[personal profile] hat_writes_stuff
Title: Smells Like Hope Part 3: Epistolary
Author: Almighty Hat
Fandom: Girl Genius
Characters: Agatha Heterodyne, Jorgi, Adam Clay, Lilith Clay, Minsk, Von Pinn, OC citizen of Zumzum (Rurik the postman, who doesn't get named yet)
Word Count: 7,927
Rating: G
Pairing(s): Agatha/Jorgi, background Adam Clay/Lilith Clay
Warnings: Vaguely Victorian social mores about Writing To Boys and associated little white lies, gratuitous italics, accidental irony, something that would be fantastic racism if not for the whole super soldier raiding party thing, a little angst in the fluff, obfuscating stupidity (and failures at same), abandonment issues, and a very oblique reference to child death. I am also playing fast and loose with the timeline.

Author's Notes: With thanks to Para and Lilithqueen for inspiration and gracious permission, and Celaeno for beta-reading. (Sorry I started you reading a fifteen-year-long comic archive!)

All canon characters, situations, and plot elements are property of Studio Foglio; no money is made from this fanwork and no infringement is intended.

Summary: Agatha Clay has excellent penmanship and a turn of phrase honed by being Tarsus Beetle's unpaid secretary. Jorgi is shockingly literate for someone who ran away to join the army when he was fifteen. They are young (relatively), kilometers apart, and desperate to know every stupid little thing about each other. Largely fluff, occasionally deeply ironic.

Previous Part


In the larger cities of Europa, the effects of the Other War and the Long War mostly show in the temperaments of the people; everyone has lost someone, to the revenants, to the Other’s attacks, to the squabbles between surviving ruling houses, to the Wastelands left behind. Ruins are rebuilt, cities fortified, and eventually the only remaining scars are those people carry with them. Between the cities, the Wastelands stretch in swathes of wilderness, field and forest, either untamed or gone feral with bandits, wild constructs, or malfunctioning clanks. Farming communities are supported by Baron Wulfenbach and protected as the vital resources they are. Smaller villages retreat to the Medieval option of high walls and heavy gates, as they cannot count on an army or a Spark to protect them. However, even these villages can count on the protection of the Pax Transylvania if they call for it, granted access to the same system of schools, emergency services, and postal delivery shared by much of Europa in exchange for accepting the Baron’s authority and following his laws.

Zumzum was a very small town, Agatha realized.

It wasn’t a bad place, she didn’t think, but everyone knew everyone and they stood out, here-- Lilith for being tall for a woman, Agatha for her headaches, and Adam for being both mute and the biggest man anyone had ever seen… and all three of them for being newcomers.

But Zumzum needed a blacksmith; their current one was getting too old for heavy work, and his apprentice had gotten killed by a malfunctioning clank outside the town wall, so they were tentatively accepted into the town out of sheer need. Lilith still offered piano lessons, but had few takers. She promised Agatha, “This is temporary. In a year or two, we’ll go somewhere with more opportunities for you.”

“I can always study theory,” Agatha said, “if I can mail-order some books?”

Her parents agreed to that, and Agatha happily took up the chore of walking to Zumzum’s little post office every day, dropping off orders for books (and, as soon as she could, a letter for Jorgi telling him where she was and that he was all right and inviting him, again, to reply) and checking for any incoming mail. They hadn’t even been in town a week when the postmaster commented on it-- “We do deliver, you know, Miss Clay.”

“Oh, but I don’t mind.”

“… You looking out for letters from someone?”

Agatha flushed, wondering if she was that obvious or if ‘oh no I’ll go get the mail!’ was just a common ruse for young women hoping for correspondence their parents wouldn’t like. “Um…”

“From a young man, then.”

“He’s-- a soldier,” Agatha confided, incompletely. “My parents wouldn’t like that, but I’m… I’m trying to bring them around to accepting the concept before I introduce the person, and-- and-- it’s… it’s just letters?” She wasn’t running away with anyone.

“They don’t like soldiers?”

“They don’t trust the Baron.” Plenty of people didn’t trust Baron Wulfenbach, Agatha had learned, but very few to the degree Adam and Lilith distrusted him.

“Well, if he’s bright enough to write you and isn’t trying to get you to run off with him, you could probably do worse than a Wulfenbach soldier,” the postmaster allowed. “They say the Baron looks after his own, and the pay’s enough to support a family.”

“Thank you,” Agatha said, relieved enough to sag against the counter a little.

“But you do the right thing, Miss Clay, and keep working on your parents about it.”

“I will, I promise.” And she did, to a degree-- Agatha hadn’t given up on trying to get Adam and Lilith to tell her why they were so afraid of Baron Wulfenbach. “Is it because of your… after-midnight friends, back in Beetleburg?” she asked them, after dinner.

“Why would you say that?” Lilith asked, so Agatha started to suspect it wasn’t.

“I know you don’t like how many constructs he pulls into his army…”

“Klaus Wulfenbach makes it… dangerous or impossible to tell him no,” Lilith explained, carefully choosing her words. “Constructs can be more vulnerable to that in general. And… with Dr. Beetle’s death, we lost an important source of protection. We knew he wasn’t strong enough to stand against the Baron, but we thought he’d at least send us warning if Wulfenbach were coming to town.”

“… It was a surprise inspection,” Agatha said quietly. “He was early by a matter of weeks.”

About a week and a half after they were properly moved in, while Zumzum was still regarding them as odd-- that nice couple who’d moved out to a quiet town for the sake of their adopted daughter’s debilitating stress headaches-- Agatha received a package of books on clank engineering… and a letter from Castle Wulfenbach. “… Do you mind if I read this here?” she asked the postmaster, who only chuckled and waved her toward one of the wooden benches that passed for a queue. Zumzum was small enough that they weren’t likely to line up more than maybe two at a time.

Dear Miss Agatha,

Your letter found me! It will find me faster if you use the return address on this letter, so they tell me. It’s good to have a place to write to you at last.

I think about you, and I’ve missed you.

Herr Baron was impressed with your report on the electric thing, and complimented your notes. We did have to search your house and I’m sorry about that, but we weren’t looking for you or your parents so much as some explanation about the whole thing with that Doctor Beetle. We didn’t find anything, so your parents don’t have to worry too much, I don’t think. The Baron didn’t ask to read your letter to me, but I did tell him about the way your parents help constructs. They don’t have to trust him, but I think maybe you should know the Baron said he’d probably throw money at people doing that work, if he knew they were doing it. You are all three safe.

I will be very honest with you, and say that the Baron wants to know about it if you tell me anything that might help him figure out the thing with Doctor Beetle. Apparently it was a really sudden change.

But enough about the Baron. Zumzum doesn’t sound too bad-- a little boring inside the walls and maybe a little dangerous for you outside them, but the quiet might be nice for your head. Are the people nicer to you than in Beetleburg? I got that letter you sent from the road where you said you didn’t have many friends there, and I still can’t figure out why that happened. You’re a nice girl, and a kind one, and very brave, so you should have lots of friends.

It’s been so long since I wrote a letter I’m not sure how to do it anymore. I’ve never been so glad my father made me learn to read and write. I can tell you I was worried sick to find your house empty, but the note you left helped a lot. I wish you’d had a better day the day we met, but I also liked the sound of being the only good thing about it. That’s not something a Jäger gets to hear very often, that they were the best part of someone’s day. I owe you a box of sugar frogs or something, because I ate the ones I bought to give when I called on you.

I keep trying to think of more things to write, but I already said that I miss you. I guess that means it’s time to let this thing dry and send it off.


Sincerely,

Jorgi.


Agatha smiled all the way through reading the letter-- it faltered a little at the idea of Jorgi telling the Baron about her parents’ quiet work, but it made sense that a man who passed laws protecting constructs and hired Jägermonsters-- although maybe they preferred to be called Jägers, since that was the term Jorgi had used-- would appreciate other people trying to help constructs, too.

Besides, it sounded like he’d mostly brought it up so he could assure Agatha that she and her parents were safe.

“I suppose all’s well, Miss Clay?” the postmaster asked.

“Oh-- yes. His posting changed, that’s all-- I was a little worried that the return address was different.”

“I can see why, if he’s a soldier. If you can’t stop smiling like that by the time you get home, you might want to unwrap a book and look really excited to start reading it.”

“… Well, I am, so-- um, thank you, I will. And thank you for…” Not telling.

“If a letter from this boy makes you that happy, you really need to talk your parents around,” the postmaster advised, quite correctly.

Agatha tried to turn over how to bring that up as she walked home, Jorgi’s letter tucked in the appendix of her used-but-new-to-her book on gyroscopic balance in bipedal clanks. (The first chapter had been fascinating as she skimmed it; she was looking forward to re-reading it slowly and making notes as she went. The back-and-forth had always seemed to slow or outright prevent her headaches, unlike trying to thoroughly read a whole chapter of anything all at once.) Ultimately, she decided to be direct but incomplete.

“Do you think it would be all right,” she asked, after dinner, “If I wrote a letter to Jorgi?”

Adam and Lilith exchanged a puzzled look, and Lilith asked, “Jorgi?”

… Well, it had been a very eventful day, and Agatha hadn’t brought him up again. “The-- the soldier who got my locket back.” She reached up to touch it, for comfort and reassurance that it was still there, fingers brushing lightly over the intricate ripples of the trilobite. “And saved me from… the explosion.” The explosion that had killed Dr. Beetle, the explosion that had been meant to kill Baron Wulfenbach and his son. She didn’t like thinking about any part of that day except Jorgi.

“Soldiers’ mail frequently gets opened and read before they receive it,” Lilith said, “as a way to catch spies.”

“Maybe you could tell me what I shouldn’t say?” Agatha suggested. “Please. He was the only good thing about that day, and-- I’d like to at least let him know that I’m alive and safe, and… maybe find out if he was the one who found the house empty.” She felt herself blushing and went on, “He… might’ve called.”

“… You never mentioned you asked him to call.”

“I didn’t get the chance,” she said, quietly, “with all the fleeing.”

“A Wulfenbach soldier,” Lilith sighed-- but Adam put a hand on her arm, and between them they held a conversation made of facial expressions and subtle tilts of the head.

“You have our permission to write--” Agatha beamed, and Adam smiled back, though Lilith went on, “but don’t start yet. Adam and I will make you a list of things to avoid bringing up-- or answering, if this Jorgi asks.”

“Thank you!” Agatha hopped up from her seat and hugged her parents, each in turn. “Thank you so much.”

Dear Jorgi,

On the advice of the local postmaster, who seemed to recognize that a young lady walking to the post office every day was probably keeping secrets from her parents, I have asked for my parents’ permission to write to you… and luckily enough received it. They did ask me to avoid certain topics; fortunately you’ve already assured me of my family’s safety in that regard, so I don’t have any need to break that rule.

They did not bring up Dr. Beetle as a topic to avoid, so if they mention anything that seems important instead of confused and sad, I will pass that along. I love my parents very much, but that’s the sort of thing that might be important to all of Europa.

Zumzum is a little dull; there isn’t much to do but help my parents, study on my own, and listen to local gossip, but I’m definitely enjoying studying on my own. I have no teachers I can turn to for help, but I also have no pressure to either get things right or risk my devices falling apart in front of an audience. I’m also free to study whatever I want, as long as I can find a mail-order bookseller who has texts in stock.

I can’t tell if the people in Zumzum are nicer, if it’s that I have fewer headaches in a smaller town (I’ve had fewer upsets, too), or perhaps that the people my age in Beetleburg didn’t have much patience for a friend who gets angry or anxious or, sometimes, just excited, then slumps over sobbing. It always seemed like after a handful of attacks, any new acquaintance would start avoiding me. In Zumzum, I’ve generally been herded to sit down somewhere and given a glass of water as soon as I could hold one. There’s a swineherd’s daughter who says it’s probably just because ‘city people sound impatient with people’s difficulties.’

All things considered, I think I’m delighted your father taught you to read and write. If it’s not too forward, you could give him my thanks for that. And as far as being the best part of a bad day, Jorgi, I was having a fairly good day when your letter arrived, and you were hearing from you was still the high point.

If you’re ever unsure of what to tell me in a letter again, tell me about yourself. I don’t know much about you at all; that you’re a Jäger (is it just Jäger or is it really Jägermonster? I’ve heard both but you only used the first in your letter) and thus, from Mechanicsburg. I know you’re sympathetic, brave, and protective, and very free with a certain sort of compliment. (It’s flustering, but I admit that I like that.) I know your father was, like mine, a blacksmith, and I can guess that he went out of his way to make sure you were educated, so he must’ve hoped for your advancement.

I can’t imagine tiring of hearing about you. Do you have any other family? (I don’t, unless my uncle comes back, but I’m not holding out much hope for that.) How old are you? (I’m eighteen.) Do you have a last name? A favorite story, a favorite color?

Anything you’re willing to write, I’m happy to read.


Most sincerely,

Agatha


“Hoy, Jorgi, vot’s dot?” Minsk asked. “Hyu know eef hyu gets a message, hyu’s supposed to deliver dot ting.”

“Is fine, is not an official ting.” He’d remembered to read Agatha’s latest letter in private-- he should’ve thought to hide it in his jacket before heading back to the Jägerhall. He hurried through the hall without trying to look like he was hurrying “Is from a gurl, dot’s all.”

“Hyu find dot gurl from Beetleburg hyu vas moonink over, or is dis a new vun?”

“Beetleburg gurl,” Jorgi agreed, still trying to get to the relative privacy of his bunk. (Not total privacy, which was why he hadn’t read the letter there, he had bunkmates-- but he had to keep Agatha’s letters somewhere.)

“Vell, dot’s goot she showed op again.” Jorgi nodded at Minsk, got three steps closer to home-free, and then Minsk said, “Vaitsaminute-- hyu ken read?

Jorgi buried his face in one hand-- the one not holding Agatha’s letter-- completely expecting the roar of laughter. Jägers were supposed to be big dumb monsters, all muscle and teeth. Being able to read wasn’t a problem, really, but being caught out at being able to read?

Well, they got a lot of mileage-- a lot of a certain kind of safety-- out of being ‘big dumb monsters.’ It was hard to underestimate a monster smart enough to learn to read. And if you had a couple thousand ‘big dumb monsters,’ you wanted to make damn sure any outsiders thought The One Who Can Read was an outlier, a weirdo who didn’t count.

Dear Agatha,

First off, if you would like me to go back to Miss Agatha, just say, especially if you think your parents would like that better. It’s good you have their permission to write, though. I’d be sneaky if you wanted to be sneaky, but everything is easier when you don’t have to be.

If that swineherd’s daughter is right about city people not being patient, then I’m glad you’re in a small town now. The only city I’ve ever really lived in has been Mechanicsburg, maybe Castle Wulfenbach if it counts as a flying city, but Mechanicsburg was always good at working around things. Do you have medicine for the headaches, or do you just try not to get agitated?

I guess the first thing I ought to tell you about me is that I became a Jäger I think about 170 years ago, so my father has been gone for a while. I also would not pass on your thanks even if he were still around, because he would be so smug about it forever. Forever, Agatha. There were no fun adventure books for children back then, and Poppa was a blacksmith but he wanted to be a philosopher, so the first books he made us read were by Plato. I was fifteen when I ran off to join the Heterodyne army, and I went mostly so I’d never have to read about the politics of non-being as related to platonic reality ever again. I like knowing how to read, I promise that, and I love really like getting letters from you, so keep writing, please.

Most people call us Jägermonsters, but we like being called Jägers better. Sometimes people learn enough about us to call us Jägerkin, which I think would be nice to hear from you, since you asked. When we call ourselves Jägermonsters, we’re usually trying to be scary.

To answer your questions, I had sisters, I don’t have a favorite color or at least I don’t think I do, but I look good in green. I’m not much older than 190, and might be a little younger-- all Jägers lose track of the exact number eventually, so don’t worry about that. There are a lot of Jägers around my age and plenty who are a lot older, but you won’t meet very many Jaegers under a hundred or so, even in the Baron’s army. When I was growing up, last names were jobs or nicknames or noble stuff, and I didn’t do anything big enough to be anybody but ‘Jorgi the smith’s son’ until I started riding with the Jägers, before I was a Jäger. And now I’m the only Jorgi who is also a Jäger, so I’m easy to find without a last name.

What else can I tell you about me? I can fight with a sword and I can figure out most sensible guns, but mostly I’m a brawler. One of the first jobs I had in the army, after I stopped being the kid who cleaned up after the horses, was cooking. My mother got me started cooking because everybody has to eat all the time, but I think this was mostly a way to tell my father that nobody has to philosophize ever without actually hitting him with his books. I’m still pretty good at it-- even regular not-Jäger people say so, even when there’s bugs in the recipe. I had my first real fight in the mess tent, and that was when they decided to train me with a sword instead of just a kitchen knife.

What about you? Are you the sort of girl who likes to hear stories about fighting? I have a lot of those, if you are. That’s most of what being a Jäger is, really. Some of them I guess count as adventure stories or funny-mishap stories-- ask me about the guy who thought he could beat a Heterodyne and a Jäger army with a bunch of squid he messed with until they could fight on land. Those were tasty. What’s your favorite color? Do you have any pets? What kind of stuff are you studying? Do you have a favorite food?

I also want to ask if you might want to see me in person again sometime, but I also think I should find out how you feel about the fighting parts of me being a Jäger first. I know you know I know how to act in a town I’m not sacking, but a lot of the time I am fighting things..


Sincerely,

Jorgi.


Before Agatha really had a chance to sit down and reply to Jorgi’s latest letter-- there were some questions in it that she wanted to think about, instead of just answering as fully, truthfully, and quickly as possible to get Jorgi’s next letter that much faster-- Agatha’s parents received a guest.

He was a biomechanical construct easily Adam’s size, who needed minor medical care (Agatha helped, hands shaking, until a headache crushed her and she had to excuse herself), shelter for a few days, and, through a flurry of letter-writing out of Lilith, help finding a place where the need for his skills outweighed his ragged, not-quite-human-enough appearance.

“… If you’re going to help constructs again,” Agatha started, once their guest had gone, “You won’t be able to keep it a secret long. Not in a town like Zumzum.” Not everyone would be able to climb the wall at night and skip being seen by the gate guards.

“That’s a point,” Lilith admitted, and started going out of her way to make friends with the mayor’s wife.

They still had the resources to provide help, even if it was in a smaller, more remote town, which meant they still had the responsibility to help. It just meant they had to get the town’s understanding before they could safely help out in the open.

Dear Jorgi,

Please do call me Agatha. I apologize for this letter being a little later than usual; my parents received a guest and I wanted to think about a few things before making a reply.

‘Agitated’ is a good word to describe my state before a headache, and yes, for the most part I just try to avoid things that make me angry, frightened, sad, or nervous enough to trigger one. (I do have a higher tolerance for happiness, fortunately.) I don’t have medication; there were a few things I tried for a while, but despite helping with the pain, they didn’t stop the headaches themselves. The pain is over with quickly enough that it doesn’t seem worth the potential side-effects to treat that and nothing else.

You have my sympathies about your early reading lessons! I’m sorry you hated them but glad you can read and write, too. Also, I feel as though I should tell you that the entire story about Plato and your father somehow (and most of the letter following that) came across to me as being told in your Mechanicsburger accent. I was delighted; it was almost like hearing your voice again.

I agree that you look very nice in green, and the uniform I last saw you wearing definitely flatters you. However, bright emerald green is my favorite color, so I might be a little biased.

Your age surprised me (which is one of the things I wanted to think about before replying). I don’t know as much about Jägers as I could, or as I’d now like to know. For one thing, I’m not sure which of the stories I’ve heard are remotely true, and which are scary stories parents tell their children to make them behave, or that children tell each other because children like to be scary. I think I might have heard that Jägers live a long time, but to me you didn’t look like you could be much more than twenty. I also know that Jägers are Heterodyne constructs, but now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, I don’t remember any Jägers in any of the Heterodyne Boys books or shows, despite the Boys traveling with any number of constructs and colorful characters. (For some reason my parents really hate Heterodyne Shows. I’ve always liked them, mostly because it was something I could share with people without getting closed out because of my headaches.)

I don’t know what’s appropriate to ask, or what might cause offense. I’m aware I grew up very sheltered, and I hope you can bear with my ignorance, and possibly even teach me what you’d like me to know. I admit I ask this mostly because I would very much like to see you again in future, and I find it harder (though not impossible!) to put my foot in my mouth in writing. The more I know before the next time I see you, the less likely I am to embarrass either of us.

But to that end, what would be the difference between saying Jäger and Jägerkin?

Lilith gave me the same reason for cooking lessons that your mother gave you; if you want to eat, you should know how to cook (and that the cook doesn’t have to do dishes). If I could live off of one dish for the rest of my life, there’s a little pastry shop near the University Square that sells these absolutely delicious little ginger-apple cakes, beetle-shaped, of course, because you may have noticed that Beetleburgers stick to their theme. (Although I’ve always thought the Mechanicsburg trilobites were prettier.) I don’t have any pets, but I do like cats.

As for what I study, I’ve always been most fascinated by clanks and automata, but growing up in Beetleburg I also find weapons design fascinating. In particular, I’d love to know what you consider a ‘sensible’ gun. Personally, though I’ve never yet needed one and I doubt my ability to build one, I’ve always wanted a small death ray. They seem so practical. I’ve had a general if incomplete course of study at TPU, offset by my more secretarial work for Dr. Beetle (which was paid in the academic grades I couldn’t achieve in the more hands-on classes). As my studies now are self-directed, I’ve been focusing on clank engineering, which I suspect will always be my first love even if I never manage to build a clank that works.

I can’t tell you if I’m the sort of girl who likes stories about fighting; I’ve read some of the Heterodyne Boys books, but they’re not particularly graphic and make everything sound sort of dashing and fun. Why don’t you tell me a few and we’ll find out? But I think I can guess how the land-squid story ends. I’ve never eaten squid, is it tasty?

Jorgi, I knew you were both a Jäger and a soldier within a few seconds of meeting you. I don’t know how I’ll react to very detailed accounts of battlefield violence, but I am aware that fighting and violence are simply part of being a Jäger. Town manners or not, your battlefield instincts (or training? Both?) rescued the only pictures I have of my natural parents and shielded me from an explosion. To a point I hope I never have to see you fighting at full strength, because that would probably mean one or both of us was in some kind of danger, but I’m far less put off by the idea that you do battle than that you might not return from one.


Yours,

Agatha


All of the Jägers employed by the Baron knew by the time Agatha’s third letter from Zumzum arrived that Jorgi had a lady friend. After that third letter, it took about two days for most of Castle Wulfenbach to hear that Jorgi was exchanging letters with a girl, but Jorgi considered his contribution to the rumor mill worth it.

“Hoy dere, Meestress Von Pinn--”

The chief teacher and warden of the Castle Wulfenbach hostage-school rounded on Jorgi with a snarl, claws splayed. “I do not have time to play ridiculous games with ridiculous Jägers,” she growled, and, yes, all right, Jorgi could see why André was as ridiculously determined as he was. (And Von Pinn hadn’t killed André yet, which was a pretty good sign.)

“Hy ken valk und talk so hyu isn’t late,” Jorgi offered, “Hy just gots a qvestion.”

Von Pinn straightened, dropped her snarl (but switched to a suspicious glower), and said in far more level tones, “What is this question?” But she turned and started down the corridor, and Jorgi followed.

“Hokay, dot ting hyu just did, vhere hyu go from ‘rar time to die’ to ‘do tell me vat hyu vants young fellow’-- how hyu do dot?”

“… Are you attempting to learn self-control?” Von Pinn asked, obviously not really believing it.

“Dere’s dis gurl Hy been writing, she’s a sveet gurl, but vhen she gets angry or scared or vateffer, she gets dese headaches dot just… knock her right down, make her cry. Dey go avay, but Hy figure if mebbe she ken get calm before dey start, she von’t haff so many of dem.”

“I had no idea you could read, much less write.”

Jorgi sighed. “Hyu ain’t been in de Jägerhall, Meestress Von Pinn. Hy is schtill gettink de odd ‘ho dot Jorgi, vot a schmott guy!’ und it’s been veeks.

“I do not stop being angry, as such,” Von Pinn said, gliding viciously toward wherever she was going. “Anger is a fuel. I store it, dam it up, and unleash it when I have need of it.”

“… Hokay, Agatha probably von’t need all dot, but… howz hyu do de dammink-up?”

Von Pinn went quiet for a long moment before informing Jorgi, “Long practice borne of nothing I would wish on a ‘sweet girl.’”

For a split second, Jorgi was puzzled-- and then it hit him that Von Pinn had been created as Klaus Barry’s nurse. “Schtupid qvestion, sorry.” Von Pinn inclined her head. “Vell, hy gets out of hyu vay, den, tanks for hyu time.” Jorgi didn’t tip his hat, but he touched the brim respectfully. “Oh-- dot André, he vas sayink he vas going to try to find hyu tonight after lights-out for de leedle keeds. Vateffer hyu vants to do vit dot.”

“Thank you for the information,” Von Pinn said, completely neutral.

Jorgi grinned and dashed off. Time to find someone else to ask.

Dear Agatha,

My letter is a little late, too, I hope you don’t mind. I talked to some people on Castle Wulfenbach-- not Jägers, mostly regular people, and a few constructs, but all people I’ve seen get crazy angry and then just stop. I thought, if I asked them how they do it, I could tell you, and maybe you could stop some of your headaches before they get started.

If you clench your fists when you get angry, open up your hands, stretch them out, and keep them flat for a while. If your shoulders are hunched up, drop them down. Apparently this is because it’s supposed to be easy to fool the stupider parts of the brain into thinking that if you don’t look angry, then you won’t be angry. I am not sure this will work but it might be worth a try.

Distractions are supposed to help, a lot of people told me that, but they all had different distractions, like whistling or counting to ten in six different languages or fiddling with jewelry. One of the people I talked to takes his glasses off and focuses on cleaning them.

One that seems like it might help is breathing slowly and in a certain way. You breathe in slowly through your nose while counting to four in your head, then hold that breath and count to four, then exhale while counting to four. It might just have been that I was running back and forth across the airship all day, but after five or six of those I felt ready for a nap-- and I’m Jägerkin.

One letter after you tell me I flatter you, you flatter right back. You can keep going if you want to-- I like knowing what you like about me. I like knowing what I’ve done right, and can keep doing right.

And it’s good that you want to learn enough about Jägers to know how to do things right, too. This could take a while, a couple of letters, but I want you to know these things. I want you to know what I am, so you can be sure know what you’re getting into. Also, Jägerkin is mostly plural, but it means more of-the-Jägers or Jägers-in-general than more-than-one-Jäger. We’re a brotherhood in a lot of ways.

What everybody knows about Jägerkin that’s actually true is that we were made by the Old Heterodynes, we live a long time and are very hard to kill, and we’re good fighters who love to fight. Older people remember we rode out with the Heterodynes before the Boys, Saturnus and the Heterodynes before him, whenever they wanted to go raiding or pillaging or conquering. Mechanicsburgers, and probably some people in towns near Mechanicsburg might know, or remember, that we all started off human. Every Jäger you ever see used to be a human warrior in the Heterodyne’s army. We were chosen because we were loyal and strong and most of us, I think, because we had something the Heterodyne who made us wanted to keep around. If you know enough Jägers and who made them, you can spot patterns; some Heterodynes wanted smart, some wanted fierce, some wanted sneaky, some just wanted lots.

Every step of becoming Jägerkin is was a choice. The Heterodyne offered, but we could refuse. Some did. Most of us who made the oath and started the process died of it. I can’t tell you why we make the choice. There are around two thousand of us, that’s a lot of whys, and although we call each other ‘brother,’ none of us are alike. But we are sworn to follow and obey the Heterodyne and protect the family for the rest of our long lives.

That’s why we’re not in any Heterodyne Boys books or shows.

Master Bill and Master Barry were (maybe still are) good people. They were heroes, people loved them because they were always helping; they’d ride in, fix everyone’s problems, save a few people, and ride off again, where their poppa or any of the older Heterodynes might’ve conquered the place for a little while and demand tribute before losing interest in ruling anywhere but Mechanicsburg.

We loved the Masters, too, because they were Heterodynes and because they were new. The older Jägers especially were interested in them, because you live long enough and there just aren’t as many new things in life. We would have ridden out with them. They could have asked us to do anything for them. But the Heterodyne Boys hated anything to do with the Old Heterodynes. Not just the Castle and its death traps and the Torchmen and the Doom Bell, but all us Jägerkin, too. We were made for destruction and war. When the Old Heterodynes rode out, they rode out surrounded by Jägerkin; when the Heterodyne Boys rode out, they rode alone, or with friends they picked up along the way. When the Heterodyne Boys decided they did want strong, sturdy, loyal constructs around to protect them and help them fight, they built Punch and Judy.

Now, Punch and Judy were good people we all liked them, and if they’re still alive we’d probably still like them. You’re not going to hear a Jäger say a bad thing about Mister Punch or Mistress Judy. Mister Punch carved toys for orphans in his free time, and Mistress Judy taught a bunch of us Jägers how to knit because she could tell we were bored and thought making something would help. It’s a terrible thing to hold why a construct got made against that construct, so we don’t. But it was still like being told that we could never be what the Masters wanted.

We followed the Heterodyne Boys at first, small groups who were good at stealth, just in case. They were the only living Heterodynes, those two, and we needed them to stay alive. But Master Barry caught us at it, and Master Bill ordered us-- properly, no way to be sneaky and say we were technically following orders-- to stay in Mechanicsburg. Disobeying meant breaking the Jägertroth, throwing away the things that make us Jägerkin instead of toothy, colorful constructs. This, we could not do. So we stayed in Mechanicsburg, as we were ordered.

So when the books and plays leave us out, it’s not because the writers think Jägermonsters are no fun, or have no place in happy adventures. It’s because the Heterodyne Boys didn’t want us.

That was very hard to write. I had to take a break.

A sensible gun is a gun where you point the barrel at the target, squeeze the trigger, and stand a good chance of hitting what you aim at. I’ve helped test a few guns with triggers that are hard to trigger, or aiming systems that are supposed to be improved but require you to wave the gun around like you don’t know how to shoot, or with multi-shot or wide-range barrels that just sort of make a mess of things. Sometimes a fancy sight is okay, but mostly a sensible gun fits in your hand, sights along the barrel, and goes off predictably when you squeeze the trigger, whether it fires death rays or bullets or forks. (The fork gun didn’t kill anything really well, actually, but it was funny as anything to use.)

I think this week I’m all storied out, so I’ll try to think of some good stories to tell you in my next letter.

You’re a wonderful girl to think to ask these things. I miss you.


With affection,

Jorgi.


Agatha was grateful she’d carefully read the calming methods Jorgi had chased down for her, and idly practiced the easier ones before reading the main body of his letter. She was also grateful she’d waited until she was in her bedroom to read it.

She had three separate attacks on her first, fragmented read-through, and blamed the Heterodyne boys for each and every one.

How could they do a thing like that-- abandon people, people who loved them, who were honor and duty bound to serve them, people who chose them, or at least chose their family? Agatha’s heart broke for Jorgi, and by extension the two thousand other Jägers who had all gone through the same thing. She wasn’t sure how they’d managed to work around their oaths to sign on with Baron Wulfenbach, but Agatha was glad they had and could see why they did. The Baron let them fight, and the Baron brought them along.

It had to be a tremendous relief to be wanted-- wanted by a friend of the family, a young Klaus Wulfenbach showed up in a lot of Heterodyne stories-- and useful again, even if it was the wrong person.

Still, she wanted to fold Jorgi up and hug him as tight as only-human strength could manage. Hugging the letter was not a reasonable substitute (but she tried it anyway).

She needed tea. A warm mug of tea, something she could hold in her hands, something soothing.

“… Agatha?” Judy asked as soon as Agatha had set the kettle on. “Agatha, dear, have you been crying?”

“A little,” she fibbed.

“What happened?”

Agatha sighed. “In my last letter, I asked Jorgi if he knew why there weren’t any Jägers in Heterodyne Boys stories,” she admitted. “He answered. Oh, Lilith, I had no idea the whole thing was so sad!”

“You’ve been crying over Jägermonsters? Oh, child…” Lilith folded her up into a warm, strong hug.

Agatha held on tight, needing a hug herself almost as much as she wanted to wrap Jorgi up in one. “They just wanted to be wanted.”

“Every construct wants that from their masters at first,” Lilith soothed, stroking Agatha’s hair. “But the Jägermonsters are all hardened soldiers, remember that. It says good things about you that you can feel so deeply for them, but they don’t need your tears, sweetheart.”

Like ice water trickling down her back, Agatha realized she’d never told her parents that Jorgi was a Jäger. It didn’t seem like the sort of thing that was possible to just leave out, but she must’ve managed it. “I-- it’s easier to be sad for the Jägers than angry at the Heterodyne Boys,” she said, instead, trying to figure out how-- and when-- to say by the way, Jorgi’s a very specific sort of construct… “They were supposed to be such heroes, but they just… abandoned…” She shook her head against Lilith’s shoulder. “I know how that feels. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”

“You’re a good girl, Agatha. You don’t have to weep for every injustice-- but you’re a good girl for wanting to.”

My dear Jorgi,

The measured-breathing trick does seem to work all right for my headaches, if I catch them brewing in time. I had plenty of opportunities to test its efficiency and my reaction times while reading your letter.

I had no idea.

It’s quite possible I was never meant to have any idea, not because of anything about me in particular, but because I’m not from Mechanicsburg and not part of the history, but it just seems unreal that so much is left out of the stories everyone knows, even the more historical ones.

I wish I knew what to say. I feel like a gauge going wild, flicking between reactions. First and foremost, I wish I had you in front of me, because I very much want to hug you tight and hold on until my arms give out. I’m also in the unfamiliar position of wanting to shout at the Heterodyne Boys, which is ridiculous on several levels and probably not something you’d want me to do. (It would also give me a headache.)

In my earliest childhood memories, I lived with my uncle. I remember him as being broad and strong, larger than life, but I was a child so he may well have been a normal-sized man. He’s the one who gave me the locket you rescued; it belonged to my mother. I think he may have painted the picture of my parents himself.

When I was five or six, my headaches began, and my uncle brought me to Lilith and Adam. He stayed for a while, but when I was seven he left, and never came back. Part of me still blames myself, or the headaches that keep me particularly useless and stupid; my uncle never seemed to want to settle for long, and living that lifestyle with a child who kept screaming because of her head was probably both difficult and dangerous.

I love him. I still love him. I suspect he’s dead but still hope he’ll turn up on the doorstep someday. But no matter how much I love him and hope he’s alive and all right, I can’t forgive him for leaving me. He left me with a set of loving parents, yes, but with parents who wouldn’t let me call them Mama and Papa, who wouldn’t let me pretend I was anything but adopted. He was the only family I’d known, and as soon as I became challenging, he abandoned me.

It can only be a fraction of what you feel, but it’s not hard to imagine that feeling amplified and multiplied.

I am so, so sorry that happened to the Jägerkin. That’s just no way to treat an entire community of people.

In lighter, or at least more personally embarrassing news, I realized last night that somehow I neglected to tell my parents that you’re a Jäger. I’m still not sure how that happened. Evidently I call you by name too much, and even when admitting I’d asked you to call on me in Beetleburg, only ever spoke of you as a Wulfenbach soldier, not a Wulfenbach Jäger. (Then again, I suppose you’re not really a Wulfenbach Jäger, are you?) At least I did realize it, and can start looking for opportunities to mention that.

And I will find the right opportunity.

I want to see you again. How hard would that be to manage?


Yours,

Agatha.


Jorgi had been a little off for a few days after pouring recent, unhappy Jäger history out onto a page and mailing it to Agatha, hoping she could understand. When she made it clear she understood the pain and had a reasonable idea of the scale, and… well, Jorgi couldn’t fault her for wanting to shout at the Masters, because he wanted to roar at Agatha’s uncle.

The Masters at least had the excuse that the Jägerkin were monsters, soldiers with the brakes off, ready to do whatever the Heterodyne (and sometimes authorized personnel) asked of them. Agatha had been a child, an orphan, and an unwell one at that. She was, truly, probably better off without the man in her life, but she deserved to grow up and know that, and him, for herself.

Jorgi’s letter was short.

Dearest Agatha,

You are not useless or stupid. You are one of the smartest people I know, and I’m stationed on an airship full of Sparks. I can’t ask you to yell at the missing Heterodyne Boys for me and mine, but if you would, I’d yell at your missing uncle for you, if any of the bunch of them ever turn up.

I have leave coming to me the last week of the month. Is that enough time to warn your parents I’m not quite what they’re expecting?

I’d laugh imagining their surprise, but your poppa’s a blacksmith. They always think they can fight off anybody not enough for their daughters, even Jägerkin, and some of them are smart enough to grab a hot iron instead of a hammer. Ouch.

And you’re right. There are no Wulfenbach Jägers, just Jägerkin Baron Wulfenbach pays to fight things.


Missing you,

Jorgi


After their long exchanges, Jorgi’s letter was almost alarmingly brief-- but she read it twice and answered quickly.

She would sign her letters ‘yours’ until she could sign them ‘love,’ but Agatha swore to herself she’d never expect Jorgi to sign his the same way-- he could no more sign a letter to her ‘Yours, Jorgi’ than he could admit to being a Wulfenbach Jäger. Jorgi belonged to the (absent, lost) Heterodynes before anything, a vow he could but would not break. She decided she admired him for it.

My dear Jorgi,

Oh, of course you’d never ask me to do such a thing. It would all be of my own free will. I’ll shout at them until I get a headache and then I’ll make them feel just terrible for giving me a headache.

I will make time for the explanation if at all possible, reserving blurting out ‘Jorgi is a Jäger!’ over supper the night before you arrive as a last resort. Please come. There is an inn in town if things go sideways.


Yours,

Agatha





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