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From Austria With Love

From the diary of Katharina Wollf, meteorologist. September 1890.

Why must the accomplishment of women be onerous, and even detrimental to one’s family?

I am to serve on Sovereign as part of the British-Austrian alliance over gravitar and its use. Alas, the news has brought my family little joy. Fortunately, I did not expect it to. My mother retains shock and feels disgust that I will be bunking with men of various classes although I have assured her that the new Woman’s Royal Navy Service means there will be other women on board, and that accommodations will not be mixed. Despite her grievances, I believe I see some relief in her eyes. I have forever been a subject of questionable circumstances for her.

Less so for my father, although some might think otherwise for he has often referred to me as ‘a plain beauty’, which must seem insulting to those who do not understand his meaning. My penchant for keeping my features unpainted, and my hair swept back from my face reveals that I am quite unlike the woman people assume my father describes. I am a natural beauty, my features pleasing, but there the attraction ends for most men of society. I am tall for a woman, and although I do not carry needless weight, I am too lean of shape and too muscular for many men to find me attractive. Suitable husbands are more taken with my younger sister who will make an ideal mother and hostess. This fails to bother me. I have no particular use for a man, and until such time as I do they are simply of the same species, although intellectually with the right gentleman I can enjoy his company, and…should I confess I have developed a talent for knowing how to be accepted by those of a less academic nature. Even then…men seem to have difficulty with a woman who matches or surpasses them in a scholarly way.

I have even found Vienna to be a disappointment in this regard. I can recall the day we arrived, my father Leopold Wollf taking up a position in the Austrian Academy of Sciences. I had heard Vienna classed as a ‘comparatively modern capital of a relatively backward empire’ so even as a young girl I had hopes far outweighing realistic expectations. I have forever envied my father for being a man who could move about the hallowed halls of learning, and my brothers for being able to claim a place in their chosen fields of study and profession.

I cannot say Vienna has been entirely frustrating. To one who has a passing propensity for the use of languages, the city provided access to diversity as well as opportunity. And it is definitely a city undergoing much growth, particularly economically. There is much change politically and socially, although the city feels overcrowded to me, and I hope one day the major transformations taking place will one day be extended to the poorer of our society.


A cutter arrives in Vienna, 1890.

I have digressed. My parents upon seeing I was unhappy to take the traditional role of my sex, accepted my future lay elsewhere. My mother quickly gave way to tears, my father to trying to assist me. At home I am one of six children, two of which died young, one of whom is married. Johann is the remaining boy and Emmalina a mere slip of a girl. My father has forever been the more open-minded of the household, although his encouragement has been reserved. I’ve often received his approbation by means of a wink more than a verbal agreement. His thoughts, I am sure, are always freer than one might expect from his actions. He is a rational being, one might call him a humanist, although not too loudly for my father tempers his beliefs with caution so as to be seen to fit in with society. He often pushes at barriers gently, although he has his moments when it seems only brute force will suffice whereby he is poised to break into a tantrum. On such occasions I need to remind him not to do anything that would put any of us at a disadvantage.

Even from a young age I found the people he chose to entertain interesting. He never chased me off to bed—that ruling was left to my mother’s domain if she caught me awake of an hour later than I should be—but my father allowed me to sit quietly in dark corners of rooms particularly in that of his study where he would partake of a brandy and a cigar while arguing intellectually with men of similar cerebral leanings. Hence I was subjected to an open way of thinking and educated to a degree way before an appropriate age. I looked forward to learning—a lesson in ultimate disappointment when I discovered that my required training in life was of the type to teach me to be a good wife. Naturally, I rebelled.

Girls are not permitted a place at university, so my father paid for tutors. My mother wished me to study something other than my main interests so that if I continued in my dislike of the idea of applying my entire existence to marriage I would have a way to support myself, but my father would not hear of it. He is of a generation of men who wish to change the world and open the way for women. He proclaims that in the next decade women will finally be allowed to study at university.

A colleague of his—a lecturer of some renown whom I shall not name here—supports his theory. I believe this fellow possibly has future romance in mind, but I am offering no such thing in return for his collaboration. Neither is my father. To my own purposes, I have been auditing his lectures, and it is under the guidance of these men that I have already published papers in my chosen fields of meteorology and ecology, be they under a false and male label. Many would be surprised by my verbosity in my written work, which I do not retain upon speaking, but I have discovered that this is a requirement to fit in with current expectations and helps to disguise my associations with my published documents.

These same people would be more surprised by the hidden truth that I am more educated than most of the men running the university. I am only allowed to associate with such beings in a secondary way. The first position I took was without pay and as an assistant only. Even when my experiments and knowledge exceeded that of my fellow researchers too often my accomplishments were attributed to those of a male persuasion. My father is awaiting the day I am called to lecture on one of my papers and a woman stands before a hall of gentlemen. The possibility is not yet upon us and will have to wait, for within a few days I will have been called away.

I have to admit I am in two minds. I could not ask for a greater opportunity and yet it puts my long term plans on hold somewhat. I fear that the papers I have already penned will drift into obscurity in my absence. Although I will be able to continue to write papers while away, enhanced no doubt by knowledge I will gain during the journey, and I will likely return to Earth with stories of the unimaginable, what I will be able to reveal will be in the hands of greater authorities than my father.

Despite these misgivings and at their basis, worries, the opening is not one I can refuse. Even if I am able only to reveal an edited rendition of my discoveries, I will be the only female scientist who has ventured past the asteroid belt, and I know it is through my father’s connections that this is possible. Father tells me that if the world changes in my absence as he believes it will, I will be able to claim the papers so far published and step into a position already built upon a good reputation. He has promised to do everything he can to pave a way for me to become a professor of the university and to head my own department. I cannot see this ever being possible for women, but I admire my father’s tenacity, and have only advised caution to not be seen as this being a case of nepotism. I have thrown his very words back to him—those he has spoken to me so often during my younger years: we must all learn to walk before we attempt the complicated business of running.

My mother is distraught to see me go; my father delighted but sorrowful. I share his mixed emotions, though I would never admit so in his presence. I will miss his influence and erudite conversation.

One thing I will not miss. I understand that the manner of dress for women will be quite impractical during this journey and I will be assigned something of a uniform to undertake various tasks. I could not be more elated, as is evidenced by my smile as I write this journal entry. If there are changes coming as my father predicts, then if these alternatives in clothing prove to be as comfortable as I believe they will be, I may have to add another endeavour to my list upon my return to Earth—that of changing the despicable garments of women’s apparel. If I can understand the art of calibration, I am sure I can take measurements that will allow for the design of a more comfortable dress, or even a variation of a suit as a respectable substitute.

Red Sands of Vulcan

Historians Note; unless you are familiar with the document “Horizons of Deceit Book I” you should not read any further. Said document can be purchased by following the link to the right. The following takes place shortly after the climax of “Horizons of Deceit Book I”.

Friday October 3rd 1890.

The events that followed happened with such speed that I can barely recall them. I didn’t even have a chance to look upon the face of the lady with the knife in my back; I was soon set upon by ruffians, coshed on the back of the head, and unconscious.

I came to sometime later—I did not know how much time, only that it had been some hours since I was later informed that I had been smuggled out of Syrtis Major to the nearby principality of Meepsoor. I was not offered the chance to explore this small town, and indeed was told I would not like it if I were able to. Although largely under British protection, Meepsoor was beginning to question their choice of allegiance, worried that the war in the south with Oentoria would soon lead to their doorstep. Of course none of this really mattered to me at the time, I was more concerned with my captors and what they wanted of me. There were two of them, a man and a woman. Considering their dress, the finest of silks and cloth, I knew I had been right when I earlier considered the woman a lady. Lady Hyperion, as she had introduced herself, idly waved a small pistol around as she talked, careless of the damage such a weapon could cause. He husband, Lord Hyperion, stood behind her, watching her with admiration through his monocle. At first I refused to answer any of their questions, except to give my rank and position. This seemed to irritate Lady Hyperion.


Lord and Lady Hyperion

“We know who you are, and this is of no interest to us. What we wish to know is about your experiences on Luna, what you learned from these Drobates we have heard so little about.”

They were well informed, considering the secrecy of the British involvement on Luna, and of course my own incarceration. I refused to tell them anything.

“A great pity indeed,” Lord Hyperion said, his voice rich, the French accent seeming to be little more than an affectation. It was hard to tell if they were truly French, or simply pretended to be. “Perhaps you have heard of the Followers of Decay?” I shook my head. The local culture was not a speciality of mine. “They are more commonly known as the Worm Cult. Ah, I see this is a name familiar with you. And well it should be—the tales of their depravity is the stuff of myth, even to us men of Earth. Kronos, our leader, was once a priest in the Worm Cult, and has ways of making a person talk. Ways you, Mister Stevenson, would not wish to experience.”

I believed him. Even now I am haunted by the tales told to me by Professor Stone shortly after my rescue from the Drobates—tales of his own experiences at the hands of the Worm Cult. As if what the Drobates had done to me was not enough. Not a night has gone past since Luna that I have been able to sleep without my dreams being invaded by the experiments conducted on me by the Drobates. Doctor Greever, chief medical officer on Endeavour, believes the dreams will eventually fade, although he does not think my forthcoming tour of duty will help. Perhaps he is right, or perhaps facing my fears will be the tonic I need?

“We need to know all the Drobates know of the Red Sands, and where on Mars it was buried.”

Red sands? I have never heard of such a thing. Despite being called the Red Planet, I had seen little evidence of any red sand on Mars during my short time there. I told them this and was instantly stung on the cheek by the back hand of Lady Hyperion.

“Insolent fool! The Red Sands is a weapon, a mind-controlling substance created by the Drobates and the source of the war that destroyed Vulcan. We have recently learned that these Drobates of Luna are the original inhabitants of Vulcan. You must have heard of the Red Sands?”

How could I make them see reason? The Drobates did much to me, put both my physical and mental capacity to the test, but they never talked directly to me. Never discussed anything of their past—indeed, as we later learned the Drobates of Luna were ignorant of their past. It was Doctor Grant who had learned of their connection to Vulcan. That they had created a mind-controlling weapon came as little surprise to me, after all the Drobates communicated telepathically, and my exposure to them revealed a latent telepathic gene in myself.

I shook my head. “You have my word as a member of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy that I know nothing of these Red Sands.”

“Then perhaps we shall have to find another way to make you speak the truth,” said another voice, this one sounding quite different from any I heard before. It was clear that English was not the native language of this person. From the darkness stepped a cloaked figure, a cowl covering his face, although his hands were on display. I had seen such hands before. It was a Martian, although which kind I could not tell. I supposed this had to be the mysterious Kronos. “Lady Hyperion, pass me the cylinder.”

She walked over to a table and picked up a cylinder of brass, each end studded with brilliant gems. She handed it to Kronos, who gently unscrewed one end.


A Drobate

“The Red Sands of Vulcan,” he said, and shook out onto the palm of his other hand a few red crystals, so tiny I could only see them by squinting. “According to the ancient manuscripts we uncovered in a lost temple in Egypt, the Red Sands, over years of misuse, created infectious hatred and derangement. This led to a war between different factions of Drobates, which in turn began the cataclysmic war that created the asteroid belt. But taken in small quantities, the Red Sands can have a potent effect on the mind of those who ingest them.”

With a nod from Kronos, Lord Hyperion stepped forward and gripped my head in his vice-like hold. I tried to struggle, but he had incredible strength. Kronos, with only one hand, forced my jaw down and deposited the crystals into my mouth. Before I had time to spit them back out he clamped his hand over my mouth and nose, blocking the air waves. For a short while I resisted, feeling the coarse texture of his alien skin on mine, but soon the need for air was too much and I found myself swallowing the Red Sands.

The results were, for Kronos and his brotherhood, disappointing. They continued to question me, but I still had nothing to offer them, and soon they realised that the Red Sands had no effect on me whatsoever. I have spent much time in the last two days trying to understand why. Perhaps Kronos was mad, and this story had as much weight as the lost city of Atlantis? Or, and I think more likely, the Drobates did something to me that inured me against the effects of their ancient weapon? It is a question to which I hope one day to discover an answer—perhaps on the mission ahead.

Realising I was useless to his cause, Kronos was in favour of killing me and Lady Hyperion, a professional assassin, prevented him from doing so, explaining that I was expected and could not be missing for too long. It would not do to arouse the suspicion of the Royal Navy at this point. They spoke quietly, but did not account for the sharpness of my hearing—another result of the experiments done on my by the Drobates. I think, sometimes, that I don’t listen so much with my ears as with my mind. The Brotherhood of Luxor needed the Red Sands if they were to remove the Earthers off Mars, and they could not alert the authorities to their presence just yet.

And so, once more, I was coshed senseless and smuggled back to Syrtis Major. By the time I awoke the second time it was dark. I returned directly to the British quarter, intent on reporting the threat to Commander Armstrong, who was also enjoying a small bout of shore leave, but by the time I reached the British quarter I decided to keep my own counsel.

Saturday October 4th 1890.

I am not entirely sure why, even as I write this, but I feel to speak out now would serve little purpose. For some reason my instinct tells me it is the right thing to remain quiet on this. As I understand it, several experts on Luna and the Drobates will be joining Sovereign on this mission, and I wish to learn more about the Drobates history before I recount my experience with the Brotherhood of Luxor.

It has been two days since my encounter, and I have made discreet enquiries. It seems rumours of the brotherhood are rife, and some say it is connected to Kereeque, a former priest of the Worm Cult who vanished seven years ago. Could this be Kronos? I feel it is likely, in light of the fact that Kereeque created the Ground Cleanser crusade with his Canal Martian disciples—their purpose, to remove humans from Mars. A goal, I have to say, that sounds much like what Lady Hyperion had said. I fear that there are troubled times ahead for mankind, but for now I will not be a part of it. My immediate future lies beyond the asteroid belt, and not on Mars…

To learn more about the Brotherhood of Luxor, purchase a copy of “Red Sands” by following the link to the right…

A Few Bad Men

Historians Note; unless you are familiar with the document “Horizons of Deceit Book I” you should not read any further. Said document can be purchased by following the link to the right…

800px-Naval_Jack_of_Russia.svgAlthough Imperial Russia had a head start on the race to get beyond the asteroid belt, such a head start was not without its setbacks.  The construction of Imperator Aleksandr II was based on stolen blueprints–British blueprints. That in itself posed a problem. Although Russian engineers and designers were used to working with the designs of other nations (of note, the French), this was something new. HMAS Sovereign revolutionised aether travel, both in design and application. They were guided in their efforts by a man who had reportedly died on Luna at the end of 1889–the insane, but genius scientist, Vladimir Tereshkov–and this guidance came in the form of random, and often garbled, coded telegrams sent from a secret location in England. But this did not stop the Russians–it was imperative that they benefited from the discoveries to be found beyond the asteroid belt, that they beat the British Empire out there. The Tsar was tired of playing second place to the British Empire.

What follows is a sample from the private diary of Kapitan-lejtenant Petenka Trushkin, first officer of Imperator. It serves to highlight that not everybody involved in that fateful mission was a blinkered by the promises of power and position that Imperator signified. 

Tuesday October 7th, 1890.

We are but one day from the asteroid belt, and already I fear for the success of our mission. If we fail it is not just the reputation of Imperial Russia that is at stake, but that of the Tsar himself! I have worked hard to attain my position, acting as a first officer on the most advanced ship in the aetheric ocean–even more advanced than the ship upon which it is based. Usually the first officer would be a captain-2nd-rank, but I have fought hard to take this position from less deserving officers. Some might say that position without rank is meaningless, but they would be wrong. I am second in command of the most powerful ship the Imperial Navy has ever built.

imperatorbwThe power source of this great ship–a substance called aleksandrite–pushes it beyond design tolerances. Already we have had engineers all over the ship patching up damaged areas. It is as if the very structure of the ship is being compromised. I have taken my concerns to Kapitan Merkushev, but he insists that Imperator will serve. It should, we have nastavnik Tereshkov aboard, and it was he who stole the designs, he who communicated ways in which we could improve those designs, to redesign the modulation device he had originally built–all to include the use of aleksandrite. But all he does is sit in his cabin, endlessly scribbling notes in a language I have never seen before. I fear he is a risk to the mission, as is the kapitan’s yielding to Tereshkov’s every request. We should be using Tereshkov’s knowledge, his genius, to improve the ship as we go. But then I am forced to consider those–I am reticent to call them people–things used to enhance the power of aleksandrite. What has been done to them is an abomination, one Tereshkov is directly responsible for. Can I really trust the ship to a mind like his?

Perhaps once we have escaped the asteroid belt, and thus the reach of the British Royal Navy, we can properly address these things. The kapitan is focussed on proving the power of Imperator, showing the British Navy the might of the Imperial Navy. We have already intercepted heliograph messages intended to warn HMAS Tartarus of our trajectory. Normally we would alter our course–there is, after all, no such thing as up and down in the aether, no straight line by which we must travel. But Imperator continues on its course. We know that Navy vessels have been sent from Mars in an attempt to catch us, but if the mighty Sovereign could not sustain our speeds what hope does the usual Navy vessel have?

We do this for the Tsar. But I sense that is not so for everybody aboard ship–some seek glory for themselves. And it is those who will spell failure for this mission.

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