I am very proud to say that the work of yours truly will be the next topic of discussion by the Midwest Black Speculative Fiction Alliance! I’m very excited!
Brandon Black Online
I am very proud to say that the work of yours truly will be the next topic of discussion by the Midwest Black Speculative Fiction Alliance! I’m very excited!
I’ve recently had a short story, “Time and the Wrinkled Prostitute” published by the online journal Beneath the Rainbow, check it out:
It has snowed in Louisiana. Casualty reports are not yet in but estimates are projected to be in the thousands. A once vibrant and vital ecology referred to in the past as the Sportsman’s Paradise has suffered a blow from which it will not soon recover, if ever. The frictionless sheet of pale doom blanketing the state has paralyzed local police and fire departments and the governor has declared a state of martial law. Most Louisianians remain trapped in their homes, huddling with their loved ones and awaiting the cold embrace of death. The National Guard has been mobilized but the sheer number of people needing assistance guarantees they will be swamped before the rescue attempts even begin. This is most likely our last report. May God watch over you and yours better than He has looked after the once great state of Louisiana. Remember us. Farewell.
The Razor’s Edge
by Brandon Black
I was not born on Samirah.
I was not raised here.
But if I am not careful, very careful, I will die here, and I will not die alone.
I cannot allow that to happen.
I must survive.
I must kill other men, spill their blood upon the ground, end their lives.
I cannot allow myself to die.
It is the will of Allah.
My brother called his ship and his crew the Hunters of the Sky. He is dead. His crew is dead. And I and mine are now the hunted.
The Pan-Africans call us pirates but we are not. We are Mujahideen; we are the soldiers of Allah. They do not, cannot, understand. The Sultan of New Madinah is an evil man, a corrupt man. He surrounds himself with painted whores and merchant sycophants. In his court, women shamelessly parade around in colored silks with their faces and midriffs bare. The so-called music of the infidels echoes in his palace halls. He and his family eat the finest delicacies off old world china while the faithful go hungry. But his worst fault is that he plays at being a pious man. He is no pious man. His true god is Mammon, for he serves only his greed. He is a corrupt man and we will destroy him and restore sharia to the people. It is the will of Allah.
But to do this, we must have many things, weapons, ships, technology, resources, things we do not have. And being righteous men called to jihad, what we do not have, we must take. So we raid the ships of the Sultan, and often too, the Pan-Africans. We hit their freighters and their liners. We take their weapons and their cargoes; ransom their women and their children. We do what we must to prepare an army to face the Sultan’s regiments and restore true Islam to the people. And for that, the Sultanate calls us traitors. The Pan-Africans call us pirates. For that, they hunt us.
The wind changes. The grass moves differently and Tariq, at the front of the column, gestures for us to halt. We crouch down and wait, listening intently. Tariq is our best scout. Without him, I doubt we would still be alive. He points to his left and I nod. We follow his lead.
Sifting through the high grass, brushing the pale brown cords of alien foliage out of the way, we see them. Young men and women carrying gauss weapons and pulse rifles, in camouflage battle dress and HUD helmets. Pan-African Pathfinders. They have developed whole new methods of fighting just to counter us. They comb every little borderlands planet and frontier moon, every asteroid and comet in No Man’s Land it seems with long range reconnaissance patrols. Behind this advance team is a support team, out there, hiding somewhere in the bush. They have multiple grenade launchers and short-range missiles. To either side of the support team will be soldiers guarding their flanks, looking for our patrols. But it is these men, the small squad in the lead that is the real threat, the razor which cuts men’s throats. They crawl through the grass, silent as death and when they find one of our bases, anyone who sees them, anyone who might see them will be cut down by sniper fire. Lasers will paint our tents and prefabricated domes and our ships. Comm signals will transmit our coordinates to their ships in orbit and fire will come out of the sky. Grenades will fall and missiles will slam into our ships and the faithful will die.
As my brother did.
But we will not.
Without a word, I direct my men to the left and to the right. We form a semi-circle before the advancing Pan-African troopers. I look to Tariq, the question rising in my bowels: are we laying the trap or are they? But Tariq gives me no sign that we have been spotted. I let the men set up the gauss squad automatic weapon in front of me and when they are ready, I give the signal to open fire.
The false peace of this little backwoods moon is shattered by the staccato of gunfire. Grenades are thrown and burst into blazing glory around our enemies. They die. It is as simple as that. They manage a few shots in our direction but we cut them down easily. The razor is in my hands now and I use it without hesitation to cut down the enemies of the faithful. But time now is of the essence, for now the Pan-Africans know that we have discovered them.
I look to the azure sky, striped with thin wisps of clouds. There is no sign of hostile action above, yet. But it will be coming.
We tear down the gauss SAW and fade back into the grass, scattering small grenade-sized anti-personnel mines and thermal decoys in our wake. We race back to our ship, starting and stopping, moving in twos and threes, some move while the others keep watch. We reach the camp. Already our little makeshift base is abuzz with activity. Men activate jammers and decoys launch riding high into the sky on twisting curls of flame. Booted feet kick up the dust as we race aboard our raider and begin the launch sequence. Outside, men strip off the ship’s camouflage netting and small canisters of anti-laser aerosols lift free of the ship’s hull and burst open in the air above the camp. Hopefully we have missed no other Pan-African soldiers. If we are being targeted, we will all die. But I have faith.
Every man makes it aboard and we lift off, rising towards the night sky. We look to the ground, for the rising plumes of flame that mean short-range missiles have locked on to us, but they do not come. The ground thunders away from us and we hurtle on into the upper atmosphere. What ships the Pan-Africans have in orbit, I cannot say. But we will make it past them, past their blockade and reach the open stars.
It is the will of Allah.
Camryn Bey and the Yeti from Mars
by Brandon Black
Standing outside the café, Kateb wiped the sweat from his brow and placed a hand under his kaftan to touch the revolver he had concealed there. He drew a few breaths, hoping the cotton garment was enough to conceal the weapon, and hoping further he would have no need of it. He parted the bead curtain behind the open doorway with both hands as he entered the establishment, stepped in and surveyed his surroundings.
The grey haze and the telltale cloying, spiced scent of hookah smoke hung in the air. The café contained the expected microcosm of Cairo society: local workers enjoying a drink after the day’s labours, effete foreign writers debating in heated voices the finer points of poetry and of buggery, desert tribesmen, travelling merchants, a French couple laughing over shared drinks and cigarettes, Turkish airshipmen in one corner and British air sailors in another. At one table, two elderly gentlemen in yarmulkes played backgammon and shared a bowl of dates. At another, two men in Western suits sat staring at the doorway, one strumming his fingers on a briefcase on the table before them. Kateb’s professional curiosity made him wonder who they were here to meet and why, but their rendezvous was not his.
Careful not to bump or jostle any of the other patrons, Kateb made his way through the smoke-filled tavern to the back, where he saw a powerfully-built mahogany-skinned man with short cropped black woollen hair, a long, curled handlebar moustache and a full black beard. Clad in Western dress, he wore a black suit with a vest, black with grey filigree, a black string tie around his throat and an equipment belt of many pockets encompassing his waist. On his right eye, he wore a monocular of advanced design. Above all, though, Kateb noted the look in the man’s eye, for he gleamed with all the sinister radiance of a cat about to sink its fangs into the proverbial canary, at long last.
Kateb bowed low, placing his right palm to his forehead. “Salaam.”
The black man gestured to the chair opposite him with a smile. On the table between them lay a black leather top hat and a pocket watch. The man picked up the pocket watch, closed it and put it away. “Punctual. I like that.” As the man reached for his fob watch, Kateb spotted the pistol in the holster at the man’s side.
Kateb noted to himself that the man spoke with an English accent and hazarded the guess that he was from one of Britain’s African colonies. And as for punctuality, Kateb thought, he needed to be on time to conclude his business here before the priestesses, the imams, next called out from the minarets to bring Rahm’s faithful to Her mosques for the worship of the Goddess.
“I am Kateb Bazzi, a journalist with Al-Ahram. My editor sent me here to interview you.”
“Eliphas Fiendishness. Please sit, Mr. Bazzi.”
Kateb took the proffered seat and held his tongue for a moment before speaking. “Fiendishness – I’m assuming that’s not your real name.”
“Oh, but it is. It is not the name I was given at birth, I grant you. But it is the name of my truest self, the name I have adopted, the emblem and the means by which I shall change the world.”
Kateb swallowed and then nodded. “Very well, Mister Fiendishness. Why –”
Lifting a single finger from a black gloved hand, Fiendishness cut him off. “Doctor Fiendishness.”
Kateb gave a slow nod and a nervous smile. “Doctor Fiendishness. My editor sent me here to meet with you. You must understand that this is highly unusual. Our newspaper typically only interviews prominent persons and, forgive me, but I’ve never heard of you. Why should our readers wish to know about you?”
The smile on the Doctor’s face widened and his eyes narrowed giving him a shark-like menace. “It is because your readers do not yet know me that I have taken it upon myself to arrange this introduction. It is vital that in the days to come, they understand that all that I have wrought, all that I shall achieve, despite their fears and the lies of the agents of bloody Corruption and wretched, mindless Orthodoxy, is for their benefit, for the benefit of their children and indeed, all Mankind.”
“And what it is you intend to do, Doctor?”
“Very simply, Mr. Bazzi – I shall destroy the social order of Man as we know it. I shall bring low the rich and the powerful and trod the armies of nations beneath my heel; I shall extinguish the foetid castes of class, gender, race and religion that plague our world and in that apocalypse, bring about a brighter and truer peace than any the world has ever seen established. And nothing, and no one, sir, shall stop me.”
* * *
The entire party came to a standstill as Camryn descended the stairs. The room, filled with ambassadors, nobles and dignitaries assembled from around the world for the birthday of Isma’il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, fell silent. A stunningly beautiful, olive complexioned woman of mixed Egyptian and English heritage, the only offspring of a British lord and an Egyptian sky smuggler, Camryn drew the gaze of all around her. Waves of silky black hair glistened with an obsidian sheen and cascaded down over both her ears to her shoulders. Her deep violet eyes were almond shaped pools of mystery adorned with long, delicate petal-like lashes. A diamond glinted from the left side of her thin, straight nose. Her mouth was once famously described by the Emir of Qatar as “being fit only for sardonic grins, pensive flirting and deep soul kisses guaranteed to take any man’s breath away.”
The dress she wore was a classic Georgian ballroom gown, with a dark purple satin centrepiece flanked on the sides and rear and with sleeves of a blue and white cotton floral print. Twin long lines of dark purple satin ruffles edged the border between the shimmering wave of satin and the cotton floral print. The sleeves of the dress were wide, and edged in a delicate black lace. Around her slender neck, Camryn wore a matching choker.
As Camryn made her way down the stairs, placing each step with care, every eye was upon her, which enabled a woman clad in a red-brown, white and black leather cat suit to step out of the shadows but not be noticed until she had her pistol out and aimed for Camryn’s head. Covering her face, the unknown woman wore a cat-eared mask coloured similarly to her skin-tight suit. The mask held an oval cat’s eye gem set into the forehead.
“Camryn Bey,” the masked woman said in a self-satisfied congratulatory way. “Please, don’t make a fuss, Miss Bey. I know how formidable you are but even you can’t survive a bullet to the head.” A dozen black clad men wearing cat masks and wielding all manner of pistols, knives and clubs encircled the ballroom guests with an eager menace.
“The Calico!” Camryn exclaimed.
The woman bowed. “Yes, Miss Bey. I’m honoured you’ve heard of me.” The Calico pointed at Isma’il Pasha and ordered, “Seize him!”
Her men did as she commanded and two of them manhandled the Khedive of Egypt over to her.
“You make a fine hostage, Your Excellency. Don’t worry, Miss Bey, after you’ve shown me where you’ve hidden Hammurabi’s Golden Tablet, you’ll both be released unharmed.”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you – because, for a start, I’m not Camryn Bey.”
“Of course, you are – I’ve seen your picture in –”
The array of windows covering the entire eastern wall of the Khedive’s ballroom exploded inwards as a wood and canvas glider crashed through. Dust and debris went flying everywhere and when the cloud cleared, a second Camryn was standing there, clad in a khaki shirt with epaulettes, brown jodhpurs and brown leather riding boots.
The Calico got to her feet and waved the dust from the air in front of her. “But –” Realizing she’d been tricked, the Calico dove for her lost pistol. Having gotten to her feet first, the Camryn in the ballroom dress kicked it away.
Stabbing a finger at the Camryn in jodhpurs, the Calico shrieked, “Stop her! Stop her before she ruins everything, you fools!”
The Calico’s men leapt to their feet and raced forward towards the second Camryn. But a British army officer tripped one. A Frenchman in naval uniform picked up a broken chair leg from the debris and brained another thug from behind. In an instant, the ballroom erupted into battle as various men and a couple of the women engaged the criminals in fisticuffs. The other guests either fled the scene altogether or retreated away from the fighting to the wall. Clad as she was in a ballroom dress, the first Camryn pulled back to the wall.
The Calico ran over to the pile of debris the pistol lay under, hoping to recover it, but before she could even attempt to do so, the other Camryn barrelled down upon her. The Calico drew a long knife and made a savage, untrained stab at Camryn, who side-stepped the thrust and disarmed her opponent with a single chop to the wrist. She followed with a right cross, sending the Calico sprawling across the floor.
Growling, the Calico twisted her left arm, causing a hidden blade to pop into place from a device she wore on her forearm. “You’ll pay for that, bitch!” The Calico sprung to her feet and hurled herself at Camryn.
Camryn readied herself in a fighting stance to receive the Calico’s wild charge. In one seamless motion, she pivoted on her right foot, bringing up her left leg to kick the Calico’s blade arm out of position, then put her left foot down and continued the turn, lifted her right leg to deliver a sharp kick to the Calico’s abdomen. The Calico was hurled back, crashing into a buffet table, sending all manner of hors d’oeuvres flying. She slid, defeated, to the floor.
“Just a minute!” the police chief bellowed as he and a dozen armed Cairo policemen, brandishing their pistols, and an equal number of the Khedive’s beturbaned guards, armed with scimitars and rifles with bayonets, entered the chaotic scene. The remainder of the Calico’s criminal gang put their hands in the air and the police began to take them into custody.
Camryn took hold of the Calico and dragged her to her feet, tore the bladed gauntlet from her forearm and lifted her mask.
“Edith Lector!” the host of guests exclaimed.
An old bespectacled gentleman stepped forward. “Edith, my own daughter, the notorious Calico? Why Edith? Why?” Professor Lector asked.
“For Hammurabi’s Tablet, of course. All the other robberies were just to finance my criminal empire.”
The Professor shook his head. “But why, Edith dear? We have enough money.”
Her face turned into a mask of rage in an instant, her eyes burning at him. “I wanted it to melt it down, you idiot! I would’ve melted it down right in front of you! Laughed while you watched! My mother is dead because of you! You never loved her – you cared more about mouldy old books and ancient tablets in dead languages than your own wife. She was a woman, vibrant and beautiful and alive until you killed her!”
“Your mother committed suicide, Edith. I deeply regret what happened but – ”
“You left her no choice! You starved her of love, kept her sealed up in a huge empty mansion, drove her friends away – you even sent Henry and I away to boarding school. She was too honourable to take a lover! A woman can only spend so much time alone, Father, so much time unloved. You never understood that, never understood her – never understood me…” Edith sank to her knees, sobbing.
The Professor stepped forward but the police held him back. “I just didn’t want to be disturbed – my work was too important. I didn’t want distractions – you can understand that, can’t you?” The Professor turned dumbfounded from one person to another, asking the onlookers around him. “Surely, you can understand that? I didn’t want distractions!”
The police chief gestured in the direction of the Professor and one of the police helped him to a seat to sit down.
“One thing I don’t understand, who is the woman in the ballgown?” the Khedive asked.
The Camryn in the ballroom dress stepped forward, pulled the wig from her head and peeled a skin-tight mask from her face, donning a pair of glasses afterwards.
Camryn laughed. “Why my faithful navigator and mechanic, Graciela Dixon, of course!”
Gracie curtsied before the Khedive and undid the choker around her throat. “It’s just Gracie, Your Excellency. I wore the mask, Camryn’s dress, and this voice re-modulator to fool the Calico’s agents following her and give her freedom of movement. I was glad to do it. I don’t get much opportunity to wear a dress like this.”
The Khedive smiled at her. “We’ll have to see what we can do about that, Miss Dixon. You’ll certainly have more opportunity to wear a ballgown again than Miss Lector.” The Khedive clapped his hands and two of the police stepped forward to take Edith from Camryn and led her away.
“And what’s next for you now, Miss Bey? You must allow me to show my gratitude to you and your lovely companion now that this affair is finished.”
Before Camryn could answer, a British gentleman, dressed in a formal black tuxedo, called attention to himself by coughing. His chest glittered with many awards and medals.
“Sir Nigel Belmont, of Her Majesty’s Foreign Office. If I may, Your Excellency, perhaps Miss Bey can help us with that other matter that requires attention?”
The Khedive’s eyes widened with understanding. “Yes, yes, a capital idea, Sir Nigel.”
Camryn chuckled. “What – is that old sky pirate Clinkenbeard back in Cairo airspace again?”
“No,” the Khedive said. “While I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of him, this is a new problem. Sir Nigel will take you into my study and explain while I see to my other guests. If you’d be so kind, Sir Nigel.”
Sir Nigel bowed to the Khedive. “Certainly, sir.” He extended a hand in the direction of the study. “This way, ladies.”
Camryn bowed to the Khedive, who nodded in return, and then she turned to follow Sir Nigel.
The Khedive peered into Gracie’s green eyes as he kissed her hand and she blushed a deep crimson. Gracie curtsied again and gathered up her dress in her hands to facilitate stepping over the fallen debris to follow after Camryn.
* * *
The Khedive’s study consisted of a two-story library within the palace, an immense desk and work area along the back wall, surrounded with books along two walls and an array of windows along the other. In the corner between the desk and the windows was an ornate grandfather clock and in the opposite corner, a four-foot diameter globe of the world. The second floor was open to the first with chandeliers descending from the ceiling, and bookshelves and walkways edging three of the four walls. Behind and above the Khedive’s chair, dominating the room was a huge framed portrait of his grandfather and illustrious predecessor, Muhammad Ali Pasha.
Sir Nigel sat behind the desk while Camryn and Gracie took the seats before it. A servant poured brandy into a snifter for Sir Nigel.
“A drink? Something to smoke?” the servant asked.
Camryn nodded while Gracie waved the man off. As the Khedive’s man poured brandy for Camryn, she took up one of the cigars from a box on the Khedive’s desk and snipped the end off of it and placed the cigar in her mouth. The manservant placed the snifter of brandy before Camryn and then lit the cigar for her with a long match. Camryn drew a few puffs on the cigar to get it going before taking a longer pull and exhaling a small cloud of smoke into the room. She lifted up her right leg and placed it atop her left knee; Sir Nigel blinked at this most unwomanly manner of sitting but Camryn simply smiled back at him with her cigar in her mouth.
“Yes. Well – the governments of both Her Majesty and the Khedive would like for you to look into the matter of the whereabouts of a man, a scientist, calling himself Doctor Eliphas Fiendishness.”
“I share your scepticism, Miss Bey. Doctor – Fiendishness – has taken part in some interviews in the papers of both Cairo and Paris in which he has declared his intention to do no less than take over the world.”
“Some lunatic makes such a declaration every fortnight, Sir Nigel. There are vagrants in the streets of Constantinople who boast such. Why should Her Majesty’s government take any note of it?”
“His interviews indicate an exceptional knowledge of history, mathematics, Latin, and engineering as well as the new aetheric sciences. Additionally, we believe he was also involved with the recent disappearance of the eminent cryptozoologist Dr. Louis Penwright,” Sir Nigel said.
“Very well,” Camryn said. “And if I should find this madman, what then?”
“Find out his plans, put a stop to them and bring him and any of his associates you can find to the proper authorities.”
Gracie chimed in. “Sounds simple enough.”
Sir Nigel nodded. “I pray it is so, Miss Dixon. I pray it is so.”
* * *
Gathering to herself those clues that Her Majesty’s Foreign Office and the Khedive’s government had previously assembled on the location of Doctor Fiendishness, and questioning her own network of informants spread about the streets of Cairo had led Camryn to the waterfront. It was midnight and she and Gracie kept to the shadows, for while two men might manage to make their way down the waterfront without comment, two women walking there, unescorted, at this time of night would draw unwanted attention for certain.
Camryn and Gracie crept forward to the warehouse in question. Gracie, pistol drawn, moved to the alleyway door. Holstering her revolver, she withdrew a small pump-bottle of oil from her vest pocket which she used to oil the doorknob mechanism before backing away and drawing her pistol once more. Camryn stepped forward to open the door but, just then, they heard the sounds of gears, pulleys and chains operating from above.
Backing away from the door, the intrepid pair could see panels on the roof of the warehouse opening outwards on chains attached to pulleys at the corners of the rooftop. Columns of light from what Camryn guessed were whale oil fuelled beacons, not unlike those used in lighthouses, pierced and swept the sky above the warehouse as a craft with two long, cylindrical airframes holding lifting cells, with a central hull between, began to rise clear of the warehouse roof.
“Blast!” Camryn exclaimed. “The blighter’s getting away!” With no time left for stealth, Camryn kicked the door open and the two raced inside.
Within the largely empty warehouse was a concealed airship dock. At each of the corners of the room was a man operating a beacon, pointed skywards, presumably sweeping above the warehouse to illuminate any other passing airships that might be above the city as the craft was taking off. Two other men sat at a table holding cards. Camryn stood in the now open doorway with all eyes upon her after the reverberating sound of the door smashing against the side of the warehouse. Camryn dashed forward to place herself in the centre of the warehouse while Gracie moved in behind her just beyond the doorway, pistol drawn.
Camryn sidestepped the first knife-wielding tough to reach her and with casual effort, used the man’s own momentum to hurl him across the room with a judo throw. His blade clattered along the floor away from him as he bounced to a halt. As the second closed in, Camryn pivoted to face him and then, when he was close enough, spun in place delivering a kick to disarm him and continuing the motion, a spin kick to the side of his head. The thug tumbled across the warehouse floor unconscious.
A henchman manning an illuminating beacon left the device and rushed at Gracie. She turned her pistol on him and the man skid to a standstill, placing his hands before him.
Shivering, Gracie said, “Stay-stay back!”
A second ruffian approached her from the opposite side and Gracie turned from man to man, holding her pistol on them in turn. The two men looked at each other and smiled and then began to stalk towards Gracie with undisguised menace.
“I will – I will shoot!” Gracie cried.
As she faced one, another tough grabbed Camryn from behind. He held her fast with both arms. As his companion approached Camryn from in front, she propelled herself upwards with both legs, forcing the man restraining her back. Then she kicked forward with both legs, landing kicks on the henchmen’s face before her. That man down, she reached back and executed an over the shoulder judo throw of the man behind her and sent him sprawling across the floor towards his companion. As the man tried to regain his feet, Camryn ran over and kicked him in the side of his head, rendering him unconscious.
Two gunshots echoed across the warehouse.
Camryn turned to see two men fall over onto the floor and Gracie standing there holding her smoking revolver. Gracie dropped the gun to the floor and covered her open mouth with both hands.
Camryn ran to her friend, and kicked the pistol back behind Gracie, away from the two ruffians should one or both of them still be alive, and hugged her friend. “You’re all right, dear. You’re all right,” Camryn said. Camryn’s hair wafted in the wind of the open-roofed warehouse as she looked upwards at the airship retreating skywards into the distance.
* * *
Interrogation of Doctor Fiendishness’ henchmen had led only to the cryptic statement that he had taken the kidnapped scientists, plural, with him to the Himalayas and so Camryn and Gracie went to see Rasim Yagmur, Captain of the Black Moon.
The Khedive of Egypt, Isma’il Pasha, had given the Black Moon to Camryn as a gift. The corvette-class airship had been part of the Ottoman fleet surrendered by Ahmed Fevzi Pasha to Isma’il’s illustrious grandfather, Muhammad Ali Pasha. As Muhammad Ali Pasha had had no airships, he felt so delighted to have one in his possession, he decided to list the Black Moon as having officially been “lost” when, after the Convention of London, Egypt returned the Sultan’s wayward fleet.
The Black Moon had six spheres of lifting gas aloft in a hexagonal pattern, three to fore and three to aft, holding up a winged boat hull with limited armament and twin steam-driven propellers after. She was intended largely for speed, enabling courier and reconnaissance missions. Muhammed Ali Pasha had her quarters fitted out largely as a yacht, although the airship still ran regular patrols when not in his use. Camryn used it to transport herself, Gracie and her six-wheeled Crewe Works’ steam-driven Melissa Roadster as their main occupation was road racing in North Africa and Europe. Camryn had a manor in Cairo but during the racing season, she and Gracie called the Black Moon home.
Rasim Yagmur was an immensely rotund man, with an equally immense full grey beard. His turban was outlandishly huge, white and fitted with an oval pendant set with semi-precious stones. He wore a blue and white patterned overcoat tied at the waist by a sky blue sash over which he wore his ubiquitous tool belt, to which he had fastened his scimitar and a holster for his revolver, a holdover from his air pirate days.
“Sahiba!” Yagmur said as he lifted Camryn into his arms and crushed her to his chest in a bear hug. “You’re back early!”
Yagmur released Camryn from the death lock enabling her to inhale.
“And you’ve been drinking!” Camryn said.
Gracie looked puzzled. “I thought Rahmmedans were forbidden to drink.”
“The Prophetess forbade the consumption of the fermentation of grapes and grains. For the rest, opinion is – divided.” Yagmur bowed his head low. “And if the scriptures do not forbid an old man dark tea, you wouldn’t, would you, sahiba?”
Camryn smiled, shaking her head. “Not if you’re fit to fly!”
Yagmur thumped his barrel chest and exclaimed, “Rasim Yagmur is always fit to fly!”
Camryn placed a hand along his bearded cheek and held it there for a moment.
“Then prepare the ship for flight, lay on provisions and make sure the men dress warmly – we’re headed for the Himalayas.”
* * *
The Black Moon flew towards the dawn. The sun crested the ragged, frost-topped peaks of mountains in the distance, leaving the womb of the snow-covered valley below shrouded in shadow. Streaks of yellow, crimson and orange reached out like the fingers of the Goddess to pierce the darkness of the morning sky.
Camryn and Gracie watched as Captain Yagmur stood over a table on the Black Moon‘s bridge tracing his finger over a map of the area. Behind him, the helmsman tended the ship’s wheel, making a course correction to starboard.
“If Fiendishness’ mountain fastness is where I think it is, it should be just beyond the next valley and then –” Yagmur was cut off by the sound of an explosion shattering the morning quiet to port. The airship lurched to starboard and Gracie slid across the deck on her backside to the far wall as Camryn and Captain Yagmur clutched handholds. The helmsman spun the great wheel to port as other explosions burst all around the Black Moon. The airship rocked to and fro; tufts of black smoke accompanied by thunderous reports surrounded the craft on all sides.
“Dung eating motherless whores! Where is that fire coming from!?” Captain Yagmur shouted.
“Directly below us, Captain!” one of the lookouts cried.
“Dammit!” Yagmur cried. “Those guns have us bracketed! Full steam ahead, we’ve got to get out of here before –” Yagmur never completed that sentence as a shell exploded close to starboard, shattering the windows to the bridge and hurling him to crash into the navigator’s station and unconsciousness.
Camryn looked about the bridge to see Yagmur, Gracie and the ship’s deckhands down in crumpled heaps upon the deck. She crawled over to the wheel and used it to pull herself up and take the airship’s controls. The Black Moon was already racing towards an unpleasant rendezvous with the ground. The Captain moaned as he struggled to regain consciousness while Camryn fought the controls to gain enough altitude to clear the nearest outcropping of rock before the airship smashed into it. Releasing the wheel, Camryn grabbed the flaps control rod with both hands and, bracing her leg against the helm station, pulled it down, straining with all her might. Having locked the flaps back into position, she regained the wheel and looked forward out over the bow of the speeding airship just as the Black Moon hurtled, by scant feet, over the stone obstacle that surely would have smashed the airship into splinters.
“Try to steer for one of the valleys!” Yagmur cried. “Use the snow to cushion her fall!”
“Right!” Camryn said, spinning the wheel to bring the Black Moon into a starboard turn to line her up with the valley ahead.
Yagmur, bleeding from the mouth, crawled along the deck to Gracie’s unconscious form and pulled her under the map cabinet, using his own body to pin her between the wall and the sides of the cabinet, bracing the two of them for the crash that was soon to come.
The Black Moon lined up with the valley now below her, Camryn spun the wheel back to port to straighten her out. A lookout on the deck tumbled towards the side of the airship, reached out for the guard rope at the edge of the ship’s deck, missed it by inches and plummeted, screaming, to his doom.
Camryn pulled the velocity toggle to the left to reverse the propellers’ action, then kicked free the lock on the flaps. The control rod snapped back upwards and the Black Moon slowed. Her bow pitched upwards in the same instant, and Camryn struggled to keep her feet. As the out of control craft hurtled nearer and nearer to the white-blanketed ground, Camryn, her hair flowing in the wind, found herself giggling beyond her control and all reason and as the careening airship began to touch down, the giggling grew into a chortling and then into a most wicked and echoing laughter.
* * *
From blackness, Camryn blinked her eyes open, bringing the world back into view. The deck was strewn with bodies, shattered glass and wooden debris. She pulled herself to her feet, despite the pains in her back and shoulder and looked towards where she had last seen Gracie and Captain Yagmur. She tried to race across the deck to them but nearly fell over from a sudden pain in her right calf. Hobbling over to Yagmur’s unconscious mass, she knelt and placed a hand to his neck and felt his pulse. Breathing a sigh of relief, she then gripped his coat with both hands to roll him over away from the wall. Under the map cabinet lay Gracie, moaning but alive.
Her dearest friends secure, Camryn went about the bridge tending to the other wounded, binding their wounds as best she could and calling for help. A pair of dishevelled crewmen staggered onto the bridge; Camryn directed them to help her with the numerous unconscious and bleeding airshipmen on the bridge.
Soon, the Captain and Gracie came to, though the Captain seemed in a bad way. He rolled from side to side and continued to groan in pain. Camryn guessed he might be bleeding internally and needed to see a physician immediately. She slid her hands along his arms and his right side without incident but he recoiled when she did so along his left side. Pulling open his great overcoat and unbuttoning his shirt, Camryn saw a huge bruise down his entire left side. She felt along his flank again and again he recoiled. Sliding down his side, she discovered he had a broken rib. It may have been that some loose box, or chair or stool had smashed into his flank during the crash or perhaps it happened when the huge man had been thrown against the navigator’s station, Camryn didn’t know.
“Where is the ship’s doctor?” Camryn cried.
Gracie by this time had resumed consciousness and concern for the Captain shown on her face. Yagmur’s eyes fluttered open and Camryn reached into Yagmur’s coat, withdrawing a metal flask and uncapped it and held it to his lips for him to drink. In a few gulps, the flask was empty. Yagmur looked up into Gracie’s eyes, her concern clear for him to see.
“Don’t worry, little sahiba, this is not the end of Rasim Yagmur,” the Captain said.
Camryn pulled his turban from his head and flattened it into a crude pillow for him to rest his head upon.
“The ship? How is the ship?” he asked.
Camryn shook her head. “I’ve no idea. We’re still sorting out the living from the dead, right now.”
Yagmur gave an almost imperceptible nod. “You must organize the men. Treat the wounded and survey the damage.” He coughed and Camryn looked for signs of blood but saw none. “Arm the men and place a lookout on deck. Whoever shot us down may come to finish the job.”
“We’ve crashed miles away from where we were first attacked, I’m sure of that much, but I’ll see to the men,” Camryn said.
“Good, sahiba, good. Go now, Gracie will look after me.”
Under Camryn’s instruction, the wounded were taken to the ship’s small sickbay and the engineers set to checking the Black Moon‘s engines, lifting cells and control surfaces. Camryn had four of the men carry the Captain to his bunk while she herself went to the armoury and helped hand out revolvers, rifles and scimitars to the crew, outfitting herself at the same time. A deckhand climbed atop the roof of the bridge and began to sweep and survey the countryside using the scope of a hunting rifle.
Camryn returned to Yagmur’s side.
“Well, the ship’s hull is intact. The lifting cells have torn but should be easily mended, and some of the rigging has snapped, but I expected that. The chief engineer is having a look at the engines; he isn’t sure but he thinks there isn’t too much damage. As strange as it sounds, the whole thing could have ended a lot worse.”
A crewman entered the bridge and handed Camryn a parka and a pair of goggles. Camryn slid the goggles on and putting her arms through the sleeves of the parka began to button it up.
“You can’t go out there alone!” Gracie cried.
“I’ve still got to go after Fiendishness,” Camryn said.
“But not alone! I’ll go with you!”
Camryn gestured to the wounded form of Rasim Yagmur on his bunk. “I need you to stay with the Captain – ” Seeing that Gracie was about to object, Camryn continued, ” – and to get the radio working. You have to get the men to safety, either by getting the ship airborne or by calling for help. I’m making that your responsibility Graciela. Do you understand me?” Camryn looked her right in the eye.
“Yes ma’am.” Gracie nodded, her eyes sullen.
Without a word, Camryn reached down and held her hand against Yagmur’s face for a brief moment and he nodded.
Draping the Captain’s tool and equipment belt over her head like a bandoleer and slinging a rifle over her shoulder, Camryn smiled at the pair of them and then turned to head out.
Behind her, Camryn heard the Captain speak to Gracie, his voice soft and reassuring. “Don’t worry, little sahiba. the Black Moon, she will fly again, you’ll see. She’ll be all right.”
“But will Camryn?” Gracie asked.
* * *
The crisp, white snow covered valley floor and mountain peak alike as Camryn’s breath fogged before her as she stalked her prey in the Himalayan Mountains. She had seen her opportunity when the patrol dispersed for a short break. Two of the guards she had already rendered unconscious when the men separated to relieve themselves. Now she crept upon a third. Camryn leapt upon the man, pinning his arms to his torso by encircling her legs about him, and, when he fell over into the soft snow with Camryn on his back, placing him into a sleeper hold. Gradually the guard’s struggles lessened and he succumbed to unconsciousness.
She dragged the unconscious guard behind a frost-covered rock and took his rifle. When the last man of the patrol went in search of his fellows and saw the tracks of his associate having been dragged off, he circled the rock to investigate. Camryn drew closer and when he knelt to examine his unconscious fellow, knocked him cold with a blow from the rifle butt to the back of his head.
Searching the unconscious men, Camryn took the magazines from their rifles and pistols, keeping one of each for her own use. Finding handcuffs on the guards, she cuffed them together and put the keys in her pocket. Finally, one of the guards had a flare pistol which Camryn also kept.
Up the side of the mountain, Camryn spied a cave entrance sealed with iron bars, water pouring out of it down the rocky face before her. Climbing up to the cave entrance, and looking about to see if she had been spotted, Camryn withdrew from her tool belt a brass tube with several dials and a single button. The tube had a curved opening on one end. Camryn surveyed the horizon again and then turned back to the metal bars, activating the device. The flame of the little incendiary cutting device started up. Camryn adjusted its controls so the device would make as little sound as possible and then she applied it to the bars.
The brightly coloured head of flame kicked sparks from the metal bars as it cut deeper and deeper. Having cut most of the way through the bar above and below, she silently broke it off and placed it on the snow-covered ground. After several cuts, she crawled through.
Making her way deeper into the mountain, she rounded a bend to see a subterranean pool lit with gaslights. She surmised the pool, which had large brass pipes leading into it from above, was used by the mountain fastness as a reservoir of sorts although she also guessed it might be used to dispose of some sort of industrial run-off or other waste. Spying a ladder on the opposite side of the cave, Camryn wasted no time in making her ascent.
At the top of the ladder was a metal disc blocking the exit. Camryn withdrew another tool, a listening device, and pulled out the tiny earpiece at one end of the device. She placed the larger funnel-shaped end against the metal disc. Thus equipped, she listened carefully. Hearing nothing, she decided to risk it and pushed against the metal disc, moving it out of position, allowing egress.
Careful to make no noise as she slipped through, Camryn climbed out of the cave into a well-lit interior corridor; she replaced the disc over the hole leading to the ladder. Standing at a four-way intersection, mighty corridors led off to four distant, large chambers at each end with other doors and other corridors closer.
Camryn set out to escape the exposed openness of the large intersection, but before she could step five feet, be-goggled guards appeared from around the various side corridors and closed on her, armed with rifles. Clad in black and red uniforms with jodhpur pants and combat boots, their buttoned jackets were all emblazoned with the capital letter “F.”
* * *
Her weapons and equipment confiscated and her hands bound behind her back, Camryn was led into a large, central chamber lit along its sides with flickering torches. At the far end sat a throne on a dais between two blazing braziers and a man clad entirely in black, wearing a lab coat, gloves and goggles, upon the throne. At his side he wore a holster with a pistol of strange design. Before the throne stood rows upon rows of uniformed guards, like the ones that had captured Camryn. They remained at attention, heads held high, chests thrust forward in pride, weapons at the ready. Their chant, echoed in unison, filled the chamber as Camryn was led through their midst.
“FIEND-ISH-NESS! FIEND-ISH-NESS! FIEND-ISH-NESS! FIEND-ISH-NESS!”
The echoing cry continued as the guards brought Camryn to stand before the enthroned figure. The man raised his right hand and the chanting subsided.
“Doctor Fiendishness, I presume.”
The man on the throne smiled. “I fear you have me at a disadvantage, Miss?”
Even with the goggles covering his eyes, the man’s expression traversing the distance from curiosity to annoyance could not be hidden. “Camryn Bey. Girl adventurer and dilettante spy. How good of you to join us.” Fiendishness’ voice fairly dripped with sarcasm. “You needn’t have dealt so harshly with my men outside – you’d have been admitted entrance if only you’d announced yourself.”
“I had no plans to make myself your prisoner, Fiendishness.”
“And yet, here you are. Come with me, Miss Bey.”
Fiendishness stood and stepped down from the dais, his hands clasped behind his back. Camryn was made to follow him, escorted by four armed guards.
Down a side corridor from the throne chamber, they entered a huge cavern with an airship dock inside and in that dock, the largest airship Camryn had ever seen, one bristling with cannons and aerials and possessing no visible gas bags.
Fiendishness proceeded up a ramp onto the airship, Camryn in tow. When they reached the bridge of the mighty airship, Fiendishness addressed her again.
“Welcome aboard the Rubicon, Miss Bey.”
“An airship with no gas bags? Impressive,” Camryn said.
Fiendishness smiled. “Yes – it’s my own variation on the Langensiepen Drive – less swift, but more efficient for the carrying of heavy cargo, as you will soon see.”
Taken out on deck by Fiendishness’ guards, Camryn had her bonds removed and her parka restored. Once she had the parka on, a guard bound her hands again and chained her to a central pole exterior to and beneath the airship’s bridge, facing the bow. Alongside the ship in its great cradle, Camryn could see six monstrous curved obelisks, comprised of some purplish-grey metal Camryn couldn’t identify and marked with strange, rune-like symbols, being loaded aboard. She had no guesses as to their purpose.
As Fiendishness and his guards turned to leave, Camryn spoke in surprise. “You’re just going to leave me out here?”
“Much to do, Miss Bey. Much to do. Must dash. But I wanted you to have a front row seat for the festivities. Shout if you need anything!” Fiendishness laughed and took his leave.
The mighty airship lifted from its dock with a strange, ominous hum. Doors in the side of the mountain pulled open and the great ship ascended into the chilled, mountain air. Despite Fiendishness’ statement that the ship was less swift than it might otherwise had been, it began to proceed through the air at a pace that made Camryn wish she still had her flying goggles on.
* * *
The great airship passed over mountains and rivers and valleys until the open sea could be seen. The Rubicon hovered in the air, beyond the shores of what Camryn assumed to be Hindustan, in the Bay of Bengal. The crew lowered the first of the huge obelisks from the belly of the Brobdingnagian airship and dropped into the sea.
This accomplished, the airship moved to a new location and continued the process. Fiendishness returned to stand before her. But he was not alone.
With Fiendishness stood a most peculiar beast, a white-furred, blue-skinned man-ape with great curling horns projecting sideways from its brow. Standing eight feet tall, the creature’s furless clawed hands and feet were of greater proportion than a man’s hands and feet would be for someone of its size. As difficult as Camryn found it to take in the existence of this being, it’s attire made the experience even more bizarre. For the huge, muscle-bound man-ape stood dressed in a tuxedo with tails, complete with a string tie and a top hat on its head. Its barrel chest held a curious box-like device on it, with switches and dials. The box lead to two earpieces which the beast wore on its head. The man-ape’s immense clawed feet stood bare, edged similarly to its hands with jagged claws.
Camryn blinked. Words failed her.
Fiendishness simply smiled.
“My associate, Miss Bey. Where are your manners, Miss Bey? Aren’t you going to say hello?”
“Good afternoon. Excuse me, sir, but who – what – are you?” She managed at last.
The creature twisted a dial and pulled a tube up from the box to just under its mouth. It doffed it’s top hat and spoke, revealing a mouth full of pointed tusk-like teeth. The sound was a blend of guttural grunts, beyond Camryn’s understanding. The box on the creature’s chest whirred and its dials spun and a warm, friendly voice projected outwards from it.
“Good afternoon, Miss Bey. I’ve heard much about you. I must say I’m glad the good Doctor was able to capture you before you were able to interfere with our plans with your characteristic aplomb.”
Shaking her head, Camryn responded. “I fear you didn’t answer my question sir. What are you?”
“I am what you would call a Yeti, Miss Bey. I am a denizen of the planet Mars.”
Camryn stood for a moment dumbfounded. Fiendishness seemed content to watch the exchange in delight.
“Yes, Miss Bey. A Martian. For years, my people have traversed the great distances between our world and yours through a scientific means of trans-aetheric projection, which we have perfected. Until now, we have only been able to send a handful of agents to your world to seek out assistance,” the Martian said.
“Assistance? Assistance with what?” Camryn asked.
“Mars is dying, Miss Bey,” the Martian said. “It has been for centuries. We have run out of water and without it, all life on our world will surely perish. But your world has abundant supplies of water and with the good Doctor’s help we shall move your world’s oceans to Mars.”
“YOU’RE GOING TO STEAL THE WORLD’S OCEANS!?”
Fiendishness’ grin grew wider. “That is correct, Miss Bey.”
The Martian continued, “With the oceans of Earth drained dry, our ancient world will be restored. New life will thrive on Mars once more. Doctor Fiendishness, as our trusted friend and ally, will be made a Prince of Mars and will rule vast holdings on our world. Not all Martians are as I, Miss Bey. Several species of Martians are not dissimilar to your own race. The configuration of their internal organs is different as is their outer pigmentation. And, of course, the females are oviparous, the young feeding via the umbilicus intra-ovum. These Martians the good Doctor will rule on our behalf as our vassal.”
Fiendishness caressed Camryn’s cheek for a moment before she shook him off. “There could be a place for you in the New Order, Miss Bey, if only you would consider it. The Old World dies – a New World begins.”
Fiendishness’ men set control unit on a tripod out on deck and he himself adjusted its setting with care. The last of the six obelisks dropped into the sea.
“And now –” Fiendishness said, “Everything changes.”
After a final check of his equipment, Fiendishness threw the main toggle on the control unit and a blue radiance surrounded the mighty airship, the glow emanating from the six submerged obelisks. With a great crackling sound like thunder, the blue radiance and the water between the obelisks vanished, leaving revealed only for a split moment, an empty hexagonal column reaching all the way up to the ocean surface before the waves crashed inwards to fill the empty space. A moment later, the blue radiance returned and the crackling sounded again with more of the ocean displaced to Mars. Again and again, the process was repeated.
Camryn’s voice fell nearly to a whisper. “You’ll kill every man, woman and child on Earth. The end won’t even come quickly for them. The world will degenerate into chaos, warfare and bloody ruin as Humanity fights for the last precious drops of water.”
“I knew you would understand, Miss Bey. I knew you were a kindred intellect,” Fiendishness said.
“You’ll fail, you monstrous bastard. Someone will stop you. If not me, someone.” Camryn looked over the guards around her and pulled against her bonds to no avail. Being that Fiendishness was the closest man to her, her eyes scoured him and alighted upon the strange pistol. Camryn again struggled against her bonds but with no success.
Fiendishness continued to flash a toothy, self-satisfied grin. “I see you admiring my pistol, Miss Bey.” He withdrew the weapon from its holster. It was longer, by far, than an ordinary pistol and with a spherical bulge in the barrel. “It is a weapon of my own design. I call it an accelerator pistol – it fires small, bullet-size rockets. An incendiary aerosol is sprayed into the spherical chamber. The rocket ammunition is ignited and as it proceeds into the central chamber, the aerosol ignited around the rocket by its own exhaust. This explosion surrounding the ammunition hurls it forward at great velocity and thus, great striking strength.” Fiendishness levelled the pistol at Camryn’s forehead. “But perhaps you’d prefer a demonstration, eh?”
Camryn closed her eyes.
A single shot rang out.
Camryn opened her eyes to see Fiendishness holding the pistol on his Martian companion and the Yeti ambassador clutching its chest in confusion and pain as it staggered backwards, a tiny circle of thick, blue molasses-like blood spreading slowly from the wound.
“Foolish Martian! Did you really think that for a principality on Mars I would sacrifice all life on the Earth? No. I shall drain away enough of the world’s oceans to force the nations of the world to accede to my demands and then I shall bring the water back – along with the last water on Mars – dooming your countrymen and insuring there will be no one left alive on Mars to take revenge against me!”
Despite its wound, the Yeti surged forward to the attack. “Fiendishness, you wretch!!”
Fiendishness pulled the trigger three times and three times the pistol fired, each time hitting the huge Martian in its chest. The impacts knocked the creature backwards and flailing its hugely muscled arms, the Martian toppled over the railing of the airship.
Fiendishness with calm deliberation stepped forward to the edge of the airship and pointed the pistol down taking aim. He fired one last time, the round landing dead centre in the Yeti’s forehead just before the creature’s immense bulk hit the surface of the water. It sank immediately beneath the waves with no sign that it had ever been.
“Goodbye, Martian. I never could have constructed a trans-aetheric projector of such size and power without you!” Fiendishness said. “My shining Utopia of Science will be built on the backs of a dead race and a dead world. Farewell.”
One of the guards handed a microphone to Fiendishness. He lowered his head, holding the microphone in a solemn manner and in a soft voice said, “At last, it is time.”
His head snapped up and with his right hand, he raised the microphone on high. “Citizens of the world – I, Doctor Fiendishness, address you now. Through the absolute power of my Science – I am holding the world’s oceans for ransom! All nations of the world must capitulate to me in forty days’ time or face the world becoming a barren, lifeless tomb! The peoples of the world will die and the Earth reduced to a dusty heap in the starry void. Thirty days time will be sufficient for even the most sceptical and the most stupid among your leaders to see the truth of my words. In forty days’ time, if the nations of the world have not named me their supreme leader, if the Great Powers have not utilized every military resource at their disposal to conquer and subjugate those nations which refuse to bend to me – I will doom the Earth and Humanity to their final end, and watch as your bones bleach in the sun. Forty days.”
“YOU’RE INSANE!!” Camryn cried.
Fiendishness dropped the microphone to the deck, threw his head back and laughed. Camryn sank against the pillar to which she’d been chained as Fiendishness’ peals of unholy laughter washed over and through her.
Without another word to her, still chuckling to himself, the evil genius who had threatened the world with terror and desolation withdrew. His guards retrieved the microphone, dismantled the control unit and its tripod and proceeded after him. Camryn sat on the deck of the airship, despondent, watching as the blue radiance illuminated the ocean below again and again, transporting the life’s blood of the world to Mars.
Camryn shook off her despair. The world was at stake and she was needed, Camryn thought. Continuing to appear despondent, she took in her surroundings. Guards patrolled the outer deck of the great airship like clockwork. It was easy for her to begin a silent count to let her know how long it would be before the guards returned. Camryn kicked at the bottom of her left boot’s heel. The cap off of it, she kicked the side of her right boot against her left, causing sparks to fly from the flint and steel embedded within them. Eventually the sparks ignited the reserve of incendiary fluid in her left heel and a small, thin jet-like flame was produced. Leaning backwards, Camryn lifted her left leg up so the flame would cut through the chains holding her to the pillar. This accomplished, the chains fell to the deck and Camryn removed her boot with haste, and used it to sever the bracelet like bonds on her forearms. Camryn picked up the fallen cap from her boot heel and replaced it, stamping her boot on the deck to secure it.
By the time the guards returned for another sweep of the bow of the airship, Camryn had gathered up her chains and looked much as she had when she was bound to the pillar, though she was now free. She waited until the guards were walking past her and called out in a weak voice. “Water, please. Just – just some water…”
One of the guards approached, slung his rifle and pulled out a canteen while his cohort watched. Camryn leapt to her feet and wrapped her chains around the man’s throat and pulled tight. As the other guard ran forward, Camryn twisted her captive’s neck with all her might, and with a loud snap, dropped him to the deck. Camryn issued a standing side kick to the gut of the charging guard, which arrested his forward pace in an instant and then kicked him again in the face, rendering him unconscious. Camryn dragged the dead man to the side of the airship and pushed his body over. She then returned to the unconscious guard and switched coats with him, put him in her spot against the pillar with the broken chains draped over his limbs behind him. With any luck, Camryn thought, if someone came to investigate the disappearance of the two men, she might gain a little more time through the ruse.
Silent as a cat, Camryn crept into the bowels of the airship.
* * *
Edging herself forward with her elbows, Camryn evaded capture by traversing the crawl-ways in the airship’s ceiling. Having found the empty radio room, Camryn swung down from the ceiling and locked the door from within. She turned on the radio and twisted the dials to the frequency which she knew someone on the Black Moon would be listening for. At least, they would if they’d gotten the radio working, Camryn thought.
“Camryn Bey to Black Moon. Camryn Bey to Black Moon. Lock on to this signal. Am aboard huge airship south of Hindustan. I’ll keep transmitting for as long as I can. I don’t know my precise coordinates so it is imperative that you track this signal. Doctor Fiendishness’ threat is real and he is capable of stealing the world’s oceans. I need help. I need help immediately.”
There was a pounding on the door. “Open up in there! Do you hear? Open this door at once!” The pounding grew louder as Fiendishness’ guards attempted to batter down the door.
“This is Camryn Bey aboard the Airship Rubicon. I am being held prisoner by Doctor Fiendishness and need immediate reinforcement!”
The radio died, all power to the device having been cut. The pounding stopped and Camryn could hear the telltale sound of a fuse burning. She threw herself to the deck as an explosion rocked the room and blew the door off its hinges. A moment later, Fiendishness’ guards raced into the room and seized her.
On the bridge of the great airship, Camryn was once again brought before Doctor Fiendishness.
“You continue to impress, Miss Bey. We shall have to find more secure quarters for you,” Fiendishness said. Turning to his guards, he continued. “Take her to the brig and place her under triple guard. No one is to open her cell door without a direct order from me.”
Camryn, looking out of the windows from the bridge of the giant airship, spoke with serenity and confidence in her voice. “I think that might be premature, sir.”
“What!?” Fiendishness exclaimed.
Out of the clouds, from above and behind the Rubicon, raced the Black Moon. She passed over the Rubicon‘s stern and down her central axis towards her bow, the Black Moon‘s crew dropping fin-stabilised hand-held bombs and firing rifles at Fiendishness’ men on deck. As the Black Moon passed over the bridge towards the bow of the ship, twin reports could be heard as both of her rocket anchors fired, embedding themselves deep into the Rubicon‘s forward deck. As Camryn and Fiendishness watched, ropes descended from the Black Moon and a horde of turban-wearing scimitar and rifle armed crewmen began to rappel onto the Rubicon‘s deck, weapons at the ready.
Fiendishness screamed at the guards standing with him. “Stop them, you fools!” The four men immediately ran towards the exit to engage the boarders, leaving Camryn alone with Fiendishness.
Fiendishness screamed again, “Not you personally, you idiots! Take her to the brig!”As he did so, Camryn ran at the nearest wall and used it to somersault backwards, slipping her bound hands from behind her back to in front of her. As the first of her guards ran towards her, Camryn dealt him a double-handed hammer punch to the stomach and another to the side of his head, sending him flying. A second guard grappled her about the waist, lifting her off the deck and continuing to charge forward with the clear intent to smash her against the wall. Camryn struck him in the back, twice, with hammer blows and when the man released her, pulled his head down and kneed him in the face.
Fiendishness ran to a console on the bridge and shouted into a speaking tube. “Arms topside!! Repel boarders!! Repel boarders!!” He drew his pistol and began to aim at Camryn but could not gain a clear shot. Alarms and sirens began to sound throughout the Rubicon‘s hull.
The third guard simply grabbed Camryn bodily to hold her still while the fourth guard approached to help. Camryn kneed him in the gut and he fell away from her. As he sought to regain his feet, the fourth guard leapt forward to tackle Camryn just as Fiendishness fired. The shot caught the guard in his right shoulder and bleeding, the man fell to the deck. The remaining uninjured guard dove away from Camryn as Fiendishness began to fire wildly in her direction. She tumbled across the bridge and out the open door onto the deck outside, kip-upped to her feet and raced towards the Black Moon‘s invading crew.
Ahead of her, Camryn could see Rasim Yagmur atop the Black Moon‘s aft deck, spraying Fiendishness’ approaching guards with fire from a Maxim machine gun. From above, the Black Moon‘s deckcrew pushed crates off the ship to fall to the Rubicon‘s deck to use as cover. Camryn slid to a halt behind one of these and one of the Black Moon‘s air sailors cut her bonds with his knife. Rappelling down a rope to join her was Gracie. Untrained for such manoeuvres, Gracie’s grasp slipped free from the rope and she fell the last few feet to the Rubicon‘s deck. Gracie rubbed her buttocks as one of the Black Moon‘s sailors helped her over to Camryn’s position; meanwhile, someone handed Camryn a pistol.
“Thank the Goddess you’re all right!” Gracie said.
“No doubt thanks to you. You obviously got the ship’s radio working,” Camryn said.
Gracie smiled. “Not at all. It was smashed beyond repair – I did get our steam roadster’s radio working though!”
“Good work!” Camryn lifted her pistol just over the edge of the crate she was hiding behind and placed a round right in the heart of one of Fiendishness’ officers.
Camryn shot a glance up to the Black Moon to see Rasim Yagmur waving to her and Camryn waved in return. Yagmur turned back to the Maxim to resume firing. Camryn saw a pair of Fiendishness’ guards race onto the deck with a strange, tube-like contraption. One man knelt, holding the tube to his shoulder while the other inserted a cylindrical, finned munition into the back end of the tube. Uncertain of what they were doing, Camryn fired at the two men but without avail.
With a loud whoosh, a rocket hurtled forwards out of the tube towards the Black Moon‘s aft hull and Rasim Yagmur. There was a thunderous explosion and the air was filled with smoke. Camryn could see nothing of the men on the airship’s aft deck nor their captain but certainly the sound of the Maxim had ceased.
The cloud cleared and Rasim Yagmur, his bulk belying his agility, forewent the rappelling ropes and simply leapt down to the Rubicon‘s deck below. Drawing his great, two-handed scimitar and lifting it overhead, with the mighty war cry, “RAHM AKBAR!!” – Goddess is great – he charged forward towards Fiendishness’ men; Camryn and the Black Moon‘s sailors followed him into battle.
Terrified by the huge sword-wielding Arab bearing down on them, Fiendishness’ men fired almost at random, hitting only air. Captain Yagmur sliced downward with the great blade, cleaving a guard in twain, his bloody corpse collapsing to the wooden deck. Yagmur dispatched another of Fiendishness’ guards as the Black Moon‘s sailors caught up to him, firing their rifles as they went. Soon the forward deck had been cleared of Fiendishness’ men.
The Black Moon‘s crew set up a second Maxim on a tripod atop a crate and fired to shatter the glass windows leading to the bridge. Two of the Black Moon‘s sailors ran to the wall under the window and tossed grenades in through the now open windows. Explosions and the cries of dying men rewarded their efforts.
“Take the bridge!” Yagmur cried and Camryn and the men began to surge forward towards the open doorways leading to the bridge.
Some of Fiendishness’ guards took up positions under the shattered windows and began to pour rifle fire into the onrushing sailors. As the sailors fired back at them, one of the guards’ officers stood from behind cover, pointing off to the side of the airship.
Camryn looked and sure enough, a flying wedge of powerfully-built Yeti warriors, their white-furred ape-like forms clad only in rocket packs and flying goggles, hurtled through the sky towards the Rubicon. Their jowls flapped in the wind, exposing mouths of jagged, razor-sharp white teeth, over-developed canines and deep blue gums. White contrails trailed behind the squadron of Yeti rocket fliers as they soared aloft.
The Yeti fliers alighted upon the deck outside the bridge and began attacking Fiendishness’ guards and the Black Moon sailors alike, smashing them with blows from collapsible fighting pikes, and their own mighty claws. Other Yeti simply grabbed the nearest human and using him as a club, began to swing him back and forth into his fellows. The scene of battle became even more confusing and convoluted as the struggle now degenerated into a crazed, three-way conflict for victory.
A trickle of Fiendishness’ guards continued to join the battle from below decks, but their fellows were already in retreat, ceding the bridge to the Yeti and trying to regroup, even as the Black Moon‘s sailors were advancing to attempt to take the bridge.
A second wave of flying Yeti approached Fiendishness’ flagship. Camryn noted they carried objects suspiciously like satchel charges and directed the men breaking down the Maxim to bring it forward and fire on the incoming aerial Yeti instead. The two sailors kicked the tripod out of the way. The gunner fired the weapon from the hip, raking bullets across two of the airborne Martians, causing them to explode in mid-air. Their fellows dove below the lip of the mighty airship, presumably to plant their charges lower on her hull.
“Time to leave, I think!” Captain Yagmur said.
“Not just yet – we’ve got to get Fiendishness’ control box!” Camryn said. “Gracie, take the men back to the Black Moon – we’ll join you shortly!”
“But Cam…” Gracie protested.
“That’s an order! Retract the rocket anchors and get ready for a fast exit. Rasim, you’re with me!” Camryn didn’t wait and she and Rasim Yagmur leapt from behind cover towards the stairs leading to the bridge.
The great airship rocked as the first of the planted charges detonated. Only two Yeti warriors remained on the bridge of Fiendishness’ airship, surrounded by the bodies of his fallen guards. Camryn raced forward and as one of the great furred creatures swung its claw out at her, she dropped to the deck and slid right underneath it, between its legs, firing her pistol as she went. She placed five shots into the Martian behemoth at point blank range and the creature fell over, dead before it hit the ground. Captain Yagmur likewise charged the other Yeti warrior and raised his scimitar on high; the Martian warrior sought to block his strike with its collapsible fighting pike, but Yagmur’s stroke cut the weapon in twain and cut a mighty swath into the chest of the Martian. Thick blue blood shot out of the creature’s chest all over Rasim and his blade. The Martian collapsed dying with a howl.
Camryn found the control box and snatched it up. “Now we go!”
The great ship continued to rock back and forth as the intrepid pair made their way back to the Black Moon. Gracie had had the men toss a net over the side to use as an impromptu ladder. The Captain took the control box from Camryn and placing its handle in his mouth, began to climb up onto the Black Moon.
Camryn looked back before following Captain Yagmur. Standing on the pitching deck of the now-flaming airship was Doctor Fiendishness, a rocket pack on his back and a megaphone in his hand.
Fiendishness lifted the megaphone and spoke. “Au revoir, Miss Bey. Round one goes to you. But you haven’t defeated me, I promise you – we shall meet again…” Fiendishness was suddenly cut off by two flying Yeti barrelling into him at tremendous speed, grappling him and carrying him off the edge of the airship. The three of them tumbled in a ball in mid-air for a brief moment before the powerful Martian warriors subdued him and ripping his rocket pack from him, tossed it into the sea. Each taking one of the Doctor’s arms, the two rocket-equipped Yeti carried him off into the distance as his cries of protestation grew fainter and fainter.
Camryn grabbed onto the net and began to climb aboard as the Black Moon lifted free from the doomed Rubicon. Great explosions reverberated throughout the hull of the burning airship and the Rubicon fell into the sea, to vanish forever beneath the waves.
* * *
Camryn removed the face of the Doctor’s control box. A few hours study of the mechanism by herself, Gracie and Captain Yagmur led to them deducing a means to reverse the mechanism and a formula for ascertaining how much water had been so far translocated, making it possible to return the stolen ocean water. That accomplished, Camryn, with Gracie at her side, worked out how to activate the device’s self-destruct mechanism and as Camryn prepared to do so, Captain Yagmur spoke up.
“Let us not be hasty, sahiba. Perhaps we should put the Doctor’s plan into action,” he said.
“You mean?” Gracie asked.
“We should drain Mars of its water. If we let the Martians survive, they’ll only try this again,” Yagmur said.
“That would make us no better than they!” Gracie protested.
The Captain shook his head. “Far from it, we did not come to their world to murder their children. We are merely defending our own.”
“I understand what you’re saying, Rasim, but it’s still genocide,” Camryn said. “We can’t go that far. Besides, it seems to me that neither the Martians nor Fiendishness could build this trans-locator on their own and now that their alliance is at an end, I think Fiendishness has more to fear from the Martians than we.”
Yagmur nodded at Camryn’s decision. “Very well, sahiba. It is your choice.”
Without another word, Camryn activated the control box’s self-destruct sequence. Deep beneath the surface of the sea, vibrating with a high-pitched screech, the six mighty obelisks shone a deep blue radiance one last time and then exploded, casting six great plumes of water skyward.
“And that I think is that,” Captain Yagmur said.
“Indeed,” Camryn agreed.
“So now what? I mean, we did just save the world,” Gracie said.
“I, for one, could use a drink,” Yagmur said.
“I wouldn’t mind one myself,” Gracie said.
“But where?” Camryn asked.
Yagmur mused, “It is said, the island nations of Nippon have the most relaxing hot springs anywhere in the world and I do believe there is a British embassy there.”
Camryn smirked at the old air pirate. “And I suppose this sudden interest in Nipponese hot springs has nothing to do with the stories of males and females bathing together?”
Yagmur smiled coyly. “Sahiba – you would not chastise one of the Goddess’ faithful for finding beauty in the female form?”
“Surely not.” Her cheeks still crimson, Gracie laughed.
Camryn laughed and nodded. “Lay in a course for Cairo; we’ll report in to Sir Nigel before we set course for Nippon. I’m sure the British embassy will put us up and make repairs to the Black Moon after what we’ve done.”
“Aye aye, sahiba.”
Gary Bourgeois has passed. Gary was a fellow New Orleanian sf and fantasy writer. His work was a foundation on which I built two steampunk fiction anthologies. I had planned to ask him to write the introduction to the third. When I felt the need to step back from the role of facilitator for the New Orleans Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Group, it was Gary who took up the slack and provided focus and organization to that group.
Gary Bourgeois was particularly proficient with the long story. It was my hope that, over time, we would refine the form and format of the long story together with other New Orleans sf and fantasy writers so that one day there would a type of long story in the sixteen thousand word range that would be known as the Bourgeois.
My upcoming projects may be more focused on the novel than short or long stories for the near future but work towards a regional variant of the long story continues to be part of my dreams as a writer.
Goodbye, Gary. I hope you reached whatever afterlife you sought and that your gods continue to watch over your soul. Blessed be.
Gary’s obituary from the newspaper:
Gary Joseph Bourgeois, age 64, went to heaven on Thursday, October 19, 2017. He died 6 months after diagnosed with bladder cancer. He was the husband of 41 years to Deborah Campos Bourgeois. He was the son of the late Harold and Lois Bourgeois, oldest brother to Michael Bourgeois (Marilyn), Philip Bourgeois (Carlen), the late Robert Bourgeois, Ann Bourgeois Schmidt (Scott), cousin to Will Dermady (Julie), and uncle to Moira, Erin and Tommy. Treasured brother-in-law to Rhonda Campos.
He retired from Entergy Nuclear and Jefferson Parish Westwego Library. He graduated from UNO, and he led the fiction writers West Bank group at the Westwego Library, and the science fiction writers group at the East Bank regional Library. Writing and mentoring others were his passion. Every member of his group was prized. He wanted to encourage everyone to succeed. He was published in short story form and placed in a writing contest. Rescuing, loving and caring for over 100 cats in his lifetime demonstrated his endless compassion.
He leaves behind a large feline family, two in particular; Jolson and Pogo, in heaven now, will be the first to welcome him. Gary’s every day was spent centered in kindness. He was never judgmental to others, always caring for other people’s feelings. A more loving husband does not exist. Our years together will never be enough.
Relatives and friends of the family are invited to attend the Celebration of Life on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at the Garden of Memories Funeral Home, 4900 Airline Drive, Metairie, LA from 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm. In Lieu of flowers, donations to Jefferson Parish Friends of the Library and Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO) may be made in his name. Online condolences may be offered at www.gardenofmemoriesmetairie.com. The family would like to express their sincere thanks to the Ochsner Oncology, Cardiology, and Chemotherapy Infusion Clinic physicians, all nursing and support staff and especially cardiology nurse Raj for the outstanding care and comfort provided.
Published in TheNewOrleansAdvocate.com from Oct. 23 to Oct. 25, 2017
Both The Other World and Paris By Gaslight will be published in 2017 some time about the middle of the year. They will definitely be on the shelves before this year’s CONtraflow. No final decisions have been made yet as to which stories and poems will be included but everyone selected will be informed when the time comes.