Frieda took the glass of amber liquid from Sam, took a contemplative sip, and gathered her thoughts.
“Ambulamort? Is that the new weapon you’ve come to tell us about?” asked Sam.
He mentally translated the name and didn’t care for the implication.
“Yes,” said Frieda. She tossed back the rest of the bourbon, as if to wash a bad taste out of her mouth.
“Was it something that you were working on?” asked Sam.
“No, thank God. It was another’s project.”
“So is the Empire aware that you know about it?”
“I do not believe so. I legitimately know enough of the workings of the Bureau of Advanced Sciences to do great harm to the security of many projects. You can rest assured that they are going to turn this city upside down looking for me, just on general principle.”
Rachel asked, “So what got you to New York is something that you know illegitimately? How did that happen?”
Dr. Kellner smiled over another shot of bourbon.
“The Imperial Bureau of Advanced Sciences is in theory a scientific organization, producing research and conducting experiments for the benefit of the Empire. In practice, rewards are granted for being the creator of the most useful devices for the battlefield. The result is a good deal of infighting and secrecy within the ranks. My forte was in maintaining collegial openness by other means.”
Rachel looked confused while Sam chortled. He’d had experience in such an environment. Yet another similarity between Weird Scientists and Mages, he thought.
“You mean that you looked at their notes without permission,” he said.
“Yes. While my official research was in the medical field, I have much more experience with security systems.”
“And in that way you maintained collegial openness in one direction at least.”
“Yes. My mentor and I were always careful not to allow others to suspect that we were privy to their secrets. We kept it to a matter of releasing our projects just before others or using others’ breakthroughs to accelerate our developments so that the stolen ideas would remain in the deep workings.”
Sam nodded. He was letting his left hand cut and re-cut an oversized deck of cards while his mind was absorbing the information he was hearing. Frieda occasionally caught glimpses of full-face illustrations. Rachel sat on the desk, leaning forward as if enthralled by the tale.
“I see where you’re headed,” said Rachel, “You were digging through someone’s files one night and you tripped over this Ambulamort stuff.”
“Correct,” said the doctor. “Dr. Reinwald suspected that Dr. Grelzer was going to publish a paper using some of Reinwald’s data without permission. Catch him at it before publication, and Grelzer would have no choice but to include Reinwald on co-authorship.”
“You’d break into someone’s lab just for that?” asked Rachel.
“Authorship is highly prized within an academic setting. Aside from completed inventions, it is the prime method of determining status within the Bureau.”
Frieda accepted another drink from Sam before continuing.
“Ambulamort evolved out of medical experiments to restore limbs lost to clean amputations. It was found to be compatible only with dead tissue; the living portion of the body always reacted as if poisoned. The first discovery found that whole organisms could be reanimated, so the plan became to use it to reanimate dead soldiers. Gather up the dead from both sides, reanimate them, and then their casualties become your soldiers. The first problem with that project was that the re-animated soldiers did not possess enough intelligence to command. The second was the prevalence of hyper-aggressive rogues that turned on anything around them.”
The doctor broke her lecture rhythm to take her drink in one shot.
“The plan was then to turn it into an offensive weapon. Increase the aggressive percentage. Package the Ambulamort with another battlefield gas and release it into and behind enemy lines. The army would then attack while the enemy is fighting its own casualties.”
“Kill them and zombie them at the same time.”
“Precisely,” agreed the doctor.
“I suppose,” said Sam, “that leaves us the question of what to do about it.”