November 12, 2014 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“If you go down the end of this passageway…”
“Saydrie!” They said it in concert, which just caused Saydrie’s cheeks to get redder and his shoulders to hunch forward more.
“I was going to tell you. But I wanted to tell you both at once and…”
“Mmmf.” Tairiekie glanced at Enrie. “I think we’re… I think we’re okay doing things together now.”
“I think so, too.” Enrie nodded. “If you are, I am.”
“Mostly, but…” Tairiekie needed to ask.
“Oh, dear.” Enrie twisted her lips. “But?”
“What were you talking to Instructor Kaatetzie about?”
“Oh!” She ducked her head and tightened her lips. “Oh, I think I have an idea about the explosion.”
“The explosion? The machine?” Tairiekie shook her head. “I feel like I haven’t been doing anything at all.”
Saydrie eyed her sidelong. “Well, what have you been doing?”
“Um.” She shrugged, suddenly feeling far too on-the-spot. “Well, I’ve been studying.”
“The whole last week?”
“Well, I’ve been rewarding myself for studying with learning more about mechanisms and about the different theories of aether.”
“You’ve been rewarding yourself for studying… by studying?” Enrie shook her head. “You were built for this school.”
“Do you mean it, really?” She peeked at her… teammate? Friend?
“Tairiekie, do you even hear yourself? You were studying for fun.”
“Well, not for fun, really, I was studying because I wanted to learn more about things, and studying Philosophy doesn’t really work. It doesn’t make much sense to me if I can’t put a wrench to it.”
Enrie made a startled-sounding giggle. “Oh! Well, maybe I can help you figure out how to put a wrench to Philosophy without boiling tea on people’s emotions, how’s that?”
“That would be nice.” She still didn’t quite understand the problem with her engine – it wasn’t as if it had been actually using the emotions, just the energy put off by the people having emotions – but she didn’t want to be fighting with her friend anymore. “But right now – Saydrie, you can see the mechanism?”
“That might make some of the things I overheard make more sense.”
“You overheard things?”
“This way.” Saydrie headed back down the “mountain passage” secret hallway. Gas lights flickered every few yards, revealing more murals and tile-patterns through the whole hall.
“They go to a lot of work with their hidden passages.” Tairiekie ran her fingers over a tile pattern.
“I don’t think they’re meant to be secret so much as, I don’t know, private?” Saydrie echoed her move. “People come here, clearly. And if I could find them, anyone who was really looking for them could find them.”
“How did you find them?”
“Oh, this one was in the scrolls. The cupolas I found by accident, but then I was looking for information on the aether, and I found a diagram of the whole building in a scroll. Including where it used to be piped for aether.”
“The building. Is piped. For aether.” Tairiekie raised her hands in exasperation. “Did they use it to heat their tea?”
“They used it to light the halls! The old pipes are just behind the ones for the gas lights in most places. They used it to heat the whole building, too.” Saydrie shook his head. “Some of the old stuff makes it sound as if they used it for pretty much everything they could think of. Even for making their clothes.”
“That seems like an awfully simply layer.” Enrie clucked. “And limited colors.”
“You Calenyena and your colors.” Saydrie plucked the hem of his vest woefully. “Always trying to make things brighter and brighter. Why not just be happy with the three the Three gave you?”
“Well, for one, we’d have a lot less Houses.” Enrie smirked at him. It was nice to have her playful again.
“We used to, you know.” Tairiekie ran a hand over her shirt. “The school did, at least, way back in its beginnings.”
“I’m not the only one who’s been doing research,” Saydrie teased, “am I?”
“Well, I did say I’ve been studying, and I was looking up the House history.” She glanced down at her toes, feeling on the spot again.
“Why?” Enrie tilted her head. “What does that have to do with the theories of aether?”
“Well, because our House says one thing, and Alchemy says another, and Philosophy obviously says another, and then sometimes History and Religion get in on it and even sometimes Arts and Textiles…” She flapped her hands, trying to show all the piles of viewpoints.
“What about Martial?” Enrie leaned in, lips pursed.
“As far as I can tell, their opinion on the aether is: ‘Can we shoot it at things? Good. Can we defend from being shot at with it? Good.’” Tairiekie huffed. Martial texts were not the most entertaining to read.
“That sounds like the way the War House feels about most things.” Enrie’s lips were curled in something like a smile.
“As far as I can tell, it’s how the War House feels about everything.“
“Hsst. We’re just about there.” Saydrie stepped aside, so they could see the peephole overlooking the central lab in the Mechanics building.
The great mechanism that was the mysterious Talmizhaab’s Device – or at least what was left of it – loomed in the area below them. The place where it had blown was obvious; the copper was warped, twisted, and discolored. What was more interesting, at least to Tairiekie, was the set-up of the nozzles.
“It’s designed – no…” She squinted. “Look at the tool marks on the copper. It was retrofitted to suck up all of the – well, whatever it’s supposed to let off – and pull it right back into itself. Why not just loop it?”
The mechanism was as big as her parents’ carriage, with three branching arm or trunk-like things that made it look like a sea creature. Its central chamber – it had, she thought, started life as a simple boiler – was wrapped around with tubes. A sort of radiator, to bleed off excess heat? No… well, maybe. And those three branches – the closest one actually looked as if it was moving, reaching towards them, and the way the pipe fittings joined the sections together looked a lot like elbows.
“That is definitely an inelegant device. I don’t know why an instructor would put together something like that.” Tairiekie frowned. “Or… or why someone would retrofit it like that.”
“What if the intakes there aren’t supposed to take in what it’s spitting out?” Enrie was drawing something in her notes. “What if it’s supposed to take in what the exhaust becomes when it hits the air?”
“You think there’s some sort of chemical reaction that happens when the steam interacts with the outside world?” That was an interesting concept. She had to look into it further.
“Well, it could be like what happens when you mix and acid and an alkali, right? You end up with something fizzy.”
“Or you end up with a lot of people burning and in pain.” Saydrie frowned. “This machine is wrong.”
Tairiekie tensed. They weren’t going to go there again, were they? Back to the discussions about abominations? “Wrong, how?” Her voice sounded tight and angry already. That hadn’t been what she wanted. Nor was the nervous look when Saydrie turned to her what she’d been looking for.
“Wrong.” His voice got a moment of strength to it. “It was designed for a purpose, and that might have been fine, but it’s been redesigned to hurt people. It was made to blow things up…”
“And then to take that explosion and feed it right back into the machine.” Enrie groaned. “That’s horrible. But I don’t think it was supposed to end up quite that much of a mess.”
“That’s what I said. Whoever built this didn’t see things the same Tairiekie did when she built her device. They missed something and I think, while they might have wanted some of the steam and chaos, they got more mess than they planned.” So Saydrie wasn’t mad at her. He was just… upset that people had gotten hurt.
“This is a lot more than a cup of tea.” Tairiekie frowned. “We have to go look at my machine. I want to try out some of the things they did here and see how it went wrong.”
“You want to intentionally blow up your device?”
“No, no. I don’t want to risk blowing the roof off of Akaizen Tower. I don’t think House Monitor Libkazaari would like that. But if I can change my machine to do what they were doing, I can figure out what they were trying to do a little bit better. Since I can’t get down there and tinker with their machine. With Instructor Talmizhaab’s machine.”
“We should find Instructor Talmizahaab and ask him about this, too.”
“I can’t believe I’m the one saying this, but Instructor Kaatetzie told me it wasn’t anything I was supposed to be worrying about.” Enerenarie fiddled with the end of her braid.
Tairiekie frowned. “I didn’t think you really listened to instructors all that well, do you?”
“Well, I’m not in the habit of it. But you two generally are.”
“I want to know how it works.” Tairiekie pulled out her own notepad and started drawing out diagrams.
“I want to know why someone would be trying to hurt people.” Saydrie frowned down at the machine. “I don’t want more people to get steamed. And I want to know who this Instructor Talmizahaab is and why he’s letting this sort of thing happen with his devices.”
“So, mostly you’re breaking the rule because you’re both insatiably curious?”
“That sounds accurate.” Tairiekie smiled at her friend. “I thought you knew that about me already.”
“It seems I am learning something new every day. Very well. If we’re going to break the rules, we might as well do it in style. Why can’t we just go in and examine this device?”
Tairiekie studied the layout of the lab. The main doors were locked, of course, but there was a third-story window which was left unlocked, presumably because it was on the third floor. “Well, because right now it’s easier to go in and alter my device, for one.”
“Unless you want to rappel down from the window.” Saydrie gestured.
“That sounds more like a prank and less like a problem-solving antic. Saydrie, you should stop giving her ideas.”
“Antic?” Tairiekie raised her eyebrow at Enrie. “Antic? It sounds like something my parents would have done. “
“From what I’ve heard of your parents…”
“You’ve heard things about my parents?” People had heard things about her parents?
“Um.” She didn’t know how she felt about that. “So, I’d rather not rappel down into the explosive device.”
“It is a sin against the Three to lie.”
“Shut up Saydrie, no, it isn’t.” Enrie looked at Saydrie for a moment, and then amended, carefully, “at least not in Ileltedez. But seriously Taik… Tairiekie-”
“You can both call me Taikie. Really. It’s a lot less clumsy than us going around using everyone’s full names all the time. ‘Greetings, Pupil Enerenarie. Greetings, Pupil Saydrie.” She dropped her voice a register and tried to sound formal.
“Well, technically, it would be Saydrie Noi Anderoi anoi Hesteron, if we’re being formal.” Saydrie looked like he was trying to smile and be serious at the same time.
“That is a lot of name.”
“Says a girl whose name is Enerenarie.”
“Well… yes. That’s just one name.”
“Can we argue while we walk? I want to try this out before I forget what’s in my mind.”
“For a smart girl, you sure forget about things quickly.” Enrie held up both hands. “I’m kidding, Tair – Taikie. I really am. Yeah, let’s go.”
“So, we’re all friends again?” Saydrie hurried to the front of the group again.
“We never stopped being friends, as far as I can tell.” Enrie shrugged her shoulders. “I was just being a little stuck up in my ways. It happens, sometimes. I get cliffed – hung up on an edge like a goat; I know how I got there but I don’t know how to get off.”
“I’ve never had friends enough before to know how it’s supposed to go.”
“Aw, Tairiekie.” Enrie draped an arm around her shoulders. “We’ll show you.”
“It might be a strange way of being friends.” Saydrie turned so he was walking backwards to talk to them. “A Bitrani nationalist, a royal-”
“Such as it is.” Enrie wrinkled her nose.
“You’re still royal.” Saydrie wrinkled his nose right back at Enrie.
“A royal, and a daughter of famous Engineers.”
“My parents aren’t famous.” She reached over Saydrie’s shoulder to push open the door. “They’re more like infamous. Half the teachers hate them. The Mechanics Instructor went to school with them. Achemy House wanted me to change houses – although I haven’t heard anything at all since they mentioned that. I wonder if they figured out what I was really like and changed their minds…”
“Maybe they figured out that Akaizen House wasn’t going to let go of you without a major fight.”
“Ha.” She gave Enrie a grateful smile. “Here, we can cut through here to the third-floor lounge. It’s not so much a secret passage as it is what happens when you give Mechanics students the ability to carve through stone.”
“How did they do that?”
“I’m told they used chisels and aether. I’m not sure I believe them. Then again, I’m not sure I believe most of what I’m told by the upperclassmen.”
“Seems like a safe bet.”
“Well, anyway, it’s here.” She opened a closet – after her adventure finding Saydrie, she was spending a lot of time looking in closets – and then opened a door in the back of the closet. “It’s skinny, but there aren’t all that many wide students.”
“No time to eat by the time you get to the third year, or so I’m told. Notice how drawn some of the sixth years look?”
“I don’t know why; it seems like you’ve gotten past the hardest parts.”
“The school pushes harder the last year.” Enrie said. “Because if you get through the last year, you walk out with a title, a proper Prefix, and you walk out with the Empress Edaledalende Academy cachet behind you. Anyone in the world will give you a position.”
“Anyone on Reiassan, at least.”
They both turned to look at Saydrie. “Isn’t that what I said?” Enrie asked.
He just shrugged. “Well, there is more world beyond Reiassan.”
“Well, there is more world beyond Reiassan.”
“Let’s save the heresy for later, okay?” Tairiekie pushed open the door at the other end of the short tunnel, pushed aside a broom, and led them out of the room. “Okay, up the stairs all the way… you know that.” She felt silly, now. “Your dorms are the same… aren’t they?”
“Exactly.” Enrie smiled, and hopped ahead, taking the stairs two at a time. “Come on. You want to do this before you forget, right?”
“Right, right.” She followed, stopping only long enough to make sure Saydrie was following too. “It’s not heresy,” she whispered, “just politically non-expedient.”
His shoulders relaxed a bit. “Thank you. I…”
“Understood.” Enrie had already gotten into her room; Iesovyenyie was out but Gaikvya was sitting at her desk studying. “Hi, Gaivya. We’re just here to… hunh.”
“Hunh?” Enrie was looking around. “Your room looks exactly the same as mine, except… what is it?”
The mechanism was supposed to be just next to her chest. She’d wrapped it in its covers and left it there until she could stand to work on it again.
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