Leaving Antarctica

“Where is my Oberfunkmeister? Ah, there you are. Get a message to the whaling station, right away. I want the Pinguin readied for sea by the time we arrive, and they’re to get steam up on the trawler too. Matrosenfeldwebel, get everyone into the tubes. Don’t forget the frauleins in the canteen, and make sure you bring my radio officer with you when he’s done. Oh, and find the ship’s cat.” Felix von Luckner turned to Harold, “If you would come with me gentlemen, please.”

The Kapitänleutnant led the trawler officers across the ravished concourse towards a set of check-in desks labeled Walfang-Hafen, gathering trawlermen as they went. Kriegsmariners were already lining up neatly, and slightly less disciplined groups of New Swabians in lab coats or boiler suits were gathering near the sliding doors to the pneumatic tubes. The Kronstadt shore detail, led by Dark Flo, appeared from behind a pile of rubble, they laughing and joking, she sporting a puffy, almost closed eye. She was limping and the left sleeve of her shinobi shozoko was torn away to reveal an angry graze on her elbow and purple bruising to the shoulder.

“Thanks to one of your overzealous fishermen. Took a swing at me from behind, with a barstool. Can’t tell a ninja from a stormtrooper.”

Bamse, as was his wont, had rounded up the last of the stragglers. With the company assembled the tube doors opened and embarkation began.

“Once you reach the whaling station get your people aboard your trawler and be ready for the off.” Von Luckner was cradling Fotzenkatze, the lithe tabby mascot of the now crippled submarine Seeadler. “I will be along soon as I know everyone is safe.”

The bow and ruptured freshwater tank of the Ancaster had been repaired in their absence, the boiler was nearly up to pressure and springs taken in so that only shortened bow and stern lines held her to the quay. The crew stood, alert, at their stations. Harold stood by the bridge window, his hand placed lightly on the highly polished new telegraph, its dials disconcertingly labeled in German. Billy Tate held the spokes of the enormous ship’s wheel, awaiting instructions. An Aldis lamp on the wing of the Pinguin’s bridge began to flash morse at high speed. Easter Smurthwait and the Ancaster’s sparks eyed the twinkling light, then each other, and shrugged.   Yes, the trawler did have a radio officer. Sparky, a lad hailing from suburban Dudley, had spent the entire adventure locked in his radio room trying unsuccessfully to contact Wick Radio, blissfully unaware and, as usual, totally forgotten.

“’Spect he’s telling us to get going,” said Easter to his skipper.

“OK. Cast off fore and aft.” He rang ‘Halbe Kraft Voraus’ on the engine room telegraph, “I hope that means what I think it does,” and Ancaster’s single screw began to churn the water into a fury beneath her stern. She moved slowly away from the quay, picked up speed, was steered deftly around the breakwater by the third hand, and belching black smoke from her Woodbine funnel, the trawler proceeded out to sea.

Kiki la Berserker

Kiki la Berserker LoKiki (seen here) and her fellow Kittens of Chaos were booked to provide the BEEBOPDOOWAAs for the Midiæval Bæbes at Loxwood. They also joined in with the Sultan’s Sirens until stewards, alerted by the crying of small children, forcibly removed them from the stage, the Kittens having failed to notice that the Sirens were belly dancers not strippers.

Firefight

3DayMillionaires2Von Luckner and Harold emerged from the subway tunnel as the firefight was reaching its peak. The hall echoed to a cacophony of swearing (in German and Russian), cries of anguish and anger, the percussion of small arms fire; and it was filling with clouds of smoke and dust. Glass shattered and bullets zipped through the air like gnats. The duo instantly drew fire from both sides and dove behind the check-in counter, where they were joined, cowering, by the first mate and chief who were crawling on their hands and knees.

Moments later the Ancaster’s crew burst into the foyer, roaring out a battle cry:

“Tigers, Tigers, burning bright!” all bravado and slightly squeaky apprehension.

The Kapitänleutnant glanced disbelievingly towards his companions.

“It’s a Hull City supporter’s chant,” replied Easter Smurthwait, “…Football…   I’ll explain later, when things quieten down a bit.”

Albert Fleck leaped to his feet, “Go the three-day millionaires!”* and then ducked down again as rounds from a Schmeiser plucked at his tea-cosy hat.

The trawlermen fell upon the Neuschwabenlander troops with fist flailing.

“This’ll ney tek long. ‘Sney rougher’n a Satdi-night scrap in Rayner’s on t’Hessle Road.”

Taking advantage of the added confusion, Dark Flo ducked out from the cover of the bullet riddled soft drinks dispenser and tucked in behind the wave of fishermen. She skipped lightly up the back of the nearest deckie, tripped across the heads of three successive Kriegsmariners, became airborne and tossed a Happo egg into a light machine-gun nest as she passed overhead. Her three Inch diameter, hollowed out black egg contained a disabling mixture of itching powder and concentrated Naga Ghost Chilli sauce. Flo adopted the ‘Flailing Squid’ pose as she hung briefly in the air then plummeted, feather duster in hand, into the midst of the battle.

“THIS WILL END… NOW!”

A voice like an intervention from the patriarch of all thunder gods reverberated above the crouching combatants. The hunched and wizened oriental master had materialized in the open no-man’s land that separated the warring factions. He drew himself up to his full height of four feet two and a half inches, shoulders back and ramrod straight. His eyes glistened and his tall orange hat quivered as he glared about the room. The shooting slowly petered out until only the intermittent crack of a sniper’s round broke the silence. Otto von Luckner broke cover and approached his men.

“Nicht mehr! Aufhören zu schießen!”

The Himalayan envoy waited patiently for a bleakly expectant peace to descend across the scene.

“This is intolerable… and futile. A machine that is secret, a truth that is hidden, are now known to all. The Andromeda Gerät will depart. WE will depart. And it would be wise for you to be not here when we leave. I recommend the high-speed pneumatic tubes to your whaling station you should utilize, and there take ship. Not long, you have.” He stalked over to his colleagues who turned and followed him back into the subway.

[*Here we shall pause momentarily for an explanation.

As soon as a trawler docked at the end of a three to four week fishing trip the crew would disperse ashore, each would be met by his personal cabby, who would stay with him until the ship sailed again. Next morning, the catch having been sold in the very early hours, they would reassemble at the company office for their share of the profits. As they would be sailing again after five tides each was, for the moment, very well off – they were ‘three day millionaires’. Despite their macho image, the trawlermen had a surprisingly dandyish streak. First stop was a visit to their tailor to pick up the suit they had ordered last time they were in port and to be measured for the next, something stylish – high waistbands, wide bottomed trousers, jackets with half-moon pockets and pleated backs, in a garish range of colours, from sky blue to shocking pink. Billy Tate had a white one once, with that many pockets he could never find his loose change. Then to Rayners’ public house for two days of drinking, fighting and, for the lucky few, fornicating. After this all too brief spell ashore, and often with the latest suit all but ruined, their cabbies would discharge them back onto the trawler and they would head for Bear Island.]

The Raid on Neuschwabenland

A hearty group of Kriegsmariners had come into the concourse from the Unterseeboot Pens and was indulging in manly horseplay when the glass in one of the skylights shattered. If the sailors could have made out more than a vague mauve blur they would have seen Dark Flo running down the marble wall, paying out a climbing rope with one hand and frantically casting throwing stars with the other. They scattered, rallied and returned fire with their Schmiesser MP-40s. Bamse was abseiling, noticeably more slowly and cautiously than Flo, towards the distant floor, and the bullets chipping off chunks of stonework all around him were not making for a happy St Bernard. To his amazement he was still whole when he reached the ground. His survival was probably due in part to the distracting effect of an indistinct pink whirlwind that pirouetted through the ranks of mariners. Sailors doubled over with an “Oooff!” or flew backwards, crashing into disintegrating furniture. The disgruntled emperor penguins who had, until this moment, still been waddling around the vaulted hall, turned, gave out a communal squawk of disapproval and trudged towards the double doors of the main exit. Bamse headed off to locate and liberate the crew of the Lord Ancaster.

An alarm siren wailed, almost immediately Neuschwabian reinforcements burst onto the scene and the machine gun fire intensified. Dark Flo became pinned down behind a Coca Cola dispenser. The situation was looking decidedly desperate when there came the muffled sound of several explosions from the direction of the Submarine Pens and the Kronstadt sailors arrived. They reached the top of the escalator already firing and immediately fanned out. The battle was intense, and destructive. As more and more lights were shattered by ricochets an increasing gloom descended on the vast hall, smoke billowed from the escalator tunnel and spread in undulating layers above the warring bands. Dark Flo’s camouflage began to suffer from the Purkinje effect. In low light simian eyes become more sensitive to the blue end of the colour spectrum, this is Purkinje shift, or dark adaptation, her Plymouth Pink Ninja outfit was no longer working efficiently. She was becoming visible.

Meanwhile Bamse was having difficulty rescuing the trawler crew. They did not want to be rescued. The third hand, Billy Tate teamed up with the St Bernard and they ushered the crew into an elegant, Art Deco wardroom. Plans to organise a second front disintegrated. The trawlermen were divided into two, almost equal factions. One group wanted to sit it out in the wardroom, perhaps get a cup of coffee, and wait to see which side won. The others had enjoyed their stay so much that they were all for joining the fray on the side of the Neuschwabenlandians. Billy was weeping with frustration.

“T’ skipper seems pally enough wi’ that Kapitänleutnant chappy. Thy squabble’s nowt te do wi’ us,” argued a scrawny stoker, self elected spokesman for the reluctant crew.

“Look,” barked Bamse, “Flo and I have gone to a lot of trouble to get you ingrates out of this mess. Don’t you want to see your Yorkshire homeland again?”   He paused for dramatic effect, “The stigma of mutiny could get you all exiled to Grimsby.”

“…”

“Ay, and ‘tis starving cold here.”Top Withens by Fay Godwin

“Bleaker ‘n a February afto’ on Top Withens.”

“C’mon lads, lets stick it to the Hun.”

Bamse took a nifty step back to let them pass, but the unsuspecting young Tate was knocked to the ground and trampled in the rush.

Aunty Stella’s Tale (Part Two)

AuntyStellaSRendezvous in Carlisle

I didn’t exactly feel inconspicuous travelling through Manchester astride the tallest grey I’d ever seen, its bells and harness jangling loudly. I was disguised behind a Mexican Rose knitted balaclava and kitted out in white jodhpurs, four ply woollen submariner’s telnyashka, a silver-grey hussar’s jacket trimmed in reddish brown fur and an excess of gold frogging, black patent leather boots to above the knee and topping the ensemble, a tall, French Marines’ shako, with a Burgundy plume. All around me were the Zapatista cavalry. There was a bronze painted 1952 Ford F1 van support vehicle, Strawberry driving the blue Chevy, packed with camp followers waving red and black flags, and Snowdrop’s tachanka bringing up the rear. My standard bearer trotted up alongside me, the black banner with its skull and cross bones fluttering in the biting, early morning wind. Her eyes smiled through the slits in her ski mask.

‘What’s your name?’ I asked.

‘Eunice Aphroditois, after the Mongolian Death Worm. Neat innit? Take the next left; we’ll enter Piccadilly Station through the goods yards. No point attracting too much attention.’

When we reached the railway and eventually found our remote and rarely used platform, Larry had done us proud. There stood a majestic, streamlined Mallard locomotive with a string of horse-box cars, one still had BERTRAM MILLS’ CIRCUS painted on its doors, a flat bed for the vehicles, two LC&DR third class carriages with varnished coachwork, a Pullman ‘Kitchen Parlour’ Car and a pillbox break van. Strawberry demanded to ride in the break van and no one was going to dissuade me from travelling at least some of the journey on the steam engine’s footplate.

Enticing the horses into the boxcars and loading the flat bed took some time but eventually we were ready for the off.

‘You’ll not be about to shovel coal in that outfit,’ said the engine driver as I clambered into the cab and eagerly eyed the array of pipes, valves and levers, ‘best sit back and enjoy the ride. We’ll be shifting at a rate of knots once she gets the bit between her teeth.’

Two hours later we parked up in the sidings in Carlisle and Strawberry and I left Snowdrop to supervise the unloading whilst two Zapatistas guided us down Lowther Street to our rendezvous at the Howard Arms. The lounge was packed. Wildcat Moss Trooper Commanders had stacked their tin hats by the door and lodged weaponry behind the bar, a gathering of minor clan chiefs was clustered around a cast iron radiator and representatives from several Border Reiver families sat around a table already cluttered with half downed sleevers of 70/-.

‘Ahaah!’ We were greeted warmly on our arrival. ‘Sit yer sells down and we’ll get to talking. Pints of heavy all round.’

We sat, and a huddle formed around the table.

‘Ye have here the cream of the faithful and we’ll pick up a few more before this evening. We’ve lost a few families to the dark side, but no so many. Have another pint. We’ll be away north of the wall soon as your gang is ready. May even liberate a few coos on the trip to Gilnockie Tower.’ And so we did.

The rest of the story you know, we apparently arrived in the nick of time. Shame about the airship. Has anyone put the kettle on?”