The Mekhanics of La Rue: Part One
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It was the third Sunday of the month, and, as usual, the folks of La Rue gathered together to tell each other their stories and trade. People came across from all planes of reality to join the day's events. There were stalls of all sorts, from ones selling simple blankets or handmade wares, to the grand bazaar stands that offered the finer choices of life. On these days currency is never exchanged for goods as it is not often useful to the residents. The price for one's wares are simple: trading valuables for stories or for other valuables.

All sorts of creatures understand that one rule, even the most recluse and alien beings understand this. Even strangers hidden under cloaks know their place.

Josephine, dressed in a cloak of black with blue trim, the colours of the Mekhanics, walked into the town. They gazed at all of the clocks that were out on sale and heard the tales from the sellers nearby. This one moved down the main street when they overheard something unique, and their metallic footsteps stopped clacking on the wood as they turned to see who had drawn their attention.

"Legends tell of a famous house, hidden deep within the swamps of La Rue. This house isn't where one would expect to see a house though, no. The house can only be found at the top of a ladder, attached to an old Elm tree. It is said that most who get lost in the swamps of La Rue may find their way to the Treehouse. There, lonely travellers may enter but never leave…"

An old man sat down with just a few trinkets and baubles on the floor, telling some young kids the tales of La Rue Macabre. This man had a toothless smile and balding head, but the way he talked was more of a young man recounting his days of adventure. This appealed to the younger ones who knew nothing of this world. As he finished re-counting the story and received finer items such as old toys and wool, the cloaked stranger moved in to talk. A quiet ticking and whirring could be heard for each movement they made.

"Uh huh," spoke a metallic voice from underneath their cowl. "That was interesting and all, but where is this weird house?"

"That depends," the old man, who spoke with a deep southern accent, sat back and smiled. "What you goin' to give me?"

"Nothing," Josephine said coldly. "I require the location of the house for Mekhanic business. It is of the utmost importance that we achieve this."

"Kid!" shouted the old man. "I am over 200 years old! I can't remember half my life, let alone where a house is!"

"Oh Mekhane," Josephine groaned. "Have you got any idea where this house is or not? If not, I will take my leave. Do not waste my time with fables!"

The old man looked around, seeing the many strange folk staring at him and the figure. He turned back to them and whispered, "Listen, we don't do that here. You want information, you must hear it the way it was told. I don't write these rules down, it was good ol' Cotton Eye Joe! Now shut up and listen."

"Ugh… Fine. Continue with your story, but get to the bits that I need."

"Ya ruined the mood now. Let me get back into it."

The old man burned some scented candles, picking them up and waving them around the air between the two. The figure coughed out loud. "The year was sometime in the early 1860s, when America was in that whole Civil War. My pappy was in that war, you see… It was actually quite a funny tale how he wound up here -"

Josephine made a clicking sound with their fingers - or the sound of two metal fingers rubbing together to make the sound - to draw the old man back to them. "Not now old man, tell me about the house."

"Gods damn you! Fine, the Treehouse is in the Swamps as I said, the only way in or out of that house is a ladder attached to an Elm tree. That tree is deep in the swamps and you aren’t going to get there without some guide. Even then, the house is very picky on who enters."

"Hmmm…" Josephine looked at the elder for a few seconds before they turned to see a young man, dressed in the same robes as Josephine, approach them from the side. He looked at the pair, flicking his black wavy hair out of the way. For a split second, the old man could have sworn that his left eye was glowing. A slight humming noise could be heard from the young one.

In his hands were a few things rarely seen in La Rue - circuit boards, wires, gears, and a small fan. The old man looked at him and smiled. The Mekhanic, called Ben, looked apprehensive when he caught the old man staring at the objects in his hands, and he quickly tucked them into the satchel he wore. Josephine stepped in-between the staring eyes and their partner.

"If we give you the fan, would you point us to a guide to the swamps?"

Yes! Give me that fan, and I'll even give you a guide!" the old man agreed excitedly.

Josephine shrugged and rifled through the satchel before pulling out the fan and tossing it at the old man. "Guide. Now."

The old man inspected it before giving it a few bites. Satisfied, he pulled out a crudely made piece of paper and handed it to the pair. "There's your guide. Happy days to you!"

"Son of a bitch," they moved in to deliver a blow to the old man before turning around to see their partner holding back their cloak. They sighed, straightened out their cloak and turned back to the old man. "I will remember this."

The old man simply grinned at them before waving them off as they moved away from him.

As the pair moved through the crowd of immortals, the cloaked Josephine looked at the piece of paper in their hands. The young Maxwellist meanwhile waved at a pair of old women draped in red and white cloth. Josephine swatted around their general area, clearing away a few bugs trying to get into the cloak.

"Ah!" exclaimed the Mekhanic. "I have yet to understand why we chose this area as our resting place. Its humid, damp, and -" they squished another bug. "There're too many bugs!"

Their partner rushed in front of them, frowning at them. "You complain too much! If you spent less time complaining, we'd be completing our objectives exactly one minute and thirty-one point nine seconds faster than our current parameters predicts. Our goal is to recover Elder Artemis and bring him back to our church. Who knows what could happen to him! We are already behind the deadlines…"

Josephine shook their head and chuckled. "Listen, Ben, I'm sorry if we're being slow about this but time isn't a factor in this plan. And besides, we have yet to run into something serious. You know how Elder Artemis is with his adventures here. Bloody old coot can't sit still for five minutes. If something happened to him, he would have escaped. He won't just keel over like the rest of these… uncultured flesh ones."

Josephine moved their hand up to Ben's head and ruffled it. Ben blushed and shuffled where he stood, looking up at Josephine and smiled. "We'll get through this. I promise," Josephine reiterated.

Ben shook his head to get the hand off and smiled. He took the guide from Josephine and examined it closely. After doing so he handed it back to his partner and extended his left hand. When he did this, a fuzzy holographic image began. The image cleared itself to an image of La Rue. The pair stared at the image for a while, until Josephine noticed the other residents staring at them.

Ben also realised this and, after drawing a route to the nearby docks, he closed his palm and walked in the path he dictated. Only then did Josephine realise how much had changed since their arrival in La Rue. The other fleshy beings wouldn't have noticed the holographic map because they weren't augmented to perceive the digital workings of WAN. Not that Josephine would understand it themselves, as they saw it as more of a stepping stone to achieving apotheosis through Mekhane's ideals.

After trekking around the city and having to double back a few times, they arrived at the docks where the boats were kept. The locals called the place Cotton Dock, after their local guardian Cotton Eye Joe, who brought in some truly big fish from somewhere deep within the swamps of La Rue. Many fishermen set up shop here or there with tools, trinkets, and books gathered from faraway lands. Many of the immortal beings, that have been in the city for most of their lifetime, visited the fishermen for trade as they are the ones that venture out of the border the most.

The pair walked along for a short time before stopping at a small tugboat. It looked like it was about to fall apart if so much as a single person stepped on board. From the look around the dock, the other boats were tending to stay away from this one as far as physically possible. Spraypainted on the backside of the erstwhile boat was its name, The Donkey's Ass. Josephine stepped on cautiously with their partner staying on the pier.

"Hello?" shouted Josephine. "Anyone here? Please speak up, our time is important," they spoke the last bit as sarcastic as is possible with a metal voice box.

"What?" cried out someone below deck. The door sprang open and out popped a dwarf with a grey beard and pirate's hat. "What does ye want, you money grabbing seaman! I got ye gold right he-" he stopped in mid-sentence as he sees the cloaked figure on his boat.

"Greetings dwarf. I am Fabricator-Faithful Josephine, of the Mekhanics. I have come here to see what your vessel has to offer."

The dwarf blinked for a few seconds before pulling out a flintlock pistol and aiming it at Josephine. "Ye got three seconds to leave before I shoot ya for saying such fancy words on me vessel!"

"Look, I don't think that's-" They stammered as the flintlock hammer was pulled..

"One…" counted the dwarf.

"Seriously, what did I do wrong -"

"Two…" the dwarf took a firing position.

"You're just being ridiculous," Josephine said before a shot went off, drawing everyone's attention towards the boat. Josephine fell to the ground at where they stood. Ben stood there, scared to move or act in any way. He stared at Josephine's body, swallowing and gulping loudly.

The dwarf walked over to the body, kicking it to make sure it was down for good. Suddenly, a hand grabbed the dwarf's leg and tripped him over. He looked up to see Josephine standing over him, shaking their head with an aggressive whirring sound.

"Why'd you do that?" Josephine said as their face was no longer cloaked. The dwarf's eyes looked at the ticking person before them. The face looked feminine, aside from the odd gear or two shifting and ticking outside of their head. There was what could be said to be hair flowing down their head, but if one were to inspect closer, they would see that it was black cables and wires made to look like hair.

"Gah!" the dwarf shouted, trying to kick off Josephine's hand off his leg. "I thought you were some land-lubbing assassin sent to kill Captain Black Jaw!"

"Black Jaw? That's your name?" said Josephine in their mechanical voice. "And besides, if I were an assassin, you would think I would have finished you off just then."

"Uh… I guess that's true. What can Captain Black Jaw do for you missy?"

Josephine shook their head. "I abandoned my gender long ago when I became Fabricator-Faithful. Now, how much is it for your services?"

Black Jaw looked at them and then at the man on the docks. "Depends, ye got gold or are ye willing to offer other services?"

"What kind of services?"

The dwarf knocked on the boat and making a dent in the floor. He then looked at the pair with a look that says, "Know how to fix a boat?" Josephine looked at Ben, who in turn began to analyse the external area of the boat. After a few seconds, Ben entered and extended his left hand. The dwarf looked at him with a questioning look before Josephine turns and nods.

"We can fix the boat after we return from our adventure. For now," they pulled out a small bag and shook it. "Would this bag of a thousand drachma coins suffice?"

The dwarf took the bag and greedily looked inside, counting and pulling out a few random coins to give them a bite. After a few moments, he grunted in assent and gave them a curt nod. "Well, consider the contract signed! Where do ye need to go? Outside of the border? Perhaps you want me to escort you for a romantic tour around the swamp? Pretty sure I got a Michael Bublé disc here for you to enjoy…"

Ben shuffled where he stood, embarrassed that the dwarf would suggest that they were there for pleasure, not business. Josephine tried not to giggle before they pulled out a map and showed it to the dwarf. They then pulled out a pen and circled a spot on the map. "We need to go to this area; we want to explore a treehouse."

"You're serious about this?" Black Jaw looked at Josephine with seriousness in his eyes. "That's deep on the other side of the lost sector."

"The… lost sector?" Ben said, looking like he is focussed on something else. "I have no record of the lost sector in our systems."

"Ha! Guess even a Hummer can't get good info!" Black Jaw laughed before clamming up when he saw Josephine looking down at him, red eyes piercing his jolly mood. "Oh uh… The lost sector was what happened when Cotton Eye Joe and Scratch fought against some… Thing. They won but that whole area is… messed up thanks to that fight. Like the trees there feel like they're watching you, or some 'orrable mutant lives underneath, waitin' for a boat to eat up. Lost a lotta good friends to that place.”

"I heard the stories of people going missing in the swamps," Ben said after blinking a few times. "Is that the reason why?"

"Who can say? That area is far enough away from here so they may not be the reason for those disappearances, but I know the fishermen are terrified of going to that area. If you want me to do this, I expect this boat to be having racing stripes and extra speed by the time we're done there."

Josephine nods. Black Jaw smiled and rushed to the Captain's cabin to start the boat up. His voice was on the intercom soon afterwards. "This is your Captain speaking; we're leaving Cotton Dock now. Please keep all limbs and non-corporeal beings in the ride at all times."

Josephine sat down beside Ben. Their limbs made the slow whirring and ticking noise, shifting and changing to suit their posture. Josephine turned to stare at Ben with dimly lit red eyes. "Don't worry about the mission, okay?"

"I wasn't. I was calculating how long it would take to complete it. It’s so irritating to be away from the noosphere for this long… It's just quiet."

Josephine kissed Ben on the cheek and cuddled him. "It's okay. We'll be in and out, ten minutes tops."

"According to my estimates and data, we should be there in approximately three days and four hours, seven minutes and ten seconds… now."

They smiled before Ben received another kiss from them. "Nerd."

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