(Read the previous scenes here.)
I shouldn’t have felt grateful that a work crisis forced my mother to fly home a day early. Not only was that bad news, but I’d been glad of her help as I settled in. Apart from that one interrupted conversation, she’d refrained from saying anything about CM, and got along well with Liesel.
But in the end, I was still a college freshman, and ready to get out from under the parental wing.
Liesel and I headed off to orientation, which someone with a sense of the dramatic had decided to hold at the campus monument. As memorials to First Manifestation went, it was tasteful: a circular plaza of dark green marble, edged with three grey arches for the three branches of the psychic sciences. No lists of the dead, or of cities burned; just the seals of the countries that had signed onto the Cairo Accords after the chaos died down. It should have been bakingly hot, but a pleasant breeze blew steadily—so steadily that I wondered if it had magical help.
Even with the breeze, it was tempting to nod off in the warm sunlight. But near the end, Dean Seong made an announcement that woke everybody up.
“And this year,” she said, speakers carrying her voice across the ranks of folding chairs, “Welton will again lead the way in psychic sciences education, by opening the student body to new diversity. We have made arrangements with the Bureau for Special Psychic Affairs to admit a wilder as part of the freshman class.”
I didn’t hear what she said after that. It was lost in the sudden murmurs around me, a chorus of “What did she just say?,” and then repetitions as dozing students sat up and got the story from their neighbors. Liesel and I exchanged startled looks. She whispered, “Aren’t they raised by the government here?”
“Yeah,” I whispered back, confused. “Same as in Germany.” It was part of the Cairo Accords. Dealing with an adolescent during manifestation was chaotic enough; gifts were always out of control at first, before the initial rush faded. That was why First Manifestation had been so bad. But at least adolescents understood what was going on, and could try to manage it. An infant with gifts—powerful ones—was a hazard to himself and everybody around him. Ergo, government responsibility, until he became a legal adult.
He. I’d caught that much, that this wilder was a guy. If Seong had given his name, though, I missed it. Why the hell would one of them come to a school like Welton? No matter how tough the curriculum here was, it would be like sending a Navy SEAL to aerobics class. I didn’t know much about wilder training, but it was hard-core enough that most of them hit the age of majority and became Guardians on the spot, without the usual advanced education.
Maybe they were sending a ten-year-old. Or was he really a teenager, like the rest of us? Was he a guinea pig, a test attempt at mainstreaming wilders?
If so, it was going to be an interesting ride. The rest of the Dean’s speech was half-buried beneath other conversations, and students twisted this way and that in their seats, as if we could have somehow missed a wilder among us. He clearly wasn’t at orientation—probably on purpose, I thought. In his shoes, I wouldn’t want to be stared at by the entire freshman class, either.
We scattered when the Dean’s speech ended, most people heading for dinner. Liesel and I walked in silence for a while. Then she asked, “Have you ever met one?”
“A couple,” I admitted. “Through my mother’s work.” Not that wilders got invited to society parties. But sometimes her Ring dealt with Guardians.
“What are they like?”
My steps slowed across the grass. “Pretty much like the stories.” Which was a polite way of saying, weird . Baselines—people without gifts—often found bloods like us a little off-putting. Not because of anything we said or did, but just because of what we were . Wilders had that effect, magnified.
And yet the BSPA had decided to stick a wilder here. In college . Was he going to be in a dorm? With a roommate and everything?
It would be easy enough to find out. My port was in my back pocket; I could call up the student directory. He’d be listed under Fiain, the Irish word for “wild,” the last name specified by the Accords.
I stopped abruptly and flung my hands up in an emphatic gesture. “No. I am not going to do this.”
Liesel hadn’t known me for long, but she could already read me well enough to translate my words. “You mean, act like the zoo has come to Welton?”
“Exactly,” I said. “I’m not going to look up where he lives, or try to find out his class schedule, or lurk around hoping to catch sight of him. He’ll have half the student body doing that anyway; he doesn’t need one more. The guy deserves some privacy.” Which the other half of the student body would be only too glad to give him, in spades. But I’d rather join them than the crowd of stalkers.
Judging by Liesel’s expression, she’d gone through the same arc I had: curiosity squashed by virtuous determination. She offered her hand to me. “Me neither. And that’s a promise. If we come across him in class or wherever, that’s fine, but no snooping.”
“No snooping,” I agreed, shaking her hand. “No gossip. We’ll give the guy his space.”
(“Welcome to Welton” is a series of teaser scenes. Teasers for what? The answer to that, my friends, is coming on September 18th. Check back each weekday for a new scene!)