June 6, 2019 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
In what may have been a courtesy move, most of the other students went first. Saydrie, Enrie, and Taikie sat in the back, Taikie continuing to fiddle with her Device, while student after student was brought on stage to a generalized description of their project. The student said a few words, the audience clapped, and then the student walked offstage.
Try to be kind that none of them have solved a murder or started to overthrow the order of the world, the Princess had said, but there were brilliant projects here, things that in no way required kindness. Saydrie was beginning to think that they were going to need the kindness of their peers.
Taikie’s machine clicked quietly. Was it supposed to do that? Saydrie stared at it curiously, but Taikie, aside from fiddling with a few bolts and a couple connections, seemed unworried about the whole thing.
Enrie looked calm, too. Saydrie didn’t know how the two of them could seem so relaxed. Out there — somewhere in this thing that was supposed to come right before the Treaty Meet that might change their whole lives, their whole world — out there, Lirnilalie was waiting, whispering, plotting, trying to destroy the world that they knew.
And replace it with one that was intended to be better, right? Wasn’t that the plan? A world that was safer and more pleasant for the Bitrani, a world where his people didn’t have to pretend they were lesser, to deal with sneering and be forced to go to—
—schools where they’d meet people like Enrie and Taikie, like Riensin and Kekla and Tesdes and have a chance at changing the world?
Besides. He shook his head as if to clear all those thoughts. That was just rhetoric. It had nothing to do with what Lirnilalie would actually do. What she’d do, he had a feeling, would benefit only her.
And even if she would do some things that would benefit the Bitrani, the Three were very clear on what to do for those whose aether was tainted. You isolated them, you didn’t even talk to them. You walked away and left them, because the bad aether was a sign that they had already left the community and the Three.
“And next — next we have Poszhyarie and Tielanlie, who have created a plan for better waste drainage in their home town. Please welcome Poszhyarie and Tielanlie!”
The audience clapped politely.
“They sound like they’re falling asleep,” Enrie whispered.
“That’s not very charitable.” Saydrie didn’t really disagree; he was even smiling.
“No, they’re being quite charitable. And I hope they won’t be asleep by the time we get up there. I mean—” Enrie frowned. “We’re children. We’re meant to be learning how to change things, not being applauded for our little changes to the world already.”
“Says the Diplomat who—”
“Student of Diplomacy.”
“En-rie. There’s no need for that.”
“I think right here there’s a lot of need.” Enrie wrinkled her nose at Taikie. “We just got in Lirnilalie’s way. We haven’t changed the world.”
“We might.” Saydrie frowned. “Lirnilalie is trying to change the word. And we’re trying to stop her. So we’re — we’re getting in the way of a specific world change, right? That means we’re changing the world.”
Both of his friends stared at him.
Saydrie shifted. “What? I mean, it’s not — it’s the truth. We’re trying to get in the way of someone changing the world badly. Aren’t we?”
“We are,” Enrie agreed slowly. I just never thought of it — quite that way, I guess. Just, well, solving the problems in front of us.”
Saydrie smiled. “That’s one of the lovely things about the two of you. You see a problem, you try to solve it, you do solve it, and things get better. The world needs more people like the two of you.”
“Like the three of us,” Taikie corrected. “There’s nothing we’ve done that we could have done without you. You know that, right? And I don’t just mean the part where you got in the way of people being annoying, I mean the real help, your insight, your knowledge, your — well, diplomacy.”
Saydrie knew he was blushing, but he couldn’t help it. He ducked his head and smiled a little at both of them. “You’re great friends. I’m glad that I found you both.”
“Well,” Enrie cleared her throat, “that’s good, because we’re together for the rest of our schooling — as long as nobody manages to kill us, I mean.”
“It’s been a few months,” Taikie murmured. “Perhaps we’re beyond —”
“Don’t say that!” Both Saydrie and Enrie hissed it. “Don’t draw the Three’s attention more than you need to,” Saydrie added. “We’re still alive. We like being alive.”
“And next up, we have Enerenarie, Tairikie, and Zaydrie, students in the first year of The Empress Edaledalende Academy! Please welcome them to the stage!”
They shared a look and walked forward. That was, after all them.
The announcer was still going. “Diplomacy Student Enerenarie discovered, hidden in the Edaledalende Academy Library, the treaty which we are all here to discuss. Engineering Student Tairiekie, in her first months at Edaledalende Academy, solved the murder of an Instructor there. And—” The announcer consulted her notes. “History Student Zaydrie has been instrumental in the research leading to the meeting here. I would like you to give them all your attention and a nice enthusiastic greeting!”
Saydrie smiled, even though it was frustrating to once again have someone get his name wrong and otherwise completely ignore him. He stood behind Taikie and Enrie and noticed how there was one section of the audience that didn’t clap at all.
“And Student Tairiekie has a Device here, doesn’t she? Let’s see what it can do, shall we, Student Tairiekie?”
If the announcer said Taikie’s name any more times, Saydrie thought his face might fall off. That big fake smile wasn’t helping.
Taikie, given a little nudge from Enrie, stepped forward. “Engineer Talmizhaab‘s work was on the ways that one can trace humanic aether.” She looked defiantly out at the crowd. Good for you, Saydrie thought. He did his best to stand tall and look as supportive as possible.
“While Engineer Talmizhaab was murdered, the body of work has a lot of validity. In studying some of our other questions this year – school work and issues of missing treaties – I started to look into the resonances of humanic aether. After that,” she cleared her throat and took another step forward. “After that, it was a simple matter of finding the resonances for different sorts of aether.”
“But,” the announcer asked, in a tone that was just short of rude, “does your Device do?”
“It measures humanic Aether. More specifically, it determines the difference between good aether — normal, every day humanic aether – and bad aether – that which is tainted.”
She turned to look at Saydrie, missing or ignoring the grumbling in the crowd. He took the meaning in her expression and stepped forward.
Just in time for someone – in that corner that hadn’t been clapping — to stand up. “Lies!”
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