“I returned to Antarctica on board the next research vessel, and since then have heard nothing more of Robert Frost or his beautiful daughter Isabel,” said Russ.
“That is the stupidest story I have ever heard,” said Eric.
“How so?” said Russ.
“It was like unearthing the canon of early twentieth-century American literature and the remains of common sense, and alternatingly pissing on each of them.”
“There may have been one or two small inaccuracies…” said Russ.
“Robert Frost,” said Eric, “is not a evil immortal ice wizard with a sinister master plan and a collection of cryogenically frozen historical figures. He is a respected American poet.”
“If you believe the cover story,” said Russ, rolling his eyes.
“I don’t have time for this,” said Eric. “There’s fifteen minutes left on the timer.” He sighed as he wiped his brow. “I’ve never seen anything like this. The mechanism is beyond me.”
“I was thinking, if only Isabel were here,” said Russ. “That’s why I mentioned Antarctica.”
“Laying aside the fact that you made that whole story up,” said Eric, “freezing the bomb would only delay the problem. It still needs to be defused.”
From outside came the sound of an enormous explosion, rattling the very walls of the orphanage. Everyone inside flinched briefly before reassuring themselves that the bomb inside had still not gone off. The orphan strapped to the bomb whimpered, and the puppy fainted.
Russ rushed to the front window and saw only a confusing jumble of flames, screaming Nazis, and screaming Nazis aflame. Twisted, charred metal was scattered amidst burning chunks of debris, and soldiers were fleeing in all directions. Through the smoke, a tall shadowy figure approached the front door. Russ readied his gun and prepared for a fight, but when the door opened, he lowered his weapon in relief and surprise and greeted the stranger.
“Arthur?” he said. “What on earth…”
The new arrival stepped through the door and surveyed his surroundings. The orphans, nuns, and even Eric, gaped at him. He was a tall, slender figure dressed in the strangest suit they had ever seen. It was a mechanical marvel, a suit of steel and bronze peppered with valves, gears, steaming vents, grating, and all kinds of controls and indicators. Most of this was shielded by armor plating, but a great deal of it was visible, and a marvel to look upon. Only his head was uncovered. He had long black hair, swept back neatly and tied at the nape of the neck into a ponytail. His eyes were hidden by a curious pair of round tinted spectacles.
He looked directly at Russ now and removed the spectacles. His eyes were dark and narrow.
“It’s a Jap!” said one of the children.
“A Chinaman,” the man corrected him politely, with an aristocratic nod. He spoke with an English accent. He now turned back to Russ and said, “Fancy meeting you here.”
“But, I thought – well, everyone, this is Lord Explodington. Lord Explodington, this is Eric, Sister Lucretia, and a large number of children and puppies.”
“Charmed,” said Explodington, acknowledging everyone with another graceful nod. They all stared back at him, speechless.
“So, er,” said Eric, trying to be polite, “Explodington. Is that a family name, or…?”
“Yes,” said Explodington. “It is both our family name and our hereditary title. It comes from the township encompassed by our lands, Little Explodington, at the north end of the Upper Exploding Valley. An ancient name whose origins have been lost to obscurity.”
“Ah,” said Eric.
“As for my death,” said Explodington, turning to Russ, “rumors of it were quite true. However, as you yourself must be well aware, death as an institution has come under heavy fire recently, and the permanence of it, in many cases, is somewhat dubious. There seem to be a great many loopholes nowadays.”
Russ squinted at him with one eye. He was pretty sure the Englishman was making some kind of dry joke, but he could never be entirely certain.
“Behind you!” cried Sister Lucretia.
A clicking of rifles sounded from outside the door, and Explodington turned around to see a squad of Nazis who had been brave enough to wade through the destruction of their brethren and now stood pointing their slightly trembling firearms at the source of the destruction. He extended one arm almost carelessly, and from a tube mounted on his forearm, a rocket fired and plowed into the midst of the unfortunate soldiers, exploding violently and sending them flying in all directions. The survivors scattered.
Explodington closed the front door. “There. We shall do better for a little privacy, I think.”
“But what are you doing here?” said Russ.
“With the item he seeks being so close to his grasp, your enemy has been somewhat overeager in his attempts to seize you. Not content with his secret werewolf squads, he has put out a broad alert to all branches. Upon hearing the orders on the radio, I immediately suspected something like this might be afoot.”
“Something like what?” said Eric, bewildered.
“The soldiers were under strict orders not to approach the building,” said Explodington. “I assume there is some sort of explosive device or trap involved.”
Eric gestured toward the bomb, and moved aside as the armored Englishman approached and knelt down by the device, examining it.
“But why were you even in the area?” asked Russ.
Explodington sighed patiently. “You may have forgotten, but my country is actually officially involved in this war. Naturally, there is some business I have chosen to undertake on her behalf, and this does take me into enemy territory from time to time. I usually attempt to be more discreet, but I sensed this was an emergency, which demanded extreme measures.”
“Why is a Chinaman from England and also has an armored exploding suit?” asked one of the children.
“Your English is impeccable for a German child,” said Explodington in admiration, “and your questions are quite valid. I was born in Hong Kong and abandoned at an early age. I never knew my birth parents. Through a sort of humorous accident, my adopted father Lord George Explodington stumbled upon me and took me into his care. He had a sort of prejudice against the Chinese race, and I was merely his ward for many years, before time and familiarity took away his misgivings and he named me son and heir.
“Even as a child, I showed a predilection and aptitude for the mechanical and scientific, and my father encouraged this in me. He spared no expense to provide me with the tools and materials I needed to satisfy my incredible appetite for knowledge and experimentation. By my twelfth birthday, I had an extensive workshop and laboratory in the basement of my father’s mansion and was constructing for him a number of technological conveniences both for personal use and for the benefit of all in the colony. Although my father’s prejudices had long been lifted, there was still no changing the attitudes of others, and when I appeared in society, if at all, I wore tinted spectacles and clothes covering almost all the skin on my body.
“It was at the age of nineteen that my father passed away. I was grief-stricken. Not only had I lost my beloved father, I had also lost my protector. How would I continue to negotiate society without him to act as a buffer? What would our friends and acquaintances do when they discovered the truth about my race? I passed through the stage of self-pity quickly. My father had taught me that no great thing is ever accomplished without great determination, and nothing ever came of feeling sorry for oneself. I picked myself up and made my plans. With the help of my faithful manservant, I arranged a return to England to claim the family estate, and came up with ways upon ways in order to keep myself aloof and concealed without delivering any great snub to our connections in society.
“I developed a reputation as a recluse with a great desire for privacy, but I was generous with my funds and an extremely genial host when the occasion required it, and I was forgiven for my eccentricities. Meanwhile, I continued to devote myself to my research. It was in the isolation of this secret life that I built my greatest work.”
He stretched out his arms and made a little bow, indicating the suit he wore.
“Using technologies that the greatest men of our time had not even discovered, I created this suit. It was at first meant to be an experiment, pushing the limits of how mobile and compact I could make my combustion devices. I admit, however, that my rational nature hides a weakness for the fanciful, and I saw the opportunity to make myself a sort of super-human. Even then I had no idea how this suit was about to change my destiny.
“Then, one fateful day, everything changed. I found myself strolling the back alleys of London in the dead of night, as I was wont to do, testing the movement and strength-enhancing aspects of my suit in the field. I shall hardly go into the sordid details before your innocent ears, but suffice it to say that the night ended with me incinerating a group of ruffians who had been assaulting the honor of an unfortunate woman. She fainted, understandably, from the shock, but remembered enough to tell the police of my actions.
“As you can imagine, they did not believe her. To prevent this poor woman from being doubly dishonored, now as a liar, I arranged a public demonstration in broad daylight, where I demolished a barge on the Thames. I compensated the owner, as I had been prepared to do. I was not prepared, however, for the explosion of publicity that followed. I was hailed as a public hero and reviled as a public danger. No one seemed to know what to do with me. Fortunately, I had kept my identity well-concealed during the public incidents, and the world did not yet know that the reclusive Arthur Explodington was the extraordinary man-machine who had figuratively set London ablaze, and had literally set parts of London ablaze.
“I led this double life for a long time, using my powers to help the helpless and burn anything that needed burning. For variety, I also helped put out a number of oil fires with well-placed explosions. It was in the course of these adventures that I came to learn about the existence of vampires. As I became informed about the existence of the Circle, and the aversion of vampires to fire, it was clear to me that I was supremely well-suited to address this threat.
“My first target was chosen poorly, one of the oldest and most dangerous vampires that lived. I was overconfident, and lost the battle, and nearly my life.”
“I wouldn’t have killed you,” said Russ with a yawn.
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” said Eric, “but there’s ten seconds left on the bomb.”