There comes a time in one’s life where you need to look at the decisions that you’ve made, and decide that enough is enough. That just because you’ve spent a great deal of time and effort pursuing something, that alone does not mean that you should continue without purpose, or with misguided purpose. There is a great bravery, I believe, to certain forms of failure, to certain forms of concession, those that cause you to grow in the process, and lead to further success. If one spends their entire life, shortens it even, in the name of a single, unenviable and wrong-headed ethic, then they have written their own epitaph long before their time has come. The drive to persist, to continue, is written deep into the fabric of the human ethos, but doomed is the starving man that walks unstoppably and inexorably toward the center of the desert. That is why, Dear Diary, I believe our time is at an end. You have chronicled my failings dutifully, and it is time for me to find the truth in them, rather than persist foolishly. May that gun one day melt in the fires of Hell.

-Recovered from a dust-stained page in the diary of an unnamed debt collector, written late August, 1877

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There comes a time in every notable life when one must choose to use their strengths to pursue either wealth or their convictions. With luck, one might find the former while chasing the latter, but the latter almost always dissipates in the search for the former. And so it is with my work; Do I build to change war, change peace, change work, change leisure, and in doing so, become a titan of industry? Or do I do what I can to seek answers to the most fundamental questions at the heart of mankind, those that one asks shivering in the darkness when the light of day has absconded with life’s distractions? Is there a God? If there is, He is much crueler than we could have ever imagined. Is there life after death? Assuredly so, as the survivors of the risen Gettysburg Cemetery can attest. Can one return unscathed to the ones they left far, far too soon? I’m damn well going to find out. The secrets of our fragile, unraveling reality are buried deeper than we have ever thought to dig. But just as our species used its intellect to cease the fumbling of our fingernails against the unyielding earth, so too shall we use the fruits of this New Science to uncover the bounty below. And anyone who tries to stop me shall become track for my wheels, and fuel for my fire. My love, you departed believing that my work pulled me from you. It will be the final thing to reunite us. This I swear.

-Document recovered at great difficulty from the home of Darius Hellstromme, mid-August, 1877

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Agency Internal Dossier TOP SECRET – US EYES ONLY Verification Code 2-15-19-19-B Subject: Dr. Darius Hellstromme, Multiple Degrees, Multiple Universities Author: “Tom Bondsley”, Field Agent

Alright, here’s where the (alleged) spy work gets tricky. There’s any number of fictionalized accounts of Hellstromme’s life and upbringing, ranging from him being some kind of heaven-sent angel of technology and war to him secretly being one of his own automatons, looking to fill the world with beings like him. To be frank, I don’t think he needs to be an automaton to do that, his college is doing perfectly fine at it by their own mundane means. Anyway, as near as I can tell, here’s the procedure of events. He was born to a poor London family in the 1820s, and was recommended to the military engineers by his factory-owning uncle. From there, he went off to India, and… something happened that changed his outlook on the use of technology. I’ve lost three men so far trying to figure out what. I think one of them is oiling a set of gears somewhere now. Either way, he came out to these parts, chasing the smell of ghost rock. And I get the feeling that between The West and him, one is going to end up killing the other before the rock runs dry.
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Agency Internal Dossier
Verification Code 2-15-19-19-A
Subject: Dr. Darius Hellstromme, Multiple Degrees, Multiple Universities
Author: “Tom Bondsley”, Field Agent

Well, here we are. I’m sure we have a million documents on this man, but I was assigned to study all the thousand scientists in his hellhole, and I’m not going to receive a reprimand because I missed the obvious one, [EXPLETIVE REMOVED] it. Hellstromme. The boss man. The head honcho. The king of the hill. The [MULTIPLE CLICHES REMOVED]. Sometimes it seems like in a hundred ways, he’s one step away from ruling the world. He’s the frontrunner in the Rail Wars, except that he needs to link through the territory of two men that despise him. He could build devices that save humanity from illness and pain, but he prefers to make weapons of war. And he could easily give any nation a firm challenge on the battlefield, but he seems uninterested in war itself, except for how it could make him money. He could run a uniquely powerful territory with all that money, but he seems completely uninterested in political power, except in how it provides him freedom. But freedom to do what? the future is unknown to us, so we have to look at the past. More on that next report.

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Dear Diary, what am I doing here? In the name of pride, I find myself eating soot for breakfast, having failed a recovery even when I knew full well the target’s location. But it’s not simply shame in my heart. This place instills a sort of misery in you, a feeling of running in circles, just like every wagon wheel and damnably grinding gear in this creativity-prospector’s languishing silver mine. A cleverly hidden boot flask is enough to keep my walls standing, but the futility is crashing against them more like waves than enemy action, more like a force of nature than a strike to anticipate. The exhilaration of discovery, the prospect of making one’s fortune, I’m certain these distract, but in this town more than any other… It seems only a matter of time before it asks more of you than you can offer. And one way or another, there’s no escaping when your debt comes due.

-Recovered from a cognac-stained page in the diary of an unnamed debt collector, written mid-August, 1877
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