13 September 2012

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Fill for this prompt
part nine part eleven
Warnings: Alternate Universe. Haddock/Tintin. (Heroes in grave danger!) War flashback.

The Crab with the Mechanical Claws (part 10)

Universe has sadistic sense of humor. Amongst many proofs of previous statement belongs the fact, that when one thing go wrong, others follow inevitably like toppling domino blocks.
The doors on the other side of library are thrown open and group of few tough-looking guys enters, discussing about the alarm wildly. Upon seeing the assemblage of strangers they stop short.
“This could happen only to us.” Announces Captain.

Spalding paces to and fro in Cuthbert’s room, hands twitching in his hair. Boss will kill him. Herr Müller will frizzle him! He will deep-fry him in boiling oil! Or he will feed him to his pet gorillas! And no one will ever find his remainders.
How could this happened? How could he underestimated that man? How could he not saw his evil plans? Professor Cuthbert Calculus is genius! And he let that man to make a fool of him.
“Chief did lose it.”
“Hmm.”
“You!” Spalding turns at his subordinates. “Start the ‘Crab’.”

“That was amazing.” Cuthbert still couldn’t believe what he just witnessed.
“Shall we tie them?” Tintin turns to Captain.
“Yer think they’ll be able to wake soon?” Archibald stretches his arms.
Tintin looks contentedly at unmoving men. “No.”
“It took you two less than five minutes.”
The ginger reporter giggles.
“Yeah, we’re fabulous.” Captain grabs Cuthbert’s arm. “Let’s go, professor.”
“Oh, no, wait.”
“Professor.” Tintin grabs Cuthbert’s second arm. “This is no time for panic.”
“NOW LISTEN, YOU TWO!” Both men stand upright, like after swallowing a ruler, surprised by the sudden outburst from the ever calm professor. Archibald even clicks his heels together and his right hand jerks in attempt to salute. “I know that you are trying to help me, and I do appreciate this, but there is something I must do.”
Tintin opens his mouth to voice his opinion, but he is stopped by Cuthbert’s threateningly risen forefinger.
“They have fully functional AST here!”
“Oh shit.” Archibald turns completely pale.
Tintin scours his mind for this abbreviation, unsuccessfully. “What is it?”
“Automaton Steam Tank.”
In the crestfallen silence after professor’s words Tintin could hear his own surprised exhalation. Automatons are devices able to function independently within the framework of its programming. Automaton tank would be merciless killing machine. “Such things are outlawed by The Treaty of Versailles.”
“And that’s only right!” Captain punches nearby bookshelf. “Where it is?”
“In former horse barn.”
“Can you sabotage it?” Tintin could almost touch Archibald’s anger.
“I am chief engineer in ‘Tournesol Factory’. I’ll take it to pieces.”

“Yer gotta be kidding!” Archibald tries to comprehend how, by ten thousand thundering typhoons, did he get into this situation. Facing bunch of security guards on rickety gangplank, while professor scrutinizes absolutely nasty example of steam tank down below, and Tintin with Milou are trying to obtain their escape vehicle in different building. To make his position worse, the guards have rapiers. He is armed by mere lead pipe. One of them attacks, Archibald cover his rapier on last moment, deciding not to care about rules of fencing anymore. He punches the man to stomach and hurls himself to the tumult. Using abruptly remembered fencing postures only to improvise completely, to elbow his opponents, to stomp at their feet unexpectedly, using his lead pipe partially as a sword and partially as a cudgel. “I didn’t fence for years!”
“And you are doing just great, Captain.” Cuthbert unbolts latch on ‘Crab’. “Keep distracting them.”
“Yer evil!” Archibald yells, not fully decided if towards Cuthbert or towards the guards. “Troglodytes!” OK, he will scream at guards, it is calming. “Prickled pirate parrots! Canned cucumbers! Rusty renegates!”
Professor Calculus taps his screwdriver on ‘Crab’. “You are sophisticated device, aren’t you?”
“Very much, sir.” Sounds behind Cuthbert and he turns with a startle. Before his world darkens he notices Spalding’s face distorted with hatred.
“Professor!” Captain lose his concentration on the fight and the last standing guard gashes his left leg.
Spalding smiles devilishly and switches the ‘Crab’ on.

“Where are they?” Tintin taps his leg nervously. He should have never agreed with the separation. Of course, he is used to working only with Milou, but what if something happened to them? What if Captain ends up injured? The ginger bites his lips.
Even thought he is not exactly technically skilled, he managed to disable every vehicle, with the exception of the one they intend to use. And now he is waiting for his companions here, on this quad, while the sun is already rising.
Crumbs, crumbs, crumbs, crumbs, crumbs.
Something went wrong.
He can feel it.
Captain pops up in the barn gates. Tintin breathes out with relief. But then he realizes, that Archibald is limping on left leg and that he is dragging unconscious professor.
“Captain?!” The ginger reporter moves forward, ignoring the rumbling which grows louder and stronger with each second.
“Run!” Archibald yells at him.
Milou bolts towards them, dashing on its small legs, emitting puffs of steam in its peculiar simulation of furious barking.
“RUN!”
And then the world falls down. Or rather, whole wall of stable is knocked down from inside. Something, something big, is moving there, behind the clouds of smoke, steam puff and red brick dust. The noise is unbearable. The screech of steel, the heavy, regular puffing of engines, the screaming of people. It feels like the world has stopped. That’s when it emerges, arising from the dust, majestic, breathtaking, dangerous. Steam-tank bristling with countless artificial arms, levers and gadgets, cogwheels whirling in insane rhythm whenever the thing moves, red eyes shining brightly on its front end, resembling gigantic crab.
The Crab with the Mechanical Claws.
Tintin stands, frozen to the spot, sensing the terror taking over his body.
“TINTIN, RUN! Captain’s voice has unadulterated dread in it.
And Tintin obeys. Archibald’s voice was a signal. An order. Slap back to reality. His body is moving on its own volition. He jerks forward with a speed he did not know human could generate. The ‘Crab’ rushes behind him on its caterpillar tracks. Within couple of heartbeats the ginger runs through gateway to another courtyard where he collides with postman, knocking him down from bicycle. Letters scatter everywhere while the elderly mailman starts to curse in local dialect. Tintin lifts the bicycle and mounts it in one swift movement.
“Was?! Oi! Du!”
“Entschuldigen!” He shouts back, pedaling the bicycle.
The ‘Crab’ clashes through gateway, leaving it in ruins. It emits steam from both funnels, like a threat, and hastens behind Tintin.

Dust. Clouds of steam.
Shouts. Moans.
Ferrous taste of blood on his own lips. Smell of scalded skin.
Life draining away from Simon’s eyes.
Everything felt like under layer of fog. Dampness seeped into bones. His left side hurt. He could hear voices of his comrades-in-arms, but their shouting came from distance. He realized that he was shuddering uncontrollably and that he could breathe only with great effort. His left side hurt. He tried to reach there but his left arm was somewhat limp.
Simon was looking at him. No, that’s rubbish. Dead could not look at anybody anymore. His eyes were merely cast in the direction towards him. Torn copper plate sticking out from Simon’s body, etched sunflower watered with blood.
And above was distant uncaring blue sky.

Milou strides around unconscious Archibald. He could not wake him by mere prodding and steelworks employees are drawing dangerously near. The copper canine emits steam. He had to be drastic.
“OW!” Captain rouses thanks to the insidious feat. “Ow!” He says to Milou, rubbing his ass.
Milou sits and casts him a ‘Don’t be hypersensitive’ glance.
Captain crawls next to Cuthbert to check professor’s pulse. He had ditched him to safety rather unceremoniously when the ‘Crab’ annihilated barn. Thanks for it, or else they both would end caved in under debris. But his movement stirs the sore in his left side. He utters a hiss and presses his scar.
“Hope you aren’t wounded, sir.”
Spalding. Thundering typhoons, is that man indestructible or what?
Archibald scrambles up to his feet, holding his side he slowly turns to face the enraged secretary who is aiming gun at him. “Herr Spalding.” Captain coughs. “Shouldn’t yer see about yer employees?”
“I’d rather deal with you first, sir .”
Archibald learnt only one useful thing in ‘Great War’. Never ever argue with madman. (Kill him before he kills you.)
Spalding’s finger twitches on trigger. Milou jerks forward with threatening gear grind, closing its jaws around Spalding’s forearm. Captain follows the automaton’s example, hurls himself at the secretary, knocking breath out of him. Spalding sweeps his hand, firing the gun aimlessly, and jettisons Milou. The delicate device lands in debris with nasty crack. Archibald tries to push Spalding down, but is himself knocked with hard elbow shove on his back. With a triumphant smile, Spalding aims his gun at kneeling Captain. But then, professor Calculus clubs him from behind. He leans the pipe on his shoulder and snorts scornfully.
Clock tower mechanism rattles and the minute hand shifts its position. Carillon starts its dance to announce 6 o’clock.

The logic is telling Tintin not to look back, but the adrenaline has opposite opinion. Obeying the latter, he glances back. And regrets it in instant. The ‘Crab’ is catching up on him and there is no way, absolutely no way, for his confiscated bicycle to be quicker than that monstrous mechanism. But he still has a chance. He swerves, driving into the hideout provided by thick old forest. He doesn’t need to pedal so much, since terrain here is mildly downhill, but he still keeps moving his legs frantically. Any advance is good advance. Hideous sound of trees ripped from roots, sound of something unnatural entering this serene nature. And Tintin knows, he knows, he does not have to look behind, that that monstrous machine will simply steamroller anything what would dare to stand in its way. Him included. He clutches the handlebars so tightly that his knuckles turn completely snow-white, his eyes are frantically searching for any possible escape route. The ‘Crab’ tears out another tree and hurls it towards him. His white polo shirt is perfect substitution for target, no one would overlook him in the dim morning light in dusky forest. And then, the derailleur chain snaps, sprockets fall off, pedals and brakes become useless.
Tintin is widely known as calm and reserved young man. The one who would never loose his temper. The one who would find logic and composure under any conditions. But even for such a man, there ARE situations where he simply could not remain unruffled. Like dashing down a hummock, through a forest, with a crab-like steam tank behind, which is drawing dangerously near every second, riding a broken bicycle.
So Tintin, doing his best to maneuver the uncontrollable bicycle, because ramming into a tree would not help him the slightest, decides to do the only thing, he never thought possible.
He opens his mouth and screams out of pure horror.

Author’s notes
Whatta day. ^^
x Müller's pet gorillas are homage to the mighty Ranko, gorilla guard at Black Island.
x Of course The Treaty of Versailles of 28 June 1919 happened here. It only have few amendments about prohibited steam-weapons.
x A gangplank in stables? You know those scaffoldings used for reaching high places in workrooms? That's it.
x Fencing has quite complicated terminology. Captain is not awesome fencer, but he could protect himself effectively.
x Average time of daybreak in that area of Polan in July is around 5:30.
x What do you think about the 'Crab'? (Like you didn't expected it. ^^)
x Caterpillar tracks. I, antitechnical, do not know how is that thing named in my own language! Searching how to say it in English was pain in the *ss.
x Mini lesson in German: Herr [mister/sir], Was [what], Du [you], entschuldigen [forgive/pardon (me)].
x Poor Simon. See, I couldn't use any Hergé's character.
x Automaton are delicated devices sensitive to hard impacts.
x Let's give Calculus some space too, he can save the day!
x I keep reminding the time, since this part, as well as previous and even the next, takes place during one day.
x I firmly believe, that even Mr. Spock would scream out of horror in such situation.

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