March 5, 2015 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Tairiekie jolted into consciousness as her head thumped against something again. She struggled to sit up – only to realize that, by the feeling of her swimming head, she already was sitting up.
Opening her eyes seemed like a horrid idea. Her head was pounding like someone was hammering on a copper drum right next to her… Somebody was hammering on a copper drum right next to her. “By the Three…” She closed her mouth on the complaint as it finally occurred to her where she was.
“Hold still.” That voice, she was beginning to recognize. It seemed as if she was going to have to open her eyes, no matter how much it seemed as if it would hurt.
It did, indeed, hurt, worse than she’d imagined. The gaslights were on, as well as what looked like a forge fire. Forge? What was he up to here?
She blinked a few times, trying to make her vision clear.
“I said hold still.”
“I’m not moving.” She turned her head to track him. He was… “Now I am.” She yanked a hand away as he tried to wrap a copper band around it.
“I said hold still.”
“And why should I listen?” She pushed herself to her feet, only to find how bad an idea that really was. Her head was swimming, ooh, that wasn’t good. She took three steps backwards anyway.
“Because you probably can’t walk with the shaking of the brain you gave yourself.”
“You are the one that threw me down on the ground.” She took another step backwards, willing her eyes to focus.
“You’re the one that came snooping around here. How did you find this place?”
That couldn’t hurt. It really couldn’t, right? “Your chimney. It was out of place, hiding behind the main chimney.”
“But it’s not visible anywhere from the ground… oh.”
“Oh?” If there was a ledge behind her she was in even more trouble, but she took another step backwards anyway. Because anything that involved wrapping copper bands around her arms did not sound like a place Tairiekie wanted to be right now. The ledge might be better.
“You were on the roof, weren’t you? Such a clever little lizard of an underclassmen, always have to be better than everyone else. That silly goat was yours, wasn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t admit it if it was.” She took another step backwards. Her heel ran into a wall. Good, now she knew where the wall was.
“But it was. Pissing on the Philosophy House. Of course, they deserve it. Their absurd ideas about the aether and what it ought to be used – or, rather, not used – for.”
“The do seem to venerate it like another god.” Her vision was finally clearing. She blinked again and managed to make the face in front of her – closer in front of her than she really wanted; did he even realize he’d been pacing her? – resolve into an image she recognized.
He’d been the one fleeing the Mechanics Hall while she and Saydrie and Enrie had been trying to get in, the day that Instructor Talmizhaab’s device had blown up.
He was also an Akaizen House Pupil. One on the first floor, she thought; she’d never passed him on the stairs. Lusnyoot. She could tell, now that she could see him, by the distinctive pattern of braids on the left side of his head.
“More than that. They venerate it like some superstitious hedge-priest from the days of darkness. They don’t understand how plentiful it is, how easy to use, how good it is to use.”
It was disturbingly similar to things Tairiekie had, herself, said on occasion. She took a step to the right, hoping he was distracted enough to not notice.
“They don’t seem to want to understand it,” she prompted. She knew this argument. She knew it all too well.
“The don’t want to understand anything but their theories. They want to make everything an abstract.” He stepped towards her again.
“And their abstracts make no sense.” Oh, dear. She looked around the room, hoping to find a wrench, or anything at all she could use as a weapon. Her eyes lit on something that was not, technically, a war tool. “My device! You’re the one that stole my device!”
“You stole my ideas!” He moved closer again, no, that was the wrong idea. She grabbed behind her, hoping beyond hope to find a doorknob, a pipe, anything. Smooth walls met her hands.
“Your idea? What?” She blinked. She had to be hearing things. “It’s a proof of concept for a Philosophy lesson.”
“No, it’s not. It’s a suction device for aether, specifically humanic aether.”
“It is not!… wait.” She blinked at him again. “Wait. Humanic aether doesn’t exist.”
“You built a device to read and collect it and you don’t know that it exists?”
“We were taught that it was a myth.” She sidled further along the wall. It was doing a nice job of holding her up, which was good, because she wasn’t sure how long her legs would help her with that.
“And do you believe everything you’re taught?” It was a sneer, but why?
“Well, yes? That’s why they’re teaching us, right?” Tairiekie spared one hand to rub her eyes. She had shaken her brain far more than she’d originally suspected. She had to get out of here before she lost consciousness again.
“They’re teaching us what they want us to know. They’re teaching us enough that they can lord it over us when we’re not good enough. And this… the humanic aether, this is just the power they want to keep to themselves. Think about it!”
Tairiekie closed her eyes. The world was more level that way, anyway, and it was easier to think. “If humanic aether exists, then it is a constant, regenerating source of aether. If it exists, then every time two people rub together – in any sort of way, I’d imagine – so punching another person would form aether the same way kissing someone would.” Although she had more experience with the former than the latter. “If it exists, then theristic aether likely exists as well.”
Her eyes opened. “If it exists, then it has something to do with emotions. And if it’s a continually regenerating source of energy… No.” She wanted to vomit. Was that from the shaking her brain had taken, or from the concept?
“Then it can be endless power. Endless free energy, to power anything we want to power.”
“It can’t be free.” She started to shake her head, and stopped as quickly as she’d started. “Conservation Theory states that there is no such thing as new energy.”
“Conservation Theory is wrong!” He bellowed it, his voice shaking Tairikie’s already-shaken head. “The whole concept is wrong! Everything they’ve taught us is wrong, wrong, wrong. Now, come over here.” He grabbed her arm, his fingers digging in to abused muscles. “Come over here and show me what you did with your device. There’s something about the way you laid out the intakes and the tubs that doesn’t make any sense, but your device works, and mine doesn’t.”
“Mine is just designed to read the ‘Social Aetherism’ when two or more people interact.” She stumbled as he yanked on her arm. Maybe debate was not the best idea right now. “Hey, careful. If you knock me out again, I can’t look at anything.”
“Instructor Talmizhaab and I were working on it.” He pulled a little less roughly this time. “We were working on the basic theories of humanic aether, and how they could be applied to Devices. We had a whole list of theories as to how it should work, and a whole line of projects we were going to use it in. We had everything all planned out. It was going to make me the most famous House Akaizen Pupil in a thousand years. They were going to call it House Lusnyoot. They were going to rename Gissievassie Hall into Talmizhaab Hall. We were going to change the world.” His fingers tightened. “We are going to change the world. I am, and you’re going to help me. Show me what you did with your device here. Show me what you were trying to do.”
He shoved Tairiekie down into a chair, haphazardly left a few feet from her device. It was close enough; she flipped four toggles and began checking the connections. “You shook a couple things loose when you stole it. I need a wrench.”
“What does it do?”
“I can’t show you if it’s not working, now can I?” She held out her hand for a tool. “This ramping column here is all wrong.”
“Ramping column? What’s that?”
“It’s a pressurization system, where you make use of the differences in behavior of gaseous aether and air under pressure to get a true reading on the aether, instead of getting a breeze.” She ran her finger over the column. “You must have put it back in backwards when you stole it.”
“Stop saying that!”
“What, that you stole it? You did.” She found the attachment point, but still had no tools. “Wrench?”
“You had to have stolen my ideas, you had to have! This had to be an attempt to imitate my work. Nobody else could have come up with this, certainly not some silly first-year student who climbs Towers for fun.”
“That wasn’t fun, it was a point to be made. Mountains are fun. Are you going to give me the wrench or are you going to risk blowing up another machine?”
It was the sort of guess you only made when you had no idea about the subject matter, the sort of thing where you pick the option you’re fairly certain the teacher put on the test as a joke. She flailed out with the question because, after all, it had been Instructor Talmizahaab’s device, and who else would turn things backwards in exactly the same way… Maybe it had been a question she asked while her mind was still sorting out that she already knew the answer.
“You did, didn’t you?”
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