From the journal of Jackson Brandy, June 2203.
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Thing about a quest is you need something to quest for. Now in Smoke, there wasn't a lot you could do other than your best to survive in the bitterly cold summers and even colder winters. Going on a quest was viewed as being a bit of a waste of time but if you were pretty much useless at everything else you might as well. Enter stage left little ole me. Totally useless and perfect for the quest to find the legendary Apple City. Only about 3,000 miles away across the various frozen Atlantic wastelands and marshes. Not asking much is it really?
I first became aware of the need to go and explore Atlantic when I was nearly caught by the britches climbing hastily out of the Area 21 Mayor's daughter's bedroom. There were some things I was good at but it didn't really count as a transferable skill.
“Jackson Brandy.” bellowed her father, “If I catch you near my daughter again I'll kill you.”
I believed him. Mayor Clamphold was a man with a long memory and a short temper. I knew he wouldn't understand my passion for Miranda Clamphold. An hour later I signed up for the ten man expedition, sorry ten person expedition, there were women coming with us. I intended to make their acquaintance as we progressed. Well, all except one – Pixie Malone.
* * *
The man kept his face in shadow as he asked the hooded figure,
“Well, are you on the team?”
“Not a problem, they will benefit from my specialised um talents.”
“I'm sure they will. Just make sure you don't forget your mission.”
“Of course not.”
The figure turned and left the large room.
The man in shadow nodded slowly,
“Well, what do you think?”
Another silhouette appeared,
“Definitely our best chance.”
“To not find the book or to scupper the quest?”
“Depends what you want. The book is in the Colonies country. We don't need to stress the importance of making sure other interested parties are pointed in the wrong direction do we?”
“Hmm, I agree, let the quest succeed but make sure your worst library collector is there to bugger things up for seekers of forbidden knowledge.”
They both stood,
“Fancy a curry?” remarked one of the shadowy figures
“Certainly do, there's a good Madras place around the corner.” smiled the other.
* * *
Pixie Malone left her parents' house and winced when she heard their screams of relief,
“Not my bloody fault.” she grumbled, “All down to genetics at the end of the day.”
Indeed if there was, in the human genome, a gene that influenced a person's propensity to be accident prone, the Malone clan possessed it by the shed-load. Pixie had an unusual strain of this, however, the accidents tended to happen to people who came in contact with her. This made her love life quite an adventure. She was, by no means, unattractive. This fact only exacerbated the situation. She had a diminutive stature, bright green eyes and a shock of red hair cut into a mohawk by a careful hairdresser. She had been described by one of her surviving suitors as having, 'a body to live for but only if you're lucky'. Her small frame made for a vulnerable impression but Pixie had elf blood from her maternal great-grandmother's side of the clan's chequered genealogy. This gave her the ability to watch, learn and imitate. She enjoyed watching martial arts displays. Afterwards she would practice the moves she had just seen to perfection. This penchant for violence led to the onset of the Hooligan / O'Hare clan feud in 2201.
* * *
Sarge remained prostrate as he was pushed in the side, the landlord muttered,
“Better not be dead. Owes me four weeks rent, the useless old fart.”
Another poke and before he could react, a hand snaked out from the bed cover, grabbed him by the throat and its owner growled,
“Don't call me bloody useless, Digby. You'll get the money as soon as I finish two months in the new job.”
Digby croaked a response that seemed reasonable to Sarge and he released his grip. Swinging out of bed, the man watched his landlord as he vacated the room and sighed,
“When I get a new job that is.”
He picked up a newspaper from the rickety table and scanned the headlines. Grunted, usual crap about how Albion's government was doing an excellent job of keeping the country free of religious extremists of all creeds and colours. Preserving the Albish culture and heritage, they called it. Sarge was more inclined to believe Albion's various anarchist groups who would occasionally poke their heads above the parapet and point to evidence that had not yet been suppressed by the Advisory. This evidence spoke of colonisation by various races in times past, including the incredible claim that elf-like people existed.
So much for purity of Albion's bloodlines, smiled Sarge. Turning the page of “The Flame Of Freedom”, he read an article at the bottom of the page.
He scowled, pulled himself to his feet and began his daily callisthenics. Old habits died hard and twenty-five years of army training could not be forgotten overnight. The newspaper report preyed on his mind, he was bored with civilian life, too old to serve in the army any longer (according to the new government directives), unable to keep a job and flat broke. The expedition seemed to be the answer to his prayers, he would like to see Digby chase him across Atlantic for the overdue rent.
* * *
“Thermos, dear. There's a man here to see you.”
“Not now mother, my experiment's at a crucial stage.”
A male voice spoke outside the attic door,
“It would be to your hum advantage if you could spare me some of your, no doubt, valuable time.”
The bespectacled Thermos Flack stopped what he was doing and said cautiously,
“What kind of advantage are we talking here?”
“Why financial of course. It would certainly help you to advance your career.” said the voice silkily. Flack unbolted the door at the top and bottom, turned the key, unfastened the chain, lifted a sturdy metal bar that ran across the width of the door and opened it.
“Very cautious, I observe. Good, excellent, hum.”
The man in the suit stood in the doorway, smiling benevolently at Thermos. He was tall, skinny and towered above the rotund inventor whose mother peered anxiously around his elbow. Some of her son's invention had malodorous side effects and she prayed this was not one of them. As it happened, it was not. The suit looked around the converted room and said,
“Charming, very hum,”
“No, very quaint, hum.”
“Well, yes, the long case clock for instance, a fine antique.”
The suit changed the subject,
“About the financial advantage.”
Flack went to a cabinet pulled out a bottle of amber liquid and two glasses,
“How very hum kind. I don't mind if I do. The chill seems to affect me more as I get older.”
“Who are you anyway?”
The suit produced a card from his waistcoat pocket,
“Most remiss of me, I do beg your hum pardon. Herbert Cringe of Cringe, Cringe and Carbuncle, Solicitors at Law, our speciality is Probate Law.”
“Probate?” Flack removed his round glasses and cleaned them on his off-white coat.
“Just so, just so. You have been mentioned in a recently hum discovered will made out by your late Uncle Craven Flack.”
“There's a catch isn't there? I don't have to stay in a creepy house overnight or something do I?”
“There are conditions attached to your entitlement to the hum inheritance. Houses are not mentioned however. Allow me to elucidate.”
* * *
“Squad, attenshun!” The fifteen strong platoon sprang to its feet, “Stand by yer bleedin' beds, you hopeless bunch of tarts.” roared the drill-corporal, “Ow many bleedin' times....?”
“Thank you corporal. Very ah, loud.”
Drill-Corporal Hoving saluted sharply,
“Fank you sah! Does my best.”
Colonel Bode said,
“Stand easy men. I need three volunteers...”
“Stay where you are!” bellowed Hoving,
“....to go on a jolly important mission. You're to guard an expedition across the Atlantic....”
In the melee that followed, all but three of the platoon made it through the barracks doors before being brought to the ground by two lance corporals and Hoving.
“By jove, they are remarkably quick on their feet aren't they Drill-Corporal?”
“Sah, military training's what does it. Never volunteer an' all that.”
The three remaining and not so quick privates Teror, Squid and Trachun glowered resentfully at the colonel. He smiled sunnily,
“Well now chaps. You're dashed lucky to be chosen for this. The army promised you that you would go and visit exotic places in far off lands....”
“Before or after they cracked us around the heads?”
“No talking in the ranks while the colonel is haddressing you Trachun!”
The colonel took a moment to recover the hearing on his right side then continued,
“You will, of course, receive extra weapons training in the next four weeks, best food the army can provide and double pay while you're on the expedition.”
“Permission to be suspicious sir?”
“Permission granted Private erm, Trachun?”
“Why the preferential treatment?”
“Because the King's Own Footguard Regiment is blooming grateful to you for volunteering and wishes to show its gratitude. Do us proud lads and I guarantee there'll be medals in it for all of you.”
“Posthumous I expect.”
“Shut up Trachun!”
Colonel Bode left the hut and made a note to stand further away from bellowing Drill-Corporals in future.
* * *
end of part 1
In five hundred years time, most of us will be forgotten dust. But Hitler will still be remembered, God loves irony.