The Steampunk Empire

The Crossroads of the Aether

The Conquest of the Pole. A story Chapter One

The paddlewheel flashed in the cold waters of the Yukon River as Samuel Archer looked down from the Texas Deck of the Steam boat River Queen. He wondered if he had had the right choice. He could have stayed in his comfortable rooms in Seattle, with his arms around his fiance Belle. He could have been warm and happy. But, no. He elected to take on the assignment of his editor to interview the eccentric American inventor August Challenger in his laboratory in White House, Canada. He thought it would be a lark, a bit of fun before his wedding and a settled life as associate editor of the newspaper. He forgot that Canada at this time of year was cold.
Still, a chance to interview Mr. Challenger was not an opportunity one should dismiss. His inventions in air brakes saved thousands of lives each year and his pattens made him a rich man only surpassed by Edison. But, of late he had become secretive and a bit bizarre. He was talking of heaver- than- flight and new means of transportation. When his steam powered carriage blew up many were ready to consign him to the sanatorium.

Few were surprised when he left his position at Stanford University and closed his Palo Alto Laboratory to move north. More than a few were pleased he left. There was talk of an affair with a student as well. Eccentric was one thing, scandalmongering was quite another. All Archer knew was that a great deal of money had been spent by Challenger on a new project and his letters to the inventor were answered with an unexpected invitation to come north and see the so called "wonder of the ages" he was about to unveil to the world. The Editor of the Seattle Sun could have sent another reporter to cover this--but, Sam couldn't see it. He volunteered to go and conduct the interview himself. As head reporter he could have passed it on to a younger man. He didn't know the interview would become one of the most dangerous endeavors of his life, far worse than his encounter with the James Brothers or the time he was captivated by the wild Apaches in New Mexico Territory.

He warmed his thoughts with images of his Belle. The impetuous daughter of the editor he loved with a passion he never expected. She was a modern woman always talking about women getting the right to vote--as if any man would be foolish enough to support such a rattle headed notion. As one of the first women to win a degree she longed to be a reporter herself, something her father refused. Still, she had written a number of short stories and features for magazines. He had to admit that she did have a fluid style a bit like that upstart Jack London out in San Francisco. She wanted to go but, he refused. They were unmarried and it wouldn't look good to travel together. In a huff she took the train to Portland to see her mother.

The steam whistle blew, the city in the wilderness was in view. He would check into the Empire Hotel and hire a carriage to go to the laboratory outside of town. A few days and a return trip to Washington State. He would buy a gift for Belle before he left--An Indian robe or fur hat, she likes such exotic things.

Chapter Two--the North Trek. Attacked by wild Polar Bears!


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