Archive for March, 2013
The doctor and the first mate rushed through the office door. Across the room, the missing fifth sailor they had been searching for stood behind the purser’s desk. The small panel in the wall that normally concealed the vault lock stood open; a brass Autonoma Arachnae Extractor spider was perched on top of the combination dial. The small device chittered and whirred while it worried manically at the combination lock, attempting to discern the correct combination.
“You! Step away from there and hold still!” Lieutenant Mason ordered sternly.
The sailor spun on his heel, his face twisted into a snarl. “Sod off!”
Doctor Hunter stepped to the first officer’s right in an effort to further cut off the thief’s only route of escape. “This will only go badly for you, sir. Now, who are you working for? Is it the Brotherhood of Mulciber?”
The thief spat at the two men. “I got nothin’ to do with them monks! You buggers don’t know what steamin’ kettle of blood yer jumpin’ into!”
“I daresay we do! A band of killers obsessed over a myth tied to a set of ancient cutlery!” Doctor Hunter snapped back. “Leftenant, perhaps we should escort the gentleman to someplace more secure. You have no brig, as I understand it. Perhaps a room that locks from the outside would suffice?”
Lieutenant Mason stood firm, blocking the only door out of the room. “Indeed, Doctor. I do have accommodations that will suit this gentleman nicely.”
“Over me dead body!” A long, double-bladed knife appeared from under the thief’s jacket and into his hand. The thief held the weapon in his right hand with the blades pointed down; his knuckles white against the rubber grip. He pressed a small trigger that jutted out from underneath the dull brass cross guard, and an ugly sound like a flight of angry bees exploded into the air. Behind the sound, a blue-white spark of electricity arced, dancing randomly along the polished steel blades with a series of ugly pops. The weapon glowed with a chilling, blue aetheric light.
The first officer scowled at the knife, then doubly so at its owner. “Mind the Spark Knife, Doctor; it’s a nasty piece of work.”
Doctor Hunter nodded briefly, his attention entirely on the electricity-enhanced blade waving far too close to his person. He had heard of the weapon, but certainly had never seen one this close before. So far in appearance, it lived up to its reputation. He was loathe to test any of its other reported properties. “Understood, Leftenant. I prefer fingers not cooked and still attached to my hands.”
“Then I’ll be takin’ a lung!” With two steps, the thief closed the space between himself and Doctor Hunter. He slashed at the doctor’s chest; the blade crackled hungrily.
The doctor pivoted to his left; the knife slid to his right. It was close. So close, in fact, it cut a sliver from his dark coat, but fortunately the edge drew no blood. The aetheric blue electrical aura was another matter. A sharp pop, followed by an unpleasant sizzle, heralded the doctor being tossed off his feet. He flew backwards and landed smartly on his back, striking his head against the floor. Dazed, he struggled to roll away from his attacker with little success.
“Doctor!” Mason exclaimed. In a mad burst of adrenaline, he rushed for the desk between himself and the thief. The desk, like many of the larger furnishings, was bolted to the deck. Normally, it was a wise precaution aboard an airship as turbulence often tossed loose items about. However, the wooden banker’s chair that accompanied the desk suffered under no such limitation. The lieutenant quickly snatched up the piece of stout furniture and shoved it toward the man with the knife.
The thief spun around, knife at the ready. He had expected the first officer to rush him; a mad dash to try and tackle him to the floor. What he did not expect was a well-made cherry wood chair to slam against his knees while he turned. The man pitched forward to the floor from the impact, his legs twisted in an unpleasant angle. The knife flew from his grip and skittered halfway to the cabin door. Its electrical glow sputtered, popped one final time, then died.
Lieutenant Mason rushed for the knife. He managed two steps before he crashed heavily to the floor, his feet knocked out from under him. The thief frantically climbed over the first officer, but not before hammering the lieutenant’s rib cage twice with a hard right fist. Finally, he lunged, panic-stricken, for the knife.
Before the man’s fingers could touch the hilt, Doctor Hunter kicked the weapon across the room. At the same moment, Lieutenant Mason rammed an elbow into the thief’s midsection. Air ripped from the thief’s lungs. He sputtered, coughed then fell to the floor beside Mason. Roughly, the first officer shoved the man further away, then painfully got to his feet. Next to him, Doctor Hunter hauled their battered captive off the floor.
“Now then, let’s start with the basics, shall we?” the doctor asked tersely. “It’s obviously not the Brotherhood. Given your reaction to their name, you know them. So, since it isn’t them, just who do you work for? Out with it!”
The thief coughed harshly. He squirmed in the doctor’s grip like a fish on a line. “I’m sayin’ nothing to either of you!”
Lieutenant Mason took a moment to massage an ache in his right rib cage. With a harsh glance at the thief, he stalked over and snatched up the inert spark knife from where it had landed.
“Hell of a thing,” Mason grumbled, turning the weapon over in his hands. He frowned with disgust. Slowly, he walked towards the doctor and the thief. “Vulgar, really. No other way to put it.” He glared at the thief, and gripped the dagger angrily. “Now wastrel, enough games. Answer the good doctor’s questions! If you do, I’m sure it will play in your favor once we’ve given your repulsive self over to the port authorities.”
The thief spat at Lieutenant Mason and missed. “I’ll not tell you a bloody thing!” he snapped in return. His struggle renewed in earnest against the doctor’s firm grip. “Do whatever you blokes are planning to! It’ll be a bloody hell sight better than what they’ll do if I start runnin’ away with me mouth!”
“Oh, so it’s a ‘they’ is it?” Doctor Hunter said, his stern posture shadowed by a faint smirk. “Brilliant, now we’re getting somewhere. Who, pray tell, are ‘they’?”
The captive glared at Doctor Hunter, then clamped his mouth into a thin tight line.
Lieutenant Mason scowled as if he had eaten something sour. He gripped the knife angrily, his knuckles turning white. “Do what we’re planning to? See here, you lower class guttersnipe, we aren’t about to torture you! Either you see reason and tell us who you’re working for, or you’ll be talking to the Americans once we reach Boston!”
“I’ll take my chances!” The man snapped back.
Doctor Hunter’s tone was coarse. “Enough, Leftenant. It’s obvious he’s more afraid of his employers than any other fate that could cross his path. I doubt we’ll have even a name from him.”
Mason shook his head dismissively. “I’ll check with the Leftenant Harrison. We took on new crew recently, I’d lay a wager this … person … was among them.” The first officer sighed heavily. “New faces are likely candidates to question.”
Beyond them, the clockwork spider finished its task; when the lock clicked, a section of wall to the right of the painting behind the purser’s desk popped open. The section of wall was as easily as large as a door; only the panel was twice as thick as one might expect. Inside, bags and boxes of all kinds sat quietly on shelves. Each was tagged with a number, obviously catalogued for quick identification. Mason glared at the small brass device irritably.
“I’ll deal with that,” he declared. The first officer stalked across the room. He pushed the vault door closed, then tugged at the clockwork spider. The device held firm to the lock. Unlike others of its manufacture, the typical ‘seamstress spider’ appendages had been removed. In their place was a set of rubber ‘fingers’ and a small suction cup; the cup was attached to the spider with a length of rubber medical tubing. They were appendages specifically made to conquer a combination lock.
“Capital,” Hunter replied. A thought nagged at him as he watched the first officer struggle with the spider. Something was wrong with this entire situation. It felt forced, like a stage performance enacted by a moderately trained understudy who, by and large, understood only most of his lines. The doctor’s hard, clinical stare bored holes into the thief, who tried his best to shrink back into his rumpled white Britannia uniform. “If you had such a device, and it operated so very quickly, why bother with the previous ruse?”
The accused offered no explanation in return. Instead he looked down at his jacket. When that did not soothe his nerves, he watched the floor.
However, the doctor’s eyes never left his captive. “Mr. Mason? If you would, please visually inspect our items of interest?”
The clockwork spider suddenly came loose from the lock with a sharp, metallic pop. Lieutenant Mason stumbled back a step from the momentum. The spider-shaped brass device wiggled in his hand, legs seeking out the lock it had been secured against a moment ago. Mason glanced over his shoulder at the doctor with a dubious look at the request.
“Indulge me, Leftenant.” Thomas requested.
Mason considered it a moment, then nodded. With the spider clutched firmly in his left hand, he pushed open the vault door and searched about inside. A few moment’s later he withdrew a long wooden box with an ornate – and complicated – brass clasp. Standing there, box in hand, Mason frowned. “It’s rather light. Much lighter than I remember!”
“You don’t say?” the doctor replied, his stare unrelenting on the thief. Slowly, he reached down to pat the front of his captive’s uniform. Not satisfied, he jerked the man’s coat open. Two buttons popped unceremoniously off and rattled to the floor.
“Watch yourself there!” the thief protested.
Thomas Hunter snorted. “This from the man who moments ago tried to both skewer and electrocute me? I think not.” The doctor reached in and patted the man’s chest, then ribcage. “Nothing.”
Doctor Hunter’s captive sneered. “What’d you expect to find, eh? Me money’s not on me. You see,” the thief paused for effect, “there’s thieves about.”
The doctor ignored the man and glanced over at Lieutenant Mason, who had just placed the wooden box on the desk. “Leftenant, is there a dumb waiter lift that services this office?”
“Quite so. It saves on leaving the office unstaffed during mealtime given what we secure here,” he replied.
Thomas considered the thief again. “Check it please. If possible check outside the cart itself.”
As the thief glanced again at the floor, a faint blush crept into his cheeks.
Mr. Mason looked around a moment, then pulled open a desk drawer and shoved the brass spider inside it. He shut the drawer then walked over to the left of the purser’s desk to a small arc lantern that hung off the wall. The first officer flipped a switch on the base of the lantern, and a panel next to the lantern slid open. Inside was the small food service lift.
The doctor shook his head slowly. “Leftenant, just how many concealed doors are aboard the Britannia given there are two in this room alone? No wait, a better question, why bother with so many? I’m starting to wonder if I’m aboard a passenger liner or a smuggling vessel.”
Mason sniffed egotistically with a mild, insulted look. “It’s to maintain the decor.” The first officer turned a small knob next to the switch and the lift started to lower out of sight. When the top of the small compartment came into view, Mason turned the knob again to stop it from moving. On top of the box that comprised the lift itself, tied to one of the cables, was a canvas bag. Uneasily, the Lieutenant pulled the bag off the dumb waiter lift and opened it. Inside lay six very familiar Roman daggers!
“It’s the … but they should have been in the vault!” Mason stammered in surprise.
A thin, pleased smile crossed Doctor Hunter’s face. “Indeed. At one time I trust they were. They were also to be put to rest there once again, correct?” he asked the thief.
The man in question refused to reply. However, his flushed face and angry expression spoke volumes.
“Mr. Mason, if you would be so kind as to bring along the bag, the box and the spider? I think it’s time we take our new companion to a private, and secure, location for a long chat about why he was not stealing the daggers but instead returning them to the vault. Perhaps he’ll even indulge us as to what his employers are really after, as it has become quite obvious it is not the daggers at all, since they already had them in their possession.” The doctor smiled; the thief turned pale.
“I’ll not,” the man started to protest, but the doctor interrupted him.
“Yes, yes, we know. You won’t say a word for fear of what they’ll do to you.” Doctor Hunter leaned forward, to not quite loom but most assuredly to emphasize his point. “At this point my good man, once those daggers are not back in that vault – and you nowhere to be seen – how would they know if you betrayed them or not? Simple deduction, they cannot. The simple route is to blame you for misconduct and most likely dispose of you, as you’re now a loose end.” Hunter shook his head. “Your silence doesn’t protect them, sir, nor does it protect you. It merely wastes precious time putting you someplace safe where they may not locate you. If I were you, I would cogitate on that very carefully.”
The thief turned pale and said nothing. However, he stopped periodically struggling against the doctor’s tight grip.
Doctor Hunter nodded reassuringly. “Brilliant choice. Leftenant?”
With a frustrated sigh, the first officer closed the lift door. He then walked over to close and lock the vault door. “I know precisely the place. It will not seem secure, but given the situation, it may be the last place anyone would look for him.”
Doctor Hunter urged the thief to walk ahead of him. “Oh? You have again peaked my curiosity, Leftenant. On the way, we can send word to the others. I suspect they’ll be quite keen to meet our new friend and hear what he has to say.”