A deathly silence fell around the tiny cabin as Captain Hunter’s last comment sunk in. The four men looked uncomfortable, struggling with their own thoughts. Lieutenant Johnson shook his head and broke the silence.
“It’s preposterous, in my opinion,” the senior lieutenant declared sternly, “if that many people were being used as some sort of forced labor for building weapons and vehicles, it would be noticed.”
“I agree, but the basic premise has some insane sense draped about it,” Captain Clark replied. “North of Inverness along the coast is rather desolate. One might not see another person, or habitation, for miles.” He frowned thoughtfully, “with some careful planning, it might be possible to create some hidden labor camp there even if the odds stand against it. Lef’tenant, do we have a chart here of that area?”
“No, Captain, didn’t need to bring one,” Johnson replied. “We’ve not had any sightings in that area.”
“Of course, that’s true,” Clark said with a thoughtful nod. “Have a man track one down, this has piqued my curiosity.”
The senior lieutenant hesitated a moment, then pushed back from the table. He stood with a quick salute. “Aye, Captain. I’ll find it myself, and have it back here straight away.”
“Good man,” Clark replied, returning the salute.
“We thought much the same thing, that the kidnapped passengers would be here on the station,” Thorias interjected into Captain Clark’s thoughts as Lieutenant Johnson briskly left, “but now, I don’t believe anything of the kind. If they were here, the Fomorians would have to feed them, and someone would have noticed the amount of supplies needed for that many people.”
Thomas Clark nodded thoughtfully, “unless they had no intention of feeding them.”
“Forgive my morbidity,” the doctor commented, “but in such a case, they would have to dispose of the bodies. Again, it would likely be noticed by someone.”
Captain Clark sighed slightly, raising his eyebrows, staring off across the room as if in hopes the answer would materialize out of the air. “Well put. Though two things perplex me: one is how they would – or did – transport those people off station?”
“The black crates,” Hunter explained, “it must be. Crude, yet very effective.”
The young captain of the Intrepid glanced at both Thorias and Anthony in confusion. “Wait, what? Black crates, you say? What crates?”
“Mr. Tanner mentioned black crates aboard the Revenge, and that he heard faint voices around them. Crating the passengers would let them be moved about with no one the wiser,” Hunter explain with a shrug. “As I understand it, those crates were kept apart on their own.”
“It would explain how they were kept out sight, eh?” Thorias commented. “If Tanner heard them, another might have.”
Hunter shook his head, leaning back in his chair, “not so. Mr. Tanner only heard them when he was on watch one night, and even then it was faint. However, if one pads a crate with some sort of insulation … cotton wadding, cloth, straw … it would likely muffle sounds.”
“Ingenious deduction, and quite plausible,” Captain Clark replied, soaking in the idea.
“Captain, you mentioned something else perplexed you?” Dr. Llwellyn asked curiously, sitting forward until the wound in his ribs shot a dull ache into him that made him wince.
The captain of the Intrepid glance at the doctor in surprise, “Ah yes, a slightly different tack, yet related, I assure you. Doctor, how can you be so certain this hellish formula you’ve concocted is what these pirates want? I’ll quite readily admit, the potential lethality of the weapon cannot be denied, but if they were after the formula … why so casually sell it in a antiquities shop?”
“The Roman scroll tubes and journals?” Dr. Llwellyn asked. “The Fomorians had not found it, or recognized it for what it was among the Roman’s belongings. When one compares the potency of the formula they use with the one I based off the Roman formula, it’s obvious they had not found it,” he continued with a shrug, “otherwise, they would have used it. I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first that the notes were real. The translations were …troublesome due to age … however, I had the dictation Angela’s father left on the clockwork monkey as my guide.”
At the mention of the clockwork monkey, Captain Clark’s expression turned sour. “That thing. Here I was convinced it was just the girl’s toy. Damnable thing has stolen my tea twice now. That menace ought to be caged.”
The doctor chuckled, “while the monkey may be an irritant, it is a key to this entire mess. Young Miss Von Patterson’s father – Dr. James Von Patterson – dictated his discovery, as well as translated some of the ancient Roman writings into the monkey servitor. Making this quite valuable to the Fomorians. They’ve been obsessively searching for it.”
“I see, which means they could easily overlook the originals if they believe a translated copy is within their reach, correct?” Thomas Clark asked.
“Quite,” Thorias replied with a nod. “Based on my observations of those in your brig, they crave it, much as those poor souls that frequent an opium house crave their drug of choice. It erodes their mind, until replenishing their supply of elixir dominates their thoughts. I’m convinced they would do anything for it, and take the simplest route to acquire more.”
Hunter frowned, “captain, I’ve been hesitant to mention this – as I’ve had issue with believing it myself – but with regards to obsessions, have you heard of the threat on your life?”
Captain Clark nodded, “I’m quite aware already, thank you for your concern. The bloody bastards have tried twice now over the past few weeks, the second being much too close for my comfort.”
Hunter sat forward in alarm, exchanging a glance with Dr. Llwellyn. It was Hunter who spoke first, “When was this?”
“The first was over a week ago,” Captain Clark explained with a mild shrug, “right after we nearly caught a Fomorian smuggler off Aberdeen. Second time was just before we received the distress signal from the Fair Winds when she was scuttled.”
“How did they get aboard?” Thorias asked curiously.
Captain Clark’s features turned dark like a thundercloud, “they were two of my own crew. Midshipmen, actually. They’ve been aboard for at least a year. Deplorable. They had promising careers until the moment they tried to murder me.”
“Your father was kept somewhat obedient under the threat of harm coming to you, or anyone else John holds dear,” Anthony explained. “He was quite convinced your ship was, and is still well infiltrated.”
“Why kill Captain Clark though?” Thorias asked. “They would lose their hold over his father.”
“Only if he knew,” Anthony replied. “Likewise, if they killed this Clark, yet ensure the elder doesn’t know, it’s one less task to have to manage while dealing with over one hundred kidnapped passengers whom I doubt are cooperative. Also, John isn’t the only one they are using this tactic on. Brian Tanner was suffering under this same arrangement. I wonder how many of their crew is in such a situation?”
Captain Clark glanced at Anthony, then looked away. Understanding dawned in the eyes of the young captain of the Intrepid, framed with a touch of sadness. “I see. When I spoke with my father … that hadn’t come up.” Noticing the look from both Dr. Llwellyn and Hunter, Thomas faced them both squarely, his face expressing nothing. “My father and I have never been on the best of speaking terms. While I appreciate his concern, it’s a moot point. I doubt the Fomorians will be daft enough to try for my life again after two spectacular failures.”
Hunter sighed heavily. Thorias shook his head. “Captain, I mean no disrespect, I’ve stood my ground against these beasts more than once now. I implore you,” the doctor said emphasizing each word, “do not take them lightly.”
Captain Clark frowned at the Welshman, “Doctor, I’m well aware of how dangerous these bloody buggers can be, however …”
Suddenly, a chorus of shouts, followed by the screech of the ship’s general alarm cut short anything else the captain tried to say. The trio jumped back from the table, immediately getting to their feet as a midshipman threw open the hatch, rushing inside.
“What in the Queen’s name is all this?” Captain Clark demanded.
The midshipman quickly saluted. “Sorry, for interruption’, Cap’n! Mr. Kellum sent me down ta fetch ya. It’s that werewolf girl, she’s gone balmy!”
“Phooey!” Dr. Llwellyn snapped back. “I left her with a mild sleeping drought. Despite her being a werewolf, she should be dozing quietly in the infirmary.”
“Beggin’ yer pardon, but not from what I was seein’,” the sailor replied, “she’s all fur and claws, throwin’ lads about like laundry! It’s like she’s gone an’ got a little bigger, too.”
“That damn elixir!” Hunter swore vehemently.
“Confound it! She was free of that!” Throias exclaimed, pushing past the midshipman and into the hallway.
Captain Clark fixed a hard look at the startled midshipman. “Collect five good men. Arm yourselves and make best time to the infirmary. I want those patients kept safe from that werewolf!”
The midshipman looked uncomfortable. “Cap’n, that’s what I’m tryin’ to say,” the sailor replied, “we can’t get in there. She’s tossin’ us about, guardin’ the infirmary and all in there from us!”