“That right there is a genuine warship of extraterrestrial origin,” said Cleetus, nodding towards the object hovering in the sky a quarter of a mile to the northeast. The farmer from Dairy spoke with the authority of a tour guide pointing out a local curiosity. It was still predawn; the salmon hue, brightening the eastern horizon provided hardly enough light to see much detail. Nevertheless, a crowd of about a dozen stood beside Cleetus’s steam-crane at the edge of the pit formerly known as the Gangplank.
“An alien warship? That seems to be a bit of a leap,” said a man wearing an oversized newsboy cap. The man, a writer who went by the name Herodotus Tripe, adjusted his glasses. “I mean from this distance who’s to say. It could just as easily be some foreign airship having navigational issues.”
“With all due respect, Mr. Tripe,” said Cyan, “I saw that ship fly overhead. It was dark, but it didn’t look like an airship.”
“Why don’t we run over for a closer look,” said Cleetus,”It don’t look to be no more’n a few blocks over.”
“We won’t get much closer,” said Herodotus. “Whatever it is, it’s hovering over the Old Quarter.”
“Been sealed off to the public longer than I’ve been alive,” Cyan added.
No sooner had Cyan finished speaking when an incredible flash—so bright it temporarily blinded all who looked—forced those present to shield their faces. Moments later, when their eyes readjusted, the strange craft was gone, leaving nothing but a deep rumble, reverberating beneath their feet and a dust cloud rising above the Old Quarter.
“Well, that was most curious.” Herodotus Tripe removed his cap and scratched his head, it seems to have gone down.”
At the sensation of a deep, rumbling reverberation, that seemed to emanate from everywhere at once, the Squire stopped his pacing, head cocked, and listened. Everything—ground, walls, ceiling—seemed to rock and roll with a little shimmy shake. The Squire snapped his fingers. “I know where Thomas is,” he sang out, turning on his heel and striding for the exit to the tunnels.
“This is a job for the New Babbage League of Extraordinary Avengers for Justice!” said Petra, raising her bat and running after the Squire and his entourage of sisters. The others, apparently less sure—or less committed to the cause—followed a little slower and a little further behind. At the mouth of the tunnel, however, several of the sisters stopped abruptly, impeding the passage of Count Bologna and the Cog Blocker.
“What’s the meaning of this?” The two called out in protest.
“What are you doing, Pinhead?” said Petra, reaching for the Squire and catching him by the jacket. “They’re with us.”
“You two can come,” said the Squire, referring to her and Emerson, “But I don’t trust those two.” He pointed back to the costumed Cog Blocker and Blueblood Avenger. “Sisters,” the Squire addressed three members of his posse. “Wait ten minutes then release those two unharmed. Take them to the basket that will lift them back to the surface. Do not let them out of your sight until they are gone.” With that last command, the Squire turned and ran into the tunnel, the sisters close on his heels, several of them ululating into the darkness, their echoing howls a rallying call summoning the rest of their ranks to join the fray.
Emerson glanced at the Count and shrugged his shoulders apologetically. “Don’t worry, if it is any consolation, I’ll cut you in for a percentage if I find anything of interest.”
“Fifty percent?” The Count’s face was hard to read.
“You’re joking, right?”
“Hurry-up!” said the Cog Blocker. “You are wasting time.”
“Right,” said Emerson. He turned to Petra. “Come on kid, let’s try and keep the Squire out of trouble.”