How could I resist? A Galatea to my Pygmalion – but something infinitely more intriguing than an ordinary woman. I’d read about sailors who’d caught a mermaid in the South Seas and tried to bring her back to Portsmouth. They kept her in a barrel of water on the deck, but it seemed she jumped ship not far out of the harbour, waved the men goodbye and ducked under the dark, cold roiling sea. But if I could create something that knew no home but mine? The mech-monkey had been easy, comparatively. This was far more complex, far more challenging. I do like my things to be beautiful and the mermaid had to be exquisite. It took two months of solid work, the mech-monkey labouring madly by my side. Sometimes it refused to participate. I just thought it was being, well, monkey-ish. After I yelled and threatened to turn it into the guts of a harpsichord, it obeyed, albeit bitterly, dropping things, straightening things that were meant to be bent and bending things that were meant to be straight. In the end, though, she was finally ready. Polished brass for skin, covered with engraved scales, an articulated tale where the smoke came out (a farting monkey was one thing, a farting mermaid another entirely). Her irises were emeralds, her lips embossed gold. Her hair I bought from a magnificent whore in Spitalfields who let me take the whole glorious flaming red torrent for twenty guineas. I spent another twenty guineas having it made into the finest wig you’ve ever seen, then fitted it tightly over the metal egg of the skull. The breasts were my pride: jutting things, ruby tipped, inviting, hard to the touch, and cool in the mouth. I thought about making her a voice-box, but then decided that her smile was enough, the way the corners of her mouth slid back like a sled across an icy lake. The monkey, needless to say, hated her. My clever little creature, so smart, so learned, such a happy companion when we were alone. And I started to neglect him, poor little sod. But in all honesty, dear reader, I thought her too large for him to do anything about.
The android toddler, Parthenia Rook reflected, had in the end been more dangerous than the zombie photographers. But far more dangerous than either was the kirchenstreuselkuchen at the Café Gefahrlichefrau in Vörpalsberg, where Parthenia was seated in a small, private room with a piece of the cake in front of her. If she didn’t restrain herself, she could eat enough kirchenstreuselkuchen to burst an anaconda wide open. She knew this from experience.
“Excuse me, Fraulein Doktorin, but aren’t you Parthenia Rook?”
Parthenia looked up to see a handsome young man of about her age at the door holding a copy of The Journal of Theoretical Lepidoptery.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you, Dr. Rook, but I’ve read your monograph on Zemeros dinonoctis and I’m afraid I’m a hopeless fan. It was the most fascinating work I’ve ever read on any butterfly whatsoever.”
“Please sit down,” said Parthenia guardedly. “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” She took a small vial she kept for special occasions out of her pocket and tapped a few aromatic drops of its contents over her kirchenstreuselkuchen.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” said the young man.
“Lepidoptery symposium?” she said. The young man shook his head.
“Martial arts fight-to-the-death benefit performance?”
“I’m afraid not.”
The young man smiled slowly. It was not a nice smile. “Closer.”
Parthenia lurched up from her chair, but the young man appeared to be at least as fast as she was and shot her in the chest with a burst of some electrical weapon. She collapsed to the floor, quivering.
“It’s a new type,” he said cheerfully. “That shot should keep you paralyzed, though fully conscious, for oh … call it twenty minutes,” he said. “More than enough time, actually, to eat your kirchenstreuselkuchen for you. I can’t resist these, I don’t mind telling you. But you should know that. You see,” he said, sitting and forking up a huge bite of the cake, “I’m your identical twin brother.”
Parthenia said nothing, but the young man raised his eyebrows. “You don’t believe me? Despite father’s remarkable skill with genetics? But it’s true, dear sister.”
He continued to eat the kirchenstreuselkuchen, making little humming noises of pleasure. “Of course,” he mumbled through a mouthful, “I was raised by the Bonobo King.”
Then his eyes glazed over, and he collapsed on top of Parthenia. He should be out for at least 30 minutes, Parthenia calculated, if he’d ingested enough of the knockout drops she had put on the cake.
Parthenia spent the remaining seventeen minutes gazing wistfully at a crumb of kirchenstreuselkuchen that had fallen only three inches from her face.
(Being a sequel to Neostalgia.)
Joe’s association with the Ballet Mechanique brought him steadily closer to respectability.
The first hint came soon after he began helping out with dancer maintenance, when his name appeared in the program. Since “Joe the Wrench” was deemed unsuitable for the opera-and-ballet crowd, it was his full name, Josephus Wren, that appeared.
Then he had to wear a hat whenever entering or exiting the building. Not the soot-stained, crumple-rimmed bowler he wore around his own shop, but a crisp top hat. This he doffed as soon as he entered the ballet’s backstage workroom — after asking permission of Miss Linn, who sat in the corner, snipping choreography into long rolls of player-paper.
But the biggest impetus toward respectability was Eona Bellinghew, the mechaninque’s human prima. Joe watched from the wings, entranced by the grace in her every motion, so sinuous, so smooth compared to the lines of automatons who mimicked and accompanied her. He began leaving his crisp hat on, started wearing white shirts, and even managed to keep one or two free of axle-grease. He rebuilt the gears of half the troupe and there was talk of his becoming a partner in the theater. He created a bouquet of mechanical roses and — with Miss Linn’s help — made them bud and bloom in their own miniature dance.
Of her many suitors, Joe was the one Eona selected to accompany her to the Grand Duke’s ball. At first, he was dazzled by his proximity to her, and she shone more brightly even than she did on stage. Soon, however, he saw that the curve of her arm, the turning of her head, even her smile, all these were not the originals the automatons followed, but echoes of their mechanical movements.
In the workroom the next day, peevish and dispirited in his battered hat, he fidgeted with an en pointe ratchet that wouldn’t lock and his muttered “grind it!” came out louder than he’d expected. Miss Linn’s embarrassed turn of the head Joe recognized at once. This was the genuine, original gesture. His heart bloomed like a mechanical rose.
The opera-and-ballet crowd still prefers the Mechanique, but, over the last few months, many of the more discerning aficionados of the dance have come to prefer the Theater Linn-Wren. No, the shows aren’t as lavish, but there’s a passionate imagination at work that’s been missing from the Mechanique for some time.
Route: Portland, OR to Denver, CO
A. Portland, Oregon
1. Grand adventure is calling!
2. Slide your ass out of bed.
3. Drink a Stumptown or three.
4. Clear IPAs from your head.
5. Gas up the Subie wagon!
6. Put on your old Birks!
7. You’re in Oregon camo.
8. (In the city that works.)
9. Avoid roads with bored cops.
10. (You don’t want to go down.)
11. Stash the weed! Crank some indie!
12. Head straight south out of town.
637 miles later (about 10 hours, 2 minutes):
B. San Francisco, California
1. Cross your choice of big bridges.
2. Pick one – pay the damn toll!
3. Go up and go down.
4. Don’t stop at stop signs – just roll!
5. Go up and go down.
6. Get lost and then again!
7. Do E with a homeless dude.
8. He’ll become your best friend!
9. Good luck finding parking.
10. (Though it helps some to pray.)
11. Kick the homeless dude out.
12. And head south to L.A.
381 miles later (about 6 hours, 26 minutes – up to 7 hours, 50 minutes in traffic):
C. Los Angeles, California
1. Oh! The freeways and cloverleafs!
2. Lots of lights! Lots of cars!
3. Oh! The silicone breast implants!
4. Lots of strip clubs and stars!
5. Don’t turn down the wrong roads.
6. Never trust a valet.
7. Careful snorting while driving.
8. Buy a hands-free coke tray!
9. Party at clubs with ridiculous covers.
10. Drive like you’ve got the heart of a beast!
11. Avoid being on a reality show.
12. Onward, the desert awaits to the east.
792 miles later (about 12 hours, 19 minutes):
D. Albuquerque, New Mexico
1. Take that left turn.
2. (You know that you want to!)
3. Make fun of the town’s name.
4. Just where no one can hear you.
5. It’s a good place for business.
6. And for jobs (Forbes says so).
7. But they drive like they have
8. Nowhere special to go.
9. So just drink some peyote.
10. View the great color fountain!
11. See hot air balloon fiestas.
12. Then head on up the mountain!
449 miles (about 7 hours, 11 minutes):
E. Denver, Colorado
1. Celebrate that you’re here!
2. Your adventure is done.
3. Drink beer and get stoned.
4. Pretend you’re in Oregon!
5. It’s the Mile High City.
6. Snow’s a beautiful scene!
7. Reflect on your adventure.
8. All the places you’ve been!
9. You’ve had traffic and parking.
10. Yes, at times you were vexed.
11. But it’s your destination!
12. Where will you go next?