Gilnockie Tower Part 1

Gilnockie_Tower 3SI (Phoebles) was the first to spot the Gilnockie Tower on account of I was looking out the bridge windows with the big spyglass.

“Left hand down a bit, the tower is over there,” I says to Ferdy, who is doing the driving. And he gives me a stern look, as if I’s criticising his navigation or summat. I do have very keen eyesight, ’specially when I got the spyglass.   But Ferdy’s being OK too.

Polly sticks her head round the door.

“Are we nearly there yet?”

So I says, “Yup, we’ll be landing within the hour.”

And she says, “In that case I am going to bugger off in my little red plane. If things don’t go to plan you all may need back up later.”

She’s dead good in that thing. It’s a Polikarpov I-16 fighter, red all over with yellow stars and two 7.62mm ShKAS machine guns and two 20mm ShVAK cannons mounted in the wings. And it’s dead manouverable.

She stops off at the officers’ canteen to pick up a pre-ordered packet of Catapano goats cheese and Coln Valley smoked salmon sandwiches and to refill her hip flask with cheap vodka.

“No point using the good stuff,” she says, “in the middle of a dog fight I spill more than I drink.”

“You should get one of those Beerbelly™ WineRack bras for hands free drinking,” suggests the Pusser.

“What’s a bra?” asks Polly.

The best things about the Airship of State are deffo the food. She has chefs instead of cooks and three-Michelin-star gourmet restaurants instead of mess decks and there is all day breakfasts available ALL DAY!

Anyway, back to the story. Polly gets in her plane and starts up the engine and stuff, while the crew are lowering it out of the hangar, unbolting things and hammering and swearing at the release mechanism. Then there is a clunk and the red Rata drops away from beneath the airship. And she is whizzing off towards the horizon doing barrel rolls as she goes.

And I has another look through the spyglass. It’s dead good, made of brass tubes that slide inside each other and when you stretch them out it’s really long and makes things look ever so close even when they’re not. I’m looking at Gilnockie Tower again. It’s grey and stony and has a little flag on top.

The dour, granite, crenulated pile had been sturdily built with defence high on its creator’s agenda. It stood in solitude amidst the wooded hills of the Scottish Marches, bearing the battle scars of centuries of conflict, family feuds, power struggles and border wars.

We approach slowly from down wind and come in over the croquet lawn.   Lots of ghillies (sort of Scotch servants) in greeny-bluey tartan kilts and matching bonnets rush out to catch our mooring lines as we cast them down, and we are dragged and guided over towards the stables, where we are tethered close to the laird’s Silver Ghost.

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Ambush

Neuschwabenlander PatrolFlo passed her 8×30 field glasses to Bamse, “Do you see the Kronstadt sailors approaching in open order?”

He did. Frosted faces hidden behind goggles and scarves, bodies hunched against the Antarctic weather, their lower limbs engulfed in a haze of windswept snow powder.

“And the New Swabian ski patrol, half way between them and us, hunkered down for an ambush?”

Yes, Bamse saw them too; hidden behind wind carved pinnacles of ice either side of the path that the approaching sailors must take. The Neuschwabenlander Hauptmann, pointing the 9mm parabellum pistol in his right hand skyward, was waiting for the precise moment to signal his troops to open fire.

“We must warn them… but they’re well out of ear shot. If only I’d brought the flare gun.”

“I could try barking very loudly, or a wolf like howl,” suggested Bamse.

He had just coughed to clear his throat and was taking a deep breath in preparation for his record-breaking yowl, when Flo shouted, “What’s that?”

The Hauptmann dropped abruptly to the snow and almost instantaneously an Oberjäger collapsed nearby. Gone, without so much as a ‘Kiss me, Hardy.’ Moments later two loud reports echoed across the landscape.

“That sounded like SVT 40 Tokarev rifles,” said Flo, “The Kronstadt troops have snipers out. Cunning little buggers.”Kronstadt Patrol

There was a puff of snow close to one of the ski troopers’ ear and he slowly raised his hands as the delayed crack of the rifle shot rang out again. Cautiously his comrades stood up and followed suit. Soon the Kronstadt Unit had them disarmed and kettled into a submissive huddle, the snipers were trudging in from their hiding places and Flo and Bamse were walking in towards the group whilst waving white hankies.

“Comrades?” enquired the doubly puzzled Starshina; puzzled at the unexpected appearance of a Saint Bernard with a flag of truce and equally bemused by the accompanying, vague, pink shape that he could not quite make out.

“Long story,” said Flo, removing her headgear so that her face suddenly popped into view; not a reassuring sight as it floated in space with a black grease-paint slash across the eyes and Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur Couture #101 Violet Singulier defining her lips, “Your support ship and crew is taken. Bamse you know from the voyage down. He’s been sort of spying, I’m a spy too, a proper one, with a code name and everything, but today I’m a one-woman International Rescue, and you’re going to join in and help. I have authorization from Larry and from here on in I am in charge. I should think one of your prisoners would be willing to tell us where we have to go, if you ask nicely. What happened to your transport, by the way?   Bamse said you had snowmobiles.”

“They were rubbish,” said the Comrade-Starshina, “One never made it off the sea ice, threw a con rod. Mine was so noisy the whole continent must have heard us coming. So we detached the machine gun and ditched the aerosled.”

Bereft of their officer and sergeant, it took only a little persuasion for the Ski Troop grunts to co-operate with their captors and provided a detailed description of the location and layout of the Submarine Base. Relieving them of their weapons and skis the Kronstadt shore detail left the New Swabians to make their own way back, their slow progress hampered by the deep snow. Bamse had made a sketch map from their description of the terrain and was prepared to lead the way to their target. The sailors checked their equipment, oiled their weapons and hung bandoliers of ammunition across their chests. A brisk march soon brought them within sight of the sprawling base.

“Bamse and I will go in first and create a diversion. Give us ten minutes and then you bring your men in via the submarine pens. Disable what you can on the way through, spike the guns and booby-trap the subs. Let’s create a bit of mayhem,” said Flo to the Comrade-Starshina.

The Kittens Propositioned

LesMis on IceFlushed, nay ecstatic, with their unprecedented success at the siege of Berwick, and having extracted guarantees of future good conduct from the pirate captains, the Kittens of Chaos reassembled upon their waterborne battle craft and headed back out to sea. The Destroyer of Worlds wallowed south on a mission to reap havoc amongst the Tyne ports. The hours crawled slowly one behind another like zombies queuing for a brain handout at an NHS Autopsy Surplus Store. As autumn turned to winter the weather deteriorated and seas rose. The Kittens retrieved their buckets and retreated to their couches. Tovarishch-Matros Petrichenko readied his mop and pail.

As they passed the citadel of Bamburgh flares went up ashore and signal fires followed them down the coast. Warnings of their progress dogged them every fathom and league till they were pitching some way off the Fiercely Independent Pirate Republic of Craster. Braving the mounting swell a flotilla of sturdy cobles, tiny piratically decorated vessels, churning foam and bucking the waves, swarmed from the fortress harbour intent on surrounding the monstrous ekranoplan. Kittens manned the ZU-23 Sergeys, prepared to sell their honour dearly. Consuella took the helm and began to turn the Destroyer of World towards the oncoming fleet. They had a jolly good ramming coming to them.

“Hold fast, señora,” said the Tovarich-Starshina, putting down his binoculars and turning from the cockpit window, “The lead craft is displaying a flag of truce.”

“Parlé!” came the cry.

The Destroyer of Worlds heaved to and Consuella Starcluster stood by the Starboard paddle box, flanked by two heavily armed Kronstadt seamen, to receive their visitors.   The lead coble was approaching the wing stub a little too quickly.

“Gan canny or we’ll dunsh summick,” a sturdy corsair addressed his helmsman from the bow and then called out, “Hoos ya fettling, hinny? Hey ya git the

Kittens aboard? We waad leik te hev a crack wiv t’wi bairns.” He heaved the boat’s painter to one of the Kronstadt crew. Consuella did not move.

“Stay een hyourrr boat. Eef hyou want to talk hyou can shout frrrom therrre.”

“Wi heerd aboot they rumpous in Berwick. There’s a hiring on offer fre they sonsy kiddars ashore heor. Can Ah na come abooard? Hit’s aaful rough oot heor in this wi booat.”

“Hyou’ll do fine as hyou arrre, señor. Speak hyour pieze.”

“Oh bugger! Give ower, y’a kiddin. Ah weel a’s ney huffed… They’s a bit o’ sorta cabaret woerk. T’Alnwick Empire ay putting on a performance o’ Les Miserables on Ice, bun th’entire chorus o’ revolutionary virgins hez gan doon wi chicken pox. Wi wore hoping ter tice yer lasses in te standing in fer a few weeks.”

“I ham not so surre about that, meesterr. I hwould haff to come along too, as chaperrrone.”

“Tha’d be fine, canny lass, the hintend o’ Dobbin hez bin caal’d fre jury duty, so wi’s getten a job fre yee sel tee.”

There were squeals of, “Please, please, miss, miss please, señora,” from the doorway behind Consuella.

“Hokay meesterr, hyou haaf ay deal. Lead the way.”

Thus the bobbing flotilla turned to escort the Destroyer of Worlds into port and yet again the Kittens of Chaos disappear from our tale to pursue adventures of their own.

 

A History Lesson

Himalayan Envoy SWithin the entrance chamber of the Andromeda Machine the Merovingian Lizard Kings’ diminutive ambassador was in full flow and warming to his subject.

“Back then the grandparents of these people here were investigating a magnetic anomaly on the plateau above and mapped out a shape beneath the ice. Huge it was, and not of a natural form. Tunnelling down they were, until they reached the outer hull of the structure within which you stand. Their proximity triggered a response from the Andromeda Geräte. It sent a distress message.

“Received the message was, by the Lizard Lords. Tell you I cannot, of what the Merovingian Lizard Kings already knew regarding the Mother Ship. But tell you I can, that there is little that the Lizard Kings do not know. One with The Chaos they are, and The Chaos is aware.

“Instantly despatched was I, with my companions, to contain the situation. Neuschwabenland was isolated and the expedition to disappear was made. A busy time in Europe this was and a few missing scientist soon forgotten were. The descendants of those with the foresight to embrace our mission are still here.”

“And those without the foresight?” enquired Easter Smurthwait.

“The Merovingian Lizard Kings see only the bigger picture. Those who did not embrace did not continue. They were of no consequence.

“You earthlings think you are so important. You strive, and it is noble to strive, right that you strive. But you influence nothing. The weirdy web is spun. It warps and quivers, pulled and shaken by dark tides – glistening dewdrop universes dancing on its threads. And you, tiny animated specks on one tiny rock, circling one tiny star, on the outer rim of one tiny constellation, in a cosmos so vast that it is beyond your comprehension think that you can hang on, get noticed? All is The Chaos, everywhere is The Chaos. It carries you along or tosses you aside without reason. It is tumult, and the Lizard Kings embody its deepest nature.”

“You are all servants of evil,” spluttered Albert.

“Servants of the Lizard Lords we are, and the Lizard Lords are The Chaos. The Chaos is not evil or good, it is what it is.

“Homo Credulous – programmed to see patterns in the turmoil. Everywhere you little men find order and purpose, discover rules and laws and think this is how the universe works, but deluded you are. You marvel at fractals that derived can be from a tiny equation yet are infinitely complex, you puzzle over a π without end. You invent Æther to carry your light and radio waves, postulate Dark Fluff in the vacuum of space to make a random universe conform to your sums.”

Harold was not convinced that he did any of these things; he had not really grasped algebra at school. He could find a shoal of coleyfish in the vast Arctic ocean and navigate his aging tin tub through mountainous seas that should swallow the 500 ton sidewinder whole, but maths…

“Wanting it all to make sense you are. But it does not. Not your kind of sense, anyway.”

One of the saffron men coughed and leaning in to the sage’s ear he spoke quietly to him. The old man turned to von Luckner. “You must return to the complex, Kapitänleutnant. Be gone quickly. You are about to be attacked. We will follow directly.”

The APD Airship of State

APD Airship of StateWow man, like…

That Larry, he’s the man. That’s some pad he’s got. And we talked… and drank… and smoked… and drank… and ate… Those mooncakes… out of this world. Some quality catip in the mix. Bet Barrymore made them. Not much she can’t get hold of.

Sky. I can see the sky. Sky’s all around?   Wow!

[Ginsbergbear wakes, or ‘comes down’ as some would say, on the upper observation deck of the Airship of State, beneath a geodetic Plexiglas dome. We will discover why he is there before too long.]

Woah! Sky up ahead. Sky up above. And fluffy clouds… And birds. I like birds. But what’s that behind me? Behind me there’s… funnels. Big bronze smoking smokestack funnels And this is? A spiral staircase… that goes… Wayhay! Down and… down and… down and…

Round and… round and… round and… round and…

The gang were gathered in The Airship of State’s sumptuous lounge. Boz, Slasher and Phoebles were huddled in a circle of light-weight armchairs discussing McGoogs’ plan, Ferdinand was studying the Scotland double page spread in The New Pictorial Atlas of the World, Odhams Press Ltd., 1926 Edition, and Barrymore was doing something mildly erotic with a cocktail shaker whilst chatting to Wing-Comrade Polly Karpova. Polly had been overseeing the tethering of her crimson warbird within the dirigible’s midships aircraft hangar, before coming forward and joining the others.

“Woah-haaay!” There was a protracted rumbling bumping sound and a bear rolled out from the bottom of a spiral staircase to halt with a thud against the leg of a coffee table.

“Mr Bear, how good of you to join us.” Barrymore and Ms Karpova advanced sinuously upon Ginsbergbear, the contents of their uniforms animating the coarse fabric like eels in a flour-sack. Barrymore proffered a glass containing a raw egg, Worcester sauce, Tabasco, vinegar, and a generous measure of Balkan vodka. “This will pep you up.”

Ginsbergbear took the glass and drank the contents without looking. His eyes opened wide, then opened wider. “Ay carajo! That smarts – what is it, distilled aviation fuel?”

Barrymore smiled and patted his shaggy head. Polly sashayed over to the others and collapsed into a vacant Lloyd Loom armchair next to Phoebles. She swung her army booted feet onto the intricately inlaid rosewood coffee table, flashing bare legs and thighs smooth as a barrister, taut as banjo strings. She removed her officer’s cap and dropped it on the deck, copper-red hair cascading about her shoulders. As she lounged back her jacket fell open to reveal a body hugging, telnyashka-striped, thermal teddy. Suddenly the temperature in the cabin felt uncomfortably warm and sweat began to form on Bozzy’s brow.

“So gentlemen,” she purred, “What have you in store for us?”

Ferdy joined them, still holding on to his atlas; his dodo cool untouched by the provocative antics of the young air ace, “We’re going north from Carlisle, following the A7 deep into Reiver territory. Larry has lent us the Airship of State in the hope that it will impress the natives. We are wholly and deliberately unarmed so let’s hope he is right.”

The SL102 Airship of State was Britain’s most impressive dirigible, 978 feet long, with a polished aluminium skinned canopy embellished with bronze tracery and powered by four 1200 horse power in-line Stanley Steamer aero-engines with a funnel each.

“Our destination is Gilnockie Tower, ancestral seat of the Gilnockie of Gilnockie. He is nominally the Reiver Head Honcho and has agreed to meet us to discuss an acceptable way out of the current impasse. That’s if The Kittens haven’t already set the Lowlands ablaze.”

Ferdy paused as Polly took a catnip roll-up from the tin that Phoebles was offering round. She struck a Swan Vesta on the hobnailed sole of her boot and set light to the end of the spliff.

“And I don’t get to shoot anyone?”

“Not unless the whole exercise turns to cold custard,” interjected Slasher McGoogs. “But if we find ourselves up to our bum holes in angry crocodiles you’re the only hope we’ve got.”