Asher's Dilemma

By: Coleen Kwan

Asher could scarcely hide his excitement. All his weeks of laborious computations to be replicated in just a few days? It seemed too good to be true. “And you can guarantee the accuracy of the results?” he asked. “Down to the third decimal place? It’s very important. Any error could result in serious injury, even death.”

Mrs. Nemo cast him a calculating look. “What are you building that requires such accuracy?”

Instantly he was on his guard. “Oh, it’s just a variation on a Faraday generator. Nothing special.”

“Such modesty, but I must warn you, Mr. Quigley, your reputation precedes you.” The lady graced him with a beguiling smile. “I’ve heard such tales about you and your marvelous inventions.” Leaning forward, she tapped his knee with her pencil. “I’ve even heard it mentioned that you’ve managed to unlock the power of the aethersphere. Now that would be incredible.”

He stilled in shock, her cloying perfume befuddling his brain. Nothing could be kept secret, especially not in the rarefied world of scientific discovery. Money, power and self-aggrandizement would always win out. Besides, Minerva’s father had already defrauded investors with the promise of his perpetual motion machine. The concept was public knowledge. But surely no one but himself knew the real discovery he’d unlocked within his machine?

He couldn’t be too careful. For all he knew Herr Schick and possibly even Mrs. Nemo were responsible for the fire in his workshop.

Asher cleared his throat. “I have gone some way in demonstrating the potential of the aethersphere,” he prevaricated, “but nothing more.”

“Ah, the fabled aethersphere.” Mrs. Nemo was still gazing at him, and now fervor shone in her wide eyes. “The stuff that binds the universe together. I’ve read so much about it. Tell me, Mr. Quigley, are you of the school of thought that believes absolute time exists in the aethersphere? That a person, once inside the aethersphere, is freed from relative time and can therefore travel through time? Can, in fact, travel back in time?”

He couldn’t drag his gaze away from her. Her musky scent coiled around him like sickly sweet incense, her hypnotic eyes seemed to paralyze him, and it felt as if his will was being sucked out of him like a giant mosquito drawing out his blood.

Light perspiration broke out beneath his collar as he pushed away from her. “Really, Mrs. Nemo. That speculation is better left to novelists, don’t you think?”

Slowly her eyes narrowed, shrewdness replacing her fervor. “Perhaps you would show me this ‘variation on a Faraday generator’ you’re so keen to complete.”

He couldn’t mistake the skepticism in her tone. “I’m afraid that’s impossible at the moment. My workshop is, er, disorganized at the moment.”

“But all these calculations you require.” She gestured towards the papers strewn across the table. “I’m not sure Herr Schick would approve of Hedwig being used for a mere generator.”

Asher hesitated. Her message was clear. If he thwarted Mrs. Nemo’s curiosity, he wouldn’t gain access to the analytical machine. But he couldn’t afford to spend several weeks re-doing his calculations. The suspicious fire and burglaries were warning enough that his discovery was in danger. The only safe thing to do was to finish it as quickly as possible.

“Very well,” he said. “I shall arrange for you and Herr Schick to tour my workshop in a week’s time.” He paused, then added, “Once you have my results.”

A satisfied smile sparkled across Mrs. Nemo’s face. She readjusted her veil over her features and swept up the papers into her arms. “Then I must away. Hedwig will be clanking away this evening.”

Asher bid his visitor farewell, trying to squash the feeling that he’d just struck a deal with the devil herself.

Chapter Three

If landing unannounced on Asher’s doorstep had been foolhardy, then shadowing his visitor was, quite possibly, outright lunacy. But Minerva was not in her usual frame of mind. Mild spells of dizziness continued to haunt her as her hire carriage rattled in the wake of the handsome brougham. While Asher had entertained his female caller, Minerva had hailed down a cab and waited at the end of the street until the woman re-emerged some thirty minutes later. Now, the two carriages joined the bustling traffic on the high street for some miles, eventually turning off onto a quieter street. Here, the houses were well-kept and prosperous, though not as grand as Asher’s Kensington address.

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