Rachael and Felicity were sitting at the mess hall table drinking glasses of water. The four men moved to the table. Jason, John and Liam sat. Michael moved behind Felicity and put a hand on her shoulder. She placed hers on his. Millicent found a seat and said, “Any difficulties ladies?”
Rachael said a bit sharply, “Other than having to lie naked on a table…no.”
Millicent laughed lightly and said, “Forgive us our curious foibles. Charles, direct all the results to the medical lab and highlight any concerns.” She faced the group as she talked, “I am going to show you your quarters while you work for me. You are safer here until Smith is dealt with. There will be a meeting in a couple of hours. I encourage you to explore where you can. Charles has set appropriate limits so you can’t break anything or hurt yourself much.”
Charles snorted, “You said that the last time and you still had to set bones.”
Millicent said testily, “And you said you learned.” Millicent waved in an annoyed fashion at the roof and then headed down the hallway saying over her shoulder, “Anyway follow me.” At the first door on the right down the hall from the kitchen, she directed Jason. Directly across him, she put John. Liam’s room was next down the hall. Then she showed Michael’s and Felicity room, across from Liam’s. Millicent said, “It is the same space as the others. I hadn’t anticipated extra people. After matters settle a bit, Charles and I might be able to make some adjustments.” She put her hand on Michael’s shoulder and said, “Your knowledge of construction is key right now. Meet me in the environmental lab in 30 minutes.” Then she walked out the door with Rachael on her arm. Felicity pressed a button and the door closed behind the exiting pair.
Michael was shocked and annoyed. How could he be valuable? And after a challenging afternoon, two hours alone with Felicity in their new abode seemed like the medicine he needed. His muddled thoughts were broken by Charles saying, “Welcome to your new home. I have some decorating ideas when you are ready.”
Michael coughed and gasped, “What?”
Felicity said brightly, “Charles that sounds wonderful. Right now we need a bit of time to figure it out.”
Charles said, “I understand Miss…”
Felicity said, “Felicity will do and I won’t stand for anything else unless you tell me your last name.”
There was a pause and then the voice said, ”Certainly and thank you Felicity.”
The two of them explored the room a bit. It seemed to be about 15 feet by 10 feet which was larger than either of their rooms at the Barrow house. The entry came in at the end of the room two desks were situated on the side closest to the hall way. The bed was centered on the wall furthest from the doorway. There was a dress in the alcove. The alcove had a large mirror doorway. Michael pressed a button and a large closet was revealed. He sighed and said, “I don’t think I have enough clothes to fill those dressers let alone this closet.”
Charles said, “I expect that will change.”
Michael jumped a little and then calmed himself. “Charles, do you have something else to do?”
The voice sound amused, “I am everywhere at once Mr. Richards. However, if you would prefer I didn’t say anything right now, I can be silent until you call for me.”
This artificial intelligence or whatever he was would take some getting used to. Michael said, “I think silent would better for now, Charles. And if I am going to call you ‘Charles’, I would be more comfortable if you started calling me ‘Michael’.” Felicity smirked as he said it. Michael said, “Thank you”, but got no response.
Michael pointed to the couch with his upraised hand and Felicity nodded her agreement. The two sat on the couch and Michael let out an audible sigh.
Felicity curled up on the couch close to Michael and said, “What was that?”
Michael closed his eyes and said, “I am feeling a bit overwhelmed – a giant intelligent airship. An airship that has no balloon. A spirit seems to inhabit it and sounds like some aristocrat and makes sarcastic remarks. I am ‘scanned’ by technology I cannot begin to understand. And I feel a bit like an extra cog in the machine.”
Felicity sat up so she could see his face better and said, “Why are you saying such things? You could never be an extra cog. Me, maybe, but you never. You are the one she wanted.”
Michael sighed and pulled her closer to his chest and said, “That’s the thing. You’re fitting in better than me. Jason, Rachael, John, Eleanor – they were all fantastic in school. They are bound to do fantastic stuff wherever they go. Jason never blinked at the ship. He wanted to know about its hull. John was talking philosophy to Charles. I’ll bet Rachael was poking all around that medical lab.”
Felicity smiled, “Charles tried to keep her in check. Being naked for a good part of the time slowed her down. Michael they are in the middle of what they know. What are they going to do around some fantastical building?”
Michael said, “I am not sure what I am going to do. When I see strange things that I can’t understand, a part of me wants to pretend they don’t exist.”
Felicity stroked his arm absently and said, “That just makes you a bit more normal than the others. Maybe you’re just a bit more honest with yourself.” She paused and continued, “Besides Millicent said you were the most important right now.”
Michael tried to relax and clear his mind. After a bit he said, “Maybe if I just start drawing again. I can start by highlighting any strange stuff. If I draw it, maybe I can make it make sense to me.”
She pulled his head down and kissed him and said quietly, “You will figure it out. I know it. Millicent knows it or she would not have let you drag me along.”
Michael said, “Drag?”
Felicity punched his arm lightly, “Don’t’ quibble. Let me tag along then. You said she was pretty firm on ‘guests’ and she changed her mind. I don’t think she does that easily.”
Michael considered her and said, “If I am drawing things I don’t understand, I should probably start by drawing you. I have no idea why you stay with me.”
Felicity settled in his arms and said, “You’re warmer than John. You pay better attention than Jason. You’re better read than Liam. And you are far less moody than Rachael – although if you stay like this I may change my mind.”
Michael smiled and closed his eyes and stroked her hair. Then his eyes popped open and he said, “wait a minute…why did you include Rachael in that?!”
Felicity said to the room, “Charles, when does Michael need to be in the environmental lab.”
Charles responded, “In 6 minutes.”
She sat up and said, “Enough time to try out that wash room and let me know what it’s like. You need to freshen up.” She wrinkled her nose.
Michael stayed on the couch and said, “What about Rachael?” He stopped when she kissed him fully.
When they stopped, she said, “I was seeing if you were paying attention. I knew you were better than Jason. Now freshen up. When you get back from Millicent, I may see if there other ways I can get your attention.”
Michael stumbled towards the washroom in a daze. He shed his clothes and Felicity asked Charles if there was something Michael could wear while she did some cleaning. He didn’t hear the answer as he stepped into the washroom. It immediately became light. Charles spoke, “Would you like some advice?”
Michael blushed and said, “I can handle my own relationships.”
Charles said, “I was thinking of the washroom.”
Michael closed his eyes and groaned. He put his hands up to his face and moved them back across his head and said, “I suppose I should say yes.”
Charles said without a hint of sarcasm, “You’ll find everything here works much better with a few basic directions.”
Michael gritted his teeth and said, “Tell me what to do…”
Charles said, “Smart lad…” and proceed to explain the cleaning cycle, rinsing cycle, and dryer. Michael felt remarkably refreshed afterwards. The door opened and Felicity stood there with a new set of breeches and white shirt. He greeted her with, “I think I could get used to that.” He slipped on underwear and stocking that seemed remarkably clinging. The pants fit well. He used his old suspenders although he wasn’t sure he would need them. Felicity straightened his collar as and said into his ear, “Be what you are really good at – looking, asking and learning.” She went over to one of the satchels and pulled out his latest laboratory book. She pushed him out the door and gave him a peck on the cheek and the door closed. He stood there a moment confused and then said to himself, “Where the hell was the environmental lab?” A set of green lights came on flashing in a direction.
He looked up and said, “Charles?”
The voice responded, “We find new comers can get lost early on. Just say the room and I will guide you.”
“That’s very helpful.”
“Don’t tell O’Hannigan. I want to have a bit of fun with him first,“ Charles said with a dark and humorous tone.
Michael arrived at the environmental lab and the doors opened. Millicent was sitting at a screen looking at a three story building. He came up to the table. She said without looking up, “We need to know how to get into that building, Mr. Richards. We aren’t going to knock on the front door.”
He looked at the screen – one more impossible thing. But right now he needed to focus on the challenge. He asked, “Can I see other views?”
Millicent smiled, “You are adjusting Mr. Richards. Charles?”
Charles said, “What do you need?”
Michael said, “Front, Back, top”
The views he asked for appeared. Millicent said, “Charles, assemble in projection view.”
Michael’s eyes got wider as the three views rearranged themselves on the screen into an image with depth. The image had a front, a back, a top but no sides. Millicent touched the screen and the image rotated so he was looking at the edges as if he were viewing it from the side.
Millicent said, “One more trick to help. Point to the screen where you believe the floor should be between the first and second floor.”
Michael shrugged and looked at the screen. He put his finger on one wall and a plane projected across the building. He pulled his finger back quickly and said, “That could speed things up a bit.”
Millicent said, “Make a map as best you can. I’ll just watch for the moment. Charles will help.”
Michael took a deep a breath and then started. He placed a floor between the second and the third floor. He looked at windows and the outside doors and started to project walls between rooms. He would tell Charles to erase bits and add others. He rotated the image on his own. He looked at the back and then the front and stared intently at the stairs at both. He said to no one, “There is a basement.”
Millicent leaned forward looking at the image, “Why do you say that?”
Michael said, “It is not common. Most construction like this raises the building and there is very little buried. But some older buildings had them built for storage. The building is raised a bit, but not that much. See this grate in the back. It is ventilation. Charles – add a basement floor” and a new block floor appeared below the first floor.
Millicent said, “I need a way in. How does this basement help me?”
Michael said, “I need to think.” He walked around the image. He asked if Charles could show the streets relative to the building. Then he said, “I think Eleanor will be kept in the basement. First it will be more secure than the first or even the second floor. Second, the help stays in the third floor so keeping her there would require their collusion. That is possible, but he is only here temporarily and they would be there after he left. They would hardly be trustworthy – I wouldn’t be. Finally, if he really is torturing folk, the ground muffles sounds very well. “ He straightened his body and stretched.
Millicent said, “There is another reason. Smith seems to have a flair for the dramatic and cliché. The basement can seem like a dungeon.”
Michael said, “He lacks imagination.”
Charles said, “I concur with Mr. Ri…Michael’s assessment. There were disturbing sounds coming from the grate area.”
Michael said, “That grate could be the weakness. We won’t be able to fit anyone into it though.”
Millicent smiled evilly, “But we don’t’ have to send a person, do we Charles? Good work, Michael. Let’s take a short break. I want to show you a thing or two. Charles save image.” She walked over to another table and brought up a pair of goggles on one finger, “You will need to do a bit recognizance tonight. Liam will get you there and I will send along Jason in case you run into difficulties with the locals. Try these goggles on.”
Michael slipped them on and looked around. Where there was a wall, he could now see the bracing; he could see the thousands of wires that seem to run everywhere. He looked at a table. The table became a box of wires and cables and strange electronics. Millicent guided his right hand to the side of the googles. “Push that lever up and you see deeper. Push it down and you see less deep.” Michael pushed the lever up and he could see into the Cultural Lab. John was talking with Rachael and Jason. They had an odd glow about them. He moved the lever down and he could no longer see through the walls. He turned to face Millicent and found he could see clearly through her clothes. He jumped back a bit and gasped “Oh.” In addition to a young and very fit body, he could see a knife strapped to each leg as well as a hidden gun of some sort under her arm.
Millicent cleared her through and said, “Mr. Richards shall I have Charles project the goggle image up in the room?” She was smiling as she said it.
Michael whipped off the googles and said quickly, “No… no… I was just practicing the adjustment. “ He looked at the goggles more critically then and said, “Good lord that was amazing. I could do a structural analysis of any building in a quarter of the time.”
Millicent said, “Exactly. That is why I am sending you with Liam and Jason to protect you. Charles, I want vests for Jason and Michael. Masks as well. And tell Jason to meet me in the armory.”
Michael said, “Armory?”
Millicent said, “We are not defenseless and I will protect you as best I can. Now you study that building and find me my way in. If the only way in is a storm window on the third story, I want to know that.” She strode out of the room with fast steps.
Michael set the strange goggles on the table and returned to the image floating over the table. He added servants’ quarters and a kitchen. He also thought a set of stairs in the back was likely and added those where he thought they should be. Then he stared at the grate in the image.