Meredith was working in her office, rewriting some of her earlier automaton programming scripts. The click-clack of her special typewriter filled the room with unimaginably long reams of paper. Next to her desk were letters the she wrote to her sister in Golah when she couldn’t code anymore.
She checked the clock on the wall. “Maybe he forgot, I should go see.”
She wrote a note, placed it inside of a small capsule, and placed that onto a tube on the wall. When she flipped a switch, a vacuum came on and sucked the capsule up the pipe.
A few minutes later, Buford knocked on her door. “I was finishing up with the seamstress. The little dear had a nasty incident in the kitchen.”
Adele, their mechanical doll, didn't so much walk as she did nearly dance into the room. She was dressed in a green and gold peacoat dress. Her engine was humming along and her face, though static, was looking about curiously as always.
Meredith couldn’t help but smile when she saw the darling. Programming Adele felt more like play than work. She’d rather be doing some new experiments than working on the scripts BA’s customers were paying her to write.
Lucas checked his pocket watch, “Enjoy yourselves tonight.”
Meredith looked her over, “Well, yet again you’re showing me up in the fashion department. I don’t exactly have your doting father. Let’s go home little moon.”
The Grand Theatre in Gearford was putting on a rendition of Noutt Rythjuverka, the Kuuvian epic. Buford asked if Adele could accompany her to the show, knowing that Meredith often patroned the theatre.
Meredith already had her ticket, but Lucas forgot to give her the money early, so Adele had to purchase her own ticket tonight, an interesting exercise in social programming.
When Adele got to the front of the line, Meredith watched as she put her hands on her hips and puffed her chest up. Her body language was of anger and strength.
The people behind them were restless and confused, “What’s wrong? Hurry along!”
“Give her a second,” Meredith scolded and then turned to sign, “come on little moon, prioritize.”
She was gathering a huge library of permanent routines, and two of them were in conflict. The ticket booth was “manned” by a Cerillius industries automaton. It took a good minute or two before Adele reached the conclusion that her task of purchasing a ticket was more important than her task of intimidating the competition.
Meredith patted her on the head, “I know that was hard dear. Sometimes we have to be civil in the face of our enemies.”
After the show, Meredith and Adele waited for the small crowd to clear off before venturing towards the backstage and down to the dressing rooms.
“Come on little moon. I want you to meet someone who works here.”
A spritely lady in overalls, who was helping a few of the ladies out of their elaborate horned outfits, turned to see them. Her face lit up with excitement, “Merie!”
“Hi, Felicity darling.” Meredith said with a bashful smile, “This is Adele.”
“Gorgeous! So this is what you’ve been playing with at work?”
Meredith finished introductions aloud, “Adele, this is my love, Tee”
Adele curtsied and signed to Felicity, “Nice to meet you, love tea.”
“What’s so funny?” Felicity asked.
“I guess your sign is ‘love tea’. Introductions are a bit hard to correct, so you’re quite stuck with it.”
Tee raised her brow in bemused confusion, and gave Meredith a big hug, “You’re delightfully weird, love.”
“Costumes were great tonight!” Meredith said, changing the subject.
Tee lit up at the complement, “Oh, weren’t they? I just adore the headdresses. We should totally visit there sometime, I hear some of them actually wear them this crazy!”
“Maybe, the boss might need me to train someone over at the Fallinbannao office. Paorr customers are getting tired of waiting two months for script requests to get fulfilled.”
“Well, what’s the plan?” Tee asked, “Claude’s not going to let us out for another hour.”
“Ugh, what a right git,” Meredith disdainfully exclaimed, “Well, I guess I’ll head home first, then. He doesn’t like when I hang around after the show anyways.”
“Okay, but stay up for wine and cake.”
“You made cake?”
“Mhm, chocolate rose geranium pound cake.”
“Oh, quit your whining, have your robot do the serving.”
“Okay dear, catch you up.”
And with that, Meredith brought Adele home for a night of celebration and happiness.
When Tee got home, Meredith was already imbibing.
“Your father should be more confident around his employees. He’s a bundle of nerves and it pisses me off,” Meredith was complaining to Adele.
Tee interrupted her, snatching the bottle from her hands, “Starting without me?”
“You’re far too drunk, far too early.”
“You’re far too pretty, far too... in my house.”
“I’m cutting you off, at least until my judgement goes, too. Adele, can you serve cake?”
Meredith reached into a large bag, “Hold on dear, don’t order her about just yet. She’s set up for a night out still, not a night in. She just might try to buy a ticket from your icebox. Scroll time!”
Adele walked over to Meredith and turned around so she could reach her script scroll box. She pulled on a lever, loosened a knob, rolled up the scroll already there, and swapped it out, performing the whole rigmarole in reverse.
Adele turned around to sign, “All set, servant script functioning.”
Meredith, having used up all her lucidity for the show of technical skill suddenly lost all tact, “Ca-a-a-a-a-ake, mmmmmust have!”
Tee had polished off the bottle and broke open a new one, “Your boss sounds easy to deal with.”
“Claude is a complete child, throwing tantrums and saying the worst things imaginable. The rest of them all act like that’s 'just Claude' like it’s normal and excuses him. The other day he suggested we murder a vibranni on stage for the horror one-acts.”
“I don’t exactly like socializing with them, but that would make anyone a demon right sympathizer,” Meredith said.
Tee tumbled over and put a finger on Meredith's mouth. “Honey, shush.”
“He’s a terrible man who never cuts his disgusting fingernails, and someone needs to ship him off to pleasantville.”
Meredith looked at her love, “Honey, drink up and get over here.”
Adele showed up with a couple plates of fragrant, moist cake slices.
“What do you... you to do about... that?” Meredith asked.
“Come on now, you can’t be that bab.”
Adele took the bottle from them and stood blocking the pantry as the two passed out and her boiler ran out of steam.
The next few weeks were spent working with Timothy to re-engineer Jacques as a third instinct automaton, as he was intended. Meredith was training a new intern, Laurence Burgham, on writing scripts for the second and third instinct automatons. The work was expensive, exhaustively nerve wracking, and the kid was making far too many mistakes for her liking.
“Sir, why are we going through this exercise if it’s so costly?” Meredith asked, walking into his office.
“I’m glad you asked,” he said, nibbling on some chocolate, “Actually, It’s one of the two things I really wanted to talk to you about.”
“Now, hold on, I would like to preface my statement: I absolutely love working on third-instinct scripts, and the fact that Jacques has the speech engine is really neat.”
Jacques and Adele were the only automatons truly able of meaningful language output, as opposed to simply listening.
Lucas looked at her quizzically, “I’ve been pushing you too hard haven’t I?”
“Thought as much. In that case, you may decline one of the assignments I’m to give you.”
“Do you know why we’ve hired a new intern?”
“No, sir. I’ve been keeping up with all our orders, excepting some of the stranger ones coming out of Clarusia.”
“I’m sending you to the Kuuvian office at the beginning of Moghs.”
“Really? So soon?”
“Yes. Elin handles manufacturing beautifully, but the office isn’t really being used for more than sales and figures. I want you to hire and train someone we can trust with the European accounts.”
“But, sir. Laurence isn’t really going to be able to fill my shoes here at home.”
“I assumed as much. You forget sometimes I’m a really great scroll-scripter. I’ll have him do the grunt work and review everything he does before it gets to customers. I find it easier to clean up bad scripts than to create them from scratch, honestly.”
“Okay. I’ll have to think about it, but I’m certainly excited at the prospect of travel.”
“You’ll love it there. It will take some time, but the pies they make in early Aderfod are amazing.”
“I’d be able to bring a guest along, correct?”
“Yes, you may absolutely bring Felicity.”
“Okay, I am most likely to go,” Meredith happily confirmed.
“So the other thing is more short-term, and you have no choice in the matter.”
Meredith gave him a slight grimace.
“I’ve been asked by the Grand Theatre to lend Adele to their company for their next production.”
Meredith’s eyes lit up; Lucas smirked.
He continued, “So I’ve worked out a payment plan with the theater and have insisted that you be there to guide and program the dear one to perform.”
“Claude didn’t protest?” Meredith said with far more excitement than concern.
“He seemed quite set on whatever conditions would make an automaton actor a reality.”
Meredith shook her head in disbelief. “Madman with a penchant for pushing theatre’s bounds.”
As the doors swung open, A crowd of people turned to see what was happening at the entrance to the auditorium.
Claude was on the stage, “Here they are, on loan from Buford Automaton! Company, I present the mechanical daughter of Antiford, Adele!”
Meredith felt like a celebrity’s bodyguard. The only one cheering for her arrival was Tee. Adele curtsied when she connected that the cheering was for her.
They joined the actors and technicians in the throng before the stage. Tee and Meredith held hands tight. Tee was noticeably giddy to be seeing her sweet at work.
Claude reclaimed the crowd’s attention, “So, as you may have guessed, by the addition of a doll to our cast, we are indeed performing the Titanian classic, Halskeg, as adapted by the White Haven scriptwriter’s guild.”
One of the actors murmured to a coworker, “Oh good, I love the Gorrn speech they added.”
“Really? I think it completely easternizes the piece,” they replied.
A large wooden box is rolled onto the stage as Claude clasps his hands, “Now you know the part of the ghostly brother in the south kingdom? Well I’ve got permission from a very important family to use their loved one’s voice recordings in tandem with... well...”
Claude smiled an unhinged smile and pointed an open hand towards the box, which revealed a stiff, cold corpse, “You all know the great and late actor, Barry Walden!”
A few of the cast ooed and aaed, some of the cast members looked confused. Meredith, Tee, and many of their colleagues were petrified and mortified.
Tee clasped her mouth and fell to her knees, “Dear, Moghus.”
Meredith barely heard the rest of Claude’s words as she fell to comfort and share Tee’s disgust.
“I’ve hired Gearford’s great puppeteer, Calvin Garrison, to work out the details of resurrecting our comrade,” he then tilted his head up and looked down upon the company, “and if you don’t like it, you are welcomed to seek alternate employment. This is an institution for pushing the boundaries of performance art, not a playhouse of amateurs.”
Meredith stood up, “This is monstrously distasteful!”
Claude chuckled, “Ah yes, the outsider. It’s good to see you’ve got spunk, but your employer getting paid good money to have his little daughter in the play, so deal with it.”
Meredith’s jaw hurt from the intensity of which she managed to clench.
Tee pulled on her sleeve, “Let’s just focus on our work, honey.”
Meredith brought her scroll-script writer to the auditorium and had to write lines of coded instruction for each line in the play’s script. It was exhausting work, with a lot of grinding repetition to ensure Adele waited on cues from the other actors before, herself, acting.
The result was gorgeous when done right. Adele moved along the stage with grace and precision and mimed out emotions quite convincingly.
Tee was unfortunately tasked with creating costumes for everyone in the play. Traditional early eighth age Titanian outfits adorned the actors, the android, and the corpse.
Word had actually leaked to the public, the two unusual actors involved in the Grand Theatre’s future production. More than likely, Meredith suspected, it was Claude himself that leaked it. Nevermind that he wasted everyone’s time by threatening to punish whomever let the public know.
There were protests outside the theater daily.
Meredith and Tee were watching Adele rehearse the third act with her fellow actors.
“Have you seen Garrison’s work on the final scene?” Meredith asked Tee.
“No, but I saw the first scene where the brother is alive. Disgustingly lifelike,” Tee hated to admit, ”I only watched as much as I did ‘cause I thought they were still using the understudy.”
“Yea, I’m not sure how I feel about it anymore. It is eerie hearing his voice from offstage, but the beginning it seems like narration, and the end he’s supposed to be ethereal.”
“Honey, please don’t. Sugarcoating this won’t help. It’s disrespectful and I blame the family. Wet pockets, all of ‘em,” Tee’s voice was raised in frustration, “I’d join them outside if I could. They probably dug him up, rolling in that grave.”
“Sorry. If we’re going to be stuck doing something, let’s at least enjoy that we’re stuck together.”
The actors finished with the scene and were taking notes from the director, a kind and brilliant man named Jack, “Meredith, could you come over here?”
Tee went downstairs to the dressing rooms and Meredith went to the stage.
“She’s doing well, but is there any way you could make her not freeze up if the actors say the line differently from the exact wording in the script?”
“I could have her ignore the content completely and just wait for them to shut up, but then she might jump her lines too quick if an actor needs to pause dramatically or think a moment.”
“Yes, I see, that would be much worse,” he recognized her point and turned to the stage, “Sorry Skyler, you’ll just have to memorize your lines if you don’t want to stop the show. We’ve only got one more week. Get it together.”
Meredith removed the oversized scroll from Adele’s back and went downstairs to grab Tee and head home.
The hall was small and led to many large rooms below the auditorium. The ladies’ dressing room was painted a baby blue and there were poofy garments strewn about, but the actors had all gone, and no sign of Tee.
“Hrm,” Meredith pondered where she might be and checked the red men’s dressing room, which smelled of the fowlest manliness had to offer, “Never could get used to boys.”
She stepped out into the hallway to check the storage rooms. Meredith watched her feet carefully to make sure she made just as many steps on each of the tiles. She was uneasy, and felt nervous.
This had not been the easiest month.
She stepped to the door, turned the handle and opened the...
Meredith’s heart sunk at what her eyes told her must be happening.
Hair moved back and forth. Clothing bunched up in places they would only linger if they were being removed. Skin.
“Moghus, no,” she silently mouthed.
The two bodies before her shuffled around and Meredith threw a rack of clothing obstructing her view across the room.
Tee’s eyes welled up, unable to look at her. Meredith, gaze burning all she looked upon, screamed. She braced herself to thrust a fury of fists upon the man who soured her lover.
Claude nervously chuckled.
“Please don’t,” Tee murmured, frightened.
Meredith starred in angry confusion at Felicity.
The world was a blur, and when her body turned around, when her feet pounded ceasingly away from the theater, Meredith couldn’t tell you.
Her world was pain. Her mind was a blank, and she needed to keep it blank by filling her thoughts with screaming to keep the images out.
Running was all she knew how to do. She ran to the waterfront and curled up into a ball on a bench.
She must have been there for hours, shivering as the sun went down.
“Does she even love me?” Meredith whispered to herself.
Was she with Claude the whole time they’d been intimate? The thought made her feel unclean. She questioned everything, because the world was no longer what she thought it was.
She felt alone.
The sound of hissing and clanking upon the cobblestone made Meredith open her tear-filled eyes.
Adele moved Meredith's hair out of her face, “Come with me, auntie. It’s an emergency.”
Meredith sat up, still dazed from hours of inner monologuing, “Emergency?”
Adele pulled her to her feet and walked briskly back into the city.
“Let me catch up, little one!” Meredith yelled after her.
She led them back to the theater. The door was not locked as it normally would be. Inside, there was blood leading to the stage.
Meredith followed the trail of blood, “What happened?”
“Not important. Follow me.”
Adele grabbed Meredith’s arm and pulled her towards the stairs.
The stairs and hallway were eerie at night, with no lamps to lit. She followed her mechanical comrade’s glowing toward that awful closet.
What she found was a battered and unconscious woman.
No response came, so she knelt down and shook her. Tee’s eyes opened. She smiled at first, but as she remembered the waking world she began sobbing.
She looked up at Meredith, bottom lip jutting in anger, “What happened…?”
Meredith’s heart sank deeper than before, “No. I…”
Tee’s face went back to sorrow and pain, showing the side with a bruised cheek, “Don’t leave me again.”
Meredith began sobbing uncontrollably, “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t you trust me?”
“More than anyone.”
“Don’t you believe me when I say I love you and only you?”
Meredith sat quietly down on the floor next to Felicity.
Tea repeated, “I love you and only you.”
“It’s not entirely his fault.”
Meredith gave Tee a confused look.
Tee continued. “He’s the one who got me this job. Honey I’m not an educated woman, I can’t just waltz into an office and get hired—”
“Stop, please. Please don’t. I can’t hear this,” Meredith said.
“Well, it’s too late, innit?” Tea yelled, voice trembling.
“How long? No… no don’t tell me.”
“Don’t ask me.”
“So what now?”
“Well I’d be surprised if we’re not sacked and accused of harming him.”
“What? Was that his blood upstairs?”
“Was that what was happening upstairs? Good girl, Adele.” Tee said.
Meredith turned around, seeing blood on Adele’s skirts that she hadn’t noticed in her earlier hurry.
Meredith looked back into her eyes. “Tee?”
“I ran. I didn’t know which way was up, so I left you here.”
Tee sniffled and fell upon Meredith’s lap, “Please… I’m so tired.”
“I love you,” Meredith told her.
“Take me home.”
Meredith had doctor Bittersworth check Tee out, Claude came into work with a cast he said was from a croquet accident, and the cast was further uneasy from the protesters outside.
The ladies decided to stay the run of the production and run off to Kuu on the last night of the show.
It was a horrible tech week. Nobody was happy with anyone.
However, in professional form, everyone knew their places, their cues, their lines, and actions by the night of the first run.
The playhouse was packed, ground floor and balcony. The murmurs of excitement for this strange cast were deafening.
Meredith readied her celebrity, “You ready, little moon?”
“I have practiced so much. Is father here tonight?”
“Yes. He is.”
“Then I will do well.”
“It helps that you’re the only one out there with a script.” Meredith smiled and filled her boiler up.
Tee decided to sit in the audience with Buford, letting her new replacement handle any emergencies.
“So glad to finally meet you. Lucas Buford,” he said, with outstretched mechanical hand.
“Likewise. Felicity Pennington,” they shook, “she’s done wonderful work, your ‘bot. I suppose you’re rather proud.”
“I’m certainly excited to see her on the stage. Meredith did the hard work, of course- those tireless nights programming those beastly scrolls. You should be proud of her.”
“Indeed I am, sir...” she repeated herself as the lights went down, ”indeed, I am.”
A sorceress upon a great hill overlooks the little kingdom of the north. Her hands touch the pages of an ancient tome. Her hands are as callous as her heart, though it’s contents might have warmed anothers’.
The Kingdom was run by a strong, courageous King who sought no quarrel but that which was brought upon his land. His brave knights rode into battle for their fair king in the land of the east, who so often threatened their livelihoods.
A leader respected by all.
In the village around the castle lived an old inventor and his beautiful daughter, hair glistening in the early morning light. Nothing made the old man happier than to see his daughter play along the flowerbeds by the river.
A happy family.
Upon the next hill, a shepherd tends to his flock, trusty canine keeping the sheep in line. He ponders if the weather is trustworthy enough to begin shaving their furs for the summer.
The gentleman who delivers mail about the kingdom has a pen pal of his own. His brother writes to him weekly, and he responds in kind. Their connection is one of many with the people of lands the northern kingdom is friendly with.
“Dull, dull, dull! I must shake this stupor I’ve found myself in,
I must change the lives of the peasants below,
This book’s magic has bored me to death,
And so now I will force the players to entertain me now!
“But it takes so much magic to make any difference,
I need to consider the timber to tip.
The king is too easy, too quickly replaced.
Who shall I kill to make the fabric of peace rip?”
And so she decided, with a wave of her staff, to kill the brother who sent letters to the kingdom of the south.
The war with the east extended quite south, and the war was, sometimes, brought to their land. A siege upon the city caught the subjects surprised.
War came to the flowerbed by the river.
And so, without a daughter, the inventor wept. Without his dead wife he could not start family anew in the natural way. So he built a proxy, a doll that could dance by the river.
The shepherd saw his flock stolen for meat by the soldiers of the south.
The King was losing the war, they made their way to his castle gates. In the final battle against the north kingdom of war, only two survivors managed to escape, running to the top of the mountain the meddling sorceress called home.
“Young maiden, I see you are taking the same road as I am.”
The doll stopped and turned upon one foot, as a dancer in a music box. She stopped and stared at the boy.
“Are you going to seek the witch they say sits upon the mountains high?”
“Then you suspect as I that our wretched fates are not as unlucky as they are being toiled with?”
She nods and continues up the hill.
The doll, though not alive... perhaps because she was not alive, knew that her existence was in spite of others. She could not bear the feeling of sorrow she was not meant to feel over the grief of losing her inventor father to the war.
When the villagers reached the entrance to the sorceress’s cave, the witch greeted them, book in hand.
“Foul witch, what is thine hand in the misfortunes fallen on our lands?”
“Indeed you are entertaining, but perhaps too close to my mortality, young shepherd.”
“Dost thou deny the role thou hast played?”
“You know little, and should know less.”
The sorceress waved her staff above the book of life.
The shepherd speaks again, “I have come to be by your side. Forever to tend to thee.”
“That’s better,” she crowed, “and what of you, mute daughter of wood?”
The doll danced across the floor, and stabbed the witch.
An impossible tear fell from her beady eyes and onto the book.
The world returned to the way it was, but the sorceress no longer looked upon the kingdom. Instead, an ageless doll protected the people from the book that once meddled with the natural order.
The ghost of the postman addresses the audience and explains how important every life is. He reveals himself to be Gorrn, the god of birth and death, and delivers the final line...
The curtains lifted, and the audience were in an uproar. The closing soliloquy still fresh in their minds, the whole of the theatre stood for the actors credits.
Tee went backstage to check up on Meredith and Adele, and then her assistant.
When she got there, Meredith was scolding Adele.
“Is e'eryfin alright?” she asked.
Meredith snapped out of it and shoved a small scroll into her bag, “Just fine, She, uh, well she bumped into me dancing about and I have to reinforce that was bad.”
“Okay. I’m gonna go check up on Sarah downstairs.”
Adele ran off to Buford’s arms for a hug.
“Let’s just go home. That okay?” Meredith said worriedly.
“Okay, honey,” Tee smiled at her, “I’m very proud of you.”
Meredith was caught off guard, smiled, and hugged Tee tightly.
Scream came from backstage. The theater went silent.
Just behind the curtain, one of the actors stood horrified. An explosion from the street echoed throughout.
“What in Skret was that?” Meredith confusedly proclaimed.
They drew back the curtains to find Claude and the ghastly Mr. Walden, each holding a sword through the other’s chest, blood pooling between them.
Several more screams, fainting, and ill looks ensued.
Tee looked at Meredith. “Well, I guess no one’s going home tonight.
The police came and kept everyone at the scene of the crime. They interviewed each of the cast and even tried to look for fingerprints, a new technique in policing.
It was pitch black outside when a private investigator came to the theatre. He had found the grandson of the late Mr. Walden with several barrels of exactly the type of explosion that went off outside.
“Seems like not everyone in the family was so happy to see their ancestors dancing about like a puppet,” he confidently said.
The police removed the private investigator’s handcuffs and cuffed him in their “standard issue” ones.
Buford Automaton filled in the role of the postman with Jacques, so that the theatre could avoid anymore violence while they recovered. Everyone was surprised the show was to go on, but Lucas himself insisted and even wrote up all of Jacques scroll-scripts in two, restless days.
Meredith and Felicity were both confident with their replacements by the time they left for Fallinbannao. They both dressed warmly and beautifully for the airship ride to Kuu. Tee made their coats herself as a stress-relieving preparation.
As they left the Gearford air docks to travel above the vast Fimbrian ocean, Meredith muttered the final lines of Antiford’s addition to Halskeg: “Truth, be told, I am Gorrn. Whoever is born, it is because I deemed them worthy of birth, and whomever dies, it is on my command.”