A soft wind brushed O’Fallon’s face. It was a cool wind with a hint of moisture to it. In the dim recesses of his memory, he remembered a walk along the moors not far from Inverness, Scotland with his Uncle Robert. The wind had felt cool and just a touch damp that day as well. His uncle had told him it was a sure sign of rain and they had better seek shelter inside. He could not remember there being a place to go into at that time. His memories jumbled and mixed. All he could make out was his Uncle’s voice saying to go inside.
Slowly, O’Fallon struggled to open his eyes. His body felt covered in a thick mud, and his thoughts swam in a sea of gray fog. Through force of will, he forced his eyes open and pushed himself awake. Just as awareness returned, so did a chorus of aches. He grunted involuntarily at the series of pains in his back and reached under him to push himself upright.
Promptly, his hand slipped from the metal and off into open air! O’Fallon’s eyes shot open, his mind all at once fully alert as he lost his balance on the support strut and fell head first towards nothing. His arms lashed out, his fingers clawing at the metal beam until they caught one of the rough edges. The quartermaster jerked as gravity took hold and yanked him downwards. Fortunately his grip on the metal beam held. Only then did he allow himself the luxury of a painful groan over his injured right shoulder, which had made a sickly popping sound during the excitement.
When the pain changed from a sharp stab to a dull throb, he clenched his teeth and flexed his arms. Slowly, painfully he hauled himself up onto the beam. Only then did he look over the side at the large propeller that churned the air fifty feet below. The Scotsman exhaled a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment, then looked around.
The support beam was one of many that crossed each other in the frame surrounding the propellers beneath the station. They were the foundation on which the above buildings and their platform rested. O’Fallon looked along the particular girder he found himself on then glanced upwards. Last he could remember, the wooden floor beneath his feet had snapped in half, dropping him into open air. That was when the main support beam hit the lower floor and tore open the floor to the blacksmith’s shop itself.
Of course that was right before something had struck him on the head. Which meant it was a minor miracle he survived the fall. Above him, a dark hole yawned in the superstructure where something large and heavy – he assumed the metal beam from the shop above – plunged through. On either side of the hole, support bars, metal sheets and similar parts had been violently ripped away.
“We be keepin’ this up, won’t be much of a station ta stand on.” He muttered to himself.
“O’Fallon!” Came a shout over the wind. The quartermaster recognized the voice. It was Moira. He looked around until he spotted her forty yards away on a nearby maintenance walkway that ringed the entire circular pit around him. He raised a hand in greeting.
“Heaven blessed, yer alive!” Moira shouted over to him.
“Ah be banged an’ bruised, but ah’m alive.” He shouted back, his throat hoarse. He wondered if he had been yelling in his fall before he was knocked on the head.
“Some of us be here. Crawl across that spar. It be hookin’ up ta where we are.” Moira then slowly made her way over to where the platform did indeed connect to the support strut.
O’Fallon did not reply, but instead nodded silently before he began to crawl. Slowly, painfully, he inched his way along the narrow girder until he reached the platform’s edge. At that point he practically fell over onto the platform from relief. Moira caught him in a quick hug, which helped to keep the quartermaster from accidentally teetering over the edge. Unlike the walkways earlier, these had no handrails.
“Enough o’ that now.” The Scotsman slowly extracted himself from the blacksmith to carefully sit upright. “Who else be with us?”
“Beside us two? Thorias, Arcady and Carlos.” Moira replied and pointed twenty feet down the platform to where the others had gathered in a small alcove.
O’Fallon nodded with a pained look. “Be a sight small group. Na sign o’ the others?”
Moira shook her head sadly. “Not a bit.”
O’Fallon averted his eyes and squeezed them shut before covering his face with a hand. The constant running, being unable to get word to anyone, half his group missing or maybe dead, and the attacks by zombies of all things had begun to wear down the Scotsman’s resolve. His stomach felt like a hard lump of pig iron sat inside it. The wind blew around him, a faint howl of despair he just could not ignore as it mirrored how he felt. He did not know how long he sat there listening to the wind. Eventually Moira touched him on the shoulder.
“Conrad,” she said carefully, “they might be makin’ it on their own. As fer us, we can’t be sittin’ out here in the open. Been no signs of zombies here but still, we’ll need ta be headin’ somewhere more secure.”
O’Fallon nodded. “Aye, someplace defensible.”
“Aye.” Moira replied.
She helped O’Fallon to his feet, and the pair slowly walked down to rejoin the others. They had settled in one of the regularly spaced doorway alcoves along the side of the walkway. This one in particular led to a door that had obviously been welded shut some time ago. O’Fallon looked around at where they were. It was anything but defensible, however it did provide some shelter against the propeller-driven winds. His attention turned to their small group of survivors. Each of them bore their own assortment of cuts, scrapes and bruises from their fall. From the look on their faces, they all felt every injury with a sharp intensity. Only Arcady seemed unaffected, though that was likely because he could fly. O’Fallon knelt among the small group.
“Anythin’ be broken?” O’Fallon asked lightly.
“Fortunately, that is one thing that seems to have gone in our favor.” Thorias replied with his usual dry wit. “No breaks or serious injuries that I could tell.”
“A bounty of cuts and scrapes, though,” Carlos said sourly from where he sat.
“And,” Thorias said with a scowl, “we’ve lost the good Dr. Von Patterson. If nothing else, I must find him and get him to the Griffin before his condition worsens.”
“Since we are speaking of locations, would anyone happen to know our location?” Arcady, who had taken flight, hovered in the alcove to try and avoid the worst of the wind. Since he was so much smaller than the others, the wind was more troublesome. “I’d fly out and look but the winds make it difficult for me to circumnavigate the area.”
“Sittin’ below the station.” Moira shrugged. “Just where? Yer guess be as good as mine.”
O’Fallon looked up and around again at where the group sat. “We be na far from the secondary boilers. The wee doors along here should be takin’ a body right past any of ’em. Most got more ta be doin’ than stretchin’ their legs down here. Unless they be down ta fix somethin’. If’n Ah na miss me guess, there should be a brass plate on that door here. It’ll state ‘Sub-boiler’ and then some wee number after a fashion.”
Curious, Thorias stood and stepped over to the rusted door. It took the doctor a moment to locate it, but eventually he did find a small brass placard on which was the faint engraving of ‘Sub-Boiler No. 9’. Thorias turned around to face the group and gestured to the plate with an impressed look.
A ghostly smile crossed Thorias’ face. “Well, that’s quite smashing. How did you know that so precisely?”
O’Fallon shrugged. “See, Ah be born Scottish, even though me Father be Irish. When ah be a wee lad, we be living in Dublin. One night me Father be taken for ‘treasonous acts’ – which just be a fancy term for speakin’ about Irish independence. That same day me Mother be takin’ meself, me sis and herself back ta Scotland ta me Uncle Robert and me Mother’s people. Me uncle be an engineer and shipwright. Helped be designin’ these, he did.” The Scottish quartermaster smiled slightly while he gazed around at the weather-worn walls and metal catwalk. “Took me on more’n one trip through one. Ah be gettin’ ta know some o’ the insides.”
Moira smiled. “Then all we need ta do is take one o’ these doors, get off this catwalk and go lookin’ for anyone else and the Griffin. Unless we can find parts ta fix the opti-telegraphic.”
O’Fallon slowly stood. Instinctively, he reached down for his pistol and, to his complete surprise, found it still in his holster. He must have managed to replace it there just before the floor fell out from underneath him earlier. “Well, if we be movin’ in ta find if anyone else be makin’ it out, we’ll need ta take one o’ these doors. They’ll be leadin’ to a ladder. Climb that, we’ll be back up near where anyone else might have found a place to hide.”
Carlos stood as well. He winced at obvious aches and bruises. “Then Seõor, what do we wait for? Let us find an open door.”
It was a long, slow twenty minute walk before they could locate another door off the catwalk. O’Fallon gave it an experimental pull. The door moved slightly on its hinges with a rough scraping sound. O’Fallon turned back to the others.
“This one be unlocked.” O’Fallon pulled on the handle and the door opened obediently. Behind it stood a man, unlike the previous time, this one was not dressed in ragged, bloodstained clothes. His were a dark brown shirt and trousers, a bit worn but well kept. The man lunged for the surprised O’Fallon and planted a hard right fist across the Scotsman’s jaw. O’Fallon staggered back a step but managed to raise a hand to ward off a second blow.
“O’Fallon! Look out!” Thorias yelled too late and reached for the small pistol at his side. Moira’s guns were already in her hand but none of the rest had a clear shot. The two men were too close together.
O’Fallon shook the cobwebs from his mind and hammered a wicked uppercut in return that knocked his assailant up onto his toes. Winded, the stranger coughed hard and staggered backwards, a look of hatred on his face.
A pair of guns immediately boomed and smoke curled from Moira’s pistols. The stranger jerked sideways and slammed against the door frame before he slid heavily to the metal floor while blood oozed around a hole in his trouser leg.
O’Fallon wiped blood from the cut on his lip. “He na be a zombie. He be breathin’.” He leveled a hard gaze at the stranger, approaching him carefully. “Alright, who ye be?”
“Ya don’ need ta know.” The man said flatly as he slowly struggled to rise.
O’Fallon held out a hand to help the man. “Gettin’ shot in the leg be painful. Be a doctor with us. If ye willin’, let him be seein’ ta it. Then Ah’d like a talk.”
Wordlessly, the stranger took O’Fallon’s hand and pulled himself upright. Only once on his feet, he did not let go. “Ya don’ have Von Patterson, so what good are ya?” Immediately he half-stepped to put O’Fallon between himself and the others on the platform then stomped on the Scotsman’s left foot. O’Fallon snarled in pain, then gasped as the stranger hammered a strong uppercut into the quartermaster’s stomach. The stranger shoved O’Fallon backwards and threw himself through the doorway to grab onto the ladder there.
Off balance, O’Fallon stumbled backwards and fell towards the edge of the platform. He instinctively reached out for a handrail, remembering too late that there was not one between him and a fall into the propellers. Thorias dropped his pistol into its holster and lunged for the quartermaster. Carlos was a step behind Thorias. Moira, however, kept her ground and fired again. Only this time her shots grazed the figure that quickly retreated up the ladder. She swore violently.
As Carlos and Thorias hauled O’Fallon away from the edge of the walkway, the quartermaster waved them away. “After him! Best chance, he’ll be knowin’ what all’s going on! He’s bound ta be shoogly from bein’ shot, he canna run far!”