My Dear Rackham,
The sensible thing to do would have been to write to you as time allowed and then keep the letter, ready to hand to fair Alia should she arrive in time, mayhap with a short post-script to account for more recent developments. I even sat down to do this very thing on several occasions, but could not stop dwelling on the prospect of those pages lingering, unsent, and so did not even begin. This is foolish; there are good reasons to record what is happening, even if you never read my words. For posterity if nothing else. But today, Fortuna smiles upon me: the aero has flown in on the very eve of our departure! And so I am able to write to you, and this rambling prologue serves only to explain why I am, once again, writing in haste.
These past weeks have been exciting times for our expedition; less so for me. While Robards & Co. have ranged up the coast in search of a seaworthy vessel, I have remained in Howgate, both to administer to our own casualties and to provide what aid I can to the village’s own people.
Ah, Rackham, ordinary people! Civilians, families, untouched by the Incident! I overstate: they are, of course, not untouched. They have lost contact with even their neighboring towns. Most of those who have left have not returned, and those that have tell tales of horror. And yet, they themselves have not come under any sort of attack, and their gardens yield their produce, the sea its fish. Day-to-day life for them has not changed much. Indeed, many of them display the same skepticism toward our stories and warnings that we did toward those first reports from the Colonies, as you yourself described.
One night in the tavern I found myself drawn into conversation with two elderly fishmongers, trying to convince them that the very presence of our ragtag expedition must at least prove that something of consequence is happening in the world, but they remained unconvinced. They suspected a Ruse put forth by the Government, a ploy to raise the level of alarm and thereby levy more taxes without complaint. I had not the heart to tell them that the Government they so enjoy despising may not even exist any more, for all we know.
Fortunately, my ministrations have earned our group enough goodwill in the village that they do not resent our presence. I have set half a dozen broken bones, pulled a handful of abcessed teeth, and delivered three(!) babies. And yes, before you ask, those were my first experiences with childbirth outside of a textbook. Neither my time in the university, nor battlefield, nor museum prepared me for the life of a family physician. All my career I looked down (with no small measure of disdain) at colleagues whose lives took that path, yet now I find that, should we ever see ourselves clear of this current state of calamity, I should be happy to retire to a village such as this and tend to their workaday illnesses and cares until the very end of my days.
Your own reports fill me with a heady mix of sympathy, revulsion, and wonder. I mourn for the dead at the same time as I burn with curiosity about your new ability. Unfortunately, when it comes to the changes in my own physiology as a result of the Incident, I have nothing new to report. I have had (and have spent) ample time attempting to trigger the odd perceptions and abilities that I have related previously, but entirely without success. My working theory is that responses are more easily induced by danger or stress, both of which have been (happily) in short supply of late.
I mentioned we are leaving on the morrow, so best to catch you up to just how that has come to be. Robards took half a dozen men and made for Yarmouth, hoping to finding a bigger ship there, ideally one attached to the naval station. They found a deserted town, and a strange blight that made the air difficult to breath and their skin to break out in colorful rashes. But they also found a ship — and not even one of ours! A New Columbian ironclad had been stationed there as part of some cockamamie military exchange program. They had lost their captain and half their crew when the town came under attack at the same time the blight arrived. (I need not mention that the timing of these events coincided perfectly with the Incident.) The survivors hunkered down aboard their beast of a vessel, which is where Robards found them.
You can imagine my surprise earlier today, watching the N.C.S. Sigsbee sail into Howgate’s modest bay, belching steam, with Robards standing proudly at the prow alongside the ship’s officer in charge. Campbell is his name, by the way. Every bit as self-assured and impudent as one might imagine a N.C. seaman to be. He and Robards behave like close friends. Campbell and his crew have signed on to our expedition, placing themselves willingly under Robards’ command.
I am, of course, full of questions. What is the nature of the blight and the attack on Yarmouth? Did Robards and Campbell know each previously, or have they just bonded quickly? For that matter, I have all the above information from Robards himself — what if he cannot be trusted? I hope I will have time at sea to get some answers.