A Dirigible Disaster: Epilogue
The air in the alley was putrid. The reek of rotting food, human waste and other unidentifiable smells permeated the wood, brick and mortar of the surrounding buildings. A hulking shadow detached itself from the wall, shambling into recesses of the alley without hesitation. The man moved from shadow to shadow dragging his left foot. Further back the narrow passage formed a ‘L’ shaped turn. Here a second figure stood waiting. Thick clouds overhead obscured the moon, leaving only the weak gas lamps from the mouth of the alley to illuminate the corridor. Their reach was not far.
“You’re late,” the second figure said. He kept his voice at a whisper, but filled it with disapproval. The larger figure merely shrugged and made no comment.
“They returned hours ago. I heard the report, from the chin-waggers on the street corners. How they defeated you, pushed you off the bridge if the stories are true.”
“Yes, master,” said the large man.
“’Yes’ what? Yes, they did push you off, or yes you are a great disappointment to me?”
“Have you an explanation then?”
“No, sir.” The first man hesitated, but then plunged on. “Joseph’s dead.”
“I don’t really care. At least dead he has a reason not to complete his given task.”
The first man held out a paper cylinder.
“What’s this,” asked the smaller man.
“Thas the plans, master.”
In the darkness an invisible eyebrow rose. “Truly? How did you manage this?”
“I looked at the plans onboard the train. Memori’d thems. Took me a while to draw them.”
“Are they accurate?”
“They’s as best ah could do.”
“I see. Well done, you managed to accomplish the goal then.”
“Are we going home then?”
“Home, Elijah? You would speak to me about going home? We have not even begun our true task. This is mere preparation.”
Elijah hung his head and nodded silently.
“Were you wounded at all?” his master asked.
“Dented my ribs a bit, a bullet smashed an acchewataters.”
“An ‘actuator’ you mean. Can you get along for now? I haven’t the time to repair you.”
“Ah’ll be ok, sir.”
“You know I am concerned with your well-being. Ever since, I first bought you all those years ago. When you were a puny little runt I took you in and nursed you to health and beyond.”
“Ah know, master.”
“We have a small delay. A couple of days really aren’t going to derail me much at all. How is our dear Mr. St. Eligius holding up?”
“He wuz kinda edgy. Like a ‘coon up a tree with a hound at the bottom, barkin’ up a storm.”
“Well, tha’ Chinaman, the drug dealer. He was puttin’ it to Mr. St. Eligius, so did tha German feller.”
“Did you happen to hear what they were saying to Mr. St. Eligius?”
“The Chinaman taunted him about bein’ addicted, and the German paid him a compliment, which,” said Elijah frowning, “Mr. St. Eligius din’t take well. Somethin’ about a machine.”
“Ah, so the wolves are starting to surround him. Mr. St. Eligius has a storied past, and I believe that these people are starting to press on the guilt and regret that our adversary harbors. Delicious. However, we cannot risk one of them taking a run at Mr. St. Eligius and being successful. Another rumor has it that perhaps Mr. St. Eligius will be seeking the aid of a biomechanical engineer. I can think of only one that might suit his particular needs, but she is supposedly a ghost.”
“There are reports of her death in Chicago. Here are the tasks I want you to do for me now. They are far more important than anything else, do you understand?”
“Yes, ah do Master V…”
“Ah-ah-ah, no speaking of my name aloud, Elijah. These walls have ears you know.”
“First, we need to deny Mr. St. Eligius comfort. Find that bio-mechanic first and bring her to me. I have a number of jobs she might be able to do, with the proper motivations. The other thing I want you to do is tricky. I want you to encourage others to take a pass at Mr. St. Eligius, harass him, perform simple assaults and keep him off balance. I wish him to be out of focus and bouncing from one emergency to another.”
“Ah’ll do what I can.”
“Take your shirt off, Elijah. I wish to examine your back and casings. If the seals did not hold up during your immersion in the water, who knows what might have seeped in.”
Elijah peeled off his loose shirt, revealing a body covered in scars, brass fittings and copper tubing as much as flesh. His master peered closely at the broad back, which Elijah presented. With light fingers, he probed each seam and seal of a metal plate, which sat squarely in-between Elijah’s shoulder blades. Once the inspection concluded, Elijah put his shirt back on while his master tucked the plans into a fold in his long jacket.
“Remember, Elijah. What we do, we do for the good of society as a whole. Before long your kind will be the workforce that transforms societies, landscapes and even world power.”
Elijah’s face twisted in a perverse grimace, “Ah await the transformation of society, master.”
“No too much longer,” said the smaller man, fading backwards into the alley’s recesses. “Not much longer at all.”