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.
© Verlia Bilavio and Phineas Frakture 2010
==Steaming Under The Collar==
After a late night, first at the Cocoa Java being bereted by Lia for something I hadn’t even done…in front of a group of spectators, then back at home working out the kinks in my butler’s gears – if I don’t get him repaired soon, I’m afraid the house will fall in upon itself – I stumbled down the stairs, bleary eyed and in need of coffee. As I passed the front door, the four foot pile of unopened mail pleaded to me for attention, so I decided to cut its head off and go through a few items while I transfused liquid bliss into my system. Mostly, the mail consisted of advertisements for the local shops, newspapers that I never read and the occasional death threat (usually addressed to Gus…I’ll have to ask him why they keep finding their way to my door for some reason). One envelope stood out, however. The writing seemed familiar and when I opened the letter, it was revealed to me why that was.
I write to you from the port of Singapore. As you might have heard from my daughter, Verlia, I have traveled to the Orient on research. Do not worry, it has nothing to do with spectral emanations again. I had been studying the magnetic properties of the region for the past month, however, another matter has peaked my interest and I would like to offer you the chance to partake in my endeavor. Unfortunately, I had made the mistake of including another in this endeavor, one who I have found to be far less trustworthy than the man I believe you to be. We are now at odds with each other and I cannot allow this person to complete my goal before I. This would be, shall I say, bad? I cannot divulge what this matter is, in case this letter falls into the wrong hands before it reaches yours, but I can tell you that it is of a situation that you, as a fellow academic, would find most intriguing. What I am truly asking of you is your assistance. I am an old man and not up to the rigors of an adventure like this. You have proven that you can handle yourself, albeit with a few injuries and I know that Verlia trusts you, therefore I can as well. What I have found is truly astonishing and must be protected from those who would use it for the wrong reasons…for instance the person I have fore-mentioned.
If you choose to follow me, please, do not tell Verlia where you are going or that I may be in trouble – again. She worries too much about me as it is and I fear for her safety if she travels to this city.
I hope very much to see you in Singapore soon.
I tossed the letter into the fireplace. An action more dramatic if there was actually a fire going at the time. My pulse raced and I could feel a headache coming on. I was fuming at what I had just read, not because of the content, not because of the person, but because it was her father asking me for assistance. At this point, I really didn’t care about her or her family. She was the bane of my existence as far as I concerned. Carrying on about how wretched I was for no reason, claiming that I had insulted her in front of her friends and I had no clue what she was going on about. I was just lounging on a sofa at the Cocoa Java with her and her friends, drinking my coffee and pretty much minding my own business when she stands up, walks over to me and slaps me across the back of my head! I had no idea why.
And now this.
I traveled to the coldest, most wretched place on earth to rescue him from some psycho and I didn’t even get a thank you! A simple thank you. I guess I should be glad they didn’t just leave me there, but still, no card, no letter…nothing. Even that ungrateful child of his didn’t even say it. Sure, she hired me to help her, but I never heard it from her lips either. Just ’where’s that dinner you promised me?’. And then she smacks me for no reason.
Now, I’m expected to just pick up from my life and go across the globe to bail him out of another mess that he’s gotten himself into. Like I am the family’s nurse maid, or something. And Singapore, of all places! There are people who want to kill me in Singapore…well, in my reality, at least. But, I’m sure they’d want to kill me in this one as well.
I paced the room, still fuming and looking for something to break. Unfortunately, that’s when Philby, my broken down mechanical butler decided to make an appearance. He barely spoke the word ’coffee’ when I turned into his path and we crashed to the floor, a full pot of Columbian roast spilling all over us. With a grind, his gears came to a halt and he shut down. Now, I was even more peeved than before. All the work I did last night was for naught, my coffee was all over the place and I was still mad at her.
I snatched the letter from the fireplace, took note from the letterhead of the hotel it was sent from and started collecting my things. Hell with it. I needed to get out of here and away from her, most of all. Maybe this would be worth my while and though it would probably be asking too much, maybe…just maybe, I’ll get a thank you this time.
==A Letter (I really didn’t want to get into trouble again…)==
That wretched man! I cannot believe he would do something like this to me. Well, both of them, actually! I should have known he would do something that would make me completely loathe his presence as the past few days had been quiet and even, if I must say, a bit pleasant. But that man! First he implies that I am a ‘loose woman’, to which he would’ve expected an even worse reaction from me, and then he denies ever having said anything, putting the blame on me and calling me crazy for being so angry at him. I cannot believe he would do something like that. Teasing, sure, but this was insulting. Phineas Frakture will be the death of me.
Well, perhaps I was a bit out of line.
Oh! But that’s not the worse part. After being up all night, in one moment angry at him and the next feeling guilty, I decided it would be best if in the morning I went to find him and apologized. Even though I do not think he is the perfect example of a moral prowess, I knew I shouldn’t have acted the way I did the previous night at CocoaJava. It wasn’t right to say all those things in front of everyone, although I still think it was right to smack him.
So when I finally awoke in the morning, I set off to go find him. Maybe, just maybe, I could set things straight and he wouldn’t continually see me as a crazy woman who blew up at him while he was enjoying his coffee. But after searching the city for nearly an hour, I was ready to give up when I remembered that he said he lived on the outskirts of town. Well, I had been walking for a while, growing even more hesitant at being so far out of town, almost ready to turn around and go back when I came upon his house. And trust me, there was no question in my mind that it was his.
I knocked, I really did, but no one answered. He must know it’s me, he doesn’t want to talk to me, I thought. So I opened the door, which was unlocked. Maybe he was still asleep (I wouldn’t credit that man with being an early riser, for sure), I thought, and I knew he definitely, well, probably, wouldn’t want to find me in his house when he woke up. But as I turned to go out the door, that’s when I saw it, the familiar handwriting on a letter addressed to Phin.
How could I have not taken a look? It was in my own father’s handwriting and I hadn’t received a single letter from him in a month. But as I opened the letter and started reading, my feud with Phineas became overshadowed by my fear and outrage at my father. He was in Singapore. He needed Phin’s help. Wait. He thought I trusted that man? I shook my head and folded the letter up after having read it over once more, being sure to put it back in the place where I found it.
I couldn’t help but bite my lip, trying not to cry. He obviously didn’t trust nor love me enough to let me know what was really happening in the east. And Phin! He was just going to leave me here and not say a word. I couldn’t believe he didn’t care, even a little bit, to tell me he was leaving. I gasped as a tear started falling down my cheek and thought it was better to get out of here before Phin found me and claimed I was an even more crazy woman for sitting in his house, reading his private mail, crying in his parlor.
Even as frustrated and filled with fury and dismay as I was, there was no way I was going to let Phineas wander off to find my father again without me being there. It just would not happen. When Sky came over that night, she found me packing. I was sure she must’ve heard I was leaving from Vernden. I had asked him for a favor earlier in the day to track down which airship Phineas would be traveling on. Fortunately, it wasn’t too difficult of a task. Well, at least he said it wasn’t.
I wiped another tear away from my cheek as she came in. I was beyond frustrated at this point, and after I shoved my favorite pair of work pants into my traveling bag I turned to look up at her. “Sky, you’re going to have to watch the shop while I’m gone. It won’t be that difficult, but I don’t think I could trust anyone else with it.”
She nodded and asked “But why are you going if you’re so angry at him?” I had learned my lesson of packing light since the last trip when Phineas almost threw out my dresses. Unfortunately, the clothes that I knew to be suitable ended up being buried in my armoir along with the bustle skirts that my mother made me wear. Sky looked hesitantly at me, as I flung the dresses out of the closet trying to find what I was looking for.
“It’s my father, Sky. I just can’t let him get into trouble again.” I paused, turning to her holding the second pair of pants I was looking for. “The last time almost broke my heart. Hell, it drove my mother into a fatal sickness, and well, to tell you the truth, I’m afraid that if I sit around here doing nothing then I might end up just like her.” I shook my head. “I can’t let that happen. I just can’t sit around here like a docile woman and wait for word from him. You understand, right?”
She nodded again, handing me a small dagger to pack with my belongings. “Yes, and you’re going to need this.” I stared at her for a moment, hesitant to take the weapon from her. “And how do you plan on getting on the airship anyway?” She continued.
“Oh, I don’t know, it can’t be too difficult to sneak on, right?” I was growing weary, noticing I hadn’t really thought all of this through. It was a decision based on my fear, my need to help my father, but deep down, I think it was partly because I was furious Phin was leaving without me.
Sky just grinned, looking at the dresses I had thrown on the floor and simply said, “I think I have a better idea.”
I was cursing Sky the whole way and when I finally arrived at the airship with all of my trunks; I was itching to get out of this dress and throw it in the port. I mean, the bustle on the dress itself made me feel like I was dragging around an elephant on my behind, not to mention the size of the hat I was wearing. It was exactly the sort of thing my mother would praise me for wearing, and exactly the sort of thing my father would abhor.
I hated doing this, but I put on the best smile my mother taught me (oh god, she’s haunting me from beyond the grave!), and marched up to the men. “Make sure you get every last piece of luggage aboard. I don’t want to find anything missing later.” Did I mention by smile, I meant try to strike fear into the eyes of men while looking damn pretty? I let out a sigh of relief as they went to it.
“Ticket, Miss?” Great, a ticket, just the thing I didn’t have.
I turned to look at the man blankly, staring at him with a scowl on my face. “Ticket?” I repeated. “Excuse me, sir, but you must know, I don’t need a ticket.”
He didn’t look that convinced. “It’s required of all travelers Miss.” Oh great, a lowly airship worker collecting tickets would be the one to stop me from making a journey around the world? And stop me this early on my journey? Hell, I haven’t even left New Babbage yet! Heck if that was happening! Phineas was NOT leaving without me, and I was going to make sure of it.
Just as the man was about to turn to tell them to stop loading my luggage, I started yelling. Perhaps one of the better things my mother taught me about getting what you wanted was to throw a fit. It worked, well, most of the time. “Do you know who I AM??” I sighed, scoffing him off a bit, like he should’ve known in the first place “I am the daughter of the head of all the shipping industry from Singapore and if you and your little workers somehow messed up my flight then he’ll just have your jobs. Hell! He might even have your heads if he finds out!” I smirked. “So run along and tell them to sort things out, otherwise you may be looking for some other means of employment and hell if you think it’s going to be easy! After he gets word that you denied his daughter access on the ONLY airship traveling to Singapore in the next month, you’ll be sure that he’ll inform every employer in New Babbage, hell, in all the ports, that you’re unfit to take any sort of job. So if you would excuse me, sir, I have an airship to be on and I’d rather not waste my time trying to save your job.”
I turned on my heel and boarded the airship without waiting for his answer. Thank god Phin had chosen to travel on a first class flight otherwise this might not have worked and I would’ve been stuck stowed away, trapped in some trunk for a few hours. Actually, I wasn’t sure if this outfit was much better.
Good thing they understood my ‘elite’ status because when they showed me my room, I was glad it was one of the larger ones. I would be spending a lot of time in it, as there was no way I was chancing running into Phin and having him throw me off the side of the ship this early into the journey. “I hope this is adequate enough, Miss.”
I sighed heavily, “It’ll do, I suppose.” And when he finally closed the door, I started struggling to remove my outfit. There would be no way I’d ever wear something so large and restraining ever again. Being a snobbish, spoiled daughter was exhausting work.
==Doing the Singapore Sling (wherein I have some steamy relations with a beautiful woman)==
Boarding was an easy enough thing. I carried on the only bag I had and was glad that I was traveling alone this time. The time I saved by not having to lug a woman’s luggage, or arguing about what to bring was incredible. The porter showed me to my cabin, a very nice stateroom with all the amenities. I decided to splurge a bit this time, not having to book two cabins, and be pampered the entire way.
While setting out my evening suit, I heard from the platform the worst ruckus. Some overbearing woman with the mouth of a sailor was throwing a tantrum with the hands. I listened for a while and shook my head, wondering how a lady could have such bad manners. I looked at my clothes, wishing that Philby was operational so that he could have pressed my trousers before I had left, but since that was not an option, I went with the old standby and folded them neatly and placed them between the mattresses.
Feeling the airship begin to lift from its moorings, I wandered out onto deck and leaned against the rail, watching New Babbage disappear beneath the blanket of smog. Before it was completely out of view, I caught sight of Lia’s clock tower and the blazing red hair of Sky as she entered the shop; no doubt going to visit with Lia. If she had known where I was going, I would have thought to go down and check the hold for a stowaway. Fortunately, I said nothing to indicate that I was leaving or that I had heard from her father.
The first leg of the trip to Bucharest was fairly uneventful. I spent my time in the lounge playing cards with a gentleman named Harker, who was traveling to Transylvania on business. A pleasant enough fellow, but a bit skittish. My only complaint was the person in the next stateroom. Though they never came out, I could hear them ranting about something I couldn’t make out and they snored terribly during the night. I had thoughts of Lia and our last journey. Had she been here, she couldn’t blame her snoring on the engines this time. I had almost smiled until I recalled that she was the reason I decided to leave on this trip in the first place. I had complained to the porter, but he had said that the woman was the daughter of some freight owner out of Singapore or something to that effect. Very eccentric and the crew gave her a wide berth when they had to deal with her. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t move my lodgings. I guess I would have to endure it for the rest of the trip.
After Bucharest and losing my card partner…I wished him well as he departed, it was on to New Delhi. Several passengers came and went, though my neighbor stayed cooped up in her stateroom, never to make an appearance. Again, at New Delhi, we traded passengers, many more exotic than what I was used to in New Babbage. I spent most of the days, and nights, entertaining the ladies aboard the liner, drinking and eating some of the finest foods the ship had to offer.
It was when we were a day and a half out from Singapore when I had returned to my stateroom late from a night’s inebriations. As I opened the door, I caught sight of a figure standing near my bed. A woman. She was very slight of build, wearing a silk qipao and her hair up. Her back was to me and in the light from the corridor, she looked very familiar. For a moment, my heart beat slightly faster and as I was about to call her name, the woman turned towards me. Disappointment struck as I saw that the woman was of Asian descent. She was very lovely, even with a scar running down the left side of her face.
“Mistah Flakcha?” she asked in English laced with a heavy accent. Her voice was very seductive despite the accent…or because of it. Of course, when there is an attractive woman in your room asking your name, you tend to take it as a good thing.
“Why, yes. Yes, I am,” I replied, leaning my forearm on the door jamb. That was when I noticed a really nasty looking metal claw in the place of her right hand. It came up quickly towards me and launched in a hiss of steam. I dropped to the floor in time to see the claw, attached to a cable, streak over head and strike the bulkhead across the corridor. With my pistol in my luggage under the bed, I did the only thing I could think of. I ran like hell.
I heard the whizzing of the claw coming up behind me and this time I dove into roll, coming up running once again. The retracting appendage caught my shoulder as it returned to its owner, slicing my shirt and giving me a deep scratch. The ship was near deserted with everyone retired for the night and unfortunately, we had complete run of the deck. Bursting through the dining hall doors, I skidded across the wood floor and ended up against the buffet table. Not far behind me entered my pursuer. She was locking the claw back into place and raised her arm once again ready to fire…and I had nowhere to go. As I saw the steam launch it again, my fingers grasped a silver serving tray and I held it up in front of me as a shield and closed my eyes. I was surprised as I was pushed backwards on top of the table and as I opened my eyes, the pitons at the end of the claw were embedded in the silver tray. I felt a tug and I tugged back, knowing that if she got free, I would be skewered. We went around and around the dining hall in a tug of war with her cable. She was amazingly strong for someone her size and I had a difficult time keeping the claw within my grasp. “You know, I usually don’t hold hands until the second date, but for some reason, I just can’t help myself tonight,” I said to her. She just sneered and kept pulling at the cable. Okay, no sense of humor. My eye caught sight of a fire axe on the wall and I began dragging her towards it. She obviously knew my intentions and doubled her efforts to pull me towards her. Several shiny stilettos were sheathed around a shapely thigh and I really didn’t want to get near one of those…well, the thigh maybe, but not the knives. I dug my heels into the floor and pulled one last time, coming within reach of the axe. To my astonishment, the cable slackened and she charged towards me at an amazing speed. I fell with the axe in my grasp. With no time to lose, I chopped down, severing the claw from the cable, which then whirred back into her arm. The force of the retrieval knocked her off balance, giving me just enough time to scurry out of her way and back towards the door.
It was interesting, I thought as I ran back towards my stateroom, that after a night of heavy drinking, I was extremely sober. I also found it interesting that I found myself flying through the air when the cable, now used as a whip, snagged my ankle and I went crashing to the floor. The axe also went flying from my hand and landed some ten feet down the corridor. As I tried to get up, I felt the cable wrap itself around my neck and tighten. Before I knew it, her face was in front of mine and a cold piece of sharpened steel was pointing at my stomach. My only saving grace was that my reach was longer than hers. At least it would have been if my neck wasn’t pulled right up to her wrist. I grabbed her knife hand and I battled to keep it from striking home. By this time, the edges of my vision were going black. I made a push towards a door and I began smashing the back of her head into it. I thought I was making headway (pardon the pun) until the door swung open and we tumbled inside. I heard someone scream at us, but I was a bit busy figuring out where the knife had gone. Apparently, so was she. I felt the cable slacken just a bit and I used our tumble to loosen the noose. Fresh air rushed into my lungs as I kicked my adversary away. She growled as she charged again with another knife. This time, I narrowed the distance and took her in the midsection with my shoulder and knocked the wind from her lungs. I kept going and slammed her into the wall, followed by a wild carry out through the corridor.
I didn’t stop until we were out on the deck. I tossed her down near the rail and pulled the remaining stilettos from her leg sheaths. She looked up at me, still gasping for breath, and as her eyes narrowed, she fluidly performed a backflip over the side rail. I lunged towards the rail to grab her, but I was too late. As I looked over the edge, I could see a pair of wings extend from her back as she fell. I couldn’t help but wonder where those were stored.
Well, that was not the best way to end the evening, even if I did come out alive. I couldn’t help but think that this had something to do with the trouble Professor Bilavio mentioned. Or did I step on her toes dancing with her? No, I definitely would have remembered that claw.
Rubbing my neck and going back inside, I went back to the stateroom that we defiled to see if the occupant was all right. I found that it was my noisy neighbor’s. It wasn’t exactly the way I had wanted to introduce myself, but I needed to apologize and see if she was all right. After a few knocks, the door opened and I was greeted with a stinging slap to my left cheek. Then the door slammed in my face.
“Lia?” I asked in shock.
==The Singapore Skyline (wait… why did I go chasing after him?)==
I think I screamed, first out of fright that Phineas had found his way into my room, and second because he was having some sort of brawl with a women who looked to be no larger than myself. Maybe he insulted her? I could certainly believe that he would be that unpleasant.
I just couldn’t believe he would have audacity to barge into my room, make a mess with some woman and then knock on my door again after the fighting had stopped. I wasn’t going to answer the door again, I really wasn’t, but seeing his face again, especially in this setting, made me furious. But after a few knocks, I opened the door, took a brief look at him and promptly slapped him, shutting the door with a resounding bang right in his face.
Oh no, I thought, what have I done? It wasn’t the first thought in my head to slap him when I opened the door and secretly, I knew it wasn’t because he wrecked my room or because he was fighting with some woman. I knew it was because he left without me, without even saying a word. And there, pressed up against the back of the door, with one hand over my mouth wondering what had just happened, I began to realize what I had just seen. He looked terrible.
I opened the door again and met an empty hallway.
It wasn’t until the last day of the flight that I found him on the upper deck, lounging with, of course, a fresh cup of coffee in his hands. I felt my stomach sink as I approached him. Maybe it was better that I hadn’t come at all. I should’ve never went to his house. I should’ve never looked at that letter. I should’ve never left. And here I was, with Singapore approaching on the horizon, and all I could think about was turning around and going back so I wouldn’t have to face Phin and explain myself. So when I saw him turn towards me, I immediately turned around and started walking away.
“Lia.” I heard from behind me. I suddenly felt hot. Biting my lip nervously, I turned back around. There wasn’t anything I could say that would make this conversation any easier, but I was damn sure that I’d try.
“I’m here now, so let’s just get this over with and get out of here, find out what my fa-” I started. I had it all planned out. I’d just tell him that I was here and he should get over it and then we could go find out what my father was up to, if he was in serious trouble. But when I looked up at his face, staring down at me with that look of his that keep pounding into my head: What the heck are you doing here? I stopped, suddenly feeling even more uneasy.
“I know, I know. I wasn’t supposed to come. But when I read his letter I just couldn’t-” I started again, trying to explain myself.
“What were you doing? Spying on me?” He asked. I could tell he wasn’t amused nor excited to see me, and I’d say he was completely annoyed, but there was something about the way he was now looking at me that made my heart almost skip a beat.
“What no!” I shook my head, confused as to how he could think that way. “It wasn’t like that. I was going to apologize! But then I saw the letter and well, I couldn’t just not look.”
“Exactly the thing a crazy woman would do,” I heard him mutter.
“I’m no such thing!” I immediately said, a scowl developing on my face, quick to replace the confusion. “And if you wouldn’t have provoked me in the first place then we wouldn’t be in all this mess!” I paused. “Well… perhaps the mess with my father, that I’m still not entirely certain about, but this mess between you and me, well, if you wouldn’t have been so rude then-”
“You’re the one that slapped me. Twice.” He pointed out, and I was left back with my nervousness, still trying to explain myself to a man that I knew wouldn’t give a damn to apologize to me.
“You’re the one that implied I was a ‘loose’ woman,” to which I heard him mutter ‘did not’, “You’re the one who wouldn’t apologize! You’re the one who hangs around me all the time when I know you don’t like me at all!” I clenched my jaw as I felt tears welling up in my eyes, determined not to let them fall, and after a moment of trying to contain myself, I couldn’t take it anymore. “You’re the one that left!” I yelled.
“Yes, to honor your father’s request in the name of science.” He simply responded, taking a sip of his coffee. I couldn’t understand how he could be so calm.
“Fine!” I said, finally reaching a stalemate. He was obviously determined not to say anything to me that would give himself away. It was just science, simply in the name of science.
“Fine.” Phin said as well, and I almost thought he was mocking me.
After a still moment, where I stood glaring at him, I realized he still had a few small cuts from his recent brawl visible. A smile developed on my lips as I started to remember his fight with that woman and I finally couldn’t hold it in anymore. “So what were you doing getting beat up by a woman? It must’ve been a bad date.” I laughed and wiped my eyes, turning to take a look at the approaching skyline of the city.
Singapore. It was exactly the sort of exotic land in which I had traced the shorelines of on my father’s map, determined to find and certain I would never see. Here I was, halfway around the world, defying my mother’s wishes and fulfilling my dreams. Even without Phineas and all the bad (and good) feelings that he brought with him, it was hard not to get excited seeing all the ships in the water and in the sky and the smoke floating towards the clouds. I smiled, not for Phin or my father, but for myself.
“I’m going to check to see if they’re taking care with my luggage,” I said to Phin. I knew that if I stayed any longer, I would’ve heard some sly remark from Phin about me owning too many corsets.
After making sure that all of my best traveling attire was safe in my traveling pack along with the knife Sky gave me when I left, I turned to go back out the door when it burst open in front of me and I was met with the stern faces of two men I could only assume worked on the airship. At first, I was completely confused as to why they would be here. “Umm… can I help you?” I managed to get out.
“Did you think we wouldn’t find out?” One of them said. My eyes widened as it hit me; that little lie I told to get my way on the ship.
It was when I was standing there, my head blank with what I was going to do despite desperately needing to get out of there before something bad happened and they sold me off into slavery that I heard something crash in the hallway. As their heads darted to the noise, I took off, squeezing between them out the door (thank god I’m slender). After taking a few steps in the hallway, I met Phin’s face in the next doorway and looked up at him, pleading for him to just do something.
“Hey! Don’t let her get away!” I heard from behind me. I just stood there frozen for a moment, my eyes locked on Phin, panicking, before he took my wrist and we ran. I didn’t even know where we were running until I saw the edge of the ship and land, thank god we had landed.
It was easy enough to lose the men in the twisted streets and after a few turns, we finally stopped and I collapsed, trying to catch my breath (although failing), wishing now that I hadn’t worn a corset.
Phin was already studying a piece of paper with an address on it that he had pulled from his pack. While I was still wheezing, he started walking off.
“Hey! Wait a second!” I pouted, trailing along after him, somewhat difficultly. When he finally stopped, I was ready to let my mouth run again, when I was met with another familiar face. My father. And was he shocked to see me.
“Nice to meet you again Dr. Bilavio,” Phineas said. My father looked from Phin to me and back to Phin again, about to ask why I was here when Phin beat him to it. “I didn’t tell her.”
I was glad he looked well, but boy was I angry at him. “You don’t write. You don’t send any word that you’re in trouble to me, only to Phin, who wouldn’t even tell me if he had to. What do you except me to do, father? Do you want me to sit around like mother did and worry about you until I can’t take it anymore? Well I couldn’t! And here you are again, in trouble! Oh! You promised me that you weren’t going to get into any trouble again! It’s just like all those other times. Why should I have believed you?” I looked up at my father, wondering exactly what he was doing requesting the help of someone close to me and then not telling me a word. I was beyond furious at him. “And here you are, run off again! You weren’t even going to tell me anything were you? You’re.. you’re… you’re just like him,” I said irately, pointing at Phineas. “Unreliable and disappointing!” As I finished those words, I pushed my hair back into place and stalked off into the hotel. Maybe they had absinthe.
==Welcome to the Jungle==
I kept to the side as Lia tongue lashed her father, not wanting to get involved. There was something not right about letting him take the brunt of her fury alone, but having already been on the receiving end, I was glad that someone else had taken my place…even though I felt sorry for the man. Once she had run out of steam, he looked to me with the eyes of a man who had just been reduced to the size of mouse in a matter of moments. Fortunately, for both of us, Lia then stormed into the hotel and let us dwell on a suitable penance.
We stood outside for a few moments in silence, until he decided to chance talking.
“So…how was the trip?” To which I motioned to the hotel with my thumb. “Yes, I see your point.” I then relayed my encounter with Madame Claw and he shook his head despairingly. “I was hoping that they wouldn’t find out about you until after you arrived. Now, I’m even more worried about Lia’s safety. If they knew that she was on the airship as well, I am sure that she would have been a target as well. I don’t think that I could have handled losing her. Come inside,” he said, “it is not safe to be talking out in the open.” He guided me inside and to his lodgings, where Lia had already taken up residence in the back room. We sat at a table in the main room and he poured a couple glasses of what passed for alcohol in these parts.
“So what is so important that these people are willing to come after me? For all they know, I’m just another scientist…well, I am, but still,” I asked, leaning on the table. He followed suit and began his tale.
“It first found out about it when I was studying the magnetic properties of the peninsula. There are highly unusual fluctuations in the fields surrounding the area. Compass navigation is nearly impossible in some regions, making it easy for ships to get lost and fall into the hands of the Singapore pirates. I had no explanation for these fluctuations so I had begun working on a monitor to track and pinpoint the source. That is when I stumbled upon the tale. Well, actually, the tale found me…in the form of a young lady.” His voice dropped to a whisper as he said that and then added, “Don’t tell Lia.” He then went back to his monologue. “The, um source, told me of an ancient Malaysian fable, set back farther than the great emperors of China. There was once a warlord in this province who had desired to conquer all he surveyed. A very maniacal gentleman with an ego to match. The tale tells of a great rock cast down from the heavens which repelled metal. The warlord, having possession of this rock, which I believe to have been a sort of anti-lodestone, ordered his blacksmith to forge a great armor from it. It is said that the armor consisted of a chest plate, a helm and two gauntlets; and with them, he could direct a field that would stop all metal from harming his armies, disarming his enemies from a distance. He was eventually defeated by a lone soldier who fought his way through the battlefield wielding the most primitive of weapons. The army, without his leadership, broke apart and his loyalist of followers carried him from the battlefield and entombed him somewhere in the peninsula.”
“But what good would the armor do for pirates?” I asked. “Other than giving them a tactical edge, it would wreak havoc with their own weapons as well.”
“Yes, but if the legend is true, the force of the repulsion can be directed. I am assuming that it has to do with the whole ensemble of armor. So, not only will the compasses of ships be ineffectual, the pirates could cause chaos aboard another ship by hitting it with the repulsion.”
“And this woman you dealt with…is she the one that attacked me or the leader of these pirates?”
“I believe the woman you fought with was one of her lieutenants. The majority of pirates under her are women, though do not for an instant think that they are weak.”
“I wouldn’t believe that for a second,” I replied, rubbing my sore shoulder. “All right, when do we leave?”
“First thing in the morning. I have an airship ready for travel, modified so that there is minimal metal aboard. My scanner is ready to go and I am confident that we will be able to find the location of the tomb.”
“And…what do we do about little miss stowaway in there?” I whispered.
“She’s coming with,” Lia said from the back.
“I thought you gave up spying,” I called to her.
“It’s not spying when you talk so damn loud…like you snore.”
Morning came and as we prepared for the worst, I checked in on Lia, who was already dressed in an expedition suit. I picked up a nasty looking knife off of her bed and asked where she found such a weapon.
“Sky gave it to me as a going away present,” she replied.
“Figures. Think she’s burnt down the shop by now?” I asked.
She gave me a look as sharp as the knife and didn’t reply.
I let it go and changed the subject. “You know, he’s really concerned about your safety. You can’t fault him for that. We were talking last night…after we were sure that you were asleep. The loss of your mother is killing him and if he ends up losing you or your sister, it will send him so far down the pit, he may never come back.” She looked at me with more contempt than I thought she was capable of. “We’re not going to leave you behind, but if things get messy, and we tell you to run, then you run. Got it?”
Lia looked down and I could tell that she was fighting the urge to argue. “Fine,” she replied.
“Besides, if something happens to you, there will be two people drinking themselves to death,” I mumbled. Quickly, I said, “And didn’t you learn anything about packing from our last trip? What the hell is all this crap?” I tossed a dress at her and departed before she could say anything.
The ship was a small sloop class airship that could carry maybe fifteen people, if they didn’t mind sleeping on deck. There were very few luxuries, but it would do for a short trip. “Do you know how to fly this thing?” I asked the professor.
“I was hoping you did,” he replied while feigning ignorance. Chuckling, he ordered us to loosen the moorings and get us airborne.
Rising slowly over the city, I watched Lia looking down, captivated by the sight below us. She was so enamored by the prospect of actually being in this exotic locale that she was totally innocent of the dangers that could be ahead. I couldn’t help a smile until I caught her father watching me. Of course, I became serious at once and went back to starting the engine. I could hear him chuckling again as I turned away.
We traveled for several hours circumnavigating mountains, trying to pinpoint the source of the magnetic disturbance. The professor never moved from his seat at the bow of the ship, giving me directions via hand signals. Lia brought up lunch and since there wasn’t much for her to do, began sketching the terrain. Late afternoon, brought us to a halt as the professor jumped from his chair and yelled, “Here! Here!” I quickly cut the throttle and looked for a suitable place to land. It was a bit difficult, something was pushing against the ship and I had to put the engine back up to full throttle just to bring it to the ground. Lia and her father hopped out and tied us down as I kept the engine going.
The underbrush was thicker than anything I had ever encountered. Being from the city, I was completely out of my element and I also discovered something new: I’m allergic to everything green. We cut our way to the side of the hill in front of us, following the professor’s scanner. “There must be an entrance around here somewhere,” he exclaimed. “We are right on top of the disturbance.” The three of us fanned out and searched the area and it was Lia who found the monument first.
A large cover stone lay at the base of what was left of a stone statue, probably that of the warlord. Fortunately for us, the stone had cracked and partially caved in. Between the three of us, we were able to clear out enough of the stone to expose a granite sarcophagus. Metal pry bars were useless, so we resorted to good old fashioned tree branches to pry the lid off. After going through several of them, we managed to heft the lid off, exposing the mummified remains of the once mighty conqueror. And of course, that’s when an airship glided silently over us and several pirates rappelled down upon us. One especially caught my eye, sporting a shiny new claw on her right arm. I instinctively reached for my pistol, only to realize that it was still on the airship.
“Your date is here, Phin,” Lia said sarcastically.
“They always come back for more,” I muttered, noticing the difficulty the woman had moving her arm against the magnetic push.
Even though their weapons were as useless here as mine would have been, if I had remembered it, we were still outnumbered three to one…though subtracting an old man and a woman who’s deadliest weapon was her glare, it became nine to one. After they took up positions surrounding us, one more figure slid down to the ground. I had to admit she was one of the most stunning women I had ever seen. A little taller than Lia, she was a slender Asian woman dressed in the trappings of a typical pirate of the region, but her clothes were made entirely of silk and the finest leather. She walked up to the professor, ran her hand under his chin and then around his back as she circled him. “Hello, lover. Miss me?” She said loud enough for us to hear.
The professor blushed, or fumed, bright red, I wasn’t sure which. “Hello, Laila…and no, I didn’t”
She next walked over to Lia who was turning almost as red as her father. “And this must be little Verlia whom you have told me so much about. He does so like to brag about his whelps.” Lia, surprisingly, took a swing at the woman, who effortlessly grabbed her wrist and then spun her into the waiting grip of one of the pirates. I took a step towards them, but was quickly restrained by two burley pirates who stunk of fried cabbage. “And let us not forget Mister Frakture. Not much help to my William, are you? You should have stayed home. You are out of your league here.”
“I took care of your little clothes pin easy enough,” I said, indicating the claw.
“So you say. She was only to scare you off, or kill you, whichever she felt like. Yukio likes to play.”
“Didn’t do a very good job at either. You should consider firing her,” I replied glaring at the claw. “So, you found the armor. Take it. Its not like it has any value to us. We’re just here for scientific curiosity.”
“Oh, I will, as you can see.” She indicated the men who had already stripped the corpse of the armor. “And, I can’t see how it isn’t of value to you, so we will take a little insurance as well, so that you do not follow us.” With a nod of her head, the pirate holding Lia was hoisted back to their ship. Even from the ground, I heard an echoing smack, indicating that she had gotten off one of her signature slaps once they were up. But then, we heard another, louder one followed by a sharp cry. My blood boiled at that and I strained against my captors. “Don’t worry, we won’t hurt her…much. Just don’t follow us and we will drop her off at our earliest convenience. If you are lucky, it won’t be in the middle of the ocean. Farewell, gentlemen, and thank you for my prize.” They all began zipping back up to the airship, the last being the ones who held me.
The two of us watched helplessly as the pirate ship began its egress.
“Why do they always have to take ‘insurance’ when they know that’s a sure way to get us to follow them anyway?” I asked.
“Drama,” Professor Bilavio answered. “So, what are we waiting for? Let’s go get my girl…or is it your girl?”
“I think she’s her own girl…and quite frankly, I feel sorry for those pirates if they don’t keep an eye on her.” I stopped for a moment. “She wasn’t serious about the lover part, was she?”
“I may be many things, Mr. Frakture, but I could never dishonor my wife’s memory with a harlot like that.”
“Good to hear. Otherwise, saving Lia might not be the wisest thing to do if she believed what she said. Let’s go.”
==A Leap of Faith (I’m not really a foolish girl am I?)==
I stumbled back, feeling a bruise starting to develop on my cheek. I couldn’t believe that I let them take me that easily, but then again, there was little I could do. I heard one of them asking a question in a strange language, pointing to me and I cringed, wondering if they were planning on throwing me over the side of the ship that soon. It was already a far way down.
“She’s just a weak girl with a sharp tongue. Harmless,” the woman named Laila said, clearly to me as she looked me in the eye with a grin as I clutched my cheek growing furious. “Besides, she’s just bait. William is just a researcher that I’ve grown bored with.” I let out a sigh of relief, wondering if she would think the same thing if she knew about the magnetic energy convertor that we disassembled and flung into the arctic abyss. “No, no, Mr. Frakture will be a much more charming accessory with the skills to refashion this armor.” I didn’t know if I should be angered or disgusted that Laila was moving from my father to the man I secretly cared about, or shocked that she would call Phin charming. “And keeping you here will guarantee that he’ll do exactly what I want.”
I laughed. “You’re a fool if you think he’s going to come running after me. Phineas couldn’t care less about me. I’m just another spoiled annoying girl to him.” I was, right?
Laila smirked at me, saying, “You’re the fool.” Growing even more furious at the woman, I was prepared to launch myself at her even with the little fighting skills I had, but before I got the chance I heard her say, “Take her away. I’ve grown sick of looking at her. Just keep her in one piece otherwise Mr. Frakture will not be so compliant.” They grabbed my arms again and I struggled the whole way down the length of their airship and sat me down in one of the small rooms on the lower deck.
I wondered why she even bothered letting me know the details of her plans. Perhaps she wanted to scare me. Perhaps she knew I could do little to stop her. Perhaps it was both. Part of me hoped I was right about Phineas. I didn’t want them coming after me. I had to figure this out on my own, how to get off a ship of Malaysian pirates and somehow get rid of the armor so that they couldn’t use it to control the… control the what? I shook my head. I hardly knew anything about pirates, Singapore, Asian shipping routes, or what exactly their purpose was. Obviously chaos and fortune.
The other part of me was hoping that my father and Phin would show up and wouldn’t let Laila get away with her plan. Not to mention I was furious that she actually wanted that man. He might tease me mercilessly, point out all my faults, and sometimes be a pain to be around, but hell if I was going to let that wicked woman have him so easily.
But what really perplexed me was this strange armor. Surely father must know of a way to effectively rid the metal of it’s strange magnetic properties? He had been studying magnetism for as long as I knew and while I didn’t particularly know of Phineas’s own studies, with his wits, I was sure the two of them could find a way to not let these pirates use it for their devious purposes.
It was then that I looked up from my hazy state of contemplation that I saw one of the men grinning at me with a devilish look in his eye. I looked around, realizing that we were alone and wondered just how much time had passed since they took me down here. When he could sense the confusion on my face, he drew nearer. And I did what any sane, fearful woman would do: I kicked him as hard as I could in the groin and then went off running.
And after running down a small hallway, narrowly missing the grip of a man leaning out of a doorway as I slide by, I slide right by and straight into the galley door, which I flung through headfirst, toppling onto the stained floor. Struggling to get back up, I met with an angry woman brandishing a large cleaver and screamed, scurrying from her and further into the room. She let out a bellowing yell after getting over the initial confusion. I stood up, grabbing for something, anything, to defend myself against her with. As she charged towards me with the cleaver raised, I found the handle of a cast iron pan, heaving it up over my head and bringing it down on hers as hard as I could. She slumped on the ground, the cleaver falling out of her hands. I didn’t waste any time running out the opposite door and up the stairs to the top deck of the ship.
Laila’s eyes grew wide as she saw me dash up from below. It was then I heard a yell. “Lia!” As I turned my head towards the sound, my heart jumped. It was Phin and my father, finally caught up to us, and to my surprise he was on the airship with me! I saw Phin fire off a flare and out of the sky, father’s airship descended.
It was then that Laila seized her opportunity and lunged towards me, holding me back. The woman was much stronger than I ever imagined, and I could feel the marks that her hands and nails were leaving on my arms. Then I felt a cold, sharp blade pressing itself against my neck and took a sudden inward breath.
“Don’t try anything or she’s dead.” Laila spoke, facing me towards the other ship. I locked eyes with Phineas in a panic. I didn’t know what to do. This was all for nothing. Just let her kill me and toss me over the side of the boat. Don’t let her get you too, I thought, closing my eyes tight. But it was when my arms brushed over my side that something clicked inside of me.
I gripped the handle of the blade Sky had given me before I left New Babbage and opened my eyes again, grinning at Phineas. With a cry, I took the dagger from my belt and drove it deep into Laila’s thigh.
She shrieked, stumbling backwards and dropping the knife she had been holding against my throat. I took the opportunity to take a running jump off the airship and leapt as far as I could over to the other ship.
It was as if time slowed in that moment. My heart was fluttering so fast and hard against the wall of my chest as I flew through the air, far above the ground, with nothing around me to even grip. It was a ridiculous move, but at that moment, I wanted to get as far away from Laila and her filthy pirates as possible. I wasn’t sure if my heart was beating so quickly because of the thrill of the jump or because Phineas and my father had actually come after me. But it was as I approached the ship, my stomach sank.
I wasn’t going to make it.
I grabbed at air as I saw the side of the boat and now wished I hadn’t been so careless and also wished I had learned more math to be able to tell that this wasn’t going to work. I shut my eyes, ready for my fate. It would be a long way down, but maybe, just maybe, my father and Phineas could get out safely. It would be alright, in the end. At least Phin could be finally rid of his little, annoying sewer rat and get on with his life. I let out a calm breath.
My outstretched arm connected with something and I pried my eyes open, looking directly up into my father’s eyes. I immediately gripped his arm tight, right before I banged into the side of the airship. Hard. With my head spinning, my father lifted me up. I didn’t want to let go afraid I might fall again, afraid that something might happen.
Laila, now kneeling, laughed and called out to us, “I won’t let you leave that easily. We still have the armor.” She smirked and I was surprised as she tried to stand back up even with the pain.
I turned to my father with a worried look in my eyes, “Don’t ever do that again,” he said.
I clung to my father, hugging him tightly. “Don’t worry, I won’t. Being close to death is enough of a deterrent for me.” I paused for a moment before looking up at him, “But what are we going to do about the armor?” I saw him briefly glance at Phineas and wondered what exactly they had been planning all this time they had been chasing down Laila’s airship.
My father smiled, “I think we have a plan.”
==With Such A Magnetic Personality, Why Am I Repulsed By You?==
The pirate ship was definitely faster than us, at least at this altitude. As they hugged the terrain to come up on unsuspecting ships, we took the higher route with the stronger winds. The sun was also low on the horizon and soon it would be dark. Time was now of the essence if we wanted to get Lia back. While the professor piloted the ship, I dug through the hold for anything useful. For this corner of the world, weapons were a given on any ship, except this one, it seemed. I finally came up with a familiar piece and brought it up to the deck.
“Does this thing work?” I asked.
“Might be good for one charge. I doubt it will do us any good in a firefight.”
“That’s all right,” I responded. I have no intention of going toe to toe with them.”
“Ah, the mighty wasp stings and runs away, eh?”
“Just enough to annoy them…and as Lia tells it, that’s what I’m best at. Speaking of our girl, this will be a quick grab and run. We can’t do much else.”
The professor looked shocked. “No, no. We must get that armor from them and destroy it.”
“Why? Granted they could still mess with the polarity of the region, but with modern weapons, it won’t do much good.”
“You forget where we are. This is a very poor region. They will terrorize the populace and more lives will be lost to their piracy. Eventually, the British Empire will do away with them, but then it would fall into their hands and still used as a weapon of war. My conscience won’t allow it. We must destroy it.”
“You make a good argument, sir,” I conceded. “I just wish more people thought like you do.”
As the sun set, we spotted our prey. I ran out a string of signal flags ordering them to surrender and we dropped to their altitude. They quickly spotted us and fired a broadside, missing us on purpose. A warning.
“Ok,” I said, “Let’s show them the proper way to lower their colors.” I charged the Tesla cannon and took aim. The gun’s barrel glowed an intense white and once I had my target, I lowered my goggles and fired.
A beautiful arc of electricity blasted forth from the cannon which then fizzled and died. When the flash died away, I watched with satisfaction as their flag fluttered gracefully to the jungle below. That should piss them off. “UP! UP!” I called to the professor and the ship lurched as he accelerated the engine. I had expected a hail of bullets, but instead the ship was suddenly knocked about as if we had encountered some extreme turbulence.
“She’s using the armor,” called the professor. “That’s magnetic repulsion or my name’s not Bilavio.” Sure enough, as I used the magnification on my goggles, I could see Laila clad in the armor, trying to manipulate the field it projected.
“Get us higher. The sun is almost gone.”
“Are you sure about this?” he asked me.
“They’d tear us apart if we came up beside them. This is our only chance.” I checked my pocket belt to make sure everything was in order and downing a piece of chocolate from one of the pouches.
“Remember, when you see the flare, get down there fast.”
He put his hand on my shoulder as I stepped to the side. “Good luck, boy. Bring her back.”
I clasped his hand and then did one of the stupidest things I’ve done to date.
Freefall was exhilarating and scary as hell. Especially when the last ray of daylight just disappeared over the horizon. I hoped that my aim was good or this was going to be one painful landing. My aim wasn’t. I had planned on dropping on the bag and sliding down one of the supports, but it seemed that the wind had moved them a few degrees to port. I dropped past the airship and could have sworn I saw Lia through one of the portholes on the way down.
Now, one of the most useful inventions in our time, I believe, is the limited burst jet propelled kicker. Very handy in situations like this. With the simple flip of a switch, I was propelled back up to the airship and was able to grasp one of the tether lines before the jets exhausted their fuel. Of course, there was the task of climbing a swaying rope several hundred feet in the air ahead of me.
I am definitely out of shape.
I took a few minutes, after I finally made it up to the aft deck, to catch my breath and give my arms a rest. There was a commotion coming from somewhere in the ship. I had figured that it was just the pirates gearing up to track us down, but something told me there was another reason for it.
Sneaking my way across the deck, I heard the clang of cast iron against something, or someone, down below. Not long after, I saw a familiar shape burst through the portal leading below deck. “Lia!” I yelled and fired off a flare into the night sky.
I wasn’t the only one to see her though. Around the corner, Laila, in all her armored glory stood on deck, watching the sky. She lunged at Lia and used her as a shield against me. “Don’t try anything or she’s dead,” Laila shouted.
Something came over Lia and I saw the smile on her face just before Laila screamed in pain. Lia then broke loose from her grasp and in an amazing feat, leaped over the side as her father’s airship came down beside us. I watched in horror as she began falling short and then relief struck as her father grabbed her outstretched arm.
“You won’t get away that easily…and I still have the armor,” snarled Laila as she gripped her thigh where a dagger was still lodged.
Lia was safe now. That was the most important thing. But truth be told, I had no plan. I had no idea how to get the armor away from her, let alone off of her, especially when her entire crew was appearing on deck. Think, Frakture, think. End this as quickly as you can. And then it came to me. I had no other diversion, so…I blinded her with science.
“Interesting thing about the armor,” I said as I reloaded the flare pistol. I watched carefully as her crew began pouring on deck and kept myself to the starboard rail. I hopped up and grabbed a ratline as I spoke. “I assume that it is really heavy, made from a form of magnetite. Personally, I don’t care what you do with it, but my colleague believes that it would be for the greater good if it were destroyed. So, that’s what I’m going to do.” She laughed at this, of course, but I continued anyway, keeping my eyes on her and her crew. “So, how to do that? Now, being a man of science, I know that the melting point of the typical magnetite is around 1538 degrees Celsius. However, I don’t need to melt it. In order to reverse the polarity of the armor, I only need to reach a temperature of 768 degrees Celsius. Are you with me?”
“You are going to melt the armor with a flare gun? That is absurd,” she replied.
“Why, yes. It is. But…” I motioned to the gasbag with the gun. “That is hydrogen, is it not? And hydrogen burns at around 2000 degrees, give or take. I think even you can see where this is going.” I raised the pistol in the air.
“Stop!” the pirate screamed. “What do you want? Gold? Jewels? I can make you rich beyond your dreams.”
“Oh, I want you and your crew of cutthroats to burn. We already have what we came for and you have nothing to offer me.” I fired the gun at the canvas and turned to leap from the side. A steel claw zipped past my head as I did so and I felt the searing heat as the hydrogen caught fire. Screams erupted behind me. I saw the professor’s airship veer away from the fire and I realized that my jump would be shorter than Lia’s. The chain attached to the claw was making its return to it’s charred owner, so I made a grab for it. I swung back towards the inferno and slammed into the side of the now sinking ship. The professor had brought his ship down as well, hovering below me. “Second time’s the charm,” I muttered and let go of the chain.
It was a rather soft landing. This time, it went as planned and I slid down the side and came to a rest on the deck.
“Nice of you to drop by,” quipped the professor as he brought the airship out of range of the fireball.
“You melted the armor. Nice work.” He dropped a piece of metal without any resistance.
“Basic metallurgy. Any good scientist would know that.” I turned to Lia who was looking no worse for wear.
“Thank you,” she said as she gave me a big hug, which hurt like hell, but I endured.
I was happy with that.
“You did know that we wouldn’t leave you, right? And that we had a rescue planned.”
“I know. I just got tired of waiting for you,” she said with a smile.
We all stood at the rail, watching the fire plummet to the canopy below. “What do you think?” I asked.
“About what?” both Lia and her father replied.
“For dinner. I don’t know about you two, but I’m starving. Know any good restaurants in Singapore?”
“A few. That is if you like dog,” said the professor.
“Good enough for me.”
“Um…geniuses?” asked Lia. “Do either of you know how to get back? We are in the middle of Malaysia in the dark of night…without a compass.”
“Oh. Um. Well…the same way sailors navigated: by the stars. Professor Captain, what’s our heading?” I asked.
Professor Bilavio looked out at the sea of stars and motioned with his head. “Second star to the right, Mr. Frakture…and straight on ’til morning.”
“Great,” I heard Lia say. “All this and I’m still not getting dinner.”
==A Last Look At Singapore==
Despite our terrifying encounter with Laila and her unruly gang of Malaysian pirates, I was still quite angry with both Phineas and my father. After all, what woman would go to such great lengths to tell them off? And despite my deep dislike of getting involved in anything that even had the remotest stench of trouble, I couldn’t help but feel exhilarated being caught up in the mess. As much as I wanted to tell both men how much danger they put me in, I had to admit I was more alive than ever and I had both of them to thank for it. Although, I don’t think I have it in me to stab a woman ever again, even if I so want to.
And thus, when we returned to Singapore (after arguing with Phin about being lost in the middle of who knows where and him being persistent that we were just taking the long way back), there were still some matters to attend to. Namely, my father’s inability to keep himself out of trouble. It would be a few days until Phin and I could catch the next airship back to New Babbage and I was concerned that my father didn’t exactly know what to do. His two previous forays into magnetism had resulted in failed conclusions, the research of which could not be published in any scientific journal nor presented to the Scientific Academy.
After Phineas muttered something about finding a decent cup of coffee and excused himself, I prepared to have a talk with my father in the hotel cafe. But after waiting nearly half an hour for him to come down, I grew impatient.
Bursting through his door, I was about to give him a taste of my sharp tongue once again but as I opened my mouth I saw him holding a letter, a strange sorrowful and pained look on his face.
“What.. what is it father?” I asked, shutting to door and approaching him. He abruptly looked up at me, folding the letter and placing it back on the desk.
Smiling reassuringly, he said, “Oh nothing, just more business. Nothing to trouble you.” I couldn’t believe it. He was lying to me again and by the looks of it he was trying to protect me and keep me from worrying. What good that did me the last two times. “I’m sorry Lia, I hope I didn’t keep you waiting.”
“Yes.” I said sterning, crossing my arms over my chest. “Yes you did. Nearly thirty minutes too!”
He simply smiled again. “I must have lost track of time. Business can do such things sometimes, you must understand.” I wondered if he really thought he was going to talk his way out of this.
“Look, father. I’m sure you know what I wished to speak with you about. These little adventures, the going away for months and not even sending word of your safety, getting involved with the worst sorts of people, driving me to worry like mother did, OH and not to mention dragging Phineas into this. It must stop. I know you have a glorious time traveling the world, but I cannot tolerate any more thrill seeking. Aren’t you getting a bit old for all of this anyway?” I started. I didn’t want to mention that he, most of all, scared me when he went off like this.
“Ah, just like your mother, you are,” he said, “Although I’m sure you wouldn’t want hear that.” I nodded briefly. “Wouldn’t she have said something similar to you when you persisted in letting her let you go after me? It was her way of showing she cared I suppose.”
I drew in a sharp breath, noticing the similarities. It was disheartening that the last conversations I ever had with my mother was over me leaving.
“You selfish girl!” my mother yelled. “What do you hope to accomplish by following after him? Do you wish to get yourself killed because, I can assure you, that is exactly what you are intending to do by leaving.”
“I’m not a girl anymore mother!” I protested, standing up from the settee and slamming the novel I had been reading, on what had been a pleasant October day in the parlor, down on the floor. “I’m nearly twenty one. Do you expect to keep me as a prisoner in this house until you have found a suitable husband for me? Do you wish to keep me docile and subdued as Olivia? Is that why you took away easel and paints?”
My mother scoffed, “I would hardly call Olivia docile, Verlia.” She calmly took a sip of her tea, setting it back down on the serving table, hardly acknowledging my argument. “After all, she’s already engaged.”
“Face it mother, you could never stand to see me successful on my own out of the presence of any man,” I continued. I heard the teacup clatter as her hand trembled. I wondered if it was because of what I said or if it was because of her condition.
“I’m sorry Verlia but it’s just not proper. No man would take you if they felt their superiority challenged by your success, and judging by your lack of offers, I fear it’s already had an effect.” My mother’s voice showed no sign of weakness.
“You’re living in the past mother. Any proper man would be happy to have someone as creative and successful as myself. Besides, what does it matter? Is that really your only concern? Marriage?! Mother, you must know it’s far from my mind. I AM going to find father. I AM going to resume painting, and I AM going to see to it that you will not keep me as a prisoner in this house any longer. I’ll go with or without your consent.”
“Verlia, I do not think that this is the–,” my mother tried to take a breath. She was always good at keeping her emotions from revealing her true nature. I was a bit shocked that my words would pierce her so. “The wisest…” My eyes grew wide as she slumped over on the couch.
“Help! Someone help!” I cried out, rushing towards her. It was only a few days later that she died.
I tried to wipe a stray tear from my eye, not wanting my father to catch me getting upset over my mother. “I’m sure she wouldn’t have been as emotional as I am.” I sighed, realizing that I was asking a lot from my father. “It was difficult, you know, living with her.”
He walked over to me, wrapping his arms tightly around me. “Oh Lia, you definitely didn’t make it easy for her. You’re such a demanding young lady.”
I nodded. “It was difficult watching her suffer. She tried not to show it in the last few weeks, but you could still tell something was… wrong.”
My father let out a breath and let go of me, crossing the room again back to the desk. Picking up the letter, he said, “I think you should read this. I’ve learnt my lesson that keeping secrets from you is dangerous to all of us. Perhaps you can find a bit of comfort in at least knowing.” He handed the letter over to me.
I opened it slightly, glancing down at the ink. “What is it father?”
“After we returned from the Arctic I had an investigation started on the nature of your mother’s death. They’ve finally returned the results to me. I’m sure you’d like to read the report for yourself,” he explained, beckoning me to take a look at the letter.
I scanned the summary, looking for the right words. There was no way I could wait to know. And there, in the third paragraph, the word stood out: poisoned. I looked up shocked at my father. “Mother was…” I stopped, noticing my voice trembling, “She was poisoned? But by who?”
My father shook his head as I handed the letter back to him. “I have a few suspicions. The fact that she was poisoned slowly makes me think it had something to do with my previous colleague and research and that they had been planning this for some time now. Lia, I know you’re going not going to like this but the Scientific Academy has requested that I come back to teach.”
I shook my head, wondering how this could be happening. I never suspected anything, and she was around me the whole time. “No, no… you musn’t father.”
“I’m sorry Lia but I must. I cannot rest until I find out who is behind this. I won’t let her death rest.” He then gave me a stern look. “But you must promise that you’ll return to New Babbage. With the secrecy of this information, I just can’t trust anyone at home.”
“Father, no,” I protested. I bit my lip. “I’m… I’m afraid of what will happen to you.”
“I know, I know. Please just give me the comfort of knowing that you’ll be safe far away from home,” he said.
I nodded in agreement. Even I knew that I’d be safer in New Babbage, especially surrounded by friends that would protect me. “Yes, I promise. I won’t come looking for you. But if I may, I’d like to make one request. If there’s any way to do so, please inform me of what is happening. It’s the long stretches of not hearing from you that get me the most worried.”
“Of course Lia, of course.”
A few days later, Phineas and I departed back to New Babbage. I just hoped the journey would be a bit less eventful than the one to Singapore. I was glad, however, that I didn’t have to wear such a dreadful outfit to get my way on the airship.
Phineas turned to me as we boarded, saying, “You going to smack me again on this trip?”
I shook my head, “No, never again. It hurts.”
“For you or for me?” He asked.
“Both.” I dropped my bag and turned to him. “Phin, I promise. I won’t ever hit or smack you again, even if I feel so strongly that it’s the right thing to do. And I… I…” I didn’t want to say it but I knew I had to. “I’ll try to be nicer.” I grabbed my bag and rushed off before I could see his face.
Honestly, I didn’t know how I would, or even if I should, tell Phineas about the nature of my mother’s death. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Good thing I remembered to bring back some tea for Iyou. It would be a rough time without her support. Perhaps she could see past my faults and forgive my rash decisions.
I smiled weakly, glad that I had people I could count on no matter what news I received or what journey I was persistent enough to go on.