The sailor, a gangly man with a nervous twitch in his right eye, stopped in his tracks, staring down the barrel of Captain Hunter’s revolver. He licked his lips nervously, glancing at his club, then over at the bloody pistol that lay a few feet away. It was the same pistol his companion had tried to use a moment ago.
“By what miracle do you believe I’ll let you reach that?” Anthony asked with a icy tone.
One by one, loyal members of Wilhelm’s crew surrounded the pair. Their leader, a tall, muscular brown-skinned man with a tattooed face and wearing a peacoat over his work coveralls expelled a spent shell from the 1876 Winchester rifle in his hands as he drew abreast of the group.
“I have a better question,” the muscular sailor commented with a smooth West African accent, “Why you think we let you get at it, mon ami?” He smiled at the sailor pleasantly, loading a bullet into the rifle.
Captain Hunter relaxed, just a little. “I believe the gentleman’s point is much better than mine.”
Slowly, the smirk melted away from the sailor’s face. He released the hold on his club, and dropped to his knees. The weapon clattered to the deck as William’s crew rushed forward to roughly drag the man away.
“Kapitän!” Wilhelm cried out from far across the deck. A broad smile lit his face while he waved cheerfully. Moira, who had just dispatched what seemed to be the last smuggler masquerading as one of the crew of the Revenge, smiled and waved as well. All around the pair, bodies of sailors, beaten and bloodied lay on the deck, groaning in pain.
“Heaven help me,” Hunter muttered in amazement while he pushed his revolved back into its holster, “that family defies explanation.”
“I am glad you could join us, Kapitän,” Wilhelm said striding across the deck towards Anthony with his arms wide in a welcoming gesture. “I was so afraid you would miss everything while below! I am glad you did not, ja?”
The German captain gestured with a hand towards the unconscious thugs on deck. “I do think mein niece and Herr O’Fallon flushed the snakes out of their hole with their idea, ja?”
“Put them in the hold, mon Capitaine?” The tall man with the rifle said as Wilhelm drew close.
“Oh, ja, Noel, it is a good place for them.” Klaus replied patting the young man on the shoulder with a smile. “Good work as always.”
“Ce n’est rien, ” Noel replied with a shrug. “It was lucky I was aboard to take the week’s accounting, non?”
With a respectful nod to Wilhelm and Hunter, Noel turned and gestured for the crew to escort the traitors below deck.
Klaus waved a hand at the prisoners, “It seems these are the reason Kapitän Clark was needing help. He needed it against a mutiny.”
Captain Hunter did not share Wilhelm’s enthusiasm over their victory. “Quite so,” he replied cautiously. Hunter glanced about the deck with an intense look of concentration. Of the original crew of the Revenge, only a small band had fought back once Moira and Conrad stormed the gangplank.
Many of these were wounded, but only two gravely so. The remainder of the crew wisely sided with Captain Wilhelm – especially since he owned the vessel and was likely the actual source of their pay.
Something still seemed out of place, however. Anthony looked around at the faces of the captured smugglers. He quickly turned towards Wilhelm and Moira.
“Peter Bauer?” Hunter asked with an undertone of concern to his voice. “Have you seen the man?”
The name stopped Klaus where he walked. “Peter? Nein, mein friend. When all this started, I lost track. Why? Do you think he is hurt?”
“No, at least not through lack of my trying.” Hunter admitted grimly. “The man tried to kill myself and O’Fallon just a moment ago. We got his accomplice but not him.”
“Kill you and Conrad?” Moira snarled glancing around, reaching for her guns. “No one shoots at me crew mates … especially me Cap’n! Where is he? I’ll teach him proper manners!”
“What?” Captain Wilhelm exclaimed at the same time. “Peter? He is an officer of one my ships! Why would he do this?”
“Moira, we’re fine,” Hunter replied quickly with a small smile. Moira, unconvinced, looked Hunter up and down a moment, then turned around to find O’Fallon. “Well, I’m still gonna check on O’Fallon. But mark me, that Bauer better not do this again!”
Hunter gestured towards O’Fallon and Brian Tanner who had just arrived at the gangplank. “That man there, Brian Tanner can confirm what I’m telling you, Captain Wilhelm. As can a log book I have with me written in Captain Clark’s own hand. Your Peter Bauer has some ill-gotten agreement with the German Empire – specifically the Kingdom of Prussia. Whatever the plan is, it involves your death, at the least.”
Wilhelm folded his arms across his chest, “I will need to hear this for myself, Kapitän.” Klaus waved a hand towards Brian, glancing over at two crewmen nearby. “You two, find a doctor, ja? Be quick!”
The two crewmen raced off while Moira rushed across the deck, drafting two nearby deck hands in the process to help relieve the quartermaster of his burden.
“Clark recorded much of this in his log books,” Anthony explained. “Suspicious activity, strange accidents leading to replacement of key crew positions. Finally, odd cargo deliveries that have been off the books. As it happens, one of your men – Brian Tanner – has been witness to much of what’s happened.”
Klaus’ features darkened perceptively. “So, he is part of this mutiny? This … conspiracy?”
Hunter folded his arms over his chest and shook his head. “Only by force. He claims to have been press ganged into it, by way of death threats against his brother. Which does make me wonder if Black Jack has found himself in a similar situation?”
Just out of the corner of his eye, Hunter spied motion on the boardwalk to the left of the gangplank. From out of the shadow of the ship where it touched a net-strewn pallet of boxes, Peter Bauer rose up, aiming a pistol at O’Fallon and Tanner. Where he stood, almost no one could see him on deck in that very moment.
“Bloody hell!” Anthony exclaimed, his hand sweeping down towards his gun belt, revolver practically appearing in his hand. Time slowed, and Hunter watched in horror as Bauer’s pistol belched smoke. Just a half-second later, Hunter’s own pistol stabbed flame in the traitor’s direction.
Hunter’s shout was like a trigger in the tense air, sending everyone moving at once. Deck hands either reached for weapons, dove for what cover they could, or both. Across the deck, Moira, dropped instantly into a crouch, pistols at the ready in the space of heartbeat. Peter’s bullet tore over Moira, then burned past Brian, narrowly missing his head by inches as O’Fallon pulled him flat to the deck.
On the boardwalk, Hunter’s shot burned a hot groove in Bauer’s cheek, cutting a cavity from the man’s left ear. Behind him wood exploded as the bullet came to rest, showering Peter Bauer with splinters.
For a single moment, time stood still. Peter Bauer stared hot, violent knives at Hunter, who in turn glared back as impassive and immovable as stone.
“Captain Wilhlem,” Hunter said quickly, “there is your proof! Moira?”
“Aye!” Moira replied, leaping over a kneeling crewman to sprint across the deck in response to her captain’s unspoken request. That man wanted to kill her uncle, her friends, her captain. She had one focus, and that was Peter Bauer.
Moira raced down the gangplank, stopped, and fired. At the moment the bullet would have hit – should have hit – the traitor ducked below a crate. Wood exploded with a fury, and Peter popped up a few steps farther along.
“I … missed,” Moira said in disbelief, which quickly turned to a cold anger as Peter glanced back and smirked at her.
“Oh, that’s how it is?” She exclaimed, racing down from the gangplank, her temper in full force. “Chew on this, then!” Quickly, she stopped ten feet from where Bauer was, firing repeatedly, her series of shots beating out in a steady, rapid staccato pattern.
The first struck the boardwalk, just ahead of Peter’s feet. Immediately, he dodged again with an unnatural agility. However, this time Moira was ready. Her second shot tugged at his thigh, cutting a sharp groove as he leaped up into the air. The pain and surprise of being hit dropped him to the ground and made him pause, if only for a heartbeat.
Abruptly, a loud snap popped in the air above and ahead of Bauer as Moira’s third shot cut a stout cargo rope clean in two. The rope, which had supported a fully loaded pallet, fell slack spilling the heavy boxes marked ‘iron ore’ over the side. Falling away into a deadly waterfall of debris, they tumbled down towards the deck below.
Terrified, Peter scrambled away for safety, not nearly as gracefully as before. The heavy ore crashed down behind him, as if chasing its errant prey. A black cloud billowed out like a living thing, trying to swallow the man whole. Dust caught at his face, sending him into coughing fits and darkening his blue peacoat.
Suddenly, the main bulk of the ore struck the boardwalk. Wooden boards ripped free of their nails while wood, rivets and iron ore were flung in all directions. Too close to the source of the impact, Bauer was shoved off his feet like a wet rag. Thrown through the air, he landed with a resounding crash against a forgotten wooden wagon holding barrels of soot.
The old barrels and weathered wagon, long in a state of disrepair, broke from the impact. Peter vanished amid the rubble as it seemed to swallow him whole. Only his gray woolen cap could be seen laying to one side, decorated with mix of soot, black powder and blood.
“Moira!” Captain Hunter called out, “belay the artillery barrage. I doubt he’s moving much after that.”
Moira made a sour, irritated look, then rushed over towards the wagon to search for Peter’s battered form.
They dodged a squat, crab-like Multi-Articulated Ambulatory Crane, or MAAC for short, sitting on its brass and steel spidery legs. Unlike a Clockwork Augmentations Suit, which required a driver inside, the crab-like clockwork crane was more automatic, and tended to be more stationary. The tarnished MAAC squatted nearby, calmly moving bundles of newly made pipes to one side automatically, oblivious to the events around it.
Hunter holstered his revolver, then kicked aside the broken bits of wagon while Moira held her pistols at the ready. However, no body could be see or found underneath.
“Oh bloody hell!” Moira exclaimed. “That’s just not fair! I dropped iron ore on him, Cap’n! Iron ore! At least he ought ta have the basic manners to be unconscious for it!”
Despite the tension and frustration of the moment, Hunter gave Moira a reassuring smile. “Brilliant work too, my dear, just truly brilliant. There’s more going on here than we first thought, and this just confirms it, eh? No one should have been able to survive one of your onslaughts with all fingers intact.”
Still frustrated, Moira glanced around. “Then where is he?”
Several feet away, not far from one of the entrances to an alley, stood their quarry. His woolen coat was torn, covered in streaks of black powder and gray soot, hands cutand bleeding, and trousers torn. He smiled broadly, resembling a death’s mask given the given the fresh dark bruises on his face and bloody cut along his scalp.
Peter yelled, “Kapitän! A gift for you!” Taking aim, he fired at the clockwork MAAC next to them.
The bullet struck the edge of the open frame, then immediately ricocheted through the coils and pipes inside. The spidery metal legs that gave the MAAC its crab-like appearance shuddered as if cold. Sparks flew, followed by a horrid shriek of stressed metal as the bullet, followed by a pressure valve, erupted out the side towards Moira and Captain Hunter!
“Moira!” Hunter yelled, and with a burst of speed threw himself forward, catching the young woman in his arms and knocking the two of them aside at the last moment. Hot, pressurized steam tore through the air like a knife, searing the spot where Anthony and Moira had been just seconds before. Immediately, the steam chilled in the cold air, turning into a damp fog that blocked their vision.
They both rolled quickly away from the deadly steam. From the gangplank of a cargo ship berthed next to the Revenge, the MAAC operator, a thin man in his later years, raced over, his wide handlebar mustache twitching frantically from cursing under his breath. Rapidly, he fretted over knobs and secondary valves, stopping the flow of precious hot vapor from the shuddering device.
Moira glanced back in shock and a little embarrassment at the gout of steam that had nearly hit them. “Thanks fer that Cap’n. Just didn’t see it comin’. That bugger moves so fast! How’s he doin’ that?”
“Think nothing of it, Moira,” the captain replied gently. Hunter, who had already gotten to his feet, held out a hand to help Moira upright. “As for how he’s moving so quickly, I just don’t know. However, I do intend to find out once we catch him! Now where is he?”
Carefully moving through the artificial fog, they spotted Peter just as he vanished into an alley not ten yards away from them.
“There!” Moira exclaimed, racing ahead with Hunter only a step behind.
At the alley entrance they paused, not hearing any footsteps or seeing any sign of the man. Hunter glared about the alley in frustration.
“Nothing,” the captain snarled. “Not even an echo of footsteps.”
Moira sighed irritably, “He couldn’t have gone up in smoke. But … he’s been movin’ fast.”
The captain thought a moment, his eyes wandering the alley with its recessed doorways and intersecting alleyway further down.
“Quite. However, that was agility. Some of which, I suspect, was fueled by a healthy fear of being shot by you. He has not shown a deft ability to outrun us yet, just to out maneuver us for the moment.” The captain squinted thoughtfully down the alley. “Moira, head to the next alley down. Give a shout if you see or hear anything.”
“Aye!” The young woman said, racing off with a eager gleam in her eye.
Hunter peered into the alley once more, but still nothing moved. He sighed, turning away. Just down the boardwalk, he saw Krumer Whitehorse running at a good pace. Oddly, he was alone. Mr. Pryce was not with him. Last the captain remembered, Conrad had told him Mr. Pryce and Krumer were headed off in pursuit of sailors who had left the Revenge.
So distracted, Anthony almost missed a faint coughing gargle, then the tinkle of broken glass. The captain quickly spun around. For the briefest moment, a shadow leaped across the space between alleys, then was gone. Captain Hunter drew his pistol, racing forward. He stopped halfway down when he lost sight of the unusual motion in the shadows.
“Bloody hell,” he swore vehemently, dropping his Schofield revolver back into its holster. A few feet away, glittering in the dim light of the alley, lay a sprinkle of newly broken glass and the stopper of a vial. Coating the glass, a thin film of a yellow-gold liquid still clung to the inside.
Anthony knelt down, peering at it curiously. He searched around the alley a moment, unwilling to touch the glass with his bare hands. At last he recovered a cast-off slice of wood, no wider than two of his fingers and no longer than a few inches. It would do for his current needs at hand. Using this, he gently brushed at the glass remains.
“A bottle of some sort,” he commented aloud to himself. “Perhaps a vial, if I don’t miss my guess.”
Quickly withdrawing a handkerchief, the captain scooped up the remains of the vial and wrapped them safely in the small square of cotton. He tucked the bundle into an inner pocket of his coat.
“Without Thorias at hand,” Hunter mused, “this will have to wait until later. I need to find Black Jack, and soon, wherever he may be hiding on this station. If I don’t, Sirrah Bauer and his brigands will, and that will never do.”