Prologue: Wherein there is a Meeting between a Spanish Inventor and the Steam City Pirates
January, 1868, New York City
Señor Narcis Monturiol i Estarriol was going to a meeting with Mayor John Hoffman at New York’s City Hall. He walked with a slight limp, and he held his cane out in front of his thin body, as he meandered down the crowded avenue called “Broadway.” His brown eyes were behind wire spectacles fixed upon the road ahead, his conservative brown frock coat and vest matched his bowler hat, and his side-whiskers blew in the breezes that were coming up the avenue. His short frame was enveloped with pedestrian traffic, and the wide expanse of the road was filled with noisy delivery wagons, hackneys and handsome cabs. It was quite a contrast to his home city of Figueres in Catalonia, where the fig trees lined the small road leading up to Sant Ferran Castle at the end of Pujada del Castell.
The Spanish inventor had been referred to the New York mayor by the United States Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. Monturiol was in dire need of money for his steam-powered submarine, but the Secretary of the American Navy had said that the government was having a difficult time paying its bills after the War Between the States. Monturiol had received the same treatment from the Spanish Navy, and his last chance at getting the funds he needed was to talk to the man who represented the City of New York, John Hoffman.
As he walked up the marble steps, Monturiol noted the domed tower in the center of the columned entrance porticos on the roof and top of the steps, both capped by balustrades. This was no architecture he would ever use, as his submarine was quite oval-shaped, natural and sleekly designed to house his new engine. These public buildings are built to expand the egos of men and not to save men’s lives, he thought, as he pushed open the metal door with shining copper plates behind the brass handles and stepped inside the huge edifice.
As he limped into the Outer Ceremonial Room, adjacent to the Mayor’s office, he could hear his tapping cane echo up into the soaring rotunda. There was a grand marble stairway rising up to the second floor as if into heaven. Ten fluted Corinthian columns supported the coffered dome, and he knew the mayor would not be inside this grand room to greet him. He did have an appointment, but he was not the King of Spain, or other such dignitary, and he knew the only chance he had at acquiring the funds he needed was to prove to this Hoffman that his little craft would somehow serve some profitable venture for this city’s government.
Monturiol glanced up on the wall at some of the huge tapestries and paintings, one of which was the portrait of the man he had seen on the face of the United States ten-dollar bill he had used to pay for breakfast and for his hotel room. He did not know this man’s name, but he knew he probably had something to do with making money. These Americans seemed to worship money and its accumulation in vast quantities.
Monturiol’s hopes were high as he opened the small door to the Mayor’s office, which was located in an insignificant space on the northeast corner of the first floor. Inside, he was greeted by a young man seated at a desk in front of the mayor’s suite behind him. There was a single sofa next to the wall, with several newspapers on a table in front of it. The man wore a dark suit and cravat, and his hair was parted neatly down the middle. His clean-shaven face beamed up at Monturiol.
“Good morning, sir! May I help you?”
“I am here to see Mayor Hoffman. My name is Narcis Monturiol. I believe he expects me,” he said.
“Why, yes, Mister Monturiol. The mayor wants you to go right in.” The young man stood up and walked about five feet to the mayor’s office door. He opened it, and stood there, waving his hand in a magnanimous gesture.
Mayor John Thompson Hoffman stood in front of his desk, and his right hand was outstretched, waiting for his visitor to take it. The mayor was about six inches taller than Monturiol, and his expensive blue suit, snow-white shirt and dark-silk, bowed tie made the inventor feel inconsequential. Hoffman’s dark-brown hair was parted on the left, with curly plumes on both sides of his head and a long, full and distinguished mustache neatly adorning his upper lip.
The inventor grasped the mayor’s large hand and let his own, much smaller hand, be propelled up and down like a standing well pump handle. “Señor Monturiol! Welcome to New York City! Please, have a seat. How have you been enjoying your visit to America? I’m afraid I’ve been busy gallivanting all over the state. We have our governor’s election this year, and I am a candidate of the Democratic Party.”
“I was told by Secretary Welles that you might need an invention that can explore the undersea for fish, lobsters, and oysters. My latest submersible is called Ictineo II. You might have read about my first craft, but she was powered by humans. This was not good enough for the depth we needed to explore, so I came up with an air independent engine for underwater navigation. Steam power cannot be used beneath the surface, so my chemical reaction of zinc, manganese dioxide and potassium chlorate can provide enough heat to power the steam engine, and the oxygen it releases can be used for breathing and lighting inside the submersible.”
“How big is this ship? How can you see what’s down under the water? How fast does she go?” Mayor Hoffman was clearly enthused. He bent forward in his chair, his elbows on the desk, and his face between his hands, as he watched the inventor pull out a rolled-up drawing of his craft that he then spread out upon the desk.
“She is 45 feet, 11 inches in length. The beam is six feet, seven inches across, and the height is nine feet, ten inches. She can do about four-and-one-half knots underwater and over eight on the surface. Not only can the two sailors see, they can also use my mechanical arms to retrieve objects from the ocean floor. This would greatly improve salvage efforts if you wish to use my craft for this profitable endeavor!” Monturiol smiled over at the mayor. He hoped this description would please him.
Mayor Hoffman frowned. “Only two people can drive this? I must be frank with you, Señor Monturiol. “We already have hundreds of immigrant salvage divers that can retrieve what we need. Besides, most of the money to be made is off the Florida coast. New York City has few ship wrecks. I really don’t see any commercial advantages with your invention.”
“I have cannons that can be used to deter pirates or other intruders! Your coast guard batteries surely could use such protection,” Monturiol pleaded. “Mister Mayor, if you please. My invention can lead to the exploration of new sources of food for your people. I can also show you how to construct underwater cities powered by my anaerobic engines! My submersibles will transport settlers, and they could live and farm the seas for your industrialists! Did I tell you how I first imagined my Ictineo? I saw a coral diver who was trapped off the coast of Cadaqués and I watched him drown. I then knew I could…”
“Thank you, Señor, but I have heard enough. I’m afraid I must be off to my next political rally. If we develop an interest in your unique fish machine, then we shall be in touch.” Mayor Hoffman stood up and walked over to the door. He held it for the older man until Monturiol finally moved, passing by the American, in a limping shuffle, through the doorway.
Outside, in the street, Monturiol did not know where to go next. He was checked out of his hotel, the Plaza, and the only option left for him was to go down to the embarkation pier to take his ship home to Spain. He would be meeting his creditors, and the outlook was not bright. This was his last chance at saving his life’s work, and America had rejected him.
“Excuse me, but I was in the mayor’s office just moments ago. He told me you have a submersible you are trying to raise funds to develop. Is this correct?” A tall, thin and awkward-looking gentleman in a black waistcoat and vest was standing beside the inventor. His head bobbed up and down as he spoke. He appeared to be almost mechanical. Monturiol had never met a human with such precise movements. His hands gestured in straight lines, and his head moved in segmented, jerky motions. His face was expressionless, and the mustache on his upper lip looked pasted on.
“Yes, I do. He told me there was no interest in my invention. Why have you approached me?” The inventor was curious, but he was also wary. His friends in Spain had warned him about all the confidence men in New York who daily attempted to trick foreign visitors, and Monturiol was not about to be fooled. That would be the worst indignity of all.
The man reached into his coat and pulled out a billfold. He opened it and then extracted a card. He thrust this card, in a very straight line, at the Spaniard. “Here,” he said, “read this.”
Monturiol took the card and squinted down at it: Inquisitor Bat Egan Carry Who Represents the World Scientific Advancement Society for Progress.
“I don’t know of this organization. Are you affiliated with any academic institutions? Where are you located?” Monturiol handed the card back to the scientist.
“We would like to introduce you to our group. The funds are predicated upon how favorably our scientists view your inventions. If this is agreeable, then you can follow me.” The tall mechanical man turned and began to walk briskly down Broadway.
The Spaniard knew he could not keep up, so he shouted over the din of traffic, “Wait! Can’t you see that I have a cane? Please slow down!”
Thankfully, the tall man glanced back at the inventor and began to relax his pace. The two men, from above all the traffic and uproar of New York City, looked like two tiny dots moving along between the tall buildings and the variety of merchants and their pushcarts full of foods and wares. The odor of the pigs running and rooting up garbage, the horses whinnying as they pulled their hackneys and delivery carts, the feel of the bustling thousands of humans who collided with each other, like magnetic iron filings, sticking together momentarily, but they were all breaking away to plunge into their individually chosen destinies—whether they were heading to the church or to the madhouse—they all collided along the streets of congested traffic.
They walked into the huge park, and Monturiol followed closely behind Bat Carry. Who was this man? Where were they going? If the inventor had not been on his last legs, grasping at straws, afraid to return to the creditors in Spain, he would not be following this mechanically manic man. Up ahead, a tall statue of some American Civil War general appeared. There were other park strollers, and they all looked contented in the early evening glow of sundown.
The Spaniard stood behind the tall scientist as Bat Carry looked up at the statue. It seemed as if he were almost praying to this piece of granite memorabilia. Monturiol could hear the man taking deep breaths, and his head began to move in manic, segmented motions, up and down, from side-to-side, until there was a whooshing sound in front of him at the base of the statue, and steam came up from the grass. A metal door opened upon a coffin-like structure.
They both stared down into a chute-like, circular opening into the earth of Central Park. It was just wide enough for a human body. It also had within its metal confines two chairs with ornate sphinx heads crafted upon the armrests. It reminded the inventor of a chair from Egyptian mythology. However, the rest of the chute looked like advanced technical wizardry. The chairs were enveloped by a copper cocoon resting upon about two inches of steam! Air was hissing around this steam-powered cocoon run by some kind of mammoth steam engine running beneath the New York City Park!
A voice came from the cocoon: Get in! Welcome, Señor Narcis Monturiol i Estarriol.
Bat Carry moved behind the Spaniard and politely guided him into the front chair by his arm. Monturiol grunted as he bent his body down into the awkward position needed to get inside the copper cocoon. He kept his cane alongside his leg, and he gripped the sphinx heads with all his might. He could hear his guide slide upon the rear chair, and then their capsule lowered into the earth about three feet, and the metal top of their device closed over them, trapping them into what the panicked Spaniard believed was eternal darkness. His Catholic upbringing was acting upon his imagination, and he thought about Dante and his infernal punishment of humanity. Was he going down to this kind of Hell?
There was a monstrous rush of steam and then their capsule lurched forward, gaining speed, spinning down the pipeline like a bullet. Around and around, in looping circles they sped. Monturiol held onto the sphinxes and pushed his feet against the floor of the cocoon in an attempt to stay secure in his chair. The looping darts of the pneumatic engine’s force gave him a feeling of doom. Was he being flushed into some kind of cesspool beneath New York? Was the panic in his stomach being caused by a poisonous gas exuding from the steam all around him?
At last, when Monturiol thought he would go mad from the spinning, they came to an abrupt stop upon bumpers made of thick, black rubber. Their little capsule opened upon a huge grotto of magnificent proportions. There were gas lamps infused within the cave wall soil, and there were ribs of brass that ran in crisscrossing arcs overhead to support this gigantic room.
The cavern was about five hundred yards in circumference, and the Spaniard could see there were also offshoots of smaller tunnels which led out of this main room in earthen estuaries. Like the New York City Hall, this room seemed to be a greeting area of some kind. Unlike the government above-ground, which basically ignored him, the people who led this underground régime were all there to welcome him to their dominion.
Bat Carry climbed out of the capsule cocoon with his rigid motions until he stood on the floor of the cave. He then turned around and took the smaller inventor by his armpits and lifted him bodily from the chair and set him gently down until he, too, was standing upon terra firma, such as it was. Monturiol could feel a swaying beneath his feet, and it gave him the distinct impression he was not on firm footing. He imagined this cavern could even be constructed upon a steam bed of some manner or form, as the hissing white clouds came up from the floor of the cave in constant waves of wet and salty mist.
The man who walked toward them was speaking from some kind of magnetic coil that encircled his throat. He was about eight feet tall, and he wore the silken white Nemes of an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh. The pleats or folds were made of copper, however, and they seemed to be undulating like moving stairs. The band of the Nemes was bound tightly above his arching and thick eyebrows, tied at the back, and was reinforced with a strip of gold that hung down between the Nemes and the leader’s forehead.
This creature’s red eyes penetrated the Spaniard’s liquid brown pools of humanity, and his voice was certainly a mechanically infused sound that vibrated the air around them like a magnetic force field. “We welcome you, Monturiol, to our dominion! All of your dreams can be realized, and we will make them come true. Watch what powers we possess.”
The inventor’s eyes were trying to take in all the different sensory stimuli and characters surrounding him, but they were so odd and so different that his mind had a difficult time comprehending them at all. It was as if their leader could magnetize Monturiol’s brain just by speaking and riveting his attention away from all else.
If he concentrated, with all his power, he could gradually move his head away from the leader until he saw the person standing to the right of him. She was a woman dressed in conventional attire, and yet her pearl silk kimono had a black-and-white panda sewn upon it that looked enraged, biting into a bamboo stalk like a rabid mammal. She also had a man’s black-silk top hat on her head, goggles on her eyes, and there was a copper clock built into the center of her bosom!
“She is Madame Jane the Grabber. She can travel into the future and provide us with inventors like yourself. We collect inventors like some people must collect weapons or sorcery. You are the most valuable commodity in the universe! Welcome to the World Scientific Advancement Society for Progress. My name is Inquisitor Abraham Toky Manette. I represent the fusion of the future with the wisdom of the past.”
Monturiol’s head turned to the left of Manette. There was an even larger man standing there. He wore a mask of bright green, and in it were spring coils of brass that fell down from his face. They moved all around his body like restless snakes, and his red suit was sparkling with some kind of rhinestones or glittering metal substance. Upon his trousers was a large codpiece that covered his privates. He also wore a top hat, but in the center of this hat was the symbol of the taijitu or yinyang. The Spaniard knew that to be the ancient Taoist emblem of divine opposites.
“He is John Allen. We have adapted him with new technology. Father Allen is my enforcer and mystic high priest of physical ecstasy. Enough about us! Why have you come? Do you need to finance an invention? If you do, then you have certainly arrived at an opportune time.”
Even though he felt wary, the technical wizardry surrounding him gave Monturiol a sense of security. What better way was there for him to get out of debt? The world above had no use for his genius. Therefore, he decided to turn to this underworld society to see if he could obtain the funds he needed to see his visions come alive at last.
“I want to create undersea cities where humanity can forage and build a secure life. Farming this new world would provide the planet with a limitless bounty of food and medicinal sources. I can build a steam-powered submersible and, with the right assistance, I can develop an entire world beneath the ocean.” Montuirol felt relieved at having said it all. These were his visions for the future, and they were what kept him young and optimistic. He would, in fact, make a deal with the devil if he could make his dreams come true. If the devil’s domain were here on Earth, then perhaps these creatures were his emissaries. What the hell! Perhaps all of science had been working for the underworld all these years. Now he was joining them.
The giant inquisitor laughed! It was a vibrating, mechanical laugh that would haunt Monturiol’s dreams. “Bring out the balloon!”
From the far-end of the cavern a gigantic, floating craft came toward them. It was high in the air above them, and walking beneath it was a short man with long white mustaches, and he wore a formal suit of no fashion the Spaniard had ever seen. His captain’s cap was snow-white, his coat and trousers were black, and his collar was turned up. He was pulling the aircraft along as a boy would lead his dog, by a long metal leash that led in an arcing loop up to the balloon.
“This is Count Ferdinand Adolf August Heinrich Graf von Zeppelin. He is also an inventor, and together, you will create the underwater paradise of your dreams!”
The Count clicked his heels. “I first flew in one of the American Union Army’s balloons operated by John Steiner. I later renewed my interest, and this is the result. I was living in Germany, in 1888, and Miss Haskins here came to visit me from the past. I agreed to come back in time with her to create my craft for the Society! And now you, my friend, will work with us to form a new force for good on this planet. Life is so good, yah?”
“Force? What are we discussing here? I thought you were scientists. This looks like a craft for war,” said Monturiol.
The Grand Inquisitor Abraham Manette marched over to where the short inventor stood. He placed his long arm around the inventor’s thin shoulders and tilted his head down. Monturiol looked up and could see the brass coils around the big leader’s neck. When the voice came out of them, the Spaniard almost fell backward from their vibrating blast.
“Money is the root of all evil, and it is also the root of all invention. Our plan, you see, is to earn our fortunes in order to create your undersea world. Mister Monturiol, the forces above do not appreciate your genius. All they understand is power and, yes, force. We plan to create a torpedo for your steam-powered submersible, and it will be infused with steam so that it will penetrate the hull of any ship those above have in their navies. Once one of these merchant ships has been sunk, the Count’s airship will move in. We shall tell them via telegraph that unless they allow us to plunder the other ships with our balloon armada, they will all be sunk! See how ingenious we are?”
The mechanical voice was now booming in the little man’s ear, and he pulled away in fear. “You want to kill people and steal their cargo? I can’t have that. I am a man of peace. I belonged to a communist society in Spain, and we only want what’s best for the common people!”
“How can you believe the common man can save us from all the greed and corruption going on above the earth? Did you not advise me that our hope lies beneath the sea? The only way you can get us beneath the sea in your paradise is to join us in procuring the funds we need to make your inventions real! Won’t you join us? We can begin tomorrow with your designs. Let your mind go free! Become an inquisitor!”
The woman called Jane the Grabber spoke to him, and he turned toward her. Her eyes flashed, and the clock in her corset began to spin around and around as she told him, “I have been into your future, Señor Monturiol. If you do not change your life now, you will end up dying in poverty, penniless and alone. Don’t you understand how the powers above can corrupt the future? Please, won’t you join us?”
Monturiol made a decision. Without money, he could not go on. He was possibly entering Dante’s Inferno, but at least he would have the money to see his dreams realized. What more can any mortal ask for? “Yes, I will do it! We will steal from the rich and give to the poor, correct? Like the British Robin Hood?”
“Of course! Your dreams will be realized and our Society will prosper! Let’s go eat. A banquet is in order, and we shall feast upon the creatures from the sea!”
Music filled with brass instruments, drums and steam whistles began to vibrate the cavern. They all walked toward one of the other small caves, the one on the eastern side of the grand cavern, and as they passed into its confines, Monturiol could see the band. Seven men and four women played the music, and they all wore pirate attire.
“These are the Steam City Pirates! They will serenade us whilst we feast!” said Manette.
Bat Carry escorted Monturiol to his place at the long banquet table, pulling out the chair. The Spaniard sat down and saw that the table was filled with steaming bowls of clams,
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