November 7, 2012 by Steampunkish Graphic Novels
Having just stepped out of the gunsmith shop, the man headed across the street to a telegraph office.
“Meeting failed. Stop. Found strange item, investigating. Stop. Requesting orders, return or continue current objective? Stop.”
The man looked at his written message and handed it over to the operator for transmission. He left the telegraph office, disconcerted and unhappy. It didn’t matter what they responded with this time, really. It was clear that something was afoot. Finding such a strange piece out there, beyond civilization, spoke volumes. What mattered now was finding the source, and that was something he would track no matter what, unless William himself objected – but that was highly unlikely.
He turned and looked down the street. The horse-drawn balloons known as Mules were coming into Philadelphia for the day, taking goods to market. A peaceful scene to anybody else, the vessels glided in on the morning sunlight…but it made him shudder. In his mind he saw bombshells going off. Rifles firing. He had seen the battlefield from above many, many times – and those damned Mules had made the whole affair look like a bloody factory.
He knew the value they represented now, how horses could practically gallop down poorly maintained roads with those balloons trailing behind them. There was no wagon wheels to fall into holes, no troublesome stream crossings to worry about, no typical obstructions to slow their steady progress. They could bring in fresh produce from 50 miles away within hours instead of the days required by oxen cart. But for him, seeing them was a reminder of their original purpose: hauling off the injured and soon-to-be-dead for the surgeons.
It instinctively made him look down at his left arm, remembering its connection to these vehicles. He turned it over, noting the twitching, unusual movements and shook his head. It was becoming hard to hide it at this point. At least now he would soon be able to get ‘medicine’ as he preferred to call it.
Making his way across the street, he was eager to enter the bar. While it was early for a drink, the last few days had been hard on him and he just didn’t care anymore. He had earned his pay many times over, that was for certain. A moment’s peace was in order, inasmuch as that could happen at all.
Then, just before entering the door, a crack snapped through the air.
He hit the ground immediately, looking around. Overreaction to a buggy-whip again? No, people around him were startled too – definitely a real gunshot. He rolled over and grabbed his revolver, aiming it into the street.
The culprit was running down an alley. Intending to give chase, he rose to his feet quickly. He noted the divide of the crowd, betraying where the man had just come from. His eyebrows raised in alarm.
The telegraph office.