When last we left our heroes: Kenneth, Lord Marston, prevailed upon their hidden relationship to ask Mrs. Chatterton to apologize to Colonel Durant, however, when she did, the good Colonel seemed to have none of it. What no one knows, though, is that something unnatural is happening to the Colonel… something… dangerous.
Inside the Ministry of Objective Sciences, the man known only as Mister Coble held a short wood baton in one hand. Facing him was the chorus of his newest operetta.
Coble was a tall man, over six feet, with sandy-brown hair long enough to be tied back with a black ribbon. Thick sideburns ran down his face. His eyes were an unusual gray that didn’t seem quite natural, but he carried a relaxed demeanor that put people at ease. Standing on the podium before the chorus, he towered over all but the ones on the topmost riser.
“No, no,” he said to the soprano section. “That’s… you’re too slow. You need to come in before–”
He was interrupted by the door slamming open. In stepped his assistant, Mr. Harold Ashbrook, a handful of papers in one hand. As always, Ashbrook’s face was completely without expression.
“Mister Coble?” the functionary asked politely.
“What is it, Ashbrook?” he asked. “We’re rehearsing my new composition here, can it wait?” He turned to the chorus. “Don’t stop. Again, from the mid-section.”
A portly tenor with a ridiculously waxy mustache stepped forward and began to sing in a clear bell-like voice.
“I see a little silhouetto of a man,” he sang, to which the choir at large responded, “Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?”
Ashbrook frowned when he realized that his boss was not going to interrupt this to hear his news. He pressed onward nonetheless.
“It best not, sir,” he said, lifting the papers in his hand. “I took the initiative of gathering the trans-continental railroad schedules, sir. I, ah, thought you might change your mind about pursuing Lord Marston and his confederates.”
“Thunderbolt and lightning! Very very frightning me!” the chorus responded. “Galileo! Galileo! Galileo Figaro Magnifico!”
His one hand continuing to conduct, Mr. Coble turned to face Ashbrook.
“I told you, Ashbrook, it’s an honor thing. Our royal charter is quite clear on the extent of our jurisdiction. We are only to operate within the boundaries of the Empire.”
As if mocking Ashbrook, the tenor sang, “I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me!”
“He’s just a poor boy, from a poor family!” the chorus drowned out Ashbrook’s determined interruption.
“But, if we are to remain the heroes of our story, Ashbrook, then we must maintain the most rigorous compliance with our given rules.”
“You speak philosophy, sir,” Ashbrook argued.
“Bismillah! We will not let you go!” they sang.
“Better that than than Esperanto,” Coble said. “Look, we’ll have our chance when they return to London. Whatever they’re trying to recover, they’ll never get it home. That, Ashbury, I guarantee.”
“No no no no no no no!” the chorus agreed.
Ashbury sighed, his businesslike face still betraying no emotion.
Just as the singers were about to move into the instrumental bridge, there was a buzzing from Mr. Coble’s vest. Frowning, he held up one open hand to Ashbrook while putting down the baton and addressing the choir.
“Take five,” he said, and then to Ashbrook, “Stay here, I have to take this.”
Hopping down from the podium, Coble took several long steps to his office door and in one deft motion opened it and swung himself into the private room. One hand pulled the door shut behind him while the other fumbled in his vest pocket to pull out a small rectangle of glass and metal.
The glass face of the thing was glowing with an image of the Queen and white letters confirmed the identity as “Victoria Regina.”
Coble swiped the bottom of the glass and held it up to his ear.
“Your Majesty,” he said aloud, though no one else was in the room. There was a faint buzzing, like someone talking a long way away, but Coble seemed to have no trouble understanding. He nodded once, twice, three times. “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh.”
“Don’t worry, mum,” he finally said in response. “Consider it taken care of.”
He tapped a recessed button on the strange rectangle and, sitting down at his desk, rested it on an odd sculpture with a sharp metal bar at the bottom. It squawked once and a strange glyph appeared on the glass, a red bar that slowly, repetitively, spread left to right before vanishing and beginning again.
Coble looked up at the frosted glass window in his office door. The blurry silhouette of Ashbrook, patiently waiting to hand over all of his paperwork, lurked right outside.
“God, what I wouldn’t give for a cold Diet Coke,” Coble muttered. “Saving the future is more work than I thought.”
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.