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Chapter Seven of “Captain Killian and the Coin-Operated Boy”

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Jip was wrapped in a silk dressing-gown, with its sinuous folds of brocaded gold overlaid like a kimono, and tied around the waist with a wide sash. But the kimono did nothing to hide the dark blue skin of Jip’s face and hands, nor the pronged tips of the horns on Jip’s head— still a startling sight to Killian, even though she was accustomed to Jip after the two years they had known each other. She knew a sight such as Jip could not fail to imprint upon the minds of the innocent urchins still in Dr. Xero’s study, and not in any advantageous way.

Jip stood in the salon’s arched entry off the foyer, too far from the staircase to make it back unseen, and unaware that guests were present in the house. The street boys were at the moment still guffawing at some probably improper specimen in the study nearby, but they could peer through the room’s open doorway at any time.

“Captain, the hat and scarf, at once,” directed Dr. Xero, “whilst I corral the youths!” Killian, already moving before Dr. Xero had begun speaking, had crossed the broad salon in a dash to the reception hall closet, where she clutched up Jip’s slouch hat and long driving scarf, and tossed them over neatly. The scarf, wound round the head, covered Jip’s face like a masked bandits’, and the hat was crammed down tight as it would go over the horns. With hands in pockets, only a dark splash of underbrow was visible, out of which Jip’s sparkling silver eyes glistened.

“I express thanks, Killian,” whispered Jip, in that curious sibilant voice. As the giggles and scuffling of the street urchins came into the hall, ushered through by Dr. Xero, Jip took up the fictitious bombastic countenance that Jip and the brilliant Dr. X had conceived to cover up all manner of strangeness which might be conveyed by Jip’s person or expression. “I say, by Jove,” said Jip loudly in an affected accent, “The weather here is frightful and so different from the Asiatic Islands from where I come! I am so cold my skin is turning blue. Good Lord, look at the time! I must be on my way.”

“Oh no, do stay, my friend,” said Dr. X over his shoulder as he slipped each youth a three cent coin. Their eyes grew huge, and one boy said “Blinkers! Thankees, Doctor X!,” The other boy could only make Guh sounds while he stared at the coin in his hand.

“Now don’t spend it all in one place,” cautioned the Doctor. “Save some to share with your brethren.”

“We will!” they chorused, and trotted out the door and down the steps to the street.

Dr. Xero, turning toward Jip and Killian, said “Now that those busy little minds are gone, let us remove to the salon. Something momentous has come up.”

Killian sat down on one of the damask settees while Jip slipped into a languid pose next to her, removing the scarf and hat. Wimbush, clanking a bit from his prosthetic, appeared with a tray of drinks: tea for Killian, a brandy for Dr. X, and a whipped concoction of various proteins for Jip. Dr. X took his snifter in hand but cleared his throat and spoke in a reverent voice before he took a sip.

Ahem. As on the day of death of every one of our brothers in invention— Master Faraday, Master Babbage, Master Maxwell et alia— let us now raise a salute to the latest light that leaves us alone on this dusky plain.” Dr. X raised his glass. “To Stirling Strangeways: May we meet again in Time!

May we meet again in Time!” spoke Jip and Killian in unison, raising their glasses as well. Jip let out a long exhalation before taking a sip. Dr. X gave an encouraging nod to the alien.

“Strangeways was a dear friend to our society; I knew him well in our student days. Indeed, it was himself who introduced me to the important minds in my chosen field.” Dr. X took a long drink of his brandy. “And news of his death comes with another startling revelation—that he was working on a device which tracks and monitors Time Travelers across all ages!”

Jip looked up eagerly and set down the glass of proteins. “Alas, Jip,” said Dr. X, “the device was not yet in working order. And it requires a drop of blood or some other bit of tissue from the traveler before he departs.” Jip’s face fell into a thoughtful frown.

“But Strangeways’s work is well-conceived, and almost complete, or so I have it from my informant,” continued the Doctor. “I received Agent Dunstables’s electromagnetic telegraph when I called in earlier today at the Western Union, on another matter.” Dr. X retrieved the short missive from inside his breast pocket, and tossed it upon the tea table for the pair to peruse if they wished.

Jip picked it up and silently read the message in their society’s coded language. Dr. Xero continued.

“Strangeways was perfecting a small model to submit for a patent. While not a working model, this facsimile could guide another toward finishing the device. And Strangeways’s log book, of course, would prove invaluable. I propose that, before either of these fall into nefarious, or even ignorant hands . . .”

“That we should pay a Time Call on Master Strangeways before he expired and gain these items; or, at least ask him to give Dr. Xero legal inheritance of this material after Strangeways’s death!” Jip’s face had become bright with possibility. “But how should we go about convincing him?” Jip asked. “No one likes to hear they are about to die. How close were the two of you, Doctor?”

“We had not exchanged greetings in a year or more. I did not even know he was working on the problem of tracking travelers through Time. The last we met was at a private assembly of the Chronic Regulators in New York City, several years ago. This was just before you fell into our dimension, Jip, thus he knows nothing about you or your predicament.”

“I know I asked you not to share any details about myself, Doctor, but now I wish you had reached out to Strangeways, and asked for his assistance,” said Jip.

“But why, Jip? This device seems not to do anything other than locate travelers in Time, and Dunstable wrote nothing about it working in other dimensions.”

“The information about multidimensions is exclusive to the group of Chronic Regulators, as you know, Doctor,” said Jip. “Dunstable, as a simple investigatory agent, one of many employed privately by your concern, should have no knowledge of it, thus that information could not be in his report.”

“In addition,” Jip continued, “there is much unknown about dimensionality and how it interacts with time streams. I hazard a theory that they are in reality the same things. The dimension I come from may simply be one alternate of your own time stream, although perhaps not a very probable one. Since I fell into your reality by accident while I was traveling my own dimension’s time streams, the two systems, dimension and time, must interact somehow.”

“Good points, my friend” said Dr. Xero.

“And I have other reasons for wanting to look over this device,” said Jip. “I say we set out tonight to interrupt Master Strangeways’ demise.”

“Why not wait to see where the device and the inventor’s log end up in the dispensation of Strangeways’ estate?” ventured Killian. “Letting time take its course is usually best, is it not?”

Both Jip and Dr. Xero looked at Killian in horror. “No, no, not in this case,” they both overspoke. Killian felt her cheeks redden over her remark.

Dr. Xero gave her a short smile and said “Though it is true that Strangeways may have anticipated leaving his work to one of the capable Chronic Regulators, it is just as likely that he did not. He would not have known his death was coming so soon. We all take a vow not to acquire that detail from Time— it would thwart our productivity.”

“Then before the rise of the moon tonight we should make a Time Call on Master Strangeways,” Jip said. “I think you should accompany us, Dr. X, this once, to establish trust with Strangeways, and to convince him to relinquish his device and logbook to you, something I am not assured Captain Killian and especially I, a most startling sight in this dimension, could do as easily.”

A Small Conclave

A Small Conclave

Dr. Xero paused and presented his glass to Wimbush for a refill. The Doctor sipped on it pensively before he next spoke. “I too agree that the news of one’s imminent death would come better from a friend. And I believe Strangeways would not in any case surrender his device to anyone unknown to him. But after my last Time Call— if you’ll remember, it was a most harrowing experience from which I did not quickly recover— I hesitate. I fear I am close to the maximum number of anachrons that Time will allow an individual, and I don’t know how many more jumps I can safely return from.” He fell silent.

“Perhaps if you write a letter that Jip and I can deliver, Doctor?” asked Killian. “Or what if another one of the Regulators joined us, presuming they were also well-known to Strangeways?” She was offering the only other options to Dr. Xero that she could think of.

“I think including another Regulator might not be the best choice at this time. They might feel their claim on the device greater than my own,” said Dr. Xero, and Jip nodded. “The very fact of Jip’s existence here in our dimension,” the Doctor continued, “and the knowledge that Jip brings to the problem of tracking travelers through Time, make me certain that Jip and I are the best team to take up the challenge. In addition, if we chose that course we would have to make Jip’s existence known to the other Regulator.”

“But if another Regulator went with me,” Killian said, “Jip could stay here. I wouldn’t need him to make the computations whilst I flew the ship into the Time Gap. Jip’s secrets would remain with us.”

“There is another reason, however, that informing and involving another Regulator might not be the best course of action just now, Captain” said Dr. Xero. “And this is only something I have suspected as of late. I may be out of line in telling you, but I am beginning to think that someone in the League of Chronic Regulators may be using Time Jumps for their own ends.”

Killian’s eyes widened at this.

“If I might venture a suggestion . . .” Wimbush offered, still holding his tray and standing in the corner of the salon.

“Yes, of course, please do,” said Dr. Xero.

“It seems on the surface that the best way to convince Master Strangeways to grant Dr. Xero his device would be for Dr. Xero to make this Time Call himself,” Wimbush began. “But there is another whom Strangeways knows, has known for years, and trusts, and appreciates the devotion this one has to Dr. Xero. Wasn’t it Strangeways who consulted on the repairs to this body after the mangling it received at the Second Battle of Deep Bottom during the War of the Great Rebellion? And wasn’t it Strangeways again who recovered in this very house, under our care, after his own injuries during his inaugural Time Call to the League’s original mentor, the unnamed Time Traveller?” Jip looked up with interest.

“Of course!” cried Dr. Xero. “But Wimbush, are you sure? You know the dangers as well as we three do. And you’ve never declared a desire to take up the demon of Time Travel. In fact, I’ve long thought you paid enough dues in my service already.”

“I will remain in your service as long as there is breath in this body, Doctor,” Wimbush vowed. “And I can see what is necessary here in this instance. What is needed is someone trusted, someone Strangeways already knows to be loyal to you and your aims. That someone is myself. I can make the call, and convince Master Strangeways to cede the device and his logs to you, Doctor.”

“Jip and I will pilot the ship, and help Wimbush through his first Time Call. Doctor, I think this plan has the best chance for success,” declared Killian.

Doctor Xero, with wrinkles of concern on his face, nodded slowly. “I concede the point. But Wimbush, are you thoroughly prepared for the pressure and strain such an experience will put upon your body, and indeed your very mind?”

“I believe I am,” Wimbush affirmed.

“Then let us start with a “cram-session,” as the boys at Harvard call it now, on what exactly you can expect, and what may or may not happen during your first Time Call.” said the Doctor.


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