An extract from The Red Queen… Once Again I am pleased to be able to offer up an image, which conjures the essence of the tale… this image, once again captured by my Spectramera is a vision of the Enitiy who rules the Crimson Palace, but I am glad to say a safer version… If this is you then get in touch because there is something I would like to tell you… (These images are all my own work by the way)
Here Follows the Prologue of The Red Queen.
I bit Caruthers. They’ll have to do it now. Three taps with Thompson’s hammers and I’ll be free. In honesty, I thought it would be easy. An ounce of delirium, a pinch of night terror and a good old glut of faecal flinging, and I was certain they would have had me hard strapped on the stretcher on my way to B wing before the end of the first night shift. But as with most of my damned life, there’s a problem; Mather believes me.
I’m not surprised, not truly. Conviction is a powerful friend and a more fearsome foe. There are those with the gift to read it like a trail. I had that gift, it served me well in the Raj. Fair Findlay they called me, in the letters I’d get from the furthest corners of that sweaty annex. Sincerest friend, they’d always start, and the darkest deeds would follow. Rape, ravishment, buggery, all the best that war brings out in the worst of us. I should have known better, I should have kept have my blasted mouth shut. Should have, could have, Christ knows why I just didn’t. I’d doubt my tale too, but then I had the pleasure of watching it unfold with my own dull eyes.
I was never one to pause; I’ve a chest, covered in gold and silver coins and ribbons that say I know how to make a quick call. I’ve saved and damned men on my whim and my Lady Empire has praised and doomed me by telegram, handshake and shallow courtesy. I do not fear the crossroads in life, to that contrary, I seek them out. But I’d be a fool if I said I own no regrets and it was at just such a junction where this most peculiar story truly begins.
Twelve months leave. I read and re read the telegram almost hourly as I made the month long steamer trip back from India. I could have done the whole thing by air in a week, but I have my reasons. If pressed, I might say I’d always considered myself a grounded sort and I’d tell you that I despise the eerie feeling of flight, or perhaps I’d brag that I was notorious among the Zeppelin Packets as a risky sort thanks to the infamous duel on the bridge of The Nancy, but here, an hour before I might lose my very mind, I don’t see the harm in telling the truth. You see, my sleep is, even to this day, plagued by the screams, the sounds, and mercy, the aromas, I witnessed in the moments after the fire that claimed the Air Liner The Carpathian,
Fifty two weeks of thumb twiddling, gin drinking and whore baiting. They may as well have sentenced me to a year in Strangeways. I was not a man who did nothing well. I told myself on the trip that I’d make a proper nuisance of myself in the clubs of London and before I could blink they’d have me back on the next steamer.
The trip itself was uneventful, which only made my predicament worse. All play with no playmates and no work makes Findlay a dull man indeed. Despite myself, I kept to my cabin for most of the last leg; I stuffed my pretty silver pipe with poppy powder and smoked like the ship itself. The sway of the sea was most agreeable and before I could say Straits of Gibraltar, I found myself on the prow of the vessel staring up the muddy Thames towards the great plume of smoke that I knew to be London.
I have never suffered the awful blight of sea sickness and despite the warnings of the liberal set I have never had so much as a head-ache from a pipe of opium, but I will confess, I felt a little rum that morning as we chugged up the filthy estuary. Whatever the cause of my malaise, it most certainly contributed to my failure to spot the figure, who must have approached with canny stealth.
“I do wish sometimes there were warmer sights to welcome one back,” he said.
It took me a moment to register that I had been addressed and another to respond.
“Yes, “ was all that I could muster, but despite my curtness, my new colleague clearly intended to chat.
“Travelled far? “ he asked, I nodded and turned to face him with what I hoped would be a withering glance. “Colonel Findlay, “he said, at once dropping the act,”I am not here by chance sir and clearly you are not a man of patience…” I nodded, but maintained my dagger-stare.
“So who are you? And who sent you?”
“Imperial Defence sent me and my name is Forsyth, Bertrand Forsyth, but you can call me Bertie”
“I’ll do no such thing,” I replied. “Familiarity like that sir is the fever of her Majesty’s Commonwealth.” I lied, and it dawned on me that I already hated this Bertie fellow quite irrationally.
“As you wish, Colonel.”
“So Mr Forsyth, are we to chat about the weather before you get to the point? Let me guess, you’d like an after dinner speaker at some treacherous members club? Or would you have a rogue platoon storm a diamond mine on the Dark Continent? Or do the old boys at I.D. simply want someone to play conkers with the cloaks at M.I.6?”
“It’s a matter of imperial security; I can tell you nothing here.”
“Christ man! I know that! The clue is embossed in gilt letters on your master’s fine oak doors. But who here on the deserted prow of this bloody steamer is going to give the ass of a rat what nonsense your senile masters have concocted in a bid to drag you out here on this vile fluid stream of effluence.” I summed him up then, gauged his reactions.
There was a time in my life when I might have hurled him into the river for no more than his mysterious nature. A shiver traversed the length of my backbone as I exorcised the thought that once I could have been so callous. Forsyth seemed to be making his own assumptions and a few seconds passed silently. Save for the thrum of the ship’s great pistons and the sound of her wheels churning the murky Thames, there was no other noise. We stood like that for what felt like a swift eternity. Then suddenly he spoke.
“There are those within my office, who believe we are under threat of invasion.”
“Her Majesty’s Empire? poppycock, “I said. “There’s not a power on earth with the might, manpower or technology to threaten these shores.”
“I agree Colonel, but then I am just a messenger.” As he spoke he knelt down and placed a leather satchel by my feet. “Inside you will find a hundred pounds and an invitation. I have done my duty Colonel Findlay; I can only hope you do yours.”
To my disservice, I didn’t even deign to give the man a last glance and being in no mood for his cloak and dagger nonsense I picked up the satchel he had laid at my feet and up-ended its contents all over the steamer’s quarter deck.
My impatience cost me £10, if the stranger had told the truth about the bag’s contents and I see no profit in his dishonesty. The breeze had been all too sudden and brief and before I could register what was happening, paper snowed all around me. I could discern charts and maps and obviously a number of bank notes. Instinctively I set my dull muscles to work, ploughing after the sheets which were dancing out towards the sea and oblivion.
I can’t say I got them all and I’d like to say that perhaps if I had, then I wouldn’t have taken the assignment, but to my shame I failed even to read all the scraps that I did save. All I could think about was the money I had squandered. I without the means to procure a room upon dismemberment, had found someone who clearly could. As I hastily shoved the documents back into the satchel I noticed that I hadn’t emptied it completely and there inside, still intact was a letter sealed with an Imperial Seal.
When I found the initials M.O.I.D on the envelope, I nearly threw the whole lot into the river. Don’t get me wrong, I am no coward and my wanderlust and adventurous spirit have piqued the interest of scribblers the world over, but if there’s one thing I cannot abide it’s a meddler and nowhere in the world is so well wrapped in the affairs of the honest man than the Ministry of Imperial Defence. Still I was in need of a brandy and since I knew who was buying I cracked the seal and sat down to read.
As I tried to read and re read the letter to myself I became aware of the city appearing in the periphery. The sights, sounds, and unfortunately the smell of the Imperial Capital were overwhelming. The sky was littered with aircraft. Some were ornate and others were solid and vast, while the majority appeared to little more than cheap silk balloons with charcoal burners. I took a deep breath and instantly regretted it. The air was thick with smoke, but it wasn’t invasive enough to spare me from the rank stench of effluence.
I distracted myself by watching an approaching air liner. She had been shadowing the steamer for a couple of hours, using the ship’s smokestack as a cheap thermal. It appeared she had finally grown tired of the piggy back and was making ready for her own jauntl to the city. She had doubled her speed during the minutes I watched her and would soon over take the steamer. I took a seat on a wrought iron bench at the ship’s prow to watch the airship make her final approach.
She was directly over-head, and had dropped to barely 20 feet from our spinnaker and I could clearly make out her colours and even her name plate. The Delft was a Dutch boat of the Royal Dutch Trading Company and had been built for those who liked a luxury. She was a vision of teak and filigree gold. As she passed overhead she gunned her motors and her props roared in the morning air. I needed a hand to keep my hat and the impromptu blast scattered the missing fragments of my satchel and the very letter I was holding into the estuary. I caught the first line of the second paragraph and the words stuck in my throat… Go to the Red Planet and neutralize the threat…The Delft had nearly cleared my position when I heard a shout from her stern and she opened her cess tanks covering me in month old shit and piss. The red mist descended on me and I ran for my cabin and for revenge. I read the missing MOID letter over and over in my head as I made my way to my deck and a single thought escaped the confines of my furious mind. Time to see just how powerful my new friends were…