As the revolver spat flame, Thomas Clark jerked to his right, still on his hands and knees, knocking Nash’s feet out from under him with a mule kick. The gunman fell hard to the floor sideways with a grunt of pain.
“Here!” Clark shouted. “Near the infirmary! There’s a mutiny! Senior Lef’tenant …”
Clark’s last words were abruptly cut off as Nash rolled over and slammed a fist into the side of the captain’s head. Captain Clark’s head turned sharply before he collapsed, prone, to the deck. With a sneer, Nash started to climb to his feet, but got only as far as kneeling before one of the Intrepid’s sailors struck Nash across the mouth with his bound fists.
Nash fell backwards hard, shaking the cobwebs from his head. Immediately, with murder in his eye, he raised his pistol and fired, the bullet catching the sailor in his arm and spinning him off his feet. The gunman hesitated as the sounds of running footsteps and angry shouts drew closer by the second.
“You’ve lost, Nash!” Hunter growled, “surrender!”
A few feet away, the last Fomorian guard battered the nearest bound sailor against the wall until he hung limp in the guard’s hands. Regaining his breath, the guard tossed the limp victim aside like a discarded sack of grain, then painfully scrambled to his feet. He turned just in time to avoid a wicked uppercut to the kidneys from Captain Hunter. The guard swung at Anthony with a snarl of rage. Anthony quickly ducked under the blow.
Nash leaned against the wall, slowly, painfully pulling himself upright, glaring around him like a caged animal. He glanced over his shoulder through the hatch. In the distance, seven sailors armed with pistols were heading their way. Nash glanced back to where Hunter desperately fought to subdue one of the guards.
“Surrender?” Nash said, wiping a trickle of blood from his lip, favoring his undamaged left leg, “not before I’m done with you!” He pulled up the revolver, aiming for Hunter’s back, and squeezed the trigger. Save for a deadly-sounding click, nothing happened. The revolver had jammed!
Hunter hammered a blow to the guard’s stomach, doubling him over. On hearing the telltale click, the captain glanced quickly towards Nash with an alarmed look, only to be struck across the face by a calloused Fomorian fist. Pain exploded in his skull as his vision momentarily blurred. He lashed out with two quick punches, like a snake striking out for its very life. The first doubled the Fomorian over, the second smashed across the guard’s face, dropping him his knees, stunned.
A few feet away, Nash shook the useless revolver, yelling in a wordless rage as his temper exploded in a white-hot fury. Slamming the revolver to the deck, he ripped a small vial of yellow liquid from his coat. He shattered the neck of the container against the wall, then downed the entire contents in one swift drink.
No sooner had Nash swallowed the elixir than it began to take its usual effect. The gunman gasped, as if unable to breathe. His skin flushed, turning a deep crimson. The man’s eyes bulged while he struggled for air. All over, his body began to spasm uncontrollably.
Panting heavily, Anthony snatched up the jammed revolver, slamming the barrel down across the skull of the last Fomorian guard. The man twitched, falling to the deck unconscious. Quickly, Hunter kicked his bloody knife over to the wounded, gunshot sailor who was coming back to his senses.
“Cut yourselves loose! Help your captain up, then make for the main deck!” Hunter said, quickly examining the revolver, then shoving it into his holster. “We’ve only a few minutes before that bastard completes his change. Seal the door shut behind you! I’ll go the other direction and shut that one. Also, send word to stop anyone seen carrying a young girl!”
“Sir, we’ve reinforcements coming,” the sailor protested. “We’ve won …”
“Belay that!” Hunter barked back, “Take yourselves, your captain and your reinforcements away from here. What you don’t know is that the Fomorian’s have left a bomb in the infirmary, strapped to someone in there! Don’t argue with me, lad! Move! I can’t worry about all of you while I’m seeing to that bomb and the others here!”
“Aye!” The young man replied, wide-eyed, as Nash screamed, then laughed maniacally while his form began to twist. Quickly, the seaman started frantically sawing through the ropes on his wrists.
Hunter knelt next to Thorias. The doctor was out cold. Anthony took a deep breath, then quickly hauled the doctor up, turning him around. Hefting the unconscious Welshman up, Hunter placed him across his shoulders and hurried down the hallway towards the infirmary.
Meanwhile, Black Jack had not sat idly in the infirmary while the fight raged in the corridor. Once Hunter had stepped outside the room, John – using the broken desk next to him – had succeeded in pulling himself carefully upright to a standing position. While the myriad of aches and pains from countless bruises subsided, he steadied himself. Carefully, he walked over to one of the nearby cabinets.
Searching about provided him with nothing more than two clean scalpels, some broken bottles that once held antiseptic, and some gauze. With a tired sigh, he went to work trying to disentangle himself from the diabolical bomb on his chest with the scalpels. His first attempt resulted in both a modest jolt of electricity that shook him like a rag doll, and a single audible tick from the pocket watch when John’s grip on the scalpel slipped.
Clark shook his head to clear it, then scowled at the vest. “I’ll not let a bit of brass and powder get the best o’ me!” he swore, then resumed tinkering with the dangerous device.
Between distractions from the gunshots in the corridor beyond, and sweat from John’s own hands, he succeeded in advancing the pocket watch’s second hand a total of fifteen seconds. This was in addition to the fourteen other attempts, when he had jolted himself with a mildly painful shock before Hunter ran into the room.
“When you’re done toying with the lethal explosives,” Hunter said in a rasping voice, “it’s time we took our leave of this dance.”
Hunter’s abrupt re-appearance caused John’s hand to slip again. He yelped as the vest jolted him once more. Clark coughed, and shook his head slightly before turning towards Hunter. Black Jack’s bruised and bloody face was a garish mask. He glanced at the unconscious doctor through his one unswollen eye. “Oi, the doctor couldn’t handle the fun?”
“You might say it went to his head,” Hunter replied. “Step lively. We’ve a Fomorian in mid-change out here. We need to get that thing off of you and off this ship, but we’ll need a safer place to work at it.”
“Don’t need to tell me twice,” John replied, immediately tossing the blades aside, then hurrying for the door as quickly as his added weight would allow. “Only place I can think is the main deck. Either someone’ll get their knickers in a knot and shoot us dead, or they’ll actually find a way to get this off of me.”
The trio raced down the corridor away from Brin Nash who screeched in pain as his form stretched with bone-crunching agony, muscles forcibly growing, reshaping his body into much more than he was. Beyond Nash, the sailors, now free of their bonds, carried Clark out of sight, shutting the hatch behind them. No sooner had the lock echoed into place, Hunter turned in the opposite direction, running towards the open hatch.
Once at the doorway, Hunter sidestepped through, mindful of his unconscious burden. John followed a moment after. He glanced down the hallway, then around them as he slammed the hatch shut.
“Where’s the young miss?” He asked curiously as he slid the steel latch into place.
“They took her,” Hunter said flatly, adjusting the position of his burden as he hurried for a nearby set of stairs, “along with the notes on the Hellgate elixir.”
John’s cocky attitude faded rapidly as he ran after Anthony. “They make it off ship?”
“Not yet,” Hunter replied once he reached the bottom of the stairs.
Between the two of them, they climbed the ladder, reaching the main deck as Moira, Krumer and O’Fallon emerged from another hatch a few feet away.
“Cap’n!” Moira exclaimed with a look of relief. Unlike Hunter, his crew had their weapons on them. He suspected they had paid a visit to the Intrepid’s quartermaster.
“They’ve taken Angela,” Hunter said quickly, “and a formula for the elixir.” The captain shifted the weight of his burden across his shoulders so he could point at John. “Moira, get that thing off of Clark. Has any of you seen anyone come through yet with the girl?”
“I’ve got the doctor,” Krumer immediately raced over and relieved Hunter of his burden, gently laying the unconscious Dr. Llwellyn out on the deck. “Spirit’s willing, I’ll have him back to his overly proper self in no time.”
O’Fallon shook his head, handed Hunter a pistol, then began checking the bullets in his own recently acquired revolver. “Not a hair nor hide, Cap’n.”
Hunter clasped the Scotsman on the shoulder, “good. That means we might have made it in time. You check fore, I’ll check aft. He has to come up at some point.”
“Aye!” Conrad nodded in agreement before each ran off across the deck.
With a concerned glance at Thorias’ limp form, Moira rushed over to John, who was standing very still, his face white as a sheet. “It’s just started to tick on its own,” he whispered, as if the device could overhear him.
Moira gave Clark a confused look, “How do ya mean ‘just started’?”
Black Jack gestured frantically at the glass encased pocket watch. “Last time it moved was when I was trying to cut myself out. But then it only ticked once, then stopped. I legged it up here, and it starts ticking all on its own.”
“Probably loosened somethin’ with all ya running about,” Moira replied with a thoughtful frown, “let’s take a look.”
The lady blacksmith’s eyes widened as she peered closely at the device. She cracked her knuckles with a grin. “Oh, aren’t you a sweet thing?” She whispered.
“Are you going to dance with it, or shut it down?” John asked earnestly. Something buzzed once inside the lead crystal box on the top.
“Hush,” Moira waved a hand at Clark, giving him a sour glance, “I’m havin’ a private moment with a fine example of ingenuity, do ya mind?”
“Oh, well then,” John replied sarcastically. “I’ll just stop my faffing and just be standin’ here … until the bomb goes off and gives us all a good whack in the head!”
Moira ignored the man, roughly spinning him around while she took a better look at the device. Quickly, she stalked over and grabbed an opti-telegraphic from a sailor’s hands and smashed it on the deck.
“Hey!” He protested.
“I’ll owe ya a new one!” Moira replied as she snatched up a handful of wires and springs, then raced back to a bewildered and nervous John Clark.
“What’re ya about?” John demanded. Moira roughly spun him around again, rapidly tying off wires from one side of the harness to the other. After a moment, she stopped to check her work. An insane array of excess wires crisscrossed John’s chest, then culminated to a pair of wires trailing across the deck behind him. Moira glanced up at Clark, her hands hovering near a particular set situated near the bottom of the containers. “So I bet it gives ya quite a spark when yankin’ on the wires?”
“Only once or …” John started to say before Moira yanked the pair of wires in opposite directions.
The moment the wires snapped free, electricity erupted from the broken ends like a geyser. Clark yelped in alarm as the electricity cracked and popped with a quick flash of static, then was gone.
John staggered backwards in shock, tripping over his own feet and falling backwards onto the deck into a sitting position. He frantically patted himself down, despite his shaking hands. Finally he shot a glare at Moira.
“Oi!” He rasped. “What was that for?”
Quickly, Moira hauled the explosives off of Black Jack, who was still glaring at the blacksmith.
“I’ve a little black book o’ irritatin’ people,” Moira said sternly as she gently lay the vest down, “an’ yer in it! Besides, it wasn’t a big battery, just a little one. Just enough to give ya a shock so ya won’t take the vest off and later ignite the powder. If ya had just grit ya teeth, ya could’a got it undone, ya big wanker.”
“Oh, like it’s so easy for you,” Clark grumbled irritably.
“It was,” Moira replied with a smug grin. “Now, not that I care much, but why were ya all trussed up like that?”
“They thought I had that bloody damned formula,” Clark replied, rubbing a sore shoulder.
“They who?” Moira asked.
Suddenly, the hatch to below decks exploded upwards, ripped from its hinges. The disfigured piece of metal sailed up, ripping through the lower end of a sail, then back down, narrowly missing a pair of sailors who had just emerged on deck five yards away from Moira and Clark towards the bow of the ship.
Out of the ruined hatchway, the misshapen figure of Brin Nash crawled free into the cold, cloudy light of day. Eyes a bloodshot red, his uniform in torn rags, and his face a mask of raw, slobbering rage, he was the veritable picture of a nightmare come to life.
A few feet away, the roar of a pistol accompanied a man’s scream of pain as another fully altered Fomorian threw a sailor through a door and onto the deck. The misshapen Fomorian emerged from the hatchway. Slung over his shoulder, trapped in his tight grip was Angela, still entangled in the rags of her dress and a wool blanket.
The young miss Von Patterson, despite suffering withdrawal from her use of the Fomorian elixir, had snatched up an arc lantern and was trying to hammer the bestial man in the back of the head, but with little effect.
John frowned, his look deadly serious. “Oi, they … him … them Fomorians. They’re well and good aboard the ship, like I’ve been tryin’ to warn people. An they’re as mad as a bag of ferrets over the whole affair.”