Still ill. However, Chris is down this weekend. An awesome friend, he was my best man at our wedding and he is ALSO doing NaNoWriMo! Wish us both luck ^^
His eyes took some time to accustom themselves to the low light in the workshop. Trip moved further in, stepping carefully around the piles of brass workings and leather sheets.
“Hello?” he said, his voice swallowed by the huge jumbled space. He cleared his throat. “Anyone in here?”
To his left and right, long benches were piled high with all sorts of odds and ends; it was like a combination laboratory and junkyard. Light leaked in from the gaps between the roof slats, razors of gold with dancing dust motes drifting slowly down. Trip moved further in and turned after one of the benches ended.
Around the corner was what seemed to be a larger pile of metal rubbish partially covered in a sheet. What looked like a claw was poking out from underneath, another part that looked like a boot. Suddenly the sheet covering it rippled and it moved; Trip froze, heart in his throat, as he realised it was man-shaped.
Long seconds passed. Then it moved again, and this time Trip saw it. The wind, blowing through a small gap in the boards, gently lifting parts of the sheet. It wasn’t alive, wasn’t even capable of life. Just a suit of armour, though an odd one. He straightened up from where he had been crouched.
As his head came up, it collided with a large flat piece of metal sticking off one of the benches. The sharp pain came at almost the same time as the rattling cacophony of hundreds of brass parts falling off the bench, hideously loud in the darkened workshop. It seemed to go on for ever.
One final piece, round, rattled down, landed on its edge and rolled away; Trip waited with baited breath to hear it lose its balance, like a plate that’s been spun on its edge.
The sound stopped abruptly.
Light suddenly sprang into life, illuminating the entire workshop. Trip screwed his eyes shut against it, barely able to keep them open.
“Who are you?”
The voice was young, female. Trip blinked to try and clear his vision, which was now tearing up.
“I’m Trip,” he said.
“Trip the burglar?” the voice asked, amusement evident. Trip scowled.
“Trip, monk of the Order of the Leaves.” The person in front of him swam into focus and, as he opened his mouth to ask another question, she smiled at him.
“Well, Trip, monk of the Order of the Leaves, I’m Lauren, Engineer of the SIC.” Trip took in her shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbow, long heavy apron designed for a blacksmith; he watched as she put down the long bit of brass tubing she had been holding, apparently ready to fend off intruders.
“You’re a… blacksmith?”
She frowned. “Engineer. Didn’t I just say that?”
“What’s an engineer?”
“I make metal things that move on their own, I suppose you could say.” She knelt, the apron draping on the ground, revealing trousers that looked to be more patch than original material. She began to pick up the pieces that had fallen and Trip quickly joined her.
“Metal things that move. Like that suit of armour in the corner?”
“Ah, so you noticed PAM.”
Lauren stood up, deposited her armful of brass things onto the worktable and strode over to the large object. With one tug the sheet came away revealing an incredible sight below.
Shaped vaguely like a man sat down, it had long legs which ended in claws, each one longer than Trip’s own; the arms were different to each other, one shaped like an armoured gauntlet holding what looked like a mace, the other ending in a large rounded stump of metal, something poking out from the middle of it.
Lauren patted the body, which was shaped like a tapered barrel, easily large enough for Trip to fit inside. “She’s a beauty, isn’t she? Powered Armour Model 1, designed for a man to wear, powered by something of my own invention.”
“Trip, you in there?” called Victor from outside. Lauren whipped her head around at the noise, her ginger hair shining suddenly in the lamplight, then started to cover the machine back up. “Who’s here with you?”
“His name’s Victor. He’s… someone who’s taking me to Fennica.”
She paused. “Was he rattling the door just now? I thought that was someone from the SIC…”
“I don’t know. What’s the SIC?”
Lauren bit her lip and looked over at the door, then took her apron off and hung it on a hook near the door. “Let’s find out,” she said, opening the door.
Trip trotted up next to her. Victor was exactly where he’d left him, leaning as nonchalantly as he could against the outer wall of the workshop. As the door opened, he stood up and placed one hand casually on the hilt of his sword.
“Hello, you must be Victor,” Lauren said with a bright smile. Victor narrowed his eyes at Trip.
“Yes, s’pose I must be,” he rumbled. He straightened up and formed the semblance of a smile. “Sorry to disturb you, young lady; we was lookin’ for Richard Mantleson; guess’n the years had fuddled my memory. We’ll be on our way.”
“Wait,” Lauren said; something in her voice made Trip look up at her. “I suppose you’d better come in.” She stood to one side to let him pass, then closed the door behind Victor.
As Lauren lead them over to a small carpeted area set up with armchairs and an open fire, Trip took a moment to have a proper look around. Huge constructs were hung from the ceilings, filling every empty space; piles of plans for things that looked like animals, trees, a bird; cups, mostly half-full with some sort of brown liquid, piled up with wooden plates covered in food debris. The place was a mess. He stood, feeling slightly embarrassed for the mess, as Lauren swept a few shirts and a pair of boots off one of the armchairs.
“Sit, please,” she said, then slumped down into the other chair without waiting for them. Trip looked at Victor, who raised his eyebrows and sat in the chair, then sat down cross-legged on the floor.
“Maybe I should introduce myself properly,” Lauren said, staring into the cold fireplace. “My name is Lauren Mantleson. Richard is… was my father.” Her hand went to the open neck of her shirt, fishing out a thin golden chain from which dangled a gold pendent. “He was an engineer, like me.” There was silence for a moment, then Victor said, more quietly, "I'm right sorry to hear he's… gone."
"These three years past, sir." She smiled. “He spoke about you often, Victor Junn. Always with a sort of half-smile on his face. You two must have had some adventures back in the day.”
Victor grunted, then ran his hands over his closely-cropped hair. “We had a few flings, aye.” He sat forward, a smile beginning to play over his lips. “I remember one time, it was him and me, back to back, these enormous centipedes on every side. Then, all of a sudden-“ He stopped, suddenly, and the mask was back on his face. “Well, that was a long time ago.”
“I’m sure you can tell us all about it later,” Lauren said. “For now, what brings you here?”
“Takin’ the boy to Fennica. Lookin’ for reliable transport; time was, your father ran the fastest ferry from here to there.”
“The Brass Bottomed Belle? It’s out back. Hasn’t run in years. Reckon I could get it going…” She gave a sly smile. “For a price. Come on out back.”
She got up and crossed the room; Trip got up and started to follow.
"Damn people, always got a price…"
Trip turned and stared at Victor. The man paused, halfway out of his chair.
"Never mind," he said gruffly. "Forget I said anythin'."
Trip shook his head and followed Lauren out the back of the workshop. The small pier there had either seen a lot of use or was badly in need of repair; the planks were rutted and scratched, piles of poorly-coiled rope were fraying and disintegrating as they was exposed to the elements and the metal fixings were rusting through. He carefully picked his way between small crates and a wooden barrel that was leaking something black and sticky.
"Not had much occasion to use the Belle, now that Dad's gone," Lauren was saying. "He used to get her out all the time, fetes and the like; he did the yearly convoy to Fennica as well." She started to pull on the corner of some sort of heavy material covering an enormous shape. "Seems like people don't want to ask me to do all that, though. I've offered, of course… give me a hand, will you?"
Victor and Trip each grabbed a corner and together the three of them pulled the fabric loose. As it slid onto the pier, Trip felt his breath taken away by what had lain beneath it.
"The Belle. Still beautiful after all these years," Victor murmured, equally amazed by the sight.
It was an incredible sight. In his head, Trip tried to marry together a paddle-steamer with a boat built for racing; the end result, made entirely of brass, would look something like this. It had some sort of corkscrew at the front, a pair of large paddle wheels either side and a chimney, roughly where the mast would be on a sail boat. The sides were sleek, lined with railings that, he saw suddenly, were themselves works of art, fine scrollwork and brass moulded statues making up most of the support struts. The whole thing was badly in need of a polish, it was true, but the sun dully glinted off its hull nonetheless.
"Does it still run?" Victor asked.
"Oh, I'm sure I can get it going; Dad taught me everything he knew." She jumped on board, neatly vaulting the railing, and opened a small hatch in the deck.
"You travelled with her father?" Trip asked, watching as she pulled bits of piping out and threw them over her shoulder.
"He's… he was one of the finest engineers in the country. I don' have much fuss with engineers normally, boy, but Richard was different." Victor turned and began to wander slowly back up the pier.
"Listen, boy, things was different altogether back then." Trip followed Victor, who sat on a crate leaning against the wall of the workshop. "The world was younger. I was younger; still a hero."
"You're a hero now. To me."
"Look at me, kid. I'm old. I've retired. Every mornin' I wake up an' I can't straighten up for half an hour. I can't eat spicy food. I can't even go to the-"
Whatever Victor had been about to say was cut off by a roar that made them both jump. Belching smoke and steam, the Brass-Bottomed Belle had come to life.