Genre: Steampunk / Gaslamp Fantasy
Stumbles Clumsily In: Girl Genius
Mara’s Involvement: medium-large
Time: continuing right after The Pauper Princess and the Way of the Trilobite.
For those of you just joining us and/or never having read any of the “Pauper Princess” AU’s:
–Warning! There’s a canon foreigner within! That would be this “Mara” (Mare-uh) person that’s mentioned here and there. This is a continuation of her previous stories, BUT… this time focusing on Agatha’s point of view as much as possible, as it should be.
–In the previous stories I went there with Mara. No, not there. There!
–Now that that’s cleared up, the “time bubble” storyline in GG Prime happened after I’d started my last story. As it was, I decided that I couldn’t incorporate it without a truckload of power tools and blunt instruments, so Mechanicsburg is alive and well in this AU. Time marched on as before. Heh. See what I did there? “Time.” Cuz, in GG Prime… ah, never mind.
The rest, you are invited to keep reading to discover!
Legal disclaimer stuff:
“This story is not approved by, sponsored by or affiliated with Studio Foglio LLC or Airship Entertainment.”
The Pauper Princess Fanfiction Theatre Presents:
Agatha H. and the Fair Dinkum Blue – Part 1!
Agatha sat slumped on the plush sofa in the waiting room, cradling her tankard of ale. Her large shock of hair in the front had lost any perkiness and needed to be repeatedly brushed away with a free hand. Sometimes she missed and pushed her glasses askew. Eventually she grew weary of this and removed them, letting them clatter on the wooden table. They were given a brief examination for any damage before she slumped back into her seat.
There was a quarter of a tankard left. She downed it in a gulp, then reached for her refill jug. She had refilled the tankard with it twice so far. She debated just drinking straight from the jug, then decided in favor of a modicum of dignity and started pouring. Halfway through the refill, her fellow Emperor, Tarvek Sturmvoraus, appeared in the open doorway. He had started to speak as a way of announcing himself, but stopped mid-word. Agatha topped off her drink, then lifted it to Tarvek as a form of toast before raising her wrist again. Tarvek glanced at the jug, which was flanked by bottles of varying amounts of liquid, frowned, and fully entered the room.
“All in one sitting?” he said. This was no celebration, in spite of the victory that would ordinarily inspire one. She was drowning her sorrows, which was neither her nor his custom. The jury was still out on the customs of their fellow Emperor, Gilgamesh Wulfenbach.
Agatha grunted her reply, then drained a third of her potent potable. More would have been drained, but for Tarvek covering it with his hand and gently but firmly trying to pull it away. She managed to keep a good hold on the handle, and resisted.
“I see,” he said. “All in one sitting, it is.”
“Shut up,” she muttered.
“And we see the effects in play, too,” he said. “Honing the repartee to razor-keenness.” She blew razor-keen raspberry at him. How else to respond but with a needle-sharp eye roll? “Getting drunk? Really? After… everything you’ve been through, and survived, and conquered, and flourished from, and-“
Tarvek did, momentarily. He put one hand behind his back and used the other one to cover a cough before pulling out his favorite pocketwatch, checking it, then dropping it back into his pocket. A way of focusing his response rather than seeing what time it was.
He next spoke with an uncharacteristic gentleness. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“Aaaa, ssweet lightning, will y’ please leave??” she slurred, almost knocking over a near-empty bottle. “Did Zeetha put you up to thish? She already tried a pep talk. And Gil. And that woman that.. Great, I can’even remember her name. And she’ss my ssecretary! I’m done with pep talks. Maybe I j’st wanna be depressed and shtoopid for once!”
“Consuming that much brew is a way to get there,” he said. “Or unconscious, or dead. You’re not a drinker, Agatha. You have to stop. Now.”
Agatha slumped forward now. Both hands wrapped around the tankard, partly to steady herself. The rest was for drama. But at least she was not drinking from it. “I wunner out,” she muttered. “Gone. Away.” She almost took another swig, then stayed her own hand. “Dead.”
“I doubt that the ale will accomplish that for you,” he said. “Its effects are systemic, after all. You know the consequences of her ‘going away,’ even if, in your stupor, you don’t care. But everyone else does.”
“If ‘t means losing my Shpark,” she grumbled, “Then sso be it. Can’t live like this anymore.”
“Or losing your sanity, or losing your memories, or losing… basic motor control! Or any combination of those, plus any effects we’re not aware of! Such as death? You really think any of those are worth the risk? Because we–! Because I don’t.”
“And I don’ accept those… those… perdicshons anymore!!” she slurred. “Prognosisses!”
“All right, that’s enough,” said Tarvek. This time he yanked away her drink, causing half of it to splash on the front of his trousers. Agatha growled at first, then burst out into a cackle at the unintentional slapstick. He pulled out a handkerchief and began wiping his trouser leg.
“I’m glad that’s put you in a better mood,” he said. “Meanwhile… you’re right. We should never have– We’ll renew the research. We should never have let it fall away. I never should have– I’m sorry, Agatha.”
She attempted a smile, but only made it halfway. “Washn’t y’r fault,” she said.
“Actually,” he said with a sigh, “It was.”
She dredged up memories from her besotted mind, then nodded. “Mmph. Yesh, y’r right.” She slowly pushed aside her tankard and stood up. Shakily, but she managed to be mostly vertical.
Tarvek held out a hand. “Come on. I’ll walk you to your room. You’ll need about twenty hours of sleep for this, I suspect.”
She accepted his assistance, and then stumbled – perhaps unintentionally, perhaps not – against him. He gently steadied her, which she found hilarious somehow, and escorted her to her quarters on the airship. Once inside the room, she went limp beside her bed and poured herself onto it. She allowed – or more likely, set up – Tarvek to move her limbs into something resembling a comfortable sleeping position.
Twenty minutes and no sleep later, Agatha rolled out of bed and stumbled to her doorway. She rested her head against the frame and waited for the dizziness to subside. The massive headache would come along a bit later. She still had the presence of mind to be aware of that. The cure for it being more alcohol, of course.
A world of Sparks running things for centuries on end, and no one had managed to come up with an instant cure for drunkenness. Even the common cold was a relic of the ancient past. Agatha added finding a cure to her To-Do list. After getting rid of her, that is.
Agatha used the narrow corridors of the airship to steady herself. There was someone she needed to see, though logic would dictate to wait until she was of a greater sobriety, but logic was boring and stupid and nobody liked it. She found the room she needed. The door was open, and she knocked a little too quietly on the doorframe before peeking her head inside.
Two beds were in this room – a hospital room, in fact. Agatha was traveling on the medical airship for reasons other than her own recovery. Agatha thought she might have happened upon the wrong room. The woman on one of the beds was a stranger to her: gaunt, hollow-eyed, her skin an ashen paleness. There were sores and small cuts on her hands and face. Circling her neck was a rash about the width of Agatha’s own choker, though the woman wore nothing around her neck. Her hair was long and thin; at one time it might have been luxuriant and elegant, but there was no sign of that now in that wild mess of stringiness. Even sitting on the bed – knees up and tight to her chest, one arm wrapped around the legs – the woman was unsteady. There was a jerkiness to her motionSWEET LIGHTNING.
Agatha had not recognized her own cousin. The horrible realization tightened her throat. From the doorway, she watched her cousin poking idly at the contents of a wooden box on the bed. From what Agatha could see and hear, they were just bits and bobs of spare parts and other junk, like a Spark child’s first toybox. For some reason her cousin had no tools in hand. There was only idle and aimless pushing around of parts, and unintelligible muttering. The medical chief had only cleared her cousin that morning for visitors – before then, not even Agatha, Her Ladyship Most High, could visit. Agatha had not seen her in three days, not since first boarding this airship. They were enroute now to New Europa. To home.
Her cousin’s chief assistant, Heather – her cousin disdained the term “minion” – was the only one in the room who reacted to Agatha’s knocking. Heather said nothing in greeting; she set down the periodical she had been skimming, and watched Her Ladyship enter.
Agatha attempted a smile at her cousin. She didn’t even glance up. “Helloo,” said Agatha quietly. Her cousin snapped up her head before Agatha even finished the word. She had no expression to start with, but would not take her eyes off Agatha.
“H’llo, Heather,” said Agatha with a slight nod and wave. Heather responded with only a slight nod. Agatha was still slurring and not entirely steady. “Mara? ‘re you up for a visit?”
“Your Ladyship?” said Heather. “Are you well? You seem-”
Agatha waved it off. “J’st a little, ah.. a ‘buzz,’ I think they call it. Heyyyy, Mara. I j’st wanted to…” She paused, looked down, took in a breath, and tried again, this time with greater effort to enunciate clearly. “I came to see how you’re doing. I heard you may receive visitors now. And… And…”
Agatha took a few more unsteady steps forward. Heather debated getting up to steady her, but then heard a noise from her Lady. It was soft, but clear: a whimper. Mara added a slight push backwards on the bed. Did Her Ladyship see it, too?
“I want to…” said Agatha. “I need to explain. Firssh… First, it’s Agatha. You know that, right? It’s me. Here to visit.”
Mara said nothing in response, but quickened her breathing, leaned back slightly, and tightened her arms to her chest. She glanced furtively to Heather.
“Your Ladyship,” said Heather, holding out a hand, “I think this may be a bad time -“
“Lemme finish, you,” she said, waving it off. “You should go. This should be private.”
Heather looked to her Lady, who drew back and tightened up even more. Her eyes were saucer-shaped. She returned Heather’s look and shook her head quickly. Another quiet, quick whimper emerged. “Mmm!”
“I’m afraid that my Lady disagrees,” said Heather.
“Mara, j’st… lissen a minute,” said Agatha, still taking unsteady, but small, steps towards her. “We’ve both been through… a lot an’ there are things I should’ve told you.” She was almost at the foot of the bed. “So… Uh… See, I used t’be in a circus-“
Agatha had gotten close enough that Mara suddenly cried out and slid back on the bed hard enough to slam against its backboard. The next instant Heather was up to check her Lady for injuries, and trying to use calming words and tones. Mara’s whimpers and moans were growing in intensity.
“My Lady shhhhh it’s all right it’s just Agatha remember you’re safe it’s all right you’re-“
Agatha attempted a warm smile and nod. She reached for the closest of Mara’s body parts, her legs, in an attempt to use a soothing touch. Her cousin was a very affectionate person who would constantly touch some part of a person while speaking, give bear hugs for greetings and goodbyes – or just because, and kiss the cheeks of those closest to her. Touching comforted, soothed, and healed her in times of pain and sorrow.
She shrieked to rival the wail of a banshee and kicked wildly. Agatha’s hand was smacked; she jumped back and rubbed it before realizing that it was not injured. The shock was greater than any pain.
“My Lady please!” Heather grappled with her and tried to shout over her, both to little effect. “You’re safe here there’s no reason to—Please! Mara!”
“HELP MEEE!” Suddenly she lunged forward, grabbed her box of junk, and flung it at Agatha. Her Ladyship Most High’s reflexes were severely impaired and did not prevent pieces from hitting her in the face. The box itself thumped against her chest an instant before her arms would have blocked it. In all, nothing had been thrown hard enough to do real damage, but sweet lightning did it hurt.
As soon as Mara had tossed her projectile, she struggled with the bed’s right side railing. After failing to push it down, she vaulted herself over the railing on little more than adrenaline and terror. Heather barely managed to avoid being kicked in the face as her Lady flipped over. Her landing was much less athletic. An ankle was twisted, and she cried out in pain on top of the fear. She pushed backwards on the floor and lodged into the corner, begging for help.
The pain was quickly leaving Agatha’s face, but the shock was not. She stood staring, a hand on her face. “Mara,” she whispered, “I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here to explain-“
Heather pointed at Agatha, then the door. “You need to get out! Now!” She pushed past Her Ladyship to reach her own Lady – her friend – who was now cowering on the floor in a sobbing heap.
“Don’t you speak to me in that tone! Or push-”
“Look at her!” Heather said, pointing. “She’s terrified of you! How can you not see this? Never mind, it’s because you’re–Look, forget my tone; I’ll carry you out myself if you Won’t. Leave. Now!”
“SSSOMEBODYHEEEELP!! PLEASE HELP MEEEEE-!!”
Five weeks earlier.
The fleet was making steady progress, with an expectation of four days to reach its destination: halfway around the world. Not due East for a holiday or diplomatic mission, nor West for adventures in the Americas, but South… for war. Southeast, that is, to the mysterious continent of Dinnunder. Until recently it had merited a paragraph or two in most history books as the land where England had, centuries ago, exiled its most dangerous criminals. That was the official word that anyone could get from England. More savvy historians realized that “criminals” most likely meant “anyone that threatened or simply annoyed the Crown.”
Until recently Dinnunder had been as quiet as its motherland. No one outside of England had given much thought to whether anyone had survived there, let alone thrived and developed its own, heretofore unknown technology. Until recently anything brewing there might have been dismissed as “England’s problem.”
Until recently. When Baron Klaus Wulfenbach’s retired peacefully not even a year ago, his Empire was divided evenly among the Sturmvoraus, Heterodyne, and of course Wulfenbach houses. Newly-minted Emperors Tarvek, Agatha and Gilgamesh dubbed it New Europa and kept the peace largely due to their own personal friendships. Still, believing one was ready for full reins of power was not the same as being ready. They maintained the peace, but not without rough spots that were only just being smoothed over. Sparks will be Sparks and sometimes rule with their Madness and not their wisdom.
Working, not quite as a team but still effectively, they had managed to eliminate all but one sky pirate: the cheerful and charming but psychotic Bangladesh Dupree. Her lone airship had been taking potshots for months and months all over New Europa: testing them, taunting them, and using technology that she clearly had gotten from a mysterious benefactor. A cloaking shield for her airship that destroyed anything that made contact with it. Flying speeds that rivaled rocket-powered vehicles. Weapons that made death rays look like potato shooters. And no clues where the tech came from or where her next target would be.
It took an unlikely source to finally defeat the airship’s technology and take it down, though the fate of Dupree herself was unknown. Bodies and wreckage had been found, but not her body. Still, the trio had their first hands-on look at the new technology for study and reverse-engineering. Now New Europa could play with cloaking shields, too.
The source of the attacks finally became clear when the trio received a hologrammatic message from a deceptively congenial citizen of Dinnunder, who declared war on New Europa on behalf of his “Queen Matilda.” And just to make a point, a Wulfenbach airship was sliced in half by beams originating from thousands of kilometers above the earth. They were then given thirty days to evacuate all three Empires, or be destroyed.
This is why, fifteen days later, the combined fleets were taking the war to them. After much debating it was decided that Tarvek Sturmvoraus would be the chief strategist for the war effort, with the Wulfenbach and Heterodyne forces providing the “muscle.” Each Emperor had selected a Techmaster – or Techmistress in Agatha’s case – to coordinate any technology in use among the three fleets. All of their tech needed to work together like an orchestra. A tall order for the average Spark, who jealously guarded any and all secrets, but orders were orders. On the Sturmvoraus side was Doctor Kratzenschnupp. For Wulfenbach, Professor Óriásifej, and for the Heterodyne side… the very cousin who would somehow be reduced to panic attacks by Agatha’s very presence.
On the first day of departure the Emperors and their most senior staff gathered on the Sturmvoraus flagship. Introductions were made where needed. They went quickly and uneventfully; Doctor Kratzenschnupp seemed familiar to Mara, but she could not place him straight off. She meant to ask if he felt the same way, but his greeting was cold and abrupt, and he seemed to glare at her from then on. What had earned his apparent scorn would be determined later, if it persisted. They were here to learn the details of the Dinnunder offensive, and she did not wish to disappoint. She had even brought a fresh notepad and several pens – the only one who had arrived so prepared, it seemed.
Eight hours and a filled notepad later, somebody finally noticed that it was dark outside and that nobody had eaten dinner. Tarvek offered his royal mess hall so they could continue the planning and strategizing. The offer was unanimously turned down, and the respective teams called it a day and filed from the room to return to their flagships. Agatha chatted amiably with the team members ahead of her. Then, while waiting for the main lift to arrive, she looked back to speak to her cousin, who’d been bringing up the rear. And she was missing. Gotten lost already? Wandered off to investigate something?
Agatha asked her team to wait, and then retraced their steps until arriving back at the strategy room. She poked her head inside to see Tarvek and Mara still in the room. Tarvek was holding her notepad and flipping through its pages, his brow furrowed in apparent concentration.
She stepped inside all the way and went to Mara’s side. “Tarvek, what are you doing? Is there a problem?”
After a moment he abruptly looked up, then handed the notes back to Mara. “No,” he said. “I was just checking something. There are no problems.”
“What were you checking?” said Agatha, leaning in.
“Codes,” said Tarvek. “I was merely checking that her notes from today are encrypted. And they are, so-“
Agatha scoffed. “Really? Tarvek, that’s Lesson One at University.”
“Yes, it is,” he said, “But you have mentioned that she had no formal education, so-“
“Don’t second-guess my people,” she said.
“That was not my intention,” he said. “My concern was strictly for the security of this meeting. I did try to call you, too, but you didn’t hear.”
“Make sure that I do next time,” she said.
“Am I in trouble?” said Mara.
“No,” said Agatha. “He is. He and Gil keep trying to break Heterodyne codes.”
“I resent that insinuation!”
“That’s because you resemble it,” she said, then flashed him a smirk. “Come on, Mara. The others are waiting for us, hungrily.” Mara nodded and left the room first. Agatha paused long enough to jab a finger at Tarvek. “Naughty,” she said.
In the corridor, Mara held on tight to her notepad. “I hope I didn’t cause any problems? I didn’t know what he wanted when he called. You returned just as he’d started reading my notes.”
“No worries,” said Agatha. “But I’m relieved that you did encode them. Otherwise it’d be a different conversation.”
“Oh, oh, I learned my lesson, yes,” said Mara. “But now I hope that I can read them later.”
“I sort of made it up on the spot,” said Mara. “As I was writing. I was in Madness, so I have a feeling that I’ll need to go back just to understand my own code?”
“Hmmm, clever,” said Agatha.
“I don’t think ‘clever’ was a factor in this case,” said Mara. “But thank you.”
“By the way,” said Agatha, “Don’t let them pull things like that on you again. You’re on my team, so they go through me to work with you. Or with anyone else, for that matter.”
“Yes, I’ve… learned that lesson, too,” said Mara quietly.
Agatha insisted that the Heterodyne dinner be for food, fun, and socializing, and nothing else. No one questioned that order.
“No more rolling dates!” Zeetha declared. “No more delays just because the world is threatened by ice slugs or mole people or ice mole slugs; two months from now, Higgs and I will be married, no matter what is happening that day!”
“Here, here!” said Agatha, raising her glass to clink her friends’ drinks.
“I don’t care if we’re in the middle of a pitched battle against clank pirates while a typhoon rages,” she continued. “We’ll do it then and there!” She and Airman Higgs traded grins, followed by smoldering gazes.
“You’ve just described the perfect wedding,” said Higgs. Zeetha responded with a playful growl.
“Ha ha, yes… for you two?” said Agatha. “But who’d perform the ceremony if there are no priests around?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “The ship’s captain?”
“What, the pirate captain?” said Agatha with a grin.
Zeetha grimaced at the joke, then downed her drink in one gulp.
“Please pardon the interruption,” said Mara, “But did I hear correctly? Zeetha? Mister Higgs? You’re engaged?”
Agatha gave Mara a playful nudge. “Stop it, you. That’s been for months now. Rolling months, but still. A long time. You know.”
“But I don’t,” said Mara. “This is the first I’ve heard of it! Honestly! In which case, I hope it’s not too late to congratulate you?”
“Zeetha,” said Agatha, “When did you send the Mousehearts’ invitation?”
Zeetha squirmed in her seat and spoke from the side of her mouth. “Nnnnngh… Agathaaaa…”
“What? You didn’t-?”
“Oh, nononono, please,” said Mara. “I wasn’t inquiring about an invitation. Truly, I was not.” Zeetha breathed a sigh of relief. “Weddings are private occasions, of course. Well… I wish mine had been, anyway, but don’t worry about me. I mean us. The Mousehearts. I only wish to offer congratulations.” She held up her own glass and waited for Zeetha and Airman Higgs to clink theirs again.
“Thanks,” said Zeetha, and once again emptied her glass in one swig. Mara made a note to herself not to offer any more toasts.
“But I am curious,” she said, blushing. “I was wondering if there’s a ring? Or… any sort of engagement… token?”
“Token?” said Zeetha. “Oh, no, we’re not going in for trinkets and such. Higgs and I will honor the Skifandrian tradition of wedding scars.” She pointed to her shoulder. “Mine will go here, and his will be on the opposite shoulder, so they’ll compliment each other when we sit side-by-side. Pretty nice tradition, eh?”
“Oh!” said Mara, unconsciously touching her own shoulder. “That… does show true commitment, I’ll say that. You can’t lose a scar, for one thing.”
Agatha, noticed the tan lines on Mara’s ring fingers. “Oh, no. You don’t have– You lost your rings?”
“Heaven forbid!” said Mara. “But no, they’re not with me. I left them at home because my husband is so fond of reminding me how ‘priceless’ they are. Clearly I have a price, even if my jewels don’t.”
“Ah, he doesn’t mean that,” said Agatha.
“I know,” said Mara with a wink. “Zeetha and Mister Higgs, I wish a long, happy, prosperous, fruitful marriage to the both of you.”
“Thanks again,” said Zeetha. “Ehhh, I wouldn’t mind a little Higglet or two around.”
“Or Zeethalings?” offered Higgs.
“Absolutely,” she said. “They’ll be in charge of the boys.” The evening continued with more toasts and clinking of glasses, laughter and terrible singing.
Agatha sat alone in the observation lounge, sipping her after-dinner tea. It was pitch dark outside, and the interior lights were low to reduce reflections and provide proper ambience for her solemn mood. Most everyone else was asleep. There really was no reason for her to be awake, either, other than to take in the quiet. Once they arrived in Dinnunder, “quiet” would be all but nonexistent, so it was best to savor it now.
Behind her she heard the rustling of papers accompanied by faint footsteps. Somebody stopped at the door and said “Oh!” quietly. She looked over her shoulder, prompting her cousin to smile from the doorway and step inside.
“I’ve been looking for you,” said Mara, carrying a bundle of rolled-up schematics under her arm. She stopped, then looked up and around with a puzzled expression. “Is something wrong with the lights?”
“No,” said Agatha. “I set them there.”
“Ah,” said Mara. “Oh. I see. I didn’t mean to impose. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“No. Stay,” said Agatha, gesturing to a sofa across from her. Mara lay her schematics on it first before sitting beside them. “Why are you still awake?” Agatha asked.
“Why are you?” asked Mara.
“A fair question,” said Agatha. “Too much on my mind. Maybe yours, too? You simply had to look over your designs some more. Am I right?”
“Uh… Well…” said Mara, blushing. “It’s hard to—stop thinking. I went to the lab so as not to bother Heather. Updated some designs. I thought, if you were up, too, we could review them and… But it has been a long day, and you clearly need some quiet and solitude. Perfectly understood. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“Yes, we’ll review them tomorrow,” said Agatha. “But before you go… I just wanted to thank you for accepting my offer. I know it’s a lot to ask of a pacifist to join a war effort like this. But it means a lot to me that you came.”
“Oh,” said Mara, looking down and fidgeting. “You’re very welcome, hon. But we’re all giving up something to be here. I’m no different. We’re all responsible for protecting our homes. Our homelands. Loved ones. Family.” She was quiet after that and became as pensive as Agatha.
“You miss them,” she said.
“Yes,” Mara whispered. She forced a quick laugh. “I just realized that, since we were married, Kelvin and I have never been apart. Not for more than a day. Come nightfall and we’re reunited. This is the first time I’ve had…no one beside me in bed. I’m sorry. We’re supposed to be stoic and strong in times like this, and I’m not doing a good job of it.”
“You seem to be holding up well,” said Agatha.
“Because I’m buried in work,” said Mara. She rolled her eyes. “Sparks, right? They can’t just leave well enough alone.”
Agatha chuckled. “Go to sleep, Mara. Tomorrow’s another day for revising all your designs all over again.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” she said, grinning. She gathered up her papers, some of which had become loose and difficult to hold. Agatha preferred to watch the show rather than assist. Finally Mara managed to beat the paperwork into submission. She stood and made to leave, then instead went to Agatha’s chair and bent over to kiss her cheek. “I love you, Cousin Agatha,” she said.
“Likewise, Cousin Mara.”
–To be continued!