“But that was later, after I’d fully settled in, after I’d become accustomed to the ways of that place. That first season, after I had left the school and set up the tent outside Marcus’ house, was a season of adjustment.
“I came to the crater in the late summer, when the worst heat was on the wane, but before the heaviest rains began. So it was lovely weather to spend outside — for me, those cooling days were deeply tropical, and I think I would’ve been happy just lounging in the grass in the center of the crater.
“Marcus would have none of it, of course. He had made a promise to Superintendant Xersu, and he would fulfill it. Those first days were spent in the booth in his house, listening to the voice, watching the Imperian letters scroll down across the screen, being tested until I could speak, read, and write in that language as well as in my own. Actually, I have always written far better in Imperian than in my native Tanu, since writing was not expected to be a normal part of my life when I was a child, and was merely taught to me as a diversion and entertainment.
“And when the voice was satisfied, Marcus would test me, asking his own questions, cajoling me to write on his personal tablet. I think he must have been satisfied at the point when he began asking me to translate my language for him, to turn what I’d learned in Imperium into its closest Tanu equivalents. He never said, but even then I knew that I had learned his language much faster than he would ever learn mine. We practiced both languages, together, every day.
“I found these exercises challenging, but at the same time enjoyable for all the challenge, and even pleasurable. After a week or two, I looked forward to afternoons with him.
“This was not enough either. From language, we progressed to math, logic, the basic sciences, literature — where he was not familiar with a subject’s pedagogy, except from his own youth, but he gamely found modules he thought might be good for me. When I balked at higher math — I didn’t know anything more complex than simple addition and subtraction, and had only the slightest conception of the zero — he found another module, and another, and another, until finally something clicked in my mind, and I began to progress in that subject as well.
“Nor was I to be permitted to hide in his company alone, but once my education had progressed sufficiently, Marcus made arrangements with other scientists and technicians in the crater, and I spent many afternoons, once my studies were done, watching various people at their work or being given little meaningless or menial tasks.
“I did notice that I rarely returned to work or visit with the same people — this was part of my overall sense of my standing in the tiny society of the crater. The disdain of the children and dismay of the authorities had seeped through the rest of the people, and while most were cordial, or at worst distant, I never felt quite at home with any of the people.
“When this feeling grew to the point where I felt overwhelmed (by sadness, loneliness, frustration), I would beg and plead with Marcus to leave the outpost and go out into the jungle. Sometimes he came with me, but more often, he would allow me to go on my own, and use that time for his own work.