October 10, 2019 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Instructor Tiemaktamiek was quiet and subdued in class when the three of them returned to Edally Academy. Not just him; many of the Instructors were subdued, Saydrie noticed; Pelnyen among those who simply wrote an assignment on the board with a note: please write about the following, then sat and watched the class as if wondering… Saydrie couldn’t quite imagine what what instructors like Pelnyen were wondering, but it was clear that there were questions going on in their minds. Pelnyen for one, couldn’t bring himself to look at Taikie at all, and by extension could not look at Enrie or Saydrie either. Only a couple teachers kept on as if nothing was different, and even in their eyes there was something strange and haunted.
It was only after biology class that Saydrie decided he was brave enough to ask and so he — and thus, by extension, Enrie and Taikie also lingered, until everybody else was out of the classroom.
“I was wondering, sir,” Saydrie began — and then he wasn’t quite sure how to finish the sentence. I was wondering what was wrong? I was wondering what bug crawled up all of you? I was wondering why everyone looks like there’s been a funeral when there is been what is probably a success?
“We were wondering,” Enrie began, “if it’s a matter that Lirnilalie’s influence went that deeply, or that everyone is wondering exactly how deeply it went? Because obviously almost everybody is wondering something. And I can’t imagine that what they are wondering is ‘what happens now that we don’t get our Rebellion’?” She made a face that was almost cute, although it wasn’t a face that Saydrie had ever seen on her before, and Instructor Kaasmasik almost chuckled in return.
“That is a very good question,” he admitted. “And I suppose it depends on the instructor what the answer is. I can only speak for myself. This may be more true today than it was a week ago or maybe, now I only know today that it is more true than I thought it was, but for me, it is not a question of what happened, or even what went wrong, as it is ‘how how did things get this rotten.’ I know you didn’t see all of the testimony — I know you were there; I know that nobody heard all of the testimony — and I wonder, although I’m not a professor of politics or diplomacy, I have to wonder if that was on purpose on Lirnilalie’s part. Nothing she could have said could really have redeemed her after all but this — this means that nobody knows how much of the testimony was not read. Has she suborned other government officials? How deep does it go and how much will we be able to root it out now?”
He cleared his throat. “I apologize. This is rather deep for first—year Students — but then again—” he snorted weekly “—then again you are not normal students, I suppose. You were there at the Treaty Meet. You were there at the trial. You were there chasing her down. I imagine of anyone, I don’t have to tell you how much of a question it is.”
Even so, Saydrie felt a little bit sobered by the questions that Instructor Kaasmasik had raised. “Are we going to be wondering forever? Is it possible to root it all out?”
“That,” and here the laughed, although it wasn’t a laugh with a great deal of humor, “that, I suppose may be answered by students like the three of you — although I hope somebody else steps up to take some of the burden. After all, the three of you ought to focus on your studies.” He laughed again, thin and sad. “But I can hope that the people who take this up are those who are supposed to. The Speaker for Justice. The Emperor. The Voice of the Emperor. The Heads of the School.” Now his voice dropped to a whisper. “I suppose I shouldn’t say that, but then again, I suppose the three of you have thought it enough.”
“Actually, sir —” Enrie began, but somehow it seemed like Saydrie should continue.
“Actually, sir — no. No, we understand. We….” He struggled for the right metaphor. In Bitrani, he’d have known it right away. But metaphor and idiom were still the hardest things to get right in Calenyenan, which seemed to think that, for instance, music was like feathers. “We are not a large part of the system yet,” he tried.
“And you see,” the Three in all their Glory bless her, Taikie stepped in. “The Empire, it’s like a very large Device, and everybody is part of it, a lever or a tube or their own little device connected to the side, like the Speaker for Justice is. But when you’re young, you haven’t been all the way connected. So you’re not as tied into the way all of the steamworks flow, this way and that. So you can be the lever that changes things, because you’re a lever that isn’t already needed to, for instance, make the roads go smoothly, or make sure that everybody is fed. We’re just a lever that’s it’s over here going back and forth, until we figure out what exactly it is that we need to shift.” She bobbed a bow.
Blinking, Instructor Kaasmasik bowed respectfully back at the three of them. “You are all very bright children — no, you are all very bright students and I look forward — albeit with some trepidation — to seeing what you do next. However, immediately, you ought to get to your your next class.” He paused. “Be kind to your teachers, if you would. It is going to be hard on them — on all of us — for a little while.”
Saydrie smiled. “It is said in the Books of the Three that one should always be more merciful to those who have hurt you than they were to you. Thus, the mercy of the world grows.”
The Instructor nodded politely with a slightly blank look, and Saydrie was certain that Kaasmasik, at least, did not know where that particular phrasing came from — from the book of Veignevar, the book of Blood and Fire — or that the next line suggested mercy killings, because there was no kindness and no point in drawing out a death that had to happen.
He had no intention of killing any of his Instructors, of course. But the line, in this situation, amused him.
On that line, they left Instructor Kaasmasik. They wandered slowly to the next class, not particularly worried about being late for once in their school careers.
“A Device,” Enrie mused. “I’m not sure I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s rather mechanical?”
“But,” Taikie told her in earnest, “it’s not! It’s always growing! It’s always becoming something new, because it’s a Device made of living, breathing, thinking people!”
“But it’s still—” Enrie huffed.
Saydrie could see that this was not going to be a point of understanding between his friends anytime soon. But he could also see something that made him grin in this, and so he did.
“At least now, the Device of the Empire has a way to read Humanic aether.”
The world would still not be easy. Classes would still be tough. But they were a team.
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