The Lost Goddess Pt. 5: Facing a Stack of Applications

Stanford stood leaning against the door of his office. It was as far away from his desk as he could get without stepping into the hallway. There was a reason for his staying so far away from a desk that he usually rather enjoyed. And that reason was that at the moment his desk was covered in several three-foot high stacks of applications. If Stanford had ever tried to reason that perhaps Leitner didn’t really hate him completely, this moment removed all doubt. Stanford’s request to have this assistantship position stay in house and lowkey had been completely ignored by the dean, and the wealth of fliers he had put up had attracted over five hundred applicants, including several from other departments, which were currently all staring at him from his desktop, begging to be reviewed. Stanford couldn’t stand it. The last thing he wanted to do was spend the next week and a half going through applications. He had too many other things he needed to do in preparation for his visit with the Voyn. He didn’t have time to be choosing an assistant.

Stanford was seriously considering returning the pile of applications the Dean Leitner and telling him the deal was off, that he refused to go through these applications and that Leitner could shove off for all he cared. But the more Stanford thought about it, the more negative outcomes he could see resulting from such and act. His first fear was that making such a scene — storming into Leitner’s office with a stack of papers in his arms, slamming them down on his desk, and refusing to play by his stupid and senseless rules — would result in the college refusing to give him his money at all and, possibly, even calling NASA and telling them to give the grant to somebody else for a more deserving project. But Leitner wouldn’t do that. The grant was too much good publicity for the department. Nobody had been able to bring something so prestigious to FIU’s college of social sciences before Stanford.

But then an even worse scenario came to mind. What if, after slamming the papers onto Leitner’s desk, the dean simply decided to choose an assistant for him. Stanford knew he was not on best terms with the dean, and had a feeling Leitner would use that as an excuse to stick him with the worst student he could possibly think of for the duration of his study.

That thought triggered a response in Stanford as he rushed over to his desk and began frantically going through the stack of files until he found what he was looking for. He pulled the folder from the stack and read the name across the label. Ryan Stewart. He shuddered at the thought of getting stuck with that boy and threw the folder in the trash right then without even opening it. Now at least that possibility was off the table. That would have been a disaster. That boy couldn’t navigate his way through the building, let alone a foreign culture in space.

Stanford collapsed into his chair, the stack of applications now towering over him. He looked over at the trash can where he had just sent Stewart’s folder, and seriously considered just dumping the rest in there with it.

Instead he turned his attention to the trip that lay ahead of him. He thought about the possibility of leaving today, right then, walking out of his office at that moment and heading down to the launch site, telling them that his schedule had changed and he needed to get off planet that day if he hoped to arrive by the new date the Voyn had requested. But his chances of sneaking off planet like that were really slim. And knowing Leitner, he had more than likely already called the NASA pilots to tell them to keep an eye out for Stanford trying something just like that and make sure he stayed on the surface until the FIU social sciences dean gave the okay for him to leave.

With a heavy sigh of resignation, Stanford gave in to the realization that he was actually going to have to sit down and go through this entire stack of applications if he ever expected to start on his journey to Nochva. What made this task even more daunting than the sheer number of applications was the fact that he was already familiar with the majority of the student who would have applied. And he knew from personal experiences with them that none of them were someone he wanted to share this study with. He sluggishly, unenthusiastically began thumbing through the pile of applications, finding fault with each just by looking at the name on the cover. Too uptight. Too by the book. Not creative enough. Not serious enough. Gets carsick before pulling out of the parking lot, won’t survive the trip through hyperspace. Already it seemed pointless. He might as well just close his eyes and pick one.

And then he spotted something unexpected. He pulled the folder out from the middle of the pile where it had been stored without any thought, blending in with all the others. The name on the front of the folder is what initially caught his attention, primarily because it was one he had never seen before. He opened the folder, curious about what he might find inside. His eyebrows raised as he read. This file belonged to a first year student. What would have even compelled her to apply? Stanford wondered, unable to come up with a satisfying answer. Well how about that, Stanford thought. It’s not every day a student does something of interest. He read through a couple more pages of the application before making his decision. He was going to have to contact this student. He would call her in for an interview. If nothing else, it would give him an opportunity to ask her what made her think she could apply for a position like this with all the upperclassmen ahead of her. Who knew, maybe she would even have a brilliant answer for him. Though it would be smart not to get his hopes too high on that front.

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The Lost Goddess Pt. 4: Making a Decision

Petra returned to her dorm that evening a little later than usual. Her study session at the library had been suddenly interrupted when Stewart and several other upperclassmen spotted her and decided to harass her for being so diligent. How dare she actually study for her classes and pull ahead of her classmates. What was wrong with her? Petra couldn’t help but be reminded of third grade when Richard Patterson had chided her for the same thing. At least this time no one spit in her hair.

As soon as Petra entered the small room, she plopped down on her bed. The thing she liked most about her dorm was that no one could get to her while she was there. She had begged her dad to sign the forms for her to get her own room at the university. “Having someone else there will only distract me from my studies,” she had said. That hadn’t been the only reason she wanted this space to herself, but he didn’t have to know that. Of course it was no trouble getting him to agree to do this one thing for her. It wasn’t often that she asked him for something. And having a space all to herself was exactly what she needed most evenings.

Though it was small, Petra loved her dorm room. The furniture consisted of a standard issued bed, desk and wardrobe, and a small sofa her father had gotten her. She also had a microwave and refrigerator for the days she felt like avoiding the cafeteria. Her desk was always covered with files and articles for whatever work she was doing. If not working on an essay for class, she was busy scribbling away at her own ideas, things she might want to look into further one day. She had bordered her entire desktop with sticky notes full of such ideas. Sure she could have used the word processor on her desk for these things, she even had a sticky notes application for just that purpose, but there was something quaint about using an old fashioned pen and paper to record her ideas. She liked it.

Beside her desk sat her bookshelf. It covered nearly the entire wall. It had been given to her several years ago as a birthday present, and she loved it. It was already overflowing with books, both academic and fiction. In addition, she had several trinkets that had been given to her by family members, things they had gotten for her when they traveled to other continents. There were even a few things she had collected herself on the rare occasions when she had gotten to do some traveling. And of course, all the trinkets which now felt like ancient relics from the time she had spent at the Moon Colony so many years ago.

Petra got up from her bed and went over to her desk. She put her school bag on the chair and began going through it, unloading her work from the day. She pulled out her phone to plug it into the desk port. When she turned it on, she was greeted by the flashing ad for Professor Stanford’s assistantship. She moved her bag to the floor and sat down in the desk chair, still looking at the bright lettering on her screen. Why was she still holding onto this? Petra was torn. There was something in her that could sense a great opportunity to prove herself. But she also knew it was impossible. They would never take a first year student. So what was the point of even filling out the application?

Petra closed out of the ad and connected her phone to the desk port, causing the station to blink to life. Within a few seconds, the two devices were fully synced, the files on her phone displaying across her desktop. She touched the call icon on the desk surface and did what she always did when she was struggling with an issue. She called her father.

The call had only rung twice when Pete Hannigen’s face popped up in the video chat frame. Unlike Petra, whose complexion had been inherited from her South American mother, Pete was a very Anglican looking man. He had light brown hair and hazel eyes. Most people wouldn’t even consider he might be Petra’s father if they didn’t know the truth. “Hey there!” he said across the ether to his daughter. “How’s my girl doing today?”

“Hi, Dad,” Petra said, trying her best not to sound too conflicted. She didn’t want him to think something was wrong right off the bat. But it was no use trying to hide her emotions. Her father had always been able to see right through her.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, his brow knitting together in the center as he frowned, concerned.

“Today’s just been a bit of a strange day,” she said. She couldn’t quite figure out how to put into words the fact that she’d been bullied all day by people approaching their thirties as if they had all reverted back to ten. She decided not to even try. “An assistantship position opened up in my department today,” she said instead, getting straight to the point.

“Are you going to apply?” Pete asked.

“Probably not,” Petra said. “It’s the kind of thing they usually choose upperclassmen for.”

“But…” Pete asked, sensing there was more to it than that.

“But it really would be a great opportunity,” Petra finally admitted. It was the first time she had said it aloud all day, but it was true. Being able to study under Professor Stanford, the top ranking professional in his field, in a one-on-one environment like that, really would be a great opportunity.

“What’s the assistantship?” Pete asked.

“There’s a man here, a professor who’s really brilliant. He’s the first anthropologist of his kind. They call him a xenocultural anthropologist. In the spirit of outward expansion, he goes abroad to study other cultures on other planets. His work is revolutionary, and he’s recently received a NASA Starlight Outreach grant to study any race of people he wants to. And he’s taking on a student research assistant. It’s a one of a kind position. Nothing like this has ever been done before, let alone offered to students. I’ll show you the ad.” Petra found the small icon of the ad blinking on her desktop and dropped it into the chat window she was sharing with Pete. Her father’s gaze dropped as he read the words flashing across the bottom of his desktop.

“I see,” Pete said. Petra could hear the reservations in his voice. “Have you met this professor before? Are you taking his class?”

“No,” Petra said. “I don’t know how much he actually teaches. I think he focuses primarily on research. I haven’t met him, but I know he’s supposed to be very smart. I have heard some mixed opinions around the department. Some people seem to think he’s a bit strange. I don’t know, though. His work is pretty solid. The reviews he’s gotten are top of the line. And like I said, he received a NASA Starlight Outreach grant. You already know that’s the best there is.”

“Yes, I know all that,” Pete said. There was a subtle somberness to his tone as he said it, a sadness that only Petra would be able to pick up on. It was because of her mom. It always was. “Where’s he planning on going?” he asked.

“I’m not exactly sure,” Petra told her father, knowing what fears were running through his mind at the moment. “I’ve been trying not to think about it because I know I can’t do it. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t get the stupid thing out of my head.”

“Why can’t you do it?” Pete asked. It was a simple and blunt question, and it caught Petra off guard. She hadn’t really thought about it much beyond the fact that she assumed she wouldn’t get it. But there was nothing that said she couldn’t apply.

“I just don’t know if it’s right for me,” she finally said.

“Let’s see, a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something nobody else has had the option of doing before isn’t right for my Petra? I don’t believe it. It’s not like you to just walk away from something like this without a good reason.”

“Do you think I should apply then?” Petra asked, already knowing what his answer would be.

“I’m not telling you what to do one way or another. This is something you have to decide. All I’m saying is not to back down from something you find interesting just because you’ve convinced yourself you’re not qualified. If you want to do it, then at least give yourself the chance. If you don’t want to, that’s fine. But don’t give up on it before you’ve even given it a shot.”

Petra allowed herself a slight smile. It was so like her dad not to tell her what to do. He wanted her to be her own person, to make her own decisions and live with the consequences of them. She understood his reasoning for doing it, but sometimes it would have been nice to get a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ out of him.

Petra brought up the ad on her own desktop and read over it one more time. “They won’t send just anyone out into space,” she said.

“Keep in mind, you’re not just anyone,” Pete assured her.

Petra frowned. “What about Mom?” she asked, concern in her eyes. “I don’t want to end up that way.”

“You won’t,” Pete said, his tone was stern, unwavering. He believed that she could do this.

“If I apply, even if I don’t get it, the older students are going to hate me. They’re going to think I was doing it to show them that I was better than them.”

“Since when have you ever let what others think determine your decisions?” Pete asked. “Besides,” he added with a wink. “You are better than them.”

Petra couldn’t help but giggle. “You only think that because you’re my father,” she said.

“That doesn’t make it any less true,” Pete said. “But seriously, you need to make the decision that you’re going to be okay living with. Forget everybody else. What they think is their problem. You need to pay attention to what you think.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Petra said. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“I look forward to it.”

Petra closed the called and removed her phone from the desk port, shutting down the system. She leaned back in her chair and stared up at the ceiling, trying to sort out her thoughts. She had a feeling she wasn’t going to get a lot of sleep tonight. She had a lot of thinking to do, and who knew how much paperwork to fill out.

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The Lost Goddess Part 3: Petra

Petra Hannigen couldn’t help but notice the advertisements for the anthropology department’s new assistantship opening under Professor Stanford. The notices seemed to line the hallways of the building, finding a place on every bulletin board at every corner throughout the entire social sciences building.

At first, Petra didn’t pay the ads much attention. She was in her first semester at the university. And though she was studying anthropology — and was determined to make a name for herself in the field one way or another — she was well versed enough in university politics to know that opportunities like this were reserved for upperclassmen. If she hadn’t been smart enough to figure that much out, she wouldn’t have gotten into this school in the first place. As the most prestigious educational institution on the planet, the First Interstellar University of Earth didn’t accept just anybody into their programs. Students had to show real potential and an affinity toward the progression of outward expansion. They had to prove they could not only keep up with the rapidly changing technologies and theories of their world and others nearby, but that they could stay ahead of them and add new information to them, thus shaping these constant changes. And surprisingly, Petra had managed to do just that in her application to the university.

At only eighteen, she was the youngest student to ever be accepted to FIUE. Unlike other universities, FIUE didn’t take kids straight out of high school. They were looking for students with experience, students who showed initiative and had proven they could follow through on that initiative. Her acceptance was an accomplishment she was extremely proud of. She had worked hard to be there, to get ahead, to be the first at her age to receive such a high honor. And in accomplishing her goal, she had far surpassed everybody else’s expectations. But she hadn’t done it for everybody else. She had done it for herself. And now that she was here, she would continue to work hard, to prove to herself she could succeed in this environment. Even though all odds seemed to be against her.

For one thing, it wasn’t a very welcoming environment. Not long after arriving on campus, Petra began to learn that not everybody appreciated a brilliant mind when they saw it. The downside to being the youngest person to achieve something was that the older, bigger, and, honestly, less capable members of the community felt threatened by you. Not only was Petra very young, she was also very small, only reaching five foot two when she stood as straight as possible. A large brain and short stature made her an easy target for the other students in her department, the ones who hadn’t gotten accepted to this university at eighteen and for that reason felt Petra had somehow cheated and now owed them something.

Petra didn’t let it get to her though. It wasn’t the first time in her life she had been bullied because she was different. In the beginning, she had been a bit bummed out by it. Somehow she had thought that by the time she reached the university level her peers would have grown out of the whole bullying phase. When she realized they hadn’t, she couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed. But it didn’t take long for her to settle into her normal routine. In the mornings, she went straight from her dorm room to the social sciences building where her classes were held. After class, she went to the library to organize her notes and develop questions for the following class meeting. Then there was a quick stop at the cafeteria for lunch, and then back to the library to prepare for the next day’s lessons. She usually returned back to her dorm around six in the evening, without having spoken to anyone but professors and councilors the entire day. It was better that way. Easier. Besides, she wasn’t here to make friends. She was here to learn, to make history. That was what she had to stay focused on.

But today something felt different. There was a nagging sensation in the back of her mind that was throwing off her focus. After passing the tenth flashing ad on the wall, Petra did something she hadn’t done since her second day at FIUE: she stopped on her way to class. She turned and looked at what the notice had to say.

No wonder the ad had been throwing off her focus. It was displayed in bright yellow, neon, and almost blinding when looked at directly. The lettering, taking advantage of the new hologram technology that had recently been installed in the bulletin boards, popped off the wall, coming straight at her face. It would be impossible for anybody to walk past this without getting drawn in. Petra had to take a moment to stabilize herself after the shock of it before she could concentrate on what it actually had to say.

Announcement!

Attention students of the college of social sciences. A new assistantship position has opened for the current semester. Assistantship includes conducting fieldwork with Professor Stanford of the Anthropology Department under his newly awarded NASA Starlight Outreach research grant. Take advantage of this great opportunity to accompany Prof. Stanford on his off-world ethnographic study. Position limited to one. Submit your application to the department’s main office, fifth floor.

Without taking her eyes off the ad, Petra reached into her bag and pulled out her phone. She placed the back of the device to the ad’s info sensor and hit copy. Within seconds, a miniature version of the ad was flashing at her from the screen of her phone. But her thumb hesitated over the save button.

Though she hadn’t met him, she had heard of Professor Stanford before, and she had read some reviews of his work while putting together her application for the university. She had been insistent on familiarizing herself with the kind of work the department was doing before putting in her application. Stanford was supposed to be brilliant, his research revolutionary. He was the kind of scholar Petra imagined herself being one day, blazing trails and breaking ground. Doing things that nobody had ever before imagined possible.

She read through the ad again on her phone. There was no mention of class standing or other such requirements for applying. Still, she knew better than to think the offer extended to her or any of the other first-year students. It would be better to just put it out of her mind. Even if it was a great opportunity.

She was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn’t even notice the bulking body of another student standing right behind her, reading over her shoulder, until he began to speak.

“What are you doing with that?”

Petra couldn’t stop herself from jumping at the sound of his voice so close to her ear. She immediately regretted being so skittish — it showed weakness. She had learned that it was a bad idea to show bullies your weaknesses when she was still in elementary school. She turned on her heel to face the other student. Ryan Stewart. He was in his final year at the university for the second year running. Petra imagined that he must have been a bully his entire life because he was so very good at it. When it came to intelligence, however, Stewart was lacking quite a bit. Petra wondered how he had even gotten into this university in the first place. His family must be important people in the global Movement for Outward Expansion. She would have to remember to look them up.

“I was just reading it,” Petra said in response to the ad flashing on her phone.

Stewart yanked the device out of her hand. Petra flinched again at the sudden movement and couldn’t help but notice that slight smile that crept onto Stewart’s face as she did so. He quickly scanned the ad and then glared at Petra.

“Don’t tell me you’re thinking about applying,” he said.

“I’m not,” she insisted. “Like I said, I was just reading it. I thought I should start seeing what this school has to offer now so that by time I’m in your position I’ve accomplished something more than simply showing up to class most of the time.”

Petra could tell by the look on Stewart’s face that he wasn’t quite sure whether or not he had just been insulted. In the end, he decided not to get bent out of shape over it, and instead turned his attention back to threatening his younger classmate.

“This position wasn’t meant for you,” he warned Petra.

“I never said it was,” she said flatly. How many times did she have to say it to get it through his thick skull that she wasn’t planning on applying?

After a few more seconds of glaring, Stewart seemed to be satisfied that he had convinced her to drop the idea of taking Professor Stanford’s assistantship. He pressed the delete button on Petra’s phone, causing the ad to disappear and the screen to go black before he shoved it back at her. Then, as if to emphasize who the ad was really meant for, he took out his own phone and scanned the ad before walking away down the hallway.

Please don’t tell me he’s planning to apply, Petra thought. Stewart could hardly find his way through the social sciences building, let alone find his way through a foreign culture on another planet.

Petra looked at her watch. Class started in less than two minutes. She continued down the hall in the opposite direction of Stewart, toward her classroom. As she walked, she tried to get the assistantship out of her mind. She knew it wasn’t meant for first-years. And yet, she couldn’t help but reach up with her phone and scan another ad on the wall as she passed by it.

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The Lost Goddess Part 2: Late Night Meeting in the Corner Office

Stanford was pulled away from his journal by a knock at his office door. He put down his pen and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. Who on Earth could that be? He looked down at the digital display on his desktop, double checking the time. He hadn’t expected anybody else to be at the university at this hour. It was why he had chosen now to record his accomplishment, so that he could do so in peace, without the threat of interruption. So much for that.

Stanford closed his leather-bound book and placed his pen carefully across the front cover, strategically angling it at a pleasing forty-five degrees. Of course each word he wrote was being copied straight from the pen to his digital tablet, but the nature of his profession had gotten him in the habit of recording everything by hand. So many times in the field the environment made all the technology in the world moot, and so using old-fashioned pen and paper was the only reliable way of getting things done. Besides, he like the quaintness of it. It made him appear scholarly. And he had to keep up appearances. He pushed his chair away from his over-sized oak writing desk – the one the department had discouraged him from getting because of how difficult it was to install a digital desktop into the relic, but he liked the ornate design so got it anyway – creating a heaving scraping sound against the linoleum floor as he did so. His desk wasn’t the only thing that was unnecessarily extravagant in the office. In fact, some might even argue that the construction of the office itself was slightly overdoing it for someone working in the soft sciences. It was a corner office, large enough to roll out the cot Stanford kept folded up in the corner for use on those extremely late nights when a short nap was an absolute requirement. An entire wall — the one facing the interior of the building, not the one sporting the six foot window — was covered by a bookshelf that had been collecting research, anthologies, and artifacts for as long as Stanford had been inhabiting the space, which was almost seven years now. It was to the point that he was out of room on the shelves and things had started conspicuously piling up on the floor around the base of the bookshelf. The dean had tried to argue with him once that such a pile in the middle of the floor was a fire hazard and that he needed to get it cleaned up, but Stanford had considered the dean’s words mearly a warning and would get around to it once the official notice showed up in his university mailbox, which, admittedly, he never checked.

Stanford lazily got up and reached his arms to the ceiling, stretching his long slender limbs, as a second round of knocking rang out at his door. He ran his fingers through his dark hair as he looked at the time display on his desktop once more. He had been sitting for a while. No wonder he felt so cramped. He shook out his muscles after his stretch, and then finally walked over to the door and turned the handle. He should have known who he would find glaring at him on the other side, his hand already raised to knock again. Dean Leitner, head of the college of social sciences.

“Stanford,” Leitner said as a curt greeting with a short nod in Stanford’s direction.

“Leitner,” Stanford said in response, just as curtly. He already knew that the dean’s presence could only mean bad news. The only time Leitner ever ventured down the hall to Stanford’s office was when it was something important or bad. For a moment he hoped the man had just stopped by to say hello and congratulate him on his accomplishments and would then turn around and go away. But after a few seconds’ hesitation in which nothing of the sort happened, he reluctantly stepped aside to let the dean in to deliver his news.

Leitner silently crossed over the threshold into Stanford’s office. His eyes were immediately drawn to the pile of books and off-world artifacts surrounding Stanford’s bookshelf. It seemed to have grown since the last time he had been here. That wasn’t too surprising since Stanford was always finding new junk to collect and it had been a while since Leitner had last paid him a visit. He tried to avoid stepping foot in this office whenever possible. But today’s meeting had been unavoidable. He waited for Stanford to shut the door behind him before he spoke.

“I want to congratulate you on your achievement with the NASA Starlight Outreach grant. I got word the paperwork was finalized just this morning,” Leitner said. He was a big man, over six feet tall, his build nearly twice as wide as Stanford’s own slight frame even though they were roughly the same height. His blonde hair and light eyes were clear markers of his Old German-European ancestry. To most, Leitner’s physical presence would be intimidating enough, even without his professional title to back it up. To Stanford, Leitner was no more than an annoyance he was forced to deal with. University politics.

Stanford knew Leitner well enough to know that he hadn’t trekked all the way down to his corner of the anthropology wing just to congratulate him. He stood still, waiting for what would come next.

“Honestly, you have brought a great honor to our college,” Leitner continued.

Well, that couldn’t be argued. But Stanford didn’t need the dean to tell him that. “What do you want?” he finally asked. It was curt and unfriendly. He wasn’t quite sure he had meant for it to come out that way, but once it was out there, he decided he would stand by it. It was fitting. A clear expression of his suspicions and expectation of a straightforward answer.

Leitner sighed. It would be best to just say it. Neither of them were men for dancing around the point. “The college board just had a meeting in regard to your research grant,” he said.

“No you didn’t,” Stanford protested, a bit of panic already forming in his gut. “Not an official one. Couldn’t have. According to university policy, you cannot have an official meeting about my government-acquired assets without me being present.” He wasn’t about to let the college make decisions regarding his grant money without him being there to have a say in it. He had made sure to do all the necessary research on the university grant policies before applying.

“Also according to university policy, the meeting is allowed to proceed, on official status, if the grant recipient is informed of the meeting but does not respond to the notice within forty-eight hours of when it was sent,” the dean informed him.

“I was never notified,” Stanford insisted. He wasn’t liking where this was headed. He felt like he was being backed into a corner.

“You were. Fifty hours ago. The notice most likely ended up in your spam folder. Dr. Reynolds in comp-sci assured us he could make it happen. That was the plan at least. We needed to make sure you weren’t present at this meeting or else we never would have gotten anything accomplished.”

Stanford felt an irritation, mixed with a very uneasy fear, rising in his stomach. They had duped him. “That’s not fair.”

“Perhaps not,” Leitner said. “But it stands.”

“So what was decided at this meeting?” Stanford braced himself for the worst.

“First, I just want to state that we’re all very proud, if not a bit shocked, at what you’ve managed to accomplish here.”

“Yes, yes, you’ve said that. But what else? What’s the bad news I know you brought with you?”

Leitner took a deep breath and let it out slowly before speaking. “The college felt it would be in our and the university’s best interest to require you to take on a student research assistant for the duration of your grant period. Someone to help you out, do the grunt work.”

“And if I refuse?” Stanford asked. He could feel his head growing hazy. An assistant? Preposterous. He worked alone. It was better that way.

“We have agreed to withhold your funding until you have found someone to help you.”

And there it was. Stanford’s fears laid out in front of him. He had worked so hard, become a name known by all in his field. Centuries from now it would be his studies future anthropologists would learn about. Nobody else in the department – the college even – would ever accomplish the things he had. All they could do was follow behind after him, hoping to one day catch him, knowing they never would. And now the college was going to force him to allow someone else, some undeserving student, the opportunity to know what it was like to be the renowned Stacey Stanford.

Stanford barely reached his chair before he collapsed, the color quickly draining from his face as his breathing grew heavy. Leitner merely rolled his eyes at the display.

“Stop being so dramatic,” he said impatiently. “You’re acting like we’ve just robbed you of your childhood dream.”

“You have no idea,” Stanford said in a small voice as he sat staring off into the middle distance.

“Listen,” Leitner said, trying to reason with this man who obviously had his priorities way out of perspective. “We’re going to try to make this as easy as we can for you. But we are putting our foot down. It has to be done. This is a great opportunity for the college of social sciences and for the students who have dedicated themselves to our programs. On top of that, it will be great publicity for attracting future students.”

“Publicity?” Stanford said, his eyes — filling with rage — finally focusing on Leitner. “You are desecrating my funding and the purity of my research for publicity?”

“What is wrong with you!” Leitner snapped, inadvertently raising his voice in the process. It was like trying to reason with a child. He took a moment and a few deep breaths to calm himself and tried again. “Though you don’t seem to want to believe it, it’s vital to the survival of your job that we keep students interested in our programs. So yes, we plan to advertise to perspectives fancy assistantships like this one. Understood? Look, if you want, we will pick the student for you so you don’t have to deal with it.”

“No!” Stanford said almost before Leitner could finish his statement. This time he was putting his foot down. It was bad enough they were forcing this upon him. The least he could do was make sure they didn’t find some incompetent buffoon to completely ruin this experience he’d been preparing for his entire life. Though he knew the chances of avoiding that situation were next to none. If he’d learned anything in his time with the university it was that students, as a whole, were completely useless in every way. “I’ll choose the student,” he told Leitner. “You just find some applicants.”

“Fair enough,” Leitner said. He started toward the door. “And thank you for agreeing to this.”

Stanford couldn’t stop from snorting his contempt through his nostrils. As if he’d had a choice. “Just do me one thing,” he said as the thought came to him. “Don’t advertise this too publicly. I don’t want to be stuck in here going through applications for weeks.”

Leitner allowed a slight smile across his face. Stanford could tell it was forced. “I’ll see what I can do,” he promised before letting himself out of the office.

After the dean left, Stanford leaned forward in his chair, placing his elbows on his desk in front of him and covering his face in his hands. He let out a hoarse and frustrated groan. He had the sudden urge to stick his tongue out in the direction Leitner had gone, but refrained from doing so, deciding that would be too childish even for him.

How could this be happening to him? All the excitement that had filled him only moments before that irritating knock, knock on his door had now deflated, leaving him feeling miserable. He felt like all of his hard work, everything he had sacrificed along the way to make a name for himself, to be the best, had suddenly become all for naught. Now he had to take some sniveling student who didn’t know the first thing about sacrifice and hard work along with him.

Still, Stanford reasoned, there was nothing that said he had to give the brat any credit when it came time to publish. There was no rule about that. Credit had to be earned, and Stanford was ready to enforce that one, no matter what the university tried to do in response.

Stanford looked down and saw his journal still sitting on his desk. Tentatively, he picked up his pen and flipped open the leather cover. He slowly thumbed through the pages until he came to the entry he had been writing on earlier, before he had been so rudely interrupted. He checked his pen to make sure it was connected to his digital tablet. The rage of being told what he could and couldn’t do, the limitations and restrictions he felt under the weight of university politics were all threatening to come out as he slowly pressed his pen against the page and began to write.

Note to self: Remember to return the solar powered rotation counter from the Moon Colony that I got Dean Leitner for his upcoming birthday.

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The Lost Goddess Part 1: From the Journal of Stacey Stanford

September 27, 2115

At long last, after years of excruciating patience, the world has finally come to recognize what I have to offer for the advancement of our species. My entire career I have been waiting for the day when I could expand my research to the cultures that exist beyond our planet and beyond our solar system. And now, after extended hours of tedious paperwork and board discussions and all that other boring, bureaucratic, waste of my time stuff, my dream is finally being realized. Today I received notice that the acceptance paperwork for the NASA Starlight Outreach research grant I have been offered has been officially finalized. This is more than just a big deal (though it’s that too). This is the most prestigious research grant for interstellar development on the planet. As a society, we earthlings have only recently begun to seriously concern ourselves with interstellar relations and decide to promote off-world research. Sure the Starlight Outreach grant has existed for nearly fifty years, but for most of that time, it was only available to people willing to sacrifice themselves to deep space exploration as physicists, explorers, and biologists. Most notably, of course, was Penelope Menendez, the woman who started all this. But now, after all this time, my diligence, or at least persistence, has finally paid off. I, Professor Stacey Stanford of the First Interstellar University of Earth, will take my place among the greats in the Movement for Outward Expansion. With this grant, I have been awarded a nearly bottomless supply of materials and assets, and let’s not forget monetary funding, to assist my anthropological research of peoples who inhabit planets beyond our system and our neighbors. Never before has such research been feasible so far from our own little rock in space.

Not that my being awarded such a grant should really come as a surprise to anyone. I have always been a pioneer and trailblazer in my field. I have always been the one to set the standard, the first to break into new ground. And well, let’s be honest, brilliant in everything I do. So why shouldn’t I do it all again, being the first ever in the social sciences to receive a NASA research grant of any kind? It makes sense after all. With the rapid strides forward toward outward expansion that have occurred over the last century, ever since the landing of Curiosity on Mars, it makes sense that the government would want to start focusing on not only what exists out there but who exists out there. And how better to do that than to hire a world class, world famous xenocultural anthropologist to undertake the endeavor.

As a student of Dr. Alfred Korr’s, it was only expected that my work would be spectacular. But I think I even surpassed Dr. Korr’s expectations. My, I mean, our research on the lifeforms in the nearby system of Proxima Centauri was revolutionary. We proved myth, broke down superstitious barriers, and opened the doors between neighboring systems.

Of course, the idea that life existed elsewhere in our universe has been around for hundreds of years, but the idea that we could communicate with these other lifeforms peacefully while conducting an informative study was unthinkable until the proposal for that study hit the table. The fieldwork for that project was unlike anything I had ever done before. Think of it! Experiencing a full culture, as vibrant as any found on Earth, surviving on a whole other planet. The results we found were groundbreaking and paved the way for cultural understanding and peaceful relationships between us and them. Even today you still see Centauriites walking around in our cities. Granted, most of them are connected with the embassy in one way or another, but just this year the university had its first Centauriite applicant accepted. And not one whisper of war has ever passed between our two species. These results were more than we could have ever dreamed of for our first real contact with an off-world culture. You always see in the old films, the aliens come down out of the sky to be met with gunfire. And of course they fire back. Wouldn’t you? It took years to convince the North American government it didn’t have to be that way. Not that I’m overly concerned with the politics of it all. I just want to discover everything I can regarding those other worlds that contain life. And now I have the opportunity to do just that.

That original Proxima Centauri study is what got me my position here at the First Interstellar University of Earth, the most prestigious university on the planet. My first full-time, tenure track position. And not just anybody can get a job here. They only take the best, the frontrunners and forward thinkers in every field, focusing on the Movement for Outward Expansion. Except for the NASA pilot program. They’re not really frontrunners and forward thinkers. They just do what they’re told. But we need them to fly the ships. And since NASA’s the only program working to develop deep space flight capabilities and train pilots to do the job, they were practically handed a department at this institution. The quacks. But that’s not really something I feel like getting into right now.

The important thing is that the Movement for Outward Expansion has opened the doors for me to expand my knowledge and share my ingenious work with the rest of the world. Because that is what my results will be: genius. How could they possibly be otherwise? But all of that is a given. And it’s time I end this nostalgic reminiscence I’ve gotten so caught up in. What’s really of interest at the moment is that I’ve already chosen a people to study. They are called the Voyn. They live on a planet called Nochva in the system Anastasia. Mine will be the first study of a people located so far from Earth. Theirs is one of four planets circling a star slightly smaller than our Sun. They, like us, are new to interplanetary communications, which makes them an ideal culture for this type of study, one unaffected by foreign influences.

We have been in contact with them for over ten years now. The transmissions are frequently spotty because of the rudimentary technology we are both forced to use in this day and age. But they seem a personable people, curious to find out more about the galaxy they live in. When we first approached them about the possibility of conducting this project, they were overjoyed. As far as they have been able to discern, and our own instruments have confirmed it, theirs is the only planet in their system that supports life. I will be the first off-worlder to set foot on their planet. Once again blazing a revolutionary trail through the universe.

It seems this is what it’s all been leading up to. Curiosity; the colonization of the moon and Mars; the founding of the university; the discovery of the wormholes; Penelope Menendez’s colonization project; my own study with the Centauriites; the success of the NASA experiments; the opening of the embassies; and now this.

I spoke to the ambassador from Nochva last week. It was just a video conference, of course; the Voyn have yet to discover a means of interplanetary travel for themselves. She is excited by the idea of our visit to her planet. She is hopeful that our two people will be able to learn a lot from each other. I hope so as well. See, there’s a reason I am so eager to study the Voyn. I found some ancient Earth artifacts a while back. Curious, to think how they might have ended up here. Still, claims of alien contact have dotted our society for centuries. One can’t help but wonder…

Of course, it is highly possible that it’s all just a coincidence. Either way, though, there’s much for me to learn about the Voyn, and I am very much looking forward to my upcoming experiences among them.

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Peter Pan

Recently, I took a few days to read the story of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. Of course, this is a story that I have been familiar with since I was a child. I loved this movie as a kid because I loved the idea of make-believe and Neverland. Therefore, I decided to check out the original source. I am glad I did. Though this story was very similar to the versions I saw as a kid, this story was a bit darker, a bit more gruesome, and a bit lonelier than other versions I had come into contact with.

Personally, I enjoyed this grittier version of the story. Like Grimm’s versions of fairy tales, the darker twist on the stories makes them more exciting. Peter Pan is a boy who refuses to grow up. He takes children from their homes to come play with him for a while in Neverland, an imaginary island populated by children’s imaginations.

I think there is a part of Peter Pan in most of us, the part of us that never wants to grow up. The part of us that wants to continue to play games and pretend. I think that is what makes this story so compelling. At the same time, though, we see how never growing up has affected Peter, and we realize that growing up is a necessary part of life.

Overall, I would say this is a good story. While reading it, I kept thinking, is this something I will read to my children one day? It’s a difficult call. Though the story is something that children would enjoy, some of the content seems more like it was written for an older audience and children would have a difficult time following it. However, this could just be due to the age of the book. Perhaps a hundred years ago when the story was published children had better attention spans than they do today.

Then again, perhaps this story, which is always portrayed as a children’s story, was always intended to be more for adults than children.

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The Odyssey

This year, I have been using a reading list to guide my reading. The list gives topics to follow, and in the end, you will have read twelve books throughout the year. One of the items on the list is “A book you should have read in school.” For this category, I chose to read Homer’s The Odyssey.

The Odyssey is a story I should have first read in high school. However, I went to one of those schools where we watched the movie for everything and never actually read anything. Then in college, all the freshmen at my college read The Odyssey in a mandatory first semester course. Except for my class. My instructor decided we should read The Iliad instead.

So now, ten years after I should have, I read The Odyssey.

To be honest, I think I was able to enjoy it now better than I would have as a student. Currently, I teach a literature class that does a section on Ancient Greek Literature. I think teaching this section of my course helped me a lot while reading this story.

It is a good story. However, the style of writing is very different than what most of us are used to today (another reason why I feel I was able to enjoy this story better now than I would have ten years ago). As I have gotten older, I have started to enjoy different story-telling techniques. It’s interesting to me the amount of variation that exists in the way different cultures tell stories.

My only negative about this story: Odysseus tends to be a bit long winded at times. He likes to tell stories to the people he meets along his journey, which is fine, but sometimes those stories start to feel like they should be a book themselves. At times, these stories of Odysseus’ draw the reader’s attention away from the main story line.

Overall, I’m glad I finally got around to reading this one. It’s not necessarily in my top picks, but worth a read. Just make sure you get a good translation. It turns out, the way the story is translated can make a big difference regarding how enjoyable it is.

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