February 11, 2015 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Instructor Pelnyen’s frown went from irritated to stormy. “I see. Your teammate is limping, and you wish me to be her crutch.”
“No, sir.” Enrie’s voice was level. Tairiekie really had to learn how she did that. “No, I’m asking you to help my team-mate with concepts she is having trouble learning in your class.”
“The thing is, Lady Enerenarie, that this is a Basic Introduction to Philosophy Class. If Tairiekie cannot handle basic philosophy concepts, I have to ask why she is in this school at all.”
Tairiekie’s fists clenched. Her jaw clenched. Her toes clenched. She watched her friend, because she did not want to watch the instructor right now.
Enrie frowned. “I was under the impression that the purpose of basic classes was to educate the Pupils in basic concepts to which they had not yet been exposed, to further round out their education.”
“Yes, but, as they say, you can offer the goat the river, but a stupid beast will still chose the puddle.”
Tairiekie found that she was making a noise, and couldn’t help but glare at the Instructor.
Pelnyen smiled at her. It was the worst smile she’d ever seen. “And she knows it, of course. Her mother was brilliant but flawed. Is brilliant but flawed. Her father is just another Mechanic, another Akaizen house wrench-waver. She will be nothing more than that, like everyone else in her House. Abusers of the aether, destroyers of our resources. Better than she fail out early and not take up the attention and time of the teachers. Better that’s she’s gone before good students like yourself get too attached.”
“To be clear.” Enrie had never sounded so absolutely calm. Tairikie eyed her friend, wondering what was going on. “You are refusing to offer aid and education to a pupil who needs it?”
“I am refusing to play favorites with a girl who thinks she’s the best. Akaizen house gets one or two of those every year, and they’re always a waste of space. Now, if you needed more help, Lady Enerenarie, I would be more than willing to spend some time aiding in your comprehension.”
“That would be quite interesting.”
“I would love to see you tonight, Instructor, if you have time… perhaps after we’re done with our punishment detail.”
“I’m sure I could get you out of that.”
“Oh, no, please don’t. We got into this mess as a team. We’re going to get out of it as a team. Afterwards will be quite fine.” She bowed, a low bow, the sort that she should have given to the Emperor, nodded very politely to Tairiekie, and left.
What was going on?
Tairiekie followed, because there was little else she could do. Saydrie was waiting outside for them, but from the look on his face he’d heard it all.
“Did he really…?”
“He really.” Enrie nodded. Now, now Tairiekie could hear something else in her friend’s voice, something like anger and something like horror. “It’s all right, Tairiekie. We’ll help you through it. I’ll talk to him, tonight, and I’m going to…” She shut her mouth and started walking.
Going to what? Again, Tairiekie followed, because she couldn’t think of anything else that made sense. Saydrie, frowning at both of them, trailed along behind.
“Going to lean on him. He wants to get all Lanamer-mad? Well, I know how to use that.” She looked grim and a little disgusted. “He’ll end up giving you the help you need.”
Tairiekie shook her head. “No.”
“No? Taikie, you need this grade the same as all the rest of them to stay in the school.”
“I’m with Tairiekie.” Saydrie stepped forward. “Getting Instructor Pelnyen to help her isn’t going to work, any more than getting Instructor Goodlyom to help me with my mathmatics is going to work. When people are full of hatred, they’re just full of hatred. There’s no room in there for common sense.”
“But she needs to pass.” Enrie was looking between the two of them, confused. “How are you going to pass if the instructors don’t help you?”
“First.” Tairiekie found her voice and realized it was really angry. “I am going to put a goat on Onadyano Tower.”
“You’re going to put a goat on the Philosophy tower? Why?”
“Because I’m angry.” It was, of course true. “And then I am going to talk to some of the upperclassmen in my tower, and maybe in yours and in Alchemy.”
“The upperclassmen all hate us.” Saydrie looked nervous now. She really couldn’t blame him, but…
“No. A lot of them hate us, but not all of them. And some of them just hate the other Houses more than they hate the underclassmen – which, you know, I’ll take at the moment. It’s not the best motivation but it’s what we’ve got.”
“Why are you going to put a goat on the tower again?”
“Because I’m really angry. And because you might not be able to make a goat drink but you certainly can get it up the side of a building.”
“Tairiekie… do you think you’re being a little irrational?”
Saydrie sounded so careful. It didn’t help. It did the opposite of helping, actually.
“Yes! Yes, I think I’m being irrational. Yes, I think I’m being a bit silly, I’m letting my anger get the better of me, I’m being petty, and I’m doing things because I have been insulted. We win wars that way. We win big wars by deciding that enough is enough and that we just have to stab someone and, to be fair, I’m not stabbing anyone; I’m just putting a goat on top of a tower and because I’m in Akaizen House it might not even be a real goat, because that would irk the Stable-Master.”
“I’m a little confused.” Saydrie was looking at her oddly.
“I admit, so am I.” Enrie frowned. “Tairiekie, do you have a plan?”
“Right now, what I have the most of is anger, and quite a bit of it, at that. But I can take the anger and go somewhere with it, I think.”
“Class?” Saydrie’s voice just kept getting smaller and his shoulders kept hunching further forward.
“Class first. And then dinner. And then cleaning the blasted machine. And then I will have… If not fun, then I suppose I’m just going to prove a point.”
“Tairiekie…” Saydrie shook his head.
“What point are you proving again?”
“Who I am.” She set her jaw. “Class first.”
After Philosophy, everything else seemed easy. Of course, everything else generally seemed kind of simple after Philosophy, even Alchemy.
By the time they were sitting at dinner, Tairiekie had her plan drawn in the margins of her notebook. By the time they were done cleaning Instructor Talmizhaab’s Device – this time with far less interruption but three times as many weasels-in-clothes – she knew how she was going to get up to the top of Onadyano Tower. Her parents had done it. She could do it.
Her parents had done a lot of rather silly things, she realized. But this one, this one in particular she hadn’t heard anything about.
She slipped away from her friends as they headed back to their dorms, pleading exhaustion. She was exhausted, of course, but she had more important things to do than sleep.
Getting into the student labs in the Mechanics and Engineering Hall wasn’t even hard. They weren’t locked, and at this time of night, they were unoccupied.
They were supposed to be unoccupied, at least. She passed someone slipping out as she slipped in, the hood of their coat pulled low over their face and the brown of the jacket itself obscuring their House colors. A late-night student wasn’t, she supposed, all that surprising. It had to happen once in a while.
But then, as she stepped into the lab, she realized the lights were burning and someone had been fiddling in the parts bin. “Oh, my apologizes. I didn’t think anyone-”
“-would realize you were going to stay up all night working on this drawing of yours? I think I got all the parts, but there’s a couple things on your sketch I don’t really get.” Saydrie was blushing. “And did you really give the goat a-”
“-I found a spigot!” Enrie popped her head up from the rubbish bin. “I think this is what you wanted!”
Tairiekie looked between the two of them. “You should be asleep. You both think I’m crazy for this.”
“Yeah?” Enrie brought over the spigot. “And that matters in what way?”
“…you both think I’m crazy. Also, how did you get my plans?”
“I copied them off of you during mathematics class.” Saydrie showed her the plan that was, indeed, slightly different than hers. Mostly, tidier. “I’ve always had a good eye for these things.”
“You should be… no, probably not in Art House, but Saydrie, that’s lovely.”
He flushed. “I just wanted to be sure I got it right.” His head bobbed. “Did I get everything?”
She looked over the pieces. “Yes, that looks like… well, we’re missing two joints and a hinge, but I know where to get those.” She fished through the small-parts bin. “I still don’t understand. You two have been telling me that this is crazy all day. And… Saydrie, this is your House.”
“But you’re my team.”
“And crazy or not matters not one whit. Did you really think we were going to let you do this on your own?” Enrie shook her head.
“Yes? Yes, I did?” She couldn’t follow, so she started putting pieces of the mechanical goat in order.
“It’s the mathematics of friendship. Making you happy will make you happier – and thus us happier – than sleep will.”
“You’re explaining your motives based on our Philosophy homework?”
“That’s the payoff. We’re going to help you get this … thing… on the top of the Philosophy building. And you are going to repay us by getting a one hundred percent on your next Philosophy test. We can see if we can get a couple upperclassmen to help, as you said, and maybe another instructor in the philosophy House. Lielbyim? She seemed nice. And what about the one that you mentioned, Gamzhyai, the one that wanted to fold your parents’ laundry?”
Only Enrie could make “fold the laundry” sound like a sexual euphemism.
“You think they’d help?”
“I think Lielbyim has volunteered to help new students and Gamzhyai will do anything he can that might send good reports of him back to your parents. Between the two, they probably know enough Intro to Philosophy and how it merges with Engineer’s minds to help you through the parts we can’t get you through.”
“Like emotional calculus.”
“Like emotional Calculus. Which makes the group – in this case, our team – the happiest? Going to bed, or helping you with the goat?”
“When you put it that way, it makes a lot of sense.”
“That’s my job. To put things in ways that make sense.” Enrie shrugged. “Or, at least, it’s going to be my job, in the long run. Right now my job is passing classes so my parents don’t feel as if all their offspring are a waste of a vowel and the family genetics.”
Tairiekie glanced sideways at her friend, but Enrie didn’t seem aware that she’d shifted tone into something naked and bitter.
“Or, at least, getting my prefix. They’d rather I come out of school with a prefix and a suffix, of course; then they don’t have to go through that dance, too, when the school round is over.” Her shoulders twitched again. “So, spigot. Was that part a joke, or are you really going to put it on the tower like that?”
“‘You can offer the goat the river, but a stupid beast will still chose the puddle.’” She had thought she’d gotten the anger under control, but as she answered her friend, it was there again. “I’ll show him a river.”