Archive for September, 2015
“Another emergency,” Dr. Llwellyn growled. His quick pace matched the irritable rise in his temperament. “From a utility room that was obviously bombed, to whatever happened in the starboard reading room, the Britannia is resembling a battlefield, not a passenger airship.” He frowned. “Why haven’t the passengers been evacuated on longskiffs?” he asked. “Surely they would be safer elsewhere.”
“From what I understand, the winches for the longskiffs were fouled by clockwork spiders,” Dr. Hunter explained. He hurried to keep pace with his elven colleague.
“The Duchess,” Llwellyn said with a heavy sigh. He felt a blanket of despair fall over his shoulders. It was a familiar depression that had dogged him of late. All due to the machinations of a madwoman no one could stop before she could cause any more destruction.
At the top of yet another set of carpeted stairs, Llwellyn stopped to catch his breath. He rubbed at his eyes, then the sides of his head to chase away a lingering tension. Two nurses from the Britannia’s infirmary continued past the elf, but Dr. Thomas Hunter did not. He asked after his colleague’s health with a measured look.
“It’s fine,” Dr. Llwellyn replied. “Nothing at all to worry anyone over.” The comment sounded hollow. Instead, it rang more like a false bravado that attempted to cover a laundry list of problems.
Dr. Hunter considered the elf carefully. He was not fooled by Llwellyn’s answer in the least. His face pulled back in a thin smile, and he clasped a reassuring hand on Dr. Llwellyn’s shoulder.
“A touch of the melancholy? Right now, who isn’t grappling with that beast? It’s not something one should ignore. Let me take this one at the starboard reading room, Thorias. Given the state of those passengers that were caught by the utility room explosion, you’ve earned a rest.”
Dr. Llwellyn was shaking his head before Hunter finished. “No. I’m sorry but no. I’ll do nothing of the kind,” he said. “If I did, it would feel like I’m waiting for the inevitable. A victim of whatever new abuse the Duchess has in store. I can’t do that. I won’t sit and be a willing victim to her. I must try and do something. It lets me feel like I’ve fought back, and accomplished a small victory against her.”
A heavy silence fell between them. Thomas Hunter broke the mood with a solemn nod.
“Then, let’s go. The reading room is just up ahead,” he said with a reassuring smile. “Perhaps we can both achieve a victory in favor of the passengers. Strength in numbers and all that.”
Dr. Llwellyn returned the smile, though his was tainted by his mood. It was not the most inspirational speech he had ever received, but right then it was the tonic he needed. With a deep breath, he fixed his resolve into place, and resumed the rush to the starboard reading room with Dr. Hunter.
“Back at the utility room, did you discover where the bloodstain on the wall came from?” Llwellyn asked in an attempt to distract himself from his depression.
Dr. Hunter shook his head. “No, and that almost perplexes me to distraction. The utility room contained the majority of the blast, just as one would expect. Yet, there was a splash of blood inside the room near the small run of steam and water pipes. Our only witness swears no one left the room before the explosion.”
“Yes, that was Seaman Farrow,” Dr. Llwellyn replied. “He had taken quite the beating himself, being so close to the door when the room went up.”
Hunter frowned. “Where did he run off to?”
“I sent him to the infirmary,” Llwellyn replied. “Given how much he was hurt, common sense says the young man will most likely be kept off the Britannia’s duty roster to allow him some rest. We can pick his memory later for any little detail he might remember. If you ask me, given how the blast expressed itself, that was no chance accident. It was carefully planned.”
“By the Duchess? Or some associate of hers?” Hunter asked when they turned a corner in the hallway.
Llwellyn shook his head. “Perhaps, though the Duchess prefers natural elixirs. Herbs, venoms and the like. I did pick up a handful of those unusual music box gears for Moira to puzzle over.”
“Brilliant idea,” Hunter agreed. “From what I’ve been told, she’ll deduce if they are for an ordinary music box, or for a more complicated purpose in no time. Given the state of things over these past days, I can only assume she’ll prove it is the latter.”
While the pair approached the starboard reading room, Dr. Llwellyn could not shake a sense of foreboding. It stemmed from a deep-seated feeling that they had missed something vital in the utility room, but a dread of what lay ahead of them did not help. Given the recent series of explosive revelations, Dr. Llwellyn was having a hard time keeping all the facts sorted in his mind. It felt to him that he had been playing chess with three different opponents at the same time. But, all of that quickly paled in importance when he followed Dr. Hunter into the reading room.
The bodies of a half-dozen passengers and deck crew lay scattered around the room. Their expressions ranged from agony to frozen terror. He was always one to caution colleagues about a hasty diagnosis, but he could tell from where he stood, the victims he could see had been dead for the better part of an hour.
Llwellyn shook himself free of the nightmare reverie when he heard his name. Doctor Hunter was calling him; among the devastation, there were two visible survivors: Lieutenant Greg Mason and his own crew mate, Tom Parker. It was a single thread of relief in a small sea of insanity. The elf clung desperately to that and ran towards Dr. Hunter who was kneeling next to Mason and the prone form of Parker.
“Your man Parker is still breathing,” Hunter explained. “Mason tells me one of Britannia’s deck hands, McCabe, is behind one of the chairs. He tried to make for cover and failed, but he survived the needling he took.”
“Parker shielded one of your crew mates. Mr. St. Claire to be specific,” Mason explained. “Grenade went off behind him. A swarm of needles. I was lucky, they just missed me.” He gave a meaningful look at Dr. Hunter. “They acted much like the needles and thread when we went to question Boyle. Only a small handful of needles hit, though. I’d assume that those grenades can’t hold that many.”
“I’ll check McCabe to see if he was hit,” Hunter said. “Do you have this?” he asked Llwellyn.
“I do, go,” the elf replied. He leaned over and checked Tom Parker’s eyes. They were slightly dilated, and it was obvious Parker was in pain. The doctor noticed the man’s face was flush with fever. “Tom, how are you doing?”
“In truth? Been better.” The big man tried to shrug, but the motion never made it beyond a shallow wince. “I could use a bit to drink, since my throat’s a bit dry. You wouldn’t happen to have a some water with you?”
The doctor gave his crew mate a thin smile. “Not right at hand, but I’ll see what I can find. First, let’s take a look at what hit you.” The elf gestured to Mason. “Help me turn him about.”
The pair gently maneuvered Parker until the doctor could see the swarm of needles that peppered the man’s back. Tom Parker was fond of wearing an old gray wool waistcoat over his shirt, which spared him most of the needles. Still, some had managed their way through the thick layers of cloth. Llwellyn pulled slowly at one of the thin darts. The big man grunted when it tugged free.
Long and slender, the dart was a brass affair with a needle tip. Light weight, the entire dart was like a long, metal hypodermic with an impossibly thin chamber for the drug it was to administer. It was chilling reminder of how inventive a person could be with regards to new and improved ways to hurt another living being.
He set the brass dart aside, then used a pocket knife to cut away a portion of Parker’s vest and shirt. “I’m sorry about the vest, Tom.”
“Do what you need to, the vest has seen worse,” Parker wheezed.
“Are you having trouble breathing?” Llwellyn asked.
“Just a mite,” he replied through clenched teeth. “Pain steals it from me. Burns like hell. Being thirsty don’t help a bit, either.”
The skin beneath the cloth was inflamed over a large area, and spread out like a hot soup had been splashed on him. To Llwellyn it almost fashioned a pattern, one that nagged at a memory. But the memory was not electrified enough to make itself known. The doctor shook his head, then concentrated on the location where the dart had lanced the skin itself. There, the skin around the puncture wound was stiff, and had turned an ugly purple-black. Portions had already started to crack open to weep a dark, bloody ichor. The elf wrinkled his nose at a sharp smell that rose from the wound itself. It was not the smell of rot, but more like an antiseptic smell.
Mason caught Dr. Llwellyn’s eye. “This is like the wounds the spiders left before. Only they sewed those with a fine thread. Dr. Hunter complained it was the devil to remove once it touched skin.”
“Thread?” Llwellyn repeated. He glanced at the marks on Parker’s back. That memory returned with a vengeance. Before it could surface, Dr. Hunter emerged from behind a dark-ridden chair with the pale and battered form of Seaman McCabe. Hunter and a nurse guided McCabe to the carpet near Tom Parker.
“Indeed, thread,” Dr. Hunter confirmed. “Blasted stuff. It was quite,” he paused with a glance at Parker. Hunter searched for a word and settled on the best he could find. “Troublesome for all involved. It was during the attempt to question Seaman Boyle. I mentioned it to you earlier.”
“Yes, I recall,” Llwellyn said, but his mind dove for the stray thought that eluded him.
“What is it, doc?” Parker asked. “Poison? Sure feels like it.”
“Regrettably, it is,” Llwellyn admitted.
Parker gritted his teeth as pain showed on his face. His features turned a shade more ashen. He shifted his position. “How bad?”
“Bad enough, now be still,” the elf replied.
After examining the ugly scene once more, he gingerly removed another dart from Parker’s vest. This one had not actually pierced the man’s back. A dark fluid stained the fabric where the dart had struck. When Llwellyn pulled the brass dart out, a piece of thin thread peeked out of the needle-end of the weapon. The thread was thin and unusually translucent. Once more that same memory stirred, only this time it exploded into the elf’s recollection. He looked back at the swollen marks and blackened skin around the puncture wound.
“Oh, such a clever and devious woman,” the doctor muttered with a grim admiration. “I should have recognized this right off.” He pointed to the nearest Britannia deckhand who had just covered one of the passenger bodies with a sheet. “You. I need vinegar, baking powder and a salt water mix.”
“Sirrah?” the man said in surprise.
“You heard the doctor,” Mason snapped. “Move!” Wide-eyed, the sailor rushed out of the room.
Dr. Llwellyn’s gaze fixed another deckhand where he stood. “And you. Get me cornstarch, bleach, lye soap, and something with sulfur in it. Matches aren’t perfect, but will do.”
The second deckhand followed the first out the door, as Dr. Hunter helped a Britannia nurse guide a battered Seaman McCabe out from behind his makeshift barricade of furniture.
“Bleach, cornstarch, lye and sulfur? I recognize that formula,” Hunter said while tending to McCabe. “You’ve deduced something, what is it?”
Llwellyn gently removed the remaining darts from Parker’s vest that had not penetrated skin. “As always, the Duchess is inventive with her cruelty. Her toxin is no simple poison. It’s an elixir designed to have a combination of effects. In this case, she’s mixed jellyfish stingers with concentrated iodine. This ‘thread’ she’s using? In some way, she’s developed a method to preserve jellyfish tendrils and imbue them with an iodine venom.”
Dr. Hunter winced at the thought, and helped ease McCabe to a sitting position. “Quite inventive.”
“And perverse,” Llwellyn added. He began carefully extracting the last darts that had punctured Tom Parker’s skin. “The stingers irritate the skin, increasing blood flow but rendering the victim paralyzed with pain. The increased blood flow improves the effectiveness of the iodine poisoning,” he explained. “At least it would in theory. The victim’s body would fight this invasive substance of course, but the jellyfish stingers help reduce that resistance. Once those two men return with the ingredients I asked for, I believe I can neutralize the stingers.”
“And then counteract the iodine with the thiosulfate concoction,” Hunter said. “Ingenious, doctor.”
Dr. Llwellyn managed a grim smile of thanks. “As long as it works, I’ll be satisfied. How are you feeling, McCabe?”
“A lot of pain, but mostly from being battered,” he admitted. “I’ve been stung by a jellyfish before, so I know what that’s about. I don’t feel that I have been touched by that devil’s brew you described.”
“I agree, he’s not poisoned that I can tell,” Hunter admitted.
Lieutenant Mason cleared his throat. “Doctors, I hate to interrupt, but there’s a new complication.” He gestured to the front of the room.
Dr. Llwellyn looked up from his work on Parker as a dozen clockwork spiders swarmed into the room.