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.”

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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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Underground

“Which way did the caretaker say?”

“Right fork… I think,” replied Ginsbergbear absently.

“Probably doesn’t matter so long as we’re headed upstream,” from Boz, “He’d no idea what we were looking for anyway.”

This branch of the sewer soon began to narrow, the brickwork was old and weathered and the stuff they waded through becoming deeper. The air was thick and treacly with a hint of ammonia, the heat oppressive and the darkness, alleviated only by the skittering beams of their headlamps, was unsettling the reluctant heroes. An eerie mist, faintly glowing a bilious green, hung above the ‘liquor’ that rippled about their knees. There was a splash from up ahead, the mist swirled and a low bow-wave swept towards them. Something large and slithery brushed between Phoebles’ legs. Lady Augusta jumped, shrieked and then looked embarrassed.

“Keep moving,” said Slasher.

‘I’m really not enjoying this a lot,” said Phoebles after a while.

“You should try it from down here,” said Ferdy, whose lack of length in the leg department was, yet again, proving a disappointment.

A pair of turquoise eyes, on stalks, popped up to stare at the interlopers, and Zelda blasted them with her shotgun. Everyone ducked as slime splattered in all directions and the booming discharge echoed up and down the tunnel.

“For…” Slasher howled, “We could have brought the Dagenham Girl Pipers if we’d wanted to make sure everyone knew we were here. Don’t do that again.”

“What’s this?” said Aunty Stella. She was pointing to a semi-circular arch just above head height in the tunnel wall. There was a broad arrow chiselled into the capstone, a grill hanging awkwardly where it had rusted through and a little stream dribbling from the orifice. Dark Flo went over to inspect.

“It’s not sewage, it’s fresh water,” she observed.

“You been tasting things again?” asked Phoebles.

“Glamour it is,” said Master Dorje,

“Eh?”

“A disguise. Making the tunnel a working outlet to look like, it must be.”

“Eh?”

“And it’s not on the map,” noted Ginsbergbear.

“Good enough,” said Slasher, “we’ll check it out.”

Dark Flo yanked the corroded grating off the wall and they were lifting Dorje and Ferdinand into the side tunnel when Ginsbergbear noticed a pair of beady crimson eyes piercing the darkness up the main sewer. There was a squeak.

The two eyes became six and the squeaking increased, attracting Bozzy’s attention. He nudged Slasher. By the time everyone was aware of the situation there were dozens of tiny, perfectly round red eyes with pinpoint black irises peering at them. Flo reached for her katana. Zelda loaded a flechette cartridge into the breach of her SPAS and fired up the tunnel. Blood curdling shrieks filled the air, died away and the eyes were gone. Indescribable shreds of matter flowed past. Phoebles shuddered.

Slasher’s ears were ringing, his hearing muffled.

“I thought I said… Just stop that, Zelda! Now, everyone up into the hole. Quick.”

The side tunnel’s stonework was ancient. Its barrel roof, barely five foot high, forced all but Ferdy to bend over and waddle inelegantly.

“I hope this doesn’t go on long, it’s murder on the knees,” said Phoebles.

They tottered on, with the occasional ‘Ouch’ as someone banged their head. After ten or so painful minutes they came to a small pool where a spring bubbled playfully.

Dorje pointed with his staff. “The source of your stream this is.”

“Hmm,” said Boz, “I think we’d worked that out.”

A low, stone sill just beyond the pool ensured the crystal water flowed in the desired direction and after a few paces the passage took a sharp turn to the left. It began to open out until they could all stand upright at last. Then the tunnel ended, in a solid wall of bedrock. A Minoan Labrys had, long ago, been incised into the rock and picked out in gold leaf.

Master Dorje began to search.

“Let us see. Ah yes.” He was scraping away, with one sandalled foot, at the dried mud that obscured the floor of the passage, revealing a pentagram of Tyrian purple glazed tessera set into a plain mosaic. He thrust his staff into a two-inch diameter hole at the centre of the pentangle and began to rummage in the folds of his yak-hide overcoat. To the amazement of all he produced a soprillo saxophone and handed it to Phoebles.

“Dressed most appropriately for this task you are. When I call for it, a ‘B flat’ you will give me.”

Phoebles fingered the instrument without much confidence.

Dorje placed one hand on each blade of the carved pelekys and began to press.

“Now, Mr P.”

Phoebles blew hard on the sax and the rock wall, like a stretched rubber sheet, began to give.

“Again,” cried Master Dorje.

Note:

The Minoan Labrys, also known as “pelekys” or “sagaris”, was a double headed ritual axe, found in ancient Minoan depictions of the Mother Goddess. Its symbolism is related to the labyrinth and it is believed that the meaning of the word labyrinth is the ‘house of the double axe’. The Labrys was used by female priestesses only, for bull sacrifices. The shape of the double axe (referring to the moon) and the belief that it was used in battle by the Amazons make it a symbol associated with female empowerment to this day.

Representations of the double axe are found in Africa, in Old Europe and in Minoan Crete among other places.

Slasher’s Plan (with Crocodiles)

Flo turned towards the piano:

“Sam!” The pianist had been joined by Mouse Jackson on tenor sax and they were murdering Star Man. “Shhhh!”

“But Les Chats… And Mrs King’s engine,” said Ferdy, now that he could be heard, “How on earth can we get to it?”

Slasher leaned forward, “I might have an idea. Remember Bazalgette’s cathedral and my escape on the Bovril Boat? Well no-one’s ever seen Les Chats down that end of the sewer.”

“Why?” asked Boz.

“Well there’s rats the size of Tamworth boars.”

“You’re telling us the Chats Souterrains are afraid of rats? Wooses.”

“…or the crocodiles.”

“Crocs!” squeaked Phoebles, “The idea of going back to Abbey Mills is bad enough. Them marshes are dead spooky.”

“We’re all agreed then,” quickly chipped in Slasher, “The Duesy’s garaged in an old warehouse up the road, but you won’t all fit in. We’ll take the Cord too.” There was joint mumbling and a shrugging of shoulders.

“OK, no time like the present. Off you all go and get kitted up.” Slasher checked the magazine in his Red9. Everyone else, except Aunty Stella, departed without much enthusiasm. She slung her carbine across her back and clipped the sabre to her Sam Brown.

Sam paused his piano playing momentarily. “Don’t worry Mrs S, I’ll get the pot-boy to stable your horse.”

Soon the others began to return, Ferdy first, having added a pair of gumboots to his usual flying gear, then Ginsbergbear in a moss tweed Norfolk jacket, matching trousers, deerstalker and green Hunters. Boz had a goatskin jerkin over his sailor suit and sea boot stockings turned over the top of his black wellies; Augusta King chose close fitting black suede waistcoat and trousers over a Prussian blue silk blouse with Doc Martens and matching eye patch. Her ke-tri was strapped between her shoulder blades and hair pulled back into a tight bun. Zelda had on a black PVC ankle length Dover coat, oilskin sou’wester and shocking pink wellingtons with white polka dots. Phoebles appeared in a white rayon pierrot costume with black pompoms, scull cap and waders. Finally Master Dorje came down in his yak coat and a tall orange hat crested in golden horsehair, leaning on a twisted rowanwood staff. Somehow getting dressed up had raised everyone’s spirits.

“Where’s Flo?”

“Here,” as the street door opened, apparently on its own.”

The soaring blank walls of the warehouse were dark, soot stained London brick, ironwork rusting and windows barred. The huge double-doors had once been painted red, now faded and pealing to reveal an equally weathered grey undercoat. Slasher took a key to a large, new padlock and slid one of the doors back on its runners. Inside he felt along the wall for the light switches and, one at a time, florescent strips pinged on. The cavernous space was filled from floor to ceiling with crates, boxes of flat-screen TVs, laptops and assorted white goods. A pyramid of suspiciously corroding drums were stacked in one corner and nearby several vehicles hid beneath tarpaulins. Slasher pulled off two of the tarps to reveal his Graber Duesenberg in its weird opalescent paint job that was gold or red depending on the viewing angle, and a maroon Cord 812 Phaeton with white-wall tyres.

“There’s bags of hardware and ammo in the boots. Flo and Augusta squeeze in with me. The rest of you into the Cord. Best you drive Ferdy, Phoebles would just bend something and the last respray cost an arm and a leg.”

They tore up the Mile End Road, zig-zagged between the tidal mills at Bow and eventually pulled up outside the wrought iron gates of Abbey Mills pumping station. Beyond the neo-gothic pile stretched a daunting expanse of eerie, featureless salt marsh. They tooled up from the assorted small arms that filled both car boots, mostly choosing AK-47s, bandoleers of 7.62x39mm ammunition and tucking Model 24 stick grenades into their belts. Zelda picked out a Franchi SPAS-15, loaded two spare mags with Remington Express 12 Gauge 2-3/4″ 9 #00 Buckshot cartridges and emptied the rest of the box into her coat pockets. She also pocketed a box of experimental flechette loads.

The gates were locked.

“Over the top,” cried Slasher. With little more than a pause from Ferdy and Master Dorje our heroes swarmed up and over the railings and rushed the pumping station’s front entrance.

“These door’s are locked too,” observed Dark Flo, “Can you pop through the cat flap, Phoebles, and open them from inside?”

“I’m not a cat burglar,” complained Phoebles.

“I know petal. But just this once, it’s in a good cause and we won’t tell anyone.”

“Sod this,” said Zelda, blowing the lock apart with her 12 bore ‘Chiave dell’Incursore’.

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Sailortown

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.

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Cruisin’ on a Cruiser

A boarding ladder was dropped down from Aurora’s poop deck as the rubber duck came along side, and was climbed with varying degrees of agility. A Starshina piped Boz and his pals aboard and they were met at the rail by Acting-Comrade-Captain-for-the-Day Tchaikovsky in a peach evening gown from Les Modes, abundantly trimmed in lace, and wearing a discrete diamante tiara perched on top of his ginger crew cut.

“Thought I’d best dress for the occasion,” he explained.

Next day most of the gang had dug out their swimwear and arranged loungers around the six-inch gun on Aurora’s foredeck. Dark Flo’s Airtex Y-fronts gleamed white in the sunlight, her pert breasts supporting an angled reflector designed to give an even tan under the chin. The cruiser had rounded Cap de la Hague in the early hours and was rolling gently as she proceeded up the English Channel. Ginsbergbear had his deck chair aft of the third funnel, sheltered from the wind. He was reading a borrowed copy of Michael Moorcock’s Cornelius Chronicles. In view of the impending apocalypse it seemed appropriate, but was not helping.

Phoebles was on the bridge being given a closely supervised turn at the wheel by an alert member of the steering committee.

Boz was in the wardroom consulting with Augusta King and Master Dorje.

“Les Chats Souterrains are capable of popping up almost anywhere at will. The situation back home might already be grave.”

“The answer’s in my Analytical Machine, I’m sure it is. We must find a way of getting to it.” Insisted Lady Augusta.

“Permitted only a limited degree of autonomy the minions normally are. Given the current situation, less than happy the Lizard Kings must be.”

“Or maybe they like it this way,” said Boz. “Aren’t they the Lords of Chaos after all? I think we must try and be patient until we can get to Larry and find out how things stand. We’re just guessing wildly at the moment.”

“But…”

There was a commotion on deck.

“It’s the white cliffs of Dover.” Phoebles shouted down from the port wing of the bridge. Everyone clustered along the rail to view the towering white walls of chalk. Gulls turned lazy circles against an azure sky, the faint sounds of a gramophone playing a Kate Smith rendition of God Bless America drifted across the water. Ferdy sighed.

By the time the Aurora steamed into the Thames Estuary it really did feel as if they were coming to the end of a proper cruise, a cruise on a cruiser. The river seemed remarkably quiet. They saw no aircraft flying in or out of the Silvertown airstrip and the flood barrier appeared deserted. Rounding the Isle of Dogs not a boat passed them in either direction. When they got to Limehouse Reach Dark Flo appeared on deck with her Bergen rucksack.

Can you drop me off at the Den? I want to check they’ve not lost too much trade in our absence.” A jolly boat was lowered and as it approached the ladder at the back of Bozzy’s Catnip Den Ferdy and Ginsbergbear saw Sam the piano player come out onto the balcony to meet her.

And then Tower Bridge loomed before them. The cruiser’s horn blasted out…

Whooooop whup whup whup

…the time honoured signal requesting that the bascules of the bridge be lifted. There was a delay as they drifted nearer and nearer, whilst any traffic was halted, and then the bridge began to open. The Aurora moved quietly into the London Basin, picked up a buoy for’ard and one aft. The Comrade-Officer on the bridge rang down ‘Finished With Engines’.

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