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The Red Room (Epistolary Steampunk Remix)

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(All the upper-right corners have been burnt off the papers on which these epistles have been penned; the sender’s address is illegible.)

 


 

Alice Little

004 Wonderland Suites

The Kitchen, Western Faery

 

1 May 1895

 

My Dearest Sister,

 

This letter finds you and the others well, I hope. Messages are far more difficult to send from here, so I have not, but this new event is too exciting to keep to myself. I imagine one of you remarking that your sister has spent too much time among humans in their world, and that is true, and I choose to remain here for a human lifetime at least. I’m in love again. His name is William. He is a gentleman who lives out in the country. I was riding around the fields, seeking soft places, when I came upon the gates and walls to his garden. He offered me a seat, and a drink of dried flower maidens boiled in water.

 

When I told him that I was a widow (which is partially true here), he said that I looked young for such a tragedy, and that most people would be surprised to find a lady happily riding about the fields after that. I think he meant to say most humans would be offended, and I thought to take him on as a guide during my time in this world, so that I would not be interrupted by unwanted attentions.

 

I haven’t forgotten the mission. William has given me much of the data that I am certain would be instrumental to its success. I tell him no more than I must, but sometimes he exclaims at my peculiarities and these appear to be a delight to him; and his peculiarities are likewise a delight to my own self.

 

He has an interest in Electricity, and speaks much of it. His manor has a special vaulted chamber for his experiments, which is so like our holy mother. Strangely, William has forbidden me to join him there because Mechanics are unsuitable for a lady! I shall respect his privacy as he has respected mine (if only out of ignorance) but one day soon I shall tell him everything. After I am done with my mission. I hope you can come to visit, because it would be too bad if I ended this letter with how none of you would see me again.

 

Yours truly,

A

 

 

 


 

 

(Documents missing)

 

 


 

Alice Little

004 Wonderland Suites

The Kitchen, Western Faery

 

31 July 1896

 

Dear Alice,

 

I fear that you misunderstood my letter. I do not “depend” on William, I chose to approach him and I choose to stay as long as he would have me. Humans have strange ways, strictly couples, and special rules in society for the female of the species, and they are so soft—even their bones are damp and spongelike inside. On the mean, they are no stranger than Fae outside of Western Faery. Exploration means to make adjustments, and adapt to our environments and to our company. I’ve been doing that. We both have been.

 

William has reminded me that not many other humans would be as delighted or amused with my fay strangeness. None, in fact. That he would make an exception shows a magnanimity that survives a life of privilege, and this I wish you would appreciate as I do.

 

As for the mission, I have discovered no leads since last I wrote. While our mode of operations dictate that I must continue the search, I feel that I must stay. I assure you it is not some sentimental attachment to Will, who would not leave his manor.

 

I traveled into town the weekend before last, just to see the town. The feeling that I am close to my goal faded as I left the manor. Perhaps I am meant to stay here.

 

I know it is not a sentimental attachment, because I have been cross with Will. The journey to town was accompanied by rain, and Will had requested me to bring back a book from the store. When I returned without it, he gave me a scolding that I wasn’t ready to hear. It was with his money that I traveled, and his expectations that I failed, so I ought to have been more considerate. But I wanted to be left alone to stop myself from rusting.

 

I am still in love with him, and perhaps to sustain that elation I ought not to spend every moment with him that he doesn’t spend in his home laboratory. I made the acquaintance of a Miss Bennet in town, who mentioned a sister of hers who lives in this part of the countryside. There is a cottage she is willing to let for nothing—the mere presence of a tenant would discourage bandits. Will that make you happy?

 

Sincerely,

A

 

 


 

 

Alice Little

004 Wonderland Suites

The Kitchen, Western Faery

 

August 12, 1986

 

Dear Alice,

 

If it is as you say, that I mustn't live to make you happy then I would continue to reside with the human. All those letters I’ve sent you about how in love I am with Will, and I never spared a thought to how he loved me. He does. He does with an intensity that melts iron to lava, and with that I must be happy.

 

He hated my being away from him so much that, while I was out riding one day, he snuck in and set fire to Ms. Bennet’s cottage. The fire didn’t keep to the cottage. This was terribly embarrassing, but he offered to pay for the damages, and joked that bandits would certainly avoid these parts now. Ms. Bennet didn’t laugh. I wanted to pay her a visit to apologize properly, but Will said that it isn’t worth making it up to someone with no sense of humor—good humor precedes forgiveness, without that, it’s more difficult to get forgiveness than permission. And permission is impossible, so getting that is never an option. (I personally disagree, but that last bit explains an awful lot about Will.)

 

Will understands that I only wanted a place of my own, and offered to exchange any room in his manor for my horse. I would still be allowed to take a horse from the stable and ride around, if I had to, but why would I have to if Will provided everything that I needed here?

 

The horse, of course, always belongs to the horse’s own self…but something about putting the trade to a contract put me ill at ease.

 

Then I thought to request Will’s laboratory. When I said so, he told me that he would consider it and we would talk about it later, but I think he loves me enough to agree. That’s where he keeps the tools, and I’m looking forward to a fine-tuning and perhaps an upgrade on myself.

 

With Love,

A

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Alice Little

004 Wonderland Suites

The Kitchen, Western Faery

 

September 13, 1896

 

Alice,

 

I have completed the mission, and request backup.

 

Where should I begin?

 

Will didn’t want me to have his laboratory. He only said that he would consider it, and we would talk about it later—but whenever I broached the subject, he would ask me why I had to bring it up. I shouldn’t make mention of it on a fine day, because that ruined his fine mood. I shouldn’t make mention of it on a foul day, because he couldn’t take any more foulness. Any mention I make of our pending agreement puts him in a foul mood, but I feel that this matter should be put to rest with a discussion.

 

Or else…left alone. I would return to Ms. Bennet’s cottage, but Will said that he hadn’t paid her fully, and she wouldn’t take in someone like me again who had made such a mess of it. When I reminded him that he had started the fire, he became sarcastic about how miserable my life must be when he provides for everything.

 

Usually, I would say that if he feels that I’ve used him so then I should leave. He would posit that I must not leave him—he threatens and begs. Sometimes he tells me to leave him, because I’m unhappy, because he hasn’t been a good enough host. Those times, I’m the one assuring him that I’ll stay because I love him.

 

I never know the right course of action anymore. The rust must have grown into my mind somehow. Even knowing that the ownership of the laboratory still was not clear, I needed to go. All the tools were there. I needed a tune-up. That was all I knew.

 

While Will was asleep, I snuck down to the laboratory. And that’s where I found what really kept me here in this manor: my Aletheia pair, 003.

 

Distress radiated from the parts of machinery on the table. He had been hollowed out. In a static, tinny voice, he asked me, “Is it time again?”

 

Again? This was the first time we’ve met since he left the West.

 

That was how I learned from Aletheia 003 that Will had been keeping him here, taking him apart and putting him together in new ways. 003 had allowed it, obviously even expected it.

 

“How could you…?” I asked, not knowing how to complete the sentence.

 

Aletheia 003 answered my incomplete query: “You do not understand. You are a human. This is what I am for. This is my purpose.”

 

“No!” I cried out. I remembered 003 being whole, formidable, fluid in his movements. I could imagine upgrades and reparations that look like this. But something about what Will had done was wrong, and part of that wrongness—the red indicator light—was that 003 had forgotten me.

 

This is not what we are here for. I told him this, as I hiked my nightgown up and pulled at my belly button. In human guise, I have come to feel skinless. I longed for the forbidding sheen of chrome, and the thrum of lightning and numbers in my body. When 003 had processed the sight of the wires and chips of my insides, the distress he had been broadcasting turned for a moment into hope. He could be whole again, like I am—maybe he thought that. The likely next thought was that he had been as whole as that.

 

“William tore me apart,” 003 realized. “I loved him.”

 

I repeated, “That’s not what we’re here for.”

 

The distress, the hope, the sadness that 003 had been broadcasting became a stronger signal, steady and loud: rage.

 

“Put yourself together,” I told him.

 

At first, of course, I had to be the one to start putting him together, searching the vast laboratory for parts that fit.

 

When William found me the next morning in his laboratory, he was angry, and scolded, and at one point mentioned, “…after all I’ve done for you!”

 

“All you’ve done to me,” I corrected.

 

003 added, “And to me.” He was whole by then, and stepped towards Will with an outstretched hand. “I will return the favor.”

 

“A hundred times over,” I promised William.

William gives the laboratory a red wash, each time we begin. Even his bones are red sponge inside. Such a soft body, but what a stubborn mind. When he fails to overpower us, then he tries to tell me that I may have my horse and his manor both, and all his gold. Anything, he says. I know that he means anything but this: our voices, our regard for him becoming too real. (It is as real as it always was.) Anything but the consequences that we decide.

 

The combined efforts of 003 and myself have only accomplished in returning William’s hospitality forty-one times over.

 

We request assistance in completing the exponent.

 

— A