Author Topic: Victoria Regina, Interlude: Mars  (Read 905 times)

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Offline Konisforce

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Victoria Regina, Interlude: Mars
« on: September 17, 2012, 11:14:54 AM »
Author's Note: This interlude takes place in 1850 during Mars' early colonial period, around the time of the colony's growth beyond one million.  The appropriate place to read this within the context of the larger story would be between Parts 3 and 4, though there are very few details in here which have any bearing on the larger story and vice versa.  The Charge of the Grenadiers has already happened, but the first jump ships to leave Sol system have not yet gone out.  Comments and criticism always greatly appreciated.  Enjoy!

I never would’ve come if it weren’t Macleod who asked me.  I owed him for a thousand things, from skimming tobacco from the dispensary for me all the way up to saving my life, and this’d go a long way toward paying him off.  No other reason to get wrapped up with the royal set, in my book.

The Earl of Lincoln had a nice place, if your tastes run to houses with wings, hunting grounds, servants, and a driveway the size of a cricket ground.  I was asked around to the tradesman’s entrance then showed into Lincoln’s exalted presence.  He was sitting by the fire with a couple of those dogs rich people have instead of rugs.  “Macleod, two pints, if you would.”  I liked him already.  “Have a seat, if you wish.”  I did, so I did.

After the second pint he warmed to his task.  “You were with Macleod in the Balkans Campaign?”  I nodded, not wanting to waste energy I needed for drinking.  “That would’ve been a few years before he came to serve as my batman.”  Didn’t even need to nod at that one.  “You chose not to continue in the army?”

I didn’t much need to answer that, either, but the chance to tell an officer my own personal views got the better of me.  “I served my bit in the Empire war.  And the bits of a number of other men.  5 years of rank and file was plenty for this mother’s son.”

“And what have you done with yourself since?”

I fixed him with my steely gaze.  It bounced off.  “In my line of work, people generally know my line of work before they summon me.”

“No need for impudence, boy.”  His eyebrows drew together darkly.  Thunderheads on the horizon.

“I had enough of giving unearned respect in the army, m’lord.  You may be my better, but no one’s my superior anymore.”

As quick as a Berlin storm the clouds passed.  An act.  He cracked a grin.  “You’ll do nicely.  I’ll need someone who doesn’t bow and scrape at the first flash of a peerage.”  He laid a packet of parchment on the table between the chairs.  “My sister’s son went to Mars two months ago.  Messages became more and more garbled.  The last was two weeks ago, with nothing since.”

“Garbled how?”  I flipped through the packet quickly.  Receipts, news from Mars York, some information on lodging and activities.  Plenty of time to study it later.

“Mars-God images.  Heresy.  Cultists and apocalypse.  The Olympians, most likely.”

I’d read enough about the Mars cultists to know that they were like every other I’d ever heard of.  Crazy, and sure about it.  “You want me to drag back dear old nephew, then?”

“Rescue operation.  Yes.”

“I’ll need expenses paid, plus a thousand crown advance.  And two thousand crown when I’m done.”

“I’ll add a five thousand crown finders’ fee, Mr. Edmunds, if he comes back alive.”  I guess I couldn’t keep ahold of my eyebrows.  Lincoln smiled without joy.  “My sister is very distraught.”  He pulled a bell and in came Macleod with that insufferable smirk of his.  At seven thousand crown, it wasn’t doing him a favor, it was turnabout.  I’d owe that man ‘til I died.  Unless he killed me first.

Macleod handed Ulster another package, which came to me.  “I’ve booked you on the Orkney Skimmer passenger liner, departing in three days.  I have letters of introduction to the Colonial Administrators of Dissemburk and of Mars York, and another to the Baron of New Tunbridge.  He and I fought together, and I suspect he has an organization in Mars York that will be . . . to your liking.”  Meaning underhanded criminal types.  My peers and colleagues.  “I have also booked you two days of meetings here in London with xenologists and cultural professors recently returned from Mars who will teach you to blend in.  With the trail going cold we don’t have time for you to learn to once you arrive.”

He asked if there were any questions and there weren’t.  I’d have bilked him for another pint, but at three days until launch I did have some things to see to.  Foremost being find out whatever I could about the Baron of New Tunbridge.  I wanted to know which way the wind blew before I left shore, seeing as I’d be using his boat.  I took my leave and headed for the door.

“Mr. Edmunds.”  Stop: about face.  “This is a rescue only for my sister’s sake.  I strongly believe the whelp is already dead.  Do be careful.”

Great.

~~~

The less I have to say about the trip, the better.  What with no gravity and air pressure steadily dropping to half I didn’t feel like moving, didn’t have the energy to if I did, and didn’t want to see anything even if I could’ve.  Space ain’t for me.  I like dirt between my toes.

As spaceports go, Dissemburk’s was dismal.  As anything goes, Dissemburk’s was dismal.  And when a building is judged by how quickly it gets you outside, that’s saying something.

I had to wave my magic Letter at the Col-Admin customs officials to get them to lay off my luggage.  I had a few prize heirlooms that I didn’t want questions about - neutronium knuckles, truncheons, that sort of thing.  I’m sure that Mars was well stocked in that regard, but my employer wanted me to hit the ground running, not spend a week trying to sidle up to the local purveyor of nap-making equipment.  They bumped the question up the chain-of-command twice before it got to a guy who felt responsible enough to let me out into the wild.  He stamped my papers and gave me a half-hearted, “Welcome to Mars.  Enjoy Dissemburk.”  Ran the city name together so it sounded like the Christmas month..

I hit the ground with my baggage and was in the middle of a con artist’s dream.  Rich folks fresh on the planet, eager to be parted from the burden of their wallets.  I’m a jaded sort but even I was impressed by the low-grav acrobats; half a dozen kids throwing each other thirty feet in the air.  But I had to keep an eye on my wallet, an eye out for my contact, and an eye on the entertainment - I dunno about you, but that’s one more eye than I was given, and the entertainment was the first to go. 

I spotted the carriages and started moving.  I was halfway there when I saw the Baron’s coat-of-arms on the side of a beat-up coach and hopped in.  There was a small, weasely sort already in the coach facing backwards and a driver who looked like he doubled as skull-cracker on occasion.  Two guys for little old me.  Either the Baron wanted to size me up, or his operation wanted to.  Either way, I was on stage already.

“Nice flight?” Weasel asked.

“No.”

“Typical.”

Once we were rolling and I was pretty sure it’d take a group effort to rob me, I laid back and looked around.  We were in the Main Dome - City Hall, the Anglican Cathedral, the Olympus Pantheon, the rich folks, and the slums, altogether.  To get that size, you needed a big dome.  They got one.  I counted eleven of the neutronium ribs in about a quarter slice of sky before I got bored and stopped.  Big things.  There were clouds formed at the top of the dome, obscuring the view of the Cornerstone Arch.

“Two thousand feet up,” Weasel said.  “Neutronium ribs, folded duranium sheets for the windows.”  So, it was gonna be the Tour Guide gambit to get me to talk.  “Duranium’s amazing stuff.  Couldn’t live here without it.  You have a suit?”  Space suit.  For long strolls out of short airlocks.  I didn’t, but I didn’t feel the need to answer, either.  “The flexible parts, that’s stretched duranium.  It’ll bend but not break.  Acts like cloth.  Fold it over and pound it long enough, it’s like glass.”  He waved at the dome.  “Smelt it and pour it, it’s stronger than steel.  But not even duranium’s strong enough for the big ribs.  Neutronium.”

I decided to finally favor him with my presence in the conversation.  “You don’t say.”

We took a turn onto a main street then and I caught a glance of what was towing us.  I’d expected the clip-clop up ahead to be horses.  Nope.  Goats.  Big horned goats, a team of four, dragging us along.  He must’ve caught me looking ‘cause he went into a new chapter of his guide book.

“Your ship probably dropped the air pressure on the way over here, ya?”

I gave him a limp look.  “I was told something about the lack of air being for my own good, yes.”

Weasel nodded and flashed a baker’s dozen of intact teeth.  “Exactly.  They keep the air about half Earth pressure.  Cheaper.  Half the equipment, but still good enough to keep us alive.  Convicts on the heavy work gangs or rich folk have extra oxygen, but the domes just give you enough to keep you walking.  Horses and cattle came over on the early freighters, but they couldn’t handle it.  Horses, especially.  Between low oxygen and low gravity, they’d keel over, turn an ankle, all sorts of things.”

“So, naturally, you went to goats.”

“Not as crazy as it sounds.  Some smart fella told me that there’s places on Earth with this much atmosphere.  Just up higher.  Living in the domes is like living at 16,000 feet on Earth, they tell me.  So mountain goats.”  One of the goats bleated as we picked up speed on a straight stretch.  No doubt voicing his opinion of a goat’s life on Mars.  Whatever it was he was saying, I agreed.

We clattered along on the cobbles for a bit in silence before Part 1 of my plan suddenly occurred to me.  I must’ve been inspired by looking up at all four-feet-wide of the driver’s back.  “We going through the Tenements by any chance?”

Weasel gave me half a stink-eye.  “Nearby.  You got some business?”  I did, but not the sort I would mention to Weasel.  I needed some muscle independent of the Baron’s forces.  Nothing against the man (at least, not yet), but I was a hired soldier of a minor acquaintance on a whole ‘nother world.  Push came to shove, I might need someone without any other entanglements.  Preferably a someone good at pushing and shoving.

“Need to cleanse my throat from the trip.  Got time for a stop?”  Weasel’s look clearly indicated that he couldn’t come up with a good reason not to despite his best efforts.  “Five minutes, I swear.  Pint’s on me.  Your choice.”  My stunning display of hospitality swayed him.  He slapped the side of beef steering the coach and told him the name of a local, the Red Gully.  Before too long we’d clattered into the stretch of town that always accompanies a large collection of cheap housing.

The Tenements loomed off to my right - eight and ten story monsters made possible by duranium and low gravity, crammed with the unwashed masses.  The watering holes where the unwashed masses came to forget their unwashedness lined the street ahead.  I spotted the Red Gully four of five fronts down and took the chance to make my escape, with a “meet you there!” over my shoulder as I jumped from the moving coach.  Forgot about the gravity and tumbled to a graceless stop, but one third gravity onto cobblestones is practically a featherbed when you’re fresh off the boat and still have all your Earth muscle.

Just my luck, I found what I was looking for on the first try.  I was in an alley between the Pig and Whistle and Victoria’s Petticoat, and the alley was full of wagon, kegs, and a guy who was probably named “Bull”.  All I saw was a whole tent’s worth of cloth over two shoulders and a guy carrying a pallet of booze into the tavern.  My drinking arm has a keen sense of beer by weight and I did some quick math. At least 42 stone on Earth.  3 of me.  On Mars, just one of me, but carried like it was a stack of pillows.  Impressive anyway you sliced it.

I had two crowns in my hand when he came back out.  “Bull?”

“Huh?”

It was worth a shot.  “What’s your name?”

He thought about it.  “Magnus.”

Damn.  Blonde hair, braided. Scandinavian.  A good Queen’s subject would’ve been Bull, for sure.  I gave myself half-credit.  “You have time for a job?”

He thought about it.  He counted the kegs on his cart.  He gave each one a few seconds and used his big sausagey fingers, just to make sure the number didn’t change.  “Got three more runs.”

“Here’s two crowns.”  I let them hit his palm.  They practically disappeared.  I think it would’ve taken two actual crowns to fill up those hands.  “I might need you.  Every day I find you in the Petticoat here, I’ll give you two more crowns.  If I have a job for you, I’ll give you five.”

His grin told me I’d overpaid exactly as much as I meant to.  He looked like the sort whose loyalty was cheap and absolute.  “I got my runs ‘til noon every day.  Gotta make ‘em.  Papa says I gotta hold down a steady job.”

“Sure, sure.  I’m a late riser.  Noon’s fine.”

“And I like the Ice Prince down the road.”  Showing some gumption.  “They serve skrei.”

I knew enough of Northern cuisine to know I’d be eating elsewhere.  “I’ll be sure to try it.”

Magnus’ wheels started spinning again and eventually something tumbled out.  “I’ll be in the booth at the back, facing the door.”

I looked him down and back up, and was tired by the time I made it to elbow height.  “Do people often have trouble spotting you?”

“Huh?”

Sweet lad.  “Never you mind.  Middle booth in the back.  Remember, two crowns a day, five for a job.”

“Right.  Noon.  Ice Prince.”  He turned back to the cart and hefted another four kegs. 

I darted out through the Pig and Whistle and downed a pint, just for form’s sake, mind you.  I hit cobbles just as Weasel and his helper popped out two doors down.  “Sorry, gents!  I liked the look of the Pig, here.  Reminded me of home.”  A bare-faced lie but enough of one that everyone could be getting on with, and Weasel just wanted to get the carnival back on the road.

“We were never properly introduced.  Lewis.  Lewis Edmunds.”  Handshakes weren’t practical as we were hiking back to the coach, so we just nodded.

“Jeremiah,” Weasel said.  Weasel it was, then.  I turned to the meaty driver slash skull-knocker.

“Bull.”

Damn.  So close.

~~~

The Baron of New Tunbridge clearly wanted to be the Earl of Lincoln, or at least as close as he could get.  The trappings were all there, plus some special Martian additions.  Private habitation dome.  Triple-sealed entrances, to keep his own personal air mixture in.  I thought when I first arrived - and confirmed it later -  he didn’t mix it any richer than the outside.  But guarding your own air was what rich people did, so it’s what the Baron did.

His dome was off the end of the Tenements, so it wasn’t clear whether the slums were outside and creeping in, or whether his dome was the slum and it was spreading out.  Oh, it was nice enough and well kept, even had enough water to have a pond and let the fish crap in it.  But the feel of a feudal crime lord seeped out of the place like pus.

It didn’t help that the dome forced his estate to be low on the sides and tall in the middle.  The shape plus the gothic design plus the flags made the whole thing look like some fairy castle with a princess in the tallest tower.  I wisely declined to make the comparison when I met him.

“How was the flight?”

“Horrible.”

“They all are.  I tell myself the travel is the only reason I don’t go back to Earth.”  That, and the fact that he was missing three quarters of his legs - all of one and half the other.  The aether contraption that got him around made hissing and thumping noises as he pounded around his study.  I couldn’t fault him, though; he was getting me a whiskey.

“You fought with Lincoln in the Empire Wars?”  He either didn’t know the truth, or did and wanted to see if I’d lie.  Of course, this job might just be making me paranoid.  The third option was that I was an unwanted guest, and he didn’t care enough to pay attention.

“No, sir.  I fought with his batman in the Balkans.  When our company was dissolved I was sent to America.  He went to Lincoln’s unit.”  I refrained from adding the exact amount of boot-licking he’d then performed to wind up footman for a lord.

“I was in the Appalachians in America for two years.  I had men in my unit tell me they were like the Balkans.”

I wasn’t sure where to go with that, but military was the one brand of small talk where I stood a chance.  “For a soldier, sir, it only matters if you’re looking up at your enemy or he’s looking up at you.  After that, all mountains are just a question of how much.”

The Baron cracked a half a smile and finished his whiskey.  “You have the wisdom of a sergeant, Mr. Edmunds.  Were you ever a sergeant?”

“Lewis is fine, sir.  No, sir.  Private was about as much responsibility as I could handle, though I was given a pip for a few months through no fault of my own.”

The Baron lapsed into something of a funk, then, but he didn’t send me away.  I got a ‘lonely king’ feeling off him - a handful of lackeys and a bit of territory on a sad little world.  Seemed that he’d slotted me in as something above “servant” and below “peer,” which did give me an opportunity.  Which I instantly squandered.

“Is that where you lost your legs, sir?  America?”  Why?  Even I, the Lord of Awkward Pauses, knew enough not to say that.

Surprisingly enough, it worked out well.  I’d tell myself later it was a conversational gambit that paid off.  He peeled his eyes off the wall and slid them back to me.  “Forthright.  I respect that, Lewis.”  He adjusted himself in the chair and the articles in question hissed, like a cat angry at its chosen lap moving around.  “No, I was tapped for the knights after Appalachia.  Recruited into the 1st Heavy Grenadiers, and I fought in the Battle of New Kent.”

Ah.  Even I didn’t need any more hints.  Followed Ulster into the Clockwork Tunnel, Charge of the Grenadiers, glory and honor and all that.  Gave one leg for Queen and most of the other for Country.  Which also explained the barony.  Part of Parliament’s guilty conscience that caused them to bring feudalism to the Red Planet.  A jumped-up commoner trying to figure how to be a lord on an alien world where most were just trying to figure out how to live.  On top of that, a foot soldier with no feet.  The Fates have a wicked sense of humour.

“I’ve had my people looking into William’s disappearance.”  William.  Funny, I hadn’t heard the name before.  He’d been ‘the lad’ or ‘heir to Lincoln’.  “There are a few leads, but most look poor.  And all lead to the Olympian Cult.”

I nodded.  “Sounds like the cultists are the place to start.  You weren’t in contact with him from the start, were you?”

“No, unfortunately.  Lincoln only contacted me when he started getting worried, and by that time the boy had moved off to Mars York.  He was supposed to go to the Royal Society college but I don’t believe he ever arrived.  I only began looking about a month back, when Lincoln asked.”  About two weeks before I got the call, around when the messages home started filling up with talk of the Red God and the Pantheon of Mars.

If he’d had anything I figured he woulda told me, unless he was wrapped up in it.  I didn’t get that sense from my welcome - friendly, but not overly so.  Time for me to start earning my keep.  “Well, thank you for the hospitality, sir, and for your attempts to find the lad.  But it seems it’s time for me to start earning my keep.”

He stared out the window at a dust storm brewing just outside the dome.  “Do let Jeremiah know if you need anything, Mr. Edmunds.”

I nodded, but he didn’t see.  Just kept staring.
Come take a look at Victoria Regina, an old-timey AAR
 

Offline Garfunkel

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Re: Victoria Regina, Interlude: Mars
« Reply #1 on: October 14, 2012, 11:17:00 AM »
Intriguing!
 

Offline Konisforce

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Re: Victoria Regina, Interlude: Mars
« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2012, 05:01:21 PM »
~~~

I hit dirt, then, and decided to see what I could see.  Answer: not much.  He’d been in Dissemburk for a bit, but apparently headed out for Mars York after about a week.  I had the register entries from the hotel to back it up, and at least two of the staff remembered him from two months back.  Apparently he’d been throwing around a bit of cash and so was I.  Must’ve seen a resemblance.

Second order of business was some lodgings.  Sure, the Baron seemed a nice enough gent and I had no quarrel with him, but young Lewis got to be middle-aged Lewis by keeping his options open and his eyes on a back way out.  Besides, the Baron had guards controlling the airlock into his compound, and I just have an allergy to someone keeping track of my comings and goings.  Found myself a second-story hovel on the border between the Spaceport district and the slightly ritzier area around City Hall.  Squeaky stairs on the approach, windows in all the rooms, and I figured I could jump either to the ground or to the opposite building if I had to.  Light gravity again.  I argued with the woman about the rate for a week’s stay then paid three in advance.

Then came two days of nothing, beating the non-existent bushes.  The last two messages William sent came from the main telegraph station at the spaceport in Dissemburk.  Fat chance of anyone there remembering him.  So I was in a bind.  I knew he’d come back to Dissemburk at some point, but I had scant information on that.  And I knew he’d gone off to Mars York for at least a month or so in between.  I hated the thought of dragging myself across the planet just to get some news and track the kid back to Dissemburk, but I couldn’t think of another way to do it.  So I grabbed a few essentials from the Von Tunbridge estate, paid my bruiser for 5 days in advance to keep him on the hook, and booked myself on the Overlander.

Now, Mars isn’t civilized by a long stretch, but it hopes to be.  Someday.  And ever since the Gibraltar Bridge made the Mediterranean Rail Loop possible and the Bering Strait Crossing linked up the far East with the far West, aether locomotives and rail projects are the Sure Sign of Civilization.  Victoria City actually has a vertical rail running the three kilometers up out of the trench to the resorts set up on the rim.  Impressive as that is, it doesn’t really count.  Real overland travel’s where everyone wants to be.  The only part stitched together so far is Dissemburk to Mars York, but the rail’s building out to New Caledonia, too.

Departing on the Overlander is not an easy process.  The airlock from Strog Station Dome to the outside can fit one car plus a little pusher engine, so every car - seven cars plus locomotive on my train - has to cycle through the lock.  The locomotive has its own service shed off to the side and the whole thing cycles like an airlock, because it can’t get through into the station at all.  The passenger cars are double decker with a half-floor observation deck or lounge on top and the engine still dwarfs them.  The thing is massive, all hulking gears and aether reactors and drive wheels twice my height.

Even with three rails spaced eight feet apart the engine and the cars had outriggers to keep them from tipping on the turns.  We really got moving on the long flats across the craters, 100 meters a second someone near me was saying.  I’m not normally one for journeys, as you might’ve guessed, but this one was pretty spectacular.  There were fields of blue-green crater grass they were using to pull elements into the atmosphere.  A few tiny domes - podunk mining villagers looking for gold or diamonds - flashed by a stone’s throw from the tracks.  Some larger oblong farming domes of mulberry trees for Martian silkworms or luxury fruit trees.  At least a few times I saw cloud factories on the horizon, waiting to be reclaimed by the engineering brigades.  When it came time to close up the bar for the night I bought myself a cask of something cold and went down a car to the lounge.  They’d flipped off the lights and laid the seats back, and I passed out staring up out of the folded duranium at the stars.

Morning brought a headache no larger than my usual, run-of-the-mill working headache, so I solved it with three eggs, a goat steak, and another couple of pints of whatever they put in front of me.  Finished up just in time to part my hair and step off in Mars York.

Dissemburk is a human-only construct.  From the Spaceport to the slums, everything there was put up first by Col-Admin and then the colonists who came after.  Mars York is the opposite.  The core of the city is a few square kilometers of reclaimed Martian city and is mostly occupied by researchers and fanatics.  The rest of Mars York spills out from that one patch of reclamation and sprawls out like wine spilled from a bottle.  No big domes and classy building here, just lots of low, flat habitation roofs held up by duranium pillars and linked every few hundred feet to the next one.  Dissemburk had some notions about being classy; Mars York had none.

I dodged hookers and thieves from the first steps out of Ulster Train Station to about two habitation units over when I paused to get my bearings.  I could see the skyscape of the Martian city above me so I aimed at that and started marching.  Red Martian dust kicked up in the roads and drifted down in the still air.  The whole place smelled like an army barracks after a long march and I couldn’t catch my breath no matter how slow I walked.  Weasel had said that Dissemburk’s air was kept down as low as it could go, but I was pretty sure that would feel like Eden after this.

After stumbling through a couple joints and angling my way closer to the entrance to the reclaimed ruins I came into a taller, more traditional dome.  Away ahead of me the dome rested against the . . . skin? Hull?  I dunno.  Whatever the Martain city’s version of a dome was, the engineers had made the two airtight.  I hoped.  This seemed to be where the overflow city had begun after the University started pulling in civilians and such who didn’t have clearance to the ruins.  Older than the rest, but still pretty young.

The Royal Society College huddled up against the skin of the Martian city like it was trying to get away from the rest of Mars York.  Someone had taken great pains to dress it up like a real college back in Cambridge or something, but a quadrangle of red dirt and blue grass just didn’t manage to capture that Old World feeling.

If I had any illusions about my ability to blend in at an institute of higher learning, they were quashed pretty quickly when a busybody bustled up to me and asked “Can I help you?” in a tone which made it clear that even if he could, he’d rather not.

“I’m looking for a student.”  Vague enough, I hoped, that he’d just steer me to the nearest administrative flunky and let me alone.

“Whom, may I ask, are you seeking?  It’s a small establishment, I’d likely know him.  Or her.”

“William Danforth?”  His sidelong look got even longer.  Clearly I’d struck something.

“You’ll want to speak with the Associate Chair of Xenolinguistics.”  Did I ever!  I’m sure he was a lively conversationalist.  “Third stairwell, fourth floor, facing the city.”  He shuffled off, content in his good turn for the day.

I trotted off on the path laid out by his instructions.  Up the third stairwell.  Off at the fourth.  One way down the hall, and windows out the right side stared at the wall of the Martian city so it must be the left.  Spotted a sign that said something resembling what the little man had told me and knocked without bothering to check the name.  Headed in when I heard “Come”.

It was something more than a broom closet, but not by much.  I hadn’t spent much time in Universities (in case you couldn’t tell) and didn’t know what to expect, but this was about it.  Enough room for a desk and a chair.  Bookshelves up on the walls.  Another chair, but covered in a stack of papers.  Like everything else.  Papers and books and notebooks and quills and some carvings and stone bits and remains of half a dozen meals all piled up in ways not possible in Earth’s gravity.  This was a true architect of files, released from the shackles of Earth’s oppressive weight to build freely here on Mars.

I turned to look at the Associate Chair of Xenolinguistics.  And stopped breathing.

Copper red hair in waves from a slim face with slate-gray eyes.  Face framed by an errant curl on either side.  High forehead, full lips, light dusting of freckles around the nose.  I didn’t know what I expected from the Associate Chair of Xenolinguistics, but a knockout redhead was not it.

“I said, can I help you?”

“I’m sorry.  I was told you might be able to help me.”

She looked around the room as if there’d be someone else to share her pain.  “Which is why I asked if I could.  Did you hit your head recently?”

Almost.  “Right.  Sorry.  I’m here looking for a student.  Would’ve been here about two months ago.  William Danforth?”

She pushed back and quickly stood up.  She was wearing pants and a man’s shirt that had been tailored down for her particular shape.  Since I don’t have the week I’d need to do it justice, let me just say that everything on her was right where it should be.  She leaned over slightly and put her knuckles down on the desk where the paper strata was thinner.  “What about him?”

“I’m . . . uh, I’ve just . . . that is, I’ve been sent . . . family was wondering . . . . uh . . .” I dunno if it was the stunner in front of me or her manner, but I just couldn’t get myself together.  Somewhere in my stammering, though, I pushed some button.  Or unpushed it.  She sat down and leaned back in her chair.

“You must be daddy’s hired bloodhound, then.”

I’d completely lost the thread by this point, but took a stab.  “Uhh, no, ma’am.  I’m his uncle’s bloodhound.  The Earl of Lincoln hired me to look into what happened to his sister’s son.  William.”

She rolled her eyes.  I was not doing well, here.  “I hope you aren’t charging him much.  Yes.  The Earl of Lincoln.  William Danforth’s uncle.  My father.”

Click.  “You’re Danforth’s cousin?”

“Samantha Pelham.  I assume, then, that my father neglected to mention me?”  She’d just come around to the realisation, and I saw a ripple of pain across her face.  I didn’t need to answer for her to know the Earl hadn’t said a word about her.  “I am persona non grata back at home ever since I decided to pursue this ‘man’s post’ at the University.”  She rolled her eyes again, which was a lot nicer when it wasn’t aimed at me.  “Still, even if he has disowned me, he’s still a bloody idiot for not mentioning me when I’m the whole reason William came to Mars.  Even a bumbling idiot would’ve followed the trail here eventually.  No offense.”  I’d had a lot worse from a lot uglier.  She could offend me anytime.  “So, how much do you know?”

We compared notes.  I had very few, so it went quickly, and she brought me up to speed on the things that dear old Lincoln had neglected to mention.

“You really did just land.”  She swiped away a red curl that was encroaching on her lips and I stared.  And then she caught me staring.  Which made me look sheepish in a way I hadn’t since long before my army days.

“Yes, ma’am.  Less than a week on Mars, and just off the Overlander.”

She sighed.  “William was here.  He’d come to see the worlds a bit, at my invitation.  Father was not pleased, and neither was William’s mother, but he could always convince her and she had the last word.  William arrived here about a week after landing, and he was already in with the wrong crowd.”

“Which one?  Plenty of wrong crowds to get in with.”

“Not the Olympian Cult, if that’s what you’re asking.  Though some of my own inquiries led me that way.  He was spending time in a gambling house belonging to the Native Sons.  Heard of them?”  I shook my head.  “Gangsters and thugs.  The least reputable of the lot.  They’re very possessive about Mars, saying they got here first.”  She guffawed.  “Right.  A bunch of prisoners dumped here 8 months earlier than everyone else.  Just thugs now.”

“So he got in over his head with them?”

“I’d assume so.  Last I saw him was six weeks ago.”  I did some math.  That would’ve been about two weeks before his last message.  “He was in rough shape.  A broken finger, bruises, probably a cracked rib. He wanted money.  I gave him what I had and sent off a wireless to father, too.”

“Got into the Native Sons, then, got roughed up.  But you don’t kill someone who owes you money.  You make them work it off.”

She flashed a tired half-smile without much joy in it.  “I’ll trust you on that count, Mr . . .”

“Edmunds, ma’am.  Lewis Edmunds.”  I half-stood for a handshake.  For a moment I thought I might try kiss her hand like I’d seen gentleman do, but I was a shoe-in to make a goat’s ass of myself.  Besides, she wore pants and worked a “man’s job” anyway, so she seemed like the sort who’d rather not be treated like the ‘fairer sex’ if possible.

“Like I say, I’ll trust your dealings with the underworld.  I stay at the University, mostly, and my cousin was the closest I’ve come to non-faculty in the last while.”

I nodded, feeling the conversation coming to a close.  “Well, thank you, ma'am.  I'll get out of your hair, and likely conduct some discreet inquiries into the activities of the Native Sons.”  I stood to leave.

She stood up as well and I managed to steal another glance and make sure everything was still where it should be.  It really, really was.  “Mr. Edmunds.”  She seemed conflicted.  “I would like to hear how your inquiries progress, and I might be able to give you a clearer picture of things, given more time.  Perhaps you could join me for dinner?”

I was simultaneously elated and deeply suspicious, which I think evened out to neutrality on my face.  “That would be lovely, Ms. Pelham.  Do you dine at the University?”  I could hear Macleod snickering all the way from Earth at me using “dine” in all seriousness.

“Usually.  But I might as well take the opportunity to get away from it.  The Red Rooster, seven o’clock.”

“I wouldn’t miss it.”  I really, really wouldn’t.
Come take a look at Victoria Regina, an old-timey AAR
 

Offline Konisforce

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Re: Victoria Regina, Interlude: Mars
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2013, 09:30:54 AM »
~~~

The Red Rooster turned out to be my kinda place, but then, a frontier town like Mars York couldn’t have too much in the way of haute cuisine.  Some sort of shepherd’s pie with local mash, a goat steak, and a couple or six pints of a decent local brewery and I was as snug as could be.  Of course, the company didn’t hurt.

Ms. Pelham, or Sam as she insisted after the first few times, had made a concession to her femininity and was wearing a blue-green dress that was an absolute stunner with the copper waves she naturally sported up top.  She would’ve been a stunner in a burlap sack, mind you, but just my luck she wasn’t wearing one.  In perhaps the first time in the history of the universe since the first caveman trained the second caveman how to use a club, a grunt said a silent prayer for his parade ground training.  It took all the power I earned through every second of my sergeant chewing me out for me to keep my eyes front while she was talking and not let ‘em wander along the landscape.

We warmed up with some light chatter about my history.  I let it be known that I was a subtle and damaged individual because of the Empire War in the way that I’ve found brings out the maternal instinct in ladies, but she didn’t bite.  I tried a bit of straight talk about what I thought of the army and what I’d been doing since, and that was a much better stretch of conversation.  From there we wandered into her childhood and the rest, and eventually wandered into William.

“Oh, I hated him when we were younger.  Growing up together, basically siblings, that’s how it is, of course.”  She paused to swill from her pint, somehow ladylike and sailor-like simultaneously.  Lord, I was hooked.  “But by the time I was old enough to know what my father was about, it wasn’t William I was concerned about.  Not anymore.  He was like a little brother, then.  Three years my junior, a bumbling idiot, always needing to be bailed out of something.  And oh, my histrionic aunt.  Never could do a thing for herself, let alone her son.”

She swirled the remainder of her glass, tossed it back, and thumped it down with enough force to bring a waiter, as intended.  She waved for two more without checking if I was done.  “So I was the only one looking out for him, really.  Well, that’s not right.  They coddled him, certainly.  I was the only one parenting him, I should say.  I’d hoped my father might notice he was a stunted man-child and he’d overturn the dynastic laws in Lincoln, but no such luck.  You know what uterine primogeniture is?”

I sniffed and appraised my new stout.  “I think they warned us against that in the army.”

She gave a decent guffaw and my soul glowed a bit.  “Means he can inherit, through my aunt, even though I’m around.  It’s the Old Ways.  Medieval old.  Even the Throne has favored the eldest child since Queen Elizabeth.  It’s not so much that I want to be the heir, mind you.  Just that my father filled me up with all these useless bits so that I could run the lands and household after my mother died, and the thanks I get is to see it passed to William who’ll piss it away on . . . well.  No matter.  Besides, the other fate is to be married off for lands or money.”

She waved a hand at the low-beamed ceiling of the Red Rooster and managed to encompass Mars York, the domes, and the dusty lands beyond in one smooth swoop.  “So I’m here.  And as far as my father is concerned, I don’t exist.”

Much as I hated to, I got back to business.  “And you said it was your idea for William to come?”

Sam nodded sharply.  “I figured it would do him good.  See the worlds a bit, get out from under his mother’s petticoats.  And my father’s money.”  She sighed and took another pull.  “It didn’t.  He was only in Dissemburk for a few weeks, but by the time he finally made it here to visit he was already in debt to the Native Sons for 6,000 pounds.”  I whistled.  “My father has plenty of money, but that is not a negligible sum.  Particularly for such a lowly investment as my cousin.”

She shrugged.  “I did what I could, but the last time I saw him the Native Sons had blackened his eye and given him a warning.  He came for help, but all my possessions here on Mars wouldn’t even dent that debt.  The last I heard he was heading back for Dissemburk to speak with someone in the Sons and try beg father for money.  That was about three weeks ago.”

“Did you try go after him?”

She shook her head.  “No use.  And I know enough to avoid the Native Sons.  Even their branch here in Mars York is enough that I don’t want anything to do with them.”  She looked me in the eyes, and let me tell you, she could hold a gaze.  “I want to make this clear.  I love William.  He’s a dolt, but I love him.  I don’t wish him any harm, and I’m not part of some scheme to try and get him out of the way so I can become heir.  It won’t happen.  My father will find another man before he makes me Countess of Lincoln.”

It’s one of the great truths of my business that it’s always the money.  Look who stands to gain, and that’s who did it.  So it wasn’t really a question of me believing her, it was a question of me believing what she said about her father.  And given that the good Earl didn’t even mention her when he was sending me on my merry way, I’d say she didn’t have much to gain.

“Alright.  I’ll officially put you at the bottom of my list of suspects.”

“How many suspects do you have?”

“One.”  No pause, and an extra helping of my famous One Eyebrow trick.  I got a good laugh out of her, and it sounded like a choir of angels.  Alrighty, that’s a lie.  She laughed like a donkey.  But on her it worked.

We haggled over the check and I finally won out by mentioning I’d just expense it to her father anyway.  As I grabbed our coats to leave, the bottom dropped out of the vague knot in my stomach.  Something in my lizard brain had been tickling me all night, and it wasn’t just that I was out to dinner with a beautiful woman who could stand my company.  When I gave the coat-check waif a penny, one of the seedy professional imbibers at the bar did a none-too-subtle glance in my direction then signaled the bartender to settle his tab.  Damn.  I knew it was too good to be true.

I gallantly offered to walk Sam home without mentioning anything about our tail.  I tried to sway a bit during the trek, maybe play up the drunk, and a couple of times got distracted by something in a window so I could check out our friend.  Caught him twice in three attempts.  Very sloppy.  We reached the door to Sam’s housing across from the university and drifted to a stop in the lee of the porch.  I wasn’t sure what would happen next, her being a lady and all, but she leaned back against the wall, looked me in the eye, and asked me up for tea.  Her eyes went wide as I leaned in close and buried my face in her hair, right by her ear.

“Someone’s been following us.  Do me a favor and laugh like I’m actually charming.”  She obligingly brayed like a donkey, right in my ear.  “Don’t look for him.  I don’t know if he’s after me or you, so I’ll leave and see if he follows me.  Now, you need to slap me and storm off.”  I pulled back and stared at her, exaggerating the swaying a bit for the benefit of any audience.  She gasped in shock, hauled off, and smacked me a good one.  Right on the cheek, popped my ear and everything.  Definitely a keeper.

By the time I’d gotten everything back into its sockets she’d flounced off up the porch stairs and was fiddling with her door keys.  Not a great storm-off, but she was new to this.  “Wait!  Honey, I just meant . . . I mean . . . can I see you tomorrow . . . ?”

She got the door open, turned, and called down from the porch, “No!  And don’t call me honey!”  A passable door slam, even with low gravity and light air.  Good marks for the exit, outstanding slap, decent effort overall.  I spent a half a minute looking love-lorn and lost, then wandered off down the street.  It occurred to me I didn’t actually have a place to sleep.  But that wasn’t my most pressing concern, anyhow.

Three blocks later I spotted a likely side-street and stumbled round the corner.  Caught a flash of my tail in the corner of my eye.  So he was after me and not Sam.  I was relieved.  Sort of.  There was a darkened doorway just perfect for lurking, so I did.  Also slipped my neutronium knuckles out of a custom pocket in my jacket.  My tail sauntered around the corner twenty seconds later, trying to look nonchalant and doing a poor job of it.  The street was good and dark, so he probably wasn’t too surprised he couldn’t spot me at first.  He passed my doorway just about the time he started worrying.

I moved in quick and knocked him down to his knees, then got a good bunch of collar in my off-hand and let the knuckles flash in the dim streetlight.  “Why’re you following me?”  He was an ugly mug, and looked pretty stupid to boot.

“Ah, why don’t you just . . .”  A typical response.  A pro would’ve at least had the professional courtesy to not make me go through the whole interrogation routine - a professional tail has some regard for his own skin, which is why he got into the tail business in the first place - and this guy was sloppy enough that he wasn’t a pro.  I didn't wait around to hear his recommendation, but instead cracked him a good one and let him sleep it off while I went through his pockets.  Amateurs.

“Please stand up, Mr. Lewis, and turn around slowly.”  I did so, and wound up looking back at the lit street and the silhouette of a man holding a gun.  Just the silhouette of a gun, mind you, but I’ve found silhouettes sometimes shoot real bullets.  I showed him my hands for good measure, even if one of them had knuckles on it.  The guy with the gun doesn't much worry himself about fisticuffs.

Dammit.  Who was the amateur now?  A rough-and-smooth tail setup, and I’d fallen straight into the rough.  Here I was thinking I was something special.  No doubt being out with Sam had dulled me.  Gave me ideas above my station.

“If you’re sore I clocked out your friend here, he had it coming . . .” I began.

“I am not, Mr. Lewis.  He served his purpose.”  A black kerchief drifted to the ground in front of me.  “Please put that on and turn around, on your knees.”

Well, that was something.  Didn’t look like I was going to die today.  Why bait a guy out if you’re just going to shoot him anyway?  I tied the kerchief over my eyes and knelt, then heard the crunch of a wagon coming from a few streets away.  I noticed the night was strangely quiet.  Maybe a Mars thing, maybe just a Mars York thing.  If I were back in London, I’d say there was something afoot, but here, who knows?  This is the problem with being a fish out of water; all those little cues that you’ve turned into instinct over a lifetime of wariness suddenly don’t mean anything.  Lincoln should’ve sent a native.  Maybe he did send a native.  Maybe it was a rough-and-smooth, and I was the rough.  Did I get suckered by Lincoln?  Did I get suckered by Sam??

I get caught in little mental tornadoes like that, sometimes.  Brief spurts of worry and actually giving a damn.  Luckily, my kind assailant gave me a light tap to shut my brain up for a bit . . .
« Last Edit: March 13, 2013, 09:47:43 AM by Konisforce »
Come take a look at Victoria Regina, an old-timey AAR
 

Offline Konisforce

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Re: Victoria Regina, Interlude: Mars
« Reply #4 on: April 04, 2013, 01:57:27 PM »
~~~

The first thing I saw when I came to was the rough tail.  His fist, in particular.  It seems he didn’t appreciate the professional courtesy I’d done him by putting him to sleep so quickly, and wanted to express his displeasure.  Amateur, definitely.  I learned long ago not to take my lumps personally and it was a skill serving me well now.  In my business you sometimes had to send messages that couldn’t be written down.

It was quick, as those things go.  My smooth tail had told me the other guy didn’t matter much so it was clear that his displeasure didn’t matter much either.  They threw a bucket of water on my head to make sure the blood really soaked down into my socks then showed Ugly the door.

“Mr. Lewis.  You have been making some unfortunate inquiries.”  I recognized the silhouette from before, or maybe it’s just that all dark, mysterious figures looked the same to me.

“Gee, mister, have I?  I just got here.”

“Mr. Warring will do, Mr. Lewis.”  He lit up something foul-smelling and I realized that I hadn’t seen much in the way of pipes or tobacco since hitting dirt on Mars.  I chalked it up to the air mixture or something along those lines.  “And yes.  Though you have only just arrived . . . you have managed to do all the wrong things remarkably quickly.”  Warring had a odd lilt to his voice, almost a sing-song.  And I don’t know if it was just the glow off his smoke, but his stare was pretty creepy, too.  The sort of guy you get a feeling about.  The sort of guy that looks at other people like they’re no more than cockroaches.  Not the sort of guy at whose mercy you want to be.

“My mother always told me I was gifted in that way.”  I took the opportunity to size up the room.  Back room somewhere, with drains in the floor and chains on the wall.  Probably a butcher’s.  They’re the sort who can do a good side business for the organized gangs, whether it’s a way to dispose of a body or simply someplace easy to clean.  I was hoping it was the latter.  “You know, I think you’re full of it.  I haven’t made enough moves to get noticed yet.  So, I’m saying that you’ve been tailing the girl, and I’m just the wrench in the cogs you didn’t want to see.  How’s she wrapped up in all this?”

“The Native Sons do not much care about her, Mr. Lewis.  Our interest was in her brother.”

“Was?”

“Is.”  He fixed me with those flat, grey eyes.  “In particular, in keeping someone like you away from the Earl.”

“Not the Earl yet, boyo.  And she was an obvious lead in Mars York, so someone’s been sitting on her just in case a guy like me came looking for young William.  Just my luck.”

“Just your luck indeed, Mr. Lewis.  Now, my associates and I plan to escort you back to Dissemburk and see to it that you make it on the next available ship.”

“Is that all?  If you wanted to call me off, you could’ve just offered to pay me double what I’m getting now.  That’s usually how it goes.  You Native Sons are new to the gangster business, right?”

Steely eyes all ‘round.  “We find our way cheaper.  Now, Mr. Lewis, I cannot stress this enough.  Leave the Danforth boy alone and leave Mars.  All our lives will be the better for it.”

He nodded to someone behind me and they topped up the lump on the back of my skull.

~~~

The Overlander back to Dissemburk was a lot less pleasant than on the way out.  I was shoved in a pressurized cargo compartment between what looked like farm equipment and what smelled like fertilizer, with a crate full of goats to keep me company.  They didn’t seem any more pleased by the accommodations than I was.  I wasn’t sure where my escorts were, but I think they either didn’t bother to come along or were up in the passenger cabin the whole time.  Cushy gig.

Either way, I got unloaded like a sack of potatoes on the far end and given two large and stolid gentlemen as my companions for the day.  I don’t know what exactly constitutes a “native” on a penal colony world less than three years old, but these guys seemed to think they qualified.  But my objections to them were not on political grounds.  They identified themselves with rust-red kerchiefs around the left arm, and had me tie one on as well, no doubt to make me feel welcome.  In the cognito of a trio of Native Sons, now, we slipped out from Strog Station’s cargo wing.

There were apparently limits to what even the Native Sons could get away with in Dissemburk, so rather than dragging me around with my hands tied behind my back we walked in a shoulder-to-shoulder line to show solidarity, though it was more their shoulders to my ears.  We started the march to the spaceport when I realized I’d forgotten breakfast.  And every other meal since dinner two nights previous.

“Hey, guys, how about a bite?”  They hesitated and started the laborious process of coming to a consensus.  “Seriously, now, I was on that train for a day and a night.  If you hadn’t tied me so tight I woulda eaten one of those goats back there.  Whaddya say?  On me.  I know a great place for Scandinavian food . . ."

~~~

Oh, Magnus.  The same gods who’d forsaken me all through my Army days were looking out for me when I found you right after I hit dirt.  You big slab of Norse, you.

Magnus was at the Ice Prince, right where he said he’d be, even though I hadn’t been around to pay him in a couple of days and I hadn’t talked to him but that once.  He might not’ve been any kind of gentleman scholar, but he was quick enough to notice when a guy’s got some companions who aren’t very companionable.  And before I denigrate his intelligence too much, it does take a rare kind of genius to realize that, when confronted with two opponents, the correct tactical decision is to use one of them as a club to beat the other one.  And then, turnabout being fair play and all, to switch weapons midway through the fight.

I made out for the bargain price of twelve crowns for Magnus’ time, five for actually using him for a job, another bonus of five to him for not killing anyone (such a mess, and all those questions), and a hard-driven bargain of twenty two crowns to the proprietor of the Ice Prince for broken tables, chairs, kegs, bars, stairs, floors, and sundries.  We stayed for skrei and ale and made it an even fifty.  It might've been all the recent knocks to the head, but it wasn't half bad.

After a round trip to Mars York that netted me nothing more than a few lumps and a truly lovely dinner, I needed to take stock of where I actually was.  To those not well versed in my business it would seem like I was back at square one with absolutely nothing.  Mostly right, but not entirely.  I’d been enough of a thorn in the Native Sons’ collective backsides that they’d hauled me in and roughed me up, which was always a sign I was on the right track.  Every good lead involved a decent walloping in there somewhere.  Hazard of the job.

And it was clear that someone cared enough about William to put some time and attention into keeping people away from him.  Having a man watching his cousin for at least four weeks on the off-chance that someone might show up wasn’t a paltry proposition, and taking the care to work a rough-and-smooth tail wasn’t small potatoes either.

And best of all, I had a name.  Mr. Warring.  I was relatively certain that if I went a shook some trees, something would fall out.  So I headed back to the Barony of New Tunbridge and said hello to Weasel over a filched pint in the kitchen.

“Warring, huh?  Yah, heard of him, certainly.  He’s something of a bogey-man around here, actually.”  Big enough name to be known in the world, anyway.  “He usually works out of Dissemburk and does the special enforcement for the Native Sons.  They’re mostly just hopped-up thugs running the protection racket, that sort of thing, but he’s one of them that has a reputation for being smart.  And mean, too.  He wouldn’t be in Mars York for a trifle, that much is for sure.”

Hmm.  “The Baron told me he had some people running down leads here before I came, as a favor to Lincoln.  Was that you?”

Weasel preened a bit.  “Yah, I’m his go-to for that sort of thing.  I made some inquiries.  There was someone like William flashing money around here about two months ago, and then about three weeks back I picked up what could’ve been his trail, but the two didn’t seem related at all.  Could never get a firm lead on the second half, either, so couldn’t be too sure.”

So not much more than I already had.  “What would the Olympian Cult and the Native Sons have to do with each other?  Anything?”

Weasel scratched his stubble and got another pint to grease the mind-wheels.  “Nothing obvious.  I mean, both of ‘em prey on the stupid, I’d say.  Native Sons don’t much like new immigrants, and the Olympian Cult sucks them up as soon as they can.  They both promise some ‘true Mars’ that you can’t get somewhere else, even though it’s a crock.”

“Where’s their big church.  The Pantheon?”

“Ya, Olympus Pantheon.  Down by the Arrivals Locks, actually, where we picked you up.  You probably saw it on the way in.  They built it right near where all the newcomers get dumped, all the easier to pick them up.  Just a block off the square.  And they always seem to co-incidentally have a pagan ‘rite’ on the days where colonists are going to be thawing out and hitting dirt.  A big ‘True Mars’ to-do with dancing and singing out on the square where the newlings stumble out.  They don’t fool me, though.”

Down by the docks.  Docks are seedy, no matter where they are, that’s something I’ve learned.  “I’m sure they don’t.  You’re a sharp one you are.”

I thanked him for the beer and left with vague suspicions starting to swirl in my head.

~~~

They firmed up pretty quick when I noticed all the red armbands hanging around the Olympus Pantheon.

There were a couple inside from what I could see, sure, but not too many more than you’d expect mixed into a random crowd.  It was the ones outside that really caught my eye.  They were lounging in twos and threes, sometimes coming and going then coming again, playing games or drinking.  But even with them trying to look relaxed, the Edmund from my Army days was in the back of my head screaming ‘guard duty!’ at the top of his lungs.   The view wasn’t good enough for a dozen lads to be hanging out in front of church all day.

I had a tactical dilemma.  The Native Sons knew who I was.  At least, some of them did.  Unless they’d sent around a wireless about me, I’d probably arrived on the first train that could’ve come from Mars York.  And the two gentlemen who’d been my keepers were likely still sleeping off their lesson from Magnus.  I gave it about even odds that the louts around the Pantheon were on the lookout for someone matching my description.  I opted for caution being the better part of valor and all that.  Which is a poetic way of saying I didn’t feel like taking another beating.

I spent some time making wary circles around the block to case the place.  Big, columned, and classic; everything you could want from a Pantheon and more.  Even down to the big gold Zeus in there.  No wonder the Anglicans got so uppity about smacking down a cathedral within spitting distance.  If you used money to gauge who God liked more, the Red Cultists made a pretty convincing argument.  Plus the Red Cultists definitely beat the Anglicans where nubile temple girls were concerned.

I did notice a dead-end alley backing on the rear of the Pantheon and I decided to get some lunch at a restaurant that just happened to overlook it.  Two hours, three carts.  The stores on the other side of the alley weren’t big business – a cobbler and a barber above.  Three carts seemed a bit excessive for a place that peddled prayers.  Hot air was the only raw material needed, so what were they trucking?  I needed to keep eyes on the Pantheon, but I also desperately needed to not sit here all day.  Which is exactly why poor children were created.

I found a herd of waifs and explained the game to them: count the carts, that’s it.  Bonus points if they could keep it up during the night, too.  I slipped their leader, a girl of about eleven, a couple of crowns in small coins so she could hand them out, then told her my address.  Now I’d just head off to let the fruits of my labor roll in and see if my hunch paid off.

As I walked I realized that some of my recent expenditures had lightened my purse to an alarming degree.  I had at least two notes of issuance on my esteemed personage, given me by the Earl of Lincoln for just such an emergency.  I cracked one open and checked the issuer: London and Westminster Bank.  With a full stomach and nothing better to do, I wandered toward the area that smelled like money, looking for some.

~~~

Westminster had a small branch under the Main Dome along with everything else in Dissemburk.  It was tucked up near the Viceroy’s offices along a stretch of road with other banks, some jewelers, and a constable’s outpost that was undoubtedly the reason so many high-value shops were huddled around.  I was seedy enough to draw looks but not the law as I sauntered into my target and was reluctantly served by an immaculately dressed and coifed gentleman.  He wasn’t as reluctant when he saw my thousand-pound note.

“Ah, very good Mr . . . . Lewis, is it?”  I nodded.  “I am Mr. Trennon, at your service.  We are, of course, more than happy to assist you with all of your monetary needs this afternoon.  Tea?  No?  Very good, very good.  Let us see.”

He pushed some paper, splashed some ink, did things with ledgers in the manner of clerks and bankers everywhere, but then pulled up short.  “The Earl of Lincoln?  We had a gentleman in here not last week trying to draw on this same account.”

I perked right up, then cursed myself for a fool.  Little William had gotten up to his neck in debt.  Of course he’d come begging to his father for money.  And since his father was on another planet, his father’s bank would have to do.  “When, exactly?”

The clerk hesitated for a moment, so I grabbed a likely-looking pry bar from my toolkit and leaned on it.  “Mr. Trennon, please do not let my appearance put you off.  In the course of certain inquiries, I was accosted by louts from a local group of thugs, the Sons of Mars or somesuch?”

My banker friend looked properly horrified.  “Surely not the Native Sons?”

“Yes, yes.  That would be the name.”

“Mr. Lewis!  The constabulary is just down the street.  I will have an officer here in the span of a whistle and we will file a report post haste!”  Trennon waved a hand for a runner.

“No no, Mr. Trennon, you must not.”  I leaned forward, busted face and all, and tried to put on an aristocratic and conspiratorial air at the same time.  That’s a lot of syllables for me at the best of times, but a thousand-pound note was doing most of the heavy lifting for my cover story.  “I feel I can trust you, sir, and therefore can tell you that I am here investigating a man whom I believe to be the very gentleman who came to see you recently.  It is most fortuitous that I came to you this day!”  Alright, Lewis, that’s laying it on a bit thick.  Keep the fortuity in check.  “Was this a Mr. Danforth?”  Trenton nodded, clearly surprised.

“The gentleman who requested funds is the heir of the estate of Lincoln back on Earth, and I am in the employ of his uncle - the Earl of Lincoln - to try and ascertain his whereabouts and return him home.”  Ascertain?  Do well-bred people really talk this way?  And where’d I ever find a word like that?  “The Earl is most worried.  Any information you have would be appreciated greatly.  Is there anything you can tell me?”

Trennon leaned forward in equal conspiratorial measure and I saw the glint in his eye.  He was eating it up.  “Mr. Lewis, it would be my honor to assist you.”  He glanced left and right, no doubt expecting assassins and thieves to accost him at that very moment.  “Let us retire to someplace more secure to continue our discussion.”  He snaked a key from his desk and headed toward the back, nodding to another clerk to take his place.

We passed through a couple of sets of bars and were soon in one of a few small rooms just off the main vault; closets, mostly, for poking through deposit boxes and counting cash out of sight of the main room.  Mr. Trennon left me in the room for a moment and returned with a big red-bound ledger.

“It is most fortuitous indeed, Mr. Lewis, that you found your way to me when you did.  The young master seemed in a very bad way when he came to the bank.”

“And when was that again?”

“Last week, on a Tuesday, I believe?”  I ticked off the days.  Same day I landed in Dissemburk.  Could’ve been a coincidence, or maybe not.  “Mr. Lewis, he was not alone when he came in.”  I gave him an encouraging eyebrow.  “He had two large gentlemen with him who were . . . well, I have no proof, of course, but they were of the sort I am used to seeing as members of the Native Sons.  Or equally loutish brutes.  And a woman with him.  A . . . loose woman.  Not the sort we generally receive in this establishment.”  Probably why I didn’t frequent it.  That and a tragic lack of funds.  “She was dressed in the garb of a member of the Olympus Cult, from the local Pantheon.”

Hmm.  Things were clicking.  “If you’ll allow me to speculate, young master William seemed . . . distracted? Glazed?”  Trennon nodded, wide-eyed.  “And this woman did most of the talking?  Prompted him when necessary?”  Trennon nodded again.

“They requested a large sum from the account, but we have clear instructions that any local customers can claim no more than fifty pounds per month.  Actually, there is a specific list of those who can draw on the account at all - present company excepted, of course.  Your note of issuance supersedes such orders.”

“Who, may I ask, are the possible recipients?”

Trennon leaned in again.  “I took the liberty of confirming the approved creditors list after Mr. Danforth came by with his . . . friends.  It is only Mr. William Danforth, the Baron of New Tunbridge, and a Ms. Samantha Pelham.”  So, Daddy did care after all.  But even if she knew, I had the feeling Sam was too proud to ever use it.

“Have any ever drawn on the account before this?”

Trennon glanced through the mostly-blank sheet of the ledger tracking the Earl’s accounts here on Mars, then shook his head.  “Not that was recorded in the ledgers.  A fifty pound withdrawal by Mr. Danforth on . . . yes, last Tuesday.  That is all the activity, up until today.”  A safety net for his younger generation and a courtesy to the Baron, it would seem.

I doubted it would work, but I figured I’d try the easy way out.  “You do not by any chance have an address for Mr. Danforth, do you?  It would simplify matters greatly.”

Trennon shook his head again.  “I would give it to you if I did, Mr. Lewis.  I fear that Mr. Danforth is in a bad way.”  I was near certain he was in the Pantheon where his ‘friends’ could keep an eye on him, but maybe they’d reserved an out-of-the-way apartment for him.

Alright.  The hard way, then.  “In that case, could I trouble you for your assistance?  It will be a bother, I fear, and far beyond what can be expected of you or this establishment.”

Mr. Trennon drew himself up into a model of British fortitude and Imperial duty.  “It would be the honor of the Dissemburk branch of the London and Westminster Bank, and my honor personally, to assist you and the Earl of Lincoln in any way possible, Mr. Lewis.  Simply say the word.”

I left with a trap baited and set but without too much hope that it would work.  After topping up my personal cash reserves, I’d had Trennon send a boy down to the Pantheon with a note for Mr. Danforth, saying that the restrictions on the Earl’s account had been lifted and that he could redeem up to one thousand pounds.  I popped into the local constabulary with a letter of introduction from Trennon and flashed my letter from Lincoln as well, name dropping the Baron of New Tunbridge for good measure.  Any weight I had to throw around, I did, just to make up for my appearance.  I let the officers know that if Trennon sent a runner to the constabulary, they were to pop into Westminster Bank and detain Danforth on the orders of whoever they respected most - me, the Earl, the Baron, didn’t matter to me.

My gut told me that William’s visit to Westminster was a last-ditch effort by the Pantheon or the Native Sons, or both.  They were probably already on to the next plan to milk him for money, but maybe they’d trot him out one last time in the hopes of landing a thousand-pound prize.  Either way, Trennon had confirmed for me that the Olympus Cult and the Native Sons were cozy enough to go about splitting the big fish that was Danforth.  If my guess about the smuggling out of the Pantheon was right, then that was another pillar in the alliance between the two groups.  They were shaky pillars, sure, but leaning against each other they gave me an inkling of what was going on.  I just didn’t know the end game, yet.

And as interesting as all of this was, it was just the backdrop to what I was really there to do.  William was alive, or had been recently, and was likely being held in the Pantheon by a combination of Olympus cultists and Native Sons.  I didn’t have the muscle I would need to break him out even if I got the Baron of New Tunbridge involved, and I didn’t think he’d be willing to throw all his strength behind a favor for the Earl even if I was willing to ask for his help.  I had a lot of suspicions, but no way to confirm them and no way to act even if I turned out to be right on all counts.  But I did have a couple of irons in the fire that might get me somewhere.
  
In those situations, I always find a couple or three pints and everything seems better in the morning.
« Last Edit: April 04, 2013, 01:59:50 PM by Konisforce »
Come take a look at Victoria Regina, an old-timey AAR
 

 

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