Penny leaned back, plopping herself on a crate against the wall. “So you’re looking for some kind of local technology for your sister?” She flipped a small wrench back and forth between her knuckles. “Well,” she said, pointing at the golem head-casing on the counter, “I’ve got that piece of crap. I’d almost pay you to take it at this point, but I guess it’s not very interesting to you.”
Minkus stood on a box and leaned against the counter that was now at elbow-level. “I was meaning to ask, do you practice golemancy?”
“Practice golemancy? Hell no. I bought that thing off a big-eared, loud-mouthed trader who said it was a real bargain. Real piece of shit is what it is. I’m this close to packing it full of gunpowder and launching it into the sky. That would be gratifying.”
“What were you trying to do?” he asked.
Penny shook her head and shoved the little wrench into her pocket. “Nothing. It doesn’t matter. Your people’s tech is impossible.”
Minkus nodded empathetically. “Yes, it is. Thank my sister and the alchemy that I got through my school.” Blushing and beaming at the same time, he looked at the floor for a moment before returning his attention the head casing and the bits strewn around it. He shifted a few of the sprawled cables around inside the unit and thought for a moment. “If I can remember— I think you pulled the intelligence core. But, then, you left the power cell.” He looked over at her, “Now, I’m no golemancer, but I’m pretty sure intelligence cores need that source of power to work.”
Penny eyed him sourly. “Everyone’s a comedian.”
Minkus made no response.
She looked at him more closely. He was unpresuming, even earnest. Confused, she retracted her sardonic tone. “Yes,” she said. “I understand that the brain needs a power source. I just didn’t use that one. I think it’s damaged; I can’t get it to start.” She pointed to the curtain at the back of the room. “I’ve got the brain hooked up back there to a steam generator that puts out a similar power load, but nothing. It’s just not working.” Her frustration began to rise again. “I’ve tried it at different output levels, and I can’t even get the thing to power on—not that I’d know what powering on looks like. It doesn’t spin, it doesn’t make any sound— it doesn’t do anything. Hell, I’d be satisfied if it started to smoke and lit on fire. That would help with the gunpowder plan.”
Minkus listened as she explained her situation, only then responding. “Well— again, there are people much more qualified than I am. But, if my sister were here— I think she’d say steam wouldn’t work.”
Penny sighed, slumping forward. “Look, I know you’re an asura and all, but power is power, pal. If power is what that brain back there runs on, then where it comes from doesn’t make any difference.”
Minkus thought about that for a second, nodding. “I understand what you’re saying,” he said, reaching for the power cell hanging out of the head casing. He took and rotated the little, stone box in his hand. “But, In this case— I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’re right. There’s something more to this. I just need to remember it.” He squinted hard, tapping his forehead.
Penny was about to rebut, but the asura suddenly looked up at the power cell in his hand again. With one hand, he replaced the box on the counter. With the other, he took up a nearby flathead screwdriver. Gently, he slid its tip into a slit on the small side of the box, and began to turn, revealing a screw cap that had been sitting so flush against the main body of the box that it was almost imperceptible. Penny wasn’t sure what to expect from this little person, but she continued to watch. When he was done, he put the screwdriver down and gripped the edges of the cap between his stumpy forefinger and thumb and proceeded to slide it out with such care that even she grew a little anxious for its safety. Attached to the back side of that cap was a pale, blue crystal, mounted on a four-pronged clamp, wound about with copper wires that connected it to the interior of the box. Minkus pulled it out, raising it to his face, and looked it over for a moment.
“Yes. I remembered!” Smiling, he held out the strange device to Penny. “This. This is what makes this power cell different.”
She looked at him, eyebrow raised. “A rock? You’re saying my steam mechanics are in need of a little, blue rock?”
“Well, no,” Minkus replied, suddenly deflated. “Not just a rock. It’s a power crystal.”
“Oh,” she said. “So, a magic rock?”
“Yes, I suppose,” he said, smiling again. “A magic rock.”
Penny narrowed her eyes and sat for a second, unmoving. Once again she was unsure what to say as she watched the little imp, his eyes alight and his hand still holding the crystal out toward her. If it were anyone else, she’d have taken it as mockery, and she wasn’t entirely sure that wasn’t what this was, but the skewed grin on his round face was too naive to be false. Penny leaned back and rubbed her face with both hands. “OK. I’ll play your game. Explain to me how the little, magic rock beats my steam generator.”
“I wouldn’t say it beats it,” Minkus began. He thought for a moment on how to proceed. “It’s like— oh I know!” He leapt from his box up onto the counter, landing on his rear, with his legs crossed. The dexterity of it surprised her. “You remember our conversation last night about the asura gates?”
“You mean the one where you lost me a bet?”
“Oh yeah.” He slowed his pace. “I’m sorry about that.”
“I’m kidding. You bought the next round. Go on.”
“Oh. Right.” He paused before collecting himself to continue. “So the bet you lost,” he said, winking at her before getting back to his thought. “Do you remember why you lost, why you both lost?”
“Yeah. You said the gates were both technology and magic,” she answered, crossing her arms.
“Yes, that’s right. Technology and magic,” Minkus said, extending and opening each of his hands as he said it. “It’s the Eternal Alchemy: technology and magic aren’t separate things. They’re the same, and both are important. Something may look like just technology, but the magic is important too. Without the magic— well, it doesn’t work.”
Penny was still skeptical, but she followed along, repeating back what she now understood him to be driving at. “So, you’re saying that this power cell is needed because it has magic or something?”
“Yes. That’s it.” The asura’s purple eyes flashed with delight.
She chuckled a little, even though the whole thing sounded ludicrous. “You know, you look like the kids who come in here looking for wind-up toys.”
Minkus smiled all the more.
“OK,” Penny continued, “I’ve got no better ideas, so what the hell. But your theory still requires that we have a working asura power cell, and I can tell you that thing is dead.” She pointed at the crystal. “It put out nothing when I tried it, nothing at all. So what do I do about that, oh great and large golem wizard?”
At this, Minkus’ smile faded away. He pursed his lips and began to think. “I— well, I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never re-energized a crystal before. Others have, but I—” Now looking at the floor instead of Penny, he began to fidget with his ear and bite his lip. He didn’t seem to notice when Penny got up from the crate she’d been sitting on. It was her hand smacking his shoulder that snapped him out of thought.
“Gods, pal. You look like you’re going to pop a vein. I’ll tackle it later.” She pulled the string from her tiny ponytail, letting her hair fall back down to her jawline, and continued, “Besides, I’m supposed to meet a buyer at Hronny’s at—oh gods, it’s sunset.” She made for the back of the shop. “I’m supposed to be there now, and that big bastard looks like he can get mean. That’s not the way I like my norn.”
“Oh, yes. It is late,” Minkus replied, looking out the windows at the front of the shop. The buildings across the street were now tinted a deep red. He hopped down off the counter and picked up the box he’d stood on to put it back where it belonged. “I’ll leave. You can close up and get to your meeting. I’m glad I found your shop, though. I enjoyed talking again!”
“Yeah,” she called, still out of sight. “You’re not that bad.”
The asura turned and started toward the door when Penny came back out, wearing a dark-blue, leather trench coat over her sleeveless white top and dark, leather work pants. She grabbed a haphazardly folded sheet of vellum and a chewed up pencil off the counter and stuffed them in a coat pocket as the two headed to the door.
Locking the door behind them, she glanced down at Minkus. “You know I expect you to come back and finish this lesson, right? While this magic stuff sounds like total centaur shit to me, you are an asura, and I don’t have many of you to talk to.”
Minkus smiled, nodding; Penny smirked; and they went their separate ways.