March 25, 2015 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“Talzhaab showed it to me. Right before she went missing, we had a long conversation about some things. She didn’t want anyone to overhear.” Davenpor smoothed his sleeves again. “There was quite a bit there about her device and her mechanisms. I have some of the plans back in my rooms. I tried to talk to the Chief Engineer of Akaizen House about them, but Kastesten has no use for Textiles and Tailors, and was… well, let’s just say, I began to think that she had just bundled Tal off somewhere and was saying whatever she could to keep me in the dark.”
Tairiekie coughed. “Sir, I don’t know how to put this, but I think I…”
“Oh.” The instructor was going ashen already. “No. No… you think?“
“Well, I never met Instructor Talmizhaab.” But the sleeve she’d seen had been heavily embroidered with a flowering gear pattern.
“Oh.” The Instructor took a step backwards. “In there? In the restricted labs?”
“Yes, yes sir.” She shifted, not sure if she should offer the Instructor a hug, or condolences, and decided that a bow was the most respectful and safest. She bent low from the waist. “I cannot be certain, of course. However, there was definitely…”
A corpse that had lost every bit of moisture, that had looked like a dead lizard she’d once seen at the height of the warm season. Wearing elaborate robes and the same copper wrist-shackles that Lusnyoot had tried to put onto Tairikie. There had definitely been that, propped in a corner between two tall mechanisms. “…someone there, back in the lab.” She bobbed another bow.
Her vision began to blank.
“I found you, you miserable goat-turd. Come back here…” The voice was loud as the ocean roaring, and then it was gone again.
“This is not where pupils belong. I must insist that you come with me.” Instructor Pelnyen? What was he doing here? She had to be hallucinating. She was definitely swaying on her feet.
“Oh, Pel, give a rest to your high saddle, would you? The girl is nearly unconscious.” Arms wrapped around her shoulders.
“Davenpor? What are you…”
Tairiekie gave up the last hold on her consciousness.
“It was her. It had to have been her that did it.”
There were better voices Tairiekie could think of to wake to than Instructor Pelnyen’s – almost anyone in the world, really, except possibly Lusnyoot.
“You’ve got to let me out of here. Let me go!”
And there was Lusnyoot, of course, just to add the topper to it. Tairiekie kept her eyes closed and focused on the lovely fact that she was actually alive to hear things, even unpleasant things.
“And if she did, Pel? Then what?” Instructor Davenpor – poor Instructor Davenpor – was still recognizable, despite the hoarseness in his throat and the hitch in his voice. “So she made a goat fountain.”
“Pissing down the side of my House’s Tower!”
“You do have a fondness for those horribly insulting goat phrases, Pelnyen. It’s only surprising they don’t prank your House more often.”
“That wasn’t a prank!”
“Indeed? I thought it was the very epitome of such a thing.” Instructor Davenpor sounded, Tairiekie thought, as if he was enjoying this. She knew she was.
“It… it…” Pelnyen, on the other hand, clearly was not. “It–”
“Fountained water down on you? I think you’ll forgive me right now, Instructor Pelnyen, if I don’t understand the severity of that?”
“And then she–”
“Discovered what had happened to my dear Talmizhaab, at considerable risk to her own health and safety.”
“We can’t just let students–”
“Wander around the unlocked sections of the classroom buildings?”
“Would you stop–”
“Finishing your sentences with reasonable endings? Why of course, dear Pelnyen.”
Tairiekie stifled a laugh, or tried to, but it turned into a cough, which turned into a painful sort of hacking.
“Hsst, Pelnyen, now you’ve woken her.”
Tairiekie pried an eye open. She was… in the infirmary.
That was probably a good sign. There was a large weasel in a shirt sleeping to one side of her and a small mink in a similar shirt on the other side of her; again, probably good signs, or at least not bad. And Instructors Davenpor and Pelnyen were looking at her, which was not in itself either very good or very bad.
“You’re awake. Good.” Instructor Pelnyen shifted the balance rather quickly towards “bad.” His tone was clipped and impatient and he had his hands on his waist. “What were you doing in the restricted areas of the Mechanics Hall?”
Tairiekie considered lying. She considered telling the whole truth. She closed her eyes, because Pelnyen’s face was going blurry at the edges again and the light was too bright, and considered making up a story of some sort.
“…and then you had to yell at her.” She blinked, only then realizing she’d drifted off. “‘What were you doing,’ by the Three, Pelnyen, wasn’t it obvious what she was doing? She was running away from Lusnyoot here. Who has obviously come a little unhinged.”
“If you ask me, he was always unhinged.”
“Well, yes, but if we ask you, Pelnyen, all Engineers and their Pupils are unhinged. That’s not the most unbiased judgment call.”
“Did you see what he was doing?” The Philosophy Instructor’s voice was spiraling upwards again in distress. Tairiekie tried hard not to wince visibly. “Did you see?”
That… was not Instructor Davenpor. Tairiekie opened her eyes.
That was the Head of her House. And she was walking directly towards Tairiekie’s bed. “I saw what he was doing. I saw the machine – he says it was Tairiekie’s – that he was hoping to change into something like Instructor Talmizhaab’s Device. I saw what his machine did to Talmizhaab.” She was not looking at either of the Instructors; she was looking directly at Tairiekie.
Tairiekie swallowed. She barely knew Instructor Latyintie; the Head of her House did not teach basic classes. She looked at Latyintie’s pants, first, at the thick silk layers, all worked with embroidery. The pattern, she noticed, looked quite a bit like the one on Instructor Davenpor’s clothes. And on Instructor Talmizhaab’s.
She looked at the Head of House’s heavy, rich vest. The cut was similar to the one that Instructor Davenpor was wearing.
Things were thicker than she was capable of handling.
Tairiekie tried for a variant on the truth.
“Lusnyoot was under a misunderstanding about my device, ma’am.” Under a misunderstanding. She sounded like Enrie. “He thought that it was designed as some sort of collector, but it was built as a proof of concept.” If she kept saying that, maybe people would believe her eventually.
“Proof of concept?” Instructor Latyintie leaned forward towards her.
Tairiekie cleared her throat. They were going to make fun of her. They were going to think she was stupid.
There were worse things than being thought stupid. She thought about poor Instructor Talmizhaab. She cleared her throat again.
“I was trying to understand the philosophy of Social Aetherism, ma’am. So I thought if I built a machine that could read the way that people interact, then I’d be able to understand it better.”
Professor Pelnyen laughed first. “You see what I’m talking about? Engineers, always believing they can quantify everything.”
Her vision might still be a little erratic, but Tairiekie saw the look that Latyintie gave Pelnyen quite clearly.
“I, as a matter of fact, happen to be rather fond of Engineers.”
“Of course you are. Ma’am.”
Latyintie turned back to Tairiekie abruptly, leaving Pelnyen in her wake. “And what would you know about a mechanical goat on the Philosophy Tower, Miss Tairiekie?”
She’d been expecting this one, at least. “I know, ma’am.” She pieced her words together slowly. “I know that you can lead a goat to the river, but sometimes it urinates on you anyway.”
She was lucky. Latyintie did not laugh, although Taikie heard poor Instructor Davenpor chuckling in the background. Latyintie did smile, at least a little.
“Indeed. And you know nothing else about what Lusnyoot was trying to do?”
She met her Head of House’s eyes and lied. “No, sir. Only that it probably killed Instructor Talmizhaab, and that he thought I could help him.”
Tairiekie could tell the Instructor could see the lie. She could see her think about it, and then nods. “Yes. The things Lusnyoot was involving himself in are very dangerous and they are likely what killed Instructor Talmizhaab.”
“I thought you were going to go get some sleep!” The upset voice cut over everything else. Oh, dear.
“Oh, and Miss Tairiekie? I’ve informed your friends you were injured.” And once again the Head of her House smiled at her. She’d only barely met the woman, and she was beginning to distrust those smiles.
“You went off without us!” Enrie sounded very upset indeed.
“Well.” She coughed, and tried to sound contrite. “I really wanted to know about that chimney…”
“What chimney!?” Enrie pushed up to the edge of the bed, shoving past the Head of House Latyintie and two other Instructors, her hands on her hips. Saydrie took the route of slightly less resistance and went around the bed, leaving Tairiekie surrounded by her friends.
“The one on the roof of Latyintie Hall. Technically, not a chimney, more of an exhaust pipe. It’s hidden behind the main stack from most views.”
“Ah-ha!” Instructor Pelnyen pushed forward. “I knew she’d been on the roof.”
“Pel, do you really think this is the time?” Instructor Davenpor had exasperation down to as much of an art as his clothing.
“I most certainly do.”
“I don’t.” Latyintie cut the argument short with a sharp tone that left Tairiekie flinching.
She had plenty to flinch about, actually. Enrie and Saydrie were glaring at her. “You went off investigating an exhaust pipe without us?”
“You wanted to sleep! I couldn’t stand not knowing. And besides, I found out what was going on.” It seemed like a thin excuse in the face of all that anger.
“You nearly died, they said.” Saydrie took her hand, folding it up in his larger hands. “They said that if the crack on your skull had been just a little harder, you wouldn’t be here to be yelled at.”
“But it wasn’t. So you can yell at me all you want?” She tried a bright smile. It hurt.
“What did you find out, anyway?” Enrie’s voice had shifted tone. Tairiekie had a feeling she was still angry, just waiting for a better time for it.
The room went still. Not just the infirmary-quiet that it normally had, but true silence.
Tairiekie didn’t bother looking at any of the staff. Or at Lusnyoot; he didn’t really matter anymore. “An upperclassman stole my device because he thought it did something else. He was tinkering with things he didn’t understand.”
“Isn’t that what Engineers do?” It was clear Enrie was trying to be gently funny, and just as clear that she knew that it wouldn’t work.
Tairiekie looked over her friend’s shoulder at the Head of House Latyintie. “Sometimes. Sometimes we know better.” And sometimes they just didn’t get caught.