Go Again, Mrs?

Kiki crawled over to Kitty Fisher and shook her.

“Not now Mam, I had a rough night.”

“What? Ow!” Scarlet DuBois was surfacing from under the freezer.

“Jump to it you two,” said Kiki as she retrieved her Bren from a heap of burst cornet cartons, “We’re missing all the action.”

“The van’s very buckled, isn’t the door jammed?” asked Kitty.

“Might well be, where ever it is. Flew off somewhere up the hill. We can get out, but keep your heads down.”

Outside the battle was at its height, the air thick with smoke and a cacophony of percussions, cries, whinnies and faltering mariachi filling their ears.

“Come on. We’re going to take out that eighty-eight.”

“Really?” They crawled on their bellies, snake like and unnoticed towards the far gun emplacement where a Krupp 8.8-cm Flugzeugabwehrkanone was pounding shell after shell into Aunty Stella’s cavalry. The Chat gun crew were too intent on loading and firing their artillery piece to notice the kittens creeping up. Until that is, Kitty, leaning provocatively against the stacked ammunition boxes, gave a whistle.

“Hello boys. Fancy a bit of fun?” They didn’t, it wasn’t, and they never knew who hit them from behind.

*

“Go again Mrs?”

Aunty Stella had staggered back to the observatory gates, leaving her mount, turban and pride in the melee below. She was looking around for Mad Jack when the Corporal of Horse addressed her. His uniform was torn, he had a nasty gash across his forehead and was leading a limping horse. His bedraggled comrades, clutching various wounds and supporting each other, tried unsuccessfully to match his enthusiasm.

“Not today lads. It was a brave, mad dash, but once was more than enough,” she replied. A two man Kronstadt machine gun crew was still firing their PM M1910 maxim from the back of the tachanka as Snowdrop urged her team in retreat. Scattered survivors were making their way back as best they could. The exhausted troopers moved aside as Mad Jack trotted through their ranks looking like he had just stepped out from his tailor’s, unstained, uncrumpled and blissfully unconcerned. He was escorting Aunty Stella’s cob.

“What ho. Found this back there, wandering around on its own. One’s not sure, but them Chats may have something else up their sleeve.” On cue there was a glint of sunshine on polished aluminium out beyond the Naval College, and an eerie, pulsating, whirring sound. Les Chats’ ‘Feuerball’ flying saucer rose, hovered, and then advanced towards them, its death ray swivelling to point directly at the horrified remnants of the Hampshire Light Horse.

Seconds later there was a thundering crump from behind the observatory buildings and a large bore shell whooshed overhead. It hit the fuselage of the foo-fighter with a clang but did not explode. The Corsairs tended to buy their ammo on the cheap from a highly suspect fellahin called Ali, on the Port Said quayside. The dark bulk of the Queen Anne’s Bounty lumbered into view, her mighty engines roaring and pennants straining in the cross wind. The haunting brass of Richard Strauss’ Sunrise from Also Sprach Zarathustra issuing from her speaker arrays was withering trees. Yet the overall sound quality was disappointingly tinny as the ship’s engineers had proven better at fixing motorjets than hifi.

“That tune’s quite soothing after the first noisy bit,” observed the Corporal of Horse.

Advertisements

The Hampshire Light Horse

As Mad Jack Belvoir surveyed the scene, a small group, on foot, moved out in front of the barrier. One of their number waved a white flag.

“Time for a chat,” he said, handing the binoculars back to Aunty Stella and unfurling his own white pennant. She returned the bins to the case hanging from her saddle pommel and raised her right arm. The Hampshire Light Horse formed into three divisions, creating gaps for Snowdrop’s tachanka and the Vicecream van, topped with its gigantic jingle-horn, to move forward into view.

“Wait here,” she called back to her troops, and then to Mad Jack, “Lets get on with it.” They urged their mounts into a stately walk down the slope and halted some thirty yards short of the cluster of Chats Souterrains. After a brief pause the King Emperor Charles III, his Ronald McDonald costume faded and threadbare, face paint cracked and melting down his cheeks, Imperial State Crown perched precariously on top of his ginger wig, and a portly Mr Fluffy, in the Saville Row tailored uniform of a five star general, squeezed out from the group and walked towards them. A single Chat carrying the white flag of truce hurried to catch up.

The King Emperor was the first to speak. “You have a request? Could We be of assistance in any way?”

“You could surrender.”

“We think not.”

“You are cornered,” Aunty Stella lied. “Your forces on Jersey have collapsed without their CIA backers.” That was the truth, “It is all over for you. Defeat is inevitable.”

“Au contraire. We are at the heart of Our realm. What need We with the Channel Islands? Our Chats have possession of the Greenwich foot tunnel and command both banks of the river. The waterway is denied to you. Westminster Abbey is already booked for Our coronation.”

“They are not your Chats.” Mad Jack Belvoir had become uneasy with the way that Mr Fluffy was glowering at him and felt he should contribute. “You are their puppet. Do you really want to serve as a petty tyrant in a bankrupt client kingdom on the desolate outer fringes of their world empire?”

“Yes.”

“On your own head be it then.” Aunty Stella petulantly whirled her gipsy cob round and headed back up the hill. Just short of the ridge she stopped.

“Oh sod this.” She raised her right arm and with a dramatic twirl yelled, “Charge!”

The tachanka, with Snowdrop standing on the box seat, was first past Mad Jack and Aunty Stella. Then the Vicecream van, blaring out La Cucaracha, Consuella Starcluster, the tambourine virtuoso, on the roof lashed to the jingle-horn, waving both the Spanish republican tricolour and a black and red flag of the anarchist CNT.

The Hampshire Light Horse lurched forwards, in line abreast, knee to knee, and the ground trembling with the thundering of hooves. The SPZ mounted mariachi struck up, rabbits broke cover and scattered, crows took to the air in cawing clouds. The buildings below were silent for one of those moments that feel like an age and then a fusillade of small arms fire broke out. Muzzle flashes sparkled, flames belched, smoke billowed. Explosions sent clods of earth and sward flying, bullets whined like mosquitoes about the careering cavalry. A mighty roar went up from Chats and troopers alike.

Suddenly an RPG rocket grenade took out the Vicecream van’s offside front wheel. The vehicle skewed sideways and began to tip. Consuella dropped her flags, whipped out the Navaja folding knife from her waistband and cut herself free. As the van began to roll she leapt clear. She tumbled for several yards and lay winded. The battered Vicecream van bounced on, La Cucaracha still blaring, cleared a low hedge and came to rest close to the sandbag parapet. The crumpled horn fell off.

Within the wreckage three bruised kittens lay stunned. Kiki was the first to stir.

Observatory Ridge

“Buccaneer it is then,” said Flo. “Everyone pile in while I operate the donkey winch.” With the gang settled in the launch Flo, “Lowering away!” controlled the steady descent. There was a bump as the sea came up to meet the pinnace. The placid ocean was as smooth as glass, mirroring the sky; a long, slow swell rising and falling like the heaving breasts of a slumbering, Rubenesque, strumpet. The lines went slack.

“Unshackle the stern line, Boz. I’m coming down.” Flo began to shin down the for’ard tackle, Boz let go aft and the launch swung lazily round. At the same time a deep throb set up within the bowels of the Überkatzen and the water abaft of her twin bronze, 22ft diameter screws began to churn. Flo landed on the fore deck of Buccaneer as the gigantic drone carrier surged forward. The line went taught, dragging the bow of the launch clear of the water and tumbling it’s crew into the stern. Flo hung on.

“Duck!” she cried, drawing her wakizashi, slicing through the tackle and turning her hunched back in a single move. The severed rope whiplashed a cruel blow across Flo’s shoulders, knocking her to the deck.

Leaving Buccaneer bobbing in the water, the Überkatzen performed a tight 180-degree turn and accelerated towards the western horizon. The gang began to rise, checking themselves for damage; Flo was on her hands and knees breathing heavily.

While they were still sorting themselves out Ferdy splashed the DoX down as near as he dared, her Fiat A-22R V12 water-cooled engines droning loudly, and taxied towards the little craft. The hatch opened and Beryl stepped out onto the port float. “Redbush anyone? I’ve got the kettle on.”

*

Aunty Stella eased her backside in the saddle. It had been a long, hard ride and her chafed thighs stung horribly. She passed the field binoculars up to Mad Jack whose imposing grey towered above her sturdy skewbald cob. “There’s snipers on the first floor of the Queen’s House. They’ve knocked out some of the windows.”

Mad Jack panned the binoculars along the sandbag wall that fronted the arcades each side of the classical edifice and paused to study the gun emplacements at the outer ends.

He and Aunty Stella were perched atop of the ridge outside the Royal Observatory. Behind them, strung out in a line were the rough riders of the Hampshire Light Horse and further back still, the massed cavalry of the Snake Pass Zapatistas. They looked magnificent; the Light Horse in bush hats and khaki, the SPZ horde sporting multicoloured balaclavas, their black banners cracking and snapping as they fluttered in the stiff breeze. In front, at the bottom of a long slope, was the enemy. Les Chats Souterrains were dug well in, far too well. A frontal charge was going to be costly.

Save

Take the Piratey One

Boz and Phoebles, Ginsbergbear and Flo more or less carried Augusta through the catering department and galleys enroute to the medical facilities, all glistening stainless steel ranges and work surfaces, rows of apprehensive, scrubbed clean pans and utensils waiting nervously for a crew to feed. Phoebles had a quick scout round and expressed his disappointment on discovering the pantries to be devoid of anything edible.

“I hope we’re not stuck here too long.”

There were however bandages and Germolene ointment in the surgery. The hospital block smelled strongly of disinfectant, equipment and bedding still wrapped in plastic, water dispenser blopping intermittent punctuations into the pervasive languor of the deserted chambers.

“The navy wasn’t anticipating another Trafalgar any time soon,” observed Flo, “One operating theatre and twelve beds.”

“She was built just before the revolution,” said Boz. “I don’t think the old government was planning on having that sort of war. More the sort of sitting safely out at sea and bombing native villages sort of wars.”

Flo finished strapping up Augusta’s ankle, “I’m afraid you won’t be able to put your boot back on till the swelling’s gone down.”

“These should get you mobile,” said Ginsbergbear as he emerged from an adjoining locker room carrying a pair of crutches.

“Arh,” exclaimed Augusta as she tried to stand, “Yes, I am going to need those for a while. Thanks everyone.” She gritted her teeth and took a practice swing around the room. “Hey, these crutches are great.”

While the others watched and her confidence grew the infirmary lights flickered, yet stayed on, and the great ship fell silent.

“What’s Zelda done now?”

They met up with her on the hangar deck.

“Quick, we’ve got about quarter of an hour to get off.”

“What the…”

“No time. Follow me.”

“Zelda, hold up. You can talk while we run, but you are going to explain.”

“Oh, OK. The ship’s hove to and we’ve got about fifteen minutes to launch a boat and get clear. Then she’ll be off.

“Over there.” Zelda indicated a watertight door some way ahead; “There should be two launches on davits.

“I’ve reprogrammed the carrier to return to the States, at full speed. She’ll lay off the US East Coast and launch drone strikes against every military target within range.”

Clunk pad, clunk pad, clunk pad, clunk pad… Augusta flashed past her companions to fling open the door to the boat deck.

“Zelda, you haven’t?” said Boz. “You can’t. We don’t…”

“It’s OK. It’ll never happen. The Überkatzen’s going to broadcast her intentions before she gets there, continuously, on every commercial radio and TV frequency in the US. The Yanks’ll have to destroy her, very publicly, live on television. Probably be watched all round the world.”

“Which one do we take?” Augusta eyed the two launches. One had Swordfish painted on its transom the other was Buccaneer.

“Better take the piratey one,” said Phoebles. “Shame we didn’t think to bring a jolly roger.”

Save

SkyDive

“It’s safe to come down now. I’ve spiked the guns.” The call eventually came after a tense twenty minutes of radio silence.

“Are you certain you know what to do, Mrs King?” asked Boz as they carefully strapped on their parachutes.

“Mostly,” replied Augusta. “I’m sure I can work the rest out on the way down. Let’s get on with it.” She stepped out onto the starboard float and was instantly sucked off by the slipstream. Boz went next; and then Phoebles.

“Geronimo!”

Ginsbergbear and Zelda, firmly strapped together, performed an inelegant and rather embarrassing waddle out to the hatch. Then Zelda tripped, failed to grab hold of anything, and they were airborne.

“Eeeaaaaaroooh!”

The carrier had looked tiny from the air, but it was coming up fast. Then the chutes opened with a whump and the harnesses bit deep, delivering the mother of all wedgies. Had the cats or teddy bear possessed anything down there to be crushed there would have been some very squeaky voices after they landed. Lady Augusta had drifted far from her comrades, but a serendipitous zephyr swept her back towards the carrier and left her dangling high above the deck, her chute caught up in one of the Überkatzen’s sensor arrays. For the rest, frantic manoeuvring brought each safely, if somewhat heavily, down onto the flight deck.

“That was great!” squealed Zelda, “can we do it again, Ginsbergbear?”

“No.”

“If you lot are all in one piece, I could do with a hand up here.” Dark Flo was hanging upside down, her legs wrapped round the slotted wave-guide of Überkatzen’s short range radar, and hacking away at the tangled suspension lines to Augusta’s chute with a razor sharp wakizashi short sword. Augusta King was becoming agitated.

“Quick,” shouted Boz. They rushed into the forward island. “Someone grab a blanket on the way up.” They located the bridge and climbed out onto the monkey island above, directly below Augusta and Flo. Minutes later Phoebles joined them, considerably out of puff, clutching a blanket pilfered from the deserted crew’s accommodation.

“Stretch it out tight.”

Flo cut the last of the nylon lines and almost immediately lost her grip. They fell together.

“Ayee! Oof.”

The pair were not exactly ‘caught’ in the blanket, but it broke their fall a bit.

“Is anyone hurt?” asked Boz.

“I’m OK,” said Flo, “I landed on Mrs King.”

“And Mrs King,” added Augusta, “is probably just bruised.” Ginsbergbear helped the countess up. “Oh, ouch. No, I may have sprained an ankle.”

“We must locate Mission Control.” Flo still seemed to think she was in charge and no one else felt inclined to challenge her. “Get Zelda cracking on the job in hand. Then we can take Her Ladyship to the infirmary and sort her ankle out.

Flo and Ginsbergbear supported Augusta down past the Roles Royce marine gas turbines and out into the hangar deck. Regimented row upon regimented row of expectant drones stretched into the far distance within the cavernous space. There was one gap in a line of General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers.

“That’ll be for the Certifiable Predator B I took out,” said Dark Flo.

“Why’s it called a Certifiable Predator?” asked Boz idly.

“’Cos they’re psychos. Never give up, never stop, never rest; fully autonomous nutters. And they pack a punch.”

“Sorry I asked.”

Beyond the Reapers were the sleek outlines of Northrop Grumman X-47C stealth drones, glittering under the flickering strip lights.

“And they’re worse,” added Flo.

“Mission Control is one deck down,” said Zelda wielding her cutaway drawing of the ship. When they found the war room and entered it was just like those pictures of NASA at the space launches, a ‘big board’ facing rows of computer screens. Zelda got herself ensconced at the nearest terminal and immediately began to type.

“Great,” she exclaimed, “They’re running Windows 10. That’ll make hacking in a lot easier. Off you all go. I’ll be fine.”

A Writer Writes

Submissions to agents are such a leap of faith, that I’m sure I’m not the only writer to take a crumb of comfort from a rejection, particularly when it includes the words ‘enjoyed reading the pages you sent’ and ‘there’s much to admire about your writing’. Of course, those encouraging words are followed with ‘but’, so the Corfu novel hasn’t yet found a home, but I live in hope that it will find its place in the sun.

CSS Überkatzen

Back inside they finalised their plan. Dark Flo had assumed command. “Ferdy, you’d better co-pilot Beryl, make sure she doesn’t drop out, turn on, or whatever it is she’s inclined to do. Once we’ve found the carrier I’ll go first and take out the defences. Then the rest of you parachute drop onto the deck.”

“Me? Parachute?” cried Zelda.

“It’s a buddy sky-dive for you,” continued Flo, “in tandem with the bear.”

“I might need a spot of that stuff Beryl’s on,” said Ginsbergbear.

“Me too,” said Lady Augusta, “What exactly does this para-thingying involve?”

“No one’s going to be on anything until this op’s over. It’s serious. You all heard the Analytical Engine. It’s a matter of life or death. Now, get kitted up and let’s be off.”

“I’d better get back to my regiment,” said Aunty Stella. “When Les Chats get wind of what you’re up to they’re bound to make a move. Good luck all of you.”

“And I’ve got to see a man about a dog,” said Slasher. “Want a lift in the Duesy, Mrs S?” They walked together out into Narrow Street.

The cumbersome Dornier was lumbering above Tiger Bay when two radial engined fighters caught up with them and took up station off the flying boat’s wing tips, Polly’s scarlet replacement Rata to starboard and an off-white I-16 with a red star on the tail to port. The DoX’s radio crackled:

“We’re your escort, Mr Boz,” said wing-Comrade Polly Karpova.

“Fab,” replied Beryl, “this beano could well turn toasty hot.”

Flo grabbed control of the radio, “Stay frosty, Pol. We’ve only a vague idea what we’ll be up against.” But they had to find the drone ship first, in a very large ocean.

They had been stooging around the North Atlantic for more than an hour and had investigated two targets that turned out to be innocent container vessels before Phoebles showed signs of over excitement, bouncing about and pointing out of his allotted porthole.

“I can see another wake,” he shouted, “down there.”

Boz grabbed up the big binoculars (Kronos 20x60s) from their box by the chart table. “Looks like her. It’s huge.” As they closed in on the ship he could make out the flight deck, the bridge and air traffic control towers. She was dazzle painted in the red, yellow and silver grey beloved of Les Chats Souterrains, with the Uber logo on her superstructures and CSS ÜBERKATZEN stencilled in large capitals along the sides of her hull.

“We’re on. Take us up to ten thousand feet,” said Dark Flo, zipping into her wing suit. “I’m going to bail. Keep out of range of her defences till I call.”

They climbed slowly, and then…

“We’re at 10,000 feet,” reported Ferdy. Without another word Flow flung herself head first out through the hatchway.

Almost immediately three of the Sea-Whizz pods rose up out of the Überkatzen’s deck and began to pan around, unable to get a fix on the tiny blue avian. One of the pods fired a short burst from its M61 Vulcan cannon. The Polikarpov I-16s instantly broke formation.

“We’ll cover you, draw their fire,” Polly called over the radio. “Let’s demonstrate some soviet aerobatics Tovarishch Lilya, show them what our Ishaks*8 can do.” The pair of Ratas barrelled and looped around the azure sky whilst Flo spiralled in towards the carrier. Moments later a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper launched from the Überkatzen. It locked onto Flo almost immediately. She banked hard, but could not shake it, so she tucked her arms into her sides and went into a steep dive. The drone followed. Flo opened her wings and slowed. The Reaper passed her, pulled up, and she crashed onto its back, clinging on to the fuselage with arms, legs and sheer willpower. Bracing her knees against the robotic beast and freeing an ugly, heavy bladed bowie knife from the sheath strapped to her thigh she began to prise open a maintenance flap on top of the drone. It gave way suddenly and flew off in the slipstream. Flo peered into the interior, pulled out two wires, one orange the other striped purple and yellow, and cut them both. The confused drone began to waver. Next Flo stripped back the insulation off the wires, swapped them over and twisted the ends together. The Reaper steadied, turned and headed back to the carrier.

The Kronstadt Ratas were still dodging bullets, but with Dark Flo out of immediate danger they broke off and returned to the flying boat. Comrade Lilya performed a quick barrel roll, just for the hell of it. Flo hung on to her mount.

As the drone lined up, somewhat erratically, with the carrier flight deck Flo leapt to her feet and rode the Reaper like a surfer. At the first uncertain bounce she sprang back and landed with a forward roll. The drone tipped nose down and flipped, toppling head over heals along the deck and over the side.

“I think she’s alright,” cried Boz, still hogging the binoculars. “She’s up. She’s out of her wing suit. She’s heading for the bridge.”

 

*8 – The Polikarpov I-16 was nicknamed Rata (Rat) by the Spanish Nationalists, Mosca (Fly) by the Republicans, and Ishak (Donkey) by the Soviets.

 

Save

Save