The Iron Sea

Les Poissons

Waiting patiently in the sitting room for Mrs Marino to arrive, Magnus had spent her time concocting what she hoped would act as a sedative, from the few chemicals in her medicine bag. The plan was to shoot the darts she'd cut from the kindling down a tube, pea-shooter style at the creatures. Just as they had when she and Nigel had gone hunting for Mollox on the coast of Mozambique. Whether or not they would actually pierce this creature's hide let alone have any effect remained to be seen, but it was worth trying, and it was a damn site better use of her time.

When Tesla returned he remembered the map, rolling it out on the only available surface – which managed to be the floor. She'd eyed him disparagingly for forcing her to bend on hands and knees when his invention was taking up a perfectly serviceable table, but Nikola merely smirked in reply, and not a word was said.

They assessed the corridors and pipes, vents and wirings marked on the expansive document, working out the comparative locations of the various rooms. Chances were the creature was nesting not too far from all three.

"So if we start from here," she pointed to the mid-point, "and work out to a radius of, maybe 30 yards?"

He nodded, narrowed eyes committing the lay of the land to photographic memory, "That sounds like a plan."

What had not been part of the plan was chasing the sound of clawed feet as they dashed around corners, desperately avoiding the sudden flashes of light from Tesla's torch. Three times they thought they had them, twice she'd managed to glimpse at its piggish nostrils, and oddly bent limbs, before the beady eyes and furred mane squealed in annoyance, and squirreled back into the dark. It seemed unlikely there was only one of them here, and clearly they were somewhat nocturnal by preference.

"This doesn't make any sense," she muttered on the fourth of these occasions.

Nikola was clearly on the same page, gazing thoughtfully down the hole and plotting, as he had since they'd started, the direction the little squirt, or squirts, were taking though the man-made maze. He glanced back to Magnus, just as irked by their persistent dodging, "Unless it's just one of them gone mad." He said, "Every species has its psychopaths Helen."

She did her best to ignore the snide remark, probably aimed in John Druitt’s direction, and concentrate on the problem. Each observation had given her nothing but a fresh set of questions: their temerity, for instance. After the vicious way they had gotten through the grates and attacked presumably sleeping victims? Why were they now so… cowed? The answers might've been in the lab, where a microscopic analysis of the samples she'd collected would undoubtedly shed new light. With such a dangerous bite, however, they couldn't leave these abnormals roaming free. Capturing them, containment, had to take precedence, before anyone else got hurt.

"The space is so… awkward," she sighed. "What we need is some way of trapping them."

They stood in silence for a moment, both pondering: Tesla with a single digit pressed against his lips, Magnus staring into a mid-distance that wasn't really there at all.

"I've got an idea."

She watched him spring into action, leaving to search his suite for the precise item he was looking for.

"Nikola?" Was she supposed to just wait here like a lemon?

"I'll be back in a minute!" he called back from the corridor outside.

Magnus threw her hands to the side with a sigh, turning on the spot in exasperation, and hoping to God that whoever was meant to be using this suite didn't turn up, and start asking how she'd gotten in here.

When he returned, after a long five minutes, he was brandishing a wooden box, almost the same width and depth as the vent opening but taller. He waggled it in front of her as though it were a top hat in a magic show. "One state of the art trap," he said by way of explanation.

Her lips quirked into a gentle, thoughtful smile, laying her hands on the simple solution and feeling the rough texture of what had clearly once been used for packaging. It sat suspended between the two of them before Nikola actually released it into her care.

Simple enough… find some food, place it in the box, wait until one of the blighters went inside, and slide on the lid. Bang on cue Tesla raised his other hand and the missing lid for her inspection, and she nodded.

"Food. They seem to be fond of cockroaches… and I think I might've spotted some pigeon bones in there."

Tesla rested a hand on his hip, chagrined by the idea, "And what have the pigeons ever done to you?"

She grinned, squinting as though it would help her see into his brain and ascertain how serious he was being. To be honest she was always a little surprised at his championing of rats with wings, as Nigel preferred to call them, "You're right," she conceded slowly, "cockroaches are easier to catch."

His disgust at the thought was evident, "Ugh, enjoy."

"Nikola…" half-way through the room he dragged to a halt and turned back to her, "I can't very well hold the box and slide on the lid now can I?"

He grimaced at her practical tone, knowing precisely what was coming next.

"And what exactly are you going to achieve in the fifteen minutes it will take us to locate New York's most prevalent pest?"

"Inspiration can strike at any time Helen."

She merely looked at him.

How did she manage to be so perfectly charming, so practically alluring, whilst figuratively twisting his arm? It just wasn't fair. "Fine!" he sighed dramatically. Apparently he was incapable of denying her much of anything these days, even when she was practically laughing at him, "But after all this," She started to beam at him, "you-"

"I will be in your debt," she interrupted with an ironic bow of her head.

He shook his head, very certain that he'd be holding her to that promise.

"My arm's going numb," Tesla complained in a whisper, as he held the box above his head at the height of the vent opening. The insects were scratching around on the wood, trying to burrow through, and the sound was unnerving to say the least. He kept imagining the creatures getting through and dropping onto his head. It was enough to make his skin crawl.

Perched on a chair, Helen was keeping an ear out, closer to the opening. "Just a little longer then we'll swap…" her face pinched in expectation, "shh," Tesla turned his head slowly in her direction, to point out he hadn't actually said anything more, or intended to, but she had the wide eyes of someone about to achieve their aim. Then he heard it, the metallic clunk of claw against metal, like a rat or mouse only heavier, larger, and spread over a wider area on thinner points.

Raising up the lid in readiness she placed a hand lightly on the wooden box, feeling the thud of its weight as it crept inside. They acted in unison: Nikola quickly tipping the box, so that the creature lost its balance and slipped – Helen sliding the wooden lid into place and trapping it inside. They both smiled in triumph, before they'd even looked at each other.

"Well that went smoothly," Tesla proclaimed even as the creature mewed and pawed lamely at the timber.

It started shifting inside its cage. The thump of flesh and bone, the clatter of claws half-heartedly glancing along the hull – it sounded like the hapless symphony of flotsam and jetsam, lapping on the cold sea against the painted underside of a lifeboat. The exact same sound as that hardened corpse, still clinging to the panelling with a life-preserver uselessly wrapped around her body, hitting the searching lifeboat unexpectedly in the dark. The torch light threw the natural crystals in her long auburn hair into prisms, briefly, against her cold dead flesh, and all the while Helen shivered. Shivered as though her bones would shake themselves apart from her muscles in the oversized coat she'd been offered, in dry clothes that weren't her own, sharing body warmth with the kind stranger who had rescued her body from exposure to the harsh, wintry elements.

Tesla looked at the wooden box with growing concern at the rapidly increasing strength of the creature's attempts of escape, the violent hissing that had started – the ripping of wood. It was going completely berserk. He glanced at Helen, recognising that distant, far-off look again… as if she wasn't here, but there.

The animal was really going for it now, screeching and making the box jolt in Nikola's usually steady grip.

"What did you do?" he sighed.

As soon as she'd recognised the comment she glared at him complainingly, "What did I do? You're the one holding the box!"

"Hey don't try and pin this one on me," he managed, unaware of the hole currently being torn out of its corner, his attention fixed on her unusually stung-looking scowl. He'd only been kidding her, but she sure wasn't acting like he had; "Hey, how was I to know the little demon's claustropho-"

"Nikola!" Helen sprang at the sight of the creature, snarling and vicious looking, freeing itself from the box with its fangs bared, and clawed feet clutching angrily against the surface. Magnus wouldn't have been all that surprised if its eyes had actually gone black and its claws extended – it looked as ferocious as blood-hungry vampire.

In his surprise at her panic, or so he would later claim, Tesla dropped the box, practically throwing the little terror on his feet in the process. Half-flapping its bat-like wings, the oddly rat-shaped, cat-faced abnormal, hobbled on its crutch-like limbs faster than one might've thought it could achieve. Gunning straight for Magnus, it crossed the floor like an odd piece of machinery, cams and pistons steaming ahead to bite and snap at her ankles. Instinctively Nikola grabbed for it with unnatural speed, vamping up so that it was his steely claws which caught the maned monster by the scruff, holding it back from its target. It continued to struggle, even as he eyed her with his blood-red gaze, and sharpened teeth.

She automatically swallowed the shot of adrenaline that had nearly choked her, wide eyes recognising full-well what had been only narrowly avoided.

"It definitely went after you," he said pointedly, his voice reverberating with its vampire undertones as he fought to keep the vitriolic creature firmly in his grasp.

Magnus threw him an unimpressed look, frowning instantly at the insinuation that it was her fault. Her mouth twisted with the beginnings of a complaint when a scuttling sound in the vents stilled them both. It built quickly, one, two, three… rattling loudly against the metal as if in a hurry, like a cavalry charge. They looked to each other with silent concern; the creature in Tesla's clutches squarking urgently, with a scream half-way between nails on a chalkboard and a yowling cat. There was no way they could handle another one of these right now, at this minute, let alone an incoming hoard.

They had to silence the distress signal – immediately. She ran for the side table and the unused darts, the clipped sound of their advance entering the tunnel that opened out into their location. It was too close. Even as Helen turned, sedative in hand, it was too close. Nikola zapped it, low-level charge lighting through its curious body and momentarily shorting out its synapses, stunning it into an unconscious calm.

She couldn't say she entirely approved of his method. If it hadn't have been for the threat it posed if it suddenly woke up, she would've checked the poor thing hadn't had a heart attack, or lost brain function, immediately. Who knew what its physiology could and couldn't handle?! She didn't waste her breath, however, in re-treading what was old ground as far as Tesla was concerned. He would, undoubtedly, point to the fact that not only had the horrendous squealing stopped, but so too had the clamouring of its clan-mates' approach.

"You're welcome," Tesla drawled, belatedly noting her disapproval as she hurriedly picked her way back to the vent, and took up the torch. He straightened himself out, losing his vampiric appearance, "Don't worry – despite my best efforts the runt's still got a pulse."

"Well good," Helen posited archly, before concerning herself with what might still be down the tunnel.

Three of the creatures had hesitated, half-way down, and were now sniffing about the walls for the scent of their lost fellow. As she flashed the beam on them they yelped helplessly, dashing away to hide… timid and unsure again, completely lacking in direction.

She turned to look at him from her perch, somewhat mystified, which was enough to make even Tesla concerned: "They… ran off."

His eyes narrowed in thought, slowly trailing to the hideous amalgamation of night-time creatures that was currently dangling from his hold. Maybe she really had been the one to set them off.

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