New Babbage had been peaceful for quite some time. I was beginning to think that the situation would last forever, that the Clockwinder and Mr. Cleanslate had found the key to keeping the powder keg that is Babbage contained. Foolish me. Mrs. Breezy Carver-Fabre, was the one who first noted that New Babbage arch-villain Doctor Obolensky was active in the Vernian Deep, returned from his self-imposed exile and apparently making plans that could only mean trouble for the Clockwinder and the people of New Babbage.
I hitched a ride on a Cuthbert-class ironclad from Port Caledon - one can never be too careful, or too well-armed when approaching the Doctor - and we steamed our way to New Babbage, then on to the Vernian Sea and, beyond that, the Deep.
Looming in front of us was the familiar sight of Doctor O's lair/laboratory/hideout, rebuilt in the Deep. Outwardly, the structure looked the same as when I last laid eyes on it, sans the scaffolding. As we approached nearer, however, it became clear that Doctor O had been hard at work on improvements, and the renovations were not yet complete.
A tree grows in Obolenskidonia:
Sad little thing, isn't it? On the far side of the lair were clanks furiously constructing an extension to the island. The floating construction platforms dwarfed our ironclad.
Through the captain's spyglass we saw one of the clanks quite clearly.
We rounded the island and prepared to head back to New Babbage with our intelligence when the second officer sounded the alarm: she had spotted a gun placement. The captain quickly ordered the hull be sealed and that the ironclad move away from the guns at full speed.
The command came too late, however. The guns were fully automated, and responded to the motion of the ship. As we came into range, a searchlight illuminated and locked onto us. We could see the cannon swivel toward us and heard the booms as the device opened fire.
A hit! Again and again the guns pounded the hull. At the captain's orders, our gunners returned fire, but the manual aiming was no match for Doctor O's automated firing mechanism, and our rounds did not fall true.
Fortunately, the ironclad's hull withstood the initial volley. By the time the battery had reloaded, we were safely out of range, our ship damaged but still afloat.
I still know not what Doctor Obolensky is up to, but I am more convinced than ever that his plans bode ill for New Babbage!