“So,” I said, “how different does it look?”
My mother surveyed the campus of Welton University and smiled. “This is my cue to say it seems smaller than I remember—but the truth is, it’s much bigger. It used to be all open field over there, behind Cavendish. We had epic snowball wars after second-quarter midterms.”
Her happy reminiscence made me shudder, thinking of the frozen doom that awaited me in a few months. My mother saw it and shook her head. “You’re the one who decided to go to college in Minnesota, Kimberly. It could have been Georgia Psi instead.”
It would never have been Georgia Psi. That was my safety school, in case Welton and every other college rejected me. Which was never going to happen, not with my grades, and my mother a Welton alumna. But okay, sure, in theory I could have chosen one of the other schools that accepted me—if I wanted to live with her disappointment forever.
But it was my choice. Welton had Divya Madison, Adam la Roche, Aonghus Bradley; it was the best psychic sciences university in North America, and its divination faculty was almost unmatched in the world. I’d been dreaming about coming here since I was twelve. I never could have chosen anything other than Welton.
Even if it did come with Minnesota winters attached. I didn’t much want to think about that part, though, so instead I studied the map in my hands. “Looks like that new building’s Adler—CM.”
Oh, yes, ceremonial magic was a much better topic than the weather. But to her credit, my mother only said, “Ah, that’s right. I remember an article about that in the alumni magazine. A big endowment from Gawain Fontaine. He was a year ahead of me, and always talking about how he was going to strike it rich. We all thought he was full of hot air, of course; back then, technomagic was still mostly the fever dream of a few CM geeks.” She snorted. “I’m sure he wishes Welton let donors name buildings after themselves, just to put the last flashing lights on his ‘I Told You So’ sign.”
I held back a sigh. She’d been reminiscing the whole way up here. And while it was nice to learn more about the place I’d be spending the next four years, I wanted to approach it on my own terms, not filter everything through the lens of my mother’s undergrad experiences. She’d insisted on accompanying me for move-in weekend, though, and nothing short of a major work crisis could have stopped her. Like, say, a Category 5 hurricane or a major urban riot—and it wasn’t nice to hope for one of those.
At least it would only be for a few days. And up ahead, I saw our destination. Silently thanking whatever god had saved me from being put in my mother’s own freshman dorm, I said, “Looks like the boxes have started to arrive.”
Actually, it looked like every box within five hundred miles had arrived. I only knew it wasn’t true because we’d passed three other dorms on our way from the car, all with equally large piles out front. Freshmen and accompanying parents bustled in and out the front doors like a brigade of handcart-equipped ants, while frazzled upperclass volunteers tried to sort an incoming load. Stationed a safe distance away was a long table overshadowed by a banner proclaiming, “CHECK-IN FOR SHUSHUNOVA.”
I headed for the left end of the table and told the skinny black student behind it, “Argant-Dubois. Kim.” I just barely avoided adding, “I’m a freshman.” Of course I was. Upperclassmen wouldn’t show up until the weekend, except for the ones helping field the new arrivals.
She gave me a huge and dazzlingly bright smile. “Welcome! I’m Akila. Let’s see, Argant-Dubois . . . ah! Here you go. Your key will open both your room and the closet at the end of the hall, where the cleaning supplies are kept. Orientation packet and course catalogue should have been sent to you already; let me know if the hard copy isn’t in your room, or if you accidentally deleted the files and need them sent again. Boxes are being sorted by room number, not name, but please don’t grab any of your roommate’s stuff for her if she’s not here yet; it just ends up confusing everybody. The elevator is unlocked for today, and we stole a few extra handcarts from Kinfield; there’s a waiting list over there if you want to use one. And if you have any other questions, just ask your RA—the name and room number are in your orientation packet. Welcome to Welton!”
Akila stopped at last, like a clockwork that had run down. Grinning, I asked her, “How many times have you given that speech already?”
“Too many,” she said, with a smile less practiced but more real than her first one. “And the day’s not over yet.”
“Good luck keeping your sanity,” I told her and, turning to my mother, nodded toward the piles of boxes. “Do we want to put ourselves on the waiting list?”
She shook her head, as I’d known she would. “No, we can manage. Let’s take a load up with us; we might as well get started.”
We found the fifth-floor pile, and pointed out the first box of mine we could find—a large one at the bottom of a stack, of course. But the weedy guy with blue-dyed hair manning that station just grinned and waved his hands in a grand and unnecessary gesture. The top crates floated up, and my box slid out from underneath.
“Nice,” I said wryly. “I don’t suppose we could bribe you to float it upstairs?”
He shook his head cheerfully. “Nope. Can’t work where I can’t see, and I’m the only thing keeping half these stacks from collapsing. Gotta stay down here. Good luck, though!”
Neither my mother nor I had much telekinetic ability, but she, remembering her own college days, hit upon the notion of giving the crate just a bit of a nudge as we lifted it. Then we hauled it across the sunny grass into the building, where we were able to cram ourselves into the elevator and rest it briefly on top of someone else’s handcart. During the year the elevator would be locked, the better to encourage us out of our sedentary habits; only people with mobility problems got cards. But making us carry all our worldly possessions up the stairs would just be cruel.
We arrived at 509 and dropped the box on the floor while I dug out my room key. The iron lock was stiff; I really had to apply force to make it turn. Then the door was open, and I saw my home for the next nine months.
It looked pretty much like every other dorm suite in the United States. A bit less cinderblock-y than some, and not too small; we had two rooms and a private bath, which was nice. Depending on how my roommate and I got along, we could both sleep in the smaller room and leave the other for studying or hanging out, or swap off who got the larger but more public space.
Deciding that would have to wait for her arrival. My mother shoved the box into a corner by one of the standard-issue bookcases and said, “Shall we go get the next?”
It was peculiarly exhausting work, tiring out not just my hands and arms and back but what little telekinetic gift I had, as I tried to take some of the strain from my body. One enthusiastic guy on my floor was showing off, floating boxes straight up from the depot and through his window, but we all became a lot less impressed when he dropped one at the fourth floor, spraying its contents across the ground. Taking a break to catch my breath at my own window, I said to my mother, “I told you we should bring a golem.”
“And have you miss out on one of the classic experiences of college? Not to mention the hassle of bringing a golem on an airplane.” She went into the bathroom to splash water on her face. Even I, born and raised in Georgia, felt drained by the heat and humidity. It was one thing to endure this kind of weather while lounging on your porch swing, and another entirely when you were doing heavy lifting.
She came back in blotting her face dry on her sleeve. I hadn’t opened any boxes, so we didn’t even have towels yet. “I’m not saying you should aspire to build golems yourself, Kimberly,” she said, “but will you at least promise me one thing? Think about taking a CM course this term, or next. Even just a lecture course, without a lab component.”
It caught me off guard. I’d been waiting for her to bring the subject up again for weeks now, but the excitement and effort of moving in had distracted me. And a small, resentful part of me thought my mother knew that, and had waited for her moment to strike.
“I’ll get to it soon enough,” I said, as temperately as I could. No choice on that front; distribution requirements meant that, whatever major we undergraduates chose, we all had to take at least two courses apiece in the other departments. The telekinetics would be fine, even if I wasn’t that great at them. Ceremonial magic was another matter.
“Better to get it out of the way sooner,” my mother advised me. Which was a sentiment I would normally agree with . . . except that wasn’t her real reason. She hoped, against all evidence, that I would miraculously develop a talent for the rituals and external power of CM, and go on to major in it after all. Like she had.
I was tired enough for my temper to fray. Holding that in as best I could, I told her, “I am getting requirements out of the way. French, pre-Manifestation history, phys ed—”
“I mean your psychic studies.”
“Should I put off the requirements for my major, just to cover my entire distribution in one go?”
She spread her hands in the gesture that meant she was getting frustrated, and trying not to show it. “I’m just saying—”
I never found out what she was just saying, because someone tapped on the door. A tall, extremely blonde someone, with just the faintest trace of a German accent when she spoke. “This is room 509, yes?”
My roommate had arrived.
(“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!)