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art by Jonathan Westbrook

The Stoker Memorandum

Lavie Tidhar's blog is: lavietidhar.wordpress.com. When he's not writing stories which appear just about everywhere, or Novels, or Graphic Novels--what we oldsters used to call "comic books"--he edits the WorldSF website.
This is Lavie Tidhar's sixth story to appear in Daily Science Fiction (find the others at dailysciencefiction.com by typing "Tidhar" in the search box in the right sidebar).

Abraham Stoker's Journal
--From the archives of the Bureau of Secret Intelligence, Pall Mall, London, Classified Ultra, for Head of Bureau Eyes Only--
I had finally arrived, with darkness gathering, casting upon the city a most unfavorable appearance. Having checked into my hotel I drank a glass of strong Romanian wine, accompanied by bear steak, which I am told they bring from the mountains at great expense. I had not enquired as for the recipe.
I am sitting in my room, watching the dance of gas light over the city. Tomorrow I set off for the mountains, and as I write this I am filled with trepidation. I have decided to maintain this record of my mission. In the event anything were to happen to me, this journal may yet make its way, somehow, back to London.
Let me, therefore, record how I came to be at this barbarous and remote country, and the sorry torturous route by which I came to my current predicament.
My name is Abraham Stoker, called Abe by some, Bram by others. I am a theatrical manager, having worked for the great actor Henry Irving for many years as his personal assistant, and, on his behalf, as manager of the Lyceum Theatre in Covent Garden.
I am not a bad man, nor am I a traitor.
Nevertheless, it was in the summer of 18__ that I became an unwitting assistant to a grand conspiracy against our lizardine masters, and one which I was helpless to prevent.
It had begun as a great triumph for my theatrical career. Due to a fight between the great librettist W.S. Gilbert and his long-time manager, Richard D'Oyly Carte, over--of all things--a carpet, I had managed to lure Gilbert and his collaborator, the composer Arthur Sullivan, to my own theatre from D'Oyly Carte's Savoy. We were to stage their latest work, titled The Pirates of the Carib Sea, a rousing tale of adventure and peril. The first part, and forgive me if I digress, describes our lizardine masters' awakening on Caliban's Island, their journey with that foul explorer Amerigo Vespucci back to the British isle, their overthrowing of our human rulers and their assumption of the throne--a historical tale set to song in the manner only G&S could possibly do.
In the second part, we encounter the mythical pirate Wyvern, the one-eyed royal lizard who--if the stories in the London Illustrated News can be believed--had abandoned his responsibilities to his race, the royal Les Lezards, to assume the life of a blood-thirsty pirate operating in the Carib Sea, between Vespuccia and the lands of the Mexica and Aztecs, and preying on the very trade ships of his own Everlasting Empire, under her royal highness Queen Victoria, the lizard-queen.
Irving himself played--with great success, I might add!--the notorious pirate, assuming a lizard costume of some magnificence, while young Beerbohm Tree played his boatswain, Mr. Spoons, the bald, scarred, enormous human who is--so they say--Wyvern's right-hand-man.
It was at that time that a man came to see me in my office. He was a foreigner, and did not look wealthy or, indeed, distinguished.
"My name," he told me, "is Karl May."
"A German?" I said, and he nodded. "I represent certain... interests in Germany," he told me. "A very powerful man wishes to attend the opening night of your new show."
"Then I shall be glad to sell him a ticket," I said, regarding the man--clearly a con-man or low-life criminal of some sort--with distaste. "You may make the arrangements at the box office. Good day to you, sir."
Yet this May, if that was even his real name, did not move. Instead, leaving me speechless, he closed and then locked the door to my office, from the inside, leaving me stranded in there with him. Before I could rise the man pulled out a weapon, an ornate hand-gun of enormous size, which he proceeded to wave threateningly.
"This man," he said, "is a very public man. Much attention is paid to his every move. Moreover, to compound our--" our, he said!--"problem, this man must meet another very public man, and the two cannot be seen to have ever met or discussed... whatever it is they need to discuss."
This talk of men meeting men in secret reminded me of my friend Oscar Wilde, whom I had known in my student days in Dublin and who had once been the suitor of my wife, Florence. "I do not see how I can help you," I said, stiffly--for it does not do to show fear before a foreigner, albeit one with a gun in his hand.
"Oh, but you can!" this Karl May said to me. "And moreover, you will be amply compensated for your efforts." And with that, to my amazement, this seeming charlatan pulled out a small, yet heavy looking bag, and threw it on my desk. I reached for it, drawing the string, and out poured a heap of gold coins, all bearing the likeness--rather than of our own dear lizard-queen--of the rather more foreboding face of the German Kaiser.
"Plenty more where that came from," said this fellow, with a smirk on his face.
I did not move to touch the money. "What would you have me do?" I said.
"The theatre," he said, "is like life. We look at the stage and are spellbound by it, the scenery convinces us of its reality, the players move and speak their parts and, when it's done, we leave. And yet, what happens to make the stage, to move its players, is not done in the limelight. It is done behind the scenes."
"Yes?" I said, growing ever more irritated with the man's manner. "You wish to teach me my job, perhaps?"
"My dear fellow!" he said, with a laugh. "Far from it. I merely wished to illustrate a point."
"Then get to it, for my time is short," I said, and at that his smile dropped and the gun pointed straight at my heart and he cocked it. "Your time," he said, in a soft, menacing voice, "could be made to be even shorter."
I must admit that, at that, my knees may have shaken a little. I am not a violent man, and am not used to the vile things desperate men are prepared to do. I therefore sat back down in my chair, and let him explain. When he had finished, I have to admit I felt a sigh of relief escape me, for it did not seem at all such a dreadful proposition and they were willing to compensate me generously besides.
"You may as well know," Karl May said to me, "the name of the person I represent. It is Alfred Krupp."
"The industrialist?"
May nodded solemnly. "But what," I gasped, "could he be wanting in my theatre?"
For I have heard of Krupp, of course, the undisputed king of the armaments trade, the creator of the monstrous canon they called Krupp's Baby, which was said to be able to shoot its payload all the way beyond the atmosphere and into space... a recluse, a genius, a man with his own army, a man with no title and yet one who, it was rumored, was virtually the ruler of all Germany.
A man who had not been seen in public for many a year.
"Fool," Karl May said. 'My Lord Krupp has no interest in your pitiful theatre, nor in the singing and dancing of effeminate Englishmen."
"I am Irish, if you don't mind," I said. "There really is no need to be so rude--" and May laughed. "Rest your mind at ease, Irishman," he said. "My master wishes only to meet certain... interested parties. Behind, as it were, the scenes."
"Which parties?" I said. "For surely I would need to know in order to prepare--"
"All in good time!" Karl May said. "All in good time."
This is a small mountain village near to my destination. I had taken the train this morning with no difficulty, yet was told the track terminated before my objective, which is the city of Bra?ov, nestled, so I am told, in a beautiful valley within the Carpathian Mountains.
This region is called Transylvania, and a wild and remote land it is indeed. The train journey lasted some hours, in relative comfort, the train filled with dour Romanian peasants, shifty-looking gypsies, Sz'kelys and Magyars, and all other manner of the strange people of this region. Also on board the train were chickens, with their legs tied together to prevent their escaping, and sacks of potatoes and other produce, and children, and a goat. Also on board the train were army officers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire of which this was but a remote and rather dismal outpost, with nary a pastry or decent cup of coffee to be seen.
I had wondered at the transportation of such military personnel, and noticed them looking rather sharply in my direction. Nevertheless I was not disturbed and was in fact regarded with respect the couple of times we had occasion to cross each other in passing.
The train's passage was impressive to me, the mountains at first looming overhead then--as the train rose up from the plains on which sat Bucharest--rising on either side of the tracks, and it felt as though we were entering another world, of dark forests and unexplored lands. I fancied I heard, if only in the distance, the howl of wolves, sending a delicious shiver down my spine.
But you did not ask me for a travel guide! Let me be brief. The train terminated, after some hours, at a station in the middle of a field. It was a most curious thing. I could see the tracks leading onwards--presumably to Bra?ov--but we could not go on. The train halted within these hastily-erected buildings, lit by weak gas lamps planted in the dirt, and all--peasants and chickens and soldiers and gypsies and goat--disembarked, including this Irishman.
At this nameless station waited coaches and carts--the peasants and local people to the carts, the soldiers and more well-to-do visitors to the coaches. I stood there in some bewilderment, when I was taken aside by the military officer who seemed to be in charge of that platoon. "You are going--there?" he said, and motioned with his head towards the distance, where I assumed this Bra?ov lay.
"Yes," I said.
"To visit... him?"
I nodded at that, feeling a pang of apprehension at the thought.
The officer nodded as if that had settled matters, and shouted orders in the barbarous tongue of his people. Almost immediately a coach had been found for me, its passengers emptied out, and I was placed with all due reverence into the empty compartment. "You will go to Bu'teni this night," the officer said. "It is too late now to go further." Again he spoke to the driver, who gave me a sour look but daren't refuse, and so we took off in a hurry, the horses running down a narrow mountain path that led upwards, and at last to a small village, or what passes for a town in these parts, which was indeed called Bu'teni, or something like it, and had beautiful wooden houses, a church, and a small inn, where I had aligned and where I am currently sat, writing this to you, while dining on a rather acceptable goulash.
I do not wish to belabor details of what took place following that scoundrel Karl May's visit to my office at the Lyceum. You know as well as I what happened, you had suspected long before you approached me, three months ago, in order to recruit me to this desperate mission.
The facts are as they stand. To an outside eye, nothing had happened but that Herr Krupp, on a rare visit to England, went, one night, to the theatre--and so did any number of other personages, including, if I remember rightly, yourself, Mr. Holmes.
The Queen herself was there, in the Royal Box, stately as ever, with her forked tongue hissing out every so often, to snap a fly out of the air. I remember the prince regent did not come but Victoria's favorite, that dashing Harry Flashman, the popular Hero of Jalalabad, was beside her. So were many foreign dignitaries and many of the city's leading figures, from our now-Prime-Minister Mrs. Beeton, my friend and former rival Oscar Wilde, the famed scientists Jekyll and Moreau (before the one's suspicious death and the other's exile to the South Seas), the Lord Byron automaton (always a gentleman), Rudolph Rassendyll of Zenda, and many, many others. Your brother, the consulting detective, was there, if I recall rightly, Mr. Holmes.
It was a packed night--sold out, in fact, and I had been kept off my feet, running hither and yon, trying to ensure our success, and all the while...
All the while, behind the scenes, things were afoot.
I was aware of movement, of strangers coming and going in silence, of that German villain Karl May (I had found out much later the man was not only a convicted criminal but worse, a dime novel hack) following me like a shadow, of a tense anticipation that had nothing to do with the play.
There are secret passageways inside every theatre, and the Lyceum is no exception. It has basements and sub-basements, a crypt (from when it was a church), narrow passageways, false doors, shifting scenery--it is a theatre, Mr. Holmes!
It was a game of boxes, Mr. Holmes. As I told you when you found me, three months ago, listening to me as if you already knew. How Herr Krupp appeared to be in the box when in fact it was a cut-out in the shadows; how he went through the false wall and into the passageway between the walls, and down, to the crypt, now our props room.
And the others.
For I had been unfortunate enough to see them.
A letter had arrived for me in the morning. A dark baruch-landau had stopped outside the inn, a great hulking machine, steam-driven, the stoker standing behind while the driver sat in front, in between their respective positions a wide carriage for the transport of passengers or cargo.
The driver had disembarked--I watched him from my window--and what a curious being he was!
I had seen his like before, though seldom enough. Like the vehicle he was driving, he was huge, a mountain of a man, and a shiver of apprehension ran down my spine.
He would have been human, once upon a time.
"What are they?" I had asked Karl May. The play was going on above our heads, but I could not concentrate. I was filled with a terrible tension as we prepared for the summit--as May called it--down below, in the bowels of the theatre. The they I was referring to were beings of a similar size and disposition to the driver now sitting in the inn's dining room, awaiting my pleasure.
"Soldiers," Karl May told me. "Of the future."
"What has been done to them?"
"Have you heard of the Jekyll-Frankenstein serum?"
I confessed I had not.
"It is the culmination of many years of research," he told me, with a smirk. "We had stolen the formula from the French some time back. They have Viktor von Frankenstein working for them and he, in his turn, improved upon the work done by your Englishman, Dr. Jekyll. This--" and here his hand swept theatrically, enfolding the huge hulking beings that were guarding, like mountain trolls, the dark corridors--"is the result."
"Can they ever... go back?" I said, whispering. May shook his head. "And their life-span is short," he said. "But they do make such excellent soldiers...."
It was then that Herr Krupp appeared, an old, fragile-looking man, yet with a steely determination in his eyes that I found frightening. "You did well," he said, curtly, and I was not sure if he was speaking to May or myself. He disappeared behind his monsters, and into the crypt.
"Who else are we expecting?" I said.
When, at that moment, the sound of motors sounded and a small, hunched figure came towards us in the darkness, half-human, half-machine.
My landlady has been fussing over me ever since seeing the arrival of the carriage. "You must not go!" she whispered to me, fiercely, finding reason to come up to my room. "He is a devil, a monster!"
"You know of him?" I said.
"Who does not? They have closed the valley, Bra?ov has been emptied, they are doing unspeakable things there, in the shadow of the mountains." She shivered. "But he does not reside in Bra?ov."
"Where does he reside?" I said, infected by her fear.
"Bran Castle," she said, whispering. "Where once Vlad Tepes made his home...."
"Vlad Tepes?" I said. I was not familiar with the local history and the name was unfamiliar to me.
"Vlad the Third, prince of Wallachia," she said, impatiently. "Vlad Tepes--how you say Tepes in your English?"
"I don't know," I said, quite bewildered.
"Impaler," she said. "Prince Vlad of the order of the Dragon, whom they called 'Impaler.'"
I shook my head impatiently. Local history sounded colorful indeed, but irrelevant to my journey. "The man I am going to see is an Englishman," I said, trying to reassure her. "Englishmen do not impale."
"He is no man!" she said, and made a curious gesture with her fingers, which I took to be some Romanian superstition for the warding of evil. "He has ceased being human long ago."
At last I got rid of her, so I could return to my journal. Time is running out, and soon I shall be inside that baruch-landau, travelling towards my final destination.
Have mercy on my soul, Mycroft!
For I saw him, too, you see. I saw him come towards us, Karl May and me, in the subterranean depths of the Lyceum, that fateful night.
An old, old man, in a motorized chair on wheels, a steam engine at his back, and withered hands lying on the supports, controlling brass keys. His face was a ruined shell, his body that of a corpse, yet his eyes were bright, like moons, and they looked at me, and his mouth moved and he said, "Today, Mr. Stoker, we are making history. Your part in it will not be quickly forgotten."
I may have stumbled upon my words. He had not been seen in public for five years. His very presence at my theatre was an honor, and yet I was terrified. When the small get entangled in the games of the great, they may easily suffer.
"My Lord," I said. "It is an honor."
He nodded that withered head, just once, acknowledging this. Then he, too, disappeared towards the crypt.
Yes, you suspected, did you not, Mycroft? You suspected this summit, your people were there that night, in the audience, trying to sniff scent of what was happening. Yet you never did.
For they did not meet, just the two of them, My Herr Krupp and he, my summoner, the lord of the automatons.
Another was there.
A monster...
For I had gone down into the dark passages, I had gone to check all was secure, and I saw it. I saw the ancient sewer open up and something come crawling out of it, a monstrous being like a giant invertebrate, with feelers as long as a human arm, slithering towards that secret meeting... a vile, alien thing.
Which, three months ago, when we first met, you finally gave a name to.
The Bookman, you told me.
So that was that shadowy assassin.
A thing made by the lizardine race, long ago.
Those lizardine beings which came to us from Caliban's Island, in the Carib Sea, and yet were not of a terrestrial origin at all.
An ancient race, of scientifically-advanced beings... crash-landed with their ship of space, thousands of years ago, millions perhaps, on that island.
And awakened by Vespucci, on his ill-fated journey of exploration...
And the Bookman, that shadowy assassin, one of their machines?
I do not know, Mycroft, but I remember the fear I felt when I saw that... that thing, slither towards the crypt.
A summit indeed.
And now, I must leave.
The Borgo Pass
The driver says we are going through something called the Borgo Pass, though it appears on no map of the area. I am the sole passenger of this baruch-landau, the driver ahead, the stoker behind, and I in the middle, staring out over a rugged terrain.
This is the letter I had received at the inn:
My friend.--Welcome to the Carpathians. I am anxiously expecting you. I trust that you slept well. My driver has instructions to carry you in safety to my quarters and bring you to me. I trust that your journey from London has been a happy one, and that you will enjoy your stay. I look forward to seeing you.
Yours--Charles Babbage.
What awaits me beyond these mountains, is it to glory, or to death, that I ride?
Castle Bran
The baruch-landau, gathering speed, shot along the lone mountain road, and in the distance a great valley opened up, and within....
But no, for we did not head directly there, to that strange shimmering city in the distance, but elsewhere, down a slope that led into a beautiful valley, and beyond it, growing gradually in my field of vision as we drew nearer--
On top of a cliff, overlooking this pleasant place--
A castle.
It loomed out of the peaceful surrounding, a stout old building, painted white, so unlike our own castles. It had that Eastern influence, as though one could sense Asia and the lands of the Turks being just around the corner, as it were. Here Vlad Dracul had lived, that minor Wallachian prince the landlady at the inn had told me about, who had fought the Turks--
He appears to have had a rather understated taste in architecture.
As we approached the castle I noticed things that had certainly not been there during those long gone days of Vlad the Impaler. Such as the armored, steam-powered trucks moving along newly-paved roads, or the two black airships rising like storm clouds over the castle, tethered to a nearby landing.
Storm clouds....
Far in the distance a storm was raging, and I could see the lighting strike, again and again, as if they were hitting at one particular spot, there beyond the shimmering mirage of the city I could see, which resembled no place I had ever seen before.
The baruch-landau stopped, at last, at the foothills of the cliff, and I disembarked--
To find a most curious individual there to greet me.
"You are Abraham Stoker?" he said.
His voice surprised me. It was high and somewhat reedy, yet came out of a mountainous exterior--a man completely bald, and extensively scarred, who towered over me, and smiled a smile in which no good could be deciphered.
"I am," I said.
"I am Spoons," he said. "You may call me Mr. Spoons."
I started at that. For, if you recall, Mycroft, that long ago production of Pirates of the Carib Sea did feature such a character, the rumoured boatswain of the notorious Captain Wyvern.
Could that possibly be the man himself?
I could see immediately that young Beerbohm Tree, playing him, did not do him justice. This man required no prosthesis or makeup to make him formidable.
But how had he come into my Lord Babbage's service?
"Come with me," he said.
Seldom does a man find all the answers to the questions in this world. I followed this Mr. Spoons--who carried, I could not help but notice, a Peacemaker in a holster on his hip, and a cutlass, of all things, on its opposite side--up the winding path that led to the castle above.
A bustle of activity welcomed us. Military personnel of the sort I had seen on the train--that is, of the Austro-Hungarian persuasion--mingled with black-clad men who had had a stylized B as their insignia.
B-Men, I knew them to be.
The Babbage Company's private security force.
"Lord Babbage has instructed for suitable accommodation to be found for you in the castle," Mr. Spoons said. His tone suggested his idea of suitable would have been the stables. "He is anxious to meet with you."
"As I, him," I said, and yet unable to hide my nervousness. Mr. Spoons smiled grimly at that.
"I am told you are to be Lord Babbage's... biographer?" he said.
I nodded, equally grimly, at that, and we did not pursue conversation further. Mr. Spoons accompanied me to my new living quarters, an airy room at the very top of the castle, through narrow passageways and too many flights of stairs, and left me there. I could hear a military drill taking place outside, and saw one of the airships detach from its moorings and begin to journey away, towards that mysterious city I could see in the distance, in the shadow of the mountains.
I sat down on the bed as soon as the door had closed and clutched my head in my hands.
What had I let myself into?
Castle Bran
Night settles over the castle and in the distance the lighting continues to strike at the same spot, a rising tower of metal, needle like, out there in that city that had once been Bra?ov.
It is a strange sight, from high up here, looking at the valley, and at the vast machines slowly taking shape here in secret....
That first night was long ago. Lord Babbage had disappeared from public life, and of Krupp nothing more was heard. In eighty-eight Mrs. Beeton ascended to Prime Minister, beating Moriarty, and a new balance of power established itself, with the lizard-queen ceding some of her former power to a coalition of human, automaton and lizard: a true democracy, of sorts.
There had been rumors in the London papers, during that time, as to the mysterious demise of the Bookman, though none could vouch as to their veracity. In any case, my life continued as before, at the Lyceum, and I had all but forgotten that terrible, nighttime summit deep below my beloved theatre, when there came a knock at the door.
"Enter," I said, preoccupied with paperwork on my desk, and heard him come in, and shut the door behind him. When I raised my head and looked I started back, for there, before me, stood that same German conman and hack writer, the source of all my troubles--Karl May.
"You!" I said.
The fellow grinned at me, quite at ease. "Master Stoker," he said, doffing his hat to me. "It has been a while."
"Not long enough!" I said, with feeling, and with shaking hands reached to the second drawer for the bottle I kept there--for emergencies, you see.
May mistook my gesture. The old gun was back in his hand and he tsked at me disapprovingly, like a headmaster with an errant pupil.
God, how much I hated him at that moment!
"A drink?" I said, ignoring his weapon, and bringing out the bottle and two cups. At that his good humor returned, the gun disappeared, and he sat down. "By all means," he said. "Let us drink to old friends."
I poured; we drank. "What do you want, May?" I said.
"I?" he said. "I want nothing, for myself. It is Lord Babbage who has shown a renewed interest in you, my friend."
"Babbage?" I said.
"I will put it simply, Stoker," he said. "My Lord Babbage requires a... chronicler of the great work he is undertaking. And there are precious few who can be brought in. You, my friend, are already involved. And you have proved yourself reliable. It is, after all, why you are still alive."
"But why me?" I said, or wailed, and he smiled.
"My Lord Babbage," he said, "has got it into his head that you are a man of a literary bent."
At that I gaped, for it was true, that I had dabbled in writing fictions, as most men do at one point or another, yet had taken no consideration of showing them to anyone but my wife.
"I thought so," Karl May said.
"But you're a writer," I said. "Why can't you--"
"My work lies elsewhere," he said, darkly.
I could not hold back a smirk, at that. "He does not value your fiction?"
At this he scowled even more. "You will make your way to Transylvania," he said. He took out an envelope and placed it on the desk. "Money, and train tickets."
"And if I refuse?"
This made him smile again.
"Oh, I wish you would," he said, and a shiver went down my spine at the way he said it. I picked up the envelope without further protest, and he nodded, once, and left without further words.
Castle Bran
I must escape this place, for I will never be allowed to depart alive, I now know.
Mycroft, you had come to me, two weeks after that meeting with Karl May. I remember you coming in, a portly man, shadows at your back. You came alone.
Without preamble you told me of your suspicions back at that opening night, and told me of the conspiracy you were trying to unravel. An unholy alliance between Krupp and Babbage and that alien Bookman. What were they planning? You kept saying. What are they after?
You had kept sporadic checks on me, and on the Lyceum. And your spotters had seen the return of Karl May.
Now you confronted me. You wanted to know where my allegiance lay.
Choose, you told me.
Choose, which master to serve.
For Queen and Country, you told me.
My name is Abraham Stoker, called Abe by some, Bram by others. I am a theatrical manager, having worked for the great actor Henry Irving for many years as his personal assistant, and, on his behalf, as manager of the Lyceum Theatre in Covent Garden.
I am not a bad man, nor am I a traitor.
Today I met my Lord Babbage.
Mr. Spoons came to escort me. I am a prisoner, if kept in comfort. Wordlessly he led me down the corridor, to a metal door. At the press of a button the door opened and we entered a lift, what the Vespuccians call an elevator. Down it went, and down, beyond the foundations of the castle, below the ground, into the castle's crypts. The metal doors opened, and I found myself in a dimly-lit room, the air hot and humid, and orchids growing in profusion everywhere under the strange blue lights. Mr. Spoons motioned for me. I took a step forward, and another. A sound, as of bellows, working, a rhythmic mechanical sound of air being inhaled and exhaled. I took another step forward, already sweating from the high temperature and the humidity. A shape before me, in the shadows... one more step and I near cried out.
Before me sat a... a... picture an ancient mummy, a once-human body, a dried husk of one, yet with large, wet, living eyes set in that ruined face, that awful body, blinking--looking at me. Pipes led into the body, pipes running out of it like the hairs of Medusa, and an engine working beside, and mechanical bellows pumping air in and out, keeping that aged thing alive.
Horrified, I could only watch as those terrible eyes turned their attention on me, and that ruined, dried-out mouth moved, almost soundlessly, and an amplification of some sort took place, magnifying the dying whisper, and he said, "I am... Babbage, and I bid you welcome, Mr. Stoker, to my house."
"My Lord Babbage," I said, forcing out the words. The dry smell of him hung in the air, of old rotting skin, and machine oil, and I was sweating profusely. Those ruined lips moved. I think he tried to smile.
"We are... engaged," he said, "in a work of the greatest magnitude. You will... record it, for prosperity."
The sound of his breathing machine filled the air, in, out, I could see his chest rising and falling mechanically.
"Go," he said. "Your work... begins."
"My Lord--"
His lips moved again. Then his eyes closed. I felt Mr. Spoons vice-like grip on my arm, pulling me away.
"Come," he said.
An airship is moored to the tower near my room. It is not used.
Have you ever seen the moon rising, full, over the valley of Bra?ov?
I must steal away from this place.
Mr. Spoons took me up in the elevator. We found ourselves at the base of the castle. That same baruch-landau was waiting, its driver a monstrosity of the type I had last seen, accompanying Krupp, at the Lyceum and that secret summit. A man injected with a Jekyll-Frankenstein Serum.
A man who had become a monster.
We climbed into the carriage, and the driver cranked the steam engine and we were off, along the valley floor.
Spoons, smiling faintly, sat before me, watching me as I watched the road. At last I stuck my head out of the window, and the distant vista grew large and clear before me, and I gasped.
A city....
A city of metal spikes, a city of needles rising into the sky. A city burning with inhuman fire, with rising flames, a city under a full moon, as if each needle and spike were aimed at that heavenly body, wanting to do it harm.
"What... what is it?" I whispered.
Mr. Spoons said, "Rockets."
Nighttime, the castle is surrounded by B-men, there is no escape on land, through these wild mountains, through the Borgo Pass, to Bucharest or the sea.
I have to make the attempt, must get word of Babbage's plan to Mycroft, to the Queen.
In a moment I shall open my window, and go out there, on the ledge, and...
I am deathly afraid.
In the air, somewhere above Transylvania
Wounded. My blood drips on the page as I write. The airship moves silently above the Borgo Pass, to freedom. The engines drive it, fast and dark. For the first time I feel hope.
The valley had been filled with rockets.
They shot at me as I escaped. Beyond the window the wind howled, pushing at me, and I tottered, and nearly fell. A fall would mean death; it was a long way down. I held on to the mooring line and then, gathering myself, I pulled myself up, legs wrapped around the line, and with my hands pulled myself, step by torturous step, towards the airship.
A black sky above me, countless stars shining, the same distant stars Les Lezards may have come from... the same stars that were my Lord Babbage's destination.
He was mad.
But I had seen the valley, Mr. Spoons had taken me there, in the baruch-landau, and I had seen: the city of Bra?ov, an old, beautiful place of stone, transformed now. Thin needle spires rose into the air and mechanical vehicles moved everywhere, and in a converted palace of culture I saw Babbage engines beyond count, operating, and beyond the city the rockets stood, immense, metallic, strange...
"The stars," Mr. Spoons said, in his menacing, high-pitched voice. "Our destination."
"Why?" I said.
Slowly, he turned, looking at me.
"Because they're coming," he said, and said no more.
Somewhere above Europe
I had bandaged my wounded shoulder. The airship moves almost without guidance, it is very fast, and the night is cold.
I look up at the stars. Could humanity really go there? It seems impossible, and dangerous.
And something else...
I had escaped too easily.
And now I wonder, Mycroft.
Have I truly gone there to record Babbage's story?
Or did he bring me there for another reason entirely?
Did he know you would approach me?
Was this just one more step in the great game we play, was I allowed to escape, in order to bring you this document?
They are coming, Mr. Spoons said.
Over the Channel
Home, soon. I hope my signal is detected. Soon I shall reach my destination. I am afraid, yet filled with wild hope, too. Could this nightmare journey really be over?
Richmond Park, London
Flares rise into the night, signaling the landing site. As I come down low the lights illuminate men down below, and as I watch I see a larger flare rise, and then--
My hand slips, the side of the airship is in flames--
The ground approaches fast, I--
--end of Stoker Memorandum. Retrieved successfully by Bureau operative Lucy Westenra. Classified Ultra, for Head of Bureau Eyes Only--
The End
This story was first published on Friday, January 20th, 2012
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