The Mint Dam
The dam is an impressive structure that almost looks out of place when compared to the relatively backwater town of Stonebarrow. It's existed for generations and is currently under management through a joint effort of the Akwavi and Kadie clans (notably the Wingnuts). It spans a good sixty feet and is composed of earth and timber. The top is lined with three equally spaced waterwheels. One of the wheels powers the various Wingnut workshops that reside near the base of the dam. Another wheel powers the various mills that produce paper and other such items requiring milling, such as flour. The third wheel is for general use and powers many various places in the nearby town that require mechanical power. A menagerie of gearing, drive axles, and catwalks also line the top of the dam, interconnecting the wheels and providing service access to them.
Amy takes her time returning to the cabin and getting dressed. She also picks up the spilled nuts and breakfast leftovers, setting them aside for later. It's only after things are back into some semblance of order that she heads back to the crash-site of Gunther's air-boat.
Gunther is sitting to the side, sulking. Zahnrad is busily unhooking his prototype engine from the odd watercraft. Every now and then he hops around waving his hands and complaining, "Hot hot hot!"
Gunther mutters, "Serves you right! You need to share more."
"You're still at it?" Amelia asks, and then looks at Gunther. "Why is Gunther pouting?" she then demands.
"I'm taking my engine back!" Zahnrad asserts, "He can build his own."
"Why can't you work on it together?" Amy asks in exasperation. "Didn't he already fix part of it?"
"Only if he agrees it goes in my airship first. A second one can be used for his … stuff," Zahnrad insists and glares at Gunther for a moment. Gunther sticks out his tongue.
"You mean the first one will be used for testing under various conditions," Amy says. "And the second one will be made after you've worked out all the problems, and that one will go into the airship. Right?"
"He's impossible to work with!" Gunther insists and crosses his arms.
"It needs to be tested in the airship," Zahnrad counters, "That's what it's for! But … maybe we can test it with other stuff too."
"It looks like you need a way to keep it cool too," Amy points out.
"As long as there is air blowing over it, it stays cool enough," Zahnrad comments, "That's also why there are fins on it."
"What if it has to run without moving though?" Amy asks.
"What would be the point of that?" Zahn asks.
"It would stay cooler if you ducted the body and ran water through it to cool it," Gunther offers.
"That would weaken the structure," Zahn counters.
"Well, didn't you mention that it could be used to power the whatsit to dredge up some swamp soil for Erik?" Amy asks.
"That was theoretical," Zahnrad claims, having obviously forgotten that small detail. "Why the sudden concern?"
"Because you tend to be too focused on one application, Zahnrad," Amelia notes, crossing her arms. "Gunther just proved the engine can be useful in things other than an airship. So you should consider general-purpose stuff too. That would be pretty valuable as well you know."
"It's for my dream," Zahnrad mutters, ears flattening as the Kadie turns away, "It would require modification to be more general purpose."
"He doesn't like losing an argument," Gunther whispers to Amelia.
"I really wish you two would work together," Amy says with a sigh. "Things would get done faster. At this rate, you'll start competing to build the best engine, and Gunther doesn't have the same resources that you do, Zahn. He could get hurt!"
"He doesn't let me touch much after he caught me riding the lathe," Gunther notes to Amelia. Zahn's tail just twitches.
"He can work with me on one condition," Zahn finally says and holds up one finger for emphasis.
Amelia's own tail twists at that image. "At least help Gunther build a smaller version of it, okay?" she asks Zahn, hugging him from behind. "Something less powerful? This test of his wasn't so bad, right? You know that the propellers work now."
"He has to agree that I'm the boss and I have ultimate say on the design," Zahnrad relents, sort of. "And that he'll just ask before he borrows things."
Pressing her cheek to Zahn's back as she turns to look at Gunther, Amy says to the younger brother, "Well, you can agree to the asking-first part, right Gunther?"
"Okay, okay," Gunther agrees. "I'll agree to that if you'll listen to my ideas and not just dismiss them outright. I do have some experience with propelling things really, really, fast."
"And I bet he could work on parts that you don't have the time for, Zahn," Amy notes, trying to sound convincing. "Like… uh… a pump thingy for your fuel. Or an air-bottling part. He can't get into much trouble with bottled air, right?"
"Yes, but those are to break things," Zahnrad points out as the tension seems to melt away with Amelia hugging him. "I'll listen to your ideas. If the mathematics of them are sound, well … we'll try it."
"Ooo, air bombs … " Gunther muses at the comment about bottled air.
Amelia slowly releases Zahn, and smiles. "See? You two can work together! Just please don't make the mathematics too loud, okay?"
Zahnrad almost corrects Amelia's misunderstanding … then seems to decide it's not really worth it.
"So now that you're cooled down, maybe the engine is too," Amy says, smiling. She pats Zahn on the shoulder, and asks, "Do you need Gunther to help disconnect it? Or can I go punish him for interrupting our breakfast now?"
"Hmmm. Flexible fuel lines … there has to be a way to extrude the rubber into flexible pipes," Gunther muses now and rubs his chin. "Maybe a modification of the snot-shot system could provide enough fluid force… "
"I can get it disconnected," Zahnrad claims. If it's true or not, well … maybe he'd prefer to see Gunther punished. "What do you intend to do to him?"
"Oh… you're better off not knowing," Amy says, and then grabs Gunther's arm. "Come with me, Gunther."
"Ru … " Gunther starts muttering again, then yeeps when he arm is grabbed! "What, what?" he yelps. Apparently he missed the part about punishment.
Amelia drags the smaller Kadie back towards the dam, and says, "You're in big trouble, mister! Do you have any idea what you interrupted?" she tells the boy, giving him a little shake as well.
"Knowing Zahn? He was probably doing something goofy, or worse … making you breakfast," Gunther answers, voice warbling as he's shaken. "So, I saved your life! You should thank me, he's a terrible cook."
Amy just gives Gunther a glare, and then makes sure they're far enough away so Zahn won't overhear. "Well, you're going to help me now with something. I need to set some sort of traps in the trees along a certain route to slow Zahn down, because he's faster than I am."
"Slow? That's dull. Why not capture?" Gunther asks, voice betraying interest, though. "And why? Worried he'll beat you somewhere?"
"I just need to get to the finish line about a minute before he does," Amelia explains. "Only he can't lose track of where I'm going, either. So… I need to slow him down a little bit or else speed myself up, got it?"
"What is the finish line and why do you have to win?" Gunther pries. "I need to know, of course, to figure out the best way… " the Kadie lies.
"I haven't prepared the finish line yet," Amelia notes. "And it doesn't matter so long as I get the lead early on."
"Are you trying to prove you're better than he is?" Gunther asks next.
"What?" Amelia asks, looking surprised at the question. "No… I wouldn't be trying to cheat if that were the case! This is for something… uhmm… fun. It's a game!" she claims. "He's still going to win in the end, but it needs to be… a challenge."
"So, breaking his toes is out, then," Gunther notes and starts pacing in a circle. "How much do you weigh?"
"Me? Probably not much more than you," Amelia says. "You Kettenrad boys are dense."
"We-ell," Gunther begins, "One possibility is to cut the branches a bit in strategic places. Not enough that it breaks when you go over it, but when he does … snap. And if it were over a mud pit, or a net, or something, that would slow him down."
Amelia twitches a bit at the suggestions. "I don't want to make him angry," she points out. "What about weights strapped to his legs? Ones that only I have the key to remove?" she counter-proposes.
"Oh, I thought you didn't want him to know about being deliberately slowed," Gunther says, "If he knows, that opens lots of possibilities."
"Nothing sticky though," Amy demands, shaking a finger to make her point. "No snot, or goo, or tar or anything that gets stuck in fur or messes up his tail."
"Weights could get tangled, snagged, or rubbed," Gunther considers for a moment, "But … the idea of locking things on him could work. Something like modified gloves, like my otter-mitts, to alter his fingers and toes a bit would make it harder for him to cling and swing. He would have to go slower. Heck, fitting him in an otter suit would make it harder. It alters tail shape too, so balance would be different. I could make lockable mitts and tail cover pretty easily."
"That… sounds complicated," Amelia notes. "I was thinking of a harness or belt. He shouldn't know that it's weighted until he puts it on."
"And, uh, it has to be easy to get out of at the end," the Kadie girl adds.
"Well, the gloves wouldn't be that complicated. I could claim they're made to handle hot things. Like an oven mitt," Gunther offers, "And he works with his hands and feet all the time. And less unbalancing than a harness with weights that might shift."
"But what would keep him from just taking them off?" Amy asks.
"Lockable wrist and ankle cuffs on them," Gunther explains. "Of course, you would have to close the locks. I could make them fairly hidden, though. Wouldn't even know until he tried to get them off."
Gunther circles Amelia now, peering at her. "What is the hardest thing for you when you are going through branches?" he asks.
Swishing her tail, Amy nods. "That could work. I could say they for handling the hot engine." At the question, she says, "I have to depend on my hands more than my feet. My toes and feet aren't long like yours."
"Sit and show me your feet," Gunther comments as he sits down on the ground and crosses his legs.
Amelia sits down on her butt, and holds a foot out for inspection while crossing the other leg under.
Gunther takes a hold of that foot and peers at it. "Wiggle your toes?" he asks. "How strong are they?"
With toes wiggling, Amy says, "I don't know how you measure toe-strength. I can hang from them for a few minutes if they're gripping a rope."
"That's not bad! I was thinking maybe we could fit you with some toe extensions that would give you a little better grip and claws that hook a bit more," Gunther notes, "I think you could propel with them better if you were more certain your foothold was solid, yes?"
The Kadie girl considers that. "I suppose. I know that I don't have the same leverage for jumping you do, because my feet are shorter and my calves longer."
"Would it be bad if he isn't slowed down enough and he wins?" Gunther asks as he wiggles Amelia's big toe between two of his fingers. "Rootrunner ancestry?" he asks.
"It would… be awkward," Amy notes. She nods to the second question. "My mother was a Rootrunner."
"Thought so. You have their feet," Gunther comments. "How long is this path supposed to be you want to race him on?"
"Hmm, I hadn't thought about it yet," Amy admits. "I have to find a good end point first, then work back from there. But if I'm going to have enough time at the end, it probably needs to be pretty long. How far could you run through the trees in a minute?"
"Depends on the tree spacing. At full speed I think we can clear about the length from the town edge to the weaver's buildings in one minute," Gunther offers. "Hobbled, it would probably take twice as long."
"Hmmm," Amelia mutters. "Tree spacing. If I plan it right, I can take advantage of that."
"If you want to figure out how fast Zahn can move … get him to play around on the rope nets. Ask him to teach you how to climb faster," Gunther suggests with a grin. "Also keep in mind he's heavier, so he can't move as quickly on thinner branches without risk of breaking them."
"I'll do that," Amy says, grinning. "Once I know how far he can jump at speed, I can plan the route to my advantage."
"Hey … " Gunther says as he lets Amelia's foot go. "Lean close to me a second?" he asks.
Amy looks suspicious for a moment, but then leans closer to Gunther.
Gunther reaches over Amelia's shoulder. There's a sudden pain from her tailtip as the Kadie boy pulls out a strand of hair from it. He sits back and peers at it. "Huh, you must have gotten your tail in some bleach," he notes, showing Amelia the blood red strand of hair. "Saw this lone bugger and had to look closer at it."
Eyes going wide, Amelia immediately curls her tail around and starts combing through the fur in search of more red hairs.
No other red hairs seem to stand out; it all looks black to Amelia. "At least you didn't get into green paint or something. Want me to give this to the witches or something in case you're getting sick and it wasn't from bleach?" Gunther asks.
"I can take care of that," Amy says, holding her hand out for the hair. "It's probably just… just an odd hair."
Gunther plays with the hair a bit before handing it over. "It's a neat color," he says, "You should stripe your tail with it."
"Stripe?" Amy asks, blinking at Gunther. "I'll… think about it… "
"So, think the gloves will be enough or do you want me to try to think of other things to hobble Zahn?" Gunther asks, apparently already forgetting the hair.
"I think they'd be enough," Amelia says, standing back up and brushing down her clothes. "Oh, I'm supposed to have punished you too. So if Zahn asks… tell him I spanked you or something."
"Ever going to tell me why you're doing this odd race?" Gunther asks as he now stands too.
"You'll find out when you're older," Amy promises. Then thinks about it for another moment. "Then again, that depends on Nene and Bebe too I suppose… "
"Have you seen them recently? I haven't," Gunther admits, tail wilting a bit. "I guess I got boring."
"I'm sure you'll see them soon enough once word gets out about your land-and-water boat," Amy points out, and taps Gunther on the nose.
"Can you believe they threatened to cut my tail fur down to make me look more like an otter?" Gunther asks, "I have had to sleep hugging my tail!"
"Oh?" Amy asks, smirking. "Are you afraid they'll sneak into your cabin at night? I mean, it's not like you gave them the door combination."
"Er, well," Gunther waffles.
"Ikindadidsotheycouldgetmorepoints," Gunther babbles.
Amy covers her mouth to keep from laughing, and manages to say, "Well… I wouldn't worry about them getting ahold of your tail then. Do you have a bed or a hammock?"
"Bed. I can't stand those swingy things," Gunther explains. "I get ill."
"Hmmm, you'd probably better go make sure they aren't in there now then," Amy says. "Otters love to play around with bedsheets."
"Ack, my bed!" Gunther blurts out and dashes off in the direction of the Kettenrad cabins. "I'll have the gloves ready in a few days!" he calls back and waves briefly.
"Now I just have to find a good spot for the nest," Amy mumbles to herself, and looks off into the trees.