February 5, 2015 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“Hey! What are you kids doing here?”
They froze. Tairiekie had one hand on the wrench, her other hand on the chest she’d taken it from. Tiezrundaaz’s room, she thought, Tiedaaz being one of the ones who was loud and miserable all night and then pretended to be helpful all day.
Was it him or one of his roommates? She turned, wishing she had Enrie’s ability to look innocent no matter what the situation.
She was holding a wrench. Her wrench. “I was looking for this.” It wasn’t a lie, which meant it had the benefit of not looking like a lie. One of these days, she was going to have to learn how to be dishonest. “It’s mine, and I’d lent it to Tiedaaz.”
Thank whichever of the Three were listening to one mendacious Pupil-Engineer, the person yelling at them was female and thus almost certainly not one of Tiedaaz’s roommates.
It was Lielbyim, she realized; the student who had shown her around on the first day. Lielbyim recognized her at about the same moment.
“Oh, it’s you, Dairnikkindo-Biem’s daughter, right? Taik?”
“Tairiekie.” She bowed from the waist. “Sorry to give you a fright, but with this project I’ve got coming up, I really needed my wrench.”
Lielbyim twisted her lips. Was she believing it?
“Well, you’d better go work on your project, then. Go on, before Tiedaaz gets back.”
No, she wasn’t believing anything. Tairiekie thought the smile was very sharp, and very disbelieving.
But on the other hand, Lielbyim was telling her to go. “Thank you.”
“Speak nothing of it.” Lielbyim bowed again. “Just go. All of you. We don’t want it to be known that we had the three of you hanging around, do we?”
“No, not really, no.” Tairiekie stood up, not needing any more encouragement. Enrie and Saydrie likewise didn’t need any pushing; they all fled as quickly as was polite and expedient.
“Well.” Back in the safe territory of the first-years’ floor, Tairiekie draped Tudines’ scarves on the handle to his dorm door, and the other students’ belongings against their doors. “I… that wasn’t what I expected.”
“Lielbyim, right? She’s in a three with a girl in my Tower and I think they still work together well.” Enrie looked at the wrench. “Your mechanism wasn’t anywhere in that floor, or the floor below it.”
“It could be younger students.”
“I don’t think so.” Enrie shook her head. “Unless Tairiekie’s class is a lot different from mine, I think it was all the older students that were doing the stealing and hazing. So either someone in a different tower took it…”
“Or they stashed it somewhere else. We’re going to have to keep looking everywhere.” Tairiekie pursed her lips. “But first we have to go to class.”
“Urrrgh.” Enrie sighed. “And that test in Mechanics.”
“That’s the one I’m looking forward to.” Tairiekie shook her head, unfamiliar braids bouncing. “The one I’m worried about – well, there’s two. Philosophy and Alchemy.”
“The Alchemy one ought to be easy for you; it’s just math with an addition of-”
“Absolute insanity. They think the aether is alive.” Tairiekie shook her head again. “It’s like you have to put aside two-thirds of what you learn in Mechanics to do Alchemy and then two-thirds of what you learn in Alchemy to do Philosophy and then re-write all of Philosophy to do History.”
“How did you even get through classes in your old school?”
“They were a lot more consistent.” She wrinkled her nose. “You didn’t walk in on teachers contradicting each other and getting in yelling matches about their different viewpoints on the world. You didn’t have to remember two sets of facts depending on which teacher was giving the test.”
“I don’t think it’s that bad.” Saydrie frowned. “Are you sure…” He shook his head. “I just mean, it’s not that bad, really, at least I don’t think so.”
“You’re not the one who’s getting glared at every time they step into a Philosophy class.”
“No, but that’s not really your academics. Maybe you’re thinking about it wrong?”
“I don’t know how else to think about it!” She only realized she was waving the wrench around when she noticed how they were staring at her. “Ah.” She set the tool down carefully. “I really don’t,” she tried again, in a more moderated tone. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“Okay, okay. We don’t have a test in Philo today.” Enrie’s voice wasn’t reasoning-with-the-wrench-Engineer over-calm, it was talking-to-a-friend soothing. At least, Tairiekie thought it probably was. She couldn’t be a hundred percent certain. “Once we’re done with that, we can go over the homework and maybe we can help you understand.”
Tairiekie put her head down. “It’s hopeless.”
“Talk to the professor then.”
“He hates me.”
“No. He hates your mother. Eventually he see it’s not the same – and you’re going to have to show him. Come on.” Enrie offered Tairiekie her hand. “Come on, we’ve got to go to class, and then we’re going to talk to Instructor Pelnyen, okay?”
She took her friend’s hand, and offered her other hand to Saydrie. “Okay.” The worst he could do was, what? Hate her more? “Okay. Maybe he can explain this thing to me.”
“I’m sure he can do a better job than I can.” Enrie tugged her along, so Tairiekie tugged Saydrie along too. “I mean, I understand it all right, but I’m not the student you are. Either of you are.”
“I…” Tairiekie stopped in her tracks. “I…”
“You, you, ayieu, aiyeu,” Saydrie teased, although the meaning was lost in his switch to his native language.
“She’s not a bird, Zhadrie. Taikie?”
“You think I’m a good student?” Something was caught in her throat.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course you’re a good student. Have you seen your grades in any of your classes?”
“Low nineties in percentages.” Something really, really big was caught in her throat.
“Low nineties.” Enrie flapped her hand. “Low. Nineties. And that’s only in Philosophy. You have a ninety-nine point nine average in Mechanics.”
“That’s my House. And they’re so concerned with everyone being well-rounded.’
“Wait.” Saydrie glared at her. She took a step backwards, only then realizing she was still holding both their hands.
“You’re worried because you have a grade in the low nineties?“
“Well, yes?” She looked between them. “I’ve seen your grades, too, you know.”
“And?” Enrie looked unabashed.
“And you’re scoring consistently higher than I am in everything…”
“Except mathematics, alchemy, and mechanics, half the time the sewing class and sometimes in History and Martial Arts.”
She opened her mouth to argue, but realized she had no leg to stand on. She closed her mouth and opened it again. Once more, and then… “No, I hadn’t realized that.”
“You focus on the negative quite a bit. Come on, let’s get to class.” Enrie kept talking as if she hadn’t just casually critiqued Tairiekie. You focus on the negative… what? “Come on.“ She tugged on Tairiekie’s arm, stopped, stared, and then smiled sadly, all within the space of a heartbeat or two. “Taikie, it’s okay. Your friends get to know your flaws; otherwise how would we help you get over them? You, Miss Pupil, like to focus on the negative. Saydrie has to be goaded into standing up for himself – or standing up properly at all – probably in part because he’s so much taller than everyone else.”
“And you…” Saydrie was still holding on to Tairiekie’s other hand, but he walked around to the other side of Enrie, causing a circle of arms-behind-backs. “Talk a lot to cover up when you’re unhappy, uncertain, or worried.”
“I do.” Enrie nodded, almost a bow. “Though I didn’t realize I was that obvious about it.”
“I didn’t realize I was obvious about making myself shorter.”
“Really only when you stand up.”
Tairiekie looked back and forth between them. “I… I didn’t realize at all.”
Enrie bapped her on the nose. “Don’t dwell on the matter, and don’t scold yourself over it. Come on, we’ve got to get to class.”
They encountered the Art House students who had been so much trouble as they crossed the courtyard, but the four upperclassmen backed away slowly and did not engage. They still looked the worse for wear, which made Tairiekie smile.
“Never go to war with an Engineer.” It was one of her father’s favorite sayings.
Of course, another one was “Don’t argue with a Philosopher.”
Philosophy class was as maddening as usual. Instructor Pelnyen was speaking even faster than usual, for one.
“…and of course, the theory of aether is one that is still in flux, as the aether is itself. It can never be truly known.” He coughed. “The first of the main schools of thought on aether is the school of finite source. This school says that there was, at one point early on in the creation of the world, an explosion of aether. That explosion send fragments flying, as with any explosion, embedding themselves all over the world…” Pelnyen flapped a hand. “This is of course a metaphysical argument, and one for a later class, as are all the theories of aether. But they color the ethics of using aether, because if there is truly a finite amount of the stuff, then our use of it must be husbanded. Yes, Pupil Tairiekie?”
“Are you saying that we have ideas on what the proper uses of aether are without ever knowing what it is or where it comes from? Isn’t that putting the cart before the goat?”
Blast it, she’d done it again. Instructor Pelnyen creased his forehead and stared at her for a moment.
“If we assumed that the aether was eventually knowable by humankind, then, yes, that would be putting the cart before the goat. As it is, however, there is no reason to believe that. We are not the Alchemists, to poke in every crevice; we are not the Engineers, to use everything for leverage. We discuss the way things might be, the way they could be, and the way they should be.”
She settled down in her seat and nodded. Of course. No wonder she couldn’t understand this class.
“Now, as I was saying, the ethics of aether involve the use of it. What is a fair use, what is an evil or unfair use? Is there such a thing as an evil use?”
…you can’t see why boiling your tea on human emotions is a problem?… She glanced at Enrie, but Enrie was watching the Instructor and frowning. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? Was it a thing at all? At least, one to do with Tairiekie? She gave up and took notes, as many as she could fit on the paper at the speed the instructor was speaking.
When the class was over, Enrie grabbed Tairiekie’s hand and pulled her to the front of the classroom. “Instructor Pelnyen, if I could have a moment of your time?”
“Ah, yes, Lady Enerenarie.”
Oh, Tairiekie realized. He was a royal-lover. Nobody else would call a child before the age of adulthood Lady, unless they were directly serving under them.
“My team-mate, Tairiekie, has been having quite a bit of trouble with your class, and I was wondering if we could have some private time of yours to work through some of the more difficult concepts?”
“Ah.” The instructor’s frown went from irritated to stormy.
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