January 22, 2015 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“I’m sorry I made friends as a school assignment.” Tairiekie was staring at the wall; she was afraid what would come next. She was very bad at this particular assignment.
“It’s all right.” Enrie’s voice was very gentle. “But did you actually make friends, then?”
“I… did I?” She looked back and forth between them. “Did I?”
“I think you did.” Saydrie reached over and patted her hand. “I think we’re friends.”
“I do too. I mean, I don’t think any of us are that good at being friends…”
“You’re not all that good at cleaning, either.” House Monitor Libkazaari was standing in the doorway. “Fifteen more minutes. Clean, too, or tomorrow you will be cleaning the bath houses.”
“Sorry, ma’am. Sorry.” Tairiekie grabbed a buffing cloth and began polishing the area around the broken boiler, moving towards the hopper Enrie had found. Enrie, in the meantime, had moved up towards the presumably-intake valves, picking up Tairiekie’s brush and continuing where she’d left off, and Saydrie worked on the blood.
“There was an instructor in here, earlier, with his weasel… Instructor Davenpor, I think?”
“He does that. You didn’t upset him, did you? He and Instructor Talmizhaab were very close.”
Were. That answered that. She scrubbed diligently for a few minutes, working to see her reflection in the brass. Would Enrie catch the cue? She generally did.
“Ma’am?” And she had again.
“You, too?” House Monitor Libkazaari didn’t sound too annoyed.
“Sorry, ma’am, it’s just that my mother taught me to think about other things while I was doing labor, to save time.”
“Your mother’s an ambassador and royalty.”
“As she’s said more than a few times, that doesn’t get the dishes washed.” Enrie sounded so polite and docile, it was as if she was training for Theatre instead of Diplomacy.
“It should.” The House Monitor sounded more like she was trying to sound annoyed now than as if she actually was. This might be okay.
Enrie seemed to have a good sense of timing. She didn’t say anything else, anything at all, and the minutes ticked by. Tairiekie had found all the loose rivets, and she could see her reflection moving from one side to the other of the boiler basin.
“Well, ma’am?” Tairiekie would have sounded snotty. Enrie sounded actually-innocent.
“What did you want to ask?” The Monitor didn’t sound angry, just bored. Watching students clean had to be rather unexciting.
“Oh, sorry! You said Instructor Talmizhaab was… What happened?”
“You don’t need to know about that. Just clean the device.” And now, now she sounded angry.
“Yes, ma’am. Sorry.”
“You need to focus on your studies and on staying in classes. Especially you, Tairiekie.”
What had she done? Out of sight of the Monitor, Saydrie held up a flattened rivet and a piece of something white.
“Yes, ma’am.” What could she possibly have done?
“Certainly not on things that light your pockets on fire when you’re supposed to be cleaning.”
Oh! “Yes, ma’am.”
“To be fair, she was cleaning when she put those things in her pocket. It wasn’t her fault that the residue from the device was flammable.” Enrie still sounded innocent. Tairiekie wanted to sound murderous and sullen, so she was glad her friend (for whatever reason) was willing to take over the talking parts for her.
“Well, she still shouldn’t have put it in her pocket… which residue?”
“Something in the nozzles…?”
Enrie turned to look at Tairiekie. “Taikie, what did you say it was?”
“Over here.” Tairiekie shot her teammate a look, one even she didn’t quite know the meaning of. Somewhere between “thank you” and “curse you to the deepest trench of the ocean,” probably. “It’s in these valves, House Monitor Libkazaari, ma’am. These here, the color-coded ones.” She gestured at the three nozzles. “The first one had something that was either oil or flaming aether but is now ash. The second one had tree sap; it still does, since it’s very hard to get out. And the third one had a piece of paper.”
“Which is now…”
“A pile of ash. We had several interruptions during our cleaning.”
“Focus is important in Edally Academy Pupils, Tairiekie.”
They’d been cleaning. Cleaning. “Yes, ma’am.”
“As is attention to detail.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry, ma’am.”
“You can continue work on the cleaning tomorrow, but do better at paying attention to your work, and less hand-holding. We are not here to rub together.”
“Yes, ma’am.” This time her teammates echoed her… and she couldn’t blame them. What else did you say in the face of that?
“Back to your rooms, now. And tomorrow, back here for more cleaning.”
They trudged back to their dormitories, splitting up at the Onadyano Tower with rather downcast good-byes. They had done everything they were supposed to; why was the Monitor upset with them?
“What’s wrong? Could not you find your device?” Gaikvya was working on, it appeared, a tiny water-cooling device.
“…oh.” Tairiekie put both hands over her face. “We’ve been so busy, I nearly forgot. We were going to give the upperclassmen all sorts of trouble… and then we got in that fight.”
“So you did in truth get into that fight?” Her roommate leaned forward. “I had heard that you punched someone.”
“I kicked him. Several times. And I hit him a couple times, too.” She half-heartedly demonstrated the gestures.
Gaikvya giggled. “It looks like, mmm, as if you are hooking a fish. Like this, and it comes out of the water?”
“Like that, very close.” Tairiekie smiled. “Except that you go up a little more, like that, and then he goes down. Or like this,” she gestured, “and he’s having trouble breathing, although with that, you have to have a little bit of care.”
“I should think any hitting of someone would require some little bit of care. But did he deserve it?”
“I think so. They were being rude to my teammate.” To my friend.
Gaikvya’s smile vanished. “I know some of the things people say. ‘Rude’ is not word enough for what they do.”
“No. It’s not. But they were rude and we explained to them why they should stop being rude.”
“You have in your team one from the Diplomatic House, do you not?”
“Yes I do.” Tairiekie smiled… and then remembered, again, that her device was missing. “I need to find that thing. I need to find my device and then make whoever stole it pay.”
“Are we being violent again?”
“Only if they offer insult or violence first. I don’t think my parents would approve of me turning into a brawler, the sort of engineer that carries an extra-big wrench for arguments about spanner length.”
“That is a thing?”
“Sometimes that’s a thing. My father calls them ‘wrench Engineers.’ My mother calls them… other things.”
“This is like my father and fishermen who do not mean it. ‘Hobby fishers.’ My mother, she calls them trench vermin.”
“Trench vermin. I like it. But I don’t want to be it, so I won’t go into it with my wrench swinging.”
“But you will go into it. Tonight?”
Tairiekie considered it. “No. Not tonight. Tonight, I’m going to sleep. Everything I am hurts. My teeth hurt.”
“I think, if your teeth are aching, you are doing cleaning wrong.”
Tairikie giggled. “Doing it…” She snorted, and coughed over a laugh. “…sap. Oh, by the Three…” She was lost in the giggles again.
“Was it that funny?”
“It was… it reminded me of funny things.”
“Good, then. You should smile more often. You and Iesovyenyie, you are not so prone to smiling, and it makes me sad.”
“Oh, oh Gaikvya, I’m sorry.” She peered at her roommate. “I don’t mean to make you sad.”
“You are not the only thing that is making me sad, of course. This school makes me unhappy sometimes. It is very far from everything and very strange.”
“I can imagine it must be.” Tairikie strung the words out slowly, spacing them like rivets to hold her thoughts together. “The east coast, it’s very different from here?”
“I think every place is different. But you are from here, and so it does not seem strange to you, correct?”
Tairiekie thought about that. It shouldn’t have felt that complicated, but her mind felt as if it were stuffed with cotton. “That sounds… that makes sense. What are you doing?”
Gaikvya was unhooking Tairiekie’s bunk from the wall, where it lay folded until it was needed, and fluffing the grey, orange, and red bedding. “You have been working hard. And most pupils here, they did not do much of the labors physical when they were home. Correct?”
“Cor… I worked on machines a lot.”
“Working on machines is not hauling dung. Sleep, Tairya. The device will still be missing when you wake. The world will still be the same when you wake. And when you have slept, perhaps the solution will be bright and clear, mmm?”
“Nothing’s bright and clear, here.” But she couldn’t turn down the offer, especially when the bed looked so inviting. She stripped to her underclothes and shimmied into bed. “Thank you, Gaikvya.”
“We are friends, no, or perhaps we will be in the future.” Her roommate patted the edge of the bunk. “And this place is maybe more strange for all of us than I had first thought. We can take care of each other, we strangers in this strange land.”
Tairiekie smiled. “It’s a strange place, all right.”
“Very. And not just because of the odd way in which everyone speaks.” Gaikvya tilted her head, letting Tairiekie see a sly grin. “Or this way in which the hair is straight and black, I do not understand. Speaking of hair… if you sleep with your braids like that…”
“Whoops, thank you.” She smiled back at Gaikvya. “I never thought of it like that, you know.”
“I know. Many people do not. But if you were in the town where I called home – here.” She handed Tarieikie the wooden comb she used for her own curls “-then people would look at you oddly, too, and ask, what is this way that you speak, and how have you never heard of zakreettat?”
“Zakreettat?” The word had a funny sound to it, but that shouldn’t surprise her. She watched Gaikvya’s face as she finished combing out her braids so that she could plait them back into a single strand.
“It is a mush of the beans that grow by the water and greens, with fish and the small shellfish mixed in. We cook it almost every week, at home. I miss it, here, because there is nothing similar. Not even when they cook fish is it the same.”
“At home, people thought that I was too smart for my own good. I was the annoying one in every classroom. Here, the teachers think I’m stupid. They don’t even think I’m rebellious or difficult, just… a problem.” It still rankled. She imagined it always would.
But Gaikvya was smiling. “You are not stupid, of course. And the teachers have different expectations, mayhap they have more so, even, because of your parents?”
“Maybe?” She couldn’t quite follow that train of thought, perhaps because she was so tired.
“But what you know about yourself is that you are smart. And if they will not see that, perhaps they can see you are rebellious.” Gaikvya smiled widely. “And they will notice other things, once they see that.”
She patted the edge of Tairiekie’s bunk. “Sleep. And in the morning, be rebellious.”
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