The fog curled like a living thing over the rooftop, running above the corrugated metal and gathering in spots like grayish, ghostly pools of water. Higher up it snaked itself around lightning rods and the nest of antenna that rose towards the gray, stormy skies. Among the spectral blanket stretched along the roof, five individuals stirred a path towards the small shed that sat against the station’s antennas. As they came closer, Krumer pulled away from the others and emerged from the fog at the corner of the small shed. He stepped up against the open doorway, gun in hand. Quietly, the orc waited and listened. There was not a single sound, save for that of his own heartbeat. He rechecked his grip, then nimbly jumped into the doorway, pistol leveled in front of him, pointed into the darkness.
Nothing moved. The shed was empty. Krumer peered around carefully. The light was poor in the shed and even though his own vision was not all that hampered by darkness, he knew the others would need a light with which to see. Besides, it would make his work on the antenna go that much faster. He felt around just inside the door frame. From his own experience, anyone who used a maintenance shed regularly would place a candle, oil or even a clockwork-wound lantern at hand just inside the doorway. He smiled when his fingers touched the chilled metal case of an old locomotive lantern. Krumer lifted it by the handle and pulled it over to him. He was rewarded with the welcome sounds of oil as it sloshed about in the oil pan. Turning back the way he came, he whistled a low tune, twice in succession – it was a signal that it was safe enough for them to join him – then knelt down with the lantern and went to work using flint and steel to attempt to set the oil-soaked wick ablaze.
The wick caught after the third try and sparked into a feeble amber flame. Krumer shut the lantern window and motioned toward the other mist-shrouded figures to join him. Adonia, followed by Tiberius and his temporary patient, the dazed Dr. Von Patterson, solemnly walked up to the shed. Behind them, Tiberius’ mountain lion companion padded along quietly. Once they reached the door, Krumer was already inside with the lantern held high above him.
“Quite the mess,” Krumer commented with a light sigh.
All around him, the few shelves and boxes which occupied the shed were in a state of disarray. What had been on the shelves was anyone’s guess. Now only an assortment of empty glass jars, metal strips of varying lengths, an open box of metal clips, and two dust-covered gear boxes for a clockwork generator sat alone atop them. To his right sat a combination clockwork and steam-powered generator draped in a tarp, long since disconnected from anything useful. Behind that, a two foot tall metal door with a broken lock sat open a few inches. Through that partial opening, Krumer could see the wires, connectors and gears of the main antenna array. The orc walked over to the generators, pulled off the tarp, and tossed it aside. His eyes wandered the machinery a moment before he opened the metal door and frowned.
Adonia stepped inside the shed and looked around for herself. “It looks as if someone has been here before us. Can we send out a message?”
Krumer shook his head. “No, not yet. Several of these antennae are no longer working. Knife switches missing, jumper connections are gone from others.” He pointed to several severed connections in the now open junction box that were next to an old telegraph machine. “Though, a little rewiring and I should be able to get one hooked up for us and use that telegraph to contact the Griffin.”
Adonia walked over to get a better look at what had so absorbed Krumer’s attention. “Where will you get the extra wires?”
The orc gazed at the exposed wiring, then reached in, grabbed a handful of wires and yanked. With a sharp pop, the bundle came away from their housing and dangled loose in his hand. “Why, from here,” he said with a wry grin. “I can’t fix all of them, but with the parts from the disconnected ones I can coax one into working.”
Adonia shook her head with a smile at Krumer’s wry humor. Behind her, Tiberius led Dr. Von Patterson inside and over to a quiet corner of the room. He quickly gathered up the tarp which Krumer had tossed aside to fashion a makeshift – if not rough – cushion for his patient. The gray mountain lion padded in and sat next to the doorway. Its yellow eyes gazed out into the fog.
Krumer set down the bundle of wires he had ripped out of the machinery a moment ago and proceeded to use his knife to unscrew a panel on the side of the generator. That eventually popped open, allowing him to dig around inside for the backup battery he suspected might still be there. Adonia watched him carefully.
“Before you call him,” Adonia said carefully, “I’ve not asked, how is Anthony … really?”
Krumer paused to give Adonia a glance, then returned to work. “That would depend on the comparison. Compared to when you both last met? Different would be a good word.” The orc carefully lifted the eight inch tall glass jar of a voltaic cell battery from the generator and set it on the floor next to the open panel. “He lost his career in the Royal Navy, Adonia. He wasn’t exactly overjoyed. It was only by the good humor of the Admiral that he wasn’t discharged in total disgrace. Not that he ever spoke of it to anyone, and not for lack of trying on mine or Thorias or O’Fallon’s part. The most he would explain as to how that concluded was ‘What is done is done’.”
Adonia slowly stood up straight and folded her arms over her chest. She sighed, a touch of exasperation in her voice. “That does sound like him.”
The orc wound the wires tight to the metal clips, then carefully attached the crude assembly to the voltaic cell. Krumer searched around him until he located a pair of old, forgotten, thick leather gloves on one of the shelves. He tugged the gloves on slowly while he gazed at Adonia. “So just what did happen?”
Adonia gave Krumer a sidelong look, then gazed over to where Tiberius tended to the more animated and mumbling Dr. Von Patterson. She gave Krumer a quick, weak smile and turned her gaze towards the fog. “It’s all so hush-hush, but now … given where we are, I suppose it doesn’t matter so much. There wasn’t some ancient statue of Osiris from Egypt, though I must admit the statue we used was quite well-carved, it was the treaty inside that was more valuable. That was a treaty between the Confederate States of America and England.”
That made Krumer pause. “The Confederates upheld slavery.” He said after a moment of surprise. “Her Majesty would never have gone along with any government that upheld that horrid practice.”
Adonia smiled faintly and continued with her explanation. “It held conditions. On their wholesale emancipation of slavery, England would supply them with needed trade goods. Supplies that would enable them to continue their fight.”
“But England never sent aid, that I had heard of.” Krumer said thoughtfully.
“True, that was because Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation proclamation and steam automatons replaced the need for slaves. The current, hostile cease-fire came shortly after their new ironclads fought to a stalemate on both land and sea. Adonia explained. “However, it was Anthony’s own curiosity that was his undoing. He worked out what I carried and that if the news had come to light, it would have shone a damaging light on Her Majesty. The United States sought to expose the nature of the treaty in full and prevent me from delivering it. So, on his own, he concocted one of his devilishly rash plans. A long evening with me while at port in Paris and away from his post allowed the unguarded, and by that time fake, statue to be destroyed. It did allow me to complete what I was to do … yet …”
“Yet, someone would have to suffer the blame for the loss of the supposed ancient relic to complete the ruse.” Krumer finished for her.
She nodded solemnly. “Yes. It did not have to turn out that way, but he had set his idea into motion before he mentioned anything. By the time he did, it was too late for me to do anything other than to try and help his insane plan succeed. He likely saved England from being drawn into that American civil war and saved countless lives, not that anyone would ever know. Most simply know that Captain Anthony Hunter shirked his duty to spend the evening with a young woman in Paris.”
Krumer shook his head slightly in astonishment. “I understand why he keeps this to himself. If I did not know him as well as I do, I wouldn’t believe you.”
“It is what happened.” Adonia replied.
Krumer was silent for a long time before he walked over to the battery. He then knelt and carefully attached the second set of clips to a metal rod. The rod he tapped to a corner of an existing antenna frame. For an instant, a harsh pop of electricity jumped between the carbon rod and its frame.
“However, you knew,” Krumer said flatly. “And those you worked for knew. Something could have been tried.”
Adonia shot a fierce look at the orc. Krumer had seen such anger in Adonia’s eyes only rarely. He had touched a nerve. A raw, old one at that. Despite the rage that flared in her yellow eyes like two orbs of white-hot fire, he stood his ground. After a moment she looked away again, though the orc could tell by her posture she was still angry.
“I did. I tried everything I knew to convince your British government that he didn’t need to suffer this way.” She said through clenched teeth. “They called it merely doing one’s duty for the Crown.”
Across the room, Tiberius cleared his throat. “I don’t mean to interrupt, however, Tacita sees something moving in the fog. Several in fact if I judge correctly and they are headed our way.”
Krumer paused long enough to look over his shoulder. The name was unfamiliar, but he assumed Tiberius meant his lion. Just as suspected, while Tacita was still seated in the same place as before, the lion’s posture was different. Now the head was lowered, the ears turned outward and the whiskers drawn in flat against its face. The image of a vulture flashed through the orc’s mind for a moment.
Adonia wiped a stray tear from her left eye while she looked over out the door. “That would mean they’ve found our trail. We need to hurry, Krumer.”
The orc nodded and resumed his work. Steadily he tied in wires and lifted the clips using the heavy leather gloves. Electrical sparks flew from the metal rod while he welded the small sections of tubing into place. Then he attached most of the wires from the generator directly to into the antenna itself, with only a few left loose. Those loose wires, he used to connect the antenna and a worn and rusted telegraph machine.
“Almost done.” Krumer said while he attached the last wire. “There.”
With a twist, Krumer jerked the turn crank on the generator several times. The motion heated the elements in the small boiler, which in turn lightened the load on the generator for the moment. At first, nothing happened except the loud churn of steam pistons. Suddenly, the telegraph popped to life and began to rapidly tap out a pattern.
“Who is it?” Adonia asked curiously.
Krumer grinned at the Charybdian, “It’s the Brass Griffin. They’re asking if we’re out there.”
Quickly the orc tapped out a return message. This was almost immediately answered by a long reply. Krumer frowned.
“What did they say?” Adonia asked with a worried look on her face.
“I warned them about zombies and asked for help.” The orc sighed heavily. “They say the warning was appreciated but a bit late. They also say they’ll have no trouble coming over and lowering a rope ladder to us, but that’s once they get to us.”
“Did they happen to mention when?” Adonia asked in growing concern.
“Half-hour at most, roughly put. They say to stay where we are so they can find us again.” The orc replied.
Immediately, from across the room, Dr. Von Patterson jerked in pain, then doubled over while he lay on his side. Only this time, there was no seizure. Dr. Von Patterson reacted as if he had been punched. A growl from the gray mist lion drew the young man’s attention momentarily from his patient.
“Do you still entertain the theory about the zombies being attracted to Dr. Von Patterson in some way?” Tiberius asked nervously.
“Yes, we do.” Krumer answered quickly for both himself and Adonia. “Why?”
“Because, I believe your theory is correct.” Tiberius pointed out into the gloom at two figures that approached. Then, the two figures resolved into three. Three became six. All of them shuffled quickly along the rooftop towards the small group in the maintenance shed.
“This will be a long half-hour.” Krumer said, yanking off his gloves and checking to see if his pistols were loaded.