At least at the moment, that was the thing Deryn missed the most about living on solid ground. A simple piece of cheddar on a small cracker that was laid out on the boffin's coffee table. Various decadences and pleasantries like cheddar were only ever given to the middies aboard the Leviathan when there were rations to spare. Looking back on it, there was hardly ever a time where the beastie's need for food was not dire.
Deryn sat and began to drift dangerously into a nostalgic trance before she was quickly snapped back to reality by the sound of chomping. Tazza began munching on what little cheddar was left on her plate. She shooed the beastie and cleaned up the crumbs. That had been close. She almost thought back to the Leviathan. That was all she seemed to do after they had departed here in London. Deryn decided that the best way to distract herself from the airbeast was to focus on the small things that she could never enjoy onboard. Cheese, baths, and a house that wouldn't explode if she lit a match. This life was not so bad.
Dr. Barlow's living room was always neat in case surprise visitors came along, although that rarely ever occurred. It was a small but fervently decorated room with antique furniture and yellow walls. Sketches of finches, pigeons, and lizards were framed on the wall and staircase that led up to the office. The whole house was littered with these drawings. Oddly enough, none of the drawings were of fabricated species. Each specimen was natural. Deryn collected her mess and stood up to face the kitchen when the Lady boffin's gaze stopped her.
"Those refreshments are for the guests, Mr. Sharp" she stated calmly.
"Sorry ma'am, just thought I'd check to see if they were sorted properly."
"I'm glad they pass your inspection" Dr. Barlow said as she walked passed her into the main hall. "But if you recall, I asked you to tend to the animals before they arrived. Once your done, meet us back in here."
"I was actually hoping I could head back home for the night once I finished, ma'am" Deryn said quickly, as if the farther away the boffin was, the more likely she'd decline.
"Please Mr. Sharp, These are not simple Zoological Society patrons. These guests are family and I would very much prefer if you could talk to them about your encounters with your Loris." The boffin waved her hand around lightly while she spoke as if she was being obvious.
So that's what was going on. But Deryn had met Dr. Barlow's husband and parts of his family briefly before, so who were these new guests? If they were interested in the loris, they were likely boffins as well. Perhaps they were Dr. Barlow's family. It then dawned on her that she would need to watch her behavior tonight, because the Darwin's were coming over for dinner. "Barking Spiders," She whispered before she quickly turned and left out the back door and headed for the stables.
"Oie! Come an' get it beasties!" she bellowed in the birdcage as dozens of winged beasties fluttered excitedly. Some flew down to peck at the feed she placed in the feeder, others decided to bide their time. These birds were similar in size to the strafing hawks she used to feed aboard the Leviathan but that is where the similarities ended. Each one had different life-threads sewn into its genetic makeup. Deryn could see a macaw here, a buzzard there, and one bird that opened its beak side-ways. That one would surely make a monkey-luddite shudder.
She finished up and put her gloves down. The stables behind the boffin's house were a smaller, cleaner version of the ones at the London Zoo. But these beasties belonged to Dr. Barlow. Each one was one of her original fabrications and was at the forefront of Darwinist creation. Some were designed for military purposes but most were designed for more peaceful purposes like communication and transportation. They were all kept in her own private stable behind her house, which was on the outskirts of the city just next to the river. A miniature elephantine brushed its trunk on her shoulder as she passed. She rubbed the trunk affectionately.
"Already fed you. Sorry beastie" she sighed. Before she left, she ran over to the cage at the very end of the stable. She knew she had to make it back to the boffin's house before she began to stink of stable-clart, but this beast deserved a visit. She made her way to the cage and greeted the beastie that loomed over her.
"Hello there girl" She smiled. Standing above her in a large cage was a pearly-white lupine-tigeresque. The beast stood a proud nine feet tall and studied her with hypnotic emerald eyes. Gigantic shoulder muscles seemed to take up most of its hide. Her paws seemed larger than normal, almost like a bear's, and her claws remained sheathed inside except for the ones at the back. Each paw had one large claw that protruded out the backside in the opposite direction of the others. Deryn suspected it was meant to act as a vice or even a very sharp thumb in case the beastie wanted to destroy something properly. As terrifying as the concept was, Deryn was not the least bit intimidated by the creature. Its face was bright and almost happy as it gazed down at Deryn. From her first day working in the boffin's animal house, this particular beast seemed to favor her. Its eyes went wide and it nudged its large pink nose to the bars of the cage so that Deryn could reach it. Its eyes closed as she began to rub her hand up and down the beast's snout. Deryn guessed that some of the threads had been altered to make it a quiet beast, otherwise it would be purring like a house cat.
Deryn knew how dangerous it was creating an attachment to a military fabrication, but Dr. Barlow never seemed to mind. She said the beastie was a concept she'd been exploring for the war. It had been designed to be able to cross vast wilderness fast enough to out run a storm walker. Put a few of these in a VIP's house and it could get them across Europe in a fortnight without having to pass any dense cities. Trouble was, no politician was willing to mount the beast. The beast was good enough with people, but riding the saddle was barking uncomfortable, even by a military man's standards. The beast could travel just fine; it was the people who could not make the trip. Dr. Barlow had said it was back to the drawing board but kept the tigeresque for references. Recently, however, the boffin had found a newfound interest in the fluffy white creature and was inspecting it many times a week.
Deryn couldn't quite put her finger on why she was drawn to this particular beast so much. Like the other tigeresques, it was large, striking, and very impressive to look at. But something else drew her to the creature. She imagined climbing up and down the fur on its sides, and wondered what it would feel like to ride it. The idea of the wind in her face again made her long for flying again. Perhaps the most entrancing part of this creature was its expression. It looked at Deryn right in the eyes the first time she saw it. There was a strange yet welcoming leer to them that drew her in.
"I wish the darn boffin would let me take you out again but she's got her family over tonight. So you'd best behave if they come to look at you ok?" she asked. The tigeresque simply laid down and turned its head so she could stroke the back of its ears, which were each the size of tazza. "You're getting lazy beastie" she scolded and turned to leave. The lights were on back at the house and the sun was setting. She began to jog back and shouted back "See you tomorrow girl!" She slowed down before she got to the boffin's door so she could catch her breath. She wanted to leave the most important boffins in the country with a good first impression.