429: Called Out Of Class

on January 20, 2010 in Book 15

In Which Mackenzie Pays Attention To Her Teacher

Professor Goldman’s thaumatology lecture rarely played to a full house on Monday morning. His official laissez-faire stance on attendance and regular teaching habits… teach the bulk of the material on Monday and Wednesday, quiz at the start on Friday and give an overview of the next week’s material after that… seemed almost designed to be forgiving of absences at the start of the week.

If you paid attention on Friday, you could probably at least pass the quiz the next week. Showing up on Wednesday would let you fill in a few more blanks. If you had a good grounding in thaumatology, it was probably possible to ace the class that way. I wasn’t going to throw stones about people who chose to slide through like that… it was a one hundred level class. I showed up almost every day, but it wasn’t like I always gave Goldman my undivided attention.

On that Monday, the classroom was even emptier than usual but not by nearly as much as I would have expected. It was also much quieter than I’d ever seen it before the lecture started. People were already in their seats, sitting up and facing the empty floor. Professor Goldman was the sort of teacher that I really admired, but he wasn’t the sort of professor who could command much respect in the “sit down and shut up” sense of the word.

The silence wasn’t respectful and it also wasn’t somber… it was expectant. I couldn’t see many faces from the back of the room, but the ones I could see looked almost hopeful. I couldn’t have guessed what exactly it was that they were hoping for, but it made a vague kind of sense. A teacher… especially a college professor… was an adult in a way that most college students weren’t yet. He was someone learned and, in a way, someone official. Professor Goldman might not have had the kind of respect that makes people sit quietly before he even arrived, but he knew how to get people to listen and the people in that classroom were ready to do so.

In light of what had happened and all the disruption that would likely continue to follow from it, I had been kind of surprised that there wasn’t some sort of assembly or gathering or something to address it. Of course there was always the possibility that Harlowe could be overlooked by the powers that were in charge of announcing such a thing , but that seemed unlikely in this case.

It might have been naive of me to assume the administration would work to make sure that we were included in their efforts to address a situation that had seen one of us murdered, our residents falling under suspicion, and our residence hall temporarily occupied by imperial agents, but there had been so many human students passing through Harlowe’s doors that it seemed unlikely that word wouldn’t have made it around the hallways.

Of course, none of that guaranteed that it would have reached me in particular, but Two hadn’t said anything about it. Considering how she’d appointed herself my “older” sister, it seemed unlikely that she would fall into the “but you didn’t ask” trap on this.

Something to quell rumors and reassure worried students, as well as address the extent to which the planned trajectory of the semester may have been altered would have been a good idea… judging by what I’d overheard in the halls the day before, some people were just assuming that in the wake of a bona fide tragedy then all coursework and exams were obviously canceled unless they heard otherwise. That seemed like wishful thinking to me, but then it might have been equally foolish on my part to assume that an official statement putting that to rest would make a difference. Probably the people who concluded this were people who’d already come to the conclusion that they weren’t going to get their stuff done anyway.

For my own part, I don’t know what I would have taken away from such a gathering. Whatever reassurances might be given to the human majority, I was a special case in a hall full of special cases. It was my good luck that there were better, less well-defended suspects standing between me and an imperial inquest… it was Steff’s bad luck that she was one of them.

It was Steff that my mind kept going to. She was okay physically… safe for the moment, unless the attempt by Dee’s handlers to throw her and Viktor under the carriage bore fruit. How was she doing emotionally? What did she look like? Would the potion have altered her face as well as her frame? I was sure she’d still be recognizable, and that underneath the changes she would still be Steff… but would it be a dramatic difference, or more subtle? And how was she taking it? Even while she vocally rejected her father’s society, she’d absorbed a fair bit of their aesthetics and values, values which did not come close to matching the gynocentric culture that had created the transformation potion.

Even if she had no issues with large breasts for herself, having any growth at all would make it even harder for her to enjoy elven-style gowns that had been designed to hang off of straight, slender frames.

It went without saying that I loved Steff no matter what body she wore. I certainly wasn’t going to complain if she had a more traditionally feminine chest, but what was really important to me was that she was happy and comfortable in her own skin.

I had a moment of discomfort when I realized that I was thinking about that when everyone else was thinking about the murder… that I was thinking about Steff’s boobies when she might be under suspicion or the target of a scapegoat campaign… but then I realized that I was far from the only person thinking of selfish or personal interests. It wasn’t that the whole campus suddenly cared about Leda as a person. They were scared and upset because of where she’d died, how she’d died, and because of the magnitude of the official response.

If someone died in a dungeoneering exercise, or because they went wandering around off the paths after dark, people could tell themselves that death had been foreseeable, preventable… that if they were smart and careful and followed the right rules then death would pass them by unmolested.

It was a lie, but a comforting one. Leda’s death shook that up. True, she’d been outside… but she’d been in one of the most well-lit and best warded parts of the campus. The fountain was probably safer than most of the dormitories… not that the dorms were dangerous, but the message of Leda’s death was that nowhere was safe, not safe enough… not so safe that you could actually count on living forever.

Her death was not a unique event in that regard, to be sure… not in a big picture sort of way… but to all the young and sheltered students, it was the one that couldn’t be ignored. If Leda hadn’t been someone important in a political sense, her killing might have been lumped with all the other random and pointless deaths that Veil weekend had brought… but she’d been singled out. The official attention made the circumstances of her death impossible to ignore, hammered the point home and gave everyone new things to fear as well. None but the most stalwart imperial partisans could find the presence of the investigators on campus reassuring.

The Imperium brought order, and that was a good thing, but that didn’t make order the same thing as good.

Everybody in the room was thinking of themselves, in other words… themselves and their own close friends, probably… because everybody was worried about what had happened and what might happen next.

I did not envy Goldman. Whether he tried to address what was going on or not… and it would be hard for him to not pick up what was registering on the faces of so many of his students, even in a large auditorium-style room… his students were likely to be disappointed and frustrated. He was a good instructor and probably a skilled metamagician… though so far he’d dealt only with theory and not any practical demonstrations… but it seemed unlikely he’d be able to find any magic words that would make everything okay.

He came into the room wearing a brown suit that looked slightly more respectable than his usual attire, which was pure academic shabby chic. He glanced up and around the room as he was setting his briefcase down on his desk, wearing a smile that looked as warm as it looked weary. He didn’t look terribly surprised.

“Good morning,” he said in a tone that was both more conversational and somehow more formal than his usual mode of address. His usual affected goofiness was very much part of his lecturing style, and thus it was unmistakably a lecture, no matter how affable he came off. This was different.

Nobody replied. For a moment I thought he was going to say something like, “Let’s try that again”, but he just paused for a moment and kept going.

“I’m used to seeing something different in people’s eyes after Veil… especially in my morning section. My lectures are almost exclusively first year students, this one especially. For many of you, this is your first class of the day. My position as a lecturer on thaumatology is not quite the same thing as being a moral authority or mental healer. But it is exactly the same thing as being a teacher. So, I usually take a few minutes away from the ordered syllabus and try to do a little teaching. I don’t know that it will be adequate to the situation this year, but then, I don’t know if it ever is.

“Tragedy is not a simple thing. People die… it’s a condition to which most mortals and many petty immortals succumb. Some deaths are preventable. Some deaths are predictable. Some aren’t either. The ones that aren’t can come like a slap in the face, but it’s the ones that could have been foreseen and averted but weren’t that really hit people were they live. If you know someone who went out partying on Veil and didn’t come back, if you were friends with them or shared a dorm or classroom with any of them, then you know what I’m talking about.

“Usually, this is the part where I remind students that the mental healing center is open to everyone and there are no fees for using it. I’m still going to do that, though I’m not going to mention how badly underutilized it is because I imagine right now they’re probably not able to take walk-ins like they can most of the time. Don’t let that stop you from using them if you need them, though. Don’t feel guilty, don’t worry about whether or not you ‘really’ need help, if your problems are big enough… they have trained professionals ready to tell you how much help you need.

“And don’t be afraid to talk to us, to your professors… I mean, the ones you weren’t already afraid to talk to. There are probably good reasons for fear in some cases. The worst that will happen, though, is that someone refers you to the healing center anyway. But most of us have been around a long time. We’ve seen a lot of things. My office door is always open when I’m inside it, even if it’s outside my posted hours. Talk to each other, too… if you’ve got friends, open up to them. If you’re doing okay, ask them how they’re doing. If you’re all doing fine, look around for someone who doesn’t look like they’ve got anyone to talk to and ask them how they’re doing. Solidarity, people. It’s a wonderful thing.”

With that, he sat down behind the desk, something he’d rarely done during classes except when we were taking our quizzes.

“Today, we’re not going to be going over anything new,” he said. “Your midterm’s a few weeks off. This Friday we’re going to have a comprehensive quiz to gauge what has been retained what has been forgotten. This quiz is not important to your grade but it can be important to your learning. For the rest of the hour today and on Wednesday I’ll be reviewing some of the material we’ve already covered, and answering any questions anyone has about rough spots. If there is somewhere else you need to be, please feel free to go there.”

When he put it like that… it wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in the review, or the chance for a little more interaction than his lectures normally afforded, but there was a friend I needed to be with and offer my support to, if I could find her. I’d have my chance on Wednesday, after all. Under the circumstances, Goldman would probably hold off on anything really interesting or crucial until then. Maybe it wasn’t quite what he’d intended, but like he’d said, there was no way of measuring or prioritizing the need for help and support.

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One Response to “429: Called Out Of Class”

  1. MadnessMaiden says:

    “So I usually take a few minutes away from the ordered syllabus and try to do a little teaching.” Haha, brilliant.

    Current score: 2