Featured September 27, 2019 Fantasy Science Fiction Historical

Candle to the Devil

By Alex Isle
Sep 26, 2019 · 5,687 words · 21 minutes

Photo by Ming Jun Tan via Unsplash.

From the editor:

In the far-flung space colony of New Ceres, everyone is stuck in the past, but no one is willing to talk about it. When Mary Bennet and Professor Moriarty arrive, anachronisms in a time machine, they become embroiled with the local criminal element as they seek to discover what happened to Earth. Australian author Alex Isle has received the Aurealis and Ditmar awards, and published many short stories, as well as a YA fantasy novel called Scale of Dragon, Tooth of Wolf.


From the author: Professor James Moriarty and Mary Bennet teamed together as time-travellers.


Mary Bennet started awake, blinking her eyes open to harsh cabin lights, hearing the constant trapped-wind sounds which the Professor had told her were made by the ship circulating air.  The tiny cabin was barely large enough for one person to stand beside the bed to dress, certainly nothing like her bedroom in her parents’ country house.

She struggled to recall her dream’s details;  something about her sister Lydia dancing about the room and mocking Mary for dressing so outlandishly.  Mary had looked down at herself, ready to deny, but she had found that she was wearing twentieth century blue jeans and a skimpy, short-sleeved shirt!

Mary lay still, breathing slowly and deeply to ease the irrational panic flooding through her.  She had no one to talk to, no one with a chance of understanding . . . except Professor James Moriarty.  Young girls,  the improving books declared,  have only themselves to blame if they heed the blandishments of strange men who promised them wonders if they would only submit.

There had been wonders.  One of them was the bizarre carriage which had travelled through time itself.  Others, beyond number, were the places and customs which dwelt in the timestream beyond her own 1816.  These were all beyond her reach now, the machine surely lost.

Mary did not remember their encounter with the ship bound for New Ceres.  When she closed her eyes, she recalled wild darkness, a circling wind that both burned and chilled, and the time machine screaming in high metallic bursts.  Moriarty had activated its shield to hold in their air but then he too had fallen unconscious and could tell her no more until they both woke within the infirmary of the New Ceres-bound ship.  The Professor had woken before she had and by the time Mary was cognisant of her surroundings, had relayed a believable story.  “Remember nothing,” his harsh whispering voice had said by her ear.  “I am your uncle and guardian.  We were escaping Earth but beyond that, you have no memory.”

Mary said nothing.  But she heard and knew she had no choice but to do as Moriarty commanded.  If she had learned nothing else in her life, she knew how to listen and to learn from small hints and signs.  By the time she was released from the infirmary into the care of her concerned uncle, she knew all about where they were going.  Unlike any other time period she had visited with Moriarty, this time there would be less adjustment required.  She had only to be herself.

They were only days from port by the time she and the Professor had a chance to talk privately.  Moriarty wrote a note on his napkin at dinner that they would walk to the observation dome, but the technology level here was high enough that overhearing was still psosible.  There were things which must be discussed before planetfall.  A few moments later, she murmured that she was tired.  Moriarty politely excused himself, waiting for Mary to rise and take his arm.  She could hear the colonists murmuring about how much they seemed like New Ceres people already.

“Something terrible has happened to Earth,” she said softly, with the practised ability of a young girl in a society where people are always listening, pitched precisely for him to hear and no one else.  “They keep talking about it, underneath the words, underneath everything they do.  They have left everything but what they could carry.  That is why they ask so few questions about the fact that we have no luggage and that we were dressed so strangely when they found us.”

Moriarty nodded, not looking at her.  “We are hundreds of years ahead of the last time we stopped, yet these folk – the folk of New Ceres – cling to the time of your grandmother and your mother’s youth as the last of civilisation.  A way of banishing the fate of Earth.  We need to become part of them.”

They entered the observation dome, wehre space could be seen all around them.  A chiming warning sounded;  they could spend no more than fifteen minutes here, exposed to the dangers of space, the invisible burning winds called “radiation”which could reach them even through the great shielded windows.  Most of the passengers were too nervous to come here at all, after perhaps a single visit, but Mary knew she could trust Moriarty to know what was safe.

“We have no choice now, have we?” Mary asked.  Once, she would never have dared to express an opinion to a man, but she had been travelling with Moriarty for over half a year.  They had spent it in a time which the Professor said would teach her most, the late twentieth century, where she had learned about computers and modern mathematics, about blue jeans and women’s rights.  She had not been surprised to realise that Professor James Moriarty had little interst in women’s, or anyone’s, rights.  There were people useful to him and people who were not, but he was contemptuous of anyone who cast off a useful person just because that individual happened to be female.

“No.  But we will make ourselves a place in the shadows, in the underworld of their society.”  He faced her suddenly, his slightly sunken eyes staring into hers so intensely, she wanted to take a step back.  “Where there are things forbidden, there is always the one who can obtain for you those things.  There is always a way and there is always a price.  I will be a Professor of Mathematics.  It is always wise to keep as much to the truth as you can.  You will be my niece, ward and keeper of my house.” She flinched a little.

Moriarty saw the motion and made a disgusted growl.  “That is the surface.  You know by now that the surface matters not at all.  You have begun to learn mathematics and you will be beyond anyone else I have known except myself.  This new world has possibilities beyond your original England, beyond mine.  They play a game, Mary, of elegance and dances and candlelight.  They have not intended to bring the original darkness with them, the underworld and the impoverished, the hunger and the blood.” His eyes gleamed.  “They did not intend it.  But they have done it.”

The spacecraft landed beside a spaceport unacknowledged by its own society.  As they passed through Customs, leaving the “modern” world behind them, Mary’s hand on Moriarty’s arm was not just part of the game.  She was anxious about this scenario, perhaps because it was so close to her past.

Mary thought of her sisters, recalling the mocking laughter with which they had often regarded her.  Mary, the plain middle sister more at home with books than with dances, who would never have a husband.  She pictured them in the ribboned gowns they had thought were so elegant and smoothed her own skirt with a defiant hand.  This was society such as they could never dream!  The gown she wore was finely designed, the gift of the ship’s crew who had created it from a machine and a wastage of raw cloth.

Once established in New Ceresian society, she would be on her own resources and that of her guardian, but for the entry, there must be a brave show.  Mary straightened her back and walked confidently forward, imagining her sisters falling clumsily aside in her wake.  With the dark-clad figure of the Professor by her side, she glided through the portal.

From the seclusion of their randomly-selected patron’s home, two new citizens entered the world two months later.  One was Professor James Moriarty, formerly of London, who had applied to the University of New Ceres as Professor of Mathematics and Logic.  The other was his niece Mary, a modest young woman and careufl housekeeper interested in the education of girls.  She might, she said, open a small school.  Her uncle had expressed approval of such a plan.  They had taken a house in a good neighbourhood of the capital, close to the university, and Mary quickly made herself known, walking to market or speaking to women over her gate as they passed.

Her uncle was less known, but he too could be viewed, usually driving to the university in his small carriage or taking an early morning constitutional along the tidy, well kept streets.  Sweepers and horse-handlers reported him polite but distant, as a man of letters should be.  The Lady Governor’s agents sent to interview new arrivals reported no forbidden technology at all and a charmingly earnest wish to comply on the part of both the young lady and her uncle, who might well have been born to the original Eighteenth Century itself.

 The Professor watched Mary walk, or rather, stride into the room as a confident young lad might be expected to move.  She was uncomfortable but did her best to move as he had directed.  Her involvement would be temporary, Moriarty had assured her, but for now he would need her help until he could attract a network of underlings.

“Good,”  he said, without the shadow of any interest.  “But cut your hair.  And unfasten the jacket so that it swings loosely as you walk.”

Mary coloured as she realised his meaning and fumbled at the buttons.  “I thought I could wear a wig,”  she said.  “Folk do, society folk.”

“Not young lads in the rougher areas of town,”  Moriarty said.  “Cut the hair.  We go recruiting tonight.”

“Who are those strange folk in the yellow robes?”  Mary murmured, pausing outside the tavern to which Moriarty was bound.

“What folk?”  His tone was curt.

“Entering the house across the way there.”

“Monks,”  he said.  “Keep up.”

Mary kept close behind him as the door swung closed.  The place was dark and smoky, lit only by lanterns.  No doubt the taverns of her own time had been the same but she had never visited any.  The Professor had been irked to hear it, as though she should have been living a life of depravity in order to inform him.

“That which we do not know may come back to bite us,”  she said to his back.  It was dangerous, that there might be groups on this world unknown to them.  The robes had made her think of Roman monks, save for the brilliant golden colour.  This was the fourth such establishment they’d visited tonight and she was more weary than nervous.  She studied Moriarty while he was engaged in ordering them tankards of beer.

She had no idea where he had gotten the garments he wore.  The dark red velvet coat smelled of moths and dust and the breeches bore holes and fraying fabric.  He had adopted too the manner of a not so well-to-do townsman.  Even his voice was changed as he talked to the tavern-keeper, slightly truculent as though suspecting the man of overcharging him.

Mary bowed her head as she sat at the table, not wanting to meet anyone’s eye.  Her hair was also frayed at the edges, thanks to her hasty self-barbering and she grieve the loss.  Years of growth gone just because the Professor thought she needed to come with him tonight.

“…new arrivals?” someone asked and she registered that Moriarty was talking genially with another stranger and had been for some time.  “Surely they must have given you a copy of the Book of Light, didn’t they?  At Customs.”

“Oh, certainly, certainly.  Laws of New Ceres, acceptable technology, we’ve studied them.”

“Well, the Lumoscenti are in there,” the Professor’s new friend told him.  He looked like a student from the university, Mary decided; early twenties, wearing the latest in period fashion and already considerable drunk.  “The Golden Monks.  That’s who your lad must have seen.  Oo-er!  You don’t want to find those gents on your doorstep asking to search your house!  Or rather, you don’t if yo’ve been bad and ordered in some high-tech toys!”

“You seem to know about those high-tech toys,”  Moriarty observed.  If he hoped to unnerve the young man, it failed.

“Oh, everyone knows about them.  You have to know what not to know, if you follow me and some stuff’s always around.  They don’t crack down on it if you’re not an idiot and go flaunting things around.”  He gestured and nearly knocked over Mary’s tankard.  “Sorry, lad.  Best not even to seem all that interested in them, that’s my advice.”

“Were you born here, sir?”  Mary asked, trying to keep her pitch low.

“Third generation and let me tell you, it is possible to miss what you never had.”

“If I told you I am interested in talking with people who miss what they never had, would you be willing to introduce me?”  Moriarty asked.  He had dropped the false geniality and it was his own voice now, cold and direct.  The student stared at him laughter dying on his lips.

“He won’t,” said a voice from behind Mary.  “He doesn’t know enough to pass his exams.  But I do.”

This man spoke quietly, his words not carrying beyond their table.  Without ceremony he seated himself at Moriarty’s gesture.  The young student was shooed away.  Moriarty and Anthony, who gave no other name, ordered more beer and talked.  Presently the Professor tapped Mary on the shoulder and indicated, throught he buzz of noise, that they were leaving.  Anthony did not accompany them.

“He seems to be only a lurker,”  Moriarty said.  “Three or four of them work the lusheries for folk willing to pay for modern trash, which I would wager does not work half the time.  There’s two men at the top.  This fellow gave me a name and a place.”

“You think the, ah, merchandise should be good quality?”  Mary questioned in some surprise as she quickened her step to keep up.

“Of course.”  Moriarty strode on.  “We need to establish a reliable reputation, after all.”

“We?”

James Moriarty actually stopped and looked at her as though for the first time.  In the chill street, their breath was visible.  The Professor’s head performed a brief oscillating movement, like a hunting cobra.

“I see no way to obtain a new time-travelling machine,”  he said, “unless we can build it ourselves.  Even I will need help for this, if it is to be.  For now, we must make a home here and I will require my apprentice, will I not?”

“Perhaps these folk with the forbidden technology have such a device themselves,”  Mary ventured.  “We have had little chance to learn of this world as yet.”

“Perhaps, but I believe there would be more evidence if such a thing were common knowledge.  Myself, I think there was but the one.”  The Professor glanced about the area, which was well into the slum areas of Prosperine, such as they were.  To Mary’s eye, even these less well-to-do seemed to be playing games.  “I think we can take ourselves home now and follow the new lead upon the morrow.”

The neophyte criminals of New Ceres, Mary was sure, could not know what serpent they had taken into their bosoms.  Within days of Moriarty making contact, they were calling upon him for advice and scant weeks after he first met with the leaders of the group, he was running it, whether they knew it or not.

The Professor rarely stirred from his house on such business; they came to him and he would give directions from behind his study desk.  The seekers would leave and obey them.  Mary did not like having these men come to the house but she knew there was nothing she could do.  No matter what Moriarty said, she had no more say here than in her 1800s home.  She had to live as her grandmother might have lived and saw little to indicate that she was on another planet.

There were also the Golden Monks.  Sometimes it felt as though wherever she went, at the corner of her vision there were figures in the yellow robes, mixing with the people, sometimes talking withj them, other times moving with brisk purpose about their business.  Perhaps it was only her own feelings of wrongdoing that made her uneasy when she saw them but according to the Professor’s order, she never attempted conversation.

Moriarty was surely pleased with the way things were going at least.  He ran his smuggling operation with increasing success.  At least, Mary comforted herself, this did no more than take money from fools.  No actual harm was being done.

When trouble did come, it reared up from within the cobra-cluster of Moriarty’s new family.  Mary, on the edges, gained only a confused impression of a would-be rival, gathering adherents to himself, to push the interloper out of the way so that he might take advantage of the new prosperity Moriarty had brought them.  Men came to the house by night, talked with Moriarty in hushed tones within the lamplit study or in the hall.  If mary came within view, covnersation would halt and they would watch her until she left.  She was not even sure of names, though she thought Anthony, the initial link to the gang, had been mentioned.

Finally, Mary challenged Moriarty.  She wasn’t sure why this made her so nervous;  he had never done her harm, after all, but at home she would never have dreamed of challenging her father on any subject.  This was an older man and one who held more power over her than ever her father had.  Nevertheless, she marched into his study one morning, some three weeks after his rise to leader of the smugglers.  Moriarty was seated at his desk, absorbed in writing – longhand, with a quill – and did not look up.  Mary had no doubt he had noted her arrival.

“I must speak with you,” she stated, wishing she didn’t feel quite so much like a school-girl before the teacher.  The desk, the shelves filled with leatherbound volumes, the very smoky scent of the place from cigars, all drew her back to her childhood on another world.

“You do not require such formality,” Moriarty said with slight surprise.

“I believe I do, sir, since I wish you to reverse a course of action.”

“And that would be?”

He was enjoying the conversation, Mary realised and with that knowledge, she felt a surge of anger.  Was she no more than a toy to him, a useful accessory?  At least,  Mary told herself grimly, he probably does find you useful, unlike your birth kin.

“I suggest to you, sir, that you consider adopting in truth the role which you have taken as concealment, that of professor and seeker after knowledge.  That you abandon your efforts to create an empire based on subterfuge and criminal endeavours.”

“Why?” Moriarty’s voice was flat, his face expressionless.

“Because Anthony knows this world, more than you and I ever can, but I have been used to watch others from the sidelines and I tell you that he is planning to move agaisnt you.  There is gossip all about and I assure you, sir, that if nothing else, a woman of my time knows about gossip.  I see the men in yellow constantly and I fear there is a connection.”

Moriarty blinked and Mary felt some surprise herself at getting the reaction.

“The last thing Anthony wants is anything to do with the Golden Monks,” the Professor said, but he was no longer looking amused.  “Whom I have seen, yes, just as does any citizen in the strets.  Anthony, my dear, is no mere catspaw.  He has perfected the art of invisibility and yes, he will move against me when he believes he can do so.  Now is not that time.”

“The monks are watching you,” Mary persisted but aware that she was not reaching him.

“Why should that be unusual?  In any case, Anthony has chosen his course of action, my dear ward.  He seeks that we join forces, a sensible move.  Both of us know it is only until the time is right for one of us to be vanquished.  He has sent me a message inviting me to meet with him tomorrow night, to discuss ideas he has for making our operations more efficient.”

“Alone?”

“No doubt that is what he wishes but no.  I will take two guards with me.  You, of course, may attend.” He said it like an indulgent uncle giving a reward to a child.  Mary wanted to yell or at least glare, but she showed nothing.

Moriarty and Mary travelled that night into Prosperine to a tavern, not one Mary had seen before.  She wore her boy’s disguise, wondering whether anyone really believed it.  With them were the two bruisers Moriarty employed as guards.

Anthony stood waiting in the tavern’s private upstairs room, a plank table and chairs behind him with glasses and a jug of beer set ready.  Two glasses, Mary noted, but he didn’t seem surprised to see her.  Dull, middle-aged, totally unremarkable, he did not seem like a man who could wrest the reins of power from the Professor.  He had never seemed anything other than what Moriarty had called him;  a lurker, a conduit to men of power without the will to ever be one himself.

“Thank you for coming, Professor,” he said without bowing, but he did nod to Mary.

Moriarty smiled mirthlessly at the omission.

“Take him,” he said simply.

The bruisers advanced stolidly, one either side of Anthony.  They dragged him forward so that he hung between them before Moriarty.

“Remove him,” Moriarty said flatly, with the air of one no longer interested in the conversation.  “Do it away from here and see that nothing leads to me.”

Anthony did not attempt to free himself or speak, despite hearing what had to be a death sentence.  Yet oddly, neither of the bruisers moved either and that sparked instant alarm in Mary.

“Brother Joseph?” asked one.

Anthony made a slight motion and they allowed him to stand straight.  The one who had spoken stayed by his side, while the other moved quick as an alley cat behind Moriarty and pressed cold steel against the back of his neck.

Moriarty laughed softly.  “Well done,” he said.  “But you have not finished.”

“This does not finish with steel,” Anthony – or Joseph -  said, as untroubled as though they sat at table exchanging courtesies.  “The move was well played, Professor.  Let him go.”  The man with the knife – surely not a common bruiser after all – stepped back but remained behind Moriarty, who ignored the fact.  Mary, watching Joseph, imagined him in yellow robes and thought that they would become him well.

“You were summoned here by the Lumoscenti,” the Golden Monk specified.  “We wish to speak to you, James Moriarty and Mary Bennet, concerning your craft which was intercepted by the colonists’ vessel.”

“We were not yet on this world,” Mary said suddenly, noting that the entire dynamic had changed with the unveiling.  She was now a third party, acknowledged by both Joseph and Moriarty.  “So your laws did not yet bind us.”

“True,” Joseph agreed, with a respectful nod towards her.  “But our investigations of that craft have led to strange questions and even stranger answers.  Your ambitions would have led you into conflict with the secular authorities, for I see neither of you have time for the rules of normal society.  If once you came to their attention, they would learn of your machine, which is nothing that belongs in our world.  I suspect that it does not belong in any world.  We have studied it but have learned only the beginnings of its truth.”

Moriarty remained silent.  Looking at him, Mary felt sure he would say nothing about the Time Machine, either to confirm or deny, no matter what pressures were applied.  She was less sure about herself.

“Please do not feel constrained to explain this to me,”  Joseph went on.  “We have much time to study the craft and that is not why you were contacted.  If that were all, we could have continued to watch you for years and never allowed you to know the fact.”

Now there was a tightening of the Professor’s jaw and a faintly outraged look made its way to his features.  Mary fought back a wish to say, in more ladylike words, “I told you so!” He had valued her input, in truth, but he had thought her mistaken in the matter of the Golden Monks.

“I am sure you intend to turn me over to the authorities for whatever penalties you choose,” Moriarty said, curbing his anger.  Nor was he much disturbed, Mary thought.  He had told her before that operations such as his could be run just as easily from a prison cell.

“In such matters as this, we are the authorities,” the monk corrected quietly.  “And a different choice has been made.  We wish to offer you employment.”

Moriarty laughed, a sound with nothing like merriment in it.  “I am afraid that I do not favour your brand of garb.”

“You would be of no benefit if you wore the robes.  My brothers – and sisters – believe you have much potential…when you have grown up.”

Now Moriarty showed honest anger.  “What in damnation do you mean by that?”

“You believe yourself a dangerous man,” the monk said clinically, surveying Moriarty and glancing over at Mary as though to check that she was following the conversation.  “Your criminal Family in old London feared you greatly.  If any crossed you, there would be a body in the Thames and none the wiser.  For many years no one even suspected you of breaking the law until the advent of Mr Sherlock Holmes.  From your disappearance at the Reichenbach Falls to your reappearance in London three years later – mirroring that of your foe – there was little known of you.  You worked to reestablish your Family and in this you succeeded.  Then nothing.  You fall out of the pages of history, Professor Moriarty.”

If he was impressed that the monks had connected his contemporary persona with the historical figure, Moriarty did not show it.  He shrugged slightly and waited.

“Perhaps you did not fall, exactly.  Perhaps you jumped.”

Mary started slightly at that moment and controlled the twitch, but the monk had already looked at her.  His stare became slightly furrowed as though he was trying to understand her presence here.  “The technology of the present day is banned on New Ceres,” he said, quiet as the breeze.  “This does not mean we are unaware of it or that we are ignorant of the passage of time and history.  We are the children of our age;  this is marked in our bodies and our blood and also in our minds.  We left behind us terrible things, James Moriarty, things which you cannot know.  Perhaps you have seen some of those things – if your Machine is what we believe – but you have not grown up in a world struggling to right itself from apocalypse.  In comparison with a man who has lived through World War or survived pandemic disease and many other depravities and horrors, you are an innocent.”

Now Moriarty smiled and Mary wondered that the monk didn’t at once call for help.  “If I am such an innocent, why are you wasting our time explaining all this?  What work can I possibly perform for you?”

“Go on as you are doing,” said the monk.  “We will watch you and we will move on your fellow entrepreneurs as we see fit.  They will not suspect you because you will give us no names.  You will allow them to watch your house, your place of work, if they wish.  It will not matter.  We will not even move on many of them or move often.  You will do this and we will neither have you killed nor arrested.”

The temperature of his voice dropped to ice.  Moriarty stared back.  And did not speak.

“Do you understand?” the monk prompted.

“I understand.”   Moriarty tapped his shoe against the wooden floor.  “I understand what you offer.” His emphasis on the last word held withering scorn at the pretence of a choice.  “But you hold no candle to the devil, sir.  You do not explain why you offer me such sweet mercy.”

The Golden Monk passed a hand over his forehead and rubbed his eyes as though weary to death.  “We model ourselves on your past, our heritage is your future.  Help us to keep it.  You will have what you need to rebuild your machine, if that is possible.”

Moriarty stared at him for a long moment, then gestured curtly to Mary.  “We are leaving.”

“A moment,” said Joseph, when Mary would reluctantly have turned to follow the Professor.  “You are welcome to leave now, if that is your wish, but I want to speak with the young lady.  She will join you outside, if she pleases.”

Moriarty looked a warning at Mary, then stalked from the chamber.

“Please sit down, Miss Bennet,” said the monk.  He smiled at her, unnerving Mary more than if he had remained coldly angry.  “First let me tell you that we have contacted the patrons who housed you and the Professor when you first arrived here.  They are more than happy to have you return and have offered you the protection of their home, if you wish it.  You will be under no duress to see Professor Moriarty again.  We know nothing of the circumstances of your meeting but we believe you innocent of involvement in his crimes.”

“He saved my life,” Mary said.

“Did he so?  A second spark of kindness.”  She looked curiosity and the monk explained.  “There is an account of the incident when the Professor and his nemesis Sherlock Holmes battled above the Reichenbach Falls, culminating in the deaths of both when they fell.  Of course, as events revealed, neither died.  Yet before the battle, at the time when Moriarty held Holmes at gunpoint, he allowed him to write a letter to his associate, Dr Watson, explaining what had happened and bidding him farewell.  Moriarty, of course, wished his cleverness known, how he had outsmarted his rival but yet…”  Again the monk smiled.  “It is a mark of the Gentleman Villain, a species which exists no longer, save perhaps on New Ceres if we are able to preserve our society.  A spark of kindness, as I say.”

“A spark,” Mary echoed.  “Are we curiosities, Brother Joseph?”

“No such,”  the monk promised.  “Think rather that you are more true to the spirit of New Ceres than any others who come.”

“We had no more choice than they.  We became lost.”

“And have the chance for more.”

“If he does what you wish.”  Mary struggled for a way to describe the Professor and in the end had to struggle for, “He is not accustomed to doing what others wish.”

“He is not accustomed to folk of this century either.”

“Is – was it really so bad as you say?  Those terrible things?” She thought of their stay in the twentieth century, which had been occupied with study of subjects Moriarty deemed necessary and little else.

“We all but destroyed ourselves,” the Golden Monk said.  “We need both of you.”

Both of us, as a unit, Mary thought but did not say.  She would have to persuade Moriarty to accept the Lumoscenti as simply another aspect of the Family he was building.  He would never accept that he had been wrong.   New Ceres’ refugees had passed through the very fires of Hell to be what they were.  To remake themselves.  “I may need to speak to you sometimes,” she said aloud.

“Of course,” Brother Joseph assured her.  “Whenever you wish.”

“How do I find you?” She was under no illusion that this humble tavern room was a permanent establishment of the Golden Monks.

“Write to one of the newspapers.”

“Write what?”

“A letter on any subject you wish, only sign it with the name Mary Watson.” He smiled very slightly.  ‘We will see it and someone will speak to you one day in the street when you are walking alone.”

Mary nodded, a little unsettled with just how at home the monk seemed to be with clandestine operations.  There was not, she thought, as much difference between him and Moriarty as either might hope.  She stood, smoothing her skirt automatically.  Joseph stood also.  “I will leave after you,” he said, “unless you wish to accept the offer of your patron?”

“Not at this time, thank you, sir.”

“As you please.”

Mary’s smile threatened to broaden into a grin.  Finally it was as she pleased.  She dscended the stairs to the tavern’s taproom and not seeing Moriarty inside, proceeded to the street.  There he stood like a black, windswept crow, absently studying the contents of a neighbouring apothecary’s shop window and for the moment ignorant of her presence.  She approached from the side away from the window and the street lamp near it, that her reflection not alert him and gained a great deal of perhaps childish satisfaction from his jump as she touched his arm.

“Professor?  I hope you were not concerned for my welfare.  Brother Joseph wished to speak to me about the business proposition his Order has for us.”

He stared down at her for a moment before he asked, “And you are to persuade me?  Is that why he wished to speak with you alone?”

“Indeed not.  He offered me sanctuary if I wished to leave your influence.”

That did sound unusually bold, Mary thought, but controlled an urge to back away from her own words.

“Interesting,’  Moriarty said at last.

“No, sir.  I don’t believe it would be.”

“So what do you think of these monks and their offer?”

“I think you can use them, whether or not they know it.”

Finally, Professor Moriarty smiled.

This story originally appeared in New Ceres Nights, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Tehani Wessely. The concept of New Ceres was created by Alisa and Tehani..


1 Comment
  • leece
    September 26, 7:38am

    Very cool!

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