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22.  Visit to UNI, Day 1

22. Visit to UNI, Day 1

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8 January 2055

It was about to be a weekend to remember, there was no doubt. Snow always loved these sorts of trips, as long as they had a certain level of comfort and adventure. He had attended a couple camps over his high school years, and even though they were all located in New Idaho, living away from home for a couple days always made it feel like he was farther away than he really was. He expected this visit to the University of New Idaho to be quite similar.

Earlier that day, after school had ended, Snow had gotten on a bus with 9 of his other classmates—Ricky 2 Miller, Jake “Pretzel” Mendez, Simon Simmons, Marshall Tomlinson, Carlton Buristo, Cyanica Latiff, Camille Thomas, Natalie Hefcorn, and Lucilia Trebello—and had been transported off to the University.

The first thing they did after coming to the University was stow their bags away in dorm rooms. There was a wing in the new dorms that was not to be inhabited full-time until the following academic year, so they got to populate their own little area of campus. Snow would be rooming with his neighbor, Ricky 2, as per request.

After briefly settling in the dorms, the group of them had headed out from the bottom of their building and across a small courtyard to one of the dining courts, where they had eaten a gigantic buffet-style dinner, the only other diners a handful of college kids that had come back to school early from their winter break (second semester for UNI started up this Monday). Despite the consistency with which each of the visitors had eaten throughout their lives, not one of them was unimpressed by the vast options available at the dining hall. Pretzel Mendez alone had gone back for more than six plates of dinner and two of dessert. Even Natalie Hefcorn had broken with the generally serious and detached demeanor that Snow had always known her for to gawk at the generous amount of food on display.

Now, after eating, the group of Sky High students lolled about in semi-delirious carb-comas in a small meeting room on the bottom floor of their dorm building as they waited for the president of the college to finally come give them the weekend’s orientation.

‘Goddamn, that was a lot of food,’ Ricky 2 said.

‘You’re telling me,’ said Mendez.

‘Shut up, Pretzel, we all know you’re proud of yourself and your fat ol’ gut.’ Ricky 2 slapped Pretzel on his belly. Pretzel faked as though he was about to puke on Ricky 2.

For only ten students, they really hadn’t bonded as much as Snow had hoped they would. Simon sat apart from the rest of the group, apparently working on some sort of paper. Natalie and Marshall had become interested in each other’s company early on when they got on the bus wearing matching camouflage. It turned out they both had interest in joining the ROTC when they got into college, and they already felt the fraternity of soldiers. Lucilia, Camille, and Cyanica banded together as the rest of the girls, and Carlton sat with Pretzel, Snow and Ricky 2, weighing in on their conversation in rare but welcome intervals.

It was five minutes past 1900h when an older woman with straight, light brown hair entered the room. The smile on her face looked rehearsed, though not fake. As she stood at the front of the room with her arms behind her back, the small bit of conversation there was died down.

‘Hello,’ she began. ‘You all must be the Sky High cohort. I can’t communicate how happy I am to see you all. I hope you’re excited to be here.’

Snow glanced at Ricky 2. It appeared he was already checked out, looking at something behind his Lenses. It was never possible to tell for 100% sure, but there was always a pretty obvious spaciness in people’s eyes when they were tuned into their Augmented Reality.

‘For those of you who may not know, I am Aubrey Daskus, the president and founder of the University of New Idaho, and I’m the one who invited you here today,’ the old woman at the front continued. ‘You may call me Aubrey—I will take it for granted that you respect me, and if you do not, well, as you can surmise, I have a very close relationship with the admissions office.’ Daskus smiled at Ricky 2, who didn’t even seem to notice.

‘Now, you have all been selected to come here because, why?’

Camille raised her hand. ‘Because our parents work for Lucid Labs.’

‘That’s right,’ said Daskus. ‘And why do you think I would want to invite the children of Lucid Labs to tour the University.’

Camille spoke up without raising her hand this time. ‘Because you know our parents can afford tuition.’

Aubrey smiled and continued without a beat. ‘What is your name?’

‘Camille.’

‘Well, Camille, you are very smart. That is certainly an important factor to consider when running a college. To pay for all this research, the money has to come from somewhere. But there’s more to it than that. Back when New Idaho was founded—does anybody know when that was?’

‘2026.’

‘That’s right. What was your name?’

‘Simon Simmons.’

‘Yes, that’s right, Simon. I promise, I’ll learn all your names by the end of this little talk.’ She winked. ‘But, yes, that’s right. New Idaho was founded in 2026, and the original two enterprises to be included on this land were Lucid Labs, and this University right here.

‘Because of that, you might not be surprised to learn that Lex Lucid and I were, and are, quite close friends. As I said, I know Lex quite well, and I know that he only chooses to employ the best talent he can find. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m expecting you all to be straight A students. It does mean, however, that you come from a pool of talent. Because of this, I wanted to show you all around the best learning center New Idaho has to offer.

‘Now, how many of you have been north of the Greta Barn Jungle before?’ Marshall’s and Simon’s hands went into the air. ‘Mmm, yes. 20%. About what I expected,’ Aubrey continued. ‘It is uncommon for many families to travel up here. It tends to be the “college town” portion of the city. I’m not surprised this is a first time for many of you. How exciting! And how many of you have been to the Greta Barn Jungle?’ A few more hands went up. ‘Excellent. It’s quite beautiful, is it not? And quite mysterious. You know, when I first moved here, there was a large patch of grassland here, but no Jungle. Then, before we knew it, by the early ‘30s, the Jungle was here! I guess that means it’s been here most of your lives, but believe me when I say that this Jungle is a veritable miracle. And many of you may not know this, but Greta Barn was in one the first graduating classes of Environmental Studies doctoral students who witnessed the growth of the forest. Some might even say she was part of the group who caused it.' Aubrey gave another wink. This constant winking was starting to make Snow uncomfortable.

Carlton spoke up: 'So they did cause it?'

Aubrey looked at him and shrugged. 'I was quite busy starting up the University at that point. I wasn't really poking my head around the environmental studies department.

'Regardless, Greta was part of one of the greatest research cohorts we had at the University. She pioneered much of the Jungle Study that we are still doing here. It's because of this that you will see her name all over campus. Unfortunately, she's moved on by now, I believe to somewhere in South America, but her legacy, certainly, lives on.'

Aubrey could tell the students were starting to get restless. Of course, she could go on about the college forever. But she had to rap this thing up. 'Anyway,' she continued, starting her conclusion, 'You'll find that Ms. Barn was not the only notable Alumnus to graduate from the University of New Idaho. Nathan Habernick, the inventor of Clubhouse, which I know you all use, graduated from here. Many notable Lucid Lab employees graduated from here. And more, whom I'm sure you will learn about on the tour tomorrow.

'For now, however, I imagine you have all had quite a long day. Why don't we go over the schedule for tomorrow, yes?' A couple odd nods from around the meeting room. 'Okay. Tomorrow, we will be meeting down here at 0900h for a tour of the University. Breakfast is between 0730h and 0830h. Lunch will be at noon. In the afternoon, we will have some activities with student clubs, then we will have a ceremonious dinner together before going to bed for the night. On Sunday, of course, you return home.

'Okay. Now, before we part, I would like to take a short bit of time to learn the rest of your names!' Aubrey went around the circle, quickly learning everyone’s names. After that, she introduced them to a nondescript girl named Sarah, a fellow University student training to be an RA. Sarah briefly introduced herself, notified them of the rules and lights-out policy, then led them up to their dorm rooms.

There were about two hours before lights-out, and Sarah had thoughtfully put board games and ice-breaker ideas in the common room that separated the boys’ and girls’ sections. Snow peeked his head into the common room a few times to see if anyone was taking advantage of the situation, but the only ones using the space were Natalie and Marshall, who had really hit it off talking about ROTC and their shared love of hunting and cage-fights.

Snow was a little disappointed that nobody was really hanging out together. He knew it was only a weekend, but he had been looking forward to developing some sort of bond with those who had come out on this trip with him. This was what he had always imagined college to be—a place where you could make those bonds like you did at summer camp. He wondered if this was, instead, what college would be like: Everyone keeping to themselves and doing their own thing, making it impossible to find other friends.

Of course, it wasn’t like Snow was being very proactive. He had only peeked his head out. He hadn’t stayed out there himself, or knocked on any doors to see if anyone wanted to hang out. As Snow realized this and recognized that this was one of only two nights he had this opportunity, he felt a wave of sadness wash over him. Was he blowing this chance? Was he not living this unique experience to his fullest?

Oh, well, he thought, he would just resign himself to the company of Ricky 2 for the night. Maybe the following day would be a day for friends.

Bedtime topics with Ricky 2, as usual, verged on the grotesque and shocking. Perhaps it would have been enjoyable for those who weren’t used to Ricky 2’s company, but Snow had tired himself out on his neighbor’s shock tactics years ago. Eventually, they brushed their teeth and headed off to bed.

‘Hey, Snow?’ Ricky 2 said after they turned off the light.

‘Yeah?’

‘What do you think would happen if we traded Lucidities tonight?’

‘Um…’

‘Do you think I would dream your dreams?’

‘I don’t think it works like that. It would probably just download your dreams onto my device.’

‘Do you want to try it?’

‘Maybe not tonight.’

‘Tomorrow?’

‘I’ll think about it.’

‘I think it could be fun!’

‘I’ll think about it.’

‘You’re right. You might not be able to handle seeing my dreams!’

And with that, the conversation ended, and Snow went to sleep on a college campus for the first time in his life.

23.  Visit to UNI, Day 2

23. Visit to UNI, Day 2

21.  Imaginary Friend

21. Imaginary Friend

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