Episode 37( No Comments! )

Scribed by: CB Ash in The Seventh Knife

They raced to the small security office. True to his words, Mason unlocked a tall locker and distributed needler pistols. Minutes later, the trio stopped short of the teak double doors to the starboard reading room. They were closed.

“Good, the bosun’s kept the area clear,” Mason said with approval. “Seems luck is on our side at last.”

“What about the doors?” Parker asked.

St. Claire shook his head. “Forget the doors, mon ami. Where is Monsieur McCabe? He said he would meet us here. The passengers told us the room was locked.”

Mason strained his hearing. All he could make out was the steady, low hum of the engines. The usual din of distant conversations, the strain of music, or any other sign of inhabitants was missing.

“Excellent question, Mr. St. Claire,” the lieutenant replied. “Let’s answer it. I have an emergency key from security for those said doors.”

The second class passenger hallway was carpeted and decorated with an air of elegance. Polished spark lanterns hung above the occasional table, which supported an odd vase or potted plant. The entire decor was not as refined as first class, but neither was it as plain as third class. It also provided little protection or safety from what might lie beyond the stateroom doors.

St. Claire knelt behind a table and Parker selected the shallow recess of a stateroom doorway. Once both were in place, Mason crept toward the double doors and slipped the key into the lock. The doors opened with ease.

Mason jumped from shock. “Bloody hell!”

“What?” Parker asked.

Instead of answering, the lieutenant raced into the room. St. Claire shook his head and rushed to the door. Parker followed a second later. They stopped on either side of the door frame and peered inside.

Light glowed from polished brass spark lanterns hung in discrete locations along the wood panel walls. Wide windows, designed to give a welcome view to the rest of the open air promenade deck, were covered by curtains. This was a blessing as the room and its inhabitants had been decimated.

The deck crew that had followed Seaman James McCabe lay sprawled on the floor, faces frozen in a mix of fear and agony. They were peppered with needles and burn wounds. Blood pooled under them and seeped into a large mosaic-patterned area rug. Given where they lay, the unarmed deck crew had stood their ground to the last man.

Along with them lay a half-dozen passengers, most of them older men and women. Unlike the deck crew, they had tried to escape. None of them had reached the main doors. Two small tables were overturned, their contents spilled across the floor. Scattered among the dead were the broken remains of glasses, torn books, the occasional vase and furniture such as chairs or a footstool.

Ten feet inside the room, Lieutenant Mason had slammed a boot heel down on a clockwork spider when it tried to scurry to safety. Bent brass arachnid legs and tiny gears shot away from the deformed body. Sparks danced over Mason’s thick leather boot, then faded to nothing. Ten others lay smashed and immobile on the floor. Two of them still twitched, but none appeared functional.

“Devilish things,” he snarled.

Little Tom Parker walked into the room with a look of disbelief. “All this? One woman?”

Mason clenched his jaw a moment, then relaxed before he could speak. “She, and her little toys.” He gestured with his needler towards the ruined spider servitor on the carpet.

“But passengers too?” Parker replied. He ran his hand through his hair in astonishment. “You can’t do something like that and expect to hide aboard a passenger liner. Not for long.”

La dame may not want to hide now,” St. Claire said. “She may be close to her goal and planning to bring an end to this whole affair. I think this means she has a way off ship we’ve not found. We need to find her quickly.”

St. Claire picked his way across the macabre scene away from Mason and Parker. Broken glass crunched under his boots and echoed hollow in the room.

The scene was disturbing, but something nagged at him. Like a single puzzle piece that did not fit into the overall picture. A soft sound of cloth as it slid across carpet drew his attention to an overturned writing desk. It had fallen behind a chair.

“Here!” the young man said. “A survivor!”

“What? Who?” Mason asked.

Monsieur McCabe,” St. Claire answered. He took care to lift the writing desk before he shoved it onto its other side. The young man glanced at the chair. He had missed it before, but needle-sized holes peppered the upholstery. They drew a diagonal line from the lower left of the chair to the upper right. But there was no body on the floor or in the chair. The line of needles did not continue along the wall past the chair.

St. Claire nodded; he knew where McCabe was. The Britannia sailor had dived behind the chair and used it for cover. St. Claire stepped behind the furniture and found the wounded sailor curled up on the floor.

Seaman McCabe shared similar wounds and singed spots as the dead in the room. In addition, the sailor sported a handful of needles in his right shoulder and broken glass in his hands. It seemed to be a minor miracle he survived.

The wounded man blinked, then shook his head in dismay at St. Claire. McCabe struggled to return to consciousness. He stammered, but his words tumbled out an unintelligent mess. His eyes pleaded for the Brass Griffin’s navigator to understand.

St. Claire’s eyes went wide. He glanced over the chair. His eyes swept the room in alarm before he bolted from behind the chair.

“Noel?” Parker asked.

“Trap, mon ami! This! All of it!” St. Claire exclaimed. “McCabe was the bait!”

On the far side of the reading room, the servant’s door flew open. A bruised and battered Garin Farrow rushed in, tossing two small brass spheres into the middle of the room. The spheres hit the floor with a clang, then opened like flowers. Small legs snapped out and punched into the floor. A second later, the “petals” spun like fan blades sending a wave of needles across the room!

“Shrap-Throwers!” Mason yelled, diving behind a nearby high-backed chair for protection.

St. Claire watched in horror as the dark wave of needles reached for him. He raced for the main doors, steeling himself for the white-hot pain of being shot. Instead, something large crashed into him and sent him right to the floor behind an overturned table.

It took a second for his vision to clear. When it did, he saw Parker using that same table as a shield. He charged the devices head on. Needles tapped out a maniacal staccato pattern against the wood. Parker dropped the heavy wooden table on one, then the other. The flow of needles stopped. The big man tossed the table on the floor. He dropped to his knees a second later.

“Tom!” St. Claire exclaimed as he raced across the room.

Tom Parker reached out to brace himself against a chair, then eased himself to a sitting position. Needles traced an ugly pattern over his left side from his waist to his shoulder. A handful of those had started to swell, the skin around the wounds turning a gray-black.

“Just need to get my breath,” the big man wheezed.

St. Claire gave his friend a grim smile and nodded.

Mason emerged from behind the chair. His posture went stiff at the sight of the needles and their effect on Parker. He crossed over to help St. Claire adjust Tom Parker to a more comfortable sitting position.

“I recognize that man. His name’s Garrin Farrow. I was training him to be an officer,” Mason admitted in a dark tone. “Where did he go?”

“Back through the servant’s door,” St. Claire replied. His voice caught with emotion, he glared daggers at the closed servant’s door.

Two of the Britannia’s deck crew appeared at the entry to the reading room. They turned pale from the sight of the room and its carnage. Mason riveted them with a hard glance.

“You there! Find someone and get a stretcher. We’ve wounded.” Mason locked eyes with the other sailor while the other deck hand ran for help. “You, pass the word. I want every able bodied crew alert and searching for Garin Farrow and a passenger named Duchess Von Ferrin. Arm yourselves from the security stores. Take no chances, they’re out to harm passengers and ship. Now go!”

Parker grabbed St. Claire’s arm. “Don’t wait on me. I’ll be along. Go. You saw where he went. He means no good to anyone aboard.”

St. Claire looked at Mason. The lieutenant glanced at Parker’s wounds then gave a grim shake of his head. He recognized the lethal effects.

“I’ll stay with him and keep him comfortable. Go, run down the bastard.” Mason said in a stern voice.

When Noel St. Claire stood, Mason looked up at him.

“Mr. St. Claire?” Mason asked.

Oui?” the young sailor replied.

“Godspeed and shoot true.” Mason said with a dark look. “It’s past time we gave back as good as we’re getting.”

St. Claire nodded. His tattooed face grim, his eyes hard like twin pieces of flint. “Oui, consider it done.”

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