Quickly crossing to the back of the room towards the broken desk, Anthony let out a sigh of relief as he heard a muttered curse from John Clark. Hunter’s solace drained out of him the moment he pushed the desk aside.
John was sitting on the floor, shirt torn, broken nose bandaged, and an eye already turning black from being freshly hit again. Blood welled from fresh cuts on his lip and cheekbone, staining his face. His skin was pale, but his eye bright and alert, despite the pain.
It was the device strapped to John’s chest that captured Hunter’s attention. The harness was a stout, double layer of leather; the kind used for a team of oxen. Attached to the harness was a pair of large gallon containers made from tempered glass, each packed with a damp, black powder. Wires were buried in the powder, running from there to brass stoppers at the top.
Above the stoppers, the wires continued upward, coiling into a narrow lead glass box bolted to the harness, housing both a wide chemical battery and a pocket watch. Both were surrounded by, and attached to, the wires from the gallon bottles below it.
Captain Hunter traced the wires further, uncovering a narrow brass tube nestled behind the lead glass box. It, too, had wires protruding from it, but nothing else gave any clue as to its purpose. From the quartet of containers, the copper wires continued into the harness itself, sandwiched between thick layers of leather.
Without a word, Hunter immediately started looking for the buckle to remove it. Black Jack stopped him.
“Oi, it’s riddled with wires,” John explained with cough, followed by a grimace of pain, “I’ve been diggin’ about lookin’ for a way to pluck ‘em without makin’ it go off. Not found it such yet. Didn’t get a good look at it before they kicked the ten bells out of me and stuffed me in this. What is it?”
Antony scrutinized the containers. “Its an explosive, most likely dynamite, though how they got it aboard is beyond me. I’d advise against excessive moving about, or sudden motions.” The captain continued to study the device, “where are the others that were brought here? My crew? The wounded Fomorians?”
Clark winced as he slowly shifted position, “Gone. Your crew was moved to another location some time back. Seems your Scottish quartermaster and the Fomorians were developing a habit of fist-fightin’ every few minutes. The doctor here ’bout went balmy trying to keep ‘em separated, so he fixed the problem by putting them somewhere else and keepin’ the Fomorians here.”
That sounded like O’Fallon, Hunter thought with a smirk. “Yet he left Angela, my pilot and yourself here?” the captain replied, tapping the lead glass container which held the pocket watch. Hunter scowled at the device. He deduced the wires were primarily a trigger, as well as a trap to prevent tampering. The presence of the pocket watch baffled him.
John coughed, then winced in pain again. “Bugger that hurts! I think a rib’s cracked. The young miss, that one crew of yours the girl called ‘Tonks’, and myself were here to be kept close under your doctor’s orders. He’s got himself a right fine laboratory next door, workin’ on some way to combat that Fomorian elixir. Especially since the young lady come down sick with some of it at some point. Poor girl. For me, I think Thorias wanted me sparkling conversation,” Clark said with a pain-wracked grin.
“Oh, naturally,” Hunter replied, carefully testing the connection of the wires to the jar which held the chemical battery and pocket watch. “Your wit and charm are just mesmerizing.”
John ignored the remark, “As I was elucidatin’, a gang of them knobbers took all their mates out of here, right along with that Tonks of yours. Didn’t go quiet, though. Your young miss over there, she’s quite the fighter. Bloodied more’n one of them.”
Captain Hunter took that in silently while he continued his inspection of the bomb strapped to John Clark’s chest. Anthony glanced around, then searched the wreckage of the desk next to them. He eventually discovered a set of scalpels and a clockwork spider that bristled with tiny forceps. The captain scooped up the spider first.
Hunter recognized it from something similar Thorias had aboard the Griffin. It was an Autonoma Arachnae Extractor, an ingenious little device that once set, was often used to perform sensitive and minute operations such as very tiny stitches or extractions of broken needles. He only hoped wire extraction was not too far afield for it.
Clark eyed the device skeptically, “a Seamstress Spider? I heard they got a tick where they’ll start sewin’ and forget to stop.”
“It’s a clockwork device, it doesn’t ‘forget’,” Hunter said as he turned the appropriate tiny keys on the palm sized brass spider’s back. “However, I’m not wanting it to sew, I want it to extract.” A moment later, the captain smiled in satisfaction. “Like pulling out a needle,” he explained, “only the ‘needle’ is a wire.”
Hunter placed the spider atop the lead glass case near one of the larger lead wires. Immediately, the spider scurried over and proceeded to carefully tug at the wire, slowly pulling it from the housing. The captain smiled, “ah, there we go.”
Abruptly, sparks flew from the small brass spider, followed by a small tendril of smoke. In the blink of an eye, it released the wire and had promptly sewed four inches of John’s shirt to the harness before Captain Hunter slapped the mechanical device away, smashing it against the wall. The Seamstress Spider fell to the floor with a heavy metal clunk where it sparked once more, then lay still.
“Not a word, not one word,” Hunter warned Black Jack as he selected one of the scalpels, then set to work seeing if he could cut the leather straps away.
“Who were they John? Were they Fomorians?” The captain asked while he worked, although he suspected he already knew the answer.
“None other,” John replied. “Oh, they looked the part, mind you. All decked out in proper Navy attire, but they be no more Intrepid crew than I go about wearin’ a pink petticoat. Two of them knobbers had shipped with the Revenge for a season, afore they shipped out elsewhere. They knew your doctor had fashioned the real elixir. They were here looking for it, but your young girl drank the only real sample made.”
“Which resulted in her current condition,” Hunter added.
John coughed, winced, then nodded. “Somethin’ they didn’t expect, I’ll tell you that. At the end of it, they didn’t lay hands on the translation either, or that monkey. The lot left here mad as a bag of ferrets when they didn’t find what they wanted. That monkey servitor took off down the corridor, probably got itself good and lost.”
Hunter grunted sourly in reply as he cut away part of the first strap, only to discover cutting the remainder would break one of the wires. This, in turn, would cause a break in the mild current running through the harness, sending it instead into a sealed brass tube that hummed with the sound of clockwork gears turning steadily inside.
The captain tugged at a wire, thinking to disconnect it. Instantly, an electric shock jolted through John Clark, sending the man into a harsh bout of spams. Hunter immediately let go of the wire and shielded his face from the stray electricity, looking around for something with which to douse the power. As quickly as it started, the jolt of power stopped, leaving a smoldering John Clark gasping for air.
“Whate’er you did?” John wheezed, “I don’t think that was the right wire to tug.”
“Sorry for that,” Hunter apologized, “it’s a touch more complicated than it looks.” The captain rubbed sweat from his eyes with the back of his hand.
“Any luck where I can’t reach?” John asked with a slow, deep breath, “someplace that won’t cook me?”
“Not a whit,” Anthony replied, “I don’t understand why they just didn’t shoot you where you stood, instead of using this overly complicated … thing. Blood and sand! I need Moira, she’d bend this to her will in short order. John, don’t move about any.”
John grunted with a painful grin, “not bloody likely. I’m a bit done with takin’ risks. Someone else can have a go at it.”
Anthony smirked, “good man. I’m trusting your son has sent word to let the rest of my crew loose, as we’re obviously not a threat. Back in a moment with proper help, or at least better tools I can work with. Trust me, I’ll be back straightaway.”
“No worries, mate,” Black Jack replied, though his face showed a far greater amount of worry than his voice portrayed, “I trust you.”
The captain set the scalpel aside so that John would not accidentally cut himself if he encountered it, then shouted towards the door. “Doctor! Is Captain Clark at hand?”
Silence was his only answer from the hallway. Hunter frowned. “Thorias?” Still no answer. A cold chill ran along Anthony’s spine.
“Long overdue for anyone to come burstin’ in,” John admitted quietly.
Carefully, and without a word, Hunter palmed one of the scalpels before standing and facing the doorway. Thorias was gone, as was Angela from what he could see. His mind screamed an alarm. Angela was suffering the ill-effects of that Hellgate Elixir. She should have been in no condition to go running about. Likewise, Thorias would not have let her, nor would he have left her side.
However, from his vantage point, the corridor was empty. No wounded, no doctors, no Angela. Only a telltale sign of bloodstains remained. A crawling uneasiness clawed at the back of his mind.
Slowly, the captain approached the open doorway, then heard a telltale metal click. He stopped, putting his back against the wall so that the doorframe could provide some protection. The captain peered around the edge, desperate for the feel of his absent revolver, which probably lay under lock and key in the Intrepid’s weapon locker.
Hunter took a slow breath, then stepped through the doorway. Once he crossed the threshold and into the corridor beyond, he found himself staring into the dark barrel of a Colt single action revolver aimed at his chest by one Senior Lieutenant Johnson!
The sailors from before were now on their knees, rifles no longer in their hands. Captain Thomas Clark – now sporting a vile bruise around his right eye, skinned knuckles and a cut lip – was already being bound by two men dressed as Intrepid seamen.
Across the hall from Clark, Thorias stood protectively in front of Angela with his fists clenched. Angela herself was back in human form and huddled in a wool blanket, shivering uncontrollably and looking terrified.
“Good to have you join us, Captain Hunter,” Johnson said with a smug smile. Hunter frowned slightly, noticing that Lieutenant Johnson’s mannerisms had changed, as had his pronunciation, which now held a touch of a Liverpool accent to it.
Johnson shrugged slightly, “I really don’t think we’ll be needing that map I was sent to fetch. You see, there’s been a change in plans.” The lieutenant’s smile grew, “I think we can drop the pretense, eh? Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dr. Edmond Hardy. And you and your crew, Sir, have been a right proper pain the arse.”
“We try,” Hunter replied with a small, curt bow.