Archive for May, 2015
The clank of metal gears. A hiss of steam from a valve. The muffled sounds of water running through a pipe, turning a corner then leaving as fast as it arrived. A faint smell of stale sweat, like carpet that had been damp once too often, and the faint stench of burnt oil blended together in a foul alchemy. The result hovered in the air like a phantom. The Britannia sang sweetly to Moira Wycliffe. After a few minutes it woke the engineer from her stupor.
Her head felt like it was in a vice. The web of electrical scars that traced over her body ached, as well. The engineer opened her eyes with great care. Fast would have aggravated her headache, which was the last thing she wanted. The surrounding space was not pitch black, but shadowed like a dark twilight. Light peeked in from the edge of an open door. A man stood there, illuminated by the thread of light. He watched the hallway with the occasional break to look back at her. Through her headache-fog she recognized his tawny hair and freckled face. It was Garrin Farrow, one of the Britannia’s sailors. He was also the man who had abducted her.
Wycliffe moved her jaw. It felt stiff. She tried to speak, but nothing came out. The young woman wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, then rubbed the sides of her head to ease the throbbing. Her fingers seemed thick, and slow to react. Sensation crept back into her limbs.
Across the room, Farrow eased the door open several more inches, then stepped through to a hallway. He looked in both directions, cautious and worried. Somewhere near him there was the pop from an electrical spark. The click of tiny clockwork gears followed Farrow like the nails of a loyal puppy.
With Farrow out of the room, Moira took a chance. She lumbered to her feet and threw herself at the door with a vengeance!
“You!” the young woman yelled, rage-filled tears ran down her face. She grabbed the bare metal door to slam it closed.
Farrow blinked in surprise. “Bloody hell!” He lunged for the door.
Moira was a second faster. She slammed the door on Farrow’s fingers. A sharp yowl of pain followed a dull crunch. Farrow jerked his wounded hand free as the door hammered closed.
The young woman braced herself against the door and desperately searched for the lock. The lock was missing. Instead, there was a lever. It was a common feature used to open an airship’s utility room door from the inside, since the lock was on the other side of the door. Most airship utility rooms were small spaces to check or adjust power through sections of an airship. That meant hot steam pipes, fast moving clockwork components or exposed capacitors in abundance. Having a quick escape lever on the inside of the door instead of a proper lock meant sailors could not be trapped. It also meant Wycliffe did not have an easy way to lock Farrow out.
The door jumped under her shoulder. She guessed Farrow had just tried to kick it. Fortunately she held her ground, and the door remained closed. As the room fell silent, Wycliffe noticed it also had grown warmer. She took a deep breath to quiet her nerves.
Suddenly, the door jerked again! With a snarl of frustration, she cast about with one free hand for anything useful. Her fingers encountered the haft of a fire ax.
Outside in the hallway, Farrow muttered something. Wycliffe could not quite hear what the man said, but she understood the angry tone. That told her more than enough.
“Ya got me once, bastard, ya won’t do it again!” She yelled through the closed door.
The door jumped again. This time it nearly opened. She guessed Farrow might have rammed it with something. Wycliffe shifted her weight to push harder and keep the door closed. She tried to grab the ax, but it was just out of reach. All she could do is brush it with her fingers.
“We must be down in some part of the Britannia most don’t go to,” she mumbled to herself. She listened at the door, but there was no sound from the hallway.
Taking a chance that Farrow had given up, Wycliffe eased back from the door to grab the fire ax from the wall. The moment she did, the door tilted open an inch. Farrow raced toward the door with an elated shout.
The young woman swore angrily and grabbed the door. But instead of shoving it closed, she yanked it open.
Startled, Farrow’s run dissolved into a stumble. The moment he recovered his balance, Wycliffe bashed the door against the man’s face. Farrow yelped in pain, staggering backwards until he could lean against the far wall. The engineer started to run for the hallway, but the sight of five clockwork spiders stopped her short. She slammed the door closed. Using the ax as a makeshift lock, she jammed it behind a pipe and shoved the rest of the haft through the ring-like door handle.
Moira leaned against the door with one hand and wiped sweat from her eyes. In the darkness, she ran a hand over the impromptu door bar to survey her handiwork.
“It’ll do,” she said, exhausted. The engineer ran her hands through her brown-red hair and let go of a deep sigh. Her nerves were frayed, but she felt the sigh drain a little of the tension from them. She clasped her hands to force them to stop shaking. Her electrical burn scars tingled like a live wire. She rubbed the one on her arm with a thumb and closed her eyes.
“Not now,” she lamented. After a few seconds, the uncomfortable sensations drained away.
Once the young woman had regained her breath, she searched the walls for a lantern or other light source. To her right, beyond where she had found the fire ax, hung a spark lantern. She fumbled with the knob. In a few seconds the lantern burst to life, and the room was bathed in an electric blue-white glow. Copper pipes glinted at her from beneath a thin layer of grime.
“So he did go an shove me in a utility room,” she said to herself. Wycliffe rubbed her eyes, then either side of her head. “Moira, ya got to be leaving here before he finds a way in,” she snapped. The young woman took in a breath and let it go slowly. “But how?” She rubbed her eyes then looked around the room.
The utility room was no larger than ten feet wide in any direction. Walls and floor lacked any wood panels, carpet or any genteel furnishings found elsewhere in the Britannia. The room was large enough for two people at most to work. Steam and water pipes ran from floor to ceiling along two of the walls. They were the source of the room’s thick heat. Two utility boxes labeled ‘valve timers’ hung attached to the wall across from the door. Wycliffe had spent too much time aboard airships to expect a different design, even for a passenger ship.
But the room still held a few surprises. First was a small crawlspace in the wall to her right between the copper pipes. It was almost large enough to allow a person to fit. Provided that person crawled on their hands and knees and took care to avoid the hot steam pipes.
The other unusual feature to the room was a small wooden trunk. It occupied the floor underneath the gear boxes for the valve timers. The box was four foot long and nearly the same distance tall. Water-stained wood panels and brass copper corners tarnished from age suggested it was well used. The padlock keeping the chest locked was new, by comparison.
She practically jumped at the small chest to open it.
Moira dug into her vest for the small tool pouch she always kept with her. Instead, she found an empty pocket. Frantically, she searched her vest. Her tool pouch stayed missing. She slammed a fist against the chest. It replied with a hollow echo. Pent up fear and frustration, compounded by a specter of helplessness, welled up inside her.
She stood with her fists clenched in rage and hammered a kick into the chest. Wycliffe snarled and continued to slam her boot down, her mind trapped in a whirlpool of rage. Memories surged in her mind’s eye like a wave. The electrical accident where the backpack-sized capacitor had exploded on her back. It had nearly killed a number of her companions, as well as herself, leaving a lightning shaped scar over her body as a reminder. A bomb aboard the Britannia, one she did not disarm in time, probably had hurt some of the Britannia’s crew. Then finally being attacked and abducted, treated like a thing to be used then discarded. All of those thoughts and emotions swirled in her mind and threatened to drown her.
Exhausted, Wycliffe fell to the floor on her knees. She drank in the stale, hot air of the room. In silence, the sound of her heartbeat flooded her ears.
“Damn him to bloody hell. He took me tools!” The engineer leaned forward like a deflating balloon, weighed down by fatigue. “The bloody bastard went through me pockets and took me damn tools.” Her voice was almost a whisper, tainted with a sharp edge of despair. She rested her head against the battered chest with her eyes closed.
Moira sat there for several seconds before she realized her hand brushed against broken wood. The chest, being older than it looked, had caved under her relentless fit of rage. She explored the cavity. Her fingers came in contact with a familiar leather shape and texture. She clutched at the tool pouch as if her life depended on it.
“At least I know who’s chest I be breakin’ apart,” she said with a rough, humorless laugh.
Moira tucked the tools back into her vest. Curiosity nagged at her. So did a desperation to locate something she could use against Farrow and free herself.
She studied the chest with a thoughtful frown, then glanced over her shoulder at the door. There was no sound. The young woman looked back to the chest.
“I wonder what else he’s got tucked away here?” She was unsure whether it was safe to pry farther. It did not take long for her to decide. Her curiosity overruled her paranoia.
She leaned down and pushed at the broken wood. It snapped and fell inward. The young woman hesitated before she reached inside. There might be a trap to stop thieves waiting for her. Cautiously, she turned the chest onto its side so the hole was pointed at the floor. Helical gears with engraved silver bands spilled out. A battered clockwork servitor tumbled after them.
Moira Wycliffe blinked in surprise. “Helicals!” she stammered. She ran her fingers through the pool of gears. “Just like the one Noel found where the first bomb went off.” Her eyes drew away from the pile and over to the clockwork servitor. Curious, she picked up the device.
“A ferret’s rare,” she acknowledged. “Hard to say when I last be seein’ one.”
Over the rush of water through the ship’s pipes, faint clicks and taps splattered like metal rain. Wycliffe scrambled unsteadily to her feet, then braced herself against the wall to get her balance.
“Farrow and his damn spiders,” she growled.
Apprehensive, she eased towards the door, one fist clenched and the other gripped tight around the ferret servitor. But the sound was not there. She could hear it in the air, but the muffled sound seemed distant.
Moira frowned, leaning against the door. The tapping was no closer that a moment ago. Concerned, she checked the fire ax. It was right where she left it wedged in to bar the door closed. The engineer shook her head.
“I’m bein’ jumpy. It must be the Britannia,” she muttered irritably to herself. “That rat Farrow’s probably gone by now.”
She listened at the door again. There was no sound from the hallway. Nervous, Wycliffe licked her dry lips, then stood. She gripped the ax and pulled. After two attempts, it slid loose.
Without warning, a brass spider dropped down towards her on thin strands of thread. Needle-like mandibles crackled with electricity inches from her nose. Before the deadly machine could touch her, she yelped and batted the spider with the ferret servitor. The clockwork spider spiraled across the room. It clanged off a steam pipe, the leather joints singed on contact with the hot copper. The spider’s loose thread fell gently to the floor.
Moira looked up. A vent, partially open, in a flexible tin tube granted enough access that the deadly brass spiders could slip through, one after another. The engineer backed away as a second of the deadly devices threw itself at her. It crackled with electricity. Terror rooted the young woman in place. Her hands shook and her mind froze. All she could see was the hypnotic, terrifying wild burst of electricity. Everything else seem to fade from view.
She screamed while the spiders swarmed the room.