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The Rivals

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Nyssa Traken, a first year undergraduate in one of the top Physics and Astronomy departments in the country, turned a corner in the Newman Building and heaved a long sigh.

'No need to look so miserable,' said the dark-haired girl leaning against the wall outside Lecture Room 63B. 'You'll give me a complex if you react like that every time you see me.'

'It's not you that I mind,' said Nyssa. 'It's just that if you're here it means they've done it again.'

'Afraid so,' the girl, whose name was Ace, shrugged. 'They've been doing it since I was a first year, you get used to it. That's why almost everyone turns up five minutes late, they don't want to get dragged into it.'

'Why do you arrive early, then?' Nyssa asked.

Ace grinned. 'I like to watch. I can tell you're just keen, though. Don't worry, you'll grow out of it when you've been here a term or two. Hup, here they come.'

Nyssa looked up and down the corridor. Professor Romana, Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and Doctor Song, who lectured in Archaeology, were approaching from opposite directions. They saw one another, pretended that they hadn't, and each started to walk more quickly, while endeavouring to pretend that they were not.

As luck would have it, they both arrived at the door at exactly the same moment.

'Good morning, Professor,' Nyssa said politely.

'Hi, Doctor Song,' said Ace.

The professor and the doctor nodded to their respective students.

'I think you'll find I had this room booked,' Professor Romana said calmly.

'I think you'll find that my slides are already loaded into the projector,' Doctor Song said, in tones just as even. 'It'll take ten minutes to get them all out and put yours in.'

Professor Romana glared at her without blinking or saying anything for several moments. Doctor Song smiled sweetly back. Eventually, the Professor swung on her heel and stalked towards the empty classroom opposite.

'Come along, Miss Traken,' she said, and Nyssa followed obediently, throwing an owl-eyed look over her shoulder at Ace, who was smirking.

The classroom was small and the windows looked out on a back entrance for one of the canteens, but Nyssa didn't mind. She barely noticed what was around her once she was in class. As Professor Romana huffily unpacked her satchel and arranged its contents on the desk, Nyssa got out her own Moleskine notepad, turned to a fresh page and neatly wrote the date and class in the top right corner.

By the time this was done the room was beginning to fill up, the students from the two departments having congregated in the corridor and nominated someone to peek into Lecture Room 63B and find out who had won today.

Peri, who was an American student on an exchange semester, sat down beside Nyssa.

'Did they do it again?' she asked.

Nyssa nodded. 'Yes. I don't know how Academic Services keep letting them book the same room, it's ridiculous.'

'It does seem to happen a lot,' Peri agreed. 'It's not our problem, though, is it?'

'It... I don't know, it upsets me,' said Nyssa. 'I'm not used to all this arguing. I wish they'd settle it somehow.'

At the front of the room, Professor Romana coughed significantly. Nyssa looked up, pen in hand, and for the next fifty-five minutes she forgot all about the rivalry over Lecture Room 63B.

* * *

Nyssa preferred to stay in her room studying once lectures were over, but her roommate Tegan loved to go out, and hated to go out alone, and so that evening she found herself in the Student Union bar, reluctantly nursing a small rum and coke with a straw in it and half-listening to Tegan's account of something apparently scandalous that had happened in the Linguistics Department that day.

'Oh, hey, I thought you never came out?' Peri said, waving at Nyssa from the bar and then weaving past a knot of rugby players to slide into their booth. 'Is this your... roommate?'

'Yes, this is Tegan, Tegan this is Peri, she's taking one of my astronomy classes,' Nyssa said.

'I've heard so much about you,' Peri told Tegan. 'Nyssa talks about you all the time.'

Nyssa blushed, but Tegan seemed not to mind, and went right on telling whatever story it was she was telling. After a few moments Tegan waved a hand in Nyssa's face.

'Nyssa? Hey? Are you listening? That was the funny part!'

'Oh, I'm sorry,' Nyssa sighed. 'I suppose I'm just a bit distracted.'

'By what?' Tegan asked.

'Oh, Professor Romana had another run-in with Doctor Song...'

'Are you still worried about that?' said Peri. 'I heard they've been fighting over that room for years. It doesn't seem to have killed them so far, I wouldn't waste your energy on it.'

'It just seems silly,' Nyssa said. 'There are plenty of nice lecture rooms, it's preposterous that they keep double-booking the same one. It's inefficient and it's poor management and it cuts the first five minutes off every lecture I have with Professor Romana!'

'Yeah, but there's nothing you can do about it, is there?' said Tegan.

'Oh, isn't there?' Nyssa asked. 'We'll see about that.'

She sucked zealously at her straw while Peri and Tegan exchanged glances over her head.

'I'm a little bit scared,' said Tegan.

'Perhaps we shouldn't have let her drink that rum and coke,' said Peri. 'It's gone to her head.'

'Oh, shut up, both of you,' said Nyssa. 

* * *

The next day Nyssa didn't have any lectures until eleven, so at half past nine she marched across the campus to the Academic Services suite and demanded to speak to the person in charge of room bookings.

'That's me,' said the red-headed woman filing behind the desk. 'What can I do for you?'

'I wanted to ask about a room that keeps getting double-booked,' Nyssa said. 'I think it's...'

Before she could get any further, the woman interrupted. 'It's 63B, isn't it? Look, good for you for trying, but you'll save yourself a lot of trouble if you just leave them to it.'

'But... aren't you in charge of who uses what room?' Nyssa asked. 'Why can't you just give it to the first one who asks and tell the other one no? It's very stressful, the way they fight all the time! My education is on the line here!'

The woman raised her eyebrows. 'Have you ever tried telling either of them what to do?'

'I wouldn't dare!'

'Much more trouble than it's worth, honestly. I have got a system, you know. I don't just hand the rooms out all over the place. But they won't listen to me. When I first started I used to try to get them to keep to what was on the timetable, but they just ignore it. All you can do is let them work it out between themselves. All right?'

'I suppose so,' said Nyssa, her shoulders slumping in defeat. 'Well, thank you anyway, Ms...' she looked at the name plate on the desk, '...Ms Noble.'

'Call me Donna,' she said. 'And let me know if you ever need somewhere for a tutorial or anything!'

* * *

Nyssa's next lecture with Professor Romana was the next afternoon, and she arrived to find Ace waiting outside 63B as usual.

'My money's on the professor today,' she said under her breath. 'Have a look.'

The door to 63B was open. Nyssa peered inside. Professor Romana was there, and she had enlisted three students to help her move the furniture around to make a large space in the middle of the room, where she was marking out several circles and lines in different fluorescent colours of chalk.

She looked up. 'Oh, hello Nyssa,' she said. 'Do come in. I'm just preparing early since our class today is going to be rather special.'

Nyssa cautiously entered the room.

* * *

It was a fascinating class, one of the most exciting so far, Nyssa thought. They had drawn their own star chart, all over the floor, everyone working on a different section. Her section had been the most detailed and accurate, and Professor Romana had praised it especially. 

She was still glowing afterwards, when she and Peri stayed behind to move the tables back. Professor Romana said they might as well leave the chalk for the cleaners later on. And then she made a remark under her breath about how the archaeology students might actually learn something if there was astronomy all over the floor, but Nyssa pretended not to have heard.

When she and Peri got out, Ace was still outside.

'I think Professor Romana is getting desperate,' she said.

Nyssa nodded seriously. 'You're right, I think.'

'Why? What's up?' Peri asked.

'She just gave us a lecture that was both interactive and fun,' Nyssa said. 'Does that seem like her style? She's running out of ideas.'

'Good point,' said Peri.

* * *

Nyssa arrived outside 63B almost ten minutes early, but Ace was nowhere to be seen. Cautiously, Nyssa opened the door.

Ace and her entire class were there, sitting at the desks, notebooks and dictaphones ready. Doctor Song was nowhere to be seen. Ace spotted Nyssa and winked. Nyssa only sighed.

Five minutes later, when the professor and the doctor arrived, the latter cheerfully pointed out that her class were all ready and waiting and it seemed an awful shame to move them. The look Professor Romana gave her could have turned a white dwarf into an ice lolly.

'How did she get you all to do that?' Nyssa asked Ace, later, on the steps outside the building.

'She promised us all an A on our first piece of coursework if we turned up fifteen minutes early,' Ace said.

Nyssa gaped. 'Isn't that against the rules?'

'I don't think Doctor Song cares about the rules,' Ace said, wistfully. 'She's a rebel. A free spirit. And have you seen the way her hair bounces when she's walking really fast?'

* * *

As the term wore on, the tactics grew even more sneaky, childish and ridiculous. Professor Romana invited the Dean to observe a lecture in 63B. Doctor Song had a one fifth-scale replica of the temple she had excavated the previous summer brought in and assembled there before the class. Professor Romana covered the doorway in crime scene tape. Doctor Song set off the fire alarm. Nyssa's nerves wore almost to tatters.

* * *

Nyssa ought to have been excited. It was the last day of term, and tomorrow she was going away for four whole weeks of uninterrupted studying and revision for her exams. But somehow she couldn't quite look forward to it. Not while she still had one lecture to go with Professor Romana.

She and Ace bumped into one another outside, and walked in together.

'It's bound to be something spectacular,' Ace said. 'Whoever wins today will get to be smug about it all over Christmas and New Year.'

'I'm a little afraid,' Nyssa admitted.

63B approached. There was nobody outside yet.

'Five minutes,' said Nyssa, anxiously. 'Oh, Ace, this is horrible.'

Ace looked more excited than worried. She opened the door a slice and looked inside.

When she closed it again, her face was pale.

'There's someone else in there!' she whispered.

'No!' gasped Nyssa.

'I wonder what they'll do to her?' Ace said.

By unspoken mutual agreement they moved to the other side of the corridor to watch whatever would transpire from a safer distance.

Doctor Song and Professor Romana approached, and reached the door at the same moment. Nyssa bit her lip.

Suddenly, the door swung open, and a slight, dark-haired woman, very much older than either Professor Romana or Doctor Song, looked benignly at them.

'Oh, hello,' she said. 'I thought I'd use this room for my history lecture, since I wanted to show the class some documents and the light in here is much better than in my usual room. That's all right, isn't it?' 

Nyssa squeezed her eyes shut.

'Oh, that's fine, no trouble at all,' Professor Romana said meekly.

'Whatever you need, Professor Wright,' said Doctor Song.

Professor Wright smiled, wished them a happy Christmas and closed the door again.

The doctor and the professor looked at one another. Then they looked at Ace and Nyssa.

'It never happened,' Ace said, quickly.

Nyssa vigorously nodded her agreement.

'Quite right,' said Professor Romana. 'Oh well... since neither of us can use the room, the students can do some personal study in the library, I suppose. Nyssa? Dorothy? Will you stay here and let the others know?'

Ace made a face at 'Dorothy', but she agreed along with Nyssa.

'Pub?' said Doctor Song to Professor Romana.

The professor nodded, the doctor linked arms with her and Nyssa and Ace watched them walk away.