13 November 2008

A New Realization

So, after the seven-fold circle was taken down (and I hauled my mind out of my grandmother's favorite gutter) the rest of the formal introductions were made by Grand Master Grey. The one who had quizzed Auntie was Sister Victory Anne of the Sisters of Perpetual Vigilance, the exorcist we were to escort back. Then the flare I caught from Auntie when the Grand Master introduced me to Master Sorcerer Lord JohnQuetzal de Moctessuma du Mechicoe almost made me chuckle. Ooh, yes; it had been a long time since she had been home.

However, as the final ward of the circle was dismissed, there was an odd feeling, something akin to a cat rubbing against the leg, insistent that you pet them. Not threatening, particularly - except there were hundreds of them. "Hum... Auntie?"

She turned, and wore a puzzled expression at my distress, and then realization dawned. "Oh, you had better put your city wards up, dear! The members of the colleges will be curious about you, no doubt."

Sister Victory Anne nodded, "You're a bit empathic, yes? I'd suggest using your best shields before you leave the building." She held out her hand, palm up, "I can help, if you wish." I managed to keep myself from grabbing her hand as if I were drowning, it would not be polite. It was weird, her shields were like nothing I or my parents had learned, but they worked in concert with the ones I had learned from Mama, Father and Da. She gave me a little smile, and murmured, "I think I'd like to learn the styles you have been taught, if we have the time."

Good thing I had put up the battle-shields, because the next thing I knew, Grand Master Grey had tucked my other hand in the crook of his elbow, and smiled down at me. "We shall have to run the gauntlet of the curious to reach the office, and from there, a carriage to the townhouse," and he nodded for the arms-men to open the doors. "They will have a short gawk, and you might sense some nebulous fears in the lower classes, but I do not think there should be any direct attacks this early."

The crowd outside was expectant, the tone of the sonorous murmuring much like a sedate church social or a garden party. Grand Master Grey paused on on the top step, ostensibly to allow our group to assemble in order, but he covertly scanned the crowd and nodded, before we descended the steps. He did not raise his voice above a conversational level, saying as we stepped from the stoop to the flagstones of the plaza, "How wonderful that the students are all so far ahead in their studies to make a fair-weather day a midweek festival." I chuckled softly as the crowd seemed to melt away, and not just the students, but everyone who had assembled there. He had made sure we paused long enough for everyone there got a good look at me, and saw that I was flanked by himself and the Sister. The man had a good eye for crowd control and rumor management. It also made me appreciate why Auntie had made me change into my dress uniform.

Really dense of me, I know, but I thought we would be in and out in an hour or so. Now I was not so sure. I hadn't thought that we would be greeted by such curiosity, but that's what living in Steelhead had taught me. Everyone has a story, if it is fantastic or not, and you might eventually learn it if you are patient. This quiet assembly was a blessing; it showed me that yes, a gestalt of human/demon/construct/guardian spirit just might be considered just a bit odd in some places. I also realized that it was a gift to have this revelation without the torches and pitchforks, which might have occasioned an incident that would be considered a detriment to diplomatic relations. Personally, I was glad to avoid anything like that, because that would have meant I wouldn't be asked back for any New Year celebrations. I did want to be able to return, my aunt's strange attitudes towards formal cuisine aside.

By the position of the sun, I guessed the hour to be mid morning, just at the start of the business day by local custom, though Mama would have likely been at her desk hours already. As we crossed the campus, we were paced by students and professors, ostensibly on their way to classes or studies, but the curiosities pressed in on my armor. There was one sharp shove to my shields, and the Grand Master glared in the direction of the push, at the gentleman in decidedly religious robes. I murmured, "So, am I an adequate bird-dog, sir?"

We passed under a portico to the grand entrance of the building I hoped was our destination, and he chuckled. "Not my intention, but it does bring out the snakes. Ah, here we are..." and he led us into the library on the ground floor. Everyone settled, and I counted myself lucky to find a backless chair available when invited to sit. The Grand Master then addressed Auntie, "Now, Master Sorcerer Lady Kitlalmina - your reports have been exceedingly interesting, when they arrive, but that does not tell us why you need the services of an exorcist specifically from the Order. Please elucidate."

Auntie winced at the oblique chastisement concerning the frequency of her reports, but her answer to the last order was clear and firm. "Sir, I have landed in a nest of those whose curiosity is boundless. Whether they be clerics, scientists, law-keepers or practitioners from other disciplines, they are all the most inquisitive magicians in their fields." She thought a moment more, and commented, "In all honesty, they are a pride of cats,rushing to discover what that thing over there might be." Then she muttered, "And much like cats, herding them in the direction you wish them to go is nigh impossible alone."

Sister Victory Anne nodded, "This explains much. Not nearly enough, but it is a start. Please continue."

07 November 2008

Calling on London

Looking back on that week (Was it just months ago? It seems to have been ages gone, now) I found myself pondering theoretical issues. For instance: someone, somewhere MUST have done a study on the intimidation factor of a nun in full habit. That was my first thought on seeing her. I had no idea who she was, and yet, I felt myself stand at attention when she entered the building where the customs and containment circle was placed. Why did I have a sense of *eep, straighten up and hope she does not have a ruler*, I have no idea, as none of my parents attended parochial schools, but then again, in Steelhead, the nuns are only outgunned by Manager Madame Tensai.

The sergeant in charge apparently knew her on sight, and accorded her deference. Now that they were no longer in shadow, I was surprised to note the sergeant was younger than I had supposed, as his aura was one of a multiple-war veteran. But of course, the history here is not the same, and I suspect that he had scars unseen to others. Armsman Git, on the other hand, fit my mental image of him, based on his voice and presence. If he had been of legal age to vote, I would be surprised. He wavered between guarding the Sister and running for reinforcements. I think the Sister was not impressed by him either.

The sergeant spoke, "Sister, thank you for coming quickly, I know the Master Sorceress by sight but not Sight."

I eyebrowed a question to Auntie, and was unsettled to find she was surprised by the statement as well. The Sister smiled, and asked, "Lady Kitlalmina, what was the third course of the last dinner party you hosted at the country house?"

Auntie frowned and muttered, "She would poke at that one." Then she answered in a clear voice, "I served Robalito al Pastor con Salsa Verde Aspic."

I translated the title silently, and then responded, "Fish tacos and salsa gelatine? Auntie, euu."

She rolled her eyes at me, and muttered, "I expect that sort of response from Wolfgang, not someone who knows better, Ama."

The sister was taken aback, "...wait, 'Auntie'? I have met your brothers, and none of them have children of this age... or appearance."

"Ah..." Auntie Kitla shrugged, "I was adopted by one of the soldiers as a little sister when my initial transport dropped me in the midst of their patrol. I was lucky that the initial equation was only off by one-one-thousandth, and put the landing point amongst friendly forces."

She made no move to dismiss the circle, and gave no outward sign of impatience, but there was an undercurrent to reel us in or cut us loose quickly. "Yes, I had heard about the leftenant, but not that he had children."

Well, of course they have intelligence dossiers on us, same as we do on them! I took a chance that I was reading her correctly and answered in the stilted version of the Aztecque language I knew, "I am a recent development, one that would require several hours of metaphysical theoretical discussion and/or much alcohol to explain." I did not mention that Papa had been promoted to Captain, that could wait.

"One generally requires the other," the Sister answered in a reasonable approximation of Lingua Europa. She continued in the English of the locale, "Though she is a puzzle, there are no malign influences here. I will begin the process, Sergeant."

The door behind her opened again before she could do more than raise her hand, and two more figures arrived. By the sergeant's reaction and change of posture, they were upper management, and ones that he respected. Once they were past the dazzle of the doorway, I recognized the younger one from the miniature Auntie kept on her desk - though I had not been introduced, and had not been given permission to call him "Uncle" yet. As for the other, I caught the shift in Auntie's posture and managed to bow at the same time she curtsied to the Elder.

"It is an honor Grand Master," Auntie Kitla said, and continued, "May I present the daughter of my adopted brother of Europa, Amarantis of Clan Belfire?"

I bowed again, saying it was an honor to meet him. It was, actually - Grand Master Sir Lyon Gandolphus Grey was noted to be an intelligent man, and a very organized practitioner, both qualities that would appeal to the members of my clan. The fact that he was a tall, elegantly handsome man with a few scars to show he was not afraid of hard travel only made him more appealing. Grandmother had also categorized him as "delicious", a description I REALLY DID NOT NEED TO REMEMBER right this moment.

03 October 2008

The Colonel's Lady an' Judy O'Grady

The Port Novem crew were settling in, and Gematria (it would grind her gears to be called Aunt Sis, for some reason) was totaling our troop strength, when a Mage, a diplomat and a nun walk into the bar....

Right, time to back-track a bit. So – I got the call from Mama about a month before that I might be needed for a diplomatic pick up, and by the way had I managed a human form yet?

Now, Mama is not one to worry about visual appearances so much as social appearances, so I was understandably curious. I reported to the main office in Kitti, then Steelhead and Antiquity, and eventually found her behind the bar at der Hut.

“All right, why here? For that matter, why not send the address, or why didn’t you just tell me?”

Her eyes flickered to the street, and then she murmured, “This is not exactly an official request, since it is for family, but I do not wish to cause an incident by sending someone unsuitable. You are suitable for the mission, if visually distinctive.”

I put my elbows on the bar and my head in my hands, “Could you, for once in my life, give a straight answer?”

Mama said, “I need you to help escort a nun in a transport across dimensional planes.”

I stared at the bar top a few moments, and sighed, “You know, the frightening part is that - for those that know you – that statement was entirely comprehensible.” Sitting up and looking her in the eye, “Which members of the Steelhead SWAT need to get to the clan house?”

“Wrong direction, dear; you will get the co-ordinates for pick-up from your Aunt Kitla.”

I shook my head, “Right, I am still asleep in the boathouse and Wolfgang had released hallucinogens in the parlor again.”

“No, your reflexes are better than mine, and you will need an exorcist in the next day or so,” her eyes flashed momentarily, and she continued as if she had not paused, “…sooner than later. Go to your Aunt Kitla; tell her what I have told you, and what you and Gematria have been gathering.” She handed me an unsealed envelope, “This is what we can release from the office and from Uncle Nico for the background on what is possibly going to happen. No foresight, just extrapolation of existing data.” Mama then went back to polishing the bar, and smiled pleasantly, “Have a nice trip dear, and let me know when you get back.”

Her change to a chirpy tone had coincided with a flicker of movement down the street, and Herr Greegor entered as I left. I took a chance at finding Auntie at home and slid back to Harborside.

Auntie Kitla was in full rig when I got there, and still making arrangements for transport in her front hall. I nodded to the boys on the stairs, who were watching in varied states of study. With barely a glance at me she asked, “Do you have a more formal uniform?”

I eye-rolled and responded, “Back in a minute.” Good thing Lowenstein Station is just across the street, and most of my things were still there. Turned out and pressed for inspection takes only a short while if everything is ready, and Mama had apparently seen to it that my gear was taken care of as soon as I left the room. Then again, maybe it was not Mama at all, so I left a bowl of milk beside my duty boots, just in case.

Back at Auntie K’s tree house, I snapped to at the door (there not being much floor space left by the glowing sphere of equations in her parlor) and waited for her to acknowledge me. With a flick of her hand, she opened a door in the wards for me, and said, “There is a handy landing point, but I warn you, it is in a maximum security circle. We may need to wait for the sister to be brought to us.” I joined her on the spot she indicated, and in the studies I had gotten so far from Great-Uncle Nico, the 'Cubi would have called it the wingman spot - one pace behind and one pace to the right of the point. This was the position that would give me the best aim for a 200 degree angle to the front and side of us. I had unconsciously settled into the ready stance, and she brought this to my attention by saying "Respectful watchfulness, please."

I adjusted my posture as she finalized the equations, and suddenly the warm woods of the sunny parlor were replaced by grey cheerless stone, the circle there blazed to life as hers faded. Auntie Kitla's posture stiffened as the new circle flared to what seemed to be unusual strength, and a gravelly voice reached us from the shadows beyond the glowing runes, "Greetings, Master Sorceress; please wait while your escort arrives."

"What is the meaning of this, Sergeant?" Auntie's voice was cool, but there was a sharp undertone. I was about to suggest I wait there while she attended to business, when the voice spoke again.

"New procedures, Lady Kitlalmina. Please wait while..."

A new voice interrupted in a hiss, "We can't let him come in here with *THAT* in the circle!"

I shifted, and Auntie turned her head to quirk an eyebrow at me. In the complex and elegant language of the supercilium, she let me know we had encountered Goodman Rookie Armsman Git. I let my posture settle into Papa's spinal memories, and assumed the air of a veteran. It was perhaps a bit presumptuous, but not entirely wrong. I muttered in Europan, "If I am reading the circle right, I am not sure if I should be insulted or complimented." Auntie chuckled, just as the door opened and allowed sunlight to pour in, haloing a dark figure.

19 September 2008

Damn, I’m tired….

The initial waves of refugees have been taken care of, and good numbers have gone to live with their sept clans, when they were known. Not many were left in Erebus that became the Belfire clan in Steelhead, considering Zcernoboch’s children left en masse after the schism, but there were some who had no clan affiliation. We do tend to collect strays, and the crèche teachers are overjoyed to have new stories to trade. We will have to see how well they assimilate, Great-Uncle Nico is worried the egalitarian society might not sit well with some of the nobility.

I have not been able to find a place to rest since the incident. I gave up my dormitory space to my roommate’s distant cousins, thinking I could kip at the Station in Harborside. However, the place has been really noisy since Uncle Augustus got back, and Auntie Kitla is renting out her spare rooms to the Baron’s clone-brother. Wolfgang managed to find space with them, as did the rest of the boys in the school, and the Jaegers have secured some of the oddest bivouacs until the barracks are finished.

I headed to the boathouse, as the swearing from the building platform told me the lab would also be a bad idea. I found it deserted, as Uncle is out wandering again, and there was a thick layer of dust in Ash’s room. I’ll offer to help him clean it when he gets back, and set up a generator battery array, but until then, I decided to make use of the settee.

02 September 2008


Novem was a good idea to regroup, and take stock. While Gematria and Qli compared notes, I managed to send a note home to Grandmamma. It was the only way to get the news to Great-Uncle Nico without this becoming official, but I needed more ammo. We were waiting for – something, I did not know exactly what, but there was the tug of an approaching family member. The battle fatigue had masked the shock enough that it took me some moments to realize why I felt so unsettled.

The others knew immediately - the Founder had fallen. I’m a little dense sometimes, but by the time Koen arrived, I caught on to the next step. Before they had even figured out I was in the line, I knew I could not take the burden. I don’t even have the stability to shift to a human form yet – altered or not. There was no way I could provide the anchor against what was coming.

Koen left for Steelhead distracting the others just in time for the box of supplies to appear at my elbow. Aunt Sis turned just in time to see the 30.06 and the second box of rounds to appear. She didn’t say anything as I packed the speed loaders with Blessed Lead, Cold Iron, Blessed Salt and Wood Trine rounds, and secured the rest of the gear.

When everything was in the proper places, she asked in a sardonic undertone, “What, no Blessed Silver?”

I shrugged, “Some of the family have not held silver in the past three years. But that is a tale for the deep winter freeze-up, if…” I stopped and said more firmly, “WHEN we get there.”

29 August 2008

Analysis and Regrouping

Something in her tone made me suspend my preliminary assessment of the damage to peri. I looked up at Gem, saw the tear-tracks, and paused in my repairs. Tactics aside, she needed to be active - and helping, not helpless. [Don’t apologize to us for helping family, Aunt Sis,] I said as I dabbed at her eyes with a clean bit of my work rag. [There’s a lot of similarities between both clans – the schism isn’t that deep in some places.]

Birdie chimed in, [God's Little Fish in Trousers, girl! We never said we would not help!]

[You just forgot to count all of the family available] Uncle Gus had finally stopped making disgusted noises about the taste of Oni. [The problem here seems to be that except for the niece, we have all been solitary warriors. You have the body, Gem - and therefore the con.]

I could feel her metaphysical head-tilt at Uncle's turn of phrase, but she continued, [About time we got that straightened out] Her psyche seemed to be better grounded than what Father had described from their last encounter. [Right then - Ama, can you get us to the Midas?]

I shrugged as I cleaned the last of the blood-tears from her face. [It will be easier if Father and Ash are together, and those of us who can sense them link the other end of the slide. I have limited linking with Ash, since he was in range when I was coalesced, and of course, the link to Father] I hesitated to mention the other one on board, but she needed to know. [I don't know if this has any bearing, but I... think we need to remove the one relate to Father. There's a hole in his heart where the rain gets in... and even though he may be technically family, there is something about that one that gives me the oddest foreboding] I started to wind her key again.

[We may still have to fight her to let her get away with the synthetic] Once her key was wound to operating parameters, she spoke in her "tea party" voice, the one she had used to address peri after the fight. "I am curious as to the nature of your mechanical abilities in relation to the rest of the family."

"You mean why I say I'm not a Spark?" I chuckled, "I am not quite normal, so we don't know the rules as applied to inheritance of abilities." Carefully adjusting the clockworks of our rescuer, I commented, "The assumption is not your fault - if I am a Spark, I haven’t had a breakthrough, or rather, I have not had one to my knowledge." Gentle pressure on the mainspring, allowing the temperature of the metal to equalize, "…and I understand about the synthetic. It wasn’t as if we were trying to recreate a fine vintage, more like using a middling-yet-hopefully-drinkable wine as the basis for a medicinal tincture – not the same application, but hopefully a substitute to bridge the gap between… my analogy is breaking down, sorry."

She rummaged in the toolbox for the pliers, "I believe I understand, and from the grumblings of the one inside, I understand he is a bit of a gourmet?"

I handed her my needle-nosed pliers, and chuckled, "The memories I have mark him as a gourmand in some centuries, but before he was shoved into the attaché's office, he had been a student of the new epicurean schools cropping up here and there."

"Ah, yes - that would explain it..." She frowned at the replacement leaf spring, shrugged, and installed it. "We need to make sure she does not strain herself," she muttered. "Why switch out the synthetics, though?"

"I don't know how much of a biologist Dr Steel is, but I did not want to risk him being able to synthesize demi-humans from the sample. If he is strictly a mechanic, why does he want it, anyway?"

She shrugged, and after she replaced the timing gear, she closed the panel on peri's back and straightened the pinafore. "So, we can get to them, and we need to stop Marcus," she said in a tone more suited to plans for going to the opera. "Do you see any other issues to address?"

"Not at the moment," I said, packing away the emergency kit and noting I was going to have to add some pieces if I was going to repair Dolls on a regular basis. "Let's get the site cleared before winding her; if we have to run, I don't want to leave anything her for another to trace... besides, we've been littering enough," I nodded towards the burning heap.

26 August 2008

Zen and the Art of Doll Maintenance

Save for the merry crackling of starched linen and lace and the sizzling of dissipating vampiric flesh, there was just the sound of the winds off the sea. No wonder, the battle had scared off the game, but I also did not hear anything to indicate another wave of attackers on the way. I sat heavily on a rock between the inactive Dolls.

“Damnit, Gem – I’m a doctor, not a Spark,” I muttered as I shook and preened all over to rid myself of the last lingering bits of dainty ogre, and a thought struck me. Chance and one parent could make a biological child a Spark, and I had three out of five parents with it. (Don’t tell her, unless you have time for an entertaining lecture - you’ll just get a long-winded explanation why she is not a Spark.) However, if I was going to try to repair the new one, I would need someone to watch my back. This was unsecured territory and I sure as anything wasn’t going to haul a metal merc around until I got back to the home labs.

Gently placing a forefinger on Aunt Sis’s forehead, I attempted a link. He was ranting, and I could just catch the aggrieved tone. [GAAAAH, you’re presented with vintage vitae, and you go for the Gauxa împutita?] Uncle was in a high dudgeon, ranting in fine gourmet style.

Aunt Birdie was a bit more sensible, [It is what she needs now, it will keep her going longer, and she still has the stuff the children brewed up. Waste not, want not.]

[THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE IN THIS HEAD!] Gematria bellowed, and then in the following silence, giggled a bit.

[I need someone to stand watch while I take care of the repairs. Do you have any damage that would preclude me winding you back up?]

The immediate response was [NO!] in three-part harmony. [Don’t do it just yet] Aunt Birdie continued.

[If I am active when you finish the repairs, peri will expect me to fight her for the Bloodwine. I need her to be able to take off with it without suspicion] Gematria explained.

Uncle Gus added [We can watch, and give warning, without being active. Just switch out the vial of your mother’s vintage for one of the other staff members, one of the human ones.]

Aunt Sis was aghast [you gave me what?]

“Well, duh – you’re family,” I muttered as I fished about in my kit for another vial and the wax to seal it. Out of the staff, there were actually very few that were not uncanny in one way or another. I ended up selecting the donation from Herr Messerschmitt, because though he may be a Spark, he had the least number of issues in his background; his only oddity was that he was Irish-Europan. I just hoped I hadn’t missed him being a distant relative of the Sidhe Court.

Tucking the vial from Mama into Aunt Sis’s other boot, I heard [We’re clear for two klicks, little one] from Aunt Birdie, and got to work on peri.

21 August 2008

A lovely day for a picnic.

“Who are you?”

I blinked, and realized that *I* had not met her yet. My parents had all met her in one way or another, but she did not know me. “I am Amarantis.” Her key seemed to be moving at a slower pace, but I did not move toward her just yet. The sound of clicking gears, and a small twitch of an eye accompanied her next statement.

“You will meet the Founder in the future.”

I shrugged, “I may, I may not – the universe is a cats-cradle of possibilities. There are several future threads where we might meet.” I put the bottle in her hand and slid down to her level to wind her key.

She sniffed suspiciously at the brew, asking, “…and what is this compound supposed to do?”

“It is a first attempt at recreating something we do not have at hand, yet.” I sighed, and continued "Uncle said you might be thirsty soon, and we tried to brew up a substitute." From her reaction, I guessed we were not quite successful the first time out.

Gematria sniffed it cautiously... until the snapping of bowstrings caught our attention, sending us both diving for cover! I rolled around a boulder to get a clear shot with my sidearm, at the… ogre-sized Lolicon ninjitsu warriors charging up the hill? “’da’ell are those things?!?!?”

Aunt Sis crouched behind her own boulder and aimed her rocket launcher. "Loli-Oni! Aleister must be desperate!"

“Framitz! Soft points?” They looked like Dolls, but considering the havoc the ladies had wreaked on the demon ship, that was a designation to be feared.

“Tea sandwiches? Shopping?” Gem took out the leader with a shot to the chest, the explosion causing the others to hiss as they bared their fangs. "Oh, vampiric Loli Oni..." she commented, as the twitching limbs of the first struck the ground, and then continued to advance on us.

I was armed for stealth, not a frontal assault, but at least I had some ammo for the job at hand. "I hope blessed lead will work, I'm not carrying the Wood Trine rounds this trip." I aimed for the center of the chest for a lack of a better target.

Aunt Sis made a gesture, and the lead self-immolated on contact. "Naphtha rounds work quite well against the undead, I find."

"Beat ‘em an’ burn ‘em - Whatever works on this plane." I aimed for heart and eye-socket groupings on the next in line.

The Loli-Oni advanced in spite of their losses. As the last few closed the distance, Gematria sliced the bo stick of another assailant in two with her hook, then cut her legs from under her. I holstered and reverted to talons for hand-to-hand. Throwing an assailant three times my mass was made marginally easier, by the fact I was just tripping them and rolling them down the hill into the burning corpses of their company. Aunt Sis was winding down, and my dodging was curtailed as one of them caught hold of my wing. The pain caused by her crushing grip was immense, then suddenly it stopped, and I was covered in dainty little Loli-Oni bits.

Through the haze of the receding pain, I heard, "May this one be of assistance?"

15 August 2008


Lying on the backside of the ridge, watching the grounds through the spyglass I filched from the Scout stores in the office, I scanned the manor house. For Winterfell, it was within normal limits: gothic, foreboding, and just slightly off-putting, unless you were a neighbor and used to the architectural style. Mama’s bar and the Novem sisters’ place had some of the same darkness about them, but with a sense of camaraderie that said, “nah, don’t worry, we won’t tell.” This house told me to worry.

The demonic cruise ship had lifted to what might have been the maximum altitude for the human-built airships. Demons and Dolls might not need to breathe, but I had the feeling Father was on board, and Ash as well, so at least I wasn’t in the deepest trouble I could be. Bad enough we were spread thin during the full moon, but at least Wolfgang was at the Kittiwickshire office this week, which would take some of the pressure off the Steelhead contingent. There was another there that was similar to Father, but… less. Not exactly diluted, but not as whole, missing parts of the spectrum found in Father’s life-spark.

Sensing the ship, there were fewer life-sparks on board than the usual compliment for one of that class and displacement. Even if they were reduced to patrol ship status, there should be more crew. An explanation why so few were aboard tumbled from a hatch on the underside of the ship and hit the escarpment a few meters down slope from me. The body was drained of ichors to the point it crunched without the usual splatter effect of High-Altitude-NO-Opening parachute drops. If they kept that up, the ship was not going to be able to function.

Not that I expected the dolls to keep the ship after taking the house. Whatever happened in the grounds of the manor house, it needed to be quick, quiet and neat. The less distress to the neighbors the better. Who knows what the Senechal would do about an attack on a resident, considering the security measures many of the citizens here found necessary.

Something was scrabbling up the loose shale of the ridge behind me, a low growling vocalization accompanying a faint warning, [‘ware, niece!] He said more, but the range from his body to hers, and then to another made the transmission faint.

Mama’s maxim of “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best” is a good policy. The research Wolfgang and his team of students conducted in Steelhead meant they found the source of the water-borne contaminants, the former basements and sub-basements of the Foundation. Although much diluted, the water contained the trace elements of the reanimation serum and the entirety of the Mason wine cellars. What we had prepared in the lab included the amendments from the water, ordinary pomegranate wine (not that Aunt Kitla’s oenology skills were ordinary), and blood.

Standard operating procedures for any Consulate office included the medical care of the staff. All organic staff members were encouraged, with some urgency, to donate blood regularly, unless they were medically unable to do so. However, blood has a relatively short shelf life compared to most other compounds in the infirmary. It would be a shame to waste it.

I felt a hand grip my boot as I reached into the ice chest beside me, and opened one of the bottles with my thumb. “Hey, Aunt Sis - here, drink this, iz goot.” She paused, perhaps confused by my address, the accidental accent, or the scent of the drink being not quite right, and my unsuitable sense of humor bubbled to the surface. “Oh, don’t look at me in that tone of voice. Yes, it is Mama’s, and yes, she was at Cambridge for a year, but it’s been over two decades and she still hasn’t shown any evidence of Mad Herring Disease.”

12 August 2008

Running on Fumes

There was little to repair on the jet pack, but I replaced the seals anyway, considering the abuse they had received at Aunt Sis’s hand. Ash was not about, but the crew arrived in the office upstairs just as I was finishing up.

“…and no, we did not ‘hose you off in back of the office’, Darien. Honestly, I begin to think your gift for hyperbole is intrinsic in your nature…” Seems Father had ticked off Mama, finally. Her patience is not infinite, but considering the length of time the ferry train takes, he had apparently been working on her last nerve the entire time for her to use that tone. She might actually try to ground him if he kept that up, so I logged Father’s jet pack into the Personal Flight Apparatus racks.

Mama stopped by the garage as the others were settling into the hydrodynamics lab. “Do you think you have time to check in on Augustus? Birdie is determined to take care of him herself, but she might need some instructions on wing care.”

“Surely, I need to see if there are any residual issues with his going walkabout for so long.” I picked up my healer’s satchel, when Mama’s next statement stopped me cold.

“He is still projecting, and is unable to get back. You might need to help your Aunt with long term care.”

That was enough for me to skip the ferry train and slide directly to the Station. I landed on the front stoop, and called out a warning to those inside, “Hallo the house! Medical assistance coming in!” Not that either one would be embarrassed by the entrance of another while they were intimate. Considering the sergeant’s nerves might be stretched thin, her defensive reflexes might be heightened, and she was a good shot with throwing knives.

I found them in the bath, with the faintest traces of kerosene coming from the pile of towels in the corner. Father apparently left in a hurry. Birdie had stripped Uncle Gus out of his clothes, which seemed not too bad for the wearing of three days, but the shirt had been shredded by his wings when he reverted. Birdie had cradled him in her lap in the bath, draping his wings over the edge as she carefully rinsed the lather from his back. “Hy haven’t done hiz wingz, yet. What do Hy need to do?”

“Just be gentle with them, and listen for anything that tells you to stop.” While I helped her work around the control surfaces and the membranes, I took the opportunity to check on Uncle Gus. He was still walkabout, but the astral cord tying his spirit to his body was stronger than what I had been led to believe from my studies. [Ready to come home?]

His answer was immediate, [No, still too much work to do here. I have to free her from the controls, but I have to go carefully, so as not to damage her further.]

[At least now you are not trying to do it alone.] Birdie’s accent did not show up in her projections, which gave me pause. I filed that tidbit away for later study.

I turned my mind back to the current problem. [Understood – anything we can do to help?]

[I need you to take some notes, and check on my memories of the references in the library…] Uncle started detailing what he had found so far in his observations, and set out his conjectures. I took notes sitting on the edge of the tub, ignoring what Aunt Birdie was doing. [… and that is about it. I do not recall if I had run across the chemical composition of the vintages she has been drinking.]

[I have them, but I’ll check the libraries jut to be sure.] I packed away my notes, and pulled dry towels from the press. “We should get him out of the tub before you fall asleep, Aunt Birdie.”

She startled, “Hy’m avake!” but subsided when she realized Uncle had slipped off her shoulder. Between the two of us, it was not too difficult to get everyone dry, and the two of them tucked into bed. She had been running on nerves for the past month, and even the Jaegerkin had their limits.

I took a few moments to clean the bath and took the towels outside to dry, when I noticed movement in the trees off the property. Someone who did not have sufficient woods training, out wandering? No, the movement was more furtive than that. I warded the grounds, and resolved to let the sheriff know the next time I got into town.

Back at the main office, everyone had gone to sleep, save one. Father had found the library, and the copies of the Foundation Chronicles the staff had collected soon after arriving. Standard operating procedure for a new territory or ally – find out what they hold important enough to write down. Father seemed to be taking notes, which would be odd, since he wrote most of them. Then I realized he had the same memory issues I had. After all, a fifth of my long-term memory came from him. I would have to compare notes with him later, to see if there were deviations from my point of origin.

I left a note for Mama on the message board in the common room, and left to catch up on my studies.

Mentor Ibiz found me asleep in the library, my head pillowed on reference materials that had nothing to do with the research paper he had assigned. Luckily, I had finished it before diving into the questions Uncle Gus had asked. His chuckle woke me, as he finished writing his comments on my paper.“I should have known it was not necessary to give you assignments. You have the basics down.” He put down my paper and tapped the copy of the Al-Aziza Biological Guide, commenting, “This avenue of independent research puzzles me, though.”

I rubbed my face, trying to wake sufficiently to make sense, “There is a problem in the family, and I needed to get more information on underworld substance addiction disorders.”

He blinked at me twice, and then said, “I wish you were joking, but I have kept up with the tangles that seem to attract Aoefe’s branch of the family. Your aunt had to be moved to another room with better filters,” I started to get up, but he stopped me with a hand on my satchel. “No, it is all right, she is stable for now. I am afraid she is the one in the least trouble at the moment. We haven’t had much contact with the Court since the Council split off, but we have had some come to us as outcasts, asking for asylum. It is not a perfect solution, but I do think we can help your clockwork cousin, if she will accept the assistance.”

30 July 2008

Flight or Fight

The family reunion, while charming and informative, did not get us closer to Gematria. I had vertigo by the end, though. My long term memories are from my parents – I was constructed from their emotional distress and copies of their psyches (no, I am not totally sane, thanks for asking) with copies of their memories at the time I coalesced. So I have pieces of Father’s memories that no longer exist in the current history.

I have been recording what I remember from them as much as I can, but I needed a break, and took off for the skies above my current roost. Uncle gave me house-room; I think mostly to help him keep an eye on the place. Most of us in the Station at Harborside are transients, what with Uncle’s usual pattern of commuting back and forth between Uncle Nico’s office and here, and Grandmamma and Uncle Nico kip here when they visit. Wolfie is supposed to go back to school mid-August, but he may end up having space at the dorms here, with Rennie. The airspace here feels comfortable, even with the flying fish.

I generally patrol the area at least once a day when I am here, partly for the exercise and also because I have too many protectors in my background to not keep an eye on things. So, after checking on the chickens at Da’s place, and taking a quick loop though the south district, I was dropping lower to check on the city plaza, when I saw the odd sight of Father running – not flying – hell-for-leather to the office.

I landed in front to the door, just in time for him to run up with the warning “Mybrotheriscomintodestroythefamily!”

“Nobody is in the office today, and besides, you don’t have a brother!”

He stood panting, which, with the kerosene fumes, surely was not doing him any good. “Memory wiped – Jeremiah – clone brother…” he wheezed.

Ugh, that horrendous elder Mason keeps causing problems, no matter how many times you squish him. “We need to report in,” I said, grabbing his collar and pulling him sideways between planes to the Station.

Immediately as we came out of the void between, I heard Mama mutter behind us, “To think - he actually had calmed down as an adult.” She pulled the rocket pack off Father’s back, and handed it to me, saying, “A leak this bad indicates maintenance is in order, would you please take this down to the workshop?”

“Hey! I keep that running according to the manual! It was Gematria’s other hand!” Father explained in a rush how he came to be doused in the fuel, and when he got to the part about Gematria’s grip, Mama stripped him out of his flight jacket to check the bruises on his arm. “Ow! Stop it and listen to me! There’s a clone of me on the way to make a smoking hole of the Foundation at least and maybe the city!”

Mama nodded, and took his flight jacket and helmet. “You go clean up, and I will leave some of Wolfgang’s work clothes by the door to the bath.” She forestalled his protest with a raised hand, and continued, “I will let the Baron know when he gets here; he is on his way for another report. In the meantime, continued exposure to the petrochemical fumes will kill brain cells you will need later if you do not get out of those clothes. Besides, your flight leathers will need cleaning as soon as possible to save them. If your twin does arrive here in the next hour, there is little we can do to stop him.” She raised an eyebrow at me, and I paused, waiting until Father had shut the door to the bath.

I kept my voice low, “I’m going to take it to the workshop in Kitti, and see if I can’t find Ash.”

She nodded, “Just what I was going to request, and if Herr Baron has gotten tangled up in another information exchange gathering, could you let him know we now have more irons in the fire?”

“Hearkening and Obedience, I’m gone,” I said as I slid between to the workshop. If Ash was not there, I could at least give the equipment a quick once-over to make sure nothing got damaged when Gematria lent a hand to the situation.

25 July 2008

Dancing in Air and Darkness

Yes, I’m levitating, but only a little bit. It helps with the shoes and the sense of place.

“Marcus” is giving the appearance of having a wonderful time, but I think he is getting restless. He’s shielded enough I had to be within a couple of meters to read him, even with that spike that the dealer generated. I waited until he laughed off the old dope peddler and turned away before placing the “Police Notice You” mark on the freelance pharmacist. It is one of Mama’s favorites, and the one with the least karma load to balance out later.

We are still here hours later, still hunting for Gematria. It seems the balance for the place is off, time does not seem to mean anything to anyone here - and the music isn’t that great. I only listen because I might need to react to the play list or musical technician’s comments.

There are more family members on the way, but I can’t tell which side they are on at this range. It is no one I have met since incorporating. Ash is still on the roof across the way, and either has not seen them, or does not consider them to be a danger to the mission. Moving closer to Father, I cannot yet tell if these two are carrying the taint of the Usurper or not. Still, we might need a quick exit….

She does not enter the club, but he does, and I hang in the air, dumbfounded for a moment. He’s not supposed to be back for at least another generation, I thought. I check the buckle of my shoe to cover the pause in the dance and watch him approach “Marcus”.

He covers his surprise well, for those who can’t See. He invites me along on the outing, the first time he has acknowledged me directly since we got here, but considering the clientele, I don’t think anyone here will notice. I drop to my feet and use the twinge in my toes on landing to fuel another light shield around the two of us. At this point, the low level nervousness on the edge of my sensing could be me or Father, but it is likely just me. He grins up at me as we leave the club to meet with a pair of impossibilities.

Following the nekos through the alleys of this district, is seems to me they are in no hurry, the male chatting amicably with “Marcus”, though the female gives away her tension in the set of her ears and the twitch of her tail. We are not led through the darkest alleys, though no one here seems to care to be caught in the occasional pools of light. We were in the club for hours, yet I have not seen this place in full sun. Not that I really care to, because my night vision is adequate, though I sometimes wish my sense of smell was not so sharp. Thankfully, our guides seem to be olfactorily sensitive as well, and steer clear of the most noxious areas.

The café we finally light upon is reasonably hygienic and lit just a little brighter than a tavern or a dockside chai-house. There are a few children here, but “Marcus” stands out for having unpatched flight leathers. I hope adding the “I Am Not Your Problem” formula to the shield will be enough. He is also one of the few apparent humans in the room, and I keep a firm grip of his shoulders as the nekos lead us to a table.

In deference to my wings, they give me a backless chair, one of several about. If I wasn’t so worried about being led into a trap, I might feel comfortable here. I can get us back to the hospital if we are in danger, or if something follows us, I can get us to the clan house holding arena, but that would mean we lose the leads for this district, and even if these two are a distraction, we still have a toehold here.

Strategically, this is not a terrible spot, but Father’s curiosity might need to go unanswered if this meeting does not lead to Gematria. With Uncle's unresponsive state, there is some urgency - I have a sense of foreboding that we must find her soon.

23 July 2008

Stalking Family

Mama had an awful lot of emergency gear packed for Wolfie in that little pack – near as I can tell, it is not that far scaled down from the standard long patrol kit that the Jaegers use. Sensible gear, sensible clothes, with many surprises… I don’t like to think about the fact that it was necessary to teach Wolfie to survive the wastelands before he needed to shave, but that is a reflection of the non-Europan parts of my borrowed memories.

Luckily, most of it was gear that Father could use in his current state, except for the dissection and sampling kit. I slipped that into my pocket after seeing him avoid the surgery, but I made sure he still had basic knife safety skills before giving him the pocket tool set. He’s kitted out not much heavier than the average urchin-turned-assistant, and he says they are prevalent in the Palisades – I would not know, as I haven’t gotten all that stable shifting to human.

Thing is, this place is much more tolerant, to the point that as long as you’re still technically “dressed”, they do not care what you look like. Mama’s memories of this place were mostly good, she just stopped coming when there wasn’t a friend to invite her, and though the neighborhood is a bit rough, it's not as bad as some of the places she's been. So, while I am not completely out of place, I am still keeping back, close enough for me to keep an eye on him, but also drawing attention away from him.

I want my stompy boots, these heels are uncomfortable.

22 July 2008

(Nonstandard Language Redacted)

WHY are my parents so (nonstandard adjective with verbal modifier) determined to kill themselves for SCIENCE?

Just as well he started ranting; otherwise I might have missed it.

Vater, I’m sorry for breaking into your lab, but I needed the stasis chamber – at least I did not damage the physical structure and I reset the wards after. Never mind, you didn’t know about those. Uncle Gus, Da, or Mama, check those for me, please?

Father, if we get you through this, I may have to flay you for not having someone check your figures, and scaring my brother like that!

(Further transcript unsuitable for transmission)

18 July 2008


Awareness, fear pain, panic, desperation….

A sharp, graveled voice speaks in my mind, “GRUB! Pay attention, perimeter containment NOW!”

Frink! He’s talking to me! Okay, I can do this, lay out the runes in my head, link the equations, and ground the shields to… there is no earth-link here… oh, air and fire, of course, hand it off to the Decurii…

First link entity Mama? Moved out of striking range, covering fire by second link entities Vater? Da? Father? Calculations for escape cascading from tertiary link entity Brother? Recalculated by extended link Auntie? Target entity damaged by PAPA! NO! He’s got no helm! Dive! Have to get him before he leaves the air bubble – GOTCHA! Warning received from Uncle and Aunt/Sister/Harbinger…. My eyes cross and I drop the link search and ready for the vector change…

Immediate family links completed as extraction nearing completion. Target sealed, neutralized, and finally mercy granted – the pain did not stop, though – Squad leader senses the change, and so do I. The Founder is confirmed, the energy fluctuations blinding to those who can See.

I try to remember the string of curses the Decurii uses, they are really good ones none of my memories have heard before.

Decurii then gives a minor warning to those in the ship, the squad arranges itself in position – but I am an extra, and slide into the engine room, to monitor the others.

Mama is focused on getting everyone home safe, she does not realize I am here, or rather, I am part of the group, being made up of so many of them. Most of them follow instructions and sit tight and blind for the trip. Mama knows this path and checks the course, but Vater watches until his eyes threaten to turn inside-out, and the only other who has his eyes open cannot see for the pain and grief…


I'm sorry I wasn't there sooner.

You did everything you could; I know - I have your memories.

Don't hide, and don't bury yourself in work, please - talk to Papa and let him confirm your tactics. Talk to Vater and let him check your equations if you like. Let Da tell you about the nature of the Wheel. Talk to Mama and let her help soften the edges. Try talking to Ash instead of just giving him orders. Or maybe we could talk, sometime?

Just… don’t forget we are all family, and are there for you.

We will be coming out of the void between soon; I’ll try to find you later.