Her butt hurt from the hard train seat, her stupid travelling skirt itched, and even with the top windows all open, her carriage was hot as hell.
"Magnificent landscape," said the guy opposite her, nodding out the window. The train curved around the mountainside: a wall of orange-red rock to one side, and a picture-post card of crazy red mountains and frightening drops to the other.
"It's impressive, I guess," said Pinako. "Where I'm from, people's idea of a mountain is any hill with more than a thirty degree incline."
"These mountains are only found in a very few places in the world," said the guy. "We're lucky to be seeing them! The ones with the flat tops are called buttes. They're formed by erosion, over hundreds of years."
"Uh huh," said Pinako. He'd been like this, chattering away at her goofily about all kinds of subjects, ever since he'd got on the train two hours ago. She'd been guarded at first, but he wasn't getting fresh with her, and he claimed to be some kind of jobbing alchemist, so she figured that, like most alchemists, he was just a bit funny in the head. The effect of his gentle patter was kind of disarming. She felt a little weird about how much she'd ended up telling him: about her parents' farm, how she'd always been good at fixing things. About how as soon as she'd learnt to read, she'd been crazy about engines, about how people made things with steam power and electricity and radio. About the day when she was twelve, she saw a man walking across Resembool's town square on an automail leg, pants leg rolled up, metal knee bending and clanking in perfect time, with no limp at all. About the years of reading, and the arguments with her mama and daddy, and the money she'd squirrelled away for years from her odd jobs. And about the story she'd carefully clipped from the newspaper, that the founder of the automail industry took one new apprentice every June.
When Rush Valley itself came into view in the distance below them, Pinako debated whether sticking her head out the window for a better view would make her look like a rube. Then she did it anyway. The town nestled neatly into its valley, buildings crawling up the side, dotted with smoke stacks sending up steady trails of deep grey smoke into the sky.
The steam train was new and fast: the town drew near surprisingly quickly. Pinako smoothed down her skirt, then hopped up on her seat to grab her little suitcase from the luggage rail, and was down again before the stranger had finished offering to help her.
"Well, Miss Rockbell, good-bye and good luck!" said the stranger. From his seat he stuck his hand out, and she took - except he did something funny. Instead of bringing up her hand to kiss it, he just shook hands with her firmly, as if she was another man, a comrade. She found herself grinning. "Next time I'm over this way," he said, "I'll look you up and see if you've conquered Rush Valley."
"You bet I will have," said Pinako. "They'll have my name up over the town sign. You'll find me, no trouble at all."
Pinako's plan was straightforward. Outside the little train station, she headed down the turning that looked like it led into town, and marched into the first mechanic's shop she saw. Inside, Pinako took in the poorly cared for tools, and the yellowing print of a burlesque girl on the wall. For a shop in the heartland of engineering, it looked kind of run-down. The proprietor was sitting on a stool behind his counter, hidden behind a copy of Illustrated True Crime News.
"I'm looking for the renowned Zachariah Schiller," she said.
"What?" said the mechanic, poking his head out from over his paper.
"The renowned Zachariah Schiller!" said Pinako. "Inventor of automail! Pioneer of the industry! What kind of mechanic hasn't heard of him?"
The mechanic frowned at her for a moment, and then said, "Oh, Schiller. Sorry, didn't understand you. That's some accent you got there, you foreign?"
"No, I'm from East," said Pinako, folding her arms. Why did she seem to get this everywhere since she left home? Amestrian unification was eight years back now. It was kind of understandable that most folk in Resembool didn't really get it yet, but how come people just south of the capital were this slow to catch on?
"Oh yeah," said the mechanic without enthusiasm. "Why'd you need to find Mr. Schiller, then?"
"That's between me and him," said Pinako. "Do you know where he's at?"
The mechanic blinked. "Are you for real, lady? You just walked into town and you're going to knock on doors until you find him?"
Pinako cocked her head. "What's wrong with that?"
"Lemme guess: the place you're from, it's got a population of what, fifty people and a sheepdog?"
Pinako tried for a poker face. "Why'd you ask?"
"Because this town's got fifty thousand folk living in it. And it's a manufacturing town, this isn't a safe place for a young lady to wander around after dark."
Pinako waved a hand. "I'm not scared. Look." And she lifted her skirt and stuck out her leg to show the mechanic the hunting knife stashed in the top of her boot.
"You shouldn't be carrying a dangerous piece of kit like that around," the mechanic said. "Now let me give you some advice: go on another block from the station, you'll find a couple of reputable boarding houses. Get yourself a room for the night, call your daddy in the morning and get him to wire you the money for train fare home."
This conversation had not gone anything like the way Pinako had imagined. She'd expected directions to the shop of the man she'd come to see, and instead she was being run out of town before she'd even been here a full minute? Now what?
"No," said Pinako, "I shan't." And she picked up her suitcase again and sailed out of the shop.
After two more dispiriting encounters like this, Pinako was both hot and weary. From a street stand operated by a sturdy old lady, she bought a jar of some drink whose name she'd never heard. It was cloudy and sweet, and tasted somewhere between tea and lemonade - but most importantly, it was cold. She chugged it down fast, hoping it didn't give her a stomachache. As she drank, a couple of good-looking young workmen wandered past her, bare-chested and in light cotton trousers, and she felt even more irritated with her own clothes. At home on the farm, she lived and worked in overalls and a shirt with the sleeves rolled up; but her mother had begged her to at least leave home decently dressed. Where was she supposed to start with this thing? What if she couldn't find anywhere to stay for the night? How could she prove to anyone that she was good at this?
A few yards later, the street opened into a small square. Pinako wandered across it, sweating again already and looking out for the next mechanic shop. As she walked, she noticed a dartboard set up on one wall, and a little group of people gathered around it. Getting closer, she realised that it was two men and a woman. They all had the look about them of people who worked hard: tanned faces and strong arms. Then the low sun glinted off the woman's right hand, and she realised: all three of them had at least one automail arm each.
It had taken her a while because of the fingers, she realised. Each joint of each finger of each armoured hand was articulated. The automail hands Pinako had seen before had only one joint; they gripped like claws. The motion of the armour on these hands was natural and human.
"Hey there," said one of the men - and Pinako caught herself. She'd been staring.
"Nice work, huh?" added the woman, waggling her hand, before Pinako could blurt out an apology.
"Hey, I'm sorry - I didn't mean to stare, I just never saw articulation like that before."
"Of course you didn't see nothing like this before," said the third man. "This here is state of the art manufacturing!"
"Pinnacle of th' automail mechanic's art!" added the woman.
"Oh, did Mr Schiller make these?" asked Pinako.
"Schiller!" said the first man in contemptuous tones. He tutted.
"Schiller's all washed up," said the woman. "These here hands were crafted by David Castledeane. He's a pioneer!"
"He's a genius!" said the second man.
"And he sure charges like it," added the first man.
All three of them laughed. Then the woman turned to the dartboard, narrowed her eyes, and with three rapid flicks of her armoured hand, she threw a perfect 180.
"Hey," said Pinako. "Uh, would you happen to know where I could find Mr Castledeane?"
The pub had sawdust on the floor, a mouldering stuffed catfish over the bar, and a vague smell of cooking food under the pipesmoke. Pinako got a few stares when she walked in. She stared right back. Then she marched up to the bar, hopped up onto a stool, and ordered herself a mug of beer.
This time, having gotten directions and a good description from the darts players, it didn't take Pinako long to locate her quarry.
"Mr. Castledeane?" she said to the man sitting two bar stools along from her. He was middle-aged, and bald as a billiard cue.
"Can I help you?" He turned to look at her, giving her the same up-and-down, sizing you up thing that everyone seemed to do to her around here.
Pinako gripped her mug. "Well - you see, I was hoping that - well -" Why was she losing her thread now, dammit? "You see, I'm new in town, and I saw some of your work back there, I mean, some customers of yours showed me, and -"
"You don't walk like you have a wooden leg." Mr Castledeane tilted his head.
"No, no, my legs are both there. I'm not a customer, I'm actually looking for work around here."
Mr Castledeane smiled and shook his head. "Thank you, but I'm afraid I already have a regular girl who comes in for the laundry."
"Oh no," said Pinako, "I mean mechanic work!" Then, since she was doing such a terrible job of this anyway, she decided that she might as well spit it out. "Mr Castledeane, do you take apprentices?"
For a moment, he just raised his eyebrows. Then he said, carefully, "I have done. Generally, they've come recommended to me."
"Oh, I got references!" said Pinako. She reached down for her suitcase, opened it up and pulled out a sheaf of envelopes from the inside of the lid. "This one's from a fellow owns a farm near my folks, I did regular work for him for years, he always says I can fix anything!" She offered the envelope - but Mr Castledeane put his hands up.
"I'm sure that's true, but look here. Metalworking is a different kind of work to fixing up farm machinery. It's hard physical labour. It's hot work. You need endurance, and a strong arm, and a tough constitution."
"Mr Castledeane, I'm a farm girl!" Pinako bristled. "I've worked hard every day of my life -"
"Now you're not listening here. What I'm saying is, this is a different kind of work."
"What about your other apprentices? Did they all come to you from blacksmiths?" She'd bet they hadn't. How could he just write her off already? Why was everyone here so keen to send her straight back East? Pinako's stomach was clenching with the unfairness of it all.
"No," said Mr Castledeane. "They didn't. I take people on if I think they're talented, and determined, and not afraid of hard work - and if they're up to the job. I'm sorry to say it, and I don't want to insult you, but you just don't seem like you're built for this business. Why, look at your little wrists!"
Pinako looked down at her wrists. They were very small, now she came to think of it. She'd always been built little. But - "hey," she said. "That's just not right! I rode hundreds of miles on the train to get here! I spent years saving, years reading everything I could about the automail business! All right, I'm little, but you know, when you're wiring up nerve endings, some people might see having small hands as an advantage!" Mr Castledeane opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, she went on. "You don't know how strong I am. Just give me a chance, give me a week, a day, however long, you'll see how hard I can work! I worked my parents' farm every day, my whole life, ever since I was tiny. I might be little, but I got a strong grip and I don't tire easy! I can milk a cow! I can heft a hundred pound sack of grain! I can throw a kettle over a two storey house!"
Mr Castledeane's eyebrows had raised halfway up his forehead, and he seemed to be on the verge of a laugh. "A kettle? A tea kettle?"
"Yeah," said Pinako.
"And have you ever done that? Thrown one over your house?" He still sounded like he thought it was hilarious. Pinako felt like an idiot.
"Well - yeah. It was for a bet," she added, feeling her cheeks and ears heating up. "It's not like I get up and do it every morning."
Mr Castledeane laughed again, but now the laugh sounded friendlier, even a little resigned. "All right, Miss Rockbell. You've got me. You can certainly argue a point, I'll give you that. I have another wager for you. If you can throw a teakettle over this pub, then you're a woman of your word, and I'll give you a month's trial as my apprentice."
"Really?" Pinako nearly gawped.
Was he messing with her? Pinako stuck her hand out. Mr Castledeane raised his eyebrows again, then shook her hand carefully. "Jerry," he called. "Can you empty the teakettle and bring it out here?"
It was at this point that Pinako turned around, and realised that every single person in the pub was looking at them.
Outside, the sun was just getting towards setting. The building was as Pinako remembered it walking in, just a regular two storey. She could do this stupid trick. She'd done it before. Not with a whole career riding on it, mind you, but she'd done it.
Mr Castledeane handed her the kettle, with a wink. The peanut gallery had trooped out to watch them. Pinako ignored them, and him.
She hitched up her skirts, sized up the distance, and walked a few paces back into the street. She swung the kettle, getting a little momentum. This was definitely, she decided, one of the dumber stunts she'd gotten involved in so far in her life. If she pulled this off, it would make for a doozy of a letter home. If not - no, dammit, she was going to pull this off! How long had she wanted this for, how long had she worked for this? How far had she come to get here? She just needed her foot in the door, that was all, and she was not going to mess this up -
She let go. Behind her, there were a chorus of tipsy whoops, a burst of applause.
Mr Castledeane was grinning at her. "Well, well," he said. "I guess you do have a good arm. Now let's see if it was good enough."
As they headed around to the backyard, Pinako felt elated, terrified and not a little ridiculous.
The kettle was lying right in the middle of the dusty grass, at least ten yards clear of the back porch.
The crowd exploded with claps and cheers and whistles. Pinako turned to them, flexed her bicep at them and winked.
Then she turned back to Mr Castledeane. "Fair's fair," he said. "One month, Miss Rockbell."
She stuck her hand out. He shook it.
Author's tl;dr notes
1. I took Rockbell to be Pinako's maiden name. Dominic's memories in Chapter 19 (p. 22-23) seem to vaguely indicate that at the time she was running around Rush Valley as the presumably single and fancy-free Panthress of Resembool (a few years after this fic), Pinako was operating professionally under the name Rockbell. I liked the idea that it was her birth name, so I've gone with it. I don't know who Urey's dad is or if she married him (and whether there was a scandalous nineteenth-century divorce), and my intent was to leave all that stuff about Pinako's future open. It's kind of fun that she has so much mystery to her.
2. A small PSA: I've taken the Amestrian legal drinking age to be eighteen, as it is in much of Europe (I'm from the UK).
3. 1914 Amestris is in some respects pretty far ahead of 1914 in our time, in a variety of ways ranging from fashion (Winry's miniskirts and overalls, Rebecca's skinny jeans) to women's role in society (an integrated army with at least a few high-ranking female officers, female doctors and mechanics accepted and respected without comment, it's socially acceptable for a teenage girl (Winry) to travel alone) to non-alchemic technology (automail! plus cars that look more 1930s).
With this in mind, I made 1860 Amestris less advanced technologically, and socially less hospitable to a teen girl mechanic, but not quite what a European manufacturing town in 1860 would be in our world. In this little snapshot, I tried to take the Amestris of FMA as we know it and wind the clock back fifty-five years. Hope you enjoyed it!