Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Problems Escalate

Oh, where to begin - I suppose where the concierge of the hotel woke us with tea and pastries, just after 6 o’clock. “Good morning, sir and miss. Please be assured you both still have your heads.” Not a hint of censure, and a little bit of humor, served with breakfast. Even fully dressed, it was a night spent together, and I blushed a bit as Perun smiled down at me. “You could have gone up to your room, my heart. No need for you to be so uncomfortable.”

I shrugged, “I was so comfortable I dinna remember falling asleep.” and handed him a cup. It seemed silly to be so nervous about the night, in the morning with sun streaming in the windows. Perun stayed only for one cup, and then dashed out of the lobby. I thanked the concierge for his kindness before going up to my room to prepare for the day. The though struck me as I left my room to meet the others traveling to the office, I had not told Perun of the ring again.

Reports have been coming in from all over, and I helped transcribe some of the ones written in Romanian to English, for the Baron to share with the sheriff and managers. The dreams are related, heralding something that was fond of heads. I got to read bits of Madame Kitlalmina’s report, and if I thought things were uncanny before, this made my head hurt. My higher maths are in accounting, but this looked like the figures and formulae that the madboys use in the reports to the Baron. A little bit of physics here, and something here that was like the formula for compounding interest, but the period shortened by a regular interval? It made no sense to me, I hoped the Baron would get better use of it.

The report from the Quester made a little more sense to me. They found fingerprints in the tar, but is seems they were mostly people poking at the graffiti. Measuring the height from the ground to the angle of the brushstrokes (more formulas here, but not as arcane as Madame Kitlalmina’s) showed the person to be a certain height. The footprints in the soft ground (where it was preserved) were for a rather large man, size-wise, but his weight did not seem to be steady, the calculations showed that the person had been losing weight from the first of the findings to the most recent ones.

The rumors were bad as well, there were a few more people reported missing, and the hysteria in certain quarters made it dangerous to travel there even in daylight. The terrace district of Shanghai was marginally safe, but the docks were not to be dared without a full patrol.

Later that evening, Perun dropped by to let me know he found the ring in his waistcoat pocket. “Sorry to disturb you, my heart. I just had to thank you for your gift.” He did seem better for the rest, but there were still dark circles under his eyes, just barely visible through his goggles.

“I hope you do not think it was forward of me to give you the ring, but I ... erm... I asked one of the uncanny ones at the office to ... help.” I had a sudden thought and paled, ducking my head to hide it. What if he refused help from that sort?

“Mo cridhe, I gave you a ring, and that was forward. I hardly think,” then he paused, catching what I had said, “ of the uncanny ones?”

“Well, she does a lot of investigating work with Madame Kitlalmina, and when I told her I was worried about you, she said she would make a shield for you like the rest of the staff,” I was suddenly not so sure of myself, and focused on the floor, “...I mean, with everybody having nightmares except for the sisters and suchlike.”

He took some time to digest the news. “Ah, so - this is something ... supernatural? The problem and the cure?”

I nodded, “Doamnă says that's the leading theory. Since it has been working so far... you aren't angry, are you?"

Thankfully, he seemed surprised, “Angry? How can I be angry with you, my heart? I may not understand it, but I do believe that there are things we can't explain. And that your gift has helped me sleep, I cannot deny!”

“I - I didn't think about it might go against your beliefs, just that... I was worried.” I was still staring at my toe, twisting a hole in the floor in my nervousness. “...just wanted you to be a little safer.”

He gently raised my chin with one finger, "Sweet Mary, thank you! I am not upset, I am grateful. I wish to understand more about this, but I am not angry -- please believe me!”

“I dinna understand it much, either... But it was a bit like - like some madboy's force-shield, only quieter.”

He smiled, releasing my chin, "Much quieter. Those things hum rather deafeningly."

I smiled up at him, blushing, "I would ask you in, but I think that sleeping in the lobby is the extent that we should get away with for now."

He glanced up and down the hallway rather obviously, and winked at me, "Yes, indeed. That's why I'm standing here in the hallway, attempting to be inconspicuous."

I grinned mischievously, “If I were a naughty girl, I would have dragged you in already. But you were shorter of sleep than one night would repair, I think. So I really ought to let you go.” When his chuckle was interrupted by a surprising yawn, I reached up to kiss him goodnight. "Sleep well, dragul meu."

"Sleep well, my heart, mo cridhe, my sweet." He walked down the hallway to the stairs, where he turned and lifted a hand in farewell - and I saw a glint of brass on his finger. So he was safe for now.

The next morning, we had the reports of the bodies being found. Reading the news, I scoured the descriptions, noting that each of them were abroad the night before alone... until Mr Messenger mentioned seeing Perun at the tea-cart down the hill from the hotel that morning. I nearly cried with relief.

More reports this morning, this time from Miss Ama. I got her tea and a scone, while we waited for Doamnă to finish with the courier just in from Italy. The folder of laboratory requests from the Quester was handy and she was able to dictate her report for the Baron on her observations during her last patrol. More uncanny stuff, I just typed what she said, and only had to ask for spelling once or twice this time.

Everything was filed properly as she finished her tea, and the courier left. Someone sneezed, and I wished whoever it was “health” out of habit. When it was Doamnă who responded, I was confused for a moment. Doamnă does not get sick. Miss Ama immediately started quizzing her, and issuing orders. She framed them as requests, but she was suddenly very authoritative. She said to get the Captain, so I hurried through the places he might be, ending up at the door to the barracks. I got as far as “Miss Ama needs you to see Doamnă...” and he was off like a shot, running back to the offices.

As they bundled Doamnă out of the office, I quietly asked if we were to cut off all reports to her, and Miss Ama agreed she could do some reviews. Watching the three of them walk towards Harborside, I wondered how I got to the point of not even noticing Miss Ama’s wings.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Shared Dreams

The staff briefing the morning I returned to the office was one of the odd ones. Mr Messenger seemed to be the only one who was chipper, and there were a lot of angry grumbles about the graffiti. Doamnă gave us the information she could, what the investigators had released for general consumption, and the angry grumbles became confused murmurs. We understood why we were advised to travel in pairs, and the usual safety precautions for a city under Incident Log Watch. The request to report all out-of-norm dreams to Madame Kilta or one of her assistants was new.

The part where we were having similar dreams did cause me to stop and think. I don’t know what Miss Ama did to allow me to sleep, but I knew Perun had written to let me know he had returned late the night before. The note arrived while I was sleeping, and if this was affecting everyone, I needed to get help to him.

I found Miss Ama in the kitchen area. It was easier for me to talk to her there, with Mrs Parks making sure we had scones and tea in the nook by the door. “I - I don’t want to know how, really, as uncanny things don’t seem to stick in my head, but is it.. could you... can you make a ring for someone else?”

She nodded, adding more lemon to her tea, “You want to make sure your young man doesn’t wear himself out like you were?”

I blushed and nodded. I brought out the brass gas line fitting I had found in the lab reject bin, “I think it might be large enough, and I filed the rough spot out. It won’t be useful for the lab, but maybe...”

She smiled, then took the fitting and examined it closely. I had never noticed her eyes were a brilliant purple until she was focused on the fitting, then there was a flash of blue reflected in them before she took my hand and placed the ring in my palm. Covering my hand with hers, the brass seemed to warm suddenly, then she nodded. “That should do it. If it doesn’t fit him, have him keep it within arms reach, ‘specially when sleeping.” She added more lemon to her tea (I wondered if it was more lemon than tea by now) and downed it, pocketing a scone as she rose, “Must dash, have a few more people to catch. Good idea with the ring, though.” She was gone swiftly, the door almost shutting off her last words.

Mrs Parks was busy at the other side of the kitchen, and did not seem to notice I was there. The fitting felt a little heavier, now, and I caught a glimpse of engraving inside, where the threads had been before. The block script shone through the Damascus-like swirls of metal, Inima mea bate alaturi de a ta... well it was true, but how.... I shook my head, cleared the table for Mrs Parks and headed back to my desk.

After work, I joined the group of clerks lodging at the hotel as they headed home, listening to them chatter about the news from the docks with half an ear. Meeting Perun as he came from the telegraph office, I was struck by how gaunt he seemed. His smile could not hide the circles under his eyes, and I finally convinced him to join me at supper in the hotel. The other girls giggled, but I was worried enough I did not acknowledge their teasing.

He drank far too much coffee at supper, and though obviously fatigued, he seemed loathe to leave. When he suggested we continue our visit in the lobby, I was torn. It had been a very long time since I had seen him, but I did not want him walking alone late at night, not with the uncanny goings on. He seemed to have lost weight. I could not tell if it was lack of sleep or just not taking care of himself when he traveled.

“Not to worry, mo cridhe, it is only je- I am just tired from the last journey.” He smiled at my worry and asked about the news in town. When I began relating the incidents of the nightmares, he flinched, and I asked if he could take something for sleep. Shaking his head, “No, that is not a possibility, my heart, I have... not good results with laudanum, nor with the usual medicines... here.” He quickly changed the subject to next year’s calendar, I did not have the chance to offer him the ring Miss Ama had worked on for him. I was unsure of how to present it.

When I finally ran out of the news that had happened since I last saw him, we sat in companionable silence. I know I should have brought up the nightmares again, but just sitting with him, staring into the small fire the bellhop had lit when the lobby had gotten chilly, was very home-like. He had draped his arm across the back of the davenport, and I was seated perhaps a little too close for the customs at my home village, but it was very comfortable to snuggle with him, as I had done in my dream the night before. When I heard him snore softly, I smiled, and tucked the ring in his waistcoat pocket.

The night manager stopped by, checking to see if we needed anything. Weeks earlier, he might have chased Perun out as a visit this late was unseemly, but now it seemed everyone understood the need to have someone to watch while one slept. He nodded his understanding at my wish to not disturb Perun’s sleep. After pointing out that his desk was within shouting distance if we needed anything, he left us alone. I might not have slept as well as if I was in my rooms, but he seemed to need the rest, and I was content, snuggled into his shoulder.