The Forever Engine – Snippet 08
September 23, 1888, London, England
The dagger wasn’t meant for me. I heard Bonseller cry out in pain and fear, and that shocked me into action. I staggered away from the door, my feet clumsy, balance screwed up. Nothing around me made sense, because my heart rate had gone through the roof and a lot of frontal brain functions were shutting down, but I remembered enough to start tactical breathing. Inhale for a five count, hold it for a five count, exhale for a five count, wait for a five count, start again.
Someone grabbed me by the right arm, one of the men from the door. He wore some sort of black coverall and a black cap. His mouth twisted open in a grimace showing me yellow and black jack-o’-lantern teeth, and his breath came as a physical shock almost as potent as the thrown knife. A blade flashed toward my face, and I tried to twist away, but his grip was strong. The knife stopped millimeters from my throat.
“Come wi’ us or you’re a dead ‘un,” he growled.
I nodded mutely.
Exhale for five, hold for five . . .
Three serving-platter-sized metallic spiders scrabbled past my feet, making whirring, clicking noises.
What the hell?
The other man in black yanked down the big drapes from the window, pulling the curtain rod and mounts away from the ceiling in a small shower of plaster dust. Light exploded in through the large window, and I saw a smoky rectangle of the London skyline. He kicked at the window, and glass shattered.
“Where’s the bleedin’ coin?” the man holding me shouted as he pulled me toward the window.
“I . . . I don’t –” I stammered.
“Here!” someone yelled. I recognized Meredith’s voice. His plump hand appeared from behind the overturned writing desk, holding a melted slug of clear plastic.
Inhale for five, hold for five. Vision came into sharper focus, legs grew steadier. Around the periphery of my vision the old blackness crept, the blackness I thought gone forever.
Where was Gordon and his revolver? Tyndall’s pistol was in his coat pocket on the floor. No time to get it. The man at the window had his back to me as he used his fist to knock out the remaining broken shards of glass. The thug holding me shoved me toward the window and let go to reach out to grab the coin.
Action without thought. Two long steps to launch myself into the air, catch the man at the window with both of my feet squarely in his back. Kick hard to transfer momentum to him, come down in a crouch as he plunged screaming out the window. Anticipation, experience, memory — indistinguishable.
With neither thought nor emotion I rose and turned to the other thug and I knew my face was as empty as the abyss. Did I know it then or know it later? There was no then or later. He hesitated, his knife held wrong for a throw.
“Halt in the name of the crown! Hands up!”
Face white, pistol raised and shaking, Gordon stood at the double paneled door through which Bonseller had entered. The thug didn’t even glance back at him. Instead, his eyes flickered to the open window behind me. He licked his lips, calculated, then lunged toward me.
I sidestepped, Gordon’s pistol fired, the sound exploding like thunder in the confined space of the room. The man staggered forward and fell against the window sill, then straightened, put his foot on the sill, and jumped.
Through the window, I saw the thug swinging from a rope ladder a dozen feet from the building, and as I watched, he rose up and away, and the blackness behind my eyes fled with him.
I stuck my head out farther and looked up — some sort of elongated powered balloon. The chugging engine rose in volume as the balloon gained speed and disappeared up and into the mists. Thoughts returned.
What the hell was going on?
The pistol barked again, and a slug slammed into the windowsill above my head, throwing splinters of wood and glass into my scalp. I flinched to the side and then dove for cover behind a heavy leather sofa. Thomson was already there, kicking one of the metal spiders away.
“Nicely done, laddie,” he said.
“Tell that to Gordon.”
The pistol fired again, and a slug blew through the back of the couch, showering us with horse-hair furniture entrails.
“Captain Gordon!” Thomson shouted. “Cease fire, ya great bloody idiot! I’m back here, and Fargo is on our side, not theirs.”
“Yes, for God’s sake stop shooting.” That was Bonseller’s voice. He sounded weak, but he wasn’t dead. I helped Thomson to his feet and then hurried over to Bonseller’s prone form. Gordon stood in the doorway uncertainly, pistol drooping. A mechanical spider scrambled toward him, he fired his revolver, knocked wood from the floor six inches to the side, fired again, and then again, finally hitting it.
“Damn,” he muttered. Several men in suits pushed past him from behind.
I knelt beside Bonseller. He was trying to sit up but having a hard time. Blood soaked his left sleeve around the hilt of a throwing knife that was buried in his arm above the elbow. I grabbed his upper bicep in my left hand, my thumb on the pressure point to cut off the blood flow.
“Take it easy, Bonseller. You’re bleeding a lot. The knife must have nicked an artery. I’m going to put a pressure bandage on it.”
I started to pull open his coat, when a mechanical spider scrabbling across the floor bumped Bonseller’s leg. It stopped and locked steel mandibles on his calf, then made a loud whirring sound, started vibrating, and Bonseller cried out in pain. I felt an electric shock through my thumb and jumped back.
“Son of a bitch!”
I kicked the spider away from Bonseller and grabbed his arm again. He trembled from the shock and groaned but didn’t seem much worse otherwise. He still needed a compression bandage, so I unbuckled his belt and pulled it out as gently as I could.
“Stand away from Sir Edward, Fargo,” Gordon ordered. I hadn’t even noticed him walk up. He raised the shaking revolver, pointed it at my forehead, and cocked the hammer back.
“You’re dry, Gordon,” I told him, “unless that’s a seven-shooter.”
Gordon looked at his revolver in confusion.
“Oh, put the bloody gun down, man,” Thomson ordered. “And where did you get off to, anyway?”
“I went for help,” he explained.
“This may hurt a bit, but I need to get this knife out of the way,” I said. I took the handle in my fist, made sure I was lined up squarely, and slid it up and out of the wound, trying not to make things any worse. Bonseller gasped but made no other signs of pain. More blood oozed out of the slit in the coat, but not much. I wrapped the belt three times around Bonseller’s upper arm over the wound and pulled it tight. He drew in air sharply as I did, but he took it pretty well, all things considered.
“That should hold you until a surgeon can stitch you up. Just make sure you keep the pressure on the wound.”