October 1, 2014 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“Tairiekie, what are you doing?” Enrie leaned in to the stall, and then quickly leaned back again.
“Why are you doing it in the stables?” Saydrie didn’t even poke his head in the stall.
“You’re either going to get us in trouble or make us late for dinner.” Enrie tch’d in disappointment, or perhaps hunger. “And you might upset the goats.”
“Stable-master Korten said it was all right if I built it in here. And if you want to go to dinner, that’s fine.”
“You know how they get if only two of us show up.” Enrie poked her head back into the stall, but kept the rest of herself outside, as if ready to run.
“You can tell them I’m not feeling well, like we did with Saydrie the other day.”
“What, we’re passing a cold around? I don’t think they’re going to believe that, considering Saydrie’s proclivities.”
“Hey!” Saydrie paused. “…What proclivities?”
“Your religious ones. The part where you don’t have any interest in anything that doesn’t involve three priests, a dawn-up and sun-set ceremony, the addition of a prefix and a separate bedroom.”
“Hey!” Tairiekie didn’t need to look up to tell Saydrie was growing increasingly indignant. “That’s not… well.”
Enrie chuckled. “I’ve been to some of the enclaves, Saydrie. My parents are ambassadors. We spent a year in one when I was ten. So I have some idea what goes on there.”
“Well, not the separate bedrooms, probably… Tairiekie, what are you doing?”
She couldn’t help but laugh, even with a wrench in her mouth, calipers in one hand, and a knife in the other. She shifted things around until she could set down the wrench. “I’m building a mechanism.”
“That’s obvious. What sort of mechanism are you building?” Saydrie peered in, keeping his feet, too, outside of the stall.
“You can’t tell anyone.” She wasn’t even sure she could tell them. But she had to tell someone.
“Who are we going to tell? The spirits of the aether?” Enrie’s scoff got her halfway into the stall.
“Well, hopefully not. I don’t want them to get any ideas.”
“…You don’t really believe in aetheric spirits, do you? My parents said they were an old heathen thing that some farm folk still whispered about.” Saydrie was backing up again. It was like a bad game of Goat Dance.
“Ha, more than a few old farm folk. Whole cities of people still believe in them.” Enrie snorted. “But I doubt Taikie is one of them.”
“I am most definitely not a city,” Tairiekie confirmed.
“Very funny.” Enrie made a raspberry noise at her.
“Are there really people that believe in the aetheric spirits? Still, in this day and age?” Saydrie’s voice cracked a little bit.
“We can talk about it later. City Taikie, what are you building?
“You still can’t tell anyone.” Telling them was a horrid idea.
“We’re your team. Of course we’re not going to tell anyone. We don’t do that.”
“Like we don’t send the House Monitor after our team,” Sayrie pointed out.
“I didn’t mean to! It was just because she walked in on me eavesdropping on Instructors Pelnyen and Kaatetzie.”
“You were what?” Enrie’s voice dropped to a hiss.
“I wasn’t planning on eavesdropping on them; I was looking for you, Saydrie. But they were talking about you, so I wanted to listen.”
“Me?” Saydrie squeaked it out with a voice that wasn’t really suited to squeaking. “Why me?”
“Instructor Pelnyen was trying to convince Instructor Kaatetzie that you had been the one who’d sabotaged Instructor Talmizhaab’s device and Instructor Kaatetzie wasn’t having any of it. So then there were talking about how it could or couldn’t be me, and then, well… then I left,” she ended lamely. “I didn’t mean to get the House Monitor involved, but she ran right into me…”
“They think you set off the device?” Poor Saydrie sounded like he was losing his voice, he was squeaking so much.
“We can talk about it later.” Enrie was getting brusque-sounding. Impatient? “What are you building, Taikie?”
“You still, still, still have to promise not to tell.”
“We’re still, still, still your team,” Enrie teased. “We’re still not going to do that sort of thing.”
“I’m not going to tell anyone. But why are you doing things you don’t want anyone to know about?” Saydrie peeked over the door to the stall again. “That looks kinda dangerous. It looks kinda… well, dangerous? Forbidden?”
“I’m fairly certain it’s not forbidden. I went looking in the Library yesterday and I couldn’t come up with anything specifically about this. Of course, I couldn’t come up with anything at all, except a blank hole in the wall of old scroll cases.”
“But what does it do?” Saydrie risked stepping into the stall, and, finally, Enrie followed him. “It looks a bit like a still… you’re not distilling aether, are you?”
“No. No, at least not yet. This is a proof of concept.”
“What’s the concept?”
“Well, it started with Instructor Pelnyen saying that I didn’t innovate or think about what I knew.” She was pretty proud of herself from getting from that point to this point. She’d been soldering joints all evening.
“Oh, Taikie.” Enrie’s sigh was almost enough to shut Tairiekie up. But she’d come this far, so:
“It’s philosophy, and I’m House Akaizen. I’m not very interested in a lot of innovations in philosophy. But I was thinking about the Social Aetherism, and it struck me, if there is an interaction between two people, it ought to be measurable.”
“Taikie…” Enrie flopped down on the straw. “It’s a metaphor.”
“A figure of speech is just a truth that doesn’t know it yet.”
“What is that, a Mechanics-and-Engineering saying to irritate the Literature and Arts people?”
“I’m not irritated…”
“You’re pretty hard to irritate, Saydrie. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t last long here.”
“Mmm. I suppose you’re right.” Saydrie left the conversation to the girls and leaned against the stall wall.
“It’s something my father likes to say. It’s like his friend who’s trying to figure out how to shoot the moon.”
“How to… Taikie.”
“Well, that’s a bit of an exaggerated case, but the idea is sound. If there is a thing that works like aether between people when they talk or interact, then it ought to be visible – or, at least, measurable.”
“That’s awfully close to humanic aether, isn’t it?”
“Well, it is, and yet it’s not. Lightning is not inherently aether. The way a ball rolls downhill is not inherently aether. But both of those things can be measured and quantified.” She took a breath. They were both looking at her. That was either really good or really bad. “He thinks I don’t think things through.”
“Taikie, it’s Philosophy. I don’t think you’re supposed to measure it.”
“But I’m going to anyway. Okay. If this works…” She finished screwing down the dial casing.
“It looks really nice.”
“Thank you.” She gave Saydrie a friendly smile. “Thanks. I got most of the parts from the scrap bin in the Mechanics junk room. The dial I had to fabricate, too.”
“Is there where you were at lunch?”
“And dinner yesterday?” Enrie put in.
“And breakfast?” Saydrie pointed out.
“Not to mention lunches the last four days? This is what you’ve been doing?”
“Yeah… yes.” She clicked the two toggles on. “I had the idea in my head and I know how it is when they start to take form. You can draw everything out, every last detail, but there’s sometimes a disconnect from the way it looks on paper to the way it works when you have it in your hands.”
“You’ve done this sort of thing before? But you’re not an Engineer yet.”
“And then what, Tairiekie?”
“And then… and then I’ll be an Engineer. A good one. A very clever one.”
“And will you like that?”
“And then my parents will be proud of me.”
“I’m not an Engineer in title. But this is what I’ve been studying for my entire life.” She smacked the bulbous center of the device. “This, not philosophy. Not the great artists of the past. This. This is what my parents do.”
“My parents are diplomats. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be a diplomat.”
“You’re in Estyaa House, though. And Saydrie’s in Onano House. We’re all going towards our parents’ goals.”
“My parents wanted me to be in the Art House, actually. But I told them I wanted to study religion until I could argue it properly.” Saydrie ducked his head shyly.
“Oh!” Tairiekie studied him, startled. “Really?”
“Really, yeah. I wanted to know all of the possible arguments so that when someone told us we were wrong, I could tell them back why we weren’t.”
“And what if you were wrong, when you were done with your studies?”
“Enrie, that wasn’t nice!” Tairiekie stared at her friend, scandalized. Saydrie seemed far less bothered, however.
“It’s okay, I thought about that, too. If I was wrong, I would keep studying until I understood why I was wrong, and why what I believed was wrong. And then I’d study more, until I could change things to make how I wanted them to be, or until I was comfortable with the way the world actually worked.”
“You really have thought this through.” He’d thought it through more than anything Tairiekie had ever thought about, except maybe the mountain-climb.
“It was a very long carriage-ride from my enclave all the way up here. I had a lot of time to think. A lot of time to look at what my future was going to be like, and how to satisfy the people that said I had to come to school, without disappointing my parents.”
“I don’t want to disappoint mine, either.” She fiddled with a couple of the intake-and-output nozzles. If this didn’t work… well, if it didn’t work, she’d try again.
“Mine can wander off a cliff.” Enrie shrugged. “Really.”
The dial on Tairiekie’s device popped upwards from two to ten and then back down.
“Enrie!” Saydrie sounded shocked. Tairiekie would have sounded every bit as startled, but she was busily checking all of her valves and meters.
“What? They are just doing exactly what was given to them, just like their parents and grandparents did, holding on to the tiny bit of royalty they’ve been given and not willing to do anything that might threaten their three-hundred-and-ninth place in line for the throne. It’s as bad as your roommate, Taikie, Almost-Royal-Ienyie.”
“Don’t call her that.” She wasn’t all that surprised to see the dial bounce again. Not all the way to ten this time, not by far, but it bounced up to five. “Please. She’s a nice girl.”
“She’s a nice girl, but she’s so determined to hold on to that vowel that she’s deluding herself about her royal status. Like my parents. Like a lot of spare children.”
“There is no such thing as spare children.” The words came out like a lesson, like she’d memorized them.
“Easy for you to say. You’re both the only surviving children of only-surviving-children, aren’t you?”
“You know we are.” They’d talked about that, among other things. Lots of other things, really, but right now, all she cared about was that one. “My brothers both died.”
“My mother only carried me to term.” Saydrie was not looking at them; he wasn’t really looking at anything. The dial on the meter kept bobbing up, though, and the water in the boiler was starting to bubble. “What’s it doing?”
“It’s reading Social Aether. Or social whatever-it-is-that-isn’t-Humanic-aether. It’s reading connections between people, and emotional interests.”