“And that is why he needs eyes.” Carl said. The automaton picked himself up and dusted off his pot-belly, causing a horrible metal-on-metal screech. “He has the capability to pinpoint where he’s needed, so long as he’s in hearing range or you have the Call Fob, but he is incapable of seeing objects in his way.”
Hettie tentatively picked up the device that Hugo had thrown. She bent a fragile gear that had been twisted out of shape. “It seems impossible to me.”
“Things always seem impossible when you don’t understand them.” Carl said, watching the iron eyes.
“Then… could you help me understand?” She asked. “I don’t want to be a Temperer.” She quickly added. “I won’t do anything illegal.”
Carl smiled. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Hettie set the device down. “You’re not going to send me back, are you? Or kick me out? Geneve said that I might could work as a shop keeper. I-“ She stopped. I can’t just force myself on them though.
“It’s been decided. You are going to make a fine shopkeeper. Rebecca is a bit prickly for our shoppers tastes.”
“Rebecca Boyd. We call her Becca. She’s one of our Temperers, currently in Nylisle.”
“Why don’t you just get liscences?” Hettie burst out.
Laughter came from behind her. Eyes darkening, she turned to see Hugo.
“Oh, that’sa sweet one. ‘Just get liscences’.” He stopped laughing instantly, features intense. “Solderin’ ignorant Case.”
“Better ignorant than incapable of learning.” Carl remarked calmly.
“Then let’s ‘learn’ ‘er. Here’s how things roll in the Seolfor, sweetheart. If you’re rich, you get anything you want. If you have money and the rich people like you and your family, then you get some of what you want. If you’re dirt poor, live in the Crease, and mean nothing to the High Brass, you get nothin’.”
“Maybe it’s because we can’t trust thieves and crooks.” Hettie said coldly.
“Maybe that’s cause you know we want revenge.”
“Revenge for what? Trying to put laws in place to protect people?”
“What kind of law keeps people from building machines to make they’re already solderin’ miserable lives a little better?! Keeps us from being able to protect ourselves when the High Brass decides we’re just in the way and wants to kill us off? Keeps us from gettin’ enough food to keep our families from starving to death?!” Hugo slammed a fist on the doorway, face red with fury. “Your solderin’ laws don’t do anything but keep you comfy and us dying. Enjoy the high life, Case.”
Hettie was shocked into silence.
“Starving?” She asked after a moment. Hugo looked at her angrily.
“What, didn’t notice?”
“But… none of you are starving.”
“Guess what? We’re illegal Temperers! Go hang around the streets a while and you’ll see what the Crease means. And if we’re lucky, some cutthroat will get a hold of you.”
A hiss of steam came from the corner. “Temper temper.” The robot said in his strange voice.
“Shut the forge up, Nemo!”
“What’s the matter in here?” Mina came bustling in through the side door, wiping her hands on her apron.
Carl stood and addressed her. “Hettie is having difficulties understanding the way of life here in the Crease. Hugo has taken offense at this. Nemo, please return to your guard post.”
As Nemo stumbled off, Mina shook her head. “Hugo, stop this.”
“What? Telling Ca-“
“Hatred. You have absolute hatred for all nobles.”
“No. I hate that they’ve been blinded.” His chest rose and fell from his burst of erratic arguments.
“Then stop making Hettie feel more alienated than she is.” Mina scolded.
“I can stand up for myself.” Hettie said coldly, though she directed it more at Hugo than Mina.
“Yeah. To a housefly.” Hugo sneered.
Hettie stood up, walked to Hugo, and smacked him on the cheek.
The instant it happened, all the hotness in her head evaporated, leaving a cold dread.
“My apologies.” She said to Mina and Carl, keeping up the cold façade out of pride in front of Hugo, but the remorse was real. She hoped she could convey it through her eyes.
Hettie turned and left.
* * * * *
As she made her way up the rickety stairs, she ran, almost literally, into Geneve.
“Sorry!” She said reflexively, grabbing at books that had slid off the stack in Geneve’s arms.
Geneve, however, didn’t give a brass tack. “What did you say to Hugo? When everything went quiet?” She demanded.
“I- you were listening?” Hettie fumbled. Geneve half-smiled.
“There are no secrets in Temper Mints.”
“Then you’ll soon find out I struck him.”
“Oh, I’ve got to see his face.” Geneve said, with little emotion. She scurried down the stairs.
Hettie looked around the hallway. Suddenly, every door looked alike. Once she’d been brought in unconscious, the other time escorted by Mina. Of the seven doors to choose from, she didn’t know which was hers.
She sighed. Nothing about this can be easy, can it? Nothing about Temper Mints. About the Crease. Forge, about life!
She pushed open a door.
The room was decorated with flowers. Hundreds of blossoms permeated the air with a sweet smell. It was vivid, a contrast to her own stark room. The cheery space was most likely Mina’s… she couldn’t see Geneve that girly anymore, and Becca didn’t sound like the type. Perhaps cactuses, if based on Carl’s ‘prickly’ comment.
She closed the door and moved to the next one. This room was less crowded, but far more offensive. Large photographs of scantily dressed women were pasted on the walls. Hugo. She moved on.
This door had a surprise behind it. A surprise named Drake.
“Rust!” She said in surprise. I didn’t even realize I knew this much Crease slang…
Drake looked up from his book.
“Drake.” She said nervously. “I’m sorry… I can’t find my room.”
“Hugo deserved the slap.” Drake commented, getting off his bed and coming to the door.
“You know too?” Hettie said, almost faintly.
“There are no secrets in Temper Mints.”
* * * * *
No wonder Drake and Geneve heard everything. I can hear everything, Henrietta thought. From her room she could hear everything in the meeting room below.
“Must’ve been a shocker to ‘im. No one’s touched that pretty face of his before.” Geneve was saying.
“Aye. I shouldn’t laugh, though.” Mina chuckled.
“Perhaps it was a slap into reality for Hugo. He’s a child with the body and skills of a man.” Carl said.
“Plenty of girls have noticed the body, trust me.” Geneve said slyly.
“Och.” Mina said, but you could hear her smile. “No need for that sort of crudeness.”
“Where d’you think he went?” Mina asked.
“Probably to P.S.R.T.” Geneve said. “He likes to scare us into thinking he’s going to switch sides.”
“I hope that he’s going to retrieve Becca from the station.” Carl put in.
“You mean you think he might actually be doing his responsibility?” Geneve said with sarcastic shock.
“Och.” Mina said scoldingly again. “Responsibilty! That reminds me.” She said in a sudden change of tone. “Hettie’s going to try out being shopkeeper today.”
Hettie opened the door and walked downstairs. Apparently, eavesdropping was common in Temper Mints. No need for anyone to send someone up.
Hettie paused at the foot of the stairs. I just did something. Proactively, so no one else had to. Is this the first step into becoming one of them? Becoming not me?
She went into the meeting room.
“So how do I start?”
Geneve’s lips curved upward. Carl was inspecting a gear so closely it was nearly imbedded in his beard. Mina beamed.
“Here, dear. Into the shop.” Mina bustled into the crowded shop-room.
Hettie reflected on how she didn’t smell the copper now. Just… two days? She stood behind the counter.
“Now, do you know how to work a cash register?”
“I- is that this?” She gestured to the machine on the counter.
Mina’s smile faltered. “Yes, dear. We’ve got a ways to go.”
* * * * *
The door bell rang. In walked a man.
"Hello, sir." The shopkeeper said, smiling prettily at him. He smiled back, a little wolfishly.
"Hello, lady. I've not seen you here before."
She giggled slightly. "I'm new... I'm from Tacksworth."
"Ah, Tacksworth! A lovely borough with lovely people."
She flushed. "Thank you, sir. Can I help you with anything?"
"Yes. I'm in need of an Analytical Engine."
She walked out from behind the desk. "Of course, sir."
"Of course, Albert." She smiled brilliantly, then turned and moved through the crowded shop.
Smooth. Very smooth, The man thought.
"And do you have a name?"
"I do, Albert." She tapped a machine. "But unlike our Analyticals, it's not for sale."
He frowned. "How much?"
She held up the tag. "Two hundred fifty dysks."
The man handed her the money with no hesitation. She moved back to the counter and slipped it into the cash register. The man picked up the machine and started to leave. She opened the door for him. He paused, halfway out.
"If you're ever in need of legal advice," He smiled wolfishly again. "You can find me at Emery and Nocks Legal."
The girl smiled again. "I just might, Albert." She closed the door.
Mina came in, clapping and beaming. "Well done, Hettie! Very smooth."
Geneve nodded her approval, a twist of a smile on her lips.
But Hettie was burning inside.
Emery and Nocks Legal.
* * * * *
Hugo was the fourth customer.
"Hello, I'm here for a pistol." He smirked, leaning against the counter.
"Sorry, no sales to business members." Hettie said sweetly.
"Solderin' shame." He jumped up on the counter and pushed his coat-tails back. "So how was your day, honey?"
"It'll be better when my counter's clear."
"Women. So possessive. 'Not in my house' or 'get out of my shop'."
Hettie felt irritable. Her dress was scratchy, the shop was hot, and Hugo was annoying.
"Don't you have an errand to run? Something to build? Somewhere to be?"
"I do have one little errand." He bent down and kissed her.
Hettie had never been kissed by anyone but Benedict before. For a moment, her mind refused to believe that there was anyone but Benedict there.
Then she got her sense back and shoved against Hugo's chest.
"You hate me!" Why that came out in the stead of 'I hate you' Hettie wasn't certain.
"No. I hate what nobles do to us." Hugo said. Hettie noted the us through a numbed mind. "You're not a noble. Your face is bruised, your hands are covered in machine grease and dust, and you don't have on silks anymore."
"Well I'm so glad I finally was able to meet your dressing requirements." She snapped. Her face felt like it was being held in front of a bonfire. "I'd advise you not to go around kissing married women."
"Your husband is a monster." Hugo said, as though that solved everything.
"I'm still married to him!"
"Get a Disunity."
Again, the name Nocks and Emery Legal flashed in Hettie's mind.
"What, so I can spend the rest of my life verbally sparring with a-" Hettie stopped. She didn't want this conversation. She didn't want to be with Hugo. She didn't continue her sentence, but instead walked out of the shop room.
There are no secrets in Temper Mints.
* * * * *
"It's all just happened to fast." She whispered sternly to herself as she paced in her stark little room. "In the space of three days so much has happened. He's insensitive for thinking that just because a man is evil you can forget two and a half years over night. Not only insensitive, but obviously inexperienced." She admired the irony of a lady having more experience than a Crease-born, then continued.
"Besides, I can't run from Benedict for forever. He's the richest man in the country. I know how much he wants my necklace. They key. Whatever it is." She paused. "Perhaps Carl could tell me just what sort of Tempering this necklace has."
But I don't want to go back downstairs.
Hettie sighed. She didn't know what she wanted. Everywhere seemed to have a dead end. She'd contemplated continuing on to Great Aunt Cythna's and making up some story that would ruin Benedict's reputation. But no one would listen to a poor girl over a rich man, no matter who she might have been once. Hettie had thought about moving on. These Crease-born hadn't been cutthroat. But you can't judge the chain by a single link.
What am I running from here anyways? Hugo? The fact that he's arrogant? Or the fact that he treads on unhealed bruises? Or perhaps I'm can't adjust to low class life.
And what about Nocks and Emery Legal? Is it the Nocks I met in the basement? Oh... I should have freed Nocks and Edmund. Soldering screws...
Thoughts such as these make for a bad night's sleep, and Hettie resigned herself to another exhausting day.
Well, Hugo can shove it in a crucible.
She drifted off.