Victoria sagged into her desk chair. Her meeting with the professor had gone better than she’d expected. The little man had impressed her with his report on the forged message, and while he was clearly still unnerved by the prospect of operating on the ground in Venice, he was keeping up a brave face for the most part. Vic could respect that. Not everyone could have a soldier’s iron heart. Many soldier’s didn’t have one even.
It would be unreasonable for her to expect it of him, she knew this, and she thought he was handling it quite well all things considered.
A whistle from her inter-com interrupted her reprieve. She lifted the receiver, “Winthrop speaking.”
“Ma’am, we’re receiving a coded message from the Admiral,” the bridge reported.
“Forward it to my quarters please,” she flipped a few switches and stood. She went to the corner of her quarters where a small table sat. Wires ran from her personal D-engine under a cloth that was covering something atop the table. She removed the cloth, revealing a wood and brass head. As she did, the face of the false head came to life, and a smooth clean voice said, “Good evening, Victoria. I hope you are well?”
She flipped a switch near the base of the head, and began dictating.
“Well as can be expected, Admiral. Stop.”
“Oh? Do tell,” the head responded after only the briefest of pauses. Devices like this were incredibly expensive. Most automata like 0sc4r had a voice that was…passable. At some point during their construction it had been decided that the voice needn’t be pretty, merely functional. Such was the logic of engineers. While Vic didn’t necessarily disagree, in this instance she had treated herself. This head received the translated messages of the Admiral from the D-engine, and dictated them to her in a wonderfully soothing voice. Male or female, to be set by her with a small switch.
“We’ve run into a few complications here. Make no mistake, we are proceeding as planned, but with a change in our operative. Stop.”
“I trust you have things well in hand.”
Vic audibly scoffed, then instructed the D-engine to disregard that. “If you trusted me, you wouldn’t be calling.”
“Quite the contrary. I am excited to hear of your progress. The german envoy is tied up in the Alps then?”
“They took the detour and Jackson trapped them just as planned,” Vic smiled. Once the Fliege had been removed from play the German column had behaved wonderfully, “They’re stuck in a mountain village with no telegraph lines or way to radio out.”
“Wonderful. Glad to hear it.”
“Buuuut…” Vic prompted.
“But nothing, Victoria. I simply wanted to make sure our German friends were where we agreed to put them away.”
“Don’t worry yourself. Tell me: how did Issac take the news?”
“News?” She sat up.
“You’re sending him to the conference, yes?”
“How did you….disregard last sentence,” Vic closed her eyes and nodded, “You heard about the Milan station.”
“Naturally,” the clockwork head said neutrally, but Vic knew the original speaker was being smug.
“And you picked Quirke personally,” of course he would know the professor spoke the languages needed, and from there it wouldn’t be hard to guess her short notice choice for replacement.
“I did. Aren’t you glad?”
“Don’t be cute. Did you know there would be trouble in Milan?”
There was a much longer pause after her question. This worried Vic. The Admiral was generally unflappable. The eventual response read thus, “No. I did not expect the trouble in Milan. I expected our enemies to be subtler than that.”
“Then we do have enemies.”
“I find it helpful to assume any misfortune is the work of an enemy. If you’re right, you catch on earlier than most. If you’re wrong, you’re still more prepared for when they make their actual move.”
“What can you do from home?”
“Not as much as I’d like.”
Vic thought for a moment, “Is there a meeting of the war mongers in the next few days?”
“I can’t divulge any meeting that may or may not be occurring within the next few days. Particularly involving the War Secretary and his associates.”
“Bring up Milan for me.”
“Thank you Admiral,” Victoria flipped a switch and ended the dictation.
“If you’re sending 0sc4r with him,” the Admiral said before going, “Make sure you finally fix his voice. A diplomatic attache automata would have a better tuned voice than a common servant golem.”
Issac nervously drummed his fingers on his bag as he waited on the flight deck. Nathanson was busy re-tuning and oiling 0sc4r’s voice cylinders.
“Try ‘er now, 0sc4r.”
Inside the automaton’s open chest, air bladders filled and began pumping through the voice cylinders, “How now *click* brown cow?”
“Betta. Give ‘er one more go ‘ere,” he turned a valve in the exposed mess of tubes, glass, and pumps inside the metal man. “Once more?”
“How now *click* brown cow?”
Nathanson swore and kicked 0sc4r’s leg. The automaton didn’t seem to notice.
“I believe *click* there is still a misaligned *click* cylinder,” the voice attempted to mimic an apology.
“Bloody well got that part!” spat the exasperated engineer. The man collected himself, and went back into the automaton’s chest piece and continued tinkering with his wrench.
Major Barrington was running checks on his plane, which had been painted up in German colors from this mission. He would be flying them down to the skyport of Venice, drop off both Issac and 0sc4r, then take off quickly before anyone could ask him any questions. Questions like “Do you speak any German?”
He spoke enough Italian though to get them into the skyport safely, and Issac had been instructed to teach the Major how to say it with a German accent. It would be passable, which would, once again, be good enough.
“Something on your mind, Professor?” he asked.
“Just nerves, Major. I’ll be quite alright I’m sure,” Issac said smiling.
“You’ll do fine. And if not, you’ll have the metal man there to get you out. He’ll take good care of you.”
Issac looked back to 0sc4r. He was large and imposing, but he couldn’t carry a weapon. How much use would he be if they had to make their escape under fire. Issac shook his head. It wouldn’t come to that. He would make it work.
Nathanson finally gave up on the misaligned cylinder, closed up 0sc4r’s chest, and sent him on his way.
“Are you ready to depart, *click* Professor?”
Issac nodded, “Ready.”
“Good. *click* I look forward to working *click* with you.”
“Strap in gentlemen,” Barrington called from the cockpit.
Issac climbed up to join the Major at the top, while 0sc4r folded himself into the cargo compartment. Nathanson closed the compartment’s hatch and give Barrington an OK. A shrill bell rang out. Anything that wasn’t bolted to the deck was located and secured. The flight deck doors were opened, and the plane was unhooked. The plane rolled off the flight deck, fell for a fraction of a second, and then the trio sped out into the clouds below, headed South to Venice.
Nathanson wiped his palms on his overalls and was about to close up the doors when there was a tapping on his shoulder.
He turned to see Jackson, strapped into a jetpack.
She held a finger to her lips, stepped around Nathanson, and leapt off the flight deck. Soon she too was flying South to Venice. The plane ahead of her none the wiser.
Nathanson saw all this, shrugged, closed up the flight deck. It was out of his hands now, the Skymarshal would understand that. What had he been supposed to do? Jackson just did some damn foolish things sometimes.