AN: The final chapter of the second installment of "A New Hand for a New Century" is at hand. I want to thank all of my lovely readers who keep me writing. This is for you guys. hugs all
Chapter Forty: Bond, Halcon, and Kenya
Mongolian Wastes, outside the remains of M's Fortress…
In front of the smoking, crumbling fortress, a British soldier raised his head over the snowy slope. Beside him, another head appeared, peering at the destruction. Then another, and another.
Finally, two hundred soldiers in winter uniforms marched together through the snow: a combined British and American force that trudged across the wind-swept steppes.
Several heavy icebreaker ships were moored in the far distance at a wide point of the frozen Amur River. Slabs of ice had ground up their armored hulls as they had battered their way up the channel, until they encountered the Nautilus. Soldiers and officers continued to disembark, though all that remained were the mopping-up chores.
A few surviving henchmen and Mongolian guards fled into the distance across the empty hills, searching for peasant settlements to pillage or take refuge in. Black, greasy fumes curled into the sky from a collapsed chimney. With a low rumble, another minor explosion blew out a side wall.
On their way back to the submarine vessel, the Nautilus's crew had corralled hundreds of Moriarty's escaping workers and guards; other crewmen now tended to the rescued scientists who were reunited with their hostage family members.
Bandaged and battered, the remaining members of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, no longer part of the military action, sat, wrapped in blankets, waiting for the officers to meet them. They eyed the arriving troops coldly.
Daria sat next to Jekyll, who had wrapped a protective arm around the Tau'ka, mindful of her injured ribs. She sighed unhappily and snuggled closer. "I can't believe it," she muttered. "After all of that, they still got away."
"We all did our best," Jekyll said quietly. "And we came out alive- most of us, anyway." He looked over at the place where Quatermain's wrapped body lay, cold and still.
"The Hawks still got away." She sighed again. "I never thanked you for coming after me like you did."
Jekyll reddened slightly, embarrassed. "Well, it was mostly Edward- I mean, we…" Daria raised an eyebrow, and he managed a weak smile. "You're-"
He never managed to finish his sentence- Daria chose that minute to kiss him.
"Thanks to both of you, then," she said when she pulled away. "If you hadn't, I would have-"
Daria stiffened, squeezing her eyes shut in a grimace. Then she turned and stood at attention as three figures came striding up to them, ignoring the twinge from her injured ribs. The leader of the groups was a tall, powerfully built man with glittering citrine eyes. He was flanked on either side by an armed bodyguard, one male, one female, dressed in white winter gear.
"Commander Halcon," she said stiffly. "Special Agent Daria Noclaf reporting-"
The 'conversation' quickly shifted to a language the humans didn't speak. The leader of the newcomers, Halcon, went off on a rampage, giving Daria a fierce tongue-lashing. He looked plainly furious.
Daria held her tongue under the verbal onslaught that the commander of the Tau'ka military forces- one of her two direct superiors- was giving her. It was mostly along the lines of where had she been, why hadn't she made contact with anyone in over a month, who were those humans she was with, and, most importantly, why had he seen the Black Hawks' ship flying away from Earth the moment his own craft entered the planetary system? The tirade went on in that vein for a while, liberally sprinkled with the colorful language that Commander Halcon was famous for. Not surprising, really- he had risen to his current exalted position through the ranks. If there was one thing that Daria had learned about soldiers, it was that they all- human, Tau'ka, or any other species- seemed to swear. A lot. Halcon didn't even give her a chance to explain- he simply ordered one of his guards to Fetch her gear from the Nautilus and for Daria to come with him.
The guard Halcon had spoken to held out her hands and concentrated for a few moments. Daria's gear, neatly packed into a few carrying satchels, appeared either in the guard's hands or at her feet.
Daria went over to the remaining members of the League
"I have to go," she said hurriedly, switching back to English.
"Why?" Sawyer demanded, eyeing Halcon and his guards suspiciously. "Who are those people?"
"My commander," Daria replied. She hugged Mina and Sawyer, nodded to Nemo, and squeezed Skinner's hand, a sad smile on her face. "I'm sorry, everyone. It was an honor to fight with you all. I'll do my best to get back in time for the funeral."
"Noclaf..." Halcon said warningly.
Daria grimaced again. "Don't forget me," she said softly to Jekyll, kissing him again. "I'll be back, I promise." Then she walked over to where her commander and his guards stood and picked up her gear.
Jekyll watched, stunned by the sudden turn of events as the four left, striding away across the snow, feeling as if someone had hit him squarely in the stomach.
Don't just stand there, lover-boy, Hyde growled impatiently. Do something Or I will!
Jekyll scrambled after them. "Daria! Wait!"
She paused at the top of a tall drift and looked back, waiting.
"I…" He swallowed hard, trying to get the words out, but they didn't want to come. The Tau'ka smiled, eyes full of emotion.
I know, Henry. I love you too.
She followed the other three out of sight.
He trudged back to where the rest of the League were waiting, joining up with them at the same time an elegant, rather portly gentleman arrived.
"Coming to rescue us, are you?" Mina said dryly to the newcomer. "It's about time."
The elegant gentleman smiled a warm greeting at the disheveled vampiress. "Sorry. Took us longer to get here then we expected. Russia was none too keen on the sight of our gunboats." He extended a plump hand to Mina and introduced himself. "Bond. Campion Bond. British Secret Service."
"Dollar shy, day late, I'd say," Sawyer said, his voice drier than even Mina's had been.
"Ah, you must be the American," Bond said. "How… quaint. Though I must say, you've done quite a respectable job."
"Yeah. That's right." Sawyer was surprised that the man knew him. He imitated the other's introduction. "I'm Sawyer. Tom Sawyer."
Bond glanced at his pocket watch to make sure the whole mop-up operation continued on-schedule. "Yes, I know who you are." He looked around at the assembled members of the League. "Although, I must say, I had thought there were more of you."
"We had a traitor, and one of our members was killed in there," Mina said coldly. "The other-"
"Had to leave unexpectedly," Jekyll cut in.
"How did you know of us?" Nemo wanted to know.
Bond glanced at him in surprise, snapping the pocket watch shut. "We've had a spy among you the whole time."
The League members looked in unison at Skinner.
"Rodney Skinner. Of 'er Majesty's Secret Service." Skinner's proud smile was only visible because of the smears and grime that covered his transparent face.
"Now I don't know what to believe," Mina said.
"Or who to trust," Jekyll added, looking cold and miserable.
Uniformed scouts and army engineers scoured the remains of the fortress. Even though the battle was already over, they were needed for their muscle. Groups of men carted equipment, engines, and war machinery to the icebreakers. Campion Bond watched the work with glee, as if he could barely wait to inspect all the new toys in his possession.
Another contingent of soldiers took over tending to the former prisoners. Nemo nodded his permission to his crewmen, and the soldiers led the hapless scientists away, including Karl Draper, who flatly refused to be separated from his daughter Eva. They looked haggard, but comforted to know that their ordeal was over at last. They had all seen the Fantom's body lying motionless on the riverbank.
Sawyer watched the scientists go. "Taking them into care? They'll need hospitalization."
"Oh, they'll be taken care of, alright." Bond beamed. "Just so long as they keep up the good work- for us, of course."
Racing across the snow and panting white steam in the cold air, an aide ran up from the nearest icebreaker. He clutched a flapping telegram in his hand. "Mr. Bond, sir! We just received this in the radio room."
Bond scanned the message, his smile broadening. "Gentlemen, Mrs. Harker. The Queen herself would like to congratulate you for your extraordinary actions, and she proposes to induct you as a real league. What an honor!"
Sawyer wasn't entirely overwhelmed. He looked down at the wrapped shape of the old adventurer's cold body. "I'd like to suggest a greater honor. Allan Quatermain should be buried in Africa, next to his son." His voice was now hard and determined. "I aim to see that happen."
"And I would be honored to take you there," Nemo said. "My Nautilus is at your disposal."
Sawyer felt a sense of relief, a small portion of the weight lifted from his shoulders. He turned to his fellow League members. "Who else is coming?"
Mina smiled at the young man. She took his hand as they moved toward the armored submarine vessel at the edge of the Amur. After hesitating for a brief second, Jekyll joined them.
Skinner stayed with Campion Bond, though. Sawyer looked back, frowning in disappointment. The other man shrugged his barely-visible shoulders. "I am nothing if not a servant of my Queen."
"Skinner," Sawyer said sternly.
The invisible man quickly changed his mind. "Coming!"
Bond's brow furrowed as he read the second half of the lengthy telegram form London. He gasped. "Wait! You all may be needed anew!" He raised the sheet of paper. "Scientists have discovered hot flares on Mars, green flashes as if from launched of massive cylinders. The astronomer Ogilvy has theorized it could be a sign of a Martian invasion!"
Jekyll's watery eyes widened, then he chuckled. "That's ridiculous," he said, remembering something Daria had told him about Mars's complete lack of higher life-forms.
Sawyer scoffed, also remembering that conversation. "Martian invasions, like world wars, are the stuff of fantasy." Together, he and Skinner respectfully lifted the shrouded body of Allan Quatermain and carried it toward Nemo's waiting vessel.
As the snow blew harder, the League turned their backs on Bond and began their trek back to the Nautilus.
In the grassy field along the outskirts of Nairobi, a dark-skinned shaman tended a small fire, chanting as he added herbs and powders to the dancing flames. The sun beat down mercilessly on the plain and town alike.
Closer to the cluster of buildings, five people were gathered around a newly dug grave, each mourning its occupant in their own way. One figure, dressed in a long trench coat despite the heat, looked up at the others.
"You remember 'e swore Africa wouldn't let 'im die?" he asked. "I wish the old boy 'ad been right."
A young man with the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up and a long elephant gun slung over his shoulders, spoke. "What's next?" he asked.
The oldest-looking of his companions, dark-haired and bearded, wearing a blue-and-silver tunic and turban, thought for a moment. He looked at the other four, searching their faces. "I have long hidden away from the world," he rumbled, his deep voice grave. "Now I wish to see it anew as the century turns. You're all welcome to join me."
The sole woman among them considered this for a moment.. "We've all been hiding in one form or another," she said. The turbaned man nodded.
"The Nautilus awaits," he told them. "So who is coming?" He turned to walk away from the newly dug grave after giving it a respectful bow. One by one, the others followed, saying goodbye in their own way as they passed the foot of the grave.
"So long, old chap," said the man in the trench coat.
A man dressed in the dark suit of an English doctor paused for a moment. "Goodbye, Allan,' he said quietly. The woman followed him.
"Goodbye," she said softly to the silent grave.
The young man lingered by the mound of dirt that now covered the remains of his friend and mentor. He removed the elephant gun from his shoulders and set it on the top of the mound reverently. "Thanks," he said simply, then hurried after his companions.
As they five trekked off through the sun-browned grass, the shaman approached the new grave. Chanting and shaking a sacred rattle, he picked up a handful of dirt and raised it to the sky above.
The flames of his fire shot up as thunder rolled across the Kenyan plains. Dark clouds appeared on the horizon, rolling closer more quickly than a natural storm had a right to. The shaman continued chanting, the words coming faster and faster from his lips. The chanting reached a crescendo as the storm came directly overhead.
Lightning struck the grave.
The adventures of Daria Noclaf and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen continue in 'A New Hand for a New Century: Seven of Spades', coming soon.
AN II: I will be taking a short break from posting after this to catch up things (like, say, homework…). Next Tuesday will be the trailer for Seven of Spades, and then the week after will not have a post. The following week will see the publishing of 'Seven of Spades' for your enjoyment.
Special thanks to Skunk and Hedgehog, Miss Quatermain, Starry-Eyed Fool, Sylence, and Master of the Boot for your special support.