The morning air was harsh on his face, the light strong and somehow alien in nature. This, Beck thought, is what it must feel like to be a ghost, one of the deceased walking among the living in a world they no longer belonged to. Except he was not a ghost, he was not deceased and, despite the fact that every fibre of his body seemed to be screaming that the very opposite was true, he was very much alive. Only he wasn’t, was he. Was he?
“Doctor!” a strong hand clasped his arm and he spun round to find himself staring into the deep, grey eyes of Captain Williams, skipper of one of the fishing boats that worked out of Shanghai, “The harbour…”
“Hmmm?” Beck stared at the man from somewhere very far away.
“The harbour, you nearly waked off the edge!”
Beck looked down and with a start saw his feet were mere inches from the sheer drop of the stone harbour edge, the waves rolling and crashing against the wall a dozen feet below him. He stepped back, shocked at such a total lapse in his concentration.
“Ye Gods and little fishes, Doctor, pay more heed to your path, sir!” warned Williams.
“Yes… yes of course,” blustered Beck, “I… I’m a little distracted this morning, I fear. A body has been found by some of the night fishermen, you see.”
Williams let go of Beck’s arm and looked into the man’s eyes. He’d heard about his kidnapping at the hands of the devil from the sea and the state the rescuers had found him in and yet here he was, a mere two days later, up and about and tending to his patients. “I’d venture you have good reason to be, sir, good reason indeed but I’d be sorely grieved to hear of your untimely passing lest I am to add your name to the Roll of The Lost at Chapel, sir.”
Beck looked again at the drop into the sea, “Of course, sorry, yes. I’ll be more careful, Captain.”
“See that you do sir, the people here about need you whole and in once piece. One of my crew, an Oriental convert of good standing, told me how much you have done for his family and how grateful his people are, you should be proud Doctor, you should be very proud indeed.”
Beck had no words, nothing to offer the man back so he just nodded slightly and started towards where Sister Jones waited for him with the body dredged from the ocean.
“I shouldn’t worry too much about that body Doctor,” Williams said. Beck stopped and looked back at the Captain. “From what I hear the departed was one of the Tong’s thugs, a nasty piece of work by the name of Chang. It seems that the escalation in hostilities has claimed another victim, although I doubt many will mourn this one. Still, it will only serve to anger the Tong and that is never good for the poor, honest folks around here is it?”
Chang. The name rang like a bell in Beck’s mind and he found his fingers moving to his eye involuntarily. How long ago was it? A month? Six weeks? Something else the old seaman said caught Beck’s attention, “Escalation? You mean between the gangs?”
“Indeed I do sir, indeed I do. These past few weeks have seen an out-break of violence the likes of which, well suffice to say that in my sixty years I have never seen before. Warehouses razed to the ground, explosions felling buildings, murders in the streets, shipping and trade threatened and robbed on every side! The law seems powerless to intervene even as outsiders come in and commit the most heinous crimes imaginable at will. Is it any wonder the folks around here are turning to vigilantism? Why, I shouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t this Fox Battalion that took the law in to their own hands with this heathen brute.”
“I’m sorry, the fox who?” Beck’s mind was spinning with all the new information but he felt better for it, he was feeling grounded for the first time in two days. Here was something he could understand, here was something he could do somethings about. No monsters, no ghosts of the mind, battles between light and dark, just people, people being people.
Williams lifted his hand and pointed to a poster stuck to the side of a tall mooring pole, “The Fox Battalion. I can’t say I approve of their message or intent for as the Good Book says…”
Beck didn’t listen to the bible lesson, instead his attention switched to the bill and its very direct message conveyed in one short paragraph written in, of all things, Latin:
We, the repressed and downtrodden members of society call on the name of justice to take up arms to fight back by any means, against the scum and terror who would defile and cause depravity by selling opium and illicit goods, take our families in the dead of night to be sold on the slave markets, bring thugs into our cities to threaten, steal, and kill for their selfish goals. And what is the Military doing about this, The US Navy and coast guard has it’s hands tied, the English Navy is spread too thin, the US Military and Canadian Mounties are too busy with their own agendas, even the Steelhead Militia force cannot act! That is where we come in, and that is where we ask you, the lawful and honest Individual who wishes to see justice done, come to us, and seek us out if you are interested in joining our cause. Let me be clear, if you are some miscreant, lawless, or have your own agenda, do not bother to apply, for we want loyal, just, honest, law abiding, hard working, and hard fighting individuals, of any sex, species, or race. Break the binds of fear the criminals would shackle us with, and fight for your rights of freedom and justice! Contact Me by leaving a message at the predetermined location if you are interested.
Well… things certainly had become more complicated since he’d left for Babbage six weeks ago…