Two oil lamps provided the shimmering light for Marcus Periwinkle. One was on either side of his desk, giving enough light that he could just see the details to start fixing the device. Robert Holmes had brought the soggy mess to him at the request of Dr. Hardinger. Usually he worked on such objects in his work room over by the undertakers and the tanners. Since his accident, though, he has mostly just assisted the other members of the Collegium in their creative endeavors, rarely being given leave or time to create his own. This one was almost intact and was more of a fix-it job, so he was given the task of setting it to rights.
Studying the device, Marcus could see the Frenchmans signature durable design. All he really had to do was straighten out the barrel. His left arm slipped again while he attempted to extract the old warped barrel. He cursed it and went into his bottom drawer, and pulled out a box made of white oak. Marcus preferred the blonde woods of this box, to the dark Mahogany of his peers.
"Yes, get the pretty box. It is beautiful, is it not?"
Taking the key from inside the mass of metal and hissing valves that was his left arm, he then opened the box.
Being careful to turn clockwise, he then pushed the key in further and turned counter clockwise. The double gear bolt would confound most thieves and confuse anyone who had managed to obtain the key. He marveled at the design, beautiful pale finished wood, simple and elegant. Marcus wondered if Dr. Zarkov had built in an anti-tamper device in case a potential thief used an axe instead of a lockpick. He made a mental note to ask Erik at the next meeting.
Lifting the lid of the box revealed almost a dozen small bags, looking like gunpowder wads for an old musket or miniature cannon. He opened the top of a small tube inside his arm near the shoulder, then grabbed a bag and tore open the top with his teeth.
"Yes, Feed Me. Why not take a deep breath... Ahhh, my elixir!"
Pouring the coal-like granules from the bag into the tube. Without dropping the bag he closed the cover, and spit out the paper.
The very first time he fed his arm he had hesitated closing the cover for only a second.. The noxious fumes from the fresh supply of ghost rock being used to power his arm nearly overcame him. He had been near the wondrous substance as it burned before, without ill effect. He was guessing that the compressed gas chamber that Oswald had built needed a cut off valve when it was stoked with fresh fuel. He had yet to get in to see Dr. Hardinger about this, among other things, and has been waiting for a week now.
Oswald was a very busy man. Between his new project, and...
"He has no time for you. You made him, yet you are still here."
...dealing with the death of Pierre Fontaine, as well as just being the head of the Collegium. Oswald was giving him the fuel for his arm out of Collegium coffers, though. Marcus needed enough of the substance to rival the generous grant given to Dr. Franklin by the U.S. government. Marcus had often wondered if the fuel was because of his value to the Collegium or to compensate for Oswalds guilt.
"He did this to you, crippled you."
"It was an accident," he whispered. His own voice echoing in the closed room snapped him out of his reverie. He shook his head and closed the box, placing it back where it came from. The little voice was his ambitious nature, no doubt, made into a voice in his head. He tried to ignore it most of the time, as most sane people would. Just lately it made so much sense to him. Except some of the odd and more violent suggestions. He commanded himself to get back to work. His mechanical arm easily removed the bent barrel of the device. Taking a very similar tube of metal that was found with the broken device, he measured them against each other. Yes, he thought, almost identical. After a brief cleaning and oiling, he slid the new barrel in and fastened it in place.
Almost seamless, Marcus thought as he looked over the device. The Frenchman, god rest his soul, was indeed an excellent builder. His research methods were... poor. More of an adventurer than a true scientist. So what if he secured two mines out in that awful maze? Ah well, best not to think unkindly about those who have passed away.
Looking over the device he made sure it was in good order and was ready to test in the morning. He studied the odd looking ammunition. It looked like there was very small writing on each bullet. The substance also looked rather off. Not hard or durable enough for a bullet. He yawned once and blew out one of the lamps. Ah, the Frenchmen must of had a reason to make it with ammunition of soft metals. He made a mental note to melt down the bent, and from the look of it, well-used barrel. See what it takes to melt it. He loaded one of the odd cartridges into the pistol and placed it on his desk, the device now complete and ready for testing in the morning.
"Hello sugar," came a long southern drawl. Unmistakably feminine. Marcus felt something in his neck twinge when he whipped his head about so quickly.
"Miss, this is my office. It is not open for just anyone to walk in," trying to be as stern as he could without showing his heart melting. She looked like a proper British woman, young but not too young. Pretty, but not stunning, and properly dressed, yet not too fancy. In a way, just as he pictured the woman of his dreams.
"You will need to make an appointment. At this late hour I am sure that your coach would want..."
"I am sorry, sir. I have no coach. Im here alone"
Marcus blushed at his most immediate thought, "Miss! This is most improper!" She started walking towards him, a pleading look in her eyes.
"Do not trust her, she means us harm!"
Her hands were outstretched. "Please, I was told you are the one to come to." He thought he heard her say "dearie" at the end of her sentence but her lips did not move.
"Please miss, can it not wait until morning?"
She was halfway across the room to where Marcus stood. Then with each step he noticed that she looked older, and in rags. Her voice was a perfect Piccadilly accent, "Please Marcus." He started to back up away from the person who he was not entirely sure he was seeing.
"See the true way she looks. Protect us!"
Taking one step back, and halfway to his second, he stumbled into his chair, still warm from his sitting in it. Or was it that the air suddenly seemed colder? He couldnt tear his eyes away from hers, though the voice in his head was starting to plead with him to flee. A truly ugly and half dressed harlot was now holding his right wrist in a very strong grip.
"Give us a kiss dearie," a hoarse rasp from the hags throat. Her fetid breath was moist, but moist like a swamp or grave earth, and smelled about the same. Yet he still could not move.
"You cannot have this one. He is mine!"
A different voice in his head, this one distinctly feminine.
"Yours? Yours?! You have no real hold on this one. I would have felt it. You are the tick that takes little and little, never really getting its fill. You are bloated, and you should drop off now and find another to feed on.. I will feed on the whole."
"He is mine! I am turning him slowly. His strength..."
"Is nothing compared to mine! Come, what sweet nightmares do you have for us, little man? What fears and terrors, what memories of dread, of those that haunt your sleep? Ahh, a fear of heights! Most delicious, give it to me!"
As this was being argued, in his mind the room took on a foggy look. He felt memories coming to the front of his mind, none pleasant, and forced out. It was as if someone was going through a desk by just pulling out and emptying out the drawers to look for a pen nib. Then the area around him became less foggy. Marcus could smell grass...
Marcus had just attached the cable to his chest. The harness Oswald Hardinger had just finished strapping onto Marcus would keep the cable from pulling too hard on any one point on his body, and yet let him fly for a bit using the rocket pack that Marcus had designed. Oswald was a bit embarrassed at being too large to actually use the pocket pack in its current design.
Placing the goggles over his eyes, Marcus gave Oswald a salute to let him know he was ready. Watching the spectacle, in back of the work room that he and Oswald shared, was Silas Peacock from the undertakers next door, and that pretty young lady with the paper. Sandy Harris was her name. He stepped onto the thick naval rope they had acquired to keep Marcus from flying away out of control. Marcus would only trust rope this thick, and standing on the small coiled mountain of the rope would allow for it spool out easier when he took off.
He closed his eyes for a second, gently touched the activation button, opened them again and pressed it. The wind in his face and the flames licking the back of his legs were the two things he noticed first. He looked down at the people who looked far away. He continued to rise and he moved his legs forward a bit so as not to singe them. It was hard to move without leverage, and the effort caused him to dart almost horizontally on his back, his face to the sky.
He shifted his weight just as the rope caught and stabilized him. He looked down. He could see the whole town as if he was on a nearby cliff, but he was directly above it. It looked so far away. He then saw something that caused his mind to stop and his heart to race, as if trying to beat out of his chest. By standing on the coils, the flames had ignited the rope. With him straining at the end, it was pulling the rope taught and fraying at each place it burned.
Oswald was already frantically reeling him in on the burning rope. The winch was working as planned for recovering him, but the rope was too damaged. Suddenly, the world was moving at a blur and the wind was too much even with the goggles. He spiraled and rolled, kicking and screaming like a child caught in its parents arms who didnt want to be there. He flew dangerously close to the earth and over the docks at the sea side entrance
to the maze. The two men who work on the Docks looked up at him in amazement. As he shot into the maze, he caught a glimpse of the two returning to their game of checkers.
Without thinking of the consequences, he undid the big main buckle on his chest, sending the rocket pack on its way and leaving him to look at it climbing higher into the sky. Then he realized that the pack was not climbing as much as he was falling, still moving forward with the velocity from the rocket pack. He hit the water at a shallow angle and skipped like a stone, five, ten, a dozen times.
"What ave we here?," a thick nasal French accent was all he could make out. Marcus head had hit something solid, and as he started to sink into the water strong hands lifted him out. Seeing sparkling lights mixed with dark dots dance before his eyes, he made out the sharply angled face of an older gentleman.
"Ho Hon! Like a stone you skipped, no?"
"It is I, Pierre. Is that you, Marcus? Your face, it is scraped on the barnacles, yes? On the side of my ship, eh? Ah, let me clean you up, my friend."
Stinging salt water washed his face. The adrenaline that had run through his body in fear and terror drained out now. His last waking moments were of his left arm, still pink flesh, giving a thumbs up to the Frenchman. Wait!
My arm is not pink. It is hissing pumps and...
"You rest now, mon ami. We will go to my chateau in none of the time, you will see."
"Your arm, it distresses you? Excellent! That looks especially painful. Show me how it came to be."
"Is the terror always this delicious?"
"SILENCE! You should leave while you still have the chance. Cling to another, this one is mine for the taking. Begone! I feed and collect my tithe of his terror!"
Again the room fogged over and the smell of the awful tanner next door to his workshop was upon him. When he opened his eyes he was in his workroom...
"Marcus! Marcus! Snap out of it. Here, hold this line."
Marcus took the line from Oswald. The line attached to the new cannon/rifle mounted on the basic mechanical horse design. The barrel extended over the horses head on the left side. With the protective cowling it looked like a horse and lance ready for a joust with another knight.
Oswald loaded a shell into the back end of the cannon, really just an overlarge rifle cartridge. He then closed the breach and secured the line to the firing trigger in the cowling. He marked the spot where the wheels rested on the horse and adjusted his goggles.
Marcus pulled his own goggles down over his face with his left hand and tightened his grip on the line with his right. Oswald stepped aside and sighted down the barrel from the back of the horse. He adjusted it slightly at the target out in the cluttered field behind his workshop. Stepping back, Oswald raised his arm. Looking at the horse and not at the target his arm fell. Marcus pulled the line and a muffled explosion issued from the cannon. It was followed a second later by a smaller explosion just left of the target, turning up grass and sending some spare rubber hoses into the air.
"Excellent! Less than an inch of motion backwards. The weight of the horse easily compensated for the explosive charge." Oswald stated, "The distance it can travel accurately is less than hoped for. But the driver can fire while moving." Oswald paused a moment thinking, "Mein Gott, Do you zee Marcus! This is vounderful!"
Marcus saw that this was indeed remarkable. With enough of these, any armys cavalry could dominate a sizable area of flat land. The deserts of the territories out here were perfect for a weapon like this. If the driver did not have to stop and brace for the recoil of the small cannon, a very maneuverable cavalry indeed. Horses of the four legged variety could never hope to stand up to this weapon, but would not be made obsolete. A very important political consideration. Animals would still be needed for adverse terrain. Sure, eventually there would be advances to replace the animal. Right now, this would be the start they needed to get their foot in the door.
Mechanical might replacing animal flesh. Marcus smiled to himself.
"Your German is showing again, old man," Marcus pointed out.
"Of course, I lose control over achievements like this. Here, help me set up some more targets. The iron plated carriage will be the last target."
"Ill set up the targets. You get the new cylinder loaded and Ill help you mount it on the gun."
Ten minutes later Marcus had all the targets set up. A coach, a series of four clay jugs 20 feet apart, and lastly a carriage with iron plates bolted on all four sides, with small openings for gun barrels in all four directions and a two foot slit above that for the eyes of the gunman. It was a design that they were working on for the bank, to be drawn by a pair of mechanical horses. So far it had not very successful, and was about to pay for its lack of success by becoming a target. Marcus then helped Oswald load the oversized revolver barrel onto the rifle/cannon. It worked just like a revolver except that the bottom cylinder was the one that fired, not the top.
They took out the single fire, metal bolt and mounted the barrel in its place. The rod that held the bolt in place also held the cylinder in place. An excellent design that both he and Oswald had worked on for quite a few months.
Giving the cylinder a spin, it turned lazily with the weight. The cylinder did little to change the knight-charging look that the design had, and that Marcus liked.
Oswald pulled his bulk onto the Mechanical horse. Marcus tried not to notice the weight as the wheels pressed down into the grass. Well, at least there will be no traction problems, Marcus thought. While barrel chested, he could never let himself go to fat the way Oswald had. Marcus mentally shrugged, thinking he couldnt deny the mans genius, which he combined with his dexterity to invent and create machines of progress as he liked to call them.
Setting up the targets and walking back took but a few seconds. Marcus placed his goggles on and gave Oswald the thumbs up go signal.
Oswald drove forward and stopped to fire on the coach. The shell passed through the window to impact on the far side of the coach, a miss. Next were two of the jugs. Oswald fired while in motion hitting near enough to the first jug to shatter it, while the second was a direct hit, the horse moving in close to where Marcus was standing watching the display.
The next few seconds crawled for Marcus, and somewhere inside of him was a small cry not to let it happen again. Powerless to change his past, he watched it somewhere inside, knowing the result. He heard an odd sound at his inner feeling of helpless terror. It was akin to a person crying in ecstasy. Oswald, while turning the mechanical horse, had fired the rifle which resulted in another near miss on the jug, shattering it from the explosive force of the shell.
The horse was directed by the front wheel, which was in turn directed by the driver. When it fired, a small amount of force was applied in addition to the force that Oswald was applying to turn the horse. This caused it to spin the controls for a second, exaggerating the turn. The fifteen feet between him and the horse roaring by had seemed almost too far a moment ago, but as the vehicle turned around and continued too far, it ended up running right at him. Startled, he flinched back several inches to the right, and saved his own life.
The barrel of the gun, the lance as he liked to think of it, pinned his shoulder to the intact carriage behind him. Had Oswald destroyed the carriage he might just have been thrown by the force of the blow. With the carriage becoming the anvil for the hammer powered by ghost rock, and with the mass of Oswald on the horse, the barrel hesitated for only a moment as it pierced Marcus shoulder and continued a few more inches, shattering the wood of the carriage behind him. The carriage rocked up onto two wheels from the force, the other two an inch off ground. By this time, the brake had stopped the horse and it came to rest. The carriage, heavier than the horse by quite a bit, came back down the inch on the near side. The settling carriage pushed the mechanical horse backward a few inches, and wrenched the damage to Marcus shoulder, causing him to nearly pass out from the pain.
The next he remembered of the debacle was the face of the undertaker, Silas, with a saw. Silas had told his assistant to fetch the Doc, but had taken the situation in hand for the moment.
Next, he remembered Oswald looking him in the face with an arm on each shoulder, pressing his massive weight onto him. Oswald kept whispering, "My god, Im sorry. My friend, Im so sorry," over and over. Mixed with the pain it was fairly hypnotic, until the saw hit bone. Marcus started screaming. Then he felt the twisting of his limb on the other side of the barrel as it came free. Marcus kept screaming as his body slumped down, no longer pinned to the carriage. His throat raw , he whimpered and cried and mercifully, passed out at last.
"This was by far one of the best I have ever tasted. Ahh, what a wonder you are. It is too bad you will not survive. Of this I am sure now. Even now your mind is starting to come apart. Ahh, but the crack in the seams! I see one that even you have forced yourself to forget! Is this possible? True terror at last..."
The fog started to flow in and his body slumped farther into his chair. A childlike plea of no was whispered up to the evil creature before him. In his haze, he registered the sharp report of a gun going off in front of his face, and the head of the hag exploded outward to his left. He jumped up, but the reality of the world rushed in and he crashed to his knees. As he slumped to the ground he heard the Frenchmans holy wheel gun hit the floor, still clutched in the mechanical hand of his left arm.
For a few moments he stood there staring at the hideous body. It smelled awful. He realized that the sweat and fear of his ordeal must have left a stench on him as well. Then it occurred to him.
I was attacked, he thought, I must tell Oswald.
Rushing from his workshop, he raced down the street to the Collegium residence where Oswald stayed. Even this late (or was it early?) hour he would want to hear of this and know how best to dispose of the body.
"You see, I am your friend. I saved your existence. You owe ME!"
Unseen in the shadows across the street three men lurked. Marko Muscovich waved the two deck hands forward.
"All right. You! You run back an tell the Captain what we saw," he barked. "You come with me and well take a look inside."
Marko has watched Ezzie work before, and that scream he heard was typical of what usually happened. The gunshot was not, and certainly not the scientist running from the workshop like a greased eel. No, that was one fish that got away he decided. As he opened the door, his mouth dropped open and his eyes went wide.
Silas Peacock also heard the scream, causing him to start. He was carefully preparing a body, already having removed the parts Jebediah asked for.
He had already stopped work once when he heard someone tapping on the glass of an upstairs window. He was frustrated at the interruptions and cursed as he moved the curtains aside. He was ready to open the door and yell at the drunken sots, making a racket with their bit of fun he was sure. Damn whores. Why did they start picking this part of town to wander to lately. Silas was wondering why they couldnt stay at the saloons and brothels, when he saw a figuring running across his field of view.
It took a moment to figure out that it was Marcus Periwinkle. He heard the tapping on glass again. Scanning the room, he slowly let the curtain drop back causing the room to be only lit by the glow coming up from the basement workroom.
He slowly and cautiously moved to the pantry as he called it, really just a closet of odds and ends that he saved.
Opening the door, he cursed to himself at the darkness inside. A few items in there gave off their own light. Silas, ever cautious, had covered these in layers of heavy oilcloth. Cursing again while heading down the stairs, he quickly returned with a lantern and peered into the closet.
There, in a long glass jar, was an arm. The torn flesh at the top waved in the preserving liquid like a flag in the wind. Looking down he saw the fingers, and they were moving, scratching at the glass container feebly without the leverage of an attached body.
Blinking a few times, he moved closer to get a better look. The long nails clawed more furiously as he moved his head closer to the glass. Those long nails wanted to rend his flesh from the look of it. He set the lantern down, steadied the container, and placed a blanket on either side of it to keep the jar from tipping over. It had been moving enough for that to be a danger and he wanted to be cautious. Silas made a decision then, one that would ultimately be fatal for him, though he would never suspect how.
"Yes. I must show this to Nicodemus," he said to himself.
"I never thought that my neighbors arm would be of any use. Guess I was wrong." Silas closed the door to the closet and wandered downstairs. Halfway down he reconsidered, and headed towards the barn to ready the wagon and team. Nicodemus would not want him to wait with this information. Nor did Silas like the idea of the Whateley family thinking he delayed in telling them. He had seen how unforgiving they could be. Banishing this thought, he hurried even faster to ready the team of horses.