“I call it a battery,” Toke said, reciting his speech from memory. Even as he spoke, he leaned in closer to the cylinder on the table in front of him, gently working on it with a tool in each hand. “I had this idea three years ago, and I believe it can change the world.”
“Will change the world,” Navras corrected him from his desk. “That makes you sound more confident. Saying it can change the world leaves what it will do up to the Permissor. Saying it will change the world tells him it will happen whether he wants it to or not, so he had better get on board while he can.”
“I believe it will change the world,” Toke amended, never taking his eyes off his work. Beside the empty cylinder sat a clear glass box, out of which came a bright blue glow. “The concept is simple: it contains enough jidoryo to power a machine for weeks on end.”
“Interesting,” Navras said, playing the part of the Permissor. “How does it work?”
Toke gestured toward the glowing box. “With a jido crystal. As you know, a crystal the size of someone’s thumbnail holds enough jidoryo to charge any simple machine for an entire day. Until now, though, nobody has been able to harness their power. Jido crystals are dangerous to touch, and are liable to explode if handled roughly. My batteries are the answer to that problem.”
Toke set down his tools and put on a pair of goggles and thick rubber gloves. Moving slowly and with the utmost caution, he took the lid off the glass box. With his other hand, he reached a long set of tongs into the box, and brought out the crystal. The air hummed with its power, making the hair on his head stand up, but he never once let his concentration lapse. He moved as swiftly as he dared, positioning the crystal above the cylinder, and then carefully lowered it inside. With a quiet sigh of relief, he placed the tongs on the table and set a metal disk over the opening, reducing the bright blue glow to just a shimmer around the edges.
“The crystal inside my battery,” he went on, “is roughly the size of a human thumb. I estimate that if a fragment the size of a thumbnail can power a machine for a day, then this one can power it for almost a month.”
“Fascinating,” the professor said, and Toke got the feeling he wasn’t just acting the part. “But what you said about the crystals exploding concerns me. How do I know your battery won’t blow up when I try to use it?”
“Because the inside of the battery has been molded so the crystal will fit inside it perfectly,” Toke answered as he lowered his goggles again. He glanced at Navras to see that he had already done the same, and pulled out his welding torch and began to seal the crystal inside. “No matter how much you shake it, bounce it, or roll it, the crystal will never move an inch. This will allow whatever machine you put it in to syphon the energy without putting it in danger of exploding.”
The task was complete. Putting the torch down, Toke eagerly took his goggles off and looked at his invention. It was nothing more than a gray metal barrel, but to the young inventor it was the most beautiful thing on Yasmik. He didn’t even look away when Professor Navras clapped his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Congratulations, Toke,” he said. “You’ve done it.”
Toke reached out with a gloved hand and picked the battery up. It was light enough to carry without being a burden, but still had enough weight to feel sturdy.
“It’s going to change the world,” he said again, this time speaking to himself.
“That it is,” Navras agreed. “Toke, my boy, I have carried the legacy of jidoryo by myself for too long. I am proud to hand it off to you.”
To anyone else, those words would not have meant much. Toke, on the other hand, understood exactly what his professor was saying. Fifty years ago, Navras had discovered how to harness jidoryo, the energy that now powered all of the machines on Yasmik, by churning it out of grindstones filled with microscopic fragments of jido crystal. His discovery had been revolutionary, spurring thousands of other inventors into action. The Yasmik Toke had been born into was utterly unrecognizable from the one his grandparents had grown up in. But the larger, fully formed crystals themselves had never been used.
“It really is such a simple concept,” he said at last. “I can’t believe nobody else thought of it before.”
“It’s because they had weak minds,” Navras said. “They all thought the same thing: that jido crystals were either useless, or too dangerous to experiment with. But not you. You thought for yourself, you dreamed, and now you have finally brought your dream into reality.”
Toke set the battery back on the table. “So, do you think I’m ready?”
“Of course you are, my boy!” Navras said, giving the battery one last look before going back to his desk. “I’ve been teaching this class for longer than you have been alive, and I have seen many great inventors begin their work right here in this workshop. None of them held the same level of promise as you— and I hope you understand that I do not say that lightly at all.”
At that moment, the workshop door opened, and another man came in.
“Professor Navras,” he said before he had taken two steps inside.
“Just a moment, Virkhul,” Navras responded with exaggerated calmness. “I’m with a student.”
Virkhul bowed his head in consent. His hair, bleached to be as white as snow, fell to cover his face.
“The day after tomorrow, Toke, I want you to go walk into the Permissor’s office with your head held high, and confidence in your step. When you come out, I will be there to welcome you as a man.”
Toke took a moment to let the professor’s words sink in. “You really think I can—”
“Headmaster Drull would like me to remind you of your plans to have dinner with his family tomorrow evening,” Virkhul interrupted, his beady eyes giving Toke a contemptuous look.
Navras sighed, and finally turned to look at his assistant. “Thank you, Virkhul. That will be all.”
“At your command, Professor,” Virkhul said, sounding as if he were a heartbeat away from saluting him, and marched smartly out of the workshop, closing the door behind him.
“What am I going to do with that man?” Navras muttered to himself with a disdain. “I swear, Virkhul has hated every student I’ve taught since he failed to get his inventor’s license.”
Scowling, beady-eyed Virkhul had been Navras’ assistant since long before Toke began attending his class, and his loathing for the inventing students was not quite as secret as he seemed to think. While he never acted in direct defiance of the professor, small things like interrupting the students and allowing doors to close in their faces were more than enough to show how he felt about them. Even Navras, who was always able to see the best in people, could not deny that Virkhul was a bully— at best.
“So,” Toke said with a sinking feeling his stomach, “if I don’t get my license, I might end up like him?”
“Of course not!” Navras reprimanded the boy. “Because you are going to get your license. Never let yourself believe otherwise, even for one moment!”
Toke gulped, and then nodded. If Professor Navras believed he could do it, then he could do it!
“Put that admirable piece of machinery in your locker,” Navras said. “You can make any necessary changes to it tomorrow.”
“Yes, Professor,” Toke said, hastening to obey. “Good night, Professor.”
“Good night, Toke,” Navras responded with a polite nod, just as Toke’s stomach gave a loud growl. The boy blushed, and he desperately hoped Navras’ own voice had kept him from hearing. If Navras had heard, he pretended he didn’t and sat down to do some paperwork. Toke turned and left, shutting the workshop door behind him.
“Make sure it’s shut all the way,” Virkhul snapped, startling him. The professor’s assistant was sitting behind his own, much smaller desk that gave him the perfect view of anyone coming or going from the classroom. “You idiots never shut it all the way, and the noise from the hallway gets into the workshop. Well, go on then. Pull it shut!”
Toke kept his mouth shut, and gave the door another firm tug. When it was clear that the door was as closed as it could be, Virkhul grunted and waved his hand dismissively.
“Get out of here. Students shouldn’t be in the hallways this late at night.”
“Yes, sir,” Toke said, forcing himself to sound respectful as he hurried down the hallway.
His stomach growled again. It was too late to get anything from the cafeteria, which closed promptly at seven o’clock. He reached into his pocket, and felt the coins he had stowed in there. Just enough for a sandwich at the restaurant down the street, he thought as he made for the door.
The cool night breeze mussed his hair as he stepped outside. Apart from a few students milling around the courtyard, there was nobody in sight. The sidewalk was all but deserted as well, letting him walk right down the middle of the paved path without worrying about bumping into anyone. Occasionally an autocarriage would race past him, the grinding of its engine loud enough to wake the dead. Toke was proud that, after two years living in Jerulkan, he no longer flinched when they drove past. Or, he rarely did, at least. His hometown, Kassfar, had only four people rich enough to afford an autocarriage— and only one of them actually needed it.
He made it to the sandwich shop just as the owner was getting ready to lock the door.
“One roast beef sandwich, please,” Toke said, not bothering to go to the counter before he showed the old man his money. “With cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes.”
The shopkeeper didn’t look too pleased by the last minute intrusion, but he took Toke’s money and disappeared into the back to make the sandwich anyway.
“Thank you,” Toke said politely when the food was in his hand, wrapped up tight in wax paper.
“Yeah, whatever,” the grizzly bearded sandwich man grumbled in response, holding the door open for him.
Toke unwrapped the sandwich as he walked, trying to make it back to the school as quickly as he could. Even in the glow of the streetlights, the sidewalks were dark. There were plenty of reasons not to go out into Jerulkan at night. Had it not been for his hunger, Toke would have preferred to stay at the school.
The sound of flesh striking flesh reached his ears just as he was turning a corner, but by then it too late.
“I said gimme your money, dropper!” a man yelled, clearly not worried about attracting attention. With one hand, he was holding another man’s face against the brick wall of a building, and with the other he held his victim’s arm behind his back at a painful angle. Toke stopped short, horrified.
“I- I don’t have any money!” the man said, giving a weak struggle against his captor.
“Where is it?” the thug demanded again, and Toke saw the overhead lamplight reflect off the blade of a knife. The thug turned to glance at Toke, but Toke couldn’t see his face behind the scarf he had wrapped around his head. He must not have considered the scrawny nineteen year old a threat, because he immediately turned his attention back to the poor man held against the wall.
“Gimme your money, dropper,” he said again. “Do you want me to stick you?”
“No, no, please!” the man begged, and Toke could see frightened tears running down the man’s face. “I don’t have any money, I swear!”
With an angry grunt, the thug took his hand off the man’s head and threw his whole body’s weight against him to keep him in place. With his free hand, he rifled through the man’s pockets, growing more agitated every time he didn’t find anything inside them. Toke knew that he ought to run while the thief’s attention was the other man, but fear had rooted his feet to the sidewalk.
The mugger’s fist finally closed around something, and he pulled out a long gold chain with a locket at the end.
“You don’t call this money, dropper?” he demanded, stuffing it inside his own pocket. “Are you lying to me?”
“Please,” the man begged him, still pinned against the wall, “that’s for my daughter. It isn’t worth anything. The gold isn’t even two karats!”
“Shut up!” the thug snarled, pushing himself away from his victim. Before the man could get away, the thief swung the handle of his knife around and struck him on the side of the head with it. “The Nails own this city. Don’t ever forget that!”
The Nails were a street gang that had recently sprang up in Jerulkan. While small compared to gangs in other cities, they were growing rapidly. For every thug and pickpocket they brought in, another two would appear, breaking into a store or mugging people in the streets. Why anybody would be drawn to a life like that was beyond Toke, but as the faceless goon turned to him, he realized he had other things to worry about than gang recruiting.
The thug stalked across the sidewalk toward him, and Toke felt his knees go weak when he saw the knife still clutched in his hand. Part of him urged him to run, but the other part told him to stay where he was. He had never been a fast runner, and the thief was less likely to have mercy on somebody he had to chase down and tackle. He towered over the scrawny student by more than a head, his dark eyes glinting wickedly in the streetlight.
“You didn’t see anything, did you?” he asked.
Toke stood where he was, eyes wide with fear, a cold sweat drizzling down his forehead.
“I asked you a question, dropper!” the thug shouted.
Toke blinked, and shook his head.
“I didn’t think you did.” He grabbed the sandwich out of Toke’s hand. “The Nails own this city. If we ask you a question, you better answer!”
He lowered his scarf for a brief moment, too quickly for Toke to get a good look at him, and took a bite out of the sandwich.
“I hate tomatoes!” he growled, throwing the rest on the ground and shoving Toke aside as he retreated into the night.
Now that he was finally out of the gang member’s sight, Toke forced his feet to move and he ran back to the school as quickly as his legs could carry him. His stomach growled again, but he ignored it. One night going hungry was a small price to pay for being alive.
NEXT TIME: A battery, huh? That’s what Toke’s been working on all this time? It may not seem like much, but the greatest mind in the country thinks it’s going to have just as big an impact on Yasmik as his own discoveries. More importantly, though, I wonder what Zashiel’s been up to…