To a man with his wits about him, there is nothing so energizing as a war at a safe distance. Too close and one is lost to fear; too far and one is lost to apathy. The precise balance of urgency and grace is all-important to the profiteers of death. We see as much in the foreign traders and exotic bankers who flourish in the shadow of history's conflicts. With an industrial age upon us this truth is made timeless, and even as the distance between killer and merchant closes, there is no demise in commodity. In the quarter-year that followed the Shower, the Royal Navy doubled its size. A fleet of airships and water-vessels once designed to police the colonies was now a curled fist of iron around the Isle of Tunridge. And to its ranks were added the signatures of our age: the Mercury Class hydro-bomber designed by Sir Stanley Phelps; the twin-pneumatic submarines from Patterson and Wayne; and the Bertha-Class destroyers, of which the third was being launched this very day... It was christened the HMS Saxumfrau. And it was about to get royally fucked. "Pump chamber C for five minutes before rotating the ambulator cuff..." Zachary Ashland floated slowly into the sky while reading the instruction pamphlet. "When ignition begins in the tri-manifold, adjust the air valve to the zero aperture, and compensate for barometic delay..." He clonked against a wall for a moment, then began ascending again. "Point in direction of fire, then squeeze trigger twice before slow-releasing. Exhale upon launch." A gargoyle leered and its long, stone tongue scraped him from his thigh to his ankle. He swung out a little and glanced upwards. A cable stretched from his harness to the parapet of the Stormfront Bridge. He was on the east tower, suspended in a cat's cradle, and the other end of the cable was towed by a pair of clockwork automatons that scuttled like spiders up the wall ahead of him. By this fashion he was ascending towards the upper gantry. The city glittered before him, vast and steaming, and the Tunridge River was like a silver blade lain upon it. But his attention was focussed solely on the pneumatic flare-gun he was carrying. A gift from his wife - or moreover a tool to be used for situations precisely like the one he was in. Unfortunately, there was no Chamber C. He looked at the pamphlet, then at the clunky iron-chambered device, then at the pamphlet again. Then a great foghorn split the air and he glanced up to see the HMS Saxumfrau steaming down the river towards the bridge he was dangling from. The vast destroyer was perhaps a half mile away and accompanied by fireworks and streamers. The maiden launch was in full swing, and along the riverside people could be seen waving Tunridge flags and cheering for the navy boys. A happy day.... if it were not for the threat of imminent extra-terrestial terrorism. A cell of Hybrids were about to attack the ship. Their plot had been uncovered. And Zachary's fellow Registry agents were now chasing them through the streets of Tunridge. If the criminals succeeded, the Saxumfrau would never make it to the Athanor Quarantine Zone and the safety of all the nation would be compromised. "WHAT IN BLUE BLAZES IS A TRI-MANIFOLD WHEN IT'S AT HOME!" he yelled to the open air. Light rain was speckling his glasses and adding to his disgruntlement. And his only answer was the little clicks of his automatons as they scuttled to the gantry and began looping the cable around the support wires. Clamping the pamphlet in his teeth and shouldering the flare-gun on its tasteful leather strap, Zachary swung out of the harness and clambered up the rest of the cable before gripping the gantry's overhang. This was not his thing. Climbing national landmarks and shooting experimental weaponry? Not his thing. But with everyone else involved in daring chases and fisticuffs with alien assassins, being the signal man was the best of a bad situation. Once on top of the Stormfront Bridge he would be able to see which rooftops the hybrids were on. And then he could fire a flare and give the signal to Her Majesty's Constabulary. There was another horn blast as the HMS Saxumfrau fanfared itself. So mighty was the ship that its upper batteries would barely fit beneath the Stormfront Bridge as it passed. Zachary would be getting a firsthand view of the destroyer... assuming it wasn't blown up before it got to him. Perhaps it would not be such a bad day after all. "When we get home..." he mumbled while biting down on the pamphlet, "...remind me to give Mercy..." He hoisted himself onto the gantry. "...a lesson in technical penmanship." He straightened up on his knees, dusted down his waistcoat, then reached to pick up his automatons. And saw a pair of webbed feet on the gantry before him. Zachary lifted his head as a Hybrid in a trenchcoat turned and hissed at him, its death-pale face twisted with seven rows of lamprey teeth. "Oh bugger..." Zachary said, and the pamphlet fluttered from his mouth and into the fog.