Gentlemen, the moment you have been waiting for has arrived!
The voice came from a megaphone that was held in front of a large, burly mans mouth, mostly obscuring his face. The accent was strange to Louis, it was one that was, even in these open days, heard quite rarely this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Louis could not contain his smirk as the man began to speak. He was very fond of Americans, but they did often puff out their chests with each statement that they made, making themselves appear the bigger men in any situation.
This man was stood to the right of a large set of double doors which led into a room not made of the same portable divisions as the rest of the exhibition and this room was not much wider than the doors themselves. The fact that the walls seemed to be made of some sort of dull metal actually drew more attention from the Count. The man was standing beside a wooden box which strangely also caught Louis attention but he shook it off, focussing instead on the American.
This, we assure you, will be the alpha and omega of this exhibition. We did not demonstrate yesterday and today we are only having one showing. And yet, we are very confident that we will still be the crowning jewel of this event. I am Rear Admiral Jonathan Lawrence and I will be bringing you the best equipment you will have ever seen! The man lowered the megaphone, revealing himself to be quite young, but obviously battle-hardened. The right side of his face was a mass of burnt flesh, the eye a milky white which he had chosen not to cover, and indeed seemed to present it as some sort of badge of honour.
His dress uniform was a deep navy blue, the high, stiff collar ran up to his neck and was adorned with golden trim. The jacket had swirling golden epaulettes, the crossing of patterns leaving small openings which were filled with golden circles. The double-breasted jacket was also adorned with two rows of gold buttons, each showing a stylised anchor decoration. His belt was lined yellow and black and hanging from this was an American naval cutlass, not vastly different but much less stylish than the one Count de Theudubert usually wore at his own hip.
The megaphone was raised to his lips once more as he spoke, the movement drawing Davenports attention to the cap which he had tucked under his arm. This was the same colour as his uniform and had an eagle with spread wings in the centre. Attractive, but the British Army had far better and even the Royal Navy had better dress sense than them.
Without further ado, I think our product can speak for itself!
The man stepped even further away from the large double doors and for a moment, nothing happened. The anticipation within the crowd was growing now and as Louis looked around, he realised that almost everyone who had military credentials was here.
A large amount of steam escaped from the now opened hatch, releasing the pressure that had been building as the mechanism inside was powered up to full capacity. The sound of steam being released and clockwork mechanisms began to fill the air as a large, dark silhouette began to appear through the clouds.
The entire crowd fell silent, eyes widening and jaws dropping as a dark metallic leg came into view, crashing down onto the floor of the exhibition hall. The noise of the impact made the vehicle out to be far lighter than it appeared, which was probably a positive thing considering how heavy it looked
Another whirring sound and a second leg came into view, crunching down not far from the first. A great number of the crowd stepped back, as if watching some horrific new creature rearing its ugly head for the first time. They were not far wrong
The next thing to emerge into view as the metallic limbs took another step forward were two large guns, both looking remarkably similar to the .303 Maxim which was on board the HMS Valkyrie and had, within the last six months, been the newest and best weaponry available! It had saved their hides when the Darmanian forces were sweeping at them in large numbers, hoping to overrun them.
The guns were attached to mechanical arms which came more and more into view as the machine kept walking forwards out of the room it had been stored in. Brass barrels came from black box shapes, into which two belts of shells were attached, these then ran up along the side of the machine and around the back. More of the machine was suddenly free of the cloud which was thinning steadily and this revealed a large, leather-bound chair with a man sitting inside it. The large arms were coming from just behind and slightly above the chair, the mechanism similar to the joints on the fire engines legs. The man was pulling levers and twisting dials as the machine moved and he suddenly grabbed onto two large controls either side of his chair which he then used to make the arms turn to the left, then the right, brandishing the large guns skilfully, aiming them off into the distance at various things.
This is our improvement on the .303 Maxim, adjusted for a larger capacity, with a steady flow of water that runs along the arms to keep them cool. As such, the Walker as we have named it, is in itself a powerful moving artillery unit. Whats more is that it also offers exceptional defensive capabilities! Tom, show em! The Rear Admiral stepped a little further away as he spoke.
The man in the cockpit, a young and scared looking man with blazing red hair wearing a dirty boiler suit, clicked a button on both of the arm controls at the same time and closed his eyes, his lips mouthing silent prayers. From either side of the chair, a curved piece of metal slid around, locking into each other at the front, leaving a small letter-box sized opening, through which the mans face could be seen. His eyes snapped open and looked highly relieved: the shields had worked! Now this meant that he still had full control of the Walker but was now well protected against gunfire!
This shielding protects from all hand-held gunfire we have yet tested against it. Anything short of a full cannon blast should be deflected or at least absorbed by the shielding. Lawrence smirked at the shocked faces of all of those around him. They all knew it, they knew that this would change the face of battlefields from now until the end of time!
This vehicle is costly, I will not lie there. But imagine if you will, ten of these units! Ten men in ten of our Walkers could easily do more damage than one thousand ground-based infantry. And these are easily more powerful, safer and much more manoeuvrable than the Maxim or Vickers gunners which most civilised and intelligent Armed Forces of the world are using. His smile was broad and filled with pride.
How expensive are we talking? One man shouted from the centre of the crowd, his heavy British accent evident as he removed his top hat.
Before we talk costing, I would like to demonstrate the weaponry. Obviously we cannot take this outside, but we would most assuredly like to demonstrate this. For this purpose, we ask that you all step back! The Walker began to take slow steps towards them as if forcing the Rear Admirals point of wanting the crowd to move backwards. They all did so, including the four Valkyrie crew members.
As we cannot do a full demonstration due to the danger of such an event held within these walls, we will fully exhaust one belt of ammunition to show you how fast the reloading can be! Jonathan made a show of moving around the Walker so that he was almost part of the crowd.
The vehicle turned around, two large steps being enough to do so. This exposed where the belts of ammunition led and interested Davenport greatly. After his experience with the Maxim and having seen the reloadable cannons outside, the contraption they were now being shown would certainly be something similar! The belts ran up to what appeared to be a cage on the back of the cockpit, within which the belts met in the middle and doubled back on themselves, making two small piles of ammunition which then fed through the side and into the guns. Each side was contained within its own, slightly smaller metallic frame as well. Almost instantly Davenport thought he could see a way for these weapons to be nigh on limitless in terms of ammunition.
His thoughts were interrupted as the left gun aimed inside the room which had until a few moments ago contained the Walker and the gun began its firing. Ejected shells crashed to the floor, the clanking not heard over the ringing of bullets against metal within the small room. An awkward deflection sent one of the fragments crashing into the shield at the front of the exoskeleton but causing no real damage. The belt continued to feed itself into the gun until the end had run through its full course.
While the gun has now a high heat, it could run through another of those ammunition belts and still not overheat. But if you disbelieve that
The Rear Admiral walked back to his original position and kicked the lid of the wooden box he had left there at the beginning of the demonstration. He placed his cap on his head and put the megaphone on the floor next to the box so that he could reach inside with his white-gloved hands.
When his hands emerged, they were carrying a perfectly folded belt of ammunition within their own small metallic cage, which he carried over to the back of the steam-powered machine. Placing this carefully on the floor, he stood on his toes to reach the ammunition cage, opening the top to remove the now empty inner hold before replacing it with the ammunition hold he had brought over. It was a simple matter of removing one box, adding the other and closing the top of the cage. From there, Lawrence took the first few bullets and ran them through the side, bringing them up to the edge of the gun before locking it into place.
The Rear Admiral smacked the back of the chair and ran back to the crowd, watching as the left gun rang into life again, emptying another full belt of ammunition before the gun lowered, smoke wafting upwards from the barrel as the suit turned to face the crowd again.
Louis exclaimed, stepping back in abject horror.
There was no self-loading gun in this world that the Count did not despise but he knew as well as any other man here that in this world, if you did not have the newest weaponry, then you were merely a target for that same weaponry in someone elses hands.
thats incredible! Davenport exclaimed, his eyes widening as he stared at the new equipment. It was not a leap of imagination for him to be seeing himself sitting in such a vehicle, his military brain operating a weapon of that size
No, its an abomination and removes all honour from the battlefield. Louis virtually spat, shaking his head.
But if Britain could get its hands on this- Davenport began.
Drop it Charlie, aint no way youre winnin this one. The Capn could argue black is white an win. Skye interjected.
He is remarkably persistent, and eloquent in his persuasion. Aurora added.
The verdict is in it seems. Louis finished with a wink in Davenports direction.
The young lieutenant opened his mouth to speak and then shook his head with a slightly exasperated laugh. Youre a bastard, you know that right?
I am reminded of it daily. But then again, if we were to-
Whatever witty rebuttal Count de Theudubert had prepared to throw back in Charles direction was cut off as the right side of the Walker suddenly exploded, sending shrapnel and jets of steam out into the nearest crowd members. The Walker was sent stumbling to the left, its balance shot and the pressure loss on one side meaning that control was difficult. Thomas was doing all that he could to regain control, but a broken steam hose was whipping around the back of the cockpit wildly, sporadically dousing him with boiling water. His screams were mirrored by several of the crowd, especially those who had been hit by fragments of brass.
As if in slow motion, Louis and Davenport grabbed Aurora and Skye respectfully, forcing them deeper into the crowd. If there were any more explosions, the more people between them and the source, the better! Louis tripped, stumbling before crashing down onto his right knee, a yell of pain escaping his lips as the pain in his old injury was reignited. It was only at this point that he realised his oversight in not remembering to bring his cane with him today
it was still on the Valkyrie. He struggled to his feet, pain shooting from his knee down his shin as he realised that what he had just tripped over was an elderly gentleman wearing a French military uniform, with a scattering of shrapnel embedded in his face and neck. Blood had already begun pooling around the body and Louis stepped back, wincing at the pain before reminding himself of one important factor by looking at the body once more. It could have been worse
A loud crashing sound caught Louis attention and he turned in the direction of the noise. The Walker had stumbled into the large partition wall that divided the military section from the main hall and the force had caused a large potion of the wall to collapse with the suit crashing down on top of it. The kerosene lanterns which had lined the rather sturdy wall smashed open upon the floor and one of them must have come into contact with something flammable
or perhaps sparks were created by the wall crashing down? Whatever had happened, flames suddenly leapt up, snaking along the partition, catching on the large curtains at the back of the hall. Louis looked around, trying desperately to catch sight of Davenport or the women.
The Count found himself caught up in the throng of the crowd, being swept along into the main area of the exhibition hall. The fire had spread rapidly, the lavish decorations and scattered plants had done nothing to help the situation and smoke was already filling the hall, the lack of doors meaning that the smoke was being contained almost entirely within the glass structure.
Somewhere behind him Louis heard glass shattering, one of the walls having succumbed to the heat, shattering before exploding outwards. The rush of oxygen did nothing but fuel the flames and Louis found himself suddenly struggling for air despite the now gaping hole in the side of the military wing.
Davenport pointed Skye and Aurora to the door, quickly sliding his respiratory mask over his face, securing it behind his ears.
Get out of here, his muffled voice shouted, get to the ship and be prepared for takeoff. I want to see if I can find the Count.
Skye nodded and grabbed Auroras forearm, pulling her towards the doors as they snaked through the crowds. Skye was perfect for this kind of movement, having learned to move swiftly through the large groups of people gathered in London whilst simultaneously avoiding whoever it was she had stolen from that particular occurrence.
Davenport turned back to the room, the crowds were thinning a little now, but he still found it very difficult to fight against the ebbing waves of people back into the room. The smoke was no longer a problem for his breathing, but despite the fact that he had now pulled his goggles down for protection, his eyes were still streaming from the fumes. Charles came to a halt just short of tripping over the Captain and he crouched a little, speaking as loudly as he could to get the mans attention.
Captain! His voice was still muffled, but he shouted almost at the top of his voice to ensure he was heard. We need to get out of here!
The urgency was clearly lost on Louis as he played with the analogue computer on his wrist. Charles shook his head as he could now barely see a thing due in part to the thick smoke and in part to the fact that his goggles were not improving his vision, they merely protected his sensitive eyes.
The lieutenant felt Louis touch his shoulder and turned towards him as the Captain began to move with purpose in a direction that seemed as good as any to him. Charles knew he had never really had a great sense of direction and his map reading was poor enough not to make up for this in the slightest. Still, the smoke did appear to be getting thinner the further they walked
I hope you know where youre going! Davenport told Louis.
Louis was still holding his handkerchief over his mouth and struggling to keep smoke out of his lungs, so he thought it best not to answer, especially now as the Telescopic Diagnostician locked on the brightest source of light, drawing his attention to an opening!
With a strong pull, the Count burst into fresh air, pulling Davenport with him. He doubled over, his hands against his knees as he coughed and spluttered, his lungs trying desperately to rid themselves of the poisons they had been forced to endure. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Louis stood up straight again and walked over to the nearest fountain, unfolding the handkerchief he had been holding to his mouth. The Count dipped this into the water, ringing out most of the moisture before wrapping it around his face and tying it so that it lay just below the Telescopic Diagnostician.
There were fleeing people everywhere, frantically attempting to escape the now burning ruin of the building. Several security personnel could be seen hurrying to the scene, trying as best they could to facilitate an orderly evacuation, a bucket chain was established in a desperate plea to quell the flames but it was quickly clear it was nowhere near enough. In the sky above, the airships of several different nations could be seen, clearly attracted by the smoke. Rope ladders were being thrown over the sides and crew scurried down in an attempt to lend assistance to their colleagues.
I shall need as clear eyes as possible. Louis spoke to himself, walking past Davenport back towards the exhibition hall.
Count, are you mad!? Charles asked, rushing to his friend to stand in front of him, blocking the way back into the still smoking building.
Charles, get back to the ship! Something tells me that this was no accident and this means that we might be in danger. I want your skills available to Tabitha should any problems arise. Louis smiled and placed a hand on the lieutenants shoulder. I would prefer that you do not take off without me, but I trust you and Tabby together will be able to use keen judgement and leave me if the need arises.
You stubborn bastard! Fine, go back in, but Im coming with you! Davenport smirked.
No, I order you to go back to the ship. Christ, if I have to pull rank with you Charles, I bloody well will do so! Louis face contorted into a somewhat pained expression.
Understood, Captain. Davenport replied, his face now stoic and emotionless. If this was how the Count wanted to play things, then that was fine.
Thank you. Take care and I hope to see you soon. Put a pot of tea on for me would you? Louis asked with a wink of his uncovered eye before he turned and limped towards the hall, modifying the computer on his arm once more.
Theres bravery and then there is stupidity. Charles spoke to himself before he turned to run towards the civilian docking stations.
Louis ducked low as he moved, his knee still paining him greatly but the adrenaline in his system numbing the pain somewhat as he tried to breathe carefully. The Telescopic Diagnostician was struggling but he was only a few metres into the hall when it focussed on an object to the left, bringing Louis attention to a woman who was frantically digging at some fallen rubble.
Miss, we need to get out of here now! There is no telling how stable this structure is now! It could come down at any moment! The Count told her, taking to his left knee beside her.
MY HUSBAND! She screamed, looking at Louis with tears streaming down her face, rivulets of water ending in a steady dripping. Her once white dress was blackened with soot and ash, her hands bleeding from digging through a mixture of metal, wood and glass which was clearly covering her loved one.
Go, I shall dig for him! You get to safety now! Louis told her, roughly pushing her away from the fallen rubble.
I cannot leave him! She spoke back to him, her accent holding a twang of Italian within it.
Either go and possibly live or stay and die! Would he want you dying in attempt to help him!? Louis called to her, his tone angry. She reluctantly nodded and scrambled to her feet, kicking off her shoes to run towards the exit.
A scream permeated the air and Louis stood slowly, his monogoggle alerting him to a child who was sat against a currently intact wall. The young boy was hugging his knees to his chest and weeping uncontrollably. The Count looked down at the rubble and cursed himself but limped as quickly as possible over to the little boy.
Come on, we need to get you out of here little one!
Jai peur! He sobbed, looking up at his rescuer.
Ne ten fais pas mon ami, tout va bien aller! Louis responded.
While he was French in bloodline, his parents had actively discouraged him from learning the language, but as he had gotten older, most things his mother and father had told him were nothing more than reverse psychology for him. The little boy had told him he was scared and Louis had told him that he should not worry and that it would be alright. The boys face responded and he lifted his hands to the Count, wanting to be picked up.
Louis swore under his breath as he lifted the child, who must have been only six or seven, into his arms, allowing him to wrap his arms around his neck and his legs around his waist as best as possible.
Count de Theudubert moved with much effort, the pain in his leg causing him a great deal of agony, especially with the extra weight that was being added to it. His teeth clenched together as he all but dragged his right leg along with him, the childs safety was paramount and Louis knew that, if push came to shove, the boys life was more important than his own.
A splintering came from the left and Louis eyes widened as the partition wall began to fall in his direction but then suddenly stopped. A whirring sound followed and the wall moved to the left before falling next to the Valkyries Captain.
The black and gold mechanical arm retracted back towards the fire engine, four men on top of it controlling the machine with expert precision. One man stood at each of the arms controls, a third at the main water cannon which was currently still aimed back into what was left of the military wing and the fourth, whom Louis recognised as the Chief despite the fact that all of them were wearing the same masks as each other.
The man at the left arm controls gave Louis a quick salute before the fire engine began to move forward, the man on the water cannon adjusting the aim as they moved. The entire team moved almost in unison, skilled at working so perfectly together, making the machine almost seem alive as it moved along.
Louis shouted, HEY! at the top of his lungs, causing the fire chief to look in his direction. The Count pointed at the rubble he had been at what seemed like a lifetime ago, but in reality only a few moments had passed.
The chief nodded and signalled to the man on the right arm.
It was then that the Captain continued towards the exit, hoping that he was moving in the correct direction as he was unable to reset the Telescopic Diagnostician with the child in his arms.
The light began to get clearer and Louis thanked whatever deities existed as they entered clean air once more. The boy had fallen unconscious in his arms and Louis dropped onto one knee, lowering the child to the ground. Ripping the handkerchief from his face and throwing his top hat to one side Louis leant down to listen to the boys breathing. It was laboured, but it was present. He was alive but had possibly passed out from the shock of it all.
* * * * *
Louis and Davenport were both sat in the medical bay of the Valkyrie, their beds close enough that had they reached out they could have touched each other. They had been sitting in silence for several minutes, tension rife in the air.
The rescue mission had been a success, however. The child was safe and reunited with both of his parents who had survived and were incredibly grateful. Half the way back to the ship, Louis had collapsed and needed to be supported back in. He had blacked out shortly after arriving back on the Valkyrie.
The Captain had been stripped of his jacket, gloves, gadgetry and waistcoat, leaving him to unfasten his own tie and remove a few buttons of his shirt. His cufflinks came off next and he simply allowed them to fall from his grip before rolling his sleeves up away from his now bare hands. Parts of the fingers of the gloves had been difficult to remove, the fabric attempting to join with his skin due to the heat and the burns he had suffered.
His lungs were struggling even now, his smoke inhalation had reached quite dangerous levels, even with the handkerchief at his face. The Count had been told that had he not used it, he would likely be dead right now. That was not including the severe heat exhaustion he had suffered. His face was not only covered with soot as he had emerged, but burning had occurred around the Telescopic Diagnostician, which had done a good job of protecting that one eye.
Davenport had lost even more clothing, his entire top half exposed to the cool air of the HMS Valkyrie and Sweden. He was looking away from Louis, staring at the wall to his right rather than look at the Captain. It was still unclear to him exactly why Elizabeth had forced him to stay here for observation. His eyes were much improved and with his breathing apparatus his lungs would not have suffered as Louis had
Still, some superficial burns were present around his torso from the heat and Dr. Knight had ordered him to stay put.
That was a stupid risk you took. Davenport told him, his eyes narrowed despite the fact that Louis would not be able to see them. His head did not turn in the Counts direction, instead content to fall back against the pillow as he continued to stare at the wall.
Oh come now Charles! You make it sound as if you would have not done the same thing in my position! Louis responded, coughing at the end of the sentence.
I have no attachments, sir, the lieutenants last word was laced with venom, whereas you have an entire crew not only dependant upon you, but practically in love with you. You are needed here and you could have been throwing that all away!
To save a childs life, Charles. That alone was worth the risk. Louis told his friend, smiling faintly, his tone gentle, hoping to entice his friend to agree with him.
The fire crew would have saved him. That is not only their job, it is their calling. Davenport fired back, still refusing to look at the Count.
You wished to come with me!
I have breathing apparatus! You could have died!
It would have been-
Louis sentence fell short and Davenports expected reply never came. The lieutenant finally turned around with a shocked expression to see Dr. Elizabeth Knight standing between the beds, each of her hands outstretched to Louis and Charles.
Davenports gaze followed her arm down, reaching her hand and then the syringe within it, the needle point embedded deep into his arm as she finished administering the injection.
This might shut you both up
Elizabeth said, smirking almost cruelly as she withdrew the needle from each of them.
Louis and Davenport looked up at her and then at each other, the shock of what felt like a betrayal evident in both faces as they were united again. Their vision faded and both collapsed back onto their own beds.
The doctor laughed gently.
I fear I shall pay for that later