So here we have my current WIP. It’s currently unnamed and plodding along nicely.
I don’t have a lot to say about it at the moment, but it’s an alternate reality, steampunk inspired tale set in a world where social etiquette resembles the 19th century, but technology is on par with the modern world.
Abigale De Lacy has re-entered society following a period of mourning for her father who died of the virus. With Eyes watching her, she sets about searching for the cure; while her mother looks to marry her to the quiet, unappealing and strange Marquis who seems to know more about Abigale’s wants and dreams than she does.
Unedited and a small taster.
I do not like rooms that are yellow and diseased with the plague of time and lack of love.
The ceilings in the ballroom were far too high, and I could see the sickly-looking wallpaper in the top left hand corner by the tall doors start to peel down, reaching towards me and exposing the pale skin of the bare wall. I wanted to reach up and stick it back, but on the tips of my toes I couldn’t even reach the cornicing. My mother asked me what I was doing and I told her I was patching the forgotten, but she didn’t understand, couldn’t understand. She was too busy to see what I saw, and I saw the small threads that others missed. The repair to Madame Clarison’s left sleeve, of tiny stitches sewn with a shaking hand and lighter thread; the yellowing bruise on Miss Jessica’s arm barely hidden by her shawl, and the way she touched her stomach protectively whenever her father approached. There was more to see in my darkness, but my mother dug her fingers into my arm and dragged me out of the shadows and into the melee.
Once a month she would host gatherings such as these and I would watch society’s finest swarm around one another and offer insincere flatteries and promises. Sometimes I spoke, sometimes I danced, sometimes I did neither, and there were even times when I couldn’t remember how to speak and my mother would answer for me. Of course I would be delighted to dine at the Corten’s, and of course I would ride with Milly next week and accompany her to the cinema. Often she would scold me in private and the high-ceiled room carried her voice to every nook and cranny, so that even her whispers sounded like screams. I didn’t enjoy being paraded like a prized pig. I preferred the cleanliness of my laboratory and the music from my digital player to the crackling records she insisted on playing in the dust-filled room.
Today was different though. Today the elusive Marchioness and Marquis of Sotherly stood in the centre of the room, the richest and most powerful family in our city noted for their secrecy and unsociable demeanour, had attended unannounced. They appeared not to notice the wallpaper either, but they had brought their only son with them, Lord Andrew Hayton Rhind who studied the guests as I did and his eyes rested on the corner by the doors. I was intrigued and stayed in the light then, rubbing my arm absently as my mother pushed us towards the expectant faces. Dutifully I curtseyed and ignored the mud on the Lady’s shoes, grey and dry, staining the exquisite satin.
“My Lord Sotherly, I grant you are well?” My mother signalled over a waiter and thrust a glass of champagne in each of our hands. I hated champagne, and she knew it. Yet I sipped with obedience, savouring the disgusting bitterness as it slid down my throat and exploded with the dry sweetness I detested.
“Well? Indeed,” he replied, watching me in interest. He was pale and thin. His suit, designer and by the cut perhaps couture, hung from his frame and there was a sickly odour that seemed to ooze from his pores. It was the first stage, and he hid it well, no-one else seemed to notice. “Is this your daughter? Miss Abigale de Lacy?”
I slowly pulled my eyes up to his and he smiled with tired eyes, and tired hands that trembled as he sipped. There was a thin white band of skin across his ring finger. I glanced at Lady Sotherly, her own ring absent and her nails ragged and unkempt. Their son watched my every move.
Before my mother could speak, I held out my hand. “Abigale de Lacy, my Lord.” She bristled at my side and I saw a grin ghost across young Lord Andrew’s face, disappearing the moment I looked at him. His dark eyes bored into my own; there was a fleck of green in his left iris, a strange anomaly in the pigmented cells. Glancing up, neither his mother nor father carried the same mutation.
The Marquis asked many questions and I answered them well. I was twenty four, unmarried and a scientist at the Delvare Corporation’s Disease Control. No, I was not averse to being courted, merely shy and overworked. Yes, I had an education card, a travel permit and could drive. I stumbled once when he asked why I had not been matched and married earlier, but my mother replied for me with her usual smooth grace: I was a rare creature, blessed not only with looks but a mind to rival the greatest, I had studied instead of socialised, devoting my time and energy into looking for a cure. She exaggerated, of course, for she hadn’t mentioned my two years of mourning.
“Well, it’s been a pleasure.” The Marquis nodded once to us both before leaving with his wife and son. I watched them walk away and absently finished my glass of champagne in one fluid movement. The sickly odour lingered.
Later that week, as I drove along the country roads to work in my usual silence, a sudden urge to switch on the radio tickled me. Tuning in to the main station I caught the tail-end of the news and sighed: thirteen had died overnight from the virus. I put my foot down and the car sped along. The broadcaster’s tone changed, from sombre to light, entertainment and gossip followed. Importance followed by titillation, it was our way of coping. The Marquis and Marchioness’ annual ball for the poor was to be held at their estate for the first time in twenty five years. They would personally host the event and tickets were being auctioned online for the cause. Twice in a week, more than a coincidence, besides, I didn’t believe in such things. I parked in my usual space and smoothed my long skirt before walking to the door. The first light of morning peeked over the tops of the concrete buildings and while I saw no-one and heard nothing, I was not alone, and that feeling, like a mollusc crawling across my back, warned me of watchful eyes. Sliding my key card along the computer lock I glanced over my shoulder into the deserted street. Calmness, nothing more.
“Good morning, Abigale.” The security guard nodded, and I waved in response as I walked across the hallway and into the lab. Robin Benson, forty three and widowed, he had worked for the Delvare Corporation since he left school at thirteen and yet he had been passed over for promotion six times in the three years I had been here, and last month a graduate from the university had walked into the supervisory role Robin so desperately craved. It was then that I started to invite him into the laboratory during the early hours when no-one else was around. There I taught him the finer points of our language, and first the simplest of scientific equations, leading to the more complex theories and ideas. He wished to take the testing for an education card and I would help him.
“Do you see?”
I asked him every day: do you see? And every day he shook his head. He couldn’t see the patterns in the words, or the colours of the numbers in the same way as I did, and I didn’t know how to explain it in simpler terms. There is a mathematical pattern to everything; every word, every movement, every living organism. I saw the threads, touched them, but the final weave was too complex for me.
“No,” I shook my head, and cut him off mid-sentence. “For a random sequence it is impossible to describe the sequence of numbers in any simplified form. The description would be just as long as the sequence and would then indicate that the sequence is random.” Exhaling and smiling at his forlorn face I spoke again: “none of these tests are perfect. That’s the point. There’s a randomness to mathematics and no matter how hard we try – we can’t create an equation for randomness, for if we did, it wouldn’t be random.”
“Your equations.” Pointing to my pages of handwritten notes, he continued: “they don’t show any pattern to the virus, so it’s random? Completely random?”
“Yes. No amount of equations, theories or tests have found a link.”
Our lessons always finished the same way, with talk of the virus. Delvare was the second largest corporation in the world and we specialised in biological, radiological, chemical and nuclear science. Delvare was dwarfed in size and resources by Metaline: a consortium of labs and companies made up of ex-government bodies and officials. State owned, Metaline was huge, but lacked our funding and resourcing. For the last five years Delvare had held the worldwide contract into researching a cure for the virus that crippled us all. But we needed answers, and time was running out.
It started with headaches, and progressed with a fever and vomiting that lasted just a handful of days before the infected seemingly recovered, ignorant to the fact that the reaper had already marked them. Some died within days of the first signs, others lived months not knowing, before they too passed. There was no common denominator, and no-one was immune.