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Unfinished Business

Bingo Hall Stableyard

Subdued calliaphone wakes, with Coppelia on her lap and a blanket round her shoulders. The little dancer appears to be sleeping peacefully, head resting on her arms, feet tucked beneath her. But, as

Subdued calliaphone stirs, so does she. Stretching out her arms, then bringing them to her face. Little hands curl, and she mimes rubbing where her eyes would be, then looks up.

Subdued calliaphone is yawning, eyes shut, mouth wiiiiide open. It is a good yawn, a long, satisfying sort of a yawn. And when it's done, she looks down. And blinks.

Subdued calliaphone says, "oh!" Coppelia places hands on hips, and looks up at her, little blank face an enquiry and a greeting. Which somehow, has the capacity to render

Subdued calliaphone shy, like no-one else ever has. Freckles flush over pinkish, and a gap-toothed grin appears. Words evade her, but Coppelia doesn't seem to mind. Unfurling herself in one fluid movement, she steps off

Subdued calliaphone's lap, and begins a set of graceful exercises - rotating her ankles, wrists and head, and extending her arms from shoulders to fingertips.

Subdued calliaphone lights a cigarette and watches as Coppelia moves into a series of plies. She's in no hurry, she's got a lot to think about. Really, an awful lot. She puffs smoke away from the dancer . . . eleves. . .rond de jambes. . .

Subdued calliaphone shuffles her Top Trumps cards absently, and flicks the pages of Ari's book. Taking in the pictures of the toaster's adventures, half-imagining what the text might say. But

Subdued calliaphone's attention is a fickle thing today, her mind on other things, her gaze shifting round the stableyard. From Coppelia. . .battements tendus. . .degasses. . .frappes. . . to the traction engine, back to the book, and finally. . . Wallace.

Subdued calliaphone bites her lip. Wallace snoozes quietly in the sun, and on his cushions rests . . .one accordion, one tin-opener. Both silent. Out of the corner of her eye

Subdued calliaphone is aware of glissades and arabesques, but the furrows in her forehead may be more to do with gears and gauges, cylinders and sprockets . . . and the mystery of a component made of chance.

Subdued calliaphone sighs, stubs out her cigarette, and pockets her Top Trumps cards, as Coppelia's arm sweeps down to rest.

Subdued calliaphone looks at her little companion. "you all done?" a nod. hands onto hips. "i . . . i think i need to walk a bit. well, y'know. . ."she indicates the crutches, "hop. gotta get some exercise meself." Coppelia nods approvingly.

Subdued calliaphone extricates herself from the haybale nest, with a certain amount of struggling and awkwardness, and slips her arms into the crutches. She turns to Coppelia.

Subdued calliaphone says "you coming with? if I take the train to Pleasantville, i could drop you home." Coppelia considers and, with a curtsey, she consents.

Subdued calliaphone grins, albeit distractedly. She extends one arm, and when Coppelia is safely settled on her shoulder, she puts her rivet gun into its holster and sets off, at a limp.

Pleasantville

Subdued calliaphone arrives here, passing through from the station, headed east. She is managing better with the crutches now, smacking fewer passersby on the shins. Which is a mercy, since

Subdued calliaphone is clearly far too deep in thought to be paying much attention to where she's going. On her shoulder, looking altogether more alert, is a little metal Ballerina - her exquisite poise unaffected by Callia's hopalong gait.

Subdued calliaphone is, in fact, so lost in thought, she does not notice the CRACKLE of static from the jungle nearby, as she vanishes through the gate.

Map Square 14,24 (just outside Pleasantville)

Subdued calliaphone is out of the gate and travelling east, with Coppelia on her shoulder and rivet gun holstered at her side. She is so deeply lost in thought, that she fails to notice the smell of ozone, hanging in the air nearby. Or the CRACKLE of static.

The Drive is here and gone, unnoticed. In a CRACKLE of raw improbability. Only the faint smell of ozone lingers, to suggest it was ever here.

Map Square 15, 24 (1 east of Pleasantville)

Subdued calliaphone continues southeast, thinking aloud at her little mechanical passenger ". . .so if Egbert's just a tin-opener. . .and the traction engine's just a traction engine. . .and the special made you more than what you were . . . I wonder what's with. . .

Map Square 16, 23 (1 SE)

Subdued calliaphone crosses the river northwest-to-southeast. With some difficulty, but managing not to spill either herself or Coppelia. Her train of thought continues, "..Cordy. He was like you once, y'see. But then . . . it went away. Unless I imagined it. . ."

Subdued calliaphone's voice fades out as she disappears southeastwards, tucking her Top Trumps cards back into her pocket, where they had nearly worked their way loose

Map Square 17, 22 (1 more SE)

Subdued calliaphone passes through from the northwest, pushing ferns out of the way with her crutches. Coppelia clings to her dungaree strap, watching the jungle scenery go by.

Subdued calliaphone is still chuntering away, to herself. ". . .I do imagine things y'know. I mean, not everything. . .i guess i was wrong about that, but still. Like this business with. . ." her voice fades as she continues southeastwards

Map Square 18, 21 (1 more SE)

Subdued calliaphone is slowing down a little as she comes in from the northwest. It's hard work coming all this way on foot, but she seems to be relishing the exercise, after so long confined to sofa.

Subdued calliaphone's conversation with herself goes on (Coppelia listening, but not interrupting). . . ". . .the Drive. Is that alive, like you?"Coppelia, however, does not have the answer to this question.

Subdued calliaphone continues "I would've liked a chance, y'know? To talk to it . . . get properly acquainted. But I guess some things are just meant t'be a mystery, even with machines. . ."

Subdued calliaphones voice is lost in the sound of wind through trees, as she continues to the east

Map Square 19, 21 (1 E)

Subdued calliaphone stumbles a little, on the path through from the west. But she doesn't fall, and Coppelia stays poised as ever, on her shoulder.

Subdued calliaphone says, "sorry, gettin' tired. But we're nearly there. What was I sayin'?" but she's lost the thread of it now, and focuses just on getting herself and her passenger safely east. Not far to go now, and a rest when they get there

Map Square 20, 21 (1E)

Subdued calliaphone, limping in from the west with Coppelia on her shoulder, is so very nearly home and dry, when a prickling on the back of her neck causes her to turn.

Subdued calliaphone freezes.

The Drive is standing not ten yards away from her, electricity arcing between its heatsink fins.

Subdued calliaphone eyes are dinner-plate wide. On her shoulder, tiny copper hands close tight on a dungaree strap. Reaching up to steady Coppelia, she finds the little metal ballerina is trembling.

Subdued calliaphone says, "gluhhh!"

The Drive says nothing. It doesn't need to. Its aura - of static and ozone and unfinished business - says plenty all by itself.

Subdued calliaphone, white-faced, sets Coppelia on the ground. "Run!" she whispers, "Keep going east, two klicks and you're home. Go."

Subdued calliaphone turns to face the drive as Coppelia vanishes in a gleam of copper, lost among the leaves. "I'm not lookin' for any trouble." She backs up a pace to prove it, but one hand rests on the holster of her rivet gun.

The Drive still says nothing. And then, almost playfully, it discharges a small bolt of lightning at the ground near calliaphone's feet. Almost playful - if it wasn't quite so loaded with hostility.

Subdued calliaphone yalps and almost falls, her Top Trumps cards scattering from her pocket onto the forest floor. "Hey, cutitout! I said I'm not looking for trouble! I'm not gonna bother you no more, I swear it. Trypsies Honour."

Subdued calliaphone crosses her fingers behind her back, in the Trypsy Salute.

The Drive, charging itself for another 'attack', pauses. And instead of blasting calliaphone to kingdom come, it sends out a shower of smaller sparks, which fade to carbon as they touch the cards.

Subdued calliaphone blinks. "you what?" Another shower of sparks lights upon the scattered cards.

Subdued calliaphone can't quite get her head around this. She says, half to herself, "the . . . no, wait" she loosens her grip on the rivet gun and leans on her crutches, squinting at the Drive. "you . . .wait, what? you wanna. . . play?"

The Drive crackles. It's not exactly a playful sound.

Subdued calliaphone stares, in open-mouthed astonishment "But you didn't even wanna talk. You made that clear as anything. Now what, you had a change of heart? whatissit, you're lon-"

The Drive lets off a warning bolt. Less playful than the first.

Subdued calliaphone flinches. then, finding she's still alive, says. "oh. ohhh. i see. i mean, i see." She looks uncertainly at the machine. And cautiously, submits. "alright. alright, we'll play. But. . ." she gulps, then lifts her chin "m-my rules."

Subdued calliaphone rattles on, before she can lose courage, or be rendered crispy. "Oneroundonecardeach I- I-dealyouchoosethecategory. If I win. . .we talk. A-and" she pauses. Fair's fair. "If I lose. . .?"

Subdued calliaphone looks up, and waits. The answer comes as a CRACK of static.

Subdued calliaphone pales. whispers, ". . .we fight?" CRACKLE.

Subdued calliaphone looks round for a moment, as if hoping for . . . rescue? escape? But the game is on, and she knows it. Shakily, she lowers herself to the floor beside the cards.

Subdued calliaphone shuffles, hands a-trembling. And deals two cards, face down. One for her, one for the Drive. Then she sets the deck aside, and looks up. "I'll turn yours over first."

Subdued calliaphone takes silence for consent, and turns the card. It bears an image of the Caterham 7 Superlight.

Subdued calliaphone whistles. "oh, nice." For a moment, she's forgotten about games and stakes and wagers, and she's all about the lightweight chassis, and the 1.8L k-series.

Subdued calliaphone is recalled to the present by a spark from the Drive. It lands beside the category labelled "power output." She winces. "160 bhp." Would she have chosen that? Maybe, maybe.

Subdued calliaphone says, "alright, let's see what i got, shall we?" And she turns over her card. Her eyes widen, and her face floods with relief and triumph. "Huhh. Er . . ."

Subdued calliaphone moves her hand away, revealing the Westland Sea-King Helicopter. She looks up, grinning. "aw, i'm sorry. we're talking 1660 shaft hp for this baby. i guess that means i- hey, what're you doing?"

The Drive is charging itself for an attack. And not a dummy one, this time.

Subdued calliaphone gasps. And suddenly, in her hand, is her rivet gun. At this range, even she can't miss. She fires a salvo, straight into the Drive. The light is sudden, blinding, the noise overwhelming.

Subdued calliaphone is knocked back against the outpost wall. There's that stench of ozone, choking her again, and

The Drive's inch-thick titanium casing splits open. The machine lies still.

Subdued calliaphone sits up, muscles aching, dungarees smouldering with burned patches. She tries fitfully to catch her breath, feeling the raw Improbability gradually fading from the air. She tries to light a cigarette, but her hands are shaking.

A metallic creaking jars her out of her state of dazed non-comprehension. She stares at the jagged edges of the Drive's remains, the jagged edges that are now trying to bend themselves back into shape. . .

Subdued calliaphone says "It's over." And, a little more forcefully, "I won." A rip in the machine's casing curls upwards, seeming to smile at her. "I won" she repeats. "Fair'n'square." She holds out the rivet gun. "Don't even think of it."

The Drive lets off a little spark, and the edges of the casing begin to seal themselves back together.

Subdued calliaphone swallows. "No. No way. If we talk, that's not how it starts." And she fires again, until the gun's empty. Shards of metal spin off in all directions like a firework, and the casing lies bare, exposing the shifting, writhing circuit boards beneath.

Subdued calliaphone hurls the empty rivet gun at the Drive. There's a flash of light and pain, and then only numbness.

Ace High

calliaphone comes to her senses lying on the cobblestones by the clocktower. It's a while before she can determine where she is. And longer still before she can make a guess at how she got here.

calliaphone cannot reconcile the two. After a while, she gives up the attempt, and drifts back into sleep.

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