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.”

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