Friday, May 4, 2012

Chapter 24. A month exactly after 23.

Okay, I really, really apologize for not having written this sooner. I have been so busy lately, and then I had writer's block, and all that kind of stuff. But I got it plotted out with my little bro, and then it just flowed out of my fingers. So, here it is! Tada! Enjoy it, please!
Disclaimer: I still don't own this.

The bridge had more people in it than Alek had seen since Tesla had been first brought aboard. He cringed thinking of the man.
“... And at that point, sir, Midshipman Fitzroy led the prisoners to brig and we were all dismissed.” Deryn saluted and clicked her heels.
“Thank you, Mr. Sharp,” Captain Hobbes nodded, and Deryn sat down. “I would like to formally congratulate you and your crew for finding Mr. Wilson alive. Although it was a mystery that he alone was spared, I’m sure all of us are grateful he has returned to us alive.”
Alek noticed Deryn stiffening beside him, but she relaxed just as soon, and he wondered if maybe he’d imagined it. “Unfortunately, the rest of the crew have been confirmed dead.”
The room was silent for a moment out of respect.
Alek’s mind was still reeling from Deryn’s account of the mission. He had been stuck here on the bridge with the lady boffin and the officers. Of all the scurrying dots on the ground, he hadn’t been able to pick out Deryn, and he’d clenched his fists for so long in worry he still had red marks on his palms the next morning. The thought that she had been down there, with all that rubble and a few bombs that could have gone off at any time because they didn’t explode on impact, was still twisting his stomach into knots. He missed the time just a few weeks ago when the greatest danger had been falling out of the tree, not him getting shot and Deryn risking her life for a few machine scraps.
“The girl we captured is perplexing,” Dr. Barlow remarked, stroking Tazza’s head absently, “I’ve tried to speak with her, but she will say nothing in any language other than her name. I’ve already tried to speak with her a few times since she woke up. Rachel, she is called, is on mild painkillers for a blunt force head injury.” She shot Deryn a pointed look, and Deryn only shrugged. “Mr. Newkirk is serving her and the boy breakfast as we speak.”
She and Deryn exchanged glances, and the lady boffin nodded slightly. Deryn said “Sir, the Zoological Society has brought us in contact with Thaddeus before. His father is the German Count Abbott Welker. They may be the most devoted Clankers I ever met, sir. The boy insulted Darwinism in the middle of barking London! And the bum rag almost looked pleased when he heard about all those poor airships! If there’s anyone behind all this, him and his Da would be part of it.”
The captain nodded and smoothed his beard. “In that case, I’ll need a full debriefing from all that have encountered the count and his son previously.”
Alek glanced worriedly at her and Dr. Barlow. That was a tricky subject. How much could they tell the captain without giving up Deryn’s secret?
“Mr. Fitzroy, please begin your debriefing,” ordered the captain.
Sebastian stood up, straightened his uniform, and saluted Captain Hobbes. “Thank you, sir. I was with the second group of airmen deployed, and I searched the compound with Coxswain Clarke.  As you know, some of the air bombs were duds, and as a result the Clankers had all gathered in a single area, in a building that was mostly intact. They were armed with mostly pistols and a few larger guns, and when another group of men joined us we were at a stalemate with them.
“It was then that I had an idea. I’d recently learned how aerial bombs work in my classes, so I thought I could figure out how to fix one. The others held off fire while I fixed and set the duds on a timer, and we took them secretly to the backside of the building and got away as quickly as we could. It was a success and none of the Clankers were left alive.”
The bridge was silent for a moment, and even the message lizards that had been scurrying along the ceiling had stopped. “It was then discovered,” Dr. Busk said, rubbing his palms together, “that it had been the central intelligence building of the compound, likely where all the information on the Orion Omega was stored, along with all other experiments and many other things that would have been useful to the Air Service. Upon inspection of the remains,” he paused, looking pointedly around the room everyone’s face for just a moment, “my team found a disturbing file. Only one sheet had survived, and a few partials of others, and the distinguishable words read: ‘Orion Alpha; Mission success.’”
Dr. Barlow’s hand flew to her mouth, and Alek’s fists clenched. “Alpha?”
Fitzroy ran his tongue along his lower lip. “But it has already been decided that Orion Omega is the threat, last in the line and most dangerous,” he barked, grabbing the ends of the table and turning his knuckles white. “That’s what we should focus on, not this ‘Alpha’ blether! It doesn’t mean anything!”
“Then why would it say ‘mission success’? And there was part of an illustration, one that looked like some sort of flamethrower,” Dr. Busk shook his head, “and fire is one of the most lethal things for an airship. This can only mean that there are two parts to the Clankers’ plan, whatever it may be, and it could be worse than we’d ever imagined. Yet now we have nothing but charred scraps of unreadable paper when we were so close to discovering what that plan is, possibly saving hundreds of lives. Nothing, thanks to Mr. Fitzroy’s brilliant plan.”
“Surely there was nothing else that could be done in his situation,” the captain told him, raising a hand to calm the man.
“I have just a question for you, Doctor.” Sebastian tilted his head and stared at boffin, waiting for a reply.
“Well, go ahead, boy,” Dr. Busk said gruffly.
“Just how many times have you been awarded the Air Gallantry Cross for bravery in battle?”
No one spoke.
From what Alek had gathered, Fitzroy was always perfect boy in front of adults, but when none were around, he was Fitzroy, arrogant and nasty as ever. This side of him would be new to the captain and all the officers.
“Well?” he challenged.
“None, but I ha--”
“I see.” Sebastian drummed his fingers on the map table, staring unflinchingly at the gray haired boffin. Then he chuckled a little, a cold, maniacal laugh. “Maybe I should just have your job, then.”

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