(Human levitation, Those things are babies, Where’s Pappy? and The worst news of all)
Iris later swore that she levitated off her camp bed and landed on her feet. Still snorting.
Miss Pamela was screaming at the babies, who did what babies do best with loud noises. Which was make a louder noise back.
Iris gathered her scattered wits and hollered, "Pamela, SHUSH!" Then it was just a matter of helping each machine calm down (cool water for their boilers always did the trick) and cleaning the oil off their faces until all four of them were happier with the general state of affairs.
The Spine bubbled, "Sorry, Ma."
"Lonely," said a giant mechanical baby covered in shiny brass. "Rabbit said could find Ma. Ma make not lonely."
Iris aimed a baleful glare at Rabbit. Who nodded proudly.
Pamela started whimpering and gibbering. Iris made all of the babies hold hands before she went to see to her fellow maid.
"There, now, there, now," she cooed. "It's all right. They didn't mean any harm. They're just the young master's automatons. They're still learning about the world. They're like babies."
Pamela had wide, staring eyes as she looked over at them. The only one under six feet tall was the bronze fellow who seemed to be mostly potbelly stove. And he was standing on pinpoint legs instead of feet.
"...those?" she whimpered. "...are babies?"
"Nuh-uh," said Rabbit. "I Rabbit. I first! I know everything."
Iris whispered, "He's been putting on airs since he learned how to read."
Pamela boggled briefly, but presently began to giggle. "Those... things? Babies?" She began to laugh.
All four automatons cheered up immensely. "Tole ya. She knows I best," gloated Rabbit.
The clocks chimed the hour. It was four hours beyond the time she should have been delivering terrible sandwiches and coffee that could wake the dead.
"Where's Pappy?" she asked. "What's he doing?"
"Building steam," bubbled The Spine.
"Needs grease," said Rabbit. "Bad bad gears," and did a deadly accurate impersonation of Colonel Walter's snoring.
Behind Iris, Miss Pamela covered her mouth and snorted guffaws.
Ah. He'd finally succumbed to the needs of his body. "Is Pappy lying down or sitting in a chair?"
"Sorta halfway?" said Rabbit. "Legs in chair, head lyin' down."
That sounded as ominous as most of Revelations... "Come on, all of you. We all need to sort this out."
She could only cart two bodies in the elevator at any time, and she didn't want to trust any of the babies with the controls. She'd learned how to use them during her enforced duty. Tom could not be awake at all hours like she had to. Women were made to survive spotty sleep, young boys were not.
Her current problem was that she could only take up one automaton at a time. The Spine hated to be left alone. Rabbit was prone to wander off. And she knew so very little about the others...
"Who is good at standing still all alone?" she asked.
Two of them jumped about and waved their arms in the air. The Spine tried to hide behind Rabbit, and Four stood perfectly still.
"Unit Four," she cheered. "You have to ride up with me. Rabbit and Three, you get to make sure The Spine doesn't get lonely."
The elevator was never going to be as fast as she wanted it to be. Not today. Iris distracted herself with conversation. "How did all four of you find me?"
"Rab-bit look," said Four. "Show us."
That was obviously the wrong question. "And nobody fell down the stairs?"
"We all help each-oth-er down stairs."
Which meant that it was only a matter of time before they figured out they could also go up. Babies always figured out they could do things before they worked out that they probably shouldn't. These mechanical marvels were no different, there.
"That's wonderful," she lied with mock cheer. The same way any parent would fake cheerfulness on the unwanted arrival of a new puppy or kitten in the hands of their child. "Now you can see more of the mansion..." I am going to have to warn all the staff about this. Maybe if I let the babies play a few songs...
As far as she knew, Mrs Cambridge was still seeing to the Admiral's rumoured injuries, so she had to make it quickly after she saw to the Colonel. With good luck, he was just asleep. Iris didn't want to think about any bad luck options.
The other three were waiting for her when she reached the top floor and its hallway of wires. Rabbit was immensely proud, as was Three.
Iris summoned her measure of new-puppy false cheer. "You beat me here! How ever did you manage it?"
"I help big baby," said Rabbit, hugging and shaking The Spine.
"I followed," said Three.
"Well. Let's all go see to Pappy."
He was slumped over his desk, legs tangled in his chair. Snoring up a storm.
"Needs grease," insisted Three.
"Maybe later," Iris allowed. "Pappy needs to get to bed." Iris looked over the daunting mess on the floor. If she picked up on the way in, it would take far too long. Creativity had reigned in here, and subsequently rained a heavy shower of rejected ideas like crumpled paper hailstones all over the room.
"Oh, Colonel," she sighed in resignation. "Rabbit? Fetch me the biggest broom you can find." If the Colonel awoke because of Rabbit's enthusiasm, then she could coax him out of there. And if he didn't, he would not wake for her plans, either.
Colonel Walter slumbered through Rabbit's noise and subsequent boasting. He snored as she simply shoved a majority of mess out of her way with a broom. He completely failed to stir as she swept more debris out of the babies' way.
Therefore, she didn't bother to whisper when she said, "Now. Who thinks they can pick up Pappy very carefully?" She began untangling his awkward, long limbs from the furniture. All the better to carry him away.
They managed it by committee. The Spine was good at careful. Rabbit was good at force. Three could be relied upon to hold things, and Four assisted with that and the navigation.
It was the longest and most argumentative trip down a hallway that Iris had ever experienced. And still Colonel Walter slept through it.
She got them to place him on the bed after she turned the covers down. All seemed well and good until she eased one of his shoes off. Then the automatons leaped to his defence.
"No disassemble Pappy," they ordered, blocking her from going any further.
Colonel Walter mumbled dangerously, but returned to snoring.
"I'm not taking him apart," she whispered. "I promise I'm not hurting Pappy. I'm helping Pappy." Iris had to show them the contents of his closet and how clothing worked. And managed to make them laugh at the sight of her diminutive self somewhere in the middle of one of the Colonel's immense coats.
One day, much later, she might regret showing them how clothing came undone. But not today. With their help, she got the Colonel down to his underwear, covered him over with the bedclothes, and tucked him in.
Let him rest for as long as he needed. She had bigger troubles to manage. Four of them, to be precise. Mechanical marvels named Rabbit, The Spine, Three, and Four.
Which meant she'd have to introduce them all to the staff before they all went and terrified them into leaving. Iris helped them creep away from the slumbering Colonel and lead the automatons down the stairs. She sold it to them as meeting some new people.
The trick would be getting them to wait in the foyer while she went and fetched one staff member at a time. She didn't have time to plan, because Mrs Cambridge emerged from the elevator with the Admiral in a wheeled invalid's chair.
"What in the name of Davy Jones is this?" demanded the Admiral. "More of them? That Moreau woman is dead!"
Mrs Cambridge carried on wheeling the Admiral in his chair to the front door. "Never you mind them, you need some sunshine or you'll get rickets."
Iris would light a candle for Mrs Cambridge, every Sunday, for the rest of her life. Just for sparing the babies from the Admiral's opinion of their Pappy. A guest hovered at the doorway. The woman in Delilah Moreau's eclipsing shadow.
"Oh," she said. "He built them."
"The Colonel is resting at the moment, m'm," Iris bobbed a curtsey. "If you'd like to come into the parlour, you can take tea while you wait."
"I don't drink... tea," she said, gliding inside. "Give him these. The funeral is on Saturday."
It was a calling card, announcing this entrancing woman in black as Viviana Broodwell. And an invitation to attend the funeral of Doctor Delilah Moreau.
The Colonel was not going to be at all pleased. She didn't know she was weeping until one of the babies touched a tear and murmured, "Leak?"
Viviana Broodwell had effectively vanished without a trace.
Mrs Cambridge reappeared in her stead. "Four of 'em," she murmured. "That's a hard sell for anyone outside of that Cavalcadium."
Iris nodded. She knew it as well. Things seemed grim for every unmarried woman in the mansion. Iris briefly contemplated letting the immense metal babies scare off as many as they could. But it would likely never work. Most of the maids were in circumstances as dire as her own. Allowing the babies to terrify them would only inflict a double dose of their already plentiful daily nightmares.
"We have to introduce the house to the babies," she told Mrs Cambridge.
"And Rabbit," added Rabbit.
"Of course," said Iris automatically.
"You stay with 'em," Mrs Cambridge ordered. "I'll sort the rest."
Iris nervously fussed over them like a mother getting ready to present her baby to a haughty relative. At least they were clean and shiny. She thought about running them through some basic etiquette and decided that it would take too long. Besides, they all seemed to pick up things from examples surrounding them.
She then recalled with significant dread that one of those examples was their Pappy. Their very strange Pappy who had recently gone even stranger with grief... inspired desperation... a mad, extended fit of wishful thinking merged with a whirlwind of creativity. All three at once.
His kiss on her temple still burned, intermittently. Whenever she thought of him, she remembered that kiss and her face reddened from its imprint outwards. As it did now, when her mind would not stop entertaining her with visions of the Colonel tucked soundly into his bed. He looked so much younger when he was relaxed... So very handsome... What it must be like to wake up to that visage every morning...
No. He never looked at her like he looked at the late Delilah. He never would. He preferred a woman who he could meet as an equal. But how many other giant lady scientists were there on this Earth?
She had to find one, fast. The Admiral was bound to recover from his infirmity and resume his usual, deplorable habits. At least her fellow maids would be faster than him for a while. Perhaps long enough for the Colonel to fixate on some brilliant lady who loved him in return.
She'd be happy for him, she decided. And be helpful to her, of course. And be single for the rest of her life, because no other gentleman could erase Colonel Walter's significant imprint on her body and soul.
O lord... she was in love.
The babies all behaved themselves with the groups of maids. Learned not to refer to them as 'spare Ma', but by their names. Learned that humans were different even when they wore the same clothes.
And when they asked who the angry man in the basket chair was, Mrs Cambridge simply said, "That's the Admiral. He also lives here. You call him Sir and try to leave him alone."
Mrs Cambridge had just made Iris believe in the presence of angels on Earth.