By the time I made my way back to the aerodrome, night had fallen. The mooring towers blinked red. The radio operator handed me a reply radiogram from Kathy. “Condition worsening. Only days left. In dreamland full time. If no progress, come home.” I had planned to sleep aboard the Hangover Two, as I was exhausted, and start for Babbage in the morning. The air currents over the Vernian Sea were tricky at best, and making the attempt at night was for the foolhardy. At this point, foolhardy was all I had going for me. I filed my flight plan and started the engines.
Diary of Tesla Steampunk. March, 18__?? Something odd happened today. I thought the Jameson sisters appeared before me, as in a dream. Dream? I know not, of course. They appeared, and we dined on a sumptuous meal. Consommé, a fish, carefully de-boned, a succulent joint of meat. Wine, of course, starting with a dry Chablis and continuing to a claret from my cellars. I fear my tongue became quite loose. I hope I did not embarrass myself. When cigars and brandy came out, I expected the ladies to depart, but they insisted on staying with me. Very sweet of them. Rhianon, of course, has her unusual ways…then again, who would keep me company if not for the Jamesons? I spoke wonders, then a great fatigue overcame me. Would it were that I could relive that meal time and again!
I docked in New Babbage and set out by foot to seek the trail of the Scientist. As soon as I descended to ground level, the smell of burning coal assaulted my nose and my boots crunched down on the layer of soot that seemed to be the perpetual state of Babbage’s sidewalks. This was industry at its most fevered pitch, with engineers developing new ideas as fast as the foundries could make those ideas into reality. It seemed like an unlikely sanctuary for a medical man.
The bright lights of the government were going to be no help to me, so I avoided City Hall and the Clockwinder’s office, or the Academy, instead seeking the darker alleys of the city. I enlisted some of the older urchins, bribing them with coin to bring me leads and even rumors of Lo Ping. This may have been reckless, but time was not on my side.
One such rumor was that an elderly Oriental, name unknown, who was a medical man in his former country, plied the alleyways in the Clockhaven area of Babbage. I made my way to the docks of Clockhaven, and from there into a warren-like series of alleys. Most of the buildings in the area were fire-gutted and abandoned. The docks themselves were barely lighted, the infrequently gas lamps flickering, starved of fuel. Here in the alleys it was nearly pitch black, the only light coming from the occasional building deemed habitable by the homeless and the addicts, who burned whatever material they could find for light and warmth. I hitched my skirts and stepped over an unfortunate soul splayed out across the narrow passage, the smell of burned opium still strong. After a number of twists, I feared I could no longer find my way out the way I came. Still there was no sign of Lo Ping.
Then two strong arms seized me while a shadowy figure in front of me placed a hand over my mouth so I could not cry out. I struggled against my captor, but he did not budge. Silently I cursed myself for not having had my pistol at the ready, though, with the speed at which I was taken, I was not sure that would have done any good. The two men dragged me to the ground. I clenched my legs together, determined to make this assault as difficult as possible for them.
“Lookin’ fer the Scientist, are ye? It’s a mighty dangerous bizniz, lady,” said the one with his hand on my mouth. My eyes widened. He removed his hand, fumbling in the dark for something nearby. I started to say, “You know the whereabouts of the Scientist?” but had no more than the first two words out when the hand returned with a handkerchief, doused in chloroform. He placed it against my mouth and nose and held it there until my world went black.