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Anarchy In Alternate Albions

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  • Anarchy In Alternate Albions

    Anarchy In Alternate Albions

    A Further Steampunk Aerial Adventure of Mona Montaigne

    As Transcribed From Her Secret Diaries


    Jeff Warshaw

    I. The Asquith Assembly

    Gold London
    Year of Our Asquith 1896
    Thames House, Millbank
    Secret War Rooms

    Five hundred feet beneath the bustling metropolis, Empress Asquith and thirteen other rulers, each from a parallel world, sat around a horseshoe shaped conference table. Before them was a three dimensional map displayed on a blue glass panel, streets and buildings outlined in white lines and grid patterns. The city displayed was London, but not their Londons. The parallel world they were studying was code named “Violet London.” Empress Asquith of Gold London had visited Violet London with two of her top Secret Intelligence Service agents five years ago.

    Violet London was a world without war, but nevertheless a threatening place. Though its denizens had never fought each other, there were indications that they were in process of equipping a huge air armada for the purpose of invading other nearby dimensions. They had recovered advanced technology from an ancient alien spacecraft that had crashed on the dark side of the Moon. The aliens were known as the Antisari, silver-skinned, blue-haired superwomen who claimed to be from the twelfth planet of the distant star Sigma Draconis.
    The infamous aerial pirate, Mona Montaigne, a woman who had been a thorn in Empress Asquith of Gold London’s side for some time had discovered a hidden Antisari city beneath the sands of the Gobi Desert. With the help of the technology recovery team known as the “Tigercats,” they had destroyed a dangerous starship drive and recovered valuable scientific data and instruments from the ship. They had also confirmed rumors that the aliens were working with Empress Asquithonia of Violet London.

    “We must act before the Violet Londoners overwhelm our forces,” Arch-Duchess Asquith of Orange London said. Her black and white hair blew around her tiger-striped face in the light breeze of the air conditioners.
    “I agree,” Supreme Sorceress Asquith of Gray London said. She was a lilac tressed, cornflower blue-eyed beauty with a haughty stare and an inscrutable smile. “I have cast the runes. They are preparing a massive attack fleet to battle across many dimensions.”
    “Our intelligence confirms their ambitions,” Prime Mistress Asquith of White London replied. She brushed back her gray-blue locks and peered intently at the gathered Queens, Empresses and Ladies from her lapis-colored eyes. “We have taken aerial photographs of an airship larger than any previously reported. It is the size of four dreadnoughts put together, although we could not detect any visible weapons.”
    She slid a folder containing the photographs across the table to the other leaders could view them. Although they were poor quality glass-plate photographs, they showed the great airship hovering over the Thames Embankment quite clearly.
    “My Air Intelligence Command has also seen Violet London ships patrolling our skies,” reported Queen-King Asquith of Red London. “They have not attacked so far, but we have no reason to doubt they will. They were seen taking reconnaissance photographs of the city’s armories and airship marshalling yards.”
    “My city is also under threat,” replied Empress Asquith of Emerald London. “We have seen strange aerostats above the outskirts of our city at night.”
    “We must act in concert,” said Anarch-Elect Asquith of Diamond London. She was a platinum blonde beauty with inscrutable ice-blue eyes and a form-fitting dress made of spun diamond, a rare material capable of deflecting almost any weapon. “We must find the root of their new weapons technology and destroy it. To that end, I have contacted a Gold Londoner agent who can work on our behalf.”
    “What agent?” Empress Asquith of Gold London demanded.
    “Your old associate Captain Montaigne,” Anarch-Elect Asquith stated. “For the promise of four large diamonds from my dimension, she has agreed to help us assess and then eliminate the Violet Londoners threat.”
    “Excellent,” replied Empress Asquith of Silver London, a wheat-blonde beauty with dark green eyes. She and Asquith of Gold London were twins in all but hair and eye color. They each stood six foot two and had stunning figures. Each was surrounded by strange rumors that she was not a human being, but an advanced humanoid android or cyborg. Neither would confirm the rumors and those who became too curious had a way of disappearing without trace.
    “Can you trust this person?” asked Vice-Regent Asquith of Copper London. She brushed her jet black hair out of her alabaster white face and stared with her hazel eyes flecked with brown. “By your own description, she was a pirate, an outlaw. Can a former criminal be trusted to pursue our best interests, Anarch-Elect Asquith?”
    “Yes, I believe she can,” Anarch-Elect Asquith replied. “Besides, she is an expert in the Antisari, or the closest we can get to an expert who is willing to risk her life on our behalf. For the good of all Albions, Mona Montaigne is our best and only hope.”
    Lord Warshaw the Unknown

    "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.

  • #2
    II. Purple Passions and Amber Ambitions

    “Captain, the ship is changing course by itself!” cried Aleet, the Navigator Wife of the airship Dream Dragon’s Daughter. “We are now on a heading south by southwest, away from the Arctic shelf!”
    “I am aware of the ship’s course, Aleet,” Mona Montaigne said. She stood shivering in her greatcoat on the foredeck, peering out the large rectangular port hole as the Arctic ice floes and glacial seas receded before them. “We have a new destination. I must make an announcement over the intercom.”
    The tall buxom brunette ex-pirate walked over to the intercom tube and turned on the electrostatic generator. When the red light turned to green, she spoke into the black rubber bell mouth of the tube funnel.
    “Ship Wives and crew, this is your Captain,” Mona said, arms akimbo. “We have a new destination and a new goal. We no longer seek the sunken Arctic treasure fleet. Instead, we are diverting to another dimension. We must ascertain the plans of a mysterious society known as “Violet London” and thwart those plans as best we can. We shall be crossing dimensions within the hour. Prepare all ship’s weapons and bring the engines to best possible speed.”

    “I’m stoking as fast as I can!” a thin brunette girl named Zara Q. shouted to her supervisor. Her hands were permanently blackened by exposure to anthracite. She wiped her sweaty brow and shoveled another load into the ship’s boilers.
    “You heard the Captain!” the supervisor, a fat pirate named Vira Jenk cursed. “We need best speed, so you’d best stoke faster or I’ll lash your backside as red as them coals!”
    The threat of the whip was enough to make Zara work harder. Not that Vira would ever have whipped her. She liked those shapely buttocks of hers unblemished!

    On the Weapons Deck, Helga Odinsdatter, a tall blonde Swedish beauty supervised the loading of rocks into the launch pits of the ship’s massive electromagnetic rail guns. Her loaders knew to throw out any rocks that were too large or too small. Small ones made no impact, and big ones could block the rails. They had to be the correct size and shape to do their deadly work. It was slow, painstaking work, but when facing an unknown enemy, it was worth taking the time to get them loaded correctly.

    Catlin, the ship’s Engineer Wife turned on the lethal, top-secret Tesla Array, a weapon that could create and direct lightning bolts of fearsome power. Stolen from a downed Royal London Air Armada Intelligence Command ship, very few knew of the Tesla Array’s existence. It had always struck Mona strange that Empress Asquith had never pressed for the weapon’s return. If she had been paranoid, she would have suspected that Asquith had deliberately allowed its capture so she could use Mona’s crew to test the weapon. If anything went wrong, well that was one less pirate crew.

    Rita, the Executive Officer Wife fretted over their course and noted sudden wind change as the great silver airship traversed from Gold London to Silver London, then on to Violet London. Rita marked their position on the local maps and then looked through the view plates at the cityscape below to confirm their position above Violet London.
    From the air, the city seemed no different from Gold London. There was the stately weathered white marble dome of Asquith’s Cathedral, which had withstood bombardment by the Franco-Finnish Hegemony during the Winter War of 1854. To the south was the tall spire of Admiral Nakaris’s Column, not named for current Admiral Sarah Nakaris, but her great ancestor Alexandra Nakaris, Hero of the Battle of Westminster in 1145, where her great dragonships had sunk the Fourth Fleet of Queen Soldida of Spain. The pigeon stained fountains in Piccadilly Circus were just the same as in Gold London. But there were other long buildings and museums unfamiliar to Gold London. In the ship-building region of Southwark, Rita spied five enormous airship hangars surrounded by huge steam powered cranes and booms. There was a strange building in Lambeth Square on the Albert Docks she could not identify. Inside it, brilliant streaks of blue light flashed through a long circle or tube of clear glass or crystal.
    The streets were similar in layout, but they were not made of macadam, tar or paving stones, but a dull blue-gray metal. The vehicles that zipped across those streets resembled the strange omnibus Mona had described in the Antisari city. There were several great metallic rings along the Thames which gave off an eerie blue-violet glow. She had no idea what those structures were, but they filled Rita with a strange unnameable dread.

    As they neared the center of Violet London, above the Marylebone Road, a great amber-colored airship approached. When it was less than five hundred meters off their port bow, it suddenly stopped, hovering in mid-air, its great fan blades turned downwards toward the city. Mona marveled. Their own engineers had not considered this hovering capacity for their airships. It seemed such a simple idea, to construct a pivot for each propeller blade. She would remember to mention it to Empress Asquith’s London Air Armada Intelligence Command when they got back home.
    “Attention unknown airship,” a husky female voice said from a loud bullhorn. “Please identify yourselves and state your purpose for invading our airspace.”
    “Bring me a bullhorn!” Mona Montaigne shouted to an airman. The slight girl ran off to the ship’s stores to retrieve the bullhorn. She returned breathless and panting a few minutes later and handed the instrument to Mona.
    “This is Captain Mona Montaigne of Gold London,” Mona shouted. “We are here on a peaceful mission of exploration and reconnaissance for our Empress, Asquith of Albion. We would like to meet with your own leader, Empress Asquithonia to discuss some vital and private intelligence matters.”
    “Please be patient while we consult our leaders,” the raspy woman asked. “Can you place your airship in hover mode?”
    “We do not possess that technology,” Mona admitted. “But we shall slow our engines to one-third.”
    “Very well,” said the amber airship’s spokeswoman. “Reduce your speed and standby for our reply.”
    Fifteen tense minutes ticked past. By hand signals alone, Mona instructed Helga, the ship’s Weapon’s Master Wife to power up the rail guns and focus the Tesla Array mirrors on the amber airship. She wanted to be able to fire a withering volley at a moment’s notice, if necessary. She hoped it was not.
    Finally, the raspy voice called out from the gap between the airships.
    “Empress Asquithonia has granted you an audience, Captain Montaigne,” the woman said. “Follow our airship to Lambeth Field Mooring Station at half-speed. You and your two most senior officers will be permitted to attend you, but your other crew will remain aboard. Please deactivate your weapon systems. They will not be needed. We are an entirely peaceful civilization. We do not even possess hand guns, knives or swords.”
    “Very well,” Mona agreed. “We shall follow your instructions.”
    Mona stared out at the familiar yet alien London that stretched out in front of the gondola’s view ports as the Dream Dragon’s Daughter followed the amber airship to the mooring masts at Lambeth Field. The two airships were met by crews of scrambling linesmen who tied them to the twin mooring masts located at the northwest corner of the field. Mona spotted seven other airships, some of enormous size and alien design anchored around the circular air field. Were all of those strange craft from Violet London, or were some from unknown parallel dimensions? As a precaution, she made quick sketches of each airship. She was quite a good amateur sketch artist in her own rite.
    Mona, Laura Legere, her red-haired buccaneer Guard Wife and Catlin descended the folding crew ladder to the air field. They were helped to their feet by four women dressed in violet and black jumpsuits, black knee boots and black leather gloves. They wore red pips at their colors that were apparently rank insignia. Some had two pips, others three or four. The woman with four pips saluted, arms crossed under her impressive breasts and offered Mona her hand to shake.
    “Welcome to Violet London, Captain Montaigne,” the leader said. “I am Minerva Karnstein, Captain of Empress Asquithonia’s Aerial Exploration Fleet. I am to escort you to her Imperial Palace for your conference.”
    “My Engineer Wife, Catlin Trehearn of County Clare,” Mona said. She rarely used Catlin’s surname, as she knew the Irish pirate had been disowned by her family. “And this is Laura Legere, my Guard Wife.”

    Laura smiled and kissed rather than shook the tall blonde woman’s hand. This gesture seemed to take the woman aback and she reacted with a shocked blush. Laura smiled furtively and noted the reaction.
    Captain Karnstein led them to a waiting steam omnibus, which puffed white clouds of white water vapor into the chill morning air. They stepped inside and found the leather seats stiff and uncomfortable. Minerva drove and steered the rattletrap bus over rough pavement until they came to a road paved in familiar blue-gray metal. It was identical to the roads in the destroyed Antisari underground city. Minerva turned off the steam omnibus’s motor and ushered them into a streamlined silver bullet car. Though smaller and more comfortable, it was similar to the Antisari vehicle which had taken them to the alien restaurant/theatre. It moved silently and sped along through the maze of the city. Finally, they arrived at a long series of buildings that Captain Karnstein referred to as the “Houses of Parliament.” Next to them stood a grand palace carved from multi-colored crystal, fronted by a pavilion lined with shops and amusement rides.
    “Welcome to the Crystal Palace of Empress Asquithonia the Fifth,” Captain Karnstein said. She led them out of the magnetic bullet car and down a moving metal sidewalk. The mechanism guided them to a great pair of crystal doors carved with elaborate Chinese dragons, African Lions, Leopards and ornate unicorns. The four of them entered and were greeted by tall guards in long violet cloaks and one-piece leather coveralls, black boots and violets sashes.
    “Welcome, Honored Guests!” the tallest of the Asquithonian Guards said. She wore an elegant silk three-cornered hat with a red feather and a pink silk rose embroidered on the crown. She doffed the hat courteously and bowed to the waist. “I am Captain Artemis Johanssen, the Majorette of the Asquithonian Guards. Let me escort you to the Empress’s Conference Chamber.”
    She led them down a red velvet-flocked corridor lined with colorful tapestries and paintings of nature scenes. There were no swords, rifles or suits of armor on display. The tapestries showed ancient sailing ships arriving at foreign lands, but the natives were friendly and offered goods to trade. Was it possible, Mona wondered, that this was a truly peaceful society, a world that had never known war or conflict of any kind other than prehistoric tribal squabbles? Something felt artificial to her, as if the whole Crystal Palace had been constructed to deceive them into believing the idea of a pastoral history.
    At last they came to a simple white door which led to a small, stylishly decorated room. There was a circular oak desk in the center and eight gold-painted wooden chairs with lilac velvet cushions. At the head of the desk sat a ruler both stunningly familiar and shockingly alien. She both was and was not the spitting image of Empress Asquith. Her face and figure were equally stunning, but her hair was gray-violet and her eyes a deep purple. Her lips were also painted violet and seemed to draw the eye. She was dressed in a form-fitting leather corset, breeches and knee boots, all black chased with vertical violet stripes. She wore a silver sash across her large round bosom bejeweled with red, silver and gold gemstones.
    “Welcome, Captain Montaigne,” Empress Asquithonia spoke. Her voice had a strange mechanical rasp, like a Victrola with a scratched needle. “I trust you had an enjoyable flight?”
    “The flight was uneventful,” Mona replied. “But the journey here was most enlightening.”
    “Oh?” the lovely ruler commented. She raised her lilac-tinted eyebrows questioningly. “In what way did you find the trip enlightening?”
    “Clearly, you have adapted Antisari technology into your city,” Mona replied. “You have imitated their metallic roadways and electromagnetically powered vehicles and even some of their geothermal power stations. I wonder what else you have adapted. What, for instance, is the purpose of the great metal tori that I saw along the Albert Embankment?”
    “They are torsion power generators, as you surmised,” Empress Asquithonia admitted. “But I assure you that they are harmless. They are used to generate the city’s electromagnetic power and to provide flood protection, nothing more.”
    “I saw many different airships at Lambeth Field,” Mona said. “Have you traded with many of the parallel Londons?”
    “I make no secret of it,” Empress Asquithonia replied. “I have trade and technology exchange programs with Amber London, Ruby London, Pearl London and Teal London. There are a few more worlds whose leaders are being circumspect, but I assume will ally with Violet London in due time. Do not worry yourself that one of them is Blue London. We do not trade with violent societies. As we possess no weapons, we are of no value to them.”
    “I am impressed so far,” Mona said. “But you will forgive me if I would like to do a bit more exploration on my own before I come to any definite conclusions as to your civilization and your own character.”
    “No forgiveness is necessary,” Empress Asquithonia replied. “I would do the same in your shoes, Captain. If you will excuse me, I have affairs of state to tend to. There are several trade deals nearing completion that require my attention, plus the usual domestic projects to tend to. Captain Johannsen, will you show our guests to the Banquet Hall? See that they are well fed and given lodgings in the Savoy Hotel. They are to be treated as honored diplomats and shown every courtesy. They may travel where they please, with our without an escort.”
    “Very good, Your Majesty,” Captain Johannsen replied with a deep bow. “If you will follow me, a feast has been prepared in honor of your arrival.”
    She led them out of the Conference Room and down another red velvet lined corridor to a huge banquet hall. Laid out on teak sideboards was an elegant feast. There was bacon, red, white, blue and yellow roasted potatoes, caramelized sweet onions, baked butter biscuits, sausage rolls, fresh sliced tomatoes and seven different flavors of tea. Despite the huge meal, Mona and her crew ate sparsely, still a bit wary of their hostess and her overly infectious charm.
    “I would like to see one of the torsion power stations,” Mona said to Artemis Johannsen. “Can you arrange a visit?”
    “Of course,” Captain Johannsen replied. “I will arrange it at once.”
    She picked up a video-phone and dialed. She spoke to a woman in a Violet London livery on the other end, but they could not hear the whispered conversation. Laura strained her ears and made out a suspicious phrase: “Make it look good for them.” She said nothing to the others, but gave Mona a knowing look and a hand signal, a small circle around her stomach. It meant she felt something was rotten. Indeed it was, as they would soon discover.
    After their sumptuous breakfast, the four Gold Londoners were led to another bullet omnibus, this one slightly larger and more elaborate than the last. It had gold trimmings and bronze fitted door handles. The cushions were considerably more comfortable than their ride from the Lambeth Air Field. They were soon zipping along the Asquith Embankment at forty miles an hour. They crossed over a bridge unknown to Gold London at the foot of Regent Street to the Albert Embankment and found themselves in an unfamiliar district. In their London, it would have been Millbank, near the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service known as Thames House or AI-5. But there was no such building here in Violet London. Instead, there was a huge bronze and copper colored banded ring or torus, with spokes and black electrical cables hooked up to a blocky cement power house. A series of outbuildings was monitored by guards in black and violet coveralls.
    As they approached, a wave of strange nausea washed over Mona, Laura and Catlin. They felt as if they were swimming against a strong current, being pushed back by some powerful unknown force. Their breathing became labored and they felt dizzy and light-headed, but the sensations cleared as they approached their destination, a small rectangular building. Inside were a series of huge cog wheels driven by gigantic electrical dynamos.
    “Welcome to Millbank Power Station,” a friendly brunette worker greeted them. “I am Veronica Karnstein, the Chief Electrical Engineer. I will happily answer any questions you have about our facilities.”
    Veronica led them to a panel with a small green map of the city and little yellow light bulbs.
    “Each lit bulb represents a district powered by our generators,” the technician said. “The ones that are out are either awaiting installation or powered by coal or steam turbines. Eventually, the whole city will be powered by our torsion energy.”
    “Isn’t that energy dangerous?” Catlin asked. She recalled the nearly disastrous results of the Antisari starship drive.
    “Not at all,” Veronica smiled disarmingly. “You see, torsion really just means “twisting” or “turning.” What our drive does is create “electrical torsion” by twisting the electromagnetic fields of the atoms in our generator. This releases some electrons from their orbits, creating ions, which are then converted to steam by our generator’s dynamos and turn those great gear wheels you see. That generates and transfers electricity to the connected districts by coaxial cables buried under the city.”
    “That simple, eh?” Laura Legere laughed. She hadn’t understood a word of the scientist’s jargon. But she liked her blue eyes and curvy hips.
    “Well, it may seem complicated,” Veronica said. “But it’s not, once you grasp the principles.”
    The tour continued and more technical and scientific jargon was exchanged, but they learned very little that was enlightening.
    Laura noticed a strange purple light glowing behind a glass paneled door. Waiting until Mona and the others were busy, she sneaked off on her own. Using a small iron lock pick she had concealed in her left sleeve, Laura quickly opened the door and found herself in a tiny office. On a dusty wooden desk were folders with odd names: “Red London Report,” “Teal London Overview,” “The Civilization of Diamond London,” etc. Each folder held a thin intelligence report and some aerial photographs. Under the desk was a lighted panel like the one Veronica had shown them. But instead of city areas, it had twenty five colored squares, each with or without a purple light bulb. She read the labels: “Teal London,” “Blue London,” “White London,” “Orange London,” “Gray London,” etc. There were several Londons she was not familiar with, including Platinum London, Titanium London and Steel London. The top of the display board was emblazoned: “Project Ultraviolet.” Hearing footsteps outside, she quickly exited the office, locking it behind her.
    “Sorry, I got a bit lost,” Laura lied. She flashed a look at Mona, but said nothing of the secret room while they were inside the power plant.
    “I am feeling fatigued,” Mona said. “Please arrange for us to be taken to the Savoy, Ms. Karnstein.”
    “At once, honored guests,” the perky brunette Chief Engineer said. She dialed a series of numbers on a strange device which lit up.
    “An automated coach will arrive momentarily,” Veronica said. “It is pre-programmed to take you to your destination.”
    Once they were settled in the luxurious suite of rooms, Laura started to speak, but Mona held up her hands for silence. She suspected (correctly) that their rooms were under some form of either physical or electronic surveillance. Instead, they played a game of cards. Little did anyone suspect that they had constructed an elaborate language code based on poker moves. Drawing a straight flush, Ace of Clubs high, Laura said: “I suspect treachery. All is not as it seems.”
    “Well, luck seems on your side tonight, Laura,” Mona joked, sliding over a stack of chips. They reshuffled. Mona won the next hand with a Queen of Hearts straight. The message referred to Empress Asquithonia and the descending card order asked if Laura thought the lovely ruler was behind the plot.
    Laura laughed.
    “Easy come, easy go!” she said, returning her chips to Mona’s pile.
    The coded card play next went to Catlin, who asked via a full house, ace high, what Laura had seen at the Torsion Energy Plant. Laura won two more hands with four of a kind (secret maps) and two pairs (secret folders).
    The game went on into the wee hours of the morning, and when it was over, they had a rough outline of what was going on in Violet London’s secret power generating plants. They had no idea why Empress Asquithonia was keeping files on the alternate Londons, but they were fairly certain it was not for mere trade and cultural exchange. Otherwise, why keep the plans secret? Why did the parallel Londons they already had trade pacts with have purple light bulbs, while the others did not? What was “Project Ultraviolet?”
    They went to bed resolved to plumb more deeply into the strange world of Violet London tomorrow.
    Lord Warshaw the Unknown

    "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.


    • #3
      III. Queen of Hearts, Queen of Diamonds

      “Poker?” Empress Asquithonia asked of her Secret Intelligence Agent Rhonda Karnstein, who had been assigned to monitor the Gold Londoners’ rooms at the Savoy Hotel. “They played poker for four hours? Nothing else?”
      “No, Your Majesty,” Rhonda explained. “They played poker, then went to bed.”
      “There must be something else going on,” Empress Asquithonia said. “When they’re out of their rooms today, inspect the cards. Maybe they’re marked or encoded.”
      “They couldn’t be,” Rhonda objected. “They are Savoy Hotel cards and the pack was unopened when they started. They got them from Room Service.”
      “Check them anyway!” Empress Asquithonia raged. “Veronica swears that the thin one, the red-head with the scarred face snuck away at the Torsion Power Plant, but she was only gone for a few minutes. Is there anything located there that is of security concern?”
      “Not that I am aware of,” Agent Karnstein replied. “It’s a standard torsion plant.”

      “Well, perhaps we’re being paranoid,” Asquithonia said. “But I do not trust these Gold London aerial adventurers. They’re not here on a diplomatic mission. I think someone is on to our plans. We may have to advance the project faster than we’d anticipated.”
      “That will be up to the engineers and scientists,” Rhonda admitted.
      “Leave me,” Asquithonia, lovely and cross commanded. “I have some serious thinking to do.”

      “We’d like to see Southwark Air Ship Factory,” Mona said to Captain Johanssen that morning. “We are particularly interested in your hovering technology, as we have not invented it in our own dimension.”
      “Would you like to meet one of the chief hover mode scientists? She works at the Southwark assembly plant,” Captain Johannsen offered.
      “That would be splendid!” Catlin said. “I have a degree in Aeronautical Engineering and would be most anxious to discuss the principles and construction methods involved.”
      “I will call ahead and arrange for an interview with Doctor Camelia Karnstein herself,” Captain Johannsen offered. “She loves to show off her inventions.”
      “Karnstein seems to be a rather large family,” Mona replied. “We’ve met at least four individuals with that last name.”
      “It is an ancient hereditary name,” Captain Johannsen explained. “There are about two hundred women named “Karnstein” in the city. Some were born with it, others have adopted it as a badge of status.”
      “I see,” Mona replied. She suspected there was more to it than Captain Johannsen was telling her, but elected not to press further. There were more urgent matters to explore, such as whether or not the Violet London Air Armada was armed, and if so, what weapons they carried.
      “If you will follow me, a bullet car has been arranged,” Captain Johannsen said.
      Mona wiped pancake crumbs from her lips with a cloth napkin and rose from the breakfast table, following the tall blonde guardswoman out to the street. They climbed into a comfortable bullet car and it zipped northwards along the Lambeth Road towards Southwark. They saw familiar factories and unfamiliar buildings, including the strange glass ring.
      “Can you tell me what that glass ring is?” Mona asked, pointing to the anomalous structure near Canary Wharf.
      “It’s a scientific research center,” Captain Johannsen stated. “I’m afraid I don’t know much about it. It’s Top Secret. It isn’t discussed.”
      Mona nodded at Laura, who made a mental note of the ring’s location.
      They arrived at a building on Old Kent Road, near the mouth of the River Thames. It contained five huge aircraft hangars and a number of cranes, steam powered tractors, assembly yards and workshops. They came to rest at a door marked: “Lambeth Olde Aerostat Company, Est. 1844 A.E. General Manager: Rose Ellen Karnstein.”
      The bullet car slid to a smooth stop and Mona, Laura, Catlin and Captain Johannsen exited onto the hot tarmac. The air was thick with steam and somewhat turgid, stinking from arc welders and ozone torches. They were happy to walk into the air conditioned inner offices. As they entered, they saw a huge airship being assembled by what looked like robot welders. It was held in a stainless steel frame as the robots, which were on tracks, slid along its prodigious length, welding, hammering, riveting and cutting sheet metal. It was an impressive display of steam-powered electric automation.
      “Wow!” Laura said. “That ship’s enormous! Bigger than even our greatest dreadnaughts!”
      “It is a passenger liner,” Captain Johannsen explained. “It is meant to transport up to three hundred passengers in elegant surroundings, plus twenty two tons of cargo. Hence the eight engines.”
      Mona thought that it could just as easily be a troop ship, capable of carrying three hundred armed soldiers and any number of land assault vehicles or even small aerostats and auto-gyros.
      A spiral staircase took them higher up and they could see the great body of the ship, which was rigid, more like a Zeppelin than a blimp. The gondola was over two hundred feet long and the eight engines were located on a long spar that hung beneath the fuselage on a framework connected by steel wires. Each of the propellers was as large as an aerostat! They hung on pivots that allowed them to turn 180 degrees to form the lift necessary to hover.
      At the top of the staircase was a slender iron catwalk that led to some small side offices.
      They came to a door marked: “C. Karnstein, Dir. Of Development.” Captain Johannsen knocked on the door. After five minutes, a slender brunette woman dressed in a white smock covered with chemical stains, her hair mussed and face dirty with ashes appeared at the door.
      “Yes, what do you want?” Doctor Karnstein said in a petulant voice.
      “Doctor Karnstein, these are the distinguished guests I phoned you about this morning,” Captain Johannsen said.
      “Phoned me? Phoned me?” the scientist said. She wiped dirt from her cheeks with the sleeve of her well-worn denim shirt. “Oh, yes. The guests of Empress Asquithonia. Well, come in. But I can only spare a few minutes. Very important research to conduct. Can’t discuss it. Top Secret! Very “hush-hush,” you know!”
      “We won’t take up too much of your time, Doctor,” Catlin O’Hara said. She brushed a hand through her auburn locks provocatively, flashing her emerald green eyes at the mousy brunette. The woman barely seemed to notice her or any of the Gold Londoners. She walked over to the back of the small laboratory and closed and locked a door.
      “Top Secret, as I said,” the Director of Development reiterated. “Now, what can I do for you ladies?”
      “We are interested in the hover mode of your airships,” Mona replied. “We don’t have that feature ourselves.”
      “Easy as pie!” Camelia Karnstein said. She took a seat on a teetering wooden stool. The others were forced to stand as there were no chairs in the cramped office. “You know, of course, the four aeronautical principles of lift, weight, thrust and drag?”
      “Yes, we know our basic aeronautical physics,” Catlin replied. “I take it the rotors change the energy of the propellers from providing thrust to providing lift?”
      “Precisely,” Doctor Karnstein said. “Brains and beauty, a rare combination. Yes, we simply convert one force to the other. Thrust is overcome in favor of lift when the fans are rotated one hundred eighty degrees by the tilt-pivot mechanism. When all of the engines are precisely synchronized, that creates the hovering mode you saw. I can let you have a look at some blueprints, if you would like.”
      “Yes, I would,” Catlin replied. “Do they contain the mathematical formulae as well?”
      “Yes, of course,” Doctor Karnstein replied. She fetched the blue prints from a dusty filing cabinet and spread them out on a drafting table so Catlin could look at them. Perhaps inadvertently, she let Catlin see a blueprint for a ship equipped with something referred to as a “Q.T. Transmitter Set.” She noted this very carefully, memorizing all of the formulae. She smiled and handed the blueprint back.
      “Fascinating,” Catlin replied. “I do believe we can convert some of our own airships to incorporate this wonderfully advanced yet technically simple feature. Thank you very much, Doctor Karnstein.”
      “You’re most welcome,” the petite scientist said. “Now if you don’t mind, I was in the middle of a very important chemical test. Good Day, Ms. Montaigne, Ms. Legere, Ms. Trehearn.”
      She gave Catlin a lascivious wink and left abruptly, disappearing behind the locked laboratory door.
      “Most enlightening,” Catlin replied.
      They toured the rest of the facility, boarding one of the passenger lines, which was very luxurious, appointed in mahogany and gold furniture, plush red velvet sofas and entire restaurants, taverns and nightclubs within their enormous gondolas. They spied no sign of weapons. But armed with the knowledge from the leaked blueprint, Catlin spotted the “Q.T. Transmitter,” a quaint device like a radio set and a stereovisor combined on the bridge. It was rather bland looking and blended into the instrument panel. She had a very bad feeling that she knew its dark purpose, but would say nothing until they were safely out of Violet London.
      “We should like to have some lunch, Captain,” Mona said as the tour of the airship factory concluded. “Then we must be off, I’m afraid. I will give my ruler, Empress Asquith, a favorable report on Violet London that should quell any of her previous anxieties about your civilization.”
      “I’m certain Empress Asquithonia will be pleased to hear that, Ms. Montaigne,” Captain Johannsen replied.
      The three Gold Londoners were quiet on the ride back to the Savoy Hotel. They made no hand gestures and passed no notes. They were certain now that their every move was being observed and made no attempts to communicate among themselves other than normal conversation. They would have time to discuss the threats they had perceived once they were out of Violet London.

      “Nothing?” Empress Asquithonia fumed. “You found nothing at all in their room? We have infrared, ultraviolet and radio band surveillance and they are concealing nothing?”
      “Not that we can detect,” Rhonda Karnstein reported. “It appears that our guests are just that, guests. They are playing tourist, visiting our facilities, gushing over our advanced science. Doctor Camelia Karnstein reported they were very impressed with her hover engines. They have not invented them in Gold London.”
      “Simpletons!” Empress Asquithonia laughed. “They’re not spies or marauders, they’re daft idiots. Let them leave without any interference. But I still want to accelerate the schedule for Project Ultraviolet. Soon I will be Empress not of one dimension, but hundreds, maybe thousands! How glorious will be the rule of Supreme Empress Asquithonia the Fifth!”
      Lord Warshaw the Unknown

      "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.


      • #4
        VI. Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

        Empress Asquith of Gold London stroked the soft fur on the head of her unusual pet, a rare blue-gray Maltese Tiger named Visari. The beautiful carnivore rubbed his ears against her soft leg and purred loudly. She had hand-raised him from a cub, and he thought of her as both his friend and his mother. It was said they could communicate via telepathy, another of Empress Asquith’s hidden talents.
        “The situation is grave, Empress Asquith,” Anarch-Elect Asquith of Diamond London reported. “The Violet Londoners have already conquered five other worlds, and we believe they can easily take another five. Diamond London, Gold London, Silver London, Platinum London and Gray London continue to hold off their forces, but I have spoken to their leaders and they do not hold out much hope for a sustained resistance.”
        “There must be a solution,” Empress Asquith of Gold London mused. She searched her vast memory banks for anything she could use as a weapon to defeat her evil parallel self, Empress Asquithonia. “There must be a way to stop them and to reverse the terrible damage they have already caused by the use of their torsion weapons.”
        “We think there is one way,” Anarch-Elect Asquith replied. “My civilization, my utopias, have a space program. We have explored our Moon with unmanned probes and also two manned orbital flights.”
        “How does that knowledge help us against the Violet Londoners?” Empress Asquith inquired.
        “The source of the Violet Londoners’ power is technology they reverse engineered from the Antisari starship that crashed on the dark side of the Moon. Suppose we sent a spaceship to Violet London’s Moon and bombed the ship before they discovered it? We have also built small torsion engines and can use them to reverse the time-stream. My engineers demonstrated the effect to me. They took me back one week in time, but assure me they can do it for years as well. If we blow up the ship before the Violet Londoners discover it, it should reverse all of their destruction in the parallel Londons. It may even wipe out their civilization. My engineers refer to it as a “butterfly effect.”
        “It sounds risky,” Empress Asquith replied. “Who will you send on this potential suicide mission? Your top scientists?”
        “Our top space flight crew,” Anarch-Elect Asquith replied. “And Captain Montaigne and her crew to destroy the ship.”
        Empress Asquith stroked Visari’s head. A vision appeared before her eyes of a bright flash on the surface of the moon and a new crater forming. The vision then switched to a green rolling landscape of peaceful hills and valleys. Visari had seen the future. Yes. They must proceed with the Moon Mission!
        “All right,” Empress Asquith said. “I authorize you to initiate the Moon Mission. I will lend you a top secret weapon, but you must promise not to replicate it without my permission. It is known as fusion bomb. It is as small as a cannon shell, but it will unleash a fearsome force that will annihilate the Antisari starship.”
        “Agreed,” Anarch-Elect Asquith replied. “I will contact Lambeth Aerodrome and get the spaceship ready for lift off. We can launch almost immediately, since we were planning on launching another exploration mission this week.”
        “Excellent,” Empress Asquith replied. “Oh, and Anarch-Elect? Let’s keep this between ourselves, shall we? Afterwards, we shall initiate trade talks. You have concealed much from us. Time travel? Space Travel? Moon ships? We would very much like that technology. And I’m sure you could use fusion energy plants. Let’s discuss the details in say, a fortnight’s time?”
        “I would agree to that, Empress Asquith,” Anarch-Elect Asquith replied. “I shall say nothing to the rest of the Asquith Council of this conversation.”
        “That’s my girl!” Empress Asquith laughed.
        Inside her astonishingly complex mind, Empress Asquith of Gold London was forming plans for the far future.
        Lord Warshaw the Unknown

        "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.


        • #5
          VII. Mona’s Moon Mission

          The Dream Dragon’s Daughter hovered over the Crystal Palace of Diamond London. On the bridge, Mona Montaigne tuned the Stereovisor until Anarch-Elect Asquith’s lovely face came into sharp focus.
          “The situation is grave,” Anarch-Elect Asquith said. “The forces of Violet London have struck in multiple dimensions with great effect. They have taken over White London, Amber London, Sapphire London, Steel London and Opal London. They have destroyed Red London, left Orange London in the hands of violent tribal warriors and sent Black London back to the Middle Ages. We must stop them before they have time to regroup and mount another wave of attacks.”
          “What can we do, Anarch-Elect?” Mona asked, arms akimbo. “I’m only one woman with one crew. I cannot take on an interdimensional armada single-handed.”
          “You may not have to,” Anarch-Elect Asquith said. “The Asquith Council has met and we believe we know the source of the Violet Londoner’s power and how to stop them. If you are successful, all of the former timelines will be re-established except Violet London’s.”
          “What do we have to do?” Rita asked. She sounded skeptical, as was her nature.
          “You must come to the Lambeth Aerodrome,” Anarch-Elect Asquith’s image replied. “I do not wish to discuss the details of your mission on an open line. You will meet with my representative, Air Marshal Lilya Litvyak at the Aerodrome. She will brief your crew. Over and out.”
          The lovely leader’s image faded to a white dot, then vanished.
          “Aleet!” Mona shouted over the intercom tube. “Turn us starboard forty degrees and head for Lambeth Aerodrome.”
          “Aye, Captain!” Aleet replied over the speaker.

          The mooring crew tied the Dream Dragon’s Daughter to a tall mast at the Lambeth Aerodrome as Mona, Catlin, Rita, Laura and Aleet readied the landing ladder. They descended and were met by a tall platinum blonde woman in a tight coverall made of the same spun diamond material as Anarch-Elect Asquith’s elegant dress. She saluted and bowed.
          “I am Air Marshal Litvyak,” the tall blue-eyed beauty said. “Come with me, honored guests of Anarch-Elect Asquith. Welcome to the British Union of Anarchist Utopias.”
          She led them to a waiting ground car. It was sleek and of a design Mona had not seen before. It moved rapidly without much sound on six stout tires. It was also heavily armored and carried a big machine gun on the roof.
          “Where are we going?” Rita inquired.
          “A top secret airfield,” Air Marshal Litvyak replied. She would not give any further details as the armored car traveled North-East towards the Southwark Docks. They came to a series of tall concrete block houses and another very tall building which towered into the London sky.
          They arrived at a guarded gate and were met by soldiers in spun diamond coveralls and knee boots. Air Marshal Litvyak showed her identification papers and handed the Guard Captain an ivory computer punch card. The brunette woman fed the card into a small difference engine and waited for it to print out a blue paper card. She handed the card to Air Marshal Litvyak. She noted the five visitors and wrote on her clipboard, then motioned for the gates to be opened.
          The armored car drove into the complex and made a left at a tall white block house. They came to a smooth stop.
          “Time to go see the project we hope will save all of our dimensions from the insidious plan of the Violet Londoners,” Lilya Litvyak said. They exited the vehicle and followed the curvy blonde woman into the interior of the building. It was cramped and filled with the awful stench of cigar smoke and sweat. At large unknown machines with huge visor plates streaming with numbers, men and women in diamond coveralls labored intensively. What they were doing, Mona had no idea, but whatever it was, they took their work very seriously.
          “This is Mission Control for Project Luna,” Air Marshal Litvyak said. She walked over to a large wall-mounted visor and fed the blue paper punch card into a slot on its left side. The view on the visor changed. It now showed a great silver needle surrounded by a red metal scaffold. Steam rose from huge hoses that fed into the body of the strange object.
          “What is that thing?” Laura Legere asked. “It looks like an aerostat tipped up on its tail!”
          “In a way, Ms. Legere,” Air Marshal Litvyak replied. “It is not an aerostat, however. It is a moon rocket.”
          “What?” Mona gasped. “That---machine---can reach the Moon?”
          “That is what it is designed to do, Ms. Montaigne,” Lilya said. “It will take a crew of seven. We insist on using our own pilot and navigator. I hope you will understand that we simply don’t have time to train your crew to fly such a complex ship. But you will be in overall command of the mission, Ms. Montaigne.”
          “What mission?” Catlin asked. She was fascinated by the gigantic moon ship. She would have to study its technical drawings for their own Gold London use. “Why are we going to the Moon?”
          “I thought you knew,” Air Marshal Litvyak replied. “To destroy the Antisari ship that the Violet Londoners discovered fifty years ago. Without the alien technology, they will be unable to build their terrible torsion weapons.”
          “You want us to change history!” Laura shouted. “To destroy Project Ultraviolet before it begins!”
          “Concisely put, Ms. Legere,” Air Marshal Litvyak confirmed. “For that reason, you will be guided by our pilot and navigator to the Delporte Crater on the dark side of the Moon. There, you will drop a fusion bomb on the Antisari derelict. With our advanced technology, you will travel back one hundred years in time, before the Violet Londoners discovered the alien ship.”
          “How long will the journey take?” Mona asked. “From what Anarch-Elect Asquith told us, we may not have long before the Violet Londoners launch new attacks.”
          “The mission will take two days,” Air Marshal Litvyak replied. “By our calculations, Empress Asquithonia’s forces need three to restore power to their torsion plants.”
          “That’s cutting it awfully close,” Mona replied.
          “Yes, but you’re a specialist at that, aren’t you, Captain Montaigne?” Air Marshal Litvyak laughed gently.
          “Yes, I guess I am,” Mona replied. “Where do we begin?”
          “Lena!” Air Marshal Litvyak called to a tall thin brunette. “Come and take our distinguished Gold London guests to the briefing room. They must be prepared for the Lunar Mission.”

          Seven hours later, Mona, Laura, Catlin, Rita and Aleet were strapped into crash couches, their bodies covered by spun diamond pressure suits. They wore space helmets with clear diamond visors. The interior of the spaceship was kept freezing cold to keep the difference engines and navigational gyroscopes at a constant temperature. The spun diamond suits were as warm as winter pajamas and as comfortable as a second skin. On the bridge, one level above them, they could see the pilot and navigator entering the ship’s trajectory and flight data into a sophisticated difference engine that used diamond punch cards.
          “Lift off in ten minutes,” the pilot, a curvy buxom blonde named Wanda Warwick called over their helmet radios.
          “We are on confirmed trajectory for Delporte Crater,” called Tanya Vereshkova, the ship’s navigator. She was a slender brunette with two lunar orbital flights to her credit. “ETA 48.7 hours, sixteen minutes, twenty seven seconds Albion Standard Time, 4 May 1896.”
          During the briefing, Mona had been shown how to fire the fusion bomb from the ship’s steam cannon and how to aim the guidance system to destroy the Antisari spacecraft. She had learned how to program the firing sequence into the aiming computer and how to operate the ship’s attitude jets to align the shot. Other than that, her role as Mission Commander was limited to sitting in her seat, eating her suit-fed nutrients and waiting to arrive at the target site. Not the most exciting mission for an aerial adventuress, but how many of her fellow stratospheric corsairs had ever flown to the Moon?
          The ship began to vibrate in a slightly unpleasant way and Mona felt a bit nauseated.
          “Lift off in five minutes!” Captain Warwick announced. “Prepare for gantry separation.”
          There was a huge bump and the whole ship shook from side to side as the supporting scaffold was detached. The gantry ran on a huge tracked vehicle and was re-useable.
          When the ship had settled again, Mona heard the rumble of the ship’s great liquid hydrogen engines preparing for their burn. To produce enough power to escape Earth’s gravity, the fuel was supercharged and highly explosive. The thrust would be tremendous. Normally, it would have crushed any human being to paste, but the ship’s cabin was fitted with artificial gravity generators that would counter the tremendous g-forces generated by the liftoff.
          “I don’t feel too well,” Rita reported to Mona on the helmet radio. “I’m going to be sick.”
          “That’s hardly the way for a seasoned pirate to talk!” Laura scolded her Executive Officer. “You weren’t sick when you shot that Pakistani slaver in the face at close range and his brains splattered all over your new jacket. You were perfectly calm as you sliced fourteen Genoese Cavalry Raiders in half with your cutlass. You were known as “Red Rita” for your bloodthirsty nature. Where’s Red Rita now?”
          Rita did not respond to the taunts. She was too busy vomiting into her helmet, which vacuumed away the remains of her breakfast.
          “One minute to liftoff!” the pilot called. “Please check that your safety harnesses are properly buckled. Try to stay as motionless as possible and do not speak during the liftoff sequence. Do not panic. You are perfectly safe.”
          “That’s very reassuring,” Catlin said. She felt sorry for Rita. This was all a bit too much for their Executive Officer. Laura was right about her reputation prior to joining up with Mona, but that didn’t make her ready for a space flight. She should have stayed on board the Dream Dragon’s Daughter. Now, if anything happened, Helga Odinsdatter, the ship’s Weapon Master Wife would be left in command. Not that Helga would be a bad Captain, but not as good as Rita.
          “Five seconds to liftoff!” Wanda shouted. “Four. Three. Two. One. Liftoff!”
          There was a tremendous roar, like a thousand dragons spitting fire at once and the ship shook as if a giant had grabbed it in its fist. The world spun wildly and all five of the pirate crew vomited as the great Moon Ship left the launching pad under full thrust.
          “We have liftoff!” Wanda said to Mission Control over the stereovisor. “This is Asquith One to Mission Control. We are clearing the tower. Altitude five thousand kilometers and climbing steadily. Engines at maximum thrust. We are climbing steadily and on target for translunar insertion at pre-programmed time. Over.”
          “Roger Asquith One,” the cold sounding voice of the Mission Commander replied. “We have you down range at seven thousand kilometers and climbing. Burn is steady. Over.”
          “Roger, Mission Command, Over and Out for now,” Wanda replied. The ship continued to climb at a dizzying rate, exiting the atmosphere and entering the stratosphere, then the troposphere. Finally, they reached escape velocity and were propelled out of Earth orbit.
          “Here’s a nice view, ladies!” Wanda said. She punched up a view screen. They watched as the Earth, a tiny blue and white marble, faded behind the tail fins of their silver rocket. The motors cut and they drifted in space, assisted only by occasional burns from their retro rockets, keeping them on course for the Moon.
          “Remarkable!” Catlin said. “We’ve really left the Earth!”
          “Yes, indeed,” Mona added. “Astonishing! My kudos to your scientists, Ms. Warwick. This rocket is really a magnificent machine!”
          “Thank you, Captain Montaigne,” Wanda replied. “But the ship is not mine. She belongs to all the people of Diamond London’s Anarchist Utopias.”
          “Yes, of course,” Mona replied. She didn’t really understand the complex political system of Diamond London. Apparently, it consisted of about twenty different “utopias,” each an independent nation, but all of them within the confines of Diamond London. Each had certain voting rights in the commonwealth. Anarch-Elect Asquith was not a monarch, but a freely elected ruler who served more as an ombudsman than a queen.
          For fourteen hours into the lunar mission, the blue globe of the Earth shrank in the rearward view, until she was just a brilliant point of light, the brightest star in an otherwise jet black sky.
          The crew mostly ate and slept. Nutrition was provided by a kind of slush that was fed to them from plastic tubes in their space helmets. It tasted awful, like liquefied rice, but provided all of their necessary nutrition. Without the familiar blue sky overhead, it was hard to tell what time it was on board ship. Fortunately, there was a big mechanical clock which showed the time in block numerals mounted on the far wall of their cabin. They only had to glance over to see the time on Earth.
          “Mission Control from Asquith One,” Wanda called over the long-distance radio. “We are at fourteen hundred hours from launch. Now entering translunar orbit. Estimated time of arrival at target site thirty two point four hours, sixteen minutes, thirty seven seconds Albion Standard Time. No problems to report. Over.”
          It took twenty minutes for them to receive a reply from Mission Control.
          “Roger Asquith One, we read you loud and clear,” came the cold voice. “We confirm your ETA to target. Mission now critical. Two more parallel worlds, Platinum London and Bronze London have fallen to the Violet London Air Armada. Gold, Gray, Silver, Copper, Diamond and Titanium Londons are still resisting. Over.”
          “Understood, Mission Control,” Wanda replied. “Over and out.”

          In the viewports, the moon grew from a dim star to a brighter star, then resolved to a dark crater pocked satellite, a dirty gray ball floating in space.
          Mona watched in wonder as surface feature, huge flat “seas” and cratered plains came into view.
          “You have explored the Moon in Diamond London?” Mona asked Wanda.
          “Yes, mostly by unmanned space probes,” Wanda confirmed. “But we have done two orbital flights. We’re looking to land a crew in five years’ time. We are working on a more advanced rocket with a landing module.”
          “Amazing!” Rita said. “We thought our airships were advanced, but they’re mere toys compared to this magnificent ship.”
          “Indeed,” Catlin replied. “I would like to study the technical schematics. There may be many uses for this technology.”
          “We will share them with your government after the mission is completed,” Wanda replied. “Provided you promise not to use them to manufacture weapons.”
          “That sounds more like a conversation for diplomats,” Mona replied.
          “Perhaps,” Wanda said. “The artificial gravity system is on. You may unfasten your harnesses and walk to the observation ports. I would ask that you refrain from touching any of the equipment. If you have questions, feel free to ask. Your legs may feel a bit wobbly at first, but you’ll get used to it.”
          Mona, Laura and Catlin unbuckled. Aleet was still feeling a bit nauseated so she stayed in her seat. Rita hesitated, then unbuckled her harness. They found that they could walk on the “floor” of the cabin, which had been the wall when they took off. The soles of their spun diamond boots were lined with a sticky material that made walking a bit labored, but kept them anchored to the floor of the rocket. Mona walked over to the nearest view port and stared out at the Moon. Laura joined her and stared out in wonder and awe at Earth’s satellite up close.
          “It’s so gray,” Rita said. “I thought it would be more colorful.”
          “Have you never seen the Moon through a spyglass?” Mona asked her Executive Officer Wife.
          “Not on a clear night,” Rita replied. “From what I could see, there were green and yellow tints on the surface.”
          “That was only reflected solar radiation,” Catlin explained. “What you saw was caused by the Earth’s atmosphere distorting the true image.”
          “Well, it certain seems bleak and barren,” Rita said. “Not the sort of place I would want to visit. Perhaps Mars is more hospitable.”
          “Maybe that will be our next mission!” Laura laughed. “Raid the Bank of Mars!”
          They all laughed and looked out the view ports as the Moon grew ever larger over the passing hours.

          Suddenly, there was a brilliant white flash from behind Asquith One and they all stopped laughing.
          “What was that?” Mona demanded. She went to the rearward viewport, but could see nothing but black space.
          “There is something pursuing us!” Tanya Vereshkova reported. “Another ship is on an intercept course and closing rapidly. It’s armed!”
          “Aren’t we?” Laura replied.
          “No,” Wanda replied. “This is an exploration craft, not a military vessel. Other than the fusion bomb, we have no weapons on board.”
          “So what do we do now?” Rita asked. She was trying not to panic, but having a hard time. “What happens if they hit us?”
          “Any object launched in space is a potentially deadly missile,” Wanda explained. “Even a big rock could punch a hole in our fuselage and drain all of our oxygen in seconds. We must attempt to out-maneuver the enemy ship. That is our only chance to complete our mission. If we’re hit, we’re as good as dead.”
          The ship became eerily quiet as the five Gold Londoners strapped back into their crash couches and Tanya and Wanda fired the retro-rockets, steering an evasive action course away from the unknown attacker.
          Lord Warshaw the Unknown

          "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.


          • #6
            VIII. Pursuit, Pirates and Plans

            “You’re certain our ship is in pursuit?” Empress Asquithonia inquired of Isis Karnstein. “We have them targeted?”
            “Affirmative,” Isis reported. “They have no avenue of escape. Once the Violet Viper is in range, she will open up with her missile batteries. She cannot miss. The Asquith One is as good as destroyed.”
            “Excellent!” Empress Asquithonia laughed. “What kind of idiots do those Gold Londoners think we are, that we would not detect their Moon rocket launch?”
            “I do not know,” Isis said. “But their plan was desperate and futile. They will never reach the lunar surface, except as burnt cinders.”

            Battles in space are slow, fought with precise balletic moves. The first projectile fired by the Violet Viper missed by a matter of micrometers. It sped on harmlessly into the empty void. The crew of the Asquith One breathed a collective sigh of relief, but knew they might not be so lucky with the next rail gun projectile. Mona slowly began to formulate a plan.
            “Catlin, can you adjust the Q.T. Transmitter so that it can create a very localized torsion field?” Mona asked.
            “I can,” Catlin replied. “But for what purpose?”
            “Wanda, correct me if I’m wrong, but I assume that if a missile enters the Moon’s gravitation field, it will remain in orbit unless acted upon?” Mona asked.
            “Yes, that is correct,” Wanda replied. “Orbital satellites we launched years ago have remained in position above the Lunar surface.”
            “Can you show me a display of where the enemy ship is right now?” Mona asked. “Relative to our current position?”
            “Give me a moment,” Wanda replied. She fed some ivory punch cards into a small difference engine on her instrument panel. A 3-D display appeared in the middle of the room. It showed the Moon and the positions of the two rockets.
            “Excellent,” Mona said. She walked over to the display and studied the position of the two rockets closely.
            “What are you proposing, Captain Montaigne?” Wanda Warwick asked.

            “Something very risky,” Mona admitted. “But if it works, it will eliminate the enemy ship while only using a tiny bit of our fuel reserve.”
            “Explain,” Tanya insisted. “What is your plan, Captain Montaigne?”
            Mona pointed to the globe.
            “Our ship is here,” Mona said. She pointed to the 3-D model of the Asquith One. “The enemy ship is here.”
            “Yes, we are aware of our relative positions,” Tanya said. “But what can you do? They are armed and we are not.”
            “That’s what we can do,” Mona replied. “A good military commander knows she can use the enemy’s strength against them. In this case, the rail gun missiles.”
            “What do you mean?” Tanya insisted. “How can we use them against the enemy ship?”
            “We will wait until the enemy closes to here,” she indicated a distance of approximately 10,000 miles. “Then we will briefly fire the retro rockets and turn broadside to the enemy ship.”
            “That’s absurd!” Rita objected. “If we turn broadside, they’ll open up with everything they’ve got!”
            “I’m counting on it!” Mona laughed.
            “I think I see where this is going,” Laura Legere smiled. “You’re going to use the same move you used at the Battle of Dunkirk with the Franco-Prussian Hegemony Airship Fleet.”
            “Essentially the same,” Mona replied. “Yes, the enemy will not miss the chance to destroy us. They will open up with their missiles. Meanwhile, we will fire the retro rockets again and descend to within the Lunar gravity field, here.”
            She indicated a spot above the moon.
            “When the rail gun bolts come within 2,000 miles, we will use the Q.T. Transmitter to propel them around the Moon at great speed, where they will then follow their natural trajectory, based upon the Moon’s gravitational field.”
            “The enemy will close upon us to witness our destruction,” Laura surmised. “And they will never suspect their own missiles to be doubling back on them from here.”
            She pointed to a position to the rear of the advancing Violet London rocket.

            “Brilliant,” Wanda admitted. “But it will require precise timing and perfect execution. Space is unforgiving of mistakes. One misstep and we will be vaporized.”
            “Then we’d better get it right,” Mona replied. “Catlin, start modifying the Q.T. Transmitter. Laura, let’s plot the enemy’s course precisely.”
            The pirates all gathered around the map and brain-stormed over the precise moment to turn the ship broadside to the enemy. They took their time and with Wanda’s help, they calculated their moves with exact precision, then fed the data into the navigation computer and flight controls.

            “What are those fools doing?” Commander Carmilla Karnstein, chief officer of the Violet Viper inquired. On the view screen, she watched at the Asquith One fired her retro rockets. She was a tall imposing platinum blonde with a fulsome figure, her otherwise lovely face marred by the hole where her right eye had been and a jagged J-shaped dueling scar across her right cheek. Her crew feared her wild nature. She might kiss a woman one moment and snap her neck with her bare hands the next.
            “They’re running!” First Officer Astarte Karnstein replied. “They’re diving down into the Moon’s gravity well, no doubt trying to trick us into pursing them and crashing.”
            “How pathetic! They’re turning broadside!” Commander Karnstein shouted. She was amazed that her enemy could miscalculate so badly. Still, she must not miss an easy opportunity to destroy the pirates. “Close to five thousand miles, then fire all the rail gun batteries!”
            “Aye, Commander!” Navigator Hecate Karenstein replied. “Plotting intercept course and programming engine burn.”

            “They’re taking the bait!” Aleet cried. She was standing next to Tanya’s navigation console, watching the slender silver needle of the Violet Viper grow larger. The Violet Londoners were preparing to fire their weapons, just as Mona had predicted. “Enemy ship is closing with us on an intercept course. Ten thousand miles distant and closing. They have just fired their main engines in a five second burst.”
            “Catlin, are the modifications to the Q.T. Transmitter complete?” Mona inquired of her Engineer Wife.
            “Affirmative, Captain,” Catlin said. “I’m ready to initiate the torsion field on your word.”
            “Aleet, call out distances!” Mona commanded. “If I’m right, the enemy will fire from five thousand miles out.”
            “Eight thousand miles and closing,” Aleet reported.
            “Wanda, get ready to fire the retro rockets on my mark,” Mona said. She paced but was not nervous. Rather, she seemed excited. Once more she was the commander of a battleship. They might be moments away from fiery death, but it beat sitting strapped to a couch watching the Moon go by as a mere passenger.
            “Seven thousand feet,” Aleet shouted. “They’ve stopped their engine burn and fired retro rockets. They’re lining us up in their gunsights.”
            “Keep the comments to a minimum,” Mona asked. “Just call out distances.”
            “Six thousand feet,” Aleet replied. “Five thousand. The rear scanners have detected four red flashes. Four missiles are now inbound on an intercept course with us.”
            “Wanda, hit the retros!” Mona commanded. “Turn us away from the missiles.”
            The ship rocked as the retro rockets fired, moving her out of the broadside configuration.
            “Roger, Captain Montaigne,” Wanda reported. “Burn executed. We are now inside the Moon’s gravity well. Missiles are still locked onto us, line astern.”
            “Four thousand feet,” Aleet called. “Missiles are closing fast. Three thousand. Two thousand.”
            Catlin hit three blue buttons on the Q.T. Transmitter. On the view plates, the incoming missiles waivered and momentarily disappeared. They reappeared on the dark side, speeding back towards the Violet Viper.
            “Torsion acceleration completed,” Catlin reported. “Missiles are now on the dark side of the Moon and heading for the enemy ship.”

            “What’s going on?” Carmilla Karnstein fumed from her command chair. “Why haven’t we seen an explosion yet? All four missiles can’t have missed!”
            “Captain, I cannot locate our missiles on the deep range radar,” Radar Operator Athena Karnstein reported. “They were there one moment, then they just vanished.”
            “Nonsense!” Carmilla fumed. “Nothing vanishes in space. Find them, you idiot, or I’ll strip you of your commission!”
            “Widening radar track,” Athena replied. She stared at the readouts but could not locate the errant rail gun bolts. “Still no reading. Wait! I’ve found them. Holy Asquithonia!”
            “Don’t curse on my bridge!” Carmilla shouted. “Where are the blessed things?”
            “They’re on an intercept course,” Athena reported.
            “Good!” Carmilla laughed. “Now we’ll see the end of the pirate scum they hired to thwart us!”
            “You don’t understand!” Athena screamed. “The missiles are on an intercept course with us!”
            It was the last thing she ever said.

            From the view ports of the Asquith One, Mona, Rita, Laura, Catlin, Aleet, Wanda and Tanya watched as four brilliant blue flashes of light engulfed the enemy spacecraft. There was no sound in the vacuum as the alien ship exploded into billions of tiny silver fragments, but it was still a pretty, satisfying sight.
            Lord Warshaw the Unknown

            "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.


            • #7
              IX. Antisari Annihilation

              After the intense excitement of the chase and battle, the crew of the Asquith One relaxed in the dining area, enjoying a quiet meal. They were slowly approaching the target crater. Thankfully, their maneuvers had not used any critical fuel reserves.
              “The crater we want is on the dark side?” Mona asked Wanda.
              “Yes,” Wanda replied. She unfurled a fuzzy photograph from a long cardboard tube and laid it out on the dining table, anchoring it with metal coffee cups. “Here is the area where we first detected the crashed alien ship.”
              She showed them a photograph of a crater with what appeared to be a long white line, like a big white cigar sticking out of it. It was fuzzy and indistinct from a distance. It could have been a rock outcrop or a trick of the light.
              She withdrew a smaller, sharper photograph from another tube and showed it to the Gold London pirates. This was a sharply focused view of the Antisari craft. It was a long slender arrow-shaped ship with a huge bronze torus around the stern and a pointed cockpit made of pale blue glass at the bow. There were many tiny holes from micrometeorite impacts along the length of the fuselage. The ship had torn a large gouge out of the Moon’s surface when it skidded to a stop, landing on the rim of the crater. The ship was marked with the same blue hieroglyphs Mona had seen on the metal plate Dr. Alexis Karnarvan had shown her.
              “Fascinating,” Catlin said. “It looks like a smaller version of the Hejayantral, the Antisari starship we destroyed beneath the Gobi Desert. The design is very similar, if more primitive. There appears to be only one quantum torsion ring, where the larger ship had three.”
              “We were unaware of the existence of that ship,” Wanda replied. “On our world, it never existed. But our lunar probes found this ship twenty years ago.”
              “Why didn’t you send missions to explore it?” Laura inquired. “Don’t you want the alien technology?”
              “The cost of the manned flights is prohibitive,” Wanda replied. “This is an emergency, so all of the Anarchist Utopias agreed to pool their resources. But normally, if only one dissents, it can undercut the process of budgeting a flight. We were unable to reach a consensus on whether or not to send manned exploration vessels. Now, it is matter of life and death for all of our worlds.”
              “Indeed,” Mona replied. She studied the photograph of the crashed alien vessel and shuddered. If the Antisari had only realized what havoc their technology would cause, they might have set the ship to self-destruct. Or maybe they wouldn’t. It was hard to know what the silver-skinned, cyan-haired aliens had truly been plotting. Xanthis had lied to them outright about the time it would take to complete their gigantic starship and also the devastating nature of the quantum torsion propulsion drive. Who knew what else she had lied about?

              The time went by quickly, and Mona sat at the controls for the Fusion Bomb Bay and Targeting Radar. Her head was pressed into a rubber collar around the radar view screen, which showed the moonscape in an eerie pale green glow. Grid lines and scrolling white numerals told her the exact surface position. Her right glove gripped the bomb release trigger, her thumb poised to press the red “release” button at the right moment.
              The lunar surface slowly scrolled by and a red cross hairs appeared on the radar scope.
              “I have target location on radar,” Mona said. “Switching to targeting computer program.”
              She slid a diamond-edged ivory punch card into a reader on the bomb release control console. The red cross hairs shifted position, blinked, then glowed steady. When the lines met over the crater, the computer would send a small electric shock to her glove, forcing her to release the fusion bomb.
              Time seemed to slow as if they were flying through sheets of thick molasses. The red lines blinked, flared, disappeared, reappeared and suddenly they turned bright green. The shock ran up Mona’s arm and she pressed the “release” button on the fusion bomb trigger.
              “Bomb bay doors opened!” Mona shouted. “Bomb released!”
              “Roger, we have confirmation of fusion bomb drop,” Wanda said, both to the Gold Londoners and Mission Control. “Return to your seat, Captain Montaigne. Emergency acceleration in fifteen seconds. Tanya, program emergency ascent angle for trans-Earth orbit insertion.”
              “Affirmative, Captain Warwick,” Tanya replied. She fed five ivory punch cards into her difference engine bank and blue, green and orange lights flashed in sequence on her navigational computer panel. “We are on course for emergency trans-Earth orbit.”
              Mona had just gotten her harnesses locked when she felt the ship jolt violently as the rocket’s main engines engaged for a fifteen second emergency burn. The Moon rushed away beneath them. On the dark surface, Mona watched a tiny white mushroom cloud bloom, spray regolith into the air, then fall again, forming a spatter field that looked like a big bicycle tire around Delporte crater. The Antisari ship was gone, blown to smithereens.
              “Mission Control, this is Asquith One,” Wanda called over the radio. “We have confirmed detonation. Target is destroyed. Repeat, target is destroyed. We are in emergency trans-Earth orbit trajectory. Estimated time of arrival at Lambeth Field is forty-eight hours, seven minutes, twenty nine seconds Albion Standard Time. Can you give us an update on Violet London incursion? Over.”
              The reply did not come for four hours. When it did, the whole crew breathed a collective sigh of relief.
              Asquith One, this is Mission Control, Diamond London,” the cold female voice said. “We have confirmed destruction of the Antisari spacecraft across all dimensions. Violet London no longer exists. White London, Red London, Black London, Orange London, Sapphire London, Steel and Amber London have reverted to their previous status. Effects of the quantum torsion devices have been reversed. Your mission is a complete success. You are all to be awarded the Asquith Air Medal and Medal of Honor at a banquet to be held upon your safe return. Over.”
              “Roger, Mission Control,” Wanda replied. “We’re glad we were able to eliminate the Violet Londoners’ threat. Resuming course to Earth. Hail Anarchy! Over and out.”
              “Hail Anarchy, Asquith One,” Mission Control replied. “Safe landing. Over and out.”
              Lord Warshaw the Unknown

              "Except in dreams, you're never really free." Warren Zevon, Desperados Under the Eaves.