A Dirigible Disaster: Chapter 5, Scene 2
Dawn was just fading as Ignatius and Angela arrived at the train station in Harrisburg. An engine and a hodge-podge collection of cars reached them on the bridge just as the sun broke orange and fiery over the hills of the Susquehanna River valley. They sat in the last row of an open-air car with Ignatius resting his chin on the pommel of his walking stick.
Disembarking at the station brought them into the arms of the police, several officers shouting at once in a cacophony of voices. Ignatius did his best to ignore them. Instead, he scanned the platform and saw no sign of Joss White Eagle. They presented Heinrich Schmessinger to the officer who appeared to be in charge, a tall beanpole of a man, Reginald Melina. Neatly cut close to his skin Reginald wore a stylish beard and mustache. He took charge of the prisoner for a space of two minutes. At which time a wagon rolled up with a dozen soldiers in the bed.
They immediately jumped out and surrounded Ignatius, Reginald, Angela and Heinrich. Colonel Witmore strode up to the group, preening his owngoatee with one hand.
“Well, isn’t this a sight. Sergeant! Put this man in irons and prepare him for transport to Fort Couch.” The Colonel turned to Officer Melina, “It’s all right. I spoke with the Mayor a half hour ago and explained to him my intentions. You are your men are to be commended and may stand down now.”
Reginald touched the brim of his helmet, “Right you are then, sir.” He pushed the prisoner into the waiting Sergeant’s arms and led the other cops away.
“You,” Colonel Witmore said, leveling a gloved finger at Ignatius, “My office, immediately.”
Ignatius snorted. “I will be along after I see Ms. Boas safely to her quarters. It seems the least I can do to repay her timely arrival last night. Shall we find a cab, my dear?” he asked.
Angela slung her holstered rifle over her should and tipped the brim of her hat at the Colonel before extending her arm to Ignatius. He slipped his elbow in hers and led her off to find a horse and carriage.
“Colonel Witmore doesn’t appear to be in a terribly pleasant mood this morning,” she observed.
“Well, I suspect part of that is guilt over the loss of the plans in the first place. Still, he ought to be in higher spirits. Perhaps he did not get any coffee this morning. I will have to rectify that.”
The pair strolled to the end of the walkway along the train station. Several handsome cabs waited for new fares in a line near the street.
“Any of these take your fancy?” Ignatius asked.
“How about the bay mare?”
“Fine by me. Boas street, my good man,” said Ignatius to the driver as he assisted Angela into the cab.
“Right you are, sir,” replied the cabbie shaking his reins. The coach pulled out onto Chestnut Street and then turned north onto Second. They rode in silence with Angela peering at the changed buildings just as Ignatius had done several weeks earlier.
“I should mention that there may be a smidgen of damage on the second floor of your apartments,” admitted Ignatius.
“What happened?” Angela asked.
“Several men attacked me while I was researching a chemical compound inside the main library. Nothing of any great significance, but some scuffing occurred and I did not want you to be surprised.”
“Life in the big city, pretty exciting isn’t it,” said Angela.
“It has its moments,” agreed Ignatius. “How did you find South America?”
“With a map and compass,” said Angela with a wink. “I got on well. There were some exciting discoveries in Central America too. There are many rich cultures just waiting to be discovered out in the middle of the jungles.”
“Did you learn anything of interest?”
“Several new medicinal compounds, a long forgotten pottery recipe for strong earthenware with relatively little heat needed to bake the clay. In Mexico, I found some traces of S.V… There was a laboratory near Comitan, along the border with Guatemala. I uncovered some parts and a couple of scraps of paper.” Angela took a thin journal out of her bag, handing it to Ignatius. “There isn’t anything in there discussing locations or plans. Just a draft of a manifesto. It isn’t much, but it was enough to put a chill down my spine.”
“What do you mean?” asked Ignatius.
“It talks about the rise of machines, supplanting humans as the dominate species and converting humans to a hybrid mix of man and machine. Doesn’t that sound familiar?”
“It sounds like North Carolina and my foundry several weeks ago. That clinches it. I have to get everything Witmore has on the subject.”
“The one of the foundries I have on Cameron Street was the target of a plot three weeks ago. We found a secret room in it, where the walls held all sorts of pro-machine slogans. Colonel Witmore seized everything in the room, taking it all away for ‘analysis’.”
“He won’t let you see it?”
“No, he pushed this job on me. I get the feeling that he is trying to keep me at arm’s length.”
“Do you need any help?”
“I think I will be ok. I will see if he wishes to share it voluntarily. If he does not, then I will do what I have to in order to get a hold of it. Witmore is either holding back or unaware regarding this threat. I do not know which would be worse: If he did not know anything or if he was covering it up.”
The cab turned onto Boas street and rolled up to Angela’s townhouse. The driver opened the door for her and assisted her down. Ignatius handed him the rucksack. Standing on the sidewalk, where ivy grew in a burst of dark and light green, now slowly turning brown in the cooling autumn air, he took in the sight of Angela. It made him smile. She smiled back with a question in her eyes.
“What is it?” she asked.
“It is almost unbelievable. I am free from the hospital and now you are standing here, just as beautiful as the day you left.”
Angela felt some color touch her cheeks. “Why Mr. St. Eligius, how you do carry on,” she said, well pleased with his attention.
“Will you take dinner this evening at Wyndfast? Say around eight o’clock?”
“Is William still with you? Could he be persuaded to put together one of his roast chickens with all the trimmings?”
“He is and he can be. I will see to it. I will send Myron to fetch you this evening is that acceptable?”
“Most certainly, Ignatius. I’m not certain what I have to wear, but I’ll find something I’m sure.”
“Until then, Angela,” said Ignatius tipping his hat to her. “Driver, Fort Couch if you please. Be sure to take the Forster Island Bridge.”
“Very good, sir,” the driver replied crisply. In moments, the carriage turned onto Front Street along the river. While the cab drove on Ignatius organized his thoughts on the various situations from the train. Joss White Eagle and Bey-Feng, their partnership was a Federal concern, but not one that would take precedent over the recovered plans. Ten minutes later saw Ignatius pull up to the base of the hill. Fort Couch perched overlooking the river. Ignatius frowned at the thought of climbing his way to the top of the hill. He paid the cabbie and walked over to the gate where a soldier held up an arresting hand.
“Halt, who goes there,” he challenged Ignatius.
“Ignatius St. Eligius, Colonel Witmore is expecting me,” said Ignatius.
“Oh yes sir,” answered the young private with a smirk. “I believe he is. The Colonel’s about as patient as dog in front of a steak, you’d best hurry along.”
“I am going as fast as I can,” Ignatius muttered. “Is there a wagon or horse I could ride up?”
“No, sir. Sorry, sir.”
“Very well. Thank you, lad.” Ignatius walked across the yard to the rough timber stairs cut into the side of the hill. They did not look too bad, he thought. Halfway up, Ignatius decided he would devote more time to searching for new ways of flying short distances. When Ignatius reached the Colonel’s office, he paused for a moment and tried to regain his breath. His lungs burned and his heart pounded in his chest. Ignoring social protocols, Ignatius pushed the door open with a thunderous crash.
“Ah, Ignatius, good of you to show up finally,” said Sanderson Witmore. “Close the door behind you, there’s a good chap.”
Ignatius kicked the door shut and flopped heavily into one of the chairs next to Colonel Witmore’s desk. Sanderson rose and opened a nearby cabinet. From it he took a pair of Indelible Cone of Silence devices and set them up. Within a minute, the machines were running and blanketed the room in waves of silence.
“What are your thoughts on this little escapade?” asked The Colonel.
“While we did manage to retain the plans, Elijah managed to get a good long look at them. His status is presently unknown,” said Ignatius.
“Right. He was shot, shocked and finally kicked off the bridge. That seems like quite a lot for one man to absorb. Is there a chance of his survival?”
“There is. I would rather presume he survived rather than smugly sit back thinking he did not. If he did manage to make it out of the river, the plans are in his head and potentially could draft his own copy. I am concerned with that, and with another plot uncovered on the train. The Indian, Joss White Eagle is planning on striking against the Federal government through the Indian Agents.”
“That? I wouldn’t worry too much about that. We have Chief White Eagle under close watch. I am more concerned with the plot we are presently engaged with.”
“About that. I think the machine manifesto we found might tie into this larger plot. I would like to take a look at whatever evidence you may have gathered already.”
“Haven’t I already told you that’s a rabbit hole we aren’t going to go down?”
“You have. I feel that we are being remiss if we do not check into possible ties between these cases.”
Colonel Witmore lit a cigar. He puffed on it, contemplating Ignatius. On one hand having Ignatius look into the manifesto would not require any extra time or effort on his part. It might also serve as a distraction for Ignatius, keeping him occupied with dead ends and unrelated matters. Sanderson smiled, whichever way things went, he would come out ahead of the game.
“Oh, all right,” he said, “since I’m feeling magnanimous, go ahead and take the damn files. Report anything you uncover directly to me. Do not pass it through anyone else, got it?”
“Understood,” said Ignatius holding out his hand. With a display of reluctance, Colonel Witmore slid the packet into Ignatius’s waiting palm.
Sanderson tapped some ash from his cigar to the floor, “Since we’re here in the ‘Cone’, I have several field reports indicating that a large amount of iron and other minerals has come into Pennsylvania by canal and rail. These shipments are not normal commerce. In fact, there is no paperwork on anything. We’ve tried to interdict the shipments, but by the time we get to the train or boat, everything has vanished. Since we are inside the state borders there almost has to be someone assisting the smuggling operation locally. Keep your eyes and ears open for anything related to that.”
“I will do that. Is there anything else?”
“Now that you mention it, yes. The Mayor wishes to see you in his office,” Sanderson looked across the room at the clock, “about five minutes ago. You’d best get moving.”
Ignatius got up out of his chair and took a step toward the door when a sharp pain exploded through his spine running up into his shoulders and down into his legs. The sensory feedback from his braces’ interface drove him down to his knees crying out. Colonel Witmore dashed around his desk to Ignatius’s side.
“Blazes man, what’s the matter?”
“My braces are malfunctioning, unplug them for me. Hurry,” gasped Ignatius.
Colonel Witmore tore Ignatius’s shirt and vest up out of the way, exposing his back and the variety of jacks connected to his spine. Gingerly the Colonel unplugged each one in turn working his way down the spine. Ignatius gulped air and thrashed on the floor. Sanderson called for help, realizing after a few seconds that the Cones were still in effect. Ignatius clutched the Colonel’s arm.
“Listen to me, get a messenger over to Wyndfast and have Myron bring my carriage here. Along with that damnable wheeled chair.”
“What is the matter?” Sanderson asked.
“The interface between my braces and spinal cord is failing. I do not know why. What I need is a specialist to fix it. Someone like that young woman… Mary Kendall from Chicago. Except no one seems to know where she is.”
“I’ll put some men onto her trail. We’ll turn her up,” Colonel Witmore said. His tone belied the lack of confidence he actually felt.
The Colonel went to each Cone and turned it off. “Rest easy for a minute, I’ll send someone for your carriage.”
“Thank you. I just need a moment before going to meet the Mayor.”
Colonel Witmore chuckled as he opened the door from his office and yelled for a Corpsman.
Looking back over his shoulder the Colonel saw that Ignatius was already reading the file on the manifesto and lost to the world around him. Shaking his head, Colonel Witmore went to make sure that all the necessary arrangements were in place for Ignatius.