“Joe Quinn and his Adventurers in: Lightening in a Bottle” Chapter 2 “Questions and Answers”

Chapter 2

Joe sat silently in the darkened carriage. He was on his way to meet the president and he wasn’t sure why. Joe was puzzled by the invitation considering the secrecy in which it was delivered. Well, attempted secrecy anyway. The four men were the personal bodyguards of the president, not exactly official law enforcement but something to be treated with respect regardless. After the confrontation, Joe was then quickly placed into an armored carriage headed toward the Presidential Mansion.

The carriage had no windows only iron plating bolted to the thick hardwood doors. A brilliant flash of light suddenly erupted in front of Joe; his eyes began to focus on what was a match lighting a gas lamp that hung from the ceiling of the carriage. “What if he hit a bump and that lamp falls off and breaks?” Joe asked. Silence was the response from the guards. “Anyone wants to tell me why you had to rough me up just to tell me that president wanted to talk?” asked Joe to the still silent men. Frustrated, Joe took off his brown Stetson hat and ran his hand through his blonde nearly brown hair and let out a sigh.

Just then one of the guards spoke “Mr. Quinn, name’s Calvin and we here have been given strict orders not to tell you anything.” This was the same guard who first spoke to Joe. Calvin was fairly large more so in girth than in height. His face was long which made the skin under his neck look even more pronounced like that of a frog inflating his mouth. Joe sat stroking his mustache, studying Calvin then asked “Nothin’ at all?” “’Fraid not.” “Why? You felt the need to jump me in the street; I figure I deserve some answers.” Calvin furrowed his eyebrows and gave a hard stare at Joe “President Edison gave us strict orders.” he said. With that Joe sat back and looked up and stared at the ceiling thinking about what he knew of the president.

Thomas Alva Edison was a true hero to the people. Everything about the man exemplified the New American spirit: Hard work, independence innovation and integrity. When he was in his 20’s he invented the first electric light, and other marvelous inventions such as the phonograph. His professional life as a business man came to an end when he refused to provide devices for the war. He later ran for president after the cease fire and truce was signed, on a platform of pacifism. Joe personally didn’t vote for this current president, writing off the candidate’s promise of peace naïve. However the man was still to be respected and any invitation to speak with him is considered an honor.

Aside from Calvin, none of the bodyguards spoke during the short carriage ride. The carriage came to a stop, and then proceeded once more. Checkpoint Joe thought we must be clearing through the gate now. The carriage came to stop and the doors were open, letting slivers of light peak through. Joe and the guard’s eyes began to adjust to the daylight as they stepped out of the carriage. Joe blinked as his eyes focused on the grand mansion that stood in front of him. He’d walked by it several times when going to various meetings and such when he had business in the city. It was far more impressive up close than he realized. The large red brick Presidential Mansion was a symbol that the world had come to know as the symbol of the free world. Constitutional law was possible, and the N.A.S. was proof of that concept. Many people from the European Empire secretly tried to make passage through the gulf up into Texas to be free from the iron fisted rule that clutched most of Europe.

Joe was escorted into the building and was stunned by the ornate architecture and vibrant paintings that adorned the halls. The display was rather impressive, as Joe began to see the various portraits of presidents past. The largest painting was at the end of the hall, where a small staircase led up and forked into two staircases leading to the second and third floors of the mansion. The painting that hung between the two staircases was of the first New American Sates president Benjamin Franklin. It was well over ten feet high and about six feet wide. The painting gave the impression that Old Ben wasn’t looking down on you; rather that he was inviting you. Inviting you to what seemed to be the big question on Joe’s mind as he and his escort began to ascend the stairway to the right.

Eventually they made their way to the famed Outer Office where Joe would wait and be invited into the more famous Inner Office to meet with the president. The wait wasn’t long as the Inner Office door was opened. Out stepped one of the president’s secretaries and invited Joe into the office. Seated behind a large oak desk was President Edison who immediately stood up and made his way to greet the young adventurer. “Young man it is an honor to meet you!” he began “I’ve read the reports of your various dealings, during and post-war. Tell me Josephus what must it be like to travel the world, free from the tethers that tie us to the ground?” Joe found he couldn’t speak. Was this really all the president wanted to speak with him about? There was more to this story and Joe needed answers. “I beg your pardon, Mr. Sir. I mean President Sir… I-” Edison raised his hand and interrupted Joe “Thomas will do fine. Please have a seat.”

Joe sat in down in the empty chair that was in front of the desk, feeling overwhelmed by the new experience. He drew a deep breath and exhaled and began to speak. “Mr. President, why did you send for me?” Joe asked solemnly “I get the impression that you went through the trouble of sending out your men to find me, not so you can discuss my explorations.” The president let out a sigh, and gave Joe a hard look. “Mr. Quinn, are you familiar with our history?” The president asked. Joe wasn’t quite sure where the question would lead, but he nodded slowly. The president spoke again. “We all know about the Displacement of 1776, where our Founders fled into the French controlled territories. Then of course, the Land Treaty that President Franklin drafted with King Louis the XVI.” Again Joe wasn’t sure where this meeting was leading him, but continued to listen to his president.

“You see Mr. Quinn no one really knows what’s in the treaty, only that we know that an exchange was made.” said the President. Joe was beginning to understand where the conversation was leading, but before he had his say he continued to let the President speak his piece. “The exact wording of the treaty states that land would be given to our new government, in exchange for ‘valuable goods furnished by the citizenry of New America’.” As the President finished his speaking it became clear to Joe as to why he was here: A conspiracy theory. Not exactly a conspiracy but an old folk tale about how Old Ben found a secret treasure to bribe the French with. “Thomas,” Joe began “There is no secret gold treasure. It’s a myth.” “I’m well aware of that fact Mr. Quinn. That is not why I summoned you here.” The President answered firmly. Joe did not expect this response from the President.

“May I continue?” the President asked Joe innocently. Joe slowly nodded more confused than before. “As I said an exchange took place that didn’t cost the citizens a single cent. The King was somehow satisfied with our gift and now we have land! What was exchanged? Ben Franklin gave the King Louis a weapon he designed himself!” This was a new one Joe hadn’t heard before. Everyone knew of how Old Ben was a tinkerer and inventor, but a weapon? That was hard to swallow. All Joe could manage was a single question “What kind of weapon?” he asked. The President stood up from behind his desk and began to pace, took a look at Joe. “Benjamin Franklin was working on a device to help repel the British after Displacement.” The President began “He was using his experiments in electricity as a starting point, when it was announced that King Louis would be willing to help out the Rebels.” “The Land Treaty of 1779…” Joe said aloud.

“Precisely!” exclaimed the President “The French knew what Old Ben was working on and convinced him to give the weapon to their King in exchange for land.” Joe thought about this for a moment, not entirely sure what to believe or think. Could Ben Franklin really have made such a device? Anything was possible but Joe wasn’t sure what this had to do with him in the first place. “So this weapon” Joe said slowly “What’s it do?” “It fires pure electricity in one concentrated ray.” the President answered. To Joe it seemed impossible like something out of a Scientific Romance. As Joe sat there and began to reflect on what he had just heard, one question still needed to be answered “Even if this tall tale is true, what’s it got to do with me?” asked Joe. After all there must have been a reason for the President’s odd request to meet with him.

“Three weeks ago our spies from the Empire have informed us that our enemies have found the clues that would lead them to the location of the weapon, here inside our own borders.” said the President. Another bit of startling news for Joe, as he now hung on every word the President was saying. “Worse than that news is, I’m afraid is that the Empire has already learned of the location and are now searching for the weapon somewhere in France.” This was beginning to become too much for Joe to take in and it didn’t answer his main question “What does this have to do with me exactly?” Joe asked again. “Well isn’t it obvious Mr. Quinn? You’re going to help us steal the weapon.” said the President. Joe was dumbstruck by the revelation and now had more questions than he had before.

Sitting and contemplating on what was going to be a request he knew he wouldn’t be able to get out of, Joe shook his head and let out a laugh. President Edison took notice and asked “Was there something humorous that I missed Mr. Quinn?” “How exactly do you expect me to do this?” Joe responded. “I don’t even know where to start or where to go. I’m not sure if I’m the right man for the job.” After Joe finished speaking he stood and made his way to the door. Before he could leave the President’s hand gripped him on the shoulder, prompting Joe to stay. “I know this is all overwhelming and understandably confusing, but no one else in this great country of ours has your skill set.” The President said as he walked back to his desk and sat down in his oversized swivel.

Joe looked at President Edison and saw a troubled and weary look on the man’s face. Joe stood and watched for a few minutes until the President spoke again “I promised this nation that after the Appalachian War we would have peace. I have gone through great measures to ensure that our treaty would be enforced and the things I have done are most regrettable.” Joe started to think that maybe the President wasn’t so naïve after all.

After listening to what the President had said Joe asked “If I agree to this what guarantees do I have of even finding this thing? I mean they already know where to look, how do we know they don’t have it?” President Edison looked up at Joe and smiled “They know where it is, they just can’t get to it.” “Go on.” Joe said. “They have located a secret catacomb somewhere in southern France that may have served as an archive of some kind, storing all kinds of treasures. They just don’t know how to open the passageway.” “So they don’t know how to open it, how do we? Walk through the wall?” Joe asked rather sarcastically. “You have an archaeologist friend do you not Mr. Quinn? I’m sure he could figure out a way.” The President answered. He was right of course Joe did in fact have such an acquaintance; Professor Miles Thompson former Archive Director Madison University in Kansas city. Professor Miles had been one of the few individuals Joe actually accepted any kind of payment from for transportation.

It had everything of course to do with their mutual love of looking for trouble in all the wrong places. Also having the good professor’s lovely granddaughter, Hannah, onboard didn’t hurt either. Joe was beginning to formulate a plan in his mind without actually agreeing to the President’s request. It had been nearly six months since he had gone on expedition of any kind and his old crew went back to their homes. At the moment it was just himself and Tsui living on the Jefferson at the airship docks. If anything this would break up the monotony, although Joe wasn’t sure how his crew would react considering the last journey effectively kicked them out of South America.  Walter was up north in Chicago, Babineaux was somewhere in Ohio and Elisabeth… He wasn’t quite sure he’d bring her along. As far as the Professor was concerned he was out west in Idaho. For Joe this would be a massive undertaking getting everyone back together and agree to undergo this secret mission. As a matter of fact Joe was going to decline.

“I’m sorry Thomas I can’t. I don’t have my crew or the resources, I just can’t.” Joe said softly. “I wish I could help but the war is over and I’m a private citizen now and I want the past to stay buried.” Those last few words Joe spoke hurt. He had spent the last three years after the war had ended trying not to think about what had happened to him during the fight. While he was grateful and proud of what he had accomplished, it was no longer his fight. “Mr. Quinn, I’m well aware of your actions during the war and the horrible sacrifices you made but your country needs you more than ever. Think of what could happen should the Empire get this device. They could replicate it and have the ultimate power and the will to use it. I know it’s quite a task to ask of you but I can’t let my actions be known to the public.” The President’s words hung of Joe’s head like a heavy gray cloud threatening to burst. The President was right and he knew it.

Everyone’s gonna hate me for this. Joe thought. “All right Thomas, where do I start?”

© 2010 by Eric James Russell. All Rights Reserved.

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