Tatiana’s eyebrows rose. “That demonstration… your images were strong before, but now…”
“Heh, impressive right?” Randidly laced his fingers behind his head and grinned at her. It was only at these moments that Tatiana could forget all of the things that he had accomplished and recall that he was, at most, in his late twenties. “I wasn’t slacking off while I was away, that’s for sure. In terms of images… I feel pretty good about where I’ve gotten. I’m a little short of being a Master still, but that’s just a matter of time…”
Nodding slowly, Tatiana regarded Randidly. It had now been a week since he returned. During that time, the government had been relatively quiet, seemingly content to watch as Randidly made almost a dozen sweeping changes to the structure of Erickson Steel. They were confident that their inspection teams that would head over soon would be able to give them the run down that they wanted.
Everyone was preparing for something.
It’s just unfortunate that it seems like the government's preparations are going to come to naught, Tatiana’s lip curled up. Then she focused on the issue at hand.
“Are you sure… a party right now is the best idea?” She asked slowly. “After seeing your demonstration, I think most of our workers will want to try their hand at using images again. This might be the most valuable time for practice.”
But Randidly just shrugged and walked over to a sink to wash some of the soot and ash the remained on his hands after the demonstration. “You are probably right, but people need breaks too. To be mentally healthy, even if we are physically fine. Besides, this party is partially a thank you to a certain individual. So I want Erickson Steel to put its best foot forward. The more technological wonders that will be present, the better.”
“Alright, it’s your company.” I just make sure it all works. “Also, all of the applicants for the internships are here. Whenever you are ready, you can interview them.”
“Perfect. Might as well do it now while I’m in a good mood.” Randidly cracked his neck. “Oh, and let the government know about this party. Call it a festival. I’m sure they will take the chance to come into the compound unofficially and inspect what we’ve been doing… and I want the chance to examine them as well. Figure out how discrete I should be during the stay of the true inspection team they send.”
“Randidly, how many goals are you aiming to accomplish at once with this party?” Tatiana asked with a shake of the head. Randidly chuckled and produced a leather glove that he slipped over his metallic left hand. It didn’t completely fool a viewer into believing that the arm was still one of flesh and blood, but it did seem to restrain the ominous feeling that seeped outward from his left fist.
“Well… certainly several…” Randidly seemed to ponder the question. “But isn’t complexity the spice of life? And progress won’t happen unless all of the disparate images have an excuse to mix and compete.”
“Complexity, in this case, is a result of haste,” Tatiana replied dryly. “Why are you in such a rush?”
“Because I have nineteen days before I need to face a very dark truth about this world,” Randidly responded, his voice filled with false cheer. “Besides… You are right that this isn’t the neatest way of doing things, but I still believe it will be the best. No matter what we do… we can’t escape our own images of ourselves, Tatiana.”
Randidly’s gaze turned abruptly heavy. For a split second, Tatiana’s chest was frozen as though she was physically pressed down by his presence. “And unless we draw out those dangerous images with the proper sort of bait… how will we know what sort of people truly believe in Erickson Steel?”
An emerald fire. A Crown of pale metal. A tree that was a book penned with bark and golden script. A shadow that stared blindly down at its own hands and mourned what it had lost.
Then the moment passed. The man next to her was just a man, and the turbulent waves of images calmed in the surrounding area.
Tatiana kept her breath even. “You’ve…. Become something of a gambler. With throwing so many elements into this party, I mean.”
“A sad truth, but these are admittedly small stakes in the grand scheme of things.” Randidly looked up at the sky. Then he rubbed his short hair. “There are two ways to lose in our universe. The more obvious one is to gamble and bust. But the harder truth is that if the time comes and we don’t have enough capital to our names… we lose that way too. And what a bitter loss it will be.”
“So we have a party,” Tatiana said lightly. Her hands were clasped behind her back to hide the trembling. How dangerous were the foes that Randidly sensed if he was worried enough for her to sense it…?
“Exactly.” His smile was easy and light.
So for the next twelve hours, Tatiana made arrangements for a party. A party large enough to be a festival for the entire complex. Although Randidly hadn’t been specific enough for her to guess who the guest of honor was, she took his word about a technological demonstration to heart. So Tatiana announced abruptly a sudden competition with a short six-hour time limit.
Everyone who wanted to compete should make an original material, drone, machine, or Engraving to submit to the different categories. The winner would receive personal pointers from Randidly Ghosthound regarding their area of focus. Although Randidly hadn’t explicitly given her permission to make that promise, Tatiana believed that he wouldn’t be against the prospect. At the moment, Randidly was extremely concerned with the growth of Erickson Steel.
So much so that he was actually willing to listen to progress reports including the recorded minute statistical improvements.
Plus, with the announcement of a contest so soon after Randidly’s second demonstration, everyone threw themselves into the preparation for the resulting festival. Honestly, the vehemence of the people’s reaction to having a festival surprised Tatiana. The idea of taking an entire day to celebrate what Erickson Steel had accomplished caught on quickly.
Perhaps it was the constant propaganda from the government, or the extreme series of changes over the past few weeks, or even the isolation of being so far from any other town, but Erickson Steel had been secretly burning for any excuse to explode. At some point, the planning took on a life of its own. All Tatiana had to do was watch.
Standing in her office several hours later, Tatiana poured three glasses of her last remaining Donnyton single barrel whiskey. Which completely depleted her store. Inwardly she was somewhat aggrieved, but she also knew that this was a time of celebration. If she didn’t let loose now, when would she?
“So where is our guest of honor?” Tatiana asked lightly.
“Ah… I’ll fetch her.” Randidly said. Then he blinked and a ripple of air spread out from him that forced Tatiana to take a step back. Suddenly there was an extremely slender and diminutive woman who popped into existence between the two of them.
And the first thing the woman did was bend over and spew a mouthful of bile over Tatiana’s imported carpet.
When the woman straightened, her gaze toward Randidly was waspish. “You could have warned me!”
Randidly scratched the back of his head. “Ah… honestly, I’d forgotten. The only person who has really come to this world is Helen, and she’s a bit… immune to these sort of things? I’m sorry.”
“Ah well…” The woman muttered. It seemed that Tatiana’s three glasses finally entered the small woman’s gaze because the woman’s expression brightened. She walked quickly over to Tatiana and extended her hand. “Ah, it seems we will get along quite well. I’m Wendy, nice to meet you.”
“...likewise,” Tatiana said slowly. The woman was literally only a meter tall. She appeared more like a doll than a real woman, but there weren’t any obvious physical differences that Tatiana could see. It was just that the woman was made on a 2/3rd scale compared to most people. Her fingers were long and slender and perfectly proportioned to the rest of her body. She did, however, throw back the liquor with all the gusto of a normal woman.
Especially of a woman who works for Randidly, Tatiana thought with amusement. After Wendy finished her cup, she gave Randidly’s cup a long look. He passed it over to her without comment. Tatiana hurriedly finished her own before the woman could set her sights on hers. It was, after all, her favorite liquor. It was warmth and honey and satisfaction all rolled into one.
“Ah… that was rather good.” Wendy burped, then looked at Randidly furtively. She coughed into her hand. “Ahem… so what business was so important that I needed to leave an entire day open?”
“A festival,” Randidly said lightly as he walked to the window. With a smooth motion, he pushed the shuttered open and revealed the streets below. “As a thank you.
“Look... Wendy… I really appreciate everything you’ve done to make the moving city a reality. I have barged into your office more times than I can count… I even have taken a portion of it for my own use. Without asking for permission. And I… well, I want to repay all the debts I owe to you, but I know that will take some time. But I need to start somewhere. So for today… I hope you can step back and let me repay you in the tiniest way.”
Tatiana did her best not to flinch at the phrase “moving city”.
Wendy frowned and walked to the window to stand next to Randidly. It was dusk, but Erickson Steel was currently more lit up that Tatiana had ever seen it before. Drones floated above the streets, carrying luminous paper lanterns inscribed with stars and fire and trees. They wove between each other, leaving faint trails of light in their wake.
Below, each street was lined with stands, each trying to outdo each other with exaggerated neon signs to attract attention. People moved in groups up in down the street, while street vendors vehemently praised their own inventions and cursed those of the surrounding people. Voices drifted upward, loud and full of cheer.
From this height, it was difficult to see the detail of what was occurring below. The colors blended together into a rainbow luminescence that gave an otherworldly feel to the festival. That, combined with the shouts and the sounds of machinery, almost made it seem like the festival had transported Erickson Steel a hundred years into the future amongst some cyberpunk skyline.
“Huuu…. This is your world?” Wendy asked in wonder.
Randidly nodded shortly.
For several seconds, Wendy looked out the window to the street below. Tatiana watched the flashes of aquamarine, pink, navy, and tangerine reflect off the moist surface of her eyes. Then Wendy turned to Randidly. “Well… you are welcome. I don’t… ahem, aside from slight… ah… communication issues, I don’t hate working on the projects you suggest. I suppose… we can take some time looking around here…
“Ah but first!” Wendy’s eyes brightened. She pointed across the room. “What is this?”
“Oh, the terminal? It transfers audio and picture across long distances. Basically, its a display to see and hear things far away,” Randidly answered casually. Then he gestured for Wendy to ‘go ahead’ and the woman gleefully pounced.
Tatiana remained silent as Wendy immediately began to dismantle the very expensive terminal that she had installed in her office. The way that pieces of metal just popped off underneath Wendy’s attention, Tatiana wondered if the woman was magnetic.
She also wondered if Wendy would do her the favor of reassembling it.