Hours passed. Harlow meditated, contemplated, inhaled. Stepney, meanwhile, returned his attention to the folder, considering it in light of what they now knew. Had all of these girls been invited to these meetings? Was this some sort of lead, leading them to the girls and to the day he could face their parents with pride – and face himself in the mirror? Or just a loose end, a coincidence given too much weight by an overactive sense of hope.

Come to it, what of Harlow? Stepney had been around the man too long and seen too much to dismiss his claims as mere fantasy. Yet what if Calvin was right – Harlow and his ilk were simply possessed of a difference in perspective, able to see the world from a different angle but little else. That angle was not necessarily the truth.

And on the other hand…stop. Stepney felt his mind revolt. This route would lead to questions without answers, roads without end, journeys without destination. He consulted the clock beamed onto the opposite wall. Time to move. Caring little for courtesy, he kicked Harlow in the shin. He jerked into wakefulness with a start.

“What…we……Ah. Stepney. Is it time for us to move?”

“It is.” Inwardly, Stepney reproached himself. It was somehow wrong to take such pleasure in causing pain one’s friends, however amusing.

“Then let’s roll.” Harlow leapt to his feet with a speed with belied his intoxicated state. He nodded to one of the attendant girls, who made her way over to store his various possessions for the next visit.

Stepney made his way through the den, followed on slightly unsteady feet by Harlow. They made their way to the street beyond and Stepney, as ever, paused. The den stood behind him, while before him stood all the wonders of Celestis. It was at such times – seeing the world as if newly born, seeing its beauty and fragility, its power and wisdom – that he was reminded of his duty. A duty born not of institutional authority, nor of the will of some ruler, but of responsibility to his fellow man. He felt all this in a moment and was glad.

Stepney raised a hand into the street. A carriage spied him and approached. The horse was huge, dark, muscular. It would have been terrifying in another life, but here it was elegant, graceful, a creature of nobility and dignity. It snorted, showing enormous teeth. Behind, the carriage was deepest black, trimmed in silver, seats coated in red velvet contained within.

Stepney addressed its rider. “To the Flying Swan?” he asked, recalling the instructions from the projection cube.

“One shilling and sixpence,” said the rider curtly.

“Very well.” Stepney opened up the carriage and took a seat, helping Harlow in after him. Once the door was closed, the cabman cracked his whip and they made their way into the night.

Published in: on May 11, 2009 at 8:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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