Having securely bound Petharic to a chair inside one of the bedchambers two levels below the control deck, Joseph was making his way back to the central staircase when a sudden and unexpected sense of danger caused him to pause. He held out his hand, signalling the two inhuman orderlies to stop at once. His nostrils flared as he detected the unmistakable scent of smoke rising from the lower decks.
“Come with me.” he ordered his two aides. “Be vigilant.”
The two abominable creatures, assuming a protective lead, hastened to the head of the stairs where, with sudden shouts of pain and shocked surprise, they tripped over a copper wire that had been tied to the posts on either side of the stairway. As they fell, with great personal injury, to the bottom of the steps, Joseph cursed his own lack of foresight and was about to call up for reinforcements when he caught sight of a tall lanky teen holding a broken table leg as a club. Malus quickly dispatched the dazed and confused orderlies, then stood at the base of the stairs, taunting the Dunsany doctor with his brazen demeanor.
“So. You must be the missing pet that so upset the lovely young princess with your lack of docility.” Joseph said with a tone meant to both mock and intimidate. He descended the steps at a measured pace. “Allow me to introduce myself.” he added upon reaching the bottom. “My name is Dr. Joseph…”
“I know who you are.” Malus interrupted with a sneer.
“You do?” Joseph inclined his head. “And how is that now? Surely you are not a mind reader, elsewise you would show a more fearful respect for the danger you now face.”
“I see nothing in you that could elicit either, old man.” Malus snorted, ratchetting-up the sneer factor exponentially.
“Then it was a fool’s boast. You most certainly do not know me.” Joseph matched Malus’s well-honed look of disdain with a sneer of near epic proportions.
“Why would I want to?” Malus snarled.
Joseph chuckled, suddenly dropping the sneer in favour of a well executed air of cavalier superiority. “Son, some men are born for greatness.”
“I am not your son!” Malus spat out the words with great venom.
“No.” Joseph narrowed his eyes. “But you are arrogant. I admire that quality in youth.” He took a much longer, and more penetrating look at Malus before continuing. “As I was saying – the world is full of little people; small minds too short-sighted for their own good. They are blinded by petty concerns.They need to be ruled; elsewise there can be no order. Without order there is only chaos. In the beginning all was order and in the end shall be order again.” Joseph’s face had taken on an almost manic fervour. “Without order there is no power. Do you understand what I am saying boy?”
“Yes.” replied Malus.
“Yes… I believe you do.” said Joseph taking a step closer to Malus as he reached into his vest pocket and retrieved the test tube filled with the amber serum. “This is the key which unlocks the gates of power. For what I hold is not simply just the cure to the common cold! Oh no….” Joseph paused, appearing to be momentarily entranced by the potion’s mystique. “This is so much more than that. Contained in this glass tube is the very essence of order….” And with true villainous glee, Joseph began to detail the full scope of his plans for achieving his new world order.
“I thought you said you would have no problem picking that lock!” Lapis called up to Emerson with great impatience.
“Stop rushing me!” Emerson snapped haughtily. “I am an artist and sometimes I need time to hone my craft.”
“I suggest you start honing faster,” Lapis countered. “We have less than five minutes before this vessel smashes through what I would judge to be Market Square, destroying half of Clockhaven in the process. I’d rather not be clinging to this ladder when that happens.”
“Wait!” Emerson said, sniffing the air like a dog scenting a bone. “Do you smell smoke?”
“I do!” Junie called up, waving from several rungs below Lapis.
“Lookit!” Gilhooly called, jumping up and down beside Johnny, pointing excitedly at a vent near the base of the aethership. Appearing from the tiny grate, wisps of black smoke danced like ghostly shadows, becoming more corporeal by the second.
“This vessel doesn’t use a combustion engine as a back-up does it?” Emerson called down to Kaylee who looked on from the ladder just behind Junie.
“Nope.” Kaylee shook her head. “Somethin’s not right ‘bout this.”
With a startling hiss, the hatch opened unexpectedly, jolting Emerson from his place on the ladder. He may have fallen the seventy odd feet to the limestone floor had it not been for the reflexive action of Lapis who was able to duck out of the way while simultaneously catching Emerson by the collar.
“GO!” Malus shouted poking his head out of the hatchway. Without waiting for a response from those below, he lept out onto the ladder and began hastening down practically riding the shoulders of Brother Lapis. “Those creatures are close behind!” Malus added.
Emerson, who had only just regained his grip upon the ladder followed Junie down with all possible haste. As they neared the bottom both Lapis and Malus lept to the ground, rolling and rising to face the threat crawling from the burning ship.
“Run!” warned Malus. “That ship is about to go!”
The Gangplank crew, pursued by no less than ten of Joseph’s twisted progeny, ran with the fullest effort possible as they crossed the great cavern. A deep earthy rumble sent out waves through both air and ground, creating a sensation as tactile as it was auditory.
From the edge of the room, as they gasped for breath, the New Babbagers watched as the crumbling ground beneath the ship appeared to disintegrate. The gaping chasm that had so suddenly consumed almost the entire area of the cavern floor, swallowed the smoldering aethership in a single gulp. A confusion of Dunsany creatures, not having made it far enough from the locus of the implosion, dropped into the pit, emitting blood-curdling, inhuman screams that faded into silence as they fell to hellish depths.
Kaylee turned to Malus. “You rewired the cavorite’s polarity!”
Malus nodded. “If I had merely deactivated the controls to the containment field it would have been detected. Reversing the polarity seemed the best option.”
“Did you cause the fire too?” Junie asked.
“Both as a distraction and to ensure the vessel’s destruction.” Malus stated.
“Nicely done.” Lapis nodded in approval.
“Where will that ship end up?” Emerson asked, cautiously making his way to the lip of the hole in the centre of the great cavern. The Gangplank co-owner leaned down and picked up a jagged chunk of rock, about the size of a large potato, and tossed over the edge. Everybody leaned forward, concentrating in order that they might better hear any sounds of impact – but such sounds never came..
“I don’t know.” Kaylee shrugged, continuing to stare deep into the abyss long after the rock had faded into the dark. “It depends a bit on the density of the earth beneath this cavern and the gravitational pull of the cavorite. But the deeper they go the stronger it’ll get. Who knows; they may be on a journey to the centre of the earth.”
“But what about poor Mr. Petharic?” Johnny cried out. “He dinnit deserve that.”
“No.” said Junie hugging Johnny. “He didn’t.”
Emerson remained silent for a moment, feeling an uncharacteristic sense of guilt over his relief that Petharic had gone down in the fiery crash. “Well, he does have a nasty habit of coming back from these sorts of things.”
“I suggest we not tarry here any longer.” said Lapis. “We need to find a way out.”
“I can sniff us out.” said Gilhooly, becoming even more animated. “Follow me!”
It was still early in the evening, but already the Gangplank was filling up with both regulars and newcomers in one of those spontaneously festive nights. Several hours earlier Gilhooly, true to his word, had found a way out of the caverns beneath the streets of Clockhaven leading the gang back to the bar where Bert prepared them bowls of savoury beef stew.
“It is a damn shame about that cavorite.” said Emerson as he fumbled with one of the hoses on the hookah. “I was so looking forward to enjoying those Martian mushrooms with a fine cabernet sauvignon.”
“So?” Malus shrugged after placing a mug of Ironess on the table beside Emerson. “Find some more cavorite and go next season.”
Emerson pursed his lips as he continued to fuss with the hookah. “You know,” he continued. “I was really hoping to be able to brag about being the man responsible for destroying the cure to the common cold.”
“Who’s stopping you?” Malus said. “I won’t dispute it.” After a moment the teen added, “You need to fill in that hole in the cellar.”
“I know.” replied Emerson. “But filling it in seems like so much work. Maybe I can throw down some wooden planks and a layer of brick over it.”
“You don’t want to go cheap on this job.” Malus warned.
“Pfft,” Emerson waved his hand as he put down the hose to the hookah and exhaled a cloud of purple smoke. “You worry too much.” Emerson looked again at the hookah with an expression of frustration. “Dammit this has burned out again.” he cursed. “Do you have a light?”
“There are some matches on the bar.” Malus replied.
A couple of hours later, the dance floor of the Gangplank was filled with the sounds of laughter and good cheer. Even Johnny Dawkins and Gilhooly Skute were dancing a jig to the delight of a crowd of clapping adults. Amid all this revelry Malus called across the bar, “Kaylee, can you finish my shift? I’m going to bed.”
“Are you feeling alright Martin?” Junie called over from where she and Emerson were dancing, concern furrowing her brow.
For just a moment, to those watching, it appeared as though Malus were going to snap, but it could have just as easily been a trick of the lighting. “I’m tired, why?” he said somewhat tersely.
“Martin, it is just a friendly concern that’s all.” Malus hesitated for a moment a look of indecision passed across his face before he simply nodded and left the bar without another word.
“Why doesn’t that kid ever remember to close the door behind him?” said Emerson as he spun Junie around on the dancefloor.
Alone in his room above the bar, Malus knelt before a small chest at the foot of his bed, looking at it for a moment before reaching into his pocket and retrieving a key which he inserted into the lock and turned. Carefully he raised the top of the chest, revealing his most prized possessions. His robes from the church neatly folded and pressed, a treatise on three dimensional calculus given to him as a gift by Brother Lapis, a ceremonial necklace and dagger from his brief time ruling the island of New Nublar, and his medal of knighthood from Queen Princess of La Isla de la Hoja del Diablo Dulce.
After a moment, Malus reached into his vest and removed the stoppered test tube. He swirled the amber liquid inside regarding it for a moment before slipping it between the folds of the robe. Next, from his other pocket he retrieved the silver lighter Junie had gotten from Dr. Joe with which he had started the fire aboard the aethership. He turned it over and looked at the engraving: Dr. Joseph Foehammer. Malus traced the name with his finger, his face betraying no emotion. He placed the lighter in the chest, and closed the lid, then lay on the bed, hands folded behind his head, staring at the ceiling, listening to the sounds of laughter rising up from the bar.