Before long, more Queen’s Guards came pouring into the Dauntless, their red uniforms and gleaming brass buttons at odds with their stern countenances. They quickly found Tycho Brahe, although their first attempt to approach was met by a stern glare from Watson.
“Keep back!” he commanded, his respect for authority momentarily buried beneath the physician’s natural protectiveness. “He’s severely injured and unconscious, and doesn’t need you lot crowding around him!”
The harsh tone of his voice made the men pause. They didn’t back down, but instead remained in a standoff as they looked back at Watson, perhaps waiting for some order to come through from a superior.
Less than a minute later, that superior officer arrived, strolling in casually on light feet and looking around like he’d entered a rather dusty and unclean antique shop. Short, his head barely reaching Watson’s shoulders, he still carried an unmistakable air of command.
He was, to be frank, not at all what Watson had expected.
As soon as the officer’s eyes fell upon Brahe’s prostrate form, he turned around, leaning out through the still-open front hatch and barking commands to invisible underlings. Several other men soon pushed their way into the already-crowded cabin, bearing a stretcher between them. With Watson presiding over each step like a worried mother hen, the men transferred Brahe to the stretcher and carried him carefully out.
The officer, however, remained behind, now turning to Watson and holding out a hand to prevent him from following after Brahe.
“And you must be the intrepid doctor,” he commented, turning to Watson with a small, wry smile darting across his lips. “Your name, sir?”
“Watson, Thomas Watson,” the man of that name replied, accepting the offered hand. “There was a yell for a doctor, and I happened to be nearby, watching the landing. I came forward.”
“And what did you find?” asked the officer, standing in the midst of the Dauntless’s wrecked cabin as if the sight was completely normal.
Watson exhaled, looking around. “Well, all of this!” he expectorated, gesturing. “Burn marks, wreckage everywhere, and Brahe lay on this makeshift pallet over here. He moaned, and I rushed to attend to his wounds.”
“And those wounds, in your professional opinion?”
Watson paused, composing his thoughts. “Severe burns covering approximately seventy percent of the area of the left leg,” he stated. “Burns ranged from first degree up to high second degree, and blackening indicates that they came from brief exposure to an intense but short-lived fire.”
“And how long ago did these burns occur?” asked the officer – Watson realized that he hadn’t gotten the man’s name.
Watson remembered the appearance of the burns. “Very recently. Less than a week ago, perhaps three or four days.”
The man nodded. “I see.” He paused, fixing Watson with a flat stare that seemed to peel back layers of the doctor’s skin.
After a moment, pinned by that stare like a butterfly beneath a pin, Watson fidgeted and looked back at the exit from the Dauntless. “Is anything further needed from me?” he asked, suddenly itching to get outside.
The officer sighed. “I’m afraid so,” he said sadly, shaking his head back and forth. “My name is Yeoman James, and I need to ask you, Dr. Watson, to come with me.”
“What? I’m not connected with this-”
“But you are, Doctor,” Yeoman James sighed. “You are now.”
Watson’s shoulders slumped, but he couldn’t muster up the energy to argue; the adrenalin that had flowed through his veins was gone, leaving him drained. He followed after the short, muscular little figure of Yeoman James, leaving the Dauntless behind under the watchful eyes of at least a dozen more guards.
The story, however, couldn’t be contained. Within the hour, broadsides littered the London streets, proclaiming in massive letters that Balloon Day ended in disaster, filled with apocalyptic warnings about what horrors might be lurking on Luna, ready to sweep down and devour housewives and young children in their beds. By the time the sun set, the departing outline of Luna still large in the sky, much of the populace hovered on the verge of panic.
Inside the stately palace halls of Richmond Place, however, the panic took on a chill, brittle edge. Watson felt the cold touch of that fear like a razor’s blade, pressing in against his neck as he followed after Yeoman James.
“Where are we going?” he asked, finally, after half a dozen turns inside the huge palace left him hopelessly lost.
“Here,” the officer replied simply, pushing open a set of double doors.
Watson followed after him, and found himself standing in a huge library, an absolutely massive redwood table standing in the center and covered with an assortment of maps, globes, markers, and other assorted objects. Several men stood in small groups around the huge table, talking quietly to each other. Watson didn’t recognize any of the faces, but they looked strong and important, nobility and gentlemen of means. Several carried themselves with a bearing that Watson recognized from his own military background. The bullet twinged in his leg.
“What is this?” he asked, as Yeoman James stepped forward and clapped his hands on the table. The other men stopped talking, turning to look at the officer.
“This,” James announced, his voice carrying through the large chamber and easily audible to everyone, “is a council of war.”
And then, from the other side of the chamber, a haggard face stepped forward. Watson took an involuntary step back as he recognized Walter Raleigh, the first to come off of the Dauntless and, at this point, the only one capable of speaking about the events on Luna.
“No,” he countered. His voice was raw and his features gaunt, but his tone carried iron strength, steel determination.
“This is not a council of war. This is a rescue mission.”
The room was silent. Watson finally cleared his throat. “A rescue of whom?” he asked.
Raleigh turned that thousand-yard gaze on him, his eyes glinting like a hawk’s. “A rescue mission,” he repeated, “to bring back Francis Drake.”