The end of the week couldn't come fast enough for Ariella and the others who were going on Danria's scientific expedition. When it finally did arrive, Ariella remembered that it was the same day that Arona would be leaving for the Fogworks. Ariella hadn't gotten another letter from her yet, and she hoped her sister was all right.
The six teenagers, including Zaiden, bundled up in fur parkas and climbed into a sleigh like the one that had brought Ariella to the Academy Automicus. Ariella had packed her aquarium into a bag, hoping that the water in it wouldn't freeze and harm her sea flowers.
Danria carefully observed a map of the plateau and directed the Bombardier who pulled the sleigh to go across the ground which was the least likely to be melted. The conversation on the trip was lively, Danria making all sorts of observations about rock formations and Snowmoorian trees. The others responded with questions and comments of their own.
"If we go by the river, we might be able to find a snow frog," Zaiden said suddenly. He had been mostly silent during the trip, and this sudden statement was slightly startling to Ariella.
"A snow frog?" queried Danria.
"Oh, yes. Miss Newheart, here, wants to learn how to dissect them."
Dania looked back at Ariella. "You do?"
Grace, Felicity, and Ariella had decided not to tell Danria and Kieran about the little automaton incident in the library.
"Not anymore. I'd rather we didn't go by the river to look for frogs," Ariella said stiffly.
"Mr. Waterhouse's research station is somewhat near the river. If Mr. Darkmere wants to look for frogs, he may do so while we talk to Mr. Waterhouse," Danria decided after a moment, probably hoping that the hunt for frogs would keep him out of the way.
"I will. After I talk to Jefferson about my ideas," Zaiden replied with his signature smirk.
A half hour later, they arrived at their destination. While the others finished pulling on their snowshoes, Ariella examined the the research dome carefully, looking to see if she had been right about Mr. Waterhouse not using fog. Everything was the same as when she had last seen it...except for the presence of two strangers who stood outside the building. They seemed to be making something out of snow.
"Hello!" called Danria. "Are you Mr. Waterhouse's errand runners?"
The kids, a boy and a girl about Ariella's age, looked up and nodded in acknowledgment. Ariella thought they must be siblings.
"Yes," the boy said. "I'm Hans Oddcraft. My sister is Elsa. Jefferson's inside, working on some sort of experiment. He doesn't want us messing it up, apparently."
"What are you building?" queried Zaiden, crossing his arms. Everyone approached the domed building to gain a better view of the figure the two kids had been making.
"What does it look like we're building?" the girl, Elsa, retorted. "A snowman."
"Oh, really?" Zaiden returned. "That's weird. They've probably got a few screws loose, too."
Danria turned to glare at him, and said to Elsa, "You'll have to excuse him. He thinks everyone with strange hobbies has a screw or two loose."
They all tramped over to the entrance of the research dome and Danria knocked. Jefferson slid the door open and surveyed them.
"Mr. Waterhouse, I require a fog-free testing zone for one of my experiments," Danria informed him. "We are trying to find whether or not fog affects plants in a negative way."
Jefferson let out a long sigh. "So long as these children don't disrupt my experiments, I suppose it is all right."
Danria hurried inside, followed by the five others. Ariella put the sea flower aquarium, which had not frozen, on a table. "I wonder if, away from the fog, your flowers will grow better," the older girl mused, setting up another experiment near the aquarium.
This one was comprised of two glass boxes half full of dirt. One had fog being pumped into it, the other did not. Into the dirt everyone planted a few seeds, then watered them.
"How long will it take for them to grow?" Kieran wondered.
"A few days, but they won't be fully grown for several weeks. I'll check back in here soon to see how they're progressing. Now I need to set up a drip line so that Mr. Waterhouse won't have to bother with watering them. Any volunteers to help?" Danria asked.
Ariella raised her hand, and the others mimicked her--except for Zaiden. He was busy pestering Jefferson with questions about the meltdown.
"Good. Miss Newheart and Miss Newgadget, please collect some more snow to melt. Mr. Candleview, please get some pipes from the sleigh. Miss Overshine, can you help me find a tank and a pump we can use to create a gradual flow of water?"
Everyone hurried to comply. Grace and Ariella found a bucket, then went outside to scoop some snow into it.
"Grace, what do you think about all these experiments with fog?" Ariella asked her. She had a good idea of what Grace thought, but wanted to ask anyway.
"I'm not sure anymore. I've only ever heard good things about the fog, but if it causes plants to wilt...perhaps I was wrong," the other replied.
Ariella was silent for a moment, wondering if she should tell Grace what she had learned about the old Aethasia. "Have you ever heard the story of the Golden Age of Aethasia?"
Grace looked confused. "It sounds vaguely familiar...but I can't quite place it."
"It was when the Great Engineer ruled Aethasia."
"The Great Engineer? Is that another name for the Emperor?"
Ariella almost laughed. "No, the Great Engineer ruled before Lucky took over. He created Aethasia, but not the fog. That was Lucky's doing."
"What did the machines run on, if there was no fog?"
"All I know is that the Great Engineer used a lantern called the Aetherlight to power some sort of engine. Maybe everyone used variations of that Aetherlight to power their machines," Ariella guessed.
"Why have I never heard of this before?"
Ariella took a deep breath. "Because Lucky has covered it all up. He usurped the throne of the Great Engineer."
Grace looked at Ariella strangely. "That's crazy."
"I know. But it's true."
"Why should I believe you?"
"You don't have to. I just figured you should know that there is something more than Lucky and automatons and the fog."
Grace stood up quickly, and said in a not-so-friendly tone, "Unlike you, I want to be an Autofficer. My father was an Autofficer, and I have worked my whole life for this."
Ariella looked at the ground, blinking back the unbidden moisture in her eyes. "I won't talk about this again if you'd rather I didn't."
"Yes, please don't. I'm going inside."
So, Grace stomped through the door, leaving Ariella out in the cold with her bucket half full of snow.