No posthumous awards, no suspicious occurrences, no inkling of where all those half-pieces of clues they had retrieved from that blighted cabin in the woods may have come from. The procession had been a muted, modest affair. A few bureaucratic agents from quiet government institutions were there, mingling among the occasional member of the public but none had spoken, just there to represent their respective branches. By far the largest gathering of mourners were the three bereaved families, each with their own little horde of cowed and slightly confused looking children standing in the front rows.
As the coffin depart the crowd began to file out as if pulled by a string after the deceased, outside rain fell down onto the world, dripping from the eaves and down the back of collars, fat chilling volleys of spit and drenching wet. The crowd remained loosely magnetized together as the hearse was loaded and set for the pyre before dispersing, briskly hoping into hovercabs to resume living and forget the reminder of their own mortality.
Camran padded his eyes with a handkerchief drearily, sniffing back a loud load of snot before turning to the others tearfully.
“Please excuse me for a moment, I’ll be in the bathroom. The car should recognize you both.” He said shakily before joining the stream of mourners heading towards the exit.
Leaving Callow and Boudica alone to process what had just happened. Around them the lingering motions of the funeral continued, the officers folding the flag in respectful silence, the odd-apparent out of luck commuter waiting for the next round of hovercabs to arrive. The three families sheltered in a huddle under the awning, the adults talking quietly among themselves, the children awkwardly standing among their siblings and cousins waiting for a cue on where the hovervans might come.
One of them held the black and white portrait of the late Captain O’Marley, his wide face gently smiling, perhaps a little sadly for the observer.
Water dripped off the edges of the elfs ears as they caught them, the tips picking up the rainwater as it trickled off of her hats circular brim. She shook it as she took it off in a futile attempt to keep herself a bit more dry, though she was already more than a bit damp from the weather and standing about soaking into her dress uniform.
“Welp” She began matter of factly replacing the campaign hat back on her head, “I don’t know about chall, but I could stand a bit to get outta this here rain.”
Turning on her heels she made her way towards the car “Plus funerals are sad anyway, and this one is making me think a bit too much.”
Trying to move her hands did nothing, and it dawned on her that she was running on comfortable battery charge. Also, she was missing everything below the chin. She heard the soft sing-song humming of someone working, and the two soft brackets that held House in place throbbed with a gentle heartbeat. The whirr and click of small tools working came from above her as she absorbed all she could.
“Welcome home, Ada. Or rather, next door. Close enough, yes?” Came Lidia’s soft voice above and behind House.
House suddenly realized where she was. She was in her neighbors house, who happened to be her preferred robotics repair shop, and worse, Lidia had wrapped her head in her jumper and put her on her lap.
“We’ll have you up and walking again soon, I just need to replace these actuators. You’ve got a lot of other wear-and-tear in here too, you know." Lidia chided gently.
House had cracked the case.
He jumped out of his skin when Boudica spoke, forced out of this thoughts and back to the present. Part of him wanted to stay for the burial as a liason of the Marshal Corps, but turned and shadowed the ranger out for the cars.
Once over on the pads, Calloway gave a long sigh as he adjusted his hat to look up for the hovercars. "Well... I should probably go check up on the detective. You are welcome to come as well."
He gave Boudica a dry smile, wrinkling his eyes as they reflected the rain. He went back to searching for their ride, squinting to read the lettering and mumbling to himself about the rain messing with his implants.
She stood, and the worlds continued to pass. The suns, when she could see them, pulsed arrhythmically in short patterns of distance and color. Sometimes the sky was hidden by barriers of mist, soot, or cloud, and as she passed some of the shifting faces she sensed that none ever looked up, as there was never anything to see. She reached out to grab a passing man, but he seldom noticed, glancing to her with eyes that shifted in size and color before he too faded to mist, and the world turned once more as she was left alone. She walked, then, her eyes trying to grasp at whatever pieces remained solid long enough to understand. All of it built by hand, all of it fading within the brief moments of its consciousness. None were machines, and she found herself hoping that none would appear. She walked and found her body unusually quiet. No hums of tiny engines or reports of ambient diagnostics. No equations she had to choose to ignore, and she raised a hand to her face.
No breaks in the skin gave way to blackness or indented grooves. The only breaks were the vague wrinkles of a normal hand, stretched over complex muscle and nerve patterns with finer precision than a machine could muster. She pressed her hands together and felt the muscle strain, and she could feel the heat pulse from her own skin.
Then she too was mist, and it all faded to the sky.
Waking was not instantaneous as the cream-colored swaddle dominated her gaze and smothered her features. She blinked a few times to clear her mind and began to digest the sounds and feelings around her. Muted alarms reminded her of her state, beheaded, but connected to enough power that she was under no existential threat. Repairs underway, help had arrived. The dreams remained, but as her fogged memory began to reawaken she could once more recall some of those places, and some of those people, all woven into that thoughtless pattern just as careless as every other image.
Lidia's voice came, and it served as a catalyst to wake her fully. Heat radiated against her head, and for a moment she basked in it. It was a feeling she often took for granted, one that she could scarce replicate without heated blankets and a well-insulated room. Even then, it hardly felt the same.
"Lidia." Her voice came, her lips parting to make the words. It sounded off, just a tad bit artificial compared to normal. Without the housing connecting to her lower throat and chest, some of the sounds escaped poorly. "I know I said that I would like to come over for dinner sometime, but this isn't exactly... How I pictured it." She tried to joke, but it felt a bit hollow when she was still in pieces.
There was a pause as the Warden’s face slightly contorted as she thought of the right word for what had transpired only a few days ago.
Not the word she wanted to use but seeing present company wouldn’t take to kindly to saying what it really was she decided to play it safe. Shaking off the recent memories her expression shifted into one of thought.
“Should I get a house warming gift or somethin’? Like some snacks or something? I know I kinda fancy them sour gummy baby things. Wait she’s a robot ain’t she? Do robots even like snacks or even eat rather?”
Bunny continued to mumble to herself about the sentiment versus the practicality of the situation, her brain happy to latch onto something other than the funeral or the events leading up to it.
A woman, her hair was grey but she was young, perhaps early thirties. She wore a thick black coat that fit in with the rest of the crowd perfectly and hid her features. Despite her appreciate dress neither of them remembered her being amongst the rows of gathered mourners. She looked up at the two of them with a warm smile and a friendly twinkle in her eye.
“Excuse me, are you Marshall Calloway? I’m with The Intercept, we’d like to ask a few questions about the late captains career. Here’s my card, you can call me later.” She said, offering the pair of them an eggshell white business card.
“My number’s on the back.” She said with a wink and click of her tongue before turning on her heel and putting up her umbrella to brave the rain. She seemed to disappear into the mist as fast as she’d come, down the pavement onto the street. Presumably to her own vehicle, or perhaps she knew of a better stand to find a hovercab.
The card was an old-fashioned thing, but still used in some corners of the Alliance by those that favoured such, particularly those looking to keep things away from VINA. In certain contexts physical correspondence was also considered far more personal than electronic messaging of any kind. On its front was the swooping hawk of The Intercept, a middling news publication known for trying to get ahead of the news cycle. On the back, hand-written in clear, practiced writing, a rare skill these days, was her contact number.
The pair were left standing with the remaining mourners, the captains adult children were accepting condolences and farewelling other mourners as the stragglers or those with something to say. Those ready to leave continued to file peaceably into the steady flow of hovercabs landing just far enough away from the awning to make sure everyone got wet getting into them.
“I apologize, I just had to freshen up.” Camran spoke from behind the pair.
He was rubbing his eyes with his handkerchief still, clearly drying them from washing his face. As he exited the doors closed gently behind them, sealing the chapel until the next time its sad services were required. The young sergeant pulled out his fob and summoned the police car over with two clicks, fortunately an unmarked one from the precinct motorpool.
It too parked just far enough from the awning to let the trio experience the familiar misery of Mudwater’s routine weather.
“Shall we go see House?” Camran asked as he stepped between them towards the car.
- - - -
Lidias gentle laughter trickled like honey through the gauze of the jumper into Houses ears. House felt Lidia shift and spin in her chair, the thighs shifted under her chin in a rolling gait as she moved.
“It’s not the first time I’m seen your insides, Ada. No need to be shy. I thought you might appreciate waking up somewhere soft instead of on a cold table. Or having an out of body experience.” Lidia replied, her voice soft as she worked.
Soft clicks, buzzes and whirs of motors adjusting filled Houses’ ears as Lidia’s fingers worked on fixing her body. Familiar noises that told her she would be just like new again. Or at least the neck would be.
“Your friends from work called, they should be coming shortly. I was hoping you’d be a little more… together before then, but I’m looking forward to meeting your partner.” She continued before humming thoughtfully.
“They said they had to attend a funeral before visiting. I hope it wasn’t someone you knew, Ada.” She asked, her hands stopped working to press gently on the sides of Houses face under the sweater.
The smell of stale coffee and oil on Lidia’s hands told House she’d probably been up all night working her repairs. The woman slowly hummed music, which vibrated through the back of Houses scalp whenever she wasn’t talking. New trashy pop music, slowed to soft gentle lullaby by Lidia’s diaphragm.
As Camran brushed by the two, he looked back to Bunny again. "We probably should, the Detective did take the brunt of the..." he trailed off for a moment, seemingky at a loss for words. After about a second he continued as if he hadn't stopped at all, "incident. Maybe flowers?"
He left a pondered look on his face while his eyes held a faint barren look, even for cybernetics. He followed behind Camran, opening one of the doors and motioned towards Bunny,
Bright lights shining and flashing around her eyes with the cold rush of metal against the side of her face, cool and sanitized air flowed around her as people poked and prodded, questions and statements being demanded of her before she had even seconds to parse her surroundings. The jabs of wrenches and tools pulling and poking while she dreaded to think of what she looked like, all while the words flowed at her, uncaring and unfeeling, unable to understand the shocking awakening of such overload. Every sense pushed to its extreme and expected to act as if she had not just been woken up from the oblivion.
That was a distant nightmare now, one far removed from being cradled in that light cloth and held protectively against Lidia's body. Normally she'd be tormented by the idea of being separated from her body, or even opening her panels long enough to do normal maintenance, something Lidia often chastized her for, but with this? For a long moment, she felt as if she was in no trouble at all to be here, as if no horrendous act of violence had done this to her and that all was right.
"No, nobody I knew, just..." She paused as she felt the gentle pressure of Lidia's hand on her cheek, closing her eyes to it for a moment. "...A predecessor, of my job. He was living alone for a long time." The thought of it suddenly scared her. They had searched through his house and found... Surprisingly little. For all the occultist materials and weapons he had, it seemed as if he had no hobbies left, nothing to turn to as day and years passed him by. Nothing but the haunting memory of something waiting for him, something he knew would outlive him.
She thought of her own home and felt growing anxiety about not wanting to be caught alone in it. Caught? She frowned, but the emotion refused to explain itself. "You... Don't have to rush the repairs." She finally offered, her voice heavy with a mix of guilt and shame. "I-I mean, I appreciate it, of course, but... How long have you been working?"
As she spoke she glanced down at the jacket pocket that he had put the card in,
“Speaking of,” She said tapping said pocket, “Y’all got a weird way of asking people for a sit down for a few questions, or flirting one of the two.”
Each of the three managed to get their coats thoroughly soaked in the seconds it took to board the hovercar and slam the doors closed, droplets of water sliding off hats and cloaks. Camran spoke clearly telling the car where to go, and with a bump and a soft whine the repulsor motors began to lift the car off the road and into the air as it slowly turned and gently accelerated. Cruising comfortably at about 100 feet and joining the stream of traffic above the main street, another car joined behind them as it took off from the next street.
It took about ten minutes of flying before the car cruised to a gentle gliding landing on a street filled with cozy townhouses in what might have been an otherwise lovely street with children playing games on any other day. Today the sidewalk shimmered with a clear sheen of water running down it towards the stream that ran down the gutter. Other than the water and the rain most things were still, content to shelter and rest away from the foul weather. Another hovercar hummed as it passed lazily overhead down the street as Camran exited the car, he stood holding his tablet up towards two almost identical townhouses, he turned it upside down and sideways before he pointed to the one on the left and led the way.
The awning that provided shelter from the rain was small and cramped for three people, but standing huddled up they could all get out of the rain as Camran pressed the door to sound the buzzer.
“Oh, I took a little break after making sure you were stable, so only sixteen hours.” Lydia replied with a small sigh.
The world spun as Lydia turned in her chair and the rumble of wheels gave sound to motion as she moved across the room and House could hear the little clatter of a spoon and mug being moved and felt Lydia hum and put a mug of coffee up to her lips before she spat it back out.
“Erh, cold.” She bemoaned.
The sound of a buzz from the door made Lydia jump a little, the soft white gauze over House’s eyes shifted as she turned to look at the door. There was a small series of bangs and clatters as Lydia tried to tidy up a little and hastily she turned off the humming replicator that gave off the scent of burned metal, the advanced craftsman model paused mid-job from slowly crafting another part of Houses body.
“That’s them. That’s them. Is my hair okay. Ada, are you ready?” She asked quickly before taking a deep breath and wheeled them both towards the door.
The door opened to a small woman sitting on a wheeled stool looking up at them curiously, she wore red framed glasses that stuck out from her pale skin and thick bob of coppery shoulder length hair. Her hands barely stuck out of the copious sleeves of the large white jumper she wore that went down to her thighs, and her pregnant belly sat on her lap as she looked up at the three of them.
“I, um…” She said, looking between Calloway and Bunny.
“Hello, ma’am, I’m police Sergeant Camran, and with me are Marshal Calloway and Ranger Greenweld, we’re Houses’ coworkers. Would you mind terribly if we came in to see her? It’s very wet out here.” Camran asked, the shortest of the three by far, smiling widely.
“Come on in, I’m Lydia. Ada is still being repaired but you can come inside.” She replied, a little apprehensive as the small one room workshop, living room, and kitchenette suddenly became even more cramped.
“Ada, why didn’t you tell me your friends were so tall.” Lydia whispered, holding onto her apparent stomach in firm panic as she wheeled deeper into the room.
As the three came in, their eyes adjusted to the soft lighting, the room slowly brightened to reveal the headless body of a woman sitting upright on a hospital bed. Camran meanwhile rushed to hang his coat off the back of one of the four chairs at the tiny dining room table in the middle of the kitchen.
He looked up, spotted the outline of House’s headless body at the workshop side of the room and stood there for a few seconds before he slumped backwards into the chair with a little sigh and fainted upright with his eyes open. His hand dumbly dropped his tablet to the floor with a loud clatter.
Being the last in, he gave a warm smile to the woman in the wheeled stood before he closed the door behind him. He removed the basketed-bouquet and held it in one hand, and removed his soaked hat with the other. "We brought some flowers for the Detective." He followed Camran towards the kitchen table and placed the basket on the table just as the Sergeant fainted into his chair. He hadn't noticed House's headless chassis until that moment. He froze for a moment, processing something before moving on. It had been not the worst thing he had seen in recent memory. That... thing still haunted him in the back of his mind and he swore he smelled the burning wood and flesh. He looked back towards Camran and moved a hand in front of the Sergeant's eyes.
"You're lookin' a little pale there, Sergeant."
When she was introduced by the Sargent she gave a slight tip of her hat with an accompanied ‘howdy’ before skirting around to the other side of him to give the rest of their little party what breathing room she could in the quickly shrinking accommodations. As the others chatted for a moment, Boudica’s eyes wondered around the small apartment quizzically looking at all the gizmos, trinkets and tools scattered about the place. Bunny was never one to be very technically inclined, though she did find the things interesting. Memories of her childhood caretakers telling her “don’t touch that its fragile” or the other more colorful versions of that sentence coming to the front of her mind as she continued to glance about the room thinking about how high tech those old tractors of theirs could really be.
The sound of Camran’s tablet clattering made the elf jump a bit taking her out of her memory lane trance.
“Oh my stars!” she gasped to herself quickly taking off her hat and fanning the Sargent when she realized what had happened, scooping up the tablet as she bent down to get a bit closer. As she began to fan more frantically, some of the seams on her dress uniform seemed to stretch to the verge of splitting but somehow didn’t.