“Ladies and gentlemen, let us have a waltz!” The evening’s master of ceremonies announced. He adjusted his stove pipe hat, started a polite applause and backed off the stage. A string quartet began their song. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2,3
She hated the waltz.
A white glove reached for her hand. She bowed, smiled, and took the hand’s invitation. She did not bother to look to see if the hand was attached to a body. Her eyes saw every frilly shirt and suit coat covered man in the building as the same entity. She was the most dazzling member of the Resistance, and the only one that came from the upper echelons of the culturally and financially elite of the city. She was also the only one that knew the waltz. If a ball or gala needed infiltrating, she was the only option.
She placed a hand on the waste of the man she was dancing with. Her dress rolled when she spun, the red hue was quite bold for the evening’s festivities, but she did so enjoy how it looked when it twirled. She was not present at this ball to please anyone except herself.
“Madam, I must say your gown is astounding,” the man said.
“My seamstress does incredible work,” she said. It would have been ill form to let the man of wealth and stature know that it was hemmed by her at home while she listened to a wax record about the fall of Constantinople.
“You must inform my sister…” she thought she heard the man say. She had slipped into a day dream of no consequence. Had the man mattered at all to her mission she would have attempted to listen, but her target of the evening was on the other side of the room.
The Resistance needed to know the plans of an engineer thought to have created a weapon that brought lightning down upon the city from within the walls of a former armory. Tensions in the city were high following the destruction of the armory and the missing regiment that had fortified within its walls. War had come to the city and the enemy could not be identified by simple coats. The Academic reveled in that thought.
Clapping filled the dance floor and the man had removed his hands from her hips. She could not have been happier. The dance had ended.
“Excuse me, sir, I require sustenance before another such endeavor,” she said through her bow. She joined the Resistance to bring an end to needing to excuse oneself from a situation that should never have existed in the first place. Every minute she spent with the wealthy and elite of her city she wanted more and more to open one of her books and have the words of Ptolemy melt their faces. The city needed a resistance, needed something to bring an end to the cultural deafness and willful ignorance of its controllers.
She walked to the servants holding trays of crackers and cheese, champagne, olives and out of season fruit. They stood in a line just waiting for people to venture near then they lowered the trays and, without being allowed to speak a word, offered their wares. It was a gross display of the inhumanity that had crept into the minds of the wealthy. She refused all offers of food and drink. She was there to be closer to Lionel Rieso, renowned engineer and an agent of the Crown.
“Monsieur Rieso?” She shyly asked.
The engineer was shorter than she was. He turned around to show a face most unbecoming. Unruly facial hair that she suspected was intended to be sideburns pointed in all directions. A mustache of three long hairs covered his upper lip. He wore goggles to an indoor gala at night and had a clump of hairs coming from his nose that were not a natural color. She tried to avoid judging people on their looks, but Rieso was not making that an easy task.
“Oui?” the engineer asked.
“I’m sorry to intrude, but I had to come over to greet you. I read your book on adapting coal fired coaches to an electrified model using the driver as the battery. I thought the ideas proposed were truly unique,” she spoke her first truth of the evening.
“Ah, I am always happy to meet someone that chooses their books so wisely,” he said. She felt his eyes move up and down her dress. The Ptolemy text was becoming more alluring.
“I must ask though, if a horseless carriage or ox free coach was to be electrified, what about a potential battery device to store overflow energy?” She asked. She was moving into her questions about the tower in the armory.
“Ah, yes, the question of excess. I think if this party tells us anything it is that excess is always good, am I right?” He laughed.
“I’m just thinking, what with these awful opponents to the crown running about, we loyalists will need to keep all the energy we can muster,” she said.
This line piqued the man’s interest. He handed his drink to one of the servants and dismissed the men and women around him. The conversation had turned to something far more interesting than banter of the new rich that filled this city. He was obviously more at home with the landed gentry of his home country.
“I had thought of that yes, but the storage space on a standard carriage is so limited. And those forced to ride in a coach are undeserving of such beautiful machinery,” he said.
The Academic tried to hide her disgust at the statement, but matched his sentiments to play her part. “There are few worthy of your machines, good sir.”
“My machines are going to put an end to these rebels, you know?” He stepped closer to her as if his words were going to impress her.
“How so, Monsieur?” She asked.
“The beauty of stored energy should not be wasted on pedestrian items like coaches or lighting a building. No, stored energy is the result of man triumphing over nature and it is only right that it is first used to symbolize that triumph. I have created a metal man, taller than the mighty oak and stronger than the most skilled of the King’s soldiers. This automaton can destroy the resistance in an evening, once they come out of their hiding hole of course,” he said.
The Academic held back a smile. She had heard of the automaton. The story went that the Musketeer that had joined the resistance ripped its legs off, pulled out its mechanical heart and took a squad of rookie fusiliers to the nearest resistance stronghold to fight the King.
“A metal man as tall as a tree?” She asked. “I simply must see that.”
“Well, my dear, if you find yourself in Tirr anytime soon, stop by my lab and I will give you a tour,” he said in another attempt to sound more impressive than he truly was.
Tirr. The automaton was in Tirr. Her task for the evening was complete, she simply needed to get the information to her handlers.
“Well, Lionel, if I may be so bold, that sounds splendid. I shall see you in Tirr,” she said. She bowed and quietly removed herself.
The string quartet was playing another waltz. The dance floor was full of happy, smiling faces. She imagined that in another life she would have been among them, happy in her ignorance of what the world outside of galas and elbow rubbing was like. She was happy in her own life though, helping the resistance break down a society that had formed under the guidance of a crazed king.
As she slipped from the building unnoticed by the assembled elites, she stepped into the cold night air and waited for her driver. The carriage came around, the driver opened her door and she took her seat. The cabin was warm, comfortable. The driver, despite the technology of the horseless carriage and its steam powered engine, sat in front of the cabin exposed to the elements.
She leaned forward to open the tiny window that separated her from the driver. It was difficult to open, always had been, but she did not like to be too distant from her driver, her handler, when they were far enough from whatever ball they had just infiltrated.
With the window open she posed the only question she thought mattered at that moment.
“Do you think a battery would destroy the look of this carriage?”
The driver laughed, but gave no answer.
Thanks for reading!
For more in the series, follow these links:
ALSO! People on the Highway, my lunch hour long short story ebook is free this week: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00VUE2OQS