There was a gentle knocking on the door of the apartment. The couple exchanged glances then Tai stood and walked silently across the room. "Yes?" he called to their unexpected guest.
"It's me sir! Talula Spannerbang!" came a small voice from the other side.
Tai narrowed his eyes slightly. He hadn't realized the gnome knew where he and Kennia lived. He opened the door and looked down at the brightly smiling gnome. She was carrying a wooden box that looked like some wire-loving rodent had made a nest in it. Stepping aside, he gestured for her to come in. Talula attempted a wave at Kennia then fumbled to keep her hold on the box.
"Talula! What a surprise. What are you doing out at this hour?" Kennia asked.
"Sorry to call on you both so late, but it's done!" the little engineer said with enthusiasm.
"Done?" Tai asked as he crossed the room to sit beside his wife.
"Yes! The recorder, it's done! I'll need to do some installation though. It will only take a minute."
Tai looked to Kennia who paused for a moment and then nodded slightly. The gnome set the box down and began to stretch wires and small devices throughout the apartment. Two hours later, she called out "All finished. I just have to show you how to use it."
The couple stood and went over to where Talula was hanging a button covered box on the wall.
"You know, it is rather late. Perhaps we could finish this in the morning." Tai protested.
"I promise to be quick sir." She handed a smaller box with three buttons to Kennia. "And it would be a shame if Lady Kennia missed another song."
The gnome started with the wireless box in the warrior's hands. "That is the portable recorder, in case Lady Kennia should start singing when she's at the office or out on business. It's manually controlled so you'll have to hit the red button there to start recording."
Kennia pushed the red button and there was the slight sound of gears coming to life. "Then, when you're done recording what you want to, you just hit the blue button." Kennia hit the blue button and the gears in the box stopped moving.
"Then," the gnome continued, "when you want to listen to what you've recorded, press the green button. The woman pushed the green button and heard Talula's voice say "Then, when you're done recording what you want to, you just hit the blue button." There was a slight click and the recorder box fell silent. "Unfortunately," Talula said with a sigh "the next thing you record will erase anything that is currently recorded, but it will store 15 minutes of singing if you need it too."
The gnome walked over to the box on the wall. This device had buttons, switches, a small crank, a tiny light and a dial covering it's faceplate. Each one had been neatly labeled as to what it did.
"The fixed unit has more recording time. You could record all night if you wanted to and it's designed to add sound until the recording turbine is full, which will be indicated by this red light going on. When that happens, turn this crank and the recording turbine will reset itself.
"It has a sound activated on/off mechanism in case Lady Kennia is home alone and starts singing. I also installed a bypass switch," she pointed at a metal switch labeled bypass "so that you can turn this feature off if you like. You won't want it to record every sound you make, I'm sure. Should you need to eliminate the recording in an emergency, the purple button is the quick erase feature. I wouldn't use that too often though. It's pretty hard on the recording turbine.
"This last switch activates the retention mechanism so that when you do get a song you want to investigate further, you can keep the recording turbine from being deleted accidentally. And, of course, you recognize these three buttons." Talula gestured at the red, blue, and green buttons that looked just like the ones on the portable recorder. "The red is a manual record, the blue turns the whole business off and the green plays back the recording." Talula pressed the little green button. From somewhere inside the device came an oddly soothing song in a language neither of the humans understood. It took a moment before they realized that the high pitched, slightly off key voice was Talula's.
"Playback is designed to come from this station only and the volume can be adjusted here." She pointed to the dial. " I installed the pickups around your home though, for the best recording quality regardless of the room you're in."
The recorded singing stopped and the gnome turned toward the humans to see if they had any questions. "What was that song?" Kennia asked, her mind far away as if trying to remember something long forgotten.
"Oh, uh..." Talula blushed slightly. "My Aunt Beatrice the Traveler used to sing that to me when I was little. I think it translates something like: Though night has come, my little child your restless mind still wanders over snowcapped mountains and fields of wheat, following the stream to the wide sea.
Sail safe my child, through dreaming skies. May your step be light on trails of fancy and may all your machines work without fail 'til the shores of dreamland bring you home to me."
Talula looked up at the humans and blushed again. "It... rhymes better in Gnomish." She cleared her throat and quickly added "So, any questions?"
Tai was sure the system made sense. It reeked of logic and reason - and he trusted Talula's mechanical skill. Yet, despite all the colored buttons and gadgets, Tai had a question that had nothing to do with the recorder.
He had taken the glass stopper out of the carafe of port and poured out three glasses of the rich, dark brown liquor. Picking up the glasses and coming back to where Talula was showing Kennia the devices, he offered the two women each a glass and asked Talula his question, innocently curious, "You grew up with your aunt?" It was late but he sat back on the couch, wanting to know more about this gnomish woman that he now considered family.
"... and is powered by elemental water, so you shouldn't leave anything that can't get wet under the main recorder unit just in case a leak develops with the recording turbine. "
Talula finished answering one of Kennia's questions when Tai came back and placed a glass of port in her hand. "You grew up with your aunt?" His voice sounded tired but interested.
Talula looked up at him and blinked several times. She hadn't expected his question to be about her family and it caught her off guard. "Um. Yes. With all of them, actually. And my Uncle Ezra." The gnome shuffled nervously and took a sip of the wine, hoping the questions would turn back to the recorder.
The Tiger Master sat back on the couch and looked fondly at his wife. Though she had seemed tired earlier, the promise of finally hearing the song that had taunted her for so long had renewed her energy. She was excited and nervous. He watched her lithe form cross the room to sit beside him. Setting the portable recorder down, she turned her attention to Talula and asked with a kind smile, "What happened to your parents, if I may ask?"
Talula shuffled her feet again. She knew the questions were kindly meant, but they were treading down a dangerous road, one she was not sure her new family would appreciate. "They... they were killed when I was still young. There was an accident with a spring on my dad's flying machine."
"Were they both engineers like you?" Tai asked, taking another sip of the port.
"No, sir. Well, that is, my father was. Gnomish Engineer First Class Nevins Spannerbang. My mother was schooled in the arcane sciences as it were. She had hoped that as her only child, I would inherit her gift but, I'm a Spannerbang through and through. I don't remember them all that well, but I do remember that she used to feed me potions to try and force some magic into me. All they did was turn my tongue funny colors." Talula smiled a little at the memory. "I... would write letters to them. When I was younger, I mean. You know, to tell them what was going on and how I was. Kind of stupid, I guess. It's not like they got to read them."
Kennia smiled at the gnome. It was a kind and warm expression and Talula felt her guard drop for just a moment. "Does she know that she can do that?" Talula thought, catching herself. She wondered just how much elven magic lay buried in the human woman's subconscious. "Was your mother one of the famous Beatrices?" the warrior asked, nestling herself against her husband.
Talula grinned again. "Yes. She was Beatrice the Seer. Mother's side of the family were all very talented in magic. Well, except for Uncle Ezra. He was an engineer and a businessman and a bit of a scoundrel. I suppose that's what happens when you're the only boy in a family of girls and not gifted - in the magical sense, I mean. He taught me most everything I know, including how to fish. He was very good." The gnome took a slow sip of the port, letting it play across her mouth, imagining what Ezra would have said about such a vintage.
"And you're named after a Beatrice? You are a Beatrice too?" Kennia asked.
"No, no. I'm just Talula. My Aunt Beatrice Talula is who I am named after. She made wonderful items from leather - shoes, hats. They wanted to call her Beatrice the Cobbler after the binary numbering system fell through, but she said she had had enough of the whole nonsense and that she was going to be called Talula. My Grandmother couldn't wrap her head around that, so everyone ended up calling her Beatrice Talula. I think my other aunts admired her for trying though. I know my mother did. I think that's why I ended up just a Talula. Uncle Ezra used to say that our family soup had too much vitamin Bea. He and I thought it was funny. Aunt Beatrice the Summoner called up a gremlin to infest his workshop for a whole month once, because of it. He didn't say that so much after that."
Tai watched the gnome closely. "So, where are they now, Talula?" he asked.
For the briefest moment, she froze, her expression fearful. Tai caught the look and wondered what it meant. "Um... they were... lost in The Incident. It was a chaotic time. You were all fighting the Burning Legion and... well, I'm sure the High Tinker did what he thought was best."
There was a long silence before Talula set her empty glass down and returned to her cheery voice. "My! Look at the time. I'm sorry to keep you all up so late. You should get some rest. I should too. Busy day tomorrow and all." She quickly gathered together the last of her tools. "Let me know if there are any problems. Or questions. Or whatever. Just give me a call. Ok, then. Good night!" She scuttled out the door and into the night.
She didn't stop running until she was well away from the apartment. Pausing to catch her breath, her mind raced as fast as her heart. "Did they see?" she thought wildly "Perhaps they didn't notice. Maybe they'll just think it's survivors guilt and leave it be. Yes. So many people lost family during the war and the plagues. That's it. They don't need to know the truth about the Aunts and Uncle Ezra." She inhaled slowly, forcing herself to be calm. "They never need to know that I killed them."