Steampunk Family
This entry is part of a series, Voyage to Antafrica»
Ulrik in the lab

Ulrik in the lab

Madame vonHedwig swept into her husband’s laboratory after dinner.  “Good evening, Ulrik.”

The lab assistant clicked his heels and nodded to her, but did not stop writing.  He was taking dictation at a furious pace, the nib of his pen a blur against the paper.

“… haphazard course and random duration of the high potential energy.  Manufactured ball lightening will imminently destroy either the steam turbine, the lightening generator or the hydrogen envelope.  It is these same issues that currently make ball lighting an unacceptable, but perhaps an excellent temporary deterrent, hello my darling one moment please. In all modesty, I must credit the work of Mr. Faraday for a leap in my research in this subject.  With out his work I never would have…”

She amused herself with a Tesla coil until Herr vonHedwig’s stream of consciousness ran dry.

“Thank you, Ulrik, we’ll see if any of that makes sense tomorrow.”

“Dearest,” began his wife, “do you know what the children are up to?”

He frowned, as though endeavoring to recall any children.  Madame waited for his great brain to switch gears.

“Yes!” he exclaimed.  “Philomena is developing a flying apparatus. Claire is momentarily intrigued by geology. Adolphus, although primarily interested in gear work, is keen on finding a way to dematerialize vegetables from his plate without our noticing. The twins are making rocket skates, and Gerhardt is working on some sort of weapon.”

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” she murmured.

“Why should it?”

“No reason, my love.  The twins were not working on rocket skates today.”

“Good. I want to prop a mattress at either end of the passageway before they test them.”

“An excellent idea! But today, they were looking out the windows with me.”

He frowned, thinking. “Yes, they were. What are they up to?”

“I was hoping you’d know.  Ah well, time will tell.”

“You know my dear, there was something I wanted to show you – Ulrik, where are those newspapers?”

The lanky lab assistant replaced the equipment he had been cleaning, and approached with a stack of yellowed sheets in many languages.

“Here, mein Herr.”

“Thank you.” Herr vonHedwig riffled through the pile. “It was in a British paper out of Hong Kong… Otto gave me all these when we stopped by Quindao, thought I’d like to catch up with the world after our time in the jungle. Ah! Here it is.”

He pulled out a copy of the China Steam Press and offered it to his wife.  “Bottom of the page, there.  Do you know the fellow?”

Madame saw the headline, “Italian Mounts Himalayan Expedition” and drew in a sharp breath.  She read on, bright blue eyes skimming the page.

Count Anniston Emilio Montesanto reports that preparations are complete for his voyage of discovery to the remote valleys of the Himalayan mountain range.  The renowned botanist believes hundreds, possibly thousands of unknown species await discovery there. Famous for his development of Arancio di Agente, and interest in improving agricultural production, Montesanto anticipates he will be in the region some months.  “I shall not return until I have unlocked the mysteries of Shangri-La,” the Count said.

“Oh that’s just like him!” Madame said, “A press release – a police report would be more appropriate. He’s and out-and-out bounder.”

“What is this Arancio di Agente?”

“A defoliant fungus – takes all the leaves off all plants in its path. Always spreads south. Clever, I suppose, but completely ill conceived. The French government in Haiti wanted to clear some forest to make way for sugar cane. They bought this fungus from Montesanto and treated twenty acres of trees in the north of the island.”

“Oh no!”

“Oh yes! It moved south and stripped the entire island of plant life. No one can survive there now; there’s not a living thing on the island, only the zombies, shambling through the dust.”

“Bounder, indeed. Is he to blame for those zombies?” Herr vonHedwig asked.

“I don’t believe so. I think they were created, and controlled, by the Voudoun priests of that country, and abandoned with the island. Poor, wretched things.”

“Montesanto – I thought I knew the name. Isn’t he the fellow who made himself unpleasant to you at the Grand Exhibition in Moscow?”

“Slanderous cur! ‘Science will not be lead by apron-strings!’ I was never more furious in all my life. I could have scratched his eyes out.”

“You very nearly did,” her husband recalled.

“Nonsense! The Acrimonious Ampelopsis aconitifolia is a rare plant, and a real botanist would have known what to do with it, instead of letting it get a hold of his head like that.” She smiled at the memory. “His insults to me are unpleasant, of course, but science is no stranger to controversy. If he were merely ungentlemanly, I would ignore him.  No, my love, he is dangerous, unethical – he twists the bounties of nature to serve his own ends.  If he had his way, the crops of the world would feed his purse, not the mouths of the hungry! How I despise him! I hope we don’t run into him while we’re here.”

Herr vonHedwig ran his hand over the prototype ball-lightening generator resting on a workbench. “Oh, I don’t know… he might be useful in my research.”

“That would be the only way he might improve the condition of the planet,” Madame replied.

This story began with On Grandmothers. The last episode is Faeries, Helpful Siblings, and other Mythological Creatures and the next is A Day of Discovery.

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Entries in this series:
  1. On Grandmothers
  2. With A Bang!
  3. In Search of Ancient Angiosperms
  4. Assault on the Galley
  5. The Sorrows of Chef
  6. Faeries, Helpful Siblings, and other Mythological Creatures
  7. Meanwhile, Back in the Lab
  8. A Day of Discovery
  9. The Children’s Hypothesis
  10. A Research Date
  11. Aboard the Schmetterling
  12. The Cave
  13. The Cage
  14. Knee of the Yeti
  15. Kidnapped!
  16. A Clue
  17. The Yeti and the Comb
  18. Fighting the Count
  19. Fighting the Yeti
  20. Falling
  21. Breadcrumbs
  22. The Search is On
  23. Flight to Saigon
  24. On the Streets of Saigon
  25. The Sad Man
  26. At the Grandiere Club Aeronautique
  27. If you Give a Count a Cookie
  28. Out of Cookies
  29. Stuck!
  30. Airships Float?
  31. Where is Claire?
  32. Drowning
  33. Into the Drink!
  34. Boat!
  35. Mushroom Trip
  36. Ambush
  37. The Variegated Strangler
  38. In a Strange Land
  39. Hand over Hand
  40. The Last of the Gouda
  41. An Unusual Breakfast
  42. Downstream
  43. What's for Dinner?
  44. Axe and Fire
  45. Meanwhile, Back at the Airship
  46. Over the Gobi
  47. Return of the Grandmothers
  48. Warning from Huang
  49. Anxious Hours
  50. Ulrik Prepares
  51. Destruction by Dawn
  52. Finding Philomena
  53. No Luck in Pekin
  54. The Children Rescue...Something
  55. Corndog Liberation
  56. The Fate of Corndogs
  57. Have you Tea?
  58. Antafrican Hosptitality
  59. Onion Porridge
  60. Homesick
  61. On the Hunt
  62. Farm Living
  63. Singing for Supper
  64. You Say Potato...
  65. Curiosity is the Foundation of Discovery
  66. An Awkward Position
  67. Trouble Comes Riding
  68. Capsicum Capture
  69. To the Palace
  70. The Death of the Lincoln
  71. War Wings
  72. A Long Way Down
  73. Enter the Lightning
  74. Before the Queen
  75. You are a Tomato!
  76. A Sunken Ship
  77. Eglantine Aubergine
  78. Children of the Soil
  79. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  80. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  81. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  82. The Price of Popcorn
  83. Ulrik and Chef
  84. Fire!
  85. Claire's Bluff
  86. Tomato Queen and Aubergine
  87. It's Going to Blow!
  88. Rhodri in the Gardens
  89. The Servant's Fountain
  90. History Revealed
  91. Fight at the Fountain
  92. Repercussions
  93. Father Discovers the Yeti
  94. Aboard the Lucy Stone
  95. Summoned
  96. The Queen's Accusation
  97. The Queen's Rage
  98. The Khan
  99. The Last War Wing
  100. Eglantine Departs
  101. Thumping Rhodri
  102. Bad News from the Boys
  103. Where's the Count?
  104. In Search of the Count
  105. Spying on the Queen
  106. Confronting the Count
  107. Orphaned?
  108. Orphaned?
  109. Montesanto's Experiments
  110. Montesanto's Experiments
  111. The Queen's Tantrum
  112. Bettina's Tantrum
  113. The Flaming Queen
  114. Uprising!
  115. Uprising!
  116. Escape
  117. On the Run
  118. The Mysterious Coach
  119. Red Racer!
  120. Revolution Reset
  121. By the Acid Sea
  122. Farewell Antafrica
  123. Home Again!
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