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"What's that?" Filor peered at the strange thing in the yard behind Lidineyev's house. There was a tall structure of pipes--almost as tall as Lidi, who was more than three years older than Filor. They were some sort of distant cousin, related through Filor's mother's mother somehow. Inside the structure was a small metal beer-barrel, the sort that held luxury-class beer. Author's Notes
"It's a beer-barrel. But it's filled with water." Lidi lifted it from the pipe apparatus and set it back down several times, then took a pliers and adjusted one of the pipes, before repeating the process.
"Why would you fill a beer barrel with water?"
"Cause I want to see how high I can make it go." Lidi stuffed the pliers into his pocket and lifted the thing again, grunting. It was obviously heavy.
Filor bent down to peer under it. The pipe apparatus was over a hole dug into the ground, but there was nothing unusual about the dirt. Filor looked at the metal thing again. "What's that?" He pointed at a messy-looking bit of darker metal in the center of the bottom of the barrel.
"That's a lead plug."
Filor frowned. He'd seen beer being served at theatre events, and remembered the servers pushing a metal spout into the plug with a practiced twist of one hand. "I thought they used wax plugs for beer barrels."
"Wax melts too fast." The older boy started laying coal in the depression under the structure.
"Coal! Where'd you get that? Coal's expensive!" Filor frowned up at his cousin.
Lidi drew himself up tall, and patted his license pouch. "It's a science experiment." He said it as if it answered Filor's question. Maybe it did--Lidi was in an advanced science class. He might have gotten a license for a discount on supplies for a school project.
But Filor looked at his cousin suspiciously, remembering the last time Lidi had claimed to have a license for something unusual. Filor had believed him, and gotten in trouble when things went wrong. "So then, let me see it."
"The license." Filor held his hand out. "I want to read it."
Lidi looked at him dubiously. "You're barely in first form. How would you know what it says?"
"I'm not a baby. I can read."
"Are your hands clean?"
Filor scowled. "Cleaner than yours! I haven't been handling coal, after all."
"Well, all right." Lidi brushed his hands off briskly on his dark pants, then opened the pouch and pulled out a license, holding it where Filor could read it.
Filor reached for it, but Lidi pulled it back. "It's my license, I'll hold it."
"I can't read it while you're waving it around like that!" Lidi held it out again. Filor read it, puzzling out most of the words. It did have Lidineyev's full name and licensing tattoo on it. He didn't know all the words, but the paper looked official, and he could read enough of it to feel less worried. "So, this is for class?"
"If it goes well. They talk about the importance of documenting your failed experiments, but the successes get the good grades."
"Grades!" Filor spat the word out, with as much drama as he could muster, remembering a performance he'd seen where his uncle played a woman who'd murdered her husband.
"Grades are important. I'm going to be a master scientist one day--the youngest one ever. You watch--I'll earn the honor even younger than Oranaan." Lidi added more coals to the pile under the contraption, and then picked up his notebook and made some notations.
"You're not going to burn that, are you?"
"Of course I am."
Filor looked around. "You have a license to do that?"
"It's the science experiment. I can't do it without burning the coal." But he looked around too, before pulling out a box of matches and lighting the coal.
After a while, Filor leaned in for a better look.
"Now, don't get too close."
Filor stepped forward angrily. "I told you, I'm not a baby!"
Lidi lifted him up and carried him bodily away from the fire.
"Hey! Stop that!"
"Don't be stupid, Filor. If I let you get burnt, I'll be grounded forever! And worse, I might lose my license for this special science class." He set Filor down only after getting both of them well away from the fire. "Now, watch!"
The fire was getting white-hot--it was high-quality coal. The two boys stood there for a few minutes, and Filor wondered what all the fuss was about. "Is that the whole experiment?"
"Shhh. Watch." The metal of the beer barrel was starting to glow.
"So, the metal is getting hot. Some experiment."
"Wait for it."
Filor rolled his eyes, but stood there, wondering what he was supposed to be waiting for.
"I tried it with a water barrel first, you know, but as it got hot, the seams burst. There was a cloud of steam, but enough of the water leaked out to just put the fire out."
"Steam--what, you're making steam?"
Steam clouds were generally huge. "In that little thing?" Filor sighed. Lidi was wasting his time again.
Suddenly there was a sound, and then the beer barrel lifted into the sky over a huge cloud of steam.
Filor gaped. "Oh!" He sighed. Any leading man would have come up with something more impressive to say than that. "That--that's pretty high!"
"Yeah, it is." Lidi grinned. "I don't think even Oranaan did anything like this as a kid!"
"Um--what happens when it comes down?"
Lidi's smile wavered, as he considered where it might land. "We just make sure we're not under it, that's all."
Then there was a flash, and the thing was coming back down, very fast. The boys ran toward the nearest building, but stopped when the red-hot metal plowed into the ground only about the height of a tall man from the still smoking fire.
Cautiously, they walked forward to peer at it.
The beer barrel was no longer round or tall. It looked scorched and melted, and had a smell halfway between smoke and a lightning storm.
"What happened?" Lidi looked up at the sky and back down at the metal shape.
"That was awesome!" Filor grinned. "Can you do it again?"
Lidi looked at his notes and shook his head. "I can't tell my teachers about this--they'll think I left beer in it, or--or something." He turned to Filor. "You can't tell anyone about this, do you hear?"
Filor gaped at him. "What?" Then he kicked at the ground. "You did it again, didn't you? Fooled me with a fake license?"
"Huh?" Lidi frowned. "No, of course not. I don't have time for nonsense like that. But something went wrong, and I don't know what." He pulled out his notebook and checked his notes. "There's nothing I did that could have caused this! I don't understand what went wrong."
"What were you trying to do?" It was a different voice, and the boys turned to see a young man in indigo robes, his hair wild, looking past them at the cooling remains of the experiment.
"I--I was just using the steam trapped in the barrel to lift it into the air. At least..." Lidi trailed off, realizing who he must be talking to. The man looked barely out of third form, but wore the robes of a science master. He swallowed and took a deep breath. "At least that's what I thought I was doing. But something odd happened."
"Yes, it did, didn't it? Isn't it exciting?" Oranaan was grinning.
"Exciting?" Lidi gaped at the man.
"Yes--we have to take measurements! And then do the experiment again."
"Again? But I used up all of my coal."
Oranaan waved his hand. "Coal is cheap. We can do it a dozen times--a hundred, if need be, though perhaps we should do it further from buildings. Wood houses are flammable, you know. Do you have a measuring rod? We'll have to wait until it cools to weigh it, of course--you did think to weigh it before you started, I hope? Let me see your notes."
Lidi shook his head, then nodded, then handed over his notebook, eyes shining.
Filor sighed. Lidi had forgotten totally about him. Oh, well, the contraption had been fun to watch, but his stomach was growling. And he wasn't about to let any experiment keep him from his dinner! "I'll see you later," he said, just in case Lidi was paying enough attention to tattle on him for rudeness later. But he wasn't at all surprised when neither boy nor man answered him.
This was inspired by the February 2011 Muse Fusion.