Editor’s Note: The following short story was written by and republished with the permission of J. Robert Lennon, an associate professor in Cornell’s Department of English and the author of several acclaimed novels.
You can read some of Lennon’s other writing in The New Yorker here or follow him on Twitter here.
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Written by J. Robert Lennon:
One of Cornell’s in-house magazines asked me, along with other scholars from various fields, to contribute to a series of short pieces that answered the question, “What do you think Cornell will be like in 2065?” The project is intended to celebrate Cornell’s sesquicentennial this year. My response, which follows, was politely rejected.
It’s May 2065, and Cornell’s Dean of Nonlitigable Revelry is angry. She is perched on the observation deck that looks over what, by now, is supposed to have been Cascadilla Flats; instead she gazes upon a ragged ten-thousand-year-old eyesore: the old gorge, naked and exposed.
For three years, a team of Maintenance Deans have been laying pipe for the creek to run through, and they are behind schedule. The gorge has been re-routed and infilled from Caygua Street all the way up the hill: but the part that runs through campus remains incomplete. There is no way the Maintenance Deans will be finished before Donor Fabrication Day.
The NonRev Dean blinks her right eye three times, activating her retinal communicator. After a moment, the Assistant Dean of Holes, Cracks, and Unsightly Irregularities appears in her field of vision. She can’t keep the anger out of her voice as she says, “Jaden, you told me this would be finished.”
“I’m sorry, Kaylee,” he replies, his necktie automatically loosening itself as he grows more nervous. “This goes all the way to the Sub-Provost for Predictive Fiscal Misfortune. He insists the project will be complete.”
“In two weeks,” counters the NonRev Dean, “we’ll be graduating more than five thousand Deans of Learning. Their Deans of Tuition Remittage will be traveling from all over the world to cheer them on. We cannot have a Loss-Threatening Incident.”
“It seems unlikely, Dean, that any Learning Deans or Remittance Deans will get close to the gorge. Most Learning Deans don’t even get out of bed for class anymore. The last few Loss-Threatening Incidents have involved Junior Teachy Dudes.”
“I don’t care about the Teachy Dudes!” the NonRev Dean roars.
“Well, no,” the HCUI Dean replies, with a chuckle. “But don’t worry — rumor has it the Deantuplets have come up with a solution.”
The Deantuplets, a quintet of clones lab-grown from hairs found on a comb once owned by Andrew Dickson White, have been floating in synthetic amniotic fluid for twenty years in an anonymous white building on Cornell’s Administrative Studies campus on the moon, outputting new innovations intended to make Cornell a Cognition Leader into the 22nd century and beyond. They are known for having solved the Accidental Library Erasure of 2037, the Teachy Dude Uprising of 2042, and the Unauthorized Power-Down of 2055. Some Deaniversity members don’t believe they exist. The NonRev Dean, however, knows better.
“Of course,” she whispers, reverently. “The Deantuplets!”
And now, as though she has summoned them, their image appears in the air before her, flickering over the gorge. They’re arranged like a pinwheel, naked, fingers intertwined, shaved heads almost, but not quite, touching. They spin, faster and faster, drawing light into their bodies, ejecting it in blinding flashes. The NonRev Dean shields her eyes as the HCUI Dean’s image freezes on her eyescreens.
“They’re…slowing…down…time…” she croaks, and beneath her, Maintenance Deans swarm, at impossible speeds, laying corrugated pipe and loading the gorge with fill. Entire seasons flash by as the land is leveled and trees grow. And with a gasp, the NonRev Dean faints dead away.
Two weeks later, the Deans of HCUI and NonRev sit in the brilliant sunshine of Donor Fabrication Day, cheering for the Deans of All Done Learning Now. Below them, in their tent village, the Teachy Dudes issue their Compulsory Congratulatory Utterances.
“We owe the Deans of Meteorology some thanks for this beautiful commencement,” says HCUI.
“And our five floating friends!” NonRev says, with a knowing glance at Cascadilla Flats.
They both laugh, as the band strikes up “Far Above Cayuga Basin.”