The Mister and the Miss:Update 2

Here we are! Second instalment, up and available. For those who missed last week and want to catch up, I’m keeping an archive here. This week introduces our other main character, Caspian. Chapter titles will always clarify from whose viewpoint we’re looking. All feedback is always welcome. Enjoy!

2: Caspian

Caspian swore angrily and wiped one grease-stained hand across his face, smudging the dirt and sweat that had gathered there. He had already rewired this bike three times, and it still fizzled every time he tried to start the engine. The hydronic tubes kept overheating, and he knew that if he pushed them too hard they would shatter, and this would go from a fifteen hundred dollar job to a four thousand dollar job, not in a good way. He needed to get this done today, preferably before Lewin came out to check on his progress, and definitely before his customer showed up expecting a fully repaired Hydra. He’d already been looking at this for three hours, though, and it was starting to make his head spin. Groaning, he turned away from it and ambled towards the other side of the garage, haphazardly kicking a pair of pliers across the floor in the process.

He’d been here three weeks, and while he felt comfortable, he missed the familiarity of his father’s workshop in the Inner Circle. It was spacious, professional, a well-oiled machine, and for any question he could ask, there were at least six senior mechanics who would be happy to sit him down and talk him through the answer. The lack of resources in his current situation was, by comparison, castrating. He had limited motor plans, limited vehicle manuals, limited tools, and no one to ask for help. There was, of course, always Lewin, but it seemed counterintuitive to ask for assistance, when it was Lewin’s job to assess his capability. He had one year to prove himself, one year to earn his license, and every day and every job counted. He could feel the pressure knotting up in his shoulders, his mind stretched like a rubber band, and he wondered if he had been wrong to do his internship here, as an unknown, instead of taking his father up on the offer to do it at home. The Guild wouldn’t have minded; they were looking forward to accepting him as a member either way. He had insisted, though, that he be allowed to earn his title the same way as everyone else. He knew he already had an advantage, he knew that he was ahead of the game, but he hadn’t anticipated just how lonely it would be to run at this all by himself.

The door creaked open slowly, too heavy to allow for any quick entrance, and he straightened up, expecting to have to report a failure. Instead of his master, though, it was his master’s fourteen-year-old, and Caspian had to work to keep from rolling his eyes. Derek had been on his tail every moment since he’d arrived, and while normally he wouldn’t have minded, given that he had learned in much the same way, the kid was undisguisedly looking to cause trouble, especially for the young man whom he perceived was usurping his father’s otherwise undivided affections. Caspian couldn’t imagine what it would be like to grow up as an only child; he was the youngest of six brothers and one particularly fierce sister. They had all raised him as much as his parents had, but the constant chaos of their household had also made him embrace independence as early as he could. He’d never had a quiet moment at home, but in all the noise and colour he learned rapidly, adopting attitudes and ideas not expected in someone as young as he, and his eagerness and his curiosity had turned him from the annoying little brother into the favourite pupil, a happy receptacle for any lesson that might be taught. Given that his family had been so crucial in his formation and education, in some ways Caspian was puzzled as to how Derek had ever managed to learn anything. Did he go to school? Did he just hang around his father’s shop? He had no idea, and Derek had gone so completely out of his way to be a nuisance that he no longer cared to find out. Therefore, when The Pest entered the workshop, Caspian kept it short and straight to the point, uninterested in whatever “clever” banter the teenager might have in mind. “What do you need, Derek?”
He let the door close before he answered and leaned against it, the movement attempting to convey nonchalance but his darting eyes betraying his painful self-consciousness, and for a moment Caspian almost pitied him—only for a moment, though.

“I don’t need anything,” The Pest sneered. “Father sent me to check on you.” Caspian just waited, one eyebrow cocked into a display of skepticism, and The Pest nearly faltered, but then pressed on. “Perhaps he doesn’t think you’re up to the task. I still don’t see why he needs you for an apprentice.” There it was, the complaining, laced with whining, and the familiar insult. Caspian grinned broadly and pulled a relatively clean rag from his back pocket, sitting down at the workman’s bench and proceeding to scrub at his face and his hands. Nothing bothered Derek more than when his complaining was disregarded, and Caspian had started to enjoy it as a game, wondering how far he could wind Derek up before he imploded. In this case, his face turned red, and he abandoned his lounging posture to storm farther into the garage and look at the bike critically, still clearly in a state of disrepair. “This looks like crap,” he declared bluntly, and as much as he wanted to, Caspian couldn’t disagree. The bike had so far been impervious to virtually all of his attempts to get it running again.

“It could be better,” he admitted, and regretted it immediately when he saw Derek’s eyes gleam. The last thing he needed was the brat running to tell tales of his incompetence. “Tell your father that I already finished the Krasvitch project, and that Thornwell and Berrin should be coming by today. All I have left is the Hydra, and its owner won’t be around until late. Near the Venus hour, I think.”

“Wait, it’s a Hydra?” Derek asked, his surprise breaking through his facade of condescension, and for a moment Caspian wondered if perhaps there was more to this scrawny kid than his mortifying experience of puberty.

He simply nodded, and with a sigh pushed back on to his feet, stepping over and then squatting next to the bike, staring at the cluster of tubes and wires that he’d been trying to patch back up all morning. “Yeah, it’s a Hydra. Some kid was riding it around and managed to shatter the crossover tubing in three places, and now I have to figure out how to reconnect everything so that it doesn’t stall, put too much pressure on the hydronic cylinders, or lock into overdrive.” His voice reached something like despair as he spoke, reminding him of the enormity of this particular task. He knew he’d figure it out eventually, but he was running out of time, and what he really wanted to do was sit down the idiot kid who’d originally wrecked the bike and give him a long, thorough lecture on how to motor without putting himself, others, and most importantly his bike at risk. He couldn’t imagine how someone that young had even managed to get his hands on a Hydra, anyway, and he was shocked to be working on one so close to the Canal. The majority of the corporate shops were closer to the capital, and while the individually owned workshops were by no means lesser, with a model like that, most people would have chosen to stick closer to the manufacturer. It was a delicate piece of work.

Delicate piece of work. What about a piece of glass? If he could initially replace the shattered energy field with a glass pane and get the blue energy to interact with it, then maybe the two sides would reconnect. He would have to change the wires around again, though, which would take at least another couple hours. He pulled on one of his discarded mechanics’ gloves and scrolled through the applications to check the time—just past noon. He could manage it, but he’d need to start now.

His new approach firmly in place and his mind set to working on whatever problems he might encounter, Caspian began resetting his work station, clearing all the loose materials that had accumulated over the course of the morning. “What are you doing?” a voice demanded, and he belatedly remembered Derek, still standing next to the bike. Apparently the absence of the whiner had expired, and the sour expression on his face announced a return of his more sour attitude.

“I had an idea,” Caspian answered simply, and continued. How to get a piece of glass thin enough? He wondered, and pulled the laser cutter from underneath the counter.

“So can you fix it or not?” Derek asked, and Caspian sighed, realising that he wouldn’t be able to get any work done so long as The Pest was still in the garage. He turned around and leaned back against the counter, eyeing his adversary critically. Derek’s posture was always defensive, often angry, and always nothing more than a show, and this case was no different. He would draw his head up high, trying to show off his height, but his self-consciousness kept his shoulders crooked inward, and as a result he simply looked uncertain.

“Of course I can fix it,” Caspian said calmly, “that was never in question.” He saw Derek open his mouth to protest and raised a hand to silence him before continuing. “It was never in question. The question was only of how long it would take me, and if my idea works, then the answer is not above five hours. If my idea doesn’t work, then I have to start all over again.”

Derek glanced at the bike, and then back at Caspian. “My father won’t be happy if you don’t get it done on time,” he said, but it was an empty threat. Lewin wouldn’t be pleased, but he wouldn’t be the one dealing with the irritated client, so it hardly mattered.

“Your father trusts me to do my work.”

“My father—“

“Your father would love to know why it takes a half hour to simply ask the boy if he wants some lunch, as would your mother. She has sandwiches waiting.”

Caspian raised his eyes to the door and saw Lewin standing there, arms folded across his chest but an expression of clear amusement on his face. Derek straightened up as well, all combativeness fading from his pose.

“I just—“ he began to explain, but his father waved his words away, and he faded again to silence.

Caspian offered a short bow. “Master Lewin,” he said formally, and then relaxed after his patron gave a nod of his head in return.

The senior mechanic went over to look at the bike, unknowingly imitating Caspian in his squat from a few moments before. “What are we looking at?” he called over his shoulder, and Caspian glanced briefly at his notes, strewn across the work counter, before replying.

“Significant damage to the body, port and star, acquired in a multiple-motor accident. Separation of primary and secondary energy sources, and a shattered blue field. The superficial aspects were easy to take care of, but the reconnection of the two halves has been more of a problem.”

Lewin nodded slowly, his pale blue eyes still fixed on the body of the bike, and Caspian wondered what he saw, what missing links might be apparent to the master that had eluded the apprentice. Finally, Lewin stood and planted his hands on his hips, and he looked to Caspian. “So what do you intend to do?”

Instead of answering, Caspian simply gestured to the sketch he had started and his preliminary calculations regarding the thickness of the glass and the necessary strength of power needed to jump start the motor and fuse the two circuits. Lewin smiled broadly at his work, and Caspian felt a swell of pride at his master’s approval, even if the idea hadn’t yet worked. “You think it’ll work?” he asked, trying to keep his eagerness from colouring his voice overmuch.

Lewin shrugged, but his expression was undeniably pleased. “I don’t see why not, if you keep your figures squared. Better get to work, though, don’t you think?” and Caspian grinned, acquiescing.

“Do you need lunch?” Lewin asked, remembering his original reason for coming out.

“Thank you, but I’m fine,” Caspian replied absently, already lost to his work, snapping on his goggles and unwrapping a sheet of glass which would have to be reduced by at least half, no maybe a third would do it…

His master recognised the lure of the craft and suppressed a chuckle, remembering his own enthusiasm at that age. Once upon a time his world had been like that, shiny and inventive and curious, and he envied Caspian his youth.

Derek had stood by through this exchange, watching his father talk to Caspian with growing sullenness. He couldn’t comprehend the degree of trust that had been bestowed on Caspian, with full access to the house and garage and all his father’s tools, access that had always been denied to him.

He lingered, though, even after his father had returned to the house, and watched Caspian work, lining up the laser precisely so that the thin blue beam cut a line perfectly parallel to the surface of the glass. He kept quiet, knowing that if he drew attention to himself Caspian really would kick him out, especially with a deadline to meet, and he wanted to watch the rest of this process.

It didn’t make much sense to him. As far as he could tell, there were two systems at work in the bike, and due to the damage, they had separated. The trick was putting them back together— and there he lost track of the train of thought that had apparently made sense to the older mechanics. He supposed that it had something to do with the charge of the blue energy, and he knew that port and star described some sort of opposite qualities, but he hadn’t paid particularly close attention to that portion of Energetics last trimester.

Caspian knew, of course, that Derek had stayed. With an operation as fragile as he was performing he had to be in perfect control of his environment, and he resolved that if The Pest spoke even one word he would have to go, but as long as he was quiet it didn’t matter. Once the glass was cut, he set it carefully to the side and then went back to the diagram he’d done earlier of the bike’s wiring. It was some of the most complicated he’d ever seen, with four or five thin microwires where on most bikes there would be one thicker wire serving multiple functions. This specialisation in energy direction made the bike more efficient, and therefore faster. The fibres used were lighter, so they tore more easily, but the entire machine wasn’t as heavy as most motors, so it was also good for tricks. It was a beautiful piece of engineering, and as Caspian applied himself to once more adjusting the complicated colours that marked different energy functions, he despaired at the thought of turning the Hydra back over to its careless owner. That was the job, though, and he did his best to distract himself from the low standards of responsibility for motor owners.

Derek grew bored eventually, as Caspian figured he would. It wasn’t interesting work to witness unless you knew what was happening, and beyond the occasional spark, the bike appeared unchanged. Having stifled yawns with increasing frequency for nearly a half hour, Derek finally slid out without a word, and Caspian continued with his work.

Nothing compared to the reward when, a quarter to seven, the motor finally roared to life, and the grin that cracked his face bore all the satisfaction of a clever youth well-pleased with himself. Daedalus himself couldn’t have done better. With a sigh of complete contentment, Caspian stretched up from his place on the floor, his knees popping back into place, and went to collect a clean rag to erase all the marks of his labour from the varnished portions of the bike’s body. He hadn’t paid much attention to the paint job on those thin pieces of metal that held all the mechanisms together up to this point, but he had to admire the deep tones of onyx and purple that sparkled subtly once he’d wiped all traces of grease away. He wiped another rag across the seat, and then carefully set to work on the headlights, picking out any dirt that had collected in their crevices.

When he finished, the bike was beautiful, probably more beautiful than when it had rolled out onto the streets for the first time. It glimmered slightly in the white neon lights wrapped along the ceiling, and Caspian stood back for a moment just to admire it. Perfect.

With the adrenaline of the job fading, he finally realised how tired he was. He’d been at this since eight that morning, and besides the brief interlude with Derek, he hadn’t bothered to take a break. His father had often been guilty of the same behaviour at home, but his mother was there to bully him into eating or resting, and then there were seven children to burst into the workshop and distract him, make him smile, require his attention with school projects or scuffles. The joy of a job well done was a reward by itself, certainly—but Caspian wondered if his father hadn’t enjoyed those moments of interruption even more.

He didn’t want to regret his choice to come here. He didn’t want to miss home, miss the workshop and the capital, his father and his brothers and all their friends, their extended family. His mother and his sister, rolling their eyes endlessly in a house of boys while simultaneously indulging them, joining in their silliness. He wiped off his hands absentmindedly, but in his mind he saw the glowing table set with his mother’s dishes, given to her by her mother, and he heard the deep rumble of the mechanics’ voices in the front room, waiting for the dinner bell to ring, he heard his brothers’ laughter and saw his sister’s blush.

The scene he saw was so radically different from the bright, sterile light in the garage, the steel countertops and unfinished stone floor.

But the bike still glimmered there, and any glow that he felt the lack of, it magnified twenty times over.

He sank so deeply into his contemplation, running the same rag over his knuckles over and over again, that he jumped slightly when the knock finally came, and he scrambled to put away his gloves and goggles, the ledge he’d had the bike propped on, and as he hit the button to raise the garage door, he grabbed a broom and sent a few spare shards of glass scattering.

The night air rushed in on the heels of his client, and he gulped it down gratefully. Lewin preferred to keep the house shut up for the most part; they were close enough to the Canal that the humidity had the potential to accelerate any rusting. The constant air conditioning drove Caspian crazy, though. It tasted stale and stuffy, and the wind that rolled off the water was his bliss. Until, of course, the door has crept up high enough that the owner of the Hydra could duck under to reclaim his bike.

Caspian took an instant disliking to him. He looked like he was seventeen or eighteen, with blonde hair that hung too far into his eyes and surveying eyes that glanced around the workshop and then instantly dismissed it. Closer to the capital, copies of this exact individual owned the streets, and Caspian remembered all the days of posturing, the drag races, the endless jobs that made his father shake his head and his mother purse her lips, and the flashing lights of emergency vehicles spiralling down the streets to collect the remaining limbs of whatever idiots had crashed. The owner of the Hydra was just such an idiot, and Caspian wished dearly that he could simply refuse to return the bike. This kid could buy his way out of any cell and any rehab, and with one look Caspian knew that he hadn’t learned anything from the last crash he’d been in. Or caused.

“Is it done?” the kid demanded, and Caspian gestured to the bike without saying anything in response.

“It should run like new, Mister…”

“How much do I owe you?”

Caspian barely managed to keep himself from rolling his eyes too visibly. Most of Lewin’s clients were old friends who had been coming to this shop for years. Most of them wanted to chat, wanted to know how their vehicles had been fixed, what they could do for upkeep. Several of them had wanted to know his name and his father’s name, and he was hopeful for the networking opportunities this apprenticeship might give him. This apparently nameless boy was clearly not one of those clients.

“It’s 1500,” he told him, and watched with his arms folded across his chest as his guest counted out bills, handing them over in a clean stack.

As soon as the transaction was over the boy straddled the bike, experimentally revving the motor. It flared blue for a moment and then settled into a steady hum, and the kid laughed his approval and grinned. “Thanks,” he called to Caspian, and then ran off into the night, leaving the exasperated apprentice staring after him, pissed that anyone that thoughtless should own a Hydra.

He sighed and rolled his shoulders forward, trying to shed some of the day’s stress. The popped and creaked, but they didn’t feel any better. This was ridiculous. He needed a smoke.

He locked the boy’s fee in the cash box and then went over to his jacket, hanging on a rack by the door to the house. It was an old, beat up, brown leather jacket with scars all over it, a hand-me-down from his oldest brother. It would fall to pieces eventually, but for now it did the job. He pulled a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from the right hand pocket, and strode back out to the entrance of the garage, the door still gaping wide open. He glanced behind him, at the work he still had to do. It would wait. He had done good work today, he knew it, and for now he would let it all rest. The morning would bring new motivation to strap his gloves back on and get to work, but for now he was tired, and the darkness seemed incredibly inviting.

He turned his back on the garage and walked easily towards the water’s edge, the blue street lights giving everything a slightly surreal glow. For a moment, the blue and gold patterns on the water held him mesmerised, but as his eyes lazily followed along the shapes he realised that one of them was a murky silhouette. He looked across the way, wondering who else might be out here with him, when most of the waterfront had already closed down for the evening. Closer to the centre of the city, he knew the streets would still be alive with laughter and music, but out here the evening’s peace was an unspoken agreement, emptying the streets and sidewalks as early as seven, and leaving them deserted until morning. He found that he mostly didn’t mind it— it provided good time for reflection, for unwinding at the end of the day. His work hours required enough exertion that he didn’t necessarily want to be stimulated through his leisure hours as well.

But who else was out here, tasting the night with him? No one leaned against the railing on the other side, and most of the windows stood empty. Except one— there it was. She was three or four floors up, he couldn’t tell, with one leg curled around a bar in the balustrade, shoulders scrunched up and leaning forward on her elbows. She was dressed all in white, but her shoulders were bare and she looked cold.

He squinted at her, trying to make out her face, but the stationary street lamps on the Gallery side didn’t cast light high enough that he could see any detail. Was she looking at him? His stomach did a weird flip at the thought, and before he could overthink it, he waved.

She waved back, her small white hand just darting out to brush against the air, and he grinned. He decided he liked that she was there, sharing his solitude. He shook out a cigarette and fumbled with his lighter. His granddad had given it to him when he turned sixteen, along with his first pack, and had laughed when his mother pursed her lips in disapproval. She couldn’t stand the smell; her family didn’t smoke at all, but she had married into a family where the after-dinner light was tradition.

The lighter sparked when he clicked it open, and he had to try three more times before it flared to life. A moment later he exhaled a cloud of smoke, revelling in the taste of it. He would have to do some repair work on the lighter soon. The internal blue energy was nearly run dry, and the wiring was ready to burn away. He examined it more closely, running his finger over the delicate silver engravings that had been smoothed down and nearly worn away over time. Maybe in his spare time he could touch them up.

He leaned heavily against the railing, the cigarette slowly burning away and tumbling into the Canal slipping past. The scent of cloves hung thick in the air, and the familiarity melted away the tension from the day that still clung to his shoulders. And as he relaxed, the world expanded, the horizons rushing out until they vanished into the darkness, and he grinned. Here he was, already a few weeks into his apprenticeship, successfully completing his jobs and running his master’s garage. His brothers had all chosen the way of familiarity, and they were all happy and well-situated in the Capital, but he had to wonder if they realised how much they were missing. It was on nights like this that he could taste the possibilities, that the air was electrified with novelty and eccentricity. There had been moments, back home, when he had grasped at this kind of exhilaration, staring up at the constellations swirling around his head. He had dreamed of carving a new road into the world. His unadulterated optimism, still innocent of any touch of reality or cynicism, swelled up in him until he thought he would burst. The entire world glowed around him, the blue discs of the Garage bobbing slowly up and down and the ornate lights of the Gallery bathing the world in gold.

He’d grown up thinking that the Gallery was simply impractical, but staring out at it now, his breathing slow and steady, his cigarette dangling loosely from his fingertips, he could see more clearly practicality had specifically been sacrificed for beauty. Recolouring the blue light to make it burn gold was a waste of energy, but it softened everything it touched. Every curve in the railings or columns on the waterside buildings wasted materials, but they flowed together so sweetly. He had thought the Gallery must be dull compared with the electrified Capital in the heart of the Garage, but looking out over it, he revised his assessment. No, it didn’t spark, like the Garage, but it…pulsed. He couldn’t explain it, his sense that something was alive over there, but it made his heart beat a little faster and he leaned forward more eagerly, eyes desperately trying to pierce the shadows.

He glanced up again, at the balcony girl. She was still there, clinging tightly to her ledge, apparently lost in contemplation of the night, just like him. He squinted at her, trying to make out more detail, but it was too dark to tell. It was just as well. He imagined her with small, pink lips and wide eyes. Her hair was pulled back, he couldn’t even tell what colour it was. He wanted to call out to her, or wave again, or something— anything to acknowledge that they shared this moment.

He was still contemplating what he might do, how he might draw her attention, when her balcony was suddenly flooded with light. For a moment she glowed, the golden background causing her to swell in the darkness, like a queen overlooking her kingdom. In the next instant, though, she spun around, and he watched in rapt attention as another figure stalked into the scene.This one was tall and dark, too slight to be a man, but with a presence that made Caspian shiver even from his position safely on the other side of the Canal. The first girl, his quiet companion of the night, curtsied deeply to the intruder, and then stood stiffly while they spoke. She scurried into the light-filled room beyond them, and a moment later the black villain stalked after her, vanishing behind a curtain that swept against the balcony’s floor.

Caspian took one last long drag of his cigarette and then with a flick of his wrist let it tumble into the water below. His senses swam with the clove-coloured cloud long after he had walked away from his place along the railing, just as a small white hand darted behind his eyes long after he went to bed.


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