16 July, 188x, New Babbage year 5
The rays of the rising sun began to peek into the neat little bedroom apartment on the upper floor of the Emporium through half opened shades. The light crept across the floor until it shone on the lone occupant of the bed, causing her to stir from a very deep sleep borne of fatigue and travel.
Emmanuelle stretched out on the bed, sliding her fingers along the smooth surface of the crisp, lightly scented sheets with a contented purr. She tucked in one knee and rolled onto her side, pulling the nightshirt she wore tight to the curve of her hip. Had the circumstances been different she might have been able to fully enjoy the hospitality of her newfound benefactor, but the current situation did not grant her that luxury. She had been insistent that she had to get on the road as soon as possible, but the grey-eyed man reminded her that her next move was going to be solely dictated by the schedule of the railroad. So, stymied by the dictates of a train, she found herself in a very comfortable room, bathed and relaxed, waiting to proceed to what could be a much more difficult leg of her little excursion. She pushed back the covers, slipped out of bed and began getting dressed. She looked much the same as she did when she was back home, hair pulled back, short jacket over a plain blouse, corset, trousers and boots. The last clasp on the top of the left boot was being fiddly, as usual, and as she applied that last tug to the buttonhook her ears perked to a noise outside her bedroom in the little sitting area just off the hallway. A moment later Emmanuelle was peering out of the corner of the doorway, pistol in hand, having bounded across the space of the bedroom like a panther stalking prey.
She cut a quick peek through the louvered doors that separated the bedroom from the sitting room in the apartment, and then stepped into the space between the front door and the large wingback chair that sat angled in front of the fireplace. The only difference was the addition of a serving tray perched on the side table next to the chair. The tray had a small loaf of still-warm bread, a slice of cheese, a hardboiled egg, and several slices of summer sausage. The note tucked in under the coffee carafe simply said “Not sure what you’d like, so I guessed. Ring if you need anything else. S”. She smiled, curled up in the chair with a cup of coffee and began planning her day.
A few minutes after the plate was cleared, there was a knock at the door. Emmanuelle rose and crossed the floor to the door. She opened the door cautiously and saw that her caller was an unkempt child wearing a very new blue cap that bore a brass shield emblazoned with the words “MESSENGER”.
“’Ello miss. Message for you.” He said dutifully, hand outstretched. She smiled briefly and pressed a nickel into his palm. The urchin doffed his hat and scampered off towards the staircase. The envelope bore the simple inscription “Deliver to Miss Emmanuelle Huntress, care of the Buckeye Emporium, Clockhaven.” She opened the envelope, and read the carefully written note inside.
I would have rather delivered the news to you in person, but I was called away on pressing business of my own. Doctor Miggins has made a startling discovery in his last shipment of medical cadavers. Ms. Dagger is back home, none the worse for wear. She is resting in her apartment awaiting the return of Ms. Kimika. The entrance is in the rear of Ying Research, just off Embassy Row.
Emmanuelle made the walk back down Abney Parkway at a brisk clip, barely pausing to cross the tracks at the Palisades Station. When she arrived at the door of the apartment, she was greeted by a stern-faced military officer. He stood blocking the door as she walked up.
“Hold it right there Miss. I can’t let you in there.”
She smiled and nodded, then quickly made eye contact with the young Lieutenant. “I am family of Ms Dagger’s, and I came a ways to see her. Can you let me see her chere? S’il vous plaît?”
He smiled, but only briefly, and turned to the door. “Follow me Miss, quietly. She may be sleeping.” They entered the door and made their way up the curving staircase to another doorway, which he gingerly opened. The room was curved, with a fireplace in the center, done in brick with a rug covered hardwood floor. She crossed from the doorway to the settee where someone lay curled up under a blanket. Emmanuelle cut a look around the room, and she took in the details as she walked in. Bookshelves filled with technical manuals and various other volumes, a wall covered with pictures of two women. The picture that caught her eye was taken in a garden, the couple dressed in formalwear, the tall redhead in a high-collared uniform jacket, the shorter raven-haired woman in a formal white kimono. They both looked very happy.
The young officer bent low and spoke to the figure on the settee. After a quick nod of assent, the young man walked to the doorway and paused for a moment. He gestured to Emmanuelle, and she walked across the floor to the settee. She sat gingerly on the edge of the seat and softly touched the figure under the blanket. It shifted and rolled until the familiar red-haired head emerged from the covers. Emmanuelle recognized her cousin, but she couldn’t help but try to stifle the involuntary gasp that came when Jed looked at her. Her face was a patchwork of bruises and cuts, the swelling of her left eye receded enough to allow a touch of blue to show behind the deep blue-black of the bruising. Jed smiled, enough that one of the cuts on her cheek opened a tiny bit so a thin weal of blood ran down to her jaw.
“Je ne m’attendais pas à te voir ici.” she said, slowly pushing out a hand from under the blanket to take Emmanuelle’s hand.
“Vous donc venir ici.” Emmanuelle leaned forward and kissed Jed softly on the forehead. “You gonna tell me what all happened now Alli-girl?”
Jed grinned and leaned back and rested her head on the arm of the settee. “No one calls me that now Emm. I doubt anyone would know who you were talking about. That was a long time ago, seems like a whole lifetime ago…”
They sat there for a long while talking, much as they did back when they were girls dreaming of what the future would hold for them, back when the world was simple and pure. Jed told her about the train ride, about the town that everyone says to not get off at, and everything that transpired in the basement of that business.
Jed wriggled, pulling the blanket back over her shoulder. Recounting the story visibly tired her, so Emmanuelle was getting ready to stand when the redhead gripped her arm. Jed saw the look on the dark-haired Cajun’s face, and she knew what was going on in her mind before it was said.
“I know what you’re thinking, and I can’t ask you to do it, or talk you out of it, can I?”
Emmanuelle stood, and smiled down at Jed. “If we were switched, could I stop you?”
The redhead held out her hand, and Emmanuelle knelt to take it in hers. “Jolie Rouge.”
“Sang pour sang, chere.” With that, she walked out of the room into the afternoon haze of the city.