Authors: Mark C. King
“I cannot give out any specifics but I think the empire would be facing its gravest test if an army of these were advancing.”
“I agree,” nodded Koehler, “Now, I’m reticent to admit that the state of things in Germany is not as stable as they could be. There is a feeling, unspoken mostly, but a feeling of anger, an immaturity that seems to permeate the government, even many of its citizens. Our fear is that our invention in the hands of the current leaders of Germany would be a prelude to a war. Instead of all the good that could come of this discovery, it would bring death on a scale that is unprecedented. So you see, Herr minister, our coming to you, to Britain, is because we believe there is a soundness of mind here, a maturity that can handle the future correctly. It’s akin to fire – in the hands of the inexperienced it is dangerous, in the hands of the responsible it is useful.”
Steinhauser added, “Imagine a small cube in the homes of a family with a very modest income. One cube could provide heat for the entire winter – maybe multiple winters – and could also be used for cooking fuel. The smoke and soot that is a constant feature of our cities, of the air we breathe could be nearly eliminated. The non-military applications of these cubes need to be realized.”
“Here, here, Professors! I congratulate you again. Not just for your amazing invention, but for your foresight. An angry government, Germany or otherwise, with such power would indeed be a troublesome time for Britain and likely the world.”
Defence Minister Sloan’s companion cleared his throat and gestured to the bag he had been carrying.
With a look of confusion that turned quickly to understanding, the minister spoke up, “Professors, we have brought the ten thousand pounds as requested. Now, in what manner will you be providing this invention to us?”
“We have the one and only set of instructions that we will provide.” answered Steinhauser.
“Excuse me,” said the minister’s companion, “I must play devil’s advocate for a moment. How do we know that you are not going to go and sell this to another country, and then another?”
Koehler fixed a critical stare at the companion and said, “If wealth was all we were after, do you think that we would have asked for only ten thousand pounds? We only asked for that amount so that we would be taken seriously. We are aware of what this is worth, we could ask for any sum and receive it. Neither of us have a need for money, our motivations are pure.” And then softening a little, “But I suppose it is a fair question. The absolute truth is that the steps for producing this compound are in only three places, on the written instructions we will provide, in my mind, and in Doctor Steinhauser’s mind. You will have to trust that we will not provide this information to anyone – for the reasons that we have already outlined.”
“My apologies, Herr professors.” The companion stammered. “It was a foolish question but one I’m afraid I needed to ask. I have no reservations that you will keep your end of the deal.”
The professors nodded in acceptance of the apology.
“I’m afraid that I must ask one more question.” The companion continued, a little cowed after his last one. “What if we had a vehicle that used this remarkable fuel, and this vehicle ended up in enemy hands. Could they not simply extract the fuel and discover its makeup?”
“I think not,” replied professor Steinhauser. “You see, someone may be able to discover the individual ingredients but that is the least step. The
of combining those ingredients is the key to success. It is extremely unlikely that one could uncover that secret from just the device itself.”
“Professors,” said the minister, perspiration on his forehead, “can we open a window, these devices have left the room quite uncomfortable.”
“Of course, Minister.” Steinhauser answered. He then stood up and said, “I believe a little fresh air would be welcomed.” As he started walking towards the window, Sigmund moved his device away from sight and sat as close to the wall as he could.
He heard the window open and was relieved that no head poked out – Sigmund was only a couple feet from the opening and would have been seen easily, even in the low light.
Leaning against the wall, Sigmund realized that he had believed that there wouldn’t really be a new fuel source, that this whole meeting was a waste of time. But now he had seen the new fuel source in action. It was amazing. Although, due to the German’s worries, Sigmund felt that the invention may be more regrettable than incredible – so much wickedness in men, always seeming to lean towards destruction.
Changing from the philosophical to the practical, Sigmund started to try and figure out his next goal, how to steal the plans for these cubes. His first thought, and likely the best chance for success, would be to wait until they exit the hotel and simply run up and grab the plans. From then Sigmund would have to rely on his legs and his knowledge of the streets to –
Before finishing his thoughts, in the briefest moment of time, he was conscious of light, sound, movement, and then darkness.
Through the heaviest of fog – physical or mental, Sigmund wasn’t sure – he started to feel pain throughout his body. A steady ringing assaulted his ears while his limbs didn’t seem to be working right. Most disturbing was that the world itself seemed wrong.
What is going on?
Sigmund tried to speak but nothing more than a moan escaped his lips. The taste of dirt and blood in his mouth started to be added to his other sensations. Then the pain intensified – he wasn’t cognizant of a specific area of his body causing it, just a near overwhelming pain.
Blinking repeatedly, the fog slowly started to dissipate. As his sight started to come around, his confusion didn’t lessen – all Sigmund could see was grey cobblestone and dancing shadows - more confusing was that the world was sideways.
As he attempted to move his body Sigmund received mixed signals from his limbs. Something was wrong – actually, many a something was wrong.
Where am I?
Trying again to speak, Sigmund managed a nearly understandable, “Where?”
“Oh, look who’s waking up!” this from an unknown source – it didn’t sound particularly kind.
Sigmund felt the back of his shirt grabbed roughly and firmly, and then his world tilted. He must have been lying down and now someone was lifting him upright. As his body was raised, his sight went blurry from pain, from tears, and from his mind rebelling against consciousness. No longer was the pain generally felt, it was focused now, focused on his shoulder. He couldn’t help but let out a cry of agony.
Why am I injured?
Still being lifted upright, the pain in his left shoulder caused his body to automatically try to compensate, to ease the unwelcomed movements, he shifted and turned to put pressure on his right shoulder as best he could. Again, something was wrong – his body wasn’t responding correctly. Thankfully, mercifully, the movement stopped, he was upright, standing on his own feet, barely, a foreign hand firmly holding his arm – his left arm, the one that led to his painful shoulder. Besides the hand holding him up, he was also supported by his leaning against a large object. Taking quick shallow breaths to bring the pain under control, Sigmund then looked behind him and found that the large object he was leaning on was a carriage. Still not comprehending what was happening to him and around him, his mind raced desperately to try and make sense of anything – even just a kernel of understanding.
As the ringing continued and the pain assaulted him, it took another moment for Sigmund’s surroundings to come into some focus. The first thing he saw was a police constable holding up a lantern and staring at him – evidently the person who lifted him up and was now holding him there. His eyes quickly moved away from the light of the lantern, the brightness increasing the already alarming pain in his head. More lights started to materialize, lanterns being carried by many other people hurrying around the street and sidewalk. And now he was aware of smells, of smoke.
Through the ringing in his ears, Sigmund started to hear his environment. There was a lot of shouting, yelling, an occasional scream, and crying. Much of the commotion was around a fire brigade dousing flames somewhere.
“Oi!” the constable in front of Sigmund said. “Nice piece of work here, eh? Murder and treason. You disgust me.”
From far, far away in Sigmund’s mind, a tiny light of comprehension was sparked. He still wasn’t close to understanding, dazed in no small way, but a glimmer of remembrance was growing. Looking up, focusing hard on the building in front of him, Sigmund finally recognized the Charlotte Street Hotel – but it looked different, dirtier, confused – ablaze!
“That’s right. Take a long look at your handiwork!” The constable hung the lantern on the carriage that was behind Sigmund, grabbed his shoulder, and forcibly turned his body towards the hotel – his shoulder screamed with pain and he couldn’t help his body involuntarily trying to double over, only to be held in place by the constable. Sigmund tried to move his arms but he found that he couldn’t. It was at this moment that he realized why his arms couldn’t move, besides the pain – they were handcuffed behind his back.
Why am I restrained? Handiwork? Treason?
Looking back at the hotel, Sigmund raised his eyes to the second floor window – there was some remembered significance to the second floor – and saw a gaping hole on the left side of the building. It was as if there was an explosion… Like an explosion, the evening started to catch up to him – The minister, the Germans, the cube, and then… and then… light… darkness.
Forcing his mouth to speak, Sigmund asked, “What happened? Why was there an explosion?”
“You piece of garbage!” exclaimed the constable, “Do not play dumb with me! A witness saw you on the ledge. I guess you didn’t give yourself enough time for your bomb to go off.” The officer chuckled menacingly.
“I didn’t set a bomb!” Sigmund managed to say with a little energy behind it.
“Listen, we found you knocked out on the pavement right here. A witness saw you on the windowsill. What? You were just walking on the ledge of the second floor for fun? Lie all you like but you are going to jail, you are going to face a hangman’s noose for this piece of work! Not soon enough for my liking.”
Confusion of where he was and what happened was starting to clear up but now he was confused about this new information. And his shoulder throbbed constantly. How-
Interrupting his thoughts, the officer grabbed Sigmund’s face and turned it towards a scene on the sidewalk. Screaming in his ear, the constable demanded, “Take a good look at that!”
“What? What am I looking at?”
“LOOK! You see that little girl crying?”
“Yes… Yes I do.” There was a girl surrounded by several people, she was crying, sobbing uncontrollably. She couldn’t have been more than thirteen years old – about Sarah’s age – braided blonde hair and wearing a sleeping gown. The ones around her were clearly trying to comfort her but she was beyond consolation.
“Yeah, you see her? Good! Take a long look. You did that. Your bomb killed not only the minister but also killed her parents in the adjoining room.”
I didn’t do it.
Was all Sigmund could think, too overwhelmed and in too much pain to even bring words to his throat, let alone speak them.
“You are responsible, you scum!”
I didn’t do it.
“We have a special place for a person like you. You will never see the light of day again!”
I didn’t do it.
“Every breath you take is an offense to the good people of Britain.” The constable then gave Sigmund a vicious jab to his stomach.
Sigmund hardly felt it as the jolt caused his already throbbing shoulder to explode in sharp pain.
I didn’t do it.
He continued to stare at the young girl – being hugged by one person after another. Her tears continued despite all the comfort being provided. For a moment Sigmund’s pain subsided as he was overcome with grief for this devastated girl – now orphan. His body doubled over involuntarily and he vomited. Pain, confusion, heartache… it didn’t matter the cause, probably all of those, Sigmund couldn’t stop from retching. The taste in his mouth and the smells around him only worsened by this. Still, he kept his eyes on the tortured girl. Regardless of what was happening around him, regardless of the confusion that still assaulted his mind, he wasn’t confused about the pain that she had, it was crystal clear – a pain he vividly remembered when his father passed away. Her world crushed and nothing would change that now. And although Sigmund was not responsible, he felt as if his part in all of this, though not complete, gave him a share of the responsibility.
Without warning the entire scene was bathed in light. Sigmund could clearly see all the activity happening around him. The hotel itself had people, mostly police, running in and out. The fire brigade had their pump engine running and was spraying water on the remaining flames. The young girl was still inconsolable. Wondering where this sudden light came from, Sigmund looked around for the source. Eventually his eyes moved up and saw that a police dirigible was now hovering over Charlotte Street. The dirigible was much smaller than the kind used for travelers, it was designed to carry a few people to oversee, literally, a situation. Smoke billowed out from its engine up and around the balloon while its powerful electric light illuminated the surroundings. There must be an engine noise coming from it, but between the ringing still sounding in his ears and the commotion around him, Sigmund couldn’t hear it.
“Doctor Montross?” Came a voice from the confusion. “Doctor Montross, is that you?”
Looking around, Sigmund saw the hotel clerk from the day before.
This can’t be happening.
“Doctor Montross, it is you! Are you alright? Were you able to find your professor?”
Sigmund just stared at him, he couldn’t think of anything to say that would help himself.
“Doctor Montross is it?” said the constable holding Sigmund. “And here I thought we had a Sigmund Shaw.” Addressing the hotel clerk the officer said, “How do you know this man? Why are you calling him Montross?”
“Why, Doctor Montross here stopped by the front desk yesterday in search of his patient, a German Professor Faust. He had medicine that was most necessary to save his life.”
“Is that so?” sneered the constable, “Looking for a German professor? Well, let me tell you that he is no doctor and he has no patient. Seems like he was using you to get at some information to plant his bomb.”
With a face that bespoke his confusion and growing anger, the hotel clerk gave Sigmund a sharp stare and then turned and walked away.
“Would you like to keep up your story,
“How… How do you know my name?” managed Sigmund.
“You’ve been in and out of consciousness. Somewhere along the way you gave us that much. Wasn’t sure if you were going to make it – unfortunately you did. Probably just a temporary situation though.” The guard laughed at his last statement.
Sigmund thought about his options. His trouble matched his pain – both extreme and more than he had ever had before. He decided on the simplest route, the truth. “Look constable, I was here yesterday, and I was here tonight on less than legal business. I was told that there would be an important conversation here and that there was something that I should take… steal.” Sigmund thought about telling the constable that this was at the Empire’s direction but he knew that it would not be believed and probably make him sound like a lunatic. Continuing, “But in no way did I plant a bomb! Whatever or whoever caused the explosion did it before I had a chance to act. The meeting wasn’t even over yet!” Sigmund then realized something that he was surprised he didn’t realize sooner – “I was framed!”
“Of course you were.” Sneered the constable. “We never seem to arrest guilty people. I guess I should just let you go then.” Without warning the constable gave Sigmund another punch to the gut – more pain rocked his shoulder “Just shut up. You will rot in a cell and then be held accountable for your atrocities.”
Doubling over again from the punch – managing to not vomit this time – Sigmund tried to ignore the pain and nauseousness and think things out – he wasn’t too successful. Who would want to set him up? How would they even know he would be here? It was hard to concentrate. The pain in his body and the ongoing confusion around him kept him thoroughly distracted from clear thought. He quickly concluded that these questions didn’t matter, at least not at the moment. He needed to escape – these other questions could be answered later. Sigmund knew that even with his sneaking abilities, when they loaded him into their protected police wagon his chance to get free was just about zero. If he was to escape it would have to be now.