This story—the first finished as a perk for my moving fundraiser—is dedicated to Kim, who wanted to know what it’s like to be a guard at Magisterius University.
“It’s not like it used to be, I’ll tell you that for nothing.”
Millie was grateful for this charity. If the sergeant had been charging for that tidbit, she would have been in debt up to her eyebrows by now. It seemed to be his favorite observation.
They were on a foot patrol of the perimeter of Magisterius University. Well, not exactly the perimeter… just the outer ring of paths. Patrolling the perimeter suggested that they were trying to keep people or things from getting in or out. It was the interior of the campus that they were concerned with. Or at least, that was the idea.
“Isn’t this route supposed to cover the whole campus?” Millie asked.
“Nah, west campus is a separate beat,” he said. “That’s a good duty to draw, when the weather’s nice… which means you’ll only get it when it’s not. That’s seniority for you.”
“I mean, we’re just walking around the outside edges,” she said. “I think we’d have a better chance of seeing something going down if we did like a sweep.”
“Listen, if someone’s making a ruckus, it’ll carry and you’ll hear it,” he said. “In the meantime, if someone’s doing something they’re not supposed to, where are they going down it: in the campus center where there’s lots of people around, or on the outskirts? Trust me, if something illegal’s going to happen on the grounds, it’ll be out behind the outbuildings or in the far cart lots. Walking between the pent, the library, the music hall, and the fighting ring… there’s lights, there’s people, there are scry-eyes. The campus center is safer than the dorms, if you stick to the paths.”
“It’s just, I’m pretty sure the diagram for this route was more complicated than a lumpy oval,” she said.
“When you’re walking it yourself, you can be in charge of keeping to the route,” he said. “But listen, don’t you sweat that. We’re not night watchmen here. We don’t have to key in at the corners to prove we walked our beat. Every once in a while they try to cram that productivity stuff down our throats, and the guild beats ‘em back. What’s the point of being sworn officers if they treat us like the night janitor? Of course, it’s not like it used to be… I’ll tell you that for nothing.”
“What did it used to be like?” Millie asked him. She didn’t really want to know what a man like the sergeant thought of “the good old days”, but she figured maybe he’d been fishing for an excuse to talk about them. Letting him spout off once about how things had changed and then being done with it would be better than hearing again and again about the fact that they had.
“We weren’t loafers or nothing, don’t think we were, but it wasn’t like this,” he said. “Last year was a real tomb of horrors. Students fomenting unrest, and demons, and murders… imperial agents hanging around like flies. It was like being back in the 170s again, I tell you. It’s not even like we lost that many students! A little spoilage is built into the numbers.”
“Spoilage,” Millie repeated.
“That’s what they call it in the bursar’s office,” he said. “But don’t let anyone in a suit or a robe hear you calling it that, even if you heard it from their own lips five seconds before. The captain calls it ‘attrition’. He takes it personally.”
“And you don’t? When students die?”
“Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they’re doing something they shouldn’t,” he said. “Fucking around in the woods, wandering around campus at night. The ones who are minding their own business… well, what are we supposed to do? We can’t see the future. We can’t be everywhere. We can break up fights when we see them. We can respond appropriately to monster incursions. If I see a couple of kids fooling around up against a tree, I’ll remind them that they have a room and that no one cares what they do inside of it.”
“Isn’t there a rule about visiting other dorms after dark?”
“Sure,” he said. “And if I’m ever in a boy’s room when he has his girl over, I’ll be sure and mention it to him. We don’t usually haul bodies away in pieces because someone got a little conjugal with their visits. Seven or eight people bought it underneath the same tree in the last two, three years.”
“Did anybody ever try to figure out why?”
“We staked it out a few times,” he said. “But nothing ever happened while we were watching it… and then someone would die the same way somewhere else.”
“How’d they die?”
“Disemboweled, like with big claws,” he said. “Insides eaten a little… mostly the guts, but it seemed like whatever was doing the killing didn’t really like the taste of teenaged human that much.”
“Not enough to stop trying them, apparently,” Millie said.
“Yeah. Anyway, that’s a perfect example of what I was saying: that always happened at night. They weren’t supposed to be there, anyway. We could keep playing hide and seek with whatever was doing the killing until it got bored or wandered off or graduated, or the damned kids could learn to keep it in their pants when their roommates are around.”
“…did you say ‘or graduated’?” Millie asked.
“You heard me right,” he said. “I ask you, what’s the point of warding the campus against monsters and then giving some of them a pass onto the paths? It used to be we did what we could to keep them separated from the real students, but that’s all different now. I tell you, it’s not like it used to be…”
“You’ll tell me that for nothing,” Millie said.
“Damn straight I will,” he said. “You’ve already sat through the ‘sensitivity’ workshop. Talk about a waste of time! At least you got paid for it… come on, let’s cut across here.”
“So not only are we not covering the whole campus, we’re cutting corners?” Millie asked.
“You wanted to see the interior,” he said. “It’s good for us to show up around the pent and the student union, let the civilians know that we’re around… and there’s no point in patrolling around the admin building.”
“I’d think it would be a prime target for graffiti,” Millie said. “Or a place to hang out and get high. It closes at five, doesn’t it?”
“That’s what you think, is it?” the sergeant said. “You know nothing, Officer Neige… what kind of name is that, anyway?”
“It’s Kharoline,” Millicent said. “And it’s de la Neige. Millicent de la Neige.”
“Well, la de freaking la, your highness… the point is, the admin building takes care of itself. As far as we’re concerned, it’s its own private little fiefdom. What happens there, stays there. You don’t go poking around. You don’t go investigating noises.”
“What kind of noises?”
“Whatever kind you hear… I mean, don’t hear,” he said. “Roars, screams, whatever. You go there only if you’re called there. But what was I talking about before? Sensitivity training… it’s a crock of shit. What’s the point of having an admissions process if they’re going to let just anyone in? What was your last job, anyway?”
“Security for a private university,” she said.
“No kidding? Did you have a real badge?”
“No,” she said. “Private university, private security.”
“Heh. Not that people treat us any better than rent-a-guards here… but you didn’t have to put up with what we put up with,” he said. “Ogres, harpies, demons, fuckin’ dog people, and two-headed monsters… and they wonder why we end up fishing so many corpses out of the ditches after a party night?”
They were moving into a busier part of campus now, and Millie couldn’t help noticing how the sergeant’s voice carried.
“Sir, is this the best place to be having this conversation?”
“It’s my job to show you the beat, not sit and chat with you after,” he said. “If I’m going to impart any of my pearls of wisdom to you, I’ve got to do it now. I couldn’t exactly lay it all out for you back at the station… too many ears, and too many of them are new blood. You know, at the start of last year, only a third or fourth of the force was sworn swords. The rest were rent-a-guards. Now we’re all officers, only it’s sort of a many were called, many were chosen situation. What I’m saying is, I don’t think most of them will make it… or I don’t think they should make it. And I’m iffy about the rest. But the brass says we need the manpower. Oh, begging your pardon, Officer de la Neige… the person-power.”
“I just think it might have been better to talk about that stuff while we were walking on the outskirts.”
“Listen, the day we pussyfoot around like we’re afraid of the kids is the day the whole social order breaks down. If someone gives you a dirty look, just put your hand on your mace, like this,” he said, touching the handle. “If you draw your sword, that’s an automatic incident report and you’ll have to show cause, but you can swing your mace around all you want. It’s a non-lethal weapon.”
“Really? Mine doesn’t have any subdual enchantments on it,” she said. “Did I get outdated equipment?”
“No, they actually waste the new stuff on you,” he said. “I mean, it’s blunt. It doesn’t have an edge like the sword does. That makes it non-lethal.”
“It has spikes for penetrating armor!”
“A fifth of the students walking around wear metal.”
“For Khersis’s sake, you could kill someone with one good blow.”
“But you could also hit them and not kill them,” he said. “If you have to, try to do that… but if you do kill someone with the mace, it will be ruled accidental a lot easier than with the sword.”
“Because it’s non-lethal.”
“Because it’s non-lethal,” he agreed.
“So, is this based on experience?”
“Not here… back at my old post,” he said. “You want them to be afraid of you, not the other way around. Otherwise… there’s thousands of them and less than forty of us. Did they teach math at your fancy private university?”
“I’d think respect is more useful than fear,” Millie said.
“You’d think that. Well, fear’s easier than respect. You got time to make friends with everyone? The ones that even know the meaning of the word respect are never going to be the problem. I was a town guard before I came here. Twelve years on the force. Let me tell you, when you’re a civilian you kind of know that there’s a good part of town and a bad part of town, but when you’re posted, you know. You learn real quick where they are and what the difference is. Used to be it was mostly good kids from good families who got into a good school. It’s not like it used to be, I will tell you that for freaking nothing.”
“Does that mean I can pay you to stop saying it?” Millie muttered.
“Nothing, sir,” she said.
“Whatever,” he said. “Anyway, when you’re on night patrol… and you will be on night patrol, because you’re new… you don’t want to walk around the edge of campus like we did. Stick to the center. You’re supposed to check in with the front desks of all the dorms, but half the time the fucking RA on duty isn’t anywhere in sight. I’m only really conscientious about it on the rainy days. There will be nights when it’s worth waiting half an hour for some pimply-faced pencildick to quit jacking off in the laundry room and get back to work, but who’s got time for that? Not me. If someone’s got a problem, they’ll let you know.”
“So, you don’t believe in pro-active protection,” Millie said.
“I don’t believe in looking for trouble,” he said. “If you go looking for trouble, you’ll find it. Imagine what would happen if we raided any one of the dorms or frat houses on campus. Imagine how much shit goes on that’s actually illegal, not even just breaking the rules. But what good would that do? Upset a bunch of parents, upset a bunch of alumni, make the school look like a breeding ground for the worst kinds of rogues… mind you, there are some dorms I’d love to raid.”
“The bad parts of campus?”
“You got it in one,” he said. “But more likely than not, we’d get some mommy’s golden child caught up in the sweep, and then it would be on. Listen, we’ve basically covered the beat. There’s nothing happening now. Let’s go back to the station and I’ll show you how to the do the paperwork for our little reconnoiter.”
“Suits me,” Millie said.
“Hey, you catch on quicker than I thought,” the sergeant said. “Why string it out? We don’t get paid mileage for walking around.”
Back in the office that served as the station house for the campus guards, the sergeant didn’t so much show Millie how to do the paperwork as shove it at her and tell her she could probably figure it out. For once, he was completely right… though that didn’t mean she didn’t chafe at his attitude towards what was supposed to be his job.
She was just finishing up and double-checking the form when the captain poked his head out of his office, the only separate enclosed room in a space that was too small for the growing force.
“A word, Officer de la Neige?”
“Certainly,” she said.
She closed the door behind her as she stepped inside his office.
“How did things go with the sergeant?” he asked.
“Almost exactly like you said they would,” she said.
“I wanted to give you an idea what you’ll be dealing with,” he said. “It wouldn’t be worth it to try to get rid of him. Sergeant Banks is connected to some prominent donor families, and he knows how to work the guild. I can’t demote him without really solid, really specific cause and I don’t have one.”
“I suppose if he refuses to follow the orders of a female lieutenant who was promoted over him after a few months on the force, that would give you cause?”
“If we’re lucky, he’ll quit,” the captain said. “He could take early retirement and still keep his pension. But the regulations say I can’t promote you until you’re out of the mandatory probation period, and in the meantime, he does outrank you. Just tread lightly around him. Things are changing, Millie. I can promise you that.”
“So I’ve heard,” she said. “It’s sure not like it used to be. I’ll tell you that for…”
“You are dismissed, Officer.”
Help keep me writing! Tales of MU depends on the support of readers like you. Ongoing support is especially appreciated, but even one-time contributions help. Your readership is appreciated!