Rue went with a burnt umber Indian silk Worth. Dama was dear friends with Jean-Philippe and had a standing order in for Rue – new gowns every season. Dama referred to the older Worth’s demise earlier that year as the Great Tragedy, and had consoled Jean-Philippe with copious flowers, bolts of silk, and letters of condolence. Jean-Philippe had responded with, among other things, this very dress. It was simpler than Prim’s gown, with a slashed bodice and overskirt. Out from the skirt peeked crêpe of a slightly darker umber, and from the bodice a Madras muslin of cream with brown flowers. The edges of the gown were bordered in more of the crêpe, with collar and cuffs of brown velvet. A patten of cream appliqué over the bodice echoed that of the black on Prim’s lemon gown. Rue’s sleeves were narrow and cut high with a lace trim. Her hat was a great deal more modest – of flat Italian straw with one brown velvet bow and three umber silk roses. Together they looked rather like excited mobile tiger lilies.

Both ladies carried parasols against the Indian sun – Rue rejected her mother’s as too ugly and borrowed a brown lace one from Prim. Prim had, of course, a matching lemon-yellow number with black edging. They looked, as Spoo whispered behind their backs, a treat, and might have strolled through Hyde Park at the height of the season with not a single nasty remark from any patroness of high society, not even the anti-supernatural set.

It was wickedly hot. By the time they crossed the deck and strolled down the gangplank, Rue thought she might be melting. She blessed her own irreverent nature and shape-shifting inclination which allowed her to forego stays and undergarments. To wear anything more than outward modesty required, even for the sake of decency, was patently ridiculous. Poor Prim looked likely to faint after only a few minutes’ walk. She did not sweat of course, not the Honourable Primrose Tunstell, but there was a certain sheen to her face that delicacy might term a damp aura.

Rue expected Bombay to play host to the bustle of an exotic marketplace as her mother had described Alexandria. But the place was remarkably still. They were in the imperial section of the peninsula and not the city itself, but she could see the tops of buildings outside the ramparts and even there Bombay seemed… well… dead.

Prim said, “Perhaps respectable folk stay in during the hottest part of the day.”

A few boys in white shifts, brown limbs exposed, scampered by, tossing a large fruit back and forth. Here and there a stray dog wandered, but that was all.

“Either that or there’s a plague,” replied Rue, making light and then regretting it at Prim’s panicked expression.

They walked along the beach or – properly – mudflats, and then up onto the promenade around the edge of the barracks. This brought them closer to the city proper, looming beyond the walls of what Prim said were the Cotton Godowns and the Victoria Bunder. Beyond the walls were rows of massive trees forming a demarcation between representatives of Her Majesty Abroad and everyone else.

The city was pleasingly unfamiliar in shape and smell. The rooftops were all red or covered in coloured tiles. They boasted tall spires or the occasional onion-shaped protrusion. It had its fair share of empire builders too – sky trains, massive rotary carriers, and evidence of other steam transport was everywhere, from rails to divots to cycle hooks. Unlike London, all these machines were decorated. The local sky rail, likely used for transporting goods from warehouses to shipyards up and down the peninsula, loomed high above the buildings. It too was at rest in the heat of the day, hanging from its one massive cable. It featured all the expected components – steam vents, smoke stacks, guidance arms – but it had been made to look like a large elephant. The elephant had huge ears made of brightly coloured animal skins and chains of fresh flowers and paper lanterns garlanded about its neck. Rue marvelled at how close this sky rail came to breaking the Clandestine Information Act, entering the realm of Forbidden Machines. The elephant component must be purely decorative and have no independent protocols, doing nothing more risky than running up and down its cables like any other delivery steamer – only prettier. Otherwise, surely it would have been destroyed.

Rue grinned. England had brought steam to India, but the locals were clearly insistent that steam be attractive. She liked it very much. It was irrepressibly cheerful, a word Rue doubted anyone had ever used to describe a sky train before.

Primrose, the aestheticist, clearly felt the same, for she revived out of her wilted state long enough to remark in wonder, pointing down near the water with her parasol. “Would you look at that? I think it’s a garment washer, but it looks like a monkey. Charming, quite charming.”


Rue pointed at the sky rail.

Prim gasped. “How lovely!”

A voice behind them said, “You admire our Ganesha, ladies?”

Rue and Prim turned to find themselves face to face with an officer in uniform and two customs officials. The officer looked youthfully good-natured but the customs men were sweating profusely and seemed unhappy at being forced to move around.

Rue and Prim curtseyed prettily.

Rue said, “My dear sirs, we do apologise for calling you out in such heat. Had we not been in need of a restock we should have waited to land until a more respectable hour.”

“No need to apologise,” replied the officer. “It happens regrettably often. The currents carry at their whims – science wills it so. If you ladies would step over to the shade just there? We can dispense with the paperwork as soon as may be.”

The two native gentlemen merely murmured, “Madam Sahib,” and allowed the officer to lead the social interchange.

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