Episode 30( No Comments! )

Scribed by: CB Ash in The Seventh Knife

On the other side of the Britannia, the Duchess Julia Maria Von Ferrin opened her stateroom door to find Captain Anthony Hunter standing there.

“Why, Captain, what a nice surprise.” The duchess’ voice was smooth. Her practiced smile was the correct amount of warm deserved for an unexpected visitor. It also did not reach her eyes. A look of calculating concern crossed her expression. But it passed quickly out of sight. “I wasn’t expecting you to visit. I’m afraid Archibald isn’t here for you to feud with right now. Perhaps if you come back later?”

Hunter raised an eyebrow. “An entertaining prospect, but no. I’m here to speak with you.”

“Me?” her surprise was genuine. “I’m flattered. Please, do come in.” She pulled the stateroom door open further.

“Certainly,” Hunter replied with a curt nod. He stepped over the threshold.

Duchess Von Ferrin closed the door and led the captain into the next room.

The narrow common room divided the entire suite in half. Doors on either side of the room led to the smaller bedrooms of the suite. Small bookshelves and a small table with a trio of modest chairs occupied the middle of the common room. It gave the space an air of a side room often found in a gentleman’s club or off a smoking lounge.

The Duchess crossed the room and gestured to a chair at the table. Captain Hunter joined her.

She folded her hands in her lap. “It’s been a long time since we’ve sat across a table from each other, Captain. Might I get you some tea? The water is hot.”

The captain’s smile held little humor. “Which would be the very reason we’ve not shared company in some time. Your tea. It was a bit lethal for my tastes.”

“To each their own. Pardon me then, while I prepare a cuppa for myself,” she said. She stood and crossed over to a small table nearby with a teapot. “So did you come to dig up old grievances?” she asked.

“Not at all,” Captain Hunter replied. “I’ve come to discuss current events.” When she did not seem to follow his meaning, the captain continued. “Forgive my bluntness, but has Captain RiBeld,” Hunter smiled momentarily as he corrected himself, “my pardon, Duke RiBeld, spoken of his business aboard the Britannia?”

The duchess prepared her tea, then returned to the table. “Archibald isn’t one to elaborate often. But he has mentioned a few of his more troublesome business dealings.” She took a slow sip of her tea.

Captain Hunter raised his eyebrows, his interest piqued. “Indeed? Trouble with the mercenary business?”

The duchess sipped her tea again. “As harsh as it might sound, my dear Captain, Archibald’s particular interest is vulnerable to supply and demand like any other business. As I understand it, the Abyssinian Emperor’s troops made great strides against the Italians. So much so the Italians have had second thoughts about their campaign in Africa. Tensions in Austria-Hungary have calmed themselves. Then there was that prolonged civil unrest that happened in the United States. From what Archibald said, it changed everything.”

The captain frowned. His instincts nagged at him. They screamed an immediate warning but he could not discern why. He shifted position in his chair. The muffled tick of clockwork gears echoed in the sitting room for a moment. He politely reached down to adjust the tension in his artificial hand.

“Pardon. I believe my clockwork hand might need servicing. Given what you say, it sounds as if demand is rather low,” he said thoughtfully. “Is he exploring alternate sources of revenue?”

“He’s looking at other resources, yes. Of course, legal troubles in England have hampered that. Something which I believe you are familiar with.” Her tone was brittle and accusatory.

The captain shook his head. “Rubbish. Kidnapping? Blackmail? He brought that trouble squarely upon himself, Duchess. I only acted as witness to what he’s done.”

“I won’t bicker the point with you, Captain,” she replied tartly. “We obviously sit on opposite sides of the debate. Archibald is passionate when he embarks on a task.”

Captain Hunter leaned forward. “Then allow me to be blunt. What would his task be this time?”

The duchess sipped her tea. “Travel to clear the mind?”

“I sincerely doubt that, Duchess,” the captain replied. “Sabotage of a passenger liner? Death threats? Those are all his stock in trade besides any ‘supply and demand’ of his mercenary endeavors.”

She gave him a sardonic look. “Come now, Captain. Archibald is a man of extremes. Perhaps he becomes overzealous in the heat of the moment. But to sabotage a passenger airship’s engine using clockwork explosives? That would be a bit diabolical for him. Especially when there are more lucrative social associations to make here.” The duchess leaned forward as if sharing a delicate secret to a confederate. “Did you know there is a retired brigadier aboard who’s related to a high ranking officer in the Austria-Hungary military? There might be an opportunity for a business arrangement there.”

Captain Hunter shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I stand corrected. Duchess, if I might ask, how did you know about the clockwork design?”

Duchess Von Ferrin hesitated just before she took another sip of tea. She set the cup down on the table, astonished. “What do you mean?”

“It was hardly common knowledge,” the captain explained. “After my engineer handled the problem, it was felt that knowledge of the elaborate bomb would stir unnecessary panic. Panic among the passengers, even among the crew. That would do no one any good.” He paused and considered the duchess. A thought occurred to him. “That is, it would do no one any good, beyond whoever is behind the entire scheme.”

Von Ferrin watched the captain warily. Instead of comment, she brought up her teacup to hide her lips. A twinkle shone in her eye for a second, then vanished.

“And yet, you know about it,” the captain added quietly.

An uncomfortable silence dropped between them. The duchess broke the stalemate first.

“I suppose with you, there’s little denying it. Yes, I know about the bombs,” she admitted. “The second device especially. It was a piece of art, incorporating an orrery and delightfully interwoven with an explosive device.” A feline-like air of satisfaction spread out from her. “In a crew hallway needed to transport repairs to the main damage? Remove the device, yet no one is harmed. I’m sure it was a delightful challenge for your little engineer. Quite the spitfire as I understand it.”

“Please madame, don’t try to slip past the matter at hand,” the captain replied sternly.

“Oh, or what?” Her voice was coy, yet held a chill like ice. “You’ll throw me in the ‘brig’ if I have the term correct? I doubt it. You’ve more questions and I might have more answers. Besides, a passenger airship has no ‘brig’.”

Captain Hunter frowned while he gathered his thoughts. Even though he felt he should have the upper hand, he realized that he did not. The tick of clockwork gears tapping against each other reached his ears again. He irritably adjusted a tension bolt on his artificial hand, then flexed his metal fingers.

“Hand bothering you, Captain?” the Duchess asked.

He shook his head. “Not at all. Clockwork can be temperamental. Something I suspect you know all too well.”

Von Ferrin’s expression froze for a second. She casually sipped more of her tea. “Whatever do you mean? My passion is horticulture.”

“Oh indeed it is. But that would not stop you from assisting RiBeld in his more diabolical hobbies.” He replied.

“Is that an accusation, Captain? Towards Archibald? Or myself?” she said with a cool smile. “If I might counter, it wouldn’t matter either way. It would not take much effort to uncover that you have an uncomfortable history with either of us, Captain. You would need proof. Convincing, and irrevocable proof of guilt. I’m just not seeing such. What I do see, is that it’s your word against ours.”

“And against Durante Marino,” Captain Hunter parried. “He’s had a few words to spare on this matter as well.”

The duchess’ features stiffened for a second at the mention of Durante Marino. “Oh, him. The man is an irritant. A complete nuisance. But, given his ‘order’ has been causing problems, who would believe him? So who does that leave you with, my dear Captain?”

“Why, that would be me, madame.” Dr. Thorias Llwellyn’s disembodied voice said from the middle of the room. “And based on what you’ve admitted to so far, I predict we could discover the proof required. Not that we would require much since this transmission is shared with the Britannia’s bridge.”

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