• Published 12th Jan 2022
  • 1,847 Views, 39 Comments

Mechanized Misadventures - Some Leech

Anon continues to unravel the mysteries of Fortuna, his arcane automaton of a friend...

  • ...

A Dilemma of Decisions

Staring at the pair of cards in his grasp, seated on a tall stool directly in front of Fortuna, Anon scrunched his nose. A ten and a Queen was a damn good hand, but he was feeling ballsy - not simply because he’d won a fucking fortune two days before, but because he’d lost every game of blackjack he’d played that afternoon. Even when he’d managed to score a twenty-one, she’d somehow managed to get a 5-Card Charlie.

Hit,” he darkly murmured, tapping her window frame.

Smiling fondly over at him, without so much as moving a mechanical muscle, she produced a card from the slot by her knee. “I believe that puts you over…”

He glowered and reached down to grab his draw. There was no well she’d been able to see his hand, and it would be impossible for her to know what he’d just been dealt - still, a lump formed in his throat. Without so much as looking down, something told him that he’d just lost once again. Lifting and turning the card in his grip, seeing a second Queen of Hearts, he slammed his fist against the small countertop within her enclosure.

“God damn -” his outburst ended as suddenly as it began, as he felt the wood shift under his hand. Squinting downward, with his shitty luck falling by the wayside, he cautiously pressed against the panel and felt it give ever so slightly. “Is this supposed to be loose?”

“It’s supposed to fit snugly, yes - if it didn’t, the controls on my dashboard may get damaged,” she casually remarked, as if the subject was as obvious as the brightness of the sun.

Abandoning his cards, Anon pinched the bridge of his nose. “Wait a second - so you’re telling me that you’ve got a set of controls under here?”

“See for yourself,” she replied, leaning back and giving him access to the area.

Passing his losing hand over to her, he turned his full attention to the unobtrusive slab of velvet-lined wood. He’d looked at the spot more times than he could dare to count, yet he’d never realized that there was something hidden in that area - then again, considering he seemed to discover some new feature or function of hers every few weeks, he wasn’t terribly surprised. Sipping his fingers between her body and the surface, he carefully wriggled and lifted the false panel up and away.

Swiftly propping the wood against her frame, he straightened up and peered down at the uncovered area. Unlike the rest of her, which almost entirely lacked any sort of obvious controls or inputs, the dashboard had a whole host of dials, switches, buttons, knobs, and even a few tiny levers. Twisting his head and looking over his find, reading the faded writing over each mechanism, tried to make sense of what he was looking at.

Most of the inputs seemed to be mundane enough, with labeling about lighting, power, or the accuracy of divinations on display, but one particular dial caught his eye. The bakelite disk had five legible options printed around it, with a sixth that seemed to have been worn away over the years. He’d always assumed that soothsaying was her only specified use, yet the possible selections of Salesmare, Announcer, Carnival Clown, Strongmare, and the seemingly standard Fortuneteller indicated that was far from the truth.

“I know you said you’re not entirely sure who made you,” he began, turning his attention to her face, “but do you remember anything about working in a circus or an amusement park?”

Scratching at one temple, her bad eye flickering and sputtering, she pursed her lips. “I do have a memory of being under the big top, though that may have been for a visit. Honestly, Traveler, I can’t really say.”

Huh,” he grunted, lowering his gaze and pointing at the particular dial. “You think this thing does anything?”

Heaving her shoulders up and lifting her hooves, Fortuna shrugged. “What do I look like, a fortuneteller?”

Anon went still, genuinely wondering if she’d lost her marbles, but then he noticed it - a faint tautness in her jaw. Though she was fully mechanical, lacking any sort of squishy, biological reactions, she had a number of motorized tells he’d picked up on over the months. Rolling his eyes and chuckling to himself, he brought a hand to the control, turned the knob, and stepped back.

Before he could fully withdraw his arm, a trio of curtains sailed down from the top of her frame, covering her from view in an instant. Be damned if he could tell how the fabric had deployed, where it had been stored, or how he’d never noticed the small slits resting just beneath the upper trim of her frame, yet they’d appeared all the same. Shying away, hearing all manner of mechanical noises emanating from behind her cloth covering, he briefly considered running for a fire extinguisher.

“Fortuna,” he called, lifting an arm to shield his face, “you’re not getting Frankenstein’d in there, are -”

Ssssssssssssssssssssssstep right up, sucker - I mean, gentlecolt,” a familiar yet distinctly unique voice blared, moments before the curtains withdrew, “because do I have a deal for you!”

Anon’s jaw went slack, as he dumbfoundedly looked over at the automaton. While Fortuna herself was still the same, bearing the same yellowed bakelite, cracked ocular, and charming smile she always had, her demeanor, clothing, and everything within her booth was different. Her signature robe and turban had been replaced by a top-hat, button up shirt, and black vest, giving her the spitting image of an old-timey salesman.

“Well well well,” she jauntily intoned, leaning forward and looking him over, “aren’t you a tall drink of water! I’m not normally one to give discounts but…” Conspiratorially looking around herself, twisting in place and making a show of surveying her surroundings, she reclined and waved him closer. As the man drew nearer, she shot forward and brought her muzzle to his ear. “I might just have to cut you a deal.”

“A…a deal?” Anon parroted, still reeling from the theatrical and wholly unexpected transformation.

“Now a dapper gentlecolt like yourself surely doesn’t struggle with getting a marefriend - in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the missus is off doing the laundry or vacuuming your living room, but,” she continued, tipping her hat and apparently activating some hidden mechanism, “I might just have a few things to help you sweep her off her hooves.”

In the blink of an eye, appearing from god knows where, a sextet shelves sprang from behind her. The revelation that she’d been hiding more secrets and possibly possessing some sort of pocket dimension would have been stunning enough, but the wooden racks she’d produced were far from empty. Bottles of differing sizes were instantly put on display, as the salesmare waved to each with a cane she’d seemingly pulled from the ether.

“I’m the last mare that needs to tell you how to look your best, but I’ve got something you’ll be interested in,” she noted, plucking a dusty vial from beside herself. “This tonic will do wonders for that receding hairline of yours!”

Delicately taking the bottle from her hoof, Anon inspected the aged label. Though the text appeared to be sun-bleached, the little glass container was in pristine condition; from its cork stopper to the impossible claims of its effectiveness, the damn thing looked like it was at least a hundred years old - unfortunately for him, he didn’t get long to study it. Snatching the phial back, she popped the top, dabbed some of the oily contents onto her free hoof, and reached up to slather the stuff into his hair.

“Would you believe this liniment contains over two dozen botanicals gathered from the depths of the Griffish Isles?” she glibly remarked.

Rearing back, mere seconds from commenting on just how putrid the tincture smelled, he felt the concoction begin to work. A tingling sensation spread across his scalp, sending a shiver down his spine, yet it didn’t stay pleasant for long. In no time at all, the exposed area started to itch, then burn, prompting him to scratch his cranium. Whatever the hell she’d just doused his head had either expired ages ago or hadn’t been properly tested before sale.

“Is - fuck - is this stuff supposed to make me feel like my head’s on fire?” he groused. Pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket, none too pleased with the development, he tried to mop the slick substance out of his hair and off his skin.

Smiling broadly at him, undisturbed by his plight, Fortuna nodded. “Only if you have a weak constitution! My nephew, Ironhide, is one of those feeble sorts. Last I knew, he was sent off to a Celestian monastery and became a unic!”

More confused than ever, with his scalp reaching a homeostatic state of uncomfortableness, he glowered. “You don’t have anything that’ll fix this, do you?”

“Fix what, Sunny Jim? I’ve got ointments, salves, balms and creams to treat any exterior affliction affecting your aesthetic, not to mention the cure-alls, remedies, and elixirs that I guarantee will heal you from the inside out. Take this little number,” she chirped, shelving the hair tonic and grabbing a small jar filled with pinkish-hued pills. “My friend, I have traveled the world from top to bottom and all the way ‘round, I’ve been to bazaars and emporiums that’s make your head spin,” she paused, rotating her head three-hundred and sixty degrees, “but this stuff is one of a kind - nothing in Equestria like it anywhere else.”

Once she’d carefully placed the container in his hand, he lifted the jar up to his face. Unlike the hair treatment, which had boasted all sorts of beneficial effects upon its label, the second item was remarkably spartan. Only a single word, Panacea, was embossed into the blue-tinged glass, along with the numerals 500 on the bottom, but it was enough to simultaneously pique his interest and set off a number of alarm bells.

Lifting his head, with the shock of her metamorphosis finally starting to subside, he examined her a bit more closely - that was until a distant memory struck him. Her outfit, her over the top demeanor, the insistence that her wares would fix all his life’s problems, they reminded him of something he’d seen on television before. Without a doubt, though he was too young to have ever interacted with one in person, he knew he was facing any sort of reputable salesmare - no, he was dealing with a snake oil salesmare.

Raising a finger, fully intent on seeing what other bullshit she was peddling, the smell of something burning drifted to his nostrils. The singular aroma of singed hair, paired with the persistent fiery sensation atop his head, brought with them a sudden panic. As his hand flew to his scalp, feeling the singular heat of flame on his skin, he gulped.

Is my head on fire?!?” he shouted, beating and patting at the top of his dome.

Fortuna stopped and calmly picked up the bottle of hair tonic. “It is, but that’s exactly the point, my fine fellow! You see, this liniment -”

Anon had no way to know what she’d been about to say, nor did he particularly care, as he rushed off to a spigot by the entrance of the scrap yard. Whatever the hell he’d just had massaged on his melon had spontaneously combusted, so he had more pressing matters to deal with than the augur automaton turned mechanized merchant. Booking it to the gate, he flung himself under the faucet, desperately fumbled for the knob, and drenched his head in water.

Coughing and sputtering, nearly drowning on the tepid flow from the tap, he did his best to extinguish the flames - alas, try as he might, it was all for not. No matter how much water he doused himself with, the conflagration refused to go out. Strangely enough, realizing all too late that the tiny inferno wasn’t nearly as painful as it should have been, his alarm slowly subsided - still, he was more than a little annoyed with the bizarre situation. Straightening up, completely drenched above the waist, he marched back to his friend for some answers.

“Hey,” he shouted, pointing to his flaming head, “what the hell is in that stuff.”

“Well you see - hey,” she bleated, as he grabbed the bottle from beside her.

Carefully reading over the label, he swiftly found the answer to his problem. “This shit is for kirin!”

“That may be true, but you look absolutely snappy with that spruce little fire you’ve got - if anything, you should give me a tip!” she insisted, crossing her forelegs over her chest.

“A tip?!” he spat.

“Just think of all the bits I saved you! No more buying candles, away with needing a torch at night, and you and the missus could enjoy s’mores at any hour of the morning, noon, or night without lighting a pesky campfire!” she cheerfully intoned.

Her reassurance did nothing to calm his nerves - nevertheless, his scalp didn’t feel nearly as bad as it had initially. He still had no idea what was going on exactly, but the burning sensation had died down to a persistent tingle. He wasn’t sure what the exact damage was, without having a mirror on hand, but the scent of singed hair told him he’d lost a little off the top.

Extraordinarily displeased with the turn of events, he reached into her window, turned the dial back to the Fortuneteller setting, then quickly withdrew and stooped over to grab the wooden panel he’d removed. There was no way in hell he was going to see what her other modes were, not with his head alight - maybe if she’d had a nurse option, sure, but that wasn’t the case. As he lifted the velvet-lined cover, listening to soft ruckus of clicking gears and actuators within her curtained booth, he impatiently tapped his foot.

The cloth retracted nearly as quickly as it had been deployed, revealing her tranquil, familiarly smiling face. “Welcome, Traveler, I am Mistress…” she fell silent, her eyes wandering up to the top of his softly blazing head. “Your head is on fire.”

Thank you,” he sarcastically responded, “so kind of you to notice.”

“You may want to consult a physician about that - that or possibly a fire department,” she flatly stated. Inspecting him from top to bottom, apparently ignorant to exactly what had transpired, she pointed towards his feet. “I believe you dropped something.”

Lowering his head, peeking down to where she was looking, he only then noticed the small bottle he must have dropped minutes before. Seeing as how they were in a junkyard, he could have left the likely expired and possibly cursed tablets where they lie, but something told him that would be a bad idea. With ponies coming and going throughout the week, including a fair number of colts and fillies who came to visit Fortuna, having a container of old medicine sitting in the dirt was just asking for trouble.

“Hey,” he grunted, squatting down and picking up the small container, “you don’t happen to know what this is, do you?”

As he straightened up and brought the bottle closer to her face, Fortuna hummed thoughtfully to herself. “It appears to be a Panacea - a rare medication that can cure all ailments and mend wounds.”

While he did trust her, the usual her, as or more than nearly anyone, he didn’t quite buy that the handful of little pills were some sort of magical, legendary remedy - having said that, he did have a bit of a headache from the excitement. If he had to take an educated guess, the little pellets were probably aspirin or, in all likelihood, just sugar pills. Twisting the top and shaking one of the tiny pink spheres onto the palm of his hand, he glanced over at her.

“Fuck it,” he huffed, lifting his arm and tossing the tablet into his maw. “Alright, I’m gonna lock up for the afternoon and try to figure out how to take care of this,” he added, pointing to his blazing dome while thrusting the bottle into his pocket.

“Traveler, wait,” she hastily interjected, waving a foreleg at him. Having caught his attention, moments before he turned to leave, she lifted the turban from off her crown and handed the headdress over to him. “Here, this may be of use.”

Taking the neatly wound cloth from her forehooves, he cocked his head to the side. “What am I supposed to with -”

“It’s Ninety-five percent asbestos,” she interrupted with a smirk. “If nothing else, it may help spare your furniture.”

Slipping her hat under one arm, praying he wouldn’t end up getting mesothelioma, he marched to the exit. The first order of business for the remainder of his afternoon would be hopefully get his combustion issue dealt with. If nothing else, should the miniature pyre stick around for a few hours, he could pick up some hot dogs and marshmallows for an at-home cookout.

Once he’d finished locking up, he hung a right out of the yard and strolled down the sidewalk. As wild as his afternoon had been, it would take something downright catastrophic to fully dampen his spirits. Having mailed off his winning lottery ticket two days before, he fully expected to hear something from the agency within a week or so. One definite strength about the Equestrian postal system was that, between pegasi and the use of magic, it never took long for letters to reach their destination.

Wondering how many bits he’d get to keep, after the Princesses had lined their coffers in his taxes, he smiled. Unexpected pyrotechnics or not, he’d just had his lucky break - well, that is if he didn’t count his one-way trip to magical horse-land. Lifting his head and checking the nearby intersection, trying to remember if the clinic was to the east or west, he reflexively lifted his hand and scratched his head.

Cool, singed hair graced his fingers, giving him a moment for pause. Looking to the side, seeing his reflection in a storefront mirror, he noticed that his dubiously stylish inferno had simply vanished - not only that, but the itching, unpleasant sensation on his scalp had disappeared entirely. Either the liniment had quit working extremely quickly or…

Pulling the little container out of his pocket, he stared down at the mysterious medication. There was no possible way the medication had actually cured his predicament, yet the circumstances and timing did leave him wondering just what the pills had done - if they’d done anything at all. For all intents and purposes, he felt as fit as a fiddle - on the other hand, he’d hadn’t been feeling off before the calamitous debacle. Turning in place, failing to notice the minor burns had vanished from his hand, he strolled in the direction of his apartment and silently mused on what he would end up making for dinner.