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The Bavarian Airship Regatta - Page 3: April 17, 2011 - May 16, 2011

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The Essence of Romantic Comedy
Limestone Plunderers
Victor and Vanquished
Two Crates Marked FRAGILE
Miss Sarah Slate


The Essence of Romantic Comedy

Entry for April 17, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

McTrowell and Ashleigh were already at the gang plank of the Burke & Hare when Drake arrived promptly at 9 am the next morning as arranged. And they were already engaged in a lively debate, the same one that had resulted in a draw the previous evening.

“I have no need for new clothes.”

“You can’t be my English aunt in worn riding boots and a gored corduroy skirt stained with machine oil.”

“I could live in the country.”

“She does and she rides horses, so I suppose the boots will suffice with a bit of polish, but you must have a more, um, modest dress...and hat…” and then he mumbled “and gloves…and a parasol.”

The mumbling failed because Sparky nearly shrieked, “A parasol!?” Drake busied himself with his bowler and then his cravat. And then he wound his pocket watch. And then he refined the waxed curls at the end of his moustache. Anything to stay out of this conversation. Sparky tried the frugal approach. “I’ll never wear such clothes again and we’re stripping the Burke & Hare of any and all extra weight in Munich for the regatta. What am I supposed to do with them?”

“We’ll give them to a women’s charity.”

“Absolutely new clothes that have only been worn once? That is a complete waste.”

“It’s my money to waste as I see fit. And I don’t see attracting a lovely, charming young lady as a waste of my money. Now, are we off to the dressmaker’s? This was, after all, your clever plan.”

Drake continued fixing his moustache in order to hide his smile. It was a bit amusing to see Ashleigh get the best of McTrowell with her own plan. He tipped his bowler to them, “Well, now that that is settled, I’m off to the IGC. Best of luck to the two of you and I’ll see both of you this evening.” He marched smartly across the gang plank lest he be caught in another round of their debate. He heard them follow him across the gang plank and imagined he could hear Sparky breathing annoyedly.

It took Drake longer than he had anticipated to locate the offices of the IGC. “Confounded Parisian streets,” he thought, “all alleys and Gordian knots with street names changing every few blocks! The French ought to get themselves some more order to their streets like the English.”

A new challenge presented itself once he located the building and the offices of the IGC. He opened the door expecting to find a duty desk with an officer on duty. Instead he was confronted by a large room with several desks and chairs, and a handful of ordinary-looking fellows all busily scribbling away at their desks, none of them paying any attention to the door. He stood awkwardly just inside the door for a moment or two, hoping someone would look up, but no one did. He cleared his throat purposefully. A couple of the scribblers raised their eyes slightly, but pretended not to notice him, hoping someone else would risk engaging the stranger whose business would undoubtedly be messy and disruptive. Clearly they did not understand that Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake was a man of action, not one to be put off by a cold shoulder.

“Bon jour,” he ventured loudly, casting a sweeping glance over all the scribblers. “
Je suis Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake du Scotland Yard.” There were a few winces at his accent. And with that he had mostly used up all his French verbs. Fortunately, he had quizzed Lord Ashleigh on some of the critical nouns he needed. “Clacaire. Malfaiteur. Carte?” Despite his English pronunciation, the three words “limestone, criminal, and map” seemed to get their attention. A few of them huddled and muttered to each other. One of them pointed at him. Another waved a hand toward a door at the back of the office opposite where Drake had entered. Finally, one of them detached himself from the huddle and approached Drake. He held his hand up, palm out as if he were trying to block Drake’s passage, although Drake hadn’t moved an inch since entering the office.

“Wait. Andre speak anglais.” He waved his upraised hand toward a chair by the door, which Drake interpreted as an invitation to sit down and wait. So he did. The office emissary crossed the office and passed through the door opposite. He returned a moment later without giving any indication of what had transpired and returned to his desk. The scribbling resumed as if Drake had never arrived. Drake waited. And waited. And waited. Although he realized it was rude, he finally gave in to the urge to look at his pocket watch. He had been waiting an hour. His considerable patience was being sorely tested. He stood up. He was considering whether he should attempt to cross the office in search of the illusive Andre when the door opened and a gentleman older than the ones in the room entered and walked directly up to him.

Bon jour. I am Andre Toque.”

“Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake of Scotland Yard.”

“Scotland Yard? You are outside your … er … territory. Yes?”

“If you mean jurisdiction, you are correct. I am here as a private citizen to report a crime.”

“We are not the regular police.”

“This is not a matter for the regular police. If you have a map, I will show you what I mean.” Monsieur Toque disappeared back through the door from whence he had come and didn’t return for another fifteen minutes, but at least he had a map. Drake wondered how this agency did its job when everything and everyone moved so slowly and with such apathy. Monsieur Toque unrolled the map which Drake scanned for rue Rémy Dumoncel, following the directions that Lord Ashleigh had given him. Although there were no numbers on the map, he also knew approximately where the
boulangerie was located on the street. He pinned the spot on the map with his index finger. “There is a boulangerie here.” He tried not to make it sound like a question, but the fact that he had not seen it with his own eyes made his police instincts a bit uneasy.

Oui, I believe so.”

“Behind it is an illegal limestone mining operation. A fellow named Mr. Grossman is using mechanical devices to cut and transport 5,000 bricks of limestone.”

“Of course he is using mechanical devices. Do you imagine we cut bricks by hand in France?” He looked indignant at the suggestion that his country was so technically inferior.

“Ah, so you know about this operation?”

A panicked look passed across Toque’s face, but then he rapidly regained his composure. “Oh no, of course not. I only meant that limestone cutting requires mechanical devices.”

Drake paused for just a moment to consider the answer. But he was running out of time. “These mechanical devices are like spiders or crabs. They crawl into a small hole in the ground to cut and extract the bricks. That is how Mr. Grossman is keeping the operation hidden.”

At this declaration, Toque snorted with laughter and no small amount of derision. “Monsieur Drake, perhaps you should not start the day at the cafes that serve absinthe for breakfast. Just because it is available does not mean you should do it. I advise you to return to your quarters, have a bit of a rest, and come back tomorrow when your head is clearer. And, please, only a bit of Bordeaux with dinner and no more absinthe.”

Drake blushed slightly, wondering how Toque had known about the absinthe incident back in London. But, no, this business couldn’t be a result of any lingering effects of the absinthe since it had been Ashleigh who saw the devices. Toque was just trying to get rid of him. He flipped open his pocket watch again. It was just past 11 am! Grossman was expecting someone to collect the bricks at noon. One way or another, he was about to get away with this crime.

“Monsieur Toque, I have not been drinking absinthe and time is of the essence. The bricks are scheduled to be moved in less than an hour. If you do not catch Mr. Grossman in the act of committing this crime, you will be unable to prove later that he was the guilty party when rue Rémy Dumoncel collapses, swallowing houses and killing citizens. I believe this is, to use your words, ‘your territory.’” The scribblers had been ignoring most of their exchange, but in his aggravation, Drake had raised his voice at this last bit. When he uttered the words “rue Rémy Dumoncel,” the scribblers all froze in mid-stroke and exchange furtive, anxious looks.

The next words out of Monsieur Toque’s mouth were delivered with syrupy obsequiousness, “Monsieur Drake, I’m quite certain that this office would be aware of any limestone mining operation right under our own feet. Thank you for taking the time to make us aware of your concern. Bon jour.” He placed his hand on the Chief Inspector’s shoulder and directed him to the exit, just short of shoving him out the door. Drake was not a man to lose his temper, but something was clearly amiss. Despite the talk of “territory” and “jurisdiction,” justice was justice and he would see to it that it was delivered. But, he would need reinforcements.

Sparky was squirming and twitching like a five-year-old at Sunday services as she and Ashleigh exited the dressmaker’s shop. She had managed to talk the shopkeeper out of putting her in a corset; one would have thought she had suggested she was going to parade through the streets of Paris like Lady Godiva in riding boots, but sans horse, judging by the horrified look on the shopkeeper’s face. However, she had to admit that her favorite boots looked quite spectacular with the polish Lord Ashleigh had arranged while she was being fussed over. On the other hand, the ridiculous little hat would not stay pinned atop her head and trying to juggle the parasol just made matters worse. She hoped Mademoiselle Gabrielle proved to be worth all this discomfort. Under normal circumstances, she would have preferred to walk to La Sainte Chapelle. However, these were not normal circumstances and she was thankful for the cab that Lord Ashleigh hailed to carry them there in relative comfort.

They disembarked a couple of blocks from their destination. Lord Ashleigh looked up and down the street thoroughly to ensure Gabrielle was not around before stepping out from behind the cab. “I will hide behind the corner of the nearest building, watching closely. You will need to keep her on that same side of the chapel so I don’t have to reveal myself to keep you in sight. We need to arrange a signal that it is a good time for me to approach.”

“I could throw the parasol in the Seine.” Lord Ashleigh pursed his lips and furrowed his brow to indicate that he didn’t share her sense of humor.

“Perhaps it would be more appropriate if you just closed the parasol and tapped the point on the ground.”

“Very well. I will get in position and keep an eye on you. Give a tip of your hat when she approaches.”

Sparky had only just stationed herself in a position where she could pretend to be admiring the stained glass when Lord Ashleigh signaled, or rather waved his top hat frantically. She hoped Gabrielle wouldn’t look around and see him, or all of Sparky’s suffering in these stifling clothes would be for naught. She stole a glance at the approaching young lady. She had to admit that her friend had good taste. The young lady was pretty without being beautiful in that way that could be dangerous. Although her dress was not made of expensive cloth, it was of a flattering and fashionable style, and perfectly tailored. Sparky guessed that tailoring ran in the family and Gabrielle had made the dress herself. Sparky waited for Gabrielle to walk around for a few moments. Gabrielle’s attention was not particularly on the building, but more on the surrounding streets. She seemed to be looking for someone. Sparky smiled slightly to herself. It was time.

“Bon jour, mademoiselle.”

“Bon jour, madame.”

Sparky continued in French, hoping Gabrielle wouldn’t notice that her accent was American and not English. “I beg your pardon, but I’m new to Paris and my nephew insisted that I should visit Saint Chappelle. I’m unfamiliar with its history. Might you be able to help me?”

“Oh, I would be delighted.”

From his hiding place it seemed to Lord Ashleigh that their little costume drama was proceeding well. He was so focused on the action that he didn’t hear Drake approaching him from behind. When Drake tapped him on the shoulder, he jumped in surprise and nearly elbowed the Chief Inspector.

“Oh my goodness, Drake! You gave me quite a start. What are you doing here? Why aren’t you helping the IGC arrest Grossman?”

“There is highly suspicious business afoot. They insisted there couldn’t be anything amiss and gave me the brush off, but my instincts tell me that they know more than they admit. I believe we will need to take matters into our own hands.”

Lord Ashleigh glanced back and forth between Drake and the conversation transpiring just out of earshot. He wanted to do the right thing, but he was sorely torn because he sensed that Sparky was making good progress. And indeed she was.

“I can understand why my nephew was so adamant that I make this visit. My nephew is a very intelligent and well-mannered young man. One rarely encounters an eligible gentleman of such exceptional qualities. Although he will inherit my father’s estate in England, he is studying the law at Oxford as he feels that all men, no matter what class, should have a useful profession.”

“He sounds very fine.”

Drake continued, “Lord Ashleigh, did you hear what I said?”

“Um, yes, quite so, take matters into our own hands.”

“I believe we will also require the able services of Dr. McTrowell.” Drake moved as if to interrupt McTrowell and Mademoiselle Lambert, the thought of which considerably pained Ashleigh. Before he could decide how to respond, he heard another voice behind them.

“Drake, is that you again? You are everywhere in Paris this week!”

“Charles, what a surprise! What brings you here?”

McTrowell, sensing interest in the much-celebrated “nephew,” pressed forward. “Yes, and did I mention that he is generous? He paid for my passage to Paris and very fine lodgings. It is my dream to find him a suitable wife who will appreciate all of his excellent qualities.”

“He does sound like the kind of gentleman who would make a good husband.”

Although Charles was usually an animated fellow, he was particularly excited this day. “I’m on my way to meet my sweetheart. I have just come from asking her guardian for her hand in marriage and he has given his blessing!” He produced a ring from his pocket, a very thin gold band with a single, rather small diamond in the setting. One would have thought from the look of delight on his face that the stone was the size of a goose egg.

McTrowell was feeling quite pleased with herself. She had created just the opening she wanted. “Would you like to meet him?”

“Um, yes, I suppose so.”

“Well, what good fortune. I’m expecting him to meet me here at any moment.” She folded down her parasol, swung it tip down, and tapped it on the paving stones twice sharply.

Ashleigh, who had been following the action near the chapel closely and the conversation between Drake and Charles almost not at all, started when he saw the signal and turned toward the two woman. Charles’ attention was caught by Ashleigh’s sudden movement and turned toward the two women as well.

“Look, there’s my nephew now.” Sparky waved toward the three gentlemen. Suddenly she hoped that Gabrielle was looking at the men as well so she wouldn’t see the look of consternation on Sparky’s face. What was Drake doing here? Why wasn’t he off foiling the plot to steal the limestone bricks? What was Drake’s friend Charles doing here? Had he come for a rematch? Gabrielle, on the other hand, was not the least bit discomfited. She was smiling brightly and waving energetically. “Well,” thought Sparky, “young Jonathan must have made quite an impression on Gabrielle yesterday.”

Lord Ashleigh was having almost exactly the same thought at that moment. He reached up to doff his top hat at the ladies, but Drake stayed his arm. One didn’t become a chief inspector at Scotland Yard without having very keen powers of observation. He held fast to Ashleigh’s arm for another instant during which Charles bounded across the street, wrapped his arms around Gabrielle’s slim waist, spun her around in a circle in the air, and deposited her back onto the cobblestones with a kiss. He dropped to one knee and produced the ring, which he held up to her expectantly. When she clasped her hands over her mouth and began to cry, Lord Ashleigh didn’t need to hear their words to know what Charles had asked, and what Gabrielle’s answer had been.

He turned back toward Drake who tried to comfort him. “I’m sorry, my dear friend.”

“Thank you for preventing me from making a fool of myself.” He took a deep breath and let it out. He reached into the inside pocket of his coat and pulled out the neatly wrapped necklace. “The least I can do is make good use of this for your very fortunate friend and his betrothed.” He walked toward Charles and the women with Drake a few steps behind him.

Lord Ashleigh walked straight up to Charles and shook his hand, “Congratulations.” He kissed Gabrielle chastely on the cheek and handed her the package with the wrapped necklace. “A small wedding gift. May the two of you enjoy a long, prosperous, and happy life together.”

Gabrielle was, by now, at a complete loss for words. Charles, on the other hand, was bubbling over with high spirits. “Please, come join us to celebrate this joyous event.”

Drake also shook Charles’ hand. “I’m sure we would all enjoy that very much old friend, but we have another pressing matter that requires our immediate attention.”

“Very well, good luck.”

“Thank you. I believe we’ll need it.”

Sparky waited for Charles and Gabrielle to get out of earshot before speaking. “Well, that did not go at all as planned.”

To which Drake replied, “It was not the only endeavor today that did not go as planned. There isn’t time to explain, but we need to make haste to rue Rémy Dumoncel to stop the larcenous Mr. Grossman.”

“Excellent, an undertaking more to my tastes and skills.” With that, she pitched the parasol high over her shoulder and didn’t look back as it sailed over a small sign, “
Pas ne natation.



Limestone Plunderers

Entry for April 26, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake switched to his commanding voice. “Follow me or all is lost!” His stride was demanding, headed for the western bridge that lead off Île de la Cité. Sparky and Lord Ashleigh were putting serious effort to stay a step behind the determined law enforcer. Erasmus talked as they walked. “Changing tasks. Here’s our status. We are late. The bricks were supposed to be transported from the boulangerie on rue Rémy Dumoncel at noon. That was an hour and 10 minutes ago. We are quite on our own here, unless we can get one or more members of the Parisian police force to accompany us, which may not be easy given the haste we need to get there. Since rue Rémy Dumoncel is just outside of Paris on the southwest side, we should try to secure transportation. There’s a cabriolet now! Hurry!”

The three of them rushed across the cobblestone bridge and sped up to the side of the vehicle, Erasmus holding the door for the other two, and providing directions to the driver in an earnest voice. Inside the cab, the conversation continued.

“What do we have in the way of gaining the upper hand? I don’t have my cane, but I do have my revolver. I really don’t want to show it, much less use it, for obvious reasons. Your knife, Lord Ashleigh?”

“My kirpaan? It’s more ceremonial than utilitarian, but it will suffice if necessary.”

“Sparky?” Erasmus queried.

“My fists. I didn’t prepare for being threatening. Perhaps I should have kept the parasol. I could have frightened the misanthropes by asking them to hold it.” She smiled, despite the serious demeanor of her male companions, who just furrowed their brows at her, each for their own reasons.

The driver did his job well, speeding through the streets of Paris. A plan, more or less, was formulated within the cab. At rue Rémy Dumoncel, the vehicle came to a stop and the troop piled out. Lord Ashleigh took the lead, since he knew the location and was the person who was expected. They headed down the cobble-stoned alley on the side of the closed bakery, Sparky and Erasmus keeping their distance.

Lord Ashleigh rounded the corner and was, as before, quite surprised by the scene. The entire back lot was filled with limestone bricks. Even the back of the bakery, with its door gaping open, was filled with bricks inside of the building itself. The skittering of mechanical feet indicated to him that the limestone bricks were still being extracted, even though the neatly stacked columns were now a full twelve feet high. On the side were two men, bound and gagged, sitting on the ground, leaning up against a tree. They were clearly Mr. Hedgley and Mr. Martin. Lord Ashleigh ran over to them, concerned for their well-being. They may be criminals, but this was a beastly state in which to leave one’s fellow man. As he approached, he couldn’t help but notice that they both were obviously exhausted, perhaps from struggling against their restraints, but given the fact that they were still wearing the same clothes and the state their garments were in, they probably had been toiling all through the night, as well. Both men looked up with wild, pleading eyes at Lord Ashleigh’s approach. Lord Ashleigh let an “Oh, my goodness” slip out, and removed the gag from Mr. Martin, whom Lord Ashleigh thought was the nicer of the two, and deserved the initial help.

Mr. Martin took a deep gasp as if he had had trouble breathing. He then looked at Lord Ashleigh and said, “Mr. Ashleigh, you have no idea how much I appreciate what you have just done.” A twinkle was in his eye, that stood out against his weary appearance.

Non! Non! Arrêtez de faire ça!” came the shout from within the bakery, and two well-dressed men darted out of the back door. Lord Ashleigh, turned around to see them, but did not understand their concern. At this time both Erasmus and Sparky had appeared from hiding in the alley, and were taking in the entire bizarre spectacle. Erasmus then recognized one of the gentlemen, Monsieur Andre Toque from the IGC. They simultaneously pointed and said, “What are you doing here?” to each other, but with very different accents.

That is when Mr. Martin took center stage. He announced, “It’s been lovely, but we must be going!” There was just enough time for Lord Ashleigh, Sparky, and Erasmus to make quizzical faces and for the other IGC agent to yell “
Non!” again. Mr. Martin pursed his lips and made a well-practiced high-pitched whistle that contained an odd pitch variation. It didn’t last long, but it didn’t need to.

The mechanized bugs erupted out of the mineshaft in a solid wave of clamoring brass, flinging their limestone cargo in every direction except for the source of the whistle. They moved at an incredible speed, over the twelve foot column of shining white bricks and down towards Mr. Hedgley and Mr. Martin like a living golden carpet, sentient and purposeful. Mr. Hedgley and Mr. Martin were scooped up and onto the backs of the arachnid forerunners who, with pairs of repurposed legs that now acted as carrying arms, rapidly unbound their masters. The men were borne on the metal backs as if they were as light as feathers. Without pause, the entire skittering parade tore down the cobblestone alley. The men had the gall to doff their hats and smile as they rode out. Out in the rue Rémy Dumoncel, women’s screams and horses’ whinnies were heard, which continued as the mechanical parade retreated into the distance.

The fleeing carpet lasted a while. The last of them were the cutters with radial saws on their gleaming backs and their shorter, dachshund-like legs. Every one of the living kept their distance, plastered to walls to prevent having any one of the bugs even touch them. To a person, the thought of fleeing rats was hard to keep out of their minds, and that instinctual repulsion of hoarding vermin was unmistakably present.

Then it was over, just as fast, with the tail of the gleaming carpet disappearing into the alleyway. Everyone looked around before taking a step forward. Deep inhalations were taken to compensate for the reflex of breath holding during the mechanized exodus.

Erasmus spoke first, directing his question to Monsieur Toque. “What was going on here? This is a highly unusual way to deal with a crime of theft.”

“Chief Inspector, I don’t know what you are talking about. And here in Paris, I ask the questions, no? What are you and your companions doing here? My assumption is that you are helping these thieves and should be arrested.”

Erasmus was starting to get indignant. “Pardon me, my good man, but I was trying to report this theft to you this morning! You pooh-poohed me then. My ‘companions’ and I had to do something to protect the stability of Parisian firmament, not to mention the theft of the stone itself.”

“Pooh-poohed?”

“Yes. Dismissed, rejected, and rebuffed me.”

“Rebuffed? Are these English words?” At this point in the conversation, Monsieur Toque smiled, but it was less about unexpected vocabulary and rather was due to the arrival of French workmen with wheelbarrows. The tenor of Monsieur Toque’s conversation changed to congeniality as he continued, “Chief Inspector, we at the IGC appreciate you helping in this matter, and I will personally see that this is properly resolved.
Merci et au revoir.” He shook Erasmus’ hand and directed him, Sparky, and Lord Ashleigh toward the alley leading to the street. Slightly befuddled, they single-filed out through the alley as the workmen and wheelbarrows single-filed in.

Sparky was confused as to what transpired. “Does this make sense to you, Erasm ... EEEAAAHHHH!” She jumped to the side when she saw the movement in the shadows, under a bit of discarded burlap. Erasmus carefully used the tip of his shoe to flip back the rough cloth scrap to reveal a lone EPACT, with only two working legs on its left side, and a crippled one on right. The rest had been wrenched off. The machine could only make a sad semicircle, and appeared to be out of energy even in that endeavor. Hoping that it didn’t have a defensive mechanism, Erasmus slid his left hand under it, and placed his right hand on top, and lifted the automaton. It was not light in weight, that was for sure, but not solid metal, either. Erasmus got it high enough in the air to look at the underside, where there was a knurled knob in a recessed area of the bottom plate, similar to the setting mechanism on a pocket watch, and a small moveable round handle.

“Sparky, try moving that handle,” Erasmus requested, hoping that her original fear had dissipated. She tentatively moved the handle along its path with two fingers. As soon as the full throw of the switch was completed, the legs suddenly went limp and hung loosely from its body.

For whatever reason, the procession of workers paid no heed to all of this, and appeared to be more than happy to get to the back of the bakery. Erasmus slipped off his coat and wrapped the brass contraption, and carried it like a heavy parcel under his arm.

Back on the street, they had to walk a good distance to hail another cabriolet. The walk was filled with hushes from Erasmus that indicated that he wanted to talk only in the privacy of their conveyance.

Once inside, Erasmus was vocal. “Well, doesn’t that just knock the stuffings out of it! They were working both sides.”

Lord Ashleigh asked, “Do you think that they were in league with the thieves?”

“No. But I think their goal was to appropriate the bricks after they were illegally mined. You can’t put them back into the ground.”

Sparky thought for a second and then countered, “Perhaps they could. Since the IGC is working on retrofitting the parts of the catacombs that are used for the public tours, these bricks could be used to spruce up the visited sections! They probably couldn’t safely mine this area themselves, but they could use the product of the limestone plunderers.”

“Excellent reasoning! We’ll have to see if the newspapers report a grand improvement to the tunnels.”

Sparky added, “And see if this region has another cave-in.”

Erasmus looked at Lord Ashleigh and gestured to the window. “Would you be so kind? Your French is so much better than mine.”

Lord Ashleigh smiled, adding “I would be delighted, my friend. Thank you both for our Parisian adventure!”

Lord Ashleigh stuck his head out of the window, and in his best French, requested that they be taken to the airship port.

Erasmus patted his wrapped parcel, and thought to himself, “Before we leave, I’ll send this off to the only man I trust to determine the nature of this contraption, Dr. Edmond Pogue.”




Victor and Vanquished

Entry for May 2, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

They rode in relative silence for a few blocks, each exhausted and a little disappointed in his or her own way.  Sparky was looking forward to getting back to the Burke & Hare, if only to get out of the uncomfortable clothes.  But, she was going to miss Paris.  She never seemed to get quite enough time in Paris to do everything she wanted.  She gazed out the window of the cabriolet in a melancholy state.  The cab slowed for another coach stopped in the lane in front of them and she stared down an alley.  She thought she saw something shiny move in the shadows.  She blinked and rubbed her tired eyes.  She wasn’t imagining it.  She leaned slightly out the window.  There was a pair of the crawlers tussling in the alley.
 
“Stop the cab!  Stop the cab!”  She flung open the door of the cab and jumped out even before it had stopped completely.  The bustle of the dress made her movements ungainly and she nearly dumped herself onto her nose.
 
Drake’s eyes followed her trajectory and spotted the wrestling automatons.  He thrust his bundled coat into Lord Ashleigh’s hands.  “Stay here and hold the cab.”  He leapt out of the cab and followed McTrowell at a sprint.  Without the impediment of couture, he caught up to her just as she reached the wrestlers.  They were too late to save one of them.  The victor snapped off two of the legs of the vanquished and scuttled off down the alley.  Drake snatched up the disabled one and held it up for McTrowell to switch off as she had with the first disabled one they had recovered.  He set it back down on the ground.  “We’ll come back for this one.”
 
They dashed after the victor.  It scuttled around a corner at the end of the alley and through a hinged flap at the bottom of a much-abused door.  Sparky reached for the handle, but Erasmus held an index finger up to his lips.  He leaned forward and placed his ear against the door.  She followed suit.  They could hear muffled voices inside, but it was clear the space behind the door was large and contained many large obstructions, judging by the distortion of the voices.  Drake grasped the door handle firmly and gently pushed down the latch, being especially careful to make as little noise as possible.  Fortunately, it was dark in the alley, so they wouldn’t let in much light.  They squeezed through and Erasmus closed the door quietly behind them.
 
Their eyes took a moment to adjust to the light during which time Sparky realized that Erasmus was actually standing quite close to her.  She could feel his warm breath on the back of her neck.  When his eyes had adjusted, he tapped her lightly on the shoulder and pointed in the direction of the voices.  They inched closer, stopping at the edge of a stack of wooden crates.  When they peered around the corner, McTrowell had to slap her hand over her own mouth to keep herself from gasping out loud.  Not surprisingly, Mr. Hedgley and Mr. Martin were standing in the middle of the open space.  Slightly more surprising was a man neither she nor Drake had seen before.  He was little more than a twig of a man with a shock of wild, frizzy brown hair that was not in his eyes only because his eyes were covered by a particularly large and opaque pair of goggles with multiple interchangeable lenses on miniature arms.  He looked a bit like a praying mantis.  She had an unkind thought about his being devoured, but then she remembered the first part of that scenario and shuddered in revulsion.  The sight that had nearly caused her to gasp was the sea of crawlers covering nearly the entirety of the open floor space.  The three men were standing around a large worktable and the crawlers completely surrounded them.  It looked almost as if the crawlers had herded the men there and were holding them hostage.  Mr. Martin kept looking down at his ankles as if he expected the crawlers to start snapping at him.
 
Mr. Hedgley was unperturbed by the mechanized horde and was considerably exercised by the bug man.  He was stabbing his finger at another dismembered crawler lying immobile on the worktable.
 
“These bloody things are a lot of work to build and cost dearly!  It’s your fault they’re tearing each other apart!  We’ll never turn a profit if they keep doing this.”
 
“Now, now, Monsieur Hedgley.  Do not worry yourself so much about ze money.  You weel take all ze fon out of ze experiment.”
 
“This isn’t a bloody experiment!  It’s a business.  You told me you could make our EPACTs work together as a team.  Teammates don’t go about ripping each other’s legs off.  It’s not very sportsmanlike!”
 
Sensing that his partner was either going to have a seizure or do some violence to their “colleague,” Mr. Martin interjected himself into the conversation, if somewhat timidly.  “Well, to be fair, Horace, he did make them work together better.  They’re a lot easier to control when we don’t have to set each one to a single task, what with the good doctor’s emergency hive mind.”
 
Emergent hive mind.”
 
“Yes, well, they do work together better.”
 
“Right.  Right up until one of them decides another’s not toeing the line and takes it upon himself to have himself a little swift justice.”  Hedgley glared at a crawler at the edge of the swarm that was very close to Drake and McTrowell’s position.  They had to duck back behind the crates before they were spotted.  McTrowell realized Hedgley must have been looking at the vicious, fratricidal crawler they had followed into the building.  She rather imagined that it had beady, cold eyes, but she knew she was just anthropomorphizing.
 
“Monsieur Hedgley, soon I weel perfect ze hive mind and ze EPACTs weel be fully autonomous.  Nothing weel be able to stop zem!”  At the sound of excitement in the bug man’s voice, the crawlers started humming and hopping back and forth on their sharp, metal feet, making a sound like a swarm of ravenous beetles.  McTrowell stepped back in disgust…right onto the hem of her dress.  She choked herself with the high, snug collar and let out a gurgling gag.  She regained her balance just in time to see the swarm freeze and swivel as one in the direction of their hiding place.  The three men stopped and looked around as well.  And then the bug man let out a squeal so high pitched it hurt the ears.  Neither Drake nor McTrowell needed to wait even a second to know what it meant and that they were in deep trouble.
 
The turned and fled back the direction they came, slamming open the door and pounding up the alley.  Stealth was a distant dream.  Unencumbered as he was, Drake made better time.  It only took him a second to snatch up the disabled crawler in the alley as he sprinted to the cab.  Ashleigh was leaning out the cab window watching wide-eyed at the pell-mell approach of his friends being chased by an angry swarm of carnivorous devices.  With uncharacteristic vigor, Drake shouted, “Drive!”  Ashleigh threw open the door of the cab just in time to catch the dismembered crawler Drake threw to him.  Drake dove in immediately after.  The cab lurched to a start, making it difficult for the two of them to scramble around into position to grab McTrowell’s outstretched arms when she finally made it to the cab.  A couple of the crawlers had managed to catch hold of the hem of her dress.  Drake and Ashleigh kicked them loose and the crawlers took big chunks of the dress with them.  Fortunately, the horse needed no encouragement to send it galloping off madly through the streets of Paris, but its flight knocked the three friends into an unceremonious heap on the floor of the cab.
 
They dragged themselves painfully up off the floor and onto the seats, rubbing sore elbows and knees along them way.  Sparky held up the ruined hem of the dress.  “Well, I for one am looking forward to a nice quiet, safe activity like an airship regatta.”
 
The cab passed under an elaborate wrought iron archway embellished with “
Port du Jean-Marie-Joseph Coutelle.”



Two Crates Marked FRAGILE

Entry for May 11, 2011 Written by David L. Drake

The interior of the lofty room was round, formed by carved grey-white granite block walls and floor. A wrought iron spiral staircase hugged the side of the room, linking the heavy door halfway up the tower to the floor below. Seven dark-brown tables formed a semi-circle, each one containing the gadgetry of an undertaking: chemistry apparatus on one, another with mechanical parts and tools, and so forth for each of the work surfaces. A man dressed in a heavy white overcoat that showed the signs of scientific toil was moving from table to table: a smear of grease here, a small green splatter there, and minute brown ringlets from microscopic splashes of acid. He busied himself as he flowed from task to task. At one of the tables he pipetted a blue liquid into a jar, noticed a color change, and then jotted down something into a large notebook. Then, moving to the next table, he mated a complex piston assembly with a high-pressure manifold, securing them together with a handful of bolts.

The heavy door opened and a young oriental lady appeared wearing a dark blue, long-sleeved, silk dress. Despite the squeak of the door, the man on the tower floor continued with his labors without even looking up. She looked down on him for a second, watching his uninterrupted industry. She then carefully descended the staircase and walked to his side. In a very practiced movement, she reached out and lightly touched his arm even while he was still collecting the pollen off of the stamens of a large-petaled flower.

He stopped his activity and turned to her. Her petite Asian face turned up a small smile. She gave a small movement of her head that was the remnant of a practiced formal bow that only let a few strands of her shiny, black, straight hair slip from behind her shoulder to the front. He smiled back. “Doctor, you wanted me to let you know when your sister arrived.”

From the top of the stairs, a new figure appeared. “Willing to stop to say hello to your sister?” she asked loud enough to be heard throughout the room. Dressed in riding clothes, complete with knee high brown boots, frilly blouse, smartly cut jacket, and a tiny feminine top hat pinned at a jaunty angle, she pranced down the stairs and ran over to the Doctor. “Edmond! How I have missed you! It’s been months since we were last together!” She acted as though she wanted to give a grand hug to her brother, but knew better than expose her clothes to whatever was on Edmond’s. She instead stood as close to him as she dared, and exuded enthusiasm for their being together.

The doctor replied, “Glad you could make it back to London. Have you been out riding?”

“Oh, no, silly. This is what all the ladies are wearing now! Like it? Oh, I have another great outfit I need to show you.”

“Sorry, sis. I have to work until six tonight. I have a couple of clients with deadlines I need to meet. I’ll see you back at my house for dinner. Go check out the shops for a few hours.”

Edmond’s sister made a practiced pouty face, then flashed a smile, and bounded back up the stairs. Edmond turned to his Asian assistant, and requested, “Yin, please see that I have no further visitors for the day. I need to finish a number of these experiments. Thank you so much.”

Yin gave her brief bow again, turned, and quietly ascended the stairs.

After carefully pollinating a potted flower, Edmond walked to the last table to his right. On it was a secured wooden crate and a letter. He picked the letter up and scanned it again to make sure he hadn’t missed any details. Musing out loud, he said, “So, this is the ‘electrical discharge device’ seized at the Egyptian Court. Let’s see what it looks like.”

Obtaining a pry bar from a nearby tool rack, Edmond loosened the crate’s top and forced it open against squeaking nails. Peering inside, he saw the gleaming metal of the device. “Ho ho, Chief Inspector, what have you sent me now?!”

Back on the airship, Sparky, Erasmus, and Lord Asheigh sought refuge in Lord Asheigh’s improvised sitting room. “Shall it be port, chai, or some other diversion?” their exhausted host offered.

“No port for me,” Sparky was quick to answer, “I need to be piloting this airship in a few hours. In fact, I really need to be performing a full ship inspection for airworthiness, and evaluate the meteorological state of our route. If you’ll please excuse me, I must get to my duties.” As she stood, she looked down, and quickly realized that she was in a torn dress, totally unfitting for the role she was about to undertake. Sparky added, “Well, first, a costume change is required,” and at that, she let herself out of the cabin.

Lord Ashleigh quickly took over the conversation. “Chief Inspector, to whom did you ship those two EPACTs while we were in the terminal?”

“A colleague that I’ve known for a few years now. Doctor Pogue. Scotland Yard uses a number of technical specialists to help with the analysis component of an investigation. I’ve sent some oddities to him over those years, and Dr. Pogue has proven to be top notch! He’s always come through. Matter of fact, I secured his services with regard to one of Professor Farnsworth’s electrical discharge contraptions. I’m also hoping that he can also get us greater insight into the two brass crawlers.”

Just as the two men were having their conversation, a porter was wheeling a half dozen wooden crates over to the Western & Transatlantic’s Fortis. It was a sizable airship, easily twice the length of the Burke & Hare, and was specifically used for cargo hauling. Nearing the end of his shift, the porter quickly packed the loading platform with the contents of his dolly. Bam! The crate containing 65 pounds of cast iron cookware came down hard. Bam! The 59-pound pallet of French magazines was added to the stack. The next two crates were marked “FRAGILE,” so he used a little more care. He placed them side-by-side on top of the magazine pallet. Finally, he added two crates holding flywheels for printing presses to the top. With an arm wave, he signaled his mate to haul the platform up to the floating transport, who tightened the cables as the load was taken up to the belly of the Fortis. The rocking packages shifted under the weight of the flywheels, and the FRAGILE package on the right moved to the side enough to slip off one of its wooden skids. It only dropped an inch. Not even enough for the porter to notice. But inside the crate, it was enough to move a brass lever slightly to one side. The mechanical crawler that it was attached to came to life, albeit a claustrophobic one, and it tried to bring its remaining legs into position. Failing that, it next made an inaudible whistling sound, to see if it had any nearby companions. And then it waited.

Quite unaware of the change in his shipped package, Erasmus chuckled to himself, “I hope Edmond finds this shipment interesting!”



Miss Sarah Slate

Entry for May 16, 2011 Written by Katherine L. Morse

Esmeralda Pogue strode purposefully out of the milliner’s shop on the Marleybone high street, a tiered stack of hatboxes lashed together in each hand. She handed them to her coachman who once again reshuffled her purchases for the afternoon to try to find a secure place for all of them. Fortunately, the shops were closing. Otherwise he was going to have to hire a cab just to deliver her purchases to her brother’s “abode” in Shadwell. It was too odd to be called a house, what with the tower sticking out of a building that betrayed its origins as a warehouse. He also found it odd that a person of means such as Dr. Pogue would choose to live in the environs of Shadwell, but then “odd” was a particularly apt word to describe the older brother of Miss Esmeralda Pogue. If the coachman hadn’t known their late parents, he wouldn’t have believed the siblings to be related.

The coachman had just managed to solve his packing problem when he looked down in horror to see Miss Pogue staring up the street. Surely she hadn’t espied another shop still open! No, she was just staring at another young woman on the street who was clearly oblivious to the attention she was drawing. Those people who knew Esmeralda Pogue only from her attendance at teas, balls, and sporting events thought her the usual rich, spoiled, shallow young woman only in search of a husband to continue to finance her taste for frippery. To be fair, she did enjoy the finer things in life and a handsome, wealthy husband (preferably with a minor title) would be a nice acquisition. However, she considered her primary mission in life the care of her brilliant, sweet, but hopelessly distracted older brother. For all his scientific brilliance, he never seemed to be able to quite manage the details of being an adult. So she maintained a close relationship with the solicitor who was the executor of their parents’ estate and made regular excuses to visit him near London, shopping admittedly being her favorite excuse. The sensible Miss Pogue recognized the expression on the face of the other young woman on the street, and it wasn’t simply the wide-eyed amazement of a girl newly arrived from the country. She was examining, memorizing, and deconstructing everything she saw, just like dear Edmond. Unfortunately, she was also attracting the attention of the rats of London, and not the rodent variety. Esmeralda popped open her pocket watch. Five o’clock. Dear Edmond had said he would work until six which meant at least seven which meant dinner couldn’t possibly start until eight, plenty of time. She walked directly up to the young woman absorbed in her examination of the fixtures in the window of the watchmaker’s shop.

“Good evening. Parseval’s makes lovely watches, but they don’t keep particularly good time.”

The young woman snapped out of her revelry. “Excuse me?” An American! What an interesting surprise!

“Their watches don’t keep particularly good time. My name is Miss Esmeralda Pogue.” She waited a second or two. “And you are?”

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I’ve forgotten my manners. Miss Sarah Slate of Aspinock, Connecticut.”

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance. Do you have tea in Aspinock, Connecticut?”

Miss Slate examined Miss Pogue as if she were a lab specimen. “Yes, of course.”

“We like to think that we have excellent tea in London.” Again the lab specimen stare. “Perhaps you would care to join me for a cup?” While Esmeralda was well-intentioned, she had never quite grasped the fact that her brother and people like him weren’t dim, just chronically distracted by matters so much more fascinating than the prosaic matters of her own concern. Esmeralda turned around, looked both ways along the street lest she be trampled by a carriage, and marched across the street to the nearest tearoom, trusting that Miss Slate would follow. Years of frustrating conversations with Edmond had taught her that negotiating simple daily tasks was an exercise in supreme frustration; better just to charge forward before he could begin his swirl of deconstruction that would inevitably derail the whole enterprise. By the time Miss Slate had caught on to her role in this pantomime and entered the tearoom, Miss Pogue was already seated herself and had ordered tea, scones, and clotted cream. She wasn’t simply being generous; she was famished from her athletic shopping and it would be three more hours before dinner with Edmond.

Miss Slate arranged her skirts on the spindly tearoom chair and doffed her unfashionable straw hat. The girl in the striped dress and crisp, white apron that was the uniform of the tearoom arrived with a silver tray, quietly depositing the welcome sustenance on the table that was just barely large enough to hold it all. Esmeralda poured tea for both of them before offering the plate of scones to Miss Slate. “So, what brings you to London, Miss Slate?”

“My grandfather was from England. He left me a small inheritance with the suggestion that I might find it interesting. I have visited the mills of Derbyshire. Quite serviceable, but no more interesting than my grandfather’s mills. I had hoped to see more substantial advances. I have come to London in search of the scientific and industrial discoveries about which I have heard so much.” The more Sarah spoke, the more she reminded Esmeralda of Edmond.

“London also has many cultural advantages to offer,” Esmeralda suggested, hoping to turn the conversation to one in which she could participate.

“Yes, I’m finding the light in London most interesting: the flickering street lamps reflected on the wet cobblestones; the shine of the black lacquer coaches with gleaming brass door pulls; the glittering jewels worn by women such as yourself as you’re rushing to the theater. I am considering a study of the effects of soot on the reflectivity of objects in London.” Esmeralda sighed into her tea. If she squinted just a bit more so her companion’s features didn’t look quite so sharp, nor her hair quite so long, she could see Edmond sitting across the table from her.

“I’m sure my brother, Edmond, would have something to offer on the subject.”

“Edmond? Edmond Pogue? Dr. Edmond Pogue is your brother?” Somehow Esmeralda had known this was the inevitable conclusion to this encounter. “His work on high-pressure pistons is the best in the field.”

What was the use in fighting it? “Miss Slate, do you have dinner plans?”

Sparky wiped her hands on a greasy cloth and stuffed the cloth in the pocket of her favorite blue work trousers. She wiped a few sweaty hairs back from her forehead with the only clean spot on the back of her forearm. She leaned on the bulkhead and stared vacantly out of a porthole. She could see Luis-Miguel Sevilla far below supervising the transfer of the final crates of unnecessary furnishings to a warehouse at the airship port. It was reassuring to know that most of the world had continued on its regularly scheduled rounds while her own life had taken one unexpectedly dramatic turn after another. Although she was exhausted as she trudged back to her cabin, it was the welcome tired of a job well done. She was satisfied that the Burke & Hare was ready for the regatta and there was only the spectacle of this evening’s dinner with Wallace, during which he would undoubtedly bloviate about the certainty of Western & Transatlantic’s win in the regatta, and then she could get down to the business of actually winning the regatta. She was sorely looking forward to that! She started stripping off her work clothes as soon as she closed the door of her cabin, hanging them on the hooks behind the door. Dinner wasn’t for another half an hour and she felt she deserved a few minutes rest. She spun around to drop herself on her bunk and nearly fell on a package wrapped in cream and pink striped paper tied with a pink satin ribbon. The ribbon was threaded through a hole in a tiny cream-colored card embossed with “
Gerard LY, Paris.”

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