"Mystery magnifies danger as the fog the sun."-- Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon
220 to 227-1123.
Geoff's pleased that Aunt Patricia wants to get to know him better, and that he'll have the time to do it. He needs someone to go with him to all those soirées, and Sophie will fit the bill nicely. He takes Sophie out jewelry shopping, to get an idea what she'd likes, and what her ring size is. (He'll buy the engagement ring himself, later.)
Jeweler: "Ah, Colonel Thompson!" He reads the social registry, etc., and he's more than happy to assist. Geoff scopes out what Sophie likes, without asking her specifically. Sophie's tastes run to the fairly classic - nothing too big and flashy, that would be gaudy. Geoff is able to get the information he needs, and he'll spend £50 on the set (engagement ring and two wedding bands).
Speaking of shopping, the party does have £200 to spend on kit replacement. Geoff has to get everything tailored, being as he's so big, and he needs uniforms suiting him rank. But Geoff has the £200 plus £200 from his commission, and 280 Zendan Ducats. For the moment, he's definitely flush, as the Ducats translate to £840 Albion. Cool.
Geoff decides to look for a house in Coventry, since that's where Lady Patricia and Sophie are from. A smallish house, nothing too ostentatious, maybe three floors. Three hundred pounds can buy him a nice townhouse sort of thing, with furnishings. Putting down roots, apparently. Or spending all his local money before he leaves.
Then there's the matter of servants. Geoff doesn't want to have more than two, maybe a married couple? Geoff asks Heinrich for help with this. Heinrich: "Of course. My master has given me instructions to give you whatever assistance you need in setting up your household." And since Geoff has ten bedrooms, he invites the other party members to move in to his place. A former military medic will be hired to help care for Ezbeki - a male nurse. Ezbeki takes exception to the idea of a male nurse, until Geoff brings up certain unpleasant aspects of his condition. Geoff: "Ezbeki, do you really want to have a woman helping you on and off the toilet?" Ezbeki: "I don't even want to talk about that." Geoff: "All right, do you want a woman helping you in and out of the shower? A male nurse." Ezbeki stops arguing. Heinrich has a couple to recommend to Geoff. They're in their mid-thirties, early 40's (the man), and the husband is retired military. They'll do nicely. Geoff deals with setting up the household and that sort of stuff.
Meanwhile, back at the soirées... Marguerite's brother Thomas shows up, as does Lt. Kerrie. The latter is very happy to see the party, some more so than others perhaps. Robert: "Well, how are you?" Kerrie: "Fine, thanks to you." Someone whispered something into the queens ear apparently, and he's now Lt. Commander Kerrie. It is a good thing to have been on Cutler's enemies list. Kerrie: <to Samantha> "But of course, the greatest reward is to see you again. It was the thought of you that got me through my darkest hours." Oh-oh, she's surrounded by romantics! Well, she's just such an unusual woman - doesn't quail or faint...unusual for here, certainly. He and Samantha take a walk in the rose garden, where it's both public and private.
Lord Lindsey resurfaces, as do Kip and Rex (the Amazing Dual Liver Man). Lindsey throws one of the parties for the group. Franz goes to that party, but not all of them (too awkward what with being Fredonian). Marguerite introduces her brother to everyone. Thomas is tall for here, about 5'11" - 6', and at twenty-five is Marguerite's younger brother. He's a blue-eyed redhead who seems sharp, friendly, and direct. It's a friendly party, but Ariana isn't use to being around a lot of people, although she does enjoy it for now even though she's rather quiet and stays near Robert. Robert discusses the expedition with Franz, but just briefly.
During Lord Lindsey's party, Geoff asks the host about the Spaniel, and if it's in Albion. Lindsey: "Oh yes, it's here." Geoff: "What happened to the poor unfortunate who was on board?" Lindsey: "Quite interesting. He disappeared. Oh, excuse me." He's off to chat with another guest. Kaeth: <to Geoff > "He's in Albion at least then." Geoff feels obligated, as he explains privately to the party, since the Mustache helped them. He wants to help him out. Geoff doesn't tell them about his intention to put a vague ad in the personal column, or rather have it placed for him anonymously, asking that the Mustache contact him at his new residence.
Kaeth is into other things right now. First, he wants a parachute. Parachutes and airships go together in his mind. Parachute silk is a problem though, and synthetics are not available. It's silk, cotton webbing and braided cotton line. Geoff suggests linen. After some research, Kaeth can figure out what to use locally for his little project. Unfortunately he only sort of knows how it looks, and how it's supposed to work.
Geoff invites Sophie along to Fredonia. She's willing of course, and doesn't want to be parted from Geoff, but they're not married yet, so an appropriate chaperone must go along. Geoff would really prefer not to take Lady Patricia. Arrangements can be made for Sophie's married cousin, Clarice, to go along.
Back to Lt. Kerrie and his expressions of affection for Samantha. He would like to call on her, and she has no objections, but she tells him that she will be going to Fredonia with the rest of her party. Kerrie: "I see. Forgive me, I was not aware you and the Count had become so...close. I apologize for intruding." Samantha: "You aren't paying attention. I said we were going to Fredonia. We as in my party, not just me." Kerrie: <brightening> "Ah, so there is nothing between you and Count Von Hollenstein." This is a statement, not a question. He takes Samantha's hands in his and expresses his "special fondness" for her. As she's desperately trying to stammer out a response, Kerrie spots Robert and straightens up. Robert: "I'm sorry, I can come back later." Kerrie: "Not at all. We were just finishing our conversation. Lady Telford." He bows and withdraws.
Franz, thinking that the group has been exposed to too many new people, suggests to Geoff and Sophie that they leave for Fredonia as soon as possible and get away from the publicity. He does have to deliver that letter. Franz: "Has anyone seen Lady Telford?" She's around somewhere.
Samantha: <to Robert> "Was there something you wanted?" Robert: "Yes, I wanted to discuss the expedition, but I can come back later." Samantha: "No, let's discuss this now, so you don't have to come back later." Robert: "All right, I was wondering how much we should tell Franz. I know they have gliders here, but probably not the kind that's there." Samantha: "Well, we don't have to tell him too much beforehand." She sees Ariana in the main salon, being very attentively tended to by a number of young men in pretty uniforms. Samantha: "Does your fiancée get talkative when she's been drinking?" Robert: "I don't know, she doesn't usually drink that much. Why?" Samantha nods towards Ariana and her admirers. Robert takes off to the rescue.
Ariana: <to Robert> "Oh, hello. I was just telling him about some of the places I've heard about, some stories." The men are sitting in rapt silence, impressed by the confident, free-spirited woman. Robert takes her away and introduces her to Franz, who's been intercepted by people as he searches for Samantha. Franz is polite enough to chat with Ariana, he hasn't had much time to speak with her since the rescue, and no one had explained to him why she was there. Franz: <to Robert> "Why was she committed? She seems quite lucid." Robert: "Exactly. It was all a horrible mistake."
Geoff takes Sophie into the garden, but another part. They're engaged, so kissing is okay. It's in public, after all. But no dipping! Kaeth is bumped into by another Vargr. After the Vargr continues through the crowd, Kaeth checks his pockets and there's a folded up piece of paper with some sort of cypher on it. Argh!!
Robert: "I believe I saw Lady Telford in the rose garden a short while ago." Franz: "Ah! Thank you." Clever boy. Samantha is in the garden, alone, trying to collect her thoughts. Then there's a familiar voice. Franz: "You look deep in thought. Almost a sad sight, wouldn't you say? A rose garden out of season. There's only one thing missing." He reaches over her shoulder and hands her a rose. She takes it. (He's just full of surprises, isn't he?) Franz: "Is everything all right, my dear?" Sam: "I don't know anymore." Franz: "The stars are lovely tonight. I often wonder if there are people out there looking at us, and wondering the same thing. What troubles you?" Sam: "I wasn't expecting this." Franz: "Expecting what? You speak half explanations, like you're holding something back. Someone at some time has hurt you very badly. It's obvious from the way you try to hold people at bay, keep them distant..." He mentions things that hit really close to home. Is he psionic or something? What's with this guy?? Franz: "Tomorrow we'll be leaving for Fredonia, but you are under no obligation, of course."
I intended to come along. I just..." Franz: "I understand. I am after all, a married man. And you deserve better. I know that you have a certain fondness for Lt. Kerrie, and I understand that." Samantha's been lied to by experts, and Franz is a bad liar. He's telling the truth, or at least he's saying what he believes to be the truth, which pretty much amounts to the same thing. Franz: "No matter what you do, it won't effect how I feel about you. You deserve to be happy, I think you've been unhappy for a very long time. <straightens> And I see Lt. Kerrie now, so I'll withdraw." And so he does, politely. Lt. Kerrie is willing to be distraction-boy for the evening afterwards, bring punch, indulge in pleasant yet non-meaningful chit-chat, that sort of thing.
When Geoff returns to his house, where Ezbeki has been accompanied by Marguerite (who is reading to him), there's an unexpected visitor: a horribly scarred man smoking a cigar. The ad seems to have worked. Mustache: "Ah, it's Colonel Thompson now, I understand?" Geoff: "Yes. Major, colonel, it's all pretty much the same to me. I take it you saw my ad. Is there anything I can do for you?" Mustache: "Is there anything I can do for you? I am in your debt." Geoff: "You didn't have me roasted alive, I feel I'm in your debt." Mustache: "You needn't worry. There are opportunities for men of my...talents and abilities in Albion. I'm glad to see yours include the ability to support a new wife in decent comfort." Geoff: "You do read the social pages don't you?" Mustache: <shrugs> "I hear things." Geoff: "I met Lady Sophie while we were on our adventure. It's not like I was striving for that sort of thing." Mustache: "As I said, there are opportunities for able men here. I have also heard about your adventures with Captain Cutler. Now there's a splendid example of the Albion gentleman for you." Geoff: "One shouldn't consider all of Albion by Captain Cutler." Mustache: "True, and with Captain Cutler's demise...I may be going to the continent for a while." Geoff: "Well, you should look up Franz! He's chartered a zeppelin to Fredonia, and he may have a vacancy." Mustache: "Perhaps. You know, I would love to chat all night, but I have to catch a train a little later. Perhaps we'll meet again." Geoff: "Good luck. This planet is the more the better for a few self-made men." Mustache: "God helps them who helps themselves. A little something for the bride." Hands him a small box. It contains a pair of earrings, very tasteful, very nice. Mustache: "I saw these earlier, and they called out your lady's name." Geoff doesn't ask. Handshakes are exchanged, and the man formerly known as Old Mustache departs into the Albion night.
The zeppelin will be departing for Fredonia at 4:00 in the afternoon. Plenty of time to take care of a little business. Speaking of which, as a result of business attended to during the course of the last few days a number of things will take place just prior to the party's departure. First off, Robert receives a sealed envelope with the Dick Salamander theme he paid a local composer to transcribe into musical notation for him. Robert's prepared for anything now - he's got theme music!
A bonded courier delivers the painting tube to Samantha. She inspects it (the painting and the letter are there), signs for it, and the courier leaves. Outside, there's a horrible scream, a crash, and the courier has been squished by a carriage. Oops. Samantha arranges for the painting and letter to be stored in the Bank of Albion, in a fireproof safe. Just in case.
Then there's the matter of Geoff and Ezbeki. The latter isn't going to make the trip to Fredonia, but will stay in Geoff's house. Geoff: "For what seems like my whole life you've been a pain. I don't expect you to stop now." Marguerite will stay, and will make sure Ezbeki doesn't take too much laudanum. She's very concerned about him, and tears up when she talks to Geoff about it. Marguerite: "It was so brave, the way he leapt in from of you." " Geoff: <to Ezbeki> "We know where you are. Be here when I get back." Ezbeki: "It's not like I'll get far on foot." Geoff: "You have special talents. You better be here." Ezbeki: "I promise I'll wait until you get back. I swear on my nuts." Okay, now there's an oath they probably don't hear much around here.
The party arrives at the aerodrome to meed the zeppelin, which is 850' long. Good grief that's big for not being a starship! There are separate gondolas for passengers and crew, as well as rooms within the superstructure. The captain, a nice Fredonian man, welcomes them aboard with his staff. Sophie's cousin, Clarice, has arrived just in time. She's about 23 years old, and her husband's regiment has been stationed in the northern provinces, so this is a good opportunity. Her husband is considerably older, much like Geoff and Sophie, and he's always out there doing military things. He's a colonel, like Geoff, and has a regiment. He's always off doing things, and drinking with his regimental buddies. Clarice is quite excited when she meets the party. Clarice is very pleased she accepted Aunt Patricia's offer. At the time, Clarice didn't know that "you were travelling with the famous Count Von Hollenstein." Geoff: "Famous for what?" Sophie: "For being one of the richest men in the civilized world. It is rumored that the Emperor himself has borrowed money from the Count." Geoff: "Oh really?" This makes taking his money away from him at cards even better.
It's a forty hour flight. Robert gets the grand tour, and even gets to take a turn at the wheel of the clockwork zeppelin. He doesn't do anything wild, he knows the other passengers. It's really quite challenging to pilot, there's a lot to consider, but Robert can handle it while they're cruising along. He gets the full lecture about the gas bags, redundant systems, and everything. They used hydrogen earlier on, but not any more. Don't use hydrogen. It's very, very dangerous. They use all sorts of tricks to keep the engines light. They use a diesel-type engine driven off of liquified/vaporized parafin. Very clean burning, very efficient. Robert asks about emergency restart of the engine. Captain: "Should the engines shut down, we would send an engineer out to the nacelle, assuming the clockwork ignition wasn't working. Normally we don't climb above 30,000 feet, and we cruise at about 1,000 feet." And if there's anything interesting to see, the captain will actually take it lower. The captain has never taken it above 15,000 feet, and that was during the proving flights. Robert spends a lot of the trip up with the crew.
Later, Robert has the band play his music. The other passengers react differently to the sound of the Dick Salamander theme music echoing through the passenger compartment. Argh. The music is almost exactly right. Ariana and Robert like it, so that's all right then.
Kaeth reads the newspapers. The Fredonian papers have the official slant, it's very much a more paternal attitude than in Albion. Travelling on board the airship is sort of like being on board a starship. Only with a different view.
Franz is being very polite and attentive, and seems rather concerned about Samantha. The others can't help but notice. Sophie and Clarice have a wonderful time catching up and discussing the other party members. Sophie tells the stories about some of their adventures, with some embellishments, of course. Geoff helps, although downplaying his own bravery and making others look good. Franz helps amuse the young ladies ( the girls, from his viewpoint), with the tale of the hunt for the wild feline, prior to meeting up with Sophie and her aunt.
Arrival at Königsberg, the capital of Fredonia.
It's has less middle class than Albion, although it's growing. Primarily technical people, who are highly valued in Fredonia. Mostly, it's a country of wealthy landowners and peasants. The technocrats who are moving up are well-treated by the wealthy and powerful, sort of a petit-nobility, and some are even promoted into the lower noble ranks (they won't cause trouble for the upper class if they are part of the upper class). There is also a strong tradition of the land holders having a responsibility for caring for the lower classes. This has been helpful in dealing with the territories that have been absorbed by Fredonia, since it has meant a better life for the lower class. It's been this way for about five generations, since William the Great (the 1st), who instituted a lot of the reforms they have now. Duty goes both ways in Fredonia.
Fredonia has iron deposits, and coal in the northern part, and as Franz mentioned earlier, large deposits of helium. Fredonia is the largest nation on the continent, and has an expansionist history. There is a loose coalition of countries on the continent, but a lot of the acquisitions of Fredonia have been pretty bloodless. There hasn't been a proper war for over a hundred years, which is why Franz is so concerned about the possibility of war now, with modern weapons.
The capital is very well laid out in an anal-retentive sort of way. It's all very clean and well-ordered. There's plenty of room to maneuver cavalry in the streets, which are too broad for barricades by the students. The students do cause regular problems, and occasionally have to be put down, rather brutally if needed, usually with the approval of the merchants. Damn kids.
Once the airship lands, carriages await and take the party to a hotel, where they have an entire floor. Franz excuses himself to deliver the letter to the Emperor. After several hours, Franz returns with Dr. Jurgen. The chancellor has asked Franz to look into a rather baffling case, concerning the death of Count Bulow of the Foreign Office. Franz: Perhaps you could come along and give me your opinions, as world travellers. The manner of death is quite curious, even Dr. Jurgen is puzzled. Perhaps...well, except for the young ladies, who of course would not be interested." Dr. Jurgen: "It's only that I wish to spare you the trauma. I'm sure the ladies are not accustomed to viewing the remains of the recently dead." Kaeth: "How did the remains come to be recently dead?" Dr. Jurgen: "I would hesitate to make any statement and pre-prejudice you to any cause or conclusion." Samantha: "Am I expected to wait here as well?" Franz: "You are your own woman. I certainly would not suggest a way for you to behave. I leave it to your judgement." Samantha: "Good. Then I'm coming along."
After a short carriage ride, they arrive at the home. The body is in the study, and has not been disturbed. The deceased was found a couple of hours ago, but there's been no police yet, as Count Von Bulow was engaged in some delicate work for the government. Robert: "Was anyone present when the Count was killed?" Franz: "He did send his servant away, insisted he wanted to be alone." Robert: "Well then, show us." There's definitely a smell as they enter the room. A cooked type smell. Heat, or a lot of energy.
Dr. Jurgen: "This way." He removes the sheet to reveal a man with two charred holes in his chest. Puckered tissue, and the bones have been almost turned to ash near the surface. This man was electrocuted. On a planet with no electricity?? It almost looks like someone used medical paddles in a deliberately fatal way. One of his shoes is scuffed, and he was found on the floor, about three or four steps from his desk, and there are two cut crystal glasses on the desk, one overturned. There's a displaced chair, and a couple of drops of something caustic on the desk. There is lipstick on one of the glasses, the body is not wearing lipstick.
Kaeth takes Dr. Jurgen off to one side. Kaeth: "This man was electrocuted." Dr. Jurgen: "I do not recognize that word." Kaeth: "He was killed by electricity." Dr. Jurgen: "Count Von Hollenstein? I think this should be a private conversation." Franz: "Leave us!" The men leave. Kaeth: <still to Dr. Jurgen> "You have seen limited galvanic response. Franz is looking at Sam, with a sort of half smile. When she notices, he looks away. What is he thinking? The good thing is that Franz isn't paying too much attention to the whispering. Kaeth: "Every muscle that you use is a galvanic response. The person who did this used, probably with lead acid batteries, a galvanic response thousands of time greater than what you've seen." Dr. Jurgen: "Are you saying some one used galvanic sparks to do this? It's a well known fact that electricity can cover only a few inches, and is harmless." Kaeth: "Normally, yes. But just because you haven't seen something done doesn't mean no one has done it." One of the heat registers is askew. Kaeth asks about it. Franz: "It's the heat register." The others have heat coming out, this one doesn't. Kaeth takes a pen and lifts it. The vent is being blocked by a woman's handbag. Kaeth: "Doctor, shall we note it? Tell the police?" Dr. Jurgen: "Not necessary." Samantha: "The purse and the lipstick on the glass could mean he saw a woman today." Franz: "Possibly, but that may not be connected with his murder. No reason to sully his reputation. He's dead now. Kaeth: "I think we're being pointed in a specific direction. To what someone wants us to see."
The handbag is small, and leather, and has two metal marks on the bottom. They match the marks on the dead man's chest, and the purse is empty except for two heavy copper wires. Smells of the same tang in the air. The handbag is of good quality leather, and there's no designer mark currently visible. Kaeth: "A woman of quality carrying something without a mark to tell of it's quality?" Samantha: "If it's expensive enough, it doesn't require a logo." Robert: "That had to be one heck of a stored charge." Kaeth: "A thousand joules, at least. This is fascinating, I couldn't have done it." Samantha: "It's cold outside. People are wearing gloves. If someone came in wearing them, no one would remark on it."
There are no burn marks in the purse where the wires are attached to the metal. Kaeth: "We're assuming that if it was a woman the Baron was seeing, that it was an illicit affair. It could have been a correspondent he was seeing, from the Foreign office. What was his politics?" Franz: "He supported the emperor." Robert: "Sam, could you come over here for a minute?" She goes over to Robert.
Dr. Jurgen: <to Franz> "Your excellency, perhaps they should have more information?" Franz: "Yes. Count Von Bulow acted in the capacity of head of intelligence. He was investigating reports of unusual activities, experiments taking place in the Sultinate." Kaeth: "I'd say one of the experiments has been conducted in Fredonia. He probably felt little pain." Franz: "You have determined the cause of death?" Dr. Jurgen: "In conjunction with my colleagues present here, I believe the Baron was killed using electricity." <Dramatic pause, duh-duh-DUH!>
Samantha: "What is it?" Robert: "Given the level of capabilities, there's a distinct possibility this was done by someone not from around here? I just say this to bring the point up, not that it's relevant." Samantha: "Possibly, but not necessarily. Or maybe just not directly." Robert: "Just wanted to bring it up."
Franz: "This is most curious. Do you mean to tell me this is possible?" Dr. Jurgen: "The theory has been around, but the practical application..." He shrugs. Franz: "Interesting." Kaeth: "You don't look all that surprised." Franz: "Well, let use say that - well, to be polite, he was rather obtuse. In his last report to the Emperor he made reference to electricity, and lights in the sky above the Sultinate. I don't know if that helps or hinders." Robert: "How long has he been dead?" Kaeth: "Six to eight hours." Samantha: "When did he dismiss his servant?" Franz: "About 10 hours ago." Geoff: "Was he in the habit of dismissing his servant?" Dr. Jurgen: "It wasn't unusual. He was a bit eccentric. He tended to work alone, and often talked to himself." Franz: "He also believed that little green men from outer space were visiting our planet and controlling our leaders. Brilliant men are often afflicted by a touch of madness." Uh, yeah. [Ezbeki is not green.]
Robert sits in the Baron's desk chair tries his flashlight, discreetly, but it still doesn't work. Damn. He was so hoping for some residual electricity. Kaeth: "Would it be possible to get, well, I'd need a bit of laboratory space. The thing is, electricity does not propagate by itself." Robert: "Talks to himself..." Kaeth: "Is there a container around here?" Robert: "It would have to be pretty darn big." They're thinking battery acid, due to the caustic spill on the desk.
Sam looks outside the window. There is a man with an organ and a small monkey (no, really), and several vendors. People who are always there, but not noticed. Did the killer or killers leave witnesses?
Stay tuned for more exciting adventures on Planet X!