Short Story Friday: Absinthe Fueled Genius

It’s been a while since I’ve had time for a proper post or a short story update but to make up for it, this one is entirely new content.
This story revisits Julian and Dori from Master of the House and will draw a connection to the ending of Children of the New Potential.  Enjoy and leave comments if you made it through.
Absinthe Fueled Genius
“What are we doing here?”  Julian looked down through his goggles towards Dori.  Since they had arrived in Lux their days had been spent lost in lazy sightseeing and expensive meals.  After everything that happened in Seaside, the respite was more than welcome.  It had taken some time to adjust, after all, their lives were not in constant danger and for the first time in a year, no one knew Julian’s name (fake or otherwise).  So when Dori began to take on that far away look in her eyes that told Julian she knew more than she was saying, he once again began to worry.

No answer came from his smaller companion.  Instead she looked out over the horizon of Lux and casually commented, “Sun is setting.  Workers are going home.”

Frustrated, Julian moved in front of her and stole her attention, “Dori.  We’re here.  What are we doing here?”

She grinned and suddenly grasped his arm pulling her companion close while resting her head on his shoulder.  “We’re loitering.  We’re criminals remember?  It seems an appropriate thing to do.”

Since their arrival, Dori had become somewhat affectionate towards Julian, or at least that was how he saw it.  She clearly had no issue with casual contact and Julian suspected it had something to do with their companions in the Syndicate no longer being under foot all the time.

“Do I want to know?”  Julian asked her honestly.

“M…maybe.  No, I take that back…” She stepped away from him playfully and put a finger to his chest.  “You DO want to know.  This is right up your alley.”

“We had an alley once.  Hawthorne shot people in our alley.”

“Hey…that’s right.  Former property owners the lot of us…  We’re bums now.”

“Homeless.”  Julian agreed.

They both laughed.  It had been easier on them since leaving Seaside.  Dori joked more frequently and the weight of the world was clearly not on their shoulders.  This made it all the more obvious to Julian that she was planning something here.

When Julian caught sight of a stranger staggering down the street in their direction he began to get some idea of where this was all going.

“Did you bring me here to play some part in saving yet another lost soul?”

“M…maybe.  Is that so bad?” she brought out a pouty face for which Julian had no defense.  “I promise it’ll be interesting but…I need some of your skills with this.  I think maybe…you’ll relate better.”

Julian raise an eyebrow at that.  “That does sound interesting.”

The stranger finally staggered into view.  Wearing heavy workman’s overalls and a bandana that kept locks of long unkempt hair in something resembling order the stranger stopped to consider a nearly empty bottle of whiskey before smashing it on a nearby building.  The strangers features were slender and it was hard to discern exactly how big they were due to the baggy nature of the clothing.

“It’s crap!  Callous crazed indifference.  Tell me I’m too proud?  Crap.” the stranger ranted in Julian and Dori’s general direction.

Julian looked at Dori, “Ok, this might be interesting.”

The stranger took a few steps closer to the pair, “Malicious mannequins made in who’s image?  Not mine.  Not theirs, that’s for sure.  Cheap imitations…”  The stranger stopped in front of Dori and Julian and without warning reached out to grasp Julian by the face.  “Nice goggles.  If I did know better, I’d say I know the jolly glorious glutton who made those but that…would be crazy.”

“Oh, compared with the story behind them, maybe less crazy than you might think.”  Julian said with his mouth still slightly scrunched by the stranger’s hand.

Turning away from Julian but not fast enough that the reeking scent of whiskey dissipated, the stranger addressed Dori.  “Funny to find visitors at my door on a notoriously nasty night such as this.”  The stranger looked closely at Dori who was still watching with a bemused grin, “Your emerald eyes are like squandered dreams, dreamers dream in far away lands.”

This person was well beyond drunk and perhaps inebriated with something else entirely.  Slowly Julian turned to Dori and found he could no longer hide his smile, “You were right.  This is interesting.”

Dori did not acknowledge Julian this time but instead kept her attention on their new companion, “Jayden?  Yes, it is you.  Jayden you seem like you could use some company.  Can we drink with you?”

Jayden shrugged and motioned for them to follow along.  “Why not?  This will be my last night in this godforsaken city anyway.”

They walked in relative silence for another block or two before coming to a very large building just outside the residential district.  Jayden turned to the new companions that followed along, “Home sweet home.”

Julian looked with no small degree of marvel at the massive structure.  It was four stories tall and quite possibly just as wide.  He felt a little guilty about second guessing Dori now.  She had yet to lead him on with a promise of adventure and fail to deliver.

Jayden opened the door and the entire building immediately flooded with light.  Inside was a mess of clockwork machinery and contraptions.  The door itself was rigged to a series of elemental fuel cells that created artificial light in all corners of the building.  Jayden continued walking into the building while Dori followed closely behind.  Julian paused near the doorway.  He was completely taken with what he had seen already but something more spectacular caught his eye.

“Holy shit…”  It was all Julian could think to say.  He looked around and was lost among steam vessels, unintelligible collections of gears, numerous canisters of elemental energy laying about hap-haphazardly, and tools of all variety strewn about with little care for their future condition.

“I would not normally invite suspicious people I meet out in the streets of Lux into my home but fortunately for you all, I happened to have tidied-up this week.”  Jayden paused and then looked directly at them with a hint of disgust, “Also, I no longer give a damn.”  Jayden began fumbling with a cabinet lock while Dori watched in amusement.  

Julian paused in front of several mechanical steam-fueled contraptions that were build in the shape of human-beings and his jaw went slack.  “Did you…did you make these?”

“Stupid fucking lock…why do I lock anything?”  Jayden pounded the cabinet with a fist to no avail.  “Yin!  Yang!  Wake your lazy mechanical metal asses up and help me over here!”

At once two of the human-like contraptions standing in front of Julian began to shake.  A dim light grew in their chest and then seeped up into their head components were their eyes lit up in suit.  The two mechanized men stepped past Julian and walked towards Jayden who pointed at the dilemma of the locked cabinet.  The two automatons regarded one another and shook their shoulders before Jayden angrily demanded, “Just break it!”

Understanding came to the pair with that simple command and they proceeded to rip the cabinet door clean off revealing a wide selection of various rare and exotic liquors.

Dejected, Jayden quietly muttered, “I just meant the lock…”

“Holy hell!  You made those?  That’s amazing…so this…all of this is your what?  Workshop?  Laboratory?  Who are you?”  Julian was beginning to have fun, he could not hide his enthusiasm.

Jayden began rummaging through the selection, “Oh, those two…stupid sentimentality.  Terribly inefficient…not much use to anyone except…” she looked at the broken cabinet and then continued, “no…just not much use to anyone.  Ah, here we go…absinthe.  My glorious green goblin…”

Julian’s eyes went wide at the word ‘absinthe’.  Before he could alter the liquid journey that was about to be set before them, Jayden’s continued to talk about the work that surrounded them.  “So, you like them hunh?  Do you want the pair?  They’re yours.  Can’t take them with me anyway.  Probably the most interesting thing you’ve ever seen eh?”

Julian thought back to the past few months and looked at Dori.  She laughed out loud but offered him no help.  “Well…no, not really.”

“That’s a goddamn lie and you know it Mr. Fancy Goggles!”

Julian was certain that the bottle of absinthe was going to shatter from Jayden’s outburst.  To everyone’s relief it did not.  Without realizing it, his hands went up to his goggles and he adjusted them quietly saying to himself, “Mr. Fancy Goggles?…hrm…”

Julian rolled his eyes for effect but forgetting that his goggles now hid that little tactic from the view of others he instead quietly and tauntingly just said, “I’ve seen bigger.”

“Liar.”  From out of the over-sized pockets that decorated the overalls Jayden wore, an absinthe spoon was pointed at Julian.

Julian eyed the spoon suspiciously, “How much of that do you drink if?  You…carry your own spoon with you?”

Jayden eyeballed him in return, “Doesn’t…everyone?”

Dori laughed again, taking a few steps away from the now arguing pair of technophiles.  She pulled on a chain that had been hanging from the ceiling to find it was connected to an unseen device above.  To her surprise, the chain was a release mechanism that caused a hidden stash of metal tubes and gears to rain from above.

Dori screamed as she jumped back in surprise.

“Serves you right.” Jayden snorted.  “But…damnit!  Where are my glasses?”  Looking up above, Jayden screamed towards the ceiling, “NORA!  Where are the glasses?”

Julian looked to Dori to see if she understood.  Dori just shook her shoulders and quietly tried to step away from the mess that she had just made.

The answer fell from the higher reaches of the building into the space between the three.  The impact caused the surrounding area to shake and at least one of the bottles in the cabinet fell and shattered on the floor.

“You bellowed?”  What fell between them was another automation, similar to Yin and Yang but clearly more advanced.  This one was dressed in the tatters of an old style formal maid uniform.  As it dusted itself off both Julian and Dori could see clear differences in the style of the first two automations and this one.  This ‘Nora’ moved with near human fluidity and was already responding to Jayden in more human-like ways.

“Where are my absinthe glasses?” Jayden demanded.

Nora tilted its head, “There are glasses defined by the drinks they are to contain?”

“Of course there are!”  Jayden yelled in response before stabilizing her balance by grabbing onto a nearby pile of scrap.

“It does not matter.  You broke all the glassware last week.  You melted it down to finish your last Tesla Coil after the government withdrew funding for your work.”  Nora turned to look at Jayden’s guests.  Julian was staring wordlessly at Jayden’s creation.  Dori was not any more help.  She remained back from the others taking particular delight in the spectacle.  “It’s rude to stare and not introduce yourself.” Nora delared with harsh intent towards Julian.

“That’s right!  Thank you Nora…I did not ask their names.”  Jayden did not seem to care as much as Nora on this matter.  Pressing sugar cubes into the bottle of absinthe seemed more of a pressing concern to Jayden.

Julian nodded his understanding, “I suppose I do owe you that much.  My name is Julian and this is Dori.  We…”

Nora cut him off.  “What do you want?”

Jayden put her off, “Now now, I think maybe we met because I yelled at them.  I yelled at you, right?”

Dori nodded sagely that this was the case.

Jayden nodded in return.  “Yes, so, clearly we came here to drink.”

Nora’s face was comprised of a human-shaped head with a glass cover where the face should be.  A darkly colored silver liquid moved under the glass and did its best to display her emotions.  Even with its limited ability, a clear look of concern came over her.

“Is drinking wise?  Tomorrow you are to reveal the Tesla Coil to the Society of New Engineers.  It’s…the reason…”

Jayden kicked the cabinet in rage.  This time several bottles fell and crashed around them leaving splatters of alcohol in all directions.

“Stolen!  Months ago!  Gone, it’s all gone!  I don’t know how but they had it all.  There’s no need for me.  It’s over!”  Jayden held up the bottle of absinthe and lifted it up to drink directly from the bottle.

“Excuse me…but…that is suicide right there so we aren’t doing that…”  Julian took the bottle before Jayden could take a drink from it.

“Doesn’t matter.  We’re leaving.  Nora, no more Lux.  No more workshop.  No more no more no more.  Tonight, we’re leaving, getting lost.  I don’t care.  I don’t care any more.  I’m done.”  Jayden looked defeated, tired, and completely lost.

Dori had a habit of finding people like this.  Julian wondered just what it was she expected him to do in this instance.

Julian took his time to look about the building and its various curiosities.  He then walked around Nora taking a long look at the automation that was still looking on with confusion at its master.  “I’ve known quite a few brilliant people.  If you really did make all this, then you might be one of the brightest.”  Julian casually shrugged.

“I know.” Jayden smirked.  “I’m brilliant.  So what?  They’re going to use my design to make more automations like the first one.”  The way she said ‘first one’ gave Julian some indication that Jayden knew of A-0.  “This time, they’re going to weaponize them.  They don’t get it.  The ones with free will…if you give them that kind of purpose…It’s evil.  Why would they even do that?  Who in the high holy hell are we going to go to war with?”

Nora looked to Dori and Julian apologetically, “Jayden gets like this on occasion.  There is equal parts engineer and artist in there.  It means that our house is not always…stable.”

Julian nodded.  He was beginning to see a play in this but he had no idea to what end he was playing the game.  “I imagine it’s difficult to get someone, anyone, to understand this kind of stuff.  I mean, when I was hanging out with A-0 back in the day and discussing the meaning of life with that ole’ giant metal man…”

“Who in the hell are you?”  Jayden shot up from the floor and pointed the absinthe spoon at Julian like a knife.  Julian frowned at that but Jayden did not relent.  “Don’t lie to me.  What do you know of Automation Zero?”

“Enough to understand the fundamental problem that led to it going berserk.”  Julian allowed the information reveals to casually come out as if it was obvious.  Keeping Jayden in a sudden state of shock seemed to be getting them somewhere.  Julian just was not sure where that somewhere was though.  “We know the Frasiers and we can arrange for you to meet them.”

“The Frasiers are dead.”  Jayden suspiciously replied.

“Not true.” Dori held up a knowing finger as if to halt the conversation and chide Jayden for her incorrect answer.

“Not true at all actually.  Look, you very clearly care about what you’re doing here.  Odd as it might seem, Dori and I know the kind of people and the kind of things that will allow you to pretty much walk in and take your place or even take over the Society of New Engineers.  If someone stole your ideas, I doubt that they got it all.  Something is going to go wrong and they’ll need you again, right?  Instead of spiting them by leaving things to rot here, use it as an opportunity.  We’ll tell you what we know and we’ll arrange for you to meet two of the free-wielders responsible for A-0’s creation.”  Julian smiled.  He had not gotten to negotiate like this in a long while.

“What…what do you want in return?”  Jayden cautiously asked while considering the ramifications of it all.

Julian had no idea what he wanted in return.  He had been playing the whole thing by ear as he went.  Turning to Dori, he found she was already prepared with an answer.

“Don’t leave and don’t quit.  Have some faith in yourself.”  Dori stepped closer to Jayden as she spoke.  “Consider us patrons if you really need something to grasp onto.  This self destruction?  It needs to stop.  You have a lot to do and a whole new kind of people are going to rely on you one day soon.”  Dori looked to Nora as she said this and caught the automation with a look of hopefulness.  Nora nodded towards Dori with a courteous respect that told Julian they had won over at least one of their new friends.  “If you’re looking for selfish reasons for us to be here, well, one of our friends may come to visit you in the future.  All I’d ask is that you don’t turn them away.”

Julian extended his hand to Jayden, “So, I take it we have a deal?”

Jayden took Julian’s hand and agreed, “I suppose running away to a far off distant land for purely selfish reasons can wait another day.  We have a deal.  This has been…a very strange day.”

Julian laughed, “Oddly enough, it feels like things are returning to normal for us.”  He looked towards Dori who was clearly pleased with herself once again.

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