Truckin'

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Just Old Al
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Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Wed Dec 13, 2017 4:55 am

Yes, we've been at it again.

This latest effort from the pens of DInky and Al is not the usual fare, however. You'll find this distinctly lacking in BOOM, or mad car chases or any sort of physical threat.

What you'll find here is a character tale and a story of life - or a small interlude in the lives of two people and the folks who love them.

This is the second part of a trilogy, begun with "A Late-Night Tea" and to be concluded at a later date.

Now, to begin...
Last edited by Just Old Al on Wed Dec 13, 2017 7:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Wed Dec 13, 2017 4:57 am

Chapter 1 – A Mage On A Mission

Hand pressed to forehead, Sterling growled into the phone.

"No, I am serious Warhorse. You need a holiday to get away from all the stressors before Daisy threatens to shoot you...again."

“Sterling, dearest…I just don’t see the need. I am in fine fettle.”

"Fine, how about you help me. It will almost be like you going on a holiday."

“Ah, now we come to it. Do brief me.”

"Well, when I first got into this whole artbook thing, I would take the money my publishers sent for the book tours and space the signings just far enough apart that I could drive to each of them and pocket the hotel money. I would stay at campgrounds in my caravan and drive to the signings in my truck. Saved a pretty penny that way.
Now that I am a bit more well-known, I tend to safe-port to places and rent a car for appearances, then port home for the night. Only MIB knows I do not fly."

"Colour me intrigued meduck."

Sterling prayed that Al's Gods would forgive her involving him and said,

"I need a holiday of sorts, and am overwhelmed at the state of my truck and caravan."

"That doesn't sound like you."

"Now see here, Ailean, before ye misunderstand let me tell you what the problem was.

I had – an intruder. He was literally trying to kill me trees and kept digging up me gardens. Would have lit me house on fire too had I not put up wards and shielding.

Apparently someone wanted me land for some wretched industrial project and tried to "persuade" me to sell it. He was but an opportunistic miscreant and living in me caravan was cheap until I caught him and extracted the price from his hide."

Al replied, amusement evident in his voice as he prepared to wind her up, "How many pieces did you leave him in Elsa?"

"Can you--seriously, Elsa? She be a rank AMATEUR compared to me. Ice castles, creating a living snowman who would have died once she removed the snow and ice...and let us not get started on that impractical ice dress.... Oh...Bugger. Point one goes to Warhorse."

Al chuckled. "Oh please do go on."

Nettled and ignoring the bait, she continued.

"Could ye please help me get them road ready? I have not done more than flush the systems annually in Olaidh, and as for the caravan I am not sure what its condition is after I forcibly removed the reprobate I found living there.

Now I have smudged it as well as I can at present, and booted the rather unpleasant aura he had far, far the smeg away from it, but I am at present too upset to work on cleaning it alone and would appreciate the help, company, and advice."

"Let me talk to The Dam In Charge first, but I suppose I can assist one meddlesome mage for a while."

"Thankee luv. Give Daisy love from me."

Hanging up the phone, Sterling thought and thought hard. The mention of Rosalynd brought up a thought – perhaps she was taking her relationship with the old man a bit too much for granted. Mind you, he was more than willing to help, but Sterling felt a pang of guilt for monopolizing his time as she sometimes did.

A phone call was in order.

Picking the phone back up she tapped, swiped and said “Daisy”. Moments later a ringtone burred on the far end, and seconds after that a cheery Southern voice picked up.

“Sterling, dear! Good to hear from you! Al’s not here right now – I expect you’ll be better off catching him at Building Two.”

“Actually, luv – I called to speak to you – and to apologize and ask permission for something.”

Daisy’s voice grew serious. “What’s wrong, Sterling? What do you need, and where are you so I can get it to you?”

“Well…let me explain the forgiveness bit of this first, then we can talk about what I need.

To be blunt, my family and I have gotten into the habit of shanghaiing the old man whenever it suits us – myself especially. I just had a revelation – specifically that stealing away a woman’s mate without asking or even so much as a how do you do is not only not right, it’s just plain rude. I just did it again – and when he made the remark he needed to check with you I realized-“

“You realized that he is a big boy and can damned well talk to me – as he does! You, on the other hand, are making me angry by assuming that I control Al’s life and am at ALL worried about who he sees and when – and how often.

A few years ago you would have been right – I would have had an issue with his friends – especially the female ones. That, bless me, is long gone and never to return.

Dear, he has friends, and he has family – and then there’s the third category – the family-not-of-blood. These are the people who are to him family, though not related. You, your sisters, Greg, Anne, Glytch, Ari and a very few others are his ‘family’“
Sterling could hear the quote marks on that word “and have an open-door policy any time of the day or night – anywhere in the world.

Do NOT think for an instant I don’t appreciate what you and the others are to him. You are ‘his side of the family’ – the people he never had in his life.

Do you SERIOUSLY think I’m foolish enough to get in the middle of that and try to break it up? Bless your heart, dear – I am NOT that stupid! SO, what do you need?”


“I need to remember that friends like you are once-in-a-lifetime things to have – and I need to be less of a prat, it seems.” Sterling remarked ruefully.

“Enough of that talk. To be honest (and don’t ever tell him I said this) even if one of his friends had a wandering eye nothing would come of it. That man is so head-over-heels in love with me that no other woman registers. As long as I don’t take that for granted, it will stay that way, too!”

Sterling laughed. “Full marks, dear, full marks. What I need is to borrow Warhorse and his tools – got a bit of an engineering job needs done I would trust no one else with. Is that acceptable?”

“Of course! I assume he’s planning on talking to me about it?”

“I expect so – he said he would.”

“And…I take it he should not know about this conversation?” Daisy asked, perceptive as a Grande Dam must be.

“Well…yes. It would embarrass him, I think.”

“Well understood.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Wed Dec 13, 2017 5:00 am

Chapter 2 – Discussions And Repercussions.

At dinner that evening Al seemed preoccupied. He and Daisy chatted about events of the day, but the expected conversation about the mage and her request was strangely absent.

After dinner they retired to the Great Room. Rather than engaging in entertainments (he reading, she doing the same or engaging her hands with crafts) he sat quietly, beginning to speak several times and subsiding.

Finally Daisy came over and sat next to him, taking his hand.

“What’s up? You’re trying to talk about something, but not managing to.”

“I’m afraid.” Al looked into Daisy’s eyes and saw the concern there, immediate at those two small words. Daisy responded, voice low and soothing.

“Worried about what, love?”

“I want to ask you for something – and I’m afraid.”

She stared into his eyes, still holding his hand. “Whatever the request, love, I will love you no less – or think less of you. Except for those pink furry handcuffs…”

He laughed, barking at the sudden non sequitur Daisy had thrown out. “If only it were that simple!” he laughed.

“It is that simple – talk to me, Al.”

He hesitated still, then finally spoke.

“Today, I had a request. Sterling needs engineering support on a project out at her place in Indiana. There are a lot of things going on here – it’s not just a simple request.”

“You’ve done all sorts of work for Sterling and her family, as well as the time you spent with Fergus. Why is this different – and why are you scared?”

“Do you remember a month or two ago – that phone call?”

“Of course I do. What’s that got to do with this?”

“This, I think, is an outgrowth of it. Sterling has hit the point I did when you threatened to ‘shoot me in the arse with a Maxi-14’. The task at hand is to refurbish and render competent a car and caravan she used to do her book signings in – she wants to go on a wanderjahr as I did.

Thing is – she wants to do this project at her place. To be quite honest, I suspect that a large part of this is that she wants to talk – long talks, with no interruptions. To that end, we’re going to work at her place. With both of us being able to use transport spells the shop facilities are paces away, so it’s almost as convenient as working at RE.”

Daisy looked truly puzzled. What in Hell was this old fool having a problem with over this?

“Al, I am not seeing the problem here. Your time is yours to use as you wish – and with Ari bossing the day to day activities you can easily break away for the time you need. I repeat – Why Are You Afraid?”

“Because I want to ask you for a very big favour.”

“Al, now you’re starting to worry me. Stop being dramatic and just ASK.”

Al inhaled, squared his shoulders and continued.

“While I’m working out there, I want to stay there. I could easily come home, but I think that staying out there would be a better thing – for Sterling.”

Daisy opened her mouth to speak, but Al hastily blurted “Let me finish.

To be honest, with what she and I spoke of that early morning she has some serious issues of her own to work through. What this repair job is going to be from my point of view is gearhead therapy – when working together with someone you trust the most shameful, horrific things can be uttered aloud to one’s work partner across the shop or the garage without having to meet the eyes of the listener.

I want to be free to sit and listen. Late nights over a cup of tea with a sympathetic ear…a lot can be accomplished.

I know I am asking a lot, here. I don’t know what assurances I can give you other than that I would never consider hurting you or being unfaithful – you are the only woman for me, and have been since the day we met.”

Al began to speak again, but Daisy interrupted him.

“You MORON! I am SICK TO DEATH of you AND your Mage friend!”

Al sat back, shocked. Ohbloody hell, I’ve done it now…

Daisy went on, even more forcefully. "You two drive me NUTS. BOTH of you need to stop treating me like I’m some fragile old dam with a jealous streak!

Let me tell you about the phone call I got today from your battle buddy. She called up and APOLOGIZED for shanghaiing you away to work on her project, and then ASKED MY PERMISSION!

Damnit, Al, I am not some stupid old dam who needs to be tip-toed around!" She stopped there for a second, as if a thought had just occurred to her, then sighed and settled back.

"All right, I get it. Years ago that would have been true. Damnit, Al - I've realized it and I know you're not Rock - never were and never will be. I understand, though - especially considering the day I met Sterling!""

Al chuckled, his thoughts running back as well. "Getting into a royal tiff and being frozen by a mage, who then stalked off and got herself thrown in jail...yes, that was an eventful day."

Looking deeply into her eyes he spoke, capturing her gaze as she'd captured his heart. "Love, none of what I said was concern about jealousy. It was more reassurance that, stupid fragile male that I am, I would never, ever break your heart by being that stupid. You and you alone are the love of my life - and this is something ALL of us need reassurance on now and then."

Daisy answered, gazing back at the madman who'd captured her heart.' "You are the love of my life, my husband and my other half – with you I am whole and wonderful. I will never leave you, chase you away or mistrust you.

I know you – you’re so honorable that even if Sterling felt like making a pass at you you’d run! Yes, I said it.”

Daisy stopped, slid over on the couch up against him and hugged him fiercely.

“Al, I am going to tell you something that will never have occurred to you, and you will be horrified when I do.”

“And what would that be, dear?” In Al’s eyes was a wary look – much as he loved Rosalynd, sometimes she was a bit too direct.

“Among your family-not-of-blood you have brothers – Glytch, Greg. You have sisters as well – the ones we fought alongside – the golems, Annie, the Drathmir sisters and so on.

You also have daughters – and Sterling is one. So is Ari. Like my children, they’re the children we’ll never have together, but can love and help and be proud of.”

She looked deep into his eyes, and saw the truth there. He’d known this, somewhere deep down in his soul, but never admitted it.

“Go. Help her. Do what you do so well – heal machines and people. Give her my love along with yours.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Thu Dec 14, 2017 7:00 am

Chapter 3 – Cars, Care And Caravans.

Sterling’s phone rang and a Morgan cavalry mount appeared along with the Goldeneye theme. Tapping her Bluetooth earpiece she said breezily, “Cheyenne Mountain. For nuclear war information, press 1. For launch access codes, press 2. For…”

The loud raucous laughter on the other end of the connection disrupted her train of thought and she started laughing as well. After a few more lungfuls of merriment Al got himself back under control and spoke.

“Ready to come through. Can you get to the garage – I want to bring through my roll-around and want to use you for a beacon, if I may.”

“Certainly. Good idea, considering you dinna know me property. Wait one, I will be on site momentarily.” She left the kitchen, starting the kettle before as she knew Warhorse would require a cuppa before beginning.

Standing at the door of the garage she looked at the open space, having backed Red out to give Al a bit of extra room.

“May I look?”

“Come ahead.”

With that Al, back at RE focused and sent his mind winging toward Sterling’s receptive one. He saw, hazily then clearer, the bay of the garage, and as Sterling looked about he saw the black Pontiac that Red shared space with.

“Coming ahead now.”

At the center of the cleared space a portal in mossy greens, tans and golds opened and a battered, flame-scarred toolbox trundled through, followed by the portly old engineer. As he exited the portal it collapsed with a decisive SNAP. Once through, Al leaned against the box, winded.

Sterling snickered. “Not easy, is it, moving a weight through a portal? Energy is energy, and you should have charged further when you did it. I don’t need you unconscious on my floor from a botched transport.”

“And a gracious good morning to you as well, you annoying mage. If I wish to be put upon by the distaff side I could have stayed home. Between my wife, my daughter, Rosalita and the various Other Realm hangers-on I can source all of the female abuse I could ever have a need for and more for export.”

Sterling walked over to him and held out her arms. He took the hint and they hugged, a deep, satisfying hello of old friends. They then separated, Sterling’s hands on his shoulders.

“Let’s go in and have a cuppa, and I’ll tell you of me woes.”

“By all means. I am thoroughly parched – such a long trip, cough, cough.” Together they walked back to the house, Al looking about as they went.

Hers was a tidy property, several buildings letting out onto a partially graveled, partially turfed yard. The gravel paths ran between the buildings in an almost organic fashion, twisting and turning to suit the contours of the land. Larger graveled paths connected large doors on the barn and two sheds to the drive – obviously for moving large objects easily.

“Old farm?”

“Aye – bought it when I could manage it. It’s a grand place – far enough from the neighbours to be quiet but close enough to town and amenities to suit me. Much of the outlying land was sold off to the other farmers, but I’ve enough here to keep things quiet.”

Settled at the table with a steaming teapot and proper china mugs, Sterling began her tale.

“Not long ago I noticed signs of activity where there should have been none. Occasionally I get a drifter wandering through or some of the local youth looking for a place to play, but this was quite different.

“The beginning was damage to the trees. As you saw, I have a good woodlot of second-growth timber here – and I tend it and care for it. I began to find axe marks, diggings and damaged tap roots – all of it deliberate. Purging the ground of the poisons the bastard had poured on their roots was quite a task, I tell you. I had to call in Uncle Fergus for assistance.

“Then things here at the house began to be damaged. Slashed hoses, toppled compost bins, ripped out fences. I also felt attempts against the buildings and the house – my wards stopped those.

“I finally caught the bastard at it, trying to damage the drainage culverts so the property would flood at a heavy rain. He will NOT be back – I pummeled him thoroughly and put the fear into him. He will not return, but the damage is done.”

“So luv what does this miscreant have to do with the task at hand?”

“Much. Honestly his presence was the final straw. As you know…I have not been myself of late.” Her eyes were cast down at the table and she was fiddling aimlessly with a teaspoon.

Ah, NOW we’ve come to it! Al thought, the Sergeant-Major in his gunroom nodding as well. Sedately he took another sip at his mug, then picked up the teapot and warmed up both their cups.

“I know. A horrible strain, being what we were – and are still.” He waited for her to continue, hoping the gentle nudge would help.

“Nightmares – on and off, mostly on sad to say. The faces, the names, their...last moments. And all I can do is watch and relive the horrors again and again.”

Her hands fiddled with the spoon again, then her napkin, twisting and knotting the cloth. Al sat calmly, not looking at her but looking into his tea as well.

Suddenly, she took a deep breath and sat up in her chair. Al was almost startled, though he’d expected it. He prodded, gently. “And what is it you need, Sterling. Do tell – you know I will not judge, or condemn. I will but guide if desired and simply listen if not.”

She picked up her refreshed mug and sipped from it, staring down into the amber depths of the tea as if all life’s mysteries would be revealed there.

“I am much like you were before your holiday. Burned out, nightmares, not sleeping…other issues. However, I do not have a way to wander – and here is where I need your help. My old truck and caravan are in dire need of the type of care I would only trust you to give – or tell me if they are beyond such care.

“Also – I need a friend to talk to. Someone who will not be shocked, or distressed with what I have to say. I was hoping…that might be you.” She looked up over the rim of her steaming cup, uncertainty in every line, awaiting his answer.

“Certainly.” He reached across the small table, and his hand took hers. “I am here.”

After a few minutes of companionable silence Al let go of her hand and said briskly, “So, where are these paragons of virtue you’ve dragged me from home and hearth to revive?”

She smiled, the fear and angst of before put away for the present. “Olaidh is out in the barn and the caravan is tucked away in one of the sheds. Neither of them has seen road in more than a few years, and this is entirely my fault.”

“Let’s not talk of fault or of flagellation – now is not the time. Let us, then, go view our patients with an eye to their healing.” Al stood as did Sterling, and they left the kitchen, headed for the barn.
Last edited by Just Old Al on Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Thu Dec 14, 2017 7:06 am

Chapter 4- Lies, Damn Lies, And English Cars.

"Olaidh be hurtin', ye understand. I have not driven her at all, really, the past few years. I think it a reaction to spending far too much time in her when I was first doing book signings."

Sterling chattered on nervously, completely unlike her. Al began to wonder what could rattle a seasoned warrior so.

"Lass, whatever's wrong with it we can fix, and as long as the time hasn't corroded her too badly, then I have no doubt we can make her well again."

They reached the barn, and Sterling flipped the lock hasp aside and rolled the door back.

As the door opened Al stared incredulously, then began to laugh. Turning to Sterling he pointed a finger at her, still laughing.

“You…you LYING sack of art supplies! Oh, little 'Miss American Iron all the way!' And all this time you have a deep dark secret tucked away in the barn!” Al began to laugh again as Sterling’s face rotated through a set of emotions ranging from embarrassment to chagrin to annoyance and finally to rueful acceptance.

“All right, you have me. Can we get back to evaluating the condition now, please?”

Al, all mirth spent, focused on the source of his amusement, looking with the eyes of a connoisseur as well as a mechanic. "Oh...my. Hello, me lovely. You're a tired girl, aren't you? We'll have you fixed up soon, love."

Sitting in the dimness was a vision in dark green - a 1992 Range Rover. Trim and foursquare, the classic design was marred by a thick layer of dust and very flat tyres. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness Al walked around the trim body, picking out the details only an expert (and longtime owner) of one would notice.

Externally, she was pristine, but as Al knew with the design of the space frame this could hide a multitude of sins of corrosion. However, the worst offended exterior areas - the top tailgate and its lower mating half didn't show the brittle corrosion so often present.

"Custom wheels?"

"She came that way from the showroom. Kay, that is me Da - I really need to introduce you guys and not just over a phone when we are all planted firm for a day or two, well he bought her off a lot in Naperville back in 1992. He has had this girl forever. Used to tease him about how unsuited his lead foot was to her, despite the racing green...then I inherited her after he taught me to drive it. Thought me Mother's hair would either fall out or spontaneously turn grey while he did so. Her electricals were a nightmare - took me some time to get her right enough to drive, and frankly she's still not quite right."

Al continued to walk around, tapping, probing. Opening the driver's door he unlocked the bonnet, walking to the front and flipping it up.

"This will do nicely."

The 3.9 liter V8 filled the bay with its ancillary systems, hulking like a predator in the dimness. While not pristine the wing sections didn't show the corrosion endemic to these trucks in a northern climate - for which Al blessed his stars.

"Did you do any preservation before you stopped driving her?"

Sterling looked chagrined. "I wish I could say yes, but no. I basically just parked her, though I did run her annually while I changed all the fluids so the tank would not shellac itself."

She looked at the tyres ruefully. "It did not involve me driving her, unfortunately. I was a bit too busy for her."

The look on Al's face concisely expressed his opinion of that situation. “No way to keep the tyres up, I expect? No criticism – I don’t see a compressor here.”

“Look again, Al. Those were slashed – a bit of the damage that miserable creature did to the property. Trust me, he will not be back – but the damage is done.”

Al nodded, then bent with a pocket torch to examine the tires. “Long out of date in any case. The wretch did you no real harm with these – they weren’t fit to be driven upon.”

“Out of date? Good to know – just as well, then. We’ll end up getting new rubber – I assume you can handle that?”

“Certainly – Michelin all the way, though Kumho or Bridgestone are nearly as good. On that question, though - what do you want from the old girl? Travel toy, houseman, show toy? There's work to be done, but we can make it happen."

"Holiday truck. For hauling the caravan, maybe some mulch. Also be something Uncle Fergus can drive when he visits, and Aurum too, though of late he is fond of that psycho Gremlin he found.

I also can finally get a REAL experts opinion on the shite wiring job I did...wait, I only call it that because I had no one but me Da to ask about it.

Most folks just laughed and laughed when I said Range Rover, saw a tiny rack and discounted me. Later I took it to mean they considered me a spoiled rich kid pimping out her ride.

The RR dealership in Naperville is the same way, so I got discouraged from asking them for anything if me Da was not along with glowering at them from behind me."

Continuing to walk around the car, Al quieted, becoming lost in the task. Sterling watched the old man as he opened doors, poked at metal, squatted and peered at the brakes through the wheels and other items.

“Got a cuppa, love? I’m a bit parched.”

Settled in her kitchen, he took a folder from his briefcase, and flipped it open to the notebook it contained. Snagging a biccy from the tin on the table he composed his thoughts, then started to talk to the condition of the vehicle.

“Luv, I’ve seen worse. She’s not happy, but then again ‘She’s not dead yet’“, the last uttered in a high, quavery voice. Sterling laughed and said “Oh, get in the cart – you’ll be stone cold in the moment.”

Al laughed. “Be that as it may….focus. “ He returned to his tablet and started to scribble.

“Tires – done. New rubber and rebalance.”

“Brakes. Pads need to go, and likely the rotors. Hubs and seals need to be repacked and changed. Hydraulics lines need to be inspected and changed – trivial and not expensive.”

Scribbling, he added “Change all the oils – diffs, transfer case and all.”

He continued to scribble. “Fuel lines – inspect and look for rust. Change them if we have to like the brake lines.

Engine: check and change and tune up as needed. From there, we take the old girl out and run her and fix what breaks – which will be minimal.

Electricals and systems? Fix them as needed.”

Sterling interrupted. “There is some horrible shite under that dashboard – wiring that acted up and got hacked. I know – I did the hacking. This will need to be fixed.”

“Electrical will be a fair bit – we’ll need to check the old girl. The wiring in her engine compartment is likely a bit of a mess – we’ll need to sleeve or replace sections of it as needed. Main power wires will be replaced or re-terminated, and a new battery is a must.”

“Structural – that’s the bugaboo. We’ll have to inspect the old girl with the interior out – I want to make VERY sure she’ll tow safely. This could be the killer.“ Al looked straight at Sterling. “If she’s not sound, this will be very expensive as a repair – and I can’t guarantee she’ll be right.”

Sterling looked at the table. “Is there anything I can do help this?”

“Spin the prayer wheels, no more. We shall see once we get her stripped out.”

“What about the caravan?”

“One disaster at a time.” Al smiled and finished his tea. “Let’s go look.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Fri Dec 15, 2017 6:39 am

Chapter 5 – You Say Caravan, I say Festering Sinkhole

As they walked, Sterling began to speak, again the nervous twitch evident in her voice. “Now, it doesn’t look much on the outside, but it’s a damn nice little spot to lay yer head. I bought it from a chappie who rebuilt it from a wreck, then slipped a new chassis under it when the original broke on him. It’s-“

Al turned to Sterling. “Will you STOP WORRYING about what I am going to think? If we can’t do what you want I’ll tell you and then we can figure something else out – worst to worst we put you in a proper Rover and I lend you Clara for whatever time you need her. Now, let’s go look.”

Swinging open the doors on the shed revealed a small aluminium box on a set of spindly wheels. Faded anodizing in white covered the upper and lower thirds, and natural but pitted aluminium formed a belt between the first two. Windows protruded from this section, and the front contained the propane tank in a steel mounting.

The front still proudly bore the remains of a logo that at one time must have said WEEK-N-DER, but now contained about half of the original letters and traces of the original US outline that surrounded it.

Like the Range Rover, the tyres on the trailer were flat, and the exterior covered with dust. This, however had been smeared off over the windows, and the packed dirt of the floor showed tracks of regular travel.

Over the dimness hung a miasma, an oppressive feeling. The bright sunlight outdoors was dimmed somehow when entering the door, as if a curtain hung in the doorway though no such curtain existed.

“Eugh. I see your point. This is going to take a good smudging – I think you and I can handle that though Fergus despaired at my ever learning to do it properly. Cack-handed khaki-clad twit was I believe what he called me.”

“Nay. I think it was actually ‘Stupid useless Sassenach cack-handed khaki-clad twit’ but who was I to pay attention?” Sterling smiled wickedly and Al ignored her with a lofty disdain.

Tactical torch again in play Al examined the exterior of the trailer, giving it a good shove to move the suspension and noting the reaction. He carefully went over it with his usual attention to detail, then opened the back door and recoiled.

“What a stench!”

“Aye, ye see my point.”

Steeling himself Al stepped inside and carefully slung out a battered plastic cooler – the source of the offending odor. Stepping forward the windows were cranked open, and the cabinet doors opened and left that way. The roof vent was also popped open on its chain, and air began to circulate through the stifling confines of the trailer.

The battery box cover was opened, and flashlight applied to illuminate the surfaces so revealed. Along with that all of the interior of the trailer was carefully examined, from the cabinets to the under-bed lockers.

“Do you smoke?”

“Only when on fire, and that’s never long for a water mage. Why?”

Al emerged, carrying a plastic sack of a dried green substance. “I am going to safely assume this is not oregano, and suggest we bury the contents somewhere the littles won’t find it. Catnip is bad enough.”

Sterling bellowed with laughter. “Nae mine. However, if ye feel the need I can scavenge you up a rolling parchment or two.”

Al grimaced. “No, I don’t feel the need. Thank you, my only drug of choice is caffeine…and speaking of that, let’s head back to the house. I feel a dire need for another cuppa.”

Settled again at the table with steaming mugs in hand, Al again turned his attentions to the notepad.

“The camper is a much simpler proposition as you know. Structurally, it’s fine. Exterior other than the tyres is good and the underpinnings look fine though a good poke at the floor for rot wouldn’t go amiss.

Tyres – let’s think about taking it up a size on those. Giving it some extra height and bigger rolling radius will make it tow nicely, and that rubber was long past its sell-by anyway. Replace the bearings and seals, and grease them properly.”

Sterling nodded – none of this was news.

“The interior is another issue. Were it me I’d pull all the soft furnishings, stack them in the yard and light them afire. You’ll never get that smell properly out of them, and to be honest that old vinyl couldn’t have been all that comfortable to sleep on, ne?”

Sterling nodded again. “No, not comfortable at all. What did you have in mind?”

“I get hold of my mates at AHI’s prototype shop, give them the dimensions, and tell them you want a pair of memory foam mattresses to match in a nice tidy breathable cloth. They make a great cushion and with a matching back serve for the dinette perfectly. If you don’t use them as such then leave out the back cushions and just leave them dressed as bed or beds on need.”

“When you’re right, you’re right. Curtains and such are trivial – a trip to the shops will see to them. Then we swab it out with chlorine bleach?”

“No, just repaint. Far easier and take an hour or two. Cabinets get the same or rubbed down with oil soap depending on the finish, and Bob’s yer uncle. Pull everything else out and wash it, replace anything plastic just for freshness. Water tank for that thing is likely held in with two bolts and a strap – cheap and cheerful, and the plastic it had was likely not BPA-free anyway.

Opinions?”

“Time element?”

“Not as bad as you think. We hit it hard likely 2 weeks between them, farming out whatever we can to local tradesmen (like the tyre fitting). Other than that it’s in the laps of the gods.

I suggest we start here, then if needed we can transport either or both of them to RE. If we don’t have to move them, so much the better. If we do, we do.”

“Sold.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Fri Dec 15, 2017 6:47 am

Chapter 6 – Planning And Execution

The discussions went on into the evening and numerous sheets of paper, notes taken on tablets and lookups for parts performed on laptops. New water tanks, three tyres, wheel bearings and seals were ordered for the caravan, along with quantities of mastic and colour-coded wiring for the lights. Finally, new gas regulators and pigtails for the propane bottles were sourced, as the ancient plumbing still on the caravan was not to be trusted in Al's eyes.

The next morning it continued as though it had never stopped, with plans being hashed out further over a fryup and strong coffee. Al waved his mug at Sterling,

“So, first things first let’s get the old girl up on stands and get the tyres off. Then you can work inside stripping out the interior for inspection while I strip the brakes and hubs to send back to RE for refurbishment. How’s that work for you, lass?”

“Fine by me. I realize that you’re not exactly cut out for tight quarters, so..” and she stopped at the massively irritated look being funneled in her direction. Undeterred, she cheekily remarked, “Let’s be honest, Warhorse, you’re not exactly svelte, after all…”

“Sterling, if you continue to remark on my rotundity I will take great pleasure in suggesting a break from work and adjourning to the athletic facilities at AHI for a spot of hand-to-hand combat practice on the mats. I guarantee you that I can disabuse you of the thought that I am the captain of ‘Team Old, Fat and Slow’” he said, fingers making quotes around the team name.

“Oh, I never said you were, Warhorse…but you must admit..” and she left the rest of the sentence unspoken.

“I admit nothing. Let us be off to work before I decide thumping manners into you is a better use of my time. I still owe you one from the Arthur Bell incident.“

“You and whose army, Warhorse?” She grinned wolfishly.

“Only my own, dear, only my own. However, let us direct all of this energy to the task at hand.” With that he stood, drained his mug and they headed for the barn.

The dawning of another day had changed nothing. The Range Rover still squatted, dusty and abandoned-seeming. Al snapped on the overhead lights and walked to the back of the truck.

“Sterling, if you have a butcher’s in the bottom of my kit you’ll find a set of truck jackstands – please fetch them out.”

As she did that Al took the jack from the back, positioning it under the front wheel. Sterling stopped him with a gesture. “What are you bothering with that thing for?”

“I didn’t bring anything more substantial. I can run back to RE and appropriate a floor jack if you prefer.”

“No need – got one in with Red and Skitty.” She hurried off, and returned moments later dragging a hydraulic floor jack.

Al rubbed his hands together and smiled. “Now THAT will do nicely.” Within minutes the wheels and tyres were off, and the laborious job of stripping the hubs and inspecting the hydraulics had begun.

Sterling opened the front doors and started the tedious job of removing the interior. Cursing the time that had passed, she fought with rusted screws, stuck hardware and the ravages time can play on the best of vehicles. Out came the sills, carpets, then the seats and the plinths they sat upon, the wiring carefully disconnected and marked.

“What a mess.” Sterling said dispiritedly. The floors were a mass of rusted metal – in the front areas little of the original paint was left as much as six inches from the floor. Al, standing from the front wheel he was disassembling, wobbled over to look, stretching as he did.

“Not a problem. We’ve no rust-through, and the surface is still sound. I feared we’d have holes to weld – Olaidh isn’t horrid. However, all this will need to be treated with phosphoric acid then primed and painted to preserve it properly.

I am thoroughly glad that you kept the sunroof drains clear – those were the demise of many Range Rovers and Discoveries, as they leaked and the water absorbed by the sponge matting destroyed the floors. Move on, now, and let’s get the rest out so we can sound the wheel wells and the floors.” With that, he returned to the floor and his task.

As they worked Al and Sterling chatted – about the work going on at RE, her latest book ideas, the book she’d written about her experiences at RE (which sold well) and the random nonsense that friends engaged in work talk about.

“I must admit, Sterling, I slept quite well in your guest room, barring having to get up and being unfamiliar with the house’s layout. Thank you for the night lights – it made life less uncertain when I was half-awake.”

“What is it like?” Sterling asked, head down on some corroded sill fasteners.

“What is what like?” Al asked, as he tapped a wrench on a stubborn caliper bolt.

“Sleeping peacefully. To be honest, Al, I cannot remember the last time I slept the night.

"I really wish I could have a dreamless night or four. Not sleeping is a constant thing, now – the nightmares, the helpless feeling walking up with my pulse pounding in my ears and drenched in sweat.

“I have tried meditation, I have tried exercising until exhaustion, I have tried drinking myself to sleep, and I have tried medication. I have even tried 'therapy'“ (here Al could hear the finger quotes though he didn’t look up).

“Al, these guys just do not understand this kind of trauma, how could they? We did this so they were free to be anything they wanted. Unless they put on the uniform--and I would know inside of two minutes if they had, there is no way they could understand it. I have tried pretty much everything. None of it works.

“That is what this whole mess is all about – I need to find my tranquility again.

“Maybe a few days in the middle of nowhere with nothing but birds, bats, and bugs is in order. Sketching things for fun, making a campfire without Flashburn making light of how difficult it is for me to do...

“Simple things. Quiet things. Maybe the memories will leave me be for a while."

Al said nothing other than a few choice curses and he thumped the recalcitrant bolt, finally loosening it.

“You haven’t always been this way. When did the dreams restart?” Al asked, carefully not looking up from his task.

“About a year ago. I got a call telling me one of my friends from the service had died. Suicide. I went to the funeral, and so few of the squad did. I realize we were Team Spooky and the ties are not as tight, but the few people that showed up distressed me.

After that I could no get him out of my mind. Then memories of him were joined by the others – the ones who never made it out. That is when the nightmares started – the memories of the attack that took them, and the pitiful little I could do to help them or to stop it.

The memories…”

Al sat back out of the wheel well clutching his greasy prize. “Caliper’s shot – the pistons are rusted. Worth the money to change all four and bleed the system, methinks. Cheap insurance.

I have an idea for you to try tonight. I’ll tell you about it later, but I think it will help you at least get a good night’s sleep.”

“What is it?” She sounded eager.

“Tell you later. How are you doing with those sill screws?”
Last edited by Just Old Al on Sun Dec 24, 2017 9:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Sat Dec 16, 2017 7:45 am

Chapter 7 – Corrosion And Creation

“Bugger. Bugger bugger bugger DAMN.”

Al stared down at the top of the rear wheel well – where the seat belt mounting was supposed to be.

Instead, it hung from the end of the belt, twisted out of the rusted sheet metal by the attempt to remove the mounting bolt. From it dangled the carpet cover of the wheel well interior, and the exposed metal had the consistency and structural integrity of abused roof flashing.

Sterling looked down, disgusted and appalled at the rot. “Great. Just bloody wonderful. NOW what, Warhorse? More the point, what the hell caused that?”

Unperturbed, Al spoke, pointing at the mess. “What caused it was a bit of poor engineering on the part of my colleagues in Solihul. Rather than put a layer of proper sealant between the reinforcing plate and the inside of the well, they merely put them together and set the bung to hold it. Water and time (not to mention shoddy paint) did the rest.”

Sterling was insistent. “And I reiterate – what now?”

“Simple enough. We finish stripping out the interior (that headliner’s well past it but it can easily be recovered) and I nip back to RE for a portable welder and some sheet-metal tools, and a threaded bung or two – might have to make those.

“I then turn panel beater and weld up new sections and a new reinforcement panel for this, and you go off and entertain yourself stripping the soft furnishings out of the caravan.”

“Ohhh, no. Not on a bet. This is getting photographed. I have some high-density filters that will work well for this, and I can see the finished shots hanging on a gallery wall. No, you are not shooing me away.” Her face turned a bit pensive, then she spoke again. “Honestly, Warhorse – I cannot go near that caravan solo until we smudge the sluagh out of it. Those freeloaders give me the creeps.”

Al nodded – he knew exactly what she meant. “Well, in any case that is not for today – let’s continue doing what we need to – we still need to inspect Olaidh’s sills and I have NO doubt we’ll find something there or about the fuel tank.”

Sterling’s face fell.” Fuel tank? How the hell are we going to fix rust there without blowing the damn thing up?”

If the tank is corroded, it leaves – fuel tanks for these are a triviality to purchase. If the structure is corroded, we pull the tank and work on it. Easy-peasy.”

“If you say so.” Sterling’s uncertainty of the repairs and the corrosion hung about her like a palpable shroud. Even without Mage senses Al could feel it, and it distressed him. This was not the grounded, earthy mage he knew and had a deep affection for.

The rest of the day passed with a few new revelations, none of which were particularly good but none a crisis.

Talking over dinner, Al and Sterling discussed the events of the day.

“Structurally, Olaidh is better than I expected. The seatbelt mounts, one patch to the rear crossmember and a few inches of the bottom of a rail and she’ll be as sound as she was when she got on the boat.”

Sterling was pessimistic. “I’ll take your word for it. Rust like that is nothing I’m used to seeing – if a monocoque gets rusty it falls apart.”

Al waved his fork in her direction before spearing up another forkful of pot roast and mashed potatoes. “This is the difference between American iron or a generic SUV and that road locomotive you have out there in the barn.

“Olaidh is not a car – she’s a TRUCK, plain and simple. Full box-section chassis, heavy-duty V8, full axles, sealed drivetrain. Compare her to any Ford or Chevrolet and you’ll see the difference. Even the heavy trucks aren’t built as soundly as she is.”

Sterling replied dully, “Take your word for it I will. I was shocked to see how she looked. Wondering if this is a good idea, now.”

“Sterling. Really, now. What’s this all about?”

“Warhorse, I am just having second thoughts. There’s so much to be done, and welding, and…just so much.” She sat, shoulders drooping, the picture of dejection. Al decided that this had to be dealt with, and dealt with now.

“Sterling. Really now. I for one am not at all distressed at finding what we found. Would you tear your house down if it needed paint, and a few boards needed to be replaced?”

“Well, no, but-“

“There is no BUT. Eat your dinner – I did not cook to have you ignore your dinner.” There was steel behind those words, and Sterling realized she’d had a glimpse of the Sergeant-Major. Acquiescing, she stopped picking at her food and ate as Al, trencherman that he was, continued to eat with gusto.

“It’s the cumin and pepper rub that does it, and pressure cooking in stock with onions. Cooking like that will make shoe leather palatable, and with a good pot roast it’s Nirvana. Take the cooking liquid and reduce it and you have a fantastic brown gravy. Comfort food at its most substantial.” Sterling nodded, realizing that he’d deliberately cooked a hearty meal to make her relax and settle down.

After dinner they sat in her lounge, simply talking. He, sensing her exhaustion, told stories, most of them involving the antics at RE and the denizens there. She laughed, and, inspired by the silliness, began to tell stories herself – of the madness of the art world and the pretentious snobs in it.

So the evening went, with the warm glow of the lights comforting as they talked.

Finally, it grew late, and Sterling stretched and yawned. “Warhorse, ye need to excuse me. Been grand to chat, but if I’m tae be any use to ye tomorrow I need me rest – such as it is.” She made a face, and began to turn away.

“It seems you’ve forgotten something. I promised to tell you of a way to sleep tonight and for nights moving forward.”

She turned back, saying, ”And yer answer would be then?”

“Go change into your night things and do your forms, then come back out and meet me here.”

When she returned Al stood in the lounge, a blanket over his arm, wearing sweats and moccasins. Sterling was confused – what was he up to?

“The sleep disorder you’re suffering from is not difficult to understand – and one I suffered from myself. In short, you don’t sleep because you are on watch for enemies. The revival of your memories of conflict, crowned with the vermin trying to destroy your lands here, are preventing you from coming ‘off-watch’. Because of this your subconscious has a field day – shallow sleep and unquiet results in dreaming – and in your case nightmares.”

“What do ye propose?” Sterling was wary.

Al looked disgusted. “Really? Me, of all people? You’re worried about me even after the conversation you had with my dam? Yes, I know about it.” Stopping, he shifted from his joking, sarcastic mein to a more serious, almost clinical one.

“What I propose is simple. I am going to simply sit and keep you company till you fall asleep. If I doze off in my chair, I do. Once you are still and asleep I will find my way back here.

In any case, I hope this allows you to drop completely off to sleep, knowing you are protected. Sometimes, Miss Self-Rescuing Princess, you just need a hand to hold, or someone to watch out for you for a little while till you recuperate.”

“How d’ye know this – and why do you think it will work?”

“Because I had it done for me. Her name – was Barbara.” Looking at him, Sterling saw the bolt of pain behind his eyes at the mention of that name, and realized pressing further was a strikingly poor idea.

“Very well then. Follow me.” she said, as she led the way to her room. Once there, he settled into the armchair next to her bed, reclining and obscenely comfortable.

She got into her single bed, settled comfortably, and looked at her guardian. I wonder how he will explain this to Rosalynd? she thought, knowing that he would because, quite simply, that was what he was.

“Warhorse?” She held out her hand. He took it, and rested his arm on the bed so she would be comfortable.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Sat Dec 16, 2017 7:46 am

Chapter 8 – Panic And Pacification.

The sunlight tickled Sterling’s eyes as she lay back in bed. She stretched languidly and then with a shock looked at the clock. 8:15! WhattheHell! She realized that for the first time in a good long while she was well rested, and that a small portion of the numbing exhaustion had left her. Damn, gotta tell Warhorse how well this worked!

Sterling turned over in her bed, and saw a sight that horrified her.

Warhorse was tranquilly asleep in his chair, with the rug over his legs. His head was against one of the wings of the chair, and he was still deep in slumber, having noticed not at all her motions.

OhGodohGodOhGodOhGod I’m a dead woman. He’s going to tell Rosalynd and she’s going to hunt me down and kill me. She looked at the old man, dozing quietly in the chair and quietly slipped out of bed and away from the scene of the crime.

Slipping to the bath and then the kitchen, she brewed coffee and poured a cup, then adulterated it with cream and Demarara and carried it into her bedroom.

Walking to stand in front of the sleeping man, she nudged his moccasin with her toe once, twice, then once again. With that Warhorse’s eyes opened, and then reason filled them. His nose twitched at the scent of the fresh coffee and he stretched, the rug slipping to the floor.

“Oi, you! The day shift is on the way in, ye’ve got to get out!” She looked down on him sternly, and then the act crumbled and she sagged.

“Did you spend the whole night in that damn chair? What the Hell is your wife going to say about this?”

Al sipped at the hot beverage and the power of speech returned to him. “As to the former I would say yes. Surprisingly I did not wake at all during the night – a rarity with the usual issues a man of my age has. As I did not hear you stir I suspect your night was more tranquil than not?”

“Yes, it was. Remarkably I remember nothing between falling asleep” with you holding my hand, you old softy “and waking up a few minutes ago and finding you.”

“Why are you concerned?” Al looked honestly puzzled as he asked the question.

“Because Rosalynd is going to KILL me if she finds about this.” Sterling spoke earnestly, desperately. “She is going to rip my lungs out and feed them to me for spending the night with her husband.”

Al looked up startled, as though the concept was new to him.

He chuckled. He started to laugh, first low, then louder and louder as his mirth found its stride.

Sterling stared, first in incredulity, then in confusion and finally in anger. “’Tis nae funny ye lackwitted Sassenach! Ye’ve a jealous dam, and the fact that ye spent the night in my bedchamber will not set well – and I for one do NOT want to end up trampled for my role in this!”

Finally running down, Al took another draft of his coffee, then turned serious.

“First, meduck, I need to tell you the ‘orders’ I was sent here with. I was told to, and I quote, ‘heal machines and people as only I can do.’ He carefully did not reveal the other part of that conversation, as Sterling was horrified enough to not need to hear about her status as ‘daughter not of blood’.

“While I can understand your concerns I do not share them. I will however acede to your wishes and not inform Rosalynd of this. I am not concerned, but if you are, we’ll say nothing of it. In fact, let us adopt the attitude of ‘What happens in South Bend, stays in South Bend.’.”

“Aye, if we can do that I would appreciate it. I love you both, but I still remember Rosalynd’s temper – and I would rather not being on the receiving end of it.”

Al drained the cup and raised himself from the floral embrace of the wing chair. “That’s the end of it then as far as my darling dam is concerned. Now, would you do me the honour of finding me a fryup to go with more of that coffee while I perform my ablutions?”

“Aye. Leave it to you to find an excuse to shirk your kitchen duties.” Sterling looked relieved, and the solid night’s sleep had done her no end of good as Al could see. The isometric smudges under her eyes were a bit smaller and her aura was in a bit less dismal a condition.

Sterling headed to the kitchen as Al headed to the bath. While he prepared for his day he chuckled quietly, thinking of Sterling’s horror and the panic in her voice as she spoke of Rosalynd’s temper. Poor dear girl, you worry too much. I understand, but trust me.

Upon exiting the bath the delicious smell of frying bacon and sausages met his nostrils, and he headed for his place at the Formica antique table in the kitchen.

Breakfast was companionable and cheery. The gloom of the night before had been dispelled by rest, good food and the sunrise, and Sterling was again enthusiastic about the project.

Al knew exactly what had happened. The revelations voiced during the day before had focused the distress in her mind and heart, and that coupled with the damage to the car had coupled to cause a deep if temporary depression. It had been dispelled by rest, despite the panic she had gotten into over Rosalynd’s reaction.

Another day, dear lady, another day – and we will do more to put to rest these spirits that haunt your dreams. Al smiled to himself.
“Sterling, dear – I need to send a few emails before we resume. Would you excuse me if I do so? I need to send a few requests to my staff, and this way we will be unencumbered for the day.”

“Aye. Go ahead. I’ve a bit of business to tend to as well – I’ll check me site and so on. A half-hour, then?”

“Indeed.”

Al retired to his room, set the tablet and its keyboard on the desk and began to type.


My dearest Daisy,

I am afraid I must confess to performing an action that might seem improper but was not, by any stretch of the imagination.

Sterling is suffering as I did – her rest is shallow and unquiet as her mind is constantly on guard for enemies. Because of this she has dreams, nay nightmares.

Last night I spent the night on guard, in a wing chair by her bed. I told her that once she was asleep I would depart, but watching the restlessness of her sleep decided that to not be the best course of action. With that in mind, I spent the night in that wretched wing chair, dozing.

Happily, she slept soundly and is in a better mood because of it. I, however, am in dire need of a long walk to deal with the kinks and knots sleeping in a chair will contribute.

I do not tell you this as a penitent, but to inform you of the condition of our dear friend. The poor woman is haunted by spectres of her past, and I must do as you told me – heal machines and people.

On a more amusing note, I must tell you in the strictest confidence of the utter horror Sterling was in that I spent the night ‘in her bedchambers’. She is firmly convinced that you will rip her to pieces and trample the pieces. I have disabused her of those notions, but had to agree not to tell you. So, you didn’t hear this, and I can hear you chuckling at the unlikeliness of that.

I miss you. I can feel your presence in my mind, and in my heart, and can feel the love you have for me. I hope you can feel me in your mind and heart, and remember the love I have for you. Soon this project will be done and I will return - but until then know that you are with me in every breath I take and all of my actions – a benediction to my love for you.

Allan.
Last edited by Just Old Al on Sun Dec 24, 2017 1:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Sat Dec 16, 2017 7:52 am

Chapter 9 – Attack Of The Range Rover.

Sterling hummed to herself.

The work she and the old warhorse had been doing (bless his heart for putting up with her craziness) had been a balm to her soul, and to the condition of her machinery.

The old Brooklands Range Rover, cleaned of its dust and propped high on jack stands was looking up. For the moment, Al had ported back to the shop in Minneapolis with the brake discs and hubs to pass them on for turning. For now, she enjoyed the quiet of the shed as she began to tune and revive the aluminium-block V8 under the bonnet.

Firstly, a new set of wires were fitted, each neatly to its clip following the routing laid out by the engineers way back when. Once these were in place she removed the plugs, inspecting them and deciding that discretion was the better part of valour. She pulled her phone from her pocket, still bent over the side of the engine compartment.

“Warhorse.”

The phone rang in the double-ring she affected, and a photo of a Morgan cavalry mount appeared on the display as Al answered.

“Sterling meduck I have been gone a total of ten – count them ten – minutes. What, pray tell, can I do for you?”

“The plugs in the 3.9 are one with eternity. Would you have a set of good-quality plugs on the shelf there?”

“Yes, absolutely. I’d also have the cap and rotor that electronic distributor would take – I see no reason to retain the old ones for any purpose other than an artist’s brush holder. I should have brought them out when I brought the wires – condition of those should have told me we’d need them.”

“Would you be a dear?”

“Certainly. I’ll bring out a battery as well – I know we’ll need one, and it seems it will be sooner rather than later. Back in a few.”

“See you then.”

Phone stowed, Sterling went back to work removing the spark plugs and noting the condition of each.

“Not too bad, not too bad. Constant, at least, so her engine is at least in consistent condition.” With that, a dollop of an ATF/acetone mix went into each cylinder and once complete she rotated the engine with a breaker bar from underneath – the great height on the heavy truck jacks making it a simple proposition.

Might as well get on the belts – there’s not a one of them worth a rotten damn – all cracked – and them I have.

Throwing a light messenger line over a roof beam, she tied off the Range Rover’s bonnet, securing it open to the roof. I am not going to work around that damned bonnet stay – just too annoying. she thought.

Standing on an improvised stand she leaned over the front of the car and began to remove the old belts. The alternator belt came away, then the power steering belt, each easily being removed by loosening the item involved.

The air conditioner belt and then finally the water pump belt, each with its tensioner came next. The tensioners were removed and replaced first, the bearings in the old ones grumbling when she spun them.

As she leaned forward to start adding the new belts Fate stepped in. As she shifted her balance the crate she’d been using as a work stand collapsed, the rusted-out nails holding it together finally breaking. As it did, Sterling threw herself forward over the engine and the front of the car, sliding down the front until she stopped with a quite decisive CLICK.

“What the hell?”

Her belt buckle, a large brass affectation not unlike Greg’s, had come to rest in the gap between the radiator and its mounting panel. Unfortunately, this meant that:

A: her weight was supported on this and this alone,
B: it was well and truly wedged along with the belt – no slipping it to get free,
C: All her weight was on her jeans – which was QUITE uncomfortable.

Warhorse – gotta call Warhorse and have him get a step stool or something under me. Reaching for her phone, she discovered that her pants pocket’s contents may as well be on the Moon – there was no way to get to it.

Bugger this…! Tapping the leylines within reach (an awkward job when hanging in midair) she dialed a thought and fired it off.

WARHORSE! Mayday! Come and get me!

“Now, mount these up on the brake lathe and clean them up. The wear on them is relatively minimal and the surface corrosion should clear up easily. Make sure you don’t drop them below the minimum thickness – these are good but not new.”

“Ah getcha. Not like ah don’t know how ta machine a brake disc, Al.”

“Yes, but when one is doing ‘family’ work like this, it’s always good to-“

WARHORSE! Mayday! Come and get me!

Al stopped, stunned by the volume of the call – and the source. Next to him, John and Smokey stopped as well, puzzled at the sudden break in the conversation.

Al turned to them. “Please machine the disks and gather up a fullsetoftuneuppartsfora1992RangeRover3.9Iwillbebackforthemmomentarilythankyou!” That said, he dashed for an open space on the floor, gesturing as he went. Ahead of him a portal in mossy greens, tans and golds opened and he dashed through, the portal closing behind him with a shimmer of sparks.

Somewhat stunned, Smokey and John turned to each other, puzzled.

“John, ya remember when this place was nuthin’ but a shop run by an ol’ guy who happen’ ta be married to a nice lady who was a centaur?”

“Yes, I do. Was quiet then. Work came in, work went out. No rush, do it right….nothing crazy.”

“Kinda crazy now, isn’ it.”

“Yep. But the old way was kinda boring, eh?”

“True ‘nough. Mages, angels, supermodels, interns…all sorts ‘a crazy work comin’ in.”

John nudged Smokey. “Yeah, sure beats workin’ for a living, eh?”

“True ‘nough. Speakin’ o’ work, let’s split these hubs. I’ll machine the disks, you clean and repack the bearings. OK?”

“Give’r!” With that, they turned to their work.

In the quiet of the herb garden a portal opened with a sharp CRACK. Through it Al dashed, thoroughly concerned.

Sterling! Where are you you annoying mage! STERLING! Al mind-talked. Winding up to yell again he heard Sterling’s answer clearly.

I’m in the garage with the sodding Range Rover. Get the kitchen stool and get out here.

Kitchen stool? Why?

Just DO it. You’ll see when you get here.

Oh, now I AM intrigued. Let me summon my proper camera…

LOOK YOU MISERABLE GIT JUST GET HERE! Me female parts are asleep and me legs are getting there. Hurry!


With that Al stopped snickering and hurried into the house. Grabbing the kitchen stool he headed out to the shed and walked in – to see Sterling levitating, apparently unsupported, in front of the Range Rover.

“What in the WORLD have you managed to do here? I do think that a thorough smudging is going to be in order if it’s tried to eat you – and gotten this far. What happened?”

“Crate collapsed when I was under the bonnet replacing the belts. I threw myself up onto the front end, and when I tried to slide down my sodding belt buckle got caught on the radiator panel.”

“Odd – there’s supposed to be a grommet there to keep things out of that gap. Let me have a look-“ Al said, as he set the kitchen stool next to the car and climbed up upon it.

“GETOUTOFIT! Get me down from here and ye can commune with this filthy beast tae yer heart’s content. GET ME DOWN!”

“Oh, no. I need photographs of this. “Levitating Mage And Range Rover” – I think that would work well in an art show, especially with some of the work-in-process shots for deconstructionalist framing. Do the whole thing on anodized aluminium sheets treated to be photosensitive…perhaps some rusted steel…”

A syrupy-sweet false voice sounded from Sterling. “Warhorse, if ye value yer life, by all of the Gods ye worship if ye dinna get me down from here your life is going tae be short and MUCH less than sweet…do ye understand me?”

“Oh, completely – but this is far too good to miss.”

With that, rather than fetch his camera he moved the step stool over to where Sterling’s feet could touch it. “Sterling old drake, the ladder is under your feet.”

“Glad tae hear ye tell me – because my lower half’s asleep. Let me try to stand against it.” Her feet pressed down but her legs wobbled side to side – it was obvious she couldn’t stand.

“Warhorse, me old mate, I canna stand. Hate to ask, and being the self-rescuin’ type I am…but I wish to resign me commission as the bonnet ornament for this Range Rover. Can ye help?”

“Certainly – but I will have to touch you to do so. Nothing is meant by it – but I just wanted to say it up front. “

“Warhorse – no wait, Al. Ailean, ye are the most gentle of men when it comes to the fairer sex – but right now I am going to kill ye if ye dinna stop lollygagging about and get me off the front of this sodding CAR!”

“As you wish, meduck.”

With that Al moved the step stool and had a look at the pinch point, using his flashlight to illuminate the area.

“All right, then. I need you to lean forward onto the top of the engine – I am going to need to slide you forward to disengage the belt, then I can roll you over and remove you from the front. Understood?”

“Get ON with it. I’m numb – and it’s getting painful.”

“Oh, dear. Lean forward, then.”

She leaned forward and Al, while standing on the ladder, lifted her hips and shoved forward. Stubbornly, the buckle refused to disengage.

“Well, that didn’t work.”

“Of course it did nae work – ye pushed like I was yer maiden aunt and ye’re afraid to break me hip!. Put yer back into it, Man!”

“But, Sterling…this is most unseemly…”

“UNSEEMLY YER ARSE! Do it!”

With that, Al grabbed Sterling at the waist, wrapping his hands around the belt and pulling it taut. With this, he lifted and shoved, putting the weight of his body behind his hips as well.

“Harder! Harder, Damnit! The damn thing’s not giving. Again!”

Again and again Al shoved against Sterling’s hips, putting his weight behind it and jostling the car on its springs. Finally, tired from the repeated effort, he stopped.

“Warhorse-“

“SPANNER! It’s a SPANNER!”

“Just checking…”

“That’s wedged in thoroughly. I am afraid the belt’s got to go – is it anything of sentimental value?”

“Best NOT be wedged in thoroughly…oh, you mean the belt buckle. The buckle is – nae the belt. Cut the damn thing and let’s get this done.”

“As you wish.” Removing a folding knife from his pocket Al sawed through the tough leather of the belt at each side, just above where it disappeared under Sterling. Lifting her hips again, the belt slid free of the jeans loops and Sterling slid off and into Al’s arms as he perched on the ladder.

“Thank ye – but ye can put me down, now.”

“As you wish.”

With that, Al swung Sterling’s legs down till they touched the floor and let go. With a shout and a THUD Sterling hit the floor, helpless given the condition of her lower extremities.

“WHAT THE HELL DID YE DO THAT FOR?!?!”

“You asked me to, Miss Self-Rescuing Princess. Instead of using common sense and letting me get you to the house you demanded to be put down – so I did.”

Beginning to squirm with the pain of returning circulation, she said through gritted teeth “Damn stupid thing to do, mate. Why did you do it?”

“Because otherwise you’d have been at me to put you down, I’m all right, so on and so on. Now, we’ve established you’re not, and spanner in my pocket or no I am going to get you to the house, and we’re going to check you for damage.”

Al went on, speaking more quietly and earnestly. Sterling heard the change in tone and listened.

“Ye can’t stand, lass…and the circulation coming back into your extremities is going to be thoroughly painful. It is off to the house for you for an application of a double Glenmorangie and some rest – this will not have done your legs any favours, compressing the femoral and gluteal arteries like that. Before anything else, we need to get you lying down and I need to check your feet and legs for circulation issues.”

Sterling sighed and winced.” Aye, said circulation is coming back and is beginning to hurt like the dickens. Can we get me in the house, please? Touch is painful.”

“Indeed.” And with that Al reached down, scooping the slight form of the mage into his arms. Supporting her under arms and knees, he quickly made his way from the shed, leaving the Range Rover still clutching its trophy.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Sun Dec 17, 2017 8:16 am

CHAPTER 10 – Fusion And Reconstruction.

INCOMING!

What are you wittering on about?
Sterling bellowed back, as she was finishing a thorough cleaning of the lead matting of its previous water-absorbent padding.

Coming through with tools and parts – move Red! I know the floor in the barn is encumbered with carpeting, matting and that headliner – I need space!

You need space because you are shoddy about your scrying, and you are trying not to pop through into a wall. Shocking.

Do you or do you not want the rust welded on your car? Move your arse!


Sterling grinned. Cheeky bugger. Oh, very well. Wait one. Sterling walked over to the garage and backed Red out, then yelled back CLEAR!

A portal opened, and a large cart rolled through, stacked with boxes on the underside, and occupied by four hubs with rotors on the top, piled with electrical components. Next through was Warhorse, pushing one cart and pulling another laden with sheet metal, a welder with gas bottle and shaping and forming tools.

One through and the carts dragged to a halt, Al dropped to his knees, breathing heavily, supported by his hold on the cart handles.

Within seconds Sterling was next to him on her knees as well, staring into his red face.

“You IDIOT. What possesses you to overload like this? A simple word and I would have come through and gotten one of these, or both. IDIOT.”

Al clambered shakily to his feet, and wiped his face with his arm, trying to regain his composure. Turning as though she had never spoken, he asked “May I harvest energy from your lands?”

Disgustedly Sterling said “I should say no – force you into a nice overextension hangover. However, yes, you have my permission. Go sit among the trees for a bit, and I will get these to the barn.”

Al staggered out and headed for the grove. Sterling, thoroughly miffed, took each of the carts and worked it across the yard to the barn, then started to unload the contents to the area marked for parts.

She marveled at the collection. Along with the refurbished hubs and rotors (which gleamed with new paint and machining) were four refurbished calipers, painted in bright red with the Girling logo picked out in black. New hydraulic flex hoses accompanied these, sleeved in red Nice touch – not Warhorse’s idea I bet. . Sterling took a mental note to thank Ari for this – or find whose idea it was and thank them.

Along with the hydraulic parts were electrical items – a new battery, new heavy cables, terminals, soldering gear and selections of wire and sleeving, along with colour-coding pens and insulation.

New electrical components, rolls of waterproof neoprene matting to replace the garbage installed by Land-Rover in 1992, and more and more parts came off the cart and were stacked on the bench or on the floor.

The second cart was a complete but minimalist sheet metal shop – saws, grinder, a welder with accompanying gas bottle, linisher and hand tools. Best leave that one alone – Warhorse will do what he wants with its contents.

“Well, think of Hades and he shows his horns. When oh when are you going to learn that overextending yourself is NOT the way to improve your Power? I do NOT need you passed out on my floor.”

Al had walked back through the barn door looking considerably better, nodding approvingly at the tidying that had been done in his absence. “We should have what we need here to get Olaidh off the jacks, on her wheels and perambulating about. How did you fare with the tyre shop?” he asked, pointedly ignoring her chiding.

“Quite well. As requested they sent a truck to fetch the wheels and tyres – I had to pay for it but that is a triviality. They will be back later today. Oh – I sent along the spare as well – being in the car it was intact but it was as old as the car and flat.”

Al nodded approvingly. “Good idea – might as well do it properly if you’re going to spend the money. How about the fuel tank?”

“Took that over to the radiator shop while you were gone. They are going to boil it out, check it for corrosion and repaint it. Surprisingly cheap, and they seemed competent. That is a bit we don’t have the tools to deal with here.”

“Nor do I at RE – I typically send them out. When’s that due back?”

“Day or so.”

“Good enough. This gives us time to get the welding out of the way and paint on the repaired bits. While I’m doing that you can continue refurbishing the sound deadening.”

“OH no. Nonono. When you are working on Ohlaidh’s body I have a camera equipped to photograph the work. I can see a time-lapse of the arc on a gallery wall, somewhere.” Al began to protest, but she cut him off. “You can relax – you’ll be wearing your leathers and a mask and no one will know who it is – your secrets are safe.”

“Oh, very well. Do you want to photograph it all, or just the welding?”

“I prefer to shoot it all – images cost nothing, and this way I can decide what I want to use. There have been demands for more of what we did at RE with Pinky, and this may end up a chapter or two in a book.”

It suddenly occurred to her – what if he doesn’t want this? “Warhorse, I apologize – I am being rude. If you prefer I do not photograph this, just say so and I will stop. Damnit – got ahead of meself on that one.”

Al waved his hand dismissively. “Dear lady, other than not revealing the identity of your model I have no qualms whatsoever about this. You’ve photographed me at my labours before, so this is no issue.”

He stopped, thought for a second and then spoke. “One thing – I gorged myself on the local leylines, I’m afraid. With the work I’ll be doing here, and being an Earth Mage, the affinity to metal is very handy to use. It does require energy, though, so I charged to repletion. My apologies.”

“Not a problem. Use what you need, but be sure to do your forms later to balance. You’ve been shoddy about that, and I HAVE noticed.”

Al grinned wryly. “Yes, Mother. Can we get to work now?”

Haughtily, she said, “Yes, you have my permission. Please do.”

“Very well then.” With that Al removed his shirt and hung it on a nail, then walked over and dug into a bag for a long denim jacket, buttoning the sleeves and front completely. He then turned to Sterling, who looked at him wonderingly.

“I have made the mistake of wearing synthetic materials when welding or doing sheet metal work – lighting one’s self on fire is never conducive to tranquility. If you are going to be around while I’m doing this go find something in cotton or leather to wear that’s somewhat expendable.”

She nodded and headed off to the house. Returning in a few minutes she wore jeans and a denim waist-length jacket, and following Warhorse’s lead she’d buttoned it up tightly.

“VERY good. You’ll need to be wearing a shield as well when I’m welding – I will not be responsible for your getting a case of weldor’s flash from staring into the arc. Right now, though, I require your assistance.”

“For what?”

“Shields. Unless we protect the glass we’ll pit the windows with weld spatter and grinding particles – I’ve seen cars ruined that way.” He reached into the bottom of the cart for a stack of thin yellow blankets and a cloth bag – which contained binder clips.

Using the clips the blankets were hung to block the weld spatter from the repair leaving the width of the door clear. Al also draped a blanket over the open doors at both sides of the back, protecting the fragile glass.

Shielding done Al donned goggles and threw Sterling a pair. She asked, “Now what?”

“Well…now things get a bit brutal. If you’re of a sensitive nature you may wish to go and make us a cuppa – as I need to excise the rotten metal and prepare for the graft.”

Visibly steeling herself, she said “I’m game, Doctor. Let’s begin.”

With a wire wheel on a grinder Al removed the paint from the wheel well, exposing the metal underneath and the lacy damage of the rust. He then took a ruler and laid out four lines, boxing in the damage with a rectangle.

“Isn’t that a bit big? The rotten bit’s only at the center.” Sterling wondered.

“No, sad to say all of that metal is affected and thin. The problem is the reinforcement plate below trapping moisture and causing the skin to rust through. It’s all got to go.

To be honest, 15 or 30 square inches – it’s all much the same as far as the repair goes – so saving affected metal is a poor choice.”

Nodding, she watched as Al drilled four holes at the corners of the rectangle, then grabbed her camera as he donned protective gloves and picked up a grinder with a thin cutting blade.

“Stay out of the spark stream – those will ruin your lens in a millisecond.” he said, and Sterling nodded.

Sparks flew as the grinder was applied and the holes joined one to the other by cut lines. The affected piece fell out, leaving a clean opening with rounded corners.

“Neat – why the corner rounds?”

“Stress risers – a corner transition makes it difficult to eliminate them. The rounding leads to a smoother transition and that’s important here.”

“Why?”

Al lifted the end of the seatbelt. “This needs to take a strain of 3000 pounds to be as good as it was when new – and the rounded corners means I worry less. Again, it takes little more time.”

“Now, for some CAD design!” he said, dropping the seatbelt and heading for his cart.

“Computer Aided Design?” While Sterling knew him to be a master of that and many other technologies, she didn’t see the equipment here for it.

Al chuckled. “No, dear – Cardboard Aided Design!” He took a square of mat board from the cart and roughly trimmed it with a pair of shears, then offered it up to the underside of the opening and traced it with a marker.

“This gives us the patch – and a bit of work with the shears will finish it.” Trimming just outside the line he then laid the cardboard down on a sheet of metal and traced it. A bit of work with a power shear then had the metal cut to size, and some judicious hammering rendered the curve.

Held in the opening with magnets and curve checked, Al grunted with satisfaction. “Now the fun begins. Please be VERY careful of your eyes. Do not look at the arc without a shield, and be very careful how you aim your camera. I’d be much happier if you mounted it rigidly and focused it, then set it clicking as needed.”

“Warhorse, you worry too much.” Sterling, while not dismissive, was feeling a little too coddled. I’m not stupid, and I know what an arc can do.

“None the less, I have no intention of hauling you to the hospital at 3:AM when you’re screaming with the pain of a flashburn – and no I do NOT mean that irritating cousin of yours. Please be careful.”

And with that, he began. Tacking the piece at multiple spots, the then stitch-welded it into place – a few centimeters here, a few there, a few round the other side, more on the fourth, then back again to the beginning. Within a few minutes it was done – the piece was in and solid as it had ever been.

“Now for the reinforcement.” He reached to the cart and extracted a heavier steel plate, curved like the first and approximately four inches square. The center of it contained a threaded fitting, welded to the back of the plate.

“Fancy. New reinforcement?”

“Yes. Easier to make it in the shop – I emailed Mr. Stratton to get his lazy duff out of his chair and make two. Now, we fit this.”

Taking the carpet covering for the wheel well, Al laid it in place, marking from it the opening where the fitting should go. Drilling a hole, Al bolted the plate on the underside of the well after cleaning it and painting both the reinforcement and the well with rustproofing compound. Then the plate was welded into place in the same slow, careful fashion to create a watertight bond.

All this time Sterling was circling, snapping a picture here and one there. Some with the fiery arcs of the welder, others with the careful, patient hands of the craftsman and his craft all were on the details of the work and the almost-sensual affection of a masterful artisan with his craft.

Finally, Al turned on the portable compressor and reached for the linisher. Slowly, patiently the welds were linished back, becoming invisible against the parent metal and the patch.

With a coat of cold galvanizing paint the job was done, awaiting the finish colour that would be sprayed on when dry. Sterling snapped photos of the completed repair.

“Even though it’s going to be under the carpet you ground and filled it – it’s like it was never damaged. Why?”

“So that ten or twenty years from now if anyone removes the carpet they will not wonder at the mechanic who would do such sloppy work – but will wonder at the fact that the original well looks that good.” Al grinned.

“Now, for a cuppa and then onto the other side. I want this all done today – the paint needs to dry before we can refit the fuel tank and the interior. Much as what I’m doing will be the same onto Chapter Eighty-Eight, might I ask you to get on those front floors, treat them and apply the galvanizing primer?”

Sterling snickered. “Oh, Very well…if you insist.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Sun Dec 17, 2017 8:21 am

Chapter 11 – Discussion, Conversation And Revelation.

Over dinner that night (chicken marsala with pilaf and steamed asparagus) Sterling was enthusiastic.

“Olaidh is looking better. The new repairs and the painted floors make her look nearly new inside.” She sobered, then looked at Al, still wearing his chef’s coat. “I’m sorry I was so negative last night. The exhaustion, and the dreams…just let me say I’m sorry.” She touched the old man’s sleeve in a half-faltering gesture, trying to make him understand.

“Eat your dinner. I am NOT going to accept your apology, because the factors that caused the negativity are why I’m here. In short, stop apologizing for being you, and for being tired and down. You need a holiday, which is exactly where you’re going after we get Olaidh and that tin box up on their feet and usable again.”

She looked at him, smiled and began to eat. “All in all, though, I’m pleased with the progress and with the look of the refurbished components. Whose idea was the red paint on the brake calipers? That’s sexy – it will look fantastic peeping through the wheel cutouts.”

Al grinned and signaled for a moment as he chewed and swallowed. “For that you can thank that oversized parakeet in my employ, with the assistance of Smokey. When they went to rebuild the calipers she sandblasted them, and then decided they looked SO naked that way. They then got masked off and the halves sent off to the paint booth, where they got that red coat and the outlining, and then clear coat. “

“I’ll have to do something nice for her. I assume all the components are ready to install?”

“Yes. All’s right with the components there. We’ll need to remount the hubs (they’re all prepared), set the bearing preloads, then get the calipers on and bled up. The lines look fine so no need to change the steel. That will get Olaidh back on her feet as soon as we get the tyres. What happened there?”

Sterling grimaced. “A glitch – no not that one!” she said as Al started laughing. “Turned out one of the tyres was defective – had a big blister in the sidewall that was not caught at the factory. Tyre shop saw it but had no replacement – they will today and will drop them by. They even cancelled the payment for the pick-up and delivery over it – nice of them.”

“And this is what dealing with a competent local shop will do for you – they look at you as a customer rather than a number and want to sell you your next ten sets of tyres. What about the petrol tank?”

This time it was Sterling’s turn to finish then speak. “Should be ready tomorrow as well – no phone calls or panic attacks, so all should be well there.”

“Wonderful. Wheels on, tank in, then we can finish the tune-up and get on the electrical work once we start her.”

“If we can start her. The electrical gremlins are nasty. I used to get a spin-no-crank problem fairly often – she’d spin and not start, then trying a half-dozen times would get her to light off but sputter, then run.”

Al pursed his lips and thought. “Sounds like the fuel pump or the relay. Have you ever replaced her fuel pump?”

“No, not that I remember. Not sure Da ever did either.”

“Tomorrow when you go to pick up the fuel tank stop at the auto-parts store. I’ll give you a part number for a Chevrolet pump cartridge – it’s a direct drop-in for the pump in the RRC module. Simple and cheap. We’ll shoot the relay as well – a fiver makes it a no-brainer. Opinion?”

“Sounds wonderful.”

Dinner had disappeared with surprising speed given the amount of talk going on during it. Plates cleared and stacked in the dishwasher Al brought out a pot of tea and the two sat again, this time with their lists and notes.

“So, once the paint work is done – we need to go back out and spray the second coat on the floors and repaired areas – we are ready to install the interior and the re-covered matting. How far off are we on those?”

“Not bad. The mats are clean – what possessed Land-Rover to use SPONGE CARPET UNDERLAYMENT under the mats?”

“Cheap and cheerful, I suspect. The neoprene you’re fitting won’t absorb water like the cheap underlayment did. Good, then.”

Over tea they discussed the punch list for the car. Finally, mugs empty, Al stood and stretched.

“Feel up to an extra hour? Thinking while I spray out the green and black on the body you might have at relining the mats. After I get done I could help as well.”

Sterling looked at the old man. While still his rubicund self, she detected a bit of a sag to the shoulders, and his aura even with controlling was a bit dark. Warhorse is not pacing himself. I need to play Mum, it seems.

“Warhorse, I agree on the paint, but I for one am tired. We should get the paint on so we can work tomorrow, but other than that I’m tired.” She stood and stretched, arching her back to pop the knots working bent over had inflicted on her.

Al nodded. “I concede. It seems I need to spend less time behind my desk – I haven’t the energy level you have.” She nodded sagely, thinking to herself SCORE!. Leaving the tea things they left the kitchen and headed for the barn.

After the respraying they adjourned again to the couch in the lounge, over slices of cake accompanied by mugs of strong tea.

“Warhorse, you’re spoiling me. Dinner, dessert, tea. What next – a floor show?”

“Hardly, luv. I am enjoying taking care of someone – it’s a novelty of late, given the sheer number of people around me that spoil me. Daisy loves me dearly, Rosalita sees I never lack for biccies and Bewley’s, and Edward is the ideal gentleman – always attentive. I can’t even spoil myself unless I make an issue of it and go off and just do things.”

“Please tell me that this is not complaining. I would hate to have to hit you in the head for complaining that people love you and take care of you.”

“No, hardly complaining. It’s quite the comprehensive change, though, from what I was used to when I wore stripes on my sleeves. While there were times I lived in quarters and had a steward, there were also times when I was lucky to have a blanket.” Too late, Al realized he’d made a mistake – this was not a subject for a quiet evening before sleep.

Before he could change the subject, Sterling spoke, her voice distant. “The heat. Being in the sun, in the heat, wearing full gear. It baked your brain after a while, and your edge faded the longer you were out. Even when you were not out on patrol or on duty, you could never get comfortable.

We were lucky – my team and I. A lot of the equipment we worked with was unsuited to the local conditions, and this meant we had portable cooling and filtering equipment to deal with the dust. It was no easier, though, when you left the area. The heat, the smell of the dust.”

Al cursed himself. “Sterling, dear. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to revive memories. Please forgive an old man his reminiscences.”

Seemingly not hearing him, she continued, reaching for his hand and gripping it tightly. “The worst was the water. There was none – the whole world looked baked dry and dead under that sun. Nothing green, nothing growing. Just sand and rock, and the endless baking sun in the sky. You could not even get clean properly – water for washing was tightly controlled and showers were short.

‘You cannot know the hell a desert is for a water mage. It was a place that your Gods had abandoned – there was nothing, just rock and sand and death ever present.”

She gripped his hand tighter, and the old man winced slightly.

“I hated it there, but not all my team did. Ruthie was a southwestern girl, and Captain Murphy was a Texas good ol’ boy from up in Harlingen. Both of them were right at home there with the heat and the desert conditions. Ruthie tried to show me the beauty in the land, but there’s not a lot of beauty in a firebase – and going outside it without your squad was a good way to die – or worse, if you’re female.”

Al gently squeezed her hand – there was nothing he could say here to mitigate the things she was remembering.

She stopped for a moment, and her facial expression changed. Al could see her aura slipping downward in colour, growing darker. He squeezed her hand again, not to interrupt, but to show he was there as she was no longer seeing with her physical eyes, but with the eyes of the mind.

“Captain Murphy is the one who died a year ago. He was a big man – we used to kid him about desserts, but he was as hard as a rock – just built that way. Always had time for his people, always a good word, and not a screamer or a martinet. Great leader, and a wonderful man.

No explanation for why he did what he did. One day he just decided that living was too hard and stopped doing it. No one around him knew anything – his family, his friends – no sign. He even had appointments made past that day, and engagements. He never showed one sign of what was in his thoughts.” Sterling sat quietly, mind far away, and Al felt helpless. All he could do was be there, and support her as best he could.

Suddenly, Sterling shook herself, and snapped from the introspective mood back into the present. “So, where do we go next on Olaidh?” she asked, extracting her hand from his.

Oh, so that’s it, is it? Al thought. Tonight is not going to be a restful night for her, methinks.

“Well, we’re proceeding apace. It seems to me that if we’re diligent, tomorrow we can attempt to start her.”

“Great!”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Mon Dec 18, 2017 5:08 am

Chapter 12 – Crisis And Collapse.

AN: This bit is...rough. Be aware. Seen this too many times,and don't recommend this for the sensitive. Make your own judgement.

The next day started less than auspiciously.

Sterling had had a restless night even with Al’s watchful presence. As such he hadn’t had even the amount of sleep he normally got, to his detriment.

After strong coffee and a fryup they went back to work, but the pace slowed a bit. Minor mishaps and slip-ups meant that the braking systems and hubs were slow to come together, and the fuel system as well under Sterling’s care.

Late afternoon it all came together. Olaidh was back on her wheels, brakes bled and functional, and the fuel tank in and primed with five gallons of premium fuel.

Al slipped in the battery, and hooked it up with the existing wiring. Sterling was surprised.

“Warhorse, I thought we were going to change out the mains wiring before we did this.”

Bolting on the lugs Al finished, then turned to Sterling. “While I do want to do that I’m just curious enough to try it as it is.”

“What happened to ‘safety first and don’t do anything late in the day?” Sterling twitted Al, gently reminding him of his rigid safety protocols at RE.

“What happens in South Bend, stays in South Bend. More the point, I’m not suggesting that we leave her wired like this, but more that I want to see what if any initial issues we see. Her engine compartment looks reasonably good barring some crumbling insulation – but those are on items that will not affect a start. Since when are you cautious?” Al twitted back, reminding her of the startup on the Pink Rover.

“I’m not. Let’s try it.”

“Before we do that I need to run the fuel pump on an override. The lines are empty and the fuel rail is likely full of old fuel, as are the injectors. I need to use the override.”

Sterling, expecting some sophisticated device, was endlessly amused when Al extracted a jumper wire with pin ends from his kit. A moment under the dashboard on the right side and the fuel pump started, whining loudly till it purged the air, then settling down to its droning thrum.

Attaching a fuel pressure gauge to the Schrader fitting on the fuel rail, Al nodded. “35 PSI. Perfect. Fuel pressure regulator is working and the replacement pump is happily supplying pressure.” Reaching under the dashboard the jumper was removed from the fuel pump relay and the pump shut down. Another inspection of the gauge showed the pressure holding and bleeding down slowly – a good sign of the condition of the injectors.

“Care to hear Olaidh sing? I don’t recommend running her long till we purge the fluids, but we can at least hear a short tune. We need to build oil pressure first, then we can start her.”

Sterling was enthusiastic. “Yes!”

“Very well, then. Let me get the extinguisher first. Get behind the wheel.”

With a large but tired grin Sterling lifted herself into the driver’s seat.

Al unplugged the distributor HT lead. “Crank it till the oil light goes out.” Diligently Sterling did this, and 30 seconds later the oil light went out. She held it a few seconds more, then shut it down.

Al got the extinguisher and positioned himself on the passenger’s side, visible to the driver’s seat, plugged the HT lead back in, then waved his hand.

“Madame, you may proceed.”

Sterling turned the key and the engine cranked, and cranked, then burst into life. A loud series of BANGs sounded from under the bonnet as the engine ran – After a few seconds the mass airflow sensor was blown off its hose, and the blue and yellow flames of backfiring shot from the plenum opening.
Along with the loud BANGS was a voice bellowing “DOWN! DOWN! DOWN!” Al knew well what it was, yanking the HT lead to kill the engine as he strode around the car.

Sterling was huddled by the wall, head up, scrabbling at her hip for a weapon that was not present with her right hand, left clutched to her arm at the shoulder in a death grip. From the look in her eyes she saw nothing in the garage, the panorama spread before her scenes not visible anywhere but in her own imagination. Knowing well where she was, Al didn’t dare approach lest she attack him physically.

Summoning all the power he had he mustered a mindtalk Command Voice – and hurled “STAFF SERGEANT! ATTEN-SHUN!”

Confused, Sterling stopped trying to draw her weapon but kept her hand clutched to her opposite arm, still seeing nothing, off in a nightmare of her past.

”STAFF SERGEANT DAMNHAIT! ATTEN-SHUN!” Al hated himself, hated what he had to do, but the sooner she returned to the present the better.

The second mental bellow did the job. Confused, shaking her head, she stood and braced, the fog of the nightmare still in her eyes but fading, slowly.

“At ease. Stand easy, Damnhait.”

Sterling sagged, leaning against the car. Al reached in and shut off the key, pocketing it.

“Let’s get you to the house. I think a double Glenmorangie is called for in this instance, and a quiet sit on the couch.” Al wrapped his arm around his friend’s waist, lifting her from the lean on the car and moving toward the house, snapping off the light on the way.

Al sat the nearly-cataleptic Sterling at the kitchen table, and went off to the lounge to fetch her a whisky. As he turned away, she grabbed his wrist and stared up into his face and spoke, urgently.

"No. No booze. I won't fall down a bottle. I can't. Too many depending on me, Sir. Coffee, and keep it coming.” She looked past him and made a pushing motion, hand going back to her shoulder afterward.

“Go take care of the wounded. I’m fine – it’s just a scratch. Patch me up later.”

Al blinked, and looked closer into her eyes. She wasn’t speaking to him – this was another chapter of the flashback caused by the Range Rover’s predetonation. He detached himself, gently, and said, “You got it, soldier.” and moved toward the stove to make coffee for them both.

Fetching the Kenya AA beans from the cupboard and the grinder from its shelf was the work of a minute, and setting the full kettle to heat work of moments more. Preparing the Aeropress with a filter and ground coffee was a minute’s busywork, and all that time the Sergeant-Major studied his friend with intense concern.

Glassy-eyed. Still agitated, but no longer in the moment where she was. Not here, either. Gods, what kind of Tartarus was she in over there?

Soon, the coffee was ready. Al set a mug of hot, black coffee in front of her, and she did nothing until the smell of the savoury brew struck her nose. With that, she took it to her lips and sipped, again and again, heedless of the temperature of the freshly-boiled water.

Al kicked himself – he’d forgotten that fact, and hated to think of the burn she’d inflicted on herself. However, that was a trivial item to heal compared to what he’d seen a few short minutes ago.

She finished the mug, and he took it and refilled it, this time with cream and sugar added. Setting it again in front of her, she picked it up, sipped and recoiled slightly at the sweetness and the cream. This mug disappeared quickly as well, and at that point Al declared a moratorium on further caffeine intake for the slight mage.

Sitting down at the table he looked into her eyes, and saw that the madness had nearly passed. Gently, calmly, he thought-spoke to her, asking ”You still in there, luv?”

Two or three gentle prods later, the rest of the fog cleared and his friend was back. “Yes, I am. I am so sorry you saw that.”

“Minotaur shite.”

Sterling’s eyes widened, then turned down toward the table. He doesn’t understand, after all… Her posture sagged, and she stared into her empty cup. “Al, I am so, so sorry you saw that. I’ll help you get your stuff packed up, and we can revisit-“

“Minotaur. SHIT. How dare you apologize to me for something that is neither your fault nor your crime? Godsdamnit, Sterling – THIS IS WHY I AM HERE. It’s not that sodding Range Rover, or the caravan, or anything else.

“Love, I am here because you hurt – and I am here to help you heal. I was there when you came to Alexander that early morning, and I am here now.

“As I said then, the clock has stopped. It is only now. We have all the time in the world to deal with this.”

Sterling spoke, her voice flat. “There is nothing to deal with. All of that was in the dead past, and there is nothing to do about it.”

“The HELL there isn’t and you are not going to shut me out. Damnit, Damhnait, you’ve carried this inside for how many years? How many times have you suffered the tortures of Hades’ realm? You said you’d tried therapy, and that they just didn’t understand because they hadn’t been there.

“I have been there, and I HAVE seen what you just saw, and done what you just did. A few minutes ago you told me that ‘too many people depended on you.’ You had people under your command?”

Sterling answered dully. “Why does it matter? NONE of it matters, anymore. The dead are dead, and some of the ones that came home are dead as well, and I am left here, with this.” She got up and poured another cup of coffee and sat down again.

“It matters. At first, you held yourself together despite the wounds in your mind, because those people were depending on you. It was hard, and got harder as the images replayed over and over in your mind. You kept holding it together, though – people needed you, and you did your job and took care of them.

“Then, they scabbed over, slowly, but every now and then something happened that tore the scabs away, and the foulness burst forth. You didn’t heal, you just put more bandages over them, but it burst forth again.

“Now, no matter the bandages, the pus is running from those wounds, and you can’t stop it.” Sterling was listening, but in a desultory manner. Al could see her aura, and the depths she was in. With each statement he made that struck home the colours slipped, till the rainbow was a pale set of pastel stripes, barely avoiding grey sameness.

“Sterling, please look at me. Look into my eyes, and know me for what I’m saying.”

She looked up and stared into his eyes, and the Sergeant-Major was shocked – and realized the knife edge he walked at present. One misstep, one slip, one wrong move or over-hard push and he’d lose her. Not now, but he would. Desperate, he pushed down the beginnings of the panic he was feeling, knowing well that the empath across the table would detect it and he would surely lose her then.

Far away, Rosalynd stiffened, sitting at her desk in Alexander House. Al was desperately combatting something – and needed her help. Unbidden, she closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair, sending wave after wave of calm and love to the beleaguered old engineer.

Thank you love. I can do this now. He sent a wave of love back as an acknowledgement and turned back to the problem at hand with a new tranquility.

“Love, the wound is infected. The way to heal a wound, no matter how grievous, is to first clean it. For it to heal the foulness needs to go, then healthy tissue can grow. This gangrene of the spirit needs to be cleaned away.”

Al got up from his chair, and walked to hers. He knelt at her feet, took her hand, and looked up into those beautiful grey eyes. “Love, let me help you clean the wound. Tell me what happened to you. Tell me the things you’ve never told anyone, ever. Tell me – and let me help you heal.”

Suddenly, she threw herself from her chair, flopping next to him on the floor and clung to him desperately. As she did she burst forth in tears, huge sobs, interminably snot-sobbing and drawing in breaths that were desperate gasps.

Together they huddled on the floor in the farm kitchen, sprawled on the linoleum.
Last edited by Just Old Al on Mon Dec 18, 2017 6:57 am, edited 2 times in total.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Mon Dec 18, 2017 5:12 am

Chapter 13 – Calm And Comprehension.

The sun was bright and high by the time Al awoke. Consciousness was slow to return, and came accompanied by a dry mouth, a crick in the neck, aches and pains and the stiffness of having slept sitting up – again. A warm presence lay across his lap and he opened his eyes, glancing downward.

Sleeping peacefully Sterling lay with her head pillowed on the couch arm, shoulders across his leg, face as tranquil as a dozing child’s.

Al smiled, glad to see the tranquility of the morning after the tempest of the evening and night before.

After the breakdown the conversation went till nearly dawn over endless cups of coffee. Sterling, piece by hesitating piece, told him of the battle and its aftermath. Al listened, externally calm but horrified at the battle and its evils even though no stranger to conflict.

After the recounting they spoke long and deeply of the reactions of her squad, and the others involved in the battle. The efforts of the medics concentrated on the dead and wounded, with little attention to the psychological wounds of the physically hale.

The rest of her tour, and the return to civilian life. Trying to take care of the remains of her squad, and their drifting away one by one consumed with their own problems, and her helpless to assist.

Al frowned, remembering the horrors recounted and dealt with, and the slow reassembly of a psyche and return of the talented artist. Shaking his head at her resilience and marveling at the wonderful repair capabilities of the human spirit, he looked at the mantel clock.

10:30! It must have been late indeed when she fell asleep. he thought, vaguely remembering grey light beginning to enter the windows when she finally stilled, exhausted.

Carefully lifting her head and shoulders he slipped out from underneath, pulling the quilt up to her shoulders. She did not stir, still breathing quietly and deep in slumber.

After a quick stop in the bath for a wash and brush, he went to the kitchen. The counter was strewn with the excesses of the night before, coffee stains, empty mugs, cream and sugar containers with a rime of their contents left.

He tidied the kitchen quickly, then primed the Aeropress with a charge of Kona beans from the grinder, then set the kettle to boil. As he did he smiled – the antique coffee grinder, copper kettle and the space-age Aeropress were so typical of his friend.

Coffee brewed, he poured two mugs of it and adulterated them with cream and sugar, then set one on the trunk that served as a coffee table in the lounge. Squatting at her level, he waited till the odour of the coffee performed its magic.

The wakening wasn’t long in happening. A stir, a stretch and the grey eyes opened, filling with consciousness quickly. She looked around and focused on him, and the events of the night before came back into focus.

“Warhorse, I-“

“-Am going to get to the bathroom, freshen up with a shower, and by the time you drag yourself out here I will have prepared us a proper breakfast. Neither of us had dinner last night, and I for one am ravenous.”

“But-“

“But nothing. Neither of us slept well, we both have low blood sugar – and I know what that does to you! – and you need to get cleaned up. Move along, and take that” he indicated the china mug of coffee “with you.”

She smiled, a small smile indeed, and said “Yes, Mother. I’ll go along.” Snagging the mug she left the room, sipping the coffee as she went.

She returned soon after, and Al set a plate at her place at the kitchen table. He set another at his place, took off his chef’s jacket, and sat, cutting into a runny egg and dabbing his toast into it. Following his example Sterling began to eat, speeding up as the hunger overtook her.

Soon the plates were clean, and second cups of coffee had been poured and adulterated. Sterling stared down into her mug, sipped, and returned to staring into her cup. In that position she spoke.

“Warhorse, I never intended to…use you…like I did last night. That was shameful, and evil of me. If you want to leave I’ll help you pack up.” She sat silently.

Al sighed. He’d expected this – the withdrawal after the breakthrough. Well, missy, this is NOT going to happen. I did NOT sit and talk with you to let this stop!

Al sipped his own coffee, pondered a moment, and then answered. “Actually, no. First off, I was not ‘used’, I gladly volunteered to do so. Secondly, the Cerebrus of Hades could not chase me away from you, dear lady.

“Last night you told me things you have never said to anyone before, am I right?”

Sterling nodded.

“As I thought. Now you are ashamed, and you fear that I am repulsed or disgusted by what I heard, so you offered me an honourable out. There is NOTHING I could want less. I am here, and we will talk as you wish and when you wish. There is only Now, and nothing else.”

Sterling nodded again, looking up from her coffee and plate at the old man sitting across from her. “Al, how do you do it?”

“Do what? Look so ruggedly handsome?” He grinned and struck a profile.

She laughed, then sobered. “No, survive day by day. I know what I suffered is likely nothing compared to a career man like yourself.”

Al sighed. Oh, Sterling, if you only knew. “I survive several ways. First off, I had the benefit of doctors far better than those that treated you – they were combat officers as well. Secondly, I had the support of my comrades. That seems to have been sadly lacking in your case.

Now, I have Rosalynd and the bond – this holds me steady, now that I’ve ‘grown young again’.

For you – you have me, and the Sergeant, and your whole family including that reprehensible cousin of yours. All of us care, all of us love you, and none of us wishes to see you fall. We are here for you.” He finished, simply.

She looked hesitant, then said, “Can you teach me how?”

“I already have. It started yesterday at the kitchen table, and the lessons will continue for at least the next twenty years or so. By the time I can no longer teach, you will be ready to teach someone else, and close the circle of life.”

Sterling smiled. “I’d like that.” She reached across the table and took his hand for the simple joy of touching another human being.

They sat this way for a while, sipping their coffee and saying nothing. Finally, Al gently disengaged his hand, flipped back the contents of his mug and said briskly, “While sitting like this all day would make me happy, we have work to be about. I am rather annoyed at Olaidh’s little temper tantrum yesterday, and I am GOING to find out what ails her. Care to come along, or would you prefer to rest further?”

“You are NOT keeping me away! Let’s go see what ails the old beast.”

Al thought a moment, nodded, and said “Let me send an email or two. I suspect that the cause is going to be ignition, and I want to warn Ari and Smokey I am going to be in for a new kit of wires and such. I have a suspicion I know exactly where the problem is.”

With that, he went to his room, changed into his cap and coverall, and sat at the desk. Bringing up his email on the tablet he typed a message.

My dearest Rosalynd,

Undoubtedly you know of the paroxysm that occurred late yesterday. Unfortunately, the Range Rover misfired spectacularly and pushed an already-stressed young woman over the edge into a full-blown PTSD flashback. I knew not then what levels of Hell she was visiting, but knowing from my own experiences I could but imagine.

Every storm blows some good, however, as because of the trauma of the flashback I was able to get her to open up to me and speak of her pain. I convinced her, after some truly frightening discussion, to speak to me. The poor woman broke down completely and we spent a not-inconsiderable amount of time sitting on the kitchen floor with me comforting her.

Speaking of comfort, you have yet again rescued me. My life without you would be nothing – it is only with you that I can be truly complete.

Last evening, when I was on the verge of panic – for I truly thought I was going to lose Sterling to the horrors in her mind – you buoyed me, steadied me, and gave me the clarity I needed to prevail. It was you and ONLY you that allowed me to succeed, and let me save a soul I love dearly from the pits of Hades’ realm.

You are my heart, my soul, and my reason for existence on this sorry planet.

I love you, and count the days until I can return to your bed. However, I still have tasks to complete here, so must simply dream of your charms.

Allan


Sighing, he touched fingers to lips, and touched fingers to the screen over the text of the letter. With that, he pressed Send, and the letter whisked off to his beloved.

In the middle of her day Daisy stopped. A quiet smile crossed her face.

He’s thinking of me. She wrapped her arms around herself, wishing they were his.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Tue Dec 19, 2017 4:58 am

Chapter 14 – Revelations And Repairs.

In the barn the Range Rover hulked, the same as it was the day before. Al regarded it disgustedly – no reason for a properly brought-up machine to behave in such a way.

“So, what made it go nuts?” Sterling asked, cap pushed back over her silver hair.

“One of several things – a hung valve could do it, mis-set ignition wires, crosstalk between ignition wires or a ruptured head gasket between cylinders.

“The first is possible, the last unlikely given the vehicle’s not been driven, and my money is on something in the ignition.”

A jumper lead applied to the starter motor showed smooth cranking, with no changes of speed that would indicate a hung valve. The same test with an ear to the intake showed no hissing or popping – a sign of pressure bleed between cylinders.

“Not mechanical. Ignition it is, then.” Al popped the much-abused airflow sensor back onto the intake and began to inspect the wiring and its positioning.

However, a quick check of the routing of the wires showed no issue, as each was in its proper place and secured to its clips. A defective wire would have caused a miss, not a backfire.

Suspicious, Al removed the cap and with a tactical light peered into the interior. Flicking the light about he inspected the smooth, shining plastic. Grunting, he went to the trash, rummaged in it and came out with the old cap and rotor. Reinstalling them he motioned Sterling to the driver’s seat, tossed her the key and waved a finger in the air.

“Start it.”

With trepidation Sterling turned the key to on, and then to start. The starter motor churned and then the engine lit up – a hesitating, stumbling thrum, but running with no backfiring.

Smiling broadly Sterling let it run for another minute then shut it down, hopping out.

“So, what was it? I saw you swap out the new cap and rotor for the old one, and I’m assuming the problem was there. Why is she running so roughly though?”

Al grunted, satisfied. “The failure was simple – carbon tracking on the inside of the cap. I’ll lay odds when I get that cap back to RE and slice and polish it I’ll see cracks in the plastic. In short, the cap was badly cast and that caused the misfire.”

“Can you take microphotographs?”

“I can – I usually don’t for an issue like this. It’s more of an old man’s curiousity than anything else. Why?”

“Two reasons. First, that would be a beautiful picture if handled the right way. Secondly, I want to see this for myself.” The implicit why of that request was obvious – Sterling had a personal interest in that bit of stupidity.

“Very well – when I slice it and polish I will attempt to take microphotographs – or send it to you for the treatment.”

“AAAaaaand you ignored the second half of my question – why is it running like dog dirt?”

“Pushy mage. I am unsure, but I suspect that the mass airflow sensor took an untoward bit of abuse during the fireworks yesterday. I can attempt to clean it, but we may need to source a spare.”

“So where would that be coming from, eh?”

“I believe RE has one on the shelf, but cleaning first, and a new cap and rotor. While I get on that, why don’t you start refitting the interior save the headliner? That still needs to be recovered.”

“On it.”

Al walked a few paces away as the mage set to work relining matting on the workbench. With a wave of the hand and a muttered incantation a portal opened and he stepped through into the shop area at RE. As the portal closed a bellow sounded from the other side, “Charge more, DAMNIT!” as the portal closed with a snap.

Al sought out his chief mechanic and his second in command, and sat down with them for a conference.

“How’s it going out in Indiana?” Ari asked, knowing what he was up to out there. Smokey merely listened attentively, knowing Al would clue him in on his needs.

“Surprisingly well, actually. The Range Rover had a bit of rot, which was welded up and repainted. The matting is being relined with proper padding, and the interior is going back in as we speak. I made very sure to lay on the whip before I left – Sterling is working feverishly I have no doubt.”

Both chuckled. They knew very well Al’s relationship with the young woman he spoke so casually of, and refrained from the obvious commentary. Al, for his own part said nothing not related to the car – that was best kept between battle comrades and nowhere else.

“I did run into a problem. I lit off the RV8 yesterday and had a horrid case of backfiring. I traced it to a defective cap – the interior was badly carbon-tracked even after a minute’s run. I am not impressed. Ari, please check where that last batch of RV8 ignition parts came from and send it BACK tied to a rocket. Kindly inform the vendor that this ended up costing RE a MAF sensor for said Rover, and Al is NOT pleased. Underline the last, please. As all of our vendors cower in fear of me, this should do it.”

Ari bowed in place at the table, and said “Your wish is my command, Oh High On His Own Brain Chemistry One.” She snickered, and then said “Not a problem. I’ll dig out the stock and send it back. New batch or new brand?”

“New brand unless they’re willing to spot us a few from a new batch to be tested. We can get Cinnamon’s D-90 in here for a tune up and try one out.”

Al turned to Smokey. “And this leads up to you. Can you trot down to the NAPA on 494 and scare me up a cap and rotor for that car – 92 RV8?”

“Sure ‘nuff. Need anything else? I heard ya mention the MAF got cooked.”

“I’ll dig into the stockroom while you’re gone. I believe we have a used MAF for a 14CUX system and if we do I’ll grab that. Oh – while you’re there pick me up three gallons of 85W90, two of animal-safe antifreeze and two gallons of 15W40 Diesel oil, and a Motorcraft FL-1A oil filter. Add an oil drain pan to that, and a plastic bucket with lid and a can of MAF cleaner – you know the stuff.” He handed Smokey his personal credit card and said “Sign as me and initial it. They know you there, and if there’s a problem call me.”

Ari was puzzled. “Al, we have bulk stocks of all of that – why retail?”

Al chuckled. “That is known as plausible deniability. A certain mage is going to come steaming in here under forced draft demanding a detailed cost accounting, and you are going to know exactly nothing other than a few items like the hub overhaul and turning.

I am giving our mage a gift, and she doesn’t know it yet.” He chuckled, then asked, “Anything going on I need to know about?”

Ari spoke up. “No, everything’s pretty routine. Sarge was in yesterday and looking for you. I told him to call you, but he made a remark about ‘dad-burn pointy-hatted witch doctors”, laughed like Hades and said if you had time to call him – nothing important. Other than that the only unexpected work is the Marv Trantor’s MG – blew another set of front-wheel bearings.”

Al turned to Smokey. “Get the hubs off that damned thing and check the bearing mountings for concentricity. If they’re off scrap them – don’t try to turn them. Don’t use suppler parts this time – order in a set of Timkens and use the heavy-duty grease for disc brake systems instead of the specified item.

Stupid git drives like he’s Stirling Moss – one of these days he’s going to kill himself, and by-damn I will NOT have it because the car failed but because his synapses did.” Dismissing Trantor’s MGB from his mind he asked again, “Smokey, can you go and get those items for me? I’ll be here when you return.”

“On mah way. Mind if I buy mahself a new car? Got yer credit card, after all, and one ol’ man looks like ‘nother…”

Al and Ari laughed. Al said, “Get OUT, get the damned parts and get your arse back here with my credit card!”

Smokey left, and seconds later the Diesel thrum of the Walrus was heard as Smokey headed out for the parts. Al left Ari to her work and went off to rummage in the stockroom for the MAF, and to stop for a coffee and a biccy or two.
Last edited by Just Old Al on Tue Dec 19, 2017 3:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Tue Dec 19, 2017 4:59 am

Chapter 15 – Progress And Promises.

By late afternoon Olaidh was transformed. A good portion of her interior had returned, backings replaced and a thorough coat of rustproofing compound applied to the floors and exposed metal surfaces.

The engine compartment had been transformed as well. A new cap and rotor adorned the distributor, and several sections of the wiring harness had been repaired and were brave with new sleeving and connectors.

The high-current wiring had all been replaced, and new battery connectors adorned the twice-normal-thickness cables. This had led to some comments from Sterling, mainly innocently asking Al if he was ‘compensating’ with the choice of primary cabling.

“No, I am not ‘compensating’, and there is a method to my madness. The cables were adequate for England or most places this car was built for, but here in the US Midwest those are a little small for the load of a cold motor on a very cold morning especially given the heavier oil you’ll run in this from now on. If I’m doing it, it will be done RIGHT.

Did you notice the battery?”

“Yes, I did – was going to ask you about it. Fancy military-grade battery with a capacity twice the original. What’s that all about then?”

“Same programme, meduck – as is the alternator still on the electrical cart over there. We’re taking Olaidh from 80 to 120 amps charging capacity and running a proper lead to the main cables for it. You’ll never lack for starting power.”

“All right, why else?”

“Auxiliary line out the caravan wiring harness to charge the battery back there as you drive. Split charger to keep it from dragging down the starting battery.”

“DAMN, Warhorse, you’d almost swear you know what you’re doing. That reminds me – keep track of the man-hours and the spend on this. I am going to owe you a considerable stack of pound notes over this.”

Al didn’t argue – he merely smiled, enigmatically. “Not to worry – I’m keeping it all noted.” Sterling looked at him pointedly, then looked away. Damned old man is up to something – big surprise.

“How are you doing inside?”

“Quite well. Seats are in, carpeting and matting is in. rear sections are in, subwoofer is still OUT – damned thing never worked anyway. Everything that can go in before the headliner is in.”

“Bravo. Park yourself in the driver’s seat and light it up. Let’s see if we’ve tamed the beast.”

Sterling dusted herself carefully off, and climbed into the driver’s seat. A mix of emotions ran across her face, eager anticipation, fear, sadness and anticipation again.

“Are you going to start the bitch or take a kip?” Al yelled, jolting her out of her reverie. Sterling yelled back, “Don’t call my car a bitch! She’s a good girl – just cranky because she’s sat too long!”

“True enough. Turn the damned key!”

She turned the key – and a second later the V8 lit off, singing sweetly. Sterling revved it and it responded perfectly, singing its arpeggio of power under the control of the accelerator pedal.

“Put it in gear and just roll it forward, then back again. Mind the brakes – they’re new.”

She did as instructed, in gear, a touch of the accelerator sent it smoothly forward, then a touch of the brakes stopped it before it reached the door. Reverse, and it did the same, ending up where it had spent so many quiet years.

“Shut it down.”

Sterling did so. The look on her face was one of exhilaration, glee and deep satisfaction. The Empath in Al picked it up as clearly as he could see her joy sparking in her eyes.

“Tomorrow, I fit the alternator and run the new wiring. While I’m doing that you get to strip the headliner and we’ll recover it – it takes two people. That in and finish the fluid changes and we’re done, barring items that fail when we run her.”

“She’s almost there, meduck – one down, one to go!”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Tue Dec 19, 2017 5:04 am

AN: And because you lot have been good while Uncle Al tells the story, an extra chapter...

Chapter 16 – Evil And Exorcism

“Gods, what a stench.” Al looked disgusted.

With the completion of the Rover the attention now turned to its companion – the ancient Week-N-Der caravan. The source of the smell had been removed a week and more ago, but the caravan still reeked of corruption.

“Sterling, I’m not sure if we’ll be able to eliminate this smell. Even after a week the wretched thing pongs like a beached whale.”

Sterling, still safely outside, wrinkled her nose – the smell was evident there as well to a lesser extent. “Not sure what we can do – the smudge will smoke some of it out, but…oh. Oh.”

Sterling chuckled, and after a moment said “Al – humour me. Shield.”

“I always humour you – it’s part of my job description. Why would I want to do that?”

“Trust me – just put up your shield. I know you haven’t been doing it while you’re here – and by the way thank you for the compliment about my arse! – so humor me.”

“Very well – and when a man can’t have a private thought without some eavesdropping mage-“

“Al, shut up and DO it.”

Al stood, quietly closing his eyes, and harvested energies from the land. A moment or two later and he had his shield up, blocking his mind from low-level energy of magic. On opening his eyes he exclaimed. “The smell’s gone! Oh, let me guess – a manifestation of the sluagh that moved in with the wretch?”

“Got it in one, there Warhorse. A normal human wouldn’t have smelled that, but would have been very uneasy. They have no sense the way we do, but they know they exist.”

Al stepped out of the caravan, leaving the door open for airing even though the stench was a psychic rather than a material one. Walking over to Sterling, he remarked, “Filthy creatures. Am I incorrect, or is there a goodly amount of shifting that’s going to need to be done here?” Even with his shield up Sterling could feel his concern.

“Aye. We can try – and frankly should just to give you the practice – but I think that calling in the heavy hitters is where we end up.”

“Very well, then. Have you materials, or should I run back to Alexander?”

“You admired my cutting garden – d’ye think I would have nothing in the cupboard? Indeed – you seem to think I’m as silly as a Sassenach.” She smiled, sweetly, and then burst out laughing.

Al grimaced. “Not all of us have the luxury of a long-established cutting garden. Mine is only a few years in the growing.”

“Oh, Warhorse – dinna take yerself too seriously. I have the makings, and between the two of us we can try the fixings.” Whenever magic was in the offing Sterling’s accent changed – and this time was no exception.

Returning to the house, Sterling went to the larder and reached down several bundles of sweetgrass, sage and fir. Along with it came chippings of palo santo, cedar, myrrh and charcoal bricks, along with a small silver censer.

“Ye still prefer the censer, am I correct?” she asked, nodding to it hanging from its chain.

“Yes, I find it far easier to light the charcoal than I do bundles of grasses.” He said, rather chagrined. Sterling nodded. “Aye, as an Earth Mage ye would be happier working with coal. Ye need to work more with me cousin – he can teach ye better ways to bring fire. However, that at present is neither here nor there –and if ye use the lighter in yer pocket I shall say nothing.”

“Interesting mix here – more Native American than Scottish. Does Fergus know you’re cheating on the family traditions?” Al twitted Sterling gently.

“Aye, he does and approves. This is their lands, or was till the white men made a nuisance of themselves. Because of it, I use the symbols they use. You have a more traditional mix than I, to suit what yer used to.”

Al nodded. “Shall we go then?”

Walking to the shed, they pulled the caravan roughly into the center of the space to give proper access around it. Bending to the earth, both took their fill of the energies of the land, then lit the smudging material of their choices.

Slowly, carefully they saturated every inch of the caravan and its surroundings with blooms of white smoke, focusing intent on the hangers-on and the evil that clung to it like a miasma. Over, under and the cardinal points of the compass, attempting to rebalance the conveyance they worked – to no avail.

Stopping for water and a rest Al said, “It’s no use. You have the necessary – I unfortunately do not. We’re getting nowhere with the wretches.”

Sterling disagreed. “Actually, we have succeeded better than I thought we would have. Some have gone, and the ones clinging on know they have been in a fight. Again.”

Grounding the negative energies and rebalancing, they began again. The ritual, part martial arts, part the power of the mind and part magic was woven again, surrounding the caravan with clouds of sweet-smelling smoke, driving away the evil and the clinging spirits.

Slumping to the floor Al, exhausted, said “No more for the moment, please. I am quite done in.” Sitting next to him Sterling looked little better for wear, tiredness apparent on her face as well.

“Sterling, meduck, it seems to me that it’s time to call in the big guns. Fergus may be able to shift the buggers – I think we could too, but I would rather not continue this for two days.”

“Agreed.”

Once inside, Sterling strode to a phone on the wall, causing Al to snicker, until a sharp look silenced it, amusement still alight in his eyes. She quickly dialed the number, then waited as the numbers rotated back...slowly. It rang, then an answer.

"Hey Flash, you busy?"

"Between jobs at the moment."

"Remember that miscreant that was squatting..."

"If he's back, I cannae promise I won't light his arse on fire this time. He-"

"No, not here...not exactly. There is-"

"Sluagh."

"Got it in one. Made quite a pong in the caravan, even with the beastly thing open all week. I need everyone to help with this."

"Got it. Let me get-"

"No. I mean EVERYONE."

"Well, damn. Tear it all down, smudge everything again, start from scratch?"

"Got it in one."

"I take it you want yer Ma here for it, but don't want your Da seeing the condition of Olaidh and the caravan until you can take them in to be fixed, right?”

"Something like that," she said, wincing. "He would likely be as bad on me as Warhorse. You know how he is about English iron..."

"Got it. I'll have him write critiques on the dojang I photographed last week, as well as pick out the best shots that showcase what their strong points are. I don't think they'll mind being critiqued by another Master, especially if it gets them what they need for their ad spots."

"That...that is actually better than I had planned. Perfect. Thanks cuz. Banana Bonkers when ye get here."

"I'll just swing by RE then-"

"I have gotten that already worked out. Smudge now, flirt later ye wretch!"

"That's COLD! I wasna going to flirt with that gorgeous creature there, just grab Ailean and go since he's still not used to drawing before making a portal, this is too important to waste time. I'm no unprincipled slut, I have very clear definitions of levels of importance. It's why I get all the invites I do in my job."

"Sorry. This is making me far jumpier than I like. Haven't been sleeping well either."

"Well damn. I'm off then. See ye soon then, Paintpot."

As sterling hung up the ancient instrument on its cradle, Al chuckled. "I take it that my presence and this project are not at present public knowledge?" Continuing, he added, "Olaidh as she is is nothing to be ashamed of - she's in better shape than any Range Rover it's been my pleasure to see in the past decade."

Sterling snickered, a truly evil chuckle. "Oh, I know well. However, I want this to be an unveiling - and Flash is going to have the pleasure of photographing them when we're done. Until then, however, this is staying under wraps."

"I have to ask - who is 'everyone'?"

"Simple." Sterling ticked off counts on her fingers as she spoke. "Uncle Fergus, the lads, Auntie and Mum. Da is being deliberately left out of this because of the sheer amount of shite he is going to give me when he finds out what we needed to do to get Olaidh back together again."

"Isn't this a bit overkill?" Al looked a bit confused.

"Not so much as you'd think - these buggers do NOT want to go and were attracted by the evil being done. My neglect was a part of it, there was no good there to repel the wretched things. In this case I'd rather go for the sledgehamer than chip them away with a tack hammer."

Al nodded. "How are you going to explain my presence?"

"Also simple - called in to give me an estimate on recommissioning."

Al looked a bit troubled. "I take it they should not know of my...extended presence here?"

Sterling looked angry. "Nae. If you start that with me I am going to kick yer arse." Her Scots accent was back with a vengeance. "You TWIT. No, I am not ashamed at all you've been here. Are you afraid to admit it to Daisy?"

"Well, no, but-"

"But NOTHING. Ye've been no end of help, and I love ye for it. I understand what this has cost you in sleep, trouble and strain, and I can never repay that - but I am NOT sorry or uncomfortable about you - and never will be." Stepping forward she enveloped the old man in a deep hug, both melting into the moment and relaxing.

Separating slightly, Sterling said "Now, get ready. Ye're going to see a tag team match to end all tag team matches - and ye're going to be a part of it. Put on the kettle - they'll be here soon."
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Wed Dec 20, 2017 8:00 am

Chapter 17 – Family Business.

Sterling left Al to his preparations, off to welcome her family. Al lit the fire under a full kettle and prepared two tea pots, along with the Aeropress. Mugs and small plates were set out on the table, and the biscuit tin set in its place of honour at the center. Al smiled to himself – I’m becoming quite the housewife, I am! before returning to the yard.

Within a minute or two portals opened in the yard – one in the blue and gold of Fergus’ powers, one in the mossy greens and browns similar to his own, and one in violent reds and oranges. Damned showoff, there Flash Al thought, amused.

People stepped through – Fergus and Maura from Fergus’ portal, carrying small satchels. Al knew them well – he’d spent time with them in the Highlands, and enjoyed the time immensely. Through the green portal stepped Aurum, quiet, grounded and confident as Earth mages tend to be.

Flashburn, brash as always, strutted through his own portal lugging a bag as loud as his own personality.

Sterling stepped forward, enveloping all of them in hugs and greetings. Looking about, she asked Flashburn, “Where’s Mum?”

“She’ll be along in a minute. Had to get yer Da involved in the photo spread I was using as a diversion, then she’d be along. Here she is, now.”

Another fire-hued portal opened in the yard, and through it stepped a tall, confident woman. Sterling walked over and immediately enveloped her in a hug as the portal behind her closed with a definitive SNAP.

As they parted Fergus addressed himself to Sterling, while flintily eyeing Al. “Ah, the Sassenach. Sterling, have ye no better taste than this – letting a Roman lackey clutter up the place?”

Al responded in the same vein. “I may be cluttering up the place, but at least I’ve not left my conquests lying about baaaaaing and cropping grass.”

Laughing, the two men walked to each other, grasping hands and greeting each other as the friends they’d become.

“Come into the house – I’ve put the kettle on and by now it should be boiled – we can talk over coffee and tea.”

“Hey, Al – when did you get here?” Flashburn asked, amused at Al’s comfort with the domestic arrangements.

“A bit ago – been looking at the caravan to figure out what it needs – and hopefully deal with it without hauling it back to RE.” Al prevaricated loftily, hoping to avoid the subject.

“How bad’s the mess?”

“Nasty. Sterling and I made two passes on it already and put a dent in the sluagh, but scraping those gits off is a bit beyond just us. This is why she called you all in. It seems the combination of evil deeds and evil intent was irresistible to the local hangers-on, and they’ve got themselves thoroughly stuck in.

I’ll let Sterling fill you all in on the details – but that’s going to be a right bugger to clean up.”

Fergus nodded, shifting into work mode. “Aye, ‘tis true enough. That’s an irresistible combination for them – and they’ll not be simple to shift. Good that you tried, but best not to overstrain on such things.”

Aurum, as typical for him, listened intently but said little.

As they headed for the house Sterling caught up, arm in arm with her mother. “Al, this is me Mum Talissa. Not sure if you met while you were training – I know Mum is in and out of Uncle Fergus’ place but not sure if the stars aligned that time.”

Al looked over – Sterling arm in arm with an older, more reassured version of herself. Striking in attitude and vivacity, she exuded an almost frightening level of energy – suitable to her calling as a firemage.

“Ms. Brighton – a pleasure to see you again. Yes, Sterling, we did meet briefly while I was absorbing the knowledge of the craft. Always happy to meet members of Sterling’s clan.”

Talissa snorted, and an expression of near annoyance crossed her face. “And what is this with the ‘Miz Brighton’?” she said, making quotes around the formal name. “Unless ye wish to be referred to as ‘Sir’ or ‘Sergeant-Major’ every time I speak to ye, ye’ll call me Tal, as me friends and family do. Sterling’s told me so much of her adventures with you and your lot that I feel as if I know ye.”

Bowing to the request, Al said, “Then please, Tal – call me Al, as the rest of the clan do.”

“Aye, that I can do, Al. Did I hear something about tea? I could use a cuppa.”

“We certainly do have tea, and I’ve set out the press for coffee as well. Might even scavenge up a biscuit or two if your daughter’s not eaten them all.”

Sterling barked with laughter at the obvious canard, but before she could get up a good retaliation Al had opened the door and was ushering people inside. Once in, they seated themselves at the table, Aurum and Flash scavenging up a kitchen stool and the potato bin for places to sit.

Al bustled about, filling teakettles, making coffee and distributing china as the others chatted. Pouring steeped tea and coffee (and pouring an improbable looking concoction for Flash from the refrigerator) took but a minute or two, then he perched at the counter with a mug of Kona as Sterling began the briefing.

“So what is it has yer knickers in a knot, lass?” Fergus asked after an appreciative sip of his tea. Tal and Maura chuckled, knowing well the love and concern behind that irreverent question.

“My knickers are NOT in a twist – Al will testify to what we’re dealing with here. This may sound silly, Uncle, but I have a very serious problem – and you’ll see it for yourself.”

“Aye, lass – I’m sure ye do. Between you and the dimwitted Sassenach ye’ve a fair bit of power, and if ye didn’t see off the problem ye made a good choice tae call us. Now, stop dithering and tell us.”

They all quieted, looking expectantly at the slim mage sitting at the end of the table. She breathed heavily, sighed, and then began, her voice flat.

“As some of ye know, I had an intruder here for a while. While I finally caught and expelled the bastard, the damage was done. Ailean here has been helping me to bring things back, but there was some serious damage done on the magic as well as the material side.”

“And what would it be, lass? Nothing we can’t deal with, with all this Power here. The lands will provide, and we will heal it.” Fergus was quiet and confident – just what the young woman at the other end of the table needed.

“Aye, ye may not be so confident once ye see the problem.” Sterling smiled, thinly, and continued. “The vermin lived here for a time when he grew bold, and he did so in me caravan – the small one that I used on me book trips.

‘He left it an awful mess in many ways – rotten food, drugs, filth and a psychic stench that has to be experienced to be believed. Along with it – sluagh. MANY sluagh – and powerful ones. Ailean and I made two passes on her this afternoon and barely dented the population.”

Fergus nodded, thinking the problem through as he sipped his tea and chewed a biscuit. Clearing his throat, he spoke, analyzing the problem.

“Aye, I can see the problem. Sluagh are attracted to evil, and evil combined with the personality of a cockroach…aye. The sluagh are fat and happy with the environment, as the hatred and the evil acts just fed them up even more. They’re sitting there shouting ‘Hate me – hate me MORE!” as they absorb the energy of the hatred and grow even fatter and sleeker.”

Fergus turned to Al, leaning against the drainboard and totally absorbed in the proceedings. “This is far different to Clara. In contrast, Clara was a sad girl, bearing her burden because of the young men who died in her, or who didn’t die but suffered. There was no evil intent there, just death, and the healers trying to help.

“This wicked bastard attracted a different breed – these are evil themselves, and the bond is that much harder to shift.” Turning to Sterling, he said, “Ye did well callin’ us all in – and hopefully between us and the Sassenach here we can make a clean sweep of them.” With that, he nodded to Al over at the drainboard and Al nodded back, gravely.

Sitting back, Fergus began to detail the order of combat. “This is going tae be an interestin’ one, nae doot. First off, Tal and I will take the interior, as that’s where the wretch lived. Next-“

“Fergus, you may wish to reconsider that order of battle. The overhead in there is barely six feet, and you are far taller. Sterling and I found it difficult to work together, and while rounder I am shorter than both you and Tal, as is Sterling. Between the two of you you’ll have no room to swing a cat, never mind work effectively.”

Fergus considered the interruption, then shook his head. “Nae, it’s the way it needs tae be. Tal and I are the most powerful, and the sluagh will be thickest inside. ‘Tis a small price to pay for freshening this thing up properly – meanin’ no disrespect.”

Al nodded. He’d raised the point, but trusted Fergus implicitly in matters of the Power.

“With Tal and I inside, Maura and the young ones will work the outside. Harvest energy as ye need and ground often – the lands here are good and well-cared for and will give us what we need.”

Al said nothing, but Sterling’s Empathy picked up the despair at his not being mentioned. She spoke up, “Uncle, what about Al? Ye’ve not mentioned him.”

Fergus smiled with more than a hint of glee. “I’ve no forgotten the Roman lackey. I have a very important position for him – he’s the Watcher.”

Sterling covered her eyes, and both Aurum and Flashburn looked relieved and amused. The older folk said nothing, but there was a distinct undercurrent of both sympathy and amusement.

“And…what is it a Watcher does or is this a sinecure for the Late Emergent?” There was a bit of steel in Al’s voice, as proximity to Sterling for the week he’d been there and the young folk there now reminded him forcefully of his age – and lack of power in comparison.

“Nae, ‘tis no sinecure. Ye’ll be the Watcher – and ‘tis a job that ye’ll regret letting me saddle ye with.” He sat back, sipped a bit more tea and then began the description.

“In the smudging ye’ve done and seen the sluagh and ill were passive, simply sitting there to be sent on. In this case they’ll not be – and ye’ll be the watcher. Some will try and leave to come back again, and ye’ll be the one to deal with them.”

“Deal? I hardly think they’ll be amenable to passing on with bullets from my Webley.”

Fergus snorted. “It will not be necessary to resort to weapons. Smudging will work nicely, especially as you’ll be able to see them.”

“See them? How interesting. And what does a sluagh look like – just asking so I don’t mistake a random Scotsman for one, of course?”

Sterling snorted, nearly projecting tea out of her nose. Flash and Aurum concealed smiles behind glass and cup, and the ladies present merely nodded with ill-concealed smiles.

Fergus, none too pleased at having been scored upon, attempted an answer. “Sluagh are incorporeal, so asking what they look like is like trying to define the shape of smoke. Everyone sees them differently. However, you’ll know one when you see it – it will be obvious. When you see it, smudge it, and step lively before it gets away.”

“Very well, then. So bury them in smoke and intent. Understood.”

“‘Tis nae just one side, either – ye’ll have to step lively around the whole caravan. They’ll not tend to exit up but down to keep contact with the earth, so ye’ll be looking on the ground for them.”

“Understood. If this turns out to be a snipe hunt you miserable sheep-shagger…”

“It’s nae a snipe hunt. Ye’ll be working the hardest of all of us. ‘Twill be good practice.” Before anyone else could respond, Fergus stood and said “Let’s be to it, then. We’ll be needin’ a tea break later, so dinna forget how to heat a kettle, ye Sassenach.”

Al snickered quietly but said nothing else as they all trooped back out of the door and to the shed, picking up their bags as they left. Al and Sterling stayed behind to raid Sterling’s larder for more supplies, the ones they had taken out having been exhausted in the earlier attempts.

Once out there Fergus walked around the caravan, a mixture of emotions overlaying his normally-tranquil features. Sterling, always attentive, asked “That bad is it?”

“Aye. ‘Tis VERY good ye called us in. You and the Sassenach would’a chipped away at this from now till Shrove Tuesday to no avail. It’s going to take all of us.”

Stepping back outside each bowed to the land, and respectfully drew to repletion of the energies they would need. Grounding, centering, each charged to perform the work needed.

Re-entering the dim confines of the shed, Fergus set his burden down on the workbench and pulled out a bundle of heather and other grasses, interlaced with spruce and sage. Each of the others produced for themselves a bundle, each to their own affinities, and prepared. Sterling and Al armed themselves, Al with his censer, Sterling with another bundle of the sweet grasses.

“Begin.”

Each lit their bundle, and the fragrant smoke arose. Fergus and Tal stepped inside the caravan as it rocked alarmingly from the weight. “Move forward unless you want to set it on its arse!” Al yelled, oblivious to the import of the moment.

“Aye, Aye, I hear you! Tal, move it forward.”

“YOU move it forward ye great lump – there’s nae room!”

“Nagging woman – would have had Maura in if I wanted nagging! Get on with it, then!” With that, Al heard the bed frames being flipped up, exposing the spaces below. All of the cabinets were opened, and the vent in the roof, from which fragrant smoke began to pour.

The windows, already cranked open and bare from the discarding of the soft furnishings, also issued smoke. Al could barely imagine the smoky hell in that caravan, with two large people trying to navigate in the dim confines. Heedless to convention he began to chuckle, calling out, “I warned you!”

“Aye, ye did. Now shut it and get to WORK!”

With that, the mood changed. From the confines of the caravan Al heard Fergus’ powerful voice, counterpointed by Talessin’s higher, sweeter tones. The words were in Scots Gaelic, and Al understood them, having been taught them himself.

An droch neach a tha a 'dol timcheall an àite seo
Leigidh mi thu le solas gràis.
Chan eil còir no cumhachd agad an seo,
Mar a bhios sinn a 'seasamh agus gad fhrithealadh gun eagal ort.
Leig às an seo, airson seo tha mi ag ràdh,
Tha do làthaireachd an seo air a shlighe a chall.


{translation:
Evil that lingers round this place
I banish you with the light of grace.
You have no right or power here,
As we stand and face you with no fear.
Be gone from here, for this I say,
Your presence here has lost its sway.}

As the others picked up the chant they wafted smoke over the caravan’s outside from the four cardinal points. As the smoke thickened, Al Saw…a darkness, clinging closely to the structure and obstructing the view of the metal. It looked as though wrapped in a thin, clinging gauze, which rippled like water, turning grey under the influence of the smudging.

At first little happened – the enemy they fought was determined to retain its position and would not easily yield even to the massed talent. However, as the assault continued the clinging black gauze showed its weakness – rents appearing in the surface, only to close. However, the rents grew larger and more frequent, and it was obvious the mages were winning the battle.

As they continued the power expenditure took its toll. One at a time, the mages to the outside dropped away to recharge, ground and reenter the fray. More frequently, each dropped away to rearm with smudging materials, exchanging spent bundles for fresh. In this way they maintained the pressure on the clinging sluagh, abetting the massive Power exerted by Fergus and Tal from the inside.

The mages slowly circled the caravan as did Al, looking for strays as he’d been told to. As he passed the rear side a bit of the darkness dripped to the floor, formed and oozed away from the caravan, making for a darkened corner.

Pouncing, Al began to recite the chant, waving the smouldering censer over the dark stain on the floor.

Like a cloth cleaning ink from glass, the passes of the censer over the darkness erased it. Already weakened by the assault of so much Power, the sluagh faded away under a determined assault.

A few sweeps later it was gone - and Al resumed his prowling – and just in time. Under the pressure and intent of the combined mages the black veil began to lighten, then dissipate in shreds and tears. Most faded away, but more than a few attempted the escape of the first.

Dodging, trotting, swinging the censer, moving from one to the next Al eliminated the strays, reducing the task to one or two smoky sweeps of the censer.

While he’d been dealing with his duties, things had happened. Looking back, Al Saw the caravan surrounded by grids of light – beautiful pure monochrome bars of all of the colours of the assembled mages.

Silver, greens, reds, oranges, quiet browns and blues all shimmered – a magnificent tapestry clothing the humble wheeled box. Above, below and all around, even surrounding the tongue and the wheels to the floor it shimmered, then faded quietly into invisibility.

As it did the rear door slammed open and Fergus emerged, stretching and cursing vilely the confines. Tal followed, also stretching and cursing, but about Fergus not the caravan.

“Fergus, ye WRETCH! Are ye nae a mage but a minotaur? I felt like the shelves in a china shop with you rampaging back and forth in there, bellowing yer chants in me ear!”

“Woman, ye were in my path every step of the ritual. Be glad I was nae a minotaur, else ye’d have been gored a dozen times or more!”

Both subsided, stretching grandly in what must have seemed a palatial space after the confines of the caravan.

Panting, Al walked up to them, extinguishing his censer with a twist of the vents. “Is that it, then?”

Fergus laughed, throwing his arms over Maeve’s and Tal’s shoulders. “Did ye not see the grid? Aye, it’s done and a tougher battle’s nae been fought anywhere. I won’t say it was a near thing, but they did nae go willingly. D’ye still think being a Watcher is a sinecure?”

“No, I certainly do not. As a matter of fact, I nearly missed a few trying to stay ahead.”

“ 'Tis of little import. One or two would nae be an issue, as they’re nearly powerless alone. If we’d let them all go – that would hae been a problem. Now, there’s one more job for ye!”

“And what would that be?” Al asked cautiously. Sweaty, winded and footsore from wholesale sluagh destruction, he dreaded Fergus’ answer.

“Get yer frilly pinafore on, get back to the house and put the kettle on! T’is time to recharge and celebrate with a biscuit and a cuppa – we’ve won!”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Wed Dec 20, 2017 8:01 am

Chapter 18 – Victory And Discussion.

Al laughed, high and free despite his exhaustion. Throwing his arms over Flash and Sterling, he said, “Well if you must I think I can manage another pot or two of tea, and if Tal’s not emptied the tin there’s more biscuits. I’ve not had time to bake.”

Tal shook a tired finger at Al. “Now I see why he insults you, ye wretched Sassenach!” Laughing, Al bowed, then resumed his hold on the two youngsters.

Together they trooped back to the house, leaving behind the shed and its tenant, both now free of the taint of the miscreant and his hangers-on.

Again arranged about the table the assembled mages rested contentedly. Little was said – they knew the job they’d done, and were content to bask in it for the moment.

Al, reveling in being the caregiver for once, boiled the kettle and again made pots of tea. Soon all were sitting, contentedly absorbing the warmth from the tea. Al, of course, perched by the sink drainboard, attentive to the others’ needs.

Conversation was light after this – Sterling catching up on the activities of the clan, and Al mostly listening. Struck by a thought, he turned to Aurum, who as usual said little but listened much.

“Feel up to a walk lad? I want to make sure that the lands are free of taint – and it seems to me that two Earth mages might be better than one for this.”

“A good idea – let’s wait a bit, though – we’ve all had a job done on us by the cleansing of the caravan – so a bit of rest is in order.” Al nodded – he was nowhere near ready to move out. Pouring himself another cuppa he refreshed the cups of those at the table.

Surprised, Fergus spoke up. “Ailean, are you feeling anything or is this merely caution?” While their normal relationship was a bantering one, Fergus had nothing but respect for the powers and perceptions Al showed. The old man had shown some interesting variations on what might have been a normal Emergence – and this interested Fergus intently.

Al pondered, thinking his answer through. “No, I can’t say as I did feel anything out of the ordinary. I just want to make blessedly sure that there IS nothing while all of this talent’s assembled here.”

Fergus nodded. “Very good idea, and perceptive to note you two are the best to see it.”

Al tipped a virtual hat. “Thank you for the compliment. I do try.”

A few minutes later Aurum pushed back his kitchen stool and rose. “Ready?” Al finished his cup, and snagging a biscuit from the tin (a move that elicited laughter from the elders at the table) they left.

“Flash, would you do me the honour of checking up on the smudging materials we left in the shed? Seems to me we’ll be needing them in here in a bit. With Sterling’s permission, I think a refreshing of the wards and the house’s smudge is in order.”

Looking at his father with the ‘OK, what now?’ expression youth excel at, he left the room’ leaving the elders and Sterling at the table.

“What is with yon Sassenach? He’s caring for you like you’re his child and you’ve been ill.”

Sterling pursed her lips, thinking hard. Deciding, she spoke.

“Indeed he has for the past week or so, and it’s because I have been sick. Sick in my heart, sick in my soul – and he’s been helping me with it.” Instantly, Tal sat by her daughter, holding her hand. “What’s wrong, love?” she asked, with the solicitude only a mother can show – and sadly, some cannot.

“It comes from my service time – PTSD. I have spoken to doctors, and it has done little to heal it. It has been very bad for the past year or so, and Al noticed it when I was at Alexander House for a dinner back then. At that time he made me an offer – to help however he could.”

Looking hurt, Tal asked, quietly, “Why couldn’t we help you? I don’t resent Al at all – he’s a gentleman to the core – but why?”

Sterling hugged her mother fiercely, then slowly released her. Holding her arms to Tal’s shoulder she looked her in the eyes and spoke, gently answering the question.

“I know you all love me, and I love all of you. However, it is because of what he is and what *I* am. I am a Marine – a warrior. Al – the Sergeant-Major - is a warrior as well, and he and I share a bond because of it. He is also the kindest, gentlest soul that’s ever walked the planet, now.

There are things he knows about the damage in my soul that none of you ever will – and this is not because I cannot share it with you, but because you would not understand. He, the Sergeant and I share this damage, this taint of the soul that service puts on you. We do not regret it, as we did what we must to protect those who needed it – but it is there. Only another who bears the burden can understand – can help it heal.

Al volunteered to do this. I have subjected him to Hell over this, and he cares nothing for the cost – because he understands. His Lord and Lady have a special place at their table for the ones like him and the Sergeant – those who help others with this burden.”

Tal hugged her daughter fiercely, releasing her only when the gurgling sounds resolved into “too tight…too tight Mum.” Chuckling quietly though her eyes were bright with unshed tears, Tal released her daughter, this time holding her by the shoulders.

“When your healing is done, tell us so we can rejoice in it with you.”

Sterling looked at all three – her mother, beloved aunt and uncle. “Say nothing to him, please. He was so concerned that you’d think horridly of him if you knew he’d been helping me.”

Fergus spoke, gentle in the moment. He clasped Maura’s hand and said “Nothing will he hear from us. I am glad Quentin isnae here, though – he would find this…a bit too tempting.”

“Indeed he would – and he would find a snowball the size of the Arctic sliding down his back if he did.” Maura spoke firmly. “Even as an adult I will nae hear of him being rude like that.”

Sterling chuckled, the emotion of the moment spent. Speaking of Flash, he’ll be back any second. I wonder how the two dirt-grubbers are doing?”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Just Old Al
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Re: Truckin'

Post by Just Old Al » Thu Dec 21, 2017 3:33 am

Chapter 19 – Stewardship And Study.

As they exited the farm kitchen Al struck off in the direction of the road, Aurum following. Though he’d been there a week Al hadn’t gotten familiar with the property – too much work and caring for Sterling atop it. However, he knew in broad strokes what went where, and planned to quarter at least the area near the house and buildings, figuring the miscreant wouldn’t have strayed far to cause damage.

As they walked, Al examined his companion. Young, strong, the curly black hair framing a strong face, he moved with a calm and reassurance that belied his youth.

“I chose to ask you for a reason – and not the one your Da credited me with.” he finally admitted. Aurum chuckled, and asked, casually, “Forgotten your lessons?”

“Sad to admit, to a certain extent. Caring for the lands is nothing I need do at home, given the magical hangers-on that litter the forest there. If I tried to do anything Ialin the dryad would be at me in a heartbeat, furious that I’d not trust her stewardship.”

“You CAN practice, you know, even if you need do it elsewhere. You have to practice, as Athair says, or you’ll lose the edge you need WHEN you need it.” Aurum’s words, serious-sounding, were moderated by the small smile he wore. “I do understand yer not wantin’ to leave home and hearth, though – it sounds a tranquil place.”

“It is. You need to come and visit – spend some time with us as a holiday when you wish. Daisy would love to have you, as would I. However, let us address ourselves to the task at hand. If you could prompt me?”

“Mind-talk?”

“If you prefer – you can show and tell.”

Very well, then. Even in mindtalk, Aurum’s speech retained the gravity and dignity of his spoken voice – a timbre quite beyond his years.

I am here. Walk me though this again, and please don’t tell your father – more comments of the ‘cack-handed khaki-clad twit’ I cannot abide.

Aurum smiled again and remarked Not a word will he hear from me – I heard endless comments about being a ‘daft curly-headed halfling’ when he was teaching me, so understand I do. Focusing again, he spoke slowly, deliberately into Al’s mind.

Open your senses and your heart and for the moment close your eyes. Feel the land beneath your feet – feel its contours, smell the dust, feel the sun shining down. Now feel further – cast your net to the sensations further from you and gather them in.

Feel the water under the ground, pressing up to find its level. Feel and see the roots of the trees, pushing through the dirt. See the littles, the worms, the insects.

Dig deeper – feel the minerals, the iron. Feel the strata of the bedrock. Know the power of the leylines, and feel the paths they run in.

Now, open your eyes.


Al opened his eyes, and remained attuned to the glories under and above the earth.

The land ran with lines – green-gold and pulsing with life. Al knew these to be the leylines – the source of a mage’s power, and the magical lifeblood of the earth. Every mage knew these and relied on them for their Power, but it was the lot of an Earth mage to be able to see them.

“This always amazes me – the sheer breadth of the world. Thank you for helping me with it.”

“Not a problem, though neglect your practice and I WILL tell Athair! Now, let’s walk.”

They strolled, digging deeply with enhanced senses. Out to the road, then along the property boundaries they walked, looking for issues and finding none. Coming to the boundary they turned inward, walking into the second-growth forest on the edge.

Like all vegetation and everything alive the trees and foliage shimmered with the green-gold life of the planet. Even the littles, the insects and the small, dumb life shimmered with the healthy power.

Once in, they detected it – the disturbance Sterling had spoken of. Soon enough they reached an area where the colours became almost lifeless, the shimmering having a dull, ruddy tone rather than its emerald vibrancy. This was the area where the trespasser had attempted to poison the ground, and had nearly succeeded but for the intervention of Sterling and the assistance of Fergus.

The land was, they could see, deeply affected. The usual branching web of leylines was down to a few bare threads, sputtering and guttering like nearly spent candles. The colours of all of the vegetation was dun, a greyish tone rather than the bright emerald. Clearly, the earth was healing as the edges of the patch showed a return, but this would be a long time coming.

The trees were beginning to shake off the effects of the poison in the placid way trees have, but the emptiness of the ground at the spot was saddening. No insects crawled, no littles scampered or made their homes there. Al shuddered, remembering the feel of the territory where the Wendigo had made its home, and Aurum, still connected, was concerned at the emotion, and said so.

A powerful sadness. What was it? Aurum asked, not ungently.

Al answered as he stared at the nearly-lifeless terrain. A few years ago the Sergeant, a salamander and I went up against an abomination - a Wendigo. This was a consumer of all life, down to the smallest insect. It killed for pleasure, and to satiate its unending hunger.

Its territory felt much like this – barren and lifeless. It still haunts me.


Aurum looked at the old man, standing slightly stooped under the burden of memory. Aye. This is not a happy place, but there’s nothing we can do that has nae already been done. Let’s move on.

Methodically they covered the few acres nearest the homestead of the old farm, moving back and forth and staying attuned. Other than the usual life of the land they found nothing. Other than the sad, barren area here was no difficulty – the life of the land was as it should be.

Returning to the house they saw the windows open, and eddies of smoke exiting from them. Aurum smiled and pointed to the house. “Seems Athair’s taken yer braces and belt attitude to its logical conclusion – he’s smudging the house and reinforcing the wards. I expected it.”

“If he hadn’t I’d have asked about it – that was next on my list. Let’s go in.”

Bowing to the earth they grounded the few negative energies they’d collected in their travels and recharged. Doffing their muddied boots in the entrance they returned to the farmhouse.

Al was shocked at the feel of the rooms – the air he’d taken for the normal environment was drastically lightened. He smiled, involuntarily but sincerely, as he realized that Fergus and the others had been busy in their absence.

Sitting down, they waited till the others returned, bearing the tag ends of smudging bundles and an exhausted but satisfied air. They trailed outside to recharge, and then returned a few minutes later.

Fergus, looking insufferably pleased with himself, said to Sterling, “Tomorrow and the days after, you and the Sassenach should take the time to cleanse the rest of the buildings. Nae doot they’re not as bad as the caravan and its shed were, but clearing them all and setting up grids wouldnae go astray.”

Al winced internally, and thought to himself So, there’s been some conversation. Wonder what came of it? “Not a problem – we can do this. I will say, though, that Aurum and I found nowt on the lands other than the blighted spot. Nowt to be done there but let it recover.”

Fergus nodded. “Aye, that was a bad one. It will take time to recover, but recover it will. Life is relentless and does nae let go unless it must. That being said, though. I’m tired and I want me dinner. Sterling, we’ll be taking our leave.”

Sterling went to the big man and wrapped him in a deep hug, rocking slightly in the way folk do when lost to the moment. They released each other and she went to her aunt, doing the same. Aurum and Flashburn each received the same treatment, and the gentle kidding words of loving family were exchanged.

They left, and the CRACK of portals opening was heard from the yard, then the SNAP of the portals closing.

Lastly, Sterling stood with her mother and hugged for the longest time. Then, the pair walked out to the yard, talking quietly.

During all of this Al stood to his spot by the drainboard. He felt alien, an outsider despite the powers they all shared. This is family – and not mine. I will return to my loves, soon.

Surprisingly, Tal returned to the kitchen and came to him. Reaching out, she enveloped the old man in a crushing hug, surprising him with both the intensity of the embrace and the emotion behind it.

“What?-“ Al began to ask, then was embraced again. The hug went on for long seconds, a timeless moment steeped in the heady brew of Tal’s emotions.

Releasing each other, Tal stood back a bit and took Al’s hands. “I know what ye’ve done for the lass – she told us, not that we gave her much of a choice. May your Gods bless you for what you’ve done for her, and take care of her for us.” Giving him no time to speak, she hugged him a last time, then scurried from the room. A CRACK, and a SNAP, and she too was gone.

Sterling came back in, looking tired. “The house feels so much different.” she said listlessly, slouching into her seat at the table among the littered tea things.

“That, meduck, is tranquility. It will do you no end of good. You just sit and steep in it a while. I’ve things to do.” He began to pile the tea things into the sink, and turned on the hot water to do the washing up.

Sterling stood and turned off the water. “That can wait. Let’s just sit a while.” she said, leading the old man to the couch in the lounge. They sat, and Sterling rested her head on the old man’s shoulder, her hand in his.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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