September 8, 2014 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“Do you think the classes are going to be hard?”
By prearrangement, Saydrie, Enrie, and Tairiekie had met up in Dienvyes Hall for breakfast before heading off to the Biology and Medicine Hall for their first class of the day.
The weather was still warm and their new uniforms were just about right for the pleasant early-harvest-season morning so they were taking the shortcut through the courtyard, rather than taking the long way through all the classroom buildings.
It wasn’t the first time Saydrie had asked that question, but over breakfast it had been easy enough to bypass. Now, alone in the courtyard with their team, Tairiekie thought he deserved a real answer.
She thought about it for a few more steps, the gravel of the path crunching under their feet in a pleasant rhythm. Crunch, crunch. She generally wore skirts instead of pants, but the uniform pants were wide-legged enough to make a nice swishing sound as they walked. Crunch, crunch, swish, swish.
“Everybody says they’re going to be harder than we’ve ever had before.” Crunch, swish, crunch, swish. “But they’ve always said that. My parents actually seemed worried and they both attended here.”
“Mine told me I had to apply myself,” Enrie offered. “If I wanted to get a position when I got out of here.”
“So… people expect it to be hard work?” Saydrie, who was between the two of them today, pendulum-swung his gaze back and forth.
Crunch, swish. Crunch, swish. “People expect it to be nearly-impossible work,” she admitted. “We’re all high-scoring students; the Edaledalende Academy is generally really hard to get into. And it’s really competitive. But I think we can do it.”
“Even if we’re quota students?”
“I thought you said you weren’t?”
“Well… sort of?” Saydrie shrugged. “They were making me angry. So I bent the truth a little bit.”
Enrie laughed, loud and sudden. “I like you. You lied straight-faced like that to them?”
“Well, I said they could look at my test scores. It’s not like I wasn’t top student in my school. It’s just that I think we teach different things, in the south, than you probably learned in your schools.”
“Well, you’re teaching Bitrani nationalism, aren’t you?” Enrie said it as if she was saying “teaching about the weather.” “And probably the Bitrani version of the Faith of Three as well?”
“Uh.” Saydrie’s steps faltered. “Uh, yes…” His voice tilted upwards and he stopped walking altogether. His shoulders hunched forward as the two girls turned to look at him. “All of that. I mean. Yes. Askienzanie Tesrie, askienzani lionshia, askienzani pestianori.”
“Slower, slower, your accent is different than I’m used to.” Enrie frowned. “‘As it comes in the fullness, the Three stand, as it comes in the fullness of our lives, as it comes in the fullness of our duty?’ Oh! ‘The Three above all, and our life and our duty encompassing them.’”
“‘Encompassing…’” Saydrie nodded. “Yes. It is not quite how I learned the translation, but that sounds close.”
Tairiekie found she was looking back and forth between them, much like Saydrie’s pendulum-looks earlier. “You speak Bitrani?”
“My parents are diplomats. I speak four languages.”
Tairiekie colored, and thought about that for a moment. “Bitrani and Calenyen, urrrm… oh! Some people in Ara still speak, um, Arran, right?” She thought hard about it. “Oh, and that would leave, ah, old Tabersi?”
“I only know about ten words in old Tabersi.” Enrie smirked. “I suppose it was putting on gold buttons to say I ‘spoke’ four languages. I’ve been learning the gesture language used by elite forces and deaf people.” Her hands twisted in a complicated gesture, her sleeves fluttering. “As so.”
“…wow.” Tairiekie blinked. “You sound like you have your prefix already.”
“Oh, not hardly. I have some useful knowledge, that’s all.” Enrie shrugged. Then, with a grace that belied what she’d just said, she shifted the focus off herself. “Your school teaches things in the old-style Bitrani way. That’s not surprising, you’re in an old-style Bitrani enclave. Why does it make you nervous?”
“You hear them! They don’t think I should be here to begin with!”
“And do you?”
“Uhg.” He tugged on the elbow-length sleeves of his uniform shirt. “No. But there’s no choice if we want to keep the enclaves. Someone has to come, and I got the best scores on the tests.”
“Well, see?” Tairiekie finally found her voice. “Everyone here got the best scores on their tests, so that’s where you start from. Right?”
He tilted his head. “You’re just trying to make me feel better.”
“Maybe I’m trying to make me feel better.” As she said it, she realized it was at least a little true. “Besides, the History House uniform looks good with your coloration.”
“It’s just so bright.”
She took the moment of thinking about that to start walking again. Crunch, swish. “We don’t want to be late for our first class.” Crunch, swish. Had she ever known any other Bitrani? Not in school, not since the primary grades, but there’d been the family of woodworkers next door. “Your people prefer dull colors?” she hazarded. She’d thought the neighbors were very poor, growing up, because their clothes always looked so faded.
“Earth colors, sky colors, water colors.” He nodded, and she realized he was glancing at her shyly. “The colors borne in the long-lived things of nature.”
She’d never thought about it like that. Long-lived… like stone, rock. Like the screaming professor in the rocky blue and purplish clothing. “Hrrrrm. Maybe we can see if they have alternate uniforms? I saw someone in duller colors yesterday.”
Saydrie shook his head. “No. It’ll just make me stand out more. The Three will understand, I believe.” He tugged on his vest. “I hope.”
Crunch, swish. Crunch, swish. Crunch, crunch, swish, swish. They made it to the other end of the courtyard without saying anything.
Saydrie coughed as they stepped through the stone archway. “This should be it.” He pointed at the mosaic pattern in the top of the arch: periwinkle, light sky blue, and teal framed a leaf and a heart. “That’s Biology and Medicine, right?”
“It should be.” Tairiekie nodded. “All right, here’s to our first class at Edally Academy!” She raised her fist in an imitation of a battle charge.
“To our first class!” Enrie’s fist went up, and then, a moment later, Saydrie’s.
“To success!” It was the strongest she’d heard his voice. Maybe the Three really were guiding his steps.
“Success begins with getting to class on time.” Riensin – or possibly Kietsaip – was lounging on the stairs, just on the other side of the arch, with a boy in Medicine/Biology colors and a girl in Art House colors.
“That it does. And if you’re blocking our way, you won’t succeed either.” Enrie took a step forward, bringing her two steps below the twin.
“True, true. Took the long way, did you?”
“We took the short cut.” Tairiekie tried on a smirk as she stepped up next to Enrie. “It was just a very inefficient one.”
“You’ll want to work on your efficiency.”
“This from the Ecology House Student.”
“Indeed. Follow me, then, and to class we shall go.”
As they followed the twin and his team up the stairs, Tairiekie found herself wondering exactly why he’d been on the stairs to start with.
“Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. Well, gather in and we’ll start, and let the sit-in-beds catch up when they get here.”
The man at the front of the room was short, stout, and dressed almost entirely in blue, with a few accents of green here and there. A quick glance told Tairiekie that the embroidery on all his layers was a pattern of veins and arteries overlaying branches and vines, the red standing out brightly against the field of blue and green.
“You must be… Riensin, Kekdela, Tesdes, Saydrie, Enerenarie, and Tairiekie. Welcome to the Introductory Survey of Biological Systems, also known as Bio-Survey, if you want to be informal. Which I would suggest you not. Experience has shown that your samples are far more cooperative if you are polite and engage in all pleasantries with them beforehand. It helps to sharpen your mind and attend it to the task at hand.”
A girl in the front row raised her hand while Tairikie and the rest of the latecomers were still getting seated. “Sir? Samples?”
“Well, this is a survey of Biology. Which means you will be sampling biological things, and it’s much more scientific to do so here, a laboratory situation, than it would be to do so in the dining hall, now isn’t it? You don’t want to stop in the middle of dinner to examine the cells of your meal, now do you?”
There was a general shaking of heads. Tairiekie leaned forward in her seat. They were going to have samples? They were going to be able to examine the cells of things?
The instructor coughed, looking, perhaps, a little amused. He looked around the room. “I see that you do not. So, yes, we will have samples. We will dissect formerly living creatures, and we will take apart plants to study them at great magnification. We will study these things under aetherlight as well, and we will experiment with running aether currents through them. If any of this offends your sensibilities, you may walk out the door now.”
One student in the back of the room stood up, as if to leave. Next to her, another student raised her hand. “Instructor? Sir, is there an alternate class to fill this slot in our requirements?”
“No. This is the class you need to take to proceed with your schooling here.” This time Tairiekie was certain he was smiling.
“So if we walk out… we are essentially agreeing to failure.”
“The drop-out rate for Edally Academy is approximately ten percent a year. Why not make it easy on your classmates and be one of the two out of this room?” The man shrugged. “Do as you will, but you will be dissecting animals in this class.”
The girl in the back of the classroom sat down. Glancing around the room, Tairiekie saw several faces that looked nauseous, Enrie’s included (although Enrie was at least trying to hide it). She raised her hand.
“Mechanics Student Two. Tairiekie, yes?”
“Yes, sir. What will we be dissecting?”
“This is a basic survey class and thus we will be dissecting a dyekri and a lyurru. If you chose to engage in a Biology specialty in addition to your House specialty or if you are in Bapzhoom House, Biology House, you can expect to also later dissect a stillborn goat and a weasel kit.”
Tairiekie shared a glance with her teammates. She could handle the big flies, the lyurru. She could probably handle the lizards, the dyekri. She might be interested in using a microscope, but she was not sure she was interested enough to dissect a baby weasel. From the look on her teammates’ faces, they agreed.
“Of course, that is only one facet of this class. Ah, there you are. Now we can begin.” He bowed at the three tardy students. ‘I am Instructor Kaasmasik, and this is to the Introductory Survey of Biological Systems, also known as Bio-Survey, if you want to be informal. Which I would suggest you not…”