I Sing the Body Electric: Twentieth Century Blues

by dossier

Notes & Warnings

 

..Ф.Ф..

Cameron is the first one to awaken. There's no moment of grogginess or stretching, it is unnecessary. Barely remembers what it feels like to inhabit a corpus, in fact. He goes from 0 to 1 instantly, checking on the sensor alert that had jolted him out of unconsciousness.

The planet below is marginal. It is faintly disappointing, but that is their sole excitement; to wake up and discover whether or not a habitable planet matches the official parameters for their search. He and Vala had agreed to cast the net too wide simply for the moment of excitement upon waking, of not knowing what they'll find.

The shipboard assignment was a tradeoff. Back home there are too many people, not enough bodies, and the alternative to slumbering away in stasis is to take off in an advance expeditionary scout ship, one of hundreds, looking for a new planet to colonize.

Turns out space is boring after a while, hence the sensor alerts on low viability. This is a survey only vessel. No life support for a corpus, no other mechanicals to transfer into and get off ship. No room for the devices either, it's barely bigger than a rezleth. Instead they 'sleep' through the boring parts, and for the next hundred 'years', Cameron is on point for his alone-awake.

In a little while, he'll poke at Vala for together-awake. She'll be good company for a while, then Cameron will trundle back to 0, and she'll have her alone-awake time. She'll make sure the ship gets out of the system, and go back to 0 when she's bored.

Cam thinks that maybe Vala doesn't even wait to see the departure, just sets the course and goes back to 0. He shrugs. She gets bored easily, prefers to spend her time dreaming. She has a lot more to dream about than himself, experiences gathered as a corpus. He could check her log, but that's an invasion of privacy he's not willing to make. When you don't have a body, and your consciousness is installed on a ship, the logs are pretty personal. What she does with her up-time is her business.

Just as this measure of up-time is his to savor. The sensors route right into his connugget, and he dips into the feed to begin the report matrix.

He notes the land water ratio, and the atmospheric composition. The planet is more than barely viable, its almost perfect, but the organism sensors are pegged at high. "Damn it." He adjusts the overall sensitivity, and the readings are still disappointing. The pesky signs of type 1 sentient life are too high for their needs, the population reading is nearly a billion, although the typical markers of an industrial society are at the mid-low the board. Hydrocarbon energy, and the aerosolized byproducts, are in evidence as are the fairly large clumps of habitations. There is a single, bright pulse from the advanced energy detectors, though, evidence of a matris orbis.

The communications board is distinctly on the very low end of the spectrum, though. There are unshielded transmissions, but they aren't even wireless. More than half is coded, though. It will take some time to render the language, and he wouldn't mind staying to solve the puzzle, if only to do something new and interesting. He'll see what Vala wants to do when they are awake-together.

The matrix shifts a little when he plugs the comm readings into the formula. Cam pokes at Vala's connugget. Doesn't matter, it's only interesting, as well as theoretical. He wouldn't normally waste the time or energy to send a report this disappointing, but this is the seventh planet with a matris orbis.

The proximity alert begins to shriek and flash yellow. Cameron checks the displays, an asteroid whose presence had been hidden by the single, natural satellite is on a direct course for the ship. Cameron stabs at Vala again through their comm bridge, "Come on!" He takes control of the ship, but there isn't anyway to jink out of the asteroid's path. The ship's ion sails are efficient, but slow relative to the speed of the object.

"What's going on?" Vala interrupts.

"This." He shoves all of the data to Vala across their bridge. "Hopefully it'll just rip through the sail." The damage would take months for the nanobots to repair, but it's the best case scenario.

The alarm turns red. He simultaneously slams his connugget shut and sends out a high power distress signal embedded with his half-finished matrix an instant before the ship is struck. The ship is torn apart and then they're screaming towards the planet.

"Vala?"

"I'm here, darling. You all right, then?"

"Yep. You ready for reentry?"

"Yes, of course."

"We'll figure out something, figure out a way to find the matris orbis... See you soon." Then Cameron loses contact with Vala as their trajectories take them too far apart for their bridge to work.

His last promises are perhaps too optimistic, considering their limited connuggets, but Cameron prefers that to the dire pessimism that they will be trapped on this planet until their power sources are depleted. It is possible that the inhabitants will discover space travel before that happens. They have time.

Cameron wavers between hoping for a water or terrestrial landing. A splashdown would be slightly less destructive, though the mineral content of this planet's oceans will make it quite corrosive, and his connugget definitely would not float. He scrolls through the readings and confirms it, he wants a terrestrial landing. Average depth of the oceans are ~13,000 metlats; it would be months before he managed to crawl out onto dry land.

The connugget mechanicals are sturdy; he's almost certain that it will tolerate the stress of entry. Cameron double checks the atmospheric readings and calculates his terminal velocity, and he should survive the impact with minimal damage. The connugget is not designed to be a permanent exosuit. It's tiny, no bigger than an irluk (it would fit in the palm of a corpus' hand), though there are limited external sensors and the six segmented tool appendages handily double as a means of locomotion.

He hopes that Vala ends up nearby.

..Ф.Ф..

As expected, he survives the terrestrial landing intact; the object he's struck shudders and vibrates. Cameron retracts the shell over his sensor array and he extends the tools to haul himself around the full radius of his landing site. It appears to be a hollow shell with gears strung with wires. The light is coming in from a smoking tunnel – one his connugget had made – and there are sounds. He pulls himself to the lip of the tunnel and takes a look around. He's only about seven metlats from the ground, he could easily hop out, but this is an excellent vantage point from which to take his survey. There is a broad shelf just half a metlat below him, but Cameron remains where he is until he has fully ascertained that he is not in danger – whatever that may be.

The dual gendered bipeds are plentiful, streaming in and out of the surrounding buildings, up and down the street, riding in mechanical conveyances. The inhabitants vaguely resemble his ancient ancestors, and he extrapolates several theories from that observation.

A tiny portion of the mechanical conveyances are motorized and one or two emit partially burned hydrocarbons, but most of the conveyances are drawn by quadrupeds slightly smaller than a rezleth. Much smaller quadrupeds are in evidence, too, in a vast array of colors and shapes, right down to some that are the size of an irluk. There are winged creatures, some nearly microscopic, some large enough to carry his connugget. No wonder the organism sensors had been off the board.

A pair of male bipeds exit a building, and Cameron shuffles backwards into his tunnel when they stop right in front of him. They are clothed in dark suits with tall coverings on their heads; one of the two is talking very loudly and waving his hands, pointing directly at Cameron's tunnel. The other is moving his head up and down, and twisting his face as the other speaks. The one that is talking has a pale moon face that is not unpleasant, and the silent one is thin and handsome.

Moon Face approaches and climbs up, and Cameron scrabbles behind a gear. He hopes that it covers him completely. Moon Face is talking quite loudly and the dim light provided by the entrance is nearly extinguished all together. This goes on for a short time, until the voice recedes and the light returns. That was close, Cameron thinks. The matrix, combined with the rudimentary technology that he's seen so far, gives Cameron reason to believe that it would be unwise to initiate contact with the primitive natives without further information. He's not meant to be here, after all.

Though, considering his hampered state, and the relative distance to the matris orbis, he may have to take that chance later on, once he's gained more intelligence.

He saves the language samples, he can work though the translation of the conversation later, though it will take a long time without the scout ship's computers. He will have the time; rescue is unlikely despite the distress signal. His connugget isn't equipped for emitting external communication, but at least he'll know what they are saying. The communications component of the updated matrix suggests that they will have a written language, too.

The thin and silent one leaves as another pair of bipeds join Moon Face. One sets up a box on legs, and the other has an extended conversation with Moon Face, who is talking loudly and at length. Cameron's prediction of a written language is immediately born out, for the conversation is quaintly transcribed onto paper as they speak.

When the box is draped with a cloth that extends from the back, the fourth biped hides underneath it. Moon Face stands nearby and there is a flash. Oh, crude photography, Cameron should have guessed.

They all move out of his visual range and there is a sudden surge in the electromagnetic field. The housing he's come to rest in lurches, and Cameron creeps back to the edge of his tunnel, watching and recording as this shiny new world passes by.

..Ф.Ф..

The journey ends inside a building with electric lighting. Moon Face wanders in and out of Cameron's field of vision, picking things up and immediately setting them back down, talking constantly in a querulous tone, but other one is nowhere to be seen. He renames the biped Grouchy.

Cameron gets it immediately; Grouchy is talking to himself. After a few moments, Grouchy throws down the object in his hand, turns off the electric light and exits the room in a foul manner. A clear pane in one side of the room allows some light into the room, but it is dim, and getting dimmer. He gathers that the planetary rotation is moving away from the star. It's been a very long time since he's experienced that effect.

He changes the frequency of his visual sensors to the infrared range. Cameron's field of vision is improved once he climbs out onto the shelf beneath his tunnel, the claw tools easily grab onto the soft and flexible material covering it. He's pleased to be reasonably mobile.

It is surprising to discover that his tunnel is actually in the head of a mechanical, modeled to resemble the male of the species, though it had towered over of all the bipeds they had passed on the journey here.

The automaton is harnessed to a mechanical conveyance, similar to those he'd noted earlier, and the electromagnetic radiation had dropped to negligible levels when they had stopped in the room. Curiosity drives him to climb down further and investigate the electromagnetics. The linkage to the conveyance is simple but effective, and the plan comes to him in a flash. There is power, and the mechanical biped is already designed to imitate walking. The linkage to the conveyance can be undone. All there is left to determine is if he can insinuate independent control.

Cameron doesn't dare move too far from his tunnel, though. He will have to spend several rotations to ascertain how long Grouchy will be away from this room, or if he will return at all. He climbs back into his tunnel to survey the automaton from the inside.

..Ф.Ф..

Several rotations later, Cameron is discouraged. The automaton's power is fed to it through the linkage, and is generated from the conveyance's huge, bulky and inefficient battery. That in turn is recharged by a crude transformer attached to the room. He has the solution to this problem, but he is at an impasse; his connugget can only manipulate small objects. He needs Grouchy to perform the actual work, therefore he will need to communicate his needs. There are scraps of old-style paper scattered on surfaces, giving him hope that he'll be able to translate them, and they will be able to communicate when Cameron is ready to reveal himself to Grouchy.

The survey of the mechanical is not the only project that Cameron works on. He works on the translation when he cannot explore, for Grouchy returns to the room at irregular intervals. Grouchy does not spend all of the daylight hours in the room, in fact there are long absences where he does not enter it at all, and those are normally followed by many hours of activity in the room, occasionally spanning several rotations of light and dark.

Fortunately, Grouchy does not seem overly concerned with the damage done to the automaton by Cameron's arrival; the soft covering with the burned hole is simply replaced. That is not an issue, it is easily shoved aside when Cameron wants to move in and out of his hiding place.

In the course of his explorations, Cameron discovers that he and Grouchy are not the only inhabitants. There is a small colony of tiny quadrupeds, no larger than his connugget, that live in the room; they are in fact the inspiration for his selection of bolt holes. They run like lightning when Grouchy opens the door, who is never the wiser to their existence. Cameron hides with the quadrupeds on several occasions when he is surprised by Grouchy's entrance.

Once, he hadn't moved fast enough, and Grouchy had caught a glimpse of him. That had resulted in screaming, then the arrival of another biped who set out small contraptions and noxious chemicals. His squeaking quadruped friends died in droves, and some were killed in the contraptions. He mourned their passing even as he realized that the primitives on this planet did not live in harmonious accord.

He was very lucky that Grouchy and his companion hadn't been present for the event of his arrival on this backward planet, and while the chemicals and contraptions would have no effect on his connugget, the faint possibility that his housing could be pried apart, or subjected to many other horrendous experiments – Grouchy is very curious – causes him to reconsider eventual direct contact with biped. He will need to devise some other, more devious, method of communication.

..Ф.Ф..

The excursions in the electrical conveyance are a regular event. Grouchy will open the doors and drive to the same building where Cameron had landed. Cameron has a very limited field of vision, as he is reluctant to show himself, and Grouchy is constantly moving the soft covering over Cameron's tunnel. As a result, he only catches bare glimpses of the other biped of his short acquaintance, and has not had enough exposure to call him anything other than Grouchy's Friend.

Grouchy's Friend will be waiting at the building, or at the end of their mysterious business inside, accompanies Grouchy out. Cameron notes that very few females are seen coming or going from the premises, save a pair that are in rare attendance. One that he calls Smiley, for she is never without a pleasant expression. Twice he has seen her in the company of Grouchy's Friend, hand resting upon his arm as he solicitously guides her about. She is a fine specimen, nearly as tall as the two men, with pale hair caught up under the exotic and bizarre coverings she wears on top of her head. Smiley is always in the company of her Grey Ghost, a young female with dark hair and a serious mien who rarely speaks.

The course of his exile continues unchanged until he finally translates the language. His innominate benefactor is Rodney McKay, lay professor at St John's. His friend is Major Sheppard, and his lovely companion is Mrs. Hansen. The Grey Ghost is Miss Weir, purportedly Mrs. Hansen's warden. Cameron has no idea what a professor of lay is, and he decides that it is time to move farther afield in his explorations. The automaton is useless to him as is, and the regularity of McKay's schedule assures him that it will be there if Cameron does not immediately return to the workroom.

The dead colony of mice, his quadruped friends, have left him their legacy. The tiny hole in the wall is merely an opening to a plethora of tunnels and byways that lead into the rest of the building.

Cameron finds there are many more boltholes and that it is easy to move around. He notes that there are two females that arrive before dawn to perform various tasks around the domicile, then depart late in the evening; Mrs. Langford, an elderly female dressed in severe black from head to toe, and Miss Hailey, a somber young female that rarely speaks and has a constant frown as she does Mrs. Langford's bidding.

The food preparation room and the adjoining room are their domain. Cameron avoids the area, for though she may appear to be aged, Mrs. Langford is sharp of eye, swift of hand, and on the constant lookout for mice. Most of the other rooms are uninteresting, they hold only furniture for sitting or sleeping, but he is elated when he discovers the study. Mrs. Langford and Miss Hailey rarely enter the room, and then only upon the behest of the Professor's handwritten note or bellowing.

Cameron discovers that McKay is generally quite predictable. Five days in a row, he leaves the house in the morning, and returns at dusk. Most evenings are spent in the study, where he reads papers he has brought with him and takes the meal that Mrs. Langford delivers to the study. The next two days have less routine. He will either spend them in the workshop, the study, or at Sheppard's invitation, take the carriage to luncheon at the Downtown Association.

Cameron occasionally goes along for the ride to St. Johns do further explorations, but McKay's long hours of absence allow Cameron to fully explore the study. There are books and newspapers, though it takes him weeks to decipher the written language. Not all of the material is written in the same language, and those documents are left for later perusal. Cameron finds the maps only moderately useful, as his stored planetary scans do not match the drawings. After all, he has had a view of their planet that the native inhabitants can only dream about. Though, the matris orbis is so far away, it might as well be on another planet, not in a region named 'Egypt'.

The best discovery is McKay's journal. The entries are long diatribes against 'morons & idiots', interspersed with plans, ideas and drawings. It appears that the Professor fancies himself as an inventor of some repute, and that is his passion. In his perusal of the journal, Cameron realizes that the automaton was meant to be a sham, only an oddity for amusement and advertisements.

McKay is notably incurious about his surroundings unless they have been disturbed, and he then berates the housekeeper and maid for invading his sanctuary. Cameron resolves to be more careful about the state in which he leaves McKay's desk, when he crawls into hiding at the chime of five from the clock, or in the morning, after a long night's reading. He fears the extreme reaction will lead to the deaths of Mrs. Langford or Miss Hailey; the last time he heard McKay speak in such high fervor, the exterminator had called.

McKay is also fond of Scotch, which leaves him insensate and slumped over the desk at the close of the fifth day – Friday, for Cameron has also discovered a calendar. Cameron could crawl over McKay in these times, and McKay would not twitch, or show any recognition of Cameron's presence. This is when he decides to implement a plan for indirect contact.

The writing instrument is difficult to use, and if it runs out of ink, Cameron cannot refill it. He practices when he can, until he can legibly duplicate the writing in McKay's journal, though the Professor's schedule changes unexpectedly. He no longer leaves at daylight, to return at dusk, but remains at the domicile. The carriage trips to the Downtown Association become more frequent, and Cameron is restricted to his practice after McKay retires for the evening.

The pattern of his activity continues to fluctuate, and Cameron is content to scuttle around at night, though the first time he draws a sketch of his plan to independently power the automaton with an explanation of how to reduce the size of the battery – the carriage battery weighs nearly four hundred kilograms – during McKay's stupor, it elicits the desired reaction.

Every spare moment is spent in the workshop, even rebuffing Sheppard's luncheon invitations, as McKay improves the automaton, believing that the idea came to him while he was drunk. It works after a fashion, though the batteries are weak and its range is limited.

The journal also provides a possible means for locating Vala, for it contains a newspaper clipping that cites McKay as the source for a meteorite sighting over New York City, on the afternoon of April 7th, 1901 – the day that Cameron crashed into the automaton. The article describes several other flaming objects seen streaking across the sky; they could only be the the remains of his ship, and Vala. Possibly the asteroid that had struck the ship, though he suspects the impact was enough to send it careening off into another trajectory.

Nearly five months he's been in the company of Professor McKay; the odds of finding Vala, that she has remained near her landing site, or devising some method of getting her aboard the motor carriage are all so vanishingly small, that it is difficult to maintain his optimistic outlook.

The newspapers in the study are regularly taken away by Mrs. Langford, but the Astor Library is frequently mentioned in McKay's journal. Cameron foolishly takes the automaton out to locate newspapers from that date, but upon meeting another person on the street outside the workshop, their reaction is so extreme, that he immediately returns to the workshop. The Electric Man, as McKay has dubbed the device, is too frightening. He doesn't understand the reference to 'Frankenstein's Monster', but he does understand that it isn't meant to be complimentary. It doesn't matter that McKay takes to chaining the automaton to the carriage and workshop; Cameron's neat plan is foiled by the limited understanding of the planet's native inhabitants.

However, the acquisition of newspapers turns out to be simple enough; Cameron leaves a note in the journal, that he should inquire about the other meteor sightings from the same day, perhaps that meteorite is still there to be discovered. McKay does the research for him, and when it is found there was another meteor landing near Lake Ontario, copies of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle are obtained and eventually more information comes to light. Most of the meteors had landed in the lake, but one ended up in the Granger's pasture.

Major Sheppard is apprised. Then some days later Mrs. Hansen calls on the clunky communication box in the hall, to offer lodgings at her cottage on the lake as a base camp for the expedition, provided that she is allowed to come on the hunt.

When Sheppard, Carter and Weir appear at the house for sherry in the parlor, their itinerary is heavily debated, and the four hammer out an agreement for a proper holiday outing for the last month of McKay's summer furlough. Though, four of the five bedrooms have been spoken for, and McKay and Sheppard will be required to share. Sheppard sounds rather put out when he agrees.

There is desultory talk of taking Sheppard's motorcar, but the distance would require at least three days of travel in each direction, and – Émile Levassor's Paris-Bordeaux victory notwithstanding – the journey would be difficult and hazardous, and not at all conducive to the holiday ambience. In the end, the decision is made to take the train to Williamson, which is some minor distance from Pultneyville and the summer cottage. Mrs. Hansen mentions that Mr. Jackson and the Colonel have been fishing at the cottage all summer; his Daimler will provide the means to quickly explore the area upon their arrival. Sheppard in particular is quite enthused with the prospect of getting behind the wheel of the Colonel's latest acquisition.

The following Saturday, Sheppard, Mrs. Hansen and Miss Weir arrive before dawn dressed in traveling costumes, and as they wait in the lounge for McKay to finalize his departure, Cameron scuttles into McKay's empty carpetbag. He waits, in dread of discovery, though it cannot be helped. He has to go with them, to get within communication range and determine Vala's disposition for himself and perhaps engineer her rescue. Assuming that she hadn't landed in Lake Ontario, and was still making her way to shore.

Clothing and quaint equipment is dumped on top of him without even a cursory glance inside, and Cameron mentally sighs his relief, though it is not ideal. He's trapped in a bag without any view. Cameron had initially hoped to be able to take in the journey secreted in their motor car to see more of this world than McKay's routine perambulations has offered.

It does give him the facility to further eavesdrop on his traveling companions, for McKay insists upon retaining his luggage and carrying it to his seat on the train, rather than allow it to be taken to the baggage car, where hoodlums and thieves would be free to riffle through his belongings.

Sheppard allows that no-one would want McKay's ratty three dollar suit, though the subject is allowed to end without further ado. On the surface, it would appear that none of them like one another very much, but the witty repartee and gibing is underpinned with a friendly tone.

The case is dropped with a thump then jostled, and all conversation is so muffled and faint as to be effectively inaudible. The journey will take most of the day, his current environment is quiet and and dark, and Cameron hasn't slept in months. There's no physiological reason to sleep, he's a consciousness wrapped in a connugget, but there's nothing to be discovered whilst in the luggage. Much like the long years in deep space.

Sleeping is a much better option than worrying about Vala. He sets an internal alarm for eight metlats hence, and flips to 0.

..Ф.Ф..

Cameron vows to never sleep again, unless he is absolutely certain of his environment. Something had happened during his zero state; sounds have regained volume, the top of the carpetbag is open. He waits a few moments before creeping out from underneath McKay's clothing to investigate. The container is lodged underneath something, and there is still no clear view of the surroundings. Cameron reburies himself and listens.

The conversation is heated. Professor McKay is insistent that his house – particularly his workroom and study – has been haunted for the last several months. Things on his desk have been disturbed, and Miss Langford and Miss Hailey both deny having entered the room. Before that, it was the workroom.

Major Sheppard asks if the 'ghost' was responsible for the new battery design, then decides that McKay's love of Scotch is the culprit, but Mrs. Hansen is fascinated. They are all in agreement that 'mediums' are frauds, though Mrs. Hansen contends that if you apply the theory of conservation, it is not impossible that whatever the soul is composed of, that it is not destroyed upon death and may remain nearby. She cheerfully admits that this has no bearing on McKay's Ghost, for no-one has died, therefore it cannot be a 'ghost'.

Sheppard laughs – it sounds painful – and McKay harrumphs loudly. An unfamiliar female voice offers a theory, that perhaps it is the alien from the meteor come to lodge in his house.

Had he any blood, Cameron's would have been frozen. He can only deduce that it is Miss Weir who spoke the frightening truth. How could she know this?

McKay dismisses her with a snort. She's read that ridiculous Wells novel, hasn't she? Miss Weir doesn't defend herself, and McKay insists the subject be dropped now that it has been driven to its knees by the uneducated masses.

Mrs. Hansen defends Miss Weir; she herself had also been educated at Cornell and though they never saw fit to offer her a degree, does he believe that she is part of the uneducated masses? There is a dangerous silence, and then McKay apologizes rather insincerely to Miss Weir for slandering her education, but not for her awful taste in literature.

Major Sheppard turns the discussion toward a more pleasant subject, and proposes dining at the Powers Hotel before commencing onwards to Pultneyville, in order that McKay not perish of starvation before the adventure has even begun. The hotel will provide a carriage to and from the station. He firmly insists, though, that McKay is required to unhand that decrepit carpetbag, and leave it in storage at the station along with the rest of their luggage.

Thus, the train arrives in Rochester, and Cameron is shut away again when the bag is closed. It is incredibly frustrating; it isn't like the nine-hundred years that he and Vala spent on the scout vessel, though the interior of the ship had been hardly bigger than the carpet bag.

The difference is that the scout vessel had Vala and external sensors; Cam could look as far into the universe as the ship had power, or talk to Vala. The carpet bag is true sensory deprivation when not immediately stowed within conversational distance of McKay and company.

It had been a long time since Cameron had qualified for the voyage, and in that time, he's never truly been alone; even in 0 state there was a reassuring keep alive pulse that connected him to the ship and to Vala.

The carpet bag is interminably boring, and he can't tell what is going on outside. There is a small flaw in the fabric of the bag that will be easily exploited, and his work is completed within a few minutes. The hole is large enough to peer through, and not so large as to draw McKay's attention and ire.

It is all for naught; the bag is lodged immediately next to a wall. Cameron resigns himself to waiting impatiently several hours for the party to return.

The next journey is much shorter in length, and Mrs. Hansen and and Miss Weir are scarcely settled into their seats when Sheppard and McKay leave for the smoking car. The spy hole gives Cameron an excellent view of two pairs of dainty boots underneath volumes of cloth and lace, though it is better than absolutely nothing.

The conversation of the two women when not in the presence of the men is different; they call one another Lizzie and Sammie, and Miss Weir is not at all shy or reticent. She lambastes McKay for his uncouth manners and vile temperament, and gives her sincere condolences to any woman stupid enough to fall within his grasp.

Mrs. Hansen is also much freer with the laughter and conversation, but she defends the Professor by assuring Miss Weir that she intends ensure that he remains an avowed bachelor by what ever means necessary, and it is possible that he is Greek.

Cameron has no idea what Mrs. Hansen meant by that, but Miss Weir shrieks with laughter, then suggests that perhaps some offended companion was 'haunting' the Professor, though she fervently believes that Martians are more likely than the Professor ever having a companion that wasn't paid for the privilege.

Mrs. Hansen replies cattily that the only friend the Professor has is the Major, and that she can say with all confidence, that the Major is not the person haunting McKay.

The discussion moves into the new acquisitions in the library since they've visited the summer cottage, and perhaps they will delay their return to the city for some months. The Pan-American Exposition will be open until November, and they are both looking forward to Mr. Jackson escorting a special tour during their visit.

Sheppard and McKay return as the conductor is calling the arrival into Williamson. Now the spy hole comes in very handy, Cameron is afforded a view of the station, and the conveyance that is waiting for them with a driver at the ready.

Mrs. Hansen greets the driver as Mr. Siler, and the thin, dour man takes the luggage and, with the assistance of a small boy with dark skin, hoists it all on top of the horse-drawn carriage. The boy is paid with a coin, and he darts away into the night.

The carriage is roomy, and the four of them fit inside without any jostling or rancor. Cameron is set on floor, and his view again is of the dainty boots. It is very quiet, just the jangling of the hardware attaching the horses to the carriage. This is the shortest part of the journey yet, and not even a full metlat passes when they fetch up the drive to the cottage.

McKay maintains a death grip on his bag, but Mrs. Hansen is assured by Mr. Siler that the rest will be brought in, then they are greeted at the door by a young woman with dark hair. Mrs. Hansen returns the greeting, and Jenny takes the hats and scarves that are handed over, and for once McKay is departed from his valise with only the admonishment to leave it, he can unpack his own things, thank you. Cameron is hustled up the stairs and left in the dark, though he can detect that there is conversation ongoing downstairs and there are several male voices that he does not recognize. Mr. Siler returns with the Major's luggage, and after he carefully hangs the several suits and arranges the rest in the drawers, he closes the door.

Cameron wishes that McKay had allowed his bag to be unpacked despite the danger of discovery; this is the perfect time to escape from the bag and begin his explorations. The Colonel's Daimler might be stored in a workroom, such as McKay's, and he'd like very much to familiarize himself with the layout of the house before morning. There's no guarantee that McKay will be allowed to drag his bag along the next day, though the plans made so far have all been about arriving at this destination, and not the subsequent search for the meteor.

Eventually, the travelers make their way upstairs. Cameron is freed from his prison by dint of McKay yanking his nightdress out of the bag, flinging Cameron unseen across the room to roll under the dresser. The rest of the unpacking continues in a similar vein, accompanied by McKay's usual grousing. Sheppard advises that he should've let Siler do it, the result would have been much neater.

The lights are extinguished, and when McKay and Sheppard are still as boards in their beds when Cam creeps out from under his cover. The room is lit only by the moon, though it is enough for his explorations. The room is crowded with furnishings; two smallish beds – one of which the Major hangs off of in an uncomfortable sprawl – a dresser and another tall cabinet, and various small tables and chairs litter the room. He carefully completes a circuit of the room; if there were ever any mice, they are not now in evidence. The door is propped open, and Cam surveys the new territory. Rows of boots are outside the doors up and down the hallway, a staircase is at the end of the hallway, and several small tables punctuate the walls.

He hears a heavy tread on the stairs, and dashes for the nearest table. Mr. Siler wanders down the hall, gathering up the boots and closing the open doors, then returning downstairs. As the footsteps die away, a door creaks open and a young man Cameron has never seen before pokes his head out, then swiftly walks across the hallway, and enters another room.

Cameron waits to see if the young man returns, but he does not. The baseboards under the table are pristine, and unsullied by the mice holes that are common at McKay's house. He's about to venture to the next table nearer to the stairs, when the door to Sheppard and McKay's room opens. Major Sheppard drifts across the hall and enters another room, but does not latch either door closed.

Curiosity gets the better of him. Cameron heads for the slight opening and enters the room. It's Mrs Hansen's room, and Sheppard is... Oh. Of course. How stupid of him.

When Cameron had finally lost the corpus lottery in his eleventh year, he'd been removed from the gene pool and into the connugget. Adult carnal behavior had still been very theoretical, and though you can't really miss what you've never experienced, the Major and Mrs. Hansen certainly look like they are enjoying themselves. He leaves them to it and makes his way down the stairs.

Mr. Siler and Jenny are sitting in the kitchen around a table strewn with the boots, a bottle and half full glasses. Another handsome blond woman is with them, Mrs. Heightmeyer, cleaning and gossiping with a disapproving tone of voice about the upstairs hijinks. This is information that he's already tabulated, and he continues his search.

There are very old boltholes in the pantry, and Cameron marks them on his mental map, but does not enter them. He knows from his prior experience with the Professor's house that he won't have enough time to even make the most cursory of explorations. The rest of the house is sealed up tight, and he can't find any way out. It's been hours, and the kitchen is empty. He climbs the carpeted stairs, only to discover that the boots have been returned and all of the doors are still closed.

He settles down under a hall table to wait. It's early morning when the doors begin to open and the occupants – other than McKay – emerge from their assigned quarters dressed in excessive finery and immediately proceed out of the house, including Mr. Siler, Jenny and Mrs. Heightmeyer. Major Sheppard leaves his bedroom door unlatched, and Cameron is able to get into the room.

Cameron checks that McKay is still sleeping soundly, and wonders where they went, and why McKay didn't go with them. It doesn't matter, Cameron has free run of the house. He makes his way to the bolthole in the pantry.

The runs through the walls are as extensive as those at McKay's, and as he had hoped, there is a vehicle stored in an adjacent room. There isn't an automaton attached with soft clothing for Cameron to use like a ladder, and the way up is far more arduous.

Though he's fairly certain that McKay will bring his carpet bag with the quaint equipment on the search, the only part of the plan that he's absolutely certain of is that this is the vehicle they plan to use. Unlike McKay's work room, this is tidy and uncluttered, and contains very little other than the motor car.

He eventually manages to climb up the spokes on the wheel, over the shield covering the tire, and into the vehicle proper. Lodging himself under the seat won't give him any vantage point, but it's the best compromise he can make.

Several hours later the vehicle is taken from the room, though McKay or Sheppard aren't party to the excursion. Mrs. Hansen and Miss Weir are accompanied by the young man he'd seen sneaking across the hall, and what must be the Colonel, though he drives and Cameron can't see him. Miss Weir and the young man – the Mr. Jackson of yesterday's conversation – sit in the back seat where he can see them from the knees down. There doesn't seem to be any particular destination, and they drive aimlessly for an hour before returning to the work room. Cameron remains in his hiding place in the motor car overnight, there is no advantage to returning to the house.

..Ф.Ф..

Late the next morning, the motor car is once again taken out. Cameron hopes this is the meat of the expedition, for Mrs. Hansen, McKay and Sheppard are amongst the party, as is the mysterious Colonel, who proclaims that over his dead body will Sheppard get to drive. McKay slides his carpetbag under the seat, right next to where Cameron is hiding.

The Colonel's Daimler is open to the air, and very noisy, unlike McKay's electric Phoenix wagon. The journey takes several hours, and is punctuated by stops to make inquiries of the locals, or take on fuel, and one remarkable instance to perform a repair to the vehicle when a tire is shredded by the poor country roads.

Conversation among the occupants is sparse while driving, as they are reduced to shouting over the noise of the wind and engine. They leave the carriage for the rest stops, and the discussion that takes place during the repair stop is limited to Sheppard and O'Neill arguing and yelling at one another, and Mrs. Hansen's laughter.

By sheer luck, McKay retrieves an item from his bag during this stop, and leaves it open. Cameron climbs inside, secure in the knowledge that McKay will hold true to type.

Eventually, they reach the Granger farm and the witness is found. Young Master Granger advises that the meteor landing site is some distance away in a pasture. O'Neill insists that he's not going to drive his very expensive, imported automobile across the field. The carpetbag is removed from under the seat, just as Cameron expected. He sets his comm protocol broadcasting as strong a signal as he can generate, and he listens on all possible frequencies for Vala's ping back.

He gets a reply, but it is weak, and intermittent. It's frustrating and he doesn't know if the poor signal is an indication of her condition, or if there is interference. Nor can he direct the search in any way; he has no external speech equipment – unnecessary on the scout ship, and they were never meant to leave it.

Suddenly the interference clears, and he hears Vala for the first time since their ship was destroyed. "Hello, darling."

"Baby, I thought I'd never find you! Where are you?"

"Currently my lovely home is... I don't know what it is, but its damp."

"Hold on, incoming." Cam dumps across the comm bridge the entire report matrix he's been building since they'd separated. She's doing the same, but the information doesn't really help; they've lived in two vastly different environments for the last six months, and she hasn't had any contact with the natives of the planet. The weird, wide green world she's been living in is unimaginably different than McKay's stuffy house and workshop, or Mrs. Hansen's fine summer cottage.

Vala's physical status report is worrying; her connugget was damaged on impact, and some of her tools won't extend. She was unable to go very far, and was reluctant to try because of the herd of rezleth-like creatures that inhabit the field.

But their young guide is leading them forth, straight as an arrow. "How far are you from the LZ?"

"Seven metlats."

"Get back to it as fast as you can." It's a terrible thing to ask, to allow herself to be captured by McKay, but it's the only way he knows to make sure that she comes back with them.

Vala's indicates she's willing, even with the knowledge that McKay's inveterately curious, and somewhat prone to murder. She creeps back to the crater as fast as she can. "So you've been playing agent provocateur while I was out here in the wilds."

He felt chastened, couldn't help it. Vala had been nearly thirty before the Lottery had caught her, and she occasionally treats him like the child he was when he was transferred. "It got me here."

"Yes, thank you, Cameron," she replies warmly. "These people are absolutely fascinating, if a little bloodthirsty. What do you suppose your Professor is going to do once he has me in his fat, pink fingers?"

"I don't know, we'll think of something." The possibilities don't bear thinking about, and not only for Vala's sake; the connugget power source would poison the entire region if the containment field is broached. Unlikely, considering the shield was maintained by the power source, but it wasn't a scenario that Cameron wanted to think about.

"We always do. Though we've never been crashed on an alien planet before, have we?"

Cam doesn't answer; keeps pinging and they're probably five hundred metlats away. He keeps his external audio sensors open to track their search for the meteor site, and directs the feed across the bridge for Vala to listen in.

McKay is predictably unhappy about crossing the cow field, and O'Neill exhibits uncommon knowledge of animal husbandry while chatting with their young guide about the size of the herd, and the variety of dairy animals they have, et cetera. McKay inquires about this, and is curtly informed that he used to have a ranch in Minnesota before the Dakota raid, which in turn shuts McKay down.

"Darling, what are they talking about?" She reaches the small pit and proceeds to dig herself back under the the dirt, then her visual sensor feed goes dark.

"Baby, I don't know." Cameron is just glad that he has someone to talk with, instead of constantly listening in to incomprehensible conversations.

The young guide takes them directly to the landing site, and Cameron boggles at the size of the still visible crater, even after months of weathering. McKay sets his bag on the ground, and in a fortuitous turn of events, with Cameron's spyhole pointed toward the object in question.

McKay excitedly points out the fresh dirt, and asks Sheppard if he has the shovel. A pair of men's boots use an implement to dig in. It's disconcerting, seeing the event from an outside perspective and Vala's at the same time, as her world goes topsy turvy, until she shuts off all externals and closes up her connugget completely.

There's an argument with their young guide over ownership of the 'meteor': it's on his land and he was the one that saw it fall, it belongs to him. McKay returns with that he was the one that came to look for it, and therefore it is his. Sheppard snorts, tells the boy that he should get off the farm and become a lawyer, and resolves the conflict with a flip of a coin to the boy. That's it; Vala is in the hands of McKay, for better or worse.

"I'd better not regret this, Cameron," Vala warns.

"Yeah, me too."

McKay doesn't let go of Vala during the return journey, and he talks nonstop about the mysterious meteor, that it is unlike anything he's seen outside the ridiculous novels of Wells and Verne. Mrs. Hansen vows to tell Miss Weir that he's read them, how else would he know to make the comparison?

"Does he ever stop talking?" Vala asks, and Cameron snorts a short laugh.

"Only when he's dead drunk."

Vala laughs with him. "It's good to have you back on the other end of the line, Cameron."

Once they arrive back at the summer cottage, McKay shows off his prize and there is much discussion about the strange nature of the item. It is decided that there should be a report of this, and Jackson takes several pictures with his recent acquisition, a Kodak Brownie, for posterity.

It will be some time before the pictures are returned to him from the factory in Rochester, and Mrs. Hansen's summer cottage doesn't have the tools that McKay will need to investigate his odd finding. He stows Vala in his pocket for safe keeping.

"Investigate? I don't like the sound of that, Cameron."

"Nor do I, though I don't believe he has the technology to do any thing besides scratch the surface. Plus, once we're back in his workshop, it'll be easy to hide you."

"Assuming he doesn't keep me locked away."

"There's that," he agrees. They just have to get to back to the city.

..Ф.Ф..

The next several days at Mrs. Hansen's summer cottage settle into an uneven rhythm. The lack of ready boltholes is a concern as Cameron remains vigilant in his efforts to remain hidden. The pantry is Mrs. Heightmeyer's domain, but Jenny is everywhere. Fortunately the dense forest of side tables and chairs throughout the dwelling provides some cover, but there are several close calls as Jenny cleans.

Vala is never out of McKay's grasp. He keeps her in his pocket, or on the table beside the bed as he sleeps. It grates on her, that she's not allowed to go exploring, but the charade has to be maintained until they return to McKay's.

It doesn't prevent them from chatting, unless McKay leaves their signal coverage. The first time it happens, it's a surprise, and though the carpet bag remains in the room, he can't help but fret uselessly until the Professor returns.

Cameron and Vala are relieved that the interminable waiting comes to an end on Friday on of the first, long and dreadful week, though the peaceful and bucolic holiday turns into an uproar for the household. Two events happen near simultaneously: The news that President McKinley has been shot; Mr. Jackson receives a telegram from George Reisner, his mentor from Harvard, inviting him to Egypt for an archeological expedition of some length.

The first has Colonel O'Neill and Major Sheppard preparing to return to the city after several failed attempts to contact Vice President Roosevelt, their former commander. The second spurs a the decision to end the longstanding engagement of Mr. Jackson and Miss Weir with a firm date for a wedding, to be held at Mrs. Hansen's townhouse forthwith, in order that Miss Weir accompany Mr. Jackson on his expedition.

Cameron ponders the fate and circumstance that has an associate of Professor McKay – however remote – journeying to the location of the matris orbis. They have its exact coordinates, though they don't correspond with any cartographic measurements currently in use on the backwards, backwash of a planet.

Vala is the one to broach the subject. "So, should we go with Jackson to Egypt?"

"First, we have no idea if they're even aware of the device. It might take years for them to find it. Second, it may not even work, Vala. If the control pod is missing, we'd have to make direct contact in order to physically dial out. What if they mis-dial? If we're not here when the rescue ship comes, they won't know where to look for us."

"I don't even care if we get rescued. You and I, we're never getting another corpus; they'll just cram us back into another ship and send us on our boring way. Cameron, we should just go and have an adventure."

"We don't have any way to recharge our power sources, they're going to only last another hundred years, or so."

"Let me put it this way: I. Don't. Care. I'd far rather have my last years crammed with excitement, instead of spending an eternity of boring."

Cameron thinks about it. He has enjoyed the last few months, far more than the years and years of dreamy, abstract observation. It's all intellectual, he doesn't have the biological component of adrenaline, but since crashing, his time has been anything but routine.

Vala's also correct in her assessment about future opportunities to reinhabit a corpus. They weren't ever going to get another corpus; they'd both lost the lottery based on the average genetics of their initial forms. Though the theoretical technology existed to rebuild them, the extreme overpopulation guaranteed that it would remain just that – theoretical.

"Okay, Vala. Let's do it."

~fini~


Notes

Fandom: Stargate SG1, Stargate Atlantis

Category/Rated: Gen, decidedly E for Everyone

Year/Length: 2010, ~8800

Main characters: Cameron Mitchell, Mal Doran, with a cast of the usual suspects: Sheppard, McKay, Carter, Weir, Jackson, O'Neill, Langford, Hailey, etc, etc, etc.

Pairing: I am withholding for the surprise factor, but keep in mind the rating: they barely qualify as a background pairings. Nothing you wouldn't mind letting your grandma read.

Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit, only having fun.

Prompt: Robots, for the 2010 cm_tropefic fest, at which I failed to finish

Summary: Cameron falls.

Author's Notes: Not really steampunk. Apologies to Connie Willis, Ray Bradbury and Nöel Coward. Thanks to army_rat for the ages-old background and story concept brain storming, which I have since pulled out of the dead file, then subverted for my own use (I think there is one idea I had on my own in here).

Author's Notes Redux: This is completely unfinished. I hesitate to classify it as a WIP, as I doubt I will ever come back to it. It is what it is. Also, Any vaguely historical fact has been fact checked (I feel like I should provide footnotes) to the best of my abilities & resources. I have taken liberties with certain events, and I probably spent more time fooling around with the Encyclopædia Britannica and Google than writing...

Beta: [F7]

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