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Shadows from the Aether

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  • Shadows from the Aether

    Introduction

    My tale is heavily influenced by the boxing yarns of the pulp genius storyteller Robert E Howard, who is more famously known for his Sword and Sorcery heroes such as Conan the Cimmerian, Solomon Kane, King Kull and others. Howard was a big boxing fan, spent some time as a sports journalist, and himself engaged in amateur boxing bouts.

    Howard’s most famous boxing hero was Steve Costigan, Irish American Able Seaman and fist-fighting champion of the merchant wind-jammer called the Sea Girl. Howard probably wrote more stories about this character than any other, with some 34 completed tales and several extant fragments. Howard based the character of Steve Costigan on several famous boxers of the nineteen twenties such as Tom Sharkey (5’9” and 190lbs) and Joe Grim, and there is more than a little self parody thrown into the mix as well, along with plenty of rough and tumble Texan tall-tale humor.

    My protagonist is closely based on Howard’s Steve Costigan, even down to his nationality, bulldog sidekick, fighting weight and the style of slang he uses to relate his adventures. Indeed, it could be said that this tale is partly my speculation as to what might have happened if Howard had written a Steve Costigan tale for the steampunk/steampulp market.

    Any good bits in this tale can be traced back to the influence of others, primarily Robert E Howard, and there is no doubt a little Firefly and Moorcock in the mix as well. Any bad bits stem from my own inexperience as a writer.

    Kirowan

    Shadows from the Aether


    Being A Two Fisted Fightin’ Pulp Steam Opera.

    By Kirowan

    In the darkened void beyond great Saturn’s rings,
    Strange eyes are drawn by that pearlescent sheen,
    Yet spurn the black, which living madness brings,
    Where seething, grim, pale shadows swarm unseen.

    Chapter One

    Shanghai Shuffle

    WE WAS DOCKED in Shanghai with a hold full o’ supplies for the mining colony on Neptune. Mikey and I had won us a wad from the bare fist matches down at Slick Han’s Icehouse, and for a change things were lookin’ good for the crew of the Star Girl. But as soon as the Cap’n came back on board with that posh English lady in tow I just somehow knowed we was in for a whole mess o’ trouble.

    She was young and purty. Sven let out a whistle that was taken up by the whole crew, but for all that raucous racket, the lady didn’t bat an eye nor blush none. The Cap’n fixed us with a steely glare and the pair of ‘em disappeared into his cabin.

    I shook my head nonplussed, “What’s the Cap’n doin’ bringin’ a lady aboard right now? We’re just about ready to haul out of Shanghai?”
    Mikey shrugged, “I’m guessin’ we’ll find out soon enough.”

    Then some suits came sniffing around the dockside askin’ questions and wandered up the gangplank. They were dressed like clean cut big city bean counters, but they had cold dead eyes like sharks and chisled features, strollin’ around the deck like they owned the place. We’d all seen men like them before, fixin’ fights, dealin’ dope, extort’n’ protection money, in ports from Peking to Lisbon, and all points west and starward. I figured this had somethin’ to do with the fights that me and Mikey had won down at Slick Han’s, that mebbe we’d put some fixer’s nose out o’ joint, and, as it turns out, I figured wrong.

    They wandered up to the Cap’ns cabin. I looked at Mikey and Mikey looked at Sven. Mikey gave the nod and a handful of us went down and stood close by in case some kind o’ tussle was imminent.

    One of the suits knocked on Cap’n’s door, and purty soon the door opened and the Cap’n stood there looking them all over suspiciously.

    “Captain James Brent of the Star Girl?” said the suit, speaking clear English with an oriental twang.

    Cap’n’s eyes narrowed. “Aye, that’s me.”

    “I am Lu Chao, of the Shanghai police. I am looking for an Englishwoman who goes by the name of Amanda Jane Greyson.”

    Well I was plumb surprised. I’d been damn sure they was as crooked as the day was long, but it transpires they was with the Shanghai constabulary.

    “What of it?” replied Cap’n.

    “She is wanted for questioning in connection with a murder.”

    The Cap’n stood there ruminatin’ fer a while and Lu Chao grew impatient.

    “Come now Captain, she was seen boarding this ship with you.”

    The Cap’n looked around with his cool grey eyes, takin’ in the situation, then, out o’ the blue, he just plain took a swing at Lu Chao. Mikey, Sven and two of the deckhands plowed in, fists went flyin’ and a tremendous ruckus ensued, during which I was standing there scritchin’ my head as to why we were at odds with the law.

    Cap’n fixed me with a mean look as he spun around in a fierce lock with Lu Chao. “Don’t just stand there, Brannigan, you numb skull. Whack them!”

    “They’re not cops, Bill,” Mikey hollered in my general direction.

    Now I was plumb near red with mortification. I don’t like to be made a fool of by some no good two bit Shanghai wharf scum. I hauled off and put all my190 pounds of Irish American fightin’ muscle into a massive hook that stood the nearest bruiser right on his neck. It’s a manoeuvre of which I’m rightly proud, and which fightin’ fans in ports from here to Pluto refer to as ‘The Brannigan Maul.’

    There was ten of them and six of us in that scrap. I looked over and saw Mikey pounding away on one of em. Another was takin’ a nap on the deck at Mikey’s feet. The Cap’n was still rollin’ around in a clinch with Lu Chao. The guy I’d just nailed wern’t goin’ nowheres fast, it being he was laid flat out watchin’ cuckoos flappin’ around his head. The two other deck hands seemed to be holding their own, but Sven was backed into a corner facing two of em’ at once, and one of those two louses had pulled a knife.

    Now Sven is a big Sweede, and a hit with the ladies, but he ain’t no fightin’ man. I muscled through the fray and grabbed the punk with the knife from behind. I cracked his arm across my knee until he dropped the knife then, gripping him by the collar and belt I flung him bodily out into the general melee. Then some monkey rapped me from behind and I turned and took a swing.

    There was a gunshot, which brought us all up short right quick. Lu Chao was standing there with a smoking pistol, and the Cap’n was lying on the deck. Looked like he’d been shot. He rolled over with a groan and wiped the blood from his cheek with a sleeve. He was looking pretty beat up, but with no actual gunshot wound that we could see.

    “Listen to me!” Lu Chao barked. “Bring out the woman!”

    None of us were in much of a mood to argue with a shmuck with a gun, but as it turned out, we didn’t need to. The door to the Captain’s cabin opened and the young lady emerged, looking stern faced and apprehensive.

    “Do not shoot anyone,” she said.

    “At last,” said Lu Chao. “Miss Grayson, you will come with me.”

    The young lady approached Lu Chao cautiously.

    Now this was a damned depressin’ development. I was panning my brain for some idee as to how I could get up close to Lu Chao and rap him with ‘the Maul.’ He was wavin’ that gun round at us like it was no more’n a lollipop and I couldn’t see how’s I could manage it without puttin’ someone at risk.

    Then there was a dainty rustle of fabric and Miss Grayson’s shapely leg shot up from under her dress as fast and straight as a ballerina. A single shot rang out, a bullet spat at the door frame to the Cap’n’s cabin, and the gun sailed up into the air and out over the rail and hit the floor of the spaceport with a profound clunk.

    The crew all witnessed this event with slack-jawed amazement. At that moment they looked no different than if they’d just been slapped in the face with a ten pound halibut. Miss Grayson had just plumb kicked the gun straight out of Lu Chao’s hand. It was a real unladylike move but I was nonetheless impressed.

    By that time more of the crew had come up from below decks, even Ulrich from the engine room. So now it was the suits turn to look decidedly demoralised. Lu Chao fixed the lady and the Cap’n with a look that had more venom in it than a whole nest o’ vipers. Then he turned, signalled his men, and the whole sorry bunch of ‘em turned tail and slunk off the Star Girl, dragging their unconscious as they went.

    Cap’n lurched to his feet. “Get us underway, Mr McMurrough,” he said to Mikey. “We need to leave Shanghai – fast.” He staggered into his cabin, closely followed by Miss Grayson, with a look of grave concern on her lovely features.

    Then we all disbursed to prepare the Star Girl for departure.
    Last edited by Kirowan; 02-12-2013, 02:41 AM.

  • #2
    Chapter Two

    Dragon Run

    ULRICH FIRED UP the Kessler field and the Star Girl ariz like a majestic eagle over the streets o’ Shanghai and the Yang Zee river. She may not look like much, just an ornery tramp space jammer, but to me she was the fightin’est ship that ever soared the space lanes past ol’ Saturn’s rings. We hit cloud cover just as Kyushu appeared on the eastern horizon and pushed on through into the upper atmo. Ulrich slammed on the Kessler drives, and sent the Star Girl flyin’ on out into the vasty deeps o’ space.

    I was in the crew quarters countin’ my winnings and Sven came in and started tearin’ up the place. I askt him what he was lookin’ fer.’

    ‘Bill,’ he wailed, ‘my pipe been missing.’

    He continued to wreck the joint searchin’ fer his pipe.

    Then my irish bulldog Mushy, who’d been snoozin’ under my bunk, started coughin’ and yakkin. He stood up and discoursed a whole heap o bile in the middle o’ which was a familiar object.

    ‘Demmit’ Bill! Your hound - him been eat my pipe!’

    I picked up the offending object and handed it back to Sven. He took it at arm’s length with his thumb and finger, his face all yeller like he was gonna take a heave hisself.

    ‘Aw,’ I said, ‘it don’t look like he’s chawed it Sven. Just clean it up and it’ll be slick as new.’

    I hadst no sympathy. He knowst full well not to leave stuff lyin’ around where Mushy can get to it. Mushy’s a fine canine gourmand who can make a three course meal outta the finest boot leather, or pretty much anythin’ else that ain’t nailed down or hid. Star Girl’s A B’s know to keep their boots locked up or they mayn’t be there in the mornin.’

    Later on I was sparrin’ in the mess hall with Mikey with half a dozen A B’s watchin’ us elucidate the finer points o’ the fistic arts, when Miss Greyson walked in. She looked about in her mid twenties with an easy charm and beautiful green eyes that shook you from stem to stern when she looked at you. She didn’t blink an eye at associatin’ with a rough load of sailors nor did she have a trace of space sickness, indicatin’ she’d travelled aboard space jammers plenty o’ times afore now.

    Distracted as I was by this vision of beauty, Mikey accidentally hit me with a portside cross that damn near knocked my block off. I was up at the count of five, cussin’ myself for takin’ my eyes off the game. Mikey could see I was distracted and we took a break.
    Sven was there and he walked straight up to her like a damned Lothario. Why women take to that boob headed mutt, whilst a feller of my quality and distinction is around, is a continuing mystery to me.

    Half way between Earth and Mars I was standing watch on the bridge when a great dark war jammer hoved into view and hung off the stern like the angel o’ death. I sounded the alarm and pretty soon the crew were on general alert and Mikey, Cap’n and Miss Greyson were all assembled on the bridge. The war jammer had sleek oriental lines, and by the way she was hovering out there, all close and menacing, it was a rap to assume she wanted to board us.

    She warn’t running many lights so the Cap’n shone the spotlight on her bow and used his spyglass to check out who she was.

    ‘It’s The Dragon,’ said Cap’n.

    Miss Greyson turned pale and grabbed Cap’n’s arm. ‘James, that’s one of Shang Lotai’s. We have to evade them!’

    ‘Has she got guns?’ askt Mikey, always the one for takin’ into account important practical considerations.

    ‘Aye,’ said Cap’n, squintin’ down his spyglass as he swept The Dragon with his appraisin’ eye. ‘One on the bow, one on the port, and probably more for sure.’

    And with that the barrel on The Dragon’s bow gun flamed and an almighty explosion blossomed out ahead of the Star Girl, shakin’ the whole ship with a deep rumble, flickering across the Star Girl’s Kessler field out front like the Northern lights.

    ‘That’s a warning shot,’ said Cap’n helpfully.

    ‘Cap’n,’ I askt respectfully, ‘are you gonna explain any time soon why a blamed war jammer is hangin’ offa our stern and tryin’ to take us to a royal cleanin’?’

    Cap’n and Miss Greyson looked at each other. ‘I’ll be getting to that,’ he said. ‘Take us under her keel, Mr Brannigan, where she can’t get a line on us. Then while we are on her blind side, floor the Kessler’s. Give her all we’ve got before they can bring The Dragon about. The faster we go the worse their aim will be.’

    It all went as the Cap’n described. Purty soon the Star Girl was shoot’n’ through space like a meteor, with the Dragon on her tail a league behind. The only difference was they warn’t shootn’ at us like we were expectin’ ‘em to.

    ‘Now what? I askt.

    ‘We head for the Greasy Wulrus’ Waypoint station,’ said Cap’n, lookin’ up from his charts.

    My jaw musta just plumb near hit the deck. ‘Why, that rick-backed, rusty, creakin’ death trap full o’ desperadoes, cheats ‘n swizzlers!’

    ‘You have a better idea A B Brannigan?’ askt Cap’n.

    I shook my head and gave an indignant snort.
    Last edited by Kirowan; 02-12-2013, 02:37 AM.

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    • #3
      Chapter Three

      Waypoint Blues

      WELL, THE OLD Earth-Mars Waypoint station was way offa the new spacelanes and neglected by all, save rogues and roughnecks lookin’ fer a haven. As I brought the Star Girl in to dock I saw the most disreputable gathering of jammers ever assembled in one place, like a great flock of vultures swoopin’ for a feast. Cap’n thought The Dragon would follow us in, but she veered off our tail, and carried on towards Mars – the which fact was a disconcertin’ relief.

      Normally when we hit port I elbows everyone outta the way in my haste to disembark, but on this occasion I stayed aboard the Star Girl. There was no way I was goin’ ta step afoot on the same float as that mustachioed space lub known as the Greasy Wulrus. Whenever I has the mischance to spy his ugly map there’s always some kinda trouble in it fer yours truly.

      And sure enough, no more’n an hour later, Sven comes back aboard and says Cap'n needs to see me fer a matter o’ great importance. I left Mushy with one o’ the A B’s, and groans inwardly as I followed Sven through the rusty creakin’ corridors of the old Waypoint station, my mood growing more ominous the further we went. We passed drinking dens, and darkened rooms filled with furtive murmuring, where the shadiest o’ deals was being struck, until we came to a great hold that had been converted into an arena, with row upon row of stalls and a boxing ring in the centre. Some of the toughest bloodiest fights in the solar system were fought in places like these, where there were few rules and no regulators, where the order of the day was to put on bone-crunching displays of raw savagery for wild howling crowds of lawless star-dusters.

      In a dimly lit corner o’ the arena stood Cap’n, Mikey and that blamed asterisk asterisk exclamation point called the Greasy Wulrus, so named on accounta his distinctive bristlin’ soup catcher, and his general slippery disposition. He grinned when he seed me, and I groaned inwardly, knowing it meant trouble, as it usually did.

      ‘Brannigan,’ he said, with a triumphant grin that was viserble even under the shade o’ all them hairs o’ which he was so proud. ‘What a turn of luck for me that you showed up here. You’re just the man who can get me outa this scrape.’

      ‘I got no plans fer helpin’ you outa any scrape,’ I growled.

      ‘Might wanna rethink that statement,’ said Mikey.

      ‘Here’s how it is,’ said Cap’n. ‘The kind Mr Wulrus will pull some contacts to get us an escort to Mars, and thence to Saturn. But he wants a favour from us first, or more specifically, from you, A B Brannigan, in return.’

      ‘Why don’t we just plot a long crazy course to Mars and slip ol’ Shang Lotai’s boat that way?’ I muttered.

      ‘Time’s very much of the essence, Mr Brannigan,’ says Cap’n. ‘We can’t afford to take a more circumlocutory route.’

      I shot a stormy look at The Wulrus, who was lookin’ smug about whatever scheme he’d hatched up.

      ‘So what’s the deal?’ I askt, suspiciously.

      I just want ya ta fight fer me Brannigan,’ says he, ‘sumthin’ yer real good at. Nuthin’ ta worry about.’

      ‘So, which other mug ya bilked into this fight then?’ says I.

      ‘Not so much who, says The Wulrus, ‘as what.’

      Then The Wulrus turned to a shape in the corner of the arena behind us which was all covered up with a tarpaulin. He gives the tarpaulin a yank, and it slipped down to reveal a dark and brooding humanoid figure, stooped over as still and silent as a sentinel.

      ‘Ya want me ta toe it in the ring with a blamed steam-bot!’ I hollered.‘Them things is lethal, and banned in legal fights on seven planets!’

      ‘And the laws a real big problem for us here on Old Waypoint,’ says The Wulrus, sourcastically.

      ‘I offered to fight,’ said Mikey, ‘but Wulrus shot me down.’

      ‘It’s gotta be Brannigan,’ said The Wulrus, ‘else the deal is off. No offense, but Bill ‘the Maul’ Brannigan is a much bigger draw than you McMurrough.’

      He stroked the monstrosity like it was some kinda pet. ‘This here creation cost me half a million smackers. It was gonna make me a multi milliyunaire until those scrawny regulators banned human against steambot matches. I bought it right before the new laws came in. Now, the only place I can set up a decent match is a place like this’n. Which is one of the few places I can hide from all my creditors, as well. But nobody wants ta fight.’

      ‘On accounta the significant deaths toll, and general havoc the first boxing steambots caused.’ I pointed out.

      ‘It was only thirty one deaths in the first three hundred bouts,’ wailed Wulrus in a excusatory tone. ‘Why, that’s almost less than one in ten.’

      ‘That’s not even count’n all the busted skulls, ribs n’jaws,’ I grated.

      ‘This here fight will make me a whole buncha mazuma,’ The Wulrus enthused. ‘And it ain’t exactly like there’s nothing in it for your own self. The purse is 250 for the winner and half that for the looser. You can’t fail ta win - even if ya loose.’

      Presumin’ I ain’t killed or maimed by that inhuman hunk o’ junk. I won’t do it,’ says I. ‘I’ve got a reputation to maintain as champeen o’ The Star Girl, and fight’n that monstruosity won’t exactly add to my prestige.’

      ‘Then you and the crew o’ the Star Girl can risk gett’n jumped out in the emptiness o’ space by Shang Lotai’s cutthroats,’ said The Wulrus. ‘If’n some o’ the shadier crews here on Old Waypoint don’t take a fancy to your cargo first, that is.’

      The Wulrus was one of them nuts with dollar signs in his brain right in the place where most other folks have a conscience. Running things here, out on Old Waypoint, was just his kinda career.
      Last edited by Kirowan; 12-21-2012, 11:27 AM.

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      • #4
        Chapter Four

        Tin Fisted Terror

        IT WASN’T LOST on me that this all started with Miss Greyson and whatever secret it was that she and Cap’n had been keeping from me and the crew. They may have taken Mikey inta their confidence, but even about that I wasn’t sure. Still, they were all depending on me, and I wasn’t gonna let ‘em down. I was gonna go out there and fight that thing, and give it my best, like I always do.

        I left Mushy with one of the A B’s on Star Girl. His stub tail was wagging cuz he knowed there was a fight on, but I didn’t wanna risk takin’ him ta the arena for this one. He gets aggressive t’ward anyone who threatens me, though I gots him trained not to interfere with a fight in the ring. I left him with a bowl full o’ beer and the remains of A B O’Shaunessy’s boots.

        Mikey was my second, Cap’n and Sven were handlers. In the changing room before the fight Sven said, ‘Bill, I put bet on you.’

        ‘How much to win?’ I askt.

        Sven looked at me sadly, then with his typical Sweedish gloom he said, ‘No, Bill, I been bet you wouldn’t last five rounds.’

        I sank all 200 of my Shanghai winnings on myself, and they accepted the 125 for the runner up slot, which was mine anyway. It was all or nuthin’ fer me, 325 bucks. When I throws myself inta the fray I goes full out fer the win.

        I clumb into the ring amidst a wild tempest o’ shouts n’hollerin.’
        Some o’ the roughest swabs I’d ever seen were out there tonight, all howling for blood, which musta been my blood, on accounta the cheery fact my opponent couldn’t bleed. Many o’ them knew me from my reputation in ports more legal, and I heered a voice shout, ‘Hey, Brannigan! I got fifty bucks says you bite the canvas. Don’t let me down!’

        In the opposite corner stood the tin can travesty o’ the human form that was my opponent fer the match. Already the thing was creakin’, hissing, and steaming from all vents as The Wulrus’ engineer worked on gett’n it fired up. The Wulrus was struttin’ around lookin’ pleased with hisself. He was makin’ a killin’ outta this fiasco. The announcer slipped in under the ropes and waved fer silence.

        ‘In the Blue corner,’ he cried, ‘all the way from Tampico, Texas, Earth, six feet, and one ninety pounds, we have Bill Brannigan!’ Out in the stalls there was a muted cheer from here and there, from some o’ the Star Girl’s crew. Seems I had a few supporters out there after all. And here I oughta mention that there were also a few jeers slung in my general direction.

        ‘In the Red corner,’ he cried, ‘six feet four, and two hundred sixty pounds, we have A.K. Zero!’ A big roar went up from almost every bruiser in the joint, or so it seemed to me, indicatin’ to one and all where the smart money went. I wondered if they all knew sumthin’ I didn’t.

        They was no pre fight formalities. The announcer dropped his arm and the bell was rung. I came out of my corner warily, and A.K. Zero creaked, bent forward, riz and straightened up, striding forward mechanically like an iron golem. He was tricked out in boxing togs n’ gloves, a metal mockery of my usual kind of adversary. He continued to advance as I circled him, tryin’ to figgure out how to tackle an opponent who suffered no fatigue or pain and couldn’t be stared down or otherwise intimidated.

        From what I’d read of most human versus steambot matches, they’d been fought on points. They was pressure plates at various places on the steambots body and head, and if you hit them often or hard enough you scored points in your favour, or could even shut the thing down, imitatin’ a knockout. Well, the thought of this rough crowd goin’ for a points win woulda been downright hilarious if it hadn’t been my own self out here contemplating this hilarity. There was no way outta this mess without either me or A.K. Zero bitin’ the canvas one way or t’other. I aint no shifty scientific boxer, I’m a slugger who likes to go head to head tradin’ blows with my rival until one of us goes down, countin’ on my unnatural vitality to keep me standin’ longer than t’othern. But against this freak o’ human ingenuity my natural style was a disadvantage.

        I could begin to make out the worn markings where the pressure plates were. I opened with a straight right to the head and an undercut left to the belly. I hit the plates dead on, but there was nothing but a dull click each time. I reckoned the scoring system had been disabled, which didn’t surprise me none. As I did this, A.K. Zero twisted and slammed me with a punch like the kick of a sprung loaded mule. It caught me right in the midriff, lifted me offa my feet and wafted me through the air and onto the ropes, with all the air knocked outta my lungs. A big cheer went up from the roughnecks in the stalls. I sprawled on the ropes unable to breathe whilst that cantankerous contrapshun clanked towards me. If my face had turned blue or purple before I managed to get my next breath I’d not have been much surprised.

        So, this was to be the order of the day. All the normal trips by which a human boxer usually scores a win against a steambot had been disabled, courtesy of The Greasy Wulrus. Only a minute inta the first round and it was evident I’d been set up alone in the ring with a basically unbeatable opponent. I’d never before been in a situation I couldn’t somehow slug my way outta, but they was always a first time for everything.

        I realised, with no small amount of reservation, that unless I could come up with some kinda plan, which wasn’t my particular speciality, the only way outta this ring fer me would be either unconscious or dead.

        And I aint never lost to a knockout.
        Last edited by Kirowan; 05-17-2013, 02:30 AM.

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        • #5
          Chapter Five

          Two Fisted Smarts (or Playin’ The Slugger’s Game)

          I DRAGGED MYSELF offa the ropes in the nick o’ time and began giving the thing the runnaround, whilst figurin’ out my next move.

          I carried on using my advantage in speed and general manoeuvrability, until the bell signalled the end o’ the first round, amidst jeers and taunts from all and sundry. Whether that rough house mob knew or cared that Wulrus had fixed the fight probably wasn’t high on their list compared with seein’ me get demolished.

          I retired to my corner; and AK Zero just stood there, waiting.

          Cap’n and Mikey had worked out at the same time I had that Wulrus fixed the fight. Cap’n had sent Sven to fetch Ulrich, in case his engineers’ brain could help figgure out some kinda strategy from a technical angle. Mikey saw the fire in my eyes as I sat there glowering at that blamed contrapshun and he warned me against loosing my rag and getting’ in too close. Before Ulrich arrived, the bell sounded and I was up for the second round.

          Mikey knew me well. He knew that my ego couldn’t take the ridicule that would stain my reputation if I kept givin’ this thing the runaround. Word would get abroad that I was a chicken in the ring, and the fact that Wulrus had the fight rigged would be small beans, or just generally ignored or overlooked or misunderstood by many folks, especially my enemies, of which I has a respectable amount.

          So a simmering rage burned in my breast as I went in for round two.

          I decided to go in close and slug it out fer a while.

          I fended off some hooks and jabs and uppercuts that the thing threw out at me, bruisin’ my arms in the process against its padded metal arms. I laid in somethin’ fierce to it’s belly and head, tryin’ ta ascertain if I could damage it in some way through it’s plating. A ragged cheer went up from the mob when they saw this, encouraging me in my recklessness, and against my better judgement I couldn’t help stayin’ in close, pounding away, and feeling the plating bending and buckling slowly under the barage of blows that I was sending out.

          Blam! The lights went out, and I came to, flat on my back staring up at the lofty roof o’ the arena through a misty haze. I was laid out like a rug, and the referee, who was in the ring American style, was countin’ over me.

          ‘Three. Four.’

          I shook my head ta clear it, twisted and saw the Wulrus hovering outside the ring.

          ‘Five.’

          ‘Don’t think you can take a dive to get out of this, Brannigan,’ shouted the Wulrus.

          ‘Six.’

          ‘Whadda you insinyouatin,’ I rasped.

          ‘Seven.’

          He shook his fist. ‘If you don’t give this crowd a good show, the deals off.’

          ‘Eight.’

          My natural vitality was beginin’ ta assert itself. I riz on the count of nine, fuming at the Wulrus suggestion that I’d throw the fight just to get in a cheap runner up slot.

          The rest o’ the round was me tryin’ ta balance defense with attack. I wasn’t much afeared of the jabs and hooks it was throwing at me, but it occasionally threw in sprung loaded uppercuts that could lift me offa my feet, punchin’ the wind right outta me, and straight rights that would knock my block off if they landed, like the one that musta hit me a while back.

          It was a new experience fer me, being faster than my opponent, in general manoeuvrability and footwork. Usually it was the other way around.
          But I was way outclassed in the punching department.

          The bell sounded the end of round two, and when I got back to my corner Ulrich was there.

          ‘Bill,’ he said, ‘keep away from the big punches…’

          I rolled my eyes, impatiently. ‘Tell me somethin’ I don’t know.’

          ‘No, let me finish,’ said Ulrich. ‘After it throws the big punch outwards or upwards, you have some time to go in and hit the belly in same place, while it build up steam. Keep focus on same place, buckle the plate and pipework underneath. If you can break some pipes or joints it will loose pressure…’

          Then the bell rang for round three.

          I’d like to regale ya with a long description of how I used Ulrich’s advice ta great effect, but that wasn’t how it was. Whilst tryin’ ta carry out the masterplan, towards the end of the third round I waltzed straight inta a peach of a right and my nose was busted. My eyes watered up and then the claret flowed in earnest.

          In round four, I caught a glancing hit from that right again, which opened a cut over my left eye. In round five, whilst breaking out of a clinch, I copped that uppercut on the breakaway, this time on my head, and that closed my left eye up for the rest of the round. After the bell Mikey eased it by breaking the skin of my eyelid with a penknife to bleed it out.

          All this wouldn’t have worried me none, it was old news to a slugger like me, but the real problem was I wasn’t making enough headway with Ulrich’s strategy. The thing was wearin’ me down, but I wasn’t yet affecting it much. What I wouldn’t have given fer some dusters under my gloves. I’d never stoop to use ‘em on a human opponent – but against a machine – and that cheatin’ Wulrus…

          Round Six was the deal breaker for me as far as playin’ Ulrich’s strategy went. My forearms was all bruised up from fending off those heavy metal arms, albeit they were padded. And I got whacked again wit that uppercut in the midriff, and that slammin’ right laid me out on the canvass again. Luckily, this time it came close ta the end o’ the round, so I hadst time ta recover. But Cap’n and Sven had to come in and drag me to my corner, ‘cuz my head was still whirling, and I was describing graceful curves whilst tryin’ ta walk straight, much ta the hilarity o’ the howlin’ mob in the stalls.

          And that damned steam bot, A.K. whatsisface, was still waitin’ impassively in the middle o’ the ring fer me ta come out in round seven, considerably dented up, but otherwise unphased.

          Howthesomever, I stalked out with battered dignity for round seven. Those rough swabs cheered me on now, they knew that I was game, and they respected that much.

          In round seven I got my first lucky break. I’d abandoned the belly shots and was goin’ fer the head, without any appreciable effect, until I got in a lucky right cross which came from the ground up and had pretty much all my weight in it. It hit the thing on the left cheek and my punch spun the head around so sharp I heered a grinding sound and its head was stuck lookin’ over its right shoulder. It musta ripped open some pipes ‘cuz they was steam commin’ outa the neck now, as well as the usual from the vents at the back.

          As I moved in ta follow up my advantage with another swing, it twisted fast and, blam! I awoke back on the canvass again with all the fight knocked outta me. I was done this time. The referee was countin’. Five, six… I was watchin’ the world through a shimmering haze and all the sounds were merging inta a single buzzing tone. Cap’n, Ulrich, Sven, Mikey; their faces swam before my gaze, and their voices seemed far away.

          If ever there was a time ta take a dive and exit this fiasco this was it. I’d done my bit. Even the Wulrus couldn’t ask any more outta me than I had put inta this fight now.

          And then I saw another face of someone I hadn’t knowed was there before. It was Miss Greyson, disguised as an A. B. o’ the Star Girl, with a look o’ pure concern on her face as she fixed me with those green eyes. It seems she’d snuck in, riskin’ herself amidst all these desperadoes, ta watch me fight.

          I rolled over and riz on the count of nine. More by instinct than anything, an instinct born of countless matches, I staggered over ta my indomitable opponent, hauled off considerably and rapped it with ‘the Maul.’ One ninety pounds of Irish American gristle and bone all focused in one last blaze o’ fistic fury.

          A great hush fell over that hall, as my blow ripped that steambot’s head clean off and sent it spiralling over the ropes. The mucker in the front row saw what was headed in his direction. He leaped out of his seat in the nick o’ time, as the severed metal head clanged against the back o’ his seat and landed in the lap o’ the feller next to him, who hisself leaped up howlin’ as the boiling water from the open pipes drenched his lap.

          The headless body of A.K. Zero fell to the canvass, shaking the whole ring. I dropped to my knees, barely conscious. Cap’n, Mikey, Ulrich, Sven, and Miss Greyson, all rushed forward ta my assistance. The stunned silence gave way to a massive roar from the stalls all round the hall.

          I was the first human ta ever beat a steambot by raw might and main.

          Like I said before, they was always a first time fer everything.
          Last edited by Kirowan; 08-16-2013, 04:30 PM.

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          • #6
            Chapter Six

            Gentleman Bill

            ‘WHY, YOU LOOK every inch a gentleman, Mr Brannigan,’ said Miss Greyson as she slipped them posh glasses over my cauliflower ears.

            I gave a irritable shrug when I sawst myself in the mirror, my heroic manliness all crammed into a top hat n’ tails. This was to help me blend in with the gentry on accounta her choosing me as her bodyguard and escort ta the British Embassy on Mars. She took me by the arm, and when we went on deck you shoulda heered the whistles, cheers and jeers from the crew. We walked down the gangplank o’ the Star Girl, lookin’ like some fancy gent and his lady, into the space port on New Londinium, Mars.

            They was plenty o settlements on Mars, but none as big as New Londinium, with it’s mighty domes o’ polished brass n’ glass n’ crystal and its fancy oak lined walkways, all under the biggest Kessler field in the whole solar system. We passed through parks n’ gardens with tinkling fountains on our way to the British embassy. Up top, they was posh ladies and gents strollin’ around as dainty as ya please, but I knowst that underneath the city, the coolies and the grease monkeys were sweatin’ away night n’ day on the massive steam turbines that kept the Kessler’s runnin.’

            Mushy was strutin’ around, root’n in shrubberies and barkin’ at folks, happy ta get a bit o’ shore leave. I kept a careful eye on him in case someone upset him and I had to fork out fer some fellas pants leg.

            ‘I suppose I owe you an explanation Mr Brannigan,’ said Miss Greyson.

            ‘I’m listnin,’ says I.

            ‘I work as an English teacher and translator in China. I also work with the British government as a contact for several undercover operatives they have in the area.’

            ‘Spies?’ I askt.

            ‘Spies, Mr Brannigan. One of them had infiltrated the camp of the renegade warlord Shang Lotai and came to me with important information. But he was followed by Lu Chao, Shang Lotai’s henchman, with several of his thugs. We were accosted at our meeting, and during our attempt to escape, the spy was killed, and I was chased by Lu Chao and his men.’

            ‘By fleeing into the narrow streets, I managed to give them the slip, but I knew they’d have the British Embassy in Shanghai watched, so I didn’t go there. Instead I came to the docks to visit your Captain, who I knew was in Shanghai, because he is one of my liasons, and had visited me earlier that day.‘

            ‘I met him close to the docks and we headed for the Star Girl. Lu Chao probably got wind of where I was from one of the many spies Shang Lotai has hidden throughout Shanghai.’

            We was walkin’ into the Government district where they was a few steambots clankin’ around, much ter my annoyance.

            ‘But getting away from Lu Chao was not the only reason I headed for the Star Girl. Before he died, our informant told me that Shang Lotai was researching into Aether technology with several abducted scientists. One of these scientists had worked on the old Aether project for the British, before the British government shut it down. The lead scientist on the project was one Professor Braithewaite, who disappeared from the public eye after the project was disbanded. Well, the abducted scientist revealed to Shang Lotai that Professor Braithewaite had gone on to continue his research in secret backed by a private investor. The professor had been keeping correspondence with some of his old colleagues, including the one kidnapped by Shang Lotai, and revealed that he’d made a major breakthrough in his research.’

            Then Miss Greyson gave me a curious look, and I adjusted my glasses tryin’ ter look smart, like I was payin’ attention. ‘Mr Brannigan, are you aware of the Aether project.’

            ‘Yep,’ says I, ‘it was shut down on April seventeenth eighteen seventy nine.’

            ‘Remarkable!’ replied Miss Greyson. I didn’t tell her that was the same day Rock Ferdinand, the Gorilla from Manila, won the heavyweight title, and I hadst saved a copy of that newspaper in my locker fer the fight report.

            ‘The Aether project was shut down by the government not because it was unsuccessful, but because it was found to be a line of research with even more profound implications than the discoveries of Ernst Kessler.’

            ‘Clever’n Kessler fields and Kessler drives?’ I was impressed, despite my avowed distain fer technology in general, and specifically steambots.

            ‘You see Mr Brannigan, Professor Braithewaite’s old colleague revealed to Shang Lotai where the Professor was conducting his secret experiments, a remote mining colony on Hyperion, one of Saturn’s moons. And Shang Lotai plans to abduct the Professor and put him to work on his own project. With the Professor on his team that madman would have access to the new technology before any of the major governments of the world, who have all been carrying on with their experiments in secret.’

            So there it is Mr Brannigan. I know I can trust you to keep it in confidence.’

            We arrove at the British embassy and Miss Greyson disappeared inside fer a while, whilst I kicked around in the foyer with Mushy, drawing some strange looks from the officials. I sat down ta read the newspaper and flicked straight to the sports pages. I was interested ter read that Kid Kharrn, had been pegged as best newcomer, and a likely contender fer the next heavyweight title, with eight knockouts, one death and a draw, under his belt. The guy was like a whirlwind freak o’ nature in the ring.

            Miss Greyson came back out again in a blazin’ hurry, carryin’ a briefcase. She grabbed me by the arm, and we rushed full steam ahead back to the Star Girl.
            Last edited by Kirowan; 06-24-2015, 04:14 AM.

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            • #7
              Chapter Seven

              Hussle on Hyperion


              A DEADLY PALL hung over the mining base on Hyperion as me and Mushy, Cap’n, Mikey, Sven, and Miss Greyson walked through the empty rooms and silent corridors.

              We went from room to room lookin’ fer signs o’ life. The shadders moved at the edge of my vision as if the darkness itself was stalking us. I couldst see the others had noticed it too. Even Mushy was subdued, which was unusual fer him, a fact which gave me the creeps even more.

              In a tool shack, close to the mine entrance outside the main building, we found the bodies of the miners. Miss Greyson stepped right on inside and proceeded to perform the grisly task o’ checkin’ out all the corpses.

              ‘They’ve all been shot,’ she said. ‘The Professor is not here, Lu Chao’s men must have already taken him.’

              We moved on back into the mining base in a grim mood. Sven’s face was covered in a cold pale sweat but Miss Greyson seemed not to have been
              too disturbed by the task o’ trawlin through a heap o’ dead men. Mikey and me went down into the basement to stoke up the steam turbines, makin’ sure there was enough power to keep the Kessler field runnin’ the whilst we were here.

              One room in the base was different from the others, a large room with a weird contrapshun in the middle and rows o’ benches around the edges with all kinds o’ scientific equipment on ‘em.

              ‘This must be the Professor’s lab, said Miss Greyson, her green eyes wanderin’ over the strange lines o’ the machine in the centre of the room. They was seven rings set into it’s surface, each one smaller than the last, and at the centre what looked like a shiny cannonball. Here, more than anywhere, it seemed like shadders within shadders were watchin and creepin’ at the edge o’ my vision, and as soon as I turned to look, they slunk back into the deeper darkness like great cats slinkin’ back into the jungle.

              ‘Search around and see if we can find any notes or journals on his research.’

              We all began scourin’ the place, though by the general disarray it looked like someone had already been here and done the same. After a while Mushy began growlin’ at the machine in one particular spot. I went over and wrenched off the panel right where Mushy was growlin.’

              Inside they was a man, all bunched up and tremblin’.

              ‘Professor Braithwaite!’ cried Miss Greyson, peerin’ over my shoulder.

              The Professor was a wreck. We took him to the canteen and gave him a drink ter calm his nerves.

              ‘I was in my lab when the orientals came,’ says he. ‘I ventured out and saw them rounding up the miners. They were armed with rifles and guns. One of them spoke in clear English and was asking the miners for my whereabouts. At that point I slipped back to my lab and hid myself. A little later I heard them searching around my lab and conversing in Chinese. After that one of them came to the room and barked out an order and they left. That was shortly before you all came and found me. At first I thought the orientals had returned.’

              ‘Professor,’ said Miss Greyson, ‘as you can see, the kind of work you are engaged in is too important to be developed outside of Government protection.’

              Now, I seen plenty o folks get angry, but never quite like this’n. They was a look on the Professor’s face like he was gonna rip up the universe and shove it down some government fella’s throat an’ let him choke on it.

              ‘Government protection! They shut down my aether project. They wanted me to continue work on it in secret, but I refused. They had me watched, and I was warned by a colleague that they might even try to kill me. I went under cover with a private backer to continue my research. I felt the only way I could be safe was to continue developing the aether technology in secret, then release it openly to all the peoples of the world. This knowledge belongs to all mankind, not just their governments. When what I knew had ceased to be a liability I was going to come back out in the open again. Perhaps then I might have been safe, even from my own government.’

              Fer the first time I seen a flicker o’ anger in Miss Greyson’s green eyes.

              ‘One of your old colleagues was kidnapped by a rebel Chinese warlord called Shang Lotai. He revealed to Shang Lotai what you shared with him just before his kidnap, regarding your location and latest discoveries.’

              ‘Good grief! Carstairs! I was going stir crazy out here with only the miners for company. I knew it was a risk, but my correspondence with Carstairs was one of the only things that kept me sane, apart from my research. Is he still alive?’

              ‘For now,’ Miss Greyson assured him. ‘Shang Lotai has acquired aether scientists from a number of nations. There is an international effort in place, co-ordinated by the Chinese government, to send in a covert team and get them out of his clutches. Shang Lotai’s cut throats killed all of the miners.’

              The Professors hands were clenched on the table. ‘I thought as much. I heard distant muffled gunshots whilst I was hidden. I hate the politics of all this. I just wanted to be left to get on with my research undisturbed. I’m not responsible for the miner’s deaths – that rests on the shoulders of the men who killed them.’

              Then the Professor ariz with his eyes burnin’ like he had a fever. ‘Please, follow me. I must show you some of the things I have discovered. The aether theories reveal far more than we ever thought when the aether project was officially shut down.’

              He rushed back towards his lab, ragged and dishevelled, wavin’ us on. We all looked at each other as we follered the Professor.
              Last edited by Kirowan; 08-16-2013, 04:39 PM.

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              • #8
                Chapter Eight

                Aether Unveiled

                ‘IN THE EARLY days of our theorising, Maslow, Collins, Van Spersky and I were discussing how in Eastern philosophy, aether is considered a form of material energy. Simply put, it's said that space itself is a form of energy, and one of the states of matter.’

                ‘For a vacuum, though appearing empty of the grosser forms, is yet nevertheless full, or a plenum, of aether. Yet it remained for us to find out what kind of substance was this aetheric energy. And this is where our inquiries faltered, for aether was as subtle to our instrumentation as the air itself was to our blunt senses.’

                ‘But it wasn’t until Kessler’s discoveries had been more fully investigated that we had the means to pursue our research. Though in essence we were merely rediscovering what those Eastern philosophers already knew.’

                The Professor began pulling levers, adjusting valves and twisting dials on the control panel of his machine, and the rings on it’s surface began to rotate. Then they riz, with the silver globe at their centre, and began to spin so fast that only the hovering globe remained visible.

                ‘So far,’ he said, ‘we are dealing with standard Kessler effects, anti-gravity rings revolving on transverse Kessler fields. But now, look what happens when we pulse the fields at a very specific rate.’

                The Professor twisted a dial and the air began to thrum. The air seemed to thicken all around, and my eardrums felt like they was goin’ ta bust even though there warn’t no great noise. Everyone was lookin’ alarmed, and Mushy put his ears back and his big ol’ eyes were rollin’. The silver globe at the centre of the rings began to fade away.

                Miss Greyson frowned, disconcerted. ‘Professor?’

                ‘Don’t worry,’ said Professor Braithewaite, I’ve done this dozens of times. It’s quite safe. What would you say has happened to the globe?’

                ‘Professor!’ said Sven. ‘It been vanished!’

                ‘And that is how it seems,’ said the Professor, ‘but what a big mistake lies in that ‘seeming.’ You see, it is but an illusion. The globe remains where it always was, but it has shifted sideways through the very aethers of space.’

                ‘Hey now!’ I growled. ‘Don’t gimme no blamed ‘sideways’ Perfessor. You just put space right back the way it was.’

                ‘No need for alarm,’ said the Professor. ‘Everything is responding to my calculations according to set theory.’

                His eyes gleamed. ‘But the most spectacular discovery is this.’

                The Professor pulled a lever, and nothin’ happened. The rings were still spinning, and the silver sphere was still gone, and the air still pounded on my eardrums.

                ‘Well,’ said Miss Greyson. ‘This part of your experiment appears to have failed. Perhaps you made a miscalculation?’

                ‘And that is where you are wrong. I have just disconnected the power feed to the Kessler fields – and yet my machine still runs. Once started, it draws its power from the very aether in a self-perpetuating cycle! It appears miraculous, but is actually based on sound science, once certain principles are understood.’

                ‘What you see before you is the solution to the greatest problem yet faced by man – the limited supply of wood and coal for the steam turbines which power the Kessler’s. Once those resources expire man’s expansion into the solar system is at an end, and all of the technologies which rely on them. No doubt New Londinium, the greatest splendour in our steam driven age, would be one of the last to fall, but fall it would.’

                I looked around the lab and a cold wave ran through me as I saw the shadders had returned, only now they was lookin’ more distinct, clustered around us all in a dark unholy conclave. Miss Greyson was lookin’ as scairt as the rest of us as her green eyes took them in.

                ‘Professor, what are they?’

                The Professor seemed unconcerned. ‘Fascinating aren’t they. They first began appearing after I started pulsing the Kessler fields. They are drawn to the vibrations like moths to a flame. They walk between the worlds like ghosts, pale shadows from the aether, or else formed of those very aethers. You needn’t be concerned. They are a little intimidating but appear to be quite harmless. There is life in every nook and cranny of the universe, you see. As fish are to the sea, and birds to the air, as mammals are to land, so these are to the aether.’

                All this yakkin’ was settin’ my teeth on edge. ‘Now you shut that blamed contrapshun off Perfessor. Today I seen a heap o’ dead men piled up in a shack, all shot in the head, and a host o’ shadders creepin’ all around us, and I still ain’t sure what all that ‘sideways’ was, but my head feels funny and I’m sick to the stummik.’

                ‘Very well,’ said Professor Braithewaite.

                He reached out and pulled a lever and the thrumming faded. The silver globe reappeared and the spinning rings gradually slowed and settled back into the surface of the machine. The shadders faded away. I heaved a sigh of relief as the atmosphere returned to normal, at least as normal as it ever gets in a rambunctious life like mine, which ain’t generally much.

                Then I looked acrost the room and saw Lu Chao and his men standing in the doorway with their rifles levelled at us.
                Last edited by Kirowan; 08-08-2013, 04:39 PM.

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                • #9
                  Chapter Nine

                  Saturnine Shadows


                  THEY CAME INTO the room and spread out along the walls on either side of the doorway. Mushy growled and shot acrost the room at them before I could grab him, straight inta a pistol shot from Lu Chao. Mushy yelped, rolled and lay still.

                  Miss Greyson had pulled back on the flared sleeve of her gown and I seed she had some kinda contrapshun strapped to her forearm. Lightnin’ leaped out and arced right acrost the rifles of Lu Chao’s men and they all dropped their smoking weapons. Only Lu Chao retained his pistol, the rest was now disarmed.

                  ‘Attack them!’ she yelled at us.

                  Well, I didn’t need no encouragement. With a red rage burnin’ in my breast I was already running across the room at Lu Chao. But he warn’t payin’ attention to me. I seed him lift his pistol and shoot at Miss Greyson before a big Asian slammed inta me like a freight train and I was borne back across the room until my back slammed inta the Professor’s machine. I could hear a load of shouting and a big bust up all around the lab as Mikey, Cap’n and Sven went into action.

                  The Asian had my neck in an iron grip and was slowly forcing me back acrost the instrument panel tryin’ to choke the life outta me. I heered a dull click and a hum filled the air as the Perfessor’s machine came to life. The rings began to lift and I realised that once the machine was fully active them spinnin’ rings would pound even my iron skull to a pulp if I couldn’t break the fella’s lock. Either that or shift my fool head sidways thru the aether, the which prospect I warn’t too fond of neither.

                  I took a few swings at him but the fella was well conditioned and I didn’t have the leverage to hurt him overmuch. I reached out and sank my fingers into his thick neck, whilst tryin’ ta twist away from the rings, which were spreading out above me now, ready to begin their rotation. Then I let go with my right hand and rammed my palm straight up inta his nose, which broke, and he released his grip and staggered back, with blood streaming down his face.

                  I rose just as the rings started spinning behind me, hauled off and whacked him with a peach of a right which sent him reeling into the general melee, where Mikey, Cap’n and Sven were sluggin’ it out with Lu Chao and the rest of his men. Miss Greyson was being helped to her feet by the Professor. She appeared dazed, but I could see no blood. I was mighty glad to see she warn’t dead, though how she’d escaped getting’ killed by Lu Chao’s gunshots was a mystery to me right then. Mushy was still lyin’ where he’d fallen.

                  The Professor’s machine was fully active now, and a grim circle of shadders surrounded us all once again in that lab. Then I seed some o’ those shadders step forward from the others, and a chill ran down my spine when I recognised their features as bein’ the same as those of the dead miners I’d seen when Miss Greyson was examining their bodies. Their eyes was burnin’ like coals of hellfire as they advanced on the melee, reached out and grabbed Lu Chao and his men by the throat.

                  We all stood back as we saw the shadders begin to choke the life outta them. They tried to hit out at the shades o’ the miners, but their blows simply passed through the shadowy forms. Only the claw like hands were physical, and these dug inta the necks of Lu Chao and his men, while they threw their hands to their throats tryin’ ta wrench off the terrible inexorable grips that was slowly chokin’ them all to death.

                  We all watched in horrid fascination as one by one Lu Chao and his men slumped to the ground and lay still. The shades of the miners stood waitin’ in a ghoulish circle around the corpses, and I thought then that things couldn’t get any more gruesome than they already were, but I was wrong.

                  From each of the dead bodies the shades of Lu Chao and his men rose up. The shades of the miners rushed forward, grabbed them fiercely, and the shades off Lu Chao and his men were dragged off into the silent ring of shadders, screaming screams we couldn’t hear. Then they all faded out, and I turned to see Professor Braithewaite, his face beaded with sweat as he worked anxiously at the controls of his machine, shutting everything down.

                  Miss Greyson removed her corset and dropped it to the ground with a clunk, together with some cables which connected it to whatever weird device it was she’d had strapped to her forearm. She noticed us all lookin’ at her as if she were a ghost herself.

                  ‘I’m quite alright,’ she said, checking her midriff. ‘My corset was armoured, though I’ll no doubt be fearfuly bruised for a week or two.’

                  I walked over to Mushy and was relieved to find he was still breathing and just lying there with his great chest rising and falling. His big ol’ eyes fixed on me, and his stump tail wagged. His head was covered with blood, but the bullet must have hit him glancingly. He’s got a skull o’ iron, just like me.

                  We heered a noise down the corridor and then some officials flanked by soldiers entered the lab. Now we were surrounded again by more men with guns, but these ones were Brits, as I could tell by their uniforms and accents.

                  ‘It’s ok, Gareth,’ said Miss Greyson to one of the officials. ‘These men are the crew of the Star Girl and they’re all working with James.’

                  The one called Gareth nodded to the soldiers and they holstered their weapons and stood more at ease.

                  ‘I’m sorry it took us so long to get here, Amanda’ said Gareth to Miss Greyson. ‘Took us a while to requisition a warjammer since the time you contacted us in New Londinium.’

                  ‘That’s quite alright,’ said Miss Greyson. ‘Have you dealt with Shang Lotai’s vessel The Dragon?’

                  ‘She took tail and ran as we approached Hyperion,’ said Gareth, then he turned to the Professor. ‘Professor Braithewaite, you’ve caused quite a stir since your disappearance. I am glad to see you are well.’

                  The Professor nodded, but remained silent. He didn’t seem too happy at all to see his fellow Brits, that’s for sure.

                  ‘I have been instructed to offer you a place on the science council,’ said Gareth. ‘If you are willing to accept it, it will give you a chance to influence policy where the matter of the new research is concerned. Even an idealist like yourself should see the advantages such a position would give you to see some of your ideals brought to fruition. Other than that, surely you can appreciate now why the government were so concerned with your reluctance to come on board when the Aether Project was shut down.’

                  The Professor nodded but still said nothing.

                  Well, from there the short of it was that we were searched and allowed to go back to The Star Girl. Miss Greyson, Cap’n and the Professor went with the Brits, and the rest of us carried on in The Star Girl toward Neptune with our cargo under the temporary acting command of Mikey. We were gonna pick Cap’n up again at New Londinium on the way back.

                  Not long after, I was on my bunk countin’ my considerable winnings from Old Waypoint, when Mushy, who’d been snoozin’ under my bunk with his head all bandaged, got up and started coughin’ and heavin bile. I figured he’d been eatin’ sumthin’ he shouldn’t have again. Well it warn’t Sven’s pipe that he disgorged this time but a small cannister, which it looked like he’d chawed on some before swallowing. I picked up the cannster and dried it off with my handkerchief. It had a screw top lid, which I opened.

                  Inside were some rolled up sheets o’ paper, all covered in signs and symbols and numbers and a whole load of general scrawl that I could make neither head nor tail of. But there was one thing that I did recognise, and that was a line diagram of a machine that looked very similar to the one in Professor Braithewaite’s lab. I realised that these were Professor Braithewaite’s notes and theories about his invention and the Aether technology he’d been workin’ on.

                  This was what Lu Chao and his men, and later the rest of us, had been looking for in his lab back on Hyperion. Mushy musta found it and decided it was fit fer consumption. It struck me that this would be worth a whole load of money on some black market or other. It also struck me that anyone who’d be willin’ ta pay that much money fer it would also be willin’ ta kill fer it too, just as Shang Lotai and Lu Chao had been. All that hassle just warn’t worth the beans from my angle.

                  It made my head spin just thinkin’ about it. What I decided to do was wait and see if the Brits played straight with the Professor. So I put it in the top drawer of my locker until I could stash it somewhere safe, and where it’d be passed on if anythin’ happened ter me. Or get it inta the hands of someone who was a whole lot smarter’n me who’d know what to do with it.

                  But while I was contemplatin’ this, I couldn’t help feeling that all around me, unseen and unheard, throughout the vasty darkness of space through which The Star Girl flew, them shadders were shiftin, watchin’ and whisperin.’ And among them, the spirits o’ the vengeful dead, simply waitin’ fer the ones who had murdered them to pass over.

                  I shuddered, then pulled out one of my favourite copies of Fight Stories, opened a beer, and lay back in my bunk, where I flipped to a story by Patrick Ervin called The Alleys of Singapore, and was soon lost in one o’ my favourite yarns:

                  WHEN THE GONG ended my fight with Kid Leary in the Sweet Dreams
                  Fight Club, Singapore, I was tired but contented. The first seven
                  rounds had been close, but the last three I'd plastered the Kid all
                  over the ring, though I hadn't knocked him out like I'd did in
                  Shanghai some months before, when I flattened him in the twelfth
                  round. The scrap in Singapore was just for ten; another round and I'd
                  had him…


                  THE END
                  Last edited by Kirowan; 08-16-2013, 04:33 PM.

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                  • #10
                    Afterword

                    Here are just a few post-scriptum notes, for anyone who may be interested.

                    The Alleys of Singapore is an actual story by Robert E Howard, which was published in Magic Carpet magazine in 1934. The paragraph I’ve quoted is the verbatim first paragraph from that tale by REH himself. This was originally written as a Steve Costigan tale for Fight Stories, one of Howard’s most consistent markets up until then. But Fight Stories folded in the Depression, and Howard changed Steve Costigan to Dennis Dorgan and sold the rest of his Steve Costigan tales to Farnsworth Wright, famous editor of Weird Tales, for publication in a sister magazine called Magic Carpet, under the pseudonym of Patrick Ervin.

                    The Robert E Howard Foundation will soon to publish all of his boxing stories in a set of four volumes. Yep, he wrote that many! The first volume is available for preorder here:

                    http://www.rehfoundation.org/2013/04...fists-of-iron/

                    Regarding Brannigan’s finishing punch against the steambot I’d like to highlight that the famous boxer Rocky Marciano had the power of his punch tested, and it was discovered that his punch was strong enough to lift a one thousand pound weight a foot off the ground! So I hold that such a feat is neither physically nor imaginatively beyond the capability of a trained boxer.

                    I really enjoyed writing this tale. One of the reasons I took so long finishing is because I knew I’d finally have to leave Brannigan, and all his associates, and my cod version of this steampunk universe, behind once it was done with. I’ve made plenty of amateur mistakes no doubt, but I’d much rather make them, leave them out there, and let the lessons hopefully sink in much deeper as a result.

                    The whole thing could probably do with more editing, which I might get to at some point.

                    Thanks for reading.

                    All best.

                    Kirowan

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