Sorry for posting this so late in the day. It ended up being a bit more technically challenging than I expected to get some of the audio effects working the way I wanted them to. I hope you all enjoy what I've accomplished here (or at least, aren't annoyed by it); it's bugged me just a little bit that the dialogue and sound effects seldom reflect the acoustics of the environment in which the scene takes place (which I began to address last chapter), so with this one - which takes place entirely in a cramped metal room - I've taken significant pains to rectify this.
Thanks to all of the (many!) voice actors who participated in this chapter, one of whom we're hearing for the first time here.
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As Jack and I were arriving in the engine room, the lights were only just coming back on, and I spotted Helmut, Captain Guinee and Professor Rutherford inspecting the engines, which looked rather the worse for wear; a great section of the turbine had been bent and torn out of place, leaving much of the assembly around it deformed and rent asunder in the process. The bodies of a pair of crewmen, seeming to have been bludgeoned to death nearby, gave mute testament to the ineptitude of the lower classes among my employ. Even as I was arriving, others were filtering in behind me; I spotted over my shoulder my father, in his wheelchair, being lowered gently down the steps by Margarida and Ivan.
“What the devil’s happened down here?” I demanded. “Has somebody’s rough housing gotten out of hand again? I’d given strict instructions that horseplay in the engine room be kept below level three.” I pointed at a notice I had had posted to the bulkhead near the door to this effect. “But it looks like these two chaps were at least at level six! Perhaps seven! Do I need to lower it yet further to level two?” I asked menacingly.
“Perhaps... as a cautionary measure,” Helmut responded, rather cautiously himself, I privately chuckled as I thought to myself, “but I think perhaps this is more likely an act of sabotage.”
“Sabotage!” I exclaimed, looking about skeptically, “Explain yourself, man!”
Professor Rutherford turned around from his place near the wreckage of the engine, smiling toothlessly at the evident opportunity to educate someone. “Sabotage, my dear boy!” he wheezed, “It’s the act of deliberately damaging or destroying an object or device in the hopes of preventing it from being put to its intended purpose. Quite nasty, business, usually. We’re just lucky in a case such as this that nobody got hurt!” Nobody seemed to have the heart to disabuse the nearly-blind old man of the notion, nor yet of that that he was contributing to our overall body of knowledge.
“Very helpful,” I allowed. “What about you, Helmut? Anything you wish to amplify your claim with?”
“Ja! Just after the engines stopped and the lights went out, Jack and I spotted some shadowey shapes fleeing the scene. The gunshots you heard were Mr. Cartwright’s efforts to halt their flight.”
“The sons of bitches were quick, though. Right quick. They was out that porthole up yonder before I could drill either of ‘em,” Jack added. He was handling his gun rather angrily, I thought, as he spoke. Almost as though he blamed the weapon for his own imagined inadequacy.
“Superstitious hogwash!” My father blustered, having just had his chair put down on the floor. “Your fat Bavarian and his Yankee catamite are jumping at their own shadows!”
“Herr Kingsley, I hardly think...” Helmut sputtered.
“Now hold your damn horses you crazy old goat...” Jack bellowed at the same moment.
I waved them both to silence. “Professor Rutherford, what do you say? You were next on the scene, were you not?”
“Ah! Well,” he seemed to be chewing the idea over in his hideously toothless maw. “Many cultures have legends of shadow-people of one sort or another, but two or three times out of ten, you’ll find, it’s nothing more than a trick of the light.”
“There you have it, then,” I said, satisfied. “You two were likely just rendered cowardly and panicked at the sudden noise. I’m sure it’s nothing to be concerned about.”
“Reginald!” Helmut blurted out, plainly agitated and forgetting himself in the moment. “I beg you to see reason, just this once! This is plainly an act of sabotage, and just as plainly Cyrus Blackhawk is to blame. I beg you to send him away, no matter how impolite it may seem...”
“And I beg you to kiss the Kaiser’s backside, no matter how impolite that may seem! There are limits, Eisenbarth! And you are fast-approaching yours!”
“Herr Kingsley,” he pleaded, shifting his tone, appropriately, “You know full well that he intends you nothing but harm. Surely you do not think that he is incapable of such an act...”
“Herr Eisenbarth, you wound me,” came a voice from the top of the stairs. All eyes turned towards Blackhawk, who stood at the doorway, leering down at the scene. “What could I possibly stand to gain from sabotaging a boat I full well planned to set sail on myself this very day? You embarrass yourself with these wild speculations. You embarrass yourself and all of your colleagues.”
Beside me, I noted Captain Guinee drawing her cutlass from its sheath, and I sensed that the air of acrimony in the room was about to become explosive. Seeking to distract her, I pretended for the moment not to notice her blade as I asked her forcefully “Captain! How long do you imagine it will be before you can have this mess cleaned up and the Swine upon the waves?”
“A week!” she snarled, barely glancing at me, glaring balefully at Blackhawk, whose smirk I could practically feel through the back of my scalp.
“At least,” Professor Rutherford added. “And that assumes that this is all of the damage that’s been done. I’m afraid we’d best retrieve our belongings from our cabins, my dear boy. We’re going nowhere for a while yet.”
“How unfortunate!” Blackhawk exclaimed. “And I had so hoped to see this mysterious island nation for myself! But wait!” he stopped, placing a finger to his lips thoughtfully. “A thought occurs. My own vessel, the Buzzard’s Feast, is berthed a few hundred meters away, and could be made ready to set out by this evening. It is perhaps less ostentatiously grand than The Regal Swine, in its own tawdry way is, but quite equal to the task. That is...” he said, cocking his head towards me, parrot-like, “if you are not too proud to accept my help, Mister Kingsley.”
I decided then and there that I was too proud to admit to being too proud to accept his help. “Nonsense! We shall set out as you suggest aboard the Buzzard’s Feast, re-christened ‘The Regal Swine II (provisional)’, and we shall...”
“It shall not be re-christened!” Blackhawk interjected hotly.
“We shall set out aboard the The Regal Swine II (provisional), and we shall carry on precisely as planned, undaunted by this poor turn of fate!” I proclaimed, determined that, if I were to be forced to rely upon Blackhawk’s hospitality, I could at least impose upon his hospitality and good graces to the best of my ability while I was depending upon his good will for the success of my venture.
There was, at this, a certain amount of dis-satisfied grumbling, which I attempted to wave off, when Jack stepped up and pointed at Blackhawk accusingly, whilst looking me in the eyes. “You know he’s just doin’ this so that HE can get called ‘Lord High Admiral’ while we’re out there, don’t you? He’s playin’ you, boss!”
My head snapped around and I glared at Blackhawk, accusingly. He was already shaking his head, though. “I would never presume,” he insisted. “This remains very much your expedition, Lord High Admiral Kingsley...”
“He says that now!” Helmut shouted. “But aboard his ship, what is to keep him from giving himself a field promotion? Lord Commodore, perhaps?” Jack glanced over at him and nodded vigorously. I had to admit, privately, that it was not an impossibility that Blackhawk had such a betrayal within his character. Before I could respond, though, Captain Guinee took advantage of my distraction, surging forwards, her sword in hand. I could barely follow her movement as she slammed Blackhawk to the bulkhead and hissed at him like an animal, pressing her sword to his throat. Blackhawk looked as surprised as I felt at that moment, his eyes going wide with shock.
“Bad enough you have to fire at my ship from across the water, but now you think you can blow her up from inside? I’ll gut you like a fish, you damned son of a bitch!”
“Ivan!” I shouted, and in a moment, the massive Cossack had grabbed hold of his lover’s wrist in one massive hand and, not unapologetically, I thought, pulled it away from the villain’s throat. She shot him a look which was both rife with fury and betrayal, but I knew that she would soon enough forget the matter. This was not the first time I had had to rely upon Ivan’s loyalty to me to reel the Welsh madwoman in.
“First of all, Captain,” I said, snatching the sword from her captive hand, “The Regal Swine is not your ship: It is mine. And secondly”, I waggled my finger at her reprovingly, “I have told you before not to make your professional disputes with the man personal. While I understand entirely your loathing for Blackhawk, he is my adversary, not yours, and I will not see you attempting to eclipse my rivalry with him with your own.” I looked down my nose at her with what I hoped was sufficient hautiness to convey my point effectively. “Get your own arch-nemesis.”
She wrestled her hand free of Ivan’s grasp and stepped back, a look of barely-contained fury distorting her features. She glanced about, as though reassessing the situation. Whatever she was looking for, it seemed it was not there to be found, and she expressed her opinion of this by spitting upon the deck plate at my feet. “Bollocks to you, Kingsley! And to all of you, as well!” She shot dirty looks about the room, and for nobody present more than for Ivan, who looked abashed by the stink-eye he was receiving. “At least he’s too bloody daft to know any better, but the rest of you oughtn’t be so quick to follow him into your graves!” She was by this time stalking furiously up the stairs to the above deck, and nobody present made any move to stop her. “Well I’ll have no part in it!” She bellowed as she reached the door. “You go ahead and set sail for the River Styx for all I care! I’ll be right here, and see if I shed any tears when you never come back!” She turned on her heel at this and could be heard for some seconds later as her thunderous footfalls echoed down the corridor in her wake.
I looked at Ivan, curiously, as indeed were many of those present. The Russian goliath was rather inscrutable much of the time, and never more so where matters of the heart were concerned. Professor Rutherford, the only one among us fully capable of speaking Ivan’s heathen tongue, stepped up and asked him something or other in his own language, to which Ivan responded, imperturbably, with a single word and a shrug.
I turned to the professor and asked him “What was that, then, Baldy?”
Archibald glowered at me impotently, as he tended to when I used my favoured diminutive of his name, but replied without comment upon it, as was his habit. “I’d asked Ivan Ivonovich here if he was going to be alright.” He adjusted his thick glasses absent-mindedly upon his nose, chuckling softly as he did so. “And he said to me, ‘Eh. Women.’”
And with that, the tension was broken. We all laughed, and I slapped Ivan affectionately on the shoulder, taking care to wipe my hand clean on a handkerchief immediately thereafter. “Well, then! Let us gather our belongings, gentlemen. If we’re brisk about our business, we can be off before nightfall.”
(to be continued!)