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.

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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.”

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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.

 

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Beryl Flies High

The sewer outlet, when they eventually reached it, was obstructed by heavy wrought-iron bars through which they could see the London River and on the far bank make out the Rotherhithe skyline.

“Oh, no!” exclaimed a heavily soiled Ferdy, “what do we do now?”

“Out the way,” growled Zelda, splashing to the fore. She flicked off the safety on her SPAS-15 and fired two rounds from the hip while everyone else waded for cover. Brick chippings and cement dust flew in all directions. There was silence for a moment and then three of the bars toppled outwards with a clang.

“Zelda!” protested Slasher. Yet the geek’s rash action had facilitated their egress.

The tide was out when the gang dropped down from the culvert onto a muddy foreshore strewn with plastic bottles, shopping trolleys and old car tyres. Gathering their bearings they turned up stream and trudged along the stinking beach until they reached the ladder at the back of Bozzys Den. As they entered through the French windows the back room cleared, its nip-addled clientele rushing the door.

“Oh phew!” Sam left off playing Got My Mojo Working. “Hot baths all round by the looks. D’you want those clothes burned or do you expect some poor sod to wash them?”

“I’ll make my own arrangements,” said Slasher, departing by the front door. “See you all in the morning.” Dark Flo rang Beryl.

Scrubbed up and luxuriating in fresh clean clothes the gang met up again at their table in the bay window. Flo descended the stairs, pristine in a slinky black satin gown, raven hair combed over her left eye, marched over to the Amplion 4 M Carbon Spring Microphone that stood alongside Sam’s piano and launched into The Moon and I, pitched low to match her sultry voice. At the end of the number, rewarded with a subdued ripple of applause and a couple of wolf whistles, she brought a bottle of Absinth over to the table. “Beryl will be down first thing with the DoX. I’ve just rung the Local Friends in Salmon Lane for a Chinese takeaway. It will be here shortly.”

Next morning saw them sitting at the same window table. The den was all but deserted. A few of the girls, who had no homes to go to, slumbered on chaises longues, Flo was washing up behind the bar. Boz piled up the breakfast plates and put them on a neighbouring table as Slasher walked in. The masked cat sat and Zelda produced the chart that she had brought out of the nubble universe. A curving dotted line from Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia to an area of sea just north of Le Havre showed the carrier’s great circle track. A series of red dots with hour and date indicated the ships estimated location at given times.

“What’s the other bit of paper?” asked Phoebles.

“It’s the centre spread from a recent Eagle comic,” said Zelda unfolding a full colour cutaway illustration of their target. It was titled Ro8 Supercarrier and showed the interior layout in considerable detail.

“Handy,” said Slasher.

“And what are those?” asked Boz, pointing to several grey pods labelled (2).

Zelda read the blurb, “Phalanx Sea-Whiz radar controlled anti-aircraft/missile close-in weapon systems.”

“Bugger,” said Boz.

“No probs. They’re my department,” called Flo, opening the French windows so they all heard the distinctive drone of the Dornier flying boat’s twelve engines. “That’ll be Beryl now.

They gathered on the balcony in time to see the DoX drop anchor and a small launch head for the Den. A startling apparition mounted the ladder. Blonde dreadlocks poked out from under her flying helmet. She was wearing a floral Afghan Kuchi frock under a thin grey cardigan and striped woollen socks with huaraches sandals.

“Beryl?” said Flo, “What’s got into you?”

“Stress not, girl. I’m great. Rotskagg’s crew liberated this amazing stash after the Jersey Zoo debacle. You wouldn’t believe… Try some.”

“Black coffee might be a better idea,” replied Flo.

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TAXI

“THE SPACETIME TUN…NEL IS PROGRAMMED,” announced the Analytical Engine faintly in the distance. Zelda ran round. “AT THE FA…R END YOU WILL FIND AN INTER…DIMEN…SIONAL CHAM…BER AND BE…YOND THAT THE SEW…ER. TURN LE…FT AND FOLL…OW THE FLOW. THE DR…ONE CAR…RIER WILL BE… …”

There followed a zip zip sound from the box beneath the horn. Zelda rummaged around in her tea chest and emerged clutching a freshly inscribed foolscap sheet of paper. She rushed back to report and was met half way by the gang.

“What’s that in your hand,” asked Boz.

“It’s a chart,” replied Zelda, “with the carrier’s predicted course marked out on it.”

“Good,” said Augusta, “let’s crack on. Back down the pipe everyone.”

“Remaining with the machine I will be for now, retrieving further data,” announced Master Dorje, “Perhaps a visit to Shambhala in order would be.”

“Well, be careful,” replied the countess.

Linking arms in an attempt at a more orderly transportation than had so far been the norm, the rest of the group stepped forward.

“Whoah!”

“Watch out!”

“Cripes!”

They emerged, precipitously, into a Portaloo that had never been conceived as having to contain nine heroes at any one time. Conditions were cramped. Squeezed hard up against the side of the cabin Slasher struggled to work a hand free and reach the lock. He cracked the door open and cautiously peeked out. As he expected they were in an Atlantean branch tunnel. Set into the far wall, some yards away, was a steel watertight door. Stencilled red lettering proclaimed:

DANGER OF DEATH

NO CHILDREN

NO PETS

NO SMOKING

The tunnel was not however entirely deserted. Parked alongside the door was a bright yellow DeSoto Sky-View taxicab and nearby a lone Chat Souterrains stood with his back to the Portaloo, his attention taken up with eating a Big Mac takeaway.

“Wait here,” whispered Slasher as he stepped out and shut the door behind him onto muffled protests. “I’d give it ten minutes to clear if I was you,” he said, closing the gap between himself and le Chat at speed. “Is this cab taken?”

The startled Chat dropped his hamburger and spun round, reaching for his PPSh-41. “I’m not a taxi driver I’m a sentr…” But Slasher had pulled a blackjack from his trench coat pocket and the Chat’s world had gone black. The unconscious sentry’s body crumpled to the ground. Never one to pass up a gift horse, Slasher retrieved the discarded Soviet sub-machine gun.

“Come on everyone. Let’s get this door open before his mates turn up.”

“Nice car,” said Phoebles as he passed the DeSoto.

The hinges of the little used steel door were rusted, but by bracing their feet against the tunnel wall and pulling steadily Boz and Slasher managed to gain access.

“Quick, inside!”

‘Inside’ proved to be a room, a roughly ten-foot by ten-foot by ten-foot cube, almost entirely filled with junk.

“This is an Inter-dimensional Chamber?” asked Aunty Stella. No one was particularly impressed. Steel shelves, stacked with cartons and box-files and defunct technical gear, lined the walls; corroded pipes and perished rubber cables hung from the ceiling; stained, uninspiring grey paint pealed. The floor was littered with more boxes and unidentifiable pieces of equipment and light from a green glass sphere, that seemed to float independently above their heads, illuminated the scene. The air smelled musty and a thick layer of dust covered all about them.

Ahead was another door, identical to the first. To one side a fuse box, its contacts exposed, and on the other side a wall clock ticked away the seconds, backwards. This second door proved to be equally rusted up, but with the whole gang pushing, it finally gave way and dumped them into chest deep shit.

“Did anyone else feel a bit weird as we came through that last door?” asked Ferdy before the experience of being immersed in excrement drove the thought from his mind. Down stream, in the far distance they could make out a glimmer of light.

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