Michael gathered with Liam and Jason outside the ship. They all wore the armored vests that had saved Liam’s life. Charles had also tailored armored pants for the three. Everyone in the party wore dark shirts, pants and long leather overcoats they had picked out from Millicent’s wardrobe. Michael carried his goggles in a satchel. Liam had his pistol and the electronic stun device. Jason had a rifle under his coat over Liam’s objections. He also carried a truncheon disguised as a walking stick.
Liam had the most experience in sneaking about and took charge of their journey. They would not be taking the cab. Liam said, “It is too obvious to park and if we need the storage, we have other problems.” In traveling, Michael thought it ironic Liam had them take the underground train. Other patrons on the packed train avoided the three darkly dressed men with their bulky clothes and bags as the train rattled westward under Euston Road. At the exit for the Botanical Gardens, they got off the train and walked a bit west and north along the outside of the Royal Botanical Gardens. About a block away from Smith’s house, Liam had them duck into an alley and Liam said, “And now we wait. Lad, get them fancy goggles ready. Millicent warned me about them needing power and Smith’s bogey men being able to detect them. “
After 15 minutes of staying still and making sure no one was looking for them, Michael pulled the goggles out and said, “They don’t always need power. I’ll see what I can see without any power.” Michael stepped out of the alley and quickly ducked down a set of stairs and hid behind a wrought iron fence. He looked down the block towards the three story house he felt he already knew better than its architect. Everything appeared in green and black. Windows seemed eerily bright. He looked up and a street lamp seemed as bright as the sun and he quickly looked away. He turned back to Jason and Liam who took on a ghoulish green appearance. Michael commented, “Good Lord you two are scary.”
Liam spat and shrugged, “Good. That’ll keep thieves away. Keep looking in the other direction.”
Michael stared at the building. Then a large orb shaped object floated into view in front of the house. Michael whispered, “What the hell?” The object moved back and forth in front of the door in a circuit about 20 feet long. Suddenly it shot up and over the roof. He called back, “Did you see that?”
Liam and Jason said together in whisper voices, “See what?”
“The floating ball.”
They both looked at him like he had had too much to drink.
Michael protested, “Really. Here look through these,” and handed them to Jason.
Jason stared at the building for a minute or two obviously enjoying the new view when he whispered “Damn!” He quickly handed the goggles to Liam who looked for a bit and then said, “Damn… Damn!” He whipped the goggles off and said, “I’ve seen one of those before. Millicent had used some sciency stuff and brought one back. She said it was a spy device.”
Michael scratched the back of his head, “Makes sense. Charles had all those images of the house. They had to come from somewhere. Figures Smith has his own to watch over the castle.”
Liam groaned, “Floating mechanical watch dogs?! That ain’t fair. Can’t even throw them a steak. Can’t walk by.” He looked around. “What about high up?”
Michael shrugged, “I don’t know. They could probably see us, but they wouldn’t expect us.”
Jason smirked a bit and said, “Maybe I have Liam’s steak. Rachael gave me a toy that Millicent had shown her. Maybe if we use it, the floating ball will be distracted.”
Liam looked at Michael and said, “Come along lad, we need to be ready when Jason boy here starts his career as bait.”
Jason grinned at them and pulled out a small box with wheels. He wound it up with a key on the top. Then he stepped out into the street and moved closer to Smith’s house.
Liam and Michael went further down the alleyway and climbed up to the on a fire escape on the side of a building. The chimneys from the rooms created an eerie landscape of stunted metallic trees and bushes. The acrid smoke coming from some made breathing hard but added to cover from Smith’s floating orbs. They moved quietly, stopping behind clusters of chimneys every 10 feet or so. When they got closer to the edge of the building, they heard a sharp whistle. Liam whispered, “Jason’s done his part boy. Get those goggles on and start looking.” Michael got low and scrambled crab like to the edge of the roof and peered over.
He could see Jason standing in an alley way to the right. There was a floating orb hovering over the slowly moving clockwork box. A second orb zoomed over the roof and headed down the street to the left. It seemed to be stopping at each alley way. Jason didn’t have much time.
Michael flipped the power on and hoped not to attract any attention. With the power on, he could see into the house. While he couldn’t discern faces with the strange glows and distance, he could surmise some things. Smith was sitting in the living room with Winifred Stanhope and some other man. He could make out the location of the stairwells. There was a set in the middle of the house going to the basement. He shut the power down and said, “I need to see the other side.”
Liam groaned but said, “Righto. Might take a bit.”
They snuck back to the fire escape. When they were at the edge of the roof and about to go down, there was a crack like a shot.
Liam urged Michael on, “Hurry up lad. We need to see how Jason is.” And the wiry man scurried down the escape.
At the bottom, Jason was waiting. He said, “Something exploded the toy.”
Liam asked, “Do ye have another?”
Jason shrugged, “No. I didn’t know I needed this one.”
Liam said in a low voice, “Mr. Richards needs to see the other side. We are going to need a new distraction. In the meantime, since you’ve gotten them all riled up, we are going to take the long way to see the servant’s door.” He guided the two younger men down the street towards Hatter Hard Place and made a right turn. They went up the side street a long block to North Street and turned right again. After a small jog, they were on the street over from Smiths house. The houses did not have gardens, but they did have stairwells. Michael ducked into one and donned the goggles and looked down the street. He could barely detect an object hovering near the entrance moving back and forth one house in each direction from Smith’s location. Michael hissed, “The back is guarded.”
Liam said calmly, “Smith ain’t an idiot. So we go up on the roof again and hope the smoke covers us. Jason you’re with us this time.”
They found another alleyway and worked their way up a fire escape to the roof. They scampered their way down the row houses until they were opposite Smith’s location. Michael had kept his goggles on as they lurked towards the house acting as a lookout. He still did not power them up this time.
He view viewed the building, but could not see in. He said, “I need to power these, but Millicent worried about using the power near here.”
Liam said, “It worked last time.”
Michael said, “Last time, Jason was distracting it. Unless we want to use him as live bait.”
Liam said, “Millicent would kill me. Actually she would give me to Charley and tell him to kill me.” He shivered. “Jason stays with us.”
Jason looked speculatively, unslung his rifle and said, “I might be able to do something in the way of protection. Use the power, but be ready to flip me the goggles as soon as you think the orbs are moving in.”
Liam and Michael looked at each other and squinted and then looked back at Jason. “It’s the same as shooting a fox at the farm. Did it all the time growing up.”
Liam asked, “Did the fox ever fire back if you missed?”
Jason just glared and said, “Got a better idea?”
Michael said, “I need to see this side. The grate is back here. If we are going to contact Eleanor before, we have to do from this side and I need to know if I’m right.”
Liam gritted his teeth and then said, “Fine…Fine. Might as well hang for a sheep as a lamb. But everyone be ready to scamper the moment you try your bit of William Tell. Mr. McNeil. Michael, see what you need to and then we run.”
Michael leaned over the edge of the room and used the passive mode first. Again he could barely make out the floating orb. It was still moving in the same back and forth pattern. He took a deep breath and turned on the power and looked at the grate area. He was right – the grate was a vent to the basement. He could see a figure laying down on a cot. There were loads of electronics in the room as well. He could also see a second figure who was clearly dressing. He muttered to himself, “Bastard”. In the first floor kitchen, he could see a stove, a sink and three maids moving about the room in a pattern he recognized as cleaning up the dishes.
Suddenly, the back door started to open making a blue edge around the door and the orb had stopped right above the door. The maids were shifting to the interior of the house. He could see a figure at the door and the one in the basement running up the stairs. He tossed the goggles to Jason and said, “Here you go…time to scamper.”
Jason slipped them on and quickly sighted his rifle. There was a pause and he shot. He slipped another cartridge in, sighted and shot again.
Liam asked, “Did you do anything?”
Jason said, “Don’t know. It’s flying in circles now.” He looked through and then said, “Shit…second one and its headed here.” He fired again. This time there was a crash and debris on the road. Jason picked up his rifle and started running for the escape ahead of Liam and Michael, “Time to go!”.
Michael felt like he slid down the escape more than actually using the steps. Jason was ahead and Liam was behind. They headed right on the street toward the Botanical Garden. They heard a crack and a whistle above their heads.
Liam cursed, “How the hell did they find us?” There was another crack and Michael felt a large horse kick him in the side only there was no horse. He fell with an “Omph”. Jason and Liam grabbed his arms and pulled him behind a set of stairs. Jason donned the goggles again, loaded a cartridge and lined his sight and fired. “Bastard was down the street. Got him!”
Liam said, “Alright farm boy, see if you can shoot whatever is tracking us.”
Liam looked around, “There’s three of them and they are surrounding us.”
Liam spat, “Shit on a stick. Now I know why she looked like the devil was chasing her. “ He looked at Michael, who shook his head and Liam said, “Michael, we are going to do some evasion and scurrying. Are you up for a bit of a walk?”
Michael groaned and said, “Strange objects hovering over me. Dangerous people shooting at me. Torture and worse if I get caught. Given the options, yeah I can walk.” He stood up and unbent a bit. His whole right side felt like it was on fire, but he could feel no blood and he hadn’t passed out. That would have to do.
The three headed down alleys left and right. Michael no longer knew where he was. They ducked under a bridge and Liam looked around. There was a grate near the base of the overpass. Liam gave a thumbs up sign and said, sounding satisfied, “
There we go!” He started pulling on it, grunting, but it did not budge.
Jason said, “Let me help. You take the left. I’ll take right side.” Michael watched as the right side seemed to bend up like an apple peel.
Liam stepped away, wiped his brow and said, “Blimey lad. What did you have for lunch?”
Jason grumbled as he pushed the grate to one side, “Cucumber sandwiches, I think. It was hard to tell. Might have been grass.” He stepped aside. The opening was about three feet by three feet now looked like a garden gate. The London underground was riddled with tunnels that led everywhere if one could manage the maze.
Liam said, “Well done lad. Down you go. We are about to move things in our direction.”
Jason went in first and helped Michael through. Michael’s chest and side protested at the stooping. He still couldn’t draw a full breath. But as they went deeper into the tunnels, Michael decided that being short of breath was not so bad. The grate covered a canal that had a walkway next to it. The tunnel was dark and getting darker as they walked away from the opening. Jason was leading and had the goggles. About 100 feet in Liam said, “Stop for a tick and watch the opening. Shout if you see one of those orb things.” Liam crouched and pulled out his pistol. Jason moved up by Liam and waited. Michael heard Jason say, “Two outside dancing back and forth. One is stopping by the opening. Steady… bugger is coming to us…Now!
Liam fired off three shots whose report sounded deafening as they echoed through the sewers. Jason clapped Liam on the shoulder and said, “Got it!” The two stayed crouched watching the opening. Michael looked across the slow turgid water, stretched a bit and sighed. It still hurt like hell, but he seemed to have more range of motion. He heard Jason snort, “The other one is pulling back.”
Liam holstered his pistol and through tight lips, “They know we have the advantage here. Lead on Jason. Let’s go.”
Michael closed his eyes and said, “We have the advantage, but we don’t where we are either.”
Liam smiled broadly enough that Michael could see his teeth in the dark, “Oh that ain’t true at all. Taxi man’s got to know how to get around everywhere. And in my case, that means everywhere.” Michael could feel more than see Liam spread his arms wide.
Jason laughed and even Michael chuckled until it hurt and they began moving. In a short distance, Michael couldn’t see anything at all. He kept a hand on Jason and a hand on the wall. He could hear the occasional gurgle or drip to his left indicating the canal was still there. At one point he heard Jason shouting, “Move ya’ plague filled bastard.” Then there was scuffling, a squeak and a small splash. Michael muttered back to Liam, “If I fall in, just shoot me with that pistol of yours,” which caused a resounding bit of laughter. After seemed an eternity, but was probably 20 minutes, Jason said, “We’re at an intersection. A new canal comes from the right.”
Liam said, “We need to cross. There’s usually a bridge close to joins”
Jason said, “I see it. …it’s…well…probably best if you don’t see it.”
Michael moaned at the comment, but they moved forward and to the right. At the bridge, Jason got the other two to the hand rail. He said, “The bridge is going to be a bit slippery. Hold onto the handrail.”
Michael said, “The rail is slimey.”
Jason said, “Try not to think about that too much.”
Liam said, “I don’t know if I am afraid of that shower by Charley or looking forward to it. Turn back to the main trunk after we cross.”
They continued up the drainage for a bit more until they reached a second intersection. Liam had Jason explore that one for a set of stairs or a ladder. Jason came back with news of a set of stairs. They followed him until Michael could start making out light. There was a grate blocking that entrance as well. Jason pushed the rusted metal aside just as easily and the three clambered out. Liam took a look around and said, “OK, we’re close to King’s Cross Station. Jason, any sign of our floating friends?”
Jason replied quickly, “Can’t see any. Seems to be clear.”
“Follow me lads,” and Liam started walking. Again they followed paths that took back alleys and went under bridges. As they walked Michael heard the clock tower chime 3. After crossing a railroad yard and going through a freight station, Liam followed a canal back to Millicent’s warehouse on Eagle Wharf road.
At the door, Liam banged until the door opened for the three. As they stepped through, Charles said immediately, “You will not come on me smelling like that.”
Liam pleaded, “Charley, Michael got shot. I think he is ok, but could we just shower in that medical place after you check him out? I’ll wipe my feet on the way in.”
There was a short pause and then Charles replied with directions, “Right. Follow the red lights and put him on the table. Mr. Richards, what are you feeling?”
Michael responded, “Like a horse kicked me.”
Charles prompted, “No light headedness, dizziness, shakes?”
“Best we check you out. Get him undressed and on the table when you get to the room. I’ll tell Millicent and Felicity.”
Michael protested, “Undressed again?”
The voice from the walls harrumphed and said, “Can’t be too bad…”
Liam and Jason assisted Michael up the ramp and followed the red lights to the medical bay. Michael shed his clothes and the special vest with Jason’s and Liam’s assistance. He could see a bruise the size of a grapefruit was already starting to show.
Charles then said, “Everyone else get out of those pestilent rags. I’ll start washing them if that is even possible. You two into the shower. Separately if you will.” Liam choked. Jason laughed. Michael turned a bit red. Jason shed his clothes and stepped into the shower closet.
While Jason was showering, Liam waited and watched as the light moved up and down Michael’s body. Millicent came in and wrinkled her nose, “Oh my word, the stench! Get out of those clothes, Liam!”
Liam said defensively, “Charley already told us. Jason’s in the shower. “
Millicent said authoritatively, “Get out of those horrid smelling clothes. The scrubbers can’t keep up.”
Liam said, “Alright, Alright. Are you going to leave so I can undress?”
Millicent smirked and said, “There are towels in the cabinet if you insist. As for me being in the room: 1) Michael is laying on the table naked as a babe; 2) this is my medical laboratory not yours, and 3)I would have thought me seeing you naked is rather moot at this point after your medical exam. Change in the hallway if you don’t want me in front of you”
Liam stammered. Michael laughed and groaned, “Oh god, stop that it hurts!”
Millicent’s attention diverted for a moment and said, “Right. Let’s find out what’s happened to you Mr. Richards. Charles report.” She began to prod his side and belly. He could feel the bruise was centered under his right bicep.
Charles said, “All internal organs are intact. No major arteries or veins broken or damaged, but he has a severe contusion. Two right ribs are cracked. He’ll need a wrap and probably a brace after he washes.”
Millicent wrinkled her nose again, “Of course after he washes. Liam, have you gotten out of those smelly rags yet?”
Liam protested, “Jason’s just finishing up!”
Millicent continued, “Charles show image on screen one.”
A set of images in the shape of a human body appeared on the screen next to the table and Michael could see strange shapes in the body. They seemed to be color coded. Millicent pointed to a large green one and said, “That’s your liver, Mr. Richards. The bullet struck right below that. That vest saved your life. If the bullet had entered you, it would have deflected off a rib, gone through your lungs and you would have drown in your blood.” Michael suddenly felt very light headed and closed his eyes. Millicent looked over at Liam who now had a towel on and asked, “Any problems for your two?”
Liam wrinkled his nose and said, “I may never smell again.”
Jason shivered and said, “I will have nightmares about rats.”
Millicent snorted and said, “Get dressed and meet me in the environmental labs. Charles, have Felicity bring clothes or a dressing gown for Michael. We’ll have a debrief and planning session in the environmental lab in an hour.”
Liam jumped in the shower. Jason headed out into the hall wrapped in a towel. Millicent turned her attention to Michael, “Mr. Richards, you’ve earned your stripes. Other than a painful bruise, you will survive. Since that was my first priority – well done. Do you have any good news?”
Michael opened his eyes and said, “I can map the insides properly now. And that grate is a vent to the basement and leads almost directly to where I think Eleanor is.”
Millicent said, “Bravo Michael. We’ll get you cleaned up, bandaged and we’ll start planning how to get her out.”
At this moment, Felicity burst into the room, and heedless of the smell or his injuries came to the table and hugged him tightly. After a long night, the squeeze on his chest didn’t bother him as much as he thought it should. Felicity was teary and shaky and Michael hugged her back as best he could. After a moment he said, “I’m back. I’ll live.”
Felicity whispered in his ear, “If you hadn’t someone would have paid dearly. Someone might anyway.”
Finally the contact irritated him, “Felicity, dearest..”
Millicent coughed and said, “He has two broken ribs, but is too enthralled with you to let you know how much it hurts.”
Felicity looked shocked and said, “Charles said he was ok.”
Charles said defensively, “I said he was injured but the injuries were minor.”
Felicity’s voice raised and she pointed a finger at the ceiling, “Broken ribs are minor?”
Liam stepped out of the shower and quickly covered himself in a towel.
Millicent said in a tired voice, “Felicity can you discuss this with Charles in the hallway? Michael will need to shower and I would like to lower his stress levels.”
Charles protested to Millicent as Felicity stormed out into the hallway. Liam held onto his towel and looked confused but followed her out. Michael worked his way back to upright and stumbled towards the shower closet. The warm water felt simply blissful.