She shared a jail cell with one of the largest rats she had ever seen. In fact, she questioned if it were a normal rat at all, and not one of Vandenberg’s obscure experiments. In the misery of the cell, the rat smiled at her and wiggled its gross little nose. The jail cell was a dank place; there was barely any light and nothing to sit on, not to mention it smelt like a sewer – which would explain the rat. Also, she could hear the distant rumbling of water, somewhere far off. As for her gaolers, the place was completely empty, save for her and her rat, and one other man, who she didn’t quite recognise at first.
The man lifted his head from the subtle dark of the corner of the cell, and Elsie Heartwing knew at once, in a flurry of relief and surprise, that it was indeed her brother Jack. In such a vile place he didn’t quite seem himself, but then again it had been a very long time since Elsie had last seen her brother in the flesh. After a long gaze Jack leaned forward and brushed the long unkempt hair from his face, and Elsie saw that his eyes were very much the same. “Elsie?” he uttered, as if her were talking to a ghost. “Elsie, is that really you? Or have I finally gone mad?”
With a big smile Elsie rushed over and embraced him, marvelling at how great it was to at last hear his voice again, and to know that he was okay. “Jack, you haven’t gone mad. I’ve come to rescue you, so has Professor Goodwin and Doctor O’Donnell.”
“Come to rescue me, have you?” he remarked. He released her and proceeded to wrap his hand around one of the iron bars of the cell. “Swell job you’ve done so far, little sister. No doubt this is all part of the plan.”
Elsie laughed and rolled her eyes. She always knew that her brother was a ‘straight to business’ kind of person. She replied, “Actually, no. That cretin Mr. Backhaus locked me up after he caught me listening in on his conversation.”
“Oh, no matter, I’m sure Robert will come along in no time at all.”
“I wasn’t aware you were on a first name basis with the professor.”
“Oh indeed, we’re practically best friends, he and I.”
Despite being stuck in her very first jail cell, Elsie could hardly contain her joy. “It’s so good to see you again Jack! Although, I ought to slap you for getting yourself into this mess. You know the professor still hasn’t told me what all this is about.”
Jack smiled, and together they sat cross-legged upon the floor of their cell, talking and talking away, and catching up on time lost. “Nor should you have known at all,” said Jack. “To be entirely honest, I’m surprised he had the stomach to bring you along, given the response mum and dad would issue if they ever found out. But look at you now! Little Elsie is out in the world!”
Elsie giggled. “I’m old enough to take care of myself and yet no one seems to believe me! I’ve actually been enjoying myself, the travelling and seeing the sights and all, although the Rosanne is hardly what I’d call comfortable.”
“Quite understandable, I think. But you know, this job isn’t all fun and games, dear sister. I’ve put a lot of hard effort into this investigation, been all over Pearl Isle – as you know – and this isn’t exactly the first time I’ve seen myself in the face of danger.”
“Oh, well the professor has been annoyingly secretive about it. I want you to tell me everything, Jack. It’s not like we’re going anywhere. Tell me what happened.”
And so Elsie sat back and listened quietly, allowing Jack to tell every detail of his story in full: “It all started a few days after dear mother and father departed for their own little adventure. I was working a few jobs at the university – mostly just miscellaneous errands, you know the sort – and then I get a letter from Robert inviting me to dinner at that fancy restaurant in the royal district – the calamari there was just precious, by the way, we should really go there sometime. Anyway, so I arrive with my best suit and I find three people there; Robert, Fiona O’Donnell, and this man Herschel Adams – some kind of mercenary, I think. I start to wonder; what sort of job would require an old biologist, a very beautiful doctor and a scary-looking mercenary? And then I’m told that it’s all to do with those ships that have been disappearing. Have you been reading about it in the papers? Seven ships in two months, over two-thousand workers and civilians just wiped off the face of the earth. Now, I heard all of the theories, and I know that some of the greatest minds in all of Pearl Isle still couldn’t crack the case, so of course I took the job myself! Hey, I might not be a ‘great mind’ but it isn’t all about being smart!
“Two days later I’m on a boat staring down into the water with a bad feeling in my gut – and it wasn’t the sea sickness either. Robert tells the driver that he’s supposed to take me where ever I desire to go, and I am to go wherever the investigating takes me. As for my investigation, well you see, a while back there was this corporation made up of two organisations; AsGen and RimTech – real secretive, they were. Oh, you know about them already? And Robert’s part in it all? Excellent, I guess I’ll skip that part then. So Robert sends me off in a boat and he gives me a map of Pearl Isle. On that map is the locations of all of the Corporation’s research facilities; seven of them named after the letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha to zeta.
“Robert tells me when I leave that the thing wiping out all of these ships could be the result of one of AsGen’s experiments. Unfortunately I’m not allowed to tell you any more than that, sorry kiddo, although I can say that it is a very unnatural phenomenon. But that’s all. My job was to find out if Robert was right, and so far I have within my possession a whole pile of maybes, but not enough evidence to prove anything. What I am suspicious of is a man named Vandenberg. Oh, you know about him too? Well, you have been busy. So Vandenberg was this scientist working under Robert on some of his more special assignments – the way I hear it they used to be good friends. Then, around the time that the Corporation shut down Vandenberg is killed in an accident – one of the labs explodes. The only thing is, I’m not sure if Vandenberg really died at all. My investigation hinted to me that someone had been secretly running the labs years after they were abandoned, and all the evidence pointed to Vandenberg, and then when I’m at Gamma Base is find a sales log that tells me how whatever Vandenberg has been doing is being funded by Backhaus industries.
“That’s when I arrived at Edith Post, and upon a visit to Mr. Backhaus’ office I marvelled at this mysterious brass vault – I think whatever Backhaus has in that vault is crucial to the investigation. Before I had a chance to find out what it was I was jumped by a bounty hunter named Rex Bowler – he’s been following me ever since Warren City. Now, the fact that Mr. Bowler is involved tells me that Mr. Backhaus and Mr. Vandenberg don’t want me to discover whatever it is they’re hiding, but if I don’t solve this mystery Elsie, more ships are going to disappear.”
When the gaolers arrived at noon to give the prisoners their lunch, Jack devised a rather daring escape plan, and merely awaited the perfect time to carry it out. “You see that pipe there on the wall?” he mentioned to Elsie, as the gaolers approached down the stairs. “I think it’s seen better days. Okay, I’ve been working on this plan for a while. When the gaolers open the door, make sure you stay right behind me, and get ready to run.”
The gaolers were both stout-looking men; one with a black and grey beard, and the other with a brown and grey beard. They wore blue uniforms and carried batons, and one had a wort like a grape on the left side of his face. They were both grumpy, like grouchy little dwarves who never managed to get enough sleep. “Look!” one of them blurted. “This one made a friend!” As he reached for his key to open the door he said, “Grub’s up, do try not to choke, it’ll look bad on my record.” He released a bout of laughter.
The second the door was opened Jack flew across the cell and slapped the tray of food into the gaoler’s face so that he was temporarily blinded by leftover mashed potatoes. The second gaoler grumbled and swung his baton, and when Jack leapt aside the blow crashed down on the first gaoler’s back, and he cried out in anguish. Then Jack took up a rock and he bashed it against the rusty pipe, and it burst open spraying hot water vapour into the room. Steam was soon everywhere, and taking Elsie’s hand, Jack used the commotion to steal the gaoler’s key and escape, locking the iron door to the holding cells on his way out.
They emerged free and to the light of noon, only a few blocks away from the port of Edith Post, where the VS Rosanne 7 humbly awaited. They had all seen quite enough of this city for now.ns22.214.171.124da2