Table of Contents
PART FOUR (of 4)
CHAPTER TEN Breakdown
Anthropologists, archaeologists, and art historians would like to believe theirs are exact sciences. Painstakingly they go about unearthing and reconstructing the past through clues turned up in the present. One can study the entire history of the Roman Empire in a single quarter at university thanks to the amazing efforts of these time technicians.
Musensqurl, Manitoba has been a fishing community for well over a century, growing and shrinking as the bounty from Hudson Bay varies season to season. In June 1972, a member of the local fishing fleet made a fantastic discovery. Tash Bores, longtime fleet member, was trolling through a group of large ice chunks when one caught his eye. Bores towed it back to port.
There, perfectly preserved in ice and time, was an entire horse. Equipment with the animal is consistent with RCMP field issue of the late 1870s. Musensqurl records indicate that an unknown rider was seen passing through the community and disappeared into the bay during the most unusual and dramatic freeze in written history. It is then a good assumption that this particular equine met his demise in the fall of 1871, handing us a rare near-exact dating of an archaeological find. Other dating methods substantiate this assumption.
Given the recent nature of the find and the precision in dating it, one would assume that nothing about the ice horse would surprise scientists. After all, the RCMP exists even today, their history is well documented. Yet for our exact date, we find that RCMP records carefully documenting both manpower and horsepower, list neither casualties nor disappearances from the years 1870-73 inclusive. The RCMP was meticulous in the area of inventory to the point of even freeze-branding their mounts, yet horse records for thirty years surrounding the date list no animal that matches the brand on the find. Our ice horse is a John Doe.
Identification problems don't end there. Two items found with the animal have scientists dumbfounded. Shoeblack had been applied to certain markings on the animal for unknown reasons, however camouflage can be thrown out because of the nature of the landscape. A music box was discovered in one of the saddlebags, the tune it once produced remains a mystery to this day. Many theories exist as to the whys and hows of these two divergences from standard RCMP practice, but the fact remains that scientists just do not know for certain.
Given such problems with what should have been an easy identification, one has to wonder what two thousand years does to the process. Perhaps these are the new eyes with which we should look at the past, the eyes of uncertainty.
* * *
He cautiously opened one eye, then the other. The coast was clear.
Artie had waited until Nelson had gone into the control room before moving, just to be certain he was alone. The whine of coil powering up had become audible, and above the entire complex the now-familiar boom of the ice giving way to the vortex sounded above them. Nelson had already started the firing sequence then. There might still be time to stop him.
Good old Gibbs had done him a favour by tying him to the lowest set of pipes. They were about six inches off the ground and were the only set that ran right past the compressor controls. He'd counted on the thug being lazy and tying his prisoner where he lay. The goon was consistent if he were nothing else.
Second-guessing Gibbs was the easy part. The hardest bit lay a meter beyond reach of his foot. He'd have to sit up then slide over at least that far to get at those controls.
Any movement was sheer agony, sitting up meant twisting his shoulder to get leverage. Calling on whatever it was that allowed him to play possum while Gibbs broke his arm, Artemus pulled himself slowly upright and began inching down the pipe. It seemed an eternity passed, but a few minutes later he'd inched down to the lever that controlled the gas input to the coil. It was still set to pump Bayounium into the cylinder.
Twisting more still, Artie popped the lever with his foot. It jumped to the next setting and the compressors reversed cycle, one now siphoning out the Bayounium, the other forcing in plain air. If Nelson detected the change in compressors within the multitude of sounds around him, he could easily switch it back. To prevent it ever being reset, Artemus would have to snap the lever off at the base without shifting the setting. This meant yet another position, but he finally got the angle he needed and aimed a well-placed kick. The metal in the lever gave way at the base. The switch was now useless and Nelson hadn't put in a backup anywhere that Artie could see.
Approximately ten minutes had passed since Nelson had begun powering up his device. With it the temperature in the room had risen dramatically, melted frost now rained from the ceiling and ran down the walls. Complete exhaustion coupled with the pain meant no real chance for escape; not a single idea came to mind so Artie resigned himself to watching the amazing phenomena taking place at the center of the column.
First a greenish glow came up slowly from the blackness within. The air fairly crackled with static electricity and something kept reminding him of the calm before the storm, something in that static air, perhaps. Then, up high, the first arc. Like chain lightning it danced up the coil and exploded into the roof. With the Bayounium being evacuated, the gaseous insulation inside the cylinder had begun to break down.
The pitch of the power source suddenly lowered. Nelson was obviously trying to adjust for the arc. Then came the second arc, and much quicker followed a third. The entire height of the coil was visible now, arcs providing an outline as they raced up its surface. Somewhere way above his head there was a small explosion, then the now-familiar whine began to escalate once more. Nelson's corrections were failing...
The door to the control room flew open. Nelson stumbled down the steps, his eyes riveted to the inferno raging behind the Ice-Six barrier. Another explosion, this one lower down, shook the central structure. The scientist's gaze fell upon the useless compressor control, and then upon the one who had rendered it useless. His features grew uncharacteristically calm.
"Congratulations, Mr. Gordon. Feedback from the arcs have made it impossible to shut down the device. At least I have the satisfaction of knowing Washington will be obliterated before I die."
Nelson withdrew the derringer from his pocket. "And having the pleasure of killing you, I think." He contemplated the gun. "Pity this is such a swift method of execution; I'll have to spend my remaining moments alone."
Artie applied his best sarcasm with the little energy he had left. "How sad for you," he empathized weakly.
Jim took a quick glance into the rotunda, spotted Nelson and pulled back. Nelson hadn't seen him, but Artemus did. Artie would get Nelson's undivided attention...
"You should have known this would happen, Nelson." Artie accused the madman. Now he had Nelson's full attention. Artemus forced down the thick-headedness that was coming on and continued. "As a scientist, you are a well-known failure," he stated. "Why should this project be any different?"
Infuriated, Nelson cocked the gun and took aim. Jim slipped into the control room unseen.
"You had better clarify your comments... properly." The hand holding the gun was shaking.
"Jessica invented Ice-Six. All the groundbreaking work on this device was hers. Doctor and Doctor Nelson, of the University of Toronto. But you couldn't live with being the lesser half by far, Nelson. You stole her theories, her credits -- eventually her sanity. Clear enough?"
There was no doubt he was completely correct. Nelson was stunned at the escape of his secret. "No one knows -- h-how??" he stammered. The weapon lowered.
Artemus didn't answer the madman. The silence was far worse to a mind like his than any retort would be.
"Tell me!" Nelson hissed as the silence was broken by only the crack of electricity. Then without warning, the electrical arcing racing up the coil suddenly halted. It then immediately reversed direction, striking the ground repeatedly and knocking the infuriated scientist to his knees. A wicked blast destroyed the door to the central chamber. Ice-Six rained down upon their heads as green bolts flicked about the opening. Nelson struggled to make his feet as the entire domed structure shuddered violently.
The ocean vortex in the bay above them had actually reversed direction. Jim had succeeded in reversing the polarity of the coil flow.
Realization hit Nelson almost immediately. "West...." he spat. But he didn't turn around to where inevitably West would be. Instead, Nelson leveled the weapon once again at Artemus.
It was odd, but at this point Artemus didn't actually care what the lunatic did with the gun -- as long as he did something with it soon. The look of apathy on his intended victim's face completely destroyed Nelson's veneer of superiority. He'd lost everything he could control. With one exception...
Jim appeared on the steps of the control room, his gun trained on Nelson. "Give it up, doctor." he ordered over the electronic cacophony.
Nelson ignored the command, instead focusing on the man in front of him.
"The true origin of my legendary scientific acumen is destined to remain a secret, Mr. Gordon. One we shall take to our graves."
West fired as Nelson pulled the trigger, but only the spectre of the doctor's gun went off -- a flash of green exploded through the ragged hole in the central column and vaporized Lambert Nelson into the ether.
West raced across the room as a second bolt widened the door on its way to melting the control room. As he slid down beside his partner, another bolt flashed above their heads. A flick of the knife and Artie was free. The two dove forward as the compressor controls were vaporized. Somehow they managed to scramble out of the rotunda as the entire central column of Ice-Six gave way. Amazingly the roof and rotunda exterior were still intact as the arcs went to work on them.
Artemus sat against the wall, fighting to catch his breath. Jim had skidded out on his knees. The ceiling groaned as another bolt struck it.
"Tell me that thing is going to backfire, Artie," Jim said, without taking his eyes off the roof.
"Washington's safe... "
Artie paused, and Jim looked at him. "...but you're not. You've got at most ten minutes. Get out of here... please."
Jim got to his feet. "We're wasting time." He pulled his partner up and tried to help him stay there. With a burst of energy Artemus drew Jim's gun and pointed it at him, mustering as much anger and hate as his theatrical talent would allow.
"Did you think I was kidding, James? I said GET out of here."
"You pull that trigger and I'll take it seriously." Jim replied evenly.
The two stared at one another for few moments. There was no way Jim would leave him here if he were alive... Artemus turned the weapon on himself. West got his hand up and deflected the first shot. They struggled for the second until even adrenaline couldn't keep Artemus on his feet.
Jim flung the weapon into the inferno and knelt in front of his friend. "Artemus -- " he tried to get Artie's attention, carefully shaking him. "What are the effects of prolonged exposure to something like that device?" he asked quickly.
There was no answer. Artie stared off into the distance.
"ARTIE." Jim shook him hard.
Artemus winced. "I don't know..." he finally answered, his voice barely audible.
Jim kept at him. "What do you mean you don't know?"
"You knew exactly what Nelson was talking about just a few minutes ago."
Artemus blinked, then tried to sit up. What in god's name had he been thinking? He hadn't been thinking at all. It had to be some reaction to the radiation, or a Bayounium leak near those pipes, or- A third possibility crept into his mind, unwanted... He closed his eyes, the intruder was expelled.
"Artie." Jim shook him harder still.
"Can't... a man die in peace?"
The familiar sarcasm.
Jim helped Artemus unsteadily to his feet and without a word they set out through the forest of columns, Artie moving slowly but under his own power. He obviously had a destination in mind, something Jim didn't. That cargo lift he'd come down in with the Bayounium would be far too slow on the way out.
West followed, wondering how much longer Artemus could walk and how much longer they actually had before the place fell apart. Another explosion shook the central arcade, answering one of his questions. Rain began falling from the Ice-Six canopy above.
Jim caught his partner as he started to collapse and half carried him onward. Any movement at all was killing Artemus and this time Jim was sure Artie would lose consciousness. It would be easier on him if he did, but then Artemus was the one who knew where they were going -- he hoped.
Artie struggled to stay coherent. There was something he had to tell Jim. "...n- navy..." came out the half-formed thought.
West was surprised, but he didn't stop. They were nearly across the gallery now and the water on the ground was a foot deep and rising.
Artie started again. "Nelson's timetable is too tight."
Jim thought about it a moment. Given the early freeze and the current relations between the United States and Canada, intelligence would be operating far below peak efficiency. Under normal circumstances, the warning would have been issued to the fleet just in time.
"You're right. We've got to get word to- " He was suddenly cut off.
* * * * * * * * *
CHAPTER ELEVEN Incoming Outgoing
Half a kilometer away, the doomsday device finally fired. Even at that distance, it was as loud as a full-unit cannon volley. The entire underwater structure recoiled, jumping from the bay floor as the projectile launched by the MATON burned its way into the rock below. The water on the floor disappeared as it was violently pulled to the new drain in the center of the structure.
They were two meters and a pillar away from being down one of the corridors when Nelson's toy went off. West grabbed for the pillar as the structure shook, but lost his feet when the near freezing water pulled them out from under both men. As the water evacuated the structure, they were high and dry -- for a moment.
Artemus knew the bounce would bring a wall of water rushing back in, if the domed roof structure even held. "Incoming!"
West barely heard him as Artie blacked out. But there was little doubt what was meant. He found the chemical leech, stuck it to the pillar, and tried to hang onto the handle and Artemus as a wall of frigid seawater six feet high blasted them from the opposite direction.
...seven... ...eight... ...nine...
The leech gave up its grip just as Jim reached ten.
The velocity of the water had slowed considerably, but it still threw them back into the corridor where they were thrown up against the wall and Jim lost his grip on his partner. Artemus immediately disappeared from sight as West grabbed at him in vain. Nearby a door had been forced in by the crush of the water. West made for that, getting to his feet just as he reached it. The water had leveled out at around four feet deep but was rising fast.
Jim found himself in a kitchen. Various containers floated around in the room, the top of a stove just stuck out of the water; across the room half the door to an icebox was visible. Above, the Ice-Six roof gave out a groan.
As he searched the room, it became clear that severe lethargy from the numbing cold was setting in on him. Ignoring the paralysis, he decided to search elsewhere when the top Dutch door suddenly opened.
The voice was that of a stranger, but he didn't care. Diving across the room, Jim vaulted the lower door with effort and found himself in a familiar room. The ventilation shaft screen still lay on the ground from when he broke in before. Across the way the top of another set of Dutch doors was also open. A trail of water led into the room. The actual seawater hadn't broken the seals on the doors and flooded here yet, but was just cresting the bottom door, melting the ice and frost as it made contact.
West dodged stiffly around some crates and through a large green tunnel he swore hadn't been there the last time around. Down twenty feet of green passage he rounded a corner. Artemus was propped up against the wall, thankfully unconscious, and as cold and wet as he was. As Jim knelt to check on him, a metal door clanked shut from behind.
"Come on!" the voice urged.
West threw Artie over his shoulder and charged after the stranger. Another twenty feet and through a similar door, the stranger stopped and spent some time securing the seals around the perimeter. Jim caught up with him and finally got a good look at him.
"John Page," the stranger introduced himself as he worked. "You're probably wondering how I found you and Mr. Gordon."
West set Artemus down carefully. "The thought had crossed my mind." Page shook Jim's outstretched hand and finished tightening down the seals.
"We're in the same line of work, Mr. West. A year ago I was ordered to discover the truth behind Dr. Jessica Nelson's apparent insanity and went undercover as her servant. We ended up trapped down here by that madman, Lambert Nelson."
Page tossed a saddlebag to Jim. "Hope these fit. Best I could do given the timing."
West quickly changed into the outdoor gear, then started working on Artie. Page picked up something that looked like a rifle and fired it at the door. A burst of green solidified over the outside of the metal in repetition until the door was buried under a foot of Ice-Six. And just in time. With a screech of twisting metal, the first door gave way under the water pressure and rammed into the second.
"Any more of those?" Jim indicated the door.
"No... but if this stuff doesn't hold, nothing will."
Page tossed the ice-rifle on the ground while Jim grabbed Artemus once more and they started off down the tunnel.
"I still don't understand how you know who we are," Jim commented.
Page hooked his thumb at Artie. "He talks when he's delirious. A lot."
At West's baffled look Page continued. "Somehow he got caught up in Nelson's little whirlpool. Must have been in that water for an hour or more. Some of Lambert's goons found him up top, figured the boss would want to know, and threw him in the ice house for safe keeping."
"And you were working in the icehouse."
Page laughed. "I was hiding in the ice house. In a fit of pique, Lambert ordered me shot. Didn't want anyone talking to his wife but him. We'd managed to fool the lunatic into thinking the deed had been done. With some of Jessica's inventions, I'd been building this tunnel for a while. You showed up and Jess assumed the worst."
"She's the one who put the lights out. Then she told Nelson?"
"Lambert's goons heard the noise, came back and hauled you off."
Jim stopped to catch his breath, carefully setting Artie down against the wall. He looked straight at the foreign agent.
"Dr. Nelson was privileged to more information than your run of the mill bad guy, Page. Information that may have come from Artemus under the circumstances. Can you be certain Nelson's wife wasn't responsible?"
Page indicated West's partner -- "Here, let me." He carefully relieved Jim of his burden.
"Lambert Nelson is a cruel man." Page began.
Page nodded. "Good."
They moved on as the tunnel began to slope upwards.
"He did a number on his wife, Mr. West, but there is no way she said word one to him about either of you. Would it make sense for Jessica to go out of her way to save your partner, then turn him in?"
"You yourself said Nelson'd got to her pretty well."
"If Jessica had turned you two to Lambert, I wouldn't still be alive either."
They reached one last door straight above their heads. Jim swung it open and found himself on the ice flow. A mile away, the telltale vortex was grinding to a halt in the sunset, already the edges had beginning to refreeze. He helped Page bring Artie through, then closed the door. A few moments later water began seeping around the seal.
Page went to one of the three horses he had waiting. Digging around his saddlebags, he removed a gun and holster and tossed them to Jim.
"I overheard Gibbs mention your name well over a week ago. Someone else is your informant, Mr. West."
Jim strapped on the holster, then checked the weapon. He now knew who had been leaking information, even though it was difficult to believe. That would have to be dealt with later, as there was a little problem concerning the US Navy that required his attention.
"The nearest telegraph's at Fort Ticogah, isn't it?"
"The nearest unfriendly one, yes... then fifty kilometers due south of that is regional HQ for the RCMP. It's over one hundred sixty kilometers to one that's in commercial use."
Page watched West prepare to take Gordon with him. "One hundred sixty kilometers on that horse will kill him." he stated.
"It's only forty to the fort." West eased his partner over one of the horses, and started to secure him there.
"Fine, so he's a sitting duck while you crash the place." West didn't answer. Page stepped up behind him. "You'll have to trust me." he said, carefully.
He didn't get any reaction. Jim finished making sure Artie wasn't going anywhere then mounted up, taking the reins of Artie's horse with him. Suddenly he dropped them by Page. "I'll see you both in a few days."
Digging his heels into his mount, West raced off across the snow-covered ice for the fort.
* * *
He could see the smoke and flames from eight kilometers out. By the time West rode through the main gates just after 1 am, the gates were almost all that was left standing of Fort Ticogah. Just outside, the USS Beckingham had burned to the ice line. Both civilians and navy personnel wandered about inside the compound, corpses and wounded littered the ground. No one paid any attention to the stranger riding through the chaos.
After twenty minutes of searching, Jim finally found Commander Sarff. He was giving orders to one of his men regarding fifteen civilian prisoners who stood quietly under heavy military guard.
"What is left intact, sergeant?" Sarff demanded.
"The mess hall, sir."
"Fine. Lock them up there for now, with as many guards on them as you can muster. Now -- move!"
The leftenant gave the order and the prisoners were herded away. West rode up from across the compound and dismounted. At the sight of Jim, Sarff took a deep breath and shook his head. Someone must really hate him....
"Yes, Mr. West. What can I do for you..." Sarff sighed. His career was well over anyway. What did he care if Ottawa wanted this man? He didn't, that was just it.
"What happened?" West was all business and the commander took note. There was obviously something serious on the agent's mind.
"A large group of civilians and selected military personnel went completely insane for no apparent reason." Sarff threw West a look. "They did a better job burning the place down than you did."
West ignored the crack. "The communications center?"
"The first to go." Sarff sat down gingerly on an overturned crate, Jim could see he'd been injured -- a bullet wound to the shoulder.
"But never fear, Mr. West," the commander continued. "All Americans were shipped back to Washington right after you and your compatriot left us. Only Canadians were killed."
"Commander, you never sent any priority messages to Washington, did you?"
Sarff stood, immediately concerned. "Absolutely not. Why?"
"Someone did in your name. The same someone responsible for the death of Admiral Spollen and everyone killed in this riot. If a recall message isn't sent to Washington in the next few hours, thousands more will die."
The commander grabbed the first passing officer. "Get McCord over here and have two fresh horses brought from wherever they got put when the stable burned down..." The officer dashed off and Sarff turned to the American who'd given him so much trouble. "I believe I may owe you an apology, Mr. West."
Before Jim could reply the horses were produced and West and Sarff mounted up. Leftenant McCord arrived and stood at attention. There was a bandage around his head, he too had been wounded in the riot.
"West and I will be at RCMP regional, leftenant. You are in charge." Sarff snapped.
"We already sent two riders for reinforcements an hour ago, sir."
The commander glanced at Jim. "I have a sneaking suspicion we'll beat them there."
* * *
Two hours previous, he'd spotted a British scout vessel loop this far south, but that wasn't so unusual from time to time. It was the huge fraction of the United States navy steaming his way, heading due north that scared him. In all his fifteen years as a coast watcher for the United States, Colins had never had to do a thing. Not even during the war, hostilities never got this far north and Canada never entered the conflict. Now suddenly all hell was about to break lose in his front yard.
Well, not if he could help it... the money was too good to lose.
He was running as fast as his old legs could carry him, over tufts of grass, rocks, ice, and finally hurdling Montegue, the old coon hound who insisted upon sleeping right in the middle of the porch. Customers hated that dog, too many of them tripped over the flea infested hound and spilled their groceries right where the beast could get a quick snack. Smart animal, Montegue. Only now he was damn well in the way.
Colins stepped right on the nuisance as he barreled into the store, the nuisance squawked with surprise and ran for cover. Looking frantically about, he noticed the place was thankfully empty this early on a Sunday.
"Mrs. Colins!! Mrs. Colins!!"
From behind the counter, his aged wife slowly rose from cleaning under the rug.
"What in heaven and earth are you shouting for, Mr. Colins!" she shook the broom at him. "You'll wake the dead with that fuss."
Colins was working on inflating his old lungs, they hadn't appreciated being forced out of retirement.
"The last -- last message, did you decode it yet, Mrs. Colins?"
Mrs. Colins was becoming annoyed with Mr. Colins. Always in such a hurry, that man.
"Land sakes, no Mr. Colins. We do that after brunch on the Sabbath." she reminded him.
"Well don't just stand there, woman! Get it for me!"
Mrs. Colins' jaw dropped open, but she bustled off after the telegraph message. Colins dug about frantically in the cash drawer, searching for the code book. Pound notes and IOUs fluttered about as he finally dug the dusty black book from its hiding place. Mrs. Colins returned hurriedly with the message.
"What are you on about, then?" she demanded.
He didn't answer her, just ran back out of the house to the cliff top, book and message under a death-grip in his left hand. The first of the US vessels were passing him now, as he frantically flipped through the book, decoding the wire from the last shore watcher further south. And oh lord, he was right. Filmore had just missed warning off the fleet.
Colins' gloved hands shook as he tried to light the lamp that served as the light source for his means of signaling the fleet. Then the wind blew out the match. And again. Finally on the third try, he had it. What was that code again? He started to send, hoping fervently that his code book was current and that the fleet stragglers would see the message.
Flip - flip flip-flip-flip went the shutter, as Mrs. Colins came up from behind. There was no response from any of the ships. Colins resent the signal. Yet again no response. Then on the third try, the very last ship responded...
The Colinses, Mr. and Mrs., breathed a mutual sigh of relief. They would be paid next month.
* * * * * * * * *
The flowers were perfect. The champagne would be properly chilled when they returned from the opera. Tennyson knew his job well.
Jim West sat idly at a table back in the lab ignoring the machinations of the manservant. It was a rare occasion when every tick of the clock didn't mean the difference between success and failure on a grand scale. He had time, and he chose to waste it by idly mixing together whatever compound was at hand, semi-curious to see whether this combination or that one might smoke, explode, or both. Tennyson might not be able to ignore Colonel Richmond's orders, but he could, and often did if his honed professional instinct told him otherwise. Right now that instinct wasn't in the mood for conversation. So he waited. One last telegram was due any moment.
Tennyson had left him alone with the chemicals, stiffly proclaiming 'Mr. Gordon was bad enough, sir.' The butler was more than likely polishing something for the thousandth time this week. That probably wasn't an exaggeration; Artemus wasn't around to keep Tennyson occupied. West hadn't seen nor heard from him since he left his partner with John Page back on the frozen surface of Hudson Bay. That was nine days ago -- nine days of fruitless searching and dead-end investigation for Jim West.
Using Sarff's clout, West's carefully encrypted message from RCMP regional had turned back the US Navy at the last possible moment. Of less importance but personally more painful was that the same message had also initiated the arrest and imprisonment of Deborah Spollen. Jim had known Debbie since they were both very young. Whether via official functions or private agreement, they saw one another at least twice a year until adult life intervened. This of course meant she knew him well. Far too well as it turned out.
He thought he knew her equally well. But there was no doubt of her guilt; she confessed to working with Lambert Nelson almost immediately. Debbie must have met the scientist on one of his lecture tours. Who knows what kind of hold he had on her? If Admiral Spollen were alive, this would have hurt him deeply. There was some comfort in the fact that the Admiral had been spared the treason of his only child.
A battle-scarred brown bottle with some fantastically long name was simply insisting on being to added the finishing touch on West's makeshift chemical concoction when the door opened and Tennyson stepped in.
"Message on the telegraph, sir. From Colonel Richmond."
The wait was over. "Coded?"
"Yes sir. I believe it's about Mr. Gordon."
A potentially serious explosion was averted as West quickly discarded the haphazard experiment and moved into the main car. Flipping open a fake set of books that hid the telegraph key, he tapped out the send command.
The key began to rattle:
After West and Sarff had reached the RCMP regional outpost and West had sent the telegraph turning the fleet, Jim had taken a fresh horse and immediately ridden all the way back to what remained of Nelson's fortress. All that remained was a slowly refreezing film of ice across a hole in the bay surface three times the size of the jumble created by the vortex when Nelson activated the MATON. The final explosion must have fatally fractured the Ice Six dome. Other than the hole, absolutely nothing remained of the Emerald City. Even Page's escape tunnel had finally succumbed to the frigid bay waters.
After searching the new perimeter, he had finally found two sets of hoofprints in the snow heading west. Page's trail led to Musensqurl. As Jim reached town, the weather suddenly broke for the first time in months and the ice and snow began to melt, obliterating any remaining trail. An exaustive search of the town turned up nothing. John Page certainly knew his craft... Now Ottawa, not surprisingly, was denying Page's very existence.
Circumstances had forced him to trust John Page far too much already. Jim pushed past the butler on his way back to the living quarters, shedding his cravat and unbuttoning his shirt as he went.
"What shall I tell the young lady, sir?" Tennyson asked carefully as he snatched up the discarded items of clothing.
"Whatever you were going to tell her in the first place. Tell her that something's come up. Tell her I have to be out of the country for a while," came the reply from the back of the car.
Jim emerged in the usual blue suit, buttoning his vest and carrying his hat and corderoy coat. "I don't know how long I'll be gone, Tennyson. When Richmond asks, tell him whatever you want. He'll know exactly what I'm doing, anyway."
"Yes, sir.... Good luck sir."
There was a rattle at the door. Tennyson hurried into the main car while Jim began arming his coat with his standard arsenal. As he loaded the sleeve rig, the door opened behind him and a familiar face looked in.
"Leaving without me, James?"
The coat and weapons were abandoned as the missing party, no longer missing, entered. Jim grabbed his partner by both arms and gave him a good shake.
Artie winced with the enthusiastic welcome. "Okay, you missed me... just watch the shoulder, eh? There's enough Canadian time and money invested in it to employ all of Musensqurl for a year."
Extracting himself, Artie went to the lab table. He had on a new suit, but it was typically "Artie" and the only thing really different about him was the sling on his left arm. In his right hand he was carrying a fancy glass jar that he set carefully upon the table, at the same time noticing the mess of chemicals Jim had created earlier.
"I'm not gone a week and already you want my job," he quipped.
Jim took a nearby chair. "Well?"
"Well what?" Artemus glanced across the room at the birdcages that lined one wall. Four hungry feathered faces stared out at him.
"Didn't you feed the pigeons yet??"
"That's your job. Now, where have you been?"
Artie stepped across to the cages, opening one of them.
"Saving the world, where else?" he answered, extracting the feathered occupant. "Just ignore him, Arabella. He's always tetchy when he's not in complete control."
"Glad to see your time with the natives didn't kill your sense of humor."
Artemus continued to scratch the pigeon. "Au contraire. I'd say that quite possibly I've managed to undo all the 'diplomacy' that's been done in the past few months."
Arabella was returned to her cage. Artie then began digging around a nearby cupboard for birdseed.
Jim sighed. It was obvious Artemus was going to take his own sweet time filling him in. "Okay, I'll bite. How?"
"Huh? Oh. With the antidote to Bayounium poisoning." He came up from the cupboard with a small burlap bag. "Dr. Nelson femme is extremely talented, took her all of two days to produce it. Having the right collaborator was instrumental, of course."
"Of course. And you've been off delivering it this entire time?"
Artie grinned. "The Canadian government's back to tap-dancing in Ottawa and once again all's right with the world."
He then indicated the jar on the lab table. "That dose is for you."
Jim glanced at the container. "I appreciate the thought, but there's nothing wrong with me."
Food dishes were extracted one by one and filled with seed. "There will be, guaranteed. Exposure to Bayounium without treatment is one hundred percent fatal, period. It preys on fears produced by the irrational mind. Even you have them."
"All right. If the time co- "
"WHEN the time comes." The seed was returned to the cupboard.
"When the time comes, fine. That jar will be here. While we're sitting here waiting for me to lose my marbles, I have something to ask you."
Artemus looked at the other man carefully. "Sure, Jim. What is it?"
"I know that the dip in Nelson's near freezing ocean vortex was fatal, Artemus. I assume you have an explanation."
Artie opened a drawer beneath the lab table and pulled out a couple of tranquilizer bullets identical to the one he'd used on Jim at the fort. He tossed one carefully to his partner, who caught it.
"I still had these loaded in that RCMP issue. It occurred to me at the time that if, for all intents and purposes, I was already dead when I hit that water, the permanent effects of the severe exposure might be minimized. It would also buy a great deal more time.. The time it would take for the drug to wear off rather than the time it took the shock of the cold to become fatal... assuming I wasn't crushed by ice first, of course."
"There's still a detectable pulse with that stuff," Jim pointed out.
"That wouldn't have been good enough to make any difference in that deadly water... so I tripled the dose, straight into the carotid artery. Instant death, effectively."
"...effectively." Jim stared for a moment, then shook his head in amazement. Who could argue with logic like that? "All right, I understand."
"No... You have every right to be angry."
"Goading Nelson into pulling that trigger at every turn was pretty suicidal, and then wasting what little time we had to get out of there arguing over who was leaving whom was worse..." Artie's voice trailed off. As if he had had no earthly idea what Jim would do in that situation. They were lucky Artemus hadn't gotten them both killed.
"Let's just say that a few of the more, erm, intense moments during our trip to the Emerald City were the direct result of that overdose. Side effects... I shouldn't have taken the chance."
Jim thought about Deborah Spollen. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.
"Forget it, Artie. There's nothing to apologize for -- except for shocking the hell out of me. Don't do it again."
Artie waxed philosophical. "James my boy, it's a dangerous, dangerous game we're playing, you and I. What better way to fool death than to make him think he's already won?"
"You are going to do it again, aren't you."
Artemus was about to protest the unfair nature of Jim's comment when Tennyson tapped on the door, then pushed it open.
"Miss Perze is here, sir. What shall I tell her?"
Artie turned to Jim. "Perze, as in female super agent extraordinaire Miss Catherine Perze? I thought neither of us had even met her yet."
"I haven't. Couple weeks ago, the Colonel 'suggested' we start looking into the abilities of some of the new staff, and I 'suggested' we start with the opera."
"The opera? Perfect. Go ahead... I'll have a charming evening alone with a good book," he added sarcastically.
"Okay Tennyson, I'll handle it." Jim entered the main car, leaving the butler with Artemus. Tennyson immediately began making a major fuss over the chemical soup that inhabited the tabletop.
Artie grinned at the ruckus. "I missed you too."
Suddenly the door opened and Jim reentered. He was extremely pale. Beads of sweat were visible on his forehead. Shakily he managed to regain the seat he'd occupied a few minutes earlier.
Artemus was on his feet. "What's wrong, Jim?"
"I- I don't know..." the reply was as shaky as the rest of him.
Artemus stuck his head out the door for a moment. Miss Perze had made her entrance, all right -- an absolute knockout in a gorgeous black-beaded gown.
Keeping one foot in the door, Artie cleared his throat. Catherine turned from the window.
"Are you James West?" she asked Artemus.
That was a surprise... "Eh... why, yes. I'm so sorry -- let me apologize for our... butler. He's not feeling quite himself this evening."
"It appears you had a bit of trouble yourself, Mr. West." She indicated the sling.
"James, please. All in a day's work, my dear. Eh... excuse me just a moment, will you?"
As he slipped back into the lab car, Jim was trying to stand against the protests of Tennyson. West gave up and sat back down as Artemus joined them at the table. "The Bayounium?" Jim asked.
"Without a doubt, yes," Artemus answered, somewhat distracted. "Tennyson. " Artie indicated the jar with the antidote.
"Right away, sir." The manservant quickly brought the jar back to Jim, opening the container as he went.
"Down the whole thing, quickly," Artie ordered. There was no argument. Jim shakily downed the contents. Almost immediately he looked much better. Feeling the same, he again tried to stand.
"Oh no -- " Artemus carefully pushed him back into the chair, " -- you aren't going anywh- "
"I feel fine," began the protest. Suddenly Jim began to feel very, very sleepy...
Artie continued " -anywhere tonight. The antidote hasn't finished yet." By the time he finished his sentence, his partner was out cold.
Tennyson wasn't happy. "He's not- ?!?"
"Tennyson! Hardly." The manservant was instantly abashed. "That's part of the antidote -- fifteen hours sedative for mandatory bed rest," Artemus somewhat-archly explained, "one of the effects of the gas is complete exhaustion, after all."
With Artemus's help, Tennyson carefully gathered up the sleeping man and moved him back onto a cot, settling him in. Artie then started for his own room.
"What about the young lady, sir?"
"Huh? Oh, yes." Consumed in thought, Artemus turned from the sleeping man on the cot to the door to the main car and back, twice. "Well, Jim isn't going anywhere for some time... even he can't beat that sedative. Hmmm..."
"This evening was a direct order from Colonel Richmond," Tennyson reminded him.
"I guess that order should be carried out, then." Artemus grabbed the manservant by the arm, pulling him toward the main car and removing the dust rag from Tennyson's arm as they went. As Tennyson mustered a protest, the two men suddenly burst into the main car, startling Catherine.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Artemus cut off the butler's grumblings, addressing the young woman. "You're completely correct, I did have a bit more trouble on this last case than I originally thought, Miss Perze. I really should stay in tonight."
He carefully pushed Tennyson in front of him, presenting the manservant to their guest. "My partner Mr. Gordon has kindly offered to take my place."
Tennyson didn't answer. Catherine sized him up a moment. "The Colonel did mention Mr. Gordon as a possible alternate."
"Oh, Mr. Gordon knows just as much about the service as I do, probably more." Tennyson tried to work up the courage for another protest. Artie spotted the effort in Tennyson's face and quickly checked his watch. "Look at the time! You're already late!" He hustled Tennyson toward the door. Catherine followed.
"Uh.... " Tennyson began.
Opening the outside door, Artemus pushed Tennyson through and stepped aside as Catherine cautiously followed the manservant out. The door quickly shut.
Tennyson stared at the beautiful female agent for a moment. Suddenly he took up her arm. "So, how do you like your new job with the Service?" Mr. Gordon casually inquired of the confused young lady as they departed arm-in-arm for a night at the opera.
* * *
NOBEL PRIZE WINNING CHEMIST DOCTOR JESSICA NELSON-PAGE DEAD AT 87
[Reuters 9/01/22] Nobel laureate Dr. Jessica Nelson-Page was found dead of apparent natural causes in her Manchester home last Tuesday, a spokesman for the family revealed earlier this morning. She was 87.
Dr. Nelson-Page began her career as a lab chemist at the University of Toronto in 1865, where she was credited with the discovery of a variant of ordinary ice that later branched into an entire arm of practical chemistry called electrosolids. The discovery of electrosolids had been originally credited to her first husband, the late Dr. Lambert Nelson, until an unidentified source turned over a classified dossier to the Canadian Government in 1872, revealing the error.
Nelson-Page's first husband disappeared while on sabbatical from the University of Toronto in 1871. She married John Christopher Page in 1880.
Receiving a research chair at Simon Frasier in the 1890s, Dr. Nelson-Page laid the groundwork for what was to win her the 1910 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Documenting evidence that inbreeding, tropical climate, illiteracy, or any combination thereof was not responsible for the apparent insanity that plagues the region of the United States known as the Deep South, Dr. Nelson-Page single-handedly overturned current paradigm in the field. Later she identified the specific cause as a rare gaseous by-product of cypress swampland known as Bayounium and developed both the antidote and a way to mass distribute it. Recent rationality behind the impeachment of Louisiana State Governor Huey P. Long is considered proof of the antidote's potency.
Dr. Nelson-Page is survived by her husband, John Page, 83, of Manchester and one son, 50.
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