Wallasey, crowned by New Brighton is the very northern tip of the rectangular Wirral peninsular whose other corners could be chosen as the townships of Ellesmere Port in the east, West Kirby in the west and the village of Parkgate in the south.
It was a plainclothes Sergeant Goodwood who dismounted a friendly Hovis delivery driver’s truck on the outskirts of Parkgate carrying a stuffed and battered attaché case. A battered old homburg was rammed down on his blond haired head and the Sunday best suit had seen better days. Only his uniform boots, well polished, would have distinguished him from a common-or-garden man looking for work. At first he had perversely welcomed the ‘Kenton murder.’ It had been a change from the relentless tedium of directing traffic and removing broken glass from bare foots of beach playing kids. Something other than escorting whacker drunks to the ferry and banging up Wallasey’s own in Hope Street to sleep it off. Some excitement, some adventure at last as the thrill of gripping burglars and raiding illegal drinking dens had lost it’s charm.
He wandered through the village streets that Lady Hamilton had tottered as a youngster before finding fame as Lord Nelson’s mistress. Eventually finding himself at a broad squat alehouse called ‘The Boathouse.’ Slipping in he ordered a pint and took a seat from the plenty available looking over the marsh and Dee at surly Welsh mountains. Retrieving a Times from the attaché case and pretended to read while hearing the barman decrying ‘working class scum’ to his wife in the kitchen.
No, the case had not been exciting. The London coppers had wandered around like headless chickens for a while and consumed a lot of beer. It had been the Wallasey police who’d been kept in the dark as apparently key witnesses disappeared and two more murders had occurred. Goodwood couldn’t give a damn about the death of that stuffed India shirt Sir Archibald but Charlotte had been a good kid. Well - actually she’d been a bloody idiot but she didn’t deserve to get murdered by a yank in the middle of the North Sea. Goodwood ruffled the paper to himself in anger.
Well he wasn’t going to get a reckoning with the Yank anytime soon. But he could try and get the original murder of the other American cleared up. The Cockneys had disappeared off into the blue with their ministry minders while a Liverpool detective Superintendent had been assigned to the case. He was a Superintendent Kelly who matched the descriptions of a man who’d lead of bunch of heavies raiding a terraced house rented under the name ‘Jack Smith’ in Poluton. At least that’s what Goodwood’s contacts had said. He could see the fat officious little moustachioed prig now commandeering offices and officers while putting on airs and graces. He had no visible Ministry contact but since that Wilson had disappeared perhaps he’d stayed behind operating through Kelly. No matter it was time for some of the honour of the Wallasey police to be restored – not for the press D-notices had seen that wasn’t a problem, but for self-respect and justice. It had been a revelation that the Chief Constable had felt the same.
A undistinguished looking old man in an expensive if worn suit entered the pub and with a nod to Goodwood ordered a half of brown ale from the barman. He curtly and efficiently came along side the Sergeant.
“Mr Goodwood?” the voice was Home Counties and educated.
“Aye, feel free.” Goodwood moved his seat to allow the smaller man to get to a chair opposite.
Once sat and having removed his raincoat and placed his pint and hat on the table the newcomer leant forward and shook the policeman’s hand. Goodwood noticed the mason’s grip and responded though he was himself a buffalo it wouldn’t do any harm.
“Sir Bernard Spilsbury.”
“Good of you to come,” said Goodwood leaning back.
“Indeed” whispered Spilsbury still slouched forward resting on his elbows his hands steepled. “Your Chief Constable Ormerod’s request was most irregular Sergeant.”
“But understandable considering the circumstances I’m sure you’ll agree.” Said Goodwood fishing out a Senior Service before offering one to Spilsbury.
“No thank you I’m a pipe man – yes, well you have the reports?”
“Yes” Goodwood lit the fag, “ in the case” which he passed over with out further ado. If anyone could see something missed it would be the pathologist that had solved Crippen, the Brides in the bath murders and the Brighton Trunk case.
Goodwood sat for a good two hours reading his paper, sipping pints and walking along the marsh wall all the while smoking cigarettes. Every now and again the respected forensics man issued forth one-word pieces of punctuation as he scrawled notes. Eventually Sir Bernard beckoned him to join him.
“Sergeant. What you have here is gross incompetence in your forensic investigators.”
“That made sense they’d been provided by the Ministry.”
“Here, the victim clearly died from the shots to the lungs, from the descriptions of the tissue damage” Sir Bernard was not about to get technical with the well-meaning provincial. “Extensive internal bleeding had taken place, which would have drowned the victim, before any shotguns blasts were delivered to the body.”
“I see,” Goodwood lit a fag out of habit rather than desire.
“I estimate at least half an hour before in fact. Is the sketch map of the murder scene accurate and to scale?”
“Yes,” exhaled Goodwood.
“Then I’d say that you’re looking at more than one exchange of shots. The revolver rounds were .455 Webley common as muck but your ballistics man failed to note the twist on the bullet.”
“Twist?” Goodwood took another drag.
“Twist - a bullet is spun by grooves in the barrel these leave a distinctive mark. Which if you have the firearm can identify the weapon but can in any case identify the model and mark. Like a tire tread can help identify a car. It is gross incompetence of your ballistics man not to note the grooves correspond to the unique Webley-Fosbery revolver.”
“It’s an automatic revolver, clumsy, heavy and sensitive to dirt.”
“Why would anyone use the bugger then?”
“Because it has a tight gas seal. It can be silenced.”
“But people clearly heard shots - ”
“Very common for silencers to fail after the first couple of rounds – furthermore the two rounds in the victim are from different revolvers the one in the boat matches the one which penetrated the corpses right chest. The shooters of the fatal shots could have been shooting the boat. But that’s conjecture. The shotgun injuries are interesting.”
It was now Goodwood who was leant forward, “How come?”
“First delivered post mortem – why? Second both applied to the chest area – fore and back – why?”
“You have a theory.”
“I have a certainty but I’m unsure of why.’ Bernard reached for his pipe and started to fill it but didn’t interrupt his exposition. ‘Fragments of white fish like flesh was found in the area of the shotgun wounds. The report assigns this to the aftermath of the victim’s visits to the chipshop. Balderdash, the direction of blast means that this is not material from the stomach. Unless the murders are in the habit of decorating their corpses with fish flakes – the material was already in or on the victim’s chest at the time of the desecration. Don’t expect me to explain why.”
The pathologist lit his pipe.
“I also think your victim was carrying something – heavy rope burns in the right hand some form of drawstring kitbag or satchel. Quite a weight in it, judging by the depth of the scaring. To be honest there is little else I can do unless - ”
“Unless you can get me to the body – it’s been several weeks in the ground but I may see something left out of the report. Incidentally I think the report was written so it could be claimed as incompetence if re-investigated later. They could have just lied – instead they just didn’t link data or draw the logical conclusions.”
“Unusual, maybe the person writing the report wanted to get word out but could risk it directly?”
“Perhaps. Can we get to the corpse?”
“It’s buried but I’ve discussed the possibility with Mr Ormerod.”
“What are we waiting for?”
It was a wet night and under tarpaulin Goodwood and a couple of select constables dug steadily. The gothic church and separate ruined bell tower of St Hilary’s leering over them. Chief Constable John Ormerod was taking the vicar and his wife for dinner. Kelly was being beaten at darts in the Nags Head by some of ‘A’ relief’s heavier drinkers. Reliable men were guarding the phones at the station. High walls covered the scene from passers by and householders.
They struck wood.
Slipping in the mud they struggled with the corporation coffin, already suffering from the attention of worms. The flimsy lid was flipped off. Sir Bernard uncovered his lamp under he shelter of the tarpaulin and began to poke and prod indifferent to the wretched odour that was causing the constables such consternation. From within the coffin a small engineered insect left with a trail of its mother nature evolved cousins to report to it’s own mother.
For about an hour Spilsbury took samples and checking tissue in a fascinated and detached manner. Unheard by the uncomfortable officers over the drumbeat of the rain on tarpaulin, a car growled up to the churchyard gates.
“Fuck this, I’m going to get some fresh air,” informed Goodwood popping out in the rain as it eyes adjusted to the dark he could see four heavy set figures manoeuvring behind gravestones. There head and shoulders sticking out from the sunken path from the street. He saw one point something at him and dived for the floor. A bullet travelled quietly terminating in a smack as it connected with the stone of Goodwood’s cover producing a puff of dust.
The other two constables came running only to be cruelly cut down by silent bullets when silhouetted by lamplight.
Sir Bernard killed the lamp and dived into the vacated grave – grabbing an unclaimed spade for a last ditch defence. Goodwood made series of low dashes towards the church. His eyes adjusted now there were four of them, All armed. If he could draw them off Spilsbury could get away with his results. A salvo of shoots pinned him of the edge of the graveyard gravestone dust raining on him from suppressing fire.
“I don’t fancy an ironical death” he whispered.
The nearest was about three yards away from the laboured breathing. The others between six and twelve yards. The it hit Goodwood if he could hear him breathe he wasn’t shooting. Reloading? Worth the risk.
He launched himself out from the gravestone and caught the nearest assassin as he was just slapping his reloaded cylinder back into the revolver. Shots from other whistled past him as a size twelve boot caught the gunman under the chin sending him flying upward and back. Grabbing him by the neck Goodwood smacked out his anger on the nearest gravestone with the man’s skull. Recoiling, his hands and clothed coated in grey ooze he dived back for the released gun as a round stabbed him in the shoulder.
The third gunman was making for the grave tearing the tarpaulin out of the way he caught a spade blade in the groin and collapsed into a ball of pain. Sir Bernard kept him down with a savage two-handed chopping motion of the spade on his prostrate form – adrenaline empowering his slight frame.
In pain, Goodwood fired three bullets blindly at the direction of the shot. A near accurate double tore up the earth around him as he crawled on his back behind the meagre cover of a flat grave.
He heard the click of a hammer on a empty cylinder – propped up for a look around and saw the remaining gunman running at him with shotgun who then dropped to fire. A blast carried the revolver out of Goodwood’s hand, grazing the skin of his face and powdering the surface of the grave. The figure stood atop the grave now pumped another round and dropped the barrel towards the prostrate Goodwood.
A shot rang out.
Stunned the shotgun carrier turned slumped his knees and fell back clutching his throat as a startled Sir Bernard, whose profession was death, had killed his second man. The revolver was dropped as he ran forward to see if the policemen were all right.
The survivors lay in beds in Mill Lane hospital. Sir Spilsbury under a mountain of blankets filled with a lake of sweet tea as the nurses waited for the shock to subside. Goodwood under bandages, dying for a fag.
Outside the closed ward voices could be heard. Kelly decrying the Chief Constable, Mr Ormerod shouting him down – the Lord Mayor interjecting regarding the summer season - only to be shouted down by both policemen.
This went on for some time. Sir Spilsbury recovered enough to make some phone calls. Phone calls to his fraternal brothers. Shortly afterwards a missive came from London returning jurisdiction in the case to the Wallasey Borough Police with Sir Bernard attached as an advisor. However any and all reports still had to be copied into the Ministry via Liverpool Special Branch in the personage of Kelly and nothing was to be released to the Press who happily accepted the firecracker and vandalism cover story for the events of that night.
The next few days Goodwood assisted the pathologist with his examination of the corpses – including a proper examination of Kenton junior that confirmed Sir Bernard’s suspicions of the original autopsy.
Furthermore the brain and spinal column of the original murder victim seemed to be afflicted with strange legions the doctors couldn’t identify.
Of the gunmen two were identified as local men with a history of suspected white-collar crime but not what you’d call hardened villains. The third, the shotgunner was identified as a Dieter Hoffman, a Austrian adventurer believe killed fighting against the Italians in Rhodes ’23 who’d been involved in revolution crushing in Germany and his homeland, smuggling aiding the Yugoslav secret service and many things the ministry couldn’t divulge. The funny thing was his description wasn’t exact, schlager scars where slightly out of place and his ears too long.
Even more mysterious was strange still living teardrop about six inches long and at it’s broadest four inches. It was best likened to a skinless eyeless fish due to the translucent flakiness of it’s flesh. Sir Bernard found inside the chest of Hoffman. The texture and composition of its flesh coincided with the material inside Kenton Junior that seemed untouched by normal decay. Hoffman had similar legions on his neck and spinal column but their cause was evident as thin tendrils of flesh connected to the fishy lump. It was extracted by Sir Bernard and kept under examination in the police station.
And deep under the ground it’s mother screamed.
The two men sat in the operating theatre that had been their home for the last few days. Goodwood still bandaged but healing and Sir Bernard back to his old self.
The phone went and Good wood answered, coming back after a few minutes, “That was the station on the guns used” a shiver went up Sir Bernard’s spine.
“As we expected Sir Bernard the same Webley-Fosbery revolvers as used in Kenton Junior’s killing.. Shotgun wounds matched hunting weapons in the men’s houses – must have been used later to cover up the fishy business,” Goodwood smiled at his pun. “Having checked with the families the men didn’t
have an alibi for the night of our original murder.”
“The original murder and still puzzling murder.”
“Well we seem to have – if only by accident, got the murderers.” Goodwood opened a window and fished in his breast pocket for his fags.
“But no motive?”
“Well there’s also the fact that both Kenton Junior and Hoffman had funny parasites.”
“Indeed, and both had slight imperfections compared with the original.”
“Your saying we’ve got a Hoffman junior?” Having located his cigarettes Goodwood lit one.
“Assuming the Viennese police records are correct and the Italians aren’t lying - yes.”
“So whose producing look a likes of globe trotting rogues?”
“And why? Let me show you something Goodwood.” Spilsbury removed a small matchbox from his coat pocket. The larger man wandered over to examine its contents and adjusted his position so he wasn’t blocking the light. Inside were a couple of frantic insects each with an enlarged thorax.
“Ugly little buggers.”
“More than that – unique.”
“That word again.”
“Much more unique than a small order of bizarre automatic revolvers. These are the survivors of a batch I have taken the liberty of showing to Professors of Entomology in Liverpool and wiring their conclusions to esteemed professors across their globe. These are an unknown species, - completely unknown here in England.”
“Could a come of a boat Sir Bernard, we get ships filled with all sorts here you know.”
“Indeed you’re right – but when examined their flesh – within the thorax and other parts corresponds with that of the curious guest in Hoffman and Kenton juniors’ chests. Unlike the flesh of any insect known to man.”
“I’m going to issue a request to your Chief Constable that his men keep a lookout concentrations of these animals – they may lead us to the very source of this mystery.”
Attentive insects scuttled off with the news.
The news was received with interest. Within the ancient mind addled by elixirs of life needed to keep it’s mutated host alive the Mother began to squirm. It was Wilmarth, or Harpenden all over again. Things had begun to go wrong when the Kenton duplicate had begun to override it’s programming, like all duplicates had done eventually. The Brotherhood’s agents had performed their duty only to fail to find the Key. Not that she felt she could trust the Brotherhood anymore they had been out of her direct control since the mutiny and probably had their own agenda.
Things could not be allowed to go wrong, not so close to the time. It as bad enough that the Key had into the hands of the criminal element who had found her ears and rooted them out, but now that these bumbling humans may be close to finding her lair - it could not be allowed. Should this phase be missed she would be imprisoned her amongst these hormonal carbonites waiting further centuries till the bliss of dying with her own kind. She could not bear that, and it was unlikely her host’s body would survive that long.
Unfortunately for her pheromones are not the quickest of communication forms compared with telephone and police car and before long Sir Spilsbury had received communications regarding sightings of the insects.
A Wallasey Police black SS Jaguars with chromium-plated radiators and headlamp surrounds parked adjacent to the sea wall. it joined a Ford V8 and the Chief Constable’s Vauxhall saloon containing the Chief, Goodwood and Sir Spilsbury. Together the vehicles formed a pride of gasoline fuelled big cats purring at the choppy sea. The Ministry had been left out of the loop. Mufflers and hats or helmets held tight against the wind Sir Spilsbury examined a map of the town on the bonnet of the Vauxhall as various officers pointed out were concentrations had been seen. Dale View before the pest controller had done his work, the marshy common between Bidston and Leasowe, other locations in New Brighton and around the church.
“Does anything connect these locations Chief Constable?”
“Well, it’s long shot but..” The Constable tweaked his shallow moustache. His native Mancunian accent had been all but obliterated from his time serving with Earl Haig’s BEF staff.
“Out with it man!” The thickset officer locked his square jaw in anger and then answered.
“These all correspond with old reputed tunnel entrances used by a local smuggling network in the sixteenth century - long bricked up and built on.” He stroked with medal ribbons on the left breast of his uniform jacket.
“Are they mapped?” Sir Spilsbury couldn’t care less about the Chief’s Medialle d’Honneur, Military BEM or meritorious service medal.
“Not to my knowledge some say the Customs mapped them years ago but the plans have long been lost.”
“Any other entrances?”
“Excuse me Sirs” coughed Goodwood, “but as a kid we used to play down towards the sand dunes – there’s some cave entrances there, we always thought they connected up but were to chicken to go deep.”
“That’s right” seized the senior policeman, “we’ve had to effect rescues from there over the years.”
“With your permission Chief Constable?” Ormerod nodded to Spilsbury’s request and retreated to the warmth of the car. “Lead on Goodwood.”
The convoy of cars approached the humble caves in a series of grassy hillocks in common between New Brighton proper and the start of the dunes. Goodwood doffing his helmet to enter lead the party of the Chief Constable, Sir Spilsbury and six officers in the gnarled sandstone cavern. Each of the officers carried a length of rope picked up on route from a ship’s chandler and a lantern or electric torch. They all wore great coats and a three of the policemen including Goodwood carried cutlasses as well as truncheons. The centre of that was made of sinkhole that dropped to a smooth floor about eight-foot below. Slowly and with a number of officers helping the elderly pathologist down they assembled in the tall lean corridor. The Chief Constable gripped his service revolver for comfort and the three men carrying firearms likewise retrieved then from within their uniform jackets.
They followed that corridor for a good while the silence only being broken by Goodwood saying “this is where we turned back as kids” after fifteen minutes. Eventually they reached split in the corridor a short walk up the left showed that it resulted in a bricked wall – from the men’s calculations a legendary entrance down the Mersey coast at Egremont near the town hall. Returning to the divide they walked down the descending corridor that sank quite deeply. They grasped their illumination tighter.
“Interesting Mr Ormerod, these passages are straight and dry – definitely dug by an intelligence not natural phenomenon.” Sir Bernard’s nervous commentary was cut short as a cry came from Macintosh, the lead constable in the party, followed by a the smash of a torch and clatter of dropped equipment. As the rest of the party rushed forward to see – Goodwood, now in the lead had to brace himself against the walls screaming “Back off there’s a sheer drop!” repeatedly.
The press of men threatened to plunge him on top of the fallen PC Macintosh. Soon the Chief Constable joined the fray holding back those behind him and man handling those in front less they cause Goodwood and themselves to plummet down on the hard rock were Macintosh nursed a twisted ankle. As things calmed above him the young constable cried “There’s a bloomin’ big cave here like! Covered in glowing muck.”
With order restored the party descended by ropes to the cave. Leaving anchored ropes above with a brace of men and the injured so they might be escape in a hurry if needed up the slimy slope. “Great Scott! What’s this illuminating mould Sir Bernard?”
“I’m afraid I’m a pathologist not a botanist Mr Ormerod, but it’s nothing I’ve heard of.”
“This cave’s massive” added Goodwood lighting a fag before refixing his helmet. “It’s got to be at least as tall as the Cathedral so that’s what 360 feet?”
“Something like that” added the sturdy and gargantuan figure of Constable Henry polishing his glasses.
“Where’s that dripping coming from?” queried the robust PC Condor cocking his Webley.
“Somewhere in the distance. Best not worry Constable.” Affirmed the Chief holstering his revolver for emphasis.
“Probably carries a distance on that damned wind.” Said Goodwood tightening his muffler as the chill swirled around the myriad stalagmites and stalactites into his very bones.
‘Exactly right Constable Goodwood. My word what a host of anthropoids!” Shining his torch Sir Bernard exposed one part of a host of insects covering much of the caves floor.
“They mainly seem to be the little buggers we’re after.” Said Henry peering through freshly polished specs.
“Shotgun job this.” And with that Condor holstered his revolver only to produce a sawn off pump action shotgun from inside his coat. Preening his rakish ginger moustache as he held it one handed, butt against his hip.
“We will discuss that” pointing to the shotgun, “LATER Constable.” Said the Chief Constable, ‘there seem to be scorpion like things amongst them Sir Bernard.
“As stated before I am not an entomologist. But yes there does and a trite large at six inches.” The scientist bit on a unlit pipe, deep in thought.
“They’ll be more scared of us than we are them” said Constable Harding holding his lantern out a he walked at the crawling clicking rug of bugs. His hawked nosed face beaming in confidence. A few moments passed as he strode out into their midst and yes the mass did part like the Red Sea for Moses.
“Let’s get to the bottom of this!” issued the Chief Constable striding forth. Goodwood, Henry, Sir Bernard followed. PC Condor brought up the rear, pointing his shotgun at particularly threatening mounds of insects as he followed. Macintosh and his two companions waved goodbye, praying for their return.
They strode on dwarfed by flanking towers of rock.
“Basalt? Common here Chief Mr Ormerod?”
“I’m a policeman not a geologist, Sir Bernard but I’ve never seen it.”
“Strange shape it has, jutting out like that.”
“If you say so Sir Bernard.”
The ground underfoot became first damp, and then carpeted in mosses, and an increasingly musty smell permeated the air. Between this dank and the wind the men chattered to ease their fear. Under the head of Sir Bernard they discussed local pubs, gossip and football in a false atmosphere of ‘hail fellow well met.’
They reached a spring an upwelling from the rock, running off through a cutting cut by the undeground stream. “That air smell’s fresh” said Harding, “we could escape and come back with more men –maybe borrow some volunteers from the fort?”
“Sound suggestion Harding press on.”
“I’m sure these insects are following us, Chief Constable” came a voice behind a trained shotgun.
“Heedless paranoia Condor. Forward”
“Watch it! It’s slippy!” Shouted Harding and the body secured everything they could it free their hands. Even Condor shouldering his precious shotgun by it’s sling. They had to brace themselves and Goodwood fastened a safety rope between himself and the aged pathologist lest he lose his footing. The professor was as nimble as a mountain goat his scientific curiosity seemed to give him the agility of a younger man as they plunged deeper, bracing against slime covered walls less they slip.
“A big Cave ahead, looks like more of that funny mould lighting it.” Passed on Harding and they came out in a large cavern faced with a peculiar site
“That” said Henry over his glasses, “is a bleeding battleship.”
“A bloody rusty one at that!” Said Condor raising his shotgun at the ground became sure.
“An ironclad to be certain gentlemen. Look at the guns - variable calibre and the oval hull, pre-dreadnought, later nineteenth century.” Asserted the Chief Constable.
“How the devil did it get here then sir?” queried Goodwood
“No idea. Let’s explore and find out.”
They found an anchor chain and drew themselves up it – the old man being hoisted by rope once the policemen had secured the deck. The decking was rotten but there were curiously few insects. Here and there was the odd discarded weapon – Martini Henry’s according to Condor – dating the ship’s disappearance after the 1860s.
“What a find, heh Sir Bernard. Sir Bernard?” The elder man stayed silent, ignoring Goodwood, he had not looked much at the deck but had been transfixed his mounting the deck, looking at the above the ship he had only been able to stop and stare.
“Sir Bernard?” Goodwood followed his eyes and he too was transfixed.
Above them was the familiar the swirling and murky water that surrounded and caressed the town. The here they we looking from below rather than above. Moon fish and other hardy surface dwellers swam above them without a care.
Goodwood silently tapped the other men with his bandaged hand and they joined him and Sir Bernard in silent wonder.
The spell was broken by a scream. Macintosh’s scream carrying far and away from the sanctuary he has his escort have been left. A bevy of broken shots also sounded as they descended from the wreck. Harding, the Chief Constable and Condor hurried on as Henry and Goodwood struggled to let the pathologist down gently.
Goodwood scrambled down the ship as Henry brushed down Sir Bernard. Further shots had been heard followed a rising clicking clacking sound. The younger men made their way to the crack by which they’d entered as Sir Spilsbury followed on. As Henry reached the mouth he was pushed aside by the Chief Constable striking clinging biting insects from his shoulders and neck with his smoking pistol barrel.
A chitenous mass swarmed out of the crack Goodwood and Henry retreating dragging the screaming Chief away from the crawling expanding brood. Sir Bernard also trotted ahead of them pointing and screaming to another exit from the cave. A midst the expanding horde of manipled malevolence came a stumbling once human figure covered in a biting clawing carnivorous mass his last energy losing shotgun shells into the accelerating anthropoids to whom he was only fuel to their bush fire.
“Condor!” shouted Goodwood as the man fell for the final time.
“Quickly!” screeched Sir Bernard his old vocal cords stretched to their peak and with that the four survivors plunged into their only exit. They climbed the tunnel as animals not men – nails, elbows teeth all were used in the fearful scramble for life and air as the click clacking pursuit sounded beneath and behind them growing ever closer.
They burst forth - a geyser of men into a smaller cavern. Gasping for air they paused instinctively aware that greater efforts would be needed before they were safe.
If only there had been another exit.
Again it was Sir Bernard who saw it first. Stretched out against the roof of the cave in a parody of woman. The others joined him in dreadful awe.
If the cavern was given four corners then it was here that the thing started. Once human fingers and toes stretched from inches into foot, spindly to the point of whiskers at their start formed into recognisable if elongated hands and feet. Then multiple jointed and stretched legs and arms arched up the cavern anchored here and there to the roof by collections of mucus collecting at the joints. The body was a pathetic thing human sized but with additional extremities. The great sickly tube that projected from between the legs anchored to wall to below where it produced sticky mounds of eggs. Carried off by scorpion creatures. The breasts, floppy and formless drooping absentmindedly from the body clusters of tubes at the nipples attached to banks of equipment along the walls of the cavern. It was equipment that had once been men. Their bones cracked into geometrical shapes each attended to by it own collection of six-inch scorpion things there claws manipulating tiny nodules of flesh as if dials and knobs forming a mass of biological industry which ringed the cavern, stray organs having escaped their fleshy confines received particular attention. All was finished in the same blue-grey translucent skin under which muscles and organs moved with an unclear purpose. Only the thing attached to the ceiling had the flicked of intelligence in it’s ancient eyes.
Here she had sat since she had first possessed Mother Redcap’s daughter all those centuries ago. The only good luck she’d had since the survey mission had crashed. From here when young and strong her duplicates had been able to span the world, her smaller brood had been efficient and swift and the search for the key had been co-ordinated. Now in her old age those powers had fitfully declined. The duplicate directing the Brotherhood had shaken off her control like a loose overcoat, the coterie within the Ministry had weaned away from her by darker powers, only the Chinaman remained half loyal and even his followers were distracted by their narcotic clashes and distorted discourses. At least she could occasionally prevail upon them – like getting the Brotherhood or secure the arms and men to dispatch the rogue Kenton duplicate. But like wilful children they have strayed from her grasp leaving her to pick up scraps of information. Human stubbornness and her own decline she had never been able to adjust to. Now there were trespassers – the brood would deal with them, but how she longed to die amongst her own kind - if she could only get the Orichalcum and signal home.
As the insectoid horde came running up the corridor the Chief Constable took careful aim and fired and the musing of the Mother came to a stop.
“That’s the end of that abomination Sir Bernard.”
The clock of the world stopped for a moment. A Swami in Calcutta felt a psychic impact and departed for the mountains. A stately occultist in Los Angeles abandoned his séance and retired to a mountain hunt in Alaska. Certain advisers to the Bishop of Rome made clear that the end times could be upon us. For Orichalcum was now just a matter for men and their pent up petty jealousies.
In George Street Dim Sum house, the master of the property shook and stumbled before realising he was free – and had matters to attend to in Cairo.
Without the controlling intelligence the body above the policemen and pathologist began to crumble to dust around them insects began to keel over and equipment to spark and burn. The force field holding the Irish Sea back collapsed and with a roar it returned to it’s proper depth. Without other exit the four surviving men crawled through the decomposing mass of dead insects down to the lip of the sea.
The Ironclad somehow natural now underwater glistened below them Henry went first with the Ormerod while Goodwood guided Sir Bernard – their lungs fit to burst they broached the surface and breathed fresh sweet air. Salt water stinging Goodwood’s wounds he thanked the Lord for the life service training he’d received as a policeman in a coastal town. Eventually being picked up by an Isle of Mann ferry. Everything was accounted for an the Ministry given it’s report while the Constable busied himself with informing relatives of their sons and husbands demises.
They were all signed to secrecy of course, bound by rituals of legalise and dire threat. This didn’t stop Sir Spilsbury telling the tale in the sanctity of his lodge to those whose ears were in the service of an older order. Nor did it stop Goodwood transcribing the affair and passing a copy to a friendly sailor, Egypt bound marked for the attention of ‘Sergeant Taylor, Metropolitan Police,’ he figured if they were likely to face anything like his party had they’d need all the warning they could get. Meanwhile cocaine addicted Professor of Entomology and senior mason received his second telegraph on a previously undiscovered species.