Chapter 24 - Of Threats and Promises
Jean G Hontz
@copyright 2009 all rights reserved
They came for him not long after his mother had left. Nathan Ainsworth himself walked through the door once it was opened. He looked Ned up and down then said, “I do hope you will be cooperative, young man. I have no joy in violence. I prefer using persuasion and rational argument to get my way.”
Ned, who’d been lying on the bed staring at the ceiling, had sat up and was now leaning on an elbow. He regarded Nathan Ainsworth for a long moment then said, “That pretty speech would have meant more if you didn't have my mother as hostage.”
“Have your mother? My dear boy! I invited her for a fortnight. She's merely here as my guest. She’s free to leave at any time. But she seems to enjoy my company.”
“Can we skip the fake and meaningless sparring? What exactly is it you want from me and my machine that you've gone so far as to send men after me who even shot at us.”
“Oh dear boy, that wasn't me. That was the African Consortium. They want you and it dead. I want you and it alive and functioning. So, you see, you should be delighted that it’s me who has you rather than them.”
“I’m not a bit delighted, Mr Ainsworth. I’d be delighted if you released me, my machine and my mother.”
Ainsworth frowned. He walked further into the room and took a seat on one of the chairs. He regarded his perfectly shined boots for a moment before looking up to meet Ned’s eyes.
“Your hostility surprises me, Black. The government wants you hung, the Africans want you dead, and I am offering you friendship.”
“For a price,” Ned replied evenly.
Ainsworth shrugged. “There is always a price. Mine does not include your head.”
“Why did you kidnap Lady Emiline?” Ned asked.
“Ah. Yes. Richard said that was a mistake. He was most reluctant to do it. I, alas, did not listen to him. I should have. He does know you better than do I. I’d thought, you see, you’d be amenable to persuasion if you knew I held her.”
“No more so than I am with you holding my mother,” Ned replied. God he hated this sort of game. “Just tell me what you want of me. We can begin negotiations from there.”
Ainsworth raised an eyebrow. Was the boy that practical? He’d never have believed it. Alchemists seldom had a bit of sense. Still...
“I want you to work for me, using your little Assembler to decipher or decrypt or whatever the proper term is, any secret and protected communications I ask of you. For that service, I will provide you a comfortable, perhaps even generous stipend, and even provide you funding to further your studies. Just think of it. A laboratory with unlimited funding. For life. What say you to that?”
Ned swung his feet round and sat up on the bed. “It sounds quite reasonable. The question is why you found it so necessary to try to force me to accept your arrangement rather than just putting it to me in that sort of rational manner.”
Ainsworth frowned. “In my experience most scientists are not rational.”
“Ah,” Ned replied getting up. “I see. Your son Richard seems rational.”
“Yes, well, he’s a romantic at heart. He just hides it well.”
“I see,” Ned replied. “When can I see my Assembler. I want to be certain it is all right and that you haven't had your minions crawling around and through it to examine it.”
Ainsworth smiled. “No one’s been near it other than Richard. And he tells me he wouldn't touch a thing without you there.”
“Smart man. It has several failsafes.”
AInsworth’s smile was tight. “So he suggested. It would seem he knows you quite well.”
Ned shrugged. “Perhaps he’s just ...Rational.”
AInsworth laugh aloud. “Yes. Just so. Come. I should warn you, however, that the room is encased in solid lead. Every scientist I've contacted has assured me that nothing can escape such an arrangement.”
“I thank you for the warning.”
Ned fell in beside Ainsworth. Ainsworth, despite his declaration to dislike violence had two guards with him, both armed with serious looking steam-powered weapons. They were big too, so there was little hope of overpowering them by sheer force.
Ned regarded the area they walked through. It somewhat resembled a disused or incomplete subway tunnel. In London proper then, he guessed. And deeply enough underground that any rumble from his Assembler would be unlikely to alert any neighbors or be noticeable by the authorities, if there even were any looking for him.
The guards carried lanterns but there were gaslights inset into the tunnel as well. So, perhaps the gas was unreliable down here.
Ned had the beginnings of a plan. But it would only work if Richard hadn't told his father all he knew. How far could he trust Richard? But then, what choice did he have at this moment?
The tunnels eventually led them to an open area with stairs upward. Another hatch-like door opened into what looked like an old factory floor. There The Assembler sat, dark and silent.
He hurried forward relieved to see it seemed complete and undisturbed.
Richard Ainsworth entered the room through another door at that moment. “I made certain no one touched it, Ned,” is what he said.
Ned nodded at him. “Good. Thank you.”
Richard looked surprised by that sincere offering.
Ned noted that his papers had been gone through, arranged a bit differently than he preferred. Richard no doubt. No one else he could think of, except perhaps Septimus, would be able to understand them at all.
“So, Benedict, are you satisfied now? Now that I’ve kept my word and returned you your little turing machine? That is what they call it isn’t it?” Nathan Ainsworth asked. He stood up on a catwalk above them.
Ned met Richard’s eyes fully as he replied. “Yes. It’s a calculating machine. It will decipher codes and help solve complex equations.” Now would tell, he knew. If Richard commented regarding the more esoteric abilities of The Assembler.
Richard blinked and looked away. “We should fire it up to make sure my translation of it to its present home hasn’t upset any of its internal equipment. Father, I think you’ll be a bit bored. We need to run diagnostics and double check cabling.”
Nathan’s eyes narrowed for a moment, but then he shrugged. “Yes, no doubt.” He met Ned’s eyes. “I’ll just go visit with Abigail.”
The threat ought to have been enough.
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