Once inside he locked the door and felt safe in the crisp white-porcelain room. Noticing a large mirror, he stood directly in front and regarded himself. He had done his best to help the students distinguish him from other gurinthé by wearing a white name tag over the left side of his upper chest, the same as he’d seen many humans do. He wore expensive loose, deep blue, jeans designed for his form so the knees bent the opposite way to humans and were always slightly bent. His belt buckle was a smiley face and the fake leather printed with a faux-carbon fibre pattern, a nice technological touch he thought. Frowning at his own choice of shirt and jacket he realised he’d accidentally worn the colours of the Welirabi emblem, the species humans first encountered which lead to major upheaval on Earth. While the species was not out-right hated on the planet, they were not welcome due to what could only be thought of as racial tension. Tension caused by the human’s own reaction to discovering sentient life other than their own. The tragedies of the Welirabi captain and the conflicts on Earth would feature in Hal’s lesson plan, he’d make sure of it, but he hoped the humans would not recognise the colours. Hal’s t-shirt was plain white with purple flecks and he wore a light blue jacket that had cream trim. This was the most dapper a gurinthé had ever looked, he mused and was fascinated by the variety of clothing available on Earth.
Smiling with his large flat grey teeth barely showing, he patted himself down and pushed out some wrinkles in his clothing that had been caused by walking and sitting on the train. Stretching his feet up to his face he used both hands to adjust the shoe laces, standard plain-black sneakers with memory foam insoles, one of the many treats from planet Earth. Making quick work of the laces and a few scuffs with his seven fingered hands he stood proudly, looking into the mirror and at his own face. His short brown fur was well groomed, his large disc-shaped eyes moved independently and his face folded to position them on almost opposite sides of his head then back facing front. He nodded to the Hal in the mirror and said “I can do this”
On the short walk back to room 303 he realised he could see into other classes through the window on each door and was struck by just how different each of the humans had covered themselves. He hoped the students in Mrs. Hale’s class had done the same so he could tell them apart.
Grasping the handle slightly awkwardly in his long hands he pushed and turned it, being hit by the wall of sound from a tutorless bunch of young adults. The entire class of thirty humans immediately fell silent, some hurriedly moved back to their desks, startling Hal with their speed. All students fixed their eyes intently on him. With his legs feeling like jelly beneath him, he felt like time had slowed to a dead stop and he almost froze in position. Urging himself to keep moving he concentrated on the thought that he could easily outrun any human. It’s not something he should be thinking about, these were his students, and he was in a small room anyway but the primitive part of his brain took some comfort in this theoretical escape and he felt better.
“Good morning class. You can call me Hal, I am here to assist Mrs. Hale.”
“She’s not coming” a student replied instantly.
“Yeah, I got a text saying she’d gone into labour last night” another said.
“She’s put pics of her kid up already, search SocratHale45” Yet another student interjected. Hal realised he was on his own and was suddenly filled with dread at the prospect of being dropped into a full teaching role with no idea of the student’s abilities or where he should even begin.
“I see, ” Hal announced “then it looks like I’ll be standing in for a while.” He moved to the teacher’s desk and placed his bag, his smartphone fell out and bounced across the floor much to the amusement of a few smirking students.
“This is the Kitang 5c isn’t it?” a female student in the front row scooped up the device and walked toward Hal “the fish-phone” she finished as she looked up into his large eyes. She looked a little embarrassed and placed the phone down on the desk then returned to her seat.
Smiling again Hal turned his attention to the female, “Yes, I thought it was appropriate considering the nicknames humans have given my species. It also has great specs”
“The next model is out now, it can project a 1 metre hologram instead of just 75cm like that one.” one of the back-row students sniffed as they activated their own Kitang brand smartphone displaying the current local news.
“...attacker was caught by police moments later. The victim, Kal from the planet Holnuis, home of the gurinthé, had this to say…”
The student turned off the broadcast and looked back to Hal.
“Thank you, Mr…?” Hal queried.
Clearly angry the student growled “MISS Terrance. MISS Angela Terrance.” Hal had once again incorrectly identified a human’s sex from their facial features. He was so sure this one was male, it had yellow hair that was short and spiked down the middle of it’s head, it had thick square glasses accentuating a sharply angled face, it was mildly antagonistic, and it had spoken with a relatively deep voice.
“My apologies, Miss Terrance. I have been on Earth three years and I’ve still not managed to grasp this concept. No offense was intended” the student huffed at Hal’s response so he continued “but could you, or anyone in the class identify my sex?”
He felt stupid for literally asking a room full of predators to examine him closely but this was to prove a point.
“If you believe me to be male please raise your hand” roughly 75% of the class raised their hands.
“And if you believe me to be female, please raise your hand” most of the remaining students raised their hands but a few, including the one who passed Hal’s phone back to him, did not.
“Interesting. That seems quite decisive, does it not? By majority vote I am male. Is it that simple? What do you think?” He pointed directly at the student in the front row who he was adamant must be female but did not want to get it wrong again.
“The gurinthé are hermaphroditic, or rather you have adapted your physiology through technology so your entire species is capable of reproduction by taking the role of either sex.” she announced almost as if she read it from a text book.
“Absolutely correct. May I ask your name?”
“My name Miss Denise Gates.” she made sure to include the title clearly.
The remainder of the day was spent on introductions and basic questioning of concepts so Hal could gauge each student’s skills and what they’d learned already. By the end of the day he knew this was going to be a long and very slow paced group but that was OK, he’d survived it and gotten to know an interesting bunch of new humans. Some of them even expressed the desire to visit Holnius one day. Unfortunately, Angelica Terrance stewed at the back of the class and only seemed to be interested in her smartphone. She barely participated in the class, only responding to direct questions with monosyllabic answers.
As the students filed out, several wishing him a good evening, Angelica lingered to be one of the last. She had finally gathered her things, smartphone in hand, and sauntered toward Hal’s desk which was away from the exit. Getting to one desk away she whispered “Earth stands alone,” smirked then walked out.