Carl Tennant: Fire and freedom

Travelling salesmen – A quick detour to the City – Agent Wainwright’s predatory instincts – The web over the world – News from an old acquaintance – The fire of London – Get out of jail free

The handiwork of God

Linda Davenport reporting

We humans are, in essence, well-oiled machines that have one task: to make more humans. Without any special equipment, we can replicate ourselves, using only food, a certain exchange of bodily fluids, and love. Many philosophers have asked why. Vicars will tell you that this is to glorify the name of God. Biologists will tell you that the will to live is innate in every organism, from the tiniest ant to the largest cetacean that glides through the deep blue sea. As the Bard says: “What a piece of work is a Man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how like an Angel! In apprehension how like a god!”

And yet, this machine may break like any other. A small cut may heal itself given just a few minutes. Broken bones, when properly set, will grow together and be as good as new. But sometimes, the damage is too great, and in cruel and uncaring Nature, that individual, unable to run, would die, a prey to the wolves. And here it is that Humanity shows its greatest weapon against all things that the Universe throws at us: Knowledge. Our intellect, our ingenuety, our reason, allows us to devise ways to save from the brink of death the most damaged of creatures, and send them running to live out their lives.

This is the task of our Physicians. Under the capable leadership of Prof. Dr. Bernhardt, we know how to make whole that which was broken, to soothe the pain, to heal the wounds. It is an awesome thought that we, the students at Algernon University, need only ask, and all this knowledge will be made available to us. Through repairing the work of God when it breaks, we gain, tiny though it may be, a small shred of divinity ourselves.


 

I was on kitchen duty when our Lady got her feet dry, and we were once more above English soil. I was frying up breakfast as miss Lee came into the kitchen, and wordlessly started slicing bread and putting it under the grill. I tried, but she was in no mood to talk. I set her to stir the baked beans, and carried out the rest of breakfast. Today, Father would talk to the medical staff about treatments for Alex, and I would start on what was to become our main business. Transporting scientists to the most inhospitable places of this world so they could do their research. I was well prepared. I had maps, I had the specifications of Lady I, how fast she was, how much she could carry, how many people we could have on board, how far we could go on a full bunker of high-energy coal. And of course, how much we would charge for all of these facilities. I must admit that our services did not come cheap, but the ability to place scientific expeditions anywhere on the globe would be invaluable to the scientists, while being perfectly valuable to us.

Alex slowly walked up to the table. It broke my heart to see her, having seen her run, climb, jump, fearless and strong. I could only hope that, no matter what the cost to ourselves, the doctors would be able to restore her. I helped her into her seat, and she murmured a quiet ‘thank you’, looking at me with eyes dulled by pain and morphia. We ate quickly and quietly. Then, I went fore’ard to help Father mooring in our usual place, next to the Homoeopathic Gardens. Father held Lady I steady as I tied off the cables. Father came down the gangway, filling his pipe. With the very real possibility of holes in the envelope, he’d had to restrain himself on the way home.

“Are you ready for your meeting with the Faculty?”

“I am, Father.”

“Good. I will have a meeting with Chancellor Munroe later. I’ll see to it that Alexandra gets the best treatment that this University has to offer.”

“Can we afford that, Father?”

Father blew out a thick cloud of smoke. His eye glinted. “Old Huitzilopochtli still has a lot of gold in him. We’re down to his shoulders, I’d imagine. Don’t worry about money, my son.”

Agent Wainwright came walking down the gangplank, duffel bag on his shoulder. He shook hands with me and Father, then walked off to the main University building to report on his doings to Dr. Pike.

I went back on board to fetch my briefcase. Fatin was in our cabin, changing her clothes. I gave her a brief kiss and turned to leave. She took hold of my shoulder, spun me round.

“What is this, Kal Tennant? Are you running away from me?” she said, in Ajuru, and kissed me much more thoroughly. “Good hunting.”

“Hope the Scientists don’t eat me,” I said.

“They only talk and scribble words on paper,” she said. “You have nothing to fear. Bring me their skins, and I will come to you tonight.”

“Skins are the Ajuru way, I said. “I will bring you their money.”

Alex was sitting at the table holding Raage. I gave her a little wave in passing, but she didn’t notice.

I walked across the lawn past what seemed to be a vegetable patch. A sign said “Homoeopathic Garden.” These were the medicinal herbs used to prepare powerful tinctures. One of their tenets was “like cures like”. I looked for herbs that resembled broken knees, but couldn’t see any. I’d had homoeopathic medicines for things like coughs and stomach pains. Mother swore by them. Alex had always hated the taste, sweet like honey but with an aftertaste that would spoil one’s enjoyment of real honey. Only once had she taken all of her medicine without complaint, but that was after replacing her Tincture of Bryonia with water. She got rid of her cough three days before I did.

Chancellor Munroe had invited me to his office for a few minutes’ private conversation, before meeting the board. A secretary offered me coffee, which I politely refused, and I sat down to wait. Inside, I could hear agitated voices and the slow, reasonable voice of the Chancellor trying to calm his guests down. I tried to catch what they were talking about, but that proved quite impossible. It wasn’t my business anyway. I looked at my watch, and saw that twenty minutes had passed since my appointment. I looked at the secretary, wordlessly asking.

“Parents,” she said, as if that explained everything.

At that moment, the door opened and a man and a woman came out. The woman gave Munroe a stare that would have ignited high-energy coal. They left, and Munroe turned to his secretary.

“The scunners are setting the lawyers on us Clarice. They think puir wee Andrew is a menace to the student body. Why aren’t these eejits all up about the murdering bastard that put a bleeding cannon to his heid? If that prick’d still had his gun, he could’ve turned it intae a bloody massacre. Why do the Sassenach have lugs, Clarice? Tell me that. They sure as hell aren’t using them!”

I coughed politely, and Chancellor Munroe turned round, only now noticing me.

“Oh, Mr. Tennant.” I could see him take a deep breath and get a hold of himself. “I’m dreadfully sorry, but I’ll have to excuse myself. I have an urgent matter to attend to…” he laughed wryly. “As I’m sure you’ll have gathered. Get Clarice to make another appointment, if you don’t mind.”

“That’s quite alright,” I said. “I hope and trust you’ll be able to sort this out.”

“Thank you, Sir,” said Munroe, and stomped off out of the door.

Clarice smiled at me. “Now would you like a cup of coffee, Mr. Tennant?”

I looked at the door, then back at the nice lady.

“That would be lovely, thank you.”


 

I walked out of Munroe’s office, meetings moved to next week. The rest of the day was mine. I considered simply going back to Lady I, but without the pale hides or stacks of money of the scientists, Fatin in fairness had no reason whatsoever to keep her end of the bargain. I thought of finding Alex, but she would be in the hands of the doctors, and I could do nothing except maybe hold her hand, a thing she had never thanked me for. What to do?

The problem was taken out of my hands by running feet behind me. Agent Wainwright stepped up to me.

“How fast can Lady I get me to London?”

I was well prepared for this question. It is sixty-seven miles from the tower of Algernon to the Tower of London. Once on full steam, it would take our Lady about half an hour to cover that distance at her optimal altitude. Sadly, only the starboard boiler, by Fatin called “Iris”, was at steam, so including powering up Itzel as well…

“Good. Let’s go!” He started to run off in the direction of our Lady.

“Just wait one minute!” I said. “What’s this all about, Wainwright?”

“We’ve found a Prometheus hideout. Get going, man! I’ll explain the rest under way.”

Within ten minutes, Lady I was aloft, and heading west-south-west towards the city of Colchester, which I needed to steer well clear off because of other airships in the region. I was keeping an eagle eye on Itzel’s pressure gauge as she came up to the boil. Fatin came walking onto the bridge, Raage on her arm. She raised her eyebrows.

“My love? Where are we going?”

“Good morning, Mrs. Tennant,” said Wainwright. “We’re going to London, to hunt the wily Prometheus.”

Fatin cast a quick eye outside, scanning the horizon for moving things.

“Hold Raage,” she said, pushing him into Wainwright’s arms. She stepped forward, pushed the wheel Southward, adjusted the ailleron controls to rise. In the distance, a British Overseas Airship Company dirigible, with its bright blue and yellow markings, fell away from our course line.

“Where is Captain Philip?” Fatin returned us to our previous course.

“Still at the University,” I said, taking over the helm.

Fatin put her arms round my waist, her chin on my shoulder.

“Obsiye once took Odawaa’s spear without asking,” said Fatin. “He had seen a fat antelope. Odawaa kicked him out of the camp and into the river.” Fatin kissed me under my right ear, which reminded me of other occasions when she had done that. “Luckily, Captain Philip only has one leg.”

“Um Ma’am?” Wainwright offered up Raage to Fatin.

“You can hold him,” said Fatin, holding on to me tighter. “I am busy. Men. You always think your job is done once you leave the tent.”

“I protest,” I said. “I have never shirked my duties, no matter how well Raage had drunk.”

“I have not counted the times, my love. And I will not. You do other things to make it up to me.” She turned her eyes to Wainwright. “But Alex will remember, Wainwright. Keep that in mind.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You like to look at Alex, do you not? Like you did when we were having tea and cake in Ipswich.”

“Ma’am, are you suggesting?!”

“She told me that you are an idiot,” said Fatin. “She took a long time to say how you are an idiot.” Fatin closed her eyes and leaned on my shoulder. Her smile lit up the whole bridge. “Once the doctors make her legs better, she will remember more ways.”

“Tennant! Your woman is casting aspersions on me! Control her!”

Control her? Good Lord, Wainwright, can’t you see I’m completely under her spell? More importantly, what are your intentions towards my sister?”

“None at all, Tennant. I have no intentions whatsoever.”

“He looks at the kudu,” said Fatin, in Ajuru, “but he eats the vegetables.”

I burst out laughing. Wainwright sneered.

“Little boy,” he said to Raage, “your parents are horrible people.”


 

We arrived at London in the late morning. Wainwright armed himself with a revolver, and asked to be set down near a slightly more lavishly decorated building in one of the less salubrious parts of the City. I looked down through the telescope.

“Wainwright, that is a whorehouse if ever I saw one! Did you take us here to satisfy your Earthly desires?”

“It’s the address I got from our friends in the Service,” said Wainwright.

“Carl?” Fatin looked puzzled. “What is a… horr-house?”

“Um…”

This is why it is important to control your language. You may find yourself having to explain the concept of prostitution to a woman from a place with no concept of money, extramarital sex, or for that matter, formal marriage.

“It’s a place where men, mostly men, go to, um, be with women.”

“There is only one house for that?” Fatin grinned. “For so many people?”

“It’s for men who don’t have women of their own,” I said.

“Would Wainwright go there to meet Alex?” Fatin’s eyes gleamed. Innocent she might be, but not that innocent.

“God, I hope not,” said Wainwright.

“Do you need any help down there?” I said. “If there’s Prometheus agents down there, not prostitutes. With prostitutes, you are on your own.”

“One does not necessarily exclude the other,” said Wainwright. “Prometheus may well be employing ladies of the night. They make excellent spies.” He grinned. “It may be an undercover operation.”

“Are you trying out your ancient ancestral jokes on the civilians, Wainwright? If so, it’s not a very good one.”

“I do not understand the joke,” said Fatin. “But I can tell it is a joke for the men.”

“I do apologise Mrs. Tennant. I suppose it is a bit off colour. About, um…” He looked at me. “Being with women.”

“Yes.” Fatin grinned. Would it ever be possible for me to look at her and not be struck by her beauty? “A joke for the men.”

I grabbed my revolver from the weapons cabinet and loaded it.

We looked down for a place to set down. There was a small park a little way away, and there we dropped down to ladder height. I turned to Fatin.

“When we are down, go high. When we are ready to come up, I will send up a blue flare. If we are not back before dark, return to Ipswich and get help.”

Fatin nodded, embraced me, kissed me. “Do not stay away too long, Feeder-of-lions.”

“I will make it a point not to,” I said.

Wainwright and I walked to the house of questionable repute. There was a back garden, and we could leap the fence with little trouble. We came up to the back door, and Wainwright produced a set of lock picks.

“If we’re caught, then we’re breaking and entering,” I said. “Why didn’t you call the police instead?”

“We’re operating under the assumption that not all law enforcement agencies are clean. Not even we ourselves.” He put some force on his lockpick and pushed open the door. “It’s not even paranoia. We are after everyone, so the fear is perfectly reasonable.”

Wainwright slowly made his way inside, hand on his revolver. I followed him. He looked much more at home in an urban setting than he had been in the Sudanese desert, walking confidently, opening doors. We found nobody and nothing. Perhaps someone simply had a taste for bright colours in a gray area. Wainwright made his way up the stairs, keeping his back to the wall. We found nothing but perfectly normal bedrooms. The beds in it had not been slept in for ages, because they were dusty. This left only the attic. I found a hatch in the ceiling by the bathroom, and pulled it down to reveal a ladder that slid down onto the ground. Wainwright climbed up the ladder and looked round.

“There’s something here,” he said. He climbed up the ladder, and I could hear him strike a match. “Come look at this,” he said.

I climbed onto the loft, which was cramped and mostly taken up by a device. It looked vaguely like a chicken coop with a round domed top. It was made mostly out of copper wire, coiled upon a number of wooden frames.

“What is this thing?” I asked.

“Ow!” The match had burned down to Wainwright’s fingers. He lit another one and played the light on the contraption. “I’ve no idea,” he said. “Wait!” He shook out the match, dropped it on the floor, lit another one. “There’s some kind of pipe going down there. I think it’s going down the chimney. Let’s see where it leads.”

We climbed down the ladder, went down the stairs, keeping an eye on where the chimney was. After a bit of searching, we found a hatch leading to a cellar. Where the attic had been dark, this cellar was lit by bright lights in the ceiling, of a colour almost whiter than white. The lights hummed and crackled, but there was no smell of flame or smoke. Wainwright pointed up. The pipe we had seen upstairs reappeared from a hole in the ceiling, and ran down to an outlandish contraption built up against two of the walls. It was a panel with a multitude of gauges, the needles of which quivered nervously. In the center of one of the panels was some sort of clock, but instead of the normal Roman numerals, it had all the letters of the alphabet, all the digits, and assorted punctuation marks. The hand of the dial was pointing at a full stop. Underneath was a bakelite plate with holes in. Behind each of the holes was a similar collection of letters. Further investigation showed a number of lights and small handles that would never turn anything hydraulic. Labels said “LVTETIA”, “MOSQVA”, “LONDINIVM”, “VENETICA” and several other names, which I recognised as the names of major cities, and one that read “NIDIS AQVILARVM”. That light would never come on again. Wainwright pulled out a notebook, and wrote down all the names. As we watched, the light next to Lutetia, or Paris, turned itself on by no visible means. It stayed on for maybe a minute or so, then turned itself off again. As we waited, the light came on again.

“Something’s happening in Paris,” said Wainwright. “I am watching something happening in Paris.”

“Would be nice if we knew what it was,” I said. “Hang on.” I reached out and pushed the small handle next to Lutetia to the right. There was a sudden hum and the hand on the clock started to turn. It stopped on the O. After a moment, it moved back to the top and turned again, this time stopping on the N.

“ON,” said Wainwright, noting it down in his Moleskine notebook. In order, the needle indicated an E, a space, a T, an H…

“E, R, E,” I said. Anyone there?

The Paris light went out, then after a while it came back on. The hand on the clock pointed at the I, then at S.

“Is anyone there?” said Wainwright. “Over and over again.”

“Shall we answer?” I said.

“Would be rude not to, but how?”

“Let me see. That plate there looks like it will turn. There is an end stop. Let me try.”

I put my finger in the hole over the “W”, and turned it all the way to the end stop. Then I let it go, and it returned to its original position. I looked at Wainwright, who shrugged. I spelled out “Who is there?”

We waited. The clock started to spell out another message: “Who are you?”

“Well, that’s a bit rude,” I said.

“Or cautious,” said Wainwright.

“This isn’t getting anywhere,” I said. I spelled out “Carl Tennant. Who are you?”

The answer came back: “Riley.”

Riley?” said Wainwright. “He must have found the Paris nest of Prometheans.”

“Well done to him,” I said.

At that point, there was the sound of a bell, and the Venice light came on briefly. A red light ignited at the top of the panel. There was the sound of running liquid. I sniffed. It smelt like some kind of oil. Was the machine refueling?

“The dial is moving again,” said Wainwright. “Hang on… G, E, T, get, O…”

Get out!

We looked at each other, then ran up the ladder, out of the back door, leapt the fence, and kept running. Behind us, the world blossomed up in fire.

We quickly made our way to the park, with its wooden benches and war memorials. I pulled out my blue flare, looked at it.

“Don’t,” said Wainwright. We’ll have all the Bobbies on our necks and then it’ll take me ages to talk my way out.”

I pointed up. Above our heads, propellers spinning slowly, Lady I came floating down.

“I think Fatin has seen the fire. She will have guessed that we want to leave.”

“Oh good,” said Wainwright. A two hundred feet long airship is nowhere near as conspicuous as a signalling flare.”

“She is painted in camouflage colours,” I said. “Nobody will see us.”


 

Lady I was at altitude again. Wainwright was looking down through the telescope.

“I think they have the fire under control,” he said.

“Good,” I said, rocking Raage on my arm while standing at the wheel. Lady I‘s propellers were spinning lazily, keeping her in place against the breeze. “If we’d tried to explain that this fire was caused by someone in Venice, they’d have trouble deciding whether to stick us in jail or in an insane asylum.”

Fatin swiveled the captain’s chair round to look at me. “Do you think it is time to return to Alex? I want to know if they have made her knees better yet.”

I uncoupled the starboard propeller, reversed its pitch, turned it on again, and Lady I started to turn on the spot. At a moderate speed, we turned to the east-north-east back to Ipswich.

“So now we know how Slate knew about the Khartoum Airfleet.” Wainwright came walking up the steps to the helm. He started wandering about looking at various controls, poking at them with his finger, and I wished he wouldn’t.

“Was there a light marked Khartoum?”

“Yes. Khartumen, surprisingly.”

“Somebody tried to kill us,” I said. “They must have seen we were using their equipment. I hope they didn’t get Riley. He’s an annoying bastard, but he has his uses.”

“They must have anticipated someone finding one of their lairs. They can destroy them from anywhere in the world!”

I stared ahead, keeping Lady I on course by eye rather than the compass.

“This changes everything,” I said. “It no longer matters where in the world Slate is. He can act instantly anywhere there is one of these contraptions.”

“We’ve been stupid,” said Wainwright. “We should have realised that we would give ourselves away by playing with that machine. That there would be protocols. Passwords. Key phrases.”

“Live and learn,” I said.

“Back in the Service, we prefer That which you don’t know won’t hurt you. It’ll kill you.”

“Are you still in the Service? Dr. Pike seems to have left.”

Wainwright gave the world a little smirk. “I’m a liaison of sorts, between her Majesty’s Secret Service and one of the middle size centres of education. Or alternatively, Pike’s dogsbody till he sees fit to accept retirement for what it is.”

Fatin pointed. “There is the tower! We are back. I will take the helm and you big strong men will tie up the ropes.”

Lady I lowered herself onto the lawn, where I could see a lone figure standing, arms crossed. I could only imagine the expression on Father’s face. He waited till we had connected the moorings, then walked up to me with a slightly exaggerated limp and a sardonic look in his eye.

“Hello Carl. It’s good to see you and Lady I are back safely.”

“I can explain, Father.”

“I have to admit that I was afraid she’d slipped her tethers and flown off into the blue, never to be seen again, carrying your poor wife and child to destinations unknown. I was extremely worried, but now that I see you safe and sound, my heart sings with joy.”

“Father, I…”

“A ship needs her Captain,” said Father.

Wainwright coughed. “I hired her, Sir. I needed to be in London at very short notice, and I was extremely lucky that Lady I was able to transport me there.”

“Did you now?”

“Aye, Sir. I am also very grateful for your son’s assistance at the location. We have found some extremely important information. You will find that Algernon University will appreciate this. We look forward to your invoice.”

Father gave him a look, then laughed. “We will be sure to send it to you forthwith, Mr. Wainwright.”

Wainwright nodded, and walked off in the direction of the University. Father turned to me, opened his mouth to say something, then shook his head.

“It seems that today, you live.”

“How is Alexandra?”

Father sighed. “She has got a rather bizarre idea in her head. She wants Mr. Parsons to make her a new pair of knees.”

I raised my eyebrows. “That’s not possible, is it?”

“Who knows? Maybe it is. But this is dangerous, Carl. Very dangerous. They would have to put her under the Aether. This could end very badly.”

“Good lord.” I turned pale. Those who are put under the Aether, when the pain of an operation is too much to bear lying still, often never wake up again. “I would much rather have a live sister with broken knees, than a dead one.”

“I’ll not argue with you there,” said Father. “But it seems that even with all the might of Dr. Singh, they will not be able to restore her to anything near her former self.”

“And Andrew Parsons can?”

“Apparently so. But the risks… The risks! Almost nobody has done this before. I would not allow it, except this is not mine to allow or forbid.”

“Father, do you remember the night on the Eiffel Tower?”

“Of course. Why?”

“On that night, she leapt from one of the support beams, at a height of a hundred yards, into my arms. Alex is not one to shy away from taking risks. Not when she knows that we are there to catch her.”

Father and I walked up to the gangplank. Fatin came out of the door with Raage in a sling like she had him on the banks of the White Nile.

“My love, I see that you and Captain Philip are at peace. Good. Now, we go and find Alex.”

“There are repairs to do,” said Father. “The starboard window of the bridge has a bullet hole in it. We must search the envelopes for holes and patch them.”

Fatin smiled at him. “And also, we need to repair Alex.”

“I will not have Lady I become a den of mutiny and ill discipline! I am your Captain and Father! You will obey my orders or I will make you walk the plank and then keelhaul you!”

Fatin came walking down the gangplank, passing Father on his blind side. She reached out, took his shoulder and kissed him on the cheek.

“Unhand me, woman! Do the women in your tribe disrespect their elders like that?”

“I did. Elder Hanad was not happy. So I…” she frowned in concentration. “Dis-re-spect him.” She grinned. “After that, he was still not happy, but Dhuuxo was. Dhuuxo is his woman.”

“Get out of here, then.”

“Aye-aye Captain,” said Fatin. She took my arm and we walked to the University building.

“That’s not what ‘disrespecting’ means, you know?”

“I want to dis-respect you a lot this night.”

“I’ve changed my mind,” I said. “That’s exactly what it means.”


 

As we entered the main building, we were met with Alex in a wheelchair, and Miss Sunderland, coming the other way. Miss Sunderland gave us a small satisfied nod.

“Good day Mr. Tennant, Mrs. Tennant. It’s good to see you. Could you please take Miss Tennant off my hands? I have a little job to do.”

“Um… Where, may I ask, is Miss Lee?”

“In the hands of the Law, Mr. Tennant. She assaulted Inspector Morris, so I wouldn’t have to.”

“She assaulted a police inspector?”

“Bloody sailors,” said Alex. “Soon as their feet touch dry land, they get off their heads on tea, start beating up policemen and get taken to the tank.”

“Charming though Miss Lee is, she is not my main concern. They have also taken Andrew. So if you don’t mind, I have to gather an army of lawyers and storm Museum Street.”

“Can we be of any assistance?”

Miss Sunderland gave me a sweet smile. “Since you brought in the people who caused all this mess, I think you have done quite enough. Well, Miss Tennant, I leave you in the loving embrace of your family. Ta ta for now.”

And with that, she turned round and stormed off for her office. Fatin and I looked at Alex.

“Are your knees better yet?” said Fatin.

“Still sore,” said Alex. “And the one person who can mend them is in the stir.”

“What do you mean?”

“Prison,” I said. “It’s where they put people who misbehave.”

“Mis… behave?”

“Steal things. Start fights. Break things.”

“Oh.” Fatin nodded. “When people do that in Africa, we just tell them to leave.”

“What if they don’t?” said Alex.

A look came into Fatin’s eyes that I am glad I have not seen often. It reminded me that behind that lively, beautiful face, overflowing with love and laughter, lay an inner core as hard and immovable as stone.

“We let them stay,” she said.

Alex insisted on wheeling herself along, and it must be said that she had a marked advantage over us. Fatin and I had to step up to keep up.

“Are we going to free our Cabin Boy from prison?”

“I’m not going to do anything,” said Alex, visibly annoyed. “I am getting tired of this. Cut off my legs and give me a pair like Father has. I want to be useful again!”

“Father said you’d asked Parsons for a new pair of knees. I thought you were joking.”

Alex gave the wheels a hard push, and rolled on for a while.

“I was,” she said. “But then Andrew just said he could, and I went as far as to have him measure up my bones. He seemed to think it was easy.”

“Will you really do it?”

Alex stopped one of the wheels with her hand, turned round, and continued on backwards, looking at us.

“The way I see it, I have a choice. I can do nothing. Continue as I am now. I will get used to the pain, but I will never walk easily again.” She looked at the floor for a moment. “I hate the Laudanum. It is living death. Dr. Bernhardt says he has something better, but I doubt it will be healthy.”

“The drops take you away,” said Fatin.

Alex nodded sadly. “I can also have Dr. Singh ply his craft on me. He is the best in his field, and even he can only restore me to maybe a stumble. I’d need a cane for the rest of my life. But with some changes to Lady I, I could at least do my share of the work. Perhaps a year or more from now, I could take the helm again.” She shook her head. “It’s not enough. I don’t want to be the subject of everyone’s pity.”

I could not think of anything to say to Alex. She kept rolling backwards, using the walls of the hallway to steer by.

“Or, I can try Andrew’s way. If he says that he fully understands how the human knee works, I believe him. Cut out the damaged bit, and put in a new.”

“You could die, Alex,” I said.

“Yes.”

“I don’t want you to die.”

“Good. I don’t want to die. But if I have to die, then I’d rather die quickly, in my sleep, than have it drawn out over several years.” She took a deep breath. “I’m going to do it.”

“Alex, stop.”

“Don’t try to stop me,” said Alex. And then she ran into the door. She bumped her head quite badly, and bent forward. Her shoulders started to shake, and as I kneeled by her, she looked up, laughing. She put her hands on my cheeks, looked deep into my eyes. “Carl, I don’t want to die. I want to live. I want to walk, run, climb again.”

I gently stroked my sister’s cheek. “That may not happen even with Knee Joint, Mark One. There is so much that can go wrong.”

“But it’s the only thing that can go right, Carl. I don’t want to limp along in a haze of medication for years.”

She smiled at me then, through the pain and the medicine, and I was convinced. It was the only thing to do.

“If you die, dear sister of mine, I shall tidy up your cabin by shoveling the contents into your grave, for you to tidy up in the Hereafter.”

“Save the clothes for Fatin.”

The door opened, and banged into the back of Alex’ wheelchair. She looked round, annoyed.

“Hey! Be careful!”

She wheeled herself out of the way, and the door opened again, slowly. A brown eye and a blonde plait appeared round the door. Then it opened wide, and Miss Florence Albrecht came leaping in.

“Miss Tennant! You’re back!”

Behind Florence, Jocelyn and a boy, Nigel I believe, came in.

“We won! We won we won!”

Jocelyn raised the trophy above her head. The door now opened completely and Dr. Godfrey Pike came in. He was not quite as lively.

“Ah. Tennants. Good afternoon to you.”

“Oh God!” We looked round to see Florence staring at Alex, eyes wide open. “What happened to you?”

Alex forced herself to smile. “Fell over and hit a bench.”

“You’re in a wheelchair,” said Jocelyn. “Did you break a leg?”

“I had people to do that for me,” said Alex. “Don’t worry, it will all be sorted out before long. You won? What did you win?”

“The Folkestone Rifle Contest, Miss Tennant,” said Nigel.

“Yes!” Jocelyn beamed. “The Etons messed with our scope, but Nigel managed to compensate. And Flo and I did the rest.”

“Well done!” I said. “Next, celebrations and revelry?”

Jocelyn turned her eyes to Nigel, whose cheeks turned a shade darker.

“Maybe,” she said.

“What is this I have to hear about Parsons being arrested?” said Pike.

“I believe Miss StJohn’s parents have decided to press charges.” I said.

“They put him in chains just after he finished measuring me up,” said Alex. “Miss Felicia wanted to tear the inspector to bits so she could join him in the Stone Jug, but Brenda jumped in. She’s somewhat better proof against prison life.”

“And here I was, thinking I had all the excitement in Folkestone,” said Pike. “Mr. Tennant, is Miss Lee an official member of your crew?”

“Of c…” I hesitated. “If I ask Father, she can be.”

I caught Fatin’s amused look. She had handed over Raage to Florence, and Jocelyn was hovering behind her waiting for her turn.

“Good. Let’s talk to Captain Tennant, and then we can all go to Museum Street, and free our Andrew.”


 

We sent a strong delegation to the Police station. Myself, Dr. Pike, Miss Felicia, and a small grey man named Dr. Perkins, who had taught Law at a previous university, and had kept his knowledge up to date after he came to Ipswich to teach English Literature. We walked up to the desk and asked for a meeting with Inspector Morris. We were told to take a seat, and kept waiting for maybe half an hour. I suggested fetching Lady I and using her cannons, and Dr. Pike suggested I keep my mouth shut. Finally, a constable came and led us all into Morris’ office. We were seated on metal chairs.

“Gentlemen, Madam,” said Inspector Morris. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”

Perkins sat up. “Good afternoon, Inspector. Our business is as follows. You and your constables have arrested one of our faculty members, and one of the Airship Lady I‘s crewmen, on a charge of aggravated bodily harm, when the relevant events had already been designated an accident. We are strongly of the opinion that in this case, the Ipswich constabulary have erred in their application of the Law, and humbly appeal for their immediate release.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Mr. Perkins. The parents of the young lady do not share your opinion. Their daughter suffered a grievous injury, from which she will be slow to recover.”

“Inspector Morris,” I said. “My sister was captured, savagely beaten, and her legs broken over a period of several days, to the point where she may never walk again. Conversely, Miss StJohn is expected to make a full recovery in maybe six weeks, when she will regretfully have to give up her plaster cast that bears the signature of the very person you now have in custody.”

“Please pass on to your sister my best wishes, Mr. Tennant. But I simply cannot release Mr. Parsons, nor his companion, until the court case.”

“I’m afraid there will not be a court case, Samuel,” said Dr. Pike. “The accident occurred while Mr. Parsons was attending to an emergency to do with state security. Have you heard about the fire in London?”

“They erected another monument in its honour, Godfrey,” said the Inspector. “What is your point?”

“We have strong evidence to suggest that the same organisation that set fire to a building in South London, is also responsible for sending on an abduction mission the Russian gentleman we put into your care. He is part of a larger organisation who have made several attempts on the lives of our faculty members, as well as the Tennant family. To put Mr. Parsons in with the criminals who may be part of that same organisation is… inadvisable.”

“Godfrey, are you suggesting I simply let him go?”

“In a word, yes. You know as well as I do that Mr. Parsons is going nowhere. He will be available for any questions you may have. Put him under house arrest, do not allow him to leave University grounds, and he will not even notice. Put him in here…”

Miss Felicia Sunderland spoke up. “Inspector, Andrew’s mind is a fragile thing. He cannot endure life in prison, especially not his fellow inmates. At this moment, he is a gentle soul who can lift a thousand pounds clean off the ground. If he had really wanted to hurt Miss StJohn, he would have been physically capable of tearing her limb from limb. I do not want to see him become mentally capable of doing such things.”

“Nevertheless…” Inspector Morris reordered a few papers on his desk that were already perfectly straight. “The parents wish for the guilty party to their child’s injury to pay for what he did. I cannot simply let him go, and I’m afraid that is final.”

Dr. Pike took a deep breath. “Samuel,” he said, “I was hoping that we could settle this between ourselves, but it now seems clear to me that your hands are tied, and that I will need someone to, well, untie them. I will contact the Service and have them file the appropriate requests. We can only hope that the damage to Mr. Parsons’ mind will not be irreversible. If you would be so kind, please put him in a separate cell away from the rest of the inmates.”

Miss Felicia opened her mouth to say something, but Pike raised a finger.

“Are you threatening to go over my head, Pike?” said Inspector Morris.

Pike raised his hands. “Why would I threaten you with that, my dear friend? I am telling you. Let me make one final appeal. Andrew Parsons, despite the unfortunate accident, which he regrets as much as anyone, is not a danger to anyone while in the capable hands of Miss Felicia Sunderland. In here, among the criminals, he may learn certain behaviours that may make him quite unmanageable. How long has it been that anyone died in your cells? I am not only protecting Andrew from your inmates, I am protecting them from him.”

“I still cannot simply release him, Pike.”

“You need not release him, Morris. You simply need to move him to a holding facility better equipped to deal with…” Pike smirked. “Dangerous inmates like him.” He stood up, walked over to Morris’ desk, and leaned on it. “Samuel, you can release Andrew, if you release him into the care of the lady who has managed him since he came to Algernon. Set a guard on him if you must. I’m sure someone here has earned a relaxing job. This should be perfectly acceptable to any court. I will deal with the parents myself.” He gave a little scowl. “Or, you can refuse, and I’ll make your life hell for the next decade. You know I can.”

Morris and Pike looked into each other’s eyes for a long few moments, and I wondered where they had met, what their history was. Finally, Morris nodded.

“Very well then, Pike. I’ll release Parsons into your care, and on your head be it if any trouble follows.”

“Thank you, Samuel. I will make sure you do not regret this. You have my word.”

“You owe me, Pike.”

“I do. Now let’s go get Parsons.”


 

We all walked down to the cell block in the basement, for that dungeon atmosphere. We all stood still at a rather uncommon spectacle. The common holding cell was divided by an invisible line into two halves. One of the halves was occupied by Andrew Parsons. He had his large arm round the shoulders of Miss Brenda Lee, who was leaning into him. In the other half of the cell were all the other inmates, quietly muttering among themselves.

“She’s crazy!” said someone in the back.

“I heard that,” said Miss Lee.

Miss Felicia rushed forward. “Andrew! We’re getting you out of here! Just sit tight and the policeman will open the door for you.”

The nice policeman pulled out the keys and opened the door. Andrew stood up and walked out. Brenda sat back and whistled a little tune.

From the far end of the cell, a voice sounded. “What about her? You’re gonna keep her here?”

I gave Inspector Morris a look. He looked at the heavens above.

“Get the bitch out of here, she’s dragging down the place.”

Brenda jumped up and trotted out of the door.

“Oh thanks ‘Guv’. You say the nicest things.”

A few stacks of signed paper later, Andrew Parsons was officially ours to keep, and Brenda Lee was thrown in as an extra. I officially reprimanded her, and she humbly bowed her head and folded her hands. We all bundled into the University carriage and set off for the University. Miss Felicia breathed a deep sigh of relief.

“Miss Lee, thank you for taking care of Andrew. You have no idea what could have happened.”

“Any time Miss. Does that mean I can court your son now?”

“Miss Felicia does not have a son,” said Andrew.

Brenda whispered something in his ear. Andrew’s brow knotted.

“But you cannot carry my child. I have no child.”

“Miss Lee is joking, Andrew.” Miss Felicia stared. “At least I hope to God she is.”

“Well Andrew,” I said, eager to change the subject. “At least you can start on the design for Alexandra’s knees now.”

“I have completed them,” said Andrew.

“Completed them? When?”

“When I was on my way to prison,” said Andrew. “I will source the materials when I return to my workshop. The replacement knees, mark one, will be finished in eighteen work hours.”

I looked into Andrew’s gentle brown eyes, but he quickly looked away.

Twenty minutes later, we passed the gates of Algernon university.

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