Bullets whined through the air as the Fomorian’s revolver stabbed flame down into the alley from the rooftop above. The steam engineer jerked as if struck. Anthony Hunter and John Clark immediately grabbed their surprised young man by both arms and pulled him back inside the doorway and out of the line of fire. Captain Hunter eased the man against a nearby wall, while Clark slammed the steel hatch door shut. The wheel spun until the thick steel bars slid closed, sealing the door from the inside.
Clark smiled, pleased with himself, and wiped his hands on his coat. “Well, that’ll put a knot in their knickers, at least for a bit., eh?” Turning around, the world abruptly exploded for him as Hunter’s hard right fist hammered against Clark’s jaw!
John staggered back while Hunter snatched the revolver from his grasp. Black Jack, still dazed, fumbled around to take the weapon back, but failed. Anthony pushed the revolver into a coat pocket, then dropped his own into its holster under his coat. Hunter winced as his shoulder, the one he had landed on when leaving the Fair Winds, ached sharply.
“Oi! What was that for?” John sputtered angrily.
“I’ve a list,” Hunter snarled. The captain turned to the engineer who was staring wide-eyed at both Anthony and Clark, and panting for breath.
The engineer, a young man Hunter judged to be in his early twenties, was grabbing his upper left arm just below the shoulder where blood stained his coat and fingers. He winced slightly from the pain, but never let his eyes leave Hunter and Clark. “Are … are ya gonna kill me?” He asked nervously.
“Me? No,” Captain Hunter replied. “And neither will he,” the captain gestured at John Clark with a thumb. “Lets take a look at your arm, how badly were you hit?”
“Don’t quite know. Hurts a good bit,” the engineer replied. The young man pulled his hand away from the bloody gash in his sleeve to allow Anthony a closer look.
“Fine way to give a ‘thank you’ for savin’ your stodgy hide!” John snapped, rubbing his sore jaw, glancing around at the hallway.
“Pardon?” Hunter replied sourly while he examined the engineer’s wound. “I happen to see it very differently. From where I am, this is a right fine mess we’re in the middle of, and so far a great deal seems to be of your making.”
Satisfied the wound was not life threatening, Captain Hunter looked around the room they were in. It was the start of a hallway, lined with gray steel pipes as thick as a man’s arm along the ceiling and walls. A large red pressure value thrust out prominently from a pipe near the door behind them like a red blossom on a steel vine. The floor was a dingy steel, clean enough for a building that was comprised mostly of multi-story boilers and steam engines.
Electric arc lanterns hung at regular intervals, dotting the gloom with a steady pale blue-white light. At last, Hunter found what he was looking for: nestled to the right of the door, a brown satchel stenciled with a faded red cross and the word ‘medical’. The captain tugged the kit from where it hung, then withdrew a roll of gauze and a vial marked ‘antiseptic’.
“‘Ere now, of me makin’?” Clark sputtered. “No one asked you ta come along, pokin’ your big nose about, eh?”
“You did actually, you raving lunatic. You ‘asked when you assaulted the Fair Winds, stole her cargo and crew, then nearly burnt me to bits for being too close when it was scuttled,” Hunter snapped back before partially turning away from a red-faced Captain Clark. “I’d call that ‘asking’.” Hunter smiled at the engineer. “What’s your name, young man?”
The young man winced as Hunter applied the antiseptic ointment. “Thomas, Sirrah.”
The captain nodded with a small smile, “Good to meet you, Thomas. You’re quite the lucky fellow. Several bullets flying about in that close, and all you’ve got to show is a wound on the arm? You’re quite lucky, indeed. The bullet just scratched you. Nothing a bandage and a short visit to a proper doctor for some stitches won’t cure.”
Thomas watched intently, wide-eyed, his hands shaking slightly, and winced while Hunter slowly, methodically applied the ointment and bandage. “Thank ya, Sirrah.”
“I’m no doctor, but it’ll do to keep you from bleeding everywhere,” Hunter replied, while Clark scowled at Hunter from behind. The captain dropped the gauze and antiseptic vial back into the medical satchel and tossed it over near the door. “Now, what’s the quickest way through here? I take it this place is a bit of a maze?”
“Yes, Sirrah, just a bit.” Thomas replied, before pointing down the dim hallway. “Ya head that way, straight as an arrow. When ya come to the end, turn left. That door will take ya into another long tunnel which cuts square to the blacksmiths’ shop. Past that you’ll find another door out. Ignore the other doors, they just take ya to the boilers or the steam engines themselves.”
“Capital,” Anthony replied with another smile. Suddenly, John snatched at the revolver in Hunter’s coat, jerking it free!
“I’ve ‘ad about all I can stand o’ this!” Clark snapped.
Startled, Thomas yelped, then bolted off down the hallway. Hunter immediately spun around as Clark leveled the pistol at his chest.
Ten feet away, where a second hallway joined, the young engineer stumbled into a wall, then scampered out of sight, giving a last, terrified look back at the two captains.
“Lovely,” Hunter said with a glance and an exasperated gesture towards where Thomas had been.
“Shut it,” John Clark ordered harshly.
“We’ve been over this,” Hunter said in a brittle tone, glaring at Clark.
Clark glared back, clenching the pistol in his hand. “Will you, for just one bleedin’ moment, shut your bloody cake-hole, and listen? Or are you such an arse that you’re chuffed as nuts over the sound of your own voice just that much?”
Captain Hunter clamped his mouth shut in a hard line, then slowly folded his arms over his chest, slowly flexing his clockwork left hand.
John’s shoulders relaxed slightly, “finally. As I was tryin’ to explain before, you could say ‘thank you’. I did go and save your life back there, y’know? Or I tried to.” He ran a hand through his unkempt sandy-brown hair, and sighed. “More’s the like that you’re now a walkin’ dead man like me. It’s all blown to hell and back by now, anyway.”
“What do you mean?” Captain Hunter asked curiously.
John rubbed his eyes, fatigue seeping into his form, “I thought, maybe, they’d think you and I were about to kill each other and just back away. I never thought they’d be lookin’ to kill me too. Least not till I was done.”
“Wait, what do you mean, ‘not till you were done’?” Hunter asked with a concerned scowl. “What were you about to do? And what does this have to do with the Fair Winds and its passengers? Why did you drag my ship and my crew into this?”
“Bollocks,” Clark swore, shoving his revolver into its holster. Then stepping away a few paces, he gritted his teeth, pressing his fists against his temples in frustration.
“John,” Hunter prodded sternly.
Captain Clark spun on his heel, the light casting the man’s scarred face in a tortured mask. He glared daggers at Hunter. “‘Cause they needed some bugger to sacrifice so they could cover their deed. If I didn’t do as they said, just like all the other times, they’d have killed me son!”
Slowly, Clark’s features softened, and at last all the bottled up fatigue washed out over him. “Me only son … aboard his own ship, they would’ve killed him,” he said slowly in a small voice. He slumped back against a nearby wall, shoulder’s sagging as if he carried an enormous weight. “Why would you care, eh? It’s all ballsed-up anyway. Doesn’t matter what all I’ve got, it won’t help. Cor blimey, I’m just so tired, and there’s just so bloody many of ’em.”
Anthony watched Clark thoughtfully. The Black Jack he remembered was an arrogant, aggressive man with little regard for rules or most around him. Unless those people were useful to him in some way.
That was the angry man Anthony had seen being led away in chains to serve out his time in a penal colony in the Caribbean ten years ago. In the long intervening years, John Clark had changed. Anthony realized he was looking back, angry, at the man ten years ago, not the tortured soul in front of him now.
Anthony glanced around them at the locked door and empty hallway. “Help or not, this is the last place we need to discuss it. Those … what did you call them? Fomorians? Will find their way in here eventually, and we need to be gone when they do.”
“What do we do?” Clark asked in a thin voice, looking at the ground. “They’re all over the station.”
“What we do is find our way to the other door young Thomas mentioned and make our way to my ship. They may be dotted across this station, but I’ll be damned if they’re aboard my ship. In the meantime, what won’t help? What were you going on about?”
John mumbled a reply, rubbing his eyes and shaking his head slightly.
Grabbing Clark by the arm, Hunter hauled the man off the wall and sharply onto his feet. John shrugged Hunter’s arm aside, but nonetheless fell in step as Anthony quickly walked down the hallway. “There’s nothing to tell,” Clark replied with a stubborn scowl, “nothing useful.”
Hunter paused at the intersection between the hallway Thomas had vanished down and their own. Carefully, the captain peered around the corner. Seeing no one there, he continued forward with John close behind.
Captain Hunter shook his head slightly, “Damn it, John, you brought myself and my crew into this, don’t even deny that you didn’t. So since we’re here in this up to the neck with you, I’d appreciate some sort of explanation! What won’t help? Who are these ‘Fomorians’? Isn’t that some sort of pirate?”
Clark grimaced, then gave an exasperated grunt before answering. “Fine enough, then. They go and call themselves that. Fomorians, I mean. They think they be havin’ some connection to an ancient group called the same thing. They’ve been stealing cargo for a bit and haulin’ it off to somewhere around Inverness. Up until lately, they’ve only been takin’ people from here at Port Signal. Until they made me hit the Fair Winds, that is.”
“Yes, about that,” Hunter said thoughtfully while he hurried down the hallway. “Your son is being threatened? He’s a captain aboard a naval warship. How could any of that lot get close, unless …” Anthony stopped and turned around to give a surprised look to John. “They’ve conspirators aboard the Intrepid?”
John nodded, “Aye, they do. It’s why I’ve been important also. See ‘ere, I didn’t break out of prison. One of their members has somethin’ to do with the prison in Bermuda. They signed me release, then walked me right onto a ship for ‘ere. They thought I’d keep young Tom at bay, and the threat on his life would keep me towin’ the line for them.”
“Instead you’ve been up to your own plan?” Hunter asked with a faint smile.
“Aye,” John replied, a twinkle in his eye. “At least tryin’. I sussed out some of what they’re about. Me plan was that I could turn over what I knew to the dock master, or a coast guardsman. They’d get it to the right people, and me son wouldn’t be hurt a whit.”
“What are they doing? Besides kidnapping and theft?” Hunter asked curiously.
“Based on the parts, it’s a weapon,” Clark replied. “I think a bomb, and somethin’ to deliver it.”
“Hey!” A voice echoed in the corridor from back the way they came. The two men spun around to see the three crew men from the Revenge at the intersection they had left behind! Thomas was with them, pointing.
“That’s them!” The young engineer said.
“Ya done good lad,” a man with a thin, pock-marked face replied in a rough voice. He withdrew a small vial with a yellow liquid inside it, and handed it to Thomas. “Here, ya’ve earned a small swig. Take it.”
Clark yanked the revolver from his holster, aimed and fired. “Don’t let ’em down that elixir!”
The shot took the pock-marked sailor in the leg. Jerked off his feet, the man collapsed to the floor with a howl of pain.
Giving a shriek of delight mixed with fear, Thomas clutched the vial to his chest and raced off. The other two sailors reached for their own flasks.
“Those flasks? What’s wrong with them?” Hunter asked, confused as he hastily drew his revolver and fired at the two men. His shot whined past them, just clipping the ear of one of the two men.
“Don’t ask, just shoot!” Clark growled, firing again, and missing in his haste.
Suddenly, both men that Clark and Hunter fired upon each quickly drank the contents of their flasks. The bottles fell to the floor, shattering at their feet as they both let out a keening wail of pain. One man, tall and thin with light brown hair and a blue peacoat, gagged, yowled and fell against the wall, shuddering. His companion, however, fell to his knees, eyes ablaze with an insane light that positively glowed in the hallway’s dim gloom.
“Bloody hell,” Hunter exclaimed in mild horror, watching as the sailors began to twist and change shape.
Bones snapped, limbs stretched and muscles inflated painfully as the two men writhed in agony, yet their eyes gleamed with an insane joy. Captain Hunter’s stomach rolled at the sight, as each man before him became more misshapen with every passing moment. It was John Clark that broke Anthony from the horrific, hypnotic vision.
“They’ll be done in another second, we’ll need ta find better places to fight back from,” Clark said shaking Hunter’s arm.
“Agreed,” Hunter replied. “We need some place more open, with room for us to maneuver. A place to have a moment to plan.”
John raced ahead, with Hunter following behind. They sprinted for the end of the hallway, towards a lone, soot-stained steel door on their left. Behind them, the gargles and cries of pain from the two men being twisted and deformed grew quiet as the process finished.
At the door, Clark jerked the turn wheel that unbolted the dirty steel hatch door. The bolts pulled out of the doorframe with a harsh clunk, and John yanked open the door and rushed through. Beside him, Hunter turned smartly on his heel, Schofield in hand, and fired at one of the Fomorians down the hallway.
The bullet hammered into the man’s arm, tossing the giant partway around. Instead of any register of pain, the beast snarled, eyes red with anger. Immediately, the Fomorian sailor charged down the hallway!
Without a second thought, Captain Hunter dashed through the open doorway into the gray light beyond, slamming the door shut behind him. He spun the wheel until bolts caught in the doorframe, then turned in surprise at the sharp downdraft of cold wind tugging at his coat.
He was standing next to John Clark, who also was looking around with a mixture of relief, dismay and a stubborn determination. The two men were on a metal mesh platform, suspended over enormous propellers that hummed as they spun steadily below their feet.
The propellers were part of the two story engine that circulated the air, and helped to provide lift and stability to the station itself. Below them, thin clouds drifted along, while further down rested the dark waters of the North Sea.
Hunter looked at the network of thin catwalks that connected their platform with similar areas on the other side of the pit. A frigid wind whipped around him, tugging dangerously at his coat, trying to sweep him off to be either cut apart by the propellers or pitched to his death in the waters miles below.
“When I said ‘room to maneuver’ this isn’t precisely what I had in mind,” Hunter said in exasperation.
Just then, the wheel lock to the steel door behind the men shook violently, as if something strong was pulling on it from the other side!