The Assembler

Chapter 38 - After Denial, Acceptance

Jean G Hontz

@copyright 2009 all rights reserved

He heard voices before he could see into the darkness. A woman’s voice, a bit angry one moment, then softer the next. A lull. Had he fallen asleep? A hand bathing his forehead with a cool cloth, ever so gently, the woman doing it humming so softly he thought he were imagining it. She smelled of sunlight and green fields.

He’d slept again, well, not slept. More was lost in the depths. He had to fight against a current of time or of something he couldn't really name, swimming through some viscous something that seemed to want to suck him back down into the darkness. He needed all his strength to fight against that rip current’s pull. Finally, beginning to think, he stopped fighting it head on and let it carry him a way, then tested for an let-up in its power. When he thought he’d never escape, suddenly the current released him and he was able to use deep and powerful strokes that led him upward somehow, toward not just a beckoning shore, but a ray of light in a milky sky that, when he drew his weak and shaking body onto the sand resolved itself not into the sun as he’d expected but instead into a gaslight.

Ned Black blinked. He hurt all over. He supposed that was probably a good thing. The room around him looked unfamiliar.

As suddenly as he'd found consciousness, blackness sucked him back down again into the primordial soup, and tidal waves and rip currents that meant death. Again he fought until he thought he could fight no more.

But again, patience and fortitude were his allies, and the blackness and nothingness finally released him.

He opened his eyes to regard a window, lit by the weak light of a rainy day. He couldn't tell whether it was morning, afternoon, or early evening. He could hear rain pattering against window panes, water gurgling in downspouts. And someone breathing near him.

He turned his eyes from the window forcing his head to turn despite the pain of the movement. He was rewarded with the sight of Emiline Hollis-Reynolds asleep beside him. She was slumped bonelessly in a wing chair that was pulled up near where he lay. Her feet were curled up under her, one arm flung across her lap, the other lying on the edge of his bed. He glanced downward and realized she must have been holding his hand when she'd fallen asleep. His hand was only inches from hers. He remembered... Warm and soft to the touch.

His eyes traced the side of her face he could see. She looked tired. Her hair had fallen out of its pins and spilled across her cheek. Tendrils fell down over her shoulder. He wanted to reach out and touch it. It had been a very long time since he had. He wanted to kiss her beckoning lips, the full lips slightly parted as she slept.

Why had he tried to drive her away, he wondered. What a fool he was. She loved him. He knew it utterly. Knew that would never change, but still he’d tried to keep her as far from himself and his life as he could. As miserable as it made him, as miserable as it had made her. It had seemed important then. Now, perhaps not so much.

“Hullo, you,” she said softly as her eyes opened and discovered his eyes regarding her solemnly.

He tried to smile but he expected it came out more a grimace. A groan escaped him too, since he’d tried to reach for her.

“Lie still, my darling. The doctor swears you’ll be fine. But it will take some time.”

“Perhaps,” he grunted, “he’s saying that because he's afraid of what you will do to him if I’m not.”

Emmie grinned. “Well, it is true, I did threaten his life. But your wound looks clean and is healing so I choose to believe him when he says it is so.” Her lips trembled a moment and he saw tears in her eyes. “Oh God, Ned, I thought I’d lost you.”

“Hush,” he replied. “I’m here now.”

“If you leave me ever again, I’ll shoot you myself,” Emmie replied fiercely.

He smiled. “So you’ve said. But I won't. Not by choice. Not ever again. Emmie, I love you so much.”

Tears fell though her smile was radiant.


Chief Inspector Kevyn Rory looked around the laboratory with considerable interest. It had it’s points of similarity with what he’d seen of Ned Black’s lab in Bermuda, but this one was more... theoretical? Richard Ainsworth was more a thinker than a builder, or so it looked to Rory. But then he was just a copper so what did he know?

Dr Finigal and Septimus Marchant were happily chatting science and alchemy with Richard, the three of them with their heads near to touching, hunkered down over a notebook as they argued some esoteric point or detail on something or other. From the look of it the three of them would be at it for centuries.

Roy glanced over to see Cyril Hollis-Reynolds and Margot Marchant sitting at a table enjoying tea. They were deep into another kind of conversation entirely. Wedding bells soon if he was any judge.

He stuck his hands in his pockets and sauntered around the room, thinking. With the Prince’s intercession, they’d gotten Richard sprung from gaol. And Rory didn't even mind too much that he was now babysitting,er, keeping in custody, the younger Ainsworth. He’d have preferred to be chasing the elder one, who, somehow, seemed to have escaped detection for three days now. Still, Rory was a practical man. He preferred not being shot at, and Ainsworth had proven beyond all doubt he liked to wave weapons around, and with notable effect. So, let others deal with him. He was just as happy right here.

He sauntered back over to overlisten the technical discussion, knowing he wouldn't be welcomed to overhear the other. He waited some time, then said into a lull, “So... We’ve all an appointment soon, I’m afraid. I suggest you all defer the discussions for another time.”

“An appointment?” Richard Ainsworth asked, with a frown. No doubt he was worrying about whether or not he was still going to end up in gaol or worse. Although looking at him, Rory conceded, you’d never guess it.

“Yes. We’ll be meeting around Ned Black’s sickbed, since Lady Emiline has him tied to it.”

Richard grinned. “He’s awake then?”

“Aye, that he is. And coherent enough that Lady Emiline will allow us a short meeting with him.

Richard shook his head. “She’s a harridan. He’s welcome to her. She is a stubborn and determined woman who will have her way.”

Rory thought so too, but wasn’t about to say so aloud. He did allow himself a grin.

“Yes,well, I expect love will make it all right. And if it doesn't well, makeup sex is a good deal of fun. So I’m told,” Rory added hastily, at Septimus’s somewhat shocked look. Richard, a more worldly man, hid his smile.


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