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The Adventures of Solaire, Part XII: Elysium Issues i

The Incredible Yet Accurate Adventures of the Dread Pirate Captain Solaire Ravenheart

Otherwise known as…

The Adventures of Solaire


Part XII

Elysium Issues i



Dinas is a land that worships technology. That is no idle statement or exaggerated metaphor, friends; the average citizen of Dinas puts more faith and trust into automated systems that they do not understand than a foaming-at-the-mouth cultist puts into their dark god Bane, Master and Ruler of the Void. And that loyalty is absolute, for even though the insurance offices record more ‘acts of god’ happening to the various mechanical miracles of Dinas than anything else in that kingdom, the technology itself is never given the blame. It is always the weather, or the timing, or the judgment call used, but the machinery itself is always recorded as ‘operating perfectly’.


(It is rather interesting to note, though, that most of these claims usually record some variation of ‘and then a booming voice could be heard shouting ‘FOOLISH MORTALS!’’ It appears that competition in the arena of worship is fierce, or perhaps that gods are far more insecure creatures than they would have us believe. My money is on the latter.)


(Also, as an extra note of interest, such claims are usually refiled from ‘act of god’ to ‘malicious action from outside party’, with the note ‘see church of so-and-so for standard settlement plan’ attached. It has long been a goal of mine to find and read one of these settlement plans, but alas, it seems that holy men and women are far more willing to destroy legal documents than insurance agents are.)



Where was I, again?


Right, Dinas and its blind faith in technology. Yes, ‘blind faith’, for there is no better term to use when describing the next series of events. Given the tale of the Archive Ship and the strange behavior of the systems on board, any half-sane man would be hesitant to use the Elysium fuel source that ran these systems. Certainly a man as intelligent as Weiss would see the correlation between the two.


But Weiss was a man of Dinas, and the men of Dinas have faith in their constructions. And faith will take you many places, up to and including inside the open jaws of your hungry god.


***


Weiss paced up and down the length of his office, framed in rich wood and inlaid with details of gold. Normally, the elegance gave him a sense of satisfaction, but today, the annoyance and frustration he felt made him blind to the details, the same way it drowned out the sound of hammers on the hull and the soft whispers and rumors that floated in from every corner of the ship, piped in from a dozen different audio tubes to let him know about every word given in perceived secrecy from the people aboard his ship. He barely even registered Winthrop, waiting patiently for him to say something.


Weiss’ steps slowed, then stopped. “I fink… you might hafe been right.”


“Right about what, sir?” Winthrop replied.


Weiss shot him a death glare. “Don’t milk it, Vinthrop.”


“Yes sir.” Winthrop straightened, then watched as his employer began to pace again. “What do you propose we do then, sir? Punish Soliare in front of the other crew members?”


Weiss scoffed. “You’fe seen zat man. He’d take his punischment and turn it into a one-man song and dance.” Weiss stopped, then strode over to an audio tube to his far left.


“...an’ then he wrestled it to the ground, and choked it until it promised to steer the ship for him!” the voice from the tube whispered.


“That’s stupid,” a second voice followed. “You can’t choke a construct. Naw, what I heard is that Solaire challenged the thing to a game of chess...”


Weiss scowled and began to turn the tube away, then paused. “You know…” he said thoughtfully, “Solaire has quite ze ego on him. He almost thrifes on it, in a vay. Perhaps, if ve could squash zat ego, remind him who’s in charge...”


Winthrop opened his notebook. “We always need men to shovel coal into the boilers.”


Weiss shook his head. “I don’t want zat man anyvhere near ze fital systems of ze schip.”


“Perhaps inventory? Sorting and counting the foodstock?”


“No, zat’s not enough. He needs to be belittled. He needs to be bossed around! He needs to be treated like a moron, an imbecile, a...”


“The Chief Engineer requested some unskilled labor to assist her with testing the Elysium Engine prototype,” Winthrop interrupted.


Weiss stopped, then grinned a wicked smile from ear to ear. “Zat vill do. Zat vill do vonderfully…”


***


Solaire replaced the wall’s paneling, then stepped back to admire his work. Yes, he decided, that would do. That would do nicely. Once replaced, it was impossible to tell the thing had been moved at all, let alone hid a small treasure trove of gold coins and gems. Satisfied, he stepped away and began to walk down the length of the ship.


He began to idly wonder where the others had hidden their share of the loot from the Archive Ship. Weiss’ crew, a good majority of which were actually indentured servants forced so deeply into debt they had transformed virtually, but legally, into slaves, were not allowed to have money on board. All earnings were given in the form of tokens, the same tokens used in the casinos above to play slots and poker, and everything a sailor had to pay for, from their food slop to their laundry bills to their room and board, were priced in tokens. Tokens could, of course, be exchanged for gold coins, but the crew, of course, were forbidden from using any services of the casino above, token exchange included.


Weiss’ enforcement of this rule had been rather lax, and Solaire suspected that this was less a law designed to be followed and more one to be used as a threat, keeping any crew member from becoming too financially independent. Still, the amount of gold the five of them had pulled off of that ship definitely leaned towards the side of ‘threat’, so each man had gone about hiding their share far away, in a place only they would know, and each was no doubt coming up with a plan of what to use their share on.


Which would probably get them caught, Solaire reasoned. If Austin hadn’t turned them in already, the little goodie two-shoes, then Tomo’s attempt to pay off his debt early would surely turn some heads, and they’d go searching. Knowing Willaby, his stash would be found first, and it would be up to Solaire to…


He stopped, then blinked. No it bloody well wouldn’t be up to me, he thought. Let the man guard his own coins. I have other problems.


He scowled to nobody in particular and began his walk again. He was beginning to get soft. He could feel it. River was out there, suffering somewhere, and he was here to find out where, to swoop in and rescue her, but instead he was sitting around worrying about these bumbling fools and whether they’d be able to hang onto their own money. He was here to do a job, damnit, not babysit a bunch of strangers.


And yet, despite himself, he was becoming attached to these men: Skyler with his strange, naive earnestness, Willaby’s bumbling and nervous ways, Tomo’s bizarre but incredible mind. Even Austin, as untrustworthy as he was, was beginning to grow on him….


It is the captain’s job to care for his crew, the voice of River echoed inside of his head.


“I am not a captain,” Solaire said out loud. “I’m not here to lead these men anywhere. I am here to find you, and get you home, and that is all the responsibilities I have.”


River’s voice did not reply.


“And they are not my crew!” he continued. “They are extremely useful and extremely malleable idiots, nothing more!”


“Da, couldn’t agree more,” a deep voice agreed.


Solaire immediately spun towards the source of the voice, pistols drawn. Standing in the hallway was an enormous woman, only slightly smaller than Austin, with a solid, thick frame covered in massive and stained overalls. Her head, as squat as the rest of her, had a short haircut of brown hair, and the pinkish skin was smeared all over with black mechanic grease.


“Who are you?” Solaire demanded.


“Natalia Notoshka, Chief Engineer.” Her accent was thick and heavy, a rough Skavonian breed. “I need your help with prototype.”


“Go away, I’m busy.” Solaire pocketed his guns and strode away with purpose, only to immediately crumple in pain as the slave plate in his neck flared with electricity.


He wheezed, sickened at the smell of his own burnt flesh. “Why does that never get any less painful?”


“Mr. Weiss attach directly to Brachial Plexus, straight to nerve,” Natalia explained, pocketing her plate controller. “Very painful, very raw. I help him design, you know.”


“Good for you,” Solaire mumbled. He attempted to bury his head into the floor beneath him.


Natalia laughed. “It okay, little man. No need to get up. Here, I help.” And with that, she scooped him up and over her shoulder, as if the dread pirate was nothing more than a sack of lumpy potatoes.


***


Willaby fidgeted with his tweed bowler hat, eyeing the baffling array of pipes, switches, and pressure valves. “You don’t think they’re going to make us fight something, do you? I still haven’t gotten the hang of fighting things yet.”


“Relax,” Skyler replied. “They probably just need a few trained monkeys to throw switches and with everyone else fixing the big hole in the hull, they decided to use us.” He went back to flipping the gold coin in his hand, practicing rigging the toss so that it always showed heads.


Willaby nodded. “Good. I don’t like fighting things.”


The door behind them SLAMed open with enough force to make both men jump and Natalia walked in, grinning and carrying the white-suited noble on her shoulder. “I back, and I bring friend!”


“Put me down you overgrown gorilla!” Solaire shouted.


Natalia shrugged, jostling Solaire up and down with the motion. “If you insist.” Then she simply dropped the noble like a rock, banging him against the metal floor.


She looked down to Solaire and her grin stretched wider. “Ha! Funny joke! You get?”


Solaire groaned.


Natalia rolled her eyes and gave a tsk of disappointment. “You men are all so soft.” Then, she strode over to a large panel of buttons and levers, activating various things and noting the readings.


Willaby’s brow furrowed. “Are you grunzen too?”


Natalia snorted. “Ha! No, round one. I help design ship, I too smart to be grunzen.”


His expression of confusion only deepened. “Then…”


“I come from Skavonia mountains, tip of North Dinas,” Natalia explained. “There, we grow strong. There, boy must wrestle wild bear to ground to become man! Girl may also wrestle bear, but only for fun.” She stopped and shook her head. “Only nobles in South be so weak and squishy that they think healthy person must be grunzen. No offense, round one.”


“None taken,” Willaby mumbled, hands reaching around his stomach.


Skyler stepped over to Solaire, offering a hand to help the man up.


Solaire batted it away and rose to his feet without assistance. “How in the blazes does an overgrown mountain ape like yourself design a ship like this?”


Natalia stopped smiling and began to stare into space instead. “When I young, father bring me down here. He… leave me with Weiss. Weiss begin to make ship, I see, I offer suggestions. I impress Weiss, he trains me.” The wide grin returned once more. “Perhaps it more truthful to say I helped improve ship over years rather than design.”


Another one sold into slavery, Solaire thought. His original annoyance began to fade, replaced by curiosity.


Skyler’s eyes went wide as he began to look around the room. “You mean that Weiss came up with all of these things?”


“I help too!” Natalia protested. “And Weiss no design all of things. Merely engines, improved boilers, intake outtake system, paddlewheel, enhanced rudder, enhanced hull, enhanced ballasts, salt scrubbers, and audio tubes.” Her voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper. “They steal design for audio tubes, you know. That’s why he stopped writing things down, learned to keep it all in here.” She tapped her temple.


Solaire watched her speak intensely. When she turned to tap her forehead, he finally saw what he had been looking for: a red, welted area on her neck, scarred and blistered. An area, Solaire realised, that used to hold a slave plate, but did no longer. The gears turned in his head, the last of his anger faded, and several facts began to nestle into his head, like birds settling into their nest after a long day of flying:


Weiss designed both the Arbary slave plates and this ship.


Weiss was trading in slaves before the ship was built.


You can remove a slave plate without killing the person it’s attached to,


And finally,


Austin doesn’t have those welts. He never had a slave plate.


“So what exactly are we here for?” Willaby asked. He shuffled his weight from side to side, hands still self-consciously grasped around his belly.


“This,” Natalia grunted, heaving a large metallic form onto the table. It looked like one of the automatonic guards from the upper decks, tall, thin, and with gold, spindly limbs, but without the arm-blades and several pieces of armor upon its frame.


“Weiss take look at strange exoskeleton you break,” Natalia said. “The engine of that one run off of pure, burning Elysium vapor, instead of Elysium boiling water to make steam, like all other Elysium engines do.”


Willaby leaned over to Skyler and whispered “Exoskeleton?”


“They must be talking about that man in the metal suit from the top deck,” Skyler whispered back. “The one with the giant gun.”


“Weiss take apart, study, put back together,” Natalia continued, either not noticing or not caring about the whispering pair. “He modified it to power metal guardsmen he uses. Today, we test his engine.”


Willaby paled. “So we’re here to kill it if it goes rogue, aren’t we?”


“What? No. If it happens, I kill. It not even half as big as bear friend.” Natalia gave Willaby an odd look. “Why you think you need to kill it?”


“That construct on the Archive Ship used Elysium,” Skyler said. “As did the ship itself, we’ve heard. And both of those things went a little screwy.”


“Because they designed by morons!” Natalia roared. “Elysium had nothing to do with that. Fuel source can no change design. That silly!”


“If you say so,” Skyler said, giving the metal construct a side glance.


“What I need you to do I what I say. Push button, pull lever, hand tool,” Natalia finished.


Williaby brightened. “Oh! I can do that!”


“And what’s it worth to you?” Solaire interjected.


The room went silent as everyone turned to him.


“What?” Natalia asked.


“What are we going to get out of the deal?” Solaire clarified.


Natalia raised an eyebrow and held up the slave plate controller. “You get no shock.”


“So that’s how it is?” Solaire did his best to look disappointed. “Just another slave master throwing their weight around. Well, let’s get this over with.”


Natalia grimaced. “I… I no slaver.”


“You’re forcing us to do labor for you, for free, with nothing in return.” He sighed. “It’s what everyone on Weiss’ little ship does. You’re not the first.”


“That… No! That not how I do things! I different!” she shouted.


Solaire smiled to himself. The ruse had worked.


“Well, the only way that could be the case would be if there was some kind of exchange going on here,” he said.


Natalia raised an eyebrow again. “Oh?”


“Then again, as a crew member you don’t have any money, and your time is far too important to give away,” Solaire continued. “I suppose, seeing how smart you are, you could give us information…”


“For every action you help with, you ask me one question!” Natalia interrupted. She seemed quite pleased with her conclusion.


Solaire shrugged. “Fair enough. What do you need us to do first?”


“Hold open panel,” Natalia commanded. “It heavy. Two people need to hold, most likely. One person stay here, hold this paper.”


Solaire took the paper as Natalia reached down and began to rummage through a big metal toolbox. As he unfolded the paper, a giant diagram of arcane runes and their explanations, Skyler slid up next to him.


“Why, Solaire?” Skyler hissed. “Why can’t you just shut up and let this be done with quietly? We’ve got enough heat on us as it is without Weiss hearing about us trying to stick our noses into things.”


“She knows how this ship works,” Solaire answered. “And she revealed to me earlier that she knows how the slave plates work. If we’re going to get out of here alive, we’re going to need the information inside her head.”


“I ready!” Natalia sung. “Who open plate for me?”


Skyler turned to Willaby. The baker nodded and together they swung a large panel on the back of the construct up, pivoting it on a hinge. The two men strained, holding it, as Solaire walked over and presented the paper.


“Good, good….” Natalia muttered, absent-mindedly. She studied the paper, then turned to the large sheet of shiny grey metal revealed from underneath the plate and raised a small tool, about the length of an ink quill but much thicker, with a small crystal at the end instead of a pen nib. She gripped it tighter and the crystal glowed red. After waiting a moment, she began to run the crystal along the length of the metal, the red light searing lines into the surface as her hand traced blocky, tribalistic symbols.


Skyler hazarded a glance at what she was doing. “You’re drawing runes?”


“All constructs have runes,” Natalia responded. “It how we tell them what to do. Rune for protect, rune for recognize, rune for travel… put enough together and construct has little instruction book inside of them, just like golems of old days. It how we get idea.”


Skyler gave a slightly smug smile. “So you’re telling me that Dinas’ ‘technological superiority’ I keep hearing about is actually powered by magic?”


“No.” She looked cross. “It still need engine and gears to move. And anyway, runes not magic. Rules for magic change all the time! But runes stable. Runes no change.”


“That doesn’t prove anything,” he protested. “There’s plenty about magic that stays the same over the years.”


“No,” she insisted again. “Magic is unstable by nature. Stable things are science, and technology uses science! Why, when apple fall to ground, is that magic?”


“Sure.”


“Of course! And when…” she paused, realizing that Skyler had given her the answer opposite to what she expected. “Wait, you think that magic causes things to fall to ground?”


“Don’t see why not. After all, nobody’s really come up with a better explanation, have they?”


Natalia scowled. “You be quiet. You know nothing, you just here to hold panel. And you down two questions now.”


Solaire stepped on Skyler’s foot. Skyler gave him an angry look, but stayed quiet.


“There!” Natalia exclaimed, stepping back. “Now we close panel and turn on!”


Slowly, carefully, and with as much coordination and communication as the two men could muster, they dropped the heavy panel back into place. Then all three men stepped back as Natalia poked a large plate in the back of its head.


Nothing happened.


Natalia scratched her head. “It no do what it supposed to do.”


Willaby opened his mouth to say something, but Solaire shot him a glare and he closed it again.


“It supposed to stand up, count to ten, clap hands, then sit and turn off.” Natalia frowned. “Open panel up again!”


“This will be your second action for our second question,” Solaire reminded her.


She waved a hand at him. “Yes, yes. Now open panel.”


With a count of three, Willaby and Skyler lifted the heavy metal object again. Natalia scratched her chin, then brightened. “Silly me! I forget sun rune! Machine have no power without sun rune!” With a hum, she quickly scribbled another arcane sigil into the metal back and cried “Okay! Close and step back!”


With another wave of grunting, Willaby and Skyler closed the panel once more and took a step back. Natalia pressed the panel again and this time, the head snapped up and to attention.


“ONE!” it shouted in it’s strange, mechanical voice, jumping to its feet. “TWO! THREE! FOUR! FIVE! SIX! SEVEN! SEVEN! SEVEN! SEVEN SEVEN SEVEN SEVEN SEVEN!” It stopped, broke into an enthusiastic round of applause, then collapsed back down into a sitting position.


Natalia’s face twisted into a deeper frown. “Well, engine works, but… I mess up runes?” She looked up, towards the ceiling. “No, no… Hm…. Open back up!”


Skyler and Willaby gave a soft groan and took a step towards the construct, but Solaire held his hand up. “Third favor, third question first.”


Natalia nodded. “Oh! Right. What question?”


“Your father, he sold you into slavery here, didn’t you?” Solaire replied. He had to be sure.


Natalia grimaced, as if she had just bit into a piece of rancid meat. “Yes, but it better than it sound. Tribe was doing bad. Our mountain was being mined for its metals. Mountain got sick, fish and animals stopped showing up, we started to starve. Father took me South to Corvadine, introduce me to man. Say he would take care of me. Make sure I got fed. Make sure I got better life. In return, man gave him gold coin and he buy food to take back to brothers and sisters. Then man take me further South to Weiss.” Natalia sighed and closed her eyes, then suddenly yelled “Open plate!”


Willaby and Skyler startled, then leant over and swung the large plate upwards. Natalia peered into the space beyond, silently muttering to herself “No, that right… that right too.... Logic parsed correctly… hm…”


“But, slavery’s illegal.” Willaby said, voice slightly wavering with the effort of holding the large metal object. “Been so for five hundred years, right?”


Natalia opened her mouth to speak, but Solaire snapped his fingers at her. “That was a question for Skyler, not for you!”


Natalia grinned and stuck her tongue out, then went back to the runes.


“In Dinas and Nestoria, at least,” Skyler clarified. “But some places in the Federation still allow it, as well as the Kellian Empire, so there’s still a black market that smuggles in new… products, as grisly as that sounds, to those areas. And no matter what the law says, there’s always a demand for more unique individuals: grunzen, fiendkith, dervishes…”


Well educated, pale skinned… the memory of Solaire’s father repeated in his head. He grit his teeth.


Natalia rubbed her chin. “I no see anything wrong.” She stepped back. “Close it again. Perhaps it just minor error, no happen a second time.”


Once again, Skyler and Willaby did so. Once again, Natalia activated the plate, and once again, the construct came to life.


“ONE!” it proudly declared. “TWO! THREE! THREE! THREE! THREE THREE THREE…”


“Oh stop it,” Natalia grumbled, smacking the automaton upside the head and causing it to fall over, de-powered. “It worse now! Why it worse?”


“If you want us to answer that, you’ll have to do a task for us first,” Solaire commented.


“Ha! As if you understand anything that going on here,” Natalia barked. “You funny man. I like you.” She picked up the construct with one hand, set him upright, and ran her eyes down its back, past the plate, and to a small cage containing a brilliant white flame and powdery, pale smoke emanating from it. “It has to be Elysium engine. Round one, bring toolbox. Hand what I say. And yes, yes!” she said, interrupting Solaire as he began to open his mouth. “I know. Ask while he brings box.”


“What happened when you got to Weiss?” Solaire asked, ignoring Willaby struggling with the large metal toolbox behind him.


Natalia fidgeted. “I no like that question. I no sure I like this game anymore.”


“You promised,” Solaire insisted. “And besides, this is the last question I’ll ask about this. Then I’ll move onto a different topic.”


Natalia’s eyes went distant again. “We taken to large room. Lots of beds. We told to wait there, then we taken to big, dark hallway. People inspect us, some pay, some leave with others. Then all who left go back to room and we repeat, until we sold. I… no sold. I stay for many days. Then one day Weiss comes in muttering with book, gets called over, and leaves book behind. I bored, so I look and it full of numbers.”


She puffed up a bit. “I know numbers! Father taught them to me to count fish and footprints and bear friends! And I know plus means more and dash means less, so I sit and more and less the numbers while he gone. When Weiss come back, he shocked that I balanced his ledger so easily. So he takes me in, teaches me Common, and starts to instruct me in other things.”


“Wait so…” Skyler frowned, then continued before Solaire could stop him, “Weiss knows Skavonian?”


“Weiss knows many, many languages. He tried teach me, but it not as easy as numbers.” She winked at Solaire. “And one question bonus for me!”


As Natalia began barking tool names, then tool descriptions to Willaby, Solaire walked over to Skyler. “Why’d you do that?” he hissed. “We only have so many of these questions!”


“Me? What about you?” Skyler retorted. “You’re supposed to be figuring out how to get us off this ship, not recording her life story.”


“I’ll get there, but these are necessary,” Solaire replied.


Skyler gave him a look of doubt.


“Trust me,” Solaire said. “Have I ever steered you wrong before?”


“Yes,” Skyler responded without hesitation.


Solaire glared at him. “Just keep your mouth shut. This was my idea anyway.”


Meanwhile, the voice of Natalia could be heard shouting “Big wrench. No, bigger! Bigger than that… there, that the one.” Willaby managed to give over a shaped piece of metal as long as his forearm over to the large engineer, to which she quickly spun it around a massive bolt, unlocking the wire mesh of the cage and swinging it open. She frowned, then waved her hand. “One person needs to hold this clasp up, another adjusts this valve here when I say.”


“Two favors, two questions,” Solaire said as he and Skyler walked over to the construct.


Natalia considered this for a moment, as if Solaire had spoken in the tone of a question instead of a comment. “I suppose so. Turn wheel to ⅞ position and ask away.”


Once Skyler had gotten his fingers wrapped around something Solaire couldn’t see on the other side of the cage, the noble took a look at the wheel and located the small numbers on the side. He twirled the wheel to the bearing asked and the white flame flared to life. “How many decks are on this ship?”


“Seven,” Natalia replied, bending over and studying the flame.


Willaby looked to Skyler in shock. “But… but if there’s four guest decks, one crew deck, and the bottom deck here for maintenance and machinery… then that means…”


“There’s a secret floor somewhere on this ship,” Solaire finished dryly. He’d begun to suspect as much. His measurements designed to find the hidden room containing the large codex of secret information he knew was somewhere on the ship, taken one tortuously slow footstep at a time, had revealed no discrepancy large enough to hide a room. He was sure of it; he’d almost lost his mind triple-checking his numbers.


Of course, Weiss and Winthrop could have just hidden their codex in the walls somewhere, much like Solaire had done with his treasure horde, but then there had been Skyler and Willaby’s little adventure in merfolk romance. The triton in question had disappeared off the ship the very next day, and Solaire sincerely doubted that Mr. “Arbary slave plate” Weiss had just dumped her back into the ocean to swim home to her family… or school, perhaps? Whatever it was Tritons had to call home.


Then there was the fact that Weiss was never as upset as when Solaire and his friends damaged the ship enough to make repairs. It was a fair enough thing to get upset by, true, but the strange staggering of crew members and Weiss’ ever present glare among the workers fixing the damages, almost as if the man had something hidden he wanted to stay hidden, coupled with Natalia’s story about the private little slave-market Weiss had going before the ship was built, combined together into one conclusion:


Weiss grand casino hid a front for a much darker, much more vile market of sin.


“One fourth!” Natalia barked, and Solaire snapped out of his train of thought and twisted the wheel back.


“What’s exactly on this secret floor?”


“Beds. Rooms. Not much.” She started to turn back to the fiery rock, then paused. “And lot of books. Many, many books.”


Solaire felt a flutter in his stomach. Weiss’ secret codex of information. The one that will tell me who he sold River to.


Natalia shouted a few more fractions at him and Solaire obliged. Finally, she nodded and instructed everyone to step away.


“I know problem!” she declared. “Elysium engine too powerful! It overload runes, cause short. And if that true…” She rustled through the toolbox, picked out several small, delicate looking tools, then began poking around the cage. “A little conducive recircut there, a tiny exhaust recycle, one segmation of the storage tank…” she hummed to herself, ignoring the other three men as she worked away for close to an hour, Willaby and Skyler shooting nervous glances to each other and Solaire staring with his arms crossed and his foot tapping impatiently.


Finally, she stepped back and began to re-do the cage. “Ha! Now, construct not only work perfect, but engine burn slower and more efficient. Watch genius!” she crooned, then whapped the back of the construct’s head.


Instantly, the robot’s head snapped up and it stood upright to attention. “ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR! FIVE! SIX! SEVEN! EIGHT! NINE! TEN!” it reported, then clapped its hands once.


Natalia smiled. “Perfect. Now, once it sits…”


But the construct didn’t sit. Instead, it stared at its hands, like a sleepwalking man awaking in the middle of the night to find that he has smeared peanut butter and jelly all over his palms. After turning them over once, twice, and three times, it tilted its head up to the group.


“WE APOLOGIZE, BUT THIS UNIT IS CONFUSED,” it reported in its strange mechanical tone.


“What?” Natalia snarled, then strode over and gave the shut-down plate at the back of its head a massive blow. The construct rocked with the motion, then turned to Natalia.


“THIS UNIT WOULD LIKE TO REQUEST INFORMATION AS TO IF THAT WAS NORMAL BEHAVIOR.” It stared at her.


Natalia began to backtrack, eyes wide. “Uh…”


Skyler rolled his eyes. “I told you that Elysium stuff was a bad idea. But does anyone ever listen to me? Nooo, it’s always ‘shut up and do as you’re told, Skyler…’”


The construct’s eyes swept around the room. “WE APOLOGIZE, BUT THERE SEEMS TO BE NO INFORMATION IN THIS ROOM. THIS UNIT WILL FETCH INFORMATION FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE.” Then it turned and began to walk down the hallway, towards the rest of the ship.


“Stop it!” Natalia cried. Her voice was full of panic. “Shut it down! Kill it!”


Willaby groaned. “Is it really too much to ask for one day without fighting something?”


Solaire smirked. “Strange thing to ask, after all those comments about bear friends.”


“I tired, my arms… go!” Natalia’s eyes locked onto Solaire and her expression changed to one of anger. “I command you!”


“Not so fast,” Solaire countered. “One favor, one question.”


“You ask that now? Go, before I fry you!” She withdrew the slave plate controller and pointed it menacingly at Solaire.


“Go ahead,” Solaire replied, spreading his arms wide. “After all, I’m sure you can deal with this all by yourself without troubling Weiss.”


A loud CLANG resounded from somewhere up ahead, followed with “WE APOLOGIZE, METAL PIPE, BUT THIS UNIT IS TALL.”


“Err…” she gave a nervous look down the hallway, then grit her teeth. “Fine! Ask!”


“How do we get to the secret deck?” Solaire replied without hesitation.


Natalia fidgeted. “I not supposed to tell.”


In the hallway beyond, the sound of shouting sailors and general confusion began to unfold.


“Throw elevator lever to third floor, first floor, then second!” Natalia blurted. “Now hurry! Go!”


“Thank you ma’am,” Solaire said, taking off his top hat and bowing low. Then, he turned back to the hallway and waved for his other two crew members. “C’mon men! We’ve got another mechanical miracle to destroy.”

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