Excerpt for The Heirloom Complex: A Steampunk Novel by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Heritage Complex

By Gary T. White

Copyright 2018 Gary T. White

Smashwords Edition

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

About the Author

Chapter One

Beside the steam engine tracks lay the moldering, crumbling remains of an ancient asphalt highway. Two hundred years of disuse had taken its toll on the roadway. Now all that remained were chunks of black stone among scrubby vegetation.

The track itself was well graveled, with bright clean rails running on thick ties. Steam engines were the primary transportation of the day, traveling through the derelict landscape of the engines forgotten predecessor.

Helena Morgan was not paying attention to these remains of yesteryear. For one thing, she could not see outside the compartment window, as the incandescent lights made the windows mirror her face. Also, she had traveled many times by train, and all trains followed the same type of old asphalt roadways.

The face reflecting back at her was a face universally admired. She had large blue-gray eyes that looked out at the world with curiosity and full lips that often parted ever so slightly when she was in deep thought.

Not that she often spent much time considering her appearance, either. Well at least, no more than your average twenty-five year old living in the New Industrial Age.

Like most twenty-five year old females, she did cry out when the first explosion occurred. The “Old 40,” a really powerful steam locomotive, was climbing a steep grade and had slowed to around seventy miles per hour. The conductor, seeing the explosion about two miles up the track, switched on the hydro-electric brakes, which throbbed in rapid succession, bringing the train’s speed quickly down.

After the initial shock and sudden lurch of the deceleration, Helena threw open her window and stuck out her head. The train had been making a slight turn to the left so she could see the place where the explosion had occurred. A fire was burning there now and a section of the track was gone.

Suddenly another explosion, this one behind the caboose, rocked the night air. Helena quickly turned to see the explosive fire billow skyward.

Train robberies were very uncommon in this day and age, but if you were going to rob a train this was the way to do it. Modern trains had quick stop brakes and could travel backwards almost as fast as they could travel forwards. Some steam engines could go almost 150 miles an hour. They were considered so safe that marshals no longer typically rode on them.

The train came to a halt, steam rolling out of the smoke stacks. She could see men moving along the track now. They were shouting to one another. One near the engine fired a warning shot at the conductor, then shouted to the others, “… car 72, compartment,” he glanced down at a piece of paper, “five. GO! We don’t have all night.”

Helena felt her heart skip a beat, and her breath became shallow. They were heading for her car, and, worse still, they were looking for her compartment.

Why? She did not have any valuables. Apart from her mother’s brooch and a small titanium ring, an antique, she only had enough money to finish her journey to Ash Town. Her journey was almost complete for, based on the time chart, they were only four miles from the Ash Town depot. Of course, her father was well known in the area. As a prominent doctor, he would be. Could they be attempting a kidnapping, for ransom?

“This is ridiculous, I…I m-must have m-misunderstood,” Helena stammered, stress overtaking her practiced attempts to overcome her stutter.

She felt lightheaded. Forcing herself to breathe, she reached over and turned the lock on the compartment door closing the shade over its window. For a moment she contemplated jumping out the side window, but, as she observed, there was a rather steep drop just at the place her car had stopped and upon further consideration she did not even think she would fit through it. Instead, she closed the window and shade and sat down quickly on the cushioned bench seat.

Helena looked around the compartment for something to use as a weapon. Her bag, an empty glass, and plate from her earlier meal, and her overcoat were all that met her eye. Then she remembered she had stowed her umbrella in the rack above her head. She reached up and grabbed hold of the thick handle. She did an inventory of the others in car. An older couple was in compartment three, and a young lady with two children was in two. That was it. She did not know how many others were in other cars. It was a night train from Bentsen and would not have many passengers, the route being traveled primarily to pick up early morning freight from Ash Town.

The men were aboard and heading toward car 72 from both ends. Helena felt trapped, panic rising in her, when in the hallway lights darkened and went out, giving a slight popping sound. The hallway became pitch black. The light in Helena’s compartment followed with the same soft popping noise. Her room went dark. At that moment the door handle began to rattle. Moving into the far corner, she gripped the umbrella by the shaft brandishing it in front of her as a weapon. There was a scraping noise in the lock and then the turning of the latch. She could hear the door slowly swing open.

A deep whisper sounded from the doorway, “Helena Morgan? I am not here to hurt you. You must come with me.”

Helena did not move.

“I need you to come now,” the voice insisted. “I do not know what these men have in store for you, but I do not imagine it is pleasant.”

She could not see anything, but hearing movement, she swung the umbrella with all her might down in a wide arch. A satisfying thump and groan issued from the darkness. Then the umbrella was wrenched out of her hands and sent clattering to the floor.

Hands gripped her shoulders. Lashing out she threw her arms wide and kicked out. Her assailant was ready this time and blocked her attempt.

Gripping her tightly the man pulled her up and in close to prevent her from striking out again.

Helena struggled and through clinched teeth said, “Unhand me. You… you will NOT touch me!”

“We must away,” the voice insisted, then changing to a calmer timbre, “I know your father, Miss Morgan. I will take you to him.”

She stopped struggling for a moment and the man said urgently, “Your father is James Morgan, a physician. He and I have been friends for many years. Please.”

Helena thought quickly. If the man was lying, it would be no worse than if those who had stopped the train found her. Either way she was at someone else’s mercy.

“I cannot see,” she began. The man released her and she could hear him take a step back. Then she felt a strong gloved hand take hers. She fought the impulse to pull away. The grip tightened.

“I will guide you,” the voice said, deep and quiet.

The hand led her out of the compartment, then to the left. Helena could see a dim glow from the next car, but as they neared it, the glow faded and was gone. The darkness was so complete around her, it was palpable. She heard the door between the cars open and let herself be led through them. The voices were getting closer.

At the end of this car, there must have been a side exit, because the man stopped and opened a door to Helena’s right. She could tell this only by the sound, for she could see nothing. A gentle breeze blew in, and the strong hand gripping hers let go. Booted feet landed in the gravel beside the train.

“Come down the ladder, I’ll catch you if you fall.”

Helena felt for the handgrip and turned, slowly placing her laced boots on each rung. On the last she staggered as her foot did not find the ground, but a pair of hands caught her by the waist, setting her safely down.

“There are woods in front of us. About a half mile from here is a road. Keep hold of my hand.” The gloved hand gripped hers and started in the direction of the woods.

It was all very strange. She could hear her boots crunching over the brush and she could hear the movement of the person in front of her holding her hand. She knew there was no moon out tonight, but she felt as though she were blind.

She ventured a question, “How can you see in this blackness?”

“I can see,” was the only reply.

From somewhere behind them they heard a shout, “Aigh! She’s not here. You men check the woods; you go through those cars, check each room. She can’t a’ gone far.”

Her guide picked up his pace. Helena was stumbling, trying not to fall.

Shortly, the darkness dissipated, and the lights of a carriage came into view. She was now able to see who was leading her. Not that this told her anything about the man. He was cloaked and hooded in what looked to be a material as dark as night.

Lamplight was a welcome relief to Helena as she was helped into the carriage and the door closed. The cloaked figure jumped, and lighted on the driving board. With a flick of the reigns they started at a trot.

The interior of the carriage was not extravagant, but stylish and well tended. Helena pulled the sash away from the window. They were on a two lane dirt road. After awhile a carriage passed traveling in the opposite direction. She momentarily thought of hailing the oncoming vehicle, but it had gone before the thought had fully formed in her mind. She then contemplated leaping from the carriage and running into the surrounding forest but quickly discarded this notion. They were traveling at too great a speed, and she really did not know where to run. In addition, this man apparently had some means of seeing in the dark, and she did not.

She had, of course, been to Ash Town before. Indeed, since her father moved here seven years ago, she had visited him during her summer breaks from university.

She could tell they were traveling one of the widely used roads that connected several of the hamlets with the larger town. The train depot would be located somewhere up ahead. As this thought flitted through her mind, the lights of the depot came into view. The driver slowed the horses and passed the brightly lit sign, “Ash Town Depot.”

The carriage picked up the pace again as it entered the town. Neo-Victorian homes lined the streets, the homes soon giving way to shops and stores of all descriptions. They passed the courthouse and continued toward the other side of town. Her father’s home was at the edge of the town near the beginning of the Moreland, a vast, untouched natural landscape in the mountains that surrounded Ash Town. The carriage slowed, and Helena felt better; he was taking her to her father. She could see the lit, wrap-around porch where she had spent several evenings curled up with a good book, or sitting listening to Craigs tell stories.

The carriage stopped in front of the house. There was the billow of cloak, and the door was opened. Helena, after being handed out of the carriage, was left standing at the edge of the road. The cloaked figure quickly strode toward the white picket fence, opened the gate and bounded up the steps toward the stained glass paneled door.

Rapping loudly, the figure impatiently stood waiting. Helena walked to the gate and was about to go up the steps when the door was opened by her father. Fully dressed and holding his driving gloves, for he was to pick her up at the depot at that very moment, his blue eyes quickly took in everything. He saw the cloaked figure, a person he obviously recognized, glanced over the man’s shoulder to see his daughter, looked at the panting horses and back at the man.

Before he could speak, the cloaked figure said in a deep voice, “Jim, I can’t explain now. Someone tried to take your daughter from the train.” He paused. “They used explosives.”

Not skipping a beat, he continued, “Wake the marshal and head to the tracks near the road that goes to Cane Creek. Take your medical kit; there may be injured. Is Craigs here?”

Dr. Morgan nodded.

“Leave her in his care.” The figure motioned with his head toward Helena. “Tell him to keep his revolver handy. I must go.”

The cloak fluttered, and the man was off the porch, darting past Helena without a word. Dr. Morgan motioned her into the house, while calling in a loud, calm voice, “Craigs?”

As she stepped up the stairs and into the house, Helena paused and watched as the carriage wheeled around and sped back in the direction they had just traveled. As the carriage hurled down the street, it became a dark stain on the night and was gone.

Her father was leaving instructions with Craigs as he picked up his satchel and gently moved his daughter from the doorway. In a moment he was on his brown mare, going at a quick trot in the direction of the courthouse. She could see him clearly as he rode under the sign lit by incandescent lights that read: Ash Town, Appalachian Province, Founded 2356 AD.

Helena stepped into the house and the questioning look of Craigs.

Ten miles away, deep in an ancient forest, a very different house had stood for over four hundred and fifty years. It was a huge, imposing edifice, a reminder of a time long gone, yet it fit the current era seamlessly. It was considered a castle in times past, if castles had existed on the continent. The gargoyles, weathered and worn with age, still stared down on the inhabitants of the vast grounds with sightless eyes.

The first two world wars had not left a mark on The Moor, the modern name for the home. It had once held a better, more noble name, but the time of nobility had long passed.

The Great Collapse had taken its toll on The Moor, yet the home had managed better than most structures. Once the plagues began, the house had been abandoned. Then as the Great Collapse continued, and technology failed, nation rose against nation. Eventually, as civil wars eliminated most governments, the house was partially destroyed and then left forgotten. It was made of stone and was so large that it was not easily warmed in winters. Much of the furniture was left in place or stored in the lower regions of the building. But the reason it had been spared the total decimation of the Collapse was it stood in a vast forest that became a wilderness as the years passed. This, coupled with tales of mysterious happenings in the woods, led people to keep their distance from the lands surrounding The Moor.

During the Reconstruction Period, some one hundred years after the civil wars had ceased, people gravitated to small hamlets like Ash Town and stayed close. As Ash Town grew, people began a tentative exploration into the woods of the Moreland and found the great house. Even more remarkable to these explorers, The Moor was occupied, and many of the rooms were in good repair.

The people living there had come from the west and established a small community at the home. These folk were productive and retained much of the learning from before the Collapse: real books, maps, and other written things - learning that made them useful to the people of Ash Town.

So the people of The Moor had become a wealthy, prosperous addition to the growing town in the Appalachian Province.

This had been over one hundred years ago.

Tonight the heir of the estate drove his carriage into the carriage house to the right of the main house. Jumping down from the high seat, he handed the reins to a groomsman and walked across the cobblestones to the wide stairs leading to the side entrance. The passages were dark, but he walked with the assurance of a man long accustomed to the layout of the home. His cloak billowed out as he strode into the great banquet hall. He did not even glance at the tapestries and carvings adorning the wall. From here, he navigated through the entrance hall and down a long corridor with more tapestries. At the end of this hall a great door stood closed, with a small ray of light peeping out from under it.

The master of the house turned the brass knob and entered the dimly lit, two-story library with a balcony wrapping around the entire room. Bound books filled the shelves. Thompson, the butler, was dozing in the cushioned high-backed mahogany chair beside the small incandescent lamp sitting on an ornate table. He held a book in his lap. Upon the entrance of his employer, Thompson was on his feet, placing the book on the table, moving with a grace that belied his seventy plus years.

He stood waiting instructions. His employer moved to a writing desk, took a piece of parchment from a small stack, and picked up an ink pen. He began writing furiously.

Knowing better than to ask if he needed a light, Thompson came to stand beside the desk.

“Sir, can I get you anything?”

“No, Tom, I’m fine.”

“Something to drink, sir?”

His master continued to write, then glanced up at this man who had bounced him on his knee when he was a baby and gave a brief smile. “Some tea would be nice.”

“Very good, sir.” Thompson removed himself from the room and walked toward the downstairs kitchen.

Upon his return, Thompson found his master dripping wax to seal a letter. As he placed the metal seal into the cooling liquid, he turned to the butler and took the cup of tea from the tray.

“Tom, see that this letter gets to the post at first light. It is very important.”

Thompson set the tray down on a nearby stand and took the letter with a sigh.

“Sir, what is it now?” he said glancing at the address.

“It is just some business.”

Thompson placed the letter in his coat pocket and peered intently at his master, then dropping all formality, said, “Really, William, you have enough trouble as it is. Why start digging up old ghosts?”

William did not even blink at his butler’s direct approach; they had spent too much time in each other’s company for a reproof. Besides, William was not aristocracy, no matter how much the townsfolk and his own staff made him out to be.

He sipped the hot liquid and stared at the faint, deteriorating fresco on the ceiling. Letting out a slow sigh, he said, “Tom,” then hesitatingly, “there was an attempted kidnapping tonight.”

“Miss Morgan?”

William nodded, “A few miles from Ash Town…, they used explosives.”

Thompson’s look was sober, “You said attempted….”

“All the information I could gather led me to believe they might try something. If I were going to stop the train, I would choose the grade just before the 40 gets into town.”

William drank down more of the steaming tea. “Anyway, I was about a mile away when the explosions began, and, after that, it was just a matter of getting Miss Morgan off the train as quietly as possible and back to the carriage.”

“So she is with her father now?”

“Yes…. Well, actually with Craigs.”

Thompson nodded with satisfaction.

William continued, “I sent her father to see if anyone was harmed and to get the marshal.”

“Well, it seems you have had a bit of excitement this evening. But why…?” At this, Thompson patted his coat pocket.

“Because they need to know.” William finished off the tea and set the cup on the writing desk. “We’ve spent so many years hiding, and I’m afraid my meddling is going to expose us all.”

He moved to the window, looking out into the darkness.

“Sir,” Thompson stepped beside him. “Is it meddling for a sick man to attempt to find a cure?” He paused, “They will understand.”


William brought his hand up to massage his temples, a gesture Thompson knew well. Thompson opened a nearby cabinet and brought out a small candle holder and matches. He lit the candle, and cut off the incandescent light. The room fell into darkness except for the candle’s soft glow.

He handed the candle to his employer and stepped toward the door. “Sir, get some sleep.”

William shielded his eyes from the candle light with a gloved hand and watched Thompson softly close the library door. His eyes looked like huge black orbs set under his knit brow. There was so much to do and so much that could go wrong.

A door beside the huge stone fireplace, cold for the summer, allowed entry into a long corridor that led to the main staircase. William followed this passage and descended the broad, iron-railed stairway into the lower parts of the house.

He held the candle level, but away to his side, keeping his face in shadow. He moved with purpose in the almost total darkness.

He was now in the lowest part of the house, passing large rooms with various mechanical exercise equipment, tack for horse riding, even what had been a swimming pool that had long since ceased to hold water.

Coming to what looked to be a storeroom, William quickly opened the oak door and entered. The room was small by comparison to the rooms upstairs - small even for servant’s quarters. It had been a storage closet with no windows, not even in the door. It resembled a crypt. William quickly undressed and climbed into the modest four poster bed, pulling a sheet over himself as he blew out the candle. The darkness enveloped him and he sighed with relief.

Lying in the blackness, knowing he needed rest, William began to plan out his next move. It would be daylight soon, and, though he dreaded it, he knew he would have to spend most of the day in the sunlight, among people. As he turned over and tried to calm his mind for sleep, he spoke softly, “God, please let it rain all day tomorrow.”

Outside the crescent moon hung low in the cloudless summer sky.

Chapter Two

The next day, Helena slept until the brass clock, gears slowly whirring, on her nightstand chimed noon. She had watched the sun rise as she sipped tea and discussed the events of the night with Craigs and then again with her father.

He had ascertained that no one had been injured, and by all accounts it looked like a train robbery. After the men had found Helena’s compartment empty, they quickly went through the other cars and took a few items, apparently wanting it to look like a heist.

“Except that it was m-meant to be a kidnapping, and I w-was the kid,” Helena said between sips, her voice quavering only slightly. “Daddy, what is the meaning of this?”

James Tobiah Morgan looked quietly out the window at the sun peeking over the Blueridge Mountains, then glanced back at his daughter.

Helena waited. When he did not speak, she said, “You are not w-wealthy enough for r-ransom. I certainly did not have enough v-valuables on my p-person to account for it.” She sipped more tea, then sat the cup down. “Daddy, t-tell me!”

“Helena,” Dr. Morgan began, “it was just a train robbery.” He saw his daughter’s eyes flare and said quickly, “At least that is what we must say. The truth…. the truth is that you may be right in your estimation of the situation. Perhaps you should return to…?”

“I will not.” Helena straightened her back. “I came here to help you with your w-work, and that is what I w-will do.” She paused, looking at her father; his eyes glanced away from her. “Is that what this is all about? W-Was last night connected with our r-research?”

He looked back at her.

Indignant, Helena said, “It was! Why w-would someone want to take me for t-that?”

Jim waved a hand at his daughter in an attempt to calm her. “Yes, yes, it has to do with the research, and I don’t know exactly why someone would want to take you. Of course, you are a remarkable woman, and you have been doing some valuable research.”

“My research? It might be valuable to s-scholars, but it has no real practical use right now. Gene-gineering, at this p-point, is p-primarily a study of the p-past. Someday p-perhaps….”

Dr. Morgan rose from the table and glanced at his pocket watch. “Helena, it is half past four in the morning. We can discuss this later.”

With that, he kissed his daughter and walked up the stairs.

Helena looked at Craigs, who only said, “Don’t ask me miss. I’m not in his confidence that much. I suspect he knows more than he speaks.” He shifted in his seat. “I’d be to bed if I were you. Sun will be up in a bit.”

Craigs slowly rose from his chair, and Helena reached out to take his weathered hand. “Craigs, w-what about our genetic research w-would lead someone to do that?” She pointed in the direction of the train depot.

Craigs squeezed her hand and let it drop before saying, “Miss, you know there are lots of people in this old world who would like our lives to be like it was in the before times, back before the Great Collapse. Them would be the people who want to understand the workings of the genetic code and how to change it to fit their needs. You would be valuable to them.”

He picked up his gun from the table and slowly walked up to his room, leaving Helena in the warm glow of the incandescent lamps hanging from the ceiling.

Helena knew what Craigs was referring to, yet she did not see how it could be true. Serious bio-genetic manipulation was an ancient relic. Three hundred years separated them from the monstrosities that were created from genetic tests, and so much of that technology had been lost. For her research, even now, with the best manuscripts universities had to offer, the study was piecemeal. Craigs was imagining things. There had to be another explanation. She placed the teacup and saucer in the cast iron sink and walked up to her room.

She was exhausted. As she undressed, she thought of the man who had saved her. What part did he play in all this? Her father obviously knew him, even followed his directions without hesitation.

Helena slipped under the linen covers and turned off the incandescent. There were too many pieces of the puzzle, and she did not even know what the image was to look like. As she contemplated the strange happenings, she drifted into a restless sleep.

Now, at half past noon, she tried to catalogue the whole incident and move onto other matters. She was, by and large, a very organized, specific soul and took life as it came.

Having finished breakfast, Helena returned to her upstairs room to unpack her valise and the trunk that Craigs had brought from the depot earlier that morning. Unpacking was an orderly thing that did not require her mind and thus left her to sort out what she was to do next. She was certain that her father knew more than he was telling. His natural desire to protect his only daughter kept him quiet. He knew her headstrong attitude, had married a woman who was also headstrong. As Helena thought of her mother, now gone for more than two years, her hand slackened on the dress she was hanging in the wardrobe, a deep blue one with brass buttons in pairs down the front.

Her mother had died of a perplexing disease the medical history books labeled an “autoimmune” response, where the body’s own immune system attacks it. As she slowly faded in health and stamina, the best doctors could do nothing to stop the progress of the disease. So much information had been lost over the years. They knew the mechanism that triggered the response, an immune switch in the “T” cells, but the chemical combinations to address the disease were no longer known. Medicines to reduce the symptoms were available, but there was no cure. Her mother had died too weak to even speak.

Helena wiped her eyes, and resumed unpacking. She had already been working on gene-gineering research, her mother and father both having studied it for years. The greatest difficulty with Gene Complex study was that, in this New Industrial Age, much of the technology that made genetic manipulation possible no longer existed, would never exist again as long as the Imps controlled the sky.

Helena smiled at the childhood stories of why non-mechanical technology was no longer possible. It was said that little Imps, from the sky, shorted out sensitive electrical systems. With fairy dust, as she recalled.

In the process of lining up her favorite books on the shelf, Helena heard the door knocker. Turning, she went out of her room, down the stairs and into the hallway.

At the door was a man - a very handsome, well dressed, smiling man. His hat was off, and he made a slight bow.

“Good afternoon, miss.” He smiled again. “I expected to see a rather grumpy caretaker and instead am confronted by a beauty.” Helena, not given to blushing, blushed.

The man continued, “Let me introduce myself. Yes, I know self introductions to be very rude, but honestly I know the owner of this house and can only assume that you are connected to him.

“My name is Frederick Cordell, this is the home of Dr. James Morgan, and I have the pleasure of addressing...?” Here he looked inquisitively at Helena and made a slight gesture in her direction.

Having recovered her composure, and, recognizing this as a man of society if a bit forward in his approach, smiled back and responded, “G-good afternoon, Mr. Cordell. M-my n-name is Helena Morgan. I am Dr. Morgan’s daughter.”

“Ah, yes. Miss Morgan, I am so happy to come into your acquaintance. I have heard your father speak your praises. Even the old caretaker perks up when he speaks of you. Not that he speaks to me of anything above a sentence.

“Is your father at home?”

“I am afraid he is n-not, but I will be happy to give him any m-message you may require.”

Cordell gave another slight bow, flashed a brilliant smile, and said, “I have come to invite the good doctor to dine with me this Thursday at seven at the Stanford and Company Dining Rooms. And, I might add, I would be honored if you would accompany your father. He and I have some business concerning a property he would like to purchase from me, and we need to discuss the particulars. Dull stuff, I know, but you will be afforded an excellent meal.”

He awaited a response.

“I will p-pass the information to my f-father, and, if we are available, I am sure we will be h-happy to attend.”

“Wonderful. I will send a carriage by at a quarter 'til seven on the night unless I hear otherwise.”

With this Frederick Cordell made a precise bow, smiled, turned, and walked quickly down the front steps to a waiting gray stallion, which he mounted and rode back into town at a gallop.

Helena watched him go, a bit piqued at his manners - polite, yet somehow roguish. Too much the rogue for her, yet her face felt warm. Stepping back into the house, she located parchment and pen left on the mahogany stand for just such a purpose and wrote down the information. After a moment’s contemplation she ended the notation with, “I would be happy to attend if it is convenient with you, Father,” and left the note on his desk in his study.

Going back upstairs, Helena felt her mind racing in an uncomfortable fashion. She was puzzling out the events of the previous night, thinking of her immediate plans for work, and dodging the bright eyes and smile of Mr. Cordell.

Frustrated with herself, she looked in the mirror, examining her hair and the cut of her dress, wondering what he had thought of her. She glanced out the window, back at the mirror, and finally rolled her eyes, saying, “You, Helena, are not a fifteen-year-old flibbit. Get focused,” and returned to her unpacking.

Having finished this task, she picked up the book she had placed on the night stand and went down to the parlor, a large room in the front of the house. The room had matching furniture, charcoal in color, with an upright piano in one corner. A fireplace was set into the opposite wall.

She curled up on the largest sofa and opened the book.

It was a Christian Codex Standard Bible, considered the most accurate and literal Bible to have been translated over the past eight hundred years. Before the Great Collapse, Bible translations and versions had become numerous and had begun to have many errors and inconsistencies in them. During the Reconstruction, Christian scholars had sought out all the best translations and manuscripts, spending over twenty years checking and rechecking the texts. With the resurgence of the Christian faith over the past 200 years, a desire for an accurate and consistent translation had come to the forefront. Thus the Christian Codex was developed, with extensive reference material attached in a separate book.

Helena flipped to her leather marker and began reading where she had left off. Reading the Bible helped her focus. It also constantly gave her a moral compass and center that directed her decisions. Above this, it kept her in touch with her Savior.

Helena completed her reading in the book of Psalms and had finished her time of prayer when she heard the back door open.

Craigs entered, having been tending to some yardwork in back of the house. Helena heard him rummage in the kitchen and then call her name.

“I am in the p-parlor,” she replied.

Craigs stepped in saying, “You feeling alright?”

“Yes, I am f-fine.” Helena placed the Bible on the coffee table. “I assume you know a Mr. Frederick C-Cordell?”

Craigs sniffed at the name. “I know the man. Bit of a social prig if you ask me. Your father likes him tolerably, and he is well respected by the upper crust, but he wants for common courtesy to those what he calls less than himself.”

Walking to a seat opposite Helena, Craigs sat and continued, “Has he been here?”

Helena nodded. “He invited Daddy and me to s-supper on Thursday. He said he and D-Daddy were to discuss some land acquisition.”

Craigs looked questioningly at Helena. “Not sure what land he is talking about. He and James were discussing a bit of property near the outskirts, but seemed to me Cordell didn't much want to part with it.” Another sigh escaped him. “Perhaps he's had a change of mind, or perhaps he heard the doctor's pretty daughter was in town and wanted to inspect for himself.'”

He gave a wink and rose from the chair. “I've got horses to tend to. Don't stray from home today until we get more knowing on what happened last night. I want you close at hand.”

As he was leaving the room, Helena attempted another foray into the proceedings of last night. “Who w-was the man that took me from the t-train?”

“He's a man that wants what's best for your family and likes his privacy. Like it or not, that's the only answer I'll give you. If he didn't introduce himself to you, then I'll not.”

With that, Craigs left the room. Helena fingered a pillow fringe on the sofa and sighed.

Some time later she realized she had been staring at the decoration above the mantelpiece, thinking first about the dark figure of the night and then the smiling Mr. Cordell. Catching herself and realizing how very tired she was, Helena went to the kitchen and begin to prepare some hot coffee. Very strong, hot coffee.

William spent his day dealing with one issue after another. He had risen at ten feeling groggy and disoriented. Sitting up in bed, he steadied himself for a moment, then moved to the floor and began to do push-ups. After fifty of these, he dressed himself in the pitch darkness and washed his face in the basin on the stand.

Finally facing the door, he sighed and opened it. The hall was almost as black as the room but for a weak light that found its way down the winding stairs. Heading toward the light, William soon entered the large hallway. A maid was cleaning the furniture in this room. William made a friendly greeting to her, and she returned it with a smile.

Striding into the Breakfast Room, he ate a cold breakfast and finished a supply order for the new school in the upper district. He would have to meet with the builders at two this afternoon.

Finishing the papers, he drained the remaining coffee in his cup. Thompson entered with William’s topcoat and hat. William shrugged into the coat without a word. Never mind that the temperatures today would probably get into the eighties.

As he pulled on his black gloves, he glanced at Thompson, who replied to the look, “I had the letter sent early this morning.”

William nodded.

“You have a fair amount of business to attend to today, sir. It looks like the sun will be bright. You could save some of it for the evening…”

“I will not waste time catering to my weaknesses. I will be fine.” William turned and headed toward the door. “Where are my sunglasses?”

Now, at almost seven in the evening, William wished he had taken Thompson’s advice. He was hot, and his head was throbbing at the temples. He had overdone it and was frustrated with himself. He had spent much of his day in the sun, looking over the building site for the new school, then inspecting the supplies at the depot. He had found some relief in the warehouses adjoining the depot, but all too soon had returned to the open air.

At five he met with several other businessmen and ate a hurried supper.

Seven o’clock found him striding up the sidewalk to Doctor James Morgan’s home. Promising himself he would make this stop quick and then go home, he saw Miss Morgan sitting on the wraparound porch. Deciding quickly how to proceed, William stopped outside the gate and took off his hat.

“Pardon me, but we have not been introduced. I wonder, is Doctor Morgan at home?”

Helena had been sitting on the porch reading her last scientific journal entry when a man of average height and medium build came walking determinedly up the street. He was carrying a walking cane and had a topcoat slung over his right shoulder. The strangest thing about the man was that he was dressed all in black from head to foot, including gloves, in this weather. Stopping at the gate, he made a polite inquiry for her father. His voice sounded strained and not very happy.

“My father is at h-home. I am Helena Morgan, p-pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Miss Morgan, I am pleased to meet you, William Moreland at your service.” Having finished with formalities, he seemed to drop all pretense of politeness and said rather tersely, “Where is your father?”

“H-He is in his study. I can get him for you.”

“Do so,” was the abrupt reply.

In a moment Helena had apprised her father of the dark gentleman at the gate and expressed her sentiment that he was a rather impolite person. Her father laid down the surgical instrument he was cleaning and looked over his reading glasses. “When you have walked a mile in his shoes, then you can make some sort of judgment as to the nature of his politeness.”

The mild reprimand had its effect on Helena, and as they stepped out onto the porch, she smiled at the gentleman. Her father went to the gate, opened it and reached out a hand to clasp Mr. Moreland’s tightly. Whispering something Helena could not understand, he then said in a normal tone, “William, how are you feeling this evening? You look a bit fatigued. We will get you some cool water and let you rest in the parlor. Helena, will you show him in and,” he added as they moved into the house, “close the blinds and drapes please.”

Helena, thinking this was odd, nevertheless did as she was bidden and pulled the blinds and closed the heavy drapes. The room darkened. William seemed to be thankful for the darkness. Setting his hat down on a side table, he went to a rocking chair near the dead fireplace. He laid his head back, began to rock slowly, and pressed his fingers to his temples.

“Please excuse me, Miss Morgan; I am dealing with a headache just now.”

Before she could answer, her father returned and handed William a tall glass of iced water, having removed ice from the new refrigerant box he had installed that spring.

William took a small sip of the liquid and then held the water in his right hand balanced on his knee. He spoke to the doctor. “I have come for our weekly ritual. It will be the left arm, I believe.”

The doctor, having brought in his bag, extricated a needle and syringe. Standing beside William, he wrapped a rubber band around his patient’s arm and deftly found a vein, inserted the needle and drew a small vial of blood.

William did not flinch. Still holding the water, the ice already melted, he looked at Helena.

“I have been informed that you were on the train last night. I hope you have recovered?”

“I have, t-thank you. My f-father tells me it was an attempted train robbery. What do y-you think?”

Glancing at the doctor, William replied, “It sounds very much like a train robbery. The marshal says the men spent almost more in explosives than they made off the robbery. Still, I don’t suppose they would have known that the 40 was carrying so little valuable merchandise.”

Helena’s eyes went wide.

“What I mean is, there was no real cargo except the mail and the few passengers in the cars.”

“What about holding us for r-ransom?” Helena tried yet again to gain more knowledge of the situation. She was to be disappointed.

“Your father tells me you were taken off the train and brought to his home. The other passengers were left alone except for the loss of a few trinkets. No one was kidnapped, no one held for ransom.”

William stood, setting the water down on the nearby table. “It makes for an interesting story, but the truth is they seemed to be petty thieves with more trinitrotoluene than brains. I would try to let it go. I am sure they will be caught soon, probably trying to rob the marshal.”

He gave a condescending smile in her direction and bowed to her and her father. Taking his hat and coat, he said good-bye and left the house.

As he walked briskly down the street in the direction of town, Helena turned to her father. “He is an odd man. I do not t-think I like him.”

Dr. Morgan was preparing the vial to be placed in a centrifuge, but glanced up at this. “He is a good man, who has a heavy burden to carry.”

“What is the b-burden?”

“I cannot share it with you at the present. I am trying to help him, and I believe you may help him also. Your research is connected with his...difficulty.”

“What do you mean?” Helena asked.

“All in good time. Now I must get this prepared.” He left the room.

Helena felt that she might have preferred to remain at the university instead of coming here, where, since her arrival, all she had found in Ash Town was question upon question without answers.

Noticing the almost full glass of water on the table, she reached to pick it up. It was warm to the touch, actually almost too hot to hold. She carried it quickly to the kitchen and set it on the counter.

“How very odd.” Helena glanced in the direction William had gone.

William hated the idea of not being completely truthful, essentially lying by omission. Mentally beating himself, he went to the stables where he had left his horse. His foolishness had brought problems on the Morgans, and he did not want them to get hurt. He hoped he could come up with a solution and soon.

Meanwhile he would continue the work with Doctor Morgan, and, with his daughter’s research perhaps he would find a cure at last.

“And be free of this forever curse,” he said to no one as he mounted his horse and pointed him in the direction of The Moor.

Chapter Three

The remainder of the week was uneventful for Miss Morgan - so uneventful that she found herself more and more looking forward to the dinner engagement set for Thursday evening.

On the day of the event, Helena spent extra time in preparation of her attire and particularly her hairstyling. She rag curled her hair the night before and attempted to get her mass of thick tresses to cooperate into perfect ringlets. Failing this, she decided to create a braid and put her hair up with two ringlets framing her face. Tearing this down, she used a heated flat iron to straighten out the curls. After this, she re-braided her hair, tore this down and then proceeded to braid her hair yet again, twirl it into a bun, and re-create the two ringlets.

“Helena, let us try not to be very much late,” her father called up the stairs.


Inspecting her dress, a fairly reserved one with buttons up the front and back, she finished buttoning the front. The buttons went all the way up to her chin and made her neck look long and elegant; at least, that was the hope. Her corset was pulled tight to show off her figure in a modest way, again she hoped, and the deep blue ruffled out from the corset to form a slight bell shape. The tips of her shoes were just visible below the folds, polished black and laced high.

She found herself, not for the first time, wondering what Mr. Cordell would think of her and, also not for the first time, reprimanding herself for such nonsensical thoughts.

Mr. Cordell had sent a carriage around to get them, and it was standing in the roadway now. Her father took his coat and hat from the rack, picked up his doctor’s bag which he carried with him almost everywhere, and held the door open for his daughter.

“You look lovely in blue and remind me of your mother.”

Helena smiled at her father and gently gripped his shoulder with her gloved hand.

The carriage took them into Ash Town proper traveling the main road toward the depot and turning left near the firehouse. This road led to a series of steel and stone structures that served businesses as varied as the architecture of the storefronts.

Pulling up to the Stanford and Company Dining Rooms, a stone-fronted structure with ornate steel and concrete columns, the carriage door was opened by an attendant and the occupants helped down.

Inside the waiting room, decorated with a wide variety of clocks, clockwork machines, and dark leather all glowing a soft gold in the gas lamplight, Mr. Cordell was waiting. He smiled and made a slight bow to them, extended his hand to her father, then took Helena’s hand and kissed it, lingering a moment longer than was necessary. Dropping her hand, blocked from her father’s view, he looked her over in a way not entirely comfortable, smiled again, and then stepped aside motioning them to enter the dining rooms.

The evening was warm, but electric fans hung from the ceiling, slowly turning to move the air coming in through the opened windows.

They were seated.

“Ah, Miss Morgan, you look lovely this evening.” Before she could respond, Cordell turned and stopped a waiter. “Make a fresh carafe of coffee. I would like mine black.” Turning back to Helena and her father he said, “It is always interesting to speak to your father about his… hobby. I hear that you also study ancient gene-gineering.”

“Father has been interested in the g-genetic studies since I was a c-child, but I really began working on the h-history of gene m-manipulation when my… my m-mother became sick.” She took a sip of water from her glass. “It gave me s-something to do during those l-long hours of her illness.”

“Yes, of course, but do you really believe that man ever truly accomplished all the things that the books tell us?” he smiled and took a drink as well.

“Why, yes. It s-seems to me, before the G-Great Collapse, man had achieved some degree of q-quantum control over the g-genetic code, and that at least some of those horrid t-tests we read about actually… happened.”

Cordell swirled his drink. “You mean the people who would explode because their skin, what… ate energy? Or the stone men, the kinetic, the demons? It all seems like a fairy tale to me.”

Helena decided he was making fun of her and her father, so she replied with some heat, “I believe t-that some of those stories were t-true. There are many records that agree from m-many sources. All of them cannot be f-false.” She sighed and sat back in her seat, “It is just that our technology will n-never be able to duplicate those things and even if we c-could I don’t believe we necessarily s-should.”

The waiter brought menus and those at the table became quiet as they decided on what they would eat.

Having only briefly glanced at the menu Cordell said, “Perhaps our technology will one day allow us to do those things again.” Turning to get a waiter he said, “We are ready to order.”

The waiter took their orders and went toward the kitchen.

Helena continued, “T-the technology from before The C-Collapse was great and t-terrible, and, though many have tried, no one has succeeded in making t-things anywhere close to the D-Digitals of that era.”

“Well, that is because of the Imps, now, is it not?” Cordell laughed.

Helena had to smile as well.

“Now about that land,” Cordell turned to her father, and soon an intense discussion was underway.

The food arrived, and Dr. Morgan bowed his head to say a blessing. Mr. Cordell, about to take a bite of baked trout, paused, smiled, and set his fork down. Lacing his hands together, he bowed his head and waited for the doctor to begin.

Helena always loved to hear her father pray. He was not flowery or proper. He did not sound like he was making a speech, but rather like he was talking to a friend. He talked to God much like he talked to her.

As he finished praying, they began to eat.

Frederick Cordell glanced at Helena and gave her one of his disarming smiles. He then looked at one of the many clocks on the wall. The conversation was light, varied and enjoyable. After a while Cordell effortlessly again turned the talk towards the land Dr. Morgan wished to purchase and soon they were discussing the particulars.

Cordell was quite willing to let go of the parcel and at a very acceptable rate. He even had some suggestions concerning where the best place to build the new clinic would be.

As the evening progressed, Helena became more and more interested in this man. She was aware that his attentions played to her vanity, but he was pleasant and handsome. She could be forgiven.

As dessert was being brought out, a confection of whipped cream on a dark chocolate cake, a man entered the dining room and walked straight over to their table.

“Dr. Morgan, sir,” the man took his hat off and glanced at Mr. Cordell.

Looking back at Dr. Morgan, he continued, “Sir, there’s been an accident over at The Brambles near The Bridge. Man’s arm is shattered pretty bad. Might need a surgery.” He again glanced over at Cordell.

Dr. Morgan, already getting out of his chair, turned to Mr. Cordell. “My bag is in your carriage.”

Cordell motioned to a man standing at the entrance to the rooms. “Dr. Morgan, please use my carriage. My man will get you to The Brambles.”

“Thank you. Helena, do you want to be taken home before I go?”

“That will not be necessary,” Cordell said casually. “Besides, she has only started her dessert. I will make sure she gets home. By the time we finish, I can have another carriage brought around to pick us up. I will see her safely there, if that is alright with you?”

Dr. Morgan thanked him but looked at Helena for her reply. She was enjoying the attentions of Mr. Cordell. Also, she had been cooped up in her father’s house all week, and was not ready to return just yet.

“That will be f-fine, F-Father.” She saw him hesitate. “Craigs will be home.”

With this, her father nodded and turned to leave. Helena watched him go.

“So, Miss Morgan, do you know a great deal about the medical arts?” Cordell flashed his smile again.

“G-Growing up with a d-doctor, I was acting as his attendant b-by the time I was s-seven. I f-finished my internship last f-fall, but most of my time is spent in research n-now.”

He was so attentive and relaxed. Helena found herself talking more than was usual for her. At one point she even inwardly chided herself that she was acting like a school girl. The evening sped by.

After they had finished eating and had tea, Cordell paid the bill and escorted Helena out to a waiting carriage.

One of his men stepped up and handed Cordell a note. As she stepped into the carriage, he stood at the door but did not enter.

Sighing he said, “Miss Morgan, I regret that some business I need to take care of has come up and so I must bid you good night here. My men will see you safely home, and, if I may, would it be alright if I called on you - and your father - sometime tomorrow?”

Helena, a bit let down by this turn of events, nevertheless said, “You can call sometime in the afternoon. I f-fear that f-father will not be in until very late tonight, as I think B-Bramble B-Bridge is some distance from here.”

“Oh, at least two hours,” he said, smiling again. “But do not fear, I’ll come by in the late afternoon, say around four o’clock?”

“Very well.”

“Excellent.” He closed the door, tipped his hat, and spoke to the driver. “Jog on.”

As the carriage moved off, she watched him turn and re-enter the dining rooms.

The ride home took less than ten minutes. When the carriage arrived, Helena noticed that the incandescent light had been left on just over the entryway. There were no other lights on in the house. The driver jumped down and opened the carriage door, extended a hand and helped her down saying, “Evening, Miss.” With that, he climbed back up, took the reins, and waited for her to enter the house. Walking up the steps, Helena tried the door. It was locked. She then took a small key from her purse. The lock clicked in the casing, she pushed the handle down, went inside, and closed the door behind her. She heard the driver click to the pair of horses and heard the carriage wheel away and back toward town.

Calling out to Craigs, she received no answer. Walking into the kitchen, she noticed a note on the table. In Craigs’ precise handwriting she read, “Tommy Johnson from up the Moor Way came down. Someone needing stitches on a finger. I’ll take care of it. Hope you enjoyed your dinner. Not sure you enjoyed the company. – Craigs”

Helena couldn’t help but smile. Craigs was at least transparent in his feelings toward Frederick Cordell. Helena wished she could make up her mind concerning him.

She placed the note back on the table. Craigs was very adept at stitching small wounds, having been with her father for over twenty years.

Suddenly it dawned on her that she was alone in the house and would be alone for quite some time. She was not afraid of being alone. She usually enjoyed a quiet house. But the events of the previous week made her more aware of everyone’s absence.

Her father gone away in one direction, Craigs in another. What if someone had planned it all to get her alone?

A slight fear started to rise in her, and she quickly stifled it. Both things were a common enough occurrence for a doctor’s house. Chiding herself for being ridiculous, she did, however, go back to the front door and turn the lock. The click resounded through the empty house.

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