Saturday, December 5, 2009

Timestream, Part 10

[Here endeth our tale. A link to the entire story on Calameo will be here when I get my act together and upload it. [Edit 12/29/09: The .pdf is available for viewing or download at Calameo, slightly edited to deal with some continuity problems.] I hope you enjoyed it. A small note to ease the transition: at the end of Part 9, Kathy had finished narrating how she came to be in the asylum. As this part starts, that recap has ended, and Rhianon is once again the narrator. - RJ]

“I fear that the only member of the cavalry is Roland, who waits for us in the common room of this place,” I said to Kathy. “Do you think this Commodore Billings will make another attempt to have you arrested once you leave here?”

The small smile Kathy had worn during her telling of the story faded, and her expression was grim. “I rather think he will try to kill all of us in order to keep his crimes – and the enormous potential of the timestream device – a secret. We haven’t much time, as the observation period ends at mid-day tomorrow, and I assume the doctor will release me at that time.”

“We have faced fiercer odds than this before, and survived,” I said, trying to keep up my sister’s spirits.

The only thing that was elevated was an eyebrow. “Really? Do tell, because we are in a strange country, unarmed, locked inside a small cell in a guarded asylum with a homicidal maniac coming to kill us, with only a slightly deaf inventor to assist us. Does that sound about right?”

“Oh ye of little faith.”

A clock chimed the hour, and the matron appeared in the doorway. “Visiting hours are over, Miss Jameson.” Turning to Kathy, she said, “An orderly will be by shortly with your dinner and your shot.”

With a last glance at Kathy, giving her an expression that tried to convey “I’ll think of something,” I let the matron escort me back to the waiting area, where Roland was engrossed in a magazine called Popular Mechanics with a look of rapture on his face.

“Did you stay out of trouble, Roland?” I asked.

“What about a bubble? Oh, never mind. Trouble, yes, I happily amused myself. However, some poor chap is in for it.”

“What do you mean?”

He pointed at the window. “Do you see that automobile parked at the curb? The two gentlemen inside ran in here with guns drawn, and were firmly repelled by the matron, a most formidable lady, if I may say so. The gentlemen then retired to their automobile, where they have been waiting ever since.”

I looked out the window and down. As Roland had said, two men waited in an automobile – both in naval uniforms. Although I did not recognize the man in the passenger seat, the one behind the steering wheel was none other than Commodore Tom Billings. He would be waiting for us when we left the building tomorrow. I saw an orderly push a meal cart toward the cells, and a glimmer of a plan crossed my mind. “Roland, stay here a moment, but be ready to leave quickly.” I walked to the matron’s desk and said I had left my hotel room key in Kathy’s cell, and asked if I could retrieve it.

She looked annoyed, but called the orderly back and repeated what I had told her, instructing the orderly to accompany me to the cell, then to retrieve the key himself and hand it to me, as the sanitarium had a rule against handling visitors’ property.

The orderly pushed his cart down the aisles, a revolting smell rising from the dinner plates. Kathy would not be unhappy at missing this meal. As we reached Kathy’s cell, the orderly banged on the door and instructed Kathy to move to the opposite wall before he would open the door. She complied. As he opened the door with a key from the ring hanging off his belt, I shoved him with all my strength, sending him sprawling into the room. Kathy kicked the hapless orderly to keep him down, then rushed out of the cell and slammed the door shut behind her. It locked automatically. “We don’t have much time before the entire security team is after us,” I noted.

Sweeping into the waiting area, I attracted the attention of Roland, who was perusing a ladies’ magazine. “I say, Kathy, my dear girl, are you…”

“Save it for later,” I said. “We are in something of a hurry.”

We raced down the stairs and out a back door of the facility, making it through the main gates before the alarm went off. We veered left, away from the vehicle with Billings and his crony. Roland hailed a passing cab, and in moments we were on our way to the airship terminal. As we pulled away from the sanitarium, I saw the Commodore jump out of his automobile and head into the sanitarium, gun drawn. Just in time.

We had some difficulty after we reached the terminal, because Kathy was the only one of us who had any of the local currency, and her personal effects were still locked up. The driver would not take Caledonian currency – he looked suspiciously at the picture of the Guvnah in his dapper white suit – and we finally convinced him to accept Roland’s gold watch as payment.

Once aboard the airship, Kathy warmed up the engines while I studied the map through the timestream that would take us back to the Steamlands in our own time. The air bags slowly inflated.

“Tower to Hangover Two. Please turn off your engines and prepare to be boarded. We have received a request from the Octoberville Navy to detain your craft.”

“Uh-oh,” Kathy said.

I pushed the “send” button on the radio. “Hangover Two to tower. We did not receive your last transmission. Requesting permission to take off.”

“Negative, Hangover Two. Permission not, repeat not, granted. Please stand down.”

“The transmission quality is terrible, Tower. And I cannot decipher your accent. I assume you said we were cleared for takeoff.” With that, I placed the hand-held speaker back on the radio and released the tethers. The airship rose. The radio squawked, but I ignored it. When we had reached sufficient altitude to clear the tower, I moved the throttle forward.

“Rhianon, I think we’re not out of the woods just yet,” Kathy said, gesturing behind us. I turned to look, and saw a gyroscopic airship gaining quickly on us. I opened the throttle fully, but I knew we lacked the speed to escape. And if Billings had installed the Patterson device onto the naval ship, he would have no trouble following us through the timestream, back to Caledon.

The radio crackled into action again. “Attention, airship. This is Commodore Thomas Billings aboard Octoberville Naval Airship X-25.” Oh, original name, I thought. “I have authority to shoot you down if you do not land at once. This is your only warning.”

“Something tells me he is not likely to let us land,” Kathy said.

I nodded grimly. “I should not think so either. However, we have nineteenth century technology up against his…whatever era we are in technology. We are outmatched.”

Roland, who had remained silent thus far while he was busy looking ill, said, “Um. Er. That may not be totally correct.”

“If you have something to say, Roland, now would be the time to do so,” I said.

“Well, dash it all, I’m often a little bored, and I start thinking about modifications to things that would be interesting to do. For example, my silver tea urn was in my sitting room the other day, and I thought hmm, wouldn’t it be quite clever to…”

Now, Roland, if you do not mind. I would be delighted to hear about your urn if we survive this.”

I saw several rounds of tracer bullets fly past us, and moved the yoke in random patterns in an effort to make us a more difficult target. Air-to-air combat was difficult, as both the shooter and target were moving in three dimensions, but I had no doubt that a military vessel would carry enough ammunition to dispose of an unarmored civilian craft.

“I took the, um, liberty of retrofitting the Hangover Two with some of my experiments with energy technology. If you’ll look under the dashboard, below the radio, you’ll see three toggle switches. The top is for the forward gun, the bottom for the rear. The stick allows you to aim, but the middle toggle turns on an autoseek feature. It’s very clever, really, if I do say so myself. It uses an Analytical Engine that I programmed…” I tuned out the rest of his speech. Several rounds hit the back of the H2, causing teak to splinter and disappear below us. I flipped the bottom and middle switches and pressed the button to engage the laser canon. A beam of light shot from the rear of the airship, hitting the following aircraft directly. The burst of energy caused something on the craft to explode. Billings sent several more bullets in our direction, but the shots went wide as he lost control. The last we saw, his ship started a nose-dive over the ocean.

“You can experiment with my ship any time, Roland!” I exclaimed as he grinned. I maneuvered the ship through the timestream and headed home.


HeadBurro Antfarm said...

wOOt! A wonderful end to a cracking tale - a laser on a balloon seems somewhat rash though!

I very much doubt the calculating Billings is going to let you escape to spread the word though - watch your backs!

Rhianon Jameson said...

Well, a laser shooting at your balloon is a problem; a laser simply on your balloon is not!

I'll admit it was something of a deus ex machina at that point, although, in my defense, we did have Uncle Roland along for the ride. But if I were redoing the beginning, I'd have picked up Roland as he was tinkering with the airship.

But I'm glad you liked the tale - and it's true, one suspects that Mr. Billings, and/or the timestream device, may make a further appearance.

HeadBurro Antfarm said...

Ahhh, I missed that he'd tinkered before the start of the tale - I assumed he'd done it whilst in dock waiting for the sisters (I think because it was a laser & computer I assumed he couldn't have added them before the trip).

I like the fact you now have an enemy, and a powerful, determined and well-resourced one at that!

Rhianon Jameson said...

You didn't miss anything because it wasn't there. That's one of the hazards of posting the early parts before finishing the entire thing. :( I was saying that, had I the chance to go back and play with the text, I'd have foreshadowed the tinkering, so it wouldn't have been such a pull-the-ending-out-of-the-arse moment.

My alternative escape (because, really, how was this crappy 19th century technology going to outrun or outgun 20th century technology?) would have involved stealing the device so Billings couldn't have followed them...but that would have required a longer story, with the gang heading back to the airpark or wherever to steal the device, and it would still have required going back in the story and having Billings explain that the device was how he got to Caledon originally. Sigh.