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The Casket Girls 2

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Memo by Médecin Warton to the General Staff of the Île de Ré Bataillon Pénal.

We require a verdict on the following proposition.


After the engagement at ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓, in the Doubs Department, Legionnaire Mary Pelican was recovered from her Chassis d’Bataille and stabilized. However, her injuries have left her paralyzed with little hope for recovery.

Currently, legionnaire Pelican resides in the Île de Ré barracks. Formal procedure dictates when a legionnaire becomes disabled in the line of duty, the Empire is obligated to suspend their criminal sentences and discharge them from the Legion. However, legionnaire Pelican is bedridden for the foreseeable future.

The medical department attempted to find lodging at the veterans' home. Unfortunately, they only accept men in the employ of the regular army. Also, legionnaire Pelican claims she has no family to take care of her. Medical staff is currently inquiring about lodgings in nearby convents and similar institutions.

However, a second alternative has been raised by the Department de Bionique to use legionnaire Pelican in medical experiments that would not only remedy her condition but could also provide great advancements in the development of the BC-Program. For details and the intended outcome of these procedures, I refer to you to the addendum attached to this document.

Allow me this brief interlude to propose my perspective on the subject. Despite the possibility of a positive outcome for Pelican, we are talking about human experimentation that involves technology from a dubious source. Furthermore, as stipulated in section 7 of the document, her new body parts will be treated as the property of the state.

I do not wish to force this moral quandary upon you, but this is also a matter that affects how my department operates from this point on into the future. Let’s put aside mlls Pelican and her criminal history. Would the General Staff choose this technology to be introduced, most citizens could come to suspect the Imperial Army’s motives to turn its veterans into state property.

I understand making a cripple walk wouldn’t just be a scientific triompf but also a miracle. But I feel the need to stress that both the medical achievement and the prospect of creating a new breed of soldier might blindsight those responsible for both the ethical and realistic consequences of this decision.

We are in anticipation of your response.

Médecin E. Warton

April 15th, 1872



Little Cayenne, on Île de Ré, France. 9 am…

It was time for the Médecin to do the rounds again in the medical quarters of Little Chayenne. The bare brickwork of the pentagonal fort from Napoleon’s time made the narrow corridors appear like a basement illuminated by light bulbs protected by nothing but cobwebs. This prison housed the Île de Ré battalion of the Légion Pénale. And she was its chief physician.

The corridors of the west wing were peaceful, apart from the clattering of bedpans being emptied by the nurses. In the background, the rhythm of the Steam-powered generator was accompanied by a chorus of crying seagulls circling the ramparts. When she arrived here for the first time, she thought the unceasing thumping of the machine would drive her mad. But now she couldn’t imagine Little Cayenne without it, as the rhythm of the transmission song her to sleep every night.

Warton entered the final ward. A sleeping quarter intended for a platoon-sized unit. Now it just contained four sick beds. Still, it resembled a dungeon with only two small windows that allowed fresh air inside for the three immobilized patients in this room. The first patient’s legs had to be amputated after his many bite wounds were left untreated. Not that it mattered, for the limbs had been torn to fleshy strands by hound-like creatures in his attempt to crawl to safety. He should find himself lucky to have survived. The second was wrapped in bandages from head to toe due to chemical burns caused by a friendly fire incident involving white phosphorous ammunition. Then the third one...

With reluctance, Médicin Warton looked at the paraplegic woman whose appearance was intact, apart from a deep gash to the left of her eyebrow. An unpleasant character who happened to be one of the female pilots of the Chassis d’Bataille, better known as the Coffin Girls. During an engagement, her automaton got knocked over, the report said. The impact broke her neck, damaging the nerves and leaving her immobile. For support, her neck had been braced with a leather gorget holding her head in a place like a corset. An accessory a Paris eccentric would fancy to a gala. But in this particular case, it looked like the stem of a very unappealing flower. Unlike the other two, she didn’t wear a bomb collar. Despite her condition, the officers insisted on fitting the patient with the notorious ‘Dry Guillotine’ as protocol dictated. But the Médecin managed to convince them her patient wasn’t going anywhere unless carried - or thrown out of a window.

Warton’s thoughts drifted back to the cause of the patient’s injury. Every time penal troopers were brought in, the stories behind the exotic wounds became more outlandish and unsettling. Now, a monster strong enough to knock over a multi-ton machine-like toy had traversed a rift into this world. She feared during the next encounter, they would meet something that could swallow a CB whole. Still, she preferred being confronted by those facts to having to deal with her next patient. Marie…

Confined to her bed, the Coffin Girl scowling glare looked up as if the ceiling had wronged her somehow. It wouldn’t surprise the doctor if Marie found a way to blame the beams for her misfortune. She blamed everyone else, after all.

“Connards don’t have eyes in fucking heads,” she swore ad nauseam when she was brought in. Not to mention all the other verbal abuse her staff had to endure.

Dr. Warton put on her most encouraging smile as she approached. “How are you feeling, mademoiselle?”

“I need to piss.”

Dr. Warton sighed. At least her response was somewhat helpful. “A nurse will be with you shortly… Have you noticed any changes?”

Marie’s pupils shifted all the way to the side just to look at the doctor. “Just say what do you intend to do with me.”

“Well… We had an encouraging letter from a convent-”

Marie’s face writhed as she tried to move due to some involuntary reflex. “I am not going back!”

“Non, non. You’re not going back to Cayenne,” Warton assured her patient. “It’s one not that far from here.”

Constrained by the brace Marie inhaled with all her might. “I’m not going to no convent!”

The Doctor sighed helplessly. She wished the nurse would hurry up. Though she did regret not explaining the whole situation.

“Just let me have that operation,” mumbled Marie sullen. “Can’t be any worse than this.”

The doctor was silent for a moment. “Who told you about any operation?”

“The Creep.”

The doctor’s mouth fell open. “Creep..?”

“Yeah… Said he could fix me, and showed off those spider legs of his to make a point. Connard woke me up in the middle of the frigging night. Connard... He didn’t want the other to see. Pascal’s snoring was so loud I couldn’t hear him come in. Connard.”

Wardon nodded incessantly. “Oui, I get it,” she sneered and walked off without so much as another word. The doctor knew exactly who her patient was talking about and it was time to have another meeting with Marie’s visitor.

*

The clacking sound of a determent thread reverberated across the courtyard of Little Cayenne. From inside the hangers by the fort’s walls, mechanics observed Dr. Warton as she marched across the square straight for the restricted east wing. A place that even she wasn’t allowed to enter until a few months ago to discuss a new program with the ominous moniker Donn.

The program’s purpose had been a shocking revelation to her, both as a vocational and personal affront. From the moment Warton had learned about its secrets, she had avoided the very gate she approached as it reminded her too vividly of what she had learned about the goings-on inside those vaults.

The soldiers standing guard by the reinforced doors still required all her papers before allowing the Médicin access to the dank gas light interior of the Casemat. A sour chemical smell lingered inside the hallway that ran past the offices, each separated with thick brick and mortar work.

She followed the braids of wiring haphazardly strapped to the ceiling till she finally reached the heart of the Donn program.

Inside a hewed-out section of the old brink work was a vault door, not that unlike that of a bank. It was left open. But when she was about to enter the chamber beyond, a hulking figure moved in, barring her passage. Trunk-like arms swayed from the massive torso of the gigantic man who wore nothing but trousers hanging from suspenders that were covered up by a waistcoat one size too small.

Warton stepped back as he blocked the entrance with his ape-like bulk. He did not speak to or engage her in any way. He, or rather it, just responded in preordained ways to her presence. Looking up at wide jaws and eyes sewn shut to the size of peepholes, the doctor incidentally fixated on the back end of a spike protruding from the left side of his forehead. The boney missile that failed to kill him, or so she was told, had turned him into the mindless homunculus standing in front of her.

From the back of the vault, a man raised his voice in a fatherly tone. “Cesare. Let the Médicin enter.”

The lumbering homunculus stepped aside with mechanical acumen and ceased to acknowledge her presence. Then he just stood beside the doorpost like a gargoyle with a thousand-yard stare. Still, Warton was still hesitating to pass him by, and after a brief hesitation, ran past him as if to clear the way for a passing stagecoach.

Recovered from her fright, the Médicin proceeded to take in her surrounding like a suspicious cat while smelling the scent of oil mixed with that of, she was fairly certain, Iodine - A recently introduced antiseptic.[ On our Plane, the antiseptic properties of Iodine were discovered in 1873 by the French medical researcher Casimir Joseph Davaine.] Her professional disdain was roused once again when assessing the laboratory that was in a part engineering workshop, part operating room. The first time coming here, it had horrified Warton to learn that what she first assumed to be a dissection table, surrounded by various mechanical arms and an array of lamps attached to the ceiling, was actually where Petiot performed his so-called augmentation procedures.

The former munition storage reminded her of the alchemy workshops of old. But the boiling elixirs and aromatic herbs had been replaced with cold components and colorful chemicals.

“Please, come in, doctor.” Spoke a weaselly voice from behind a closet.

Warton mentally prepared herself as she peeked around the corner. There, surrounded by various industrial machines, including column drill, reamer, and lathe, stood the Constructor in front of a workbench cluttered with electrical tools and unsorted components. Even now, Constructor Petiot’s mutilated form gave her a physical reaction of disgust. Corpse-like skin. Thin arms hung idly beside his body, while small insect-like appendages protruding from his chest were working tirelessly on yet another contraption on the table in front of him: a mechanical leg like he himself possessed. Were the steel stuck out from the flesh, the skin was stretched across the attachment point like strung-out leather that shifted with each movement of the mechanical components underneath. “Madame Warton. To what do I owe this pleasure?” he asked while sparks flew as he grazed the surface of his project.

She took a breather and said. “I told you to never to address my patients.”

“I merely did what every physician ought to do,” he remarked without looking up from his work. “Inform the patient about all the possibilities open to them regarding their treatment.”

“You’re proposing to experiment on her.”

“Madame-”

“Doctor!” she interrupted him.

“Your title means little to me, Elisabeth.” Something about him mentioning her name stunned the doctor, and stepped back as Petiot turned around to flaunt his auxiliary limbs like a peacock showing off his feathers. “As you can clearly see, my treatments are tried and tested. Possibly for longer than your precious medical field is in existence. For my knowledge is passed down to me from the Signal. As for the suggested operation itself. Each time we cut into our patients, we are performing an experiment. We just assume that the same experiment will have the same result. Until it doesn’t… In which case, we just learned something new.”

“You are not giving her a choice! Her condition is just an excuse for whatever it is that you intend to do!”

“What is it with you and your reverence for human biology, Miss? It’s flawed. If it were a machine, its concept wouldn’t even have made it to the drawing board. The treatment wouldn’t just restore the woman’s locomotion. It would be superior.”

“To what end?”

“End? Why does everything need to have the desired outcome? Isn’t restoring one’s life not good enough?”

“You realize that her body will be the property of the Empire?”

He seemed to be taken aback this time. “That… That I do regret.” He turned around and continued his labor. “But it’s her to give. And considering her value to society, most would consider it a bargain. Some would go so far as to say it's too good for her…” he gave her a pedantic glance with silvery eyes of his across his shoulder. “What do you think, Madame? Shouldn’t we give this opportunity to somebody more worthy of a second chance?”

“We are not supposed to pass judgment on our patients, monsieur!”

“Miss, you were the one who came in here to lecture me on virtue. And as I understand it, you didn’t cross the channel to enjoy the Burgundian life of the French either.”

“You don’t know of what you speak.”

Sparks flew of the prosthesis’ surfaces as one of the chest limbs engaged its torch. “It is as they say. There is no such thing as a guilty conscience in the penal legion… Tell me, Doctor, what options are open to Pelican?”

She crossed herself. “We are arranging a stay inside a convent.”

“Sound like heaven.” His auxiliary limbs continued to dart fluidly across the workbench. Warton could already picture those insect-like appendages working on Marie like a spider cocooning its prey. But it was Marie’s mistake to make. “Alright… I’ll ask her one last time.”

“You do that… Where was I? Ah, yes…”

As Warton was leaving the cabinet of horrors, she was haunted by the homunculus’ terrible singing voice competing with the noise of his torch. “Welding the fibula and connecting the tibia. Working beside the ocean, to produce means of locomotion….”

*

The afternoon sun was blinding when Warton emerged from the confines of the casemate. But the ocean breeze did her well. And yet her conversation with Petoit stuck in her mind. Ask Marie... She thought. Warton alrighy knew that girl’s answer. The doctor was stalling. But she wasn’t sure why. For her own conscious?

Meanwhile, in the far corner of the square, under the watchful eye of Senegalese tirailleurs clad in Zouave uniform, sat what remained of the Penal battalion. A handful of platoons. Hunched over their tables, they were complaining, smoking, drinking, and playing games like cards and backgammon. This afternoon they would be gathering wood, no doubt, for the steam generator. Whatever to keep them occupied… Except for proper training.

Distracted, Warton wandered across the courtyard. The smell of ground metal mixed with sulfur drifted on the wind as she approached the open hangers where mechanics were working on the two CB’s that were retrieved from the last mission. One was nothing but a burned-out husk. The pilot died in the same fire as the giant creature they killed. Warton hoped the pilot died of suffocation before being cooked alive. It was hard to tell of the remains.

A red CB, sighed with the name Pépite, was suspended from heavy chains as left legs were being replaced and the pilot’s glass dome was missing. By the wall lay the old legs. Their massive beams were crooked is if crushed by an elephant.

She had seen the fallout of this battle firsthand. Each casualty she was tasked to identify each. Many hadn’t even fallen victim of the creatures. For this operation, even for a unit notorious for self-inflicted casualties, the number astounded even her. Some of the convicts sitting in the sun were brutes and murderers for sure. But most were petty thieves, pickpockets, and forgers. Some had been veterans fallen on hard times, but whatever skill and discipline they once possessed was likely lost to alcoholism or other afflictions to body and soul.

She comforted herself by watching bare-chested men flexing their muscles as they held one of the heavy struts in place. At least the technical staff, many of whom were Créole, took care of themselves.

“Nédicin,” greeted the mat lisping voice. It was lieutenant Guesclin, who saluted her. He was a commanding officer in the Battalion. But most refer to him by his moniker Uncle Henry due to his maimed face that resembled that of many a corpse that Warton had identified over her career. A wound that would get most officers honorably discharged from the army. And yet, here he was, commanding convicts into battle. A post that, to most, was considered to be a punishment, if not an outright death sentence.

She just acknowledged him with a nod. “Lieutenant.”

“To what do we owe the honor?”

She wasn’t sure what to say. Absentmindedly, she inspected the innards of the stripped-down CB’s. “If only we could fix humans as easily as machines.”

“Then human beings would be thrown aside the moment they lost their usefulness.”

“We don’t appear to object to that at the moment… Was there something you are hinting at, lieutenant?”

He nodded. “These machines are going to be replaced and be returned the Convent.”

“The Convent?”

He looked at her. “You haven’t been told?”

“My concern is with the patients, not the machines. Providing care has taken all of my attention, and it has rarely been this serene since I got here.”

“Indeed... Well, we are waiting for reinforcements until we can be defloyed again.”

“What will happen if there is another incursion?”

“The army will contain it. Mostly Outsiders won’t stray far from a rift until they get hungry or do the sensible thing and return. We’ll be sent in to clear away the problem.”

“Penal Troops are more expendable than regulars, I suppose.”

“In theory.”

“Hmm?”

“A well-trained soldier can do more than a flatoon of untrained civilians. My soldiers learn on the job, as they say. This is further hamfered by the fact most are of dubious moral character and don’t work well with others. We have a vast but not unlimited suf-fly of convicts. When that source of fodder dries uff. Then we’ll have to treat the noble soldiers of the Em-fire the same way we treat common criminals.”

“What would you suggest?”

“Investing in our troops would increase their survivability, I suppose.”

She looked at the bored convicts. One was just staring at the wall for no ostensible reason. “Don’t your coffins girls at least receive any training?”

“They are a different case. The women are brought to a place called the Convent where they learn to operate the prototype machines… It’s dirty work.”

“No wonder mademoiselle Pelican doesn’t want to go to a convent.”

“Marie? How is she doing?”

“Lieutenant. Am I allowed to know about the Convent?”

“Frobably not.”

“Have you met Monsieur Petiot yet?”

“Is that the Outsider they keef in the East Wing.”

“He’s a Signalite,” she corrected him. “Are you aware of them?”

He looked at her. “You mean that group all those radio celebrities subscribe to?”

“The very ones. He says he can fix her.”

“That would be wonderful. All I have now is that tard, Tiana… Is there a broblem.”

“Imagine if the survivability of your current soldiers would improve. Would that save lives?”

“Obviously.”

“What if that meant turning these soldiers into something that would transgress the boundaries of… Human biology.”

“If you are implying that Signalite is going to do something to her?” he asked suspiciously. “What boundaries are being transgressed?”

Choosing her words carefully, she explained the situation, but by the end, the lieutenant’s gaze had turned into a macabre grin as he laughed at what was obviously a devious thought.

“What’s so amusing?”

“Ughm ugh…. C’est grand.”

“Excusé moi?”

“Finally, my troops might have some value to the Empire.”

She shook her head in confusion. “How do you mean?”

“They are investments now. Losing one of these bionic troops will actually cost them. Having invested in whatever body parts they are going to attach to that woman, they probably want them back by the end, correct?”

The Médicin was dumbfounded. She couldn’t help but grin at the prosperousness of it all. “Now she’ll be their property, they’ll want her to stay alive.”

“Exactement, Médecin.”




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