Monday, January 30, 2006

Walking Death, Chapter 11

The debriefing took place in another storeroom in a different business, but the impression of the location was the same. Completely anonymous. Rachel and Liberty listened as Frieda gave a no nonsense account of her part of the mission.

“You are certain of the address?” he asked.

“My memory is very precise. I often found myself where I could not take the information with me, and I prefer not to rely on cameras whenever possible. A simple address is hardly a challenge.”

“Was there any technical data on the Ambulamort itself?”

“No, that information is not important in respect to the deployment of the weapon, so it was not provided to the squadron.”

“We know that the Imperials have a facility at that location, but none of our agents have been able to find any word as to what goes on there.”

“Are you considering an assault on the facility?”

“I had, briefly, but there is an army garrison less than half a mile away. The perimeter defenses will have to be circumvented and their communications cut off so that they can’t call for help.”

Rachel chimed in.

“Sounds like you need someone to go in all sneaky-like.”

“That’s right. I want you to bluff your way in, Rachel. I believe you already have a costume and identification?”

“Oh, I’m sure I can throw something together. I even know which face I’m going to put on.”

“Excellent. Dr. Kellner, I need you to back her up. We don’t know how much more of the stuff they have, or even what other surprises they may have stored there. Your job is to secure a sample of the Ambulamort for analysis, find any records of antidotes, and take samples of any other projects.”


By the next night, Rachel had provided Dr. Kellner with a very smart looking skirt and jacket set, perfectly appropriate for a serious minded scientist. She also produced an impressive forgery of a Bureau of Advanced Sciences identification card in the name of Helga Messner.

For her part, Rachel had donned an Imperial uniform: black with red trim and major epaulets. Frieda recognized the meaning of the red in the uniform. It meant membership in the Imperial Demonic Forces. Frieda had met members of those ranks in the past. There was no doubt that Rachel was going to be the center of attention, even if she evoked dread in her admirers. The basic details of Rachel’s face were the same, but now they composed themselves into a beautifully austere visage. Gone was the little girl Frieda first met, replaced with a mien worthy of Athena.

Frieda saw to transportation. One of the neighbors, a few blocks removed, unknowingly provided an official looking vehicle for the night. The work of the night should be just that, with the car returned before it was missed.

The first test of their disguises came at the checkpoint on the Brooklyn Bridge. The Empire kept a tight rein on travel, particularly between the baronies of the troubled County of New York. The bridge was typically crowded at the checkpoint where soldiers scrutinized travel authorizations. The early evening traffic only made the wait longer.

Frieda had to school her tension as the line crept slowly along the bridge. The wait stretched her nerves. She was certain that the tension showed on her face, marking her with anxiety that would rouse the soldier’s suspicions.

Rachel on the other hand, seemed as calm and collected as if she were out for a leisurely drive in the country. She chatted away on various topics ranging from the men at Club Hades to the latest fashions to her complaints about some gangsters who seem to think that they own whatever crosses their eye line.

Rachel was in the driver’s seat for the trip, playing the part of the military escort for a newly arrived scientist. Frieda had reservations about the arrangement up until they approached the checkpoint. Rachel’s chatter scarcely paused as the car pulled into earshot of the roadblock. Her face went from animated into annoyed iciness.

“Papers,” demanded the sergeant as the car pulled up.

Rachel looked out the window and cleared her throat. Even that she did with a quiet authority that caught up the sergeant’s eyes.

The man snapped to attention.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am. May I please have your papers?”

“Of course,” said Rachel as she handed over the forged documents. Frieda did her best not to look like she was holding her breath.

The sergeant scarcely looked away from Rachel’s gaze. The examination he gave the papers was cursory at best, and he handed them back as if he were ashamed to have had them in the first place.

“Everything is in order, please drive through.”

“Thank you, Sergeant.”

“Ma’am,” he said with a salute.

She returned the salute and pulled out onto the remainder of the bridge. Once the checkpoint was safely in the rearview mirror, Rachel turned toward Frieda.

“I really enjoy scamming soldiers. They’re so darn predictable. Could you light me a cigarette, please?”

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Walking Death, Chapter 10

Frieda worked her way across the tarmac of Bennett Field. She changed a look back to toward the gatehouse nearest her entry point. She saw Rachel vamping to beat the band. This part of an infiltration was all about timing and not being where eyes were looking. Rachel owned the eyes of not only the guardhouse but of the patrolling pair that had just passed by. Captivation like that from a story of a broken down car just wasn’t natural. Frieda once again affirmed her desire to get that girl under mystic examination.

Liberty had provided travel passes for Rachel and Frieda to get past the Imperial checkpoints coming off Manhattan and into Brooklyn. The bored soldiers at the checkpoint barely looked at the Frieda while chatting up Rachel.

The dark gray sweater and pants she wore made her unremarkable. The canisters of gremlins were wrapped in cloth and packed in her shoulder bag.

The closer the time came to the mission, the more she regretted the tools chosen. Gremlins were the opposite of tools, they existed not only to break things, but also to make things go wrong. Worse, they had no loyalty. If one of the embodiments of bad luck got it into its head to be contrary, then she might find a jammed door or a breaking pane of glass alerting a guard. She would almost prefer to be carrying raw excelsiol. Almost.

She took cover in the shadows underneath a fuel truck. Hangar Twenty stood perhaps fifty yards away. Fifty yards of clear, lighted ground. There was no sign of a patrol, but their timing was erratic. She could have five minutes, she could have thirty seconds.

She broke cover before she could talk herself out of it. Long strides covered the ground as her hand gripped her set of lock picks. Eight seconds and she was kneeling by the doorway. The picks felt the workings of the lock. Tumblers fell, as did boot treads around the corner. Only discipline kept her heart in her chest as her fingers worked with new urgency. Steps came faster than the clicks inside. There were two strides approaching, a foot patrol. Frieda knew her life might be down to heartbeats.

The last tumbler slid out of the way and the knob turned. Frieda slipped inside just before the patrolling guards made it to the corner. She closed the door and eased the latch shut. She turned the lock an instant before the knob rattled. The guards never stopped their conversation about the latest football game.

Regaining control of her heart took a couple of moments. Looking about, she took stock of the hangar office. The desk was clean, but the floor safe looked promising.

First things first. She went into the hangar proper and opened the engine cowling of the first plane she came upon. Carefully, she directed the nozzle toward the distributor cap. An angry hiss escaped from the canister. Her curiosity ached to use her aetheric spectacles to see the gremlins infect the engine. More likely the gremlin would turn to feed on the magical energies of the device.

Infecting the rest of the planes took less than five minutes of careful work. A nagging doubt hung at the back of her mind about the malicious creatures she had just set loose. Her next step would be the test of that. The safe was more than they had planned, but she calculated that there must be plans on hand for the transfer of the Ambulamort. Any plan would have to have the origin of the compound.

In for a pfennig, in for a mark, she thought. She removed a stethoscope from her kit and set to work on the safe. The simple safe reminded her of her early years as a burglar. She smiled as the poorly lubricated gears clicked and springs slid. The safe was the work of only a few moments.

Inside was the treasure trove she had hoped for. The Ambulamort was arriving the next afternoon from a laboratory in Long Island. She memorized the address and returned the forms back into the safe, making certain that the dial was turned back to where she found it. After returning from this mission, she knew what her next stop would be.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Walking Death, Chapter 9

     Rachel listened to the tale of the Ambulamort for the second time as Frieda recounted the tale to Liberty. Once the recounting of events was complete, the leader of the New York City Resistance leaned back into his chair.

     “This combines too nicely with some other matters that have come to my attention,” he said. “Word is that the planes of the Iron Falcon squadron has been refitted to disperse chemicals.”

     “You mean that they’ve been turned into crop dusters?” asked Rachel.

     “It seems funny until you remember that it’s our people that are going to be sprayed down like pests,” returned Liberty. Rachel looked down abashed.

     Frieda looked past the girl and at the tight confines of the room. It was a storage space converted to a meeting room by the addition of a folding table and three chairs. Mr. Watson was not present. Liberty had sent him to investigate a new Order of Illumination mage that had just arrived in the city. That left Frieda and Rachel to take the meeting with the leader of the Resistance.

     “We do have a plan for dealing with the air squadron, however,” said Liberty, picking up a crate and setting it on the table.

     Rachel reached in and pulled out a canister the size of a hand grenade. The body was smooth and was topped with an assemblage of flanges and valves covered over in obscure runes.

     Frieda noted seven more just like the first in the crate. She carefully picked the one from Rachel’s hand and scrutinized it.

     “Excelsiol steel for body, warding runes on the valves. They are clearly some sort of containment devices for non-corporeal creatures. I must say, however, that I have not seen a model with this degree of sealant before.”

     Liberty nodded in agreement with Dr. Kellner’s analysis.

     “That is because of the nature of the creatures. What we have here are eight gremlins, one for each of the planes of the Iron Falcon Squadron. Those containment devices had to be specially reinforced so that they can’t jinx their way out of them.”

     Frieda had to stifle an urge to throw the canister out of her hands. Gremlins were the bane of scientists who pursued the new arcane paths of science. The creatures fed off the enforced order of engineered structures, especially those devices that drew their energy from excelsiol. She had seen more than one experiment go horribly awry due to their contagion.

     “I take it that we’re going to do a take a little trip to the airfield?” asked Rachel.

     “Yes, go to the airfield, gain access to the hangar, place the gremlins, and get out,” said Liberty. “The squadron should be airborne by the time the first indications of the gremlins will appear. At the very least, it will force them back to the ground. At best, they come down hard.”

     Frieda looked over at Rachel.


     “Tonight,” said Rachel. “I do love playing with flyboys.”

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Walking Death, Chapter 8

     Frieda took the glass of amber liquid from Sam, took a contemplative sip, and gathered her thoughts.

     “Ambulamort? Is that the new weapon you’ve come to tell us about?” asked Sam.
He mentally translated the name and didn’t care for the implication.

“Yes,” said Frieda. She tossed back the rest of the bourbon, as if to wash a bad taste out of her mouth.

“Was it something that you were working on?” asked Sam.

“No, thank God. It was another’s project.”

“So is the Empire aware that you know about it?”

“I do not believe so. I legitimately know enough of the workings of the Bureau of Advanced Sciences to do great harm to the security of many projects. You can rest assured that they are going to turn this city upside down looking for me, just on general principle.”

Rachel asked, “So what got you to New York is something that you know illegitimately? How did that happen?”

Dr. Kellner smiled over another shot of bourbon.

“The Imperial Bureau of Advanced Sciences is in theory a scientific organization, producing research and conducting experiments for the benefit of the Empire. In practice, rewards are granted for being the creator of the most useful devices for the battlefield. The result is a good deal of infighting and secrecy within the ranks. My forte was in maintaining collegial openness by other means.”

Rachel looked confused while Sam chortled. He’d had experience in such an environment. Yet another similarity between Weird Scientists and Mages, he thought.

“You mean that you looked at their notes without permission,” he said.

“Yes. While my official research was in the medical field, I have much more experience with security systems.”

“And in that way you maintained collegial openness in one direction at least.”

“Yes. My mentor and I were always careful not to allow others to suspect that we were privy to their secrets. We kept it to a matter of releasing our projects just before others or using others’ breakthroughs to accelerate our developments so that the stolen ideas would remain in the deep workings.”

Sam nodded. He was letting his left hand cut and re-cut an oversized deck of cards while his mind was absorbing the information he was hearing. Frieda occasionally caught glimpses of full-face illustrations. Rachel sat on the desk, leaning forward as if enthralled by the tale.

“I see where you’re headed,” said Rachel, “You were digging through someone’s files one night and you tripped over this Ambulamort stuff.”

“Correct,” said the doctor. “Dr. Reinwald suspected that Dr. Grelzer was going to publish a paper using some of Reinwald’s data without permission. Catch him at it before publication, and Grelzer would have no choice but to include Reinwald on co-authorship.”

“You’d break into someone’s lab just for that?” asked Rachel.

“Authorship is highly prized within an academic setting. Aside from completed inventions, it is the prime method of determining status within the Bureau.”

Frieda accepted another drink from Sam before continuing.

“Ambulamort evolved out of medical experiments to restore limbs lost to clean amputations. It was found to be compatible only with dead tissue; the living portion of the body always reacted as if poisoned. The first discovery found that whole organisms could be reanimated, so the plan became to use it to reanimate dead soldiers. Gather up the dead from both sides, reanimate them, and then their casualties become your soldiers. The first problem with that project was that the re-animated soldiers did not possess enough intelligence to command. The second was the prevalence of hyper-aggressive rogues that turned on anything around them.”

The doctor broke her lecture rhythm to take her drink in one shot.

“The plan was then to turn it into an offensive weapon. Increase the aggressive percentage. Package the Ambulamort with another battlefield gas and release it into and behind enemy lines. The army would then attack while the enemy is fighting its own casualties.”

Rachel shivered.

“Kill them and zombie them at the same time.”

“Precisely,” agreed the doctor.

“I suppose,” said Sam, “that leaves us the question of what to do about it.”