strange powers (strange_powers) wrote in pennydreadfuls,
strange powers
strange_powers
pennydreadfuls

The God Egg

6: Our Full Complement

San Francisco came quickly. I confess I was filled with a degree of excitement over seeing my old friend Professor Lindmann again, and not a little desire to confront Miss Campbell over her slanderous newspaper article. Mr Lloyd had not spoken to me in the previous day, but I barely undertook a page of reading without his revelation echoing in me: he was a spy, and I had been drafted into the service of the Crown to aid him. I could not conceive of a reason - besides some unusual bet - that Lloyd would fabricate this story, and it was easy to see that should a facet of Victoria's government have discovered that the Earth was in immediate danger then they would wish to investigate it as discreetly as possible. I found myself considering every word that Fetherley and Forbuoy uttered in the minutest detail. Though Forbuoy was as suspect as ever to me, I found it hard to detect any aspect of deceit in my affable old friend.

As we docked, I stood and watched the harbour: though San Francisco was a thriving city it was still young; but it was vibrant, and a marked improvement over the squalor and disorganization that we had observed in Panama. Indeed, it was easy to see why Lindmann had made his home here, for in the buildings, in the people working around us, in the very air there was an admirably progressive quality. I wondered if my own ideas would have been any better received in America.

“This Lindmann, what sort of a chap is he?” Lloyd had appeared beside me, his unflinching eyes following my line of vision.

“He's a decent sort,” I replied, “an old friend, a Dane. He migrated here a decade ago. He wanted to be able to study deep ocean life for more than just a couple of months a year. He's a renowned mariner and an ingenious inventor, you know. He has built several devices capable of travelling to incredible depths with men on board. Totally committed to his work, thinks of little else.”

Lloyd nodded. “Is he coming alone?”

“There's an assistant, but I have never met the fellow. Lindmann is more than sixty, and can't operate the machinery alone. Besides, there needs to be someone here on the Trelawney while the craft is below sea, keeping us fed with air from above.”

“Ah.” This seemed to be more than enough for Lloyd, and though he didn't actually smile at me he came closer to smiling than I had seen before. “What about this journalist woman?”

“I don't know a thing about her, besides her total lack of professionalism. Forbuoy asked her aboard... A-ha! There's Lindmann now!” I pointed him out to Lloyd, and we made our way to the gangplank where Fetherley was waiting to disembark. Lindmann had hardly changed at all in the last five years: his thinning silver hair framed a weather-beaten face, the only sign of his advance in years was his large handlebar moustache, which had lost the black flecks it once had and was now entirely white.

He smiled though his spectacles and gripped my hand with strength. “Solomon, Solomon, it's good to see you again,” he cried, and seized the hands of Fetherley and Lloyd.

“This is my old friend Lord James Fetherley, and Mr Lloyd, the first mate of the Trelawney. Gentleman, may I introduce Professor Albert Lindmann.”

“This is very exciting, Solomon, very exciting!” Lindmann was the only man I knew who called me by my first name. “I've brought a helper along, a young man named Peter.” Lindmann looked around distractedly. “Peter? Where are you?” There was a motion upon a large crate beside us, and a lithe fellow skipped effortlessly down from it.

“I was just checking the seal on the floatation device, Professor.” Peter was young, perhaps fifteen, delicate and rosy in feature and with a neat bowl of hair above his round visage. Lindmann introduced him as his student and assistant, and the five of us began a brief inspection of the equipment that they had brought. The large crate, perhaps eight feet cubed, contained huge reels of rubber piping about two inches in diameter - three miles of it, in total, Peter told us. Behind the crate, covered in a tarpaulin and on a ten-wheeled wooden trolley, was the deep-sea vehicle for which the piping would supply air.

“I call her Marta, after my late wife. She's actually the seventh Marta, but I can assure you that I loved them all.” Lindmann laughed a little as he untied the tarpaulin at each end and pulled it back for us to see. Marta VII was, in design, remarkable: somewhat like a large metallic sausage, nearly twenty feet in length, six feet across and with two solid glass stripes around it, each one three feet wide. “The glass was the most expensive part. We found that when smelted in a perfect circumference, it was highly resistant to the pressure found at great depths. The two pieces are bolted to the steel hull and have a rubber sealant. A steam driven pump that floats directly above her sends air from the surface down the piping. Five men can travel to a depth of three miles, and there is a separate chamber which may be flooded so that the craft can, if necessary, be exited without compromising the safety of those on board.” Lindmann pointed out several apertures in the surface. “We affix inflatable bladders to eight of these points, and we can control our descent and ascent by adjusting the amount of air in them. We can also attach smaller tubes to them so that a marinaut may breathe through them in one of my protective suits after leaving the craft.”

This piqued my curiosity, but Fetherley spoke first: “A marinaut?”

“My own term for a deep sea explorer, your Lordship. Will you be one of Marta's crew, sir?” The broad grin across the face of my companion advertised his answer.

“Well, well, this is astonishing, simply astonishing! I am truly impressed, absolutely impressed!” Franklin Forbuoy had materialised behind us and I turned to introduce him, only to find myself lost for words. Beside him stood a woman the likes of which a man may feel fortunate to lay eyes upon only once in a lifetime. Elegant, broad-shouldered, her dark red hair gathered beneath a wide-brimmed hat which matched her deep green clothes. “Gentlemen, I would like to introduce the last member of our little expedition: the charming Miss Chase Campbell.”

She gazed at each of us in turn, smiling - first Lindmann, then Peter. Her skin was a little tanned by the California sun, but her features were truly fair, her lips soft and her nose gentle. She turned to Lloyd. I could feel my impatient heart hurry, and I willed her to turn to me more quickly. Then Fetherley. Her figure was graceful, alluring in its femininity. It seemed like an eternity until she faced me, but when she finally did I realised I would have waited forever for her attention: her eyes! Deeper aqua than any ocean we had sailed in our journey, full of life, hope and intelligence. I was in awe of her immediately.

Forbuoy spoke up, breaking my reverie. “Miss Campbell, I believe Dr Grange has something to say to you.” The admonishment that had sat in my mouth, waiting for her to appear so that it could spit so viciously, evaporated in her warmth. I panicked, and I noted that Forbuoy was smirking through his beard as I struggled for something to say. I did not have to struggle for very long.

“Well, I have plenty to say to Dr Grange too.” Her voice was rich, deep and rang with conviction. “I'm very interested, for example, in Dr Grange's dismissal and I'm sure my readers are looking forward to hearing his side of the story.”

I scrambled, trying to gather my wits that had been so scattered by the mere appearance of this striking woman. “Miss Campbell, I-”

“Well, Dr Grange?”

“I...”

She tilted her head impatiently and walked straight past me; I caught an iota of her perfume. “My trunk is over there, Dr Grange.”

No sooner was she out of earshot than the men around me burst into laughter. Even the granite Mr Lloyd allowed himself a crooked grin. Fetherley slapped me on the shoulder. “This trip seems more and more fun by the second, what Grange?” he chortled.

In answer, I could only smile the smile of the utterly bewitched.

Back to Part Five
Part Seven
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