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Angle of Incidence

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It started innocently enough. Efficiency took her tea in the garden, torn between her eagerness to find out more about the burgeoning design and the exhaustion of remaining so very proper all of the time. Perhaps she simply wouldn't return to the aerodrome, and leave it to the others to fight amongst themselves.

If it weren't for the Designer's pleading, she would never have gotten involved in the first place. Flying machines, honestly! Who in the world needed such a thing? A nice, smooth train ride, that's what she liked. Low friction, high capacity, and the schedules! The schedules alone were enough to set her heart racing. And best of all, no pesky Fabric or Gravity to interfere. A proper, satisfying ride, that's what a train gave.

She'd almost convinced herself that this entire aeroplane lark wasn't worth the time, when she heard muttering from behind the hedge.

"She wouldn't!" hissed one voice.

"She might. We won't know until we—" the voices broke off as Efficiency stabbed the end of her parasol through the hedge. Slowly, a pair of sheepish faces rose above the greenery. Efficiency rolled her eyes. Really, they'd been around for millennia. Surely at some point the others would grow up and stop behaving like chastised sixth-formers every time they met.

"Hello, Thrust. And Lift. Or is it Lift and Thrust? I never can tell which of you should come first." She'd always hated innuendo, so tedious and banal. But when in Rome, she reasoned. "Or shall we just agree that simultaneous is better for all involved parties?"

They blushed and ducked back behind the hedge for a whispered exchange. Efficiency prodded the hedge impatiently, earning a yelp from one of the pair. "Out with it. Today, boys, if you please. I've no time for equivocation and my scones are going cold."

The hedge rustled again, as Lift and Thrust crawled through the roots and into the garden. Efficiency normally preferred to use the gate, but shrugged and strolled back to the tea tray. It was slightly battered from an earlier tête-à-tête with Power, but Efficiency was fond of it nonetheless. She tapped the table firmly with her knuckles. Good, sturdy English craftsmanship.

When she sat back at the table, her tea was, as expected, unpleasantly lukewarm. Efficiency threw it out on the gravel. She waved Thrust and Lift closer, setting her parasol in her lap. Mustn't seem too threatening, or they'd collapse in hysterics before they'd properly gotten started.

Thrust cleared his throat. "We were wondering—well, that is, we thought perhaps you might—"

Lift broke in, blushing furiously. "We hoped we might be of some service. Miss. With—matters requiring assistance. Serviceable—er—sorts of—things."

Efficiency sighed. Always with the euphemisms. Honestly, these fading Edwardians and their issues. Boring and earnest in equal measure. "Things? Why, whatever do you mean?"

Thrust stared at the pool of spoiled tea soaking into the ground. "Whatever you like, Miss. We're useful, really we are."

Lift stepped forward, elbowing Thrust out of the way. "We can do loads of tasks. Carrying, and pushing, and I'm really much better than a pulley, once you get me going." Thrust snickered, and Lift snapped his jaw shut and glared at his companion.

Thrust continued, "Just ask us, and we'll—" he seemed to run out of ideas. Efficiency looked the two over, face carefully blank. Thrust began again, more quietly. "We'll be happy to, um—" he trailed off, and the three stood for a moment. Efficiency let the silence drag out, considering.

"Perform?" They both tilted their heads, bewildered. She stood. "That's what you do, correct? I've heard so many lovely things about you from Propeller, all about your power and stamina and how very well you work together."

Efficiency raised her parasol like a rapier, and the two shifted uneasily. "All that enthusiasm, all that speed, all that grace." Efficiency stepped over the puddle of tea and ran her hand down Lift's shoulder. Gently, she pulled him closer to Thrust and looped their arms around each others' waists, tilting her head to admire the result. "Oh, yes. I think you two could be quite helpful. Invaluable, even."

She turned abruptly, marching up the path toward the house. "Quickly, now. You can start by cleaning up that mess and bringing the tea-things to the scullery. Maybe, if you're lucky, I'll let you come upstairs and unlace my boots later. And then we'll see what we can see." She twirled the parasol lightly as she walked.

"By the way, have either of you read the works of Mr. Sacher-Masoch? Such an interesting man, full of ideas. Now come along, I haven't all day." There was a pause, and then a scrambling clatter as the two rushed to obey.

Efficiency smiled. This day was looking up. Perhaps she wouldn't need to telephone Force for an encore, after all.