Universally enthusiastic chaos-artist & storyteller

Chapter 33: Work to be done

The next day Tungsten is nowhere to be found.
He’s not in the parlour, not in the lab, not in his bedroom.
I could try and check the tunnels but I don’t want to risk getting lost or running into a trap I can’t get out of on my own.
So I guess I just have to wait.
Maybe he got tipped again about another job?
I hope he’s back before midday. I need to pick up Jaxogeras to work on the heart but he didn’t give me a key to the place.
I could simply not lock up behind me but I feel like Tungsten would be very cross if he found out.
I suppose I could give the place a good clean?
Make sure to make a good impression.
I pull an empty wine bottle off the floor and wash the takeout bowls from last night.
I should sweep the floor.
Do we have a broom?
After twenty minutes of looking, I conclude we do not have a broom.
The big man crashes into the room with a tired expression on his face.
“You’re up already?” he asks in a mix of confusion and hangover.
“Yes, it’s ten in the morning?”
“Is it?… Oh well, I’m going to bed I-”
“You can’t, I need to pick up Jaxogeras now and if you fall asleep we can’t get in.”
“The doll…I told you about this. We’re making the fake heart remember?”
He blinks at me. “Must have slipped me.” He dips his hand into his pocket and pulls out a key ring “It’s the black tarnished looking one. Just give it back later.” He pushes the ring into my hands “I’m going to bed.”
“Oh…uh, good night then”

Jaxogeras pulls the cart along with little effort but I can’t help but wonder if we’re maybe pulling in a bit too much attention.
I guess there’s nothing wrong with walking around with a cart full of tools and machinery.
But I make sure we take the roundabout route just in case.
As the street turns to turf the wheels like sinking into the loose leaf matter.
“Do you need a hand?” I ask not entirely sure how I could help with my weak arms but I want to offer anyway.
“You can carry the suitcase if you like,” Jaxogerad suggests.
“Right, yes I can do that.” I pull the dark green leather suitcase from the top of the pile and almost pull my back out.
Okay, so it’s a bit heavier than I expected.
Not unliftable just unexpectedly heavy.
I put a bit more effort into it.
Lift it off the cart.
I’m not sure how much it helps.
But I guess I do prefer helping a little over not helping at all.
“All right this is the place.” I groan as I set the suitcase back on the cart. I’m becoming faster and faster and finding the right trees to follow.
“I take it there’s a trick to this?” The dolls asks looking around.
“Yup.” I kneel down and wipe the dead leaves aside to reveal the hatch underneath.
I pull the key from my pocket, fit it in the lock and open it up.”
Jaxogera looks down the hole “Splendid, now to get all of this down there.”

“So… this is where you live now?” They ask, arms filled with boxes, looking around at the earthen walls.
“There isn’t any natural light in here,” they observe.
“To be fair neither was there in Mercury’s den.”
“I guess… you do know that if you need a place to stay Bar-B is open to you.”
“I know, but I think that place should be safe for Prishtoli to come back to.” I shrug a bit forlornly “Also don’t worry, Tungsten sends me out to pick up takeout every day so I get plenty of sunlight.”
“I see, that’s good.” There’s silence for a bit as we both seem to think about the same thing. “About Prishtoli…” The doll starts.
“It’s fine. That whole situation was on me. I shouldn’t have suggested using the real heart. Or try and push the plan the way I did.”
Jaxogeras shakes their head “You weren’t to blame, at least not for all of it. Prishtoli has a passionate streak, a blessing when she’s happy but a curse when she is angry.” They put the boxes down in the alcove that’s to be our workshop for the day “I didn’t ask you to leave because I thought you were the one in the wrong. I thought you’d be the only one to listen at the time.”
“I wanted to let you know, in case it made you feel unwanted.”
I throw up my arms “Well I still came back regardless.” then pick up a more serious tone “But I genuinely appreciate that, thank you Jaxogeras.”
They nod.
We know all is well, and get to work.
We unpack the boxes and bags and I’m astonished at the ingenuity of the construction as they fold apart and click together in wonderful formations.
“Did you design this?”
“Yes, I needed machines that were compact but also sturdy…I’ve done a lot of moving about before I ended up in Bar-B.”
“If I may ask, how old are you?” It almost feels silly to try and achieve greatness when dolls can hone their skills for so much longer.
They pull the belt saw blade around the wheels with little effort and nonchalantly tell me “Oh, I don’t know.”
“What? How?”
“A lot of my life was spent indoors and none of the other dolls thought it was an important thing to keep track of so I never saw a reason why I should.
All we know is who are younger and older than ourself.”
“That’s amazing.” I’m not sure what else to say so we build out the workshop in silence for a while.
I lay out the drawing for all the parts we need to make…it’s a lot.
I wonder if we’ll need to work through the night to get it all fitted together. “So how do you want to handle this?” I ask tentatively.
Jaxogeras pulls a pencil from their blouse pocket and lays it down “Start with the biggest parts because you can always make a couple of small pieces from a big piece but not vice versa. Circle the parts we have and put them in the crate. After everything’s collected we’ll look at how it all fits together and once the mechanical core is done I can take it to the glass blower.”
“I could also-”
“You’ll be wiped out for at least a day once we’re done here, just leave the glassblower to the one of us who doesn’t need to sleep.”
“Fine but I’m paying for the piece, I did a whole side quest for that I’d feel silly if it wasn’t needed after all.”
“Fine, If you insist.”
“I do.”
They smile. “Then let’s get started.”

I stick the template onto the brass plate with some paste and lay it on the base of the automated jeweller’s saw.
“Uhm, is there a switch I need to find?” I ask uncertainly.
“Oh that one’s still spring-powered, you need to crank it for a bit, there’s a lever on the left side.”
That’s crazy “And it’ll go through metal?”
“Yes, but be sure to go slow, steady and spritz every so often.” They set a dropper bottle down on the table “Keeps the thing from overheating.”

I’m not sure how much time has passed by the time Tungsten pokes his head into the room.
The basket is pretty full by then, I think we’re two-thirds of the way.
“Did you eat ever since you started working?” He asks accusatory. I notice he’s wearing dark-tinted glasses, hiding his cat-like eyes.
“What time is it?”
“Six pm.”
I hiss, “Oh…”
“So you didn’t then?”
“No…but also can I introduce you to Jaxogeras? Jaxogeras meet Tungsten, Tungsten, meet Jaxogeras.”
Tungsten’s eyes stick to the doll “Right.” he steps in properly and wipes his hands on his pants “Pleasure to meet you, ma’am.” He says sticking out his hand.
The hair on my neck instantly pulls on end “Uuuuuh, actually they’re a ‘them’ Tungsten so…”
“Oh! Right, sorry, the pronoun thing uuuhm…nice to meet you…doll?”
“It’s nice to meet you too Tungsten and thank you for lending us the space,” Jaxogeras responds courteously as they shake hands.
“Yeah, that’s okay.” He then nods politely and focuses on me again “Do we have bread still?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll check.” He darts out again leaving me with about two pounds of awkward tension stacked on top of my shoulders.
I look at Jaxogeras and they look…surprisingly calm. “Are you okay?”
“Don’t worry I may not engage with humans often but even I can hear the difference between an honest mistake and a malicious attack.” Jaxogeras replies with a smile “Although I do feel a bit awkward for not asking our host’s pronouns. I know it’s not common among humans but…”
“It’s he.”
“Good, I honestly suspected as much but it’s good to know for sure.”
I nod in agreement.

In the end, Tungsten picked up two bowls at Daisy’s.
He kicks a stool in my direction before sitting down and hands me a bowl of chunks.
“Thank you.” I take a bite, my stomach grumbling in protest all of a sudden. Oh, this is the time you wanna tell me I’m hungry? I chuckle at it then turn to Tungsten “I have a question.”
“What was Mercury like, back when you were her student?”
Tungsten dog ears shoot upright surprised “Where’s that coming from all of a sudden?”
I shrug “I guess building this heart is making me nostalgic.”
Tungsten scoffs “Impatient, harsh, very good at making you feel like you won’t get anywhere without her. Long story short she was a shitty teacher.”
“Yeah…” I take another bite as today’s stresses calm down for a moment.
“So you studied mechanics before?” Tungsten asks signalling vaguely to the direction of the impromptu workshop.
“Yes, I studied at the university for a year but, well that was all repetition of what I knew already. Stegarius was my real teacher, he taught me everything.” My heart feels tight, “Did you study anything before alchemy?”
“Me? Nah, I’m glad I could read. My parents were farmers but my elder brother got the business so I was going to ‘make it big’ in the city.” He chuckles listlessly “Funny how that worked out.”
“Huh, so we both ran away from home…”
Tungsten points a claw-like finger at me “You ran away from home.” Then flicks his thumb in his direction “I got kicked out. No hard feelings though. We weren’t rich and one human mouth less meant two extra pigs they could sell to the butcher later on.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that.”
The big man shrugs “Would I not have fallen in with the wrong crowd if I could have stayed? Probably. Would I be happier? Possibly. Would I be able to see in the dark and wag my tail around? Definitely not, and that would be a shame.” He laughs boisterously, I can’t help but laugh along. Then he puts a massive hand on my head “You gotta take life with all its curve balls kid, it’s the only way to stay sane.”
“Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had become your ion instead of Mercury’s.”
He huffs “Well for one you’d have to be persistent cause I’d send you home a couple of times first, I don’t exactly feel qualified to be a teacher in anything. And you’d be a modder, I’m not sure how that would have helped with your quest for dolls.”
“Yeah it…doesn’t really make sense, does it?”
“Not really but that’s okay.” His hand disappears off my head and comes down onto my shoulder instead “Mercury was shitty but we’re here now and she’s not so all’s well that ends well.
“I hope so.” it depends on what happens next…
After dinner, I pick up Tungsten’s bowl to wash but he stops me “Just leave the bowls to me. You still got a long night ahead if you wanna finish that project of yours.”

More hours pass.
There’s a second crate next to the first one now.
The papers are full of circles.
It’s time.
I stand by the workbench and I pull out the construction drawings as far as I can decipher them. I put a hacksaw on one side of the paper, and a hammer on the other, just to make sure the paper doesn’t roll back up.
There are probably errors in my estimations. Even with the real heart thoroughly examined, there’s only so much to see without breaking things open.
But the idea isn’t to make a perfect replica, it’s to make it as indistinguishable as possible so the alchemists will take the bait and try to steal it.
Jaxogeras comes up next to me and sets down a box of small bolts and nuts.
I pick up the biggest piece, a central plate that the rest seems to be attached to and start arranging the others around in an attempt to figure out some sort of order of operations.
“There’s an error in your drawings.”
“What? Where!?”
“It says these gears are connected at this point but the maths wouldn’t work out at all.”
“But that’s the only spot they can connect, if not there then where?”
“Nowhere, they’re two separate systems built inside the same structure.”
“Wait, really?” I look at the drawings, then dig up the photographs from the box of papers and try to find an inkling of evidence to the contrary but… “You’re right. But then why do the systems interlink? it’s both messy and inefficient, the movement energy needs to be transferred all the way from here to here!”
“Maybe he did it for the same reason he wrote his notes in code. To make it difficult to replicate on purpose.”
“The more I learn about this man the more I start to dislike him…but it does come with an upside. We could pull the systems apart, scale things down, and make the whole system more compact and efficient. Why have a custom glass exterior made when the part could just as easily fit inside a smaller container.”
You still want to make that new generation you talked about earlier?” There’s no judgement in their voice, just curiosity, and yet it makes me feel put on the spot.”
I throw up my hands “I guess? I don’t really know. On the one hand, the desire is still there, I can feel it in my bones. On the other I’m not sure if I can, knowing what the pursuit cost me on the way.”
“I understand.”
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, please don’t take this as me pushing you, your wellbeing is more important to me than this but. I reckon I rather have someone like you working towards the goal than a group of people who care for the challenge but know nothing of us, our ways and don’t respect us. I mean of course they won’t get the heart if they keep insisting we’re not people but even then there’s a lot of ignorance, be it malicious or not.”
“Huh, I didn’t think about it like that yet.”
“But I see your side of things too so I understand-”
“Thank you for telling me Jaxogeras.”
“Of course. Now let’s get this heart put together.”

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