With O’Fallon in the lead, the group pushed through the driving rain in search of what he felt were the most likely places to hold either defensive weapons or fire fighting tools: the warehouses closest to the dock. They pushed through the cold wind and intermittent sheets of rain to search each structure, and every time the building was either an empty or charred husk, destroyed by stray artillery fire from the nearby ship battle. Finally, O’Fallon hauled open a door against the rush of mist-filled wind. This was the last warehouse on his own mental list of places to check. Nowhere else on the station would it make sense to store a fire cannon in case of a ship or station fire. No other places had the vantage point that these particular warehouses did. If this one was empty, he was not sure what they would do.
Once the door was partway, it was caught by the wind and jerked from his hands to bang against the warehouse wall like a gunshot. Lightning flashed, the storm’s thunder roared like a mad lion, and O’Fallon smiled. There in the gloom, he could see the silhouette of the very top of a fire cannon’s nozzle pointed up and waiting in silence. The Scotsman motioned to the others. He had found it.
Twenty minutes later, on the second floor of the warehouse that faced the La Paloma, two figures slowly half-dragged, half-carried a wooden spool of wire. Behind them, the wire snaked down the stairs and towards the front of the warehouse where it had been hastily jury rigged into the power for the building itself. At the top of the landing to the second floor, Dr. James Von Patterson set down his end of the four foot tall wooden spool. The thin archeologist leaned against the wall and gulped air greedily. Krumer set his end of the spool down as well, and knelt next to it.
“I say, are you so certain about this idea of yours? What with the rain and all?” Dr. Von Patterson asked with a glance over to Krumer.
The first mate nodded while he took in deep breaths of his own. “Aye, as sure as anyone can be with a firehose cobble-connected to a steam-fed dynamo in a thunderstorm. Besides, the whole of the landing has an awning over it.”
“Part of an awning, my good man.” The archeologist corrected Krumer.
“Only if you look at the whole landing. I’m only concerned with the part that’s the least damaged. After all, we just need one to work.” Krumer grinned.
Dr. Von Patterson laughed breathlessly. “Well said.”
“Wire! Where’s the wire?” Moira cried from deeper inside the warehouse’s second floor.
Krumer sighed and stood. “Our taskmistress calls. Besides, this is the last part we need.”
The archeologist stood and stretched his back until he heard a muted pop. “Ah, that’s better. If this is the last, then lets get it done. I daresay they’ll not wait on us outside. There’s no telling what mischief has gone on while we’ve been distracted, eh?”
On the count of three, both men lifted, then hauled the wire spool towards the direction Moira had called from. Carefully, they let out a section of wire at a time, slowly walking until they carried it over to where the others had just finished clearing away debris from one of the water cannon. A large device, the water cannon stood fifteen feet tall with a series of turn wheels at the base. The wheels, a good foot in diameter, were attached to a set of large brass faucets with large hoses connected to them. These wheels allowed for two crewmen to adjust the water pressure fed into the cannon itself from the reservoir below the warehouse. A short ladder of five steps led from the deck to where the cannon was controlled. There, a menagerie of dials and gauges displayed the water pressure being fed in, and out, of the hoses that were inside the large tube of brass and steel. A wheel, not unlike a ship’s wheel, allowed an operator to control the cannon’s direction and pressure. A cloth-backed wooden seat gave the operator a place to sit while manipulating the contraption’s controls.
With this cannon, a jury-rigged knife switch had been hastily wired into the panel, as well. Cotton insulated copper wires from the console trailed down to where Krumer and Dr. Von Patterson had just set down the large spool. O’Fallon looked down from the cannon’s controls.
“Of ’em all, we got this one ta workin’.” The Scotsman called down. “The rest took their fair share a’ poundin’ from parts of the roof fallin’ in. We also found some rock salt that we went an’ added ta the mix so it’ll carry the current, good and true.”
Krumer stood and massaged a sore muscle that had developed in his right shoulder. Moira and Adonia took his place at the spool and connected it to the fire cannon using the last of the discarded knife switches they had come across. As the two leads connected, sparks arced out and flew across the deck with enough ferocity that all close by jumped aside.
The first mate continued to massage his sore shoulder. “Good enough, one’ll have to do. We’ve not enough hands to crew any more than that. Thorias, how does the ship fare?”
In the chair of a non-functional water cannon, Thorias peered out among the clouds. “The frigate’s taking the advantage. I don’t give the schooner much more than a few minutes till she goes down. Wait … the Griffin‘s just come into view … but her angle’s off.” The doctor shielded his eyes against a spray of rain that shot mist at his face. His eyes widened slightly when he realized where the Griffin was headed. “Of all the bloody fool things to do! Surely, they wouldn’t!”
Adonia joined Thorias on the ruined fire cannon and looked in the direction that stirred Thorias so. A small, knowing smile with a touch of admiration crept across her face when she, too, guessed the Griffin‘s intent. “Oh, surely they would, Amigo. Especially if Anthony thinks it will save lives.”
“Bloody, foolish folly! He’ll have one shot at best, perhaps two!” Thorias ranted.
“Which is why, I bet, they will not miss.” Adonia’s smile turned to a grin.
Krumer exchanged a confused look with O’Fallon. “Thorias, a translation please for the unenlightened?” The first mate asked wryly.
The doctor waved a hand in their direction in a frantic motion for silence. “Yes, yes. Can’t you see? Blast it, what I would not give for a spyglass. The Griffin is coming about underneath the wounded ship using the damaged schooner and the smoke she’s leaking to conceal them from the frigate. If she stays her course, she’ll rise up well out in front of the damaged schooner and behind that monster of a frigate. They’ll have one, perhaps two shots at best. If that frigate turns even the slightest, she’ll bring a full broadside to bear on the Griffin!”
Krumer nodded while he worked out the ship’s maneuvers in his mind. “He’s likely hoping to damage her enough to rattle her crew or play on luck to hit something sensitive.”
“Bloody damn fool idea.” Thorias spouted.
“Which is why we’re going to help. How long till the Griffin completes her maneuver?” Krumer asked quickly.
Thorias watched the dance of ships through the air with a practiced eye. It had been many years since he was a forward observer for Her Majesty’s Dragoons, right before he became a field doctor. He had always been grateful for the job, as it had taught him that he was more content repairing people than directing others to take them apart. However, at this point, he did not have much choice, and his aid might bring an end to the madness. “Three minutes, no more.”
“Then we have three minutes. O’Fallon!” Krumer cried. “Are we ready?”
“Aye! As ever we be!” The quartermaster called back.
“We’ve got three minutes before the Griffin is ready to fire. Aim for the frigate. When the Griffin fires, so do we!” Krumer raced over to one of the pressure wheels at the base of the fire cannon. “Dr. Von Patterson, take the other wheel and help me. Moira? Take Adonia, Tiberius, and his lion to keep watch.”
Moira gave Krumer a grin. It was the usual grin she always gave him when she was off to cause some sort of mayhem. Adonia, Tiberius and the gray-furred mountain lion were not far behind Moira while she ran, despite her bruises, for the top of the second floor warehouse stairs.
Krumer gripped the wet, cold metal wheel firmly with both hands. “Once we fire, everyone will know we’re here. So brace yourselves. Thorias? Call it!”
“Ah, if only I had a spyglass and a compass,” the doctor lamented, “I hope I’m right.” He took as deep a breath as his fractured ribs would allow. “Fire for effect! Bearing north sixty degrees east, nine hundred yards! Fire on my call!”
“Nine hundred! Aye!” O’Fallon called, spinning the fire cannon’s wheel. With a free hand the Scotsman slammed the knife switch closed. Electricity arced wildly over the panel and threatened to electrocute O’Fallon where he stood. He recoiled backwards until the sparks subsided to an occasional burst. At the base of the cannon, Krumer and Dr. Von Patterson quickly set to work at each wheel, turning them to open the water valves for the device itself.
Thorias winced from the throb of pain, centered in his ribs. He took two careful breaths to steady himself. There, in the sky, the Brass Griffin turned, winds and rain whipping along her sides. Her nose angled upwards, as if she dared to reach for the clouds themselves. As if in reply, the wind turned and shoved at her back, the Griffin‘s sails billowed taught and her gas bag rippled slightly from the stiff breeze behind her. She soared upwards, like a racehorse that outpaced the wind.
“Steady now,” Thorias called as the Griffin leveled off. He could just barely make out the rush of activity aboard the Griffin‘s deck. The gunners would be prepping the cannon and a ‘spotter’, also known as an observer, calling the distance.
“Steady,” the doctor said again. Suddenly, the cannon roared, smoke billowed and the bright, explosive flash of lightning cannon erupted as the Griffin released a broadside barrage against RiBeld’s gray-clad frigate. The frigate shook violently, the lightning exploding off her metal plates and sending wood fragments flying.
Immediately, tarps were jerked aside from what looked to be stacks of barrels, only to reveal a trio of already prepared lightning cannon on the frigate’s rear decks. She returned fire, an ugly yellow hiss, that screamed when it struck the Griffin. Wood exploded, metal twisting everywhere the lightning struck. Thunder rumbled through the clouded sky like the deep laughter of a demented man.
In the wake of the explosions, smoke blossomed out from both ships in dark clouds that obscured them from view. When the smoke cleared, Thorias swore aloud. The heavily damaged schooner, the one the Griffin had attempted to save, had turned just slightly into their field of fire.
“Bloody hell!” Thorias cried out in anger.
“Ah got nothin’! Ah’ll hit ’em if’n Ah fire!” O’Fallon called out. “There be na good shot.”
In the area between the fire cannon and the doorway, metal shrieked from the rooftop twenty feet above. With an ear-splitting rip, the metal roof plates fatigued and gave way. Sections of the roof collapsed inward to leave a giant hole, allowing the rain to pour through. Following the downpour, a dark figure dropped to the floor, landing with an ungraceful thud onto the debris. The fall would have crippled any normal person, but the figure that fell from the roof hardly looked like that. Torn clothes were wet and stained with blood. Dark hair was matted and the man’s coal dark eyes burned with an inner light that crossed well beyond that of insanity. From beneath his shirt, an emerald glow in his chest pulsed like some unearthly heart beat. Occasional arcs of greenish electricity sparked over him between the glow beneath his shirt and his leather backpack, which hummed like a swarm of angry bees. Wires strung from the backpack traced over his shoulders to hastily attached electrodes in the base of the man’s skull. Clutched tight in the creature’s fist was a rain-slick pistol.
“Don’t worry Señor, I have one for you.” The monstrosity once named Carlos rasped through ruined vocal chords. “And presents for your friends as well!” He looked over his shoulder toward the stairs that connected the first to the second floor. “Now!”
On the first floor, only two doors provided any entrance or exit to the warehouse. These were ripped from the hinges as if from paper. In poured two tight mobs of the reanimated station crew, many still smoldering from their fight on the docks. Above, more figures hurried along the rooftop towards the recently torn hole.
“Kill them all!” Carlos continued in his hellish, rallying cry. He wheezed out a metallic rasping sound, then sucked in a deep breath. “But … leave the chestnut-haired spitfire of a señorita … my dear, dear Moira … alive … for me.”
He laughed. It was an ugly, grating sound that echoed off the warehouse walls and mingled with the roar of gunfire.