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.