The story so far…
Ron Jones lead a group of the craziest Spec Writers in the game back in time to stop the British from slaughtering the Cetchwayo and his Zulu warriors in the 1879 Battle at Ulundi with satisfying results.
However it turned out the time portal he opened allowed others to use it for their own purposes. Someone or something has altered the timeline and now the Night Manager and the Administrator find themselves in a world not their own and fighting against nightmare versions of those they once called friends.
Now with the aid of NightManagers Alternate Universe Self; Night RUNNER, they await meeting yet another Alternate version of a member of BSFS...
The fog was unnatural, this much Night was sure. It did not “sit” in the air…heavy, as a regular fog does. Instead it swirled and moved like a bad mix of oil and water through the night air.
“Lady Tananarive did this?” he asked while staring out on the now shrouded Penn Colony skyline. He could hardly make out the top of the nearby City Hall building. Something was different with the statue of William Penn but he could not be sure.
“Yea. Did it once before back in ’88…Chicago. Covered a pretty big battle. Turned the tide.” Runner said. He was peering into the thick fog through a pair of binoculars, continually scanning the same eastern area.
“It’s cold” Sister of the Moon muttered. She and her sisters huddled together for warmth just beneath the “F” of the P.S.F.S. sign.
“Damn fog” cursed the hot Sister.
“I’m not cold.” Night said. If anything he thought it was a rather warm night.
The Administrator drifted across the rooftop from one side to the other, examining the Penn Colony skyline.
“It is a…penetrating…cold” he noted.
“This fog is hella thick” said the other Sister trying to fan away a thick swirl of the mist as she did.
“It’s not fog” Night Runner volunteered.
“It’s not that thick,” argued Night Manager. “Just off in the distance…”
“The distance? I can barely see my own hand in front of my face” the Administrator waved at the swirling cloud too in frustration.
“Maybe cause it never comes out from beneath that cloak!” laughed Night. “You guys are exaggerating.”
“What?” the Administrator walked over to Night. “Are you trying to tell me you can see…”
As he approached Night the Administrator looked about in confusion.
“You’re…the fog just lifted?”
But it had not. It swirled about the Penn Colony building even thicker still.
“It’s not fog.” Runner said again.
“Then what is it? And why does it not encompass Night Manager as it does the rest of us?” Sister of the Moon had stepped over is well out of curiosity and was now standing right next to Night.
“Something holds back this fog from him. Holds it back about ten feet.” She guessed.
Runner lowered the binoculars and turned to look. Night watched as he stepped out of the fog and into the “circle”.
“Hmm?” Runner looked at bit puzzled. “How the hell are you doing that?”
“What?” Night asked.
“Holding the fog back.” The Administrator was circling about, hovering just at the edge of the fog.
“I’m not.” Night argued. “It just looks that way from where I’m…standing. Wait! You all can’t see…?”
“No. The fog is too thick. I could hardly see you until I walked over here.” Sister of the Moon was almost growling.
“What do you have on you?” Runner asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what kind of weapons, or protections.” Runner stepped closer and eyed Night suspiciously.
“Hardly anything. I mean, I’ve got my cell...getting NO bars on that…my Zune (product placement!)…my winnings and my stake. That’s it.”
“Your Zu-wha?” Runner asked.
“That is not what is holding back this fog” the Administrator assured them.
“I already told you this isn’t fog.” Runner said.
“Then tell us what it is already” growled Sister of the Moon.
“You can’t see it?” Runner asked. He extended a hand and Night reluctantly handed him his stake. Then Runner stalked off and all at once the fog rolled in thick.
“What the hell?” Night almost screamed as the clouds of vapor began to swirl about him finally.
They retreated just as quickly as they had come, however, as Runner returned quickly and hand Night back his stake.
“Nice,” he said. “What’s in that?”
“His stake?” the Administrator asked. “His stake is holding back this mist?”
Then Night shivered all over. “Oh jeez…”
“What is it?”
“I just realized…” Night looked about at the “Fog” and then at his silver stake. “This fog is…”
“Ghosts” Night Runner finished for him. “This is a ghost fog.”
Now that they knew what it was the nature of the mist was easy to see. The swirls of vapor that dipped and spun about had a, now all too obvious, human shape to them.
“Something in that stake of yours is keeping them at bay.” Runner said.
“Yea,” Night answered in a hushed tone. “Cold Metal…”
“Lady Tananarive…” the Administrator said almost to himself. “Of course. Amazing.”
“We’ve got company.” Night Runner warned. Again he was scanning the mist with those binoculars. “Could be trouble.”
Night tensed even more and tried harder now to see through the Ghost Fog. A dark shape loomed in the distance and grew closer and closer. His eyes flickered to Night Runner whose shoulders grew more and more tense.
“It’s not them…no wait…” Runner had one hand near his gun.
Finally the dark shadow burst through the thick cover of ghosts. Almost at the same time as it emerged Night noticed the heavy clunk and whir of an engine…of several engines, old and rattling, running hard and sounding much like the rumbling breath of a huge lumbering beast.
The bulk of the monster was gun metal gray, but there was gold painting on the trimmings and royal blue sails now rolled up tight and folded down. Painted on the front of it, the first bulbous part to come out of the ghost fog, there was a menacing looking bulldog.
There were three major parts to the AGGIE PRIDE. Two elongated half dome-like structures were powerful dirigibles. They had the blue sails tied down along their length and on top of the domes. Beneath them were pairs of powerful fans adding to their lift. Along the sides of the domes Night could see dark portholes and windows, letting him know that the domes not only provided lift but served as crew space as well.
Connected between the pair of dirigibles by thick support struts hung the main deck and holds of the AGGIE PRIDE. The bottom was smooth and curved like the underside of an ocean vessel, but there were goliath mechanical landing legs, three in all, folded up underneath as well. Night smirked as he saw the chipped and scratched paint where someone had drawn paws.
The beast turned and descended until the top deck was nearly parallel with the roof of the building. There were uniformed men and women walking along the deck. Two of them worked a large boom that extended a ramp across the narrowing expanse and bridged the ship and the P.S.F.S. building.
“AHOY!” cried one of the ships people.
Night RUNNER sub-vocalized something and soon behind them the roofs access door opened and a couple of men emerged carrying bulky cargo containers.
The first of the AGGIE crew to cross the bridge was lanky young man sporting not only a holstered sawed off shotgun, but a cutlass as well. He wore the AGGIE colors on his leather vest and on the trim of his black pants.
“Took you long enough, Landis.” Runner barked to the young man. “I see you’ve added another dirge.”
“That’s CAPTAIN Landis to you, Night Runner.” The man snapped back. “The new dirge? Yea, we needed the lift.”
“Hardly recognized the ship. Almost had to put you down.” Runner warned.
“With what? That pop gun of yours? Right.” Then the young man looked about the sky.
“How the hell did you pull this off?” he indicated the fog.
“Lady Tananarive.” RUNNER answered.
“Jeez!” Captain Landis came up short. “That’s some pull, Night. Clearly I should’ve charged you more.”
“The Lady is interested in seeing to the safe passage of these gentlemen.” Runner nodded to Night and the Administrator. Landis looked the pair up and down.
“He looks like the Overseer…”
“Yet I am not. I am the Administrator.”
“That’s just another way of saying Overseer.” Landis’ hand hovered nearer to his holster. “What is this, Night?”
“Which one of us are you talking to?” Night Manager spoke up and stepped forward. Landis looked at him and his eyes narrowed.
“What the hell?”
“It’s a long story.” Runner said. “We’ll tell you on the way.”
“You’ll tell me now.” Landis said hard. “I’m not…”
“We’re doppelgangers from a parallel universe where the evil Overseer is good, the President of the United States is black and slavery ended 145 years ago.” Night said.
“Well…” Landis hand slowly moved away from his side. “Why didn’t you say so?”
“Amazingly, both universes have about sixty versions of LAW & ORDER on TV.” Night finished.
“That’s it?” Runner asked. “That’s all it took to convince you?”
“Well, that and the big ‘to do’ in Siberia.” Landis said.
“Hardly any real info on it, but something of a TEMPORAL nature went down in Tunguska. Right at the impact site. Anything to do with you guys?”
“Not us” said Night but the Administrator stepped forward.
“Is…that where you popped out?” Night asked
“No. But remember what Dahmin said, ‘…Of A fAmIlY lOsT AmOnG tUnGuSkAn TrEeS…’. I believe one or more of our friends was sent there by the Shadow.”
“Jesus!” Night said. “Sent back right before the blast?”
“That would make sense. A diabolical trap; How could one avoid being vaporized?”
“Who? Who did he send there?”
“Dahmin said a ‘Family’.”
“There’s a whole family on the site?”
“A family might just mean a couple. And we are not talking about the whole site, just Ron Jones’ forum. I believe Whiyayul and Diop Malvi joined Ron in the temporal exercise as well.”
“So we’re going to frakkin Siberia now?” Night cursed.
“You only booked passage to the North Pole.” Landis said quickly. “I’m not crazy enough to try to cross into Stalins’ airspace.”
“Worry about that later.” Runner waved the cargo carriers to start loading. “We don’t have time to figure it out now.”
Before Night could ask the Administrator where he thought the others were he noticed the flame red stubble on the head on one of the cargo loaders. It was the woman from the Reading Terminal Auction. She saw him at the same time and smiled.
“Well, well…” She tossed some bags to one of the AGGIEs crew on the ship. “My savior who got his own ass froze up.”
“Charlie Baltimore.” Night smiled back. “You working for Night Runner now? Cause I’M the one who saved you and I could used a valet.”
The woman twisted her lips at Night but her eyes were still smiling. “Actually, we had plans to escape once the sale had gone through. My friends are free and clear now in a Hidden Colony up North while my ass is stuck with only ONE way out of town.”
Night cringed. “Jeez…I’m sorry! I…”
“Don’t sweat it. Night Runner and your friend there explained where you guys are from” she explained, then looked him up and down appraisingly. “That was raw what you did…or TRIED to do…right there in the middle of the damn Terminal too. Hot.”
“Yea? Oh Yea. Of course…that’s how…how I roll, you know. Back where I’m from…”
“YO! Let’s go!” Runner interrupted him.
They all headed across the bridge and onto the main deck of the AGGIE PRIDE. Night saw that the crew was small and for the most part, very young. They moved about the business of running the ship with a practiced rhythm.
As soon as Nights feet touched down onto the deck he felt the steady vibration coming from the ships engine. This was going to be hard to get used to on a trip all the way to the North Pole.
Just as he was going to ask how long the trip would take, Night noticed movement along a nearby rooftop. Looking closer he saw the dark figure of a man…carrying a very large gun over his shoulder.
“Oh crap!” Night watched as the man leveled the gun in the direction of the AGGIE.
“GUN!” he shouted in warning. “He’s gonna…”
With a bright flash Night saw the gun fire and the missile, trailing smoke, rocket through the air. But the missile sailed far wide of the AGGIE and before Night could breathe a sigh of relief there came an explosion.
The ghost fog was lit up. In the brilliance of the blast, Night saw illuminated figures moving across the sky…figures with wings.
“EAGLES!” Cried out one of the crew. “Eagles coming in portside, aft!”
The figure on the rooftop fired off that cannon again and again the missile found its way to another of the flying men. The second blast obliterated one of the Flyers and knocked another out of the sky and right onto the deck of the AGGIE.
The ship was a scramble of activity now. Landis was ordering the crew to shove off and crewmen were running to stations and reeling in the bridge to the P.S.F.S. building. One crew woman ran onto the top deck climbed into a chair by the rail. A second later, with a small blast of steam, a large gun ratcheted up from the side directly in front of her. With the controls on the chair the crew woman began firing off the gun into the foggy night.
“Watch it!” warned another crew man. Night had been stumbling across the deck without watching where he was going and nearly tripped over the body of the downed Flyer. He was covered in a green and grey flight suit and wore a helmet with a wing-like visor. The “wings” were bat-like, leather stretched over a solid skeletal frame, now burned and charred from the near-hit.
Two of the AGGIEs crew ran over and grabbed the Eagle up quickly. They carried the man to the side of the deck and even as Night screamed for them to stop, tossed him over the side.
There was a loud bellowing wail, like the underwater song of a humpback whale. Night looked up and saw the huge plume of venting steam coming from the aft of the ship. With the sounding of the steam release the ship moved faster than Night had thought possible. It turned hard then began to pull away from the building and Night was thrown to the deck.
The ghost fog grew thicker as if it knew (and it probably did) that they needed more cover. The dark shadows of the Eagles streaked through the air about them but they were now more worried about the missile attack.
“You ok?” Night Runner found Night on the deck and hauled him to his feet.
“You son of a bitch!” Night Manager shouted over the hiss, jangle, clank and clunk of the hard running AGGIE PRIDE.
“What?!?” Runner asked.
“You let me think he was a traitor. You let me think my brother was a damn Slave overseer!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Runner snapped and started to stalk away. Night chased after.
“You think I don’t know how my own brother moves? That was HIM firing on those Eagles! He was here…backing you up! I should have realized it before. He tracked me down at the Terminal…but only because he was leading those cops away from YOU! Then instead of letting them gun me down he froze me.” Night grabbed Runner by the shoulder to turn him around. “It was him that froze all those guys in your collection. He’s been working for you…”
Runner spun about suddenly, drawing that gun and putting it right under Night Managers chin.
“You know that and I know that” he said with a menace that chilled Night to the bone. “Anybody else knows that and you’re a dead man.”
“He’s my brother too.” Night said. “I’d never turn on him. I’m YOU, remember?”
Runner looked hard into Nights eyes. “That’s the only reason I’m not pulling this trigger.”
The AGGIE made its way out of the city under the cover of the ghost fog, which only cleared when there was nothing to see from horizon to horizon but bright blue sky and calm ocean.
Next in our saga…SHIPMATES