is wondering what will happen with her father’s Other Plan for Finding Out Where She is (I thought the police might be there for that) and also what happens with the crazy reincarnated scholar.

We are working towards father's plan but it is not yet Time. :)

OKay! I shall endeavor not to be impatient or too worried.

Hehe, yep, don't cross the librarians.

Make friends with the librarians. They point you to useful resources, look up things, and if you've proven trustworthy bend rules ("We close at nine, but we won't actually be ready to leave until half-past...").

"Not with our documents in our possession you don’t,"
your possession

Nai is lucky to have gotten away as unharassed as she did. The authorities are nobody's friend.

Thank you for the typo. I have fixed it.

A lot of things going on, but fortunately none of them seem especially dire... yet. :) But it does seem like as the semester wends on, Nai might find herself a bit buried beneath work.

Aren't all semesters like that?

<giggles at the not-lab sink>

<eyes Gui as a possible religious novice>

I like the overlap the word used in gi and geology for hidden layers. :)

if you don’t want to wear something that looks like school shoes
School shoes are ... distinctive and unfashionable? Almost everyone wears similar (cotton?) blacks, but sometimes (often, usually) with distinctive accessories like slippers?

<eyes The Cymbals of Disorder with great curiosity>

<makes a note to ask to follow Wang Wei on his research sometime>

<grins at the pictures & story in the local weekly sports tabloid>

I hadn't thought "reserve materials at the library" was such a difficult concept ...

Nit: "as soon as I left passed through the door." Strike "left", IMO.

<bounces for the next segment>

I have remove the extra 'left'. Thank you for the typo catch.

Gui may not be an 'official' novice.

School shoes are full cover leather shoes that are sturdy, rarely stylish, and provide sufficient protection for classes involving workshops, kitchens, laboratories. (I grew up in a system with school uniforms.)

I figure that in an annual intake this large, there will be a few who have trouble with the concepts.

I hope her feeling better as she goes along is her gi reserves replenishing.

Hooray for them not going the torture route on the presentations!

I wonder if the overlap in use of that word will cause her some trouble later -- or possibly give her an inspiration to look at gi and geology in the way of the other meaning. (I have a feeling that the word is something like the English word "occult", which started off simply as meaning "hidden" and picked up a lot of implications along the way.)

The police and the medical establishment have questioned her about the affair with Teng Weng affair. Arguably, as she did that after he was being taken away, she was no longer in a position to be defending herself, and that may lead to the police coming back with charges of some sort. The mind control statutes no longer being on the books at least suggests that there's now a different way of handling such cases in law. Alternately, it may lead to the police coming back with gi masters to try to figure out what she did, how permanent it is, and whether it can be re-created and refined for treatment of others. I'm put in mind of parallels to the story of Master Que's master, Chan Tsu.

Assuming Wang Wei can in fact usefully sense gi, he may have a new and interesting method of study to explore. Or, if Nai's sense is right, an interesting method of study to rediscover, possibly from surviving pre-Occupation books.

How long before someone in the library pulls a fire alarm to get out rather than having to go through the dreariness of actually giving back the stuff they're supposed to give back?

I still rather like the line: “What did you do to him, Miss Sung? He’s sane!”

It is noticeably not his normal state.

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