Episode 16( No Comments! )

Scribed by: CB Ash in Dead Air

O’Fallon shoved open the metal door to the right and rushed inside the dark room beyond. He looked around and winced at the throbbing pain from his partially dislocated right shoulder. The room was almost perfectly square, formed from soot-stained metal sheets that were securely riveted to their frame. O’Fallon saw nothing in the room save for a couple of small crates, left behind by someone who had obviously intended to return for them at a later time, but had never come back for them. The quartermaster scanned the doors to the right and left for any sign of motion, any sign of tracks that would indicate someone passed through here. There were none.

Moira and Carlos rushed into the room behind O’Fallon, both not quite out of breath. 

“Did ya find anythin’?” Moira asked, taking a deep gulp of air.

O’Fallon shook his head. “Na a thing. Bugger had ta be runnin’ this way. Na other way ta be goin’.”

Thorias stepped into the room with Arcady perched on his shoulder. “That’s encouraging news. Do we know where we are going? Or, point in fact, where we are?”

O’Fallon rubbed his sore shoulder as he looked up at a pair of pipes that crossed the ceiling. They spanned the distance between the door he had arrived through and the wall opposite. In the gloom, his eyes made out a small plate riveted to one of the pipes. It read, ‘water inlet’. He nodded silently while he placed their location in his mind.

“If’n Ah na miss me guess, we be near the main boiler rooms of the station’s steam engines.” The quartermaster explained. He gestured to where the pipes vanished through a small set of holes in the wall, flush against the ceiling. “That be the water inlets. From there it be headin’ inta the boilers. They’ll be na far from us. Might even be on the other side o’ this wall.”

Carlos looked surprised. “So the man we are chasing could be there? He might hear us!”

O’Fallon shook his head. “Ah be doubtin’ that. Walls here be thick enough ta shut down any explosion from a boiler. They be more’n thick enough ta stop most sounds we could be makin’.”

Moira gave O’Fallon an impatient look. “Since we’ve gone and lost the one we’re chasin’, which way should we be headin’ now?”

The quartermaster considered it a moment. “The boiler rooms all be connected. Won’t be matterin’ much either way. We’ll just need ta be careful.” He looked at the door on his right. For some reason, a long lost memory nagged at the back of his mind. He just could not remember why. “This way.”

Past the door, the hallway stretched out in front of them and curved gently to the left, like the curve of a large wheel. At regular intervals on their right and left stood steam pipes and more water inlets. Each one pushed into the hallway, crossed at the ceiling and headed inward to a central room. The lighting was poor due to equipment failure from the earlier explosion. Only the occasional lantern was illuminated, appearing every forty feet along the hallway. Within the first sixty feet, two doors on the right side of the hallway were found, both storage closets. No one spoke during the long, careful walk until, finally, they located a lone door on the left side of the hallway as opposed to the right.

Unlike the other doors, this one stood open. An angry rust-orange glow emanated from the doorway and spilled out into the hallway onto the floor in a ruddy puddle of light. O’Fallon crouched at the edge of the open door and cautiously peered inside. The room, large enough to accommodate two horses and a full carriage, was dominated by four dual-furnaced Marine boilers. Each boiler was the size of a small locomotive and filled the section of the room it occupied. On the front of each boiler, not far above the floor, was a cast iron door with brass fittings secured with a heavy latch. Each door was set to open towards the middle of the room. Pipes criss-crossed the ceiling and attached to the side of each boiler where they deposited their water into the large cylindrical metal tanks to be superheated by the heat from the fireboxes. 

The heat from four such boilers was intense. O’Fallon could feel it like an invisible curtain that brushed his face while he peeked in. That meant the fires were burning at the usual intensity for a station of this size. Stray steam drifted around the room in hazy clouds and gently enveloped the room’s unusual occupants like a faint gauze shroud.

In the middle of the room, surrounded by coal bins and Tesla coils in cedar barrel housings, a dark wooden table stood. The table was stained with a smeared coat of coal dust. A darker stain of blood ran dark along the edges of the table due to the dead body that lay on top of it. Beside the table two men, dressed in dark cotton clothes and leather aprons, worked feverishly on the body. What they were doing, O’Fallon could not even imagine. On the floor were stacked two more bodies, both as dead as the one on the table. Next to all this, a Tesla barrel sat with a greenish statue on top of it. Wires led from the barrel’s exposed contacts to a large knife switch, and from there the wires split. One strand ran to the greenish drake statue, the other to a set of large, dull gray metal clamps with jagged teeth. O’Fallon’s imagination ran wild as he desperately hoped all his conclusions were wrong. 

Moira leaned close to whisper. “What do ya see?”

O’Fallon glanced back over his shoulder at Moira. “Ah nightmare, near as Ah can be tellin’. They’ve got a body up on some table. Ah canna tell any more’n that. The statue be there, also.”

Thorias squatted down and whispered. “You saw it then?”

O’Fallon nodded. “Ah did. It be right up next ta them.”

Suddenly a loud crackling pop erupted from the room. Several bright flashes shone out from the doorway in time with each pop. O’Fallon leaned back once more and peeked inside. At the table, wild arcs of electricity flashed out in a crazed spiderweb of patterns to score dark, black marks on the boilers, walls, pipes and ceiling. The two men had donned thick black gloves and stepped to either side of the body to keep a firm grip on it. The saw-toothed clips had been attached onto each shoulder of the corpse. Raw, violent electricity danced and crackled along the metal clips and across the body.

The two men held this position a moment, then withdrew the clips once both body and statue glowed with the same mysterious green haze. Quickly, the man closest to the statue reached down into a large bag on the floor. He withdrew a strange leather harness connected by brass rivets and plates and bolted it directly to the dead body. Once he was satisfied the device was secure, he reached over and gathered up a set of jeweler’s tools from next to the statue. With two sharp taps he chiseled off a section of the fiercely glowing jade. He held the crude chip of gemstone up to gaze at it in the hellish orange light before placing it into a small glass container. The container was then inserted into a plate on the harness that sat just below the center of the dead body’s chest. Once the container was in place and sealed, the man retrieved a pair of goggles whose lenses were fashioned with a similar milky green gem and strapped them to his head. 

“There is a signal.” Arcady said as quietly as his voice box could allow. Fortunately, when compared to the chaos of noise from within the boiler room, it was akin to a whisper. “Inside the room, I’m receiving a signal, but it makes no sense.” The clockwork dragonfly turned his head slightly in confusion then looked to each of the others next to him. “You would call it ‘gibberish’.”

O’Fallon, whose eyes never left the horrific scene, shook his head slowly, his mouth in a firm, flat line. In the room, the dead body twitched, then rose. Slowly, it swung to the side of the table and slid off to stand unsteadily on its own feet. The two men shouted and smiled in triumph, obviously on a job well done.

The quartermaster swallowed slowly to get control of his stomach, due to both the heat and the garish scene. “If’n Ah na had a strong stomach, Ah’d be speakin’ gibberish.” 

“What?” Moira asked impatiently, unable to see into the room.

O’Fallon turned a hollow-eyed gaze towards Moira. “Ye na wanna know. Just be leavin’ it at they be makin’ the zombies and they be usin’ the statue ta do it.”

Moira shot a frustrated look at O’Fallon. “Well, how be they doin’ it? We need ta know how so we can put an end ta it.”

Thorias smiled slightly. “My dear, that’s simple. To stop the infection, you remove its root cause.”

“The statue.” Moira replied.

“An so we need ta be findin’ a way ta nip it.” O’Fallon said. “The hallway we be standin’ in circles the collection a’ boiler rooms like a barrel hoop. Moira, be takin’ Thorias and Arcady with ye. Head back the way we came. Carlos and meself will be walkin’ along this way. There has ta be a way in there, or a way we can get them out without gettin’ ourselves caught. Last Ah ever wanna be doin’ is bein’ on that table.”

“It would be the last of my wishes as well,” Carlos said dryly. 

“What if they catch sight of us?” Moira asked while she stood.

“Yell ye head off. The rest o’ us will come runnin’. Then? Well, we can be headin’ ta somewhere we can make a stand.” O’Fallon replied.

“Luck, then.” Thorias offered.

“And ta ye also.” O’Fallon answered. 

O’Fallon watched while Moira slipped back down the hallway with Thorias and Arcady in tow. Once they were out of sight, the quartermaster turned to Carlos. 

“Lets be off with us.” The Scotsman said casually, though his attempt at bravado fell just short as he glanced into the boiler room one more time. The newborn zombie was slowly walking about the table as directed by the man with green-tinted goggles. O’Fallon shook his head slightly to shrug off the macabre scene and slipped quietly past the doorway. Carlos cast a brief glance in the doorway, but managed to keep pace with the quartermaster.

No more than twenty feet past the first doorway, the two men happened across another one. This lead into another boiler room, much like the first, but devoid of any dead bodies. Once O’Fallon was certain the room was empty, he turned towards Carlos to relay what he had found. 

Carlos was not beside him like he had thought, but instead behind him. O’Fallon’s instincts screamed a silent warning. The quartermaster started to raise his arm in defense, but instead a bright explosion of light blinded his eyes before everything spiraled abruptly into darkness. 

When O’Fallon came to, he found himself bound and seated on the floor of the second boiler room. He blinked slowly as awareness returned, then felt at the frayed hemp rope which bound his wrists securely together. The rope was tight enough that he could only just touch the knots with his fingertips at that uncomfortable angle. After a moment, he decided he needed a new escape plan.

In the dim light O’Fallon could make out the same rope lashed about his ankles just above his workman’s boots. Only then did his collection of aches and pains return to life, first among them his dislocated shoulder, now even more abused with his wrists tied behind his back. O’Fallon grimaced and looked around while he struggled for a way to loosen the knots.

He was in the second boiler room, alone. His pistol and the knife from his belt lay on a barrel no more than three feet away. From where he sat, it might have been three miles for all the good it did him. The quartermaster sighed. He knew what he had to do and he knew it would hurt. After a deep breath, he drew his knees up close and slowly began to work his hands underneath him. The pain in his shoulder was intense and burned with an ache that nearly made him cry out. Eventually he slid his wrists up in front of him, then took a series of deep breaths to swallow down the scream. When the sharp pains returned to a dull ache, O’Fallon reached up to his leather vest and drew out a small knife from a hidden sheath. In moments, he had sliced the rope away and had recovered his weapons. 

“Blast it, where be that Spaniard?” O’Fallon asked the boilers, none of which offered any reply.

Just then, a noise from the hallway caught the quartermaster’s attention. He sheathed his knives, grabbed his pistol, and rushed to the door. In the corridor, a few feet away, a figure lay slumped on its side. Next to it was a bag. O’Fallon ran over to find that the figure was Thorias! The quartermaster touched the side of the doctor’s neck.

“Ye’ve a pulse, so ye just be nappin’.” O’Fallon said. Just then he heard an angry buzz from the bag. The quartermaster smiled and snapped the ties loose. Arcady flew straight up and spun in a frantic circle.

“Where? Where is he?” Arcady said in a tumble of words almost too fast for O’Fallon to follow.

“Who’s doin’ all this?” The quartermaster asked in a harsh whisper.

“The Spaniard!” Arcady shot back in as angry a tone as O’Fallon had ever heard him, or any clockwork for that matter, utter.

Just then a woman’s shout of pain and the dull sound of a body falling to the metal floor reached them. O’Fallon held a finger to his lips for Arcady to be quiet. As Arcady could not be all that silent when he flew, he instead landed on O’Fallon’s shoulder. Carefully, they both eased towards the sound. 

Past the curve of the hallway, Carlos stood over Moira’s prone form. The lady blacksmith lay sprawled on the floor, the ugly knot forming on the side of her head matted with bits of hair and blood. O’Fallon held his breath a moment until Arcady said in his lowest, most quiet tone of voice.

“She is alive. I just can detect a heartbeat. Though what other ailments she might have, I would not know.” Arcady explained. 

O’Fallon exhaled slowly. Instead of easing any tension he might have had, O’Fallon felt the heat in his blood rise. The entire trip onto this station, he had been chased, punched, beaten on and harried every step of the way. At last, he had a focus for his frustration. The Scotsman stood slowly, a dark and ugly look on his soot-smeared face. He took two steps forward to stand in the corridor a few feet behind Carlos.

“Ah, señorita, I owe you so much pain for the time in prison you made me suffer. All from that fight in the tavern. We would have kidnapped the governor’s son and been away quietly. Oh, but no. You, sweet señorita, had to be involved. Well now I’ve new partners, and I cannot wait until they make you into one of their zombies. You will make a wonderful little muñeca. Perhaps they’ll let me watch, eh?” Carlos blew Moira’s unconscious form a kiss. “Perhaps, they’ll let me keep you when this is all over?” 

O’Fallon stepped farther out the darkness and closer to Carlos. Behind them, the dim orange glow of the boiler fires from the distantly open doorways cast O’Fallon and Arcady’s knife-like shadows across the Spaniard and his victim. The Scotsman raised his pistol and pulled back the hammer. 

“Na count on it.” The quartermaster said in a nasty tone. 

Carlos spun on his heel, his eyes wide in shock to find O’Fallon free and armed. O’Fallon did not waste time or further words on glib replies.  His anger burned hotter than any boiler in the station, and all of it was aimed at the devilish Spaniard in front of him. With a cold stare the quartermaster squeezed the trigger, only to have his pistol click on an empty chamber. O’Fallon looked down in shock, his pistol empty. In all the rush, he had forgotten to check!

Four feet away from the quartermaster, Carlos drew a wicked skinning knife from his belt with an insane smile.

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