Chapter Two: Headhunters

“Ms. Dajomm, I’m glad you called,” Ms. Fallon said.

“Call me Swenna,” Swenna replied. “I’m so glad I got through to you. I’m sorry to bother you, Ms. Fallon. I know how busy you are. Thank you for taking my call so quickly. I thought it would take me forever to get through to you.

“I was wondering. Is there any way you can find out if any of my applications I submitted when I saw you there in your office has been decided on yet? I haven’t heard anything and it would really help me to know as soon as possible whether I can count on starting school, and if I can, how soon. You see, I just found out I’m kind of under a deadline.”

“Actually, I’d intended to call you as soon as I had a moment,” Ms. Fallon said. “I have exciting news for you. Remember I told you we try to generate as many training and employment opportunities for you as we can. So we send your test scores out to anyone we can think of who might be interested in them. Well, because of your extraordinary score on the MD2PS test—”

“You mean, my extraordinarily lucky score on the MD2PS test,” Swenna interrupted.

“As I explained to you when we talked about it here in my office, Ms. Dajomm—Swenna—there is no such thing as a lucky score on the MD2PS test.

“Because your score on that test was so extraordinary,” Ms. Fallon continued, “and because your other scores were also very good, one of the places we sent your packet was to the Linguin Global Research Hospital. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them. They’re one of the best medical schools in the system. Their medical research program is very highly regarded. And they have scholarships available for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, including economically and educationally disadvantaged students from Raja.”

“There’s no want for economically disadvantaged students on Raja,” Swenna quipped.

“That’s exactly why they’ve asked us to pass along the scores whenever someone comes to our attention who might qualify for one of their programs,” Ms. Fallon said.

“But, that doesn’t have anything to do with me. All I have is a general school education. What I need is the training to get a job I can support myself at. And I need it soon.”

“The program is for educationally disadvantaged as well as economically disadvantaged students,” Ms. Fallon explained. “And apparently a general school education is enough if you test well enough. Because I received a message at the end of the day yesterday that they’re interested in interviewing you. You can probably expect to hear from them directly. I don’t know just what they may have to offer you. Maybe they have a preparatory program. Maybe they’ll offer you a place in it in order to see what you can do with your potential. Think of the opportunity.”

“Ms. Fallon, what I really need right away is to get into a program I know I qualify for, something I know I can succeed at if I work hard enough at it. I need training I can get started at right away that will qualify me for a steady job I can start getting income from right away after I finish training.”

“But, Swenna, your scores say you can reach for so much more than that,” Ms. Fallon protested.

“Believe me. It won’t take any more than that to make me happy,” Swenna said. “That would be all it would take to make me happy for the rest of my life.”

“Do you really believe that? Do you really believe you’ll be happy in some dead end job, just keeping a roof over your head and food in the stasis box? Don’t you want intellectual challenge for that mind of yours?”

“I don’t need to travel hundreds of thousands of klegs—Linguin is what, three hundred thirty-eight thousand, eight hundred thirty-eight kiloklegs from Raja at perigee and three hundred eighty-six thousand, six hundred forty-six kiloklegs from Raja at apogee, with a mean distance from Raja of three hundred sixty-five thousand, two hundred ninety-nine kiloklegs—I don’t have to travel all that way from home to find intellectual challenge,” Swenna asserted.

“You remember all that off the top of your head: the distance of Linguin from Raja at perigee and apogee and its mean distance?” the counselor asked. “Or did you look it up that quickly. You must have looked it up quickly,” she answered her own question. “I don’t even know what apogee and perigee mean. Does it mean at the winter and summer solstices?”

“I have a pretty good memory. If I hear something and I’m paying attention when I hear it I can usually remember it,” Swenna said. “Perigee is the closest point in a moon’s orbit to the planet it orbits and apogee is its furthest point in its orbit. None of the moons in the Rajalan System has a perfectly circular orbit, and none of the planets has a perfectly circular orbit around Golden.”

“Can you remember the distances of all the moons from their planets?” Ms. Fallon asked.

“Not all of them,” Swenna answered. “I can remember them for all four of Raja’s moons, and for a few of the others: both Ijosian moons; Kroglin’s moon, Bajjukinnen; and I maybe could remember a few others if I really thought about it.

“I just remembered the mean distance of Tunp from Jugha.”

“And you studied these when?” Ms. Fallon wanted to know.

“In general school seven and general school eleven,” Swenna answered. “But can we please talk about the programs and financial assistance I’ve applied for.”

The counselor just stared out of the tank at Swenna for a moment. “No wonder you scored so well on your aptitude and placement tests,” she said at last. “No wonder you scored so phenomenally well on your MD2PS test. Swenna, you mustn’t waste that memory of yours. You should let the research hospital interview you. You should listen to whatever they decide to offer you. What do you have to lose?”

“Time I can’t afford to waste is what I have to lose,” Swenna said. “I need to get into a program before I get evicted from my father’s flat and end up on the street.”

“I tell you what. If you’ll agree to listen to the research hospital offer I’ll let them know it right away. And then I’ll get right on it to make sure I find you a placement you can fall back on if you don’t like their offer,” Ms. Fallon proposed.

“I need to get into something before the end of the deciyear, a program the government will support me in till I finish my training,” Swenna revealed her precise need.

“If I can’t get you into something that meets your need before the end of the deciyear I’ll put you up myself in my own flat until a program I can get you into starts,” Ms. Fallon proposed. “Do we have a deal?”

“Do you mean that seriously? You’ll really put me up? You’re not just saying it to get me to talk to them?”

“I mean it seriously. I give you my word on it,” Ms. Fallon said.

“I’ll talk to them, then, if they really want to talk with me,” Swenna agreed. “I doubt they will,” she said. “I don’t know what they’d want with me. I still think my score on that MD2PS test was a fluke.”

“I’ll let them know. Would you rather they contact you directly? Or would you rather come in to my office and I can arrange a specific time for you to talk with them from here?” Ms. Fallon offered.

Swenna thought about it. “Arrange for them to call me at your office. I don’t want them calling me in the middle of the night because it’s business centidays wherever they’re calling from on Linguin and they don’t care what time it is here,” she said. She was thinking she could use the excuse of taking the call in the counselor’s office to get an appointment with Ms. Fallon. She could use the appointment with Ms. Fallon to prevail upon Ms. Fallon face to face in the flesh to find her a training program she could get into right away there on Raja.

“I’ll arrange it and get back to you to let you know when to come in.”

“It has to be before the end of the deciyear or you’ll find yourself putting me up.”

“I’ll get back to you by this same time tomorrow,” Ms. Fallon promised. “Let me give you the contact number for my wrist unit. If you don’t hear from me by this time tomorrow you can call me on it after office centidays and I’ll let you know where things stand.”

When Swenna had terminated the call and Ms. Fallon’s image had disappeared from her tank she took a deep breath. For Ms. Fallon to have given Swenna her private contact number, surely she had to be serious about helping her. With any luck at all, Swenna thought, everything would turn out OK for her. She wouldn’t have to resort to desperate measures to stay off the street. She’d still be able to start a new life pretty much as she’d planned it for herself when she’d decided to leave her father, even if Mr. Mockten was telling the truth, even if her father was evicted. And she wouldn’t worry about her father. He obviously had some place else to stay or he would have been home at night more often than he had been of late. She simply couldn’t afford to worry about her father. She could only afford to worry about herself.

Somewhat reassured, Swenna returned to her room and opened the bundle containing the clothing she’d purchased in the market. She’d never before owned clothing made to be worn more than once. She couldn’t wait to feel what it felt like on her. There hadn’t been any place to change at the market so she’d been unable to try the garments on before she’d bought them.

She peeled off her disposable outfit now, being careful as always not to rip the fabric, and tried on the coveralls. The cloth they were made of was remarkably strong compared to the fiber of which the disposable clothing she could afford to buy was made. And it was soft. She pulled the straps of the coveralls over her shoulders and smoothed the cloth down over her body. She had a bit more room in them than she needed about the waist. The legs were a bit shorter on her than was the current style. But, all in all, the garment fit her tolerably well. It had quite a lot of wear left in it. And it wasn’t too badly out of style, she didn’t think. It was a wonderful find.

Swenna was about to try on the tunic and breeches when the tank noisily demanded her attention to an incoming call. Still wearing the coveralls, loving the feel of them as she strode to the tank in them, she checked the contact number of origin of the call.

She was amazed when she discovered the call wasn’t coming from anywhere on Raja. She didn’t recognize the world code; she’d never called or received a call from off-world before to take any interest in the various world codes. She checked to see if there was an address available to go with the contact number. And, sure enough, there was. The call was coming from the Linguin Global Research Hospital Admissions Office, after she’d asked Ms. Fallon to arrange for her to take their call at the employment office.

The only thing that stopped Swenna from ignoring the call was the thought that if she refused to take it Ms. Fallon might decide Swenna had reneged on their agreement and feel released from her promise to help Swenna find a place in a program on Raja, and worse, from her promise to let Swenna live with her till Swenna could get into a program. With so much at stake, Swenna resentfully stroked the side of the tank to take the call.

The three dimensional holographic image which materialized in her tank was that of a man with a lanky off-world body, a bobbing Adam’s apple and a nose a little too large for his narrow face. He was dressed as no one Swenna had ever seen on Raja, though she had often seen the like of his fancy attire in advertisements and tank dramas. “Do I have the pleasure of addressing Ms. Swenna Dajomm?” the off-worlder inquired of her almost before his image had finished materializing.

“I’m Swenna Dajomm,” she answered, made uncomfortable by the ‘do I have the pleasure of addressing’ business.

“I trust I’ve called you at a convenient time,” the man said. “I checked before I called to make sure I was calling you during the business day there in Nohka.

“My name is Claren Zimmerman,” he went right on. “I’m a recruiter for the Linguin Global Research Hospital admissions department. I understand you’ve agreed to talk with us about the possibility of applying for a place in our medical research program. And I must say that I’m delighted you’ve agreed. I’ve had a chance to look at your scores on the placement tests you took recently there in Nohka, and also at your academic record, and, quite frankly, I’m impressed. I’d really like the opportunity to get to know you a little better. I think you may be qualified for a spot in our program.”

The man had said all this without taking a single breath. Or so it seemed to Swenna. He certainly hadn’t given her a chance to get in a word since he’d started his little speech. But he did pause here. And Swenna jumped at the opportunity to comment.

“I find that very hard to believe, Mr. Zimmerman, the part about your being impressed by my scores and my academic record, and also the part about my possibly qualifying for a place in your program. I have a general education and nothing more. Surely that’s not enough to qualify me to study medical research in a program as highly touted as I’ve been told yours is.

“And as for my test scores, you’re probably referring to my score on the MD2PS test, which, as far as I can tell, had to have been a fluke. I did nothing but guess at everything I said on that particular test. The problems weren’t about anything I know the first thing about. I just threw together a bunch of random information I had in my head that I thought had anything even vaguely to do with the problems.”

“Ah, but, Ms. Dajomm, you misunderstand. There’s no such thing as a fluke score on the MD2PS test,” the recruiter replied. “It’s not the kind of test on which you can earn a good score by mere chance. And it certainly isn’t the kind of test you can earn a score in the ninety-eighth percentile on without having an excellent mind, especially if you don’t think you know anything about the problems you’re asked to solve on the test. The whole point of the Multidimensional Multidisciplinary Problem Solving Test is to see how good you are at taking seemingly unrelated facts and principles and techniques and putting them together in ways that solve the problem. In fact, the test isn’t really about solving the problem at all. It’s about how you go about it.”

“I do understand the difference between a multiple choice test, which calls for recognizing the correct answer or eliminating the wrong answers, and a test that makes you recall the correct answers,” Swenna said. “But I still believe my score on that test was a fluke. It was significantly higher than my scores on any of the other tests. That in itself should prove to you the score was inconsistent with my true abilities.”

“All those other tests called for you to recognize or recall information,” the recruiter said. “None of those other tests called for you to do the kind of creative thinking a good researcher has to do every day on the job. And that’s why we put more stock in a candidate’s MD2PS test than in any other when we’re screening candidates for our medical research program.

“What I’d like you to do is to come on up here to Linguin and visit us,” he continued before Swenna could renew her argument. “I’d like you to get a good look at the program and the students in it so that you can see for yourself whether you’d fit in with us. And of course we’d like the opportunity to get a good close look at you in the flesh and talk with you and get a clearer idea ourselves of how well you’d fit in the program.

“We would, of course, pay your way to the interview and back home again. And we’d provide you with everything you’d need while you were here. We wouldn’t ask you to bear any financial burden for the visit yourself,” he went on, picking up speed again.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Swenna interrupted him more rudely than she ever liked to interrupt anyone; it was the only way to get in a word. “Why would you spend all that credit on me to interview me in the flesh when I’ve already told you the test was a fluke and I know my general education isn’t worth a Fate blessed millicredit anywhere in the system, even here on Raja, and when you have to know I could never in a million years come up with the credit to pay for a first rate professional education even if I qualified academically for it?”

“I wish you wouldn’t sell yourself so short, Ms. Dajomm,” the recruiter replied without so much as a fractional pause. “And as for the credit involved in bringing you here, perhaps it means a great deal more to you than it does to us. The Linguin Global Research Hospital is a financially well endowed institution. And we’re also the recipient of public credit which is earmarked for the recruitment of worthy economically disadvantaged students and for scholarships to make it possible for them to receive a first rate education in our programs. It’s really quite standard for us to pay the transportation costs of candidates who would otherwise be unable to come here to Linguin’s Urban Core to participate in face to face in the flesh interviews.”

“Whoever’s credit paid for it, it would still be a waste of credit,” Swenna contended.

The image of the recruiter stared into her face out of her tank. “Please be frank with me, Ms. Dajomm,” he challenged her. “What’s your real objection to coming to Linguin for face to face in the flesh interviews? I’m aware how reluctant Raja natives, born and bred, are to leaving their native world. And I’m aware that there are cruel prejudices against the Raja born out here in the larger system. Perhaps you’re afraid you’ll encounter prejudice of that sort here. But Ms. Dajomm, the Linguin Global Research Hospital is an institution of higher learning. The faculty, the student body, the administrative staff here at the hospital, we don’t subscribe to the unenlightened prejudices you might encounter in other sectors of society. I can assure you that here at the Linguin Global Research Hospital sentients are judged on their merits and not on any accident of their birth or economic circumstances.”

“It’s not that,” Swenna said. She’d grown up on tales of how badly off-worlders negatively stereotyped Raja natives and of the grossly unjust attitudes everyone else in the galaxy harbored toward the good citizens of Raja. But she didn’t want to say that. “I really don’t think I’m the kind of candidate you want,” she said. That was the truth too.

“Give us the chance to make up our own minds about that, Ms. Dajomm,” the recruiter insisted. “And give us the chance to prove to you that we truly do judge individuals on their merits. Come to Linguin and meet with us. Meet the faculty. Meet the students who would be your fellow students. And then judge us on our merits just as we’ll judge you on yours. If it’s truly your score on your MD2PS test you’re worried about, we can prove to you your score was no fluke. We’ll give you the chance to take the test over again, a different version than the one you took there on Raja. We’ll score your retake with you right there to discuss it with us as we score it so that there won’t be any question in your mind that the score you make will be the score you earned. What do you say? Will you let me make arrangements for you to come to Linguin?”

“I have other opportunities I expect to be offered here on Raja,” Swenna demurred. “I can’t afford to miss them because I’m off on Linguin visiting a school I have no chance in reason of getting into.”

“Your counselor, Ms. Fallon, made me aware of the urgency of your need to find yourself a suitable situation before the end of the deciyear,” the recruiter said. “I can arrange for you to catch a shuttle up from Raja first thing in the morning, your local time there in Nohka. You can talk with us and visit the campus and see firsthand some of the work we’re conducting. If you wish, you can retake the MD2PS test. And we’ll have you back in Nohka in two of your days. Ms. Fallon assured me you won’t lose any career or school opportunity there on Raja just because you’re physically absent from home for a couple of days.”

That Ms. Fallon had discussed Swenna’s private affairs with this pushy off-world recruiter humiliated Swenna. She wanted to terminate the call on the man on the spot. All that prevented her from doing just that was the fear that if she did Ms. Fallon would refuse to help her any further and she’d end up getting evicted and be out on the street.

“It still doesn’t make any sense to me that you’d spend the credit to pay my transportation to Linguin when all you need to do to learn anything you want to know about me is to interview me in the tank,” she objected instead.

“There are sentients we want you to meet and whom we want to meet you. We want to see you in the environment of the program. It would be very complicated to arrange a conference call with enough participants in it to get a sense of how you’d fit in with the overall environment here. There would simply be too many schedules to coordinate. And what we could do in the tank under the best of situations just wouldn’t be the same as an in the flesh visit,” the recruiter insisted.

“Don’t you want the chance to see another world, even if just briefly and just once, Ms. Dajomm, no matter what may come of the interviews? We’re only asking for a couple of days of your time. It won’t interfere with your getting into a training program there on Raja if things don’t work out for you to come study with us. Will you let me book you on a flight from Nohka tomorrow morning, your time? I’ll come to meet you myself when you arrive on this end of your flight. And I’ll bring along a student who will serve as your hostess during your stay, someone who can answer your questions about what life is really like as a student in the program.”

It took a little more arm twisting after this, but Swenna did finally give in to the off-worlder’s demands—only because she feared what would happen if she refused. And she nearly did refuse, consequences be hanged.

His call to Linguin had been terminated. The Dirtside candidate, Swenna Dajomm, had disappeared from the tank at his desk. Mr. Zimmerman let out a long breath and looked to a trio of his colleagues who had been following the negotiation from out of range of the pickups which captured outgoing images for the tank.

“You did it. You talked her into coming,” one of the colleagues, Katrina Irvin, congratulated Zimmerman.

“That was the easy part,” Zimmerman, the economically disadvantaged student specialist whose assignment was to recruit Swenna Dajomm, replied. “The hard part will be to convince her to stay once she gets here. You heard how skeptical she was about the whole thing. She’s too suspicious and too intelligent to be satisfied till she figures out exactly what the deal is.”

“It’s not as though she won’t benefit from it as much as we will,” Katrina pointed out to him. “She’s smart enough that she should be able to recognize that when she does figure out the deal. I don’t know why you don’t just lay it out for her from the start.”

“You don’t know candidates from Raja the way I do” Zimmerman said, emphasizing the words, you, Raja, and I. “You never tell a candidate from Raja you need them to fill a quota; they’ll take it as an insult. It’s never, never as simple as it should be with them. You just wait and see how hard this is going to be.

“And even if she does agree to stay, how are we ever going to keep her from flunking out of the program? I don’t care how good a memory she has or how creative a thinker she is. She said it herself. She has nothing more than a Raja general education, for the Fates’ sake. She’ll be buried here.”

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