Archive for July, 2015
The trip to the Britannia’s infirmary proved less complicated than leaving it. Noel St. Claire and Tom Parker tried to retrace their steps back to the passenger staterooms, having left Captain Hunter for medical treatment. It was a sensible approach, but it put them in direct sight of a considerable number of the first and second class passengers, none of whom were in good spirits.
St. Claire blinked at the crowd. “I don’t think rumors of an explosion were well received,” he said in surprise. “We all knew the passengers were not blind and would be upset at all that was going, non? But this? This is an angry mob. If it were deck crew, I would think it’s a mutiny.”
Parker chuckled. “Do you blame ‘em? They’re caught aboard an airship that’s tossing here and yon. Then she takes to exploding parts of herself while they’re out over open water? Well, as a passenger, I’d be wanting an explanation, too. Might even be wanting a way back to shore.”
Before they could reach the nearest stairwell, two of the crowd cornered them.
“You there! The African sailor. Yes, you and your Norwegian associate.” The caller was a stout older man, hair shot through with a modest dusting of gray. His herringbone tweed waistcoat, brown wardrobe and stiff attitude suggested a person used to being in command. A person with subordinates who try to anticipate and satisfy his wants.
He hurried over to St. Claire and Parker before they could vanish down the stairs and escape his questions. Behind the man, a woman dressed in prim burgundy followed close behind him.
“Monsieur if you please. We are in quite a hurry,” St. Claire tried to explain. He kept a frustrated sigh out of his voice and instead presented his best disarming smile.
The older man fumed. “That can wait. Just what is going on with this ship? Some of us have been waiting for almost an hour!”
“Horrors,” Parker replied. “Waiting for what?”
“The starboard reading room!” the man sputtered with frustration. “The doors are locked, and it’s approaching midday!”
His lady companion’s look was no less sour. “A mid-day meal was to be promptly served there. This is not prompt!”
“What with all the mechanical failures, this is intolerable!” the man added, his round face turning a flustered shade of crimson.
“No one’s explained why?” St. Claire asked. He exchanged a concerned look with Parker.
“Of course not!” The man frowned and tugged at his tweed waistcoat. Despite his stout frame, he leaned forward to emphasize his point. “Why else would we be asking about it now, young man?”
Before either sailor could reply, the Britannia’s bosun appeared with a trio of the deck crew in tow.
“Allow me,” he said in a low voice to St. Claire and Parker. The bosun turned toward the irate couple. “Sir and Madame Berman, yes?”
“Of course,” Mrs. Berman snapped with an icy tone.
The bosun’s demeanor was unscathed. “If you’ll come with me and allow these men on their way, I’ve the explanation you’re seeking.”
Mr. Berman turned his scowl between the bosun and the two crew from the Griffin. “They’re not deck crew?” He coughed and tugged at his waistcoat again to cover his embarrassment. “Well that would explain the lack of proper uniforms!”
Mrs. Berman put a hand on her husband’s arm. “Come dear, it’s obvious that the third class rabble have begun sneaking about in the first and second class areas where they do not belong. It’s just another complaint we need to bring up with the shipping line. Let’s hear what the bosun has to say for himself.”
Parker’s usual cheerful air slipped into a scowl. He clenched his fists and started forward. St. Claire put a hand on the big man’s arm to restrain him.
“Non, mon ami. It’s not worth it,” he cautioned Parker. “They would never listen, in any case. Besides, you heard what the man said about the starboard reading room, non?”
Parker shot another glare at the couple and nodded. “That I did.”
“Monsieur McCabe was going there as well,” St. Claire said and turned for the stairs. “By now? He should be there.”
Parker nodded. “Aye on that. I was thinking much the same thing.”
They raced down the stairs and nearly collided with Lieutenant Mason. The Britannia’s first officer had changed to a fresh uniform, but the events of the past two days had taken its toll. His face looked drawn and haggard from fatigue.
“What’s happened?” he asked, concerned.
“We don’t know what the explosion was,” Parker replied.
“No, not that,” Mason replied. “I know what that was. Someone rigged a spark lantern to overload in a utility room among the second class cabins. When it exploded, it took a secondary steam line with it along with a water and power line.”
“And the door was blown open,” St. Claire said with a nod.”
“Precisely,” Mason replied. “Odd thing, the door was barred from the inside”
Parker blinked at the concept. “From the inside before the explosion?”
“Correct,” the lieutenant replied. “I was there when they pried the door all the way open. Inside is quite the mess, yet there’s no bodies. No idea who did this. It’s like the main engine room all over again.”
“This day’s just getting more exciting by the minute,” Parker quipped. “We’re heading to corner the Duchess Von Ferrin. She laid into Captain Hunter already and may be at the starboard reading room. Come on, we’d best hurry!”
St. Claire and Parker raced down the hallway. Mason blinked in surprise, then ran after them.
“What? Wait!” Mason exclaimed. The other two came to a quick stop. “When did this happen?” the first officer asked. “Didn’t McCabe reach all of you with my message?”
“It was received, monsieur,” St. Claire said, his voice flat. “But mon capitaine had already gone to meet with Duchesse Von Ferrin.”
Parker nodded. “Aye to that. She laid into the Cap’n with a vengeance, electrocuting him, then ran off. McCabe took some of your deck hands to corner her. Given what we overheard from a few passengers, we’ve a thought she’s in the starboard reading room.”
Mason shook his head. “Cornered is when she’s the most dangerous given what I’ve seen.”
“What do you mean?” Parker asked, his face pinched in a frown.
“I’ll explain, but we can’t go after the Duchess with just our bare hands,” Mason said. He motioned for the two men to follow him and broke into a brisk walk. “Two corridors from here, one of our security offices has a small strong box for weapons. It’s best we arm ourselves from that cache. We can proceed to the reading room after that. It will be one flight up from there.”
St. Claire looked pensive. “La dame is dangerous, that I will give you, monsieur. There are three of us, we would be able to overpower her.”
Lt. Mason clenched his jaw at the memory of the spider servitors. “Her? Dangerous? Quite so. But she’s not what concerns me. Her swarm of clockwork spiders? Yes, those concern me. Those we might not overpower without some mechanical assistance.”