First: Slaves, School
By the time dinner wrapped up, Desmond was feeling exhausted, and everyone else around the table looked as tired as he felt.
At the front of the dining hall, a tall person in heavy blue robes stood up. “Your attention please.” Their robe, like the others Des had seen, left their necks and shoulders bare to show off the collar to the full extent. “Tomorrow begins your classes, so I would heartily encourage all of you to aim for sleep when you get back to your dormitories, and not merely for laying down. The morning bells will ring to tell you when you must be awake, when you must be in the dining hall, and when your first class will begin.
“That said, welcome to the Academy. I hope that all of you who have made it this far will continue to thrive, and that you will, in due time, do the Academy very proud in your future placements. Study hard, all of you. You will need every bit of your knowledge as you progress forward in life.”
“That doesn’t sound ominous at all,” muttered Talia. Kayay hissed in admonition, but nobody – least of all Talia – paid it any heed.
“I am, for those of you who have not yet met me, Professor Candiar. I have done as many of you will do – I served twenty years under the collar in public service, and then I returned here, to continue to serve by teaching new students. Obviously, as you can all presumably count, that will not be the case for all of you. But many of you will find positions which you may enjoy for many more than twenty years.”
“That is a matter for later times for you new students. For those in your last year here, you already know what you need to be considering. So I will send you all off to your dormitories. Sleep well, don’t let your compatriots keep you up all night, and do not be late to classes tomorrow.”
Professor Candiar bowed to them all, and gestured with both hands in a broad herding gesture. “Dismissed.”
Desmond stayed close with Jefshan, Talia, and Wesley, thus by connection also close to Kayay, as they headed out of the room in big crowds. It turned out there were six exits from the dining hall; Jefshan picked one apparently at random, following a group of combined red- and blue-clothed people.
One of the older blue-clothed people – wearing a kilt two hand-spans shorter than the one Des had been issued, and with some sort of under-skirt peeking out in the same cyan blue – grabbed Des’ arm. “New blood, right?”
“Ah. Yes. Yes, that’s us. New blood.”
“I’m Helinna. Fifth year. You’re heading the wrong way. You want to go up that stairway.” They pointed through a narrow door to a narrower-looking staircase.
“I didn’t take any stairs to get to the dining hall, though,” Des protested.
“That doesn’t really matter around her. Look, here, I’ll go with you.” Helinna pushed the door the rest of the way open. “You can relax. I’m not saying there’s not going to be hazing – that would be silly, and a lie, and my collar doesn’t really like it when I lie – but it’s not going to be intra-house. It will all be from the Grunts and the Brains.”
Grunts and Brains. Des nodded cautiously. “So watch out for upperclassmen,” he translated, “but only if they are wearing red or green ties.”
“Exactly. Come on, you lot, all of you. They’re not kidding about being on time to classes and you’re really going to want breakfast before you get there. Come on, come on.” Helinna herded their little group up the narrow staircase and closed the door behind them. Des, at the front, climbed slowly until he could see the door ahead of him.
::Interesting.:: He got the impression his collar was being thoughtful. ::They are bending space. I think they were bending space before, but I couldn’t sense it. Here, the bend is obvious.::
“Hunh.” Jefshan grunted at about the same moment. “This place is weird.”
“Your collar noticed, too?” Jefshan seemed to be the most in tune with the “compatriot” they were all wearing.
“Noticed what?” Talia, on the other hand, did not.
“They’re bending space.” Kayay hurried to catch up with them at the top of the stairs. “It won’t say who ‘they’ are, I don’t think it’s the collar…”
“It’s the school, I think,” Des offered. “That’s fascinating. I wonder where this all is in real life…”
Helinna turned to stare at them. “You are very observant for blues. Normally, they end up in the Brains.”
“Well,” Des offered, “we have a choice, right? So it’s not like everyone who ends up in Blue is going to be the MOST impulsive, just the ones that think that sounds like the best fit for them.”
“You know, I never thought about it that way. Well, here we go.” Helinna opened the door with a flourish. “Sleep tight, kiddos.”
They were in the hallway with their dorm. Des decided not to think too hard on that. “Where’s…?”
“Each room down here is a year, for the first four years. After that, the ones that survive, they go three to a room, and those are down there,” Helinna gestured vaguely. “There’s a lounge down there too. You’ll probably spend a lot of time down there, once you get settled. But not tonight. Tonight, the nine of you ought to get to know each other a little better. So go on. Gather together. Just remember you’ve got classes in the morning, and trust me, you don’t want to miss those.”
“That sounds … well, I guess that sounds like school.” Talia followed Helinna’s urging gesture and headed into their dormitory.
He ended up sharing a bunk with Talia and someone he hadn’t been sitting with – a slender, fey-looking person with the deepest blue tie he’d seen. “Doria,” they introduced themself, when Des offered a hand. “Poiy, Lufet, and I ended up on the far side of a whole bunch of upper-class blues. I saw you guys, but by that point, we were stuck with the older ones, and they wanted to tell us all about their exploits.”
“That sounds like fun, actually,” Des admitted. “We spent the whole time guessing what was going on, for the most part. And comparing experiences. Does, ah, is your collar chatty?”
“Mine whispers. Not a lot, but when it gets going, it’s kind of informative. But half the time it acts like it’s telling me big secrets. Yours?” Doria’s voice, too, had dropped down to a whisper.
“Mine talks a lot. Jefshan’s,” Des gestured, “talks a lot, too, but not everyone’s does. Talia’s doesn’t seem to.”
Talia leaned up from her bunk to look at them. “Wait. You said you and… two others. So…” Talia counted out names on fingers. “Des here, me, Wesley, Jeshan, Kayay, that’s five. You, your two, that’s eight…”
“Over here,” called Wesley in a loud whisper. “And already asleep. Man. I didn’t know they took people that young.”
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