Moira squatted down on her heels in the shadow of the dark metal doorway. The steady sound of steam pistons echoed off the walls and poured out into the corridor. She peeked around the frame into the boiler room. Inside the two men in leather aprons were busy adjusting the thick leather harness and jade crystal shard on another zombie. Near the two men, a quartet of zombies milled about randomly. Moira sighed quietly and leaned back out of sight. She launched a stern gaze across the open space of the doorway at a bruised, bloody and grime-covered Conrad O’Fallon.
“Ya must be outta yer mind,” She hissed at him quietly. On impulse, she peeked around the corner to soothe her nerves that no one within the boiler room heard her. No one had. Moira shot O’Fallon another look. “Stand up in the doorway, let them see ya, then run? That’s yer plan? Why not just shoot ’em then get the statue?”
O’Fallon, who had been peering into the room as well, sat back on his heels and gave Moira a sour look before he replied in a rough whisper. “Ah be sayin’ nothin’ of the kind. Ye be oversimplifyin’ me idea.”
Arcady, who clung to Moira’s shoulder, looked first at Moira then at O’Fallon with his unbroken eye. “We do not have time to argue like this.”
Thorias put a hand on O’Fallon’s arm. “I concur. Our luck is thin enough now. Moira, given our lack of resources, the plan is as sound as it will be. We have a limited supply of ammunition and have yet to find more. O’Fallon and I masquerade as if we are eavesdropping … albeit badly … which will draw attention. Once they pursue us, you and Arcady make off with the statue. As O’Fallon indicated, given this entire corridor is a loop, we merely need to meet up at the ladder and ascend to the station surface to ‘make our break for it’ as he put it.”
Moira let out a slow sigh. “All right. I wouldna have missed anyway. Just neither of ya be gettin’ caught, understand me?”
O’Fallon smirked. “Aye, Muther.”
Moira rolled her eyes and withdrew down the corridor a few paces until the black shadows enveloped her like a protective cloak. Once she was out of sight, O’Fallon glanced back at Thorias before standing up slowly. The heat from the fight with Carlos had begun to fade and the Scotsman started to feel every new ache he had acquired over the past few hours. He winced. Thorias noticed O’Fallon’s expression and watched him carefully.
“Moira is right, you know. You’ve taken quite a beating. Are you sure you’re up for this?” The doctor asked quietly.
O’Fallon nodded. “Ah have ta be. Na much choice.”
Thorias sighed. “First chance, you Sirrah are to be confined to your hammock. It’s likely to be the only safe place for you to rest.”
The quartermaster snorted a quiet laugh. “Fair enough. Be ye ready?”
“Ready,” Thorias replied.
Quietly, the pair eased closer to the doorway. At the door frame’s edge, O’Fallon stopped with Thorias beside him. Despite how overly simplistic the plan seemed, the Scotsman knew it was more sensitive than Moira made it out to be. If they just appeared in the doorway, even an obtuse person would suspect something. The two of them had to give the appearance of truly eavesdropping, which was not difficult. The harder part would be to make a believable ‘mistake’ to get themselves noticed. O’Fallon looked inside the noisy room again. He ignored the zombies and their creators, instead letting his eyes wander over boxes, tables, old wood and coal bins that all sat within a few paces of their door. Finally, he smiled and glanced back to Thorias.
“Ah got it. This way.” The quartermaster said.
O’Fallon and Tiberius eased into the room. The Scotsman led his companion over to a small stack of boxes only four feet high. Once crouched down behind them, O’Fallon leaned over to Tiberius.
“Get ready ta run.” Then the Scotsman leaned on the dilapidated crate.
Just as he thought, the wood groaned in protest. An agonizing sound that cut across the noisy clanks and hisses that otherwise filled the room. One of the pair of men near the table – the slightly taller, thinner one with the green tinted goggles on his face – spun around immediately.
“It’s the newcomers from the blacksmith’s shop! They’ll know where Von Patterson is! Get them!” He shouted.
Four zombies immediately launched into a disturbing half-run at Thorias and O’Fallon. Behind them, one of the two aproned men snatched up a bag and withdrew a pair of unusually squat brass and wood pistols. They were as long in the barrel as any Navy Colt, but lacked a cylinder. Instead there was a strange box in its place that held a small side door. Each took a pistol and charged after the zombies.
Thorias and O’Fallon jumped up, bolting for the door. They burst through and raced down the corridor a few paces. O’Fallon paused in his flight to take deep gulps of air. He was only half-pretending to be winded.
“How did they know we were at the blacksmith’s shop?” Thorias asked with a glance back the way they came.
O’Fallon took a deep breath. “Na if Ah know. If we be layin’ hands on one we can be askin’ him.” The quartermaster looked back in time to see four zombies half-run through the hall, followed by their two creators. “Time ta go!”
O’Fallon took off at a run, but at last his wounds and fatigue took their toll. With a misstep, he pitched headlong against the wall, then crashed to the floor. Thorias skid to a stop, crouched down and grabbed the quartermaster by his undamaged shoulder to haul him back to his feet. Behind them, one of the two men turned a small wind-key, raised his pistol and fired. The sound of a mainspring suddenly being released echoed in the dark corridor, followed by a rush of air. In the space above the two Brass Griffin crewmen, a half dozen steel needles tore through and ricocheted off the metal walls. O’Fallon and Thorias ducked. O’Fallon was lucky, Thorias was not. The Brass Griffin‘s elven doctor hissed as one of the needles slammed into his right side. Blood immediately welled up and stained his shirt.
Despite the shooting pains in his ribs, Thorias winced and hauled O’Fallon to his feet. “Ah, a needle-firing pistol. How … novel. What will they think of next?” The doctor quipped in a vague attempt to maintain his composure.
The pair half-stumbled, half-raced around the corridor until they felt they were approximately half way around the entire loop. Thorias stopped to lean against the wall while O’Fallon drank in the humid, stale air.
“Smashing plan.” Thorias said wryly. “Having a lovely time of it, I must say. You know, next time, lets entertain the thought of just shooting them.”
“Ye didna think they would be unarmed, did ye?” O’Fallon asked between gulps of air.
Thorias reached down to feel the needle that protruded out of his ribcage on his side. He hissed in pain, “cracked a vertebrochondral rib.” The doctor sighed painfully, then looked over at O’Fallon. “I thought it a likely chance. But … now that you bring it up, I suppose it was quite foolish.”
O’Fallon looked back down the way they had come – something was wrong. Something new beyond his continuous list of what had already transpired. Then it dawned on him. No footsteps. He glanced over to Thorias.
“We na be that fast. Where’d they be gettin’ ta?” He asked.
Thorias looked over at O’Fallon and was glancing down both directions of the corridor when understanding dawned upon him. “You’re right. They should be shambling along by now.” He looked back to O’Fallon. “Moira?”
They exchanged a glance. In his mind’s eye, O’Fallon imagined a nightmare of Moira being trapped in the boiler room. He could see by the look on Thorias’ face, the doctor shared the same concern. Without a word, the pair turned and raced back the way they had come as fast as they were able to manage.
Past the previous corner, their pace ground to an abrupt halt. There, in the hallway, Moira was in the process of lashing the man with the green tinted goggles to his companion using some old rope. Each man sat with his eyes rolled back and the sign of a growing lump on his head. Beside her in the hallway sat the jade statue. In front of her the four zombies had dropped to the floor where they had last stood. As Moira looked up suddenly at the approaching noise, her right hand leaped to her revolver. When she realized it was Thorias and O’Fallon, she relaxed.
“Moira, what is all this?” Thorias said incredulously while he took in the scene.
The young woman tied the last knot and grinned at her shipmates. “Found a better use fer that statue than what they be usin’ it for.” She scooped up the jade idol and brandished it like a club in demonstration. “Had it in me hands at the time, so I went for that instead of shootin’ them. Considerin’ we need ta not be wastin’ bullets, like ya said.”
Thorias shook his head slowly. O’Fallon winced while he imagined Moira actually using her makeshift weapon on the unsuspecting, and unprotected, victims. It never did pay to be on Moira’s bad side. The Scotsman slowly walked over while Thorias tried to kneel down next to one of the zombies. He was only part way before the pain of the needle in his side nearly caused him to pass out.
“I’ve got to get this out.” He croaked quietly to himself. Slowly, he tore strips from the hem of his own shirt as a makeshift bandage. O’Fallon noticed the doctor’s preparations and instinctively looked around for something to dull the pain. There was nothing useful.
“Thought I be seein’ a box of bandages in the boiler room,” Moira said. “Ran past one when we be pinchin’ the statue. Not far from that big table they were usin’.”
Thorias leaned back against the wall. “Any cloth would do for what I need.”
Moira nodded. “Back soon. I be grabbin’ what all I can find.”
A few minutes later, Moira returned with a small box of bandages. O’Fallon stood next to the doctor with a concerned look on his face.
“Ye be sure and certain?” O’Fallon asked Thorias carefully. “Could be just pullin’ it loose and cauterizin’ it.”
“Yes, I’m certain it has to come out, and I’d prefer to not have part of me cooked like a roast. At the least I believe the needle nicked a rib, if I’m fortunate, that is.” Thorias explained. “In either case, it needs to come out for a long list of reasons. Now, we’ll need to do this carefully. Moira, be ready to bandage once the needle is free. O’Fallon, grab onto the exposed end …”
O’Fallon did so and then abruptly pulled. With a faint wet sucking sound, the needle came free of the doctor’s ribs. Thorias stiffened, eyes wide and mouth open in shock. O’Fallon quickly pulled the needle away, to allow Moira a chance to clean the blood away from the small wound. Once that was done, she quickly wrapped the cloth around his mid-section with a thin, curved sheet of metal as a brace.
“… and slowly pull it free.” Thorias croaked out in conclusion when the waves of sharp pain from the abrupt treatment had subsided.
O’Fallon and Moira exchanged a look. The quartermaster found his voice first. “Oh, well ye na said slow. Though quick be workin’ as well in a pinch, eh?”
Thorias slowly closed his eyes and sighed. “Yes, I suppose you could say that. Personally, I think I’ll try and avoid doing that again.”
O’Fallon clapped the doctor on the arm and grinned at him. “Ye be gettin’ na argument from me.”
The doctor nodded, a thin smile on his ashen face. “Anything useful on any of these here?”
Moira turned and walked back over towards her two captives, “Only be one way ta know.” Once she had collected the two needle pistols, she knelt and began to rummage through their pockets. O’Fallon walked over to join her a moment later.
At the wall, Thorias summoned the strength to push off and kneel slowly next to the closest zombie. Gently, he reached out and ran his hands along the leather and brass harness the zombie wore, examining it as much by touch as by sight.
Moira picked up a worn leather journal to hand to O’Fallon. “The one with the green goggles had a fondness ta write. Probably more’n he should.”
Arcady adjusted his grip on Moira’s shirt. “It’s quite the read. We skimmed only a few pages. He details the process of making these creatures. It’s quite inventive.”
O’Fallon flipped open the journal a few pages then gazed at Arcady with a frown.
The clockwork insect rattled a nervous laugh. “Ah, well, inventive despite the rather disgusting results.”
“Be there anythin’ more about what all they’ll be usin’ them for? Takin’ over the world or some such?” O’Fallon asked curiously.
“Not so far, but from what little we skimmed, there are multiple stages. Creating zombies with the bits of jade is stage one.” Arcady explained. “A proof of concept as it were. He made some notes about a stage two involving some sort of business venture.”
O’Fallon nodded in reply while he skimmed over a few pages for himself. He quickly located where the scientist had made some notations about this ‘phase two’ Arcady had just mentioned. While the Scotsman read, his eyes grew hard and he frowned again. Carlos had been wrong, which O’Fallon was not too surprised about. After all, Carlos was the hired help, why explain anything to him? He ran a finger along the pages while he read carefully.
“Accordin’ ta this, they be after makin’ a renewable resource for soldiers and bodyguards. He na be certain where they’ll be shipped ta, but he had been overhearin’ a few American customers with some serious interest.” O’Fallon paraphrased.
Thorias carefully pried loose the centerpiece of the harness. It was a small wired contraption attached to a jar in which a jade shard floated in some fluid. “Interesting, the fluid seems almost viscous.” He muttered to himself. The doctor turned the jar over in his hands slowly while he examined it. Then, he stood, walked down a pace towards the open door and held up the jar to the orange light spilling out into the corridor for a better look. “The Americans have not settled their own very bloody conflict, they’ve only resolved to a cease fire while they lick their own wounds. Something like this, with all the hundred thousand or more lives that have been lost there, would reopen that war and turn into something even more ghastly.”
“There be more.” O’Fallon said and turned a page in the journal. “They plan ta be quietly offerin’ out bodyguards ta the ‘landed gentry’. Somehow they’ll be usin’ the zombies ta be spyin’ on them for valuables, information, bugger all what they can get.”
Arcady looked over at the various zombies that lay idle on the ground around them. “Spy? I wonder how. A type of telegraph attached to them?”
O’Fallon turned two more pages. “It na be sayin’. Least na that Ah can be readin.'”
Moira gazed down at her two captives, then knelt and removed the green tinted goggles from the one scientist’s head. She stood and turned them over in her hands. Aside from the lenses, which were obviously a thin jade, they were not that remarkable as a pair of goggles. The eyepieces were brass fittings, the strap a well-oiled saddle leather fitted to the main section of the goggles by brass rivets. She did, however, locate a small dial on the side of the right lens positioned next to a key with a small box no larger than her thumb. Carefully, she lifted the goggles to her eyes and looked through.
The moment the goggles were on her face, a ticking sound emerged from the small box and three of the zombies on the floor stirred. The fourth remained where it lay, but the jar that Thorias held suddenly crackled with static. Once on their feet, the three zombies turned to face Moira but made no move to walk towards her. O’Fallon looked around in alarm, then over at Moira, who staggered for a moment as if dizzy.
“Have ye gone daft?” He reached for the goggles, but she avoided his hand.
“Na now, just wait.” Moira said with a hint of exasperation in her voice. “This be how they do it.”
Thorias lowered the jar with the sparking fluid inside and looked over at her. “What?”
Moira turned her head slowly, as if she was seeing the corridor for the first time. “I can be seein’ through the zombie’s eyes. At least these here. They be all connected … somehow.” She reached up to turn the dial on the goggles.
“I’m not certain it’s wise to tinker with those.” Thorias said with a air of concern in his voice. “We don’t know what using them will do to the wearer.”
The dial on the goggles clicked when Moira turned it and she jumped. “They’re all hooked together, all of them. It be like different signals comin’ through an opti-telegraphic. I can be pickin’ controls that I can see on the glass for different things for them ta do.”
O’Fallon closed the journal and gazed at Moira. “All? Can ye be doin’ more than watchin’? Like tell ’em ta stand down?”
Moira shrugged and fiddled with the knob again. “Wait … I see … it be them! They’re alive!”
“Who?” Thorias asked. “Krumer, Adonia and the rest? Where are they?”
“They be on the roof a buildin’ or so away!” Moira exclaimed. “There a lot a zombies runnin’ about up there too. I can’t get them ta obey.”
O’Fallon shoved the journal into a shirt pocket. “If ye canna control them like these here, we’d best be gettin’ there quick before they be runnin’ outta luck.”