I woke up with a splitting headache. In itself, not a remarkable thing, but when I’m blinded by very clean white walls, I knew immediately that I was in a lot of trouble. I don’t live anywhere that has clean walls. Actually… I don’t live anywhere that has white walls. My little part of the sewers is done in the late rust period (third century, I think) with some early mold influences on the trim and doorways.

I just don’t like being surprised when I wake up. I might love it if I had some cute thing offered me coffee, but that hasn’t happened in… ever. I still cracked open one eye again just to check.

Nope.

As I considered lying back on the soft sheets, I felt this little nagging voice in the back of my head, the kind you have when you forget to check that last pressure gauge or left your best 12mm wrench at home. At least it wasn’t the scream echoing in your brain as you watch brass bulging from the heat.

Quickly, I decided strange bedrooms were a very bad thing to wake up in. Getting up, I checked out the two things important in every man’s life.

Wallet, check. Important body parts, check.

In the process of this highly critical inspection of my person, I realized something else that gave me a bit of thought and added a little volume to that nagging voice.

I was dressed.

One would think that waking up in a strange bed, surrounded by clean walls, you had a very good night of absinthe and lovers. But, I still wore my lab coat. I wiggled my toes in my boots as I sat up, groaning with one hand on my face. Breathing in, I choked on the smell of my own acrid breath. There was the absinthe. Something died in my throat and I could feel it still sliding down into my gut. Swallowing hard, I exhaled as hard as I could and breathed in a fresh gulp.

And caught a hint of jasmine in the air. That little nagging voice turned into a full out scream as I took another hesitant breath. Jasmine, rose, and motor oil. Only one woman ever perfected that mix of intoxicating smells. Beautiful and intelligent, everything I ever wanted in a woman.

But, she would never be a lover. With hindsight, I needed to add sane to that list.

I refused to look back at the bed. Maybe if I don’t see her, she wouldn’t be in the bed. I wouldn't have made the worst mistake of my life. I knew it wasn’t possible, I could feel the weight on the mattress and the sight of her petticoat on the chair.

No, please no…

Vague memories pushed through my thoughts and I gave a hesitant peek to the foot of the bed. She still wore her own boots, black leather with very short heels and a screwdriver jammed in the laces. Yes, it was her. Trembling, my gaze moved up to her fabric covered leg and I let out a long sigh of relief.

Dressed.

I resisted the urge to check for her wallet and stood up. My bleary eyes looked around and I had to clutch the side of the bed to regain my balance. The world seemed to shake and the walls glowed with an intensity that blinded me.

Blinking, I stared at the far wall until my vision focused on the delicate oil painting I bought her years ago.

It was flashing.

Frowning, I let my gaze follow the pulsating lights to the window. It took me a moment to realize it wasn’t a bright morning that woke me, but light bulbs exploding outside. That little nagging voice got a little more insistent at that sight. Drawn like a moth, I inched toward the window and peeked out from the curtains.

Reporters. With their bright and shiny toys. I saw three magnesium cameras, including a Fidosa, and two propane recorders. One of them looked like a highly modified Marston-Stin but I didn’t recognize the other. I did, on the other hand, notice the dozen guards milling around, trying to quell the traffic and curious humanity. Their bright red cloaks and jackets told me more than I wanted to know.

I needed to start screaming.

I had to look. I had to. I didn’t want to, but something told me that I was in a lot more trouble than jacking that steam engine from the fire brigade last week.

Fear pooling in my gut, I turned around to the bed.

Bonnie Tithe.

The most beautiful woman I knew.

She stared up at the ceiling, those warm brown eyes that would never see anything again. I felt a sob rising in my throat, but it collapsed in my gut when I remember I killed her. I didn't mean to, but it happened only a few short hours before. Tears ran down my cheeks as I stared furtively around, desperate for some easy way out of this trap.

No, Bonnie wouldn't have made it that easy for me.

Fear fluttering in my heart, I stumbled to the bed. Reaching out with trembling fingers, I pulled my dagger from her side and wiped the blood on the sheets. Jamming it in my pocket, along with two lengths of wire and a short copper pipe that fell out while I slept, I hurried to the door.

I pulled it a little too hard and I felt my wounds tearing open again. Hissing, I clutched it as the sharp pain radiated from where she shot me. It started the fight, that part I remember, but I couldn't honestly remember what happened before the screaming.

I nearly fell down the stairs to the main hall. Shadows stood outside the door, in sharp contrast to the reporter's bulbs. But, they made no effort to enter the town house. I groaned and raced through the kitchen, my boots crushing glass and spent bullet casings. But, two more shadows at the back door and someone's back to me in the main window.

Trapped. I was trapped.

Damn that Bonnie.

I stood in the living room, surrounded by lights and fear. My eyes darted from door to window as I tried to find some way to escape. The basement? No, I remember that Bonnie kept her old experiments down there. Knowing her, they wouldn't find my body for years in that mess. I considered the attic, but that is where she kept her clean room. Nothing to hide in there. I gave myself a bitter smile and looked down.

In the center of the mess, with broken tables and glass everywhere, a small end table stood in the center of the room. On it, an intact crystal vase, a black rose, and a card.

Frowning, I reached down and snatched the card. The vase teetered and I only made a half-assed attempt to grab it before it shattered to the ground. I watched the pool of oil spreading out from the vase–Bonnie was the type of girl who tried to grow everything in oil–and looked down at the card.

It said only one thing, in Bonnie's handwriting.

"You bastard."

I just wish I could remember what else she said.

Someone pounded on the front door. I jumped at the sound, then winced as someone yelled loudly.

"Doctor Oile!"

They didn't need to give me a command, I already knew what they wanted. I gave up my hope for escape and Bonnie's card fluttered to the ground. I stared down at it, watching the oil swallow up the edge of the paper. Shaking my head sadly, I knew the only answer.

It took forever to walk to the front door. I grabbed my jacket and slipped it on. Straightened my belt. I could see the men outside, watching me through the gauze curtains over the door, but I didn't even feel the urge to wave to them. Instead, I just shoved my hand into my pocket and opened the door.

Light, terrible light, exploded in front of me. Tears rolled down my cheek as I stepped outside. People were screaming, calling out to me, but I just focused on stepping from Bonnie's house and on the stairs. At my foot, I saw a delicate little golem holding up a crystal ball and a ghostly face inside the glass. Next to it, two clockwork spiders balanced cameras on their backs while jets of steam escaped from tiny joints. Beyond that, living people jostled for a better view of me.

A guard, probably the one in charge, stood straight up and called to me.

"Doctor Oile, you are under arrest for the murder of Lady Tithe."

Bonnie was no lady, but somehow I doubt they would understand. As the last echo of his voice faded from the cobblestones, my world exploded into light as the reporters frantically tried to capture the moment of my arrest, their money shot. I blinked at the light, trying to shield myself, then remembered my goggles in my pocket.

The world grew hush again as I pulled them out and eased them over my eyes. The sweet darkness greeted me, shading the world into the purest clarity.

I let out a sigh of relief.

The first bullet caught me in the shoulder. Two crossbolts punched through my side, the opposite from where Bonnie shot me, but it hurt more than I thought it would. I don't remember Bonnie's shooting hurting that much as I gaped, trying to breath when my body suddenly refused to move.

As the fourth caught me in the leg, I prayed they would finish the job quickly.

No such luck. The healer got to me before I hit the ground, whispering sweet nothings as he lowered me to the icy concrete. Cuffs snapped around my wrists as I felt his spell coursing through my veins, the sickly sweet burn of healing magic. The little golem hovering over me began to spark violently and a guard kicked it viciously away.

This wasn't fair, was it?

I was just guilty of loving the wrong woman.

Then leaving her.

2009-10-10