The Other University
For a moment, Gyro forgot to breathe. He stared at the parchment envelope in awe. He had been waiting for this letter for weeks. In a few moments now, he would know the answer. But what if it wasn't the answer he was hoping for? He turned the letter over. It was sealed with the Seekers' seal. Too perfect to break. For a long moment, he stared at it.
"Are you going to open it, Gyro?" came a soft voice at his elbow.
Gyro breathed out slowly, releasing his frustration.
"Yes Stella, I'm going to open it," he said evenly.
Ever so slowly, his shaking finger broke the seal. He withdrew the parchment from the envelope and began to read.
Esteemed Master Gyro,
We regret to inform you that your application for membership to the Seekers cannot be accepted at this time.
Gyro released a pent-up breath that he didn't know he'd been holding. Behind him, he heard his six sisters do the same. He felt utterly deflated. All his hopes and dreams had come to nothing with that one sentence. He quickly scanned the remainder of the letter.
It is a condition of our organisation that the successful applicant must display a high propensity for academic excellence. Until such time as this prerequisite can be demonstrated to be satisfactorily met, admission to membership will not be possible.
Please note, however, that this decision reflects current circumstances and that the furtherance of your higher education may result in the possibility of revising your membership application status. If, in the future, you are desirous of renewing your application, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Yours in knowledge,
(Secretary to Professor Lambert)
"They can't just do that!" exclaimed Nella. She had, of course, read the letter over her brother's shoulder.
"Gyro's the smartest Shoyru in all of Brightvale!" agreed Ella indignantly.
Gyro, ignored his sisters. He walked away from the gaggle of girls into the kitchen. As one, the six Shoyrus took to the air and followed him.
Soon after, Gyro sat in the garden, eating a slice of toast. His sisters sat on the grass, roundly abusing the mental capacity of each and every Seeker. Clearly, anyone who had a part in rejecting Gyro's application was unintelligent to the highest degree.
Gyro was deep in thought. He was used to shutting out the inane chatter of his sisters.
As was his wont, Gyro began to analyse the situation. Why had his application been rejected? He knew he was smart. But did the Seekers know that? Evidently not. And what stopped them from realising that?
A short reflection revealed two possible answers –
1/ His Grades
2/ His Sisters
He suspected that both of these had a hand in his rejection.
Gyro had just completed his first semester at Brightvale University. He had enrolled in all the regular subjects: History, Linguistics, Archaeology and History. His grades had been passable, but no more than that. Truth be told, he had found the subjects quite a drag. He cringed as he remembered the endless mountains of readings. He groaned as he remembered all those history essays. He hated history essays. All in all Gyro's grades were not what you could call 'outstanding'. It was no wonder that the Seekers were underwhelmed by his academic achievements. With a sigh of resignation, Gyro resolved to work harder next semester.
But the other reason Gyro had identified was not within his control. His sisters. Gyro knew full well that his sisters affected his image. There was something about having a full time fan club. It tends to make you look more like someone out of 'Yes Boy Ice-Cream' than a budding academic. The Seekers must have been influenced that. A sigh of frustration escaped him. There was nothing he could do about that!
The next day, Gyro was still feeling the sting of disappointment. He strode angrily towards the Brightvale fruit shop, not really watching where he was going. Neither was the blue Acara in the white coat who collided with him.
"Gyro!" exclaimed the Acara when he saw who he'd collided with.
"Professor!" rejoined Gyro, just as enthusiastically. "I haven't seen you around Brightvale for ages!" His sullen mood instantly evaporated.
Behind them, Gyro's sisters gasped. "It's Professor Chesterpot, girls," declared Kella.
"I don't like the look of him," said Bella in a stage whisper. "He's a Seeker, you know."
As one, the girls folded their arms, tossed their hair, scowled disapprovingly, and glared sideways at the professor.
Professor Chesterpot, however, was a typical mad professor. Completely oblivious to most social conventions, he didn't notice the less-than-welcoming posture of Gyro's sisters. He greeted Gyro warmly and began to catch up on news.
Chesterpot listened sympathetically as Gyro explained his recent frustrations. His poor grades. His rejected application to the Seekers. And (in lowered voice) his sisters.
"Have you considered transferring to a different university?" asked Professor Chesterpot, calmly.
"Transferring? Transferring where!?" Gyro was flabbergasted.
"Why to my institution, of course," replied the Professor. "The Space Station University for Intelligent Neopets."
For a moment, Gyro was floored. He had never considered something so drastic! The Space Station University for Intelligent Neopets. It sounded attractive. He had a hunch there would be fewer history classes taught there. And, importantly, his sisters did not live on the Space Station. There was one other consideration, though. What would the Seekers think of it?
"Would the Seekers recognise the Space Station University?" he asked. Everyone knew they had strong ties to Brightvale University.
"Oh yes they would," muttered Chesterpot darkly. "They wouldn't dare question the authenticity of the Space Station University for Intelligent Neopets. Trust me."
Gyro walked into the lecture hall carrying a moderate size stack of books. He selected a seat in the second row from the front, and slightly right of centre. It wouldn't do to appear too keen. He puzzled for a moment over how to activate the high-tech retractable table. He had no success. He quickly assumed an indifferent air. He hadn't really wanted to use the table anyway.
A young Lutari with an impressive moustache and mechanical wings made his way along the row.
"Mind if I sit here?" he asked, indicating the seat beside Gyro.
"All yours," Gyro told him.
The Lutari introduced himself as Tom. As he sat down, he pushed a button beside his chair to activate the table. Gyro watched surreptitiously, then activated his own table.
"Are you new around here?" Tom asked.
"Yes. Well no. I mean not exactly," replied Gyro. He was eager to avoid the stigma of the first year. "I transferred here from Brightvale University."
"Ahh," said Tom, approvingly.
"An excellent decision," came a deep voice from behind them. Tom and Gyro turned to see a sullen looking Blumaroo. "Brightvale are filthy cheaters," he elaborated.
Tom nodded. "Garoo's the captain of our Gormball team," he explained. "Every year, Brightvale sabotage the balls. It's not very fair."
At the mention of Gormball, Gyro's eyes lit up. Garoo noticed it.
"Are you any good at Gormball?" he asked in a disinterested way. Gyro nodded. "Well, I guess we'll see when try-outs come around, won't we?" said Garoo. Then, turning away, he dismissed them.
The first week of semester passed quickly for Gyro. He gradually got used to finding his way through the maze of corridors. He settled into his student accommodation and got to know Tom a little better. Tom was in his classes for Mathematics and Hypnotism but not Physics or Chemistry. (Dr Sloth, of course, made Hypnotism a mandatory subject for all students.)
Gyro revelled in his classes at the SSUIN. He found his Mathematics and Physics classes riveting. Hypnotism didn't come naturally to him, but he saw that it could be very useful. (Far more useful than Linguistics, he thought.) So he worked hard at it. But Chemistry was the subject where he really excelled. In fact, later that semester when results came out, Gyro gained 130% in Chemistry. He wasn't exactly sure how that was possible. Dr Chesterpot just said that the mark was awarded to reflect the standard of his work. If Gyro had any complaints, he should speak to an academic advisor. He didn't have any complaints.
Barely five days later, Gyro was holding a parchment envelope. He turned it over to see the Seekers' seal on the back. He felt a strong sense of déjà vu. But no. This time was different. This time he had a semester of excellent grades behind him. And he didn't have six little sisters behind him. Heartened by this thought he tore open the envelope and read the letter. He was not disappointed.
Taking the letter, he ran out into the corridor. Then, he set off at top speed in the direction of Tom's room. He had to share this news. He was surprised to meet Tom in the hallway, running towards him. Holding an identical piece of parchment. They both stopped in their tracks. Neither had told the other that he was applying for membership to the Seekers. Then, both fell to laughter.
And so it was that a few months later, Gyro found himself back in Brightvale. He stood in front of a pair of heavy wood doors, feeling very small. He was about to attend his first meeting of the Seekers. For a moment, he wanted to just stand in front of the doors, feeling overawed. Then he realised that wasn't a good idea. If someone else came along and saw him standing there, he would look very silly. So he opened the door and walked in.
Inside, Seekers members milled around and greeted each other. Gyro spotted the familiar face of Professor Chesterpot and went to join him. The professor promptly introduced the colleague he had been chatting to. A tall Lutari by the name of Dr Landelbrot shook Gyro's hand.
"Ah, excellent! It's good to see some new young scientists coming through," declared Landelbrot. "We've been dominated by those historians for long enough." The last remark was directed to Professor Chesterpot. Chesterpot nodded in agreement.
People were beginning to take seats now. Gyro hesitated. He wasn't sure if there was a right spot to sit. Apparently there was.
"You sit with us, boy," said Landelbrot. "We scientists tend to sit over here. Got to stick together, you know."
Gyro nodded. He made his way over and took a seat. Tom joined them.
A Gnorbu, Professor Lambert, rose and made his way to the front. He formally declared the meeting open. Gyro couldn't believe that he was actually here. Even listening to these boring formalities was such a privilege.
Clearly, Professor Chesterpot didn't see these formalities as quite so sacred. He sat beside Gyro with his head bowed. Gyro might almost have thought he was deep in thought. But the light snoring sound suggested otherwise.
"And now," intoned Professor Lambert "I would like to take this opportunity to warmly welcome our newest members. Lillian, Tom, Gyro, congratulations on your successful applications for membership."
Gyro felt proud. He had been mentioned by name! Beside him, he heard Tom's mechanical wings creak as he sat straighter. On the historians' side of the room, Lillian nodded acknowledgement.
"We're very glad to have you with us," said Professor Lambert, smiling at Lillian. Lillian smiled back.
The first item on the agenda was a report. Professor Fairweather rose from beside Lillian and made his way to the front. His report was fairly dull. It detailed the allocation of resources in the Seekers' latest hieroglyphic translation project. Gyro sat straight backed and attentive. Professor Chesterpot snoozed on.
Suddenly, a shrieking siren sounded from a back corner of the room. An enormous robot blared to life.
"Katie!" admonished Professor Lambert from the historians side of the room.
A tiny Kacheek who had been sitting near Gyro leapt to her feet.
"Sorry, uncle!" she squeaked, as she ran towards the robot.
Within three seconds, she had everything under control. "I forgot to deactivate his photoelectric receiver alarm," she apologised.
Professor Fairweather, unconcerned, continued his presentation. And the rest of the meeting passed uneventfully.
As they filed out, Gyro was dazzled by the sunlight. He didn't get a lot of it on the Space Station. Reluctantly, he turned his steps towards his family's house. He felt he should pay a visit to his sisters. He did love his sisters, but he preferred to love them from a distance. He hoped that it would be a while before he next had cause to visit Brightvale.
But it was a mere three months later that Gyro next found himself in Brightvale. It was the occasion of the Grand Neopian Universities Gormball Competition. As a member of the SSUIN Gormball team, he couldn't exactly miss it.
Gyro and his team mates were huddled on the field. Garoo was giving them a whispered pep-talk. Their plan of attack was simple. They would hypnotise their opponents. Then they would try to anticipate how Brightvale had rigged the balls. The hypnotism gave them a big advantage. The sabotage gave them a big disadvantage. The game would be very close.
"Remember," Garoo told them "Don't get caught."
The huddle disintegrated.
"Gyro," Tom asked curiously, "Why are the crowd all chanting your name?"
"Mmh?" Gyro listened. "Oh, that's just my sisters," he explained.
Tom quickly scanned the stands. Amidst the sea of green and gold, a patch of black and red stood out. Gyro's six sisters screamed enthusiastically and waved cheap Virtupets flags.
Just then, the Brightvale team walked onto the field. Gyro recognised Lillian from the Seekers. And, horror of horrors, another Seeker. One whom he didn't want to see.
"What's Sandro doing here?" asked Gyro, "Isn't it students only?"
"But he is a student," groaned Tom, "He's doing a second PhD."
"Surely PhD students don't count." said Gyro desperately.
"They'd better count," commented Katie. "I'm studying a PhD."
Gyro looked incredulously at the Kacheek. She was less than half his size. Was she really studying a PhD? Then he remembered her home-made robot and decided she probably was.
Gyro looked across the field again. It was definitely Sandro. The Gelert stood aloof. He was pompously dressed, and a big mop of hair fell in his eyes. It was the hair which so concerned the Space Station team. You can't hypnotise someone if you can't see their eyes.
"There's nothing we can do," growled Garoo. "Tom, you're the weakest hypnotist. You stand opposite Sandro." He didn't want to waste good hypnotism resources.
A pompous Ixi herald, hailing from Meridell was presiding over the games. He unfurled an impressive looking scroll and intoned thus:
"Rule Number One: No Sabotage."
He stared directly at the Brightvale Team Captain. The Kyrii was doing her best to look completely innocent and taken aback at the idea of sabotage.
"Rule Number Two: No Hypnosis."
Here, he stared directly at Garoo. Garoo held his hands up in a not-guilty gesture. His eyes said otherwise.
"Rule Number Three: Don't get caught breaking Rule One or Rule Two."
The herald sounded a short blast on his trumpet. "Let the game begin!"
The players moved to form a circle. Sandro tried to position himself opposite Garoo. But Garoo managed to evade him. Garoo was far and away the best hypnotist. Brightvale would have loved to place him opposite Sandro. Gyro found himself facing Lillian. The tall red Xweetok was studiously avoiding his eyes. Gyro had expected this. She knew that his team would not be playing by the rules. He knew her team would not be playing by the rules. This was a fact that the rival universities just accepted. The stakes were too high.
But Gyro was unconcerned by Lillian's behaviour. She wouldn't manage to avoid his eyes forever. If you've ever tried desperately to avoid looking at something, you'll know that it's not easy. There's an irrepressible urge to just glance. And a glance was all Gyro needed. He could now control Lillian's every move.
The first ball was brought out onto the field and the game began.
As captain of the away team, Garoo started. He held the ball for four seconds. It was fairly safe at this stage. Then he passed to Lillian. Gyro let her hold the ball three seconds. His instinct was to make her hold it one second. He didn't want to give the opponent extra gorm points. But if he did that too often, it would be obvious.
Katie passed the ball. Then, Brightvale's captain, then it was Gyro's turn. He held it two seconds, heart pounding. The ball had been alive for a while now. Then he passed. SPLAT! The ball exploded on the Peophin beside him. Gyro heaved a huge sigh of relief.
Tom was the next player to get out. Brightvale's captain followed soon after. Gyro felt his brain working in overdrive. Sandro was useful to watch. Not being hypnotised, his decisions were his own. His actions revealed information about how long until the ball would explode. But Sandro wasn't about to spoon feed them that information. He bluffed. He double bluffed. He triple bluffed. Until Gyro felt utterly disoriented. He almost wanted to give up on gleaning information from Sandro. But he couldn't! That would mean giving up on the whole competition. That would mean letting Brightvale win. He could never do that.
Lillian was holding the ball now. It was a relatively fresh ball. He should let her hold it a while.
But all those gorm points! Brightvale were already winning on points. He didn't want them to get any more. Though an instinct told him this ball would be short-lived. He kept Lillian holding it for four seconds, and BANG! One more Brightvale member out.
That left Garoo, Katie, Gyro and Sandro. There could be no more hypnosis. The only clue they would have was in Sandro's actions. But, Sandro was crafty! He baffled and bamboozled them thoroughly. Katie folded next, and then Gyro. He had been sure the ball had another five seconds to live at least. But it had suddenly exploded in his grasp. Dripping with water, he made his way over to the sidelines.
Garoo and Sandro stood alone on the field. At this stage, the two remaining players would normally stare each other down. But not on this occasion. Sandro couldn't exactly stare at anything. And Garoo, was gazing intently off towards the benches. Gyro glanced over to the vanquished Brightvale players. What was Lillian doing? But he had no time to dwell on that just now. The last round was about to commence.
Sandro took the ball and began. The ball seemed to be lasting well. It had already been going for thirteen seconds. Katie held her breath and clasped her hands tightly. Now it was up to nineteen seconds, and still the ball lived. Garoo was holding it now.
"Pass it, pass it!" screamed his team mates frantically from the sidelines. Garoo seemed oblivious. Tom paced up and down, tearing at his hair. Garoo held the ball for a full five seconds. Then, finally, he threw it. It traced a long arc through the air to Sandro's waiting hands. The moment he caught it, it exploded.
Gyro, Tom and Katie were elated! They ran towards Garoo and smothered him in a massive group hug. Garoo just stood there, jaw set. He kept stiff as a post and looked more surly than ever. Normally, he would punch anyone who tried to hug him. Hard. But there had to be some exceptions. Today was a momentous day after all.