Meredith was wearing two coats. “Are you sure you’re not cold?”
“I’ll be fine,” said Felicity, “but you should really go back to bed.”
Neither of these ladies had been on a transfimbrian journey before, and the extended stay below deck wasn’t settling with Meredith.
“I’m going to ask the navigator where we are, again,” Felicity said.
“I’m sure he’d love another visit from you, what with all the free time he’s had the past week.”
Felicity pouted. “I’m looking out for you!”
Meredith shivered and wondered if she should hold her stomach back or let it take its course again. This was an excellent time to be sick, she thought, while being trapped in a box in the sky with no freedom or control whatsoever.
It was eerily silent. Meredith looked around slowly, restricted by the multiple layers of clothing. When did she saunter off?
Two more days. That was how long the navigator said it would be, just three or four days ago. She’d lost count. The worst part of it all, was the thought of doing it all again in the opposite direction in a few month’s time.
“Miss me?” Felicity was standing next to her, leaning against the railing. “They say we’ve got two more days left. That’s good news, isn’t it?”
Meredith could feel the railing shake, and her girlfriend try to shrink her body inward, elbows clinging to her core. “I— thanks for checking.”
They stood side-by-side, looking at the clouds below, trying to make out any land amidst the ocean.
Meredith shifted over to look at Felicity, whose nose was harshly red against her pale skin. “Let’s head back below deck.”
“Are you sure?”
Meredith’s neck hurt. The sun beaming through the window was too intense, and she attempted to open one of her eyes. Felicity was on top of her. I swear, If we don’t get a king size bed when we get there…
A knock on their cabin door pulled Meredith awake. “Rise and shine!”
“Whyyy?” Meredith complained.
“We’re nearly at port, miss!”
She shuffled, trying to free herself from her lover’s weight. “Hey. Tee? Hey.”
Felicity wouldn’t budge.
Meredith groaned and slid out of bed. She got dressed and climbed onto the deck from their quarters below, to look out at their destination. She clung to the railing and brushed her hair out of her face.
The city of Fallinbannao was clearly visible amidst the forests of southern Kuu. Between all the green tops, were hints of golden and crimson hues. In the south, there were fields of colorful bushes.
A gigantic tree rose up from the center of the city. On top of that tree sat several balloons and airships.
“Wow! Aderfod is gorgeous in Kuu!” Felicity exclaimed.
Meredith whipped around. “How in skret did you get dressed so fast?”
Felicity giggled in awe of the scenery.
“Well,” Meredith said, “I guess not all countries in the world can ignore the seasons like Antiford does.”
“I can’t wait!”
“Really? You’re not going to miss all the wonderful accommodations on the ship?”
Felicity turned to her partner, unimpressed. “You’re being dry.”
“What can I say?”—Meredith smirked—”You can take a lady from Antiford, but you can’t take the Antiford from a lady.”
Meredith and Felicity were greeted at the airport by Elin Máladottir, who was the head of manufacturing for Buford Automaton’s Paorrian operations, here in Fallinbannao. She was sent to lead them to their new home for the duration of the trip. She was a soft-spoken woman and rather plain looking. All up until her antlers. They were rather finely adorned and looked larger than most of the other Kuuvians’.
It took them some time to drag the luggage from the ship all the way down the wide staircase that led to street-level. Meredith had never seen such a thing in her whole life and was impressed. What she was not impressed with were the streets below. She was very happy to have a guide through the winding streets of the city, because this city’s layout made no sense to her. The streets felt more like the winding roots of the great tree above them than the result of city planning.
They walked on for some time. Meredith was so lost in observation and thought that she nearly crashed into Ms. Máladottir when she did finally stop.
“Here we are,” Elin said.
Felicity looked up at the house. “Really? You call that a cottage? Thing’s huge!”
“Yes, well, they just finished construction last month.”
Meredith chuckled. “It’s just like Mr. Buford to have a second home like this. Have you seen his place in Astam?”
Elin opened the gate and led them through a path in the lawn up to the front door.
“Man, I’ve dreamed of visiting the Alice gardens, but the green in this place tops anything in Antiford!” Felicity said.
Elin opened the door and held it for them. Meredith and Felicity entered, dropped their luggage, and collapsed on the furniture in the parlor.
“Alright ladies, I’ve left a pie in the kitchen, and you’ve been stocked with enough food to last a couple o’ days,” Elin said. “I’ll leave your keys by the door. And I’ll come by tomorrow to help you settle in with work and such.“
“Thank you very much,” Meredith said, exhausted.
Sizzling. Meredith awoke to the sounds of breakfast.
The grandfather clock in the hallway struck six times. “Tee?”
“In the kitchen! You want jam on your toast?” Felicity yelled over from the other room.
“There’s some apsara magic that’s caused me to feel awake. Did the clock really just say it was six?”
“Jam! Want it or no?”
“Yea, sure,” Meredith said.
“And check your pocket watch!”
Sure enough, her advice was helpful. Meredith completely forgot about the difference in time zones. She was generally aware of them, certainly. The telegraph transmissions between the offices had to be timed right so that no one had to come in early or stay late, but it wasn’t something that occupied her thoughts on the travel over. Illness made sure each day bled a bit into the next.
Felicity came out with plates of hot food and drink for each. Meredith scarfed down the meat first. She’d missed real food while in the air. The sweet jelly reminded her that she enjoyed life and its pleasures.
“So what’s the plan?” Felicity asked.
Meredith took a big sip of tea to clear her mouth for speech. “Sorry. Eating like a chanka over here… Well I think I’d better get straight to work and introduce myself.”
Felicity fidgeted. “I’m not really sure what I’m going to do, I guess.”
“I’m sure you’ll find something. It’s not like you’re a bubbly craftsman in one of the most artsy cities in the world,” Meredith jested.
There was knock on the door, which then opened. “Good morning ladies.”
It was Ms. Máladottir again. She walked in with rolled up papers, sat down, and unfurled them.
“What’s this?” Felicity asked.
Meredith was still chewing.
“This is, in my opinion, the most useful map of the city. I thought I’d show you how to get to the offices,” Elin stated. She turned her attention toward Felicity specifically, “I thought you might like a bit of help finding out what to do around here.”
Meredith, finished with her plate, stood up and clasped her hands together. “Alright, What’s the best way there?”
“I’ve marked a route on your copy of the map,” Elin said.
She handed it over to Meredith, who then went upstairs to change.
Elin pencilled in a couple x’s on the map for Felicity. “We should have fun today.”
“I look forward to it.” Felicity said.
The walk to work was an odd one indeed. It frustrated Meredith to navigate the winding roads over to work. She had been spun around, lost at least twice, and grimaced incredulously at the underground tunnel that was to be part of her daily routine. She missed the rails and grids of her home in Astam, but the map did get her to work, as promised.
Buford Automaton. It had a dreamlike quality to it, the experience of seeing that name on an unfamiliar building. It was an eye-catching place. There were several wires running to the roof of the office, leading your eye to the elaborate and intentionally over-complicated clock. It was gaudy. It was tacky, a larger-than-life cuckoo clock. She wondered if it was Mr. Buford’s idea. She knew at least one thing she’d be chastising him about in her first telegraph home.
Meredith walked up the steps and opened the doors.
She paused a moment… and readied herself to meet a bunch of new people.
She walked into the office.
People ran to and fro, and coworkers shouted over each other. There were several telegraph booths in the back. It was plain to see why they needed the separation. It was utter chaos.
A gentleman walked up to her. “Hiii, do you have an appointment with sales, miss?”
“Then you’ll have to excuse me, we’re—”
Her eye twitched, and she clenched her fists. “I WASN’T FINISHED, SIR.”
The room fell a bit quieter. Many of her future coworkers were now staring at her. The gentleman straightened his back and looked a bit lost.
She continued. “My name is Ms. Blauchman. I’m here to create your new script-writing department on the behalf of Mr. Buford.”
“Oh, pardon me. Right this way, ma’am.”
“Thank you, Mr…”
“Thank you, Mr. Abels. May I ask who’s in charge here?”
“That would be me,” Mr. Abels said.
They walked across the room and entered a corner office.
“So, how’s this going to work?” Meredith asked. “I’d like a briefing on how this office works and who’s going to help with the new department.”
“Look, I’m very sorry about this, Ms. Blauchman, but we’re in a frenzy today. I’ll set up a meeting for Reisday. For now… settle in?”
“Go and be busy. I can wait for the welcome parade.”
He left her alone. The office roared up again. She was happy not to be the center of attention any longer.
Meredith put some helpful scripting cheat sheets on the walls. It made her feel a little more at home, but it’d probably never get quite so messy as her Astam office.
She pulled her script-scroll writer from out of its travel case. It was a thing of beauty with settings for all sizes and versions of script-scroll standards and clockwork helper buttons that automatically punched out her most commonly typed rows.
Time passed as she went on a little tangent, plucking out some test scripts. She liked to just write them, to practice things she’d done in the past or work through possible techniques to use in the future. She certainly loved her job. It was so unique.
Lastly, she set up a photograph of herself and Felicity. She was truly ambivalent about the picture. On one hand, this was the best image of the two by far. She was actually caught smiling here, and her girlfriend was adorable, as always. On the other… it was from their time working on the play. That rather recent time in her life that brought her to murder a man.
She shook off thinking about it. She couldn’t think about it.
Meredith sat back in her chair and contemplated her office’s decor now that she’d unpacked. She didn’t know what to do with her time now. She’d never been bored at work before. She certainly didn’t want to be alone with her thoughts.
I don’t have to busy all the time, she thought to herself.
…she did. Meredith stepped out of her office.
She felt like she could handle the crowd now.
“Miss Blauchman?” Mr. Abels called again.
Meredith snapped out of it. “I would like to help with your incoming script-scroll orders, Mr. Abels.”
“Wonderful! Suvfia, over there by the coffee, will be more than happy to hear it.”
“Don’t forget to schedule the meeting, now.”
She liked being called “ma’am”. Nobody worked directly underneath her back in Antiford, so she wasn’t used to it. She straightened her back and walked purposefully over.
Suvfia’s desk had a telegraph of its own, and a large stack of papers in her inbox.
Meredith coughed to get her attention. “Good morning. Meredith Blauchman.”
“Suvfia Collefsson. How may I help?”
“Are these the script orders?”
Suvfia pieced together, from the commotion earlier and her directness, that this must be the lady from Antiford they expected. “Yes, most of the ones in this pile are from Kantebury. There were a few high-profile shipments lately and they're just figuring out how they want to use them.”
“Some of our customers… Well, they seem to have more money than they know what to do with”—Meredith smirked—“I'll just take the first ten. In fact, prioritize the orders when they come in, and I'll try to get to as many of them as I can.”
The kuuvian was stunned. “They’ll be shocked, I can tell you that. None of the customers expect scripts to come for months.”
“That’s exactly what I’m here to fix.”
“That’ll be 137 rona, ma’am,” the store clerk said.
Felicity reached into her purse and pulled out some money. “Pleasure doing business with ya.”
Elin looked at the pile of fabrics on the counter with amazement. “Would you like any help carrying these?”
“Oh, yes dear.” — she giggled — “Deer.”
Elin furrowed her brow. That was the sort of joke fathers would tell their little girls wearing their first antlers. She’s not from here. Probably never heard it before...
The ladies walked back to the house with the large stacks of clothing materials. Elin couldn’t see over the stack and so never managed to figure out how Felicity opened the door while holding the other stack.
“Can we drop this over in the solarium?” Felicity asked. “I think that’d be a nice place to sew.”
They moved through the house and dropped off the fabric. Elin was relieved to be able to move her arms freely about once more.
They retreated to the parlour to rest.
Elin yawned. “I haven’t done that much walking in a very long time.”
“Thanks for show me ‘round. I’m gonna be able to keep m’self busy now ...but yea, lotta shops today. ”
“And it’s so warm. Well, once I rest up, I think I’m going to head back home,” Elin said.
“Alright, will you be visiting tomorrow?” Felicity asked.
“No, I’ve got to get back to work at the factory the day after tomorrow, and I need a day of rest at home.”
The clock struck six in the afternoon. Elin left, and Meredith returned home. The sun waited a while longer before setting that day. Meredith spoke all about her difficult day, and Felicity about her exciting one, exploring all the markets and shops in town. They laid on the bed together in wait for their next day of their Kuuvian adventure.
Felicity hugged her. “I’m sorry you had such a stressful day.”
“It’s alright,” Meredith said.
“I know it’s different, but it’s kinda nice playing house, with our bed and our kitchen.”
“Oh, because that’s so different from what we do in Antiford,” Meredith sassed.
“Well, I know we treat your place like it’s ours, but… it’s different.”
Meredith didn’t want to get into it after the day she just had. She rolled over and moaned.
“Nevermind, grumpy-face. I was trying to cheer you up,” Felicity said.
Felicity cuddled up behind her, and Meredith held Felicity’s arms tight as they hugged her.
Meredith’s second week of work was far more productive. Most of the backlog in customer scripts, she’d plowed through. She finally got Mr. Abels’ support and a meeting to get her started on her real purpose there.
Buford Automaton Kuu sent out advertisements in the local papers and sent word to hiring agencies about the new job opportunities. There were a few candidates, but their resumés made no indications about how good they’d be at the job at hand. It was up to Meredith alone to do interviews.
Meredith sat at her desk with a stack of papers. “So, Mr. Carter, let’s start with the easy stuff. What makes you a good candidate for programming automatons?”
“Well, I used to write scripts for my cousin’s plays over in Heimskôg,” said a portly Mr. Carter.
“So you’ve had some experience with a typewriter then?”
“No, not as such. Longhand mostly.”
“I see.” — she tapped a pen on her lips, reviewing his resume — “How are you with logic puzzles?”
“Those silly math questions written all funny in school?”
“Hated those. Never understood why they didn’t just write the equations.”
“I see. Well, I’m going to be frank with you, sir. It’s rather quickly apparent that you’re not qualified for this particular position.”
Mr. Carter sat up straight and wiggled his nose a bit. “I can’t exactly see how you came to that conclusion! You hardly asked me anything about my work ethic or previous experiences at all!”
He continued, but Meredith certainly wasn’t listening at that point. She stood up and opened the door. “I apologize for your misunderstanding, but this very technical position is too important for me to take a chance on just anybody.”
“Well I never—”
“I’m sure you haven’t. Good day, sir.”
The man grabbed his jacket, stuffed his hat on his head, and stormed off.
Mr. Abels watched in confusion and approached her. “What in Ofandyr’s name was that?”
“That’s my second interview today. I don’t know what they’re saying in the adverts, but I’m certainly not getting anything resembling technical. Have you no mathematicians or engineers in your country?” Meredith asked rhetorically.
“Of course we do. No need to be insulting.”
Meredith sat at her desk and stroked her temples. “Sorry, I’m just not used to interviewing, and they’ve been underqualified as of yet.”
“Well, chin up and keep at it. It’s not been long. I’m sure something’ll turn up. Have a chat with the ad agencies if you like.”
Several more interviews ran just like that. On and on, Meredith was frustrated by the process. She eventually broke down and decided to give one of Elin’s former employees, Ms. Greenway, a chance. At the very least, she’d seen automatons before.
“Wait, why do we have to select a memory slot after the sensor?” Ms. Greenway asked.
“Because the sensor isn’t a permanent thing, you can’t just wire the arms to flail whenever the sun’s bright,” Meredith said.
“I think I need a break. This is starting to hurt my head.”
Meredith placed her head in her palm. “Fine, let’s call it a night. We can go over skip statements in the morning and circle back to sensors later.”
The trainee left, and Meredith, exhausted, tidied her desk. Mr. Abels stopped checking in with her once he heard she’d hired someone to train. In his mind, that was that, and he could go back to not caring about what Meredith was here to do.
Meredith walked home in the dark. The house was alight, and she could smell dinner as she approached. It felt like home, finally. Walking through the garden and opening the door to a cool home and dinner ready was becoming comforting habit.
“Evening dear,” Meredith shouted.
Felicity walked out into the hall to greet her, an apron and oven mitts still on. “Just kiss, I’m a right mess.”
They leaned over to peck each other’s lips.
“Dinner’s just about done.”
Meredith smiled. “Really? I thought the faeries in our garden were having a feast.”
Felicity stuck her tongue out in jest and ran back into the kitchen.
Meredith sauntered through the parlour, instead of walking through the hallway, on her way to the dining room.
There were paintings from the town’s artists all over these walls. Meredith had tried to protest, saying that Mr. Buford should be the one to decorate his home, but Felicity had already bought a few paintings, and countered that “Mr. Buford can do as he pleases when he decides to live here”, and that the place needed sprucing up.
There was a new painting next to the window, a landscape with fishermen in waders casting lines into the water by gorgeous mountains.
Meredith opened the door and walked through to the dining room. “Tee?”
Felicity was sitting, waiting, with more food, certainly, than they would be able to eat in a sitting. She was smirking, waiting for comment.
“My gods. You’ve outdone yourself, dear,” Meredith said.
“Thank you. Now, Si’ down! Eat!” Felicity said.
Meredith lost herself in the feast for some time. She ate fish and mushrooms… and some vegetables Meredith didn’t recognize. Felicity was visibly pleased with herself and dove into the meal just as ravenously as Meredith was.
After some time, the ladies had had their fill of fish and wine and laid back in their chairs, unable to move just yet.
Meredith’s senses returned. “Tee… I thought I was supposed to be slimming down to fit into all those dresses you made too tight. What gives?”
Felicity chucked. “Pa-leeze. It’s good for the soul to eat well. ...you …you were going to say something before dinner?”
“Oh, yea. You bought another painting,” Meredith said.
“I know what you’re—“
“No, I like it. I mean, yes, you should stop spending all our money, but it’s nice.”
“I’m glad you think so. I wanted to convince you to go fishing up north,” Felicity said.
“What? What made you think of doing that?”
“Well, I was talking with the fellow who painted this, and he told me about these fishing guides you can hire to go out for a day or two and visit these beautiful rivers!” Felicity said, getting louder and more animated with each word.
“Is that why you killed me with cooking?” Meredith asked.
“Maybe a little.”
Meredith chuckled. “Sure. I need some time off after all this training. The new girl just doesn’t have the mind for it. She remembers things like sand stays wet in Antiford.”
“You’re probably just being too mean.”
“Oh, shush. Once I get off this chair, you’re going to show me the costume you’ve been working on.”
“M’kay,” Felicity mumbled.
It was late into Fi when they left Fallinbannao for their fishing trip. Ms. Greenway quit her training, and the awful hiring activities were threatening to greet Meredith when she returned from vacation. Felicity had spent the time procuring waders, vests, and other such supplies.
They were staying at a lodge between the city of VillisVeppa and Bláa Lóninu, the great lake in the mountains. Their guide would be taking them from near the lodge southward with the flow of the rivers. Not the gigantic Mús River itself, but a smaller one that split off from it, the Ruggsma River.
Thier guide, Ragnar Sunnlottir, was tying a fly onto Felicity’s line. “Just remember the technique I showed you, and no sudden movements. Don’t want to scare the fish away.”
“Got it,” Felicity said.
“Why don’t we start over by this flow there, next to the branch. That’s a good spot for a fish.”
Meredith smiled. It was relaxing, though weird, to be standing in water. It is going to blow their minds when I tell them I stood for hours in a river.
Meredith wasn’t so concerned with the actual catching of fish, as she was simply happy to look out at the mountains, trees, and other features of nature. Not that she was trying to sabotage her chances of fishing, of course. She simply wasn’t having too much luck. Felicity had her own troubles, being too antsy to sit still and scaring all the fish away.
Her line pulled.
Meredith tugged back, and it gave her a fight. This fish must be huge!
“Keep your rod high, don’t let up any tension!” Ragnar shouted.
She kept the line tight while the guide waded over to her.
“Let me see.”
Ragnar took the pole from her, and tugged a bit in a couple directions.
“Did I do something wrong?” Meredith asked.
“Looks like you just hooked your first rock,” Ragnar said with a smile. “It happens all the time. I’ll get you free and we can move to a new section.”
So, he walked upstream and threw a loop that seemed to do the trick.
“I got one!” Felicity shouted from down river.
Ragnar walked calmly through the river, gave Meredith back her rod, and took out his net on his way over to her girlfriend. “Try to bring him my way so I can net him.”
Meredith pulled in her line so that she could try putting another fly on it, but waited to do so. She was feeling equally jealous and happy for Felicity.
Felicity nearly fell in trying to lead the fish over to the net, but Ragnar managed to get it in. He removed the hook and threw her catch into his wicker pack. They’d only caught a handful of fish — well, Felicity had caught a handful of fish — but that would be enough for a nice dinner at the end of the day.
“Good work. I think you’re getting the hang of it,” Ragnar said.
Felicity was beaming. “Thank ya.”
“I think I’m going to work with Meredith a bit more. Just keep it up.”
Ragnar waved for Meredith to come, so she held the line to the rod and went.
They walked up to shore and trudged on land for a while, dipping deeper into the woods and away from the river for a little bit. Meredith’s mood was souring, and her attempts to avoid getting her fishing pole stuck on the tree branches were failing periodically.
Their destination, this new fishing spot to try, was a small stretch that fell dramatically about two feet downstream from them.
Ragnar looked around with his binoculars for a moment and then packed them away. “Alright, Felicity, I want you to go upstream a little and keep doing what you were. I’m taking Meredith down there.”
Meredith felt good to be getting some one-on-one time with the guide. On top of that, it was gorgeously green here.
They walked down and she readied her line for another fly.
“We’re going to try switching things up a little,” Ragnar told her.
“But, she’s had such good luck, can I just practice that a bit more?” she asked.
“No, no. That won’t work in this part of the river. Anyway, sometimes, it’s about changing your luck. Here, take this fly.”
She took the fly, he put his hat on and helped her tie it on.
“Now, this is a dry fly. The technique is different, but a wet one isn’t gonna cut it over here.”
So, he taught her how to flick and curl the line back behind her and then land it forward where she try to keep it floating smoothly downstream. She caught her line in the trees once or twice, but she really enjoyed the motion of drawing back and throwing forward.
“That’s it, just like that. You’re pretty good at this,” Ragnar said. “Now let’s try to land our fly over on that spot.”
“That one?” Meredith asked.
She flicked it back, waiting for the line to catch up behind her, holding loops of extra line in her hand on the rod. Then she pulled forward, and the fly gracefully fell to the other side of the river. She kept busy keeping the line in the middle from going faster than the end by “mending” the line, or throwing some line upstream on the faster sections of water.
She couldn’t see where her fly was any more.
“That was a fish. Pull it tight!” Ragnar told her.
She pulled tight. It felt much different from the rock before. The fish wiggled and swam in every direction. She couldn’t see it yet, but the line would go looser or tighter and bounce about in her hand.
She reeled up the extra line quicker than she should, creating a tangle in the reel she’d have to deal with later, and then worked on shortening the distance between the fish and her.
Ragnar readied his net.
The fish jumped into the air.
“Stick down!” Ragnar yelled.
She didn’t understand or act quite in time, but still managed to hold the fish until it was close by.
Ragnar scooped the trout up in his net. “Tiny thing, but you did it.”
“Do we get to keep him?” Meredith asked.
“We could, but let’s let him get a little bigger, shall we?”
He put the fish upside down in the water until it was comfortable swimming away.
Meredith was happy.
They fished until they were exhausted that day and the many others in their trip. The Kuuvian wilderness refreshed her mind, and she ready to take whatever came next. She was ready to face the task of hiring again.
Meredith spent a week attempting to follow up leads in both the Kuuvian Automaton Science League, and the universities around the country. Both were unresponsive.
In fact, Meredith had never met ruder people than those at the league. In her last telegraph to Mr. Buford, he seemed to know exactly what she was talking about.
And the universities, unfortunately, were focused on careers not well suited to the programming tasks she needed done. However, she would not give up.
Meredith sat in her office, thinking to herself for a moment. It was time she tried switching up her tactics again. But how?
There were a stack of script-scroll orders sitting on her desk from local customers. Meredith picked up the first order. It was from the airport, looking for muscle, a machine to carry traveller bags to the bottom of the stairs. The order itself was rather specific, as if they knew the logic behind how she’s craft their machine’s scroll.
What if… what about our customers? Could they be potential script-writers?
Meredith stood up and walked over to Mr. Abels’ office.
She knocked on his open door.
“Ms. Blauchman, what brings you to my office?” he asked.
“I need a record of every customer from Kuu and their addresses,” she said.
“Well, I— whatever for?”
“I’m going to conduct some customer satisfaction studies.”
“I think you’ve gone mad. You can’t just—“
Meredith held up her index finger. “No, wait. It’s a cover story. I’ll be secretly interviewing our local customers to see if they’ve got what I need, if they’re good with logic. They’ve already proven a passion for the product by the fact that they own one.”
Mr. Abels sat back in his desk, mulling the idea over. “I’m not sure I understand, entirely, but if it works, so be it.”
“Thank you, Mr. Abels.”
“No problem, I’ll get Charles to whip up a list for you by the end of the week.”
Meredith turned to leave.
“And Meredith?” Mr. Abels called. “While you’re at it, could you actually write up customer satisfaction reports?”
“I think I can do that for you. I’m not promising quality work, it won’t be my goal,” she said.
“Any information might actually be useful. Thank you.”
Meredith still had a strange relationship with Mr. Abels. Neither referred to the other as a superior, and they had each gone over each other’s heads at times, but the fact that Meredith had asked for the work first, instead of assigning it without his knowledge, was a politically safe move.
Meredith went back to her desk and typed out a customer survey that she could carbon copy. It was the first time she’d used the normal typewriter in a while.
Meredith had spent two weeks travelling to different places around Kuu. Mr. Buford let her charge the company to rent a steam-bike. They were a bit more rare and expensive here than in Antiford, where one would see them every day, but it was the easiest way for Meredith to travel. Felicity came along a few times, but she had rather nothing to do while Meredith was interviewing, and became rather distracting.
A couple of the customers were rather intelligent, and might make good callbacks once she’d finished all her rounds. This made her hopeful and pushed her to continue.
One customer caught her attention more than the rest. It wasn’t because of what he’d ordered, but what he hadn’t ordered. Mr. Jared Nunes was their only customer to purchase an automaton with the example walking script and never call up for more programming.
She wound her way through forest and dirt roads to Fryak until she came upon his residence. It was a medium-sized farm with caas grazing in the fields.
Then, Meredith saw it. A model A carrying hay bales from point to point. This man wrote his own script! How could he not have if they’ve never written a script for him?
She drove up to the house, parked, walked onto the porch, and knocked on the door.
A man opened the door. “Hello?”
“Are you Mr. Nunes?”
He was much older than she’d pictured him. “Sure am? Who’s asking?”
“I’m Meredith Blaunchman from Buford Automaton.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. Would you like to come in? I’d just put the kettle on.”
Meredith followed him inside and sat on a rocking chair.
“You want one lump or two?” Mr. Nunes called from the other room.
“None, thank you.”
She was conflicted. If he’d programmed the automaton, he was a good candidate. However, if he was an old man busy running a farm, there wasn’t much chance he’d drop things to go work in the next town over.
He returned from the kitchen. “Here you go, ma’am.”
“Now, what can I do for you?” Mr. Kurt asked.
“I’ve come to ask our customers a few questions about how their automatons have been working out and how they feel about our customer services,” Meredith said.
“Well, I don’t know too much about that now. I bought the thing, but you’ll be wanting to ask my nephew Kurt about it. He’s a real smart kid, put that contraption to work for us.”
Meredith’s hopes were returning. “Oh, yes, I’d very much like to speak with him, in that case.”
“KURT!” he yelled up the stairs.
A young man in overalls came down the stairs. “You don’t need to yell, Uncle. I’m coming.”
Meredith put down her tea and stood up.
Kurt stopped at the bottom of the stairs, look and Meredith and back to his uncle Jared.
“This is Ms. Blauchman from the automaton people,” Jared explained.
Meredith held out her hand, and after a moment of awkwardness, Kurt shook it.
“Nice to meet you, ma’am. What can I do for you?”
“Quite a lot, I hope. How did you program the model A out there to do that work?” she asked.
“Well, my dad used to do something like that with the golems back when I was younger.”
“Over in Golah?” Meredith asked.
“Yea. Wasted a lot of paper trying to figure out the right holes to do stuff.”
“I’d like to offer you a job.”
“What? For doing that stuff?” Kurt said.
“Mr. Nunes, why did you never just call and ask the office for a script?” Meredith said.
“I just figured you were supposed to figure it out. Plus it was already expensive enough just getting it.”
Meredith put her clipboard away in her bag. “What you’ve done is something I’ve been trying to find someone to learn to do ever since I came to this country. I won’t guarantee it’ll be easy work, but I doubt you’ll have many troubles.”
Kurt looked at his uncle Jared, eyes bulging. He was in shock looking for advice.
“Do you have the office’s address?” she asked them.
“Sure thing, kept all the documents and packaging,” Jared answered.
“Then, Mr. Kurt Nunes, I’ll expect to see you there this Mohday. I’d prefer you dress for business, but I’ll take you as you are if you can do a good job.”
It took Kurt some time to adjust to a city job. He spent a week or so without a tie or proper shoes, until his first paycheck arrived. It was interesting for him to compare the notes he’d written down to the official script-scroll manual, written by Lucas Buford himself! There were many things he’d gotten wrong, but nothing that stumped him.
Meredith was happy. She sent word to Antiford by telegraph.
TO — MR BUFORD
NEW APPRENTICE FOUND AFTER MANY WEEKS OF SEARCHING STOP HE IS A GENIUS HAVING LEARNED MOST OF SCRIPT SCROLL ON HIS OWN STOP IF ALL GOES WELL WE CAN HIRE HIM FOR GOOD AND SET UP PERMANENT DEPARTMENT STOP I WOULD LIKE AUTHORIZATION TO CONSTRUCT ADDITION TO THE OFFICE TO ACCOMMODATE
And she received her response the next day.
TO — MS BLAUCHMAN
GLAD TO HEAR YOU HAVE FINALLY SUCCEEDED STOP LAURENCE HAS BEEN WORKING ON PRUSH ACCOUNTS AND I AM SWAMPED WITH WORK STOP CANNOT WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE COMFORTABLE RETURNING STOP I WILL AUTHORIZE IF ACCOUNTING CAN HANDLE THE BILL
She put in her request with accounting, which was just within the budget for the year. She convinced Mr. Abels by exaggerating how strongly Lucas worded his authorization.
Felicity took the money and watched as the rest of her dresses sold. She knew this day would come, when they had to decide what could stay and what they could bring back with them. It would be nice to see home again, but she’d grown so used to her life in Kuu.
“Come on, Tee. it’s not so bad,” Meredith said.
“I know. Part a’ me just wants to stay here is all,” Felicity said.
“It’s already Skia, and I don’t think we want to stick around for an icey Dodar.”
“I think we only have the food in the kitchen to worry about now.”
“Ugh,” Meredith said.
“What?” Felicity asked.
“I just remembered all the rations on that tiny airship.” — Meredith sat on the sofa — “I don’t want to go, now.”
“Don’t you start now. It won’t be all that bad if you don’t get sick.”
Meredith looked up at the ceiling. Switch tactics, Meredith. How do we fix this? How can you not be stuck in a tiny ship without any control…
“It’s a shame we couldn’t just buy a bigger airship to stay in,” Felicity said.
“I mean a ticket on one, rather. We don’t have that kind of money.”
“Tee, I could kiss you!” Meredith exclaimed.
“We do have enough money for an airship!”
“What? No way. Really?” Felicity asked.
Meredith stood up to pace a little. “I’ve been saving most of my pay over the years, and Mr. Buford has been paying me pretty handsomely to find a script-scroll writer in Kuu. I think we might actually have enough, dear!”
Felicity looked at Meredith as if she’d just gone mad. She was trying to understand, because she’d never been even close to wealthy in her life, and now her girlfriend was about to buy an airship. “Meredith. Are you serious?”
“I’m so happy! Yes, I’m serious!”
So, they stayed an extra week, exchanging money and shopping around the docks. They couldn’t afford to wait for a ship to be built, and so asked around for sellers. They did find an airship, The Burning Arrow. The captain recently ran into serious health trouble and was eager to pay back his debts and get medical treatment.
The ladies packed the ship up with their belongings, said goodbye to their new friends and acquaintances, and prepared to leave the Fallinbannao docks atop the great tree.
“Are we free of the moorings, Tee?” Meredith asked.
Felicity chuckled. “Yes, sir!”
“Alright, the engines are on, the wind is good, let’s head home!”