October 8, 2014 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“You’re measuring Social Aetherism?” Enrie stared at the device.
“I told you I was going to.” Tairiekie blinked at her friend in confusion. Saydrie, too, leaned forward, looking worried.
“Tairiekie… isn’t that heretical?” He sounded even more worried than he looked.
“I don’t think so?” She settled for putting the tea kettle over the steam output.
“You’re heating tea over our social connections?” Saydrie swallowed loudly.
Tairiekie tried to explain. “Well… it’s making heat because of the way the currents are running through it. The heat is making steam. The steam could push a turbine, but I don’t have one hooked up yet. So right now I just need a way to use the heat, so I don’t unfortunately overheat the goats.”
“You’re heating tea on social aether.” Saydrie gulped it out as if she was talking about killing people. Why didn’t anyone understand?
“But not humanic aether.” Tairiekie bit her lip. Her explanation was not making Enrie frown any less.
“You keep saying that as if it means something.”
“Well, to some extent it does. Because it either means that social aether as discussed by the Philosophy Department is misnamed and is something that isn’t actually aether at all, but has a current and a flow similar to aether. Or it means that humanic aether exists and we’re being either lied to or miseducated.”
“How are you making it boil?” Saydrie’s voice sounded interested. Interested, she could deal with.
“…Essentially friction.” She tapped a few pipes surrounding the boiler – carefully, with a gloved finger. “Not quite, and closer to compression, but basically: if you shove aether through a tighter and tighter place, it tends to build up heat. Since I needed to run the not-aether through a meter anyway in order to gauge it, I figured why not run it through a compression series the way they have been doing with steam engines, to circumvent coal and dung fires? It’s not quite the same premise, but it works well enough for this – at least until I can properly insulate it.”
Both of her friends were staring at her.
“Tairiekie, you’re heating tea over the… the aether-like energy from us talking about our families.”
“Yes.” Hadn’t he asked that twice already?
Saydrie shook his head. “And this seems normal to you?”
“Yes?” Why wouldn’t it be?
“Taikie, I know what mechanics class you’re in. We’re all in the same one.” Enrie’s voice was getting higher-pitched and a bit louder.
“But this isn’t like the class at all.” Tairiekie shrugged. “It’s not. This is just practical applications of stuff I already knew, it’s not school work. You know, insert the pipe here, make the input valve there, make sure there’s a proper overflow valve that won’t blow the whole thing.”
“You did that, right?” Saydrie started edging away from the fire. “Right?”
“Of course I did. Whoever messed up the overflow valve on Instructor Talmizhaab’s device can’t have been paying any attention at all – or they were intentionally mucking it up. There’s no way even a first-year student would miss that.”
“Taikie… we’re first year students, and we had no idea. Have no idea.” Enrie was giving her an even weirder look. She didn’t know what that one meant. It was sort of a squint, with her lips pressed together, her nose wrinkled, and the corners of her mouth turned up.
“I’m the child of two Engineers?” She didn’t understand at all. “You speak a thousand languages. Saydrie knows things that are in holy books I’ve never even heard of. I tinker.”
“I couldn’t put together a device to proof of concept a philosophy theory. How did you even come up with the idea?”
“I told you. Instructor Pelnyen complaining about me not thinking.”
“And out of that, you got… this. What did it read when I talked about my parents?”
She glanced at the dial. “Um. Lower than it’s reading now.”
“Lower? What?” That did nothing to drop the dial down.
“It’s running out of scale.”
“Well, it ought to! You’re just diving in and tinkering with things, with no idea of what you’re doing or what you’re even reading! Do you know how much trouble you could get in? Do you know how much trouble we’ll get in?”
Tairiekie scooted back a few feet. “I told you, I looked it up in the Library. There’s nothing about this sort of thing anywhere, and first-year Pupils are encouraged to experiment in manners in which they feel comfortable.”
“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with you making a strong-emotions teakettle.” Enrie shook her head back and forth, her braids jiggling.
“I know I’m not.” As Enrie got more and more agitated, Saydrie grew more still.
“What?” She looked between the two of them. “Look, it can’t be aether, they’ve said it. So it’s just some sort of energy. Which makes sense. You feel tired after dealing with any strong emotion, don’t you? Even being really happy can wear you out after a while. So it has to come from the same place as any other emotion.”
“It’s just… It’s just weird.” Enrie shook her head. “It’s a really neat device, Taikie, but it’s just a little too creepy.”
“Fine.” She pulled the teakettle off of the device; it was almost at a boil anyway. “I didn’t want to make you guys uncomfortable or anything. I just thought that it would be nice to be able to understand the idea of social aether.”
“I think it was just a philosopher being a jerk.” Saydrie patted Tairiekie’s shoulder. “‘I don’t understand people. Obviously people take lots and lots of energy. I’ll call it aether and I’ll say that relationships take x aether to do anything.’”
“You’re probably right.” She loosened the pressure release valve and the three emergency bleed-offs, letting the room fill with steam while the mechanism cooled itself off. “I didn’t mean to disturb you guys.”
“Hey, we’re harder to disturb than that.” Enrie patted her shoulder. “Trust us. We’re your teammates. We’re not going anywhere.”
“We can’t. They don’t let us change teammates.”
“I’m not saying I tried! I’m just saying they don’t. One of my roommates tried.” The last part came out reluctantly, and only because Enrie and Tairiekie were staring at him. “He didn’t like his teammate; he’s from the west coast. He said he didn’t want any fey strangers in his team.”
“Oh, by the three.” Enrie shook her head. “You’d think some of these people had never encountered anywhere but their village. Demons, fairies – what’s next, lizard-people?”
“I’ve heard that one, actually.” Saydrie was smiling; it couldn’t be that bad. “More than once. I think it’s because of the way the Bitrani burn in the sun, or maybe just that we’re cold all the time.”
“Well, you’re not used to the weather here.”
“No, not really.” Saydrie shivered. “It’s cold all the time.”
“It gets colder.” Enrie and Tairiekie said it in unison; the subsequent laughing gave Tairiekie time to finish turning off her device and venting it.
“So we’re stuck with each other,” she offered, when they had caught their breath and could see straight again. “And I really didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“Like I said, we’re not that easy to disturb. But I’m not sure if you should be telling other people about this thing.”
“Well, I did swear you both to secrecy, remember?” She let a little exasperation show in her voice. “I mean, among other reasons, it’s a lovely idea and I don’t want anyone stealing it – and I don’t want it critiqued before it’s finished. These things take time and finesse to get right.”
“It works well to heat your tea water, though.” Saydrie had found her tea box and was working with a combination of herbs and spices to pinch together a blend. “You drink it northern-style, right?”
“Yes, and heavy on the cinnamon, please.”
His own cup had very little in the way of spices, just a few quick grinds of allspice. “The water feels like it’s just the right temperature.”
“Have you ever thought about going to work in a tea-house?” Enrie picked up her cup and swirled the water around in it. “You have the ritual down perfectly.”
“I thought tea-houses were…” Saydrie colored. Tairiekie, distracted, realized what the other girl had actually said.
“Well, there’s tea in tea-houses. And he’s very good at pouring tea. Look at that technique. Besides, it’s an honorable profession.”
“Not where I come from.” Saydrie didn’t sound hurt. For a moment, Tairiekie thought that that was a good thing – and then she realized that he didn’t sound like anything at all.
Either Enrie didn’t notice, or she didn’t care. “Every place has their own superstitions and their own prejudices. Like towns believing in aetheric spirits. These things happen.” She shrugged. “Are we going to work on our homework, or are we going to stare at Tairiekie’s tea engine all night?”
“It’s not a tea engine…” She didn’t know if she said something to try to change the subject, or because her own pride was suddenly pricked. It didn’t matter; Saydrie was not going to be distracted.
“Are you comparing my family’s faith and beliefs to someone thinking that aether fairies are real?”
“Well, that’s someone’s faith and belief too, isn’t it? Come on, even if Tairiekie wants to prove that Philosophy is really science, we still have to pass the next Philosophy test.”
“I don’t really want to…” Tairiekie sighed.
“No, no, no, it’s not ‘faith and belief,’ it’s heresy and idolatry! It’s the old pagan faith rearing its head again, and that is forbidden!“
“That’s not what I…” No really. It wasn’t what she wanted at all.
“Calm down, Saydrie.” Enrie affected a yawn.
“I have no interest in calming down.” Saydrie’s voice was getting louder. And nobody was listening to her.
“I don’t want to prove that Philosophy is science!”
Both of her teammates stared at Tairiekie.
“Who was talking about your little tea engine?” Enrie’s voice had gotten amazingly cold. “It’s an abomination, but you didn’t want to bother us and that’s fine.”
“And now you think that is an abomination, but aetheric spirits aren’t?” Saydrie interjected.
“I don’t think it’s an abomination, I know it is!”
“An abomination? Really? And it’s not a tea engine.” Tairiekie tried.
Nobody was listening to her. At all.
“She’s our friend! Our teammate! Why would you say such things to her?” Saydrie‘s voice just kept getting louder.
“You think aetheric faeries are some sort of crime against the Three and you can’t see why boiling your tea on human emotions is a problem?” Enrie’s voice just kept getting quieter.
“I think Tairiekie is our friend. She’s our friend, and that comes before all of the rest of it.”
Tairiekie packed the parts of the device up into its sack and said nothing. At the far end of the stable, a door slammed. It had to be the Stable-Master; nobody else ever came in here.
“She’s our friend, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be wrong.” She’d never heard Enrie sound so, so… so righteous. And it just made her angrier.
“Are you seriously going to keep talking about me as if I’m not right here?”
“You’re not going to listen either way, so why does it matter where I talk about you?”
“Because I’m right here!” Tairiekie took a deep breath. “And, besides, you don’t know I won’t listen. You really haven’t even said that much. You’ve said it was an abomination, but not why.”
“You should know why! You shouldn’t have come up with it in the first place!”
“Enrie…” Once again, Saydrie tried to step in. “You’re the one that said that different places have different mores.”
“And you’re the one that said that some things were matters of faith.”
“But maybe the way your faith isn’t quite mine, Tairiekie’s isn’t quite yours?”
“But this is just… by the Three, I can’t talk to you!” Enrie shook her head again and stormed off, slamming doors behind her.
“I…” Saydrie glanced at Tairiekie. “I don’t really understand. But did you get what you wanted out of that?
Tairiekie sighed. “I think I did. Not the part where Enrie got mad, though. I didn’t mean to make anyone mad.”
“Some days, that’s harder to do than anything else – to not make anyone angry.”
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