Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Synopsis

Hiya: brief synopsis created from a dream I recorded on Twitter a few nights back.

A woman goes on a luxury cruising holiday. It's a really cheap deal because the ship is shared between holiday makers and "patients". At every stage of the booking process she is assured that the patients have nothing contagious and she doesn't need to take any additional shots.

The ship's hospital facilities were run and maintained by an artificial intelligence, which governed medication and treatments, as well as providing on ship security, managing entertainments and the general running of power and navigation. As AI is a common thing, the woman (Jane) accepts this easily and signs all the documents placed in front of her.

On board, she enjoys a few days before being informed by a retired actor that the patients are all psychopaths. The actor was formerly a horror film star who abruptly retired a few years before, so she didn't take him seriously. However, she begins to notice a few things:

The ship AI continually guides her through routes which turn out to be long, dark or in some way unreasonable - although she doesn't notice this for the first week, it's only when the actor shows her the quicker, more obvious routes that she begins to be confused and disoriented.
Although there is a zombie film being shot on board, it doesn't include the retired actor and the group working on it went to great lengths to avoid him.
He talks a lot about his past and makes dark, vaguely threatening statements about the people involved in the film.
Certain people are pointed out as patients and she realises they are all tagged with a light symbol, which the actor has displayed on his chest like a badge.

She begins to become frightened - unable to trust the AI and afraid of the actor she turns with relief to the arrival of a newcomer. They spend a lot of time together and the actor becomes angry and aggressive towards the man. One day, after a romantic lunch which the actor has been spying on, he waylays them and attacks the man. the man disables him (I don't know for sure - one of those wrestling locks, maybe?) and manages to talk him back to sanity. The man goes away to try and report the security issue to one of the few human staff members. In his absence the actor begins to praise him and Jane, still twitchy, reacts badly.

They begin to fight and Jane tries to flee. She runs straight into the zombie movie crew and collapses screaming. The actor, apparently shocked into sanity tries to help her up apologising profusely. She slaps him away but otherwise remains in control of herself. The camera crew pull her to one side and confirm her fears - the actor didn't retire he started on the ship as a passenger, but was diagnosed as a psychopath and now was kept as a patient.

She is once more left alone with the actor and becomes very nervous. Every time he comes near, she flinches or retreats and he rapidly becomes angry and she is scared into hauling a weapon from a nearby decorative display which triggers a full on fight.

She eventually stabs the actor and runs away, locks herself in her cabin and falls weeping into bed.

When she wakes up, there is a video display on the main screen and several faces looking down on her. The video display tracks her through her holiday on the boat and the AI voiceover details instances of erratic behaviour, culminating in her "attempted murder" of a fellow passenger. It describes how a doctor was assigned to her as a precautionary measure and a picture of the man flashes onto the screen.

At the end of the AIs report, the decision of the watchers is unanimous - Jane is a psychopath and must be retained as a permanent patient on the ship. She screams and pleads her sanity, but no-one believes her.

The next day she wakes up and continues her holiday, convinced it has all been a bad dream. When they return to her city of embarkation the next day she tries to disembark and is forcibly restrained. She is injected with a vast amount of drugs and hauled back onto the ship while an announcement is made about the danger she presents to her fellow passengers.

Josh Groban's flaw.

Dear Josh

This is my last communication of 2013. I feel it is important to do it now and begin the new year with a clean slate. You see, I haven't been completely honest with you. Over the last year I have told you many times of the urgent need for you to develop a flaw and obliterate my rather tiresome crush on you, freeing us both to live our respective lives in happy oblivion1.

And now the truth.

*deep breath*

I've been very flippant about terminating my crush because I never took it very seriously. It seems to be a symptom of my single state and it will inevitably pass - as I thought - because all along you have had a massive flaw. One single blip, which to some people would be nothing at all or, at the worst, a surmountable issue. To me it's always been an absolute certain sign that there is no way my interest in you would ever last.

You need to be aware I am a very strong individual. Physically I'm quite pathetic. Emotionally, spiritually, mentally and in every other way that counts I am strong. I'm also deeply passionate. I have very strong beliefs and I will argue for them long and hard2. I'd like to add another footnote here3.

The point here is that I will flatten anyone who is less formidable than myself. 

What I need from a partner is someone who can understand my depth of passion and fervent support of a position. Someone who can meet me halfway and participate in a friendly wrangle over something insignificant. This is why I look for geek men: they're smart, passionate, driven and can understand my personality. But geeky isn't enough: I also need someone who has the strength of character to stand up to me. 

Idiotic crushes on timid guys will always go nowhere because a good 70% of my mind is unable to let go of the knowledge that should we ever meet, within five minutes I would be utterly disinterested at best and frustrated at worst.

Until this Christmas holiday I had never seen you enter the fray. You seem to let everything flow over you, you don't get angry or annoyed and you were clearly labelled as timid4. It seemed vaguely odd given the intensity you put into your music but you don't seem to get personally involved in anything - which is totally your call and keep on being whatever you want to be - but that lack of fire was all I needed to know that I wasn't really into you.

And then, when I was busy being an introvert in a full house I went to your tweet list and came across a gem that blew my mind and utterly screwed me over. You called someone a lying sack of donkey poop and told them to get bent.

Dear boy, you and I have a problem. OK, so *I* have a problem. You just have yet another screaming fangirl.

You  know what my problem is? It sucks being single and it sucks even more measuring every man I meet up against a ridiculous ideal and finding them wanting. Please get a girlfriend - that will always make you cease to exist on my plane of awareness. Alternatively, publicise a flaw. It isn't necessarily going to be something that everyone will hate, but it's got to be something to dissuade me.

I get that this isn't your fault, but I would appreciate your help nevertheless. 

Please.

Alicia

1 I acknowledge that this won't alter your life whatsoever.
2 To balance this, I do also have the ability and inclination to - in Tim Minchin's words - "spin on a fucking dime" if someone makes a point I haven't previously considered which is why I haven't yet alienated everyone I've ever met.
3 There was one instance where a similar minded chap and I began to discuss web browsers and our differing opinions on the efforts you should go when designing a website to support IE. We were both in relationships and our respective significant others were horrified at the vehemence we each employed. After almost half an hour we came to some conclusion and went off to have a drink with no ill will. 
4 Even though that's not a bad thing, I feel compelled to apologise. I'm British, so that probably accounts for it. Sorry. 

Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Newsletter everybody!

From @fascinatingpics on Twitter
By now the mail should have delivered unto my nearest and dearest the real world copies of this newsletter that I posted last Wednesday and so this post contains no spoilers.

If you haven't had a card and you feel you should have, probably best to not click the link and instead send me a distressed text. Bear in mind that since I swapped my Android for Windows phone I've lost the vast majority of my contacts, you might get a response saying something along the lines of "who the hell are you?" and it won't necessarily be in jest. The second one probably will be though ;)

The holidays are upon us and all my chores are still to be done, so I assume you are the same and give you this as a way of whittling down the time you have carefully hoarded to do chores in preparation for Christmas. Be joyful, be merry and slothlike; and when all else fails eat, drink and remember you've got a whole 365 days before you need to worry about it again.

And finally..... Click here to read my newsletter but please note, I did things to make the printed version pretty which haven't translated too well into this version which was written and finished in free software and so is missing fonts and some understanding of column layouts.

Love and best wishes for all the years to come

Alicia

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Be careful what you wish for!

I love Christmas. There's all the anticipation, the gluttony and the messages of love and goodwill from family and friends who take a large chunk out of their personal time simply to pass on those messages.

Christmas is such a beautiful time of year and one of the things I truly enjoy is the Secret Santa. Every time I've done it I've put more effort into it than the previous time. I've mulled over present ideas, I've gone back and forth, I've hunted through a thousand shops and yet, no matter how hard I try I never manage to better whoever buys my gifts.

And this year? This year I was convinced! I was so sure I would be prouder of how I'd done at purchasing than pleased with what I was given.

I failed to take into account the sheer brilliance of my team.

We agreed a £5 gift limit and signed up to a website to draw  names. I wrote up a wish list as  follows:

"Diamonds, Josh Groban and a puppy."

Yesterday I played the role of Santa and handed out the gifts. You know when you have that moment that everyone seems to have a gift except you? It turns out the big present under the tree wasn't decorative - it was for me!

We tore into our gifts as one - sadly the woman I purchased for wasn't there to open her gift - and the first thing I did was open the card. My Santa had handmade a card with a variety of Josh Groban photos and had Photoshopped thought bubbles of him daydreaming about me.

Inside she had written "Be careful what you set your heart on for it will surely be yours, Ralph Waldo Emerson" my wishlist and "Merry Christmas".

Tearing into my present I discovered a large cuddly puppy toy and a CD - David Bowie Diamond Dogs. The girl next to me pointed out that my puppy was also wearing very glitzy earrings.

I had a massive grin on my face for the better part of an hour and I'm wearing my new earrings now.

Next year I'm upping my game!

Alicia

Monday, 2 December 2013

The deadline is looming

Dear Josh

Let's not beat about the bush. We both know what is going on here.

10 months ago I gave you fair and honest warning of my crush on you. Anticipating that you would be as unenthusiastic at the prospect of a drooling femme geek stalking your Twitter account as I was, I offered you a really easy out – simply by announcing some dastardly flaw in your personality you would be free of my adoration. Alternatively, you could relinquish your single status. It didn't even have to be for long! Just long enough for me to get distracted so that by the time I seek my own relationship in 2014 I'm over this ridiculous infatuation. 

Yet somehow a handsome, talented, intelligent, sensitive man with a fantastic sense of humour who is still too young to be referred to as having reached (in the oddly euphemistic phrase) the “prime of his life” has managed to remain single for the entirety of 2013 to date.

To give credit where it's due - I couldn't help but notice your plea for a dating service that matches people up in December: it's reassuring to see that you're taking this situation seriously. However, I do feel compelled to hint that you might have left it dangerously close. By finding yourself a lady friend earlier in the year you could have nipped my passion in the bud and simultaneously enlivened your touring experience.

Unfortunately, it has to be admitted that due to your delay in finding a suitable mate, this crush of mine has reached a rather unpleasant stage. While looking for a photo of you to include in my Christmas newsletter (a significant portion of which shall be dedicated to your inexplicable failure to set yourself up as a happily married father of three in the last ten months) I entered “Josh Groban pictures” into the search engine and before I pressed Go, I couldn't help but notice that the first option was “Josh Groban pictures shirtless”. To my everlasting shame... Oh dear. I can't even admit it on the internet.

I'll leave you to extrapolate from context.

Just... Don't extrapolate too far, I'm not that crazy.

In summary: you need to stop being everything I'm looking for in a male. Please? I mean, really. Please. You're screwing up my potential relationships and I don't appreciate it.

Alicia


This blog post was brought to you by the thesaurus.com page of synonyms for “infatuation”.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Made it!

Huzzah! November achieved! For those of you who just happened upon this and missed my daily updates (you lucky ducks) I wrote, in November only, a fifty one thousand word beginning to a novel.

Those 51k words make up the first two thirds of my plot. When I've written the whole thing down, I need to go back through it and get some serious editing on. What I need to do is print it to a paper copy and read it through many times before setting to it with a red pen. Currently it's a 79 page document. Looking forward to the full word count!

Sadly, editing is less fun than getting the words down, and this is the point at which my writing usually falls flat. Hopefully I'll keep ripping through it.

Even if I don't, it's that time of year again! I've got a million mince pies to make, Christmas cards to design, make, write, post, etc and my Christmas newsletter to write up. You see, I'm terrible at staying in touch, even with my nearest and dearest. So at Christmas I put together the highlights of my year in a mock-up newspaper, print it out and mail it to people alongside a Christmas card. If you're very good, I'll post a copy of it up here for you.

I'll be avoiding Christmas cracker manufacture this year. It's for a combination of reasons, but the end result is the same: no crackers.

However, there is one thing I am determined to do: at the start of this year I let Josh Groban know abut the urgent need for him to get a girlfriend. I have to remind him that his deadline of New Year is looming, so he gets his act together. I'll try to get that up asap to give him as close to a month as possible.

OK. So that's it. Rant at Josh Groban until he has the decency to get a girlfriend, write up newsletter - probably involving a recap of my favourite of the year's rants - bake mince pies, eat mince pies, make cards, mail cards, wrap Christmas presents, plan Christmas.

And above all: be happy and warm.

I am blessed and mine is a very good life.

Alicia

Thursday, 28 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 28 Word Count 4026

Melissa saw Mary waiting in the room and apologised. She'd forgotten that when she disappeared Mary covered by claiming illness on her behalf and was therefore condemned to remain isolated in her bedroom for the duration of Melissa's absence.

She quickly took Phillip home and returned to her own place. Mary had called for the hot water that was once again stood waiting in the kitchen and begun preparing the wash stand to treat the worst of Melissa's bruising and grazes. Prescribing arnica, Mary dressed a few areas but left the rest as they were. A little facial and hair powder left Melissa looking interestingly pale, but hid the worst of the bruising. After all preparation, Melissa insisted on taking Mary into her confidence before she allowed herself to sleep.

It wasn't fair, she said, that Mary act with such integrity and effort on Melissa's behalf without at least knowing why. Leaving the time travel component out of her story again, Melissa explained the crux of the issue: that she had been bequeathed a device which could transport her around the world. She could take other people with her and currently she was working with the British government to aid their war efforts. Mary heard her our in silence. She found Melissa's explanation difficult to accept but conceded to herself that such a fantastic explanation was either true or, given Melissa's current state of exhaustion, an unbelievably well crafted fiction.

She decided to disregard the issue for the time being and focussed instead on putting Melissa to bed. Murmuring a soothing “there, there” and other such platitudes, she tucked Melissa into bed and watched her drift off to sleep.

When she woke, almost twelve hours later, Melissa was famished. Mary had prepared the kitchen staff and a well arranged breakfast was placed around the small dining room where Melissa preferred to eat. Her face was still pale courtesy of Mary's powder and her thoughts were preoccupied by a memory of Mary's apparent disbelief and the outcome of her efforts with Phillip. They had identified with certainty the three men who had been assigned responsibility for Wellington's assassination and they had established that only one of the three could possibly be recalled. The gap in their knowledge was simple: they had discovered the codename identities of these men and Phillip had some idea of how they could be tracked down, but they didn't know their real identities.

She was stationed at the breakfast table for quite some time with a combination of food, preoccupation and, eventually, her morning mail keeping her distracted. When she rose she moved idly into her front sitting room and called Mary to her. The two women sat for a while quietly discussing the ramifications of Melissa' revelation the previous night. Expecting to have to convince Mary, Melissa was surprised to hear that Mary had been thinking overnight, not of whether Melissa had been attempting to pull the wool over her eyes, but rather of how she could more readily cover for her mistress' absences. She made a few suggestions all of which Melissa considered. She agreed eagerly to the plan for covering up predicted absences: spontaneous absences were more tricky as she was known not to have any relatives in the country who could be taken ill unexpectedly, but Mary pointed out that her business affairs were known to be so varied that she could easily be called to the country to investigate something at short notice. Mary's role would be to determine the likely length of her absence and the most appropriate journey for Melissa to be taken on then arrange for her property to be packed up and moved from the house correspondingly. She would also contrive so that her staff thought they had seen Melissa leave, rather than have them questioning sudden disappearances.

When they had finished their discussions, Mary sat alone gazing into the fire contemplating how fortunate she had been to discover a companion like Mary who was ideally suited for her own needs and continued success and survival. She began to wonder if it was possible that the device did, in fact, have a personality as Phillip had suggested, and that it was pushing her towards the exact people she needed to help her.

The rest of that say she was alone. The next day Francis turned up on her doorstep with a bouquet of flowers and expressed a hope that she was feeling healthier. The twinkle in his eye caused a brief guilt to flicker and she apologised for her sudden disappearance. He, gentleman that he was, waved away her apologies, explained that he understood how important it must have been and expressed himself her servant should he ever be able to help in her future endeavours.

She had never, even in the early stages, readily taken people into her confidence. Pushed first by Andy into telling the boys, by necessity into telling Phillip and by circumstances into telling John, she felt now that her little band was big enough – she had no reason to mistrust Frank, but wanted to keep the circle to a minimum. She pressed his hand in gratitude and the two of them moved onto discussing something else.

His half hour stay was absolutely correct and proper and his departure was witnessed by many neighbours and passers by. Unbeknownst to her, his interest had become more publicly marked and many persons waited in daily anticipation of seeing a notice in the papers. She was alerted to that in the afternoon visits, which arrived like a tumult on the heels of Francis' exit. Several kind and genuine enquiries about her unexpected indisposition were punctuated with heavy handed suggestions, nods and winks towards Sir Francis' concern for her.

Melissa blushed deeply and inside fell into a chaotic panic. She was still fielding questions when Phillip arrived and her joy at his entrance was not only witnessed by every female in the room but gave rise to a whole new level of speculation as to not only who was interested in her but potentially even who would win her. It didn't escape Melissa and she wasn't particularly soothed by the gossip. As soon as she was alone, she called for Mary and begged for a plausible means of scotching the rumours that she might be on the cusp of marriage to any of the local gentlemen. Mary simply smiled – she'd been expecting this plea for some time – and pointed out: “Gentlemen require a wife who can bear their children. You are known to be sickly. If the nature of your illness was known to be that you could not bear children, you would immediately become unmarriageable.”

Mady blinked. Half of her was up in arms that such a simple thing could immediately write off the future for so many local women, but the other half pointed out that if she questioned or fought it, she could no longer take advantage of it and it was absolutely necessary to her that she remain unwed. She loved it here, but she expected to leave one day and marrying a man – particularly one who actively contributed to the success of the country in any way – would severely mess the time. Especially if she either produced an heir for him, caused him to leave when she did or in some other way disrupted his life.

Now it was only her own needs she had to consider as she determined to make use of Mary's idea. How was simple – it wouldn't be appropriate for Melissa to make any kind of statement about bearing children, but Mary would undoubtedly be approached for gossip about her mistress. Usually she turned it away in short terms, but if she was clearly worrying about something a little detail may be let slip. And so it happened two days later Mary was able to report that she had been retrieving a few items at the Bazaar for Melissa's linen closet when she had been approached by the ladies' maid of one Helena DuBrun, a sharp tongued female of impeccable provenance but suspicious income, who was only accepted on the fringes of society by a few females who were addicted to gossip.

The maid engaged with Mary about the trials of being a ladies maid, to which Mary replied repressively – as was her usual habit - but in a slightly preoccupied fashion. Encouraged, the other suggested that it must be more difficult for Mary given her mistress' frequent bouts of ill health. Mary responded hotly that her mistress was a good woman who stood her trials well. “And if,” she cried, “Madam should be distressed by certain comments of the doctor, that is only to be expected. She does absolutely nothing,” Mary descended into bare faced lying, “to cause me trouble or distress. She deserves better than the hand she has been dealt and she will get the best I can offer her, which does not include being spiteful or spreading her personal history to the like of you Millicent Harper!”

As Mary was about to storm off, Millicent caught her arm and apologised profusely. “I'd had no notion it was so bad for you to be worriting as you are. I'll leave you be, but please, you know I weren't trying to upset no-one. Your mistress is a good woman. We all know what she's doing with the girls on the streets – them as deserve much worse than what they're getting from her. You just know I didn't mean no harm.”

Mary sighed heavily. “I know. Sorry. It just seems so unjust – especially as you say, with the work she's doing with the girls and their children. She's always loved children.” Shaking her head, Mary scurried off leaving Millicent with a dropped jaw and a delighted yet incredulous look on her face. Within 12 hours, Melissa was the recipient of many a sympathetic look, many ladies robustly supporting her in her time of trial and many gentlemen suddenly deciding her wealth wasn't a sufficient inducement to wed a barren female.

She had never been at the centre of such mixed signals before and it was a difficult few hours for her. Francis still took her for a turn about the floor – all eyes on the two of them as he did so. Once they had finished their dance, she noticed a gentleman leading him to one side to have a quiet word and, having done so, she observed his eyebrow quirking in her direction. Phillip arrived later in the night and took her for a walk on the terrace to relieve herself from the heat of the room. There he asked her quietly what the purpose of this ruse was and she confided her desire to remain unwed to him. She admitted that she knew there were a variety of reasons why she should be a single female according to the laws of their society, but she could not afford any of those to be publicly known. This reason at least, although it would see her pitied and kept at a distance by certain men, would not affect her reputation. She had, fortunately, enough wealth to remain a spinster without difficulty or discomfort, as long as she had her reputation.

He nodded his appreciation of her argument and bowed to her before leading her back into the ballroom and to a small sofa where he left her. Within minutes she was surrounded by an honour guard and she was deeply touched by he sincere affection expressed by this group of ladies at her perceived plight. She eventually retired for the night and confided the success of her endeavours to Mary who had been in no doubt.

Later that night Francis visited her and had the same conversation Phillip had. She pointed out that eyebrows were being raised in daily expectation of his proposal and that she didn't want that impact on him. He appreciated her endeavours on his behalf and the two of them once more relaxed into their relationship. It was at about this time, however, that Francis became conscious that he had, for a while, been thinking of Melissa as more than merely a convenience and now that the public were aware of his interest he realised that he didn't want to have the excuse provided. It was, he informed himself, merely the idea that the inability to bear his children would be enough to put him off any female that stuck in his craw. In the quiet hours of the morning as he slipped from Melissa's bed and returned to his own home he admitted to himself that the truth was more simple. He wouldn't give her up for that reason or any other.

Over the next few days, as Melissa's bruises faded and her grazes healed, she waited for Phillip to return with the required information about the French operatives.

In his turn every time he heard something relevant he made a point of sharing the information at any casual opportunity. She was off limits to him in every way – he respected and liked her, she was in some form of relationship with a man whom he had grown to consider a friend and she was a single woman held in esteem by many members of society and regardless of her own approach to her relationship he could not see her as a sexual individual and so he had created a new category for her of female friend to sit alongside female relative. She was more than just another society female and could never be his wife.

Phillip was not aware of just how offensive his views of women were to Mary. Melissa couldn't see how limited they were: women were either sexual toys worth nothing in their own right, or ladies to be respected and held at a distance, but Mary, accustomed to a lifetime of objectification and never subject to respect recognised his attitudes. She had seen them all too often before. Sir Francis, although more willing to risk Melissa's reputation, was actually more respectful of women – he allowed the the right to make decisions and participate in his life on their own terms: Phillip, without ever acknowledging it to himself, removed the right of choice from the women he associated with. He was always very clear about the offer and never forced himself upon a woman, but although he walked away from women who refused him, he did so with a sneer. Although he accepted ladies who were married could seek physical relationships outside of wedlock, he considered them morally corrupt. That their husbands were also unfaithful he dismissed as the male right.

His revulsion of feeling where Melissa was concerned had not spread to his views on the female race in general. Instead, he held one set of rules for her and considered himself incredibly open minded and progressive, while pursuing his old rule set with all other women.

Mary was deeply worried every time he hove into view and she was glad that her relationship with Francis was apparently steering her clear of Phillip's potential. Her feelings about Francis were more complicated – she didn't trust or like him. She had taken against him at the start and had never particularly warmed to him in the following months although he had done nothing to earn her disapprobation. She felt that he had not been tested yet, and she suspected when he was, he would fail. Phillip, however, she knew was good news for Melissa but bad news for every other female.

He gave Melissa a role and a purpose and treated her with the respect due to a male colleague, but Mary anticipated trouble from him in time.

The time soon came. They had found one of the three assassins and Phillip had made arrangements for him to be tracked. There was a period during which they did nothing but gather information and then came the time to take the assassin down. He was referred to as le Chat Noir in the English paperwork, partly in mocking reference to his large green eyes and swarthy complexion, and partly with an edge of respect for his stealth and ability to slip into the most confined places to make his move hours later.

He had stopped in an inn and set up with a group of travellers for a market run which would take him across Wellington's path in about a month from now. Phillip had determined that a raid on the travellers' camp was the most appropriate way to take down the Cat. Within a few days they had sketched up a plan: the British assassins were the first line of attack, but it wasn't possible to guarantee that their attempts would succeed and it was imperative that the Cat was given no opportunity for escape.

The assassins went into the camp and moments later the cry went up – whatever the reason, the Cat had ensured a guard was set up to protect the camp beyond the usual concern for horses and specifically precious belongings. The British were taken by surprise but regrouped quickly. In the poor light of the night and one flickering bonfire, however, there was every chance that the Cat would escape. This was why Melissa and the gang were there. They had stationed themselves at intervals around the camp and, within ten seconds of the hue and cry starting they had set fire to the oiled cord that they had lain on the ground. Encircled in light, the action in the camp was much more visible.

Women and children were screaming and huddled, while the men leaped to arms. Melissa was the only member of the group accustomed to the idea of cross dressing as a normal activity and she had not lost the habit of checking faces for gender instead of merely clothes. Therefore she was the only one who saw the gypsy woman carrying a bloodied knife sprinting between carts. She immediately threw three of the smaller star blades at the figure who, with lightening reflexes, turned and ducked. Knowing that was the man, she charged in and entered into hand to hand combat with him. Phillip was preoccupied seeking out all male figures and called her to stop wasting time while the other men were trying to protect her from the missiles that various members of the travelling group were throwing.

Well fed and well prepared for this attack, Melissa had the edge on the Cat. His fighting style was incredibly reflexive and seemed to change moment by moment, although she was clearly a surprise to him. She ducked underneath his left arm thrusting and lunged towards hi right shoulder. As he twisted and bent, blocking her arm, she brought up her knee and connected with considerable force. As he was recoiling, gasping, she followed up with a knife and drove it straight through his ribs. The force of her blow was sufficient to make a deep wound and the sharp edge enabled her to slice out wards with ease, tearing open his chest. He collapsed, the blood spurting and bubbling out of his chest as he clutched at it. Within moments he was dead.

It was the first time she had watched a combative opponent die. She stood staring in shock and the noise and chaos around her faded. The sounds of the men behind her became somehow remote and the light of the fire faded into darkness. A hand shook her and Phillip's face came into view. He was shouting. The other men neared and all laid their hands on the two of them. They needed to be in contact to travel and, as that was the only thought in her mind, she automatically flicked the device and all men arrived with her in her dressing room.

When they landed the first thing that happened was James' fist hitting Phillip's face with some considerable force. As he went crashing to the ground the other men nodded. She looked around, bewildered, and saw Frank leaning in the doorway. His eyes narrowed in concern when he saw the look on her face and he walked to her and wrapped his arms around her as she leaned silently and wide eyed into him.

“What happened?” Francis was the only one with the self control to speak at that time.

John stepped forward and informed him “There was a difference of opinion as to whether we achieved our objective or not.” His words were stilted and clipped. Cold beyond belief he refused to look at Phillip and instead focussed on the disturbance they might be causing. “What of the household?”

“Melissa is out of town for a week. Mary gave them all a holiday as the fair is in town – the house is empty until tomorrow.”

“Good.”

Phillip recovered and came to his feet. Caution had been forgotten in his ballistic fury. For several minutes he unleashed it all at Melissa, occasionally encompassing the others in his verbal lashing. When he had finished he informed them that he never wanted to see such incompetence on display again and that due to their worthless actions the Cat had escaped.

The other men looked at each other and silently nominated John as spokesman. He stepped forward and in the same cold tones informed Phillip that they were not in his employ: they worked with Melissa out of respect for her and what she was trying to achieve. If she made any action they would trust and follow it. The individual she had attacked had been chosen deliberately and that choice had their full support. They weren't going to leave her defenceless in such a situation.

Phillip once more raged that they weren't even looking for a woman. John pointed out what all the men had realised as soon as they saw Melissa enter the fray – just because he was a man, didn't mean he had to be dressed as one. It was the considered opinion of those gathered that the individual deceased would turn out to be in the report after the event a man and none other than the Cat.

Phillip spluttered and blustered but the others remained unmoving and unmoved. That fury they had felt that he had dared to try attacking Melissa had not faded, but their response now was the code of conduct expected of a gentleman. There were four of them and one of him. Five if you included Francis who had gathered the gist and was now also in arms on Melissa's behalf. They all stood, furious but controlled waiting for Phillip to retreat and apologise.

He didn't. Instead, Melissa, who had recovered from her shock somewhat, called the men to order and pointed out they were in entirely the wrong place. She had programmed home accidentally and needed to take them to the inn where all of their work had been done and where they would receive the post event report. The four men accepted her statement as an order and lined up ready to move. Francis didn't release his hold on her and when she turned her gaze to him he simply raised an eyebrow as if to dare her to attempt leaving him behind. Too drawn out to fight she accepted it. Phillip grudgingly took his hold on the device and when they landed in the inn immediately started throwing his weight about as if to make the point that he was in charge.


The others remained gathered and silent, protectively surrounding Francis and Melissa. Eventually the body of the gypsy woman was brought in and “her” identity confirmed as a disguised Cat. Phillip was silent and sulking. His respect for Melissa as an individual was high but his problem was that he had always seen himself as the one giving the orders and she was allowed to tag along. It was the device only that made her important he'd thought and this corpse indicated otherwise.  

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 27 Word Count 1998

Phillip was adamant he needed to be working again with three or four months remaining before the known deadline in order to conceive a plan to protect Wellington. Under Chan's tutelage he took up T'ai Chi – an activity that required him to move slowly and stretch each of the muscles in his body gradually. Initially he could only do a few minutes of movements, but frequent repetitions and continuous development of the routine soon extended that time.

At the point that he came to return to contact sports, he found the routines had prepared him for ducking, lunging and punching – the muscles in his arms were not easily tired and, although it was nothing like standard boxing, the motions for Melissa's style of fighting were recognisable to him from his own activities. While he wasn't able to do full combat, he entered into a few light sparring sessions with her.

Three months after she began at Jackson's, all the men in her entourage were practising this new style of fighting and the other patrons of the establishment were becoming more and more curious about what was happening behind those closed doors. Initially the event had been quiet, but with a large group of competitive men in there, the final bouts of the day were now a major event and, with the ability to identify particularly clever or impressive moves, they had begun cheering and making friendly bets on likely outcomes. On the other side of the door, the rapid thuds and heavier crashes of bodies hitting the floor in wrestling or kicking manoeuvres sounded nothing like the regular thumps of heavy punches in a traditional boxing match and more than one gentleman had tried to take a peek as the participants entered and exited the room.

Finally, the younger group cracked and Michael's friends cornered him with a demand to know what was going on in there. He refused to tell them immediately, but visited Melissa the next day to ask what he was allowed to tell them.

She was surprised to hear about their interest but thought it through. She eventually decided that, given her reputation was at such a risk, she only wanted the people she trusted enough to know about the device to know about her involvement in the saloon and requested Michael to keep their sessions private. If the interest kept up, they would have to form a private club which Chan and other combat tutors could visit. When she next saw Phillip she made the suggestion and he rapidly agreed. When she expressed surprise he told her of the difficulty he was having arranging a private session for her with a fencing master. If they had a private club, they could summon one. No fencing master would offer a private room, or make a call for a single pupil. For a group of seven however, he was sure one of the Masters in London would make a group visit. Phillip instructed her to leave it with the men as her contribution to such a club would be easy enough to trace and utterly destructive to her reputation.

In a turn of conversation he informed her of his impending return to work and his plans for gathering information. His feeling was that he should make enquiries about the assignments of Napolean's known operators. Typically the French operated by assigning a high profile victim to two or three assassins so Phillip had two potential approaches: either issue an order to his own operatives to secure the identities of those who had been instructed to target Wellington, or collect the information about all known targets and sift through the known operatives to identify who was most likely to go for Wellington.

Melissa's feeling was that asking about who was interested in killing Wellington might look a bit too specific and Phillip agreed. However, the other process was significantly more time intensive and required a lot of research and guesswork. At her request, he outlined his expectation of the whole process and she drummed her fingers on the arm of the chair as he spoke. She was in her male guise – as she had found she preferred, due to the release from corsetry and expectations of proper behaviour – and she leaned back and casually crossed her legs.

As she was mulling over the information, the door opened and, to ideal square footaMelissa's surprise, Francis was shown in.

He made a brief bow to them both and Phillip casually waved him to a chair. As he took the seat Phillip filled him in on their discussion about forming a private club to avoid the interest of others at Jackson's. The two men fell into a spirited debate about preferred locations and ideal square footage. They briefly detoured into a discussion about potentially splitting off rooms for different exercises – both men had taken a liking to Chan's meditation techniques and were adamant that it was something they should include in their future studio.

While they talked, Melissa let her mind wander and speculated on the best route for gathering the information they required. A thought occurred to her and she interrupted the men saying: “We don't need to get concrete information. We only need the basics of names and last known location and we can investigate it.”

Francis looked bewildered and Phillip glanced a brief warning at her before asking what she meant. She flushed and muttered something about her mind wandering. Francis had long been aware that there was something tying the rest of the group together that didn't include him and, knowing Phillip's role in the government and being reasonably intelligent, he suspected it was something to do with either the war or ongoing preventative work with smugglers. That being the case, although he was intrigued, he didn't concern himself by asking questions he was unlikely to receive an answer to.

The two men returned to their conversation and Melissa bowed herself out and returned home. Her route between her own home and Phillip's had been simple at first but she had been unable to justify frequent “visits” to the hospital. Hence she had begun a routine of taking job horses and swapping the stables used. There were a number of hostelries that she had discovered which had convenient small rooms which were frequently unpopulated which she nipped in and out of. Her costume change she had turned into a fine art and could practically dress and undress while moving. Her skirt was easy, she would simply haul it out of the satchel and shake it like a table cloth before winding it around herself. The first few weeks her skirt had been terribly crumpled and she'd noticed a few raised eyebrows at the state of the fabric, so she had asked Mary to weight the hem at the base in the hopes that it would pull the fabric taut and eradicate the worst of the crumples. Her ploy had been successful so far, as long as she wore only matt fabrics. She'd tried with a forest green velvet skirt one day – Mary was still trying to return it to its proper state six weeks after the event.

Now she had a dark red brocade style fabric which fell in swathes around her ankles. The matching jacket had a waistcoat inlaid which sat snugly over her blouse and completed her outfit with minimal effort. She'd found that switching the youth's black shirt for a white one was the easiest way to transition between male and female. Additionally, the solid black had incited a few queries and condolences regarding the fact that she was in deep mourning and she felt it best to make herself as unnoticeable as possible.

Arriving home she retreated to her bedroom and bathed quickly. Although her habits raised eyebrows among the servants, she couldn't bear the acid smell of her own stale sweat after it had fermented for a few hours.

She fell back into contemplation of the possible resolutions to their information dilemma and had devised a more complete solution which she was able to murmur to Phillip during the course of their waltz at a ball the following night. He concurred and she heard nothing more from him for almost three weeks.

She and Francis had resolved their differences shortly after she had discovered his sincere interest in improving his combat skills. They had tried a few bouts together at the saloon and although she had soundly beaten him, she had been impressed by his rapid improvement. From that mutual appreciation it had been difficult to hold onto a grudge. Tonight was one of their nights together and they lay recumbent and sleepily satisfied, chatting about nothing in particular when rapid footsteps outside her bedroom startled them both. Phillip burst through the door and the two of them sat up abruptly. Mary had clearly heard the disturbance and came rushing through also: hissing at Phillip that he could not be here and superbly ignoring Francis' naked form in her mistress' bed as she insisted that her Lady had a reputation to uphold.

Phillip, panting, ignored all that and clinging onto the door frame informed Melissa: “It's time.”

She leaped out of bed and he, as a gentleman, averted his eyes. Hauling a robe around herself she scampered across the room to her cabinet which stored her male clothing. A new addition was a harness which fastened around her waist and thighs and held a number of implements, including knives, shot and a few smaller items that none of the gentlemen locally would recognise.

Within fifteen minutes she was dressed, Mary not allowing her role as lady's maid to interrupt her scolding of all and sundry. Francis had clambered from the bed as Melissa dressed and hauled on his own breeches in a much slower fashion. She was fully clad by the time he pulled his braces over his shoulders and followed both Melissa and Phillip to the door of her dressing room.

“Sorry, Frank. Mary will show you out.” Melissa called over her shoulder to him as she led Phillip through the door. Francis arrived in the open doorway in time to see them disappear. He shook his head slowly as he looked around the room.

“Sir Francis?” Mary held his jacket up to help him into it.

“I... didn't see which door they went out of.”

“The servants exits are hidden from sight. Madam likes privacy while she bathes and so has arranged her private rooms to seem as secluded as possible.”

“Oh, I see.”

Accepting her calm assurance, Francis dressed and left the property. Mary returned to the room Melissa had departed from and gazed around it .She knew full well that there was only one entrance and one exit to this room – the door Melissa had entered by. She had also been contemplating for a long time the sudden reappearance of Melissa all those months ago after she had disappeared without warning. It wasn't difficult to put the two situations together and she felt certain there was something her mistress was hiding.

She was alone for several hours and all that time thought long and hard about what she should do.

Melissa and Phillip, however, had a list of names and locations and they were travelling rapidly around, making acquaintances and having conversations. Some of the questions they asked would be mentioned later on and recalled; but as they were hitting all known points within 24 hours their questioning would be finished at roughly the same time as the alarm was raised.

By the time they arrived at Melissa's house once again, it was almost 30 hours later and Melissa was missing two throwing knives, twelve bullets and Phillip was sporting a fantastically bruised jaw. Bath were blood, sweat ad mud stained and utterly exhausted. Yet they both had an edge of triumph about their persons.



Tuesday, 26 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 26 Word Count 2784

He waved her to a chair opposite him. She sat down, raising an enquiring eyebrow, but he merely instructed the butler to bring them some Madeira. The two of them relaxed and remained in companionable silence until the butler returned with the requested beverage and glasses and finally left them alone.

Melissa couldn't hold in her questions any more: “Doesn't he think it's odd you're treating a servant with such familiarity?”

“Good God, you didn't knock on the servants' door did you?”

“No, I came to the front door: I had to hand over the note.”

He relaxed and took a swig of his wine. “You are now my young cousin, once or twice removed, visiting with your family in town. Having heard of my need for exercise my esteemed family have arranged among themselves that you shall be the reason and method by which I gain said exercise. In short, I am to escort you to various training sites in the hopes that exposure to you doing so will incite me to further efforts on my own behalf. My man knows that this is frustrating to me and when you arrive uninvited in future he will assume it is another attempt to excite me. I believe he will secretly sympathise with your cause – he was a footman when I was a boy and has frequently demonstrated a paternal sense of responsibility where I am concerned.”

She smiled. “Well, cousin, where do we go from here?”

“I was not expecting you so soon and I have to admit I'm deeply impressed: I haven't heard a whisper of you doing anything at all inappropriate to get those garments.”

“You may perhaps be aware that I have recently taken on a page boy?”

He laughed. “I see. Congratulations.” After another swig he carried on: “There is no reason to delay, we can head to Jackson's immediately. However, I think your costume would benefit from a few adjustments.” He touched the bell beside him. After a few moments the butler reappeared and was instructed to send his man down. When that individual arrived he had obviously had some forewarning of Phillip's intention and carried a small jewel box with him. From it Phillip selected a selection of small, but good quality jewels and bestowed them upon Melissa. “A small gift for you. I hope we can prepare you for your official arrival upon the town next year.”

Meliss stared at the sparkling jewels in her hands and began to blush. She slipped the ring on with some confidence and hooked the fob into her waistcoat, but the other three pins utterly bewildered her and she looked at them feeling forlorn and lost. Phillip's man bowed and murmured: “If you would permit me, sir?”

She jerked, startled, but quickly consented and he deftly placed the pins in the simple knot in her cravat.

“We shall have to teach you some new styles for your cravat! For the moment however, it will suffice. If you are finished with your drink, shall we leave? I fear I will need to travel by carriage, but it is not a long journey.”

“We have to wait while the carriage is called, though, surely?”

“I called for the carriage when I read your note. It will be ready and waiting for our convenience.”

She nodded and drew herself to her feet. Phillip followed suit more slowly and, after a slightly severe glance in her direction, his manservant went to his aid. Once he was upright, Melissa moved to the door and held it open as Phillip used the servant as a crutch. Once in the hallway he was presented with his cane which he took thankfully. The journey to the carriage was clearly trying for him – Melissa felt instinctively that he would never admit to weakness so she made every effort to hide her sympathy. Once they were safely within, she chattered inanely to give him some privacy while he regained his breath.

When she paused, he cut in without waiting for permission: “He was annoyed at you for not being civil enough to offer me your support. As a young man, you are expected to act with a certain level of courtesy towards ladies, the elderly and the inform. By leaving it to Franklin you were being disrespectful to me.”

“Oh.”

He raised his eyebrows at her non committal response and, as she was still gazing out of the window, she turned her gaze to him for an explanation of the sudden silence. His gaze remained steadily upon her and his wordless reproof suddenly burst through to her consciousness. She blushed deeply as his point came through to her.

“I'm so sorry! I hadn't realised... it wasn't intentional, I assure you!”

“You are known to be a callow youth and as such you have a certain amount of leeway granted to you. However, if you make such a mistake again, you will assuredly be noted and close observation is something you must avoid at all costs. I recommend you make a point of researching the social expectations of a young gentleman in your supposed position and be more prepared for your next outing. We are due to arrive momentarily and my expectation of you for the next hour is that you demonstrate a young man's gawkiness – look around as much as you wish, but do not engage with anyone. Offer me your help dismounting from the carriage, but do not offer me any kind of physical support once within the training rooms. I will observe your bout with Jackson from the sidelines. Did you bring a mask?”

She nodded and unfolded the cloth from her coat pocket. At his indication she wound it around her face and tied it off. The carriage stopped and nobody opened the door. Abruptly realising just how accustomed she had become to doing nothing for herself, she remembered his instructions and sprang into action. She opened the door carefully, checking that there was no-one behind it. She then offered Phillip a hand from the carriage, but he thrust his cane into her hands and waited for her to offer her elbow for him to lean on instead. At first she had thought he was being fussy, but when she felt the weight of him she understood – her extended arm would have crumpled beneath him. At least taking the weight on her elbow she had a better chance of managing it.

When he reached the pavement she couldn't restrain a sigh of relief. He glanced sardonically at her and the two of them made their way to the entrance. Phillip got them through the doorway and immediately escorted to the private training room. As they crossed the room she followed his permission and gazed around, wide eyed and with jaw fractionally unhinged. Around her were society men – many of whom she recognised – dressed only in breeches and shirtsleeves. One or two had removed their shirts altogether and she was hard pressed not to briefly check them out. As she dawdled, Phillip had pulled slightly ahead and he looked back and called her to his side again.

The raised voice carried slightly and across the room a blond head turned and glanced disinterestedly first at Phillip and then, when he saw the companion, more sharply and intently. The youth was completely shrouded in black with a few jewels alleviating the monotony, but what had attracted attention was his gait. Sir Francis watched the pair being led into the closed training room and returned to his own activities with a frown. After a minute, he observed Jackson himself enter the room and he unconsciously moved towards that door. Leaning casually against the wall – ostensibly watching a bout going on between two of his contemporaries – Sir Francis listened carefully for sounds from next door.

There were several thuds, thumps and grunting sounds. He bit his lip at one particularly high pitched grunt, but it was a familiar sounding cry that led him to break with the rules of the establishment and open the door. In the centre of the room, Melissa's back was to him but he could see she was still masked and Jackson's burly frame was moving with the speed, fluidity and control that had seen him named champion. Phillip was resting casually in a chair near the wall and Sir Francis wondered at his calm. Within seconds however, he was wondering no more: Melissa had ducked a punch with ease, blocked an incoming left, using Jackson's strength and momentum to shift her position relative to him and once his right was incoming again she ducked backwards and, in a single motion both smooth and winding she somehow swung around the giant's arm and delivered four body blows and, when his guard dropped in response to her focussed attack, she swung her right fist up and across and – to Francis' eye – damn near broke the champion's jaw.

As he staggered backwards, Melissa called out “Close the door, Frank. I don't particularly want an audience.”

Phillip and Jackson both snapped their heads to the door and Francis grinned as he slipped into the room. He leaned against the door and crossed his arms as he observed the duellists. Twenty minutes later, Jackson was exhausted. His training and bouts did not typically include a half hour of continuous effort. Melissa, on the other hand, was accustomed to a full hour session of high intensity exercise and even the indulgences of the last few months had not eradicated her stamina.

When Jackson indicated he was ready to bow out, Francis made his way up to the ring and bowed before her. “If you will permit me, madam, I believe you are in need of a sparring partner.”

She was still angry at him: his letter and flowers had not been sufficient to overwrite the insult she had felt in his words and he was conscious of the distance she was keeping him at. “I understand your reluctance,” he assured her in lower tones, “and I do not expect you to immediately see me as a partner, but you stand in need of either a partner or a punching bag and I am conscious that I need to earn your forgiveness. That being the case, may I offer myself as a punching bag?”

She bowed to him and they took up positions. For a while they measured each other up, casting the occasional shot, but after a few minutes she moved in for an attack. Her motions were as calculated as they had been against Jackson, but underlying each motion now was an intention to wound that she had not felt previously. After fifteen minutes she was beginning to wane, but she pointed out that it was unlikely that any real world encounters would go by the Queensbury rules and she would like, if Jackson had someone in his employ who could help, to fight freestyle for a short time. Jackson nodded and drew two of his men into the room.

It was made very clear to them that they would not be fighting to any known rules. Anything was allowed and to leave the combat they had to move beyond the line that marked the edge of the ring. The two men nodded and strolled casually into the centre, clearly not impressed by the slight youth that stood before them. The bell rang and the two men swung almost simultaneously. She dropped to the floor and span around, hooking her feet around the ankles of the guy on the right and brought him crashing to the floor. Pushing herself upright was significantly more difficult than she remembered it being and she made a mental note to take up a morning routine of push-ups as she brought her knee up into the other guy's kidney. The first had fallen heavily but was fresh and returned to the fight rapidly. Their attitude had noticeably changed and Melissa was hard pressed to manage their aggression. Her advantage was her mobility, their were strength and number – she couldn't keep them both in front of her at all times and each one of their blows had significantly more impact than three or four of hers. Her strategy quickly became to knock one out of play temporarily while working on knocking the other out permanently.

Ten minutes later, the bell rang again and Melissa fell panting to the floor. Francis handed her a tankard of ale and a cloth to wipe her face with and she tried to recover for five minutes before he lifted her to her feet and several hands returned various items of clothing to her. Jackson had ushered his men out immediately after the bout and now remained to shake her hand and invite her back at any time that suited her convenience. Phillip escorted her out again and Francis remained behind redressing and making his way to a club to sit in quiet contemplation over this most unlikely female.

From that point, Melissa received a daily letter from Francis, some brief notes, some more lengthy epistles, but each with a trivial gift; flowers, a small fan, a little clip, each marked as a token of affection. She reciprocated by letting him know the dates and times of her trips to the boxing saloon and the two of them sparred under Phillip's watchful eye. Melissa's fitness returned rapidly to full and she was able to throw herself into the freestyle in a way that always shocked her sparring partners. In time John, James and Michael all attended the training sessions with her and took on the freestyle fighting practice wherever possible. Paul had left the city for business at his parents' home and James was not willing to communicate this practice by letter, so he remained unaware of their latest habits. Jackson himself, after three or four weeks observing her in action, requested her permission to introduce a new fighter to her and brought out a small Oriental man. In her male persona, Melissa exchanged bows and courtesies with the newcomer who was introduced as Chan.

She had encountered Oriental martial artists previously and she was excited to train with him. As all the men around her except Francis were aware of the device she felt no compunction in pretending she had no exposure to Oriental cultures. She invited him to combat in the one phrase that she knew and he bowed. The two of them took their places and the men in and around the room watched their swift, bounding activity with jaws dropped. After less than three minutes, Melissa was pinned to the floor with her right arm in a lock and she cried out involuntarily. Phillip, Francis and John all started forward, but Chan immediately released her and the two took their bows and entered round two. Again, Melissa was comprehensively defeated and this time in under a minute. Her arm was aching, but showed no signs of serious or long term damage, so she merely excused herself from direct combat and requested instead that Chan demonstrate some of the moves he had used against her.

Typically, the gentlemen of the time were used to sparring as a means of learning to fight. What Melissa and Chan engaged in, practising moves without an opponent, or positioning themselves in a peculiar stretch was completely new to them and seemed bizarre to their eyes. To Melissa it was exhilarating and for a few moments she felt she could be at home again.

At the end of the session she made her farewells to Chan and invited him to return to their weekly sessions. As she made her way home with Phillip, Francis quietly pulled him to one side and requested training in that manner of fighting on a one to one basis. Before she left Phillip, Melissa mentioned that the Oriental exercises were extremely beneficial to recuperation and he also contacted Chan to learn the fighting style and develop his musculature once more.


Throughout it all, Phillip and Melissa had been worrying over how best to protect Wellington. She was not overly concerned about the passage of time: she knew the threat was coming but felt they needed to be active at the time of the assassination and prevent it happening. Phillip however was more interested in beginning their preparations and hopefully stopping the assassin on an earlier attempt. However, they were both aware that there was nothing they could do at all until Phillip had once again returned to the offices.

Monday, 25 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 25 Word Count 2456

At that point, a new visitor was announced and Sir Francis strolled in. She was surprised but pleased to see him – she enjoyed his company but he rarely visited her house during the daytime. A single man was not able to visit a single woman frequently without being suspected of the kind of relationship they had, in fact, established. Frank was always a gentleman towards her and she felt sure he would not betray her to her neighbours, but she was equally sure that he was taking care to ensure she could never misinterpret the nature of the relationship he was willing to offer her.

As she welcomed him, she became aware that Phillip had withdrawn slightly. After a brief exchange between the two gentlemen, Phillip hauled himself to his feet, made his bow towards Melissa, assuring her as he did so that he would hold himself in readiness for her, if she could pledge herself to sending a note when she was ready for her first outing and exited leaning heavily on his cane with his new, slightly halting gait.

Frank raised his eyebrows at their conversation but made no comment until Phillip had departed. “It seems to me, my dear, that you might find yourself a stronger or more reliable escort for any outing you propose.”

Melissa felt her hackles rising slightly on Phillip's behalf and turned Frank's attention by saying lightly: “It is to be expected that his recovery will be slow, but the outing I have in mind will not take place for some time. It requires a little preparation, so I have full confidence that Phillip will be a suitable companion.”

As she spoke he seemed casually disinterested, but at one word his head tilted towards her and his eyebrows rose. “Phillip?”

“Would you have me be a hypocrite? You of all people know I do not adhere entirely to the social conventions of this stifling society. Phillip was in my home as he recovered; I have heard you refer to him by his given name as I have come to use it and I see no disrespect in doing so without the gentleman himself present.”

Sir Francis did not seem overly pleased. His eyes hardened and the blue gaze felt incredibly cold for the first time: “I trust, madam,” he spoke in a soft, yet distant tone, “that you are not so loose with social convention that you have a stream of men warming your bed. If you cannot keep your legs closed out of my presence, I will have nothing more to do with you.”

Melissa looked him full in the eye and felt absolute fury build up inside her. Sir Francis, seeing the expression on her face, expected a screaming match to begin and felt that she was perhaps more effort than she was worth. However, what she said astonished him. Her words were as quietly spoken as his own, and she expressed no shame or defensiveness, merely contempt for him. Her tongue lashing was incredibly well targeted, accurate and clearly deeply felt, but she lost no shred of control in the process.

The gist of her commentary was that the nature of their relationship was never defined and if he expected any kind of fidelity from her, he had to offer more than the basic rutting service he provided. He should take into account, she suggested, that she had never requested fidelity from him and had she made a statement similar to his, he would have been as outraged and offended as she was and that he could not claim that behaviour unreasonable in another individual is perfectly natural or appropriate when he used it. She also pointed out that if he did withdraw his services, she was more than capable of arranging similar service elsewhere – and unlike him, she would never be required to offer financial recompense to any individual serving her desires.

“Now if,” she concluded, “you came here with express intention of sneering at a man I respect without having the decency to do so to his face, and insulting me to the greatest of your abilities, might I suggest that having done so, you may now leave. And, should you intend to return or have any form of communication with me in future, be aware that you should preface your contact with a sincere apology for presuming that you have any right to judge my behaviour, values and friendships let alone take it upon yourself to comment upon them.”

In the face of her attitude and with his own emotions riding far too high to be able to approach the situation with rationality, he stormed out.

Melissa had time to reflect that a large number of single men left her house in some dudgeon before Mary swept in and caught her chuckling quietly to herself. By now Mary had become accustomed to her new role and merely waited for her mistress to become aware of her presence before suggesting that it might be time to consider preparing for her evening events. Melissa briefly considered spending a quiet night in, but then realised she would have nothing to do and no-one to talk to. She sighed and requested the list of invitations for that evening.

It had become her habit at breakfast to sort through the invitations she had received. To date it was the only mail she had ever been sent – commonly ladies her age had connections all over the country with whom they regularly communicated, but she had not formed a relationship with anyone who was not available to speak to on a daily basis and so there was no-one to write to or receive mail from. It would be different soon – many people were taking time away from the city for country life or seaside holidays and at that time, regardless of where Melissa went, she would begin to receive regular mail from her new found friends. For now, her invitations were the most exciting communications she received and she flicked through them then read and sorted them very carefully before placing them in a set of drawers that reflected her calendar.

As a net result, each evening Mary was able to bring her a handful of cards, pre sorted, from which she could choose the one or two events she wanted to attend that night. Tonight was one of the rare occasions where she had been invited to an event she'd had to confirm her attendance in advance. There was a swathe of engagement balls beginning and for this one she had been invited to a meal beforehand. She calculated she should stay after the meal for the ball for approximately three hours and then either move on or return home.

Planning for a long night out she selected two other additional invitations and sought through her wardrobe for something appropriate for dinner and a full ball. After flicking back and forth for some time she eventually settled on the peach gown – without the suggestive scarves overlaid – and a richly embroidered scarf to drape over it. Alongside the gown and scarf, she wore an over abundance of jewellery including her first ever tiara and jewelled slippers which had felt extremely extravagant and indulgent when she had bought them, but now seemed the ideal compliment to all the other sparkle she wore.

The night passed enjoyably but without remarkable incident. The next morning when she awoke, she went through her usual routine of assessing her mail, breakfasting lightly and calling for a horse to go for a ride around the park. Afterwards she sat, ostensibly to embroider, but in reality to conceive a plan whereby she could furnish herself with male garments without raising questions. Soon, she had formed a solid plan and put it into play immediately – she called Starke and described her whim for a page boy. Could he present her with a group of suitably aged young men as soon as possible?

Within an hour, four young males stood before her and she observed them all. Presenting them each with a guinea she dismissed them and undertook a variety of activities. First she had Mary take her measurements, then sent a note to her dressmaker requesting a recommended tailor to produce garments for a page boy and another to Starke apologising that she had not taken on one of his lads but she thought she had found someone appropriate. She also sent Mary to the Pantheon Bazaar for some specific items of clothing from the male section which she immediately donned.

Within an hour she was ready to be taken, by an exasperated Mary, to the recommended tailor to be fitted for her uniform as page boy. The tailor was not interested in taking the closest measurements and she was only requested to strip to shirt and breeches before trying on the garments required. Mary observed her mistress swapping clothing and tried to not let her disapproval become too visible. After some time she recognised the signal that indicated Melissa was happy with the outfit she was wearing and she instructed the tailor to make up a copy of that one, in five complete sets. The tailor expressed surprise at such an expenditure and wanted confirmation that Mary was acting in the interests of her employer. Melissa herself had never encountered such an attitude (shop keepers tended to observe her entrance as some form of manna from heaven and, thinking back to the shoes she wore last night, she had to concede it was justified) and was deeply offended. If it hadn't been for Mary's presence of mind in snapping at her to put her shoes on and stop gawking boy, she would have given her identity away immediately. Mary concluded the conversation in undertones and then instructed the tailor to make up the outfits from the finest fabrics and in very sober colours. The boy, Mary declared, must fit in with the highest quality of garments, but must remain visibly a servant. Only black and white, with a black waistcoat were allowed. Everything must be plain.

The tailor concurred and the two women left the shop. When they returned to her home, Melissa repaired to her room immediately and riffled through her wardrobe. Mary had followed her and watched in some confusion as she began snatching garments and casting the occasional one onto her bed. After the day Melissa had put her through she wasn't entirely unprepared for her explanation of her activities, but it was still a shocking statement.

Melissa was now searching through her clothes to identify those that could be converted into a split upper and lower part, so that she could remove the skirts and don her male garb over the upper half of her gowns within the space of a carriage ride. Mary, in an effort to restrain the worst of the depravities she sensed her mistress might commit, pointed out that most riding habits were split and that the upper half was very closely based on male attire anyway.

Immediately Melissa was leaping back up and calling for the carriage to be returned. She arrived at her dressmaker and ordered a selection of riding habits, explaining that she was looking for a new style and would need to ride in each of the habits so she would order them all in the knowledge that the majority of them may need to be immediately disposed of. Because of this, she wanted very plain and simple styles to begin with and she would add embellishments to future orders.

There was one that she immediately loved the look of – from a purely aesthetic point of view. It was incredibly severe around the upper body, with a tight fitted jacket over the same baggy blouse that she had worn as a page boy. The skirt was gathered by means of a strap which sat around the narrowest point of her waist. As she stood gazing at herself in a mirror, she asked them to make an additional outfit which, instead of just a blouse and jacket buttoned up to the neck, incorporated a waistcoat element with a jacket neckline that was wide enough to display the waistcoat.

The dressmaker merely nodded and added a few notes to her design details. Melissa gathered her skirts and returned home. As she travelled she realised how hungry she was, not having eaten since a brief breakfast, so when she arrived she called for a tea tray immediately. As she entered her sitting room she was surprised to see a bouquet and a note.

She sat down to read and was delighted to discover it was a brief but sincere apology from Francis for having presumed to judge her behaviour. She sat with the note in her hand gazing at the flowers and wondering where on earth to put them. When the tea tray arrived she directed the butler to have them carried to her dressing room and she tucked into the spread laid before her. That evening she dined at home and read a book before taking an early night. The following day, the first riding habit and page outfit were both delivered: their makers anticipating that the lady would want something as soon as possible.

With Mary's aid, Melissa dressed herself and then tested switching between the two outfits. It was successfully done and left her with only one concern – how to travel out of her own home wearing a riding outfit and not calling for a horse, or riding a horse away from her house and losing it before presenting herself as a young man at Phillip's property.

Her solution came quickly and was typified by its simplicity.

She made her way, in her riding garb, to a set of stables that she had heard of as a result of her charitable plans. There she left the horse, under the care of a stable man, explaining that she was visiting a nearby establishment and she took the satchel containing her spare clothes from the saddle attachment. Once alone, she entered a nearby hostelry where she booked a room and sent a message to Mary informing her of the time and her location. Then she slipped out of her skirts and jacket and into the page boy uniform. Carrying the satchel she made her way to Lord Penthvere's property.


She knocked on the door and presented a letter from herself. The butler took it up while she waited by the door. After a few moments she was welcomed into the property. Phillip was sat before the fire and he smiled up at her as she entered.  

Sunday, 24 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 24 Word Count 1632

Phillip had finally begun to grasp Melissa's character and he recognised the wild flash of hope in her eyes. He reached out and grasped her hand, shaking it slightly in an effort to convey the conviction he felt.

“Do not,” he urged her “under any circumstances except the most dire, give that device to anyone. First – anyone you entrust with it you must entrust the whole truth to and how many men would pass by the opportunity to use immortality and access to all of the history of the earth to build an empire for themselves? Second – you are already marked for your involvement in Andy's escape. That was my doing and it cannot now be undone, but it means that you will be followed, you will be monitored and you will be put at risk. I fear the worst may happen without the protection the device gives to you.”

Melissa sniffed. “I can take care of myself, thank you. I do not need a device to protect me.”

“Without Mary by your side you would have died the first week you were here. How much of that was her, and how much was caused by the device finding a world which held your perfect companion and caretaker? You cannot possibly know how much of your life is owed to the way in which this history is manipulated by the device.”

“It's not capable of that!” Melissa's exclamation was torn from her. “You make it sound like a person – as though it has thoughts and feelings of its own. A machine cannot have a survival instinct!”

Phillip looked steadily at her; his stillness in stark contrast to her unnerved gestures and tics. “I do not believe in coincidence when it falls to an extent as great as that which I have perceived around you. My own actions are highly suspect. That first night we met, I should have used any force necessary to extract information from you. Instead, you batted your eyelashes and I let a potential French spy saunter around London in company with some extremely well connected people, and known to pass information across the border. Furthermore, not only did my superiors accept that I had done so without any qualms or questions, they also allowed me to build my relationship with you as I chose. My recent injuries occurred – to the best of their knowledge – at your hands and yet they have not uttered the slightest concern as to the wisdom of allowing you to reside here.”

Melissa felt her eyes widening as he spoke. The litany of behaviours she had been allowed to get away with was frankly shocking: any of those activities by British law should technically have meant her imprisonment and potential execution. Hearing them recounted in such a way made her feel incredibly vulnerable. Seeing he was getting through to her, Phillip didn't push it any further and merely concluded with his belief: “Surrendering the device may protect another individual temporarily, but without whatever is clouding the minds of the greatest of British tacticians and intellects to protect you, I fear your arrest and execution would be imminent.”

She slowly withdrew her hand, rose to her feet and paced the room, deep in thought.

After she had repeated her pattern of steps two or three times, he interrupted her in an effort to direct her thoughts elsewhere. “You said you could protect yourself; and as I recall at our first meeting you were certainly able to incapacitate me briefly. Do you have any additional tricks?”

She had by now enough experience of the world he lived in not to take offence at his assumption of her weakness and instead outlined the combat procedures and activities she was reasonably proficient in: “I have some skill with pistols and knife fighting although I prefer hand to hand combat, where possible. Although your understanding of boxing is somewhat different to mine, I believe I can claim a little proficiency there also. My experience of fencing is limited – in a situation with mixed weapons I have always endeavoured to bring my opponent as close to me as possible so although I have formal training with swordplay, I have no freestyle experience as such.”

Phillip was stunned and for a moment suspected her of mocking him, but he had seen too much and experienced too many oddities around her to quibble now. “Although you have a history of experience, I would be surprised to discover,” he probed delicately, “that you have had the opportunity or equipment to continue in this vein since you arrived here?”

She nodded reluctantly. “I own it has been somewhat frustrating to me: the lack of physical activity available is so confining. So far I have only found horseback riding as an acceptable activity which will also physically exhaust me. As far as my combat skills are concerned, it seems to me that I may forget some of the manoeuvres I have learned without the opportunity to practise.”

“You will,” he confirmed. “Many of my friends are physically active men and those that lapse their boxing bouts return a few months later and need to relearn a lot of the motions that were almost second nature to them before they rusticated.”

He lapsed into silence and she was caught up with recalling her frustrations as she had learned time and time again how the activities she had been accustomed to were not merely frowned upon when attempted by a woman, but completely unthinkable. So much so that boxing as a sport was not acknowledged to exist by women in polite company. When she had first heard that the sport was popular, she had thought she may watch a bout and she had caught up a flyer advertising such an event. One of her neighbours had seen it in a pile of sheet music and had brought it forth to enquire about it before realising what it was. One looked at the woman's suddenly purpling face and the girlish giggles or matronly coughs around the room as they simultaneously recognised it caused Melissa to cry craven and she disclaimed any knowledge of it. She had, she declared, dropped a few sheets of music in the street and simply gathered up the papers nearby with the help of two urchin boys. One of them, she surmised, may have included it in the papers they gathered.

She had blushed heavily as she uttered the lie, but the assembled ladies simply accepted it as proof of her innocence. Later when she had recalled the affair in Andy's presence she had queried about boxing matches and he had confirmed – no ladies ever attended. No ladies attended any competitive affairs it seemed. Nor did they gamble, drink, smoke or participate in any vigorous activity. Having been accustomed all her life to being coerced into activity even when she had no interest in it, the concept to Melissa was bizarre.

“Unfortunately,” Phillip's voice broke into her reflections, “you cannot afford to lose the skill set you have. I cannot possibly offer you my services given my current state, and I doubt your young friend's are experienced at anything beyond a schoolboy level. In the time they have been observed they have certainly not participated in any training at Jackson's or places of a similar ilk. James has been showing more interest in developing combat skills since witnessing Andy's death, but he is not experienced to what you term a “freestyle” degree.”

Melissa was alert and focussed on him. She had not, in all her time here, been able to devise a manner of practising her combat skills that Mary had not immediately shot down as wholly unworkable for reasons of society, practicality or safety. If Phillip was able to conceive a plan she would be deeply grateful. He mused for a few moments, then raised his head and focussed on her.

“I wish you to understand,” he said clearly, “that I mean you no offense, but I can only think of one route out of this difficulty. It requires a degree of improper activity from you, but I believe I can protect you from almost all negative reactions if the proper steps are taken.”

“I'm listening.”

“Only men – gentlemen – may enter a training room unless they are employed there. That goes for boxing, fencing, any manner of fighting. One must be male and one must be of an appropriate social ranking.” Melissa nodded. This was not news to her. “Once within the rooms however, one may have a private lesson with the proprietor of the establishment. There are closed rooms for this purpose which contain all the equipment required to enact the relevant activity.” This was news and Melissa already saw where he was tentatively leading. Suspecting the forthcoming requirements, she struggled to compress her lips into a straight line and keep her face relaxed: he was helping her and she must not embarrass him now!

“If you were able,” he had begun to blush, “to furnish yourself with male attire and a mask, I could escort you to a training room and engage you with the proprietor in a private room for an hour. I would be there to ensure you suffered no discomfort, should any offence be forthcoming from the proprietor.”


He was not able to look at her as he suggested she wear breeches and she, prepared as she had been, thought his naivete was astonishingly sweet. For a moment she was distracted by that, but rapidly regained focus and verbally assured him that whatever she could do to ensure her participation in such activity on a long term basis, she would.