Encounter: Steam Lover
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Copyright ©2016 Mikala Ash
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The lift in Number Seven Courtroom carried me from the basement cells to the dock accompanied by the mournful creak of rusty chains and worn pulleys. I knew firsthand how hard it was tugging on the ropes. I'd been doing it for fifteen days and had blisters to prove it. I hoped the buggers down below didn't let go. Otherwise I'd plummet to my death. The lift jolted to a halt and I fell to the floor. I gripped the bars with dirt grimed fingers and pulled myself to my feet.
I was suspended mid air, swinging back and forth like a carcass in the butchers market, facing a crowd of riffraff which erupted in raucous whistling and cat calls. I pulled my tattered coat closed to cover my breasts, which had been shaken free from my shredded dress. Some bastard threw an egg at me. It missed the bars and broke on my forehead, covering my face with its slippery yoke. Laughter erupted as I gathered up the precious slime and filled my mouth. I hadn't eaten in days.
The pounding of a hammer and a booming voice quieted the gawkers. "Address the bench!"
I spat out a piece of shell and turned to face the judge sitting in the high chair in all his finery -- wig of lamb's wool, ermine cloak, and the bright brass goggles of his office.
"Audrey Rose, known to some as Prick Haven, you are charged with lewd and degenerate conduct at Number 29 Regent Street. How do you plead?"
"Not guilty!" I yelled and the crowd twittered and encouraged further insolence. "I only kept the books!" That brought a roar of laughter, and the judge pounded his gavel to silence them.
"That makes you the three hundred and third bookkeeper I've had before me this very month. " It was just my luck to have a music hall comic sitting in judgment. "Guilty as charged. I sentence you to six months at Stonebrook."
That brought silence to the courtroom, and a sickening emptiness to my gut. Stonebrook was the nitrix mine in the West Country. They say the fumes blind you and rot your lungs from the inside till you drown in your own blood. I'd be lucky to last six weeks, let alone six months.
The judge smirked. "Not so smart now, eh slut?"
I opened my mouth in protest but nothing came out. I was a dead woman, and dead people are breathless.
"I say. I say!" A well dressed spoof in the upper gallery reserved for the toffs was waving a piece of paper to attract the judge's attention. "I represent Professor Julius Sumner. I have a permit to Claim issued this very day."
The judge peered at him over his official goggles. "What do you want to do with this permit?"
I gaped in wonder for the stranger's perfectly symmetrical face was preternaturally handsome. "The accused says she is a bookkeeper. We are in need of a laboratory assistant. If she can answer a mathematical problem, I will claim her sentence."
Good grief, what shite was this? Fate had laughed at me all my life. Was this to be the last joke to be played?
"I fancy some entertainment," the judge chuckled. "Ask her your problem, and we'll see if this lewd and moral degenerate learned her sums."
The handsome young man turned to me. "Miss Rose. Tell me. What is infinity?"
I searched for the trick and could see none. He appeared earnest, as if he expected a proper answer. "The biggest number there can be?"
He seemed relieved at my answer. "What about infinity plus one?"
|Publisher:||Changeling Press LLC|
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About the Author
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