All right then. On another platform I did promise the first chapter of each of my first four books in the Camden’s Follies Universe. If you want the full story, go to Amazon.com and buy the individual books.
No, I haven’t organised them into a box set yet – not had enough time to sort out if Amazon can do that. However, I shall tease my future and current readership with all that I can…
So now to the beginning ~ Camden’s Follies series 1, book 1
© 2018 Jon Corres Pirate Poet
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except where permitted by law. This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.
Part 1, Chapter 1: From the diaries of Doctor Camden, Lunar physician and Pirate
My Journey Begins
The main engine of the Queens Dirigible“Bernoulli” makes a chirruping sound as the propeller squeaks on and off. Forensic Physician Dr. Camden looks bored and frustrated behind his aged typewriter as he attempts to compose his thoughts. A brief flurry of screaming followed by heavy feet running to and fro cause the near middle aged traveller to look up from his palms.
The tall English gentleman sits in a confined space where he’s been trying to type his journal up. Young, relatively, Doctor Camden is dressed in khaki brown with a waist coat while his long coat is draped over his chair. His hair is solid black and the look of a well groomed upper class gentleman. His handlebar moustache seems a bit out of place as it covers his entire mouth. The lines around his eyes make him seem older in the dim lit cabin as he continues to stare at the ceiling, ranting out loud.
“ Best to stay inside and not bother the professor… professor?! Hah! Daft old man and an even more dense pair of followers, I’d say. Six weeks and barely land in sight, a flight that was supposed to take half that time. I’m sat on my backside in this cramped cabin, not so much as a flying monkey and it’s far too cold out on deck to even try to take a photograph, decent or otherwise, of the, er seascape. I wonder why the captain even remotely tolerates the barmy old codger? ”
I begin to type again when a familiar odour wafts from beneath my door. The acrid smell of burnt rubber and petrol products forces me to open the window of my cabin, perhaps that’s being too generous. It’s a portal that is as easy to open and close as a whale bone corset! I’m wondering about my decision to trust these people to take me to Africa when I could have simply bucked up my courage and taken a steamship to Egypt before taking up the reigns on a fine Arab charger, something I’m more at home with than modern machinery that I have no idea how to operate and at this rate no desire to learn about.
“ DAMN IT MAN! I SAID SPANNER! NOT GIVE ME THE CAN OF LUBRICANT!!!”
* Sigh * My eyes nearly lock in their sockets as they roll up in disgust.
How many times must this buffoon, Scottish at that, forget that between his accent and his lack of linguistic ledger domain his non – English speaking assistants have a hard time understanding him. Not withstanding the idea his “help” has a limited command of the English language. Blast this old typewriter! And who’s that at my door?
“ Mr. Camden? Doc – tor James Camden?”
I hear in a barely audible tone and in a very thick Portuguese accent.
“ Sir, professor McTavit needs you, sir… in ze engine room, we are, as you say, not sure ’bout what it is he’s asking ’bout … please!”
My frustration is at it’s peak now. First off, I’m a physician in training of sorts, something new called forensic medicine… dissecting the dead and all that to determine cause of death. I was supposed to be in central Africa with a company of soldiers working with their surgeon, a Doctor Hamslick from Kent. He pioneered this idea about five years prior on the behest of the Duke of Edinburgh to help settle a case of poisoning of one of his staff, nasty business.
I throw my long coat on and make my way behind a very frustrated and agitated middle aged man from Portugal who is muttering curses in his native tongue under his breath.
We arrive at the doorway to the engine room, just beneath the centre of the dirigible. It’s blackened and charred from a series of explosions and fires. McTavit won’t tell me one bloody thing about his contraption. Suffice it to say the gears and inner workings seem to need to be kept both cool and well lubricated and that’s all I can ascertain from my personal observations and that would be all I know of it.
Well, all right I can tell it’s massive and took a lot of time to put together, but what fuels it and why it needs to be in a state of near bathing in oil… that one is definitively over my head!
I tried holding my nose as I entered, but to no avail. My compatriot handed me a set of goggles to put on so, well, I guess my eyes would be protected or less likely to melt out of my head. It smelt like the engine room of a freighter, if it hadn’t been cleaned in about ten years! It felt like stepping into a really bizarre painting, everything seemed to be black and hardly discernible! I knew there was a lot of piping and that the head room was dicey at best. I made my way via the sound of the shouting and the expertise of my guide, whom I hoped that he would have the where-with-all to have memorised his surroundings. Not too successfully, I must say as I managed to bang my forehead and top of my skull twice, I made it to my destination.
By the looks of it, the two yelling at each other were in the centre of a chamber of some sort.
Openings at the top were in rows and lines, three roughly from what I could make out. The odd part was that there were what looked like mirrors or mirrored surfaces all over the walls and even the floor. I noted that there seemed to be some kind of clean – up under way. That’s when I saw the old goat arguing with the other poor prat, er, assistant. McTavit was old, with bushy mutton – chop sideburns and the complexion of a tomato. He looked a burly man gone to seed and was easily as tall as me, if only a tad shorter. His red hair was still visible through the heavy silver gray. He was even dressed in coveralls of a tartan nature, that is, from what was visible beneath the grime.
McTavit was pointing and looking apoplectic at the eastern most wall of reflective surfaces and moving his eyebrows like my old professor at Cambridge. I stood mesmerised till I realised that the wall of mirrors was slightly concave. I looked to their twin to the west and noted they were convex, perhaps they were supposed to be identical? That seemed to be what was getting under the engineers pecks. I shan’t bore you with details, suffice it to say that everything came to a grinding halt once my guide coughed and pointed. McTavit’s demeanour changed frighteningly fast as he turned to the noise and addressed me.
“ Doctor Camden! Thank you very much for coming, sorry to be a bother to ye, however I’m having a wee bit of difficulty…”, his other assistant snorted in derision, the one he was arguing with that is. He gave the man a warning look and changed quickly back into the pleasant aspect he held only for me at the moment. “ … ahem… a wee bit of difficulty getting Mr. Sali to apply the right material to, er, clean off the walls. As you can see they were meant to be bright and shiny and convex… or perhaps not.” He said the last as he noted the look of complete lack of understanding on my face. “Anyway, that seems to be my problem. Could you be so kind as to assist me in my ‘conversational’ Portuguese?”
He tried to look polite, but I could easily tell he was tetchy and out of patience. I sighed, my trademark way of avoiding conflict. “ Of course, I’ve nothing better or more important…”
McTavit smiled a semi toothed smile of a man who had seen either too many knocks to the head or been on the wrong side of a tavern disagreement. So, I spent the better part of two hours, mainly due to the fact I refused to translate gutter speak, telling my Portuguese associate that the chief engineer wished him to brush, one time, a coat of glowing green ooze onto the carbonised material. Not two or three, but simply one and let it sink in before rinsing it off with some blue gunk that I refused pointedly to handle or get within a metre of!
My guide and other lackey, er, assistant had to excuse himself more than once during this exchange, laughing in hysterics just outside my line of vision and apparently the hearing of McTavit. I went back to my cabin feeling a few stone lighter than when I went in to the engine room and went straight away to my bathing chamber after sending my clothes to be cleaned thoroughly!
What on Earth was this man thinking? We had two perfectly functional propellers that could use equal if not greater attention and all he could think of was that disgusting chamber that any board of health would condemn faster than one could blink.
It dawned on me that even with my limited knowledge of things mechanical that it seemed like an awful lot of area devoted to an engine or any other device that was supposed to keep this air ship flying. What were we anyway, 100, perhaps 150 metres in length?
I briefly wondered if my fellow passengers were as curious as I was? I only saw the captain once and only from a distance. There was a shy and retiring young dowager on her way to Kenya to meet the expeditionary force that brought her late husbands remains from India. Miss Belle – Anderson, as I thought I heard her tell the man at the ticket desk as I was behind her, was petite, with sandy blonde hair and very bright, almost emerald green eyes. She was quite pretty and very lady like, in a sweet and warm way, but distant manner. Not surprising, but there you are. Around dinner I decided to eat in the main dining hall. I met the woman as she was leaving her cabin, dressed in a more winter appropriate form of dress. Hard to believe it was nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit on the ground!
The stars were out and the sky was remarkably clear. There was an absence of shouting and cursing from the engine room, much to my relief. I finally looked out over the railing to notice that we were, in fact, over land, at last. Just where I couldn’t tell you as I thought I saw Kilimanjaro off to the right of the crescent moon rising over the horizon.
I was pleasantly taken aback when the lady took my arm just as we made the stairs. She seemed composed enough or as much for a recent widower as she could be. My best guess was that since these dinners were somewhat formal she should at least appear to be attended to. The room had one long table, around 15 metres in length with seating for roughly 3 dozen. I could see another room just beyond behind some marvellous French glass doors with the crew seated and quietly eating.
I began to make my way to the seat nearest the end of the table near the crews dinning area ( I suppose you could call it a mess hall, it looked like they ate just enough food to feed a village and left most of it everywhere, but in them!). Surprisingly, the glass rendered it impossible to hear what was being discussed amongst the crew, which was why I chose my strategic spot in the room. Almost as surprising the dowager sat next to me and smiled warmly.
“ I see there is a gentleman beneath that gruff exterior and occasionally unkempt clothes. A handsome one at that! I was wondering for a while that despite your intelligent conversation that you bore more of a resemblance to Professor Haimish McTavit, our, um, chief engineer and consulting,” She seemed as if she wasn’t sure of her terminology or if she wasn’t being polite enough and paused. “… scientist? The first officer told me that the professor worked on the first of the steam freighters and passenger ships. The lieutenant further mentioned the captain knew him from the military though, he wasn’t sure in what capacity.”
A waiter arrived and gave us water and told us the other passengers would be round later, possibly. He took our drink order and gave us menus and told us to take our time since the kitchen would be available all evening. I smiled politely. He needn’t have said that, again for the hundredth time or so.
It was curious as to how we had as much in the way of supplies as we did. I hadn’t thought of it till now, but it seemed as if we were stocked for a voyage of at least ten times the projected length. I was so lost in thought that I had almost forgotten the woman next to me. She laughed loudly and nearly lost her breath as my head snapped around at my realisation.
When she caught her breath she proffered a dainty hand and introduced herself properly.
“ My apologies, oh, and my name is Cynthia. Cynthia Belle – Anderson.”
I drank some water, as I took her hand, to collect myself.
“ James Camden, Doctor of surgical procedure and general practitioner.”
She inclined her head in a gracious nod and had some water herself as our wine and tea arrived. She had tea and I had the wine, my best guess was that we both needed nerve tonic after todays events.
I was just feeling a bit better when the doors swung open where Cynthia and I entered earlier. An elder gent with the look of a London banker came and walked in with a very stately lady on his arm, wife from the look of it. They seemed to be preoccupied with the physical dimensions of the dinning hall and the lack of decoration.
The two sat at the far end away from us and merely curtly nodded in my direction before ignoring us. A few moments later the Portuguese engineers came in and sat near us, both waved and said hello and were quite chatty till McTavit came in. He looked beaten down, but cleaner by far than when I last encountered him.
The two at the end of the table looked scandalised as the professor slapped the gentleman on the shoulder and winked at the woman. McTavit barely nodded at me and gave a gentlemanly bow to Cynthia before sitting across from his two assistants.
Mere moments later the captain, I believe his first name was Mathias, Germain and his entourage made their way in greeting all in kind with equal respect as only an officer for the royal navy could. He was as tall as I, but with sandy brown hair and a very trim and neat moustache and beard with a decidedly military hair style. His air of confidence and command seemed to emanate from every pore in his body.
At his left was a younger man, middle eastern by the look of him or perhaps Asian (Indian or somewhere about that area), the lieutenant that Cynthia mentioned earlier I’d say, as well as the navigator and helmsman for our airship. They sat near the professor and mainly kept the conversation to a bare minimum and then only business. Before they left to get back to their duties and or possibly some sleep, the captain approached me to speak privately.
“ I do hope, Doctor, that despite the length, your voyage has been pleasant?” He enquired kindly, but I was world wary enough to know evasive small talk when I heard it. I didn’t answer right away, but I didn’t press him to get to the point either.
“ Well, aside from the windows being a bit dodgy and having to referee a clean round between the good professor and one of his assistants, Mr. Sali, everything has been quite pleasant. And of course not being able to get out on deck was a bit of a bad turn, but I did get work on my medical journals.”
I tried to sound like I was being mildly humorous and gave a polite grin to punctuate what I was trying to say. He smiled and laughed jovially along as if he supposed I had meant what I said.
“ Well, I’m glad! There may be a bit longer of a delay than I first thought, no worries mind. There are plenty of supplies and we’re in safe air space for the moment.”
I forgot myself and a look of mild panic and concern crossed my face briefly. The captain laughed.
“Oh, no need for panic my good doctor! Not like the Zulu or some other heathen tribe would set upon us, no sir.”
He genially slapped me on the back before giving me a serious look.
“ I would be appreciative, however, if anyone were to ask you, that if anyone enquires, please tell them we’re taking a more scenic route due to weather… also, please do check in on Mrs. Farber if you would, the elderly woman with Sir Michael Farber, the international banker and financier…”
I nodded and looked discreetly where the couple were sitting enjoying a brandy. I had no idea we had such an important person on board. Of course that would explain why he seemed to be touring this ship when he walked in. Perhaps, he was going to invest in her or something, maybe he held the title? I turned back nodding.
“ Of course captain, I would be more than happy to assist you and of course I shall keep mum on our situation until you say otherwise!”
He shook my hand and briskly made his way back to the pilots chamber. Later, as I walked away from the hall, I saw Cynthia and the captain exchange a brief, but heated conversation. She seemed to be pointing to the western side of the ship as she pointedly made eye contact with him. I stayed discreetly in the shadows for as long as possible. This was a most unexpected side to the demure woman. Walking the more scenic route to the side where my cabin was I chanced a glance to the west. I must have been tired or slightly more inebriated than I first presumed. I could have sworn I saw, no, that would be impossible, an Earth – like planet in the skies! I shook my head and glanced again. There it was! Not only that, but the crescent moon of earlier had, well, brothers/sisters it seemed. I decided I was deluded by my harrowing day and made my way through the corridor and started to make my way down the steps. I was half – way down when a woman cleared her throat. I looked sharply and there was a slightly miffed Miss Belle – Anderson waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs.
“ Just where on Earth did you get off too?! I was worried sick, not to mention we never really got a chance to talk and I do hate trying to have a private conversation with eaves droppers all about.”
She had her hands on her hips and I felt it wise not to argue with a woman that could potentially be so formidable. She definitely gave the captain quite a nasty shock when she rounded on him as she did earlier. Cynthia proffered an arm and looked impatient as she awaited me taking it. When I did, her handbag struck me and I couldn’t help, but notice that for something so small it packed a bit of a punch! Bit like being hit with a pipe or a small club. I regained my balance quickly, but not before having a look of pain cross my face that seemed quite humorous to my new found lady friend.
“Please tell me you’ll live, I didn’t manage to hit you in the family jewels per chance did I?”
She said this failing badly at hiding a laugh.
“No, nothing vital hit ma’am … I take it that you get a lot of unscrupulous advances and thus filling your hand bag with, well, a cannon ball and half the kitchen…”
This only made her laugh loudly and fight for her breath. Once she regained her composure she shook her head and held up a finger to give her a moment to show me something. She reached within her hand bag and pulled out a baton roughly a half metre long! I stood flabbergasted and absolutely gob smacked! I must have looked a right fish out of water and this time she held herself together as she cleared her throat.
“ The bag and my protective device are all courtesy of Professor McTavit! It seems he was dabbling in physics and dimensional, what was it he referred to it as, oh yes, spacial expansion.”
She smiled broadly, but it faded fast as she noticed my continued look of incomprehension. Her face screwed up for a moment before she spoke again
“That means he made it somehow bigger on the inside, the hand bag that is, so it could hold a bit more. He told me he discovered it and the new engine design in an old Mayan pyramid or something like that. As to the baton, well it’s more than that.”
She hefted the device in her hand and pressed a black button on the side of the tube. A rifle stock popped out of the sides and a barrel extended from the end away from her. A small telescopic sight appeared after she pressed the top, near the newly formed barrel as a trigger appeared in the same place one would expect a rifle to have a trigger complete with a very elaborate guard.
She pointed this compactable rifle at a spot just above the railings, pulled the trigger and, to my continued shock and surprise, a beam of light flashed out and hit a spot roughly 500 metres away! The resulting explosion made a fireball big enough to take out an infantry of men.
“This is McTavit’s ‘Light Blast Cannon‘! Surprisingly light and easy to shoot, just needs about 5 seconds between shots to recharge fully between firings. Impressive, yes?”
It took a moment, but I gulped and looked at the weapon and then her. What I wanted to say was different from what I actually articulated.
“Well, in a word, indeed! I thought those kinds of things were only in that science fiction nonsense they sell every so often… fantastic tales and all that.”
I paced in one place for a minute before I spoke again, she neatly put the device back in her hand bag and patiently waited.
“ What on Earth do you need a thing like that for? I know blokes on the new iron warships that would give their right arms for one of those…”
She held up her hand just as the captain and one of the crew came running round a corner.
“What the devil is going on here? What was that…”
He then noticed Cynthia and coughed, gulped and calmed down almost immediately.
“Ahem, * cough * , oh, I see, sorry Madam, carry on, should have realised… well, have a pleasant evening, shan’t bother you again. Doctor.”
He bowed and saluted me, oddly enough, before expediently gathering his subordinate and leaving us to our own devices. I turned to Cynthia and she gave me the sweetest of smiles.
“For a moment James, I may call you James mightn’t I? Well, let’s just hold that subject for another time, yes. I’d much prefer to talk about you anyway. A tall, handsome, dark haired proper gentleman who can speak at least three other languages aside from English, I’m presuming you speak at least three as Africa requires French and whatever local dialect along with your knowledge of Portuguese…”
She took my arm as she spoke, more carefully this time so I wouldn’t get bludgeoned again at the hip and started to lead me, bewildered, in the direction of her cabin…
Book 2 coming soon…. GERONIMO!
~ The Pirate Poet