Chapter 12 - Fireworks and Flying Shrapnel
Jean G Hontz
@copyright 2009 all rights reserved
Ned looked up from what he was doing. What alerted him to their arrival was the change in the air currents in the room. He smiled at Margot and frowned at Cyril. What was wrong with Cyril anyway? He’d been entirely a mess since he’d gotten here.
“No one’s been near the place,” Ned announced as Margot saw that the rock door was gliding back into place. “Too busy looking for us, I expect.”
“What about the boxes?” Cyril asked. “Especially the one outside in the cave.”
“I think we’ll leave it there for now. I've got surveillance up for that entry and for the main entrance.”
“And the lighthouse?” Margot asked as she walked over to a table with a lot of odd devices like nothing Cyril had ever seen.
But then the entire room was like nothing Cyril had ever seen. There were huge metal boxes the size of steamer trunks. Only they weren't for clothing, that was for certain. They had lights on them that blinked in a confusing pattern and metal ropes of some sort that connected them all together. They stretched for perhaps 60 feet across the largish cavern causing the rock floor to vibrate enough to cause Cyril’s hair to stand on end.
Work tables sat along one wall, holding a variety of devices too numerous to count. The table near where Margot stood held .. It looked like a crystal ball of some sort. Pictures inside the ball were moving. They were a bit reminiscent of the moving picture demonstrations he'd seen.
Ned, seeing his interest in it, commented, “A friend of mine, Louis Lumiere, developed the idea. He called it a Cinematographe. The American fellow Edison is working toward improving it. I myself did something a bit different with it.”
Cyril squinted into something a bit different, a sort scrying bowl rather than a crystal ball. “What.. That’s a picture of the oaken door we came through, isn't it? Where I left the box?”
“Yes. Only it isn't just a picture. It updates itself over time and will give us warning of anyone approaching that door. The other glasses,” he added waving at similar things along the table, “show the main entry into this workshop and keeps an eye on the lighthouse. Since I was working on it I expect they’ll be pestering the Keeper to see if he knows where I am.”
“They’ll be holding my father and questioning him too,” Margot added glumly. “I wish he’d have come along.”
“He’ll be fine,” Ned replied gently. “They’ll question him, true, but dare not hurt him. He knows too much. And they want my cooperation.”
“Yes,” Margot agreed. “Exactly. He knows too much. And you’re too dangerous. They will get it out of him. Any way they can.”
Cyril went pale, understanding why she was trembling.
“True,” Ned admitted. “But with a bit of luck we will be long gone by then. With the Assembler. Your father will wait as long as he dare and then give them what he wants.”
“What exactly is this Assembler? Can I see it?” Cyril asked.
Ned grinned. “You’re standing in the midst of it.”
Cyril turned his head to look at his friend. “I’m sorry?”
“All of this, all of this -all the equipment in this room - is the Assembler. It’s an array. A sort of abacus, perhaps, a turing machine is the proper term, that lets me play with numbers and statistics and probabilities and formulae. And even cyphers.”
“It’s the cyphers we expect that interests the Special Branch,” Margot explained to Cyril.
“But... I mean...” Cyril held out his hands. “Why?”
“It’s the desire of every government since time began to be able to break another country’s coded messages. How better to be able to foil attacks or at least lessen their impact?”
Cyril nodded. Damn cloak and daggers again.
“But ...How do we move all of this when they could be here at any moment?”
“Ah. Yes, it is a puzzle. Yet another one,” Ned responded just as there was a blast of icy cold air and light brilliant and sudden enough to blind them all.
Then the cavern was in chaos. Men, there seemed to be dozens of them, wielding light ray guns and other sundry lethal weaponry, Cyril had only heard of but never seen. Lightning danced across Ned’s Assembler, and the pictures on the magical glass went blank. Cyril noticed that since he’d jumped for safety under that worktable, pulling Margot down there with him.
Margot sat under it with Cyril, her mouth hanging open in shock, tears falling along her cheeks. “All we’ve gone through for nothing!”. Cyril looked where she looked and he saw Ned.
Ned stood dead still in the midst of the chaos, his eyes closed his hands turned upward and held at his chest. He seemed to be chanting something. Words Cyril didn’t recognize in a language he didn't know. Not Greek, not Latin. Perhaps akin to them, but not close enough that Cyril could translate or even pronounce.
A whirlwind began to form, not very large at first, just directly around Ned himself, which deflected any weapons aimed his way. And firing was fierce, aimed at him. But they made no impression on the alchemist frozen amidst the tableau of chaos.
Then, the atmosphere charged with electricity and the whirlwind began to expand. Slowly at first, and then with increasing speed. It began to engulf the array of machines that made up the Assembler, then worked its way outward toward the worktables where Margot and Cyril crouched.
“What is that?” Cyril asked.
Margot shook her head wordlessly. She cleared her throat. “Ned never talks to me about the alchemy side of things, so I suppose it is something to do with that.”
“Is it dangerous?” Stupid question, he told himself. It was Ned they were talking about. Ned never hesitated in the face of danger. Of course it was deadly and of course he'd be the only one who could contain it. “We should run!” Cyril said and yanked Margot to her feet.
Their attackers, when Cyril glanced that way, were caught in an arm of that whirlwind, apparently frozen and unable to move. They were being propelled upward, screaming in fear, their weapons useless and their courage failing them as they realized they were 20 feet off the ground held there by nothing but whatever it was Ned was doing, and that they were completely and totally at Ned’s mercy.
Ned’s eyes snapped open and then he reached out a hand toward Cyril and Margot and froze them in place. Cyril felt a moment of pure terror. Ned’s eyes were swirling with gold and totally inhuman to look at.
Ned’s chanting grew louder and the whirlwind turned faster. Cyril couldn't see beyond the arm of the spiral of it that now engulfed himself and Margot. He pulled her in close, doing what he could to protect her from flying debris.
Sounds grew louder and then there was a brilliant splash of light and then nothingness. Again.
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