Woroni is pleased to present a heart-wrenching excerpt from bestselling author Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Breaking Down (ANU Faculties)’:
“Bella, we’re cutting them.”
I took a deep breath. I thought I was prepared. But I still had to ask. “Why now? The damage it will do to our courses–”
“Bella, I don’t actually care about you and your peers.” ANU spoke the words slowly and precisely, its cold eyes on my face, watching as I absorbed what it was really saying. It looked away as it spoke again. “Of course, I’ll always love you… in a way. But what happened during COVID made me realize that it’s time for a change. Because I’m… tired of pretending to be something I’m not, Bella. I am not an institution invested in student welfare. I’ve let this go on much too long, and I’m sorry for that.”
“Don’t.” My voice was just a whisper now; awareness was beginning to seep through me, trickling like acid through my veins. “Don’t do this.”
“I would like to ask one favor, though, if that’s not too much,” it said.
“Anything,” I vowed, my voice faintly stronger.
“Don’t do anything reckless or stupid,” it ordered, no longer detached. “No protests, no petitions. You need to accept the economic reality. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
I nodded helplessly.
“And I’ll make you a promise in return,” it said. “I promise that this will be the last time you’ll see these staff members. They won’t come back. I won’t put you through anything like this again. You can go on with your life without any more interference from them. It will be as if they never existed.”
My knees must have started to shake, because the trees along Uni Ave were suddenly wobbling. I could hear the blood pounding faster than normal behind my ears. Its voice sounded farther away, even further than Menzies.
It smiled gently. “Don’t worry. You’re a student– your memory is no more than a sieve. Time heals all wounds for your kind. You’ll have something new to protest about soon enough.”
“And your memories?” I asked. It sounded like there was something stuck in my throat, like I was choking.
“Well” –it hesitated for a short second– “I won’t forget. But my kind… we’re very easily distracted. I’ve got the 2022 plan to double international student fees to work on.” It smiled; the smile was tranquil and it did not touch its eyes. It took a step away from me. “That’s everything, I suppose. We won’t bother you again.”
The plural caught my attention. That surprised me; I would have thought I was beyond noticing anything.
“The Arabic language staff aren’t coming back,” I realized. I don’t know how it heard me–the words made no sound–but it seemed to understand.
It shook its head slowly, always watching my face. “No. They’re all gone. I stayed behind to tell you goodbye.”
“What about in CECS? And the National Security staff?” My voice was blank with disbelief.
“They wanted to say goodbye, but I convinced them that a clean break would be better for you.”
I tried to breathe normally. I needed to concentrate, to find a way out of this nightmare.
“Goodbye, Bella,” it said in a quiet, condescending email tone.
There was a light, unnatural breeze. My eyes flashed open. The leaves on the trees around the Kambri lawn shuddered with the gentle wind of its passage.
It was gone, taking valued staff, the future of Australia’s tertiary education, and my heart with it.
‘Breaking Down’ will not be available at major booksellers as sales staff have been cut for economic efficiency. Just as future students may have to rely on self-guided learning, Woroni recommends our readers make up the plot in their heads and hope they’ve got it right.
Read the first in the series here
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