Gears of a mad god: a steampunk lovecraft adventure

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Gears of a MadGod:A SteampunkLovecraft Adventure

 

By BrentNichols

 

Copyright 2012Brent Nichols

 

SmashwordsEdition

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – GrimTidings

Chapter 2 – DragonAlley

Chapter 3 – ADisappearance

Chapter 4 – StrikingBack

Chapter 5 –Flight

Chapter 6 – A MidnightCaller

Chapter 7 – TheDecision

Chapter 8 – TickTock

Chapter 9 –Daylight

 

 

 

Chapter 1 – Grim Tidings

It was ironic,Colleen Garman reflected, how often a clockmaker could lose trackof the time.

She was up toher elbows in brass gears and grease, thoroughly enjoying herself,when the grandfather clock in the corner began to chime. In momentshalf a dozen more clocks joined in, and she straightened,suppressing an unladylike curse. Six o'clock! Roland would bepicking her up at seven, it would take half an hour to get home,she needed half an hour to scrub the smell of grease from her skin,and then there was her hair-!

She left hertools sticking out of the clock cabinet, not the way her father hadtaught her at all, but this was an emergency. Then she raced aroundthe workshop, turning down gas lights and making sure the windowswere shut. She pulled a jacket on over her coveralls and paused inthe doorway, looking over her domain.

Everything wassquared away, aside from a few wrenches. Dad would be proud.

If she'd knownhow long it would be before she saw her workshop again, she wouldhave stayed longer. Instead she turned away and locked thedoor.

The eveningshadows were long, and at first she didn't notice the tall man inthe long, dark coat, striding across the lawn. Her workshop was onebay in a long block of warehouses, so she didn't pay any attentionto him. He was undoubtedly on his way to see one of herneighbors.

She joggedacross the grass, and he saw her, and veered toward her. Somethingin his face disturbed her, a look of dark intensity, and she joggedfaster, heading for the lights of Spadina street a block away. Thewarehouse district got short shrift when it came to streetlights, afact that usually didn't bother her, but tonight she wasnervous.

Feed thudded onthe grass and she looked over her shoulder. The man was runningafter her, and Colleen broke into a run as well. She dashed upTreadwell Street, a growing anger fighting with her fear. Whatright did some clown have to chase her, to make her run? Of course,she was late, after all. She decided that was reason enough to keepgoing. If she turned and taught this man a lesson, she'd miss herdate with Roland completely.

He was gainingon her as she reached the intersection with Spadina. It was a muchbusier street, with shoppers strolling between stores andbusinessmen leaving their offices. She was thinking about stopping,turning to face the guy, when she saw a streetcar just ahead ofher. She decided to run for it instead, and picked up the pace.

The man behindher sped up as well. He was no more than a dozen feet behind herwhen her stretching hand caught the rail on the back of thestreetcar and she pulled herself on board.

She stoodpanting, staring back at him, ready to hammer on his fingers if hegrabbed the railing. But he was too far back. He was quitedetermined, the long black coat flapping around his legs as hesprinted, but he quickly began to fall behind.

Colleen staredinto his face. It was an ordinary face at first glance, long andthin, a clean-shaven man somewhere between youth and middle age.But there was a disturbing intensity to his features. As thestreetcar pulled away from him there was no frustration in hisface, no disappointment. Just a grim focus as he stared afterher.

Colleenshivered and hoped she'd seen the last of him. The next time sheworked late, she decided, she'd tuck one of her larger wrenchesinto her pocket. If he came after her again he'd get the surpriseof his life.

Home forColleen was a rattletrap row house on a steep hill with a view ofLake Ontario. With her parents gone the dark house often depressedher, but tonight she was too distracted to be troubled. She trottedup the front steps, then paused to pluck an envelope from themailbox at her front door.

Inside, sheturned on the lights and tore the envelope open. She wasdistracted, thinking of Roland, thinking of how she could be readyin time, but the words on the page hit her like a blow. It was atelegraph form, the message succinct, blunt, and brutal.

Very sorry youruncle Roderick passed this AM in Victoria.

Colleen staredat the rectangle of paper for a long minute, then walked to thenearest chair and flopped herself down. She kept staring at thesheet in her hand, but she was no longer seeing it. Uncle Rod wasdead?

By the timeRoland arrived she was packing. She told him about Roderick indistracted bursts as she darted back and forth across her bedroom,gathering her possessions. She took no more than she could fit in asuitcase. A steamer trunk was more traditional, but it would be anightmare to move, and Colleen liked to be mobile.

Roland listenedsilently, only sympathy on his face. He was dressed for the nightof dancing he had promised her, and he looked devastatinglyhandsome in a brown suit that showed off his height and his broadshoulders. Colleen looked at him and felt a pang of regret fortheir missed evening, and a rush of affection for him. She hadruined his evening completely, and his only thought was how hecould help.

He carried hersuitcase down to the front door, went to the corner drugstore tophone for a taxi, then came back and looked her up and down. "Ihope you're not travelling in that," he said.

Colleen lookeddown at herself. She was still in her coveralls, hardly suitableattire for a young lady in public. She frowned in irritation.Skirts were frankly a pain, and she would be travelling for atleast a week. Well, there was nothing to be done. She thought aboutpacking her dirty coveralls just in case, but it hardly seemedlikely she'd wear them.

She changedquickly, pulling on a blue dress and grabbing a bonnet, and ranback downstairs. "I'll come with you to the train station," Rolandsaid as the taxi pulled up. "I could even go with you toVictoria."

"Don't besilly," Colleen told him. "You haven't packed. And you don't wantto pay for a taxi to come all the way back from the station. I'llbe fine."

"I don't know,"he said, and she smiled at the concern on his face. She stood ontiptoes to kiss him on the cheek. "Thanks for understanding," shesaid. "You're very sweet. I'll see you as soon as I get back."

He insisted oncarrying her suitcase to the taxi. He opened the back door for her,then took her hand, his face serious. "We need to have a talk whenyou get back."

Colleen noddedand climbed into the taxi. She watched him through the back windowas the car pulled away. She had a feeling he was planning topropose to her, and the thought put a flutter of excitement in herstomach, but they had a few issues to work out first. Roland hadsome fairly narrow views about how a proper young woman ought tobehave, and they didn't involve wearing coveralls and working withhand tools.

But she'd beenshaken by the news of Uncle Rod's death. He was her last livingrelative. She was truly alone now. Marrying Roland, being part of afamily again, coming home to a house full of light and life andlove, would be hard to resist.

She lugged hersuitcase into the station, found a ticket window, and bought areturn ticket to Vancouver, wincing at the price. She wouldn't havelong to wait. Her train was leaving in less than ten minutes.

She was on thestairs, the suitcase bumping her legs with every step, when someinstinct made her turn. A man was sauntering across the lobbybehind her, and he lifted a newspaper to hide his face as sheturned, but he was a moment too slow. Colleen felt her stomach turnto ice. She knew that thin face, that dark coat, those burningeyes.

It couldn't bea coincidence. He was following her. But why?

Not for anygood purpose, she was sure.

She keptmoving, down the staircase, her eyes scanning the station. She wassafe enough for the moment, but what if he boarded the same trainshe did? She had a sudden vision of going to sleep at night,wondering what he might do as she slept. Or she might confront him,teach him some manners, and maybe get herself thrown off thetrain.

A group ofsailors stood at the bottom of the stairs, half a dozenrough-looking young men talking and laughing loudly, and Colleeninstinctively edged away from them. Then one man's words caught herattention.

"I'm tellingyou, it's been stolen."

"You lost it,"the man beside him said. "Check your pockets again."

"I don't havethat many pockets," the first sailor retorted. "I'm telling you,someone nicked my wallet."

Colleen steppedcloser and said, "I think it was him."

"Huh? What?"The sailors stared at her, and Colleen, her heart thumping, let goof her suitcase with one hand so she could point up the stairs."That guy in the black coat, with the newspaper. I think he tookyour wallet."

The sailorslooked where she pointed and Colleen quickly moved away before theycould ask any awkward questions. She hurried to her platform, notturning her head when she heard raised voices behind her, followedby the sounds of a scuffle. She allowed herself a small smile asshe handed her suitcase to a porter and boarded her train.

Chapter 2 –Dragon Alley

The trip from Toronto to the coast took three days.At first Colleen distracted herself by examining the hardware ofthe train, from the straightforward mechanics of the steamlocomotive to the complex, cutting-edge pneumatic brake system. Shewatched the scenery, and chatted with her fellow passengers, but bythe second day all of that began to pall.

She broodedover her shattered family. Her mother was a distant memory, just aface in a photograph and faint images of warmth and love and agolden smile, so long ago that she wasn't sure if she wasremembering or imagining.

Her father'sdeath, 18 months earlier, was fresh and devastating in her mind.The two of them had been inseparable, working side by side in theworkshop whenever she wasn't in school. She still woke up somemornings not remembering that he was gone, and was crushed anewwhen memory came flooding in.

She reviewedwhat she knew of Uncle Rod. He had visited on half a dozenoccasions, always on his way to some exotic new location. He wasrootless, Dad had said. Born to wander the Earth, seeking hisfortune, seeking adventure, never content.

She remembereda broad-shouldered man, his stomach a bit bigger on every visit,his face a thicket of bristling whiskers. He smelled of tobaccosmoke and peppermint and something else, a scent she'd never beenable to identify. The first time Colleen encountered whiskey she'dbeen shocked to recognize the smell. She'd meant to tease Uncle Rodabout it, but she never saw him again.

Six visits intwenty years. Oh, probably he'd visited when she was an infant, butsix visits was all she could remember. They hadn't been especiallyclose. This feeling she had, that she needed to drop everything anddash across the country, had less to do with their relationshipthan with the fact that he was all the family she had left.

Was this tripill-advised? She told herself she was going to settle his affairs,take care of anything that needed doing. She told herself she wasbeing responsible, but in truth it had been an impulsivedecision.

She was plaguedby questions, and it would take three days at least to get anyanswers. Meanwhile there were probably telegrams and lettersstacking up at home with the answers to all of her questions. Shesighed and read the one telegram she'd received for the umpteenthtime.

The telegramwas signed "Jane Favisham." Colleen had never heard of her. Was shea friend of Uncle Rod? A girlfriend? Whoever she was, she knewabout Colleen.

On the morningof the third day some of her questions were answered. She found aVancouver newspaper, four days old, in the dining car. She glancedat a lurid headline, dismissed it, and started to turn the page.Then a name caught her eye and she turned back, a chill spreadingthrough her body as she read.


Page 2

Madman Subduedin Victoria

On Mondayafternoon a near-tragedy was averted at a small public school inVictoria. A man with an axe entered Queen Elizabeth Primary Schoolin the mid-afternoon. He apparently tried to enter the firstclassroom he came to, but a quick-thinking teacher, Mr. Hainsley,pushed the door shut from the inside and held it, exhorting hisstudents to flee by the window.

The attackerwas attempting to batter the door open with his axe when he wasapprehended by a group of teachers and a janitor. No students orstaff were harmed in the attack.

The attackerwas taken into police custody. He has been identified as RoderickGarman of Victoria. The motive for the attack is not known.

 

Colleen staredat the newspaper, baffled. Uncle Rod had taken an axe and attackeda school? She didn't know him well, but he'd always been gentle,amusing, and patient. It made no sense.

She checked thedate on the paper. May 1, 1921. The day before the telegram. UncleRod should have been in police custody. How had he died?

She wasexhausted and disgruntled when she finally walked down thegangplank of the Vancouver-Victoria ferry and stepped ontoVancouver Island. She had never been so far from home, but she wasin no mood to enjoy the sights. She hoisted her suitcase andtrudged down the dock.

"Colleen?"

Colleen lookedup. A woman of about forty stood before her, smiling uncertainly.She had brown hair drawn up in a bun, and wore a modest blue dressand an uncertain smile.

"Yes?"

"Oh, it isyou!" the woman gushed. "I knew it! Your uncle has- I'm sorry, hada picture of you in his house. I'm Jane Favisham. I was youruncle's friend."

"How do youdo?" Colleen said automatically, and Jane shifted a parasol to herleft hand so she could shake Colleen's hand. "How did you know Iwas coming?"

Jane smiled."There's only one ferry each day from Vancouver, and I live quitenear here. When I didn't get any replies to my telegrams I decidedI'd come by each day starting today, for a few days at least. Andhere you are, on my very first day. You must have reallyhurried."

Colleen nodded."Thank you for meeting me. I wasn't expecting it."

"Well, anythingI can do. Rod was terribly fond of you, you know."

Colleen closedher eyes for a moment. She wasn't aware that she'd made much of animpression on her uncle. He had a picture of her?Oh, Uncle Rod,I never had a chance to properly get to know you.

"Do you have aplace to stay?" Jane interjected.

"No. I guess Ididn't plan this trip very well."

Jane patted hershoulder and smiled. "That's all right. It must have been aterrible shock. I know it was for me. I'm afraid you'll have tocheck into a hotel. Your uncle's house, well, it's been damaged.And I stay in a boarding house.

"The Empress isthe best hotel in town. It's really something, but expensive, Ifear. I recommend the Queen Anne. It's not too pricy, but it'srespectable. The best part is, it's not far. My, that suitcaselooks heavy. Can I help you carry anything?"

The Queen AnneHotel was a two-story building a block from the docks. By the timeColleen was checked in the sun was setting and her head wasspinning. Jane smiled sympathetically and said, "You look done in,dear. Why don't you rest, and I'll come see you tomorrowmorning."

 

Colleen sleptlate and rose still feeling tired. She was finishing breakfast whenJane arrived, the parasol dangling from her hand. The sky wasovercast. She would need the parasol more for rain than suntoday.

They made smalltalk as they strolled through the streets of Victoria. Colleen wasnot an experienced traveller. She hadn't realized her country hadso much variety before this trip. Toronto, she now realized, was abastion of industry and commerce. She'd been surprised that thesmaller prairie cities were so different, built of wood andsandstone instead of brick. Now she was in Victoria, the mostelegant city she'd seen so far. The heart of the city was filledwith elaborate Edwardian architecture and somehow felt distinctlyBritish.

The buildingsbecame less ornate as they walked. Soon they were on the outskirtsof town, surrounded by clapboard buildings. Jane put her hand onColleen's arm. "We're getting close to Rod's house. I'm afraid it'sbeen burglarized."

"Really?"

"Yes, ithappened right after the, that is, right after your uncle wasarrested. I went by the house to pick up a few things for him andthe door had been pried open. There it is up ahead."

Uncle Rod'shouse was a small, stand-alone structure with peeling paint and asagging front porch. It was surrounded by similar buildings. Fresh,unpainted wood showed on the door frame where it had been repaired.Jane unlocked the door, then handed Colleen a small brass key.

"I guess thisis yours, now. I haven't cleaned anything up. After Rod- aftereverything happened, I was just too upset. I called the police andgot someone to fix the door, and that's all I did."

"Thank you fordoing that," Colleen said. "Thank you for everything. For caringabout Uncle Rod. For looking out for me."

Jane smiled,her lip trembling, and Colleen turned away, stepping into the housebefore both of them broke down in tears. She found a light switchon the wall and flicked it on.

The house was ashambles. Colleen stared around the front room, her hand over hermouth, aghast. Padded chairs had been slashed open. Tables wereoverturned. A hutch stood open, the floor around it covered insmashed dishes.

Colleen movedthrough the house, shocked at the destruction. Every shelf, everydrawer, every cupboard had been emptied onto the floor. Uncle Rod'smattress had been slashed open, the stuffing strewn around thebedroom. She could barely take a step without treading on hisshattered possessions.

She realizedshe'd been looking forward to this, to seeing where Uncle Rod hadlived. She'd wanted to get a sense of who he was, what sort of lifehe'd led out here on the coast. To get a sense of connection tohim, if possible.

Instead she wassurrounded by rubbish and ruin. This was no longer her uncle'shome. Colleen hurried from the house, and stood outside taking deepbreaths, trying to compose herself. The street was mostly empty,for which he was grateful. A man was loitering on the far side ofthe street, but he looked away as Colleen looked at him, giving herprivacy to blink away her tears.

Jane came outof the house and stood beside her, mute and sympathetic, pattingher shoulder. After a minute Colleen locked the house.

They walkedback to the hotel, silent at first, each woman lost in her ownthoughts. Finally Colleen blurted, "I don't understand. Whathappened? Why was he at that school, with an axe?"

Jane pressedher lips together and shook her head. "I wish I knew. It was veryunlike him. He was the gentlest man you'd ever want to meet. Youknow that."

Colleen nodded,although she didn't really know Uncle Rod well enough to besure.

"I saw him theday before, and he was agitated. He kept going on about some bookhe'd read. He had a collection, artifacts and antiquities fromaround the world."

Colleen smiled,remembering. Some of his get-rich-quick schemes had involvedtreasure maps, or hunts for lost cities, lost treasures, losttemples.

"I don't knowwhat book he meant," Jane continued. "I can't remember what hesaid, exactly. But he kept going on about how it couldn't be true,it had to be lies, there was nothing that could be done. He wasacting so strange, I told him he was scaring me. I left, I said,come and see me when you've calmed down." She looked down at herfeet. "That was the last time I saw him, before he, he wentmad."

"It's not yourfault," Colleen said. "I don’t know what happened to him, but itsounds like something you couldn't have stopped by talking to himabout it."

Janenodded.

"I know he wasarrested," Colleen said carefully. "I don't know how he died,though."

Jane turned toface her, her face haunted. "He killed himself," she whispered. "Idon't want to go into the details. But he killed himself in hiscell."

They continuedin silence, and stopped in front of the Queen Anne Hotel. "I haveto go to work," Jane said. "They've been very understanding, butI'd better put in some hours soon, or their patience will runout."

"I'll be allright," Colleen told her. "I'm not sure what I'm doing next. DidUncle Rod have a lawyer?"

"I don'tknow."

"Maybe I'll tryto find that out. Thank you so much, Jane. I don't know what Iwould have done if you hadn't met me at the ferry."

The two womenhugged, then Jane said, "I'll come by this evening after work.Maybe about seven. I live at Mrs. Rosebottom's boarding house onTanner Street if you need to reach me." And she hurried away, aslim, lonely figure in blue soon lost in the crowd.

Colleen turnedand walked into the hotel. She felt suddenly alone and far fromhome, all at sea in a world she didn't understand. She longed forthe sight of a familiar face, a friendly voice. What she wouldn'tgive to have Roland come up behind her and call her name!

"MissGarman?"

Colleen turned.The front desk clerk smiled. "We have a message for you,ma'am."

"For me? Areyou sure?" No one knew where Colleen was except Jane.

The clerkhanded her a folded slip of paper. "A couple of gentlemen droppedit off, not half an hour ago," he said. "They went to the bar." Hegestured toward the hotel lounge.

The note wasbrief, written in a strong, flowing hand:

Mr. Smith andMr. Carter would like to speak with you at your earliestconvenience. We will wait for some time in your hotel bar. We havetaken accommodations in the Empress Hotel and can be reached inrooms 304 and 306.

She thanked theclerk and walked down the corridor, puzzled. She stepped into thedoorway of the lounge and scanned the room.

Two men sat ina corner table, glasses before them. She saw a stout man in a tweedjacket and bowler hat facing her. He had a round, amiable face anda brown mustache, and he saw her, raised an eyebrow, and spoke tohis companion.

The other manhad his back to Colleen, but she felt her pulse start to race evenbefore his head began to turn. She stared, frozen, disbelieving, athis thin face, his intense eyes, his long dark coat. As he rosefrom his chair she turned and ran.

A voice in herhead told her she should stop, confront him here with plenty ofwitnesses around, but an unreasoning terror had her by the throatand all she could think of was escape. She burst out the front doorof the hotel, running hard, and didn't look back until she was ablock away.

The man in thedark coat was loping down the street, half a block behind her.

Colleen fled,legs burning and breath sawing in her lungs. She grabbed thetailgate of a moving truck, lifted her feet, and hung there for ablock, gaining precious speed. When the truck slowed for trafficshe dropped off and dashed down a side street. She wove throughcrowds of pedestrians and darted around another corner.

She stopped,panting, her back against a wall. Finally she peered around thecorner, looking back the way she'd come.

There was nosign of him.

Somethingcaught her eye, though. A man was staring at her, a stranger in adark red coat. She looked at him, and he quickly looked away, buthe was sidling through the crowd toward her, and she was sure hewas watching her from the corners of his eyes.

Also, she had adreadful feeling that she'd seen him before. She racked her brain,and it came to her. He'd been loitering across the street fromUncle Rod's house.

More movementcaught her eyes. The street was a bustle of pedestrians, peoplemoving in every direction, but she could pick out two, no, threepeople converging on her. In addition to the man in the red coatshe saw a burly older man with a forked beard and a dark-hairedwoman in a white bonnet. At first glance they seemed to havenothing in common, but all three of them were somehow similar. Itwas their expressions, she realized. There was something fixed,intense, almost animalistic in their faces.

Colleen turnedand ran. She was thoroughly lost, running blindly, fighting arising panic. She twisted and turned, darting around cars andwagons and people, and she heard feet slapping the pavement behindher as the strangers gave chase.

She dashedthrough an intersection, flinching as a truck gave her a blast fromits horn. And suddenly she was in another world. The street wasnarrow, clapboard buildings looming close on either side. Thesidewalk was far more crowded than it had been, and nearly everyperson around her was Chinese.

The strangenessof it heightened her sense of terror. Strange, spicy smells filledher nostrils and a babble of incomprehensible voices crashedagainst her ears. It was Chinatown, and Colleen lurched down thestreet, only too aware that her height and blonde hair made her abeacon in this crowd.

She glancedback. The man in the red coat was right behind her, a manic grin onhis face. Colleen threw herself forward. When the press of bodiesin front of her was too much she darted sideways, into an alley. Itwas narrow and dirty, but free of people, and she ran faster, herlong legs giving her an advantage over the man behind her.

A man steppedinto the alley ahead of her. He was black, and huge, abroad-shouldered man with a gleaming bald head, and he grinned ashe saw her. She was running straight at him, and his arms came outfrom his sides, blocking her path, his fingers extending, ready tograb her.


Page 3

Sobbing withfrustration and terror, Colleen lunged at the first door she saw.She tore the door open and ran into a kitchen. For an instant shewas face-to-face with a Chinese man dressed all in white, his hairin a braid hanging down his back. Colleen flinched away from him,and he flinched back as well. She gathered her courage and dartedpast him as the door behind her flew open and the man in the redcoat came barreling in.

She fled, came to a wall, darted left withoutlooking, and found herself at a dead end with a row of shelves onone side and a wall on the other. She turned.

The man had hercornered. There was a depraved glint in his eyes, and a long silverknife in his hand.

Colleen lookedaround frantically. There was nothing she could use as a weapon,nowhere she could go. A metallic clang made her look up. She sawthe silver knife drop from the man's fingers. A moment later hefolder up and collapsed onto the floor. She saw the Chinese cookbehind him, a frying pan raised over his head.

She jumped overthe man in the red coat, pushed past the cook, and ran through alow doorway. She was in a tiny restaurant, half a dozen patronslooking up from their plates to stare at her.

A strangled crycame from the kitchen behind her. Every nerve in her body screamedat her to run, but she turned her head, looking back into thekitchen.

The big blackman had the cook pressed up against the wall, one huge hand wrappedaround the cook's throat. Colleen's feet seemed to move on theirown, taking her back into the kitchen. The cook had helped her forno good reason other than because she was in trouble, and outragewas rapidly overcoming her fear.

The frying panlay in the middle of the floor. The man turned his head as shesnatched up the pan, but he didn't have time to react. Colleen usedboth hands, spinning her entire body, and put everything she hadinto one mighty swing. The pan slammed into the side of the bigman's head, the impact numbed her arms to the elbow, the pantumbled to the floor, and the man fell sprawling across the floortiles.

For a momentColleen and the cook stared into each other's eyes. He wasmassaging his throat, but he grinned, and she smiled back. "Thanksyou," she said, then turned and raced through the restaurant, outthe front door, and into the street.

Her pursuerswere on her almost immediately, the woman in the white bonnetflanked by two more men. Colleen ran, panting for breath, wonderinghow much longer she could keep going.

Two men camearound the corner in front of her. Their smiles and the way theyspread out, blocking her path, told her it was two more of her newenemies. She stopped, scanning the street, and dashed down astaircase. She pushed open a filthy black door, banged her head onsomething, and scurried forward with her head bowed.

She was in alow, dark room, the air thick with sweet-smelling smoke. An oldChinese man sat on a stool near the doorway, and he gaped at her asshe went past. A dozen or so people lounged on low sofas, most ofthem Chinese, a few white men dressed as sailors mixed in withthem. They were no more than vague shapes in the gloom as Colleenstumbled through the room.

There was noback door, but a window at the back let in a little light. Colleenleaned past a couch to push at the window, which swung open.

She heard loudcries as her pursuers burst into the room behind her. She didn'tlook back, just stepped onto the couch. A soft shape squirmedbeneath her foot, a voice cried out, and she realized she'd plantedher foot in someone's stomach. There was no time to be delicate.She kicked off, pulling herself up to the window frame andwriggling through.

She foundherself crawling into an alley, mud and fouler substances squishingbetween her fingers. Someone grabbed her foot and she kickedwildly, then squirmed her way outside as the fingers slid free.

She stood,looking around, and heard movement behind her. A man was comingthrough the window, his head almost touching her shoes, and shekicked him in the face. He flinched, sliding backward as his handscame up to protect himself, and she kicked him again. He fell backinto the opium den.

She thoughtabout staying put, keeping them at bay, but there were too many ofthem. The rest would be coming around the block and trapping her.She turned away from the window and started to run.

She was toolate. A pair of men loomed in the mouth of the alley, and she knewthat the others would have the far end of the alley blocked inmoments. Then a hand closed on her wrist and a man's voice said,"Now, Miss, if you fight you'll just-"

She twisted inhis grasp, turning. A man's face was inches from her own, and shedrove her fist into his nose. He fell back with a cry, letting goof her arm, but the strangers were all around her now.

She punched, aman grunted, and then a fist slammed into the side of her head andshe fell to her hands and knees. She got a foot under her and threwherself forward, diving against the legs that surrounded her, andpeople tumbled as she went rolling out of the circle.

Some rubbishwas heaped against the far side of the alley, and she sprang to it,coming to her feet with a chunk of timber in her hands. It waspine, four feet long and thicker than a baseball bat, and sheraised the makeshift weapon over her shoulder as she turned to faceher attackers.

There were fiveof them, the woman in the white bonnet and four men. One man wasbleeding from both nostrils, and all of them looked angry. Theyspread out, surrounding her, and she edged back until her heelsbumped the wall behind her. For a moment she was filled withterror. She was hopelessly outnumbered, and what did she know aboutfighting?

Then shetightened her grip on the chunk of timber. She knew a thing or twoabout tools, after all. She had used hammers and pry bars to breakfree rusted gears. This was a similar problem. Moving joints, muchsofter than the brass and steel she usually worked with. She justneeded to separate some joints, lift some bones from their sockets.And she had the right tool for the job. She bared her lips in asnarl and said, "Come on, then. What are you waiting for? Is fiveof you not enough?"

They pressedin, and she stepped forward, giving herself more room to move. Shedeliberately turned to her right, showing the back of her head tothe man on her left, and she heard the gravel in the alley crunchunder his feet as he moved into range, thinking to blindside her.She swung as she turned, and his arm came up to protect his head.She kept right on swinging, and the timber hit his arm. There was adry snap as his arm broke, and he screamed. Colleen spun and swungat a hand that was reaching for her. She connected with the hand,and a man flinched back.

"To hell withthis," the woman said. "We're not getting her alive. Finishher."

Knives camesliding out from pockets and under coats. Colleen advanced,swinging desperately, and they fell back, circling around, tryingto get behind her. She retreated, keeping the wall at her back, andthey pressed closer.

Then headlightsfilled the gloom of the alley. Colleen turned, felt a brief surgeof hope, then despair as she recognized the thin-faced man in thedark coat leaning out the window of a dark blue convertible. Hiscompanion from the hotel, the round-faced man with the bowler hatand mustache, was driving.

The car camebarrelling down the alley and a shot rang out. She saw a muzzleflash, realized the man in the dark coat was shooting. He firedagain and a sallow-faced man dropped his knife and stumbledback.

Her attackersscattered. One man was too slow, and the fender of the car hit him,sending him bouncing against the wall of a building. The carscreeched to a halt in front of Colleen, and the man with the darkcoat snapped, "Come with us, or stay here and die!"

Colleen droppedher timber, leaped onto the running board, and hung onto the top ofthe door with both hands. The car gave a mighty roar and sped downthe alley, leaving her attackers behind.

Chapter 3 – ADisappearance

"My name is Dirk Smith. We almost met in Toronto. I'msorry I frightened you. I just wanted to speak to you, but you keptrunning away."

"How do youdo," Colleen said, blushing a bit. To be fair, Smith and hisintense eyes were still a bit frightening, even sitting calmlyacross a table from her in room 304 of the Empress Hotel.

"I'm PhillipCarter," said the man in the bowler hat. He smiled under his brownmustache. "You led us quite a chase. I'm glad you're safe."

"What's thisall about?" Colleen asked. "I don't understand what'shappening."

"I'm afraidyou've ended up in the middle of a very large, dark conspiracy,"Carter said. "You're caught in a spider web that has strandsreaching all over the world. Maybe even beyond."

Colleen staredat him, and he cleared his throat. "Never mind that," he said."Were you close to your uncle?"

"Not really. Ihadn't seen him in a couple of years when he died."

"I understandhis house has been burglarized," Carter said. "Do you know ifanything was missing?"

"Hold on," saidColleen. "I'm not letting you pump me for information and leave mein the dark. Who are you? Who were those people chasing me?"

For a momentthe two men just looked at her. Then Carter said, "It might be bestfor you if you just answered our questions and returned to Toronto.Believe me, you don't want to get involved."

Colleen'sfingers went to the sleeve of her dress. Somewhere in Chinatown aknife had sliced through the fabric, missing her skin by a hair'sbreadth. She hadn't even known when it happened. "I'm alreadyinvolved," she said. "People are trying to kill me. My uncle isdead, and I want to know why."

Carter rubbedthe bridge of his nose. "When was the last time you heard from youruncle?"

Colleen crossedher arms and glared at him. "Forget it. You're getting nothing fromme until I get some answers."

The silencestretched out, and then Smith chuckled. "I think she's got us,Phil."

Carter lookedat him. "We can't just tell her-"

"She alreadyknows too much," Smith said, "and she's got the attention of thecult. I think she has a right to know the rest."

The two menlocked eyes, and finally Carter sighed, nodded, and turned back toColleen. "The people who attacked you are part of a cult," he said."It seems to have a worldwide membership, although we don't knowhow they communicate or organize themselves. Their goals- well,let's just say they have some unconventional religiousbeliefs."

Colleenfrowned. "But what does this have to do with me?"

"Well, you'reinvolved because of your uncle. He seems to have learned something.I think the cult wants whatever it is he uncovered, and they'rehoping he said something to you, sent you something in the mail,perhaps left you a message."

"But he didn'tsend me anything!" Coleen wailed.

Carter nodded."I was afraid of that."

"What did UncleRod find out? What does any of this have to do with him?"

Carter steepledhis fingers. "This is a very old cult. They've been around, in oneform or another, for centuries, perhaps longer. They believe somevery curious things. They believe in ancient, malevolent gods thatsupposedly once ruled the Earth. According to their mythology,these gods were banished or locked away. They want to free thesedark deities from their confinement, bring them back so they canrule the Earth again."

Colleen rubbedthe goosebumps that had popped up on her arms. Cartercontinued.

"They aresearching constantly for lost artifacts of some kind that will letthem open a doorway to free their gods. Your uncle was a collectorof antiquities, yes?"

Colleennodded.

"We believe hefound something, one of these ancient artifacts, or perhaps adocument of some kind with a clue. The cult wants whatever hefound."

There was along moment of silence while Colleen absorbed this. Then she rubbeda hand on her forehead. "It all seems so, I don't know, crazy."

"Craziness,unfortunately, is a recurring theme with the cult," Carter said."Every cultist we've ever captured has been at least half mad. And,whatever is at the heart of their twisted religion, it seems to besomething that the human mind can barely withstand. Your unclewasn't the first person to encounter this mythology and gomad."

Colleen staredat him.

"There arestories from the fourteenth century," he said, "about a book thatwould drive mad anyone who read it. The book was finally burned andthe ashes scattered. There have been other stories. I think youruncle found something like that. Something that was more than thehuman psyche can bear. The cult knew he was beyond reach then.That's why they killed him."

"Killed him?"Colleen looked at Carter sharply. "I thought he committedsuicide."

"There are manyways to kill a man, Miss Garman. In your uncle's case, smuggling arazor into his cell was enough. He did the rest."

She stared athim, aghast. "Are you sure?"

Cartershrugged. "No. But a madman wouldn't be issued a razor. He had toget it somehow."

Colleen closedher eyes, willing away the images that filled her mind.

"Can we talkabout your uncle now?" Carter asked, his voice gentle.

Colleen openedher eyes. "Not quite. You haven't told me who you are yet."

Carter sighed."I was hoping to avoid that. Miss Garman, I'm going to have to askyou to give your word that you'll keep the information I'm about togive you completely confidential."


Page 4

Colleennodded.

"I'm part of ateam composed of members of the Bureau of Investigations in theUnited States. We report directly to President Harding. If thegeneral public found out about this cult and their mad gods, therewould either be widespread ridicule of our efforts, or widespreadpanic. So we operate in secrecy.

"Last year, thepresident contacted your Prime Minister Meighen to discuss thecreation of a Canadian force to deal with cult activities on thisside of the border. Mr. Smith here is our Canadian liaison."

Smithnodded.

"The rest ofthe team is on their way from Washington," Carter continued. "Weexpect them on the evening ferry."

A worldwidecult of religious fanatics? It seemed too fantastical to believe.Colleen fingered the cut in her sleeve, and thought of her gentleuncle taking an axe and attacking a school. There was no mundaneexplanation for what was happening. She might as well accept thatit was true.

"So tell meabout your uncle," Carter said.

Colleenshrugged. "I don't think I know anything that will help. I hadn'theard from him in years. I went to his house, but it was ashambles. I have no idea if anything was missing. It was a disasterarea."

The men wentsilent, and Colleen replayed her visit to the house in her mind.Nothing there had reminded her of Uncle Rod. There were none of thethings she associated with him. No ancient relics, no maps, nosouvenirs of his travels. No tools, either.

"Where were histools?" she said. The men looked at her. "For that matter, wheredid he work?"

Carter'seyebrows rose. "I'm not sure your uncle was employed."

"Uncle Rodwouldn't have a regular job. That was never his style. He mighthave repaired things, designed things, to make money. He was verygood with his hands. A natural born engineer, my dad called him.But that house was tiny. There was no place to work."

Carter said,"Are you sure he-"

"The last timeI saw him," Colleen interrupted, "he was drawing up plans for aflying machine with a propeller on the top, lifting it up. The timebefore that, he gave me a brooch he made from brass gears andsilver wire. He was always tinkering. Always. He must have had aworkshop. I guarantee it."

Smith andCarter exchanged glances. "This is excellent," Carter said. "Thecult may not know about the workshop. Perhaps we can get a jump onthem. If we can find it."

They spent mostof the day on the telephone, and hit paydirt in mid-afternoon.After dozens of calls to every place of business they could thinkof that used complex machinery, they reached a John Roebuck who rana tailor shop with half a dozen sewing machines powered by acentral spindle. He'd hired Rod to repair the equipment, and he'dpicked up the parts at Rod's workshop. He gave them an address.

They caught ataxi in front of the hotel, Carter declaring that the convertiblewas too conspicuous. The taxi took them to the outskirts ofVictoria, where they found a run-down warehouse at the end of adirt road. Carter asked the taxi driver to wait, and they walkedforward to investigate.

The warehousewas ivy-covered brick, the windows filthy, rust streaking the brickunder the window frames. There was a door for trucks, padlockedshut, and a man door, standing ajar. Smith drew his pistol as thethree of them approached.

Carter yankedthe door open, Smith sprang inside, and the taxi driver, clearlyalarmed, drove away. Carter watched him leave with a shrug.

"It's clear,"Smith said, and they followed him inside. The interior was gloomy,poor light trickling in through the grimy windows. A large boilerfilled the space before them. Ancient, rusted machinery, wreathedin cobwebs, lined the walls. They moved around the boiler andlooked into the rest of the warehouse.

Colleenimmediately felt at home. Long benches lined one wall, dozens oftools racked above them. There was a treasure trove of machinery,metal lathes and drill presses and punches. She saw gears of everysize, and brass and steel stock waiting to be made into parts ortools.

Machineslittered the floor, in various states of repair or disassembly. Shesaw automobile engines, a washing machine, and something designedfor stamping metal. It was all dirtier and messier than herfather's workshop had ever been, but somehow delightful. Colleengazed around the room and felt as if she had finally foundsomething of Uncle Rod.

A cot in onecorner showed that he sometimes slept here. That was where theybegan their search. There were few personal possessions, justdishes and a change of clothes. They expanded their search outward,examining every piece of equipment, every tool, every cabinet.

It was Carterwho made the discovery. "Uh oh," he said, and Colleen turned tofind him kneeling in front of the wood stove by Uncle Rod's cot. Hehad the front door of the stove open, and he brought out a charredstrip of leather. "The good news is, it looks like he found a book.The bad news is, he burned it."

"Maybe it's forthe best," Smith muttered, but he joined them at the stove. Carterlifted burned chunks of wood from the stove, setting them on thefloor. Then he took a deep breath, reached in, and brought out athick sheaf of blackened paper.

Most of thebook had been destroyed, but a little bit remained. The back cover,blackened and bubbled, was essentially intact. On top were sheetsof fire-damaged paper. Carter did his best to lift the top sheets,but they crumbled to ash at his touch. Undiscouraged, he keptgoing, delicately lifting away layers of ash, working his waydeeper.

There werepartial remains of perhaps a dozen sheets of paper. The top sheetswere mostly gone, just a few words of Latin still legible on thefire-darkened paper. Smith drew a notebook from his black coat andtook careful notes.

As Carterworked his way deeper the legible parts of the pages grew larger.Finally he came to the last page.

"This one'sdifferent," he said. I don't think it's part of the book. I thinksomeone tucked this into the back."

"What is it?"Colleen asked.

"I'm not sure."The paper was badly fire-damaged. Nearly half of it was gone, andthe rest was blackened, with large sections completely eradicated.The top of the page contained some sort of diagram, with curvinglines in a pattern that meant nothing to any of them.

The bottom ofthe page held text, most of it gone. Carter drew a pair ofspectacles from his pocket and peered at the sheet. "Tana," hesaid. "I can't make out the next letter. But it starts withT-A-N-A." He shook his head. "I suppose it could be anything."

It was a longwalk back into the city. Eventually they reached downtown, and tooka table at a small cafe. Colleen felt drained and spent. The threeof them drank coffee and discussed what they'd found, making noprogress.

"You should askJane what she knows," Colleen said. The men looked at herblankly.

"Jane," sherepeated. "Uncle Rod's friend? You didn't know about her? Thatreminds me, she's coming by my hotel this evening. What time isit?"

It was nearlyseven. They paid the bill and walked to the Queen Anne. There wasno sign of Jane, and no message.

There was aknot of worry in Colleen's stomach as she asked at the front deskfor directions to Mrs. Rosebottom's boarding house. The three ofthem walked through the darkening streets, grim and silent.

The knot ofworry bloomed into cold, sharp fear when they saw a crowd of peoplegathered in front of the boarding house.

The crowd was amixture of policemen and rubberneckers. Colleen, Smith, and Carterstayed on the fringe of the crowd, avoiding the police and pickingup gossip. A woman had been attacked, less than an hour earlier, asshe came up the steps of the boarding house. Several men haddragged her into a sedan and raced away.

When they hadlearned what little there was to know, the three of them returnedto room 304 of the Empress Hotel. There they held a grimcouncil.

"Well, that'stoo bad," Carter said. "Poor woman."

"We lost a goodsource of information," said Smith. "I hope she can't tell theother side too much."

Colleen staredfrom one man to the other, getting more upset with every word."What are we going to do?"

They looked ather blankly. "What CAN we do?" Carter asked. "We don't know wherethey've taken this woman. It's probably too late to save heranyway. We need to focus on figuring out our next move. What does'Tana' mean? How can we figure out what this diagram is?"

Colleen wantedto scream. Jane was out there, suffering God only knew whattortures, in mortal danger, and they wanted to write her off? Justgive up and move on?

"We can only dowhat we can do," said Carter gently. "Believe me, I would help yourJane if I could."

Colleen glaredat him, unconvinced. She stood up, unable to keep still, and pacedback and forth in the small hotel room. Finally she opened thedoor.

"Colleen, whereare you going?" Carter sounded alarmed.

"I don't know,"she snapped, and walked out.

She paced thecorridor, then stomped down the stairs and paced back and forth inthe hotel's elegant lobby. The hotel was vast, and the room she wasin was huge, light, and airy, but she felt constricted, closed inby the walls around her. She gave a longing glance at the frontdoors. She wanted to go outside, but she was afraid. The cult wasout there. So long as she stayed inside the hotel she feltreasonably safe.

Her illusion ofsafety was shattered when a hard, cold hand closed on her upperarm. She turned and found herself looking into a familiar face. Itwas the cultist with the red coat. He stood close beside her,sneering. He was unshaven and not particularly clean. She couldsmell sweat and alcohol on him, and some other scent, somethingbitter and dark that made her skin crawl.

"Where is it?"he said.

She lookedwildly around the lobby. No one was paying the slightest attentionto them. She wanted to scream for help, but her lungs seemedparalyzed.

"Where isTanathos?" His voice was low, but it had a manic edge. His eyesglittered, and his fingers dug into her arm.

She gasped,"What- what-"

"Don't play nogames!" His fingers twisted deeper into her arm. "You all left thismorning in a taxi, and you came back looking like cats that gotinto the cream. You found something. You know where Tanathosis!"

She stared intohis face, feeling the sour taste of panic on the back of hertongue. He was mad! How could she persuade him that she didn't knowanything?

He gave her armanother twist, and it occurred to her that he thought he washurting her. His pointless arm-twisting was supposed to keep herterrified. With that thought her panic vanished, and she grinnedinto his face. Men were always underestimating how strong she was.It wasn't their fault. Well-brought-up young ladies didn't spendtheir days in machine shops, after all. Most of the women Colleenknew would have been helpless in this man's grasp.

Not Colleen.She closed her hand on his wrist. He tightened his fingers, twistedagain at her arm, and she chuckled. "Is that the best you can do?"she asked. Then she squeezed his wrist with all of her strength andtwisted.

His hand toreaway from her arm, his body rotated as she moved his wrist, and shebrought up her free hand, grabbing him by the elbow.

He lifted ontohis toes, his other hand went under his coat, and Colleen marchedhim forward, across the lobby. People were turning, staring,gasping, and she heard a woman say, "That man has a knife!"

Colleen chose asturdy-looking pillar near the front door. The cultist, dancing onhis toes, could only scurry beside her as she drove him forward.She didn't give him a chance to brace himself or use his knife. Shemarched him toward the pillar, and as she got close she picked upthe pace. She was running by the time he crashed into thepillar.

There was athud of impact, and she let go. He fell onto his back, the knifeclattered onto the floor, and she drove her foot, hard, into hislowest rib. He grunted and curled up, his hands going up to cradlehis bloody forehead.

Colleen kneltover him. "Where's Jane?"

He stared up ather, his face scrunched up with pain, mute.

She caught hishand, bent his index finger back until tears filled his eyes. "Tellme where she is, you-"

A man kneltbehind her and to one side. Colleen caught a whiff of cologne and aglimpse of his knee, clad in elegant pinstripe trousers. A smoothvoice with a British accent said, "All right, then, I'll take careof this ruffian." A hand rested on her shoulder. "Let him go, miss.I'll take it from here."

"You don'tunderstand," she said, "This man-"

The tip of aknife pricked her back and she went silent.

"I said let goof him." His voice was pitched low, for her ears only. "You will,one way or another."

"You wouldn'tdare. In front of all these people?"

"Not unless youforce me," he said. "I'm taking Jimbo with me. One way oranother."

The knifepressed against her a tiny bit harder and she released Jimbo'sfinger. In a moment the newcomer hauled Jimbo to his feet andhustled him out the door, holding his arms as if he were aprisoner. Colleen watched them go, the scruffy thug and awell-dressed man with greying hair. The Englishman kept his back toher as they hurried out of the hotel. Jimbo looked back, though. Hegave her a glare full of hate and rage as his comrade dragged himout.


Page 5

A buzz ofconversation sprang up, and Colleen scurried out of the lobby,moving deeper into the hotel. The last thing she needed was theattention of the hotel staff. If they kicked her out of the hotelit could prove fatal.

She returned toroom 304. Carter gave her a thin smile and touched the brim of hisbowler hat. Smith ignored her. Colleen sat on and empty chair,tuned out their conversation, and let her mind wander.

She had aniggling feeling, like an itch she couldn't scratch. She knew thefeeling well. It usually came to her when she was struggling with atricky bit of machinery. Some part of her mind had figured out asolution. She just had to listen to herself to figure out what itwas.

The feeling hadcome on her as she left the lobby. She had learned something, then,in her confrontation with Jimbo. She ran through every word he'dsaid. He was looking for someone named Tanathos. She explored thatidea, and decided it was a dead end.

Well, if itwasn't something she'd heard, perhaps it was something she'd seen.What did she know about Jimbo, or his accomplice? The feeling, themental itch, told her it was something about Jimbo, not theEnglishman.

She ran throughwhat she knew of him. An inch or two shorter than she was, maybefive foot seven. Not especially strong for a man. Greasy, unwashedhair, dark brown in color. Brown eyes, sallow complexion, perhapsItalian or mixed blood. Fleshy, unpleasant face. Not too meticulousabout shaving or washing.

Colleenfrowned. None of that was useful. Well, what had he been wearing? Ared jacket and dark pants. Cheap canvas shoes. Under the coat? Shestruggled to remember. There was a cloth of some sort around hisneck, like a bandana. A fairly distinctive cloth, with burgundy andwhite stripes. In fact, now that she thought about it, the collarof his shirt had the same pattern.

He was much tooslovenly to choose matching clothing. Could it be some sort ofuniform? It was, she realized. She knew it, because she'd seen itbefore.

She looked atthe men. Smith was reading Latin phrases from his notebook andCarter was transcribing them onto hotel stationery.

"Never mindthat," she said, and they looked up. "We have a lead." Carterquirked an eyebrow, and she continued. "One of the cultists is asailor. Maybe a bunch of them are. He's wearing a ship's uniform.That could be where Jane is. On a ship."

The men staredat her. Finally Carter said, "Which ship?"

"I don't know.But we can find out. I saw more uniforms just like it, hanging on aline in Chinatown. We find the laundry, we'll find the ship. Andthen we'll find Jane."

They justlooked at her, and the silence stretched out. Then Carter said,"Look, Colleen, there's no guarantee that your friend is on a ship.We don't even know that she's still alive."

"That's not thepoint!"

Carter sighed."What is the point, then?"

Colleen groundher teeth, then made herself take a deep breath. "The point is,it's a chance, and Jane's life is on the line."

Carter wasalready shaking his head. "No, it's too risky. We're exposed on thestreets. The cult has us outnumbered, and-" He stopped as Janestood. "Where are you going?"

"I'm going tofind Jane," she snapped.

"Now, hold on.Don't do anything hasty. We went to a lot of trouble to keep youalive, you know. Don't get yourself killed now."

"You want me tostay alive? Then you'd better come with me."

Carter glaredat her. She glared back. Then she said, "If you won't do it for me,then do it because it's not what the cult wants. You're supposed tobe fighting the cult, aren't you?"

He stared, hismouth opening and closing, and Smith laughed. He had a disturbing,raspy laugh, and it never quite reached his dark, intense eyes."She's got you there, Phil. Stay here if you like. I'm going withher."

Carter turnedhis glare on Smith, then said "Hmph!" and took out a pocket watch."Fine. We'll go to Chinatown. But we'll go by way of thewaterfront. The ferry is coming in."

 

Chapter 4 – Striking Back

Colleen watchedthe rest of Carter's team disembark from the ferry and immediatelyfelt better. There were four of them, three men and a woman, andthey all exuded a tough, competent confidence. There was a briefflurry of handshaking. Then Carter said, "This is Colleen. We'll dointroductions on the way. We're going to Chinatown."

They filled theconvertible with luggage, left it at the docks, and took a pair oftaxi cabs through Victoria. Colleen found herself sandwichedbetween two of the new arrivals, a stern-faced woman in herfifties, and a broad-shouldered young man with a black mustache anda lantern jaw.

Carter satbeside the driver and twisted around in his seat to makeintroductions. "Colleen Garman, this is Margaret Nelson and RichardDalglish."

The womansmiled and said, "You must call me Maggie." She had a distinctsouthern drawl.

"And I'm Rick,"the man said. "We've already heard about you."

"Maggie is aprofessor of antiquities, now retired from active teaching so shecan work with us," Carter said. "Rick is part of the Canadian team.He's been seconded from your Dominion Police."

"It's the RoyalCanadian Mounted Police now, actually," Rick said. "Pleased to meetyou, ma'am."

"Call meColleen."

"A few thingshave changed since our last telegram," Carter interjected. "Theopposition has kidnapped a woman who may have vital information.We're looking for clues to her whereabouts." He nodded to Colleenand she described Jimbo's uniform, and the laundry she'd seen inChinatown.

"I'm not sureexactly where I saw it," she admitted. "I was pretty distracted atthe time."

Carter chuckledat the understatement.

"But it'sfairly distinctive, and it's somewhere in Chinatown, so itshouldn't be hard to spot. How big can Chinatown be?"

"Second-largestChinatown in North America," Rick said cheerfully. "Only SanFrancisco has a bigger one."

"Show-off,"Maggie said with a smile.

Chinatown wasless terrifying on this visit. Even with night falling everythingseemed less strange, less foreboding. In part it was because shehad seen it before, but the biggest reason was that she was backwith friends, and with a purpose.

They dividedinto two groups, agreeing to stay fairly close together. Colleenwalked with Carter and Smith, while the new arrivals worked theirway up a parallel street. She was torn between a desire to rush anda terror of going too fast and missing something. She racked herbrain, trying to remember landmarks from her first visit, but itwas all a kaleidoscope of fragmented images. Was the kitchen beforethe opium den, or after? Did she see the laundry hanging in astreet, or an alley?

She needn'thave worried. Before they reached the end of the block, Rick andanother man, David Parker of the Bureau of Investigation, camejogging around the corner. "We found it," Rick said.

Maggie and thelast team member, a fat, older man named Garson, were standing infront of a clapboard building with a sign that said "Londry."Maggie gestured at a gap between buildings. "Is that what yousaw?"

Colleen lookedwhere she pointed. Laundry hung in three tiers on closely-spacedlines. The middle tier was full of dark trousers, neckerchiefs, andwhite shirts. The shirt collars and neckerchiefs all bore adistinctive pattern of white-and-burgundy stripes. Colleennodded.

"Theproprietor," Maggie drawled, "tells me these belong to theSSArcadia. They aren't picking up their laundry until tomorrowafternoon, so they're in port for at least that long." She turnedto Carter. "What now, boss?"

"Let's go takea look," he said.

They walked tothe waterfront. It was full dark, and they kept to the shadows,circling wide around the streetlights as they slunk down theaptly-named Wharf Street. Smith was in the lead, and everyone frozewhen he raised his arm.

TheArcadiawas a vast shape looming in the darkness. She had asingle chimney stack, so she was steam-powered, but Colleen couldmake out several masts as well. She was rigged for sailing,then.

She was mooredat a wharf. The seven of them stood in the shadow of a warehouseand looked the ship over. No one was in sight, but lights burned ondeck, and light gleamed from a few portholes. Colleen eyed theship, trying to guess her size. Three hundred feet long? Fourhundred? Maybe forty feet wide? It was a lot of ship to hide onewoman in.

"What's theplan, boss?"

Colleen wasn'tsure who asked the whispered question, but it was Carter whoanswered.

"We watch. Wehave no idea what we're dealing with, or how many there are. So weset up surveillance, keep track of who comes and goes. Tomorrowwe'll find out how long she's in port, and set up some kind ofschedule."

Surveillance?Tomorrow? Colleen thought of Jimbo, his feverish eyes, his knife,and knew there was no time to spare. She thought about arguing withCarter, decided it would be pointless, and shrugged.

So be it.

"Hang on,Jane," she murmured. "I'm coming." And she stepped out of theshadows.

Carter's voicewas an urgent hiss. "Colleen! What are you doing?"

She turned tohim, her heart thumping in her chest, almost hoping he couldpersuade her to stay back. But her voice was level as she said,"You do all the surveillance you want. I'm going after Jane." Andshe turned her back on the group, ignored Carter's sputteringvoice, and set off down the wharf.

She reached theship, moving to the edge of the wharf where the ship cast a longstripe of shadow. The hull was close enough to touch, a pittedsurface of chipped white paint and flaking rust. There was nogangplank, and the side of the ship rose above her like a wall.Colleen kept walking, hoping to find a way up.

In the middleof the ship the hull was lower, and Colleen stood looking up. Thetop of the hull here was even with her head. She had no idea whatlay beyond it. She shrugged and crouched, preparing to jump.

A rustle offeet made her turn her head. Carter, Smith, Rick, and David Parkerwere marching up the wharf. She raised an eyebrow when they reachedher, and Carter shrugged.

Smith wavedColleen back, then sprang nimbly, clinging to the top of the hull.He lifted himself up until he could peer over the top, then pulledhimself up and over.

Colleen wentnext. Smith was crouched below the gunwale, a pistol in his hand.Colleen dropped into a crouch beside him, and the others quicklyjoined them.

They were inthe shadow of the forecastle. Electric lights on the masts burneddown, painting the deck in alternating stripes of light and shadow.The deck was an orderly clutter of ropes and davits, lifeboats andpipework. For a long moment nobody moved. When Colleen realizedthey were waiting for her, she rose and darted to theforecastle.

She found adoor, unlocked, and slipped through. There was a corridor ahead,and a ladder leading down. She took the ladder, guessing that Janewould be hidden deep in the ship, away from prying eyes. Theyarrived at a lower deck, she had a quick glimpse of anothercorridor, dimly lit, and she took another ladder deeper into theship. She could hear the rustle of footsteps as the team followedher, and the hum of machinery in the bowels of the ship.

The ladderended and she stepped into a corridor. It was an oppressively bigship, and her heart sank as the immensity of it sank in. However,there was nothing to do but keep on.

The corridorwas too narrow for two people to walk side by side, but Smith wasclose behind her, pistol in hand. The others were not far behind,and she saw more handguns. She headed down the corridor, glancingat the closed hatches that they passed. She was betting that Janewould be guarded, that there would be people and noise wherever shewas.

The corridorended at a hatch, a door with rounded corners and a circular handlein the middle. Colleen glanced at Smith. He nodded, hefting hispistol, and she gave the door a push. It opened a crack, and shepushed it farther until she could peer out.

She saw anothercorridor, but more plush than the one she was in. The floor wascarpeted, the light fixtures were fancy rather than strictlyfunctional, and the walls were perforated by doors rather thanhatches. She guessed she was seeing the passenger section of theship. A man in a crisp white uniform crossed her field of vision,not glancing her way, and she eased the hatch shut.

The otherslooked at her and she shook her head. She was guessing that theentire ship wasn't crewed by cultists. The man she'd seen hadlacked the depraved, half-mad look of the cultists she'd seen sofar. And the passenger section just felt wrong as a hiding place.If Colleen was right, Jane wouldn't be in the passenger section.She'd be tucked away in a boiler room or a corner of the hull,somewhere only a small part of the crew might go.

They retracedtheir steps, took a perpendicular corridor, froze at the sound ofechoing footsteps, then resumed moving as the footsteps faded.

A left turn hadthem moving toward the stern. The corridor ended at an open hatch,and Smith peered in, then stepped through. Colleen followed, andsmiled. They were in the boiler room. She felt immediately at home.It was one vast room, as wide as the ship, but crowded by vaststeel shapes. She could see two boilers, with only a narrow spacebetween them. Pipes ran in every direction, and valves and gaugessprouted everywhere.


Page 6

A man camewalking from behind a maze of pipes and stopped, staring at them inastonishment. He was greasy and dirty, wearing stained coverallsand carrying a wrench. Smith pointed his pistol at the man, andCarter hustled forward, took the wrench from the man's hand, andsaid softly, "Keep quiet if you want to live."

The teammembers spread through the boiler room and found two more sailors,dirty sullen men who might have been cultists or innocentbystanders. Carter herded them into an empty coal bunker and jammedthe wrench through the wheel on the hatch, effectively lockingit.

It was DavidParker, the burly Bureau of Investigations agent, who spotted thehatch in the back bulkhead of the boiler room. He cocked thesnub-nosed revolver in his fist, glanced at the others, and pulledthe hatch open.

There was agunshot and Parker fell back. Rick, the Mountie, dragged Parkerback as Carter and Smith fired through the hatch. When the bulk ofa boiler was between Parker and the hatch, Rick said to Colleen,"Do what you can for him." Then he ran to join Carter andSmith.

Colleen stareddown helplessly at the man. She knew how to fix machinery, notpeople. She shut her eyes for a moment, made herself breathedeeply, and murmured, "You can do this. You can."

She opened hereyes. Parker was staring up at her, his face grey, his lips pressedtightly together. She looked him over. The damage was easy to spot.There was a hole in his left sleeve, just below the shoulder joint.There was no blood on the fabric, but blood was pooling on thefloor beneath him. Well, that would be the first priority,then.

In the cornerof her eye she saw the others charge through the hatch, goingdeeper into the ship. She shrugged. She had her hands full fornow.

Her one attemptto get Parker's jacket off left him gasping and white-faced withpain. She balled her hands up, frustrated, looked around forsomething she could use to cut the fabric away from the wound, andfinally asked him, "Do you have anything sharp?"

He nodded, andpointed to his front pants pocket with a shaky right hand. Colleendipped her hand in the pocket and came up with a folding razor. Shecut apart the seam of his jacket where the sleeve met the shoulder,tugging to tear the threads in the places her razor wouldn't reach.Then she went to his wrist and drew the sleeve down and off.

His shirt was abloody mess. Colleen told herself that it was a repair job, nothingmore. A mechanical malfunction that happened to involve blood andflesh. She sliced the shirt sleeve open, wielding the razor withdelicate precision, and eventually slid the sleeve from hisarm.

She could seethe bullet's entry hole, a small black circle oozing dark blood,but not the exit. "You'll have to roll onto your side," she toldhim. He nodded, used his right arm to stabilize his left wrist, andshe slid her hands under his back, lifting, helping him roll. Hegrunted with pain but didn't cry out.

The exit woundwas a mess. A chunk of flesh was missing, leaving a gory, raggedhole two inches across. Colleen cut a section of his shirt sleeve,wadded it up, and pressed it into the hole. She wrapped the rest ofthe sleeve around his arm and got him to hold it in place with hisfree hand. She looked around for something to hold it all in place,and finally used Parker's shoelaces.

By the time shewas done blood was soaking through the makeshift bandage, butslowly. He wouldn't bleed to death, not soon. Now they just had toget him off of the ship. She draped his jacket over him and got upto take a look around.

There were fourboilers in all, three of them cold. The fourth boiler was lit, afair amount of pressure showing on the gauge, enough to run a fewonboard systems, she supposed. She moved past the lit boiler to thehatch at the back of the room and peeked through the opening.

Carter, Smith,and Rick hadn't advanced very far. Rick was no more than six feetpast the hatch, pressed into a gap between thick pipes on the wallof the corridor. Carter was a few feet past him, on the other sideof the corridor, flattened into a hatchway. Smith was a shortdistance beyond, crouching behind more pipe. Shadows moved deeperin the corridor, a shot rang out, and all three men flinched. Theywere pinned down.

Colleen drewback. The longer they remained stuck, the longer the cultists hadto circle around, or to get rid of Jane. Clearly something had tobe done, but what?

Her eyesdrifted naturally to the lit boiler. They had the awesome power ofsteam at their fingertips, if they could figure out how to tap it.She examined the boiler and the surrounding equipment. The waterlevel was decently high, so she could crank up the heat without toomuch danger. She examined the firebox. There was a coal hopper,almost full, and a grate to allow coal to tumble into the fire. Shekicked the grate open, sent coal pouring into the firebox, andopened the air vent. The needle on the pressure gauge twitched,then crept upward.

This was steampower on a larger scale than Colleen had ever worked with. She tookher time examining the pipes, hoses, and gears around her. Shefound a pipe with a T-intersection on it, the base of the T endingafter six inches as if the pipe had been cut off. Above the cut-offwas mounted a red-painted handle. She tugged the handle gently, andsteam came hissing out of the pipe end. She shoved the handle backand the steam stopped.

Her eyesscanned the room and fell on coils of hose mounted in racks on onebulkhead. She pulled down a coil. The hose was thicker than herarm, stiff but moderately flexible. It felt like rubber wrapped incanvas. She dragged the end of the hose over to the T-intersection.There was a clamp on the hose end, and she found that the hose endfit neatly over the base of the T. She used the clamp to lock theend of the hose in place.

"What are youdoing?"

She looked downat Parker. "Hooking up a steam hose. They would have used it topower tools or to do steam-cleaning. I'm going to use it moredirectly. Do you think you can stand up?"

"I'll try."

She helped himto his feet and led him to the T-intersection. He leaned againstthe pipes and she showed him the red handle.

"When I knocktwice, metal on metal, you pull this handle down, okay? When Iknock twice more, you push it back up. Then repeat, when I knockagain."

He lookedpuzzled, but he nodded.

Colleen tookthe free end of the hose and started toward the hatch where the menwere pinned down. On the way she picked up a wrench from a wallrack. She peeked into the corridor.

Rick, Carter,and Smith hadn't moved. Colleen took a deep breath, plunged intothe corridor, and banged her wrench hard, twice, on the pipe besideRick. Then she raced forward, passing Carter and reaching Smith.She heard Carter say, "What the hell are you-"

A man moved inthe shadows ahead, she saw a gun barrel gleam in the darkness, andthen the hose squirmed in her hand and steam came blasting out. Inan instant the corridor was filled. She couldn’t see a foot infront of her face. A shot rang out, she heard the bullet ricocheton metal, and a man began to scream.

She chargedforward, and she felt shapes brush against her as Carter, Smith,and Rick followed. The temperature rose as they ran into everhotter clouds of steam, and she swung her wrench blindly. It bangedon metal, the sound ringing out like the peal of a bell. She bangedagain and the flow of steam ended.

They reached across-corridor. The steam was dissipating quickly here, and theycould see for several feet. A man knelt in the corridor, a gun inhis hands, clutching his face. His skin was red and blistered, andSmith stepped up behind him and slammed the butt of his pistol intothe top of the man's head. The man collapsed, Smith pocketed theman's pistol, and the four of them looked around in the fadingmist.

A hatch swungopen ahead of them and a man leaned out, his face twisted with rageand a pistol in his hand. Smith fired once and the man sagged intothe corridor. Smith moved forward, peeked through the hatch, thenlooked back at the others and grinned. He dragged the body out ofthe way and stepped through the hatch.

Colleen and theothers advanced. By the time they reached the hatch, Smith wascoming back out. Jane was with him, her arm over his shoulder, hisarm supporting her. She looked terrible, her face swollen and cut,her head lolling on her shoulders. Colleen, torn between relief andhorror, dropped her steam hose, pushed through the men, and helpedsupport Jane.

The sound of apistol being cocked was the only warning they got. Colleen andSmith ducked, Carter and Rick pressed themselves against the walls,and the blast of a gunshot echoed through the corridor.

Rick and Carterreturned fire. Colleen wriggled out from under Jane's arm, grabbedthe dropped steam hose, and banged her wrench sharply on the floor.On the second bang the hose thrashed under her hand. She was aboutsix feet from the end of the hose, and it flapped and writhed,spraying steam in every direction. Rick sprang back, cursing, andColleen crawled forward, pinning more and more of the hose to thefloor.

The corridorwas completely filled with steam. She didn't see Carter, not evenwhen he bumped into her on his way past. She got a grip on the endof the hose, then banged her wrench a couple of times. This timeshe kept her grip on the hose as she retreated.

They spilledinto the boiler room, Colleen dragging the hose behind her, andCarter slammed the hatch shut. He kept a hand on the wheel as thegroup took stock.

Rick wasburned, not badly, but the side of his face was bright red. Colleensaid, "Oh, I'm so sorry," and he smiled.

"Better than abullet. Thanks, Colleen, I think you saved my life."

The wheel underCarter's hand twitched, and he grabbed it, keeping it from turning.Colleen wrapped her steam hose through the spokes of the wheel,immobilizing it, and he let go.

"We need to getout of here," Smith snapped. "They know the ship better than we do.They'll be circling around and cutting us off soon."

They organizedthemselves quickly. Carter helped Jane while Rick helped Parker.Smith went first, gun in hand. Rick and Parker brought up the rear.Rick supported Parker with one arm and held a pistol in his freehand. Colleen found herself in the middle of the group, the wrenchclutched in her sweaty hand.

They hurrieddown a long corridor, moving toward the bow of the ship. When theycame to a ladder Smith darted up while the rest of them waited.Then Smith waved them up. Carter and Colleen boosted Jane upwarduntil Smith could reach her wrists and lift her. Parker was able toclimb, gripping the hand rail with his good hand, his facetight.

On the nextlevel Colleen took over supporting Jane while Carter and his pistolbrought up the rear. A sailor came through a hatchway carrying anoil can, gaped at them in astonishment as several pistols came tobear on him, then dropped his oil can and stepped back through thehatch. They heard the slap of his feet as he ran away.

At last theyreached the same ladder they had first come down. Smith went upfirst, and swung open the hatch leading to the deck of the ship.Almost immediately he flinched back. "Gun," he said. "At least oneman. He's got good cover."

Carter climbedup beside him. "I'll cover you while you run for it?"

"I don't know.There isn't much cover close by. And if they have someone up high,I'm done for."

Colleen drewback from the group. She helped Jane sit down and whispered, "Holdon. We're almost clear."

Jane nodded,tried a small smile, and flinched as a cut on her lower lipopened.

Parker sat atthe base of the ladder, a pistol in his hand. Rick stood besidehim, ignoring the discussion above, eyes scanning the corridor.Colleen hefted her wrench and set off down the corridor. She heardhim hiss a question, but she kept walking.

She came toanother ladder and went up. There was no hatch. Instead she found acorridor with portholes on one side. She examined a porthole,figured out how to swing the circle of glass open, and peeredout.

The hull of theship stretched below her, flat and smooth. She could see the wharf,six or eight feet down. The men would never make it through anopening this small, but she thought she might get through.

She craned herneck around to look up. There was a railing just above her. Shelooked carefully in every direction and didn't see a sign of life.She listened intently, heard only the slap of water on the hull andthe creak of the boat as it moved in the water. Finally she tuckedher wrench into the belt of her dress, took a grip on the porthole,and started working her way out.

She squirmedaround until she was sitting in the round hole, the wrench digginginto her stomach. She stretched her fingers upward and found aprecarious grip on a flat surface somewhere above. She pulled withher hands, squirmed with her hips, and slid out, her backsidehanging over the wharf. She worked her hands up higher, got abetter grip on the surface above, and squirmed and wriggled untilshe could draw a leg out and get a foot on the sill of theporthole.

From there itwas almost easy. She stood, took the wrench out of her belt and setit on the deck above her, grabbed the vertical bar of a railingsupport, kicked off with her feet, and pulled with all her might.She drew herself up, let go with one hand and scrambled franticallyfor the railing above her. She caught it with her fingertips, thenscrambled frantically with her toes on the smooth hull. She got atoe on the deck, and hung awkwardly by two hands and a foot, herskirts riding up in a most unladylike way.

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