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 black marketeer 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.



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?”


“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.


The Analytical Engine Speaks

It was gone teatime when Zelda and Master Dorje appeared wheeling a shopping trolley piled high with junk. Dorje cautiously isolated the readout mechanism and digging out a box of gears and worms began to ferret around in that section of the Analytical Engine’s mainframe immediately behind the blue boy. Meanwhile Zelda, utilising a watchmaker’s screwdriver, detached the lad’s writing hand. She then produced a medium sized tea chest, the contents of which were to remain a mystery to the surrounding, fascinated company.

“What does all that stuff do?”

“What’s in the box?”

“Is it safe?”

A large Papier-mâché ‘morning glory’ gramophone horn protruded from the top of the box and a twangy spring steel strip stuck out of a hole in the side. Zelda donned Chat-style goggles and pulled a welding torch from the supermarket trolley.

“What haven’t you got in that workshop of yours, Dorje?” asked Augusta with a mixture of exasperation and admiration.

Soon Zelda had firmly affixed the steel strip to the wrist tendons of the automaton. The resultant fire damage to its blue sleeve and the writing desk were deemed to be repairable if and when the opportunity presented itself.

“Ready,” she announced.

Master Dorje threw the Readout lever again. An unnerving whirring and grinding emanated from the mainframe, the lad’s arm quivered and a tinny voice issued forth from the trumpet.


“Hm, just needs a little tweak,” said Zelda delving into the tea chest.




“There,” she said, “ask it a question.”


“Ah, you’ll have to type into the teleprinter input port.”

“But that’s ten minutes walk away, round the other side,” said Lady Augusta.

“Am I supposed to think of everything?” The geek was becoming petulant.

“With me, your ladyship.” Slasher stepped up. “We’ll be in charge of the input. Zelda, you and Master Dorje look after your contraption. The rest of you spread out, shouting distance apart, relay messages back and forth.” The exact positioning of the gang round the perimeter of Augusta’s machine was hotly debated, resulted in one minor scuffle and was finally resolved when Aunty Stella took charge. All were in place by the time Slasher and Mrs King had reached the teleprinter terminal.

“What shall we ask it?”

“Something straightforward,” suggested Slasher.



“It’s being sarcastic,” shouted Phoebles.

“Just relay the message, Phoebs,” shouted Aunty Stella.

“Is that the message?”


“Look,” shouted Augusta. “Can we have some discipline please?”





“This is going really well,” muttered Slasher.

“Can we junk your machine and go back to making it up as we go along, please?” shouted Phoebles.

“When? Where? Why?” shouted Boz.




Everyone rushed round to join Slasher and Augusta.

“What on earth is it this time?” said Boz.

“CIA black ops again,” said Slasher. “They’re still in with Les Chats.”

Ginsbergbear puffed on his briar. “Zelda, can you hack an aircraft carrier that’s on autopilot?”

“Not remotely,” replied the geek. “I’d need to be onboard.”

“Good as done,” said Dark Flo. “I’ll alert Beryl.” She took out her smart-phone, looked disappointed, tried holding it above her head. “No signal. We need to get back to the Den.”

“How will we possibly find this drone carrier in the middle of the Atlantic?” said Ferdy.”

“No problem,” said Lady Augusta. “I’ll get Mr Doom and Gloom here to calculate a Latitude and Longitude for it.”



The Blue Boy

“What just happened?” Aunty Stella tried to straighten her turban where it had tipped forward over one eye and dislodged her spectacles. “What’s this place?”

Lady Augusta took a deep breath and began to blurt out an inadequate explanation. “It’s not really a tunnel as such. It bends space-time back on itself so that where you are and where you want to be are next to each other. That results in a bit of a multidimensional vacuum that kind of sucks you in and spits you out again. Not entirely unpleasant.”

“Mostly though…”


Boz was ejected onto the Carrara floor, with Phoebles clinging to his knees. They were closely followed by Phoebles’ waders and a strong smell of catnip. Ginsbergbear emerged holding his deer-stalker on with both hands, his Peterson glowing flame red and pouring out more black smoke than a Greek tramp steamer.

“I’m flying!” Ferdy shot out of the tunnel and into the far wall. “Oh.”

Unruffled, Master Dorje and Zelda, old hands at spacetime travel, stepped into the room. Slasher McGoogs was on his hands and knees heaving noisily. He coughed up a huge fur ball. “Oh dear.”

“Is Flo here?” asked Boz.

“I am.” She was squatting, panther-like, where she had landed by the Analytical Engine.

“Welcome to my bubble universe,” said Augusta. The little party gathered their wits whilst the great engine loomed over them, clattering, whirring and clanking as it continued to analyse the data Zelda had fed into it on her previous visit. “Let us see what the miraculous beast has to tell us. Come round to the output terminal.” The countess patted the bronze framework affectionately as she led them to the far side. Five minutes walk down the length of the machine a small boy in a blue velvet suit sat at a vintage school desk. With expressionless face and vacant stare he held a cheap Biro poised above a scroll of printer paper.

“Would you do the honours, please, Master Dorje?”

The monk threw a lever labelled ‘Readout’. With a jerk the child put pen to paper and painstakingly inscribed a copperplate ‘a’. Its hand moved along and wrote another letter, and another, and another. Unseen within the torso of the automaton a programmable wheel, with the alphabet inscribed about its rim, began to rotate. A column of irregular discs stepped up and down to align with steel arms, sprung to follow the contours of each disc as it turned. Each time the scribe reached the end of a line the paper inched up and the process continued.

“Is this as fast as it goes?” Phoebles was looking concerned. “Les Chats will be ruling the world long before we get an answer at this rate.”

“It’s very elegant though, isn’t it,” said Ferdy.

“Aesthetically pleasing,” added Ginsbergbear. “Does it do poetry?”

“Bloody useless,” said Boz.

“Oh…” Lady Augusta was downcast.

“I might have an idea.” Said Zelda cheerily. “Have you got a box of bits?”

“In my workshop.” Master Dorje replied.

“Come along then, Master D. You lot stick with this antediluvian contraption while me and the magus work on an upgrade.”


Barrymore dropped Boz and his companions off in Whitechapel. The entrances to Aldgate East station were heavily barricaded and guarded by an armed contingent of Brick Lane Zapatistas who were clustered around a brazier. The gang exchanged pleasantries with the troopers and then walked briskly down Leman Street. Just off Cable Street they could hear Wilton’s Music Hall in full swing. Underneath the Arches was being sung above the accompanying Wurlitzer organ and periodically drowned out by heckling from an enthusiastic, mostly inebriated audience. When they reached Ratcliff Highway it was alive. Sailors and their doxies lurched in huddled groups about the pavements, cursing costermongers wheeled their barrows through the crowds, a dozen different accents and languages sang out. Barrel organs vied with each other in the middle of the thoroughfare, pop music blared from the jukeboxes of every pub and bar, squeals from every brothel. Fast food vendors shouted enticements to passers by and the scent of fish and chips made Phoebles’ mouth water. Pulsating, pastel coloured neon signs directed the unwary to strip joints and tattoo parlours.

“Hullo deary, fancy a quick one? Oh, sorry Mr Boz. I didn’t recognise you straight away. You been in the wars?”

“Hello Mavis. Just singed. Things nearly got on top of me a bit back, but I’m fine now. Thanks for asking.”

There was a good deal of squawking and not a few growls as they passed Jamrach’s Pet Emporium.

“That place always depresses me,” said Ferdy.

“Oh it’s not so bad nowadays,” Ginsbergbear replied, “Jamrach Jnr has abandoned the sale of exotics and runs an endangered species breeding program. He even has a Bornean Orang-utan working the counter.”

“There is a rumour he also runs illicit interspecies porn shows on the side,” added Phoebles.

Narrow Street was quiet, all but deserted, smelling of Stockholm tar and cinnamon, and appearing reassuringly normal at first. Yet, unusually, there was a Palomino pony tethered to the hitching rail outside Bozzy’s Den. Inside, Dark Flo perched on top of the saloon’s upright piano, her bare right foot pressed gently against Sam’s chest. The left dangled, beating time with her big toe. She was wearing a bowler hat and singing The Ballad of Sexual Obsession. Several local girls were standing in, without much enthusiasm, for the absent Kittens and an aging wizard wielded a cocktail shaker behind the bar.

“Aunty Stella!” cried Ferdy.

Aunty Stella sat in the bay window, in the full-dress uniform of a captain of the Hampshire Light Horse, midnight blue knee length top coat trimmed in gold, crimson paisley cummerbund, an ultramarine and mellow yellow striped turban, white jodhpurs and black patent leather cavalry boots complete with spurs. A Persian style sabre and SMLE .762 bush carbine rested on the table and she was smoking a hookah. She beamed at the bird.

Most of the clientele wore grubby raincoats, trilbies and reflector shades. As Boz led the way towards Aunty Stella one of the punters rose. His gabardine trench coat was not grubby and his homburg neatly brushed. He came over.

“Hello Slasher,” said Aunty Stella.

“So,” he asked Boz, “what’s Larry got to say for himself?”

Phoebles and Augusta pulled up a second table so they could all sit in a group. They parked. With her set concluded Dark Flo came over, wrapping a silk Liberty print kimono about her slender body. She retained the bowler. Sam vamped an extended improv on Blue Rondo à la Turk.

“Nothing new,” said Boz in answer to Slasher McGoogs. “The city’s hanging on by the skin of its teeth and I’m beginning to think Mrs King might be right. We need to gain access to her computer thingy.” He looked over at Aunty Stella. “What’s the situation here?”

“We have deliberately allowed Les Chats Souterrains to infiltrate Sailortown. Specialist units of the Autonomous Revolutionary Insurrectionary Limehousesailortown Irregulars, in mufty, have them under close surveillance. At least that way we can keep an eye on what they’re up to. We have thwarted several attempts to gain access to the docks, but so far they seem unaware that they are being exploited.” Aunty Stella turned to Dark Flo, addressing her in a discrete, concerned tone. “I couldn’t help noticing during that last number, you have some nasty bruises, Flo.”

“They’re fading now,” replied the chanteuse barmaid. “Anyway the punters enjoy a subtle suggestion of off stage S&M. We’ve had a few narrow squeaks since I saw you last. I don’t think anyone’s come out of Jersey totally unscathed.”

“Does one ever?” mused Ginsbergbear.




Wee Hamish

March Ör Die SThey squeezed through as near to the front as they could manage and Dark Flo lifted the vertically challenged Ferdy onto her shoulders. They were in time to see Snowdrop’s techanka wreathed in flowers with Consuella in her most exotic Carmen Miranda outfit, letting rip on her tambourine. The techanka was followed by the prancing cavalry of the Snake Pass Zapatistas led by Aunty Stella, in her Subcommandante Everyman outfit, sans ski mask, but wearing a delicate feathered purple half mask that perfectly matched her hair. Each caballerro lofted a fluttering black SPZ flag. Next came the Catnip Growers Association rainbow float, swathed in a purple haze. Bringing up the rear, with the Kittens of Chaos crammed on the roof rack, came the Vicecream van booming out the Slasher Theme from Psycho. As the last of the parade passed, the crowd spilled onto the road and followed into the Recreation ground.

Just inside the gate there were Hoop-La stalls and coconut shies and Hook-a-Duck, all the fun of the fair for thruppence a go. Beyond these they approached an inflatable paddling pool and soggy cleric beneath a sign proclaiming Dunk the Vicar. A target was contrived, by utilising a cunning arrangement of levers and gears, that when hit it would trip a precarious chair, tipping its occupant into the water below. The local boys were very good at throwing. Flo had travelled down with Boz and Co on the Æthelflæda, trusting the public bar at the Den into the care of one of the more reliable regulars, a trustworthy, conscientious and only slightly undead connoisseur of the golden nectar. She took one look at the forlorn and bedraggled priest, strode over and stepped into the pool.

“Go and get yourself a cup of tea, Pops,” she said swinging herself up into the chair and smiling sweetly at the queue of teenagers. “Come on, brats, I don’t mind a little water.” Somehow, under Flo’s withering gaze they found themselves utterly unable to hit the mark, several broke down before they got to their turn and one optimistic urchin, having thrown up on the grass, tried unsuccessfully to demand a refund.

Boz smiled, “Best crack on, she’ll be there for a while.”

As they moved further in amongst the booths and stall they were enveloped in a cacophony of sound.

“They playing Charles Ives in a fairground?’ queried Ginsbergbear. But no. As they approached each booth they could tell that it had an accompanying tune. And each tune mingled with that of its neighbour’s. The musical jumble was punctuated by tings and boings and the squealing of infants, underscored by the incessant rumble of generators. They had to shout to be heard. The irresistible scent of chips frying wafted on the air.

“Is it lunchtime yet?” asked Phoebles.

They were passing side isles cluttered with jostling fast food stalls, Egyptian Koshari, Vietnamese Pho, Bakewell puddings, Welsh cawl, Hairy Tatties from Strathbogie and, of course Harry Ramsden’s Guisely fish and chips.

“Hokey pokey penny a lump. Have a lick make you jump.” An Italian hokey-pokey man had parked his ice cream trike close by the Kittens’ Vicecream van and was attracting a queue. Within the forbidding gothic interior of the Vicecream van a plot was being hatched to remove the unwanted competition, whilst one of the less scary Kittens leaned out of the serving hatch and beamed a smile at the unwitting Latin.

Overhead the Kronstadt Fleet Air Arm were giving a heart stopping aerobatic display in their little Ratas. As the gang looked up Polly broke away from her squadron to skywrite Hello Boz within a heart across the clear blue. At a lower altitude, Beryl was taking kids on flights round the town in the Dragon Rapide.

The boys had not gone much further when they heard the soulful strains of Scottish bagpipes.

“Come on.   Sounds like we’re missing something good.”

They emerged onto a grassed plaza where, shadowed beneath the looming presence of Tamworth Castle, erstwhile seat of Æthelflæda Myrcna hlæfdige, legendary feminist and war-leader, the piper, kilted and clad in Darth Vader helmet, droned out Motörhead’s March Ör Die, blasting flames from the chanters and swirling tight circles on his unicycle. A small torti-shell was hurrying towards Boz and his pals.

“Hi, you’re here then. We made it too. Anna’s just over there with the ambulance.”

Anna Alban Pyromatrix travelled with Bui her cat in and old ambulance converted to a mobile home. It was more cramped than a Winnebago, but cunningly kitted out to provide all their basic needs.

“This,” Bui pointed at the piper, “is Wee Hamish. He came down with us.”