High Adventure in the Steam Age
Dr. George Cannaver
"In any contest, as in any discourse, it is the search for the kairotic moment that must lead us."
- Exceptional Education (Pentacles)
- Great Charisma [Exceptional Lying] (Cups)
- Great Perception (Pentacles)
- Good Connections (Swords)
- Good Courage [Great Poker Face] (Cups)
- Good Gambling (Pentacles)
- Good Marksmanship [Great Pistols] (Wands)
- Good Social Graces (Swords)
- Poor Athletics (Wands)
- Poor Fencing (Wands)
- Poor Fisticuffs (Wands)
- Poor Physique (Wands)
- Poor Sorcery (Pentacles)
Possessions: Respectable English suit, one set of evening wear, overcoat (with pop-out derringer [left sleeve] and gas atomiser [right sleeve]), reading glasses (with lockpick), derby hat (with hidden binoculars), magnifying glass, .44 Drop Pistol, poorly-bound books of notes, copies of his book, deck of cards.
- .22 Derringer (Range 10/25 / Load 2 / 1 (P) / 2 (F) / 3 (H) / Harm Rank A)
- .44 Drop Pistol (Range 40/80 / Load 5 / 4 (P) / 5 (F) / 6 (H) / Harm Rank D)
Languages:English (N), Latin, Ancient Greek, Fluent in all languages of New Europa with no discernable accent.
My name…well, that is complicated. Let us start, rather, with some uncomplicated observations. It is now August of 1872. I am presently in Vienna and the guest of Baron Eduard Von Todesco and his lovely wife, Sophie. I am here as Doctor George Cannaver, Professor of Rhetoric. My recently published defense of the Sophists caught the eye of the Baroness and she invited me to stay and take part in her salons.
Of course, I am not George Cannaver, nor am I Gerard La Croix, mathematician and gambler, nor Dieter Kostler-Mannheim, Prussian logistics officer. I am none of these men and I am all of them, for they are all Seamus Michael Patrick McGillivray, who is me, according to one of the only true things I possess – a certificate of live birth of a Scots-Irish baby at Cookridge Hospital near Leeds. Based on my name, I presume my family comes from somewhere in or around Ulster County originally, but my parents were already working in Leeds, West Yorkshire, when I came along.
I am slender, to put it politely, gaunt, if we are to be more realistic. I attempt to get plenty of fresh air and sunshine, but I eat little and drink mostly warm tea to help my lungs – I have chronic bronchitis, what Dr. Rene Laennec termed “emphysema” in his text on diseases of the chest. My nutrition greatly improved early in my childhood, so I am taller than most Irishmen I have encountered, with short, sandy hair and a face that, if unremarkable, is expressive.
I have no memories of this story of my childhood, but it will be pertinent later, so I relate it here as it was told to me. When I was five, my parents, Irish migrant workers at the Leeds Industrial Chemical Works, put me to work as a sweeper, earning tuppence a week. The major product of the works at the time was Soda Ash, so there was a lot of sweeping to be done. When we were desperately hungry in the winter, Mother told me Father was drinking our food money and she didn’t know what to do. I, apparently already a budding entrepreneur, asked the foreman if I could sweep out the furnaces after hours. I knew the older boys and men who did it got five pence a week. I did not know it was because it was killing them. The foreman shrugged, unconcerned about sentencing one more Irish brat to a painful death, and changed my hours. I kept putting my tuppence in our money can at home, and saving the other three for bread and the occasional thin leg of lamb. In the spring of my seventh year, I was collecting my pay when a young man asked why I was getting five pennies for my labor. The foreman explained how I was a business-minded child and the young man asked me for my reasoning and my methods. That night, my parents died in a fire that killed 20 in our tenement, and the young man whisked me away from Leeds and the chemical worker’s life. As I said, I have no memory of this, but Professor Moriarty told me that this is how we met.
My Virtues are a certain perspicaciousness and erudition. “Uncle James” and I lived hand-to-mouth, but he ensured that we loitered in areas with free education – he was a great believer in the training of the mind. As it turned out, I took to education like a fish to water, and inhaled knowledge that was put within my reach (and sometimes just outside of it, but left unattended). Courtesy my ill-developed breathing apparatus, I spent a lot of time sitting, if not abed, and I read voraciously. As “Uncle James” became “Professor Moriarty,” he really couldn’t help assuming the role of lecturer from time to time, and I absorbed his lessons on both astronomy and organized crime. Suffice it to say that my schooling was remarkably thorough, if eclectic. My truest vice is a lack of empathy for those I meet. I have been “saved” by well-meaning families at least half a dozen times, and apprenticed to four different counting-houses. We robbed them all blind, exploiting their good nature to line our own pockets. As events will demonstrate, I like to think I am no longer quite the man I was, but such things do not turn so precisely and permanently, regardless of the spur.
I once suggested apprenticing to a trade and the Professor beat me senseless. It was not until much later, upon reflection, that I saw the grand design in his sculpting of my knowledge. I know a tremendous amount in theory, but very little of the practical. His good and dear friend, Sebastian Moran, taught me to shoot, but there never seemed to be time to learn to defend myself physically. My academic education is second to none, enabling me to play the academic or scientist in a massive array of fields, but my practical training is of a modest character- I can tell you how every part of the most complicated steam apparatus works, but I could only put together the simpler designs. He would call me his protege, but I was more of his puppet, tied by strings of incompetence to him and whatever allies he could draw together to fill in the gaps in my knowledge.
My style and character, like my name, are something of an artifice. As I reflect, I think I am most happy with my tea and my books, but neither tea nor books put food in the larder, nor do they right the many wrongs done by the unscrupulous. I am capable of affecting about any style or character called for. Even the Professor marveled at my linguistic facility, mastering every tongue we came across to the point that I could pass for a native (French nobles love saving youths, Prussian nobles less so). I suppose that my most common affectation these days is that of the retiring expert – quiet and confident, with secrets that can make you wealthier than Croesus, but needing to be cajoled, since what I know may not be precisely ethical, or even legal. Of recent days, my “Professorial” image is that of an overeducated, upper-middle-class Londoner, a bit scatterbrained, but friendly enough, like a congenial Encyclopaedia Britannica wrapped in tweed.
Only a year ago, I would have told you that my greatest loves were wealth and comfort, and they are still dear to me, especially as strenuous exertions bring coughing fits, but I find myself called to account before God, and my ledger has far too many poor souls in the debit column to count without shame. So Justice has taken first place over my own wants, albeit a justice that does not involve me dying in an English prison. My hatred is reserved for the ignorant and the exploiter. Presuming I had lived to adulthood in my parents’ home, I would have been thought of as chattel, barely better than an animal. The Professor forced me to suppress my native Irish accent (a side effect of which became my talent for speaking other languages with little or no accent), and my facility with Received Pronunciation marks me as an educated gentleman. If we can make such ridiculously broad judgments based on vocal inflection, how much more the fools are we to make determinations based on nations of origin or the color of a person’s skin? I would be me no matter how I pronounce “Tipperary.” The Professor and his growing network of allies were a plague upon the “proper” businessmen that have become the Steam Lords of Britain, and my loathing of their horrible work practices was lit before I even knew how my past was tied to one of them.
Hidden in the lining of my suitcase is a tattered old birth certificate. The Professor took it with him when he took me from Leeds and he kept it, only showing it to me so that I would know my Christian name. I keep it, like a talisman, to remind me of where I came from and that I can never go back there. I prize Justice most highly in the world, although my own profit often competes for primacy when I see the chance to take the unjust for a ride.
My greatest enemy is the man who saved me. Once, I might have also called him the man who damned me, but as Major Moran has said from time to time, “There’s no use blaming the man who put the gun in your hand if you pulled the trigger.” Professor James Moriarty helped me become a scholar par excellence and a gentleman. He also helped me become an uncaring monster who destroyed lives to make my own sweeter. I know from the two attempts on my life that any affection he had for me is either gone or overwhelmed by the need to silence me forever, so we have, at least, reached an accord on something – one of us must go.
One of the roles every young man with criminal aspirations plays is that of the cad, and I am no different. A teenage boy without scruples is practically a disaster waiting to happen to young ladies of breeding. I have no romantic aspirations, as I was not deserving of those affections I received under false pretenses, let alone what someone might charitably offer if they knew the truth of me.
Socially, I require friends – not allies, but true friends who may rely on me as I will no doubt need to rely on them. When I hear people talk of professional aspirations, I have a bit of brain teaser in my mind – what is success to a Jack Bogus looking to do good? Do I score wealth beyond avarice while laying the avaricious low? Is wealth a measure of success? I don’t know, but my own avarice is not so quiet that I’m willing to donate all I have to the needy, so some spots have not changed on this leopard, I suppose. Romantically…well, as I said, nothing for me in that.
Schooling by tutors, professors, and, of course, the Professor, have rendered unto me an Exceptional Education. To this I also bring a Great Perception, as my mentor cultivated within me a tremendous love for inductive reasoning, which requires a meticulous attention to observed details in order to make accurate inferences. Although it is a learned skill, rather than any natural charm on my part, my Charisma is also Great when I need it to be. I have lived with one of the most villainous men of the age and learned to stand my ground, thus my Courage is Good. A regular need for ready money compelled me to turn my powers of observation and calculation to gaming, which I have become quite Good at [Gambling]. Sebastian Moran made me a Good marksman, and, as our victims never speak openly of the shameful details of how they were taken in, my guises still have friends in many far-flung corners, giving me Good Connections throughout society, and the Professor ensured my Social Graces were Good enough to keep those connections, not to mention not embarrass him. My chronic bronchitis, aside from being an excruciatingly slow death sentence (“As is life,” Major Moran used to say), has also left me with a Poor Physique and no aptitude for physical endeavors [Athletics]. The Professor also took pains to ensure that I would not be able to defend myself from his wrath with weapon [Fencing] or fist [Fisticuffs]. The rigorously empirical lifestyle I have led has resulted in a Poor understanding of wizards and their art [Sorcery]. I have specialized in a few areas to give myself an advantage. Taking Major Moran’s lessons, I applied them to becoming a superior pistol marksman [Marksmanship – Pistols]. Though my courage may be but a little better than any common man, I have mastered my face to the point that I rarely show a sign that fear has taken hold [Courage – Poker Face]. Finally, and perhaps to my eternal shame, though my ability to relate to others and put them at ease is Great, my ability to speak falsely with calm and sincerity is mighty enough to even occasionally fool the great Professor Moriarty [Charisma – Lying].
In my final act for the Professor, I turned the world I had come from, one that I had no recollection of, into a tableaux of horror. I had been playing the role of Chemical Engineer for about three weeks, roping in Lord Jeremiah Parkes, son of Lord Robert Ashburton Parkes. We were setting him up to purchase a “docility gas” that could be used by guards at the Leeds Industrial Chemical Works plant to calm rioting workers. I had mixed a chemical that I thought would do the trick, but it dispersed so quickly in the air that you would need to feed it through a breathing apparatus for it to have any real effect. We had made off with nearly a million pounds of the Steam Lord’s money and were about to accomplish the denouement of our scam, wherein the gas fails and we have to flee the riot with Parkes’s money, when Moriarty surprised me – either he or one of his minions had improved on my design with a mechanical aerosol device that kept the formula sufficiently concentrated. The riot calmed and the workers became as passive as sheep. To test its effectiveness, Parkes had two guards beat a man nearly to death. He didn’t even cry out. Soon the other guards launched into more horrible abuses and Parkes had to go restrain the thugs he used to keep order and there was an utterly unexpected sort of chaos, under the cover of which we made our escape. When I protested what we had done, Moriarty said he had uses for my formula, if it actually worked, so he had improved the delivery system. Then he told me that, had he not plucked me up in my childhood, I might have been one of the workers in that soporific fog, at which point he told me the story I related above about my childhood.
I was in a stupor on the train home. When we returned to Durham, I wandered the streets, the Professor giving me time to digest the tale of my past, convinced that my various ineptitudes would be enough to keep me shackled to his purpose. I wandered into a Catholic church for the first time. I knew the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer inside and out, but I’d fleeced enough Vicars who were themselves fleecing their flock that I couldn’t face that particular house of faith just then. The priest, a young man, asked me if I was Catholic. I replied, “I think I’m Irish, so…probably?” He was patient and understanding for this stranger that must have sounded mad, and he left me to my reflection. I looked back over the 15 years of my time as Professor Moriarty’s protege, and the parade of ruined lives that were scattered behind me became a monument to my own evil. Dropping to my knees, I swore to try and make amends, to use the skills I had learned to protect the unwary and trip up the wicked.
This, of course, started with the man who made me and who now would become my most implacable foe. I returned to the Professor’s home as the recalcitrant child, exhibiting embarrassment at my sentimentality and apologizing for my outbursts. Perhaps he was tired, or perhaps he made me into a better liar than even he knew, but the Professor was mollified by my contrition and we went our separate ways to bed. I packed furiously, taking almost as many of my notes and journals as I did clothes. I seized my birth certificate as a lark, and almost alerted the Professor in so doing, but I made it out. I was across the Channel before the sun was up and running for my life.
Alone and penniless, I made use of the only trade I had, my remarkable mind and my willingness to fabricate histories with it. I adopted the guise of the good Doctor Cannaver, formerly of the faculty of Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, and took jobs in various places as a tutor of noble children in the classical trivium (Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric). I have only fled from near-discovery once – when another tutor in Brussels had actually attended the University of Edinburgh – and from the Professor’s hunters twice, for I took with me the formula for my “docility gas,” and, while I’m certain he could replicate it in time, I also imagine he considers it, and me, to be his rightful property. I hope that Vienna is far enough from London to give me some small degree of anonymity. I wrote a book on Sophistry while here and a publisher liked it enough to print it locally, which landed me my current residence with the Todescos, as the Baroness found my defense of the Sophists, viciously attacked regularly by the Aristotelian-focused church, to be “most stimulating.” So I play the strange English professor of rhetoric even as I have finally come up with a plan for my long-term survival, whatever that may mean. I need a team, like the ones the Professor used to bring together for his own capers, but with a stronger sense of honor and justice (though their honor may need to flex from time to time). There are people all across New Europa stealing from their neighbors by dint of force, supposed birthright, or even through murky laws and paid-off judges. Alone, I am barely able to survive; however, a group of talents could potentially shake the bars apart of this gilded cage.