Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Dear Readers.

A Major Motion Picture of our first novel is being produced in Second Life. We will keep you informed of our progress. But for the next few days we are writing our screenplay for Geo Meek and Code Tracer who are producing the film in Second Life.

We will keep you posted, and we are sorry that you will miss the daily chapters. However its only for a week or so.

Punky Pugilist
Sindy Blazer
Aiko Dynamo

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Nimbus the cloud god, and Kronos the god of time, were standing atop Mons Aetas laughing. They had been making jokes at the expense of the elemental gods and goddesses, and Thorium was very annoyed and Neon was really pissed. Rather than continue with the jokes about valences and such, Nimbus and Kronos wandered off looking for some amusement or diversion in the world of avatars.

The first few hours of the voyage of the HMS Vengeance were uneventful as they headed south to the edge of the world and toward the sims of East Egg and Shangri La in the Kun Lun mountain range. Normal was in the pilot’s seat and the crew had settled into the anticipation of the monotony of a long two day voyage to deposit Kees and Macboy at their destination. But the monotony was not to be.

Three hours out from the blimp works they blew a head gasket on the port engine. Their speed slowed to just a few knots as Washrox and Witney overhauled the engine and replaced the gasket. Soon they were underway again, when same engine blew the gasket again. This time they replaced the gasket and torqued down the head bolts to more feet pounds than was specified in the hope that it would hold for a while. The gasket held but Punky told Normal to hold the speed down and Washrox to be especially careful of managing the pressure in both engines.

Just after lunch the weather turned foul. They had seen the cloud banks build and a prudent flight plan would have called for avoiding the growing towering cumulus clouds, but the crew did not have the time for a less direct route, and Punky was confident that they could traverse the region safely. Safely that is in a registered, well maintained, and normal blimp. The HMS Vengeance was another matter and the decision caused Punky concern. In another hour or two the cloud formation had changed and had become a classic cumulonimbus formation. Based on the size of the formation Punky estimated that it probably rose to 14,000 or 15,000 meters or more. By the time they entered the formation and the ship began to pitch and roll in the turbulence Punky began to think she had made a bad decision to proceed rather than reroute the ship.

They were pelted by rain and lightening appeared on the horizon directly ahead. Punky had the crew search about a bit for an altitude that was less violent, but they had such a limited ceiling in the ship that it did not matter. So Punky decided to seek the ceiling of the ship at 1000 meters to give them flight space if something bad happened. In this way they might have some time to review their accomplishments if they fell from the sky in a fiery ball.

As the sun was setting Punky felt a real jolt and the ship began to rise. Punky watched the altimeter carefully as it spun past 1200 meters and hit 1500 meters. “Were caught in an updraft,” said Punky. “Give me downward thrust on the engines.”

Normal adjusted the gimbols and applied downward thrust. The ascent of the ship from the rise of air within the clouds diminished, but it did not stop. They continued to rise and soon they were at 2000 meters. Punky began to be very concerned, because when they were thrown out of the rising air stream, and they would be there was no doubt about that, they would start to fall given that they did not have sufficient lift to maintain the altitude. If the descent was fast enough and from high enough an altitude the structural integrity of the ship would be compromised and they would experience structural deficiencies – or as Punky called it, they would disintegrate and crash.

The ship continued to rise ever so slowly as Normal applied more steam pressure to the engines to arrest the rise of the ship. In a few moments the ship began to plunge and before Punky could say anything Normal had reversed the gimbals and was applying power to fight the rapid and dangerous high speed descent.

Were on the thermal yo-yo realized Punky. The thermal yo-yo was a blimp captain’s nightmare and existed only in towering cloud formations where violent updrafts often paralled equally violent downdrafts. As the ship moved through the formation it would be suddenly thrown up and then thrown down. An enormous peel of thunder and lightening shook the ship violently.

Nimbus, the cloud god, was laughing wildly at his accomplishment.

Kronos, the god of time was watching in amazement. “Can you walk the dog?” asked Kronos.

“Sure,” said Nimbus. “Watch this.”

The ship suddenly lurched and began a rapid descent. Witney was thrown to the ceiling of the gondola before landing hard on the deck. Witney grabbed a hand hold but could barely hold on as the ship began a rapid and steep descent toward the hard ground below. Normal applied all the energy they had left in the double boilers to the engines but it was useless. They were in free fall. They broke through the lower cloud cover and Punky could see the ground rushing toward them. Punky thought to herself that it was about to end, but then the ship halted its descent only a few meters from the ground and it shot forward. This time Witney, Kees, and Macboy were thrown violently toward the rear of the gondola. Witney grabbed some ropes and they lashed themselves to the spars of the gondola walls. No sooner had the knots been tied when the ship shot back up into the darkening skies. Thunder and lightening resounded throughout the skies as the crew of the HMS Vengeance fought to maintain control of the ship and of their lives.

“Cool,” said Kronos. “I’ll bet you can’t ‘loop the loop’”

Nimbus laughed. “Watch this,” said Nimbus.

Nimbus proceeded to impress Kronos with all the tricks in his bag. After a ‘double loop the loop’ Nimbus demonstrated the ‘boing e boing’, ‘gyroscopic’, and the always popular ‘iron whip.’ But after a while Kronos grew tired of simple tricks and challenged Nimbus to a beer chugging contest which Nimbus accepted because he was both thirsty and his index finger hurt.

As suddenly as the wild movements of the blip had begun they were over, and the ship had stabilized, broken out of the cumulonimbus clouds and into a high cloud cover and a drenching rain. Vomit covered the deckplates. Everyone was bruised and Washrox had hit her head so hard against the steam gage that she was bleeding badly. Punky looked about in astonishment. They were alive. The ship was reasonably intact, and they were cruising at 30 knots toward their destination. A quick look at the maps revealed that they were significantly ahead of schedule and that the storm had moved them forward at a very fast pace.

Punky stood from her seat and attended to Washrox. Normal was as white as an egret in snow, but was focused and handling the ship well. Normal would need a change of clothing Punky noticed, as would they all she realized. Washrox was ok and a few bandages seemed to stop the bleeding. Then Punky turned to inspect the structure of the ship. There was going to be severe damage Punky knew. Punky was amazed that they were still aloft following such a harrowing and indescribable ride through the storm.

“Witney,” cried Punky in her most commanding voice which sounded a bit like a helium voice, “get a light and a clip board. We need to inspect the ship.” Witney unlashed herself and jumped to Punky’s side and they began a close inspection of the ship. When they discovered the gondola main spar bolts had sprung Punky’s mouth fell open. The gap between the superstructure and the gondola was large enough to put her hand through. Witney rushed to the machine shop and returned with a mini-welder. New bolts would not work, only a patch weld could be applied and hopefully keep the gondola attached to the Blimp superstructure above. In about an hour they had temporarily reattached the gondola to the blimp. That was close thought Punky.

“Now to the engine room,” said Punky as she climbed the ladder and through the hatch above into the engineering section. Witney followed and before them was even more devastation. There were pin hole leaks in two of the six hydrogen bladders and Punky and Witney applied duck tape and bubble wrap to the holes as quickly as they could. Then they turned to the engines. The were in good condition, but they were never intended to take the abuse of the last few hours and Punky was again impressed with Tek’s advanced boiler and engine designs.

Nimbus and Kronos grew tired of the beer drinking contest. Kronos decided to sleep and lay down upon a soft bed prepared by his friend Zeno. As he dozed off to sleep Kronos heard Nimbus belch and then the familiar tinkle of a very full Nimbus relieving himself.

The rain grew in intensity for a moment and the ship was hit hard by a sudden gust of wind and then the weather cleared. They entered clear air and the sun began to rise in the east as they headed south toward East Egg and Shangra La.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Sindy Blazer stepped from the pedi-cab and onto the sidewalk facing the Art Décolleté Times Tower which housed her office on the 19th floor. Sindy stood for a moment and took a deep breath and savored the smells, sounds, and energy of Capital City. An omnibus rattled past, Sindy began coughing from the fumes of the city. She wiped the tears from her eyes. Then as she prepared to mount the grand stair leading to the enormous zinc doors emblazoned with the famous ‘double cross’ symbol of the Murdstone publishing empire. She carefully read the motto to which all employees at The Times had dedicated their lives. Chiseled in Capibara Marble above the door in Times Roman Type read “if it’s printed, it must be true.”

A tall doorman stood in a green tunic with a black bearskin hat, looking like a tall evergreen tree with a burned top. The doorman had two purposes at The Times. One was to greet Ruprecht Murdstone, Executive Editor of The Times and head of the Lupine News Corporation each day as he arrived in his long gold toned limousine with avarice laced curtains and ruthless side walls. As Ruprecht would exit his limousine, the doorman would roll out a small red carpet and bow to Ruprecht telling his what a fine human being he had become and how he was first among the most honored of the journalistic profession. He would greet Ruprecht with phrases such as, ‘Ah Mr. Murdstone your tie is so much more elegant than Mr. Hurst’s,’ or ‘I see you have lost weight faster than Mrs. Graham,’ or the always popular ‘You are so much more intelligent than your worthless son and banshee daughter.’

The doorman’s other role was to make the employees and visitors to The Times tower feel small and insignificant in the face of the mighty Lupine News Corporation, owner of The Times, The Walled Street Drag, Feeble Magazine, and the always popular Screaming and Yelling Television Network. ‘Fear and banal,’ was the motto of the network and Murdstone was always telling the staff that fear sold newspapers and banal kept the costs down. The efforts of the doorman kept both the riff raff away, as well as any thought of employees asking for a raise or a new benefit from Lupine News. Once the doorman had been nice to Sindy and that was the time when Murdstone had gone missing and was temporarily replaced by Sindy as acting executive editor by the board of directors. He had been nice then remembered Sindy, but now he simply glared at Sindy from under his bear skin hat.

Sindy entered The Times Tower and walked into a waiting elevator.

Mr. Bubbs, the last elevator operator in all of Second Life, nodded to Sindy and asked “19th floor Ms. Blazer?”

Sindy nodded affirmatively in reply.

Mr. Bubbs grasped the enormous leaver, grunted, released the braking latches, pulled the lever forward, and called out in a very loud voice “Start ‘em up boys!” Far above on the 34th floor the whine of ferrets chasing a small white mouse could be heard as the elevator lurched into action. “Hard day?” asked the kind and knowing Mr. Bubbs.

“Not hard,” replied Sindy, “but really odd.” Sindy watched as the elevator avatar wrote down the floor numbers on a slate board in chalk as they passed by.

At floor ten, the archive and library floor, the elevator paused and copy boy Jimmy Whatshisname, entered, his arms laden with back issues, post it notes, yellow copy paper, and a cheap Mont Blanc knock-off pen in his white crumpled shirt pocket. There was a new stain at the bottom of his pocket protector. This time it was in green ink. The ink color only allowed to be used by Murdstone himself. Sindy guessed that the rumors must be true and that Murdstone had actually attempted to turn Jimmy into a journalist. The results must have been humorous thought Sindy. Or perhaps Jimmy had simply stolen the ink from Murdstone’s office. The ugly green ink stain was still fresh and wet at the bottom of his pocket protector.

“golly gee. hi miss sindy,” he said in lower case, always averting his eyes from direct eye contact as a sign of submission and respect. Sindy kind of liked the kid, he reminded her of herself when she had been without sleep for two days and recovering from the flu. In other words really slow and stupid.

“19th Floor,” announced Mr. Bubbs thrusting forward the great lever, smashing down the dog latches, and barking out “Shut ‘em down boys.” The whine from above slowly died as the ferrets caught the mouse and began tearing it apart tail to nose. The door swooshed open and the tiny space was filled with the cacophony screaming editors, me-phones ringing, and reporters shouting epithets at their slow re-booting Macs.

Sindy proceeded to her office followed by Jimmy. Jimmy had an uncanny ability to know when Sindy arrived or left from work. The uncanny ability was based in part on Jimmy’s lurking in Sindys office doorway all day long. This helped him detect where Sindy was at any given time.

“Jimmy,” yelled Sindy.

Jimmy thought for a moment. Sindy only yelled at him when giving him an assignment. That was the newspaper way. Yell at the copy boy so that everyone would know you were more important than him.

“yes ms. sindy,” replied Jimmy.

“Jimmy.” yelled Sindy again, “Go to the archive and get me every thing you can find on cycle stealing, temporal distortions, and the meta-virtualized pseudo-reality simplicity-complex paradigm.”

“sure,” said Jimmy. “you want creamer with that?”

“Sheesh, Jimmy,” said Sindy. “I’ll write it down for you and you can give it to the librarian Ms. Tarttle. Then wait till she is finished and has the information for you then get back here pronto.”
“yes,” replied Jimmy reaching for the slip of paper Sindy had written her search terms upon. He started breathing heavily. Hyperventilating actually, so that no one could interrupt his critical mission for something unimportant like getting Pastrami on White with double mayo from Khrons across the street. In a moment he was gone, racing for the elevator and on to the tenth floor and the librarian. That horrible Ms Tartle thought Jimmy.

As he handed the paper slip to Ms. Tartle, she frowned at Jimmy. Adjusting her glasses she read the search terms carefully. “This will take several hours Jimmy, I will have it ready at 3 o’clock.”

“ok,” said Jimmy, “ill be back then.”

Jimmy raced for the elevator and was soon safely ensconced in his secret office in the sub basement of The Times Tower. He lit a candle stub, reached for a cyan crayola, found the big book of words, and began to look up each term on Sindy’s list. Journalism is not easy he had learned. His muse had told him so. But now the muse was not around to coach him in the journalistic arts and mysteries. He was on his own Jimmy knew, but he still believed that the Muse would someday return and would want to see his draft articles perhaps for inclusion in Jimmy’s biography, ‘My Life in Times’ or in a retrospective collection of his works entitled ‘Crayola Scribbling of a Journalist.’

Sindy looked out the window at the vast metropolitan landscape of Capital City. Capital City was laid out in a neat geometric pattern. Some sims were chaotic, given the unplanned nature of subdivision within Second Life, and the complete lack of zoning rules other than immature, mature, and disgusting. Her home town of Heart of the Ocean, in the Sim of Sonogno, had an escort service building on a tiny sliver of land the village elders were unable to purchase at the time of the founding of the town. The owners wanted a huge amount of money for the property, far, far more that it was worth. This was Sindy’s first introduction to extortion in land sales within Second Life. The extortion got worse when the Casinos tried moving in to adjacent lands, causing horrible sim lag, and demanding huge payoffs to go away. Land use was a mess in Second Life.

Then she had an idea and grabbed her Baffles Computer me-Comp, righted her overturned desk, and sat down to do some research. She logged on and looked at the Second Life Map. The big map appeared and she looked carefully about the edges of the known universe. The Linden provided mapping system was very detailed. Then Sindy switched over to Googoo streets, the new controversial mapping system that successfully eliminated all respect for privacy and concerns for common decency. Focusing on the edges of virtual life she examined the streets and lanes of the edge sims carefully. Sindy was amazed at the amount of mooning, snogging, and prevaricating, that Googoo had captured in its cinematic efforts. Grist for the society pages she thought as Sindy saw Sissy Plumblossom slipping out a second story window in the sim of Gigolo.

Sindy spotted Governor Linden twice. Once with that Paris girl in the Sim of Cookie at the Literary Conference of ‘Authorship of Self Help Monologues and Feel Good Scams,’ and another glimpse of the Governor is dark glasses and a bad wig standing out front of a Dilbert concert in the sim of Meolo.

After hours of endless false starts, and even worse false ends, she found an anomaly she suspected might be found. Peering from the edge of the sim of East Egg to the south, she could see another sim, perhaps two, that were not present on the Lindens mapping system.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


The X ship sailed all morning and into the late afternoon sun without serious incident. About lunch time they blew an o-ring on a hydrogen feed line, but Paxford rerouted the fuel and Washrox and Witney quickly repaired the line. Washrox was showing less hesitation and was clearly less fearful of making a decision. The crew had settled into their roles and responsibilities, and Tek haD spent the entire day teaching about the features of this flying test platform for advanced boiler and engine designs. They had even practiced rapid descents and air braking with the new gimbaled engine mounts well out to sea and far from prying eyes. The X ship was indeed fast and nimble. But at times, when Punky looked at the interior of the ship, she knew that the X ship was ineffective as an operational air ship. She was cramped, hastily assembled from old bits and parts of scrapped blimps, she lacked any safety features, and was never intended for anything but daytime fair weather flying. She was exactly as Tek described. The X ship was a flying test bed. Nothing more, yet she was all they had in the face of a looming crisis.

Witney had busied herself in the tiny machine shop and had been grinding, welding, and banging away all day while she sang to herself. Witney was singing K-pop and Punky could not understand a word of it, which made sense, because Punky did not speak Korean. Witney seemed very happy thought Punky. One after another Witney had collected the broadswords provided to the crew by the Monfortes and ground them down to match the height of each avatar. In addition she removed much of the excess weight on the swords by drilling out portions where the structure of the weapon allowed without compromising strength. The result was a much lighter and more useable weapon. The weapons were still antique, and quite useless in most of Second Life, but they were comforting to the crew in these tense times.

Whitney had given special attention to the four crossbows they had been provided and had crafted bolts for the weapons from wooden dowels, a pane of glass, and several bits of cardboard. The arrows were deadly Punky realized when she examined them. Whitney had modified one crossbow to fire magnesium flares. Witney estimated that the flares could be sent about 150 yards. 150 yards of flaming white hot inextinguishable mayhem thought Punky.

As the sun set Punky had Washrox plot a course for the blimp works and as the dark of the night settled upon Fort Balatro the X ship slipped into the blimp works hangar unseen. The landing had been excellently performed by the crew and all Punky had to do was fret about death and destruction in a flaming crash.

Daggy welcomed them, but Punky and crew were immediately whisked away as the engineers and ground crews descend upon the ship to prepare her for her new role as raider in distant lands. After handing the engineering manager a list of items needing attention Punky went to the makeshift dormitory threw her clothes into the washer and then took a long hot shower. Punky noticed Witney and Tek had wandered off to his ‘abode’ in a giant packing crate at the far corner of the hanger. Punky sat around exhausted for a while as her clothing dried. Then Punky dressed in warm undies, trousers and blouse, found an empty bunk, and crashed.

Punky did not sleep well. That night at the Druid Grove kept recurring in her sleep. The volcano’s glare and the horrible desperate fight against the Armies of Circe kept her from any restful sleep. The wicked smile of Adel Flossberg, and finally the image of Sister Letum shaking her fist at the sky as it exploded into white hot flames when the HMS Dread immolated Letum in its fiery crash.

“Wake up Punkster. It’s almost time to go,” said Dagmon Zhukovsky, Chief Engineer of Zippy’s Blimp works.

Punky rose and rubbed her eyes with her small fists. “Sheesh,” Punky said. “I need to sleep for a week and a day.”

Daggy handed Punky a steaming doppy espresso with a jolt of jolt and turned back toward the hangar.

In a few moments Punky was back at the gantry of the ship. Her crew was assembled and she spotted Kees and Macboy across the room.

“Hi Kees, Macboy,” Punky said. They snapped to a salute and waited for Punky to acknowledge it. Punky frowned in confusion until she remembered she was an acting Blue Navy Blimp Captain. “At ease,” Punky said. Gee that’s fun she thought. “Ok,” shouted Punky, “time to get going.”

As Punky turned toward the ship she noticed that the large X was no longer painted on her side. Instead emblazoned on the ships side was her new name – HMS Vengeance. Punky smiled. A suitable name she thought.

They boarded the blimp and the gangway was pulled away. They were six. Washrox was at engineering, Normal sat in the pilots seat, and Paxford was standing at the fueling controls. Macboy and Kees stood to the rear of the gondola and were watching Witney building a zip gun powered by things found in the medicine cabinet. They were laughing a lot.

Punky turned to Kees and asked “What’s our destination tonight?”

Kees stopped laughing and pulled from his vest pocket a map and pointed to the location. The Kun Lun mountain range at the southern edge of Second Life. At the end of the world thought Punky. The very edge of reality.

Punky turned, pulled the maps for that region of Second Life from the navigation locker and began to plot a course.

Soon the undocking procedure had begun, and with little help from Punky, the HMS Vengence took to the sky. As they exited the hangar, Punky looked to Port at the immense and looming form of the HMS Insouciant which was waiting to dock in the black night. Punky could not see much in the dark, but what she did see was grim. Half her enormous gondola was missing and she was listing badly on one very scorched and blackened side. There must have been casualties she thought. Lots of them.


Mallory stood at the open door and once again surveyed the street. The news urchin was gone as was the street sweeper. The urchin had been nabbed in the raid. The kid would know nothing. The street sweeper was gone because there was a lot of cleaning to be done following the assault. The street was littered with debris. Mallory laughed under her breath. He’s probably going to wait for auto-return she thought.

SOMA, where the Club was located, was a slum during the day and hot club venue after midnight. The graffiti, the homeless, and the litter filled streets faded into oblivion late at night, but, here and now, in mid afternoon the place was filthy and dead. Mallory knew that nothing happened in this district until well after midnight. At the north end of the street there was some light traffic on the cross street. Across the street a few employees of the Café were gathered together talking. Probably talking about the raid thought Mallory. Next to the café was an antique shop which was open only by appointment and a hair salon. On the south end of the street was a bodega that sold mostly booze, cigarettes, and Doritos. Mallory turned toward the Bodega.

A tiny bell tinkled as she entered the Bodega. The store was cramped and a short fat man sat on a stool behind a counter in a bullet proof glass box. Mallory looked about the store before studying the clerk. The Magazine section was a mess and the new issue of Saints and Sinners Monthly lay on the floor. Booze took up half the store. Low priced booze like TinkerToy fortified wine, Scum’s Irish, and Rhubarb flavored Rum, were the featured items. From the looks of it they sold a lot of Rhubarb flavored Rum. The food section was entirely snacks. Most were lo-cal snacks, since they cost practically nothing to make, and the margins were high. That is if you could move them on the local clientele. Mallory saw the sell by date on a half kilo package of Ante Christo’s fudge was three years ago. The edge of the package had been nibbled open but the fudge untouched inside. So much for nutrition realized Mallory.

Mallory turned to take in the clerk and the cage from which he ruled his domain. Cash only said a poorly written sign above a small hole in the glass at counter level where payments were transacted. There was an apartment above the bodega, but it was silent in the mid afternoon. Probably some club workers or band members sleeping through the day. Behind the clerk lay stacks of cigarettes. All the usual popular brands, Mawled Boy, Strike Outs, Death Knells. Mallory spotted her brand.

“Galois,” Mallory said in a firm voice. The clerk was nervous noticed Mallory. The clerk turned and hunted for the pack of cigarettes. Mallory watched closely as he fumbled with the packs until he found the blue soft pack next to a stack of black and red ones. The clerk was about 40, old for an avatar thought Mallory. His face was pasty white and his hair a deep black. He used hair gel to create a whispy spiky look so popular with the SOMA club set. On his pinky ring he had a rock of considerable size. Not zirconium or paste Mallory could see at this distance, but the real thing. His clothes were tailored denims and an ill fitting white shirt. The sleeves on the shirt were about an inch too long but they showed little sign of wear. The denim looked fresh with the current popular distressed look created by vagrants hired to urinate on the fabric until it faded to a pale green. Expensive trousers Mallory knew. Very expensive. The guy was unarmed, but given the location of the Bodega, Mallory had no doubt that under the counter would be all the love and care a bodega clerk could need in this town.

Mallory slid a 7 linden note through the hole. The clerk had not taken his eyes off Mallory since she entered even though she was clearly a woman of some means. He’s paranoid or he really has something to hide she thought. Mallory took her change and cigarettes and walked to the doorway. Then she turned and returned to the clerk.

“How about a pack of Davidhoffs too,” said Mallory.

The man turned and without looking picked up the red and black hard pack of very expensive Davidhoffs. Mallory inwardly smiled.

“On the other hand,” Mallory said, “I’ll stick with these,” as she waved the Galois in the air.

The clerk shrugged and Mallory exited the building. Mallory stood on the street for a moment and then walked to the alley behind the Bodega. There were two trash bins in the back. Mallory peeked into one. It was filled with store debris. The other was household trash from the apartment above. Mallory took the two plastic bags from the household garbage bin and carried them across the street and into the club.

The Omega squad was going over the building inch by inch, but Mallory knew they would find little.

“Find anything?” asked Mallory almost as a courtesy to the squad .

“Yes, lots of clues here,” replied a short very buff Blue Navy commando named Sandy Elbow. “Over here’, Sandy said, motioning to a table with carefully tagged items. Mallory took a quick look at their precious discoveries.

Mallory turned and walked to the center of the dance floor which had the greatest illumination in the room from skylights above. Then to the horror of Sandy Elbow, Mallory dumped the two bags of garbage onto the floor. Mallory pushed the garbage about with the toe of her Ferraguano knock offs.

The entire omega squad turned as Mallory kneeled down. Mallory began laughing at the pile of garbage strewn upon the club floor.

“Oh Loopy,” said Mallory, “you should have known better.”

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Punky boarded the experimental blimp before dawn, with her crew from the Poofer as well as Tek Cronon, the steam engine designer and near genius. Tek was there to train them in the new engines and systems. Fraley was in the infirmary and would remain there for along time. This was no longer a training mission, and Punky assigned Normal Bellini, the Goth, to be pilot, Washrox to the engineering station, and Paxford Lint to the now obsolete position of coal shoveler. The X ship was hydrogen powered, not coal fired as were conventional blimps. Witney Llanfair joined them as weapons officer and to get her ‘air legs’

Punky was free to choose a different crew from the available staff at the blimp works, but the pickings were few. There were no experienced blimp captains on the station except for Daggy and she was disallowed by orders of the Second Sea Lord. There were excellent coal shovelers but the new ship did not need their strength and endurance so Punky stayed with a known crew compliment including Paxford. Punky became mission commander.

Punky required that the crew outfit themselves with the primitive weapons supplied by the Monforte’s. The crew hated the idea of carrying these heavy cumbersome and near useless weapons. But Punky insisted, because these where the only weapons they had, and the crew had to gain familiarity with them. Witney had shown the crew how to sling the broadswords across their backs with the hilt sticking above the left shoulder. All the crew including Punky was so armed, except for Witney. Witney had both a sword and a crossbow that she was lovingly polishing and caressing.

The X ship was experimental and was not really fit for patrol service. The ship was built as a test platform for engines and had very few amenities such as showers, bunks, or a small lounge. The ship was bare bones, or bare spars and hard seats. Further the gondola was small and cramped. A pile of sleeping bags was stacked next to the tiny toilette.

The NAGS had not attacked the blimp works and the X ship, when the wiped out most of the fleet, because they thought they had accounted for all registered blimps. What they failed to realize was that the X ship was not registered. The X ship was only a temporary test platform.

“Punky, are you listening?” asked Ted as he stood on the bridge of the X Ship with the crew.

“Sorry,” said Punky. “Go ahead Tek.”

“Well as I was saying,” said Tek, “This ship is hydrogen powered from these tanks of liquid hydrogen there.” Tek pointed to two long cylindrical tanks that were lashed to the sides of the gondola and ran the length from one end to the other. The tanks were covered in a thick layer of insulation, but even the top layer of the insulation was covered with ice. Liquid hydrogen was really really cold.

“Hydrogen has two advantages on a blimp,” said Tek. “We can use it for fuel and for lift. But it has also two disadvantages and those are that we can use it for fuel or lift. Take your pick.” Tek laughed as if he had told a really dirty joke. But it was not funny at all to the crew.

Punky knew that if you ran out of fuel you could tap the bladders holding the lift hydrogen and run the engines. On the other hand, if you did that you would eventually fall to earth. Having extra hydrogen as fuel you could reroute the hydrogen to the bladders if you were leaking from a breach or hole in the bladders and this was a comforting thought. However the cost to the airship may well be no fuel for the steam engines.

Tek went on the describe the gimbaled engines that could be tilted in almost any direction. The ship was both very fast and extremely nimble. How fast, Tek was unsure, but she was capable of doing at least 100 knots safely. Certainly the engines were capable of greater speed, but the airframe was unlikely to hold up very long at speeds above 100 knots. Tek was careful to explain the engine tilting mechanisms to both Normal and to Punky. At the pilots and copilots seats was a new control. Another wheel with 360 degrees etched into its rim stood next to the throttle levers. This was the engine tilt control.

They had packed sandwiches and several thermos of tea and were ready to depart. Punky had plotted a course that would take them to the ceiling of the X ship, about 3000 meters, and they would cruse at that height all day until sunset. Then they would return to the blimp works in the dark, load the ship with supplies for a four day voyage, pick up their passengers, and be off well before dawn. They needed to be out before dawn because the heavily damaged and very large HMS Insouciant was scheduled to arrive for a fast repair job as they left. All this had to be accomplished in the dark of night and without lights.

Their voyage had two critical purposes. First to keep the blimp out of the destructive reach of the NAGS, and second to learn the new ship in order to deliver their charges to the distant Kun Lun mountain range on the boarder of the remote sims of East Egg and Shangri La at the very edge of Second Life.

“Now this ship is very buggy,” said Tek to an attentive crew. “But as a test platform she is also very flexible and we have a tiny machine shop here in the gondola for building new fixtures and for making quick modifications and repairs.” Tek paused. “I know that things will go wrong on your flight to the edge of wherever you are going, however, if you are creative and fast on your feet you should be successful. I only wish I could come with you on your mission, but …”

“I’ve been trained as a machinist,” interrupted Witney. “Yup, I took all the shop courses at the Reform School.” Witney was smiling. “I can even make zip guns, stun grenades, and shives.” Witney laughed with a gleam in her eye. No one else did.

Punky could see that Witney was warming up to her assignment about as fast as Witney was warming up to Tek. Punky respected Tek, and she even liked Tek in a lot. But romance with Tek was impossible for Punky to even think about. She shuddered a bit at the very thought. Not that Tek was not good looking, but he was odd, and obsessive about things mechanical, and his hygiene left much to be desired. Witney clearly thought otherwise about Tek.

Punky sighed. What am I thinking in criticizing Tek’s hygiene, Punky thought. I have not had a shower in three days and here I am about to go aloft in a ship without a shower for another day. Punky heard footsteps climbing the gangway.

“Time to get moving, it’s almost dawn,” said a flight coordinator dressed in his yellow jump suit.

Punky turned to the crew and said, “Ok button this ship up and lets get airborne.”

The crew went to their positions. All except Paxford, who now was assigned to a fueling station next to the engineering station. Before her was a wide variety of pipes, valves, and shunts. Pasted to the bulkhead above was a drawing with many erasures and additions indicating the routing of the precious and explosive hydrogen. Punky sat in the co-pilots chair. Normal had the departure procedure on her lap and was proceeding down the check list with Washrox. In a few moments the boilers began to churn and very quickly they were at full flight pressure. Nice design Punky thought, charging the boilers was at least a tenth of the time of the old coal fired systems. In a few moments the engines began to turn with their characteristic thumping sound. Normal threw open the window and looked aft then forward. Then the interior of the hangar went dark. Void dark. Then forward of the X ship a sliver of just black appeared in the void. It grew and grew until half the forward view port was simple black. The hangar doors had opened.

Slowly the ship inched forward and in moments they were airborne into the night.

* * *

Mallory entered the Café du Carpaud on Flea Street and took a window seat with a view of the building across the street. Mallory carried a copy of the Daily Racing Form and was quickly at work studying the odds for the pick six at Anita Bryant Park. From time to time Mallory would glance at the building across the street as if thinking about Vanity Fair in the fourth.

The waiter came forward and placed a menu before Mallory. Mallory ignored the menu and remained focused on the racing form. “Coffee, black, hold the grounds,” said Mallory to the waiter. The waiter disappeared and Mallory returned to her concentrated study.

At the end of the street stood a news paper urchin with a late edition of The Times. Really late observed Mallory, like yesterdays edition. The kid was wrong. On the café side of the street was a Capital City street sweeper leaning on his broom and picking his teeth. Entirely correct thought Mallory. If he had been sweeping then he would have been wrong also. In a few moments a delivery van which had been double parked in front of a chemists shop was bumped by a pedi cab and an argument ensued. The pedi cab driver was yelling at the two men from the delivery van. The pedi cab passenger, who looked a lot like Chris Llanfair on a bad hair day, had his nose buried in today’s issue of The Times. Our folks thought Mallory. The pedi cab driver took a swing at the delivery man and a group of onlookers formed as a fight broke out.

Mallory stood and walked to the café doorway. She took one step forward into the sunlight and stretched. Then she dropped her racing form.

Suddenly a small explosion could be heard in the club across the street as the door tumbled into the street. The crowd, that had moments before been watching the street fight, rushed into the club. Several more muffled explosions followed and smoke poured from the open doorway and parts of the roof of the Bright Flash Absinthe Mine and Club.

The raid was over in moments. Mallory strolled over to Chris who was talking to a well built young woman who had Omega squad written all over her muscled body. Chris turned to Mallory. “We got Tux, the Linux ambassador. The penguin has been roughed up but it will survive. And we got Baudelaire. Five of him. Hard to believe but we captured five identical Baudelaires, but no Loopy Loo. Loopy was not here.” Mallory nodded.

“Omega squad will debrief Tux and then question the Baudelaires,” said Chris.

Mallory knew they would get no information from either Tux or the Baudelaires. Tux was too simple minded. Tux was a religious zealot who could barely reason. As for the Baudelaires, the Omega squad would undoubtedly torture them and they would squeal like a corn dogs on a stick, and they would certainly spill the beans. But the beans would be just that – beans and completely useless. Loop Loo was too smart. The Baudelaires would be in the dark, or even worse they each would be planted with different false information which they thought was true about NAGS real plans and actions. Five different stories, five sets of facts extracted through torture and coercion. And all five completely misleading. No, they would learn nothing from this raid, except what Mallory herself could deduce.

Mallory said nothing but slowly entered the Bright Flash Absinthe Mine and Club and started to look around.