The Paracelsus made its way East, striking out for the coast in order to follow it northward toward Galveston. The escape from Terra Incognita had been an anticlimax, the steam launch, McCullough, and Underwood had be recovered without incident, and they hove to a distance that would best accommodate the camouflage painting of the aeroship; the surgeon insisted they stay immobile while he treated the damaged man in the small clinic he had brought along — by good Graces, good living or good luck, Underwood was not in critical condition and responded well to hydration, medicine and a little judicial blood letting. He only briefly climbed out of unconsciousness, long enough to make incoherent comments and then fall back again into a deep sleep.
“It’s what he needs most. Sleep and healing. He will be homostatic enough for us to make for Galveston, no need for Guadeloupe. You may get underway at your discretion Captain Jennings.”
“Mag-damn-nificent!” exclaimed the pilot, who had been delighted to learn from Major Oldrich that Underwood had secured his diplomatic pouch to his person, and that meant a bonus for the crew from the evidently significant means of the Bishop. “And here I thought I was gonna die when we left Rasalhague! Now I have enough money to put on aires!” He spoke with Oldrich and they prepared to get underway. As they lay silent, another squadron of rescue ships arrived from the Atlantic Necklace, and the crew lined the observation ports in anticipation of another debacle; however, the aerostats moved in easily, nothing engaged them and they disappeared unmolested on the other side of the stony island.
“Well then, that’s it Doc. They will be swarming the place in a few hours and I’m a-skeered they’ll spot us sure! We leave soonest.”
“McCullough!” called the Major, lenses dropping and shifting, snapping and clicking, over his augmented right eye, “I surmise the defenses of Terra Incognita are silenced, or out of ammunition, perhaps, but we can now make a tentative conclusion that your mission is successful.” The Texian came into the cabin, made eye contact with the clockwork man, and grunted a hopeful affirmative.
The Paracelsus steamed forward until the white prominence was a speck on the horizon, at which point Jennings decided they needed to take some readings and pinpoint their precise location prior to striking out for Texas. Doc turned from his patient and looked back at the strange island, standing next to McCullough at the porthole . As they watched, the distant pallid spot blossomed into a flower of white smoke and lightening, within a few heartbeats a near blinding white light filled the cabin and momentarily stunned the crew. In a scant two minutes Jennings dropped down from the observation deck.
“Damnation!” he cried, and leapt into the pilot’s seat, screaming into the speaking tube “Hard a-starboard, engines to full!” The ship lurched and curved violently, the rudder hard over. A pale white shock wave raced toward them, with a ridge of surface water shortly behind. The Paracelsus was not entirely perpendicular when the wall of compressed air struck them a violent blow, the ship forced hard backward, struts and cables shuddered, the sound of tearing and snapping echoed throughout the assaulted structure.
McCullough grunted, “ Another bad day for Rasalhague“.