A Fortuitous Encounter

Situation No. 1

Edmund writes, as GM:

Location: the East London docks

Engineer (Certified, Second Rate) Berenice Coppersmith scanned the bustling crowd up and down Loftie Street and wondered again where Auntie Diana had gotten herself. All around her mercantilism in a thousand forms played itself out — buying, selling, trading. Burly dock hands loaded or unloaded wagons while drovers stood nearby, keeping a wary eye for horse thieves. Hawkers sold their wares from pushcarts, wagons, and from under awnings, while old women jostled and pushed through the crowds, eyes like hawks straining for a deal that might save them tuppence. The din was atrocious, and the smell — butchered meat, offal, poor quality spirits, and the reek off the Thames itself, made the air feel thick and miasmic. Still, she dared not travel much further — going too far from Iris now was to invite trouble. Until father's Babbage engine was installed, tested, and the Iris off into the ether, there was a chance that someone might steal what they had worked so hard for, or sabotage it to discredit father. And that would be the ruin of the family.

But payday had been two days ago. What with the final tests and fittings, she had not been able to get away — until a politely worded invitation to tea had come from Auntie Diana… which meant that she was once again in need of funds. She had invested poorly — been taken advantage of by unscrupulous and greedy men — and was now virtually destitute. What little savings she had was gone now too — taken in the night when thieves broke into her home a month ago. Without the meagre funds that Berenice was able to supply she would have lost her home to the bank, and as it was the issue was in doubt. If her creditors became aware of the true state of affairs they would be on her like a pack of crows and that would be the end of things. Hence the meeting on Loftie Street.

Berenice fidgeted a bit, still not used to the feel of the uniform of British Solar Exploratory Ventures. Certainly not what she was accustomed to wearing, but company rules were very clear on the subject of wearing the uniform while ashore. Thankfully things loosened up in that regard as soon as they were aloft, and the epaulets and cap did seem to be gaining her a measure of respect (or at least avoidance) on the busy street. Still, it would have been rather easier to be less conspicuous. But B.E.S.V. Ltd. had been willing to purchase father's Babbage engine when no one else would touch it. Proving the validity, and utility of the revolutionary design would earn sufficient funds to put the family back on even footing again - and would finally silence those who had called father a crackpot and worse. If only the Babbage Engine worked, it would be worth having to dress like a theater usher.


The eddies and currents of the crowded East London street buffeted Midshipman Peabody hither and yon like flotsam in an Atlantic storm. For the better part of an hour he had been trying to navigate the twisting streets and press of largely unwashed humanity to arrive at his berth aboard R.V.S.S. Iris, British Solar Exploratory Ventures' newest acquisition. He was going to serve aboard a real solar steamer! If he could ever get there….

Several times he had caught tantalizing glimpses of the Iris floating placidly at dock. But the maze of crowded streets had conspired to keep him from his destination. He had been bumped, knocked, elbowed, shoved, cursed at, and spattered with mud and other less mentionable things, but but appeared no closer to his goal.

He had to get to the ship, and he had to do so soon — Uncle Quentin was going to meet him there, and he didn't want to keep Uncle Quentin waiting. After all it had been Uncle Quentin who had pulled strings with the B.S.E.V. Board to get him this post, who paid for his commission, who purchased his uniforms, and most importantly had convinced mother and father to let him go. Keeping a man like Uncle Quentin, who had done so much for him, waiting on the pier like some common laborer - it didn't bear thinking about!

Determined to reach his destination, Peabody set off once again, wading through a forest of knees and elbows, trying to get his bearing but usually unable to see more than a few feet in front of him. Ah well, he thought, "Est autem fides credere quod nondum vides; cuius fidei merces est videre quod credis."1

For the fifteenth time he checked the papers in his oversized greatcoat — his commission (still there), the chit for his luggage (still there), and his orders (also still there, though he had them memorized) to report on arrival to a Doctor Amy Delano for his first duty rotation in the Sciences section. Surely a perfect fit for him - he knew his Plato and Epictetus after all. But with each passing moment he felt his position aboard "Iris" to be slipping away. Not only would it be indecently boorish to keep his benefactor waiting, such behavior might suggest that he was unfit to be an officer!

Just as despair was beginning to set in, Peabody caught sight of someone in the crowd, someone wearing the uniform of an officer of British Solar Exploratory Ventures! "Malum quidem nullum esse sine aliquo bono!"2 Holding his pants up with one hand, and keeping his cap out of his eyes with the other, he began pushing his way down Loftie Street with renewed vigor towards the uniformed woman at the street corner.


Sophie writes:

A couple of men erupted from a side alley, laughing raucously, and shoved their way through the crowd. Berenice drew back to avoid being elbowed out of the way, reflexively checking that her her small coin purse was still tucked away. She carried a month's worth of wages — eight guineas, a sum she could not afford to lose. Although no doubt Aunt Diana would manage to make it disappear quickly enough…

Berenice ducked under a grimy awning to get momentary respite from the thin drizzle and hoist herself onto the doorstep it protected. But the droplets were more suspended fog than rain, and the awning yielded little comfort. Berenice craned her neck, trying to see above the teeming masses to spot Aunt Diana. She finally caught a glimpse of a bright fuchsia bonnet perched onto a tightly drawn bun of steel-grey hair, rounding a corner and ducking into the next street.

Berenice launched herself back into the crowd, trying to keep sight of her aunt's silhouette. As she raced through Loftie Street, she jostled a knot of shabbily dressed people gathered around a street speaker. Angry men turned to berate her. "If that don't beat all!" someone exclaimed. ""Ere's one of them come right this minute to push and shove 'onest people tryin' t'make a livin'!"

Hands grabbed at Berenice's clothes and the little group parted just enough for her to see a handbill posted on the brick wall, decrying the British Solar Exploration Society's recent decision to fire loyal members of the Aetheric Sailors and Dockworkers Union Society in order to hire cheaper and less skilled labourers. Shrill voices hurled invectives and fingers pointed and poked at her B.S.E.V. uniform.

Berenice gulped. She was not good with people in general, and had only the vaguest idea of what the B.S.E.V. was up in changing its hiring practises. She shrunk from the angry people surrounding her, glancing searchingly at faces until she recognized one. "Harland!" she exclaimed, hoping she remembered the man's name correctly. "I, uh — have you seen Engineer Santiago? I was hoping to find her here…"

The man glared at Berenice with narrowed eyes, then grunted and took half a step back. The others, as if on a signal, also relaxed their stance and let go of Berenice's sleeves. As she had hoped, Eleanor Santiago's name was a protective talisman among East End sailors, if a fragile one. Harland gave a half-hearted apology: "Beg pardon, miss, thought you were one of 'em high muckity-mucks. Haven't seen Engineer Santiago in a while might be she's 'ere, might be she's back at the Iris."

"Oh. I'll just keep looking, then," Berenice said with brittle cheerfulness. "Thank you for your time, sailor!" She stepped back and away from the group, trying to look nonchalant, and to her relief no one tried to hold on to her. She rapidly continued on, again checking that her little fortune was safe, and composed herself.

But Aunt Diana was nowhere in sight when Berenice reached the corner where she had last seen the bright plumed bonnet.

Sophie passed the spoil scrip to Laura, having invoked Santiago's "Friends in Low Places" battery. Edmund writes, as GM:

Behind her, Berenice heard a rough shout. "'Ere, wot's this? An old coat blown about by the wind?"

"Naw!" shouted another voice, "Might be a scarecrow. Looks pretty small though — might be it needs watering!"

"'Taint that!" cried a third, "It's the little Prince, it is, all dressed up and playin' at being an officer!"

Berenice could see that the crowd of sailors she had avoided had now gathered in a circle around something, or someone, she couldn't see. The mood of the group, not particularly pleasant to begin with, was turning steadily uglier and passers by were beginning to give them room in the street.

"I 'eard 'ee was the son of some high-and-mighty!"

"I 'eard 'ee was some sort of baby Lord!"

"I 'eard 'is da was the one 'oo got us beached!" This last inspired a collective growl.

""That true milord?" shouted another sailor. "Your da the one got us all pitched over the side? Answer me boy!"


Midshipman Peabody wasn't quite sure where the crowd of angry, shouting men had come from, but they had completely blocked his view, and he had no idea where the officer he had seen before had gone to. Rough hands shoved him from behind, and he would have fallen had not the man in front of him shoved in the opposite direction. Why the men were angry, and why they thought his father had anything to do with their tribulations was a mystery to him, but at the moment they were so tightly packed together that he couldn't see a way past them.

Sophie writes:

Berenice stared at the three-squared little bundle that passed for a midshipman for a long second, then her brain came back to life. She squared her shoulders and took a couple of firm steps in Peabody's direction.

"There you are, you man!" she exclaimed. "Do you know that the captain has men all over the waterfront looking for you? You were supposed to report hours ago!"

She put a hand on his shoulder and started dragging him away from the unpleasant little crowd, hoping to strike a pace that would look forceful and unconcerned, rather than hurried and squirrelly. A moment later, her attempt at bluster was shattered when someone rammed forcefully into her, loosening her grip on Midshipman Peabody's oversized coat and sending her stumbling across the cobblestone.

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