Tag Archives: IOTA

Cheése Stands Alone VI

by Phyllis Huldarsdottir

Chapter XIII

Lydia set the near empty flagon on the roughhewn table between them and gave Peyare the benefit of her frown. Was he just stupid or willfully ignorant? His knowledge of current affairs was largely rumor, Icer propaganda, and conspiracy theories. She’d heard it before, that the Admiralty controlled the box broadcasts and the plasmovid media so they were unreliable as sources of the truth. It was not so much the outright lies but the half-truths. Truth had a relative value. When something could be ascertained as true, or at least partially so, it gave weight to the lies that accompanied it and downgraded the veracity of anything claimed to be true. The world is out of balance, he claimed, a popular catch phrase broadcast daily from the antiroyalist underground.

She gave his expectant expression a slight shake of her head. He was pitiful, and pitifully unaware of it. Naïve, and he did not care about anything that had not occurred during his life time, and hardly anything remarkable prior to adolescence. He’d received just enough education to make him arrogant, adopting the swagger of an air ship pilot, or what he believed was litherian swagger as depicted in lurid biopulp story boards. He was full of himself and youthful ambition. He was not uncomely, she had to admit, with a rugged virility that might serve him well if he could constrain his impulsiveness.

Yet he dismissed the entire extinction event of 77 PV, a bacterial explosion that ravaged large parts of the Northern Hemisphere and, to a lesser extent, the Southern, leaving behind bare mineral dead zones, barren frozen wastelands. As for the Queen’s Jubilee Proclamation that bound the industrial nations to a concerted effort in battling the plague that threatened humanity and ushered in an era of peace and prosperity under Victorian guidance, he rejected that as ancient history and suspect, especially after the forced Reconciliation and Alignment Act of 101 PV which he claimed, as preaxial shift adherents, so-called preaxers, did, that history had been revised and adjusted to suit the overall fiction of Pax Victoriana. And the idea that the Queen in her eightieth year of reign had become alarmed by the increased pace of life and declared that the brakes must be applied because, along with peace, she wanted quiet was a fairy tale told to children and which Lydia had to agree was a much simplified version of the actual Imperial motivation.

“Listen, this may be news to you, but I was at the siege of the Bushwhackers at the conclusion of the PanAm War!”

The Queen’s peace had been in jeopardy due to her belligerent nephew Willy’s threatening to go to war with Nicky, their Muscovite relations to the east, and with the regicide republic to the south. And her quiet, the story went, was threatened by the racket created by the development of the internal combustion engine to say nothing of its abhorrent stink. The greed and pretentiousness of the social climbing industrialist, biochem barons, and bankers whose titular aspirations were beneath dignity also was a factor. And those were the reasons given for why the Queen had formed a royal commission to look into these matters, known thenceforth as The Queen’s Royal Commission To Ensure The Queen’s Wishes, known to most as The Queen’s Wishes which he found both humorous and absurd.

Lydia wanted to slap that smug expression off his face. For someone who was so uninformed, he certainly rose on the heat of his own hot air. It was almost like he was chuckling to himself, amused by his own self-satisfaction. “What do you find so amusing? Do you find it funny that I am stuck with you in this fetid wine cave? Held prisoner by your underground group at the behest of a carnival snake doctor? I have been kidnapped and made to perform with snakes! And you are an accomplice to my captivity!”

Peyare didn’t restrain his guffaw. “I was just thinking of the expression you made when Leon told the gendarmes that you were a famous porn box courtesan. Shock would be an understatement.” He slapped the table for emphasis.

“How could you have possibly witnessed my reaction?”

“I was hiding in the shadows. I was the one who alerted Leon. I followed you to the café. I knew who you were when you bought those fancy boots. A good choice for where you’re going, I might add. I know the bootmaker. They’ll last a good long time.”

Maybe it was the wine, but she felt the lines of her otherwise staid Victorian demeanor blurring. She raised her voice. “You know where we’re going?”

Peyare was surprised by her question. “You don’t know where you’re going?” He shrugged matter of factly. “All I know is that Leon will arrange transport to Autre Lyons and pass you along to those who have the lighter-than-air.”

“A dirigible.”

“I don’t think it’s a balloon. An airship, but of an older generation.”

A derelict, no doubt, Lydia thought to herself. Anytime anyone referred to an airship as ‘older generation’ it inevitably meant something from the Zeppelin era.

“I would be honored to accompany you but my role is to keep you safe until you can leave Oldest Orleans without attracting attention. IOTA has their spies everywhere. Leon will provide you with new papers. You don’t need to be frightened.” He said it condescendingly.

“Do I look frightened to you?” She stood up in the low ceilinged wine cellar to make her point, a tall redheaded woman, blue scarf over the shoulder of her snakeskin jacket, pleated, pocketed trousers bloused over her new boots. “Listen, this may be news to you, but I was at the siege of the Bushwhackers at the conclusion of the PanAm War!”

Lydia could still picture the flaming wreckage falling onto the crowded tenements of the Outer Houllas slums and catching the tinder dry dwellings on fire.

That did the trick. Peyare, suddenly dead serious, sat up interested. Be it fighting and killing but deemed heroic and valiant, boys, men, have a precise affinity for legendary exploits. “PanAm One or Two?”

“Do I look old enough to have been in One?”

The young man grinned sheepishly, “No, I guess not. And besides the Siege of the Bushwhackers happened at the end of PAW II. You weren’t with the Royal Marines who rescued the hostages and broke the siege in the Greater Houllas Megalopolis, were you?” His eyes widened with disbelief on the verge of fawning respect.

Lydia managed a smile. “No, nothing so heroic. I was a young ensign assigned to the dirigible fleet at the Crown’s Embassy in the Slave State Republics confederation capital. I helped extract some of the hostages once a ceasefire was negotiated with the Counterforce Bushwhackers aligned with the rebellious slave republics.”

“You flew the rescue operation? That was heroic. I heard you lost some HV Airships.”

Lydia could still picture the flaming wreckage falling onto the crowded tenements of the Outer Houllas slums and catching the tinder dry dwellings on fire. The greatest loss of life was on the ground not the few hostages and embassy personnel killed by the rebels. The fire had practically razed the entirety of the makeshift sub-metropolis, the pall of smoke wreathing the tall buildings of the ruling elite in Greater Central Houllas for weeks. And she had known the pilots of the two HV Lighters that had been shot down, or had at least seen them in the Embassy cafeteria. She had flown high velocity lighters when she had trained at the Academy and realized that she was too sane to be a lighter pilot. Lighter pilots were a breed of their own.

“Yes, the negotiated truce was to allow for safe passage of the hostages as well as the obviously outnumbered Bushwhackers back to their home territories. But some in their ranks preferred death with honor over retreat and disgrace and began firing on the rescue airships as soon as we lifted off. The highvel escorts took fire to protect the dirigibles. But as soon as the shooting started, the Royal Marine Bionic Brigade aboard my airship deployed their glide platforms and neutralized the threat with only a few further casualties.”

“Bionics? You worked with Bionics? The indestructible air marines?”

Lydia could tell by his expression that she had made an impressionable fan. “Well, yes, as much as you can work with a bionic.”

“Really, what are they like?”

She thought that the name alone should have made it obvious. “They’re machines.”

A noise at the door drew her attention. Someone had lifted the bar and the heavy door creaked slowly open. There were two of them, revealed in the orange glow of their bacsodium torches. Behind them was pitch black. Then another figure moved in the shadow of the reflected light.

Leon strode in, raising a questioning eyebrow to Peyare, followed by Serre-Pain, grim jowled to a slow simmer, dark eyes flashing darkly. Then Serpina appeared at his side, her eyes shooting daggers.

Impulsively Lydia blurted. “Where’s Vlady?”

“Vlad had to prepare the wagons for transport.” The snake doctor’s tone was flat, impersonal. “I had hope to have more time to make preparations. But because of your foolishness we must now separate. Vlad and I will take the wagons on the main road to the northeast to throw IOTA off the scent. Leon has arranged for you and Serpina to leave from the south gate and travel with a group of agricultural workers. We must depart immediately. You will not see Vlady or I until we rendezvous at our destination.”

“But I know him, I know Vlady from my childhood. He knew my mother. We traveled with a circus!”

Serre-Pain threw her a concerned look and then glanced at the flagon at her elbow. “How much wine have you had to drink?”

Chapter XIV

At the break of dawn when they arrived at the transport, an ancient repurposed streetcar easily a century old. A cold gray brume had settled over the open air market and on the crowds of laborers in their brown canvas overcoats, hoods or scarves hiding all but a sliver of visage, a beard, made-up eyes, and jostling against each other to achieve their conveyances at the start of the work day.

Lydia and Serpina were attired similarly and mingled with the crowd of women before boarding the transit car to the work destination. According to Leon’s instruction, they were to travel to the fields several leagues south of the ancient city. Peyare would make sure they boarded the right transport but from then on they would have to be on their guard. Once passed the exit inspection to verify identities and head count, they would be met at the work site by someone who would take them up into the hills to a lumber mill where the operator of the mill would secret them in a special compartment of the lumber wagon and take them the rest of the way to Autre Lyons to meet with another agent of the League who would then take them to the rendezvous with the airship.

In return she would be led to the illusive Commodore Jack Cheése, her father.

Leon had provided her with a set of false papers. Lydia was now Odette O’Day, a Class III worker, one class above Class IV transient, but still at the bottom. Serpina had an assortment of identity papers and chose the one that would attract the least attention. He had warned her to keep her face covered and make sure no one looked at her too closely. He delicate features could easily be identified as a Victorian. And he had rounded up the rough working togs including a pair of gloves. “Wear these. If anyone sees your hands they might become suspicious. They’ve obviously never done any labor.”

To make matters worse, Serpina’s hostility toward her was undisguised and intense. Once aboard the ancient tram hitched to an equally ancient steam mule belching puffs of acrid smoke from its fore stack, the young woman had chosen to sit apart from her. Instead Lydia found herself next to a short round woman who smelled of cooking oil and who could not help staring at her all the while babbling in some argot that was barely comprehensible. She realized also that if she tried to engage in conversation, she would be quickly identified as a Victorian. Her Standard was just too proper and uninflected.

She caught Serpina giving her a smug smirk at her predicament over her shoulder. Fortunately she had the window seat and feigned that she was going to take a nap by placing her palms together and leaning her cheek against them. Then she rested her head on the discolored real glass of the window and watched the bustle of the marketplace through half closed eyes.

She understood that the further away from any large population centers she traveled, especially outside of the influence of the Clockwork Commonwealth, her obvious non-Class III mannerisms would give her away, that she was a World Citizen, t’zen as they were commonly called, and not just a Class I, but legacy ranked. Yet she found herself a prisoner of the Doctor’s manipulations and as much she chaffed at her constraints, she accepted that she had to play along until the circumstances turned in her favor. Serre-Pain had once again emphasized the importance of their mission and her role in bringing about its success. But even his persuasion had seemed muted when he had remonstrated with her in the wine cave, his dark skin ashen, a weariness around his eyes. She did not doubt that the intention of his mission was reasonable and dire. She wasn’t being given a choice in the matter.

In return she would be led to the illusive Commodore Jack Cheése, her father. She did want that, not having seen him in over a decade. He had mysteriously disappeared soon after she had entered the Air Academy. And the chance to reason with him, convince him, as only a daughter can, to reconsider his opposition to the hologram succession, the legitimacy of the Commonwealth, the Admiralty Court and the Lord High Inquisitor. She thought his hostility to the Crown foolish. After all had he not once been a loyal subject, rising through the ranks of the Admiralty Medical Corps, to become a Commodore in the Advanced Research Division? What had turned him. She’d heard it said that after her mother’s passing that he had gone rogue, publishing secret documents that pointed to the Commonwealth’s complicity in covering up the cause of the vast defoliation that ensued after the battle against the BMI, and aligning himself with Icers and anti-royalist factions. She believed in the benevolence of the State toward its t’zens, which was perhaps a little naïve considering her life of privilege growing up in the exclusive enclave in the Empire of Brazil’s vast Sao Rio mega province, attending the best schools in Lisbon, and obtaining a legacy appointment to the Admiralty Air Academy. She could conceive of no reason not to support the Crown and Pax Victoriana. She considered herself to be a Victorian and proud of it. The Queen had set the example long ago. As long as nations kept talking when they could go to war, a modicum of peace could be insured. It was the model of consensus. Although opponents to the Pax Commonwealth called it coercion. Her father being one of them. But she was following the Queen’s example. She just wanted a chance to talk to him. In person.

She sighed and let her eyes wander across the plaza beyond the pocked glass of the tram wagon. A considerable confusion of conveyances, some steam, some spring driven mechanicals, and even a few with live drayage teams sought purchase through the maze of merchants setting up their stalls.. The street carriage lurched forward with a sudden jolt and she realized that they were underway, pulled by the large wheeled steam tractor. They made their way through the packed market place and she got a better view of the streams of transports arriving, some of more recent vintages powered by the latest bacteria drives, known to all as bacteries, obvious from the pale breath of water vapors emitted by their exhaust stacks.

At the gate to the old city, their transport idled in line with others while teams of gendarmes worked their way through the vehicles checking identifications. A pair clambered onto her carriage and marched up and down the aisle looking bored and acting agressive.

Lydia averted her eyes and pretended to be sleeping. She felt the presence of one of the policemen hovering near her. He was demanding to see her papers, or so she assumed. The woman seated next to her was saying something to the official, imploring and repeating what sounded like the word “dorm.”  Finally the gendarmes disembarked and Lydia cocked a cautious eye and saw her companion give a reassuring nod and smile. She was about to express her gratitude when out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of the square black chassis of an armored carrier and watched as the men in the black hats, agents of IOTA, took up positions at the periphery of the waiting traffic.

Next Time: Flight From IOTA

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.”


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

Cheése Stands Alone—Sneak Preview

 by Phyllis Huldarsdottir

~Sneak Preview~

The World of Lydia Cheése

In 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 grizzly 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 was prolonged by the wonders of biology. The peace of her reign, known as the Pax Victoriana, despite some major environmental disasters, has lasted 180 plus years keeping as many Victorian airs as possible while making accommodations to bio lydcirtechnology. Follow Capitan Lydia Cheése (pronounced Chase), Airship Commander, into a world in which the biological sciences overshadow the physical sciences. Steam engines dominate most modes of propulsion. The skies are filled with lighter-than-air craft and railroads cover most of the globe. Internal combustion engines are banned except in the non-aligned nations of the African continent. Brazil has an emperor and holds an empire of its own covering much of the southern landmass, with Sao Paulo as one of the most modern cities in the world, far outstripping Newer New York and Greater London with its lively futuristic culture. The North American States fractured in the early 20th century after the revelation of the imposter president Cleveland. The Supreme Court under Justice White then ruled that the Southern States had the right to secede as they did nearly half a century previous and promptly left the Union to form the USSR, United Slave State Republics. Subsequently the Eastern Seaboard was renamed Newest New England with the Boston Bubble becoming an independent city state much like Newer New York. Albert Einstein was the name of a famous Swiss watchmaker, Henry Ford was tried for sedition for the rebellion at Belle Isle and faced a firing squad, and Guillaume Apollinaire was the last mayor of Paris before its annexation, along with Amsterdam, into the sphere of Greater London’s influence. Can Lydia Cheése find her father, the antigovernment turncoat and radical, Commodore Jack Cheése. Will her quest take her around the world in less than 80 days or is it a lifelong journey? Below is a sample of how any of that might occur in an alternate world never before explored.


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 Watson House, name after the famed inventor of propulsion biology, Dr. John Watson, 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.

What 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 Commodore 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.

Watson 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 Watson 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 houses Baker’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 Bushwackers.  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.




At the bottom of the concrete steps joining the cobblestones of Old London the bacterial-sodium lamps dimly lighted 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 façade.  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 london The 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.

To Be Continued At A “Future” Date