Campus Utqiaġvik

“And to wrap up — I thank the entire Campus Utqiaġvik for supporting me the past 20 years. The Circumpolar Campus Alliance is our path forward. Together, with our partners, we can lead the world toward a more hopeful, peaceful, and just future.”

Edna paused outside the grocery store, as she smiled at the recording taken a few hours earlier, and then mouthed along silently with her own words, “The project of democracy and education are the same project.” She smiled. This was a good speech. She focused back to the present, and swiftly stepped aside as a group of laughing kids ran past, followed closely by a nanny drone.

The doors to the grocery slid open and Edna felt relief as the humidity disappeared in a cool blast.

She stepped into the store, and then out of the way, to continue watching the last moments of her departure speech “I am confident that your new Chancellor, Dr. Evelyn Wilhelm, will lead Campus Utqiaġvik deftly into the 22nd century.” Edna rolled her eyes, at her own politicking. “Moreover, I am grateful to be leaving my post under such a steady hand.” Grudgingly, Edna admitted that Evelyn was a fantastic choice, and that Campus Utqiagvik could not do much better. But still.

As the applause lifted in the recording, she tapped out of her feed, and noticed a man’s trolley was getting away from him, and was about to tip to the side. She quickly lifted up the sagging corner, and smacked the top with her palm. The repulsors coughed in monotone static as they kicked back in, and the hover trolley righted itself. “Thank you!” said the man who was coaxing a sleeping infant back to sleep. “Oh! Chancellor!” said the man, surprised.

Former Chancellor.” Edna smiled. “Just ‘Edna’ these days.” The man chuckled nervously.

“Unless you’re one of my students!” She squinted an eye, and pointed at the man. “Then it’s Dr. Edna” she laughed. This time, the man laughed too.

“Have a goodnight, Chanc— Edna.” The man passed outside into the late afternoon heat. Edna tapped a new trolly, and it hummed slowly up, alongside her.

Walking down the produce aisle, Edna saw that peaches were finally in season, and went to reach for one.

“Chancellor?” Edna turned around to see Press Secretary Earl Fechhelm. “It’s good to see you,” said Earl.

“Secretary Fechhelm, it’s great to see you too. And remember — just Edna now” she smiled warmly. “I’m surprised you’re here, I thought you’d still be at the gala?”

“No, my mother is ill,” said Earl, “so I’m bringing her some soup on my way home. Well it was —”

They both started as their Feed’s chime with an emergency alert, nobody else appeared to notice, but Edna and Earl both glazed as they accessed their feeds. The Secretary of Labor had sent a briefing on the ongoing worker strike at the protein synthesis plant. The negotiation between the union and the government had reached a critical point, and the government administration was being notified in case there were any disruptions.

Earl is surprised to see that Edna was included in the update. Edna noticed — and thinks to herself “Damn right you still need this woman.”

The briefing continued “…Finally, given the transition in Chancellor leadership, we have included both the incoming and outgoing administrations. We will keep you updated. Roberts out.” Edna blinked, and looked at Earl.

“You might be a bit busier tonight than you expected,” said Edna. Earl let out a long sigh.

“That’s interesting”, thinks Edna. “I wonder whether he has what it takes to do this job day in and day out.” Her mind wanders to thinking of how tumultuous the past 50 years have been for Campus Utqiaġvik. The failure of the Federal government, then the collapse of state authority… In Alaska, at least, only the Native Corporations had the infrastructure — both human and physical — to persist. Then, the rise of the polar university city-states, and … ah. Edna realized she had mentally wandered off a bit.

Edna waved as Earl said a goodbye, and quickly began speaking to his new Team. Edna moved on to get those newly delivered peaches. Edna heard a buzz in her Feed, and saw an alert that the Secretary of Food Security had sent a new message to the list… She realized that she might need to remind the powers-that-be that she should be kept out of the loop now. Strange that. Had Edna sought a third term, it would have been possible, but…. No. While she was distracted, apparently on reflex, Edna had already punched in a brief message about the ongoing negotiations to her counterparts in Inuit Nunangat, in case there were unforeseen challenges in food distribution in the coming weeks. She caught herself, and laughed. As she deleted the message, she saw Earl walking back toward her.

“Hi Chancel— sorry, Edna — While you’re here, do you have any comments that you would like to add to the press release?” Edna smiled, and considered how quickly the correct words swirled into her mind. “We must protect the community we have built, and the entire Alaskan family. This includes protecting workers rights and fair wages, across Campus Utqiagvik. Indeed the nature of our unique civic and educational project is people, not profit.” Blah blah blah. She smiled, and the words in her mind disappeared. “Thanks Earl, you can say “The Former Chancellor is fully confident in the new administration.” Edna smiled wide, and Earl looked pleased. He thanked Edna as he carefully carried a large bulb of chicken soup to the exit.

That, Edna thought, was actually the truth. She looked down at her empty cart and realized that all she really wanted anyway was a frozen pizza, a large bulb of wine, and to watch a good movie tonight. So she kept the two peaches she already grabbed, and walked to the frozen food aisle. She fished out her favorite brand of inexpensive frozen veggie pizza, and a bulb of her favorite, though very expensive, Athabascan wine. When she reached the exit, she heard a chirp in her Feed and the flash of her receipt.

As the sun disappeared, the humidity had dissipated and the outside air was cool on her face. The rotating sigil of Campus Utqiagvik appeared in her Feed. Apparently the press release had been sent out already. Her instinct was to read it, but instead, she archived it, looked out at the city around her, and sighed contentedly. The markers of the past half century were clear. The husks of the abandoned oil refineries and processing plants had been turned into public art exhibitions — and even a kids playpark — though she’ll never understand how people can actually play on those repulsor fields. The strange floodable buildings with adaptive foundations, the permafrost melt canals, and the too-warm air. The future of Campus Utqiagvik was in good hands, and thankfully they weren’t hers’ any longer.

Edna smiled as she walked home.