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The Mysterious Occurrence of the Five Vials

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The Mysterious Occurrence of the Five Vials

by krisser

A Steampunk Victorianish story set in Cowley's Inscrutables AU

Prologue

270 AD

 

The earth rumbling started with no warning. The ground vibrated only seconds before the shaking began, but it all happened too fast, much too fast for Mother Nature. Tremblings that should have begun slowly pounded the northern regions. The ground undulated in huge rolling waves. Displaced rock was flung aside as the earth shuddered in its wake. The surface split open, fjords, canyons, and crevasses created in seconds that would have taken Mother Earth aeons to complete herself. Fierce and elemental, the landscape changed beyond recognition in minutes.

Two warriors watched in awe as legend became truth.

"It is true." The voice was a mix of admiration and fear.

"We found it!" The Pictish was of the Goidelic variety.

One warrior closed his hand around the object he had carried with reverence, but was too late to change the results. The pitching and rolling earth looked to be in battle with the once serene landscape, now but its victim. The Picts held their shields up to ward off the pelting rocks, but fissures opened and closed like a tiger's jaw consuming all life in its way. The clay vessel fell to the ground, the lone object to survive the calamity.

 

 

Volendam
Kingdom of Netherlands
1833

 

 

The water swirled forcibly around Mr Cowley's feet. Colder and much higher than it should have been.

Mr Cowley, newly recognised mentah for the Crown, had been sent on a reassuring reconnaissance of the former Dutch Empire. The recent change to Kingdom of Netherlands by self-proclaimed King Frederick IV had left the British Empire moderately concerned.

Mr Cowley had been reassured quite early on that King Frederick had no interest in revisiting a conflict with his own beloved Britannia. What had kept him here was a different matter altogether.

The dikes were out of pattern.

Mr Cowley had left the government city of The Hague for Amsterdam when the oddities of Volendam piqued his curiosity. The invading sea had been controlled by a series of dikes. Despite their marvellous construction, the last half year Volendam had been plagued with flooding even when the water levels had been at the theoretically lowest points.

The only conclusion was that it was deliberate and therefore man-created.

His research had ultimately focused on the North Holland town of Volendam. Now he feared he had acquired too much information on the odd occurrences. The irony was not lost on him that the very water he had been studying could trap him. Mr Cowley worried not, and trudged on as the water level continued to rise and slam the shore. He was weighing his options between using branches to lift him up or to travel in the water on a fallen tree.

Loud shouting disturbed his calculations. He followed the sound to a young man yelling and waving his arms as he ran through the rising sea water straight at him.

Mr Cowley turned to face him, no weapons on hand, just his bamboo sticks that he always carried in the field.

The blond-haired man was more than a lad, but not by much. "You are the Anglishman that has been seeking answers to the killing waters?"

Mr Cowley nodded as he watched the young man intently.

"Here answer." He pressed a clay vial into Mr Cowley's hand.

Mr Cowley closed his hand instinctively around the vial and pressed his thumb against the opening.

Immediately the water settled and the level rose no more. The young man turned to leave.

"Wait . . ."

"I can not. They will come to kill me." He turned away again.

"Not with me, they won't. Here," Mr Cowley passed a bamboo stick to the man. "We can remain underwater, undetected, yet continue to breathe."

"Why?"

"You trusted me. I trust you. What is your name?"

"I am Brian Macklin."

"I am George Cowley." He stuck out his hand. They shook hands before ducking their heads below the water. Mr Cowley had already determined the importance of the vial. Until he could find a suitable stopper he kept his thumb on top the vial.

 

 

Dinghai, China
First Opium War
1840

 

Mr Cowley sat in the command tent drinking his tea. The tranquillity of the stolen moments contrasted by the fighting outside were broken by a swift shift of the air. He noted that the sudden onset of tinkling china and oscillation of the remaining tea in his cup matched what he felt through his feet. He waited with a stillness of expectation, almost as though he was familiar with the occurrence. The ground reverberation intensified, and he was sure. Mr Cowley stood in a hurry as he moved to the tent door.

Propelled onto the battlefield, he stepped outside his command station. Mr Cowley's eyes were never still as he sought out the one man who would understand. His crop swatted the flies away from his face as he searched the grounds for Mr Macklin. Spotting his man, he signalled a runner, and gave instructions to bring him back at all costs.

He stepped back inside his command tent to await his answer. Just as the sun declared that it was afternoon, Mr Macklin appeared at the tent entrance. Mr Cowley put his tea cup down and stood to greet him.

"We may have a problem."

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks,
Present day

 

 

Mr Bodie was seated in the chair closest to the door in Mr Cowley's office by choice. It was a habit he had acquired in childhood and was loath to discharge it. On his left sat the sometimes irascible Mr Doyle in a chair that was angled to face both Mr Cowley and the door. They were here this early in the morning because Mr Cowley had requested this meeting just a mere two days after blowing the heinous Mr Coogan to smithereens.

Mr Bodie had to admit to himself that it took more effort than he wished to expend to remain solely focused on the man's words. The mentah was talking about remaining fit during times of calm. Times of calm! Mr Bodie snorted to himself; he could not remember a time of calm since joining Mr Cowley in his fight for Britannia.

But fit? Mr Bodie knew that he and his partner, Mr Doyle, were fit. Extremely fit. He knew first hand indeed just how fit Mr Doyle actually was. His lean frame was deceptively muscular. His sinewy limbs were extremely strong, but they were not the only athletic appendages he possessed. Mr Bodie shifted in his chair as he crossed his leg, foot on thigh, to accommodate the sudden thickening of his manhood that accompanied the remembrance of the wee morning hours. Those luscious lips had all but consumed him. They had been wrapped tight about his prick, never releasing him even in the moment of his eruption. Mr Bodie squirmed in his seat as his burgeoning erection filled out even more and threatened to expose his distracted state.

In this moment he wanted nothing more than to spread his legs and fist himself, but he was aware enough to remember that would not be acceptable behaviour. Damn. He switched his thoughts to Mr Cowley and sat straighter in his chair in an attempt to will away the evidence of his lust. The glower on Mr Cowley's face was enough to put off the most amorous of thoughts.

"So, Sensei Sachio awaits you." Mr Cowley ceased speaking.

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle stood at the silent dismissal. Mr Bodie had to wonder if he had missed anything of real value.

"By the way," Mr Cowley's voice followed them to the door. "It would be wise to sharpen your weapon skills as well."

More range work then. Mr Bodie nodded agreement as he waited for Mr Doyle to precede him out the door.

They started in the direction of the training room when they abruptly halted their steps, alerted by the sound of running feet. The outer door behind them was pulled open with furious intent.

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle simultaneously reached inside their frock coats for their weapons, turned, and aimed them straight at the door as it burst open.

"Mr Cowley, Mr Cowley . . ." the man shouted before abruptly falling silent when he found himself face to face with two weapons.

Mr Cowley stepped out of his office and waved the weapons away. "Stand down, lads." He turned to face the frozen-in-place figure. "What has you so excited, Benji, that you couldn't knock?" Mr Cowley favoured the man with a smile.

Benji nodded his head several times. "So sorry, Mr Cowley, sir, but I forgot in my haste. The dock master was insistent that I fetch you immediately."

"What's happened?" Mr Cowley motioned with his hand for Messrs Bodie and Doyle to fall in behind as he followed Benji to the door.

"The dock master is boiling mad. He found a stowaway and that stowaway is saying that you can vouch for him."

Mr Bodie hurried for the carriage to convey them all to the dock master forthwith.

A dirty man, in chains, was being escorted off the ship as Mr Cowley stepped out of the conveyance.

Mr Bodie watched the ruffian descend the gangplank, and turned his head to watch Mr Cowley. He saw the recognition dawn on the mentah's face and looked past him to Mr Doyle. He, too, realised that their boss knew the tramp.

Mr Cowley advanced until he drew even with the disembarking. He all but ignored the dishevelled man in chains. He spoke directly to the dock master. "His debt will be addressed and other formalities attended to by the royal bookkeeper."

The dock master visibly restrained his ire. He motioned his men to remove the chains. "Remind him to purchase a ticket next time." He turned and walked away. His men followed behind with the empty chains.

Mr Cowley turned to the ruffian, no salutation uttered. "Colin Meredith. I thought you were dead."

"Surprise, surprise, Georgie. Escaped the Qing goal and made it to Hong Kong. That stay would cure even you of that Puritan work ethic for good. Decided that the military life no longer suited me. Survived on my skills." Mr Meredith spoke to his old army mate with the ease of friendship longstanding.

"You arrived as a stowaway, Colin. Doesn't speak well of your prowess."

"Living by dubious means gave life an adventurous touch. Now, skirting the law when necessary was one thing, but world destruction isn't for me, and the only man I trusted with this information is you, Georgie. You were always the honest one, even when it wasn't in your favour."

"I see. Well, come along. We'll get you cleaned up and fed."

"We don't have a lot of time to waste, Georgie. It's that important." Mr Meredith stepped in close on the last words.

Messrs Bodie and Doyle ran for the carriage, opened the door, and jumped up to sit on the roof. The odours would be much more pleasant outside than in on the journey back.

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks

 

 

Mr Macklin met them at the door. He looked the tramp up and down. "Colin."

"Brian."

Both men had the same arm's-length tone to their voices.

"Get Colin a change of clothing and some food. We will all assemble in my office in thirty minutes."

Mr Macklin led the scruffy Mr Meredith away.

Bodie entered Mr Cowley's office as Mr Doyle carried in the last of the additional chairs.

Mr Cowley motioned that both men sit down.

"Mr Meredith was a good soldier, a good man. We all served during the wars. Special details, not the general fighting. Near the end of the last battle, Colin's task was to free the captives. All were freed but on the final trip he was captured himself. We had heard that he had been shot dead."

"The news of my death was premature, and advantageous now it seems." Mr Meredith made all he could with his entrance.

Messrs Macklin and Murphy followed him into the office. Mr Macklin closed the door, preventing all sound from escaping.

"Enough of the furtive innuendoes, Colin, if you have something to tell, please do so." Mr Cowley was done with Mr Meredith's games.

"Oh, Georgie, you used to be fun." Mr Meredith took a seat next to the wooden desk.

Mr Cowley's raised eyebrow managed to convey how differently he viewed their shared past.

Mr Bodie stole a glance at Mr Doyle to find that his eyes conveyed that he was just as incredulous to think of Mr Cowley as "fun Georgie". Mr Doyle long-blinked to acknowledge Mr Bodie.

Mr Meredith leaned forward, arms resting on his thighs, hands loosely clasped as he shook them with a nervous metronome cadence. "No posturing now, George, this is quite deadly in fact. My dealings led me into some dark corners, I would move things from one place to another."

"Smuggling."

"Filling a void of necessity. After some years I no longer stood out, became part of the picture. Luckily for you, and the world, I overheard the oddest conversation and that's saying some there. They spoke of missing chaos and the need to make it strong again. Made no sense to me, so I remained where I was and listened for the entire time the men talked."

"Who are they, Colin?" Mr Cowley asked after a long look at Mr Macklin.

Mr Meredith turned his hands palms up, then palm down. "Two were strangers, the other two were leaders from the local tong." Mr Meredith shifted further forward in his seat.

Mr Cowley's head moved in an almost imperceptible nod.

"One held up a small clay vial and said that it had been found centuries ago but was ineffective, as it needed to be paired to work best. They were hunting its partners and had tracked one to the Henan province. They said when combined the world as they knew would cease to exist and that they would completely control the new one."

Mr Bodie caught the barely perceptible alertness that entered Mr Cowley's countenance and focused even more closely on the tale being told by Mr Meredith.

"Crazy men say crazy things," Mr Cowley commented without heat.

"George, these men were very serious, not the boasting that comes from drink, or hubris. This was different."

"Different how?" By the tone of Mr Cowley's voice all knew that he was as serious as Mr Meredith and very interested.

"The two strangers were hunters of the old, they had unusual weapons, and they carried the vial with reverence. Everything about them denoted that they were on a mission." Mr Meredith turned his hands up in an appealing gesture.

"What happened then, Colin?" Mr Cowley asked in a quiet yet commanding tone.

"I followed them for their entire stay. They searched the monks' abbey and caused general mayhem throughout the entire province, but located nothing new. They were furious indeed. All I could discover was that the vial had been there but had disappeared in the previous century."

Mr Cowley waited patiently, staring directly at Mr Meredith the whole time.

"They disappeared while I slept."

"Colin?"

"Fine, then, they may have disappeared in search of stolen possessions."

"While you slept?" The first words uttered by Mr Macklin.

Mr Meredith rolled his eyes at Mr Macklin. "I may have relieved them of a few items before sleeping."

Mr Bodie watched transfixed as from somewhere on his person, Mr Meredith produced a small clay vial, and, judging by Mr Macklin's expression, he was just as surprised.

"The vial that they carried with such reverence?" Mr Macklin stated the obvious with an acquiescence to Mr Meredith's abilities.

"Of course, I felt I needed to procure the possible destruction of the end of the world." Mr Meredith cupped the vial in his hand.

"And you brought it here only after you tried it yourself?" Mr Cowley inquired dryly.

Mr Meredith shrugged, admitting nothing. "George, if this is indeed as detrimental as suggested, I didn't know anyone else that could handle it."

"Do they suspect you?" Mr Macklin queried pragmatically.

"It's possible. They left. I stayed. They came back, and then left again, hunting those that left in their absence. I left during that second period of their absence."

"Upon their return, they could have missed you?" Mr Cowley prodded.

"Likely, as they scared the locals, even the tong." Mr Meredith admitted reluctantly.

Mr Cowley held his hand out for the vial.

Mr Meredith looked about the office until he faced Mr Cowley once more. He placed the vial in his hand. "If there's money to made, remember me."

"I think we both know there is none." Mr Cowley closed his fingers over the vial and drew it close to his person. "Colin, you have truly saved a lot of lives today. Something you always excelled at. Thank you." The sincerity of the words was unmistakable.

Mr Meredith sat silent for a few moments as he watched his former commander. He shifted several times in his chair, apparently unable to find a comfortable position. "You know what that is. You know what its use is." There was no question in his tone.

Mr Cowley raised his eyebrow, but remained silent.

"What is going on?" Mr Doyle inquired, hating as always to be kept in the dark.

Mr Cowley ignored both inquiries as he turned his attention to Mr Macklin. "Feed him, ach, I know you didn't have time to eat," he addressed Mr Meredith's attempt to interrupt. He spoke to him directly. "Now, you will find accommodations at the Army/Navy Club. We'll arrange for more clothing tomorrow morning. Get some rest. Thank you, Colin." The last was said to the man he had served with in the past. Mr Cowley did not forget a service to Queen and country.

Mr Macklin unlocked the door and preceded Mr Meredith out the door. Mr Murphy followed, a perplexed look upon his face mirrored the looks of all who remained.

Mr Cowley held Messrs Bodie and Doyle seated with a hand movement. Once the vacating men were well away he motioned for the door to be once again closed and locked. No sound would be detected by those beyond the door.

"It's a high probability that while Mr Meredith's story is more fabrication than truth, he really is being pursued. I am quite certain that after a few days, Mr Meredith will no longer reside at The Army/Navy Club. He is much too independent for that. I wish for you both to deliver him to the club. Your job will not include his safety, nor watching over him. We have other more important matters to deal with."

"More important than the safety of a mate?" Mr Doyle wanted a comprehensive clarification.

Mr Cowley pierced Mr Doyle with his stare. "If Mr Meredith does indeed have a pack of men hunting him, and I'm quite sure he does, we need to remain distanced from him. The hunters will look for a link. The club is for members of the military and Mr Meredith was. He could likely seek out the club accommodations. No connection to us. That is most imperative. I will have men posted to ensure his safety there. If he leaves, I will have someone follow him, if that's even possible. Mr Meredith was very good at what he did."

Mollified, Mr Doyle sat back in his seat.

Mr Bodie stole a glance at his partner and could see that he was satisfied with Mr Cowley's answer. He had been a mite curious himself and was quite glad that Mr Doyle had posed the question.

He could tell that Mr Cowley planned to speak, so Mr Bodie turned his attention forward, yet again.

"Information that is more puzzling than clear has me curious enough to send the two of you to Canterbury." Mr Cowley sat back and tapped his fingers together.

"Canterbury? That's almost as far east as we can go." Mr Doyle's countenance was already working on the possibilities of such a journey.

"Mr Meredith is here. His tracker will get here as well. Should not we remain where we will be useful?" Mr Bodie inquired. He'd let Mr Doyle ponder the wherefore of such an undertaking.

Mr Cowley looked as he had planned to say one thing but said another. "There are men here a-plenty for that task. Only you two are suited for the undertaking I desire in east England."

Mr Bodie couldn't shake the feeling that they had been chastised.

Mr Cowley sat back in his finely crafted oak chair. Its simple design hid the strength it was capable of sustaining, much like the man sitting in it.

"There is talk of great earth upheavals between Maidstone and Canterbury. We have felt no such occurrence here in London. I believe that particular force majeure is not natural." Mr Cowley tapped the edge of his finely crafted oak table with his index and middle finger.

"Not natural?" Mr Bodie queried.

"Deliberate? That would . . ." Mr Doyle sounded quite horrified.

"Be exactly what you are going to ascertain. You will find travel expenses with Mr Jax." Mr Cowley used a back-handed wave to signal the conversation was over.

Mr Bodie exchanged a glance with Mr Doyle and noted his expression echoed his own perplexity. Time of calm my bum!

Mr Doyle sought out Mr Jax while Mr Bodie headed in the direction of the lab to replenish supplies and ready the submersible.

Mr Doyle met up with Mr Jax as the dark-skinned man exited the training room. Mr Jax reached inside his sack coat and his hand emerged clutching an envelope of money which he passed to Mr Doyle. "I have a mate that works the steamer to Margate. He will talk with you and Mr Bodie, but only on board. He works as a guide by day so a longish conversation would not look amiss. Just ask for Percy and tell him I sent you." Mr Jax handed him another envelope with two tickets for The Empress Thames.

"Thanks, mate. Watch out for Mr Cowley. I don't feel at ease with Mr Meredith. His story is much too vague and there's . . ."

"Something off about him," Mr Jax finished Mr Doyle's sentence. "Yeah, I feel it as well."

Mr Doyle clapped his fellow agent on the back. He knew that his friend was pleased with his new situation, but he honestly believed that Mr Cowley was getting the better deal. Mr Jax was truly a good man. "Good man." Mr Doyle turned around to ferret out his partner's location, and explain their change in transportation.

 

Mr Bodie made his first stop to restock his weaponry. He felt it was important to be more than adequately tooled anytime he was away from home. He picked up ammunition for his spring-loader dart pistol, Baker's rifle, and Webley pistol. He recharged his ray gun, particle beam long pistol, laser pistol, and directed energy weapon. That should be adequate for a few days.

Mr Bodie could tell that this was not going to be the simple fact-finding assignment it was meant to sound like on the surface. He knew that within the short time period he had allied himself with Mr Cowley and Mr Doyle that nothing was just as it appeared to be.

That Mr Cowley suspected a great deal more was almost tangible. That he and his partner could find mischief at the drop of a hat was an understatement as well. The more diversely armed the better.

Mr Bodie finished his procurement by unwrapping a canvass toolroll. He filled each fold, tied the fasteners in place, and slung it over his shoulder.

The next stop Mr Bodie intended was to make sure the submersible was in order. He turned as he heard familiar footfalls behind him and spied Mr Doyle walking swiftly along the corridor. He waited and watched him move. He knew it was imperative that he separate his thoughts of lover and partner while on the job. He knew it was nonsensical yet he couldn't stop the all-encompassing smile that spread across his face as soon as he saw the twinkle in Mr Doyle's eyes.

The words Mr Doyle uttered had nothing to do with the expression he wore on his face. "Mr Jax has arranged transport on the Steamship Empress. That will enable us to speak with a mate of his."

"Relevant to our heuristic foray?"

"Very relevant according to Mr Jax."

"Okay then, no submersible." Mr Bodie tipped his head and turned fully around without argument. He followed his partner out, toolroll slung across his shoulder.

Mr Macklin stepped out to intercept them as if he appeared from nowhere.

"Mr Bodie, Mr Doyle, as you are travelling on the water, I think this is a good time to test my newly created aqua suit. Impenetrable by water, it keeps you and any weapons you carry dry. They look similar enough to dock worker coveralls that you wouldn't look out of place. They have passed every test I have put them through to date." It was hard to hide that Mr Macklin felt great pride in his innovative idea for clothing. He handed each man a pair.

Mr Bodie didn't yield to his curiosity of how the man knew his travel medium when he himself had just learned of it. Instead, he asked, "Do you have weapons that work underwater?" He draped the coveralls over his arm.

"Ready immediately I have only the shooting spear that is hand retractable. My Verne hand laser pistol will adjust for refracted trajectory but has not yet been perfected for greater depth."

"When do you have time to include under-water testing?" Mr Doyle asked incredulously.

"In what? Our submersible has just finished being restocked," Mr Bodie asked on top of Mr Doyle's question.

"We have another submersible. We finished it last night, which is in part the reason we haven't fully tested the Verne laser pistol as such. The other has been in some measure to the complication of operating adequately at depths we haven't been in as yet." Mr Murphy all but babbled as he joined the men, maps of their destination in hand.

"We could take it along to test it," Mr Doyle offered as he held up the coverall and felt the material between his fingers.

Mr Murphy smiled and nodded as if not surprised by the offer. "If you gain the information you seek early in the voyage, it may be wise to disembark at Gravesend. I could bring the submersible and meet you there."

Mr Macklin pushed a button on the wall behind Mr Murphy and a shelf unfolded from the wall. Mr Murphy turned and placed the maps across it. Mr Bodie looked over the waterways as Mr Doyle checked the land route.

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle looked up and glanced at each other for just a moment and exchanged a nod of understanding. Mr Bodie turned to Mr Murphy. "I think we should use the train to Faversham then horseback to Canterbury. I would greatly appreciate, though, if you could be available to retrieve us by submersible from Gravesend four days hence. Past experience more than suggests that we may be in need of a fast method of escape."

"Indeed," Mr Murphy assured both men with a smile.

 

 

Thames Dock

 

 

The dock was teaming with people. There was bedlam, noise, and hustle-bustle that was all its own, people with food stalls, wares stalls, and peddlers alike hocking their merchandise for last minute purchases. The air was thick with the aromas both good and bad that flavoured the air. It appeared the same as any marketplace except that all the activity centred about the steamboat, The Empress Thames. The dual paddle wheels were enough to attract any eye. Mr Bodie stood transfixed. Adventure was in the air.

Mr Doyle joined him by his side. His eyes followed his partner's to the impressive steamboat. He smiled and made to move along.

"Always dreamed of running away aboard one of these as a lad," Mr Bodie confided to Mr Doyle as he stopped him with a hand to the elbow.

"She sails between London and Margate, then back to London each day. It's the third major route in the Thames estuary, much used by passengers from the continent as well as for pleasure trips to the Kent coast by Londoners," Mr Doyle shared.

"What? When did you have time to keep your nose in a book?" Mr Bodie turned into the sun and squinted at his partner.

Mr Doyle playfully elbowed him in the side. "It says it right here in the brochure." He extended the folded paper advertisement. "I made sure I learned to read as a child."

"And one day you'll be able to do it without moving your lips," Mr Bodie returned before he chuckled, and pushed at Mr Doyle playfully.

Mr Bodie lifted his hand to shield his eyes from the sun and looked about him. The bulk of people may have been dock-workers, and merchants, but a sizeable amount of the crowd were the travellers themselves, dressed in finery that set them apart. Eagerness to board didn’t just rest with passengers but with staff as well. Many a man felt more at home on the water than they ever did on dry land.

The astonishing amount of noise should have been irritating but the air of excitement that surrounded the boarding process just fed into the fevered dream of adventure for each of the passengers vying for a place along the railings. Mr Bodie could not help being caught up in the thrill of travelling to uncharted areas.

Of course he wasn’t, and had actually travelled through Canterbury before, but the feeling persisted as he stepped onto the gangway, Mr Doyle at his side. Their destination might not be exotic or faraway, but they were venturing into an unknown with very little information.

Satchels stowed, Mr Bodie followed his partner, who weaved them among the many passengers as they looked for seating. They had elected to remain outside and finally located a place along the upper deck railings to watch the harbour disappear from view. Even better to Mr Bodie’s estimation was the proximity to the paddle wheels, sure to stir up boyhood thoughts of adventures. He rubbed his hands together with the anticipated pleasure of the view. They had most of an hour to wait for that alone as the boarding process was dreadfully slow. They knew that they had to wait until the craft was well on its way before they approached Mr Jax’s contact.

The wait was well worth the thrill of watching the paddles work. The paddle wheels spun with clockwork precision. The men that worked about the steam boiler had to side-step the belching flame and smoke it expelled at irregular intervals, but they worked efficiently, without hesitation.

Mr Bodie was mesmerised by the serene-looking display that belied all the work it entailed. It was always agreeable to steal a moment of tranquillity amid the bustle of a hectic life. His body turned slightly to acknowledge Mr Doyle as he moved to join him. He quite liked having Mr Doyle at his side.

Mr Bodie turned his head to look at the effect. The rippling water looked elegant as it glided through the individual paddles. He nudged Mr Doyle before pointing to the cascading water and mimed throwing something in. Mr Doyle's answering grin and look of impishness was enough to set Mr Bodie's heart aflutter. He returned his gaze to the water.

 

As they passed the Greenhithe headland the boat workers relaxed into their routines. The intensity of getting everything working together was over. Now that the ship was away from harbour it was time to seek out Mr Percival Longchester, Mr Jax's mate. Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle walked the length of the ship. They located Mr Longchester minding the Information Station. Mr Doyle stepped up and tapped the sign 'Guides For Hire'.

"Mr Jax recommended that I partake of a tour."

The short, light-skinned man bobbed his head several times before he touched the brim of his hat. His eyes regarded Mr Doyle intently as he extended his hand. "One of my best customers."

Mr Doyle felt he must have passed muster. He handed the fee to Mr Longchester.

The guide locked the money in the box. He raised his hand and pointed to the outside. "Let's step to the starboard railing."

Both men followed Mr Jax's mate to the right side of the steamship. Once there, Mr Longchester looked about to ensure they were alone. He wasted no time with further salutations.

"He told me that his man Cowley was interested in anything that struck one as peculiar or abnormal."

Mr Bodie exchanged a quick glance with Mr Doyle; this was more information than Mr Cowley had imparted to them. Both turned their eyes back to Mr Jax's confidant.

"It wasn't until he asked that I thought abnormal the perfect word for what's going on. Most of the time odd things happen and that's it. But . . ."

"What?" Mr Doyle prodded.

"Well, it’s just within the last year that things got real odd," Mr Longchester admitted.

"Odd how?" both men said at the same time.

"At first glance, the Westgate area is safer than it’s ever been, less riffraff, less crime. But if you look closer, there is a lot of fear. Folks there are not happy. Safe maybe, but not carefree as they should iff’in they were all that safe. Best I can tell is that they are living under threat of catastrophe."

"Catastrophe? How do you mean?" Mr Doyle was more puzzled than ever.

"The monks of the Priory of Westgate didn’t yield and their priory was levelled the next day." He swallowed hard. "Now all them folks are worried that the same may happen to them."

"Pardon, but levelled? How do you mean? Labourers came out and demolished it?" Mr Bodie was more confused than his partner.

Mr Longchester put his hand up, "This was how it was described to me; it was standing there at noon, the bells had just rung. Then at ten past the hour the priory was just rubble on the ground. After which, no one stood up, all yielded. Yielded to whom, unknown to me, maybe not unknown to me mate. I trust him, my mate Eddie, with my life and more. The words are true."

Mr Doyle nodded to indicate that he accepted his words at face value.

"Do you know if a catapult was seen in the area?" Mr Bodie asked as he tried to visualise what could bring down a stone building.

Mr Doyle inquired as to Mr Longchester's mate. "Will he be willing to meet with us?"

"Figured you would ask. Mr Jax said you would. Sangster's Pub at nine tomorrow night. Keep this book with you. He’ll be looking for it." Mr Longchester handed him a tattered copy of the Canterbury Tales that he produced from under his coat.

"Thank you for talking with us." Mr Doyle added as he pulled coins from his inner pocket.

"Jax and me go way back, fine man he is." Mr Percival Longchester accepted the extra coins with a tip of his hat and ambled away.

 

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks

 

 

Mr Cowley stepped outside the warehouse into the bright sun. He turned his head until he sighted Mr Jax and signalled him to bring the conveyance over. Mr Meredith followed him with slow, measured steps. He only stopped when Mr Cowley held him up with his arm.

Both men heard the cock of the pistol. Mr Cowley tipped his head to triangulate while Mr Meredith looked momentarily indecisive and stunned. Three seconds passed before he turned and stepped in front of Mr Cowley. The sound of the shot ripped through the air as the bullet hit Mr Meredith dead centre in the chest. He fell to the ground within Mr Cowley's arms. Mr Jax rushed in on the scene from the carriage, guns drawn, to immediately provide cover to Mr Cowley's bent-over form. Mr Jax followed the possible trajectory and scanned each window for an enemy while Mr Cowley remained focused on the dying man.

Mr Macklin came running swiftly out the door, weapons already drawn. He joined Mr Jax in providing extra cover for the mentah.

"Georgie, I'm sorry. I couldn't be sure, should have trusted you, like the old days. They knew - if you accepted the vial, they knew then that you understood the importance and value. It would also make you a target."

"Yet you led them straight to me, Colin," Mr Cowley said softly with great disappointment.

"They expected me to kill you and take the vial they suspected you more than likely had. They gave me a fake vial to give you, but I switched it with the real one. They won't know that for quite a while."

"Who's they?"

"You can make it right," Mr Meredith whispered. His wound was bleeding more profusely with each second.

"You could have prevented this ending." Mr Cowley pulled the blood-soaked shirt tighter onto itself.

"But in the end I'm with you. Protected you."

"Aye, Colin, you did."

Mr Meredith nodded as his eyes closed. His grip on Mr Cowley's hand loosened, and fell lax as his last breath left him.

Mr Anson arrived to pick up Mr Cowley as requested and took the measure of the situation. He dropped the reins and joined Mr Jax in covering the mentah. Together, his agents moved him back inside the building.

"Och, I'm fine. Retrieve Mr Meredith. He should have a military burial. He was a very good man." He paused, then added, "At one time. I would like to remember him as the loyal regiment man that had served me well." Mr Cowley walked stiffly away.

 

 

Faversham
Kent

 

Gravesend, the most realistic and time saving jump-off point, was the next port of call, and that was where Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle made their exit.

They disembarked with a throng of passengers, caught up in the moving tide of excited people. At the bottom of the boarding plank Mr Bodie walked backwards beside Mr Doyle as he waved to those still on board. He double-checked the crowd that no one person took an interest in them. Once sure, they headed to the closest stables.

They spotted a bench outside the livery. Mr Doyle wiped the bench free of debris before they both sat. Mr Bodie pulled out the maps that Mr Macklin had provided for their journey. He pointed to the train station in Chatham. We ride to Rochester, cross the bridge and take a train the rest of the way."

"Actually, it would make good sense to stop in Faversham instead of Canterbury." Mr Doyle suggested.

"I agree." Mr Bodie nodded.

"Mr Macklin mentioned Faversham as a stopping point. Old Gate Inn was his suggestion as a trusted dwelling." Mr Doyle smiled as he shrugged. "We could ride in there early and study the area before the meet up."

"Again, I agree. Let's ride and hope we don't miss our train."

They collected their horses, purchased a snack for Mr Bodie, and refilled the water pouches. Once they cleared the town clutter they pushed their horses to top speed. It would be considerably less than an hour at a gallop and the horses would have a fine rest afterward.

Rochester came into view and the riders slowed their horses to a trot and dropped them off at the agreed upon livery. It was as they crossed the footbridge over the canal from Rochester to Chatham that Mr Bodie decided to telegraph Mr Murphy a different rendezvous point. This canal separating the two towns was large enough and would work perfectly. It would save three to six hours of travel on the return trip at the very least.

The train ride was short and uneventful. Perfect in Mr Bodie's estimation for conserving energy and strategic planning. Of course, resting wouldn't go amiss. Indeed, that was the option that won. He woke instantly when his partner touched his arm just as the train pulled into the station.

They collected their belongings with care, taking their time to disembark. It afforded them the time to watch all the other passengers who elected this stop as well. Mr Bodie found nothing unusual to note. Mr Doyle located the livery and they picked another set of horses for the last leg of their journey.

Mr Bodie had to admit to himself there was an exhilaration to horseback riding that he had forgotten, aside from the delight in watching Mr Doyle ride with such abandon. The man seemed at one with the animal, moving as the horse moved. His hair spread wide with the wind flowing through it. Mr Bodie knew that if he wasn't careful he would do himself a mischief.

The man was a marvel, and Mr Bodie had to admit to himself that he felt very lucky that not only was the inestimable Mr Doyle of the same persuasion, but that he returned the attraction. Mr Bodie knew that on his side the affection was running quite deep, but it was early stages yet and he would mind his mouth and only use it to bring pleasure, not to utter possibly unwelcome words.

The Old Gate Inn, located just outside of Favesham on the Canterbury side, came into view and they slowed to a trot and then to a walk. They tied the animals to the hitching post. Mr Bodie would have much preferred using a conveyance, but the need for haste and discretion made it impractical. He made do with using a handbrush to remove the worst of the dust. He offered the use of it to Mr Doyle, who just pushed the tool away, and dusted himself off with just his own hand.

It looked more like a private home than a pub, but it was purpose-built to accommodate travellers. Besides the hitching post with water trough, there was a stable around the back. The horses would be taken care of adequately. The building was less than three hundred years old, and it was obvious that the repairs had been kept up along the outside walls which gave the inn a well-used appearance, but welcoming all the same.

They paid for five nights in advance even if they had no intention of staying that long. Everything that could lead to a misdirection was used. Mr Cowley did not give details, and even though they had but a short acquaintance, they knew that a job for the mentah was usually fraught with adversity.

Dining had already commenced and Mr Bodie put in a request for seating at the earliest moment. The establishment, quite used to such requests, had a table available for immediate seating.

Mr Doyle nodded his thanks. His partner's appetite did not fail no matter the assignment.

The dinner menu was quite pleasing. The savoury soup was followed by roast pork with speciality potatoes. Fresh bread with sweet cream butter, jams, jellies, and sweet pickles accompanied the vegetable side of carrots. For afters, that Mr Bodie always had room for, fancy cake and preserved fruit were on offer.

Mr Doyle never ceased to be amazed and dismayed by the amount of food that his partner could consume. Mr Doyle enjoyed food enough but never savoured it in quite the same way as his partner.

They talked of weather and travel, the business of sugar beets, and the breeding of horses. None of which was of any importance to either man. They did use the aimless chatter for cover as they listened to conversations around them.

The only people in the dining area to pique their curiosity were two men seated at the very back. They seemed very serious and private. They both noted the pair, and that brought a smile to Mr Bodie's face. He was gratified daily that they seemed to be of the same understanding of what was about them.

The curious men adjourned to the pub area. Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle followed after a little while and selected a table behind them and continued to eavesdrop. The other men seemed to be preoccupied with grifters and the threat of marauders.

They overheard bits and pieces of conversation from several different groups.

"The menace was indeed life threatening."

"There were no local constables willing to thwart the local hooligans."

"The peril to the surrounding areas grew daily."

Mr Bodie leaned in closer to Mr Doyle, the smile on his face not matching his eyes. "Obscure enough that no one could glean information."

"Unless one already had an idea," Mr Doyle finished the thought.

The two men under view stood together and finished their drinks. The taller man threw a few coins on the table but instead of heading up to their room, they headed back outside.

Mr Doyle stood. "I will just see that the horses being properly tended." He followed the departing men outside.

Mr Bodie stood up casually. He located the proprietor near the entrance repairing a broom. "Is it possible to get hot water sent up in the morning for a bath?"

"It'll be extra." He said without looking up.

Mr Bodie nodded, but the man did not look up. "I expected as much."

"Three shillings. What time?" The innkeeper stayed his hands and finally looked up.

"Eight o'clock." Mr Bodie wished for more leisure in the morning but it was not to be on this job. He pulled the coins from an inside pocket of his frock coat and dropped them in the proprietor's upturned palm.

"Fine." The innkeeper closed his hand over the money and turned back to his repair.

Mr Bodie left to find his partner. He walked in the direction of the stable but found him out front already on his horse. Mr Bodie mounted his own and he followed Mr Doyle's lead.

"They are seemingly headed in the direction of Canterbury." Mr Doyle pointed in the direction he saw them ride.

"Then I'm guessing that we are headed in that same direction." Mr Bodie bowed his head a bit.

"What a coincidence, but yes we are." Mr Doyle smiled as though he made a joke that only Mr Bodie would understand.

Oddly enough, he did.

 

 

Outside Canterbury
Kent

 

 

They rode in silence until they were well away and established a pace that would keep their quarry in sight. Once satisfied, Mr Bodie leaned in close to Mr Doyle. "What do you have with you?" he asked.

"My particle beam long pistol, laser pistol, Webley, Navy colt, my dagger, a couple of trench knives and a smoke box. You?"

"I have just the Webley pistol and particle beam long pistol, and laser pistol as back up, and a few smoke boxes. My retractable rope is always in my satchel along with my dagger. I think it might be better if we keep the variety of our fire power unknown as long as we can so as to not make others aware of how capable we actually are."

"You're quite the persuasive talker when you want to be, aren't you?" Mr Doyle pronounced sagely.

"Don't make it sound so unusual." Mr Bodie felt quite hard done by.

They rode along in silence, but it was a good silence. They were equally alert to the nuances of the road and kept watch for any oddities. The men they were following slowed and pulled off the main road. They did the same.

Mr Bodie was struck with a feeling of familiarity. "They are doing the same as I have done. They're watching the road and will come to the aid of travellers."

"Protectors." He nodded at his mate. "Then we should wait and see if they will have need of us." Mr Doyle was quite at ease with the idea.

Mr Bodie was as well.

It wasn't too long a time before they knew something was approaching their destination by all the dust it scattered. He waited, and could see a stagecoach heading toward them. Mr Bodie had just started to think about the possibilities of mayhem, when it materialised in front of them.

Five riders came from behind the stagecoach on the left at such a speed that it would be impossible for them not to intersect paths. Their faces were covered and no hot brands could be recognised from this distance. The two men from the inn who had spoken of marauders entered the fray and fought to protect the stagecoach. Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle heard weapon fire, but that was next to useless as all parties were on the move.

More productive action than gunplay was demonstrated by the taller of the two as he rode up alongside and jumped onto one of the attackers and brought him to the ground. He hit the culprit with the butt of his weapon, but unfortunately the protector was now out of the fight for his horse was too far to retrieve in a timely manor. The other protector was firing his weapon as he ducked to avoid being hit himself.

While the battle raged on, and the two valiant men were earnest but ineffective, Mr Bodie retrieved his particle beam long pistol from the inside back of his frock coat. He rested it on the saddle and aimed for the marauders. One, two, three went down without sound or seeming explanation. The sole marauder who remained unharmed turned and fled the way he'd come.

The two unknown protectors looked back behind them but Mr Bodie had his weapon back inside his coat and was already atop his mount out of the line of sight. Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle, having their question answered enough for the evening, rode back to the Old Gate Inn.

 

 

Old Gate Inn
Faversham, Kent

 

 

The stable lad was sound asleep when they returned, so both men made quick work brushing and grooming, and providing food and water for their needs.

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle used the privy each in turn before quietly entering their room. Mr Bodie checked the room, but nothing looked disturbed. For what Mr Bodie had in mind, he locked the door then pushed the chest of drawers in front of it. Mr Doyle gave a quizzical look.

"If asked we can say we've been robbed before and are now doubly cautious." Mr Bodie gave Mr Doyle an unmistakable lascivious come-hither look before he looked pointedly at the bed.

Not mistaking what was on Mr Bodie's mind, Mr Doyle smiled and nodded before adding, "As we plan to return here, we can not leave soiled sheets behind."

Mr Bodie rubbed his hands together. "There's only one way to deal with that effectively."

"I was thinking that myself." Mr Doyle moved toward his lover.

"Great minds and all that," was the last that Mr Bodie uttered for quite a while.

The desire ran hot in Mr Bodie's blood. He made quick work of divesting his lover of his clothes, who, in turn, had done the same for him. Their lips met before Mr Bodie had lain on the bed. Mr Doyle followed and lay atop him.

They kept the passion to their seeking lips. They did not want the telltale squeak of rhythmic movement of the bedsprings to alert others to the happening within the room. To ensure the bed sheets stayed clean, Mr Bodie turned himself to face the musk-scented groin of his lover. He smiled and licked his lips.

Mr Doyle, not a wee bit shy, sucked up his lover's prick without a by your leave. There were no complaints and Mr Bodie quickly did the same.

Mr Bodie wanted this to last, to indulge in the exquisite feeling coursing through his blood, but the little raver was wiggling so creatively that all was lost much too soon. Teeth scraped his prick as fluid exploded into his throat and sent him on his own journey. Spent and sated, he rolled onto his back.

Mr Doyle flipped himself around, and giggled in a raw seductive tone. "Our sheets remain as clean as we found them."

Mr Bodie nodded sagely. "Indeed, that was all that was on my mind."

 

The chest of drawers was moved back to its original place before the first of the bath water arrived. Both men made good use of the opportunity of thorough ablutions, though Mr Bodie did have a moment or two lamenting the idea of the soapy water just being utilised for cleansing.

They left soon after for a day of discovery.

 

Canterbury,
Kent

 

 

Canterbury was a quiet market town. While it continued to be a noble city with handsome and neat brick buildings, it was no longer the flourishing town it once had been. The industrial towns of the north and midlands were the current booming communities. Mr Bodie was quite grateful for this. He knew it would be a great deal easier to figure the key players in the smaller community.

The cobblestones were well worn but even. A considerable amount of effort was used in preserving the town. Great pride, or great hubris. Either way, the key players would make themselves known, it was how they operated.

They explored the side opposite the Westgate, the ancient Roman Kentish ragstone gatehouse. It was all that was left of the once notable architecture. The other gates had been demolished over half a century before he was born. Still, he imagined it all had been very impressive. This was at the opposite end from the Sangster's Pub, as well. They thought it best to stay away until the evening.

They ate, listened, drank, listened, and took a leisurely stroll in the parklands, listening. What they heard was more alarming than outright disaster. Fear and intimidation. Evidently, the Priory of Westgate had been a pivotal part of the community. The monks had been well loved, and considered friends by most. Since the disaster, most of these folk were afraid, felt trapped for they had nowhere to go. Apparently the whole of the local constabulary were ineffective or bought.

"If those two protectors have taken it upon themselves to take on all this . . . well they don't seem to have much in the way of aid," Mr Doyle surmised as he sat on the wooden bench over-looking a field of biting stonecrop. The expanse of yellow, star-shaped flowers was almost mesmerising.

Mr Bodie found the scene easy to contemplate and it was possible to lose oneself, but Mr Doyle's voice was a treasured symphony of sounds and he answered as though he had not been caught wool-gathering. "That's not why they do it. It's because they must."

"Maybe we should give them Mr Cowley's card." Mr Doyle smiled with the image of the two strangers up at his door.

"The old man would love that you're recruiting." Mr Bodie shook his head with mirth.

They rode back to the inn for a rest and repast prior to the evening meeting with Mr Longchester's Eddie. The two men from the previous evening were no where to be seen.

 

Canterbury,
Kent

 

 

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle rode into town just past seven-thirty under cover of the fog and mist. They thought it best not to be noticed until they had to enter the pub. Reconnaissance was easier when one stayed in the shadows. They dismounted and walked their horses in silence. They feigned a bored and casual demeanour, and unless one studied their eyes, it would be believed.

They elected to stable the horses at the opposite end of the road from where the pub stood. As planned, Mr Bodie entered the pub alone. He paused at the counter to order a pint as he perused the room. The amount of pictures that adorned the walls struck him odd. They seemed to be of one person only. He studied them intently. Every single one of the pictures was of the same gentleman. Mr Bodie surmised that the man thought very highly of himself.

It didn't take Mr Bodie very much time to pick up the feel of the room. The patrons did not have the usual relaxed air that regulars usually exhibit, yet Mr Bodie did not consider them shill. By the way they watched the very man of the pictures, it became obvious that all customers were on good behaviour. Still, there was an air of expectation as most seemed to be watching the clock as well as watching the obvious owner.

It was as the clock struck nine that all became apparent. The man of the pictures came out from an alcove located behind the counter. He passed the barman, picked up his frock coat, and looked around the room before he made for the door. All waited with bated breath for the door to close behind him, then the pub became like any other, noisy and comfortable.

Mr Bodie located a table near the back and meandered his way there.

Mr Doyle entered soon after the room's transformation carrying the dog-eared copy of The Canterbury Tales. He ordered a pint from the barman before he joined Mr Bodie at his table. He nodded an impersonal greeting as he sat on Mr Bodie's left, also with a clear view of the exit.

A short, weatherworn man broke away from an affable crowd about the dartboard to greet them like long-lost mates. He sat in the chair Mr Doyle pushed out with his foot. He lowered his voice. "I trust Percy. Percy trusts Jax, Jax trusts you. I am glad that someone from outside the town has taken interest."

"Eddie, I presume." Mr Bodie held out his hand.

Eddie nodded. He took the proffered hand and introduced himself. "Eddie Becket. The Thomas Becket is related." His smile was genuine and warm.

"Nice to make your acquaintance." Mr Doyle nodded. "Mr Longchester said you knew first-hand about the Priory of Westgate disaster and would tell us about it."

"Fine gentlemen, you are. Why do you care?" Mr Becket asked frankly.

"At first it was solely the anomaly of the monastery's destruction. Now it includes the unsatisfactory situation we have stumbled upon," Mr Bodie offered as an explanation.

"But why?" Mr Becket was exceedingly serious in his question.

"Someone has to, and we can." Mr Doyle answered in the same serious tone.

"All right, it's like Jax said." He leaned in closer to the two men, who moved in as well. "About a year ago Jeremy Sangster decided that he could do away with the town council. He would be in charge and he thought no one would oppose him. But the town did oppose him, and with the town backing, he was forced to yield. Then four months ago much changed and he had lackeys aplenty to do his bidding. The town folk were forced to change. A month ago, the Priory monks took a stand and refused to acknowledge his authority. He threatened them and their way of life. A week ago the priory stood at noon and was rubble by a quarter after."

"Did you see anything strange, or unusual?" Mr Doyle asked for more details, hoping to glean more than they had thus far.

"Other than Sangster gloating? His group of men stood behind him pointing at the priory. Once the monastery started to crumble all eyes were on that and not the men." He shrugged apologetically.

Mr Bodie exchanged a puzzled look with Mr Doyle. An infinitesimal nod encouraged Mr Doyle to continue his questioning

"Where can we find him other than this pub?" Mr Doyle asked of their witness.

"You're in luck, tomorrow's Friday. He gives his weekly speech of how wonderful he is and how grateful we should all be and tithe generously on Sunday."

"TITHE?" Mr Bodie surged forward, as he exclaimed loudly with repugnance.

"Tithe? Does he think he owns the town?" Mr Doyle asked with just as much aversion as Mr Bodie but just in a quieter tone.

"He thinks he does. He sees himself as the pastor, and we are his parish. It was him that went up against the Priory Monks for not agreeing to tithe to him." Eddie said animatedly.

"How did he accomplish that?" Mr Bodie asked the question that had been asked before, his tone, though, was extraordinarily disbelieving.

"That's the rub, it's not really him, but his new associates. Since they showed up Sangster has come into power. He's always thought he was jemmy, but now he believes that it's his rightful place." Eddie shook his head. "I don't know what you can do about this but Jax was quite insistent that it might not be impossible."

Mr Doyle's eyes opened wide as he followed the man's words. "We'll see what we can do."

Eddie gave a long measured head bob. "Give my best to Jax!" He faded back into his group of dart players.

They indulged in plates of bread and cheese before they left the pub. They found a building corner diagonal from the pub and slipped out of sight. They wanted to watch to see if anyone had taken an interest in them. It was quiet and the few voices that pierced the air were innocent ramblings of happy men filled with drink.

An hour passed, then two, all was as it should be. Mr Bodie knew, like breathing, that the remainder of the night would stay calm. They were in the darkness, complete darkness, not even a shadow to give their position away. It was late, much too late for any regular comings and goings. Mr Bodie knew it was safe enough and gave into his fantasy. He pulled his lover back against his body, back against his rock-hard erection. He took control of Mr Doyle's body, moved him how he wished. He rubbed himself against his lover's bum, the man of his fantasy instinctively arched back into him.

Mr Bodie's right hand cupped Mr Doyle's manhood, the hardness easy to locate as it tented the fabric of his trousers. Mr Bodie slipped his other hand inside and grasped the unfettered flesh. Mr Bodie rippled his fingers against the turgid slickness as he savoured the feeling before he pulled the flesh up and down. It grew further still. Mr Doyle arched back hard against him again and Mr Bodie almost lost his grip as sensations of pleasure flooded his being. He refused to falter, and with each forward thrust into his hand Mr Doyle pushed back immediately. The building pleasure ran both ways and could not be halted. Both men spilled their semen and collapsed as they sank down onto the ground.

A few ragged breaths later they stood silently as they mopped up and righted their apparel. Only then did each man check to see if they were still alone and unseen.

"We are quite foolish to take a chance such as this," Mr Doyle articulated in a dry voice.

"We'd likely receive a whipping." Mr Bodie nodded his agreement.

"Or a bullet." Mr Doyle replied coquettishly.

"It is considered crude behaviour," Mr Bodie stated as if it had just struck him.

"And illegal," Mr Doyle replied with a wide-eyed expression.

"Shoot me now if you wish to desist," Mr Bodie pleaded.

"We must be careful." Mr Doyle made a promise with his voice.

Mr Bodie nodded his agreement, content in the knowledge that this thing between was important to him as well.

They collected their horses and rode back to the inn.

 

Faversham,
Kent

 

 

The sheets were left clean once again. They moved the chest of drawers just prior to the bath water's early arrival. They made quick work of their ablutions with the intention of attending the eating room at its earliest seating. They were on watch for the other benevolent gentlemen.

They did not have to wait long. Mr Bodie had only finished his hot oats when the objects of the hopeful observation sat where they, too, could view the exit. A nod of inn occupant recognition was shared between them. Unfortunately, they were not seated close enough to overhear any conversation exchange. That meant the same for them, but the ever cautious partners spoke of the biting stonecrop they had seen the day before and how lovely the open lands were for walking exploration.

This time, Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle elected to leave first, curious as to what, if anything, the other protectors would do. They were able to ascertain quite quickly that they were to be the intended duo under scrutiny this day.

They saddled fresh horses and headed to Canterbury.

"As they are travelling behind and keep at the same distance from us, I surmise that they have planned their day around us," Mr Doyle stated casually.

"We are rather interesting," Mr Bodie answered with a posh affectation.

"We could turn the tables on them any time we like." Mr Doyle posed the suggestion without turning around to look at their followers.

"Why bother, we know already that they are gentlemen of the same ilk as we are." Mr Bodie shrugged with shoulders and hands.

"Point taken. We proceed as planned." Mr Doyle nodded in agreement.

 

Canterbury,
Kent

 

 

When they reached the outskirts of Canterbury, instead of heading for the town centre, Mr Doyle nudged his horse in the opposite direction. Mr Bodie followed without question. When it became obvious where they were headed, Mr Bodie decided to question what his partner's intention actually was.

"Oy, what are we doing?"

"We are headed for the Priory of Westgate," Mr Doyle answered as if he were speaking to a slow child.

"Why do we visit the rubbled mess of the monastery?" Mr Bodie asked ever so sweetly.

"Atmosphere, my dear Mr Bodie, atmosphere. To get a feel of the place."

"I do believe that it's all rubble. Most the time, and correct me if I'm wrong, and of course you will, that's just rock and brick."

"Most of the time, but what if this is that one time it's more?" Mr Doyle asked with his mischievous voice.

"Lead on for atmosphere." Mr Bodie swung his arm toward and gestured that he should precede him.

Mr Doyle smiled and took the lead.

They tethered the horses next to the green grass that had been used to feed the horses of the priory. The rubble of the monastery surrounded them. Very few items of a human nature had been left behind. These curious gentlemen protectors walked among the ruins of the old brick and stone building.

Mr Bodie found it hard to believe that a complete building had ever stood where his feet were now planted. The rubble that surrounded them was of small and equal size. One really expected to see sizeable boulders and broken bits of all sizes but they were conspicuously absent. No man-created object could break up a building of such substance into so fine a matter in mere minutes. Mr Bodie found no answers amid the 'atmospheric' ruins.

Mr Doyle joined him after his own inspection. His visage was etched with deep concern. "Mr Cowley knows more than he told us."

"Anyone that can perpetrate carnage of this magnitude on a whim is more dangerous than our Mr Cowley surmised."

"So what do we do?" Mr Doyle asked the question, but by his tone it was evident that he already knew what the answer would be.

"The mentah may have just wished for information or confirmation, but we cannot leave this town in this state of fear." Mr Bodie dropped all pretence of light-heartedness. His voice was full of purpose and direction.

"You are most certainty a persuasive talker." Mr Doyle nodded in complete agreement. He was a man full of propose as well.

They headed into the town centre to hear the sanctimonious Sangster speak to the town folk. He wished to address the people from the quad in front of the cathedral.

The town turned out en masse. Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle became one with the crowd, taking positions to view the obvious podium created for Mr Sangster as he stood next to a recently completed statue of Thomas Beckett. Most of the people gathered appeared unhappy or resigned. A few crowd controllers mingled, recognised easily by their baton hand-tapping movements.

The man himself, the sanctimonious Sangster, stepped up and raised his hands to hush an already quiet crowd. The people looked toward the speaker out of fear, not excitement.

While the man spoke of how safe a town they had, and how beautiful it had become, Mr Bodie watched the men who stood behind him. Men with intent eyes, watching the crowd before them, seeking something that evidently remained absent. The men relaxed their posture a fraction, and continued standing behind the speaking Sangster, boredom etched on their faces.

Mr Bodie was ever aware of the location of Mr Doyle. His innate sense tracked him as he moved through the crowd even when his own attention was focused elsewhere. His vivacious partner was like an exotic chameleon and blended in with the folks about him. He was always vigilant and kept his face turned away from those on the podium.

The other gentlemen strangers were among the town folk as well. They projected the same alert constitutions as they prowled through the crowd. Their eyes appeared to be watching the podium twice as often as they did the crowd watching.

The speech came to an end with a strong reminder that he expected a more plentiful bounty on the upcoming Sunday. Everyone there felt the threat behind the words. Mr Sangster stepped down and the towns-people dispersed. Mr Bodie joined Mr Doyle as they meandered with disguised intent behind or to the side of the vacating group of power. It was clear they were headed to the Sangster Manor just outside the Westgate. Mr Doyle signalled that he would circle around ahead.

There were eight men in all. They surrounded Mr Sangster, but not in a protective way, almost as if he were their captive. Mr Bodie noted that they showed no deference to the proclaimed town leader. It was soon obvious to Mr Bodie that the tall, lean man with a cloak of green was the real man of power. All the others looked to him and did his bidding.

They entered through a gate in the hedge. Mr Bodie waited to see if anyone was on guard, but there were none placed outside. He located Mr Doyle high in a tree that had a clear view of the grounds. His partner lay atop a wide branch, feet anchored in the crotch of the tree. He had a tablet out and was drawing furiously. He'd sketch a person as they came into view and flip the page until he had a thick section of drawings.

Mr Bodie moved stealthily about the hedges seeking an unobtrusive entrance. All he could manage was a peephole with a view of the courtyard. It was enough. Four men were chained in stockade fashion. He saw one man was being prepared to be whipped, and it was clear to Mr Bodie that this was not for the first time. The prisoners were Chinese and looked as if they had been tortured repeatedly.

Mr Bodie knew that it would be foolish to act now, but it was tempting. He hoped his partner would continue to put it all on paper and refrain from a rescue attempt. Mr Bodie returned to the tree to find the man of his thoughts already on the ground and as mad as a frenzied badger.

Mr Bodie studied his mate and while he understood his anger he knew he had to prevent acton at the current time. He grasped his forearm gently. "We can't take them here successfully. We follow them, see where else they go. We go to the pub tonight and find out if the people will fight, they may if they believe."

"We will free those Chinamen," Mr Doyle demanded.

"Yes!"

"We must make it loud and noisy. These bootlickers deserved to drawn and quartered!" Mr Doyle's voiced with ragged passion.

"Bloodthirsty! I like that in a partner," Mr Bodie agreed whole-heartedly.

 

They spent the day tracking the men behind Mr Sangster. Mr Doyle had captured a likeness of each of the men, the Chinamen included. They lost their tails midway through the day. Neither man was sure if that was by happenstance or on purpose. Nevertheless, it didn't alter their plans. They wanted to study the men and gauge weakness.

"I have many of our toys on hand, I just wish to keep them out of detection until we know if there are more men in this organisation." Mr Bodie removed his staff and attached it to the hook in the back lining of his frock coat.

"I just bet that our Mr Cowley would know some of these men. It's a shame he didn't give us more to go on," Mr Doyle groused as he did the same.

They kept the luminous light accessible if needed. Otherwise, they both kept to the standard style of weapons. Mr Doyle's Baker's rifle, and Webley pistol. Mr Bodie had his Webley pistol, and Navy colt.

-----

Mr Bodie entered the pub much the same as he had the night prior. He ordered bread and cheese and two pints. Just fifteen minutes before the hour of nine o'clock he sat at a table in the same general vicinity as before, hoping to catch Eddie's eye. He watched the room for men that were most likely aligned with Mr Sangster's group.

The clock hand struck nine and just as he did every evening, Mr Sangster exited the pub and the regular din emerged. Mr Bodie watched as three men stood and perused the interior as if searching for someone before they, too, vacated the premises.

Mr Bodie resumed his watch of the room, but his eyes always landed on the door. He relaxed when a familiar face entered.

Mr Doyle carried the same tattered copy of The Canterbury Tales. He greeted Mr Bodie as though they hadn't seen each other in days. Mr Doyle sat down and Mr Bodie pushed the pint of ale across to him.

When Eddie looked their way both men made eye contact and nodded a greeting. Within a few minutes he made his way to the protector's table.

"Good to see you back, must like the eats," Eddie said by way of a salutation. He sat in the offered seat.

"Yes indeed." Mr Bodie made sure that the words were said loud enough to be overheard in case someone was curious and coincidentally just as his ordered meal was placed on the table. His smiled his thanks. He offered some to Mr Doyle before he stuffed some cheese slices into his mouth.

"The situation that exists here in this town must change," Mr Doyle stated frankly and watched for how Eddie really felt.

Eddie nodded. "Like to see it the way it was."

"We can not do this alone. We can be the catalyst, but we need a major diversion, and that could only be the townspeople rising up against the Sangster group," Mr Bodie added his idea.

"The people are afraid or we wouldn't put up with it." Eddie was just as truthful in return.

"Yes, but we can promise that will no longer be the situation come morning." Mr Doyle made the promise and he intended to back it. His tone brooked no argument.

"If you believe that you know a few trustworthy folk that would be willing to fight, meet tonight at midnight at the Honey Hill, between Canterbury and Blean woodland," Mr Bodie proposed.

"You make a stuffed bird laugh." Eddie sat back in his chair.

"No, it's what we do. It's why Mr Jax sent us," Mr Doyle replied without any heat or bragging to his words.

Eddie looked as though he truly wanted to believe. His posture eased as if he'd lost a great burden. He nodded as he left the table.

Mr Bodie resumed eating as Mr Doyle stole cheese and meat from his plate.

 

 

Blean Woodland
Midnight

 

 

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle rode into Honey Hill just before midnight. The beauty of the landscape was lost to the darkness. They knew they hadn't given the town much time to mull over their request, but sometimes one must act on the spur of the moment while the courage was strongest.

Mr Doyle had one stick of luminous light fixed to the front of his saddle. The eerie glow allowed them to see well enough in the dark. They headed to the glowing lantern they could see bobbing in the tree by the edge of the woods.

Mr Bodie expected only a few men, Mr Doyle actually had expected quite a lot. Men found strength when they were fighting for their homes. Both were pleasantly surprised to see well over fifty men step out from behind the trees. The gentlemen strangers were among them.

Eddie approached them first. "Mr Jax wouldn't steer me wrong. What do we need to do?"

"Tomorrow night, just before Mr Sangster's group leaves the pub, you must have a faction of men lie in wait just past the Westgate tunnel. We will separate Mr Sangster from the others. We will take care of them if you can distract Mr Sangster and any of his local men." Mr Bodie described what they had planned.

"It's important to surprise them. Make lots of noise, and confound them all you can," Mr Doyle requested before he added with quiet seriousness, "Trust us, you will be rid of those other men. Do what you will with Sangster."

The gathered man nodded and "ayed" their accord. They all looked determined now that they had a plan of action.

 

 

Old Gate Inn
Faversham

 

 

Their joining was fast and furious as if the next day could be their last. Mr Bodie didn't even wait for his lover's clothes to hit the floor before he pushed him back against the wall. He dropped to his knees and drew in a deep breath of the musky scented area. He swallowed the prick deep into his throat and worked it like a favourite lolly. When his lover melted to the floor, Mr Bodie knew his work had been adequate.

Mr Bodie shifted as if to rise when he found his own prick caught up in the divine ecstasy of his lover's mouth. He gave in to the sensation immediately and found himself on the floor once more beside the joy of his heart.

"I think we might find sleeping more comfortable in the bed," Mr Doyle said gently into his armpit.

"It would be perfect where ever you are." Mr Bodie replied in a sleepy postcoital haze.

Mr Doyle chuckled. "You are tired, but the sentiment is appreciated and reciprocated." He turned and pulled his partner gently to a standing position and moved them both to the bed.

----------

They packed up everything but two of Mr Bodie's shirts. They had no plans to return after the night's battle, no matter the outcome, but the curious would be left confused.

"I am leaving the particle beam long pistol and laser pistol handy. If we leave no witnesses then our means will remain anonymous." Mr Bodie had no concern for the lives of men who threatened a town or tortured its people. "Next time we bring the pigeons. There is not enough time to get a message to Mr Cowley." He demonstrated including his dagger and staff as immediately available.

"You can clean the pigeon poop, then," Mr Doyle retorted. He snapped his fingers upward. "We should ask Murph to concoct a way to long range communicate."

"Brilliant idea. He would enjoy the complexity of such a request." Mr Bodie turned away from his packing to look at Mr Doyle.

Mr Doyle nodded. He turned to his packing. " So, I will keep the laser pistol reachable, as well as my Webley, and assorted knives." Mr Doyle placed said items in his hidden pocket of his frock coat.

They wrapped the remainder of their weaponry into the aqua suit and stuffed it in their satchels. They bound those tight with braided rope for attaching to the back of their saddles.

They surveyed the room for any item they might have missed. They looked at each other, and their eyes exchanged messages that required no words. Then, with deep breaths, they turned to the door.

It was time for action.

 

Westgate
Canterbury

 

Eddie was waiting for them at the tunnel entrance. He held a staff and had what looked liked a frying pan hanging from his belt. The townsmen, scattered about out of easy view, looked tooled up as well.

"The men will enter the tunnel at nine-twenty. One person needs to call out to Mr Sangster as thought he had forgotten something. At that time you spring your trap. You and your people can deal with Sangster and his town lackeys, leave the others to us," Mr Doyle said as he pointed to Mr Bodie and himself.

"We can do more," Eddie volunteered. "We are ready to take back our town. Fight for her." Eddie was earnest in his offer.

"We know, but you will have enough to deal with in ferreting out the Sangster sympathisers. Successfully separating him from the other men is paramount to our plan. Those others will not bother you again." Mr Bodie used his most charitable voice. He did not want to worry about taking innocent lives that got in the way unintentionally.

Eddie's expression showed his understanding. "If we don't see each other again, thank you for all you have done. Thank Mr Jax as well." Eddie disappeared into the night mist, as did the rest of the fighters.

Mr Bodie turned to look at the tunnel and surrounding area. "Our specialised gun sites should gives us more of an advantage. The light beam can cut through this mist," he commented as he kept his eyes along the tunnel exterior.

Mr Doyle caught Mr Bodie by the arm. The pressure exerted requested that he turn to face his partner. Mr Doyle looked Mr Bodie directly in the eyes. "No heroes. Just do the job as we discussed. I want to spend future days with you." The last was said with quiet strength.

Their eyes meet in a quick but meaningful exchange, then Mr Bodie nodded. He threw his shoulders back with a change in demeanour. After a look at his timepiece, he said, "Let's get into position."

Mr Doyle climbed the turret. The ivy and uneven bricks allowed him an easy trail and places to hide. He located a spot that would allow him to set his aim for the tunnel interior, where the men guarding Sangster were sure to run when the shooting started. He placed his goggles on his face and flipped the night vision lens into place. He fine-tuned his gunsite before he tracked his partner's movements.

Mr Bodie darkened his face with mud that lay next to the brick. He shook his head once to rid himself of the excess. He pulled his goggles into place. He had already set down the night vision lens. He hand- tested the space between tunnel and wall, then squeezed himself into it. By wedging his feet and pulling himself Mr Bodie moved up a bit higher very slowly until he was positioned exactly where he would get the most benefit. Mr Bodie knew that he could pick off three before he was discovered. He reached into an inner pocket and pulled out a smoke-box. He placed it in easy reach. He raised his thumb and wiggled his hand to let his partner know that he was in position.

Mr Bodie knew without a doubt that his partner was capable. That knowledge permitted him to focus solely on the mission at hand. He slowed his breathing and heart rate as he aimed his particle beam long pistol at the mouth of the tunnel.

On schedule at nine-fifteen, Mr Bodie could hear the group of men approaching. No words were spoken, but the footfalls could be heard and timed. He knew exactly where they were. He could have turned his head but as it was unnecessary, he remained attuned to the area of his focus.

As planned, Eddie called out to Mr Sangster, who stopped and turned in an attempt to see what was held up for his attention. He moved away from the group and toward Eddie's area.

Mr Bodie took his shots. One, two, three. Only the first body had started falling before the third shot fired. The surviving men detected no sound from the particle beam rifle, but ran for the tunnel interior anyway. The uproar of the town battle prevented them from returning the way they'd come.

Mr Doyle's targets went down one, two, three, as well. Mr Sangster was no-where in sight as the remaining two men fled inside the gate tower yelling for reinforcements.

They both heard the pounding of additional running inside the gate tower. The Chaos Hunters had reinforcements.

Suddenly, Mr Bodie felt a tremor beneath his feet. It was growing at an alarming rate and would soon shake loose enough rock to crush him. No sooner than he thought of moving he felt the heat of a laser pistol just above his head. He heard the umph clearly and ducked as a man fell over him to the ground. The earth tremor had ceased with the umph sound. He saw a clay vial roll out of the dead man's hand and jumped to the ground to retrieve it. It looked similar to the one that Mr Meredith had delivered to Mr Cowley. He placed it inside his side-buttoned shirt. He picked up his weapon as well, an ancient Chinese hand cannon.

Then Mr Doyle jumped down to land next to Mr Bodie. He paused a few seconds to give him a once-over, then pointed to the tunnel and gate tower entrance. "The two went in there, but there's more of them now."

Mr Bodie brushed the air before him in the direction they would go. "Lead on, I will follow." He could hear the town's people taking back their home. He turned and followed Mr Doyle into the gate tower. He put his particle beam long pistol away and took out his Webley pistol. He figured that Mr Doyle had already done the same.

They split up with a hand signal as they could hear more men running toward their position.

Mr Bodie climbed haphazardly up the inner wall using lamp holes and window hole ledges. He was being pursued and needed to make it to the next level. The suspended candle wheel hung near enough to his position between levels that he knew he could make the jump. He heard the cock of a pistol behind him and prepared to jump anyway. While in the air, he heard the retort of a rifle from the opposite direction. He landed safely, and looked up to see his rescuer. He expected to see Mr Doyle, but instead, saw one of the gentleman strangers. He tipped an imaginary hat before he leapt back to the ground. The second level was evidently covered. He picked up the sword and pistol that the newly dead man had dropped, all courtesy of the gentleman stranger.

More men converged upon him. Mr Bodie fought furiously with the sword. Thrust and parry, like he'd been taught at school, and honed with the Sensei. What he'd give to use his sleeping draught staff, but best to not give their game away.

There were more men pouring into the fight. They needed to get away to get the Chinamen as well. Mr Bodie looked around as he worked his way up to the second level and Mr Doyle.

Mr Doyle was not alone. The two gentlemen strangers were fighting along with him.

"What kept you?" Mr Doyle asked as he struck another attacker down.

"Cup of tea," Mr Bodie answered.

Mr Doyle shook his head. Amid the scrabbling of men below them Mr Doyle made introductions. "Mr Lucas and Mr McCabe. My partner Mr Bodie."

"Ah, the attention to detail, all nice and proper like." Mr Bodie nodded to the gentleman.

Mr Doyle continued ignoring his partner's quip. "They wish to retrieve the Chinamen as we hold off the horde." Mr Doyle pulled out a card and gave it to Mr Lucas. "If you decide you would like to do this more often, come to London. Mr Cowley would welcome you and could also see to the Chinamen's safety, if necessary."

"Very nice to make your acquaintance. Sorry for the current inhospitality." Mr Bodie smiled.

The gentleman strangers, now known as Mr Lucas and Mr McCabe, left and Cowley's Inscrutables intensified their fight. They were steadily being surrounded. Mr Bodie searched for a way to vacate the area. He looked up and grinned.

The heavy grilled door suspended from the gatehouse ceiling was to be their salvation. Mr Bodie made eye contact with Mr Doyle, and then looked pointedly at the portcullis mechanism over the vaulted entranceway. Mr Doyle gave the briefest of nods.

Mr Bodie intensified his attack upon the four men. His sword hitting metal at a most furious pace kept the attackers on their toes, thus allowing Mr Doyle a clear path to advance to the ropes holding the gate. He cut the ropes with a frenzied speed, knowing the his partner could not keep standing at those odds.

"NOW!" Mr Doyle thundered at the top of his voice.

Mr Bodie cocked his head but the width of a ha'penny, then as if acting out a choreographed routine, he leaped into a roll as he swiped the knees of the attackers. They fell as rolled toward the gate. He sprang up on to his feet, sprinted the last steps, and tumbled out beneath the rapidly dropping spiked bottom gate. It crashed with a deafening sound. Mr Doyle sliced the lifting ropes to prevent the attackers following as they made their escape.

They made for the stables forthwith. Mr Bodie tossed a small bag of coins to the ground. The pouch flew open and the coins tumbled out. The stable hands converged on the pouch and all eyes were focused on retrieving the coins. No one noticed as Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle appropriated the two already saddled horses and left through the back doors in the direction of the train station.

The locomotive heading north had just departed as the men approached the station, and with a passing glance between them, a decision was made. Their heels dug into the sides of the horses and they galloped at full speed toward the moving train. The horses made a hurruph sound as they were urged faster still. They responded as if they understood the urgency with which the riders needed to vacate the area and sprinted at full speed.

Mr Bodie guided his horse up along the right side of the locomotive, which had not yet reached full speed. He looped his satchel around his torso as he swung his leg so that both were on the left side. He anchored his left heel in the stirrup while he pointed the horse directly at the train. He jumped and reached full out with his arms. He slammed into the side of the car, the impact reverberating throughout his body, and grabbed whatever he could with his gloved hands. His legs, just a tick behind his arms, scrabbled for purchase as he prayed Mr Doyle had done the same successfully.

Mr Doyle had already stowed his satchel inside of his shirt when they had mounted the horses back at the stables. Mr Doyle, more at ease upon a horse than his partner, had had pulled both his feet under him and balanced perfectly on the saddle centre. He guided his horse as close as he dared to the moving locomotive and his jump was made with more height. He landed with less force and held on easily as the horse continued to gallop alongside. The horses slowed down as the train picked up its speed.

Each man climbed atop the car they had landed upon. They converged on the same coupler. They entered through the door of the third car from the guard's van. They could see that tickets had already been punched, and sought out the guard to pay their fare through to Chatham.

Once accomplished, they made for the dining car in hopes of obtaining a meal. Mr Bodie stowed his satchel beneath the table next to his feet, lamenting the clothing left behind. He had secretly hoped to be able to retrieve his clothing, but was content that his weapons had made it aboard safely. He was intensely gratified that there were no identifiers on the items left behind in the room in Faversham.

Mr Bodie smiled at Mr Doyle as he placed a steaming hot cup of tea before him. He waited until Mr Doyle sat in the place across the table to comment, "I shall endeavour to petition recompense for my lost haberdashery."

Mr Doyle rolled his eyes as he shook his head.

Once Mr Bodie had consumed a proper repast, he dropped his chin upon his chest and fell asleep knowing Mr Doyle would remain the lookout.

Mr Bodie awoke to Mr Doyle touching his arm gently, the train was pulling into the station. Arriving at just past midnight, there should have been little to no activity, Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle looked out the windows to see an astonishing number of men milling about the platform. They were searching the faces of all the people that disembarked.

The two inscrutable men collected their satchels and lived up to the Queen's moniker for them. They slipped out of the door between cars and jumped down between the couplings. They rolled beneath the train, behind the wheels, to remain hidden from sight. While on their backs, they secured their satchels under their coats and buttoned them closed. They carefully pushed themselves from under the train to emerge on the backside of the locomotive. They didn't stand fully upright, but remained bent over. They scuffed their feet and stumbled a bit as they slowly made their way along the track.

The vagabonds happily made their way along, whispering nonsense to each other to lay further claim to the ruse. They didn't even try to make it to the canal bridge where Mr Murphy should be awaiting them. They elected to enter the canal as soon as they could. They slipped down the bank, still in vagabond mode, and made it below the sight zone. They sat in the dark along the edge where they unbuttoned and removed their frock coats. This dislodged their satchels, which they untied and unrolled before opening. They retrieved the aqua suits that Mr Murphy had been so proud to have created for their use and put them on over their clothes. Now they were testing the aqua suits in real conditions. They stuffed the remainder of their clothes, and their satchels of weapons inside their suits as well. Hopefully they would keep their persons dry, but more importantly their weapons.

The reeds that lined the banks were tall and provided cover. They pulled out the bamboo breathing tubes that Mr Cowley had insisted they carry from day one. They placed one end in their mouth so the curved tube reached above their heads. They sank and stayed just below the surface along the bank. They stayed deep enough not to been seen from above, but it was dark and the chances were slim. Mr Doyle used a small luminous light so they could find their way to the submersible.

Mr Bodie relaxed when the submersible came into view. It was resting on the bottom of the canal just below the bridge. Mr Bodie broke the surface of the water, took the bamboo from his lips, and took a deep breath before he dived down. He swam down hard until he reached the canal bottom. Mr Doyle followed suit. They rapped on the bottom window and indicated the lower entrance hatch to a startled Mr Murphy.

First Mr Doyle, then Mr Bodie pulled their bodies up through the opening. They both took in gulps of air. Mr Bodie closed the hatch behind him. They sat back against the bulkhead to collect themselves and share a moment of success. They smiled at each other.

"Have you lads been playing rough again?" Mr Murphy asked drolly as he reached them. He examined their faces for cuts and blood smudges.

"No more than usual," Mr Doyle answered with a smile.

"They were mean and we let them know it!" Mr Bodie replied.

"Well, come along, Mr Cowley is anxious to talk with you," Mr Murphy said as he sat at the ship controls.

"How could he be, he didn't even know what we were searching for?" Mr Doyle said exasperated.

"He said you were late." Mr Murphy accelerated the submersible and headed straight back to London.

 

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks

 

 

Less than two hours later they arrived back inside Mr Macklin's laboratory dock. Mr Macklin and Mr Cowley were there to greet them. Mr Bodie had to wonder if the old man ever slept.

"Freshen up first, then meet in my office for a repast and a report of your time away." Mr Cowley turned and headed back to his office.

Mr Macklin checked the ship.

"The aqua suits worked great. We stayed dry, our weapons stayed dry," Mr Doyle assured Mr Murphy as they walked to the changing rooms. "Have you considered creating long range communications? We could use that ability on long journeys. Bodie wants to bring the pigeons."

"Let him clean the poop," Mr Murphy chuckled.

"That's what I said." Mr Doyle joined in the chuckling.

 

Two tubs of hot water were already awaiting them. They made quick work of washing off the grime, blood and tension from their bodies. Dressed and ready to face Mr Cowley, they walked shoulder to shoulder through the corridor to his office.

They filled Mr Cowley, Mr Macklin and Mr Murphy in on the events of the past few days. In order, they conveyed what they had found, and their eventual solutions. They spared no detail and described the people. Mr Doyle pulled out the drawings he had made of the eight men of power, along with a drawing of Mr Sangster, Mr Lucas, and Mr McCabe.

"The last two may show up for a job," Mr Doyle explained.

"Recruiting for me now, are you?" Mr Cowley asked.

"Told you," Mr Bodie said sotto voce.

"They are like us, protecting as we did. No different." Mr Doyle clarified with no apology.

"Good, lad."

Mr Bodie stood. "Sir, Murph spoke of an attack upon you. I don't know how, but I'm afraid, sir, we may have led them to you." Mr Bodie apologised as he stood slumped shouldered before Mr Cowley.

"No. Colin Meredith had already done that." Mr Cowley absolved the lads of the blame. "We know they are coming and we will be prepared."

Mr Bodie pulled from inside his frock coat the clay vial he had picked up from the dead man. "I don't know how, but this had something to do with the quaking."

The vial had claimed the attention of both Messrs Cowley and Macklin.

Mr Cowley pulled open a drawer and plucked out a long, slender glass jar. He removed the stopper, picked up the vial, and placed it within before replacing the stopper. He stared at it for several silent moments.

"We will convene later today, say midday. I will gather a few other mentahs. I think we need to discuss this fully." Mr Cowley placed the glass jar back into the drawer and closed it. His look conveyed they were all dismissed.

 

 

Spring Gardens
Building Seventeen

 

 

They arrived droopy eyed and tired to the bone in the wee hours. They left the conveyance where it was and walked the horses to the stable. They knew that the horses could get food and water still harnessed, but knew in their hearts that it was bad form. So as weary as they were, they worked methodically to get the horses brushed and into stalls with extra food and water.

They stripped and wiped themselves down before they climbed into Mr Bodie's bed. Sleep was all they craved. They spooned close together and were asleep in seconds.

 

In the morning, after minimal ablutions, Mr Bodie moved to the window. That he had been pensive since waking was evident by his serious demeanour. "The attack on Mr Cowley means that some of those men are already here. The late Mr Meredith's doing, not ours. They may be from the same group. Good thing is they think we are fighters with a common arsenal, ah." He moved over to the foot of his bed. "But what we have here is anything but common." Mr Bodie made a grand hand sweep over the top of the trunk. He bowed his head to Mr Doyle then opened his trunk and pulled out carriers that held his larger weapons, swords and staff. He loaded a carrier that he could hang around his back.

"They either want Mr Cowley dead, or something that Mr Cowley has."

"A vial, perhaps?" Mr Bodie guessed. "That is what Mr Meredith brought to Mr Cowley. That is what I retrieved from the dead man. Thank you for that. Did you see his interest in the clay vial as I placed it on the table?"

Mr Doyle squinted his face in frustration. "But it must be more. Mr Cowley never tells us everything."

"Mr Cowley never tells us anything before the fact. Maybe today we will get something after the fact."

"Be still my heart."

 

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks

 

 

Lady Walsh sat at Mr Cowley's desk, in his chair. Mentah Howard sat on the right of the desk, Mr Cowley on the left. Mr Macklin stood behind Mr Cowley, ever the protector. Chairs had been brought in for the others of the group. Mr Murphy sat between the standing Mr Macklin and Mr Bodie. Mr Doyle sat between Mr Bodie and Mr Jax. Mr Anson sat closer to Mentah Howard.

The door to the office was closed and locked. The sound precautions were in place. A fully stocked tea cart sat in the corner but none partook.

Mr Cowley cleared his throat. "Brian and I have known each other a long time. What brought us together was in fact a clay vial. These vials are not ordinary and are steeped in history. That is a better tale for Brian to tell."

Mr Macklin continued to stand at parade rest behind Mr Cowley. He closed his eyes for a moment and smiled at a memory. "My grandfather spoke to me many times of the stories his grandmother passed on. She could trace her family line to the Shang dynasty, she was always very proud of that. They would speak of it only when they were completely alone. It was never for sharing with others. The story always started the same.

"It was in the time of great chaos. The forces that had forged the very earth we lived upon raged on with unbridled power. The power was wild and unyielding. Some strong individuals would bend the chaos to their bidding but it only lasted for short bursts. They were quickly burned out and consumed.

"Still, clans fought other clans to be the one clan that would control it all. Timeless alliances were broken, and a great war broke out. It raged on and on, and no end appeared to be insight. Countless dead from all clans covered the hillsides of every village, and yet they fought on. All sides held the great powers of nature, able to call up the forces at will but none could harness them. Destruction reigned and extinction seemed the only outcome.

"The greatest of the power wielders recognised the portent and sought containment. The exceptional among them gathered together and siphoned off more than half of the force of air, fire, water, earth, and time. Each element was placed within a vial of glass. No ordinary glass, but glass that had been altered by processes lost to us since that time. Glass that was strengthened by the very elements they were designed to contain. They were covered with clay to appear ordinary to any that might see them. The vials are difficult to break, but not impossible. If the vials are opened, the power within is liberated, but the effects are of a short duration if the plug is replaced. If the vials are broken, the full force of each will be released and chaos will reign again. At this time, there are no known power wielders to contain the elements.

"The offspring of the great wielders are said to be protecting the vials, but none had made themselves known. If any knew the actual whereabouts they took the secret to their graves.

"There is a group that rose from the peace - the Chaos Hunters. The Chaos Hunters are those who have dedicated their lives, and the lives of their offspring, for the sole purpose of collecting the vials and releasing the forces they contain. They desire to fully awaken the forces of nature and put the world as it was in the time of chaos, consequences be damned.

"My grandfather said that they were working from the very stories that he had heard himself while a child. No one from that time knew where the vials went, or the power wielders themselves. They disappeared at the same time and were never heard from again."

"Where did they place the vials?" Mr Doyle was enthralled by the tale.

"The legend said the far reaches of the world. These stories are from over a hundred years ago but they stem from a thousand years ago. One must remember that the known world was much smaller then," Mr Macklin answered which gave proof that he had considered this dilemma before today. "We have determined through tales and research of a sort that most likely the original placements were Shang-Zhou – China today, Mesopotamia – Egyptian area of today, Hellas – Greece today, Jutland – Denmark today, and Minoan – Crete. It's possible that some of the great power wielders had their names remembered as cities, family names, or dynasties within China. Again, these were stories handed down and presumably embellished through the aeons."

"So, why now?" Mr Bodie asked matter-of-factly.

"Ah, those are just a few of the questions that begged to be answered." Mr Cowley sat straighter in his chair as he collected his thoughts.

"Again, it comes down to the tales and prophesies that have been handed down from ancient cultures. After a time of quiet the followers of chaos will grow impatient and work relentlessly to bring about that time again. The Chaos Hunters have as many legends as the Protectorics do." Mr Cowley moved his hand to stem any questions that he could read on the faces of both men.

"I believe that this world is on the brink of great change. That wind of change, along with the advent of industrialisation, has only agitated that impatience. Because the men of chaos fear this change they work to destabilise it all.

"They will gain many supporters. There are those that like to capitalise on the misfortune of discord. Many stand to reap great riches if mobocracy can gain the upper hand."

"Those that thrive on avarice?" The disgust could not be more blatant in Mr Doyle's voice.

"That has been the same though-out time." Mr Cowley's tone was one of a long time realisation.

"Anarchy will line the pockets of many who care not for the real toils of man." Mr Bodie stated as if he had heard it expressed before.

"We have been tasked with protecting the vials. It is a life-long commitment that we took up willingly." Mr Cowley looked to Mr Macklin briefly and caught the barely interceptive nod. "If I speak more of their nature, then you seven become protectors as well. You must decide for yourselves to undertake this commitment." Mr Cowley sat back.

Mr Bodie looked at Mr Doyle and recognised the same determined countenance that he possessed and knew that yet again they were thinking alike. They both nodded.

Mr Murphy looked to his long time mate, then his fellow inventor and nodded.

Mr Jax and Mr Anson took only seconds to make the same decisions.

Lady Walsh looked to Mr Cowley. "You wouldn't have asked us here today, George, if you didn't already know the answer."

"Be that as it may, my Lady, if you have the mind to refuse I will accept it."

"Don't be silly, George. It's what we do." Lady Walsh opened her hands welcomingly.

"Thank you." Mr Cowley spoke directly to Lady Walsh first, but he included all within the office after.

"Some of the drawings that Mr Doyle provided are men know to us as part of the Chaos Hunters." He placed the drawings on the table.

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle each pulled out three pictures. "These men are dead. There is one other dead man, but I never had a chance to draw him," Mr Doyle explained.

"That unknown dead man provided me with the vial," Mr Bodie added.

"So Perry, Parks, Donati, Shea, O'Connell, and the young Wakeman, are dead," Mr Cowley said absently, seeming more caught up in his thoughts. "David Wakeman, and Phillip Catrell are the ones that escaped?" Mr Cowley pierced them with his stare.

"Can't be sure of who lived and died inside the tower. We didn't stop to get drawings." Mr Bodie shrugged. He had tangled with many men inside the Westgate who never showed their faces in town."

"Hopefully, the Chinamen escaped with Mr Lucas and his partner, Mr McCabe." Mr Doyle knew he had included those drawings as well.

"Ah, yes, the Chinamen. We knew some of them as well. They have worked for us in the past." Mr Cowley spoke of them only because they were brought up.

"They were being tortured," Mr Doyle stated baldly.

"They would die before sharing secrets." Mr Macklin spoke as if he were privy to information not presented here.

Mr Cowley tapped his lips a few times before he spoke. "Each vial contains one element apiece; Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Time. Brian and I have read, listened to tales, travelled to witness events that may pertain to these vials. We have learned much and yet there is much we do not know." He reached for the tea that Lady Walsh had prepared to his liking. "We have learned that if the vials are used together in various combinations that different results occur. We don't know the outcome of most, and we don't know the effects on the custodian. We have never experimented with those we have. One common thread between all the tales through all the cultures is that chaos will reign if they are released."

"The results that you do know, how did you get that information?" Mr Murphy asked, ever the curious scientist.

Mr Macklin fielded that question."Just what had been noted in several ancient journals. Much is written in code and different languages."

"Will you tell us some you know?" Mr Bodie asked as a childhood memory tickled at his mind.

"The five elements have their own specialised properties. Time alone can speed up or slow down the person in the present. Time combined with Earth allows the user to move through earth. Earth alone causes earthquakes. Water on its own permits controlled wave action on any wet surface, yet when combined with Earth, the effect is hurricanes," Mr Cowley explained without benefit of writing it down. "Time with Air allows short jumps into the past, Time with Fire allows one to be surrounded but not harmed. There are other combinations, but the journals have not stated the effects."

"Have you used them?" Mr Anson asked. That he saw great potential was written all over his face.

"No. We can not. We do not know the effects of continual usage to the vial substance on the custodian. We are here to protect the Queen and her people. We can't take a chance such as that." Mr Cowley spoke as if he carried a great weight, but one he carried willingly. "I implore you to never mention any of this outside these protected walls."

"How can so small a vial hold so large an elemental force?" Mr Murphy asked, the scientist wanting to know more.

"It's all part of the mythology. If we had not seen events with our own eyes we might not have believed at all," Mr Macklin replied.

"What will you do with the vials you have already collected?" Mr Doyle asked quietly.

"We do not have all five. Those we do are housed below the surface in a vault created solely for them. Other than the original story of Fire, no tale of use since has included it. Time has been lost as well. This is not a bad thing. There is no positive side to obtaining all five, our world would not survive." Mr Cowley accepted fresh tea from Mr Macklin this time.

"George, what plan of action do we undertake?" Lady Walsh asked, sipping her own tea.

"We need more information on the Chaos Hunters. They will need weapons. Their men are hand-picked, so they won't be adding to their ranks here, but they have many. Colin led them here, and I bet it's more than just to eliminate me. They will make contact. Let's try and find them first."

 

 

London Bridge
Old Swan Pier

 

 

Mr Doyle popped his head out of the carriage porthole; he remembered this road well. "Next time I shall endeavour to drive. You've hit every pothole the road had to offer."

Mr Bodie smiled with the remembrance. "Let's see, oh, yes. Will you become ill if I continue to prance back and forth on this infernal bridge?"

Mr Doyle was quite pleased that his partner remembered his complaint. "It's always possible with the horrid way you drive."

"I'm signalling Marty that we're here. See, his ship is anchoring at the pier." Mr Bodie stopped the hansom cab alongside the quay entrance and jumped to the ground in time to open the cab door for Mr Doyle.

Mr Doyle dusted himself off regally, "My only tip kind sir, eat dessert first. Wait a minute, come to think of it, you already do. Never mind."

"Are you finished?" Mr Bodie asked indulgently.

"With the conversation, not with you."

Mr Bodie couldn't help the red that stained his cheeks. That was quite the declaration coming from Mr Doyle.

Together they walked down the merchant's ramp to the end and waited as a barge came up along side the dock. Several ropes came flying over the sides and Mr Bodie caught them just as he did last time and lashed them to the pilings.

"Permission to come aboard." Mr Doyle called out as he had heard Mr Bodie do last visit.

"Permission granted,." Mr Martell answered in the sing-song voice he used every time.

The anticlockwise gears turned smoothly, the steam emerging visible only due to the colder weather. The shining brass mast covers twinkled as the sun glistened against its surface.

Mr Bodie was glad that his old mate must be exceedingly well.

Mr Martell looked to Mr Doyle. "Thought you might have given up on this one." He indicated Mr Bodie.

"Nah. I've almost got him broken in." Mr Doyle's head was cocked to the side as he thought about it.

"Oy, I'm standing right here, you know. You do see me standing here?" Mr Bodie thumped his chest to make certain. He grinned at Mr Doyle. He turned to his old mate.

"I think the inestimable Mr Bodie has arrived." Mr Doyle announced and bowed.

"More storms are a-brewing, Marty," Mr Bodie warned by way of a greeting, ignoring Mr Doyle altogether.

Mr Martell seemed to have no problem understanding his mate of old. "She's built to withstand mighty gales."

Mr Bodie stepped up close beside Mr Martell. "Marty, I wouldn't be surprised if you catch wind of a large weapons purchase . . ."

Mr Martell interrupted him. "Already happened. Yesterday. Mr Cusak handled the deal. Forty rifles and ammunition enough to win a battle."

"Cusak? Is Krivas involved?"

"Not in country at this time."

"Any international weapons request?" Mr Bodie's tone implied more of the real request than his words.

"No. Very plain by our standards." Mr Martell confirmed what Mr Bodie had surmised up to this point.

"Makes it easier to plan on our end," Mr Doyle revealed.

"OH! You are the other side of the battle. Well, then, I have four full lightning cylinders that I will donate to your cause," Mr Martell offered. "Their ilk are not worthy and do not belong in Londiniumnn." He signalled one of his men with four fingers.

"How patriotic," Mr Bodie drawled good-naturedly.

"Not hardly, just trying to keep the few old guard alive," Mr Martell corrected. Two men approached and handed Mr Bodie two cylinders and Mr Doyle the same.

"I thank you." Mr Bodie bowed his head.

Mr Doyle nudged Mr Bodie as they walked away. "You do have mates."

"Some even like me."

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks

 

 

Mr Bodie left the horses harnessed to the cab, but close enough to the trough for water. He figured they would be off again sooner than later. He finished securing the brake and stood, but paused as he looked around. The hairs on the back of his neck twitched. He felt as if he were being watched, and not by his partner. He stretched to make it seem that was why he paused in place.

Mr Doyle walked over and joined him. He faced Mr Bodie, keeping his back to the street behind him. "Do you get the feeling that we are under observation?"

Mr Bodie gave a single sharp nod. He smiled to make his lips hard to read. "Something is most definitely brewing."

They turned together and walked casually to the Morris Antiquities door. Mr Doyle pushed open the door that still appeared rusty from non-use. Anyone watching would see that there was daily use, but could conclude that it was not a thriving business.

Mr Cowley was standing at the door of his office. His hand flick informed them that were expected inside. How he knew when they had information for him never ceased to amaze Mr Bodie.

Mr Bodie wasted no time in delivering said information. "My source knew of a buy yesterday, forty rifles and ammunition enough to win a battle, to quote him. Standard weapons only."

"That much ammunition indicates the Chaos Hunters want to stand and fight," Mr Cowley stated aloud, more for himself than the men sitting across from him. "Thank you. I need to leave, I have a meeting with Her Majesty. I need to make her aware that there is trouble forming within Londiniumn."

"Now?" Mr Bodie asked, surprised. He exchanged a look with Mr Doyle. It was unsafe to leave.

"There may be person or persons unknown lying in wait outside. We are almost positive." Mr Doyle pointed over his shoulder to the way they came in.

"I will not keep the Queen waiting." Mr Cowley paused, then said with a slight distaste, "We will use that protection ring idea that you had us all practice." Mr Cowley waved them away with another flick of the hand. "Be quick about it."

Mr Doyle went to fetch Mr Jax as Mr Bodie went to Messrs Macklin and Murphy.

Mr Bodie announced, "Our Mentah wants to leave now for the palace and there is most assuredly an ambush awaiting him."

"The protection ring," Mr Macklin stated. He knew how Mr Cowley thought.

"Lead on," Mr Murphy said to his fellow scientist.

Mr Bodie ran for the front and his faux job as an equerry. He readied the hansom and climbed on top. He pulled his conveyance in front of Morris Antiquities, as close as he could get, as Mr Cowley refused to miss his weekly meeting with Her Majesty. He jumped down to open the door as Mr Doyle came into position, and he ran interference by moving back and forth between the conveyance and the warehouse door.

Mr Cowley emerged, flanked by Mr Jax on the right, Mr Macklin on the left, both armed and vigilant. Mr Murphy stood directly behind him, his gun drawn as well. Mr Doyle stood by the carriage door, weapon drawn. His head was cocked to the right and his eyes half closed. His posture shot up and he shouted, "Gun cock – left!"

The crack of a weapon reverberated off the buildings. Mr Macklin shoved Mr Cowley to the ground on him bum and shielded him with his full body. Mr Jax guarded the two men as he straddled the top of the two bent over forms. Mr Murphy covered from behind.

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle were already on the move toward the warehouses across the road. Mr Doyle pointed to the roof. Mr Bodie took the high route, climbing up the metal framework. Mr Doyle stayed on the ground and kept his eye on the shooter's location, tracking any movement or sound.

As Mr Bodie worked himself higher into the building, Mr Doyle kept his eyes squinted, seeking the telling glint of the barrel. Back and forth his eyes moved, hunting. He froze, cocked his head as he saw an arm half out of the upper storey window opening. He rested his elbow against the corner of the warehouse, aimed his laser weapon at the man now poised to shoot Mr Bodie, and gently pulled the trigger.

The dead man sailed past Mr Bodie on his way to the warehouse floor. Mr Doyle burst into the building to check on the occupants, the dead and the living. His eyes connected with Mr Bodie's immediately. Relief flooded through his body.

Mr Bodie tipped his imaginary hat to Mr Doyle. He jumped to the ground with just one bounce off a step on the way down. Mr Bodie rolled the dead man over. He looked to Mr Doyle as he pointed to the dead man. "One of the men from your drawings."

"A Chaos Hunter." Mr Doyle's tone held no surprise.

Mr Bodie squatted and checked his pockets. "Nothing." He retrieved the rifle that had fallen close to the body. It was a standard rifle, nothing special about it. He held it out to Mr Doyle.

They left the body where it lay as they went to check on Mr Cowley.

Mr Cowley had already been ushered back inside the entrance. He was rubbing his wrist, complaining, "Injured by my own men."

Mr Macklin smiled fondly. "Nonetheless, the guarding positions worked better than we designed," he pointed out as he nodded his thanks to Mr Jax and Mr Murphy.

"Aye, now I need to leave post haste," Mr Cowley directed. He walked to the door. "Send for Lady Walsh immediately."

Mr Cowley's Inscrutables took up the same positions and this time Mr Jax and Mr Murphy delivered the mentah to his destination without further incident.

Mr Macklin turned to Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle, "Take inventory of what weapons you have and what you need to replenish. The Major will have a plan by the time he returns. Fetch young Master Jax to run messages."

The two protectors turned around again and headed away from the building. As their hansom had been standing ready, Mr Cowley commandeered it, leaving the standard carriage available for their use. Mr Bodie climbed on top and Mr Doyle followed him up and sat beside him. Mr Bodie picked up the reins and directed the horse away.

Mr Doyle kept his eye for trouble.

 

Spring Gardens
Building Seventeen

 

 

The drive home was uneventful. Upon arrival, Mr Doyle jumped down first and after Mr Bodie followed to aid in the grooming, he waved him away.

"I've got this. I'll change up the horses. You have more weapons to look through." Mr Doyle smiled as he picked up the reins and guided the horses around back to the stable.

Mr Bodie bowed with a flourish to convey his thanks. He turned and walked inside and upstairs to his room. He unlocked the door and veered straight to his trunk.

The talk of the old stories of ancient power had triggered memories of his mother. There were a few things he kept because she said to, and kept them he had. He looked inside to a secret compartment that held a pretty puzzle box among other things.

Mr Bodie picked it up and opened the puzzle box his mother had given him all those years ago. He had kept it closed and safe; one last treasure to be savoured if he had needed her close. He had never admitted to such a time in his past yet knew now was the right time.

Mr Bodie remembered how to open it. He pressed the sides in and together at the same time and slid the lid to the inside. A dried, pressed forget-me-not lay atop a small glass vial, folded paper beneath. He turned the vial over in his hand and paused a long movement to look closely at the symbol. Mr Bodie was sure that it was a sundial. He rolled the vial gently in his palm before he placed it back in the box. He picked up the folded paper. He smiled. It was a letter.

 

My Bonnie Boy,

You are the bairn of my heart.

I entrust to you the secret of our clan.

It is imperative that you keep the secret to yourself as well.

It is fated that you will one day understand what this is and will find necessity to use it as a last resort.

We have carried this since the days of our Pictish past. The clan was deemed only one worthy to carry the secret through time. Air is the finest partner.

No one must ever suspect.

A loue ye!

Mama

 

Mr Bodie held the letter close to his chest as a gentle smile graced his face. If a tear rolled down his cheek, he ignored it. He refolded the letter and placed it back into the box with the forget-me-not on top. The vial he tucked inside his shirt against his skin. It was like a living memory of his sweet mother. He had few treasures from his past and he cherished this one.

Mr Bodie did not know what this all actually meant but was determined that he would do so. He recognised the vial for what it was. It was the missing vial of time, and it would remain that way until he fully understood his mother's message.

His inner voice said to keep quiet about this, tell no one at this time. He knew that he would eventually tell his partner, but it might be safer all around to let the others continue to believe that this vial remained lost.

He dug deeper into the trunk to begin his inventory. Spring-loader dart pistols, swing-gear knife, chest plate, goggles, ray gun, spider leg clamp, kendo staff, four-legged spider, particle beam long pistol, laser pistol, directed energy weapon, luminiferous aether tubes, a single lightning cylinder from the last operation, his duplicate retractable rope, and back up Baker's rifle, Webley, Navy colt. He dug deeper for the box of daggers, trench knives, several smoke boxes, and automation-stylised gas mask.

Mr Bodie sat back on his heels. He really did like his weaponry.

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks

 

Lady Walsh had arrived by the time Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle returned to warehouse. Both men headed to the armoury to replenish their depleted supply of ammunition and recharge the specialised weapons.

Mr Macklin headed them off with a brief, "We're meeting now."

"We'll return once we are made privy to our battle strategy," Mr Bodie said to the air as Mr Macklin was already out of sight.

Mr Cowley's office was once again transformed into a roundtable of sorts, only the table was a square desk and the chain mail was visibly absent. Tea and sandwiches were on a corner table brought in for this purpose exclusively. Chairs were scattered about the office to lessen the cramped atmosphere.

Lady Walsh poured tea for herself and Mr Cowley who had returned while Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle had been in the armoury. Mr Cowley silently thanked her with a softening of the eyes and a nod of his head. This time Mr Cowley sat behind his desk. Mr Macklin stood behind him, ever on guard.

Once Messrs Murphy, Jax, and Anson entered Mr Macklin closed and sealed the room.

"This last attack indicates clearly that these Chaos Hunters have no concern for any innocent lives that could be affected by their relentless pursuit of discord. They wish to reclaim what they lost or to augment what they have. It can all be used to their disadvantage," Mr Cowley stated without preamble.

"We must draw them out, but in a place that will do the least damage. Brian and I have seen first hand their ruthlessness with regard to human life this group has wrought. I refuse to have it unleashed here in Londiniumn, or anywhere near Her Magesty." Mr Cowley slapped the desktop hard enough that it must have stung his hand.

"What do you suggest, George?" Lady Walsh asked calmly as she stared intently at her fellow mentah, trying to second guess his intentions.

"I'm thinking the Devonshire manor. It borders the moor, the damage to anyone else would be minimal. Any animal can flee faster than a human." Mr Cowley almost smiled.

Mr Bodie leaned close to Mr Doyle's ear. "The old man is full of surprises."

"Major Howard has volunteered to stay behind and provide an illusion of occupancy." Mr Cowley was wasting no time setting his plans in motion.

All of Mr Cowley's inscrutables sat forward and attentive.

"Our aviators, Bodie and Doyle, will travel by night in their airship. Take a furtive route in case you are spotted by anyone. Come well tooled. Mr Anson will be travelling by train with his doddering aunt, Lady Walsh in disguise. Mr Murphy will travel with my carriage in disguise, and Mr Jax will act as driver. Mr Macklin and I will make our own way there. We will meet two days hence. The staff have been alerted and expect you."

"Will I remain a doddering aunt?" Lady Walsh asked, quite amused with her role.

"No, just a safety precaution. The only Chaos Hunter who had seen Mr Anson is dead. The two of you may not yet be associated with me in their eyes. You all must be hypervigilant, but take no action unless it is life threatening. It is part of the plan that they learn we have moved. I just prefer after the fact." Mr Cowley took the time to fix every one with his stare. "I thank you for job you are undertaking." His tone made it clear that the meeting was over.

There was a sense of purpose that filled the air and seemed to energise all the people heading for the door. That the job they all intended to complete was important did not need to be reiterated, that Mr Cowley thanked them for said undertaking was a noteworthy event and seemed to inspire them further still.

Mr Bodie shook hands with those who were leaving before he joined Mr Doyle, and together they made there way to the laboratory and their airship.

Mr Bodie admired the airship that was designed with manoeuvrability in mind, he did every time he gazed upon it. It was a thing of beauty. He recalled how easy it was to strike and twist away, and knew that ability would be needed in the battle ahead.

Mr Doyle checked the gun turrets affixed to the front. The scoring from the last battle had been removed and it appeared to be better than new.

Both men turned as the bay door slide back on its gears. Mr Murphy entered, already animated.

"Now, remember it's the pedals connected to aneric gas that allows the pilot to control how fast to move and when to glide in silence. The steam is pushed through tubes that re-collect the moisture and reheat it." Mr Murphy's voice was as excited as when he had first recited its abilities. "You will want silence when you fly at night. I have enhanced the night vision apparatus, so it will appear as clear as day for you."

"Mon dieu! When did you have time to do all this?" Mr Doyle was beyond amazed.

"We rarely leave. This has been the most exciting time of my life. To have what's filled my head be transformed into actual objects. Every day is better. I even love the field work as I can see them operational," Mr Murphy said passionately. He nodded with a seraphic smile to Mr Bodie, who nodded his understanding.

"The glass pockets have been treated so they will not fog up, so your breathing will not interfere. The spyglass half has its magnification amplified. The bottom is still regular glass, but I have added the nightglass option here." He pointed to a new level added since their Coogan battle. "Now optimal aiming both day and night," Mr Murphy continued with increasing enthusiasm.

"The gondola's three rigged explosives are already loaded." Mr Murphy pointed to the under area. "The armour plating surfaces of the ship have been re-treated and will deflect even more. The airship is fully loaded and ready."

"Thanks, Murph. Your work is an œuvre d'art." Mr Bodie's sincerity and compliment was heartfelt.

Mr Murphy beamed under the genuine praise.

Mr Macklin joined them holding a large but not unmanageable box of finely crafted oak. "This is an astrolabe." He placed the box down on a table surface that emerged from the wall next to him.

Two sets of puzzled eyes asked for more information.

Mr Macklin opened the box and pulled out what looked like a compass with circular bands that orbited the centre. "The astrolabe is a very ancient astronomical device for solving problems relating to time and the position of the Sun and stars in the sky. This is a planispheric astrolabe, on which the celestial sphere is projected onto the plane of the equator." He moved the gears and set the bands spinning. They stopped as the map of the British Isles was illuminated. "We are here. You can set for pinpoint accuracy."

"This could come in handy." Mr Bodie remarked, delighted with the moving map.

"After we practice with it not on a battlefield." Mr Doyle knew that his partner was thinking of that over mock trials. "So we know what it can do." He looked to his partner and shook his head as said partner flashed him a lopsided smile. "Thanks for that," Mr Doyle said over his shoulder as he pushed his partner out the door.

They picked up two satchels apiece of the armament and headed for the exit. Mr Cowley stopped them.

"This a detailed map of the manor. Tomorrow night will provide the most cover. The back barn has been converted for your use. It's imperative that no one sees you." Mr Cowley handed the map to Mr Bodie. "We have the advantage in all ways. I wish to keep it that way." He turned and entered his office.

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle left the building.

 

Spring Gardens
Building Seventeen

 

 

Master Stephan Jax came running from the back as Mr Bodie stopped the carriage along-side their building. Master Stephan took the carriage after both men removed their satchels of armaments and cylinders of lightening. Mr Bodie flipped him a few extra coins.

Once the weapons were stored in their living quarters, they opted for a meal at the local pub, The Lord Nelson was the closest public house, and they liked the food provided. The bread and cheeses on hand tasted particularly good with ales. They talked about a trial discussed in the local paper in generalities, and they talked horses. Last time they had engaged in a fraudulent conversation they discovered that they both actually knew quite a bit about horses, which made the conversation fairly spirited. Not a word about their jobs or upcoming travel passed their lips

Mr Bodie found it was easy to relax and chat about nothing important with a person whom he trusted., and he did trust his partner. It was surprising to what degree he did as he realised that when they were alone he let his guard down most of the time.

They walked back to their flats. Mr Bodie noted the area about him automatically and knew that this was a safer area than where he last resided. He lamented that he had fallen down on his protection after dark but this new work took more time at all hours. He knew he was still protecting just on a grander level. Yet, he knew he would continue nocturnal venturings when time permitted.

Mr Doyle already had his keys out and he unlocked the building. Mr Bodie followed upstairs. Each man unlocked his own door and entered. Mr Doyle locked his door again from the inside and entered Mr Bodie's section through the connecting door that was never locked. They checked the weapons out of habit.

They played several games of piquet. Mr Doyle took the most tricks but Mr Bodie wasn't of a mind to care. That time for bed had come at such a normal hour, was rare indeed, though neither man was actually tired and didn't desire trying to sleep as yet. That didn't mean the bed couldn't be put to good use. No words were needed to convey the desire to be close.

Clothing was removed and placed over the backs of chairs. This was a first as garments were usually strewn all over the floor. Most joinings had been fast and furious, mainly due to circumstances of their lives together. Tonight they had time. Almost shyly, they concentrated on the kiss.

For Mr Bodie kissing was personal, kissing was intimate. Tongues had to breach an entrance, permission had to be granted. Kissing involved many senses. Moist lips glistened and beckoned exploration. There was a taste both inside and out on offer to just one person. The nose was pressed extra close to the skin, and hair. Those scents were raw and intoxicating. The sense of touch brought it all together. Lips pressing together, tongues pressing together, it was nearly overwhelming, and, it was just lips that were joined.

He cupped his lover's face gently under the chin to pull him even closer, and it grew to a cheek and neck caress. His prick was already hard and demanded attention. He broke contact to reach into the bed stand and sounds of disappointment filled his ears, which only furthered his desire. He uncapped a jar of oil and coated his fingers.

"Trust me. Turn on your belly but raise up a bit with your knees." Actions instantly followed the request.

Mr Bodie reached up between his partner's legs and slicked his lover's prick with oil. The reaction was immediate and intense. His Ray pushed back against him, undulating his hips, as sounds seem to escape his throat. The low sounds were difficult to distinguish between growls or purrs.

His slicked hand created a slow and steady rhythm and his Ray enthusiastically moved with it. As they were half sitting, he brought his other hand up to cup Ray's balls from behind. Ray shot back so fast and hard that his own prick was caught between Ray's oiled cheeks. Ecstasy beckoned but he forced it down, he wanted to complete what he started. Caught between his cheeks, he stroked Ray's prick faster with the one hand while the other teased about the solo opening. Ray's whole body quivered, and just as he could feel the climax begin he pressed his thumb against his entrance.

Ray lunged back, and up. His seed shot everywhere. Mr Bodie, trapped so tightly where he was, lost his battle of control and released his load. He rolled off to the side, taking his Ray with him. He was sated, but it was so much more, truthfully more than replete, it was the completeness in spirit that he felt infused with, mind and body.

Sleep soon followed.

 

Dawn came and went. For once it was not imperative that they start their day with the sun. They pulled covers tighter about them as they were spooned together and fell back into Morpheus' arms.

The next time Mr Bodie awoke to filtered light of untended drapery. He reached for his timekeeper and it read nine-fifteen. He got up to relieve himself and set about preparing water for a wash. His partner sauntered in naked and glorious. He stretched and yawned, much like a cat, and figured that the sounds last night must have been purrs. He smiled and received one in return. His spirit felt wonderful.

 

Morning ablutions complete, they dressed for comfort. Mr Bodie made sure that he kept the vial close to his skin and in easy reach beneath his undershirt. Mr Bodie's choice of his side-button shirt was mainly due to the many hidden pockets designed for hiding weapons, and hide he did. He knew that his partner had much the same.

Mr Bodie joined him by the mirror. He attached a thin wire to the under side of the stand up collar. His hand stilled as his eyes encountered Mr Doyle's eyes in the mirror. He basked in the admiration he saw in those green eyes.

"I find that this," Mr Doyle indicated the two of them with his fingers, "does not lessen with familiarity. In fact, I quite anticipate our next encounter."

"So I am not alone in continually thinking about what your bare bum feels like pressed against my own skin, or in wanting to experience your taste once more? Good!" Mr Bodie was joyful. Ray must have liked the liberty he had taken.

They exchanged a look of contentment.

They were startled out of their silent communication as they heard a knock at Mr Doyle's door. He rushed into his flat and rumpled his bed before he answered the knock.

"Good morning, Mrs Jax," Mr Doyle said loud enough for his partner to hear.

"Breakfast is ready downstairs." Mrs Jax shooed him away like a schoolboy.

"Thank you, as always, Mrs Jax," Mr Doyle said as he dipped his head. He made a mad dash to the door as he smiled like that schoolboy.

"I'll have a bit of a tidy," Mrs Jax said out loud as she started with a dusting cloth. A smile curved her lips at Mr Doyle's antics.

Mr Bodie waited a moment to watch. Mrs Jax finished with the dusting then turned to strip the bed. Mr Bodie silently sucked in his breath knowing what she'd discover in this room. He let out his breath as he arranged his face into smile before offering, "Mrs Jax, you are neither our cook nor housemaid, you need not take it upon yourself to launder my linens. I have been taking care of myself for years. You have enough to do with your good man and three sons."

Mrs Jax smiled indulgently, as she moved into Mr Bodie's flat. "It turns out I am the one best suited, Mr Bodie. I have lots of time now due to your Mr Cowley, and, I had a dear uncle that shared a close relationship much as you do with Mr Doyle." She fixed Mr Bodie with a truthful but compassionate stare.

Mr Bodie sucked in his breath not nearly as silently this time, and like a sudden change of wind that flattens the square sails back, stepped back aghast and dumbfounded. His mind raced, fragmented in all directions. He thought of all the remarks, words that could pass through his lips but attempted none. Rather, he made plans to renounce this place despite the roots he had established here, and depart before words could tarnish Mr Doyle.

Mr Bodie stumbled away from the woman to begin his packing. Escape paramount in his mind, he chastised himself for the lack of planning for this contingency.

Mrs Jax caught the pinched look to his eyes and reached out, and touched the frightened man on the arm. She kept it there even as he tried to shake it off. "Stop right now. There is nothing tainted in my eyes an' I keep my tongue to myself in manners such as these. My uncles lived a long and happy life." Mrs Jax gathered up and carried away the soiled sheets without another word.

Mr Bodie staggered back to his bed and grabbed the bedpost with his hand to steady himself. His heart was not so quick to quiet. She knew and would say nothing. Relief flooded his body and he leaned all the way back flat onto his bed. She had an uncle . . . she didn't care. They must be more careful. He sucked in breath fully, more slowly in an attempt to calm himself, though it was difficult when thinking of the man.

Ah, Mr Doyle. He brought a lightness to his heart, a lightness that was almost lost to discovery. To be faced with losing everything in such a quick moment, Mr Bodie was besieged by multitude of emotions vying for immediate attention and suddenly he knew he was no longer a carefree man. Mr Doyle's touch brought so much joy of a mental kind that Mr Bodie knew without a doubt that he was in love.

He sat up forcefully. This was not a joyful revelation, as some would expect. It was an emotion that he had avoided since childhood. Now it was something that could bring about the ruin of a good man and himself. Best to be extra careful not to let on to the full depth of feeling that resided deep with his heart. To date it had only been coupled with pain.

He dabbed his face with cold water as he pushed his thoughts and emotions aside. He schooled his expression to the one he wore daily. He gathered up all he planned to bring with him and headed down to breakfast.

Mr Bodie ate breakfast without missing a beat. He'd wait to disclose to his partner that Mrs Jax knew of their liaison and was unruffled by it.

"Mrs Jax said that her husband and Murph took off just before dawn," Mr Doyle told him between bites of toast.

Mr Bodie pulled out his timekeeper and glanced at it. "Lady Walsh and Mr Anson leave on the noon train. They will be situated by this evening. No one knows Mr Cowley's plan."

"Who ever does?" Mr Doyle remarked with exasperation.

"He's a secretive old sort," Mr Bodie observed. He was sure that the mentah liked it that way.

"We need to pack up everything tight so we can fit all we wish to bring. I don't think Murph allowed much room for cargo space in our airship," Mr Doyle rambled on.

"Is this what happens when you eat more than an apple? You could probably plan a world domination with a whole pie," Mr Bodie joked, feeling better all of a sudden.

"I am full of surprises." Mr Doyle stood up. "Let's get a move-on."

 

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks

 

 

Mr Cowley's fellow mentah, Major Howard, was there to greet them. He had on Mr Cowley's town coat and appeared ready to take a walk.

"I take short constitutionals to perpetuate the idea that the Major' may still be in attendance here. I will play many more roles this week. Illusion is a wonderful thing." Major Howard left them with a wave.

Their headquarters had an empty feel to it. They could hear the faint sounds of gears moving and steam venting that was usually hidden by the normal activity. They headed straight for the laboratory centre and then ascended to the high platform created for easier airship lift off.

Mr Doyle hit the lever that opened the ceiling roof and watched in complete fascination as it folded in and down to reveal the glass dome that it protected. He had yet to grow tired of observing the process. Mr Doyle lowered the second lever and the dome opened from the centre, gears turning silently, and watched as it folded in on itself as well. He knew that Major Howard would close it after them.

Mr Doyle gained entrance through the armament hatch, as Mr Bodie entered through the lower hatch. They stowed their weapons in all the available areas. It was snug, but comforting to know that they had all that was needed to fight a battle.

Mr Bodie turned on the aether system; as he waited for the panel to became illuminated with the different colour flickers, he set the astrolabe as Mr Macklin instructed and a map with a path was illuminated along the sphere.

Mr Bodie got himself situated in his seat before he set those co-ordinates, He spoke into the communication tube to Mr Doyle. "All set in there?"

"Yes, I've the night glass all set." Mr Doyle was quite glad he didn't have to share his space with his weapons. He didn't go inside the turret. He stayed seated with his knees drawn up by the entrance. They didn't expect trouble and he didn't want to spend two hours inside the small space of the turret.

Mr Bodie flipped main levers and the aircraft hummed as it lifted itself off the ground. It hovered, ready to respond to direction. He ran through all the instructions in his head. He did so each time he flew as it was still a new adventure.

What little moonlight that could illuminate their arrival was filtered behind gauze like clouds, perfect for the clandestine activities Bodie had planned. While no one would be scanning the heavens for flying craft save bats, the odd astronomer could be looking upward at the wrong time.

Mr Bodie was flying low enough to see the lay of the land but high enough not to be noticed by someone out walking. It was dark and silent, which made it an easy time to talk.

Mr Bodie spoke into the two-way communicator. "Mrs Jax knows."

Mr Doyle didn't pretend to misunderstand. "Do we need to vacate the flats?"

Mr Bodie felt a happy warmth that his partner would leave without question. "No. She said that there is nothing tainted in her eyes, and she will not speak of it to others. She had uncles that lived a long and happy life."

"All right then." It was easy to recognise the relief in his voice. Mr Doyle added, "We have to tell the old man."

"First we must allude to circumstances that have changed but should bear no change in our deployment."

"If he hasn't surmised it all ready."

"There is that and I wouldn't be at all surprised. But if he has, he hasn't said a thing." Mr Bodie turned the ship in a westerly direction.

"When has there been time? I wanted to laugh aloud when he was talking about staying fit in times of calm. I don't see this path having much free time to idle away." This time the amusement was easy to pick out. "Bodie?" The tone was much more serious.

Mr Bodie liked hearing his Ray using the less formal name. "Yeah?"

"Has it been too brief a time between us to talk of us leaving together if we had to?"

This was probably the first time Mr Bodie had heard such a hesitant tone from the man. "No. No it's not. Sometimes in life, one knows for certain right away, like ice cream, you knew immediately that it was good."

"Are you comparing me to ice cream?" Mr Doyle's tone was back to normal, indulgent, in fact.

"Yes, the two best things in life." Mr Bodie smiled at no one.

 

The Cowley Manor
Devonshire

 

 

The end of the astrolabe path was imminent and Mr Bodie was actively looking for the manor. When he saw the illuminate C on the top of the main house he knew he was in the right place. He headed for the barn, and as he expected the roof was opened wide and he was able to set down easily.

Apparently he and Mr Doyle were the last to arrive. He noted that all the others were already on hand. A repast was set out for them and Mr Bodie was not about to pass it up. Mr Doyle followed behind with little reluctance.

They sat at large oval oak table, firm sturdy wood that would be able to withstand a dragon sitting upon it. The finish was so iridescent that Mr Bodie laid his plate on his lap. Mr Doyle followed suit. One by one, the other members of the group joined them at the table. Mr Cowley sat at the head of the table and everything felt as it should.

Mr Cowley's usual style of no preamble didn't vary, no matter the circumstance. "They want the vial that Colin brought me. How they obtain it is of no consequence to this group. They have several avenues in which they could attempt to collect it. We must be prepared for all and remain vigilant throughout."

"We have set up a watch station on the roof, and will maintain it in shifts," Mr Macklin stated in his steady voice.

"If all has gone according to plan, our enemies have seen the faux Cowley arrive by carriage. They can ask around and discover that the staff have been airing and stocking the residence since a week past. There will be plenty of speculation on whether I intend to hold a ball and that will keep most of the villagers occupied. Our enemy will not lack for information about the manor and my holdings." Mr Cowley paused and waited for all eyes to be turned his way.

"Now that we're here, I expect things to move much more quickly. We have removed many obstacles by relocating here in the country. The Hunters believe that there are less eyes to see them operate, and we know that fewer innocents to be harmed by the move." Mr Cowley pulled out his timekeeper. "There are rooms upstairs, they have all been made up. I let the staff go, so they would not get caught up in this. You will tend to yourselves. Lady Walsh has arranged for food to be delivered each day." His tone indicated, as always that meeting was over, and to commence with their duties.

"I have first watch," Mr Jax announced and headed for the roof via the master stairs.

Mr Bodie collected a few extra biscuits and followed Mr Doyle up the stairs. They picked rooms side by side and located the newly installed water closet. Mr Doyle joined him in his room. They placed all their weapons out on the bed to decide which to carry and what to have for easy access.

Mr Doyle turned and pulled Mr Bodie close. He kissed him full on the lips. Kissed to worship his lips without inciting intense passion. Mr Doyle left him with a daft smile spread across his face.

Mr Bodie sat down in a wingback chair under the aether illuminated lamp and read a book he had taken off the shelf about war strategy. A short time later he heard a knock at his door. He opened it to Mr Cowley.

"Come in, sir." Mr Bodie opened the door all the way as his hand waved his boss into the room. He closed the door after him. "What can I do for you?"

"I request a favour that could put your life in greater danger." Mr Cowley sat down in the very same wingback chair that Mr Bodie had been using. He crossed his legs, draped his hands over the edge of the armrests.

Mr Bodie moved to the bed and sat on its edge. "Of course, sir." He leaned forward and waited for more information.

"The only vial they know I have is Air, the one the Colin brought me. They suspect I have one other, though not which one. Water, how Brian and I met. They don't know that you picked up Earth. So Air is the only one we will acknowledge."

"Why bring the real one? Don't we take the chance that it could fall into the wrong hands?" Mr Bodie asked.

"We must use the real vial; they know what it looks like and will not be fooled by a replica. It is best that you carry it. That is the favour I ask. They would never suspect that I would allow any other to hold it. They have always judged others by how they conduct themselves."

Mr Bodie accepted it. There was no way Mr Cowley could know that he had a vial himself, so he latched the chain about his neck and tucked it inside his shirt.

"Thank you, Bodie." Mr Cowley said, but did not rise. He sat still for several minutes.

Mr Bodie waited patiently, without movement. He knew the mentah had more to say.

"We carry a lot of secrets in this work, much that we can never speak about outside our group. It is a great deal to ask from each of you." Mr Cowley was both reflective and sombre.

"We knew going in, sir. That does not come as a surprise. We are all here willingly." Mr Bodie appreciated the gesture but he was nothing if not pragmatic when it came to the job. It was as much a part of him as Ray Doyle had become. His life suited him well.

Mr Cowley stood, shook his hand, and left quietly out the door.

Mr Bodie took off his shoes and lay on the bed to rest what time he could before his shift.

---------

Mr Macklin stood on the roof under cover of the false window ledge. He scanned the property with his night vision spyglass. He was denied time to even enjoy the view. He shook his head in dismay. Mr Wakeman must have been desperate to order a siege directly on Mr Cowley's manor. Fifty plus men appeared in his spyglass, some climbing over the wall, some waiting to do so. They were moving stealthily which gave him time to muster the squad.

Mr Macklin stepped inside and yelled out at the top of his lungs, "We're under attack. From the back, over the wall." He hastened down to collect his own weapons.

Mr Cowley and Lady Walsh were to remain in the house, but they were armed and could defend themselves. Since attackers were already on the premises the other men went quickly for their weapons at Mr Macklin's battle cry. Laser pistols, swords, and goggles were snatched up.

Mr Bodie grabbed his partner's arm and stopped him mid stride from descending the stairs without his chestplate. He pulled one over Mr Doyle's head between the straps and fastened them around the back.

"Nice boys need to be properly dressed when they go out to play," Mr Bodie told him with a voice that implied that his actions had been repeated many times.

"Bad boys do as well. Turn around." Mr Doyle fastened a chestplate on Mr Bodie.

They both strapped on leg canons just to be on the safe side. Better safe than sorry.

Messrs Anson and Murphy went out the right side doors to circle left. Messrs Macklin and Jax went out the front so that they could circle toward the back and attack from behind. Messrs Bodie and Doyle went out the back to circle right and join in the ground fight. They would lose too much time in the attempt to get the airship up. They had too few men and that kind of delay could cost lives.

The night goggles were remarkable. They aided in seeing the attackers as well as the lay of the land. Bullets were flying. Standard pistols were the weapon of choice of the marauders. Laser pistols being the choice of the inscrutibles. At close range the laser pistols were silent, deadly, and didn't need reloading.

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle shot their weapons and fought man to man. It made no difference, they did both with ease. Mr Doyle was breathing steadily even in the heat of battle, his economy of movement a thing of beauty that Mr Bodie never took for granted.

The Chaos Hunters' numbers were halved by this time but they continued to fight. Mr Bodie noted the bodies piling up peripherally but paid them no mind as he worked furiously to add to the pile.

Mr Bodie ducked as he heard the retorts of guns close by. A bullet whizzed by his ear. He side-stepped it and turned toward his partner only to see the bullet impact with Mr Doyle's head. Almost dead centre. The life instantly left the green eyes and blood spurted from the back of his head. Mr Doyle's lifeless body fell back onto the ground.

The banshee wail that tore through the night paused all fighting. It was if the bowels of earth had blasted forth its refuse. Mr Bodie scrambled over dead bodies to Mr Doyle and held the lifeless body to his chest. If his lover's life was done, he knew so was his own. He buried his head against the still chest and wept.

His soul was shattered. The emptiness was worse than he had ever imagined. To have found so much and to loose it like this . . . No! He refused to believe, and with that came the memory of his mother's words; you will have need of this. He raised his head and ripped the chains holding the vials. He had both Air and Time. He could go back. And he would. Even if his life was forfeit as a consequence.

Time plus Air enabled short jumps back in time. Mr Bodie uncapped both vials and held them up. Misty clouds swirled quickly about him. The silence was complete, he could not even hear his beating heart. Then he experienced a thrust and pop of air. Noise resumed. He heard the retort of standard weapons. Mr Bodie knew he only had seconds. He turned and ran hell bent for his partner. A bullet whizzed by his ear and this time he turned into it as he knocked his partner to the ground. His shoulder was grazed but Mr Doyle lived on.

Mr Doyle lived on.

Mr Doyle shoved Mr Bodie off, checked the damage to his shoulder, then wagged his finger into his face. Mr Bodie smiled the whole time.

"We'll talk of this later. What we're you thinking, you big oaf, I can take care of myself!" Mr Doyle's irritated voice was wonderful music to his partner's ears.

Mr Bodie stood and hugged Mr Doyle briefly. "Yeah, yeah, let's get back to work."

Mr Doyle lived on.

Mr Bodie looked around. At least forty men already lay dead, and the less than twenty left were pinned against the back wall. Mr Doyle led the way and Mr Bodie followed, relieved that all else seemed normal after the vial use.

"COWLEY!"

The sound was so deafening that everyone stopped in their tracks. The speaking-trumpet must have been massive in size.

"COWLEY! We want what's ours. If you persist in denying us, I will do to Hennock Village just as I did in Canterbury. But this time we won't just destroy the abbey, we'll pummel the whole village. Concede Cowley! There is no end game that you can win." Mr Wakeman put down his speaking-trumpet and disappeared from view.

He signalled his men back. That he pulled only a quarter of the men that he started with seemed to escape him.

It puzzled Mr Bodie how the man could think he'd won as his eyes rolled over the dead bodies that all belonged to his side. Mr Bodie knew that he had indeed won. Mr Doyle was alive to fight, love and live another day.

------------

There was no sleeping for warriors on the battlefield and evidently there was no sleeping for Mr Cowley's inscrutables. Half past eight and the whole group was seated after serving themselves breakfast. Bacon, eggs, ham, haddock, toast, coffee, and fruits were on offer in substantial quantities.

"They want me, and I want to make it easy for them to get me. If I just go myself, they will suspect a trick of some sort, so instead I will set it up for them to capture me. Mr Murphy has created a substance that can't be seen except by aether illuminates. I will release this as I go and you will be able to follow. Please do not come straight away as I aim to capture the real leader of this faction. It is not Mr Wakeman. The leader should arrive in a splendid carriage. His station will be very important to show off here in this small village."

"What about his threat to destroy the village?" Mr Anson asked, worry for the local people etched on his face.

"That was a bluff, but we cannot treat it as such. We must ask the village to prepare to vacate," Mr Cowley explained.

"How do you know it is a bluff?" Mr Anson persisted.

"Mr Bodie collected the instrument that they would have used while he was in Canterbury. They don't know he did and I deem it best that they do not know this." Mr Cowley placed a map on the table. "Lady Walsh and I will use this route to town and back, I know they will abduct me somewhere between town and here. They will leave her unharmed so she may bring their demands back to you."

"I will issue all the aether illuminates. We will place ourselves along the route so someone other than Lady Walsh will know where you are at all times." Mr Macklin said as if he were planning a campaign.

"You may effect a rescue any time after the splendid carriage arrives." Mr Cowley took their success as a given. He never doubted that his men would prevail.

Everyone got up from the table and put Mr Cowley's plan into action.

By late afternoon, Mr Cowley went missing.

-----------

The illuminate trail worked exceptionally well and they knew that Mr Cowley was being held prisoner on a sheep farm located on the opposite side of the village.

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle prepared their airship. Mr Bodie checked along the edges of the outside glass for chinks or cracks that could cause it to shatter. Mr Doyle checked the weapon releasing apparatus, and planned to restock ammunition. The overall plan for them was to move the airship under cover of the trees near the sheep farm.

"There has got to be more to his plan. That was fairly straight-forward and he shared it with us." Mr Doyle had an itch and was trying to scratch it.

"There is a suitable amount of trickery involved. It could be the whole plan." Mr Bodie didn't really believe what he was saying.

"Mr Cowley's putting one over us. He's not giving us the whole story. Why the hell just for once can't he give us the whole story?"

"He'd probably turn to stone if he did."

Mr Doyle stopped his restocking of the ammunition to turn around and stare at his partner. He cocked his head to the side if he was actually contemplating the chances of his boss turning to stone.

 

They took off just after dark, and other than startling a few hundred sheep, they landed in the woods nearest the farm without being seen. Their assignment was to wait battle ready until they were contacted. That could take a while so Mr Doyle joined his partner and the played piquet and poker to idle away the time.

Mr Macklin took first watch outside the farm, then Mr Jax was up, followed my Messrs Murphy and Anson. Four hours apiece was just the right amount of time before one wanted to start singing to alleviate boredom.

 

Mr Jax appeared near the woods edge and walked straight to the airship. He knocked on the door even though he knew they could see him coming. "There are at least twenty men patrolling the perimeter. That special carriage arrived about an hour ago. Mr Macklin says to fly in on attack in thirty minutes. That gives the rest of us time to get into place." Mr Jax ran off to do just that.

Mr Doyle uncoiled himself from the pilot section and climbed into his own section and secured the door behind him. He dropped to his knees to make sliding himself into the armament tunnel easier. He pushed his arms up and through the small crafted tubes to the finger and palm control panels. His fingers moved automatically to the laser fire control pads.

Mr Bodie flipped levers on the left side and the aircraft hummed to life, the ones on the right lifted it off the ground and it hovered in place until Mr Doyle announced he was set. They flew up into the rear of the farm exactly on the half-hour and the rescue began.

Mr Bodie dipped to the left, then wove circles. He climbed slightly then dipped to the right and created spirals as he dived which allowed Mr Doyle to shoot erratically so that no pattern could be guessed at. Mr Bodie climbed once more, then dipped to the left once more, only to weave more circles again. When he dipped right, he dived into an oval pattern, and finished with a backward flip. All the while, Mr Doyle bombarded the hay bales, the barn, every rock or crevice that could be used as a hiding place with his laser shots. One after another, no need to pause or reload. It was like shooting ducks in a barrel. These men threatened the innocent lives of more than one town and got just what they deserved.

The Chaos Hunters were forced to duck and run for cover, although that cover was gone in seconds. The shooting bird left nowhere for the men to hide. They fired their standard weapons at the monster bird but nothing damaged its shell. The few that still lived threw down their guns and raised their arms high above their heads.

Mr Bodie continued to circle around until Mr Jax and Mr Anson had secured the four living prisoners. Mr Bodie came in for a landing.

Mr Doyle scrambled out and picked up his laser rifle and laser pistol. Mr Bodie joined him with a lightning cylinder slung over his shoulder. They headed to help Mr Anson remove the prisoners. As they approached Mr Anson, a screaming lunatic of a man ran out of the barn as fast as he could, firing his gun at them all. He missed wide with each shot as his own movement prevented any accuracy.

Mr Bodie immediately lowered the lightning cylinder into a firing position and fingered the lid. He pressed the metal top, it opened, and the bolt shot out. Mr David Wakeman crackled with light, and then was no more. "Job done."

The four living prisoners stopped resisting and walked along without a problem.

Once Messrs Macklin, and Murphy joined them, Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle broke off and ran for the house where Mr Cowley was mostly likely being held if all went according to the mentah's plan.

 

Inside the country home, where Mr Cowley still remained tied to a chair, the sounds of a battle raging were well heard. The men guarding their prisoner took for granted that they were winning, but Mr Cowley knew better. He had trained men who lived their ideals without the lure of avarice attached.

The man who had remained unnamed until now walked up behind the seated mentah. He spoke from that position. "Mr Cowley, you seem to have your Inscrutables, as Her Majesty calls them, everywhere."

Mr Cowley recognised the voice immediately. "Ah, Lord Derrington. It's what I endeavour to have others believe at least." Mr Cowley cocked his head ever so slightly. "I must say I am surprised. You would have had more power if you had stayed loyal to Her Majesty."

"When we have what I came for she will bow down before me," Lord Derrington said with more passion than Mr Cowley had ever seen displayed in court.

"You are more of a fool than I could have imagined," Mr Cowley said with dismay

"Your error of judgement may prove your downfall," Lord Derrington replied arrogantly.

"You underestimate the complexity of my cunning." Mr Cowley relaxed and smiled.

"I underestimate nothing. I am quite aware that you were sent here to act the spy, and did so poorly, that you were captured in the act."

"I think not." Mr Cowley nearly snorted.

"And you underestimate your chances of leaving here intact." Lord Derrington remained arrogantly steadfast. He, too, heard the battle winding down outside.

"It is you that won't be leaving here. I was not sent as a spy, I was sent as the decoy. And I must say, it worked brilliantly," Mr Cowley announced with great satisfaction.

Mr Bodie stepped out from behind the bookcase as Mr Doyle materialised from behind the door, guns drawn and held steady. The red laser dots danced on the centre of Lard Derrington's chest.

"In here, now," Lord Derrington commanded loudly to the guards.

"Your men? They are taking a bit of a kip just now," Mr Doyle replied calmly as he leaned back against the door.

"Look here, Cowley. . . " Lord Derrington began.

"It's Mister Cowley." He removed the binding that had been cut from behind by Mr Bodie. "And you will be charged with treason."

Mr Doyle held Lord Derrington by the arm.

"I will not be treated this way," Lord Derrington said as he tried to pull his arm from Mr Doyle's grasp. "The Queen will still value my counsel." He tried pulling harder only to find Mr Bodie holding the other arm tightly.

"The Queen never wants to hear your name again, and I serve to do her bidding," Mr Cowley said proudly.

"You are a fool. With the vials we can control England, and eventually the world. What is wrong with you?" Lord Derrington was in a dither.

"You don't care what destruction you wrought, or who gets hurt. I don't operate that way," Mr Cowley said quietly as he looked Lord Derrington in the eye with condemnation. "Treason carries the death penalty. You will die, unnoticed, in your sleep tonight, by decree of the Queen." Mr Cowley turned his back on the once powerful man and walked out of the house.

Mr Bodie and Mr Doyle led the defeated man in Mr Cowley's wake.

 

Morris Antiquities
Thames docks

 

Mr Cowley had left immediately with Mr Macklin, Lady Walsh, and Lord Derrington. The rest of the crew stayed to clean up and made arrangements for the body removal. Lady Walsh would return later in the week to see to the closing of the Cowley house. None of the men would have to concern themselves about that. Messrs Murphy, Jax, and Anson took all the living prisoners with them, while Messrs Bodie and Doyle were to return the airship.

They left immediately after dark. A mere three hours after Mr Cowley they flew, and yet Mr Cowley was already at the antiquities warehouse; a puzzle Mr Doyle was quite curious about.

They completed the airship post-flight work, repacked their weapons for travel back to the flats, and wrote up their brief reports. They were ready to head home. Just as they were about to make their escape, Mr Cowley waved them into his office. They sat in the two seats directly across from the mentah.

"It is time to return the vial." Mr Cowley held out his hand to Mr Bodie.

Mr Bodie reached into his shirt and pulled out the vial of Air. He closed the chain and handed it to his boss.

"There are many that fight on the side of right, the side of good; honest people that want to be good. But, alas, for most when faced with having a power, a position, an object of significance, it can corrupt their good intentions. The road to hell has always been paved with them," Mr Cowley said absently.

"Some may find it, use it, and then put it away, and not think about it." Mr Bodie knew that to be true even if he could never speak of it.

"That is the key, lad, to let it go, not wonder what if. . . If they used it, it would only be used for good some would say. Others could say used only when necessary. But then the real question would be what good? Whose good? What necessity. And that path is at the heart of most good man's destruction."

The mentah paused. "I have searched for the men of true calling. I know without reservation that you and Mr Doyle are such. I will share all the secrets if you are willing to carry on with this duty."

Mr Bodie knew that he would carry his secret to the ends of his days. No matter the consequence, his heart was full of contentment.

"Of course, sir, " Mr Bodie said aloud.

"Yes, sir," answered Mr Doyle. "We're in this together, sir."

"Yes, I know you are." The tone of that answer was completely different.

Mr Bodie knew the jig was up. He took a deep breath and shot a quick look at his partner. He received the brief nod to continue. "Sir, some circumstances have changed between us but should bear no change in our deployment."

Mr Cowley sat quietly yet he pierced them with a glare. "It commenced during the Coogan Affair."

Both men twitched with the accuracy of his observations.

"Your work was exemplary during the matter of the vials. If matters do not alter then I have no reason to complain."

Mr Bodie took a quiet breath of relief, but knew that they were still vulnerable. "Will it be used against us if we don't comply completely with future requests?" Mr Bodie noted the look of surprise from Mr Doyle as well as Mr Cowley.

"It is distasteful for one to assume that I would use an affaire de cœur against them. Existence is precarious at best. What is between two people is for those two alone. I will not judge thee. As long as all decorum is met, others will be denied the chance to judge."

"Thank you sir." The steel of his determination and apology mingled in Mr Bodie's tone.

"Now, we must discuss what will become your usual course of action during times of calm. It's imperative that you remain fit . . ." Mr Cowley was interrupted again amid this line of discussion.

Lady Walsh entered without a knock or by your leave. She almost appeared out of breath. "George, we may have a problem."

Mr Bodie looked over to his partner Mr Doyle with a sceptical expression and rolled his eyes.

Calm times indeed!

 

fin