May 29, 2022 5:24 AM
Julian rescues Naima from Paris
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Julia is in a deep green shoulderless cocktail dress with an enormous bow on the back, and has a terrier yapping eagerly at her heels. "The guest of honor!" she says cheerily when she gets the door. "Did you ever meet Annaka, she was a senior our freshman year..."

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"I don't think I did – it's good to meet you. And Trisket!" Julian has heard a lot about Trisket. Somewhat less about Annaka. 

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"He hasn't forgotten me! I was worried he would forget me."

       "We showed him your picture every day," says Julia's mother, rounding the corner from the kitchen. 

"You - oh my god, Mom. Did you also wear a hair shirt like a medieval monk. - this is my mom, Lucy, class of '71." 

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First challenge of the evening! If Julia introduced her mother as Lucy, that probably means she wants to be called Lucy, but Julian is Chinese enough that the idea of calling an unrelated adult by their given name makes him want to light himself on fire. 

"It's lovely to meet you – thanks for inviting me into your home."

He can just get through the rest of the evening without directly referring to Julia's parents! This is fine. He's got this. 

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"It's lovely to meet you too!" she says cheerfully. "Thank you for getting our Julie home safely. Dinner's from La Grenouille, it should be ready in about ten minutes, both of you are so thin -"

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"Mom if you were planning to badger me into gaining weight you should've told me that before I replaced my entire wardrobe! I would have ignored you, but still!"

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"There's a new study that came out, that found the metabolically optimal body size for mana generation doesn't vary all that much person to person and it's, well, not 'could be a model' -"

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"Do you know what I literally never have to think about again, the metabolically optimal body size for mana generation."

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"Oh no, I have terrible news to break you about where New York's mana comes from."

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"Oh I know that! It comes from Orion and we're all very appreciative.

- we, uh, didn't build mana at school."

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This isn't news to Julian but it is news to her family, all of whom look appalled. 

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To be fair, that was also Julian's first reaction. But you can't argue with the results, which are that Julia is alive, and the rest of her cohort is alive, and he's sitting here at an apartment in New York about to eat something he can neither recognize or pronounce but which certainly smells delicious. 

To Annaka – "Is the study on adults or adolescents? Obviously it's more useful to know about teenagers, but harder to get good data –" 

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"Yeah, they just did it on twenty-somethings. Hoping for applicability for kids, I'm sure, but it's really only one step up from doing it in mice. I know there's a group in India that's pitched a study where they take a bunch of slotless indies, keep 'em in an enclave, measure all kinds of things while they grow up, but while no one can really argue it's unethical no one wants to touch it with a ten foot pole. - the use case for all this is changing the nutrient balance in the food, right."

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Slotless indies have a better chance inside an enclave than out of one. Still not great, but maybe almost as good as they would have had in the Scholomance. And it's a very enclaver way of thinking to let the marginal child die so as to avoid the appearance of guilt, but there are things one doesn't discuss in mixed company. 

"I'm not sure it makes sense to worry about optimizing body mass when getting students enough calories isn't a fully solved problem. And I'm not sure how they'd plan to normalize weight retention in growing teenagers – there's probably something alchemical for it, but I think it's actually pretty hard for the school to generate alchemical products autonomously – it could be interesting, but it doesn't sound like a high priority intervention." 

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"So the idea is that kids will eat more if you get the balance right, that our weight-regulation systems are slightly thrown off and that's why it's so hard to get enough calories into them. I don't know that I buy it but I don't totally disbelieve it, I observe that Julia's year had Orion going ahead of the rest of New York in the food line and she's still a stick."

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"Oh, okay, that makes more sense – is there a reason they couldn't just test the formula on mundie kids? It's not magical in itself, and wizard kids probably don't have weird metabolisms."  

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       "Why didn't you build mana at school?" Lucy is saying to Julia, appalled. "That's - so dangerous - we taught you better -"

"We all made it out," Julia says. "We even got Rebecca out. Orion's just better at generating mana, it was worth it just to have everyone else study and make sure he got enough food."

        "The kids in Teddy's year are going to have terrible habits -"

"We didn't tell them they didn't need to build mana."

         "But they learn by example!"

"I don't think they're idiots, they know how much comes in and how much goes out each month, they'll figure it out."

          

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"That's not a bad idea," Annaka says to Julian. "Wizard kids move a lot more but you could figure out an approximately equivalent number of hours a day of sports. - Dad, can we take over, like, a regular high school cafeteria - or I guess it'd have to be a boarding school -"

 

"They smuggle food in," a man's voice calls from the other room. He walks in a second later. "We did try it, a couple of decades ago, and it turns out high school kids eating only cafeteria food and supplies from, quote, a 'weird ass vending machine' hate it and the most enterprising one walks a couple miles every week to the nearest gas station to bring back thirty pounds of candy."

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Of course they tried it.

"So the other half of this is keeping mals out of the food and I think that might be easier to address – the whole warding system is inefficient right now, since it was optimized for just 1600 kids and it doesn't increase its mana intake linearly on the other 4800. I was looking at the notes from the 1950 expansion team and it looks like they assumed it would be able to and didn't prioritize it, and I think what happened then is that the rest of us never got fully integrated into the school's self-concept. It's smart, it knows we're there, but it gets confused, right – so, on the one hand, it's legitimately stretched thin, but it's also spending proportionately more than it sources and fixing that would at least make a dent. And I think I could – add new ward anchors in a few key places and update some of the language – actually, instead of having all the excess mana from the food enchantment system flow downwards into the lower-level wards, you could just have it circulate in the cafeteria's local warding system, that's more efficient anyway – " 

Oh no. He's lecturing. These people are New York, he doesn't need to tell them what their own expansion team said. They know this stuff. 

"....Uh. I'm Julian Chan. Thank you for having me over." 

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Julia's dad is smiling warmly at him. "Our pleasure. Is that what you want to work on, then? We're probably fifteen, twenty years out from the next round of revisions but in many ways that's the perfect time to dive in."

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"Yes! That's why I wanted to join New York. I gloss my affinity as enclaves but I think it's really more like very large-scale extradimensional workings – and by sophomore year it was pretty obvious that the school was trying to give me the world's most complete education in Scholomance construction. I'm really looking forward to it."  

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"Well, we're delighted to have you. I don't work on the wards side myself but I know that figuring out how to get more protection out of the magic we have is something they spend a lot of time worrying over. Can I get you anything to drink? The restaurant sent recommended wine pairings, or Julia's been -"

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"He wants a Hong Kong milk coffee, transfigured not real at this hour so the caffeine doesn't keep him up." She gets some water out of the tap and makes him one with a verse of Italian.

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And even though he's just spent a week in real Hong Kong drinking the stuff by the bucket, she's right, he does. 

"Julia would always make drinks for us after our gym runs." And he really hopes she won't mention that he burst into tears after the first time because he'd really thought he was going to die without ever tasting real yuenyeung again. 

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