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fiction. All of the characters,
organizations and events in this novel are products of the author’s imagination
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* * *
My wife, for her
patience during this project.
“Twenty years from now you will be more
disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So
throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds
in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
- Mark Twain
* * *
“The one who
follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The one who walks
alone, is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been.”
of how I happened upon the following journal entries (and the larger collection
of journals themselves) is indeed a story in itself, but I should reserve that
for another time. For the sake of brevity,
I shall say that Mr. Stallworth’s journals are a mesmerizing web of adventure
upon adventure, far too long to be contained in a single work. I have excerpted entries from throughout his
journals and collated them so as to make it more accessible to you, the casual
reader. I hope that I have done justice
to his story.
What if you
were told that this world, as unique and isolated as it may seem, is quite
actually far from being all alone in the universe? Would you scoff or guffaw at such a
notion? Perhaps you might feel the urge
to introduce the postulator to one of those delightful jackets that often
accompany those plush, yet Spartan, padded rooms? I will concede it certainly does seem
preposterous, and I myself might even reject such nonsense as high fantasy, if
I’d not been there myself. Perhaps we
are alone in the universe; I certainly’ve not met any strange-looking fellows
from other planets, but we are most
definitely not alone in the multiverse.
multiverse, you wonder? What might such
a contrivance even be? Please allow me
to attempt to explain, given my utter ignorance in all things scientific, much
to my grandfather’s chagrin. The best
that has been determined, this alternate earth has not always existed, at least
not in its current form. If it did, then
it was a mirror image of our own earth.
Its history and inhabitants are exact replicas of our own, up until the
point of the split. This splitting of the worlds was when a
unique life was breathed into the alternate earth, and its point of singularity
was finally reached. The split was a
birth, of sorts.
of the worlds occurred approximately (or perhaps precisely) at the time of the Carrington
Event in 1859. The great solar storm was
named after the late Mr. Carrington, a dear friend and colleague of my grandfather’s,
though I never heard the storm referred to by its proper name. When my grandfather and Mr. Carrington subsequently
discovered the existence of this alternate earth, he took to referring to the storm
as Dick’s Disaster. Mr. Carrington was rather
originally thought that they had discovered a completely new realm, a thorough
examination of this alternate world’s history yielded an interesting find. The history of the two worlds began to
diverge after Dick’s Disaster. The
divergence was minor at first, like a bullet spiraling just slightly off its
mark. In the beginning, the differences
were subtle and scarcely noticeable, but as time went on, the contrasts became
catalyst for these changes was the very thing that put the disaster in Dick’s Disaster.
Perhaps it was a defense mechanism formulated by the natural order to
protect us from an increasingly volatile sun, or perhaps it was something else,
but while our sun storms have
subsequently grown more docile, their correspondingstormshave been much more savage.
My grandfather would later hypothesize that after the storm of 1859, the
alternate world began to act as a solar buffer for us, thus allowing our world
to continue with its increasingly complex technological advances. The alternate world however, was forced to
evolve in a manner that was much more resilient to their frequently-occurring electromagnetic
pulses. The volatile atmosphere resulted
in the abandonment of the study of electromagnetism, in favor of chemistry and
biology, though even they were limited in certain developments because of the
storms. The alternate world fell into a
prolonged, hybrid Industrial Revolution.
As a child,
I always found my grandfather’s romanticized recollections of the era of his childhood
to be fascinating. Later, when he
confided in me about his fantastical sojourns to a place that was even more
peculiar to me than the world of his youth, I knew in my heart that I had to
see it for myself.
death, my grandfather’s vast estate was distributed amongst his children and
grandchildren. Many considered it to be
a family scandal when my brothers received all manner of oil and mineral
rights, priceless works of art and numerous other riches, while I, his supposed favorite grandson, received
nothing other than a bureau containing the bulk of his and Mr. Carrington’s
journals and research notes. I can still
remember the feeling of elation as I, his sole confidante, opened the bureau
and retrieved the sealed envelope that waited for me atop the collection of
dusty papers. His words are still as clear
in my mind as the day I first read them five years ago.
My dearest William,
I have saved the most precious of my
treasures for the only one that will truly appreciate them – you. The greatest danger of wealth unearned, aside
from arrogance and a life unlived, is the paralyzing fear of losing what has
been gained. I leave you nothing but the
riches of an opportunity for a life well lived – a life of adventure. Seizing the few, fleeting moments of glory that
this life presents us is not about capitalizing on such an opportunity; it is
about shedding the passive for the passionate.
So go, shed the passive, my son; revel in the passionate, live your
journal shall serve as a record of my experiences.
study of electromagnetism was mostly abandoned, the minds of many thinkers were
freed to pursue other fields of study; namely, these being chemistry,
metallurgy and biology. Note I say that
the study of electricity was mostly
abandoned; the electrical does exist
here, though it is very limited in scope.
Because of the need for Faraday cages in all things electric, the cost
and application of such can be quite prohibitive.
advancement of chemistry in Terra was far greater than anything in our
world. Many of these discoveries were
used for the betterment of society, but some, I fear, will soon be used by evil
men – just as we’ve seen in our own world.
That, however, I shall save for another entry.
As you look
around your world, you’ve probably realized that science and technology often
outpace the sensibilities and ethics of man.
We often have to learn by burning our fingers, but our collective
memories are short-term and the lessons we learn are soon forgotten. Our bandaged fingers eventually go wobbling
back into the dancing flames.
early years of the divergence, environmental concerns were nonexistent, and
pollution was rampant in both worlds.
The inhabitants of the multiverse were forced to eventually address
their smog-filled cities and the acid rain that pattered on their heads, but
Terra had a far worse problem in the early days – what to do with the extremely
toxic by-products of the chemicals and processes that were being developed?
they were dumped openly on the ground in the deserts and other sparsely
inhabited areas, but this created vast wastelands. Burying the chemicals was attempted next, but
due to their highly corrosive nature, contaminated groundwater soon became a
dire issue. Finally, a solution was
devised; the by-products would be dumped in the depths of the oceans, far from
civilization. What could possibly go
awry? As we would soon discover, quite a many things, actually.
Most of the
creatures of the sea that ventured into the designated dumping grounds quickly
perished, but this was not the case for all species. Some creatures experienced horrific
mutations, far worse than any could have imagined. One class in particular that was affected in
this manner was cephalopods – specifically squid and octopi. These creatures experienced vastly increased
growth rates and exhibited extremely aggressive and territorial
mannerisms. Even so, this journal entry
would not exist had it not been for architeuthidae, known to us commoners as
the giant squid.
documented architeuthidae was 43’ long and weighed over 600 pounds, but many an
old sailor had a tale or two of a monstrous beast that exceeded 60’ in length. The toxic dumping had the effect of tripling,
or possibly even quadrupling the size of the already-massive creatures. Entire ships began to disappear without a
trace, and sailors began to bring stories to port of mythical krakens, except
they were no longer a myth. After a
particularly gruesome attack against a barque in the Caribbean was witnessed by
a passing vessel, a team of men was organized to track down and exterminate the
offending beast. This is where my story
on the hunt all of June and July, and every man was exhausted. We had grown weary of our expedition. All of the crew longed for more than a single
night in port. Consumption of rum was
forbidden by the captain, because of the nature of our charge. Some had even taken to murmuring that it all
was a farce; there was no monster, it had all been just another fable created
by drunken mariners to explain one more ship lost at sea. I began to fear the men would soon mutiny if
the campaign was not abandoned.
been no sign of the kraken, as if he knew
we were seeking him out. I don’t mean to
imply that our presence would have struck fear into the beast’s heart, for we
certainly wouldn’t have; he had taken ships much larger than ours. If I should dare venture into the mind of the
beast (which is a preposterous endeavor, I admit), I would suppose in hindsight
that we’d been followed for perhaps weeks. I shall never be convinced otherwise that the
kraken had not taken it upon himself to follow us, so that he might better understand
We had left
Cockburn Town, on the tiny island of Grand Turk, only two days prior on a
southeasterly course with a destination of Tortola. Though I no longer recall our exact location,
I do know it was somewhere in the Puerto Rico Trench. Knowing what I know now, it should’ve been
rather obvious to us that we should meet him where we did; the Trench was home
to the deepest depths in the Atlantic, the perfect place for the kraken to set
was an armored cruiser of approximately 250’ in length, with a complement of
300 officers and men. She was powered by
twin steam engines along with three large masts for auxiliary propulsion, to
aid us on the open waters. She had been
outfitted with a series of massive harpoons that could fire in any conceivable
direction or angle. The vessel was
smaller than most cruisers, and was selected for that very reason. The thought was that we would need a nimble
ship to pursue the beast for days on end, slowly wearing it down until finally,
we would strike.
sun blazed like an unbridled inferno, deep in the west. The horizon would soon be awash with oranges
and reds and pinks, before fading into a purple so regal that Victoria herself
would lust to be wrapped in its cloak.
Finally, all would be consumed by a blackness so complete, that we would
all certainly be lost at sea, were it not for the countless, twinkling sentries
of the Caribbean night. But for now, the
sky was still the deepest of azure, its only blemish the black smoke that
billowed from our stacks.
the sky so well because I was on deck, leaning against the starboard railing
and breathing in its beauty. Pagan and French were beside me, puffing on their pipes
and musing aloud the merits of abandoning ship.
serious; when we make it to Road Town, I’m leaving this ship and never coming back.”
laughed heartily and replied, “You said that in Cockburn Town, and on Cat
Island, and in Nassau! But here you are
Pagan! I already know you for a liar,
but if you keep it up, everyone else will too!”
“He said it
in Miami as well.” I added leisurely.
“Miami!” French roared even louder in
remembrance as he continued, “I forgot all
“Bah,” Pagan muttered as he flicked his
wrist, “the devil take you both!”
turned and stared out over the water as he continued to murmur to himself.
laughter slowly faded, until the three of us were standing in silence. He slapped his friends shoulder reconcilably
and said, “While I would agree that freeing ourselves from this floating
stockade sounds rather appealing, they would surely find us and hang us from
the yardarms, my friend. Tortola is no
Puerto Rico; we would certainly be found.”
not respond to his friend, but rather continued to stare out across the waves.
now Pagan, don’t-”
“Quiet! Look at
that!” He exclaimed.
turned and gazed in the direction of Pagan’s outstretched arm. In the distance, scarcely more than a hundred
yards away, a dark shadow rested just beneath the surface of the water. Slowly, the shadow drifted in our
direction. Suddenly, it surged towards
us with a speed and fury that shocked us all into a stupor.
the first to wrest himself free of the trance; he turned and fled to alert the
others, shrieking and waving his arms all the way. Pagan’s pipe clattered on the deck, its sound
reawakening me. I fumbled awkwardly with
the rifle slung over my shoulder, while Pagan retrieved his in one fluid
motion. He tracked the shadow’s movement
toward us with deft precision, while continually stepping back from the
railing. Suddenly, when it seemed it
would certainly slam into our hull, the apparition disappeared into the depths.
and stared at each other, dumbfounded as to what had just occurred and too
frightened to speak. By now, a group of
sailors had begun to gather behind us on the upper deck. A chorus of laughter began to erupt among
them as they looked down upon the likes of us, shaking visibly while we
clutched our rifles. Pagan turned and
violently shook a fist at them while remaining perfectly quiet, but it did no
was a whale?”
and scowled at me as he snarled back, “Weren’t no whale.”
began to edge closer to the side of the boat, I tried to talk him back, but it
was no use. “Give it a moment!” I
reached the railing, he leaned over cautiously, his rifle still plastered to
his shoulder at the ready. For several
long moments he stared down into the blue abyss, scanning intensely for any
sign of the disturbance.
jerked his head around as the catcalls from above began to rain down on us more
vigorously. He pointed at the leader of
the group and began to curse violently at them, his face red with fury. The men cackled and riposted with insults of
their own, until all at once, they grew silent and stared at him blankly.
in horror as Pagan continued to berate the men, thinking he had triumphantly threatened
them into silence. His sneer faded into
a look of confusion, as a steady patter of seawater began to rain down upon
him. My heart sank as I watched his face
flash with terror as he looked skyward and saw the towering, black tentacle
that loomed overhead. I shouldered my
rifle and fired at the limb, but it was too late. The feeler lunged at Pagan and wrapped around
his torso before he could utter a sound.
His eyes bulged from the pressure it exerted on his body as it squeezed
him without remorse. As it lifted him
off the deck, the massive head of the kraken surfaced. A series of smaller tentacles flailed about,
until it brought Pagan near. The feelers
then folded outward, like a monstrous flower in bloom, revealing two mandibles
that opened and closed hungrily over its mouth.
The kraken relaxed its grip just enough for Pagan to cry out to us.
reports rang out as I unleashed a barrage of rifle fire upon the beast. The hot lead tore through the soft flesh of
the monster’s mouth. It squealed in
agony and loosened its grip on my friend.
Pagan plummeted into the water and disappeared beneath the waves.
creature’s ire now fully focused on me, I turned and ran for safety. Overhead I could hear the sounds of
pandemonium, but it all was a blur of distant echoes, as if I had suddenly fell
into some deep chasm. A confusion of
orders and panicked shouts rang out all across the deck. Smoke began to fill the air as shots were fire
from rifles and pistols. All of it
melted together into a collage of cacophony, except for one sound; I can
remember the clarity of metal scraping against metal, as a group of men above
me turned the crank and pivoted one of the colossal harpoons towards the beast.
was slammed face-first against the deck as my feet were yanked out from
underneath me. A wave of pain rushed
outwards from my nose as crimson sprayed all around me. My eyes watered uncontrollably from the
impact to my face. I rubbed them with my
sleeve in an attempt to regain my vision, and was astonished at the amount of
blood that gushed from my nose and stained my coat. This was not
the condition I had hoped to be in during the encounter. Still confused by what had happened, I rolled
over onto my back and gazed in trepidation at the ghastly, black arm that had
wrapped itself around my ankle. The last
moments of my friend’s life began to flash to the forefront of my own mind. I strained to reach my rifle, but it was
hopelessly out of my reach. I clawed
furiously at the deck as it began to drag me towards the railing.
In the haze
that surrounded me, I could hear what sounded like the voices of men calling
out to me. Their chants were rhythmic
and urgent, like the angry shouts of a lynch mob around a gnarled oak
tree. Were they calling for my death?
No! My cutlass! The words finally rang true to my ears; of
course! I twisted my body and unsheathed
my blade; all the while, the railing loomed ominously closer. Despite the sharp pains that shot through my
face and the blood that now burned my eyes as it threatened to paint my entire
face red, I focused my strength. Every
muscle in my body contracted at once, and like a bolt of lightning I shot
upright. I growled like a cornered
animal and swung the blade in a wide, sweeping arc, connecting perfectly with
the slimy, black limb. All around me, I
could hear the cheers of the men erupt and then fall silent again. Still, it pulled me closer. I hacked furiously, again and again at the
tentacle, until finally a screech unlike anything I had ever heard pierced the
air. Begrudgingly, the kraken released
and scrambled on all fours, searching for the traction needed to stand upright,
but the deck was slick with my own blood.
I finally found my footing and again resumed my retreat. I ducked low and snatched up my rifle
disappearing behind the quarter deck, I attempted to regain my composure, but
my mind refused my efforts. I shrugged
out of my coat and cut off one of my shirt sleeves to use as a temporary
bandage for my shattered nose. The
crimson plume spread quickly across the white cotton, but the pressure did
begin to restrict the blood flow.
disturbance to my right caused me to turn and look towards the ship’s bow. A long tentacle wrapped itself around the
ship’s front mast and began to tug vigorously.
As I peered around the corner, I gasped in shock at what I saw. The kraken slowly began to pull itself up
onto the deck.
were useless at this angle; all that we had at our disposal were the mighty
harpoons. The sailor seated behind the
giant apparatus began to move the sights into position as his companions spun
him in the direction of his quarry. The
kraken screeched angrily as the disgustingly large eye (I would venture to say
it was nary a bit less than four feet across!) on the side of its head focused
on the sailor and the weapon fashioned uniquely for this very encounter. The beast reared back unexpectedly and spread
its numerous, smaller feelers wide, like a strong gust of wind tussling a
dainty sun dress. At first, I thought
the kraken had seen enough of his foe, and at any moment, he would dive back
into the depths, but I was wholly mistaken.
A wave of
motioned rolled through the creature, as if all of his expanded muscles were
contracting in concert. A disgusting,
belching noise filled the air, and an even more hideous, black blob shot forth
at the harpoon. The shrieks of the men
were short-lived; the ink melted man and metal alike.
jerked me from behind and almost caused me to tumble backwards. I teetered for a moment as I struggled to
regain my balance. Finally, I spun on my
heels, rifle at the ready; it was French, urging me to follow him. I chased after him and a small group of
others as they frantically raced to the back of the ship. A loud commotion caused me to look over my
shoulder one final time. While one of
the kraken’s long tentacles continued to pull it farther up onto the deck, his
other main tentacle whipped through the air and flung a group of men like rag
dolls. My nights are sometimes still
haunted by the sound of their cries and the sudden, sickening crunch as they
collided with the ship.
As we rounded
the back of the vessel, we happened upon a group of marines and sailors. Perhaps it was French’s plan all along to
meet up with the men, but I am rather unsure – I never asked him later, and he
never offered to explain his plans. From
the look in his eyes just moments earlier, I assumed he aimed to commandeer a
lifeboat, which was a perfectly acceptable act of cowardice to me. We were
facing a kraken, after all. Nonetheless,
as the men came into sight, French threw his shoulders back and swaggered up to
I’m certain I looked a sight to the others
with the blood-soaked bandage tied around my face, but they paid my oddity no
mind. As we approached, the men were
just finishing the discussion of the plans for their assault, which seemed to
amount to nothing more than to charge the beast with guns blazing. I wanted to remind them that such a tactic
had not turned out well for Pagan, but instead held my tongue. At this point, I was fully committed to the
idea that we would all certainly die soon, so why should I preclude these men
from dying with their honor? The sailors
were grim-faced, but the marines appeared as fearless and unshaken as any men I
have ever seen. Looking into their eyes,
I found my courage. I could fight and
die beside men like that.
on the starboard side, we were half the ship’s length away from the beast. Martel, the marines’ commander, ordered us to
follow him in a single-file line along the wall of the quarter house, so as not
to garner the kraken’s attention. We
rushed forward while the beast continued to assault our compatriots.
command, we broke our formation and swung wide across the deck. We stood shoulder to shoulder firing on the
beast with our lever-action rifles. The
rounds pierced the kraken’s soft flesh and caused it to emit a blood-curdling
squeal. The hair on our arms stood on
end as we continued to march forward, while the war cries of the marines urged
turned his attention to us and began to use his two, long tentacles to pull
himself in our direction so that he might consume us whole. The sight of the creature charging our ranks
will always be remembered as one of the most strikingly fearsome images
recorded in my mind. With every awkward
movement of the kraken as he dragged his body across the deck towards us, my life
began to flash before my eyes with thoughts of everything I had yet to do. In a moment of selfishness, I was filled with
sorrow for my lot, before realizing that the men beside me had wives and
children that would never see them again.
thought that our fate was surely sealed, a blur caught my eye in the
distance. Before I could conceive what
the blur might be, a massive harpoon slammed through the kraken’s head and sent
a hail of splinters in our direction as it pierced the deck an arm’s length
from us. With the creature pinned to the
ship, we redoubled our assault with a newfound ferocity. The kraken struggled in vain to wrest itself
free, but it was no use. After several
more volleys from our rifles, the creature collapsed into a lifeless heap on
Pagan not long after we’d felled the beast.
He was half-drowned and had several broken bones, but he would
survive. He was fortunate. We were all
fortunate; unlike so many others.
with a mangled front mast and the sobering loss of seventy brave souls, we
turned south and made our way towards Puerto Plata with our trophy. Perhaps it was a commendation from the fallen
as they looked down on us from the heavens, or perhaps it was just another of
the solar storms that frequent this realm, but we stood on the deck and stared
in wonderment at the most magnificent aurora that I have ever witnessed in all
of my time in this place. A wholly
indescribable array of reds and greens and blues swirled over our heads and
reminded me that, as dangerous and unforgiving as our worlds may be, there is
often beauty in the midst of the suffering.
new knowledge of the beasts, the subsequent expeditions paid much less dearly
with the lives of their men. Though the beasts
are rumored to still lurk in the depths of the deep sea trenches, the stories
of them are much rarer these days. Some
already say that it was an elaborate conspiracy of sorts, and that they never
truly existed at all. But I remember the day, with a
crimson-stained rag wrapped around my face, I stood in defiance alongside giants
of men, and defeated the kraken.
I’ve taken to calling it, advanced in a manner that was technologically
divergent from our own path, at least according to my grandfather’s notes. Soon enough I shall be able to investigate
this anomaly myself.
As a note,
Terra is merely Latin for Earth. I’ve
bestowed this alternate world with a title for no other reason than as a
measure to distinguish between the two earths, so as to avoid confusion. After perusing several collections of my own
notes and documents, I sometimes found myself
confused as to the whats and whoms of which I was referring. Nonetheless, on to the topic at hand:
With this, I
write my first true entry in this
journal (though, in essence it is my second
entry, but I digress. If this journal is
found to be of interest to some, and it is indeed read, I’m afraid my carefully
constructed façade of outward normality will be certainly ruined. My mind is a peculiar creation. Try as I might, it often flitters off, like a
frightened covey of quail, from the thoughts at hand. At any given moment, a menagerie of thoughts
are all clamoring for my undivided attention.
If you notice that I happen to be wandering from the topic, please
forgive my transgressions against you, the reader).
Now (let us try this once again!), as I
write this entry in my journal, I am waiting for the proper time to take a seat
in the contraption that I have labored over for the past five years. Five years ago, in the spring of 1885, I
first read the letter that my grandfather had left for me in his bureau. That bureau was my sole inheritance. For many months I was not necessarily angry,
but confused. I didn’t understand why he
would leave me everything I needed to prepare for my journey: instructions, schematics, research notes, his
diaries and even several key components (which I shall discuss shortly), but
not the financial means to construct
the equipment needed to leap* across (* I use the term “leap” loosely. Those more learned in the sciences may have a
more proper term, but I do not know it).
Now, I feel I may understand his reasoning. If you will allow me, I would like to refer
back to his letter once again:
The greatest danger of wealth unearned,
aside from arrogance and a life unlived, is the paralyzing fear of losing what
has been gained. I leave you nothing but
the riches of an opportunity for a life well lived - a life of adventure.
reminded of an excerpt from American
Crisis by Mr. Paine:
“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too
lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”
writing this entry in a secret room beneath my estate. This dimly-lit space is hidden so that it
shall not be discovered while I’m gone.
I occasionally look up to gaze upon the culmination of five year’s hard
labor in between my thoughts. I have
been employed in all manner of trades since I first read my grandfather’s
letter. Trades that, a listing of which,
would likely take up an entire page in this journal (trades that also provided
me with skills that I never would’ve acquired otherwise, I might add)! Had this struggle not been so great, I
certainly would not appreciate the magnitude of this night. Tonight shall be the first time since the
completion of the machine ten days ago that thunder rumbles in the east. In a matter of hours I’ll likely’ve left this
world in one of two manners: I will have
successfully leapt, or I will be a charred heap of bones strapped to a
glorified lightning rod. God have mercy
on my soul, for my lunacy is surely hereditary.
this would be a proper time to attempt to describe to you the nature of the
machine. I could of course refer you to
any numerous sketches or schematics, but I would prefer for this journal to be as
self-contained as possible.
The core of
the machine is very similar in appearance to the newly-created electrocution
chairs (the first successful electric execution having been performed less than
two months prior in Auburn Prison). This
irony has not been lost on me, and has caused me numerous sleepless nights over
the course of the last several weeks. My
more pessimistic inclinations whisper to me that I was indeed not my grandfather’s favorite progeny, and
that he secretly loathed me (he did in fact, leave me with none other than the
instructions to construct this machine!).
Being the scientific genius that he was, he crafted this elaborate
scheme to have me waste my youth on this fool’s errand, only to die a slow,
painful death. I read in the papers
where a witness stated that Kemmler’s electrocution was, “An awful spectacle,
far worse than hanging.” Of course, this
is all most likely happenstance.
is constructed of the finest of oak, and has a leather seat and backing. All connections are peg and groove. There are leather straps to secure the
occupants legs, lap, chest and head.
There are no metallic components in the chair or the straps.
chair, a copper lightning rod ascends through the ceiling of the room and eventually
terminates at a point thirty feet above the roof. The base of the rod is three inches in
diameter and the tip is a quarter inch across.
The tip of the rod is the highest point for miles. Silver would have been a more efficient
material to use in this application, but because of the prohibitive cost,
copper is an acceptable substitute.
array of silver coils extend out form the base of the lightning rod and lead to
all sorts of gadgetry that I would be at a complete loss in succinctly
describing the theory behind their individual applications without confusing
you. Tubes filled with gallium and mercury
are mounted on various devices, along with their individual accompaniments of
gauges, gears and magnets.
By the way,
I suppose I was not exactly
forthright in my introductory entry. I was willed something of great value by
my grandfather; actually two
somethings. He entrusted me with a pair
of paragons – flawless white diamonds of immense size and rarity. As far as I know, there are no others like
them in the world. The sale of a single
paragon would’ve earned me wealth enough to live out the rest of my life
without worry. Without them I would live
a life of nothing but worry, though,
for all I would ever think about is what
You see, as
valuable as the gems are to the rest of the world, they are priceless to
me. The diamonds completed a key
component of the machine. Without the
paragon in place amongst the various other apparatus, the entire construct is
inert, powerless, worthless. Of course, I could’ve sold one to fund the
construction of the machine that would remain in this world, but could I ever
return home? Without a doubt they are
I find it
ironic that, when holding these jewels, I possess immense wealth by the
standards of any man. But these diamonds
alone, nor any other store of goods, could purchase what my heart desires. So I labored for these years, refusing to
cheapen my reward by seeking loans from my family (who would’ve certainly given
me the funds I needed without question) or otherwise, so that I could revel in this
moment when it finally came.
function of each component (especially the paragon) is somewhat a mystery to
me. In many senses, I am merely an
oblivious erector, standing on the shoulders of giants. From a purely artistic vantage point, which I
can relate to much easier, I find the entire apparatus to be beautiful in its
symmetry. If it does not function, and I
do not perish in the process, perhaps I can redeem it by offering it to the
attempt to leap through with nothing more than copies of my grandfather’s
notes, several recent patents, some novels, the remaining paragon and a worn,
leather Bible. Hopefully the patents I
have selected will not have been developed yet. If not, I plan to sell them for the purpose of
funding my travels and for the construction of a second machine so that I may
leap back to this world.
draws near. I bid thee farewell, if only
for a time.
Before I continue
with my story, please allow me a moment to attempt to clarify several
characteristics of my journal. I realize
that this may seem like tangential nonsense, but please endure me yet again.
are difficult to read since they are most often an anagram of the authors
thoughts, written as they were remembered rather than chronologically. Entries are finite moments of clarity
(though not necessarily honesty) flailing amongst a sea of omissions and
contradictions. They greater the period
that exists between an actual event and the penning of the entry, the more
susceptible it is to untruths.
that time is the enemy of candor, it is my goal to record my experiences as
soon as possible. Most entries are
written in the past tense, because the events of course have already
transpired. Some entries, such as 155
(Works of Terra) and 1 (A Storm Approaches) are written in the present since
their contents were occurring as I wrote them.
entries written in past tense (which are most), only the month and year in
which the entry wasrecorded is assigned, rather than an
exact date – which is irrelevant. Most
entries were written over the course of several days anyway.
After a few
short years, it had become apparent that the threads that bound Terra and Earth
together were beginning to unravel at an ever-quickening pace. At first, the divergence seemed to be merely
technological in nature, but after a time, the course of entire nations began
to alter. The consequences for Terra
were unimaginable, particularly to an outsider such as myself.
world seems somewhat stable in its projection (or at least in comparison), this
world is becoming increasingly volatile.
Enemies of old, long since forgotten, are rising anew. Long-established treaties are being broken, as
strange new alliances replace them. I
fear this new world is on the brink of a great upheaval. Perhaps my current demeanor has been affected
by my encounter with the Ghazis only days ago, though I do not believe this to
be the sole reason for my concerns.
are an old enemy, one the Western world has battled for hundreds of years. They are ruthless, soulless villains that
profit by way of possibly the oldest profession – no, not that profession, the one I speak of is the slave trade.
world, the Ghazis’ influence was finally subdued in the year 1830, by the
“The French?” you say.
Why, yes – truth
is sometimes quite stranger than
By order of
Charles X, as his reign was crumbling around him, Admiral Duperré and a fleet
of over one hundred warships sailed to, and bombarded, the Port of Algiers from
the sea. Meanwhile, Marshall Bourmont and
his detachment of nearly 40,000 troops invaded the city and wrested it from the
Ottomans. The assault began in the middle
of June and was over by the first week of July.
In a flash, the threat to our world was over. Confused? I assume you most likely are, for the Ghazis
were known by another name back then – the Barbary Pirates.
establishment of French Algiers, Muslim slave raids became a thing of the past
in the Mediterranean, and the Ottoman Empire was dealt yet another crushing blow. A time of great darkness in Europe had
finally come to a conclusion. From
Malaga to Venice, Europeans could rest a little easier, for the threat of
slavers landing in the dead of night and disappearing with entire villas was no
world, the rise of the West was inevitable.
In Terra, the Western hegemony was not clearly established. The Manifest
Destiny, so to speak, of America and the greater Western world, was a
wholly uncertain supposition.
gripped Europe as wary empires constantly brokered and dissolved alliances in
an attempt to maintain the established balance of power on the continent. Imperialism fueled unrest around the world as
natives resisted the trespasses of distant rulers. The world, and really both worlds, seemed to
be on the precipice of a great upheaval.
I am, however, diverging from the scope of this addendum. Allow me to return to the matter at hand.
In 1880t (“t” denotes that the year, and therefore
the context of the sentence, refers to Terra.
I will strive to adhere to this annotation for the sake of clarity, but
forgive my trespass if I occasionally forget.), the sparks for the resurgence
of Barbary Pirates (what would come to be known as the Ghazis in Terra), were
ignited. France wrested Tunisia from the
Ottoman Empire without firing a shot, further expanding its influence in North
Africa. The Turks’ crumbling realm was
unable to stand against the French outright, so they resorted to subterfuge and
the building of a resistance network within their former holdings.
spring of 1885t, the time for the Tunisian coup had come. It swept quickly through the country and
spilled over into Algeria. The Ghazin
Revolution, as it came to be known, was decentralized and not easily contained
by the French. Financed by a bitter
Ottoman Empire, and bolstered by popular support, the Ghazis plunged the region
into turmoil. By 1888t, the French had
abandoned all hopes of reclaiming their colonies. Once again, the North African coastline
became a haven for piracy.
in mind, the story of my first Atlantic crossing (in Terra) begins.
after my sojourn across the aether, I had finally acquired the means to leave the
Americas. I might remind you that I was
left with no tangible inheritance, with the exception of a bureau that
contained the what-fors of this new world’s existence, and the how-tos of leaping.
The topic of finances is best saved for an entry all its own, lest I
descend into a lengthy discourse on the economic concepts of thought piracy and
funding your own Pulse Leap. Forgive me;
slightly ironic that my first foray out of the States had precisely nothing to
do with the destination. Though the
transatlantic route was an adventure in its own right, it was not my reason for
leaping at the opportunity. No; I chose
this expedition based solely on the
ship I would be sailing on.
the airship I would be flying on.
airships had not been ships at
all. Rather, they had been massive
blimps filled with hydrogen or helium, with diminutive gondolas slung beneath
them. Or worse, they were giant,
colorful balloons filled with hot air, with a tiny basket for two or maybe
three occupants. Not Helios, though; it was craft of
Helios was the unbuildable dirigible. To
this day, nothing remotely similar to it has been replicated in our world. To be honest, I do not even understand the
physics of how it is able to achieve
lift. Perhaps the laws of nature in this
world are actually far different than our own.
If you will humor me, I will attempt to describe its appearance and
operation to you.
ship that was at home on both the high seas and in the air, and you will have
imagined the fundamental basis for the craft.
The most comparable design that I can submit to you is that of the
trireme of antiquity, in both the principal and visible sense.
trireme pushed the technological boundaries of its time, much like Helios.
Weight was diminished to the point that any more reduction would result
in a compromise to the ship’s structural integrity. The ship’s center of gravity was set as low
as possible to increase its resistance to waves and rollover, while affording
minimal draught. This would allow the
ship to land in shallow bodies of water (or in the sense of the historical
trireme, to navigate shallow waters), such as a small lake or river, far inland.
Helios had three masts. Atop each of the masts were large, gas-filled
balloons. The balloons assisted with
lift, but were of an insufficient size to float the ship on their own. When the craft was not airborne, the balloons
were kept unobtrusively deflated in large cages atop the masts. If one was not aware of their existence, they
would not be noticed until they were inflated.
stern of the ship, two tall smokestacks protruded from the top of the
cabin. It was a long, narrow ship, with
dimensions of approximately 300’ by 30’.
Its slender design made it look rather odd, but not so much that one
might gawk at it if it sailed past them.
boarded the vessel, it appeared not unlike the clippers that still sailed the
seas. At first glance, I must admit, I was
rather disappointed in having paid the exorbitant price for my boarding
pass. I even began to wonder if it truly could fly, or if I had been the
victim of some complex scheme to deprive me of my treasure. As I observed the numerous dignitaries and
military men that were alongside me, I assured myself that the revelations must
be true, or else the captain might soon find himself cast overboard.
Passage on Helios’ maiden voyage was reserved
mostly for the representatives of wealthy industrialists, as well as foreign
ambassadors, in hopes that the commissioning of additional vessels would be
negotiated after the passengers had experienced the ship’s prowess and
capability. Those passengers of great
means rode for free. There were,
however, a few seats that were available to the highest bidders. I was one of the fortunate and
newly-impoverished fools who had won their passage by way of auction. In all, there were close to a hundred
assembled for the voyage: a complement
of 30 sailors (or aeronauts), 20 royal British marines and 50 or so passengers.
from Freeport, Bahamas on December 15, 1892t, and set sail for Palermo,
Sicily. The excursion was one that would
cover over 5,000 miles and was expected to take just over seven days to
complete. That translated to a sustained
speed of around 27 knots – faster than any clipper or four-funnel liner. Of course, one would certainly expect Helios to be faster, since the only drag
against the ship would be the wind itself.
And if we caught the Westerlies just right, that drag would be all but
negligible, since our sails would be bulging with the strong winds, urging us
towards our destination.
A warm wind
tussled my hair as we left the port. I
turned and leaned into it – there could not have been a more perfect day to be
on the water, or over it. Nevertheless, I had not come for the blue
skies or the wispy clouds – I had come to experience a ship that flies.
round man in an ill-fitting suit and tie led a gaggle of aristocrats across the
deck. He narrated the hither-tos and
whither-fors of the vessel with his every waddle. He paused for a moment and presented group of
sailors as they skillfully worked the rigging.
A strong gust of wind surprised the group, causing coats and dresses to
swirl and twist, revealing some rather unflattering sights. The fat man’s hat danced precariously on his
bald head, threatening to escape. He
grasped at it with his stubby arms, rescuing it from a watery grave. With that, he motioned the group towards the
stairs that led below.
called out somewhere behind me, “Have you ever seen a group of asses that were more pompous than those?”
A woman in
the group turned around a glared past me with righteous indignation. I turned around as well, to see who the
not much older than I, were on the far side of the deck. The apparent leader stared back at the woman
for a few moments, before turning around, bending over and grabbing his ankles. The second man slapped the leader’s rear with
the back of his hand. The woman covered
her mouth with a gloved hand as she gasped at the sight, before hurrying after
the group. I could not help but laugh at
the scene unfolding before me. I chuckle
even now as I write this. I remember
wondering if that woman had ever had anyone
do such a thing in front of her, much less to
The two men
approached me while the last of the group disappeared below deck.
know you,” the antagonist said, “and that's odd, because I usually know all of
these pitiful saps.”
usually run in these circles.”
here you are.”
There was a
moment of awkward silence as the three of us sized each other up.
the man extended his hand and said, “Name’s French, and this worthless bloke is
odd pair of names,” I replied as I shook his hand.
always seems to follow us,” Pagan interjected, “we’ve found aliases to be a
necessary measure on our behalf.”
wordsmanship, Pagan. 'Seems to follows us.' I couldn't’ve said it better myself.”
nothing of it.”
as the two bantered back and forth like two best friends, capable of finishing
each other’s thoughts with ease. The
cadence of their dialogue was nimble and sharp.
Like seasoned fencers they sparred verbally for the pleasure of the
game, mirthfully slighting each other with their wit. From a safe distance, I chuckled at every
lingual feint, lunge and parry.
listened, I wondered who they were, and where this encounter might lead. Immediately I knew they were trouble – not
trouble like I might wind up in a gutter knifed by one of them, but rather
mischievous trouble, the type that the free-spirit sons of eccentric tycoons
got into. Exactly the type of trouble I was looking for.
looks of them, both men looked capable of battling their way out of any situation
they might’ve stumbled into, and they had the marks to prove it. The faint remnants of a black eye could still
be discerned on French’s face, and Pagan had a grisly looking scar that started
just above his collar. Their accents
were undeniably British, but they weren’t so thick that they were hard to
understand. Both were well kept in their
dress and presented an air of confidence, but not arrogance. It was obvious that they were comfortable in
their own skin and felt no need to compensate with bravado or bluster.
French looked at me and said, “So, you never told us your name.”
thought good sir!” Pagan interrupted as he turned to French, “He needs an alias.”
“Of course, why yes.” French rubbed his
chin as he mused the thought. Finally,
he reached out, dusted off my shoulders in an exaggerated manner and
proclaimed, “Mr. Black.”
"Mr. Black? You're naming me after the color of my jacket?”
Mr. Black. How can I bestow upon you an alias of
befitting quality if I don’t properly know you yet?”
choose my own?”
bellowed with laughter, before French replied, “Do you think I wanted to be called French? Or what about Pagan? No, that’s ludicrous; completely out of the
“Completely out of the question,” Pagan
and began to walk towards the bow of the ship.
I hesitated at first, until Pagan turned and urged me to follow. I doubled my pace until I was beside
them. When we reached the front of the
vessel, French turned and stared at each of us in turn without uttering a
word. We looked back at him curiously
for several moments. Finally, he spoke
in an off-handed tone, as if he was completely disinterested in the subject.
retrieved a silver watch form his pocket and smiled as he viewed the time.
The low hum
of an engine began to emanate from somewhere down below. After several moments, the sound of scraping
metal could be heard just off the sides of the ship. As Pagan and I leaned over the railing, we
saw a series of steel shafts extending outwards from the side of Helios.
were telescopic, meaning they were hollow and contained additional, smaller
segments within them. Each segment was
about 10’ in length. As a segment would
reach its full extension, the following segment of a slightly smaller diameter
would emerge from the end and continue outward.
And so this continued until all of the shafts were fully extended.
emerged from three different levels of the ship, like the multi-leveled oars on
a trireme. The top shaft protruded from
the vessel about 20’, and the middle and bottom shafts each stepped out a
little farther from the ship. There were
four rows of shafts like this, so there were twelve on each side of the craft. On the underside of each shaft was a series
of pulleys that had been threaded with a steel cable.
those supposed to do?” I asked.
and see,” French replied smugly.
descended upon the shafts like ants on some hapless prey. The sailors climbed over the railing and
walked out on the shafts with as much skill as any tightrope walker. More men emerged from below deck carrying
large rotors, approximately 20’ in diameter.
When they reached the edge of the ship, they attached the rotors to the cables
and fed them along the shafts until they reached the end. The nimble sailors at the tips of the shafts
then removed the rotors from the cables and fastened them in place. The rotors were horizontal, like giant
ceiling fans. Their purpose was singular
– to provide the lift we needed.
As the last
of the sailors walked the shafts back to the edge of the ship and climbed back
onboard, the rumble of the engine somewhere below us grew even deeper. The rotors began to turn slowly at first, but
after a few moments they were spinning furiously. Above us, the balloons atop the masts began
to take form as helium was pumped into them.
the entire ship began to tremble, as if it might rend in two at any
moment. The rotors had begun to whir
feverishly. Wind whipped across the deck
as a sort of manufactured cyclone materialized around us.
removed his hat, sat cross-legged on the deck and said, “I’d hold on if I were
you two. They haven’t quite worked out all
the kinks yet.”
French, but Pagan was too enamored by our surroundings to be troubled with the
warning. He stood in awe of Helios as it struggled to free itself
from its watery chains. The ship’s
timber hull groaned and creaked as the entire vessel began to tremble. The smokestacks chuffed dark black plumes
into the surrounding air as the engines’ were pushed to their limits.
abruptly tipped up out of the water – not by much, but enough to send Pagan
tumbling headlong to the deck. He rolled
end over end until he finally collided with, and grabbed onto, a coil of heavy
rope. French cackled at his friend’s
predicament, while we clung tightly to the railing.
stern quickly caught up with the bow’s ascent.
And just like that, we climbed into the sky.
feet gentlemen,” French proclaimed as he stood up, “take it in.”
it to have been the surrealness of the entire experience, for the ship (now
undeniably an airship) did not ascend
that quickly, but the pit of my stomach floated around my chest during the entire
maneuver. To be exposed to such a rush
for a moment may be exhilarating, but to have it linger for several minutes was
more than a bit unnerving.
gust filled our sails and gently nudged us forward as we continued our
ascent. After reaching an altitude of
several hundred feet, however, Helios
began to accelerate forward with a purpose.
A pair of large propellers on the stern, just above the rudder, hummed
intently as they worked in concert with the sails.
over the ship’s rails and stared in amazement at the world beneath me. Our large shadow continued to diminish below
us as we seemingly defied all manner of scientific laws that had been
postulated for centuries. The lush
greens of the island vegetation and the bright whites of the sandy beaches
contrasted magnificently with the deep blues of ocean. Of course, who was I to be impressed with all
of this? I had leapt through the very
fabric of space to get to where I was standing.
Still, I could not help but stare.
A flock of
gulls swooped towards the airship and eyed us curiously. Their calls sounded like laughter, as if our
presence had completely baffled them as well.
I whistled to the nearest bird as he flew alongside me, less than 20’
away. He cawed several times in quick
succession, before turning and rolling back towards his friends.
wrapped an arm around each of our shoulders as Pagan and I stared about in
“Here here,” Pagan replied.
exactly are you?” I turned to him and
threw his head back and laughed.
he?” Pagan interjected, “He’s the son of the man that built this work of art.”
“You’re the son of Gordon Rhodes?”
smiled widely as he shot me a wink.
mid-December of 1892t, at somewhere about 2000’ over the Bahamas, I met the son
of the great airship-builder and set forth on a journey east – a journey I
would not soon forget.
Postscript Addition to This Journal Entry, by the Author:
At the time, I did not realize how truly
extraordinary of a feat I had experienced.
I simply imagined that within a year or two at the most, our world would
see the same sort of flying behemoths gracing its skies. This, as you know, was not the case at
all. It took over a decade before the
Wright brothers were able to sustain flight – a humble feat when compared to
Helios. In 1892 on earth, the closest
comparable construct would likely be the gliders of the renowned German
engineer Otto Lilienthal – but his designs were pale shades of what Gordon
Rhodes had accomplished. As time wore
on, I realized how truly unique Terra was becoming.
across the Atlantic was brisk and without event, save French and Pagan spiraling
into a fit of frantic restlessness. At
first, they passed the time by gambling.
They threw dice until I finally threw them overboard. That was my first mistake.
took to drinking – but only rum, because anything else, ‘just wasn’t a fitting
libation for an airship.’ So they drank
until they were utterly debilitated, and then they retched over the sides and
drank some more. If French had been
anyone else’s son, he would have been surely pitched overboard by the
crew. There were several occasions where
I was afraid that even that would not
save him. If crossing the Atlantic had
taken just one more day, I believe the two would have resorted to some sort of
floating feudal system – they would have carved up the deck and fought over it
like crazed warlords. And you think I jest!
the sparse moments of sobriety with my newfound companions, but otherwise spent
my time enjoying the beauty of the endless blue waters, and clouds that I could
almost reach out and touch. When I was
not clutching the railing and gazing out over the living canvas of our Maker, I
was reading. The novels that seemed so
fantastical on earth suddenly gained an air of possibility in this world. Had the men that had been proclaimed as literary
giants of our world been mere petty thieves?
Had they too traveled to some far-flung world, stolen its realities and
crafted it into some pseudo-myth? It
certainly seemed plausible to me as I lay on the deck at night, dreaming of
worlds still beyond these worlds.
to Sicily was very exact: we would
overshoot our destination and cross the northern reaches of Spain. Upon reaching Barcelona, we would aim
southeast until we arrived at Palermo.
It was, without deviating through the better part of Europe, the safest
safer, byfar, than casting our shadow across the cliffs of Gibraltar and
straddling the narrow gap between Sardinia and Tunis. Or
worse, chancing a straight course and following the spine of the Atlas
Mountains over Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
Though no one spoke it, they all seemed to feel the same, hollow dread
nagging at them during the fleeting moments that danced between their idle thoughts
and the banter of meaningless conversation.
Even French and Pagan managed to muster up enough concern to remain sober
as we neared the Spanish coast.
way of Barcelona was still too close for some, but that was paranoia, right?
Besides, this was not just any
ship – this was an airship. Not only was it an airship, it was one
outfitted for war, with cannons, and Gatling guns, and a contingent of royal
marines. This was Helios, the first of her kind.
We were indomitable.
I say “they” all seemed fearful not as a
boast, but as mere fact. I had no real
frame of reference, save for the tales my grandmother had told me of the
corsairs that prowled the Barbary Coast.
Sure, I’d heard idle chatter of the Ghazis during my time spent here,
but nothing of true substance. My
shipmates of privilege, who had certainly traveled the seas before, however,
were another story. They’d known people,
unfortunate acquaintances of theirs, whose ships had been boarded and they had
never been heard from again. Most
likely, some combination of the following had befallen them: they had been murdered outright in the
struggle (oh, but a lucky few), ravaged, flayed alive or sold into
slavery. As an aside, had I known at the
time that the Ghazis practiced the flaying of live men (or the ravaging, mind you), my level of trepidation
would’ve certainly been elevated! To
fight and die while resisting a boarding party of savages was one matter, but
to be disarmed and brutalized by them was wholly another. Getting anyone on Helios to speak of the Ghazi, even my stir-crazed companions, was
an impossible feat. It was as if the
mere utterance of the word might doom us all.
Perhaps they were right.
On the dawn
of the fifth day, somewhere off the coast of Portugal, our clever scheme began
to unravel. We were beset by a storm of
truly Biblical proportions. Now I must admit: I realize that I am inclined to hyperbole (as
many of you have discovered), but trust me to be using plain and sincere diction
regarding this subject. The integrity of
the indomitable Helios, and therefore
our very lives, was sincerely at stake – and
we were sore afraid.
Now, I have
discussed previously regarding my witness to the very nature of this world
being one of extremes. Events here
regularly occur near the outer fringes of (and very often beyond) what we would
consider conceivable. Whether it’s in
regards to the physical, social, or otherwise – tumult and upheaval is
customary. This tempest was no
At dusk on
the fourth day, the horizon was as serene as one could desire. The few clouds that were visible were plumes
of cotton – sluggish and innocuous. That
night, I fell asleep underneath the tranquility of a blazing green aurora. It was the first one I had seen since we
departed the Americas. Not a single
flash of lightning or crash of thunder disturbed my slumber.
morning’s first light, it was apparent that we had been lulled into
complacency. A silent wall of black
clouds bore down on us from the northeast.
We tried to turn south and avoid its path, but the beast was seemingly
endless in breadth. As it began to
envelope our horizon, we heard the first of its howling winds.
As the storm’s
gusts began to toss us about, the captain of the ship began to usher all but
the crew below deck. French, being who he
was, was not having it. As he approached us, French leaned into the
wind and began to shake his head in an animated fashion.
Your father’d kill me if
anything was to happen to you.”
kill you if you ask me again. My mind’s
made up. I will not die sitting next to some fat cow as she blubbers on and on
and squeezes the life out of some pampered little mutt!”
If I should do that then castrate me now, for I am no longer a man!”
he turned and stormed off.
turned to us with pleading eyes, as if we
had any sway over our companion. His
sincerity was real. He truly did fear
for our lives if we remained on deck. Personally,
the idea of being cramped amongst a roomful of hysterical socialites was as
unsavory a thought as I could muster as well, so I simply shrugged my shoulders
and turned to follow after French.
placed a hand on the man’s shoulder and added, “Our lives are our own, but this
ship needs you. Go, make ready.”
entered the first cloud, raindrops as big as acorns began to pelt us
relentlessly. Everyone left standing on
deck was immediately drenched. A midday
darkness engulfed us as Helios’ stern
passed into the tempest’s domain. We had
been fully consumed by the beast. The
wails of the wind were chilling, like the sounds of tormented souls.
standing near the bow, staring defiantly into the blackness when we reached
“El Gran Vόrtice,” he said without
looking our way.
“The Great Maelstrom,” he replied. Gentlemen, it was a pleasure knowing you, but
we’re all going to die.”
a violent gust slammed into the airship, sending it rolling towards the
starboard side. The mast groaned loudly
from the strain as it tipped sideways.
Everyone on deck was sent tumbling towards the edge, before the ship
finally recovered. The angle was
dangerously sharp. Just a few more
degrees and we would have certainly spilled out into the sky.
I was the
first to recover and managed to crawl several feet towards some loose
rigging. I grasped the rope and tied it
to the fore-mast, before quickly fastening it around my waist. I fastened a second rope and cast it to
French before we were sent reeling again.
The ship pitched forward this time, and threatened to hurl my companions
over the bow. As he slid precariously
close to the edge, French looped the rope around his hand several times while
Pagan clung desperately to his legs.
called out to Pagan, “Hold on dear boy!” He tried in earnest to mask his fear,
but he failed miserably. Pagan tried to
articulate a response, but the sounds that emerged were little more than a babble
of groans and wails.
sailor careened towards me, crying out as he tumbled end over end. I lunged at the man with both arms, but I was
too late. As he slipped through my arms,
he bounced off the deck and was flung towards French and Pagan.
sailor collided with my comrades, I was certain that they would all be given to
the storm as live offerings. The crunch
of bone on bone was sickeningly loud. The
man’s head slammed directly into French’s, slicing his lip open and bloodying
his nose. A red sheen streaked down his
face and across the deck. French’s
resolve was unwavering and his grip was solid, though. As the sailor disappeared into the abyss
beyond, he continued to hold fast.
men hung quite literally by a thread, I did all that I could do – I rappelled
across the deck and procured a third rope that had gotten tangled in the
railing. After the ship righted itself
once again, I tossed a final rope to Pagan.
While the men coiled their respective ropes around their waists, I
wrapped the opposite ends around the mast.
The three of us were fettered to the doomed dirigible like ragdoll
wiped the blood from his face and called out to me, “Excellent work, Mr.
Black! Now, tell me: how good are your knots?”
back, “You’re still here, eh?”
and nodded as the wind continued to toss us about. I dared not tell him that my knot-tying
skills were nonexistent. Our impending
deaths were more than enough for one to concern themselves with, right?
over my shoulder, only to see a dozen crewmembers frantically scurrying about
in an attempt to secure the rigging before it was destroyed by the
maelstrom. They each wore harnesses and
had a pair of ropes that they used to move around without the risk of being
launched from the deck. At least one of
the two lines was always fastened to some point on the ship. The aeronauts ran, climbed or swung to their
destinations, depending on Helios’
equilibrium at that particular moment. The
team fearlessly disrobed the masts with an acrobatic finesse, like mile-high aerialists
executing the final act of the show.
What would happen when these showmen finally brought the curtains down?
been momentarily enchanted by the feats of the crew. Perhaps the constant pitching and rolling of
the ship had disoriented my senses.
Whatever it was, I didn’t hear French’s cries until it was too
late. I looked up just in time to see a
section of the boom shear off and begin to tumble towards us. I tried leap from its path, but just as I
did, another gust from the Vόrtice caused
Helios to sway fiercely. The motion sent me sliding helplessly back
into the fray. The boom swatted me
across the ship like a stowaway rat batted with an oar.
lying prostrate on the deck, unsure if my world was spinning from the boom or
the storm. A strong, coppery taste
filled my mouth. My clothing hung
tattered from my limp body. The faint
sound of the tempest filled my ears, howling at me like a distant, rabid
beast. I looked up, but everything was a
dull blur. My vision began to tunnel.
Finally, darkness consumed me.
was soft and pure, like an angel’s.
I opened a
single eye and peered into the faintly-lit room. The last I could remember was being tossed
about by the storm. Surely I was dead
and this voice had come to take me home.
“How do you
throbbed gently. There’s no pain in the hereafter, I reasoned, I must be alive yet. I
opened my second eye with more confidence than the first. Then I saw her. It was
the voice of an angel.
says you saved him and his idiot friend.”
I wanted to
speak, but my words would have been wholly inappropriate for the conversation
at hand. I might have meant to say, “Who’s your brother?” but something ridiculous like, “Miss, beauty like yours is truly unrivaled
– in this world, or any other,” would’ve certainly spilled out. My mind was still too muddled, I dared not
risk it. Instead I simply stared at her
without saying a word.
that calls himself French? Or did your brains spill out your ears after
being hit by that beam?”
rude, and impatient, and demanding, but
she was stunning. Her blonde hair
was long and flowing, and her skin glowed as if the sun had followed her below
sheepishly at her.
“Well, this is pointless,” she muttered, before
turning and shouting, “French, come get your friend. That blow has damaged him beyond repair; he’s
as stupid as Pagan!”
and rubbed my head as I replied, “Look, I think we’ve gotten off to a poor
The door to
the room creaked open and French appeared.
to French and roared, “Thank God! He’s your
feigned bewilderment and threw his hands up as his sister stormed past
Black! What did you do?”
I just woke up!” I sat upright in
the bed. I was a little sore, but
nothing seemed broken.
had left the room, he slapped me on the shoulder and said with a smile, “Don’t
mind her, she’s always like that.”
He sat on
the edge of the bed and replied, “Well, usually it’s not like that, but to a lesser extent, or
something…” His voice trailed off for a moment, before he added, “…She’s a
woman, and my sister, and a Rhodes,
so I understand absolutely nothing she does – but I do know she likes you.”
“Oh, without a doubt.”
hear the same conversation I did?”
just Lauren. Look, my sister, and the
rest of the family for that matter, thinks I’m a complete fool. I can’t live like them, though, I just can’t. What good is a life of luxury, if it’s barely
I nodded in
“But try as
she might, she loves me more than all of the rest; I’m her big brother. I mean, we practically raised each other. So, by
having saved her brother’s life, you’ve eternally endeared yourself to her, my
flushed slightly as I said, “I don’t know…”
as he stood up, “Say what you want, but who do you think bandaged your
head? Me? Certainly not Pagan.” He
chuckled at the thought as he walked away.
He paused as he reached the threshold and said before leaving, “Come up
top when you can, there’s something you need to see.”
emerged from below deck, I was struck by the condition of the indomitable Helios.
How we were still airborne was beyond me – this craft was indeed a shipwright’s marvel! Nothing was as it should’ve been. The fore and main-masts’ sails were in tatters. Booms were splintered or hewn in two. One of our balloons was missing, and another
had been deflated by a huge gash.
Everything was in complete disarray.
an odd sentiment in the air, one that I could not quite place. Though the airship was in ruins, it could
certainly be repaired. And at the rate
that the crew was working, most of Helios
would be back in service before we even landed.
They weren’t working solely to return her to her glory, though. Something else was amiss.
As I walked
towards Pagan and French, I noticed that the detachment of marines had taken up
positions in strategic locations all over the ship. As I neared my two companions, I noticed they
had rifles slung over their shoulders. What was going on?
turned and saw me approaching. He smiled
faintly and called out, “Ah, there you are.
How do you feel?” His usual,
blithe demeanor, apparent just a few minutes earlier, was gone. In its place was a terseness that was
completely out of character for the French I’d come to know over the past week.
deeply and said, “Still a little sore and groggy, but I’ll probably be fine by
tomorrow. What’s going on out here?”
is just trying to get us in service again.
The mizzen-mast is the only one of the three that is even close to
functional. Only three quarters of our
lift rotors are functional, we have one balloon and we have zero thrust.”
mechanics are working on it, but as of right now we’re adrift.”
not even the worst of it,” Pagan
else?” I asked.
sighed and continued, “The turbines that work the lift rotors are running at
full power, but it’s not enough. We’re
“And that’s not even the worst of it,” Pagan
out of frustration at the situation as I replied, “Come on, what else could there be?”
stared at me without expression and said, “Go, have a look over the side.”
my brow as I searched his face for answers, but none were forthcoming. After several moments, I turned and walked
towards the ship’s edge. As I gazed out
over the railing, my knees nearly buckled.
Below was a
parched landscape, barren and unforgiving.
Its sepia-toned ridges were far closer than I had expected them to be. On two horizons were jagged mountain ranges. Perhaps it was some sort of illusion, but the
distant peaks seemed to reach higher than the ship.
“French, where are we?”
miles south of Algiers, between the Tell and Saharan ranges. We’re about a thousand feet off the valley
floor. If we drift too far the south, we
smash into the Saharan mountains. And if
we drift too far north, well, you get the idea.”
“And if we don’t get out of here soon-”
Pagan’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a cannonade.
old friend,” French replied.
I stared at
the two, waiting for an explanation, knowing all too well what it was. All around us, the crew desperately hastened
their pace. Sergeant Toulson, the
commander of the royal marines, stood on the starboard side with a pair of
binoculars, searching for the source of the blast.
asked, “How’s your aim, Mr. Black?”
at the question. “Aim? My father rode alongside Colonel
father’s not here, Black,” French replied as he approached. He thrust a revolver at me and continued, “I
hope he taught you well.”
I nodded in
appreciation as I received it. I wrapped
my fingers tightly around the mahogany grips.
It felt good in my hands, like an old friend.
bit of advice: kill the first man you
see and take his sword. That gun’ll
protect you for but a short while, but a Barbary cutlass – now a thing like
that might keep you alive to the
that I had presumed French for something he was not. He was more than a free-spirit borne out of
privilege. This was clearly not his
to thank him, but our exchange was interrupted by a second cannon blast, and
sensing my confusion, said, “They’re not firing at us; those are signal
blasts. They’re rallying their
warriors. They won’t shoot us out of the
sky. They want us alive, at least for a
A group of
sailors and a few of the patriarchs of the aristocracy emerged from below. In total, our fighting force was just over
fifty men, over half of whom were not soldiers.
ships of the Ghazis appeared in the sky.
They emerged from behind crags and out of wide-mouthed caves. Some floated up out of deep gashes in the
valley floor – chasms that were capable of hiding entire rogue cities.
were of vastly inferior designs, but Helios
had been seriously hamstrung by the Vόrtice. Together, the small army of corsair
dirigibles was a formidable force – one that would not be easily repelled.
dirigibles were more balloon than airship.
All achieved lift by way of large balloons filled with hot air generated
by burners. Most, if not all, of the
burners appeared to be coal fired.
balloons looked to have been assembled from the fabrics of a thousand
sources. They were more akin to
patchwork quilts than an actual instrument of flight. Nonetheless, the hot air from the burners
surged into the balloons, stretching their seams and generating the necessary
lift to float the ramshackle air-flotilla.
baskets or gondolas, large platforms hung from the balloons. Like floating river-rafts of war, each
platform contained a half-dozen or so men and various armaments – smooth-bore cannonades,
massive harpoons, and catapults that seemed strangely out of place.
rears of the platforms, a series of two or three steam-powered propellers
allowed the marauders to navigate their craft.
By applying thrust to the appropriate propellers, they were able to guide
themselves through the skies with relative ease. Through a combination of wind drift and
propulsion, they began to encircle us.
Toulson called out to everyone on deck, “Gather round!” His voice was the very embodiment of resolve
formed from steel. We immediately
complied. After everyone had assembled
around him, he spoke again.
straits are dire ones. We’re surrounded
and outnumbered, but that simplifies our problem. Everyman is to find a position along the
perimeter of this ship. That position is
now your position – do not yield your position! You are the watchmen on the walls, let no
man past you!
women and children below deck, let no harm come to them. And,
we have some of the very best mechanics and engineers I’ve ever met, all
working to redeem us. Give them the time
they need to repair our engines. Understood?”
One of the
soldiers asked, “Can’t we just shoot their balloons with our rifles and
them are probably already torn, yet there they are. A hole in one of those balloons doesn’t cause
it to go spinning uncontrollably through the air, it just allows a little bit
of hot air to escape. They’ll just
compensate by chucking more coal in the burners, unless it’s a huge gash –
maybe five or ten feet across. Besides,
shooting ships out of the air is not a precedent I want to set. Disable their lift and they’ll slowly drift
back to the ground, but we’ll drop like a rock if we lose another engine. Aim for the buccaneer, not the balloon.”
neared us, the corsairs readied long ladders and other boarding
implements. They meant for the fight to
be a personal one, not an exchange from a gentlemanly distance.
their men were shirtless, their chests smeared with paint – or possibly
blood. Others wore traditional ensembles
of long tunics with turbans or kufis.
They were armed with implements devised for hand-to-hand combat, such as
scimitars, maces and tridents.
shrieked and howled at us from several hundred feet away, we remained deathly
silent at our chosen positions. Toulson
demanded no less from us as he paced our ranks and reinforced his orders.
“Steady your aim! Find your foe and keep him in your sights!”
“Hold your fire! Not one shot until I give the word!”
“Bite your tongue! I’ll not have any man of mine acting like a
as suddenly as the cannonade had sounded, it began. A long, deep blast from a pair of horns was
the signal the corsairs needed.
“Hold your fire!”
balloons lurched towards us and tightened their circle.
set of blasts from the horns caused the marauders to stop a little over thirty
yards from us. A sudden shuffling on the
platforms revealed to me what the catapults were for. More than a dozen marauders climbed onto the
launchers, while pairs of men worked to torque the machines. Finally, the horns rang out once again.
filled the air around the airship and the platforms as gunfire erupted from all
directions. Wads of lead burst forth from
rifled barrels and spiraled towards their targets. Men to my left and right were cut down as the
fruits of the volley tore through soft flesh.
They howled as they stumbled backwards or groaned and dropped to one
knee to tend to their own wounds. The maimed
Ghazi raiders were not quite so fortunate, however. They tended to tumble from their unbalustered
perches to the desert floor far below.
exchange continued, human projectiles were flung from the catapults at us. Some had been hit during the initial volley
and were wounded or dead before they even left their platforms. Others, however, were very much alive and ready
for the fight.
as one corsair sailed through the air and slammed directly into one of the
marines. The trident he was wielding
completely impaled the man and sent them both tumbling across the deck. I gasped at the sight, having realized just
how effective the gruesome tactic truly was.
Less than a half-dozen Ghazis from the first volley landed on the deck
in condition to fight, and were quickly dispatched. The next human salvo, however, would arrive
at full force. Unable to contend with
both the brigands were that were touching down all around us and the new ones being launched, we were
As soon as
one man had been launched at Helios,
the next one would climb onto the catapult and the cycle would begin anew. The catapults must’ve been specifically
designed for the distance they were from us, because the accuracy of the
launches was nearly-impeccable. I must
emphasize the use of the word nearly,
for there were a few unfortunate souls who overshot their target and were sent
soaring through the sky. I must admit, I
was disappointed to see these miscalculated projectiles
be saved from an early grave by the deployment of parachutes. The launches continued until no one was left
on the platforms, except for the launch crew. Instead, they remained with their vessels and
fired into the fray when they had a clear shot, which was rare – the deck of Helios was in a state of utter
battlefield reduced to an arm’s length, the use of rifles was completely
negated. Those men with bayonets managed
to retain some semblance of functionality, but they were still at a clear
disadvantage against the Ghazis. A dozen
duals unfolded around me as I recalled French’s words:
That gun’ll protect you for but a short
while, but a Barbary cutlass – now a thing like that might keep you alive to
growl caused me to turn suddenly and see a barrel-chested warrior bearing down
on me. I ducked low and rolled, missing
the tip of his spear by a matter of inches.
By the time I looked up, he had spun and was preparing to charge me
again. I leveled the pistol with the top
of his chest and fired.
sailed high and he continued his charge.
I closed one eye and focused as I exhaled deeply. Again I pulled the trigger. That time, I did not miss. My shot connected with the buccaneer’s
his charge and grabbed his throat in a futile attempt to remedy the wound. The man’s trachea had been severed. Blood spurted from his neck and gushed into
his lungs. His body pleaded for air, but
he could not satisfy it.
was doubled over as I cautiously approached.
When he lost the ability to breathe, he lost the will to fight. I pressed the revolver against the top of his
head and expended my final round. The
man’s lifeless body immediately collapsed.
I stooped low and retrieved his spear and the revolver that was tucked
in his belt.
spear in hand, I heard French’s words again.
Well, it wasn’t a cutlass, but it
would surely do. Several feet away,
a marine and a Ghazi pirate were locked in intense fighting. I took two steps forward and sunk the spear
deep into the brigand’s side. The man
grimaced and contorted in agony, giving the marine the opportunity he needed to
finish the man with his bayonet.
take me for a paladin in Charlemagne’s court?
Chivalry is for dead men and idealists.
your name?” I shouted as I spun full-circle, checking for threats.
I’m William. We stick together!”
nodded and rushed to my side.
I pressed our backs together and readied ourselves for the next encounter – a
pair of cutlass-wielding assassins. The
swordsmen were skilled and much quicker than we, but the longer reach of our
weapons helped to keep them at bay.
exchange wore on, my arms began to ache and lungs began to labor. Every thrust, parry, or riposte was just as
critical as the last, and my attacker showed no signs of relenting. With every swing of the assassin’s sword, I
was left a little weaker than before.
Slowly, I was being worn down. My
adversary grinned as I struggled to remain resolute. He knew I would not last much longer.
I heard a loud report behind me. Bennett
had managed, quite providentially, to maneuver his barrel into position and
fire a fatal shot at his attacker. The
man’s shirt blossomed red as he sunk to his knees. Bennett planted his boot against the fallen
man’s face and sent him teetering backwards.
My companion spun and aimed at my adversary, but he was too quick. The assassin dashed to the edge of the ship
and dove overboard with his arms stretched wide. After several brief moments, a black
parachute sprouted in the sky.
I took a
moment to catch my breath and scan the deck, and gasped at what I saw. French lay sprawled on his back with a corsair
hovering over him. French was breathing
his final breaths as his assailant stretched his mace high overhead and
prepared to smash my friend’s skull. I
took three bounds and hurled my spear through the air, connecting squarely with
the man’s chest. French quickly rolled
out of the way as the man toppled to the ground. He grabbed the fallen man’s mace, flashed a
wide grin and dashed towards us.
French said, “I owe you twice now.
he was with you.”
his head a replied, “No, we got separated.”
Suddenly, Helios belched two thick, black clouds
of smoke from its stacks and lurched forward.
The entire battle temporarily waned as men were nearly shaken off their
feet. All around, combatants took the
moment to appraise the battlefield. A
little more than two dozen men were left standing, their allegiances evenly
split between Ghazis and defenders. The
final moments of the battle would be decisive.
As the ship
continued to accelerate, a group of nearly a dozen sailors emerged from below
to the sound of valiant war cries. Their
clothing was stained with grease and soaked with sweat. It was the men that had restored our
engines! They were glowing with confidence
and army with Henry repeaters! They
jerked the rifles’ levers forward and back, before shouldering them. They searched the deck for a target, but none
were to be found. The remaining Ghazi
corsairs were rushing towards the ship’s edge and vaulting over
indiscriminately. An unlucky marauder
leapt directly into one of the lift rotors.
It shredded him immediately in a most grotesque fashion.
remaining defenders cheered as the deck cleared. We had repelled our foe, but not without
great loss. As the last of the Ghazi’s
raiding balloons disappeared behind us, the remaining men began the arduous
task of clearing the battlefield. Wounded
sailors and marines were rushed below deck to be tended to, while any dying corsairs
I desperately searched for Pagan, but he was nowhere to be found. We had all but given up, when we heard a
“I did,” I
muffled voice called out.
down and saw the tip of a boot wiggle underneath the body of a fat pirate.
both of us to roll the bulging corpse off of Pagan. He coughed and gasped for air as he struggled
to sit upright. His face was flushed
red, and his eyes seemed to be bulging a little, not unlike the fat man’s belly.
happened?” French asked.
“I shot him
mid-air,” Pagan replied faintly, “I shot him and the fat mongrel landed on me!”
on you? Wait, you were under there the entire battle?”
word, French,” Pagan replied, “Not a damn
laughed uproariously as he tackled his friend.
They embraced like brothers, thrilled to be alive and to have each other
stand any longer, I plopped down on the deck.
As the power that the adrenaline had wielded over my body waned, I was
left weak and shaky, but alive. The ship
had survived. We had survived.
over to see Lauren standing with French as he assumedly recounted the events
for her. I could not hear his words, for
the world around me was but a blur. I
closed my eyes and rubbed my head.
Before I laid my head down on the rough-hewn timbers to watch the
setting sun paint the sky purple, I glanced back towards French and Lauren. He was gone, but she stood there still,
staring at me. I smiled. She nodded faintly and smiled back, before
turning and disappearing below to tend to the wounded men.
It took us
two days to limp through the sky to Sicily, but we made it safely without
further incident. I did not see Lauren again
on the ship, for she was busy with caring for our injured.
reached Palermo and the passengers disembarked, French approached me. I was waiting on deck with my baggage in
hand, the last in line. I had lingered
in hopes of seeing Lauren, but she had remained below still.
and smiled as I stretched out my hand to him.
it aside and said, “What’re you doing?”
you mean? We’re here.”
and looked about, uncertain of what to say.
Black, you’ve saved my life twice. Twice.
You don’t just leave after something like that. I owe no
man, and you’re not leaving me
with a debt like that.”
for several moments, before replying, “Anybody else would’ve done the same
“But it wasn’t anybody else; it was you.
I want you to stay. And,” he
paused and kicked at the deck, before continuing, “Lauren might want you to
I tried to
fight it, but I could not. The mention
of her name made me smile. I don’t know why, mind you – she was rude, and
pretentious, and probably irrevocably spoiled, and a hundred other things, but
still I smiled.
slapped my shoulder and said, “It’s settled then. You’ll stay.
We leave this evening for Monaco to repair the ship and to recover. You’ll be as a Rhodes, no different than
I. You’re owed it, Mr. Black.”
that, I became Mr. Black, owed by a