NOTE: This is the second installment in a series which began with River of Light.
Mind Your Business
The aurora had not yet returned when Artemis set off for work the next
morning, but the sky was still bristling with life as the sunrise took
hold over the eastern horizon. The air was cool, but warming gently as
the sun rose, and a gradient of soft blue and gold bloomed into the
black of the dying night.
The moon was full and its daylight side facing Earth today. The weather
on the moon was as clear and cloudless as it was down below, and its
oceans and forests reflected the sun like a blue and green marble among
the stars in the morning twilight.
Freighter whistles howled across the city as the early arrivals docked
in the harbor, unloading boxes of cargo from the United States and
Already in his uniform, Artemis wedged his way to the front of the in
the mob crowding the sandwich wagon on Third Avenue.
McGee and his customers were too hurried to bother with lines or taking
orders, so a hand would stick out of the window, and once a coin had
been dropped into it another would reach out to give it a sandwich.
Artemis got his egg and sausage sandwich and continued down the street
towards the tram depot.
“Paper mister? A paper for you? Just one cent.” A
scruffy looking child with a satchel full of newspapers chanted on the
corner as men and women heading to work shuffled up and down the
“What’s in the news today?” Artemis asked
“Well, in sports we’ve got boxing.
There’s photos of yesterday’s Lynton-Clayman bout.
In politics Louisiana and Texas are preparing for war over a border
dispute, and in local affairs there’s coverage of the
magnetic storm and last night’s blackout.” The boy
recited the stories without even glancing at the papers in his bag.
“What does it say about the blackout?”
“You can find out for a penny.”
Artemis reached into his pocket with his free hand and gave the boy a
half-dime he received as a tip from one of the wealthy passengers the
night before, and the boy handed him one of the papers out of his bag,
turned on his heel, and very quickly walked away.
“Hey!” Artemis shouted. The newsie stopped and
looked over his shoulder.
“What do you want now?”
“How about the four cents you owe me? I gave you a half-dime,
“What do I look like? A god damn bank teller?” The
boy jeered, and he ran up the street with his bushel of papers laughing.
The guard halted the cross traffic and waved the pedestrians through,
and Artemis stomped down the sidewalk, swatting his paper through the
“This had better be worth five cents.” Artemis
thought as he took a bite of his sandwich and unfurled the paper as he
best he could with just one hand.
The front page was shared by two bold headlines;
“WAR IN THE WEST? - Louisianian and Texan Troops Clash Over
Border Dispute (page 1)”
“INCREDIBLE ANOMALY - Electric Tram Carrying Columbian
Dignitaries Travels Cross-Town in Midst of Power Outage (page
Artemis tried to turn to page seven without putting down his sandwich,
but after dropping several pages of the business section as he tried to
flip the pages over, he stuffed the paper in his jacket and continued
As Artemis finished the last bite of his sandwich and wiped his hands
on the old newspaper it was wrapped in he heard an unfamiliar chugging
sound drawing from behind, growing louder as it approached. It was too
loud to have been a road locomotive and too slow to be coming from an
He looked over his shoulder and just as a train came along side. It was
City of Freyberg being pulled down the street by an ugly green tank
engine, belching smoke and steam as it crawled along the crowded
To see this ancient contraption out on the street pulling City of
Freyberg was like seeing a royal chariot being dragged along by a
battered old mule.
As the unusual train puffed steadily downhill Artemis jogged along the
tracks beside the engine’s open cab and shouted to the
“Hey, can a fellow trainman hitch a lift to the tram
He glanced down, recognized Artemis’ uniform and smiled.
“Sure boy,” said the man as he grabbed his hand and
pulled him onto the footplate. “if you’ll help me
feed the fire. My fireman’s home with conjunction and I
can’t drive and shovel coal with all these maniacs out on the
Artemis went right to work, picking up the shovel and tossing scoopfuls
of coal into the firebox, which roared and seared the air like a rocket
engine as he opened the trap door.
The engineer glanced away from his controls as he watched Artemis add
coal to the fire.
“No, no, no! You don’t just dump coal in like
you’re burying a casket, you’ll smother the fire.
You tram boys don’t know nothing bout steam these days do
“I’m afraid not.” Artemis conceded.
“I’ve only driven electric, but my boss Mr.
Woodrick says I’m one of the best motormen in the
The engineer chuckled as he kept his eyes on the street and his hand
steady on the throttle.
“What skill is there to driving electric sides sitting on
your ass and ringing that bell?”
“Well, you’ve got to keep an eye on your current
gauge to make sure you aren’t overloading the engines, and
you’ve also got to be good with the brakes or else
you’ll rattle the riders like peas in a pan, and when the
wind blows you have to make sure you don’t knock the trolley
pole off the line. It may be simpler than steam, but there’s
still a lot of skill to it I say.”
“And just how good at it are you at it then? If your boss
says you’re the best?”
“Good enough to drive that.” Artemis motioned to
the City of Freyberg as she rocked along on her springs behind the
locomotive, the trolley pole still detached from the wire and swaying
“Alright then. In that case I admit you might have some
skill, but if these blackouts don’t let up you tram drivers
may be back to shoveling coal like the rest of us sooner than you
“I don’t know about that. I drove City of Freyberg
from Broadway all the way up to Seaport Square last night in the middle
of the blackout.” Artemis said proudly.
“Get out of town kid. That’s impossible even with
electricity, unless you had an engine pulling you.”
“It’s true. I was taking a bunch of rich people to
catch their boat and the power went out when we were in the middle of
in the theatre district. While we were stuck I was sitting there at the
controls staring at the aurora and I suddenly felt like I was connected
to it, like part of myself had merged with it, and then all I had to do
was think about it and I drove the tram all the way into your neck of
the woods without even touching the controls.
Everyone on board saw me do it and lots of people out on the streets
saw it too. And I could feel it when it was happening, it was like my
soul reached out into the sky and grabbed onto something that was
pulling us down the street. It was amazing.”
“So I guess whatever it is that pulled you up to Seaport
couldn’t be bothered to push you back down huh?”
“Once we reached the port the aurora disappeared, so we were
kind of stuck there afterwards.”
“Well, I don’t think you tramway people would like
it if we left a boxcar from our turf out in the middle of your street,
so what makes you think we appreciate you leaving a dead tram out on
our tracks first thing in the morning?”
“Sorry. I was going to come back for it and drive it home
though. Once the aurora came back.”
“And just what makes you think it’s coming
“Someone told me.”
“Perhaps I shouldn’t say, it might sound strange to
“You already sound strange to me, so you might as well out
“My soul told me, when it was outside my body, after the
aurora went out. It said the aurora would be back again
“So, what exactly does your soul look like then
“I couldn’t see it. It was invisible, but I could
hear her in my head.”
“And if it’s was outside your body then where is it
“It’s back inside me now like it always
“Whatever boy, just watch the fire like you said you would,
this ain’t a free ride. And remember, just sprinkle the coal
on the fire like you’re seasoning a steak, don’t
smother it like you’re burying gold.”
Artemis said nothing more and did as he was told until they reached the
“What’s this hunk of steaming scrap iron doing in
my neat, clean tram depot?” Charlie yelled as the old engine
puffed noisily into the building amongst the electric trams as their
crews prepared them for work.
“Well, hows about you trolley boys don’t leave your
little toy trains out in the middle of our right of way where
they’re blocking traffic, huh?” The engineer
shouted back from the footplate.
“Hey buddy, the streets are our territory, we only let you
harbor yard people run the Port District stretch cause we
ain’t electrified it yet! Oh, and Artemis, Mr. Woodrick wants
to talk to you, you better go see him before he finds out
you’ve been fantasizing with the enemy.”
“Me? The enemy? Ha! If we weren’t there to pull
your trains last night when the power went out this place would have
been burned to the ground by angry riders wanting their money
“You’re going to burn this place to the ground with
that bomb on wheels if you don’t get it out of here. Look,
it’s smoking up the place already, it’s
Artemis climbed off the locomotive footplate, brushed the coal dust off
his uniform as best he could and slipped away from the arguing men and
up an open stairwell to the loft where Mr. Woodrick’s office
overlooked the operations below.
Artemis had barely reached the top step when Mr. Woodrick said,
“Come in Artemis, the door is unlocked.”
Mr. Woodrick was sitting at his table sipping coffee with a man Artemis
recognized from the train last night.
“Great, he’s here.” The other said.
“Good morning Mr. Woodrick. Charlie told said you wanted to
“Yes indeed I do. How about you sit in my seat for now, you
are the star of the show after all. You really saved the day last night
Artemis, I know I must have thanked you a thousand times by now but I
really mean it.” Mr. Woodrick stood up and pushed his chair
over to Artemis.
“Thanks Sir, but are you sure I aught to be sitting in your
chair? I’ve just been shoveling coal and I’m a bit
“No, no, don’t mind my chair. Sit, sit.
You’ve earned it. What have you been up to shoveling coal
An engine from the docks just arrived towing City of Freyberg a moment
ago. Since the train was heading my way I hopped aboard and helped the
driver keep the fire going.
“Ah, my baby is back home. Good.” Mr. Woodrick
peeked through the blinds of an inward facing window and saw his luxury
streetcar on the tracks below, still attached to the steam locomotive.
Nearby, conductors and motormen were crowding around Charlie and the
engineer, who were circling each other, one brandishing a spare
electric wire like a whip and the other wielding a shovel with a scoop
filled with hot coals.
Mr. Woodrick opened up the window and shouted, “Hey!
I’m not paying you all to kill each other! Cut it out and get
those cars on the street before the buses come and steal all your
The conductors and motormen all sighed and grumbled as they dispersed
and returned to their jobs. Charlie and the engineer shared a fierce
look and and begrudgingly went their separate ways.
Mr. Woodrick shut the window and closed the blinds. His expression
softened quickly as he returned his thoughts to Artemis and his other
“But, as I was saying, Artemis, you’ve really
changed things for yourself and this company with that stunt you pulled
last night. Not only did you keep all the investors on my side,
you’ve also… Weber, I’ll let you carry
on from here.”
Mr. Woodrick sat back in his couch, grinning and wringing his hands
like he were watching a golden goose lay eggs before him as the man
stood and began to speak to Artemis.
“Good morning boy. My name is Weber Van Wyck. I was aboard
the train last night and I’d first like to thank you for
delivering me to my destination in a timely manner despite the obvious
“Any time Mr. Van Wyck. I’m just doing my
“Oh don’t be modest boy. I was watching you last
night. Powering a streetcar with the auroral current is a noteworthy
feat you know. You harnessed the earth’s electric current to
power the street car last night. Do you know how incredible that
“I suppose. I mean, I didn’t mean to make anything
happen. I was just watching the sky and there was sort of this,
connection, and I wanted the tram to move and it just did all of a
“I’ll be direct boy. I represent the Edison
Electric Company, and we need your help more than you can possibly
imagine. I can see by that blank look on your face that you have no
idea what is at stake or what you are capable of.”
Sitting up in his seat and trying his best not to look blank, Artemis
asked, “What am I capable of then?”.
“You can help us fix the greatest mistake in human
“Have you a way to send me back in time and stop Eve from
eating the apple then?” Artemis asked.
Mr. Van Wyck pulled up a chair and sat directly in front of Artemis.
“Late last century, around the time you were born, Mr. Edison
and our company were at war with the late George Westinghouse and his
company, Westinghouse Electric. It was a war over what type of
electricity would power our civilization, a war of currents.
Every electric device in our world today runs on direct current
electricity. Mr. Edison believed in direct current. It was well
understood by our engineers, and it worked perfectly with all of his
One of Westinghouse’s inventors discovered a new type of
electricity called alternating current. We at Edison Electric knew too
little about alternating current to understand its potential, and using
it would have made many of our most lucrative inventions obsolete
For years we fought tooth and nail against Westinghouse and their
alternating currents. We did everything we could to defame their
system. We lied our asses off about how dangerous alternating currents
were, we electrocuted animals and prisoners to frighten people, we even
got towns and cities across and New Britain and North America to ban
alternating currents entirely.
Eventually Westinghouse folded because no one would trust alternating
current technology, and we at Edison won a war that we should never
Alternating current should have won. It was by far the better system
for building a national energy grid. Alternating current can be sent
miles and miles over wire to where ever it is needed, but direct
current has such a short transmission range that in New York we were
forced to build a new power plant for every half mile of city we wanted
We bypassed direct current’s range limitation by using steam
as the transmission media. Our plants make steam, we send it to the
customers via pipes and their generators turn that steam into
Of course that meant that the factories didn’t bother to
install electric engines for their operations, but instead used our
steam to run their old steam engines. There are now steam engines small
enough to power household devices like clocks and radios and automatic
blenders, things we invented to be powered directly by electricity.
By stamping out alternating current, we have sent our society down a
path in which steam will become the dominant form of power in nearly
every application. The science of electrical engineering has already
been set back several decades, and at this rate electricity's role will
be limited to lighting and small transit operations such as this
My boss believes your ability to draw current from the aurora may be
the breakthrough we need to reverse this threat to our progress before
the damage to society becomes irreparable.
Mr. Edison has invited you to visit his laboratory in New York so that
he can personally investigate your abilities and apply them to science
“Umm, Mr. Van Wyck. This is really very interesting and all,
but altering the course of civilization is kind of a big responsibility
for a person like me. My boss pays me well of course, but my mother is
home alone and we’ve got bills to pay. I’m not in a
position to leave her by herself so I can play around in Columbia with
Mr. Woodrick got up and stood beside Mr. Van Wyck.
“It’s not play Artemis, it’s work. For
me, for us, with pay. Edison Electric were the ones who paid for the
electrification of our tramway, and we still owe them a large amount of
money for it.
For you to go the United States and help Mr. Edison discover a new
source of energy, it would more than absolve the differences between
our companies, and of course that would mean a big reward for you, and
“Listen to your boss boy, it’s not every day a
nobody gets to brush elbows with great men like Thomas Edison. This is
the opportunity of your lifetime. It would make a great story to tell
your grandchildren someday. Don’t you owe that you
“Yes, and of course we can see to it that your mother is well
taken care of while you are away. Think of it like a vacation with full
pay. You’ll get to see New York and meet Mr. Edison and help
me out of debt and earn yourself a raise. I’m practically
paying you to have the best time of your life. Isn’t that
“Yes it is, thank you Sir, but this is all really very
jarring to have all this coming at me all of a sudden. All I did was
drive a tram during a blackout and next thing I know I feel like
I’m being sent off to war.”
“Hey, Atticus, you’re the best motorman
I’ve got. You are always working hard for me, so think of
this as a reward. In fact, I’m not even going to let you go
to work today.”
“You aren’t Sir?”
“No, I’m not. Like you said, this is all must
pretty mind blowing for you. I know it is for me. So why
don’t you take the day off and go home to pack your bags and
tell your mother the good news?”
“Pack my bags?”
“Of course, time is of the essence. My boss’s
private yacht is waiting in the harbor as we speak. This magnetic storm
won’t last forever, and I’m sure you’d
rather the research take place in a fun, warm place like New York and
not in the middle of nowhere up north in Lapland or Alyeska or
someplace like that were the auroras usually occur.
We will set off for New York tomorrow morning. So what do you
Artemis sat there with his mouth open as the two men stood above him
like two iron gates penning him in.
“I’m still pretty shocked but I suppose it may be
nice to see New York and all that if I were to be paid for it, but
I’d like to think it over and discuss this with my mother and
Mr. Woodrick and Mr. Van Wyck each took Artemis by the hand and lifted
him to his feet, patting him on the shoulder and congratulating him
profusely as they herded him towards the door.
“Good job boy, good job I knew you’d listen to
reason. Now like your boss said, just go home and tell your mother the
good news, pack your bags, and get ready to leave tomorrow.”
Mr. Van Wyck said hurriedly.
“Yes, like he said. Go home and pack your bags and be here
tomorrow at Six O’ Clock sharp, we’ll all ride down
to the harbor together in City of Freyberg to see you and Mr. Van Wyck
off. Some other sap’ll do the driving for a change eh? How
about that? Won’t that be lovely? Yes it will. Good now. I
love you Atticus. Bye.”
And the office door slammed behind Artemis as he was shoved over the
threshold and out into the tram depot where the crews aboard their
double decker passenger trams were being dispatched one by one onto the
streets to carry the men and women of Freyberg to work.
Artemis hopped on board of one trams as it rolled out into the morning
“What’s wrong Artie? Woodrick give ya a yell down
war hell ride?” Asked the conductor as he saw Artemis staring
listlessly out the window.
“No. Actually he gave me a paid vacation to New York and
offered me the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“Why you look so upset then?”
“Because I have no choice.”
Artemis slumped back in the springy wicker seat and felt the rolled up
paper crinkle inside his jacket. He unfurled it, turned to page seven
and started reading.
“Oh! Baby dumpling! You’re home early! Thank
goodness!” Artemis’ mother said as he tossed his
jacket and belongings onto the table and closed the door behind him.
Mother was sitting by the kitchen window holding a piece of paper. The
apartments on the upper floors were feeling the worst of the heat wave.
A small steam fan sat on the window sill, connected to the wall outlet
by an insulated cord.
“Hey Mom.” Artemis kissed her on the cheek and
pulled up a chair from the tiny dinette. “Mr. Woodrick gave
me the day off and I’ve got some news for you.”
“And I’ve been worried sick with news for you. A
telegram came the moment you left for work. I couldn’t
understand what it said, but I knew that whatever it was had to be bad
“A telegram? Who could have died this time? I
didn’t think there was anyone left to be honest, at least not
that I know of. Let me see it.”
“Whatever it is it must be pretty serious. They even used
periods and commas instead of STOPs.” Mom said as she
unfolded the telegram and handed it to Artemis.
Artemis held his breath and began to read it aloud.
Dear Mr. Malcolm,
Mr. Nicola Tesla hears you’ve used the Aurora Borealis to power a tram car.
Tesla has been engaged in studies related to your unique ability and
hopes you would be willing to assist him at laboratory in the Republic
Should you accept his invitation, the Alylsworth
Institute would be glad to fund your journey and compensate you
handsomely for your time and work.
Money and a boat ticket to
New York can be found in locker 118 at the Freyberg City Railroad
Station. The combination is 16-38-5. The boat leaves at Seven
Mind your business,
“Mind your business? What is that supposed to mean? Who signs a letter like that?”
don’t know Mom, but I’ve got to go out for a moment.
I’ll be right back.” Artemis folded the telegraph and
slipped it into his pocket.
“You’re going to go looking for that money aren’t you?”
take it. What if it’s from the mob? I don’t want you go get
caught up in something you can’t handle and end up disappearing.
I couldn’t deal with that.”
caught up in something I can’t handle. Thomas Edison found out what I did last night during the blackout and wants to force me into being a lab rat for him. My boss is in on it too and he won’t give me a choice. My boss is in on it too and he
won’t give me a choice. It's either help Edison or lose my job.
Going with this Tesla guy to
Alyeska is my only other option. I’ll check inside this locker
and see if there’s anything in it or if this is some sort of
joke, and then I’ll try to figure out what I’m going to do
Love you Mom. I’ll be back soon.”
grabbed his keys, locked the apartment door behind him and stomped down
the seven flights of stairs as fast as his legs would carry him.
After returning home, Artemis waited impatiently for the sun to set and the aurora to re-appear.
came later than it had yesterday, some time after Nine as Artemis laid
across a bench on the rooftop garden of his apartment building. A plume
of current swooped down from the sky towards Artemis, and his soul
grabbed on tight and was carried off into the light, connected to the
body by a gossamer strand of light.
He could not remember how
long the aurora had lasted that evening, but by the time it left for
the night he was too content with having made the connection again to
mind its absence.
Once his soul had come back to him Artemis
relaxed in that simple, easy corner of his mind in which he could speak
easily with his inner self.
“She wants to see you again, but the storm is fading. She’s not sure if she’ll be able to.” Said his soul.
“Too bad this can’t last forever.”
“It can if you go to Alyeska. You’ve got a ticket to New York, remember?”
“Yes, and then what? Are we just going to walk the rest of the way?”
“He gave you enough money. I’m sure a train must go to Alyeska from somewhere.”
“Yes, but what about my job? Woodrick will fire me on the spot if I’m not on Edison’s yacht tomorrow.”
“He can’t fire you if you quit first.”
“I can’t quit my job. What would Mom say?”
“She’d say to follow your heart.”
got up and walked over to the edge of the garden. He detached the
motorman’s badge from his shirt, kissed it, and with all his
strength pitched it into the depths of the alley below.
had better be worth it.” Artemis said, clutching the ticket to
his heart as he looked up to the North Star and sighed.
He missed being a motorman already.
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