November 5, 2014 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“That’s all very well and good, but why aren’t you in class?”
Tairiekie had been wondering the same thing. Enrie hadn’t exactly talked to her or Saydrie for the last few days. She hadn’t been yelling at them, either, but she’d been cool and distant in classes, missing at meals, and hadn’t shown up to their stable study sessions at all.
Tairiekie was feeling the loss, and not just because she missed her friend. Enrie was the only one who could explain the Philosophy to her in a way that made sense, and with her absent, Tairiekie had been struggling.
And now, Enrie was standing outside of their Biology class, talking to their Basic Mechanics Instructor. Tairiekie’s throat had a lump in it; what if Enrie was telling on her? What if the Instructor thought Taikie’s device was as much of an abomination as Enrie had? What if they expelled her? What if they laughed at her?
“I thought you needed to hear this, and I wanted to tell you in private. You don’t hold office hours…”
“I do not. I do, however, hold lab hours. Ah, Tairiekie. Do you have information to share as well?”
“Ah, sir?” She didn’t miss the way Enrie whipped around to look at her. “Good morning, Instructor Kaatetzie, Enerenarie. No, I don’t have any information at the moment.” She had a theory, but that wasn’t the same as information. “I was looking for my teammates.”
“Good morning, Tairiekie. Well I haven’t seen Saydrie. Did you have reason to think he’d be here?”
“He’d said he had some thoughts about our most recent homework project, actually. So I was wondering if he’d been by…”
“Does he vanish a lot, this Byittie of yours?”
“Please don’t call him that, sir.” Enrie took a step forward. “I know it’s common practice, but it’s generally considered a very large insult by the Bitrani people.”
“Ah. My apologies, Enerenarie. Is it common practice for your teammate to go wandering off?”
Enrie seemed to have this handled, so Tairiekie let her continue to answer.
“Saydrie does like his quiet and his privacy. The Bitrani – they aren’t as used to living in close quarters as the Calenyena are, and I think the dorms make him uncomfortable.”
“And you’re quite the expert on Bitrani culture, are you?”
“I’ve learned a couple things over the years.”
“Mm, so I’ve heard.” Now that was interesting, Instructor Kaatetzie being short with Enrie. Someone at all being short with Enrie.
“Instructor?” Now it was Tairiekie’s turn to step up and take the conversation back. “He likes small and quiet places. I generally check the cupolas first.”
“Is that where you found him?” Enrie shot her a strange look. Tairiekie couldn’t quite figure it out.
“I take it you haven’t checked this building yet?” The Instructor raised his eyebrows.
“No.” She bobbed her head in a half-bow. Best to stay formal for the moment, until she figured out what Enrie was doing. “I have checked Biology and Philosophy, and he wasn’t there.”
“Well, since you’re already aware of the cupola passages, I think I can show you another passage.” Instructor Kaatetzie looked, she thought, amused. “This way, if you would, Tairiekie, Enerenarie. We’re going up to the second floor.”
“Of course, sir.” Another bow, and she stole a glance at Enrie, who was, it seemed, stealing a glance right back at her. She shrugged. Shrugging was safe enough, wasn’t it?
Enrie shrugged back. So, they were communicating. Now if only she could figure out what they were saying.
And then, much to her surprise, Enrie made a goat face at her – lips pushed out, nose wrinkled, like she was about to eat Tairiekie’s braids. Tairiekie stifled a giggle. What was that all about?
Enrie grinned. A smile. A really big smile. What was she supposed to do with that?
Tairikie tried a smile back, a much smaller one, with another little shrug.
“Right this way.” They were out of classroom territory and into the upperclassmen’s labs. “This is an area I imagine both of you will spend quite a bit of time in, during your later years.”
“Ah, sir?” Enrie had been surprised in the middle of making a face at Tairiekie; it took her a second to sound normal again. “Sir, I’m in House Estyaa.”
“I know. But every threesome finds its equilibrium, and a good threesome eventually end up sharing their specialties. It’s one reason that we ended up instigating this process.”
“To dilute the field of specialty?” Enrie was frowning again. Tairiekie found that worried her quite a bit.
“Well, over the last hundred years – I’m not speaking from direct experience, of course.”
“Of course.” Enrie rolled her eyes at Tairiekie. That was… promising?
“Over the last hundred years, we’ve found that students had been leaving Edally with too narrow a focus. It was as if their field of study was a mountain passage and they were ignoring everything else, like it was all too high on the hills for them to reach.”
“It does seem like the best way to get solid high grades within your concentration.” Tairiekie felt like it was the wrong answer, but also like he wanted to her to give that answer for some reason.
“Yes, but what about when you leave the school?”
“When I leave the school, I’d have a very strong education in my chosen career, and be able to go forward knowing I’d learned everything I could from the Academy about, say, being an Engineer. Or a Diplomat.”
“But what if you graduated and, three or four years later, decided that you didn’t want to be an Engineer?”
“That doesn’t happen.”
“It did not used to happen, because training for the professions took so long and was so mountain-road-focused; even if one was miserable in one’s vocation, there was no real option other than unskilled labor. And we know more than one Edally Academy graduate who ended up doing unskilled labor rather than continue in a field they were unsuited for.”
“That sounds horrible.” Tairiekie wrinkled her nose.
“It rather does. And, of course, it’s our goal and desire that everyone graduate from Edally happy with their field, as well as an expert in it. Your expertise speaks not only of yourself, but of the academy that trained you.”
They had been walking down through the labs; now he stopped, looked around, and side-stepped into a side passage. This narrow hallway was tiled all the way up the walls in narrow, flat tiles laid out in a mountain-passage design that seemed very suited to their current conversation. Instructor Kaatetzie stood so that one hand rested on each wall and pushed in two tiles, one with each hand. “But your ability to do more than simply engineer wonderful mechanisms means that not only will you be able to do something else, should you grow miserable with being an Engineer. It also means that you will be able to build better machines.”
Enrie coughed. “Because you’re looking at them not just through the lens of engineering, but through the lens of, say, Philosophy.”
“That’s a clever way of looking at the world.” She wasn’t looking at Instructor Kaatetzie. She was looking at Tairiekie.
“I’m glad you approve.” He pushed another pair of tiles, and the mountain swung open, revealing a passageway. “We call this, unsurprisingly, the mountain pass. I thought it was appropriate to the conversation, and if Saydrie is fond of the cupolas, he’ll probably like this space as well. Do be sure to shut it when you leave.”
“Thank you, Instructor.” Tairiekie bowed. “Thanks very much.”
Enrie echoed the bow. “Thank you for listening. “
“I do not think it’s something you need to concern yourself with, but I do appreciate you bringing it to our attention.” The Instructor nodded his head and left them standing in the mountain pass.
“So.” Tairiekie looked at Enrie.
“So.” Enrie coughed. She wasn’t quite looking Tairiekie in the eye. “I still think it’s creepy. But I was out of line, and I apologize.”
Tairiekie bowed again, this time deep and formal. “There is nothing on our slate.”
Enrie giggled. It was a surprising sound coming from her, nervous-sounding, high-pitched and unsure. She bowed just as deeply and even more formally. “Our slate has been washed. Friends?”
“Of course. Now, let’s find Saydrie.”
“I’m here, I’m here. Are you guys going to send every instructor in the whole place after me?”
He was bustling down the hall, carrying not only his bag but a handful of instruments, a pair of Mechanics Lab goggles pushed back on his head.
“Only if you keep vanishing. Saydrie, what are you doing?”
“Something Instructor Kaasmasik said stuck in my head. You know how he was saying things about it being a still?”
“That was Riensin and Taikie… Tairiekie.”
“Yes, sorry. But the Instructor said something similar, too. About how they’d managed to make this much of a mess of things. So I started reading on what happens when you distill aether.”
“You found books on that?”
“Well, there’s the section of the library that’s written in Bitrani, and then another section written in Tabersi. So I went diving in those sections, and I found some interesting things. Some of the stuff related to Social Aetherics, Tairiekie.”
“I don’t really want to talk about that.” She glanced sidelong at Enrie.
Enrie was shaking her head. “It’s all right, Taiki… Tairiekie. I know I blew up, and I know it was unfair.”
“It was kind of creepy,” Tairiekie admitted. “I just wanted to understand.”
“Did it help you understand?”
“A little? I think I need more data, but it got me pointed in a direction, and that helped a lot. I’ve drawn out some diagrams….” She peeked over at Enrie. “If you want to look at them and help me figure out how I’m missing the philosophy part, I’d really appreciate it.”
“I’ll try.” Enrie turned her attention back to Saydrie. “What did you find?”
“I’m not sure, but I think I found out why the machine exploded.”
“I thought Tairiekie figured that out. The overflow calve was misplaced.”
“That’s part of it, but I think I know what they were trying to do.”
Tairiekie leaned forward. “They? You mean the ones who blew up the machine? I mean… you don’t mean Instructor Talmizhaab, do you?”
“No, no, I don’t think he did it. Has anyone seen him, by the way?”
“No. I mean, I’ve heard people mention him, but mostly in terms of his device, not in terms of, say, ‘Instructor Talmizhaab is in the Lab.’”
Tairiekie frowned. “Come to think of it, that’s a little strange. Even the Instructors that mostly teach upperclassmen have come around, especially to meet the pupils in their House.”
“Maybe he’s a code word.” Enrie smiled broadly. “You know, like ‘give the papers to Healer Kaitrin?’” They both blinked at her. “Like… with spies?”
“Spies?” Saydrie managed.
“Information gatherers. Collectors of data. Covert operatives.”
“Who are you going to be covert about? There’s only us.”
“Well… there’s lots of us?”
“If that’s what they teach you in Diplomacy, I’m glad I’m in History and Literature.”
The last thing they needed was to start fighting again. “You think you know why it exploded?”
“Oh. Oh, yes. Because they were trying to do what you did, I think, Tairiekie, but they made a mistake. Well, technically, I think they were trying to take a machine that had existed for some other purpose and retrofit it to work like your machine. But they didn’t know what they were doing, and they added a couple pieces that made the overflow valve… well, not overflow. Like putting a privy in the middle of your house.”
“What’s a privy?”
“Bathhouse. Sort of. A farm-style bathhouse.” Enrie wrinkled her nose.
“That doesn’t sound like something you want in the middle of your house.”
“Exactly!” Saydrie looked pleased, and then his expression dropped. “But nobody would listen to me. I tried talking to Instructor Pelnyen about it, but he yelled at me and told me to go sit down and read a history book. So I asked instructor Kaasmasik about it, because he’s been asking us to look into things, but he got all strange and changed the subject.” He brandished a scroll at them. “So I decided to do some research of my own, and that’s when I figured out that they were probably trying to do the same thing as you did, Tairiekie.”
“How did you… did you see the machine?”
“Oh, yeah.” His cheeks colored. “If you go down the end of this passageway…”
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