[identity profile] copperbadge.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] originalsam_backup
Chapter Nineteen

Canberra, at least as much as Ellis had experienced it, was an odd place: he could see the underlying grid of the planned city, but there were little alleys here and there where buildings didn't quite fit, odd twisting roads where blocks of offices and shops shouldered up against each other. The Archives building was freestanding, but it was also the victim of some of this haphazard construction: it had a narrow gap on one side, too narrow for a man to fit through, and a shadowed alley on the other.

The streetlamps that lined Canberra's byways made sneaking difficult, so Ellis simply strode along as if he had every purpose in the world. When he reached the alley he walked through the streetlamp's pool of light, then turned sharply and ducked along the wall, Purva following after.

There were doors set into the wall that faced the alley, most of them obviously not in frequent use; outside the third door were two Tribal men in what seemed to be a sort of livery for clerks, white shirts and waistcoats, their shirtsleeves pinned up at the elbows by garters. They were talking, laughing even, but when they heard footfalls they glanced around and darted inside quickly. Ellis walked up to the door they'd left open a crack and knocked.

It opened enough for a young woman to put her head through, and Ellis smiled when he saw it was the woman who'd carried his message earlier.

"I'm looking for the man in office thirty-two," he said. "Regarding the package I retrieved in Brisbane."

Her eyes flicked over him, then to Purva. She gave a sharp nod and opened the door fully.

The room on the other side was a sort of dingy common room, lined with bookshelves that held not only damaged-looking books in the process of repair but also odd boxes and the occasional trinket or strange device. There was a long table, also covered with books and papers, surrounded by chairs. A dim "electric" lamp hung over the table, around which five or six men and women worked. They all looked up when he stepped inside.

The clerk from earlier -- notable in his thin-rimmed glasses -- stood and made a slight gesture for the others to remain where they were. The woman who'd opened the door for them retired to a corner, where a battered wing-chair was illuminated by another lamp.

"Welcome, Mr. Grimes," he said, coming around the table to offer his hand. Ellis hesitated only slightly before accepting it. He gave Purva a delicate look. "And your friend...?"

"Lafayette," Ellis said, and Purva came forward to shake as well.

"A confederate?"

Purva grinned.

"Something like that," Ellis replied. "And you are...?"

"My name is William Libris."

"A fitting name for your vocation."

"My father took it when he came to the archive; he had no surname. Please, sit down," he said, gesturing to the table. "Your note said you found a package left in Brisbane?"

Ellis cocked his head. "I'd like to see office thirty-two, if you don't mind."

"There is no office thirty-two," Libris said. The others exchanged looks.

"Then the person in charge."

"You do see him, Mr. Grimes."

There was a long silence -- perilous, but not outright dangerous -- as Ellis studied the slim young man.

"There was a letter sent to England," Ellis said finally.

"You mean the letter to the Crown," Libris replied. "With the seal in the corner...?"

Ellis rested a hand on the table. "I believe I'll sit down now," he said. He looked at Libris, and at the faces around the table -- all Tribal, all composed, and all relatively young. Purva perched on the table next to him, feet resting on a chair.

"We thought it would be one of our own," Ellis murmured.

There were smiles at this, from Libris, from the others.

"A white man, eh?" Libris asked.

"No -- an Englishman," Ellis replied. "There were a few of us sent here or came here, before the borders closed -- but I wasn't told who had sent the letter, only what it said."

"Well, if you're expecting me to repeat it, I'm afraid that's not on," Libris replied. "At least until I -- we -- fully understand your purpose in coming here this evening."

"I should think that would be evident, Mr. Libris," Ellis replied, straightening, and was rewarded with a look of surprise on Libris' face. "You asked for aid. I'm sent by the government of Great Britain to investigate the need."

"And to provide it?" Libris asked, catching that little detail.

"That remains to be seen." Ellis spread his hands. "But I am here now. You may as well explain yourselves."

Libris seemed to check with the others, some of whom nodded slightly when his eyes fell on them. "Very well. Mr. Grimes, this is Barker -- Simm -- Neil -- Andrea -- and you've met Anne when she brought the note. You understand our reticence," he added, eyes flicking over Purva again.

"She's safe. She's one of us," Ellis assured him.

"Not one of us," Anne said. "White men might not notice, but the color of your skin isn't all there is to see about you, Miss Lafayette."

Purva smiled. "My skin is the least of me," she said politely.

"I'll vouch for her," Ellis insisted.

"And who vouches for you?" Andrea asked, but Libris put up a hand to silence her.

"I suspect Mr. Grimes was about to say," he said, smiling slightly, "that if no-one trusts anyone this discussion will be hard going."

"You're six to our two; you may as well speak," Ellis said.

"Mr. Grimes, I think before we speak further I must know something," Libris said. "Are you Gregory Anderson?"

Ellis stared at him for a second, and then laughed.

"Good lord no."

They all looked disappointed, Andrea especially. She scowled. "You fit the age -- he can't be the boy you were with today -- "

"And how do you know that?" Ellis inquired.

"He's on the list," Anne answered.

"List?" Ellis asked.

"A government list, of those deported for immunity," Libris said. "He was old to be deported. This..." He slid a paper out of a shelf, returning to offer it to Ellis, "is his expatriation certificate. They're kept here in the Archives."

"Handy."

"Well, information is a weapon too."

"Is that who you wrote to?" Ellis asked, curiously. "I was never told."

"We have certain contacts, in certain places," Libris replied. "We were told this expatriate had power in the government. That he could help us. Did he send you?"

"Therein lies a long story, perhaps for another time. All you need to know, for now, is that I was sent."

"And you travel under the name Grimes, with a son and a daughter, and a servant," Anne pointed out. "An odd family to be spies."

"That depends on your point of view," Ellis said politely. "One would say this is an odd assortment of petitioners to the Crown."

"We are...archivists of many things," Libris said. "Men and women come and go, their servants come with them."

"Servants hear things," Purva agreed.

"Things like medical tests on the bodies of Creationists," Ellis added, prompting gently.

"We have friends who work in hospitals," Libris said.

"You have a lot of friends, Mr. Libris."

"Not so many as I could wish for, Mr. Grimes." Libris gave him one of his swift smiles.

Ellis looked him in the eye. "You're an underground. That's how you knew about the existence of the confiscated Tribal maps you showed us today?"

"Simm helped to draw them," Libris replied. "Andrea's father was killed for possessing them."

"Killed?"

"The government does not take Tribal insurrection lightly," Andrea said, with a stiff inflection that spoke of deep emotion underneath.

Ellis looked around the room. "I was summoned here with the threat of war and plague. I've seen evidence for both, and I'll do what I can to stop that -- or at least to warn the world. You took a risk in all of this, and I appreciate that. But I'm not here because you were worried about the power Australia's building, am I?"

"Would you have come for anything less?" Libris asked.

"That's not my decision. I just go where I'm told."

"Across Europe, Africa, and an ocean?"

Ellis felt his lips twitch. "Well, I had some help on the journey. That's not important. I suppose I'm here to negotiate, aren't I? To see what else you can tell me, if you can help me stop this war that's coming, and to find out what you want in return."

"We don't know how to stop the war," Libris said. "We wouldn't know where to begin. But -- "

He hesitated. Ellis saw Andrea sigh.

"You might as well tell him, William," she said.

"I'll tell him what's necessary, Andrea, thank you," Libris replied crisply.

"Oh, just so," she drawled.

"Our concern is our people," Libris said to Ellis. "You've seen the conditions here. You must have. Every day the reservations are pushed further back. We lose our rights, a little at a time. We've already lost what little respect we might ever have had. My father remembered a time when it wasn't like this, and the more we see..."

He gestured helplessly around him.

"We're young, Mr. Grimes, but we know how things used to be. It can't go on."

"Are you planning a revolt?" Ellis asked.

"Not as such, not yet. How can we? We'd be slaughtered where we stood." Libris drew a breath. "We sought out Anderson because we knew he was immune. What we need are Expats, Creationists. We need them desperately."

"For what?"

Another grim silence.

"Thus far the reigning families, the people in power, haven't discovered how useful a Creationist could be; they prefer to send them away. They're afraid of them," Libris said. "But we know how to use them."

"Creationists don't make weapons, you know that, don't you?"

"Typical," one of the others sniffed.

"Typical?" Ellis asked, lifting an eyebrow.

"White men only ever think about guns," Andrea said. "You never think about any other -- "

"Andrea!" Libris said sharply. She subsided. "You have ways of crossing the border. You could bring Creationists here. Even just one would help. We could offer you -- " Libris swallowed. "If Australia were under Tribal control again we would dismantle the war machines. We could offer you peace treaties, open the borders. You must know about the mineral resources this country has."

Ellis leaned back. "And what, Mr. Libris, do you need Creationists for, if not to build you weapons?"

"Why do you need to know?"

"I've seen what is done to Creationists in Australia. Those that aren't shipped away are dissected -- and I got that from records you gave me. I'm very interested in Creationism in Australia."

"So are we."

"Yes, but I know my reasons. I don't know yours. And I won't be party to wholesale slaughter of any race. It doesn't sound like you want the same rights as white men, Mr. Libris; it sounds as though you want dominion, which is rarely won by anything other than blood."

Libris glanced at Anne. "I'm not allowed to tell you any more."

"You aren't the leader of this...conglomeration, then?"

Libris shook his head. "Just its mouthpiece. I can ask...or I can take you to them, but I need a good-faith gesture first. If we've been trapped, we're expendable; others aren't." His glance slid to Purva. "A hostage. Or information."

"No hostages," Purva said, shaking her head. Ellis glanced at her, amused. If they tried they'd find far more trouble than they bargained for. "I don't trust landbound hostage takers. You do not know the code."

"Land-bound?" Libris asked.

"My companion is something of a...well, I think one could say a pirate, couldn't they?" Ellis said. Purva gave him a smug look. "Trust me, you don't want her as a hostage."

"The young man we saw this afternoon, then. Or his wife."

Ellis shook his head. "Not a good opening gambit, Mr. Libris, and it will be at least two days before we can meet again. I have need of my people, too. Perhaps...information. Have you heard rumors of a new rail line being built?"

"One or two words," Libris replied. "Highest members of Parliament only."

"The rail line is a lie," Ellis said flatly. "It's my lie. You already know that if one of your people chose to research me, they would find I didn't exist, and nor do John and Charity Parsons. If they provided this information to any member of Parliament, my life would be worth nothing. So you see us here in a deadlock, now -- I could have you hanged as traitors, and you could have me shot as a spy."

Libris smiled. "Your point is well made. Have you ever seen a reservation, Mr. Grimes?"

"I can't say I have."

"You will. In a few days. We'll be in touch."

Ellis knew when he was being dismissed. "Until then, Mr. Libris."

"Oh, Mr. Grimes," Libris called, as Ellis put his hand on the doorknob. "One more question. Tell us your real names."

Ellis turned around. "This is Purva de la Fitte, privateer, lately of the Indian Ocean. I am Ellis Graveworthy, a writer of some note in Europe and a spy for Her Majesty the Queen."

Libris nodded. "Walk carefully, Mr. Graveworthy. Miss de la Fitte."

Outside, Purva huffed a breath of air through pursed lips and glanced at him. "Very exciting."

"Exciting," Ellis agreed. "And interesting. I have found -- and this lesson may serve you well, Purva -- that if I am patient and alert rather than sharp and violent, nine times in ten I am better off for it."

"Yes. I am beginning to understand," she said, with a slight smile that he found deeply unnerving.

***

The day of Bell's social dawned bright and warm. Ellis and Purva had returned the night before with thoughtful looks, and they'd sat up late discussing what they'd said and seen with Clare and Jack. Clare knew she asked more questions than was probably wise, but it fascinated her, this conspiracy of Tribals who had summoned help from across the world and actually received an answer. It was late enough when they went to bed that she woke the next morning well after she should have. A note from Mrs. Bell, delivered with her breakfast, requested that Clare wear the white linen sun-dress she'd bought, since the weather was bound to stay fair for the party that night.

"I know it's a southern island, but it's very far south," Clare said, fiddling with her sleeves that evening while Jack and Ellis dressed in their newly-bought finest -- Jack buttoning his waistcoat, Ellis tying a complicated knot in his necktie. "It's not supposed to be this warm in January, I don't care where we are."

"Oh, it is the way," Purva answered, batting Jack's hands away and rebuttoning his waistcoat properly. She tugged on it and grinned at him; Clare saw Jack's chin lift just that much extra, and smiled to herself.

"The way?" Ellis asked.

"Yes. The world, see, she tilts," Purva continued, offering Jack his tie. "Below some lines of longitude, seasons change. In England it snows, in Australia, summer. Many times we have sailed south to catch warm winds. All sailors know this."

"Well, I'm glad someone does," Ellis replied. "You look lovely, Mrs. Parsons."

"Thank you. Just remind me not to eat anything that drips," she said, smoothing the front of the crisp white dress. She envied Purva, who was in breeches and a plain shirt with a dun waistcoat, useful utilitarian clothing. "So. Shall we?" she said, offering Jack her arm.

The Bells had sent their auto and a driver, who held a rear door for Jack and Clare and Ellis, then popped the front door and left it half-open for Purva. Clare caught her giving the driver a vicious look, and wondered just how well Purva was coping under the heavy hand of servitude in this divided Canberra.

She busied herself watching Jack, the way he subtly explored everything about the auto, from the door mechanisms to the seat upholstery. Two months ago he wouldn't have bothered with subtlety, but then two months was a lifetime past. Ellis was molding them all -- Purva most obviously, but Jack as well. And her; she no longer saw bad and good, just shades of grey that grew blurrier all the time.

"Thinking deep thoughts, Charity," Ellis remarked, catching her eye.

"Just...feeling nostalgic," she replied with a smile.

"Glad to be back in a proper city again?"

"Yes, I suppose."

Clare expected, given the parties she'd been to in London and Cambridge, that they would be shown into a stuffy, smoky room full of people when they arrived. Instead, when they got out of the auto (the driver once more holding the door), the front of the house was dark. Distant music drifted out to them.

"Purva, to the servant's entrance," Ellis said in an undertone, as they climbed the steps to the Bells' townhouse. Purva nodded and darted away. "Ready?"

"Ready," Jack said, looking determined. Ellis knocked on the door.

A servant answered and led them into a quiet, dimly-lit hall. Clare felt apprehension twist her insides as she followed Ellis through the corridor, past dark rooms and the distant clinking of an active kitchen. There didn't seem to be anyone else here. If the Bells had found out about them --

And then the servant turned to a pair of French doors at the back of the house and swung them wide, and Clare let out a small gasp. Next to her, Jack made a soft choking noise.

The back of the house let out onto a large, manicured lawn bordered by hedges and filled with small tables covered in crisp white cloths. Strung along the hedges and across the sky over their heads were thousands of tiny, brilliant lights, like tea candles except they didn't flicker in the wind. A band was playing at the far end of the garden, and a long table along one hedge held drinks and food piled high on serving platters. Men in dark suits and women in -- she laughed a little -- white sundresses were standing in knots and speaking to one another. A handful of couples were dancing on the grass.

"Well," Ellis said. "My goodness, but the Bells know how to do a dinner properly."

Jack drifted past him, through the door and out onto the porch where the strings of lights began. He held a hand over them, fascinated, and then looked up quickly when Ellis touched his arm. Clare followed, trying to take it all in at once. Mrs. Bell appeared, coming up the steps to take her hands, beaming.

"Don't you look lovely, Mrs. Parsons. Welcome, Mr. Parsons, Mr. Grimes. Come along! Don't stand staring," she said with a smile.

"You'll have to excuse the children," Ellis said as he descended the steps, beckoning Jack to follow. "It's been so long since we were in civilized company. Charity's positively overwhelmed. John, get her something to drink, there's a lad."

"Well, no need to see who runs this household," Bell said with grin, joining them. "Mr. Grimes, not a moment too soon. There are a couple of gentlemen who are eager to meet you, and a whole contingent of engineers to entertain Mr. Parsons. When he's done seeing to the womenfolk, of course," he added with a grin.

Clare watched as Ellis was swept into a circle of middle-aged men, most of them with drinks or cigars in their hands. She lost track of Jack for a moment, but decided not to panic. Mrs. Bell was leading her to a table and settling her next to another young woman, who gave her the hard, brilliant kind of smile Clare had seen on one too many mischief-makers in Boston.

"You must be Mrs. Parsons," she said, extending a hand. "Sylvia Bell."

"This is William's niece," Mrs. Bell said, settling on her other side. Other women began to drift over as well. "She's heard so much about you. She's bored with my adventures in Tasmania, aren't you, Sylvia?"

"Nonsense, Aunt," Sylvia said. "But I am so eager to hear about Mrs. Parson's adventures in the north. My uncle says you and your father and husband lived quite wild."

"Not so wild as all that," Clare said with a forced laugh.

"Charity," Jack called, appearing from behind a group of women nearby. "There you are. Drink, as requested," he said with a smile, setting a glass of pinkish liquid in front of her. "Mrs. Bell," he added, with a nod.

"Mr. Parsons! I was just introducing your wife to my niece, Sylvia."

"Pleased to meet you," Jack said, resting a hand on Clare's shoulder. "Can I fetch anything for you?"

"No, thank you, Mr. Parsons. Charmed," Sylvia replied.

"Run along and play, John," Clare said firmly. "I suspect my father wants a word."

"Right! Ladies," he gave another nod -- Ellis had been going over those manners with him all morning -- and disappeared again. Sylvia laughed.

"You have got him trained," she said. "I don't suppose Mr. Parsons has a brother? Mum's sent me up to Uncle and Auntie to find me a husband, but all the pretty ones seem to be taken."

"Nonsense," Mrs. Bell replied. "There are plenty of lovely men at the party."

"Mm, yes, all talking with each other, I notice," Sylvia sighed. "Business. By the way, Mrs. Parsons, Uncle says he thinks you might settle in Canberra, once all this...very secret discussing lets up and your father will have a permanent need to be here. Is that true?"

"I suppose father will want to stay, yes," Clare said slowly. "John and I may set up housekeeping at some point."

"Well, we must see what houses there are!" Sylvia said brightly, and launched into a discussion with her aunt on appropriately stylish addresses, then moved on to tableware and furnishings as other women drifted over. Clare sat and nodded where appropriate, and watched Jack and Ellis talking and laughing with the men. She felt...oddly helpless, swept along, as if she no longer mattered. To judge from the way the other women spoke, not so much what they said as how frantically they said it, this wasn't an uncommon sentiment in the male-dominated circles of power in Canberra.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a sharp movement out of the corner of her eye, and she looked over in time to see a Tribal servant stumble over a hedge-root near the food table, staggering and falling when she couldn't keep her balance. She had a jug of punch in one hand, which went wide and rolled, gurgling its contents onto the ground. Her other hand held a plate of sandwiches, which scattered on the dirt. There were startled gasps from the people nearby, but nobody went to help her --

And then she saw Jack dart nimbly around the table and drop to one knee in front of the woman, catching her arm as she pushed herself up, reaching out with his other hand to right the punch-jug. She saw him mouth Are you all right? and saw the woman nod and pull back, shocked at his behavior. Ellis looked despairing, but didn't move towards either of them. He just turned back to the men he was speaking with, said something in a low voice, and chewed the corner of his lip while they laughed.

Oh, Jack was in for a world of trouble if they got out of this one. He'd stopped to help a servant up; they'd know he wasn't Their Sort....

Sylvia made a tsking noise behind her, and Clare turned in her seat. One of the other women laid a hand on her shoulder, which was odd. Mrs. Bell shook her head.

"I see your Mr. Parsons is like my William; he dotes on our servants, too," she said. There was a strange, sad note in her voice.

"Well, what's the harm in letting a man look?" Sylvia said philosophically. "You're so pretty, Mrs. Parsons. I can't imagine he'd want anything more."

"I'm not sure I hold with liberal views like that," Mrs. Bell said, and only then did Clare realize what they were talking about -- that Jack's display of common courtesy meant he had a roving eye for servants. She shivered inside.

"Well," she said, holding her voice steady against the disgust, "John's so chivalrous, you know. I'm sure it's only his good nature coming to the forefront."

"Oh, that's a good way to look at it!" Sylvia smiled. "Mrs. Parsons, I wonder if you'd care to come up to the house for a moment? Get away from the music and these bugs, you know."

"Of course," Clare said, not at all sure she wanted to be out of eyeshot of either Ellis or Jack. Mostly Jack.

She followed Sylvia across the grass, smiling and nodding as they passed various people Sylvia must know. Inside, Sylvia led her past the kitchen into a sort of liquor-pantry, well-stocked. She set two glasses down on a little table and poured out what looked like two neat whiskeys, though Clare didn't catch the label on the bottle.

"I thought you might want to escape all the snickering biddies," Sylvia said. Clare smiled. "Go on, drink up, it's the only way to cope with parties like this."

Clare sipped, swallowing against the burn of the alcohol.

"Not to say a word against your husband, but if I were you I'd slap him sharply," Sylvia continued. "It's a crime the way the men around here act."

"I suspect they act like that everywhere in the country," Clare murmured, casting around for some way of getting rid of the rest of her drink.

"Yes, well. I have nothing against marriage on principle but I'll tell you, there's a lot of women in Australia who will have nothing to do with it, and if we end up a country of spinsters and bachelors it won't be their fault."

"A lot of women?" Clare asked.

"Well, yes. Do you think I actually came to Canberra to find a husband? Have you seen the sorts they produce? Mr. Parsons might appreciate your servants more than you'd like but he looks like he at least has some character. And your father's delightful, by all accounts. Don't tell me they're Canberra-bred, you could cut your husband's Northern accent with a knife." Sylvia finished her drink.

"No, he's...unique," Clare agreed. "If women in the southern cities want a bit more freedom, why don't they say so?"

"We'd all get stomped on by uncles like mine," Sylvia sighed. Clare stopped herself, but only just, from telling her Then you should stomp back. "And the aunties too. Going to finish?" Sylvia continued.

"I think I oughtn't; I've had some punch already," Clare gave her a convincing smile. "John's a good man, really, Sylvia."

"They're all good men under a streetlamp," Sylvia replied, but she offered Clare her elbow to lead her back out to the garden.

***

Jack could tell Clare was fuming. He couldn't decide what she might be fuming about: his faux pas when the servant tripped, his overpoliteness to the women who constantly surrounded her, or his terrible dancing when he was obliged to ask his wife for at least one dance. Possibly all three.

Graveworthy didn't look at all perturbed as they rode back to the hotel in a cab, but then Graveworthy could be plotting to kill them all and not look perturbed, so that was no comfort. He chattered about the party cheerfully enough until they were inside with the door locked.

As soon as the door shut, Jack turned around. "I'm sorry, Graveworthy, I know I -- "

Graveworthy held up a finger. "It's fine, Jack. We're all tired; take a seat. Purva, how was it?"

"I very much enjoyed not doing any work tonight, even if the other servants did glare," Purva declared. "Now, I will bring tea."

"I promise someday I will reward you handsomely. Go on," Graveworthy said, and Jack gave her a grateful smile as she passed. There was silence for a moment, until Clare drew breath.

"Those... people," she said, unbuttoning the cuffs of her dress. "Those ignorant, foolish people. Do you know!" she said, and Graveworthy made a hushing noise. "Do you know," she continued in a low voice, as she loosened the dress's high collar, "what they said to me when Jack went to help that woman?"

"I know what I was forced to say to the men about Jack's tastes," Graveworthy said, scowling slightly.

"I'm sorry, it just happened!" Jack said.

"Mrs. Bell said Mr. Bell fancies the servants too, and the other women felt sorry for me, and Bell's niece poured me a drink and told me all men are evil. What is wrong with my country?" she demanded. "It wasn't like this, it can't have been like this when I was born."

"Twenty years can change a lot," Graveworthy said.

"They thought Jack was chasing the servants and I was just supposed to sit there and watch my husband flirt with them!" Clare burst out.

Jack felt some straightening-out was in order. "Clare, we're not actually -- "

"Yes, I know that," she snapped. "That's not the point, Jack! The point is, that's what women are supposed to do in Australia. Those women, anyway. Sylvia said there are women all over Canberra who don't want to get married, but they're afraid to step out and say so. What kind of place did I come from?"

"You," Graveworthy said, taking her chin in his hand and lifting it up so their eyes met, "did not come from here, Clare, not entirely. Don't forget that. You were raised in Boston. You were taught to be your own woman. I know it rankles, but it's what we have to do. The sooner we charm the Bells, the sooner we'll all be out of this."

"And how soon is that?" Jack couldn't help but ask.

"I don't know. These things take time, but Australia is a young country still and Bell knows when and where to push. I have plans, but they're dangerous and I'm not willing to share them until I know they'll work. In the meantime, we're all tired and fractious. We'll have a cup of tea and go to bed."

Clare sat on the couch heavily, rubbing her eyes with one hand.

"Ellis, are we going to change Australia?" she asked.

"I should think so, yes. Ordinarily I wouldn't meddle, not without reinforcements, but in this case I don't really see how it can be avoided."

"Good," she replied.

"You say that now," Graveworthy said, as Purva kicked gently at the door and Jack let her inside. "Very few people would agree with you."

"Very few people agree with me anyway," Clare pointed out. "Even you don't, most of the time."

"Yes, but I quite enjoy the battle," Graveworthy answered.

They were quiet as they poured and drank, with the sort of exhausted calm that comes after a long evening. Graveworthy sat next to Clare on the couch, his eyes on his teacup but his mind, obviously enough to Jack, going a mile a minute even now. Jack sat in a chair and watched Purva drift aimlessly around the room, plucking at discarded waistcoats and the thick sheaf of paper on the desk.

"It seems like a long time since we left England," Clare said finally.

"It has been," Graveworthy replied.

"Do you remember traveling over Africa? Telling stories over breakfast?"

"It was dinner for me," Graveworthy reminded her. "Yes, I do."

"He is a very good liar," Purva put in.

"Thank you, Purva," Graveworthy said, with real pleasure in his voice.

"Tell us a story, then," Jack said, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. Graveworthy raised an eyebrow at him. "You must have been stockpiling them. I haven't seen you write much since we left the airship behind."

"Too dangerous."

"But you could tell us one."

"Yes, I suppose I could," Graveworthy said, and finally looked up from his cup. "Very well."

***

Excerpted from the memoirs of Sir Jack Baker
Original typescript property of Baker University for Engineering, Sheffield, England

I remember very vividly the night that we met Canberra society, at the house of an unlikeable man named Bell. I guess, considering what I've already confessed to, that it's not much of a crime to say that none of us thought he was worthwhile except as a tool for Ellis to use for his purposes, which weren't themselves clear to me at all at the time. Besides, I think Bell is probably dead by now.

What stands out for me about that evening isn't the event itself, though I do have some memories. It was the first time we saw fairy lights, and I know I thought that they must have been incredibly time-consuming to make. Now, of course, with automation, they're practically disposable.

I recall that I committed some social faux-pas -- I don't even remember what now -- and I thought that Clare and Ellis were going to kill me together. It can't have been too serious, though, or I'd recall what it was. Whatever I did, it wasn't something I was sorry for, anyway, I remember that.

I know that Clare was angry at the way Australian women were treated -- which was pretty awful at the time -- and Ellis said that we were all tired and unhappy. I certainly was. I wasn't used to playing social games, and I had to do that a lot in those days. I'm certain I was the one who asked Ellis to tell us a story, because my nerves were frayed and the silence was closing in a little.

I'm not a storyteller so I wouldn't be any good at trying to replicate it here. Besides, it's in one of his anthologies. Knowing Ellis, he probably wrote it out that night after we'd gone to bed. I couldn't count the number of nights I've fallen asleep to the sound of a pen on paper and the glow of a well-shaded lamp.

It probably wasn't very original as an idea. It was a sort of mixture of horror and fairytale, about a man who got accidentally built into a train (Ellis knew nothing about trains, mind you) and how his ghost haunted the engine for years. I think the ghost was finally set free when a driver started speeding to get to a station on time or something. Actually it was probably better than that. That's not the point.

The point is, about halfway through, I realized it was a story about me. It was a kind of praise, because you have to be pretty special to make Ellis Graveworthy write a story about you, but I don't know that it was a good story to be part of.

When I was a boy I lost my way. I lost my parents, and the hurt cut so deeply I never wanted to lose anyone again. I didn't think I needed anyone except Clare, or anything except my machines. I was smart and so I was sent up to Harvard, which was a good education but didn't do me any social favors. They taught me a lot and I'm grateful, but they kept me penned in, put me in charge of my peers, and drove me to do more and do it faster. They didn't feed my soul. Normally I don't suppose that would matter except that I was hurt and I wanted to lock myself away from the world, and they let me. I wasn't interested in the outside world, and I was convinced it wasn't interested in me. I was built into the machines, and I didn't have any way out.

Clare must have been the most understanding person in the world, to stay my friend and try to do what she could for me. I wasn't unhappy. I just wasn't really a person.

I was a boy when I met Ellis Graveworthy and I was a boy and a fool when I agreed to build him a flying ship, but I did it because I knew it could be done. I was a boy when we landed in Australia, even though I was twenty and strong for my age. I was a frightened boy.

As difficult as Australia was, and as terrible as some of the things that have happened to her since I first went there have been, Australia made me a man. Not because it made me hard or able to do the things we did, but because in Australia I learned to live like a human being, among humans again. Some of them were terrible people, but that's humanity for you.

I've never forgotten that evening, because Ellis made me understand what I'd done, and he made me want something more. It was the night I stopped being an extension of a machine and started being a person again. I like to think that being the man Ellis intended me to be, the man Clare prepared me to be, has served me more than adequately.

It's good I had my revelation when I did. The next morning was our first visit to the Lake Cowal Reservation outside of Canberra, one of the biggest in Australia, definitely the biggest in the southern part of the country. I'm certain that wasn't the visit that touched off the spark of revolution, but it seems as though all our visits run together in my head into one long, hot, interminably dusty day on the Res.

Sparks, as any engineer knows, aren't an origin but a result -- flint against steel, a chemical reaction, friction. All the beautiful things that make the spark are a working in themselves.

So the first visit was still the beginning.

Chapter Twenty
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The Original Sam Backup

May 2012

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