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Dell had learned from a young age not to question people. He had been encouraged to question the world, question rules, and laws, and why things were the way that they were instead of how they could be, but never people; his family, small as it was, had ensured that. It didn’t stop him from wondering, of course, it more so taught him to keep those thoughts to himself and used his own reasoning to find the answer. Over time, he would begin to draw conclusions easier, and started to see them as practical problems to be fixed. People would become puzzles to him, slowly turning them this way and that until he found a knob or a gear that he could shift to see the layer that lie beneath. He always felt proud when a more difficult one opened up, partly for them, and partly for himself; though he would always prefer the more straightforward problems presented by machinery. That fire had been with him since birth, and at a young age only seemed to burn brighter when he indulged the curiosity, whether through reading, tinkering, or simply bringing up his inquiries with someone. Namely the only other someone he knew who could sate that thirst for knowledge, though his father wasn’t always too keen on it.
Dell had always loved watching him work, deft hands and intense gaze laser focused on whatever it was that he had on the worktable. On more than one occasion he had sat in on his projects, asking what things do, or why they go where he puts them. His father had always been tense, sounding careful in his answers, stopping entirely at other times to consider his words for a few moments. Dell had wondered why he seemed so nervous, but his brain did the work of his father in that regard, deciding that he was probably just worried about his son getting hurt. Dell had never been very large in the first place, and was admittedly a very slight thing as a child. He often asked what he could do to help, which resulted in him holding something in place or passing tools to and fro for however long it was needed, no big jobs, but he couldn't really find it in himself to mind. Dell adored watching the work that went into making something as intuitive as his fathers machines- and perhaps storing the information away for later, when he found scraps of metal and wire to wind together himself.
He would ask about other people as well. Usually about folk in town and how they were doing, sometimes about the strange people who would come and go from their house. He made the mistake of asking about his mother a few times, and each time he was quick to quiet down, seeing how his father sunk in at the mention of her. She must have been something, Dell decided, if she could bring a man as strong as him to such sorrow. He pictured her sometimes. He wondered if she had the same eyes as him, since he didn't get them from his father. He wondered the same about his hair, the pale blonde strands shining nearly silver when the light hit. He concluded that she was probably a very pretty woman, at least in his mind's eye.
He asked most often about his grandfather though. The stern, quiet looking man in the photos always seemed so familiar to him somehow, though he had no waking memory of him. He asked about his seemingly endless inventions, about how they worked and what they would do in certain scenarios, how his dad had improved them. Again, his father seemed uncomfortable in the conversations, but answered to the best of his abilities. He asked about what Radigan was like, if his father had any stories.
The answer had always been the same, regardless of the question. Radigan was a busy man, and rarely made time for his family. The man had apparently had quite the life, devoting almost all of it to pushing the boundaries of human knowledge, often ignoring what science said was and wasn't possible. His father had said that Radigan was often so enveloped in his work that the workshop out back might as well have been his home instead of their little ranch house. Cold was always how he was described. Distant and hard to please. Expecting quite a lot, regardless of whether he was there to witness it or not.
The small, bitter part of Dell's mind supplied him with the irony of that comment, recalling more than his fair share of lonely mornings. He felt a bit bad about those thoughts later on as he himself got absorbed in his own projects, but the stale remnants of loneliness still clung tightly to his heart at times.
Those memories of his family always came to mind when Dell came back home. It wasn't much, just a little house with a few acres a fair distance from town. It wasn’t a secret that the Conaghers had a few skeletons in their closets, but considering what all they had done for little Beecave, the townsfolk had decided to leave the odd little clan alone- something that worked out well for everyone. Dell quite liked town though, going in on occasion just to catch up with a few folk, making a point to drop by a few small restaurants and stores just to say hi- but he always found himself in the large barn out in the back of his property, unwinding in the silence among the mute company of his families creations.
Night had fallen hours ago, but Dell was still fervently at work. His arms strained slightly with the labor of moving things about- for once setting his personal plans aside to try and organize the place. He respected his father, but the man had a few habits he couldn’t stand- namely the disorganization that ran rampant throughout his work. It was an opinion Dell apparently shared with his grandfather, as Radigan was apparently very particular about how his workshop was to be maintained, and how he had criticized anything that didn’t fit his standards.
He wondered sometimes what it must have been like to live with the man, cold and taciturn as all sources said he was. It couldn't have been a terribly encouraging home, he thought, and at times he pitied his father for such an upbringing- not that he would ever say such a thing to the man's face. But his mind wandered at times, after stilted discussions over work that often delved into unpleasant territory near the end, whether it had been living with Radigan that had made his father the way he was. Impatient, scattered, hotheaded, stubborn enough to put a mule to shame and… well…
Fred Conagher wasnt a dumb man, not by a long shot. It took a hell of a lot more than the average mind to adapt and adjust and improve on designs as complex as what Radigan had proposed, Dell knew that. But he was also well aware that pride was his biggest vice, and while his respect for the man was present, he was no stranger to the knowledge that his own studies had well surpassed that of his fathers. His grandfathers too, if he were being entirely honest with himself. The blueprints he’d seen thus far had been a fantastic starting point, but the modern engineer could do better than brittle aluminum wiring and over-welded steel. He’d started from scratch, taking more inspiration from the faded old blueprints than using them as a guide.
Once at the desk properly, Dell began to shuffle the plans into some semblance of organization. He divided them by categories; weaponry, buildings, components, and miscellaneous. The last category saw very little use, as the Conaghers’ very rarely made things that weren’t of practical use. Still, it was easy work, and the most recent in line found the task almost meditative. He slid bits of paper this way and that- up, left, right, sometimes back and forth until they were in their rightful place. Skimming the old things he always found interesting, as he sometimes had to pause to make out the faded lettering and designs. What caught him off guard though, was one he found he couldn't make heads or tails of.
Down, nearly to the bottom of the stack, a blueprint with strange curves and haphazard scratches stared back at him. Usually he could decipher what a machine was within a minute of looking at its notes or moving parts, but this was a puzzle. It seemed like a very involved fish tank from his perspective. A broad, encapsulated tube at the center, with bricks of machinery on either side. Sections were marked out among the dimensions, labeling what each was meant to contain, though the scrawl was hardly legible. That's not to say he didn't recognize it.
Dell had come to realize that Radigan's schematics seemed to have deteriorated in quality in his later years, with hands once sturdy enough to put together a steam engine becoming unsteady and stiff. He turned the folder this way and that, tilting his head along as vague letters came into view. The last time he’d found one in such a state he had tried to think of it as a one-man game of hangman, though he was certain that if his grandfather knew that little tidbit he’d think it a childish way to solve a problem. Dell couldn’t care less, of course, the old man was long gone, and it had worked the first time around anyways.
He continued his little game of turning the paper, then his head, then the paper again, back and forth until he could parse certain letters, jotting them down in a notepad just to his right. His hand moved again, though as he made to twist, his eye caught on a corner peeking from the edge of the folder. Engineer made a soft inquisitive noise, letting go of the blueprint to pluck the thin, yellowed sheet he'd jostled from behind it. More of the same shaky handwriting, but more legible this time, like the author had painstakingly gone letter by letter until the lines only curved together slightly, and Dell could read through it with relative ease.
‘To Fred, my son,’ It began, and the Engineer felt a bit of warmth bloom in his chest as he realized he was about to read a more human side to his grandfather, perhaps a kinder side than what he’d understood before. He continued reading.
‘and my most disappointing creation.’
and any hopes of that were thrown out the window. He was tempted to crumple the thing up into a brittle little ball of dried paper and bring it back for pyro to play with. He was very near doing it too, when he glazed over a few more words, stopping dead as he saw his name written alongside his fathers. Suddenly a wall of genuine confusion hit him, a feeling as familiar to him as a deserts heat was to a salmon. His grandfather had died before he’d even been born- not for lack of trying of course. From what Dell understood the old cuss had seemed to try and live as long as naturally possible out of sheer spite. He was half certain his own father would do the same one day. Still, that didn't answer the question of how Radigan even knew about him, let alone mentioned him. He doubted his father had had a name picked out already, and he didn’t even know when his mother had come into the picture. He returned his gaze to the paper, hoping the answer lay with those winding rivers of letters.
‘I’ll keep this brief. Every chance I've given you has ended up in a loss. It’s a sad state, with the family name and reputation is on the line. We both know I’m working on borrowed time, and I expect the devil’s coming to collect soon enough. I don’t have time to wait for you to wise up.If our family is gonna prosper, we’ve gotta weed out the average and try again.’
Dell's stomach dropped, quietly muttering the last line to himself as he tried to parse what exactly Radigan had meant with that. He looked at the blueprint again, and a terrible shiver ran down his spine, though he felt it best not to wonder why. Not yet at least. He swallowed his nerves and returned to the letter.
‘What I am giving you is nothing short of a miracle. I have everything you’ll need ready, all you have to do is introduce the subject and watch it grow. Keep it from harm until it can fend for itself. Shouldn’t be hard, I was on my own by the age you started working. He ought to be the same.
He’ll grow in the modern age, with technology I've worked my whole life on as a baseline. In some way, think of it as me living on. The boy will be of my blood, my cells, every part of me will transfer to him. And then, when my own body gives out on me, the Conagher bloodline may yet have some redeeming members.
‘You wanna be useful to this family?’ It read in bold, unforgiving handwriting.
’When this body of mine gives out on me, bury it next to your ma, and take care of the little one until he can teach you how to build something proper.
I've already chosen a name, and have the estimated incubation period. Unless you find a way to muck it up, Dell Conagher will be part of this lineage after a year of maturation. Follow my instructions to the letter, if you can manage it. This is the last chance you have to redeem yourself. Do not fail this family, Frederick. Do not fail me.’
The paper fluttered to the ground, Dell’s hands were shaking too bad to hold it any longer. He felt cold. He felt sick. He felt fatigued and electrified at the same time, his mind twisting like a whirlwind without any thoughts making their way out. His breathing was slow, but shaking like autumn leaves, while his face stung with a hot wash of anger and confusion. He could feel his heart hammering away behind his chest hard as a sledge to a hot iron while the fat beast of confusion gorged itself in his mind.
Dell looked back to the blueprint, the pieces coming together too fast for his liking. A tank, the dimensions just large enough for a newborn to develop in. Long, winding tubes interconnecting to receptacles retaining god knows what. A generator at the side, delicate wires the only thing keeping a small heart beating.
Radigan Conagher. First in a legacy of engineers spanning decades. ingenious, practical, tactical, curt, cold, harsh, uncaring… He had created something beyond what Dell could have ever anticipated, and left it in the stead of his son, not with the hopes he may care for it or cherish it, but under cruel, selfish intentions that Dell may surpass him to reclaim the glory to something as useless as a name. The pressure on his chest grew as he thought about how fragile those wires were, and how much contempt his father had for Radigan.
Anger flared, a billowing fire sparking up to burn through his heart. Decades of never knowing, of secrets and lies and half-truths. He wanted to scream, to throw something, he wanted to throttle his predecessors with every ounce of strength he had. That thought doused his anger in cold sorrow, realizing that nothing would come of it. The lies would still be there, the truth of his existence would remain unchanged.
He felt… ashamed, somehow. He looked in the reflective surface of his table and grimaced. He’d never before seen anything but a simple, honest man. Now he saw those hard, stern eyes, the firm frown-lines, the disappointed curl to his nostril and stubble turning to thick wiry hair at the sides of his face.
It all felt dirty, akin to after he would work on his larger machines in the sweltering heat, though this he knew couldn’t be washed off so easily. Instead, it sullied beneath the skin, through every strand of dna he had until it was coated in the unpleasant, dark filth that was the name ‘Conagher’
Dell had been taught from a young age not to question people. Now sat on the hard concrete floor of his workshop, back pressed against the cold metal of a half-built machine as he tried to catch his breath, and he wished he had at least once thought to disobey.