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Commedia of Sinking

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Venice was sinking into the sea. However, this was a common occurrence that drew not so much as a yawn from the lady in the Columbine costume. Her full skirts that hid so many various and sundry delights brushed through the snow somewhat to her dismay for San Marco Square was quite beset with pigeons. But such were the deeds a young woman might face for queen and country.

All around her in the square, the drawing room of Europe, the lines were sketched between the Austrian's at their rowdy cafe, quite the group of Captains, and the Venetians at theirs, each ready to play Leandro. However, Rebecca was here to find her Harlequin. As she entered San Marco, she slipped into a confessional booth, and also slipped with a snap out of her skirts and out the paneled door at the back. She smiled affectionately at the old carved wood. "Ah, secret passages. I do hope that it hasn't sunk below the water table." Not that it mattered. The rib structure of her hoops contained a quite delightful submersible lung, suitable for brief refreshing dips.

 

While elsewhere in the sinking city, Phileas had brought Jules to a most singular demonstration. Jules protested the entire way from Paris that he had several plays that were in mid-way to completion. Objections that Phileas greeted with a smile and slight raise of his right eyebrow over an appropriately poured glass of dry Sherry. "You'd think I was dragging you to your doom and not Carnival."

"I am not Catholic." Jules was quite firm on this subject, and a bit embarrassed in that he had hoped to ask Phileas to be his angel on at least one of his upcoming productions.

"I don't believe that is a requirement for the delights of Carnival." Phileas considered sipping his sherry, but decided on the direct approach so he might make a foray into the land of scotch. Alas, the demonstration of the mystical mechanical marvel of the Chinaman began. It was a rather overdone mannequin of a not particularly accurate Mandarin Gentleman on top of a box, which played chess by some sort of mechanical means.

Jules crouched next to it for all of five seconds and said, "You brought me all the way here to see a hoax."

"It's a mechanical marvel." Phileas was quite pleased with his switch to scotch, who as a race might seem overly given to Calvinistic glee, but distilled a fine breath of heaven, and fortunately for his cellar, had no skill at whist.

"It's a man in a box. There are magnets on the bottom of each of the chess pieces. Furthermore, this mannequin is a representation of gross imperialism." Jules crossed his arms in that rather delightfully naive way of his and turned up his nose at the marvel, which was quite worth the effort of the journey.

"It is no such thing." A man wearing a white uniform with a great many medals upon it puffed his chest out at Jules. Phileas could have told him that was not the way in with Jules.

"Pray tell are you?" Phileas eyes were lowered to half mast, which did not mean as much as it might have seemed.

The man puffed his chest again, "I am the Archduke Karl Ludwig, the brother to the Emperor himself, and the Chinaman belongs to me."

Which, sadly for the demonstration, is when nine ninjas popped out of the box under the Chinaman, which Phileas found to be really in the poorest of tastes. The assassins could at least have gone to the effort of dressing as samurai for some sort of ironic effect. Or perhaps something from the Comedia Dell 'Arte to tie in with Carnival.

Jules fell back, as was perhaps wise while the Ninjas swirled sticks at them. However, since Phileas could certainly not allow any harm to befall Jules while in his company, he shot them with a barely suppressed sigh. "It would seem," he said to the puffy Archduke, "That someone does not like you."

"No, we do not," said a very attractive woman dressed somewhat inappropriately as a Harlequin. She smiled at them and aimed a small dish shaped object at them.

"And what do you mean to do with that?" asked Phileas.

Jules got as far as saying, "Phileas," when the dish emitted a high pitched whine and Phileas found himself quite unable to stand or even remain conscious.

When he came to, he found himself tied to a stone pillar, with the Archduke, hip deep in water in some no doubt rat infested portion of Venice's underbelly. Jules was, in a matter of course, also tied up, and yet engaged in a very earnest discussion with Lady Harlequin about freedom, democracy and the rights of man (or woman). Jules had reached his penultimate point of rather charming proclaiming his belief in both the future and science, when Lady Harlequin was forced to cut the descant short, as she intended to kill them for some reason having something to do with getting rid of the evil Austrian boot on the Venetian neck or some such thing.

Phileas, who had been working his hands free throughout Jules' oration, worked on untying Jules and the still unconscious and rather heavy Archduke, as Lady Harlequin told Jules, rather tearfully he thought, that she was sorry, and then she locked the door and fled. At least she didn't shoot them with science again.

Phileas was considering the effort of knocking down the door, when Jules bent down by the door frame and quickly tapped the hinges with a brick. The hinges popped up. Jules grinned at Phileas. "Never lock someone in with the hinges on the inside." The door swung open.

"I shall keep that in mind for when I finally give way to my more nefarious bent." Phileas gestured for Jules to take the Archduke's head, while Phileas took his feet. On the other side of the door was a rather elaborate contraption of tubes, wires, gears, a clock that appeared to be going backwards, and a large shiny red button.

He was contemplating pushing the button, when Rebecca appeared from, of all the places, the locked room. She was rather dripping. She yelled, "No," and several other choice remarks, before unplugging a green cord. The clock stopped its spinning, rather naturally with only a minute to spare.

The Archduke woke up and completely failed to thank them for saving the Austrian Empire from becoming embroiled in a war of reprisals in Italy.

As they rested after their adventure on the Aurora with a slightly better quality of Scotch than had been available at the demonstration, Jules sighed. He said, "Do you think I'll ever see her again?"

Phileas and Rebecca exchanged glances. Rebecca threaded her arm through Jules' and said, "Oh, I'm sure she'll return to try and kill you again another day." Then she asked Passepartout to bring out some biscuits, which they ate while Venice continued to sink.

Which was not their problem at all.