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    My dearest Tinny,

      I am sorry I did not write you earlier, and would be sorrier but for the fact that no letters can be passed to you unless we meet another vessel over these stormy seas and can somehow trade mail packets, (which has not yet happened) or until we land on the coast and find anothe Aerobus headed back to the sunny homelands.  My adventurous spirit held up rather valiantly for the first three days, after which I contracted a violent air sickness and spent the better part of six days being dangled over the railing by my suspenders, held firmly by Margit.  Margit is dour as ever, and her visions of gloom less amusing in the wind and cold and rain. Brave spirits, however, shall prevail!  I am working on a contraption modeled after the butterly's structure, which I hope to patent as a new sort of mail delivery system which can traverse the ocean.  Thus far, all six prototypes have made it about an equal distance before failure; that being, the few hundred yards to the ocean below.  So much, Margit says, for innovation.

    But lest I bore you, I shall turn my mind now to more interesting matters, and reminisce over our last visions of each other - I shall never forget how  very idiotic  you looked in that graduating cap, nor cease to be grateful I have never yet beheld a portrait of myself next to you wearing my own version.  And how heavy they were!  When Stinky fell asleep three rows back (nearer you than me, I believe) how I did jump has his hat fell to the ground.  But we were not so conscious of our less-than-perfect appearance when we all threw our hats into the sky at the end and watched them soar away, to land on some distant mountain top and confuse a poor bewildered goat or two.  I believe that Craighton's School of Mechanics has never had a more fine tradition than the releasing of fly-caps at the graduation ceremony.

    I wish you could have decided to take an overseas job, like me. However, I fully understand why you chose to apply for that job with the Professor in the desert.  I could nearly trade places with you at the moment, it's so incredibly dank and dreary here.  But I melt in the heat, as you well know, and you are much better suited to a nomadic lifestyle. 

    Margit is demanding that I take some sustenance - she is quite firm on these matters, and although I am sure and certain that it will merely end up as fish food in some two-odd hours, I try to humor her whenever possible.  After all, fingers of titanium-copper alloy are quite difficult to dislodge from your wrist.

    Yours as ever,
    Clarion Bastincle

    Thankful People: Trenchcoat
    • CommentTimeMay 21st 2009 edited
    My dear Clara,

    While I awaited the arrival of your first letter anxiously, so that I might know where to post mine, I cannot help but be glad you were forced to wait until landing to send off the epistle you wrote busboard. From your description of your feelings, it must have been for the best no aerobus mail passing was attempted. I myself, had I been aboard, would quite certainly have been torn between wanting to observe such an interesting feat and concern for you. As you will certainly remember, one of the main reasons I felt qualified for the position with Professor Ajua was my lack of motion-sickness of any kind. I do envy you your exciting sounding traversement of the Pacific, which certainly seems to have been bent on disproving its name.

    Pray, remember to stay warm now that you are in dank and dreary Siberia and on no account allow yourself to be eaten by Polar bear.

    As for my own travels which are only just completed? We took an aerobus from the valley up to the Lisbon Station, a place I have long desired to see. It was a short ride, about an hour's duration. Mama and Papa, together with Portia, Juliet, and Oberon, saw us off at the aerobus port. I was able to narrate my view to them for nearly a quarter of an hour after hoverlift, via the whisper-triangles in the 'bus and 'port. Did you manage anything similar?

    Once at Lisbon Station, Professor Ajua took me aside for a few moments, as I am the only one in this small group who had not before made the journey. he warned me quite solemnly that the Nevada across the Sierras was mainly unexplored and full of dangers. I tried to repress my excitement long enough to masquerade under a visage of appropriate soberness. I trust I succeeded, for before long we were mounting up for the long ride down.

    Shortly after mounting, the excitement of travel began to wear thin and may I say, I hope to never, ever, ride a goat side-saddle again! Apparently, their sure-feet make them much safer than horses, so they are the preferred method of travel in the Sierras. That in their defense, but I must say that they seem to be inclined towards chewing on their rider's clothing as they walk and I found my skirts exceedingly damp upon our arrival.

    Once we turned into the canyons, it was hard to believe that New London City was only an hour's trip away. The sky here is blue, blue, the earth is actually reddish, as opposed to brown and I have yet to see any interesting wildlife, though we did have rabbit for supper. I am sure I will find plenty of writing fodder, nonetheless.

    Glad to hear Margit is as dour as ever, as it must ward off homesickness for you. At the last possible moment, I decided to leave Matilde behind, as it was Professor's advice, he says the sand and winds are too wearing. Instead, at Mother's insistence, I have taken on a Human maid. She is called Rue and I will write you my impressions of her when I actually have any worth the ink.

    As to Stinky, fly-caps and graduation ceremonies, I could not agree with you more, though I hope we did not disturb any of the goats on these mountains, as I may encounter them in my journeys.

    Most sincerely,

    Titania Quennel
    Bachelor of Temperature Regulated Mechanics - Craighton University

    'Tis the first time I've signed as such. What fun!
    Thankful People: Juggernaut's Dream

    Oh, Tinny, I nearly laughed my head off at the thought of you, on a goat and sidesaddle! I, I must say, have bowed to fashion and purchased myself a set of wide pantaloons. They make it much easier to keep the cold out, and once I'm bundled in the proper layers of wool, coat, and scarf, it's not like anyone could readily tell my gender, anyways.


    The huge building in which we are staying is three stories tall, and all build very solidly of some sort of brick, with absolutely no decorative value on the outside whatsoever. It quite pains me to look at it. All the numbers and letters on the streets everywhere are in a type of Cyrillic cuneiform, and although Margit is at some pains to teach them to me, I really must admit my diligence has been sorely lacking these few days. I will improve, very soon. I would trace a note for you here, but unfortunately my writer is the cheaper model, which only takes text. It is fairly sturdy, though; I have dropped it no less than seven or eight times thus far, and it still takes notes proficiently. It would do you no good, anyways, were I to get a newer model, for yours will not be able to read or display non-text characters until you, also, find a way to purchase, build, or invent something compatible.

    We have spent many of the hours since my arrival in unpacking. My room is stone (or brick, I really can't tell!) on all four walls, ceiling, and floor, and it is much like being in an icebox all the time. Margit is purchasing rugs and blankets and hangings to cover the walls and floor with, so as to keep as much heat as possible inside the room. I do have a rather large fireplace, for which I am quite thankful, except when the wind howls down the chiminey during the dark of the morning when all sane people are abed.

    I presented myself to the gentleman who stands as a sort of Mayor in this town yesterday. He received my letters of introduction and commission from Professor Clives, and he welcomed me (through Margit) in his native language. Margit tells me they are very proud to have me here, doing my research in their town, and I have asked her to look around for some possible assistants who might have a smattering of a language I can already speak. It would be very helpful.

    The Mayor did request, as a sort of favor, I suppose, to have me teach a bit to a few young people around the town.I am anticipating some sort of apprenticeship set up, as I can only imagine that very few of these children can have had much in the way of a practical engineering education. I shall teach them to help me build my observatory, and once that is complete, then a full astronomical curriculum to follow, when we can really see what's going on up there. The cold air and empty terrain are so incredibly perfect for looking at the stars – even just standing outside at night, I can see distances that were never possible in my experience!

    I am so very glad I took the last two summers for private tutoring - once I have completed my degree, my professional credibility will be hundredfold of what it is now. As it is, I only got this commission through Professor Clives. But after cramming so much work into so little time, I would like some of the glory!

    When you are dangling hundreds of feet from the bottom of chasms, relying on sandy machinery and your fellow explorers to keep you up, just remember, it could be worse: you could have frostbite!

    I don't envy you your experiences with a human servant, I have heard such tales of laziness and how demanding they are. Margit never stops, and can work forever. She is dour, to be sure, but that's just her model's personality. Really though, your new Rue will have her hands full keeping your skirts well done.You will be so hot in your city clothes; I shan't be at all surprised when you write me next time to hear you are dressing like the native Amerigons, all in deerskin and woven blankets. Our classmates would never believe it, but I have seen your dangerous side! Dear me, I sense a note of jealousy in myself ... best to quench that, I knew exactly what temperature I was getting into!

    My degree depends on my thesis, which depends on my commission, which, as you know, depends on my progress here; so without any further ado, I am

    Your loving friend,

    Clarion Bastincle
    Master of Astrophysics, minoring in Engineering with an Emphasis on Helio-dependent Structures – Craighton University

    (I know, I know, the 'Master' bit depends on my thesis, which is dependent on my work here, etc., etc. - but it looks nice, don't you think?)

    Thankful People: Juggernaut's Dream
    • CommentTimeJun 26th 2009
    Titania Quennel, 1st lay 14th clock, the Nevadas, Greater Canada to
    Clarion Bastincle, Czarovitch, Siberia, Russia


    I must say how utterly lacking in sympathy I found your greeting to be. Damp skirts are never something to be laughed at. In revenge, I shall say that you must avoid walking near any hills, for in all your bundling, some mischievous lad might take the notion to roll you down one, as though you were a snowball.

    And to address the further sections of your note ---- We have no permanent structures, but use our tents to provide shelter at stopping points. Rue and I have taken to setting mine up ourselves, as we are both handy with a stake and can save the men the added trouble. The pack train of goats is still with us, hauling the tents and other supplies. Though I did express disapproval of them in my previous letter, I must admit I have been glad enough of them now. Indeed, I may say I have become quite fond of a few of them. We ride or walk alongside the train in the dark, with lanterns to light the way. After daybreak, we work the clock line, until the heat becomes more intense, at which point, up go the tents and we take our rest. Often, we can find hollows in the canyon wall to provide additional shade, though they are always checked for signs of wild animals first. Alas, we have not yet seen any.

    As for Rue, she has been much more of an enjoyment than I would have suspected. All of Matilde's remarks I memorized long ago, Rue reacts with more variety. Also, she is not quite as frustratingly logical as Matilde. I anticipate no trouble with her.

    I shall wait with eager ears to hear whom has been apprenticed to you. Hopefully, there will be antics aplenty for your pen and my hilarity.

    On the subject of skirts, deerskin and the like, I feel that I must retain my present garb for various reasons. The professor would not think any different of me for leaving them off, but he has known me much longer than any of these other explorers. Traveling in the desert with Rue the only other female in a legion of men (yet another reason I am glad I traded Matilde for her, for even the best alloys hardly count as human) I feel it is best to stay clothed in a manner considered proper by society at large. I do not wish anyone to gather the wrong impression of me. I find that my skirts do not inconvenience me, though, as I know how to manage them and hoops and bustles are not in style. I needn't wear many petticoats as it is all summer gowns and I think I am often cooler than the men in their trousers. Another item of fashion interest -- we often go about veiled, to keep the sand from our eyes and mouths. For even when the nights become chilly, which does happen, even in the Nevada, the wind still blows often and catches up the sands whenever it does.

    The work proceeds well - when it is too warm still to travel in the evenings, we gather in the cook tent, which doubles as a meeting place and work on the clocks. We have almost completed repairs and reading from the first set the professor laid down and have compared them with the data he collected from them before. After tomorrow, we shall send those documents back and move to wilder country, where the professor laid down clocks just last summer. We shall do cartography with those readings, which will be checked next summer. After that, we lay our new clocks in practically untraveled territory. Perhaps then I shall have something truly exciting to write back to you about.

    I am most excited, but then, I am admittedly most excitable.

    Best wishes and apologies of the sincerest sort for the belated reply.

    Thankful People: Juggernaut's Dream

    Dear Titania -- for although I do not use your given name so often as I might, I still find it charming --  again, Dear Titania,

    Was your reply belated?  I admit, time and dates escape me for the most part in my work here.  We have finally got a semblance of a blueprint for the structure of my observatory completed and work is to begin tomorrow!  Verily, I do believe that the building of it will take less time than the planning.  No sooner had I picked one location, than it was sacred to some native spirits or other, I can't quite remember, perhaps it was a graveyard; the next site blocked the Mayor's wife's view of the mountains, and he had to ask me in a most embarrassed manner to move it again.  After these various mishaps and then all the trouble with design, we are finally on the point of starting!  Quite frustrating at times, I assure you, is the selection of materials and trying to achieve the proper layout and temperature control necessary for my work and comfort, only to find obstacle after obstacle. 

    One good thing has come about - as soon as the observatory is built, I shall move into a small apartment which is being included in the structure, and leave this cold cave behind.  It looks like the Arabian Twilight stories, all rugs and tapestries and whatnot hung along the walls and floor and cushions to block every draft.  If I didn't know better, I'd think Margit was entertaining fantasies of installing an incense burner and some veiled dancers to entertain me!  But I haven't the time for such fripperies.  If I ever get the yearning for veiled dancers (unlikely, very unlikely) I shall consider your dark eyes peering from behind a heavy veil in the sun-struck rock desert, with your rose-colored afternoon dress and yellow petticoat on the remainder of you, and be struck dumb with hilarity.  Quite all the entertainment I need. 

    I don't pretend to know much about cartography and the laying of clocks, but I am rather interested to hear a little more of what the actual work entails.  You know how I always crave detail.  I daresay you will be as brown and fit as an Amerigon when next I see you.  Rue does sound like an interesting companion, and I quite take your point about having another female in the group with you.  Also, it is true that Margit is rather predictable; however, social interaction was never my pursuit, and I am quite content to have things as they are; simple, and continuous.

    I am quickly absorbing the local language, and the Mayor has set up a sort of scholarship contest from which I may expect 5 or 6 of the brightest students to join my in my work as soon as they triumph.  

    My lenses are due to arrive any day now, and I tremble for fear one of them may be cracked.  It is a tremendous expense to have them fabricated and shipped to me, and I am not sure the commission money will stretch very far in the way of replacements.  Once I get up and running, there is the possibility of some small income from teaching fees and from various discoveries and inventions (you would not believe the level of technology I have to deal with on a day to day basis!!) but for the nonce I must conserve funds.  I hear potatoes are quite nourishing, even in vast quantities.

    Ares will be in view soon, and I have high hopes of completing the observatory in time to catch some quite astonishing views.  I will write soon with updates on the progress.  Now I'm off to supervise the breaking of ground on the work site, for apparently nothing can be done without my presence ...

    Adieu and fare thee well,

    Clarion Darcy Bastincle


    P.S.  My letters to my father seem to have gone astray; if you get this, could you try to send the enclosed by whatever post is available to you?  Perhaps one or the other will eventually get through.  Thank you!  C.D.B.

    • CommentTimeOct 12th 2009
    Titania Quennel, 2nd lay, 3rd clock, the Nevadas, Greater Canada, to Clarion Bastincle, Czarovitch, Siberia, Russia.

    My Dear Bastincle:

    I remember how we used to dissolve in laughter when your father called you by that name. His way of peering though his magnifying glass, oh dear! So you wish more information on the setting of the clocks? I shall grant you your wish if you will please keep in mind while envisioning me in the desert that I would quite suffocate in a heavy veil and I have much too good a sense of fashion to wear any but color-coordinated outfits, from my scarf and hair ribbons down to my clocker's boots, which are black leather and have a row of buttons that leads four inches past my ankles.

    As for the clocks, I believe I have mentioned to you before that while we ly them in one location, we retrieve them in another. They are set to perambulate from one clock to the next, thus, when we picked up our 1st lay 1st clock, it was actually at the spot where the professor laid the 2nd clock last summer. We had good luck with the 1st lay all sitting where they ought to have been, but that was rather expected, since it is the 2nd go over on this route. The professor anticipates that we may have to do some hunting to complete the 2nd set.

    When we reclaim the clocks, we disassemble them and take down the recorded readings, which include whether or not the clock needed to change altitude to complete its route, changes in temperatures, total length of route, etc.

    After we have reset all the clocks in a set and replaced them, altering placement when necessary, we input new routes and replace them in the canyons.

    There are more technical details I could go into, but I beg you, allow me to postpone them, for I can discuss clocks any day of the week and in fact do so, with my companions, but you are the only one whom I can tease about apprentices and frostbite. Perhaps I shall include a follow up lesson in my next letter.

    Before I go off on my own tangent, though, I should let you know that most likely your letters to your father are getting through the post, the issue is simply that your father is not at home. The zoological society of the United Minoritys wished his advice on the odd behavior of one of their newest acquisitions. From what I read in the papers, I understand this animal to be a form of wild dog. In the wild, the female of the species breathes smoke and thus flavors the meat before the pack eats. Unfortunately, the zoo has only acquired a male of the species. It is refusing to eat raw, roasted, or hickory smoked meat. Your father packed up his largest bellows and went off by aerobus. I believe he was stopping in Scotland first, to see the dog in its natural environment, before continuing to Denmark and the UMs capitol, where the unfortunate animal is currrently residing.

    And due to the fact that none of the countries of the UM are currently accepting post from Greater Canada, after that regrettable altercation between our PM and the High Lord of Ireland, I cannot see that it would do much good for me to attempt any forwarding activity.

    Alas! and Alack! I must get myself to work.

    I wish you the most pleasant of days


    user_delivery_delayed 34x

    Dear Sir or Mesdame,

    It is our regret to inform you that this missive has not yet been delivered, due to a forwarding error. It will be held at this office until called for or for 63 days, whichever time is shortest.

    Thank you for utilizing the Trans-Pacific Analytical Missive Delivery System! Have a nice day.

    TPAMDS Siberian Station
    9875q Csarovitch
    Desk of the Direction Deputy.
    ////// **


    Dear Tinny,

    Margot fetched your note from the post office three days ago - today she collected a package from my father!  She seems to have some sort of sense for when I have received mail ... But I forget!  You haven't heard my news.  My writer crashed last Tuesday, and the only communication I've had with the outside world (which means all but about a thousand snow entranced natives) has been of the receiving sort. I've been well busied, however.  

    My room in the new observation building is finished, and Margot and I are safely tucked away.  I convinced her to bring all the draperies, rugs, etc. from the cold apartments, claiming that they would add color.  In truth, they do that and more!  I'm growing quite fond of my new cosy bedroom, with its high windows and huge fireplace.  We've made cocoa three times, and I roasted my own breakfast sausage this morning (much to Margot's metallic dismay).

    The package I got from my father contained an early Christmas present in the form of a new writer!!! It can send pictures and format text and I can even make scientific notations for my project! You can see how well I am doing over here.

    What amazing adventures have you been enjoying?  You very sadly seem to have used all your space in the last letter fulfilling my curiosity and satisfying me that my father, though out of touch, was not purposefully ignoring my missives.  He did send me a note with the new writer, explaining that he might be out of contact for a bit.   Anyways, Margot will be quite put out if I am late for dinner again this week, so here I must close.

    Ever your faithful friend,
    The Smallest Bastincle      

    • CommentTimeJan 13th 2010
    Dear S.B.

    Please do not feel that you missed any news of import in my last letter. Indeed, I was grateful to your for your inquiries, for short of answering them I had nothing to say then. But this has changed and I earnestly hope that I do not crash your new writer with the length of this message.

    We arrived three days ago at the location where the professor lyed the 2nd lay 6th clock last summer and where we expected the 2nd lay 5th clock to be. This could also be referred to as the location where the 2nd lay 5th clock most certainly was not. Though there was nothing in the data from the previous clocks on the 2nd lay to indicate the clock might have had to shut down due to weather, the professor thought it best to check back along the route between 5th clock ly and 6th clock ly. So on went our boots and up went Jorgenson and I, as we are the smallest members of the party (excepting Rue, who has next to no notion of what to do with a clocker's strand-wire) and the easiest to keep aloft for longer periods of time.

    Even with the additional support of my boot quills, traipsing around the side of a cliff all day is no easy work, but I managed to find some thrill in the clock hunt the first day at least. Backtracking is much slower than the flat march and Jorgenson and I had to search every crack and cranny along the canyon wall as we went. We cover the same vertical stretch of cliff at once, in different horizontal positions, again, with myself the higher up. There is an occasional bout of vertigo, but only if I forget myself and look down.

    I am losing track of my story, though. To resume. The first day of hunting was rather enjoyable. It is the first time I have been up so long at a time, as we switch strand-wires as we go, to save the wear of climbing. When we convened in the clocker's tent, incredibly dusty, the professor was somewhat preoccupied. Apparently, while he had to do some searching last summer, he had found all the first lay clocks within a day's searching of the desired location. I was not quite sure what to think of that, but the next morning, once again dangling above everyone's heads, I found myself moving at the pace of a Russian Woolbear in mid-summer, for I was constantly mistrusting myself, searching cracks three times that were obviously not large enough for half a clock and wondering if I had somehow missed the clock the previous day. My arms were screaming at me before the day's work was half done and I could barely snap my tether to the batten when the professor called a halt due to the heat. Even now, though I was not up for long this morning, I have to support my arms against the table to enter this letter into my tablet.

    This morning, though, is the important part of this story. Again, at the end of the second day, we had not found anything. The professor moved past preoccupied into worried. We doubled and tripled checked readings, mappings, and such like from the first four clocks we had recovered on this second lay all afternoon, before catching some sleep. When morning came, I was surprised I even had the strength to make it up the wall, but I did. I suppose all those hours listening to Oberon and Papa have done something for me. Well, once up on the wall, I had hardly begun to search when I came to a spot, thin enough to be called a fissure, but still deep and fairly wide, in the cliff wall. I could not see the back of it, so I used my shillelagh to poke into it cautiously, and then extended my arm deeper into the fissure, to gain greater depth for my shilly. I could still feel no back wall. At this point, Clarion, you will be glad to hear that I reacted in a mature and responsible way, drew out of the crack and signaled to Jorgenson, who climbed up to me. He performed the same exact exercises I had just been through with my shilly with his own and then shook his head.

    "Can't feel a back to it."

    I nodded. "But there's a bottom, at least."

    "Is there?" He looked down and saw what I had noticed while he was making his way up to me. The fissure was tall, extending up the cliff above me for several feet, but it narrowed out and soon disappeared in that direction. One could see the same phenomenon to the base of the crack, for it vanished before stretching to the area of cliff Jorgenson had been going over.

    "Better talk to the professor," Jorgenson counseled. Feeling as I did that my arms might rise in mutiny at any moment and slay anyone within reach, I agreed to this and we descended.

    The professor inquired what was amiss and we explained the matter to him, at which point he inquired as to the exact measurements of the fissure. Jorgenson had apparently taken the time to measure width of the mouth, though he could do no more than estimate the height. Then, the professor had us climb up once more. Since we had left our strand-wire pinned out, it was more work for the rest of the men than us and we regained the crack in good time. Per our instructions, Jorgenson stepped into the crack, leaving his strand wire in my hands. If he encountered any trouble, I was to yank him out. Fortunately he is not much larger than me, or the task could have been unpleasant. And I can hear you interrupting me and inquiring why his crew did not simply perform the task, as they were the ones supporting him anyway. But at that height, the wind can play havoc with the wires and they provide no reasonable way to communicate distress that cannot be imitated by a breeze. I need not have worried about my ability to yank him back, though, for he soon reappeared. The fissure had grown too narrow for him to inch along any further, but he had still not felt an edge.

    “My shilly still had plenty of leg-room a reach past,” he told me, which was my cue to see how much deeper I could manage to squirm. I took a deep breath and swung myself into the crack.

    It was much cooler suddenly, and a bit dank, but the smell was pleasant and I relaxed somewhat as I pulled myself along. It was easier work inside the crack, as I could make much better use of my legs. I reached the point in the wall where Jorgenson’s markers tapered off and managed to squeeze myself further down the passage. I had gone perhaps four yards further when the passage became too narrow for me as well. I pulled my shilly out and used it to feel for a wall. It hit something solid, then there was a bit of a clang and an echo. I thought I had perhaps found the missing clock, for the passage had become quite narrow and in attempt to turn itself, it could conceivably have either run out of power or become lodged in place. I belted my shilly back down and reached a hand in. I felt something soft and warm, then, having used up my responsible and mature responses earlier in the day, began shrieking wildly and tugging on my strand-wire, as the thing, whatever it was, suddenly began to move. Jorgenson reacted instantly, pulling back on my rope, but there was enough delay that the thing had dashed up my arm before I knew it. I could feel it, sitting heavily on my back, between my shoulder-blades, but my continuing shrieks and bats at it with my non-guiding hand did not seem to perturb it. When I was out in the open again, Jorgenson looked at me in confusion, for I had come out facing him and though I was still whimpering, he could see nothing amiss. Carefully keeping my finger holds and placing my boots, I turned so my back was to him. He whistled, which did nothing for my feelings, as you can imagine, then snapped our tethers both to his batten, grabbed hold of me with one arm, then let go with the other to grab hold of me with both. We descended rather quickly, as the crew had not been expecting both our weights on the single line, but we made it to the ground safely. By the time we had got there, I had calmed somewhat, as the thing did not seem to be doing anything more than clinging to me.

    “Fascinating,” the professor said, peering at it, as I tried to explain what had happened. “You said you heard a clang?”

    I nodded, wiping away my tears of fright. I was somewhat embarrassed about the incident, as the creature did not appear to be dangerous, but still not entirely convinced that it was harmless either. After all, the thing was still out of sight, the warmth of it penetrating my scarf, firmly attached to my back.

    “You mind, sir?” One of the men, Blakeslee, inquired. He held up his shilly.

    The professor indicated his endorsement of the plan, which I had still not grasped and Blakeslee prodded the creature with his shilly. There was another clang, but no reaction from the animal. Blakeslee then extended a hand and touched it, but quickly drew back with a loud exclamation. My expression must have been somewhat horrified, for his thumb was split open and blood was dripping into the sand. A surprisingly cat-like hiss had issued from behind my back in conjunction with his exclamation and I was feeling quite unsafe once more.

    The professor sternly cautioned me not to move, which I had already been sternly cautioning myself about, and circled me for a few moments. I was afraid to even speak, as I knew that at the very least, my chest would vibrate and at the worst, I would start crying, which would make me shake all over. I breathed very silently and wished with all my heart that someone would at least tell me what the thing looked like. Just as I was about to give in and say something, Jorgenson began speaking.

    “It isn’t very big, maybe... a foot and a half by a foot? Looks like a pussy cat you might find in your grandmother’s rocking chair. Striped grey and brown, looks like the canyon wall, really. I couldn’t say where whatever got Blakeslee came from, he looks fairly peaceful, curled up on your back. Has he got any claws in you, Miss Quennel?

    I moved my head negatively a fraction of an inch. Even though I was standing straight up, I could feel no reason why the cat-thing should not have slid off my back long ago.

    “I believe,” the professor finally announced, “that that creature has swallowed the clock. Well done fetching it down, Titania.”

    I managed a weak smile and there were excited bursts from the men gathered around me.

    “How’d it swallow a clock?”

    “I’m not going fishing down that thing’s gullet.”

    “Hey, Blakeslee, you’d better do it, maybe you’d get that missing bit of your thumb back.”

    The professor hushed them all.

    “First, let us persuade the creature to remove itself from Miss Quennel’s back, without antagonizing it.”

    Well, Clara, they offered it tuna fish, green beans, ostrich feathers, someone’s beret, boot blacking, and innumerable other things and it moved not one fraction of an inch away from my back. Then, they decided they would have to pick it up. They feared that whacking it with a shilly would only make it dig itself into me, so one of the men put on a welder’s glove and tried to pick it up. It slit the glove open with three quick wriggles, at least, that is how it felt to me, and hissed again. After that, no-one would come near it or me. The professor continued to study it at a distance. He suggested that perhaps it liked females, as it had not scratched me, so Rue bravely put on the other welder’s glove, but fared no better than anyone else.

    It was growing cool by the time the professor gave up. I had been standing up practically all day, though I had managed to carefully get a few drinks of water and something to eat. Moving my arms did not appear to distress the animal. The professor advised me to walk to my tent, moving slowly, and try to get some rest on my stomach. No sooner was I inside my tent, than the weight lifted. I stood stock still again, trying to discover where it had gone. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, then the creature strolled across the sand in front of me. It did look remarkably like a cat, maybe shaped slightly differently. Then, there was an odd wavering along its back. I blinked, but then it blurred again, just along the back. Suddenly, wings popped up. Carefully, thinking that whatever else it did, I did not want it climbing on my back again, I lay down on the bed. There was a whirring, then a clang, then an angry hiss and with a shredding sound, the creature appeared by my nose. I believe that it attempted to fly, fell, and then climbed the bed-clothes. After it saw me again, it gave a yowl, then curled up next to my stomach.

    I waited a few moments, made sure its eyes were closed, then cautiously got up and left the tent. The buttercat/catterfly/saber-toothed-tiger-thing remained where it was. The professor was still in the clocking tent and listened to my story with interest. Now that it had left my back, he was interested in getting a closer look at it, but afraid of antagonizing it. He informed me that it appeared to have adopted me and I had better return to it, for who knew what kind of damage it could wreak on the camp attempting to find me. I am still not entirely convinced that it is safe, but sitting in here at my desk, observing the creature, it does look quite cuddly and harmless. Hah! I am not sure I will be able to sleep tonight, but at least I had something of interest to write you about.

    With love,
    Your terrified godsister,
    Titania Quennel, honorary buttercat
    Thankful People: Anemone Flynn

    My dearest honorary buttercat (indeed, the only one I know!),


    Gracious! The scrapes you do manage to get yourself into! At least the creature did not tear your clothing at all – confess, now, you have been wearing pantaloons after all! There is no manner of perception which could induce me to believe that you have been hovering above a campfull of men and boys without adopting some sort of garment to assist in covering your legs, which a petticoat and summer frock could hardly properly accomplish!


    However, in my delight at finding you out, I neglect the more serious matter at hand. The scrapes you get into! The only comparable thing to this, however, was the incident with the one-legged goose who followed you into the Governor's Ball. How do you manage to be such a magnet? I admit to some small envy, my environment being perfectly suited to a small, fuzzy creature whose evident desire is merely to cuddle. I shall have Margit inquire about for kittens.


    And I have digressed again. Poor Tinny, the travails you go through endeavoring to keep me on track with our conversations. Did he really swallow the clock? How big is a clock, anyways? Perhaps the poor creature is in pain! I am sure, from what you tell me, that he is inclined to be very friendly towards you at least. I have never heard of a creature that looked like a cat, had various disappearing and reappearing claws and wings, and randomly adopted strange women who were crawling into cracks after it. Buttercat is a very fine name, although you may find people wondering if he is squishy and yellow, instead of making the wings connection at first glance.


    We are doing very well here – I have five apprentices, as promised from the contests, and am quite amazed by their avid desire to learn about astronomy and helio-dependency. Our first exercise is to be the construction of the large astroscope, along with supplemental geometry and other mathematical classes, so that they can have some understanding of what we know of the relationships between orbital bodies, as well as what we surmise and what I wish to prove. You will be glad to hear that my designs for this building's heliofactor have been tested, and we are currently providing 83% of the necessary power through the sun's energy! Is that not a triumph beyond all?!


    The Mayor, I am told, raises his eyebrows in wonder every time he sees my huge helio antennae. I daresay it is because he is remembering my machinery and the vast steam-kettle I created, which is heated by nothing more than that. No coal! The only wood we use is for my personal fireplace – I know, I ought not to be a traditionalist, with my grand views on helio-dependency, but there is something very sensually pleasing about a true fireplace, with flames, where cocoa can be heated and cheese toasted.


    All of the apprentices were invited to a celebration and introductory meeting in my quarters after their winnings were announced – we sang jolly songs (or at least they did – I hummed along, not knowing the words or the language well enough to tell you what they were about), and I paced off the new floors, showing them where all the equipment was destined to be placed. We have build it big, Tinny, far too spacious for what I have now, but I have such plans! It will be an observatory among observatories, and people shall come from near and far to see what has been accomplished!


    I daresay that all sounds like boasting, and perhaps it is. I will endeavor to omit myself from the praises as much as possible, for it is not as though I have invented observatories, after all. I merely hope to succeed in my research. This town is perfectly situated for me, and assuming all goes well with my current project, I hope to study for years to come. You may visit me, and astound the indigenous life forms with your brown skin and tremendous upper arm strength, and I, pale and pleasantly plump, shall welcome you with all my heart.


    With the greatest affection,


    • CommentTimeMay 23rd 2011 edited
    My dearest Clara,

    I am delighted, of course, to hear that your helio studies are going well. If you can convert the Siberians, I am sure that climes such as the one I am in will fall before you without your even asking. I am disappointed though, that the only mention of your apprentices involved singing jolly songs. You must surely have more interesting stories to tell me about them then you have been letting on. You mustn't hold back, even if they are quite embarrassing - after all, you have been regaled with strange and wonderful tales containing buttercats and cliff climbing. I do not expect life where you are to be as wild, perhaps, but you cannot convince me that life in Siberia is an exact replica of life in O-------. You are even further from home than I and while I receive two or three letters a week from home, your father is surely not carrying on a regular correspondence with you? So you must tell me these stories before they are forever lost to posterity.

    My strangely unpredictable friend has developed a somewhat regular pattern of behavior, although after seeing Blakeslee's hand every morning, I cannot bring myself to feel Safe around it. Now that I have a name for the species, I have been trying to decide what to call him. (her?). The non-certainty on gender makes the naming trickier. The clock is still inside the animal, we have no way of securing it well enough to safely perform any kind of clock-removing surgery and although we are equipped enough to kill it, the professor is concerned about causing the extinction of a new species before we have time to report it. the Secretary of Geographical Outreach still gives out rewards for specimens of newly recorded animals, which settles the men to its unrestrained presence, the bonus, I am told, is quite large. Of course, these are also men who voluntarily employ themselves exploring never before seen parts of the Nevadas. I should feel quite shocked and much less safe with them if it only took a solitary beast to intimidate them.

    As for the creature's semi-regular behavior, it has made my tasks around camp more difficult. Rue refuses to approach it, so if I want any help with my fastenings, it must be done very quickly, before the --cat reattaches itself. I have become shockingly adept at threading my own laces, any proper young lady should be much more clueless. It hardly helps that the animal seems to regard any string movement as a kind of game. And it shears through things so quickly, that I had to use riveting and leather and substitute them for my ribbons and sashes. I suppose it brings me a step closer to looking like a veteran clocker.

    Our charts and lists of data increase daily in a quite satisfactory way and we have had no further difficulties in locating our clocks. I spent yesterday afternoon reconstructing one that had somehow become dislodged from the cliff top. We recovered the data, but in order to make it functional for replacement, we had to reshape some of the gears and realign the casing with the gripping mechanism.

    And my ---cat is now showing an inclination to play with my stylus quill, so I will sign off quite quickly and hope for amusing histories of Siberia to appear soon.

    Your friend,

    Dear Tinny,

    I am indeed grieved to hear of your sartorial suffering. Margot, of course, has no fears for anything other than that I might appear less than perfectly costumed, although I have persuaded her that heaping on wraps and appearing fatter than one actually is, although not to be desired back home, is quite in fashion in these colder climes. I pointed out that men are generally attracted to plump women on the basis that they are healthier and have the probability of producing fatter babies. She considered this for a long time, then told me that since I was finally taking my duty to marry and bear grandchildren for my father seriously, she would not stand in my way, although she was surprised to hear that I wished to marry into such a different culture. I have not disappointed her presumptions, yet.

    My prentices are coming along nicely with their studies, and although they are hardly up to university standards, I cannot complain. We have only had one accident with acids, and thank heaven they are not commonly used in my actual projects, so that is behind us now. We were performing a very simple alchemy, and Julienne had the temerity to add the sulphate before I had prepared them for that step. As a result, she did not replace the cap quickly enough, and she and Frenkle and Eric barely stepped back before it overflowed and ate through the table! Luckily Sybel is very quick on her feet, and grabbed the emergency alkalides before it had eaten through the floor, as well. Neither I nor Roscar had an opportunity to enter the fray before the mess coalesced into a simple slime, which was then easily scrubbed up.

    We are moving on to preparatory physics tomorrow, and they will learn that their ideas about the solar system are quite two dimensional, I assure you. I have been astonished at the co-existing levels of knowledge and ignorance in my class; however, I daresay it is often thus. No one person ever knows all things, therefore there must be ignorance and knowledge in the same frame. They would all probably conquer my slight efforts at creating a decent balaclava, even though I do love to eat them!

    I prevailed upon Margot to bring me kittens when she came from town last week - I have three of the dearest little tykes, one is black and white, one blue, and one rather smudgy. I have not named them yet, so they all believe they are called 'kitty,' and each one looks askance when the others also answer my calls. I shall come up with something soon, never fear. They love to roll empty test tubes along the floor and to chase the nether end of a scarf, trailed around a chair. I am spending many a pleasant evening with my 'Encylopaedia Aldamunus Parasympathetica' and my adorable little fuzzballs scattered around my chair.

    I hope in all the furor of having to dress yourself and acclimate to a constant passenger and find clocks hither and thither that you are not neglecting your constitution, and do get enough sleep and food. I shall be very displeased with Rue if she lets her tender sensibilities interfere with caring for you!

    Love always,
    • CommentTimeMar 11th 2013 edited
    Clara, Bastincle, Clara,

    It has been such an age since I last saw you. And despite my new attachment in the form of the Clockercat (I cannot settle on what to call the beast, so its nomenclature is immense and varied) and the not-inconsequential company of Rue, I must admit that I have not yet found a combination of work I enjoy and new companions that fills my little hollow of homesickness. I don't mean to sound overly mournful, but I have been so spoilt up to this point with bosom companions left and right, that the lack of someone with whom I can discuss everything from the inclination of the setting sun's temporal rays to the state of the airship navy leaves me rather floundering in my own thoughts at times.

    We have been moving quite steadily through the canyon - even my CanyonTiger has settled into the rhythm. It sets quite passively on my backpack while I work and curls on my quilts during the leisure hours. As long as I avoid actual contact with any other human, it refrains from eating anyone's fingers - and since Rue was really the only person in the camp who had much direct contact with me, the biggest change has been for her - and me, I suppose, as we have managed several ingenious ways to utilize spare clock gear so that I can do myself up in the mornings. Some of my outfits were simply impossible with only one set of hands. Perhaps I shall set a trend in self-garbing young ladies. Although the populace has been known to react quite violently to the idea of faceless clockwork "replacing" people and automatons, so perhaps I shall just keep quiet.

    We have not yet encountered more strange wildlife, though we have started posting watch for jackwrens when the clockers are on their lines. No one wants to be the repeat of the Llewelyn expedition. As far as the weather goes - for in any communication between two genteel ladies, there must surely be a mention of the weather, I am forced to admit that as much as I adore the winter snows, I am currently enjoying baking in the canyon sun while reading about your latest snowball escapades. We are fortunate to have so quickly found employ in our desired fields, but I do still find myself amused that we have ended in such constant and opposite climates.

    Now, having dispensed with the pleasantries, I suppose I ought to make some slight effort to justify my plaint that I wish to discuss airship politics. Unfortunately, I rely on Valentina to keep me up to date on the subject and she is not the most prolific letter writer of my acquaintance. I did, however, receive a very nice sketch from her the other day. It depicts a large crowd of young gentlemen fleeing from me at a ball, as a many-times magnified Canyon Feline crouches on my shoulders, showing its fangs (not that I am certain the actual Canyon Tiger has fangs, mind you). I believe the figure drawn prone on the ballroom floor is Rothbert Whorley and the one that has been lightly shaded green bears a suspicious resemblance to Everwich Longshaw. The drawing was accompanied by a thoughtful note of congratulations on the acquisition of my new pet.

    But as I was saying, this did nothing for my awareness of the current aeronautical situation, so I suppose any discussion must of a necessity, begin with a request for information on the subject. So that is the total sum of space I can spend discussing airbuses.

    I am happy to report, in completely unrelated news, that I seem to have got the hang of gearing the clocks and my fingers are finally regaining a more normal state - not to say scratchless, for I am not sure they have ever been that, but practically scratch free. I believe I shall still be glad of the custom of wearing gloves with formal wear, however; as I did manage to acquire one or six more little scars during my learning curve. Of course, having lived with myself for as long as I have, I must regretfully predict that my typical disregard for the placement of physical objects shall now, in lieu of disappearing, find another, hitherto unexplored, outlet. But this is not all bad, for I have no strong objection to know how easy it is to function with a bruise here or there. I really believe I would feel quite adrift in the ether if I did not occasionally walk into a piece of my surroundings now and then.

    And I have not forgotten, since I sat down at my writer that you are owed many happy returns of the day. Be advised that I planned far, far ahead and if all went smoothly, Rosalind should have already placed a package for you in the post, in the hopes that it would arrive close to the actual anniversary of your birth. I hope you survive the sulfaetic escapades of your apprentices long enough to see and approve of it and also that you are able to spend at least a portion of your day in frolicks. I anticipate Margot's gift will be something to subtly remind you of your duties to expand the family tree, so I have helpfully included a note to her, mentioning that as my new zoological specimen will be driving off any potential suitors for myself, I fully support her efforts and also that I have pinned all my hopes for honorary aunthood upon your person.

    Hoping this letter finds you in exuberant good health, I remain

    Your not quite plump enough for Siberian standards, but certainly healthy,

    It does seem as though the kittens should receive names fitting to a marvelous trio: Ko-Ko, Pooh Bah, and Pish Tush? Aramis, Athos, and Porthos? Or perhaps something that rolls off the tongue: Good, Bad and Ugly? Knife, Fork, and Spoon? Shake, Rattle, and Roll? Gear, Spring, and Shaft?

    Very well, very well, it may be tempting to continue in this vein, but I will call a halt for now. But you may expect more suggestions in the next letter if I have not heard of names by the time I write it.

    -T. Q.
    Beautiful! I especially like your reference to 'faceless clockwork' versus automatons. Nicely done. I will have to read back up a bit to remember what is the best way to pursue the conversation, but I have not forgotten you! :-D

    -- Out of Character Anemone

    Just caught up on this most entertaining correfpondence. Excellent work, as always.

    -Nylad the Letter-Snoop

    *hmmms a hmmmm of great significance*
    Dearest Tinny,

    I have named the kittens Lack-Wit, Mustard, and Pinochle. I'm sure you will approve.

    Dear Tinnitus,

    I suppose you have heard by now of the fracas between the Royal Navy and the air skiffs of Greater Mongolia. As a result of that squabble, Siberia has been invaded. It's very inconvenient timing for me, as my astroscope was just completed when the Mongolians swooped in and confiscated it. From what I can gather, they are worried that I am building some sort of long range weapon here, capable of lobbing explosives halfway across the continent. Well, I am sorry to disappoint their stereotype of war-mongering Ameriland spies, but unless they consider a decent mechanical education to be a weapon of mass destruction, I'm certain I pose no threat.

    Although I was able to persuade the commander of the incoming forces not to destroy my precious observatory, he has settled an occupying force to watch my astroscope for irresponsible activity. As a result, I have been removed from my cozy apartment, and Margit, kittens, and all, relocated to the house of Pan Gregor Ilyenovich Kuryenko, a good friend of the Mayor and the local schoolmaster.

    I had anticipated that the schoolmaster for this town must be a dolt of the first water, but I am coming to realize I was gravely mistaken. He was educated in Munich, of all places, and hold a very impressive language degree. He is sadly lacking in higher maths, it's true, but he is perfectly capable of preparing his students for daily life in this little village or to head off to university for more in-depth classes.

    At any rate, Margit cannot decide whether she is delighted (or as delighted as is possible for an automaton with a straight line for a mouth) or dismayed with our new lodgings - for the schoolmaster is a bachelor! The logical mishmash of directives in her processors is near to overheating them. Your 'little note' froze her up for nearly 30 minutes, and I was afraid I would have to burn it and do a temporal reset, but she managed to climb out of it finally. I hate doing temporal resets, it feels like such an insult to wipe memory from a loyal automaton that is simply doing its best to help. But thank you for the hat - it is indeed reminiscent of the graduation caps, as you mentioned, but the ear flaps will keep my head warmer than any flycap could!

    Why would you request information on aerobuses from me? That is ridiculous, and you know it. We could as well discuss the latest invention in pinecone derived footwear. What of a subject more closely concerning both of us? Is there nothing that springs to mind? I am more interested in a casual appreciate of biology at this point. Although I have not seen one, I have been told in whispered tones of a small animal called a bugaloo that lives in the mountains near here. He is naked, not furred as you may suppose, and clothes himself by rolling in the mud and then leaves until he is caked about with insulation. I am not sure whether my students are playing an immense practical joke on me, or there really is some animal that either performs these actions or has given rise to a legend by some misunderstanding. Strange, is it not? My personal experience with native life is limited to my kittens, at present.

    Lack-wit doesn't seem to have noticed the location change - it's lucky for him he is a beautiful Belarussian blue, because he is really very dumb. Mustard and Pinochle have adopted Pan Kuryenko with open paws, and spend much of their time in a lap by the fire. Pan Kuryenko's home is not even slightly helio-dependent, and his fire is very nice.

    I am drawing up plans with the mayor to construct a helio-dynamic electricity plant just outside town. I am trying to convince him to allow me to design a pool and sauna adjacent to it, so citizens can swim at any temperature, but he is doubtful they would care that much about access to an unfrozen body of water in the winter. As he points out, we can not afford to keep it stocked with fish for them. Sometimes I feel like we are speaking different languages, and then I realize that of course we are! I think I must get a very amusing look on my face when I realize I have been spouting off my arguments in English, because my vocabulary is so poor I can't convey my thoughts correctly. The Mayor says, "Ah, well, Ilyenovich and you can discuss it, and he will tell me what you mean." and Pan Kuryenko gives me a sidelong glance, as though thermodynamics are not his favorite conversational material. I'm still not sure what he actually does like to talk about. I have been in his house for a week now, and every night after dinner we retire to his library and read until one or the other gives up and goes to bed. For a man whose great passion is supposed to be language, he uses very little of it in speech! I have noticed that he reads in several languages, though. Perhaps he does not care to speak them aloud?

    The Mongolians have not yet come around confiscating writers. If they do, I will give them my broken one. I have hidden this one in the library, inside an old Siberian cookbook, and hope it will be undiscovered. The wireless relay station on the coast was not overrun yet, so I am sending my letters directly there, though it uses a great deal of power to transmit that far. I will turn on my receiver once a day to check for your messages, but beware that any that come to the post here will likely be read and reviewed by the Mongolians.

    Do you remember that horrid little boy in New London who used to call me Stinkle before I bloodied his nose? I think we were about ten? The Mongolian has a giant mustache just like that boy's father. I can still remember how it trembled with rage, from waxed tip to waxed tip, when my father told him that my punishment for fighting was none of his business, and would he kindly remove his hand from my arm before my father removed his arm from his body. The week without dessert spent in study of when physical violence is an appropriate response and when it is not was very educational, but not nearly so hilarious as that moment. I must school myself to take these Mongolians seriously, because the mustache is all their commander has in common with the pretentious, red-faced, blustering father from that incident.

    My students and I have set up a small shop in one of the classrooms, only to be used while school is not in session. So at least they will not fall behind in their studies, and when the astroscope is released to us, we can resume as though no insanity had occurred.

    Pan Kuryenko's sister is calling me to dinner now - she is his housekeeper - so I must hide this writer away and go.

    Pet the Tocking Feline for me, and I remain,

    Ever your friendly correspondent,

    • CommentTimeMay 29th 2014 edited
    Clarion Darcy! How dare you get yourself and Margit stuck in a Mongolian invasion. And I cannot think that it will be at all good for your kittens' development, being exposed to bushy moustaches at so tender an age.

    I would commiserate with you more over your astroscope, but I have to admit that in this case, the Mongols strike me as quite prudent - I have no doubts about your ability to convert your entire observatory into a long range weapon should you have desired to do so. Invading armies cannot simply take these things on trust, you know.

    Passing over your rather facetious remarks regarding pincecone footwear (although the latest fashion diagrams Valentina sent me show that it is still high fashion) and remarking with interest that practial joke or not, you really must investigate this "bugaloo" creature further, I find your linguistical schoolmaster to be the next subject in your letter that I can address with any form or style.

    Pan Gregor Illyenovich Kuryenko does not seem to be lacking in names - is the Pan an honorific or is it indeed his given name? And if I were speaking directly to him, I would offer reassurances that to a Bastincle pursuing a Masters in Astrophysics, anyone and everyone is lacking higher-maths. I do confess a morbid curiosity as to how you learned of this so called lack ... and if you had to be thrown out of your cozy igloo of an observatory, he seems a decent sort to weather the Mongols with.

    If he will allow it, you must send me some scans from that Siberian Cookbook as it sounds as though it could be put to much more interesting uses than writer smuggling.

    We remain helio-dependant out here in the Nevadas and relatively untouched by these recent altercations between the Royal Navy and Greater Mongolia. Even the rising tensions between the UM and Greater Canada do not impact our routine except as our letters from home grow more troubled.

    But it is very difficult to focus on a theoretial attack from Denmark when the Jackwrens swoop in and you can see the sawblades of their beaks next to your strand-wire. We keep at least one man on the groud with the soaking gun and all the climbers are doubled wired. We only get 1/2 of the work done that we were managing easily on the 1st ly, but everyone has stayed safe thus far.

    Surprisingly, Rue, who had never shot at anything in her life, is a dead aim with the soaker, and hits her bird nine times out of ten with such a straight stream that it plummets out of the sky and must spend an hour preening in the sun before it can even manage to fly off to sulk in the Deep Canyons.

    Even the veteran clockers are serious now, with much less of the joking attempts to frighten me as we ourselves approach the Deeps. Only three more clocks to reset on the second ly and then we venture to set in the unknonwn.

    Professor Ajua says we have made very good time despite the Incident of the Clanking Cat and seems pleased with my work. He spends every spare moment reviewing expedition reports from any group - successful or not - that has ventured near this area. By his slightly-lower-than-higher-maths math, we should be able to set at least a fifteen clock ly in the next three weeks, but he has enough whole clocks left to set twenty-three if we can manage a frightful pace. But once we reach fourteen weeks of travel, we turn around no matter how many clocks are lyed and make for the pass as quickly as clockerly possible, for none of us wishes to weather the winter in this barren place.

    The clattercat seems to remain the only one of its kind in the area and if it protets its territory as fiercely as it protects my lacings, I can see why it would be a solitary creature. We have not been able to completely determine its natural diet, but it grows quite heavy dining upon potted lizzard and I am sure my shoulders will be prodigiously strong by the time it deigns to leave them as a perch. I only wish we had been better able to weigh it - for I would stake my left boot that the creature is at least four pounds heavier now than it was initially.

    Rue has devised some rather clever pockets out of my skirt pleating to allow for the fact that I can no longer manage a rucksack for my gearings- instead I have become the rucksack myself. I think we have managed to make the situationas perfect as it can be until a proper heliozoologist can adopt the furry mess.

    Praying that news of national disrest grows quieter and wishing heavy snowfall upon all mustached Mongolians, I remain

    General Tinnitus
    1st Clocker Regiment - Tocking Felinus
    Dear T. Q.

    I will take your questions first, then explain further my current activities!

    1. 'Pan' is about the equivalent of saying 'Professor' or 'Mister' or whatever else works for your particular situation as a general form of respectful address. Gregor is his first name, Kuryenko is his last name, and Ilyenovich simply means 'son of Ilya,' so as to differentiate him from any other Gregor Kuryenkos one might discover. Ilyenovich is also a familiar term, like a nickname, although I have heard the Mayor call him Grisha teasingly, which I think is the diminutive for Gregory. You would not believe how many names each Russian person has, Tinny! (I am just realizing we are probably not any less confusing, but at least we're confusing in my native tongue!)

    2. The lack of higher maths is obvious, really, once you begin to quiz the students who applied to work with me. Fancy, they are not required to study above calculus! And I have been told that anyone who wants to study higher is handed Quirinius Albus's 'Matematica Sinistra' and sent off to see how they fare!

    3. I have been permitted to send you some scans, and they are attached to this letter. The cookbook has some really fascinating ideas, although I was always more comfortable on the consumption side of any meal.

    Now, to respond to further comments, the kittens are really out of luck when it comes to intimidating facial hair. I have yet to see another moustache so prominent as the Commander's, but beards are a way of life over here. Those of us so unfortunately prevented from having a beard by our gender wear thick scarves around our lower faces, so it can be nearly impossible to tell who you are speaking to unless you have memorized their eyes or the sound of their voice when it is muffled by several layers of wool and ice and your ears are also swathed inches deep. That is to say, again, nearly impossible.

    Will your writer still transmit when you are in the Deeps? The thought of going months without communication from you frankly terrifies me more than these Mongolian Hordes. My father still has not been in contact, and to lose my only remaining thread of contact with the rest of the world, however uncivilized your surroundings, would drive me near to madness.

    I have still been unable to coax more than monosyllables from Pan Kuryenko when we are in the library in the evenings. I have tried generating conversation on ever scientific subject I can think of, and still he returns to his book at the earliest possible point! Margit is beginning to make pointed comments about how some people she knows of forget everything they learned about keeping a man interested in themselves, and although my purpose is far removed from what Margit wishes it was, I am not sure what I'm doing wrong.

    He is an educated man, and most educated men I spoke to while in school seemed to think it a relief to chat with me about something they actually understood, instead of me sighing in despair over how quickly we get the latest fashions from Tibet, and gossiping about Professor Ingram's daughter's latest escapades. I just don't understand. He doesn't even have the excuse of a defensive feline attached to my person, for Pinochle and Mustard have taken an altogether insatiable liking to him. Men!

    Your clattercat sounds like a decent chaperone, to be sure. But I read your latest letter out loud to Margit, and she wants me to tell to you to be careful of overmuscling your shoulders, lest it make your neck seem short. I told her that you were in greater danger of having suitors mangled than dismayed by your lack of neck, and she merely sniffed. "If young Miss Quennel needs assistance with her animal, I'm sure any decent automaton would be happy to assist." I pointed out, again, that there are no automatons in the sandy desert, and she looked very shocked - which she conveys by lifting both arms into the air and letting out a low hooting sound. I believe she thinks your parents quite irresponsible for letting you venture out without Matilde, although I have been over the reasoning with her a dozen times.

    Speaking of clattercats, have you been able to determine its sex? Because I can think of a very possibly inconvenient reason for an animal to suddenly gain weight and to be ferociously defensive and hungry enough to eat a random clock. Perhaps you will all have little furry back guards when your group returns to civilization, and can start a new style!

    There is no further information on the Bugaloo front. I will ask around, though, and see what I can discover about it or any other interesting wildlife.

    The Mongolians have let me check on my astroscope, and so far it is still in one piece. I am not allowed to touch anything, though, so my students and I are working on equations to predict the electrical output of my helio-dynamic generator. It keeps us occupied, at least.

    I will keep you informed of further developments!

    Ever yours,
    • CommentTimeJun 4th 2014
    Pan Bastincle,

    The ravel has proven sturdy thus far in our letter exchanges, but the entire point of the Deep is that it is basically unexplored territory. As a precaution, I will write with ferocious frequency during these last few days in the 2nd ly and if we are cut off, you will at least have some enlivening and educating reading material to review until the expedition regrasps the ravel. The relays make communication less than instantaneous, of course, so you will only be reading about my survival of days past, but rest assured that I will be doing all in my power to return to society in one piece - and you may assure Margit - with an appropriately sized neck.

    The possibility that my clattercat is female had occurred to me, but I shudder away from the thought every time it brushes the surface of my mind - for if it is anything like the animals I have experience with, it will expect to keep its offspring in the 'nest' for some time after their birth. And I refuse to even consider where it might choose to give birth, as I cannot believe that even the most tradition-bound of animals would do so in a vertical position several hundred feet above solid earth. You have lent a measure of delight to the horrific images that flash through my head when I consider the thought, however. The mental picture of Breckins - our oldest, most scarred, and most severe groundstrand clocker - forced to walk around camp with a miniature creature dug into his back would make most anyone burst into laughter. Beyond all these concerns, I worry about what complications the clock lodged inside the creature might cause - I have had a nightmare or two about half-automaton clockerkittens.

    Now that I write my meditations on the matter out for the perusal of your gentle and womanly mind (feel free to read that as an excerpt to Margit, if you think it will be of comfort to her), I find myself with another thought on the matter - have you ever heard of a flying creature that behaved in a mammalian fashion? Even the legendary Sphinx is said to have laid clutches of eggs. Perhaps you could inquire of your father? I would do so myself, but you know he would send me a twenty page questionnaire on the creature and I doubt I will have the time to properly fill it out. If you can manage to conceal your inquiries in a short note about the Bugaloo, he may believe you are simply investigating odd Siberian animal-lore. Oberon has been caring for the menagerie while Signor Bastincle is away in the UM and his last note indicated that your father is due back any day now - so you can rest assured that he will at least be in communication range at some not-too-distant point.

    If it will soften your mind toward Siberian mathematics curriculum at all, please recall that all of my maths studies past the level of calculus focused on various geometries and I could no more perform a stochastic equation than I could build an astroscope from common household items. I hope you will still consent to correspond with me now that I have admitted to this shocking fault... but I will agree that conversation with Pan Gregor sounds frustrating in the extreme. Even I, while I attempt to avoid random conversations with strangers, flatter myself that I can produce a relatively coherent flow of small talk when trapped in someone's parlor during visiting hours. On the other hand, you and I are standing on rather shaky ground when we criticise someone for preferring a good book to casual chit-chat. Perhaps you could find common interests if you determined what his recent reading material has focused on?

    I have missed Margit's expression of shock, although I do not fondly recall the day that your father made me oil her shoulder joints because he judged that a large amount of their wear and tear had been my fault. At least there is no chance of that punishment when I shock her from afar. There is no doubt that Matilde would have done her best to rid me of the animal by now - but she has not been programmed to deal with zoologic specimens and I think the requirement for bringing the clocked cat back in one piece is better served by not having her in the desert. That aside, there are days that I feel my parents have been quite irresponsible, casting me out on my own in this way. My knowledge of the world and its functions can feel sadly lacking during campfire conversations and while some of the gaps I do my best to fill in, there are other gaps I would have been perfectly happy to treasure for sometime longer. Speaking of campfires, I have perused the cookbook pages with interest and resigned myself to the fact that nothing in the pages is suitable for our rough, cookout style of meal. I will have you know that I am now a dab hand at baking flat bread on rocks, but a mousse of pressed whale is far beyond that in difficulty level. If you can fit some whale meat into your luggage on your next furlough, perhaps we can attempt the concoction together.

    I am happy to hear that the Mongolians do not seem to be causing you any real hardship and have allowed you to check on your beloved observatory. It sounds as though it would be unsafe to complain to anyone about difficulties resulting from the invasion, lest under their wrappings they turn out to be an enemy soldier. Siberian intrigue must be a strange variety of espionage work and full of odd conundrums - do you risk a frostbite scarred face, or the chance the bundle of furs in the drinking hall may actually be an opposing general rather than your contact? I suppose that those experienced in the field have solved the problem long ago; but for us amateurs, amusing conjecture can still reign.

    Hoping I have been both educating and entertaining, I remain,

    Pan Titania Landenovich Quennel
    (although the necessity of the Landenovich seems questionable to me. How many Titania Quennels have you met? And no, my multiple personalities do not count as distinct persons.)
    Panna Titania Landenovna Quennel,

    My dear, your closing signature made me gasp out laughter that caused poor Pan Kuryenko to look over in alarm and little Pinochle to jump up and begin hissing at nothing in particular. Perhaps I need to laugh more often, to accustom them all to the shocking sound! I have neglected to inform you of the feminine versions of the honorific and patronymic!

    For an unmarried woman, it is Panna; a married woman is Pani. Also, the suffix for the patronymic becomes -ovna. So you see, not too complicated, but differentiated.

    Now that we have cleared up that little mishap, I will continue on to extending my hopes for your safe journeys through 'The Deeps.' You do make them sound exciting! I read some excerpts of your letter out to Margit, and she merely creaked in a disapproving way. The weather here is not kind to her joints, and she has to bundle up as much as any human to brave the outsides, lest she freeze up and become and ice monument.

    I had a sudden vision of Matilde after trying to remove your clockercat from your back. Scratched and one-eyed, with wires hanging loosely from one wrist. Poor Matilde, I am not at all sure she would end up winning that battle, especially given the talent your 'cat has for producing various tools at short notice as necessary. Personally, I expect that you and he will find that your cat is a mammal, but not a traditionally winged one. I doubt eggs will be a problem, as they are very difficult for a nomadic creature to care for, and your buttercat seems to have fit into your traveling lifestyle without any wrinkles at all, leading me to believe that it is not a strange existence for it. It is more likely that any kittens will be born at an advanced stage of development, capable of walking (or flying!) almost immediately after birth, like a spring-buck or some other herd animal. Of course, I could be completely wrong, and a nesting instinct may kick in once the female of the species feels her time drawing near, at which point she settles for several months in one place. A place like your back? But I am teasing you, of course!

    I will write to my father and find out if he has anything to say about the reproductive habits of winged creatures. I did receive a short note from him today, saying that he is back in town, leaving the smokehound alive and well and contentedly filled with applewood smoked ham. He did not actually reply to any of my own missives, so I am certain that as soon as he gets a chance to sit and read them I will have a very bulky letter coming my way!

    My chattering thus far has been in part an attempt to calm myself, for we have had a very concerning incident here in town. One of my students, Roscar, was arrested by the Mongolians. They have imprisoned him in the town gaol, and taken over that building themselves to assure that he will not be able to leave. Pan Kuryenko has heard a rumor that he is being accused of some form of sabotage or terrorism. I have continued my classes as best I am able, but it is difficult for anyone to focus. Poor Sybel is the worst off, as I believe she and Roscar have some sort of understanding, as Margit would put it, to make fat babies with each other at some point in the future.

    I will keep you informed of events. Please do be careful, as you scale walls and plumb deeps with your buttercat firmly ensconced on your back!

    • CommentTimeJun 22nd 2014

    I rather suspected that my signature would lack proper form, but it was too amusing an idea to resist. I actually believe I prefer the masculine title - the only alternate meaning I can think of for it is the Castile word for bread, while panna is, I know, used by Medichian society to describe a soft vanilla custard. So I think I will continue to blithely mangle the bits and pieces of Russian language that you send my way and this will perhaps assist you in your mission to laugh more often.

    Your story regarding your student's arrest is quite worrying. I beseech you not to react in an impulsive manner and to perhaps attempt model citizenship for the next few weeks. For as his teacher, you must fall under automatic suspicion, even beyond that which was caused by your astronomical tendencies. There have been tales trickling in from other parts of Siberia regarding the Mongols' behavior and they are not even slightly reassuring. I do not often attempt to be a calming influence in anyone's life, but please, dear friend, try to avoid getting thrown into any gulags while pursuing your Masters.

    The desk work here has nearly doubled as we perform brief surveys of the walls and measure angles and inclines to determine the best clock positions. I can do the geometry, but I lack the instinct that helps the other clockers to estimate the best starting figures. If I borrow Tr

    error - sender out of range
    error - message transcription incomplete
    error - resend relay failed
    • CommentTimeJan 17th 2018
    Panna Clara,

    No, it will not do. I cannot address you as such without envisioning a watery custard. And I cannot help but feel that the near rhyme is unfortunate. Bastincle it shall be, unless you can offer some other Russian form of address as a substitute.

    I hope that the abrupt ending of my last message was not a worry to you, as I feel that your Mongol beset life must be stressful enough as it is. I think we had both realized it was only a matter of time before the Deeps overstretched the capabilities of the relay system. And since none of our group is expert in building helio-boost systems, I had to resign myself to the lack of communication during these last few weeks.

    Not that I would have had the energy to write, even if the relay system had somehow stretched that far. Indeed, we have worked ourselves into plodding clouds of dusty exhaustion during this 3rd ly. We called it complete at twenty-one clocks and I daresay no one in the group feels there was anyway to drop the last two clocks within our allotted time span. Everyone from Rue - who has most admirably taken up various tasks around camp as the Tinker Cat edged her out of a feasible job as my maid, to the Professor, who must have worked 15 hours every day mapping geometries - is too tired to do more than sling themselves onto their goat at the start of the evening and back off in the morning.

    I have so many more muscles that I thought and every one of them is screaming for a hot bath, or at least a helio-warmed body of water. Alas, even in the approaching winter, this is still a desert and bathing beyond a damp dabbing is an unwaranted extravagance. Fortunately for everyone's sanity, our work is done and the only remaining task is to betake our limping pack train to Lisbon Station.

    It has been an intense summer and I don't begrudge a single blister or scratch, for even in the exhaustion there is the elation of a job well done and the gratifying ability to look back on all the new skills and information I have acquired. Professor Ajua has already invited me back next summer and I am seriously considering it - though I am looking forward to a few weeks of relaxation with my family. Oberon apparently has a steady girl and Rosalind a new string of beax.

    Speaking of my internship coming to its close, is this difficulty with the Mongolians going to complicate your credits toward your Masters? I recall they have shut down your astroscope, which must be frustrating indeed, for you can hardly be held accountable for the impetuosity of massive governments.

    And as we near Lisbon Station, I am struck with how strange it will be to return to New London and not find you there. Even though your letters have been Siberian in most details, some corner of my mind seems to expect to find you holed up in your father's garret, conducting some experiment with a 34% change of setting the compost piles aflame.

    Of course, my menace of a discovery is going to complicate my return for a time, as I cannot just traipse off with the only specimen of a newly discovered species among my souvenirs. The professor has begun sending out notes on my behalf and it looks as though I will first be spending some time at the Geographical Outreach Research Facility while their experts confer on how to manage the beastie. Happily, there are still no miniature clock cats - would one refer to them as pocket watch kittens? - as I do not believe any of us have the presence of mind to deal with infants of any kind at this point in our journey.

    Please write soon - now that I can receive mail once again, I am ravenous for it.

    Fondest wishes,
    --- Tinny
    Pan Titania,

    It has finally happened. The Mongolian commander has decreed that there will be no communication with the outside world until further notice. Still, I am writing this to you and queuing it up to send the moment this writer is connected to a strong enough signal. I have promised the Mayor that I will create a booster that will allow communications out at the very least, and attempt to do something similar for incoming signals, although that will hopefully be a matter of getting a note out and asking that a stronger pulse be aimed directly at my small, unauthorized receiving dish that is currently hidden behind Pan Kuryenko's chimney.

    You will be happy to hear I have made a breakthrough with Pan Kuryenko - I have discovered his secret! He is a closet pickler! I was taking down my writer yesterday morning to check for communications before breakfast, and he walked in. I pretended to be browsing the cookbook which it was hidden in, and he smiled in such a knowing way that I knew immediately I was not successful in disguising my actions. I blushed, of course, and stammered something about corresponding with a school friend, and he lightly commented that he knew better than to expect and interest in the culinary arts from someone with such a distinguished scientific education, and I of course protested that I knew the basics of cookery, having regularly prepared meals for my father, and mentioned the Great Pickle Catastrophe of '35 as an example of over-preparedness, upon which the man grew positively eloquent and did not stop talking until I excused myself for classes!

    I must go, as my brief time is up, but I will endeavor to queue up tidbits to send you as I can, so hopefully once you are in range again or I am able to transmit, you will get a heap of notes from me.

    Dear Tin Pudding,

    I have found the extended daylight hours to cause a manic sort of activity in my brain. Possibly the cold mixed with the constant sunlight has affected me somehow - I must suggest to my father that he summer here with me next year, if he wishes to write another book. Now that July has hit, the days are shortening again, and I am finding my thoughts more sluggish and my memories drifting to that cafe where we sat in the sunny window studying so many mornings.

    Still, for making hay while the sun shines, I do not feel I have done too badly. If the Mongolians ever release my astroscope, I will be completely prepared to make my observations. I have no plans at present to return for the winter, even if the Mongols were allowing travel, so we are making preparations for the deep cold and snow.

    Lack-Wit has only once trapped himself in the coal-scuttle, but when Margit opened the lid to stoke Pan Kuryenko's fire (he uses a mixture of coal and wood), he scattered coal dust over the entire library, so he is in disgrace and everyone is keeping a very close eye on him. Pinochle and Mustard are still behaving like proper cats, of course. They run the risk of being quite boring. I suppose it is hard to be satisfied with extremes.

    I am meeting with Sybel for private tutoring tomorrow morning; I believe she means to recruit me into a plan to rescue Roscar, but I promise not to get involved unless it has more than a 70% chance of success. Beyond that, you know I can make no promises. Although I am not good at intrigue, star-crossed love stories have always held a special place in my heart.

    Pan Kuryenko says I may share his recipe for apple vinegar pickled cabbage, so I have attached it for you here:
    1/2 small/medium head red cabbage
    1 cup water
    1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
    1/2 cup red wine vinegar
    2 teaspoons sugar
    2 cloves garlic, smashed
    2 dried bay leaves
    2 teaspoons caraway seeds
    1 teaspoon salt
    black pepper

    Make at least 4 hours before serving.

    Slice cabbage in half. Slice one half in half again. Remove the core. Shred cabbage finely with a very sharp knife. Place in a large glass bowl or jar.

    Place water, vinegar, and sugar in a bowl and whisk together until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Stir in the smashed cloves, bay leaves, caraway seeds (if using), salt, and a good grind of black pepper. Pour over the cabbage. Seal or tightly cover the jar/bowl and let sit for 3-4 hours at indoor temperature, then store in a cool place (preferably outdoors or a cellar, if not canning).

    Stir before serving and be sure to not grab any of the garlic cloves as you serve.

    Apparently the taiga soil does not grow much in the way of garden plants, but cabbages have a short season and shallow roots, so they are popular and people are constantly trying to find ways to make them more appetizing. I prefer mine boiled with salt beef, but the pickles were an interesting change, and I find the flavor grows on one over time.

    Recipe source:
    I plan to regale you with more on Sybel and Roscar before our timelines meet up again, fyi. :-)
    Dear Tani,

    I have figured out your diminutive! In Russian, you would most likely be known among close acquaintances as "Tani." It's an informal nickname, so no Pan / Panna necessary. What do you think? Very similar to "Tinny," isn't it?

    I am now regularly receiving communications from the 'outside,' but still nothing from you since you traveled out of range. At least, I'm assuming that's what happened, and not that your tickicat decided to gnaw on your writer at a sensitive moment. I haven't written you a message in some time, but rest assured that at present we are all healthy and accounted for: me, Margit, and the kittens, at least.

    There have been developments over here, and I will have to wipe my writer's memory of this missive as soon as I've sent it, to avoid being hung for sedition by the Mongolian Commander - or Jochi, as he now insists I call him. But I digress.

    I know you said to stay out of it, but really, Sybel's plan was so well-thought-out that I simply had to give her full marks on her internship with, of course, the understanding that the project would not become public knowledge until after the Mongolian invasion was rebuffed (which is still a fond hope here in town, despite the commander's insistence that we are all now citizens of his own government). Pinochle also approved of his role in the plan, which was another point in her favor.

    Quite undiscovered on my part, according to Sybel, Commander Chenghiz Jochi has been nursing a notion that he was courting me. I'll admit, the mustache twirling did seem to be increasing in frequency, but I am dense enough to have attributed that more to his vanity and temperament than to a desire to impress someone in particular. Perhaps Mongolian women choose their men based on some mustache attribute to which I am ignorant? Thickness? Length? Are men with a larger mustache more likely to succeed in war or politics? I find the idea perplexing.

    Still, Sybel's plan revolved around Commander Chg. Jochi's attraction, which I thought was rather clever, since any success would be attributed directly to his own decisions, which are much less likely to come under scrutiny than actions taken on our part. We have set the first steps in motion, and tomorrow, when I go for my daily visitation to my astroscope, while the Commander twirls remorselessly, Pinochle will perform his duties and Roscar will be on his way to warmer climes, physically if not emotionally intact.

    More to follow,

    P.S. As I linked my writer to send this, your latest missive came through. I'm so glad you are safe and back on your way to civilization! Give your goat an extra pat for me, and tell her I would be grateful for your delivery to be as gentle and relaxing as possible. Geographical Outreach Research Facility should count their blessings to have you with them for a time. CB
    • CommentTimeFeb 25th 2018
    To the Mistress of Foolhardy Plans -

    I hardly know what to write, as I do not wish to make any comments that might be misconstrued by the Mongolians should they happen to discover your hidden reader. Of course, if they realize you are clandestinely carrying on communication with the further reaches of the world, I assume you will already be neck deep in trouble, but I cannot help worry that an unwise quip or reference in my notes to you regarding your current plans, discovered before you have a chance to wipe the reader memory again would further complicate a semi-desperate situation. I will resort to quoting plays, as my family is wont to to and merely say that if 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned', earth surely has no more frightening adversary than a man jilted. Especially one who already holds a certain degree of power over your situation. Please remember to tread carefully, because even in the books, star crossed lovers do not always come out whole and life is much chancier than the stories make it out to be.

    On more, shall we call them neutral? topics, I am settled into guest quarters at the Facility. They regularly host interns out in the park, so the accommodation is no more haphazard than I would have expected for a set of rooms frequented by a mixed bag of young people with varying degrees of developed responsibility. That is to say, some of the walls are oddly stained, the collection of dishes must have been curated by an aristocrat who never had to fend for themselves (I ask you, who provides wine glasses, but no mixing bowls?!) , and I am still discovering graffiti in the corners.

    The team of researches who will be taking on the new species cataloging project are not all assembled yet, though I have met the year-round residents here and some of them may have a hand in the pie. You know me with strangers, however, and having been separated from the group of clockers who I had only just grown so comfortably accustomed to, I am back to sitting meekly in corners and eavesdropping on all the comings and goings while I get a feel for this place.

    My mechacat gave me quite a start when I first moved in, for she still expresses severe disapproval when any attempt at separation is made. The researchers were hoping to avert the need to keep an extraneous human on with their new biological, but were quickly resigned to allowing the beastie into my rooms with me. No sooner were we settled than she proved herself to be able to act in typical cat form and disappeared. I searched the nooks and I searched the crannies, the ceiling and the dresser drawers and had nearly worked myself into a lather, convinced that I had somehow managed to lose a valuable specimen. But no sooner did I open the door to go out and beg forgiveness and assistance than the cat was tangling herself in my feet and purring like a mad thing. She must have some strange ability to dissolve and resolve at will, because I am certain she was not anywhere within the chamber before that moment. Before you ask, I am not in possession of a coal scuttle, this being the Nevadas in early August and therefore she could not have pulled a Lack-Wit. At the present moment, she is loftily sleeping on my clocker's knapsack and occasionally slitting her eyes open to ensure I am not attempting to abandon her.

    There is no housing in the near area for any of my family, but my mama promises that they will make a day trip of it this end of week and spend some time entertaining me here in this odd half-imprisonment. Though I am sure it is not any more stultifying than being snowbound would feel. While I sit here and fret over what trouble your adventuresome imagination is driving you to, please do remember than I am attempting to appear mature and responsible among a new group of humans and high blood pressure is not helpful in such cases.

    Dearest Tinny,

    I do commiserate with you in your current situation of starting over once again among new colleagues and acquaintances. Having settled so firmly into my current position, the thought of going back to the beginning and re-forming all my opinions of people and their opinions of me causes a shudder of discomfort down my spine. Opinions, once given, are not easily changed, and it is so easy to deliver an incorrect impression or form one too quickly on another person. I am glad to hear your family will be visiting, which may allow you a small relaxation during all of these changes. Please give your parents my warmest regards, and tell Oberon that I have not forgotten what he did to my uniform necktie, nor forgiven him. Vengeance will be mine!

    Now, on to the subject that I am sure you have been waiting for with bated breath, an update on my wild, snowy adventures with the Mongols and the pickle-loving schoolmaster!

    It would be stretching the truth to say that Sybel's plan went off without a hitch, but it did go off, and Roscar is now safely on his way out of the country.

    You see, Pinochle (and Mustard and Lack-Wit, but Mustard is the wrong color for intrigue and no one trusts Lack-Wit with any responsibilities beyond taking regular naps), has a great fondness for pickled carp. This was discovered by the students one day, when Fedosia's lunch was stolen and strewn over the stairs by all three cats in their haste to enjoy her mother's lovingly packed gourmet meal. Sybel took particular note of their haste to come running on following days and determined that they unerringly chose to assault the students with pickled fish. Personally, I had never met a cat who enjoyed brine, fish or no fish, but I have since heard (from Sybel) that those who desire to train cats will often employ treats of this nature as incentives.

    Pinochle is also far and away the fluffiest of the three, which made it easier for Sybel to fashion a tiny harness with a pouch hidden under his chest. During my next trip to the astroscope, I was to get Commander Jochi to start talking to me about his home, a subject he waxes poetic about, and then steal the key to the cells. I would then excuse myself to visit the privy, take Pinochle out from his cozy hiding place under my skirts, where he would have been napping peacefully, and put the key into the pouch. Then, I would slip him through the small window in the ladies' room, and he would be drawn by Sybel's pickled fish to her so she could fetch the key. Sybel would deliver the key to a guard she had bribed to assist Roscar's escape, and then that guard would leave the key in Commander Jochi's office on the floor, as though it had been dropped.

    This, of course, is not what happened. I did manage to sneak Pinochle into the astroscope building, but he refused to sleep peacefully, as he had during our practice runs. Instead, he climbed down my stockings, quite ruining both them and the skin along the side of my calf, and launched himself from the Commander's office long before I had any opportunity to life the requisite key from the Commander's desk. I originally had some vague idea of pickpocketing the Commander, which I quickly discarded once I was in his presence. Call me a three-eyed octorifel swamp frog, but I simply could not do it. I had no idea which pocket to pick, I was not close enough to the Commander, and even without those two objections, I don't have the skills to insinuate my hand into his clothing while carrying on a coherent conversation about solar flares. (The Commander is blaming solar flares for the current communications blackout, although it is an open secret that he is jamming the signal locally.)

    When Pinochle jumped, therefore, I shrieked and demanded help catching him. Pinochle was very obliging, and ran this way and that throughout the building, sometimes invisible but always audibly yowling his displeasure at not being at home. The Commander tried his best, and rushed around with several of his men. One of them eventually did catch Pinochle, but not before I had snuck the full ring of the Commander's keys out of his office in my pocket. Commander Jochi delivered Pinochle back to me, remarking on his small harness.

    "What cat carry?" he inquired, in his broken attempt at English.
    "I am training him to carry my sewing scissors," I explained. "That way, they are always close at hand when I need them!" It was a ridiculous explanation, but apparently Commander Jochi's mother taught him not to argue with ladies, for he merely nodded thoughtfully and bowed me out.

    I delivered the keys to Sybel as inconspicuously as possible, and allowed Pinochle his treat of pickled fish for being a good sport about the chase, then headed home. By this time, the keys should be back in the Commander's office, and Roscar should be on a sled headed for the border. I do not believe I will be arrested, after all, which is a great relief. My constitution is not designed for cold, bare rooms and an absence of tea.

    Pan Kuryenko is expecting me to come down for dinner, so I will set this to broadcast and memory wipe while I am gone.

    Your friend,
    I only have a moment for a quick note, but in the vein of no news being good news, I wanted to report the good news - the salt and bone peddlar has not visited town this month!

    The reason for the assumption of good news is that Sybel's plan for Roscar's exit apparently included him tromping off into the snowy woods to attempt to intercept the peddlar on his monthly rounds, convince him to avoid Czarovitch altogether, and hitch a ride to the nearest non-Mongol civilization.

    Everyone in town is pretending to the Commander that they do not expect the peddlar for a week yet, but I have been assured by Sybel that he runs like clockwork with his sled and dogs, and would definitely be here if Roscar had not found him first.

    So, my first ever jailbreak, and it seems to have come off splendidly! If you ever need help avoiding the authorities, you now know whom to turn to.

    Sybel. Turn to Sybel. She was the mastermind, after all.

    In Haste,