THE PETTENGILL SPECIAL
Meet me at the corner of Castlereigh street and George street at midnight. Don’t bring your dog. This is important.
Amelia Pettengill stared at the note. She then looked at Scraps, who was trying to catch a mouse. Or maybe a spring. Maybe it was a spring trying to catch another spring. She looked at the note again.
“No,” she said to the note. Amelia knew that notes didn’t work that way, but she didn’t care. People had been trying to catch her for a long time. So far, Leg Guy was the only one that came close. She didn’t care for the inconvenience of being caught, and long ago decided she wouldn’t let it happen.
But Amelia didn’t like a mystery. The person knew enough about her to leave an envelope where she would find it, and they obviously knew her because they drew a picture of a fox on it and Amelia really liked foxes.
Perhaps they would leave her another note if she ignored this one, and perhaps she didn’t want to bother saying no to any more notes, since notes did not work this way.
“We need to find the lady,” said Amelia. Scraps looked up at her. He knew what she meant. The lady whose name began with M.
That evening, just before midnight, the corner of Castlereigh and George was empty. It had been for some hours, as the evenings had become quite cold lately.
The night was even colder for Casey Vicksworth. It wasn’t terribly often that he left the volcano mines, but this meeting was important. The Sydney District was often deserted on the warmest of nights. Of the nine city districts, it was the district that faced the sea, and caught most of the wind off the water. The chill in the air almost guaranteed solitude.
He stood in the shadows and watched the street corner with a stoic bravado that served him well, as he barely jumped when Martine clamped her gauntleted hand on his shoulder.
“What are you doing here, Vicksworth?”
Casey spun around and jumped back. “Nothing,” he said reflexively.
“You chose a cold, damp night on which to do nothing.” Knight-Captain Martine Covington-White followed him into the light of the street. “I’ve been watching you for ten minutes. Who are you here to meet?”
“None of your damn business!”
“I’m the City Defender. Everything is my business.”
“You’re not the constable and this doesn’t concern city safety,” said Casey. “You overstep your bounds, and I do not have to answer to you.”
Martine folded her arms over her leather breastplate in a way that she knew would annoy him. “Who are you here to meet?”
“Do you often stand in dark alleys at midnight, freezing your goggles off?”
Casey’s face changed. Martine obviously knew more than he wanted her to, and he decided to change his tactics.
“Do you know the Pettengill girl?” asked Casey. Martine did not expect the question.
It was Martine’s turn to stumble. “Who’s that?” she said with zero conviction.
“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? She’s not coming. And if it’s strange to find a humble volcano miner on a cold, midnight street, it’s far stranger to find the leader of the Knights of the Flying Cog in such a place.” His face became punchably smug. “You’re clearly here in her stead.”
Martine unfolded her arms. He obviously knew Amelia, or at least he knew of her, and since his suspicions had just become certainties, there would be no harm in confirming them.
“Yes,” she said. “Amelia didn’t want to come. She usually ignores strange notes inviting her to meet in dark alleyways at midnight.”
“But you came.”
“I was a little more curious,” said Martine. “I also have a sword. If your intentions are harmless, I will let Amelia know.”
“I won’t deal with an intermediary,” said Casey. “And I have a policy of never trusting a Covington.”
“It’s me, or it’s nothing,” said Martine. “You’ll never find her.”
Casey knew this to be true. He had sent dozens of widgets into the city every night, and none had detected Amelia or her hidden workshop.
“You could take me to her now,” he suggested.
“I could persuade you.”
Martine drew her sword. “You and what army?”
Casey Vicksworth pressed a button on the back of his glove. The skyline and alleyway shadows lit up with dozens of glowing lights.
Oh that army.
Each widget glowed brightly, probably due to a power source of Concentrated Spark. They were probably weaponised, and likely dangerous.
“I have over fifty widgets, ready and able to obey my commands. You have zero widgets, and a sword.” Casey folded his arms. “I win.”
“I have one widget,” said Martine. “You never forget your first.” Martine reached behind her back and plucked the widget from its hiding place.
Casey scowled. "I understood that you gave that to the Pettengill girl."
"I did," said Martine. "She modified it and gave it back."
Martine shrugged and attached the widget to the end of her sword. "I don't know, I'm not much of an engineer. But Amelia said you were building a lot of widgets, and you were experimenting with a hivemind intelligence."
"How would she know that?"
"I've stopped asking how Amelia knows things, and just accepted that she does. She said you were building a secret army, and nobody builds a secret army for anything good." Martine held her sword outward, with the widget mounted on the end and pointed at Casey Vicksworth. "Now I don't know what this does, but I've been told it can only do it once."
Casey took a step back. He didn't exactly know why. The knight he could deal with, but he couldn't predict what Amelia would do. "Stun her!" he said, and the circle of widgets started closing in.
Martine held her sword aloft, and the streets lit up. The widget on the end of her sword crackled with a white energy created for just this moment, then a circle of light expanded outward with a loud boom.
Martine and Casey fell to the ground. Around them, every single widget started to melt. Martine could smell a foul odour, and she knew what would happen next. Amelia told her that Casey probably used dangerous amounts of concentrated spark. Amelia didn’t use it because it was extremely volatile and smelled weird when it was about to explode, which it apparently did a lot.
“Why did she not warn me about the bang?” Martine said to herself. “She always forgets the bang…”
The Knight-Captain got to her feet and looked around for the belligerent volcano miner. “Vicksworth!” she yelled. “Get up!”
Casey Vicksworth moved just enough to indicate that he only needed five more minutes of sleep. Martine put her fingers in her mouth and whistled. Pepper, Martine’s horse, cantered from the shadows. With a manoeuvre she had practiced many times (in a secluded part of the woods, far from the city), Martine grabbed Pepper’s leather saddle strap and swung herself onto the horse’s back. She rode towards Casey’s mostly unconscious body.
“Vicksworth!” she yelled.
“...”, he suggested.
Martine plucked the now-dead widget from the end of her sword and threw it at him. The burned-out husk of metal struck Casey on the hip, and he reacted very badly but at least he stood up.
“Give me your hand!”
He did so, and Martine tried to swing him up onto Pepper’s back. Unfortunately, Casey had never been on a horse, and had also never practiced anything that required this level of dexterity. He sort of flopped around on the end of her arm like a surly fish.
Martine swore. The Knight-Captain dug her heels in, and Pepper started off down the street. Casey started running, yelling, and then screaming. Eventually the volcano miner ended up on the horse, but it was probably the least heroic scene in the history of heroic scenes, so we won’t describe it here.
The pair had ridden two city blocks before the concentrated spark exploded from the widgets. Large arcs of purple energy lanced towards the sky. Two of the buildings vanished, and the rest took quite a bit of damage from the explosions, but only six people woke up since the citizens were used to explosions and screaming, and they quickly went back to sleep.
Two days later, Martine entered the Brig carrying three pastries. She sat down at her desk and started to eat one.
“Is one of those for me?” asked Casey Vicksworth.
Martine looked up mid-bite. In truth, no. But she was obliged to feed her prisoner.
The Brig was the only piece of the RMS Ivan Thomas left after 140 years of plundering the ship for parts. It was a small series of rooms that served well as a jail, but the name “brig” fit the nautical theme and was kept. Martine walked across to Casey’s cell and handed him the least nice-looking of the three pastries. There wasn’t a door to open, since there were no doors. The Brig was more about the use of the honour system.
“When are you letting me out?”
Martine ate a pastry at him. “When the damage is fixed. And when those warehouses come back from wherever they went.”
“My family is rich.”
“I know,” said Martine. “The Vicksworth Trust is paying the repairs. I don’t think they’re terribly happy with you, though. First that Doom Cannon thing, and now this.”
Casey frowned. He had gambled and lost, and it was unlikely he would ever find Amelia Pettengill now. Time for a new approach.
“You need to know something,” he said.
And he told her something.
Meet me at the corner of Castlereigh street and George street at midnight. Bring your leg. This is important.
Maximilian Ward looked over the note again, then at the Tower of Caution. It was about to strike First Midnight. He pulled his coat a little tighter as a chill went through him.
“I’m glad you came,” said Martine.
Max turned to see the City Defender step out of the shadows. “What can I do for you?” he said.
“Spark,” said Martine. She looked around to make sure they were alone. “Casey Vicksworth says you’ve been doing research. Tell me everything.”
And he told her everything.
Above their heads, Alistair Gaines and Lady Luna Ward flew through the night sky, both sporting Luna Ward’s latest battle corset design. This wasn’t a typical date for most people in Widget Ridge, but it was for them. They held hands as they flew towards the rim of the volcano, which is a place you wouldn’t expect to see a vampire, but since nobody was a vampire this was normal and not even worth pointing out.