The Assembler

Chapter 31 - Despair and Hope

Jean G Hontz

@copyright 2009 all rights reserved

Cyril sat, then paced, then sat again. He watched the rain as it drove clean the air and the trees and the pavement, but it did nothing to help him come to terms with what had happened.

Lord Mallister had brought them tea and sandwiches, and words of kind concern. None of it helped.

And looking over at Emmie where she huddled on a sofa, rejecting every comfort offered her by himself, Margot and even Septimus, made things no easier.

How did one deal with the death of someone you thought larger than life? How was such a person’s death even possible?

The rain at least had put out the fires and ended a series of follow-on explosions at the factory. They’d found bodies. No one could really tell whose.

Lord Mallister had told them they’d be informed if... If...

Chief Inspector Rory and Sergeant Lumm had gone off some time ago. Cyril assumed they were going to the scene. He doubted anyone would be able to approach what was left, even given the hard rain. What wasn't still smoldering was probably treacherous just because there was so much debris you couldn't see if you were stepping into some sort of hole that went downward for a hundred feet.

What they had said so far was that there was a boiler under the factory being used to power Ned’s Assembler and it had blown. No one seemed to know for certain if it were an accident or sabotage. Not that it mattered much, or at least so it seemed to Cyril. Dead was dead. Gone was gone and that was an end to it.

Cyril glanced up when he felt a soft hand on his arm. Margot. She had lost a friend and instead of him comforting her, she was comforting him. What a worthless fellow he truly was.

“Cyril,” Margot said softly, “it’s not your fault.”

Cyril shook his head. “If I hadn't gone to Bermuda when ... If I hadn’t led them to Ned...”

“They were looking for him,” Margot replied. “They would have found him. Perhaps not that day, but another.”

After a moment Margot added, “I’m going to put Emmie to bed. Can you see to my father? He’s not demonstrative, but he’s grieving too.”

“Oh. Yes, of course he is. He’s Ned’s ... He was Ned’s mentor. And friend.”

“Yes,” Margot replied, her voice going bleak. “Yes. And a brother to me. He put up with my constant questions and badgering and taught me so much...” Her voice broke and a tear escaped. She squeezed Cyril’s arm and walked away, going to where Emmie was huddled. Somehow Margot got Emmie on her feet and the two went into one of the bedrooms in the suite Lord Mallister had arranged for them at Claridge’s. It was the poshest suite the place had and was always kept reserved for the Royals. It could have been a cell in the Old Bailey for all the comfort did for them.

Cyril got up and walked over to where Septimus Marchant stood looking out over the city toward Buckingham Palace.

“I still don't believe it,” Septimus said once he realized Cyril was standing next to him.

Cyril nodded. He didn't believe it either. But there was no denying the wreckage they’d seen.

“Nathan or Richard Ainsworth appear to be missing, so they’re presumed lost there too,” Cyril commented.

Septimus looked over at the younger man. “I won’t miss either of them. In fact, if this is their doing then I’m glad of it. But I still don't understand what Ainsworth was after.”

“Apparently,” Cyril replied, having had a chat with Rory earlier, “there were several industrialists who were vying with one another to get their hands on Ned’s Assembler. They saw it as a way to find out secrets, either government’s or their rivals’. To break codes and such. Or perhaps even to sell it’s services to any governments who wanted such things.”

“And they thought Ned would agree to such a thing?” Septimus scoffed.

“No, I don't suppose they did. Hence kidnapping Emmie as a way of making him cooperate.”

“I doubt even that would have worked,” Septimus replied.

Cyril didn't answer. It didn't matter any more anyway.

-----------

Chief Inspector, aka Spy, Kevyn Rory, enveloped in something resembling the skin of ain airship’s balloon, wandered amongst the wet, smoking and charred remains of the factory where he and others believed they’d been holding Ned Black and his Assembler.

He squatted down to get a better look at some of the rubble and stared at what was left of a human being. Even the skull was pitted and damaged and bits of it were black and charred.

Lord Laurence Mallister squatted down next to him. “We’ve got approximately 20 bodies so far. There seems to have been something of a war going on. Most of them were armed to the teeth.”

Rory nodded then looked around and frowned. “You know, it doesn't seem to me that we have enough bits and pieces of metal to account for The Assembler.”

Mallister’s eyebrows rose. “It was awfully hot in here, and the explosion might have...”

“But we can identify parts of the steam engine that sat about there,” Rory pointed out, nodding toward the twisted melted mass that once was a working engine. I think he got it out of here.”

“Got it out of here?” Mallister prompted.

“Well, somehow or another, he moved the whole bloody thing out of the cavern in Bermuda. Him or Richard Ainsworth, or perhaps both. Maybe they managed the same trick here in time to ...”

“You don't seem the type to do much wishful thinking, Rory,” Mallister offered quietly, a frown making a line between his eyes.

“No. I prefer hard facts.” Rory fell silent for a time. “It’s a guess, granted. But a fairly educated one, I think. After all, this is what you pay me for. We could have Dr Finigal take a look, but then he’s not very good at the practical stuff.”

Mallister shuddered. “No, I think we’ll forego Finigal in this instance. He'd most likely faint. I’ll have Scotland Yard crawl the wreckage and see what they can come up with, but for now.... Let’s brief the Prince and tell him we think we have reason to keep looking.”

“Oi!” shouted one of the firemen who was looking for hotspots to put out. He waved to them.

Rory and Mallister both hurried over.

“These metal plates, see here?” the man asked. When the two nodded, he continued, “Looks as if they'd been hanging from the ceiling for some odd reason, guv. At any rate, see where the point of that one went right through the factory floor?”

Rory got down on his knees in the wet soggy smell mess and looked. He squinted then said, “A basement? Where the boiler was?”

“I think not. The boiler was over that way, guv. This seems to be something else. Too dark to see down there.”

“Right. I’ll organize some torches,” Mallister said and hurried off to do so. Rory began digging. Several constables joined him and after several moments of sheer terror when it seemed as if what was left of the floor under them might collapse, the’d dug out enough of a hole for Rory to stick his head and shoulders through.

Mallister was back with several torches and thrust one at the chief inspector. Rory lit it, closed the glass on it, then dangled it down through the hole, squinting down to see what it revealed.

“Old, or perhaps never completed tubeways? Old sewer perhaps?” Rory suggested. “I’m going down there. FInd me a rope, won't you?” he asked a constable.

“Are you certain that’s a good idea?” Mallister asked, frowning worriedly.

“No. But I’m going to do it anyway,” Rory replied, as he squirmed out of the irritating rubber suit he’d been wearing. He wanted freedom of movement, and the suit did not give him that.

“But the whole building could collapse on top of you,” Mallister warned, worrying his lip.

Rory shrugged. “You’d best have someone handy to dig me out then, hadn't you?”

When the rope arrived they lowered Rory and another lantern down into the darkness.

It was some time before they heard Rory shout up at them. “It’s a tunnel of some sort. Lit partway. I’m following it.”

“Wait for someone to go with you!” Mallister shouted down at him. But it was already too late. Rory was off and out of sight. “Bloody adventurers,” Mallister muttered. “Now I’ll have to explain to the Prince how it is I’ve let his pet spy get lost under London.” He paused. “To give them hope or not.” He thought about how badly Lady Emiline had taken this. “Perhaps best to wait for more of a sign.”

 

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