20 - The Dean

Alden found the Dean in her office. It was on the floor above the atrium, facing the expansive garden grounds. It was a grand office, massive, airy, and well lit. Her windows, seeming small from the outside of the gargantuan building, were floor-to-ceiling. In past times, her, well, pastime was to spend hours here, gazing at her brood of faculty and students. She had liked to keep on the lookout for academic and behavioral transgressions. She had imagined her students were grateful for her benevolent gaze, though they’d never mentioned it.

Today she looked haunted. Dwarfed by the size of the room. This look was quite contrary to during his student days; back then she’d filled the space with her presence.

In fact, when he had barged past the faculty minions, he’d found they’d set up a half-hearted barricade. The underling at the front desk had been making noise about interrupting her while she was under the weather, as he trundled ever so rudely past, still a walking hangover. “She ruminates” winced another, raising her voice so the dean could ostensibly hear, “we await her splendid guidance”

The glassy eyed office minions had seemed incapable of any further rational thoughts on the matter, preferring instead to cower behind desks at the sight of a powerful man such as himself, so he had forged ahead. He always had to find the answers by himself, such was the burden of an industrialist of note.

Seeing the Dean now, Alden had a nagging suspicion she'd been ‘ruminating’ since the last time he’d seen her, about two years back. He raised his eyes skyward and prayed she’d at least had a bathroom in her office. He’d splintered a pair of antique visitor’s chairs upon his rather physical entrance to the room. They had been antique Tobba wood, from the jungles outside Sodden. A true collector’s travesty. Normally, this would be a grave offence. But the Dean was just staring ahead, hollow eyed.

He took in the wide room, catching his breath from all the barging around. It smelled like sweat and burnt electrics, though there was an outside chance that that was him. He’d not showered for some time.

The Dean was tapping something repeatedly on her rollscreen, which would reply an error-like tone after a few seconds.

She would then mimic the message that Alden could see in reverse, from behind the clear auxiliary screen she had in front of her.

“Good luck with your future endeavours.”

He felt he was a bit out of his depth here. Did the Academy have an HR department? Normally he eschewed mental health leave, on grounds that anxious contract labourers worked faster and harder, but this was something beyond a level he was comfortable with.

The Dean had ripped apart one of her terminals. She'd wrapped some wires around her head like a crown. Pieces were arranged on the floor in some sort of pagan symbol. She’d painted lines under her eyes, straight down, with some sort of paste.

He ventured a “Hello”.

“It’s gone,” she moaned, “It’s all gone, they’re gone”

“O” he said, his mouth making the same shape.

She gestured to the terminal. Some sanity seemed to creep back in from wherever it had been vacationing. “It broke, I couldn’t fix it, I tried everything. Even Strange Magics,” she lamented further. “It had everything. I’ve lost it all. It’s all gone.”

Alden worried, and queried, “What’s gone?”

“They are, Alden, the Alovians. All their data. Everything ”

The mysterious benefactors that he relied upon for all his earthly accomplishments. Perfect.

She continued to snivel. “I had all of their data, in this terminal. But now it’s gone, and they’re gone, and nothing will work anymore.”

Ah. The documents and blueprints and help documents and previous iterations, the building blocks that explained their technology, that the industrialists would need to understand to even attempt a rebuild if ever it came to that - gone. Perfect.

He ventured hopefully: “Have they gone, er permanently?”

She shrugged sadly, “If I had known they’d leave, I’d have backed it up better”

“Don’t look at me like I’m crazy” she said, from underneath the crown of wires and war-paint, “I’m not a computer person, you know.” She collapsed backward in her chair, theatrically again, but this time, Alden thought, completely warranted.

I am a man of ruthless business, he thought. He felt like a man of ruthless business should be disgusted at her lack of foresight, and her descent back into gibbering nonsense. A man of ruthless business should feel compelled to leave and investigate the disappearance of, when extrapolated, his livelihood. Truthfully, he just felt distrubed and worried. But resolved to do what his mental image of a man of ruthless business might do. It was him, with a squarer jaw and a rock-solid combover.

He knew these benefactors resided in some fashion, or had resided, in the complex high above the falls. He’d heard from the Director of the M&G Conglomerate, his then aspirational lover, about some sort of a delicate re-supply arrangement, and her predecessor’s records of occasional contact with the so-called Alovians. Even these lines had been idle recently, she’d whispered warily during their last conversation. And that would have been about two years ago - so idle for quite some time now. He wished fervently he had thought more upon her leaving, but he had felt rejected at the time and quickly moved onto his next target for love and social capital. Though he had known better to question the dean at that time, and he supposed it would have brought upon the same headache that he had today, just earlier.

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