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Oranaan leaned over his project, maneuvering the wooden tweezers over the line of glue on the wooden rod. He dropped the time crystal sliver into its place. "There! That's the last one," he said. Author's Notes
He sat back. This time it would work, he felt sure of it. This experiment wouldn't end in a cloud of iron filings exploding all over the lab, or another lecture about figures and replicable results. He would finally get the respect he deserved!
As his thoughts whirred along their track, Oranaan strung the thread in the cubical wooden frame. He turned the wooden rod over, examining all its inlays. The long piece of lodestone shone dully on the underside, while the row of alternating red and blue fragments winked along the top. It took only a moment to fasten the rod into the frame.
"Just wait until Denel sees this!" he said, as he scampered away.
* * *
Denel, back in the City of Lights for a two-tenday course in engineering management, was not so happy to see Oranaan even though Emeroma had assigned him as her mentor for the course. "Really, Oranaan, I don't have time for this," she said. Denel waved her hands over a table covered with engineering diagrams and license papers. "I have to finish all this before I leave for Affamarg. I was trying to get the top sheaf done so I can go to the hall cafeteria for lunch."
"It will only take a few minutes," Oranaan wheedled. "I just want to show you this one thing. It'll be useful, I promise!" He dragged her, still protesting, outside. They made the long hike to the stump of the ruined tower. It had been tidied up but not repaired.
"This had better be worth it, Oranaan," Denel said. As a mentor, he was often more trouble than he was worth; Emeroma had confided that was likely, and sweetened the deal with some extra credit for Denel, since the boy needed leadership practice so badly and his paperwork was dreadful. Denel grumbled under her breath as he paced back and forth. "What is that thing, anyway? It looks like a charlatan's magic wand, only I can see the thread holding it up."
"I call it an anomaly compass," said Oranaan. "Remember how we were trying to identify the exact line of the anomaly that wrecked this tower?"
"You were," she said.
"Well, this device is going to react with the ambient fields and show us precisely where the anomaly struck," said Oranaan. The rod swung freely on its thread. "Um ... any minute now."
"Right," said Denel. "Any minute now, the lunch line will be closing. So thanks to you, I'm missing lunch -- which you will now buy for me, since a food vendor here won't accept student passes."
"Sure, whatever," Oranaan said absently. "Ah, there it goes!" The wooden rod swung into a wavering line, then drifted away again.
"Oranaan! This is getting ridiculous," said Denel. She shooed a bug away from her face. Her stomach growled.
"Maybe this site is too old," said Oranaan. "Let's check out a fresher one."
"A fresher one?" said Denel, jogging beside him as he hurried away. "Oranaan, just how many anomalies are happening here?"
"Oh, well ... some," he said with a vague shrug. "The firewatch post went down recently."
"Another tower," Denel mused as they approached it. This one had not been cleaned up yet. The wreckage reminded her of wooden blocks demolished by giant toddlers. She wondered what condition her house would be in when she got home, and whether the boys would run Jerumal completely ragged during her brief absence. Well, Jerumal would just have to manage; she deserved a chance to further her own education, after all the support she poured into her husband's career.
A whoop from Oranaan snatched her attention. "Denel, look, it works! It works!" He waved the wooden frame in the air. Nearby workmen stared at the young man as he capered back and forth.
"Oranaan, strive for a little decorum, please," said Denel. "People are staring at us." That worked with her sons. Why couldn't it work with Oranaan?
"Here, you try it," he said, pushing the frame into her hands. "It works a lot like a magnetic compass. You just move around, and the pointer lines itself up with the field edge."
Denel looked at the rod spinning lazily on its thread. "Sure it does."
"No, you have to cross the edge. Go that way," said Oranaan, giving her a shove.
Denel took three steps, and then suddenly the rod stopped spinning and stuck in place. She looked around. More or less in line with the firewatch post, perhaps. A few more steps and the rod swung loose again. "Interesting," she allowed.
"Go back and try to find the line again," said Oranaan.
"Then you'll buy me lunch?" Denel pressed.
"Whatever you want," Oranaan said, with an extravagant jangle of his coin pouch.
Denel wandered down the street. The device did seem to show the path of destruction, where it sliced through several trees and nicked another building. "Oranaan, are you sure this thing is safe to handle?" she said, peering dubiously at the skeletal cube. "It doesn't look very sturdy."
"Oh, it's fine," he said. "I just built it."
"No wonder it reeks of glue," said Denel. "Anyway, you owe me lunch."
Only slightly deflated by her lack of enthusiasm, Oranaan followed Denel to the nearest lunch cart and bought food for both of them. He still had plenty of grant money left, after all, even subtracting what he spent on supplies for his latest project.
* * *
If possible, Emeroma was even less impressed with Oranaan's project than Denel had been. He did his best to present it in the best possible light. Her frown made his stomach roil around the remains of lunch.
"Honestly, Oranaan, this is the best you could do? I'm disappointed," Emeroma said. "I hoped that pairing you with Denel might settle you down a bit. I should think even you would know better than to go dabbling about in nonsense like magic."
"It's not magic, it's science!" Oranaan protested.
Emeroma raised an eyebrow. "After your other shenanigans, you expect anyone to take this seriously? A magic wand that doesn't even float by itself, but hangs from a plainly visible thread?"
Oranaan huffed at her. "It is not a magic wand. It is an anomaly compass. It does not entertain crowds of ignorant people. It traces the line of damage left behind by an anomaly," he said. One finger tapped the frame, causing the pointer to swing.
Emeroma leaned back. "You should put that thing in a proper case before you kill someone," she added.
"It's not a time bubble," Oranaan said. "These are just tiny slivers, and they're not paired. The fields are miniscule; nobody could get hurt unless they grab the rod or something. All the anomaly compass does is react to whatever causes anomalies. It's replicable. Anyone can use it!" He waved his hands in emphasis. The wooden rod hit the edge of the frame, knocking loose one of the crystals.
"You young fool!" Emeroma snapped. She dragged Oranaan away from the glittering splinter on the floor. Then she pried the frame out of his hands and set it carefully on a desk. The thread snapped, dropping the wand to the bottom of the frame. Scowling, Emeroma covered it all with a box.
"All I need is your signature to approve the project," Oranaan said. "This time I'm sure my results will be useful."
"No," the scientist said. "Oranaan, use your head for something other than a hat-rack! You spent grant money for materials to make a magic wand --"
"It's an anomaly compass," he insisted.
"-- you carried a device with unshielded time crystal fragments through a public hallway, and you obviously didn't build it very well because it's shedding pieces all over my office," Emeroma finished ruthlessly. "This is completely unacceptable. I suggest that you go back to your previous proposal regarding the relation between magnetic fields and time fields."
"I couldn't get that to come out quite right, but it's what gave me the idea for this," said Oranaan.
"Well, you'll just have to think of something else," Emeroma said. "I'm going to send for a time crystal handler to clean up this mess and take charge of your dangerous little contraption. You stay right there until I come back." She closed the office door behind her.
"But it's replicable," wailed Oranaan. No use. She was already gone. "Nobody appreciates me." He slumped in the chair, head in hands. Maybe next time, things would go better.
This story came out of the March 2010 Muse Fusion. It was inspired by prompts from Tonithegreat and Melissa Nelson. It was sponsored by Mikka and Melissa Nelson.
I wanted to revisit Oranaan and add to the weight of material showing him as a careless genius. I also thought it would be fun to explore the boundary between science and magic -- what people consider worthy of study and what they consider nonsense. So here, he's fooling around with a clever but risky and imprecise contraption in an attempt to study anomalies. There are hints starting to build up about what's "really" going on, but none of the characters know enough about temporal physics yet to put all the pieces together.