She was awake. She jolted upright, disturbing Laurel, who said something drowsily. Jemina stroked her hair with her right hand, settled the child back into her lap. Her heart still hammered uncomfortably.
She looked out the window into the darkness and could see only the reflection of the car’s interior for a moment. Then as her eyes picked out detail, she saw the stars hanging far overhead, the blaze of the Milky Way, a curdle of starlight spilling over the plains that rolled out as far as the eye could see.
Chuggadrum, chuggadrum, the sound of the wheels underfoot, the everpresent vibration working its way through her body as they hurtled through the night towards Seattle.
They’d promised her a laboratory of her own. A budget. Assistants.
Things she could do without interference. That was worth a lot, for a woman in a field that held so few other of her sex.
“I have nightmares sometimes too,” Laurel said.
Jemina’s hand sleeked over the curve of Laurel’s skull, cloth sliding over glossy hair.
“We all do.”
“What are yours about?”
“The war. What about yours?”
Laurel lay silent so long that Jemina thought she had gone back to sleep. But finally she said, “How my parents died.”
Jemina’s fingers stilled as though frozen. She waited.
“We were in the house and they came,” Laurel said. “My uncle said they were supposed to stay on the battlefield and no one knew they went the wrong way.”
Her voice was subdued, thoughtful.
“It would have been all right, but papa heard them at the door and he went and opened it. That was how they got in.”
Jemina saw in her mind’s eye, despite her attempt to force it away, the scene: the man mowed down, devoured with that frightening completeness that zombies had, before they moved on to the rest of the house…
“How did you get away?” she asked.
“I jumped out the window and ran away. I tried to get my brother first, but it was too late, so I ran.”
“He was just a baby. He couldn’t run.” Laurel moved her head in slow negation. “Too late.”
Jemina closed her eyes, feeling the story wrenching at her heart.
These things happened in war. They were sad, yes, but unavoidable.
The wheels screeched as the train unexpectedly slowed. Both of them sat up to look out the window.
“Whose are those men?” Laurel asked.
“I don’t know.” But she suspected the worst, given the fact that the group had their bandanas tugged up around their faces, that many had pistols or Springfield rifles in their hands.
“They’re bandits!” Laurel’s voice was excited.
“Yes,” Jemina admitted.
They waited. Around them, everyone was abuzz, but stayed in their seats.
The front door of the car swung open and two men entered, both holding pistols, red cloth masking everything except their eyes. Both were hatless, their stringy hair matted with dust and sweat.
“We’re looking for a fellow name of J. Iarainn,” one called to the car at large. “You here, Mr. Iarainn? If not, I’m going to start shooting people one by one, cause according to the manifest, you’re in this car.”
Jeminia held up a hand. “I am Jemina Iarainn.”
Her gender astonished them. They squinted at her before exchanging glances.
“You’re headed to Seattle and the War Institute to work? Some kinda necromancery?”
“Yes to Seattle, yes to the War Institute. No to necromancy. I hold joint degrees in medicine and engineering, specializing in artificial limbs.”
Exasperation kept her calm. Why should these dunces not believe a female scientist could exist? And necromancy — she was, by far, tired of that label. She worked with devices for the products of such technology, but she wielded the forces of science, of steam and electricity and phlogiston.
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