Red Sands

The Professor Speaks (1st October 1888 : 2 pm)
1st October 1888 : 2 pm

“L..Ladies and gentleman. Today, I want to talk to you about the Moon.” started the Professor hesitantly. He spoke with a slight nervous stutter, and paused while he adjusted his pince-nez.

“The Earths’ nearest neighbour, circling a mere 300,000 miles away, has to date been more elusive than Mars or Venus.” began the Professor, hands on lapels. “So far Ethereal navigators have been put to the test merely setting down on a world with no atmosphere, and Luna has no discernable attractions, mineral or otherwise.”

“Luna is a barren world without atmosphere or water, 2160 miles in diameter with a surface area of 14.5 million square miles. Its terrain is pitted and mountainous, impacted by meteorite strikes, and with a gravity 1/6 of earth.”

“As you may know, Ether flyers generally take advantage of world atmospheres to get from orbit to surface, with both Liftwood and hydrogen making the vessel “lighter than air”, using the atmosphere as a buoyancy medium.” Here the Professor paused for a moment, scanning the faces of his audience. “However, Luna has no atmosphere, making Liftwood and hydrogen useless. The only alternative is to use the Ether Propeller, a device whose speeds are measured in millions of miles per day, to navigate the surface. The typical Ether Propeller is nowhere near sensitive enough, and only a very daring or foolhardy pilot would attempt it.”

“That’s not to say some brave souls haven’t tried however” he continued." Luna was first visited by Sir William Otterbein in an Ether Flyer designed by his assistant, Luigi Piachetti, and financed by industrialists seeking cheap sources of iron ore. He determined only that the surface suffers from “moonquakes”, that the surface is dusty and difficult to traverse, and that the gravity is low and atmosphere non existent. He found no mineral deposits and his backers pulled their funding. He never returned to Luna. The Piloting was touch and go by all accounts."

“Others have also tried, including Brian Masterly of Great Britain, the Davis brothers of Philadelphia, and Vladimir Tereshkovitch of Russia. He made five trips for the Czar, failing to return from his last trip in 1887. No permanent facilities have been established on Luna, and it remains largely a mystery”.

“Nevertheless, a handful of sailors have now been and returned, and Mariner’s rumours do circulate. These include stories of great wealth in diamonds, and even a hidden race of Moonmen or Selenites. They insist that there is more to the Moon than meets the eye.” Again Professor Grant paused, this time taking a drink of water. All this time he had been projecting images of the previous Explorers, their ships, and photographic images of the moon. He now switched to a surface map.

“There is one rumour which is persistent, and which I believe has some basis in fact. “The Glow” is a persistent phenomenon which many claim to have witnessed, and which only serves to add fuel to the other rumours.”

“Allegedly if one is in the right orbital position, a faint glow can be seen on a particular part of the far side. The glow is barely a pinprick as seen with the naked eye, but telescopic observers claim that it might be something like a mile across. It’s greenish white light has never been examined. There is rumour that the Russians know more than they’re telling, and that this might have had something with Tereshkovitch’s disappearence.”

“I have a number of theories as to what this ‘glow’ could be. It could be some rare and mysterious mineral, with unusual luminescent properties, or it could be some sort of life form capable of living in a vacuum. Or, perhaps most interestingly, it could be an artifact left behind by an ancient spacefaring race, a ‘marker’ of some sort. "

“Either way, that is the task I propose: to investigate the Glow”. He paused for dramatic effect, and then the murmering started, and hands started flying into the air-not least from Professor Baxter.

“But Professor Grant”, asked Miss Pettigrew, “As you’ve said yourself, with no atmosphere conventional flying arrangements just don’t work, and an Ether Screw is just too imprecise an instrument to use for the precision required. The surviving expeditions used the finest Pilots, and a great deal of logistical backup. Do you have those?”

“No my Dear I do not”, proclaimed the Professor. “The Pilot will be my humble self. However I do have one advantage.” Here he beamed widely at the audience, his stutter temporarily in abeyance.

“None of these explorers have ever been able to thoroughly explore the moon, because of the nature of their Ether Flyers. You see, an Ether Flyer has an intense level of power driving it, but this can only be used to thrust forward, and the power levels are not easily modulated to allow for maneuvering. Thus, propulsion for finer maneuvers is usually accomplished through the venting of steam from a Solar Boiler. Naturally normal atmospheric propulsion is impossible on the Moon, since it is airless.

“I have invented”, and here the Professor puffed his chest out slightly, looking for all the world like some peculiar poultry bird dressed in a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, “an Ether Propeller Governor, which allows me to fine-tune the modulation of etheric flow in an Ether Propeller, allowing very fine control. Most Ether Propellers simply use coils of wiring and such to channel the ether, but I discovered that the crystalline lattice of a diamond could result in a more precise control of the Etheric medium. I have used three flawed diamonds in my Governor to effect this control, and my preliminary tests show that this should more than accommodate the results I desire.”

“My flyer” he continued, “is moored nearby outside the metropolis on a colleague’s private estate. Some of you fine young people…” Here he looked around the room, “are going to accompany me.”

The was a brief silence, and Captain Shaw put up his hand.

“Captain Sebastian Shaw, pleased to meet you Sir.” said Shaw, standing up. “I see that I am one of those fortunate enough to be accompanying you. May I ask when you propose to start, and how long the journey will take?”

“A pleasure Captain Shaw! A pleasure Sir!” beamed the Professor. “Well, I hoped for a start tomorrow morning. The journey shouldn’t take more than six hours, and with a little preliminary reconnaissance , I thought we might be back… oh, for tea and muffins on the following day?"

The Winter Lantern Show (1st October 1888)
1st October 1888

Carruthers looked around the room as Professor Grant fumbled nervously with his papers, and motioned to his assistants to draw the curtains. It was late afternoon anyway and the sky was laden with grey cloud, and an ice cold drizzle hammered down onto the pavements outside.

He looked round at the new batch of recruits to the Society. There were over a dozen of them in all, and quite an odd assortment they were.He sniffed slightly- some of them were not quite the sort of material he would have invited himself.

That frightful little snot Wilburforce- Stretham for example: a spoilt brat of the worst sort the more inferior public schools could churn out. What possible use could he be? Even a foreign lout like the sailorman Cortis could be useful in a tight spot, but Stretham? He shook his head.

His gaze drifted to the sneering Italian Luciano-an evil little sneak who had probably slit more than one throat in his time. “What is the Society coming to?” he thought.

All in all an odd mix of scientists, soldiers,outdoor types and misfits. Some of them with obvious skills of value to the Society, and others not so obvious. Not to him anyway.

He turned his gaze to Professor Grant, still arranging his notes and charts, and smiled quietly to himself. A lucky half dozen would be asked to provide the companions the eccentric inventor needed for his trip; the others would be assigned to visit Dr. Baxter, who was giving the second presentation on his excavations in northern Greenland. It was a toss up as to which was the more hazardous assignment- but that is what these newcomers had committed themselves too, and this was to be their Testing Ground.

Professor Grant looked shyly across at Carruthers and nodded nervously. Carruthers motioned to his minions and walked up to the podium.

“Welcome new colleagues. Congratulations upon your entry into this most illustrious of institutions, The Explorer’s Society. Looking among you I see a wide cross section of backgrounds, and even a few of the fair sex…” here Carruthers paused with a slight smirk.

“But this is only to be expected! A Brave New World, ladies and gentlemen! Science marches forward, and the frontiers of knowledge move with them. The old superstitions, the old prejudices, all must be pushed aside where they are no longer of value to Society! And this is the role of the Explorers Society within The British Association for the Advancement of Science!”

“We pride ourselves in to exploring the fringe mysteries of science, the secrets of the past,and exposing those fraudulent cabals who seek to hold back the march of Science! And to do that we need brave new people! People of enterprise, resolution and courage! Male and female alike!”

Carruthers paused to take a sip of water.

“And so here you are! New blood! New blood!” he scanned his small audience dramatically. “You have all been picked out because of some special talent. You have all been noticed because of some use you have demonstrated regarding our aims! Here you sit at last!”

“But this is only the beginning. You have yet to be tested in the fire: and so here you are tonight!” Here he gestured towards the two men sat off to the side. He noticed that Professor Grant was fidgeting nervously with a ruler.

“Tonight we have two speakers. Two exceptional members of our Society, with two presentations to give. Each of these presentations will outline a task, which we will need some of you to assist with. Half of you will be allocated to Professor Grant and his task, and the other half to Professor Baxter with his. If you check on your programmes at the bottom, you will see where you have been allocated.” He paused for dramatic effect, and there was a slight rustling as the audience fumbled with their programmes.

“And so we will commence. For our first guest I introduce that notable innovator of agricultural machinery, straight across from his retreat in rural Arizona, Professor Lionel Cyrus Grant!”


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