CHAPTER THIRTY TWO
As the army of howling High Hats advanced toward the river, sweeping the bewildered Tans before them, the Turkanschoner crouched low in a second storey window observing the slaughter taking place in the streets below. He had ventured up from the underworld scavenging for food, leaving Milly safe and secure hidden in the derelict building opposite the one which housed the dimension door.
He had decided to move to the opposite side of the subterranean street because he feared that the house might be visited from the High Hat chamber he had glimpsed on his journey through the dimension door with
Jonathan. Better away from that portal he deduced.
The new refuge was now sealed and accessible only through the front door which, unlike many others still swung on its hinges. It also offered the occupants a clear view of the building opposite and any arrivals could be viewed from a position of relative safety.
The Turkanschoner had shown the machine he had retrieved from the Tallmen to Milly, and explained, the best he could, its importance in Jonathan’s plans. She understood and he had left her attempting to reassemble it from its component parts. She had partly succeeded, easily interpreting the colour coding the technician had added to most of the glass tubes and small globes, so that he might reassemble the device more easily when he returned to the Elders.
The beast had left her pondering over the positions of the remaining parts which had no clues to their place in the construction, while he made a short foray for food while they awaited the reappearance of Jonathan.
Moving rapidly through the darkness aided by his acute sense of smell and ignored only by the most persistent of rats, he soon found his way to the surface streets of Dubh and the battle which raged there.
Once on the streets he moved cautiously in the dim light, made worse by the smoke from the combat, and avoided the fighting around him. Now, from his vantage point on a blasted window ledge, he watched a Tan platoon fleeing down the street beneath him. Even though in superior numbers to their pursuers, they were picked off at will by the High Hats. When they reached a point almost directly below him they took refuge behind a makeshift barricade and prepared for a desperate last stand.
For every round they fired the High Hats fired a hundred. The Turkanschoner could see that they stood little chance against the enemy whose weaponry was vastly superior. Short and metallic, the guns the black coated men bore spewed round after round without the need for reloading, unlike the musket men who struggled in vain with ramrods and powder horns.
The bemused observer watched the conflict intently. The High Hats weapons did actually run out, one of their number crouched below him and removed a magazine and replaced it with another from a bag on his shoulder and then continued to spray the Tan position with long bursts of fire.
The number of Tans had been reduced to two. They cowered below their barrier of overturned carts and shattered masonry awaiting the movement of the two High Hats who had been detailed to finish them off, whilst the main force moved down toward the river. The two High Hats seemed in no hurry to join their comrades. Behind the barricade the two Tans began to argue and eventually one threw down his musket and stood up with his hands above his head. The shooting stopped.
His would be captors called to him to walk forward from the barricade as they themselves remained hidden from view and assured him loudly of safe passage and good treatment. The Tan walked nervously forward as the Turkanschoner watched from above. When he had walked a few paces the nearest Hat High Hat leapt from his hiding place and sprayed him with bullets from point blank range and did not stop until he had emptied a full magazine into the bloody mass that slumped to the ground and twitched with the impact of the lead.
Kicking the Tan corpse, the High Hat laughed as his colleagues in arms joined him and they approached the barricade where the remaining Tan cringed, contemplating his fate.
The Turkanschoner shifted uneasily on the window ledge. He did not enjoy the conflict below him. It wasn’t a fair fight he thought. He studied the swaggering High Hats as they passed below him and was tempted to enter the uneven contest. He had seen the power of the weapons which had devastated the Tans and paused for a while. Should he take the chance, he deliberated. Surprise speed and power would be enough to defeat these cowards despite their guns.
At that moment the Tan remaining behind the barricade decide to take his chance and leapt from his position and sprinted down the street, zig zagging as he went, in an deluded attempt to avoid the bullets of the High Hats.
The High Hats mounted the barricade and levelled their deadly weapons at the fleeing target. The Turkanschoner cringed, they could not miss he thought, but he was wrong. A single shot rang out and kicked up the cobbles at the Tans heels, the ricochet echoing around the narrow street. The second Tan scoffed at his comrade’s poor marksman ship and fired himself, hitting the man in the leg and knocking him down to the ground, sprawling and screaming. He began to crawl away.
The second Tan blew across the muzzle of his weapon theatrically and gestured that the other fire again. He took aim again and this time struck the Tan in the shoulder sending a splash of blood and bone across the man’s back. He slumped to the floor moaning and the High Hat whooped in triumph, waving his weapon at the other who chuckled and took aim again. The Turkanschoner was not amused by their twisted idea of sport.
The High Hat fired and missed. The Turkanschoner could take no more and leapt from the window, scrambling quickly down a drainpipe and then launched himself down onto the nearest High Hat with enough force to knock him out. The other turned in horror and stared at the beast which had appeared from nowhere and stood only yards from him, with jaws clashing wetly together. The High Hat panicked and fumbled with his weapon as he attempted to switch it back to automatic.
The Turkanschoner howled and drew two long daggers from his belt and prepared to strike down the High Hat who screamed and discarded his weapon in horror and began to scamper back down the barricade.
The purpose designed killing machine watched the escaping High Hat and grunted amusedly, his killer’s instinct almost absent. The compulsion which normally overwhelmed him at times like these was now subordinated and an ancient code of honour had re- established itself. The monster which the Tallmen had created was now under control of a compassionate mind trapped in a disfigured body.
The High Hat ran and the Turkanschoner shrugged and replaced the daggers in his belt; he felt whole again, another part of his past had been returned to him. He was changing, the Tallmens’ conditioning of his behaviour was disintegrating fast. He no longer had to kill, he felt good, he felt powerful. He was back in control.
The Turkanschoner picked up the discarded automatic rifle and its magazine pouch and walked over to the unconscious High Hat. He relieved him of his weapon too, as well as his ration packs. After checking the Tan, who was now dead, he climbed slowly back to his vantage point and studied his newly acquired equipment. He paused as a torrent of explosions and gunfire erupted away towards the river, and then aimed the weapon across the street and pulled the trigger to fire a few rounds into the opposite wall.
The noise brought the other High Hat back to his senses and he dragged himself to his feet and staggered back down the street. Through the guns sights the Turkanschoner watched him go, following the target as it meandered slowly away from him. A long, taloned finger wound around the trigger as something billowed inside him.
" Kill.” it pleaded. “Kill.”
The Turkanschoner watched the High Hat. Killing was so easy he thought, then shouldered his newly acquired weapons and descended to the empty street, before making his way back to the Castle of Lepers and the well shaft which led to the grim labyrinths below.