Captain Hunter stepped out of the longskiff and back aboard the Brass Griffin. He trailed his eyes along the ship’s firm lines, then glanced up at the ship’s tight airbag overhead and sighed with the look of a man returned to his element. Removing his long coat, Hunter knocked a few traces of wet leaves and soot from it before slipping it back over his leather vest and white shirt. He looked out across the deck in front of him. A light mist struggled to enshroud him and his ship, though in the end it merely succeeded in a gentle embrace. The sound of running boots drew his attention. He turned to see Tonks trot up to him from the far side of the deck. The pilot came to a halt and handed a folded diagram to the captain. The drawing was a fairly accurate depiction of the outside of the relay station itself with some additional markings along the margins.
“Krumer sent word. They’re in need ta be picked up. Seems they’ve had a rough time of it. Those are the coordinates as best I could plot them based on his signal.” Tonks gestured towards the top of the parchment.
“That far up, eh? They’ll have some interesting stories, I’ll wager.” Hunter commented while he gazed at the diagram. “Good work on the map.”
“Thankee, Cap’n. Scoutin’ for Her Majesties’ Light Dragoons came in handy after all.” Tonks said with a smirk.
“Hm,” was the only reply Hunter gave, although the corners of his mouth turned up a bit towards a smile. “So did Krumer say anything else?”
“He mentioned something about zombies.” Tonks said hesitantly. “Wanted to warn us about them. I replied it was a bit late for that since we’d left port already.”
Hunter looked up from the diagram at Tonks. “Zombies? What?”
“Zombies, Cap’n.” Tonks repeated flatly. “I tried to use a ‘glass to look for any myself, but the cloud cover’s too thick between us and the station.”
Hunter gazed at the pilot a moment longer. “Hm, odd word for Krumer to use. Set course for the station once the longskiff is stowed. When they’re aboard, I’m sure he’ll elaborate on what he meant.”
“Aye,” Tonks replied with a nod. “Cap’n, the Fens … was there anything?” The pilot asked. “Ya been down there with the shore party for a good hour, now.”
“Nothing.” Hunter said curtly.
“Not even a campsite?” Tonks asked curiously.
“Oh, that we did find.” The captain said with a rough sigh. Two of the six crew that had accompanied Hunter to the High Fens finished unloading a set of backpacks. The remaining four worked to prepare the longskiff for storage. Hunter watched the activity for a moment, then turned on his heel and motioned for Tonks to accompany him, walking slowly towards the stern of the ship. Tonks quickly fell into step. Hunter continued his explanation.
“It was abandoned by the time we arrived. From the looks of things, they left in a great hurry. What we did find, we packed away and brought back.” Hunter reached into his coat and withdrew a weathered piece of folded oilskin. “This was something I found of particular interest.” Hunter handed the waterproof canvas to the pilot.
Tonks unfolded it slowly to reveal the modest portion of a map. It was a ten inch section that had been hastily torn from a much larger map. The oilskin was by no means new, having seen its share of weather and abuse. Likewise, the lettering was also not of a recent vintage, being an older script. Tonks turned the map over in his hands.
“I’m no expert, Cap’n, but it looks like Latin ta me.” The pilot said, turning the map over again. “Some sort a’ relic?”
Hunter shook his head. “Latin, quite. But the age? Look again. That map cannot be that old.”
Tonks gazed at the map again, this time he ignored the lettering. “That’s Belgium, and more’n a few local towns drawn here and a couple a’ airship routes, too. Cap’n, that doesn’t make sense. Why’d anyone bother with Latin, save a doctor, that is?” The pilot started to hand the oilskin map back to Hunter, who refused it.
“You keep that. The few bags, ration tins and other items we recovered all bore markings in the same language. I know what it all suggests, but I, for one, am not ready to believe it.” Hunter explained. “Once we recover Krumer and our people, they’ll have more to add to this puzzle.”
Suddenly, a young crewman erupted out of the ante-room that connected the officer’s quarters. All of nineteen, he was lanky and ill-fitted to his loose clothes. His tousled, curly black hair was in dire need of a brush and his dark eyes were wide with alarm. “Mr. Tonks! Cap’n! Message! Emergency!”
Tonks caught the young man before he barreled headlong into Hunter. “Careful Lucas, what’s this now? Get your breath.”
Lucas took two long, deep breaths to get himself under control. Then he held out a piece of paper with some hand-written notes on it. “I made me notes like ya taught me, Mr. Tonks. Coord’nates are on the map. It’s Mr. Falke who sent it. He’s sayin’ they’re under attack!”
Hunter snatched the paper from the boy’s hand and scanned it quickly. “Attack? By whom?”
Lucas explained, using exaggerated hand gestures to accent his words. “Not sure Cap’n. He was sayin’ somethin’ about a ship makin’ port, soldiers pourin’ outta the new ship and makin’ for the wreck nearby. Then zombies comin’ outta’ the station. Mr. Falke and them with him are bein’ in the crossfire, y’know. None of it makes much sense.”
Hunter crumpled the paper in his hands. “Tonks, take your apprentice here and send word to Krumer that we may be a bit delayed. Then make haste back to port. Apparently, there is a new player on the field, and I want to know their intentions… not to mention get to the bottom of this ‘zombie’ rubbish! Prepare for the worst, I intend to get my crew back.”
“Aye, Cap’n!” Tonks nodded to Lucas with a quick smile, then turned to face the main deck.
The pilot took a deep breath. “All hands! Prepare for full steam! We make for the relay station!”