My Dear Rackham,
My deepest condolences to you and your fellow survivors. It is a little strange, perhaps, to mourn the loss of your submersible’s crew in light of the untold thousands Albion has already lost this year. But I knew some of them, and others I had come to know through your correspondence, and now they are gone. Here, we are afforded some peace in what I can only assume is the calm before the storm; this gives me some time to focus on your situation and what I can do to help.
The population of Carteret continues to swell with refugees and escapees from New Albion. In marked contrast to that faux nation, our resistance is governed by what I affectionately refer to as the Tortoise Council, run as it is from the common room of the town’s chief tavern, The Weeping Tortoise. The natives of Garnsey are represented by Carteret’s constable and the island’s lieutenant governor, who had been one of those imprisoned in the granary. (The governor himself remains confined to his rooms at the residence back in Stockport with an unspecified ailment.) Campbell has agreed to help defend the town until such time as a departure from the island is viable, gaining him a seat at the table. Sanders represents the remnants of Elizabeth College. These four are joined by yours truly, though I have been present only recently for reasons I will explain later.
One pleasant surprise in all of this is Sanders, who, you will recall, is the gentleman who Robards so effectively charmed with an early conscious use of his Ability. Because of that event, he had been filed away in my mind as a weak-willed bureaucrat; in fact he is a highly competent leader and administrator. The fact that Carteret’s sudden growth has not led to food riots and a panoply of sewage problems is largely due to his careful planning.
At any rate, while as a general rule I have been keeping the contents of your letters to myself, I realized upon reading your last that a greater amount of coordination would be needed to offer you all the help I could. I have shared your plight with the Tortoise Council, in doing so keeping in mind Thorpe’s exhortation to place some trust in Van Dyke and, by extension, Sanders. I am increasingly reassured that, while they are Society men, they had no direct involvement or perhaps even knowledge of the machinations that have led to our present calamity.
My first thought is how to get supplies to you; my second is whether from here we can do anything to convey you from Skald. The aeros are, as you know, one-person crafts, but I do not believe you understand the extent of their limitations. I myself would not have appreciated it had I not stumbled upon a heated argument between Alona and Alia not long after your letter was delivered. Alona was furious that her compatriot had even attempted to reach you. Simply put, a round trip to a destination one hundred miles distant is considered an aero’s maximum range. This puts Garnsey well within reach of the mainland, but Skald is considerably further away. In going out to find you, Alia had no beacon to guide her, and was traveling much further than an aero was ever meant to go, with limited instrumentation to keep her on course. She had to shed as much weight as possible and be extremely judicious in her use of natural air currents to assist her propulsion. Having accomplished it she can likely pull it off again, but it was extremely risky, and, more to the point, there are rather hard limits as to how much cargo she can bring with her. I have put together a package of rations and medical supplies and anything else I could find that might prove useful and does not weigh very much.
Her difficulties will be compounded by the fact of Bledsoe’s betrayal, and the question to whether it is safe to return to Greysham. The Council debated whether to even risk sending supplies your way at all. I was in favor, of course, as was Sanders, but the locals saw no reason to hazard losing Alia for the sake of some distant, unknown party, and Campbell agreed with them. Alia, present at that meeting, calmly let everyone know that unless they meant to set hands on her aero over her lifeless body, she would be returning to Skald, and so the matter was settled. She will either find a way to refuel at Greysham, or somewhere else. Resourcefulness has never been a problem for her.
Is “refuel” even the proper word? “Recharge,” perhaps? I have learned a great deal about aeros and their capabilities in the past couple of days, but I am still far from understanding how they work.
Two more points to address from your letter. I cannot help but mark the tragedy inherent in the manner in which Thorpe chose to execute Thompson. Why the deuce did he not simply wring the man’s neck, instead of ejecting the first lifeboat prior to sending him into the deep? That lifeboat may have saved three more of your companions, not least Thorpe himself, though I imagine he is the sort who would have gone down with the ship. You have noted before how his transformation predisposed him toward anger and impulsive behavior; I can only hope that he thought better of his choice during his final moments.
Second, I took great interest in Bennington’s reaction to the sight of the vortex storms. I encourage you to find out more from her about that if you can. I was lamenting to Sanders how the burning of the College meant that any hopes of turning up some answers in Bennington’s old lab are now lost. He intimated that unless the Brotherhood had been extremely thorough, there were places on campus very well-hidden and well-protected where we may yet find some answers. If we survive what is coming that is definitely on my agenda.
I have been saving for last just what I have been up to. Not long after sending my previous letter, I returned to Stockport, hoping that I would still find myself in Robards’ good graces. And that seemed, at first, to be the case. I had no direct contact with him, which was not in itself unusual, but I made myself seen at the residence and in town, and no particular notice seemed to have been made of my three-day absence.
So I resumed my usual business of staying out of the way but snooping around when I could. Something was definitely afoot; behind the closed door of a meeting-room, Robards’ staff were planning a large operation of some sort. These meetings typically recessed around sunset for dinner, and so that is when I came up unobtrusively from the wine cellar. I found the door to the meeting-room locked, so, after first carefully looking around to make sure no one was watching, I simply passed through it. (I had left the ward behind in Carteret, knowing I might need the freedom to use my Ability unhindered.)
What I found there, amid a sea of diagrams on chalkboards, maps on the walls, and a pile of official orders and proclamations, was nothing less than a plan to storm Carteret by both land and sea. So engrossed was I in taking in the details, memorizing what I could, that it was at least a minute before I realized someone had been sitting in a chair in the corner behind me, watching all the while.
It was Robards.
“I am disappointed, Dr. Crane,” he said.
I sighed. “How long have you known?”
“Truthfully? Not until the incident at the lighthouse. I am a fool for not having realized it sooner. My own fist passed through your body in a moment of anger not long after we arrived on this island. I should have suspected you of aiding the prison escape right away.”
“You remember my Ability, then? Good. Then perhaps you will also remember our conversation that day. You acknowledged that you might have an Ability of your own, that we did not understand them well, and that we should proceed with caution.”
“I have proceeded with what has been necessary to preserve all that is precious to us.”
“No! This false devotion you engender in others has addled your mind. This is not you, my friend, and if you would only give me a chance I believe I can –”
“Stop! Do you suppose I waited for you here out of some unconscious desire for you to talk sense to me?” He laughed, short and harsh. “This is why you are here.”
He picked up a pistol sitting on the desk beside him, aimed, and fired.
My Ability preserved me. I ghosted, instinctively, in the fraction of a second before the shot reached me. But though the shot passed harmlessly through, I will not say I was not wounded. I had imagined this confrontation countless times, and always thought that all was not lost, that I could make him see the light, and somehow bring him back to his old self. Now I realized that I had been naïve, that as surely as the strange workings of the Incident had turned Thorpe into a man-lizard, Robards had also been turned into a monster, but of a different sort, and that there may be no coming back from it.
He fired again as I allowed myself to sink through the floor. He had been prepared for this moment: the residence was already on high alert, the wine cellar under close guard; Brotherhood goons were everywhere. But how can you stop someone you cannot touch? It was a cat-and-mouse game for a while, but eventually I was able to slip through the outer wall into the garden at a spot where no one was looking, and from there ran to the countryside. Escape was not difficult, but there was a price: at least half a dozen men saw me pass through walls with their own two eyes, or witnessed objects passing through me. My secret is out; who knows how Robards will explain it to his men.
Now you understand the calm before the storm I alluded to earlier. We are bracing ourselves for Robards’ attack. Losing the element of surprise can only mean he will advance his timetable.
Alia stands ready to depart later today, so I only have time for a quick addendum. As we were loading up the aero – Alona carefully weighing the cargo one more time – Sanders approached and started asking what at first seemed rather impertinent questions about what I had discovered at the College, back on the day when he had allowed Robards and I into Bennington’s laboratory. I had not forgotten the red vials and syringe that we had found there, of course, but having never had a good opportunity to investigate them, they had not been foremost in my mind.
“Out with it, man,” I snapped. “I have no doubt you investigated things very thoroughly once you came to your senses. I have always assumed that you knew what we took.”
“The vials, yes,” he answered. “It occurs to me that Bennington is the one who knows best what they may be used for, and they may indeed have some use in their current predicament.”
And so, since you have already sent me a mysterious and powerful gift, I will now respond in kind. Hopefully Bennington will find some way to make these vials useful. Though they were not particularly heavy, including them on the aero did necessitate leaving something else out – in this case, the very fine bottle of Lochnagar single malt that I had hoped to include as a single item of luxury in an otherwise utilitarian delivery. Apologies – I will think of you fondly as I drink it!