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Authors: Tee Morris Pip Ballantine

The Ghost Rebellion

BOOK: The Ghost Rebellion
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The Ghost Rebellion

Book Five of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences

Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

Chapter One

Wherein a Delightful Luncheon Is Cut Short


Wellington Thornhill Books took in a deep breath, sparing just a moment to collect his wits. Otherwise he risked not living to see dessert.

The archivist-turned-agent dabbed at the corner of his mouth with his snow-white napkin, and draped it carefully over his lap. Outside the window the gleaming Atlantic rolled under their ocean liner, the
African Sunset
, but that was not the view that held his attention. His focus remained with the dandy in front of him. Since their first meeting, the bombastic lord seemed rather taken with the sound of his own voice, which was why the change in his dining companion’s demeanour came as such a shock.

If an attack should come, Wellington still had his dinner knife and fork. Both hardly suited for close-quarter combat, but still useful. He was also in possession of a glass of wine, half finished—a pity to use, since it was a delightful vintage and paired perfectly with the duck—that could blind his opponent for a few valuable moments.

His lunch date kept a hard glare fixed on him, the monocle digging into the folds of his cheek. Rather unexpected to Wellington, Lord Hieronymus Featherstone had run out of things to say, and was now giving him his undivided attention.

Wellington thought he had shown unending fortitude while being subjected to Featherstone’s eternal droning on about his recent excursions across Africa, India, and Siam. He now knew to what far reaches Lord Featherstone had traversed in the name of Her Majesty—which might be useful.

Yet now Featherstone sat before him, no longer the awful, droning chatterbox. The gentleman’s jaw twitched as he kept his ice-chip blue eyes trained on Wellington, demanding satisfaction.

Well,” the lord spoke, his voice booming from his barrel chest, “answer me, man.”

Sod it,
Wellington thought as he picked up his glass
. At the very least, I will finish this excellent wine.

You obviously mentioned her name during one of your riveting stories when crossing the Serengeti,” Wellington replied before taking in a good, long sip of his wine.

My dear Bernice does not care for heat.”

Then perhaps you mentioned her joining you as you crossed the Canadian Rockies?”

Nor does she care for the cold.”

Mrs. Bernice Featherstone did not sound either lovely or agreeable, a perfect match for her husband, it seemed.

Nodding in resignation, Wellington cast another quick glance across the table, taking note of the knife and fork. “M’lord, we could speculate for the entirety of the afternoon on how I came to know your lovely wife’s name, but why don’t we just cut this clever banter short and try a more direct form of engagement?”

Which would be?”

The truth.” With a final dab at the corners of his mouth, Wellington dropped the napkin on the table, swiping up the fork and placing it in his lap. He positioned the silverware for a quick thrust as he began. “Lord Featherstone, it is no lie when I say your company has been enlightening. I have genuinely enjoyed our spirited and scintillating discussions whilst we journeyed around the Ivory Coast. However, to say we ‘met you’ by chance would be disingenuous.” His grip tightened on the fork as he said, “My associate and I have been tracking you since your boarding in Conakry.”

Really?” Featherstone said, with a slight huff. “Does this have something to do with my position in Her Majesty’s government?”

In a manner of speaking.” Wellington’s thoughts scattered when he caught a glimpse of the dessert tray; there were two slices of cake that looked utterly delightful passing by. Swallowing disappointment, he continued. “It is not your position with the War Department that interests us, so much as your choice of physicians. A rather dastardly gent by the name of Henry Jekyll.” Featherstone’s expression tightened, but he remained silent. Wellington took that as a sign to continue. “I am sure you will defend the character and the skill of dear Doctor Jekyll, but I can assure you that my dealings with him go further back than yours. You believe him to be a miracle worker, a saviour, and a friend. However, the man is both figuratively and literally, a monster.”

Catching sight of the waiter, Wellington motioned him over. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Lord Featherstone silently stewing, probably outraged that a man of his station was being spied on like he was common criminal. “Do bring the dessert tray around again, please.” And with a quick glance to Featherstone, Wellington added, “Do not dally. I’m in a bit of a hurry.”

You have some cheek, Mr. Canterbury,” Featherstone growled, while his face turned an interesting shade of puce.

Actually, it’s Books.” He polished off his glass of wine. Yes, a most delightful vintage. “Wellington Thornhill Books, Esquire.”

And to whom do you answer?” he snapped.

That you will soon discover, but needless to say we know you have been recently contacted by Doctor Jekyll. It’s doubtful he did so out concern for your health, but more likely because you are Royal Engineer for Her Majesty’s military. I understand your specialty is experimental weaponry. The amount of secrets you carry, m’lord…well, I’m sure Doctor Jekyll would relish obtaining many of them.”

Featherstone’s breathing grew laboured. Wellington had often observed people forced to face uncomfortable truths had trouble controlling themselves in that respect. His free hand still gripped the fork in his lap, since it never hurt to be prepared just in case things went “tits up” as Eliza put it. Wellington grinned in what he believed was a disarming way. “The only way to finish a meal as splendid as this is with a cordial and some dessert. After which, we will retire to my cabin, and there, my associate and I will outline the best way for you to untangle yourself from Doctor Jekyll relatively unscathed.”

He could see the dessert tray approaching. Wellington was fairly sure he saw a dish in the corner that might possibly be a crème brûlée. A silver lining, to be sure.

The snap of glass cracking ripped his attention away from the approaching steward.

Lord Featherstone’s face was beetroot red, but that did not alarm Wellington so much as the crack that had appeared across his monocle. The sheer pressure between his brow and the top of his cheek continued to press against the eyepiece’s rim, bending it until the brass casing and shattered glass fell off his face. Featherstone was a burly gent to begin with, but the changes he was going through were entirely unnatural. His already-broad shoulders were spreading fast, filling out his smart uniform.

It was no illusion. Featherstone was growing.

You seem to have forgotten your place,” Featherstone growled, even as people in surrounding tables scrambled to vacate their seats.

Very well
, Wellington decided,
the fork it will be.

The archivist swept his makeshift weapon out from under the table, and Wellington’s aim was—as usual—spot on. The prongs of the fork struck the flesh between the index finger and thumb. With the amount of force and the fork’s momentum, Wellington’s blow should have pinned the man’s hand to the table. However, the skin was intact. The fork, however, was nothing but bent prongs. Staring at this slight deviation in his plan, Wellington observed the hand grow even larger while the seams of Featherstone’s military coat split.

Stings a bit,” Featherstone chuckled, thick foam seeping from between his lips and teeth. “Nothing like I am going to do to you, though...”

Oh bugger
, Wellington thought quickly.
Here we go.

Pushing hard against the floor, he tipped his chair backward, putting him out of reach of Featherstone’s massive arm, now thrice the size of what a normal man’s would be.

The right cross had narrowly missed Wellington, but it did connect with a passing waiter. Wellington was in the process of hitting the floor when Featherstone picked up the poor man and threw him across the length of the dining room. Unfortunately, he crashed into an exquisite mirror, shattering the glass and probably gaining seven years’ bad luck.

Wellington tucked his knees into his stomach, which gave him momentum needed to tumble back and away from the table. It was a prettily timed move as Featherstone promptly flipped the table onto the chair Wellington had been sitting on. With their disruption, a shattered mirror, and the fate of the poor waiter, this was quite a bad day for dining on the
African Sunset
all around.

Patrons were now more hurriedly making for any exit, regardless if it led to the outside decks or the kitchen. Featherstone’s howl could be heard over the screams of the female passengers. He grew larger and larger with each passing second, his teeth now too big for his mouth.

So, Mr Books, what am I to do with you?” Featherstone asked with a snarl as he looked down on him. “Should I break your legs so you can’t run, or just rip you in two?”

I think you should hold your breath,” he suggested.

Featherstone blinked and cocked his head. “What?”

Hold your breath,” Wellington repeated with some care.

From behind him, the signature whine of a Lee-Metford-Tesla Mark IV started up. Wellington rolled away from the sound, reaching inside his jacket to draw his own sidearm, an experimental of Axelrod and Blackwell’s design. Its crystal-clear chamber flared to life as Wellington brought the pistol up, but he was beaten to the punch. A cerulean ball of plasma energy exploded against Featherstone’s chest, sending this member of the House of Lords backwards into the far wall of the dining room. His hulking form left an impression where it hit, and the impact shook the whole dining room.

Eliza stepped out from the doorway, lifting her tinted goggles to let them rest against her forehead. They were the only practical part of her attire, though her plum-coloured day dress was quite lovely. She flipped a series of switches to put the generator into a cycling mode as residual electricity crackled between the coils of its conical barrel. Since that blast had been considerable, it would be a few moments before the rifle could do it again.

A racking cough from Featherstone widened the smile across her face. “He told you to hold your breath,” she called out to him.

Wellington rolled on his shoulders, wincing. “I was truly hoping this lunch would unfold differently. I never even got to dessert. Did you see what happened to the crème brûlée by any chance?”

I think it is gone, darling,” she said with a grin as she flipped the safety off the rifle and glanced around the dining room. Until the generator showed green, it would be high calibre shells now. “But console yourself with this, it could have been worse. It might have been a repeat of Lyon.”

Her lovely skirts swished as she approached him, a combination of elegant and deadly.

To be fair,” Wellington began, “that was our first patient on the list.”

True,” she said with a nod, adjusting her tiny hat around the goggles. “We didn’t know what to expect.”

And we have learned so much since then.”

The growl interrupted their conversation, and both Wellington and Eliza jumped to one side as a table flew at them. The shattering of wood and fine china, accented with the ringing of silverware, was yet another affront to the exquisite dining experience that the
African Sunset
offered. When they drew aim on where Featherstone had been, Wellington saw only a blur of muscle shouldering its way through the exit leading to the Promenade Deck.

Wellington shot a glance at Eliza. “Didn’t expect that.”

That is a lovely thing about serving in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Welly,” Eliza said, shifting the modified rifle in her grip, a sure sign she was about to begin pursuit. “We are always seeing something new.”

He followed Eliza through the luxurious corridors of the
African Sunset
. Tracking Lord Featherstone was hardly a challenge. All they needed to do was follow the screams and signs of destruction.

As they went Eliza eyed the smashed oak panelling. “Jekyll’s cocktails tend to show all sorts of negative side effects he fails to mention in his ledgers.”

I suppose,” he replied, somewhat resigned to the uncertainty, “the term ‘negative’ is a rather subjective one.”

They stepped out into the midday sunlight and caught a glimpse of the lumbering lord sprinting—as much as his mutated mass allowed him to—for the bow of the ship. It was difficult to deduce exactly what Featherstone’s endgame was, but regardless Wellington and Eliza needed him alive.

BOOK: The Ghost Rebellion
3.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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