Mirrored from Sythyry.
Safety in the Lab
Feralan teleported back to the workshop. hCevian manifested, dancing around him, his black spikes twinkling. I — I am the wizard Sythyry, in case I haven’t mentioned it before — was sitting on top of a cabinet, embroidering flowers on a sash. Feralan recognized me instantly: not because he has seen me every day of the last many years, which he has and which does not help a bit, but because I have a large but generally-invisible nametag which he sees at first glance instead of me. He understands the symbol of the word ‘Sythyry’ much better than he understands the feathery blue lizard in physical reality.
I asked, “How did the class go? I ask with friendly quasi-parental concern.” If you really want Feralan to understand your connotations, this is how you must talk. I do it when I remember to, which is sometimes.
Feralan crouched on his perfectly circular ottoman. “It was awful. All people and personalities and names and motives.”
"That is what you need to learn to work with," I said.
"I know it's not easy for you, but you need to have some skill with the concepts, even without any remaining natural ability. I speak with quasi-parental concern still."
“Can’t I put it off for another few years?” asked Feralan. He answered himself, “I know, I know, we did that once already, if we do it again I’ll probably never get to it. But … there are so many students in the class! Fourteen, plus the teacher!”
"You certainly have my sympathy, and my pleased approval for being willing to stick with something that you find so difficult," I said.
"If there is anything I can do to help out, please let me know."
“There is! The other students don’t seem to understand what’s wrong with me. The teacher told them, but she made it seem confusing and minor and insurmountable and horrible and all. Could you tell them, in a way that makes them understand it?”
I had to chuckle a few sparks. "I am amused! Often the comment about doing anything to help fundamentally means almost the opposite. But I will write yesterday's story down, from your point of view, and perhaps they will read it and perhaps they will get the point.
Feralan reached up to scratch his head, stopped to shiver for an instant when he caught sight of his arm, and continued. (I frowned to myself: I thought we had mostly overcome that problem years ago. The day’s stress must have brought it back.) “Will that work?”
"Most people can understand emotional content from my scribblings, or so they tell me," I assured him. "And I have been meaning to restart my diary, or at least write stories of Kismirth, and this will get me going. So I will do it, and you may show it to your fellow students ... well, check with Phaniet first. She might say it's a bad idea. Which I mean with a lightly ironic detachment, that a person a fraction of my age and power gets veto power over my ideas." Phaniet is as socially adept as Feralan is socially broken.
Feralan nodded, shivering. hCevian grew to a largish size, a massive sea anemone of menacing black spikes, and surrounded Feralan. I am pretty sure that this gesture amounts to a close and protective hug, between the two of them.
"For now, why don't you take the ... I mean, I give you permission and encouragement to take the rest of the afternoon off to chase down some hyperbolic functions," I said. Feralan squeaked happily inside of hCevian.
I added, "No time distortion though! You're too many years older than your age already!" Which is a real problem! Feralan is mid-adolescent, though, by a count of calendar years, he should barely be starting adolescence. This is a terrible habit he picked up from me, and for which I take considerable blame. But my species is timeless by nature, and his is not; and until he manages to make himself immortal, he had better not press the limits of his mortality too hard.
Two days later, Feralan brought the first half of this story to class. The original plan was that he would show it to the teacher, but, for reasons that nobody understood, he kept it in his sachel, and brought it out after the morning’s sessions (on poetry). During lunchtime, he contrived to sit next to Wexiset, probably by means of sitting next to her without the usual grace of asking her permission. “Please read this,” he told her, handed her the folded papers, took a hard-boiled egg out of his bag, closed his eyes, and started eating it.
Her voice was even harder to understand when he couldn’t see her mouth move, but he managed to understand it.
Why are you eating with your eyes closed?
“So I don’t see my hands. It’s easier that way. I think it’s somewhere on the first page,” he said.
You are a very confusing lad.
She read the first page.
This is about me.
“Only a little bit. It’s mostly about me. It’s about how I see everything,” said Feralan. He finished his egg, and opened his eyes and his box of dumplings.
You make it sound like I'm some sort of terrible monster.
“Not exactly a monster. Just like I’ve never seen anything like you before, or that’s how it is until I think about it a second,” said Feralan.
Wexiset’s face deformed, as it had a few items before.
At least you make Miss Qualsohn sound like a monster too.
“Everybody is unfamiliar! Even me!” protested Feralan.
Paper rustled; Wexiset was a fast reader.
Oh. I'm trying to be funny. That's what this gesture means. It's called a smile. I can't believe nobody told you that before.
Feralan got his handbook out of his satchel, and flipped to page eight, and showed her a page full of sketches of smiling Rassimel faces. “This is for trying to be funny, this is for happiness, this is loving, this is contemptuous, this is respectful, this is patient, this is flirtatious, this is proud, this is submissive. There are two more pages of Rassimel smiling and meaning different things by it.”
Wexiset took the handbook.
They look pretty similar. I do see it, this one is definitely proud, and the first on the next page is definitely coy. I guess that smiles can mean all sorts of things. I thought they were just simple smiles. I mean I never really thought about it.
“Expressions aren’t simple, not when you have to understand them from the outside.”
I guess not. I can't imagine how I tell. I just know.
“There’s a particular organ in your soul, with a five-syllable name, which does it. It’s sort of like the amorion, the part that lets you feel love,” said Feralan.
You're trying to do it with your mind, not your soul. That's why it's so hard for you, isn't it?
(Wexiset figured that out in a flash, compared to, say, a collection of Zi Ri wizards and soul specialists a few years ago. Perhaps this is why she is in the class for the brightest adolescents of Kismirth.)
“Mostly it’s not that hard, I just need the second to think about it,” said Feralan.
Wexiset’s face distorted again. She said,
That's me smiling again, by the way. It means ... ... what does it mean? Friendliness and companionability, I guess. Wow, this is harder to think about than I had guessed, when I have to put it into words. Anyways, can I squeeze your hand to express some sympathy and hope that we can be friends?"
Feralan closed his eyes, and held his hand out. Warm blunt-clawed fingers meshed with his, and he concentrated on Wexiset’s words, and squeezed back.
If you're as mathematical as that story says, do you play diamond chess? That's my hobby. Oh, and I'm smiling companionably now.
“I do! I’m smiling back. And feeling a lot less doomed about going to classes.”