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South of the Telford

 .                                                        South of the Telford

 Perkins Frozen Water Factory had been an innovation since the day it first opened on the mouth of the Telford inlet. Jacob Perkins, a local prodigy and recent graduate of the city’s own Academy of Industry had successfully employed his own unique system of vapor-compression to create a unique water-freezing machine. By circulating liquid and gaseous forms of ammonia at alternating high and low pressures he was able to produce ice even during the dog days of summer.

Jacob Perkins had operated his water-freezing machine, safely containing its high pressures, open flames and volatile gases for seven months before it malfunctioned for the first time. Unfortunately it was also the last time. After running the factory without incident or injury since the day it opened, all fourteen employees, including Jacob Perkins himself, were killed by the blast that engulfed the factory in flames fueled by ammonia.

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“Do you smell that?” said Brother Pizzaro, wrinkling his nose as he and Brother Kadmus went from one cot to the next checking on each boy individually. While the intense fever had yet to break, the seizures that had gripped the entire resident class had subsided following the initial few attacks.

What worried Brother Pizzaro was the potential unknown effects prolonged exposure to ammonia might have on the illness. “We need to move the students now. It would be best if we could get the sick ones to the cathedral, this will become so much worse if the wind shifts.

“What do you think could be the cause of this illness?” asked Kadmus.

Pizzaro stood at the end of Tobias’s cot and considered Brother Kadmus’s question. He needed to rule out some possibilities. “Brother, you prepared the lunch today did you not?”

“Yes,” Brother Kadmus looked up from where he’d knelt to provide comfort at a child’s cotside. “I did,” Kadmus’s clipped manner was laden with passive aggression. He’d resented Pizzaro’s rise in status since the young brother of the Huberite order arrived five years earlier. “I followed procedures precisely— as always.”

Pizzaro knew that Brother Kadmus resented being questioned by a junior brother, but that was neither here nor there. “When did you last sanitize the water barrels?” There had to be some common link— and it didn’t appear to have anything to do with the dietary program.

“The barrels were replaced mid-morning,” Brother Kadmus replied. ”We used up the older barrels earlier with the extra laundry.”

“Extra laundry?” Brother Pizzaro raised an eyebrow. “Go on, brother.”

“The boys were supposed to sing at the wedding over at the Royal Oak in support of Father Moonwall,” said Kadmus, whose superior manner had taken on the air of someone whistling as they walked blindly toward a cliff. “Would you have had me send them to a wedding in dirty robes?”

“Of course not, brother,” said Pizzaro respectfully. “And since you are so conscientious, I’ll assume you personally ensured the water used  to wash the boys’ robes was not the same that had been used to rinse the sheets that orphan from Falun slept in.”

Brother Kadmus swallowed but said nothing.

“I’m going to see Father Moonwall,” said Pizzaro. “We need to move these boys.”

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“I’ll authorize the move, Juris,”  said Father Moonwall, who looked fit in his formal vestments. “I’ll help carry them myself.”

“The Faulkner wedding?” Pizzaro cocked his head to the side.

“Wedding be damned,” said Moonwall, hastening to the door. “This whole area is like a tinderbox. If the wind shifts the sandpipers along the saltwater marshes could be all that survive.”

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