With each impact and every explosion, the station shook violently, then belched another column of black smoke. Heavily damaged buildings, primarily the warehouses along the dock side of the station, collapsed inward with a deep rumble to herald the avalanche of metal and wood. Along the alleys Krumer Whitehorse, Conrad O’Fallon and their group raced for safety between burning piles of debris. They headed toward a portion of the docks that stood near the large columns of acrid smoke that loomed up, rising into the storm while the rain from overhead fell hard and steady over everything.
Krumer paused at the junction of two alleys and peered around the corner. Behind him, Moira caught up and leaned against the wall to catch her breath.
“It’s amazin’ we’ve still got a station ta stand on.” Moira said, glancing around in astonishment at the worn buildings around her.
O’Fallon shrugged. “They be built like a rock. They’re supposed ta be used by the Royal Navy as refuelin’ stations, but the Navy be havin’ their own way dreamed up. So the way Ah heard it told, Nikola Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi talked some industrial types inta investin’ in settin’ them up for wireless telegraph relays, like fer an opti-telegraphic, but they kept the plans in fer the armor.”
A rumble vibrated through the station seconds before the roar of an explosion sounded in the distance. Krumer looked back at the others. “We need to keep moving. Whatever is happening, no matter how well it’s built, this station cannot stay together forever.”
Adonia looked up as a loud crack sounded above her. Weakened by fire and vibrations, a section of roof had slid free of the building and was plummeting in her direction. She dove aside and into Moira, whom Adonia pulled along with her. James raced to the other side of the alley while Tiberius pulled Thorias towards himself, Krumer and O’Fallon. The burning debris, easily twice as large as a whiskey barrel, crashed down to where they all had stood just a few seconds before. As the deadly, twisted mass of metal embedded itself into the walkway, a spiderweb of cracks appeared where the bulk of the debris landed. Tacita carefully padded over and sniffed at the burning wood and metal with the curiosity only a cat, even one that was several hundred pounds, could have.
“Tacita, no.” Tiberius called out. “That’s not for us.”
The mountain lion looked over at her human, then back at the wreckage. With a derisive snort, she turned and sauntered over to Tiberius.
“Thank you.” The Thulian archeologist said with a tired sigh.
Adonia stood, then held out a hand to help Moira to her feet. The young lady with the chestnut hair and fiery temper accepted the hand and smiled. “Thank’ee for that, an for pushin’ me out of the way.”
Adonia squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. “We’re in this together, Amiga. So we watch out for each other. It will be the only way we survive.”
Next to Tiberious, the lion’s ears suddenly turned toward the end of the alley, her whiskers extended outward. Then, she suddenly crouched, her shoulders hunched low and her back completely tensed. A half-growl escaped her throat while she stared at the end of the alleyway – the direction the group was headed.
O’Fallon glanced at the end of the alley where it intersected with a main walkway between empty, hollow warehouses and, then over at Tiberius. “What be ye cat on about?”
The young Thulian shook his head. “I don’t know. Lately it’s just been when we’ve stumbled across a group of zombies.”
Krumer checked the load in his pistol. Satisfied, he pulled the gun closed and looked back at the end of the alleyway. He was about to warn everyone to keep an eye out, when at the end of the alley five figures shambled into view. These were followed by another figure who looked slightly out of place among the rest. This man dressed in dark cotton trousers, leather coat, and dark leather work boots. While it was not altogether different since they were the clothes of a common laborer, two things set him apart from the rest. One, he alone wore a distinctive set of goggles with green lenses that looked identical to the pair Moira wore. Two, he did not have the telltale grayish skin color of a corpse. This man was very much alive.
The man with the goggles paused in stunned surprise when he saw the battered group in the hallway. His eyes quickly settled on Moira’s own goggles, and his expression shifted to understanding, then anger. Gesturing down the alley, specifically towards Moira, his hand raced down to the sidearm at his belt. “Get ’em! Brin’ me those goggles!”
His pistol had only just cleared the holster before his body jerked sideways with a spray of blood from his shoulder. The man’s pistol flew out of his hand before he stumbled and fell on his back from the force of the blow. A few yards away from their adversary, just to Krumer’s right, O’Fallon stood with both feet planted. His pistol was up and pointed at the man, a tendril of smoke escaping the barrel in a slow trail upwards.
“Na today, lad.” O’Fallon said with a smirk.
“Stop him before he runs! We’ll want him alive!” Krumer ordered, quickly taking aim and firing at the first zombie, a tall figure dressed in workman’s coveralls stained with grease, soot and blood. The creature shook with the force of the blows, but still staggered forward. Glass shattered, and a spark of green jade arced out over the body from a spot on the lower chest. The zombie’s shoulders slumped forward while the feral anger bled out of the creature’s expression. In the very last moments, as the body staggered forward one more step to sway unsteadily a mere four feet away from Krumer, the first mate saw a flicker of relief shine in the zombie’s eyes.
As the thunder of guns roared in the alley around the orc, somewhere O’Fallon yelled a blood-curdling cry before he squared off with a zombie in hand to hand combat. The mountain lion growled then screamed when it leaped at a zombie to the right of O’Fallon. Adonia, pistol in each hand, fired steadily while Moira yanked down the goggles from atop her head and began to fiddle with the mysterious device. Tiberius stood in front of Thorias and dodged a zombie’s wild blows while the doctor withdrew a pistol to fire, despite the sharp pain in his cracked ribs. Next to him, Dr. Von Patterson stood guard, a dented pipe that he had found among the wreckage in one hand.
Time itself seemed to slow for Krumer while he locked eyes with the zombie standing in front of him. Krumer nodded and heard himself say, “Spirits keep you. You’ve suffered enough.” The relief in the zombie’s eyes changed to gratitude before the dim light faded away to nothing. Its body fell forward like a tree felled by an axe. Krumer blinked, remembering the others, and looked around, gun ready. However, the rest of the zombies lay flat on the ground. Immediately, he looked towards the end of the alley.
“Where is he?” The orc snarled while he jammed the pistol back in its holster.
O’Fallon, who stood at the end of the same alley, shook his head. “Bugger ran. Na know which way he be going to. Could be either way along here.”
“So we’re gonna run him down?” Moira asked quickly.
Krumer looked up at the knotted storm clouds that lashed at each other with bolts of lighting, closed his eyes, and let the falling rain dance on his face to soothe his temper. After a few seconds he gazed back at the group. “No, we can’t afford to waste the time. We keep going. Everyone look sharp, we could run into any like that along the way.”
“What I just do not know, is how they talk to each other.” Adonia said curiously while she reloaded her pistols.
Thorias slowly reloaded his pistols, his pale complexion grown even paler due to the exertion of the fight. “The zombies? Moira explained that one, my dear.”
The Charybdian shook her head. “No, no. I mean those that control them. We tried to use wireless telegraphy but it was not working. How can they do it?”
Tiberius patted the mountain lion as the giant cat returned to his side. “The goggles,” he said flatly. “The lenses would be cut from the same statue, so they would contain limited parts of their properties. That would include being able to communicate.”
“If’n they do, I can’t be sussin’ out how ta make it work,” Moira said with a frustrated tone. “I can detect where they are, I can tell what commands they’re trying ta make the zombies follow and counter ’em with me own. But I can’t be talkin’ to any of ’em, unless I be walkin’ right up ta one and sayin’ hello. It’s like I’m mute on their side.”
As the group continued out of the alley, then carefully down the main walkway that led from the battered warehouses to the docks, O’Fallon shrugged, “maybe they be usin’ runners.”
In the back of the group, Dr. Von Patterson paused and knelt next to the body of a zombie, an odd shape catching his eye. From under the tattered jacket the zombie wore, the archeologist retrieved a small metal cylinder. It was the size and shape of a tin cigar case, only large enough for one cigar. He set his pipe down and opened the cylinder. Inside was a hastily written note on a torn piece of oilskin. He hurried to catch up to the others and waved the note. “Good show on that. They are using runners. They use the zombies. I’ve found a note. It describes us, and anyone that comes across us is to recover Moira’s goggles. Over our dead bodies is preferred, according to this.”
“Did anyone sign it?” Thorias asked while he automatically, and carefully, reached down to check his wounded ribs.
“No.” James shook his head. “However, it does look to have been written in a hurry.”
“They’re nervous then,” Krumer said. “They probably all know Moira’s got one of their goggles. So they don’t dare use them to talk to one another.”
Thorias nodded in understanding. “Ah, because she’d be able to eavesdrop on what they are saying.”
“That would make sense.” Tiberius said with a look around at the others. “The stories told are of two statues being used to talk to each other. Never pieces of the same statue. However, because she can see where all the others are at all times …”
Krumer finished Tiberius’ hypothesis. “Then they all should be able to talk to one another at the same time as well, as if they all stood in the same room.”
“Brilliant.” Dr. Von Patterson blurted. “Diabolically brilliant. Vastly superior to an opti-telegraphic for communication, and yet vastly more dangerous, it seems, since the same pieces can be used to control the dead like puppets.” The archeologist glanced over at Tiberius, “we must talk more later about these other statues.”
The Thulian looked a touch nervous at the prospect, but nodded anyway. “I think, given all that’s happened, we really should talk more later, Dr. Von Patterson.”
“No matter what they use them for, just the use has made them reckless.” Krumer said flatly. “We should hurry and take advantage of that.”
By the time the group reached the point where the warehouses ended and the docks began, an explosion roared and they felt the impact of something nearby. Knocked from their feet, the group was scattered across the ground in different directions. A loud groan filled the air while the walkway beneath their feet moaned as if in pain.
“Saints help us.” Adonia prayed aloud, her eyes wide and staring. The others followed her gaze out to the docks, where it looked like nearly a quarter of the platform was slowly cracking, then breaking away from the station. In a fiery blast of heat, the timbers snapped with the sound of a hundred sticks being splintered. With a belch of smoke and fire, a large portion of the dock vanished from their sight, plummeting towards the High Fens far below the station.
While the others stared at the dock and the numerous fires that raged around near the edge of the warehouses, Krumer followed his instincts and looked up. There he saw two ships locked in a heavy exchange of broadside fire several hundred yards from the station. Off to his right, he saw from the corner of his eye a motion that did not fit with the rest of the rush of dark smoke. He looked over and squinted his eyes. Immediately he recognized the silhouette, it was the Brass Griffin. The first mate slowly got to his feet despite the myriad of bruises and aches that now plagued him.
Krumer glanced back at O’Fallon. “There must be a way to fight back. You said this was a military project, surely something was built for these places to defend themselves? I’ve heard stories of it. So where are they?”
O’Fallon grunted in pain, then climbed back onto his feet. “Och, a’course. Na all have the same thing, though. Some be more relyin’ on the local navy, some na bother. At the wee least, there be the fire cannons?”
“Fire cannons?” Dr. Von Patterson asked curiously while Tiberius helped the archeologist to his feet.
O’Fallon nodded. “Aye, fire cannons. Water under pressure ta be puttin’ out fires shot out an old artillery cannon. Powered by the station’s steam engines, a’course. Na have much range ta ’em, but if’n ye puttin’ out fires, ye dinna need it.”
Krumer looked at Moira and saw by her expression she understood what he was about to ask. She nodded with a grin.
“Aye, sure. We be hookin’ a generator or two ta that, and then we’d have an instant lightnin’ cannon! Till we wear out the connections.” Moira shrugged. “We got enough here, we can man-handle it inta place.”
Thorias took a slow breath while he fought back a wave of pain. “I’m quite certain I’ll be nothing more than a burden. I volunteer to stay here. You will move faster without me.”
“No,” Krumer replied curtly and with such force it startled some of the others. “We leave no one behind. Once we cobble this together, we’ll need a spotter and you, my longtime curmudgeon friend, were one for a time after you transferred from the Dragoons. You sight for us and we’ll do the rest.”