The gear struck the back of CASS with a hollow, echoing sound. Not exceptionally loud, but it still had the desired effect, getting both Liam and Mary’s attention on what Anita had already seen.
All motion in the loading dock stopped with a heavy, pregnant silence for a full count of two heartbeats. Liam and Mrs. Monkhouse exchanged a panic-stricken glance. Mary herself turned a sickly pale, her eyes wide in shock.
The moment was shattered when, on the far side of the factory, constables Martin and Anderson – who had kicked open the front door a moment ago – burst through a door to the factory floor itself. They came running across the factory floor at top speed.
“Dr. Hereford?” Detective MacTaggart said, addressing Mary. “Ye and your associates are under arrest for murder and attempted murder. If ye come along quiet, it’ll be looked in your favor.”
Mary Hereford’s hands shook while she took a hesitant step towards William and Mrs. Givens. “No! Not now! Ah’m close, don’t ye see! My precious creation will be far better than the Boiler Men over in the Americas, better than those monsters RiBeld keeps making. I can’t stop … I won’t let you stop me!”
Hunter, watching Liam carefully, likewise walked slowly forward. “Liam, put her down. There’s no need to make this worse than it is.”
Liam’s features twisted into a blind rage. He hurled Lydia’s body into the wagon like a sack of old potatoes. She fell four feet down into the wooden wagon with a sickly thump among the sharp edges of broken pipes and old rusty gears. “Yer not the one bound for the noose!” He spit out at the captain.
As Liam yelled defiantly, Mary’s look of terror faded. In its place grew a rage-fueled madness, glistening in her eyes. She hurried towards the William and Mrs. Givens, withdrawing a syringe from her bag.
“Ah won’t be stopped! Not by the likes of all of you!” She glared at Hunter, “Ye man William will serve nicely. He’s a right good specimen, you know? He’ll take quite well to the process. Just ye watch!”
“No!” Detective MacTaggart shouted. “Don’t!”
“You won’t interfere, Detective!” Anita said with a growl, snatching a small five shot pocket pistol from the driver’s seat of the wagon.
“Gun!” MacTaggart shouted in warning as he raced for the cover of a nearby wagon.
The moment he moved, however, Anita took aim and fired. Flame stabbed out from the octagonal barrel as the weapon belched acrid smoke. MacTaggart jerked like a puppet who’s strings were cut, then collapsed behind the dubious safety of a wagon wheel. The detective landed with a heavy grunt, gasping for air.
At the same moment Mrs. Monkhouse fired, Hunter lunged to his right for the lid of a barrel, throwing it at Mary Hereford. The lid caught the doctor in the ribs, knocking the wind from her as she raised the syringe to inject William with a sickly yellowish fluid. The syringe fell, and with a tinkle of glass shattered against the ground.
At the detective’s shout, Anthony fell roughly forward and onto his side, putting boxes and wagons between himself and Mrs. Monkhouse. The captain tumbled to a stop as he heard MacTaggart fall to the ground off to his left.
“Detective!” The captain shouted. MacTaggart groaned, but did not reply.
Suddenly, Hunter heard the creak of metal behind him. He leaped aside as a wooden and metal loom, weighing several hundred pounds and still caught up with a half-woven bolt of wool, slammed into the ground where he had been a second before.
“That peeler’s the least of what you’ve got to worry over!” Liam shouted angrily. The Irishman, wearing the clockwork powered CASS, reached over and grasped another loom. With a sharp tug, the bolts twisted free of the floor with a nerve-fraying screech of metal. The CASS groaned with the effort, but won out in the contest of strength.
“I’ve had more’n enough of you!” Liam shouted, slinging the loom across the short space between them. Hunter dove for the ground, the air around him a deadly maelstrom of gears, needles, bits of shattered wood and a mangled weaving loom. Needles stabbed at his hands, bits of wood cut his face, and bent metal gears bruised Hunter mercilessly.
The machine crashed to the ground past Hunter, tumbling end over end. It collapsed inwards, skidding across the cobblestones in a firestorm of sparks. At the edge of his hearing, he heard horses scream ?and metal shriek as it scraped against stone, then finally, another gun shot. However, his mind remained fixed on the problem at hand, namely Liam and that monstrous CASS.
“I won’t be returnin’ to prison, or take the noose!” The Irishman snarled while casting about for something else to throw, “but I will grind your bones to powder for ruinin’ a good thing!” He turned and latched the massive claw-like metal hands of the CASS around two sections of a wicked, spidery-looking brass cutting machine.
“I pray this works,” Hunter muttered, snatching up a broken, discarded piece of wood. He glanced over it, mentally comparing it to what he wanted it for, then rushed headlong at the CASS.
So intent on ripping the machine free from its moorings, Liam noticed Hunter rushing at him far too late. He let go of the cutting machine at the last moment, and swung one of the rusted claws to backhand Hunter. The captain ducked down, avoiding the attack as he stepped in close.
A CASS, for all its nightmare appearance and monstrous size, was not impervious to harm. Like any machine, it had its flaws. While the driver compartment was partially covered by sheets of metal and certain crucial joint gears were protected by a stout leather, a handful of gears near the hip joint of the device were not. Hunter shoved the wood upwards and was rewarded with a satisfying pop of wires, followed by a grinding crunch of gears and a shower of sparks.
With sparks peppering his face, Liam yelled in pain, then swatted Hunter aside like a fly. The metal claw belted the captain, knocking him through the air like a rag doll and into a small stack of crates. Wood exploded, surrounding Hunter in a cloud of splinters.
Unaware of the damage to his CASS and obsessed with hurting the captain, Liam took a step forward. The gears responded with a sickening screech. He shoved at the control rods, “Bloody hell, what’s wrong with it now?”
As the massive device came to an abrupt halt, teetering dangerously on crippled legs, it locked in an unsteady position. Sparks flew wildly, electricity arcing back and forth across the driver’s seat. The Irishman looked around in alarm, struggling to open the stuck door latch.
Seeing Liam’s plight, the captain pushed his way out of the broken crates with a grunt of pain. “No, be still! You’re grounded right now, if you fall, you’ll be electrocuted!”
Liam ignored him, jerking at the door hasp. The door came free just as the CASS groaned, then fell crashing forward, crushing the door and trapping Liam inside. No longer grounded, electricity coursed along the metal skeleton with great abandon. Inside, Liam Farrell screamed and thrashed about. Slowly, as the clockwork motors wound down and the power in the device faded away, the Irishman fell silent.
Another gunshot cracked the air. Hunter ducked instinctively, looking around. Constable Anderson had found William and Mrs. Givens, and was trying to gently wake them. Anita Monkhouse was slowly stalking across the factory, firing at Constable Martin, who had been boxed in at a set of stairs to the second floor. Hunter frowned. Where was Mary Hereford?
Suddenly, the gunshots stopped. Frantically Anita reloaded as Constable Martin rushed down the stairs, intent on taking the pistol from the woman. He made it no more than two steps off the stairs when Dr. Hereford slipped out of the blackness behind the constable. She raised a hatchet and lunged for the man’s back!
“Constable, behind you!” Hunter shouted.
Constable Martin spun on his heel, bringing up an arm in time to ward away the hatchet by knocking aside the handle. With the other he grabbed Mary’s arm to try and subdue her. Before he could get a firm grip, the constable jerked as a bullet struck him from behind. He abruptly lurched sideways from the shock of the impact, losing his grip on Mary, who gave Hunter an insane, angry glance before racing off into the darkness.
“Now, you,” Anita Monkhouse said to Captain Hunter with all the enthusiasm of a snake eyeing her trapped prey, smoke curling from her pistol.
“You are quite the insufferable man,” she sneered, keeping her pistol aimed at his chest. “You couldn’t stay out. Ah even offered you a very lucrative contract. All you had to be doin’ was to give up this little quest of yours and walk away.”
Anthony looked around him. The crates that had previously broken his fall had been the nearest thing to cover he might have had. Since they had been reduced to nothing more than piles of broken wood, they were useless to him at the moment. The next closest were almost ten feet away. Given he was badly bruised, possibly with a cracked rib from the feel of it, they might as well be ten leagues away rather than ten feet.
Tensely, he faced Mrs. Monkhouse, “Occupational hazard, Madam. Or to quote a better man than me, ‘wherever there is anything to be done, there Providence is sure to direct my steps’!” A smile spread slowly across Anthony’s face, “So do you worst, Madam, for I assure you, we are far from done.”