Chapter 27 - Turn the Bloody Thing On!
Jean G Hontz
@copyright 2009 all rights reserved
Ned was prepared by morning. He’d driven his hatreds and anger down into the deepest pit of his stomach and locked it in there. His face showed nothing when the door opened revealing a guard holding a breakfast tray.
He’d already bathed, shaved and dressed, so he sat down and calmly ate what was given to him. It helped knowing that he was being watched. It made him more disciplined, more focused and fed the fury-fueled determination that had settled like a blanket over him. He only hoped that Ainsworth and his minions would think his behavior based merely on resignation.
An hour or so after delivery of breakfast, the guard was back, with reinforcements. The three of them were polite but armed. Ned did his best to act as if he had come to accept the reality of the situation and was willing to cooperate, if only to ensure the safety of his mother.
The guards gestured Ned out of the room and proceeded to march him through what was now familiar territory. The underground tunnels they’d trekked through before, were just as dark and gloomy. Still, this time Ned, knowing what to expect, had precious time to observe. He kept his head still so the guards would think him distracted or uninterested, only his eyes moving. He tried to note every detail he could make out in the gloom. He spotted some doors that seemed to be sealed shut, and an off-shoot tunnel which was black as pitch and which could go for miles or only a few feet. He also felt the merest hint of an air current touch his left cheek at one point. And straining to hear over the sound of their footsteps he swore he heard the distinctive metallic sound of a train going by. So, active actual Underground tunnels were nearby. Relatively so at any rate.
He needed a way to mark the place. He did the only thing he could under the circumstances he dropped the dessert spoon he’d filched from the dining table the night before. He hoped the staff was too well trained to report such a theft by a ‘guest.’ So far, anyway, so good. He winced when the spoon landed because he heard the slight noise of it hitting up against a rail but the guards were more focused on looking for potential assassins or perhaps government agents lurking in the gloom than watching his every move so they did not react. Ned hoped that if he did get free, and managed to score a torch, and made it through the upper rooms and doorways and back down into the tunnels he’d see it glinting where he’d dropped it to mark where he should begin to look for a way out. There were a lot of ifs involved in that particular plan, but he needed to feel as if he had several alternative strategies in place to implement should the opportunity arise. Besides, it gave him something to think about beyond strangling Lord Silver.
Ned and his prison guards finally reached the massive factory floor where his Assembler stood. Ned checked the room, and saw that indeed it was lined with lead and probably wouldn't allow even Richard’s version of alchemy to move it out of there now. Although as he examined the ceiling of the place, he saw it had retractable plates and probably there were glassed windows behind them. Interesting. Another possible plan occurred to him.
Speaking of Richard, he was crouched down in front of the main control unit of The Assembler, checking on a feed line that went to one of the two steam engines that sat off to one side. He looked up as he heard their arrival. He met Ned’s eyes for a moment then stood.
“I think we’re ready for a test run. My father and his guest will be arriving soon. They want us to wait for them.”
“I see,” Ned replied. “You won't mind me double checking the settings and the connections.”
“No, of course not,” Richard agreed and stood aside, leaning back against a worktable his arms crossed on his chest. He watched Ned work, looking relaxed and at ease.
Ned had been busy with his mental checklist of start up requirements for some time when he heard the arrival of their observers. He heard them before he saw them. He wasn't surprised when he looked over toward the doorway through which they entered and saw that his father, Lord Silver, was with Nathan Ainsworth.
Despite having expected it, his gut twisted up when he saw him. Ned didn’t particularly care what he might do, or threaten, or even manage to do toward himself. It was what the man had done to his mother that rankled, particularly considering that she'd never, ever, said a harsh word regarding Lord Silver to Ned or to anyone he knew. Any assumptions Ned had made since were all based on information from other sources. And a good deal of Ned’s assessment of his father came from Lord Silver's own lips.
He’d come to visit Ned once whilst he was at Oxford. Lord Silver’s legitimate son was studying there, and Ned supposed some odd fear or guilt had driven Lord Silver to search him out.Their little ‘chat’ had mostly consisted of his father threatening him, and ordering him to stay well clear of Alexander. Since Ned had no intention of striking up an acquaintance the threats had seemed petty and especially cruel. No sense blaming the son for the father’s bad behavior. Ned pointing that out had only made the Lord all the more hostile.
And when it had been Silver who’d pushed for charging Ned with treason, it was clear the hostility had not only continued, but even festered. The evidence of that was clear on Silver’s face even now. He positively glared at Ned. Ned, in turn, kept his own face as expressionless as he could manage.
“Good morning, Benedict,” Nathan Ainsworth said as he and Lord Silver sauntered forward to examine The Assembler at closer range. “I”ve never seen anything quite like this. Richard’s machines are much... Smaller.”
“Better funding, perhaps?” Ned replied mildly.
Richard snorted. “And less innovative. Although I have managed a fair advance or two so far.”
“Why do you call it The Assembler?” Nathan wanted to know.
Ned, never comfortable talking about his work, merely replied, “It was originally designed to help me solve complex equations in as short a time as possible. It grew from there. I call it The Assembler mainly because it helps me assemble my thoughts and ideas into a coherent matrix from which I can then logically extend the concepts.”
“I see,” Lord Silver said with a sneer. “So it doesn't actually DO anything.”
This was the most dangerous moment. Would Richard report what he’d seen it do, or would he take the hint from him and remain silent. Ned waited.
“It solves cyphers,” Richard said into the silence. “Which is what got Ned into trouble with Whitehall and the Admiralty in the first place.”
“Entirely ancillary to its prime function,” Ned replied.
Richard and he began a technical discussion that ranged across several disciplines and included mechanics with regard to actually building systems and turing devices when Nathan Ainsworth finally bellowed, “Enough!”
Richard, sending what seemed to Ned to be a slow wink at him, turned back toward his father. “Sir?”
“Turn the bloody thing on,” Lord Silver hissed.
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