Collected Letters of Francis St. James, Letter 2
(1 day before The Boundary)
First things first, my brother - I must convey the most hearty thanks for your gracious present of the typewriter upon which I currently write. I must admit I was more than a little surprised to spy your face on the pier as we on the ship hurried about, making ready for our departure, and I do apologize that I only had a few hurried minutes to spare for both greetings and good-byes. But it was a genuinely good thing to see you, our recent distance aside, and I am, in every sense, grateful that you managed the trip down from Edinburgh to ‘see me off.’
I suppose it would be only proper to give you a brief introduction to my ship - I say ‘my ship’ though that is by no means true – it appears to be held in common by an apparently captainless collection of sullen drunks and madmen (and women) – and my purpose upon it; you had asked me about exactly that, and my halting explanations were cut short by the bellows of the boatswain to get aboard. And I must, of course, preface said explanation with an apology for the time it has taken me to deliver it – the ship has been busy in preparation for ‘Crossing the Boundary,’ and I have taken more than a little time to ‘find my sea legs.’
So then, to begin, the ship itself is a sprawling thing, seemingly built piecemeal over God knows how many years (I found a nail on the aft deck that, if my judgment does not deceive me, must date back at least to the early Regency), apparently by an assemblage of lunatics. I have been gifted with a single visit to the ‘control room,’ where the captain’s chair lies vacant and dusty (there is a story there, though no one will tell it to me), and the sheer number and variety of gauges and valves and gears and screens and piles of rusty bits of metal would, I tell you, reduce our dear mother to fits of twitching (you remember how the clutter of my room, when I was engaged in the fevered studies of whatever topic I then had fixated upon, would make her ill?). There are flashing lights and bubbling tubes of liquid. Indicators of all shapes and sizes are fixed to every available surface; one, large and conspicuously cracked, simply marked ‘Mutiny’ was sporadically flashing, though Glasikis (Canute Glasikis, the closest thing the crew has to a leader – though that seems to be disputed by some – was the lone individual who deigned to lower himself to ‘show me around) tried to distract me when he saw my gaze fall upon it. There is even, I swear on our father’s soul, a small case, lit from behind with an eerie blue glow, in which ants are ferociously scurrying about.
Well, that is the control room, the ‘brain,’ so to speak, of the ship. As for the rest, I am still trying to ‘feel my way about.’ I know there is a garden, somewhere in the bowels, and there surely must be an engine room – I have yet to get a decent night’s sleep what with its strange throbbing – and references have been made to a laboratory; none of these things have been shown to me and, from the surly demeanor of the crew, I hesitate to ask. I have limited my explorations to the main deck, where the crew has found ample work for a ‘land lubber’ such as myself (the crew seems oddly sparse – one would think a ship of this size would require more – and many seem to be engaged in jobs that they seem less than familiar with), and my cramped berth, which I have filled with the tools and notebooks required by my position.
And what is that position? Ah yes – that was the last question you asked before I was dragged away (the fellow doing the dragging, one Anteas something or other, though drunk and frequently non-communicative, is the only one on the ship, besides Glasikis, who doesn’t gaze upon me with disdain) and I never really gave you much of an answer, did I? And the answer, I fear, is a tricky one: my official ‘title’ is that of Ship’s Naturalist; I never did get a clear answer, either from the University or from the ship’s representative (a shabby little man whose exact name escapes me) as to what sort of nature it is that I would be responsible for researching. I know that our Expedition (I cannot help but capitalize it, even if the vehicle itself is less than grand) is expected to range far beyond the Boundary, through the strange currents that, to date, only Maxwell has ever truly described. What sort of life we are expected to find out there, that, that is a question that no one has answered – I suppose the responsibility for answering it lies with me, though, thus far, no one has come out and stated it.
Frankly, I cannot say that I am overly dismayed in regard to this vague description of my duties – I must confess that I have a further motive in my taking this position. I will preface this by saying that yes, I am quite aware what I am about to reveal is somewhat reckless (especially in light of my recent struggles at the University) and I fear that you, dear brother, may disapprove. You are, of course, aware of my studies with Zakharov, and of my vow to show the world that his Mechanistic Philosophy offers the truest key to understanding this and every universe; and yes, you know that it was my devotion to his theories that caused me to fall into disfavor with the University, and led to my embarking on this journey, ostensibly to rehabilitate myself in its eyes.
Well, I must now admit a second motivation, ulterior, but, to myself, of far greater importance. While striving to rehabilitate myself as a student of Naturalism, I will, at the same time, rehabilitate the reputation of Zakharov as maestro of Mechanistic Philosophy. I realize this to be a precarious endeavor and I understand in advance your disproval – you are the eldest and I know you take your responsibilities as such seriously (too seriously perhaps, since Father’s passing), and I know that I risk permanent damage to my career should I be ‘caught’ in my subterfuge. That said, I think what lies beyond the Boundary will prove, from hints and asides in Maxwell’s notes, the ultimate proof of Zakharov’s notions; I cannot simply stand idly by as evidence for these vital theories flows by – I beg of you, please, even if you cannot give me you blessing or understanding, at least give me your faith that my intentions, if incomprehensible to you, are at least sincere.
That is all I ask as I remain
Francis St. James