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Her Majesty’s Eyes and Ears - Page 1: November 14, 2011 - December 19, 2011

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The Mettle of Yin
A Port in the Storm
The Impossible Challenge
Good Night, My Little Bird
A Few Failed Experiments
Probably Better

The Mettle of Yin

Entry for November 14, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

The two figures at the bottom of the grey-white granite tower were busying themselves around two dark-brown worktables that had been pushed together. Dr. Edmond Pogue, the young scientist-for-hire, had his right arm buried up to the elbow inside on a tarnished oval brass chassis, trying to unfasten the internal components of a still-operational leg component on an Electric-Powered Automated Crawling Transport, or EPACT. His assistant, Sarah Slate, who had been in his employment for less than a week, stood nearby holding a clipboard and a Birmingham fountain pen, and cataloging the parts that Dr. Pogue removed in extreme detail, so that the contraption could be reconstructed. The table was already littered with pieces of machinery, mostly brass, but all tagged for identification. She looked anxious to see the next piece to emerge, but to be fair, she had been anxious about every nut and spring that Dr. Pogue had carefully removed. Dr. Pogue seemed to be taking a few extra seconds this time, which made it hard for Sarah to be patient.

“Doctor, what do you think you’ve found?”

“It seems, Miss Slate, given the cramped area for this internal leg-structure-to-chassis connection, it called for something other than a hex nut, since there is no room to wield a wrench in this corner of the body cavity. The hardware feels like a wing nut, but with all my might, I can’t seem to loosen it with my fingers. It may have an internal spring to keep the connection under tension at all times, but I cannot feel a set screw or some other mechanism to free the tension or release an internal spring. Maybe if I can get a better angle ...”

Dr. Pogue removed his arm, which was surprisingly clean, given that he was reaching inside of a mechanism with many moving parts. However, as both scientists knew, brass was a wonderful metal for gears since it didn’t require any oil or grease lubrication, but instead acted as its own lubricant where brass met brass. This was one of the main reasons that brass was the preferred metal within clocks and watches.

Dr. Pogue then removed his lab coat, revealing a grey vest, a dapper French blue shirt, and striped blue and red silk bow tie. “The long sleeves are getting in the way, I’m afraid,” he added, and rolled up his sleeves on both arms for good measure. He then hopped up and sat on the table with his legs dangling off, and reintroduced his arm back into the body of the contraction.

Yin, Dr. Pogue’s faithful attendant, watched the undertakings from the landing at the top of the wrought iron staircase. She quietly crossed her arms and silently shook her head in disapproval.

Frustrated, Dr. Pogue again removed his arm, and mockingly growled and made a face at the brass object. “Doctor,” Sarah pleadingly offered, “perhaps I can give it a try. My hands are smaller than yours, and perhaps I’ll discover some way to extricate the fastener.”

Dr. Pogue flashed the “Sure, that would be fine” face at Sarah, and added verbally, “Be my guest.” He hopped off the table and she handed him the clipboard and pen. She climbed up onto the table in a sitting position, right where Dr. Pogue previously was. She sank her arm up to the armpit into the EPACT, and instantly started to make a series of eye movements, along with her tongue just slightly visible between her lips, both of which indicated which way her hand and fingers were working on the wing nut. Within a few seconds, she let out an “Ah-ha!” and produced the brass fastener with a flourish of her hand. “It was easy! There are only six degrees of freedom, and I figured I would try all of the unexpected ones given the nut’s shape. It turns out that a pushing and twisting motion works!”

“It is as if whoever constructed this contraption wasn’t using a standard set of tools. In fact, I’ve noticed that this entire construction is more reminiscent of da Vinci than Babbage or Faraday. The storage of energy is done primarily with springs, although these crude moist electrostatic cells are used to maintain a modicum of current. Now, let’s take a looks at those odd little platters ...”

Yin distinctly heard a tap-tap-scratch-scratch on the door. She looked down to make sure that the doctor and his aide were engrossed in their disassembly activities, verifying that they wouldn’t notice her retreat out of the tower. She scurried down the hall to the door, which she pulled open. Although it was ten o’clock in the morning in June, a late fog had settled in the area, giving a grey, unfocused backdrop to the scene at the door. Outside, standing on the stone entryway, was a bent-over man wearing a ragged, stained tunic that covered his head and torso.

She started the conversation. “We’re alone, but only for a few minutes. What news do you have?”

The figure before her stood up straight and slid his hood back a bit to reveal the face of Sergeant Fox. He spoke in hushed tones. “All went as planned. Ishild was captured alive. The Queen was satisfied enough to move forward with her plans. Drake agreed to Her Majesty’s deal.”

Yin nodded her understanding, but retorted, “There’s an issue. The doctor has unexpectedly employed a woman attendant - an American - who may not fit into the plans. Her name is Sarah Slate.”

“We’ll need to deal with that. I’ll pass the information along.”

With that, Sergeant Fox pulled his hood forward to hide his face again, hunched over again, and shuffled off into the fog. Yin closed the heavy door, but stood for a few seconds going over what she had heard. She then tightened her lips and nodded to herself, making sure that all that she heard was the good news it was reported to be. She then went to the kitchen to fix Dr. Pogue’s mid-morning cup of Darjeeling tea.

At the base of the tower, the scientific enquiry continued. Carefully holding two of the platters, Dr. Pogue examined their surfaces. To Sarah, he exclaimed, “Look at this! Delightful! The platters are as strong as metal, but made of something that won’t conduct electricity. And see these tiny holes? These are played like music box platters! Ho ho! Those fine wire brushes go over the surface as the platters rotate, passing a small electrical charge to the metal contacts below the platters, indicating which activity the brass creature executes. This diaphragm over here detects whistle tones, and controls which of the dozens of platters rotate. Different sets of platters can be rotated at the same time, causing a multitude of different movements to be executed in tandem. Its all quite simple enough, but gives the impression of deliberate acts, which is the not at all the case!”

Sarah smiled at his discovery. Dr. Pogue reached into the brass belly again, loosening a retention clip on a set of tiny pneumatic brass whistles. When doing so, he heard the sound of air rushing out of the whistles, but heard no tones. The other EPACT sprang to life, rapidly crawling out of its open crate, down to the floor, and climbed up onto the two worktables with its disassembled compatriot. Edmond and Sarah sprang back to give the creature room and to see what this EPACT could possibly be doing. Even though it only had three working legs, it gave its full effort to its new task. It reached inside the disassembled EPACT, feeling around quickly and precisely with the tips of its legs. It then started to explore the tabletop surrounding the EPACT, and discovered the parts that were laid out.

Then the most miraculous activity started. The operational EPACT, using miniscule pinchers on the tips of its legs, grabbed the parts in the correct order and started the process of reassembling the gutted EPACT. Sarah and Edmond stood and watched, both awestruck and amazed. The EPACT stripped the label off each part, and slid it into place without hesitation. The pace at which it performed this task was at that precise speed that one could see each step happening, but it was done at a rate so fast that it was hard to believe the assembly could be performed. It mesmerized the two scientists.

Suddenly, the operational EPACT started to just search the tabletop over and over. Dr. Pogue had a quizzical look on his face, and then realized that he was still holding the two platters. “Oh, yes, here you go,” and he held out his left hand placing the two platters near the edge of the tabletop. The operational EPACT lightly touched the surface of the platters a few times, verifying what they were and their location, and crawled an inch or two closer. It then wrapped two of its legs around the platters and Dr. Pogue’s hand. “No!” Edmond shouted, and pulled his hand back violently. This jerked the EPACT forward. Rather than letting go, the EPACT leapt up Dr. Pogue’s left arm.

Yin was preparing the tea service when she heard Dr. Pogue’s scream of pain, which was immediately followed by Sarah’s scream of shock. She was off like a shot, sprinting to the tower. She burst through the tower door, and dashed down the stairs. What she was presented with was Edmond with an EPACT latched onto his forearm, displaying razor sharp blades that had extended along the length of each leg. The EPACT was in the process of cutting gashes into the breadth of Edmond’s arm, from his biceps down.

Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake was sitting at his desk, trying his best to fit back into his job at Scotland Yard. He was wading his way through a stack of cases that had been placed on this desk since his departure the week before, and his heart wasn’t in it. Surely this wasn’t how the Queen saw him helping the empire. Then he flipped over the paper that he expected to see, but hoped he wouldn’t. It was a new case, open and shut within a couple days, of a chemistry professor that had devised an acid so strong it could liquefy any non-organic material, and he had created an acid bomb to be used against a rival university. He had planned to actually melt their chemistry building to the ground for some-such reason. Luckily he was apprehended, but the cause for the sudden change in the instructor was, of course, imbibing in Green Fantasy. Erasmus knew that he needed to do something to address this, and started to formulate a plan when his door opened and his superior, Bartholomew Horner, walked in.

Bartholomew neglected all niceties, and started the conversation with, “Let’s talk.” From there, they had a complex discussion where Bartholomew revealed that, yes, he knew that Erasmus was specifically requested for the regatta, and that it was clear that Bartholomew didn’t have any real choice in the matter when it was requested of him to send Erasmus. Bartholomew also revealed that he also had received notification that Erasmus might be called out for other assignments in the future. As Bartholomew put it, “When the Queen asked for Erasmus Drake, well, she gets what she wants.” The conversation ended quietly, and the men parted company. Erasmus thought about his upcoming dinner with Sparky, and how much we wished he were there now. Actually the dinner was with Sparky and Lord Ashleigh, but it was her that he was thinking about. Perhaps he would bring that bottle of port he owed Lord Ashleigh; that would help along the evening’s festivities.

In a single motion, Yin leapt and kicked the EPACT with the side of her foot, sending it flying across the tower, into the granite wall. It fell to the floor without any additional movement on its own. Yin pulled her linen kitchen towel from her pocket and wrapped it around Edmond’s arm tightly, to the point of his wincing. She bit the middle of the loose end of the towel, ripped it, and tied off her makeshift tourniquet. Without hesitation, she took a hold on Edmond’s good arm, his right one, and picked him up across her shoulders, in a manner that a member of a fire brigade might use, and took hold of his leg with her other arm for control and balance. She turned, and marched up the stairs in a display of strength that Edmond never would have guessed possible from this demure creature.

She immediately marched him out of the front door and into the street, shouting for a cabriolet. Not seeing one, she stepped in front of a cart drawn by two horses, and demanded that the driver take her and her charge to the Westminster Hospital. Her tone and determination won him over and she deposited the doctor in the back of the cart, hopped in, and off they went.

Sarah was shaking violently. She retreated until her back found the granite wall, and she sank down to the floor. What went wrong? What went wrong? She couldn’t comprehend the sudden turn of events. Her tears flowed freely down her face as she sobbed to herself.

A Port in the Storm

Entry for November 20, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

As Lord Ashleigh’s coach approached the curb outside his townhouse, McTrowell spotted a carter unloading several trunks, her trunks, the ones she had stored at Western & Transatlantic before departing for the inimitably eventful regatta. How did he do that? She was certain they had taken the most direct route from the airship port and that Virat hadn’t tarried. Logically, he could only have managed such timing if he had arranged for the trunks to be delivered in anticipation of her need for new lodging and her acceptance of his offer. She was beginning to feel rather like a pawn in a multi-layered game of chess. Although, the moves always seemed to land her in a more advantageous position, so she wasn’t sure she had grounds for complaint.

As they descended from the coach, Lord Ashleigh explained, “The guest room is on the third floor across from Anu’s room. I hope you will find her an acceptable maid. She was my mother’s favorite handmaiden at my father’s court before his death.”

“I don’t mean to seem ungrateful, but I haven’t much need for a maid.”

“You are so like my mother in such delightful ways. I look forward to introducing the two of you in the near future.” He stopped to pick up the mail from the console table by the front door and retired to his office to handle his personal affairs, whatever those might be.

She climbed slowly to the third floor, hoping that the luxuries of the house included a large tub. She wanted nothing more than a long, hot bath. The guest bedroom was quite generous with charming dormer windows facing the square. It was tastefully decorated, but neither feminine nor masculine. The only personal touch was a small oil portrait in a round frame on the dressing table. It showed a couple in sumptuous, richly colored Indian clothing, but the woman was fair. They were seated unusually close to each other for a formal portrait and smiling, as if being in the immediate company of the other was the most splendid possible situation in the world. These could only be Jonathan’s parents. Then it dawned on her that this must be the room that his mother used when she visited London. She felt doubly honored for the use of the accommodations.

Anu had opened all the trunks that weren’t locked. She hadn’t touched the contents that weren’t clothing; just left the trunks conveniently located where Sparky could reach them. She was just finishing up transferring the clothing to the wardrobe. “Would ma’am care for a hot bath?” Had she fallen in with a den of Indian mind readers?

“Yes, please. Thank you, Anu.”

Considerably refreshed from her bath, she stood in front of the wardrobe staring vacantly at her clothes. It felt odd to have the choice of all her clothing, though her wardrobe was somewhat limited for a woman of her means and more than half of it was strictly functional. She barely managed to assemble an outfit suitable for a leisurely dinner in a respectable home. Once dressed, she began looking through her other belongings. With the mystery of her mother’s situation resolved, the regatta behind her, and no new assignment on the horizon, she felt adrift. After twice inventorying her trunks without finding anything to capture her attention, she headed down to the sitting room to peruse Lord Ashleigh’s library. Surely there would be something interesting there. She had only scanned the first shelf of legal volumes when Virat materialized with the silver tea service. He poured her a cup of chai and left it on the small pedestal table next to the bookshelves, departing as silently as he had arrived. Right then, den of Indian mind readers it was.

She had just stumbled on a refreshingly graphic and brilliantly illustrated text written in a textual language she didn’t recognize, but whose physical tongue was unmistakably clear, when she hear a knock at the front door. She looked around the corner of the sitting room. Virat opened the front door to reveal a young Asian woman. Although the style and cut of her clothes suggested that she was of a neat disposition, she was somewhat disheveled at the moment and the front of her dress was stained with what Sparky’s experience led her to conclude was dried blood. She didn’t mean to stare, but that’s just what she was doing when the young woman made eye contact with her.

“You are Dr. Sparky McTrowell.” It wasn’t a question. “You are required at Westminster Hospital.”


“Chief Inspector Drake sent me.”

McTrowell felt her limbs go cold and numb. “What has happened to him?”

“Dr. Pogue’s life requires you.”

It took Sparky a moment to realize the implication that it was Edmond Pogue and not Erasmus Drake who was injured. She snapped back to normal. “Right away.” She dashed up the stairs two at a time. She snatched up her leather duster and Gladstone bag. She was back down the stairs and out the front door in less than a minute. The mysterious messenger was already waiting in a cab at the curb. The cab took off the instant Sparky boarded.

“I am Yin. I work for Dr. Pogue. He was attacked by one of the EPACTs. I have taken him to the hospital.” She stopped abruptly, folded her hands in her lap, and bowed her head with a hint of weariness. Sparky didn’t think she would get any more information out of her sudden acquaintance.

Nor was she surprised to find Drake waiting for her at the entrance to Westminster Hospital. She followed him in without prompting and he led her to the surgery. Drake cautioned, “I must warn you that his injuries are quite severe.”

“I’m a physician. I’m sure I have treated worse.” While her boast proved to be true, she had only treated a more severe maiming that was the result of a battle. Tragically, this was not how she had ever imagined her first meeting with Dr. Pogue would be, not that he was likely to remember it.

Drake was waiting for her when she exited the surgery. He offered the crook of his arm. “Your friend will live, but I had to amputate his arm. Anything less would have put his life at risk. I’m sorry.”

“I heard you say that my friend will live.” He lightly took her hand from his arm and kissed it. “Thank you.” He gave her a moment to grasp his appreciation. “I believe Lord Ashleigh is expecting us for dinner.” She just nodded. They bid a quiet farewell to Yin, and rode back to Berkley Square in silence.

Lord Ashleigh was waiting for them in the sitting room when they returned. He didn’t like the solemn looks on the faces of his friends when they entered. “Virat has told me some of what happened. My…resources have provided additional information. How is your friend, Dr. Pogue?”

“Dr. McTrowell has saved his life.”

“But at a terrible cost,” she added dejectedly.

“Perhaps you should ask him if he considers it a fair price when he recovers.”

Sensing that nothing more productive was to be said on the topic, Lord Ashleigh decided to change the subject. “I expect you’re both quite hungry. Dinner will be served in a few moments.”

“Yes, dinner. I had almost forgotten. A gentleman always pays his debts.” Drake reached inside his coat and produced a bottle of Porto Rocha.

“An excellent choice, my friend.” He punctuated the compliment with his customary smile and wink.

“I’m of a mind to smite both of you for the cheekiness of wagering on my honor. And, as it’s my honor, I don’t see why Lord Ashleigh is receiving the port instead of me.” Then she attempted to scowl at both of them, but it came out as more of a smirk.

Lord Ashleigh replied archly, “You received both the scarf and the return of the kiss, which I believe was more than satisfactory.” And he made no effort to hide the fact that he was smirking. “Besides, I intend to share the port.”

They passed the evening meal in companionable conversation, discussing various goings on of mutual interest in London. Lord Ashleigh kept mostly silent, allowing Erasmus to regale Sparky with his knowledge of the city. He simply enjoyed them enjoying each other’s company. When they retired to the sitting room, Virat had already poured three glasses of the port. Ashleigh raised his glass, “To an unloseable bet.” Sparky didn’t even attempt to scowl this time.

They were nearing the bottom of their glasses when Drake asked McTrowell, “How are you finding your new accommodations?”

“Delightful. The room is quite spacious and has wonderful light. It’s on the third floor, right above Lord Ashleigh’s.”

“The most secure location in the house,” added Lord Ashleigh. The remark was directed at Drake and Ashleigh wasn’t smiling. She glanced between the two of them.

Sparky set her glass down and rose to her feet. “It also has a large bed that looks quite comfortable, and I think I shall avail myself of it. Good evening, gentlemen.” They both rose and Drake kissed her hand with a familiarity that suggested he had been doing it for years.

“Good night.”

Her nightgown was laid out on the bed and Anu appeared as soon as Sparky entered the guest room. “May I be of service, ma’am?”

“No, thank you, Anu. Good night.” Anu crossed the hall to her room and shut the door. Sparky stood staring out at the lights of London for a few more minutes when she noticed the light under Anu’s door go out. She closed her own door, changed into her nightgown, and dropped into the bed. It was as comfortable as it looked.

She had expected to fall right to sleep from the exertions of the day, but her mind was racing, going back over everything that had happened over the last few weeks. She listened to Lord Ashleigh bid Erasmus good night and turn in for the evening. She heard Virat tidying up on the first floor, locking up, and then climbing to his room on the second floor, below Anu’s and across from Lord Ashleigh’s. The house was asleep except for her. She was restless like the city outside her windows.

She began doing multiplication tables in her head to try to get her mind off higher, more vexing matters. She was just getting to nines, her favorite, when she was jarred back to wakefulness by the sound of soft footfalls on the stairs between the second and third floors. She breathed slowly and evenly, and opened her eyes just enough so she could see, but not enough that someone could see her eyes. She replayed in her head the sounds she had heard earlier. There was no way there was anyone on the second floor except Lord Ashleigh and Virat. What was this treachery?

She heard the latch to Anu’s door open. She slipped out of bed as quickly and silently as she could manage and went to her own door. She pressed her ear to the door and heard Anu’s door close softly. Still doing her best to maintain her stealth, she opened her door, tiptoed across the hall, and put her ear to Anu’s door. She heard voices. She couldn’t understand what they were saying, both because they were speaking a language she didn’t know, but also because they were speaking in whispers. She had only ever heard Virat speak a few words, but she was certain the voice wasn’t Lord Ashleigh’s. Despite her inability to understand the words, the tone of the conversation was clearly affectionate. How could Jonathan not know about such a clandestine assignation in his own house?

She heard the male voice say, “
Śubha rātri, mērē chōṭē pakṣī.

The Impossible Challenge

Entry for November 28, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

The heavy wooden door slammed in the entranceway and Sarah jerked her head up. How long had she been sobbing? And had she fallen asleep from the exhaustion of doing so? She looked around the laboratory with her red-ringed gloomy eyes. Nothing was moving. No EPACTs were trying to kill her. But the doctor was gone. And she had done nothing to help.

Yin appeared at the top of the spiral staircase and bolted down at the speed that she had earlier that morning when Dr. Pogue was in desperate need of assistance. She approached Sarah with an air of conviction to which Sarah was unaccustomed, and it added to her frightened state. Her hands uncontrollably went into a defensive posture.

“Get up, Miss Slate. I need you now.” Yin’s speech pattern was quick and sharp, and her words came faster than Sarah was used to, having grown up in Aspinock, Connecticut.

“Beg your pardon?” Sarah stammered out, trying to get her mouth to work correctly after all of her sobbing.

“Get up and come with me. Dr. Pogue needs your assistance. Bring your notebook and pen. You’ll need it.”

Yin took Sarah by the hands, abruptly helped her to her feet, and practically lead her by the arm to her note-taking tools. Yin then guided Sarah to the stairs, up out of the tower, and out of the front door, all the while explaining the situation with Dr. Pogue.

“When we arrived at the hospital, most of the surgical staff was at a medical symposium. I put Dr. Pogue under immediate care of the nursing staff and went to Scotland Yard and asked Chief Inspector Drake for assistance. He recommended Dr. McTrowell, an excellent field surgeon. I was able to get to her residence and immediately acquire her assistance. She spent three hours addressing Dr. Pogue’s wounds, and was forced to amputate his left arm just above his elbow.”

“Oh my! How…dreadful!” Sarah stammered out while being lead to a waiting cabriolet. “How absolutely dreadful! What sort of help did you wish for me to provide?”

“Simply put, I need Dr. Pogue whole again. You and I will design a new working arm for him.” With a light push, Yin guided Sarah into the vehicle, and then followed her in.

“What?!?” Sarah couldn’t comprehend the request. It was stated so simply, as if she was being asked to help prepare a family meal. “I’m sure there are a number of prosthetics on the market…”

Both Yin and Sarah were now sitting in the cabriolet, facing each other, as the vehicle moved along smartly. Yin’s face was gravely serious, more so than it had ever appeared to Sarah before, and Yin repeated her words.

“I need Dr. Pogue whole again. He must be able to continue his work at the same level of capability and preciseness. I need you to do your part in making this happen.”

Sarah was stunned. Her first thoughts were to be excused and to return home to Connecticut. She didn’t have the schooling to improvise machinery. This was not her cause. Then she thought about Dr. Pogue’s influence on her training, and how she had devoured his papers. And that he was sitting on the worktable just this morning, and how he was now lying in the hospital, crippled.

She pulled herself up and with a sober tone asked, “How is he now?”

“He is sleeping off the ether Dr. McTrowell used to anesthetize him. He may be awake, but groggy, by the time we get to the hospital.”

“Very well, I will see through this endeavor. But …,” she was hesitant to ask the obvious. “How can
you assist?”

Yin sat up straight. “I was one of Dr. Pogue’s top students when he taught at University. He asked me to assist him when he left and took up his private practice, and I have been doing so for the past three years. Most of the papers that you have read from Dr. Pogue have my name on them. I am his co-author, Dr. Young.”

“Oh my! My apologies!”

“No offence taken. Dr. Pogue saw your interest and hired you on to help. Two assistants are one too many. He asked me to take a ‘break’ for a while, giving you the freedom to expand your horizons. I needed the rest. We were not trying to deceive you. I have been impressed with your knowledge. We now need to put it to work. We have arrived at the hospital. Watch your step.”

Ashen. That was the word that Sarah couldn’t get out of her head when she saw Dr. Pogue’s complexion. It was obviously due to blood loss. It made him look like a ghost of the Dr. Pogue that she had previously known, and she wondered if she would ever meet the previous version of Dr. Pogue again.

He was lying in a hospital bed. White sheets. White room. The smells of medicine and soap. His sheet and blanket were pulled up to his neck, sparing Sarah the view of his missing arm. His glasses were off, adding to the effect of him looking not quite right. His eyes opened slowly, and he licked his dry lips. A squint, and he rasped, “Yin? Yin? Could you put on my glasses? I can’t see a bloody thing.”

Yin scooped up his glasses off a side table and placed them on his face. Despite her best efforts, they looked a bit crooked.

Edmond continued, “Am I in the hospital? If they used ether, which I can still smell, it knocked me out cold!”

Yin didn’t sugar-coat the news. “Doctor. They had to amputate the arm.”

Dr. Pogue didn’t even flinch. “I feared as much. When I saw the sharp edges on those legs, I knew I was done in. Is Sarah all right?”

“I am here. I am unhurt.”

Sarah was on the other side of the bed, and Edmond tried his best to look in her direction just using his eyes, giving away the fact that he wasn’t ready for head movement yet.

Yin’s serious look returned. “Dr. Pogue, we need to talk privately. I am going to ask Sarah to step out for a moment, and then have her return when we are finished.”

“Well…of course,” agreed Edmond, even though he wasn’t sure what was to be discussed.

“Sarah, if you could, it would be much appreciated,” Yin requested. Sarah was surprised by the politeness, after the austere conversation in the cabriolet. Yin held open the door for her, and after Sarah passed through it, it quietly closed.

Sarah wasn’t one to dawdle away her time. She spent the next ten minutes walking the hall and thinking about how such a mechanical arm might be built, controlled, and fastened to a living person. Weight issues. The number of degrees of freedom of movement, and how to provide power to each. She only ended up with a mental checklist of things to be resolved rather than making any real progress when the door reopened.

Yin was smiling and motioned her in. “Sarah, let us take some preliminary measurements.” The three of them worked together into the night until the nurses shooed the two women away so that Dr. Pogue could get some rest.

Erasmus checked his pocket watch right after leaving Lord Ashleigh’s flat. Eleven minutes after the hour of ten. Even at this hour, he preferred to walk the streets of London rather than hailing a carriage. Tock, tock, tock; Erasmus’ cane made its usual strident meter on the cobblestone sidewalk. Walking gave Erasmus time to think and observe. Supper with Sparky and Lord Ashleigh was wonderful, and he enjoyed breathing the night air while rolling over the evening’s conversation in his mind. London was still abuzz with its pubs and eating establishments going strong, some with music and song, others filled with laughter from bawdy stories, and still others with quiet polite company dining at white linen tablecloths with flickering table candles, just visible through well-kept windows and lacy curtains.

After a half hour of walking, Erasmus saw an unexpected sight. On the other side of the street was an apothecary, fully lit for business, with a number of customers inside. This scene just didn’t look right to the Chief Inspector at this hour of the night. His curiosity got to him. He crossed the street.

The bell on the door tinkled as if it were mid-day when Erasmus entered. The other patrons gave him a quick look, but went right back to their business. Five bleary-eyed men, queued up at the register, begrudgingly waiting their turn. Erasmus hung back in the aisles to see what was making these men have a late night shopping spree at this establishment.

The clerk behind the counter looked tired. “How many bottles?” he asked in a manner that indicated that this was the ump-teenth time that he has asked that question today.

“Two, and make it quick.”

The clerk reached down and pulled two bottles of Green Fantasy from somewhere under the counter. He clunked them on the counter, and money exchanged hands. This process, with some minor variation on the number of bottles, repeated itself for the next four customers and another two that came in while the original transactions were taking place. Erasmus was indeed shocked to see this product being sold openly, and at a rate that would have made any bar happy. After the last customer left, Erasmus approached the clerk.

“How many bottles?” the clerk asked in the same noncommittal tone.

“Evening, sir. I am Chief Inspector Drake, Scotland Yard. May I ask a few questions?”

“Ask away. I have nothing to hide. And if you’re asking about my feet, they are ready to fall off. I’ve been on them for twelve hours, and I’ve got another half hour to go.”

“Why are you open so late? And when did it become legal to sell Green Fantasy?”

“I never heard that it was not legal to sell. We sell all sorts of controlled medications here. But as long as the purchasers are of age, you know, adults, we can sell it to them. Most of the customers for these bottles come at night, so I have been staying open until eleven o’clock. I’m going to have to hire someone to spell me if this keeps up.”

“May I ask how many bottles you’re selling?”

“Well, I’ve sold about 400 bottles today. I’m getting a new shipment in tomorrow.”

Erasmus was visibly stunned. Knowing what a small glass of Green Fantasy had done to him, what was the effect of pouring all of this drug-laced absinthe into London? He made a plan to hunt down Mr. Alistair Bennington Rutherford and find out why this “elixir” was getting distributed so freely, and his obvious concerns regarding it.

“Well, do you want a bottle?” the clerk asked innocently.

Erasmus’ first thought was to immediately reject the idea. “…Uh…er…no…” That was far too hard to say. It was as if his mouth and mind were not really in agreement, but his mind won this time.

“Suit yourself. Evening, Chief Inspector.”

“And a good evening to you, sir.” Erasmus turned, crisply slapped his bowler back onto his head, and walked out of the shop. He was upset. He wished he could stop this commerce, but wasn’t sure it was in his power or part of his job. He headed toward the Olde Cheshire Cheese and his flat, thinking, “Mr. Rutherford and I will be having a most serious conversation!”

Good Night, My Little Bird

Entry for December 4, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Sparky felt as if she were trapped in a permanent nightmare state or the world had stopped turning, but the night dragged on forever. Every time she opened her eyes again, it seemed as if no time had passed. When she opened them for what she judged must have been the twentieth time, she was relieved to see that neither of her fears were to realized; the light was starting to change. Unfortunately, it meant she would be facing a busy day with almost no sleep.

So it was that she was awake when the door across the hall opened and closed quietly, and the sound of soft footsteps receded down the stairs. Well, there was one of the first matters of business for the day. She lay there listening for a few more minutes. As she expected, the door opened a few minutes later and she heard Anu go in and out of the washroom. She also headed downstairs a few minutes later. Sparky decided to stay in bed for a few more minutes. She didn’t want to reveal that she was already awake. Perversely, the next thing she knew was that she heard sounds in the washroom again and the sun was higher in the sky. After not being able to sleep all night, she had fallen asleep as soon as she intended to get up. She rattled her head back and forth a few times to clear out the cobwebs and made for the washroom herself.

Anu had just filled the basin with hot water and set out fresh towels. The third floor washroom was tight quarters so there was no getting around Sparky as she stood in the doorway.

“Good morning, Anu,” she said as brightly and nonchalantly as possible. It was a good thing she was a skilled pilot and surgeon, because she was not a very good actress.

“Good morning, ma’am,” said the crown of Anu’s head.

“It looks like it’s going to be a sunny, beautiful day today.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Although Sparky was a fairly petite woman by western standards, Anu was even shorter. Sparky had to lean over sideways to see Anu’s face.

“Are you quite well, Anu?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Although she seemed discomfited by the questioning, she didn’t display the level of distress Sparky would have expected from the victim of a terrible assault. But then Sparky couldn’t claim to be an expert on the Indian way of thinking or acting. She let Anu pass.

Cleaned up and dressed for a day’s work, she joined Lord Ashleigh in the dining room. He’d already eaten a few bites of his breakfast, but he was mostly focused on consuming the day’s news. Virat materialized to pour Sparky a cup of chai and she avoided looking at him.

“Good morning, my dear friend. What would you like for breakfast?”

“I’m actually not very hungry and I must get to the hospital to attend to Dr. Pogue.”

“I’m sure Dr. Pogue will appreciate your dedication, but it would be unwise to proceed on such a strenuous endeavor without benefit of breakfast. At least that is the advice I hear from medical professionals.” He winked at her over the top of his newspaper.

“Very well.” Virat disappeared, presumably to fetch her morning meal. “Lord Ashleigh, I must speak to you about a delicate private matter of considerable urgency.”

He put down his paper and smiled broadly at her. “Does this involve Chief Inspector Drake?”

“No, I hope not, but I fear it may.” Ashleigh looked very confused. “It concerns Virat and Anu.”

Ashleigh let out a booming laugh. “I’m pleased to see that I didn’t underestimate you. You’ll be just perfect.”

Now it was Sparky’s turn to be surprised. “I beg your pardon. Whatever do you mean?”

“I will explain later. Please continue.”

She turned over his two previous remarks in her head a few times and could make no sense of them, so she proceeded.

“As I lay awake last night, I heard someone enter Anu’s room. I’m almost certain that it was Virat. You have not mentioned that they are married, and I would expect that, if they were married, they would share a room. I attempted to question Anu this morning, subtly, but she acted as if nothing had happened. I suspect that she is too frightened to report a crime as she is a foreign woman in this country and probably has no reason to trust that she will receive justice, but rather would find herself without home or employment. Regardless, a crime is a crime.”

“Dr. McTrowell, first let me assure you that no crime has been committed and that Anu is completely unharmed. I will explain, but first you must swear that you will never repeat what you heard last night, nor what I am about to tell because I assure you Anu’s very life depends upon it.”

She nodded in agreement. The door opened and Virat appeared with Sparky’s breakfast. She and Ashleigh sat in silence until he left again.

“Virat’s family has served my father’s family for generations. Virat was like a beloved younger brother to my father. They played together. They studied together. They trained together as soldiers. My father trusted Virat as he trusted no one else. By the time of my birth, my father knew the true nature of his first wife and her son, Vijay Deva, of whom you have heard me speak before. The instant that my father heard that I was a boy, he summoned Virat and charged him with my constant care and protection, knowing that my life would always be in danger. He told Virat, ‘Teach him the ways of all weapons, both steel and human, that he may survive when we are both ashes.’”

“The nobility of his service to you and your father does not excuse what he has done.”

“A little patience, good doctor; you have not yet heard Anu’s story. As a young girl, she was sold to my father’s household by her poor parents from the country. She was treated like a stray dog by the women of the household, which broke my mother’s gentle heart. She took Anu as her personal handmaiden. I expect she felt some empathy for Anu’s position as a young woman far from her home. When the other women weren’t around, she would share her favorites treats with Anu. She would wear a magnificent sari once or twice, announce that “it didn’t suit her complexion,” and then alter it to fit Anu. Of course this only served to make the other women of the household more angry and jealous, but there was nothing they could do because my mother was not my father’s first wife, but she was my father’s favorite wife, and Anu enjoyed her protection.

My mother is not the sort of woman to let someone else raise her children. Although I had a nursery, I often played in her quarters. She attended my lessons, sitting quietly in the corner embroidering while I conjugated French verbs. She read me German fairy tales and showed me English picture books so I would know about her family and history. So, you can see that Virat and Anu were in each other’s company almost daily. I would sometimes see them looking at each other, and my mother smiling at the situation, but I didn’t understand.

My mother’s generosity and care for Anu’s health and grooming had the predictable effect of causing a skinny, dirty village girl to bloom into a beautiful, graceful young woman. Virat was not the only one to take notice. My older half brother began to covet Anu. He demanded her for his harem because of course she was not highborn enough to be his wife. Only my father’s love for my mother kept Anu out of his clutches. By this time I had matured enough to recognize the characters in this drama. The servants in the maharaja’s court may not marry without his permission. My father could not give that permission without defying his heir’s desires and incurring the wrath of his first wife. Theirs was a political marriage. She was the daughter of the maharaja of the neighboring kingdom. Keeping peace with her was essential to keeping peace with her father.

We were at a stalemate. My mother and I conspired to give Virat and Anu time alone together, but there was only so much we could do. They could never be truly alone, because if they were discovered, it would have cost Anu her life and Virat would certainly have been exiled. And there was the ever-present threat of war with my half brother’s grandfather. My mother and I prayed that Vijay Deva’s attention would wander.

And then the unthinkable happened; my dear father died suddenly and unexpectedly. No sooner had my half brother ascended to the throne than he demanded that my mother surrender Anu. My mother pleaded that she was in mourning for my father and that losing the company of her beloved handmaiden would be too much, but this excuse only forestalled the inevitable and further infuriated him. I should also say that Virat would no longer leave my side for any reason, fearing for my life. A fortnight after the coronation, I went to bid my mother good night as was my usual practice. The instant that her other servants weren’t looking, quick as lightning he leaned over and whispered something in her ear. Just as rapidly, he regained his former pose. Although I had no idea what message he had delivered to my mother, his training had firmly impressed upon me the knowledge that I should behave as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. My mother moved as if to stand, and then slumped back in her chair.

‘Dearest Jonathan, I fear I have completely exhausted myself with the trials of the last few weeks. Would you and Virat be so kind as to aid me in reaching my bedchamber.’ Virat and I each supported her under her arms to guide her to the next room while Anu followed solicitously behind as always.

No sooner had Anu closed the bedchamber door behind us than Virat whispered to my mother, ‘Ma’am, I have heard whispers among the servants that Maharaja Vijay Deva has lost his patience with your stalling. Your very life is in danger.’ She nodded sadly. I heard Anu sob behind us.

‘Very well,’ my mother replied, ‘I will do what must be done.’ We exited her bedchamber because to stay any longer would have been to reveal that something was amiss.

The next day at court, my mother approached my half brother as he was granting audiences. ‘Maharaja, I acquiesce to your expressed desire.’ I’m rather proud to say that she made the word ‘desire’ sound like the filthy thing it was. ‘As Anu will have no more opportunities to visit her brothers and sisters, I request your permission to take her back to her village for a final visit.’ She also made ‘final visit’ sound like a death sentence.’ To deny such a reasonable request would have been to reveal his avarice, so he agreed.

As my mother was departing the room, Virat said to me, ‘Deva Raya, as your mother will be away in the country, perhaps you would you like to go tiger hunting.’ I was so stunned by this suggestion that I almost forgot all his training, but he had used the tone of voice that signals, ‘ask no questions; all will be explained.’

I recalled my training and replied as expected, ‘Yes, that would be thrilling.’

When we were safely in my quarters he explained. ‘Your mother is preparing to escape with Anu. She is going to Anu’s village to get a head start.’

‘How do you know this?’

‘You are not the only one whom your father had educated in the ways of the court.’

‘Then why aren’t we going with her?’

‘That would raise suspicion. She will take several days to prepare and pack, secreting the most valuable of your father’s gifts to her. You and I must leave at daybreak. Pack only those things most precious to you. The rest you will never see again.’

‘Why am I taking my precious belongings on a tiger hunt?’

‘We are not going tiger hunting. I have signaled to your mother that we will aid in her escape. We must leave immediately to secure safe passage to England before your brother suspects anything. If we fail, it will cost all of us our lives.’

At that moment I became a man and understood my father’s sacred charge to Virat. He had foreseen such circumstances and put this plan in motion even before I was born.

The rest of the tale is mostly concerned with logistics. We have arrived at another stalemate. My mother and I maintain the fiction that Anu is with her in Kirk-Linton while Virat is here in London with me. My mother writes once a year to my half brother that she is in poor health, which she is not, and that the company of Anu is the only thing that keeps her alive. As my mother is an English subject of noble birth, my half brother cannot very well petition Her Majesty for the return of something so inconsequential as a servant. Unfortunately, if Anu and Virat were to be married in a manner that would be acceptable to our culture, my half brother would almost certainly hear of it. For such an offense, he could petition Her Majesty and I fear there is nothing I could do to protect Anu.

So they live as husband and wife in my house under my protection. And now they are under your protection as well.”

Sparky thought about this charge for a moment. She had been entrusted with many secrets in her life, but none more precious than this one.

She looked up from her cup of chai, savoring the romantic heroism of the story, smiled and said, “
Virat used to say a great deal more.

A Few Failed Experiments

Entry for December 14, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

Erasmus adjusted his gold and black cravat in the mirror and deftly pinned it in place to his starched white wing-tip collared shirt. He slipped on his black vest, buttoned it, and walked across his sizable room to complete his outfit with his black frock coat. The gas lamp near his doorway provided a steady yellowish light throughout the studio. Before donning his badge, he turned and looked about, wondering if Dr. McTrowell would find it homey, or empty and drab. Perhaps it could use a few more pictures, and more places to sit. And his living above a noisy pub, what would she think of that? Hard to say. Being from the Americas, and from the wilds of California, it would be difficult to determine if she would mind it at all. On the other hand, she has done a great deal of traveling about the world, and might find it bourgeois. Although she had never shown those types of airs and was rather down-to-earth. Perhaps he should buy an exotic rug to show that he was refined but not stuffy, and a rug might muffle some of the sound from downstairs.

Erasmus pondered about the room with his new way of looking at it for awhile, mentally rearranged it with new furnishings a few more times. Finally, shaking his head, he slipped his chained badge over his head, took his bowler and cane in hand, stepped out into the hall, and quietly closed the door.

Erasmus walked a great deal and practiced his fencing to the point where he had gained a good deal of strength, and size, to his legs. This meant that each morning he made the decision if he was going to scamper noisily down the hall stairs, tramp down them with authority, or quietly steal down them with restraint. Because he was in a pensive mood, with both Sparky and Mr. Rutherford on his mind, he thought the best approach was to proceed quietly, and allow his head to continue on with its thinking.

The Olde Cheshire Cheese wasn’t open for business yet, not being a morning food or drink establishment. Erasmus normally passed through the door at the bottom of the hall stairs, rounded the corner, left the Olde Cheshire Cheese by its front door, and relocked it after he left. Today he rounded the corner toward the main entrance and was stopped in his tracks by the uttering of a single word, syrupy and slow, which strangely commanded attention.


Erasmus turned and, without surprise, saw Mr. Alistair Bennington Rutherford sitting at one of the dining tables, alone, well dressed in a full suit and totally at ease within his surroundings, legs crossed, fingers interlaced and resting on his uppermost knee. Erasmus walked toward him without hesitation, but he was more drawn by Alistair’s unvoiced request for him to join him rather than his own desire to hash out his concerns with the man’s business dealings.

Before he sat down, Erasmus noticed that Alistair looked more mature, wiser, and self-assured than he did a week or so ago. He exuded a sense of calm that filled the entire pub. As before, he caused Erasmus to feel slightly uncomfortable with his own internal sense of hazard and risk, given that the man showed no outward or hidden menace or entrapment.

Erasmus slipped into the chair across the table from Alistair, placing his bowler and cane on the table. Alistair’s movements seemed trance-like, if he made any movements at all. There wasn’t a fidget or lean to show that he wanted to say something important; he simply followed Erasmus with his eyes. Erasmus felt that he was sitting with a strange beast that neither cared nor worried about his presence, but watched him simply because he was the most interesting thing in the room at the time. This caused Erasmus to relax. His breathing slowed. He became more aware of the sounds within the room – the sound of the gas lamps’ subtle hissing and the minute creaks of the floor from the morning temperature change – while the sounds in the street disappeared from his ears. The room containing the two men was the only thing that mattered.

Alistair spoke. “We need to talk.” Pause. “We need to see this enterprise progress together.”

Erasmus tipped his head slightly to indicate his upcoming inquiry. “Why me?”

“You are unique.” Pause. “You see and you understand.” Pause. “You are not blinded by … the power, the control.”

“Why would you say that?”

“Simple observations. Our interactions in your room. My contact with Sam Colt and his description of your letter. Your resistance to misuse of my elixir. The treatment of Professor Farnsworth’s situation. Your concern over the line of customers at the apothecary last night. Your innate sense of order that you are willing to set aside and still have a civil conversation. You are unique, Erasmus. I would like to discuss with you the direction of the future.”

Erasmus realized that Alistair must have talked to the apothecary clerk late last night or early this morning. And he communicated with Sam Colt? Now this is a thorough man, to have followed up on the conversation regarding the Pocket 1849 revolver.

“Well, I am concerned about the product you are selling. Its effect on your customers is visible and disconcerting.”

“I want you to understand my approach. I apologize that it is philosophical in nature, and a bit early in the morning for such musings that are traditionally reserved for late night brandies and cigars. My studies and research have come to a singular approach of which I would like to hear your impression. Allow me to set the stage.”

Alistair rose to his feet and took the posture of a professor that was about to unleash his standard daily lesson, with included a cock-sure stance that was traditionally reserved for a cut-and-dry lecture on science or math fundamentals. He started, obviously enough, from the root of his thinking.

“We are in a transitional period, moving from an agricultural age through an artistic renaissance into an age of industry and science. The world is now divided into those peoples that are making this transition and those that are not. A divide will form where nations that use manpower or crude machines to get access to food and resources will be left in the literal dust of those that are applying industrial-level muscle and processes to move their goods, and thereby their economy, forward.”

The pause that followed was clearly not to give Alistair time to think, but to make sure that Erasmus was right in step with what had been stated so far. He proceeded after a quick glance at Erasmus’ face.

“Technical innovation will fuel the nations that have embraced the age of industry. Engineers and scientists will drive the transformations, while mankind will be tool builders and maintainers rather than beasts of burden. All tasks will become more and more automated. Communication and shipping will quicken to the pace that are not even imaginable now. Companies and nations will realize that having all the world’s people raised to this level of advancement will be better for all economies rather than have severe technical divergence between peoples. I could go on and on about how this will be mankind’s self-supported advancement, but the important characteristic is this …” He paused again and locked eyes with Erasmus for emphasis.

“We have previously enslaved our fellow man both directly and indirectly for manual labor. A horrible misuse of our brethren. The society that has the greatest technical advancement will be the first to pull itself forward into the future. But the scientists are the backs on which these advancements need to be made. My goal is to provide the elixir that allows these men and women to speed along this path. We must make sacrifices to get to this future.”

Erasmus squinted and tipped his head slightly again. “You are sacrificing your customers to get to a better world state?”

“Ah, you misunderstand me from a statistical point of view. I have improved the elixir since you have been out of London. The issues previously seen involved approximately one quarter of the clients. Now only one in ten suffer the ill effects, and the ability of the elixir to lubricate the mind is still fully present. But even those that have issues still contribute greatly to the technical cause; their discoveries and inventions are just as usable for the future as those that had no ill effects. Unlike the misuse of manual laborers, where the spent shell of an oppressed man did not improve the lot of his fellow worker, each engineer and scientist leaves a legacy of advancement that others can further improve upon. At a societal level, it is a just price to pay.”

“You are probably right,” Erasmus flatly stated, to which Alistair made a faint smile. “However,” Erasmus continued, “you may be fueling a new social class of technocrats that will not use their discoveries to improve the world, but rather use them to fuel a strata of the those that can dominate the laborers, and perhaps control the flow of capital and attempt to topple monarchs to gain the power over others. You cannot count on the ubiquitous goal of a better life for all by those with knowledge and power.”

“Bravo, Erasmus. You have read your Marx and Engels. I like how you wove in the struggles between the classes. What I have left out is that engineers and scientists rarely act as a class, but rather let the goal of innovation drive them forward. A rare few want to control others with their inventions, but that type of control requires social interaction. Typically, they abhor it. Give them an intractable problem, they are happy. Give them people to govern and provide for, and they recede back into their laboratories. The real issue is how those that want power will misuse the technology, is it not? And that is not something we are solving today. I will be working that issue tomorrow.”

“You are willing to act on your ideals, but I am concerned about your execution. I have seen your Green Fantasy customers and it doesn’t bode well for the future. They shuffle about, single-mindedly seeking your ‘elixir.’ They are building dangerous inventions to fight off their demons. This doesn’t build a better society, Alistair.”

“A few failed experiments. I will help them via other potions I will create. Like Professor Farnsworth. I will help them as I will him. Meanwhile, I have improved the elixir. You don’t see the thousands of customers that have increased their mental capability and capacity over the last week. London will be the birthplace of expedited technology.”

Erasmus smiled. “You may be an optimist, but I hope you see things as others will. A son of a wealthy Baron, selling a product that causes many to become dependent on it. You may as well be slapping a colorful label on laudanum, morphine, or powdered opium and selling it without cautions. You speak of a better world, and yet, it looks worse in the present due to your efforts. Alistair, the product isn’t ready for the world. You will create a great misfortune. You must try to put the genie back in the lamp.”

“This is why I discuss these things with you, Erasmus. Your advice is pedestrian, but your reading of the everyman’s opinion is helpful. I was able to convince the association of apothecary owners to accept my elixir, and I will resolve these minor setbacks. I will see this through. Thank you for the conversation. You may go now.”

Erasmus was shocked at being dismissed. He had hoped to talk sense into Alistair to halt the sale of this product for all of the obvious reasons. Instead, he was disregarded. But the reality was that reason wasn’t enough to sway Alistair. Erasmus stood and declared, “Alistair, you give me little choice but to take action as a constable of London to stop the sale of Green Fantasy. I …”

Alistair cut him off mid-speech. “That is not going to happen, my good man.” During this pronouncement, Alistair swung a single finger in a lazy arc to show his dismissal of the issue. “There is nothing illegal about this commerce, my aspirations, or my principles. I appreciate you wanting to play the foil, out of misapplied convictions, and it would be entertaining to have you as a nemesis, but I’d rather you remain a friend and see me though this. We have much to do.”

Erasmus stood in shock while Alistair retook his seat. How could he be part of this endeavor? Should he help or hinder? Should he venture outside the law to stop him? Or find some minor legal reason to shut down his industry? Or, worse, was Alistair fundamentally correct? And finally, how could Alistair possibly consider him a friend?

“I will take my leave, but I want the conversation to continue, Alistair. We do have much to do to sort this out.” Alistair made a faint nod to acknowledge Erasmus’ statement.

Erasmus’ bowler found his head, although it sat a bit higher than usual due to Erasmus’ still swollen head and taped dressing over his healing wound. His cane firmly in his fist, he walked sternly out of the Olde Cheshire Cheese’s doorway, locking it behind himself with no concern that Alistair was still inside. Erasmus thought to himself, “I am no longer alone with this issue. I wonder what our Queen would think of this development.”

Probably Better

Entry for December 19, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Lord Ashleigh offered the use of his coach to take McTrowell to Westminster Hospital to check up on Dr. Pogue, but the walk wasn’t long and would take her through St. James’s Park, giving her the opportunity to clear her mind. And she wasn’t sure she was ready to face Virat quite so soon after the despicable accusations she had leveled against him, even if he didn’t know.

Unlike the day before when she had arrived by carriage, she entered through one of the side entrances because it was closer to the park. She had taken care to dress in a more physician-ly fashion rather than her usual pilot’s gear so as to minimize questions and interference from the hospital staff. As she approached the corner to the corridor on which Pogue was convalescing, she spotted an odd protuberance at eye level. She slowed her pace to give herself time to identify it. It was a man’s shoulder, and a very large one at that, which accounted for its visibility from around the corner while the rest of his body was hidden. Shoulders that wide were an uncommon feature. When she thought of the last man whom she had met who sported such impressive ones, she stopped in her tracks. Why would he be here, and loitering on this ward for that matter? Whoever it was must have noticed the cessation of her approaching footsteps because he slid slowly and silently behind the corner. She thought for an instant. She shifted her Gladstone bag to her left hand so her dominant hand would be free. She took a few, soft steps to the left so she would approach the adjacent corridor at a more obtuse angle, allowing her another second or two to assess the situation. She put on a nonchalant expression and strolled around the corner.

“Sergeant Fox, what a surprise! What brings you to the hospital today?” He was wearing an expression that she suspected was remarkably similar to hers, which was to say, forced insouciance.

“I’m visiting an ailing friend.”

She looked up and down the hall. “Here in the corridor?”

“Um, I’m waiting…for another friend to join me.” There was an uncomfortable pause. “And what brings you to the hospital today?”

“I’m checking up on Dr. Edmond Pogue, a colleague of Chief Inspector Drake. He suffered a seriously injurious insult yesterday.” She watched his face closely. It didn’t register surprise so much as concentration, as if he were trying to wriggle out of a predicament. She decided to show him a little mercy. “Well, good day to you, Sergeant Fox. I hope your friend is on the mend.”

She headed into Dr. Pogue’s room without looking back. Of all the things she anticipated seeing in the room, the sight that greeted her eyes was completely outside her expectations. Pogue was propped up in bed by a mound of pillows and the bed linens were littered with mechanical drawings. The young woman who had identified herself as Yin the day before was standing on one side, conferring with Dr. Pogue about one of the drawings. On the other side of the bed was a young woman McTrowell didn’t recognize. The young woman had various measuring devices including a tape measure, calipers, a metal ruler with very fine graduations, a protractor, and a French curve. She was taking an inordinate number of measurements of the stump of Pogue’s left arm and scribbling them in a precise hand in a small leather-bound notebook that she set back down on the bed after taking and recording each measurement. No one in the room noticed Sparky’s arrival. She shut the door behind herself firmly, the sound of which caused the room’s other occupants to finally look up and notice her.

Yin responded first. “Good day, Dr. McTrowell. Thank you for coming.”

A flash of recognition crossed Pogue’s face. “Ah, Dr. McTrowell! Excellent to meet you, so to speak.” He thrust out his still functional right hand for her to shake. Unable to imagine another course of action, she put out her right hand as well and he gave it a vigorous pumping. “I understand I have you to thank for my continued existence on this plane.”

“Yes, I suppose so. I only wish my skill had been sufficient to save your other limb.”

“Oh pish posh. We’ll have a new one worked up in short order and I’ll be as good as new. Probably better.” He made a sweeping gesture to include the other two women in the room and all the paraphernalia of their complicated mechanical undertaking. And he smiled from ear to ear. Sparky had never met another individual with such a sunny, optimistic outlook on life. She leaned forward to get a good look at his eyes. They didn’t appear glazed, but not all patients suffered that side effect of morphine.

“Dr. Pogue, I am encouraged by your optimism and energy, but I fear some of it may be a result of the opiates. As it has only been a day since your injury, I suggest a more restful convalescence for the next few days until I can be more certain of your recovery. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask Miss Young and Miss…?” she gestured to the earnest measurer who had stopped her measuring, but was staring intently at McTrowell.

“Oh, I’m forgetting my manners again. Miss Sarah Slate of Aspinock, Connecticut. Are you really Dr. Sparky McTrowell?”

The rapt attention was a little unnerving. “I know of no other, so I can only answer in the affirmative.”

“I’ve recently read about your mechanical surgical assistant. I would very much like to examine it.”

“It is currently in London, so I believe such an arrangement can be made. However, ladies, I must ask you to let Dr. Pogue get some rest.”

Pogue responded cheerily, “We were mostly done for today anyway. You must come back tomorrow as we will need your input on the means for attaching it.”

“I beg your pardon, attaching what?”

“My new arm. We are progressing swimmingly on its mechanical design, but it will require the skills of a surgeon to attach it once it’s constructed.” There was no rising inflection to indicate that he meant his last sentence as a question. Apparently, in addition to his complete certainty that he and Misses Young and Slate could design and build a mechanical replacement arm, there was no doubt in his mind that McTrowell was just the surgeon to affect its integration with his body and that she would agree to do so without hesitation or inveigling. And she found that, in fact, she could not find the will to deny his implied request.

Accepting defeat, she turned to the other two women. “Ladies, if you would be so kind.” They began collecting their drawings and notes. As she observed the tidying, McTrowell glanced down at the notebook in which Miss Slate had been recording her measurements. On the right hand page was a fair drawing of the remainder of Pogue’s left arm with extension lines and numbers to two decimal places. But what captured her attention was a drawing on the opposing page. It was a very precise, colored drawing of four daisies with their blossoms clustered together in the center.

Sarah Slate Daisies Pattern

What Sparky Saw in Miss Sarah Slate’s Notebook

She glanced away before Miss Slate noticed her staring. When she looked up at the white wall above Pogue’s head, she saw the ghost of the image. Without the clutter of the rest of the notebook to obscure her vision, she realized that the daisies had been interlocking gears. This Miss Slate was a curious sort.

Yin swiftly organized the scattered drawings from the bed and slid them into a satchel. She picked up her shawl off a chair and turned to Sparky. “Good day, Dr. McTrowell. I will see you tomorrow.”

“Good day to you as well. Rest well, Dr. Pogue.”

As they exited the room, Yin and Sarah turned left to head to the front of the hospital and Sparky turned right to retrace her steps out the side entrance. Sergeant Fox was standing right where he had been when she entered Pogue’s room. Even out of uniform, the man was clearly incapable of not standing at attention. She walked right up to him and said, “I hope your friend’s tardiness is not interfering with your plan’s for the day.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“Your friend. The one whose arrival you were awaiting before going to visit your ailing friend.” She struggled to keep her mouth from twitching up into a smile. Fox was as loyal and valiant as they came, but he lacked the subterfuge of a spy or a confidence man.

“Um, yes, he seems to be late.”

“Good day, Sergeant Fox. Undoubtedly we’ll be seeing each other again very soon.”

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