Specs wasn’t really an engineer. Their friends took him to be more of the theoretical sort, someone who could crunch numbers but was never seen in the lab for more than the minimum amount of time. He could be relied on for knowledge, but anyone who’d been in group projects with him had heard he preferred working with people, and that splitting work with him and expecting it done was a lot less productive than sitting him down in a work space on campus and bouncing the work between you.
His flatmates knew he wasn’t in the flat that much, and assumed he spent the rest of the time with societies and work. If anyone had checked, they would have noted that there was always a two hour gap in his schedule, but since he seemed to be perfectly ordinary (or as ordinary as the majority of EU student body were, at least) no one paid it much attention.
The shop students knew him as the guy who’d borrow their time to get little things done on their machines. A pinch of solder and iron to fix a wire, a small bit of the forge to cast some metal bits in the unused space of a bigger project. The chemistry students knew him as the guy who’d drop liquids in the liquid waste bin. Never more than a glass, a good way of disposing something you didn’t want to drink or keep nearby. The physics students knew him as the guy who’d request a few minutes with some of their meters. Strain gauges were the most common, but voltmeters and pressure gauges were close behind.
He always had an air of detached interest whenever gossip about the Gentry passed around the lecture halls. It was always another student who’d had a run in with a shadowy figure down by the lot, or had met Jimothy to trade beads, or had carefully not looked too closely at their flatmate recently.
Specs remained a guy with a few good friends who was a nice enough person to chat to throughout his first year. Then, in his second year, his sister came to EU.
Frizz was a drama student, eccentric, always ready with a smile and with a temper that was righteous in its fury. She wrote her own plays, sang her own little songs and drew in her spare time. She and her brother met up every other day for a quick hug, her drama friends quickly becoming acquainted with the smaller group of second year chem eng students who accompanied the elder sibling. When Frizz began dating, in as quietly dramatic a fashion as always, her brother was the one who looked her partner in the eye and stared for half a minute before calmly patting them on the shoulder and giving them a grin when he felt them shaking.
It was only a few months before Frizz had racked up a substantial number of encounters with the Fair Folk, as the liberal arts students tended to. One of Specs’ friends caught the occasional glimpse of worry beneath his usual friendly demeanor, but since Frizz had seemingly taken her brothers words of mild caution to heart she’d not come out of any of them the worse for wear.
Then, halfway through the year, Specs went backstage after a production had finished, he and the rest of the group of friends who’d come to support those of their number involved, to find Frizz’s partner running to him, terror in their eyes.
“They took Frizz!”
Specs face lost all emotion, and the rest of the group took a step back to give him space. A couple of them followed him as he left the theatre with a steadily quicker stride, and lost him as he began sprinting out into the grounds. They hoped he would be alright, knowing that the loss of a sibling would be heartbreaking. One or two of them resolved to go to his flat to comfort him the next day.
What they didn’t expect the next day was for Specs to be sitting behind a table on one of the main university paths with a selection of gadgets and items in front of him and a big digital timer counting down.
The first person to approach him was met with a fake, friendly smile and asked if they’d like a free sample. When they asked him what on earth he was doing, he took a yo-yo from the table in explanation.
“I’m starting off with the smallest stuff. Wholly iron and steel, six metres long wire string. Get it swinging at two and I guess you could even wrap someone up in it. Time goes on, I’ll start getting rid of the bigger stuff I’ve got stashed around. There’s a spray paint system I worked on the other day, it’s got a lovely red finish at up to twenty metres. I put some red iron-based paint in it, easily replaceable.”
Of course, most people steered clear of his stall, afraid of angering the Fair Folk, but there was always someone desperate, and soon he’d given out about thirty of the smaller things. There were several people who observed a tall man, lines of red rising on his skin in a manner that suggested something had coiled round him, stride over to the table.
“You will stop,” he said in a sibilant, angry tone.
“Huh?” came Specs disinterested reply. “Oh, you’re right, two hours have gone past and still my sister hasn’t turned up. Time to move on to the next batch.”
The man seemed to grow taller, hands becoming more pointed. Specs pulled a hula hoop from the stand and tossed it over the man’s head, breaking a catch and allowing a spool of chicken wire to spring from within, encircling his interrogator. After a couple of minutes, he pulled the chicken wire down, taking a small water pistol from the table instead. The tall man glared and retreated.
After half a day, Specs was seen walking to several iron electric boxes and pulling out things stashed within, before returning to the stand to place his unearthed stash on display. Unlike the steadily grander toys he’d been selling, these things didn’t hide what they were made for. An ugly looking thing with springs held several iron bolas. A mass of batteries were strapped to a couple of electromagnets with a supply of iron filings to feed between the two. Swimming goggles with lenses and rocks. Flashlights with reticules and chemical warning labels. Ball bearings and a hand cranked handheld self reloading catapult.
For those who were desperate, the rumours that had spread around campus were enough to bring them in. Each piece of equipment was explained, warnings about not firing this through a glass window, it could put someone’s eye out, that shouldn’t be aimed at the legs in case it trips someone up, this should be handled with a paint mask and with no-one in the immediate vicinity.
In the evening, as Specs handed out the last of the things he hadn’t been holding onto for himself, a group of assorted people with burn scars, pocks of red and faces in assorted angry expressions that looked near inhuman came towards him.
“You’ve made a lot of people angry.”
“They can join the club. I still haven’t seen my sister.”
“You have no more threats to hand out. You will be sorry.”
“Oh? No, I’ve got a whole wardrobe full of these things. Then there’s the emergency stashes I made, just in case. Then the stuff I’ve left half finished. And, of course, I might start handing out copies of my designs, I had a bunch of people interested in what I offered today and I’m sure some of them would love to know how these things work, try a hand at making their own-”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Wouldn’t I? I don’t see what the problem is. I’m just putting my frustration into something productive. If only my sister were here to calm me down…”
The next day a girl with Frizz’s face approached the stall. She left when Specs offered her a wire Chinese finger trap to try out.
It was midday when Frizz herself appeared, wandering drunkenly over to Specs stall and hugging him as though she’d never let go. Specs brushed her hair with a hand covered in iron rings, murmuring in her ear. He kept one arm around her as he packed up the stall, hefting the duffel bag and stall with difficulty with one hand before the siblings’ friends arrived from class to help.
That evening, in Specs flat, with Frizz lying exhausted on the couch in the kitchen, one of his friends quietly asked why he’d had all that stuff prepared. In the course of one and a half days he’d handed out enough anti-fae tools for a small mob, and he’d been hinting he had even more. One of Frizz’s friends, the one who never wore iron and smiled all the time, looked slightly scared as she asked why he hadn’t used it.
“My family have always been creative,” he said. “You can see my sister’s talent. My dad paints, my mum sings. I imagine things. And some of those things are not very nice.”
He looked at his hands. After two days of being either clenched or solid as a rock, they were shaking now.
“It was fun to imagine solutions to a problem I’d never faced. To make something cheap, effective and that I’d never need to use, but should have around just in case. Heck, I even said to myself that it was alright to design bigger, because it wasn’t as if it’d be used on anyone nice.”
He began to cry. His voice went very, very quiet.
“I don’t want to be known for weapons.”