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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2113363-AoPC-The-Lost-Invention
Rated: GC · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #2113363
First three chapters of my book in progress... Hope you like it!

The Adventures of Prof. Emrys Coppersmith

"The Lost Invention"

By: Thorn Martinek

Started: 12-11-2016


~Chapter 1~

~The Message and The Mechanical Man~



Professor Emrys Coppersmith walked into his office. The tall grey wolf had taken his time on the walk in, to enjoy the cool spring day. He'd been taking the universities tram system all winter, and was grateful for the chance to enjoy the fresh, and no longer frigid, rural Washington air.

Penelope, his assistant, sat at her desk, busily sorting through a disturbingly large stack of papers, checking the names on them off a list. The scent of machine grease mixed with metal dust and a hint of perfume, the latter he always assumed was from her roommate at the dormitory, was strong in the air. It seemed to follow the young woman everywhere. From the strength of it, she must have been here for some time already.

"Good afternoon," Emrys greeted her as he hung his coat on his staff, which stood quietly in place, unassisted, "are those the essays I assigned the new students last week?"

"HUH?!" she looked up with a start, nearly knocking over the stack of papers, her fur standing on end with the shock, "OH! What? Um... YES!... A-and goo-good afternoon Em- I-mean, Professor," the young orange tabby stabilized the slowly leaning tower of paper and smoothed her fur where it showed from under her blouse. The Professor considered that this seemed to be a regular occurrence when she was in his presence.

"Actually," she spoke more calmly now, taking a quick breath, and a sweet smile appearing on her face, "I'm just about finished marking off the students who turned the assignment in today. I'll have them ready for you in a few moments."

"Very good, thank you, Penelope" Emrys moved over to his desk and sat, shaking his head with a light chuckle. They had been not unlike father and daughter, even distant siblings, for years now, and she still insisted on calling him by his title, even in private. Then, retrieving a pen and notebook from one of his desk drawers, he began scribbling additional notes for tomorrow's demonstration.

Some minutes later, he looked up from his notes, now for his next lecture, just in time to yank the notebook out from under the rapidly descending mountain of papers, barely controlled by a pair of small, fuzzy orange hands.

"INCOMING!" came a strained, muffled voice from the fast approaching tower of paper. The poor girl sounded as though she was trying to talk though gnashed teeth too.

They impacted the desk top with a solid THUMP. The stack of papers and his assistant, though she was mostly obscured behind said stack, teetered for a moment. It took the petite feline a few moments to prize her hands from beneath them. Emrys was, almost, surprised her fingers hadn't been pulverized under the stack of essays.

"Here *PANT* you go... *GASP* Professor," though she was in quite fit shape, carrying the large stack of essays across the office from her desk to his took a notable effort from the five foot four inch tall young woman. The paper tower was nearly half her height; she'd had to hold the top of the stack with her chin to keep it from falling.

"Um... thank you, Penelope," Emrys carefully set his note book back on the desk, adjusting his spectacles while eyeing the precarious stack of papers, and the now rather disheveled looking Penelope, "in future, please don't hesitate to ask me for help when you need it."

Her tail fluffed momentarily, her expression flashed with embarrassment, "Oh, um, I-I didn't want to bother you."

"I assure you, Penelope," he fixed her with a comforting, but stern look, "it is no bother," he gave a light hearted smirk, "I can't have my assistant dying under an avalanche of undergrad class work, of all things."

"Y-yes, Sir..." she acknowledged bashfully. Though it was promptly punctuated by a surprisingly loud gurgle from her stomach. Her eyes went wide again, now in shock and embarrassment.

"I... see you skipped lunch, again," Emrys chuckled, "Alright then. Thank you for your dedication, I truly do appreciate it. But why don't you go get something to eat before you pass out, Penny." He gestured to the stack of papers, "This veritable Tower of Babel will keep me busy for some time, so no need to worry about rushing."

"But, Professor!" She started, beginning to pout at the prospect of being sent away. Even for a short time.

"Ach!" he held up one hand, stopping her from saying any more, "Go. Eat. Take your time, and come back when you've had your fill. You will need the energy, and I will need you back here and firing on all cylinders to prepare for tomorrow's lecture and demonstration."

She perked up at that, "Yes, Sir!" she exclaimed with a mock salute, her tail pointing straight up in the air. She then comically marched from the room, he could hear her half skipping, half running, down the hall once she was out of sight. He swore he heard her giggling too.

'Sweet girl,' the Professor thought, as he carefully slid the stack of essays closer, 'A little too enthusiastic at times. But I certainly appreciate the help with things, especially things like this... can't say she was much different when she was still just one of my students.'

Emrys now sat alone in his office, attempting to stare down the tower of freshman year opening essays he had assigned, and subsequently, Penelope had collected from his newest students that morning. He had already read through two of them, and they were already making his head hurt.

He wondered, continuing to glare the stack of papers, if his ancestors in ancient Germany had once fixed a similar stare on their prey when hunting. Given, he had no intention of eating the tower of paper and ink. Though one of his students, he mused, ironically a young golden retriever, had once attempted to convince Emrys that he had done exactly that when he arrived in class without the assignment that was due.

The Professor glanced through several of the further essays which had been turned in, and instantly found his headache growing from what he read. He rubbed his temple with the soft pads of his index and middle finger.

"Really," he thought aloud, "one would think that at least some of them had paid attention in their literature classes, at some point, in their earlier education... at least once..."

He resigned himself the fact that he would likely have to spend some time teaching this fresh batch of undergraduates how to write a paper properly. As he read the first few lines of the essay on top of the stack, he let out a small whimper. Apparently a few spelling dictionaries may be in order as well.

He played with the idea of giving Penelope a tutoring class on the subject. The idea of the petite young feline wrangling a group of, often much larger and male, undergraduates made him chuckle to himself. He almost felt sorry for the first one to try intimidating her, especially since Emrys' wife had started training the girl in some of her homes hand-to-hand techniques.

At that moment came a loud banging at his office door, like a hammer, giving him a start, resulting in a small eruption of papers over his desk. Being sequestered deep in the study wing of the university's anthropology department, such disturbances were rare. Save for the times when he was testing some ancient machine or design he had unearthed, that is.

"Yes?" Emrys called to the door whilst collecting the strewn essays from where they had distributed themselves, "It's open, come in!"

With that, the door swung open and a tall man, dressed in a long grey overcoat and top hat to match, entered the cluttered office. The Professors nose twitched as the visitor carried a distinct smell of machine oil and metal, he could hear the faint sound of whirring and clacking gears as the man moved as well.

Not a man, rather, an automaton.

"Sorry for the intrusion, Professor," the barrel chested machine-man held out a gloved hand as he walked into the room, "but this is a matter of some urgency. I was told you would be of assistance."

Coppersmith took his visitor's hand, noting that; though the brown leather of his glove was soft and supple, the mechanism beneath it was surprisingly hard. It reminded him of several of the clockwork automatons he had encountered in his travels. Fine craftsmanship to be sure, though falling a bit short of the work of Jaquet-Droz.

"No problem at all, Mr....?" Emrys enquired, casting an apologetic look to the assortment of glaring students and academic peers outside his office.

"AH! Forgive my manners!" the visitor exclaimed, exposing a constable's badge, visible through a hole sewn in this shirt, riveted to his chest plate under his coat, "DETECTIVE Widget, actually. At your service."

"So, am I to assume that you are looking for my services as..." The Professor, grateful for the distraction, set his stack of essays on his desk and moved to the door, which currently hung open, to close it, "...a consultant on a case, yes?"

As he did so, he got a good look at the Detective's face, and saw with some surprise, that the canid face seemed made of entirely real flesh and fur. He knew he couldn't have been mistaken in his perceptions, and that this man was some form of automaton. The Professor's ears twitched, still picking up the faint *wherrrr-click* from inside the chest cavity, as well as further mechanical noises from the extremities. 'Curious,' he thought, stroking the sides of his muzzle. Well sculpted leather or India rubber perhaps? With some new synthetic, or possibly donated, fur? He would have to look into it to it at a later time.

"Yes! And a most nefarious case at that, Professor." Detective Widgets, slightly tinny, nasally voice snapped Emrys back to the present. It sounded much like that of a radio announcer, he mused.

"Hm? Oh, well, let's get to it then," the Prof. sputtered a bit, "Please, take a seat." He cleared stacks of notes and journals from an old arm chair which stood across from his desk.

"Thank you!" Widget sat with a metallic *THUNK*, bringing forth a small cloud of dust from the chair, "First..." he leaned forward, "this hasn't hit the papers yet, and we would like to keep it that way for the time being. I hope you understand that I need to ask you to keep this confidential for now."

"Of course, Detective," he affirmed as he eased back into his desk chair, "Now, how may I help the police today?"

"Well, we recently received information in the form of an anonymous tip, stating that," the Detective leaned back in the chair, and retrieved a slip of paper from his coat pocket and read, "'The Great Lens of Archimedes will be in the hands of Agares by month's end. If they are not stopped, then nothing will stand against their might.'" He passed the slip to Emrys, "We were hoping you would have some insight on what they're referring to."

"'The Great Lens of Archimedes'?" The Professor repeated the name as he took the slip of paper, "Really..."

He examined the paper, noting an encircled insignia at the bottom. It appeared to be a quickly scrawled approximation of what looked to be an angelic seal, with a partial iron cross over what almost looked like a laughing mouth, both framed by lines that could be cheeks. All inside a circle with the letters; SAG across the top, and ARE inverted across the bottom.

He saw, too, that the word 'Agares' was written in red, though he knew not what for. The name of an organization, possibly? Something the message seemed to imply, stating 'their might' rather than 'his might.' The name referred to a Judeo-Christian demon lord who could paralyze people through fear, making 'Those who run stand still,' and controlled natural disasters, such as earthquakes.

He sniffed at the sheet of paper, passing it less than an inch from the end of his muzzle; old parchment, stale blood, iron shavings, wood smoke, sweat off a raccoon's hands. None of it particularly recent, except the sweat belonging to the raccoon, which had the smell of a confidant man, not someone who would fear for much of anything. But clearly frightened nonetheless.

"Interesting," Emrys set the paper on his desk, "Our search will likely take us to Italy, and I would keep an eye out for trouble," he tapped the paper with the claw of one finger, "the person who wrote this may, already, be in some trouble."

"As for the 'Great Lens of Archimedes'... To my knowledge, it's only a myth." The Professor leaned back in his seat.

Widget leaned forward again, "A myth? Then we should have little to worry about!"

Emrys scoffed, "Hardly, Detective. I have, personally, encountered a number of things thought to be 'only a myth.' In several instances, shortly before they killed someone," he leaned forward to wrest his elbows on his desk, "I mean to say that no one, as yet, has been able to find it and verify its existence."

The Professor stood and went to his book shelf, "You are familiar with the Greek inventor, mathematician, and natural philosopher, Archimedes, yes?"

"Admittedly, not my area of expertise," Widget shifted in his seat so as to follow Emrys, "That is why I'm here to consult with you on the matter," he added with a hint of condescension, "... but I do recall he had something to do with buoyancy, yes?"

Emrys' ears twitched back in response to the detectives' verbal jab, he hadn't encountered an automaton with an attitude before. It must have been programed as part of some interrogation protocol. Though somewhat impressive, he wasn't sure if he particularly cared for the function. Rather than confront the mechanical detective on the matter, he decided it would be more productive to simply continue his explanation.

"Hm, well, as the story goes; the ruler of Syracuse, Archimedes home, commissioned a number of weapons from him," he sifted through the collection of books and journals on the shelf, "to be used in the cities defense. Among these were... AH-HA!"

He pulled an old book from the shelf, bound in rust red leather. The title 'Ancient Machinations of War' was emblazoned in gold leaf on the cover and spine. He quickly began rifling through the pages, muttering to himself, until he found the page he was looking for, reading silently.

"...Professor Coppersmith?" Widget prodded.

"HM? OH! Sorry," he peered over his brass spectacles as he moved back to his desk, still scanning the page of the book, "Among these were; a claw, or rather a hook, and line launched from a trebuchet... to pull ships over and capsize them..., a steam powered cannon, and a 'death-ray.' Now, there is evidence that the first two were constructed, at least in part, and possibly even used. The 'death-ray' however, has only been found in concept drawings and a few early designs."

The Professor sat on the front edge of his desk, tail laying across its top, so he was facing Detective Widget. After handing the book to the machine-man, he continued, "So far as..."

At this time, Penelope walked through the door, "I'm back, Prof..." she trailed off, eyeing the detective-automaton with a mixture of curiosity and unease, "Um, is everything alright?"

"Ah, finished your lunch already, Penelope?" Emrys greeted her, "Everything's fine, the detective here was just consulting with me on a case. Did you have a good lunch?"

His assistant relaxed a bit at that, "Oh! Yes, there's a new Cafe down the road, wonderful sandwiches."

"Detective, this is my assistant, Ms. Penelope Reuthe," the Professor gestured to Penelope, "Penelope, this is Detective Widget,"

She smiled and gave a slight curtsy, a gesture that only barely worked in the simple skirt she wore. Widget half stood and tipped his top hat to her. Then she padded nimbly around her desk to sit. She pulled a textbook and notebook from her desk, and started studying.

Emrys noted that the blue, leather bound, 'textbook' she had out was, in fact, the portable analytical engine she had designed and built as part of her Bachelor's thesis. With only a little help from him in designing its power source. Such a useful device.

"Should we continue this consultation another time, Professor?" Widget inquired.

"Oh, no, Ms. Reuthe is perfectly trustworthy, I assure you." Emrys dismissed the question, "Let's continue... Where was I... Ah, yes: So far as anyone has been able to confirm, the 'death-ray' was never actually built. Likely abandoned as being infeasible," he crossed his arms over his chest, "the latest design anyone has ever found indicated needing several hundred mirrored bronze shields, held by soldiers. The idea was that each soldier would use these polished metal shields to reflect, and focus, the sun onto a single spot on an enemy ship. This would, in turn, cause the ship to catch fire. Just like using a magnifying lens to burn a piece of paper. Simply on a much grander scale."

"...And this 'Great Lens of Archimedes' is the same thing?" the Detective interjected, examining the page of the book he had been handed.

Emrys noticed Penelope's right ear twitch when she heard that. He smirked momentarily as he saw her stop writing for a second, then continued, or appeared to continue, with her studies. Though her ears were now swiveled in his, and the detectives, direction. 'Good girl,' he thought to himself.

"Yes... and... no," Emrys stroked the sides of his muzzle with the index finger and thumb pads of one hand, "As I said, by all confirmed discoveries, the weapon was never completed. The latest design that's been found has even been tested; and it didn't work."

He stood and moved to a wheeled chalk board which stood in the corner, retrieved a piece of chalk from the tray, cleared a space on the green slate, and started to draw as he continued, "The myth is that he never abandoned the idea. Kept working on it for years, still getting backing from... somewhere," he glanced over his shoulder at Widget, "it's a bit fuzzy on where or who... but..." He turned back to his drawing, "supposedly, he finished it... at least the designs. The speculations people have made of what he came up with are pretty awe inspiring. Something like this."

Emrys stepped aside, brushing chalk dust from his hands, so the detective could see the finished sketch, depicting a circular grid-array of mirrors set in a dish. Ray lines showed them focusing down to what appeared to be a crystal at the top of a spire, then producing a single ray from that point on.

"A massive, parabolic array of mirrors, directed by some sort of focusing lens, or prism," he explained.

"Assuming this is real," Widget inquired, "just what would it be capable of doing? How much damage could it do?"

"Well," the Professor considered for a moment, "the myth says that once it was finished, Archimedes realized how dangerous it was, and as most such myths go, he hid... or destroyed it along with all of the completed plans," he stroked the underside of his chin in contemplation, "supposedly, the one test firing that was performed with it... triggered the volcanic event at Pompeii which destroyed the city... which implies that the project may have either been restarted, or restored, by someone else. Or continued after Archimedes death, two hundred and ninety one years earlier."

At that, Detective Widget stood and handed the book back to the Professor.

"Thank you for your help, Professor Coppersmith, I think we can take it from here," he began to leave, "you said I should start investigating in Italy, right?"

Emrys set the book on the shelf, "No, I said we should start the investigation in Italy," he took his coat and goggles from where they hung exposing his staff, The Pillar of Physics, freestanding as always. And set them across his desk.

"You are needed here, in town, yes? As a member of the police department, I doubt you can just up and leave," the Professor collected the note from his desk, speaking quite rapidly now, "You would need clearance from your superiors at the least, which could take time. Time we don't have, if that note is to be believed," he held it up, "I don't suppose I could keep this? It would help in finding its author."

"Well I..." Widget started, clearly having trouble keeping up.

"EXCELLENT!" Emrys cut off the detective, stuffing the already refolded note in his shirt pocket, "Penelope, would you be so kind as to send word to my wife to start preparing our gear for a trip to Grease? And if you would book passage for two on the first airship to Rome, Italy tomorrow morning?"

His assistant, stifling a giggle at the struggling automaton, sprang from her chair, "Right away, Professor!" she darted to the door, brimming with excitement. She stopped short, though, looking a little confused.

"Um... just two tickets, Professor?" she inquired, holding the door open, "Am I not coming with you?"

The poor girl looked as though someone had stepped on her tail, "I'm sorry, sweet heart," Emrys affirmed, "But we don't know exactly what we will be encountering in Italy, which isn't the safest place in the world under normal circumstances. Furthermore, you still have studies to attend to, and I need someone to teach my class tomorrow in my stead."

Penelope pouted, but left the office with a resigned, "Yes, Sir." The Professor was heartbroken at disappointing her like that, but he told himself that it was for the best. She was still young after all, and he hadn't been lying about the dangers they would be facing. Or her studies and needing someone to teach his classes in his absence.

Emrys turned to the automatic detective again, "Now, as for you Detective Widget," he began ushering the automaton out the door, "Please inform the police chief that we will be taking care of things, and will contact her with updates as we make headway."

"But, Professor," the Detective objected, his head swiveling a full 180 to look at him, while resisting Emrys' attempts to push the automaton out of his office, "I can't allow a civilian to head an investigation of this sort!"

"Nonsense! My wife and I have far more experience in such matters than any in your department," Emrys retorted, still gently pushing against Detective Widget's back, "Besides, last I checked, Italy was well outside of the local police's jurisdiction."

"Ah, you have a point there, Professor," Widget conceded, finally allowing himself to be moved out the office door.

"Good! Thank you for coming to me with this, Detective," Emrys began to close the door, nearly as eager as his assistant had been, "please give my regards to the Police Chief, we'll be in contact. Thank you!"

And with that, the door was closed. The Professor leaned against it for a moment, gathering his thoughts. He needed to prepare, gather his equipment, right.

He turned and moved over to his artifact display case, opening the glass doors on it, he reached in and touched the forehead of, what appeared to be, an ancient idol of Odin with his index finger. After a moment, the idol's eyes began to glow white as it started to hum, as the sensor inside identified his body's electromagnetic signature.

Emrys removed his finger from the idol as the whirring and clicking of the cases internal mechanisms began to work. Shelves and panels slid and tilted out of the way, revealing a green velvet lined storage case. In it were all of the tools and weapons he routinely carried on expeditions of this nature. A Russian model Schofield .45 caliber revolver, long knife, a simple brass compass, and a number of smaller Technomage tools that often came in handy, were some of the things concealed in the display case. Along with a heavy leather belt with pouches.

He fastened the belt around his waist, just above his tail, and quickly filled it with the equipment he wanted, then closed the hidden compartment. Leaving no sign that there was any such trove in the office.

He paused for a moment and watched it close. Penelope would be absolutely awestruck by the technology he used, thus far she was only really aware of his staff, and not even everything it was capable of. Once again, he lamented having to leave her here; he knew how she craved the adventure, travel, and knowledge. He just wasn't sure she was ready to handle the reality of it all just yet, at least, not all at once. And he couldn't bear the thought of her getting killed in some far away country, in a place no one would ever find again.

After all, she might as well be his daughter, as much as he cared for her.

He sighed, strapping his goggles around his neck and shrugging into his long, brown, greatcoat. He would make it up to her. When he and Tips returned from this expedition, he would offer her training as a Technomage, though there was little doubt she would accept.

He smiled at that thought, she was a wonderful girl, and would make a magnificent Technomage. He doubted much of anything would make her happier.

And with that, he grabbed his dig kit, filled with all the bushes, trowels, calipers, and such of a normal anthropologist. Took up his staff, pointed its head at the office doorknob, releasing a crackling arc of electricity, with which he pulled the door open. He stepped through the opened door, leaving it to swing closed behind him.



























~Chapter 2~

~An Assistant's Determination~



Penelope sulked, head cradled in her arms on her desk. The fur on her hands and forearms was damp from crying.

She had run into the Professor on the way back in, after booking his and Tips' airship passage. Where he had bidden her farewell, with a hug and fatherly kiss on the forehead, before leaving to make his final preparations for the trip. She had been holding back tears of frustration and disappointment at the time. They hadn't held long after she got back to the office, though.

She felt like she had been crying for hours. However, as she looked at the clock standing in the corner, it had only been about five or ten minutes since she got back. It was only about three thirty in the afternoon.

She looked around the room, her eyes settling on the chalkboard. The Professors drawing of the device he and the detective had been talking about was still on it. What was it he had been saying? A massive, circular, parabolic array of mirrors? All focused and aimed by a prism? The sheer level of engineering involved in such a feat was breathtaking. Even today! And it had been designed and built over a thousand years ago.

At least, supposedly...

Of course, the Professor... Emrys... had also said that its creation had never been confirmed. But still. The fact that the police had come to him about it must mean there was something to it.

She had to find out, to see it if it was real.

But, Emrys was counting on her to take care of things while he was away. If she ran off, who would take care of his classes and lectures? It was her job, as his assistant, to take care of such things.

She slumped back in her chair with a slight sob. Sure, she had been looking forward to tomorrow's demonstration, she always did. But what she really wanted, even more than seeing this marvel, to be with them... with... near... him... the man she...

NO! She couldn't think like that! She knew Emrys was with Tips, and she loved both of them too much to do anything to harm their relationship with each other. In them she had found the family she always wanted, but been denied by her father. Besides, Emrys needed her here. She had a responsibility to make sure that everything was taken care of while he was gone. He had classes and lectures and demonstrations to give. If he wasn't there to give them, she had to make sure it still happened without too much transgression. She was his Personal Assistant, damn it!

His... Personal... Assistant...

Her eyes glittered with an idea. Something which had often proven, explosively, dangerous in the past. A wide grin formed across her muzzle.

She would make sure things would be taken care of in their absence. Find other instructors to cover his classes, give his demonstrations, and lectures. No one said she was the one to have to give them, just make sure they were taken care of.

She bounced in her seat, giggling with joy at her own cleverness. She was going to get to go to Italy with the Professor and Tips!

Then a reality hit her, she had booked their tickets under his name, for only two people. She couldn't afford an airship to Rome, Italy. Not with what the university was paying her... and there was no way she was going to ask her father for the money, even if she had the time to. She thought about it for a moment. But, in the end, there really was no other option: she would have to stow away on the airship they were taking in the morning.

Before that, she had a fair amount to get done by morning. It was already four in the afternoon, she had to get moving if she was going to make it. She got up and started to gather the information about Emrys' schedule for the rest of the month: times, dates, subjects, and materials. Then dried her fur on her coat, which she put on, made sure she had grabbed her portable analytical engine and set out to arrange for people to cover the Professor's schedule, locking the office door behind her.

-----------------------------------------------

It was already ten thirty at night when Penelope got back to her dorm room, and she was exhausted. She had barely been able to track down enough, qualified, professors to cover all of Emrys' schedule, and get all the required paperwork turned in to the universities resources department.

She snapped the overhead light on, saw her roommate was already asleep in the top bunk. Then promptly fell, face first, into her pillow on the bottom bunk.

"No, can't sleep yet, have to pack..." she mumbled into the pillow. The airship Emrys and Tips were taking, left at nine o'clock in the morning. She needed to get there early enough to board unseen, and without a ticket.

She pushed herself up, sitting sideways on the bed, looking around the room. Her roommate had cleaned, apparently. So, in her stupor, it took her a moment to locate the coffee engine. A device she had insisted be present in the room, rather than only having the one in the dormitory common area two floors down, after her first all night study session.

Penelope managed to stand herself up and cross the room to the table where the coffee engine sat. Going through the process of filling and starting the machine helped her wake up, the smell of the coffee grounds more so. Her roommate had left out a canister of freshly ground beans and a covered pitcher of water, for which she was grateful, as it meant she didn't have to fetch water from the wash room or grind the beans herself.

As the coffee engine began to hiss and gurgle, she stood and removed her coat and messenger bag, hanging them on a wall peg in the corner near the door. Her duffle bag was found, folded neatly, under her bunk alongside a pair of long knives in leather sheaths which Tips had given her as a birthday present the year before.

She pulled the three items out and set them on her bed. Unfolded the duffle bag and stood it on end, the opening pointed upward. From there, she started to go through her clothes, laying out what she thought she would need for the month long trip. She passed over her skirts, scrunching her nose at the idea of doing anything other than office work in one. Opting for several pairs of trousers and suspenders instead.

She took a few minutes to change into some fresh, and more practical, clothes as well. An old forest green pair of trousers, covered in old and new oil stains, and a red breton stripe short sleeved undershirt. Strapping on a good sturdy work belt, equipped with several pouches and Tips' birthday presents, the knives bracketing her tail. Completed with a pair of brown leather leggings which covered from below her knees to just above her paws. The Professor often wore a similar pair, though in a deep red color. He had been the one to suggest she acquire a pair of the protective leg coverings for herself while on digs and other such excursions.

Finally, the bell on the coffee engine rang, indicating it was finished brewing. As she poured herself a cup she heard her roommate stir in the top bunk.

"Penny?" the young equine woman propped herself up in bed, "you're home rather late, darling..." she yawned, "is something wrong?"

After taking a long drink of her coffee, she could feel the fatigue fade with each swallow, Penelope sat in a chair and replied, "Good evening, Rada, I'm just packing for an..." she searched for the best way to put it, "unexpected trip... to Italy..."

Her roommate sat up fully at the mention of travel to such an exotic location, "Italy, dear heart!" she seemed much more awake suddenly, "How on earth did you find such an opportunity?"

"Um, I didn't?" Penelope confessed, "Professor Coppersmith and Tips are going to investigate an artifact... I'm stowing away... on the airship they're taking..." she attempted to hide behind her coffee cup.

"You're WHAT?!" Rada was halfway down the bunk ladder, her hooves tapping on each step, "My word, Penny, why stow away?" she looked the small feline over, "And why do you look like a Christmas elf?"

Penelope started to explain, "Well, I can't afford the ticket, and..." then stopped to retort her friends comment on her attire, "I do not look like an elf! Christmas or otherwise!" she laughed, "This is perfectly good, practical clothing." she added, feigning snobbery, turning her nose up in the air.

"I'm sure it is, sweetheart. Especially if you're making toys in the north pole..." Rada teased back, donning a sheer silk dressing gown with marabou cuffs, hem and collar. Over top of her, equally sheer, nightgown. It hid not an inch of her body. Only slightly obscuring her ravishing figure beneath what looked like water cascading over her. One of many pieces the fashion design major had created for herself.

Rada Drahokam had been Penelope's roommate since she started her Bachelor's degree a year after Penny. She and Rada had gotten off to a quick friendship, which had only grown over time. In fact, Rada had been the one to console Penelope the night she had confessed her feelings to Professor Coppersmith, almost four years ago. Rada had also been the one to 'help' put together her, rather frilly, disguise when Penelope had decided to tail the Professor the day after.

"Anyway," Penelope continued, ignoring her friend's usual, light hearted, teasing, "I can't afford the airship ticket. So I haven't got another option, really," she innocently took another sip of her coffee.

"Why doesn't your Professor pay for your ticket?" Rada inquired, getting a cup of coffee for herself before lounging back on a small loveseat they had under a window.

Penelope often wondered how many young men gathered near their dormitory at night. Sporting binoculars, hoping to catch a look at her roommate in a similar manner of dress and pose as she was now. Thankfully, and for just that reason, they generally kept the blinds closed.

"He... um..." she attempted to hide behind her coffee cup again, "he doesn't know I'm going. In fact, he kind of told me to stay behind to take care of things here."

Rada sat up, placing one hand on her chest in feigned shock, somehow making her look even more of a pin-up girl than before.

"Oh my word, sweetheart," she spoke, breathlessly, setting her own coffee cup on a nearby side table, "is my pretty little kitten finally developing a rebellious streak? What will we ever do?"

Penelope quickly set her coffee down on the table, reaching for the nearest cushion she could find, "Gee, I wonder where I might have gotten that from?!"

Grinning and laughing, she sent said cushion spinning across the room at Rada, "You're the only bad influence in my life."

"OH, you wound me!" Rada caught the plush projectile against her chest, still laying the act on thick, "How could a sweet and innocent young woman, like myself, ever be a bad influence?" she shot a doe eyed look over the edge of the pillow she clutched to her bosom.

"Now c'mere you!" with that Rada lunged across the room toward Penelope, "I refuse to let you go anywhere in such gaudy, tasteless colors."

Penelope let out a "MEW!" as she attempted to get away from the twenty three year old, notably larger, equine woman. More cushions got drafted into the fray as the two best friends wrestled each other for control of the youngers one's green trousers.

Eventually, Rada won. Pinning Penelope by kneeling over her chest. Though the twenty one year old tabby had continued to fight, whaping her friends, now exposed, back and shoulders with a pillow repeatedly. Both of them laughing between panting breaths, with the occasional, "Nooo, my trousers!" from Penelope.

Once Rada had managed to prize the offending trousers from her roommate's legs. It had taken a few tries, as Penelope had escaped twice, so she'd had to remove her roommates leg garments a piece at a time. Once she had the engine grease stained trousers in hand, she stood.

"I refuse to allow my best friend to go out in such garish," she dropped the green trousers into a laundry hamper, "and filthy, clothes. Even if you are stowing away on an airship, you should at least start clean."

Rada opened Penelope's wardrobe and found a new, clean, pair of light brown canvas trousers and tossed them to her roommate, who promptly put them on.

"You know, Rada," Penelope leaned forward, strapping her leggings back on after collecting them, "You could have asked me to change."

"Oh, but that wouldn't have been nearly as fun, darling," the older roommate teased, going back to the loveseat, and her coffee.

Likewise, Penelope returned to her seat at the table. By some small miracle, neither of them had been spilled in the melee. A fact they were both grateful for, as neither of them wanted to try to get coffee out of the dorm room carpet. She finished off her cup, and refilled it. It was nearly midnight now, and she still had some preparing to do.

That was when a knock came at the door, giving them both a start. Penelope went to answer, being closer, and opened the door just wide enough to peek through at the angry looking, nightgown and cap clad, possum on the other side.

Penelope slipped out the door once it became clear that the young possum woman was going to be complaining for a while. After about ten minutes, she returned, assuring their neighbor they would keep quiet for the rest of the night, and wishing her luck on the presentation she was giving in the morning.

Once Penelope got the door closed again she leaned her back on it and let out a long breath, followed by a short laugh.

"Well, I have a few things to get packed yet," the young tabby stood and started to search the room, "have you seen my travel tool kit lately?"

"It's in the cabinet by the door, dear heart," Rada finished her coffee, "Where it usually goes."

Penelope opened the cabinet she was directed to, "Ah, thank you!" she snatched the kit up from where it lay. It was then added to her leather messenger bag, which was placed in the duffle bag. She then stood in the middle of the room, looking around, trying to think of anything she might have forgotten.

-----------------------------------------------

Rada continued to lounge on the loveseat under the shuttered window, but found herself staring at her petite roommate standing in the middle of the room. She realized she was admiring the felines figure, and was feeling a bit of a lump form in her chest as she did so, hear heart trying to pick up pace. Making it a little hard to breath.

She stood, clearing her throat, and went to the coffee maker to refill her cup. Had she fallen for her roommate? She considered the possibility as she stirred cream and sugar into the dark brown liquid. Penelope was wonderful to be around, and she loathed the thought of not having met her. But, love? She was a dear, sweet, close friend of course. The best she had ever had. But in love with her?

Penelope tied and clipped the opening of her duffle bag with a metallic *SNAP*.

"Well, near as I can tell," she dropped the large bag next to the door, "that's everything I can think of that I would need."

Penelope retrieved her coat and goggles from the peg on the wall, "I should head out," she cast a glance at the clock there, "since it's almost two in the morning now. The airfield is across town, so it will take me a bit to walk there," she shrugged into her knee length, dark brown, leather coat, and strapped the goggles to her forehead.

She checked to make sure her hair was still secured in a ponytail, grabbed an old flat cap she had hanging by the door, then slung the large duffle bag across her back, it's strap across her chest. She had the door halfway open, and about to bid her roommate farewell when Rada spoke first.

"Penny, darling?" the words caught in Radas throat.

"Hm? Did I forget something?" Penelope turned to look at her friend.

"N-no," Rada suddenly realized how beautifully the light seemed to shimmer in Penelope's crystal blue eyes, "I... I just wanted to tell you to take care, and stay safe," her heart lurched in her chest, "Do send word when you get there, will you?"

Penelope smiled warmly, "Of course, Rada. See you when I get back!"

A moment later the door shut behind the soon-to-be-stowaway. With that smile, Rada knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Somehow, somewhere along the line, she had fallen in love with her best friend.

-----------------------------------------------

Penelope reached the airfield at eight in the morning, and the sun was just starting to redden the sky. The morning chill was still heavy in the air, and even through her clothes and fur, she could feel it.

She stood across the street from the terminals entrance, examining the building and tall fence surrounding it. Truth be told, she hadn't really planned on just how she was going to stowaway on this airship. She still needed to get into the airfield, find the right airship, and then find a way on board, all without being seen.

After taking a deep breath of cold air, pulled the brim of her flat cap to cover her eyes, turned her coat collar up pulling it closer at the same time. Then marched across the street, and into the terminal building.

Once inside, she looked around to find the morning's flight postings. The large wood and brass flap display dominated the far side of the terminal, she saw three listings for Rome, Italy from where she entered. Luckily, she discovered as she got closer, only one was scheduled for departure at nine in the morning. Flight number 207, the Agatha Dyne.

Penelope glanced at the large clock which stood in the middle of the open marble floor. She had about fifty minutes to find away on board that airship, and judging from the line already forming there, the gate was not an option.

She looked around for another way out to the airfield. She saw three options, the doors for: baggage handling, ground crew, and flight crew.

Baggage handling consisted of steam powered conveyor belts, pneumatic armatures, and automatic marking systems. What little room there was for people didn't even go outside. The only way to the airfield by that rout was as baggage. There was a reason they warned travelers not to put living cargo in there, it often didn't make it out in the same state. The only advantage to that option was that it would potentially deposit her directly onto the airship.

So that was dropped to: if absolutely nothing else works.

Flight crew was generally allowed to bypass the lines, but they still had to show identification as such, which consisted of a specially made, brass, punch card. Which she didn't have, nor did she have what she needed to make a copy, not to mention it would take too long. And they still went through the boarding gate, meaning she stood a high chance of being recognized as not belonging, or seen by the Professor or Tips. Who would likely send her home.

So that option was pretty well out.

That left the ground crew entrance. It held the least number of complications, and would give her an opportunity to board unnoticed. This would, basically, consist of walking through the hangar access doors, then locating the correct ship, and finding a way on that no one was minding.

The problem was that most ground crews knew each other quite well, and it was unlikely they would take kindly to an intruder. She would have to be careful.

Penelope glanced at the big clock again, it read a quarter after eight, she had forty five minutes to get aboard that airship. She took headed for the nearest door she saw labeled 'Ground Crew Only,' thankfully it was unlocked.

The second she passed through the door she was hit with a wall of noise. Everything from massive compressor pumps to steam powered lathes. If she hadn't been darting from one hiding place to the next, she would have been in heaven.

The young tabby took the most direct path to the huge doors to the airfield as she could. Though she often had to stop for what seemed like ages, whenever she heard workers nearby. The experience was the most nerve racking thing she had ever done. Surpassing even what she had felt the day she followed Emrys after class, ultimately meeting Tips. Her heart was racing, threatening to leap from her throat onto the brick floor.

When she finally reached the doors it took her a minute to locate the Agatha Dyne, which was already loading passengers. Two of whom, she recognized from here as Emrys and Tips. Who were not looking in her direction, nor was the wind blowing towards them, she noted with relief.

She checked her duffle bag on her back, to make sure it was well situated, squared her cap, checked for nearby workers. When all seemed clear, and made a bee-line for the next nearest obstacle to her destination. Once there, she settled in a crevice of the piece of loading equipment and looked to the next piece of cover. Keeping her ears swiveling in every direction, listening for any sound of having been detected.

There was only one more between her and what looked to be a maintenance hatch on the airship, and it was notably closer to her current position than the hatch. She swallowed back the growing lump in her throat, and was suddenly glad to have had nothing to eat or drink since the coffee she had at her dorm room. If she had eaten anything since, she was certain she would have thrown up, from the stress, by this point.

Things looked to be clear to the next bit of cover, so she went for it.

Penelope made it there safely, but found little space to hide herself while she waited for her next, and last, opportunity to move. She ended up crouched next to the stack of empty supply crates. Hoping she would be mistaken for, well, anything that wasn't someone trying to stowaway on an airship. Needless to say, she really wished she'd had more time to plan this little endeavor. As it was, she was working it out as she went along.

This time, she reasoned, he had to wait for more than just a clear run. She had to wait until the airship was just about to take off. Then sprint across the large open space between her and the maintenance hatch, get it open, and get inside before it was too far off the ground.

She would time her run with the last group of passengers boarding. When they got to the bottom of the ramp, she would make her break for the hatch.

Just then she felt the wind, though her whiskers, shift towards the boarding line, and Emrys and Tips. She ducked behind the crates she was next to, hoping they didn't see her.

-----------------------------------------------

The Professor stood halfway up the boarding ramp to the Agatha Dyne, contemplating the implications of the details of the note he had gotten from Detective Widget the day before.

If it was an organization, this Agares, things may get quite difficult, quite fast. Depending on how far their reach went. If they were old enough, and big enough, he and Tips may be fighting a very uphill battle.

He felt the wind change though his whiskers and fur. Along with it, he picked out a familiar smell: machine grease mixed with metal dust and a hint of perfume.

He looked out towards where it came from, but couldn't see any sign of his young assistant. Only a few remaining ground crew workers, cleaning up the last of the resupply refuse from the Agatha. Had he imagined it? He tapped his wife on the arm.

"Tips," he inquired as the took another few steps up the ramp, "Did you smell Penelope, just now? With the wind change."

His wife looked around, sniffing he air, "I smell a lot of similar things," she confirmed taking another few steps up, "besides the normal smells of machine shops and tools, there is a perfume on the air, not unlike the one she carries."

They were almost on board when they heard a shout, over the noise of the engines, that pulled their attention to the ground near the aft end of the airship. The same direction the familiar scent had come from.

-----------------------------------------------

Penelope jumped when she heard the shout, loud enough to be heard clearly over the din of the airship's propellers.

"YOU THERE!" the booming voice came again, "STAND FIRM! YOU'RE NOT ON MY CREW! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?"

Penelope neither replied nor hesitated, she sprinted for the maintenance hatch.

"STOP!" she heard, and felt, who she assumed was a foreman, give thunderous chase, "WE GOT A STOWAWAY! HEADING FOR THE AFT MAINTENANCE HATCH... I SAID STOP, RASCAL!"

Not daring to look back at her pursuer, she continued at top speed for the, now confirmed, maintenance hatch. The airship was starting to rise off the ground. But she was almost there, she could see a short, grated, walkway jutting out beneath it. If she could get to that, she would be safe.

When she was feet away, she leapt for the platform... And stopped midair, promptly swinging upside down by her legs. She barely caught her duffle bag, as it slipped over her head toward the ground. Her flat cap fell from her head unhindered.

"HA!" the massive bull laughed, "Got you, girly. You're not getting a free flight today, I'm afraid."

Penelope considered the foreman, he must have been nearly eight feet tall, a solid wall of muscle. He didn't seem particularly angry or unfriendly, though. In spite of dangling her upside down, he actually seemed quite gentle. Moreover, he was just doing his job, so she didn't want to hurt him. Nothing permanent at least, so her knives were out of the question.

"Well, Girly?" he asked, "Anything to say for yourself?"

She shot him a wry grin, remembering the things Tips had been teaching her the past few years.

"Yep! I'm late for my flight!" with that, she twisted around and swung her duffle up, and tossed it to the platform beneath the maintenance hatch. It hit, and landed smoothly against the hatch itself.

She then swung herself back toward the bull holding her, "Sorry about this!" she yelled to him, reaching over his thumb and digging her claws into the thick hide covering his first knuckle. It would hurt like hell, but wouldn't cause any permanent damage to him there. It also gave her a good grip when he let go of her legs.

"YYAAOOW!" the foreman bellowed, releasing the girl's legs and throwing the hand he held the young woman with in the air, trying to get it away from her.

Penelope held on for the few moments it took to pull her paws up under her. Then, at the apex hands backwards ark, she leapt off, launching herself towards the slowly rising platform. Which was now upwards of fifteen feet in the air already.

She caught the ledge, barely, and pulled herself up. Quickly slinging her duffle bag across her back again, and pulling her goggles down over her eyes, she turned to wave at the foreman.

"SORRY FOR CLAWING YOUR HAND, SIR!" she shouted to him, "BUT I REALLY COULDN'T MISS THIS FLIGHT! ...AND THANKS FOR THE BOOST, TOO!" she added with a chuckle.

The foreman stared up at her in amazement, rubbing his hand where she had dug her claws into it. He smiled back at her, and waved, shaking his head. He stopped momentarily, seeing her flat cap, and bent to pick it up. She was too high up now to throw it to her, so he stuffed it in his pocket. He had a feeling that he would encounter her again some time.

Penelope then turned to the hatch and tried to open it. Locked. This was not good. She should have expected it to be so, but she had been in such a rush, the possibility had completely slipped her mind. Nonetheless, she started looking for a means to release the lock from this side of the hatch.

She tried not to panic as the winds on the outside of the airship quickly grew stronger, and more violent. The platform she stood on was only slightly wider than the hatch itself, and had only two guard rails. She was terrified she would be swept off at any moment. Looking down through the grating the platform was made of, made the fear double instantly. She was already more than eighty feet in the air, and climbing fast.

She clung to railing, racing through possible ways to open the locked hatch. Pry it open with a screwdriver from her tool kit? No, she didn't have the space to retrieve it from inside her duffle, and would probably lose it in the process, either by breaking it, or to the chaotically powerful winds.

Disassemble this side of the lock mechanism? No, that would still require her tool kit.

Maybe she could tap the pins out of the hinges on the hatch? She looked at them. They were one inch diameter bolts, with the nuts welded in place. That was no good.

She looked down again, the airfield looked like a part of a large, O scale, diorama now. She clung tighter to the railing. She had to find a way inside the hatch, and soon. The air was going to get really thin soon. THINK, she had to THINK!

*CLUNK-SQUEEEEEK-CLUNK*

Penelope looked at the hatch, it was unlocked, from the inside. Who?

She reached out and grabbed the metal handle, and strained against the wind to pull it open. Once it was open far enough for her to squeeze through with her duffle bag, she ducked through, barely pulling her tail in before the wind slammed the hatch shut again with a loud; *CA-CHUM*

She sat down hard against the wall of the maintenance corridor, gasping, nearly in tears from the fear and exhilaration.

"Thank... Thank you," she gasped, trying to catch her breath, "You saved my life, thank you. I can... repay you by working in the engines... I have a bachelor's... degree in Engineering... just... PLEASE... don't throw me off the ship..."

"Oh, I don't think either will be necessary, Ms. Penelope Reuthe..."

She froze when she heard that stern voice, it was never good when he used her full name, "H-hello, Professor..." she slowly looked up at her friends, "a-and Tips..." they both had their arms crossed as they looked down at her. Their expressions made it quite clear just how much trouble she was in.

She mustered a weak smile, "Um... F-f-fancy meeting you here?...heh..."











































~Chapter 3~

~Better Than Expected~



The trio sat at a table in the Agatha Dyne's saloon. At the time of Penelope's harrowing arrival on the airship, little had been said about it. Instead, Tips had bounced between fussing over the girl, and scolding her for doing something so foolhardy.

Emrys, on the other hand, had been disturbingly stoic. After they had deposited her things in their cabin, he had gone to the captain and explained the situation, ultimately paying for an extra ticket to cover his assistants passage. He had hardly spoken to Penelope, or for that matter, even looked at her until now. He sat across the table from her at the table, his red-gold eyes seeming to burn holes in the air between them.

"First off." he finally began, after a silence that lasted a little too long, "I'm glad you're alright. You're supremely lucky you weren't swept off the side of the hull with that damned fool stunt. But, I'm sure you are already well aware of that fact."

His young assistant, head already bowed in shame and wringing her hands between her knees, nodded at that. She was still shaking a bit, though it may have been more from anxiety at this point, rather than fear and adrenaline.

"That being said; what possessed you to do this in the first place?" he leaned forward over the table, "Especially when I had told you to stay behind, I was counting on you to handle my classes while I was away, and..."

Tips placed a silver tipped hand on the Professor's shoulder, "Let her answer, Love."

Emrys sat back again, letting out a sigh, taking his wife's hand in his, "Well, I must say, I feel rather disappointed in you right now, Penny."

Penelope winced at that last statement. Somehow, disappointment was always so much worse than anger from others. Considerably more painful too.

"I-I know you told me to stay and take care of things at the university, Professor," she confessed, "but, after hearing what you told the detective, I just had to see for myself," when Emrys didn't say anything she continued, starting to speak a bit too fast, "A-and, I did make sure everything on your schedule for the month was covered by someone qualified! I got Professor Feral to take care of your demonstrations, and Professors Morris and Valentine to trade off on your lectures about hazardous artifacts, and-and the Professors Foglio to give your lecture on the technology of ancient civilizations..." she continued for several minutes, rattling off everything she had worked on the evening before.

"I made sure all the necessary paperwork was filed, and... and I'm sorry, I know this was selfish, but I didn't want to left behind again, a-and I wanted to be with you guys, and-and-and..." she finally trailed off, casting her eyes down to her paws again.

Emrys released Tips' hand and let out a long breath, "It's alright, I'm glad you made sure things would be taken care of. But that wasn't the only reason I wanted you to stay behind. It's going to be dangerous, we have no idea what we'll actually be dealing with once we get there."

He leaned forward to wrest his arms on the table, "This isn't likely to be a regular dig, Penny. I know you feel confident about this, and I appreciate your enthusiasm for the field, but this expedition is just too dangerous if you don't have the experience," Emrys started to stand, "Now, I'm going to go speak with the captain again, she's taking the ship back to Washington after we reach Rome, I should be able to arrange for him to take you back home where-"

Penelope stood suddenly, slamming her fists on the table as she did so, "I'M NOT A KITTEN ANYMORE, DAMN IT! WHY CAN'T YOU SEE THAT?! I GOT ON THIS SHIP ON MY OWN, I CAN HANDLE MYSELF JUST FINE! I brought all the tools I should need, and between that and Tips' training...and... and... I'M COMING WITH YOU!"

"NO!" Emrys exploded, standing to his full height, his voice akin to the roar of a cannon firing line, "YOU SAY YOU'RE NOT A KITTEN ANYMORE? WELL YOU'RE DOING A HELL OF A JOB SHOWING IT! AN ADULT WOULDN'T HAVE TRIED TO STOW AWAY ON AN AIRSHIP, AND NEARLY GOTTEN THEMSELVES KILLED! NOR WOULD THEY ABANDON THE RESPONSIBILITIES SOMEONE WAS COUNTING ON THEM FOR! YOU'RE! GOING! HOME!"

They glared for what seemed like an eternity, fuming at each other. Tears began welling up in Penelope's eyes. After a few moments, she ran from the saloon, sobbing loudly.

Emrys dropped his balled up fists to the table top, letting his head swing down as well. Tips punched him in the arm, hard.

"What the hell was that?" his wife chided, "You know what she thinks of you, beyond having been smitten with you for years. She idolizes you."

"Are you saying I should just overlook this? She's already nearly gotten herself killed once," he tilted his head towards Tips, "you know things are only going to get worse once we get to Rome. I..."

He paused there for a moment, Tips took the opportunity to jump in, "You're trying to protect her, I get that, but she's right. She is an adult now, and has been making her own choices for quite some time now, I might add."

"She's not ready," Emrys seethed, "and this impulsive stunt is-"

"Not that different from your impulsive stunt," Tips cut her husband off, "you're the one who suddenly decided to take off for Italy to find some ancient super weapon. Ditching all of your obligations, I might add, on her."

Emrys stood and rubbed his temples, "Yes, ok, I get it, I'm being a jerk and a hypocrite," he turned a to look at his wife, "But I have training, and experience. I can handle things if, and when, they go bad. The same goes for you!" he motioned in Tips' direction, "All she has is a bachelor's degree, a few years of your training, and a head filled with fantastic stories of exotic adventures."

Tips stood now, fixing her silver eyes on her husbands, "Are you saying there's something wrong with my training, Dear?"

"What? No! Ahg, you know what I mean," he sputtered in frustration, "It's like she's practiced and studied everything about swimming and the ocean, then goes and tries to swim across the Atlantic without ever even jumping in a pool! It's a good way to get killed," he let out an exasperated breath, "rather quickly at that."

Tips approached Emrys and set her hands on his chest, looking up slightly, into his eyes, "I know, Emrys. But when you went on your first expedition, did you know what you were getting into? Or how dangerous it really was?"

After a moment the Professor wrapped his arms around Tips' waist, "No," he conceded, sighing heavily, "I was just about the same as her, I guess. All enthusiasm and no sense," he smiled and gave his wife a loving squeeze, adding, "It did get me you, though."

"That it did," she smiled back at him wrapping her arms over his shoulders, and gave him a brief kiss on the muzzle, "but right now, there's a scared, and hurt, young tabby girl on this ship who needs her mentor, and an apology."

The busty black leopard released Emrys' shoulders, poking his nose with the pad of one finger, and turned toward the passengers' quarters, "I, on the other hand, heard that there is a bath house with a sauna on this airship," she walked to the hatch for the passengers' quarters, "I intend to make excessive use of it."

Tips stopped, before she ducked through the hatch, and turned to her husband, a look of concern on her face, "If Penny needs someone more to talk too, let her know where to find me, ok?"

The Professor smiled at his wife, "I'll let her know... Love you!"

"Love you, too," she tossed back to him as she closed the hatch behind her.

Emrys stood, alone now, in the saloon of the airship. He looked around, locating the direction in which his assistant had run off, starting to follow. He stopped after a few steps, turned, and headed for their cabin, deciding to retrieve something from there first.

Once there, he fiddled with a set of four brass rings, placed just under the headpiece of the staff. He quickly and carefully rotated each of the rings so that the numbers marked on them, counting zero to nine, lined up with notches on cuffs framed them.

After he dialed the desired combination into the staff, he pulled the bottom two rings down the shaft, opening a glowing black ovoid between the top and bottom two rings. He reached through and pulled out a small, stained and varnished, wooden box.

After checking the contents, he closed the void in his staff, set the dial rings to zero, and set off to locate his distressed assistant.

-----------------------------------------------

It took Emrys only about fifteen minutes to find Penelope. Who was curled up in the corridor outside the ship's engine room, still sobbing, though more quietly now.

He stopped about five paces away from her, "Hey there, sweetheart," he spoke gently.

Her ears perked up for a second, then laid back down, "What do you want?" she sniffed back more tears, "just leave me alone."

"I won't do that, Penny," Emrys moved to the opposite side of the corridor and sat on the floor, "I'm sorry I yelled at you, and for treating you like a kitten. It was uncalled for, and I know I set the example as well. So again, I'm sorry, Penny."

"So..." Penelope pulled her head from her arms, her fur looked like she had been sprayed with a hose, "you-you're not mad?"

The Professor couldn't help but give her a sympathetic smile, "No. To be honest, I wasn't much different than you, when I was starting out. And," he took a breath and let it out, "I did, and still tend to, do the same sort of thing, too."

"So...*sniff*... when will I be getting back to the university then?..." his assistant wiped at her face, attempting to dry and smooth her fur with the sleeves of her leather coat. It wasn't working very well.

"Well..." Emrys scratched his chin with one hand, "how does the end of the month sound?"

Penelope stopped and turned to look at him, eyes wide with surprise and disbelief, "Really? I-I can stay... I mean, come with you?"

"Yes," the wolf chuckled, "you can stay and come with us."

The young tabbies' eyes began to sparkle with joy as a wide grin spread across her features.

"There is one condition," her mentor continued, holding up a finger, "I need you to promise that you will do as we tell you, when we tell you to do it, ok? I wasn't exaggerating when I said things are likely to get very dangerous, so this could mean life and death."

Penelope, still clearly excited and happy, vigorously nodded her head. She attempted, and failed, to look as solemn as possible at the same time, "YES! I promise, whatever you tell me, I'll get it done. I promise! THANK YOU!" she was bouncing on her knees at this point.

Emrys stood, "Well then, why don't we get back to the cabin, we still need to figure out sleeping arrangements," he stopped, as if remembering something, "Oh, I almost forgot."

"What is it, Professor?" Penelope inquired, still giddy as he helped her stand, but looking slightly wary at his sudden recollection.

"There was something I meant to give you," after he got his assistant standing again, he reached into his large, leather hip pouch, and retrieved the small wooden box he had collected from his staff earlier. Placing it in her hands.

She opened the box to find a find silvery chain with a semi-spherical crystal, each in a small silver cage, at each end, "It's beautiful... but, um, what is it?" she held it up by one end, looking grateful, but confused.

"That little bauble," he explained, "is a 'Resonance Signature Pendulum.' It's used to locate objects with a particular energy signature. There are a few different ways to use them. It's a fairly standard tool for most Technomages. Most of us start off learning with one, it's a good way to introduce a lot of the concepts we use regularly."

Penelope's eyes went wide as she looked from the small, dangling, device to the Professor.

"Tec-Technomage?" she stammered in disbelief, "M-me?"

Emrys grinned, "Well, Apprentice Technomage for now. It's not exactly something you can learn overnight," he paused before adding, "Assuming you want the position, of course. I had been planning on offering it to you when I got back to the university. But since you're coming with us now-OOF!"

He was cut off by the sudden, impacting, hug from the young feline woman.

"I ACCEPT," she was crying again, though this time with sheer joy, and grinning from ear to ear, "Yes! Of course I accept the offer. Thank you!"

Emrys returned the hug, then pried the excessively happy Penelope from his chest, "Well, Apprentice, why don't you go get yourself cleaned up. The fur on your face is all wet, and full of dirt as well as the grease and whatnot from the equipment you dived through at the airfield. And you smell like you've been up since yesterday, with only a change of clothes. Some sleep may be in order as well."

"Ok," she sniffed, still grinning, and wiped at her whiskers and eyes, "umm, heh, when do we start lessons?"

"As soon as you're clean, ready, and rested," Emrys replied, ushering her down the hall alongside him, "Tips is making use of the bath house sauna, if you want some company, and I'll be in our cabin."

"Ok," Penelope could barely contain herself the whole way back to the passenger deck. She and the Professor parted ways in the passageway outside their cabin, Emrys directing her to the bath house while he took her coat. She asked him to hold on to her new pendulum while she was in the bath. Then she set off, skip-running down the hall, giddily chattering to herself the whole way.

-----------------------------------------------

Tips lay on her back, on the bench in the sauna, thick steam swirling around her. Her lean, muscular, figure free of clothing. She took in a long, deep breath and let it out. This was the most relaxed she had been in months, at least since that expedition in South America she and Emrys had been on. Most of the year, Washington was far too cold for her liking. Who would have thought she would find someplace this warm and steamy in a vehicle traveling several hundred feet in the air? At least, that wasn't an engine room.

She stretched, still surprised at the amount of space they had managed to set aside for such a luxury. Though still not huge, two or three more people could have fit comfortably in the steam room with her.

And for the moment, at least, she had it all to herself.

Tips examined her fingertips, the silver fur covering them was beginning to clump together in the humidity. She noted that it made them look like small blades at the end of each finger. Amusing, considering the very real, and very sharp, claws sheathed within them.

The metallic tips in her otherwise jet black fur, from which her nickname was derived, were mirrored on both her fingers and toes, as well as the otherwise rounded tips of her ears. She enjoyed the implications of the rather cute moniker: pretty, cute, more than a little sexy, and equally dangerous given the motivation.

She craned her neck to look at the large clock set into the wall, it had already been nearly forty minutes. She hoped her husband's talk with Penelope was going well. Tips hated seeing either of them so upset.

As if to allay her unspoken concern, she heard a familiar giggle in the main room of the bath house. It was followed by the sound of running water.

Tips stood and went to the sauna door, opening it just enough to peek out. The panthers, self-adoptive, little sister sat in front of one of the wash stations near the heated pool, giggling and chattering to herself as she bathed. The petite feline seemed completely unaware she was being observed.

Tips got a wicked idea, and carefully closed the sauna door. Pressing her ear against the inside surface, she listened intently to the younger woman's actions.

"Tips?!" Penelope called out, suddenly enough to make the older feline jump back from the door, "Tips, the Professor said you were in here! You there?"

Tips rubbed the ringing, caused by the sudden loud voice, out of her ear, "Yeah, I'm in the sauna, Sis! Is everything alright with you and Emrys now?"

The young woman giggled again, "Yep! Better than alright!"

Tips could hear the sound of fur being shampooed. Now was her chance. She pulled a hand towel off the rack inside the sauna, and tied it around her chest. The small rectangle of white terrycloth was barely long enough to contain her, even pulled corner to corner. But it would hold, at least long enough.

She carefully opened the sauna door, just enough for her to fit through, and silently prowled on all fours around the edge of the room. Being sure to stay directly behind the line of sight of the, now fully lathered, tabby.

Tips moved as if there was pole linking her to the back of Penelope's head, careful not to make a sound. She watched as her would-be sister rinsed the soap from her fur, then moved to the edge of the heated pool. Tips positioned herself with the smaller feline between her and the center of the pool, and scrunched up with her hands between her paws. Her long black tail whipping back and forth in the air behind her. Her silver eyes twinkling evilly.

"Hey, Tips!" Penelope called out, "I'm getting in the pool to soak for a bit! Wanna join me?"

Tips didn't reply, as to not give away her position.

"Tips?" Penelope called, turning toward the sauna. Tips chose that moment to pounce. Tackling the five foot tabby girl into the heated pool.

*SPLOOSH*

The two felines, now soaked from head to toe, surfaced with Tips body hugging Penelope from behind. Tips' chest towel had let go mid leap.

"Hi, Sis," Tips greeted, playfully biting the younger felines ear as she stood, still holding the younger woman, "good to see you're feeling better."

Penelope coughed and sputtered, "TIIIPS!" she struggled to break free, only to find her head wedged deeper in black fur covered cleavage, "Why would you do that!?" she grimaced.

"Because it's fun," Tips chuckled, "and you left yourself open."

"I'm taking a bath!" the younger feline retorted, struggling a little more against her captors' body.

"Your point?" Tips teased, letting the smaller woman slip out of the hold.

"My point," Penelope sank to her chest in the shallow pool, turning to face her would-be older sister, "is that... YOU'RE SO GONNA GET IT!"

With that, Penelope lunged out of the water at Tips. The two splashed, wrestled and laughed for a good while, neither really getting the upper hand. Eventually, they settled into a corner of the pool, half facing each other, out of breath, exhausted and soaked through.

"Not bad," Tips gasped, halfheartedly splashing her junior, "for a little ball of orange fluff."

Penelope splashed Tips back, "Heh, thanks, Sis," she laughed, still breathing hard, "so long as I can manage to get around," she splashed Tips again, "those big fuzzy balloons on your chest, I'm fine."

"HA! Good one, you're just jealous," Tips splashed a wave of water at her adoptive sister, "And I will kick your ass for that one later."

The two half floated there in silence for a few moments. Only the occasional splash or chuckle. Penelope eventually sat up, breaking the silence.

"Bring it on, Sis," she dipped herself in the water, smoothing her fur out again as she surfaced, "Nothing is going to get me down right now. Things are just too wonderful."

"Oh?" Tips sat up and did the same, "What did you and Emrys talk about?"

Penelope turned to Tips, grinning from ear to ear, "Well, first, he told me I could come with on this expedition," the excited tabby somehow managed to grin even wider, "He offered to make me is apprentice!" she giggled and bounced in the water, making small waves slosh around her.

"And..." Tips leaned forward in anticipation.

"I accepted! I'm going to be a Technomage!" the younger feline squealed.

"Great!" Tips hugged her would-be sister, "I'm so proud of you, Penny! Though, you do realize everything gets stepped up from here, right?"

"I don't care," Penelope returned the hug, "I get to learn things so far beyond what's 'normal'," she let out a soft giggle, "and, best of all, I get to stay around the two of you more."

After a few moments, the two released each other from the embrace. They continued to converse in the pool for some time. Eventually, they dried off and returned to their shared cabin, laughing and talking the whole way.

-----------------------------------------------

Emrys looked up from his notes as his companions walked in, carrying their clothes, clad in terry cloth bath robes. He had heard them coming down the passageway, as well as the scent of soap, rose water and static electricity. Somehow, he realized as they came through the door, Penelope still managed to carry her usual scent, though greatly subdued beneath the smell of the bath. The both of them looked a good deal fluffier than usual, likely due to the act of drying off after bathing. It also explained the scent of static electricity in the air around them.

"Good afternoon, Ladies," he closed his notebook and sat back in his seat, "feeling better after the bath?"

Tips spoke first, "Oh, so much better," she moved to the second door in the cabin, which led to the bedroom, "between the sauna, and the good news; I think we're both doing much better now."

Penelope deposited her folded clothes on top of her duffle bag, snatched up the wooden box containing her new technomage tool, and plopped down in a chair across the table from Emrys. Prompting him to raise an eyebrow at her.

"I'm glad to see you're still so excited, Penny," he smirked, "but weren't you going to get some rest before we started?" Emrys could tell she was way too excited to sleep, but he brought it up anyway.

"I don't think she could sleep if she wanted to," Tips piped in from the bedroom with a laugh, "She has far too much energy, bouncing up and down so much she was cresting six inch waves in the pool."

Penelope looked a bit bashful with the comment, "I'm not tired anyway, I really just want to get started. Please?"

"Oh, let her get a start on it now," Emrys felt his wife press up against his shoulders and, with a momentary shortness of breath, he realized she was topless.

"Oh, alright," standing, he went to his staff and began working the combination dial on it, "certainly can't say no when two beautiful women are insisting."

Penelope gave a small fist-pump with both arms, letting out a quiet, "YESSS," then promptly retrieved her shoulder bag, and the analytical engine book within, before returning to her seat at the table.

Tips stretched her arms behind her head, letting out a soft groan of exertion, "Well, I'm going to take a nap. So you two have fun. And do try not to blow up the ship."

"No guarantees," the Professor chuckled back, pulling another glowing black ovoid open on his staff, and reaching inside, "but I will make sure that we at least make it to our destination in one piece. Sleep well, Dear."

The bedroom door closed behind Tips, and Emrys retracted his hand from the, roughly, head sized void in his staff, holding a stack of old notebooks. He closed the space and reset the rings to zero, when he stood to return to the table he saw his new apprentice staring at him, and the staff, eyes wide with astonished fascination.

"What was that?" she asked, opening her own notebook on the table.

"That," Emrys explained, "is a spatial dilator, with a four place numeric combination dial," he sat down across the table from his apprentice, "and the subject of a much later lesson. That being said, I will show you how to use it later, if you like. But right now, we start with the basics."

He opened one of the notebooks he had just retrieved, and set it down in front of Penelope. The page described, in Emrys' own handwriting, how all matter carried a unique signature of energy. That it can be used to locate a particular object if you can identify its signature amongst those that surround it.

"That's one of my old journals, from when I was getting started," he explained, "You can go ahead and hold on to it for now. It's the closest thing to a text book we're going to have."

"I'll take good care of it..." Penelope paused for a moment, confused, "Ma-ster?"

Emrys chuckled at the new title, shaking his head, "Don't worry about calling me that. I don't really care for it. Though I concede it is, technically accurate," he let out a bemused sigh, "If you still insist on calling me by a tile, 'Professor' is much preferred."

"Ok," the young apprentice smiled bashfully, "I'll take good care of it, Professor."

"Now, your first lesson," the wolf reconsidered his words, "and the first rule, in a way: remember that nothing is impossible. Extremely unlikely. Astronomically improbable. Yes... But not impossible."

Penelope gave him an uncertain look, processing what he had just said, then nodded her head, quickly writing it down in her own note book.

"In the end, the term 'impossible' is often used as an excuse for failure," Emrys continued, "by those who are afraid of it. There have been a great many things that have been said to be 'impossible' which were later proven to be possible. In such cases, it's often that some piece of information was missing, or the technology to make the idea a reality simply didn't exist yet."

"So, in short," he summed up, "anything can be achieved, so long as you can discern the how and why of it."

His apprentice nodded in understanding, taking down the summery in her notebook.

"Now, before we go any further," Emrys' tone became quite stern. "something we must always consider with what we do. Many of the tools and technology we employ could be extremely dangerous in uncaring hands."

Penelope looked up from her notes, her expression solemn, "Like this lens device we are looking for now?"

The Professor nodded, "Exactly, I assume you remember what I told the detective about the one, supposed, test firing?"

"You said it was thought to have triggered Mount Vesuvius' eruption," her ears drooped with the comprehension of what Emrys was implying, "which destroyed the entire original city of Pompeii, along with everyone who lived there."

"Technology can be a wondrous and amazing thing," Emrys gestured to his staff, "especially the technology we use, as Technomages. But we always have to take care that it is not abused, ether by ourselves or those we would give it to."

He let out a breath, leaning across the table, he spoke more gently now, "I'm not trying to scare you, Penny," he placed his hand on her wrist, "I just want you to be fully aware of what you're agreeing too in becoming my apprentice. And, eventually, a Technomage in your own right."

Penelope looked him in the eyes and nodded, "Alright,"

Emrys leaned back in his chair again, "Part of what we do, is to help advance scientific knowledge, and technological advancement. But, by extension, we also have to help regulate it at times. Though this primarily applies to our own technology; when and how we release it to society."

"You are taking on much more than simply learning how to make and use things far in advance of what is considered 'normal.' You are taking on a terrible responsibility, to not only help the world move forward, but to protect it from the things that would harm it. Even if that is sometimes from the very tools we employ to protect it."

Penelope, sobered by her mentors' explanation, nodded, "I understand, Professor," she spoke as though she were swearing an oath, "and I still accept the offer, and everything that comes with it. But..."

She considered her words for a moment, "does that mean we hide what we know from people?"

"No, not particularly," the Professor affirmed, swelling with pride in his new apprentice, "We limit what we reveal of some aspects of the tools we use, until society is able to handle it. Or they come to discover it on their own. Not doing so would be like handing an infant an explosive with the detonator. Neither the infant or the surrounding area benefit from the outcome."

Penelope smiled, perking up with this continued explanation, resuming her note taking.

"This is the reason why," Emrys continued to explain, "even in this modern age, we are seen as magicians and sorcerers. We don't hide what we can do, though we generally don't blatantly wave it about. Unless it becomes necessary to do so."

"But, we don't hide it from them, or even the fact that we achieve the magic we can do through science and technology. It's often simply far enough beyond what they are familiar with or able to understand at that time that they only view it on the most basic of levels."

"Like that saying 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic?'" the young woman inquired.

"Yes," the Professor confirmed, "Though, I would say that it still is magic, just well understood and defined."

"What do you mean?" Penelope looked a bit confused, "isn't magic just a concept derived from a lack of understanding? Once you understand how it works, how can it still be magic?"

"Fair point," Emrys conceded, "in a way, it can come down to whether you still feel wonderment at it, even after you understand how it works. Or does it become that much more amazing when you discover it? Something to discuss more later."

"Returning to what we were talking about in concern to 'regulating' scientific and technological advancement." Emrys brought the conversation back to its initial focus, "we never keep people from things they have discovered on their own. We may, and often have, help them make that discovery. What we do as far as regulating such things, has more to do with keeping people from taking shortcuts, and using things they have yet to fully comprehend the potential risks of."

His apprentice nodded deeply, now fully understanding what he had been meaning, "Again, like the device we're going after."

"Yes, and no," the wolf stated, "there are weapons of similar destructive power already, though none like this one. However, this is a case of; powerful technology getting in the wrong hands."

Penelope cocked her head at the Professor, "So this is a 'protect from the abuse of technology' then?"

"Yes," Emrys confirmed, "and we will go more into that starting tomorrow. For now, let's get you started on using that new pendulum I gave you."

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