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13: Crow Black Shroud

"Tinker! Tinker!"

Tinker had learned to ignore her own name, since anyone not calling her "domi" only wanted to interrupt her with stupid questions. She wasn't listening: 546879 divided by 3 equaled 182293.

"Alexander Graham Bell!"

Tooloo was right; anyone knowing your real name gained power over you. Tinker flipped up her welding visor and looked down through the tower's trusses to the ground far below. Lain glared back up at her. A quick check showed Lain's hoverbike parked alongside Tinker's and Pony's, which explained how the xenobiologist got to the remote building site, but not why.

"What?" Tinker shouted down.

"Come down here." Lain tapped the ground with her right crutch.

"Why?"

"Young lady, get your butt down here now! I am not going to scream at you like a howler monkey."

Sighing, Tinker turned off the welder. "Pony, will you kill the generator?"

He paused, sword half-drawn. "Kill what?"

"Hit the big red switch." She pointed at the purring generator.

"Ah." He slid his sword back into its sheath. "Yes, domi."

She stripped off her welding visor, and pulled off the heavy gloves.

The carpenters' foreman realized that she was leaving, and hesitantly asked, "Domi, what should we do next?"

Good thing she'd planned for this. She searched her blue jean pockets until she found her printouts for the current phase of work. "Please, do as much as you can of this and then take a break. Thank you."

She climbed down the tower calling out instructions to work crews as she spotted problems.

The cutting crew waited for her at the foot of the ladder. "We cut to the survey marks, domi."

"Good, good, thank you." She scanned the ten acres of cleared hilltop. "The stumps in the area of the foundation need to be removed. I'm not sure how that's done. I suppose we could blast them out."

"No, no, no." Strangely, they seemed anxious for her not to use explosives. Too badit would have been fun. "There is magic to excise roots. We'll see it done."

"Thank you, thank you."

Lain stood beside the board tacked heavy with technical drawings, floor plans, and concept pictures. "What do you think you're doing?"

Was that a trick question? "I'm creating infrastructure." Tinker drew Lain's attention to the board. "Phase One was to choose an appropriate building site. Phase Two was to commandeer a work crew. Phase Three is to clear the building site." She waved a hand at the denuded ridgeline. The topology maps were correctthis was one of the highest hills in the area. "Phase Four is to secure the building site." She paused to check off item one of the Phase Three schedule posted on the board. "Phase Five is to create an energy source. Based on an article I read once, I've designed a wind turbine using rear brake drums from Ford F250 trucks. See." She found the concept drawing. "This is really beauty in simplicity. I can adapt old electric motors into these 'inside out' alternators common on small wind turbineswhich eliminates the need to build a complicated hub that attaches the blades to a small-diameter shaft. See, this simple plywood sandwich holds the blades tightly in the rotor and the entire assembly is mounted directly to the generator housing: the brake drum. It should churn out three hundred to five hundred watts per turbine."

"Per turbine?"

"Roughly." Tinker realized watt output wasn't Lain's question. "Oh, I'm hoping for at least five to start with along this ridge. I originally thought I could install them near the Faire Ground and then realized since it doubled as the airfield that wouldn't work."

"Tinker"

Tinker held up her hand, as she hadn't really come to the heart of the plan. "Phase Six will be to create telecommunication abilities not relying on Pittsburgh resources. Phase Seven will be to develop the Tinker Computing Center. Scratch that. Tinker domi Computing and Research Center."

Tinker paused to note the name change and Lain snatched the pen from her hand. She eyed Lain, tapping her pen-less fingers. "What are you doing here?"

"It is the sad truth that anyone that knows you well also knows that I have some influence with you. I have had Oilcan, Nathan, Riki, Director Maynard, four human agencies, and five elfin household heads call me in the last hour. I even had my first ever telephone conversation with Tooloo, not something I ever want to repeat again. Honestly Tinker, what in the world do you think you're doing?"

Tinker glanced at the plan-covered board and back to Lain. Strange. She thought Lain was fairly intelligent. "I told you. Creating infrastructure."

"You've commandeered workers from all the enclaves, and I'm sure you're working them without pay. The EIA director is in a froth about missing evidence, the department of transportation supervisor complained that you've hijacked one of their dump trucks, and the police say you've taken a Peterbilt truck from the impound."

"I needed a lot of stuff."

"Why are you doing this?"

Tinker jabbed a finger at her plans. "I'm creating infrastructure!"

Lain caught her hands, held them tight. "Why?"

"Because it's not there. Twenty years of Pittsburgh being on Elfhome, and everything is still in Pittsburgh. Elfhome has the train and some boats, and that's it."

"That is not why. Why are you doing it, in this manner?"

"Because obviously no one else is going to do it, or it would already be done."

"Have you considered that the reason why might be because the elves don't want it on Elfhome?"

"I don't care what they want. I want it. I'm not going to spend another day without a computer, let alone three weeks, or a century, or millennia. Maybe this is why I'm the damn pivot. I say 'enough already, get with the program' and when the oni comes, my Elfhome Internet saves the day."

"Tinker, you just can't do this."

"Actually, yes I can. See, I've learned something in the last three weeks. When the queen says 'you're dropping everything and flying to Aum Renau, you go. And when the queen says 'you're staying at Aum Renau, you stay. And when the head of household says 'we're all moving to Pittsburgh, you move. And when the clan head says 'I need all the rooms in this enclave, please find other lodgings, you do. Well, I'm Tinker domi! I can make a computing and research center."

"Where is your husband?"

"Oh gods, don't say that." Tinker fled her, ducking into the commandeered tent of Wind Clan blue.

Lain followed close behind, despite the deep ruts churned up by the heavy equipment. "Don't say what?"

"Husband." Tinker peeked into the wicker lunch boxes sent from the enclaves until she found some mauzouan. "You want something to eat?"

"No, thank you."

Tinker scowled at Pony until he got himself some food. "A male gives you a bowl and suddenly you're married? Please. Okay, the sex is fantastic, but is that any basis for a relationship?"

"Of course not." Lain sat down in one of the folding chairs purloined out of the gossamer. "But I can't imagine Windwolf committing himself to marriage solely for sex."

"He says he loves me." Tinker settled herself at the teak table, also from the airship. "I don't know why."

"Tinker!"

"I meanhe didn't know me. I still barely know him. We spent the twenty-four hours of Shutdown together. I saw him once the next morningoh, wait, make that twiceand then he proposed to me. Elves don't fall in love that fastdo they?"

"I suppose it could be a case of transference."

"Mmm?" She mumbled around a hot mauzouan.

"It's not uncommon for patients to fall in love with their doctor."

"You stitched him up."

"Yes, but you moved houses and fought monsters to keep him alive."

"Is this supposed to make me feel better?"

"Tinker, we can't know other people's hearts. Humans fall in love at first sight, and only time tells if that love is true. There is no reason that elves can't do the same. Certainly while Shutdown was only twenty-four hours, they were quite intense ones."

"Yeah, I suppose," Tinker murmured, remembering what Windwolf had said to her. "Certainly the hours that I lay helpless on Earth were the longest I've ever lived."

"If nothing else," Lain continued, "you showed the depth of your intelligence and grit."

"Grit?" She popped another mauzouan into her mouth. "What does sand have to do with it?"

"It's a way of saying your strength of character; your courage under fire."

Tinker snorted at that. "Lain, how do you know when you're in love? How do you recognize it?"

"Sometimes you don't. Sometimes you mistake lust as love. And sometimes you only know after you've thrown love away."

Trust Lain to say anything but words of comfort. Tinker dropped her head on the table and considered banging it a couple of times. "Argh," she groaned into the wood.

"Give it time," Lain said.

"If someone says that one more time, I think I'll scream."

She hated this feeling of being out of control. Last night, they had sat up waiting for Startup. Elves had little need for wristwatches, so it was without warning that Pittsburgh had flashed into existence, a dark sprawl of buildings washed in moonlight. From the enclaves up and down the street had come shouts of approval, as the elves cheered the return like a magician's trick. And in that moment, Tinker had realized that she would probably never see Earth again; elves stayed on Elfhome during Shutdown.

Like a cascade, realizations spilled down on her. She wasn't going back to her loftWindwolf and Pony wouldn't fit, let alone the rest of the household. There was no reason for the viceroy's wife to work. Leaving Pittsburgh now wasn't just a matter of convincing Oilcan to come with her, but also leaving Windwolf and Pony behind.

It wasn't that Windwolf had taken away all her choices, but the ones left were dubious. Insist on living alone? Continue to spend inventing time on the scrap yard when Windwolf had money to burn? Betray the elves who loved her to leave everyone and everything she knew?

Desperate to snatch control of her life backand yet not totally wreck everyone's lives with stupid decisionsshe came up with the computing center. So maybe she went a little overboard.

Tinker sighed. "Let's get it over with. Give me my lecture."

"I don't know what to say," Lain stated, getting up. "And I'm not sure it's my place to say anything. I suggest you go talk to Windwolf."

"Run to my husband and get permission for what to do with my life?"

"No, go discuss with the viceroy what future the two of you are going to build for your people."

"Ouch," Tinker said.

"I never said being an adult is easy." Lain squeezed Tinker's shoulder. "But I have faith in you. And I'm fairly sure Windwolf does too."


* * * | Tinker | * * *