Collected Letters of Francis St. James, Letter 4 |



Collected Letters of Francis St. James, Letter 4

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(a long ways past the Boundary)

Dear Edmund,

It has been far too long since I have sat down at this fine typewriter and written you (or, for that matter, anyone) a letter. Would that I could point at some furious activity, some fevered pursuit of discovery, or even a period of being overly busy with ship’s affairs; alas, I can do none of those. Since crossing the Boundary both I and ship have been aimless, undirected. The crew lolls about drinking that Norwegian Rot (I know not what it is, but I shall not touch it - though I may love spirits, this does not seem the right environs for inebriation), singing shanties and treating me with contempt (save for younger Galiskis, who is mostly sober, and old Anteas, who has remained drunk but kind).The ship is altogether adrift.

My one consolation is the sheer beauty of what surrounds me. The sky is a shade of deepest black, as is the void in which we ‘float’ held aloft by the tides of electromagnetic current that fills the space. The only light comes from the ship itself: the strange glow from the control room and the greenish radiance flowing from what I can only guess is the greenhouse - it all is caught in the swirls of rust and flotsam that dances ‘round us and reflected in a manner that I would not have said was pleasing but a month ago, but which I have begun to find obscurely comforting. For that - comfort - is something I find myself sorely in need of.

I would not think that I would be saying this, but I am rather homesick. I miss London’s sooty skies and the unending clatter and clang of delivery carts; I miss the shouts of hawkers and the bold cries of street strumpets; and above all I miss the people: you (though we live at opposing ends of the isle), Zakharov, my idiot flatmates . . . and, obviously, I miss Theodora.

No, I simply refuse to speak further of her. So what else, then, what else have I been doing with myself on this strange expedition? Not terribly much, I confess. As we have yet to make landfall (more on that later), my duties as Naturalist have remained quite unused. And since crossing the Boundary, the ordinary ship’s duties have rather diminished - something about this magnetic sea is apparently far easier to sail ‘pon than that of ordinary water. So I have been at ‘loose ends’ so to speak, and have spent a great deal of time closeted away in my bunk with my machines and equations.

Ah would that sequestering have led to some fruitful results! For my newest creation, birthed as we crossed the Boundary, was one that I had high hopes for - I had expected that it would offer me a rare glimpse behind the polished surfaces of our universe, into the mechanical essences that lie underneath; but the equations and numbers that it extracts are opaque and offer little insight into anything. On top of that, one of the crew seems to have made off with the object that I was extracting essences from - a single feather of a country quail; I know not why so humble an object would appeal to so rough and rowdy a group, nor why one amongst them felt compelled to have off with it - whatever the case, my experiments have been fruitless, and my subject has vanished.

How fortuitous then, that in my nightly prowl ‘bout the ship (a ritual that I’ve continued to indulge in, even though we drift through a region where ‘nightly’ is meaningless) I have made an unusual (and quite revolting) discovery: small pellets, like unto those vomited up by the great owl, only larger - fibrous and hirsute and quite often damp from the passage through some unknown gullet. I am fascinated by these things, though I do not know what use to put them, and have started to amass a small collection, using the delicate glass jars that had been intended for island specimens.

And yes, speaking of island specimens, today saw the beginnings of what may be a chance to finally gather some - after what must have been a month of idle drifting through the rusty tides, crew seemingly content to drink, scratch and sleep, I happened to spy an island, all aglow in the far distance off starboard bow. Our course, aimless as it was, would have us miss it by a fair amount, and I pled, first with Anteas, and then with Glasikis, to see if the crew could be roused to some small activity. At first my efforts were in vain: Anteas was sleeping off a mighty drunk and Glasikis was in a foul mood, having fought with the man sharing his surname, who may be his father; I persisted and, no doubt to make my incessant demands and chatter come to a halt, Glasikis did indeed rouse the crew and set them to turning the ship about.

As I sit writing, we are now closing in on this island, its shores lit by a light I do not understand, and I eagerly await the chance to once more tread upon solid ground.

And so, on that hopeful note, I draw this epistle to a close, remaining, as always

Your brother
Francis St. James