Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.
The next section of Tesla, Edgar, and Nielson’s adventure is now up!!
I apologize for the delay in getting this to you. I wrote entirely too much (over 5000 words) and finally realized that I was trying to tell the whole rest of the story instead of letting it be the collaborative project that it is. So I have chopped in half what I have written (only 2500 words now), and we will have a vote for what happens next.
Here is a link for Part One for anyone who is just getting onboard with us.
Supervisor Nielson met Tesla and Edgar at the bottom of the ramp. His mustache was bristling with bottled fury, and Tesla momentarily wondered if dying would have been better than what was coming next.
“Just what kind of circus performance were you putting on up there? The foreman wanted to shut down the shift just in case something went wrong. I told him not to worry. If one of my engineers was stupid enough to get herself killed, we’d just scrape your body off to one side so you wouldn’t be in the way. I thought you were brighter than that, Engineer Spence.” Supervisor Nielson paused to run a hand through his wild hair.
Tesla opened her mouth to explain, thought the better of it, and closed it again.
Nielson wheeled around, turning his brimstone gaze on Edgar. “And imagine my surprise when I see the monkey act in the circus is being performed by my very own nephew. Such a bright boy, they say. Such a great failure, I say.”
“Hello Uncle. A pleasure to see you, as always,” Edgar drawled.
“Don’t give me any of your tomfoolery, lad. I won’t stand for it,” Nielson said. “I’ll never understand how my sister managed to raise a child like you. Mind explaining to me what you were doing up there?”
Edgar rubbed the back of his neck. “Come now, Uncle, you know how it is when you’re in love. Can’t ever bear to be apart from your blonde angel, especially when she wants to fly into your arms. I had a break from my research at the laboratory, so I came down to see how my sweet girl was getting on.”
“So you thought that dangling her from the landing would be a lark? Mark my words, lad, you’ll be the death of somebody.”
“No sir, it didn’t happen like that.” Tesla said, jumping in to the verbal fray. “It was an accident.”
“So how did it happen that you were hanging by your carabineer, Engineer Spence? Somebody better start giving me some answers,” Nielson shouted, throwing down the clipboard he had been carrying. It split into two pieces on the flagstones.
Tesla looked down at her feet. She did not want to admit she had been startled by a slagging bug and already off-balance when Edgar pushed past her. No one would believe that a moth had been that huge. A circle of spectators was beginning to form, and she felt the color rise to her cheeks.
“Uncle, I would be more than happy to explain,” Edgar said, clearing his throat. “I’m afraid it was all my fault. I snuck up there, hoping to surprise my sweet lass with a kiss, but she was so startled by the sight of me that she swooned and fell off the side.” He grinned ruefully as some of the men around him chuckled.
Tesla whirled around and grabbed Edgar’s coat lapels, pulling him down until their faces were inches apart. “That’s not at all what happened and you know it,” she said from between clinched teeth. “You tell my supervisor right now that you pushed me off the side, or may the Meisters preserve what is left of your rotten soul when I get through with you.”
Edgar looked at her with wounded puppy-dog eyes. “But I would never do that to my lovely angel,” he said and ducked his head to kiss her. His lips were warm on hers for a moment before Tesla shoved him away. The onlookers hooted and cheered.
“Enough!” Nielson roared. “I cannot believe you have been carrying on like this in the Rafters, Engineer Spence. What would your other suitor, Vigilance Office Merrick, have to say about this? Or is he just one of many gents you have been stringing along?” He exhaled slowly, scrutinizing Edgar and her with his burning gaze. Tesla would not have been surprised if steam had vented from his ears. “In light of this fiasco,” Nielson continued in a more moderate tone, “I have no choice but to terminate your position here, Miss Spence. These kinds of incidents, both the disregard for safety as well as the extracurricular fraternizing, are not acceptable in the South Foundry.”
“Wait! What are you doing? This isn’t my fault at all. Edgar’s the one who–”
Edgar gripped her arm tightly. “Don’t worry about it, angel. I’ll make it up to you.”
Nielson ignored Telsa’s outburst and continued. “Pack up your municipal gear and leave it in your locker, Miss Spence. It will be collected later. You have until the morning to vacate your quarters in the municipal dormitory as well.” He bent to pick up the halves of his broken clipboard. “And if I might add, I suggest you find better company to keep in the future.”
“But sir–” Tesla started.
“That’s enough, and that goes for everyone. Back to your assignments before I decide to fire the lot of you and find myself a whole new crew who don’t behave like circus animals.” Nielson stomped back to the supervisor’s office and slammed the door shut behind him.
As the crowd dispersed, Tesla searched for Edgar so she could beat the daylights out of him, but he was already gone.
Realizing there was nothing else she could do, she trudged to the gear shed and turned in the satchel of cogs, tool belt, and goggles, signing them back in for the last time. Heading next to her locker, Tesla mechanically took off the heavy boot and coveralls, stowing them neatly inside. She slipped on her leather half-boots and shook out her trouser cuffs, then draped her grey wool coat over her arm. She checked for anything else that was hers, picking up her supper tin.
As Tesla held the dented metal in her hands, she could feel rage welling up. None of this would have happened if the damn thing had missed Edgar’s head. It was not worth scrap to her now. She hurled the supper tin into her locker and slammed it shut.
The women’s wing of Municipal Dormitory for Engineers was quiet, most residents busy during the mid-shift. Tesla slumped onto her bed and put her hand in her hands. How could this have happened? She had not done anything wrong, but her career had been ruined in less than a day. Damn Edgar. She squeezed her hands into fists, wanting to throttle him. One punch was not nearly enough satisfaction for the chaos he had sown in her life.
Flopping onto her back, Tesla considered her options. Her only friends in Cobblecourt, acquaintances if she was honest, also lived in the municipal dorms where there was no spare room. Her one suitor, Merrick, lived with his mother, a harridan who always gave Tesla the evil eye when she crossed the threshold. The blonde engineer shook her head and decided she would not live there even if Merrick offered her a room.
That just left moving back to her parents’ flat in Brighthurst. She sighed. They would be so horribly nice about it, patting her hand and offering her hot tea, the brown stuff that smelled like sweaty feet. Mamma would mention a new mercer or doctor with a promising practice, how no young lass had caught his fancy yet. Mamma would also remind Tesla about the fine day dresses languishing in the wardrobe, and would it not be neighborly to pop around the corner and introduce herself to this promising beau since Tesla was home for a while.
She could feel her engineering dreams of working in a R&D lab evaporating as she lay there. Tesla pulled her pillow over her face and wished it was all just a bad dream.
After packing her two trunks the porters had retrieved from storage, Tesla decided that she needed a drink. The evening was still young, and she could sleep on the train ride to Brighthurst in the morning.
She popped into the posting office and cabled a message to Merrick. She knew he was on patrol tonight with his City Vigilance squad and would not receive the message for hours. Still, she did not want him searching for her while she was on the train back to Brighthurst. Her errand complete, Tesla stepped back out into the clear evening. The chimneys were silhouetted by the setting sun.
Her boots started heading for the Wrenched Wench, a pub that catered to the local engineers and foundry men, but Tesla had no desire to see any of her ex-fellow engineers. Today had been embarrassing beyond comprehension.
She walked a half dozen streets further to the Handsome Corby, an alehouse with a large raven silhouetted on the public door. It was a serious sort of place where men came to drink and wager as if their lives depended on it. It was the right place for Tesla to get quietly, seriously drunk.
Tesla had stacked three whiskey tumblers atop three empty lager pints when a man sat down at the scarred table across from her. She did not bother to glance up at him.
“Not interested,” she said, unstacking the glasses. Maybe she could get the big pints to balance on top of the small tumblers.
“I’ve had a devil of a time locating your whereabouts, Miss Spence,” the man said in an urbane drawl. “The least you can do with accommodate me with a spot of conversation.”
“Don’t feel much like talking. Had more than enough of it already today.” Maybe it would work better if she arranged the glasses in a triangle instead of a line. Stacking glasses was trickier than it looked. She took a sip from her fourth lager as she considered her engineering project.
“I regret to hear you say that. I was quite hoping I could discuss Edgar Endicott with you,” the man replied mildly.
“Slagging isn’t good enough for the likes of him.” Maybe if she had four glasses to use, that would make the base more stable. Tesla took a big gulp of her lager. It tasted fizzier than the first three had.
“My sentiments exactly, Miss Spence. Mr. Endicott has become quite troublesome to my department of late,” he said.
Something about the way the man said ‘department’ snagged Tesla’s attention. “What department did you say you were with?” she asked, tossing a braid over her shoulder.
“I didn’t say, but thank you so much for asking. I am the Vice-Chief for the Cobblecourt Central Planning Committee.”
Tesla froze at the mention of the Central Planning Committee and did not dare look up from the table. The CPC was the administrative branch for most industries in the district and wielded an amazing amount of influence. All the paperwork for the district when through their fingers, and depending on the proposals and licenses approved by the bureaucratic entity, fortunes were made or broken.
She was drunk in an alehouse with the CPC Vice-Chief sitting across from her. Constallari save her, she thought. Her stars were clearly out of alignment.
“Come now, Miss Spence,” the Vice-Chief said. “There’s no reason to be reserved. You have my complete understanding about what a dreadfully trying day this has been for you. Such a promising career ahead of you too. It’s a pity Mr. Endicott had to ruin it in one fell blow. Why don’t you tell me about what he was doing on the scaffolding, and I’ll see if I can’t remedy this situation for you.” He folded his hands on the table, showing fingertips stained with ink.
Tesla’s head shot up at the mention of a solution. “What do you mean by a remedy for my situation? Can you make Edgar Endicott go away like a bad dream?” she asked.
As she waited for his reply, she studied the Vice-Chief’s features. He was pale, that was the first thing she noticed. She supposed the paper shufflers did not spend a lot of time streetside. His eyes were dark and intelligent, and his mustache was thin and neatly groomed. He was considering her with the same level of frankness, which made her blush. She prayed he thought it was the alcohol.
“Not exactly, Miss Spence. Do you recall the engineering design competition you submitted a schematic to for review? One of the responsibilities under my purview is the selection of competition winners each annum. As you are aware, winning entrants often garner the attention of established engineers looking to bring new talent into their workshop. Choosing the winners is quite a weighty responsibility. I’m sure you realize that if you won the competition, today’s incident would be soon forgotten.” The Vice-Chief stroked his thin mustache, smoothing down unruly hairs.
Tesla’s cloudy mind slowly absorbed this information. “That would be most generous of you,” she said.
“Yes, it would be generous of me, wouldn’t it? Why don’t you tell me about Mr. Endicott’s adventure with you this morning, and I’ll see if we can repair the damage he has wrought. Is today the first time you met Mr. Endicott?” he asked.
She nodded, feeling much more eager to answer his questions. “Edgar said he was an assistant researcher for the Brighthurst District Laboratory.”
“Very good. How did you first discover Mr. Endicott?”
“I dropped my supper tin on him. I’m afraid I quite destroyed his goggles,” she admitted with a giggle.
“No matter about that,” the vice-Chief said with a shrug. “His family has ample funds to afford such gadgetry.”
“I couldn’t believe it when Edgar told me not to worry about replacing his goggles. He just tossed them away, which you shouldn’t do up in the Rafters. It’s against maintenance procedures. So when I went to retrieve them, that’s when the horrible bug flew out of the cubbyhole, and then Edgar knocked me off the landing.” Tesla brushed a finger across her lips, which were feeling a bit numb.
The Vice-Chief leaned forward, his dark eyes never leaving her face. “Tell me, why exactly was Edgar Endicott in the South Foundry this morning?”
Tesla rolled her eyes and laughed. “He said he was looking for some moths. Totally lost his marbles when he saw one.”
“Did he mention a chrysalis? Do you know if he found one?” The Vice-Chief’s ink-stained fingers gripped the edges of the scarred table.
“I don’t think so. We returned to the foundry floor once he hauled me back up with the rope.” She paused and shook her head slowly. Everything sounded like it had an echo. “Chrysalis sounds like a funny word.” She slurred the word and smiled.
The Vice-Chief relaxed and leaned back in his seat. “You’ve had a troubling day, Miss Spence. Why don’t we settle up your tab and go for a drive. My motor coach is waiting just around the corner.” He tossed some shills on the table and held out a hand for her.
Tesla took his hand and stood up on shaky legs. That fourth drink had really done her in, she thought. She was happy that the Vice-Chief was there to give her a ride. She smiled and knew everything would sort itself out.
“What a surprise to see the Vice-Chief himself roaming the streets by coglight. We don’t expect to see you in such lowly establishments,” a man’s voice said behind Telsa. The words echoed in her head, and she couldn’t recognize the voice. “Where do you think you’re rushing off to with the young lady?”
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I’m very excited to have the next section up. I can’t wait to see what happens!!