The world of the Wrangulator and her keepers is just off to the side, woven through the edges of reality. It's a storied land, where fiction and truth twine together, where today and tomorrow are ever the same, the land is the sea, and the moon is always also the sun.
Look around you. Have you seen the flicker at the edges of your vision, there, and then gone? Did you imagine you could detect the scent of it for a moment, like a forge, like snow, like joy?
If you were there, if you could see her, this you would know.
The Wrangulator appears before you, a huge machine of interlocking brass cogs and dark-polished wood. It smells of creosote and beeswax, and spiders its way across the world. The scale is enormous. Women clad in sweat-stained leathers climb over and around the moving parts, shouting to each other and laughing. The machine appears to grow against the horizon, gleaming in the late afternoon sun. You think perhaps it's getting closer to you, but no -- it isn't a trick of perspective at all. New works are being fed into the engines, new tags are fitted into place, and whirring gears barely begin to whine before a wrangler sets a hand to bring it back into true.
The grasses stir in the breeze, fading to dry straw one moment, greening with fresh life the next, flowering and shifting and becoming water, a great dark sea that crests and falls as you watch. The light changes again, the sun warm on your skin, the stars glittering in the dark sky, and you see it isn't a field or a sea -- it's the ruins of a great civilization, structures dissolving into dust, sifted over with sand. You hear quiet steps in the ruins, muted, hopeful voices. There are faces in the waves, and hands stretch upward, as the hopeful swim close, as women make their way along the disused paths through the lea, climb over the crumbling detritus of a great city, and call out to those already aboard.
Bodies clamber onto the Wrangulator, bare feet finding purchase on the low curves of the engines. They are helped up by the veterans, who embrace them as sisters and fill their hands with tools, whispering arcane knowledge to them all the while. Their eyes are bright with wonder and awe, terror at the vastness of the work, hard determination steeling their will. They twist and stretch and sidle deeper. Their grips become sure as they adapt to the way time moves here, as they grow to be living parts of the machine. They laugh, surprised by all the ways the Wrangulator is a being herself, by the way she guides them, and they guide her. By the changing, graceful structure of her against the bright blue sky, the greying dusk.
As the sun sets and rises, as the day wanes and the afternoon stretches endlessly golden and honeyed, the women who inhabit the Wrangulator light the gaslamps within her depths and draw their scarves close against the smoke. The flickering shadows make the tags dance. Some of the wranglers gather companionably, weaving their own tales, raising their voices in song, offering communal prayers that the coders will gift them with ambiguity, and with the keys to metatagging.
Renay and Ira whisper to each other, teasing luminous charts from the air, mapping worlds; Vera leans back against one of the great internal spines of the machine and slides a hand affectionately over the smooth-worn iron; Elke sprawls companionably at her side, telling jokes for the pleasure of all within hearing, and digging in her boot for a flask.
The peace is broken when dizmo shouts warning from her perch between the spinning cogs high above: the gloom plays tricks, but the yawing pit of freeforms is dangerously near. The freeforms are a place of mystery and marvel, an ever-growing quicksand, a glittering terror, and the wranglers hold tight to their perches and fall silent, unable to look away.
Leathers creak, loud in the silence. Laylah leans forward, then moves to crouch at the edge of the machinery. When she looks up again, turns to her fellows, her face is shining with tears, lit with a smile that's nearly incandescent.
"It's beautiful. The freeforms, they -- come, look friends, sisters: it's beautiful." She stretches out a hand toward them, entreating.
X-parrot loosens her grip on one of the wide belts of the engine, hesitates a moment, then reaches to take her hand.
They stand shoulder to shoulder there at the edge, exclaiming, and the other wranglers move cautiously forward as well. dizmo raises a glass to her eye, and draws a shocked breath at what she sees, but oliviacirce is the one to speak.
"Pegging. Alternate Universe - Academic. Spanking. Tentacles! Oh, it is a marvel!"
Laylah and X-parrot grin to each other, buckling their coats tightly closed and pulling goggles down over their eyes nearly as one before leaping fearlessly out over the abyss, whooping with joy as they fall through the air.
The others gasp to see their passage, but the Wrangulator cares for her people as they care for her: she is already there, catching and lowering them gently down into the shining sea of tags, sending her twitching mechanical spiders to aid them, growing and changing and building herself ever larger.
hele breaks the silence, taking up her tools once more, and begins to sing a song of fandom, of variation, of building our own home: of joy. It echoes back from the abyss, strengthened by new voices, and soon all of the wranglers take up the tune.
If you listen very closely, perhaps you can hear them. Even here in the Archive interface, even on the outside. Listen. Close your eyes, step a little to the side. Call out; yearn upward. A hundred work-rough hands even now reach out to welcome you into our machine.