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I'm not good at this, Emeroma decided. Politics and pandering were not strong points of her personality, and she desperately hated them. She tried to remember not to scowl; it was a struggle not to let her mouth pull into that shape. Her peers had made it clear that she was to gain the favor of this lad, and be careful not to scare him off. He had opportunities other than their school - physics wanted to snatch him up for their program, and mathematics had been drooling over him since third form.
"Oranaan," she started with deliberate gentleness, but he interrupted her before she could continue.
"I know what you're going to say," he said flippantly. He sprawled in the chair across her desk from her.
Emeroma let herself scowl then. "Do you?" she challenged.
"You think I should buckle down, work harder. I need to pay more attention. I'm a genius going to waste. If I'd only apply myself! I've heard the speech."
He looked bored.
"Fine," Emeroma said with ice. "You've heard it before. You'll probably hear it again. At least until you get yourself stripped of your rank and rejected from the school. It will be a hoot until your political sponsors turn on you."
Oranaan didn't sit up in his chair, but he did seem stiffer. "They wouldn't..."
"You think your sponsors have your best interests in mind?" Emeroma gave a chilly, toothy smile. She dropped a stack of papers on the desk in front of him. "They can strip you of this rank and blacken your name in science for a half a century. This is your paper on the collusion of magnetic and time fields, and it will sink you."
Don't mention the data, she'd been warned by the other faculty. He's too important to lose - a genius!- and the implications were too ugly. They wanted her to sweet talk him, to use motherly charms to persuade him to maintain at least a face of respectability until they could rush him through graduation and set him loose on real research. Perhaps they assumed she had motherly charms, simply because she was a woman.
Oranaan scooted a tad more upright in his chair, but his confident look didn't waver. "That paper was the best one in the class. The media said it was ground-breaking."
Emeroma nodded. "It was brilliantly written. The theory is sound. You're a genius."
The Scientist was wary, rightly so.
"You're also lazy, self-centered, and you falsified data in the charts of section three."
She could have kicked herself - she'd reminded herself dozens of times not to make this insulting. Oranaan brought out the vinegar in her.
He was bolt upright in his chair now, knuckles tense on the arms. "That data is good," he insisted shrilly. Emeroma was reminded all over again how young he was. Everyone was constantly remarking on the fact, as if it excused his behavior.
"Oh, the data is good," the Science Leader agreed. "But you graphed it incorrectly. You dropped a digit in six places, and the results are skewed by 15%."
Oranaan flipped immediately to the appendix, mouthing numbers as he did the math in his head. After a moment of muttering, he laughed out loud.
"You're right," he agreed with no apparent chagrin. "Figure that!"
Anger at his casual disregard sizzled up Emeroma's spine. "Think, Oranaan! Figure it out, if you're such a genius!"
"That data still shows the right trends," he said slowly, not understanding.
"Who checked your work?" Emeroma demanded. "Who sponsored the paper and pays for your luxurious way of life, turning a careful blind eye to what everyone else says about your dangerous carelessness? Who knew about this error and let it get past, knowing they could use it to sink you at any point in the future?"
Oranaan's mouth opened and closed without words.
The Science Leader leaned back in her chair. "I could beat him to it. A few words there, a few words here, imply that you did it on purpose, and you're out of the school on your ear."
Oranaan laughed, hesitantly. "Helluva thing, to expel someone over a mistake like that..."
"Did you miss the part in my speech about paying attention to detail and how important it is to being a scientist? I thought you knew this speech."
"You don't have what it takes to be a Science Master."
Oranaan's mouth dropped open. He'd been groomed for Science Leader since he was young, and had probably never had anyone question that path. "I'm..."
"A genius," Emeroma snapped. "Yes, I know. Everyone knows. But being a Scientist is about more than brilliant papers and crunching numbers - it's politics. You're careless and sloppy, and you can't afford to be."
"It was just a mistake!"
The Science Master stabbed a finger at his chest. "If it was, it was a mistake you should have caught," she said fiercely. "A mistake that other Scientists will look for and use any way that they can. It's all fun and games while they let you out with enough rope to hang yourself. But you're going to have a fine wakeup in the morning when they decide you're more trouble than you're worth."
"I could go somewhere else." Oranaan scowled, sullen, and the words that Emeroma had dreaded so much seemed flat against his childish sulk.
"You could," she admitted, frosty voice and posture. "But we both know that your mistakes will catch up with you, and there are vultures in every school and guild, just waiting for a brilliant, naive fool like you." She tapped the pile of papers in front of him. "They discredit you with something like this, and all the results of your research and the genius of your ideas are theirs to reuse."
She wondered if she'd overplayed her hand when Oranaan was quiet for a long time. She matched his silence moment for moment until he tentatively asked, "What can I do about that data?"
Emeroma pretended to consider. "Re-release the paper with new data. Come up with some new scenarios and run some more experiments in the lab. Present the full results and fix the original graphs at the same time." That would keep him out of trouble long enough. Probably.
"I could do that," Oranaan said. "I could probably use the paper that was just released on magnets as a... oh, I wonder if the fields can be aligned so that there's interference! I could use iron filings to..."
"Requisition what you need from finances," Emeroma told him with a handwave; it was her turn to look bored. This was as much physics as engineering, but as long as Oranaan was doing it in their laboratories, her school would get the glory of his over-valued brain.
"Sure," the Scientist said eagerly. "I'll get started right away."
He was halfway out of the door before Emeroma could remind him, "Remember to pay attention, Oranaan." She didn't entirely mean the data.
Emeroma felt her scowl return as the door thumped shut behind Oranaan. Maybe she was better at politics than she'd thought. It didn't mean she liked it.