Victoriana 17

Tachybaptus, Going Postal

Chapter 17

As the submarine was slowly winched down into the loch again, swinging a little uncertainly with its extra cargo of Vulgarian soldiers, Victoriana leaned over and whispered in Rusty’s ear, ‘Do you think Molotok believed us?’
‘No,’ Rusty whispered back, ‘I left the Translator running, and he has detailed these two’ – he rolled his eyes at the two nearest Vulgarian soldiers who were examining the wooden interior with a marked lack of confidence – ‘to, er, deal with us if there is any sign of treachery. But he doesn’t know how much we really know, so he’s waiting to see if we can really lead him to the spot where McHerring is going to start his operations.’
‘Do you think there will be a big fight?’ asked Victoriana.
‘Rusty looked around the submarine, now packed with Vulgarian soldiers armed to the teeth, and locked glances with their scowling leader, Serp.
‘Looks like it,’ he said out of the corner of his mouth, ‘and Molotok is taking no chances. When the soldiers that have been landed by the airship enter the boathouse, this lot will cover any retreat into the loch.’
‘Enough speak, you cheeldren, or I cut out your tongues,’ snarled Serp, glaring furiously and waving a nasty looking knife at them. His Vulgarian accent had thickened noticeably since he left New York.
Fingers gently bumped the boat against the huge wooden doors of the boathouse, one of which swung open slightly with a creak. Nothing happened as he steered gently inside, and indeed the boathouse appeared empty of human life; a large number of packing cases stood around, some in piles and others lying open with straw scattered about.
Irving whistled. ‘Dis ain’t no boathouse,’ he said, ‘lookit dose walls – dey could stand a siege.’ He glanced up at the steel portcullis as they motored slowly underneath. ‘Dis is a fortress.’
Fingers nodded, admiring the cunning way in which the old wooden shell camouflaged the fort inside.
Led by Serp, the Vulgarian soldiers climbed noisily up out of the submarine onto the dock. He signalled them to fan out and comb the area, and as they set off a door at the far side opened and a stream of their compatriots led by Molotok filed in; they also spread out and started making their way between the crates towards the dock. Victoriana noticed that their two guards had hung back and not followed their comrades.
Just as the two groups met between the crates, there was a volley of shots as a hidden enemy opened fire on them. Fire was returned immediately, and grenades thrown in various directions, but with little effect as the enemy remained hidden. Men leapt for cover in the confusion.
At the first sound of gunfire, Irving and Fingers had each produced a large spanner liberated from the submarine and whacked the two Vulgarian guards over the head. With a nod to each other, they bundled the unconscious soldiers into the nearest crate and out of sight. The firing slowly petered out, followed by a short silence as everyone wondered what would happen next. Then there was a burst of running feet.
‘After zem! Don’ let zem escape!’ roared Molotok, urging his men after some fleeing shadows disappearing through an archway.
‘Well,’ exclaimed Victoriana when they found themselves alone, ‘that was sudden!’
‘We have to follow them, you know,’ said Rusty.
‘Adda safe distance,’ said Irving, and Fingers nodded in agreement.
When the sound of running feet and shouting had died out, they crept across to the archway and discovered a wide tunnel sloping gently away. They made their way cautiously downwards for what seemed to Victoriana like an age until the tunnel opened out into a huge cavern lit by flickering, smoking torches, in the centre of which stood a number of workbenches littered with all sorts of strange tools and devices. Four tunnels led out of the cavern in different directions.
‘Waal, I guess we take one each,’ said Irving. ‘Just a vitz,’ he assured them when he saw the alarm on his companions’ faces, ‘we stick togedder down here.’
‘Eeny, meeny, miny …’started Rusty.
‘We’ll foller da biggest one, dat one dere dey named after some dame, An Segan sumthin,’ decided Irving, and they set off across the cavern towards a broad opening with the letters ‘An Sgaineadh’ carved into the rock above the entrance.
‘Help!’ called a voice, making them all jump.
‘Looking round, they saw where a small chamber had been blasted out of the rock, its entrance fenced with stout metal bars to create a prison cell. A bedraggled figure stood there in the gloom clutching the bars.
‘Help!’ it repeated in a forlorn voice.
They rushed over to the cell and Fingers started to work his magic on the lock.
‘He looks like an artist with his hair sticking out like that,’ observed Victoriana in a low voice, ‘and he’s wearing a smock.’
‘More like a mad scientist,’ said Rusty, ‘he has a manic stare.’
‘So’d you, kid, ’f ya’d been locked up down here,’ said Irving.
‘Thank you, thank you,’ cried the man gratefully, ‘I’ve been here for ages.’
‘My pleasure,’ said Fingers, introducing the others. ‘An’ who are ya, an waddya done to be locked up?’
‘I’m Paul St George,’ the man started to say when Fingers cut him off.
‘Ain’t never met a real live saint before,’ he said, saluting smartly.
‘No, no, that’s my name,’ explained St George, ‘and I invented the Telectroscope – that’s why they’re keeping me prisoner. They are forcing me to make modifications to it.’
At that moment the sound of voices and heavy footfalls reached their ears.
‘Quick – dis way, into An Segan,’ urged Irving, running into the wide tunnel with the others hard at his heels.
Rusty glanced up the strange letters carved into the rock above the entrance.
‘An Sgaineadh,’ he mispronounced between pants, ‘what a funny name. I wonder what it means?’
‘I say,’ wheezed St George, clearly suffering from his period of incarceration, ‘I don’t think we should be going this way.’
‘Jus’ run,’ said Fingers, taking a quick glance over his shoulder as they rounded a slight bend in the tunnel.
On and on they ran, and down and down sloped the tunnel, until there were no more torches on the walls to light their way, and there the tunnel ended in a huge wall of rock.
‘Oh dear,’ said Victoriana, as they stood panting and trying to catch their breath, ‘what do we do now?’
Before anyone could think up an answer, a rapid puffing and roaring struck their ears, and chugging inexorably into view came a huge steam carriage with what looked like the Intensifier bolted to it, with the lens of the Telectroscope mounted in front. The madly gesticulating figure of McHerring could be made out through the cloud of steam and smoke the engine was belching.
They all froze in horror, mesmerised by their approaching doom.
‘Just a minute, everyone,’ said St George, ‘I’ve got an idea.’


This chapter by HB. © Tachybaptus et al. 2017.