Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Curse of Alexander Braker, Chapter 5

The band had barely started the next number before the spectacle occurred. Back by the receiving line, a voice called out, “Just as I thought, another boring family event.”

The voice belonged to a young man in a fleece lined leather jacket. He pulled of a pair of gloves before handing them and a pair of goggles to the butler at the doorway. His hair was windblown and tangled. Sam guessed his age to be late twenties. His face bore more resemblance to the pictures of Alexander Braker rather than Mildred, as opposed to Jonathon. He smiled at the crowd, snatching a glass of champagne from a passing servant.

“Seeing as how I’ve missed all of you due to my tardiness, I’ll take this moment to wish you all a swell time at this, ahem, party. Brother, to your health.”

Several guests rose their glasses to the impromptu toast.

“Another relation?” asked Sam.

Rachel nodded.

“Randal Braker, the youngest of the sons. He shows up at a club and you know that there are going to be some good tips following along behind.”

“Does he do anything with the company?”

“Aside from spending the family money, I doubt it. He is having too much fun as the black sheep.”

“Humph, must be nice. Still, someone is working their way along the line of succession, so keeping an eye on him should be on our list.”

“Oh, I could do better than that,” said Rachel. Sam had to look back at her and saw a vaguely hungry look in her eye.

“Hey, stay on the job, alright? Run into him on the outside and you can play how you want. Right now, we’re trying to keep someone from getting killed.”

Rachel sighed and gave him a pout.

“That’s your problem, Sam, always on the job. There’s always room for a little fun. I promise I’ll stay good for tonight.”

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Curse of Alexander Braker, Chapter 4

     After all this time Sam should have been prepared. He thought as much. Despite all that, he was caught short by the vision that Rachel presented in her party dress. Her dress was modest, but it was beautiful in how she wore it. It was thin strapped and swept to the ground with a slit on the side that was perhaps a shade too high. The pearl white highlighted the Mediterranean color to her skin. A stole added to the modesty of the dress. Sam knew that she could have chosen to wear a potato sack and make it the envy of the strictest social critic.

     Sam was decked in his tuxedo, a reminder of days that were more reliably flush than his current stretch. Fortunately, high fashion for men changed very little over the years.

     The party was at the Braker estate just outside of Tarrytown. The trip required the crossing of a pair of checkpoints. Fortunately, there was nothing happening to put the soldiers on alert. They waved Sam’s 1928 Chrysler through with barely a look at Sam’s papers.

     The drive gave Sam the chance to pass on the plans he had come up with. Rachel listened with half and ear. Sam knew that he might as well be whistling into the wind. Rachel had yet to fully stick to a plan he had laid out. From her point of view, a plan was just another thing to remember and get in the way of her winging it.

     Their trip came to a conclusion at the far end of a curved driveway leading up to a large colonial style mansion. Sam’s old beater, being well cared for, didn’t look too terribly out of place. Being his own driver, however, left Sam and Rachel walking back up the drive.

     Other guests were arriving in a steady stream. Ladies and gentlemen, both in the new status system and in the old vernacular were ushered up to the door by black liveried servants. Meanwhile, their drivers would park their cars and then headed for a waiting room set in the garage.

     Sam and Rachel joined the queue forming in the foyer. A grand staircase rose to the upper levels of the house. The line led to the left of the foyer. Every so often a nobler personage would be cut into line ahead of Sam and Rachel. In some cases the entire line appeared to be bypassed.

     “I wonder what the hold up is,” said Sam.

     “You’re not used to these grand soirees, are you?” replied Rachel. “Well then, you get to experience your first receiving line. We’ll be introduced to the Baron and presumably his family. Just smile and say polite things.”

     Eventually they made their way into the ballroom. Dozens of people already filled the space. The dance floor had just enough room to show a parquet wood floor. The three sides around the dance floor were carpeted and filled with tables. A temporary stage bore a piano with enough room for a string quartet. The strings were playing a waltz for the dancing couples. The far end of the room was mostly tall glass doors and windows. Sam couldn’t make out what was beyond them; the reflections from the room were too strong.

     The line moved forward steadily until Sam and Rachel came upon a man in a tailed suit and white gloves.

     “May I have your invitation, please?”

     Sam dug into his coat pocket and retrieved the engraved invitation. The Baroness had it delivered to his office the previous day.

     “Thank you, sir.” The butler then turned to the room and raised his voice to be audible over the quartet, “Mr. Samuel Watson, and guest.”

     Sam escorted Rachel down the three steps to the sunken floor of the ballroom. At the foot of the steps they were greeted by a plump woman of middle age. Sam recognized her from his research into the Society Pages; this was the elder Baroness Braker, wife to the deceased original Baron and the mother of the current Baron. Her hair had completed its turn to grey, and the lines on her face showed that her life had been far from care free.

     “Mr. Watson, it is a pleasure to meet you.” She put on a brave face, but something painful was happening behind her eyes. The maid standing behind the Widow Braker pressed a handkerchief into Mildred’s hand. Sam guessed that it had to do with his name. This night was also the anniversary of the death of her eldest son, also named Samuel, under mysterious circumstances.

     “The pleasure is mine, Lady Braker. May I introduce my associate, Miss Rachel Evans.”

     The two women clasped hands for a moment and exchanged pleasantries. Sam and Rachel then moved down the line and met with the current Baroness Braker. Sam introduced Rachel to her. With that done, Amelia Braker turned to her husband.

     “Jonathon, allow me to do this introduction personally. This is Mr. Watson, the private investigator I hired for this evening. He comes very highly recommended and is experienced with matters supernatural.”

     The Baron seemed to be barely into his thirties. He had sandy hair and a round, almost boyish face. He wore a pair of pince-nez glasses. The handshake he gave Sam was firm and he looked him square in the eye.

     “It is a pleasure to meet you Mr. Watson, although I regret that you came here in an official capacity.”

     “You don’t believe that protection is necessary tonight?”

     “No I don’t. I don’t believe in this whole curse hogwash. I presume that the emphasis on your supernatural expertise means that you are here in that capacity.”

     “Your wife brought me here to be of whatever service might prove necessary. I certainly hope that that would be none.”

     “Well, if it puts Amelia’s mind to ease, I suppose you will earn your fee, Mr. Watson. In the meantime, please, enjoy yourself.”

     With that, Baron Braker turned his attention to the next person in line. Sam took the hint and moved with Rachel into the ballroom proper. A young man dressed as a waiter escorted them to a table where place cards awaited them.

     “Mr. Samuel Watson’s guest,” read Rachel.

     “Sorry,” said Sam, “I suppose that I could have gotten your name engraved had I made arrangements with the Baroness.”

     “No, actually it worked out better. I recognize a few people from the clubs. It would have been awkward trying to explain the various names I work under.”

     “Have you seen anything interesting?”

     “You mean on the Other Side? Yes, I’ve seen that Lamar Steele is here. That one is right on my list of club habitu├ęs that I recognize. Better yet, however, is Mildred Braker’s maid has a touch of magic about her.”

     “Interesting. I suppose I should look into that part. Let’s get a feel for the rest of the party before we go chasing leads.”

     “Great, let’s start with the dance floor. Maybe they’ll do a tango next.”

     Sam groaned at the thought.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Curse of Alexander Braker, Chapter 3

     The streetlight outside of McTaggart's Pub was broken, leaving a patch of darkness at the front door. A sense of anonymity was maintained by those who worked there. The lack of atmosphere tended to keep the clientelle limited to serious barflys and those who had business there. So far as Sam knew, no one named McTaggart had been involved in the business for ages. Ownership had changed hands several times with none of the new owners bothering to change the name. He was sure that he could track down who claimed to be the current owner, but that would be more information than he needed.

     Instead, this anonymous little pub was one of the more regular haunts of the mysterious figure known as Liberty. The leader of the Resistance of New York tried to remain accessible to the people in his command, particularly to the more powerful members.

     Sam counted in that second number as the one mage in the city's Resistance. He went by the codename Quisitor and served both as magician and investigator. Anyone considered for membership in the Resistance would undergo Sam's scrutiny, almost always with the subject in complete ignorance. Sam had managed to spot a couple of potential plants the Empire had attempted to emplace.

     Despite the best vigilance, there was still concern for security.

     No one looked up as Sam entered the pub. The three people who seemed to be drinking kept their heads down. Sam knew they weren’t there for the booze any more than he was. One thing he did notice was that each man had his right hand concealed.

     Sam stepped over to the bar.

     “Help you, Mac?” asked the bartender. He acted more interested in his bar rag than in any service he might render.

     “Yeah, how about something from Kentucky?”

     “How old you want it?”

     “Twelve years at least.”

     Empty right hands appeared as the tension in the room melted. The bartender smiled and poured a shot of bourbon into a highball glass.

     “The man’s in back, I take it?” asked Sam.

     “Yes he is. Head on back.”

     Sam drank down the liquor and headed to the back room. He knocked on the door. A man with a Thompson opened the door and stuck his head out. He scrutinized the room as if he never received the silent signal from behind the bar. Once his vigilance was satisfied, he ushered Sam into the cramped room.

     The room was scarcely larger than the card table in the center. A single bulb cast its light onto the table and little else.

     What the light did show was the man seated behind the table. Sam knew that if the man stood he would be about six feet tall. He was broad shouldered and wore working man’s clothes. The only sign that he pretended to anything more than salt of the earth was the vigilante style mask that covered the top half of his face. Despite Sam’s position in the effective inner circle of the Resistance he did not know Liberty’s true identity.

     “Quisitor,” said Liberty, “always good to see you.”

     “Same. Thanks for meeting with me.”

     “Have a seat. What brings you back into the cold?”

     “I have a job, and I have some questions about how the Resistance is hitting my subject.”

     “I’ll tell you what I can, but you do understand that your job will only give you slightly greater need to know.”

     “I understand. My client is the Baroness Braker, wife of Baron Jonathon Braker, owner of the Albany Wichita Railroad.”

     “I am familiar with the railroad,” said Liberty, “they tend to get more military transport contracts than their competition, but not to any great degree.”

     “It seems that they have been getting hit hard by the Resistance of late.”

     “One of our cells, they go by the name of the James Gang, has made the AW Railroad a favored target.”

     “Any reason for that? Something personal?”

     “Purely speculation, but I think that they have some sort of source of information on the inside. I can’t say for certain because I make a point of not asking.”

     Sam nodded. That type of security was de rigueur for the secretive organization.

     “I understand,” said Sam, “that the original Baron, Alexander, was a collaborator.”

     “Yes, he was, and I can answer your next question right now. No, the Resistance had nothing to do with either his death, or that of his son.”

     “And no interest in going after the current Baron?”

     “None at all.”

     Sam leaned back from the table. Liberty seemed to be a step ahead of him, and as a mage, Sam preferred to be the one in that position. Still, he was getting nearly all of the information for which he knew to ask.

     “One last thing,” said Sam, “I got the impression that Baroness Mildred Braker, Alexander’s wife, seemed to be a near pariah immediately after the invasion. Would you have any idea why?”

     “Actually, I would. Back before the Invasion, Mildred Braker was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It was her husband’s connections that kept her from imprisonment or being stripped of her family assets.”

     “A collaborator and a member of the DAR. I can scarcely imagine what their home life must have been like during the war.”

     “Unfortunately, she has been a good lady of the Empire since then. I would gather that she got set straight since then.”

     Sam stayed quiet for a moment or two.

     “Anything else, Quisitor?” asked Liberty.

     “No, I don’t think so. Thanks for the time.”

     “Stay safe out there.”

     “Always my first interest,” said Sam. He turned toward the door, but was stopped by the guard. The man pressed a button on the speaker box by the door. A second later, a soft buzz came from the speaker, and the guard opened the door. Sam gave a small wave to the barkeeper and headed toward the front door.

     As he walked down the street, Sam’s mind was divided. One part stayed alert for anyone watching or following. The other part ran down the information that he had just learned. He felt that he had a good base to work the party two nights later, but he still wondered if there were one more question he should have asked.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Curse of Alexander Braker, Chapter 2

     There was time before the ball for Sam to get some research done. Back copies of the New York Imperial
Times would be his best source to start with.

     The first copy of the Times that he looked at was that day’s purchased from the boy just outside of Molly’s denire. The little short order place on the corner of his office building was one of Sam’s frequent haunts. Aside from his regular breakfast, Molly also served one of the best cups of coffee in the city.

     “Morning, Sam. What can I set you up with?”

     As always, Molly was right there with a cup of coffee and a menu. It never mattered that Sam was a creature of habit when it came to breakfast, Molly always had the menu. The point wasn’t that she might convince Sam to try something new, but instead, it served to cover the occasional copy of the Liberty Press she would pass along. Sam could tell that there was no new news from the underground press that day just from the feel of the backside of the menu.

     Sam had more on his mind than just breakfast this time. He took a couple of minutes of perusing the menu for appearance’s sake.

     “Two eggs, over easy and bacon, Molly.” The usual and nothing but. The food came over quickly and Sam tucked in with gusto. It wasn’t until after he finished eating that he got to the next part of the stop.

     “Molly, if I may take the liberty that was the best meal I’ve had in ages. My compliments to the man in back.”

     The diner matron smiled at the apparent compliment.

     “Why that’s so kind of you. I’ll make sure the word gets back. Have a nice day.”

     “You too, Molly.” Sam left a Mark on the counter with a healthy tip. He then left the diner, knowing that his need for a meeting with Liberty, the leader of the New York City Resistance, was on its way.

     The New York Public Library had undergone a major upheaval in the aftermath of the invasion. Much of the history and political philosophy works were put under lock and key. The Empire did everything it could to make it appear that the American Revolution and everything that happened afterward never happened. That included the newspaper archives. The only parts that were accessible were those that had been written under the Empire’s watchful eye.

     Sam worked two sections of the paper at the same time. Heading backward into the library’s archive, he found that the Albany-Wichita Railroad predated the Invasion. There was no mention that the ownership had changed when the Empire took over. Only those who had proven useful would have been allowed to keep possession of such a resource. That implicated Alexander Braker, in Sam’s mind, of having been a collaborator, if not an active traitor. Since then, the Barons Braker had kept a close working relationship with the Empire.

     The Board of Directors, beyond the family holdings, might have been an Empire in miniature. Among its members were members of the aristocracy, the Order of Illumination, and other Commerce Lords. Sam found names for most of them, including Lamar Steele, the representative of the Order of Illumination and the wizard who encouraged the whole idea of a party on the anniversary.

     In reference to the deaths whose anniversaries the gala was intended, the deaths of the two previous Barons Braker were covered as fully investigated accidents. The timing of Samuel’s death was noted, but only as an ironic point of interest.

     As an organ of the Empire since the invasion, the Times had to operate under the eye of the censors. Even so, Sam found stories of acts of sabotage and robberies of the Albany-Wichita Railroad. If some few stories had made it through, then there were probably twice as many that didn’t get reported. The stories that were printed were slanted into diatribes against the Resistance and sedition in general.

     The society pages had the stories regarding the Baronesses, both the mother Mildred and wife Amelia. The tones of the stories early on after the invasion regarding Mildred Braker were surprisingly frosty. Nothing out and out insulting, simply less than glowing descriptions or short shrift as if she were an afterthought. Over the course of many charity events and memberships in all the right organizations, she seemed to have redeemed herself of whatever stain her reputation had suffered.

     Amelia Braker (nee Emerson) appeared to have been embraced since her debut ten years previously. By the time of her marriage to Jonathon, whatever social stigma was on the family was entirely in the past.

     The search through the archive took Sam the best part of the day. He decided that an early dinner would be called for. So it was back to Molly’s for a bite. After the meal, Molly handed over the check. Sam pocketed it and paid with a good tip.

     Back in his office, Sam took a look at the back side of the check. McTaggart’s Pub, 10PM. Sam burned the check with a bare thought of magic.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Curse of Alexander Braker, Chapter 1

     There was little chance that Sam was going to forget about the meeting. Calliope was not going to let him, for one. She had been cleaning up the office while Sam was out on other jobs. He could not recall the office ever being tidy. Now it was cleaner than he had ever seen it.

     It was also not that having an appointment was that unusual. Work had been fairly decent, certainly enough to keep the landlord off his back and Calliope paid.

     No, the reason this meeting was special was that this was a meeting with a member of the gentry. Sam was a staunch Resistance man. Still, he had to keep a professional cover. So if a baroness wanted to meet with him, the least he had to do was hear her out. If this case worked out, then there might be more work with the better paying upper crust.

     That was why Sam found himself seated across his desk from one Baroness Amelia Braker. She was a young woman of about thirty years. She had brown hair tending toward red, and wore it in a fashionable cut just below her jaw line. Her dress was conservative, a matching skirt and jacket set of the lightest blue.

     On the lapel of the jacket was an Order of Commerse pin. That particular order was comprised of the business men who controlled most of the economy of the conquering Empire. The more equity that a person controlled, the higher his title within the Order. Baroness Amelia Braker was the wife of Baron Jonathon Braker, chief executive of the Albany-Wichita Railroad.

     Calliope had just made an offer of tea or coffee to Sam’s guest who politely declined.

     “I would much rather if we could just get to the matter at hand, Mr. Watson.”

     “Of course…,” Sam hesitated as he struggled to recall the appropriate honorific, “Your Excellency.” It was tempting to allow his voice to show the faint distaste he felt. He corralled the impulse as not good for either his cover or professional opportunities.

     “Please, Mr. Watson, Mrs. Braker is sufficient for now.”

     “Thank you, Mrs. Braker. Now, how may I be of assistance?”

     “I have been given to understand that you have experience in matters beyond normal.”

     Beyond normal. That was a first, even for Sam.

     “I presume,” said Sam, “that you mean the supernatural?”

     “Yes,”

     Sam paused to consider. He didn’t question that reputation. He’d had jobs dealing with ghosts and tangled with vampires. They tended to be interesting in manners less conducive to his health. Hopefully that didn’t mean that she knew he was a mage in his own right.

     “If you could give me some details, then I can give you what advice I can.”

     “I may be in need of more than just advice, Mr. Watson. I wish to hire you to provide some protection for a party this coming week.”

     “Protection from what?”

     “Pardon me, but I must explain regarding what I fear will happen. My husband’s father and brother had both died under strange circumstances. Jonathon, the Baron Braker, his father, Alexander, fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck. His brother, Samuel, died after falling between rail cars on one of the company’s trains.”

     “Was there anything to imply that the two incidents were connected or anything more than accidents?”

     “First of all, Samuel died five years to the day after Alexander. I have difficulty believing that it was a coincidence.”

     “Then what makes you think it was not normal foul play?”

     “I am not entirely certain. There were guards at both scenes that saw them acting strangely, as if there was something behind them. Either all of the guards were involved in a conspiracy, or something frightened the two barons into accidents. The men in question are above reproach, or so say the Sheriff’s investigations into the deaths. The second option, however bizarre, strikes the family as the only one possible.”

     “I get the impression that you are not entirely sold on the idea of a curse.”

     “I am not,” said the Baroness. “There are some details that I, having married into the family, to which I am not privy. I have heard rumors among the staff that there was a message sent to Alexander that announced the curse. The stories range from a simple letter to the head of a dog being left in his bedroom. Despite my efforts, my husband refuses to discuss the matter.”

     “What of the elder Baroness? Has she told you anything of the matter?”

     “Humph. So far as Mildred is concerned, I am a nice little porcelain ornament for her son’s arm. She would prefer that I not have a brain in my head, and so she treats me as such. That has left me little choice but to make arrangements on my own.”

     “Has Mrs. Braker made arrangements?”

     “Yes, in fact the entire idea of the ball was the idea of one of the members of the Board of Directors. His name is Lamar Steele and he shall be representing the Order of Illumination.”

     “Steele is a mage?”

     “Yes.”

     Sam had to consider the point. Steele would surely establish some means of magical protection for the estate. Sam had little doubt about his ability to conceal his power from casual inspection. The defenses should be little problem in that regard. What would be more difficult would be to work whatever spells he might need without drawing attention.

     “I believe that I can help you, Baroness. My rate is fifty marks a day and I will need a couple of days before the event to do some research.” The rate was twice what same usually charged, but he reasoned that the rich were different.

     He was proven right when the Baroness didn’t even blink at the price. With a handshake, they sealed the deal and Amelia Braker took her leave.

     “Calliope, how do you feel about heading for a little soiree?”

     “Sorry, Sam, not my scene. Besides, I already have a date.”

     “Hmm. Can you tell me where Rachel is working tonight?”

     “Sure, she’s at McCallum’s Joint tonight, and she just got a little black dress that she has been wanting to wear out.”


     Sam nodded as he picked up his hat.

     “Thanks. In the meantime, I need to get to the Times. I need to dig up what I can on this family before the party begins.”
     

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Walking Death, Chapter 15

The New York Liberty Press
“A Free Press is the Guardian of the People”

Resistance Strikes Back

By Dryw
A Resistance raid conducted on a top secret Imperial research laboratory in Long Island resulted in the disruption of the delivery of a heinous new chemical weapon intended for the Detroit Siege.

We have learned that the raided laboratory was developing a scientific/magical gas referred to as Ambulamort. The planned effect of this gas was to turn normal people into undead, ghoul-like creatures that would become cannibalistic and turn on one-time allies. The research facility was using the captured Resistance fighters as experimental test subjects.

Not only did the Resistance rescue several of its own, it managed to capture a sample of the vaccine the Empire developed for its own troops. The sample has been sent to Denver for mass production.

Sources in the Imperial Army are claiming that renegade scientist Frieda Kellner was one of the Resistance members who broke into the Long Island research center and it is believed that she escorted the sample to its destination.


Black Falcons Grounded

By Dryw
Last week the famed Black Falcon Squadron arrived in New York City for some leave time while their planes were being modified. Certainly we can all remember the aerobatics conducted upon their arrival.

What few people realize is that their planes were to be modified to spray the dreaded alchemical mix known as Ambulamort upon the brave defenders of Detroit.

Thanks to the members of the NYC Resistance, this evil plan has been thwarted. Members managed to plant a number of gremlins into virtually all of the planes of the Black Falcon Squadron. Five of the twelve pilots of the squadron died when their planes fell to pieces in mid-air. Of the seven remaining, the gremlins caused the Ambulamort to spray into the cockpits of five of the remaining planes instead of the targeted areas. Those pilots were reportedly taken into quarantine, although some witnesses claim that the planes turned randomly on any available target.

Famed ace Sir Dieter Baldric escaped the fate of the others when he successfully landed his disintegrating plane. His replacement plane had not been modified to release the Ambulamort.




Frieda set down the newssheet.

“I think I am going to be quite infamous after all of this attention. What I don’t understand is why the reference to my going to Denver. Does this Dryw not know that I am remaining in New York?”

She was seated in one of the two chairs that Sam kept for clients in his small office. The other chair was being used by Rachel, with Sam behind the desk. He was pouring out bourbon into three tumblers.

“I can’t say for Dryw whether he knows or not,” said Sam, “but you have to remember that the Imperials read that too. Nobody’s life is on the line on the difference of you being here rather than in Denver.”

Sam handed out the liquor.

“Besides,” said Rachel, “it will be a big help having you around. You know, for your expertise. Spanner’s good, but he’s more the engineering side of things.”

Frieda nodded at the compliment.

“I do appreciate your assistance in helping me get settled. This city is quite different from Berlin.”

“Well then, Doctor,” said Sam, raising his glass, “welcome to New York.”

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Walking Death, Chapter 14

There was a brief moment of confusion at the front door of the facility involving Rachel’s Demonic Legion uniform and a jumpy Resistance gunman. Liberty called a cease fire before anything unfortunate happened.

“Alright, men,” said Liberty, “incursion order, just like we practiced.”

“About that,” said Rachel. “You don’t want to go in there.”

“Why?”

“Dr. Kellner released the Ambulamort.”

“What? Is she insane?”

“She said to trust her. One of the scientists was hiding behind the tanks, and he was threatening to release it and kill all of Long Island. Kellner just up and beat him to the punch.”

“Of course,” said another man Rachel recognized as Spanner, the Liberty’s expert on super-science. “I recall from the debriefing that Ambulamort was designed with a short period of activity. There is no chance that a widespread contagion will break out. The gas should not spread out much past the local area.”

“How far out is local?” asked Liberty.

Spanner’s eyes seemed to look up to the heaven’s as he contemplated the answer.

“Three blocks, but it will depend on how well constructed this facility is. I can’t see that the Imperials would risk exposure through an accidental leak.”

“This was hardly an accident, Spanner. I’m going to call the assault team back and let the Imperials deal with any repercussions. We may have just pulled disaster out of the jaws of victory.”

“I think,” said Rachel, “that you can take this up with Dr. Kellner herself.”

Liberty and Spanner looked back at where Rachel was looking. Frieda was running out the door.

“Take cover!” she yelled.

At that moment, none of the Resistance members were going to question her call. Frieda almost made it to the truck parked just inside the main gate when fire blossomed out of the high windows of the old warehouse. The front door flew off its hinges on a wave of flame. Amid the orange and red were wisps of green. The gas carried outward, trailing flames that burned along the wisps like fuses. By the time the flames died, all of the Ambulamort had burned.

“Sir,” said Frieda, pulling herself off the ground, “the Ambulamort has been neutralized. And I have a sample of the inoculant.”

“Then this area is secure,” said Liberty. “Everyone exposed to the gas, get in the back of the truck while you are still toxic. The rest, pile in the best you can or take a car. We are leaving now.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The inside of the facility was pure devastation. Save for a few support beams, there was not an upright element left standing. Small fires burned what combustible material remained after the explosion, while a gas main fountained flame.

At the foot of the broken gas main laid a pile of ruptured gas canisters. Jagged teeth of shrapnel and a portion of the roof added to the pile.

From under this pile of detritus came a slight movement. More than the leavings of the explosion settling in upon themselves, there was a stirring. Part of the pile sloughed to the side and revealed a charred-black hand.

The hand curled in on itself and grasped a beam fallen from the ceiling. The beam moved with surprising ease, allowing a hideously burned form to rise from the ashes.

Pain filled the mind of Dr. Felson as he rose unsteadily to his feet. Scarcely a few square inches of skin remained unburned, and a piece of metal, he estimated its size to be roughly that of his hand, was embedded in his abdomen. Either the burns or the shrapnel should have been fatal.

The Ambulamort, he realized. The antidote was only intended to treat skin contact exposure. The shard must have carried a massive dose directly into my blood stream. If I remove the shard, I fear that the antidote will scour the Ambulamort from my body, leaving me to die once and for all. That woman has condemned me to this unlife.

Kellner, I remember her now. She was the defector that had the Institute in such an uproar. She is responsible for all of this, ruination of my body and work, denying me my glory. She shall feel my vengeance; all of them shall feel my vengeance.

With a scream of pain and rage, the re-born Dr. Felson stumbled toward a hole in the wall left by the explosion that ended his old life.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Walking Death, Chapter 13

     Frieda searched through the pockets of the unconscious scientists. On each of them she found a small bottle of pills and a phial of liquid. She turned to one of the newly released men of the resistance.

     “You,” she said, as she removed the cap from the bottle and swallowed a pill.

     “Call me Cross,” he said.

     “Right, take one of these pills, and pass the rest around to the other men.”

     “What are they?”

     “Prophylactic counteragent for the Ambulamort.”

     “Pardon me?”

     “She means,” said Rachel, returning with a rifle under each arm and a pair of gun belts resting on her hips, “that those pills will keep you safe from the gas. So do what the doctor says and pass them around.”

     “That is correct.” Frieda pocketed the second bottle of pills. Those pills would be the seeds for Resistance labs to mass-produce the antidote.

     The freed Resistance men took up the weapons.

     “There are offices to the far side of the laboratory,” said Cross. “I’ll take some men and clear them out.”

     “The cavalry is on its way,” said Rachel, “so don’t take too many risks.”

     Cross turned back to the succubus with an answer on his lips when a bloom of fire flashed behind him. He fell with an astonished look.

     The women and men took cover behind the wall of the test pen. Another ray gun blast sizzled the corner over Cross’s fallen form.

     A man’s voice called out from beyond the pen.

     “That was your warning. I have enough Ambulamort to destroy all of Long Island. You have the choice, and that same ultimatum applies to whoever is coming for you.”

     Frieda knew that voice. It was Dr. Felson, the scientist who created the Ambulamort. It was in his files that she learned of that abomination of science.

     She moved herself down to the corner of the pen. With the aid of one of the men, she thought that his name was Philly, she pulled Cross back under cover. He was alive, but barely.

     The voice continued.

     “I want to see your weapons out in the open or else I release the contents of every last canister in this facility.”

     Frieda risked a glance around the corner. She saw Felson behind a hand truck laden with pressurized tanks. Stenciled warnings of Danger and Poison stood out against the green tanks.

     Looking back to the Resistance members with her, she asked, “You have taken the antidote?”

     The others nodded.

     “Good.”

     Before any of the others could say anything, she spun around the corner and fired her ray gun. The blast struck her target cleanly: directly below the pressure valve of the center tank. The ruptured tank took out its neighbors, and a noxious green cloud spread though the room.

     “Are you insane?” cried Rachel.

     “I know what I am doing. You and you,” indicating Rachel and Philly, “get outside and make sure the assault team stays clear. I will take care of Dr. Felson.”

     Rachel waited for Philly and another Resistance man to heft the unconscious Cross and then lead them to the front.

     Frieda cleared the corner and approached the position Dr. Felson had taken cover behind. She knew from the files that the Ambulamort couldn’t possibly spread as far as Felson had threatened. The gas was too heavy and became inert too quickly. The gas should not spread much farther than the confines of the warehouse laboratory. One tank had completely lost its top in jagged teeth. The neighbor canisters had ruptured in the explosion. She approached the newly emptied hand cart; both hands on her gun. Green mist swirled heavily on the ground. Through it she could just make out the prone form of Dr. Felson.

     He was laid flat out; his hand stretched out to his errant ray gun yet did not move. She knelt down to check for a pulse, but the deep crimson stain just below his ribs put paid to her worries.

     She looked about for the utility lines. The files had also showed that Ambulamort was combustible at high concentrations. Add in a little natural gas, such as carried in the line she identified, and the dire weapon would be neutralized. Frieda took up Felson’s ray gun, bypassed the capacitor safeties, and wedged it behind the natural gas lines as a detonator. Then she ran.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Historical Revision

Let's do the Time Warp again. Taking some advice from some more learned sages, I have gone back and shall introduce some concrete villains. Get ready to boo and his when you read:

Two Fisted Tales of Magic: Walking Death, Chapter 2.5

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Walking Death, Chapter 12

     They passed similar checkpoints leaving Brooklyn and Queens. The levels of vigilance may have been different, but the results were the same. Passable papers, an immaculate uniform, and a haughty demeanor were all of the identification needed to get the women to the outer baronies of Long Island. Security became lighter the further out from the city they went. That the Empire had put their facility, Research Division 9 according to Resistance intelligence, out in the sticks put strategy on unobtrusiveness rather than brute force. The women's plan was counting on it.

     The car rounded the last corner and the target came into sight. There was no sign of the larger Resistance team, but their job was to stay hidden until they were called. Until then, it was all on Rachel and Frieda.

     "Let me do the talking," said Rachel.

     "You have nothing to worry about there," said Frieda. "I suppose we can not do this as we did at the airfield?"

     "Afraid not. Last I heard, they are working twenty-four hours to keep up a supply of the Ambulamort going to the front."

     Frieda sighed. She didn't like being in front of people when she was being honest, and this masquerade was far outside of her experience. No, Rachel had no need to worry on the speaking score.

     "The key to something like this is to keep them off balance," said Rachel. "Don't give them a chance to think about what you are saying."

“I am simply hoping that I can keep up with you on that respect.”

“Just look official and act as if you expected everything that happens.”

“That would be easier if I actually knew what you have in mind.”

“If it makes you feel better, I usually don’t have much of a plan to begin with. Sure, I may have the basics, who I am et cetera. From then on, I prefer not to have a plan, that would just be another thing to worry about.”

Oddly, that did not make Frieda feel any better.

The facility was a converted factory, seemingly unmodified from the exterior. The only sign of current occupation was the eight-foot tall, barbed wire topped fence and a small guard shack by the sole gate. A guard stepped in front of the gate and held up a hand for the car to stop.

“Return to the street, this is a restricted facility,” said the guard as he approached the driver’s window.

“I am well aware of what this place is, Corporal,” said Rachel, her voice icy with affronted superiority. “I am Major Magda Devora of the Imperial Demonic Division. I have orders from Colonel Meinard to escort Dr. Helga Messner on an inspection of all Ambulamort production facilities in the County. These are our papers.”

Rachel was quite proud of the papers she had managed to acquire. The mere mention of the commander of the Imperial-aligned demons in the County was enough to conjure the guard’s attention. What she regretted was the debt that she accrued with the eldest of her sisters in the city in order to get the forgery made. At least Melisande was an independent operator. The end result would be a payment made to Melisande’s whim rather than some unknown superior.

“I was not informed of an inspection, ma’am.”

Rachel gave an exasperated sigh and locked eyes with the young man.

“Then since your readiness appears to be lacking, I would suggest that you make up for it with compliance. Perhaps then your name will not go down as one of the problems.”

The corporal swallowed visibly. He looked back to his compatriot for support. He found none, his friend having gotten an eyeful of the wrathful angel in the driver’s seat.

“Very well, ma’am, please pull on through.”

“Thank you, Corporal.”

Frieda let out the breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding. It struck her that the guards seemed to count themselves the lucky ones in the exchange.

The car headed toward a small parking lot near large truck doors. Another guard manned the single pedestrian door. As the car pulled into a space, a squat figure in a fitted lab coat exited and approached the car. Rachel caught the dwarf composing himself as he walked around to her door. By then, he was smiling and extending a hand.

“Major, however surprising, it is a pleasure to meet you. I am Dr. Konrad Tabbert. May I ask what brings you to our laboratory?”

Rachel used the fact that the dwarf only came up to her shoulder to look down her nose at him.

“Colonel Meinard has been made aware of the imminent deployment of this new compound…” she looked to Frieda as if for a memory cue.

“Ambulamort, Major,” prompted Frieda while cursing Rachel for breaking the promise to do the talking.

“Thank you, Doctor. Ambulamort, yes,” said Rachel with a tone that said that she wouldn’t bother to remember the name thereafter.

Rachel continued.

“Yes, Colonel Meinard, in his capacity as advisor to the Court on all matters demonic, has expressed some great concern regarding the deployment of this new weapon. This is Dr. Helga Messner, exobiologist from the Dresden Institute. She is here to ascertain what impact the weapon will have on supernatural subjects.”

“I would be more than happy to discuss these matters, but we are quite busy at this time. Perhaps if we can arrange an inspection for a later time?”

“No.”

“No?”

“There are some questions regarding the very nature of this weapon that have not been answered to my superior’s satisfaction, questions that need to addressed before some overlooked circumstance brings the entire project crashing down about our ears.”

The dwarf looked perplexed.

“Why don’t we go inside and discuss this?” asked Dr. Tabbert. “Please, follow me.”

The Imperial scientist turned to lead the women into the facility. Frieda looked up at Rachel in time to catch the wink from the temptress. It was a mere flicker in the persona, from Imperial officer to party girl and back again. Frieda was almost dizzy trying to keep up with the changes.

The guard at the door snapped to attention as the party entered the converted factory. Once inside, they found themselves in an immaculate white hallway. Doors broke the lines of the walls, plaques reading various functions with the first bearing the legend: Security. Another guard came to attention as they passed. Frieda watched the young man blush furiously when Rachel made eye contact with him and touched the sleeve of his uniform.

The hall turned after twenty yards into a cavernous space, clearly the main floor of the old factory. The space was empty save for a walled-in area roughly in the center. A man, balding and well into middle age, was visible by the interior structure speaking with a younger man. The young man hurried away; apparently to complete whatever task he had been given. Another could be seen writing notes on a clipboard and taking glances through a small window in a door. A third was using a handcart to wheel a gas canister up to one of the doors along a side wall.

Dr. Tabbert waved the older gentleman over, and started the introductions as the newcomer closed the distance.

“Major Devora, Dr. Messner, may I introduce Dr. Wilbur Hobbard, head of Imperial Research Division 9. Dr. Hobbard, Major Magda Devora of the Imperial Demonic Division and Dr. Helga Messner of the Dresden Institute.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Dr. Hobbard, his tone and expression conveying just the opposite.

“These ladies have some questions pertaining to the research, sir.”

“It is rather late in the process for any new questions to be coming up.”

“I disagree, Doctor,” said Rachel, pulling herself up to the full height her heeled boots allowed. She only came to the man’s chin, yet she still dominated the space. “My superiors feel that their concerns have been given short shrift throughout this entire process.”

“By ‘your superiors’ I presume you mean Colonel Meinrad.” Color had flushed Dr. Hobbard’s face.

“Among others, yes.”

“If you wouldn’t mind having this discussion on the move, I have to supervise the tests for the latest batch.”

“Certainly, Doctor.”

Dr. Hobbard turned and walked back to his previous position without looking back to see if the visitors were following. He rounded a corner to the far side of the interior building. On closer approach, Frieda could peer through the small windows on the doors she passed. Each door led into a small cell with another door on the far side. Ragged men occupied some of the cells. One of the men began pounding on his door as the group passed by.

“Where do these men come from, Doctor?” asked Frieda.

“We get our test subjects primarily from Anti-Resistance Force sweeps.”

“Resistance fighters,” said Rachel. “There’s a certain symmetry to it.”

The group stopped in front of a large window looking into the open center space ringed by the cells. Stains on the floors and walls indicated a history that turned Frieda’s stomach.

“More on point,” continued Rachel, “is what type of testing is being done with respect to supernatural entities. Colonel Meinrad is particularly interested with its effects on enemy summoned demons, although others have spoken about Native American lycanthrope warriors.”

“As your superiors should know, I nor any of my colleagues have been provided such subjects to experiment upon. In the meantime, this Research Division shall continue to carry out its duties with the human subjects that we have been provided with.”

During that portion of the conversation, Rachel maneuvered so that she was next to Dr. Hobbard, Frieda next to her, leaving Dr. Tabbert to the far end of the line.

“Could you please describe your testing procedure, Doctor?” asked Frieda, fighting hard to maintain an air of clinical detachment.

“Certainly. Each test employs two subjects. One is exposed to the Ambulamort, the second is kept as control. Once the effect is complete, both subjects are released into the common area on the other side of the glass. From there we are able to assess the aggressive potential of the effected subject.”

“In fact,” offered Dr. Tabbert, “you are in time to observe the testing of the newest lot.”

“Really?” asked Frieda, slipping her hand into her purse. She looked up and caught Rachel’s eye in the reflection off the glass. Rachel gave a barely perceptible nod that Frieda returned.

“Dr. Tabbert?” Frieda asked turning toward the dwarf and drawing her hand out of the purse.

“Yes?” he asked, turning into the atomizer of knockout solution that Frieda had just removed from her purse. The spray caught him full in the face. He barely had time to show surprise before he slumped to the ground.

Dr. Hobbard saw the motion out of the corner of his eye. When he turned to see his assistant collapsed on the floor, Rachel stepped in front of him and grasped his face. She pulled him down until her lips met his. Dr. Hobbard’s eyes opened wide in shock, and then he relaxed deeper and deeper until he slid boneless to the floor.

“I think I prefer my method,” said Rachel, wiping an unseen mote from the corner of her mouth.

“Succubus,” said Frieda, “I should have known.”

“Well, yeah. But I’m still one of the good guys.”

Rachel removed a ring of keys from Dr. Hobbard’s coat pocket.

“Here,” said Rachel giving the keys to Frieda, “get the men out of the cells and round up the lab assistants. I’ll take care of the security office and call in the cavalry.

Frieda nodded, took the keys, replaced the atomizer and drew her ray gun.

Rachel ran back toward the hallway. She waited until Frieda opened the first cells before she rounded the corner and affected an inability to run in her heeled boots. The young guard outside of the security office saw her coming and, reacting to her obvious distress, rushed to aid her.

“The prisoners are escaping! The doctors need your help!” she said, stumbling into his arms.

“Umm, get, get to the security office,” he stammered, “I’ll go help the doctors.

Rachel looked up into his eyes, her hands full of his uniform lapels.

“Be careful,” she said, her voice suddenly soft and frightened. She pulled gently on the lapels, and the young man took the cue, bent down and kissed her. Rachel enjoyed the kiss for the three seconds it took for the young man to pass out.

She straightened her uniform jacket and strode into the security office. There was a pair of guards playing cards. They snapped to attention and saluted.

“Stay where you are,” said Rachel, “there has been a release of the Ambulamort, and the laboratory has been contaminated.”

The two guards shared a panicked glance. In that pause, Rachel walked over to the phone and dialed the number that would connect her to the waiting Resistance force.

“This is Major Magda Devora, Imperial Demonic Division. There has been an incident at Research Division 9. We need a containment team here immediately. Code: Lamb, I say again, Code: Lamb.”

“Confirm Code: Lamb,” said the recognizable voice of Liberty. “We are on our way.”

“My God,” said the one on Rachel’s right, “we have to get out of here.”

“No,” snapped Rachel in her best tone of command, “stay in here and seal the door the best you can. I will also need your weapons.”

“Our weapons? You’re not going back in there? What about the Ambulamort?”

Rachel pointed to the red trim on her uniform.

“Demonic Division. The gas won’t affect me. Someone has to keep the victims under control until the containment team gets here. In the meantime, seal up this room and do not open it for any reason or for anyone other than me, am I clear?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Rachel walked back to the main laboratory. There she found four men standing behind Frieda who was covering three white-coated men who were on their knees with their hands behind their heads.

“All clear?” asked Frieda.

“Yes, the Resistance is on the way.” Rachel handed what guns she had to the released prisoners. “I’m Lamb, this is Knocker, and we’re here to get you out of here.”

Monday, January 30, 2006

Walking Death, Chapter 11

The debriefing took place in another storeroom in a different business, but the impression of the location was the same. Completely anonymous. Rachel and Liberty listened as Frieda gave a no nonsense account of her part of the mission.

“You are certain of the address?” he asked.

“My memory is very precise. I often found myself where I could not take the information with me, and I prefer not to rely on cameras whenever possible. A simple address is hardly a challenge.”

“Was there any technical data on the Ambulamort itself?”

“No, that information is not important in respect to the deployment of the weapon, so it was not provided to the squadron.”

“We know that the Imperials have a facility at that location, but none of our agents have been able to find any word as to what goes on there.”

“Are you considering an assault on the facility?”

“I had, briefly, but there is an army garrison less than half a mile away. The perimeter defenses will have to be circumvented and their communications cut off so that they can’t call for help.”

Rachel chimed in.

“Sounds like you need someone to go in all sneaky-like.”

“That’s right. I want you to bluff your way in, Rachel. I believe you already have a costume and identification?”

“Oh, I’m sure I can throw something together. I even know which face I’m going to put on.”

“Excellent. Dr. Kellner, I need you to back her up. We don’t know how much more of the stuff they have, or even what other surprises they may have stored there. Your job is to secure a sample of the Ambulamort for analysis, find any records of antidotes, and take samples of any other projects.”

“Understood.”


By the next night, Rachel had provided Dr. Kellner with a very smart looking skirt and jacket set, perfectly appropriate for a serious minded scientist. She also produced an impressive forgery of a Bureau of Advanced Sciences identification card in the name of Helga Messner.

For her part, Rachel had donned an Imperial uniform: black with red trim and major epaulets. Frieda recognized the meaning of the red in the uniform. It meant membership in the Imperial Demonic Forces. Frieda had met members of those ranks in the past. There was no doubt that Rachel was going to be the center of attention, even if she evoked dread in her admirers. The basic details of Rachel’s face were the same, but now they composed themselves into a beautifully austere visage. Gone was the little girl Frieda first met, replaced with a mien worthy of Athena.

Frieda saw to transportation. One of the neighbors, a few blocks removed, unknowingly provided an official looking vehicle for the night. The work of the night should be just that, with the car returned before it was missed.

The first test of their disguises came at the checkpoint on the Brooklyn Bridge. The Empire kept a tight rein on travel, particularly between the baronies of the troubled County of New York. The bridge was typically crowded at the checkpoint where soldiers scrutinized travel authorizations. The early evening traffic only made the wait longer.

Frieda had to school her tension as the line crept slowly along the bridge. The wait stretched her nerves. She was certain that the tension showed on her face, marking her with anxiety that would rouse the soldier’s suspicions.

Rachel on the other hand, seemed as calm and collected as if she were out for a leisurely drive in the country. She chatted away on various topics ranging from the men at Club Hades to the latest fashions to her complaints about some gangsters who seem to think that they own whatever crosses their eye line.

Rachel was in the driver’s seat for the trip, playing the part of the military escort for a newly arrived scientist. Frieda had reservations about the arrangement up until they approached the checkpoint. Rachel’s chatter scarcely paused as the car pulled into earshot of the roadblock. Her face went from animated into annoyed iciness.

“Papers,” demanded the sergeant as the car pulled up.

Rachel looked out the window and cleared her throat. Even that she did with a quiet authority that caught up the sergeant’s eyes.

The man snapped to attention.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am. May I please have your papers?”

“Of course,” said Rachel as she handed over the forged documents. Frieda did her best not to look like she was holding her breath.

The sergeant scarcely looked away from Rachel’s gaze. The examination he gave the papers was cursory at best, and he handed them back as if he were ashamed to have had them in the first place.

“Everything is in order, please drive through.”

“Thank you, Sergeant.”

“Ma’am,” he said with a salute.

She returned the salute and pulled out onto the remainder of the bridge. Once the checkpoint was safely in the rearview mirror, Rachel turned toward Frieda.

“I really enjoy scamming soldiers. They’re so darn predictable. Could you light me a cigarette, please?”

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Walking Death, Chapter 10

Frieda worked her way across the tarmac of Bennett Field. She changed a look back to toward the gatehouse nearest her entry point. She saw Rachel vamping to beat the band. This part of an infiltration was all about timing and not being where eyes were looking. Rachel owned the eyes of not only the guardhouse but of the patrolling pair that had just passed by. Captivation like that from a story of a broken down car just wasn’t natural. Frieda once again affirmed her desire to get that girl under mystic examination.

Liberty had provided travel passes for Rachel and Frieda to get past the Imperial checkpoints coming off Manhattan and into Brooklyn. The bored soldiers at the checkpoint barely looked at the Frieda while chatting up Rachel.

The dark gray sweater and pants she wore made her unremarkable. The canisters of gremlins were wrapped in cloth and packed in her shoulder bag.

The closer the time came to the mission, the more she regretted the tools chosen. Gremlins were the opposite of tools, they existed not only to break things, but also to make things go wrong. Worse, they had no loyalty. If one of the embodiments of bad luck got it into its head to be contrary, then she might find a jammed door or a breaking pane of glass alerting a guard. She would almost prefer to be carrying raw excelsiol. Almost.

She took cover in the shadows underneath a fuel truck. Hangar Twenty stood perhaps fifty yards away. Fifty yards of clear, lighted ground. There was no sign of a patrol, but their timing was erratic. She could have five minutes, she could have thirty seconds.

She broke cover before she could talk herself out of it. Long strides covered the ground as her hand gripped her set of lock picks. Eight seconds and she was kneeling by the doorway. The picks felt the workings of the lock. Tumblers fell, as did boot treads around the corner. Only discipline kept her heart in her chest as her fingers worked with new urgency. Steps came faster than the clicks inside. There were two strides approaching, a foot patrol. Frieda knew her life might be down to heartbeats.

The last tumbler slid out of the way and the knob turned. Frieda slipped inside just before the patrolling guards made it to the corner. She closed the door and eased the latch shut. She turned the lock an instant before the knob rattled. The guards never stopped their conversation about the latest football game.

Regaining control of her heart took a couple of moments. Looking about, she took stock of the hangar office. The desk was clean, but the floor safe looked promising.

First things first. She went into the hangar proper and opened the engine cowling of the first plane she came upon. Carefully, she directed the nozzle toward the distributor cap. An angry hiss escaped from the canister. Her curiosity ached to use her aetheric spectacles to see the gremlins infect the engine. More likely the gremlin would turn to feed on the magical energies of the device.

Infecting the rest of the planes took less than five minutes of careful work. A nagging doubt hung at the back of her mind about the malicious creatures she had just set loose. Her next step would be the test of that. The safe was more than they had planned, but she calculated that there must be plans on hand for the transfer of the Ambulamort. Any plan would have to have the origin of the compound.

In for a pfennig, in for a mark, she thought. She removed a stethoscope from her kit and set to work on the safe. The simple safe reminded her of her early years as a burglar. She smiled as the poorly lubricated gears clicked and springs slid. The safe was the work of only a few moments.

Inside was the treasure trove she had hoped for. The Ambulamort was arriving the next afternoon from a laboratory in Long Island. She memorized the address and returned the forms back into the safe, making certain that the dial was turned back to where she found it. After returning from this mission, she knew what her next stop would be.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Walking Death, Chapter 9

     Rachel listened to the tale of the Ambulamort for the second time as Frieda recounted the tale to Liberty. Once the recounting of events was complete, the leader of the New York City Resistance leaned back into his chair.

     “This combines too nicely with some other matters that have come to my attention,” he said. “Word is that the planes of the Iron Falcon squadron has been refitted to disperse chemicals.”

     “You mean that they’ve been turned into crop dusters?” asked Rachel.

     “It seems funny until you remember that it’s our people that are going to be sprayed down like pests,” returned Liberty. Rachel looked down abashed.

     Frieda looked past the girl and at the tight confines of the room. It was a storage space converted to a meeting room by the addition of a folding table and three chairs. Mr. Watson was not present. Liberty had sent him to investigate a new Order of Illumination mage that had just arrived in the city. That left Frieda and Rachel to take the meeting with the leader of the Resistance.

     “We do have a plan for dealing with the air squadron, however,” said Liberty, picking up a crate and setting it on the table.

     Rachel reached in and pulled out a canister the size of a hand grenade. The body was smooth and was topped with an assemblage of flanges and valves covered over in obscure runes.

     Frieda noted seven more just like the first in the crate. She carefully picked the one from Rachel’s hand and scrutinized it.

     “Excelsiol steel for body, warding runes on the valves. They are clearly some sort of containment devices for non-corporeal creatures. I must say, however, that I have not seen a model with this degree of sealant before.”

     Liberty nodded in agreement with Dr. Kellner’s analysis.

     “That is because of the nature of the creatures. What we have here are eight gremlins, one for each of the planes of the Iron Falcon Squadron. Those containment devices had to be specially reinforced so that they can’t jinx their way out of them.”

     Frieda had to stifle an urge to throw the canister out of her hands. Gremlins were the bane of scientists who pursued the new arcane paths of science. The creatures fed off the enforced order of engineered structures, especially those devices that drew their energy from excelsiol. She had seen more than one experiment go horribly awry due to their contagion.

     “I take it that we’re going to do a take a little trip to the airfield?” asked Rachel.

     “Yes, go to the airfield, gain access to the hangar, place the gremlins, and get out,” said Liberty. “The squadron should be airborne by the time the first indications of the gremlins will appear. At the very least, it will force them back to the ground. At best, they come down hard.”

     Frieda looked over at Rachel.

     “Tonight?”

     “Tonight,” said Rachel. “I do love playing with flyboys.”