Thursday, April 30, 2009

Doc Zarathustra : Chapter Two [revised]


From the Diaries of James Rothberg “Four-Eyes” Patterson

I set out to get on board the great silver bird from Panama, as soon as I got Doc's Western union telegraph. Doc had an idea for bouncing long-range radio waves off "relay moons" placed in space, but even Doc didn't have the resources to try that on his own – not yet anyway, and many an adventure had been heralded by a western union telegraph boy's cheery whistle as he handed a summons to one of the crew hammering nails into a jury-rigged hospital for the victims of a disaster in Equador or as they left city hall brushing the ticker-tape off their clothes or fighting another wrong-headed cease-and-desist order from the Federal Government over another group of criminal dopplegangers.

This time the message had been more than usually long winded for Doc. `Known criminal died suspiciously, blue face, return as soon as feasible, ditch Pamela if you can. Ask Professor Mulberry to supply details of the Observatory's studies of Venus. Doc Z.'

The reference to `mulberry' and `venus' were the code-words for the month to indicate that the telegram had actually come from Doc, it hadn't been that long since nearly the whole crew had been misdirected into mortal peril at the hands of the masked fiend known as the Platinum Scarab, and Doc was taking extra precautions. The reference to Pamela was because Doc felt that the adventurous life-style of the crew should exclude the fair sex, and because frankly he was tired of Pamela's riding him with hints of things he couldn't remember, adventures and escapades that seemed far more unearthly and impossible than any of the unearthly and impossible things that constituted his daily round.

I’d grinned at that. Personally I liked Pamela, heck I'd proposed to her twice – and while one of those times I'd been under the influence of The Evil Eros and his synthetic love – the last occasion I'd had nothing but frank admiration on my mind. That and Pamela's fire-alarm knock-out figure, as Spats had put it. Still I did as Doc asked, and timed it just right. From the observatory to Panama City, to the airport and the privately hired four engined monster that was carrying me Northward, I'd driven the twin turbined car that was his tinkerer's pride and joy as fast as it could go. There was no chance that Pamela would be sticking her pretty pert nose into this adventure.

From Pam Vane’s Journal

He settled back into his seat, and accepted a cup of coffee from the air-hostess, an innovation that I could tell he was all for. Then he choked, as he saw that the hand passing him the coffee, wore the two-dollar engagement ring that Spats had switched for the thousand dollar hunk of rock he'd planned to offer me – the two dollar ring that I’d kept `on approval' even though I hadn't said yes.
`Careful, tiger,' I said, my other hand brushing her my trademark Titian red hair back under her air-hostess' hat, `that coffee's hot.'
I love to catch him out.

Next to dealing with Doc, it’s such an innocent pleasure.


`How the hot hades, did you do that Pamela?' James spluttered. Pamela smiled, `Thought you'd lost me at the observatory, eh? lover. Well I had the foresight to leave a short-wave radio set at the Western Union office in Panama City, and those lusty young telegraph boys are only to willing to get a lady news of her intended's planning to skip out before the wedding. I was on my way down the mountain while your telegram was on the way up.'

`And the air-hostesses, uniform?'

`Just something I thought you might like. Shift over, I don't intend to spend the rest of the flight in the galley, and spill the beans – who's the blue crook?'

`Don't know yet,' James shrugged, `Sorry fire-top, you know if I had my way I'd bring you in on all the adventures, but Doc's got his quirks and your safety's one of them.'

`You mean I've been riding him? I only want the big lug to get his memory back. You think its easy being the only one officially to know the family history?'

James looked into her eyes, well he didn't need an excuse, but he also reckoned he could read sincerity there. Not that that meant anything. That smoothy Spats, said Four-eyes couldn't read women worth a plugged nickel, and James had to concede he was right.

The plane juddered, and yawned to the right sending James coffee out of his hand to splash against the curtained window. `Hell, that's not turbulance, not in one of these birds. They've got the new gyro-stabilizers Doc patented last year, come on.'

Pamela reached the door to the pilot's cabin first, with James a long legged stride behind her, a pressurised air-pistol (designed for use safely aboard a plane) in her right hand.

Flinging it open with her left, she stepped in, and James - unable to see what caused her to scream in horror – forced his way in after. Slumped over the plane's control's the hired pilot lay, his face stained a deathly and unearthly blue.

`Remind me, Pam,' James said, `You did get that flying license finally?'
`Uh, no. I was halfway through and I was kidnapped by the Red Blimp's Raiders. You?'

`With my eyesight problems? You know my interest in optics stems from my appalling short-sightedness. I couldn’t even get them to teach me to fly a plane if the Red Baron came back as a seeing-eye dog.'

`Fine, we’ll do it together.’ She kissed him.

‘Hot dog!, You might like to reconsider my marriage proposal too. I make it that we've got about twelve minutes before this baby drops to sea-level. Can dead blue pilots legally conduct weddings?’

‘Down, tiger, and watch the horizon!’

From the Memoirs of Donald “Spats” Diamond

Five hours earlier, Doc had been wiping the blood of his hands, and we'd withdrawn form the medical lab at the penthouse to the main reception room.

`So, let us sum up,' Doc said. `Pugs Layfette's heart was kept beating by an artificial mechanism. Its construction is remarkably well engineered and in some respects I do not yet understand it. It appears to have ceased operating in response to an external signal. This raises a number of issues. Firstly, was Pugs aware of the mechanism, and if so was it the reason he had sought to meet me? Secondly when and why was the mechanism installed. His heart showed little sign of fatty degenerative diseases and while I postulate that a device of this kind, could have been used to regulate a defective heart-beat like a metronome setting the time for a piece of music, he would not have needed such a device.'

`So you think someone stuck this gnome-setter into him, to keep him under control, Doc?' I asked, `you do as we say or we make your heart go fritzy?'

`Possibly, Spats – but if so would not taking a group of nurses hostage and contacting me have counted as being `fritzy'? In which case why not trigger the device when he was first awol. Besides I have an additional problem. The device as I say is complex and precision engineered. I would be hard pressed to duplicate it in less than a month, and it bears every hallmark of being a device at the limits of medical thought. Leaving aside the questions of successful implantation and surrounding tissue rejection which I won't bore you with.'

`So it’s cunning, heck Doc, we've had men come flying in the windows with clockwork ornithopters strapped to their backs, we know the sort of mad focused science that's being churned out these days.'

`Yes. These days. In our industrial post-War society with all the advances the world war caused in treatment and science. But I can tell by the scarring and the way the heart has healed and grown around it, that this device – with it seems the same power source – was implanted in Mr Layfette twenty seven years ago, in 1905, when – if his driving licence date of birth is correct - he was no more than six years of age.'

`In 1905? But Doc that's impossible!'

`It would certainly seems so Spats, Nick, any thoughts? You're our electrical supremo.'

`Ah, Doc – you and Unc Tesla were the bigwigs there. I suppose you could make a micro-compact battery but they'd be all sorts of difficulties sticking it in a hot wet environment like the body. Er, no offense Mam,' Nick ended realising he'd been talking about hot, wet, bodies with Nurse Weathen still present.

`None taken, Nicky,' she beamed.

I winced inwardly the little squirt was wowing the dames again.

`Nicky and I did some tagging of carabo, last winter,' McGurk offered in his deep rumble, `the idea was that they'd have these collars see and they'd give off a radio signal and we'd be able to track their migrations. In the process I got talking to a lot of frontiersmen about the old days of the carabo herds, and then on to other things. There were a lot of weird things going on back at the turn of the century, ghost-airships sighted over the midwest, and agood deal of foolish hysteria. Now while you was digging around in Mr Layfette I got the police commissioner to rush over his police file. He was born in Dome Ridge, Indiana and lived there until he was ten.'

`And, in 1904 Dome Ridge Indiana was the centre of a number of ghost-airship sightings.' Doc stated, his encyclopediac memory confirming the man-mountain's research. `I’ve seen that town's name recently.’ He strode to his desk, and keyed the intercom.

`Personnel director, Panama airlines – I want access to the school history of Philip Cray Harland. Yes you'll have a record he's currently employed on a special charter….'


James, and Pam were struggling with the controls but the plane refused to respond to her partial and his non-existent abilities as pilots. If anything they'd made it fall slightly faster, and the best they were hoping for was a flat splashdown. The plunge and drown option looked more likely by the second.

The crump of something impacting on the ceiling of the cabin and the hiss of thermite burning through sounded as it in a dream. Still more so did the dropping into the cabin of the one man, they had thought out of reach in New York City.

In his practised sun-bronzed hands the plane pulled up, and he was able to fill them in quickly. `Luckily I had reviewed, as is my policy, the personnel record of the pilot assigned to this special charter, when I cabled James before beginning the autopsy. When I confirmed thereafter that he had been educated, as I remembered, in Dome Ridge at the same time as someone had operated on the gangster, I decided that your safety might be at stake. The experimental rapid-air-expulsion-craft I was working on, was able to make the flight to Panama in four hours thirty seven minutes, and one of the Red Blimp's old "ariel boarding tubes" enabled me to enter your plane without danger to its infrastructure.'

Pamela whistled softly, `You've got the Vane Family luck, by crikey if you'd only believe it.'

James pulled at her arm, `Not the time to open old family questions Pam, look!'

Hovering in mid air, the size of – insofar as it could be judged against the morning clouds - a football stadium, was a thing that the eye refused to take in. A silver oval brimming with pylons, levers and veins that ran out to strange gasbags and sails.

`What is that!' Pam gasped.

Doc, reached for the radio-phone at his belt, `Spats, disengage the Reb Blimp tube your end we've got troubles. That,' he paused, `is either a fair reconstruction of the eye-witness accounts of the mysterious ghost air-ships of the nineteen hundreds.'

`Or?' James asked

`Or, it is a ghost air-ship of the nineteen hundreds,' Doc deadpanned.

Pam gasped, `ghost or not, it's firing on us!'

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