Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Scientist, Part 2

(If you missed the first part of our tale, read it here!)

I stood before the ruins of Mason Labs with some dismay. “Aye, there’s not much left,” said a short man wearing a dapper waistcoat and a tophat adorned with moving gears. He had seen me approach the debris-strewn lot and gaze at the rubble, and, in the friendly manner of Steelheaders, decided that this was an invitation for a conversation. In truth, I was happy to see him on the otherwise-deserted street, for I was in need of a new lead.

After I docked the airship, I sent a radiogram to Kathy, inquiring about Tesla’s health. I then walked to the new Town Hall where I thought I might find someone knowledgeable about any medical men rumored to have unusual powers. Mr. Eclipse, the leader of the community, was tinkering with a boiler but set down the wrench and heard an abbreviated version of my story. When I was finished, he nodded in understanding. “I wish I had an easy answer for you. I’ve heard rumors of the man called the Scientist, just as you have, but I can’t say I know him personally, or even where he might be. I’m pretty sure he’s not in Steelhead; it’s a small town, in some ways, and I’d like to think I know everyone in it, at least those who aren’t just passing through. Hell, I even know the poor buggers who are camping out in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens. Steelhead doesn’t have any medical magic men in it – or at least not any more.”

I felt a pang of disappointment. He continued, “We all felt the loss when Darien – Dr. Mason – left town some time back. He may have provided some exciting times around here, especially for his neighbors – and, believe me, I don’t need more excitement – but a man of his skills is hard to replace.” Dr. Mason had left not only Steelhead but the entire Steamlands in the dead of night, under some sort of legal cloud that Mr. Eclipse was unwilling to discuss further. I chose not to push the issue.

“And can you suggest anyone to whom I could speak who might be acquainted with the Scientist?” I asked.

“No idea,” he said, shaking his head, causing his long, silver hair to bounce slightly from side to side. “Darien is gone, and I’m pretty confident he’s not coming back. Although he had his confidants, none was really a medical doctor. Right now, the only doctor in town is a Ryne Beck. Dr. Beck lives in Shanghai –” At this, Mr. Eclipse gestured in the vague direction of the Chinese section of town. “– but practices a more, er, conventional brand of medicine. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get this boiler back on line before the town meeting tonight or some feathers are going to fly. Like as not, quite literally.” I thanked him for his time and took my leave.

Before seeking Dr. Beck, I thought I would visit Mason Labs to see if perhaps someone was living there and carrying on Dr. Mason’s work. I looked for a passing hansom cab, but Steelhead was obviously smaller than Caledon and its people less used to such little luxuries. With a small apology to my aching feet, I set out for the harbor district, which is where I saw what remained of the Labs and met my new acquaintance in the top hat.

“The explosion was heard for miles around,” the man was saying, “and flung pieces hundreds of yards. Big pieces, too, such as iron support beams. “ ’Twere a miracle no one was killed.”

“When did this happen?” I asked. Surely no one inside the building could have survived the explosion, but it was still possible that one or more of Dr. Mason’s followers was away at the time.

“Shortly after Dr. Mason left Steelhead. The building sat vacant for several months, not a one of us willing to venture indoors to see if he left anything worth salvaging. I understood Lunar – that’s Mr. TotalLunar Eclipse, our town leader – was on the verge of having some men gut the insides and sell the property when the entire building exploded.”

“What caused the explosion?”

He shrugged. “Someone got inside and played with something he oughtn’t”?

“So, as far as you know, no one moved in to continue Dr. Mason’s experiments?”

“That’s right. Afterward, of course, all sorts of scavengers picked up anything that looked remotely useful. I only hope that none of those items accidentally kills someone.”

It appeared as though this site was a dead end, and I would need to seek out Dr. Ryne Beck. Shanghai was a section of town most easily accessible by water, so I found myself stepping aboard a small boat, not unlike a gondola, with Chinese markings on the sides and a dragon head mounted on the prow. I had secured passage with a Chinaman whose English was broken but whose negotiating skills were unimpaired. My purse was significantly lighter when we reached the other side and I left my pilot, who grinned as he bowed a farewell to me.

It took some doing, between my inability to speak Mandarin and the locals’ difficulties with English, but I eventually tracked Dr. Beck down, not in his office, which was a seedy enough affair, but in a nearby opium den. This certainly helped explain the man’s presence in Shanghai, I thought.

I fought my way through the stench of cooking opium until I found the Steelheader lying on a couch, his eyes glassy. He was a handsome fellow, I suppose, his stylish beard providing some contrast with his youthful face, but one could see the effects of the drug taking its toll on his body. His face looked hollow, the skin around his eyes drooping as though exhausted.

“Dr. Beck?” I inquired.

With great effort, he shifted his position to look at me. “Er, yes? What can I do for you miss…?”

“Rhianon Jameson.” I extended a gloved hand, which he touched briefly. I only hoped he was not too far under the influence of the drug to provide useful information. “I was hoping you could help me find someone. It’s quite important.”

“Hmm, yes, who is it?”

“A man who goes by the nom de plume the Scientist. He apparently knows some powerful medicine. I must find him, and time is running short.”

Beck, whose face had been set in a lazy smile, gave a start at the name and his expression closed. “I’m, ahhh, afraid I don’t know anyone with that name.”

I lacked the time for tact. “You lie, sir. I can see it in your face.”

“I’m telling you, I don’t know…” He started to drift off.

Grabbing him roughly by the arm, I said, my voice raised in anger, “Dr. Beck! You call yourself a medical man; you took an oath. And yet you are willing to let a man die – for what purpose? To protect the Scientist?”

At the disturbance, an attendant rushed over. “You not create noise, miss. You let customers alone. Leave now.” He attempted to lead me out by the arm, but I shook him off.

“Dangerous,” Beck said.

“I understand danger. I can take care of myself. Just tell me where he is.”

“I don’t…know. I really don’t. He didn’t want anyone to find him. All I know is…Babbage…”

“New Babbage? Where?”

“Hmm, not sure. Find…” His voice trailed off as he nodded again. The attendant was calling for reinforcements. I had little time left to find out what the doctor knew.

“Find who? The Scientist?”

Back stirred. “No, not him. Find Lo Ping. Elderly chap. At least I think so…can’t really tell. He’s the only one…only one…who knows how to locate the Scientist. Sssss all I know. Now leave me alone.”

Two more attendants converged on me, each placing a meaty hand on an arm of mine. “Thank you, Dr. Beck. I hope we meet again on a happier occasion…in a better place. Get well, sir.” The two men half-dragged me out of the den as I stumbled across the wooden floor. The first attendant opened the door while his assistants pitched me forward. I tumbled to my knees on the dusty street. The glare of the mid-day sun was a painful contrast to the gloom of the den, and I squinted as I picked myself up and dusted myself off. “Lo Ping. We shall see if he wants to be found.”

Diary of Tesla Steampunk. March ??, 18__. A day? Two? More? I’m not certain. Time has no meaning. Amorphous shapes pass by my field of vision. Some seem more solid than others – are those the real ones, or are the vaporous figures? More than once I have found myself at school, naked, with the other boys pointing and laughing. I am fairly certain that is my dream state at work, though the boys look quite real. I am an adult…yes, even now I am fairly certain of that. Still, quite peculiar. And surely the serum should have worn off by now? No matter. My calculations are correct.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Scientist, Part 1

(Weird science! A friend close to death! Frantic airship journeys - and a mysterious stranger! What's not to like? - RJ)

Tesla Steampunk gasped for breath. He had always been thin, but his frame had become wraith-like in the past few weeks. Whatever ailed him had tightened its grip. Without a miracle, we would surely lose him. Kathy sat mutely, already attempting to process her grief. I was trying to remain upbeat, but, privately, I was beginning to lose hope.

Only a month ago the doctor was healthy – eccentric and not entirely reliable, true, but healthy. His whiskers were perhaps a little whiter than they had been, and his face a little more drawn than usual; he had been working particularly hard of late. All he would tell me was that he was close to a breakthrough in understanding the workings of dreams. Day by day, I saw his face become more drawn, the bags under his eyes grow larger. His lab coat began to drape loosely on his bony frame. Then we heard nothing for a week or more. This was not uncommon when he was immersed in experimentation and the slightest disturbance could break his concentration. Still, we became worried.

Then he sent for Kathy and me. We were his closest friends in Caledon, the place to which he had fled after he wore out his welcome in his homeland, escaping while the angry mob burned the mansion that had been in his family for generations. Caledon tended to be a tolerant place, where mad scientists and evil geniuses were given the same welcome as those with more prosaic occupations. He became part of the informal Jameson clan, and we celebrated with him his scientific triumphs and lamented his failures. The person we now beheld bore no resemblance to the robust scientist we knew. He lay on his bed, too weak to sit up to speak with us. When it became clear he had something he wished to say, we drew chairs closer to the edge of the bed in order to hear him.

“I have been foolish,” he said in an exhausted whisper. “I meddled with forces beyond my understanding, and I am now paying the price.”

“Tesla, what happened to you?” Kathy asked.

He grimaced. “I explored the borderland between dream and reality. In doing so, I lived my dreams – and my dreams came alive in this reality. Indeed, at this moment I am unclear whether you and Rhianon are real or mere figments of my dream imagination.”

“We are most certainly real, sir,” said Kathy.

“But of course you would say so either way,” he said. “No matter. I must act as though you are real, that I asked Smithson to summon you to my bedside, that you are here now and that you understand my words. Without you, I have no hope.” He paused, as that speech seemed to tire him greatly.

“I found that I could no longer separate dream and waking states. This was disconcerting enough. Then I discovered my body was no longer responding to the nutrients I provided it. Somehow my mind would insist that any food was merely dream food, and my body obeyed commands to ignore the food.”

“You are starving to death,” I observed.

“Yes, though I feel no hunger. My mind has also convinced itself that any hunger pangs are also unreal. However, within a week, or possibly two, I shall be dead unless this process reverses.”

“How can we do so?” Kathy asked.

He moved his head slowly side to side. “I have worked on this problem for days. I still do not know the answer. My only hope is the man who calls himself The Scientist.”

The Scientist! Like the anonymous name, the Scientist was a figure shrouded in secrecy. He was variously described as a Spark, brilliant a physician, a necromancer, a vivisectionist, and evil genius. Perhaps he was all of those – or none. He was reputed to be the best in the Steamlands at reviving patients near death – or beyond. At one time that honor belonged to Dr. Mason, and his hospital in Regency was second to none. Mason was long gone from Caledon, however, and reportedly exiled from the Steamlands altogether.

It came down to this: I had to find the Scientist, even though he did not want to be found, and I had to hope he was willing and able to diagnose Tesla and effect a cure in time. Tesla had one chance, and I did not control the odds.

Diary of Tesla Steampunk. March 10, 18__. The Experiment has begun. I tested as thoroughly as I could on several farm animals, and then all the patients the Sanitarium would allow me, perfecting the process at each stage. Some early steps were less than fully successful, but that is only to be expected. They died, and I felt Christian regret, but at the same time they are in a better place. The last few are fully healthy and likely to live a full lifespan…if they remember to eat, of course. They can’t function in normal society, but, then again, that’s why they resided where they did. I readied the serum one more time, then hesitated. I wished I could have continued, perhaps testing some more productive Caledonians, but the blasted Guvnah…no matter. My calculations are surely correct. The serum will take effect, then wear off over the next few days.


The Caledon Sanitarium, in Tamrannoch, was only a shell of its former glory, but I decided to start my inquiries there. The staff were pleasant, and exuded a sense of quiet competence, but it quickly became clear that they had no knowledge of where to begin with a case such as Tesla’s. I asked about the Scientist. The doctors conferred for a moment. The consensus was that he did not exist but, if he did, he was likely in Steelhead. I made certain the Hangover Two had sufficient fuel and supplies, then unmoored the airship and pointed her in the direction of Steelhead.

March 12, 18__. Is it March 12? Possibly, or possibly that’s just my imagination talking. Then again, I’m not certain I am actually writing this down in my Journal. It seems real, the feel of pen against paper, but then it would, wouldn’t it? My experiment was successful. I have breeched the barrier between dreams and reality. Simple, really, once you knew the trick. The part of the brain that processes reality normally has the barest connection with the section that deals in abstract thoughts, which includes our dreams. Some connection occurs, of course; how else would the subconscious work on our daytime problems when we are asleep? By fusing the two sections together – that is too crude a term, of course, but it will do for the purposes of this Journal, which, after all, shall be seen by no one but myself, and I know the proper technique – and doing a little rewiring, I effectively confuse the two parts. To resolve this confusion, each helps with the function of the other. Gradually, the mind blends the two, knowing no difference. Von Hovenkamp, that charlatan, claims to have mapped the brain and each of its functions, and yet he has no understanding of the dream phenomenon whatsoever – his book claims that dreams are but incompletely rendered thoughts, like a stuttering man unable to complete his sentence. Twaddle! True men of Science are rare, and it lies to we few to make the advances upon which the next generation builds.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Deadwood Burns

(I received this dispatch via courier from a friend in the New World. - RJ)

I was en route from the small town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin to the West Coast - Portland, Oregon, to be precise. The stagecoach had made its way into the Black Hills of South Dakota and was planning to stop in the town of Deadwood for the evening.

When we reached the town, however, we discovered tragedy had struck: the town had suffered a fierce fire, and the entire central area was destroyed!

As I stood, surveying the damage, a rugged frontiersman by the name of Mr. Caed Aldwych appeared. I comiserated with him for some minutes, and asked him how the fire had started. "They say it may have started in the California, ma'am," but no one really knew. Reports were that a number of residents had perished. May God have mercy on their souls. Mr. Aldwych then left to recover his tools; he planned to salvage what he could of his property and start rebuilding that very evening. "You are a brave and determined man to do so in this hostile environment," I said. True to the image of the stoic frontiersman, he merely shrugged and set upon his chosen task.

I wandered the now-deserted streets, sketching the scene. Here are some of my efforts:

I was told that lone, sad-looking gentleman was a Mr. Clay Kungler, an important man in town. I dared not approach him in his grief.

We shall rest as well as we can in the coaches and set out again for Portland at first light.

(M. Sand Rau has made a 10-minute film of the incident, available here. - RJ)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nemo - Undersea Steampunk City

As has been reported elsewhere, last Tuesday was the opening of Nemo, an undersea steampunk city inspired by Jules Verne's famous captain. Naturally, I had to pay a visit.

The entrance into Captain Nemo's realm is through this hatch, connected to a small platform atop the sea. Open the hatch, summon the elevator, and ride to the lower level.

Inside, a series of interlocking chambers await. The room below is filled with crackling electricity, generated from Tesla coils, powering arcane pieces of equipment.

Captain Nemo's workshop has several nautical projects underway, including this device with mechanical arms, modelled after the giant squid pictured on the far wall.

What could all this energy be used for? Quite mysterious.

Outside the structure, a craft circles endlessly. (N.B. If that craft were available for purchase, I'd buy one.)

The build, by Mr. Sextan Shepherd, is beautiful. One can see the rust and rivets in the daguerrotype above, and the attention to detail everywhere.

The new sim drew a variety of visitors. What I found interesting was that very few were dressed in Steampunk garb, or anything approaching it. (I donned Mr. Sands' diving helmet for my undersea explorations.) One supposes publicity for the build went well beyond the Steamlands, and curious of all types wanted to pay a visit. I hope this bodes well for Nemo's future.

[Edited 4/1/10 to reflect the change in SLURL.]

Friday, March 26, 2010

Svarga Returns

When I started in-world, as a younger nerd than I am today, I did what any good nerd would do: I bought a book. Several of them, in fact.

One of the ways books on Second Life filled pages was to have a section on "must-see" destinations. One that got a mention, if not a full writeup, in most books was Svarga. The Second Life In-World Travel Guide lists Svarga as one of the "best of the best," and describes it as follows:

In Hinduism, Svarga is considered one of the parts of Heaven. It's the waiting room, so to speak, before your reincarnation....After a year's work, Svarga is a full functioning virtual ecosystem brought online by resident Laukosargas Svarog. This SIM uses artificial clouds that help to carry the plant spores and bees to pollinate the flowers.

(Humorously, the section notes: "It's very common to see residents relaxing. Feel free to say hello, but understand they may not say hello back.")

I visited early on, and took some pictures, and meant to post them. I'm not quite sure why I didn't. Then the sim closed, and it hardly seemed worth posting on a location that no longer existed.

The other night, I heard that Svarga was back. (And now owned by Linden Lab, according to New World Notes.) I paid another visit, a little older and, I hope, a little wiser.

The sim looked exactly as I remembered...and, indeed, exactly as the camera remembered.

The first three pictures are from November 2, 2008; the final seven are from March 22, 2010. The blue dragon, by the way, is an avatar and not part of the environment.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Steam Sky City - rebuilt!

After the recent outrage perpetrated against Steam Sky City during the celebration of the Guvnah's 5th rezday, I thought I would fly to the aerial city to check on the state of repairs. Imagine my surprise when I found a fully functioning Death Star that repairs had progressed far beyond anything I could have imagined! (Apologies for the struck-out text. For a moment, a sinister voice from a galaxy far, far away appeared in my head.)

New rotors keep the city aloft. They are in greater number than before, and spin more rapidly. (And, though the picture does not do them justice, the textures on the base of the rotors are amazing.)

The infrastructure has been rebuilt, providing a transparent canopy throughout the central core of the city.

An aft control tower now stands where the visitors' cabins once were. (And, ahem, Mrs. Volare: that was where my home point was - still is, actually. That sister of mine can't figure out how to deed her land to our group so I can rez in my own house. Well, her own house, to be technical, but it's family, for goodness' sake!)

I happened to catch a glimpse of the CAT hospital ship en route from the Iron Cloud.

Inside, the engines have been entirely rebuilt, and appear much more powerful than before. One suspects any future rogue catgirl pirates will be in for a surprise! (Unless I just let the cat(girl) out of the bag. Oops.)

I tested out the controls on the aft flight deck.

As an aside, I heard an interesting rumor the other day: that Babbagers were hearing that the fiendish Doctor Obolensky was taking credit for the attack on Steam Sky City. On the one hand, I would not put such an audacious maneuver past him, though Caledon seems quite far from his usual area of operation. On the other hand, the Doctor is never publicity-shy, as one may recall from his decision to place his name on the bombs he had mercenaries drop on Babbage. It is hard for me to comprehend that he might have been behind the scheme and yet not made his participation more apparent. Methinks this claim an effort to take credit for someone else's perfidy. In any event, as Clockwinder Tenk apparently tolerates the Doctor's presence in Babbage, I urge Mr. Tenk to investigate this claim and, if it contains any grain of truth, to take all appropriate action.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Aether Salon: Music Boxes!

Sunday was the monthly Aether Salon, in New Babbage. Sister was feeling under the weather, so she asked me to attend in her stead. The subject was Music Boxes, with featured guest Miss Canolli Capalini.

Miss Jed Dagger introduced the Salon...

...while Miss Viv Trafalgar introduced the speaker. Miss Trafalgar, it transpired, is a music box collector. One could not help but feel this month's topic was very special to her.

Miss Capalini noted that, while the music box as we think of it is a 19th century invention, there had been efforts to "capture" music over the centuries.

"[P]rior to the 18th century, there were, of course, many musical inventions, dating all the way back to antiquity. Most notably, Heron of Alexandria. He didn't make music boxes that played music, but created inventions that mimicked the calls of birds.. the whispers and sighs of maidens, heraldic trumpets enough to fool the mind into believing they were hearing wisps of music upon the air. In the 9th century in Persia, two brothers made a set of automatic organs that played continuously driven by water."

Below, Miss Verlia Bilavio, Dame Ordinal Malaprop (in background), and Miss Stargirl MacBain.

Miss Capalini noted that the modern [19th century] music box "produces sounds by the use of a set of pins placed on a revolving cylinder or disc so as to pluck the tuned teeth of a steel comb. They were developed from musical snuff boxes of the 18th century and called carillons à musique. Some of the more complex boxes also have a tiny drum and small bells, in addition to the metal comb. Note that the tone of a musical box is unlike that of any musical instrument."

Below, Miss Maribelle Bronet, Miss Ceejay Writer, and Miss Rowan Derryth.

She observed that it was the Swiss who perfected the music box, using skills developed in watch-making. However, the age of the music box was not long-lived, as Mr. Edison's phonograph largely rendered such boxes obsolete.

Below, I sit between Miss Saffia Widdershins and Mr. Marion Questi. Behind us stand Mr. Jasper Kiergarten and Miss Bookworm Hienrichs.

Miss Capalini then showed some of her creations, including this music box custom-ordered for a wedding; it played Etta James' "At Last."

This was an early creation, and has a clock mechanism as well as a music mechanism.

Note the spiderweb in the upper right hand corner and the spider in the lower right hand corner of this exquisite box:

I listen intently.

Next month's Salon will feature a return of Mr. Hotspur O'Toole.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Purple Prom for RFL

On Saturday afternoon, Mrs. Volare (Fogwoman Gray), co-chair of Caledon's RFL team, hosted a dance in lush Tanglewood Forest to kick off Caledon's RFL events. Miss Soliel Snook played upbeat music from a variety of eras.

Miss Snook dances with Mr. Gabriel Psaltery.

Miss Garnet Psaltery, Prim Perfect publisher Miss Saffia Widdershins, and Caledon newcomer Miss Kirey Somersley. Mr. Psaltery is the nephew of long-time Caledonian Miss Psaltery.

Miss Elize Foxclaw dances with Mr. Monty Streusel.

Miss Ranma Tardis.

I dance. My neighbor, Miss SpinWeaver Radmussen, is in the background.

Miss Widdershins.

Mr. and Mrs. Vivito Volare.

Miss Darlingmonster Ember, in a most magical gown.

The dapper Mr. Bodhisatva Paperclip.

Miss Elizabeth Burleigh, with Miss Random Wezzog in the background.

Though the event started out a little short of gentlemen (though, with the exception of Mr. Paperclip, not short gentlemen, I hasten to add), others, including Professor Paracelsus Schonberg and Mr. Jorge Serapis, arrived. No doubt this is but the first event for Caledon's RFL team.

One can only wonder what the fund-raising capabilities of a combined Steamlands team might be...