Quantum Steam Theory - Part 5 of 5

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The men taunted her, staying several paces behind. In Vertigo, she could call for a Weimar patrolman, or a district lawman. Selina saw no reassuring badges of authority here. The footsteps behind her quickened, and Selina broke into a run. A cart trundled out of a side street, blocking her flight. Panic gripped her, and she threw herself sideways into a dark alley. Clambering over piles of rubbish, Selina plunged into the gloom ahead.

Selina collided with a figure hunched over a heap in a doorway. The figure let out a shout as it fell to the ground. Selina rolled off the man, and scrambled to her feet. She looked down and saw a bloodied knife in his hand. Her eyes flicked between the knife and the motionless heap. Legs streaked with mud stuck out from filthy skirts pushed up to the waist.

“There she is!” shouted one of her pursuers.

Selina took flight, rushing headlong down the alley. She couldn’t stop to think about the heap, or the knife.

What kind of place is this? she thought.

A commotion erupted as her pursuers ran into the man with the knife. One of them shouted a curse, and scuffling filled the air. Cries of ‘Murder!’ echoed around the alley. Windows flew open and heads poked into the darkness. Selina ignored it all, and the fracas grew faint as she rounded the corner. Relief flooded her mind as her pursuers forgot her.

Selina’s foot caught the edge of an abandoned cart and she stumbled forward. The book slipped out of her grasp, and fell open. Selina just had time to notice the starry void opening beneath her as she dived headfirst into space.

* * *

Selina woke up on the floor of the library. Cold flagstones supported her back, and a thumping in her skull told her she hit her head when she fell. She parted her hair and felt a lump. The black leather book lay open on the floor, just beyond her grasp. Blank pages stared up at her, telling nothing of her adventure.

Selina picked up the book and closed it with a thump. She pushed it back into its slot on the shelf. Selina shoved it onto the shelf as far as it would go, and the shadow of its neighbouring tome fell across the shiny golden lion.

Dusting herself off, Selina dabbed at the mud splatters on her boots with a handkerchief. Taking her time, she walked back to her table in the reading room. Quantum steam theory suddenly didn't seem so boring after all.

Part 1 : Part 2 : Part 3 : Part 4

Quantum Steam Theory - Part 4 of 5

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A handful of prostitutes drowned their sorrows with cheap gin at the bar. Toothless men in filthy clothes huddled around battered tables, nursing pints of pale beer. Selina half expected to see Enrique behind the bar; the pub smelled just like Enrique's basement dive. Instead, a rotund bald man stood polishing chipped glasses.

“Excuse me, could you tell me where I am?” asked Selina.

“Ain't from round 'ere, eh?” asked the barkeeper.

“No, no I'm not. I'm not familiar with this part of the city at all and I was wondering if you could tell me what it's called,” said Selina.

“This is Whitechapel, love,” replied the barkeeper.

“Whitechapel? I never heard of it. In what part of Vertigo is that?”

“Vertigo? What do ya mean, Vertigo? You're in London, love.”

Selina stared at the barkeeper. The unfamiliar place names buzzed in her ears.

“What's that ya got there? Is that a Bible?” asked the barkeeper.

He gestured to the black book she still clutched to her chest.

“What's a Bible?” she asked.

“Exactly who are ya, and what are ya doin' in my pub?”

“Um...sorry to have wasted your time...I just remembered, I have somewhere else I need to be...”

Selina backed away from the bar. She threaded her way between the tables and burst out of the cramped pub.

Twilight skulked outside. Selina looked around, still desperate for a familiar sight. She watched a thin boy in faded tweed help an older man light the gas lamps lining the street. Drunkards made impromptu beds on benches in the yard outside the grand white building.

Selina noticed movement out of the corner of her eye. A gang of four young men loitered by the door to the pub. Their overalls looked like those worn by the dockworkers in Vertigo City. Streaks of dirt clung to their gaunt faces. They stared at her, a predatory look in their eyes. These were not men from whom Selina would get directions.

“Who's a pretty bird, then?” said one of them.

Selina said nothing.

“Not gonna talk to us, darlin’?” asked one of the men.

“I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I'm late for an appointment,” said Selina.

“Gentlemen? Lord preserve us, she calls us gentlemen!” said another of the men. They hooted with derision.

Selina hurried down the street away from them. She wove her way among gaggles of people heading back to their dosshouses after a day's casual labour. Selina threw glances over her shoulder. The four young men followed her. She looked around, hoping to find a friendly shop or tavern where she could find shelter.

“You not gonna stop and play with us, chicky?” called one of the men.

“If you don’t stop, we’ll have to make you play,” shouted another.

Part 1 : Part 2 : Part 3

Quantum Steam Theory - Part 3 of 5

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

She expected to land on her face on the cold library floor. Instead, she lay face down on wet cobblestones. A hackney cab careered past, the thundering hooves of a black stallion inches from her outstretched left hand. Selina scrabbled to get to her hands and knees, and crawled out of the gutter onto the filthy pavement. The book lay open, and mud from a passing cart splattered the empty pages.

Selina leaned onto the cobbles to grab the book. She stared at it in amazement. She flicked through the pages again, trying to find the void. Empty and muddied pages flicked past, with no sign of stars or space.

“'Ere, clear off, you! This is my patch, and I ain't sharin' it with no newcomers!”

A strident voice screeched in her ear. Selina looked up into the pinched face of a middle-aged woman. Knotted red hair hung about her shoulders, and she wore a faded green dress. White face powder settled in the wrinkles around her cruel blue eyes, and two angry red circles of rouge burned on her cheeks. She looked like one of the prostitutes on Commercial Street.

“Sorry, I didn't mean to intrude,” said Selina.

She stood up and looked around her. The woman looked like a Commercial Street whore, but this was not Commercial Street. A muddy gash cut down the street between the uneven pavements. Crooked buildings crammed together around narrow alleys and filthy courtyards. Dirty windows gazed down at her. Scrawny children played in the gutter, oblivious to the degradation around them. Even the Vertigo City slums didn't look like this.

Selina hurried down the street away from the harridan. She clutched the book to her chest. She passed more women in gaudy clothes. Some of the younger ones exposed their chests to the passing carriages, hoping for trade. Selina looked down at her own pale grey shirt and dark grey jodhpurs tucked into knee-high black leather boots. She felt over-dressed. The men stared at her, and the women threw curses, afraid she might steal their business.

The street opened out onto a wider street, an imposing white building on her left behind tall railings. Thick pillars held up a grand portico, while a pointed tower rose from the roof like an accusing finger. Two lengths of stone topped the tower, forming a cross. Selina had never seen such a building before. The architecture of the portico reminded her of the grand buildings of the former Council district of Vertigo, but she couldn't guess as to the purpose of the cross.

A pub stood on the street corner to her right. Gold lettering spelled out 'The Ten Bells' above the door. Light spilled out of the door onto the broken pavement outside. Selina darted across the street between two carts and slipped inside the pub.

Part 1 : Part 2