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[Fiction] Singularity - Spanish Sandalwood (AU)


Anna 'Quanta' Alameda

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"Potato masher!"

Light. Shrapnel. Pain. Blackness.

"Damn, those Yanks are hard to kill." A broad accent, almost nasal and monotone at the same time, drawled the words. His mind tried to place it as unseen hands lifted him onto a stretcher, jostling him as they bolted through the razor-wired stretches of churned mud that were known as 'No Man's Land'.

Pain. Blackness.

"Damn, those Yanks are hard to kill," the voice repeated. It was male, rough with age, rich with experience. A calloused hand, big and stubby-fingered, wiped the sweat and mud away from his brow. "He took a grenade right to the face an' he's still breathin'."

"Save your admiration for later," a woman's voice interrupted as he was lifted onto something firm and unyielding. From the roughness of the surface beneath the fabric stretched across it, the something was probably a wooden table. There was a small town near the trenches on the Sonne. Her accent had the same nasal quality to it, but the tones were softer, more expressive and less drawling. "Get the chloroform."

Sickly-sweet scent. No pain. Blackness.

Awareness returned. He opened his eyes. Blackness. "Where's the light?" he croaked, hoping that someone, anyone, could hear him.

Cloth rasped against wood as someone rose. The stench of blood and urine and decomposing flesh clung to the very air in this place. God, he hated France. But under the smell of the trenches, he could scent a trace of Spanish sandalwood soap. Expensive. Good-quality. Not the kind of scent found here.

"There's no easy way to say this." The woman's voice was gentle. "The potato masher did a right job on your face. It blinded you and you look like a 'roo jumped all over you. I'm sorry."

A tiny prick in his arm forestalled his protesting as the sweet oblivion of morphine took him away.

-------------------------------------------------

So the war to end all wars was over. Blinded and scarred, Franklin Alden couldn't return to the mining labour that had provided his family with work since the farm was lost to the debt-collectors. He called in favours from the friends he had made in the trenches of France and Belgium, the French Foreign Legion when he was in the Suez and the men he'd met in the hospitals as he healed. Thank God, he had escaped the dreaded shell-shock, but his life was bleak enough.

He travelled around Asia with his friends, learning to read and write in the Braille language. It was a surprise to his family when his first poem, "The Sandalwood", was published. Words were the only way he could express his pain, his anguish, the thwarted ambitions of a young bully who finally discovered that there was a bigger fish than them all out there: despair.

One day, in the steamy heat of Bangkok in Siam during summer, he heard the accent. Broad and nasal, it was familiar. "Hey!" he yelled. "Beaumont, May 1918 - potato masher!"

Amazingly, his cryptic and somewhat drink-garbled words were interpreted. Boots slapped against dirt as someone sat down beside him and laid a familiar hand on his shoulder. "Hello Yank," the man said cheerfully. "I never did get your name, but damn if I don't remember ya survivin'."

"Alden. Franklin Alden," he managed to say. "Who - ?"

"Doctor Samuel MacLachlan - most call me 'Doc Lock'," the man interrupted with a laugh. "My daughter just calls me stupid. Ya might remember her. She's the one who sewed ya back up."

"Spanish sandalwood." Franklin was amazed. He could remember that scent more than anything else. Sometimes it was the only thing that kept him from shell-shock.

Doc Lock laughed again. "Ya remember her alright."

His daughter had been the one who told him he was blind. She had saved his life. Why? Wasn't it better that he died instead of just wandering the world and scribbling poems about grief and loss and longing?

Instead of blurting all of this out and offending the man who probably thought his daughter had done him a good turn, he asked instead, "Where did y'all come from? Never heard that accent before."

"Australia."

Franklin had heard about Australia, a land of poison snakes and weird animals and blacks who could kill with a pointed bone. They had things like doctors there? He would have been surprised to discover that they all weren't bushrangers or something.

"Or-stray-lee-ah?" he asked, sounding out the syllables in his thick Virginian accent.

"Ah-stray-lee-a," Doc Lock corrected with audible amusement. "Ya Yanks can't even speak the language right."

"How do Ah know it ain't you Or-stray-lee-ans who're gettin' it wrong?" Franklin demanded belligerently. So he was uneducated? Didn't mean he couldn't learn!

Doc Lock seemed to smile in his voice. "So ya still got balls. Ya got anythin' planned?"

"Not at the moment."

"Good. I'm thinkin' I can help ya."

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Didn't he regret those words three months later.

It was snowing in the mountains of Tibet. Franklin Alden cursed the impulse that had led him to follow Doc Lock and two other members of the Sydney chapter of the Aeon Society for Gentlemen (and Ladies, though only a brave or foolish man dared to imply otherwise to the women who were members) in search of the errant Doctor Regan McLachlan. From what he could tell, she had gone off in search of Shangri-la. He still hadn't figured out why Doc Lock had brought him along.

During the journey, he'd begun to suspect that Doc Lock and his companions Li Mei (called 'The Death Flower' by the tongs) and Hammond Graves the Third, Esquire were... different to ordinary folks. When they were ambushed by crazed cultists in Bangkok, Li Mei had drawn her swords and killed the bad guys in about two minutes. Hammond Graves was supposedly brilliant beyond most people's comprehension, but he seemed no smarter than normal until you put him on the trail of something. It had been him who tracked Regan's journey to this cold and desolate part of Tibet. And Doc Lock...

Doc Lock could read minds. He could influence people with his voice. He could inspire fear into the most hardened of enemies. Li Mei had hinted that he could even call fire and ice and move things without his hands. Not for the first time, Franklin wondered what he had gotten himself into by joining them. Why did a group of extraordinary people need a blind man like him?

As they trudged through the snow, his mind turned to more pleasant things... Like Doc Lock's daughter. There was a lady who did what she wanted. She'd become a doctor like her Dad and gone on to study Jung and Freud and all sorts of weird religious stuff. He got the idea that she wasn't a church-going Protestant, though her exact beliefs were left undefined by her father, who was both proud and worried about her. He remembered her soap. It was nice stuff.

It was so strong that he could almost smell it. Franklin almost stumbled as his nose, wiser than his brain, began to offer urgent hints that their quarry was close. He opened his mouth to speak when someone else beat him to the chance.

"I failed to find Shangri-la." Regan McLachlan's voice was calm as it came from above them. A soft thudding sound issued as Doc Lock stepped back with a startled oath.

"I failed to find Shangri-la," she repeated, the sound now coming from in front of them. "But I learnt still."

"Apparently so," Li Mei answered with some admiration. "How did you sneak up on us?"

"I didn't sneak up on all of you. Your scarred friend scented me and was about to tell you when I spoke." Her voice was curious. "How do you avoid tripping over your nose like that, sir?"

"I never had trouble gettin' 'round once I got used to it," Franklin admitted, feeling a little confused. Why did she find it so important?

"But you got better at it in the past two years, didn't you?" Regan asked. "Your senses are keener, yes?"

"I just figured I got used to it." What was she getting -

Special. She was implying he was special like her father and Li Mei and Hammond Graves.

"Inspired," Doc Lock said with satisfaction. "Looks like my intuition is right. Ya know I was with Max Mercer when the Hammersmith machine went up in smoke..."

Franklin never did get the full story of Regan McLachlan's adventures in Asia, though he did find out she was something called 'Buddhist'. Karma and dharma and boddhisattvas really didn't make sense to him, even when she tried to explain, until another trip to Tibet while they were chasing members of the Dragon's Coil tong...

But that is a tale for another time. What is remembered in the journal that Doc Lock eventually published is that Franklin Alden's keen nose detected Regan and that it was her Spanish sandalwood that gave her away.

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Author's Note:

For the curious, I have obviously made the characters Inspired from the Adventure! game. Mechanically, they really aren't defined, but I can give a few pointers to the interested:

Li Mei is a Daredevil with Enhanced Impact (Melee) and One (Wo)Man Army.

Hammond Baines the Third, Esquire, is a Stalwart with Indisputable Analysis.

Doc Lock is a Mesmerist with Brain Skimming, Command Voice, Cloak of Dread, Fire/Ice Conjuration and Psychic Hand.

Franklin Alden is a Stalwart with Heightened Senses, Blindfighter and Sensory Filtering.

Regan McLachlan is possibly a Mesmerist with Cloud the Mind. wink

Thanks for reading the fiction!

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