The completion of the Problem with Chickens/Assignments story.
Trenner slept surprisingly well, tucked in on a couch that still had its no feet on the furniture sign, in very fussy handwriting, prominently displayed.
After all, if there were strange noises outside, they were no stranger than the ones she might hear in the dormitories. And if there were strange breezes coming across her, well, her second-year roommate had left the window open all winter. It was, she realized, more relaxing than her trips home, where everything felt not nearly lumpy enough, too quiet, and too soft.
Once she had woken, performed her morning ablutions – she did not ask where the water had come from, and her guide did not tell her, but it smelled sweet and washed her with no ill effects – and geared up, they were on their way into the wilds that had, once, been the Dormitory and Agriculture Quad.
Now, it was mainly an overgrown mass that smelled slightly of bird droppings and much more strongly of fragrant fruit. Trenner took as many clippings as she could, noting down things in her notebook. This rose, she hadn’t seen outside of the gardens at Marshbell Residence, and that was on the far side of the city. This plant, she’d never seen anywhere as a plant, but they sometimes served the fruit at dinner as a treat. And that one – she had no idea about that one.
“Are you truly noting all of the plants?”
“Not all. Just the noteworthy ones. Are we in a hurry?”
“Only if you don’t want to die.” A moment passed, while Trenner packed away her notebook and, she thought, probably looked at least a third as alarmed as she was. “I’m sorry. That’s not entirely fair. I’ve been out here so long-”
She thought it was possible her guide might want to kiss her or something otherwise unhelpful to the goal at hand. “No, you’re the one who knows the area. I can always come back later and take my time gathering samples. Please, lead on.”
He looked mollified enough as he led her through a tangled mess of weeds and flowers and plants that were never meant to grow around here, including a couple that had probably been previous agricultural experiments in the days of Professor Feltenner.
The nest that he knew of turned out to be a former pavilion, now covered in vines and smelling strongly of what came out of the end of a chicken. And there, settled into a nest made of what she was pretty sure was old graduation robes, were four tealish-green eggs.
They both looked around, fell quiet, and took a long moment to make sure nothing was sneaking up on them. Then they dove in, grabbed the most likely-looking of the eggs, and inserted it into the sling that Trenner’s guide had made out of old lab coats and three old blankets.
They were back out the door when something squeaked at them.
It was definitely a squeak. But it was a squeak like something adorable the size of a horse might make: loud. Very loud.
Slowly, Trenner turned.
There was a ferret with eight legs, blessedly only the size of a large dog and not of a horse, staring at them.
It wanted that egg. Or it wanted them.
Trenner was betting on the egg.
“There’s more in the nest,” she told it, not really thinking it would listen, but wanting to see how it responded to voice.
It responded by hop-leaping at them.
Luckily, she’d brought not only her sample knife and kit, but her machete and, for dire emergencies, her flintlock. She slapped the machete down hard on the thing’s tender nose – everything had a tender nose; that was a rule in the Exploration classes. Everything except birds. Like chickens. Giant chickens.
The thing squealed. She slapped it one more time when it didn’t move fast enough. It folded back on itself, looking both startled and indignant.
A horrendous squawk startled both humans and ferret-thing. The ferret spun in place, grabbed an egg from the nest, and eyed Glennis thoughtfully as the chicken – it was bigger than a carriage, but far leaner than she expected birds like that to be – came running towards them.
“You go left,” she told it, with a gesture, “I’ll go right.”
She wheeled and started running, no idea if the ferret would listen – or even had any chance of understanding. It might be smarter than the average ferret; on the other hand, it might just be a big weasel.
The ferret did not chase her. The chicken bawked several times and started running after her.
The ferret, off in the woods, made a bunch of squeaking noises that sounded almost like taunts. The chicken screeched and wheeled around, going after the ferret.
Trenner counted to ten and then started singing “nah-na-na-na-na-na.”
It took only a couple rounds for the chicken to come back after them, and only a few more moments for the ferret – sounding further away – to make its own taunting noises.
Three times, four, they got the chicken to change directions, and then something squeaked up in the brush and the chicken was gone, running after it. Trenner and her guide kept running, moving as quietly as rushing allowed them to do, hurrying through the twisted, thorny mess.
They came out at the old Biologic Sciences building. Her guide took one look at where they were and wheeled to the left, taking them around the building and up into a smaller, less ornate building, where the front door was barred with sturdy, ugly desks and still had some letter spikes sticking out of it.
Through a very small gap they went, Trenner’s guide moving the egg very carefully, and then down a flight of stairs. “Here.” He was panting. “If you take this tunnel, you will get to the other Administrative building. The staff defended this so well, no chicken will come close to it.”
“This is – this is the Mythical Escape Hatch! Students have been whispering about this since – since – since before Professor Feltenner’s day! But it’s here, right here?”
“It is.” He shifted the sling with the egg in it to Trenner’s shoulders. “Don’t take the left-hand fork. Just – just don’t. Travel safely.”
“What about you?” She adjusted the sling, noting how heavy the egg was, how warm it was. “You could come back, you know.”
“No… No, I think I’d better stay here. It’s been too long. And I like it here.” He bowed to her, in the style of the older fraternities. “But you might tell Professor Sojide that I’m not dead.”
“How-” She started to ask, but shook her head. Professor Sojide would know. “I’ll tell her.”
And then it was down the passageway, through places where the water had started to leak in through the old stones and little bio-luminescent plants had started their own colonies, past the very-tempting (It was lit up in a rainbow of colors!) left-hand fork, through a very heavy vaultlike door, up a set of stairs, and through another door, out into the middle of the typing pool.
Where seven women were aiming crossbows and flintlock pistols at her.
The staff of this university, she realized with a gulp, had to be very tough indeed, all things considered.
She put up her hands, then dropped one immediately to support the egg, although the sling was doing most of that for her. “Trenner Oujiduie, ma’am, ma’ams. I’m a student. One of… Of Professor Sojide. Professor Lokeg-Fridelabout sent me to get a chicken, one of the Feltenner chickens. And, uh.” She patted the sling gingerly. “Well. I did. So I’m…. back.”
“You’re back.” A woman wearing a very sensible outfit, flat, comfortable-looking shoes and a cardigan set down her crossbow and circled Trenner to close the vault door and shift a decorative tapestry to cover it. “I see. And the passageway-”
There were still several weapons aimed at her. Trenner met the woman’s eyes. “I came back the same way I went in, the way the Exploration Classes went in. Their maps are horrid, by the way.”
The rest of the weapons vanished into desks and under plants. “Well then.” The woman smiled brightly at her. “Let’s go upstairs and get you set up with an incubator. I bet we have all the right things, if we just do a little looking.”
Three weeks later – three weeks during which she went to every class except Professor Lokeg-Fridelabout’s – she walked into said class with a chick the size of a dog following her. “Professor,” she declared, “I have found you a Feltenner chicken.”