The Files provide more than I expected.
|Once our baggage was aboard, Emily and I again took up residence aboard Pandora. A large cabin forward of the gun deck that I hadn't even known about was readied for the two of us, and we found ourselves with more room than we had thought possible aboard an airship. As we were stowing our gear and clothing, Emily stopped short and fell silent. I turned to look at her as she stared at the center of the room with a little smile on her face. I looked that way myself and saw the oblong file box from my rooms sitting in the middle of the deck with Constantine perched dead center on the top. He looked as close to sleepy as I imagine a clockwork cat can get, and I realized I hadn't wound him in quite some time. As I approached, he obligingly pointed his nose to the overhead to expose his throat while I wound him up.
Once the task was completed, he gingerly stepped down from the top of the box and promptly blinked away into nothingness as he was wont to do. Emily and I lifted the box up onto the table, and she stood at my elbow as I went to the next section of the files which appeared to be a carefully folded and consecutively marked set of charts with a note attached to the first of them. It read as follows:
My Dear Coffin (whichever one you are), I am sure that you are already aware of the growing paradox that we are now following. Owen, you already know your part in it, as does John. Just be sure you get this note and the charts back together in order before the box moves along to Vincent. If this is indeed Vincent, please note the charts that accompany this note are folded and placed in a numerical order, each along the top fold. It is very important that you refer to these charts IN THE ORDER OF THEIR ARRANGEMENT. You are about to set out on an undertaking that you cannot reveal to me until it is complete, and perhaps not even then. While I do hope to be able to understand and participate in your adventure at some point, I am aware that I cannot be made aware of these charts until after your work is done and you return them to me after you've made your notes on them. I'm sure Spartacus Kane and Owen Coffin will be able to explain it all whenever you set out upon your course of action. All I ask is that you maintain a watchful eye to avoid doubling back on yourselves, and I wish you safe travels.
Always your ally and confidant,
Elias F. Gloriosky, Ph.D.
As Emily and I read the note, I became aware of a new presence in the room. As I turned to see who had entered, Constantine drifted between us with my grandfather following close behind. As soon as he saw the note in my hand, he turned his back to us suddenly and said simply, "Put the note back in the file in front of the charts and close it." I followed his instructions, and he turned back to us when he heard the file box latch. He motioned us away from the table to the chairs across the cabin, where we all sat down. Owen was quiet for a moment as he considered his words carefully before he spoke.
"I have some knowledge of those charts," he began solemnly, "and I know there are some things you are going to experience in the very near future that will be confusing at best." He looked over towards the box as if it were some huge beast just waiting for the opportunity to pounce before he went on. "The first chart has my notes on it. You haven't looked at it, have you?" We both shook our heads as he went on, "Good, good...take that one, unfolded, to Kane. He'll know what to do, and what you'll need to set you on the path." He looked us over carefully, then stood and began turning slowly. "Make note of my clothing and equipment, both of you." He opened his dark gray duster as he slowly turned so that we could see the two revolvers he carried, his orientometer, and the Bowie knife that hung at an angle on the back of his belt in close reach to his right hand. His high brown boots were well polished, and his blue shield-front shirt was two shades lighter than the blue trousers he wore. His black bowler topped his head with a well-polished set of copper framed goggles. As he stopped his slow turn, he sat back down and spoke firmly, "It is very important over the next several days that if you see me wearing anything but these clothes, you not reveal to me anything about what you are doing, where you have been, or where you are going. Do you both understand?" He looked at us, back and forth, until we had both met his gaze and acknowledged his warning. Once he was apparently convinced we would remember, he grinned and whispered, "Welcome to your first paradox." And with that, Constantine suddenly slid over against his right knee and they both winked out of sight.
Before Emily and I could even speak, there were three knocks on the door and my grandfather entered the cabin. "Well, well, the two of you seem to have made yourselves at home quite nicely. I'm sorry to interrupt, but I thought it better now than later." He stepped across the cabin and sat down right on the file box, his long legs stretching out to either side. He took his top hat off and set it in the floor between his legs and dropped his gloves down into it. "What have the two of you been up to?" Emily and I looked into each other's eyes before we both spoke as one, "Just talking about the bartender at the Silver Perch." He sat back and smiled, "Yes, that fellow is a remarkable author, isn't he?" He seemed to be paying attention to Emily much more than me, giving the impression of old friends. Then he turned my way, extending his right hand, and said right to my face, "And just who might you be, young man?" I thought my heart would stop as my brain dropped into neutral. Paradox, indeed....
I looked closely at his attire, realizing almost immediately that this was my grandfather before we defeated the Cloudwitch over Hy Brasil. As I contemplated a moment whether or not he was aware of his current time, I found myself smiling and reaching for his hand as I said simply, "Now that would be telling, wouldn't it?" He shook my hand, "Fair enough...I know as well as the next person the importance of avoiding a paradox." With that he turned back to Emily, "My dear, I take it you and this fellow have business to attend to?" Emily nodded, smiling brightly, "Yes we do, dear Owen, and I'm afraid we must be off very shortly since Pandora is about to get underway." He looked around, assessing the cabin in which we were seated. "Yes, I know. The crew is seeing to the Lift even as we speak. I was told you were aboard and preparing to leave, but I wanted to take the opportunity to inspect this vessel while I was here, since there are some parties interested in purchasing it for me to carry out some diplomatic work in the near future." From outside there was a sounding of four strokes on the ship's bell, and Owen stood quickly, making ready to leave. He stepped forward and gave Emily a brief hug, saying "Safe travels, my dear. May the Aether be fair winded and warm for you." He then reached out to shake my hand once again. "You'll be in good hands, young man. This lady can take ten times her weight in wildcats in a pinch, and I get the impression you've been around enough to handle any she can't get to." With that he picked up his hat and strode out the cabin door. We heard him calling to Kane, "Captain, I'll take leave of you now so that you may be on your way. Lady Van Helsing will be contacting you soon about a long-term arrangement." We weren't able to quite make out what Kane's reply was, but they seemed to be on good terms.
Moments later, we heard the gangway being pulled aboard, and felt the rising of the deck beneath us as Pandora lifted away from the docks and sailed skyward. As Pandora turned her stern to Hy Brasil, her timbers began a gentle, rhythmic thrum as we executed a slow turn to starboard, and Mr. Pettigrew sounded a pair of soft strokes on the ship's bell. The skies outside the cabin windows seem to shimmer in a bluish green light as the bell sounded twice more, signalling to the ship's company that we had entered the Aether. I removed the first chart from the box as Spartacus Kane came into the cabin. We unfolded it together, and Kane gave a low whistle. "Well I thought we might end up there at some point, I sure didn't think it would be the first leg of our journey." He looked at some notes on the bottom left corner of the chart, then passed it close to his nose. As he rolled it up and handed it to me, he said. "Keep this close, Vincent. It's already been where we're going, and it smells of lightning gun fire." With that he wrote a quick note and left the cabin, calling to the navigator, "Mr. Pettigrew, here's our destination, if you please. Set speed and trim for straight passage, and I'll let you know when we need to arrive." "Aye, aye sir, consider it done."
I looked over at the orientometer on the cabin wall, and noticed the reel was already moving toward's a pair of silver pagodas, the symbol for Shangri-La.