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The Phlogiston Precariousness: Chapter 6, Scene 2


Myron roused from unconsciousness with a groan and sat upright next to Ignatius. Glancing around to take in his bearings Myron swooned enough to make him clutch the rail next to him. The carriage rolled past the riverside park across from Forster’s Island. Some of the new chemical lights illuminated the docked airships. The chemical lights were preferable because of their low occurrence of accidental fires. This was a terrific benefit to everyone involved with the dirigibles and their extremely flammable lift gas.

“Here now Mr. St. Eligius, I can take the reins,” Myron said.

“No. I will not hear of it Myron. You just relax for the duration of the trip. Billy will patch you up in no time. I have not held the traces in a great long while and I sorely missed it.”

The pair of men rode on in silence until the gates of Wyndfast finally rolled into sight. Ignatius drove the coach around the drive to the front entrance. William and Kevin came out of the building. William took one look at the state of the men, said a few hurried words to Kevin and sent him back into the house.

“Sir, what happened?” he asked Ignatius.

“I am afraid Myron got waylaid by a pair of burglars tonight. What is the status of the household?”

“Everyone is here who should be except our guest. We have not seen him since he left with you. Isn’t he with you?” William asked. Puzzlement filled his voice.

“We were unavoidably separated at the party.”

“Really?” said William folding his arms over his chest. “This can’t end well.”

“Billy it cannot be helped. Assist Myron if you would please. I have urgent work to do in the laboratory.”

“Of course, sir,” said William coming over to the steps next to the still somewhat addled coachman.

William helped Myron climb down. William examined the knot on the back of Myron’s head.

“Come along Myron. I sent Kevin inside to prepare a cold compress for you along with some hot tea. We will get you sorted out in no time.”

The pair of men went up the stairs and vanished into the mansion. Ignatius clicked his tongue and brought the carriage around to his workshop. Casually he tossed the reins down on the seat and laboriously lowered himself to the ground. He reached inside of the cab and dug the journal out of its hiding place.

Ignatius shambled to the door and let himself in. Pale moonlight danced over the broken glass in the corner where Kevin swept it. The room smelled stirred up. Ignatius knew that William and Kevin spent several hours trying to tidy it up. However, between their efforts and the destruction caused by the Police of Harrisburg Ignatius knew the serenity of his workplace no longer existed. It would take him some time to rebuild that feeling, the sense of sanctuary that normally inhabited the room.

He decided that it needed light and sound. That would go a long way in chasing away the cobwebs of disuse and violation. Opening one of the right hand drawers on his desk Ignatius took a box of matches out and proceeded to light several gas lamps. At one time, they were marvels of technology. Now alongside the chemical lights at the airship field, they felt like the guttering candles of long ago. The light from the lamps pushed away the moonlight, cutting the night sky out of the picture. Ignatius wandered into the forge area and slid a lever forward that jutted up from the floor. A panel slid open allowing a thin trickle of water to enter through a spillway. The water ran its course turning a wheel. That wheel in turn caused a stream of air to fly over the cold forge.

In minutes, Ignatius had a fire burning inside the forge. The wood encouraged by the breeze grew red hot in very little time. The room became suffused with the dry heat and rushing sound of the fabricated wind. Ignatius retreated to his desk sinking with relief into his plush chair. He held the goggles in his hand then peered at them through his magnifying glass. The lens turned out to be several layers of varying thickness and color. Ignatius supposed that the multiple layers acted something akin to a telescope, gathering the available light and magnifying it as it passed through each lens.

The colors must filter a specific light type he surmised. Holding them up to his face the room became a green wash of shapes. It took a few seconds but he realized that the lamps were causing the distortion. How very practical, he thought. Setting the goggles down on his desk his hand brushed the cog from the collapsed factory. He picked it up and examined it with his naked eye. Again it appeared to be only a brass cog of no special import. The liquid substance was now dried and cracking on the flat portions.

Unthinking, Ignatius tossed the bit of brass back onto his desk. It rolled on its edge for a few seconds before running into an object with a tiny clink. It was the sound of a vial full of liquid, which Ignatius did not remember there being one on the desk before. Looking down he saw a stoppered medicine bottle standing next to a syringe. Frowning Ignatius plucked the bottle from the desk. No label on the front or back of the bottle told him what it contained, which left one line of investigation. He pulled the cork out and inhaled deeply at the mouth of the bottle. He sneezed involuntarily almost dropping the bottle. It had a sickly sweet smell to it. One that Ignatius knew quite well. He held a tincture of Opium. This narcotic formed the base for a serum that Ignatius had sworn never to use again, ever since that fateful morning in the river front park three years ago.

With care, he put the cork back in the bottle and set it down. One of Baron Hirsch’s cigars made its way between his lips. Nervously he nipped the tip off and spat it in the direction of one of the dust piles Kevin had made. Another match flared to life and touched the tip of the cigar. He knew very well that the bottle and needle did not just wander into the workshop without help.

He thought of James Lee. What motivation could he have? The insurance man’s only real tasks were to ensure that Ignatius did not violate the conditions of his release and investigate the collapses.

Colonel Witmore with his shady agenda came to mind as well. Again, there was a lack of motivation. The Colonel’s schemes, while murky, had to be in the best interest of the Government and country. The potential for someone not associated with the destroyed factories existed. A person bearing a grudge like any of the workers at Lucius’s factory conceivably could have a motive. They wanted him thrown back in jail or worse.

Rabbity Stotes sprang to mind. Ignatius dissected the older gentleman’s words again in his mind trying to come up with a hint of what ‘If he did not know how it was done he did not have anything’ meant. Stotes knows more than he revealed, deduced Ignatius. Could he have just spent a portion of his evening with the culprit? Mr. Stotes’s holdings were vast making the other industrialists like children with pennies by comparison. His clues may be taunts, a chance to flaunt his intelligence hidden behind backwoods speech patterns and humble attire. With the others pushed out of business Mr. Stotes could acquire their property cheap and erect more of his own buildings ensuring that when the city needed anything he would be able to service their needs.

A monopoly. Ignatius thought about it for a few moments. Rabbity had the work force to keep track of everything in the city. How difficult would it have been for him to have someone plant the drugs in the workshop? A tip off to the police and again Ignatius would be back in the tender mercies of Doctor Salinger.

Ignatius snatched the bottle up off the desk and hurled it across the lab at the forge. Glass shattered against the back wall and opium ran down the bricks picking up bits of soot in its trail. Ignatius stared at the forge wall for minute, eyes unfocused, cigar forgotten.

“That’s it!” he shouted.

Unable to contain his excitement, Ignatius pulled out the journal and with shaking hands turned to the section for Terra Fluida. Johann Becher explained that Phlogiston caused metal to rust. In his words: “Phlogiston produces oxidation, a chemical change in the structure of the metal.” If Phlogiston were a solution, it could be applied to a support beam in a factory. Then slowly over time, the metal would progress through the stages of oxidation and eventually collapse. The cog then must have come from a timer device, which delivered the Phlogiston Terra Fluida or PTF.

The PTF coated the beam then it became a matter of time before the structure would fall in on itself. The glass vials held the PTF and the cog was brass, because it the PTF did not affect those materials as much as iron. That way the timer would be able to survive until its appointed time. The cigar fell from numb lips and fell to the floor unnoticed. Colonel Whitmore was concerned because PTF applied to trains, ships, artillery or any other metal object would guarantee catastrophic failure at some point, likely during a crucial moment in battle.

Ignatius jabbed the call button for William and barked orders into it. He rose and staggered over to a chalkboard wall and started scribbling notes, thoughts and theories on the black surface rapidly. Unnoticed on his desk the syringe rolled off, struck the chair and wound up underneath the drawers.

2 Comments
  1. omg this is major finding..using phlogistone to corrupt and destroy.buildings,ships etc…i just loved the very idea… its brilliant :)

    • It was one of my better writing days when I came across Phlogiston in Wikipedia. I am glad you liked the notion and see the implications of such a chemical during a time of industrial expansion, and the increasing reliance on metal for all sorts of large, expensive things. We are getting closer and closer to the conclusion!

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