“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.
About the Author: Marie Brennan is a former anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for inspiration. She recently misapplied her professors’ hard work to The Night Parade of 100 Demons and the short novel Driftwood, and together with Alyc Helms as M.A. Carrick, she is the author of the Rook and Rose epic fantasy trilogy, beginning with The Mask of Mirrors. The first book of her Hugo Award-nominated Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent, A Natural History of Dragons, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Her other works include the Doppelganger duology, the urban fantasy Wilders series, the Onyx Court historical fantasies, the Varekai novellas, and over seventy short stories, as well as the New Worlds series of worldbuilding guides. For more information, visit swantower.com, Twitter @swan_tower, or her Patreon.