(Show/Hide Browsing Column ->)
Third Form is even more of a challenge than Second Form. Now students have to choose between the Science track or the Trade track. Some classes count for both, but a lot of classes are specialized one way or the other. I'm taking the Science track, of course. If I do well enough, the Empire will sponsor me in higher education.
The classes are more specific now. This year's science class is "Genetics for Novices." That made me laugh -- I haven't been a total novice in this subject for years! But now I will get official class credit for learning it, and maybe I'll be able to figure out why none of my Squiggle Mice ever have black coats or bicolored coats. I have another class on "Writing in the Sciences" that should be useful for reports and such. For art I'm taking "Color Theory and Practice." We'll be using watercolors, oil paints, chalks, and color pencils to study different kinds of pigment. Those should be fun to take out to the flower festivals!
My civics class, "People Reaching People," has an interesting project. It is an ongoing assignment, like when I started the journal back in First Form. We get to make letter-friends in other towns, then write back and forth. The first ones will be other students our age doing the same assignment. Later on, though, we're supposed to find other people on our own. Teacher Teqass says that it's important to make friends long-distance because that helps hold the Empire together. I think that she sounds like my mother trying to coax me into attending another stupid party when I want to be reading.
My first letter-friend is Imoshavi. She goes to school in Tifanaro. Teacher Teqass said that this project would be interesting, but so far I'm not impressed. Imoshavi wants to talk about boys all the time. I don't like boys that much. I suppose my brother Egram is all right, but my classmates are too rowdy. When Imoshavi is not talking about the boys she knows, she wants to hear about the horse traders here in Tifirf. Apparently they are considered cute by girls who don't actually know any. I guess they have more appeal if you don't know how sweaty, smelly, and crude some of them can get. I would rather listen to the scientists.
On the bright side, Imoshavi lives in the Slunai region -- that's hole mouse territory. I have written to her asking what she knows about them. If she is willing to talk about hole mice then I will gladly swap descriptions of horse traders for that!
Imoshavi is a good friend after all! She is still kind of boring personally but she sure knows what I like. She sent me a copy of A Pocket Full of Problems: The History of the Hole Mouse for my fourteenth birthday. She says that the Tifanaro natural sciences museum carries this book in the gift shop and it's very popular with tourists there. It even has a little section of color pages with paintings of the hole mice and maps of their territory as it changed over time.
So now I have to figure out what to send Imoshavi for her birthday. I've seen lots of books about horses and a few on horse trading as a business, but I don't remember any on horse traders. Maybe someone over at the Domestic Animals Guildhall will know -- I have some contacts there from all the stuff I've done with Sraffi for the Squiggle Mice. I'll think of something.
This year we got together for a summer vacation with our relatives who live in Affamarg. Aunt Kobessa is my mother's sister and her husband is Uncle Manya. I like my cousin Umini; she is my age and also interested in science, so we have a lot in common. Her baby brother Olsan is a nuisance, though. He screams all the time. Anyway, this year they all came to Tifirf for the summer flower festival.
Umini's newest interest is food spoilage. She wants to learn about yeasts, molds, and bacteria that make food go bad. So I showed her the bakery tent at the flower festival. It sells bread shaped like flowers, and some actually made with edible flowers baked into the dough. The bakers also display and sell all kinds of yeast -- powdered, caked, and blobs of "starter." They have some special ones that smell a little like flowers. So Umini bought herself a flower-flavored sourdough starter in a cute crock painted with petticoat daisies.
We talked a lot about school. Umini chose the Science track too, though she takes different classes than mine. One of her electives is a cooking class -- I think I might try that too, since I like cooking. Umini also told me all about the Forth Form schools in Affamarg. Her city has an excellent university for the sciences, as well as several trade schools. Those are more centralized than the lower forms; most people have to leave home to study Fourth Form. Umini says the Affamarg schools are very prestigious. She promised to send me some of their handouts for prospective students. So maybe I will consider applying there.
"Genetics for Novices" is an incredible class. I am learning so much! Sad to say, I doubt I'll ever breed a black Squiggle Mouse. My textbook says that different colors can behave quite differently, and that one tends to blot out a lot of other genes. However, the different shades of brown blend well with each other and with some other traits. So there are chocolate mice on the dark end, fawn in the middle, then various shades of tan, caramel, golden, and cream on the light end. Those all have "and white" versions too. I haven't managed to breed a fawn-and-white Squiggle yet, but I have some new ideas to try.
I am so proud! One of my white Squiggle Mice finally won "Best Mouse (Other)" in the Fancy Pets show this year. Oba has a marvelous fluffy coat. Of course then everybody wanted to buy one. Sraffi and I sold a lot of white Squiggles. Other breeders were all over us clamoring for a fawn Squiggle, and we kept saying no. But then one offered to trade a golden stud for a fawn squiggle female ... and I broke down and agreed. So now I have Eyirk, who gives me a whole new color to experiment with. Sraffi laughed her hat off. Mom was not so amused.
Then I spent the tenend at the horse fair, which is why I haven't made a journal entry until just now. I took my art kit and practiced field sketching. I did the horses, a display that showed their food plants, and especially the horse traders. I picked the best horse trader portraits and sent those to Imoshavi for her birthday next month. I hope she likes them.
* * *
This year's required science class is stupid: "The Science of Flowers." Of course everybody in the Tifirf school system has to take that one. Why couldn't it be "The Science of Horses" instead? I like studying animals a lot more than plants. Plants just sit there. Animals do interesting things. My art class is "Details for the Developing Artist" with Teacher Threl, which according to him includes a great deal of pen work and watercolors with a teeny brush. We're supposed to focus on things like eyes and fingernails for people, and ears on horses -- a horse's ears pretty much tell you its mood. Flowers have plenty of detail too; maybe I can combine some assignments from these two classes. So that's not all bad.
I get a new letter-friend assigned this year. The civics teacher has a list of adults who are willing to exchange letters with students who share a common interest. We all had to fill out these silly little quizzes, which naturally had nothing to do with anything I care about. So I just wrote in "pet mice, genetics/breeding, artwork" at the bottom. Hopefully I'll get someone exciting this time. My brother Egram still writes to his musician friend in Faajaffug. I'm still swapping letters with Imoshavi, too, but I look forward to meeting someone else. All Imoshavi talks about is her new boyfriend.
For the spring flower festival this year, a team of botanists has planned a workshop on identifying early spring flowers. They came to our school and made special arrangements with Teacher Threl. As soon as the flowers start blooming, pots will arrive here for us to illustrate on little cards. Then Teacher Threl will send the best pictures from each class to the botanists for their workshop. All of us get extra credit for doing this, and the top three pictures will win Luxury, Desire, and Necessity tokens as prizes.
My new letter-friend is Vloroshaal. He owns an art gallery in Faajaffug. Points of Interest specializes in ink work. He carries sketches and drawings using black or colored ink. One section features black ink illustrations tinted with watercolors. He even has a little gift shop with specialty papers and paints for visiting artists. That all sounds fascinating. I wish that I could see Vloroshaal's gallery myself, but it's too far away -- I'd never get approval for a travel license just to look at pictures.
Vloroshaal feels much the same way. He likes to study local artists in distant places. He has heard about Tifirf's festivals and wishes that he could attend one. I told him all about the festivals but had to admit that I don't know many artists except for my classmates. Maybe I will try to meet some now. I could ask at the art booths during the festivals, or let Mom take me to a few parties and schmooze there.
Hole mice to the rescue! The botanists loved my watercolor of a hole mouse nibbling on a pinkleaf blossom, even though the details weren't good enough to win the class competition. They want the picture to hand out as a prize to the person who identifies the most flowers in their workshop. So they gave me a 10 Desire token. I'm going to buy myself a better brand of color pencils, now that I know I really like that medium. I'd upgrade my watercolors, but those are too expensive.
Sraffi says that people who own Squiggle Mice in other towns are starting to enter theirs in pet shows. Nobody has won yet, but several owners have promised to inform us if they do. We have also asked the Domestic Animals Guild to help us track that information. It is too early for the Squiggle breed to have "champion" mice but we need to start recording awards for that to work later. So I bought a new leather journal for that purpose, with gilt pages and a ribbon bookmark.
Oh, by all that is licensed! Vloroshaal gave me a novice's set of Rainforest Glory watercolors. That is the top luxury brand. The box only has the eight basic colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, and black) rather than the sixteen that I have in my current set, but for the boost in quality I will gladly mix my own in-between colors on a palette. I'd feel guilty about the expense but Vloroshaal says that he knows a Mayaloi woman who works at Rainforest Glory so he gets these sets wholesale for the gift shop in his gallery.
What in the world can I get for him? I would be totally embarassed to send him my artwork. He looks at professional art all day long! I will have to think of something else.
I've been breeding my golden stud mouse Eyirk to some flat fawn females. So far all the pups have turned out flat fawn also. Next I want to try crossing those mice with each other -- that should produce some golden pups.
Sraffi is after me to provide her with a golden mouse. Apparently they are popular but really expensive, so she can't always get them from her regular suppliers. I think I'll hold out for a nicer metal display cage; she has some of those in her Desire section and I'd like to trade for one. It'll make the mice look more impressive when I show them.
I got the best idea to make a present for Vloroshaal! I took my current sketchbook to the Summer Flower Festival and spent lots of time at the Art Guild booth. I told the artists all about Vloroshaal and his gallery. Then I brought out my ink pens and invited each artist to write their name and address along with a little picture. We filled two pages this way.
I'm making good progress with my mice. The first crossover litter is old enough now that I can see their colors. Six of the eight pups are fawn, and two are golden. If I'm figuring the genetics right, then the breakdown should be something like:
2 mice: fawn/fawn
4 mice: fawn/golden (expressing as fawn)
2 mice: golden/golden
Now that I have an idea how the fawn/golden colors interact, I can start trying to cross the golden mice with the fawn Squiggle Mice. I am running low on space, though, and it's hard to keep up with all this extra work while still studying for school. When I get enough fawn Squiggles to sell to Sraffi, maybe I can hire an assistant.
Today I visited the Fall Horse Fair. I spent a lot of time in the art booth, gathering more sketch pages for Vloroshaal. I will ask my classmates to do some pages in "Details for the Developing Artist." I also went to the display corrals to draw some of the horses who won ribbons.
I saw the strangest horse there! She was brown with white lines on her left side that made sort of squarish brown spots. I made several sketches of her in different poses, and one big ink drawing that I colored in. Her name is Hexball, for the spots. I jotted down her owner's name and address too.
I wonder if horse breeding is as much fun as mice. They come in some of the same colors, though not the same patterns.
My paper for "The Science of Flowers" proved more interesting than I expected. I always knew about the damage to our world, how the ecosystem doesn't work perfectly because of the old boundaries. I didn't realize, though, just how many species of plants and animals must have died out. We still don't know all the ones we lost. Researching a paper on pollinators really illuminated that for me, how some plants barely survive because not enough pollinators exist to take care of their flowers. So the wind-pollinated plants have survived much better than those that rely on insects or animals.
Sometimes science makes me very sad. Still, I would rather know than not know.
* * *
I finished the present for Vloroshaal and sent it to him as a year-end gift. Just before the last trimester ended, I asked my "Details for the Developing Artist" classmates to fill a few pages with art and addresses. So now Vloroshaal will have a pretty good sample of Tifirf artwork, and if he really likes what somebody drew, the contact information will be right there.
My new class "Field Illustration for Scientists" counts both as a science class and an art class. So I get to take another non-art elective this year: "Cooking for Novices," here I come! I'm also thrilled about "Field Illustration" because if I score well there, I can try out for a novice license in field illustration. Then I could collaborate with other scientists who can't draw well, and get byline credit for illustrating their papers. I'd also have the right to sell my illustrations, but competing against professional artists I doubt I'd have much luck with that.
One of my required science classes looks kind of daunting. "Famous Invasive Disasters" teaches about historic incidents caused by things like boundaries opening or people falsifying licenses, then some pest or disease spreading because of that. Everybody in Tifirf knows about the plague at the horse fair that time, and I did that one project on boundaries, but I still don't know a lot about this subject. What I do know is pretty creepy, though.
Sraffi and I just heard! Pocket Pets in Tiflail held an in-store pet show, and a Squiggle Mouse won "Best Small Animal!" His name is Fuushers. This is the first ribbon outside our home town. We ceremoniously made the entry in the journal, then went out for ice cream to celebrate.
"Field Illustration for Scientists" takes a LOT of work. I was expecting all the sketches, of course. I was not expecting a fresh list of durable equipment each trimester, followed by ever-more-meticulous requirements for the sketches. Technical pencils. Magnifying glasses. A dissection kit for flowers.
Oh well, I can sell a pair of fawn Squiggle Mice. That should help cover the extra expense. Mom and Dad grumbled -- some of those tools really cost -- but at least the dissection kit and magnifying glasses will carry over to other science classes.
The flower festivals will give me plenty of opportunity to sketch flower parts. I told Vloroshaal about my current art class and now he wants to see one of my illustrations. I've put him off so far ... the idea makes me nervous. I guess I'll send him something after the festival, if anything looks good enough.
Behold the first golden Squiggle Mouse! I have named him Raiyokesh. In the sunlight he looks like a tiny ball of fire. I've never seen a more beautiful mouse.
I made Sraffi swear by all that is licensed to keep this a secret until we have enough golden Squiggles to sell. We are not even going to enter any in shows before then. I'm honestly afraid that someone might try to steal them.
Vloroshaal wrote back with comments on the sketch I sent him. He was encouraging but not effusive. Basically he says that my work shows promise, though it's not fine art level yet. That's okay -- I wouldn't want to make art for a living, just for fun and an adjunct to my science career. Vloroshaal thinks I should have no trouble passing the novice test, though.
In other news, Imoshavi got pregnant. I can't say I'm really surprised, but the situation sounds awful. Her parents are deeply religious so they are making her keep the baby and marry her boyfriend. (I have no idea how they expect to pay all the fines.) Imoshavi will have to drop out of school to take care of the baby. She still hopes to study at home and pass the tests that way, but I think it is a long shot. Imoshavi is not that great of a student; she falls in the top half of her class, but just barely. I doubt she can pass without all the class discussion and teacher support.
For my birthday this year we all went to The Eclectic Eatery again. The cooks came out from the kitchen and everyone sang feast songs for me. It was silly and fun. Mom must have organized the gifts in secret because I got a different jar of spice from each person. The head chef gave me one that came all the way from the island town of Tifijimi! I can't wait to try these in my cooking class -- one at a time, Mom says.
I've finished my research paper on the spread of thorn locusts. How could anyone think that encouraging those things just for the sake of preserving their wings to decorate hats could ever possibly be a good idea? The map I drew for this assignment looks like I spilled the bottle of scarlet ink all over it.
I will never cheat on a transport license. I will never cheat on a breeding license. Ever. Just thinking about it makes me sick now.