Blue Shadows

By: Andrew Singleton


Foreword


Hi, Hello, Salutations, Greetings, Salute, hail, whatever.


I shall begin by posting a few questions I've received as well as their relevant answers as well as a way to get in touch with me, though I ask that anyone wishing to do so please keep the commentary constructive.


What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.


Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.


Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.


Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.


As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, andówhen the thing is doneóthe kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.


In 2007, we had over 100,000 participants. More than 15,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists. (Courtesy of http://www.nanowrimo.org/)


Am I crazy?

Most Assuredly I am. After all, only a madman (or madwoman) would attempt to write so much in a month's time.


This story's crap, I could write a better one!

While not a question i decided to include this one, partly for the sake of those that don't like my storytelling method, or the story itself. To you I say the following with the sincerest respect for you and your opinion and hope you don't take things too personally.


This is the Internet, and I have just as much right to waste my time as you do. So if you don't like what I'm doing, please, by all means, try writing something that puts my work to shame. Remember, NaNoWriMo is open to everyone.


~~~~~


This explains what prompted my beginning this project. However it does not even approach to answer the question 'why'. I could go into explaining that I have a hyperactive imagination, and that this is what I do to entertain myself anyway. However that feels shallow compared to the two in the morning lights Iíve spent to try banging out my daily quota due to the two aborted attempts I'd made that fell through, which left me two weeks behind. Itís maddening if you think about it. So again, why?


For one month out of the year people all over the world attempt the insanity of writing a fifty thousand-word body of work (fiction, Non-Fiction, so long as its all done within the month of November its fair game). Itís easier, somehow, to attempt this sprint when you know you're not alone. After all, doing anything alone is hard. Doing anything when you have encouragement, support, and people to bounce ideas off of, is.... Well itís still hard, but itís not quite as hard


This year's NaNoWriMo is special. Why? Itís the tenth year NaNoWriMo has existed, and as such I've once again thrown my hat into the ring. My attempt at adding to the general level of chaos is a story told from the perspective of a man from a hypothetical future set in the mid 22nd century where the last of the global wars centered on dwindling petroleum supply shattered the old nations and sapped the last of the easily obtainable reserves sixty years prior. Now many of those that survive have taken to pre-global market lifestyles.


Fanciful? Yes. Enjoyable? That is for you to decide Gentle Reader.



I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities.

-- Theodor Geisel


Part 1: Journal of Notable Occurrences and Curiosities


"An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered."

--G.K. Chesterton


----------


Date: 12, May 2133

Mood: Thoughtful


My night for the week helping with Border Patrol, and so far itís been the same as it has for the past six months, so for posterity's sake I shall summarize.


'Billyí and I typically take what's left of the old highway down to the edge of the resettled section and, with the help of other two person teams, go door to door, asking anyone there if everything's alright or if they've seen anything out of the ordinary. By this time itís mostly a formality as the refugees have either settled or passed us by, and we're already deep inside New Confederacy territory. Much as I dislike the general attitudes of many of the Southern Revivalists (how did they manage to come to power anyway? Didn't racism die in my grandfather's time? Pah, it seems not.) They protect their own, and while I don't like some of their policies I'm not about to abandon my family's farm, or Billy for that matter.


The first time I went was the worst, as we were still finding Ferals, people who'd been abandoned very young and basically left to grow without any contact from other humans. Poor souls, we're supposed to try capturing them, and where possible we do try. The problem is in most cases we simply can't risk it, given how rare antibiotics have become and how long it takes to get to a decent hospital. Its messy business when one of them has to be put down and God forgive me for what I've done. I shall speak no more of this.


Aside from Ferals are other creatures, decedents of domesticated pets that have, over time, regressed to a wild state. Any fool who thinks you can capture and 'tame' one simply because they bare resemblance to the family pet should be given a good knock on the head, which goes triple for those bleeding hearts that started protesting when a bounty was put on 'em. Yes they have as much right to live as we do, but for the most part only those that try foraging around our settlements are hunted down, with the rest left alone (I know...I know, some people will make week long trips out of hunting them down, but they're in the minority).


Dear me, I'm rambling again. Where was I? Patrol, right.


New settlers are still coming in; though nowhere near as many as in the first few months. Still, that's the point of these patrols, to check to see if everyone in a given place is who they say they are, to find anyone who's just arrived and hasn't registered with Housing, and to give everyone living here a sense that they can sleep at night. I suppose that makes us policemen in a way, though we don't have badges, or in most cases guns (though every team is required by Central to have one). Regardless, it makes me feel good about myself; despite the fact my left arm is still in a sling from the last runner we had. Carelessness really, and I was lucky his aim was off since I'm sure he was aiming for my head instead of my shoulder. I was even luckier that Billy is as fast as she is.


For those that are unaware 'Billy' is one of those oddities more commonly referred to as a trans-genetic, or as many still call them (much to my disappointment), gholem. Our accepting them into our communities would have mortified my grandfather, and considering what they did during the war once they revolted, I can't blame him. However time changes all of God's creatures, even those that She made indirectly, and while they were bred and built for war, they've since become part of our communities (well, mine at least).


Typically gholem have similar tolerances for pain and injury as ordinary humans, but their reflexes, agility, and the like are heightened, not to mention their senses. A word of warning, never try saying anything near one that you don't want them to hear, not even a whisper, not even when you think they wouldn't hear you. Additionally, while not 'beautiful' in the classical sense, their features and general build do lend a certain charm. Then again I may be a bit predisposed on the matter, and simply take blue skin and catlike eyes as a matter of course.


Once Patrol is done itís usually nearly dawn, which throws my sleep schedule off, which is the reason I'm still awake writing this. Almost time to let the chickens loose and milk the cow. Don't want to, and even though I'm well aware Billy could do the work in my stead (sometimes I envy that she only needs three hours of sleep) I don't want to get in the habit of her doing in my place, plus not all of the animals take kindly to her. Perhaps I'll write more after I finish with the morning chores and have a short nap.


~

Julian Guy Fawkes 3rd


Post Script: Bugger, forgot to wind the clock! Already noon and there's still that fence that needs mending.


~~~~~

Date: 12 May 2133

Mood: Grief


Ok, the fence is repaired and my chores for the day seem done. The trouble is that isn't exactly the case, always something else to be fixed, or something that could be worked on. Still, my workload for the day is as done as its going to get now that the sun's down. Takes talent to write while walking, or frequent stops to pen one's thoughts down, and when a 'walk' consists of pacing an eight-acre lot there's plenty of opportunity for thoughts.


Look, I know how I titled this journal, and I realize that what I've written to this point isn't terribly interesting, unless you're unfamiliar with gholems, though how that would be the case I'm unsure. I felt obligated to write about more mundane things so that there's a basis of comparison.


Where was I? Oh yes. Out for a walk on my property.


Naturally I wasn't alone, while I didn't exactly fear Ferals, four legged or otherwise, encroaching I wasn't going to act a complete fool. So while I walked my two dogs roamed roughly along the same path. They're well trained and stay fairly close to me, so I feel secure enough to relax. Pity really, because fatigue caught up with me, and I skirted the land of Nod, quite content in the warm night and what I presumed to be the safety of my own property. So when it attacked my first, and only, warning was the sounds of both of my dogs laying into the intruder.


Both are rather large, and would've been considered mongrels by pre-war standards, and each weighing easily a hundred pounds. Even so both were tossed about like a child's stuffed animal. All I could tell was its approximate shape, roughly humanoid and approximately a head taller than I am (For reference's sake I'm roughly 5'9), and the one and only clear glimpse I got before turning to run was it tossing Cholo away.


Right now I'm hiding in cattle barn and. Gods...if it can hear half as well as I can then it should be able to find me by the sound of my heartbeat. Maybe it's the noises the animals are making, I hope so anyway.


~~~~~


Three hours after I'd taken my walk I finally return to find my home as I'd left it. Billy taking her nap, the radio emanating soft static due to curfew. I know it happened, no dream feels that real, plus I was still in my work clothes.


~~~~~

Morning


Dogs covered but left unburied, taking the horse in town to get Michael to look at the bodies before I bury them. For once I took Billy' suggestion and took the shotgun with me.


~~~~~


Post Script

Michael's finished looking them over and is talking with Billy while I take my turn digging the grave. Hard, but not nearly as hard as it would've been had we not had rain a few days back. I loved both of them, raised them, and in return they've helped keep watch over me and mine. I'm only thankful that whoever, or whatever did this wasn't' the sort to stop to 'play' with its prey.


I'm writing all this down as Billy digs mind you. Apologize, whoever reads this. I'm not terribly good at a coherent narrative, especially now.


"It might've been a gholem." It must've been the third or fourth attempt Michael made at getting my attention before her voice sunk through my grief. I looked up at her, writing as I starred at her (and somehow it all manages to remain legible), which prompted her to continue. "Cholo and Apollo had blue blood in their mouths."


Oh no. Everyone will start thinking Billy- no, no. They know her, they might not like her, but they wouldn't think she would just kill without provocation, especially my dogs. that's one detail they won't be able to easily explain away.


"I'll see if Frank can get the militia on the wire." She gave my shoulder a squeeze, "Billy said she might be able to find where it went, or maybe where it came from." Michael sounded slightly confused, "I don't know how she'd tell its path from anybody else's, but she seems convinced, and I'm worried." I'd heard this before, every time something came along that would make people associate her with the worst Billy would go try her damndist to find proof otherwise. Can't claim her, but if she keeps bowing to pressure then maybe she'll get hurt, or maybe they'll think she's going out of her way to make herself look good or...or...


Don't get yourself killed Billy. I'd miss you terribly.


~~~~~

Date: 20 May 2133

Mood: Pensive


Billy's still gone, though I found a note yesterday in her handwriting.


I am well Julian. Though my quarry eludes me I've found signs of others encroaching, I'd say drifters, but there's too many different traces floating about. I can't make heads or tails of any of this. With luck I'll get back in touch within the next day or so.


All my best


She never leaves a signature, not a proper one anyway, just a silly little design at the bottom, a half-sun/half-moon doodle (I've always presumed itís that anyway, half rounded sphere, half spiky thing) in the middle of a circle. Odd, but at least I know this is from her.


Two days. I'll give her two days then I'll go look myself. Before then though I'm going to ask that more frequent patrols be conducted with more men on each outing. I don't know how well they'll listen, but if Billy thinks people are coming I'm inclined to believe her.


~~~~~

After Dark


I've either always taken everyone in authority in the worst light possible, or this is simply further conformation to other evidence that I as yet don't know about, but they've agreed to my suggestion to send more people out. I just hope what we find is friendly. Because we can't afford every able bodied person to end up too tired to do anything meaningful we've decided to rotate out in four hour shifts. It'll cut everyone short on sleep, but it beats sun down to sun up.


So far nothing new to report, just the usual- Wait, no just a cat. Get a grip Fawkes and stop jumping at shadows. Doesn't help that I'm working with a new partner (or is it the other way 'round?), but we do what we must I suppose.


Here she comes, something about two bodies in the back lot to Jim's Bakery.


Calm, must take notes for the record. I'm not a Doctor, and I wish I had a camera so when we move 'em those that know better would know how they were arranged. Maybe we should leave 'em, its obvious how they died. Throats torn out, lots of blood... no... I mean there's lots of blood but I'm not sure if their throats are torn loose, or... Hell I can't think straight. Calm. Remember your lessons. They told you there would be times like this.


Boot crunches, my partner's told me to stay with the bodies. I can hear gunshots, then screams for me to run.


~~~~~

Date: 21 May 2133

Mood: Frightened


Twice in one week have things with murderous intent chased me. Twice this week have I run while others have died. There will not be a third time, not even if that means my own end.


I've survived till morning, no sign of my pursuers when I come upon the next shift's patrol. With them in tow I lead them to the bodies, and find my partner draped over the two that were there before. She lives, but only for another minute as there's nothing any of us can do before her spirit leaves us. As a group we head into town to fetch more men, only to find that similar slayings have occurred throughout the night. I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel save that I'm sick to my stomach.


Going home does nothing for my nerves, and only emphasizes the fact that if anyone wishes they could simply waltz in and be the death of me. However just because people are dying doesn't mean that chores can be missed, though I suppose that statement would make you think I was taking everything in stride, and you'd be as far from the truth as possible. My nerves are shot, I keep a loaded gun with me at all times when I'm out of my house, and the animals seem to pick up on my mood and as a result are also acting skittish.


When I return to my home there's another note, this one wedged under the back door.


Mister Fawkes


You needn't fear our coming, for we have heard much of you and your temperament and judge that to end your life would be wasteful, and we do abhor waste. Think what you will of our methods, but we've taken this course only because we have no other option. We're being hunted as animals, captured then made sport of for the pleasure of the mob. We've been driven to this, and we hate it. All we wanted was a place of our own. Itís doubtful that you will feel anything but disgust for how we've conducted ourselves, after all, people are dying before their due, but we felt that an attempt had to be made to explain ourselves.


Don't be afraid, that is all we ask.


How am I supposed to react to this? Monsters claiming to want peace yet shed innocent blood? They say they will let me live, but why? Is this Billy's doing? I would assume so, as I would also assume that their granting me amnesty is due to how I've treated her as an equal rather than a servant. Still, I cannot feel joy if it is slaughter they wish to visit on everyone else. They're not bad people! I, I was just raised funny I suppose. Give a man time and he'll learn anything.


Maybe this is all Billy could convince them to do.


No matter, my course is still that of helping in our mutual defense, so after burning the note (I dare not simply throw it away on the off chance it might come back at a later time to garrote me at the worst possible moment) and packing a light lunch I'll be off to town hall, as that's where we had agreed all those not on patrol, or not tending their homes, should gather.


~~~~~


Of course now that I'm here the idea of everyone gathering seems much less appealing, what with the general chaos, high tempers, and nobody seemingly knowing what's going on. Pardon me.


"I really think we should-" Jenny, a curious olive skinned woman (who, in my opinion, is a damned good nurse) began, then was cut off by Alex, a portly fellow who was one of the elementary school teachers.


"Nonono, won't do at all I'm afraid," He paused for breath before continuing. "What about that bloody note they found?" Note? Made sense I guess that they would send other people their own letters, probably less kindly worded than mine.


So why am I sweating?


Jenny flipped that ridiculous scarf (Itís May for god's sake, why is anyone wearing anything like that in this weather?), in what I think was a gesture of annoyance before responding. Unfortunately I couldn't hear anything else she had to say over the general den of noise as more people went about their own business here. Most of the talk was, not surprisingly, about the attacks, but everyone had a different opinion, and frankly I couldn't make sense of half of what was said because the rest was drown out by competing chatter.


There was a loud banging of wood against wood near the rear of the building, specifically at the podium. After a minute of this as well as shouts for Silence a little balding man with grandfatherly eyes straightened from behind the podium and spoke.


"As we all know about the recent attacks I shall merely gloss over the unsightly specifics of the murders themselves and Cut any rumors that the entirety of our government has been killed. I am here, as are a dozen of our representatives (Author's Note: We have fourteen most election years, more or less a couple depending on the local census). So far there have been a total of six confirmed deaths, four if rumors of the Millers leaving town are to be believed." I sighed, that was something at least.


"Unfortunately they seem to also have decided to target our families," Several that knew about the attack on my farm, including Michael, turned slightly in my direction, "And those that watch over us at night." More eye shifting, this time presumably to those Watchers that were lost last night.


His speech went on, however I shall not even attempt to mince words, as I dared not write during the speech for fear not hearing, and I dare not write now for fear of not capturing the essence of his voice. To summarize it in a pair of sentences wouldn't do it justice though it only lasted all of a couple minutes. Still, if I had to make the attempt, and I feel I do. It is as follows:


'Though we are in the midst of trying times we must not give in to fear and depression, for these sap from us our resolve to stand against these barbarous invaders. Though my own life is being threatened,' he paused at this point to show a note similar to my own, 'I cannot, nor will I ever, be cowed into submission. This is our home, and it is worth fighting for.'


Were this a story, or a picture show at the theater just down the way, as soon as he was done speaking the audience would've been on its feet cheering and vowing to never give in or whatever nonsensical sentiment the speech of the moment was supposed to convey. Here in the real world we were still frightened, still confused, and still numbed by recent events. That isn't' to say the man's words didn't have an effect, itís just more subtle than what fiction portrays. God bless my father, for he is one of the best I know at creating on the spot exactly what a crowd needs to hear.


At that point the meeting split between different groups, those that were to organize supplies, those that would be defending, and those that would be out looking for our attackers. I was pulled towards the group dealing with dealing with supplies, or would've been had my father not motioned me over for a privet word.


~~~~~

Of Fathers and Sons


Author's Note: I include an account of the conversation between my father and I here for the sake of completeness. This is purely taken from my memory as, due to the sake of preserving my father's privacy, I had decided to omit this from my journal.


Once we were in my Father's office and the door safely latched he turned to me. "Where is she?" there was no accusation in either his eyes or voice, at this point there needn't be for me to understand the hidden message. 'Has she run off with this lot to take her wrath out on the rest of us?'


"No Father she-" He cut me off with a glare and started pacing 'round me. Though he was getting older now and shorter than me somehow I always felt like I was still a small child in his presence. I wondered, in that moment, if this is the way all children feel when their parents are displeased.


He didn't answer right away; instead he seated behind his desk and motioned for me to sit. Only then, with the rather large piece of heavy oak between us did he finally say something.


"Son. I've never understood what you'd seen in that thing." He held my gaze as he spoke; again there was no bitterness or disappointment in his tone. "However I've stood by your choice to try giving it a good home and the treatment any of God's creatures deserves. However Billy is what Billy is, and you can't change a thing's nature no matter how hard you try." He put the note he waved to the crowd between us, and then gently nudged it in my direction.


Mister Fawkes


Due to the kindness your son has shown one of our own, and because of her bargaining on the behalf of your settlement, we will allow for a negotiator so that this needn't escalate further. Send anyone you wish. However your son must accompany them both as a measure of good faith, and so that, no matter how slanted an opinion is given of our terms, his view will hopefully balance it out enough so that you might see the truth somewhere in the middle.


Included are directions to a place where we may discuss things in relative security. It will be well away from our encampment, so don't think that you can send armed men and hope to 'dispose' of the situation by taking advantage of our offer. You have three days, starting tomorrow at sunrise, to respond. On the Fourth day, if we either cannot come to equitable terms, or you fail to send anyone to negotiate, we will continue our raids.

As with Billy's note there was that funny sun/moon symbol, only the halves were reversed. I looked from the note to my Father, reread the note, and then sighed. "Who do you wish to go with me?"


"What I want," He snapped, "is for you to have nothing to do with any of this." He took the note from my hand and placed it in the center drawer. "Since what I want is irrelevant at this point I won't endanger anyone else. They seem to think highly of you, and ordinarily you're a levelheaded boy. Just remember." He leaned forward, "They will not hesitate to kill you, Billy or no." Leaning back in his chair he looked towards the window, "I'll Gina pack for you. It'll take a day to get there and a day to get back if you make good time."


This was growing surreal. My father, MY father trusted my judgment? Something, as they say, smelled rotten in the state of Denmark, but what I wasn't sure. However because politeness dictated it and because our meeting was apparently at an end I got to my feet and offered a slight bow before turning for the door. I have no idea what to think at this point. Oh there's Gina and Jason, it seems while I was inside they were loading my horse up. This makes sense I suppose given the urgency of the task, but why me? He's never trusted me alone with anything of importance.


~~~~~

Date: 22 May 2133

Mood: Unsorted


It's been roughly a day since I'd left town. As I hammered the stake down and clipped my horse so we could both eat I looked at the mid-day sun and sighed. This was messed up; then again constantly thinking the obvious isn't going to straighten it out. At least father provided well for this trip.

Four full water bottles.


A half full box of wooden matches and some cotton balls, presumably dipped in kerosene or something else that makes them even more flammable.


A large knife, I presume he didn't think I still had mine.


Compass


Fishing line and hooks, why, I don't know, as there aren't any fishable streams nearby. Must be the Scout in him to be prepared I suppose, possibly to be used as improvised stitching material.


Half a loaf of bread as well as cured ham, cheese, and ...wait a tic... Is that an orange? Yes it is. Yay me.


A two-person 'dome' tent, which was thoughtful of him.


One sleeping bag, heavily waterproofed, so itís kind of stiff and course feeling, but preferable to it being waterlogged, I suppose, if it starts raining

Seems like a lot of stuff doesn't it? It is, kind of. Most everything, however, fits in the saddlebags easily enough, and the tent and bedroll are strapped to the back of the saddle. While this makes the saddle somewhat bulkier, it's actually a rather efficient storage method. Ok fine, it beats me having to wear one of those framed packs while riding. At least the load is distributed a bit, plus Star's carried heavier before. Wish I'd thought to bring my walking stick, but oh well. Not that I actually need it since the terrain here seems to be mostly gentle slopes with none of the usual rubble and overgrowth associated with the Old cities.


The ride yesterday and this morning had been uneventful, so I shall skip these things, and after I've finished eating I'll add a few of my own musings on what's gone on, however I warn you, whoever else may end up reading this, if you haven't already guessed; I'm somewhat scattered in my explanations.


~~~~~

After Lunch


There we are. Let the horse rest for another few minutes while I let my feet enjoy the open air (though I highly doubt very much the local wildlife enjoys the smell).


Speculation time. My father got a note from a pack of gholem threatening to resume their killings two days from now if I can't work some kind of agreement. The problem is...why didn't my father send somebody else? He knows I'm biased on things, and I honestly don't see anybody else buying anything I've got to say on the matter, City business or no. What were his words? 'Didn't want to risk more lives than he had to?' It was something to that effect anyway.


Were this any other man then I could ALMOST believe that he was willing to sacrifice me to buy time for everyone else. Trouble is while that'd be an almost expected move 'the needs of the many, in this case time, outweighing the needs of the one, continued living.' it isn't something my father is capable of. Oh well, break over, got to clean up and see if I can't get where I'm going from here.


~~~~~

Late Afternoon/Close to Sunset


It would seem I've arrived as; roughly two minutes ago two rather lean looking Gholem stepped out onto the road I was following. Presently they're tending to my horse, much to Star's dismay. Oh well, itís the thought that counts I guess. I've been riding all afternoon; they've been sitting here. Rather polite gesture on their part actually.


Billy. There she is waiting for me.


~~~~~

Date: 22 May 2133

Mood: Pensive


Apologize, Gentle Reader, but the following entry will be a bit different, as I had to transcribe as well as act as a major participant, so please forgive any irregularities. Oh who am I kidding, my journal, much as my thoughts, are in a general state of disarray anyhow.


~~~~~

A summery of the meeting


Billy was flanked on either side by two other gholem. The one on her left being roughly my height, thin savor for the telltale curves of femininity, and was generally disposed towards a 'sour' expression. The one on her right was quite tall; my best estimates put him at a good six and one half feet and of a heavy build. He, as this one seemed to lean more towards the masculine than his partner, seemed curious about my appearance and apparent solitude. Both wore thoroughly worn and patched clothing consisting of trousers and long sleeves, perhaps making a statement by way of dress, perhaps simply consenting to the practicality of their nomadic situation, after all running and skirts don't generally go well together.


For her part Billy seems to have dressed in a mix of her usual blouse and scarf and a pair of knee high black breeches, and knee-highs. I can only assume she got these from our 'guests', as I wasn't even aware, till just now, that anyone even made breeches anymore.


My musing on the origin of Billy's pants were cut short by the Gholem on her left coughed, "While we disapprove of them sending you alone," She took a deep breath, "We can only work with what is available." She bowed then backed away.


"I do not see how this will be of any use," the rather large male on Billy's right stated calmly, "Seeing as they have decided to leave out the counterweight to your own optimism, but what has been agreed upon has been agreed upon, so we shall allow the course of events to continue." Then he too bowed and backed away, leaving Billy to face me alone.


I've never been good at recording our conversations verbatim, so I shall summarize her explanation on why the Gholem are here. It seems that they were the remnants of an experimental all-gholem settlement, funded, apparently, by a man with a similar attitude towards their humanity but with orders of magnitude more funding than I could ever have laid hands on. At the beginning of the year they had been contacted by the local garrison that had been ordered to monitor them.


In of itself this is nothing special, as they had to put up with observers, researchers, anthropologists, and the like on a regular basis ever since they had begun this experiment two years ago. However rather than the usual heckling and goading they posted, on the doors of their town hall, a notice that they have a week to vacate 'in the interests of public safety and security'. Billy practically growled when she cited their excuses for the notice. None there at the time knew what was going on save that the myriad of groups that had been against their settlement project had finally found a suitable excuse to muscle in. They tried reasoning with the other observers sent there, and while they unanimously agreed that they conducted themselves as well as, if not better than, most towns of similar size, the military it seems had turned a deaf ear.


The next morning, I repeat, THE NEXT MORNING, the entire garrison (roughly eight thousand troops plus support personnel) arrived to forcibly remove them. These were men armed with everything from mortars and rockets that could bombard their target from at least a half-mile away, to armored vehicles, flamethrowers, assault weapons, body armor, and it seems anything you could've wanted for land warfare. At dawn the shelling began and didn't' stop till dawn the next morning. Several families had tried escaping that night amid the bombardment, and while no bodies were ever recovered, none have heard anything since then.


When the shelling stopped the slaughter followed. Any who offered resistance, even a misspoken word, was executed. Those that survived the roundup were herded to a prison camp euphemistically labeled as a 'resettlement and processing center'. Their escape from this place probably saved their lives, though over half were lost as a result. They're being hunted like the natives of the western plains almost three centuries ago. They're still being hunted in fact, which is why they're here. Supposedly, so Billy claims, they believe a vault exists under the old city where pre-war weapons are preserved. She doesn't believe it exists but can't convince anyone that even if it did the chances anything there would have survived the ravages of time was exceedingly slim.


~~~~~


Unfortunately all these people have for even a temporary peace is a slender hope, and with what they've already endured they will not hesitate to kill anyone and anything that stands between them and what they think will protect them from the rest of the world.


I don't know what to tell her, so I looked to the two observers and swallowed. Even if there were such a thing none here know how to open it. Before the war everything seemed to rely on electronics and fragile devices that controlled much sturdier locks than what we're currently capable of breaking open.


Seven days, that's how long they estimate till their pursuers catch up to them. I told them I didn't think I would be able to convince the others of their story or their need, and even then they would counter with overblown doomsday fears of gholems armed with weapons that would make them masters of everything.


As I made camp I at least could take some solace in the fact that Billy, who embraced both of the other Gholem before they left, would return with me.


What do I do? I could run with Billy for the hills, pick a random direction and run since if any that survive the Gholem attacks would surely be killed in the crossfire when the army regulars show. The problem is this is my home, and even if defending it is a hopeless cause, its still the place my family had settled since before the war tore civilization apart.


The last thing I remembered before the pen fell from my hand was Billy's arms wrapped 'round my middle from behind and the sound of her crying.


~~~~~

Date: 23 May 2133

Mood: Thoughtful


Breakfast finds Billy and I shared a meager meal of meat and cheese supplemented by splitting that orange I'd been given. Neither of us felt like speaking. I can only guess at the night Billy had to go through, but mine consisted of too little good sleep, with what little sleep I managed interrupted by nightmares of a village torn to shreds by the mongrels of war.


What do we do? We do what we can, which is to try surviving the next week. My farm is well away from the main settlement, so theoretically it would only be given a passing sweep. Then again between possible survivors looking for a place to find shelter, and the fact they would likely shoot Billy on sight I just can't see home as a place to weather this storm. Billy talked, spoke of the survivors, their hopes, their ambitions, how like us they are. Why are they so maligned by humanity? We are both God's creatures ultimately.


Stop.


Lamenting over the situation will not change the facts that stare me in the face. Its time to break camp anyway and get going, granted at this pace we'll get back a day ahead of the deadline, but even so time is critical ...particularly when I haven't the slightest clue how to see us through.


No you damned spiteful spirit. You will not tear my hearth and home from me. It's all I've got. I will have a home to return to. I don't' care how many times visions of returning only to find that we had been deemed 'casualties of war'. Stop with these maddening visions. I have work that needs doing.


I feel Billy lifting me from where I'd fallen.


~~~~~

Mid-Day


I call a halt when the sun reaches its peak. No sense tiring Star out, and for that matter my own legs are sore from where I'd been taking turns with Billy waking beside while the other rode. Star might loath Billy's presence, but she's a well-trained horse and so tolerates her.


More meat and cheese as the horse grazes and waters from a nearby pond outlines our mid-day rest. Billy looks concerned, can't say I can not blame her really She knows I won't leave, just as she knows that staying all but amounts to a death sentence unless God reaches down with his merciful hand to shelter us.


Most of our rest is spent just holding each other's hand. There were no words in this moment, nor were there acts of Love or Passion. There was just her and I lay curled against each other, and that was enough for the both of us. We simply enjoy the contact of the other's skin. Then by unspoken agreement it ended and we had to take to the road again.


~~~~~

Late Afternoon


We're within sight of town. Billy says she can hear gunfire. I hear nothing and try convincing her she's just stressed and had too much time to dwell on things. I don't believe it either, but we advance anyway.




God have mercy. Everyone in the Hall, and many outside are dead. The survivors keep going on about a shootout that escalated into mass hysteria as others, just arriving from patrol, thought that we had come under attack and fired blindly into the den of noise. Stupid... stupid waste.



Damned you WHY?!


~~~~~

Date: 23 May 2133

Mood: Unglued


What am I supposed to say here? How am I supposed to feel? I mean.... it seems the moment I left some madness gripped everyone within the hall. There are survivors sure, but none capable of giving any sort of account of events. All of this troubles me. Arguments I could see, especially if my father announced they were sending a negotiator out. Tempers would flare, and doubtlessly a few people would pull weapons they kept despite laws against weapons in public buildings.


The point where this breaks down is how a few people riled up by an unfavorable course of action could translate into the murder of eighty and the wounding of another thirty. Right now I'm seated at my father's desk penning my thoughts down while those trained in medicine examines the dead.


The only thing that comes to mind is some sort of contamination in the food. Hm. I guess that's a thought that could sit with my mind well enough for me to not have swearing fits.


~~~~~

Hours later


Nothing to neither confirm nor deny my privet theory of food poisoning induced madness, and no new cases of people turning violent so with that somewhat good news out of the way let me reiterate the news. Our central government is completely gone, as are a number of people who would have otherwise acted as defenders. I was still confused, I didn't know what the rest of us would do, and pacing and worrying wasn't going to fix any of it.


What interrupted my thoughts was a rather slight gholem maid of my Father's; I think her name was China. She never seemed to make eye contact and was only inside the office for a few moments before she placed a saucer on the desk along with a glass of tea before backing away, bowing before exiting.


Sandwiches are a good 'quick' meal, and when the meat for this sandwich is ground beef mixed with onion and peppers? Ok so its more a case of meatloaf between bread slices but you have to admit, its rather satisfying. She was such a thoughtful woman. I hope China will be all right now that father is gone.


I'd taken a walk; sandwich in hand, to talk to the doctors looking the bodies over. Seems all of 'em that were examined had eaten the same thing, though none remains uneaten to test they're assuming mushrooms or Ergot. I don't know what either does really but apparently whoever did this stuffed it in their meatlo-


I remember my sandwich falling from my hand, all appetite leaving me as my body begins convulsing. It couldn't have been long enough for any sort of poison in the food to take hold. Once I was done voiding I promptly fainted.


What happened after this was quite possibly one of the strangest dreams I'd had till that date.


~~~~~

Restless Dreams


I was in a windowless door-less room. What light there was seemed to emanate from just beyond the corner of my vision, and never revealed itself no matter which way I turned. I realized I was clothed in a dull gray jumper and ill-fitting slippers. Fits I suppose, prison clothes for a prison cell. Get on with it.


If you insist, then so shall it be.


Between eye blinks the wall in front of me went from being blank and featureless to having a simple arch in the center just wide enough for me to walk through.


Look.


To my right was a painting, its colors washed out and faded, depicting a childhood scene of me as a small boy, my father, and a faceless woman (which I suppose was meant to depict my Father's habit of having a different 'girlfriend' every few months), and there slightly behind and to the right of my father was China. Instead of her usual blank expression was one of unbridled rage, and instead of a serving tray, or tea set, or whatever, she held a knife, blade pointed downward, and aimed at the center of my father's back.


I've always had my suspicions China resented her position in our family, and she was always either evasive if I asked (when other people could potentially hear), or downtrodden (when it was just the two of us). I think she understood that I didn't follow in my father's footsteps with how I treated her or any of the other Gholem I've run across.


I felt my head turn to the left. Here I saw a painting of China and me, still as a child, on a nature walk. This image seemed faithful to my memories. China happy and content, one of the few times I remember her genuinely smiling, and me running around whooping and in general acting the loon. Ok I get it; my subconscious was trying to tell me that China was taking revenge against my father. Can we skip the walk down memory lane?


As you wish, I shall do.


Blink once I'm in the endless hallway of paintings. Blink twice and I'm back home reclining in my easy chair listening to Bruce Sanger and the Midnight Orchestra. China was seated by the radio mending a shirt. For several long moments we were like this, I watching her work with the silence broken only by the sounds of Nu-Swing, U-Swing, then she spoke, never looking up from her work.


"It doesn't' matter what I say." she rocked slightly, her face showing faint traces of laugh lines around the eyes as she looked up from her work at me. "And I'm simply a product of your imagination, but for what it's worth I didn't poison your lunch Julies."


I smiled at her. "Nana." Somehow it felt right to call her so, after all she did use the name she'd always called me by when I was a child, "Why?" she frowned slightly then I added, "No I mean I know why you did this to Father, but what of everyone else?"


Her scowl deepened, lining her face further, "Child, if you knew what I had to endure for the past twenty years you wouldn't need to ask." I could imagine the worst, but decided not to voice my fears. When I didn't answer she continued, "think about it Julies. I was barely fed, surrounded by people that wouldn't hesitate to put a bullet in me if I even thought about fighting back, and then there was you." she trembled, seeming to age with each word. "I kept quiet because I didn't want them to be the only thing you would grow up knowing."


I reached out to put a hand on her shoulder and recoiled when I felt instead of the soft warmth of life I'd always remembered, little more than skin draped cold bones. She really was aging in front of me, and dying. "You'll wake up soon Julies, and I know that you feel that even with your father gone that you should stay." She gripped me with now skeletal hands and, even as she died she spoke. "Save yourself, take Billy with you and go. Nobody will blame you for running, for my sake and for your family name GOOOOOoooo." The last word died when her body dissolved into a pile of dust at my feet.


~~~~~

Back in the Land of the Waking


Eyes open, grab the first thin in reach, only to have my hand swatted away. I fumbled repeatedly till my vision cleared, showing China's face.


"He's awake." China, seemingly eternally in her youth, alive and well, hovered over me, filling my field of view. "Billy, get over here." I couldn't move, something digging into my wrists. "Lay still." She smiled at me, a mother comforting her child, "Shh, we'll have these off in a moment." I heard two soft clicks, each accompanied by the easing of that digging sensation. "When you collapsed you started seizing, then clawing at anyone who came close before going limp. They say you'll be fine, but they wanted to know what happened while you were gone."


I told her, in-between sips of water to get the taste and burning out of my throat, about what the Gholems that were attacking us had gone through, and their belief that under our town lay a vault of wonder weapons. She shook her head and sighed, "There's no choice then," she stated mater-of-factly, "We have to evacuate. They'll kill half the slack jawed idiots that try putting up a fight, and then the army will kill the other half because we've seen too much.


I felt weak, but still was strong enough to stand. I didn't like it, but both the Dream-china and the real thing were women of practicality. If she said we had to run then I wasn't going to argue with her. This was my home, and I would come back in a month or two after it'd settled down, but there was no going back if I were dead.


Looking to Billy then to China I nodded. We had preparations to make. Well, Billy and I did, China was acting in my father's place for the time being. Unusual given the general sentiment, but she knew his reasoning better than any of the others, so would know his mind well enough to tell them what he would've done, which would be to scatter and return come autumn. This would mean we'd miss out on the harvest season, but the way things were looking, it was either this or die for anyone.


Why didn't I feel anger, or even resentment, or... anything at China? I can't tell you, since its not like me and my father hated each other. Far from it, itís just that I don't know. I can't bring myself to feel right now, and I knew she had her reasons, damned good ones.


Still. He's my father, and I should feel something when I look into the face of his killer, yet there's nothing.


~~~~~

Date: 27 May 2133

Mood: Chipper


It's strange. I've released all of my animals to fend for themselves, packed what can be carried in the buggy, and now sit at the end of the lane looking at my house, not to see it again for another three months. Yet I feel happy. I guess it's a case of the devil you don't know being better than the one staring at you. It's past the deadline now, so the raids will start again. Hopefully they'll get the point that we're leaving and go try finding this mythic vault of whatever.


~~~~~


Its Billy's turn to drive, and while I should be sleeping I can't just yet because, to be frank, I find myself excited. We're going. No we don't know where, maybe to Bristol, or Ashton. Both are reasonably close, and I've been to each (Ok I've been to each one ONCE, but that should count!)


It seems we're not the only ones that have let livestock loose. Plenty of grass between here and there, and hopefully they'll have sense enough to stay where it's familiar. A few seem to have banded together to drive their collective herd along, which makes sense, but it makes for slower going.


Just the creak of leather shocks and the steady clop clip of hooves to mark the time. Seems I forgot to wind my watch and frankly it just doesn't seem important right now. I like it, its different. Pity the radio won't work in here, no power and all that. That would be so nice right now, listen to some good music, just me, my friend, the open road and no place in particular to be for the summer.


~~~~~


Billy here, look, I know its rude to read someone else's journal and even worse to write in it, but Julian's driving and frankly I'm booooooored. Just me, nothing in here to read because all the other books are packed up, and- Wait a tick. What's over there? Just Jenny's two kids trying to make a little fun for themselves, nothing to get worried over there. Never understood her, but she's got a nice attitude, and manages to pull off the 'just climbed out of a plane' look oh so well. Got to respect that, even if I do think the scarf's a bit much.


Anyway I've flipped through here and come to the conclusion, Julian, that you're too damned apologetic in your prose. This is a journal, snapshots of somebody's life. It's supposed to be messy for Deus's sake!


I'm going to sleep.


~~~~~


Due to this last entry Billy made, I ended up finally deciding that we should speak instead of snipe. I'm running out of paper. " Billy, its simply how I write. Let well enough alone and eventually one way or another it'll work out. Besides, if I wrote like you then nobody could tell us apart, and while I'm sure that'd be amusing, it'd get annoying. Why were we playing word tag with my book anyway? There's maybe five feet at most between the two of us."


"Because, 'Julies'," There was a sigh from the driver's seat, "when I'm driving you're snoring, or I'm too busy trying to make the horses mind to listen, and when you're driving you're usually too focused on the road to talk. That and I don't have anything better to do." Billy stuck her tongue out at me before looking back to the road to avoid the larger ruts that'd play hell with the buggy's wheels.


"Why not try drawing? It takes time and concentration, plus you know I'm not terribly picky, so don't worry about how it comes out." I know I sounded whiney, and tired, partially because we'd been on the road for the past six hours, and I simply wasnít used to being bounced about so much. I write my apologies here, even though I didn't voice them aloud.


"My 'drawings' are even worse than yours!" Despite the tone in her voice Billy didn't even bother turning from watching the road to glare at me. "That and this buggy keeps bouncing about. You'd think they put holes in the road just to aggravate us, plus right now I'm driving, but even if I werenít I still wouldn't be able to draw so much as a stick figure, and you know how I get when I'm aggravated." I shuddered without realizing it. The last time I'd had the pleasure of experiencing Billy irritated ended with me dodging her for the whole week while trying to find ways to keep her from beating everyone she came across senseless (Note: she normally isn't violent, even in her worst moods it still takes a great deal to provoke her. However when she's aggravated its almost as if its a signal for people to further goad her and undermine her already deteriorating self control to the point where it becomes a genuine concern sometimes).


Hm, that's strange. They don't usually use Zeppelins to advertise. Then again I suppose they need the extra money, or perhaps theyíre greedy. This white banner seems to have a blue bar across its middle. Above this bar is written 'We've raised', and below the bar is written. 'But is it enough? Please give.' I shook my head and sighed. Nine thousand, four hundred and seven dollars risen? Pah! Nowhere near enough, and to be frank I doubt they'll raise the funds they think they'll need in time. A noble cause to try combating the illiteracy that seems to have become epidemic again, but without a decent infrastructure I fear its doomed to frustration and failure.


~~~~~

Nightfall


Sunset brings an end to our trip for the day. Billy's tethering the horses while I make a meal out of the things from the ice chest, save the canned things and preserves for later if at all possible. What we have isn't enough food anyway, but no sense squandering what's there, right? Steak and eggs are on the menu tonight. Mmm, Breakfast.


Billy's beside me, poking the coals idly while she waits, "What will we do when we get there?" Reasonable question I guess, but she doesn't stop. "I've never seen you carry much money on you, and between everyone else that's gotten the same idea we have I'm sure if anyone's hiring we'll have to compete for anything meaningful." She watches me turn the eggs. "Sure I could get a job as a bodyguard, or a bouncer, but what about you?"


I sighed, setting one egg on my plate, one on Billy's, followed by the two steaks (again, one for each of us)). "I've never really thought about it. Father made sure I had a good education, even if I didn't take any higher learning. Maybe somebody needs a farm hand if nothing else." Billy scowled at me, "No I'm serious, if there's nothing in town, and there's usually work to be had around somebody's farm. Usually pays in what they've got rather than money," I set the teakettle and its little stand on the coals to heat the water up. "Its not like we weren't going to buy those sorts of things anyhow, so why not just cut out the middle man?"


Our conversation was interrupted by first the food, then the soft hiss of the kettle as the water rose to a boil. Tea was as good a drink as many, and far better than getting drunk of spirits, or plain water, though Billy's constantly getting onto me for making it too sweet. What can I say? It's a weakness of mine.


After I'd finished cleaning our dishes off, which primarily consisted of wiping them down and stowing them in separate from the rest to be properly washed later, I'd noticed Billy had managed to dig one of her books out. I've never understood why she likes romance as a genre. Its always struck me as a bit flimsy at best, and at worst an excuse for someone to waste paper with indecent doings (Billy: And yet its perfectly OK to detail every scream and cry for help of someone as they're torn limb from limb? I smell a double standard here) but to each their own I suppose. It forestalled any further talk of what we'd do once we got there.


This suited me just fine because I honestly had not one clue.


~~~~~

Morning


On the road again, I feel good, Billy seems to be in better spirits after last night, and perhaps because before we started I'd helped her get a few of her books out to occupy her time when its not her turn driving. With luck we'll be in Ashton by lunchtime, Supper if we're not. I've a song in my heart, money in my pocket, and a wonderful lass by my side. The future is a chancy thing, but for the moment I'm doing just fine.



~Julian


~~~~~

Date: 28 May 2133

Mood: Satisfied


While I've been here before, Ashton is, to put kindly, unfamiliar. Still, the basics are the same, so at the very least we have lodging for the horses and ourselves for the next week. Granted it cost most of our remaining money, but not having to worry about where we're going to sleep takes a burden off of my mind. Billy too seems to be more at ease now that we've a home, even if it's temporary. 'Tomorrow can wait for itself,' she told me, 'for the moment I'm just happy to have a bed.'


While the sentiment is something I can agree on, my mind just won't let me sit and take the remainder of the day off. Even after having to see to the disposition of our things (which cost yet more money), and watching the horses get settled in (while they're paid to do this, its still my responsibility to make sure they're taken care of), I still wish to go about town to see if there are any job openings.


~~~~~

Dusk


This many people in one area, and there's nobody currently hiring? I frankly cannot bring myself to believe this is the case, I've always been told that there's always work if you're willing to look for it. Maybe it's the fact that I'm still tired from the ride that's fuzzed my head. Maybe its the fact that word of Belleberg's overall situation (Author's Note: Belleberg is where Billy and I were from originally, just to clear up any confusion, as I'd apparently neglected to mention the place-name before now) and are reluctant to help, fearing reprisals. Whatever, their squeamishness is only another obstacle that I'm going to have to work around.


Billy, I'm giving you permission to use this journal to write of your own prowling tonight while I catch up on my sleep.


~~~~~

Midnight


Billy again. Seems this place livens up rather nicely at night. Not only did all the boarded up looking buildings show their true colors, but also a few of the more interesting street vendors have come out to cater to the more adventurous, or is it unsavory, sort of customer. One of the perks of being what I am, I suppose, is that they automatically assume I'm either on somebody else's business, or looking for a rougher sort than most 'decent' people would admit to. I'm not sure how to take that really, I know its biased and shows I'll probably get treated much the same as I did when I first showed up under Julian's roof.


Oh well, not much I can do about how I'm seen except to give it time. Till then there's work that needs to be found, and while I don't like much of what's being sold on its own merits, it does provide an opportunity for me, though I'm sure Julian will disapprove of my acting as a door 'man'. Not that he won't find out till well after it's too late to back out, which will only leave him resentful that I didn't consult him first (He worries about me, which I suppose I should be grateful for, but sometimes its just a headache to deal with.) but before the day's out he'll decide that what's done is done so best to work with what's there. Love that about him really, he seems to take much in stride no matter how much whining he'll do at the onset.


Dawn approaches, and I need a nap. Please don't wake me up, I've been yelled at enough by too many people tonight. On the bright side I managed to get five dollars for the hour I put in helping diffuse a scuffle that the resident help was having problems with. I'm not sure if they resent me or are grateful I dropped by. Hope they won't be violent about it, since both of 'em look like the 'could crush a man's skull in their hands' types, and I just don't think itíd be much of a challenge.


At the bottom of the page was that half sun/half moon doodle. Was it winking at me? Odd, she usually doesnít put a face on the thing.


~~~~~

Morning


After reading Billy's account of last night I debated on dousing her with cold water, just to get the point across that I don't like her not doing anything without the both of us discussing it. Then I saw the bruises. Seems that fight she mentioned in passing wasn't so minor a scuffle after all, and she did get a job. So currently Billy lay sleeping, un-drenched, while I prepare for my own job hunt.


The first order of business, however, is breakfast. I'd seen a diner across the street before we'd checked in last night, which is a good thing because what I want is a hot meal, and I do believe coffee will hit the spot quite nicely. Now then, what to wear? Navy trousers, dark gray waistcoat and navy jacket, or black trousers and jacket with dark green pinstripes and a deep green jacket? The latter suits my mood, besides I'd gotten a new fedora last month that goes with the black outfit. Tie... tie, hello tiiiiieee, where are you? Aaaah there we are. It's just a clip on, but it helps complete the outfit.


Now that I've made myself presentable, its time for me to find breakfast. Hm, coffee's a bit steep, half-dollar for the coffee and, wait, that can't be right. THIS is what I got for a half-dollar? No, damned you people I don't care if I'm making a scene, THIS HERE IS HIGHWAY ROBBERY!


Calm thyneself. Nothing will come from shouting. So instead of making a spectacle, no matter how much immediate gratification it would give me, I calmly asked the waitress that brought this astoundingly tiny thimble of coffee if they had somehow mixed up my order with somebody else's. I had asked for a, pardon me, 'tall' coffee.


Hm, well it seems that in this coffee house 'tall' is their smallest size, with the portion I'm more accustomed to being the 'Grande', and costing a dollar. She was quite polite in explaining this to me, and even offered to correct my oversight if I'd pay the difference, which I did. I may feel like this place was gouging, but I literally need my coffee in the morning else I can't focus till well after noon. Perhaps its because I was an obvious first-time customer and they wished to make a good impression, or perhaps its part of their standard service (it would go a long way towards explaining the prices), I was given the morning's edition of the paper and asked if there were any records I would like to be put in rotation once the queue cleared.


Well, if they're offering I'm not about to turn down this sort of service. After being repeatedly assured that this was a complementary service for being a paying customer I accepted the offered paper and asked if they had Johnny Twelve: From Home to the Stars and Back again. To my utter amazement they had this record, one I'd been scouring and pestering the local record shops, mail order services, traveling merchants, and basically anyone I felt could direct me to a copy. It'd been on my 'to listen to' list for the better part of a decade, so this turn of events has more than made up for the earlier discomfort about their pricing.


Now then, with coffee in hand (they apparently don't serve plain black coffee here, so I ordered French vanilla), and a paper before me I set about to searching the help wanted section while the rest of my breakfast was being prepared. To my dismay most of these positions appeared to be deskbound jobs, not that I couldn't take dictation (as the pages before you hopefully proves, I take pride in my literacy and deftness with a pen) its just that I would rather take a more active position if at all possible. Even as I mentally sorted these to the bottom of my list I noted several stores in need of some sort of help or another. These I shuffled higher on my list.


I suppose there are some of you out there that are wondering why I would take menial labor over what would presumably be work that involves less physical exertion, higher pay, and presumably other benefits due to the job itself. Its been my experience that most of the buildings these clerks are shoehorned in have poor ventilation, are generally smoke filled due to the majority of the workforce taking the edge off their stress by smoking. Add to this discomfort by a boss that breaths down your neck every half hour about a project deadline, or to shove more work down your throat, or to inform you that somebody else isn't in and you have to pick up their slack. Now do you begin to get the idea why I don't like desk jobs? It's simply not worth the stress involved. Working a register, however, is something I have absolutely no problems with, and there are several such positions open it seems.


Ahh there's my food, bacon, eggs, tow biscuits, and a little gravy to dip, or drizzle, or whatever. Two dollars seems steep, but considering by this time the record I've asked for has started playing, and the crossword lay before me (there's a note scribbled in the margin asking that patrons not work the crossword on the paper itself as well as a spare sheet of paper as well as a pen, presumably to serve as a placeholder). Small pleasures these may be, but if you don't stop to enjoy the simple things life gives you and seek only to enjoy the grander aspects of living then your life will be filled with many disappointments and few rewards. Trust me, I've seen people go down this road and I rather enjoy my approach better, its allowed me to curtail much of the anger and frustration in the world, though that doesn't mean I won't be annoyed at what life throws at me, such as the bill. Three dollars. Deus and Deities this is one of the more expensive meals I've eaten.


~~~~~

On the Prowl


The first place I go to seems to have already found someone to work the register, though it seems they're searching for someone to stack the shelves. I politely tell them that if nothing else comes up I will be back to see if they're still in need. Not that this work is beneath me, but I would rather try out my other options before returning here, after all its a rather steep drop in pay as well as an equally steep increase in the amount of labor for that pay. Before I left I heard compliments from both the lady that owned the store as well as the boy at the register about my suit. Father would've been proud, as he had always taught that the impression made by a good suit and polite manners can win anyone over in time.


The next place I went to had a similar situation, save that it was the manager's son that was working the register, quite badly by the looks of things, and while they were polite, they were far less so than the first place I'd gone. As I walked I debated on if I should go back or not, and decided it would be better if I don't unless there literally were no other options. On the way I ran into, almost literally, a familiar face.


"Jenny?" Of all the places she could've gone she had to be here. I was somewhat amused by this as I made sure the olive skinned happy-go-lucky walking oddity was undamaged. "What brings you here?"


She chuckled, and then readjusted her scarf. "Same thing you are I suppose, looking for work." Ah, of course, the activity of the day. "I had thought to see if any of the theaters here were interested in hiring me on for the summer. You?"


"Er, looking to see if any of the stores here need a pair of hands." It didn't sound nearly as grand as what she wished, but then again while I am a fan of performance, prior experience has taught me that I am ill suited to be anything other than a spectator.


Jenny's face brightened then, without permission or warning, she grabbed my right hand. "I know just the place!" Despite having a somewhat longer stride than her I felt hard-pressed to keep up as Jenny drug/led me to a knickknack's shop that'd somehow been shoehorned in between clothing stores. "Well, what're you waiting for? They're looking for help, and you've told me you like working with kids, and you're good with numbers." To emphasize her assertion I should go she gave me a gentle, but quite firm, shove towards the building in question.


It seems as soon as this was done that she was gone again. How she disappears, seemingly at a whim, I haven't the faintest clue. Its somewhat eerie, and more than a little disturbing, but she's a kind soul, one of the few others that had openly supported my choice to take Billy in. If she thought this place was somewhere I should go, then who was I to argue, especially since she wasn't there to argue with.


~~~~~

Odd Job


The interview itself seemed to be of little consequence when compared to the store itself. All manner of items were crammed in bins, stacked on shelves, or were arranged on tables. The displays themselves seemed rather haphazardly created, as if a school-room full of children had recently just been told to put everything away before scurrying off to lessons. How anyone could make sense of this, much less enforce it?


The answer seemed to pop into existence just behind me as a youngish looking woman walked in, and almost as if by magic, a short fellow garbed all in green and surmounted by an equally green top hat bowed to her, introduced himself as 'the spirit of giving' then started leading her around, asking the bewildered woman questions in rapid succession. Then, almost without any warning at all they stopped at a particular display before the woman's face lit up like a room full of arch lamps. 'Its perfect!' she exclaimed. A whole army of metal solders was just what her two boys had asked for, apparently, and with so many they wouldn't have to fight over who got to play with what.


The dwarven salesman pulled a bag out of his coat sleeve with a flourish and helped her gather the diminutive men before both headed towards the register, which happened to be where I was standing. Both seemed to take my presence as a manner of course and seemed to expect me to ring the lady's purchase up.


"What," I begin as I scanned the layout of this particular register. "Is the total ...uh... Sir?" I looked to the emerald clad dwarf (I suppose leprechaun would be more appropriate, but that's always brought to my mind maniacal tricksters no bigger than your thumb willing to fleece you for everything you had, and this man seemed just the exact opposite) expectantly. He held up five fingers on his left hand, made two fists, held up eight fingers, then three before nodding, all this done behind the woman's back.


"Five eighty three ma'am." she handed me six dollars, which I quickly made change for before ringing up the sale and writing a recipe with one of the little squares of paper stacked to the left of the register, presumably for that exact purpose. She practically beamed at me as I tipped my hat to her before she left.


"A fine job lad." the dwarfish fellow nodded approvingly at me. "Quick wit, polite, and a snappy dresser." He plucked at the hem of my coat, "Why we even match." His grin broadened, letting my coat go to thrust a hand towards me, which I gripped before we let go. "Michael Anderson, but for those that come through the door I'm Finn." He took a step back and bowed deeply, making a sweeping gesture with his top hat. "Finny McCullough, purveyor of amusements for the younger and younger at heart at your service Mister..."


"Julian Guy Fawkes the Third, or Julies if you prefer." I doffed my hat to the man. A little whimsy to lighten the mood, clever. It was also rather fitting to his personality it seemed, and I would later learn one of the reasons his store did so well.


I couldn't wait to tell Billy. She'd love this place. When I brought the subject of Gholem up Finn waved his hand dismissively, "Fah, they've had a bad deal since the day they were put on this earth. So long as they behave and show the other customers and employees respect I'll treat 'em the same as everyone else." Good! I was worried I'd found a boss that had a wonderful sense of absurdity, charming attitude, and would have to find other work due to prejudices. Bless Jenny for her wonderfully good judge of character.


~~~~~

Evening


I didn't return to the hotel till dusk, as more customers had shuffled through off and on for the rest of the day. This had the effect of keeping me rather busy, and thankfully Finn was there to pick up on the slips I'd inevitably make as I had yet to learn the systems he'd had in place for pricing, organization, or any of that. It was, on the whole, a good day. Now it was time to give Billy the good news.


"Billy?" I knocked twice before using my key to our room to unlock the door.


After calling again I heard from the other side, "Just a minute!" then after several such minutes passed, "Alright come in." I saw Billy in a dark jumpsuit, stout boots, and thick gloves. She must've seen my puzzled expression, as that was the same outfit she wore the day I found her, though the insignia had been removed and it'd been died a deep blue instead of its original olive drab. "Its for my new job. They warned me things might get hairy, and these are the toughest clothes I have with me. This was true, since the fibers themselves seemed quite capable of resisting any attempt to cut or rend the fabric apart.


I embraced her where we stood, then after a quick squeeze I let her go. "Just promise me you'll take care of yourself."


"I will Julies." She lightly ruffled my hair. "I will." With that she was gone. I had hoped this wouldn't be a harbinger of things to come, but, for the next week we saw very little of each other, and I've decided to omit the doings of this time as they are, by and large, dull and rather routine matters mostly consisting of each of us adjusting to our jobs, and my briefly being woken at sunrise each morning as Billy curled around me. It isn't much, I suppose, and leaves much to be desired. However the two of us are doing a fair sight better than many people out there, so I've no reason to complain as yet.



My crown is in my heart, not on my head, Nor decked with diamonds and Indian stones, Nor to be seen: My crown is called content: A crown it is, that seldom kings enjoy.

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William Shakespeare



Part 2: The Inevitable Twisting


"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream."

-- Mark Twain. American humorist, writer and lecturer, 1835-1910


"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. "

-- Helen Keller


Date: June 1 - 30

Mood: Weary


Its been an odd month, I must say, and more because of how matters have gone between Billy and myself than the change in surroundings. First and foremost let me explain the prior month's doings. As we both have found jobs at the beginning of the month our attention then became first where do we live (as renting from here seems to be a bit dodgy), which involved searching for an apartment, which would take Billy in (no mean feat, but we accomplished this). After that it was on to taking care of the horses and finding space for our belongings that couldn't be moved into our temporary home (mainly the carriage and other items such as the pair of saddles and other bits of tack for the horses). Plus there's the matter of actually finding one's way around town without being approached by beggars, muggers, or other folk who are interested in selling things I don't wish to buy ('No Sir, while I thank you for the offer I'm not interested in buying Clinton's Pants. However, if you're interested you and the man offering to sell Cheneyís Shotgun could start a corner side exhibit of artifacts.'). Street side hustlers are a trivial matter though, especially when compared to the costs of daily living, food, and transportation within city limits.


City Living is expensive!


Even so I enjoyed what little time I had that wasnít taken up by juggling expenses, work, and making sure I got enough sleep so that I would be able to function the next day. I wont' complain though since the work itself is quite entertaining (thanks to Finn's lively attitude as well as the general habit of customers to play towards the little fantasy he spins for them). Despite the occasional bruising Billy receives (she insists that its just a case of unruly customers that donít' want to leave peacefully, no matter how I approach it she doesn't give any inkling that she's being mistreated, so for now I'll believe her) she seems satisfied with her work, stating that 'it lets me be aggressive while getting paid for it.' I guess job satisfaction is enough reason to stay there. I donít know, and I don't think I will know.


I saw that advertising blimp again. It would seem that in the past month they've managed to raise thirteen thousand seven hundred and twenty one dollars. A good take for the month to date (I believe it was on the twelfth, but I cannot be sure). Unfortunately their goal for each month seems to be fifty thousand dollars, and always, it seems, they fall well short of this goal. I've donated, as has Billy. Literacy is an important thing after all, and I help where and how I can.


In closing for the month's summery I leave you with a song that's wormed its way in my skull that's received some heavy rotation on the radio for the past month.


A Confession


Once in a while,

I'm standing here, doing something.

And I think,

"What in the world am I doing here?"


It's a big surprise.

It's a big surprise.


All I can tell you is,

It hasn't happened.

It's going to happen.


It's a big surprise.

It's a big surprise.


Everyone's so eager to get the story

Before in fact the story's there

That the world is constantly being fed

Things that haven't happened.


It's no surprise.

It's all a pack of lies.


And I think,

"What in the world am I doing here?"


~~~~~

Date: 2 July 2133

Of Freedom and Farce


After I counted the coins in the jar, I realized she'd saved exactly six hundred eighty three dollars and forty-two cents entirely in nickels and dimes. I know that I shouldn't be nosing in, much less counting, Billy's savings, but that's a damned lot of money,, especially considering there arenít any pennies in the mix. I idly wondered where the rest of our pocket change went, then shrugged to myself. At least we had a fallback in case we both lost our jobs and.


Wait a tick. She had this much money for how long exactly? No, I'm not going to badger her. Its not my place, and I'm certain she would have let me know if we'd truly needed the money. Oh well, off to work, while getting ready I turn on the radio for a little morning music. You know, normal morning, normal day.


Then I hear the soft hiss of static before a voice speaks. "Julian, would you kindly come here? I wish very much for you to hear perfectly every word I have to say." Curiosity gripped me in that moment. Was this some sort of prank on part of the station? I finished buckling my pants and approached the radio, leaning forward so I wouldn't miss any of this. After all stories of Mercury Theatre were still told, and many have since tried pulling other jokes.


'Now then," I didn't like this announcer though, for he seemed to set off rather faint, but distinct, alarm bells in the back of my head. that and he reminded me somehow of the biblical serpent. "Would you kindly take that jar of money and..." His voice droned on, giving me instructions to go to a seedy part of town where I was supposed to get in a poker game.


I couldn't stop myself. Billy, I'm sorry. I couldn't stop it.


~~~~~

That night


The next eight hours went by in flashes of images I remember amid a blurry sea of things I cannot. There was a bar, then a back room, then me turning in my jar of ill gotten money for a stack of bills (which I had counted, I didnít get any change, but the dollar amount was right).


Money in hand I turned to go, then found myself in another room. this room looked well appointed (which contrasted with the area of town I remembered being in).


I remembered the feel of the cards in my hand, and the tinny sounds from the radio. I also remember being surprisingly good at poker (probably because I had no facial expression at this time and kept to myself).


'Now,' that voice again overrode what was on the radio. 'Would you kindly bet everything on the next hand?'


I could do nothing but obey this voice nobody else seemed to hear. My sudden 'all in' seemed to take the other players at the table off guard, and most bowed out after the initial ante (as I'd placed everything in the pot after that point). However that still left two others who seemed willing to take the game as far to its logical conclusion.


I wont' bore you with the detail of hands and the petty grumbling and attempts at getting the other to fold. At this point I find it hard to recall, and I feel it unimportant. Only the outcome of that hand was important.


I won.


The skinnier of the two fellows left then, grumbling that he'd already wasted too much money. This left a fat balding man and I eyeballing each other. Ok well he eyed me. I simply stared ahead blankly.


"Well." He stood then took a bow. "Luck is with you tonight Stranger."


After he left I was alone except for the mystery voice that spoke to me over the radio. 'Now then, take all of the money and put it in two piles. One to repay your meat puppet for what you've borrowed.' the voice seemed to have the same prejudices and assumptions about gholem as most other people.


'The other pile is what's important here.' He took a deep breath. 'Now, if you would kindly take this money to Finn and tell him that you won this in a game of cards and want him to have it.' While the voice spoke I stuffed Billy's money in my coat. The rest, it would need a satchel to carry. With nothing to put it in I bundled it up in my coat and slung it over my shoulder.


What a night...


~~~~~

Date: 3 July 2133

Charitable thievery


After depositing Billy's money back in the jar I stared at it for a while. She wouldn't be home for at least another hour (assuming both the clock on the nightstand was set correctly, and she wasn't let go early). Of course she'd know I found her stash, so I wrote a short note explaining that I'd gone to the trouble of changing her coin out for bills, and had even added to the overall total. Why a note? Frankly I was exhausted and had just enough strength left after I'd put her jar where she'd see it (rather than put it back in its hiding spot under the loose floorboard in the closet) to spare the radio a glare before sleep hit me. I was fairly sure I'd imagined that voice, and yet there was the fact I couldn't refuse its 'request'.


All I recalled of my dreams was that something was stabbing me in the stomach, and when I woke I realized why. Billy had straddled my legs and was jabbing me in the gut with her first two knuckles on her left hand. She seemed somewhere between irritated and amused, so I had thought this was about her money.


It was, and at the same time it wasn't. It seemed, much to my chagrin, she was acting as a bodyguard to one of the men whom I had played against the night before. I confirmed that yes I was who he'd been beaten by, no I don't remember much of that night, and...


I didn't know what prompted me to go out there. I was scared, and I told her as much. I even told her about the voice in the radio despite the risk she'd call me either a liar or crazy. She did neither and instead held me there, reassuring me she wasn't upset. She was just grateful I hadn't gotten shot since the men I beat were the sorts with tempers and didn't care about firearm ordinances.


I told her I'd be careful, and I would be too. Its not like I wanted to get shot, or more to the point I hated the idea of being in pain. Lets face it, itís not on my big list of things I want to do. Unfortunately neither of us were sure this voice, or whatever it was, was an isolated incident.


For the moment we'd both decided to move on to other matters, like what I'd done with the rest of my winnings. I told her, again, I'd given them to Finn at the voice's 'request'.


Billy looked at me for a long moment and sighed. "I don't know what to say. You barely know him, but youíve said you like him, so it could just be that you thought he needed it."


"Maybe." I started the teakettle once she let me up. "He seemed genuinely surprised, and not just by the fact a near stranger was giving him money. It seemed that after I said 'won in a card game' something else clicked in his mind. I'll have to ask him later after my head clears."


"While you're out we're out of milk." I sighed and checked the refrigerator (No I don't know how the things work, but I'm glad it came with our apartment, as I hate iceboxes, they tend to get messy if you arenít careful.


~~~~~

The Great Game


Finn seemed surprised first that I'd be out and about right now considering last night's company. Seemed to me that I was the one person that didn't quite 'get' who I had played against the night before so asked for an explanation.


As it turns out it seems I had stumbled on a preliminary round to a wider poker contest. I'd had barely enough to not only bribe my way in (since the man who's place I took seemed to just not show up, and there's apparently rumor that I did rather unsavory things to take his position) but also beat out the three front-runners from our city for the privilege of advancing to the next round.


Something smelled rotten in the state of Denmark, and i let Finn know my opinion. He said I could withdrawal, which would inevitably anger a great number of people who had hoped that someone from our region would make it through the preliminaries this year. these people would take their anger out in violent ways, of course, and there would likely be those that would gladly chase me down if I had run for it.


Cute, real cute, I start hearing voices just in time to enter a game I can't back out of. Thankfully Finn still had my winnings on the assumption I gave them to him for safe keeping till the actual tournament started at the close of this month. I thanked him and went to go get groceries before I forgot before returning to Finn to finish out the workday. After all just because I was suddenly a notable figure (complete with irritated persons wanting to take pot shots at me both for winning, and if i decided to bow out) didn't mean I was gong to shiv when it came to work.


~~~~~

Date: 27 July 2133

First Airships, now this?


<Julian gets the Broken Cog here, need to explain how the ship and club are linked without using yet another poker game>



~~~~~

Date: 29 July - 2 August 2133

Of Airships, Musings, and Explosions


"Measure thrice, cut once"


"Thou shalt always, ALWAYS, prepare for Murphy."


"It seemed like a good idea at the time" does not wash, except in cases where the result is certifiably hilarious."

-Anonymous


This ship was mine, and I had absolutely no clue what to do with the floating monstrosity, nor had the faintest idea of how to manage the thing. As a result my first impulse had been to sell her off and make good with the money. Unfortunately for me the fine print in the contract for the game had stated that I had to make use of the winnings for no less than one month, barring accidents or otherwise.


It could be worse, I told myself, it still has a crew that might be able to help me figure out what's what around here. There's that going for me, plus the fact it is, so I'm told, in excellent condition considering the last captain was certifiably Mad, and had (before being subdued and carted off to a sanitarium) started shooting holes in the ship's gas bags exclaiming that the world was going to end and that the only way to salvation was to purge your sins through fire.


I wasn't exactly reassured by the whispers that the ship itself had been cursed by the man's insanity. When pressed everyone who made these whispers suddenly became evasive, but I did learn that the last three that had taken responsibility for the ship in question had ended up going mad before being able to assume the command.


At this I laughed inwardly. Depending on how you wished to look at things I was already mad!


Now then, what do I name her (for it is traditional that such vessels are inherently female. Perhaps this is because it is widely held that we come from the sea, and as such it is our Mother)?


Lady Luck? Hm, debatable but I'll keep it in my list.


Random Gambler? I like it, but Billy made a face when I suggested it.


Ariel? No, just...no. I might appreciate the Shakespearian reference, but Nah.


It was approaching time for the rechristening ceremony and I was to have a name picked before I was to be fitted for my uniform. I hated naming things, everything I picked ended up either not making sense outside of the context of the moment, being some sort of joke, or just not feeling right.


Billy put a hand on my shoulder then told me to take a deep breath. Think of a name, she told me; the first name that pops into your mind is what weíre going to call it.


Inhale.


Names. Female names. I need one.


Isabella. She'll be called the Isabella.


Billy seemed less than happy about this name, but said nothing to me about the matter.


My uniform is bone white with touches of gold at the buttons and embroidery on the collar and cuffs. It seems modeled after the old English naval officer uniforms, and while I liked its simplicity for the most part, I abhorred the boots and asked if there was anything I could do about them. After all even if I was going to discard them after this was finished I didn't want to limp down to the mooring tower at the ceremony. It would look undignified, and everyone would take it as a bad omen.


~~~~~

A room with a vie-Oh dear lord I'm going to be sick.


I looked about the captain's quarters, now apparently mine. The man who owned this ship may have seemed like a scruffy and dog-eared 'to hell with neatness' sort, but it seemed like a case of organized chaos here. True there were books, notes, and maps strewn about, but it was as if everything had its place within the general mess. Maps here, unused charts there. Log books and manifest on this shelf, and so on. A good room, and this was just the study. I couldn't wait to see the bedroom. Actually I could. Some of these titles have caught my interest. Ok it went beyond the books and included the maps, some dating back to before the war, back to when there was a continent-spanning nation where all these little territories now squabbled and pecked at each other. I smiled faintly at the bottle of whiskey on the table surrounded by tumblers. I don't drink, as I can't hold my liquor well, and it does funny things to my head. That doesnít mean I don't appreciate the craftsmanship behind a well distilled and aged bottle though, so I shall keep this token in hopes that the crew, or some honored guest will enjoy the amber liquid inside.


I picked up a book at random that was lying about and started reading to myself, smiled faintly at the absurdities it was trying to pass off as fact, but continued reading.


"...Kraken are generally solitary creatures, gathering in small groups only every 7 years for the purposes of breeding, and, according to ancient legends from regions as varied as Iceland and Portugal, every 900 years they come together by the thousands, swarming like locusts, in what the ancients call the "epulum diuweltuulus" Which, roughly translated, means "Feast of the wind-devils." These legends are merely rumors, of course; mentions of such sightings in ancient texts are rare, and actual proof has yet to be found. This is presumably because it is unlikely to survive such a sighting, but it still leaves room for skeptics to argue that it's "not scientifically plausible" or "a complete fallacy."..."


After flipping through more of this volume I find a series of loose-leaf papers neatly folded and used, apparently, as bookmarks. On unfolding each, I saw a series of observations and questions scrawled in cramped handwriting. Examples include the following:


"...Out of curiosity, though, what do you suppose happens to the body of an air-kraken dead of natural causes? The natural buoyancy of the creature would persist, if not increase over time, as the body decomposed and filled with additional gases. Limp tentacles trailing underneath it like a jellyfish's tentacles, floating endlessly through the sky like a lonely and lost hot-air balloon.. It would eventually lose the air from within it and slowly descend out into the open ocean, or worse, onto dry land. Imagine the spectacle of a beached whale, but in the middle of a busy city..."


I could scarcely believe any man of reason would believe that these mythic beasts roam the skies. After all, had man, before the wars destroyed the old order of things, not cataloged and observed every major beast? Yes I know they were still trying to make sense of what they were finding in the crushing depths of the oceans, but surely they would have found anything as large as these kraken are supposed to be in the skies by now. They had, if I recall my history, whole fleets of aircraft in the skies at any given moment, so somebody credible must have noted these great beasts.


In frustration I tossed these papers aside. Senseless for an otherwise logical and orderly man to leave such nonsense in the same place he attends to the running of his ship. I could understand if he had left these papers in his cabin, after all who doesnít love good fiction? Its not like it was poorly written after all, and the chronicling of mythic and fanciful beasts as if they were observable creatures seems to have grown in popularity. Take me for instance, I have several volumes dedicated to the biology and habits of the Unicorn, Mountain Dragon, Sphinx, Gryphon, Lamia, and even the sea kraken (though one could debate on how false this last one is, seeing as if you go deep enough in the ocean you can find creatures that match these descriptions).


After stopping to gather up the loose papers I had scattered about I came on another set of notes, these apparently being more practical than the last. At the very least what I held looked somewhat interesting. "Of the practical Isolation of the Hydrogen Atom."


This text seemed to have been literally copied word for word from a reference book on the subject so I am going to refrain from copying what amounts to yet another copy of something reletivly easily found. I suppose this isn't a terribly bad thing, however if the information that's been copied is incorrect, well, lets just hope it isn't. The next page appears to be more personal notes on the subject mixed with a few facts to rub together. I take another sip before looking it over.


"Hydrogen can explode, but only if it comes into contact with oxygen. Gasoline and propane, which are heavier gases than hydrogen, are more likely to explode. The fumes from each of these tend to stay close to the ground, which increases the likelihood of explosion.


One famous explosion and fire associated with hydrogen is the destruction of the Hindenburg in 1937. Hydrogen was used to keep the giant airship in the air. For a number of years, it was thought that the hydrogen was to blame for the fire that broke out as the Hindenburg was coming in for a landing at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey. Flames destroyed the entire ship in less than one minute.


More recent research has pointed to a different cause for the disaster, however. New evidence has shown that the fabric on the outside of the ship was coated with highly flammable chemicals that were similar in composition to rocket fuel. An electrical discharge from a storm is now thought to be the true cause of ignition.


The Hindenburg disaster was responsible for the loss of 35 lives. The people involved jumping from the burning aircraft, as opposed to the fire itself, caused almost all of these fatalities. The hydrogen on board ignited, but the flames would have burned up and away from passengers. The hydrogen fire would have burned off very quickly.


If appropriate safety measures are taken, hydrogen hazards can be kept to a minimum. There are definite advantages to using hydrogen in industry as opposed to other, more flammable substances like gasoline or propane."


More flipping. This stuff seemed interesting, but I know myself too well and do not trust my attention span. I'd flipped through more notes, which seemed much the same retold in different ways. After flipping through I found a short note scrawled at the bottom of the above assessment. Though in all honesty I'd love to know how whoever wrote this found their figures. If I remember correctly the Hindenburg happened almost two hundred years ago. Eh, in grammar school they're still teaching of the rise and fall of the United States, and some of that material is five hundred years old (the founding of the colonies specifically so itís not outside of the realm of possibility I suppose.


"No smoking onboard and insulate the kitchen area thoroughly, seems like a rather obvious idea, but I'm uncertain on if anyone would bother enforcing this bit of common sense unless its plainly posted everywhere on board. Pity I'll have to threaten to throw people off after we've reached altitude for it to sink in to the crew that I would rather a little inconvenience from withdrawals than to risk, even if its of the remotest sort, of my ship bursting into flames."


Setting book and notes aside I turned my attention to a loosely bound sheaf of papers weighted down by a piece of quartz crystal. For the record yes I have a short attention span, and there was a lot to take in, so yes Iím well aware that I'm skipping about.


I'm sure anyone looking at this is wondering why I bother including all these excerpts when one could probably find these books in their own libraries? I would prefer to duplicate information than for it to not be around, at least the basic bits (as I havenít the time or energy to transcribe all the technical details), and because the above snippets caught my fancy.


I liked this room. I truly and honestly did. However it was getting late so I needed to find my bunk and call it a night. Finding someone to show me around was, unfortunately, difficult at the present moment because of preparations that still needed to be made, cargo to be checked, and all the usual last minute running around before any sizeable operation.


Even with the bustle and busywork I managed to find someone able to show me where my stuff had been parked. After thanking the man, and giving him a dollar so he wouldn't make a point to tell everyone that I was lost on my own ship, I found myself standing inside a well appointed, albeit small, sitting room which was just big enough for a low coffee table, three chairs arranged around it, a trolley that currently was the resting place for a rather plain ceramic tea set, and a door leading to the bedroom. I should note that here, as well as in my ready room, the officer's lounge, and at key points within the ship itself were handsets that, when lifted allowed one to talk to the comm. officer on duty at the time that served to direct calls. This seemed to be a bit of convenient technology, and frankly, as I would soon learn, necessary for me to do my job.

This room, after I made sure I hadn't somehow misjudged its size, was sparse and measured perhaps twelve feet by twelve feet. Cramped, but then again it didn't bother me much as it held enough room for my clothes, and a bed. Sure I might have felt a bit disappointed, but after folding down the writing desk from the wall at the foot of my bed and penning down my thoughts, I had no room to really complain. Space was limited on this ship after all, and all I'd really be doing here would be sleeping. Most of my relaxation time, which I presumed Iíd get very little of, would be spent in the officer's lounge, or in my ready room (which I was thankful was adjacent to the bridge rather than my privet quarters).


Now is time for sleep,

I pray the lord my soul to keep,

If I die before I wake

I pray the Lord my soul to take

~Amen


~~~~~

Date: 03 August 2133

Liftoff!


The sun is shining, I'm told the wind is right for our first liftoff, the crew seems in good spirits, and Billy has just given me a pair of goggles for the occasion. not that theyíre necessary, after all its not like this is an open-air deck on a sailing ship, or one of those impossible flying vessels that seem to be little more than propellers and superstructure beneath, but I like how they look. That and they seem to allow the wearer to swap out lenses, which is good because they seem a bit dark for my tastes.


This will be a short trip, lasting only about a week, and will mainly serve as shakedown, acclimating Billy and myself to air travel, and to offload some cargo that will, with luck, buy us the supplies needed for a two month tour of the continent itself. Off I go to tour the rest of the ship while the crew goes about its job.


First though I think I'll stop by the passenger compartment and take a bit of breakfast. Amazing that, despite the enormous amount of highly combustible gas over our heads, I'm able to get a hot meal. The kitchen, it seems, is quite well insulated, and as should be expected, the designers of this craft knew what they were doing and took into consideration the fact that passengers and crew would want a few of the luxuries of home. Deus, they even have radio here with speakers wired throughout the compartment! Truly a wondrous way to travel.


~~~~~

An hour later:


Maybe steak and eggs wasn't such a good idea. Turns out I get vertigo when I'm up in high places. I only found this out after I looked out of one of the observation ports and then made busy work for whichever person they sent to fetch the mop. I apologize, I really should've cleaned that up myself, after all I wouldn't want someone else to do what I won't do myself, so long as me attempting the work won't get us all killed (meaning no, I won't climb the insides of the envelope to inspect the gas bags, nor will I lift tools in repair work, as I don't know what I'm doing in either event, and would very likely do more harm than good).


So then, as captain of this ship what shall my duties be? I suppose the logical choice of tasks right now would be to consult with Navigation and our radio man to make sure our current heading won't take us along any storms (not that I expect any, but I have to do SOMETHING useful around here don't I?).


Doing what I could to remain dignified despite my stomach doing back flips and my nerves feeling shot I slowly made my way to the radio room. Those that I passed shook their heads as they saw me pass, but didn't speak. Perhaps it was plainly obvious that I was ill, or perhaps they werenít sure on how my management style would be yet as I wanted to wait till tonight before speaking with the entire crew.


~~~~~

Officer's Meeting


Standing at the head of the conference table that was the main feature of the officer's Lounge I looked at each of my crewmembers. Most seemed to be youngish, with a few older faces here and there to provide experience in those places I thought needed it most 9or rather where the prior captain thought it was most needed as I wasn't going to lay off a crew that already knew how to work together).


The meeting essentially revolved around letting them get to know me, and what I intended for their ship. I chuckled at that. Hell, I liked the sentiment. If they felt partial ownership then they would work harder to keep everything running in the best possible condition. My plan was, first, to take on tourists, then go on a month long shakedown cruise. After which we would take care of any problems that the shakedown cruise exposed.


Granted it might be a bit of a bad idea, but despite what my club was making, in terms of profits it actually wasn't that great of an earner (paying for entertainers, drinks, food, and the occasional bit of Greasing to make sure the local thugs left me alone, that kind of thing). I wish it would earn enough to pay for what amounted to an extremely fancy toy, but it didn't, so I was gong to have to make this tub pay for itself.


~~~~~

On the matter of gangs and protection:


...No I'm not about to tell them to sod off. They actually do a fairly good job at keeping the general riffraff out, though I'm fairly sure that a few of the thugs that they 'scare' off was simply for the benefit of me seeing that their services are necessary. Its not all that much really, and so long as they behave I let 'em in to have a nice sit down, and the occasional game of darts, pool, or what have you (they still have to pay for drinks, even if its at a slight discount). Hopefully they'll learn by example that a kind word and a hidden weapon up your sleeve (metaphorically speaking) works far better than a scowl and a bared blade.


~~~~~

Back to the meeting:


Everyone's main concerns seemed to revolve around my lack of experience, and a lack of revenue. As it turns out the prior owner seemed to care little about profit, and seemed only to take on cargo or passengers when it suited his fancy. Inwardly I cringed, this man sounded even more like the rich brat impression I'd first pegged him for implied (then discounted because I had simply thought he was trying to act above his current means). Mentally revising my impressions of the man, I decided to add 'beat on sight' since, lets be honest, life is not a grand adventure, and its even less an adventure when you're truly concerned about the well-being of the people around you. This boy, as nobody that dedicates their lives to their own amusement, as a primary function is no man, has left the crew unpaid for the past month, and several had nowhere to go.


I'd asked them why they didn't just scatter, find work elsewhere. After I heard that because of their ties to this man I wished I hadn't asked, because now I elevated his status from 'beat' to 'maim'. Billy, it seemed, had like-minded plans if our paths crossed again.


----------

Date: 11 September 2133

Shaken down and shook up.


Our first stop of the day was actually only across town to a refill station/mooring tower/radio beacon. It actually made sense to locate the fill pumps at these floating signal repeaters since, lets face it, they're easy to find and since you already have to tether the balloon down anyway might's well make the anchor point useful.


This particular mooring tower also served as a platform for passengers who wanted to go to and from. Strange really but the system made sense; in addition to the scheduled parcel ships, passenger craft, and the like, short notice craft (such as the one I was currently piloting), could take on passengers and or whatever. It was perfectly legal, well... sort of anyway. The only hitch was we had to go to the secondary tower as not to cause any problems with the current schedule. Oh well, it wasn't prime real-estate, but then there were always those that simply couldn't wait, or didn't care where the wind took them as long as they made it out intact.


While our tanks filled with methane gas (I hated that we couldn't afford a properly insulated and pressure tested set of tanks for liquid methane, but then we work with what we have, and at the very least it IS lighter than air (if only slightly), so its not nearly as detrimental as coal. Though on reflection I'm not sure if the benefits of not needing to find extra ballast or venting lift gas outweighs the fact that the stuff is basically an exploding hazard that's odorless, or at least would be if they didn't put that stuff in the mix that makes that gods awful rotten eggs smell.


~


We're tanked up, and it seems that we've taken on as many passengers as my executive officer (No not Billy, it wouldn't do for both senior officers to be inexperienced ... She's my, what is the word? Aide De Camp I think best describes her position here) will allow, and they're currently being given their assigned rooms while their stuff is being loaded.


Liftoff. No, I'm not going to look out the observation ports thank you! I'm content right here in my seat on the bridge drinking my tea. Everyone seems confident that all is well, though because this their first outing with an untried captain I have to wonder if this is either confidence or their trying to feel out how I take a lack of problems. Inwardly I grinned, then ordered another round of checks, then asked the helmsman (a rather large gholem who, strangely enough, is also called Billy) to take us in a circular course around Ashton before we properly embarked. After all I'd rather be close to help if things foul up in the next few hours, plus it gives the passengers something pretty to look at.


Itís almost dusk when the crew completes its ship wide checks, and find nothing amiss. Good, now we can get out of here. I order the helmsman to take us north at a quarter speed. Its dark, and though we have spotters, the radio room has a fresh man at the post, and any ship we're likely to encounter is required to have some form of warning lights on the envelope, I don't want us going too fast (though to be honest, airships of any sort arenít really made for speed), plus there's the concern of us running into a storm we know nothing about till we're stuck in the middle of it.


I wait for the next shift to finish acclimating themselves before retiring for the day. No I wasn't going to bed, even though I was officially off duty I still wanted to make a point of visiting our passengers. There were only a couple dozen, so a brief visit to each wasn't going to be terribly imposing. On the whole they seemed to be either drifters looking for a new place to settle for awhile, people that'd been unable to book passage (for whatever reason), and then there was a couple of Gholem that looked like they outright needed to leave (and didn't want anyone asking questions). I kept our conversation decidedly neutral, because they seemed weary of anyone that seemed interested in their situation regardless of intent. However I did make a note to ask Billy to talk to them later, and possibly offer reassurances that I wasn't going to turn the ship around if they were runaways.


~~~~~

Date: 12 - 27 September 2133

Into the endless blue skies


I would describe the two and a half weeks that followed our departure as being quite uneventful. Granted there were our share of hiccups and other minor problems, but the summaries that passed in front of my eyes, as well as my own attempts at discreetly probing about, seemed to support the notion that all was well in hand.


First we went west to Milton, seeing just how fast my ship would take us in the process. Why the speed? Partly because I happened to want to test the engines, and partly because several of my passengers seemed to have business in that general direction and hinted, but never actually stated, that if we made good time we would be paid extra for our efforts.


After that we went north, throttling back to conserve fuel as well as to have a better chance at taking in the scenery. These days were quite uneventful save for the usual hustle and bustle, but this was a good thing in all honesty. After all I am an untried hand at this business, and this time allowed me to delve deeper into the prior captain's journals, which seemed full of tails of air kraken, sky pirates, dragons, and other nonsense. No wait, I take that back, piracy is a real and terrible threat to shipping. However his descriptions seemed to follow the 'classical' maritime piracy everyone seems to think of. You know, stories of Blackbeard, Ann bonnie, captain Kidd, and all those old ruffians.


It was all utter nonsense, which my XO (Executive Officer) was quick to point out when I'd worked up the nerve to ask him about these writings. Its rude, after all, to ask if a man's prior employer was insane, and I didn't want to damage our working relationship. I probably shouldn't have worried, because the whole crew seemed to think the man was quite mad, but on the positive side of things his stories tended to be quite entertaining.


'Would you ki-' Billy forcefully turned the radio off, interrupting whatever the voice as about to say, for which I was quite thankful for seeing as the last few times I've heard that voice use that phrase I seemed incapable of doing anything but what was 'asked' of me.


"We have a problem." I looked up from a log entry about a purported photograph of one of these flying beasts over Big Ben (Yes yes I know the name is associated with the bell rather than the clock, no I don't particularly care), and motioned for her to continue. "We're being followed."


"So? Maybe they're just going in the same direction we are." I tried rationalizing the matter away, after all there's no need to jump to conclusions even though it is a rather big sky out there.


"Thatís what we thought too, but they won't answer our attempts at communication." We started for the bridge, "Plus theirs is apparently a warship."


Those old pirate tales must've sunk deeper into my brain than I thought, because the first thought that came to mind was a sixteenth century Spanish galleon bristling with cannon floating underneath an envelope. "Wait, as in cannons and broadsides?"


Billy shook her head, trying to suppress a smile (and failing). "No, as in they've aircraft slung under its gondola, and THOSE have guns."


The rest of the walk was spent in thoughtful silence as thoughts flitted in and out of my mind. Once on the bridge everyone briefly stiffened at their stations before relaxing. "Situation?" This to noone in particular, as Billy had already explained things to me, but I wanted somebody else to give me the facts in hopes that a different voice would help jigger something loose.


Sadly both my XO's account and reports from the radio room confirmed everything billy had told me on the way. I sighed, "Not much to go on I'm afraid. Try changing course, see what they do."


So the next hour was spent going east, and like a shadow, the other ship followed us. My frown depend as I ordered more speed, hoping that with their apparent extra wight we would be able to outrun them.


Such was not our luck unfortunately.


~~~~~

Bringers of War


We had already taken heavy fire, and though the leaks were all slow, they would be crippling. Damned. Not a friendly port close enough on the scant amount of fuel left, the Wireless isn't picking anything up but hostile chatter and the clanking of those damned machines.


"Well," I looked to our passenger and suppressed the urge to throw the man overboard. "I hope you're happy." Suppressing the urge to have the man violently removed was easy considering the tiny fact that my ship was under attack kept my mind otherwise occupied. Why was he there, he clearly wasn't crew.


Billy whispered something in my ear to the effect that we were heading out of Confederate airspace and he had offered to help if anyone started raising a huff over our nationality, assuming of course we managed to get off this thing without dying. Smart move really, assuming his knowledge of how things are done is up-to-date he'll be useful considering we'll likely be on foot, and won't know what's where.


Decent idea, assuming we make it out. The problem is I didn't much like the look of the fellow. He seemed too 'happy' considering there was a very real chance we would all either die or end up as hostages (or possibly slave labor).


I shot him a questioning look.


"Just wait for it..." A low mist cling to the ground, so even in the twilight we couldn't see them coming, but we heard something out there below us, and Jenny started to panic at the sounds of rolling thunder coming from the ground, but he gently put a hand on her arm. "Wait for it."


Wait for what? They'd already been using aircraft to harass us for the past half hour.


If we had thought the den of thunder from the ground was loud before, the tumultuous roar and flashes of orange/white light from the mists was positively deafening. Two of our attackers went down in that first salvo. Then over the Wireless we heard garbled transmissions then....


BOOOM!


More thunder from the ground, sending the remaining three planes pin wheeling to the ground. The heat and movement from below must have dissipated the mists, for when I looked to see what had been our salvation I saw a full dozen giant.... beasts. Each appeared to be molded after the Greater Apes, specifically the mountain gorilla. Their forelimbs, compared to their bodies, were longer than human proportions would allow, with their rear limbs stubbier than ours. This caused for an awkward seeming quadrupedal gait as they loped along the gently rolling hills below us. The reason for their gait and structure became obvious when I spotted what looked to be battleship cannons mounted on the backs of each of these mechanical beasts.


Will seized the receiver from my hand and started shouting orders to our radioman, first a frequency to transmit at, then presumably a recognition code, and then the actual orders. They were to destroy the airship that had been perusing us for the better part of the day.


No sooner had he given the receiver back to me than I bore whiteness to the horror and majesty of these mechanical titans in action. As a cohesive unit they widened their stance, settling as if ready to bear a tremendous weight, then the cannons, two per construct, elevated slightly. Then I heard over the loudspeaker.


"Hear me!" This man seemed to have an exceedingly thick accent, Russian, or possibly eastern European I would later learn (though at the time I simply thought of it as Very Foreign). I looked over to Will, who nodded slowly; this was a friend apparently, for the moment at least (and I hoped to God and his Heavenly Host it STAYED that way).


There was a pause followed by frantic orders shouted over the radio then a call for silence, "Yea we hear ya mister High and Mighty. I don't care who you are, or what your windup toys down there have. Get out of our way or we'll bomb you to kingdom come and back."


There was the briefest of pauses before there was any sort of reply. Then the thickly accented man spoke again, this time in calm measured tones with just a touch of steel in his words. "My name is Ivon yivonovitch, commander of the third armored division of the Trade Federation. You and your men have violated our airspace, you have broken our laws, you have fired on those whom I have been charged to defend."


The Constructs below us were in the process of spreading out, Commander Yivonovitch wasn't taking the other man's threats to drop munitions lightly it seemed. "I am the Right Hand of Vengeance for these people whom you have murdered and I am the Boot that will crush your worthless skull."


Two of the constructs fired, the explosions of their shells around us illuminating not one ship, but five. "I am Death Incarnate."


More cannon fire from below, one of these shots apparently impacting the gondola of one of the enemy vessels.


"I am the last living thing you will ever see."


The remaining eight opened fire, catching three of the remaining vessels in a hail of unrelenting Death and Flame.


When the commander's voice was heard again it was a bare whisper. "God sent me." ...then all twelve of the mechanical titans opened fire.


By this time the final airship had begun the slow process of turning around, with frantic orders being shouted over the wireless for anyone still alive to run. For them it was not enough, as the shells that burst around them tore their ship's envelope to ribbons, doubtlessly puncturing all of their gasbags in the process. Then, with the lone vessel mortally stricken I heard more orders from the Commander, though I could not understand the language he used.


"Wait, what's he saying?" Everybody else looked as confused as I sounded in that moment, as we were helpless against what happened next.


All twelve guns opened fire, deafening my entire crew. This was a minor thing, however, when compared to the spectacle I witnessed in that moment. To this day I'm unsure on what their guns were loaded with, but the remnants of that last airship literally disintegrated in that instant.


Breathe Julian. You can't lose composure in front of your men. You're their captain, and you can't afford to look weak in front of them, not when they look to you for strength.


~~~~~

Aftermath


Nobody on board seemed to know what to do for several long minutes after that moment. However our own situation snapped us out of our collective stupor and we worked to land our craft, for it seemed that at the moment we were safe and badly needed to make repairs. Even with our new allies it was touch and go till we managed to limp to the nearest aerodrome, which apparently was a military installation not shown on any of our charts (which makes sense really, why should the civilians know where military conducts its business? It might be used by some nutter with an agenda to...say...turn a series of small airplanes laden with high explosives, into suicide bombs. I know, a dreadful thought, but given the state of mind I've seen some men operate under, I wouldn't put it past human capacity).


Once there a local surgeon examined us, then when they made sure we were in good health they asked to speak with the captain of our vessel. Inwardly I sighed, but was relieved that they allowed Billy to accompany me 'as a personal assistant', she is in all honesty. Itís just that she isn't Just an assistant mind you.


I can't say that I was thrilled with the prospect of being questioned. After all I had no stated business at the time other than to act as a tour guide. It just happened to be that one of my passengers suggested coming this way when he realized we were being followed.


They seemed to believe me for the time being. There was just the matter of why a good portion of my crew appeared to be Gholem that matched the descriptions of runaways from the region. Hm, yes that would explain the fear. I couldn't very well explain that one except that I didn't know, and honestly didn't care where they came from, as I checked recent history on each of my crew to make sure none were given to violent outbursts when dealing with people, and beyond that their business as well as their pasts were their own affairs.


The man that talked with me, colonel somethingorother, smiled at this mater of fact statement and leaned forward, switching off the recorder that sat between us and whispered in my ear that he regretted what he would have to do, and that he would try to arrange for everyone to 'escape' while in transit, complete with bullet riddled trucks and burnt and blackened corpses (courtesy of the sky pirates I presumed).


Then he turned the recorder back on and flew into a rage that, had I not known different, I would have sworn on a stack of holy texts, was genuine and sincere contempt that I would help 'subhuman gutter trash' escape the overflowing kindness of civilized society for a life of ill-gotten pleasure and perversions of human decency.


I knew my part in this to an extent and played the part of screaming innocent; emphatically denying any wrongdoing while at the same time begging for leniency. I even got on my knees and begged. Hell, it was going on record, so I might as well ham it up a bit. I saw him wink at me before his boot caught me in the stomach. It hurt a great deal, and as expected I reacted accordingly. After all, pain is pain, and getting beaten is going to hurt regardless on if itís for a performance or if the person on the other end is genuinely trying to 'educate' you.


A half hour later Billy was thrown in a spare room with me. She looked about how I felt, run through the wringer. She sighed and leaned against me before tapping on my thigh three times, each time consisting of a series of three short taps.


I nodded there, "I'm sorry." I tapped her on the back three times, with each being a group of three long taps. This wasn't code, per se. More to the point it was a mutual recognition signal that we shouldn't talk about what happened. Instead we just sat there holding each other for support.


I hoped that he wasn't lying when he said he would help spring us, but there was that worm of doubt that made me think that there was a chance he had just told me that so that I wouldn't resist.


God, please give me a sign things will be all right.


~~~~~

On the road and on the run


An interminable time later Billy and I found ourselves, along with the rest of my ship's crew, lead to a small convoy of trucks, which we were ordered (at gun point) to pile in the backs of. I'm just grateful that the summer heat had finally loosened its grip by this point, because even though we were shaded by the canvass covered tops of the beds, there was practically zero airflow (at least it felt like it at the time).


Billy was in a different truck, so I wasn't sure how she was holding up. If everyone else was any indication she was tired, and confused, and by my own bruises she was probably hurting.


No, push it out of your mind. What you need now is to remain calm. If things worked like I hope we will have a chance to escape. If not, then I hope we'll be able to fight our way free.


The trucks stop. We're separated from the vehicles. From the last two bodies are being carried out and tossed in the backs of the rest before men came with giant tanks on their backs; tanks that were connected to hoses that spewed fire.


I don't believe it.


We're without supplies save for a map that was 'dropped' by one of the troops that left in one of the two trucks that were spared, but we're alive.


~~~~~

Date Unknown: Presumed late September, 2133


We stumble, half dead and starved, into a town who's name escapes me. We agree to work off our debt if we're fed and given a place to sleep. The food is cold and of poor quality, and the rooms we've been given are in the hotel's basement caller, but I'm grateful for their kindness. They could have turned us away, but chose instead to take us in.


God show them the charity they've shown us.


~~~~~

Date: 3 October 2133


We've finally come to a town that is connected to the local phone network (though there are a few wireless connections to archive this connection, which degrades the quality, but never mind that). Most of the men are calling to leave messages to be delivered to their families or whoever so that they'll know that they aren't dead.


Billy calls our landlady to make sure that we will have an apartment to come home to, and Iím tempted to remind her that I'd paid our rent till December, but I don't (partly because I needed the laugh, and its a harmless bit of malice, but mostly because I was busy drinking my first cup of coffee since the morning our ship was attacked.)


My turn.


I call Finn. He sounds worried, and asks where we are. I tell him I don't know, but everyone's in reasonable shape.


I tell him men riding hundred foot tall metal gorillas have confiscated the airship.


He curses and says we're somewhere in Ohio, which is deep in Rominov controlled territory.


We were in northern Georgia when we started, now we're in Ohio. That doesnít sound like a great distance (and it isn't by aircraft of any sort), but we've been acting as a tour service and transportation, so there's been a great deal of meandering, doubling back, and going out of the way to look at curiosities on the ground.


~~~~~

Song in my head: The Glass Box


You know, it's the old glass box at theó

At the gas station,

Where you're using those little things

Trying to pick up the prize,

And you can't find it.

It'só


Probably before we decide it,

But it will be known.


And it's all these arms are going down in there,

And so you keep dropping it

And picking it up again and moving it,

Butó


There will be some things that people will see.

There will be some things that people won't see.

And life goes on.


I swear to you and God and whatever else you would have me swear to that I'm not crazy. Itís a stupid song that I can't get out of my head, or stop singing. Billy has told me that I will either need to quit, or she will have to hurt me (she's joking I'm sure). Its the train stations' fault for playing it while we waited. now at least we were on our way home Ashton had a sizeable train station).


I got to my feet and made my own inspection of the car my people were in; its not that I didn't trust the staff, but as I've said before, my crew is under my care till I bring them home.


It'll be a few days before we arrive home, what with having to make stops along the way and the like. This gives me time to get everyone's story about what happened and what they would like to do now. As I've said, several of them lived, full time, on ship and many others had begun (or so they claimed) to actually like working with me, despite the fact we got attacked near the tail end of the shakedown cruise. I'm rather glad they seemed to like me as a person, but I wondered at what they thought of my skills as a leader. Unfortunately we were all too tired to discuss matters privately and so agreed to meet at the Broken Cog, where we'd then discuss what to do next.


Me? I wouldn't mind building another ship and having a go at trying to make a profit out of it. Billy seemed to disagree with the wisdom of the thought, but admitted she liked our ship, and that having another built would be as good as any excuse to keep the crew together (as the cog already had no vacant positions, nor would ever have enough vacancies to even keep those who had no home in work)..


Back in our compartment I slept.


~~~~~

Let sleeping Demons Lay, for you are squishy and easily disposed of.


I've come to call this place my personal Gallery, for I seem to be the sole visitor to this place, and the metaphors always seem to take the form of paintings. I found it rather soothing actually, better than the pell-mell of reliving those moments, or the boring exposition of a Spirit guide explaining things (maybe thatís why all the stories list those things as using metaphor, or vague actions to nudge a person in a specific direction rather than outright explaining things). Walking along the empty corridors I came upon what seemed to be a new wing, this one dedicated to sculptures.


Curious, I stopped at what looked to be a five-foot tall replica of those giant gorilla-things and found myself studying it. Interesting, was I making up the half dozen or so people frozen in the process of climbing the beast, or did I actually see that at one point? No matter, the thing looked quite imposing regardless of its crew. Inefficient when compared to wheeled or tracked vehicles I'm sure, but given its size and apparent purpose as a land battleship, articulated limbs made a great deal of sense when dealing with uneven terrain. Even so I had to wonder why it didnít simply sink into the ground it trod on, since the thing had to weigh as much as a building. Oh well. Answers for another day I suppose, if at all. I tipped a hat I didn't realize I was wearing till that moment at the beast. Even with the rude reception I later god I was still grateful for their saving us.


I moved to a different exhibit, a sculpture of my ship, or at least I thought so at first. Reaching towards it I stopped just before making contact with the envelope. No, my ship didn't have the scrollwork on the bag, and only had one level of the gondola outside of the envelope for the sake of anyone wanting to get a good view of where we were. This one had three such decks. Frowning I started to lift the thing in my left hand by the envelope, and found that it was a hinged thing, allowing me to get a look at the interior (after using a finger to push the five lift bags aside). Inside appeared to be three more decks. This was curious, not to mention disturbing; I never realized I dreamed on such a grand scale, and wasn't even sure if a design this large would work. I sighed and moved on. That was definitely too large, but then again it never hurt to think big then have to trim things down instead of having to inflate too-small-ideas into grotesque caricatures of themselves.


There were other things here, of course, such as my dad's walking stick, a dollhouse representation of my club (which seemed to include a basement I know nothing about. Odd that, maybe my penchant for secret passages is rearing its head again, or maybe itís just something Iíve noticed through my travels, half a dozen of one, six of the other I guess. Who knows? I liked all the things shown here, even picking up my father's stick and twirling it about. It was a comfortable weight in my left hand, and I liked the brass topper, but then that was more due to the practicality of having something I could thunk somebody on the head rather than aesthetics (it was a simple brass sphere after all).


Beside a suit of decidedly impractical and uncomfortable armor I found an envelope with my name on it. Curious I picked it up and frowned, not that I expected anything in the 'from' column, this being a dream and whatnot. Mentally I shrugged and tore the thing open.


"You've done far better for yourself than I could have given you credit for, and even though we have our different views I'm proud of what you've done for yourself."


No signature, but the writing...


I looked once and it seemed to resemble my Father's.


I looked again and it looked like it was China's.


Even though I knew this was from neither I felt something pull at my heart. It was a touching sentiment, and I suppose my mind's way of telling me that I shouldn't worry about how I've handled things so far. I suppose it beats having to raise the ghost of my father to get personal approval. Plus it saves a great deal of arguing with the dead about things that just never got resolved.


~~~~~

Date: 4 October 2133

Home again, home again.


The rest of the train ride was uneventful (thank god), and by dusk we'd disembarked and went our separate ways. We'd all lost a great deal, though I'm glad I kept my journal on me (as well as a roll of bills tucked in my left boot). On the bright side we were home, and though I was down one ship, everybody survived!


No, I'm not kidding. Everybody survived the ordeal. Do you know how happy this makes me? Probably not even close, but oh well. Lets ride the wave of euphoria for all its worth and see how things are doing on the home front.


My Landlady seemed pleased the both of us returned (though she did give her usual disapproving look at how ...familiar... Billy seemed to behave around me, can't blame her really. She grew up when gholem werenít simply a people to be discriminated against. She was alive when they were seen as an abomination in the eyes of God). Even so she's a rather nice woman, and knows better than to try arguing with me on the issue (or perhaps has finally given up trying), and gave me the mail I'd asked her to hold while we were away as well as a replacement key to my apartment.


Lets see here; postcard from Finn, a couple letters from people wanting to buy out my club (I'd handed those to Billy for me to read at length later), and a letter from China. This too I handed to Bill to be dealt with after getting settled since doubtlessly it would be lengthy and emotional.


Once we were within the privacy of our apartment I first opened the two buyout letters. No, just...no. I wasn't interested in either offer (the second offering substantially more than the first, and marked...wait a tick, the second came in three days ago), and even had they offered far more money I would still tell them no. I vaguely recalled the last names from that first night of poker. His family I'd refuse on sheer principle even if they were royalty. The boy struck me as being an arrogant spoiled brat, which spoke ill of his father. Unfortunately I'd have to compose a refusal, and be /polite/ (I know, I know...I hate being polite to those people) about it, so the more recent offer set aside.


Now to see what China had to say.


Well this was rather pleasing. It seemed that the gholem raiders had still managed to evade capture, and the party that china had allied herself with seems to no longer be perused. Billy looked over my shoulder at the letter, much to my annoyance, and grinned at that bit of news. There was no word from home, unfortunately, but considering the state things were in when we left that isn't surprising.


Wait, what's this about her taking up with somebody?


Was there a return address? Yes, yes there was (I hoped that wasnít where they were actually staying in case people were still looking for them).


Yes I'm defiantly going to have to go traveling again. Unlike the other letter I immediately started penning a response, asking where it would be safe to meet them at, when, and if I should bring gifts (I expected her to say no, but I was going to anyway). I then let Billy add to the letter before I folded it and, along with a porcelain egg that I'd carefully wrapped and boxed, was going to send once the post office opened tomorrow.


Billy then asked me why, if it was simply the crew that had done something wrong, why everyone had been bundled up in those trucks. I didn't know, but I thought it might have been an excuse so that we could all leave as a single group. This seemed to satisfy her for the moment and together we kissed the day goodbye by curling up on the couch and listening to the radio.


'Youíre resourceful and entertaining Mister Fawkes. Now then, would you kindly continue to be this entertaining and active with your life?'


I wasn't sure how I was supposed to feel there, but I grinned then turned the lamp off, leaving Billy and I in darkness.


~~~~~

Date: 4 October 2133

When life gives you lemons, find somebody who's life is giving them vodka.


I'm glad Billy wasnít working that dreadful Bodyguard job anymore. I know it may seem a bit selfish, but I didn't like the risks she ran of getting hurt, plus to be frank, she's been a valuable source of council where the club was concerned (plus SOMEBODY had to teach security how to put undesirables out on the street).


Besides, now we saw much more of each other, which might've been risking things because its a bad idea to mix work and pleasure, but she made the work seem much less tedious than it could've been.


Agenda:


Compose polite, yet stern, rejection letter to Herr Annoying's offer for my place of business.

Done.


Drop off the mail.

Done.


Go see to Finn:

He looked the same as he did when I first met him, though this time his suit was a crushed purple velvet affair with a wide brimmed hat and a walking stick topped with a garish bit of glass (he insisted it was crystal, but I had my doubts considering the size). Still, the outfit made me grin, and made Billy chuckle. Had I not known any better I'd have guessed him for a pimp, and told him as much.


His response? He didn't care, it was a good suit and it made him feel like he was on top of the world, which is all that mattered to him. I was just glad he didn't have to deal with many business types that seemed to think that unless you wore a conservative suit and tie you werenít worth dealing with. He seemed to agree with the sentiment and offered to buy us breakfast.


I'm glad he was buying, as despite the service, this coffee house just felt too damned expensive to go to regularly. Inside I spotted a few familiar faces and nodded to each in turn before the three of us settled in and ordered.


While we waited Finn asked me if I'd heard about the people interested in acquiring my club. I told him I did and had already sent them a letter of rejection, which seemed to make him nervous. I laughed and told him I loathed the man, his son, and didn't care how much they offered or who they had in their pockets. I wasnít budging. He shrugged and mentioned something about taking out an insurance policy on the place, then told me that with as widespread as the rumors were he doubted anyone would insure me.


I shrugged and sipped my coffee (maple nut crunch I think, sounded interesting. Frankly it twists like they'd added pancake syrup to the coffee, which made the whole thing too sweet). You can't live in fear, I told him, not if you intend on living your life on your own terms.


Finn nodded and seemed thoughtful in his silence before telling me that sometimes a little fear is a good thing, because its our mind's way of letting us know that we're getting in over our head.


Hmmm.


I just had a thought. Most of my crew were either familiar with unarmed fighting (most were gholem, and unarmed fighting seemed to be in their bones, and most of those that werenít were either brawlers of some sort, or looked like they could learn) and with them out of a job this seemed like the best way to keep them employed, since even if I had another ship constructed it would take months to finish (if not years), and they needed work between now and then.


I voiced this option, which Billy and Finn both liked as neither were sure if my payouts would continue to keep the local gangs off my back since, in a war of money, I would lose. Perhaps, perhaps not since despite not being nearly as rich, unless they wished to make this personal they had other concerns to keep an eye on and could only spare so much to try scooping up one piece of property. In theory all that meant was if I could force them to need to spend more money than they could recoup after the acquisition then they'd let me alone.


Heh, 'in theory' was nice and all, but I knew the sort (if only vaguely). This kid seemed to be little different than a street thug, and if he made it personal to hell with everything else, he would do everything possible to see me burn then worry about repercussions later.


With our food served the conversation lapsed into a variety of eating noises. At first I was concerned that Finn would dirty his suit, but should have known better. He'd pulled a bib out from his jacket's inner pocket, and while I found it somewhat comical I couldn't debate on the practicality. His suit, after all, would be difficult to keep clean, and though he wasn't a messy eater it was always with those difficult to clean items that youíd' always have something spill or dribble, or whatever. I think it's called Sod's Law or something.


After we finished I'd decided to chip in on the bill (Hey I wasn't broke, and much of my money never left the local bank, so barring a money war I'd be financially well off for awhile).


~~~~

Roundtable


We'd found most everyone already gathered at the broken cog despite the fact it was normally closed on Sundays. One of the perks of being the owner was having a key and being able to open shop any time I damned well felt like. I simply couldn't serve alchiholic drinks, which I most certainly wasn't.


Once inside and gathered around one of the larger group tables I asked how everyone had weathered the night, with the predictable show of all being well despite the situation. I looked about and put my hands on the table before asking if anyone needed a place to stay. A few did, and I said that I could make arrangements for cots to be strung out on the third floor (which was basically my office and where I kept the unused props and display pieces).


I then asked if anyone wanted work.


There werenít any refusals, so I slowly outlined my situation and concerns that if they wished to make matters personal they'd buy my current protection out from under me. I waited a heartbeat before explaining what would be required of them. When nobody declined my offer I decided it was safe to relax. This wasnít going to be easy, and if things got violent it could be messy, but with two dozen people added to my security force (the rest had already been hired on by other ships, it seemed that the fact that I'd taken them all on broke whatever superstition there had been against hiring any of them out) would allow me to breath a little easier since it allowed for a sizeable detail on each shift.


~~~~~

Date: 5 - 31 October 2133


Much of the remaining month was spent teaching my former crew how to conduct themselves as part of my security detail, who they could safely rough up, and who they had to take a roundabout approach to restrain, and who was part of which gang (mainly to keep rival gangs separated so that peace could be maintained).


Between both Billies as well as my existing bouncers things looked promising. I even decided, since my prior staff seemed to be in the minority, that everyone would wear uniforms patterned off of what my crew wore (dress uniforms for serving staff, both bars, and valets, rougher 'daily' uniforms for those working security or other behind the scenes labor, no sense in wearing something that will only get dirty, and probably torn to shreds).


To accompany this change I'd also added a few touches of aeronautical bric-a-brac to the decor. In the library I added a world map that showed known signal stations, docking towers, trade routes, and the like. Above the bar I had a series of 'anti-kraken' harpoon guns mounted (making sure the customers couldn't reach them before deciding it was safe to leave them as is rather than render them nonfunctional). Those were the two major additions, but there were countless little touches, such as my ships' logo appearing on steins, an old style ship's wheel showing in my office, as well as my own uniform.


I owned this club, and if we were going to go about in uniform then I was going to dress for the occasion. While I wore no rank mine was a crisp white officer's uniform complete with cap (that even had a bronze zeppelin/globe insignia centered in the olive wreath) and saber. Not that I intended to use the weapon mind you, but its part of the look that I was aiming for, and to be honest it felt like a prudent idea to have a weapon on me (I had a holdout pistol tucked in my boot).


Mind you this was all while everything was still open, which made the transition harder than it strictly needed to be. Not sure why I decided to not close everything down, after all I could afford to take the hit (at least in the short term), and still keep everyone paid for their time spent doing touchup work. However its not like there was any sorto f actual construction, or other work that would've required closing whole sections off. As I said, most of what was changed involved accessorizing, so it was done piecemeal before or after hours.


~~~~~

Date: 1-7 November 2133


Opening week's gone smoothly so far, though it feels like there's more people getting 'escorted' to the door than normal. I don't like it, but Billy's told me I'm being paranoid.


Afraid I don't have much else to say at this point, sorry.


Tired.


~~~~~

Date Unknown


I've had to start working a regular job again since my customer base has thinned back out to the points where it was either do this, or fire people who still haven't managed to find decent work. Billy's told me I'm being soft on them, that I represent a safety net that they feel they can fall back on in case they screw up.


Maybe I am, but they do well enough as my employees, and business is bound to pick back up again. People want merriment and drink after all, its one of the few consistent things about human history.



Authorís Note: At this point the journal appears to have been damaged, with roughly a six and a half month gap between entries. I can only guess at what has happened, but will keep my personal opinions on this time-frame to myself for the sake of not coloring the readerís judgement.




The character of Jenny Everywhere is available for use by anyone, with only one condition. This paragraph must be included in any publication involving Jenny Everywhere, in order that others may use this property as they wish. All rights reversed.


-_-_-_-


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