Sunday 17 September 2017

Deadlands - Tam's War: Sinking the Abysmal

Tam's food devoured, the enormity of the task before us starts to sink in. He wants us to destroy a warship - and not just any warship, but the most feared in all the Maze. Tesla's heard of something that might help. He pulls out his copy of the Smith & Robards catalogue and shows us: limpet mines. The price of them, though... and there's no guarantee we'd get them in time to meet Tam's deadline. Not ordering from Smith & Robards, anyway. Carson suggests approaching Dr Helstromme. The man terrifies me since seeing what he did to the area outside Lost Angels, but if he can provide us a tool like that, it would be useful. We send a telegram. We ask around to learn as much as we can of our target. What we learn frightens me more.

Even by my standards, I do not sleep well that night. Helstromme may be able to justify killing many to shorten his war, but I'm not so comfortable with it, even knowing that these people cause hurt, pain and fear along the coast. I resolve myself to it with thoughts of David and Jael and others in the Bible whose actions caused death, but the thought of what we are to do still raises bile.

In the morning, we return to Tam, finding him at breakfast. He eats distractingly slowly as we talk, but agrees to lend us a maze runner with a competent captain who has some knowledge of what it would take to break through the hull of a ghost-steel iron clad. A messenger is sent and Quan Dai arrives soon after. We're relieved to discover his English better than our broken Chinese. We agree to meet him at the dock the next day and head back to the Sunset Lodge to make our plans. Dillenger is running out of tea.

Another night of pre-emptive guilt and nightmares.

Charlie - Dr Helstromme's foreman - is waiting for us in the morning. Before anything, he points out that taking out Kang's warship will weaken the War Lord further, strengthening the Triads: take out a big fish, and things don't get better, other fish just get bigger. Even though we don't explain, he accepts we have our reasons and gives us 2 limpet mines. We owe Dr Helstromme a big  favour. A musketball of dread forms in my gut: we've earned this debt with a request for violence, so how will we be able to refuse if the payment required is similar? And with Dr Helstromme, I fear it will be.

Once Charlie's left, I raise this with the others. They don't seem concerned.

It's still early when we head out from the dock with Quan Dai, in his unnamed boat. An unnamed boat strikes me as ill-fortune, but he won't change it. My sense of foreboding grows.

We head towards where we've heard of recent sightings of the Abysmal, and soon find a burning mesa. This used to be a town called Boswell. Now it's a smouldering ruin. I throw up when I realise some of the wreckage are corpses, but Tesla spots something and the others go ashore. From my vantage point on the boat, I spot armed men heading towards the shore and am able to alert Tesla, Carson and Steve before they're seen. A short firefight follows - Tesla's badly hurt, but they win. Carson learns from one of the survivors that the warship will be returning for them the morning after tomorrow - the 12th October. We'll seek another mesa nearby, watch from there in the hopes it moors up overnight on the 11th and we can sneak over, but if necessary we can stay back and follow to attack it the next night.

A storm is on the horizon as we reach the second mesa. Tesla and I attempt to help Quan Dai prepare the boat while Steve and Carson take the row boat ashore. They haven't returned by the time the storm hits, leaving Tesla and I puking with the waves. The wind sounds like screaming - loud enough to drown out my nightmares, were any of us able to sleep that night. Steve and Carson return to let us know they survived the night, camped out in a cave that offered little shelter, then head back to the island to explore. I nap while Quan Dai hoses down Tesla - who bore the brunt of the weather's effects. I feel I've barely closed my eyes when Steve and Carson return with news: they've spotted a smokestack that could be our target. Despite my misgivings, my pulse quickens. It's too far away for action, and with the storm truly gone, too hot to sleep. The ship is still too far away when night comes and the temperature drops with those vagaries of the Maze. My teeth chatter. Tesla passes out with exhaustion and Steve moves him closer to the boiler. I curl up beside him to sleep while Carson and Steve keep watch.

I wake feeling refreshed. The Abysmal finally arrives, but we don't want to face it in the daylight. 3 small boats launch from it, each with a blue ogre aboard. The motor to the shore and quickly return. A fourth ogre appears on the deck with a woman - the autogyro pilot from the attack on the Good Intentions, Red Petal Su. She and one ogre go back to the shore, come back and she hops into the autogyro and flies east, towards Dragon's Breath. The Abysmal moves off soon after and we cautiously follow to another mesa, where it docks at a jetty by a cave. Steve arranges harnesses for Tesla and I, and we lower the rowboat, capsize and ballast it. I strip down to my shirt, then dive under with Tesla and the mines. It holds a little air pocket for our journey and gives us some buoyancy.

It's cold and dark under the water, murky with silt. We find the Abysmal all the same. Tesla fits the first mine and we steer the little boat round to the other side so he can fit the second. Time seems unreal down here, but he measures carefully so that they'll blow at the same time - with enough time for us to be far away. We start to move away, but a rumbling warns us the Abysmal is moving and the eddies disorient us. When I next surface, we're under jetty. I can hear people running around above, but it seems safe enough for us here for now, but we can't stay here forever. We creep along under the jetty to reach the island, then creep around the island to the other shore. We can hear dull rattling and thuds: cannon and gunfire.

We climb up the shore in time to hear our mines working beautifully, and continue round to seek the others.

It doesn't take long to find the wreck of our boat, Carson frantically searching through the remains. We catch him, try and calm him. It takes time, but eventually he explains the Abysmal attacked them. Quan Dai had a heart attack at the wheel, while Steve went down with the cannon fire that destroyed the boat. Carson himself is lucky to have survived. We help him search, but there's no sign of Steve.

Everything I'd left aboard the boat is gone. The gun is no great loss - couldn't use it anyway - but the hat was one I liked, and the boots had worn to that perfect point. No trousers and no coat could be a problem too. All distractions to forget there's no Steve. We make camp, cremate Quan Dai.

My hat washes up on the beach.

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