Journal

80 Days

London, 1872. I had entered into the service of a new gentleman. Monsieur Phileas Fogg returned home early from the Reform Club, and in a new-fangled steam carriage, besides! I helped him down, and the iron-lunged, mechanical horses clattered away. “Passepartout,” said he, “We are going around the world!”

I paused. “You mean like in that old cartoon with the pompous lion?

The air took on a rare sense of coldness. “Yes,” Fogg replied, tersely. “Only with more steampunk robots. And if I find that we are travelling with an adorable mouse, be told that I shall have it cooked and served as a delicacy.”

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. Or that awful black snot.

So, reader, you can imagine my surprise at this, not simply of learning that my master, Phileas Fogg, had taken upon a bet to circumnavigate the world, but that he apparently had no plan in mind, nor route, nor the wit to request an extra day to prepare and get his things in order. “But master,” I said, as I raced to find his warmest clothes and any other bits and pieces that might be required. “Why would you ever take upon a such a task?”

“I am a woman of many secrets,” stated Fogg, adjusting a clock by an all-important second. “All that you need to know is that I shall expect you to take the lead on this, to work out the route, to solve any problems, and most importantly, to iron my shirts on a regular basis. I shall provide the funding, of course, and take the credit. It will be your job to absorb any blame, much like an incompetent French sponge.”

That appeared to be fair at least, but I had one question. “Master, if this bet is not based on a specific route that you and your fellow members of the Reform Club were arguing about, why the arbitrary figure of 80 days? Why not, perchance, the almost as challenging but more numerically perfect 100 days? Or 50?”

“The answer, my good Passepartout, is shut up.” Phileas Fogg gestured. “You had best be packing. We will require many things for this journey, but I have decided that a single suitcase will suffice. Choose well.”

I cannot lie, reader! This felt a poor omen for our trip. A poor omen indeed. Especially, as I realised that in packing my master’s belongings, there would be no space for my own. 80 days is a most extended amount of time to be wearing the same underpants, just for starters. I would require careful chiselling at the end of this venture.

With a heavy heart, I decided the railway whistle must remain…

“You had better hurry,” said my master, Phileas Fogg. “The Amphitrite Express departs in exactly-” He checked his watch- “Now.”

Oh, for 81 days, dear reader! We rode our mechanical horses, which are not a strange thing at all and in fact entirely normal, to Charing Cross, where the Express was indeed already pulling away. But we had no tickets! This did not seem to concern my master, who simply assumed with the confidence of one for whom everything is always handled, that everything would be handled. I raced to attempt to ensure this, dashing to the ticket booth and a short queue. Luckily, the man behind the booth was, despite a slowness that would have seen him run through with a spike if looks could kill, a careful sort. Upon learning that it was the Express that I sought passage on, he willingly, if not a little amusedly, had it stopped, only for my master, Phileas Fogg, to complain about the delay! That bad omen only got more ominous, I thought, as we pulled out of the station and made our way to Paris by train.

Underwater train, that is. Why, how else would we have used one to reach Paris? Some kind of tunnel?

I wondered if the railway whistle might have saved us some time. But then realised that, had I taken it, there was a non-zero chance that there would have been a jewelled egg on board, which might have turned into an eye-gouging robot bird and plunged us into an art-deco trans-European mystery. That would have been most inconvenient, and wasted much time! Overall, I remained quietly comfortable with my choices thus far.

We’ll give Siberia the cold shoulder and mix things up in Bombay.

But it was in Paris, dear reader, where I can truly say our journey began. Paris! Where everyone speaks English and is not even slightly put out to do so! Land of my homeland! A glistening example to the rest of Europe of what can be achieved with fine cuisine, carefully cultivated rudeness, and an army of robotic golems that, again, are no strange sight in this new modern era. There was time for sight-seeing, to befriend an Artificer from Yorkshire, and learn of the marvels of technology, and most importantly, to discern new routes for our first real adventure. My master, Phileas Fogg, opted instead to remain in his hotel and read the newspaper, in the hope that this victory would make him the most boring man ever to accomplish something by proxy.

I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more. (turns over map) Oh, we never were.

Mostly, I was taken aback by the sheer range of choices available. From the Africas, rigid metal balloons. Egyptian airships. Gyrocopters. I confess, it felt very much as if 80 days might not be an ambitious enough goal, though I opted to keep that particular trivia to myself. Much of it seemed like witchcraft, yet I knew that the miracles of bullshit steampunk science required no spells save that of belief and a modicum of romance. But also, it felt as if the entire place was a preview of the state of the world, of the German Empire that had so recently besieged the town, or a smiling Zulu from their new Federation, winking impishly at a passing child struck by the ceremony.

“You have made a powerful friend,” I told it, for its gender was as indeterminate as its face was grubby, and the age was not yet where one could not express a pleasantry without being harangued by the Daily Mail. Not least because, to my knowledge, the Daily Mail had yet to exist, unless there was in fact some ahead of its time steampunk anus already belching its clouds of ignorance and hatred somewhere in the midst of London.

I could not, it appeared, rule anything out! Except, perhaps, a friendly word from my master.

But as tight-lipped as he was, the hour was growing late, and my master, Phileas Fogg, demanded decision. To Munich on the Orient Express? To Amsterdam by Private Car? To Nice, by Express? Or back to London, to find a nice hotel to hide in for the next two and a bit months and then have him return to the Reform Club and spin stories of dragons and flying trains and generous Scotsmen and other wonders that such gentlemen had no reason to doubt existed. But no. That, it appeared was not an option, and so I purchased us travel aboard the Orient Express in the hope that there would be at least one murder to help pass the time. While wishing that I had not so hastily used up my reference to the Firebird earlier, now that a more appropriate opportunity had arisen.

It’s not exactly express, nor exactly focused on the Orient. But other than that…

While aboard, I cannot say that I exactly had an adventure. Though one does never know where one may be found, does one? One does not. Which is why I attempted to cultivate first a relationship with a Times reporter and then two Parisien ladies, though I fear they were less than taken with my natural wit. All talk seemed to be of revolution and upcoming strife that I could only hope would not cause too much difficulty for our upcoming journey. 80 days… now merely 76… is precious little time for tourism, never mind solving the world’s problems.

From Vienna, we jumped a train towards Russia, my foresightedness in living in a universe where my master, Phileas Fogg, had a copy of the Russian timetables for literally no good reason having helped flesh out the upcoming route. His gentlemanly ways were even enough to push forwards the departure a notch, and soon enough we found ourselves in Warsaw, where we saw no war, but rather mountains of pamphlets from a former rebellion still being generated by underground machines no-one has yet been able to turn off, and then Moscow. The cold air did not exactly suit my master, though his gentlemanly attire and attitude at least provided the illusion of warmth as he sat in the corner, alone in his antisocial thoughts, except to complain that we were spending too much on this little adventure. That, I could not help but feel, was his problem, my spendings having been thoroughly frugal up to this point despite having taken a quiet contemplative wander through the Quartier Pigalle with a carpet bag full of lucre even filthier than the offers that were soon flooding in from all sides. But I said nothing. Just glowered.

I was French. Did I mention that? I think I did. It probably came up.

In Moscow, an encounter with the police began poorly but ended well, our ridiculous journey appearing to strike some measure of amusement in the suspicious authorities. Then there was nothing to do but wait until the next train, impatiently looking forward for our trip into deepest Siberia and musing that those are words that have likely never been uttered in the English language before, like ‘fiddle poop’ and ‘Please cut my hair like Donald Trump’. It quickly transpired though that one day was in fact enough to see the whole of Moscow, with even the great cities of Europe not entirely sure what to do with visitors who hung around for more than a day, unless you count picking up the occasional random snippet or having one’s pocket picked in the street. Which proved a most educating snippet, as I went out and indeed did have my pocket picked! Luckily, it was not my money!

Soon enough though, we were en route, with only one minor problem… paying for things…

Money may not make the world go round, but it helps to get around IT.

And, it appeared, only one very old newspaper.

MAN WITH TIME MACHINE DECLARES OLD NEWSPAPER USEFUL!

But that was a fear for another day. For now, I counted my blessings that I had spoken to an engineer on the way to Warsaw and discovered that the Trans-Siberian Express could be far more, well, express, were it not for orders from the Tsar that it ran slowly. This was a very useful tip! Though to my sadness, when I attempted to use it, and encourage the driver to put his foot down in the name of a little wager, his speedy response merely consisted of “Piss off.” But I tried! And none could say that it was not a worthwhile endeavour, except of course for my master, Phileas Fogg, still reading that old newspaper and displaying all the personality of a plank of wood.

Desperate for some human contact with an actual human, I found myself talking with a rebellious young woman, Roza; one of many travellers who appeared open to being pumped for information and also pleasure.

“Do you believe in love, Passepartout?” she enquired, a sly smile dancing with wicked spice on her young lips.

I smiled. Took a moment for a breath. To allow the words to slip between the heart-beats.

“WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT KARIMSKAYA?!”

Mon dieu. Whatever personality-sapping disease my master had, it was clearly contagious.

But! A stroke of good fortune. Despite my earlier inability to speed the train, a chance meeting with an engineer offered a second opportunity, in the form of his mischievous lady partner. This got us into Karimskaya nice and early, and from there, we had no trouble travelling to Pyongyang, a place I always wanted to visit purely to see if the locals were able to say it without smiling. Pyongyang! Pyongyang! The city so nice, they named it and then stuck a finger in their mouths to make a popping sound! Pyongyang!

“Stop that,” instructed my master. I nodded. “If I might take my leave for the evening?”

This time, he nodded. I politely excused myself from the room, and stepped into the corridor.

“Pyongyang!”

“I heard that!”

My relationship with Fogg decreased slightly that evening. Also, the people of Korea.

Everywhere has its own HOLLYWOOD sign now. It’s quite tacky.

But it was, dear reader, in Pyongyang! (Pop!) that our travels first started to go wrong. Out of money, we had to wait three days for three thousand pounds to be wired through the banking system, taking solace only that it would take longer for cheques to clear even in a world of international networking. Then it transpired that an expected route was not in fact there, and that the best we could to was roll the dice and travel to Manila in the hope of a speedier connection onwards. Instead, what we found there was cholera, and a route about the airship Reina Christina that would get us to the Americas, but have us arrive poorer than a small mouse named Fievel. Still, at least there would be less cholera!

“I cannot help but feel,” mused Fogg, “That I should have taken on a more fiscally responsible bet. For at this point, even if I win, I fear I shall be ruined by travel debts. What say you, Passepartout?”

I gave it my best thoughts, for my employment was also at stake.

“That sucks,” I said. “In fact, master, that sucks balls.”

He considered this for a moment. “Quite. Quite so.”

But, at least in an airship, we were going to be free of the hideous sickness that currently, ahem, enveloped Manila. So at least that was something to-

Oh poop. And other formerly internal fluids too.

As the crossing continued though, I was struck by a most troublesome thought!

An eye for detail? But his bet was leaving from the station!

And so our travels took us to Panama City, where it was said the Haitian sorcerers worked with blood-drinking machines, but it was fairly obvious that they wouldn’t be to avoid the inevitable articles about racism on the Apple App Store. Here though routes that would take us towards England were few and far between, and the closest was…

...it was not even my money, yet my eyes still watered… £16,000 to reach Port-Au-Prince. Why, for that money, I believe one might buy Port-Au-Prince and officially rename it ☥ - Port-Faumerly-Known-As-Prince. Even if the bank would have covered it, I feared the time we would have been forced to wait would have put fifteen spikes through our goal of getting around the world in 80 Days Give Or Take One, and so instead we had to head through South America, riding a steam shovel all the way from Panama to Tabatinga in the company of fugitive dynamite blasters.

I confess, this was not my finest idea. But needs must as the devil taps his watch meaningfully.

Well, at least it has lots of suitcase space!

In Bogta, we were half-way through our allotted time, and things were dire. Our funds again fell low, my master, Phileas Fogg, was ill, and I was started to feel somewhat guilty about how fast all of these cities were flying past and merging together; that despite every effort being made to tell intriguing storylets and convey the feel of an alternate universe, the very nature of our journey made so much as stopping to smell the roses feel in some way a distraction, a tactical mistake, a moment of regret. Worse, my master’s illness made travel to the most obvious next destination, Belem, an impossibility, without a night’s sleep and some tactical moustache combing from his trusty valet who would never dream of making him a) withdraw a lot of money from the nearest bank and put it in a carpet bag and then b) disappear somewhere between here and, say, the other side of a dark alley in Paris.

Because that would have been wrong.

Very wrong.

Totally.

“No, merely rats.” “Ah, splendid. Glad it’s not just me.”

In the slave port of Belem, it transpired that £337 was barely sufficient for a hotel room, including the Steampunk Travelodge, and with no bank, we were forced to beg for a little money. It proved sadly insufficient for my master’s tastes, though we did finally manage to earn the necessary fare to reach Dakar.

“We really rallied there,” I told my master, who stared, and made a note that our relationship had soured.

But! Day 50, and we were over the Atlantic and very much in a homeward direction, the experience soured only by the mere £74 in our pockets. From the captain though, we learned that there was a route from Lisbon to London. And Lisbon wasn’t far at all! Pausing only to withdraw a little more money to cover expenses, we headed for the hotel for the night, stopped only by a charming little abduction from a Senagalese lady who had looked into our travels around the world and, hilariously, figured me an assassin - I suppose it was my deadly charm that did it - whose help she could use for a little revolution style soiree she had planned for the near future.

Wait. That’s actually quite a bad thing. Because it involved being poisoned, with the only cure… did I mention, it was in Timbuktu! With the only cure being available in exchange for making a small delivery for the lady, who would not take any form of ‘no’ for an answer, from ‘hell no’ to ‘shit no’. That was the worst possible thing that could have happened! It was a minor detour! Needless to say, I figured it a pure bluff, but an onset of fever made it a matter that could not be risked. To Timbuktu we went, where I had to decide whether or not to tell Fogg the truth - that my very life was in danger, and that I required his tolerance and patience just as I had given unto him this entire journey so far, or to make up some lie about an airship factory.

I of course told my master the truth.

To my surprise, he simply accepted it.

For a moment, I felt slightly guilty about all those times I had relieved myself in his soup. Slightly.

And this is EXACTLY why nobody bloody likes foreigners…

In Timbuktu, we spent the night in a hotel for some reason, before racing to retrieve the antidote. Which, much to my surprise, turned out to exist. For a moment, I wondered whether this was merely a bluff; whether had I ignored her instructions, it would have turned out to be no matter. But, there was no time. We had just 22 days left to return to London. 22 days! Even though it was a quarter of our available time, it seemed limited!

From a trader we learned of a route to Marrakech, future home of Titus the Fox. My master did not enjoy the desert sands particularly, and was visibly relieved to arrive at Tangier. No, just joking. He continued being his usual personality-bereft self with all the soul of an automaton, expressing interest only in frustration at the slowness of all things. By the time we reached Lisbon, with 10 days to go, I could relate…

And in Lisbon, the frustration only grew. We needed another bank transfer, but after that, it was still a three day wait for the airship Madre de Deus. And having sat around for all of that, there were just six days to go! Six days, one leg of the journey! Was it possible? Was technology on our side? Could it be done?

Could it?

Could it?

Yeah, and with several days to spare. Suck it, Jules Verne.

And then Passepartout was unceremoniously downsized.

I reached out and shook the man’s hand, and for once, he accepted it in good form. “Any gentleman would be fortunate to call you his valet,” said Fogg. “Except for Bertie Wooster, because let’s face it, Jeeves would have managed this in a week, tops, and be even now pressing my good jacket. But, you did okay, I suppose.”

Okay? We had made it around the world, and even ended up in profit - even with our debts to the banks, my master, Phileas Fogg, was walking off with £8000. Admittedly, the costs of world travel suggested this was barely enough for a few nights in a Travelodge and a couple of cheap meals, but still… and I couldn’t help notice that at no point was there any suggestion of a cut of this for having made it happen.

“Mr. Fogg! Mr. Fogg!” One of the journalists in the crowd cried. “What next for the great adventurer Phileas Fogg and his loyal valet Passepartout?”

“I don’t know,” mused my master. “I suppose we could do it again?”

“Again?”

“Well, we did only visit 16/144 cities, and barely scratch the edges of this possibility space. Do you not feel that we could have made different decisions and thus had a more efficient journey?”

In the back of my head, something snapped. All that time spent looking after him, being poisoned, chased, intimidated and wearing ancient underpants and- Oh, that face of his. That face, that face, that face.

“I know that I could,” I told him, glowering. “Why not put your winnings in this carpet bag. And Monsieur?”

“Yes?”

“Ever visited the scenic dark alleys of the Quartier Pigalle?”

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