Tag Archives: Cheese Stands Alone

Contents Vol. 2 No. 10

Welcome to Volume Two, Number Ten of Dime Pulp,
A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine

Issue Ten of Dime Pulp, A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine, continues its crime spree with two new pulp fiction serializations, Cheése Stands Alone, a steampunk adventure by Phyllis Haldursdottir, and Just Coincidence, Pierre Anton Taylor’s play of brooding vengeance, as well as the continuing serialization of  Better Than DeadA Detective Story, by Colin Deerwood. And last but not least, Patton D’Arque returns with Polka Dot Dress, a dark tale of a lost memory whose recovery could point to a deadly conspiracy put into play half a century ago.

FYI: Dime Pulp Yearbook 21 contains the novels (The Last Resort and Better Than Dead) and the short fiction (Hard Boiled Myth and Gone Missing) of Volume One’s 12 issues,  available for perusal in their entirety. If you missed a few issues or lost the thread of a serial, clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph or on the menu bar above is a good way to catch up.

If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number 10

Special Note: Dime Pulp, A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine has changed its posting schedule from  monthly issues to once every forty-five days. Thus Issue Ten will be the last issue of Volume Two for the year 2022. Volume Three will consist of eight issues, the first of which will post at the beginning of 2023 (much to the relief of the overworked writers and production staff). Thank you for your understanding.

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


Knapp-Felt 1930 1930s USA mens hats

“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—22


PD dress1The violent event that occurred more than half a century ago is brought into focus in an assisted living home for an elderly woman whose memory of that time is blocked much to the frustration of an academic researcher and her partner who who see the old woman as the key to uncovering who was behind the conspiracy that changed the course of history.

Polka Dot Dress I


LCinset21In March of 1892, a Scotsman by the name of Arthur C. “Artie” Doyle was hanged by the neck until dead after being found guilty of a string of grisly murders of prostitutes in Whitechapel. At that moment, history veered off its presumed course and headed in a direction all its own in which the Great War never happened because the Kaiser was afraid of offending his grandmother, Queen Victoria, whose life has been prolonged by the wonders of biology. Her reign, known as the Pax Victoriana has lasted 180  years maintaining as many Victorian airs as possible while making accommodations to rapid advances in bio technology. Cheése Stands Alone poses a steampunk question, can Captain Lydia Cheése  (pronounced “Chase”) find her father, the antigovernment turncoat and radical, Commodore Jack “Wild Goose” Cheése. And furthermore, will her quest take her around the globe and through alternate world histories in the requisite 80 days or is it the beginning of a lifelong journey?

Cheése Stands Alone V


Batman-Logo-1In Just Coincidence, a privileged young man with the unremarkable name of Wayne Bruce returns to the site where his father once had his business, a battery manufacturing plant, and where he often spent his childhood days hanging around the factory and the neighborhood. His return is haunted by the mysterious circumstances surrounding his father’s death and the vague feeling that his uncle is somehow involved.  Appalled by the poverty and crime of the place he remembers fondly, he is moved to resolve the injustice of the socially marginalized and to wreak vengeance on those he believes are responsible for the death of his father. A personal coincidence brings together dark prince and dark knight joined in a fateful and tragic quest for justice.

Act One, Scene 5

Cheése Stands Alone V

by Phyllis Huldarsdottir

Chapter Eleven

Startled, at first Lydia didn’t quite understand the request, the policeman’s accent being of a rough sort. She was still struggling with the image she had of Vlady, but he was not known as Vlady then, he was Samson Trismegistus, the circus strongman who had carried her on his broad shoulder as if she were nothing but a sparrow, a three year old sparrow, and even then only offered silent protection to her, her mother, and the acrobat troupe from their rivals, the clowns and the carnival attractions. That was the reason behind Vlady’s mystifying and knowing smiles.

The short policeman emphasized his demand by speaking it louder and adding contempt to the twist of his mouth. “Your papers!”

Lydia stood, and realizing that she was in danger of being found out, echoed him questioningly, “My papers?”

The taller one leaned his narrow head toward her, “Are you under the influence of controlled substances?” Now they were both on alert. The short one had his hand out.

cafe1Lydia held up her own hand signaling she would comply and fumbled for her shoulder bag. There were only two of them, with her training and the element of surprised she could render them unconscious. She didn’t want to have to kill them, the viper stiletto nudging against her ribs. But that would only complicate things. Her Aerosud Executive Airship Pilot’s ID identified her as Lydia Cheése, Airship Commander, and if Doctor Serre-Pain’s words were true, the authorities within IOTA’s sphere of influence, as Oldest Orleans was, would be alerted to her fugitive status.

“I’m afraid that I don’t have them with me. How foolish of me,” she said appeasingly and gestured toward Place D’Arc, “but I’m with. . . .”

Now the tall one’s eyes narrowed, “A vendor? Where is your vendor’s permit?” And he nodded to his companion. “You will have to accompany us to headquarters so we can verify your identity. We have a plasmoviz there that will verify who you say you are.” The shorter one emphasized, “It is unlawful to be in public without proof of identity.” They each moved to encircle her to ensure her compliance.

Lydia had to act, and damn the consequences.

A voice hailed them. “Ah, there you are, Louise!”

The gendarmes pivoted, annoyed. A rotund man in an elaborate topcoat and purple gray tuglemust was approaching with his hand raised. “Louise, there you are. We thought we’d lost you!” He had the jolly confident smile of man who often got his way, the latest gasket frame eyewear giving him an almost comical appearance.

The tall officer gave a nod of recognition, “Lord mayor.”

The other one looked perplexed. “Do you know this person, your honor?”

“Of course! Don’t you recognize her? This is Louise Bouchdor. An honored guest of the Victoriannasence Festival.”

The policemen looked at each other and then at Lydia and then back at the mayor. “You mean the Louise. . . ,” said the one. “Bouchdor?” said the other.

“Of course,” said the mayor, “the porn box courtesan, nothing to be ashamed of. Her voice has titillated men the world over. I would ask her to give you a little trill but that would be very unprofessional.”

“So she is with you, your honor?”

“My party of  guests. We were returning from viewing the entertainment by Madame Ophelia,” and he gave her a knowing look, “when she must have wandered off. The newly released bio-vintage is particularly pleasant this year, and perhaps unusually strong.” The mayor inclined his head conspiratorially to the officers, “Especially for fairer constitutions,” and they agreed with knowing smiles.

“Very well, lord mayor, if you vouch for her then we will be on your way,” the short one said magnanimously. He saluted Lydia with a little bow and a smirk, “Madame Bouchdor, always a pleasure.”

When the two patrolmen left to return to their rounds, the roly-poly man’s face angrily confronted her. “Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve jeopardized the entire plan!” He seized her by the arm with a surprisingly strong grip. “We must hurry!”

Lydia resisted, ready with a defense move. “Wait! Who are you? The mayor? Did I hear correct? You said I was a porn box courtesan?”

The mayor turned to her fiercely, “A mere diversion, I assure you. My apologizes if you are offended. That is of no matter now. Serre-Pain, and transporting he and his skills, is what is important. I am Leon. With the League Bousculier Francaise Du Sud. We are charged with getting the good doctor and his wagons to a rendezvous with an airship for which you are the pilot, if I am not mistaken. Lydia Cheése. daughter of the infamous Commodore Jack. A pleasure to meet you despite the circumstances. But we must hurry. They will have to report their encounter and will learn that Louise Bouchdor left Oldest Orleans a few days ago.” He led the reluctant airship commander down a narrow path between the towering walls of the old town. “This way,” he hissed.

A shadow separated itself from the stone wall around the next turn. Lydia recognized him as the money changer at the boot stall. He was clearly a confederate. Leon instructed him, “Take her to the cellar until we are ready to leave.” He gave Lydia a meaningful look. “I will return, with Serre-Pain.”

The young man motioned to her to follow unaware that she was looking for an opportunity to bolt. She was on her last nerve, and didn’t like the feeling of desperation that was creeping up on her. She took a breath, she would have to bide her time. The guide proceeded down steps under a narrow stone arch and to a large wooden door. When he shouldered it open, she could tell it was a wine cellar from the sour fetid air that escaped. He activated a small bacsodium lamp from inside and set it on a shelf by the rank of barrels. Lydia saw her chance and turned to leap back through the doorway. A large shadow crossed the threshold and a hand reached in to slam the door shut in her face.

 

Chapter Twelve

Lydia had the money changer by the throat, the viper stiletto to the point of his chin. “Open this door!” she growled through her gritted teeth.

The young man caught by surprise held his arms up in surrender. “Please, the door locks from the outside, there is nothing I can do!”

“You have the key! Give it to me!” she insisted, scanning his alarmed expression.

“No! No! The door is barred from the outside! I am in the same fix as you. This is what Leon wants.”

“To hold me prisoner? Why are you here?” Lydia had not let loose of his collar nor toned down her vehemence.

“To keep you company. You are not a prisoner. More of a guest of the LBFDS. And to keep you safe while Leon and the snake doctor come up with a new plan. The local security force works closely with IOTA. I have been shown a plasmovid bulletin with a description and a biosketch with a striking resemblance to you.” The money changer caught his breath staring down at the tip of the viper blade. “You are Airship Commander Lydia Cheése. I am a great admirer of your father, Commadore Jack. All my life I have wanted to be an airship pilot. Please, I mean you no harm, but we are here together until Leon returns.”

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

Lydia relaxed her grip and pulled the stiletto back but ready to strike. “You expect me to believe you?” She took in the low ceilinged cellar in the amber glow of the bacso lamp and saw that there was no other exit, merely rows of wine casks, a low bench and a crude table set against a stone wall.

“I can offer you a drink,” he pleaded, “Dried fruit, dates?”

Lydia released him and pushed him away, sheathing the viper blade. “Well, this is awkward,” she admitted, eyes still alert for any means of escape. She fixed his awkward smile with a hard stare and resigned herself to the situation. She was locked in a wine cellar with a not unhandsome young man who was offering her wine and dates. It was almost comical. She was going to have to make the best of it. And not let down her guard. Any drink might be drugged, any food tainted. “Sit over there,” she motioned to the bench, “Where I can keep an eye on you. And I should warn you I have been trained in combat martial arts and can disable you with one blow. What’s your name?”

The young man let a relieved amused smile cross his face. “Pyare. And I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Captain Cheése, I much admire airship pilots. I myself have applied to the Admiralty Air Academy under the Affiliated States quota but unfortunately I did not pass the examination. I have studied aerodynamics and hydrodynamics, my understanding of reproductive drives is not great but I don’t want to be a drive engineer. I want to be a pilot!”

Lydia was disarmed by his earnestness. She remembered her own enthusiasm in the pursuit of a berth at the triple A. Becoming an airship commander had been her singular goal, and she came from a long family line associated with the Crown and the Admiralty. “You can retake the exam,” she offered and remembered that she had passed the exam on her first attempt.

Pyare shook his head. “I didn’t realize how heavily the historiopolitical weighed toward the final grade. I don’t understand what any of that has to do with piloting a double hulled luxury liner.”

Lydia had heard that complaint often, especially among the quota candidates, and especially those without a sponsor. As a citizen of the Commonwealth and sponsorship from Aerosud, her own appointment had been assured. The reason for the grievance had been explained to her by a young Panafrika officer, a woman like herself, who was quite cynical about it. “They want to make certain that you believe what they want you to believe, their version of history, the Succession, the myth of Pax Victoriana!” It was all nonsense as far as she was concerned. She had no patience with conspiracy theories. The irony was that her father was one of the leading theorists of conspiracies

“The Admiralty takes history and politics very seriously. Piloting a luxury liner requires more than just knowledge of the ferro-mechanics. Comportment toward the passengers, the crew, and ancillaries is also part of an airship commander’s job, and that is accomplished by a good working knowledge the politics of history.”

“I’ll bet you aced the WorldPol section of the exam,” Pyare said sullenly.

Lydia could have admitted that she actually had. “Just the fact that you say you admire my father is a strike against you. Even if you had passed the exam, you would have likely failed the IOTA background check with opinions like yours.”

“You don’t know what my opinions are!”

“If I’d venture a guess, I’d say you dispute the Succession, and judication of the GSC, the Global Supreme Council.”

“I don’t care about any of that!” Pyare was getting red around the collar. “Politics doesn’t mean anything to me. Piloting is what I want to do!”

“You could always get a commercial license,” Lydia offered by way of appeasement.

“No, no,” the young man shook his head, “No rigs or semirigs for me, nothing less than full flex certified dirigible!”

“Navair companies will not hire you without Admiralty approved training.”

“Why would an airship company care if I could name all the Slave State Republics in the USSR? Aren’t they all under sanctions as rogue states? ”

Lydia remembered an old history professor’s comment that the Northern Hemisphere’ west was a puzzle whose pieces were always changing shape. While the world was fracturing into numerous hostile states in the early years of the Pax Victoriana, the London Berlin Moscow Accords had forged a stable alliance that eventually became the foundation of the Clockwork Commonwealth. The old academic was well known for his pronouncements, particularly, “The Past will always revenge itself on the Future.”

“I speak Standard well enough,” Pyare continued his complaint, “I have skills, ambition. I would be a good airship captain! Just because I did not make the distinction between the Republic of Texas and the Republic of Tennessee. And what of the Panam Wars? Those border hostilities have been going on forever. Who can keep up? These are things in which I have no interest!”

Lydia nodded her understanding. “Yes, ROT and ROTN are two distinct entities withing the United Slave State Republics and I can see how they might be confusing. Nomenclature is political, it is the ownership of boundaries and superstructure. It is as necessary as knowing Euler’s Equation, or the workings of Bénard Cells or Fourier’s Theorem if you are to navigate the GCC, Greater Commonwealth Cooperative and prove your citizenship to the Crown and Pax Victoriana.”

Pyare snorted his contempt, “Pax Victoriana is a sham! There are still parts of the globe that have no intention of complying with the Jubilee Calendar Reset and resist the Crown’s Global Recalibration. As for peace, the wars may be smaller but there are more of them.”

“You have obviously been listening to ICER box propaganda and anti-globalists like my father. The JCR and the CGR are the basis for the Cooperative of Nations in which all geopolitical entities signed on as partners and that would include the APT, Artisan Protection Treaty of 55 PV, the CET, the Carbon Emission Treaty of 75 PV, the Hydrogen Helium Concorde, the H2C of the same year, the AFSP, the Antiseptic Food Safety Provisions of 80, The FAC, Famine Alleviating Commission formed in 90, and ACSA, the Admiralty Commonwealth Security Accords which were finally signed in 100 PV. The world is a much better place for the many. The few who have to suffer will always complain.”

Lydia was surprised by the irony that she had just parroted something spoken by the Lord High Admiral at her graduation from Admiralty’s Airship Officers Academy. She had accepted it without question. Why did it seem so hollow when she spoke it herself? “There are those who would willingly undermine the protection that the Pax provides for its global citizenry, whether it’s in the Empire of Brazil and its African Colonies or the unaffiliated Western Pacific polystates that run like a backbone from the Aleutians to the Isthmus, predators and thieves sheltered by rouge states who would fatten themselves on the spoils of a fractured Commonwealth if they could.”

“Ha!” Pyare replied accusingly, “You sound just like one of those police kiosk plasmovids. Spreading a biowashed version of history. If I can’t be a lithairian, I’ll settle for being a heavairian.”

Lydia shook her head. “You would be a heathen? You must be contemplating suicide. What if your noisy contraption runs out of petrol, and who can afford black gold but bandits and the super-rich, you will plummet like a large odiferous stone. Flight in a lighter-than-air is dignified transport whereas the noisome roar of internal combustion would vibrate you to a jellied mass. The internal combustion engine is an ICER invention that was never sanctioned by the Crown, especially after bioclean reproductive drives were developed. Even if eradication after the first global Black Mold Infestation led to the unexpected mutation of the biocide used to control it into a petrophage that essentially turned all the oil reserves in the Northern Hemisphere to ash, the wasteful application of the precious resources to an inefficient technology goes against everything the RCA, the Resource Conservation Act of 60 PV, stands for.”

“All that’s ancient history as far as I’m concerned. And who is to say that the BMI actually happened, that it was not a ploy by the Admiralty to extend its dominion over the dissident and defiant masses? No one is allowed into the Blank Forest Zones, the BFZ as you would have it. There are parts of the Northern Hemisphere that are still highly toxic, especially along the Baltic Estuary, and the North American Outback. Everything there has turned into a depolarized particulate cement landscape allowing no regeneration of any sort up from under its crust. It is uninhabitable and only fools and adventurers dare stray into the fringes with their wind driven sail trollies. The Lords of the Admiralty control all information and entry to the Access Restricted Zones. Yet where are the multitudes coming from? The north, the majority from above the 48th parallel. And no one is talking about this migration. Is it like the ICERs say, the world is cooling at its poles and if we don’t do something soon, the globe will be encased in ice?”

Lydia sighed, put her fists to her hips and gave her predicament another once over. What had started as an inquiry into her father’s whereabouts had turned into a kidnaping by a carnival snake doctor to have her pilot a humanitarian mission to non-aligned HOAR, the Horn Of Africa Republic, in exchange for a way to connect with the elusive and controversial anti-globalist, Commadore Jack, someone IOTA would very much like to get in their grasp, and the reason why she was wanted for questioning. And now she was trapped in a musty damp wine cellar with one of her father’s disciples, an ignorant country boy and ICER sympathizer. Men are such idiots. Was she going to have to set him straight?

“I’ll have some of that wine after all.”


Next Time: Lydia Heads For The Hills

Contents Vol. 2 No. 9

Welcome to Volume Two, Number Nine of Dime Pulp,
A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine

In Issue Nine, Dime Pulp, A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine,  Wayne Bruce continues the investigation into his father’s death in Act One, Scene 4 of Just Coincidence.  Brooding in his penthouse high above the cityscape, he has come across evidence of fraud that might implicate his uncle. And as he reconstructs the last hours of his father’s life, the three hours prior to his demise remain a mystery.

It is the year Pax Victoriana180.  For Airship Commander Lydia Cheése (pronounced “Chase”), Victoriana rules the waves as well as the airship lanes. In the continuing saga of Cheése Stands Alone. Captain Lydia Cheése  has fallen down the rabbit hole and finds herself in the clutches of a herpetologist by the name of Serre-Pain and his traveling snake show, Madame Ophelia’s Ophidiarium. If she is to find her father, the notorious Commodore Jack Cheése, she must bide her time and masquerade as the snake enchantress, Madame Ophelia.

Number Eleven of On The Road To Las Cruces marks the last chapter in this fictional retelling of the last day in the life of a legendary Western lawman. His death has left many things about his final hours unresolved.  Verandah speculation and dark conspiracies have found fertile ground in the barren lands of the New Mexico Territory about who killed the man who shot Billy, The Kid.

And last but not least, Installment 21 of the 1940 detective story, Better Than Dead (Dime Pulp’s longest running serial),  hapless confidential investigator Lackland Ask has to get out of town, and quick. With a price on his head put there by the mob, sought by the police and a gang of international diamond smuggler saboteurs, and now in the sights of the mysterious Thieves of Bombay, his only recourse is to make himself scarce.

FYI: Dime Pulp Yearbook 21 contains the novels (The Last Resort and Better Than Dead) and the short fiction (Hard Boiled Myth and Gone Missing) of Volume One’s 12 issues,  available for perusal in their entirety. If you missed a few issues or lost the thread of a serial, clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph or on the menu bar above is a good way to catch up.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with two new pulp fiction serializations, Cheése Stands Alone by Phyllis Haldursdottir and Just Coincidence by Pierre Anton Taylor, as well as the continuing serialization of the pulp crime fiction of  Better Than DeadA Detective Story and the Western, On The Road To Las Cruces . If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number 9

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


Knapp-Felt 1930 1930s USA mens hats

“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—21


otrpic1fi2In late February of 1908, a one-time drover, buffalo hunter, saloon owner, hog farmer, peach grower, horse rancher, US Customs inspector, private investigator, county sheriff, and Deputy US Marshal set out from his adobe home on the mesa above Organ, New Mexico accompanied by a young man in a black buggy on the journey to Las Cruces. He would never arrive. This is the story of that journey, a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary lawman.

On The Road To Last Cruces ~Eleven~


LCinset21In March of 1892, a Scotsman by the name of Arthur C. “Artie” Doyle was hanged by the neck until dead after being found guilty of a string of grisly murders of prostitutes in Whitechapel. At that moment, history veered off its presumed course and headed in a direction all its own in which the Great War never happened because the Kaiser was afraid of offending his grandmother, Queen Victoria, whose life has been prolonged by the wonders of biology. Her reign, known as the Pax Victoriana has lasted 180  years maintaining as many Victorian airs as possible while making accommodations to rapid advances in bio technology. Cheése Stands Alone poses a steampunk question, can Captain Lydia Cheése find her father, the antigovernment turncoat and radical, Commodore Jack “Wild Goose” Cheése. And furthermore, will her quest take her around the globe and through alternate world histories in the requisite 80 days or is it the beginning of a lifelong journey?

Cheése Stands Alone IV


Batman-Logo-1In Just Coincidence, a privileged young man with the unremarkable name of Wayne Bruce returns to the site where his father once had his business, a battery manufacturing plant, and where he often spent his childhood days hanging around the factory and the neighborhood. His return is haunted by the mysterious circumstances surrounding his father’s death and the vague feeling that his uncle is somehow involved.  Appalled by the poverty and crime of the place he remembers fondly, he is moved to resolve the injustice of the socially marginalized and to wreak vengeance on those he believes are responsible for the death of his father. A personal coincidence brings together dark prince and dark knight joined in a fateful and tragic quest for justice.

Act One, Scene 4

Cheése Stands Alone IV

by Phyllis Huldarsdottir

Chapter Nine

Serpina was quite a practiced liar, and practical joker. Her laugh, a shrill whinny, was playful yet dangerous. Lydia had to reassess her assumptions about the young woman. Nor was she very talkative, and often inobtrusive as if she could make herself invisible. Orphy, the python, was kept soporific on a steady diet of who knows what, Doctor Serre-Pain didn’t specify or explain after he had rushed into the cabin at Lydia’s scream and had once again soothed her nerves with his calm, hypnotic voiced assurances, gently patting the blood back to her cheeks. His disapproving frown had caused Serpina to pout and after a long deliberate silence to mutter a reluctant “sorry.” Lydia would not have to interact with the other snakes, Serre-Pain swore, with the exception of Orphy, and then only on briefly while they were at the festival.

tristan_0123The inspection official and two sinister looking men in black hats had roamed over the barge examining the cargo, and when they came into the cabin, stared wide eyed at her propped up in one of the bunks with the python wrapped over shoulders. Her terrified look might have suggested an otherwise haughty imperious annoyance at the intrusion. The station inspector apologized profusely, and the IOTA agents, not in the habit of showing deference to the general public, dropped their gazes awkwardly.

Once past the inspection station and well up the Loire River approaching Oldest Orleans, the doctor had Vlady bring in a big trunk into the cabin. She had not seen much of the large man on their journey up the river. He spent most of his time on the deck of the barge with Serre-Pain. In the light of day, without the bear suit. he was still an imposing figure with a thick mane of steely gray hair that hung down to his shoulders. His dark eyes seemed to laugh as did the large white beard punctuated by the red dot of an imbiber’s nose. There was something unsettlingly familiar about his manner toward her.

“We have to change your attire,” Serre-Pain was saying, “Your fashionable dress will make you stand out as a privileged Victoriate, especially where we are headed. In the trunk you will find clothing that might fit you and conceal your identity. Even if where we are going is technically outside of IOTA’s jurisdiction, they have spies and informers everywhere. It is important that we avoid any hint of suspicion.”

Serpina stood back as Lydia lifted the heavy lid. The blouses befitting a snake priestess were laid out in layered trays, billowy sleeved embroidered with flowers, birds, animals, and snakes. Colorful skirts, long tasseled and tiered, none of which she felt she could wear with any conviction. Nor was it bioweave but actual antique cotton and silk. And could she ever convince herself to don someone else’s underwear? Pulling away another tray, she uncovered on the bottom a pair of folded trousers much like Serpina was wearing, possibly wool by the feel of the material, and a robust rust fabric shirt with a wide collar, two items she thought she could live with. There were also several pairs of spangled gold slippers that didn’t appear to be made for walking.

She pulled her hand back quickly when she felt under them. And she looked closer with Serpina peering over her shoulder and drawing a breath. For a moment she thought that it might be another of Serpina’s tricks. Then she made out the sleeve and lapels. An overcoat. But one of snakeskin. Dark mottled scales outlined the sleeves, large turned back cuffs lined with dark blue satin, the three quarter length of the coat ending with a slight upturn at the skirt and fitted with large slant pockets. The row of ovoid buttons were of a faded amber. And Lydia recognized them. Orphy had an identical pair. Holding it out at arm’s length, the scales seemed to undulate, tricking the eye with their meandering pattern. The coat lining was also a dark blue satin. A faded label sewn beneath the rear collar read SA I   E RO and spoke of its antiquity. “This is gorgeous!” Lydia exclaimed in spite of herself.

stilettoThe yoke fit comfortably across her shoulders as she shrugged into the coat, the sleeves extending a little ways past her wrists, the hem, past her knees. She was surprised, expecting it to be heavier. Her hand in the right pocket extracted a heavy dark blue cotton scarf. The left pocket was empty although it was shaped as if some object had had a permanent residence there. Lydia pulled on the lapels pleased by the way the coat fit. She felt something hard nudge under her left breast. Inside she found the pocket and the narrow object protruding from it. Throwing open the coat she extracted a long ornate double blade stiletto.

Serpina nodded her head, looking at the gleaming blade admiringly. “The fangs,” she said.

Chapter Ten

The streets of Oldest Orleans were filled with rubble, dust, debris, and choking air. The Victorianasance Faire was held in arcades along the perimeter of Place D’Arc. Outside the walls of the old city, in Older Orleans, vapors from the bioturbines of the factories warped the air adding a gloomy orange pall over the rooftops and the refracted rainbow sparkles of larger particulates gleaming like minor stars. Serre-Pain always staged his performances at dusk when the shadows were long. One of the Medicine Show wagons converted to a stage with a proscenium. At the back behind a red velvet curtain was a narrow antique settee upon which she was obliged to lounge with the coils of Ophy across her shoulders for several excruciating minutes while she was introduced as the descendant of an ancient Minoan queen who was in possession of the secret recipe for an antivenom elixir. Once the pitch was made, Serre-Pain would begin his lecture on the fascinating history and myths of snakes, and  the reason snakes were believed to be immortal. By then the curtain had come down and Serpina would come to get Orphy off her neck.

In the side closet Lydia changed out of her priestess garb and donned the snakeskin coat, wrapping the dark blue scarf around her head and over her nose, masking all but her eyes. She stepped down from the wagon and into the space behind where she saw Vlady getting into his Bear suit. He was just about to fit the head on when he turned and smiled at her with such childish mirth that she felt compelled to smile back. It was the sparkle of his eye. Once the costume was complete he maneuvered his prop, a large ball painted with serpents and moons, ready to make his entrance at Serre-Pain’s cue, and with amazing agility leapt to the top of the ball and rolled it with his feet to maintain a casual balance.

arcadeAt the cheers from the crowd Lydia made her way out from behind the large ophidiarium on wheels that attested to Serre-Pain’s claim of herpetology and proof of his knowledge, like an old library full of old books. The crowds had thinned out further under the arcade where merchants had set up their wares, most everyone wearing a face covering, and some, goggles, against the silicate laden air. Serre-Pain had asked her not to go out in public unaccompanied by one of them. She would appear out of place and thereby attract attention. She was willing to chance it. She had friends who might be able to help her slip back to Sao Paulo. Even though The Empire of Brazil had an extradition treaty with the Clockwork Commonwealth, she doubted that the Emperor’s court would allow it over such a trivial matter as a Citizen of the World Order searching for her paternity. She would have to stay out of IOTA’s jurisdiction which would make her an exile from the world hub of Greater London. She would certainly not be allowed to pilot airships outside of the Empire’s zone of influence which spanned the southern hemisphere and the Atlantic to the inter desert zone of New Mali and Congola further south. She would no longer be an airship commander in the glamourous passenger fleets like Aerosud or Canamair. Most of the navair traffic in the Free Corridor of Cancer was freight and third class which meant much of the world’s poor and retched, refugees from the camps adjacent the dead regions and the encroaching tundra.

A loud noise startled her and she turned to seek it’s origin. A crowd had gathered in front of the stall from where the noise was emanating. She glanced over a shoulder at the edge of the gathering. She could see clearly a man standing in front of a square block of gray bioluminium that was vibrating to a low purr of its working. A propeller whirling at one end and a small tube emitting gray vapors at the other. She identified it immediately. An internal combustion engine. Icers. She didn’t know why she was surprised. Many nonaligned nations allowed the development of petrol powered engines despite the scarcity of the fuel. The Scarce Resources Treaty of Pax Victoriana 80 had banned oil as a fuel source, with the exception of lighting. The bacteria that had been released to eradicate the Black Mold infestation of Pax Victoriana 75 unfortunately had had the characteristics of a petrophage and rendered practically the entire oil reserves of the Northern Hemisphere to a watery nonvolatile solution of less than seven percent accelerant.

She shouldn’t have been surprised. The most standard motor source in the Commonwealth’s zones of influence was the bug drive, the bio repro engine that powered everything. The giant factories that produced the bacterial strains, or seeds, were the same ones that were polluting the skies above Oldest Orleans and stretched further north up the valley past the precincts of Old Orleans. The waste accumulated in piles, attaching itself to the lifeless sands of the devastated deadlands, was blown about in the atmosphere by fierce hyperborean winds. The giant windmills erected around the perimeter of the old city on biostyl stilts were not that effective at deflecting the bitter cold of the poisonous sand storms of the north.

The man in front of her stepped back unexpectedly and stepped onto her slippered foot. He glared at her as if it was her fault after she had pushed back. She apologized. No need to draw attention to herself. She quickly moved through the throngs and clots to the end of the arcade where it made another turn paralleling the edge of the square. She could see the orange bacsodium lights of the medicine show and Serre-Pain leading the faux bear in the open space in front of the wagon. Serpina was likely in the tiny dressing space behind the stage fitting into her snake costume. The young woman’s contribution to the entertainment was her hyperflexability. She could literally twine herself around herself, but mostly she slithered along the stage and up the wall and then provocatively curled around a projection overhanging the top of the stage at which time a red round object like an apple appeared in her mouth.

To this backdrop the snake doctor made his pitch. The little pamphlet he held high over his head contained the secrets of Madame Ophelia’s most famous recipes for making antivenom, revealed for the first time, which he offered for a meager sum but within the affordable range of most everyone in a crowd of people who were not particularly interested in reading. As a bonus he offered free of charge with the purchase of Madame Ophelia’s Secret Recipes, a sample bottle of one of her most potent antivenom elixirs.

After the entertainment  ended and the crowds drifted away, the stretch of the Place D’Arc where the snake show had been held was littered with pamphlets but not one tiny bottle. Serpina had told her that the secret recipe’s ingredients were a local fruit distillate mixed with cayenne, the “dash of snake venom” Serre Pain claimed in his sales pitch.

Lydia look down to see a women pointing at her slippers. She had stopped in front of a footwear stall. Arrayed on neat shelves were a variety of sabots, some painted bright colors, others with intricate designs burned into the particulated nearwood. They were quite popular in Greater London where there was a strong artisan market and certain guilds and houses were recognized by name, their products highly sought after. Along with the display of shoes, apparently locally sourced, was a collection of boots. They attracted Lydia’s eye by their sturdy design, one pair reaching to calf length made of a stiff dark material, some kind of fauxhide. The boots had round pale buttons near the top and across the ankle. She was partial to that type of footwear, similar to the style she always wore but more rugged. She felt the dark material between her thumb and forefinger as the woman in the stall nodded approvingly. At first touch she realized that she had been mistaken. It was real leather, a forbidden pleasure as along with ivory and live animal pets, it had been banned by treaty among the states aligned with the CCCP, the Clockwork Commonwealth Cooperative Protocols that were at the foundation of the Pax Victoriana, hammered out over a hundred years ago. She fingered the buttons, tapping one with a fingernail. Bone, maybe ivory.

steampunkThe woman nodded her head and spoke a single word in dialect, “O.” And again pointed at Lydia’s slippers seeming to infer how puny they were when compared to the rugged specimen Lydia was holding in her hand.

Lydia asked, “Is this real leather?”

The woman canted her head to one side as if making a calculation and then nodded. “Queer.”

Lydia understood the problem. She had assumed the woman spoke Standard. She’d come across these language gaps before. Often they could speak Standard but chose not to in resistance to contempt that World Standard had for their native language that was thousand years in the making while WS was an Anglo-Saxon based universal language only recently seeded over the breadth and width of the Victorian Empire.

“Do you speak Standard?” Lydia was casting a practiced eye over the foot of the boot and at the same time removing her right foot out from the slipper.

The woman in the stall held up her thumb and forefinger to indicate how little, shrugging her shoulders in the heavy blanket coat covering her stooped figure. She too had a scarf wrapped around her head and pulled across her nose. She made agreeable noises as Lydia pulled the boot up around her ankle.

“How much,” she asked, “How much do you want for these boots?”

“Katrevaindees.”

Now it was Lydia’s turn to calculate. She shook her head. “How much? In Victorines.”

The woman showed her a faded piece of paper. The number 90 followed by three zeros was written on it, and slightly below, the letters nfr, meaning New Francs.

“All I have are Victorines. Is there somewhere I can exchange them for the local currency?”

The woman looked over Lydia’s shoulder and held up her hand to wave someone over. “Iceepyare!”

A young man in a beret, scarf slung below his wispy little chin beard and showing the beginnings of a moustache joined them. The woman rattled off something to the young man while pointing at Lydia, the young man nodding in understanding. Suddenly Lydia felt very conspicuous.

“I can help you with the exchange.” He reached into his inside coat pocket and retrieved a large mouchoir enveloping a sheaf of cash. “You wish to buy these boots it will cost you one hundred victorines not counting the exchange fee of ten percent.”

Lydia was astounded. She couldn’t believe her good luck. She had paid twice that much for her cold weather zipper boots and the workmanship had been shoddy. She tried to cover her elation by negotiating. “Ninety, but I’ll go as high as one hundred victorines to include your commission.”

The young man shrugged and turned to walk away, returning the cash to his pocket and revealing the dagger in the sheath at his waist. Lydia was reminded of the stiletto in her inside breast pocket. At the fringes of the civilized commonwealth a knife fight would not be unlikely.

The woman in the stall implored the departing banker. He stopped and looked over his shoulder at Lydia. He had read her.

She sighed and nodded her acquiescence. “Very well, one hundred and ten victorines.” She had a thousand victorines in her wallet. She was an easy mark when it came to footwear. And they fit perfectly as if they were made for her. She admired how nicely they suited her, the square stubby toe and sturdy utilitarian heel.

The woman in the stall was delighted to make such a big sale, shaking Lydia’s hand as did the young man congratulating her on her purchase. He looked at her closely.

“You are not from here. A guest of the Victoriannesance Festivities, perhaps?”

Lydia pointed across the square at the snake show. “I am with Doctor Serre-Pain.”

“Ah,” the young man raised his eyebrows, “The mysterious Madame Ophelia, am I correct?”

“At times,” Lydia admitted and at once realized that she might have revealed too much. She disengaged and moved swiftly away. She had acted frivolously and dallied too long. She was due back to the wagon for the finale of the snake show. Serre-Pain would raise the alarm and come looking for her.

Light spilled across her path from an alcove and she glimpsed the empty tables of a café from which emanated the sounds of Einstein’s first violin concerto, Relativity, her favorite, E in Minor C sharp. And it was the first thing in her flight from IOTA that beckoned to her with its familiarity. She found a table in a dark corner beneath some anti-IOTA graffiti, a common sentiment in the old city she had come to realize. It was time to consider her next step.

bear1Having spent time in an Admiralty intelligence unit when she was stationed at the Commonwealth embassy in Houllas in the Republic of Texas, she knew that she would have to secure new papers if she were going to cross physical borders. And that she would have to avoid travelling by air. It would have to overland until she was safely out of the reach of IOTA. The Capricorn Free Corridor was her best bet. Surely there was someone in Older Orleans who could provide her with a passport that would escape detection, especially if she stayed off the main routes and avoided the busy checkpoints. The strains of the violin concerto had a soothing effect on her although at times she knew that it could also be quite stimulating. She closed her eyes for a moment, amusing herself with the fact that the President of the ISR, the Invincible Swiss Republic, was Albert III, the great grandson of the world famous musician. Unexpectedly her mental image changed, as often happens in reverie, to that of Vlady fitting the bear head onto his own and she realized then why he seemed so familiar to her. How could she had forgotten?

When she opened her eyes there were two uniformed men standing in front of her table. Their patches and canted berets identified them as local gendarmes. “Your papers, please,” the shorter one spoke.


Next Time: The Massive Escape

Contents Vol. 2 No. 8

Welcome to Volume Two, Number Eight of Dime Pulp,
A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine

In Issue Eight, Dime Pulp, A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine, continues with our two new pulp serials, Phyllis Haldursdottir’s global steampunk saga, Cheése Stands Alone, featuring Airship Commander Lydia Cheése (pronounced “Chase”), and Pierre Anton Taylor’s  Just Coincidence, a familiar fiction of dynastic intrigue and the dark revenge of a masked crime crusader.

In Act One, Scene 3 of Just Coincidence, Wayne Bruce continues the investigation into his father’s death.  A chance encounter leads him on a motorcycle chase  in pursuit of mysterious abducted young woman. An emotional connection to an old mentor and an overwhelming nostalgia  move him to act against the injustice of social marginalization. That he is a dark prince as well as a dark knight is just coincidence.

It is the year Pax Victoriana180.  For Airship Commander Lydia Cheése, Victoriana rules the waves as well as the airship lanes. In the continuing saga of Cheése Stands Alone, Captain Lydia Cheése  has fallen down the rabbit hole and finds herself in the clutches of a herpetologist by the name of Serre-Pain and his traveling snake show, Madame Ophelia’s Ophidiarium. If she is to find her father, the notorious Commodore Jack Cheése, she must bide her time and masquerade as the snake enchantress, Madame Ophelia.

Number Ten of On The Road To Las Cruces reaches a crucial point in this fictional retelling of the last day in the life of a legendary Western lawman where memory becomes a dialogue with one’s self in the justification of a killing and a blind pride that leads to to death. As an echo from the abyss, the famous retelling is retold as a rebuttal as well as an oral chronical.

And last but not least, Installment 20 of the 1940 detective story, Better Than Dead (Dime Pulp’s longest running serial),  hapless confidential investigator Lackland Ask  continually thwarted by kidnapping, murder, attempted murder in his quest for stolen diamonds and the mysterious Empress’s Cucumber. Things not only get worse, but he has lost someone whose youthful energy had stolen his heart. And now the cops have him and they want answers.

FYI: Dime Pulp Yearbook 21 contains the novels (The Last Resort and Better Than Dead) and the short fiction (Hard Boiled Myth and Gone Missing) of Volume One’s 12 issues,  available for perusal in their entirety. If you missed a few issues or lost the thread of a serial, clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph or on the menu bar above is a good way to catch up.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with two new pulp fiction serializations, Cheése Stands Alone by Phyllis Haldursdottir and Just Coincidence by Pierre Anton Taylor, as well as the continuing serialization of the pulp crime fiction of  Better Than DeadA Detective Story and the Western, On The Road To Las Cruces . If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number 8

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


Knapp-Felt 1930 1930s USA mens hats

“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—20


otrpic1fi2In late February of 1908, a one-time drover, buffalo hunter, saloon owner, hog farmer, peach grower, horse rancher, US Customs inspector, private investigator, county sheriff, and Deputy US Marshal set out from his adobe home on the mesa above Organ, New Mexico accompanied by a young man in a black buggy on the journey to Las Cruces. He would never arrive. This is the story of that journey, a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary lawman.

On The Road To Last Cruces ~Ten~


LCinset21In March of 1892, a Scotsman by the name of Arthur C. “Artie” Doyle was hanged by the neck until dead after being found guilty of a string of grisly murders of prostitutes in Whitechapel. At that moment, history veered off its presumed course and headed in a direction all its own in which the Great War never happened because the Kaiser was afraid of offending his grandmother, Queen Victoria, whose life has been prolonged by the wonders of biology. Her reign, known as the Pax Victoriana has lasted 180  years maintaining as many Victorian airs as possible while making accommodations to rapid advances in bio technology. Cheése Stands Alone poses a steampunk question, can Captain Lydia Cheése find her father, the antigovernment turncoat and radical, Commodore Jack “Wild Goose” Cheése. And furthermore, will her quest take her around the globe and through alternate world histories in the requisite 80 days or is it the beginning of a lifelong journey?

Cheése Stands Alone III


Batman-Logo-1In Just Coincidence, a privileged young man with the unremarkable name of Wayne Bruce returns to the site where his father once had his business, a battery manufacturing plant, and where he often spent his childhood days hanging around the factory and the neighborhood. His return is haunted by the mysterious circumstances surrounding his father’s death and the vague feeling that his uncle is somehow involved.  Appalled by the poverty and crime of the place he remembers fondly, he is moved to resolve the injustice of the socially marginalized and to wreak vengeance on those he believes are responsible for the death of his father. A personal coincidence brings together dark prince and dark knight joined in a fateful and tragic quest for justice.

Act One. Scene 3

Contents Vol. 2 No. 7

Welcome to Volume Two, Number Seven of Dime Pulp,
A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine

In Issue Seven, Dime Pulp, A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine, continues with our two new pulp serials, Phyllis Haldursdottir’s global steampunk saga, Cheése Stands Alone, featuring Airship Commander Lydia Cheése (pronounced “Chase”), and Pierre Anton Taylor’s  Just Coincidence, a familiar fiction of dynastic intrigue and the dark revenge of a masked crime crusader.

In Act One, Scene 2 of Just Coincidence, at his father’s funeral, a privileged young man plots revenge on those he suspects of  his father’s murder.  An emotional connection to an old mentor and an overwhelming nostalgia  move him to act against the injustice of social marginalization. That he is a dark prince as well as a dark knight is just coincidence.

It is the year 180 of Pax Victoriana, one hundred and eighty years since Queen Victoria took the throne and whose persona if not the actual person, are kept alive as the paragon of world peace. For Airship Commander Lydia Cheése, Britannia still rules the waves as well as the airship lanes,  with the exception of  the carbon states of New Brazil and United Outlaw Africa. In the continuing saga of Cheése Stands Alone, Captain Lydia Cheése  has fallen down the rabbit hole and finds herself in the clutches of a herpetologist by the name of Serre-Pain and his traveling snake show, Madame Ophelia’s Ophidiarium. Then the agents for IOTA show up and things get (shudder) slithery. Lydia’s efforts to locate her fugitive father, the infamous Commodore Jack “Wild Goose” Cheése, have brought her to the attention of  the Investigative Office of The Admiralty and her flight from them will take her on an airship globetrotting adventure.

Number Nine of On The Road To Las Cruces reaches a crucial point in this fictional retelling of the last day in the life of a legendary Western lawman where memory becomes a dialogue with one’s self in the justification of a killing and a blind pride that leads to to death. As an echo from the abyss, the famous retelling is retold as a rebuttal as well as an oral chronical.

And last but not least, Installment 19 of The 1940 detective story, Better Than Dead (Dime Pulp’s longest running serial), follows hapless confidential investigator Lackland Ask through another tangle of tense circumstances as his quest for revenge and profit are continually thwarted by kidnapping, murder, attempted murder as well as stolen diamonds and the mysterious jade Empress’s Cucumber. Things only get worse when he loses someone close to him in an explosion and then finds himself being fit for a pair of cement overshoes.

FYI: Dime Pulp Yearbook 21 contains the novels (The Last Resort and Better Than Dead) and the short fiction (Hard Boiled Myth and Gone Missing) of Volume One’s 12 issues,  available for perusal in their entirety. If you missed a few issues or lost the thread of a serial, clicking on the link at the beginning of this paragraph or on the menu bar above is a good way to catch up.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with two new pulp fiction serializations, Cheése Stands Alone by Phyllis Haldursdottir and Just Coincidence by Pierre Anton Taylor, as well as the continuing serialization of the pulp crime fiction of  Better Than DeadA Detective Story and the Western, On The Road To Las Cruces . If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number 7

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


Knapp-Felt 1930 1930s USA mens hats

“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—19


otrpic1fi2In late February of 1908, a one-time drover, buffalo hunter, saloon owner, hog farmer, peach grower, horse rancher, US Customs inspector, private investigator, county sheriff, and Deputy US Marshal set out from his adobe home on the mesa above Organ, New Mexico accompanied by a young man in a black buggy on the journey to Las Cruces. He would never arrive. This is the story of that journey, a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary lawman.

On The Road To Last Cruces ~Nine~


lydcirIn March of 1892, a Scotsman by the name of Arthur C. “Artie” Doyle was hanged by the neck until dead after being found guilty of a string of grisly murders of prostitutes in Whitechapel. At that moment, history veered off its presumed course and headed in a direction all its own in which the Great War never happened because the Kaiser was afraid of offending his grandmother, Queen Victoria, whose life has been prolonged by the wonders of biology. The peace of her reign, known as the Pax Victoriana, despite some major environmental disasters, has lasted 180  years keeping as many Victorian airs as possible while making accommodations to bio technology. Cheése Stands Alone poses a steampunk question, can Captain Lydia Cheése find her father, the antigovernment turncoat and radical, Commodore Jack “Wild Goose” Cheése. And furthermore, will her quest take her around the globe and through alternate world histories in the requisite 80 days or is it the beginning of a lifelong journey?

Cheése Stands Alone II


fury circle1fiIn Just Coincidence, a privileged young man with the unremarkable name of Wayne Bruce returns to the site where his father once had his business, a battery manufacturing plant, and where he often spent his childhood days hanging around the factory and the neighborhood. His return is haunted by the mysterious circumstances surrounding his father’s death and the vague feeling that his uncle is somehow involved.  Appalled by the poverty and crime of the place he remembers fondly, he is moved to resolve the injustice of the socially marginalized and to wreak vengeance on those he believes are responsible for the death of his father. A personal coincidence brings together dark prince and dark knight joined in a fateful and tragic quest for justice.

Act One. Scene 2

Cheése Stands Alone I

by Phyllis Huldarsdottir

Chapter One

Captain Lydia Cheése (pronounced chase), one hand ungloved, read the memo with a frown. Her airship, Orinoco III, had been grounded. An Aerosud cadet stood by at attention in a blue glossy visor cap and the impeccable dark blue company tunic with the distinctive sky blue piping at the collar. Lydia placed her thumb on the bio wax pad of the message board and then pressed her print at the bottom of the white message square. The cadet knuckled a salute. Captain Cheése returned it perfunctorily, and with a sigh. She watched the young woman exit her suite at Doyle House as she peeled off the other maroon porskine glove. “Pshaw,” she said with gritted teeth. G. B. Pshaw was her supervisor, nemesis, and constant irritant at Aerosud HQ. She caught a look at herself in the mirror above the marble mantle of the faux hearth as she unfastened the gold frog at her throat and sloughed off her Aerosud officer’s tropical dress tunic.

AIRSHIPIIIWhat she saw did not please her, a fringe of auburn hair, brow knit into a frown, grey eyes staring back in anger. Not again, she thought. Two groundings in as many weeks, and her suspension only just overturned. Tossing her tunic onto her grandfather’s vraisther smoking chair, she glanced at the stack of documents on the side table. In particular, she eyed the communication she had set aside the day before when she had been too preoccupied with preparing for her flight out of Lesser London to give it much more than a cursory glance. Addressed to her, handwritten in green ink, that in itself unusual, on what felt like a slip of parchment. “Parchment, really?” she said aloud. It was just one of the many come-ons and false leads she had received since she advertised a reward for information as to proof of life of Commander Jack Cheése, her father and the brilliant airship engineer who had disappeared many years ago, around the time she had entered the Air Academy for the freshman term.

The slip of parchment, or faux-par, she wasn’t going to believe that it was actually real, gave an address on Baker Street, Old London, current day, and specifying two in the afternoon. As it was almost four, she grabbed her walking coat and went quickly to the door. “Impulsive!” she imagined her mother saying. But no, not impulsive, an intuition she felt compelled to act on. The preciseness of the hand that had shaped the words “I can help you” tipped her in favor of the certainty of her hunch.

The elevator man gave a bow of recognition as she stepped on, and slid closed the door grill. A quiet whirr of machinery brought them down to the main floor lobby. Off to one side, framed by potted finger palms, was the entrance to the lounge frequented by her fellow lighter-than-air officers. Collectively they were known as litharians and the ships they flew were commonly known as lithairs. She would have been welcome at any table or congregation of hale fellows well met as she was known among them for her cutting wit and outrageous pronouncements as well as the sincerity of her companionship.

Doyle House, where Lydia Cheése maintained a permanent suite, was a hostel catering to the Navair trade, especially their officer class. Crews of ships officers, pilots, navigators, drive engineers also known as chemists represented dozens of navair companies doing business at the aerodrome on the far western edge of Lesser London lodged at Doyle House on layovers from continental and trans-oceanic flights. They flew passenger rigids and cargo semi-rigids, rigs and semi-rigs to those in the trade. Their companies were from all over the flown world. Large luxury passenger transports like Rajair and Anglair. Canamair operated both trans-Atlantic passenger and cargo service, as did Aerosud, Lydia’s employer, based out of Sao Paulo. They offered service to the major ports in Greater London which included Paris, Amsterdam as well as Lesser London where Lydia was now feeling, in a word, ruffled and in no mood for companionship.

The doorman greeted her opening the door, and she crossed the threshold into the torch orange glow of phosphorescent plasma lamps lighting the perpetual brown haze of Lesser London. Her grey walking coat was cut to the knees of the darker grey of her uniform culottes. Her boots were pointy, at heel and toe, and made of supple maroon psuedo, matching her porskine gloves, and fastened along the calf by large pearlite buttons. They made her appear taller, and she was already tall. On her head was a jaunty little cap of ribbons and silk made to look like a tiny bird had nested in the soft pile of auburn hair. She strode down the wide granite steps to the cobbled walkway where the carriages for hire and their drivers waited. She chose one at the head of the line and spoke the address on Baker St.

“Would that be Baker St. West, mum, or would that be Baker St East?” the driver asked over his shoulder, whip testing the haunch of the blocky beast of burden, an equlone, specifically bred for urban drayage. Like mules, they could not reproduce and their life span was less than five years. Small as a pony but as strong as a full grown natural equine, they were cheaper to maintain. Unfortunately, as they approached their end date their pace became slower and slower, signaling a reluctance to hasten their passing.

Lydia glanced at the address on the parchment impatiently. “It just says Baker St.” she said as if that settled it.

“Well, mum, Baker St is a very popular name here in Double L, Lesser London to you, and as I said, there’s East and West Baker St as well as Baker St South, Baker St North, and South Baker St North. Of course there’s also Upper Baker St and Lower Baker St. Upper Baker St Southwest. And Old Upper Baker St. If you understand what I’m saying, mum.”

Lydia restrained herself from knocking the man off his bench. “Take me to the intersection where all these Baker Streets meet!”

“Ah, yes, mum, Baker Square.”  And under his breath, “should have said that in the first place.”

After what seemed like an interminable time, the plodding near death equlone carriage brought a fuming Captain Lydia Cheése to Baker Square, a rather nondescript roundabout, so not literally a square, from which each of the various Baker Streets radiated like the spokes of a wheel. The driver hunched over, shoulders to his ears, as if feeling the heat of her rage.

She disembarked and paid him. “Here you are, sir, a five Victorine, and not a Regina more. You have hindered me long enough.”

row housesBaker’s Square was hemmed in by blocks of apartment dwellings designed to look like rowhouses, stacked one atop the other. They were all the same whichever way you looked. Their sameness caused her a momentary claustrophobia.

A figure approached, steadily, methodically. When it stepped out of the shadows she saw by the cut and buttons it was a constable.

He smiled and saluted her. “Be of any service, mum?”  He was a big man. Lydia looked directly into his eyes. She knew what the tattooed lines radiating from the corner of his left eye meant.

“Yes, perhaps you can. I seem to be unable to find this particular address.”  She showed him the parchment. “Is there not simply a Baker St without any of the bothersome directional appendages?”

The constable studied the square she held out to him and scratched his chin. “Yes, of course there is.”

“Then please be so kind as to direct me.”

“In Old London.”

“Old London, but. . .” It then occurred to her. Old London, not Lesser London. Old London, underground London, the London that Lesser London was built upon.

The Constable pointed to the iron gate set in the granite base of the monument at the center of the Baker Square roundabout. “Tours to Old London just now closed up for the evening. Too dangerous to go down there now, without a guide, and you being a lady and all.”

“Constable, I will have you know that I served as an ensign at the siege of the Bushwhackers. I know what danger is!”

“Aye, mum, I was in the PanAm Wars meself.”

“Yes, that is evident from your eye tat. You were with. . . .”

“The Lost Brigade, yes, mum.”

“You are one of the brave, and I respect that. However, I must to Baker St. I am already late!”  Lydia strode toward the iron gate.

“It’s not safe, mum,” he called after her.

 

 

Chapter Two

At the bottom of the concrete steps joining the cobblestones of Old London the bacterial-sodium lamps lit dimly shades of grey and black as flat as house paint. A man in a dusty worn gray shirt, pants, and shoes stood against an almost identically gray wall beside a weathered gray real wood produce cart upon which were displayed row upon row of bright though somewhat desiccated illegal Valencia oranges. Lydia was about to ask directions when she saw the street name in plain view attached to the side of a dingy gray brick facade. Real brick, not that faux coral that was used now almost exclusively for building exteriors. She’d always been under the impression that Old London was shuttered after daylight hours yet a goodly press of people, all dressed in the varying shades of gray, black, and brown of their surroundings, shuffled past like shadows, busy about their business. Brighter light splashed out onto the cobbles from storefronts, and distantly, music and singing could be heard. There were also clots of men clustered around porn boxes listening to the endearments of courtesans. Others stood in doorways and eyed passers-by.

Lydia proceeded down Baker St searching out the house numbers, peering into alcoves and letting her eye follow the buildings’ truncations as the support to Lesser London. At least here you could see some of the sky bathed in the rust orange of plasma light between the roadways and the avenues joining the elevated sectors like the bridges over the fabled canals of Venice.

Her forward progress was halted somewhat by the throng of dingily attired Old London denizens in the thrall of street entertainment. A bear on a chain rolled a large red ball with its feet wearing a red Phrygian cap strapped under his chin. A tall African in a flowing ostrich cape led the furry apparition around in a circle as if he were holding a magnet in his extended hand. Lydia paused to observe, a bit distracted by the unusual show. Live animal acts had been banned aboveground for decades.

As she turned to resume her quest, she was confronted by two coppers. They had been keeping an eye on the crowd and had noticed her. She was out of place. They were young, one barely out of his teens, a tense meager set to his jaw that was trying to pass for determination. The older one with the light fuzz of lip hair spoke. “Your papers, mum.”

Lydia reached into her pouch bag and retrieved her Aerosud identification. She handed it to him, “It’s quite alright, constable, I have an appointment.”

The copper nodded, “Captain Cheese, is it?”

Lydia narrowed her eyes, and for the hundred thousandth time said, “It’s pronounced ‘Chase’.”

“Yes, mum. And I should be warning you about traveling the depths without an escort, mum. It is very dangerous.”

The younger one nodded vehemently. “This lot here would think nothing of kidnapping an upper to sell on the fem market!”

A commotion at the other side of the gathered throng drew their attention and they hastened away. An explosion sounded, a pistol or fireworks. The crowd scattered pushing past Lydia caught up in the fleeing mob. She felt a tug at her waist where her pouch was slung. She looked down to see a young girl slip effortlessly, eel-like, through the press of legs, arms and torsos. The bag pouch perceptibly lighter, Lydia understood immediately that she’d been picked. She forced herself through the crowd after the young girl.

The girl moved away quickly on what appeared to be a crippled leg. She wore a gray crochet bonnet over dusty brown hair, her shoulders draped in a shawl a shade lighter than her hair, and one arm hooked through a large wicker basket indicating that perhaps she was a flower seller.

lower londonThe pickpocket veered into the alley between two buildings with Lydia still in the tangle of panicked underdwellers. She kept her gaze fixed on the hobbling figure and once free of the mob ran swiftly to the entrance of the alleyway. The already inefficient bacso street lamps hardly penetrated the deep darkness of the cleft between buildings. Indignation overrode her sense of caution and she strode into the shadows. Slowly her eyes gathered the available light and sharpened to the dark. An oversplash of orange from the city above allowed her to discern edges and contours. The young purse snatch bobbed hurriedly toward the light of a parallel street at the other end.

Certain that she could easily overtake the thief, she hesitated for a beat. Someone had reached the girl first. Springing from the shadows a wiry figure grabbed for the girl’s shawl. The undersized shape stumbled. The much larger outline pounced on the fallen child. It occurred to Lydia that a thief was robbing another thief, one that seemed a little more formidable than a crippled girl. By then Lydia had caught up to them. She just wanted her wallet back. Instead she got the attention of the crippled girl’s assailant.

He was a narrow dagger of a man, drawn emaciated face, stubby hard shoulders extending boney brittle arms and long fingers. “Now we have ye,” he gargled a mirthless laugh.

Lydia had been taught well. As she flipped forward she extended a hand and placed it on the attacker’s rib cage, the momentum and force of her acrobatic maneuver was enough to give her thrust the power to unbalance the man. As she landed she swung her right leg and tapped the man’s chin with the toe of her boot at exactly the right spot, rendering him instantly unconscious. She made all these movements effortlessly as if simply slipping an arm through a sleeve or brushing back a fall of hair.

The young flower seller, now unburdened of her empty basket, scrambled around the corner of the building and out to the lighted thoroughfare. Lydia stepped over the fallen man after her. As she emerged into the light, the young thief was nowhere to be seen. Lydia hurried past a young couple sauntering ahead and then turned and hurried in the opposite direction, their startled gazes following her. She glanced across the street beyond the hack stand and the motionless equlones. The girl had disappeared.

Lydia strode to an iron railing on the other side of the alleyway. She leaned over the bar railing and stared down into the stairwell that led to a basement door. The door itself seemed to sway slightly as if it had just moments before swung closed. Lydia trusted her instincts and leapt down the stairwell. The door pushed open easily and once again she was in pitch black, this time with not enough ambient light to gather for sight. She turned back the piping on her coat sleeve and massaged the phosphene activator until the piping emitted a faint green glow like low viz string lights. It was a purely decorative feature of her garment, but it had enough phot, 33 lumens per centimeter if she remembered correctly what the salesperson who sold her the coat had claimed. She moved her arm in a slow arch across the front of her body to illuminate the bare edges of the light’s reach. A passageway opened up in front of her. Attenuated by the lack of the visible spectrum, she heard the whisper of shuffle steps ahead. She hurried and almost ran head on into the wall where the passageway turned sharply left. The rhythm of the foot falls changed and, after almost tripping, she was now following steps leading up and toward a light, a pale narrow splinter at the edge of a doorway. Without the slightest hesitation, she flung open the door with such force that it slapped against the inside wall of a small room lit by the soft glow of an oil lamp. The bear confronting her made her catch her breath.


Next Time: Slithereens