Melinda stood at the back of the Academy hall, surveying the empty seats. She’d lost a bit of weight over the term, but not so much that she couldn’t wear the same black trousers and white blouse she’d worn to her induction. She thought she was less confused than she had been then, although objectively the seating plan made less sense. She’d triple checked when she’d realised that she wasn’t supposed to sit in the row Bryony and the others were allocated to, but apparently the seating plan was just that weird.
“Seat B22 is this way,” Poly said, launching out of Melinda’s gown pocket.
“Oh yeah, I forgot you could look that stuff up.” Melinda ambled down the stairs after her mech. She frowned when they started crossing the front of the hall. The path finding algorithm should have chosen routes that crossed the back of the hall over crossing the front of the hall whenever possible, although she was early enough that it didn’t really matter.
“Here’s your seat, Melinda.” Poly perched on the back of a chair in the front row.
“No that can’t be right. B22 ought to be further back. This is –” Melinda checked the label at the front of the seat. “this is B22. Oh. Well that’s odd.” She sat down and swung her legs impatiently.
Students trickled in and a few minutes later Ken arrived and parked his hoverchair next to her seat at the end of the aisle. “I’m glad I’m not the only one here. I figured they’d given me a different seat from everyone else to handle the hoverchair, but maybe it’s more complicated than that.”
“I have no idea.” Melinda shook her head. “Nobody I asked is in this row, but I’m glad it’s not just me.”
Ken shrugged. “It’s not like it matters much. I’m just glad I know how to manoeuvre my chair around here by now. It was a lot more stressful last time we were in here.”
“Yeah, I remember that. You were even later than Jaxon.”
Ken laughed. “Did you know Jaxon was late for the robo-duelling awards last night? I’m pretty sure half the reason their captain called him out by name was to cover for the fact that he ended up sitting in the wrong place. Not that he didn’t deserve it.”
“I think he would’ve been called out anyway. He kind of won that last match single-handedly. But it sounds awfully convenient for him. We’ll get him next year, though!”
“Don’t they scramble all your teams next year anyway?”
“Yeah, technically. But it hasn’t happened yet.” Melinda shrugged.
“Like eggs?” Poly asked.
“Huh?” Ken stared at the mech.
“Do they scramble all your teams like eggs?”
Ken looked even more confused.
“Has Bryony been giving you instructions?” Melinda took the mech from the back of her chair and put it on her knee where she could see it.
“And what instructions has Bryony been giving you?” Melinda rolled her eyes at Ken as the best apology she could manage while talking to the mech.
“Bryony said it was a good day to be as chirpy as I could. And chirpy is related to eggs!”
Melinda sighed dramatically. “Today is a good day to be a sober, well-behaved mech, Poly. You can be chirpy after we get up from here.”
“Does that happen to you often?” Ken asked Melinda.
“Once in a while. It’s happened less since we’ve been tiptoeing around Nieminen.”
“That figures. Oh, hello Quintessa.” Ken greeted the girl who had just arrived.
“Hello.” Quintessa didn’t have a chance to say more before one of the mathematicians was at the podium up front.
“Please rise for the academic procession.”
There was music as the red-robed mathematicians entered. Introductions followed. Chancellor Briggs gave a lecture on how wonderful the term gone had been. Melinda didn’t disagree, although experiencing it had been more interesting than hearing the chancellor talk about it. After that, there were awards to various students and staff members that seemed to go on and on. Melinda lost track of things a little until suddenly Quintessa was standing up next to her.
Chancellor Briggs was saying something about “the award for top first year student. Congratulations, Quintessa.” She pinned something onto Quintessa’s gown. Melinda cheered.
“Our next award is for the top project submitted by a first year student. This award goes to Kenneth Delaney.”
“Congrats,” Melinda whispered as Ken went up to the front to receive his pin.
“The top project award takes into consideration not only the standard of the scientific work done, which must be exceptional, but also the presentation of the work. I’m informed that this year especially it was highly competitive. Congratulations, Kenneth.” Melinda knew Bryony’s modelling project had got full marks in the end, so Ken’s must have been truly spectacular. He deserved that, given the ridiculous amount of effort he’d put into it.
“Finally, the Class Spirit award for the first year class. This award is chosen based on both recommendations from staff and student votes. This term’s Class Spirit awardee is Melinda Mirreme.”
Melinda blinked. She hadn’t even considered that possibility. She felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Well, go on,” Quintessa said.
Melinda stood up and walked to the podium in a daze.
“Congratulations, Melinda,” Chancellor Briggs said as she pinned the award to Melinda’s gown.
“If Melinda’s the class spirit, can I be the laboratory ghost?” Poly asked loudly.
Melinda felt the blood rushing to her face and ducked her head in shame. That Poly would do that in front of the whole Academy!
Somebody cheered — Melinda wasn’t sure if it was for her or for Poly — and then the applause took over for a few seconds while she walked back to her seat.
“What do you mean, I embarrassed you?” Bryony asked at the tea after the awards ceremony. “You must have noticed Poly was chirpy.”
Ken giggled. “She told it to behave until she stood up again. Didn’t think you were getting an award, did you?”
Melinda turned on Ken furiously. “Did you know?”
“Of course I didn’t know. I might’ve guessed, but I honestly didn’t think about the implications of the instruction until Poly started asking about ghosts.”
“You have to admit it was pretty funny,” Bryony said.
“It was horrible.”
“What was horrible?” Jaxon asked as he walked past. “Oh and congrats to both of you, by the way.”
“Yes, congratulations, Melinda and Kenneth.” Only Kelly Jean would have used Ken’s full name like that, but Melinda thought she meant it genuinely.
“Thanks, Kelly Jean and congrats on your guys’ award last night too,” Melinda said.
“Yeah, congrats, KJ.”
“Who?” Kelly Jean’s eyebrows shot up.
“Kelly Jean is a bit of a mouthful,” Bryony said. “Congrats either way.”
“Well, uh, thank you.” Kelly Jean drifted off into the crowd.
“I guess this is it,” Jaxon said. “At least for now.”
“Well, the holidays just mean lectures stop, right? We were doing cool stuff before we arrived here and we’ll carry on before we come back. I’m definitely not going to wait to give a certain mech some much-needed upgrades.”
“I guess.” Jaxon sounded wistful.
“We should meet up. Kaspar’s Koffee Bar is a good place. I’ll be there most afternoons, probably. Come meet up with me if you’re feeling homesick.” Melinda winked. “I could always use some better conversation than Poly’s.”
“My natural language algorithms can only produce conversation at the level received via input devices,” Poly said.
Author’s note: I’ll be taking a break over Christmas and while I focus on finishing my MSc thesis. I’ll start writing here again in 2016. Details of what remain to be decided (suggestions welcome). Merry Christmas!