When last we left our heroes: Attempting to leave London to hunt the Minotaur, Lord Marston and the Society were pursued by the mysterious Ministry of Objective Sciences. Thanks to Victor Terranove’s plan of misdirection, though, they eluded the Ministry’s agents and now travel to Crete…
The Trans-Continental Express raced from Milan to Venice, bearing the Society of Cryptozoological Research ever closer to their goal, the Labyrinth of Crete. Within the opulent passenger cars, however, not all the members of that esteemed Society were certain in their intent.
Victor Terranove in particular was troubled. He considered himself a rational man, and yet here he was, chasing after monsters and fairies. Pacing the corridor under the pretense of exercising his legs, he found himself outside the berth of Sir Charles Rutledge Brown, the scientist. Victor wondered at how a man of science like Sir Charles seemed to have so little scepticism about the impossible things he pursued. Before he knew he planned to do it, he was knocking on Sir Charles’ door.
The round bespectacled face of the balding man peered out as the door cracked open. On his head was a leather band supporting a gearwork of jeweler’s lenses. Behind the scientist Victor could see that the small sleeping berth was cluttered with all sorts of mechanical gewgaws spread across the table and the bench.
“Busy, Charles?” Victor asked, suddenly feeling awkward.
“Huh?” Sir Charles looked like he didn’t understand the question. “No, no, Victor… Well… Yes, actually. I mean, I am busy… but you’re not disturbing me. Which… uh… of course, wasn’t what you asked, was it?”
Victor relaxed. It was impossible to feel awkward around Sir Charles; he collected all the awkwardness in any situation into himself.
“Tell me when you’re done with our conversation then, why don’t you?” Victor teased.
“I’m sorry. I’m… I’m not that used to actually… um…”
The scientist nodded appreciatively and stepped aside to invite Victor into the berth. “Heh. Yes. Conversation is still a bit of a novelty.” He moved a tray covered with springs and gears off of the bench to make space to offer Victor a seat. Victor took it.
“I mean,” Sir Charles continued babbling, half to Victor, half to himself, “Lord Marston and the others are fine folk, very dedicated to pursuing scientific and cryptozoological curiosities… but short of inquiring about the specific details they find personally relevant to our investigations, they don’t, ah…”
“Talk to you.”
“That was, uh, what I was going for, yes.”
Victor smiled to put Sir Charles at ease. “Well, why not begin by telling me what it is you’re doing here? The conversation can press on from there.”
Sir Charles lilted his head slightly, considering. After a second’s thought, he reached over and lifted a wooden box with brass fittings and a compass-like glass display on the top. Unlike an actual compass, though, there were three hands pointing outward from the center.
“I’m constructing a portable cartographic device,” Sir Charles explained. “Since the Minotaur resides within a Labyrinth, only half of the task of capturing the specimin lies in subdual and portage. Equally vital will be navigation, particularly on our egress from the maze.
“Because the complexity of the Daedalian Labyrinth is as legendary as the creature within, it seemed fit to devise something to track our passage in so that we could retrace it on our way out.”
He pointed a stubby finger at one of the hands, a red one with a curved point.
“The compass remains oriented to magnetic north despite our own movements, so by running a paper tape of second-by-second comparisons to north whilst recording our forward motion, we come up with a notation form of our journey that can then be reversed to find the path back.
“This, ah, by the way, is the point at which your eyes glaze and you smile politely and excuse yourself,” Sir Charles added.
Victor looked up from the device to its creator.
“So you really believe we’re going to find a Minotaur?” the magician asked.
Sir Charles frowned, confused. “Don’t you?”
“To tell the God’s truth,” Victor said, “no.”
The range of Sir Charles’ expressions of bafflement was great, as he moved from “curious” to “incredulous.”
“You mean to say that you don’t believe in these cryptozoological manifestations?” he asked. “Why do you even join us, then? One would think that you would have little but disdain for those of us who do pursue those things beyond the prevailing scientific understanding.”
Victor sighed. “It’s not that I don’t want to believe, Charles. Not that at all, to tell the truth. It’s more that… well, the more I want to believe in such things, the harder I find them to accept.” He leaned over, resting his head in his hands. “I fear that if I finally do believe and then learn that it’s all some kind of hoax… well, I doubt my spirit can handle that sort of disappointment.”
“And that’s why you sought out the Society?” Sir Charles asked, putting the navigational device back down.
“Well, that and boredom.”
“Boredom? As a stage magician? I would think it full of wonder!”
Victor laughed. “It takes the fun out of it once you know how the tricks work.”
Sir Charles raised one eyebrow, and a wise smile washed away his usual nervous frown. “Hmh,” he said. “As a scientist, that’s exactly the point at which it becomes exciting.”
“Sir Charles,” he said after a moment, “if there were any questions about the quality of your conversation before, know that none at all remain now!”
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.