|Meet Me in the Middle
Author: Vivienne Grainger PM
Affectionately,, Jazz calls his lover "Prowler." How did that name come about? Maybe this way.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Adventure - Prowl & Jazz - Chapters: 2 - Words: 9,144 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 13 - Follows: 5 - Published: 10-30-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7509629
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The US Civil War (1861-1865) was fought as much for economical as for ethical reasons. The abolition of slavery was actually a side issue; what was fought over was the "sovereign right of the state." Was or was not the state entitled to withdraw from the Union (the United States)? Four years and many deaths later, the answer was "No, the individual states are not."
The economic reasons had to do with slaveholding. Anti-abolitionists (supporters of slavery) did not feel that American cotton could compete with that imported from India if it was not produced by slave labor. And of course, a few of them were just sadistic buttheads who enjoyed having the power of life or death over another human being, and refused to give up what they saw as entitlement.
Petroleum ("rock oil" or bitumen) was first exploited in Pennsylvania in 1859. Once distillation began, the gasoline thus derived was treated as an inconveniently explosive waste product, and poured off. Here, it's used for nefarious purposes.
Not mine, not for profit.
THE ARK, 1860
The Autobots had mostly learned English on the sly, by listening to and recording what people said to one another (or occasionally themselves) on their way through the woods around the Ark.
"'Falconer'" is a human name," Bluestreak said. "You could be 'Owler.' It's what they call an agentive suffix put on verb that describes what a human does for money: farmer, thatcher, fisher, hunter, miller, baker - "
"P.R. Owler," interrupted Sideswipe, as that was the only way to get a word in edgewise once Blue's mouth hit cruising speed, and the rec room erupted into laughter.
"All right," Prowl said, a slight smile actually visited his faceplates briefly, before its visa expired and it was deported. "That's me. What about Ironhide?"
"Oh, Ah got one all picked out," said the weapons specialist.
"Let's hear it," said Sideswipe, setting down his empty high-grade cube.
Bluestreak giggled all over himself, and even Sunstreaker grinned.
"What's so funny?" said the ancient mech.
THE NEMESIS, 1860
The Decepticons had mostly avoided learning English. Jazz was a necessary exception, as his duties took him among the humans often, and it wasn't that much trouble to pick up the language,
"Th' English equivalent of yer own name might be 'Stella Bellows,'" Jazz said, to Starscream.
Skywarp, who'd learned the language out of boredom, giggled all over himself, and the Screamer shot him a sharp glare promising worse later. "And what will your name be, Jazz?" he screeched.
"My name sorta translates to a slave word, 'jazz,'" the saboteur said. "I thought I could be 'Jessie,' but I don' know what ta use as a surname."
"We could share one," Starscream said. "We're traveling together as if we were related; surely it wouldn't be that unusual."
Skywarp grinned, and said, "'Jessie Burr Trawn,'" drawling a bit and shifting the accent around so that it came out "Jazz Cyberton."
"Fer th' love o' Primus," Jazz said, and grinned.
BALD MOUNTAIN, NEAR LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY, FALL 1859
"Ah, Colonel," said Aaron Hyde, turning as Will Lennox' carriage drew up.
Kentucky colonels were given that title as a courtesy, to reflect their position as men of substance in the community. William Thurston Lennox, however, had seen action as a West Point alumnus in Colorado and Arizona, where he became a Colonel in circumstances reflecting both a marked absence of courtesy, and the willingness of those opposed to him to take scalps.
This combative route to being a colonel would be shared by his great-grandson, who also shared his name; that "Will Lennox" didn't have to deal with those who would take his scalp, though, only Scorponok. (Who certainly would have approved of the Apache, had they ever met.)
Hyde was a newcomer to Lexington, having arrived by train and settled into a downtown hotel with his traveling companion, whom he introduced as "mah nephew, Mr. Owler," and a very small quantity of luggage. A tall fellow, one might think him thin until shaking hands with him, whereupon the opinion revised itself toward "spare, but very muscular": and once he opened his mouth, the opinion hastily added "straightforward."
No one could place his origin through his vaguely-Southern accent. The best guess was the Sea Islands of Georgia, simply because Kentucky, in 1859, was isolated from that coastal state, so no one in Will's circle knew what the Sea Island accent sounded like.
Hyde's hair had remained ink-black despite other evidences of advancing years, and he was well though soberly dressed, his trousers, wide-lapel jacket, and tie (a handkerchief knotted around his throat) all as black as his hair, his shirt spotlessly white, and his eyes an intense and piercing blue.
"Mr. Hyde! You've made the acquaintance of our mountain, I see," Will said. He pulled his carriage pair to a stop, and jumped down to shake Hyde's outstretched hand. His team, for some reason, was restless, and he took a moment to tie them securely to a tree. He also wondered briefly where Hyde's transport was.
(Hyde's transport was two mountains away, hunkered down into, he hoped, invisibility, among some tall trees.)
Hyde wore gloves, as he always did. Will thought that perhaps he had scarred his hands, but theirs was a slight acquaintance, and he did not need to know the reason for Hyde's peculiar habits.
"Indeed, Colonel Lennox," said the practitioner of peculiar habits. "Ah believe you said there was water, and a tar-well, near the top? May Ah see them?"
"Certainly, sir." Will lead the way down a trail (which would be called "unimproved" if one felt like being polite) at moderate speed, but found that Hyde kept pace with him easily, despite his age. Further, Hyde had the woodsman's knack of going silently, leaving no broken tree limbs behind himself.
"The well is here," Will said, stopping at a beautiful little limestone cliff no more than twenty feet high, over which poured cool, clear water. "Mr. Jackson, further down the mountain, uses this water to distill his bourbon. If you purchase the land, sir, I cannot sell you the water rights; he owns them. He sees no issue if you use the water to create power, however."
"That's all Ah need it for, Colonel. Nothin' would be poured into it." Hyde knelt, and filled a small jar with the water. "May Ah see the tar site?"
"Certainly, sir," said Will, and led the way.
Hyde once more collected a sample, this one slightly larger, of the oozing black stuff, sitting in a slight declivity like some sort of sunken blackhead. He wiped it clean with a few scarlet and orange and brown fallen leaves before labeling it, and putting it away. Then he asked to see more of the mountain, so Will gave him a walking tour to the summit.
In late September, despite the unseasonable warmth, the trees were beginning to turn color, and nuts and berries of all kinds lay heavy at hand. It was beautiful, if you liked that kind of thing; Mr. Hyde did not mention its beauty, and so Colonel Lennox assumed he did not, in fact, like it. He would have been astounded to learn that Mr. Hyde had not even noticed the organic background to their meeting, beyond the convenience of those fallen leaves.
Will suddenly slapped at a pocket, and extracted two envelopes. "I nearly forgot! Susannah would have my head. We're havin' a ball, Mr. Hyde; my wife and I are recently married. Will you and your nephew give us the pleasure of your company?"
Hyde carefully took the envelopes, one addressed to him, one to "Mr. P. R. Owler," and said, "Newly married? My congratulations, Colonel. I'll make every effort ta clear our schedules. Please thank your wife for askin' us."
"It's our pleasure, sir. Your nephew mentioned that you are a notable shot, but said that he himself is not. Will you join me and some friends on a varmint hunt through my lands?"
A SMALL DELL NOT FAR AWAY, CONCURRENTLY
"So that one's the new fella in town?" The speaker lay belly-down on the leaves, binoculars clasped to his eyes.
"Black-haired guy wearin' black, yeah. Lennox has brown hair, wearin' blue today."
The other man twisted the little wheel at the center of the binoculars. "So it's Lennox we gotta take out. T'other guy don't have nothin' to do with it."
"No. Just doin' business with 'im."
"Don't see why we can't just burn another stable," the man said, handing back the binoculars.
"Mighta done fer Peterson, but not Lennox, not with his Army experience. Better to put him beyond reach, th' damn' abolitionist."
"Bullet solves a lotta problems," said the man who often used them for just that purpose. He offered no opinion on the abolition of slavery because, until this job was complete and he got paid, he didn't have one.
NEWPORT NEWS, VIRGINIA, LATER THAT SAME DAY
Stella Bellows gave the cream vellum a disdainful thwack with her long nails, something not seen often in the nineteenth century, and only among the very, very rich. "These organic - I mean, backwater - fools!" she said, her high discordant voice turning heads in the hotel yard. "Who do they think they are?"
"Oh, Stella, do come along," said the smaller woman accompanying her, in quashing accents.
They said they were cousins, a relationship with a lot of latitude; the two women bore each other no resemblance beyond having eyes of an odd brown, nearly red. The first speaker was tall and beautiful, though her face also spoke of both intelligence and bad temper. The smaller one, though merely comely, was very graceful. She seemed to greet every new person and fresh experience with a smile and the willingness to be amused, which more than compensated for being, as it was then put, "cast into the shade" by her cousin's greater beauty.
Both of them were dressed in the highest of fashion for 1859: complicated and voluminous silk gowns with wide sleeves to balance the famous "hoop skirt," the crinoline, and its frame. Both wore very deep-poked bonnets, and cotton gloves in the summer heat, to protect their complexions from the sun.
The smaller one was clad all in black, with a few white accents: which eccentricity she excused by saying she did not yet feel able to give up her mourning. She never specified for whom she wore the weeds, though she introduced herself as "Jessie Burr Trawn," a name which implied that she either was or had been married.
The taller wore garments mostly of ivory, with red and blue accents, which emphasized her height. She liked a shiny surface; no slubbed silk or unpolished cotton for her. The shorter woman was just as well-groomed, but lacked the other's insistence on calling attention to herself.
The major-domo handed each lady up into the carriage, received the thanks of the smaller one, and was ignored by the taller. He shut the door after them, then waved to the driver.
Odd they weren't travelin' with maids or a baggage carriage, he thought, and then forgot about them entirely as the mail coach rolled in.
The women's coach rattled and bounced over the roads of Virginia, the driver having trouble controlling his team, for some reason. Each team was worked for twenty-five to fifty miles, depending on the road, then changed; oddly enough, every team seemed spooky.
The driver didn't mind. It shortened his journey, if it made it more difficult, and left him free to accept fares back to Virginia that much sooner.
They had an overnight stop just inside the state of Kentucky, and the passengers dismounted, to "refresh themselves," in the euphemism of the time. Stella said to Jessie, as they went to the privy, "What in the world do these beings do in here? It smells like concentrated exhaust!"
Jessie, not wishful of a lengthy lecture on organic disgustingness, said only, "I don't know either, but I do know they all visit pretty regular."
When his timer binged, both emerged, and went into the inn.
They ordered a dinner served in their rooms, and the next morning resumed bouncing and bucketing over the roads of Kentucky. Stella said snappishly, "I really don't see why we must arrive in this backwater Lexington this way! I could take you, and we could be there in moments!"
"This way," said the smaller, not rising to the bait of her "cousin's" tone, "we've got a hist'ry, just like we laid down in Newport News, an' that only took three planetary cycles. We come into town in an unremarkable way, we take rooms at th' hotel, an' we'll meet th' locals at this dinner an' dance we're invited to through that person I met in Virginia. There's nothin' surprisin' about us. We can look around, an' we'll have some idea what we're dealin' with here."
"This is ridiculous! The lack of technology alone — !"
"I'll do it by myself if you wanna go back," said Jessie.
Stella shot her a vicious glare, which seemed to do nothing at all to disconcert Jessie. "No, I can't, and you know that. It's been decided that it's 'important.'" Her voice curdled on the word.
LATER THAT DAY
Aaron Hyde returned to the hotel suite he and his nephew rented. He locked the door behind him, and said, taking off his gloves, "We got invitations to a local party. Oh, and I been invited to go shootin'."
"Oh?" said P. R. Owler, transcribing marks from one map to another; the map showed the locations of all known and a few unknown oil seeps, places where petroleum made its way safely to the surface of the earth. "I suppose it would be wise for us to attend. When and what, or at whom, are you shooting?"
Owler was smaller than Aaron, and gave the impression of great precision coupled with a tightly-coiled watchfulness. He too dressed in black; unusually, he wore a black shirt as well.
"Varmints, tomorrow, with a shotgun," said Hyde, with a grin. "They wanted me to ride a horse while I was doin' that, but I said I gotta bad knee. So me an' the Colonel, that Lennox fella, an' another man, we're gonna get th' hounds out, and go on foot to get us some varmints."
"What," said Mr. Owler, "is a 'hound'? And what's a 'varmint'?"
"A varmint's a pest. Somethin' that eats crops or livestock. Like a Decepticon."
P. R. Owler might nearly have smiled. "Like turbofoxes."
"Exactly like that. They even call some of 'em foxes. A 'hound' is an organic hunter th' humans keep. Works by scent, just like our Hound." Aaron Hyde's voice had become more Southern than it was when he spoke to Colonel Lennox. "We can use th' party ta find out what use, if any, th' locals put th' stuff we're after to. Better if they got no use for it, o'course." Aaron handed Owler his invitation, and the younger man looked at it thoughtfully, then slit the envelope.
"It's a dinner," he said, "and a dance."
"We don't haveta dance. I'll say I'm too old, and you can start limpin' now t'give yerself an excuse. – As fer th' dinner, I'll put a note in with our acceptance sayin' we're travelin' that day, and can't get there in time for th' meal. These folk're sure weird about refuelin' with each other."
"You don't need to decline on my account," said Owler. "I've got the mods to manage that."
"Oh? Why don't you go to 'em both, then, an' I'll show up fer th' dance. You can get a good deal o' information outta th' table talk."
"Very well. Do you want me to deliver our acceptance? I'll be taking the samples past the Lennox property tomorrow."
"Sure," said Aaron Hyde, sat down, and began to compose an acceptance for the dance which encompassed a refusal of the dinner.
Conversation, when electronic means of communication are available, is both clumsy and inaccurate. But human beings talked to one another, and the two did not wish to draw any undue attention to themselves.
Even so, their Hound's name, spoken in Cybertronian, had come out as a metallic screech, coupled with a click. Fortunately, no humans seemed to notice.
WOODS NEAR THE COOMBS, TWO DAYS LATER
Aaron Hyde liked guns. These were somewhat more primitive than even the first he had learned to shoot, several hundreds of millennia ago. Still, the muzzle spat fire and the recoil kicked his shoulder, and when that happened, he felt a surge of joy.
"Karra-baroom!" sang the gun, and hundreds of little lead pellets went more or less where he intended them to; these being unrifled guns, the operative phrase was "more or less." In addition, being handmade, each primitive weapon had its own characteristics, its own oddness; with this one, loaned him by the Kentucky colonel who was not Colonel Lennox, the pellets went slightly left of where the sight said they would. Colonel Lennox' weapon threw a little high and right, he'd told Hyde.
Well, a little. Compared to Hyde's usual weaponry, the things were probably accurate at a range of no more than five feet, but they compensated with a spreading pattern of small lead balls that inflicted quite a lot of damage.
His servant for the day raced out and picked up the dead thing, bringing it back with a wide grin (his own, not the quarry's). Hyde flipped him a local coin, the youngling caught it, said, "Thank you, sir!" and reloaded the weapon, waiting for him to shoot again.
Yes, thought Aaron Hyde, moving through the woods upwind of the varmints, silent as a ghost, this was fun.
He had met Mrs. Lennox, and been given a lunch to take with him, as had the Colonels. (Hyde's beater had been happy to eat it for him.) Then they had set off from the house on foot, in search of "varmints."
"Varmints" did not, as Hyde half-expected they might, consist of a single species, but rather several: bright-eyed, noisy gray and red things called "squirrels," which the Colonel said were hard to hit but weren't; "mice" and "rats," resembling tiny vermine (a species from Cybertron that was smaller than the turbofox - he got one of the "rats" with a pistol, and then looked up to see all the others' dropped jaws. Whereupon he thought very fast, grinned, said, "That was a lucky shot!" and everyone relaxed), reddish things that were the "foxes"; something disturbingly like Blaster's symbiont Steeljaw which was called a "cougar" but snarled at them and disappeared far too quickly to get a shot at; and a chittering, impudent creature with a black mask, a ringed tail, and clever little bony hands, called a "racoon." Reminded him of Jazz, his former comrade, for some reason.
Hyde found that he could hit the flying creatures on the wing, as well: two partridges, a pair of doves, a black one called a "crow" that Colonel Lennox said wasn't eaten, but the beater picked up anyway, and a tiny bejeweled thing he had been dared to take a shot at, which dissolved into a shower of iridescent feather-fragments. The tree behind it lost several limbs, and its burden of birds took wing, screaming imprecations.
"What the - what was that?" he'd said to the Lennox species of colonel.
"That was a hummin' bird, sir. I was curious to see if you could hit it."
Hyde had snorted. "With this gun, Colonel, if you aimed at a flea, you'd kill its entire family an' th' elephant it was sittin' on." He couldn't remember where he'd picked up those organic terms, but they seemed about right for the very small thing you shot at, and the very large thing behind it that your shot also made a mess of.
Hyde was always curious to learn about weapons, and watched as his young beater reloaded the gun for him after every shot. Wadding, powder, ball or cartridge; tamp. Hand the gun over, whereupon he needed to sight and fire it.
Inefficient. A very early stage of ballistic weaponry, Hyde realized. And they thought about things very differently here; sulphur and carbon and a salt had relatively low levels of energy to use in giving impetus to the load. Probably because their metallurgical skills couldn't cope with anything better.
They'd learn. Be interestin' to see how much, how fast, in Hyde's opinion.
He could, he realized, begin to hope that this "rock oil" they were assaying would prove to be a source of good energon. He'd like to stay in touch with Colonel Lennox; likeable fella.
Hyde knew he would also purely love to shoot a shotgun, with its expanding load of pellets, in front of a certain airborne enemy's intake, then stand back and watch the fun. Inefficiency and all.
LEXINGTON, DAY BEFORE THE BALL
"Will you look at that," murmured that enemy, stopping in front of a storefront.
The headless dummy in the window sported a lovely dress, a pale green with ivory lace trim, and the paisley shawl draped over one shoulder sported a green that matched it precisely.
Discreet lettering in the bottom of the window proclaimed "Embress."
"Well, scan it," said Jessie Burr Trawn, "an' then let's continue our ramble. I gotta find one too."
Stella Bellows, finished, turned, but they were too late to escape. A small woman, immaculately dressed and with a tape measure draped around her neck, emerged from the shop and bowed to them both. "May I be of assistance?" she said. "The gown would be lovely on Miss."
The dressmaker was looking straight at Stella Bellows, but it was Jessie who replied, "My cousin's need for a ball gown is immediate, Madame Embress. Is this available made-up?"
Madame studied Stella Bellows, and said, "Not, regrettably, in Miss' size. However, I have one in yours."
Stella snapped her fan, scowled, and seethed. Jessie said placidly, "Ah, thank you, Madam, but it appeals to my cousin, and not to me."
Two doors down, at Madame's bitterest rival, Jessie found her own gown. It was in a rather insipid pink, but colors were not a problem.
No, it would be no trouble at all to make the gowns tan, blue, and red for Stella, and black with white accents for Jessie, when next seen in public.
Madame Embress thought of the taller of the two women, lithe and slender enough to really show off her gowns, as "the customer who got away." She never realized what a close escape she had from the terminal experience of attempting to fit a dress to one Miss Stella Bellows.
THE COOMBS, NIGHT OF THE BALL
Susannah Lennox, Will's wife of one month, scanned the great room of the Lennox manse severely, but not even her critical eye could find anything out of place. She moved to the kitchen, a small blond woman who looked remarkably like Sarah Lennox, given the fashions of 1859.
"Minnie?" she said, as she stepped into the huge, hot room, where ovens and spits and a large range were all working, and a roiling mass of cooks, of the spit and pastry and assistant and prep varieties, created a chaos of busy humanity. Like all truly superior head cooks, Minnie herself needed to do very little. She rose from her supervisory chores and curtsied to her mistress, saying, "Ma'am?"
"Things are going well?" Susannah asked, anxiously, fanning herself against the heat.
"Oh, yes ma'am," said Minnie, soothingly. "It's all a-coming along famous."
When Susannah arrived at The Coombs, she had changed very little in the household routines, and made only trifling alterations to the menus. The light hand she used in taking the reins of the household had paid off: the staff were all aware that this party was Susannah's make-or-break as a new-wed hostess, and were just as anxious as she that Susannah, and The Coombs, should succeed.
Even such a staggering social irregularity as elopement was to be forgiven Colonel Lennox' wife, it seemed. No one of substance had declined their invitation, but still, Susannah felt about this party as the later Will Lennox would about his first experience of combat: heart in throat, not scared so much as hyper-alert, and with all available adrenalin hard at work - far too nervous to realize how very tired she was. "The ice cream?"
"Now ma'am, you knows I can't start makin' on that before you-all sets down to eat. But the flavorin's all put together, and it turned out right nice. You stop worryin', ma'am. We won't let you down."
Susannah felt her eyes fill with tears, and blinked them away. "Thank you, Minnie. I shall leave things in your hands, then, and ready myself."
"Yes, ma'am, that's the thing to do," said Minnie, and gave her another curtsy.
"She looks to be in an interestin' way, don't she?" said one of the under cooks, but Minnie snubbed the overture by ignoring it. She did not gossip about her mistress, although she too knew the signs of a pregnancy not long established.
Susannah went through the dining room, also awash with servants, on her way upstairs, and found no fault there, either: the silver was pristine, wines cooling in their ice buckets or standing opened in the butler's pantry, china and crystal immaculate upon a damask tablecloth.
"Ma'am?" said a voice, and Susannah turned to find a housemaid curtsying to her. "Shall I send Leonora to you?"
It was an hour and half to Go Time, the earliest (polite) moment at which she might expect dinner guests. "Yes, please do," Susannah said, and climbed the stairs to her dressing room, off the large bedroom she shared with Will.
Her gown, aired and ironed yesterday, was on a dressmaker's form. Susannah fussed with it for a moment, but it was ready for its last appearance: she was following the custom of wearing her wedding dress once more at the first ball she was hostess to.
She and Will were both firmly pro-abolition; she had invited no anti-abolitionists to dine or dance tonight. Therefore she would not see her dinner become a debate, her ball a brawl, as had happened to other hostesses in Lexington.
She was actually more worried that, having accepted her invitation, the very straitlaced would not attend after all. She and Will had eloped: a rather staggering social irregularity.
Leonora arrived and said, "Ma'am? How was you wantin' to wear your hair tonight?"
All of Susannah's other concerns were swept away by the curling tongs and the spirit lamp, and the chance to sit down for an hour.