A Chance Meeting

Edmund writes, as GM:

Location: Southwark

The London docks area always brimmed with life and vitality. It was an area where there was always something new to see — some rare wonder from beyond England's shores — from the far reaches of the empire or, more recently, from the far reaches of the ether.

Nevertheless those who chose to pause in the midst of their busy and hectic lives to view the spectacle of a woman in the uniform of an officer of British Solar Exploratory Ventures, squatting by the side of the street and staring intently at a small patch of mud would likely have agreed that this was something unusual, even by the standards of the neighborhood.

Doctor Amy Delano had occupied this rather awkward position for not less than fifteen minutes, leading nearby vendors to puzzle over her mental state. Was she ill? Drunk? Had an inmate of Bedlam somehow escaped the institution, donned an abandoned officer's uniform, and wandered onto Chambers Street? In truth, however, Dr. Delano was neither intoxicated, nor ill, nor bereft of her senses.

Doctor Delano was enthralled.

Imagine! A young specimen of Artemisia verlotiorum found growing here in an overlooked corner of a London street! How could it possibly have arrived, and grown, in such a locale? A seed dropped from a sailor's shoe? A cutting dropped by chance? An airborne seed escaped from a greenhouse or garden? Dr. Delano had been happily running through all the possibilities, oblivious to her rather odd (and somewhat awkward) position. Part of her wanted to dig up the plant, to whisk it away before the vagaries of chance led to it being eaten by a cart horse or trampled by a fishmonger. Another part considered such an act to be the destruction of a miracle.

She might have stayed another hour there, imagining how the little plant had come to grow and considering how to respond to its discovery, had not a change in the activity of the crowd around her gradually penetrated her happy reverie. She looked up to notice that normal commerce on Chambers Street had ground to a halt, and that the crowds were now clustered around a series of notices which had appeared, as if by magic, on various locations while she had been studying Artemisia verlotiorum. Down the street she could just make out several men in frock coats putting up more.

As most of the crowd was, unsurprisingly, illiterate, the more educated were attempting to read the notice aloud for the benefit of the rest. Dr Delano perked up an ear as a young man (whose heart was obviously in the right place, even if is vocabulary was somewhat lacking) began reading.

"S'a notice from the local health board! Somethin' about an outbreak!"

"S' it the cholera?" cried a voice from the crowd

"Naw," replied the young man, "It's sumthin' else. 'Venus pulmo-sumthin'sumthin''. Says that it makes ya cough, then makes ya dizzy, an' then ya faint. Yer supposed ta report anyone who gets it ta the local health board, an' not touch 'em."

"Bloody hell!" said another voice from the crowd, "some sort of bloody space croup! It say wot yer supposed ta do if'n ya gets it?"

"Jus' go ta the local health board. That would be in Wapping," said the young man. "Mebbe they got a cure."

"More likely they'll just send ya ta some bloody 'ospital!" yelled another person in the crowd. This led to a number of somber nods. Doctor Delano got the distinct impression that many in the crowd did not seem to trust hospitals for some reason.

From somewhere in the crowd there was a cough, and a hush fell over the group. At that moment Dr. Delano heard the sound of a woman politely clearing her throat behind her. Turning she observed a Englishwoman in a bodice, knee-length skirt and bloomers, a somewhat outdated bonnet perched primly atop her grey hair. She might have been a touch over 60, and had a manner about her that suggested a background in education — perhaps a teacher or a librarian. A pair of round spectacles rested on her nose, and she peered over the top of them with the air of a schoolmaster addressing a class. Next to her she held a high wheel tricycle with a large basket between the handlebars and another between the rear wheels.

"I do beg your pardon," she said, the clipped syllables another indication of an educated background, "but are you perchance in the employ of British Solar Exploratory Ventures? I am to meet a fellow officer of your company in the vicinity, but I fear I have lost my way. Might you know her, or know of her? Her name is Berenice Coppersmith, and she is an engineer aboard the vessel Iris."

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