Author Topic: Part 12: Burned  (Read 7199 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 12: Burned
« on: July 29, 2022, 07:09:00 AM »
Char let the background hum of conversation flow past her like the nearby stream. They would ask for her if they needed any advice about burning things or blowing them up. For now they had other work to do, and so did she.

Aysa sent out a tendril of concern, which Char met with a refusal. The elder treqar was the nicest of the group by far: she treated Char just the same as she did anyone else. At first Char assumed the older female was being condescending like so many others had been, but over the past few days it had become clear she actually practiced what she preached. She was a scientist, and as such didn't care that Combustors were the most hated experts in existence. She followed the evidence, and it showed that Char was useful and equally valuable to everyone else.

Moss was a different sort. He'd approached Char twice now, asking nonessential questions about the kind of compression fuel that would be needed for their later project. He'd also asked about her personal life, and she'd responded with one of her usual sarcastic quips.

In retrospect she wasn't sure why she'd done that. Char had been surprised by his question, and had reacted instinctively, pushing him away. Why did he want to know? Wasn't he aware that she was a toxic blight to him and everyone like him? He was from a very isolated grove—that much was clear from his naïve and innocent perspective. Maybe he was just socially stupid, in contrast to his skills at design. Which were impressive, she had to admit.

Here he was coming again. Giving an inward tremor of frustration, she pulled her attention away from her mixtures. "What do you want?"

His signals of interest faltered slightly, mixed in with embarrassment. "I… just wanted to know if you had any kind of statement for the future."

Char had prepared for more questions about work or her history. She hadn't expected this. "What?"

"I'm documenting our work here. Everything we're doing, for posterity. Assuming we survive—and that's a big assumption—the subsequent generations will want to know who we were, in addition to just what we were doing. If I'm lucky, some treqar hundreds of years from now will experience this recording and feel inspired to become a mechanical builder as well!"

She quickly ordered a qar out to do a visual inspection, and it reported back that he was telling the truth. He was growing an enzyme package which included all of his current experiences. This conversation was being recorded.

"Have you considered that maybe it's rude to record someone without their permission?" She accused, still feeling off-put by this strange, rural person and his up-front methods. She also felt exposed, as her privacy was being invaded right now. Her life had been centered around privacy, and it was valuable to her. Well, necessary to her at any rate.

"I'm sorry. I'll… cut this part out of the recording if you want." The humiliation in his tone increased tenfold.

"I do. And next time tell me beforehand if you want to record me. Nevermind. I'll just assume you are. I have no statement for your invasive little project." She withdrew from the conversation, going back to her work.

"Wait! I've stopped recording. Here, you can check." His tone had lost all interest and humiliation, strangely. Now there was just worry.

What did he have to worry about? She sent her qar to check again, and it confirmed his statement. Grudgingly, she returned to the conversation, her presence within the network growing more visible to him again.

He sent out some relief. "Look, I'll leave you alone outside of work, if that's what you want. I just need to know what I've done to offend you. Other than the recording I mean: you've been angry at me since we first met."

Again she felt nonplussed. Did he really not get it? When she hesitated to respond, Moss went on. "Please. If I don't know where I messed up, I might do the same thing again with other people. Set me straight, for their sake if not for mine?"

Enough was enough with this little game of his. "Why are you even talking to me?" She demanded, anger seeping through her usual tight control. "What, did you lose a bet? Is this some ploy to gain my sympathy just to humiliate me in front of the others? Well it won't work. I've grown some pretty thick armor against that kind of attack."

Understanding flooded into their interchange now, from him. "I get it now. You're not angry with me personally. It makes sense why. I've heard at least a little about how Combustors are treated in the Union, but I don't agree with any of that. Your profession is just as valuable to our society as you are to this group. If… no, when we survive, I'll make sure that you get just as much credit as the rest of us. With luck, some treqar hundreds of years from now will look at you and be inspired to become a Combustor."

People looking up to her? The idea might as well have been straight from the Void. "You're delusional. Fantasizing about some ideal future that will never exist."

He sent out a helpless indicator. "So? Some people would call building weapons that could stop the juns a fantasy, or building a mechanical replacement for qars a delusion. I like dreaming big. I think you might like it too, if you give it a try."

He was toying with her of course. Everyone his age did, and most of the older people did too. But his ideas were novel at least. Before she could dismiss him again, his presence changed tone slightly, becoming more professional. "The others are running into some bedrock with this stone thrower idea. Boulders just won't work. They can't travel far enough or fast enough to hit something as small as one of the jun bombing groups."

He pulled up the enzyme design for the boulder thrower. "I was wondering. That expanding gas idea you had, with burning liquid fuel. Could it be adapted for throwing stones? Sorry, not stones. Rax is thinking metal projectiles, much smaller than a pebble." Next to the image of the thrower, Moss drew a tiny collection of metal knives. They looked like iron, one of the easiest metals to purify so far. Solid, heavy, and hard to break. They were loaded en masse into the curved shape of the thrower, and launched at a hypothetical enemy. Most of them missed of course, but if even one could puncture the juns' bag of liquid, it would ruin their attack.

She pondered the idea, peripherally aware that he had successfully distracted her from his ploy for now. That was fine: it was work, and this work took precedence over her personal feelings. "Maybe. Your stone thrower design couldn't be made of wood, though. It would shatter completely or burn up if we tried. A metal tube might do it. That would force the projectiles out in one direction. I have a few mixtures that would do the trick."

"Excellent," he said, leaking satisfaction. "I'm going back to the others, to tell them about this new idea. I'd like you to join me, as I'm sure they'd benefit from having a Combustor's input. Consider it an open invitation from a colleague." He retreated from the conversation and rejoined Rax and Tobor. The twins joined a few seconds later, and then Aysa.

Those daggers would never get the job done. The metal projectiles would have to completely fill up the tube, or the expanding gas would just go around them. They would have to be spheres if this was going to work. They'd need her if this was going to work.

Reluctantly, Char joined in as well.
« Last Edit: August 10, 2022, 01:36:56 AM by Daen »