September 10, 2014 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“Well, you did pretty well.”
Saydrie, Enrie, and Tairiekie gathered around their Philosophy tests, studying their grades.
“I got a 94%. A ninety-four.” Tairiekie’s finger tracked down the page. “He knocked me off for calligraphy on three letters, and for a wrong answer on Mechanical Fastness. How did I get that one wrong? How did I get marked off for penmanship?”
“Well, I think you could have drawn that ‘e’ a little more clearly…” Saydrie shook his head. “No, that’s dust. What did you put for Mechanical Fastness?”
“I think I got it confused with The Principal of Rock Foundations.”
“Ooof.” Enrie winced. “And with Professor Pelnyen being so firm on Rock Foundations.”
“I knooow.” Tairiekie shook her head. “I don’t make mistakes like this.”
“Well, it’s one grade, and it can’t be the lowest in the class.” Enrie gestured down the hallway at another student, hunched on the floor and crying. “I bet that’s the lowest grade.”
“Harsh.” Tairiekie tsk’d.
“But not inaccurate or all that unlikely. It’s the one who can’t handle dissection… what’s his name?”
“Kablyait,” Saydrie offered. “He’s… He’s in my House.”
The uniform made that clear; the tone of voice made it clear Saydrie was saying more than his words. Tairiekie could read the figures unwritten as well as the next girl (as long as the next girl wasn’t Enrie): Saydrie wasn’t having good luck with his House so far.
“Well. It’s the first test. He still has a chance to succeed.” Tairiekie said the words with no sympathy at all. Especially not for someone who’d been mean to her teammate. “I’m sure the next test will be worth more points.”
“That goes for you, too, you know.”
“I know.” She tried to maintain a glare in Enrie’s direction, but her heart wasn’t in it. “A ninety-four!”
“And a suggestion to work on your calligraphy. He really doesn’t like you, does he?” Enrie made it sound like a joke.
“I’m usually a good student.” Tairiekie stared at the test, distressed all over again. “I’m going to fail.”
“No, you’re not. For one thing, he’s going to fail first. Come on.” Enrie grabbed her sleeve. “You don’t want to be late to Mechanics.”
“You’re right.” She perked up; the basic mechanics and power plans class was her favorite next to the arts one. “Let’s take the over-roof route. It’s still nice out.” She hopped up to the stairs. “That’ll be fun.”
Enrie laughed. Tairiekie didn’t care. The over-roof route wasn’t really dangerous at all; it was ringed round with railings and, after all, flat and smooth. But the pathway, which ran where the classroom halls met the dormitory towers, felt like being out in the wind. It wasn’t climbing mountains, but it was a nice pretense.
Once up on the path, she leaned on the railing for a minute, hanging so her feet dangled and her head hung out over Philosophy House.
“Come on, Taikie, we’re going to be late.” Saydrie patted her shoulder with his fingertips, urging her along.
“We’re not going to be late, we’re taking the fastest route possible and they allow for the slowest. Besides, Kablyait is going to be later.”
“Harsh.” Enrie grinned.
“Accurate.” Tairiekie smiled back.
“Still not nice.” Saydrie poked Tairiekie in the arm.
“I know.” Her mood was ruined all over again. “Let’s get to class. One more hop, skip, jump.”
“Did you hear they got a goat up here last year?” Enrie seemed to be apologizing. Tairiekie wasn’t sure how. Or why.
“A goat? How did it get down?”
“I didn’t hear that part. But that part isn’t so much fun, is it?”
“No, I don’t think it’s ever that —”
“Get down!” Saydrie pushed them both to the ground as something lit up ahead of them. A flare? Tairiekie’s chin hit the path floor and her palms scraped against the rough surface.
“Saydrie…” Enrie’s voice was very close to Tairiekie’s ear. “Say-”
The next boom rattled her teeth and shook her whole body. A blast of steam shot up through the path, warming her up and then immediately chilling her. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
Tairiekie couldn’t hear herself. She couldn’t hear anything. She put her hands over her ears for a moment, knowing that was ridiculous. Was she deaf? The steam had been awfully hot – of course it had, it was steam – had it burned her? Had it disfigured her? Had it – no, of course it hadn’t blinded her. Her face had been down on the ground.
Saydrie’s hand on her arm got her attention. She glanced at him; he pointed up and back the way she’d come. She nodded, and tapped Enrie on her shoulder.
The other girl jumped, then nodded as Saydrie gestured again. They got to their feet: only then did Tairiekie discover that she had skinned her knee and twisted her ankle. Well, better than being in the middle of that when it blew.
The steam was still pouring out of the crack in the path. A glance over the curve of the roof showed people flooding out of the building below in much the same fluid patterns.
The closest building was the Arts Hall, so they took the stairs down off the roof, into the center of the building, and out through the side door towards the Mechanics Building.
They were between the Arts and Mechanics buildings when Tairiekie’s hearing began to come back. She shut her mouth firmly as she realized she’d been whining the whole time. Had anyone heard her? She glanced around: in the confusion, nobody else seemed to be looking their way. They had missed the flood of people exiting the Mechanics Hall and now they were the only people in this vestibule.
She’d no sooner thought it than she was bumped into and nearly bowled over by someone popping out of the Mechanics door. He was wearing their uniform, apron and all, but was an upperclassman she hadn’t met yet.
He glanced at them, turned ashen, and hurried off in another direction while she was still trying to place his nose and chin.
“That was strange.” She tried out the words and found that she could almost hear herself properly again. “Can you…” Glancing at her friends made her look down at herself; Saydrie’s normally pale face was bright red, and Enrie’s face was a ruddy brown. Tairiekie’s hands were scraped on the palms, of course, and the last joint of each finger was cooked a similar ruddy color to Enrie’s. A light rain had started up, dropping mist on them that seemed as if it ought to steam right off.
“I can hear you.” And she could hear Enrie, now; who was looking down at herself. “That steam was a little hotter than was comfortable.”
“That’s likely to win a record for understatement.” Enrie’s game of stay dry and calm no matter what was hard to match, but it kept Tairiekie from screaming or, worse yet, whining again.
“Better than winning a record for reddest skin.” Saydrie was harder scorched than the two of them, either because of his pale skin, because he’d taken the brunt of it protecting them, or a combination of both.
“How did you know?”
“I…” He shook his head. “I just knew, okay?”
“I am not going to count the legs on a gifted goat. Thank you, Saydrie.”
He smiled, an expression that lit up his whole face. “I like protecting wo- my friends.” His shoulders twitched forward for a moment. “I know you’re both strong, but I like protecting you.”
“I, for one, definitely appreciate it in this circumstance.” Enrie patted Saydrie’s shoulder. “We’re going to be late for class, though.”
“Straight to the Medical Hall with the three of you, right now.” The House Monitor appeared as if by magic and grabbed Enrie and Tairiekie by the shoulders, her fingers digging in. “I don’t even know how you managed to get scalded by that, but you need to have a medic look at you right away.”
“We were on the rooftop pathway.” That wasn’t forbidden or anything. They hadn’t done anything wrong. Had they?
“Tsk, in this weather?” From the look on the House Monitor’s face, she certainly thought they were in the wrong.
“It’s sunny…” No, it had been sunny. Now the mist was turning into rain. “Well, it was.”
“Urmph. Up to trouble again, I’m sure of it. What have I told you?” Her fingers were pinching painfully as she steered them through the Arts Building.
“House Monitor Libkazaari, ma’am, I’m sure we can get to the Medical Hall ourselves. There’s lot of other students that need your attention, probably more than us.” Saydrie turned his most innocent-looking expression on her, the one that made it look like he still had swamp mud on his boots and seaweed in his hair. “We’ll be good, I promise; you can help other pupils.”
“Hrmph. Well, you be a good boy, Saydrie, and herd these two brats, then, would you? Remember, you’re responsible for them and they for you.”
“Yes, ma’am, of course, ma’am.” He bobbed a Bitrani bow, his feet pressed close together and his hands behind his back. “Of course, ma’am.”
“You said that already.” Enrie’s fake whisper could only be heard a couple cities away.
“You be nice to him, girl. He can’t help what he is, any more than you should get credit for what you were born. Now get, you, now.”
They got, hurrying as soon as they were out of her sight, and managing not to laugh until they were hopefully out of earshot.
“That was spreading it a bit thick, don’t you think?” Tairiekie grinned at Saydrie, who was smiling back with a bright, wide grin. It made him look a lot more human, she realized.
“Oh, that was fun! I… It wasn’t too much, do you think?” Color came red to his cheeks, and his smile widened further.
“Well, even if it was, she ate it up like you were feeding her cake. Well done.” Enrie bowed. “Even if you did repeat yourself.”
Saydrie ducked his head. “The staff either hates me or feels bad for me. And the ones that hate me, they don’t really want to be bothered with me at all, so mostly I just talk to the ones that feel bad for me.”
“Hunh.” Tairiekie hadn’t ever really thought about it. “You’re not talking about the way Instructor Pelnyen hates me, are you? Not really. This is…”
“Probably a matter for some other time?” Enrie inserted her suggestion softly. “When our ears aren’t still ringing and we’re not still looking like someone really wanted to get our laundry clean.”
It was Tairiekie’s turn to duck her head and shrug. “Sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“I don’t mind.” Saydrie tilted his head and smirked at her. “I can be the representative of Bitrani culture here. Since I’m supposed to be, and all. Well…”
“Later,” Enrie reminded him, too. “Right now, we’re a team, right? And we’re going to the Medical Hall.”
“Team. Well, we are.” Saydrie smirked shyly. “I don’t protect just anyone.”
“But when you do, you do it really well.” Tairiekie rubbed her scuffed hands on her pants. “Thanks again.”
“Look at you, look at you.” The man at the front of the Medical Hall reached out for the three of them, and then let his hands drop. “You’re all scorched. You weren’t next to Instructor Talmizhaab’s Device when it blew, were you?”
They shook their heads. No, although that explained a lot. Tairiekie found her voice first. “No, we were up on the over-roof path.”
“And a good thing, too. If you’d been in the building, oh, that would have been bad. We’ve already got one student who is very badly scorched. This, this is bad enough for you three, and you’re going to miss your class, aren’t you?”
Tairiekie groaned. “Not Basic Mechanics.”
“At least this hour’s class, and possibly the next. I don’t know how you managed to walk yourself all the way over here. You’re all burnt and scorched and torn up. I keep telling them we need some better protection on the over-roof path, but do they listen to me? No, of course they do not. And your poor hands, how are you going to hold a wrench like that?”
That hadn’t even occurred to Tairiekie yet. She must have hit her head when she landed; she was certainly moving slowly enough. Not the way to improve a ninety-four! “I…”
“Never you mind, we’ll get you all patched up as good as new. You’re going to be fine, all of you. We have the best mechanisms here at Edally, you know we do. This way, this way, all of you, in here, in to see the medics.” He gestured as much with his fluttering sleeve-drapes as he did with his hands, pushing the air around them until they obediently stepped into the building. “This way, this way.”
The infirmary was bed after bed, lain out in stark white with brilliant rainbows of color for trim and accent. As they allowed themselves to be fussed and flapped into beds, Tairiekie couldn’t help noticing the one totally curtained-off bed, any more than she could help wondering about Professor Talmizhaab’s Device.