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Authors: S.G. Schvercraft

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It was going almost too fast to follow as the chair took Khaliq up and up, never slowing before sweeping down even faster through the tracks

absurdist architecture.

With the chair

s every turn, I could feel the rush of wind in my hair. It had to be going fifty or sixty miles per hour.


You may want to get an umbrella,

Harker yelled over the music and clatter.

I

d think his stomach would be empty by now, but one never knows!

I leaned into Speer so he could hear me.

You torture people with rollercoaster rides?


Just
watch
,

he said.

Harker began throwing levers like a mad scientist. As he did, not only would Khaliq

s chair react, so would the room itself. The chair stopped suddenly, and jerked onto another track close to the wall where an iron panel retracted. Out slid a small pool, and the chair swung him upside down, dragging his head through the water.

Another lever, and the chair stopped and rotated like a spit as a different wall panel opened. This time, he found himself turning inches above hot coals like a cannibal

s appetizer.

Another
lever
,
and
a
giant
bell
descended
over
the
stopped
chair
,
then
clanged
deafeningly
.

On and on it went, one absurd, Wile E. Coyote contraption after another appearing from behind the walls or out of the floor or ceiling. Periodically, some vomit would rain down as Speer and I took shelter beneath our umbrellas. It felt like it went on for hours. It was closer to 15 minutes.

Finally, Harker returned the levers to their starting position, and Khaliq

s chair slid to a halt in front of us. The music died, the gaslights dimmed, and the rumbling machines quieted. Once again, a single finger of bright light spotlighted the prisoner.


Shall we go again?

Harker
asked
.

No need to worry about keeping me up all night. I can have coffee brought down.

Blood was coming down Khaliq

s nose. His voice sounded barely human.

No

I

ll tell you,

he gasped.

 

2

Blue Cliffs

 

Fifteen minutes later
, Speer was assembling his team in the courtyard. Twenty-five men in thundercloud blue uniforms milled around us, some checking their rifles, others simply smoking pipes or cigars. They looked like Civil War re-enactors to me, except I

m reasonably sure neither side in that war used cartridges as big as the ones in these men

s belts.

On the periphery were what had to be pilots. The goggles, leather jackets, and general swagger were a dead giveaway. I could see the noses of smaller zeppelins peeking over the building

s roof.


Right,

Speer shouted, calling the group to attention.

The interrogation section has determined that the terrorist wanted by the Americans is hiding in the Blue Cliffs Industrial Airship Parks. While he is only one man, he has proven himself quite adept at explosives, so we will move on him in force. A Triclops
will be taking up the rear, with two infantry squad carriages leading.


Infantry shall dismount a mile from Blue Cliffs and advance on foot through the nearby woods. Darkness will cover our approach. We would prefer to take him alive, and since smashing down trees, fences, and buildings tends to draw no small amount of attention, the Triclops will remain behind with the carriages until needed.


Additionally,

Speer continued,

we will have three pocket-zeps to keep an eye on things from above, and to fire upon anyone who tries to slip our cordon. Any questions?

Someone called from the back,

Is the girl coming?

Laughter followed.

I

m pretty sure I was blushing. I refused to lower my eyes, though. Instead I kept my head up, which is why I could see the smirk on Speer

s
lips
.


With that keen eye for operational detail, Abernathy, I can

t believe you haven

t made sergeant yet. Special Agent Hoff is the United States

eyes and ears on this caper. Here to make sure we primitives do a good job. Being that she represents a key trading partner, and that you would no doubt prefer your loved ones to travel by helium and not its more combustible cousin, yes, she will be joining us.

More laughter.

The Special Agent will accompany us in the infantry element. Sgt. Baylor will command the armored element.


How will the sergeant know to assist us if he

s so far away?

Abernathy asked. I

d been wondering the same thing. Radio has been around for over a century, but I

d yet to see one, and didn

t know if it was kosher to Steam Pointe orthodoxy.


The way you queens will scream if anything goes wrong, I

ll be able to hear it even with my engines on,

Sgt. Baylor called out.


Or we

ll simply launch a flare,

Speer
said
.

And with that spirit of team cooperation, I yield the floor to our esteemed Triclops commander.

Baylor was a thickset man with a lumberjack beard. He looked like he

d have trouble catching anyone going faster than a slow jog, but if he did, it wouldn

t be hard for him to crush their trachea with those tree-trunk arms.


As Inspector Speer mentioned during his comedy routine,

Baylor began,

your orders are to take this terrorist alive. You

ll be shocked not-at-all to learn that he

s Arab. His name is Mohammad Talib. You

ll be given photographs to help identify him, but just remember that if he has a deeper suntan than you, that

s probably our man.

With that, Baylor began outlining the route this steam-driven lynch mob would take.

The caravan rumbled out of the SIO

s courtyard just as the sun was beginning to set. The Triclops turned out to be a combination of locomotive and tank

an armored, self-propelled artillery piece with not one but three long barrels protruding out. Three small zeppelins whispered off the building

s rooftop, and shadowed us from above.

Inside the lead personnel carrier, I checked my Glock.

Speer sat across from me.

Nervous?

he asked.


Excited.


I just thought you might be anxious, given how you

re fidgeting with your sidearm.


You don

t think it

s a good idea to check your equipment before an operation?

From his holster he pulled out his revolver to show me. It was large and long-barreled, like something a movie cowboy might use. Its black metal was inlaid with silver blazons. It could have been something from a museum except that the scratches made clear it had seen heavy use.

Unlike autoloading pistols, revolvers never jam.


I

d rather have an autoloader

s higher capacity,

I said, ejecting the Glock

s magazine and brandishing its ten rounds in front of him.

Not to mention the quick reloading.


We have rapid-loading as well. Plus, we enjoy more exotic bullet capabilities.

Speer opened his gun

s cylinder and pulled out one of its six bullets. The cartridge was thick as a .45, but longer than any magnum load I

d seen.

Jacketed hollow-point for ordinary circumstances,

he said. Then, depressing a button near the hammer, he detached the cylinder and put it aside.

From a vest pocket, he withdrew another cylinder, except this one was gold. He took out a round, and I could see its red tip.

Mercury-tipped explosive for more trying circumstances,

he said. Then he reloaded the bullet, and attached the cylinder to his revolver.


You people use explosive bullets?


Sometimes.


I

d heard that there isn

t much street crime here. Why such heavy artillery? I mean, why even have a three-gunned tank, much less feel the need to drive it around city streets?

For the first time, Speer looked uncomfortable.

You are correct on that point. Except in a few communities to the south, and some of the barrier islands, murders and property crimes are rare here. But when you have a people who have put the physical sciences on such a pedestal, who are taught from childhood that they can bend the universe with iron gears, steam engines, and Tesla coils, that the only limits to what they can achieve are their willpower and imagination . . . Well, perhaps it

s inevitable that such knowledge would be used by some for evil. These are what you might call supercriminals. My office protects the people from them.

There wasn

t anything about that in my briefing at State. I wanted to know more, but he quickly asked,

What caliber are you shooting?

pointing at the top of my magazine.

It doesn

t look like the .40 I understand many American law enforcer agencies use.


It

s a
Glock
29. I
shoot
10mm.

He looked skeptical.

I read that the FBI stopped using 10mm back in the

80s. Apparently it was too powerful a load, and certain agents

by which I mean female affirmative action hires

couldn

t control it.


Yeah, it is a hot load. I control it just fine.


Are you sure you

re not just firing a downloaded version of the round?

When the 10mm turned out to have too much perceived recoil for a lot of people to use, they started to come out with a

lite

version

a nice way of saying

less powder

in the casing.


These are full-power loads,

I said.


Would you even know the difference?


I should. I had to beg for special permission to carry the round, and part of the deal was I had to pay for my own ammo.

His eyebrows rose ever so slightly. I took that to mean he was impressed. His approval shouldn

t have felt as good as it did, but there it was: I was proud.

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