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Waistcoats and Weaponry

Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger

Professor Braithwope, leagues in the air and with Sister Maddie’s prized foxglove on his head, is twirling back and forth between the pilot’s bubble and the deck of Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Since his fall from the dirigible where his tether snapped, the vampire teacher has displayed increasingly strange behavior, no top hat and is sporting a cape! GASP! Professor Braithwope asks one of the young ladies in his class to dance and Sophronia steps onto the plank. As they dance, Professor Braithwope’s conversation flitters about from Queen Victoria not liking punch to the supernaturals distrust of mechanicals. Lady Linette, fetched by Agatha worried for a friend, calls Professor Braithwope back to the deck and asks him to please bring Miss Temminnick with him. Nimbly, Professor Braithwope returns, leaving a precariously balanced Sophronia behind.

Thank goodness Sophronia has her hurlie and uses the handy little device to climb into the pilot's bubble, shedding petticoats to squeeze through the hatch. Instead of finding people, Sophronia sees a giant mechanical pilot. Whilst taking in the scene, an egg-shaped pod arrives through a communication tube with a note inside from Professor Lefoux providing instructions for Sophronia to locate a rope ladder.

After tea, the ladies have lessons with Captain Niall and they tease Sidheag for her obvious preference for their werewolf teacher. While they chat, Preshea skulks in. Since Monique left the school for the Westminster Vampire Hive, Preshea has taken over as chief thorn in their side. Case in point, she is terribly unkind to Agatha which Sidheag does not stand for and therefore threatens Preshea with an attack of nibbly bits. On the way to their lesson, Professor Lefoux asks to speak to Sidheag who has been sent a pigeon. GASP! Something big must have happened to warrant a pigeon.

As they disembark, Sophronia spots Soap who is manning the deployment crank and gives her a cheeky wink. Captain Niall is introducing the ladies to a new weapon: the bladed fan. Guards have been added for safety, and to stop Dimity from fainting; however, during a duel between Sophronia and Preshea, the nasty girl strips the guard and slices Sophronia’s arm, resulting in a crumpling Dimity. Sophronia leaves the guard on and switches from defensive moves to offensive, pressing Preshea toward the stream. Reaching into her chatelaine, Sophronia plucks her perfume and flicks some of the liquid into Preshea’s eyes, causing her to fall back and into the stream. Once the duel is over, Captain Niall calls for Lady Kingair to tend to Sophronia’s arm, but she confesses that Sidheag isn’t there because she received a pigeon. After lessons, Sophronia decides she adores the fan and desperately wants one, and Dimity, when she comes round, points out she will need one in every color to match her outfits and suggests Sophronia gets a patron to finance her. Sophronia has been keeping up correspondence with Lord Akeldama who has sent her occasional gifts, so maybe he could send her a fan or be a potential patron? As the ladies head back into the school, Sidheag is waiting, and she doesn’t look happy.

Sidheag looks broken and she requests a private conversation with Captain Niall. Sophronia, Dimity and Agatha head to their next lesson with Lady Linette where the teacher wants to have a word about the unsanctioned gadget Sophronia used earlier, her hurlie. With the hurlie quickly and safely stashed in Dimity’s reticule, Sophronia declares it lost during her rescue. Lady Linette wonders if they are training her too well and questions her possibility of patron. Sophronia says she would like to work for herself. To the class, Lady Linette declares that the girls are ready to learn about the fine art of seduction, and everyone's attention is captured. Today they shall master The Look, which is perfect timing because Sophronia’s eldest brother has gotten himself engaged and their parents are throwing a ball providing the perfect opportunity to try The Look out on Lord Mersey.

Sidheag hasn’t returned by the time they finish lessons, and the teachers don’t know that she has gone. Sophronia, Dimity and Agatha try to cover for their friend but can only do so for so long. They don’t know what upset Sidheag but surmise it must be something about her grandfather. Could he have been challenged and lost his position as alpha? After Lady Linette has made her rounds checking if the young ladies are asleep, Sophronia sneaks out to the boiler room. She wants to see if Soap heard anything about the pigeon.

Soap doesn’t have much information for Sophronia, though he knows there is unsettlement with the Kingair pack. No one seems to have died; however, Lord Maccon is losing control. Soap thinks Sidheag has gone to London as rumor is Lord Maccon was seen headed there. During their conversation, Soap admits he would go claviger, a servant to werewolves that may earn the possibility to become one himself, which surprises Sophronia, and her rage against it startles Soap. They then talk about her brother’s ball and Soap is jealous Felix, Lord Mersey, will be going and dancing with her. Sophronia pines for the relaxed way things used to be and decides that growing up sucks.

A fortnight passes with no word from Sidheag or Captain Niall. Everyone is moody and sullen, not even the prospect of a ball and her birthday brightens Dimity’s mood. Sophronia doesn’t visit the boiler room either because she doesn’t want to encourage Soap. Eventually the dirigible arrives at Swiffle-on-Exe, taking on water before mooring outside the town. Professor Braithwope’s eccentricities have escalated, and he has taken to shaving off his grand mustache which grows back straightaway. Today however, he has only shaved half before getting distracted. Sophronia can’t look away from the half-mustache… it’s fascinating. Sophronia and Dimity have been excused from his lesson as they need their rest before their early start to the Temminnick residence. As they are chatting in bed, someone knocks at their parlor door. It's Soap. He wants to make sure he didn’t scare Sophronia off and again expresses his displeasure at Felix. Soap obviously wants more from their relationship, but Sophronia wants to keep him in the friend zone.

Joining Sophronia and Dimity in the cart to the Temminnick home is Dimity’s brother Pillover who has been roped in as Dimity's escort to the ball, which is embarrassing but necessary, and Felix. Roger, their driver, has someone joining him up front, but the stranger keeps their head down and says nothing. Sophronia and Felix discuss mechanical transport and Sophronia practices her flirting on Felix which works a treat. When the conversation turns to Picklemen, Felix gives very little away, though Sophronia's curiosity is obvious.

The group arrives early that evening and finds the house a hubbub of activity with extra mechanicals borrowed from the neighbors zipping about. The ball is a masquerade and Dimity dons her Queen of the Mechanicals costume as Sophronia is attacked by her sisters wielding curling irons. For her own costume, Sophronia begged an old dress from Sister Mattie and she and her friends tailored it, covering it with pockets to be filled with useful items and making her look like a Sootie. Pillover knocks, grumbles something to Dimity and disappears, and while the rest of the room are discussing Pillover’s broodiness and his obvious broken heart only they can mend, Dimity lets Sophronia know Pillover needs to speak to her in the gazebo. Dimity provides the distraction for Sophronia to slip out.

Pillover has a message from Lady Kingair though Vieve. Her pack is in disgrace as they were caught planning to murder Queen Victoria behind her grandfather’s back. Lord Maccon has killed his beta and abandoned them, intending to challenge for the London pack, so Sidheag is headed to London to send him back to Kingair. Before Sophronia and Pillover can leave, Mrs. Temminnick catches them alone together (GASP!) and demands Pillover make an honest woman of Sophronia. Dimity would love to have Sophronia as her sister and advises supplying her brother with bacon and books so she can run the Empire as the Queen’s intelligencer without interruption. Sophronia finds the situation hilarious and shamelessly flirts with poor awkward Pillover during the ball.

During their dance, Sophronia tells Felix about being caught with Pillover and he offers to walk through the gardens with her too *wink.* As with every dance they have attempted, they are interrupted, and this time a mysterious dandy cuts in. It’s Soap! He was Roger’s friend in the cart! Soap has also heard whispers of her engagement with Pillover, and looking over to the poor lad, it is difficult to believe as he’s being accosted by a glutton(?) deluge(?) plague(?) of young ladies. Felix, not happy about the interruption, squares off with Soap. In the meantime, Pillover has made his way over to beg for help to escape the bevy(?) gaggle(?) monstrosity(?) of young ladies. To add to the oncoming chaos of the evening, Sidheag enters the ball wearing a very plain dress and no mask with two werewolves, one of which is wearing a jaunty top hat.

Demonstrating excellent hostess skills, Sophronia introduces Lady Kingair, daughter of an Earl, to her mother, gives some nonsense about Sidheag’s “masquerade” costume and ushers them, plus Dimity, into the family parlor before sending the wolves to find some of her brother’s old clothes. Meanwhile, Sidheag tells her friends she begged her grandfather to go home and forgive the others, but he is Alpha of the Woolsey pack now and lost to her because she has chosen her pack over her grandfather. Then the wolves, now in human form, enter.

As expected, one is Captain Niall and the other is the Dewan, the Queen's werewolf advisor. Captain Niall comforts Sidheag and it’s plain to see there has been a shift in their relationship. Sidheag introduces Lord Slaughter, the Dewan, who states he is satisfied with the change in Alpha for the London pack and reminds Sidheag that she is not in fact a werewolf and therefore it is none of her business. He understands why Lord Maccon has done what he has and sees it as necessary. Sidheag then confesses she asked her grandfather to give her the bite but was refused, which is understandable as there have only ever been three female werewolves in history. The wolves brought Sidheag to Sophronia with the intention that they take her back to school with them and have provided a note for Lady Linette to explain her absence. Captain Niall and the Dewan are to carry on to Scotland.

After the wolves take their leave, the boys enter the parlor. Soap is concerned about his friend Sidheag, Pillover sits on the floor playing with Bumbersnoot, and Felix stays in the fringes, not part of their circle. Dimity relays the tale, minus the fact that one of the wolves was the Dewan. Sidheag then asks for Sophronia’s help to get her to Kingair because she needs to be with her pack and is convinced she can hold them together. The fastest means would be by train, in fact she would beat Captain Niall and the Dewan there as the following night is a full moon. Sophronia hatches a plan involving boys' clothes, a picnic, a distraction, and the air dinghy currently hiding in the rafters of the conservatory. Suddenly there is a knock on the door. Mrs. Barnaclegoose crashes in with an item to deliver to Sophronia, though it really is beneath her skill level to do so. Thanking the undercover intelligencer, Sophronia stashes the package inside Bumbersnoot before they set off to escape the ball for Scotland.

At midnight as the speeches are about to start, the mechanicals go completely unhinged. It’s a feast of mad pirouetting before the mechanicals go still, then as one, they start to sing before finally dying. Then the humans go completely unhinged. Who will refill the champagne, turn down their beds, stoke the night time fires? Who will make the tea?! This wasn’t Sophronia’s plan, but she takes advantage of it. As the air dinghy doesn’t have a propeller, they catch a breeze and float to the train station where, in a stroke of good luck, a train is waiting for them. It’s peculiar though, first class passenger trains and two freight trains are crammed together.

Working together, Sidheag lassos the carriage and Sophronia uses her hurlie to catch the train. As one, Sophronia, Dimity, Sidheag, Soap and Felix pull the dinghy down to land on top of the train, lash it down and deflate the balloons. Climbing into the first-class carriage below, the group finds it empty. The ladies take the opportunity to change into their boy disguises, but poor Dimity looks silly and not even a smudge of ash mustache can disguise her femininity. Meanwhile, Bumbersnoot poops out Sophronia’s package. It’s a gift from her vampire, a bladed fan. How did he know? Felix is jealous she is receiving gifts from a man of means in London and Soap seems withdrawn which makes Sophronia sad. She doesn’t want to hold him back, even if it is to go for claviger.

Later, Sophronia is on the train roof fetching her hurlie and goes for an explore of the train. She finds a carriage that looks more like a shed and inside is a very well-dressed gentleman, too well dressed, which makes Sophronia think he may be a drone. He is sitting, snoring next to what looks like a communication machine with a crystalline valve, but larger than the one on top of Bunson’s school. As the train stops at a junction switch, Sophronia watches to see what happens and hears a very familiar bossy female voice. Oh no. Back with the others, Sophronia tells them that Monique is aboard then Sophronia and Felix argue about vampires, Felix’s bigotry showing. Soap interrupts them to share that the clouds have cleared to reveal a dirigible. Is it an escort, are they following or is it just a coincidence? There's nothing to be done about it, so they decide to rest, taking turns on watch until they arrive at Oxford shortly after breakfast.

Monique steps out onto the platform with the male drone. Together they sit, take tea and read the newspaper on the platform. Soap ducks out to disguise himself as a sweeper to listen in on their conversation. Giving his friends a jaunty smile and drinking the rest of Monique’s tea, Soap pilfers a newspaper and heads back inside the carriage with nothing much to report unfortunately. The two were arguing about range but not being specific. The drone asked Soap about mechanicals in Oxford, but he gave him a sassy non-committal response. There isn’t much in the paper either, though Felix spots a small article about a minor mechanical malfunction and Dimity sees another. Sophronia supposes that the train is responsible, and they were running a test. Soon the train continues on its journey.

Bored and in desperate need of tea, Sophronia declares it’s time they stole the train. They can’t trust Monique to get them to Scotland when she doesn’t know that’s their destination, so, naturally, they have to commandeer the train. They use Dimity’s masquerade costume to disguise the train as a jaunty circus before Dimity and Felix head off to the shed to steal the crystalline valve which Dimity will hide in Bumbersnoot.

Meanwhile, Sophronia, Sidheag and Soap head to the engine where Monique is. Monique goes for Soap while Sophronia excuses the engineer and the stoker surrenders to Sidheag who recruits him. Sophronia steps into Soap’s battle with Monique and using her bladed fan, realizes she is a better fighter than Monique. Once subdued, the decision whether to toss or keep her must be made… Gah! They need to keep her because she may prove useful, so Sophronia binds her hands and leaves her to dangle from the doorway. Outside the dirigible starts to sink down and lands on the tracks in front of them. GASP! Flywaymen!

Soap slams the breaks on. Sophronia and Sidheag go out to meet the Flywaymen with Dimity and Felix following behind. Dimity informs Sophronia that the drone was dumped off the train a while back so won’t be a problem, but he was monitoring messages and noting them on a map, not sending messages. For three days the Flywaymen have watched the train following them, and now they want to “borrow” it. Sophronia plays up that they are Bunson’s Boys who took the train for a lark, see they have Lord Mersey and “Lord” Kingair with them. This doesn’t stop the Flywaymen from pulling out weapons, so Sophronia and her band of merry “boys” pretend they too have people backing them up. The Flywaymen question Felix’s identity, and during the exchange, both sides become frustrated and agitated to the point that Felix is shot.

Cursing as he drops to the ground, the bullet graze doesn’t stop Felix from flirting with Sophronia, and of course, behind them, Dimity faints from the blood. From the Flywaymen dirigible trots out a man wearing a top hat with a green band… a Pickleman! He also happens to be Felix's father, Duke Golborne. He's holding a sundowner weapon, a weapon able to kill a vampire on one end and a werewolf on the other. The Picklemen dirigible was sending the signals making the mechanicals cock up, and they picked the Temminnick ball because they knew Felix was going and would unknowingly give a full report to his father. Dimity finally comes round, and Sophronia gives her instructions to get to the train and go full pelt at the dirigible because they need to get out of there. Unfortunately, Duke Golborne stops her. While Sidheag and Dimity cause a distraction, Sophronia stuffs her hurlie into Bumbersnoot and gives him instructions to get to Soap. After a few moments, the locomotive starts to crank to life.

The train starts moving forward so the Flywaymen, Duke Golborne and Felix race toward the dirigible before it is smashed, and the girls leap back on the train waving to Duke Golborne as they go by. The airship hasn’t risen enough though and the train hits the bottom causing valves to fly everywhere from a crack in the hull. Monique points out the Picklemen have been planning this scheme for a long time. The new valves are being placed in mechanicals when they are being serviced which will mean they will soon have a mechanical army at their disposal, which is bad because only supernaturals don’t use mechanicals. There has been no overt action against the Picklemen because there are too many of them in too high places.

Nighttime falls and they need to rest so they pull into a small country station. As well as food stocks running low, Dusty the stoker points out the coal reserves need restocking especially as Bumbersnoot has been eating them. During the night, Soap and Sophronia take watch and Sophronia and Monique verbally battle, mostly about Soap being beneath Sophronia. Eventually, Sophronia gags Monique instead of enacting any of the many ways to kill a person she has been taught. Monique has hit a nerve and Sophronia now feels awkward with Soap. In the morning, they carry on their journey and elect to push Monique out of the moving train and into a very dirty duck pond. Not long after, Dimity spots a dirigible on the horizon, could it be the Picklemen again? Sophronia and Sidheag start to help Dusty stoke the engine. They want to build their speed to try and outrun the airship, but by sunset, the coal tinder is empty and they haven’t lost the dirigible. Instead, the train is now in range of the dirigible’s cannon.

The cannon fire has hit the train, knocking one of the carriages loose. Sophronia climbs to the roof and runs to the back of the train; however, she doesn’t have the brute strength needed to force the carriages to separate. Deciding she needs help, Sophronia heads back to the engine for Soap while the Picklemen fire the cannon again. Soap, with a little help of another hit from the cannon, manages to free the dragging carriage. From the dirigible, Duke Golborne pulls a gun and points it at Soap and tells Sophronia to stop the train. Sophronia tells Soap that if the four people on the train separate, the one airship can’t follow them all.

Putting on a show for the dirigible, Sophronia and Soap embrace like Shakespearean lovers who will be parted forever, then Soap uses the hurlie to swing them down to the ground, Sophronia cutting them free with her bladed fan. The dirigible doesn’t follow the train, instead it starts to sink down. As Duke Golborne disembarks, two werewolves appear, Captain Niall and the Dewan who shift into human form. The Dewan, completely naked, lays into the Picklemen and Sophronia tries to be helpful and tell the Dewan what has been going on and that Sidheag is aboard the train. No one however can provide any evidence to their story and no mention has been made of the Picklemen’s nefarious evil plans. Suddenly there is a scuffle on the dirigible. Felix is trying to get free and shouts something but is muffled before it can be made out. Then, over a hill, Sidheag, Dimity and Dusty come marching carrying weapons and Bumbersnoot.

Duke Golborne starts to back toward the dirigible and shouts “now!” ordering a volley of gun fire toward Sophronia and Soap. As Duke Golborne tumbles back inside the ship, displaying his yellow hose, the Dewan charges for the dirigible which has started to lift, but in human form, he can’t reach them. Captain Niall covers Sophronia from the gun fire and takes a bullet which he will luckily recover from. Suddenly Sophronia realizes Soap has been shot in the chest and he’s losing a lot of blood. She hears a scream then realizes it's coming from her. Crying, she forbids Soap from dying but really nothing can be done.

Dimity doesn’t faint despite the copious amounts of blood Soap has lost, it's too serious a situation. The Dewan comments that thankfully it wasn’t someone important which makes Sophronia turn on him and she orders him to bite Soap. The Dewan protests, but she challenges his superior alpha-hood, and also promises that when she is finished, she will indenture herself to his service to pay him back. Captain Niall says she is one of the best Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has ever produced but the tipping point being that Lord Akeldama is already courting her. The Dewan agrees.

The Dewan successfully metamorphoses Soap. Sophronia sits stroking Soap in his new wolf form while watching his wounds heal. The Dewan will need to take him because Soap is his responsibility now and he must ensure he adjusts to being a werewolf. It might take a while though and in the meantime, his metamorphosis must be kept secret. He also tells Sophronia he will not hold her to their bargain, a new werewolf is rare and gift enough, but she wants to.

Captain Niall will continue on to Scotland and will take over as Alpha of Kingair, but the pack is being shipped out to India as exile for their punishment for trying to kill the Queen. Though Captain Niall isn’t a true Alpha, he is the Dewan’s best option in England. Captain Niall will take the train to Scotland and hide the transmitter at Kingair, Sophronia points out he will need Sidheag to drive the train. The Dewan then declares that Sidheag and Captain Niall will be married after a long engagement. His marriage to Lady Kingair will help cement his position as Alpha. In time, Captain Niall hopes to earn Sidheag's affection though no one doubts that will be a problem. So while Sidheag will head overseas with her family, Sophronia and Dimity will go back to Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality first class with appropriate clothing, says the naked Dewan. As they prepare to part, Sophronia and Dimity needle Sidheag about Captain Niall as only friends can. How will Sophronia take down all the Picklemen in England without Sidheag? Well, Bumbersnoot will help.

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