World of Gears
Michael Shaugn (NPC)
Krauss's damnable brother-in-law
This is not told from Krauss’s point of view, exactly…but it represents what Krauss knows of Michael’s life, from conversations with Michael, Leah, and others like Wee Dan who have known them for longer than Krauss has. Parts of it may be inaccurate, or only one aspect of the true story…
Michael Shaugn is Leah’s younger brother by five years. Their parents both died before Michael was three, and it fell to Leah to keep her brother out of trouble. (Or, more realistically, to keep his trouble within survivable limits.)
Leah herself caused her share of mischief as a child, but she was a thinker and planner, and always had contingencies and backup plans for her exploits. Michael, though, preferred to dive into every new prank or bit of petty theft head-on, and trust himself to improvise his way out of the resulting mess. If he had to be rescued by one of the other members of their Traveler band — or worse yet, by his big sister herself — he would bristle at the loss of face, then set out to make his next bit of knavery a triumph.
Michael learned early on that the surest way to impress his sister was to bring her books. The excitement of something new to read would always trump any urge on Leah’s part to ask questions about where they came from. Over the years, the wagon Leah and Michael shared with an old Traveler couple came to boast an eclectic library spanning everything from tawdry fiction to abstract philosophy and science. Michael was clever and a quick learner as well, but didn’t share his sister’s voracious appetite for knowledge. He would master any skill that caught his attention, find ways to use it in pranks or to show off to a girl, then move on to some new interest.
As Michael neared adulthood, he was aware of Leah’s growing involvement with the Celden Brotherhood. Michael had little interest in politics in the abstract, but the sting of some specific bit of injustice — or simply the opportunity to pull off a challenging bit of skulduggery — would sometimes draw him into those circles for a while. The Brotherhood were glad for the help, though Leah worried by how quick her brother was to take risks.
Michael was nineteen when his luck nearly ran out. He and Leah were part of a band of Travelers who were caught in a border clash between Kreigerian and Marloux forces. The pair was already clear of the worst of the artillery fire when Michael doubled back to rescue a family from the wreckage of a wagon that had taken a direct hit. He barely had time to hear the whistle of an incoming shell before his world erupted in glaring light, then utter darkness.
Michael regained consciousness, haltingly and painfully, in a Kreigerian field hospital. He had been comatose for weeks, he soon learned; the shrapnel had destroyed his right eye and fractured his skull. The men and women of the Surgical Korps were not heartless; once the higher-priority military wounded had been cared for, they did what they could for the Celdens caught in the crossfire. Michael had not been expected to survive…but Leah was there to help him cheat the odds.
A badly-translated article Leah had read in a medical alchemy journal from Verne had sparked a desperate idea of how to relieve the pressure on Michael’s swollen and battered brain, and to regenerate the oxygen-starved tissue. Somehow she had convinced one of the Imperial surgeons to give the plan a try. He just needed an expendable guinea pig, thought Michael on hearing the story…and when he actually met the surgeon, a smug bastard named Krauss, it did nothing to change his mind.
Michael remained in the field hospital for two more months. To the officers in charge, of course, Michael was a glorified research specimen, the only reason he was allowed to take up a valuable Surgical Korps bed for so long. Krauss and Leah, though, had become an inseparable team, collaborating both on Michael’s care and on a dozen side projects it sparked. His recovery exceeded all expectations, perhaps due to their growing grasp of neuroalchemy, perhaps Michael’s own stubbornness.
The Surgical Korps had strict procedural standards, and Michael’s case was setting off increasing numbers of alarms. The unorthodox nature both of Krauss’s new techniques and of the company he was keeping drew raised eyebrows, then official inquiries, and finally direct orders to cease and desist. Rumor had it that a shouting match between Krauss and three superior officers had nearly come to blows. What was not rumor was that Ludwig Krauss had resigned his Army commission — a career-ending act in the Empire’s regimented medical community, though technically he retained his license to practice.
Michael served as best man at Ludwig and Leah’s wedding the same day they opened the doors of their new free clinic in Rottingen. Ludwig had called in what few favors he had left in order to open the place, and their patients were mainly the Empire’s forgotten outcasts. Roving bands of Celden Travelers passed through its doors alongside Kreigerians who no longer had a place in the regimented military life, or never had. Payment, when it happened at all, was more likely to take the form of a brace of chickens or a day’s labor on a leaky room than actual currency.
Michael had always been a gambler and a silver-tongued con artist, but he now pushed these talents to new heights simply to keep the place solvent. He picked up other skills as well; his injury had not cost him his quick wit or ability to learn on the fly. He ran the Clinic’s finances with the ruthless eye of a bookie, procured supplies through a bewildering array of legal and illegal channels, and went from occasionally lending a hand in the operating theatre to being a skilled and sorely-needed surgical assistant.
Michael bristled sometimes at this new way of life — for a Traveler, why did he never do any damnedTraveling any more? — but the work was always challenging, and he would never abandon Leah. What in the Pit she saw in Ludwig, of course, was a separate issue. He could not deny, though, that the pompous bastard would lay down his life for Leah. Gradually, Michael and his damned know-it-all brother-in-law carved out some shaky common ground, and then a surprisingly strong friendship. Unless he’d had a half-pint too much whiskey, and would roar accusations that Ludwig had corrupted Leah with his heartless Kreigerian ways…but the hostility would fade well before his hangover did.
Alongside the thankless grind of their medical practice, Leah and Ludwig continued to work on the neuroalchemical theories they had pioneered back at the field hospital. They corresponded with scientists from across the Empire and beyond — which, had they not been so far beneath the notice of the Kreigerian medical establishment, would have opened them to a fresh round of accusations of disloyalty. Michael lent an occasional hand to this side of their work as well, learning quickly as always, and just as quickly moving on to a new interest. He laughed when they insisted on making him third or fourth author on a couple of the monographs they published. “Wait’ll I show it to the lads at the pub! This an’ a quarter-mark will buy me a shot!”
To Leah, there was no real separation between the Clinic’s work and the Brotherhood’s. The place became a stable base of operations for her comrades working to shield Celdens from the worst a harsh world could offer. Ludwig had come to understand the basic outlines of Celden nationalism, and could sympathize with the Brotherhood’s stance, especially in contrast to the more radical Celden Liberation Army. He never quite became a fully committed fighter for the cause, but many of the Brotherhood members who operated in the area — Wee Dan Callahan foremost among them — also accepted that Krauss’s loyalty to Leah was absolute.
Michael’s political convictions also strengthened during this time, compared to the more carefree days of his youth. Even now, he was given to jarring shifts of focus. Some injustice or atrocity would throw Michael into an oratorical storm, holding forth in taverns and on street corners, denouncing everything he and his comrades had done up till then as too soft. Then, just when he seemed determined to liberate the Isles single-handedly by year’s end, he would reverse course and pour his energy back into the daily work of the clinic. Leah’s careful planning did more for the Brotherhood during this time than Michael’s bursts of idealism…but her brother drew more attention to the cause, for good or for ill.
Looking back on these years, Ludwig cannot quite pinpoint the moment Michael’s iconoclastic rabble-rousing gave way to a darker paranoia. Perhaps it was in the wake of Bloody Fireday on Haupestracht, or after the farcical trial that acquitted the guards involved. Even before that, though, Michael had been growing more erratic, fixating on projects to the point of obsession, neglecting other work. Ludwig had tried everything from calm reason to stern confrontations about some shirked responsibility around the clinic, but Michael snarled back at him with a bitter anger that Krauss had not seen since the early days of their friendship.
Ludwig assumed at first that Michael was deeply over his head in some Brotherhood business gone bad. When he approached Leah for answers, she was uncharacteristically evasive, but could not hide the fact that she was just as confused as her husband was, and considerably more frightened. A more serious possibility, of course, was that Michael’s old head injury was manifesting in some new, more dire way…and since this was something Krauss understood how to deal with, it was where he threw the bulk of the time and energy he could spare from Clinic work.
The dark mood was not confined to Michael alone, or even just to the Brotherhood folk. Ordinary Celden patients, with no interest in politics, had begun casting nervous glances at shadows, keeping to the safety of groups at night. More than once, Krauss caught the initials ‘CLA’ whispered fearfully, when he was not meant to hear. However dark thing might appear, though, Krauss took solace in one undeniable fact: Michael would do anything in his power to avoid harming Leah.
And then, damn him a thousand times over, that was exactly what he did. There is little left to say between the two men now, other than “We’ll meet again in the Pit.”