Headmistress Alexeyevna Yakovlena of the Odynova Children's Workhome was a resolute woman. She had run the orphanage for the past 40 years, and intended to run it for the next 40 as well. She was tall and stern and grimly forbidding, as benefited a a woman of her position. She had been raised in the Odynova Home herself, the child of a night watchman and the clinic nurse, back when it had been an Eastern Orthodox charity for foundlings. She still revered God as she had been taught, and her sole regret in life was as a teen, that she had not been accepted into the Romanov Abbey as a nun. But she served as God called her to do: she ran Odynova Home with an unforgiving hand, and raised up her charges to be productive and pious souls, a credit to the workhome's reputation and to their future employers as well.
Yakovlena had four unshakeable beliefs:
First, in the necessity of absolute obedience.
Second, that all people were born into sin, and were base sinners by their very nature.
Third, that there was redemptive power in hard work and unquestioned service.
Fourth, that piety and chastity were God's commandments, and absolutely necessary for the salvation of one's soul.
Under the headmistress's unwavering direction, the Odynova Children's Workhome had been saved from financial dissolution, and how had a sterling reputation with the elite staffing agencies which provided qualified household help for the haut ton. Yakovlena took in orphaned or foundling children, and shaped them mercilessly into the hard-working, obedient and compliant servants. If she weren't a determinedly-humble woman, Yakovlena would have been proud of the waiting list of positions the Odynova had for their graduates as indentured staff among the rich and titled of society. Those few wretches who proved themselves failures to Yakovlena's merciless standards—well, she had a waiting list for them as well. Problems or those who were determined to deny salvation for their souls were shipped off as soon as they were of an age, to toil as laborers on Higgins Moon or the mines of Beggar’s Tin. Every graduate's signed contract into honest lives of hard work was a success for the Odynova Home; each success also contributed credits into the workhome's ledger, allowing Yakovlena to take in yet another wretched waif from the wicked streets of Persephone's numerous slums.
Yakovlena did not tolerate failure. And she did not tolerate disobedience. And above all else—she did not tolerate the willful damage miscreants might do to the hard-won reputation of the Odynova Children's Workhome. So when she answered a wave from the Westgate District lawkeeper, it was with a grim smile of pleasure on her face.
"Sergent Geller," she said, forgoing any useless social pleasantries. "Have you finally caught the child?"
"No, ma'am," the stout lawkeeper replied. He had a receding hairline, and a ferocious handlebar mustache to compensate—clearly a man in which the sin of Pride was dominant. "But a message just came through the system. She's been spotted up in the Northgate District. I've flagged her file; an homeless man injured in some street dispute reported her, albeit as his daughter. I called in a favor with some contacts in the Portmaster's Office, and got access to security cameras in a berth nearby. It is clearly your missing girl."
"Ah." Yakovlena understood the sergeant's unspoken message. His "favors" were costly. "I appreciate your kindness," she replied curtly—Gluttony was Geller's second-dominant sin, and they both knew that a fine bottle of 20-year-old New Canaan Earth-that-Was Kentucky Bourbon would find it's way to his doorstep, as a token of kindness in return. The Alliance monitored the bank balances of all lawkeeper officers—but the expensive whisky would remain untraceable. "This man—" Yakovlena said, shrewdly fishing for more information. "This man who claims to be her father—what of him?"
"He was treated by medical personnel on site, then released on his own recognizance," the sergeant reported.
Yakovlena frowned. She had a long, narrow face, and her expression was a hard one. "What is this man's name?" she demanded.
Geller looked down for a moment, consulting his work-slate. "One Tom Beartooth. No known address—the man is an indigent. The call was reported outside of the Wellington Plumbing and Jiang Feng Ironworks, on Longhouse Street."
"And this man claims to the girl's father?" The headmistress's voice dripped acid. "I want to file charges against this Beartooth. No doubt he has taken his liberties with the child; he has likely riddled her with drugs and disease and earns a living off of her body."
"There are no flags in the system on his account for sex trafficking," Geller replied. "Two minor thefts, but nothing more serious than—"
"I want this man arrested. Find the child. She will no doubt admit as much, once she's been brought home to us."
Geller shrugged. "As you wish. But understand, I'll be calling in favors with the officer in charge up at Northgate."
Yakovlena smiled. It was a thin, bitter expression, and held nothing of friendliness. "Once again, I appreciate your kindness. God will you repaid for your dedication to duty, and to the protection of those unable and unwilling to help themselves."
Geller smiled, no doubt in anticipation of the repayment he expected to see on this mortal plane. "I'll notify you as soon as the child comes into custody," he said.
Headmistress Yakovlena keyed off the wave. Jessa Doe had run away from the Odynova Children's Home several times, only this time, she had been missing for almost three months. The willful child was like a wild horse—only a horse's spirit could be broken. Yakovlena knew that Jessa's would be as well—once the prodigal child had been returned to face punishment. The headmistress sat for a moment, frowning at the dark monitor, then stabbed a long, bony finger at the comm button on her desk. "Yuri," she said. "Report to my office at once."
It was some few minutes before the workhome's handyman appeared. Yuri Brandt was a tall, broad-shouldered and powerfully built man, who took care of the physical maintenance of the Odynova's Children's Home. The scars on his face and beneath his dark sweater and dungarees spoke of the wider concerns he dealt with, as the headmistress deemed necessary.
"Jessa Doe has been spotted. In the Northgate, on Longhouse Street. She was in the company of a homeless man named Tom Beartooth. If Alliance law hasn't caught a run-away ten-year-old by now, they are unlikely to do so now. Go and get her. Bring her home. And if you can't find her—then find this Beartooth."
Brandt nodded, once and without question. He wasn't a man who wasted words, and she valued his versatility greatly.
Headmistress Alexeyevna Yakovlena watched her minion depart, and again smiled her grim, humorless smile. This Jessa Doe might be a stubborn and willful girl... but she was only a girl. She would be brought home again. And this time, Yakovlena would succeed in breaking her.