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3 June 188x,NByr 6
Jed sat up in bed and ran her fingers through her hair. This was not what she wanted, or expected, but it seemed that the boys from the Manor would have their pound of flesh one slice at a time. She noticed that she was wearing some sort of gauzy cotton nightgown in place of the silk chemise and underpants she was wearing under her gown at the party. The man noticed her change in expression and he already had a razor thin smile at the ready when the obviously annoyed redhead turned to look at him.
“Before you ask, your maid Lupe changed your clothes while you were asleep. She’s been seconded to you from our Latin America bureau, so you won’t be by yourself for the duration.”
“Lovely, already assigned me a handler to keep me in line?” Jed scowled.
The man shifted in his seat again. “She is also well aware of who you are and what you are capable of Morrigan. You keep thinking that we mean you harm, when it is the furthest thing from the truth. You may not know this but there is a new occupant in the Master’s chair.”
Her eyes narrowed as the man rose and began walking to the table at the other side of the room. She stood and walked across the floor to stand next to him, where he had already busied himself opening a thick folder sealed with scarlet tapes and numerous wax seals. Jed read the title on the folder and was suddenly gripped with a feeling of nostalgia and dread. Written there in her own hand was the legend “Operation Thunderbolt” and underneath was the box stating “prepared by Dagger, J 186..”. At that instant the silence in the room hung thick like a New Babbage fog.
“You may recall this man, Dr. Ramon Cortez, was working on several projects related to an advanced weapon system that you had determined would be sold on the open market,” he said, tapping the engine-printed picture of the man, “and the end brief said that the files and journals had been confiscated and that the good doctor would not be resuming work on this project.”
He opened a second folder and placed it on top of the first. “What we have learned now is the good doctor is working for an Eduardo Aguilar, a local industrialist who is flush with cash from a recent success in the regional markets. Mr. Aguilar fancies himself as becoming the Krupp of South America, and he feels that Dr. Cortez can give him the edge he needs to step into the arms market.”
Jed leafed through the new folder, reading the briefing materials and making mental notes of what she read. The doctor had come to the island a few months ago, and was living alone in a cottage adjacent to his workshop. Alone? This thought ran through her head as the man continued.
“The mission is pretty straightforward, assess the threat, observe any activity at the lab, gather any actionable intelligence or any materials about what the doctor is up to now, and take those actions necessary to ensure that there is no threat to Her Majesty’s interests in this area.”
Jed looked at the man as those words danced in her mind, the old bugaboo “any actions necessary” meant that she would have to decide, and the higher ups could walk away and say that it was merely the actions of an overzealous agent, or worse yet deny that she was even associated with the Ministry at all. New tune, same old dance.
“The overt cover is you are on holiday with your maid, and you will have the proper introductions to get you in to Mr. Aguilar’s evening get together. It seems he has a taste for English noblewomen, so Lady Burnley will be making a reappearance. He also has a taste for blonds..”
Jed swore under her breath.
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3 June 188x,NByr 6
Jed scooted down a little further under the covers and stretched. Builder’s square but my head aches, she thought. The party had been formal but impromptu, and while for the life of her she could not recall meeting the host before the hearty handshake at the door of the place, he acted as if they had been friends forever. The music was light and the crowd very eager to see just how far the host’s bar tab would run, and she did her duty to assist in that endeavor.
She rolled onto her stomach and stretched her arm across to the other side of the bed. Her outstretched limb and questing fingers found the space on the other side to be unoccupied. She’s probably still at Aunt Aki’s house, Jed thought. Kimika said she might stay for a bit longer just to catch up and somehow Jed knew the poor thing would be listening to her go on about that kōmōgaijin her niece was living with. Rather like when Father brought Surima home to London for the first time, way back when…and then, it hit her. Maybe it was the hangover, or old age, or maybe even becoming complacent, but suddenly in a rush Jed had a feeling that something was horribly off in the world at the moment.
Her arm snaked out from the covers and reflexively aimed for the watch that sat on the nightstand beside the bed. It was a part of her daily ritual, to retrieve the silver cased railroad chronograph and wind it before getting out of bed, to sit for a moment and listen to the precise ticking of the movement, knowing the world was in order. Jed started awake, mind racing, because her hand found only air where the nightstand should have been. Suddenly attuned to the world around her, she knew that everything was not as it should be. She was not home.
“Good morning Morrigan. I hope you slept well?” The man’s voice was smooth and low, with the clipped intonation that betrayed an expensive English education. Jed rolled to her side and looked out from under the blanket. The room was plainly furnished and had adobe walls. It was unoccupied as far as she could see save for herself and the man who sat in the chair opposite the bed. He was wholly unremarkable in dress as well as appearance, and her experience taught her that this was done as a specific means to an end. His suit was plain, but had the alteration to the right side to more easily conceal the object that rode unseen at his hip. Jed didn’t recognize the man, but he had all the hallmarks of someone who worked for her former employer. Somehow she did not take this as a positive sign. She looked at him with a long hard look that did manage to get the point across. He shifted in his seat as she sat up.
“Care to explain this? Was the recall code not enough last time?”
The man smiled a very unconvincing smile, and uncrossed his legs. “I believe it was when you told the after action team what they could do with what and when and to whom that forced us to take a less conventional approach to enlisting your services again.” He gestured off to his left out the window. “Welcome back to Santa Marta. It seems that you will finally get to finish that assignment from twenty years ago.”
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The little airship sounded as if it was about to fly apart. Next time, the pilot mused, I’ll steal one that isn’t on the repair line. Next time. The thought that there could be a next time was an annoying thought, but was shuffled off to another part of the mind as a new mountain peak loomed large in front of the struggling flyer. Skimming valleys, running along ridgelines, threading though passes. This flight had been one of constantly being ‘up on the stick’, no pleasure cruise here, and with the constant threat of pursuit it had been a long nerve-wracking time. The sun pushed through the low clouds, and there was a very welcome sight of the Two Sisters and the Finger. This meant one turn through the pass, a short run along the edge of Bone Valley…then the Fells, and home. The reverie of being close to the end of this flight was interrupted by an increase of noise from the airship’s engine. The pilot cursed again, as that sound could only be made by the main bearings. It vibrated and strained so much the pilot feared it would come loose from its mounts, and all that could be done was turn up the oilers and pray they didn’t run out before the wall came into sight.
A few moments later, the ribbon of tracks along the aqueduct pushed out of the growing haze as the struggling little airship fought its way along. Just when it seemed the engine would finish the task before expiring, the envelope decided to raise the ante. Despite the best efforts by the weary pilot to keep the little ship in the air, it was losing altitude just as surely as the destination stood just out of reach. With a determination borne of desperation, the pilot pushed the throttle full open and pointed the doomed little ship towards the wall of the city. In a last desperate act to cling to the sky, the ship turned sharply to avoid the looming walls of Szuster House and raised its nose before coming to rest tail down in the dirt next to the Academy parapet. The pilot shut down the engine and moved away sharply from the wreckage as what little hydrogen was left in the envelope met the last of the heated metal of the now seized engine. The pilot stood watching the fire consume the flammable bits of the wrecked airship and thought that this way there won’t be any need to hide the evidence.
A solitary figure walked into the Muirsheen Durkin wearing a Prussian Fliegertruppen uniform. The bar was empty, and the figure walked to the counter and began to peel off the heavy layers of clothes that had been such a godsend while flying across the mountains. Once this was done, it took another bit of effort to locate where the proprietor had stashed the good rum. Devoid of the flight helmet, goggles, and scarf, the pilot took a long draw of Pussers from the bottle and pushed a tendril of blonde hair back behind her ear. She looked in the mirror and smiles that old familiar smile.
“Jed darlin’,” she said to herself, “nobody will believe this, even if you could tell them the truth.”

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Jedburgh Dagger

April 2014

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