Friday, November 11, 2005

Walking Death, Chapter 1

Dr. Frieda Kellner slipped away from the ballroom of the Court of Luxembourg on the balmy August night. Despite her formal court dress, she moved quietly and unobtrusively through the grounds. The guards were less alert than they should have been. Luxembourg was far from any place the Resistance considered important. If anything, their vigilance was focused inward. That vigilance was precisely what Dr. Kellner sought to avoid.

She slipped in between a pair of shadowed topiary. Two guards walked down the path, more interested in the previous night’s football match than in looking for people out of place. Their direction took them toward the palace, destroying their fragile human night vision. Frieda knew that the ork sentries would be the greater threat to her escape.

Dr. Kellner was a member of the Imperial Bureau of Advanced Sciences. Frieda was one of the small circle of scientists who designed the super weapons that aided the victories across Europe and the Americas. Fueled by excelsiol, the fuel derived from pure magical energies, their devices were of a technology that would have boggled the minds of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

Her course though the garden was no less roundabout than her path through life. Orphaned young, she made her way through the streets of Berlin avoiding the police and the pimps. She taught herself to pick pockets and slip through second story windows the by the time she was ten. Her burglary was as often to satisfy her curiosity as to find valuables, and books were often among the pilfered items.

When the Resurgence occurred, she found herself facing ever more sophisticated burglar alarms. That set of an arms race of sorts, as she had to devise ever more precise methods and tools to get by them. Her victims of choice became the scientists and universities that practiced the New Science. Each new piece of knowledge was added to her repertoire and refined her devices, while the Empire was driven to distraction by the near constant violations of its security.

Her anonymous career came to an end when she was nineteen when she failed the last part of a burglary, namely the “get out” portion of “get in, get the goods, and get out”. The scientist, Dr. Erick Reinwald of the University of Berlin, had set a surprise gas trap in his safe. After examining the gear Frieda was carrying, he considered himself quite lucky to have captured her, and he made the offer of joining him as a research assistant or be turned over to the Empire as the spy they had been looking for.

Her work in an academic setting made Dr. Reinwald regret that he had not had this prodigy to work with ten years before. She rapidly caught up in the mathematics and old science needed for her position and was soon pushing the boundaries in fields beyond her street experience. Not that her previous skills went dormant, Dr. Reinwald had many rivals in the field and having someone who could break and enter into the most secure facilities was a tremendous edge for her mentor.

It was one of those forays that led her to discover this latest alchemical abomination of the Empire, one that she could not allow to come to pass.

She had made contact with the Resistance a month previous, and the night to make her escape had arrived. No guards were in sight and she made her way down to the parking lot. A Resistance driver should have arrived by then, and she saw him by her car. Unfortunately, there was also an ork guard giving the driver a hard time. All of the drivers were to be kept in the garage. Nominally they were there to get food and drink, but really it was to limit the options of the party’s guests to slip their minders. Frieda’s driver was still in that small gathering; the man in the lot was a second. The guard was threatening to drag the driver to the watch commander as Frieda made her way behind the guard.

“Pardon me,” she said in her native German.

The ork turned to look into the business end of a pump atomizer. Frieda squeezed and a mist of fast acting knockout solution caught him square in the face. A human would have dropped like a stone, but for once an ork was doing a fair impression of a feather. Frieda gave him a sharp chop with the edge of her hand to the ork’s neck just under his jaw line. Only then did the stone-like quality set in.

“Frau Doktor,” said the driver, “we must be going.”

Frieda nodded and entered the held open door.

They changed vehicles three times by the time they reached Marseille the next day. She was dressed in a man’s work clothes as she exited the car. At a dockside warehouse, she was escorted to a body-sized crate that held a small device of her own design. A visibly nervous man handed her a tiny canister of the tremendously volatile excelsiol. Frieda dropped three drops of the precious fluid into the reservoir of the device. To that she added the powdery contents of a vial. The device would refresh the air of the soon to be sealed crate. The powder would be aerosolized by the air generator and would allow her to make her journey in a state of deepest sleep.

“It is time,” she said.

“New York has been alerted and will be awaiting your arrival, Frau Doktor.”

“They had better.”

She climbed into the crate. She contemplated the secret project that had found her conscience after all these years. There were things worthy of war, but the new plans were beyond the pale. Thoughts of the new world occupied her mind when she was given the signal that sealing was complete, and she toggled the device at her side to on.

Her last thoughts were on New York City.

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