My Dear Crane,
First permit me a few idle words of congratulations, mixed thoroughly with relief that the real ward had not been surrendered to Robards. Lower sixth at Everwood cemented for me, at least, that you are a man who eschews adulation, prizing more the inherent good of wisdom common to all—to this day, I still recall your impromptu speech about “standing on the shoulders of giants” when Ames had bestowed upon you the year’s award for excellence in the sciences. I had hoped, accordingly, you saw wisdom in our act to send you the artifact; but yours was the truer cleverness, now that Robards thinks he is in possession of the ward, and will (hopefully) not pursue recovery of the lost, but true, one.
I can say that from your descriptions of what had transpired on Garnsey over the last few months, we knew we were taking a chance in sending you this important artifact. I confess that if our trust and faith in our flyers was not as unshakeable as it is, we may have thought better of it. Even then, we understood the present danger of sending the ward into that nest of vipers, as MacTallan called it. (I did not get the sense that Thorpe appreciated the snake reference, but he at least agreed that, among the members of our expedition, you were the best handler for the object.)
As for your prison break (Bennington’s term, said with a friendly smirk) and your subsequent plans to rendezvous with Van Dyke and the others, we say bravo—at this, Thorpe has encouraged me to write that he advises you put your trust in them, regardless of Van Dyke’s past, or that of the others. From your details we have all painted an understanding that you four are united by a common cause and that experiences shared together have created an interdependency. More than ever, we feel this among ourselves as well.
I can also now safely and freely retract the words of false support I personally gave for New Albion, and also rescind the description of the people of Greysham as cheering the “new nation.” No one here truly recognizes Robards’ hegemony or the founding of a new Government; in Bledsoe’s words, “we would rather have no Albion than a false one from afar.”
At any rate, before I give you an update on our progress in outfitting the Jagdschloss for our journey to Skald, I wanted to briefly address something you touched upon in your last letter. You mentioned the word “curse” to describe Robards’ evident inability to see perspective when surrounded by sycophants. I wonder if our Abilities hold hidden disadvantages related to their essential natures, and whether some key is thus held therein. Thorpe seems to possess a superhuman celerity and exceptional sight, but an alarming countenance; I can read memories but only at the cost of crippling migraines; and Robards has his impressive demagoguery but a counterbalancing lack of perception. Bennington, however, seemed to have experienced no Ability, but only the curse of night terrors, which have since disappeared since the Obelisk in the Caledonian highlands—but perhaps she had an Ability, too, which was never really brought to light.
I will move past the more trivial ramblings now, my friend, and report several pieces of more important news and forward progress. We have endured several bad storms here on the coast—the dark funnels have touched down far off on the sea’s horizon at least once daily, bringing with them wind, a gray rain, and mist—but nonetheless the repair work on the H-boat has progressed. In fact we are now in a phase of testing the boat to determine the efficiency of its engines and the rudder’s response to the helm, which is the plan before we make a test of its diving tube apparatus that I described in my last letter. We have been successful in these tests, because, although the storms cause quite a disturbance on the surface of the water, the H-boat travels just underneath the surface, quite indifferent to the rolling waves.
I have several examples to relate to you to illustrate the diligence with which our men, working with Bledsoe’s engineer, have employed in readying this marvel of nautical technology; but before I do, I should first say that Thorpe and I have recently learned the importance of asking the right questions of the right people. You might recall that in my last letter I mentioned a fisherman named Gates, the one who had first sighted the half-scuttled Jagdschloss far off the coast of Albion. As it turns out, after some easy questions asked among his associates, we learned that Gates had served the Albionese navy during the Blood War, on a steamship destroyer in the Third Fleet.
Since Thorpe knew the man was proficient in piloting his own craft, we quickly found that few drinks from Bledsoe’s private stock of liqueurs was all that was needed for Thorpe and I to convince him to recall his training and pilot our H-boat. A reluctant agreement was otherwise smoothed by the promise of payment by me upon safe return, something I spared no time in offering, as well as the argument that Thorpe effected upon him as a former military man himself, appealing to Gates’ one-time service as a permanent calling to aid his countrymen in their endeavors to secure peace for Albion. I will confess, at the point that Thorpe intoned his message of courage, I could not be sure if it was the gin, or Thorpe’s intimidating visage, that finally won the man over.
Turning to the repairs on the H-boat itself, this is indeed a bright spot of hope. Two weeks ago, Greenley, a cantankerous old tinkerer impressed into service by Bledsoe upon Gates’ recovery of the submersible, had already proclaimed the steam-tubes on the outside of the hull “irreparable,” after having spent some time investigating them before our return from the Cairns. But lo, his assistant—a younger man by the name of Hollins, I believe—discovered that the copper of the tubing channels could be replaced using ducts from several of the wood-burning stoves that were common in the town, and in fact, many of the pipes fit exactly, despite a commonly-held (and otherwise correct) belief that the measurement systems employed between Saxonia and Albion are incompatible. Hollins recognized this from close inspection of the joins between ruptured tubes, which had been left undamaged in the scuttling attempt of the ship. While the repair work is not complete on the diving tubes—thus the reason we have not yet conducted tests on the depths that the H-boat can reach—it is widely hoped now that these repairs can be made and tested over the next week. If so, Gates and the crew plan to complete a full test in seven days, with an eye toward leaving for Skald in early December with the addition of supplies and the passengers (namely, Bennington, MacTallan, and myself).
The next challenge was overcome by Bennington and I, pooling our collective knowledge of the Saxonian language to interpret the myriad dials, gauges, plaques, and signs aboard the Jagdschloss. For three days, as Greenley and his men worked, she and I took an inventory of all of the nautical terms we could find aboard the craft; this included a small log book and technical manual for the engines, which we found in what appeared to be a command quarters. The log book and the manual had been missed upon the investigation that was originally made when the fishermen had recovered the ship, but when we asked Bledsoe to consider providing the ship to us for our expedition, Thorpe had ordered a more complete inspection of the vessel.
With a simple Saxonian dictionary in hand recovered from the Greysham library, then, we found that we could create a sort of rudimentary Albionese glossary of sorts, for the purpose of guiding the men that Gates would eventually train in their work of operating the vessel. Critical words such as Tiefenmesser (depth gauge), Geschwindigkeit (velocity), Voll and Halb (ahead full or half, as they relate to the throttle, in combination with the words Fahrt Voraus), and Wasserdruck (water pressure) are now well known to Gates and the crew, making their piloting of the craft not only possible, but efficient. Bennington and I are next setting ourselves to translate as much as we can of the engine manual, with the understanding that if something goes wrong, diagrams and technical explanations in Saxonian will be worthless to an Albionese-speaking crew.
Ah, the crew—I surmise that at this point you must have recognized that Gates cannot pilot this complex machine himself, and at several points I have already mentioned them. We have been pleased to see the progress that Thorpe’s men (Kilcannon, Arasaku, Wright, O’Doole, Laray, and Bell) are all in the stages of becoming successfully converted to sailors. At least Laray and Kilcannon have some sailing experience, and all of them are used to taking orders to learn new things, especially in a military atmosphere. Thorpe has done well in this, perceiving the need for a nervous Gates to be able to direct the men with confidence, and for the time being Thorpe has told the men that they are to take orders from Gates as they train for their roles onboard. In this way, Gates is now seen as the “boat captain” and Thorpe the “land captain,” as Gates certainly wants nothing to do with our expedition once we disembark on Skald, and will wait onboard until he hears further from us. Greenley is too old to serve as an able engineer, but I am told by Thorpe that his assistant may take the reins as the chief officer overseeing the operation of the engines.
Finally, MacTallan has not been idle himself. Thorpe passed him the log book, which incorporated a small fold-out nautical map of the Köningsee, which we Albionese know as the Eastern Sea. From an old and outdated atlas in Bledsoe’s office and some more clues provided in sketches in the book, MacTallan was able to call up his cartography talents to create for us a larger, folding map of the Eastern Sea coasts, including Albion, Caledonia, Saxonia, and parts of the Bjondersland. On the map, he has plotted the location of Skald from what we know of Thompson’s documents, and has made some calculations and estimates of distance, extrapolating from the scale noted on the little log-book map. Using this, he reports confidence in employing a mathematical algorithm to plot travel at sea, given a near-constant rate of Geschwindigkeit and assumedly straight-line travel. We joke that he is now the ship’s navigator—but indeed he is the closest we have to one.
Bennington has mentioned to me that when we are able to confirm the success of the ring-like diving apparatus attached to the Jagdschloss, she would like to test the effects of the water pressure on the men and ensure their safety during the voyage. In my mind, she has nothing but support from me—and of course it means my safety as well, as one of its future passengers. More to the point, however, it underscores her renewed commitment to Thorpe’s leadership and the successful direction of this mission, to the disregard of her orders from the Society, whatever they might have been. Working closely with her on the translation of the manuals has also given me a new perspective on her value to the team, beyond yet what it was before.
One final, perhaps minor, detail. The spy Thompson was reported as having escaped from his prison cell some two nights ago. Bledsoe had immediately brought it to Thorpe’s attention, apologizing for the makeshift cell in which he had placed Thompson. I thought of your description of the granary on Garnsey, which had never been meant to be used as a prison, and how there had been locks on both sides of the door, &c.—in our case here Thompson had been placed in an old, unused wine cellar (devoid of its comforting drink, of course), and one of Bledsoe’s servants had been placed overwatch of its door. Apparently Thompson had found a way to bend the metal of the door hinges over the course of many days, finally breaking them with a kick at a point where he could hear that Bledsoe’s man was temporarily away, at a short meal or relieving himself, perhaps. We still do not know from Bledsoe’s man exactly when Thompson had made his escape, as it was some time yet before the man made the discovery of the broken hinges and the corresponding absence of our New Columbian spy, since Thompson had the time to replace the hinges on their moorings well enough to obfuscate his escape. The only other clue to Thompson’s whereabouts was a farmer who reported that he saw a man steal one of his horses late at night, galloping off toward the south; we learned this yesterday.
For my part, I say good riddance to the man, and let him trouble us no further; we now have the information that we need and the resources whereby to pursue it. The only final note I have to make to you is the strange weather, by which I mean more the climate and not these damnably oppressive storms. Here is it late November and the air has not turned colder. I do not expect snows at Yuletide, certainly, since the world has turned on-end, but yet another mark of this altered nature is the lack of seasons. I can only hope for more clues in the weeks and months to come, but I do not expect to see the world return to what it once was anytime soon.
I hope that by when I send you the next update, it will be from Skald, having set up an aero beacon there. I do not know if we will be able to find a natural place for our flyers to set down; but if we need to, we will take extra time to fashion a landing-place there, as it continues to be vital to our efforts to maintain regular communication. Similarly, I hope for you that you can make contact with your compatriots again in Carteret, and with Campbell, and that your ability to communicate with me continues unrestricted. Until then, we remain steadfast, healthy, and in good spirits here.
With wishes for good fortune, as always,