Beginning a new Volume!
Genre: Steampunk / Gaslamp Fantasy
Butts Heads With: Girl Genius
Mara’s Involvement: heavy
Time: About four months after the events of The Pauper Princess and the Born Legacy
Legal disclaimer stuff:
“This story is not approved by, sponsored by or affiliated with Studio Foglio LLC or Airship Entertainment.”
Pauper Princess FanFiction Theatre Presents:
The Pauper Princess and the Way of the Trilobite – Part 1
One way or another, Agatha was going to make a fun-sized mobile agony and death dispenser fly. Otilia outright refused to be the Heterodyne’s test subject, and the other tiger clanks made inarticulate protests, but ultimately they did have to acquiesce to their Mistress’ experimentations. Her first attempt involved booster jets in the bottom of all four paws, which should have worked splendidly in theory, but in execution resulted in an entire wall of the castle’s eastern wing being blasted into boulders, plus part of the garment district of Mechanicsburg going up in flames. Later attempts involved outfitting the clanks with wings, gyrocopters similar to Franz the dragon’s, side-mounted jets, and other ideas that were starting to cause more damage than success.
None of this was helping her recent slump. Her malaise. Her ennui. No one was surprised by this more than she. The very concept of a Spark – especially a Heterodyne – having any sort of creative slump whatsoever was absurd. Von Zinzer offhandedly snarked that it was because she wasn’t constantly in mortal peril – at least not for the moment. A tenuous peace had held in Europa for the past few years since the Baron had retired and handed over his empire to his son Gilgamesh. Prince – sorry, King – no, Emperor Tarvek had his own slice of the pie, and Agatha naturally had Mechanicsburg and its surrounding territories. The fact that the Jäger horde’s biggest complaint was boredom meant that battles were few and far between. Why, nobody had even tried to kidnap The Heterodyne in months. Maybe Von Zinzer had a point.
Violetta brought in the morning post – after thoroughly inspecting every item for poisons, diseases, explosives, radiation and hidden deathtraps – and set them out for her Lady, who was brooding over tea and a bowl of mixed nuts.
“Mostly bills,” she said. Agatha barely looked her way, then resumed sipping at her tea. Violetta then held up a small package and shook it. “Something from the Princess, too.”
That got Agatha’s attention. “Oh, more designs?” she asked. She liked critiquing her cousin’s designs for what the Princess liked to refer to as “entertainments” for visitors and residents of Guildern.
Violetta shrugged and handed over the package. Agatha hummed in curiosity because the designs had always been sent in tubes, so this was something different. She tore off the wrapping, peered inside, and raised an eyebrow. She pulled out a device about the size and shape of a cigarette case. It was hinged like a case, so she opened it to find a somewhat simple device – a knob or two, some buttons, plus a bit of round glass. There was a wire on top that could be telescoped up, so she did that. On the other side was Guildern’s sigil, the Mouseheart. It was from the Princess, all right. She pressed the button that looked the most like a power button.
A small, green light at the top turned on, and the device began making a soft “boop – boop – boop” sound. Agatha looked over to Violetta, who shrugged. “If you think it’s going to explode,” said the former smoke knight, “I suggest tossing it into the fire and running. Now.”
Agatha scoffed. “Violent death isn’t really Mara’s style,” she said.
“Yeah, you’re right,” said Violetta. “She’s more the ‘slowly corrupt the castle until it tries to kill us all’ type.”
“That was not on purpose,” Agatha said. “She still won’t stop apologizing for that, either.”
“And I’m not convinced that she’s a Heterodyne,” said Violetta. “Remember how crazy the castle was at the time!”
“NOT THAT CRAZY,” said the castle. “THE CRYPT’S TESTING APPARATUS WAS UNAFFECTED BY THE CLOWN CLANK’S ‘INFECTION.’ ”
Violetta’s only response to that was an eye-roll.
“Oh, excellent!” came a voice from the device, momentarily startling Agatha. “It arrived, and it works! I think? Agatha, are you there? Can you hear me? See me?”
Agatha peered at the device’s round glass, which turned out to be a small screen that currently displayed Princess Mara’s smiling visage. “Ooo,” said Agatha. “Sight and sound are both clear!”
The redness of Mara’s blush may have been exaggerated by the device, or not. Agatha showed the screen to a nonplussed Violetta. The Princess smiled and waved to Agatha’s chief assistant and bodyguard, who did not return the greeting. Agatha brought the view back to herself.
“Where are you?” she asked.
“Oh!” said the Princess. “I’m home! I mean, Guildern! In fact, this is my workshop!” The view moved away from herself and went quickly around a cluttered room that any other Spark would call a “laboratory.”
“Really?” said Agatha. “Show me that again.” Mara seemed surprised, but complied, this time giving a slower pan of the room. “Not bad,” said Agatha.
“You think so?” said Mara. “It’s embarrassingly untidy, I know.”
“Mara, you sound like you’re right here in the room,” said Agatha. “That’s… You’ve made a long-distance communicator!”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Mara, trying to suppress a smile. “I’m sorry that I didn’t send the design for it, but it was a rather rapid project. Um… as far as I can tell, these should work anywhere – and I mean anywhere – in the world. I’ve tested them quite a bit. The batteries should last a while, too.”
“Mmm, one… maybe two hundred years?” said Mara. “It will probably depend on what sort of conditions they’re used under. Oh! And I’m pretty sure that the encryption for them is unbreakable, but I could be wrong about that.”
“Good call,” said Agatha. “You should never assume that a code can’t be broken.”
“So…” said Mara, biting her lip, “What do you think? You know, a-as a mentor? Or are these things that everyone has, and I’m just catching up with the world?”
Guildern had been, until the last couple of years, one of the most isolated kingdoms in Europa. They had always wanted and welcomed visitors, but as a tourist attraction based on being entirely tech-free. Spark-tech-free, that is. Everything had been crafted using hand tools only. Light came from candles. Horses, not constructs or clanks, had pulled carriages. It was all very quaint, but it had had its fair share of visitors seeking to escape the craziness of the Spark world. That was until the last couple of years, anyway. Around then “someone” – a Spark, obviously – had arrived and rapidly begun reviving the legacy of the original Lord Mouseheart, who had founded the kingdom of Mouseheart, now called Guildern, as a place for fantastic, magical, and wondrous entertainments stemming from the latest and greatest Spark technology. It was a terribly-kept secret that the new Spark was the Princess Mara herself, but the citizens pretended for visitors that things were much more mysterious. It made the kingdom more interesting, anyway.
Agatha smiled at the unnecessarily worried Princess. “Nobody has these,” she said.
“Are you sure?” said Mara. “When I made these, I was so excited, but then after sending them, I thought, Well, that’s silly. These are probably everywhere. I know, I have a lot technical journals to catch up on, and I read two every night before I sleep – I do! – and I read the Science section of the papers, but the Guildern Gazette is a bit behind on that news, and-”
She stopped babbling immediately and quietly cleared her throat. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Nobody has these.”
Mara was quiet at first, and then let out a single laugh. She was quiet again and looked away as if in thought. Finally she returned her attention to the little screen. “Well,” she said, “Somebody does now! Right?”
“You’ve done well, student,” said Agatha, nodding. “What do you call this?”
“Call it?” said Mara. “Um… a long-distance communicator?”
“That’s what I called it.”
“I know,” said Mara. “But that’s what it is. Okay, what about… El-Dee-See, maybe? Eldisee? Eldec! How about that?”
“Uh, sure, why not?” said Agatha, glancing Violetta’s way. “Until we think of something else.”
“I’m so relieved that I made something new,” said Mara. “And that you approve of it! And… well, now we can keep in touch instantly! By the way, Kelvin also has one. But other than that, only three exist, and we three have them. So… given that we can talk as often as we like, how are things with you?”
Agatha thought a moment, then shrugged. “Same as always,” she said. “Busybusybusy.”
“Oh, I hear that,” said Mara. “I shouldn’t keep you, then. My schedule is pretty packed today, too. But… you know, please do turn this on any time you want to talk or… or you know. Just whenever.”
“Oh, of course,” said Agatha. “And the same for you, too.”
Mara giggled nervously. “Well… I should leave you to it, then.”
“Right,” said Agatha, nodding again. “So, to turn it on and off uses the same button?”
“Yes,” said Mara. “Oh, wait, wait! I almost forgot. Ah… this is only because I promised her, but Isabel… Of course she really misses you and keeps asking about you… Um, anyway, sixteen days from now is her class play, and she insisted that I ask if you could come here and see it. Now, I explained to her that I would ask, but to understand that you’re an extremely busy woman – a head of state! – and that it was very unlikely that you’d have time for such a thing.”
“Her class play, you say?” said Agatha.
“Yes,” said Mara, chuckling. “You know, all little kids doing– Oh, how about if you guess what the play is, or what part Isabel has?”
“…A tree?” said Agatha.
“Nnno, something more animate than that,” said Mara. “Someone, in fact.”
“Uh, I don’t know,” said Agatha. “Oh, wait: a Heterodyne play? Are they doing one of the Heterodyne Boys plays? With my father and Uncle Barry?”
“It’s…. a Heterodyne play, yes,” said Mara. “But not one of those.”
Agatha gave her a rather quizzical look.
“All right,” said Mara, “It’s, ah… They’re going to do ‘The Siege of Mechanicsburg.’ ”
“The Siege of…? Are you kidding me?”
“Are you angry?”
“No, but–!” said Agatha, and looked about in disbelief. “The play that those two Professors wrote about it? I snuck into its first – and last – performance. That thing went on forever! And had no intermission! Three hours and no intermission, Mara! And the plot was all over–! Please tell me they’re not doing that one.”
“These are a bunch of four to seven-year-olds,” said Mara. “We’ll be lucky to get fifteen minutes out of them, when they’re not forgetting their lines. You know, it’s possible that Mrs. Seinfrich based her version on the long play, but… of course it’ll be a little-kid version of the events. Do you think it’s too soon, though? I’m not thrilled with the subject matter, either, but the kids voted for that story.”
“Hmmm,” said Agatha. “I don’t know. I’ll abide it, but I have to think about coming or not.”
“I understand,” said Mara. “I’ll tell Isabel-”
“Wait, what’s her part, again?” said Agatha. “Did you say what it was?”
“I did not,” said Mara, then was quiet. “It’s, uh… it will be a big part, though.”
Violetta put her head next to Agatha’s to peer into the screen. “Tell me she’s not playing me,” she said.
“She’s not playing you, dear,” said Mara, and was quiet again. Agatha and Violetta traded looks.
“No,” said Agatha. “She’s–? You’re being coy because she’s playing me! Am I right??”
“Ah…” said Mara. “Are you angry? You know that she loves you dearly, a-and simply would not budge on her playing you. And honestly, I-I think she does a… pretty good job of it? Look: Kelvin and I are doting parents, so of course we’re going to record it all, and since you can’t make it, we’ll send a copy of the recording. How about that?”
Agatha was quiet. She rubbed her chin in thought, then slowly, a smile crept onto her face, and she allowed a chuckle. “I’ll be there,” she said. “If nothing comes up between now and then.”
“Oh!” Mara shrieked in delight. “Oh, my goodness, that would be wonderful! Isabel is going to flip about this!”
“Are you sure it’s Isabel who’s the excited one?” said Agatha, cocking an eyebrow.
Mara calmed herself quickly. “Hm,” she said. “Yes, well… You know that we’d all love to see you again. Of course.”
“Actually, don’t tell her, all right?” said Agatha. “Let’s make it a pleasant surprise for her. Also, a visit will give me a chance to check your progress.”
“Right,” said Mara. “I’m just dying for you to see what entertainments we’ve been working on! The designs you’ve seen made real! Speaking of which, Theo and Sleipnir send their love. I must thank you for recommending them. They’ve been absolute delights from the start. Finally, Sparks that I can work with!”
“That’s great,” said Agatha. “They’ve sent me some telegrams and sound pretty happy there. And the entertainments sound nice, but I meant your other progress. Guildern’s defense and offense. You know, so it’ll be prepared for when you reveal being … family?” It was not the best coded message in the world, but she chanced it.
Mara was caught in a stare a few moments. “…Right,” she said. “The, the other progress. For that. I can show you that, too.”
“Looking forward to it,” said Agatha. “See you in sixteen!” Before Mara could say more, Agatha turned off the power, gave the device a quick, visual examination, then closed the lid and put it on the table near her.
“She hasn’t made any progress,” said Violetta.
“I know,” said Agatha. “But you never know what she might put together in sixteen days. We Heterodynes work best under pressure. Don’t you think?”
Violetta groaned, but had no choice but to agree.