January 7, 2015 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
House Monitor Libkazaari was standing in front of Instructor Talmizhaab’s Device. She was also standing in front of a bucket of cleaning equipment – polish, rags, some sort of sprayer – and oversized aprons and long gloves.
“As I said, you are to clean the Device. There are three ladders, so that you can reach all parts of it, and if you finish… well, I doubt you’ll finish today. You can work on it again tomorrow.”
Tairiekie bowed. She could only hope her teammates were doing the same. “Thank you, ma’am. We will get right to work.”
“It’s a punishment, remember that, not a holiday.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She picked up a pair of gloves and slipped them on, then tied the apron over her uniform. “Of course, ma’am.”
“Then I’ll leave you to it. Try not to get into any more trouble.”
“Of course not, ma’am.” Enrie took the next pair of gloves and handed the third to Saydrie.
“We’ll be very good, ma’am.” He took the largest of the aprons and tied it on himself.
“So very very good.” Tairiekie picked up the tin of polish and a rag. “All right. I’m going to start over here, near these intake valves.”
“Good idea, I bet they get really dirty, intaking… something.” Enrie wiggled her eyebrows at Tairiekie.
She tried not to giggle. This was serious. “Have to clean it off, and identifying it will help with that.”
Enrie nodded, mock-solemn. “I’ll be over here, next to this series of levers. They look like someone’s gotten goo all over them.”
“I’m going to be… eww… cleaning up this blood splatter over here.” Saydrie picked up a brush. “People can be strange. Who leaves a blood splatter for weeks?”
“Well, maybe they were studying it for a Biology and Medicine class?” Tairiekie had found one of the ladders, and was dragging it over to the intake valves. Even with the ladders, getting to the top of the Device was going to be tricky. She might have to rappel after all. Have to? Get to.
“I find that highly unlikely. Hey, I thought House Monitor Libkazaari didn’t like you.” Saydrie squinted up at her from the questionable splatter of blood.
Tairiekie shrugged. “So did I. I’m still not sure she doesn’t, but I think she likes you a lot.”
“Well, her grandmother was Bitrani, so I think she has a sort of kinship feeling towards me. But, well, we did punch a few people.” The sound of Saydrie’s brush on the slate floor paused. “Tairiekie? Enerenarie? Why did you punch them?”
“Technically, I hit him and kicked him.” Tairikie focused on the wide intake nozzle for a moment. It was filled with a black residue – as far as she was aware, aether did not leave a residue. But the nozzle was all gunked up with it. “I think I know part of the problem here. Is there a bottle brush in the cleaning tools?”
“Got it, right here.” Enrie tossed the brush up the ladder. “Do I want to know what an aetheric Device needs a brush for?”
“Some sort of gunk, and no, you don’t and I probably don’t, either.” She pulled a handkerchief from her pocket; her mother’s housekeeper was more than a little used to the family ruining such things and, she’d said, had a direct line to a clothier who produced them in hundreds for the family.
“Are you going to blow its nose?” Saydrie was apparently focusing on anything except the blood on the floor. Not that Tairiekie blamed him in the least.
“More or less, yes.” She worked the bottle brush into the nozzle and pushed it back and forth a few times until it dislodged… something, then let the mass of dislodged don’t-think-of-it-as-snot fall onto the handkerchief.
She sniffed it, carefully. It was black, and powdery, and waxy at the same time, the sort of thing that you didn’t want to get in your breathing system, and definitely didn’t want to get on your clothes.
Or on your handkerchief, but she had two dozen just for school. The housekeeper hadn’t been taking any chances.
“It smells like lamp oil, or like the chunk of red aether Instructor Posvorrem has burning in his office. Someone stuck something into the intake valve, and I can’t imagine there was any way it was an accident.”
She gestured with her handkerchief, and then folded it up carefully and put it in her pocket. “I’ve still got to get it clean, but we can take it over to the Alchemy Lab tomorrow and see if we can figure out what it is.”
“Should you be putting flammable things in your pockets?”
“It’s only a problem if the pocket also has my flint and steel, which it doesn’t. Those are in my vest pocket.” She patted the pocket in question. “Shouldn’t you be cleaning off the gunk?”
“It’s gross. I’d say it’s not really blood, except I don’t have a whole lot of experience with blood that’s been on slates for a week. It’s sticky and gooey and there’s black bits in it.”
“Black bits…” She dropped a second handkerchief and let it drift slowly to Saydrie’s shoulder. “Here, gather up a bit of it, too?”
“Are you made of handkerchiefs?”
“Pretty much. My father does the same thing – gathers up material in whatever he has at hand.”
“Engineers.” He clucked, but he gathered up some of the whatever-it-was into the proffered hanky. “I’m not putting this in my pocket.”
“That’s fine. I’ll put it in mine when I get down. For now, the nozzles await.”
The device had three intake valves, all color-coded: red, blue, and green. Well, that made sense. The red one had, perhaps unsurprisingly, had the black probably-flammable goo in it.
She was even less surprised to find that there was goo in the green valve… unsurprised until she managed to pry it out.
“Resin.” She snorted out something like a laugh. “Resin!” Oh, that was too much. Who would… why would anyone… “I can’t believe it, it has to be a joke. Either that or they were trying… oh, it’s… it’s over the mountains and past the rivers.” She coughed out another laugh. “No, no way. I can’t believe someone did that on… on purpose.”
“Taikie, you’re speaking from the back of your head, and all that’s coming out is gibberish and goat-bleats.”
Enrie’s scolding didn’t faze her. “Resin! They jammed sap into this thing. Into the green nozzle, they jammed sap.“
She could hardly get the words out around the snorts and giggles. After a moment, she realized they were looking at her oddly.
“Aw, blast it, just pass me the strongest solvent we have, okay?” She began working the bottle brush into the nozzle. “I think I can get it all out… resin. Tree sap. They jammed tree sap, what were they trying to do… Sap. Sap Sap…” She took the solvent from Enrie and went back to working. “Sap, by all that’s holy.”
“That’s funny?” Saydrie finally asked. “Why is that funny?”
Enrie coughed. “Because Engineers are insane.”
“Well, that goes without saying, but she’s not an Engineer yet. I thought it was a slower process.”
“I think the speed varies depending on the victim.”
“I’m right here, you know.” Tairiekie managed to catch breath enough to scold them.
“We know.” Enrie turned her head upwards to smirk at Tairiekie. “But you’re up there acting crazy.”
“But it’s funny.” She realized she was whining a bit. Why was she whining?
“Why’s it funny?” Saydrie repeated himself, sounding a little less patient this time.
“Because there’s something from – or for – fire in the red nozzle, Viegnevaar’s intake, and there’s something from plants in the green – Rienaasanun’s intake. I’m a bit worried what I’ll find in the blue.”
“Would have melted by now. So would have water. I don’t know, some symbol of Tienaabaa?”
“Isn’t the whole thing a sign of Tienaabaa?” Saydrie had given up on the blood and was hauling a second ladder over near Tairiekie’s position.
“Technically, Engineers are devoted to Viegnevaar. Which makes sense.” Enrie pulled her own ladder over. “I mean, it makes sense in that you have to pick one.” She tapped the bright red center of her own uniform.
“Well, maybe part of a book then?”
Tairiekie had just gotten the brush into the blue nozzle. The crackling of paper met her brush. “Saydrie, you’re too smart.”
“Isn’t that the idea of the school?”
“I suppose you’re right. Still.” She pulled the paper out.
“Are you enjoying cleaning?” Instructor Kaatetzie’s voice cut across the large room.
“It’s quite an interesting device to clean.” Tairiekie pocketed the paper and spritzed the valve with solvent. “It’s filthy, of course, and it looks like someone’s been playing around with it since it exploded.” She didn’t turn to look at the Instructor; she wasn’t sure she could keep a straight face, and she had the excuse of being perched on a stepladder.
“Oh? Do tell?”
“Well, there’s some sort of gunk in all the valves up here, although I can’t identify all of it.”
“Hrrm, what sort?”
“Well, I think it’s some sort of sap here in this valve. And this one I just started working on…” She reached into her vest pocket and pulled out a tiny, long-nosed set of pliers. “Hrrm, it’s a scrap of paper. People are using it as a wastebasket, I think.”
“Well, I imagine it will take you three quite a while to get it all clean. Keep working on it; you don’t want your punishment extended.”
“Of course, sir.” She kept pulling pieces of paper out of the valve – there were nothing but scraps left, but they kept getting caught on something – until she was sure that his footsteps had passed far out of earshot.
“I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my punishment extended at all.” Saydrie started washing and polishing the big brass boiler tank.
“I don’t, either. But it’s a pretty unique opportunity, anyway.” She dropped the last piece of paper into her pocket. “This device is fascinating. I wonder what it was originally intended for.”
“Are you sure those are intake valves?” Enrie sounded more than a bit distracted.
“I’m not sure what else they would be.” Tairiekie craned to look, but all she could see was the top of Enrie’s braids.
“Well, I’ve got a hopper here that looks like it feeds in, and it’s not full of coal…”
“Fascinating. I wonder what it could be for.” She was three steps down the ladder when her pocket caught fire.
The Calenyena, and to a far lesser extent the Bitrani, color-code the aether and, indeed, their very faith into three colors – Red, blue, and green.
The red aether is the realm of Viegnevaar, the deity of fire and blood, anger and war.
The blue aether is the realm of Tienaabaa, the deity of the air and the water, mind and the changeable, innovation.
The green aether is the realm of Rienaasanun, the deity of the earth and the trees, life, healing, and nature.
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