There were some times that Polly Kettle was glad that she left her team behind when she did a reconnaissance. More so in the steampunk reality Max had placed them in. Still a message was a message. A personal invitation card to a gala ball for her upper class alias, a royal ball at that and, to enter, she needed to dress for a high class ball. Fortunately, her disguise house had still existed, just with a different wardrobe, so she had on the right formal wear. Instead of looking like a barmaid, she now looked like a high class lady, even if the corset itched and the wig added actually weight to her head that she didn’t really like. At least it wasn’t a century earlier and that pancake white on her face that the British borrowed from the French. She shrugged. It didn’t matter who came up with that idea, it wasn’t in this ‘reality’. A single lady with no escort would have been bad enough had the invitation not stipulated she could enter alone. No doubt someone wanted to meet her. The fact that whoever it was knew her should have been sending alarm bells. Had Max finally decided to focus on her?
Of course, she couldn’t use her own name of Polly Kettle. Too much like a commoner. A con-artist such as herself had various established identities that she kept up-to-date from time to time. If it was Max, would he know she was also known as Lady Pollanna Bellthwaite. The slightly more outrageous the name, the less questionable it becomes. She never liked changing her Christian name too much. If someone recognised her, they would likely call out that than any alias. Recently widowed so less likely to be approached…except by anyone who want to chance their arms and who suddenly get deprived of anything they might not miss for a few hours. Not tonight though. Tonight she was the observer for a potential bigger con. Was she in on it or making sense of it?
It was late when she arrived but Polly doubted if anything exciting happened early in the evening. It was also easier to slip in unannounced than to have everyone stare at her as she climbed the steps. It also gave the opportunity to spot any other latecomers and, more importantly, if they spotted her. There were times when she wished she had a hat than a wig. Taking it off was a complete change. Her hair hidden in pins would make her stand out more. Not done in polite society.
The music played but only two were dancing together in the moonlight. The rest of the party was watching from the sides.
‘Who’s the prince dancing with?’
‘His dream girl.’
‘He is allowed to marry the prettiest girl in the kingdom.’
‘He’s truly smitten.’
‘And it’s almost midnight.’
The heavy tone of the Big Ben clock chimed. Somehow, Max had ensured it existed in this version of his reality.
Shocked, the girl ran off, leaving the prince stunned. For that matter, the others weren’t doing anything much neither. Polly only had a few seconds to study the girl before stepping back on to the balcony. The girl wore a dazzling white glittery dress as she stepped into a waiting horse driven carriage and away. The only thing left was a glittery shoe.
Polly shrugged as she went back into the ballroom. A Cinderella by any other name. Based on the British version than any of the other versions from across the world. What this Cinderella wouldn’t see was the reaction of the people here. Come to that, who or what were the major players that she had to see and who to watch?
If this Cinderella had a stepmother with two ugly daughters, then they had to be here, so she wouldn’t have to chase her but follow them. So what was she supposed to be? The fairy godmother to sort things out? As a Psionic, that was more than a possibility. If it was Max, why had he brought her attention to this Cinderella? There hadn’t been enough time to scan her but, if she was a Psionic, why would he think her important and Sara hadn’t spotted her. Except Sara Seeker was still missing and Max hadn’t called her up. Locating her would be relatively easy…providing she had more to go on.
What was it Sara had said of Max? He liked puzzles. Was he setting one up or wanting for one to be resolved?
Picking up a drink, she wandered around the ballroom. With the girl running off, the party was seen to be over but some groups stayed to talk. An opportunity to listen and study. They were surprised at the girl’s behaviour and liked the prince. It was only when he walked back in with the shoe and passed her that she spotted the nail in his small finger. A Vampiri. They would be drawn to Psionics for their energy. Was that why she fled? Had the Prince been trying to feed off her as she danced? Sara had said it was a simple process of proximity but the Vampiri didn’t drain their people.
That was still a clue. The relationship between Vampiri and Psionics was significant. Now to find the stepmother and her brats and find out what they are. If they were Psionics, then having a pivotal position with a Vampiri prince would make a lot of sense. Finding where they lived would short-cut the process of the prince searching for someone to match the shoe.
Obviously, they wanted a royal connection but as a Psionic or an infiltrator? If the Pattern wanted to infiltrate the Vampiri, now was a good time as ever. One glimpse at the stepmother revealed someone instead. A Gorgon. A choice of three. If it wasn’t Medea, it could only be Stheno or Euryale. Unless the legends had got the number wrong. It would also mean that Stheno hadn’t stayed petrified.
But that wouldn’t make any sense. If a Gorgon or Pattern had a Psionic it would make more sense to promote her than her stepsisters…unless she was being forced into the Cinderella role and hadn’t recognised the girl for what she was. In that case, she was now in immediate danger as soon as the shoe test reached wherever she lived.
As the stepmother and her daughters left, Polly turned to the ranks of horse and carriages waiting and with a gesture called one. Climbing in, she thrust some loose change into the taxi-man’s hands.
‘Follow that carriage.’
‘No problem, Pol.’
Polly poked her head out the window. One of her team. Kick McKinley.
‘You didn’t bring the whole team, did you, Kick?’
‘Not unless they followed me. I was discrete as you were.’
‘Don’t lose them…the carriage I mean’
Polly settled back into the carriage and reached out and scanned. Her team saw her only as a criminal mastermind who made sure they never got caught. The fact that they rested more than committed ‘crimes’ was never a worry nor the fact they also didn’t know they were a covert group working for the government. The Stable Consultancy really but as that only appeared as a library facility, it didn’t make much difference other than they had total deniability as a black ops team. Status: currently in a steampunk past and, such was Max’s power, they couldn’t tell the difference.
Well, it wasn‘t Stheno but Euryale. No one had been petrified so either her power wasn’t working or she had better control than her sisters. But she was here and doing what? As Stheno’s twin, she had to be equally dangerous if the legends were true. There was a connection to the Pattern and Medea couldn’t be responsible for birthing all of them. Someone will have to apologise to her where they got out of this mess.
‘Slow down, Kick. This lady is tricky and might get wind of us. We’re the only transport on the road. I doubt if we’ll lose her.’ She duplicated the message by spaking at the same time which removed any obstacles of the air rushing by so he couldn’t hear her.
Suddenly, the stepmother carriage took a turning but Kick kept going. Polly only got a quick glance of a gate. Kick did the right thing. Had they followed, they’d be on her doorstep. He stopped half a mile down the road.
‘Find somewhere to turn around and wait beyond her gate for me to get back.’
‘No problem, Pol.’
Without waiting for a reply, Polly was gone, leaving the heavy skirt and wig behind.
Euryale’s estate was only surface good, not really hiding the fact it was getting decrepit. The wall facing the road was reasonably intact but the wall between theirs and the next house had a few gaps. There was a light on in a ground floor room and she stealthy got close to look inside. A social climber in this steampunk reality but not a perfect fit.
The girl was now dressed in dowdy clothes and supplying a late supper to the stepmother and daughters, playing out the role exactly. Her bedroom would have to be in the attic and it would be better to be there before the girl went to bed. Better for her to jump when she comes into the room than when she stepped through the window.
Finding a suitable tree, Polly climbed, remembering next time to bring a rope and tackle. She climbed in a second floor window and made her way up the landings to the attic, choosing to slump in a chair than wait on the bed.
She heard the family go to bed and another twenty minutes before the girl came up to the attic. Polly instinctively broadcast her signature. The girl paused briefly at the door before coming in.
Instinctively, she reached the girl’s signature.
<<What’s a Psionic doing working for a Gorgon?>>
<<For the Vampiri when reality shifted and I ended up a lot closer. My job is to infiltrate the Pattern and this way turned up. You caused that?>>
<<A reality shifter called Max. The Pattern got to him and here we are. I got a message to see what you were doing.>>
Ludomere sat down on the bed facing Polly as she absorbed the memory.
<<I haven’t met anyone called Sara Seeker or this Baroness Samedi. I’ve heard of the Stable. My Vampiri has high regard for you.>>
<<You’re not a Vampiri digestive?>>
<<When I was young. Before my talent revealed itself.>>
<<I just put things in order.>>
<<An order queen. That sounds neat.>>
Polly paused and scanned Ludomere further.
<<You also have the ability to absorb Vampiri energy. That must have startled them. He wasn’t feeding off you but you were feeding off of him.>>
Polly watched Ludomere trying to do her own deep scan of her. She had nothing to hide but the result.
<<You’re vague. Just what are you?>>
<<The others find that about me as well. Think of me as the ultimate con-artist except good comes out of it.>>
<<And you’re here to con me?>>
<<The message was to look out for you. If it was from Max, then he’s either presenting a puzzle, a clue to us stopping him or getting the Pattern off his back..or you off theirs.>>
<<Share the memories. I have a lot to catch up on.>>
<<I can’t let Euryale go. This is the biggest breakthrough we’ve had to stopping her.>>
<<We might be able to contain them together. The Pattern does have Max and we need to rescue him.>>
<<I have to play this out.>>
<<I can help.>>
<<Is Euryale aware she’s part of the Cinderella plot?>>
Ludomere shrugged and smiled.
<<I’ve been a good little maid. I make things look correct. With the change into this reality, she thinks this is her role. I’ve been playing up to it.>>
<<I’ll be sure to grab you after the shoe ceremony.>>
<<Only when I say so. What we really need is Euryale to escape and follow.>>
<<I’ll bring a mirror.>>
<<She hasn’t petrified anyone yet.>>
<<Maybe she can only breed.>>
<<She could lead to your Max. But one of us has to be on the inside. Just not which.>>
<<Play it out on the sly.>>
<<She’s a Gorgon.>>
<<We haven’t caught up. Max might have moved her.>>
<<Stoned. Hidden amongst the people she petrified.>>
<<Luck. She was haunting Whitechapel.>>
<<I’ll speed things up.>>
There was a creek on the stairs. Ludomere turned and Polly was already gone.
‘’I heard a noise?’
‘Only my bed creaking. It does that when I move on it.’
‘Have the dishes washed by the morning.’
‘They are already washed. You need to sleep, Stepmother. Tomorrow will be busy.’
Polly got back to her carriage but no sign of Kick. She scanned and saw him up the tree. As a look-out. Smiling, he jumped down.
‘You always told me to be ready but not obvious, Pol.’
‘I teach well. Anyone else in the area?’
He shook his head. ‘Plans?’
‘Back to London. We need to join the Prince’s entourage when he goes shoe hunting in the morning.’
‘The rest of the team.’
‘Let them sleep. We’re going on an existing heist.’
‘The palace then?’
‘We’ll borrow clothes there.’
‘All first class….all right, servant class.’
<<That wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. I thought the prince was supposed to sweep you off your feet for a happy ever after wedding?>>
Polly had joined the prince’s entourage as a lady-in-waiting in her Lady Pollanna Bellthwaite guise the next morning. The king was there as well. With her talent, it was fairly easy to suggest that they the mystery girl wouldn’t be local and perhaps it might be easier to start from further afield. She didn’t make it that obvious and the stepmother’s house was the sixth choice that morning.
The regime followed the same pattern. All the women were invited out to try the shoe on. However, the king recognised the pushy stepmother from the night before, as indeed her twin daughters and shook his head at offering to test them.
‘They were there after the girl left.’
‘Is there anyone else in the house?’ Polly asked looking at the stepmother. ‘A servant perhaps?’
The prince looked thoughtfully at Polly. ‘I do not marry servants.’
Nevertheless, the prince gestured to his entourage who quickly located the girl and brought her out. Ludomere dutifully curtseyed and offered her foot to the shoe which fitted.
‘She is my stepdaughter,’ the stepmother admitted.
‘Now that is a development,’ the king said. ‘I suspect magic or a conspiracy or both is at work here, my son.’
‘To be so lucky and with guidance from Lady Pollanna Bellthwaite of where to look. Arrest them all.’
It wasn’t just a matter of being handcuffed but guns aimed at all of them. Polly had only a brief second to realise that the prince no longer had a nail through his small finger. Both Polly and Ludomere got clipped behind the ear and both awoke together in prison cell.
<<Someone’s changed the rules. Is this the work of this Max you told me about?>>
Polly shrugged, getting up and looking around the cell, studying the stone walls before scanning further. She looked briefly at Ludomere who was doing the same thing. They didn’t need to discuss it other than a need to get out. Whoever had left them here had left them in their underwear. Even her lockpicks were gone. Not even a hairgrip. Where was Kick?
<<Talk occasionally in case they wonder on the odd silences.>>
‘Where’s your relatives?’
‘Step-relatives. I was knocked out, too.’
If anyone was listening at least they wouldn’t think they’d gone mute. They weren’t nearby or they’d have felt them. This wasn’t a conventional prison. They appeared to be the only captives. Could it have been Max?
<<Maybe we’ve switched stories?>>
<<Into what? The Prisoner Of Zenda?>>
<<Be grateful. We could be wearing iron masks.>>
They both wrinkled their noses and gave a silent chuckle.
<<How trapped are we?>>
<<They took my picks.>>
Ludomere felt over her own body.
<<No loose wire.>>
Polly sat on one of the beds, casually feeling under at the springs. Ludomere duplicated her motions.
<<At least we have beds.>>
<<We’ll have to do some serious tearing to get any of these springs out.>>
<<What about the mattress?>>
<<It would be easier if we knew which story we’ve been pushed into.>>
<<Wish it was Mary Poppins. At least we’d have Mary Travers.>>
<<I was told about her. Isn’t she a reality manipulator?>>
<<Not as powerful as Max.>>
<<We must have been doing something to upset him?>>
<<He’s been picking the Stable off every time I sent anyone looking for where he’s located.>>
<<But we weren’t. We were going to trap Euryale. He wouldn’t have any need for her.>>
<<The Pattern might want to protect her. After all, she’s probably their mother.>>
In synchronicity, they both sat cross-legged on their beds.
<<Hope these mattresses don’t have fleas.>>
<<You scanned like I did. We’re safe from that problem. Tell me about Max.>>
<<He likes puzzles. What I pieced together, he was turned by the Pattern.>>
<<Could this prison be representing his own predicament??>>
<<So if we escape, it might give him a clue.>>
<<Or it could keep us confined more. It’s an interesting thought.>>
They both paused.
‘I wonder where we are?’
Polly sniffed. ‘Well, it’s not Newgate. Nearest to the palace is Gatehouse Prison but I’m glad it isn’t that one.’
‘Walter Raleigh had his head chopped off after a brief stay there.’
‘I thought that was only done from the Tower?’
‘This place was nearer the execution square.’
‘They aren’t that keen on witchcraft.’
<<Does your ability to absorb Vampiri energy go as far as sharing?>>
<<Have you absorbed the talents of others?>>
<<Other than Vampiri, I’ve only been near Euryale and the Pattern. How does it work?>>
<<Proximity and skin touch spirals…amplifies.>>
<<That’s all it takes?>>
<<A few moments for the connection. It tends to work for one individual at a time. You absorb someone else, then you’ll lose the previous ability.>>
<<So I become a con-woman like you?>>
<<What else are we doing?>>
<<The Stable ‘S’. What’s amplification? You said spiral.>>
<<Spiral…for escalation. Like skipping…teleportation…it’s a wished for ability. Added to our name list ready for when it might appear.>>
<<I could also drain you like I can with Vampiri.>>
<<We don’t appear to have any choice. No sign of any warden and, sooner than later, we’ll need to eat and drink.>>
Both sat on the edge of their beds and reached hands.
<<If it’s too much, let go.>>
<<If it’s too much, let go.>>
They held hands and closed their eyes.
The moment seemed to freeze.
Polly opened her eyes and watched Ludomere who was beginning to sweat.
<<Can I channel what I’m getting back to you.>>
Polly closed her eyes.
<<You can try.>>
The solid brick walls faded as Polly caught into Ludomere’s scan.
<<It’s like there’s nothing there.>>
<<There goes dinner.>>
There was a long pause as they both studied a seemingly endless white.
<<Could we both be unconscious still and share the same dream or illusion??>>
<<Pre-meditated sharing? The Stable doesn’t have a habit of having Psionics unconscious together. We instinctively tend to stay apart from each other as much as possible.>>
<<So is it possible.>>
Polly shrugged and opened her eyes and looked around at the prison cell. Letting go one hand, she felt the fabric of the bed again before reaching under the bed and probing the springs.
She pulled up a bleeding finger, sucking it and tasting the blood with its iron tang.
<<Physical. People might dream of injuries but they don’t tend to feel the pain. They can’t taste anything neither and that is definitely my blood. You also didn’t share that.>>
<<Maybe this is what this Max has done with all your missing people.>>
<<Can you feel the signature…the presence of anyone else out there?>>
Polly closed her eyes, immediately the white outside the cell became apparent.
<<Maybe Max has put us in the Arctic?>>
<<This doesn’t feel cold and it would slow our abilities. Well, mine at least. You absorb energy. We normal Psionics prefer warm environments.>>
<<Let’s try a combined call and see if anyone’s listening.>>
<<We should have an Ouija board.>>
<<IF YOU CAN HEAR THIS PLEASE REPLY. WE NEED HELP.>>
<<What haven’t we checked?>>
<<Something you spake.>>
Polly got up and walked to the prison door.
‘Something we haven’t questioned is the light we have in here. It’s not bright but exists.’
‘Because the door is closed, we assume it’s locked.’
Ludomere joined Polly by the door.
‘Ever felt like rats in a trap?’
‘Is it in our imagination or real?’
Polly turned the handle and they both pushed. With barely a creak, the door opened and they stepped through.
‘Well, children. Made your way out of the naughty room at last.’
They scanned and took the scene in quickly. A school room. Natural light. Fresh air from an open window. The sounds of birds outside. In front of them, Mary Travers rose from her desk right into the air, floating as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Which it was for her in her perfect world.
‘The first lesson of the day is to learn the true story of Cinderella.’
Psi-Kicks, Polly Kettle, Ludomere Shear and Mary Travers
© GF Willmetts 2018
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