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Steam and Mirrors | Steam Spy

Steam and Mirrors

A Steam Spy Adventure

Based on the Steam Spy Game

By Mark Mekkes

 

Over 500 years ago Guttenberg invented the printing press and changed the world.  Just as the black plague swept through the Middle Ages, the printing press created an opportunity for a spread of knowledge and ideas that poured through and defined the renaissance, essentially creating modern arts and sciences.  Philosophers, artists and scientists were able to develop and adapt the work of those that came before to create wonders never before dreamt of.  Those new approaches and techniques eventually grew and evolved to become an industrial revolution that would forever change the world.

One of the first opportunities of this printing press was realized by Hans Humberg, an apprentice of Guttenberg’s who set up one of the new printing devices to create a method for transferring information to the population on a regular basis.  Das Wort (The Word) became the first broadsheets and invented the founding concepts of modern media.

Further west, tireless monks had been collecting and organizing knowledge for centuries.  But with the perfection of mass publication some of this knowledge could finally begin to be collected and publicly distributed by The Encyclopedia Englania Company.  While Das Wort spread current events, announcements, opinions and entertainment to the masses, The Encyclopedia spread history and science.

The value of the thoughts and ideas that were being spread quickly became apparent as they worked to expand that industrial age.  Companies and industries were created to turn those ideas into tangible applications that brought a better way of life to those that could afford it. Orisaku Artificials Inc, Renningson & Sons Firearms and Navidad Pharmaceuticals all organized, and the Translatvian Transportation Company stepped to do their part in supplying trade opportunities between the various regions.

Fortunes were made based on the science and technologies that were developed.  This began to create a battle to gather, steal and maintain a hold on to the plans and processes that arose to create the various industries involved.  The fight for intelligence was on.  “Standing on the shoulders of giants” was extremely profitable as long as you weren’t the giant.  Seemingly overnight, the art of espionage was created.

As the self proclaimed keepers of the intelligence, The Encyclopedia Englania Company created a division they called M-5 to assist with gathering and evaluating intelligence and data from all corners of the world.  Although the initial intention of the M-5was meant to be benevolent, many foreign organizations began to feel threatened by the potential of having valuable information taken from them against their will. Orisaku Artificials Inc was one of the first organizations to react defensively; they created the Dragon Sect to protect its copyrights.

Reacting to the rising tensions between the two organizations, The Transylvanian Transportation Company created the Shadow Bureau in order to protect their interest as they developed transportation between the various regions.

Not to be outdone, Renningson & Sons, while always maintaining their own small private guard unit, coordinated with the North American government to create the Federal Agency, or “Feds” to ensure that their weaponry was not being misused around the globe.

Navidad Pharmaceuticals attempted to calm the growing tension between the other factions through peaceful diplomacy, but eventually they realized that they would be forced to work within the system and created the Unified Alliance to work with the other organizations while maintaining the objectives of Navidad Pharmaceuticals.

While the gathering of news and information was always a part of the goal of Das Wort’s mission, it has long been suspected that they also had a secret organization behind them named the Diamond Club that was helping finance them and create many of the horrific crimes and disasters that fueled the sensation seeking reporters and audience of the growing media machine.  Over the centuries, Das Wort moved its central offices to South America, but it grew to a global publication that spread news and entertainment to the world.  Rumors of the subtle use of coercion and manipulation within the newspapers have never been proven.

Of course, there were carefully planned and controlled exchanges of proprietary information between the various corporations and agencies, but the good stuff was always carefully guarded and only overtly deployed with a very rigid control that kept the developers at the top of their creative necessity.

And it was with that spirit of careful cooperation that the dark gothic train rattled along the rails that wound through the track of the eastern European mountains.  The train had been designed and built by the Transylvanian Transportation Company and was being used to create a line of travel, trade and transportation between the south eastern points of Asia to the most north western edges of Europe.

But none of the historical implications of the mechanical monstrosity that crossed the night was being considered by the tall lanky man that floundered down the bouncing aisles of the moving train.  He held his top hat in one hand and grasped for the edges of the seats along the way to maintain his balance as he pulled himself forward.  His long dark blue coat caught and pulled on the spiky ornamentation of the seats to further unbalance the man.

But onward he plunged through car after car of empty seats.  It seemed ridiculously wasteful to include so much unused space on the train, but it had been reasoned that a short train that only contain the necessary cargo compartments would be too obviously on some kind of special mission to escape detection.  On the other hand, the importance of this trip prohibited populating the train with a genuine compliment of travelers and tourists.  And so, the long empty train rumbled mysteriously through the dark mountains.

Finally, just before the last car of the train, the empty monotony of rows was broken by a figure lounging across the empty seats.  The reclining man wore a short, tanned leather coat over a cotton vest and rough leather boots that poked into the aisle as he stretched across the cabin.  He was reading an English translation of the latest Das Wort newspaper and seemed to be ignoring the intruder until he teetered directly above him.

“Your hair reflects the moonlight beautifully.” The tall man droned.

“Dang,” the lounging man said as he put down the news paper.  “You Europeans sure make everything sound pretty.”   Even though the last word came out as “Purdy”, the European was able to decode the American accent pretty easily.  In a blink, a small, double barreled hand gun had appeared in his hand and was pointed at the lounging cowboy.

“That is not the proper response and you do not fit the description of my contact.” The tall man said coldly.

“Relax, Stretch.  I’m Matt Smith of the Federal Agency.  I’m helping out an old friend.  She asked me to step in for her.”  Smith swung his feet to the floor and motioned for the other man to join him in the seat across from him.  However he remained unmoving with the gun still pointed at the American.

“If that’s true, then you know the return code.” The European replied.

“You don’t really want me to say it, do you?”

“You’re not trying to avoid it, are you?”

“Okay, fine.” Smith sighed, “’Take me in your arms you big handsome brute.’”

“That is not the countersign.” The hammer of the small pistol was pulled back.

“Well it might as well be.  I mean who writes this dribble anyway?  ‘The moonlight only sparkles because you are near’?  What does that even mean?”

“I have nothing to do with the choosing of the passwords.” Despite being given the proper response, the European kept his gun trained on the American.

“I think your queen has a little something for the Czar.” Smith winked, “What do you think?”

“I think you tortured my contact to get the countersign, and then killed her so you could take her place and steal the contents of this train.” Despite the wavering of the train, the gun continued to remain frozen in place.

“That’s a pretty good theory, but if I was stealing this train, don’t you think I’d be doin’ that?”

“It’s probable that you’re awaiting a rendezvous with an accomplice who will expedite the transfer of cargo.” The European said.

“I suppose,” Smith said, “But since we’re entering your territory, I’m supposed to transfer security over to you.  So if I was going to make a move, I’d have done it before now. Don’t you think?”

“Perhaps you knew you couldn’t get out of Ukraine after killing my contact, so you arranged for your rendezvous after you entered Poland.  Then you intended to kill me and escape from here.  However, now that I’ve gotten the jump on you, you’re trying to distract me with your outrageous excuses and double talk.”

“Kill you?” the American exclaimed, “We’re the only ones on this train.  If I wanted to kill you, I would have done it before now.”

“That would be difficult since I’m the one with the gun.” The European replied coolly.

“What you’re holding is a Pinchot .9mm double barrel snub nose.” Smith recited calmly, “A good solid gun; decent stopping power and easily concealable; perfect for urban operations.  However it has a slight disadvantage at higher elevations, for some reason the lighter atmosphere tends to make the firing pin a little quirky.”

Smith got up and approached the European.  Not believing the bluff, the tall man pulled the trigger just inches from the American’s chest.  However, other than a small click, nothing happened.

“Yeah, same thing happened to me in the Rockies.” Smith took the gun out of the man’s hand and performed some kind of adjustment that the European couldn’t see.  Then he casually handed the gun back to him.  “That should work better.”

“Thank you,” The European finally displayed a bit of confusion.  He looked at his gun for a moment before sliding it back into his holster.

“Renningson & Sons Firearms, the one thing we know are guns.” Smith smiled, “So do you trust me now?”

“No, but I do concede that you know enough about firearms to have had the drop on me if you had wanted it.  The fact that you did not take advantage of the situation suggests that I’m not in any immediate danger.”

“Fair enough,” the American laughed, and then stuck out his hand.  “Like I said, I’m Matt Smith of the Federal Agency.”

“Hector Jordan from M-5,” the European returned the handshake.

“Pleased to meet you, Hector,” Smith said.  “I guess it’s time for me to turn this baby sitting detail over to you, now isn’t it.”

“Yes, I believe so,” Jordan agreed.

“Well, she’s all yours.” Smith smiled and patted him on the back.  “I’ll be getting out of your hair at the next….”

But suddenly an explosion rocked the train.  The gentle swaying of the rails turned into a brutal yaw that rippled along the cars and threatened to derail the express over a dangerous embankment.  Smith and Jordan could only hold on until the train settled back onto the track and continued its normal motion.

“What was that?” Jordan cried.

“You have security for ten seconds and look what happened…” Smith started to complain.

“So your plan was to wait until I was responsible before enacting your operation?” Jordan’s gun was back in his hand and pointed at Smith’s head.  “You needed a scapegoat.”

“Oh for cryin’ out loud,” Smith pushed the gun away from his head.  Hector was stunned at the American’s bravado until he realized his mistake.

“I see, so you’ve sabotaged my firearm.”  Jordan glanced at the gun to try to detect the damage.

“Are you always this paranoid?” Smith asked.

“I should warn you that I am well trained in many of the martial arts.” Jordan took up a defensive stance that blocked any possible access to the aisle leading forward toward the exit.

“Don’t you think we should check on the cargo that we’re supposed to be guarding?”  Smith slapped his western style hat on his head, turned away from Jordan to push his way toward the rearmost door of the train.

“Wait!” Jordan called.  But it was too late; Smith had already disappeared into the last train car, so Jordan popped on his top hat and raced after him.  What he saw made him forget about Smith and stare in awe.

The roof of the cargo car had been blown in and the crates containing the valuable components were missing.

“What happened?” Jordan stammered.

“I’m finding out.” Smith stepped back out the door.

“I am not allowing you to get away” Jordan scrambled after him.  Smith had stopped between the cars and shimmied up the tight space to the roof of the moving train.  Jordan climbed up and prepared to race after him.  Instead he collided into the American’s back as Smith stood staring at the sky.

Above them a large dark zeppelin blotted out the stars as it slowly edged ahead of the train.  Silent motors spun propellers that pushed the airship with less noise than the rattle of the train.  And in moments it would be out of reach.

Matt was just about to race after one of the trailing guide lines when he heard the click of Hector’s small handgun behind him.

“I take it that’s your escape route?” the European said.

“Not mine, you idiot.  His!”  Matt pointed toward the front of the train where a small figure, dressed completely in black was leaping for the last of the trailing ropes.  As Hector stared in awe at the remarkably athletic move, Matt spun in toward the European, grabbed his arm, pointed it up and squeezed his hand around the trigger.  The gun erupted with a pop and the guide line that the figure was scrambling up split just inches above the climbing fingers.

“See!” Matt said dropping Hector’s arm, “I didn’t sabotage your gun.  Happy now?”  The European stared in bewilderment at his firearm.

Meanwhile, the dark figure had tumbled back to the locomotive, and quickly rolled to grab the slippery roof before sliding off of the edge.  With barely a finger hold on the train, the figure used amazing strength to pull back up onto solid footing.  Then, looked back to see the pair of agents at the back of the train and began to sprint toward them.

By this time, Matt had his own gun drawn, a long barreled Renningson revolver.  But before he could fire it, a crossbow bolt appeared out of nowhere knocking the gun out of his hand.  The figure continued racing toward them with his right arm pointed straight forward, there was no sign of any kind of bow or launcher.  However there was no denying the second bolt that shot directly out of the figure’s empty wrist and knocked Hector’s gun out of his hand.

Before Matt could contemplate it any further, the tiny figure was on him and sent a flying kick to his jaw.  The surprisingly powerful impact knocked Smith over and sent him sliding toward and over the edge.  For a split second he found himself falling into the inky blackness of the bottomless gorge the train was skimming against.  Then suddenly the fingers of one hand found the edge of the train and grabbed on.  He held on tightly, but as he pulled his other hand up to firm up his grip, the ornate railing began to break away from the train and fling him further out over the chasm.

 

Meanwhile, on the roof, Jordan took the defensive approach and quickly backed away from a rapid series of dangerous strikes.  Each punch and swing came within inches of throwing the thin man far into the night.  But so far he had succeeded in dodging each one.  The tactic was working until the back of his heal hit the ragged edge of the blown out roof of the last car.  With pin wheeling arms, Hector Jordan tumbled into the dark cargo car behind him and landed hard on his back.

Without hesitation, the small fighter leapt after him.  Crawling back away from his attacker, Hector finally got a good look at her.  She was small and quick, totally dressed in loose black wrappings that allowed for easy and extreme movements.  Only a thin slit in her dark hood revealed a pair of Asian eyes and a hint of dark colored bangs.  But the final revelation was a glint of starlight that reflected off of a tear in her right sleeve.  The bronze framework seen beneath the fabric created the structural shape for a remarkably articulated artificial right arm, complete with a built in mini harpoon gun.

Now she pointed her armed arm directly at Hector who remained on the floor in front of her.

“Who are you, and who are you working for.” the Asian demanded.

“It’s not what you think.” Hector pleaded.

“Where are your friends taking what they stole?” she pressed her artificial arm closer to Hector’s face.

“She’s not one of them!” Hector implored.

“What?” she looked confused.  “Are you trying to say that you’re not one of them?”

“No, I’m saying don’t hit…” But it was too late; Matt Smith was already smashing her over the head with the length of ornamental railing that he had broken off the outside trim of the train.

“…her, she’s on our side.” Hector continued dejectedly.

“What makes you think that?” Matt asked as he held the railing defensively over the unconscious assassin.

“She’s from the Dragon Sect.” Hector said as he pulled off her hood.  “Those were her components that were stolen.  Obviously she was here to act as backup security.”

“You seem to know an awful lot.”

“You may know about guns,” Jordan finally climbed to his feet.  “But M-5 knows about just about everything else.”

 

As the ornate steamer ship cut through the chop of the English Channel, Hector Jordan sat in a private passenger lounge with his personal data archive device in hand.  A small mirror had been flipped out of the base of the boxy gadget to reflect sunlight up through the bottom and through a series of film sheets containing as much knowledge from the Encyclopedia Englania as it was possible to cram into the small box.  A series of knobs and levers along the sides allowed the viewer to rotate through all of the various “pages” of information.

“Ah, here it is.” Hector grinned, “that zeppelin matches the description of the Raven stealth airship, developed by the Transylvanian Transportation company.”

“Well I guess that solves that,” Matt Smith sneered, “I guess we can all go home now.”

“This kind information may very well give us a clue as to how to find the thieves.”

“Yes, I’m sure your encyclopedia tells us exactly what the bad guys are up to.”

“I know you American’s enjoy leaping into action before you know what you’re doing, but we…”

“Oh please,” Matt interrupted, “if you English had your way, you’d spend so much time talkin’ ‘bout the various details of your missions that you’d never get anything done.”

“Analysis is the basis of ….”

“Am I right?” Matt turned to Lau Singh, who was sitting across from them attempting to meditate away the headache she maintained from the previous night’s assault.

“As the victim of your American rashness, I have to agree with Mr. Jordan.” She said calmly.

“Hey, you attacked us first!”

“If you’ll excuse me, I need to take some fresh air,” Lau said as she stood and left the lounge.

“This is all a conspiracy,” Matt turned back to Hector.  “So what are you going to look up now?”

“Actually, I’m not looking up anything,” Hector kept his head over the PDA device, but his eyes angled up.  “I was analyzing how to go about apprehending the spy who has been watching us since we arrived on board.”

“What spy?” Matt stopped himself from turning around and remained relaxed.

“By the door,” Hector pointed the direction with nothing more than a flick of his eyes.  Matt looked up to the mirror behind Hector, the gold leaf ornamentation distorted the figure to a dark shadow, but it was clearly there.

“What can you tell about him?” Matt asked.

“Her,” Hector corrected, “I haven’t been able to get a very clear look.  But she’s medium height, dark hair, and dark outfit.  I’m not quite sure yet, but she might be…” but Hector’s description was interrupted by an explosion of activity.

The dark haired spy flew out into the room as Lau flipped her from behind through the doorway.  The brunette rolled with the impact and came up to her feet to face the small Asian woman.  She dodged a series of furious martial arts blows that drove her back further into the room.  Hector had his weapon out and was looking for a clear shot.  But he was interrupted by the explosion of Matt’s larger gun and the shattering of the large mirror in the back of the room.  Rather than shoot at anyone, the American had taken his shot to create the most dramatic interruption possible.

“Everyone just hold it!” Matt yelled causing everyone in the room to freeze.

“Is that who I think it is?” Hector asked.

“Natasha Bristov, of the Shadow Bureau” Matt introduced the dark haired gypsy woman.  “We’ve worked together before.”

“Weren’t you supposed to have been my contact?” Hector asked as he put his weapon away.

“Yes, I’m sorry I vasn’t able to join you, but unfortunately another urgent event took priority.  Therefore, I asked Agent Smith to take my place.” Natasha explained, rubbing a bruise from Lau’s attack.

“Yeah,” Matt said, “Natasha and I go way back.  We used to…”

“It is not necessary to go into all of the details” Natasha cut off the American.

“Definitely not,” agreed Hector rolling his eyes.

“Would your other ‘urgent event’ be the use of your zeppelin in stealing our components?” Lau asked.

“It vas the theft of the zeppelin,” Natasha confirmed, “I vasn’t avare of what it was to be used for until it vas too late.  Now it seems that we are all working on the same case after all.”

“One big happy family,” Matt grinned.

“So do ve know vhat has been stolen?” Natasha asked.

“No, it is classified.” Lau snapped.

“Actually,” Hector had his data reader back out and was flipping more levers.  “They were components for a Mark V artificial created by Orisaku Artificials Inc.  The Mark V is considered to be the largest, strongest and fastest military grade artificial available.”

“That information is supplied to your government in trust.” Lau snapped.

“And if we don’t share our knowledge we won’t be capable of acting together to stop the person or people involved and retrieve the items in question.” Hector replied.

“I have to admit that the walking brain here is right,” Matt said as he stepped toward Lau.  “If this robot is activated, is there going to be any way we can stop it?”

“That information is strictly ‘need to know’” Lau held her ground.

“You don’t think ve need to know?” Natasha said.

“I can shut the robot down,” Lau finally admitted.  “As long as you get me to it, I will take care of deactivating the unit.  Assuming it’s been activated.”

“I can’t imagine anyone stealing it and not trying to use it.” Matt said.

“This is all assuming that we can find it.  It could be anywhere by now.” Hector said.

“I believe I can help with that.” Natasha said.  “This ship is one of ours.”

“Of course it is,” Matt muttered as he joined the others falling in step with the gypsy.

She led the team out of the lounge and up to the ship’s bridge.  Cutting through the busy control room, she nodded to the captain, opened a hidden door and gestured the others ahead of her.  The small room was dark and bare, in the center stood a metallic stand that rose to face level with an angled mirror framed by two handles.  A thick wire led down from the ceiling and wound around a large winch on the front of the stand.  A compass was mounted just in front of the mirror.

Natasha crossed to a set of switches on the wall and flipped several of them.  With a pop, the roof of the small room collapsed and released a large helium balloon that began to lift far into the atmosphere, spooling out the wire tether from the winch as it went.  Dangling just below the balloon was a second, larger mirror hanging at a 45 degree angle.

By the time everyone’s eyesight had adjusted to the bright sunlight pouring into the room, the balloon had risen to a respectable spot in the upper atmosphere; Natasha then grabbed the handles on either side of the mirror and began to rotate it.  The entire station pivoted with her as she made a complete circuit around the device.

“vith the vind and vaves, it can be a little tricky to get the angles right.” She said as she stared into the mirror, twisting and turning it to line up with the mirror in the sky.  “Ah ha, there it is.” The Gypsy spy stepped aside and allowed Hector and Lau to look into the mirror.

Consulting the compass mounted just in front of the mirror, Natasha noted the direction the mirrors were facing and the drift that was required to maintain the zeppelin in their sites.  Then, after factoring in their own ships speed and direction, they quickly had the bearing of the zeppelin.

“Now ve just need to determine vhat might be in the direction of that vector.” Natasha said as she put down her pencil.

“No need.” Hector said with a sigh, “it’s heading directly toward London.”

 

The carriage looked fit for a funeral, but what truly gave it its ghostly aura was the absence of visible horses pulling it.  But rather than supernatural forces, the specters driving the vehicle actually came from a small, but powerful steam engine in the rear compartment.  Natasha, with tinted goggles covering her eyes, sat up on the coachman’s bench working levers and pedals that carefully manipulated the speed and direction of the carriage as it raced toward London.

“Now this is traveling!” Matt only pulled his head in from the window long enough to make the observation before poking back outside to enjoy the wind whipping his hair back.

“It’s not very agreeable to the reading process however.” Hector tried to focus on his PDA as the carriage bounced along.  The rough country roads were making way for rough cobbled city streets as they neared the center of London.

“It looks like we’re approaching the palace,” Lau Singh said as she looked out the opposite window.

“Buckingham?” Hector exclaimed as he finally put down his device and glanced out the window. Natasha was just pulling up to the main gate of Horse Guards.

“Move along, Miss.” One of the Queen’s Guards stepped forward and waved the carriage away, “You can’t park that ‘ere.”

“I think you’d better let us in if you know vhat’s good for you.” Natasha said as she hopped off of the carriage and pulled her goggles to her forehead.

“Now see ‘ere…” the guard began to raise his musket.  The other guards, further back along the fence, followed his example and readied their weapons.

“Hold!” Hector snapped as he immerged from the carriage.  “Hector Jordan, M-5; we’re here on urgent business.” He snapped out his credentials and gave the guard an opportunity to examine them.

“Begging your pardon, sir.” The guard snapped back to attention, followed by the rest of the guard detail.

“We require immediate access to the palace.” Hector said crisply.

“That’s ‘ighly irregular, sir; I ‘ave no orders to that effect.” The guard replied.

“Damn it, look around you!” Matt joined the discussion and pointed at the sky above the palace.  All of the guards looked up to see the large dark zeppelin hovering over head.

“We believe the royal family is in imminent danger.” Jordan snapped. “Myself and these three agents are to be allowed complete and immediate access.”

“Three agents, sir?” the guard’s question stopped Hector from proceeding.  He looked back and saw only Matt and Natasha standing behind him.  Rushing back he took a quick look in the carriage and found no sign of Lau.

“Where’d she go?” Matt asked.

“Vhere do you think?” Natasha replied as she glanced toward the palace.

“You think she got past us?” Matt said.

“Of course she did.” Matt groaned, “Come on!”  He waved the other two to follow and the three agents raced into the palace grounds.

“Sound the alarm and secure the perimeter.” Matt called back to the guards as they raced past.  The guards looked confused for a moment at the American giving orders, but it seemed like sound advice, so the orders were passed on.

“Ve need to get to the roof.” Natasha said as they neared the main building.

“That’s what you’ve got me for, sweetheart.” Matt pulled a larger gun out of his inside coat pocket and pointed it toward the roof.  With a loud crack, a grappling hook shot into the air trailing a whistling length of rope behind it.

“Just like old times huh?” Matt grabbed Natasha, tucked her to his side, flipped a switch and allowed the grapple gun to hoist them to the roof.  Once up top, he unhooked the grapple, and dropped the gun over the side to Hector who repeated the process.

As Matt wandered ahead, Natasha turned back and helped anchor the grapple with her foot.  Once Hector was in reach, she grabbed his hand and helped him climb the rest of the way up.

“Sorry about that,” she said, “Matt has a tendency to be a bit impulsive.”

“I’ve noticed,” Hector said as he packed up the grapple gun and stuck it in his pocket.

“It used to be kind of endearing, but it gets old wery fast.  Makes you appreciate someone who can think things out a bit more.”  She let her gaze linger with his for just a moment.

“Yes, well,” Hector broke the mesmerizing moment, “for that we need the information to work with.  Where did our impulsive friend go anyway?”  As if on cue, Matt suddenly stood up to appear behind a nearby chimney

“Don’t come over here!” Matt held up his hands in warning.

“What is it?” Hector said ignoring his order and racing over to him.

“It’s Lau, or at least what’s left of her.” Matt stepped aside and turned away from the mass of torn and shattered flesh that used to be their cohort.  Natasha froze at the sight, but Hector leaned in close to examine the remains.

“This took amazing strength, obviously the robot is active.” Hector said as he used a stick to move some of the pieces around.

“Vhy vould she do that?  Vhy rush off and try to take this on herself.” Natasha asked.

“She thought she could disable it.” Matt said with reverence.

“Another fine example of running off half cocked.  I’m sure you think it vas a great idea.” Natasha glared at the American.

“It was a nice try.” Matt said.

“Except that now we have no way of knowing how to stop the robot.” Hector said as he stood and wiped his hands on his coat.  “She was our only hope.”

“We’ll figure something out.” Matt said turning back to the roof.  “But first we have to find the thing…”

It was at that moment that the roof at the far end of the palace exploded outward and a 14 foot tall mechanical monster leapt through the opening to land on the roof with a crash.  Shingles and tiles broke apart and shattered off in every direction with the impact.  The robot stood on short but powerful legs that supported a barrel shaped body: a small head swiveled toward them to reveal glowing red eyes and large hydraulic motors manipulated thick arms and clawed hands.  In one of those giant claws squirmed Princess Beatrice, one of the Queen’s daughters, who was screaming frantically.

Matt already had his gun out and had released half a dozen shots before Hector stopped him.

“Don’t shoot!  You’ll hit the princess!” he ordered.  The advice was reinforced by the bullets bouncing harmlessly off of the metallic skin of the robot.  Matt quietly agreed and holstered his gun.

Holding the princess high, the mechanical beast turned and faced the group of agents.  Taking defensive stances; Matt, Hector and Natasha prepared for a brutal attack from a potentially unstoppable foe.  But just before the monster launched toward them, something called its attention back to the zeppelin that was cruising back into range.  With one last leer at the agents, the robot sprang to a landing on the gondola of the aircraft and turned back to regard the helpless humans on the roof.  The princess continued to scream as she dangled from the clutched fist far above the palace.

“We’ve got to get onto that ship.” Matt screamed as he raced forward to grab one of the trailing guide lines.  Unable to come up with any better plans, Hector and Natasha joined him.

However, the robot pulled some sort of weapon from behind his back and pointed it toward the rushing American.  A sudden stream of crossbow bolts forced Matt to skid to a halt.  Looking up he realized he was being attacked with Lau’s severed prosthetic arm.  The monster continued to point the grisly appendage at him as the zeppelin made its escape.  Although his face remained frozen in its mechanical form, the light shifted as the zeppelin turned away and gave the image of a triumphant robotic grin until it sailed out of range.

“Great!  Just great!” Matt yelled at the departing airship.  “Now what are we going to do?”

“Now,” Hector said calmly, “I have the home field advantage.”

 

As the robot climbed back into the gondola of the airship that now sailed far above the Atlantic Ocean, Davian Cruge turned away from the controls and regarded the mechanical beast.

“Excellent job,” he said.  “Now return to your post, I need to contact the base.”  Obediently, the robot backed into a dark corner in the back of the gondola and powered down.  Cruge turned back to the controls and activated a device he had added into the control panel.  A small monitor appeared with the logo of the Diamond Club and was quickly replaced by a stern looking face.

“What do you want?” the figure asked with a sneer.

“Inform control that the mission is progressing with utmost efficiency.  We will be at the Algerian location within 3 days.  The attack on the Navidad Pharmaceuticals location will occur before sunrise on Thursday.”

“Acknowledged, we will confirm that Das Wort reporters are in place to witness the catastrophe.” The voice replied.  “What of the artificial?”

“The first one has been performing exactly as expected.  Once the others are assembled, they will be unstoppable.”

“Agreed.  This will be your last transmission to us; we cannot risk being tied to your operation.  Deliver the robotic components to our safe house in Morocco; we will extract you from there.”

“I understand,” Cruge replied.  “Over and out.” He deactivated the communicator and turned back to the zeppelin controls.

 

Meanwhile, Matt, Hector and Natasha were quickly approaching the zeppelin.  Each agent wore a backpack with a bulky wooden apparatus attached, from each pack a stanchion rose with 4 blades that spun over their heads creating enough lift to enable them to fly after the airship.

“You see Natasha, your organization don’t have a complete monopoly on transportation devices.” Hector yelled across the open sky.

“I have to agree that these are pretty vondrous, Hector.” She smiled back at him.

“There she is!” Matt pointed ahead as the blimp appeared ahead of them.  “We’re catching up.”

As they drew closer more details could be made out, and eventually they were able to spot the princess strapped precariously to the nose of the zeppelin.  Even from a distance it was possible to see her kicking and screaming as she dangled over the ocean far below.

“I’ve got her!” Matt called back as he angling his propeller forward and shot ahead.

“No, don’t.” Hector said half heartedly.

“It’s not vorth fighting with him.  He’ll never learn.” Natasha sighed.  “So vhat are ve going to do?”

“You’re obviously the only one who can take control of the zeppelin, so we have to get you onboard.”

“But what about the robot?  Vithout Lau Singh how can ve stop it?” Natasha asked.

“I guess that will be up to me.” Hector said without much confidence.

 

Meanwhile, Matt had used his flying apparatus to race ahead of the blimp and was circling back to reach the princess.  However, his rash approach quickly set off the proximity detectors and arrays of automated defenses were activated to open fire on him.  Twisting and banking the controls he pushed the maneuverability of his helicopter pack as much as he could.  But try as he might, his attempts to edge closer kept being repelled as streams of hot bullets pierced the air around him.

 

At the airship controls, Davian Cruge noted the automated activation of the defense system and was scanning the skies.

“We’re under attack!” he called out, activating the robot.  As it rumbled forward he looked over to see Hector Jordan fly alongside the starboard flank of the airship and take a couple of useless shots with his small handgun.  “It’s the Englishman.  Get him!”

Obediently the robot climbed out of the cabin and clutching the ropes that bound the gondola to the dirigible climbed out to confront the attacker.  Immediately Hector shot up and led the robot toward the top of the blimp.

 

As soon as the robot had taken the bait and proceeded out of sight, Natasha sailed into the gondola from the opposite side.  She had seen the figure of Davian Cruge as she approached and already had her knives drawn as she landed.  But the sound of her flying pack couldn’t be hidden over the silent zeppelin engines.  Cruge quickly spun around and had his saber drawn and ready by the time her feet had hit the ground.  Eyeing her small hand weapons, he raised his larger blade with a grin.

 

With his gun out, Matt tried desperately to get a clear shot at some of the machine guns that were targeting him.  However the danger of igniting the dirigible prevented him from taking most of his shots as he continued to frantically dodge the incoming fire.  All he could do was continue darting and dashing across the sky as he tried to edge closer to the helpless princess.

 

Once over the blimps horizon, out of view of the gondola, Hector zipped closer and took a couple more careful shots at the robot.  Of course it had no effect, but the robot couldn’t do much more than swing at Hector as he zipped closer.  The careful attack and defense dance continued, but it was a standoff.  Unfortunately Hector suspected that his flight pack would run out of fuel before the robot did.

 

“Who are you?” Cruge sneered, “What do you want?”

“Ve’re here to stop you.” Natasha snapped.

Rather than reply, Cruge quickly raised his weapon and smashed the control panel of the ship with the basket covered hilt.  Taking advantage of the opening, Natasha charged across the compartment and prepared to attack.  But by the time she had crossed, Cruge had already spun around and was swinging his saber toward her.  She got her blades up just in time to parry the blow, but the force was too much and he was able to spin her forward with her own momentum and pun her down against the broken circuitry of the shattered control panel.

“It’s too late.” He sneered as he leaned over her and pressing the weight of his sword against her daggers.  “I’ve already succeeded.”

 

Finally, Matt realized that it just wasn’t going to get any better and chose to throw in all of his cards.  He took a deep breath, cranked up all of the controls of his flight pack and shot toward the gunfire.  Taking a twisting corkscrew approach, he spun around the streams of bullets pouring toward him and trying to track his movement.  Unable to look, he was taken by surprise when he finally collided with the fabric of the blimp and bounced to a halt.  Now under the field of fire, he was finally able to grin and relax as he slid down the nose toward the bound princess.

 

Growing frustrated with the annoying buzzing of the human, the robot eventually concluded that Hector wasn’t a real threat and turned to scurry back to the gondola.  Knowing that he couldn’t allow that, Hector realized he had to do something drastic.

Diving in close, he put everything he had into kicking the head of the giant robot.  Unfortunately the speed of the monster was more than he imagined and it snatched his foot and swung him into the structure of the blimp.  The flight pack absorbed most of the damage, but it shattered on impact.   Pieces exploded out and slid down the side of the airship to drop into the sea.

 

Getting a grip of the rope that bound the princess’s wrist, Matt slid to a halt next to her.

“Your highness, can I interest you in a rescue?” Matt smiled.

“Who are you?” the Princess pleaded.

“Matt Smith of the Federal Agency” he said as he began loosening her bonds.  “I’d appreciate it if you’d grab onto my shoulders so I can fly us out of here.  I need my hands for the controls.”  She obliged and within seconds he was pushing off of the nose of the zeppelin and activating the flight pack.  But instead of rising, the fight pack gave a groan and began to billow dark smoke.  Immediately the pair started to plummet.  The blades of the propeller folding upwards like an umbrella in a storm.

“What’s happening?” the princess cried in Matt’s ear.

“Apparently these things aren’t rated for the weight of two people.” Matt said as they fell toward the sea.

 

The robot continued his assault by swinging Hector by his foot back and forth to smash against the dirigible.  Weak and dazed, the Englishman kept his gun out and wavered as he looked for a clean shot.

Finally, growing tired of the game, the robot lifted Hector far out past the edge of the blimp and prepared to release the man to the ocean below.  The mechanical monster actually seemed to take a moment to relish the victory, but it was all the time that Hector needed.  Seeing his opportunity, he aimed just above the robots other hand and fired.  The bullet found its mark and split the rope support that the robot was gripping.  With no more purchase, the robot pitched forward and plummeted forward off of the airship.  With its arms spinning in a frantic attempt to save itself, it threw Hector off to the side.  Together they tumbled to the sea.

 

“Succeeded at vhat?” Natasha asked as he ripped the knives from her hand and tossing them out a window.

“Unification, my dear girl,” Cruge said before he flung her to the floor and dropped down on top of her.  “I’ve done what all of your politicians and diplomats could never do.  I’m uniting the entire world.” He began pulling and tugging at the straps of her harness until he had the flight pack taken off of her.

“You’re a monster.” Natasha groaned as Cruge dug a knee painfully into her chest and began to put on the flight pack.  She clawed at him futilely.

“Yes.  That’s exactly right” he agreed.  “But that’s what the world needs, a villain; someone that everyone can agree to fight against.  Look at what’s happening.  I’m using Asian and Eastern technology to kidnap a western princess who will be violently killed in an attack on an African installation.  And it has succeeded in bringing all of you together to protect each other.  You never would have done that without me.  You would still be bickering and fighting among yourselves.  I have given you purpose and unity.”

 

As Hector sailed away from the robotic monster and continued to fall toward the ocean, he ripped open his coat pocket and produced the American grapple gun.  With no time to aim he shot it upward and prayed until he felt the solid impact of connection.  Once the line took his weight and stopped swaying, he activated the winch that began to raise him back up to the zeppelin.

From the last few inches of the forward most airship mooring line, dangling from one hand and clutching the princess with the other, Matt Smith nodded his approval.

“So that’s where that thing ended up.” He smiled.

 

With a final kick to her bruised ribs, Cruge finally stood up and crossed to the open doorway.

“The course is set.” He grinned, “With the control panel destroyed, there will be no way to stop this ship from crashing into its target.  You have no way to escape.  Before you die, perhaps you can take the time to appreciate my work for the humanitarian effort it is meant to be.”

“You’re sick,” Natasha said as she climbed to her feet.

“And you are doomed.” Cruge said as he pushed away and waited until he was a safe distance to try activating his flight pack.

“Funny, I vas about to say the same about you.”  Natasha smiled as she held up the mass of wires she had pulled off of the back of the flight pack.

 

By the time Matt and the princess climbed back aboard the gondola, Natasha was banging frantically at the ruined controls with whatever tools she could find and Hector was scrambling through his PDA for any information he could possibly find that could be of any help.

“He’s right,” Natasha finally climbed up out from under the panel and wiped her greasy hands on a rag.  “There’s no vay to repair this.”

“What?  There has to be a vay… uh, way?” Matt said pushing into the mix.

“Oh right, I’m sure you’ll be able to fix it.” Natasha said sarcastically.  As the agents continued to bicker, Princess Beatrice slipped silently toward the dark back of the gondola.  Something had attracted her attention, but she wasn’t quite sure what.  It wasn’t until she was right on it that the glowing red eyes activated and the servos cranked to life.  With a rattle, a second robot came to life and climbed to its feet.

The princess screamed and quickly backed away.  In a flash, Matt had his revolver out and had stepped protectively in front of her.

“What’s that?” the American exclaimed.

“It must be one of the other units.” Hector said.

“Another one?  How many are there?” Natasha said.

“There were supposed to be a set of three.” Hector replied.

“Three?” Matt screeched.  And almost immediately they could hear the grinding gears of another robot activating itself behind the first one.

Slowly and menacingly the giant robot crept through the cramped compartment; smashing windows and consoles along the way.

“Any ideas?” Natasha asked.

“Go down fighting.” Matt said stepping forward.

“I can’t argue with that,” Hector gave Natasha’s hand a reassuring squeeze before joining him.

“Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure.” Natasha took her place between the other two agents.

Just as the huge mechanical monster towered over them and raised its claw to attack, it suddenly froze and began to spasm.  Electrical bolts crisscrossed over and across the metallic skin until the robot burst with a cloud of dark smoke and a crossbow bolt erupted out of one of its dimming red eyes.  The monstrosity collapsed to the deck to reveal Lau Singh’s mechanical arm aimed at it.  Attached to the arm and doing the aiming was a mechanical representation of the Asian agent.  The bronze work mechanical Lau lowered her arm, stepped forward and bowed to the other agents.

“Her arm must have held the programming for self repair.” Hector said as he returned the bow.  “It must have used the parts of the third robot to reconstruct the rest of her body to the best of its ability.”

“That’s some arm.” Matt smiled and hugged the princess.

“I’m just glad she’s on our side.” Natasha leaned against Hector in relief.

“Still, we can’t let this ship blow up that medical facility.” The princess interrupted.

“Actually, now that there are five of us, I think ve just might have a chance.” Natasha raced around the gondola taking some quick calculations in her head.  Within moments she had each of the agents and the princess at the four corners of the gondola, Natasha stood at the bow near the broken out wind screen.

“Isn’t this crazy?” the princess asked Matt.

“That’s why I like it.”  Matt smiled, “I taught her everything I know about crazy.”

“I believe it.” Hector said from across the compartment.

“This is only going to vork if we all act exactly together and keep our weight even.  Do you understand?” Natasha ordered.  After receiving a group of affirmations, she began the countdown.  “Okay, here we go.  3… 2… 1… NOW!”

On the signal, all five participants released the struts that tied the gondola to the hydrogen bag that supplied lift to the airship.  Immediately the gondola began to plunge and everyone was lifted off their feet hanging onto whatever they could to stay within the compartment.

Having carefully balanced their weight, the gondola maintained its level position as it dropped creating just enough drag to slow its fall slightly.  When it finally splashed into the waters of the Atlantic it bounced a couple of times before coming to rest floating on the bobbing waves.

Up above, the dark sack of hydrogen lifted into the upper atmosphere.  No longer controlled by the gondola’s mechanisms, it would float out to sea where it would eventually loose cohesion, deflate and drop gently and safely into the ocean.

After a few moments of realization that their ordeal was really and truly over, everyone finally began to sit up and appraise their situation.

“Is everyone alright?” Hector asked.

“I think so.” Natasha said as she crawled over to him.

“That was amazing,” Princess Beatrice gasped.

“Not that I want to do it again,” Matt said as he rubbed a wrist that had taken a minor sprain.

“Funny, I thought this vould be right up your alley, Matt.” Natasha smiled as she curled into Hector’s arms.

“Only in the name of duty, sweetheart” the American said as he put an arm around Princess Beatrice. The mechanical Lau stood up and began scanning the horizon.

“According to their normal travel schedules, there should be a United Alliance ship coming along this direction in just a few hours.” Hector said as he consulted his PDA.

“Some things ve don’t need to know,” Natasha grabbed the device and tossed it overboard.  Then she leaned forward and kissed the English agent fiercely.

“Do all of your missions end this way?” Beatrice said looking at the kissing couple across from them.

“It’s all part of being a spy, darlin’.” Matt said as he pulled the princess into a kiss of his own.

 

The End

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One Response to Steam and Mirrors

  1. […] But it’s completely free to check out.  In fact, I recommend reading the short story Steam and Mirrors.  It’s like your favorite Quark Comic but with zeppelins. Share and […]

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