Tyr had learned one lesson very well: he was essentially an errand boy. He had the uniform insignia to prove he was an officer, albeit a Sub-Lieutenant/Specialist Third Class Liaison Officer, but no one ever saluted him or called him "sir." He tried, without success, to convince himself that he didn't want the little honors that came with rank and respect, but he could not think of any other reason to be respected other than those little honors. So here he was, on the landing field, doing a job any enlisted man or woman could have done, if it even needed doing at all. There had been no hiding the derision in the printed order he had received from the Argus computer; his living, breathing C.O. hadn't even deigned to contact him personally to issue the command.
But the worst element of all was the identity of the man he was to escort to the barracks. An Educator. Tyr's pride still stung from that added indignity. He was sure that he had been given this assignment on purpose, his superiors sniggering at the irony of it all. It was not the first time they had pointedly brought attention to his handicap, and Tyr knew it would not be the last. He had lived for his entire adult life, and most of his childhood, enduring the taunts of others. He was sure he would suffer more.
Tyr shielded his eyes and scanned the sky for the shuttle. There would be no close fighter escort, no stealth field around the shuttle, no protective measures of any kind. The skies above the occupied Mnemosynean cities had been clear of enemies for many years. The last air/space battle had ended before Tyr had been out of training on Earth: this much he had learned slowly and painfully from his special classes. Unconsciously, Tyr pulled his cap down, hiding his smooth, unadorned, and therefore shameful, forehead.
A faint noise directed his eyes to a portion of the pale blue sky. The shuttle was a squat, bulbous affair, contrasting sharply with the graceful curves and arcs of the remaining Mnemosynean spires it flew through. It approached the landing field, hovered briefly over the huge white "X" as the human pilot within checked the computer's calculations, and then settled down precisely on the mark.
Tyr heaved a great sigh. Horace Mann, he recalled vividly from his assignment tape, was an Educator in the true sense: not merely a trainer or instructor. Trained as a Sixth-level, Mann would no doubt have as colorful a brow as Tyr had ever seen.
The shuttle unfolded its rose-petal hull and sat naked on the tarmac. Two people un-strapped and climbed out. The pilot, in her flight grays, assisted the other person extricate himself from his straps.
Tyr did not approach the shuttle. Let the Educator walk to him, he thought. It would be a slight repayment of the debt he felt he was owed. Tyr was aware of how petty he was being but, just then, he didn't care. He had earned his petulance through years of fruitless testing, dashed hopes, and broken promises from a system that couldn't find a place for him.
Mann climbed gracelessly out of the shuttle and smoothed his drab brown clothes. The pilot handed him a case as he looked around the landing field, then the two of them walked across the field toward Tyr.
"Liaison Officer Yllen?" the pilot said in her best pro forma voice. "This is educator Horace Mann." She paused a beat, and then strode off, her duty discharged.
Tyr looked Mann over, making no effort to hide the disdain that rode in his eyes. Mann was whiter than most Terrans, with thinning, ash-brown hair and a slightly stoop-shouldered stance. He gave the distinct impression of age, although Tyr knew from his dossier that Mann was only twenty-nine years old.
"Good day, Mister Yllen," Mann said stiffly, extending his hand. Tyr toyed briefly with the idea of ignoring him, but decided it would serve no purpose. He shook Mann's hand perfunctorily and snapped, "Come with me." Tyr had been avoiding looking at the other's forehead, but his curiosity took his eyes there for the briefest of moments.
He hadn't prepared himself for what he saw. There was a crisscrossing of lines of all colors on Mann's head, some blending into the already-worn creases of thought on the Educator's forehead. Tyr could identify only some of the lines. The black First-degree baseline over the left eye had faded to a muted gray, and the red Second line paralleling it was more of a pinkish hue. Even the green Third line near Mann's hairline had faded to a lime color, indicating it too had been earned some time ago.
Tyr could not tear his eyes away as he scanned Mann's record of education. There was a bright blue Fourth line arcing proudly high over the bridge of Mann's nose, just between the eye ridges, and a sharp rod of gold over Mann's right eye. Tyr had only seen a Fifth on station on one other person--the Regional Governor-General--whom he had met upon his arrival years ago. And there was something else: a subtle, thin white line that ran perpendicular to the rest down Mann's right temple. Tyr had never seen that before, but he knew what it had to be: the Sixth degree mark of Evaluation--bade of the elite Educative class.
Tyr's gaze slid down Mann's face to find the Educator staring back at him. The young liaison officer coughed in embarrassment, whirled, and started to march back to the buildings of the squat barracks, never checking to see if Mann was following or not.