After a time of rest and relaxation the Hispidus, Valeska, and Oldrich met at the parlor to discuss matters. After luncheon and over brandy and cigars, the three men discussed events. With the plates empty and the snifters refilled, the Bishop cleared his throat.
“Terra Incognita was a concern of my sect. It was supposed to be our headquarters for our interests, and we applied some of our special technologies and populated it with people of like mind, specially selected from all over the world. The source of power for the island was derived from a device that tapped into the energies of the Earth itself, and utilized the properties of the substances collectively known as ‘quap’. Unfortunate phenomena began to manifest themselves in unexpected ways, and the island had to be abandoned. The island was built to protect itself, and continued to do so even after it was deserted; unluckily those effects impacted my people more profoundly, we were not able to intervene…”
“Your people?” muttered Valeska.
“We decided to let it be,” continued Bausothrose, “until the chance encounter of the King George, at which time our hand was forced. Major Oldrich, will you explain its fate?”
The clockwork man had been pouring his pureed meal into a funnel. He stored the funnel and spoke in his odd tin tap voice, “The island was a huge machine, designed to take care of itself and accommodate the inhabitants with minimal upkeep so the scientists and engineers that lived there could do their work unhindered. Alas, it was discovered that sickness, confusion and, most distracting, hallucinations, accompanied. After the evacuation the island continued to act autonomously. When the opportunity came … to rescue Sergeant Underwood … it was decided to end the trouble. The power source was maintained by a very sophisticated analytical engine, the control for which was a system of clack cards on stainless steel plates. The compartment that held the plates was the target for Agent McCullough. When he shot it full of holes he destroyed the engine’s brain, so to speak. With the main brain dead, another set of cards deeper in the well began to take over. The power engine was constantly turning and reconfiguring in specific ways, but when the smaller brain took over it slowly re-aligned the outer cylinders of the core of power until the quap engine lost its structural support and dropped into the well. When it encountered the molten magma of the Earth it exploded, and destroyed everything above it in the manner we observed.”
The Prussian then pulled out his feeding funnel and poured in a measure of brandy, “The problem now is the broadcast of the quap source into the air. And for this the Bishop has provided Professor Valeska with a recipe for an elixir to combat the impact of the quap contamination.”
They all fell silent. Valeska sat up straight in his chair, stood his cane in between his knees, and slipped into squinting thought. His face relaxed, and he leaned his head back, and kept his eyes closed, thumping his stick to emphasize certain words.
“Major, I do not hold you responsible for this, in no small part because your condition is largely my fault.” The clockwork tried to answer, but the old man showed him his palm. “And Bausothrose, I am grateful for your rescue and your assistance when I first arrived in this world dazed and confused. But I cannot forgive you what you have cost my (thump) people. Two squadrons of brave aeromen have been killed in the last week (thump). I cannot guess how many errant crews have been killed by your murder (thump) machine!”
The wraith stood and made no sound, but bowed toward the old man as he continued. “You stock the place with our best and brightest, expose them to some insidious contagion, and then release them back into the world! And now you have detonated the whole place? And blown that poison into the air of an ocean that serves four coasts? And you come here like some kind of civilized (thump) man? Even trying to show me some pale apologetic posture of sorrow? God damn (thump) you man, God (thump) Damn (thump) you man!” The meeting ended under such dark circumstances when Valeska abruptly left.
One week later, Valeska and Underwood left by Zeppelin for New Caledon’s Doctor’s Colleges, the professor refused any communication from the Bishop as long as he remained on the island. Underwood would eventually return to his Old School to convalesce, and even returned to Steelhead as a tutor; Valeska returned to New Babbage to continue the analysis of the solution Bausothrose had provided on the continent. The Bishop and the Major remained on Galveston Island for some time, meeting with various dignitaries as they transited from one place to another by way of the city, and it was quite a menagerie of nationalities they entertained.
“You absolutely must encourage him, do you understand? You must crowd him, you must task him. Press his anger through a conduit, force it to good use. It is supremely important!
Oldrich was approaching the gangplank, he stopped and only slightly inclined backward. “I will do what I can. He is a reasonable man, he will see his way through it.”
“What have we done?” the wraith asked.
“Mistakes were made. Glaubrius will understand, he is still upset over many things, still confused. He learns quickly, though.” The last of the cargo was still being loaded on the wheezing Prussian’s aeroship. They watched the Prince Albert, the world’s largest passenger Zeppelin, pass to the north on their way to San Francisco.
The clockwork man clicked and whistled, then said “This world is wonderful, Valeska will come to see it. Let not your heart be troubled.” He walked up the gangplank.