O’Fallon stumbled back and crouched behind the door, so he was hidden from any view outside the building. He looked over with a pained expression at Krumer, who led the charge. Moira, Thorias and Arcady followed across the room.
Frantically the quartermaster waved at them to crouch down. “Hush! It na be me this time! It be the dead bugger bleeding on the ground past the door who be gettin’ shot. Now drop outta’ sight!”
At that admission, the others stopped where they were and crouched below the level of the tall windows in the room. Krumer slowly crawled around one of the few empty bunks in the room and sat directly beneath one of the windows. He closed his eyes to listen. In the far distance, he could hear the screech and call of the blackbirds and firehawks in some dispute over a perch, and a dull rumble of thunder that had become more common over the past hour.
Krumer opened his eyes and looked around at his companions. “Anyone hear anything? See anything?”
Thorias eased up from his sitting position until he could peer over a bunk and the window ledge past it. Outside loomed a pair of warehouses identical to the ones they had passed between earlier. Three blackbirds flew over the pair of buildings while gray storm clouds rolled slowly overhead in a cold, yet picturesque backdrop. His eyes darted back and forth but his sensitive elven hearing could not find any noise that seemed out of place.
Slowly, he eased back, out of view of the window. “Not a thing. It looks quiet from here.”
Moira carefully peered out the window, but saw nothing out of the ordinary, either. She shook her head. “Real quiet here.”
O’Fallon looked quickly around the door for a moment, past the dead body and up at the warehouses, the birds, the sky and around. He sat back slowly. “Na a thing. The shooter be sittin’ pretty still waitin’ on us … or they already be on their way about their business. Other than that, all Ah by seein’ be the body in front a’ the door.”
Moira eased herself into a sitting position next to a footlocker on the floor. “Can ya see if he be anyone we know?”
O’Fallon slowly eased forward until he could see around the door with at least one eye. “Na be anyone Ah know. He be dressed in some gray coveralls, a pair a’ leather boots. Ah wouldna taken him for a sailor. He may a’ been workin’ on the station here? Ah’d have ta go out there ta be seein’ any more than that.”
Krumer looked down the room at O’Fallon, easing back from the edge of the door. “If you had to, could you reach him?”
O’Fallon moved forward again and peeked past the edge of the door. “If’n Ah had ta. He be just within’ me arms’ reach.” The quartermaster moved away from the door. “But Ah’ll surely be there for anyone ta be seein’.”
Krumer looked around the room at Moira, Thorias and Arcady, then eased up onto his knees, so he could see for himself. Silent warehouses sat with gray clouds behind them. A pair of blackbirds sat perched on a roof, the lone audience to the drama. However, nothing else moved. The orc’s thoughts churned. He had only three people with him, four if he counted the wind-up toy Thorias was so fond of. The loss of one would be devastating to their survival if anyone was still outside lying in wait. More importantly, he had known O’Fallon since the days when he, Thorias, Hunter and O’Fallon served in the Navy – before Hunter had that incident with Adonia Salgado. Krumer did not want to lose his friend. He slowly sat back down and rubbed his eyes a moment with a grimace that showed his orcish fangs.
“It looks clear, O’Fallon. Try it. If anything moves we’ll try and and keep it from you.” Krumer shifted position again to a stable crouch on one knee where he could peek over the window’s edge, but still have a stable sitting position to shoot from. He hoped it would not come to any gun play. He did not know how long he could stay in that crouch.
Once Moira and Thorias also were ready, O’Fallon took a deep breath to steady his nerves, then set his gun out of site behind the door. The man outside was at least O’Fallon’s body size, if not more. If the man was indeed dead, the quartermaster would need both hands to drag the dead man back under cover. Once ready, he rushed through the door, grabbed the body by the collar and left arm, and dragged the man backwards. The quartermaster did not stop until he had the man entirely through the door and behind cover.
With the body inside, O’Fallon dropped heavily behind the door again and panted for air, partly from exertion but primarily from nerves. He lifted his gun and leaned his head against the door with his eyes shut. “Ah got ‘em.”
Thorias left his position to crawl low against the floor until he reached the place where O’Fallon had left the victim. It took only one look to make any sort of simple diagnosis. “Dead, like we thought.”
Moria shrugged sadly. “It be worth the try.”
Krumer nodded. “It was.”
Suddenly, a furious buzz came from O’Fallon’s belt pouch. The quartermaster opened his eyes and pulled his pack open. He reached in and withdrew the eight inch long, rectangular opti-telegraphic. As if it sensed being free from the pouch, the device buzzed again like an angry bee. He pushed the brass rivet, rapidly turned the small ‘S’-shaped crank that appeared, then tapped a pair of keys on the small keyboard. Immediately, a voice emerged from the small box.
“O’Fallon! We’re hearing gunshots! Report! What the devil is going on?” Captain Hunter’s voice was tense. Already he had second thoughts over his choice to send just the four of them alone into the station instead of a larger force of people.
“Na worries, Cap’n. We be all hale and whole here.” O’Fallon replied lightly.
Hunter, having known O’Fallon’s way of speech far too long, replied quickly. “Which means you’ve found someone or something.”
O’Fallon shrugged at the device, as if Captain Hunter could see him. “Just a wee shot be comin’ our way from a bloke we na can see. Caught a bugger cold from the upper rafters ya might be sayin’. Na all that odd, if’n ya ask me.”
“This from the man who’s been shot more times than a pistol target.” Krumer said softly with a wry smile.
O’Fallon gave the first mate a sour look, then returned his attention to the opti-telegraphic. “We be lookin’ him over Cap’n. We’ll know somethin’ in a moment.”
The group imagined Hunter’s customary, yet slightly impatient nod. “Very well.”
About that time, Thorias, who had been examining the dead body, frowned at the dead man’s right fist. “Odd. You’d think he’d reach out if falling, or if he was dead before he fell, his hand wouldn’t have clenched so tight.”
The doctor carefully opened the man’s fist to reveal a crumpled note. Thorias read the note and he frowned. “It’s a message. It’s signed Adonia Salgado.”
“What was that?” asked Hunter, who obviously had heard some of the doctor’s words.
“A note in the dead bloke’s hand.” O’Fallon leaned in towards the device and explained. A sharp burst of static was his reply. The quartermaster frowned and turned the small crank several times. The lights glowed intensely bright, but there was still the sharp hiss of static.
Moira looked over at O’Fallon and the device. “Be it busted?”
“Na that Ah can tell.” O’Fallon replied.
Over by the doctor, Arcady’s head came up and his eyes glowed a soft crimson. Carefully, he lifted off and took flight to rest on an empty bunk. “The device is operational. It cannot send or hear a signal. Some sort of interference is breaking the transmission.”
Krumer looked out the window instinctively. “From where?”
“Hard to say. It is all about us, so it must be close or very strong. We would need to boost our signal to get through it.” Arcady explained.
O’Fallon eased to the edge of the door and, then looked outside and up. “Or be gettin’ above it. Atop a’ roof, or the main steam pumps. Either’d be doin’ for it.”
Moira gave the quartermaster a concerned look. “We could be headin’ back towards the ship. If nothin’ be wrong there too.”
Krumer shook his head. “Too far. Those steam pumps are only a few yards across the clearing. Besides, if the Cap’n can hear gunshots from here, we would likewise hear any from there.”
O’Fallon shook his head, shutting off the opti-telegraphic and slipping it back into his belt pouch. “Na for that. When Ah was a wee lad, me uncle took me aboard an older station. Na unlike this one. Most a’ these buildings? They all be havin’ a connection in case a’ strong storms. We can be usin’ that to keep in cover.”
Thorias read the note silently, then glanced at the others. “Sound advice. That’s where Miss Salgado would wish to meet us according to this note. Likewise, I think we should be highly careful of the killer who did this.”
O’Fallon snorted. “That be goin’ without sayin’, Doc.”
Thorias ignored the comment while he finished both his narrative and the exam of the body. “On his neck here are bruises in the shape of a hand. That is consistent with the bruises on his face and body also. He was beaten to death. The fact he fell down from where he was, I think, was merely happenstance.”
Moira looked at the body and then at Thorias in confusion. “Why’d someone be shootin’ him then? Waste of a good bullet if’n ya ask me.”
The doctor shrugged. “Who knows the mind of a sociopath? Perhaps to make certain of the job? In any case, he died to get us this.” He held up the crumpled note for the rest to see.
Krumer eased over and held out a hand. “May I?”
Thorias nodded and handed the note over. Once Krumer had a chance to read it, O’Fallon asked, “Well? It be sayin’ much else?”
Krumer folded the note carefully. “Just that we’re being watched, and she’ll be waiting for us with some others in the space beneath the main steam pipe of the station’s engine-gear room.”
“Which way then?” Arcady asked quietly.
Krumer looked out the window and turned the various options over in his mind. Common sense said to either stay undercover until the interference cleared, or get a safer location in the direction of the ship. Not-so-common sense whispered to push on and meet with Adonia Salgado. That would mean a yard-long dash over an open clearing. Excellent for any sniper to who might still be about to pick them off. If they did not cross the open space between buildings, they could slowly navigate through the buildings. It would be slower, yet safer. Either way, they would have to exit the door through which O’Fallon had dragged the dead man. The first mate wrestled with both options until finally he made his choice.
“We head for the engine shops to meet Miss Salgado.” Krumer said flatly.
“What about the shooter?” Thorias asked cautiously.
“There’s been enough noise, he’d have shot at us again by now, if only to try and spook us.” Krumer explained. “Besides, Adonia Salgado is at the heart of this, and those engine shops are far closer than the Griffin. We just go slow, and everyone keep a sharp eye about them.”
The group checked their belongings, and Thorias checked the dead man for anything useful, which turned out to be just a pair of iron keys. The doctor then pulled the dead man further in towards the bunks.
Meanwhile, at the door, O’Fallon eased out from cover with his gun drawn. Slowly, he stepped out and slipped around the corner of the building to a small alley and another door. Quietly, the others followed.
Once around the corner, they nearly collided into O’Fallon, who was crouched in the shadow of the building. They slipped around him and tried to keep from sight.
“O’Fallon! What in blazes is wrong with you, man?” Thorias whispered harshly.
The quartermaster did not reply, but simply pointed at the ground. There, in the alley’s dirt and grime, were two sets of footprints. One was again the large cat with companions in a lightweight set of boots. More disconcerting were the other set of tracks, only slightly older. Those were of two sets of soft-soled boots, stained in blood. The blood still glistened in the dim light.
“Seems we na be the only ones with our little idea.” O’Fallon said. “Can’t be that far ahead. We just might be havin’ a bit a’ company real soon. An Ah think they be a bit unfriendly.”