The Assembler

Chapter 1 - "I do not DO shock!"

Jean G Hontz

@copyright 2009 all rights reserved

Lady Emiline Hollis-Reynolds froze half way between two stone steps. The sound of her swishing skirts faded away and she listened intently. She could hear what sounded like a hollow rhythmic thud of footsteps, but they seemed to be quite far off. She could hear herself breathing. There wasn’t much else to hear.

There weren’t many places in London quite so still and silent as a museum after hours.

There were, she admitted, quite a few people who claimed that the BM was haunted. They’d no doubt tell her the noise she thought she'd heard was one of those ghostly visitors Emmie. But Emmie didn’t believe it for an instant.

She didn't believe in ghosts. Nor in magic. Magic was, so she believed, merely a word used for something scientific or mechanical that wasn't fully understood. Ignorance made people assume something was ‘magical,’ because the something was outside their comfort zone, beyond what they thought of as normal, so they fell back into the laziness of intellectual sloth and deemed the unknown to be ‘supernatural’. She would not fall into that trap, and that was that. Despite.. Well, despite what anyone else might claim to be able to do, or even could do. It all was natural and explainable, even if it might not be obvious.

She took another step.

She wasn’t alone, she knew that fully. There were guards after all, even down here in the bowels of the great stone edifice where her office was. And what was here to threaten her, after all? Mummies? Dusty dead people buried at great expense and with considerable reverence, who’d since been dug up and made fun of by people who should know better. What was there about them to frighten a scientist such as herself? She snorted, and took another step. And then she was hurrying up the steps to the street exit where a guard was lounging with a newspaper in his hand.

“Good evening, Miss Emmie. You’re late tonight.”

“Hullo, Charlie. Yes, we got in a late shipment from Palestine.”

“You work too much, Miss, if you don't mind me saying so.”

Emmie laughed. “I don't mind you saying so. But I assure you it wasn't intentional. I just lost track of the time. Say hullo to the family for me, won't you?”

Charlie grinned. “That I will miss. Would you like me to call you a hansom? It’s soupy out there.”

Emmie waved her hand in easy dismissal. “No. I’ll be fine. Just going round to the Tavern.”

Charlie held the door as she stepped out into a dark, damp and dismal Great Russell Street. The fog blanketing the city made sound seem odd, but then it always did that, and there was, after all, a good deal of fog in the city - particularly at this time of year.

She checked her pocket watch in the light of the street lamp just near the British Museum’s side entrance and saw the time. Emmie bit her lip. She'd promised a friend they'd meet at the tavern on the corner a half hour ago.

She put the watch away and stepped out briskly. She was well away from the entrance to the museum and in the darkness between street lamps when she heard the footstep. A boot. A man’s boot, she’d swear.

She nearly stopped her own progress, but thought better of it at the last possible second. She then thought perhaps she ought to speed up her steps but that seemed somehow cowardly.

She grasped the handle of her umbrella a bit more tightly and her lips set themselves into a determined pout that anyone knowing her would recognize in an instant.

Cyril was in the country with father. Ned was... Wherever the hell Ned was. She frowned at the mere idea that she'd thought of him. Bloody Hell. He'd made it quite clear he didn't want her in his life.

But this sort of thing, him stepping out of a dark and damp fog and saying, “Hullo, Emmie,” to her without a warning or a by your leave, after having disappeared for so long was so like him.

She’d use the pointy end of the umbrella on him if by some miracle it was him. And she knew exactly where she'd aim!

She hadn’t had a word from him in nearly a year. And the bastard had never even said good bye. And no doubt he'd sworn Cyril to silence. Cyril had that panicked look in his eye whenever Emmie opened her mouth.

And then she heard running steps coming up behind her and she took off, running full tilt toward the lights of the tavern that she could barely see through the thick wet tears of the fog - or were they her own tears? She wasn't certain.

She wore stout boots, so she could run. She hated fashionable women's clothing. She'd stick with practical thank you very much, and thanked her stars she had.

Then a hand was grasping at the back of her elbow, a vice-like grip trying to pull her to a stop. She whirled around bringing the umbrella down on that hand like a sword, smashing at it, then she stuck it at the shadow that was her attacker, pointy end first. She was rewarded with a grunt of pain from him, but then others were on her and she was engulfed in garlic and whisky scented breath as multiple hands grasped at her.

Even so her arms were flailing and her fists now and again made solid contact - once with a nose which spewed blood, much to her satisfaction.

She stomped on a toe, as well, but sadly the foot was in a boot not a shoe so she doubted she did much damage, despite the man's curse.

She heard a far off police whistle and one of her attackers cursed in a gutteral growl. The men tried again to haul her off, but she just fought harder knowing that rescue was on the way.

Then suddenly there was another man joining the fray and he was punching the one man who had the best grip on her with one hand and pulling her free with his other. Her rescuer hissed at her, “Run!”

She didn't have to be told more than once. She ran full tilt toward the tavern.

She was breathless as she shoved without ceremony at the doors and more fell than walked into the Museum Tavern. Folks standing near the doors turned to gape at her, especally noting her dishevelled state.

“Oh, it’s you, Emmie,” said a man over-done in tweed. His voice was both dry and amused.

“Yes, it’s me, Henry. So sorry to interrupt your evening,” she hissed at him, making his jaw drop open and making him nearly choke on his swallow of stout. Too bad he wouldn’t choke, Emmie thought maliciously. Smug little ass.

She turned as she heard someone barrelling into the pub right behind her. She aimed her trusty umbrella for another solid poke where it would do the most good but froze instead.

The man skidded to a halt, trying to keep his threatened organ well away from the point of her umbrella.

“Richard?” she asked, taking in a tall, handsome fellow who was breathing a bit harshly and whose knuckles were scraped and bleeding.

“Are you all right?” he demanded.

“Richard?” she repeated.

“Yes, that’s my name,” he replied with a raised eyebrow. “Are you in shock or something? You’re repeating yourself.”

“Shock?” Emeline demanded angrily. “I do not do shock!”

Richard grinned. “Now that’s the Emmie I remember from university. Good to see you again, luv. Did I earn a kiss for rescuing you?”

  

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