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Automotive Testing Procedures

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It was noon on a crisp day in March. The last of the snow had yet to melt from the ground, and the sky was still overhung with grey clouds, but the air held a sense of potential that it had lacked in February, a promise, however false, of spring. The temperature had risen, the wind had died down, and Kit Rodriguez was trying very, very hard to avoid swearing as he refitted the final bolts onto the Edsel's retractable hardtop.

“I'm not saying that your designer was incompetent,” he explained as he tried to work the wrench in the inch-wide gap between the extensor shaft and the interior wall of the trunk. “I'm just saying that he must have had a staff of trained monkeys. Monkeys with very, very small hands.”

Cars do not snort, but Kit felt that if the Edsel could have, it would have. “There's nothing wrong with my spacing. You've just gotten too big.” It gave a sort of mental shimmy as Kit finished with one bolt and moved on to its opposite-side mate. “And what you've packed into me! I'm surprised I don't burst.”

Kit winched as his knuckles scraped against a rough piece of metal. “You know, most cars don't kibbitz this much when they get resurrected from the dead.” The Edsel had been a fixture of the Rodriguez backyard for as long as Kit could remember, alternately rusting and being repaired by his dad, depending on how busy the newspaper was keeping him. It wasn't until Kit had mostly taken over last year that the restoration of the Edsel had moved more than one step forward for every two steps back. Now, after a lot of hard work and a little help, it was just about —

“Done,” Kit said, grinning as the nut went snug. He clambered into the backseat and hauled on the strap to fold the canopy back into the trunk, checking to make sure it glided smoothly. “Everything feel all right there?”

“Yes!” The Edsel rumbled. “It's good to be working again.”

“Well, if the car's pleased with the situation, is there any chance at all we could get on with the testing part of the process?” An Irish drawl preceded its owner across the yard. “Sometime before I perish an old man, for preference.” Ronan slouched onto the rear door, folding himself down until his head was at the same height as Kit's and his back was one long, elegant line. “It's not as though I've put anything into this machine, apart from spell diagrams, blood, sweat, tears, what felt like years of my life and my first gray hair.”

Kit rolled his eyes. “It's important to have all the details squared away.”

“Why?”

Kit blinked. “It's neater that way?”

Ronan grinned, amused. “Clearly, you need to learn the joys of the joyride.” He tossed open the front passenger door and hopped in. “Come on, let's go!”

Kit climbed over the front seats into the driver's side, feeling unaccountably nervous. They'd tested all the systems individually, and Tom and Carl said that the spell/mechanics interface should theoretically work… but Tom didn't know anything about cars, and Carl regularly plunged their home into blackouts.

“Okay,” he said, letting out a breath. “Fuel?”

“Fuel's okay. The rod's a month old, but we're still well within the estimated time of decay.” Kit shot Ronan a dirty look. “Kidding! I put one in fresh while you were fiddling with your nuts. Interface?”

Kit pressed a small button on the dash, just next to defrost. Immediately, a spell diagram popped up on the windshield with five circles, one for each passenger. Three of those circles were currently empty. Kit drew the compressed versions of his and Ronan's names out of his Manual, which had been stuffed down between the driver's seat and the door, and compared them to the names in the “Driver” and “Front Passenger” circles. “The interface looks good – it seems to have registered both of us no problem. Destination?”

Ronan waved a hand underneath the old-fashioned radio dial, which seemed to have a lot more stations indicated than the FCC had licensed in the 1950s. The indicator was set to the extreme left of the spectrum. “All taken care of.”

Kit raised his eyebrows. “That was really more of an invitation for input than a direct question.”

“Not needed, mate! We're set for scenic Poisoned Glen, Donegal. Beautiful scenery, lovely driving, decent hiking, low traffic. It's grand.”

“I was thinking something a little more local. Maybe the Grand Canyon?”

“Dear god you are such a Yank. Would you care to be a bit more sterotypical?”

Kit glanced nervously at the top floor of his house The Edsel was normally obscured from sight by the overhanging tree, but the leaves still hadn't grown back in yet, and they were more visible than he'd like. “Look, I don't really care all that much. Wherever we go, we should probably go soon, or else we're going to have a lot more to deal with than —”

SLAM. One of the upstairs windows flew open. “YOU JERKS!”

“— we'd really like,” Kit finished weakly. Carmela stormed out of the house a moment later, lugging a hot pink duffle bag.

“You were trying to sneak off and test this hunk of junk without me, I know you were.” Carmela tossed her bag in the backseat, then hopped over the door after it. On the windshield, the spell diagram popped back up, the rear middle circle glowing slightly as it filled with the soft, graceful curliques of Carmela's name in the Speech. Good, Kit noted, the auto-update's working. Carmela continued, oblivious. “And after I went to like, seven confectioners in three boroughs trying to track down the goods to trade for your miniaturized engine-thingie.”

“Hullo, Carmela,” Ronan said cheerily. “Are you planning to emigrate with that bag then?”

“Hola, tall dark and snarky. Don't start with me. I've seen how this works.” She pulled herself up and lowered her voice a little, holding one finger over her upper lip like a mustache. “'Yeah Pop, I'll only be gone for a few hours, a day tops, three at the most,' and then it's a week later and Mami and Pop are all 'Carmela, can you get on the TV and see if it knows where your brother is?' I'm packing for multiple contingencies.” She started ticking off a list on her fingers. “Planet of beaches, planet of snow, planet of cosplayers —”

“We were actually just discussing that,” Ronan said, way too calmly. “I vote Donegal for the test run, while Kit here is being parochial and voting for the Grand Canyon.”

“Really, bro? Show some imagination.” Carmela reached forward to smack him on the arm. Ronan grinned, at least until she smacked him as well. “You too. You just built, like, a magic car, and you're thinking Earth? I say we head to the Crossings, do some donuts in the mall, and figure it out from there.”

Kit was suddenly horrified by the thought of Carmela pulling up to the Stationmaster's console and asking Ske'ert which way to the planet of the cosplayers. “Australia!” He blurted out. Ronan and Carmela both turned to look at him. “Neutral ground, they speak English, they have right-hand drive, and it's close enough to test the spell system but not far enough to tax it. Let's go to Australia, and figure it out from there.”

“Okay!” Carmela said. “I hear the beaches are super-nice this time of the year.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Ronan.

Kit slid the radio dial a hair to the left, until the indicator pointed to the correct position, pressed the clutch and shifted to neutral, then turned the keys that had been dangling from the emission. Under the bonnet, the miniaturized thorium reactor whirred quietly to life, shifting power to the transmission. Kit pressed the clutch down again, wrapping his hand more firmly around the stick shift.

“You ready for this, baby?” He said to the Edsel in the Speech.

“Ready!” the car rumbled. Kit shifted down, past all the standard gears, to the one marked “S” for “Scottie,” and pressed the gas.

The branches in the tree rattled together as the Edsel vanished, carrying its builders off to the universe.