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The Phlogiston Precariousness: Chapter 2, Scene 2


The Mayor plucked up his voice tube: “Miss Temperance, send in my special visitor …and some refreshments.” He tossed the speaker onto the desk. “We’ll see what you make of this then.”

The main doorway swung open again. Clanking, heavy footsteps approached the desk. Turning his head and gasping in spite of himself, Ignatius saw an automaton carrying a coffee and tea service into the office. The machine set it up on the Mayor’s sideboard. Standing a little over five feet tall, it was assembled from burnished metal plates, cogs, springs and tubes. The whole contraption was a series of boxes. A box made up the head, another for each the chest and hips. On its back was a bulging panel to which several of the hoses connected.

On the right side of its head, a tiny smokestack protruded. Small puffs of black smoke escaped from it at regular intervals, as if it were breathing. Fingers moving with more dexterity than Ignatius would have surmised possible, poured out a large dose of coffee and laid the bone china cup at the Mayor’s left hand side.

He smirked as he lifted the cup to his lips, “Of course there has been progress since you were last outside of the hospital. Coffee?”

Shaking his head in wonder Ignatius studied the automaton’s form and the easy way it moved. “How is such a marvel possible?”

“Damned if I know. Lad from Chicago sent a dozen units last spring. We’ve been trying them out here in City Hall. He was supposed to bring another shipment in this week. Close your jaw man, do you want a drink?”

Ignatius closed his mouth, rubbing his chin ruefully. “I believe I will have a cup of coffee. Was it brewed with cinnamon?”

“Of course.” The Mayor addressed the machine: “Another cup, the cinnamon blend. Start with milk, one quarter cup and sugar half a teaspoon.” Baron Hirsch looked at Ignatius, “That’s correct isn’t it?”

“Yes it is.”

A minute later the automaton set a small table next to Ignatius and placed his coffee on it. Ignatius admired the thick opaque glass eyes, the fluttering vent that expelled little gusts of hot air and the fine mesh grille where a mouth would normally be. A sharp rap on the door announced the next person to enter the office. This time the sounds of leather boots on the carpet reached Ignatius’s ears.

“Ah yes, please do have a seat.” said the Mayor.

Ignatius looked to his left as the chair next to him creaked with the weight of the new arrival. The gentleman sitting down wore a black suit and starched white shirt. He placed a carpetbag on the floor next to his seat and then placed his hat carefully on the armrest of his chair. A full beard covered his face though a pale white scar split the hair from the corner of his mouth up to his left eye.

“This is Colonel Sanderson Whitmore, he has a certain amount of interest in the investigation as well.” Baron Hirsch said by way of introduction.

The Colonel gave Ignatius a neutral smile and politely inclined his head.

“Mayor, I know your time is valuable. I will not waste it. If I may have a few minutes alone with Mr. St. Eligius I feel confident that an accommodation can be reached.”

“Really?” said the Mayor raising an eyebrow. I suppose there is nothing to lose. I will retire to my private study next door. Avail yourself of the voice tube should you require anything.”

The Mayor heaved himself out of the chair and took several steps across the room. Stopping and looking back toward Ignatius, he remembered the Attorney General laying on the floor, motionless.

“You there, fetch that man from the floor and bring him into the study,” he ordered the Automaton.

Instantly it clanked over to Mr. Thurton, took him by the collar, and dragged the unconscious man through the side door into the study. Mayor Hirsch followed pausing by the door to allow the automaton to pass back into the office.

When the door clicked shut, Colonel Whitmore leaned close to Ignatius whispering, “Do you think the Mayor will try to eavesdrop?”

“As certain as a pig will roll in the mud he will. This room icontainss a Laird’s Lug,” said Ignatius.

“Hmphf. can’t have that,” said the Colonel opening his bag. From it he took out a box perhaps ten inches to each side. He then proceeded to extract a hand crank and funnel. Both items attached to the box’s side and top respectively. The Colonel pointed the funnel at both of them before winding the crank and pushing a brass button next to the funnel’s joint.

“Now we can talk freely. I’m sure you recognize an Indelible Cone of Silence device, yes?”

“I have, though not for quite some time,” answered Ignatius. It was one of the last things he saw before receiving his discharge from the Union army. The device exuded a cone of white noise dampening conversations held within it.

“Yes, your service record indicated that you are familiar with most field devices having either thought of, built or both most of them. “

“Ah, you are with the Espionage branch,” surmised Ignatius.

“I am in fact, in charge of the eastern United States. During the war, I ran the entire coastline. Mr. St. Eligius, Ignatius, these building collapses are not just a problem for Harrisburg. Both were industrial factories that produce parts for the railways and fabrication of new machine parts. Should the manufacturing process falter here it would ripple out to other locations in the north.”

“Do you suspect some Southern faction working to undermine the government?”

“That is a possibility. There is a significant number, which have promised an uprising. Their goal is to throw off the oppressive yoke of Northern Aggressors, or some such drivel. I have your records here,” the Colonel said drawing a large folder out of his bag. “A lot of work here that a man should be proud of.”

“You have a folder, big deal. I signed my exit papers, you cannot coerce me back into service,” insisted Ignatius.

“Do you know what else is in this folder? I mean aside from your service record. There is a detailed report of every action you ever took while serving. It has status reports from the hospital, the elemental pieces of your trial. All of your aliases,” Whitmore paused and Ignatius stepped in.

“Is this blackmail? It that what you attempting to do?”

“Not at all. I am simply reminding you that when you entered the service you consented to certain provisions, such as a clause that allows for a recall to duty whenever a need arises. I think now is such a time. Make no mistake Ignatius. The threat is real and might effect the nation. We are entering an age where technology will continue to advance without pause. Undermine it however and the country will lose traction. Who can say what might come from that. Nothing good I assure you.”

Ignatius sipped his coffee. He thought about his options. Going back to the hospital was not an option that appealed to him. Neither did working for Baron Hirsch.

“Who would I report to?” Ignatius asked.

Colonel Whitmore grinned wolf-like through his beard. “You’d report to the Mayor’s office for this case, as keeping my office informed. Then after this is wrapped up you would start reporting solely to me. I would have your custody transferred to my office and then re-enlist you. It would effectively end your sentence.”

“I see. And what would I be doing for you after this investigation?”

“There is a greater threat presently looming over the country. The President has ordered me to look into it. The early evidence suggests that Pennsylvania is or will be instrumental in this plot. Right now, I do not have enough to share with you. Rest assured we will talk of it again, and very soon. Will you re-enlist?” asked Colonel Whitmore.

“I can tell you are a direct man Colonel. I like that in a prospective colleague.”

Ignatius thought for a moment, “You will guarantee my release?”

The Colonel nodded slowly, studying Ignatius’s face.

“Very well, we have a deal,” said Ignatius.

“Excellent. Let’s get you reinstated and returned to your home,” the Colonel said.

He put a sheaf of papers in front of Ignatius on the Mayor’s desk. Ignatius rolled his chair forward and glanced through the document before taking a pen from the desk, plunging it into an inkwell and signing his name. The Colonel dismantled the Cone of Silence machine and put it away. Sanderson Whitmore crossed the office and knocked on the study’s door. The Mayor answered it and peered down at the Colonel.

“Well do we have a deal?” the enormous man asked.

“We do indeed,” replied the spymaster.

Ignatius frowned to himself. Things were moving too fast to be mere happenstance. Had this pair of men outmaneuvered him? With time however, he felt confident that he would be able to turn the situation back to his advantage.

2 Comments
  1. If time is money you’ve made me a welhtaier woman.

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