The wheel lock creaked then turned, the door groaning as it slowly unlocked behind the two men. Around them a stiff, cold wind raced down from the four enormous gas bags holding the station aloft through the chimney above to the giant set of propellers far below their feet.
“There’s a door on the other side,” Clark called out over the wind. “We’ll want ta run for it!”
Hunter squinted, peering across the wind-tossed pit, “Where does it lead? Boilers? Machine shop?”
Clark nodded, “turbines and steam collectors. Boilers are below that.”
“Good enough,” Hunter replied.
The moment the two men ran from the platform, the door flew open and the two Fomorians spilled out. One, in the blue peacoat with light-brown hair, immediately leapt after Hunter and Clark while the other raced along a second catwalk running parallel to theirs. Hunter spun around, drew, and fired in a single motion at the one behind them.
The bullet caught their pursuer in the leg, causing him to stumble. The Fomorian fell to one knee, grimacing. Glaring over at Hunter, the beast reached over and gripped the steel handrail in one massive hand, deforming it, while he slowly got back to his feet. Hunter turned and ran, sprinting to catch up to Clark.
“They’re looking to cut us off!” Hunter called out.
At the moment the captain spoke, the second Fomorian crouched, then hurled himself across the chasm, crashing against the side of their catwalk! The metal bridge shuddered, teetering on collapse and tossing Anthony and John off their feet. Behind them, the Formorian pursuing them fell into the railing, then collapsed onto the bridge.
Metal groaned, rivets popped, and the catwalk tilted, sliding everyone on it towards the edge. Anthony slammed into a handrail, while Clark tumbled towards the side!
Hunter lunged out, catching Clark by the coat before the man was tossed over to his death. The captain grimaced from the ache in his shoulder as he slowly pulled Black Jack to safety. Meanwhile, his catch dangled like a fish on a line, scrambling to get a handhold in the metal itself. Finally Clark managed to climb back onto the catwalk next to Hunter.
“They do anything like that again, we’ll all pitch headfirst into those propellers,” Hunter said grimly, leaning in close to Clark so he could be heard. Slowly the captain pulled himself into a crouch, ignoring the throbbing pain in his shoulder.
“Aye, and if they lay hands on us, they’ll pound us ta puddin’,” Clark replied, climbing to his feet.
“I’m very open to ideas right now,” Captain Hunter said, standing up and drawing his revolver. Taking aim, he fired at the Fomorian that sought to block them from reaching the other side. The bullet ricocheted off the steel tube of the handrail with a bright spark and an angry whine. Startled, the giant jerked his hand back. He dangled for a moment by a few fingers until he managed to regain his hold of the pipe. The ape-like beast glared daggers at the captain.
John looked back the way they had come. The Fomorian that had been chasing them was getting to his feet, blood oozing from the wound in its thigh. Angrily, he grasped the handrail with both hands, deforming it further. Clark glanced over the side of the catwalk, and smirked.
“Only got one idea,” Clark exclaimed over the noise, looking over his shoulder at Hunter, “you won’t like it!” John pointed over the side of the catwalk.
Hunter fired again at the Fomorian blocking their way as he scrambled over the handrail. The bullet slammed into the giant’s arm, cutting a nasty furrow. Grabbing his new wound, the sandy-haired ape-like beast stumbled sideways, hissing from the pain. Hunter looked at Clark.
“Are you mad?” Anthony exclaimed over the hum of the propellers.
“Not enough that it counts, eh?” Clark called back with a lopsided grin. “Trust me; it’s the only way we’ve got. We’ll never take these two buggers with only a couple of pistols.”
Hunter glanced in both directions along the catwalk. The Fomorian behind them flexed, finally ripping away a four foot section of handrail. Without pause, he slung it at the two men. Hunter tackled Clark as the metal pipe screamed by, barely missing their heads! Swearing loudly, the giant lunged at another section of pipe, twisting it as before, and jerking it free.
In the other direction, their other problem pulled the revolver from his holster. As the Fomorian’s hands were too large to use the weapon, he turned it around to use it as a makeshift billy club.
“We’ll be killed!” Hunter snapped, taking aim and firing behind them. The giant winced, then grinned nastily as the shot screamed harmlessly by. Hunter swore under his breath.
Clark clapped Hunter on the shoulder and leaned close, “trust me!”
Anthony dropped his revolver into his holster, quickly stepping over to the rail. Understanding what the two captains were about to do, the Fomorians broke into a charge.
“Ready?” Clark asked with a grin, climbing over the handrail as the two giants ran closer, the catwalk rumbling from their weight.
“No,” Hunter replied, perching on the edge of the rail next to Clark. Anthony looked below him. Cables and at least two wide metal beams were strung between the catwalks and the inner walls. The metal bridge vibrated visibly as the Fomorians approached, seconds away.
“Good!”, John said with a laugh, and immediately dove over the side. Hunter, followed just as the Fomorian with the bent section of handrail threw himself forward, clawing the air where they had been. Metal shook as the giant slammed against the bridge, his fingers just missing the edge of Hunter’s leg!
In the blink of an eye, they sailed out until the wind caught them, jerking them downward like a fish caught on a line. The giant propeller loomed closer every second as they tumbled through a latticework of steel and wooden supports.
Suddenly, Hunter slammed into one of the metal support lines, folding around it as the impact hammered the wind out of his chest. Gasping for breath, he clutched at it desperately like a drowning man to a piece of flotsam. Anthony looked around, desperate for a handhold. He knew, if he could just grab onto anything, he could get his breath then slowly climb to safety. At that moment, the captain considered a fight with the Fomorians preferable to falling to his death.
His cold fingers lost purchase on the cable, slipping on the ice-slick metal. In a silent panic, Hunter fell away, plunging further downward towards the propellers. He rebounded off another cable, then another, until finally he landed several yards above the main propellers. He glanced around, his mind struggling with the realization that he was alive!
Captain Hunter lay on his back, gasping desperately for air, facing up at the distant network of catwalks forty feet above. He lay on a net which was stretched out like a giant spider web strung between the walls and well below the catwalks, but above the propellers.
“Bloody damn lunatic!” Hunter yelled over the loud hum as his new bruises, striped across his chest, throbbed angrily in time with his sore shoulder. He winced as he won the battle to turn over on the net and get his feet, or at least his knees, under him.
Clark quickly crawled over and leaned close to be heard. He grinned, “you really think they’d let any ol’ bugger leg around in here without somethin’ to keep ’em alive?”
Hunter glanced up at the catwalks far above. The two giants were swearing aloud, shaking their fists; however the rush of wind muted their actual words. After a moment, one threw the twisted pipe in desperate frustration, missing horribly.
“Well, we’d best leg it before those buggers up there realize the net will hold them, too,” Clark said, before climbing away over the net.
Captain Hunter set his mouth in a hard line, and then tapped Clark on the arm. The scarred man turned with a quizzical look on his face, just before Hunter slammed a hard right fist into Clark’s stomach! John’s eyes bulged as he doubled over, gasping for air.
“What the bloody hell?” Clark wheezed, trying to yell over the hum of the propellers. “All right, I might’a deserved the poke in the jaw earlier, but what was this one for?”
Hunter frowned, unable to fully hear Clark’s comment, though he suspected he correctly interpreted the meaning. Reaching over he snatched the man up by the lapel of his coat and yanked him close so he could hear every word over the machinery.
“That’s for trying to kill me,” Hunter replied angrily, “twice now, as a matter of record! I understand your push to save your son, and I will help you as much as I can. However, Sirrah, I can’t do that if you try and murder me in the process, or get yourself butchered by whatever cog-forsaken machinery you encounter!”
John grimaced, turned his head to cough, then took a deep breath. “Bloody hell, I was tryin’ ta save your stodgy hide! I said that before!”
Captain Hunter glanced up at the catwalks. Above, the Fomorians had run for the door at the far end, and were fighting with the turn wheel to unlock it. Anthony gave Clark a stern look, then glanced around for a way off the safety net. “Oh, indeed you have. It’s the ‘how’ that leaves me curious, as does just where in the bloody hell we’re going!”
The scarred captain glanced up as well, watching the creatures as they wrestled with the steel door. The pair finally yanked the door open and rushed inside. Clark chuckled, which ended in a dry cough. He pointed at a worn, weather-beaten steam vent in the wall of the chimney twenty feet away. “We’re headin’ that way,” he said over the ever-present hum, “that big steam vent. It’s wobbly on the right side. It’ll open like a door.”
“Brilliant,” Hunter replied with a hard sigh, letting go of Clark before he started to scale his way towards the steam vent. “Now, if you don’t mind, just what did you think you were trying to accomplish in the close earlier?”
“What?” Clark called out, cupping a hand to his ear.
Hunter turned, realizing that the man could not hear him. He pointed to the steam vent away as if to say ‘hurry’. Clark coughed again, and nodded. Once at the vent, Hunter leaned in while Black Jack looked for a spot on the vent to pull on.
“Before, I was asking just what did you think you were trying to accomplish in the close earlier?” Hunter said, making himself heard over the propeller’s hum.
“I thought if I had them believe that I croaked you, they’d give us a rest,” Clark admitted with a disgruntled tone while his fingers probed the edge of the vent.
Hunter stared at Clark with a mix of amazement and disbelief. “You were aware that they were chasing you at the time? If they were chasing you, why would faking my death do anything but encourage them to murder you where you stood?”
“Yea, I was aware of it at the time,” Clark snapped in reply. “Just didn’t think it all through.” The man’s fingers stopped on a small raised section of the curved metal of the circular vent. He tugged and the vent popped open. He turned with a smile of satisfaction towards Hunter.
Hunter stared back with an exasperated, stern look; one the captain often used when he was expecting a longer reply, or a better explanation.
Black Jack’s smile faded to a sour, irritated expression. He wiped his dirty hands on his coat. “Oi! I was under a pressure,” he grumbled, “I didn’t look at it that way. Let’s just get out of all this; them propellers are giving me a headache.”
“Agreed,” Hunter replied with a slight shake of his head and a glance skyward towards the now bent catwalks.