This then, is the story told by Horatio Fiendish:
“Travelling on a steam packet to Shanghai, according to my status I was naturally invited to dine at the Captain’s table, this despite my recent public humiliation. After the meal was concluded and we were taking our cigars, a most boorish Texan businessman recognising me, made an ignoble reference to my humiliation at the hands of the press. My first thought was to unsheath my sword stick and snick my initials into the fellow’s cheek, however I considered this a potential breach of dining etiquette and I determined I would have to leave the table; which I promptly did (after finishing three glasses of Porter which I consider an inviolable maritime custom).
My dark mood took my up on deck, where a brooding charcoal sky spat down on unruly waves. Heavy stinging drops of rain, as one only gets out at sea, smashed into my cheek and forehead. My temper perfectly matched the elements and strangely, from the deluge, I drew a certain calm.
As expected, the decks were free of humanity except for a couple of matelots hurrying to secure a tarpaulin before hurring in the direction of the warm galley.”
“It was then that I saw a solitary figure at the railing at the bow, gazing into the deep sea. Maybe it was my dark mood, but I feared this man was contemplating surrendering himself to the bosom of the sea.”
Intending to secure him, I approached him gingerly so as not to startle him to a watery grave; however, as I approached he said without turning.
“Professor Fiendish… Hello”
I was taken aback and froze in my tracks, not only that he had sensed my approach from behind in this howling gale, but also that he had recognised me!
“You know my name?”
“I am aware of your work”. He said turning and I could see he was a Chinese man modestly dressed.
“Really? you have the advantage of me Sir”
“Forgive me, my name is Ho. Like you, I am a follower of the Spiritual Sciences and aware of your… notoriety. A most unfortunate business with the Royal Society I must say. Might I hazard that is your reason for your trip?” I felt compelled to answer his direct (and correct) assumption.
“Indeed I am taking break from London after my recent public debacle. Buffoons! they would rather conspire against me for sport than try to underdand my progress..”
The storm was worsening and at that moment a large wave rose several feet higher than our heads and crashed down onto the deck a few yards beyond us, we had escaped a serious battering.
“Professor Fiendish, I shall suggest something you may find strange, I would like to continue our conversation and yet I do not wish to do so within the confines of the ship. I propose we shelter out of this storm by climbing into this lifeboat.”
The life boats were large, to take forty passengers and tented by a heavy green canvas tarpaulin. It would be easy to slip into one and be out of the rain and yet should I trust this stranger. Was he planning some dastardly deed or under the pay of the Newspapers somehow intending to prolong my public assassination
“I have a cabin we could use, which would be warmer.” I offered.
“What I have to say I would prefer to say in privacy. Ship’s cabins, with their pipes, vents and resonating metal walls are a perfect place for eavesdropping; besides which, I have this beverage which I believe helps stave off the cold.” At that point he opened his coat to reveal large pockets out of the tops of which I could see poking bottles carrying the welcome black and gold livery of the Bushmills company.
I don’t know what it was about this curious fellow, but I took him at his word and was soon inside a lifeboat.
Within the boat was a Hurricane lamp which my host deftly lit before pulling out a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. This meeting was certainly planned and yet my curiosity overcame my caution.
Under the thick canvas the light of the lamp and warmth of the whiskey seemed to cancel out the Storm raging outside and make this space comfortable and intimate enough for us to talk at normal levels.
“Professor Fiendish, allow me to tell you that not only am I aware of your work, I applaud you inventiveness in making the connection between the Tesla machines and the Spirit world.”
“Well Sir, you are the only one that does!” I laughed, for the first time since my humiliation at the hands of the Royal Society.
“And you are a Scientist yourself?”
“I am a Chemist, and like you work at the boundaries where the spirit world meets the scientific, in your culture I would be branded with the appellation…Alchemist !”
“You admit to such? An Alchemist in modern times?”
“I do, although my research differs significantly from the Occidental Alchemists. I am not lured by the endless search to conjure Gold. Oh no.” He shook his head smiling. “I am concerned with the connection of Spirit matter through time and Space.”
“I see our meeting as just such a fortunate connection!”
“Being aware of your work, I believe you have the temperament and curiosity to further my own researches and in short, I propose an alliance!”
A look of consternation must have betrayed me, for the proposal of an alliance so soon in our meeting set alarm bells ringing.
“Hear me out professor….”
“It is access to my laboratories you seek” The words tumbled out of my mouth. The laboratories were indeed the prize of the Fiendish estate and many a rival scientist had sought ingress by ingratiating themselves whilst blatantly dismissing my work.
It did seem fortuitous to meet someone who sees merit in my work, at what was the darkest point in my career. But was it TOO fortuitous? Again it crossed my mind that this man had planned this meeting to take advantage of me at this vulnerable time, but then he continued..
“Professor Fiendish I freely admit that I am seeking the use of your laboratories, you have the skill and funds to produce apparatus that is beyond the expertise of my poor rural nation. Yet I hope I may convince you that I have something which will more than compensate you for your services. Indeed, may furnish you with the means to finally prove your work beyond question to your peers.
For the satisfying possibility of silencing my detractors, I lay aside my suspicions and decided to hear the fellow out.
“Continue..” I said holding out my empty glass, which he gladly filled with the liquid that glowed dark-amber by the light of the hurricane lamp and I thought there is not a more beautiful colour in all the world.
“Do you Sir, believe that animals have Souls?”
I was again taken aback by this Oriental Wizard, who said the damnedest things in the most sober of tones.
“It is a conundrum I have not given much thought. Many would say that God has only gifted Man with a soul, but when I talk to my beloved Deerhound Belvedere, I see a communion and knowingness in him that belays being a baser animal. I must say, without more consideration, or scientific rigour, I am currently undecided on this issue”
“They have souls!” he stated as fact. “All living things do! “
“And you have a scientific proof of this?”
“I do!” He leant back, his calm veneer had given way to the excitement to commune with a kindred mind without fear of instant dismissal. He poured himself another drink and held the bottle towards me and I had to drain my glass quickly to accept his offer.
“Continue!” I said.
“How many lives do cats have in your culture?” He asked.
“Why the number is nine! and that is beyond question, everyone accepting this as fact.”
“Quite so, it is the same in my country! but if cats have souls, what happens to the 8 souls released upon the cat’s vestigial deaths?”
Nursing my whiskey, I realised I was meeting someone with a superior mind, his observation was sharp indeed!
“What if I told you professor, that these cats souls, upon release, have nowhere to go and are floating all around us? Millions of them from when Cat’s first started dying.”
“An intriguing conjecture, but eminently feasible!” I agreed, tilting my head back to drain the last drop of my whiskey glass.
“Furthermore, what if I told you these Souls had a beneficent energy, and that energy could be harvested!”
He then produced, from his coat, a long pipe with an octagonal chamber at one end.
“And do you now show me the device that contains these Souls?” I said in wonder.
“No, no: he smiled “This pipe is for Opium! It is a soothing preparation introduced to my country by your own East India Company, I propose we share it to celebrate our new-found comradeship!”
“That seems like an excellent idea!” I assented to my new-found friend “How is it administered”.
With that he removed his coat and bundled it up and put it to one side of the bench he was sitting on he then put a small bead of the substance in the octagonal chamber, lit it drew the smoke through the flute-like pipe. He then drew his feet up and lay on his side along the bench,employing his rolled-up coat as a pillow.
His eyes became glassy and a smile crossed his lips as if a huge burden had been lifted from him.
“Your coat..” he said, gesturing at me with his pipe, his voice croaking a little.
It had become strangely warm and quiet in our lifeboat cocoon and I removed my coat and balled it into a pillow as he had done. He handed me the pipe and I mirrored the sequence of his of actions.
A feeling of enormous well-being came over me as I listened to the rest of his proposal, I let my eyes close and imagined images to accompany his tale.
“The secret of accessing the Souls is using a substance that I came across by accident (which is a long and distracting story in itself), but just let it be said that to my knowledge this substance is only harvested in one isolated rural village on a mountainside in China. The substance is a distillation of the sap from a mysterious plant that attaches itself to the branches of trees, a parasitic plant, if you can believe such a thing.”
“You mean like mistletoe?”
“I am afraid I have no idea what that is” He seemed somewhat distracted and sat upright and produced a large penknife from this pocket, moving his coat-pillow out of the way he started to cut into the wooden seat where his head had been. I happily watched him in my detached stupor, noticing the concentration on his face and deftness of his carpentry.”
After he had been doing this for sometime, he beckoned me to sit up and see his creation. He had inscribed a map which covered in Chinese characters and striations depicting rivers and villages and I know not what.
“This he said, is the village and he marked it with an X” After which he placed his coat on it and using it once more for a pillow carried on talking, this flurry of activity apparently at an end.
“Indeed? and what is this substance called?”
“Unfortunately I cannot translate the name from the obscure dialect used by the natives of this area, but I call it “Beige Matter” because it is some kind of substance and by colour it is… beige.
“And for what purpose is it used?”
“The locals rub small amounts into their skin and in so doing they say they can see the essence of spirits around us”.
“And you soon verified this?”
“Alas no! After months of living with these people and negotiating with them I was finally allowed to participate in the rubbing ritual, for to them it is sacred, and not for outsiders. However after rubbing this beige matter into my own skin I recorded …no effect whatsoever !”
As I drew on the opium pipe I had fallen into a cloud of contentment and no small love for my fascinating companion, I could feel a keen sadness at the failure of his experiment, yet there was obviously more to come.
“After other experimentation, I came to the conclusion that these tribesmen had developed their gift of sight over many years of rubbing this substance into their skins and that it was a cumulative process that could not be swiftly replicated.”
I felt severely deflated at this hopeless conclusion.
“What next ?” I enquired hopefully.
“Being a chemist I theorised that maybe I could somehow distill the compound into a more concentrated form that would take effect more rapidly”
Having gained the trust of the tribe, I was allowed to a sizeable amount of the Beige Matter wrapped in cloth and carried by donkeys back to my laboratory where I began my experiments in earnest!”
“To what result?” I asked eagerly.
“Success !” after many months work I did manage to distill the matter into a vapour that when imbibed allowed me to see a feint shimmering ‘Aura’ around living things. It is this that the tribespeople see with such ease and sharpens their senses so well.
After I grew accustomed to the effect, I also started to see some shimmering Aura’s that were not attached to any living thing.”
“And with the infallible logic you outlined earlier, you deduced that these emanations were the Souls of Cats?”
“Quite so!” I handed him back the pipe as a gesture of congratulation, he was soon lighting it. After a long draw and handing it back he laid the side of his head on the pillow again. With both of us lying curled up on our sides within this lifeboats warm womb I felt as if I had found a long lost twin and was overjoyed at his success; yet there was more to come.
“I noticed a certain attraction of these cat’s souls to the beige matter, whenever I had a jar of it around, they would cluster around it and when this happened there was a marked ability in me to see more vivid Auras I was also to sense meanings of the colours of the Auras and further recorded an almanac describing them. It is my conjecture that being able to see and understand the Aura of living people, including ourselves is the next step in the evolution of mankind, much as your generations experiments with electricity has furnished us with boons previously unimagined.
“It sounds as if you have solved the problem, why do you seek an alliance with me, an unpopular Western Scientist?”
“I have taken but a step on this road, but I am limited, the amounts of Beige Matter needed to make my vapour are prohibitive and the chemical apparatus needed to produce a gram of the essence takes up nearly a whole room in my house.
My goal in short is to develop my work so that we cold contain the ability to sense Auras into a small portable device. By chemistry alone I think it is impossible, however with your work using your Tesla machines I believe the two of us in collaboration could effect a device that combines the use of chemistry and electricity to capture Auras and analyse them for the benefit of all mankind!”
“That indeed sounds like Alchemy!”.
As I lay there in the in the strangely blissful pod, I realised that I had been searching for just such a challenge. To pit my knowledge against a project of real import. In my stupor my hand involuntarily snaked forward to shake the Chinaman’s hand, sealing acquiescence to the journey on which we were about embark and which would prove our lives’s work.
When I awoke, my companion was gone, I was lying in the now-launched lifeboat, the tarpaulin roof was half undone and flapping in the wind, standing unsteadily I looked out over a featureless, grey ocean with no other vessel as far as the eye could see …