Despite the Brownies’ best efforts to cajole and provoke Mortimer into talking to them about what he’d been up to in Verk and who his lady-love was, he was tight-lipped throughout the voyage. It took only two days to travel from Verk to Meh and then on through a rift cleverly hidden in a mountain cave to Asininia. The two creatures didn’t do anything inappropriate but their near constant chatter verged on the untoward at times, like a pair of bullies trying to get a rise out of him. It wasn’t until they had at last entered the castle and one of them said something disparaging about his mother that Mortimer finally cracked. He stopped short, grasped the offending sprite and hurled it into a wall.
The Brownie deployed a pair of wings and saved itself just inches from destruction. “Ey! Like beef, mista yusta-be-king?” It made an obscene gesture with its diminutive hands.
“Brah! We going get in trouble now!” the taller one groaned, also extending its wings and quickly getting out of Mortimer’s reach.
“Not!” the shorter one cried in a shrill, piercing tone.
“We not suppose tell him da kine, lolo!” the taller one shouted. Mortimer set his jaw and stormed past them and the two of them flitted down the hall after him.
Eustace was waiting for them. He sat, one ankle crossed over his knee, his chin resting in the palm of his cybernetic hand. He wore a sort of wide headband that pushed his thin black hair from his face and covered his ears. On either side of the red carpet stood four Becile automatons, undressed skeletal humanoid things painted black with green glowing bits and black smoke puffing occasionally out of sync as their boilers were fed with bits of coal and green rock candy. He grinned as he stood and opening his arms wide, he bellowed “Welcome home, brother! I was so worried about you, wherever have you been?”
“You know damned well, Eustace,” Mortimer growled as he approached the throne and glared up at him. “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Oh, this?” he answered with feigned innocence. “I was just keeping it warm. Rather warm. In fact, I think this chair has the impression of my ass on it now so I’d rather like to keep it.”
“The hell you will.”
The Brownies darted to the throne and danced in the air around Eustace’s head. “Ey, kahuna?” one of them addressed the king. “We go? Dis okole gonna get da haole-maka an da kine, yeah?” Its features twisted anxiously.
“Yes, yes, fine, fine, be gone with you,” Eustace waved, annoyed. “Your payment is waiting in the designated location.” He sighed dramatically as the two Brownies darted off out of the throne room to collect their reward. “It’s so hard to find good help these days, especially when the ones we had were so loyal to you.”
“Were?” Mortimer narrowed his eyes and his face quickly drained of all color. As his eyes and lips turned black, Eustace’s eyes lit up and he giggled apprehensively.
“Oh, good. I was hoping you’d get mad enough to turn on me! Bring it, Mortimer, you son-of-a-mime!”
The older Becile’s face was paper-white. In moments, two black diamond-shaped marks appeared below his eyes and he pursed his lips. He opened them to reveal they’d turned bright red and his voice became louder and more resonant than before, almost reverberating straight from his vocal chords as he commanded “Get off my throne, Eustace.”
Eustace grinned wider and stood up. He put his hands on his hips and stuck his tongue out. “No.”
Mortimer looked perplexed, even horrified that his command was not obeyed.
“Your power is great, I’ll give you that. Your mother was a very powerful mime and the fact that you gained even a fraction of her ability is impressive indeed. However,” Eustace said, hopping down and standing just before the line of automatons. “I used my time wisely these last six months. See this?” he asked, tapping his flesh finger to the headband he wore. “Noise cancelling headphones! I’ve recorded you when you’ve used your power of persuasion in the past, Mortimer, and created a pattern to cancel out the frequencies it creates. I am pleased as punch that it’s a resounding success!” He snapped his fingers and the line of automatons responded, two of them taking Mortimer by the arms and holding him. He struggled, but they held fast. “Good thing it works only on biological ears.”
“Oh! There’s something else I’ve been working on now that I have free-rein to do so,” Eustace giggled. “Free reign, get it?” He walked a short distance past Mortimer who struggled in the grip of the heavy robots that held him. “Come. Perhaps when you see what my problem is you can help me solve it!” The robots walked after him and Mortimer had no choice but to follow, his face still white and his blood boiling.
Out on a balcony overlooking the landing deck where the royal airship would normally be launched from, a large contraption stood at the ready. It resembled an anti-aircraft gun if it were built from brass in the Victorian era. The barrel of the weapon was pointed down at the landing pad below. Eustace gleefully leapt up into the gunner’s seat, turned some dials and pulled some leavers and soon the gun was humming and ready.
“The robot ray… you can’t be serious!” Mortimer cried.
“Ah-ah-ah…” Eustace scolded, shaking his finger at his brother who was made to stand next to it. “I’m calling it a Confetti Cannon! Because of the effect it produces, really. I’m trying to own my shortcomings and move past them by embracing them.” He took a deep breath and moved his arms as he did so, pulling the ‘good air’ in and then pushing the ‘bad air’ out. “Confetti. Cannon.” Eustace patted the top of the control panel affectionately. “Observe!”
Mortimer looked where Eustace was looking--at the target below. On the launch pad, two automatons had brought a test subject out within range.
“Sheng Xi!” Mortimer cried, drawing her attention to him.
“Your Highness!!” the large woman screamed back. “I tried to stop him! I’m sorry!”
Mortimer glared at Eustace and his younger brother was clearly delighted by the look on his face. “Let her go!”
Eustace tapped the headband again and shrugged, powering up the weapon with one eye on him.
“Stop!! Stop this! Eustace!!” Mortimer strained against the robots holding him back. They had to push him to the ground in order to keep a hold of him.
“I want you to see how this thing doesn’t work right, Mortimer. Robots, pick him up and make him watch.”
They did as commanded. Mortimer was brought to the edge of the balcony and his head was pushed to face the woman below. Tears ran down her face but she held her head high.
“Sheng Xi… I’m sorry…” Mortimer too began to cry and Eustace smiled so wide he split his lip. “Fall asleep, Sheng Xi!” Mortimer commanded and his ability to persuade was at last effective. The woman’s head dropped just before the brightly colored beam hit her, exploding her body into a shower of mechanical parts and iron filings. Mortimer hung his head and wept. His face returned to its usual color and he slumped in the automaton’s grip.
The hum of the cannon died down as Eustace flipped switches to turn it off and he hopped down and dusted his hands slowly. “You see my problem? All the rest of the staff who were loyal to you had the same thing happen. Just went to bits! I can’t get them to hold together to form a complete robot. Something is still missing.” He pouted when he didn’t get a reaction. Mortimer’s head hung limp and he sobbed softly. “Well, that wasn’t as fun as I’d hoped it would be, but,” he said, lifting Mortimer’s head by the chin. “I can still make you suffer, brother.”
The older man’s eyes were watery, distant. “Why?” he asked, simply.
“Why? Why indeed. Mortimer, you were always father’s favorite. Even if I was more aligned with his beliefs than you were, even if you were always trying to do some sort of good for people or some such, he still loved you. You reminded him of her. Of that, what was her name? You-ay Bing? That mime woman. He never got over her. Ever. My mother, I don’t even think he remembered her name! No. You were his hope, no matter how many times you let him down.” Eustace took a deep breath, let Mortimer’s head hang once again and composed himself. “So, darling Brother, I will become you. From this day forward, I am Mortimer Ignatius Becile and you…” he said, squatting down so as to be able to look him directly in the eye. “You, I will make sure are alive. And that is all. I want to know you are close by and suffering. Without your dreams, without your kingdom, forever. Good-bye, Mortimer.” Eustace stood, turned and marched off back into the castle and the automatons dragged a defeated Mortimer down to the lowest dungeon, a few steps from the sewer, to spend the remainder of his days in isolation.
Three years later, Saturday, February 3rd, 1998, San Diego, California
The bell above the door of an average-looking sandwich shop jingled as Peter Moreau-Walter entered, alone. He scanned the space and slowly approached the counter. On the left, two young women were seated in one of the few booths. One dreamily ate potato chips as her friend talked about her crappy work-week. On the right, two young men, one dark with neat braids pulled back and one light with a crew-cut worked on take-out orders. The man with the braids greeted Peter and he smiled back awkwardly.
“I’m not sure I’m in the right place…” he admitted, pulling a worn, white business card from his pocket. “But I guess I must be?” He held it out for the sandwich shop worker with the braids to inspect.
“You got it,” he said and nodded to his co-worker to take over as he lifted the counter up and came out from behind the work space. He indicated to a door marked “Employees Only” and guided Peter through. Once inside the break room, the man with the braids closed the door behind them. He crossed the room and opened another door on the far wall. “Right this way, Mr. Moreau-Walter.”
“How do you know who I am?”
He grinned and pointed to the card. “Same way the card knew it was time to show you the address.” He let Peter go before him into the grey light of the gaping doorway. Inside a large space opened up before them that resembled an office building interior with cubicles and a receptionist desk except that several things were off. Some cubicles were floating. There did not appear to be any sort of lighting, yet the place was as bright as a cloudy day. A man in a crisp white suit with blood-red eyes and stubby horns chatted with a ghost at a nearby water cooler. “Just check in at the desk and they’ll be able to assist you.” He patted the astounded young man on the shoulder twice and turned to go. “Welcome to the Cavalcadium.”
After a short preliminary interview on Earth, Peter was sent via the San Diego branch’s rift to the Dandytown branch and ushered to the Registrar’s office. He emerged a member in short order and wandered out into the foyer of the administration building and gawked at the amazing people he saw crossing the great hall. “Holy cow. All the stories The Jon told us were true…” Some people stared at his ‘strange’ attire of blue jeans, tee-shirt, and sneakers. He noticed this and also noticed that most were dressed very heavily and a cold breeze blew in whenever the giant doors opened. He noticed the help-desk and started to cross the room when he heard his name called.
“Pete?!” Lilah cried. She had gotten a congratulatory message that her brother had joined and ran out of a Blue Matter Committee meeting across campus. She panted as she stared at him with a perplexed look on her face that wasn’t exactly happy.
He laughed nervously. “Hi,” Peter said and waved.
She laughed back, took three steps toward him and hugged him tightly.
Lilah took Peter to 15 Plum St. via mecha carriage and introduced him to Gilmore who was over the moon to have another Moreau-Walter to serve. He made them tea and Peter explained that he was only here for the day. Gilmore looked deflated.
“But surely you will be visiting us, Sir?”
“Oh, of course!” he chimed and the sepia-toned poltergeist flushed pink.
Lilah took her cup from her servant and he bowed and dissipated. “By the way, there’s a personal rift in the basement that links up to a lab in the manor.”
She nodded. “I think it’s in Lab Seven,” she said and bit her lip. The same lab where the chassis of her friends rested eternally. She shifted her weight and sipped her tea.
Peter took the hint and changed the subject. “I talked to Dad, by the way,” he said. “I told him I thought you were here and that I wanted to join the Cav.”
Lilah held her tea cup out, mid-sip. “And what did he say?”
“Well, he didn’t sound surprised. But he didn’t want me to join. He said that it was dangerous and that he pulled the family out years ago to keep us safe.”
“From them,” she said and took a sip.
“Are you afraid of them?”
“You’re here. If you’re not, I’m not.”
Lilah winced. “I’m not afraid. No, not afraid. They are out there, though. And evil. And wishing us harm. That I certainly know.”
“Would you… er…” Peter fidgeted and put his tea cup down. “Consider coming home?”
Her answer was immediate. “No.”
“I-I mean just to visit, I…”
“No, Pete. I can’t.” Lilah turned her head away from him but remained in her chair.
“A lot’s changed since…”
“Pete, please. I...” She sighed.
He frowned. “Deelia’s doing real well. She and Pi are almost inseparable. She’s going to be VP one day. Dad’s working hard. Got a fellowship again. And I wanted to see you because…” he picked his tea cup back up with a trembling hand. “Well, I’m getting married.”
Lilah softened. “You are? That’s great, Pete. Is she ok with all this?” Lilah made a small circle with her free hand indicating to the madness that was their heritage.
“She will be. Astrid’s cool.” He took the cup in both hands. There was a long pause in which Peter watched his sister carefully, waiting. Hoping.
“Pete,” she said softly. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I left the way I did. It wasn’t fair to you or Deelie. Or dad, I suppose, though I think he deserved it a bit. I was scared. I lost my mind for a while and I was scared. I thought about killing myself and then I was hallucinating and, well, I was kind of terrified that maybe I’d inherited some of mom’s crazy genes. I just needed to go, but I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
He pursed his lips. “Thanks, that means a lot and I forgive you. I’m just so glad to see you’re ok.” She smiled back for a moment but noticed his brows were pinched. “I have some bad news about mom, though.”
“Oh?” she asked, her voice wavering slightly.
“She had a lobotomy a couple years ago after she attacked Deelia and now she’s in a home.”
“She attacked Deelie?” Lilah whispered.
“Yeah. Pi took the blows, though. Took us weeks to rebuild the chassis.” He made a face. “Aluminum.”
Lilah nodded. She built the robot with her father so she knew well that it would have been easy to damage, unlike the 1896 models. “That’s good. I mean, not good, but…” She shuddered. “Is mom a vegetable?”
“Kind of. She’s awake, just sort of...empty. But every time I’ve seen her, she’s smiling.”
Lilah pursed her lips and tears rolled down her cheeks. She nodded. She didn’t need to know about the process that lead to her being hospitalized. She knew that her father would not have permitted this to happen if he didn’t think it was the right thing to do. “That’s good. That’s good.”
“How are you, Lilah?”
“Good. I have a nice life here. I’m always busy with Cav things, committees, research. There are three levels of labs below this house so when I want to stay home I can. There’s always something new to learn.”
“Have you found any friends?”
“Yes!” Lilah raised an annoyed eyebrow. “Not many, but I’m not gregarious, you know that. And I have Gilmore as well. Maybe…” she said, looking down at the leaves of tea in her near-empty cup. “Maybe one day I can come visit. I’m just not ready yet.”
Peter returned home later that evening a little disappointed by the thought that his older sister would most likely not be attending his wedding, but relieved to know she was doing well. He buzzed his father and sister on the intercom and asked them to join him in his study. Silently and without much ado, Alex and Deelia made their way to the room on the south side of the manor house. Deelia closed the door behind them.
“Well?” Alex asked, folding his arms.
Deelia grasped the back of a leather chair with one hand. “She’s really there?”
The young woman shook her head. “This is nuts. Kazooland actually exists? Is it as mental as The Jon described?”
“Not the places I saw. More like a Victorian fantasy land. Lots of weird mech, steam, weird-looking people in fancy clothes.”
Alex scoffed slightly. “She’s at the Plum Street house, then?”
“Yeah.” Peter sat on the edge of his desk and smiled softly. “She’s doing well.”
This didn’t seem to ease either of them. Deelia glared at him. “Did you tell her about mom?”
“Yes, I did.”
“She wasn’t surprised. I told her mom attacked you.” Deelia cringed and turned to go. “It’s the truth, Deelie! She deserved to know.”
“She doesn’t deserve a damned thing,” the young woman spat back. “She didn’t even have the decency to apologize, did she?
“She said she was sorry to have hurt us,” he shouted, choosing his words carefully. “But she’s not coming back.” Deelia scoffed and stomped out of the room without turning to face him. Peter looked over at his father, but he was looking out the window at the moon. The young man practically snarled as he left him standing there “I can’t say I blame her!”