24th of 5th Month, 281st Year of the Triumvirate
“Sorry about the headache,” I said, when Professor Oates started to come to. “I had to act fast, and my little sleeping pills don’t differentiate between friend and foe.”
“W-who are you?” He looked around, and tried to move. “And why am I tied up?”
“Oh, yes. I feel I must apologize for that as well. I wasn’t sure how you’d react, seeing as how I just gassed you, so to keep you from running I restrained you.”
Listening to myself speak just then I realized how wrongheaded that was.
“What do you want?”
“Well, to be honest it isn’t very different from what these two wanted.” I opened the door on a nearby broom closet to reveal Bianca and the Monteddorian stashed inside, all trussed up and still sleeping. “Information on Lelina, to be precise. Information on Adella Chatelaine and Veronica Trenum’s whereabouts, to be even more precise.”
The professor squinted at me, and recognition sparked in his eyes.
“You’re that Nor Eastern agent. Pixie Sinclaire.”
“That is I. How did you know that?”
“I saw you in the paper. You caused quite a ruckus at Miss Chatelaine’s memorial.”
“That made the papers, huh?”
“Don’t be coy, Miss Sinclaire. Everything you do makes the papers. Seems rather unbecoming, for a spy to be as high profile as you are.”
“Former spy,” I corrected, somewhat incorrectly. Truth of the matter was my status as an agent for the Nor Eastern Subterfuge Society was on-again, off-again, not unlike an unhealthy relationship. An area I had much experience in those days.
“You seemed to be adamant that Miss Chatelaine was alive,” the professor said. “Do you really think that?”
“I hope so. Especially if Veronica is with her. I figure you can attest to that, yourself.”
The Professor smiled. It was a sad smile, nostalgic. He wanted to believe it. I’m just not sure he did, and that worried me.
“What is your stake in all of this?” he asked.
“Adella is a dear friend, and Veronica a dear rival. Both are important, I feel. And, if I’m being completely honest, the tug of mystery and promise of renown should I find them appeals to me as well. Those are a distant third and far more distant fourth, I assure you. It isn’t lost on me that lives are at stake.”
“Alright, then. I’ll tell you what I know. Untie me.”
I pulled the dagger I keep in a sheath at my back and stepped forward to cut his ropes. I made it through the first one when I heard a thump from within the closet.
“Do you think you can untie your other hand?” I asked. The professor said that he could, and I excused myself.
I walked over to the closet, priming another of my sleeping bombs as I went. I stepped up to the closet door, and cracked it open. Bianca’s wild eyes peered at me from within. Even half lidded from the sleeping compound, those eyes made me feel like mouse that’s just realized it’s looking at a snake.
“Yyyooouu bi—“ I didn’t let her finish as I chucked the bomb inside and shut the door. I heard coughing and then silence. I turned back to the doctor. His mouth was agape.
“Those aren’t dangerous, are they?”
“I’d imagine they could be. Haven’t had the opportunity to test long term effects, nor do I really want to. Now, professor, let us start.”
He told me about the expedition, and who went with them. I was familiar with Mister Mackay, and his presence was a cause for concern. The Professor also told me where Adella and Veronica had gone next: a southern river port called Docryville, where they are said to have caused a bit of a scene.
“Thank you, Professor.” I turned to leave, then remembered the two hooligans stashed in the closet. They’d been interested in Lelina, as well. I figured it might be important to ask about. “One other thing…who were those two?”
“Them? They’re no one. Just a couple of leg breakers sent to collect a debt.”
“Leg breakers, you say? Dressed in matching uniforms and bearing six-shooters? My Man, you must have pissed off someone very wealthy indeed.”
“You might say that.”
“Come now, professor. I thought we were in agreement? I heard your conversation with them while I was creeping around in the hall. Who are they, really?”
The Professor, if he wasn’t frightened before, seemed to be so now. His eyes darted around the room, and his mouth worked silently, as though unable to find words.
“They…they’re Cartrographers. I think.”
“Cartographers? Map makers?”
“Not really. Ephemeral Cartographers, they’re called.”
I drew back, unsure whether to laugh or be irritated.
“The Ephemeral Cartographers? The super-secret society that supposedly pulls the strings of world events from the shadows, charting and controlling the flow of resources and guiding the development of civilization? They’re a myth.”
“If only that were so. In case you hadn’t noticed, you just gassed two of them and stuck them in a closet—“
“Where, if they’re as secretive as you say, they should be quite comfortable.”
“Except they’re working out in the open, now. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a run in with them, nor am I the only one. They’re not hiding, anymore. Something has chased them from the shadows. And that frightens me beyond belief.”