Part I: The Incident of the Missing Brother
“By God,” exclaimed Mr. Buckworth, as he flicked through the days paper. “Not another one!” It had become quite the topic of conversation in Victoria City of late; the incident of several sturdy, and undoubtedly sea-worthy vessels disappearing all over Pearl Isle.
Mrs. Dunsley, who had a great deal to say about it herself, peeped over Mr. Buckworth’s shoulder and said: “It’s the government, I say, a conspiracy of sorts. There’s no other way for a big vessel like that to just disappear.”
Mr. Buckworth shook his head. “The vessels work for the government. No use in getting rid of your own vessels. But listen here, I heard – from a reliable source, I might add – that the mishaps with all these ships is more of a supernatural nature, and there is no theory as of yet to prove it otherwise.”
“Supernatural?” Mrs. Dunsley scowled. “Says who?”
“Says Henry Turnhill,” replied Mr. Buckworth, “that strange fellow always loitering about The Old Oak,” – which was a pub on the edge of the warehouse district – “he’s a bit of a nutter but he knows his stuff. They say he came back from the dead once. He says that this is all to do with ghosts.”
This time Mrs. Dunsley shook her head, and her husband, Mr. Dunsley, came out to join her by the road. Again she scowled at Mr. Buckworth, “You superstitious twat. There’s no such thing as ghosts and you know it.”
Mr. Dunsley became most intrigued by the conversation and inquired as to what the two were discussing. “Another ship has gone missing,” explained Mr. Buckworth, “as if out of thin air: poof!”
Mrs. Dunsley took her husband’s arm and smiled. “Mr. Buckworth thinks it was ghosts.”
“Ghosts. For sure?”
But Mr. Buckworth gestured otherwise. “I said no such thing. I was just saying what I heard. It could have been anything these days, you really just don’t know.”
“Quite right,” agreed Mr. Dunsley. “Whatever the matter, I am most certain it does not concern me. Let the companies sort it out, or the government. I have little intention of travelling to Edith Post any time soon, and if I did, I believe I’d take the train.” He then proceeded to glance at his fog-watch and say: “Ah, we are late for our morning walk. Good-day, Mr. Buckworth.” And thus the conversation ended there.
The idea that ghosts were responsible for the disappearances of these vessels was one, albeit the least popular, of many speculations regarding the entire incident. Some of the most prestigious investigators in all of Pearl Isle had so far taken up the challenge of solving the mystery, only to fall back with their tails between their legs and admit that they had found nothing.
The most popular – and most likely – theory was that piracy had once again come into fashion within the waters of Pearl Isle, and that a well organised band of criminals were commandeering these vessels and reaping their plunder.
Then there came along a local meteorologist from the eastern district of Victoria City who claimed that unusual weather patterns were causing storms to the west capable of swallowing big shipping vessels whole. The only problem was, no one else ever caught sign of these storms, so the theory was more or less discarded.
As for the other theories: some say that a new species of sea creature was out there attacking the ships; others, like Mr. Dunsley, blamed the government; meanwhile a few, such as Mr. Turnhill from The Old Oak, pointed their fingers at ghosts. As unlikely as it would seem, the answers were out there, but they were not in the slightest what one might call a simple solution. The answer to this mystery is a long and grudging tale of ambition, betrayal and sorrow.
The expanse of Pearl Isle, in its entirety, consisted of two major landmasses separated by a large body of water. Upon these landmasses were three major cities, and their names were Victoria City, Edith Post and Warren City. Now, one of these landmasses ran east for quite some way before turning sharply to the south and continuing far beyond the borders of the isle. On the northern part, where the coast runs east and west, upon a cape, is located Edith Post. About halfway down where the coast runs north and south is located Victoria City, where the conversation of Mr. Buckworth and Mr. Dunsley took place. The western land, which is across the water, is where Warren City can be found.
In the middle of all that water is a series of islands, the biggest of which is Kings Island, as it once used to belong personally to the royal family, some 200 years ago. Now it is used as a trade post, and occasionally a vacation destination. Some of the islands were also used once as research institutions for modern science, but it hasn’t been so for some time.
The waters of Pearl Isle were always busy. Trade had been going strong for centuries, and boats travelled often between the main cities. That being said, the news of vessels mysteriously disappearing had not slowed anyone down, proving perhaps that business was valued over caution, and that these merchants and tradesmen were not scared by the rumours they heard. Still, four vessels had disappeared in the current month, and two the month before. If half of those sailors knew the truth of it, they’d be more like Mr. Dunsley, preferring to take the train.
Victoria City was often filled with all kinds of interesting people; far too many to count, given that one had the time. Yet among this wide array of colourful faces and fascinating tales was one interesting person in particular, and her name was Elsie Heartwing.
At present, Elsie had planned on spending her afternoon in the countryside, and well away from the dark mysteries that riddled the sea of late. She sat quietly and comfortably under a tree, on a hill a hill that looked over a very different kind of sea; one made from fresh green grass and trees and trickling streams. Elsie’s hill was a great place for sunsets, where she could watch it all come to life with great splashes of orange.
Elsie was the adventurous type, but she also loved reading, and both traits she inherited from her parents. Elsie’s father, Theodore Heartwing, was an intelligent and charismatic man, and a professor at the University of Victoria City, specialising in archaeology. Elsie’s mother, Mary Heartwing, also taught at the university, specialising in botany. Both parents had left Pearl Isle together less than a month ago to work on a research project, leaving Elsie in the care of her brother, Jack Heartwing. Following in her parent’s footsteps, Elsie was already well into her first year as a student at the university. She possessed more of a mind for the literary arts and found the conventions of good story telling to be most intriguing; thus why she sat under a tree upon a hill reading a book.
Soon, as the hour grew late and the sun fell closer to the horizon, Elsie closed her book and returned through the field to Victoria City. It was on her return journey that she heard, from afar, the angered growling of a hound of some sort, and strayed to seek it out. She spotted the hound, a wild grey old beast, bearing its teeth and digging violently at a spot on the ground. Upon further inspection Elsie began to see blood, and realised that whatever the hound was attacking was still alive. Knowing this, she took up a rock in her right hand and hurled it at the beast, saying: “Go on, get out of here! You leave that alone!” The dog, in response, turned to her with deep yellow eyes and lowered its heard, barking. Else threw another stone and caught it on the snout, and it whined, before backing away and then dashing off into the sea of green.
The hound’s victim was an adorable – at least it would have been if not for all the blood – little bunny. His fur, from belly to back foot, was a smoky grey colour, while the rest of his, including his pointy little ears, was snow white. Grey circled his eyes as well, and the back of his head. Unfortunately, however, the bunny was wounded gravely; the worst of it was his front left leg, which had been mangled beyond saving. When Elsie saw this she felt sadness touch her, and she said: “Oh no, what has he done to you? You poor thing.” She then carefully picked up the wounded bunny, as if it were a newborn baby, and she wrapped it in her sweater. “That leg looks really bad, but I promise to look after you until it gets better.” As she made her way home a thought occurred to her that might save the bunny’s life. She nodded, “Basil will know what to do.”
And so, returning at last to Victoria City, Elsie delivered the wounded bunny swiftly to the care of her friend Basil.
Victoria City, from afar, possessed the image of a grand place indeed. For as far as the eye can see, buildings dotted the coastline, and they stretched far inland as well. To the north, a short way back from the coast, was a sheer cliff where the earth seemed to plummet for a while before running smoothly again into the ocean. This area was known as the western district, where occasionally a small amount of mining took place. To the south, where the cliff ends, was the warehouse district, full of workers, mostly. The very north of the city was aptly named the northern district, home of Lady Station; where people could take the train north and then west to Edith Post. Naturally there were also the eastern and southern districts, which were newer parts of the city. Between these two areas was then located the common district, and in the dead centre of the city, upon a vast hill, was the royal district.
The city was most beautiful at dusk, a spectacle of light when the sun fell down from the sky and sprinkled Victoria City with gold, and the ocean exploded in a burst of orange.
Basil’s Workshop was small, and for an outsider, not particularly comfortable. The air inside had taken on a smoky metallic aroma that Elsie had never really enjoyed. In fact, the entire workshop was a little too cramped for her liking. Now Basil was a tall, skinny lad of an age with Elsie; he had a shock of frizzy hair atop his head, and was often seen wearing an old flight jacket and a pair of goggles. He had a certain knack for fixing things, and at the university had recently taken up bio-mechanics.
Basil was carefully repairing an old fog-watch when Elsie stormed in, breathless, with her sweater balled up in her arms. “Basil,” she called, “are you here? I need your help.” She found him at his workbench.
When he noticed her he set his tools down and said: “Can it wait, Elsie, I’m a little busy.”
She replied by placing the bunny down on his bench. “I need you to fix this bunnies leg. Please Basil, he’s hurt.”
Following a look of utter bemusement Basil stepped back. “Elsie, this is a living, breathing animal. I fix machines, and clockwork, not… this!”
“I’m talking about your bio-tech,” Elsie argued. “I had heard about Mr. Ramsey. It’ll be just like that.”
“I replaced his big toe and part of his foot, under the supervision of Professor Goodwin and Doctor O’Donnell. Besides, bio-technology was designed for humans, I don’t even know if it would work.”
“Please, Basil,” Elsie begged.
Basil was right about bio-technology not being designed for animals. To have it done professionally was costly business, but in most scenarios it provided an opportunity for the lame to have a better life. The science behind it was outstanding! People who had lost arms and legs in working accidents were simply able to have them replaced with sturdy metal replacements. Obviously, however, not everyone had the mind for it, and Basil was a particularly skilled engineer indeed, given his young age.
“Okay,” he finally answered. “I’ll do it. But it’ll take time, a few hours should do it, so come and see me then. And you’ll need to pay me for the materials I use!”
And so, Elsie left Basil to work on repairing the bunny’s leg, and having nothing else to do she loitered around the workshop until dark. In that time she happened to pick up a newspaper and read a story about a certain missing boat. “Another one!” she exclaimed.
Basil glanced up at her but continued on with his work. “Indeed,” he said, “I heard a man down the park say the exact same thing.”
Elsie, being a lover of good stories, had found the disappearing ship mystery to be most intriguing, although she was yet to make any contributions of her own to solving it. She had thought, perhaps of writing a book about the entire dilemma, but she was still waiting to see how it would play out. “Are there any new ideas as to what’s causing this?”
Basil shrugged. “Just the usual. Anything from pirates to ghosts…”
“Or ghost pirates,” she added. There came a small scream from the bunny as Basil attached something to what was now its stump-leg. The sound sent shivers up her spine, and she begged him to be more careful. After a moment, she said: “Gee, I hope Jack is alright.”
That made Basil smile. “Your brother? I doubt anything would happen to him. He’s an adventure junkie and an intellectual juggernaut.”
“That’s just how he comes off,” Elsie laughed. “You don’t know him like I do.” She was comforted all the same.
Night was well underway when Basil set down his tools, stepped away from his bench and proclaimed that his work was complete. Elsie looked with wondrous eyes and saw the bunny that she had rescued, clean and moving – albeit slowly – across the bench. His entire front left leg as well as part of his shoulder were now completely metallic. It looked rather unnatural, in a way, but Basil smiled at it like a masterpiece. “Behold! A medical marvel, I think. I’m surprised it worked; he’s got brass bones, this one. Well… figuratively.” But the bunny staggered as he walked and the leg seemed to jolt from time to time, causing a terrible limp. “The limp is only temporary,” Basil explained. “He just has to wear it in a little; get used to the workings and what not.”
Elsie planted a soft kiss on Basil’s cheek and thanked him. The bunny limped on his brass leg toward her, and carefully she picked him up and held him. “Hello,” she said, in a childish voice. “You’re so cute… and fluffy!” She instantly fell in love, and deciding that she would have to keep him and care for him, she named the bunny Floof.
Elsie Heartwing lived alone in a rather spacious apartment two blocks away from the university. She spent a great deal of her leisure time couped up on the balcony writing. She lived a very quiet life at present; dividing her time between writing and study. She did, however, desire to once again visit the other cities – Edith Post, and Warren City across the water – and all she required was a decent excuse.
Elsie arrived home to her apartment a few hours after the dawn of the next day. By this stage, Floof was happily snoozing away inside her backpack. As Elsie came inside she received a letter from her mailbox, and setting her things down, she took a seat and inspected the envelope in her hands. It was a letter from Professor Goodwin:
Dear Elsie Heartwing,
How are you? It feels as though it has been ages since we last spoke, and yet your parents tell me you only live down the road from the university. I suppose you have been keeping yourself busy, as have I. I am writing this letter to you now because I have an urgent matter to discuss with you concerning your brother Jack. It is of a most delicate nature, which is why I would rather speak with you face to face. I wish I could say more. If you would be so kind as to come by my office at your earliest convenience, I would be most grateful.
Professor Robert Goodwin.
Naturally a spark of worry lit up somewhere in the back of Elsie creative imagination, supposing Jack had gotten himself into some kind of trouble, but she would only know for certain once she had spoken to the professor. So she changed her clothes, packed her bag, fed Floof some lettuce, and then was promptly out the door again, heading for the university. And then she travelled through the main entrance, across a rather spacious courtyard, up a flight of stairs, until she was standing outside the door marked with Professor Robert Goodwin.
Elsie had known the professor since she was a little girl, and she understood that he was nothing short of brilliant. He was a stout and vibrant man in his early sixties, and his mind, much like his suit, was as sharp as a pencil. He had a sturdy face for an old man, with milky-blue eyes that stood out through his round spectacles, and although his hair was now grey and receding, he still sported a twirly white moustache and a partially grey beard that covered the rest of his face.
The professor stood up as Elsie entered and quietly shut the door behind her. He gestured for her to take a seat beside his desk, and then offered her some tea. “Yes please,” she replied. As Goodwin poured the tea, Elsie spoke: “So in the letter you sent you mentioned Jack. May I ask what this is about?”
The most interesting fact about Professor Goodwin was that he wasn’t entirely human, and it was something he didn’t like to talk about. All Elsie knew was that a long time ago he was in an accident of sorts that removed him of his entire right arm. At present the intricate brass metal work of his replacement arm wouldn’t be seen due to the sleeve of his suit, but Elsie took notice of the metal tendons in his wrist, and the way he flexed his brass fingers.
The professor acted as though he didn’t see her staring, and clasped his hands together on his desk. “Now, my dear Elsie, I wish to inform you that your brother is in no danger at all, but I’ve brought you here to ask if he might have contacted you within the past two months or so.”
Elsie seemed perplexed, but answered straightforwardly. “Well, we have kept in touch, he’s sent me post cards from all over Pearl Isle, one every few weeks.”
She saw the professor’s eyes light up. “And when was the last post card sent? Where was it from?”
“Edith Post, maybe just over a week ago.” Elsie sensed there was something she didn’t know. “Listen, professor, I know that Jack has been working for you. In all of his post cards he’s failed to tell me as to what he’s been doing. Can I assume that whatever assignment you have him working on is classified?”
The professor stood up and walked over to the window. “I’ve been a close friend to your parents since before you were born. We have been through an awful lot together and I bear great love for them. You remind me of your mother when she was your age.” He paused. “Yes, it’s only fair that you know. You see, I am preparing to embark on what is perhaps the most important voyage of my career; the assignment is of utmost secrecy. I had your brother running some preliminary work for me but I haven’t heard from him in weeks. Elsie, I’m afraid Jack has gone missing.”
That spark of worry suddenly returned and Elsie placed a nervous hand over her chest. “That’s horrible!” she said, stricken. “Is he in danger? We must go find him.”
“Now, Elsie, I can assure you that Jack is in no danger at all, he was simply investigating a few matters I had sent his way. Thanks to your information I now know that his last known location was Edith Post. Know that I have assembled a team of the most professional kind and we intend to set out on the VS Rosanne 7 within the fortnight to find your brother and continue our… well, our research.”
Elsie pushed her chair back and stood up. “I’m coming with you.”
Goodwin declined. “You most certainly are not!”
“Why? I have as much a right as anyone to look for my brother.”
“I understand your concern, Elsie, but you’re hardly qualified for such a mission. Why, it could be dangerous. What would your parents say if they found out that I neglected their friendship and put their daughter in harm’s way?”
But Elsie only became defiant and determined. “You assured me there was no danger. Please, professor, I have no intention of being rude or putting you in any difficult situation, but he’s my brother, and you can either let me come with you otherwise I’ll go it alone.”
“Now Elsie, you’re being irrational…” But he was stayed by her glare, and he sighed. “Just like your mother. So be it. The Rosanne departs within the fortnight from the docks in the warehouse district, 47 Persimmon Street. If you’re late we’ll leave without you. Oh, and you have until then to change your mind, as I have no intention of coming home until the assignment is complete.”
The following two weeks passed swiftly, and Elsie Heartwing eagerly awaited her journey.
The VS Rosanne 7 (as far as Elsie was aware) was a grand airship that she personally found to be most beautiful. It was a marvel of engineering. She saw that, unlike the other airships that were docked in the open space by the water, the Rosanne’s envelope was much thicker, perhaps even armoured. The gondola beneath housed three levels, with a balcony on each, and plenty of windows. Even in her books Elsie doubted if she had ever seen a mightier vessel.
Near the water in the dock beside hers there was a great deal of commotion going on. For the past hour that she had been there – watching the propellers on the Rosanne swirl slowly in the wind – people had been running back and forth carrying all sorts of things and loading them into a submarine that was half-submerged in the bay. She cringed at the thought of being stuck in a submarine, on account of her disliking for small spaces.
It wasn’t long before Professor Goodwin arrived, sporting a black silver-headed cane and a trench coat, and he wore gloves too, as to show no sign that his arm was missing at all. It was true that he didn’t like to talk about it. Elsie greeted the professor with a smile, and he replied by shaking his head and saying: “So you came after all, and here I was feigning the hope that you had changed your mind. This is your last chance, Miss Heartwing, I give you my full confidence that my team and I will return you your brother safely.”
“I am sure you will,” Elsie replied, “but my mind is set. I do, however, feel as though there is something I’m not being told. Whatever the case, I’m not a child, professor, and although I’m still young, I do live in my own apartment, and I pay taxes and provide very well for myself.”
The professor frowned. “Yes, Elsie, I am very aware of that.” He was silent for a moment, and then he stared out over the bay, watching the ocean glisten under the sky. He removed one of his gloves and flexed his mechanical fingers. “Did your parents ever tell you how I came to lose my arm?”
A little confused, Elsie replied. “No, they said it wasn’t their business to tell, and it wasn’t my business to know. They said it was a personal matter; that you didn’t like to talk about it.”
“And quite right they were, but here’s the truth of it: a few years ago, before I obtained my position at the university, I served on a seafaring vessel, the VS Vigilance, while conducting research for one of my projects. I’ll spare you the slow details, but I’ll have you know that one morning, during a rather savage storm, I awoke not knowing that on that particular day my right arm would get caught in the ships anchor chain. I’m afraid the entire limb was torn right off.” He glanced still, almost longingly, at his right hand, and his tone suddenly became brighter. “Of course, the mechanical one serves fortuitously well. I am always quite amazed by the great and wonderful things that modern science can do… But my point is, misfortune comes in all shapes and sizes, Miss Heartwing, and don’t ever forget that, or you’ll end up like me.”
After that their conversation shifted and they both observed the airship awaiting them patiently in the dock. “So this is it, then,” said Elsie, “the Rosanne 7. She’s a beautiful airship.”
In a rather confused manner, the professor glanced at Elsie, and then at the airship, and then back at Elsie. A small volley of laughter passed his lips. “Oh, no my dear, it seems you’ve been looking in the wrong direction. That airship right there is the VS Bailey, quite a wonderful model, and the first of her kind.”
Elsie, now looking perplexed and a little afraid, blurted out, “But you said we were departing from 47 Persimmon Street.”
“Indeed, but this dock here belong to 46 Persimmon Street. The Rosanne is right over there,” and he gestured to where all the commotion had been taking place.
The surprise was written in Elsie’s eyes. “The submarine?”
Professor Goodwin nodded. “Yes.”
In return she smiled anxiously. “Professor, I’m afraid you gone mad, if you think I intend on setting foot in that thing.” She watched the crew walking back and forth, and stared at the atrocious submarine, and began to feel terrible small.
“Of, of course,” said the professor, “I recall your parents mentioning a certain incident when you were young; all shapes and sizes, I suppose. But you won’t need to worry, it is much more spacious inside, as you will see, and the crew are very friendly.”
Elsie didn’t like it, but she was determined that nothing at all would stop her now.
When Elsie Heartwing was just a little girl, Victoria City – particularly in the common district – suffered from a terrible earthquake. The damage was so bad that it took weeks repair, and even months for the really bad parts. Between the common and northern districts the torn earth and ruptured gas lines spouted a fire that ravaged on with a devastating effect. In the warehouse district one of Victoria City’s greatest ships, the VS Falcon, was uplifted and essentially wrecked. Some of the mines to the west had collapsed and needed to be re-opened.
But the worst of the damage was inflicted upon the houses, especially for poor little Elsie. At the time of the earthquake Elsie’s parents were both at the university and she was left at home with her brother Jack, who regrettably left her alone for just five minutes while he visited the post office down the road. And so, while she was alone, the earthquake struck.
The Heartwing household essentially collapsed in on itself while little Elsie remained inside. Smothered and trapped, but very alive, she wept in the darkness of her unfortunate entombment, unable to move let alone escape. It took roughly an hour before her father pulled her out of the wreckage, and she clung to him with eyes red from tears and dust.
The professor made no lie about the Rosanne 7, because it was very spacious indeed, but just not quite enough. It was the water that Elsie didn’t like; the fact that when she opened the shutter to her window all she saw was water, and the thought that above and below her was just more water. In time she did learn to like the view, even if ninety percent of the time it was only that murky ocean-blue. Sometimes, when the water was clearer, she’d see fish and other marine animals, but only when she was lucky.
Inside her cabin there was a bed, a desk and chair for her writing, a lovely plant that stayed in the corner beside the wide square window, and a bookshelf. Outside Elsie’s cabin was a hallway, and numerous other doors that made up the crew’s quarters. Below them, walking down a semi-spiral staircase, was the control room, which was oval shaped, and indeed the largest part of the entire submarine. It seemed that unlike most other submarines, which were bland and metal, the VS Rosanne 7 was designed more like a ballroom than a vehicle of transport. In the control room, four rectangular desks were situated along walls with enough windows to give the room an interesting ocean-blue tinge. At the end of the room was a large wheel and a young helmsman in a sailor’s hat. In the centre was a smooth rectangular table upon which was painted a detailed and colourful map of Pearl Isle, and above it a golden chandelier dangled noiselessly from the ceiling. As Elsie tranced down the stairs she wondered if it would ever fall down when the seas were rough.
As time on the Rosanne progressed Elsie grew to know most of the crew, and found that they were indeed very friendly. Her first encounter, other than with the helmsman, occurred when she stumbled into the wrong room and came face to face with a pretty blonde woman. “Oh,” Elsie giggled, feeling a little embarrassed, “why, you’re Doctor O’Donnell,” she said, when she recognised the face. She put her hand forward. “Forgive me, I’m Elsie, I’m a student at the university.”
Doctor Fiona O’Donnell shook her hand and smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Elsie.” The doctor was certainly one of the university’s prettier staff members. She often went about her business with her golden hair tied up, to show that she was doing something important, and her fringe fell in locks down the side of her face. She had a small nose, soft lips, and large grey eyes that brought out the flushed tone of her skin, oh, and a very cute freckle on her left cheek. Elsie recalled, maybe a few weeks back, that when she was leaving her literature class she heard the joyous melody of ‘Happy Birthday’ drifting from down the hall, and later learned that the doctor was celebrating the event of turning thirty.
And now they stood face to face, shaking hands, and as the doctor looked Elsie in the eye she said: “So which one are you?” O’Donnell had a habit of asking vague questions.
Elsie didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand.”
“Well, there are two kinds of people on this submarine; those who are here for the money and those who are here for the journey.”
“I should think I am neither. You see, Professor Goodwin contacted me. My brother Jack has gone missing and I’m here to find him.”
A spark appeared in Doctor O’Donnell’s eye. “Your brother Jack?” And then she snapped her fingers and said: “You’re Elsie Heartwing! I knew you looked familiar. Oh my, it is a pleasure indeed then.”
“Did you know Jack at all?” Elsie asked.
“Oh yes, he studied in a few of my classes before he ran off to work with the professor. I know your parents, too. Wonderful people, and very wise, but joyously frantic at the same time.”
That made Elsie laugh. “So what brought you on this voyage then? Money or adventure?”
O’Donnell smiled. “Money, for sure. Other than caring for the crew, I’m here because of that metal thing that lives where the professor’s arm used to be. They make it out to be the greatest thing in the world, but even bio-tech can only get you so far. That arm of his needs constant maintenance if he wants it to work properly, so that’s why he brings me along on his little adventures; and the extra money never hurts. Did he ever tell you how he did it?” Before Elsie could nod the doctor continued. “Bitten off by a shark, it was. He doesn’t like me saying so, but there’s no harm in a little gossip between two girls.”
Elsie suddenly became very intrigued. “A shark?”
“Yes, a hammerhead shark. It happened way back when I still lived in Warren City – the upper region, of course. The story goes that the professor and a few of his co-workers were travelling far off to the east in some country somewhere, some place very cold I think. There he was, sitting on a sheet of ice and looking down into the water, when suddenly from the dark blue depths her spotted this sinister pair of eyes ascending towards him. Next thing he knew there was water everywhere and he was sinking down where the shark came from, with blood seeping into the ocean. Supposedly his little misadventure never stopped him, and as soon as he was healthy again he was straight back into the field! Funny that, isn’t it? I do see him wince from time to time when he uses the metal once, and if you look carefully you can see there’s pain in his eyes, as if the wound never really healed at all.”
After a few more exchanges of conversation and a hastened promise to return for games night with the doctor and another crew member named Miss Eveans, Elsie had left the crew’s quarters feeling a little confused, but glad that she had found someone to talk to.
It was on the main level that Elsie became acquainted with Riley Dunstan, the Rosanne’s helmsmen. It was a simple meeting, really, as he was standing by the wheel and staring into the endless blue window, occasionally checking his radar and other gadgets. Riley, as mentioned before, was only young, and evidently fresh out of flight school. But his scruffy hair and lightly trimmed beard made him seem older than he was, and as it turns out, he was much more experienced than Elsie thought. “Can you believe it!” he told Elsie, once, upon their first meeting. “I spent six years in Victoria Flight School and then I served four at the Royal Academy. I’m twenty-six and I’m one of the best damn pilots in Pearl Isle, top of my class and all! So what do the fellows up top do when they receive a letter from the professor? Why, they put me in a submarine! Now, I’ll admit that the Rosanne is a mighty fine vessel, and I’m sure as hell the man for the job, but I’m telling you Miss Elsie, nothing compares to being free in the open sky.”
Short after her conversation with Mr. Dunstan Elsie was called down from her cabin by Professor Goodwin. As she entered the glowing map room she found that the professor and several others were standing around the central table. When she approached the professor glanced up in delight. “Ah! Elsie,” he said, “just the woman I wanted to talk to.” As the professor spoke, Elsie’s eyes glazed over the other faces in the room. She saw Doctor O’Donnell and Mr. Dunstan, and one other man who she recognised as Herschel Adams, a mercenary of sorts, but real mysterious. Professor Goodwin continued, “It has come to my attention that you, Miss Heartwing, have brought an animal aboard the Rosanne – a rabbit, was it?”
Elsie nodded. “Yes, his name is Floof. I saved him from being eaten by a hound and he’s been in my care ever since… He lives in my backpack mostly.”
“It seems that under standard regulations it is forbidden to keep live animals on government ships, but because by rights the ship temporarily belong to me, I suppose I can make an exception. I am told your rabbit possesses a biotic arm?”
“Yes,” said Elsie, happily, “my friend Basil built the arm himself, I believe he’s a student of Doctor O’Donnell.”
“So he is,” the professor agreed. “Alright then, you may keep your pet, but uh, don’t let him run about the submarine alone.”
Elsie then glanced again at all the people who still stood around the central table, and said: “Professor, I feel like you didn’t just call me down here to talk about my pet rabbit.”
“Quite right, now that the housekeeping is out of the way, I thought you might like to know that the Rosanne has recently received a transmission from an old research facility located to the north of Victoria City.”
Now Elsie became much more interested. “Was it Jack?” she asked, eagerly. “What did it say?”
The professor’s smile faded. “I’m afraid we don’t know. The transmission was blank, but we do now have a location, and are currently plotting a course. We should arrive within five or so days.”
“What makes you so sure it’s Jack?”
“Oh, I have an inkling. The base has been dismantled for over a decade. No one should even know it exists. That being said, these facilities are scattered all over Pearl Isle, and when they were active they… well, they had a reputation for performing unnatural experiments. You’d best prepare yourself, Miss Elsie Heartwing, this could get dangerous.”