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.”