by Phyllis Huldarsdottir
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.
Lydia 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.
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.”