“A small island, no green vegetation, some buildings. I saw no ships of any kind. We are too far away to see people.”
“And after you freed yourself from the island you came here.”
“Thing is, Major, we aren’t too very sure where we were. Dead reckoning aside, well, none of us aboard recognized that place and most of us have crossed this big ditch hundreds of times. Hell, we had to search to find you, starting off from dead North.”
The King George, or her remains, lay on the deck of the Atlantic Platform Rasalhague. It was a miracle that the crew survived the three thousand kilometers to get to the Necklace, and the local Magistrate was preparing fast scout ships to see if they could find the passenger. Underwood would be carried as missing while Prussia and Texas decided what to do about the lost documents he was carrying. Jennings had known the young fellow was important, but gave it no mind. Now a clockorg Prussian Officer was asking him a lot of questions and all the while buzzing and clicking.
The officer was preparing to ask another when an odd looking priest came into the Sheriff‘s cabin, very tall and wearing a silk cassock. He struck Jennings as a China Man, though the peripatetic captain had never seen a man from China. He looked some like pictures.
“Ah!” chirped the Prussian, “Captain Jennings allow me to introduce Bishop Bausothrose Hispidus. I believe he has a job for you!”
“Captain, I need you to go and get Sgt. Underwood before the Platform Guard reaches there“, his deep voice seemed inappropriate for a China Man, “they will not leave soon, but you will. I have a fast ship available, you can only take three other crewmen to allow room for one more, a man in my employ, as well as the returning stranded agent. I will pay you handsomely. Are you game?”
He was in a dream, and knew it. He was falling slowly, and he could hear wind whistling and a loud grinding sound like giant teeth gritting, and a high screaming sound, like an attacking flock of birds. But he could only see smoke and cloud and sea and quick rolling glimpses of sky. Is he in Texas? He is in some kind of glass house, or is it a solarium? There is a storm, is it raining? The wind tries to tear him away but the giant metal monster still holds him, dangling, by the arm over the sea hundreds of meters below. His muscles were on fire as they slowly pulled loose snapping like India rubber cords, his joints crunched as the bones pull apart. He thinks he feels his skin splitting. He falls.
Underwood came back to himself in a pile of iron beams, a spider web of metal in which he was snared, and the five claws of the automated grapple that brought him down, a talon of which still held his arm. He had had no time to react, just on the verge of placing the lens cap back on when the five fingered hand launched from the mysterious island gripped onto the parabolic cage to which the he was clinging and started reeling back, dragging the King George forward and down. She threw back into full, trying to juke up and backwards, but the cable refused to break, the grip refused to release, and the ship structure refused to hold. The nose had torn off and the King George had sailed straight up, disappearing in the low cloud ceiling.
The engineer slowly focused his eyes, gritting his teeth to move from the uncomfortable shape his former rag doll incarnation had generated, but he could not stand up. He yelled for help. He kicked plates of metal that made anything like a gong sound. There was no reply, not even echoes on that wind blown beach. In white hot pain he managed to free his arm, broken upper and lower, elbow swollen, fingers only slightly twitch. He was at the base of a tall breakwater of poured cement which curved away in two opposite directions; to his right he spotted the end of a pier, and made for that. He was obligated to arrange his jacket to immobilize his ruined arm while he sashayed through the powdery sand. He rounded the wall, and saw the wood of the pier was rotten, dried out, and falling to pieces. Above the empty harbor displayed before him, on several receding tiers up the side of the mountain, a beautiful neo-classical city swept back from the sea, gleaming white in the sun and reminding Underwood of a description of architecture as frozen music. But music played to no audience. The streets were choked with weeds, the walls covered with vines, even through broken windows and forced doors. Items in windows were woolly with dust. Feral dogs, wild cats and bold rats were the only living things seen in the streets, and air superiority was held by the crows. The city was abandoned, as lively as a tomb.