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Arctic Adventure

Archivist note: This article is from an older recovered archive and might be obsolete or in need of updating.

Most recent revision is shown below, by Galactic Baroque.

The Arctic Adventure Of Verlia Bilavio and Phineas Frakture

An original adventure conceived and written by Verlia Bilavio with additional material by Phineas Frakture

© Verlia Bilavio and Phineas Frakture 2010

I quite literally stumbled into New Babbage on my way to my previous destination. It was a bit upsetting almost slipping down into the canals, about to find myself wet and cold, which would have especially frightful considering the low temperatures New Babbage has in these months and the disgusting nature of those waters. Thankfully, for my safety and my health, that did not happen. At first, this town was merely a setback. Given my cold introduction, I had supposed that I would need to find a way to get back on course. That is to say, back to my searching. I had told some of the residents of New Babbage that I was just a traveler, and well, that is true, I am traveling. However, I never eluded to my purpose. Oh no, I am not taking a pleasant holiday. I am looking for my father, who I have not heard from in two years. I’m afraid of what’s happened to him or where he could be.

You see, I am quite used to long stretches where I did not hear from him at all. He’s an explorer of sorts and left myself, my sister Olivia, and my mother at home while he was away for long periods of time. I was always delighted when he would return from his trips, bringing back trinkets from far away lands and marvelous pieces of art for me to study. It was always bittersweet, knowing that the time he spent with us would mean he would have to leave again, but I was always attached to him, despite his long absences. I took comfort in knowing he would always come back and make the most of the time we had together as a family. The last I heard from him, he was sailing far north, hopefully en route to an expedition of the arctic. On his last stop, he sent me a letter briefly outlining his trip and telling me that he hoped a study of the geological conditions of the arctic would help better understand the nature of our world.

That letter he sent me is now two years old. My father should have been back by now, back to enjoying the company of our family. Yet, he is well overdue. I’ve had an idea of searching for him for a while now, but my mother forbade it. She said that as a woman, I would have a worse fate going after my father than any he could encounter. However, I am a woman of a new age and must take on this journey.
However, in my quarrel with my mother over my decision to go find my father, I failed to noticed her dwindling health. In afraid that with my father’s absence and her weak health that she has had all her life, she could not survive. I partly blame myself for worrying her over father’s absence and continually trying her nerves. Olivia and I buried her two months ago, only just after Olivia had married. My search for my father is the most important thing I can do now. I must find him before it is too late, as it was already too late for my mother.

While I’ve been traveling only a month (after Olivia and I finished the arrangements for our mother and our family estate), this process has already been very trying. Upon hearing that there were a few explorers in New Babbage and other persons that might give me clues about making such a journey, my father’s whereabouts, or following the notes he left in his last letter, I’ve decided to stay in New Babbage for a bit. Unfortunately, the town has been mostly empty, though I have encountered a few warm residents that I hope to see more of in the future. In the meantime, I pray for my father’s safety and for my determination to hold.
– Lia

Dearest sister, I do not know. I can’t understand why father wouldn’t write if he was staying longer. He’s, he’s… I fear he is dead for sure. My heart aches for him and I do not know how much longer I can keep this up. I can feel my heart weakening and this town I’ve arrived in seems to only be worsening my fears. It’s filled with that awful, dirty machinery. It’s unbearably cold and the pollution is so heavy that sometimes I have difficulty breathing. I can feel my heart struggling to stay beating.

One thing is certain, it is NOT like home and I fear that the lack of greenery is doing for my spirit what it is doing to my body. Give me back my trees by the lakes at our home and let me sit by their shores and read a while. The waters here are not ones that I can stand near without feeling a bit faint. I fear that I cannot recover in these harsh conditions.

If it weren’t for father’s disappearance then I would have not stopped in this town at all. It lacks any greenery that seems to warm my spirit and the people here are somewhat unapproachable, though the few that I have run into have been pleasant albeit a bit strange. More people hear seem to be divulged in rumors and drama than I have ever seen in my life!

My determination to find father is the only thing keeping me going. So far, I’ve compiled a list of ship sightings from a year ago and begun tracing their routes to possible destinations. There could have only been a few ships headed towards the arctic, and I doubt any other researching vessels. Once I have ruled out the unlikely candidates, then I hope that I can travel along their course and see what has become of father. I fear for him. Even more now than mother had. Oh how I fear for what’s happened to him…

It seems that all I have been doing over the past week as been collecting data, sorting through information, and exploding with frustration. (Of course, as soon as I write this, I can hear my mother’s voice hovering over these pages saying in her soft, firm voice, “A lady does not explode dear Verlia nor show any signs of frustration. She must keep her composure and not give any sign through her emotions that something is amiss.” She haunts my every move even from the grave, I’m afraid.) Sister never wrote back. It figures she would be so cold.

The truth is, I am not sure how I could possibly retain my composure when my emotions go through such a strong loop between finding a piece of information that looks promising, which sends me on an elated burst of energy and determination, to being dreadfully disheartened upon making the connection that the trail I had been following had nothing to do with my father. I wander these streets as a strange clash between hope and dread.

I do, however, believe that it was fate coming to this city. What an abundance of explorers and scientists! If I cannot accomplish my mission without the help of Babbage’s considerate residents, I do not believe any other place has much more to offer. I am surprised, no, elated, that I have met so many kind folks who have offered me up anything that they have. I have even met a man who has offered to take me to the arctic when I find an especially promising lead (which will probably be my only led, the one that will take me to my father at last!).

However, this man, despite his accomplishments, bothers me to no end by playing on my already fragile state of emotions. I’m sure I might have more of a chance of dying in the arctic from his stark remarks than to the frigid temperatures. The other day, when I was taking a stroll on a break from interpreting my gathered information, I must have been so lost in thought that I somehow missed a large crack in the cobblestones and plummeted down into the sewers. Of all places that I was to be that afternoon!

If I fell into the sewers that easily, it must have been a common occurrence and simple enough to get out, I reasoned. However, it was not, and I wandered around below the city for what seemed like an eternity until I heard a man’s voice call out to me something about having a gun because there were lots of monsters lurking in the sewers, looking for young ladies to feast upon. In my already frantic state (frantic from the ongoing search for my father and being trapped in the sewers), my eyes started to play tricks on me and in the sloshing of the waters (which happened to be my skirts moving behind me) I thought there was a monster who had come for me at last!

I screamed and I swear I could hear the man laughing above me, mocking me. It was enough for me to regain my composure and search for a way out immediately so I could teach the man a lesson about scaring young ladies. I did, thankfully, find my way out not a few moments afterwards and since then (even though I have thoroughly cleaned myself of any sewer muck that I seem to have acquired) he’s been sniffing at me and calling me a sewer rat, not to mention continuing to play on my fragile emotions.
Out of all of this, I am not sure what to think of him offering to take me to the arctic when I finally get a lead. He could find my company so distasteful that he might leave me there to endure whatever fate my poor father may have encountered. (NO. He did not encounter his fate yet!) Unfortunately, this man seems to be the most capable therefore, he must take me to the arctic. I only hope he does not strangle my nerves before I can find father.

It seems the fates have decided to laugh at my expense…again. The other night, I was having a quiet drink at the Gangplank. I was the only one at the establishment, since it was quite early, and as I contemplated the mysteries of the universe and a well brewed hops, I heard a faint screaming coming from the sewers below the establishment. Wondering who would be foolish enough to be tramping or lurking down there, I called out to see if there was a response. A woman’s voice answered and I had offered advice that she should be armed while down in the sewers, for as everyone knows, there are rumors of nasty creatures down there.

Apparently, the woman felt that I was mocking her for being so naive as to be wandering around alone and unarmed down there and proceeded to make her way out with haste and intention to thrash me verbally. Not long after the screams subsided, a smelly muck covered young lady appeared at the door. She was a newcomer to the city, which explains her foray into the sewers, and one I had not had the, um, pleasure of meeting. She seemed to be of rich background, rather spoiled and opinionated and not very well receiving of advice, even though I could tell she was in search of it. Expecting a tongue thrashing as she promised, I steeled myself with another draw from the tap…however she seemed to be holding back for some reason. Taking pity…no, that’s not right…more concern for the her state of mind after being in the sewers, I tried to find out more about her and her reasons for coming to New Babbage. She wasn’t very forthcoming with information, however she did mention that she was searching for her father. Once she had calmed down, she took her leave and I thought that would be the end or her. Why do I ever think that?

The following day, I encountered her again…still with a threat of teaching me a lesson and still failing to bring the threat to fruition. She was almost as obnoxious as she had been the previous night – a trait I had attributed to her ordeal, but alas, I guess that is her normal state. Shame….really. For even though she still had that sewer smell about her, she did clean up nicely and was rather easy on the eyes. After several insulting remarks, mostly about my coffee and how she felt I was a thorn in her side (which I hardly understood since we had barely just met), I learned that she was looking to hire someone who had been to the arctic.

I should have kept my mouth shut, however being there in my own reality several years ago while stopping an estranged colleague from melting the polar ice caps, I had extensive knowledge as to surviving in such a harsh environment and, furthermore, let her know that I did. Before I knew it, I realized that I had volunteered to accompany her. Now, granted I have absolutely nothing to do at the moment and no commitments, she is one of the most obnoxious women I have encountered in this city other than Miss Steele. How I expect to fare through this excursion with a person such as she is beyond me. Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll fall through an ice crack…or she will.

I am to meet with her once she has particulars of where we are to head. As in the past, I’m getting a bad feeling about this…I should heed it this time, but for some reason I know that this is something I must do. Someone up there hates me.

==ad addendum 1/29==
I spent the evening in her company again. Though more civil than before, she revealed some disturbing information about her father’s work. It seems that he was…is a geologist of sorts and had made a discovery regarding the poles…using research based upon Faraday’s principles. This, I must admit, scares the bloody hell out of me. I’ve used his research in my own in the past, and if my suspicions are right…the consequences of what he may be planning could be devastating. I fear that he has discovered a way to reverse the magnetic force of the natural poles of the earth.

For a geologist, it would be the ultimate research…for a madman, it would be a way to hold the world in the palm of his hand. I do not wish to reveal this fear to Miss Bilavio…but I must hasten her research into her father’s disappearance without arousing suspicion. It has been two years since he was last heard from and whatever plan he is involved with, must be near fruition. Mr. Harvey is assisting in locating possible routes her father may have taken, he is a good man, er Rabbit, and if anyone can track him it will be he. Lia will let me peruse her father’s notes that she has possession of. There must be something there to guide us.

Pray that I am wrong. Closes journal and places it in safe…it is not too early for absinthe today.

July 30th, 188x:
My colleague and I have been studying the designs for Crookes’ radiometer. While we are not chemists (nor, god forbid, alchemists) by any means, as esteemed men of science, we were asked by our Scientific Academy to quell any rumors that have been circulating around the scientific community that this device was solely meant to aid the study of spiritualism.

I, for one, admire Crookes’ scientific and precise study into spiritualism, and even the Royal Society in England has not been able to disprove his findings. I do hope he ends up publishing his findings in his own books, as I am sure the Royal Society would not approve of journals on spiritualism being circulated in the name of science. It is only in his precision and terminology (as he refers to spiritualism as a psychical phenomena) that keeps him alive in the Royal Society.

As for the understanding that the radiometer was meant to be used to measure spectral emanations, my colleague and I are not sure. We have finished testing today and have not encountered anything out of the ordinary, although we have been quite interested in its relationship to measuring electromagnetic radiation. The reason behind why the device fitted inside the radiometer rotates has baffled the scientific community. (Although, the question of ‘why’ certain things on this earth act the way they do has been a question since the dawn of science.)

I have, however, added it to my collection of instruments to be used in our forthcoming Arctic exploration, as I can see how it would be useful in understanding the changes in magnetism. We will report our findings to the Scientific Academy in a few days time. In the meanwhile, I hope to do more research for my trip, as the departure time is slowly creeping up on me.

August 4th, 188x:
Attended a lecture at our Scientific Academy on land bridges by a Mr. Marcou. As a geologist and natural physicist, I find this controversy to be one of the most interesting about our planet. The origin of masses of people whom we know to all be of the same species, despite past controversies (but that is another entry, I’m afraid), has been always an interesting subject. How did these people get on another continent, far away and secluded from our main land mass, before the use of boats and other sea vessels? Mr. Marcou believes land bridges may have had something to do with it.

However, I am far more interested in the discoveries of similar plant and animal species that occur on opposite shores of two continents, the most prominent example being of the eastern coast of southern America and the western coast of Africa. The theory of land bridges seems to be gaining popularity in an attempt to solve this mystery, although I am not quite convinced. Any person who has studied the fine maps available of our globe in these times (which have made such great advancements since the first maps of the Americas in the early 16th century) can tell that the continents of Africa and America are complementary to one another.

The theory of continental drift, while not as popular as this theory of land bridges, is not new, but is several centuries old by now. Many of our great scientists, including Abraham Ortelius and Francis Bacon (who should be distinguished by any of you non-scientists from the intolerable Robert Bacon who believes this planet must be subdued and tortured into submission!), have noted this observation.
I’m afraid that Mr. Marcou does not take this great observation into account. If there were land bridges then where have they gone now? Perhaps his scientific research and observations will take his to study more of the coasts of our continents, looking for clues to the whereabouts of this hidden ‘land bridges’. I was not the one, however, to voice my concerns, as there seemed to be a rather angry gentlemen who stood up in the middle of the lecture posing all sorts of questions even I would not think to ask. Mr. Marcou stood baffled until the man had to be escorted out.

August 14th, 188x:
We are continuing our research on the magnetic north and have encountered something, well, something unexpected. It appears that the experiments we have recently been doing on the ocean floor off our own coastline have revealed a strange work of magnetism. Some men of science, believing this planet to be entirely mechanical and predictable, might even call it occult as they did centuries ago with gravity. While our world is a beautiful mechanism, it still possesses strange characteristics and mysteries men of science may never solve, including the discover we made only last night.

It has come to my attention that the magnetic fields of our world have not been the same over the course of our planet’s life. Indeed, they have been reversed many times before, the last time being not quite a million years ago. The consequences of such a reversal, my colleague and I are still not sure. It could be a simple occurrence that is added into our earth’s history that our history of the human race has yet to encounter in the name of science. However, I am quite interested in tying this discovery into our future research in the Arctic. Perhaps our research in the magnetic north will be able to lend some clues as to why a magnetic reversal would occur, and any possible consequences of such a reversal. I’m afraid we may be at the dawning of a new Weltanschauung.

August 20th, 188x:
Despite the studies in magnetism over the past century, some seem to still believe it to be associated with the occult. The spiritualists’ use of Franz Mesmer’s animal magnetism certainly is not a help. Despite the advancements in mesmerism’s scientific fact, I for one am glad it is being referred to now as hypnotism among the scientific community. Any more connections between my scientific research and the occult or spiritualism would surely be a controversy and far from the truth.

I received two letters of note today, one from the Linnean Society and one anonymous. The good news is that the Linnean Society wishes to fund part of my research in the Arctic. I am not sure what they are hoping to acquire in terms of biological knowledge, however I am quite pleased with their involvement. I have not, of course, let them know of my recent, frightening discoveries in magnetic reversal, which brings me to the topic of my second letter.

Someone has found out about my research, despite my confidentiality with my colleague. I am quite surprised, as it has only been a few days since we have returned from off the coast. However, the disturbing fact is that this letter is, at its very core, a threat to my research and my life! I fear the threats written in this letter, but I will not back down from my research. It is the greatest discovery of my career and has extreme importance to all natural physicists.

August 25th, 188x:
I fear we must make haste at once! I am only glad that the crew for our expedition is ready so soon. Last night I found someone sneaking around my laboratory. Thankfully they did not find me at my home, as I am starting to fear for my family as well. I struggle with the idea that anyone would want to cause harm to me or my family, as I do not believe my research would cause harm to the scientific community.
However, I cannot put this off any longer. We must leave at once. Today, even. I must figure out the true nature of my research in the Arctic, for I am sure its importance is much greater than I had originally anticipated. With the letter last week and now the strange man outside my laboratory, I know I must finish my research before something happens. What this something is, I am not sure my mind wishes to imagine.

I can’t believe the conditions we were supposed to travel in. I mean, it was supposed to be cold, but when Phineas told me that I needed to cut my load by a quarter of what I had, I was shocked. Olivia would never survive, I’m sure. (Though I’m also sure she would have died in the sewers if she fell down in there.) I’m sure I’ll be embarrassed not wearing a long dress, but I’m afraid they take up too much space and are not very appropriate for the kind of traveling we wish to do.

I did not pick a worse time to travel north, that’s for sure. However, Phineas seems to think that we shouldn’t delay. I am not sure why. Perhaps he found something important in my father’s journals? For now I’ll trust his judgment, even though I still believe he was mocking me that very first day. But yes, I did end up fitting everything into a large pack (no, trunks! My mother would be shocked!) including the extra things Phineas gave me to store. I cannot believe he tried to get me to put some of his precious coffee in with my things. He seems to like the aroma of coffee on his clothes and he mumbled something about an extra layer of caffeine before hurrying off to check on the ship we were taking.

Ah yes. I bet everyone in New Babbage was wondering when we’d be off. It seemed like an eternity going through all my notes until we decided to try for magnetic north and ports to the north of here. I had spotted a ship, thanks to the catalogues in Mr. Harvey’s library, that was headed to Norway. Although it wasn’t listed under my father’s name, it was going far north and something inside of me knew at the very moment I laid eyes on the entry that this was him. I had found a piece of him, I knew where he had been. I could find him. I could find him.

That ship was a mess though. I spent the entire time feeling like I was going to spill my supper (and my breakfast, dinner, and tea). I continued to glare at Phineas whenever he suggested I did much better in the sloshing sewer waters than on the sea. He continues to call me his little sewer rat and I continue to plot my revenge.

I really wish we had taken an airship, but Phineas seemed to doubt that they’d do well in cold weather. How little I know astonishes me to a lesser extent until I remember my mother’s restricted education. Oh, how I longed to read the books in father’s library without her watchful eye. (Oh yes, of course I read them anyway and she’s probably rolling over in her grave right now).

I didn’t know how long it took to get from New Babbage to Iceland. In between trying not to hurl the contents of my stomach and worrying about father, it was hard to tell how long I had been on that ship. But I was glad when I could finally walk around a bit even if we were stopping only briefly before heading onto Canada. Phineas rushed off and left me blinking on the docks wondering if he had been there at all. Well it was enough time for me to go find the harbormaster to have a little chat.
Quite a pleasant fellow (much more than I can say about my companion), though he did
warn me not to continue further until the spring unless I really knew what I was doing. I hope Phineas knows what he’s doing. Speaking of him, he now wishes to call me his ‘boss’ or ’employer’ whenever we are in the presence of others, though I shouldn’t complain as anything else might harm my reputation. The harbormaster showed me his books and I had a bit of struggle finding father’s ship. He had used another name again upon coming to Reykjavik, which I thought rather strange. This time it was a Mr. Cornelius Dalton, which I recognized as being one of the character’s in father’s very own stories he would tell Olivia and I as small children, who we much preferred to simply call ‘corny’.

However, what was more strange was what happened later that day. I was having my afternoon tea while waiting for more supplies to be loaded on the ship when I could have sworn I saw the same man who I had seen earlier that day after finishing my chat with the harbormaster. He was hovering outside the cafe and from a mirror on the wall, I had a clear view of him ‘attempting’ to read his newspaper. My first thought was that I must have not looked dull enough today as this man was clearly stalking me and had bad plans for my dainty features. I was ill prepared for a man following me, as I was alone and could clearly not fend him off. As I weighed my options, I decided to finish my tea slowly, as it would probably be the last pleasure I would get before setting off to worse conditions.

When I walked out of the cafe, I took the first corner, glancing behind me ever so slightly to see the man stand up, fold his newspaper, place it under his arm and take long strides towards me. I hurried off, wondering if I should go towards the ship, but decided against it. Whoever he was, tracking me to the ship I was taking would be a bad idea if he wanted to follow me. I decided instead to go to where most of the people were.

As I turned another corner, I could see him now, closer, and for the first time on this journey, I feared for my life. I quickened my pace, determined to get rid of him, as my speed was my only advantage, even if it was slight. I could see a main street ahead of me where there were lots of people, quite a few to blend in between and could see myself vanishing into the crowd. Yes, it would have worked out perfectly if it hadn’t been for one small detail.

I turned my head again to get another look at my follower and just as I turned back I crashed into something, no, someone, and felt something scalding hot pour down the front of my dress. It was none other than Phineas and his coffee, or what was left of it, as most of it was now burning my skin and turning my dress a dreadful shade of brown. I screamed out in both surprise and pain while Phineas started shouting about me ruining the only good part of his day and having to repay him for the cup of coffee I had just now wasted. Of course, he would be completely oblivious to how I felt, which was much much worse than his disappointment over spilled coffee.

I looked up at him and I still can’t believe it. He was smiling, like it had been his devious plan all along. I was furious that he would do such a thing, and on purpose too (well, not so much as shouting as raising his voice slightly in anger). When the liquid had cooled off and I came into a state of being not only wet and smelling of that dreadful stuff, but now getting cold and even more angry with him, I asked him if he had seen him, the man following me. He wouldn’t talk of anything, just advised me to return to the ship because they had finished loading supplies and we needed to leave very soon.

I was not happy to go back to feeling my insides churning, but I was less happy about dealing with Phineas being very unhappy with me (which was completely his fault, who stands in the middle of a street with a cup of coffee not looking around anyway?). I could hear him carrying on for quite a while when we finally got moving. I really didn’t think he got that upset over coffee, really. However, I was even more confused by the man, who when I turned back while Phineas was yelling in the street, was, of course, gone.

I stood outside the meat pie shop for a good fifteen minutes, deciding if I should go in and say goodbye to Talisa and Allanas. I felt uneasy leaving them at this time, with Allanas and her pregnancy, which are still two words that do not go together well, and her sister’s behavior becoming more and more erratic. Something is definitely wrong between the two of them but I just can’t put my finger on it. Then there is the new tenant above the shop…a barber of some sort who is even odder than the two put together. I don’t trust him, however, that is none of my business who she rents to. I now have agreed to do a job and must see it through to the end. Finally, I picked up my rucksack and headed out to collect my employer. They will be fine without me around. They probably won’t even notice I am gone. On the plus side, Miss Bergamasco had found me walking and handed off a bag of her chocolates for my trip. For once, she didn’t swipe something from me…I think.

I was greeted by Miss Bilavio at her room, surrounded by several steamer trunks. She had just finished packing the last one and she had the nerve to tell me to start hauling them all downstairs. I looked at the woman, deciding whether to strangle her now or just stuff her into one of her precious trunks, but went with the side of diplomacy and headed for the trunks. I heard her shriek as I thrust open each trunk and began tossing her effects into piles. “No…no…definitely not…wear this…no…what the devil is this for? No…no…spiked heels? Make up? Your cheeks will be red naturally. No…no…don’t you have any breeches?” I pulled out a package from my sack and handed it to her…“Try these on, the dressmaker said they were your size. I figured you wouldn’t be prepared. Really, dresses for an arctic mission? Two at most if we will be in public.” When I was finished, her belongings were reduced to one sack that I had thoughtfully brought along and we were ready to depart. I could feel her piercing eyes burrow into the back of my skull as I left to check on our ship.

The first leg of our trip was uneventful, if you could call it that. Our cabins were next to each other and every time we hit a swell, I heard the pounding of her feet and slamming of bulkheads as she ran for the rail to feed the fish. The smell coming from next door was unbearable and I had to spend most of my time above decks in the cold spray. We hardly said two words to each other the entire trip – I kept my distance after she threw up on my shoes…I still have a feeling that they were her intended target. Finally, on the last day before landfall, her stomach settled long enough to be somewhat pleasant company. A shame really, the cook made fine meals the entire voyage and she has been asking for my company at dinner since we met. Maybe when we are back on solid ground I will take her for soup and something settling to her stomach.

Once we were cleared to disembark, I picked a photo of her father from her belongings and tucked it into my coat. We hadn’t much time before the ship took on its cargo and I decided to make the most of it. I passed Miss Bilavio as I took off down the gangplank and told her to wait there. My first stops took me to the hotels and taverns where a man on the run would have stayed. Then farther into the seedier areas of the city. I came up empty the entire time. No one saw the man and I felt we might have hit a dead end. That was also when I hit a wall of similar proportions.

I was heading back to give her my report when my path was blocked by three rather gargantuan men. They built them large in Iceland, that was for sure. I thought I could slip by them, however they were quicker than they looked. Two of them hooked an arm through mine and dragged me into an alley while the third pulled out a razor. “Look, I don’t have any money on me so just leave me be,” I told them, hoping they spoke English. The blade came up to my throat and with breath that smelled like sardines and vodka, he told me in no uncertain terms, and in English by the way, to go back to New Babbage and leave Miss Bilavio’s side. Personally, I was a bit offended by the advice and he obviously saw that in my expression. He punctuated his statement by landing a meaty fist to my lower left. My breath left my body for a moment and I doubled over. Ugly and Uglier slackened their grip a bit and I tried to slip free, lunging at sardine breath. Instead of doing him harm, I felt a sting on my already bruised left and realized it was the razor still in his possession. The twin troglodytes then smashed me back into the wall and let me lay there in a heap. “Leave her…this is your last warning,” the one called back as they left…or something to that effect…as I was a little busy trying to find my spleen at the moment.

Staggering back to the wharf, I smelled the sweet aroma of coffee drifting from a café. I ordered the biggest cup they had and then continued on my way. I was just about to take a drink when something hit me square on my bruised ribs and the coffee went spilling all over the projectile. A familiar squeal let me know that I found my employer and in between losing my coffee and the pain I was feeling from the blow, I let out a tirade of curses that made a couple sailors flinch and run. I’m not sure what I was saying, but in the middle of it all, I caught sight of a man clearly more than interested in Lia. Taking a chance, I composed myself and gave him a big smile, shaking my head to let him know that I wouldn’t be dissuaded from helping her. I could see that it had the desired effect as he scowled and ran off into the crowd. She began going on about something, but I was still in pain and just as upset about my coffee, so without an argument, I told Lia we were going back to the ship.

When I finally returned to my room, I slammed the door, all the while still cursing about the coffee and not wanting her to know the stakes were being raised. I gingerly removed my coat and shirts, checking out the goons’ handiwork. A slight gash marked my side, not deep since my coat and clothing took the majority of the blade. I stitched it up rather sloppily and would have the ship’s surgeon take a look at it when Lia was asleep. Also, a nice bruise was starting to show where I was slugged. I sat there, letting the pain subside… thinking. I felt in over my head on this. Why I assumed that I could help her was beyond me. However, she fared better than I, having talked to the harbor master and finding her father‘s next destination. I guess that is all that matters…that she find him. I, on the other hand, will continue to keep her safe and offer suggestions. It seems that I’ve done well in that capacity at least. She’s a good woman, though I won’t say that to her face, she has the notion that I’m an arrogant fool without care for her situation. She’ll need to keep that impression if something happens to me. I don’t want her becoming attached and losing control…her father is depending on her. I rolled onto my bunk gasping for breath when I was finished and decided that her dinner will have to wait.

Everyday we draw closer I can feel myself growing a bit uneasy. This anxiety grows on me like a slow plague and sometimes I am unsure if my stomach dares to be so unsteady because of this ship or because of my growing fears. I haven’t been sleeping much lately. I am sure Phineas can hear me tossing in my bed and pacing the small room. I’m scared of what he might think of the information I acquired upon leaving New Babbage. Now that I have gotten used to being on a ship, my stomach has decided to settle (save for my anxiety) and I have just gotten around to opening the letter sent to me by Olivia’s husband. Thank the heavens he noticed my plea to Olivia and realized the seriousness of the issue.

He took it upon himself to look through my father’s things for anything of importance and was also generous enough to send me a small amount of funds which I am sure will go a long way. I sit here now with the massive stack of notes attached to his letter wishing I had opened it sooner or, at the very least, simply given it to Phineas. I am sure he’ll be upset that it’s taken me this long to read its contents, especially considering the nature of them.

How could I have not seen it sooner really? The missing pages to father’s journal (which he carelessly left behind in his haste, though at this point I’m not sure if he left his journal behind on purpose.) These pages spell out a much worse fate for father. I am sure there was a reason for him keeping hidden these pages and I am also sure James went through great hassle acquiring them. He is a good man, despite his attachment to Olivia.

About these pages. I fear what father has written on them. In the few weeks leading up to his departure he began researching something beyond the realm of science. I fear to write this down again, although I feel I must. There is a society of intellectuals woven into the framework of our greatest and most notable societies. However, unlike the goals of our ambitious societies (like father’s own scientific academy), the goals of this specific society are vile, immoral, and I dare to say filled with pure evil.

*At this moment I stopped, putting down my pen and listened. There were footsteps outside my door, drawing closer. I started to doubt it was a good idea after all taking this journey to find father. They’ve come for me already, I thought. They’ve found a way onto the ship and with Phineas sleeping next door I was afraid… I’m afraid.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. I looked up, clutching the missing pages and James’ letter in my hands, expecting for the door to open at any moment and my mission to stop right there.
It didn’t go exactly the way I imagined, of course. I was jolted out of my fears by Phineas’ voice, letting out the breath that I must have been holding since I first read those dreadful lines.
Phineas. Yes. He would know what to do.

I reminded myself that this was not a burden I had to carry alone and for the first time since I had met the man, I was actually glad to have him around. That is, until he started to call out to me.
“Pretend to sleep if you want…some of us might actually like to try the actual thing. PLEASE turn out your light and stop scuffling around in there like a…”

If you could’ve seen my face, I’m sure it was redder than ever. I nodded and then remembered that he was still on the opposite side of the door. What was I thinking? Here I was, reading this information of grave importance by myself and worrying myself even more greatly than mother ever had. If finding father doesn’t kill me, I know I’ll be a much stronger woman when –if– we return.

I realized a long moment of silence had passed without any acknowledgment of having heard what he said. The papers were still held tight in my hands and I had to think for a moment before turning them into a crumpled mess.

“Alright,” he finally said.

I think he was a bit surprised when I quickly opened the door, my hand already on his wrist as he was turning back; a slight whisper was on my lips with a plea: “Wait.”

He paused. I said it again. “Wait.” I took a breath as he grew impatient. “There’s something you need to see.” Looking down on my hand on his, his eyebrow shot up and he started to get this stupid grin on his face. “Oh, you’re intolerable,” I said as I dragged him into the room and motioned him to sit down.
I shoved the letter and the missing pages still in my hands into his, pacing the room (although there was little room to pace) while I let him read the words for himself. My mind was still going over the words in my head. The society. The machine. The realm of the unknown.

An eerie chill swept over me. If this ‘society’ meant to do what father indicated, then it would be life threatening for more than just father. Which meant that my journey to the arctic was much more important than I had ever imagined.

I waited for Phineas to finish before I spoke. “I suppose any fears you might have had about my father’s intentions have now been cleared up.” I laughed rather…well…I rather forced a slight laugh as he stared at the pages. And while I was shaking, Phineas simply looked rather annoyed.

I was expecting a few questions in the least but all he did was get up, lifting the papers in his hand and say, “I’m taking these with me.” He walked out the door without another word. Frankly, I was a bit stunned. However, with all of the worrying and my rapid speculation over father’s notes, I was finally tired enough to sleep and not bother Phineas any longer. As I closed my eyes, I could hear him in the next room. I doubt he’d be getting much sleep tonight.

I was glad when we finally reached our final port. Phineas had barely said a word to me since I let him read the letters. I now never saw him without them. He was always studying them with a huge mug of coffee (I still have no idea where he gets the stuff). Truth was, the past few days had been a bit lonely without his continual annoying remarks. I struggled to place the feeling and then shook my head. No. What was I thinking? It would get much worse when it would only be the two of us on the trek to the arctic.

Unfortunately we would have to take another ship as far as we could into the North-West Territories, what my father still refers to as Rupert’s Land in his notes, until the conditions become too much. I’ve heard that the sea ice at this time of year is unbearable not to mention the men on this ship have been continually trying to convince me to wait until the end of spring to continue. They say this year has been one of the coldest they have seen. They are sure we will perish in the arctic.

With this being the last town we would see, Phineas and I would have to make sure we would have more than enough supplies for the entire journey. My back was already aching from having to actually carry everything I packed when I left New Babbage but to think I’d have to carry more was beyond my comprehension. I was a small woman with absolutely no background in labor (yes, you can thank mother for that), but I would have to toughen up if we were going to find my father.

I felt like a burden following Phineas as we gathered our supplies around town, but I was particularly interested in hearing what he had to say about father’s notes. He had to know more than me about what father was researching. “Phineas?” I asked as we were leaving a shop, continuing to walk down the street. He let out a small, “hmm?”, but looked annoyed at me asking anything at all, his eyes darting around and his thoughts definitely on something else, something more important than listening to my questions.

“About father’s machine. Do you think it was actually–” I began to say. He stopped and sighed and then after a moment continued walking again. I continued as well. “Do you think it was actually possible to convert the–” I stopped as Phineas reached out and gripped my arm, hard. I looked down a little shocked, but I would not be dissuaded. “Could he convert the mag–”

This time I was forced to stop. Phineas had quickly dragged me over to a dark nook between the two buildings. Now, I don’t take very fondly to being dragged around, although I was probably light enough that it took him little effort, and I was just about to inform him that he should try to respect me more. Just because I was a woman didn’t mean he could tell me what to do and I would blindly follow.

I could feel his breath upon my face, as he was standing quite close to me, and looked up slightly to him, now angered that he wouldn’t let me speak either. “Now listen,” I began to say. “I want to know–” It was the crush of his lips covering mine that stopped me next. I was more than shocked, really, as he held me there with one hand holding himself up against the wall and the other arm slowly wrapping itself around my waist. I leaned closer to him, breathing in his smell of coffee and the ocean, with the heat between us beckoning me to stay enclosed in his warmth. I almost wanted to stay that close to him, caught up in this kiss, but he suddenly broke away and stepped back. His arms returned back to his sides and the cold wind rushed back between us.

I stumbled a bit and shook my head. Then it hit me, as I came back to my logical mind and saw his face a safe distance away from him. What had I been thinking? And then I remembered, him dragging me over here and refusing to pay any attention to my questions. I’m such a fool, I remember thinking, and with that thought I reached back and slapped him square across his cheek, hoping it would leave it mark.

He only looked back at me, grinning, and said, “Yeah, I didn’t think it was that good either.” His eyes darted back onto the street and for a moment I wondered what he was looking at, or looking for, before he grabbed me by the wrist again and pulled me off in the opposite direction from where we were headed. I would have to talk to him later about treating me properly. I was still fuming over what had happened when I glanced into the street, Phineas’ hand still on my wrist tugging me along, and thought I saw a familiar face. I shook my head. No, I don’t know anyone from here, but upon looking back, I was sure of who it was.

I tugged on Phineas’ arm. “Phineas. Stop.” He turned around and by the look on his face, I could tell he expected to get a bit of a proper talking about what had happened between the two of us. I turned back to look at the man in the street. “Do you see that man over there.” “Well, yes, there are a lot of men on the street. Do you mean to say that you’ve decided to give up your search and live out the rest of your days with the toothless, old fisherman?” He grinned a bit, but I just ignored him. “No, look. The nicely dressed one. With the round glasses and the polished cane.” He looked down at me, a bit more serious this time. “That’s father’s colleague! What would he be doing here?” I looked back at him, but he was already starting to pull me in the opposite direction. “We have to go talk to him!” I exclaimed, and before he could say anything about it not being a good idea, I was already halfway across the street.

“Mr. Allen!” I said as I approached him. “I was not expecting to see you here.” He nodded and smiled. “Yes, Miss Bilavio. I am quite surprised to see you as well.” However, I could tell just by looking at him that he was not surprised at all. I was a bit startled and was wondering about his lack of shock when I heard Phineas finally approaching. “Ah! This is my…erm…well. This is Mr. Frakture,” I finally managed to say. Mr. Allen simply nodded. “I was wondering if you had some time to talk about father’s work?” I asked. He beckoned us into a small cafe. Phineas immediately moved to a dark corner where he could watch the street but be unseen.

Mr. Allen and I sat down next to him. Again, I was surprised when Mr. Allen never once asked what I was doing this far away from home or why exactly I was asking about father’s research. I supposed it was because once he saw me, he already knew. I turned to him and asked, “He’s still out there, isn’t he?” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know the reason for Mr. Allen returning from the arctic. Mr. Allen nodded.

“Oh yes. Your father is still at the north.” I let out a breath of relief. “He ran into a bit of trouble constructing the machine that was to convert the Earth’s magnetic energy into usable energy. When he left, while he did have much of his equipment loaded onto the ship, a few key parts were left behind. He had to wait quite a while to get the necessary components to rebuild these parts before heading off into the arctic.” I nodded.

“What can you tell me of father’s work on this machine?” I asked, glancing at Phineas who I noticed already had a large cup of coffee sitting in front of him.

Mr. Allen continued, “I am sure you already know that your father was studying the nature of Earth’s magnetism for quite some time.”

“Yes,” I responded, “He talked about it quite often with such enthusiasm!” I did not say that I hardly ever payed attention to what father was talking about, as much talk of science simply baffled me.

“It was the culmination of our career. When your father found the formula for conversion and tested it in his lab over a year ago on the simple device we had constructed, all that it emitted was a small spark that unfortunately countered the machine’s process, thus making it unusable. We both agreed that if we were to make an actual conversion mechanism, we would have to take it to one of the magnetic poles in order for it to have the desired effect. William was already gathering the necessary components when several scientific societies expressed interest in the nature of his research.”

While I listened to Mr. Allen talk, I looked over at Phineas who was staring outside. I wondered if he was even listening to what Mr. Allen was saying. No, he must have been. After all the hours of time he had spent pouring over the missing pages in my father’s journal, I’m sure he was listening, but the creeping sensation of disappointment still lingered in the back of my mind. Was he really that angry at me when I slapped him after he kissed me? No, I reminded myself, it wasn’t important, father’s research was what I should be focusing on.

“When we arrived here, he was adamant about getting the magnetic north as soon as he finished the rest of his components. William was already worried about the lost time spent waiting for the mechanism’s components to arrive and the time he had to spend compiling a new, grander, machine. I tried to persuade him to wait until at least April before setting out, as the trek would be dangerous in the summer months but much more deadly in the winter. He did not take my advice, however, and left mid-October for the magnetic north. I did end up accompanying him to the magnetic north, however, I left shortly after his team made camp. The conditions were too much for me. Taking care of the machine’s components alone was a bit of a struggle, as each had to be properly stored otherwise they would start to show signs of oxidation in a matter of days.”

I nodded, wondering what my father was still doing in the arctic. Mr. Allen continued, “I came back to this port waiting for news of your father’s expedition and research. I have heard very little other than news that he was still there and still working. I doubt if he will ever return.” I must have looked worried, because Mr. Allen smiled reassuringly at me. “Of course,” he said, “I will try to persuade you not to go find him yourself and to stay with me here in town until he does return. However, if you do decide to brave the conditions, I can provide you with the best route to follow. It is much more dangerous of a journey than anything you have ever encountered Miss Bilavio. I do strongly urge you to consider returning home or at least staying here until the spring.”

I shook my head. “I’m afraid that isn’t possible,” I said, with no indication of why. Mr. Allen smiled, getting up from his chair. “In that case, please see me before you leave for the coordinates along the route. I would not want a young lady such as yourself, even in company, to get lost. I’m afraid I must be leaving but it was a pleasure seeing you Miss Bilavio and it was nice to meet you Mr. Frakture.” He nodded his head to both of us before exiting the cafe. Phineas was strangely silent and I did not want to say anything to him.

A few hours later, Phineas had, by some glorious scheme (I did not ask), already secured our voyage on a ship that agreed to take us as close to the magnetic north as possible. When he returned after settling the last of the plans, he had this weird grin on his face and told me to gather my things as we were leaving already.

As we were walking towards the ship, I turned and asked him, “So you finished the arrangements of our travel once we leave this ship, right?” He nodded. “Well I hope you got good sled dogs, I wouldn’t want to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere,” I said, looking at him, still with that grin on his face. “…especially with you.” “Oh no.” He smiled. “I’ve got something better.” I worried what that might be as I stepped onto the ship. —— Thankfully, our ride on the ship was mostly uneventful. Phineas was as harsh to me as when I first met him and I was, well, a bit relieved that he mentioned nothing of the kiss at the previous port. Frankly, I was much more concerned over the nature of my father’s research, his condition, and the even greater trials we would face on our journey. These things had me far more worried than Mr. Frakture’s intentions.

You could tell we were getting closer as the ship was running into larger patches of sea ice, and more frequently. The first few times, they had men try to puncture the ice to see if the boat would move further. However, after a few hours of struggle, the ship stopped for the last time. I admit, this isn’t the most ideal situation, bringing what appeared to be the most unbearable man with me into the Arctic. But I could not have left by myself. Sitting in my outgrown room after I returned from mother’s funeral, alone in that house with father being who knows where and in what condition… Well, if I thought that was a struggle then I’d like to see what old Lia has to say about me now. Stepping off that boat for the last time when they could break the ice no further, feeling the crunch of the snow beneath my boots and turning to see the vast nothingness before me was like stepping into the swirling madness of my own mind, somehow full of howling void. I am now at the height of my fears (in so many ways), but when we, that is, Phineas and I, set off from New Babbage, I was much more hopeful than I am now, and much more willing to chide Phineas about his addiction to coffee or the size of his ego. It was cold when we set out, but not as cold as now, not as cold as I fear my heart might become.

The front ramp of our transport landed on the ice with a resounding thump. All of the deck hands grumbled as they worked, heaving our cargo out of the ship, cursing the cold and foolishness of their passengers. Lia, wrapped in a fur parka, edged up to me and whispered, “Dogs would be easier to unload.” I shook my head and squinted from behind my goggles at her resistance. Once unloaded, I passed each hand a few pounds for their inconvenience and then released the straps from the tarp covering our cargo. The wind lifted the cover in a flourish before I pulled it in and as I turned to see the reaction on my employer’s face, I found that she was already frowning and formulating some condescending remark.

“What the devil is that monstrosity?” she asked.

“A Grordbort Tundra Perambulator,” I replied proudly. “Only seven actually built. Twin steam turbine driven half-track, enclosed cab…with heat, can move at a breathtaking pace of twenty kilometers an hour, navigate any terrain, and can be fitted with a multitude of accessories…which we have none, I see.”

“It’s a piece of junk,” she replied.

“It runs and will get us there faster, not to mention we don’t have to feed it, except for coal and we have plenty of that. It will do us nicely”

“If we don’t die of tetanus first,” she said running a gloved hand over a rusty hand rail. “Just how much did this cost?” she asked suspiciously.

“Oh, don’t worry. The guy said you had enough in your account to pay for it,” I answered just to spite her. I was rewarded by a quick jaw drop before she realized I was kidding and I deftly avoided a retort by starting to load up our provisions. Prepping the ‘beast’ as she fondly nicknamed it, I started it up and the cold mechanics of the machine screeched and thudded in resistance. The sound was deafening, echoing across the wasteland. From across the water, we heard the sailors laughing as they departed on their much quieter ship.

Two hours later, I was pounding on the drive train to the tune of ‘I told you so’ as Lia sat comfortably inside. “You’re lucky I’m versed in mechanics,” I said as I returned and started the engine.

“I see,” she retorted, “but your services wouldn’t be necessary if we had brought dogs.” “True, and we could have eaten the dog if it broke down,” I said just to keep her quiet. It worked, but unfortunately, the silence was getting too much to bear. My mind kept drifting back to the last port of call, not to the information that we received, but to that hasty moment in the street. I’m still not sure if it was intentional or not, I had been trying to convince myself that it was necessary and nothing more.

“Look,” I said, finally breaking the hush, “I don‘t want you to get the wrong impression of me. I know I‘ve been harsh and inconsiderate at times and you probably think of me as a complete ass to be around. But there’s reason for that.”

“Because you are?” she queried. “Thanks, but no,” I retorted.

“You were in over your head on this and you needed someone who wasn’t going to handle you with kid gloves. You also needed someone who wasn’t going to take advantage of you and leave you at the first sign of trouble. I’m not here to be a nurse-maid. I’ve seen your type before, lost in your little bubble of reality, not knowing the world as you should and maybe hoping for Prince Charming to come in and save the day. I’m as far from that as you could imagine. But I was a professor once and know how research can corrupt a person’s mind…or attract a corrupt mind. Maybe not your father, but there are others interested in your father’s work. You had to have seen the guy following you in Iceland…he wasn’t alone. His friends tried to warn me off not too far away from where you ran into me…and my coffee. The roughed me up pretty bad, but I stayed. They’ve been keeping their distance since then, but they’ve been there…at every turn.
“That night you found Mr. Allen…they were there too. I tried to keep you quiet, so they wouldn’t notice us, but you just kept talking.”

“And…that is why you kissed me on the street?” she asked, “to keep me safe from them?” There was something odd in her voice. I would say it was disappointment and I was ready to tell her no, that it was something more than that, but as quickly as it showed, it was pushed away and her ‘proper’ demeanor raised its annoying head once again. “Then I thank you, sir, for…looking out for me, but you need to find other, more appropriate means of expressing your assistance.”

“It seemed like the best option at the time. I just don’t want you getting the wrong idea, that’s all,” I said again, more hastily than I intended. I shoved the drive into low gear to get over a mound of snow. “Nothing more.” “I did know someone was following us, though I hoped we lost them when I didn’t see them again. I am not that naive,” she said, seemingly to just spite my ego…and then her tone softened again.

“And these men, how badly did they hurt you?” she asked.

“Just a bruised rib or two and a cut. I can handle a bit of punishment. I’m out here with you, aren’t I?” I tried to smile to change our mood, but somehow I seemed to fall short. I wasn’t used to traveling in constant night. The silence was even more awkward than before…she hadn’t said a word since our last conversation. Everything told me that we should stop to set up camp, but looking at my watch said that it was only four in the afternoon. So, we pressed on…looking at hills and ravines of snow and ice and a lot of nothing. It was when I realized that I had been dreaming for a moment and nearly falling out of my seat that I finally found a sheltering bluff and stopped. Fortunately for me, Lia had fallen asleep as well and had not noticed my lethargic behavior. Waking her, we set up a thermal shelter as quickly as possible and set a fire outside, though careful to ration our kindling. I popped open a can of salt pork which we shared and complained about. I fear the shop keeper gave us some old stock, expecting not to see us again, but it was edible nonetheless.

Huddling close to her and receiving an odd look, I pulled out the pages of her father’s journal and found the one I was looking for. “What your father is building…is a magnetic resonance amplification and concentration chamber. If I’m understanding this correctly, it will feed off of the Earth’s natural magnetic field. Being strongest at the pole it will have the most effect at that location. What it should do is basically pull the field into these coils to harness the energy and then concentrate it into the center of the chamber.”

“For what purpose?” Lia asked as she tried to make sense of the drawing. “And what are these?” ‘These’ were several gem shaped objects scattered throughout the chamber in an equidistant pattern.

“I’m not sure. There is no reference to them other than this ad addendum note at the bottom with a number. This other page shows the chamber without the shapes.” I looked at the two drawings side by side. “This one with the gems was drawn by someone else…notice the line thickness and slight angle. It looks like your father had a partner in designing this.”

Lia watched me as I studied the two drawings. “You don’t think it is what Mr. Allen says, do you?”

“I didn’t trust him from the moment you pointed him out. It is too much of a coincidence that he was there, at that time, when those goons were searching for us. And no, I don’t believe this is what he says it is. It has absolutely no practical application in the world except for up here. And who is going to use the energy here?” I looked around and waved to nothing.

“I feel the same way,” she agreed. “It was too coincidental that he was there, but he was a link to my father and I needed to find out what he knew.” I nodded and was glad that she wasn‘t blinded by his ‘generosity‘.

Turning our attention back to the papers, I continued my analysis. “It isn’t a weapon to change the poles, it isn’t a field coil to store energy for mass consumption. I’m at a loss, Lia. This all leads to pulling in and concentrating energy to a central point. Crystals could be used for dispersal or concentration…wait a second.” I quickly leafed through pages until I found what I was looking for. “Your father was a geologist, first and foremost. He has a list of gemstones here that I had thought was just part of his work, but having all the pages now, the added note corresponds with the page number of the list. And the number of stones corresponds with the amount drawn in the second chamber…Amethyst, aventurine, citrine…all have to do with spiritualism not science though. If I were to use crystals in a machine, they would be clear and pure, not clouded or colored. Now, I don’t particularly believe in this, but there are those in New Babbage that use them for magic and what not. Séances, astral projection and I don’t know what else.”

“But why?“ was both mine and her question.

“Its late.“ I said as I wrapped a blanket around her. “Get some sleep. We will have our answers in a few days.” Surprisingly, within moments, she was out. I stoked the fire one last time and bundled up for the night as well.

We awoke almost simultaneously. Somehow, during the night we had gotten tangled up in our bags and blankets and were twisted together like taffy. Her face was right next to mine and both our eyes widened as we realized our position. Lia let out a string of obscenities that she must have learned from her time around the sailors, for I had never heard her say such things before. I just tried to scuttle backwards from her. Being tangled, however, I pulled her along in a very undignified manner that made her yell even louder.

“Good morning,” I finally said once we came loose. “Coffee?” I offered holding up a steaming cup. The expression on her face at seeing the brew already in my possession was priceless. I loved doing that to her.

The day (night) was going as planned. We were making good speed across the tundra and it was just when I had noticed by the compass that we were straying off course that trouble started. Lia was the first to spot them. Along a snow dune, several men on what looked like mechanical steam horses appeared. What was worse was that they were armed with rifles. They charged down towards us firing at the Beast and several shots pinged off of its steel hide. I turned the Beast sharply sending us spinning slightly in another direction and told Lia to take the controls.

“I don’t know how to drive this thing,” she retorted.
Grabbing her hands, I put them on the controls. “Just keep it straight…and don’t crash.” Reaching under the passenger seat, I pulled out the pack containing my pistol. Making sure it was loaded, I swung open the door and fired as accurately as I could, but sorely missed my mark. They were upon us in a flash and just when I thought they had us, they swerved to the other side of the Beast and fired again. Lia cringed at the hits to the cab and inadvertently turned us again. The marauders then held back out of range and then altogether. Finding it odd, but relieving, I slammed the door shut and took the controls.

“You’re bleeding,” she said wiping some blood from my cheek.

“Just a scratch…probably from flying rust. Death by tetanus, you said?”

“Hmm. I guess you scared them off,” Lia said somewhat proudly. “I guess so,” I replied while taking a look at our heading. We were back on course for magnetic north again and I had the strange feeling that we weren’t being attacked…we were being herded. The rest of the journey went without incident. I felt it was attributed to the fact that we didn’t stray too far off course from that last encounter. Once, I thought I had seen shapes in the distance that looked like horsemen, though they were far enough away that they were not of much concern. “Phineas?” Lia said putting a hand on my shoulder. “Hmm?” “I think we are here. Look at the compass.” Sure enough, the compass was spinning like a top and I pulled the Beast to a stop. “Where do we go from here?” she asked looking around. “My guess would be there,” I said pointing about half a kilometer away. A large structure covered with snow and ice, forming a man-made cavern stood out upon the otherwise stark landscape. Our journey had ended. Now it was time for the questions to be answered.

My heart was racing as we approached the structure. I was not sure how but father and his team had managed to raise some sort of temporary building which I assumed held the machine. They must have had help from Mr. Allen and others. I shuddered, still wondering what condition father was in though this time it wasn’t because he might be stuck in the arctic, but because of what he was being forced to do. He never considered himself a slave to science, but now…

I looked over at Phineas, who was clearly thinking through our approach. I, on the other hand, was having second thoughts about coming at all. The situation we found ourselves in was not at all what I had expected. Although, as reluctant as I was to admit it, I was glad Phineas was with me. It definitely helped having someone who was well versed in science and who had been to the arctic before. I sighed, letting out some of the anxiety that was churning away in my stomach. I’ve made it this far already, there would be no way that I would turn back now or perish in this frozen wasteland.

“Any ideas?” I asked. Phineas frowned. “I’m sure they’re expecting us by now.” I was expecting a humorous comment such as ‘Perhaps we’ll make it in time for tea?’, but we were both too focused on what, or who, we would encounter in a few minutes. As Phineas slowed the Beast, I handed him his gun and said, “Let’s hope you won’t be needing to use this.” I smiled weakly. He sighed and muttered something about it already being too late for that.

To say that things had been tense between us over the past few days would be an understatement. I still couldn’t get over the fact that he had supposedly kissed me to protect me. What fool would kiss a girl and then say they had to but that it didn’t mean anything? I shook my head. Every time I start to ease into finding his company pleasant, he did something that was abhorrent and I started to hate him again. Meanwhile, I kept denying what I actually felt towards him. I was shaken out of my thoughts as our vehicle ground (yes, I do suppose ground is the right word as it was quite noisy) to a stop in front of their ‘camp’. I was shaking as I climbed out of the vehicle and walked towards the camp. At one point I had to steady myself against Phineas, causing his eyebrows to raise at the sudden contact. The few men that were there in the camp were all staring at me and suddenly I became self-conscious of not wearing a dress. I was probably the first woman they had seen in months. I cringed and slid closer to Phineas (which I was sure did not help me at all) and then I saw him. Unmistakably, it was the face of the man I had known and loved all my life.

“Father!” I exclaimed, bounding towards him, abruptly leaving Phineas’ side. I crushed into him and my arms must have been wrapped so tightly around him that I thought I could hear him gasp a little. Here he was, finally, after over a year of worrying and being without him. Here he was at last. In one piece. Alive.

Then, suddenly, the familiarity of him swept over me. It was the softness of his clothes beneath his heavy coat, the musky smell about him, and the way he placed his arms around me, protectively, that made me, at that very moment, truly and utterly homesick. I could not contain my tears and all the anxiety I had held from the very moment he had left. I laid my head onto my father’s chest and cried more than I ever believe I cried in my entire life. Not only was I so emotional about having finally found him, but I began thinking about how I could never go home again. It hit me, even months after mother’s death, that our family would never be the same and for the first time, I actually grieved that loss.

“There, there, Lia,” he said reassuringly, “I’m here now. I am sure you’re worrying your mother sick being away from home.”

I suddenly stopped. He didn’t know. Of course he didn’t know. I stepped back and looked up at him, wiping the tears away from my eyes and struggling to get the words out. He would be devastated. “Mother’s…mother is…” I gasped for breath and finally managed to get out that one word. “Dead.”
He looked at me, his mouth open in shock and stumbled a bit before saying, “No. No. She can’t be.”
I shook my head, trying by best (which wasn’t very good at all) not to cry any more. “She is. Olivia and I buried her in the ground over a month ago.” I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself. “She-” I began to say but was cut off by a man approaching.

“Ah! The lovely Miss Bilavio,” he smiled and I immediately disliked him. “And, of course, in the company of Mr. Frakture.” I could see Phineas scowl at the man. “Perfect timing, really, we were just expecting you,” he continued. “Please,” he said, “come join us for tea.” I rescinded my comment about arriving in time for tea.

Turning to my father, I caught him mouthing the words “Leave Now”. I shuttered and turned to Phineas, who had a confused, yet angered look upon his face. And then I glanced behind me at the two very large men who were beckoning me to move. It seemed as though I had little choice. I followed the strange man who had yet to introduce himself into the large structure that I had assumed housed the machine I had seen in father’s drawings.

I was right. Though, it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be from the drawings. Let me describe it, if I can. First of all, it was big. To say it towered over me would, I know, not be much, but it was very tall. Men on ladders were attaching the final connections to the outer coils and even they were struggling to reach. There were four coils in all, each forming a point of a square at the outer edge of the device. Dispersed between the coils, in the inner circle, were the gemstones Phineas had shown me in the supplementary drawing. It was obvious from looking at them that they did not fit in with the design one bit. Connected between the coils and the gemstones was some sort of wire meant to direct the energy downwards and towards the center of the device. What frightened me most was what was at the very center of the device, what looked like a cage with a door. Someone obviously was meant to enter the machine. I shuddered thinking about what it might mean.

I must have stared in amazement and horror for a moment too long because someone was poking me to move along. I did not want to get any closer to that thing, but was afraid of what might happen if I didn’t agree with their plan, at least for now. “Ah yes!” The man said. I was wondering if he was expecting me to know who he was (which would mean he had a bigger ego than Phineas). “Miss Bilavio, what do you think of my machine?” he asked.

I caught my tongue. I was about to say, “Your machine? You mean the one you stole from father?” but instead just nodded and said, “It’s… very… interesting?” I tried to force a smile. The man did not look amused.

“I spent such a long time working on this machine. I was so fortunate to discover your father’s work!” He said. I was sure he was full of it and could feel all of that anxiety I had held inside of me turning to anger. For the first time in this journey I was neither shaking nor uneasy. “It’s such a shame you do not like it,” he continued.

I was a bit unsure of his (what seemed to be) sudden interest in me. Even though I was the daughter of a scientist, I was only a mere painter, having not had the opportunity (read: mother’s interference) to study much science or mathematics. Even that opportunity had been left unfulfilled and, as much as I hated to admit it, I was not a woman who had accomplished much.

Just as I was pondering this man’s intentions, another came up and informed us all that the machine was ready. The man suddenly developed a strange grin on his face that made me wish I had not come at all. This was not good. Oh lord, what had I gotten myself into? Smiling, he said, “Wonderful! I’m sure our guest will be eager to see how our work is progressing.”

The other man nodded and replied, “Yes Dr. Malster.” In a hushed tone he added, “What would you like done with the other one?” nodding over at Phineas. Dr. Malster. Where had I heard that name? Any chance I had at recalling his name was lost in his next phrase. Dr. Malster simply said, “Get rid of him,” in a tone that he clearly wanted me to hear. It must have had the desired effect because Dr. Malster had an even bigger grin on his face as he could see a wave of panic rush over me. It suddenly all came back, the anxiety, the shaking, the fear I had dealt with this entire time, though now in a different way. I watched, frozen where I stood, as Phineas struggled against the two men attempting to haul him away.
I could see them through the open doors of the structure. Phineas had managed to free one arm and took a shot at one of the men, his fist colliding with the man’s jaw. I gasped, however, as I saw the other man punch Phineas in the gut, sending him stumbling backwards. With my hand over my mouth, I held my breath, my heart pounding out of my chest and my eyes wide. I leaned over, clutching father’s coat, horrified at what would happen.

Phineas stumbled backwards losing his footing on the edge of the ravine as part of the ice crumbled beneath his feet. I could hear a scream (now I know came from myself) as he fell into the ravine, his eyes locking with mine. I saw them devoid of any emotion, as if he was ready to die, and shuddered.
I struggled not to cry again. But I wouldn’t. No, not for a man who cared very little about
me. However, even as I tried to convince myself that Phineas was a man I should not exert effort in grieving, there was still something deep inside of me that felt pained, and this was a pain I could not ignore. My eyes still focused on the spot where Phineas disappeared, I could hear Dr. Malster continue.

“In a few moments we will begin.” I tore my eyes away from the ravine and looked up at the man, the anger growing stronger inside of me. “I am sure you know by now that this machine is not exactly what your father had intended, Miss Bilavio. Yes, it is far more grand than anything I had imagined.” He grinned. “This machine will open up the gateway between this world and the world of the specters. Of course, this isn’t simple mysticism. These spectral emanations we have been studying for quite some time contain the ultimate source of knowledge. As the energy flows through the crystals, it will be directed onto me and I will absorb the knowledge men of many ages have been seeking. Not only will it be enough to control the state of our scientific world, but the secrets of life itself will flow through me!” I was hardly paying attention.

Here I was, finally with my father and this man wanted to ruin everything. He had already ruined so much and between the size of his ego and the way he grinned at me, I wished I had enough ferocity to mortally wound him on the spot. I glared at him. “Of course,” he continued, “We will need your father’s expertise for starting the machine. If you will.”

My father, of course, protested. “This is outrageous! I will not have any part in your bastardization of my design!” Dr. Malster grinned. “Not even at the price of your daughter’s life?” I was shocked. What could he mean? Moments later, I found out, as a man ripped me away from my father and I cried out as my hair was pulled to one side and the cold metal of a gun was pressed up against the other. My father, sensing the fear in my eyes, reluctantly went over to the machine.

“I was sure you’d be a bit more cooperative with your daughter here,” Dr. Malster commented. “Of course you wouldn’t want dear Verlia to be hurt.” He reached out, and a gloved finger traced the line of my jaw. I tried my best to pull back. He disgusted me. I was more shocked, however, at the machine as it came to life. It whirred, louder and louder and I could feel the man holding me struggling to keep hold of his gun. It’s force was strong enough that I could feel a weight upon me. I looked up, to the very center of the machine and could see a rippling of clear energy just beginning to surge downwards, waiting for a host. Dr. Malster grinned one last time at me and then stepped into the machine. I cringed, bracing myself for what would happen next.

Time had slowed in those last few moments. Everything was clear as crystal. From the grain of leather on the thug’s gloves, striking me…to the individual snow crystals on the ground as I doubled over from the blow. As I was picked up by the brute and his cohort, I took in the entire scene before me.

Lia, clutching her father’s coat as a child should with their protector. His look of sympathy for a man who he didn’t even know, who had reunited his daughter with him…even in the direst of circumstances, I could see the gratefulness in his eyes for being with her. The maniacal grin on Malster’s face, knowing that he had won. I felt weightless as I was propelled, spinning into the gorge that lined the back of their lair.

Though all the while, I never separated my eyes from Lia’s. The horror in them…the sadness. With all that we had been through since we met, I knew that it had all been worth the effort, the pain, the cold…and the company. Her eyes were the last I saw as I past the lip of the crevice and I heard her scream once I had gone. I had no resignation to life. No surrender to the darkness. But there was a sudden pain in my shoulder as I crashed onto an outcropping not thirty feet below. I stifled a grunt and rolled to where I hoped the chasm wall was, more to get off of my injured and more than likely broken side than to escape detection, though that came as a second thought.

I laid there gasping for breath, trying to listen. All was distant until I heard the clatter of something dropping not more than a foot away. My revolver! I snatched it quickly in hopes that they couldn’t see the ledge I was propped upon, lest they think that I might have survived the fall as well. From above, I heard muffled conversation and then the sound of field coils charging. First, the ice began to tremble and vibrate to the resonance. The intensity increased as the hum itself magnified. I felt a slight pull from the metal on my jacket and realized that the machine did in fact draw from the magnetic pole of the earth. I climbed.

I don’t know how, but I climbed. Scintillating energy swirled in great arcs into the machine. The coils glowed while the crystals drew the power they generated into themselves and then into the central focal point which contained Malster. Just as the thrum of the machine seemed to be about to bring the whole surrounding structure down upon everyone’s heads, it stopped. The occupants of the room collectively held their breath as, for what seemed like an eternity, the chamber sat silent. Then, with a hiss of air and steam, the portal opened. The only sound in the room was the echo of his footsteps as Malster exited his chrysalis chamber.

There was a presence not his own about him and his eyes, though not changed in any physical way, had a brilliance to them…a kind of sparkle. He looked around the room and when he spoke, it was with the voice of several. “Brethren!” his voice seemed to reverberate, “Today, our quest is at an end! Our goal has been met! For today, a new age of power has begun! The secrets kept for millennia are ours at last! We are now the Alpha…and the Omega! I have been joined by our brothers past…those who have been waiting for centuries for this moment! They have imparted upon me their wisdom as others will impart upon you! Join your ancestors and your brotherhood each and all, so that we may rule together!”

“How is this possible?” Lia asked her father.

“We have been waiting for this moment, miss,” replied Malster without looking at her. “Waiting for your father…waiting for the one who could begin our reign.” His voice was unnatural though his own, possessed by others while possessing them as well. “We have been waiting to come back…from death…and your father was the key to the portal of our unearthly realm.”

Lia felt her father grip her arm and he pointed towards the gorge. Her eyes widened as a hand appeared on the edge, then an arm and finally a disheveled and battered body as it pulled itself onto the frozen ground. “It looks as if they’re not the only ones to come back from the dead,” her father whispered in her ear.

I edged myself to safety and would have really liked to have just laid there. The society members were gathered around the machine with that infernal Malster, patting him on the back and chattering on about who will go next. Through the crowd, I spotted Lia and her father, still safe and I could see the tears streaming down her cheeks as she caught sight of me. Then, her father did something that gave me the utmost respect for him; he caused a distraction.

“Here, here!” he shouted. “Malster…why didn’t you tell me this was your intention all along? Ultimate knowledge? I would have gladly assisted you without threats if that were the case…one academic to another.” He edged his way back to the controls, dragging a bewildered Lia along with him. I was still in his line of sight and I had an idea that might work. If we got the man back in the chamber and reversed the polarity on the machine, it might draw out the spectral residents and put them back in their place. I made a forward rolling motion with my hand and then reversed it, hoping that he would catch my meaning. Unfortunately, he didn’t and I had to improvise. In a very painful pantomime, I tried to draw out magnetic theory in the air…from one professor to another, it actually worked…and it hurt like hell. It was then that they spotted me.

A clamor rose up as their goon squad took to their heels and charged. I wasn’t in the mood, so I just drew my pistol and fired at as many as I could hit. Only two went down wounded, but it was enough to send the others packing. Bullies always ran when someone crazier with a gun was around. The rest of the society began to edge away as well, but Malster took a step forward. He also noticed what Professor Bilavio was doing. With a wave of his hand, he actually threw the elder gentleman five feet into a panel without touching him and the professor slumped to the ground unconscious. Lia ran to her father’s side and comforted him. Malster seemed just as surprised as everyone else at his power, but then became real familiar with his new found telekinetic ability. My gun was ripped from my hand and went down the gorge for a second time.

“All right,” I muttered, “we’ll do this the hard way.” I stalked forward, well actually it was a stumble/drag, but it was the state of mind that mattered most at this point. “Lia! I need you to reverse the polarity!” I shouted.

“How do I do that?” she asked while cradling her unconscious father. “You’ve read the journals…use that knowledge…this is what you’ve wanted…you can do it!”

I threw a sloppy punch at Malster, who easily avoided it and landed one of his own. “She’s only a girl and no matter to me. Do you think that she would ever be capable of understanding such a principle?” He landed another as I tried to dodge.

“She’s smarter than you think,” I said loudly enough for her to hear. “She’s her father’s daughter remember.” Again, he landed as I backed away. “So, now what? You hang out here for a hundred years, waiting to possess an egomaniac and expect the world to fall at your feet, worshiping you? Not much of a plan, if you ask me,” I taunted. I felt a tingling sensation as I was pushed back by telekinesis. “Nice trick. I’m assuming you’re using more of your brain functions now, or are you relying on your buddies? If you had ultimate knowledge, you should realize that hostile takeovers of the world rarely work. Didn’t you guys learn anything while you were dead? No history books on your side?” Again I was tossed. “Your pretty quiet now. What’s the matter? You’re not rethinking this are you? Ultimate knowledge?” I scoffed, “you’re not that smart. Your being thwarted by a one armed man and a girl.’

“I can’t do it, Phineas!” Lia cried, almost in tears again.

“You’re not helping,” I called back as he tossed me again. Frustrated, I played on her stubborn side. “If you want me to do it, then, how about you come over here and fight him? You’ve hit me enough times! I‘ll gladly trade places with you.” My sarcasm wasn’t wasted on the gamble. The determined girl I knew came back and I saw her tracing the lines of the controls, figuring out the mechanics.

“Fighting? Is that what you call this?” Malster chided as he struck again. My left side was on fire from the fall and his blows while my hand was numb and useless. I maneuvered again, trying not to stumble. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her father reach up and pull a lever on the panel and point Lia to another. There was a hum as the chamber came to life once again. “No…I call it getting you right where I want you.” He looked around and realized he was standing right in front of the chamber door. With what was left of my strength, I charged him and forced him into the portal while letting out an ear shattering yell/scream of pain. The door slammed shut and I pulled myself clear as Lia’s father activated the machine.

A scream louder than mine emanated from within as the specters were ripped from his being. A bright flash of light burst out from the center as Malster dissipated into nothingness along with them. I looked around to see who was next, but I was glad to see that with the absence of their leader and the impending demise of their spectral infusion chamber, the rest of the society had started to clear out. I dropped to the ground and took a deep painful breath. Not far away, Lia was hugging her father in joy. This was why I came. Not the adventure, not the money…just to reunite them as they should be. “You have a good daughter, Professor B.” I said. Lia looked over to me with a smile on her face. “Well done, sewer rat,” I said. Instead of the usual daggers, her eyes threw gratitude instead. I needed coffee. Reaching into my pocket belt, I rummaged around for a flask. The damn thing was empty. Crap. Seeing as how there were no pressing matters at the moment, I did the next thing on my ‘to do’ list and passed out.

It was so bittersweet, and in so many ways. Here we sat together, my father and I, in his study (the same one mother forbad me to enter). It still hadn’t quite hit him that mother was really gone. I, on the other hand, was just beginning the struggle of getting over losing her. Even though I constantly fought with her, there was no denying that she really did have my best interests in mind even if her ways were a bit outdated. Father smiled at me and said, “She really did love you.” I sighed, turning to look at father’s bookshelves, remembering the books I had read in secret. Yes, I do believe now that even with our differences there was no way I could have not loved mother.

As I moved down the bookshelves I asked, “And what will you do now father? This house is much too empty with mother and Olivia gone.” I noticed the dust had begun to collect in our absence. Obviously the few servants I had let remain after mother’s death had been slacking with no one to oversee the state of the household. He looked around at the room and nodded.

“As much as I love this house, you know my spirit is full of wanderlust. I know I cannot stay very long.” My ears perked up, “Oh? And where will you go next? I hope it doesn’t have anything to do with secret spiritualist societies and plans to open spectral rifts…” I was a bit worried. Father tended to get himself into trouble far too often and I couldn’t be running after him. Our trip in the arctic was still making my heart pound like it had never before.

Father laughed. “I sure hope not, but with every adventure there is bound to be a bit of trouble.” Oh dear, I thought. He continued, “Although, that last trip was a bit too much trouble.” I nodded, remembering all that had happened, my mind drifting back to the arctic. After Dr. Malster had vanished, the machine had collapsed. Father and I burned any copies of the drafts to the machine and made sure all the parts of the machine were tossed down the ravine so that they may never be found again. We both agreed that this science was far too dangerous for anyone to find. Once we made sure that there was no trace left of the machine, we gathered some help from the remaining men at the camp to drag Phineas back to his blasted vehicle. Thankfully father was able to operate the thing (which I still considered a piece of junk) and we were able to get back to a port and on our way home.

Phineas was barely conscious most of the trip, and I don’t want to admit it, but I hardly got any sleep looking after him. The sleep that I did get, however, as brief as I was constantly being awoken from various nightmares. Either it was father being killed by Dr. Malster or seeing Phineas fall over the edge of that ravine over and over again with that chilling look in his eyes. I didn’t even want to think about what kinds of spirits that machine had freed upon this world. I was happy, though, when Phineas had begun to return to his normal self as we neared New Babbage and then was immediately annoyed as he began calling me his little sewer rat again, wondering if the dark circles under my eyes had been because I stayed up too late thinking about lurking through sewers. Oh god, I hope he never knows it was because of him.

I believe I’ve actually begun to grow on that man. He even put down his coffee to ask me to dance at the Fundraiser Calendar Release Party! I was beyond shocked. I never thought that I would say it, but I was so happy to return to that sooty city. After the time away in the arctic, I had begun to miss it more than home. Even when I returned home with father, all of the greenery was too much for me and I began to realize that there was nothing left for me there, especially if father was planning on traveling again. I was brought back as father answered, “Ah yes, I have already started to plan a trip to the Far East.” He smiled as he could probably see me beginning to worry again. “Only research this time, I assure you.” I laughed. “I have a feeling that you are not staying here as well,” he continued.

I knew that this question would come up and truthfully, I had been avoiding it. However, unlike before, there were no other urgent matters to attend to. I sighed. In my heart, I knew exactly what I wanted. I had known all along. “No. I can’t stay here any longer and with mother gone, there’s no one to tell me where I should be or what I should be doing. I’ve made up my mind,” I said, pausing, knowing that once I said it, it would be final. “I’ve decided to return to New Babbage.”

Father smiled, not surprised at all. “I am sure there’s a certain someone there who will be happy of your return,” he said. My eyes grew wide. “You mean Phineas! Uh, that man annoys me to no end. There’s no way he’d be happy I’ve decided to return. Besides, he’s just so… so… scruffy.” Even as I said those words, I knew that there was something more. Father simply laughed. Tomorrow I will leave for New Babbage to start my new life. Of course, father has promised to come visit me when he can. I am sad that we must part again but am grateful for finding him and having at least this brief time to spend together. I only hope that his next trip is a bit less… exciting than the last and much shorter.

Until the next journey arises -Lia



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