The Assembler

Chapter 16 - Complex Formulations

Jean G Hontz

@copyright 2009 all rights reserved

While Ned and Richard poked and prodded machinery and conferred over a diagram on a workbench, and while Margot and Cyril ran errands and did small chores for them, Emmie, left to her own devices, began poking at the rock walls marking the edges of their bubble of translated reality. Although the rocks were eerily semi-solid for the first foot or so, deeper than that she'd met resistance to her poking. Whatever it was was icy cold and sent a tingle and then a very unpleasant shock up her spine, so she'd stopped using her hands and instead used a wooden dowel she’d found on one of Ned’s work benches.

She'd removed her hat, and her hair was falling on her face, making her hot and uncomfortable, and angry beyond all reason. She hated being trapped in this wretched cave. It was worse than when she was kidnapped. There at least they’d treated her well. Here... Damn the man. She wanted to sob. She was tired and filthy and miserable and he’d hardly said a bloody word to her. It wasn't as if she’d come here on her own. She’d not sought him out! And she’d be damned if she was going to go crawling to him begging him to put his arms around her.

Margot, who’d left off messing with the equipment, walked over to offer Emmie a cup of tea. “Here. Drink this. You’ll feel the better for it. Scientists always have tea in their labs. Would you like me to tie your hair back?”

Without really waiting for an affirmative answer, Margot reached out and undid the clip that wasn't holding all of Emmie’s thick dark hair. She began combing Emmie’s hair with her fingers in order to get it all under control. “I’m sorry I don't have anything more for you to use,” Margot added.

“I envy you your short hair. I should cut mine off. Your bob is a very practical solution and you look very good in it.”

“Thank you,” Margot replied. “I doubt Ned would like you to cut yours off though.”

“What do I care what Ned thinks,” Emmie hissed, trying to keep her voice down so Ned, who had his head next to RIchard’s as they conferred regarding their predicament, couldn't hear her.

Margot grinned. “He loves you. You love him. Why wouldn't he care?”

“He’s with you now,” Emmie replied, angry and furious that she was.

“Don’t be absurd. I’m a friend. Nothing more,” Margot replied. “I’m a little sister to him. My father is his friend and mentor, I assist him here at his work.”

Emmie turned to regard her for a moment. “It doesn't matter. He left me without a word.”

“The two of you are idiots,” Margot replied pleasantly, getting busy with Emmie’s hair again. “He left you because he is a fugitive. He could hardly ask you to risk your life with your government wanting to kill him. He’d never ask you to leave your family, risk everything, your freedom, even your life, for him.”

“Now you're being absurd. Why would the government want to kill him?” Emmie asked, her eyes wide. “The whole idea that he’s a traitor is utter rot.”

“Yes, I agree. But that hardly changes the fact that someone is trying to kill him, or steal this machine or whatever. He wanted you safe. It’s hardly his fault you no longer are safe. He did cut off all contact in order to convince his enemies you and he were no longer ... anything to one another.”

Emmie frowned. She didn't like what she was hearing, but it was only fair to give it some serious consideration.

“He's afraid for you,” Margot added into her silence.

“I’m fine,” Emmie said dismissively.

“Yes, attacked apparently three times, kidnapped and only accidentally saved. Then you arrive here only a short time after we were shot at by someone who is hunting him down, and who wants to capture him and his machine. Yes, you’re absolutely fine.”

“Well, no matter what he feels about me, he's told me ...” Emmie’s voice died away. She couldn’t quite believe she was telling any of this to this girl she'd only just met.

“That you deserve more, that you’re a titled lady, wealthy in her own right, and that he’s only a bastard and no good for you,” Margot supplied. “Yes. I can imagine it. He’s heard it all his life, after all. England is very good at dismissing men like him, trying to convince them they’re worth less than other men, calling them names far worse than bastard. I doubt he actually believes any of that, but he can see how others would speak of you behind your back, if you and he were together. He wants to spare you all of that.”

“Well, he’s an idiot if he thinks I care about any of that,” Emmie retorted. “I’ve never been conventional.”

Margot grinned. “I know. But really, you need to point it out to him, in the most forceful way possible.”

“I’ll be damned if I...” Emmie began.

She was so loud both Ned and RIchard turned toward her to see what she was saying.

“No way out,” Margot explained. “Emmie’s tried every wall.”

“Yes, well, that’s to be expected,” Ned replied. His attention went back to what he was writing.

“You see?” Emmie told Margot. “Not the least interest in me.”

Margot shook her head and walked away.

It was some time later before Emmie worked up the courage and indignation enough to wander over to the table where Ned was working. He was alone at last.

“Getting anywhere?” she asked, leaning over his shoulder.

Richard, she'd noted was helping Cyril with one of the machines. They were doing something to its innards.

Ned nearly jumped she'd surprised him so much.

“I... Uhm. I”m not certain. It’s a complex calculation.”

“I see,” she said, pushing aside some things so she could perch her butt on the edge of the table.

Ned stepped back and blinked in confusion at her. “I, uhm, I’m so sorry you got drug into things, Emmie. I never meant..”

“I know,” she replied, reaching out to take the pen he was about to chew on. “Why didn't you even say good bye?” She did her best not to make it sound like an accusation.

He turned a bit pale and finally, after a time, replied, “What could I say? I was being chased. It was dangerous, and... and there was nothing I could tell you that you didn't already know.”

“What did I already know?” she asked.

He whitened further. “That... that I wanted you safe and to have a wonderful life and that.. that..”

“That you were a bad influence and you made my life a misery?” she supplied.

“Something like that,” he agreed.

“And that despite the fact you loved me you were willing to just leave me to my own devices?”

“I...” he faltered.

“And that even though you knew full well I loved you, that I didn't even deserve any sort of explanation?”

“Wait, Emmie. That wasn't how it was. I...”

She put up her hand to stop him. She met his eyes. “If you ever take off without explaining to me, if you EVER just leave me again, I swear Ned Black.”

“You swear what?” he asked.

“I’m not leaving you again, Ned,” she replied. “And if you try to leave me I swear I will hunt you down and kill you myself.” She got up off the workbench and marched away.


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