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Jägers as an Aid to Diplomacy

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The Baron ordered her sedated, and then as far as Agatha could tell, everything started happening at once. Rivets flew, bouncing off heads, one of them through the Baron's own knee -- Adam charged Von Pinn -- and apparently the Baron's order to keep the Jägers out backfired, spectacularly, because the generals came bulling through one of the doors followed and surrounded by an entire horde.

Adam's arm came off, Agatha screamed, someone shouted 'HOY!', and the horde flooded around them, carrying the combatants apart. Adam was gasping, Von Pinn screeching under a heap of Jägers, and the Baron's people -- all the rest of the Baron's people? -- were suddenly surrounded.

Agatha backed up against Lilith, and that, at least, the Jägers allowed without trying to separate them. Everyone else seemed to be isolated but mostly not actually under attack.

'Vot de dumboozle is going on?' asked Goomblast, which Agatha rather thought someone should have been asking him. Although the situation had been quite confusing enough before it was full of Jägers and it was -- very strangely -- less violent now they were here.

The Baron was looking around rather wildly, stiff but not actually struggling against the Jägers who were holding him. Holding him up, Agatha thought, as much as holding him still. 'You already knew, didn't you. I should have expected it.' His jaw tightened. 'Is this a mutiny, then?'

'Not yet,' said Khrizhan. 'Mostly ve vant explanations.'

The Baron gritted his teeth, then said, 'So do I.'

He had been asking for them. Agatha looked over at Adam, a little scared to. His face was drawn, pained, and his torn shoulder was still oozing purple, but he was standing. Alive. 'Maybe we could, um, exchange them over medical attention?' she asked hopefully.

'Agatha,' Lilith hissed.

'Well I don't think “leaving” is happening right now!'

'Ve should,' said one of the Jägers holding the Baron. 'Klaus is hit too.'

'Ve get medics in here?' another asked, moving towards the door.

'Yes,' said General Khrizhan. 'Say der Baron sent for them.'

'General Khrizhan!' Lilith said, as the message-bearing Jäger slipped out. She sounded rather desperate. 'If you recognize Agatha, you know we MUST get her out of here. Baron Wulfenbach is an ally of the Other!'

'I -- What?' Baron Wulfenbach sounded entirely flabbergasted by this information.

Adam nodded grimly.

There was a stunned silence which seemed to, no, given the amount of Jägers, literally did fill the room. Then General Khrizhan said '...Hy really don't tink so.'

This seemed to be the signal for the silence to be replaced by every Jäger talking at once. '...hates wasps...' '...gathering de Other's tech...' '...nearly died dot time...' '...would haff been overrun vith revenants if he didn't....'

Adam held up a hand and to Agatha's considerable surprise the Jägers all fell silent, although still looking rather bewildered and indignant.

'Hyu tink ve vould be serving him if dot vaz true?' General Zog said into the silence.

Near the Baron, Boris Dolokhov stirred and started to get up. Four Jägers 'helped' him, one to each arm, and he looked around in alarm.

Lilith looked pained. 'I assumed you went with him because he was an old friend of the masters'... and gave you a chance to fight.'

'Against de bugs!' one of the Jägers put in, and was shushed loudly.

'I didn't think you'd appreciate the wasps,' Lilith went on grimly, 'but he does collect all he can of what the Other left behind. It's part of the terms of the Baron's Peace. How much do you know about what he does with it afterward?'

The Generals looked at one another. 'Ve know he studies it,' said Goomblast. 'But he haff also destroyed much of it. Ve helped him do it.'

'If he vanted it to spread it vould do more harm left vhere it vas,' said Khrizhan. 'Vithout quarantine.'

'I saw some of the safety measures on the hive engine here,' Agatha began tentatively. At Lilith's appalled look she said quickly, 'That's what the chaos was! Somebody activated the hive engine he took from Dr. Beetle--'

'Dr. Beetle had a hive engine?' Lilith said, sounding horrified.

Agatha winced and hurried on. 'The poison gas works pretty well, and I seriously doubt it was the Baron's idea to reroute it to everything besides the lab with the wasps in it.'

There was a generally appalled silence for a moment, and then General Goomblast asked, 'Vhy did hyu think he vos working for de Other? Just because he collected de hives?'

'Barry came back,' Lilith repeated -- for the first time in the Jägers' hearing. 'He brought Agatha. And he told us.' Bitterly, 'It's not as if we wanted to believe something like that!'

'Master Barry came beck?' That was from one of the Jagers in the mob, and this time he wasn't shushed. The Jägers were staring at Lilith, and suddenly resembled a disorderly mob less than a pack of wolves.

'Hyu didn't consider telling us dis?' General Zog asked.

'You had already gone with Klaus,' Lilith said. She was standing straight and... ready, but she didn't exactly seem afraid. At least not of the Jägers. More tired and sad and tense. 'Barry was adamant about secrecy, regardless of anything we could say. He'd already been wandering with Agatha for a few years before he came to us.' She grimaced. 'And then he said he had somewhere to be and should return soon. It's been eleven years since then.'

General Khrizhan nodded. 'Ve cannot fault hyu for obeying the Masters.' That seemed to help, the Jägers relaxed slightly (except the ones still holding down Von Pinn, who were not as busy with that as they had been but far from able to let their guard down).

The Baron drew himself up -- pushed himself up, actually, using a Jäger's shoulder to raise himself somewhat above the crowd. This took enough breath that he was still getting ready to speak when the doors burst open to admit a handful of medics -- who stopped, daunted, at the sight of the sea of Jägerkin -- and Gilgamesh Wulfenbach, who barged through the doors as the Jägers tried to shut them and had sufficient momentum to reach a point almost halfway to either the Baron or Agatha before they closed in on him. Surprisingly, he made it a few more meters before the Baron barked at him to stop.

He looked around and then turned, a bit startled, as one of the Jägers quelling Von Pinn gave a cry of triumph and waved Adam's missing arm. After a moment's discomfiture, Adam took it and propped it in the crook of his other arm with a slight grimace.

Gil was shuffled carefully aside as pathways opened for the medics to the Baron and to Adam.

'What is--' Gil began.

'What are you doing here?' the Baron grated, which Agatha thought was a fairly silly question.

'I was looking for you,' Gil said. 'And Agatha. I wasn't THAT concussed, DuPree,' he added irritably to the woman who'd been talking to the Baron about them. 'Is, uh, everybody....' He apparently decided ‘all right’ was not a suitable term, because he changed it to, 'What is going on here?'

'Explanations,' Agatha said, 'hopefully.'

'For example,' the Baron put in darkly, to Gil, 'you can explain how DuPree was mistaken in referring to this girl as your fiancée.'

Gil lifted his chin and, to Agatha's disbelief, replied, 'That wasn't a mistake, and we need to be married as quickly as possib-- OW!'

Agatha did not have anywhere near the throwing power Adam did, so the gas connector that bounced off Gil's forehead did no actual damage. Gil did drop, but only to try to catch it. It caromed off the floor instead, and the Baron snatched it out of the air with his bandaged hand and looked at it with a scowl that changed rapidly from anger to confusion.

This only registered in Agatha's peripheral vision, as she was busy losing her temper -- and revelling just a little in the fact that it didn't hurt. 'I DID NOT AGREE TO MARRY YOU, YOU BLITHERING IDIOT!'

'Aww,' said General Zog, disappointedly, and Khrizhan scowled at him.

'So far,' the Baron said, perhaps feeling that the situation would only deteriorate further if nobody told his son what was going on, 'we have determined that Miss Clay is in fact Agatha Heterodyne, her guardians are Punch and Judy, and for some reason I cannot fathom, Barry told them I was an ally of the Other.'

It was not clear which piece of information stunned Gil more. 'But that's ridiculous,' he said, presumably to the last part.

'On the bright side, the Jägers are skeptical.'

'Ah,' said Gil, looking around. 'So, what are they doing?'

'Ve is tryink diplomacy,' one said proudly.

'I see,' said Gil. 'And that means?'

'Making pipple tok to each other instead of getting to de fighting.'

'Cauze ve kind of like everyvun here,' added another. 'Except Boris.'

Boris looked grumpy, but refrained from comment. Agatha thought this was probably sensible of him.

The Baron closed his eyes for a moment, ignoring the slightly nervous medic working on his knee, and then eyed Gil again. 'Explain the gas connector. You,' he said to Agatha, 'quiet.'

Agatha scowled, then realized that he probably wanted an independent version of what she'd said about the gas, and shut up.

'Ah....' Gil sighed, and started somewhat further back than Agatha was expecting. 'When the evacuation alarm sounded, Agatha was concerned about leaving Othar behind and ran back for him. We were cut off, so we went back to my lab and I held the warriors off while she built an electrified sword assembly to fight them more efficiently. We couldn't retreat without potentially letting the wasps out....' He trailed off, eyeing the slightly older injuries.

'They were already out,' the Baron said grimly. 'The automatic alarms were disabled; we didn't get word until the outfliers spotted them. But go on.'

'--Ergh. But we noticed the slaver swarm hadn't been released yet. We made our way to the hive queen, where--' Gil stopped and swallowed, 'the warriors trapped us, and it did release one slaver. Fortunately Agatha's little clanks arrived. They distracted the warriors, killed the slaver, and we, ah, attacked the queen....'

Agatha winced. So did the Baron. Gil hurried on. 'We failed to prevent it from releasing the swarm.' Agatha didn't think this was fooling his father, but at least maybe everybody wasn't going to know how close they'd come to disaster there. ...No, that was probably too much to hope. 'But we did escape the area ahead of the swarm and seal it off. Agatha checked the vespiary gas system and reported it had been rerouted to dose everything except the laboratory and fixed it. And, ah, that's where the gas connector came from. I thought it would make a nice souvenir.'

'...And engagement ring?' the Baron asked pointedly.

Gil blushed.

'Dot sounds verra romantic,' said a Jäger, somewhere, to general agreeing noises from the mob.

Agatha gave them a disbelieving look. 'Well, it wasn't. And he didn't even ask properly! He just said I was going to marry him, and we should go and do it quickly.'

Gil looked indignant. 'You kissed me, before that!'

Agatha went red and looked around for something else to throw at him, then gave up and clenched her fists. 'That was before you started trying to rush me off with you!'

The Baron looked between them. 'I am relieved to learn you don't intend to marry him. But Gilgamesh... may I suggest you work on your proposals before attempting another?'

Agatha eyed him. 'I'm relieved you're not actually going to back him up on this, but I think I'm still kind of insulted.'

'Ve tink you should marry him,' said General Zog.

Agatha clapped a hand to her face. Great. On the one hand, the Baron wasn't going to go along with Gil's plan to just declare her his wife or something. On the other hand, the Jäger generals, who really seemed to have the upper hand over everybody right now, thought it was a grand idea. 'And -- why?'

'We don't,' Lilith added with a frown.

'Vell, ve is already serving de Baron,' said General Zog, spreading his hands. 'Und de Kestle is not...doing vell. Dere is not much left for de Heterodyne. An alliance vould vork out nize.'

Adam huffed softly, although Agatha wasn't entirely sure whether this was a comment on the conversation or a response to the people reattaching his arm. 'You didn't get here,' Lilith said levelly, 'in time to hear Klaus say he couldn't let an untried Heterodyne heir run free.'

Agatha tried not to cringe. She'd been thinking exactly that, but she really couldn't make the Baron's actions so far and the generals' observations fit with the idea that he was working with or for the Other, and she wasn't at all sure she wanted things to be more hostile than they currently were.

'Hyu vill,' said Goomblast, levelly but with a lot of growl running through his voice, 'haff a very hard time imprisoning her.'

'I suspect that would be challenging even without your involvement,' the Baron said.

'Hence the sedation?' Lilith asked pointedly. Agatha considered that reminder and decided she wasn't quite sure how hostile she did want things to be.

The Baron sighed through his nose. 'That... may have been an overreaction,' he muttered.

'Yes,' said General Khrizhan. 'But if dot vas your first reaction to finding de Heterodyne, mebbe Master Barry vas right to hide her.' He looked at Agatha. 'Ve is on hyu side, but right now dot may be part of de problem. Hyu vill not just be a Spark, but vun vit an army. Still, at dis point is too late to go beck to pretending ve didn't notice. Hyu vill have to decide vot to do vit us.'

'Decide... what to do with you.' Agatha stared at him, feeling rather as if her brain tried to stall out and then shifted -- however grindingly -- and settled into a higher, smoother gear instead. Right. Of course. The Jägers worked for the Baron now, but even if they never got into the stories much, they had always been Heterodyne troops before that.

No wonder he'd wanted them kept out of this until he decided what to do with her.

She took a deep breath. 'Well, I think you're doing pretty good right now. Although I'm still not ready to get married.'

'Heh. Dot is hyu decision. Hyu Daddy vas forty,' he answered.

It seemed, Agatha reflected, to be her move. At least for now, although the situation could easily swing another direction if she took too long -- there was probably only so long before somebody came looking for the Baron, and he had a lot of other troops.

Adam looked like he was going to be all right, much to her relief. Von Pinn had apparently noticed she wasn't getting anywhere by raving -- and that Agatha herself wasn't going anywhere -- and was mostly still. (Gil had noticed her and looked worried, though.) It sounded like the Jägers would let her and Adam and Lilith leave -- maybe even go with them -- but... that could mean either going back into hiding, which didn't sound very appealing, or going to war against the Baron, which seemed at best impractical.

It crossed her mind that he was right there and the Jägers, much as they apparently liked him, were able to overpower him personally and might be willing to do whatever she said with him.

...And that sort of thing, she thought as she shied away from a few of the options, probably did account for a lot of his reaction to her.

'It might be a long shot,' she said, 'but I don't really like any of the other options, so maybe we could start by trying to work things out here. Especially if you all used to be friends.'

'...If ve let go of pipple vill dey still do de talking?' asked one of the Jägers holding the Baron.

The Baron looked at him, then sighed. 'I think we'd better.'

He would still be pretty well surrounded. '...Worth a try,' said Agatha. 'Stay close, please.' She looked at the Baron. 'The sedation wasn't your first thought. That wasn't until Miss, ah, DuPree started talking.' (Gil looked indignant.) 'History repeats itself? Geisterdamen? What was that about?'

'The Geisterdamen had you until you were nearly three,' Lilith said softly. 'Barry said they'd be looking for you.'

'I somehow don't think she recognized me from when I was three!'

The Baron sighed and levered himself up again without putting weight on his injured knee, drawing an exasperated look from the medic and an eyeroll from one of the Jägers, who helpfully grabbed his arm. 'The Geisterdamen, somewhat mysteriously, worshipped your mother. The repetition....' He glanced at Gil, sourly, and there was a touch more color in his cheeks. 'You may or may not have been aware of rumors about myself and Lucrezia prior to her marriage to Bill. About the time they became engaged she drugged me and shipped me to Skifander.'

'Dot is a long vay to go to break op vit somevun,' a Jäger said in an undertone.

'Vell. She vas like dot.'

'Shh, dey's still tokking.'

'Skifander,' Lilith said, startled. 'We wondered where you'd got to. At the time we thought you were sulking, or in trouble. Or both,' she added as an afterthought. 'We never thought to try there, though.'

'And afterward you concluded I'd been conspiring against you?' he snapped, then winced a little. 'I thought you knew me better than that. I thought Barry knew me better than that.'

'He obviously had some compelling reason to think it,' Lilith snapped back.

'It still doesn't seem very likely to me right now!' Agatha put in, rather more loudly than she'd really meant, and then cleared her throat sheepishly and eyed the Baron. 'Although I'm still not happy with your planning to lock us up. Lilith... if the Geisterdamen were, uh, attached to my mother, why would Uncle Barry have been running from them?'

Lilith's lips thinned, and she looked... torn. It was the Baron who finally said, 'The Other didn't kidnap Lucrezia. Did it.'

Agatha looked swiftly at Lilith, who shut her eyes. And then shook her head.

Agatha felt her face go cold and her vision grey.

'Hoy!' One of the Jägers grabbed her before she could fall. 'Is hokay! Hyu is a Heterodyne, dot is all dot matters.'

Agatha took several deep breaths. This was not entirely comforting -- being a Heterodyne was still nearly as much of a shock as finding out her birth mother had been the Other and her uncle and parents had conspired to keep her a complete idiot for the past thirteen years -- but it did remind her that there were more immediate things to worry about and, anyway, the situation would probably not be improved if she fainted. 'Uh -- thanks.'

'According to DuPree,' the Baron said grimly, 'she saw an electrical phenomenon like a window in the air, and through it she saw you. And my son, dressed as one of Lucrezia's servants and answering to you the same way one of them did.'

Agatha frowned. 'That sounds kind of like the phenomenon in Beetleburg, but that certainly wasn't anybody I recognized. But I'm pretty sure the only time Gil's actually done what I told him, I was asleep. And he definitely wasn't dressed like a woman or a ghost.'

There was a slightly puzzled pause. 'Asleep?'

Agatha flushed. 'I don't normally sleepwalk, but lately....'

Agatha noticed some of the Jägers turning to look at the door moments before she heard an 'EeEeEe' noise approaching. Then the door was levered open and a small army of small clanks flowed around various people's feet until they reached a point in front of Agatha. Their leader looked up at her and saluted.

'Ah,' said Agatha. 'Yes, you did very well.'

'You've been building these?' Lilith asked, leaning down to look at them. Adam tried to as well, although his arm was by this point sort of fixed in place by the people working on it.

'Not quite the same style as your first one,' the Baron said, looking at least equally interested in spite of his other concerns. 'I suppose sleepwalking would explain a few things....' He glanced up at her. 'Although if you still plan on kidnapping me or Gil, I would recommend against it.'

'I -- wait, what? You're the ones who kidnapped me!'

'She has you there, Klaus,' Lilith murmured.

The Baron looked irritated. 'Her first clank. Searching Beetleburg for someone. One of us, I assume, probably in revenge for Beetle's death.'

'I --' Agatha rubbed her forehead, who knew what she'd been thinking in her sleep? 'No, I don't think so. That von Zinzer -- I think it went after him. He didn't seem to know what he was doing there, and he'd stolen my locket. I must have sent it after him.'

'He'd--' The Baron rubbed a hand over his face. 'You sent it after a mugger.'

Agatha shot him an irritated look. 'As far as I can tell. I was asleep. ...Not that I was happy about Dr. Beetle dying either.'

'...Yes, well, neither was I.'

'This is a weird way to deal with people you think are trying to kidnap you, you know.'

The Baron's mouth twitched. Maybe. Just a little. 'What, kidnapping them back?'

Agatha snorted involuntarily. 'Okay, not that part. Sticking them in a lab to see what they do next.'

'It tends to work relatively well, actually.'

Agatha looked doubtful. 'What about Dr. Vapnoople?'

'How did you even hear about him?' Gil asked.

Agatha frowned at him. 'I'm more interested in why you think I shouldn't have heard about him!'

Lilith looked puzzled. 'Wasn't he the one with the army of wolfmen several years ago?'

'Oh, yah. Dot kept us busy for a vhile,' said a Jäger cheerfully.

'Three years,' said another. 'Vit fighting all der time.'

They had obviously relished it. The Baron sighed. 'And I appreciate your assistance. -- In his case I suppose encouraging further work in captivity was a mistake. He actually managed to smuggle a bear on board--'

'Really, Klaus?' Lilith asked. 'How do you not notice a bear?'

'--And I reassigned him as a surgical subject,' the Baron finished, clearly trying to ignore this question. 'As I had Othar, after a few dozen attempts on Gil's life, not to mention the rest of his campaign to exterminate the Spark.'

'He's a hero,' Agatha protested. 'He helps people!'

'Frequently, yes!' the Baron shot back, rather to her surprise. 'And when he restricts himself to Sparks who are currently destroying the surrounding area, or people, he's very useful. But he's also rather difficult to direct consistently.'

Agatha was considering whether to argue with this when the deck vibrated with a dull thump-boom, followed by a series of other alarming noises. '...What was that?'

'Sounded like explosions,' Lilith said thoughtfully.

'I got that part! I have been working in laboratories for a while!'

'Lilith,' the Baron began, 'did you two--'


He swore. 'Where did you leave Othar?'

General Khrizhan had quietly directed a Jäger out to investigate. He returned somewhat less quietly to announce, 'Dot's right, explosions! Und a lot of de labs iz on fire now. Zum are being fonneled to de envelope. Tch,' he added, 'Kestle Heterodyne vould not let it get so far.'

The Baron growled under his breath and tried to lever himself up. The Jägers made a general movement toward the door....

And then stopped....

...and all looked at Agatha.

'If you're not going,' the Baron grated, 'let the rest of us--'

Agatha met General Goomblast's eyes across the crowd and shook her head incredulously. 'Go!'

As the room mostly emptied of Jägers, the Baron glared at the limited remainder of his forces present. 'Well? What are you waiting for?'

'Ah, Herr Baron, should we take them into custody now?'

The Baron dug the heel of his unbandaged hand into his forehead. 'If you would like to provoke the Jägerkin who are currently saving this airship -- again -- to open war when they get back, certainly. Get to the firefighting equipment!' This ended on a forceful enough roar to get nearly everyone moving. 'And you,' he added, evidently addressing a clank, 'take me there as well.'

As the clank bent over the Baron, Von Pinn stood up, looking rather dazed, and the handful of Jägers (including General Khrizhan) who'd stayed behind divided their wary attention between her and the Baron.

Then her head snapped up. Agatha reflexively followed her gaze, only to see a number of the older students rushing from the balcony above off toward, presumably, the fire. Von Pinn's expression switched to a more familiar sternness. 'NAUGHTY CHILDREN,' she called, and darted off, pausing only to point a clawed finger at Agatha and add direly, 'You stay where you are.'

Agatha blinked, waited until she was out of sight -- which took a couple of eyeblinks -- and then started to dart off. Lilith checked her. 'Agatha, you should--'

'I can help!'

'Hyu should really stay put too,' Khrizhan was telling the Baron, having seized the clank's arm and halted it without apparent effort. 'Hyu is injured. Ve haff it handled.'

The Baron glowered at him. 'This is still my airship. Political crises aside, it is currently on fire. And I know what was in the laboratories!'

Agatha was forced to admit that logically, she was probably not going to contribute a whole lot to the effort by charging in personally with standard compressed-gas equipment. On the other hand, it occurred to her that she might be able to make the process more efficient if she could just... yes, yes, she could see it..... 'I won't go all the way to the fire,' she promised Lilith quickly. 'But Herr Baron, if I could -- hmmmnn -- just borrow that clank....'

He gave her a startled look. 'What?'

The clank made a very fine platform for wielding the fire extinguishers, which blanketed their target areas with heavy, clinging gas that wouldn't support oxidation and left no residue. It could have been faster, but it was steady and very effective.

There followed a brief period of some confusion, at the end of which the fires were out, most of the loose experiments were corralled or turned off, and several Jägers had to be gathered out of laboratories that no longer had oxygenated air (about which Agatha was very apologetic). Adam and Lilith discovered that the airship they'd commandeered was gone, for which the Baron blamed Othar (about which Agatha was less apologetic). Agatha did notice that despite both the change in allegiance and the bad leg, when the Baron thought of the suffocation risk he had given warning and gone back looking for any Jägers who might have been misplaced in the fog. Adam and Lilith noticed, too. (He hadn't tried to knock her out when she went in, either.)

After that, there were a lot of damage reports and cataloguing to do, and it was a few hours before things settled down. The Baron said they had things to discuss, but Agatha caught him casting covert glances at her firefighting clank a few times.

They eventually managed a more organized conference than the last time, with fewer Jägers -- only the generals, who were an awful lot of Jäger all by themselves -- arrayed between Agatha, Lilith, and Adam on one side and the Baron, Gil, and Boris on the other.

Strictly speaking, the Jägers were on Agatha's side. Considering this made the table feel unbalanced. She reminded herself the Baron had an empire.

'I suppose the first question is what you intend to do.' The Baron glanced at the generals, who loomed in an affably alarming manner. 'Lady Heterodyne. You introduce a most remarkable set of complications.'

'I'm hoping,' said Agatha, 'that to start with, we can agree that ideally nobody gets killed, imprisoned, or sedated.' She considered for a moment, then added, 'Or shipped to Skifander. Wherever that is.'

The Baron said, 'Ideally, Europa does not descend back into the chaos of the Long War, or worse.'

'Larger version of “nobody gets killed”,' said Lilith, then raised an eyebrow. 'Would you put up with being sedated and shipped to Skifander again for that?'

The Baron grimaced. 'You have no idea how tempting that sounds. Convince me it would work, and I'd build the ship.'

'It's tempting for me to do it,' said Agatha, and then wondered if she'd really said that out loud. 'But I don't think it would.'

'Not likely.' He eyed her. 'Is that one of your priorities, then?'

'Not plunging everything into war? Yes, it is!' What did he think of her?

'Klaus, really,' said Lilith.

He sounded faintly defensive, but still marginally less tense than before. 'It's rarely a safe assumption.'

'I really don't know what my options are,' Agatha said, wishing for a moment she had Krosp here for advice and then realising his advice would be for her to get out before the Baron did something to her brain. After the story about three years fighting wolfmen she was… still creeped out by what the Baron did to some Sparks, but willing to suspect Krosp was not entirely rational where his creator was concerned. 'Um. I guess I could make peace with you or something? That seems kind of pre-emptive when I'm not sure I rule anything yet....'

'Hyu need to fix der Kestle,' Goomblast said. 'It haff to accept every Heterodyne before dey ken rule.'

'Right,' said Agatha. She still wasn't sure she wanted to rule anything, but it might be better than sort of ruling, with an army of Jägers and nothing else. She looked at the Baron. 'What problems would it cause if I did that?'

His eyebrows jumped slightly, and without greatly changing expression he looked simultaneously more respectful and more optimistic. Or at least less dour. 'Assuming you don't accept political advice from Castle Heterodyne,' he said, 'the root of many of them -- for both of us,' he noted wryly, 'will primarily be that everyone will be interested in you. As a potential ally, a rallying point, a symbol of brighter days... a tourist attraction... or in some cases, as a pawn, or a means for revenge, or a chance to snuff out the last spark of hope your father and uncle created.'

'Okay. That's more or less what Gil said about being a Spark, only more so.' She eyed Gil. 'And I'm still not going to accept your solution to that, by the way.'

Gil looked chagrined. Klaus snorted quietly. 'You will probably receive several more marriage proposals. Castle Heterodyne will most likely advise you to accept all of them.'

'...Simultaneously?' Agatha asked, feeling herself blush. Was that what the Baron had meant about not accepting the Castle's political advice?

'Quite possibly,' Lilith said, but patted her shoulder reassuringly. 'Don't worry. Its only real authority is on whether it recognises you, and it will.'

'If any of them try to force the issue,' the Baron added, 'they will be dealt with.'

'Hyu got dot right,' said Zog. 'But no harm in haffing options, hey?'

'I, uh.' Okay, getting flustered over potential marriage proposals was not going to help the situation. 'I guess the question is if it's going to cause more trouble for me to be recognised as the Heterodyne properly than for it to be a rumour. Because all the students here know about it now, even if the Jägers would keep quiet.'

'Indeed.' The Baron glanced at the ceiling, possibly in the general direction of the school. 'From my perspective, that depends heavily on you--'

'And he doesn't like having things out of his hands,' Lilith murmured.

Klaus glared at her briefly. 'In view of the Jägers' contribution, perhaps I should say it depends heavily on her regardless of where she is. But from Mechanicsburg there is probably greater potential for surprise.'

'Yes, she might do something crazy, like try to conquer Europe,' Lilith said, very drily.

'I don't want to conquer Europe,' Agatha put in, feeling this point should be clarified.

'Neither did I, and look where that got us.' The Baron shook his head and looked back at Agatha. 'Things will likely become more chaotic, more quickly if you are in control of Mechanicsburg -- and that's if you do nothing to encourage it. And you would be plunged rather abruptly into continental politics.'

'Urgh,' said Agatha. 'So what happens if I don't go?'

'A slower boil, most likely. As you say, the secret is effectively out. It is not exactly practical to block all communication from the school, and the rest of the students will be returning soon. If you are not publicly acknowledged, it will be concluded, not unreasonably, that I'm hiding you.' He glanced at Adam and Lilith. 'I gather the Geisterdamen are likely to be a problem regardless, but to the best of my knowledge they can't fly.' He gave her a contemplative look. 'A middle course would be to enroll you in the school.'

That sounded rather nice to Agatha, despite her misgivings. A chance to learn how to use her Spark properly, among other people like her. Maybe even work out some more flying engines with Gil. Certainly it sounded better than being on the run, or trying to take her place as a power in Europe with no political training and the advice of Jägers, a cat and a rather questionable Castle. She looked at the Jägergenerals. 'And what would happen to you?'

'Ve carry on as ve haff been,' said General Khrizhan. 'Consider it a loan or… a trust, yah, dot ve is being held for hyu until hyu need uz.'

General Zog nudged him. 'Der boys beck in...hyu know,' he whispered. Agatha wondered if he really thought she couldn't hear.

'Not yet,' Khrizhan answered in the same undertone.

'Not yet, what?' she asked with some annoyance.

'Right.' The Baron stood up abruptly -- and, having evidently forgotten his knee was still healing, nearly went down again. Gil caught him, looking alarmed, and he braced both hands on the table. 'You don't need Castle Heterodyne for this part. There were three casualties reported among the Jägers today. They will only permit a Heterodyne to treat them.' He eyed the generals. 'I was informed that they were dying. I suspect that if that were true, you would have brought it up to her before now. Lady Heterodyne,' he concluded, 'how is your medical training?'

'Uh. Theoretical?' said Agatha, rather startled by his evident concern for the Jägers -- they were his troops, she supposed. 'And definitely not on Jägers. But I do have some.'

'I suppose that will have to do.'

'We can help,' Lilith said, gesturing to herself and Adam. 'We assisted Bill and Barry before.' A wry and slightly apologetic look at the Wulfenbachs. 'It's not like letting another Spark in on the process.'

'Oh, good,' said Agatha. She stood up. 'If they're badly hurt I'd really better do that now.'

Klaus gestured to the door. 'We'll take this up again later. If you need equipment that isn't there, ask.'

Treating Jägers proved to be unnerving for a reason she wouldn't have anticipated -- they were so cheerful about it. Quick to assure her that they could handle her lack of experience and were very hard to damage, apparently oblivious to pain (okay, she was quite sure they were only trying to seem that way, but they were doing a very good job) and delighted that they'd be fixed without having to wait. It made her feel even more inadequate than she had before, to have them so happy about even her inexperienced help.

'What have you been doing with other Jägers too injured to fight?' she asked at one point. With the Baron not present she actually got an answer, which was both dismaying (dozens more Jägers waiting to be treated?) and added some complications of its own (she really was going to have to go to Mechanicsburg soon, at least temporarily). Or maybe they could sneak the wounded back on board to be fixed? The Baron wouldn't be fooled, but at this point she doubted he'd be surprised.

Once she was done she headed back to the conference room feeling a mixture of relieved to be done with that for now, proud that she'd been useful, and oddly gratified that the Jägers had expected her to be useful and would have been very surprised if she hadn't been. 'One thing about going to school here is I might get some actual hands-on training before doing that again,' she muttered under her breath.

Adam squeezed her shoulder gently. Lilith smiled at her. 'All things considered, you did very well. ...But that still might help.'

Agatha leant back against Adam for a moment. 'Do you think I should stay here?' she asked. All mixed feelings aside, they were her parents, and right now she needed advice from someone she trusted -- someone whose morals she trusted.

Lilith's lips thinned, more in thought than disapproval. 'It's certainly a better option than we'd have imagined,' she said. 'Of course, Klaus is trying to control you too. Or at the very least to manage you. You'd be getting your information from him, you'd be associated with him.... I assume he'll want you to acknowledge the Empire's authority over Mechanicsburg.' She smiled, a little ruefully. 'But we were friends for a long time. Knowing he hadn't changed in the way we thought he did -- I'm having trouble being objective right now.'

'Everyone wants to control me. Even Gil. Even you,' she added, a bit more sharply, the words spilling out almost against her will. 'What else was that locket for, if not to control my Spark?'

Lilith bowed her head for a moment. 'We were afraid for you,' she said quietly. 'But we hated it, seeing what it did to you. And yes, I know... that doesn't make much difference, when we never took it off.'

Agatha didn't know what to say. She was angry, confused and not really ready to forgive, but she still loved them. She found herself deflecting, slightly. 'You told me your reasons. And you said that young Sparks don't survive without a powerful protector. Right now I think I only have one option.' Unless the Jägers counted, but they were rather a different sort of protection.

Lilith was silent for a moment. 'You're two years older now than Bill was when he inherited,' she said quietly. 'And you ought to know, likely part of what's making Klaus uneasy is that at full strength Mechanicsburg could probably hold off the Empire.'

Agatha boggled. 'Really? I know we have a lot of Jägers, but the Baron has airships.'

'Castle Heterodyne has Torchmen.' Lilith tilted her head. 'Granted, Klaus knows about them. He wouldn't make it easy. But it's something you should know, because Mechanicsburg's defensibility is going to be on everyone else's mind.'

'Couldn't you have gone there then? If I can be safe in Mechanicsburg now, without protection, why not then?'

'At full strength,' Lilith said. 'The Castle is very badly damaged. And....' She shut her eyes for a moment. 'Barry found out the revenants we know about, the obvious ones with no will left of their own, are actually exceptions. Most of them, you can't tell. He suspected Klaus had lured the Jägers away and then quietly released the other kind of hive engine.'

'He thought....' Agatha trailed off in horror. 'Just how much of Europe did you think was wasped?'

Lilith's grim look and lowered eyes were answer enough.

'Didn't you check?'

'How? We didn't know of any way to tell.'

'Does the Baron know?' Obviously they'd thought he knew when they thought he was responsible, but since that seemed rather unlikely... 'That it's possible, I mean.'

Lilith looked a bit stricken. 'If not, we'd better tell him.'

Agatha nodded and straightened up. 'Okay. Guess that's the first thing we do.'

Lilith gave her a smile and pushed open the door.

The conference room was, quite unexpectedly, a mess. Or to be fair, it looked initially like a mess, but when Agatha looked again she had to admit everything was pretty well organized. Her firefighting clank had been partially disassembled -- no, disassembled and partly put back together again. Gil was messing around with it. The Baron was bent over something on the table, peering through a contraption of magnifying lenses and lights that Agatha abruptly wanted to investigate. Extraordinarily tiny bits of metal were laid out in neat rows on a pristine white tray, and two of her little clanks were inspecting them. The generals looked generally entertained.

The Baron looked up and tossed something to her. Agatha caught it reflexively, recognized it a second later, and dropped it. It was her locket.

Agatha looked down at the locket, feeling much the same way about picking it up as she would about picking up a large spider. It didn't actually contain anything that would repress her Spark, she told herself, that was all laid out on the table. And it had her only pictures of her parents -- one of whom was the Other. She made herself pick it up, anyway, and set it, very quickly, on the edge of a table.

'Welcome back, Agatha, don't worry, I'm not going to throw anything at you,' Gil said, rather drily.

The Baron turned a sour look on his son, then looked back at Agatha. 'I have,' he said, 'discovered further questions. At least this explains why Dr. Beetle was so determined to convince us you were distraught.'

'We've got something to tell you, as well,' Agatha said, deciding that telling him trumped her curiosity about what he had discovered. 'The shambling revenants aren't the only ones. Apparently a lot of them seem like normal people. Uncle Barry thought you'd been seeding Europe with them.'

The Baron very carefully set down what appeared to be a minute tuning fork in the tray, and then the tweezers he'd been using to hold it. He looked greyer than a moment before. 'Just how much of the population did he estimate...' he began, then evidently concluded that the calculation was either obvious or irrelevant, and trailed off. 'Nearly anyone in Europe during or shortly after the war could be her agent, then.'

Agatha looked at Judy. 'If she's not around to command them, though, would they still be… doing anything?' Someone had released the hive here, she realised.

'That might depend on if she gave them any instructions before,' Lilith said slowly. 'And Barry suspected some of the Geisterdamen could speak in her name.'

'Someone did activate the hive engine here,' the Baron pointed out, echoing Agatha's thought. 'Thinking agents might be of significantly more use to her.' He took in the tray with a sweeping gesture. 'And that may shed some light on the function of the locket. I was going to ask exactly what Barry thought had been done to you before he found you.'

'I -- what?' Agatha walked over to look over his shoulder. 'I thought it had been to suppress my Spark, but this does seem… tuning forks?'

'Concealing a Spark in breakthrough is extremely difficult, but I imagine Barry could have done it... had that been his only concern.' He scanned the collection of tiny parts again. 'I believe he was trying to develop a harmonic counter to the features of both sound and brain function associated with the Other's control.'

'I -- what --' Agatha felt herself go cold. 'I'm under the Other's control?'

'No,' the Baron said sharply. He reached for her arm and guided her, somewhat abruptly, into a chair. 'At least, I don't think so.' A wry glance at the generals, who looked alert, and at Adam and Lilith, who had started toward them. 'I believe we previously established that a determined effort to destroy wasps is fairly persuasive evidence. No. But it is possible he thought you had been made vulnerable to it -- or that you had the ability to exercise it.'

'The wasps stepped aside when I told them to,' said Agatha shakily. 'So much happened, I'd almost forgotten. It seemed to make no sense at the time.'

'I thought you were telling me to get out of the way,' Gil said, startled.

'That may be why Beetle imagined he could control a hive engine with an otherwise hair-raising lack of safety precautions,' the Baron muttered. His grip on Agatha's arm remained firm, even though he wasn't steering her now. 'Listen to me. You do not want to be careless with this information.'

'I can see that,' Agatha snapped. 'We've just established Europe might be full of revenants.' Anything she said could be taken as an order if she said it to the wrong person. 'How does this even make sense? I can't inherit someone’s voice! Can I?'

'Sparks ken inherit all kinds of tings,' said General Khrizhan. 'To uz hyu sound like a Heterodyne, but dot is what ve iz attuned to.'

'Oh, wonderful, I can command two different sets of monsters,' said Agatha.

Goomblast bent over and put a hand on her shoulder. It was a lot of hand and with the Baron still holding onto her there was a lot of looming going on. But she could tell it was meant to be reassuring. 'Ve is heppy to obey, but ve do not haff to. Ve iz not like de Other's tings.'

'Sorry,' said Agatha. 'You've been very helpful. This is just rather overwhelming.'

'Iz understandable.' He let go of her and stepped back, joining the other generals where they were looming amiably in the background.

'You should certainly be careful what you say in general,' the Baron said, 'and it's to your credit that you thought of that. But I meant for you to be careful who finds out. Because of Bill and Barry, most of Europe -- most people, generally -- will see your being a Heterodyne as a good thing. But my estimate of the revenant population is probably somewhat lower than Barry's, and it leaves room for a great many people who would lose their heads at the idea of any connection to the Other, let alone the ability to control her creatures.'

'Oh.' That made a lot of sense. If she could control the Other's creatures she could do as much damage as the Other had done. If she had still been living her life normally, and had heard about a possible heir to the Other she'd have been terrified. 'I'm definitely not going to tell anyone,' she said. 'But it might be useful.' She and Gil had been able to take out the hive remarkably easily because of it. 'In taking out hives that are already active.'

'Which hasn't been nearly as frequent a problem lately,' the Baron said with a sigh, 'but I don't know that we can count on that continuing.' He eyed her. 'Although I am not sure how I'd explain taking you into that sort of situation.'

Lilith snorted. 'Klaus. She's Bill's daughter. I'm not sure anyone would believe even you could stop her from running into danger.'

'I do normally try to keep the students in one piece,' he said. '...Each.'

'I'm not a Hero,' Agatha protested. 'I just don't want people to get hurt when I could prevent it.'

Adam and Lilith looked at each other with fond, rueful smiles that nevertheless made Agatha feel she might be being laughed at a little. The Baron shot them a look and then, astoundingly, grinned at her. 'Believe me,' he said, 'that's more than enough to get you into trouble.'

'I think I've got plenty of that to be going on with,' said Agatha, smiling back at him. She was, she realised, starting to think of them as on the same side. Which did make sense, they both very definitely didn't want Europe overtaken by wasps, but she should probably remember to be at least a little wary. On the other hand, if he did anything to her he was going to have to answer to an awful lot of Jägers. As well as Punch, Judy and probably Gil. 'I've been thinking about it, and I think enrolling in the school probably is the best thing for me to do right now.' Krosp was going to be very unhappy about that, she realised. But it would give her a chance to get her bearings, and to be useful if the Other's things were about to make a resurgence. 'Uh. Madame Von Pinn might not like that though,' she added. Which was a vast understatement.

'I don't understand why not,' said Gil, who had apparently missed most of Von Pinn's screeching on the subject.

'She dislikes Lucrezia intensely,' said Klaus. 'I'll talk to her.'

'Considering she was the Other, I don't like her either,' said Agatha. 'I don't think anyone does. And it's not my fault I'm her daughter.'

'No, it's not. But as Lucrezia she is -- as you've probably noticed -- a fairly popular figure. And Von Pinn's objections to her are personal.' He paused. 'She may regard you as her rightful charge, actually. As I understand it she was created to be your brother's nurse.'

'...I have a brother?' She looked at Punch and Judy as she spoke.

They winced. Lilith said, 'Not anymore.'

'Oh. What happened?'

'The very beginning of the war,' Lilith said. 'There was an explosion inside Castle Heterodyne... that actually did severe damage to the Castle. About a third of the people inside were killed. Including your brother.'

'I see. Did Lucrezia..?' Surely she wouldn't have killed her own child?

'We... really don't know,' Lilith said quietly. 'It's still not clear what happened. From what Barry said, there had definitely been a fight in her lab, but the source of the explosion itself was unclear. At the time it looked like someone had made it in and kidnapped her.'

Agatha put her face in her hands. The more she heard about this, the more it sounded like a complete mess. 'Okay. I… guess the Castle would be able to tell me, if it was working?'

'Maybe.' When Agatha raised her head, Lilith gave her an apologetic look. 'Well, it seems to have missed something. But it's the most likely source of information, yes.'

'Okay.' She looked at the Baron. 'So you'll deal with Von Pinn?'

'Yes. Try not to let anything explode in the vicinity of children younger than about ten, even if they want to watch. It will keep her calmer.' He considered. 'Probably. But I'll deal with her regardless.'

The Baron somehow persuaded Von Pinn that Agatha did not need to be shredded, imprisoned, sedated, or instructed in how to keep her clothing intact. (A process that became much easier when people were not picking her up by it with clawed hands.) He did however conspire with Lilith to present Agatha with nightclothes that would keep her decently covered if she found herself sleepwalking again. With perfect irony, therefore, she didn't.

She settled into the school on rather different terms from before. She wasn't a hapless prisoner or hostage this time; she was a Heterodyne Spark, heir to a town and a legend. Zulenna said her family owed Bill and Barry. Theo was her cousin. Z was gleeful over finding the daughter of his father's friend. Zulenna wasn't the only one who became more polite, and some of the students coming back once the spring planting was over were downright overawed. Things stayed mostly quiet, for the time being, but she did gradually start receiving invitations to visit assorted families ‘at her convenience.’ Agatha remembered who had been nice to her when she was just Agatha Clay, but she was nice back to everybody as much as possible.

Gil managed to restrain himself from proposing to her again, although she was a little worried (and a little flustered) that he was about to when he approached her somewhat awkwardly and said he had something to ask her. Fortunately -- mostly -- what he actually said was, 'Would you still consider taking a look at my flying machine again sometime?' and she even managed to agree without laughing.

Small clusters of Jägers tended to follow her around, possibly to keep the Baron honest and possibly, if she was getting the right impression, just because they wanted to see her. After the first week, the generals assigned her a formal escort of half a dozen at any one time, who turned out to be consistently happy to assist her with large objects, run errands, and occasionally break things by accident.

Agatha threw herself into her lessons with a certain degree of worry. She had a lot to learn. The political lessons seemed particularly urgent, even though it wasn't a subject she had ever much cared about before. Curiously, despite his obvious power and the publicly reinforced idea that opposing him was futile, the curriculum in the hostage school spent enough time on the difficulties to gradually reveal the Empire and the peace it maintained as almost a fragile thing. Agatha was fairly sure this was on purpose, but it wasn't a tack she'd expected him to try.

It did seem to be true that even aside from the Jägers, the Baron really was likely to be better off if the Heterodyne heir publicly seemed to like him.

Which she kind of did, despite all the reasons he'd given her not to. This was fortunate, since it sometimes seemed as if whenever Gil wasn't in the laboratory with her, he turned up. (She was pretty sure it wasn't actually that often. He was a busy man, and she tended to become absorbed in her work. But it made an impression when she looked up and he was suddenly there.) Gil explained that his father was fascinated by the Spark itself and really resented missing a Heterodyne breakthrough. At least the Baron, unlike Dr. Merlot, didn't complain about her humming.

Her inventions grew more elaborate as she went, and now that she was working when awake, she started pushing herself for new ideas and stretching her limits. A little nervously, remembering her difficulty building things with Moloch around, but she had managed the electrified swords, hadn't she? It was going fairly well, but when she hit an idea she just didn't quite see how to implement, it always made her nervous.

Her latest effort was to try to improve on her butter clock. It had been one of her early triumphs, but she'd stalled on the new one and her mind kept circling back on itself, on old mistakes and headaches and the fact that the Baron was watching her. Evaluating? She thought of Merlot again, gave the spring she was winding one twist too many, and then the clock made a tooth-grating whining noise and exploded.

Gears flew, there was a roar of flame, and Agatha fell back with a small scream and stared in bewilderment as bits of mangled clockwork pinged off the air in front of her. When a glob of melted butter landed with a splat, she managed to focus on the transparent shield between herself and what had almost been a clock. She tried to swallow the lump in her throat -- she shouldn't cry about this, she was pretty sure she shouldn't -- and then reached out a finger and poked the shield.

'It's a standard precaution,' the Baron explained from behind her.

'Is it?' Her voice sounded wavery.

'It is here.' The Baron went around the shield to inspect the detritus of the clock. 'Maybe you should try it with unsalted butter next time.'

Agatha stared at him and then buried her face in her hands. She did not feel equal to having him joke about it right now. 'I'm sorry, Herr Baron, I'll consider that,' she said, a bit muffled.

His voice came from much closer beside her the next time, making her jump, and he sounded oddly uncertain. 'There's no need to apologize,' he said. 'I realize that in the beginning it may seem as if every experiment is crucial, but this was merely a clock. Not a matter of life and death.'

Agatha tried to pull herself together, feeling foolish. 'It's not the clock, especially,' she said. 'It's just that nearly everything I tried to build with the locket on would blow up, and I don't want to go back to that.'

The Baron’s faint expression of worry smoothed away. 'I can see no reason you'd revert to that state without the locket. Explosions are among the most common ways for a Spark's work to fail. Dangerous, yes, but hardly a sign that your mind is hampered.'

Agatha eyed him doubtfully. 'I suppose it is a pretty common form of accident, but... I thought I was doing better than that. You don't hear about the Heterodyne Boys blowing things up by mistake--' She stopped, realizing what she'd said, and went red. Granted she was a Heterodyne, but it still sounded ridiculously egotistical.

The Baron's eyes lit with amusement. 'No, I suppose you don't.' He picked up the blast shield and wiped the butter off it with a rag, then folded it up and handed it to her, a compact thing that looked like layered glass framed in bronze, the size of a large book. 'Read the edge.'

She had to squint at it. The frame was rather thin and the print small, but there were two sigils on it, the Wulfenbach winged tower and a trilobite. 'Heterodyne-Wulfenbach Self-Deploying Blast Shield, Revision... 384?'

'I spent much of twenty years with your father and uncle,' the Baron said. 'We had a number of opportunities to optimize the design.'

'Three hundred and eighty-four of them?' Agatha asked.

He took the shield back and rubbed a large finger pensively across the engraving. 'They haven't been present for the last few, but nearly that. We did use it as a defensive measure at times, but mostly....'

'Point taken, I guess.' It did make her feel better. Not that she liked accidentally blowing things up, but he made a convincing case that it was still typical of high-level Sparks. 'So what do you do if your self-deploying blast shield blows up?' she asked, a bit flippantly.

The Baron looked up and returned the blast shield to its place with somewhat unnecessary emphasis. 'That only happened once!'

Agatha, who hadn't honestly expected it to have happened at all, started laughing.