04 April 2013

"...A Worm Unknown To Science..."

 [Typed MS, by the look of it a carbon copy and made on a very old machine, discovered in a trunk marked "J. Philli{illegible}" filled with books (mostly by A. Conan Doyle) and old papers purchased in a second-hand shop in Star City on Linden/Lyndon.  I have no idea what to make of it. --RX]

     It's been twenty years and I am light-years away, or so they tell me.  Have been for twenty years and my conscience pangs me yet.

     I don't feel at all guilty about the way I left -- "I'll just nip back in and get my bumbershoot," indeed!  Nor can I see how Mr. Isadora P———, well-known reporter  and duellist of some note could have come to any more humane an end. 

     I regret the finality of it and would that it had not been at my hand, though.  It was in the spring of 18--, in the very last decade of the dear, lost 19th Century, and I had been acting as the Aeroship Company's British factor or agent for the better part a decade, collecting and forwarding all manner of biological specimens, compressed foodstuffs, arcane machinery and whatnot -- not the least of which were popular magazines and even the London papers.  Mr. P——— must have been approached at about the same time as had I, but in his case, the journalist's natural inquisitiveness and a certain degree of what I can only conclude was an innate duplicity, some dark stain of the spirit, led him to learn far more than he should have known -- and to eventually threaten to publish unless paid.

     Had his motive been a pure concern for the truth, I might have demurred the assignment; instead, he had more than suggested that his report could be "lost" were he in receipt of a truly staggering financial consideration.

     The Aeroship Company had lately suffered considerable losses in connexion with their base of operations in California, the so-called Sonora Aero Club; the cause was never entirely clear to me, some sort of fire or explosion, but the extent of the loss was palpably real.  They simply could not have met the cost and telling the blackmailer "publish and bedamned" was completely out of the question.  Even then, the gathering fires of war had convinced the engineer Peter Mennis and Aeroship Company President August Schoetler that their contrivances and vehicles must be kept an absolute secret.     

     Murder was out of the question.  Only one course remained.

     The so-called "darter slug" is unknown to Earth's science, and for good reason.  Neither slug nor insect, it haunts the shallows and muddy banks of watercourses on a distant world, a peaceful world the Aeroship Company has, at great effort and expense, made habitable by Mankind.  Though small, it is a dangerous beast; like the honey bee, it has but a single sting -- but that sting brings immediate, incurable madness on whoever receives it.

   I did it--  I contacted Isadora P——— and gave him the matchbox, promising it contained irrefutable proof of his literally incredible tales of persons commuting to and from a distant star.  I had scarcely left his flat when I heard the terrible groan of his last sane moment.  I could not nerve myself to return and retrieve the darter slug

     Within the week, I had slipped away from my remaining friends in London, through a simple trick and on the slimmest of excuses.  An umbrella?  An escape!  In disguise, I boarded the cutter A—— and when it "vanished" in a cloudbank, I was one of her passengers.  Of course it was a ruse; Aero Dora III lifted the ship whole, we transferred to the pressure hull as she rose and carried the cutter to our destination, where it now sails an unimaginably distant sea.

     I have not returned to Earth since.  The flights have become less and less frequent.  The hazards are too great, especially since Dellschau -- poor, mad Dellschau, first victim of the same species of worm that stung Isadora! -- escaped from a supply trip to Texas.  (Thanks to a merciful providence, he was unable to let the cargo of cattle loose, though there is evidence he tried.)  I may never return in this life, but this letter shall, and I can go on with a clear conscience. 

     And I hope, Mr. W—— and especially Mr. H——, that you will not think too ill of me for having left you three such puzzles.