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Earth Victoriana: Music Hall Mystery!

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"Pip pip....peeeep!"

Lord Lucien Lockwood, aka Lord Steam, put down his paper, and (somewhat vexed) stubbed out the cigar he had been enjoying. These colonials, he had decided, did a rather rum job with cigars. Damn nuciance he had to put his out.

The copper tube in his office was full of odd dials and readouts, with wires sprouting like roots from its base and leading to his workshop and laboratory at Steam Manor.

A puff of steam let loose from the top.

"Yes yes, M, what is it?" he said, momentarily annoyed. Damn inter-dimensional telephone.

"Oh yes?" he said, interested. "Not really my cup of tea, the Music Hall, but seems like quite a mystery...I'm tempted to take it on though, you know..."

M interrupted Lord Steam, who stopped and listened.

"...a singer? a lady singer? well, that's probably beyond even Madam Redpowder's expertise" he replied, thinking of the elderly ladies marvellous make up and disguise skills. "But certainly, I can take a look see if we could recruit anyone here..."

He paused.

"...maybe someone British even, now I think about it. Not proper our British, of course. Second rate dimension here in Earth Colonial, of course. But I have may have heard of somebody..."

Within a few minutes, he was scouring the library and making some phone calls.

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The morning recording session had gone well she’d recorded the basic lyrics for the producer. This allowed her the afternoon off.

Virtually unknown here she could happily walk the streets just another young woman in the big city. Well until she actually opened her mouth to speak, especially as she had an accent that no one her recognized.

She settled into the comfy chair of Starbase Coffee, who did a passable tea, and opened her treasure of the day a copy of The Times (which they insisted on calling the London Times). Not her normal reading material, but tucked away in the Entertainment section was a small piece about her travelling to Freedom City to re-launch her career. Not much else, but considering some of the thinks that she had said and done in the past that was probably a blessing.

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Lord Steam had to pull a few contacts, throw around some money, and make use of considerable persuasive powers.

But he had tracked her down: Annice Avebury, Singer, British, Currently in Freedom City. A little on the wild side, he had heard, but that was no bad thing.

She fitted the bill perfectly, according to M. His two concerns were her inexperience and her wealth. In other words, how was he going to persuade a successful singer to go undercover in London, Earth Victoriana?

She even looked the part. With Madam Redpowders' skill, she would be a dead ringer for the mur...

Well yes, he conceded, it was dangerous too.

His steam powered horseless chariot, Bessie, was an oddity in Freedom City, but it functioned perfectly well. Very well in fact. It glided up outside Starbase coffee, where he stood up, and caught sight of Annice - or was it Agnes?

"Hey ho old girl!" he shouted out imperiously. "Hop in for the ride of your life!" he beamed.

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An English voice in this city. Then her brain caught up to what he’d said.

Then she looked up.

The man whilst quite attractive looked like he just stepped from a BBC costume drama, and the car well it had the standard four wheels, but the thing was belching steam like Ivor the engine. Causes the citizens of Freedom City were taking it all in their stride.

She drained the last dregs of the tea and carefully folded the paper.

“Wow you really take your Steampunk seriously. But I’m afraid my mother told me never to accept lifts from strangers.â€

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“Wow you really take your Steampunk seriously. But I’m afraid my mother told me never to accept lifts from strangers.â€

Steampunk? whats that? wondered Lord Steam. He decided to ignore the curious phrase for now.

"And very sensible advice to, madam!" he bowed, with extra flamboyance. "However, I have a serious proposition for you! England, my good lady, needs you!"

The proper England that is, not the pale imitation in this dimension.

"And there will be some fine gold sovereigns in it for you, of course! and all the tea in Hong Kong!"

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Blood Hell this guy might be for real. And he had to mention the England, it was hardwired into her now, there was no way she could refuse him, even if she wanted to.

And Gold Sovereigns, well she had always been told to put her trust in gold. That and off shore tax free banks. If only she’d listened to their advice.

Well she had an afternoon, and he’d be in for a surprise if he tried anything on. Why not humour the man.

“In that case sir you have my full attention.†She put on her best cultured Eliza Doolittle voice.

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Lord Steam let the young Lady in, and then turned Bessie round to head back to Steam Manor, with a jaunty honk of his outrageous manual horn delivered to the vexed drivers who fumed at his u-turn in the middle of a major road.

"Lord Lucien Lockwood" he said, by way of introduction, offering his hand as Bessie plowed on towards Steam Manor.

"I understand you are a singer?" he continued, although it was not really a question. His photographic memory had quickly absorbed her face and biography.

"From England?" he added with a smile.

"Look here, old gal..." he said with a slightly more serious demeanour. "How would you like an little cloak and dagger work for...ah...England. Little problem we have in...ah..a..musical establishment, and you are dead ringer for the missing singer we are trying to trace. I hear you are a feisty young Lady. British. Singer. And, ahhhh...."

He left that hanging. The truth was, with no identity on Earth Victoriana, she couldn't get traced if caught. Fingerprints and all that stuff wouldn't register, and they needed someone off the register.

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Who was this guy?

He wasn’t Six, the whole look made James Bond look subtle.

Maybe the Ministry?

She’d manage to stay under the radar so far, but they were bound to catch up with her sooner or later. She just hadn’t expected them on US soil.

Obviously the man knowledge of music stopped sometime before Vera Lynn still that might help her him not knowing about her fall from grace.

She took his hand a shook it firmly “Yeah that’s right I’m Annice. As you said the magic word I’ll take a listen to what you’re selling. But if I don’t like the deal I get to walk away. Right?â€

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At Steam Manor...

The mansion was as antiquated as Bessie, but equally functional and indeed beautiful.

Lockwood called from refreshments: tea and scones, and sat himself down with Annice on the veranda.

"The deal is this" he started. "A rather popular music hall star went...missing...a few days ago. Most peculiar business. Not a trace of her, just 'poof' and she was gone. Happened right before her performance too, which didn't go down to well with the crowd, I can tell you. "

"Now who would want to snatch the lovely Miss Ada Wheatly? very popular lady. A stalker? a lunatic? or someone who just wants to ruin the business? all possible. Thing is, Miss Wheatley did a little, er, work on the side. A little intelligence gathering for the King's government. So we have to rule out the possibility of something a little more sinister. Now, we would like you to take her place. You are a performer, The likeness is good, and our make up and disguise artist, Madam Redpowder, is sure to complete the illusion. "

"In other words, its a bit of the old spy-game!" he smiled.

He coughed, slightly akwardly, not quitie meeting Annice's gaze.

"There is another reason you would be a spiffing choice for this..." he continued. "Tell me, are you familiar with the discovery of alternate dimensions?"

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She sat back in the comfy chairs and enjoyed the man hospitality. Real bloody tea and scones, she was in heaven. She didn’t even drink that much tea back home, it seemed that staying in America had made her even more English, which for the spirit of the land was quite something.

She was trying to work out what he was on about she heard of Vaudeville and Burlesque revivals but music hall was a bit much. Then he said the magic word.

Caught unaware her face briefly flickered to that of someone else and her normal soft North London accent took on a Wilshire tone.

“What like Avalon, the Faerie realms?â€

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"Not exactly" replied Lord Steam.

"There are various alternative versions of earth - well, the universe actually. Similar to this, but different. Actually, I am from one of those dimensions, as official ambassador. Unlike this dimension, the British Empire never receded, and its glorious empire stretches across the world, pacifying the lands with its benevolence..."

That's the official line, anyway

"And its my dimension that is offering you the Job" he continued "So, would you be interested in a little work across the dimensions?"

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Wow as a pitch that was off the charts. A part of her wanted to just jump at the chance for such an adventure, but she was still a little cautious. This could be a massive con off some kind.

But if not…

“Okay you’ve got an hour to convince me. If I’m not happy I get to walk away. â€

She got her phone out of her purse and began to dial a number. She’d have to stall the studio for a couple of days just in case.

“You bloody better be paying me in gold, if this screwed up my recording contract…†her look suggested she was very serious.

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"Certainly!" said Lord Steam. "But it's not actually me who will be doing the convincing, but my boss, 'M'".

He stood up, putting down his tea, and lead Lucy into the depths of Steam Manor. At the workshop, full of a huge variety of steampunk contraptions, he pulled aside a purple curtain to reveal what looked like a copper Iron Maiden. He gave a few tugs on a wind up clock mechanism at its side, and the machine grumbled into life, hissing steam.

"Dimensional portal" he explained, opening the contraption and inviting Annice inside. "I assure you its quite safe, takes you to Earth Victoriana in a jiffy, M is expecting you on the other side. Its a little bumpy at times, I have known people get a bit nauseated from the trip..."

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“I wonder if it’s a Bernard or a Judi?†she mumbled to herself as she followed this Lord

She stopped at the portal which she was sure had been cribbed from some TV show she’d seen at some point. Oh well too late to back out now.

“Well I don’t normally get travel sick, but if I am I’m charging you for the dry cleaning.â€

Almost by habit she put in her ear buds and set her Nano on shuffle, it kicked out a Kate Bush track which somehow seemed appropriate for a Victorian world.

“In the words of another dimensional traveller. Geronimo!â€

Doing her best Time Tunnel impression she stepped through the portal.

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The Robust figure of M stood waiting for her, a cup of Earl Grey in his hand. He was in the "Q" section, where all high tech developments were stored. It worked hand in hand with the Royal Society for Metaphysical Engineering, even if they did not see eye to eye on every matter. The Society were idealists, and the Ministry of Extraorindary affairs was pragmatic. Nonetheless, Ms. Wells, their talented engineer who had first discovered Colonial Earth (or Earth Prime, as the residents of that dimension liked to call themselves), had been happy enough to install the portal to Lord Steam's mansion into Q section.

"Greetings and Salutation" he said, as Annice stepped into the new dimension.

"Allow me to introduce myself, I a 'M'" he said with a smile and an offered hand. "Thank you so much for joining us today. I do apologise for the somewhat disorganised and noisy greeting hall..." he added. To his left, one of the half dozen engineers fired a trick-umbrella, letting of a puff of steam and firing a spinning bronze cog into a dummy. It was very noisy.

"...may I suggest we retire to my office. Much more pleasant there..." he sighed, taking down the last of his tea.

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The trip was quite rapid and under eventful, Kate hardly had time to get up on the moor before she arrived.

Looking around the room and the portly M, Annice opened her mouth to say something sarcastic when it hit. A strange feeling of dislocation, an empty feeling that she was lost cast adrift from her home.

Yes this is England, but not her England.

She fought down a panic coming from the spirit inside her. She felt somewhere between the back of her eyes and infinity was the presence of this worlds Britannia.

Fighting down the feelings of vertigo she smiled weakly.

“Yes somewhere to sit down would be nice. And maybe a stiff drink?â€

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'M' Sat Annice down on a plush leather chair and poured her out a stiff gin with ice.

"That strong enough?" he asked, with a smile. He poured himself one too, and gave a little sip, savouring the strong flavour and bite.

"Firstly" he started "thanks for coming. Jolly decent of you. Seems that rapscallion Lockwood has his uses after all. Anyway, we here at the ministry of extraordinary affairs have a little problem. "

He sat himself down and took another small sip.

"Young lady by the name of Ada Wheatley went missing a few days ago. Lovely lady, sang in the music hall, very popular. Thing is, she did a bit of work for us on the side, very patriotic of her. You see, she had a knack for wheedling out information from her admirers, if you get my drift..."

"Now, Lord knows what has become of dear Ada. Not a trace of her, despite our best efforts. So, we hatched a little plot to see what we could bring out of the woodwork so to speak. That's where you come in. British, singer, look a lot like her, and best of all, you aren't going to be recognised here - not even fingerprinted. So, credit to Lockwood for spotting you. We would like you to take her place. For a few nights at least, whilst we see if anyone shows an interest in you. Because as far as the press and the public know, Ada is alive and well, bar a slight case of a throat infection. "

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She felt a lot more centred the Gin helped, but it also seemed she the spirit had gotten us to being in this new world.

Whilst many things seemed to have stayed the same from Victorian times, she felt underdressed in her combats and hoodie compared to the opulent dress of even M. But there attitude to people luckily seemed to have changed.

“Okay impersonates Ada that’s simple enough, though I’m not really up on my music hall tunes. One thing I need to know though is what do you think poor Ada was investigating for Queen and Country?â€

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"All sorts" replied M. "Her admirers came and went, and were often from overseas. She was keeping tabs on some German Aristocrats, some Vatican Priests, a couple of French Intellectuals, a Russian tsar, and even a Texan arms-dealer. And then there were the more local people, not to be dismissed, but as a rule less of a threat - unless they are spying for oversea's, or plotting an uprising. Its true, she had a few Luddite and Cannonite admirers she managed to get some gossip from..."

"But as how to who specifically she was investigating, I don't know. And to be frank, it was hardly formal investigation. She was more a source of gossip and a steady flow of intelligence rather than us setting her specific tasks. To give her the latter would have been to risky..."

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“Ah I see very much a gossip girl, with maybe a dash of pillow talk. Well I think I’ll draw the line at a flirtin’ and a gossipin’. Unless they’re really cute…â€

Then again it was proper cloak and dagger and she had that little extra that no one here would be expecting. And all this stomping around a Victorian world actual sounded like fun.

“Very well I’m in. Do I get one of those dresses, because I expect it to look fabulous! Though I think I need some kind of English-Victorian dictionary, I get Luddite but Cannonite?â€

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The Cannonites? they appeared about a year ago, split off from the Luddites after some fellow named Cannonade gave some impressive speech. We have looked into it, several witnessed, but no confirmation. The man may be a complete myth, of course, but there is no doubt the Cannonites are real. They are a more political, reasonable arm of the Luddites. They campaign for better working conditions and to work with machines, rather than just go around smashing the things up. They aren't free from conflict, and can even be dangerous, but they certainly aren't the anarchist brutes that the Luddites are. I doubt they are involved, but in my game, I rule nothing out. "

"As for dresses, it is, I think, time to see Madam Redpowder, our mistress of disguises and outfits. If you are ready?"

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Cannonade, Cannonade why did that name sound familiar?

It would come to her eventually, it probably wasn’t important anyway.

Tentatively, in case her balance was still a little off, she lifted herself off of the chair. It seemed that everything was now okay and a rough form of reality had now returned. Well as much as you could in a world full of Victorian chintz.

Well everything seemed to be working, time to go dressing up!

“Thanks, anything else I need to know? If not them lead on MacDuff.†She did her best overblown arm sweep.

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M stood up, and with an equally magnificent gesture, lead his guest onwards - down oak panelled corridors and a steam powered elevator, to the abode of Madam Redpowder.

The elderly lady was stiff and haughty, but knew her business. She was dressed elegantly, and busy organising the vast array of costumes and disguises in her section.

"Aha, ah what have we here?" she spoke, a little hoarse of throat from years of smoking, but with excellent elocution and an air of authority. It would be a good guess to say she was an aristocrat, but in the world of espionage, who could say for sure?

"Another young lady from Colonial Earth? Ready to step into the delightful Ms. Wheatley's shoes?" she asked, already pushing her finger down a long list of available costumes she had. "Now there was a lady with class. How I loved to see her sing on the stage. Such presence!" she actually sighed slightly before regaining her stiff composure.

"Now, something appropriate. Of course, Ms. Wheatley could pull almost anything off, and often did. Literally. Without becoming indecent of course. Always with class. So, as long as we have a corset in the outfit, there should be no problem. I need to do a bit of powderwork afterwards, of course..."

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Agnes had always love dressing up even as adult and as Annice she had plenty of opportunity to indulge in this pursuit. Probably too much as she had closets full of clothes most she’d worn only once. Her parents had to sell most of them to keep themselves afloat, and she didn’t blame then in the lease.

She didn’t dress up to much now but it was still there, and those Victorian style boots were just gorgeous.

“When you say a corset it not going to be too tight is it? I don’t want to taste liver every time take a breath. As for powerwork…†she pushed a lock of hair over her ear “I don’t want to dilute this Caribbean kissed skin too much. Is that pale consumption look still the vogue over here?â€

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"Indeed madam. And we would say 'in fashion'. Let us not vulgarise ourselves with French terms. Damn philosophers and alcoholics..."

M gave a little cough.

"..anyway" said Madam Redpowder, without pause, "let us get to work on that face and see if we can rectify the more sinful lines..."

She sat her charge down and got to work with her collection of paints and powders. She was a master of her craft, and with a picture of Ms. Wheatley as reference (and the resemblance, if not perfect, was very good), she painted onto Annice's face.

With the subsequent addition of a corset, boots, and skirt, the facade was complete. A near perfect semblance of Ava Wheatley stood in front of them.

"Bravo" applauded M, clapping his hands "another testament your immeasurable skill, Madam Redpowder!".

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