My Best Friend is a Prince from Another Worldby
Pt. I, Ch 9A: “This isn’t an easy place for a bright but unmotivated student”
Sat, August 29
Manhattan, NYC, and City of Feldaren
I was starting to get used to coming into the city to the Federal Building; the exam had been here, as had a long meeting with my parents, Delgado, and Dormer. They hadn’t agreed on the spot, and I think half thought this was a hoax, but after sleeping on it, they’d agreed - although they were coming with Joel and I for the weekend to help us move in, and to see the other world for themselves.
So today, Joel’s family and mine were both here at the Federal Building; I was surprised that my brother had wanted to come, but even he was along. This was a regular opening of the gate, but they’d somehow arranged for the gate to reopen briefly on Sunday evening, so our families would be able to stay the night.
Unlike the first time through, I’d thought to bring a camera, a very basic autofocus SLR I’d bought freshman year with birthday money and then I’d kind of lost interest in. I had it, a couple of books, and my laptop in my backpack; the rest of my things, including my bike, had gone into the same moving truck that had Joel’s and would come through later today after us.
Hull and Delgado met us in the lobby of the building and escorted us to the sub-basement level I’d gotten familiar with by then. The whole thing, I think, became real for my folks when they saw the gate. “I’ve been wondering about this,” my dad asked of Hull while we waited for Oliver to show up and give us the all-clear to enter, “but how does this possibly not violate conservation of matter?”
“That’s a good question,” said Hull. “We’ve had physicists analyze this, and it shouldn’t be possible. We’ve asked the folks on the other side of the gate, and their only explanation is ‘it’s magic.’”
“From what you’ve said, we have to accept that it’s real in their world,” said my dad, “but surely there’s no such thing as magic on our side?”
Oliver heard the end of that exchange from the other side of the gate, and spoke before Hull could reply, “That’s one of the odd things about your world; from what we’ve seen most habitable worlds the gate connects to have at least some magic. Yours has none, or at least undetectably little.”
My dad shook his head. Oliver indicated we should go through, so we did. When we’d gathered on the other side, he indicated, “My apologies, but with so much more traffic lately we have had to put some customs procedures in place, and it appears that someone has brought through a banned item.”
A man and a woman in the uniform of the brotherhood had been discreetly pointing what looked like wands at us as we came through, and the man had waved his hand to Oliver. Oliver walked over to him, spoke quietly, and then returned to us. “It’s not very precise with a large group, but someone’s brought tobacco.”
My mother was the first to react, saying to my dad, “David, you said you’d quit!”
“I did,” said my dad, “it’s been years.”
I gave a nasty glance at my brother. My folks noticed. “Samuel Clemens Berg, your brother had better not be right,” said my mom. That was her habit when angry with one of us, and my folks had given us each a mouthful, although I’d always thought I’d gotten it worse - my folks had given me the middle name “Aurelius.” Names like that were the perils being the kids of hardcore academics, I suppose.
My brother gave a hand shrug, and then to Oliver he said, “OK, you caught me, officer!” and produced a pack out of his pocket.
The man who had been scanning us took it from him, and said, “Don’t worry, sir. You can have them back when you return through the gate.”
“He most certainly can NOT,” said my mom. “Please destroy those – and trust me, he’ll be in trouble for this.”
“Of course, Mrs. Berg, that’s your privilege as his mother,” said the man who’d scanned him. “From our side, it’s enough that they weren’t brought through.”
It occurred to me when we’d toured previously, I hadn’t noticed anyone smoking. It’s a foul habit, and I made a mental note to ask one of our hosts whether this meant that somehow this world didn’t have tobacco.
After another brief round of introductions, we headed outside, and for a moment my heart sank - a short and very mundane looking train sat on the track just outside the Gate building. Fortunately, on the other side of it was another flying carriage, to my relief given my parents’ remaining skepticism, and unsurprisingly, Joel’s sister April was over the moon to get to fly in one again.
We were met by Legatus Matsumoto from the foreign ministry, who was already on board. Everyone was there from our prior trip, and even with the addition of my parents and brother, we had plenty of room to stretch out - I took pictures this time and went back afterwards and counted nine rows besides the pilots', for a seating capacity of 36. The flight was as smooth and quiet as I remembered, and I kept busy taking pictures. Most of our group were quiet, but April and Joel’s father spent a little bit of the flight up front talking to the pilot, while my dad spoke to Oliver in a long discussion of the influences of Roman culture on their world.
Unlike the prior trip, we did not approach downtown, instead landing south along the river near the school. This time, only the two families - Joel's and mine - left the carriage, followed by Dormer and Morgan - the two of them would be responsible for Joel’s security going forward. The rest of the group remained on the carriage and being able to see one of these take off outside of it confirmed that they were just as quiet from the outside.
We were supposed to wait for a bus, but my mom had asked the distance, and after hearing that it would be a ten-minute walk, put her foot down. It was still early, and the weather was mild so far, although my memory of being here in May was that it would warm up quite a bit - I was not looking forward to the days when a full uniform was called for.
The school entrance was not entirely empty; it was a little before 8AM, but a few students filtered in with us, and most noticeably a group of girls in workout clothes who crossed our path just inside the main entrance. We were not greeted at the gate as before, but Dormer knew where to go, and the administration building was hard to miss on the way in. We were met there by the office assistant to the upper and lower school Deans. She let us know that we were early, and that Dean Jerdew would be with us shortly.
When the Dean came out to meet us, after greetings and brief introductions with my parents, he invited Joel and Joel’s folks into his office. They were in for maybe half an hour, while I talked to my folks about the classes I planned to take and got chided by my mom for completely neglecting the literature of this new world, no matter that it hadn’t been mandatory for the entrance exam and was perhaps my least favorite subject in school.
When they were done, I was very much surprised to be called in alone. The Dean’s office was nicer than the NY public school principal’s offices I’d been in, but this very much felt like being called in for having done something wrong.
“Good morning, Mr. Berg,” he said. There was a file sitting open on his desk; I thought I spotted my test scores, a copy of my high school’s transcript, and a photo they’d taken of me the day I took the exam.
“Good morning, Dean Jerdew,” I said, hoping I had the right way to address him.
He indicated to sit, and then said, “Congratulations on your exam performance. We don’t take many transfer students, and you and your friend both did extremely well. There were only three transfers this year who scored well enough to come in on scholarships. Having said that, I have questions for you that I thought you would answer more candidly without your parents here.”
He waited for me, and after I nodded, he continued. “This whole situation is odd, and while I’ve been given the official story of why you are here, can you tell me why you chose to attend here this year?”
“Mr. Hull, from our government, encouraged me to apply at the same time Joel did, but at the time, I wasn’t interested,” I said. “A close friend of mine died over the summer, and I really need to get away from things at home for a while. Joel is one of my only other friends, so I’m glad it was possible to take the exam so late.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said, “and it was possible to take the exam so late because we’re responsive to requests from our foreign ministry. I’m certain there’s more to all of this than just encouraging trade with your side of the gate,” and here he paused for a moment looking at me very closely. Then he continued, “but if you know about what else is going on there, I suppose you are smart enough not to say anything about it.”
I shrugged. “Thanks. I think,” I said, and when he said nothing further, I asked him “You said you had more than one question?”
“Yes. I don’t know what to make of your transcript. We pride ourselves on admissions purely based on testing, and it’s not that unusual to get students whose prior academic records aren’t as strong as their test scores.
“It is unusual to see those students do well enough to get a scholarship. I was really surprised to see your grades. Aside from your average, the distribution is odd. Having a bimodal distribution isn’t odd in itself, we see top students who excel in the humanities who have difficulties with math, or vice versa, but many of your best and worst grades are distributed among the same subjects.
“Some of what the counselor from your school wrote seems to be related to that, but I wanted to hear from you why you thought that your grades varied so highly.”
He stopped there, waiting for me.
After a moment, I decided to just answer honestly, as I saw it. “I think you’ll see that I did better overall last year, right? Anyway, I’ve had a hard time getting homework and papers done on time, or sometimes at all. A lot of what you see there, I think, is how much weight that particular teacher put on other work vs. exams, and how many points I lost for handing in papers late. It probably says there that 65 is the minimum passing grade? I’m fairly sure that the 68s I’ve gotten are pretty much their way of saying ‘He did well on all the exams, so I can’t really fail him outright.’”
The Dean looked disappointed. “That’s a bit more specific than your counselor was, but it amounts to about the same. This isn’t an easy place for a bright but unmotivated student, especially so far away from your parents and support network. I can’t make you get extra support, but we want our students to be successful here, and I hope you’ll take advantage of resources outside of class if you’ve had difficulties in the past.”
I didn’t have a good answer for that, so I just replied, “Yes, sir,” and waited for him. He started getting up, and when I started to stand, he waved me to sit down. “I’ll get your parents now.”
The rest of the meeting mostly discussed my electives and class placement. The class was still to be determined - although he let us know that they would do their best to place Joel and I in the same class, as we’d both requested. There was also a warning that I was taking the sciences in the wrong order, if I chose to stay for my last year - the prior year at home, I had taken AP computer science as my elective. At my school in NY, most folks took chemistry as their science class in 10th grade, something that was true here for students in the science honors track as well. I could take physics with the rest of my class, but unlike my old school where only one or the other science beyond biology was required, I would need to take chemistry to graduate. I planned to go back home after this year, so it didn’t worry me, but he warned me that I’d be taking it as a third year in a class full of younger students if I stayed.
- California, USA
Bio: Amateur SF/fantasy writer. Professional computer geek. Something of a grouchy old man, but mostly harmless.