What follows is the second part of an experiment in collaborative writing with @digitalpnut. The story is formed by 'bouncing' parts or chapters between two writers, which means no one is quite in control of where the story goes. It's really interesting to see what the other brings and a fun challenge to take the story further.
Historia de Filia ex Machinis, Part II:
Any Problem Can Be Solved With a Screwdriver
“You shouldn’t be here, girl.”
Roslyn said nothing but just carried on lying there, breathing deeply and staring up nostalgically at the glittering sky. She just let the ancient extra-terrestrial energies from above wash all over her screaming muscles – just like her father taught her. Overhead a zephyr chugged slowly through the thick air, like an wanton mosquito, overweight and searching for another body to suckle.
She dared not move, in case she further antagonised the voice that had emanated from behind her. Slowly, as imperceptibly as a glacier during winter, she reached down to her tool-belt, searching for something to get a grip on.
The familiar indentations of her screwdriver greeted her prying prod – luckily she didn’t lose that on her way down.
She tensed every complaining muscle she had, taking one final breath – her father had always told her to think things through. She might not have done that when she started climbing that near-catastrophic cliff, but she thought she’d damned better do it at this moment – it was as good a time as any.
Rosie couldn’t believe it, as she lay there on the ceramic roof panting deeply, she thought she’d get a little time for rest in order to let her pants dry a little. She thought she at least deserved that, seeing as she’d almost died and everything.
Even her sweat was sweating; her muscles literally felt like they were made of rusted brass ball-bearings, and her right arm was throbbing a little from a deep-ish gash where those damned Puresteels caught her on her brief sojourn down towards Hades – and after all that she had to deal with this imbecile?
And then, she lunged.
Twisting with almost lynx-like reflexes, she was off the floor and running in the direction of the voice in nanoseconds.
An instant later, she had the figure pinned down to the tiles, her knee in his groin, and her screwdriver jammed up against his jugular.
“Oh yeah, and where should I be exactly?” she hissed with as much venom as she could possibly inject; her face was so close she could feel the moisture from his jagged, pained breaths against her pale, faintly freckled skin.
“Th-the b-building across-s the s-s-street,” the figure squeaked back, the stench of fear practically gushing from his pores. “Th-th-that was the p-plan, r-r-remember?!”
Reluctantly, Rosie removed the screwdriver from the boy’s throat, and for a moment gazed admiringly at the little star-shaped mark that glowed from just above his jugular artery.
“Shutup. I’ll be screwed if I’m going to be the stupid lookout while all the fun is happening across the street.”
With a groan worthy of a person far beyond her 12-years, she stood up slowly and achingly, the sound of the breath rushing back into the boy’s lungs as she slowly eased off his gonads, marking her ascent.
As the kid lay there stunned and teary-eyed, Roslyn cradled her right arm against her chest and stared off into the city below – the stars were so beautiful reflected in the mirrored sheen of the countless black solar panels scattered across the dark cityscape, like little gelatinous pools where fireflies floated, embedded in its mass.
As she gazed down at the sprawling city of iron, unconsciously, Rosie reached down towards her tool-belt once again, and with a start her hand stopped dead.
It's not here! Where is it? Did it fall?! Oh no, please don't let me have dropped it
Like a Magician that had misplaced her rabbit, Rosie started frantically searching every crevasse and fold of of her clothing and smock with desperation, pulling out various nuts and bolts, nails and screws and accompanying washers and a healthy smattering of ball-bearings for good measure.
She sighed a deep rumble of relief when she unearthed a dented and scratched pocket-watch from her back pocket.
With the tenderness that parents reserve for their children, she caressed the ancient artefact gently. She wondered what Father would say if he’d seen her daring vertical climb to the roof – he’d be proud of his little Rosie, that she knew for certain.
As the wheezing behind her continued, her impatience grew; her left foot began to tap more and more erratically as the seconds ticked by. She expertly twirled the screwdriver between her fingers as she waited, an incredibly bored look plastered on her face, like she was in the process of watching varnish dry.
“Felix, stop being a wimp and get up already. Cool-Down’s almost over, and we have a job to do, r-r-remember?”
“You’re insane, you know that Rosie?!” coughed Felix as he got up shakily to his feet, still slightly out of breath and rubbing his patchy neck gingerly. “How’d you get up here anyway? It’s like a 20-story climb, and you definitely didn’t use the stairs.”
“Shutup,” mumbled Rosie.
“Wait. You used the Climb-Rig didn’t you?” he grinned as he picked absentmindedly at a blotchy and reddish pimple that clung to the tip of his nose like a fermenting fly, “Oh… Just wait till I tell Bruno – you’re going get locked in the basement for a week this time!”
Rosie grit her teeth, hoping that it would prevent her from committing an incredibly violent and invidious act, “Shut. Up.”
Felix looked around the roof, as if he was expecting to see something, and when he didn’t his smile only widened.
“Rosie…Where is the Climb-Rig?”
“SHUT UP!” Whipping around, Rosie pointed the screwdriver towards the massive toothy-cavern threateningly.
Immediately, a tight-lipped grimace replaced Felix's stupid smile that had been there moments before, like a carnival that had packed up and vanished, leaving only empty cups and broken dreams in its wake.
Rosie could have sworn she detected a trace of that fear-smell wafting from his direction again.
She wrangled the mass of scarlet hair away from her face, trying in vain, as usual, to tame her wild thick curls. She sniffed, wiping her nose and leaving a a faint streak of grease behind.
“It’s a death-trap anyway. Defective.”
A sliver of a smile reappeared on Felix’s square and slightly repugnant face.
“Look, can we get on with it already? We’ve lost too much time as it is.”
Felix nodded curtly in reply: it was business time.
In unison, the two moved across to the far side of the roof where a skylight sat nestled, peering up at and gently reflecting the twilit sky. A little way behind it stood a chimney, almost like a sentry, the usual smoke rising gracefully from the top.
Closer to the skylight now, a faint throbbing could be heard, like the repetitive echoes of distant thunder – Rosie had felt it while she was lying on the roof.
“Woah, they’ve got a biggun down there. I wonder what they do with all the steam…” Rose pondered out-loud as she began methodically tapping each pane of glass lightly with a knuckle. She felt one budge a little and she marked the place with her index finger. “Here.”
In one swift motion, Felix pulled a little cylindrical brass tube, about the size and shape of a cigar, from his belt. Attached to his belt, the extendable pipe unwound with a soft whirring sound.
He placed the cigar’s tip on the point Rosie had indicated, and with his other hand deftly plugged the end of the pipe into the valve of a cylinder also clipped to his belt. It gave a satisfying click, with only a minimal pneumatic hiss escaping in the process.
“This better work, Rosie.”
“Of course it will. I made it, didn’t I?”
“That’s what you said about the self-propeller. Marco still doesn’t have eyebrows…”
“Shutup. Just do it already.”
Felix held his breath as he depressed the small button on the side of the shiny cigar. In a split-second a small spike was forced out of the tube with a puff of compressed air from the cylinder, driving it into the glass with barely a tinkle.
Immediately, a delicate spider web of cracks formed all around the point of impact, spreading outwards slowly like the tendrils of a creeping oil on a rough surface. The spring-loaded spike had retracted silently back to its place inside the cylinder almost before it had even made contact with the glass.
Rosie, barely managing to stifle a yelp of excitement and maintain her dignity in the process, gloated, “What did I tell you?”
She reached down and gently pushed down on the centre of the fractured glass; as she pushed, the glass went with her hand, coming away from the grooves that held it in place. “Rubberised glass… great invention. Would stop a musket ball, but it’s no match for my genius.”
Sufficiently shaped now, Rosie carefully lifted the stiff cone of glass away from the frame, and handed it to Felix. She reached inside and undid the latch of the skylight, swinging it open.
Below her was the deepest, most impenetrable darkness she had ever seen. She gulped, but it caught in her throat as if her breath was afraid to leave the safety of her oesophagus.
Tearing herself away from the hypnotising ominousness of the nebulous darkness, she turned to find Felix balancing the glass cone on his head.
“Why thanks, makes me look like a wiz—”
Rosie rolled her eyes, “Now be a good dunce and find us a way to get down, would you?”
“What, you don’t have some kind of genius contraption to get me down there?”
“Shut up. I lost my pack on the way up. Anyways, who said you were going down there?”
“Bruno did. You’re the lookout, remember?”
“I told you, I’m not missing out on the fun. I’m going down there.”
“No ways. Bruno said—”
“Just shutup and find me a way down.”
Felix looked her dead in the eyes; Rosie stared back murderously. Neither of them blinked for a good minute. Rosie’s light-blue eyes were as intense as searchlights looking for escaped prisoners.
Under such a gaze, it was all Felix could do to stop his eyes from watering. He redoubled his efforts, but it was to no avail: the silent power-struggle between the two was, is, and will always be, in Rosie’s belligerent favour. Having a slightly squint eye did not help much in staring-contests either.
Finally, he conceded victory and blinked first. Rosie smirked.
Deflated and mumbling under his breath like an old man complaining about something or other, probably something about today’s freeloading youth, Felix reached into his pack, removed a rope, and dropped it into Rosie's hand.
“And what exactly do you want me to do with it?” Rosie looked back with wide-eyed innocence, the rope limp in her outstretched hand, and pouted.
With a snort of exasperation Felix grabbed the coil from Rosie’s hands once again and, still muttering to himself, stalked way.
As he stomped past, snatches of what he was saying floated by like puffs of acrid smoke from a locomotive, “Stupid… girls… I’ll never understand…”
Rosie watched as he tied one end of the rope securely around the chimney and stalked back towards the skylight, “…such a genius… can’t figure out the rope… everything myself!”
He dropped the other end of the rope in an angry heap by the edge of the dark chasm.
"Thanks Felix, you're such a loyal Jester!" Rosie said brightly, letting the sarcasm creep through like a funny smell in an abattoir.
Felix huffed once again and then turned towards the open chasm of skylight, crossing his arms. Rosie snickered and did the same, and for a moment they both stood side-by-side in silence as all their jokes got sucked out of them when faced with the impenetrable gloom below.
As Rosie stooped down to take the rope, Felix, with a quickness belying his corpulent mass, intercepted her and grabbed it himself.
“Bruno gave me this mission for a reason. I won’t disappoint him.”
With that, he gripped the rope tightly and lifted his left foot over the lip of the breached skylight.
He took a deep, shaking breath and tensed his body.
“Right. It’s time, I guess. Operation Thunderbird is go…” and just stood there.
With his stubby fingers he fished out a pendant from around his neck and whispered to it, “Love you, Caroline,” before burying the charm deep within the folds of his shirt one again.
He squeezed his eyelids together tightly, "Right here it goes..."
Once again, Rosie watched as his hand reached up to touch the outline of the pendant through his shirt.
Then, Felix started inching forward…
The fear-smell was back.
“Wait!” Rosie grabbed the rope from his hands, pulling him aside forcefully in the process. “You really shouldn’t, you’ve got Caroline…”
She could feel her heart beating at her chest, thrashing around like a jackal caught in a trap. She thought of little Caroline, left all alone if something were to happen to her brother in the unknown nebulous void below.
“Father is— I don’t have anyone anymore. I should go. Screw Bruno and his schemes, this could actually be dangerous!”
Felix stared back, amazed. He could tell from her wavering voice that she sincerely meant it.
“Rosie, I didn’t know you cared…”
“Shutup,” Rosie wiped her face with her torn sleeve, and swiftly brought her emotions under control again – they didn’t often leak out like this. She brandished her screwdriver limply, which still had a certain degree of menace to it in her hands, seeing as it was barely three centimetres from Felix’s left eye, “Or I’ll stab you.”
“If you feel so strongly about it… You go, I’ll be the lookout.”
Without hesitation, Rosie skipped over to the edge, grabbing the rope in one fluid motion, gave Felix a curt salute, and cast off into the fathomless well of obscurity with a wink.
Still in a daze, it took Felix a second to snap out of his trance… he was still picturing that profound look of sadness on her face, and the moment her expression had turned to one of utter courageousness…
Remembering who and where he was, he bent down and peered over the edge to see Rosie looking straight up at him with those piercing aquamarine eyes, “Don’t worry about me… I’m the best pilot Bruno has. If anybody can get her back, I can.”
Felix could see the the sheer grit in her expression, her courageousness did a valiant job of obscuring a slight quiver of her furrowed brow.
"Besides, I’m a genius, r-r-remember? Now are you actually going to do something, or am I meant to climb down all by myself, boy?”
With a sigh, Felix began lowering her down, her cheeky grin seeming to hang in the thick darkness like a Cheshire Cat's, her beacon-like crimson curls remained in sight for a little longer.
Felix sat back heavily with the exertion of lowering Rosie down, and let his legs dangle over the edge of the shadowy pool of the skylight’s opening.
He tilted his head back and inhaled deeply: he could smell the scents of fumes and grease that clung to anything and everything it could like a sentient presence.
It was the unmistakable stench of the Metropolis of Progress, of Industrial Revolution.
He gazed at the glistening solar panels that heated up the water for the steam generators that shone so fiercely in the harsh daylight hours, and that glittered so peacefully in the cool night.
He took a moment to bathe in the soft moonlight that so delicately shone down on the city.
The city where himself, Rosie, Caroline, Marco, Bruno and all the other Magpies lived in their abandoned factory:
Felix’s wonderings were cut short by a series of clanks and thuds that came from somewhere beneath his feet. Felix sat in tense concentration, straining to hear anything at all that could possibly escape the deep blackness, like an air bubble popping desperately at the surface of great black lake of oil.
Then, he heard what sounded like Rosie’s muffled scream.
Without thinking, Felix immediately gripped the rope and plunged in after her.
Part 3 Coming Soon from @digitalpnut!