Over the station, storm clouds boiled overhead with peals of thunder. The gray clouds glowed from each burst as if they struggled to hold back the inevitable lighting and rain. Finally, unable to contain it any longer, a pure white burst of lightning shot out between the clouds and the station’s rooftops. The bolt illuminated a lightning rod a hundred yards from the maintenance shed next to the station’s main antennae collection.
A few feet behind the maintenance shed that sat next to the main antennae array, Conrad O’Fallon pulled open the heavy metal door. Behind him and overhead, lightning flashed again through the sky. The brief burst of light revealed a short flight of stairs down into a wide fifteen foot long room. He suspected it was another workshop, but the brief flash of light died away too abruptly for him to be certain.
From what he remembered, most station workshops had a lantern hung from a hook near the door for anyone that needed it. O’Fallon reached around and felt inside the door frame when the brief flash of light died away as abruptly as it had arrived. His fingers did indeed discover a hook and thereafter a lantern. He carefully lifted it from the hook and pulled it to him. It was one of the newer clockwork-electric kind that drew its power from a main transmitter nearby. He turned the wind key: the lantern creaked a moment, popped once, then glowed to life. He held the lantern out towards the room.
The room in front of him was obviously not a storage shed, and had at one time been used for many tasks. Given the number of sawhorses, spare pipes and the two tables that held several wood-working tools, it was apparent that most recently it had been a carpentry shop. Krumer suspected most work done here was for rooftop repairs of the various station buildings nearby. Across the room, nestled among two forgotten piles of sawdust, a trapdoor lay closed in the floor. The first mate eyed it warily a moment, then glanced back to O’Fallon, who simply grinned.
“Good idea ye had, squattin’ out in the shed. Too close ta the lightnin’ rods fer me, though.” The quartermaster quipped, waving a free hand in a welcome gesture to his orcish friend.
Krumer raised a black bushy eyebrow at O’Fallon, then stepped through the doorway. “Any port in a storm, spirits’ willing. You’d have done the same.”
O’Fallon cast a hestiant look skyward just as a peal of thunder shook the air around him. He did not remember any flash of lightning for thunder to be so close. The quartermaster put the thought aside for the moment while held the door open for the rest of Krumer’s group to file down the stairs. “Aye, that. Ye be havin’ a point.”
“I’m uncomfortable being so far from the telegraph, though.” Krumer complained, holding out a hand to steady Dr. Von Patterson before he stumbled down the short flight of stairs. “The Griffin might try to contact us again in case something else has delayed them.”
The archeologist nodded a silent thanks to Krumer while he took the stairs one at a time. Dr. Von Patterson moved stiffly, as if his joints were not fully under his control. He smiled “I do feel as if I’ve run the distance to Thermopylae. You’ve my word I will not be a burden, I just need a moment to catch my breath.”
The orc nodded slightly in response, being more focused on not letting the man fall flat on his face. “I think we’ll have time for that now, Doctor.”
A chill wind picked up and raced over the rooftop. O’Fallon shuddered a bit from the cold burst of air. “Krumer, Ah swear ye worry ta much. The Griffin knows ye all be here. We’ll hear the Griffin when she’s overhead. ‘Sides, we still be havin’ the opti-telegraphic. We ought ta be high enough ta get some signal through.”
With the last of Krumer’s group inside, O’Fallon closed the heavy door and stepped down the stairs. Adonia was there to meet him with a hug. “It’s so good to see all of you alive.”
The Scotsman grinned while Adonia released him. She turned to smile at Moira and Thorias, then stopped before she could express any more of her joy at seeing her companions alive. “Thorias! You’re bleeding!”
“Just a scratch, mind you.” The doctor said with an faint air of bravado. This gave way mere seconds later to a wince of pain as the cracked rib in his side reminded Thorias of its presence. The doctor took a slow, careful breath. “Though even a scratch can have it’s moments, eh? If you don’t mind, I think I’ll sit. Stood enough for awhile, you understand.” His voice became weaker while he pointed at a spot on the floor against a wall. Adonia reached over, and without a word helped him to a comfortable sitting position. “I just cannot believe it’s only been a few hours. It feels like days.” He sighed softly to himself.
Moira held out the soot-stained statue to Dr. Von Patterson. “I think ya’ve been wantin’ this?”
The archeologist’s eyes shone with delight the moment he saw the jade figure. Gently, he took it into his hands and brushed aside a stain of soot from its head. His fingers explored the statue and discovered the rough spots where pieces had been rudely chipped off the side. He frowned for a moment at the signs of damage. “It’s seen some wear, but still … a magnificent piece. I had wondered what had become of this.”
“Once we laid eyes upon it, we knew we’d better be gettin’ it back to ya. When ya woke up, that is.” Moira punctuated her comment with a small shrug.
“… woke up …” Dr. Von Patterson repeated with a surprised look at Moira. “Your voice. It was you that brought me back. I would’ve never made it back from … where ever my mind had gone … if you hadn’t forced me to come back to my senses.”
Moira smiled slightly with a blush. “Oh, go on. All I be doin’ was ta tell ya ‘get up’.”
Krumer joined the two of them and folded his arms over his chest. “Fortunately, that worked. Though, how you exactly did that when you were nowhere close to him leaves me wondering.”
“Oh, well, I be usin’ these.” Moira explained, removing the goggles perched atop her head. She held them out to the first mate. Krumer took the strange, green-tinted eyeware and turned it over slowly in his hands.
The goggles were much like any other pair Krumer had seen in dozens of shops in any number of cities. He lifted them up to peer through the green lenses curiously. Dr. Von Patterson likewise looked at the goggles with an intense curiosity.
“Where ever did you find these?” Krumer asked, turning the eyewear over to peer through the lenses from the front.
Moira gestured to the lenses. “They be jade. After the smithy, we tumbled out down below the station. Once we gathered our wits, we went lookin’ for a way up. That was when we come across one of the people that be controlling the zombies. At the time we didn’t know that, just that he took some shots at us. We tried ta catch him, but he was slicker than a snake an’ twice as wiggly. Though we did find a couple more of his friends in the boiler room hookin’ up pieces of that statue ta dead bodies they had on hand.”
Krumer handed the goggles to Dr. Von Patterson, who took a closer look at them. The first mate glanced at Moira. “Bodies? So … resurrection men?”
“Ye might be sayin’ that.” O’Fallon answered from where he stood guard next to the door. “Though, I’d say they’d not be in a mind ta sell those corpses ta any medical students. Somehow, they be usin’ a way ta shock the bodies ta some sorta life. Attachin’ pieces of jade from the statue seems ta keep ’em goin.”
“Then they used the goggles ta see what the zombies be lookin’ at. “Moira finished the explanation. “It takes ya a moment ta get used ta the sight. Lots ta see all at once. But once ya get the hang of it, it’s not so bad. Ya can give the zombies orders … and they’ll mostly try and do it. If nobody else be nearby tryin’ ta do the same thing. Then ya got a fight on ya hands fer control. So far, I been winnin’.”
“Moira,” Thorias asked weakly from where he sat. “I’ve not dared asked till now, can you ‘sense’ who you struggle with? Most important, are they nearby?”
The blacksmith knocked a bit of soot off her cheek, then brushed a strand of brownish-red hair from her face. “After a fashion. Last I be checkin’, they be down at the docks.”
“Them?” Krumer asked.
Moira shrugged. “Two, at least. I can kinda be ‘seein’ them. It be hard ta explain.”
“That would agree with the stories about one person using the statue trying to subdue another. Or even use it as a device for spying.” Tiberius commented as he took a seat near Thorias.
“That be remindin’ me,” O’Fallon said carefully. “Adonia, about ye man, Carlos …”
“I know, Conrad.” Adonia said with a withered smile. “Once Krumer had the telegraph working, we ‘overheard’ a few transmissions. They mentioned Carlos being dead and that he had been informing on our whereabouts.” She sighed heavily. “Carlos was aboard the La Paloma from the moment we left London. He duped everyone from the start. It’s … difficult … to accept right now. I had started to trust him by the time we arrived at the station. Enough to confide in him about James and what I was there for.”
O’Fallon shrugged helplessly. “He ’twas a bad one, Adonia. We all be fooled from time ta time.”
The Charybdian woman nodded quietly in reply. Krumer cleared his throat. He did not like the direction the conversation had taken, so he tried to adjust its course. “So if you’ve taken control, what did you have the zombies .. hm… do? And could you find what these others had in mind for the zombies and the statue? If the zombies actually ‘think’, that is.”
Moira accepted the goggles from Dr. Von Patterson. “At least fer the ones we be comin’ across, I told ’em ta ‘be still’. So long as no one’s givin’ them anything else ta do, they’ll say that way. They be like wind up clockwork toys in a way. No offense, Arcady.”
The clockwork dragonfly, who had settled into one of Moira’s coat pockets in the worry he might lose a necessary part, shook his head slightly. “None taken. Those would be toys. I can think for myself … even in my current state of injury.”
“Something we’ll see to post-haste once we’re aboard the Griffin.” Thorias said with as firm a voice as his cracked rib allowed.
“Well and good, but other than nearly killing most of us, what were they really for? The zombies, that is.” Krumer asked again. “This station is remote, so news of what has happened here will not reach anyone for a few weeks.
“Oh!” Moira exclaimed, a thought occuring to her. “We pinched a journal. One of ’em liked ta write.” She searched about until she found the correct pocket. Moira withdrew the small notebook and offered it out to Krumer, who accepted it with great interest. Adonia and Tiberius joined him to read over his shoulder.
“If ya flip a few pages in,” Moira explained while gesturing to the interior of the book, “they talk about using the statue to get the bodies mobile, then controllin’ them at a range. All this be just a first step.”
“Spirits protect us.” Krumer said under his breath while he read. “Using the deceased as a renewable resource. It’d make for almost the perfect soldier.” He turned a few more pages and read. Slowly the missing puzzle pieces fit neatly together in his mind. It made for a ghoulish picture.
“Through this, they can ‘raise and control’ the dead.” Krumer said slowly, working out all his thoughts while he spoke. “However, Tiberius you told us of the story where that Roman commander was nearly possessed by someone using a statue or statues like this. What would stop anyone from using this,” Krumer held up the small journal, “against the living?”
A morbid silence fell on the room. Each person there exchanged an uncomfortable glance with the other.
“Precisely,” Krumer said to break the silence. He then glanced at Tiberius. “Do your people have any records of how to defend against something like that?”
The young archeologist thought a moment. “Some. It’s in part training and mental concentration. The less you concentrate or the more fatigued you are, the more susceptible you become. I had read some arbitrators would only use the device when both parties had toasted to a successful arbitration.”
Adonia nodded slowly in approval. “That way they would be more willing and open to suggestions or questions. It’s all so very disturbing, and yet ingenious at the same time.”
O’Fallon, who had fixed a confused scowl on his face much earlier in the conversation, sighed and rubbed his eyes from frustration and no small amount of fatigue. “Beggin’ ye pardon, but who’s people? Ye mean the Italians?”
Krumer shook his head. “No, Romans.”
Tiberius cleared his throat lightly. “Actually, we typically use ‘Thulians’.”
“That would make sense,” Adonia replied with a shrug.
Thorias sat up suddenly with the shift in conversation. “‘Thulian’ … you surely don’t mean as in ‘Thule’?”
Tiberius blushed and stammered, “Ah … no, I mean, yes. I mean … I wasn’t supposed to say anything.” He sighed in frustration. “Life was so much easier at the University.”
O’Fallon looked around, his confusion in full force. “Roman … well right, he be from Rome.”
Thorias shook his head. “No, no. They are called Italians now … if you are actually from there.” The doctor shot a knowing glance at the young Thulian archeologist.
O’Fallon fixed his gaze on Tiberius, “And ye people be from there … Italy … Rome.”
Tiberius smiled pleasantly, “Yes they are originally from there, but not now. Though, we sometimes call ourselves Roman even though we call Thule home.”
The quartermaster rubbed his temples from a small headache. “Och, but where be Italy in Rome? Wait. No. Rome in Thule. No. Now Ah be all turned about! Can we be startin’ over?”
Thorias sighed and leaned his head back against the wall, his face the slightest shade paler from the pain of his wound. “Indeed, if only we could.”
Before anyone else could reply, the room pitched like a cork caught on a stormy sea. Those that had been on their feet were pitched headlong towards the floor. Some managed to catch themselves when they landed, some, like Krumer and Adonia, slammed into the wall with a heavy thud. When the rolling motion settled, a dull rumble of thunder shook the air all around. Following that, an erratic tapping sound peppered the door to the building’s roof.
Adonia sat up first, her eyes closed tight against the pounding headache that raged. About her head, the snake-like tendrils shuddered. “Oh, my head. Is everyone alright?”
“I’ve been better, my dear. Truly.” Thorias replied with a groan. He automatically reached down to feel for his bandage and winced from the pain.
Closer to the middle of the room, Krumer sat up slowly, then blinked while he cleared the cobwebs from his mind. “Bruised, but unbowed.” Others around the room echoed his words.
O’Fallon, who had managed to hang onto the stairs for support, climbed up and opened the door a crack. Immediately he received a gust of dark smoke in the face for his trouble. He coughed to clear his lungs. “Ye’ll na get any reply from that telegraph o’ yers. Yer shed’s wiped clean from the roof.”
In answer, the air shuddered as another growl of thunder roared all around them. Again the station pitched, but not as violently this time. More prepared for the abrupt jolt, O’Fallon clung to the stairs. He frowned. The peal of thunder was wrong in both pitch and duration.
“That na be a storm. We be under attack.” He said flatly.
Everyone looked around in alarm. Dr. Von Patterson unsteadily climbed to his feet clutching the jade statue. “Attack? It sounded like thunder. Though with the thunderstorm outside, how can you be so sure?”
O’Fallon smirked slightly. “It be what Ah do. Weapons, that is. ‘Sides, the explosion from artillery shot be havin’ a distinctive sound.”
Krumer stood slowly. His joints protested with a rapid series of aches and pains, but he ignored them. “Either way, we can’t stay here. We need a better position. Something defensible.”
“All the buildings near us were for crew bunks. They’re nearly all windows – not much cover there. Unless ya mean the boiler room again? That seems ta be where all the zombies are bein’ made.” Moira asked, slipping the goggles back on her head.
“No,” Krumer replied. “Neither of those will do. I meant farther out from here than that, such as the warehouses next to the docks. They’ve few windows, thicker walls to weather storms, and fewer ways in at us. Also, they’ll be taller, so we’ll be able to see what’s coming and plan for it. We just need to get there, and quickly.”
O’Fallon thought that over for a moment. “Ah be knowin’ a sure way. Follow me.”